The NFL draft is just two weeks away, and mock drafts are all over the Internet. The general consensus among everyone is that the first three picks will be the same: Andrew Luck to the Indianapolis Colts, Robert Griffin III to the Washington Redskins and Matt Kalil to the Minnesota Vikings, but after that, anything really could happen, and I thought I would try my hand at a mock draft.
This is my first such attempt at one; I decided to focus solely on the first round for this one. I will likely do a second attempt just a few days before the draft that may include the first several rounds.
This pick should be as much of a lock as anything in the world, but reports are circulating saying the Indianapolis Colts are still undecided on whether they will pick Andrew Luck or Robert Griffin III. Personally, I don’t think Colts’ owner Jim Irsay will pass Luck up.
Luck is said to be the most NFL-ready quarterback since John Elway in 1983, and he’s also got exceptional speed to go with terrific size, arm strength, accuracy and supreme intelligence. Luck should be the face of the franchise for the next 15 years, and he looks like a Hall-of-Fame quarterback in the making.
The Colts just need to surround him with more talent at the wide receiver position and on the offensive line, and Indianapolis will again be a perennial playoff contender. While there is really no such thing as a sure thing coming out of the college game, Luck is as close as it gets.
The Washington Redskins traded a slew of first-round draft picks to move up to the No. 2 slot and take the St. Louis Rams’ pick, a selection they will assuredly use to draft Baylor quarterback Robert Griffin III.
RGIII was the Heisman Trophy winner last year, and he’s as talented of an athlete at the quarterback position as the game has ever seen. He can run a 4.37 40-yard dash, and he has superior arm strength and accuracy to that of Andrew Luck, the expected No. 1 overall draft pick. Griffin is also extremely intelligent and possesses a dynamic work ethic that should make him a perennial Pro Bowl player.
It’s high time the Redskins get a quarterback that can be the franchise guy, and after whiffing on Patrick Ramsey and Jason Campbell in recent drafts, the Redskins have a pretty safe bet in Griffin, a guy that will help head coach Mike Shanahan turn Washington back into competitors in the NFC East.
The Minnesota Vikings are in good position with the No. 3 overall pick, a selection they will almost definitely use to select Matt Kalil, the left tackle out of USC who is the best non-quarterback prospect in this season’s draft.
There has been talk that the Vikings will trade this pick, but I don’t see them getting an offer, and Kalil is exactly what the team needs to protect Christian Ponder. He’s a prototypical tackle that should be able to step right in and block the blind side.
Last year’s free-agent signing, Charlie Johnson, was a colossal bust, surrendering eight sacks and 32 quarterback pressures in his lone season with the Vikings. The Vikings will likely move him inside to left guard with former All-Pro Steve Hutchinson having departed for the Tennessee Titans.
Football runs in Kalil’s bloodlines, as his older brother, Ryan, is a Pro Bowl center for the Carolina Panthers. Matt was talented enough while at USC to keep last year’s ninth-overall pick, Tyron Smith, at right tackle for his senior season. Kalil is equally talented in both pass and run blocking, and the only thing he could do to improve his game would be to add some more muscle to his 6’6”, 300-pound frame.
There are a number of ways the Cleveland Browns could go with this pick. They could trade the pick to a team looking to move up and draft Texas A&M quarterback Ryan Tannehill, the best quarterback in this year’s draft other than Andrew Luck and Robert Griffin III. The most likely team to trade up would be the Miami Dolphins, but I think their management likes Matt Moore too much to go after Tannehill.
The Browns could go for LSU standout corner Morris Claiborne, Oklahoma State wide receiver Justin Blackmon or Alabama stud running back Trent Richardson, all players that are said to be talents worthy of a top-five pick in this year’s draft. And they could also take Tannehill for themselves, the move I thought would happen for quite some time.
I think the Browns aren’t as confident in McCoy as they say; after all, they did try to move up to draft Robert Griffin III. But I don’t think they will pass up on Richardson, the most electrifying running back to come out of the NCAA in quite some time. The 20-year old rushed for 1,679 yards and 21 touchdowns in 13 games as a junior in 2011, also picking up 338 receiving yards and three scores as a receiver out of the backfield.
With Peyton Hillis entering free agency, the Browns need a back to step in and help take the load off of Colt McCoy; Richardson can do just that. The ideal situation for the Browns would be to focus entirely on upgrading the skill positions in the early rounds of the draft, and if they get Richardson in the first round, a wide receiver with their second pick in the first round and maybe a quarterback like Brandon Weeden in the second round, it could be a good situation for the team.
