With the Combine behind us and free agency just getting underway, it seems like a long and dreary journey to April's draft. (And after that it gets even worse.) And so we turn to speculating about what the 49ers' draft board might look like, and which promising young players we can expect to see wearing the red and gold this fall.
This version of my mock draft is (hopefully) a bit more realistic than the previous one, in which I took some liberties with trades and first-round reaches, and which was intended primarily to provide a basis for evaluating various players, particularly at the Combine. (Thanks again to readers of my previous posts for providing insight and prospects I'd overlooked.)
Recent developments in Santa Clara, particularly the signing of Ahmad Brooks to a new multi-year deal, have significantly changed the landscape for the 49ers heading into the free agency market, and there is renewed speculation regarding whether or not the team will go after a top wide receiver between now and Draft week (ahem, Mike Wallace, cough, sneeze), so this mock has been modified to take all of that into account.
I think it is unlikely the Steelers will let Wallace go, but it is possible - they have two emerging starters in Antonio Brown and Emmanuel Sanders. If the Steelers do allow Wallace to move on, they're more likely to let him sign with San Francisco than with Baltimore or New England - two other teams whose names have been thrown around rather liberally in connection with Wallace lately - for obvious reasons. Additionally, the 49ers may have a serious interest in pursuing Wallace, since they are unlikely to find a better player at the end of the first round, and Wallace is exactly the type of deep-threat wide out the offense sorely lacked in 2011. However, since the Wallace situation remains a matter of speculation at this point, this mock draft assumes that Wallace will not be a 49er this season, and that the Niners will need to pick at least two wide receivers in April.
Version 3.0 of this mock will be posted at the end of March, and will take into account all activity to that point in free agency. That version will be followed the Monday before the Draft by the final version, by which my powers of divination will ultimately be judged.
Finally, a note on quarterbacks - I've taken some liberties with quarterbacks in the second round, because I don't think there will be that many picked in the round due to the availability of Matt Flynn and (probably) Peyton Manning in free agency. Therefore, I'm using this opportunity to explore some of the options, so that, when Flynn and Manning do finally land with teams, I'll have a better idea of which quarterback(s) are likely to be appealing to which quarterback-needy teams in the draft, irregardless of round.
Take the poll to vote on what position you thing the team should address with the number 30 pick - Wallace is an option - then read on and let the speculating begin.
1. Indianapolis Colts (from Washington)
Needs: Quarterback; Cornerback; Offensive Tackle; Safety; Offensive Guard; Wide Receiver; Defensive Tackle; Outside Linebacker; Running Back
Selection: Andrew Luck, Quarterback, Stanford
Indianapolis, suddenly, is a rebuilding project. The absence of future HOF Peyton Manning exposed glaring weaknesses at virtually every position in 2011, and that's not even taking into account the wide receiver shortage they're likely to face at the end of free agency. The Colts will need to draft well in addition to hitting the free agent market if they hope to be competitive again in 2012. Indianapolis will receive multiple enticing trade offers for this pick, but is unlikely to even consider any of them. The Colts know that there aren't many players in this draft that can compare to Luck.
NFL quarterbacking - so easy, a caveman can do it. We've all been hearing the hype for two years now and - wait for it - it's all true. There are no flaws in Luck's game, and, even though he (wisely) declined to throw in Indianapolis, his 3.9 GPA in Engineering at Stanford, coupled with the numbers he did post at the Combine (6' 4", 234 pounds; 4.67 in the 40; 36" vertical; 124" broad) more than confirmed what we already knew - he's big, smart, athletic, and dangerous. Luck is the most NFL-ready quarterback to enter the draft since Peyton Manning, and he can start for and elevate nearly any team from day one. So the question remains - what to do with Manning, once Luck becomes the next great Colts quarterback?
2. Cleveland Browns (from St. Louis)
Needs: Quarterback; Wide Receiver; Offensive Tackle; Running Back; Offensive Guard; Defensive End; Safety; Cornerback; Special Teams; Coaching Staff; Public Relations Secretary; Cheerleaders (no, really - have you seen the Browns' cheerleaders? Just chew your arm off now and get it over with); Equipment Manager; Gatorade Bucket; Adam Sandler; but I digress.
Selection: Robert Griffin III, Quarterback, Baylor
The Browns will feel they need to trade up to ensure they get their man. There are too many other teams willing to move up to snag Griffin, and St. Louis is all too willing to deal. Fortunately for the Browns, with two high picks in the first round, they've got more leverage than anyone else. I have them surrendering both first-rounders and a three to move up two spots in this mock; I think they're willing to give up even more than that, because Holmgren has visions of sugar plums and Cam Newton dancing in his head. It's certainly not a bad deal for the Rams, who will be thrilled to get the extra picks, plus either Matt Kalil or Justin Blackmon - the two players they want most anyway - about 15 minutes later.
Griffin is faster than a speeding bullet, more powerful than a locomotive, and can leap tall buildings in a single bound. So the comparisons to Vick and Newton are fairly consistent. Griffin is a very bright, strong-armed, extraordinarily mobile quarterback with uncanny accuracy and instincts. He also is an excellent decision-maker with underrated toughness. He isn't the biggest quarterback, but at 6'2", 223 pounds, he's big enough. Like Vick, however, Griffin has a fearless, running style of play that can put him at risk; he often takes some nasty hits while scrambling, and had to play through a concussion in 2011. Another concern at the pro level is how well and how quickly Griffin can adjust from the shotgun offense he ran college to the pro-style offense he'll need to learn in the NFL. But, given Griffin's high IQ, and with the remarkable success enjoyed by Newton in 2011 and the surprising emergence of former spread quarterback Alex Smith, the Browns are more than willing to bet that Griffin can be successful under center at the next level.
Needs: Offensive Tackle, Offensive Guard; Wide Receiver; Safety; Cornerback; Defensive Tackle; Outside Linebacker
Selection: Matt Kalil, Offensive Tackle, USC
Christian Ponder - to my surprise - showed some flashes, and may actually develop into a decent NFL quarterback. But if the Vikings don't get him some protection, pretty soon the only one seeing flashes will be Christian Ponder. If the Vikings had seen a Julio Jones-like performance from Justin Blackmon in Indianapolis, he might have been an option, but Blackmon''s workout was solid, not spectacular. So, barring some late and unforeseen development, Kalil is probably their guy.
Kalil is the premier pass-blocker in this year's draft, and if he goes to Minnesota, Ponder may yet live to see his touchdowns-to-interceptions ratio improve. Kalil did everything he needed to do at the Combine to solidify his status as the number three prospect behind Luck and Griffin. He has the talent to dominate in all phases of the game, but must improve his run-blocking at the next level. Another year in college might have helped him polish his skill set, but since he was a consensus top-5 pick anyway, there really was no rationale for staying in school. He'll just have to learn what little he still does not know on the fly.
4. St. Louis Rams (from Cleveland)
Needs: Offensive Tackle; Wide Receiver; Offensive Guard; Defensive Tackle; Outside Linebacker; Cornerback; Running Back
Selection: Justin Blackmon, Wide Receiver, Oklahoma State
The Rams need lots of help, particularly on the offensive side of the ball. They would love to better protect Bradford with a quality offensive lineman or two, but with a need at the receiver position as well, Kalil off the board, and some extra picks to work with courtesy of Cleveland, Blackmon should fit the bill nicely here.
It's hard to go too far wrong with Blackmon; his upside is phenomenal - in the Tory Holt range, and his downside is not too bad either - let's say, at worst, Dez Bryant. Blackmon good size, excellent speed and quickness, and very reliable hands. He runs polished routes already, and takes a mature, workmanlike approach to the game - much like all-world Cardinals receiver Larry Fitzgerald. The addition of a player of Blackmon's caliber should work wonders for Bradford and the much-maligned Rams passing attack.
Needs: Outside Linebacker; Cornerback; Running Back; Inside Linebacker; Offensive Tackle; Offensive Guard; Center
Selection: Trent Richardson, Running Back, Alabama
After the Bucs gave LaGarrette Blount a new lease on life in 2010, he rewarded himself with some pizzas, a couple (dozen) boxes of Krispy Kremes and a cancellation of his gym membership. Blount showed up to camp last spring out of shape and unfocused, and it factored into costing the Bucs some games (and some coaches their jobs). It seems clear that Blount is too immature to be relied upon as a feature back, at least at present, and Bucs management historically has little patience for immature running backs (see, e.g., Erict Rhett, 1996).
Tampa Bay has other needs, but Richardson may be the best running back prospect to enter the draft since Adrian Peterson (well, Arian Foster, really, but who knew?), and he will contribute significantly right away and for years to come. The Bucs are unlikely to pass on him here, particularly with the benefit of the new rookie wage scale on their side.
Needs: Quarterback; Cornerback; Wide Receiver; Inside Linebacker
Selection: Morris Claiborne, Cornerback, LSU
If the Redskins are unable to swing a trade to go up and get either Luck or RGIII, this pick is a no-brainer. The Redskins gave up way too many big plays through the air in 2011, and will have to shore up their secondary if they hope to compete in the suddenly pass-happy NFC East this season. In an oddly ironic twist of fate, Mike Shanahan was responsible for the trade that sent cornerback Champ Bailey to Denver from Washington for running back Willis McGahee while Shanahan was the Broncos' head coach. And now, more than a decade later, here he is in Washington without a shutdown cornerr. Maybe he could trade Tim Hightower to the Broncos in exchange for the aging Bailey; the Broncos could certainly use a running back.
