Cam Newton: No 1 Overall Pick in the 2011 NFL Draft
In one week the 32 teams that comprise the NFL will meet in New York to choose from the best athletes college football has to offer. These athletes will come from schools both big and small. They will have played in AQ conferences within the FBS, as well as little-known FCS schools somewhere in the shadow of Big State U.
Those chosen early on Day 1 will be heading to teams that have struggled and hence will get the opportunity to make an immediate impact. Of course, with that opportunity comes the increased possibility of failure. It is the double-edged sword of collegiate success.
It is true for the teams, as well. For more than two months, analysts and strategists have been locked in rooms with coaching staffs and executives. Draft boards have been tacked to walls. They have been filled and erased, only to be filled again. Each team has developed a strategy, scrapped it and then reached into the waste bin, uncrumpled it and brought it back to life.
The build up to the 2012 NFL draft seems to be bigger than ever. It's as if it has taken on a life of its own. What was once relegated to page 2 of your local sports section is now a four-day event filled with almost as much pomp and circumstance as the Super Bowl.
In fact, in terms of overall media coverage, it may be bigger. The Super Bowl has only two weeks of buildup. This years draft buzz and media coverage has been building since the Monday after the Giants were crowned Super Bowl champions.
The draft, once purely the domain of the most fervent fan, is now a worldwide spectacle that has become almost as entertaining as the regular season. In fact, the advent of fantasy football and the subsequent drafts that go along with it, gives the draft as much appeal to some fans as the game itself.
Andrew Luck (QB) Stanford Cardinal
For the first time since 1998, the Colts are the owners of the first pick in the NFL draft. It is their first time in the top 10 since 1999. During the 11-year span from 2000 to 2011, the Colts selected at or near the bottom of the first round in eight of 11 drafts.
Excluding Dwight Freeney, whom they chose eleventh in 2002, the Colts did not have a pick better than 20th. Eight times during the last decade they drafted 27th or later. That speaks volumes about this organization and the success they've enjoyed since drafting Peyton Manning in 1998.
By now, everyone knows that Indianapolis will choose Andrew Luck with the first pick in this year's NFL draft. It's a no-brainer.
Luck is an extremely intelligent QB with underrated athleticism and a strong arm. He has the ability to throw accurately on the run, as well as stand in the pocket and deliver with lethal precision.
That being said he has some gargantuan shoes to fill and will be thrown directly into the fire. Only time will tell if he leads the Colts to those same lofty heights that were once the stomping ground of Manning.
Robert Griffin III (QB) Baylor
The exploits of the Washington Redskins, since Daniel Snyder became owner in 1999, are nothing less than tragic. Laden with talent, the Redskins have entered just about every season since the turn of the century with high hopes, only to have those hopes dashed upon the shores of mediocrity.
This year, in an effort to change their fortunes, the Redskins have traded up, securing the 2nd pick from St. Louis. And with that 2nd pick, Washington will select Baylor QB Robert Griffin III.
Griffin is a dynamically gifted athlete. A passer that is stellar in and out of the pocket. Although, he is accurate to all levels of the field, what is most impressive is his ability to put the long ball on the money.
Griffin has all the tools to be the super star that Washington needs. He can throw on the run with accuracy. He can deliver from the pocket. He moves quickly through his progressions and makes smart decisions.
Matt Kalil (OT) USC
In 2007, the Vikings selected Adrian Peterson with the seventh overall pick. In 2009, they chose Percy Harvin with the 22nd overall pick and last year they selected Christian Ponder with the 12th overall pick.
For the first time since 1968, the Vikings have a top-three pick. What to do with it should be another no-brainer.
Last year their offensive line was absolutely abhorrent. This offseason they let both of their guards leave in free agency and they have yet to fill those gaps. In order for Minnesota to win, they must be able to protect Ponder. That is why they will choose Matt Kalil (OT, USC).