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers have to be thrilled to be able to pick up Morris Claiborne with the fifth-overall pick in the draft. Claiborne is as good of a cover corner as Patrick Peterson was in last year’s draft, and Peterson went fifth overall to the Arizona Cardinals.
The Buccaneers are bringing back Ronde Barber, but Pro Football Focus ranked Barber as the second-worst corner out of 109 qualifiers in 2011, and at 37 years old, he doesn’t have much left.
The team did sign Eric Wright to a five-year, $37.5 million deal, a contract that is one of the most bizarre I have ever heard of in all my days of following the NFL. Wright was torched repeatedly in 2011, rating 104th among 109 corners per PFF, and regardless of how much money the Buccaneers think he is worth, they desperately need an upgrade at corner.
Aqib Talib is another very talented corner, but he really wasn’t nearly as good in 2011 as people think (six touchdowns, two interceptions, 109.8 rating), and he won’t be much help at all if he goes to prison.
Claiborne would start from day one. He is a terrific athlete with good size, great speed, phenomenal ball skills and excellent acceleration, regardless of what his Wonderlic score was.
The St. Louis Rams emerged as winners in this year’s draft when they received three first-round draft picks from the Washington Redskins in exchange for the No. 2 overall pick. There is enough talent projected to go in the top 10 that the Rams still have their pick from a number of great players at sixth overall.
The Rams desperately need a stud defensive tackle to store up a unit depleted with lack of key players at the position in 2011. Fred Robbins and Justin Bannan have been released since the end of the season, and Gary Gibson needs some help at the other tackle spot.
But the team would be foolish to pass up a great wide receiver like Justin Blackmon. Sam Bradford spent 2011 throwing to Danario Alexander, Mike Sims-Walker, Brandon Gibson and Brandon Lloyd. Lloyd has signed with the New England Patriots, and the other three aren’t receivers the Rams can build their offense around. Greg Salas and Austin Pettis may be good receivers one day, but if the Rams draft Blackmon, they have a top receiver right now.
Blackmon was a sensational wide receiver at Oklahoma State University, twice winning the Biletnikoff Award for the nation’s top wide receiver. Blackmon is a physical receiver who lacks the elite speed to burn cornerbacks long, but he is a talented enough all-around playmaker and draws comparisons to Anquan Boldin for his style of play.
Blackmon averaged 1,652 yards and 19 touchdowns his final two seasons in college, and he has nearly everything you would want in a franchise receiver—strength, hands, ball skills, body control and aggressiveness—except for elite speed.
Bradford threw just six touchdown passes in 10 games, completing 53.5 percent of his passes and posting a passer rating of only 70.5. Blackmon will be a great addition to the offense, although the team could also stand to get some improvement from the offensive tackle positions.
The Jacksonville Jaguars absolutely have to get help for quarterback Blaine Gabbert, or 2012 will be the end of him. Gabbert struggled immensely as a rookie, but he wasn’t helped by a group of sub-par wide receivers consisting of Mike Thomas, Jarett Dillard, Jason Hill and Chastin West.
Michael Floyd hauled in 100 receptions for 1,147 yards and nine touchdowns as a senior, and that should be enough to make people forget about the DUI he got a year ago. Floyd is a complete receiver, and I think there’s a possibility he might go higher than Justin Blackmon in the upcoming NFL draft because he’s slightly bigger and posted a faster 40 time. But I think the Rams have been targeting Blackmon longer, so they will take him, and the Jaguars should be thrilled to get Floyd.
Floyd is a big and physical receiver with terrific coordination and body control, and he showed steady improvement as a blocker in 2011. He put up his numbers without an elite quarterback that Blackmon benefited from, and Floyd should be a good complement to Maurice Jones-Drew in the running game.
The Jaguars could always go for South Carolina pass-rusher Melvin Ingram, but I think Floyd is the safest receiver in assuring Gabbert a long and successful career.
The Miami Dolphins surprised many people when they didn’t really make much of an effort to go after Matt Flynn and they fell short with the bid to acquire Peyton Manning. I honestly think the team is committed to Matt Moore, at least for the 2012 season, and they signed David Garrard as quality backup insurance if Moore falters.