Statistically speaking, Claiborne was even more productive in his final year in college than his former teammate - and last year's best corner - Patrick Peterson. That may just mean teams were throwing at him more because they weren't as afraid of him as they were of Peterson. Big mistake; Claiborne finished the season with six passes broken up and 7 interceptions. In any case, Claiborne is a legitimate starting NFL corner, and may even end up being better than Peterson, if coached properly. He's certainly a huge improvement over what the Redskins have right now.
Needs: Quarterback (just kidding, Blaine - the jury's still out. But the deliberations have begun...); Defensive End; Wide Receiver; Cornerback; Offensive Tackle; Tight End
Selection: Quinton Coples, Defensive End, North Carolina
Jacksonville's defense must be best at harassing opposing quarterbacks before and after the game, because during regulation, that pass rush is about as effective as an economic bailout package (the silver lining: it doesn't cost taxpayers a dime.) If the Jags don't find a way to put more pressure on opposing quarterbacks than they put on Gabbert last season, they'll likely be drafting in the top 10 again next April.
Coples is a prototypical 4-3 defensive end. He has ideal size, good speed, and is as adept at stopping the run as he is at getting after the quarterback. He was double-teamed on virtually every play in 2011, but still managed 51 tackles, 7.5 sacks, 13 tackles-for-loss, and three forced fumbles. He's been extremely productive in both his seasons as a full-time starter, and is now ready to make the jump to the NFL. His presence on the line should instantly improve Jacksonville's pathetic pass rush.
Needs: Quarterback; Offensive Tackle; Act of God; Defensive End; Tight End; Wide Receiver; Offensive Guard; Defensive Tackle
Selection: Riley Reiff, Offensive Tackle, Iowa
The Dolphins kept Sparano around for an extra year, apparently in the hope that he would be bad enough to win them the Suck for Luck sweepstakes. But Sparano sucks so bad, he couldn't even pull that off. My first impulse was to have the Dolphins trading down to get some more picks - I still think they may to do so (do the Raiders still have any picks to trade? I think they've got a couple in 2019...) but I'm not prepared to commit to that scenario at this point. However, if they don't trade the pick - if, say, they're eyeing another quarterback in the later rounds (or they are able to snag Matt Flynn or Peyton Manning in free agency), they'll probably want to get their new signal-caller some protection. The Miami offensive line is a tragedy of Shakespearian proportions, and in addition to acquiring a starting quarterback, getting a stalwart at left tackle should be among the Dolphins' highest priorities in this offseason.
Riley Reiff is the most consistent tackle in this draft - he's better in run blocking than Kalil, and better in pass protection than Martin. There are no glaring weaknesses in his game. But then again, both Martin and Kalil faced better competition in college, so it's tough to make a very accurate comparison. Regardless, Reiff did everything he needed to do to justify his rating as the second best tackle on most boards in Indianapolis, and he can't help but be a vast improvement on the Dolphins' current situation.
Needs: Wide Receiver; Defensive End; Defensive Tackle; Offensive Guard; Cornerback; Inside Linebacker
Selection: Melvin Ingram, Defensive End, South Carolina
With Steve Smith pushing ninety, the Panthers would like to get their new superstar quarterback a younger gun for his arsenal. However, the only sure thing at the wide receiver position in this draft is Blackmon, and there's no way he lasts this long. Carolina also needs to get some pressure on opposing quarterbacks. Their offense is now on the rise with Newton under center (or operating out of the shotgun), but it doesn't matter how good Newton is if the defense can't stop anybody. Newton, understandably, showed some frustration in 2011 with always being forced to try to engineer the improbable come from behind wins he was famous for at Auburn, and the Panthers know they need to address more than just the offensive side of the ball to keep the young superstar happy.
In spite of some injury problems later in the year, Ingram still finished with 44 tackles, 8.5 sacks, 13.5 tackles for a loss and two interceptions. Although he's on the small side at 6' 1", 264 pounds, he has excellent strength and power, and his size-speed ratio is outstanding (he confirmed that by posting a 4.79 in the 40 and putting up 28 reps on the bench at the Combine.) Ingram's skill set will translate well to the Panthers' defense, and he'll provide some much-needed help rushing the passer.
10. Buffalo Bills
Needs: Outside Linebacker; Offensive Tackle; Defensive End; Safety; Cornerback; Quarterback; Wide Receiver; Offensive Guard
Selection: Andre Branch, Defensive End, Clemson
The Bills have so many needs I'm surprised they weren't featured as a love interest in that last Sex and The City flick. They could just throw a dart at their big board and hit a player they can use. But they'll probably go with their highest rated prospect anyway, just in case. While there are still a number of excellent options available, Branch's outstanding Combine workout gives him the edge here (no pun intended) over the other prospects.
Branch is a very good athlete with prototypical size. He uses an excellent combination of speed and power to get after the quarterback, and is very adept against the run as well. Some scouts thought he might be undersized to play defensive end in an NFL 4-3, but he weighed in at 270 pounds in Indy (at 6' 4", so there's room to even add a few pounds) and then he posted a freakish 4.70 in the 40 just for good measure. Branch can potentially do for the Bills what Aldon Smith did for the 49ers last year, and they won't pass on that chance here.
Needs: Offensive Tackle; Running Back; Defensive End; Inside Linebacker; Cornerback
Selection: Jonathan Martin, Offensive Tackle, Stanford
The Chiefs would love to get a running back to complement Jamaal Charles, who is coming off an injury, and whom they do not believe is big enough to carry the load for a full season even when healthy. But with Trent Richardson off the board, they'll address one of their other needs here and try to get a quality back in the later rounds.
Martin is as bright, talented, and well-coached a tackle prospect as there is in this draft, and with proper handling, should protect Matt Cassel's blind side for many years. He may be a more complete prospect right now than Kalil, but he doesn't have as much upside, and has occasionally had issues with penalties and in pass protection. However, with a little work, he should be able to make the transition to the NFL fairly quickly.
12. Seattle Seahawks
Needs: Quarterback; Defensive Tackle; Defensive End; Outside Linebacker; Running Back;
Selection: Michael Brockers, Defensive Tackle, LSU
The Seahawks need a quarterback. If they are unable to acquire Matt Flynn if free agency, and unable to trade up to get either Griffin or (far less likely) Luck in this round, they'll have to wait it out and hope to pick up a potential starter in the second round. Most of their other issues are on defense, and it starts inside at tackle.
Brockers has been moving up draft boards pretty steadily since last fall, and he certainly did not disappoint at the Combine. There are likely to be a number of options at the DT position at this point in this draft, but Brockers is generally regarded as the best one at this point, in spite of Dontari Poe's Combine heroics - especially since Poe is considered to be more of a 3-4 nose tackle prospect than a 4-3 guy. Brockers is huge, fast, explosive, and versatile. He has the ability to start right away and make an instant impact, a-la Ndomikong Suh in Detroit a couple years ago. The Seahawks will be thrilled to get him at this point.
Needs: Offensive Tackle; Center; Defensive End; Offensive Guard; Wide Receiver
Selection: David DeCastro, Guard, Stanford
The Cardinals struck gold going defense last year with cornerback and return man-par-excellence Patrick Peterson. I'm betting they try to do the same for their porous offensive line this time around. Arizona is not yet ready to admit that Kevin Kolb was overrated (Kudos to used car salesman Andy Reid), and will try to get him some better protection in the hope that it lowers his reading on the NFL QB suckometer.
DeCastro dominated the middle of the line at Stanford. He does everything well, and is by far the best pulling guard in this draft. As he has for the last two years in college, DeCastro quietly impressed at the Combine, and solidified his status as an early first round prospect. He is extremely smart and well-coached, and will make an immediate impact in all phases of the Cardinals' offensive game plan.
14. Dallas Cowboys
Needs: Cornerback; Defensive End; Outside Linebacker; Offensive Tackle; Safety; Center
Selection: Dre Kirkpatrick, Cornerback, Alabama
Jerry Jones once said he's always regretted passing on Randy Moss in 1998 because of Moss' off-field issues (I doubt he's alone in that.) This year however, he will have to pass on the next best thing (Michael Floyd) simply because the Cowboys don't need a receiver. The good news for Jones is that Dre Kirkpatrick was arrested for pot possession in January, so the Cowboys' owner can now live out his Randy Moss fantasy while acquiring a player that actually helps his football team. And, given Jones' prior experience with one of his players (Michael Irvin) garnering police attention for a cocaine incident which even involved hookers, it's unlikely Jones will be fazed by a paltry marijuana charge.
Most scouts have Kirkpatrick ranked as the 2nd or 3rd best corner in this draft (depending, no doubt, upon how they feel about marijuana possession.) In any event, unlike Floyd, Kirkpatrick does not have a lengthy history of off-field issues, and unlike fellow secondary standout and former marijuana possessor Janoris Jenkins, he has ideal size (6-3, 190.) He also has excellent speed, ball skills, and rare leaping ability that allows him to win jump balls with almost any receiver smaller than an NBA power forward. So Calvin Johnson and Plaxico Burress have nothing to worry about. Kirkpatrick is a violent hitter who will not shy away from contact. He has solid technique and better-than average instincts, and with a little experience and good coaching, should become a shutdown corner in the NFL. Kirkpatrick can start from day one on the Cowboys' tragic secondary and be an instant improvement.
