With the 2012 NFL draft officially three weeks away, we take a closer look at some of the latest buzz and rumors surrounding the draft's top prospects, including an in-depth view on a number of players from Sports Illustrated's Tony Pauline:
Lewis Targeting Upshaw?
According to Tony Pauline, Cincinnati Bengals coach Marvin Lewis has his eye on Alabama's pass-rushing outside linebacker with the team's second first-round pick.
We heard today Marvin Lewis is hoping Alabama’s Courtney Upshaw is still available when the Cincinnati Bengals are on the clock with their second pick in round one, the 21st selection. The other player the team will consider in that slot is Peter Konz of Wisconsin.
While many see Upshaw as best suited to play in a 3-4 defense—the look he mastered while at Alabama—he does make sense teamed with Bengals defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer. Upshaw could play on the edge in many different looks and fronts, and would an immediate upgrade over what the Bengals currently have as a outside pass-rusher. It's an intriguing fit for both sides.
Packers Like Konz?
Green Bay has been linked to Konz ever since long-time center Scott Wells bolted to St. Louis in free agency, but GM Ted Thompson did find a suitable replacement in veteran Jeff Saturday shortly after.
But with Saturday clearly on his last NFL legs, the Packers may have to look to the NFL draft to find a long-term option.
According to Pauline, the only offensive player they would target in the first round is Wisconsin center Peter Konz.
If the Green Bay Packers go offense in round one Konz is the player they are targeting if he’s still on the board. We’ve heard this rumbling since January and it was confirmed again today.
Konz is the unquestioned top center in the class, but the Packers have other pressing needs on the roster, including every level of their defense. While Thompson does have 12 picks to play with, it seems unlikely that he'd use his top pick on a position he mostly filled in free agency.
Interesting Thought For Seattle
Most have pegged the Seahawks to a pass-rusher or middle linebacker at No. 12 overall, but Pauline floated out an idea that few, if any, have speculated on Seattle's potential pick.
What will the Seattle Seahawks do? Separate sources told me today the team hopes to move out of the 12th slot and trade into the later portion of round one, where they will then draft linebacker Donta Hightower.
If they can’t move the pick they are seriously considering Hightower’s teammate, safety Mark Barron, at that slot and Kam Chancellor would then move to outside linebacker.
Hightower seems like an ideal pick for a middle linebacker, especially after David Hawthorne left in free agency this week. But picking Barron, and then moving Chancellor to outside linebacker, makes little sense. Chancellor was a Pro Bowl quality safety in 2011 and works well with free safety Earl Thomas. Barron is a good football player, and there's nothing wrong with the Seahawks liking him a lot, but it's always risky to move around a proven player like Chancellor.
Dallas Has Options
Several names have been talked about as having the potential to land in Dallas at No. 14 overall, but Pauline seems sure that two names are definitely in play for the Cowboys. The aforementioned Barron is one, and combine start Dontari Poe is the other.
Barron’s stock is on the rise as, amongst other things, head coach Nick Saban has given him rave reviews. He’s being talked about as someone with a passion for football and a prospect who’s skills have been underrated. We hear if Dontari Poe is gone by the 14th pick of the draft, and he’s likely to be, the Dallas Cowboys are likely to turn to Barron.
Barron makes a lot of sense for Dallas, as adding the Alabama safety to a secondary that improved in free agency with Brandon Carr's signing gives the Cowboys a whole new look defending the pass next season. Dallas ranked in the lower third in the NFL against the pass for most of 2011.
Poe has been talked about at length since the combine, when the 350-pounder blew everyone away with surprising athleticism and strength.
Clarence Hill, Jr. of the Fort-Worth Star Telegram reported that the Cowboys are trying to hide their interest in Poe:
The Cowboys did not bring in defensive tackle Dontari Poe as expected. According to a team source, the Cowboys “like him a lot but don’t want to draw attention to him.”
Considering this is the age of the misinformation season, take that with a grain of salt. While it is keeping with comments made by owner Jerry Jones last week that the Cowboys are very impressed with Poe, it is contrary to how they have operated the past six seasons.
Drafting either Barron or Poe would be a big get for the Cowboys' improving defense.
One They Like, One They Don't
The New York Jets may be planning on using their first-round pick on a pass-rusher for Rex Ryan's defense, but according to Pauline, it won't be on Illinois' defensive end/outside linebacker Whitney Mercilus.
One player we heard earlier today the Jets are not interested in selecting is Whitney Mercilus of Illinois. There is strong speculation amongst league insiders that the Jets will look hard at moving down in round one.
There aren't many teams where the Jets pick that aren't interested in moving down, so that isn't big news. New York is more likely to take Barron if he falls that far, the top pass-rusher on Ryan's board or a receiver.
Coples to Fall?
According to Dan Pompei of the Chicago Tribune, North Carolina defensive Quinton Coples is a candidate to drop in the draft.
When asked if the Chicago Bears should move up for Coples, Pompei responded with this:
I wouldn't move up for Coples, and I'm not even sure I would take him if he fell to me if I was picking 19th. He has top-of-the-draft talent, but Coples doesn't always play like it. NFL scouts question his motor, his passion for the game and his coachability. I think he is going to drop in the draft.
Given how valuable pass-rushers are in the draft, it seems unlikely that Coples would fall out of the top-20 picks. Remember Jason Pierre-Paul? Coples is very similar.
Still, Pompei is a dialed in national reporter who knows what he's talking about. If he says Coples could fall, he's probably heard from more than a few teams about the possibility.