So that means the Dolphins won’t be drafting Ryan Tannehill, even though the Dolphins offensive coordinator, Mike Sherman, coached Tannehill for four seasons at Texas A&M University.
In the past decade, the Dolphins haven’t bothered to spend more than a second-round pick on a quarterback, whether in the draft or via trade—John Beck, Daunte Culpepper, A.J. Feeley, Chad Henne, and Pat White—and none of them have worked out like the team hoped. The Dolphins haven’t spent a first-round pick on a quarterback since Dan Marino, and I think they are holding out for Matt Barkley in the 2013 draft.
The Dolphins will try to bolster their defensive line with Quinton Coples, the elite pass-rushing stud from the University of North Carolina. Defensive ends have a tendency to go higher than they should, and Coples is arguably the top talent coming out of college football that can simply get to the quarterback.
He is a physical freak who has been compared to Julius Peppers; however, Coples won’t go in the top five because there are concerns that he took plays off his senior season. Coples has the abilities to be a sensation in the NFL, and he would be a good fit in the team’s new 4-3 defense, especially since they lost Kendall Langford to the St. Louis Rams.
The Carolina Panthers have spent a slew of picks on defensive tackles as of late, but they haven’t panned out as the team would have hoped—Terrell McClain and Sione Pouha from the third round last year and Corvey Irvin from the third round in 2009. As a result, the Panthers had the 27th-ranked scoring defense, 28th-ranked defense in yardage and 25th in run defense.
The team gave up 100 rushing yards 11 separate times and yielded 150 ground yards six times, and they finished fourth-worst in the league in rushing touchdowns allowed. The Panthers will strongly consider a player like Luke Kuechly, but if Fletcher Cox is on the board, he’s their man.
Cox would be the type of player that could step right in to a 26th-ranked scoring defense and solidify the unit. He is an elite pass-rusher and registered a 4.79 40-yard dash; his initial quickness off the line should be useful for both stopping the run and getting to the opposing quarterback. He’s also versatile enough that he can line up as both a defensive tackle and a defensive end in a 4-3.
The Buffalo Bills took a significant step in upgrading their rush in the offseason when they signed pass-rushing sensation Mario Williams in free agency, which makes it likely they won’t spend another pick on a defensive lineman in the 2012 draft.
The Bills lost left tackle Demetress Bell to the Philadelphia Eagles, meaning offensive line is a priority, and with Riley Reiff still on the board, he becomes the man for the Bills.
Reiff will instantly step in and shore up the left tackle spot for Ryan Fitzpatrick; Reiff is said by some to be a stretch as a left tackle because of his short arms, but his 33 1/4 arms are longer than both those of Joe Thomas (32 1/2) and Jake Long (32 7/8). Reiff was a two-time All-American in college, and he’s widely seen as the second-best left tackle in the draft, behind only Matt Kalil.
Reiff is effective as both a run and a pass-blocker, and he displays excellent size at 6’5”, 315 pounds. He should be the cornerstone of the Bills offensive line for the next decade or more.
The Kansas City Chiefs could really use an enormous body like Dontari Poe that they can plug in the middle of their defensive line. Kelly Gregg is 35 years old and an unrestricted free agent, and the Chiefs have said they will likely wait until after the draft before deciding whether they want him back for 2012.
Then again, if the Chiefs get to this point and Ryan Tannehill is still on the board, they will absolutely snatch him up. Matt Cassel really isn’t anything special. He was a Pro Bowler in 2010 (27 TD to just seven interceptions), but dropped off in 2011. He posted the highest interception rate of his career (3.3 percent), completed fewer than 60 percent of his passes, turned in a passer rating six points below his lifetime mark and missed extensive time due to injury.
Tannehill is likely too raw to start right away as a rookie, but a few seasons behind Cassel would be good for him. Despite playing primarily as a wide receiver his freshman and sophomore season, Tannehill took over as the starting quarterback as a junior in college in 2010 and became a star in 2011, throwing for 3,744 yards and 29 touchdowns. Tannehill has good speed (4.6 40 yard dash), and he ran an NFL offense that should help him translate well to the pro game.
This seems like a match made in heaven for the Seattle Seahawks, as they made no attempt to re-sign middle linebacker David Hawthorne in free agency. Hawthorne was a solid enough MIKE linebacker, but he’s no Luke Kuechly.