Needs: Inside Linebacker; Safety; Wide Receiver; Offensive Guard; Outside Linebacker; Offensive Tackle
Selection: Luke Kuechly, Inside Linebacker, Boston College
Last year, Andy Reid gambled that Casey Matthews and a couple of retreads could handle the load in the middle of that defense, and it nearly cost him his job. He won't pass on a quality middle linebacker this year. The Eagles may also need another wideout; DeSean Jackson forgot he was in the NFL and not the Arena League for much of the season and he may be let go as a result. But this draft is neck deep in quality wide receivers, and the Eagles, unlike the Raiders, didn't trade away all their picks last year.
Kuechly is, by far, the best middle linebacker in this draft. He's got the motor, instincts, and intelligence to quarterback an NFL defense, especially one with veterans of the "dream team" caliber that Philly already has in place. A lot of scouts beleived that Kuechly was somewhat limited athletically, and that caused him to be ranked as a late first-rounder on some boards. He put all of those doubts to rest at the Combine, where he clocked a 4.54 40 yard dash (at 6' 3", 242 pounds), and then put up 27 reps on the bench, just for good measure. Kuechly is ready to start right away in the NFL, and should be a huge improvement at middle linebacker for the Eagles.
P.S. - The Eagles will win the NFC East this year. And this time, I mean it.
16. New York Jets
Needs: Outside Linebacker; Safety; Offensive Tackle; Wide Receiver; Running Back; Interior Offensive Line
Selection: Nick Perry, Defensive End/Outside Linebacker, USC
1st down - blitz... 2nd down - blitz... 3rd down - blitz. That's what Rex Ryan's defensive playbook looks like - all 140 pages of it. Predictability is never a good strategy in the NFL, but until the Jets upgrade their pass rush, that's all they've got.
Perry surprised a lot of people by weighing in at 271 pounds at the Combine - 21 pounds more than expected. And he still managed a blazing 4.64 seconds in the 40, which puts him in elite company in terms of size-speed ratio. Perry was previously expected to last until the later part of the round, but he is now more likely a top-20 prospect. Perry has the burst and agility to blow by blockers, and he showed with an impressive 35 reps on the bench press that he also has the power to go through them. The Jets will use Perry as a stand-up outside edge rusher like the 49ers did with Aldon Smith last year, and he should immediately improve their meager pass rush, and therefore, theoretically, the entire defense. With the addition of Perry, the only thing likely keep New York from competing once again for a division title is Mark Sanchez.
17. Cincinnati Bengals (From Oakland)
Needs: Cornerback; Defensive End; Offensive Guard; Running Back; Safety; Outside Linebacker
Selection: Whitney Mercilus, Defensive End, Illinois
The Bengals generally like to accumulate as many players with criminal records as possible, but with two picks in the first round (thanks to the criminal mismanagement of former Raiders' coach Hue Jackson) they can afford to indulge that tendency a little later. Cincinnati has to get some help at the defensive end position, and with the talented and deplorably upstanding Mercilus still on the board, they'll take a chance on a law-abiding citizen and hope he can learn to adjust.
Mercilus was one of the most productive pass rushers in college football last season, and has all the tools to be enormously successful at the pro level as well. The only reason he's not rated higher on some scouts' boards than Courtney Upshaw is that, a redshirt junior, he simply does not have as extensive a body of work. An extremely fast and athletic prospect (he ran a 4.63 40 at the Combine), Mercilus can just blow by offensive tackles on his way to the quarterback, but at 6' 4", 264 pounds, he also has the power to go over them. He should provide a huge boost for the Bengals' passer-friendly defense.
Needs: Defensive End; Inside Linebacker; Offensive Tackle; Wide Receiver; Tight End
Selection: Courtney Upshaw, Defensive End/Outside Linebacker, Alabama
The Chargers' pass rush doesn't scare many offensive line coaches - even the ones at San Diego State and University of San Diego. Unfortunately for Chargers fans, they're keeping Norv Turner for at least another year, and if they don't address their front-seven inadequacies early and often in this draft, the only decent thing to do is let Philip Rivers, Antonio Gates, and Malcolm Floyd follow Vincent Jackson out the door. Because that may be the only way any of them ever sees the playoffs again.
Upshaw has all the measurables - size, speed, power and tenacity, and he may be the best edge rusher in this draft. He was very productive against top-notch SEC competition in college, and was well coached in a pro-style defense at Alabama. Upshaw is coming off an MVP performance in the National Championship game against LSU, and that fact alone has him moving up more than a few draft boards. Though his stats are impressive, they don't tell the whole story - this kid is extremely bright and mature, which should make him very coachable at the next level. Upshaw might have been a top-10 pick, but his ho-hum combine performance may have turned some teams off. The good news for Upshaw is that Charley Casserly doesn't think much of him, so he'll probably be a pretty good NFL player. Upshaw is a very pro-ready prospect, and should adapt very quickly to an NFL defense.
19. Chicago Bears
Needs: Wide Receiver; Offensive Tackle; Defensive End; Cornerback; Offensive Guard
Selection: Michael Floyd, Wide Receiver, Notre Dame
This is the year the Bears get serious about finding Cutler a decent receiving option. They finally must admit that a bunch of rejects from the car wash are not the answer. Even the 49ers wouldn't swap wide outs with the Bears, and that's the new Webster's definition of "tragic".
From a talent standpoint, Floyd is as sure a bet to become an elite NFL receiver as anyone in this draft - he's got size, speed, excellent hands and body control, and his production in college was extraordinary. The only questions are off-field ones. Floyd has had several issues, including a DUI arrest, which will give a lot of NFL teams second thoughts. Other teams, however, will be thinking "Randy Moss" all the way, and the Bears will throw the dice and hope Devin Hester and Roy Williams can do for Floyd what Cris Carter did for Moss in 1998. And if he runs over a traffic cop, so what? She probably had it coming. I can see the stupid commercials now: "... Mmikey's rrrocket will be rrready to rrace!"
20. Tennessee Titans
Needs: Defensive End; Interior Offensive Line; Safety; Wide Receiver; Inside Linebacker; Quarterback
Selection: Peter Konz, Center, Wisconsin
The Titans don't have a ton of needs to address, but the needs they do have are serious. A lot of draftniks are predicting that they will first look to pick up an interior lineman to improve the blocking for superstar running back Chris Johnson. I think Johnson would be better served if the Titans got a reliable receiving threat to take opposing defenses' focus off of him - and so far, Kenny Britt has only accomplished that for about two to three games per year. However, there are no receivers left on the board worthy of a pick this high, so the Titans will go with the consensus and get some help in the middle of their offensive line.
Konz is the best center in this draft, by a significant margin. He is excellent in pass protection, and an even better run-blocker. He played well in 2011 against NFL-bound Jared Crick, and also had a very good game against fellow high-rounder Jerel Worthy. Like 2010 first-round center and Steelers standout Marquis Pouncy, Konz can start right away in the NFL, and should improve the Titans' interior line significantly in 2012.
21. Cincinnati Bengals
Needs: Cornerback; Running Back; Safety; Outside Linebacker
Selection: Janoris Jenkins, Cornerback, North Alabama
In 2011, Nate Clements showed that he is just as adept at sucking for the Bengals as he was for the 49ers. Big surprise. The Bengals need to find a corner who can cover receivers like Mike Wallace, Anquan Boldin, Antonio Brown and Torrey Smith if they're ever going to seriously compete for a division title in the tough AFC North. They would love to get a running back to replace the relentless but geriatric Cedric Benson, but the only safe bet at that position in this draft is Trent Richardson, and he's long gone at 21.
Morris Claiborne is the best corner in this draft - by about two inches and a couple bags of weed. Jenkins can shut down a 24-hour Kinko's one-on-one. He has the speed, the instincts, the loose hips, and the short memory that all successful NFL corners must have. The only reason Jenkins won't be a top-15 pick is because he was busted on two counts of cannabis at Florida and had to transfer to North Alabama to finish his collegiate career. Which is ironic, because in Gainesville, the cops have to drive past four meth labs and a pair of dead hookers just to get to the UF campus. Jenkin's other personal baggage is that, at 23 years old, he already has four children by three different women - apparently he's been on a one-man mission to drill more holes than Exxon-Mobile. The good news for Jenkins is that the Bengals have a short memory, too. They don't care about off-field issues or criminal records. And they know a bargain when they see one - just ask Hue Jackson.
22. St. Louis Rams
Needs: Offensive Tackle; Offensive Guard; Defensive Tackle; Outside Linebacker; Cornerback; Running Back
Selection: Cordy Glenn, Offensive Guard /Tackle, Georgia
The Rams would love to go offense again here and get some protection up front for Sam Bradford, who is much more productive from an upright position than he is from flat on his back.