Kalil is considered the top non-QB in this draft and will be able to anchor the blind side for the next decade. What's more, the kid has the attitude to go with his ability.
Trent Richardson (RB) Alabama
Cleveland has professed support for QB Colt McCoy. If that's true, now is the time to start surrounding him with weapons. The Browns are in need of a running back, as well as a legitimate deep threat at wide receiver.
Fortunately, for Cleveland fans the Browns own both the fourth and the 22nd pick in the first round, as well as 12 other picks. This includes four more picks spread across the first four rounds.
Drafting the most highly regarded running back in the draft since Adrian Peterson will go along way to alleviating some of the pressure on McCoy.
Trent Richardson will give Cleveland a three-down back that can handle 25-plus carries per game. This will give the Browns the offensive balance needed to truly develop McCoy into the franchise passer they are looking for.
Morris Claiborne (CB) LSU
After finishing 2010 with a 10-6 record the Tampa Bay Buccaneers took a step back in 2011. This led to the firing of coach Raheem Morris and the eventual hiring of Greg Schiano.
The Buc's then got WR Vincent Jackson to give QB Josh Freeman a big-time target, as well as OG Carl Nicks to better protect him. All of this done in the hopes that Freeman can return to his 2010 form.
On the other side of the ball, the issues are bit more cloudy.
Much work is needed on a defensive unit that finished 2011 at or near the bottom in almost all categories. But, no need is more glaring than that of the secondary.
This unit is rife with issues. Cornerback Aqib Talib is awaiting trial on assault charges. There is a possibility Talib may beat these charges. But, will it matter? This is not his first run-in with the law.
With the Talib issues and Ronde Barber being well past his prime, it only makes sense for Tampa to take a cornerback.
Morris Claiborne (LSU) is not only the top cornerback prospect in this draft; he is the top defensive prospect.
His length and hops give him the ability to fight for the ball against any of the top receivers in the NFL. He has solid speed, tracks the ball well and has excellent coverage skills. His pick will ensure that the Bucs don't have to rely on recently signed Eric Wright to cover opponents' No. 1 receivers.
Justin Blackmon (WR) Oklahoma State
On January 13, 2012 the St. Louis Rams hired Jeff Fisher as their head coach.
One month later the Rams hired Les Snead as their GM. This left little time for the GM and coach to put a plan in place for free agency and the draft. And yet, the two have done amazingly well.
So far, via free agency, they have filled needs across both sides of the ball.
The signature acquisition was CB Cortland Finnegan, but they also filled needs on the O-line, as well as at receiver, D-line and at tight end.
Another acquisition this offseason was former Eagles receiver Steve E. Smith. Smith had a Pro Bowl year in 2009, but had microfracture surgery on his left knee in 2010 and has not yet fully returned to form. With questions about his ability to fully recover, it makes sense for St Louis to take a receiver here.
That's why the Rams select Justin Blackmon (OSU). Even though Blackmon is not as big as some or as fast as others, he has shown that he has the ability to separate from defenders. However, it's what he does after the catch that makes him the best receiver in this draft.
Michael Floyd (WR) Notre Dame
The Jacksonville Jaguars finished dead last in passing. Much of the blame can be placed on the shoulders of a very young Blaine Gabbert. However, some of that blame has to go to the lack of a dominant receiver for Gabbert to throw to.
At the same time Jacksonville struggled in the passing game, it boasted the league's 12th-best running attack, as well as the league's top rusher in Maurice Jones-Drew. It also had the sixth-best defense. All of this bodes well for Jaguars' fans.
The Jaguars have an offensive line that has the potential to be really good, if it can stay healthy. They have a defense that can handle most any offensive attack and a rushing game that should allow Gabbert to develop into his potential.
What they need is a game-changer.
That is why the Jaguars will choose Michael Floyd.
This gives Gabbert a big target. At 6'3" and 220 lbs, Floyd has the size to make the tough catches in traffic. What's more, he has blazing speed, laser focus and excellent quickness.