Kuechly is an absolute tackling machine; he set the NCAA record for career tackles by a defensive player, and he did so in just three seasons. Kuechly finished with 191 tackles in just 12 games as a junior, topping out at 23 in one game. He is said to be the safest player in the draft, and his performance at the NFL Scouting Combine speaks volumes about his overall athletic ability.
Kuechly ran a 4.58 40-yard dash, he benched 225 pounds 27 times and he posted an amazing 38-inch vertical leap. He is said to be an extremely intelligent football man, and his high IQ should make him an instant leader in the Seahawks defense. He is athletic enough that he should be able to replace Hawthorne, and his awards at the college level back up his talent—he was the ACC Defensive Player of the Year, he was an All-American and he won both the Bronko Nagurski Trophy and Butkus award in 2011.
Kuechly is at his best against the run, but he’s also very adept against the pass; he is a former safety from his high school playing days. Kuechly is the kind of guy a team can build their defense around, and the Seahawks should look to do that.
Since 2000, Mike Pouncey is the only interior offensive lineman to have been selected in the top 15 overall picks (15th overall, 2011). David DeCastro is good enough that he should become the second player on that list.
DeCastro was one of Andrew Luck’s blockers at Stanford, and he was an unanimous First-Team All-American in 2011. DeCastro has drawn comparisons to Steve Hutchinson, and he should be able to solidify an offensive line that received extremely sub-par contributions from Daryn Colledge and Rex Hadnot. The two collectively allowed six sacks and 55 quarterback pressures in 2011, and factor in Levi Brown’s atrocious play as the left tackle and the equally atrocious play from Brandon Keith/Jeremy Bridges at right tackle, and it’s safe to say the Cardinals need DeCastro desperately.
If DeCastro is gone, the Cardinals would be wise to invest in some sort of an offensive lineman; Jonathan Martin or Mike Adams might be a stretch, but if the Cardinals don’t upgrade, Kevin Kolb won’t last very long. Then again, a receiver opposite Larry Fitzgerald might be a good solution, and a playmaker like Stephen Hill or Kendall Wright could be the answer.
The Dallas Cowboys have been reportedly targeting Dontari Poe or Mark Barron, and there’s a good chance the Philadelphia Eagles after them will take whichever player the Cowboys pass on.
Barron is the best fit for the Cowboys, as the team needs a big player at safety to step in and solidify the defense. Barron is a natural athlete; he played wide receiver, running back and linebacker at the high school level, and at 6’2” and 215 pounds, he is a big man to play safety. Barron ran a 4.50 40-yard dash, giving him the speed to match up with most wide receivers and today’s new breed of tight ends.
He is clearly the best safety in this year’s draft class, and he would be an upgrade for the Cowboys over Gerald Sensabaugh and Abram Elam, two players that didn’t really make much of an impact for Dallas in 2011. Barron is always around the ball, he reads offenses well and he’s a natural playmaker at the safety position.
Before the Philadelphia Eagles traded for DeMeco Ryans, most mock drafts had the team picking middle linebacker Luke Kuechly. While that would be a superb fit, Andy Reid simply does not value the linebacker position enough. He has picked defensive linemen in the first round in five of his past 10 first-round selections, and I think 2012 will make six times out of 11.
There are a slew of talented defensive linemen in the draft, but I think Reid will likely address the interior defensive line. Cullen Jenkins and Mike Patterson solidify the position, and both Antonio Dixon and Derek Landri were re-signed to give the Eagles depth, but I still think another defensive tackle is the way the Eagles will go.
Fletcher Cox would probably be Reid’s ideal pick, as he is versatile enough to play both end and tackle, but I don’t envision him being around by this selection. I think it will come down to Dontari Poe and Michael Brockers, and I went Brockers, although I really think it’s a toss-up between the two.
Brockers is very raw, and he’s still just a redshirt sophomore from LSU. He is a project, and Reid absolutely loves those type of players. Brockers has the physical abilities to be a sensation, and the best part about playing behind Jenkins and Patterson is that he won’t be expected to contribute immediately as a starter. He can play in either a 3-4 or a 4-3 and has excellent size (6’6”, 305 pounds) with strong hands, and he’s an explosive tackler that plays with a high motor and shows good speed. He has remarkable upside, and a good coach can get the most out of him.
If both Poe and Brockers are gone by this point, I think the best move for the Eagles would be a cornerback like Dre Kirkpatrick or Stephon Gilmore.