Glenn has two things going for him: he's versatile and he's productive. His best asset at present is his run blocking, but with solid coaching, he can improve his pass protection fairly quickly. Glenn is one of the players who significantly improved his stock at the Combine. I had him going to the Patriots at 31 in my previous mock, but given the high demand for quality offensive lineman, I'm betting he has moved himself up a few slots to the Rams at 22.
23. Detroit Lions
Needs: Cornerback; Offensive Guard; Safety; Defensive End; Running Back; Offensive Tackle
Selection: Stephon Gilmore, Cornerback, South Carolina
The Lions need help in their secondary if they ever want to seriously compete with the Packers. They would also prefer not to field any smurfs back there; all of Green Bay's receivers are over 6'0". Stephon Gilmore fits the bill nicely at 6' 0", 190, and he has world-class speed as well.
Gilmore is one of the players that really improved his stock at the Combine. He was considered an early- to mid-second rounder previously, but he displayed good agility and flexibility and posted the third fastest 40 time among the cornerbacks, at 4.40. Gilmore is a little rough around the edges in the zone, but shows good aggressiveness both in coverage and against the run, and with some good coaching and a great pass rush in front of him, he could develop into a legitimate shut-down corner in the NFL.
Needs: Offensive Guard; Offensive Tackle; Nose Tackle; Inside Linebacker; Safety; Running Back; Cornerback
Selection: Dontari Poe, Nose Tackle, Memphis
Pittsburgh typically drafts the best player available, rather than for need. This pick accomplishes both of those ends, and the Steelers really have a lot of ground to cover in this draft - they've looked old and soft at times in several areas that are usually strengths. It's possible they will try, uncharacteristically, to trade up to ensure they get Poe, as he put on a clinic at the Combine and raised his stock significantly. But don't count on it. Pittsburgh has a formula, and two Super Bowl titles in four years plus a shot at a third in 2010/11 (in a small market, no less) says it works pretty well. If they don't think Poe will be available here, expect the Steelers to simply take it in stride and move on to the next best player on their board.
Poe eats up blocks at the line like Lays - he can't eat just one. He suffered from some pass rush inconsistency in 2011, but the Steelers won't ask him to do a lot of that anyway, and with solid coaching, he should quickly become one of the better defensive tackles in the NFL. He is an immovable object against the run, and will fit perfectly into Pittsburgh's well-oiled 3-4 machine.
25. Denver Broncos
Needs: Defensive Tackle; Safety; Offensive Tackle; Running Back; Apostles; Cornerback; Wide Receiver; Inside Linebacker
Selection: Devon Still, Defensive Tackle, Penn State
A few of the pundits were surprised last year that Elway, an "offensive guy" himself, elected to go with a quality pass rusher in Von Miller instead of trading down and getting a quarterback and some extra picks. It didn't surprise me at all; I watched Super Bowl XXII, and I remember Elway trying to complete passes all day with Lawrence Taylor's foot wedged halfway up his ass. I'm pretty sure Elway remembers it too - he's probably still got a few cleat prints in his large intestine. This year I predict Elway will do it again, and add another playmaker to his talented young defense. Especially since his offense already has God as its copilot.
Devon Still , "hands down", is "the best defensive tackle in this draft". Just ask him. While neither Still's 2011 college stats nor his performance at the Combine are in agreement with that statement, you've got to like his confidence. Still has the tools to dominate at the NFL, and is a very pro-ready defensive tackle. The only real questions on him are a couple of serious injuries he had, three and four years ago, respectively. Still has shown no signs of any lingering effects, however, and has since posted back-to-back dominant seasons for Penn State. He can start right away for Denver and be an instant improvement - a scary thought for the other teams in the sad-but-true AFC West.
26. Houston Texans
Needs: Offensive Tackle; Defensive Tackle; Wide Receiver; Tight End; Cornerback; Safety
Selection: Fletcher Cox, Defensive Tackle, Mississippi State
The Texans would like to find a decent No. 2 wide receiver to complement their superstar, Andre Johnson - especially after Johnson was sidelined with an injury for a few games in 2011, and Houston struggled to hold onto the division lead. But, with other pressing needs, you don't burn a first round pick on a number two receiver unless that receiver's name is Julio Jones and you're slightly unhinged. Houston can also use help at the offensive tackle position, but, with the best offensive tackles already off the board, they will address their defensive line here.
Cox had a very good 2011 season at Mississippi State, and is now in the conversation as a late first rounder. He has excellent speed and a nonstop motor, and can be a force on the interior line, though at 295 pounds, he may want to add some weight at the next level - he struggles at times when he gets double teamed. Cox is a high character player, who approaches the game with a professional attitude, which makes him very coachable. He may require a little development, but should work his way into Houston's starting lineup very quickly.
Needs: Cornerback; Defensive End; Defensive Tackle; Safety; Inside Linebacker; Wide Receiver; Center; Offensive Guard
Selection: Kendall Reyes, Defensive Tackle, Connecticut
Assuming they don't trade this pick, as they've been prone to doing in the past, the Patriots will probably look to address one of their needs on defense. They'd love to get some help the at cornerback position, which was frequently a liability in 2011. But with lots of picks and the top two corners already spoken for, they'll hope to find some secondary help later and move on here to another position of need at defensive tackle.
Reyes had 46 tackles, 13.5 tfl, and 4.5 sacks in 2011. He has excellent short-range burst and showed very good straight-line speed (4.95 in the 40) and strength (36 reps on the bench) at the combine. In other years, Reyes would be a mid first rounder, but with a draft class deep in quality defensive tackles and few teams with a serious need at the position, He''ll likely slide a bit in April. Good news for the Patriots, who hope to plug him in up front immediately.
Needs: Outside Linebacker; Safety; Defensive End; Cornerback; Center; Offensive Tackle
Selection: Zach Brown, Outside Linebacker, North Carolina
With a fairly young team, and coming off a 15-1 season, it seems pretty clear that other than their quarterback's mouth, the Packers don't have a ton of weaknesses to address. Most of those weaknesses are on defense, so with this pick, Green Bay will likely look to improve its pass rush.
Brown is the best 4-3 outside linebacker in this draft. He's a phenomenal athlete with blazing speed and adequate size, has a nose for the ball and can make big plays all over the field. He shows very good physicality for his size, and should quickly become a force outside in the NFL. The challenge for Green Bay will be transitioning Brown to the 3-4, where they will need him to become more of a pass rusher opposite Clay Matthews. But Brown has the physical talent, the motor and the football intelligence to make that transition quickly, and shouldn't take him too long to work his way into the starting lineup.
29. Baltimore Ravens
Needs: Inside Linebacker; Outside Linebacker; Safety; Cornerback; Offensive Tackle, Interior Offensive Line
Selection: Mark Barron, Safety, Alabama
While the Baltimore defense is still formidable, several of the players that make it great are getting up in years. The Ravens have got to start getting younger on the defensive side of the ball if they're going to continue to compete for a division title year after year in the what-have-you-done-for-me-lately AFC North. Ray Lewis is a hall of famer, along with safety Ed Reed, and the two are the heart and soul of that defense. And both are on the wrong side of 30. While the priority is to find a replacement for Lewis, the Ravens simply can't pass on Barron's value at this point in the draft.
Barron is a smart, hard-hitting safety who always seems to be around the ball. Watching him play evokes memories of a young (and healthy) Bob Sanders. Barron was a three-year starter for a pro-style defense, played against the best competition in college football at Alabama, and has been consistently productive. He solidified his first-round status with a very solid combine, and the Ravens will be extremely lucky if he falls in their lap at this point in the draft. Barron is as pro-ready as they come, and should have an immediate impact on Baltimore's already lethal defense. A scary thought for the other teams in the competitive AFC North.
Needs: Wide Receiver; Wide Receiver; Wide Receiver; Wide Receiver; Offensive Tackle; Defensive End; Running Back; Outside Linebacker
Selection: Stephen Hill, Wide Receiver, Georgia Tech
The 49ers' most pressing need is at wide receiver; if you had any doubt, that one-catch-for-three-yards performance in the NFC Championship game - by all their wideouts combined - should have made you a believer. The 49ers' problem at wide receiver was not that they don't have reliable receivers, but that all the receivers they do have are either too small or too slow to be consistent factors downfield against competent NFL defenses. The return of Josh Morgan, who has excellent size and good hands, just adds a number-two, possession-type receiver to the mix, of which the 49ers already have a good one in Michael Crabtree.
Over the past few months, Hill has gone from being a relative unknown to being generally regarded as a mid- to late-second round prospect. And then came the Combine ... can you say "Julio Jones", boys and girls? Well Hill was even better. He blew everyone away with his performance in Indianapolis, averaging 4.34 in his 40 runs, and posting an unofficial time of 4.29, and is now very much in the conversation as a mid- to late-first rounder. The knocks on Hill are experience and production; in only one year as a full-time starter, Hill only managed 28 catches. For 820 yards and five touchdowns - a 29.3 yard average. (Bear in mind, too, that he played in Georgia Tech's quirky offense, where Demaryius Thomas and even Calvin Johnson got underutilized.)
