With the 2011 NFL season officially in the books, it might seem silly to look ahead towards next season at the beginning of February. At the same time, though, the offseason in the NFL is arguably as exciting and intriguing as the regular season, especially for teams looking to rebuild or merely reload after falling short on the field. Every team has needs and the roadmap to this offseason, outlined by Sports Illustrated's Jeff Diamond, is just one example of how teams could approach this critical time.
Fueling part of this excitement is all of the buzz surrounding the NFL Draft coming up in April. As we already have plenty of mock drafts floating around, and many of us will continue to tweak them over the coming weeks before the big day.
Perhaps what makes the Draft so entertaining is the amount of time and effort put into the preparation by the teams, pundits and diehard fans. It's become an industry unto itself, that borders on science...that is until someone makes a move that defies logic/convention.
Each year at least two to three teams reach for players in the first round that experts graded as lower round talents, and in doing so creates a frenzy of speculation.
"Do they know something we don't?"
"Why would you draft him, when he would have been available with your next pick?"
"Couldn't they have traded down for him?"
In essence it's a chess game that will take years to figure out, but for today let's focus on a few players that may cause us to pause, snicker and perhaps cry if and when they are selected a bit too early according to our better senses...
Lets face it, Andrew Luck and Robert Griffin III are going one and two in a few weeks. For teams in need of a signal caller that miss out on Luck, RG3 or a free agent, the options available to them are questionable at best. To some experts, Texas A&M's Ryan Tannehill seems like the next best thing. Others, however, are not so sure. Especially in the first round for a player many have deemed a "project."
Could someone be willing to take the risk? After seeing teams live and die with the play of their quarterbacks during a year where the passing game reached new heights, don't be too shocked if someone makes a move for the big kid from A&M. But for someone to trade up or select him in the top ten like the Washington Redskins or Miami Dolphins, that qualifies as a reach.
Following a solid performance at the Senior Bowl, the Marshall University defensive end suddenly saw his draft stock begin to rise. If he follows that with a solid showing at the Combine, Curry can go from being an early day two pick to a top 15 selection for a team desperate for pass rush help. While there are a number of players that currently rate higher at the moment, some NFL front office might just fall in love with the guy enough to pull the trigger.
Could the Seattle Seahawks perhaps take Curry if Quinton Coples and Melvin Ingram are gone by the time the 'Hawks pick at #12? Would the Baltimore Ravens consider him to pair alongside Terrell Suggs at the end of round one?
Running backs like Martin with size and versatility were once snatched up in the first round with little question. Then over the course of time the balance shifted towards the passing game and running backs became interchangeable parts to be plugged in and disposed of according to need within a team's offensive attack.
This year that belief will still largely hold true, but for a team in need of a runner that misses out on Alabama's Trent Richardson or perhaps Miami's Lamar Miller, Martin might make a lot of sense. Today he is likely a second round pick, but a strong outing at the Combine could lead to someone in the bottom half of round one to snatch him up out of fear of losing him early on day two.
Could Martin stay a Bronco of sorts by simply moving to Denver to sure up the running game there? Willis McGahee isn't getting any younger and Knowshon Moreno is coming back from an ACL injury.
Or perhaps Cleveland at No. 22, if they don't trade up for RG3 and lose Peyton Hillis to free agency? What about Cincinnati if Cedric Benson leaves?
Another pick at running back?
Polk's skill set in many ways could also make him rise into round one for a team seeking a pass catching runner serving as a Darren Sproles-type hybrid back/receiver. To the pundits, Polk might seem like a reach, but for a playoff or near playoff team, a weapon like Polk could be seen as the difference maker next season.
Could a team like the Super Bowl winning Giants grab Polk with the final pick in round one to pair with Ahmad Bradshaw, assuming Brandon Jacobs is likely gone next year?
Another University of Washington player?
Ta'amu is one of a handful of players who could parlay a solid performance at the Senior Bowl with an impressive week at the Draft Combine to boost their draft stock.
Right now the big defensive tackle projects as a second or third round choice, yet could an aging Pittsburgh Steelers defense use some help to replace a retiring Chris Hoke and a recovering Casey Hampton? It's certainly a reach, but is it that hard to believe the Steelers would draft based on defensive need at the back end of the first round?