There are several key needs of the New York Jets for this upcoming draft. A wide receiver that can stretch the field and make life easier for starting quarterback Mark Sanchez (soon-to-be Tim Tebow) would be terrific news for Jets fans. If Michael Floyd is there at this pick, the Jets absolutely have to take him, but that would be surprising for Floyd to fall that far.
What the Jets really need is a disruptive pass-rusher that can get to the quarterback. As good as Rex Ryan has made his defense in the last three years, the Jets don’t have a defensive end that can consistently rack up 10-12 sacks and pressure the opposing quarterback regularly. In fact, former Buffalo Bills castoff Aaron Maybin led the Jets with six sacks last season; while Maybin fit well with the Jets, relying on him for the pass-rush is not a solution of a team hoping to compete with the New England Patriots for AFC East supremacy.
Melvin Ingram would be a great fit to team with Muhammad Wilkerson, last year’s first-round pick. Ingram was a stud at the University of South Carolina, totaling 8.5 sacks and 13 tackles for a loss his senior year. Ingram would likely play outside linebacker in the Jets' 3-4 defense, and he has a good combination of size, strength and speed that should make him a key piece of the defense.
Ingram also played some snaps at tackle in college, so if the Jets had interest in moving him inside on third downs to give him an edge against slower guards, that’s always an option as well.
Most mock drafts have the Cincinnati Bengals picking Janoris Jenkins at this selection, but simply because the Bengals frequently pick players with character issues doesn’t mean Jenkins has to go to the Bengals. And I think the latest concerns to come out about Jenkins—that he’s still a party guy who really hasn’t changed at all—will hurt his daft stock, at least enough that he won’t go in the first round of the draft.
The Bengals do need a cornerback, though, and Stephon Gilmore from the University of South Carolina is the best bet for Cincinnati. Gilmore is a borderline top-10 talent, and he has nearly everything you would want in a cornerback. He’s big with good speed and good hands, and he’s an aggressive hitter in the secondary. He has tremendous ball skills, he’s a dedicated worker with a great ethic and he’s a natural ball-hawk.
The San Diego Chargers could really use a player like Courtney Upshaw, one of a handful of stars from the University of Alabama football team. Upshaw could probably play in both a 3-4 or a 4-3; he’s a good pass-rusher and he’s also an excellent run stuffer that should fit well on the Chargers.
Outside of pass-rushing specialist Antwan Barnes—who had a career year with 11 sacks—the Chargers didn’t have anyone total more than four sacks. As a team, San Diego rated fifth in scoring offense, but just 22nd in scoring defense, 16th in total defense and 20th in rushing defense.
It’s clear that the defense has been holding this team back from advancing deep in the playoffs, and with a division that now includes Peyton Manning on one of the rival teams, the Chargers could use a force like Upshaw on their defense.
The Chicago Bears have faltered the past two seasons because of the status of their back-up quarterback (first Todd Collins and then Caleb Hanie), but that situation might be indirectly addressed with the drafting of a big-play wide receiver like Kendall Wright. Even though the Bears already brought in Brandon Marshall, another receiver would be huge for an offense with a big-time quarterback in Jay Cutler.
Marshall, Wright, Johnny Knox, Devin Hester, Dane Sanzenbacher and Earl Bennett would be a pretty solid group of receivers (plus Roy Williams in there somewhere). Wright was Robert Griffin III’s big playmaker at Baylor University, and while he obviously benefited immensely from RGIII at quarterback, RGIII benefited from Wright as his receiver.
Wright is fast, regardless of the 4.61 time he officially posted in the 40-yard dash. He plays much faster than that, and he’s been compared to Victor Cruz as a receiver that can work best out of the slot in a three-receiver set. Wright has tremendous acceleration and he’s able to get to top speed almost instantly. He has good hands, he’s aggressive and he has an unbelievable 42-inch vertical leap to go with a strong, sturdy frame.
If the Bears don’t choose to go with a wide receiver (Stephen Hill would be another great addition), the offensive line desperately needs an upgrade. J’Marcus Webb is clearly not the answer at left tackle, although the interior offensive line isn’t much of a strength either. Look for the team to at least consider Jonathan Martin or Mike Adams for the tackle spot, Cordy Glenn for a tackle/guard spot and Peter Konz as an interior lineman.