Hill is a gifted athlete, and could very quickly become a star in the right NFL offense. He is also a very solid blocker coming out of run-first GT, which is a huge plus transitioning to Harbaugh's offense. For the record, I'm not a huge fan of Hill as a first rounder for the following reasons: 1) his production - he was not super productive overall last year (see above), and, with only one year as a full-time starter, the body of work just is not there to evaluate; and 2) his maturity - the fact that he came out early instead of taking another year to improve his skills and his stock shows that he's impatient and probably not very realistic regarding his expectations at the next level. Hill has been quietly but steadily moving up draft boards since late December, to the point where, after his jaw-dropping performance at the Combine, he is now almost certainly a first-rounder. I do not believe Hill is worth the risk in Round 1; however, the 49ers don't ask me for my opinion very often, and may take the gamble here and hope their outstanding coaching staff can turn the raw but talented Hill into a legitimate NFL starter in time to make another run deep into the playoffs in January.
31. New England Patriots
Needs: Cornerback; Defensive End; Safety; Inside Linebacker; Wide Receiver; Center; Offensive Guard
Selection: Alfonzo Dennard, Cornerback, Nebraska
This was the Patriots' biggest weakness in 2011. The Patriots threw everything but the kitchen sink into their secondary last season, and it often still wasn't enough. Expect Belichick to probably hit the cornerback button at least once more in this draft, and to target a safety fairly early as well.
Dennard's height (5'10") will likely give some teams pause - probably enough to let him slip into the second half of round one, to the Patriots at 31. Alshon Jeffery helped out some, too, with a monster game (4-148-1) against Dennard last season. At the Combine, Dennard showed very good speed (4.55), and was impressive in his other drills and in his interviews as well. He should make a solid addition to a New England secondary which has struggled at times in recent years.
32. New York Giants
Needs: Inside Linebacker; Offensive Tackle; Cornerback; Outside Linebacker; Tight End; Running Back
Selection: Mike Adams, Offensive Tackle, Ohio State
Teams that pick this late in the first round rarely have many dire needs, and the Giants are no different. They would like to upgrade at right tackle and better protect their star quarterback, and they can also use another run-stuffer in the middle of their defense. My previous choice for this pick, Vontaze Burfict, suffered Combine fail so epic that, not only is he no longer a potential first-rounder, he'll be lucky to get drafted at all in April.
Adams also had some issues at the combine, but nothing that can't be overcome with a halfway decent Pro Day workout, and the fact that good offensive linemen are hard to come by, particularly this late in this particular draft, keeps him in the first round. The Giants know they've got to keep the new and improved Eli Manning upright and healthy if they want to have a chance to repeat, and Adams can definitely help them out if he stays focused and plays to his potential.
33. Cleveland Browns
Needs: Wide Receiver; Offensive Tackle; Running Back; Offensive Guard; Defensive End; Safety; Cornerback;
Selection: Tommy Streeter, Wide Receiver, Miami
Now that they've got their presumptive franchise quarterback in Griffin, the Browns will probably want to get him someone to throw the ball to; Greg Little doesn't scare many defensive backs outside of the greater Cincinnati metropolitan area. And they saw, twice in 2011, what a great wideout can do for a young quarterback in the Bengals' Andy Dalton-A.J. Green connection. They would also like to get Griffin some help on the offensive line, but with the top five linemen already spoken for, they'll try to get some value at those positions later in the draft.
Of all the wide outs in this draft class not named Stephen Hill, Streeter probably helped himself the most in Indianapolis. He measured 6' 5", 219 pounds and showed excellent concentration, agility and hands in his position drills. Then he really opened some eyes with a blistering 4.40 in the 40. Streeter may be the big, fast, athletic receiver the Browns have been missing in recent years, and should make an appealing target for the talented young Griffin.
34. Indianapolis Colts
Needs: Cornerback; Offensive Tackle; Safety; Offensive Guard; Wide Receiver; Defensive Tackle; Outside Linebacker; Running Back
Selection: Kelechi Osemele, G/T, Iowa State
The Colts will probably want to keep their new quarterback upright for as much of the season as possible, and their offensive line play in 2011 was atrocious. They could use some help at both the guard and tackle positions, and will split the difference here with a player versatile enough to play either.
Osemele was very impressive in Indianapolis, and, though he was already considered a second-rounder by most scouts, he may have even helped himself a little. Indianapolis will be lucky to get him here, and should be happy with the result. Osemele is a mauler, and can open up lanes as well as anyone in this draft. He will need to refine his game to be as effective in the NFL as he was in college, but with a full offseason, he's got the quick feet to become a solid starter on the Colts' line.
35. Minnesota Vikings
Needs: Offensive Guard; Wide Receiver; Safety; Cornerback; Defensive Tackle; Outside Linebacker
Selection: Kevin Zeitler, Guard, Wisconsin
The Vikings will double up on the offensive line here, and hope to shore up their front five for the next decade. They would also like to get a receiver to complement Percy Harvin, but this draft is deep in quality wide outs, and they will feel confident they can get a potential starter with their high pick in round three.
Zeitler was solid up front for the Badgers in 2011, and has few glaring weaknesses in his game. He is as adept at opening running lanes as he is in pass protection, and should be a nice fit for an offense looking to feature an improved passing attack in addition to all-world running back Adrian Peterson in 2012.
36. Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Needs: Outside Linebacker; Cornerback; Inside Linebacker; Offensive Tackle; Offensive Guard; Center
Selection: Chase Minnifield, CB, Virginia
With Ronde Barber likely to retire in the near future, the Bucs will want to find a replacement. Starting NFL corners don't just grow on trees, and they often take a little time to develop.
Minnifield is a bit on the small side at 5' 10", 183 pounds, but then, so is Barber. While he did not run at the Combine, Minnifield showed more than enough speed at Virginia to keep up with fast SEC receivers, and he showed enough in the other drills to convince scouts he has what it takes to play the position effectively at the next level. He should work his way into Tampa's starting lineup quickly, and will make a capable replacement for Barber at some point.
37. St. Louis Rams (from Cleveland)
Needs: Offensive Tackle; Defensive Tackle; Outside Linebacker; Cornerback; Running Back
Selection: Nate Potter, Offensive Tackle, Boise State
The Rams aren't finished with their offensive overhaul. They are looking for a tackle who can protect Bradford's blind side for years to come, and hope that Potter can be that guy. I'm not convinced, but who asked me?
Potter is one of the better tackle prospects likely to last much beyond the first round in April, partly because of his ability to play on either side of the line. He lined up primarily left tackle in college, and provided very solid blind side protection for the prodigious Kellen Moore. Potter will need to improve his strength in the NFL, as there are some questions about his ability to power run block, and his performance at the Combine (22 reps on the bench) did nothing to dispel that. However his overall technique is excellent, and with some development, he could become a very serviceable and versatile player.
38. Jacksonville Jaguars
Needs: Wide Receiver; Cornerback; Offensive Tackle; Tight End
Selection: Coby Fleener, TE, Stanford
In addition to some secondary help, the Jaguars would like to get their young quarterback some weapons, as well as better pass protection. This draft is deep in wide receivers, but none that appeal to the Jaguars at this point, and the highly rated tackle prospects are all off the board. The Jags will split the difference here and provide Gabbert with the best tight end in the draft.
Many scouts had Dwayne Allen rated higher than Fleener before the Combine, because, they said, Allen was faster. But then Allen clocked a lackluster 4.89 40 time in Indy (Fleener didn't run), so now all bets are off. However, in 2011 Fleener caught 32-648-10; a 20 yard average - compared to Allen's 12 yards per catch. It has also been suggested that Allen is a better red zone target, but Allen only scored 8 times in 2011, on 50 catches. That's 16%; nearly a third of Fleener's receptions went for touchdowns. Additionally, Fleener has the advantage of having played for four years in a complex, pro-style offense. He is mature, polished, NFL-ready, and can contribute significantly right away at the next level.
39. Washington Redskins
Needs: Quarterback; Cornerback; Wide Receiver; Inside Linebacker
Selection: Brandon Weeden, Quarterback, Oklahoma State
The Redskins were unable to procure either of the top two quarterbacks in round one. This mock draft assumes they also were not able to pull a QB in free agency. As this is by far their most pressing offseason need, Washington is faced with a critical decision here in the second round.
Weeden is old. At 29, he may be the oldest player ever to enter the Draft, and that alone will be enough to take him off many teams' draft boards. However, he completed 72% of his passes for 4,727 yards in 2011, with 37 touchdowns and 13 interceptions and, if he were in his early 20's, he might very well be a first round pick. Weeden had a strong Combine, and if the Redskins aren't put off by his age, they may be eying him as a second round option. Shanahan certainly had some success in Denver with an older quarterback by the name of Elway, and may actually prefer to work with a more mature player under center. Weeden is a mobile, accurate, strong-armed quarterback, and he's definitely got some upside.