The Tennessee Titans lost Jason Jones to the Seattle Seahawks in free agency, and the team could stand to use an upgrade after that loss. Dontari Poe is a workout warrior, but I think too many teams will be scared off by the prospect of him being the next Mike Mamula, and that will push him out of the first half of the first round of the draft.
Poe is 6”4, 346 pounds, he runs the 40-yard dash in 4.87 seconds and he can bench press 225 pounds 44 times. He’s an absolute physical freak of nature and can play in both a 3-4 defense or in a 4-3, and that will likely make him go in the first half of the first round of this year’s draft.
Poe is said to have not really done anything his senior year of college, and there have been strong comparisons of Poe to former defensive tackle busts Jimmy Kennedy and Ryan Sims, neither of whom did much in the NFL, but I think if Poe is still around by the 20th pick, the Titans have to snatch him up.
Cordy Glenn is an extremely attractive offensive lineman in the sense that he can play both tackle and guard, but the Cincinnati Bengals are set at the tackle positions with Andrew Whitworth at the left side and Andre Smith at the right side.
If they draft Glenn, he would help to store up the guard positions, a clear weakness for the Bengals last season. Bobbie Williams is 35 years old and likely won’t be back, and Nate Livings signed with the Dallas Cowboys. The team needs interior offensive linemen, and Glenn would be a great fit.
It’s widely assumed Glenn will move to guard in the NFL because he is susceptible to bull rushers at the tackle position and he’s dominant inside. Glenn never missed a game in his career due to injury, and he would be a great addition to an up-and-coming young team with Andy Dalton, A.J. Green and Jermaine Gresham.
The Cleveland Browns should pick Trent Richardson with their fourth-overall pick, which means a wide receiver would be the best fit at No. 22 overall. Justin Blackmon and Michael Floyd will be long gone, which means the top receivers available would likely be someone like Alshon Jeffery, Kendall Wright, Stephen Hill, Rueben Randle or Mohamed Sanu.
Jeffery is probably the biggest boom-or-bust guy of the group, and he could go in the top 15 or in the second round. Jeffery dropped off immensely in his senior year at the University of South Carolina, but he did have extremely inconsistent quarterback play. Jeffery is a huge receiver at 6’4”, 229 pounds, and his size made him virtually unstoppable with the Gamecocks.
Jeffery has a rare combination of size, hands, coordination and strength, and he has a dangerous stiff arm. Colt McCoy won’t survive in Cleveland with the group of receivers the Browns had this past year, but with the addition of Richardson to an offense that already includes up-and-coming receiver Greg Little, the Browns could be much better in a tough AFC North.
The Detroit Lions need offensive line desperately or Matthew Stafford won’t come close to 5,000 yards again. OK, he may never come close to 5,000 yards again anyway, but still, Stafford needs an upgrade over Jeff Backus and Gosder Cherilus.
Backus is 35 years old and was re-signed this past offseason to a new deal, but the Lions can’t possibly think a player that gave up seven sacks, 36 quarterback pressures and committed 11 penalties in 2011 is the solution for their offensive line, even as a short-term stopgap.
Meanwhile, Cherilus gave up nine sacks and 26 pressures at the right tackle spot and also graded poorly as a run blocker.
Mike Adams is what the Lions need, as he’s a mammoth of a man (6’7”, 320 pounds), and he’s built like a prototypical left tackle. He’s blessed with terrific size, exceptional strength and tremendous length that should help him translate well to the NFL level. Adams was even used as a tight end at times in college.
A cause for concern may be, though, that he was suspended multiple times at the collegiate level for violating team rules, possession of drug paraphernalia and for receiving improper benefits.
The Pittsburgh Steelers always seem to have good linebackers, but they did just release longtime Steeler James Farrior, and four-time Pro Bowl selection James Harrison is nearly 34 years old.
Dont’a Hightower would be a pleasant addition to the team, as he was one of five possible first-round stars on the fearsome Alabama defense. Hightower is probably an inside linebacker in a 3-4 defense at the NFL level, and he compares well to a player like Brandon Spikes of the New England Patriots. Hightower is a good run-stuffer, he has terrific mobility, he’s aggressive and he’s a great tackler as well as an effective blitzer.
If the Steelers don’t pursue Hightower, they could always try to beef up their offensive line; the Steelers always seem to be lacking on the line, and there are a handful of players that could be drafted in the first round as either tackles or guards. The Steelers could also go running back, as Rashard Mendenhall is entering his contract season and is trying to rehab from a torn ACL. And the Steelers could also go cornerback opposite Ike Taylor or tight end to team up with Heath Miller.
If Peyton Manning has his say in this pick, the Denver Broncos will undoubtedly select a wide receiver. But I think John Fox and John Elway will choose to address the defensive line, specifically the interior line. Demaryius Thomas really came into his own late in 2011, and he will be significantly better with Manning as compared to Tim Tebow.
But the Broncos lost Brodrick Bunkley to the New Orleans Saints in free agency during the offseason, and the line needs a big player like Devon Still to store up the unit. Still struggled initially at Penn State, missing significant time due to injury his first two seasons. He played much better as a junior and blossomed into a likely first-round pick as a senior.
Still is a good pass-rusher that can take up two blockers, and he’s also productive against the run. He’s not flashy, but he’s a solid player that should develop into a quality tackle at the NFL level.
The Houston Texans don’t have any glaring needs that they need to address with this pick. They have a borderline top-10 quarterback, a terrific running game, arguably the best game’s wide receiver in Andre Johnson, a strong offensive line and a top-notch defense with a slew of talented linebackers, even with the loss of Mario Williams to the Buffalo Bills in free agency.
The Texans could pick a pass-rusher to take over for Williams, but I think a wide receiver opposite Johnson is their most important need. Johnson is a franchise receiver, no questions asked, but he has struggled with injuries as of late. Johnson missed nine games in 2011, three in 2010 and seven in 2007, meaning he’s missed an average of nearly four games per season for the last five years.
When he is healthy, Johnson is a 1,500-yard receiver, and a receiver opposite him to take the pressure off Johnson would be great. Stephen Hill could be that guy, as the Georgia Tech star has great height (6’4”) and is already a natural blocker. The offense his school ran at the collegiate level mostly asked Hill to stay in and block; as a result, Hill has that skill down better than most NFL veterans, and there’s no telling what he could do in an offense that throws the ball down the field with a talented quarterback.
The New England Patriots have two first-round picks in this year’s draft, and they will likely trade at least one of them. Bill Belichick always does what is out of the ordinary, but he seems to have a recipe for success, as the Patriots have made five Super Bowls in the last 11 years.
The Patriots were the AFC champions in 2011 despite an extremely sub-par defense; the team finished 31st in the league in total defense, 32nd in first downs allowed, 31st in passing yards allowed and 29th in net passing yards per attempt allowed on defense.
The Patriots did receive a strong pass-rushing performance from both Andre Carter and Mark Anderson (10 sacks apiece), but Carter is a free agent and is still limping heavily after his late-season quadriceps injury. Anderson signed with the Buffalo Bills, meaning the Patriots could go into 2012 with players like Gary Guyton and Kyle Love as their top pass-rushing specialists.
Belichick desperately needs a pass-rushing force like Whitney Mercilus, a player that simply gets to the quarterback and racks up sacks. Mercilus led the entire NCAA in sacks (16) as a senior, and Belichick could use him the same way the San Francisco 49ers utilized Aldon Smith his rookie campaign.
There are concerns that Mercilus could be a one-year wonder; after all, he had just two career sacks before his breakout ’11 campaign, but Belichick should be able to maximize his potential. Mercilus also led the nation in forced fumbles (nine), and he has a great first step that should make him an explosive force in the NFL.
Most mock drafts have Peter Konz going to either the Green Bay Packers or the Baltimore Ravens; I see him going to the Packers simply because they pick first.
The Packers lost Scott Wells in free agency to the St. Louis Rams, but then signed Peyton Manning’s longtime center, Jeff Saturday, to be his replacement. Saturday is a terrific NFL center, a veteran and still a Pro Bowl-caliber player, but he’s soon to be 37 years old and he simply doesn’t have many years left as a starter in this league.
Konz would be a great addition to likely watch and learn as a rookie before taking over in 2013 or 2014. Konz has a good combination of size, strength, quickness and athleticism, and he can line up at both center and guard. The Packers would likely want to use him at center, but the fact that he can play multiple positions makes him all the more attractive as a prospect.
Konz is a good pass-blocker, a very physical run-blocker and he should be able to serve as a key piece of the Packers offensive line for the next decade or more. Factor in that the Packers used first-round picks on tackles Bryan Bulaga in 2010 and Derek Sherrod in 2011, and the Packers will have an offensive line that will keep Aaron Rodgers standing upright with time to throw the ball.