40. Carolina Panthers
Needs: Wide Receiver; Defensive Tackle; Offensive Guard; Cornerback; Inside Linebacker
Selection: Alshon Jeffery, Wide Receiver, South Carolina
The Panthers would like to get their new superstar quarterback a younger gun for his arsenal. They showed last year that they’re willing to take a chance on a high-upside player in the early rounds, so…
Jeffery has the size and skill set offensive coordinators drool over, but his college stats column is a little light. Not to worry, that's just because he played at South Carolina (what happened to that high-octane passing game Steve Spurrier was famous for at Florida?) Jeffery is often criticized by pundits and scouts for not having enough speed to get separation on NFL corners, but I watched him torch Alfonzo Dennard - a future NFL corner with 4.4 speed - for 148 yards and a touchdown on 4 catches (in less than three quarters of play.) That's a 37 yard average for you stats freaks - enough to make even Mike Wallace jealous. So Jeffery's got a little speed. Plus, he's 6'3", 216 pounds, so if the whole receiver thing doesn't work out, the Panthers can always slap twenty more pounds on him and use him as a pass rusher.
41. Buffalo Bills
Needs: Outside Linebacker; Offensive Tackle; Safety; Cornerback; Quarterback; Wide Receiver; Offensive Guard
Selection: Lavonte David, Outside Linebacker, Nebraska
The Bills need to address their pass rush if they want to seriously contend with New England and New York for the division title. They also need and outside linebacker who's versatile enough to play every down, and play the run as well as drop into coverage or go after the quarterback.
David was one of the top-rated 4-3 outside linebacker prospects heading into the 2011 season, and he did not disappoint. He had 133 tackles, 12 tfl, 5.5 sacks, two interceptions and two forced fumbles last year, and was a clutch presence when the Huskers needed him to be. David turned in a solid effort at the combine, including a 4.61 40 yard dash time, but his smaller size (6' 1", 233 pounds) will cause him to slip a bit. The Bills will be happy to get him in the second round, and will groom him to become a starter at some point this season.
42. Miami Dolphins
Needs: Quarterback; Defensive End; Wide Receiver; Offensive Guard; Defensive Tackle; Tight End
Selection: Kirk Cousins, Quarterback, Michigan State
Miami is as desperate for help at quarterback this year as they should have been for Jim Harbaugh last year. This team has not had a legitimate franchise quarterback since Dan Marino retired, and Marino is a hundred and sixty eight years old. Miami will be one of the teams hot in pursuit of either Flynn or Manning (or both) in free agency, and if they don't land either, they will have to pick up a passer here.
Cousins really helped himself at the Combine. He also may have been helped by the fact that Ryan Tannehill, without even throwing the football, hurt himself a little. Cousins threw the ball well and showed athleticism in his drills and in the 40, where he clocked a respectable 4.93. He was hampered in college by playing in a run-first offense, but he still managed 3,016 yards, 24 touchdowns and 7 interceptions in 2011 on a 65% completion rate. Cousins has a strong arm and is accurate, with good pocket awareness. Cousins is clutch in big games, and may be a diamond in the rough for some NFL team.
43. Seattle Seahawks
Needs: Quarterback; Defensive End; Outside Linebacker; Running Back
Selection: Ryan Tannehill, Quarterback, Texas A&M
Can you say "Blaine Gabbert", boys and girls? Don't say it to Pete Carroll; he's thinking "Ben Rothlisberger". The Seahawks do need to get a young franchise quarterback, though Tannehill probably isn't the answer. No worries, Seahawks fans; Carroll will be gone in a couple years anyway, and Tannehill may even help get him out the door quicker.
Leaf, uh, I mean Tannehill, like Gabbert, has the size, mobility, and arm strength scouts are looking for these days. And unlike Gabbert, he put up huge stats in college; unfortunately, some of those stats were interceptions on stupid throws into double and triple coverage. Tannehill can make plays with his arm or his legs, but does he have it upstairs to be an elite NFL QB? I'm not convinced. Tannehil didn't help himself at the Combine, where he didn't throw, and his hands were measrured at just over 9" - tiny for an NFL quarterback, and making him a candidate to be a fumble machine in the NFL (see, e.g., David Craig; Daunte Culpepper.) But, just because it has to happen at least once in every draft, some team will fall in love with his numbers and pick him in the early rounds. I predict that team will be the Seahawks.
44. Kansas City Chiefs
Needs: Running Back; Defensive End; Inside Linebacker; Cornerback
Selection: David Wilson, Running Back, Virginia Tech
The Chief don't believe Jamaal Charles id durable enough to carry the load at tailback for an entire season, and Charles' season-ending ACL tear last year would seem to support that view. They would like to get a workhorse to split time with Charles and give them some more versatility in the running game.
The reigning ACC Player of the Year, Wilson has plenty of upside. In 2011, he ran for 1709 yards (with a 5.9 average) and nine touchdowns, and caught 22-129-1. He was rated the number two back heading into Indianapolis, but may have moved himself up a slot with a strong Combine performance Wilson is a home-run threat every time he touches the football, and has excellent vision and shiftiness to find space and make tacklers miss. He may not be available at this point, and if he is, the Chiefs will likely have a hard time choosing between him and Lamar Miller, whose slightly better size would make him an attractive option as well.
45. Dallas Cowboys
Needs: Defensive End; Outside Linebacker; Offensive Tackle; Safety; Center; Running Back
Selection: Cam Johnson, Defensive End, Virginia
The Cowboys would like to add a pass rusher to help take some pressure of their defensive backs in addition to addressing the secondary in this draft. With Johnson still on the board, they will pull the trigger here and count themselves lucky to get him.
Johnson played through nagging injuries for much of the year in 2011. He still totaled 27 tackles, 11 tfl, four sacks and two forced fumbles - not too bad for an off year. Johnson showed at the Combine he is healthy, and demonstrated good speed (4.81), agility and power. His size (6' 3", 268) is ideal for Dallas' traditional 4-3 defense, and he looks pro-ready right now.
46. Philadelphia Eagles
Needs: Safety; Wide Receiver; Offensive Guard; Outside Linebacker; Offensive Tackle
Selection: Kendall Wright, Wide Receiver, Baylor
Whether or not they trade him, the Eagles were less than thrilled with DeSean Jackson's overall performance last year. At some point early in this draft, they'll be looking for some insurance, if not an outright replacement.
Wright's smaller-than-ideal size (5'10", 190), like Jackson's, will drop him into the second round - further, on some teams' boards. But like Jackson, and the ageless Steve Smith, Wright uses his outstanding quickness, hands, vision and instincts to more than compensate. He is by far the best deep threat in this draft, and will see significant action in Philly's dynamic, big-play offense as a rookie. Wright did not time particularly well at the Combine, and that will drop him a bit, to Philly's benefit - his game-day speed is as good as anyone's in this draft.
47. New York Jets
Needs: Safety; Offensive Tackle; Wide Receiver; Running Back; Interior Offensive Line
Selection: Markelle Martin, Safety, Oklahoma State
The Jets would like to upgrade at safety, especially since they (maybe fortunately) lost out on the Asomugha sweepstakes last year. They got burned deep too often in 2011, and that's not good news when you have to face Tom Brady twice a year.
Martin might go higher if he runs well at his pro day, but he didn't participate at the 40 in Indianapolis, so at the moment, his rating hasn't changed much. At 6'1, 207, Martin has ideal size for an NFL safety, and he was a physical, hard-hitting presence in Oklahoma State's impressive backfield. Martin is a very pro-ready prospect, and can step in immediately and improve the Jets' already very good defense.
48. New England Patriots
Needs: Defensive End; Safety; Inside Linebacker; Wide Receiver; Center; Offensive Guard
Selection: Bruce Irvin, Defensive End/Outside Linebacker, West Virginia
The Patriots aren't finished addressing their defensive woes. They know that, even if the two db's they picked in round one become Pro Bowlers overnight, if they don't have any pass rush in front of them the defense won't be much better.
Irvin is coming off a somewhat lackluster season in which he posted 38 tackles, 14 tackles for loss, 7.5 sacks and no forced fumbles. To make matters worse, he was generally considered a bit undersized even for an NFL outside linebacker (most scouts thought he was 6' 2" and not much more than 235 pounds.) Then came the combine. Irvin measured 6' 3" and weighed in at 245 pounds to start the day. Then he really opened some eyes by clocking a freakish 4.50 in the 40, tops among defensive line prospects. Irvin also impressed in his other drills, and is now rapidly moving up draft boards everywhere. If he repeats his command performance at his pro day, it's even possible he'll sneak into the first round. If the Patriots can get him here, they won't be complaining.
49. San Diego Chargers
Needs: Inside Linebacker; Offensive Tackle; Wide Receiver; Tight End
Selection: Dont'a Hightower, Inside Linebacker, Alabama
The Chargers haven't finished with their defensive remodeling yet. They need to get a versatile linebacker to shore up the middle of their defense, and will jump at the chance to grab Hightower here in the second half of Round 2.
Projected as a first rounder by most scouts prior to the Combine, Hightower hurt his stock a bit in Indianapolis by posting a subpar (4.68) 40 time and looking stiff and often confused in his drills. However, there is no denying that, on the football field, Hightower is a physical presence inside. He's got ideal size, decent speed, a non-stop motor, and his awareness is superb. He can use some work on his ability to go sideline-to-sideline, but he's very pro-ready right now and can play right away on San Diego's often impotent defense.
50. Chicago Bears
Needs: Offensive Tackle; Defensive End; Cornerback; Offensive Guard
Selection: Casey Hayward, Cornerback, Vanderbilt
The Bears have other needs here, and their pass defense doesn't look like a huge priority on paper. But, as we all know, football games are not played on paper. They are played inside television sets. Chicago has to face both Green Bay and Detroit twice every year, and that will put a premium on the secondary for any team.