The Baltimore Ravens need a safety to take over for the rapidly-aging Ed Reed, but Mark Barron very likely won’t be around by the time the Ravens are on the clock, and there is no other safety worth a first-round nod. The Ravens also need to address the linebacker positions, as Jarret Johnson signed with the San Diego Chargers and Ray Lewis—although he still plays with the best in the game—can’t possibly have too many years left.
The Ravens love linebackers, and Zach Brown would be a great addition to a defense that includes Reed, Lewis, Terrell Suggs and Haloti Ngata. Brown may be a slight stretch as a first-round pick, but he was named a First-Team All-ACC linebacker as a senior and has blazing speed; he was unofficially clocked at 4.28 in the 40-yard dash by his UNC coaches during offseason conditioning programs in 2009.
That speed will probably vault Brown up into the first round. Brown is still very raw and could use some proper coaching, but he will definitely get it with all the playmakers surrounding him on defense. He’s also a natural athlete and should translate well to the NFL, especially with a coach that knows how to get the most out of him.
The San Francisco 49ers desperately need a wide receiver or tight end that can stretch the field and give Alex Smith a target to throw to, especially since Michael Crabtree hasn’t developed into what the team hoped he would be when they spent the 10th-overall pick on him in 2009.
Vernon Davis is an elite tight end, and he had a phenomenal postseason in 2011, and the Niners could always go with a tight end like Coby Fleener to add to the offense. After all, Fleener was coached by current 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh while at Stanford University, and the two-tight end set has been popularized as of late, especially with Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez and Ed Dickson and Dennis Pitta.
But the 49ers need a wide receiver even more than they need a tight end, and with most of the top receivers gone, I think they will reach a little bit and grab Rueben Randle of LSU. Randle is big, strong, athletic and has good hands, and he compares in the NFL sense to a player like Vincent Jackson. Randle was extremely highly touted coming out of high school and probably could have signed with any college in the nation (as well as pursued a career in professional baseball), and he’s a hard worker that should soon be the go-to receiver on the Niners.
The New England Patriots reached the Super Bowl in 2011 despite a defense that gave up an unbelievable 4,703 yards passing, the second-worst total in NFL history. The Patriots also gave up 26 touchdowns through the air, and the team could use a playmaker like Dre Kirkpatrick to store up the defense.
The Patriots will get Ras-I Dowling back from injury, as the 2011 second-round pick missed the majority of his rookie season with a hip injury. Leigh Bodden was released in late October, and Devin McCourty became the first player in the Pro Football Focus era (since 2008) to give up over 1,000 yards through the air.
The Patriots need a strong corner like Kirkpatrick, a quality player that has excellent size, strength and hand-eye coordination. He can win jump balls against top receivers, he has a strong work ethic and he’s viewed as a prototypical shutdown corner. Kirkpatrick was arrested for marijuana possession in January, but the charges have been dropped, and Belichick should be able to get the most out of a player like Kirkpatrick.
The New York Giants are coming off a Super Bowl title, although there are a slew of problems on their team that could stand to be fixed. The offensive line—notably the tackle positions with David Diehl and Kareem McKenzie—were extremely sub-par. Brandon Jacobs left for the San Francisco 49ers, and the Giants could use some quality linebackers to go with the ferocious pass-rush that has now won them two championships in five seasons.
The Giants also lost two tight ends—Jake Ballard and Travis Beckum—to ACL injuries in the Super Bowl, and this position could stand a major upgrade. The team did sign Martellus Bennett from the Dallas Cowboys in the offseason, but Bennett certainly isn’t a long-term solution. The new trend in the league is multiple tight end sets, and when Ballard returns from his injury in 2012, the Giants will have a terrific group of tight ends with Coby Fleener on one side and Ballard on the other.
Fleener was Andrew Luck’s tight end in college, and he made a name for himself by catching 10 touchdown passes. Fleener is a huge red zone target at 6’6”, 245 pounds, and he is almost a hybrid receiver/tight end. He can line up anywhere on the field—tight end, H-back, slot receiver, fullback, and even as a wide receiver—a la Aaron Hernandez of the New England Patriots. Fleener has good acceleration, he’s a good blocker with excellent strength and he has good, reliable hands.