Hayward is an underrated prospect. At 5' 11", 185, he has the size to match up with some of the NFL' bigger receivers, and although he posted a subpar 4.57 40 time in Indianapolis, he plays much faster and has the agility, hips and instincts that made him one of the better ballhawks in college football last year. In 2011, Hayward posted 54 tackles, nine passes broken up, 6.5 tackles for loss, and five interceptions - on par with any corner in the draft, and particularly impressive given Vanderbilt's difficult schedule. Hayward should quickly become a factor in Chicago's subpar pass defense, and might even work his way into the starting lineup before the start of the season.
51. Philadelphia Eagles
Needs: Safety; Offensive Guard; Outside Linebacker; Offensive Tackle
Selection: Dwayne Allen, Tight End, Clemson
Not a position of serious need for the Eagles, but they'd like to give Vick another receiving option, especially with DeSean Jackson's future still very much up in the air. It will be hard to pass on a player like Allen this late in the second round, so Philly will nab him here and hope to get value at some other positions later in the draft.
Allen was Coby Fleener's only real competition at the top of this year's tight end class. Then he measured just 6' 3" at the combine, and clocked 4.89 in the 40. Nevertheless, it's hard to argue with his production: Allen had 50 catches for 598 yards and eight touchdowns in 2011, showing significant improvement on his 2010 campaign (33-373-1). He is a solid blocker as well; an important factor in the Eagles' West Coast-style offense.
52. Tennessee Titans
Needs: Interior Offensive Line; Safety; Wide Receiver; Inside Linebacker; Quarterback
Selection: Mohamed Sanu, Wide Receiver, Rutgers
The Titans need to address the receiver position once again, as it is still unclear when, if ever, Kenny Britt will stop acting like a spoiled, out of control teenager and start playing to his potential consistently. Having a grown-up at the other starting wide receiver position should take a lot of pressure off of star running back Chris Johnson, and allow him to return to his Pro Bowl form of 2010.
Sanu stayed healthy all season and had an excellent campaign. He has ideal size and speed, and he runs crisp routes – which goes a long way in the NFL. What separates Sanu from the rest of the pack is his uncanny concentration and soft hands – he routinely makes the difficult catch look easy, and occasionally pulls in the spectacular highlight reel grab. He was previously ranked a late first rounder, but his subpar 40 time (4.67) in Indianapolis moves him down a bit. Fortunately, Sanu, a possession receiver, was not expected to show blazing speed. Sanu should make for an immediate improvement over the Titans' current alleged wide receiving corps.
53. Cincinnati Bengals
Needs: Running Back; Safety; Outside Linebacker
Selection: Lamar Miller, Running Back, Miami
The Dolphins are short one feature back, and will likely be looking to remedy that situation with this pick. There are a couple of appealing options at this point, and Miami will likely go with the safer of the two in Miller.
Miller has blazing speed (he clocked in at 4.40 in Indianapolis) and outstanding vision, and has the hands to be a threat coming out of the backfield as well. He showed enough at the Combine to justify his second round status, though he may have been trumped on some teams’ boards by Combine standout David Wilson. Miller has good size at 5' 11", 212, and can hit the hole with some power in short-yardage and goal line situations as well as make tacklers miss in the open field.
54. Detroit Lions
Needs: Offensive Guard; Safety; Defensive End; Running Back; Offensive Tackle
Selection: Doug Martin, Running Back, Boise State
The Lions' offense was formidable in 2011, with Stafford finally healthy all year and throwing to All-Pro wide receiver Calvin Johnson. But their attack was occasionally exposed as one-dimensional without a credible every-down threat to run the ball. The Lions will address that shortcoming early in this draft, and hope to improve on their surprising 2011 playoff run this season.
Martin, at 5’ 10", 223 pounds, is a bigger back than Miller or Wilson, but he has the speed (4.50) to be a home-run threat. He has very good burst in close quarters, and does a lot of things well. Martin is coming off a solid 2011 season in which he had 1,299 yards and 16 touchdowns on the ground and caught 28 passes for an additional 263 yards and two touchdowns. The Lions hope Martin can be the durable, every-down back that Jahvid Best has yet to become.
55. Atlanta Falcons
Needs: Cornerback; Center; Offensive Guard; Defensive End; Offensive Tackle
Selection: Jayron Hosley, Cornerback, Virginia Tech
After trading their 2012 first-rounder to move up and snag Julio Jones last year, the Falcons need to make this one count. Their biggest weakness in 2011 was their secondary, and with a prospect like Hosley still on the board, that's a good place to start.
With a strong Combine, Hosley solidified his status as a late second rounder. A bit of a smurf (5' 10", 178) with impressive production as a multi-year starter at Virginia Tech, Hosley needed to show speed, agility and quickness in Indianapolis. He came through with a 4.47 40 time and high marks from the pundits in all his drills. Hosley has the experience to move fairly quickly into the Falcons' starting lineup, where he can't help but be an improvement once he's comfortable at the pro level.
56. Pittsburgh Steelers
Needs: Offensive Guard; Offensive Tackle; Inside Linebacker; Safety; Running Back; Cornerback
Selection: Bobbie Massie, Offensive Tackle, Mississippi
Pittsburgh's makeshift offensive line showed its age and ineffectiveness at times last season, particularly in the game against the 49ers, who spent much of the evening stomping the already-hobbled Ben Rothlisberger into the grass. The Steelers need to add young talent up front if they hope to make another run at the Super Bowl any time in the near future.
Massie is a solid right tackle prospect, and has the strength and feet to run block and pass protect equally well. His lackluster performance against Alabama's high powered defense in 2011 will drop him a bit, and the Steelers will be happy to get him this late in round two.
57. Denver Broncos
Needs: Safety; Offensive Tackle; Running Back; Apostles; Cornerback; Wide Receiver; Inside Linebacker
Selection: Andrew Datko, Offensive Tackle, Florida State
This time Elway will address the other side of the equation and get his young messiah - uh, I mean quarterback - some better protection, so Tebow doesn't have to say a prayer every time he drops back to pass. The Broncos would like to get a running back at some point, but with Martin, Miller and Wilson already spoken for, there really isn't one available with round two talent.
Datko had an up-and-down season at left tackle for the Seminoles, and was often outplayed by right tackle Zebrie Saunders. However, he has the size, strength and agility to be a starter in the NFL, and had a good Combine to solidify his second round status.
58. Houston Texans
Needs: Offensive Tackle; Wide Receiver; Tight End; Cornerback; Safety
Selection: Brian Quick, Wide Receiver, Appalachian State
They learned the hard way in Houston 2011 that when your starting quarterback and your All-Pro wide receiver both miss significant playing time, you'd better have some solid backups. The Texans don't, and if the rest of the AFC South wasn't so pathetic, it would have cost the team its first playoff berth.
Quick was consistently productive over three years in college. His excellent size (6'3.5", 222) makes him a mismatch for smaller defensive backs, and an excellent red zone target. Quick pulled in 71 balls for 1,096 yards and 11 touchdowns in 2011, after steadily improving in each of his three years as a starter, and he should make an outstanding complement to Texans all-world receiver Andre Johnson.
Needs: Cornerback; Defensive End; Safety; Offensive Tackle; Offensive Guard; Center; Wide Receiver
Selection: Trumaine Johnson, Cornerback/Safety, Montana
The Saints found out in the divisional round of the playoffs that the safety position is pretty important. After Alex Smith and Vernon Davis torched them for three touchdowns - two in the fourth quarter, they now realize that there's no such thing as "good enough" in the NFL.
At 6'2", 200, Johnson is a 'tweener, who could play either corner or safety at the next level. His excellent size will enable him to match up with the big receivers that dominate the NFL, and he is a ball-hawk with excellent instincts and hands. Johnson is a poor man's Patrick Peterson, and could start right away at multiple positions for many NFL teams. Johnson showed the speed and flexibility in his drills as well as aced the interview process at the Combine - which he needed to do to secure his late second round status, as off-field issues involving a fight with police officers last October significantly hurt his draft stock.
60. Green Bay Packers
Needs: Safety; Defensive End; Cornerback; Center; Offensive Tackle
Selection: Jake Bequette, Defensive End, Arkansas
The Packers aren't done addressing their lackluster defense. With a young team and an all-pro at quarterback, they have the luxury of standing more or less pat on offense this year if they want to, and they want to make sure that Rodgers isn't forced to run up huge passing numbers week after week this year to keep them in the hunt for home field advantage.
Bequette was hampered by injuries for much of the season, but when he was healthy, he put together some monster games. He finished 2011 with 35 tackles, 8.5 tfl, eight sacks, and an incredible four forced fumbles. Bequette was considered a third-rounder before the Combine, but he moved himself up with a solid performance. At 6' 5", 274 pounds, Bequette has the size and power to blow it up at the line, and he's got the speed (4.82) to go around big offensive tackles. If the Packers are looking for a defensive end who can play Justin Smith to Clay Matthews' Aldon Smith, Bequette may be their guy.
61. Baltimore Ravens
Needs: Inside Linebacker; Outside Linebacker; Cornerback; Offensive Tackle, Interior Offensive Line
Selection: Mychal Kendricks, Outside Linebacker, The University of California - Berkeley
The Ravens will continue to develop the youth movement theme on defense, where they have several starters getting up in years. They would like to find an heir-apparent for Ray Lewis, but there are no inside linebackers worthy of consideration for that title at this point.
Kendricks has had back-to back solid seasons at Cal, although his sack production fell off a bit last year (he had 8.5 in 2010, 3 in 2012.) He was rated a fourth rounder before the Combine, but then he ran a 4.47 in the 40 and killed it in all his drills. The Ravens will consider moving Kendricks inside to learn from one of the best in Ray Lewis.
62. San Francisco 49ers
Needs: Wide Receiver; Offensive Tackle; Defensive End; Running Back; Outside Linebacker
Selection: Billy Winn, Defensive Tackle/Defensive End, Boise State
In spite of Justin Smith's outstanding (and still improving!) play at defensive end, he's one of the few players on the team who's on the wrong side of 30. Baalke and Company would surely love to get a young defensive lineman or two - either as insurance or as developmental projects - to play behind Smith in the near future. With Ahmad Brooks now signed and set to play in San Francisco for several more years, the 49ers now have the luxury of addressing the defensive line much earlier in this draft than they would have otherwise.
Winn was an underrated pass rusher in Boise's 4-3, and has the speed (5.00 at the Combine) and the versatility to move outside in the 49ers' 3-4. Winn has ideal size (6' 4", 294) to be a 3-4 defensive end, and his slightly subpar performance on the bench (24 reps) means the 49ers can probably get him at the end of the 2nd round, and work on his strength in-house. He can fill in for Smith in a pinch, as he has the ability to step in immediately or learn behind Smith for a few years before possibly becoming a starter - probably on the other side at first, as Smith shows no signs of slowing down.
63. New England Patriots
Needs: Safety; Inside Linebacker; Wide Receiver; Center; Offensive Guard
Selection: Rueben Randle, Wide Receiver, LSU
After using their first three picks to address their uncharacteristically subpar defense, it is now time to Appease the Brady. The Patriots would love to find a big, fast, sure-handed receiver to complement the prolific Wes Welker, and Randle fits that description very well.
Randle was an underrated producer for LSU last year. He's got the prototypical size-speed ratio that NFL teams look for, and he's an excellent route-runner with sure hands and some big-play ability. What speed he gives up to some of the other wide outs in this draft, he makes up for with toughness and concentration, and he will make an excellent target for Brady in clutch situations and in the red zone. The Patriots will be lucky to get him at this point - he performed well in Indianapolis, and it's possible he'll climb into the first half of the round.
64. New York Giants
Needs: Inside Linebacker; Offensive Tackle; Cornerback; Outside Linebacker; Running Back
Selection: Vinny Curry, Defensive End/Outside Linebacker, Marshall
The Giants would like to improve their pass rush, which, while solid in the latter half of 2011 and often spectacular in the playoffs, was occasionally a weakness early on. In other words, they aren't sure what they'll have this season, and will be looking for a little insurance.
Curry is an explosive athlete who seems tailor-made to be an edge-rusher in the NFL. He's got the size that many teams are looking for, and is coming off his second consecutive dominant season at Marshall. His non-stop motor makes watching him play a bit like watching 49ers 2011 rookie phenom Aldon Smith. Curry was climbing draft boards fairly steadily earlier in the year I had him going to the 49ers at the end of the first round in my previous mock), but his Combine numbers were less than stellar - in particular, he doesn't have the timed speed or the wingspan that many had anticipated, and that drops him a bit to the end of round two. Nevertheless, Curry plays extremely fast on game day, and what power and reach he lacks, he makes up for with tenacity. He should make a solid addition to the Giants' already formidable defense.
95. San Francisco 49ers
Needs: Wide Receiver; Offensive Tackle; Running Back; Outside Linebacker
Selection: Marvin McNutt, Wide Receiver, Iowa
The 49ers are far from finished addressing their wide receiver problem; they're even likely to hit that button once more after round three. After scrambling to find receivers for most of last year, don't be surprised if Harbaugh elects to go with six or more wideouts on his final roster this summer - like he did last season with safeties - after all, it worked out pretty well for the secondary, didn't it?
Trent Balke spent some quality time scouting in Iowa in late 2011, and I doubt he failed to notice that McNutt somehow managed 16.27 yards-per-catch, pulling in 78 catches for 1269 yards and 12 touchdowns, in a very conservative passing offense run by a quarterback nobody's ever heard of - even in Iowa City. McNutt is a big, sure-handed receiver with excellent body control and deceptive speed. He runs precise routes, routinely makes big plays downfield, and is not afraid to sacrifice his body to go over the middle and get his yardage the hard way. The only cornerback able to handle McNutt this year was Alfonzo Dennard, and Dennard is a first round prospect. On film, McNutt looks a bit like Terrell Owens, but without the "Look at me! Look at me!" billboard glued to his jersey.
127. San Francisco 49ers
Needs: Offensive Tackle; Running Back; Outside Linebacker
Selection: Davin Meggett, Running Back, Maryland
In light of Gore's advancing years and the 49ers' lack of an every-down backup, the 49ers will be, once again, looking at running backs in the middle rounds. What they don't want is pint-sized, third-down type back because Kendall Hunter already fills that role perfectly. What they are looking for is a back who can spell Gore in every-down situations, and even replace him for a game or two in case he gets hurt - Gore's one weakness over the years has been that he is prone to injury.
Meggett, the son of Giants great David Meggett, is a bigger version of his father. At 5' 8", 211, pounds, he has the size to be a full-time backup in case of injury to Gore, and he has the speed (4.53 in the 40) and wiggle to make defenders miss anywhere on the field. Meggett has excellent vision and the patience to allow his blockers to open up holes, and he was an underrated producer throughout his career at Maryland. He has good hands and is a solid blocker, and it is possible he can eventually become the heir-apparent to Gore in an offense that figures to become increasingly pass-reliant as the WCO is fully installed and implemented over the next couple of years.
159. San Francisco 49ers
Needs: Offensive Tackle; Outside Linebacker
Selection: Desmond Wynn, Offensive Tackle, Rutgers
Staley's in his prime, Alex Boone is sober and in shape, Anthony Davis is still developing, and the 49ers won't need to start looking for anyone's eventual replacement for several years. However, while former first-rounder Davis is a solid run-blocker, he has been inconsistent (putting it mildly) in pass protection. Though he is young and still developing, the 49ers are likely to want to bring in someone who, along with the new and improved Boone, can push Davis in training camp and possibly for playing time during the season. It's also conceivable (but hopefully unlikely) they'll let Adam Snyder go in free agency, possibly move Davis inside, and draft a player they think can start immediately to play next to him. But bear in mind that the West Coast Offense, which generally takes a couple of years to install thoroughly, has often been run successfully - including in San Francisco - with a patchwork of solid young players and veteran role players up front. In fact, during the 1990's, a friend of mine used to frequently refer to San Francisco as, "the place where old offensive linemen go to die." Cowboys fan. Jackass. Sorry, where was I? Oh, right. While I believe that both Harbaugh and Baalke see the offensive line as significantly more important than that, I also think it is unlikely they will spend any high-round draft picks addressing it so soon after the 49ers used two first rounders to acquire Davis and Mike Iupati.
Wynn is another player who impressed in Indianapolis. He has excellent size (6' 6", 303 pounds) and speed (5.05) and showed he has the strength to be effective at the next level with 34 reps on the bench and a solid performance in his other drills. Wynn was rarely beat in college, and with some development can become a solid backup and possibly even give Anthony Davis a much-needed push in training camp.
191. San Francisco 49ers
Needs: Outside Linebacker; Depth
Selection: Adrian Hamilton, Defensive End/Outside Linebacker, Prairie View A&M
Although this is no longer a position of dire need, with Ahmad Brooks signed for the foreseeable future and Aldon Smith still working under his rookie contract for a few more years, the 49ers would nevertheless like to pick up some insurance.
It's entirely possible that, were it not for Hamilton's outstanding 2011 season, I might have lived the rest of my life never even having heard of Prairie View A&M. The fifth-year senior totaled 81 tackles, 20.5 sacks, 28.5 tackles-for-loss, and 5 forced fumbles last season, and is now very much on the radar for NFL scouts. Because he played for a smaller school, Hamilton was not even invited to the Combine, and can be a steal for the 49ers here in the 6th round. Keep your fingers crossed.
191. San Francisco 49ers
Selection: Jordan White, Wide Receiver, Western Michigan
Having, theoretically, addressed all of their needs at this point, the 49ers will be looking for some depth here. And what better position to look to than their Achilles Heel of the 2011 season at wide receiver?
Jordan White was the most productive receiver in college football in 2011. Currently rated as a seventh round prospect, or even as an undrafted free agent by many scouts, he is the most underrated receiver in the draft. White did not perform particularly well at the Combine, posting a 4.67 40 yard dash time, but at 6' 0', 208 pounds, he has decent size, and his hands and rout-running are excellent. Can you say "Wes Welker", boys and girls? With halfway decent coaching, White could eventually become a star in the NFL. Keep an eye out for him on day three of the draft.