Ryan Tannehill (QB) Texas A&M
The Miami Dolphins' offseason has been abysmal. Aside from the hiring of coach Joe Philbin, nothing has fallen into place. They pursued Peyton Manning and then Matt Flynn. They were shunned by both. They need a quarterback.
That leaves them with the best option on the table: Ryan Tannehill.
Tannehill is an athletic QB who can stand in the pocket and deliver the ball, as well as break out and throw on the run. He is young and inexperienced, but according to NFL insiders he has the ability to see the field and make decisions that are "not by the book." He will need to be given time to grow and the O-Line must get better, but he has the potential to be the one... finally.
After slogging through the 2010 season with just two wins, the Carolina Panthers selected Cam Newton with the first overall pick in the 2011 NFL draft.
The NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year immediately paid dividends. In a season riddled with injuries the Panthers were able to improve to six wins.
However, as the offense progressed, the defense finished the year ranked 28th. This will have to improve if Carolina is going to be a playoff contender.
Charles Johnson had a solid season, with nine sacks, but no other player had more than four and that's just not going to cut it. The need to shore up the interior of the defensive line will lead the Panthers to choose Fletcher Cox.
Cox has that rare combination of size and speed.. At 6'4" and 298 lbs he can play the interior and with 4.67 speed he can rush the edge.
Luke Kuechly (LB) Boston College
The Buffalo Bills were on their way to playoff contention before the injuries depleted their roster and the wheels fell off.
This off-season management promoted Dave Wannstedt to defensive coordinator and then brought in a bevy of free agents. This included Mario Williams, the best athlete on the market and with the acquisition of Mark Anderson, the Bills defensive line is a force to reckon with.
Buffalo has four solid defenders in the secondary. Although, this unit finished 19th in passing defense and 29th in scoring, much of that had to do with a nonexistent pass rush.
The linebacking corps is solid, but lacks depth. Nick Barnett, at strong-side LB, had his best season since 2007. He is joined by second-year man Kelvin Sheppard at middle linebacker. Sheppard is coming off a solid rookie season and should continue to improve. In an effort to strengthen this position the Bills will select Luke Kuechly with the 10th pick.
Kuechly's numbers from 2011 were staggering. He finished the season with 191 tackles, including 12 tackles for loss. He also lead the Eagles defense with three interceptions.
Michael Brockers (DT) LSU
The Kansas City Chiefs are close to being back on top in the AFC West. Last season, injury kept them from competing down the stretch. However, they still finished only one game out of first place.
After suffering season-ending injuries, Matt Cassel and Jamaal Charles return in 2012. Combine that with an offensive line that is promising, as well as a solid No. 1 receiver and the Chiefs only need on offense is additional depth.
K.C.'s immediate concern is on the defensive line. This unit finished 26th against the run and produced only 29 sacks all season. If the Chiefs are going to compete in the AFC West, they are going to need to put pressure on the QB.
In order to improve the line the Chiefs will select Michael Brockers as the 11th pick in the 2012 NFL draft.
Brockers is long and strong and plays extremely fast. At 6'5" and 325 lbs he has the size to play the three technique, as well as the speed to play the five technique.
David DeCastro (G) Stanford
Riley Reiff (OT) Iowa
After finishing 2010 at 5-11, the Arizona Cardinals showed marked improvement in 2011. They ended the year on a high note, beating the Seattle Seahawks to bring their record to 8-8. This after starting the season 2-6.
This turn around was accomplished behind a suspect offensive line and with a QB situation. Arizona originally wanted Donovan McNabb to be their signal-caller in 2011, but settled with Kevin Kolb.
Kolb played poorly through the first eight games, but was not replaced until a turf toe injury sidelined him. His replacement, John Skelton, performed admirably, but was not lights out. However, the Cardinals went 5-2 under his helm.
The primary reason for the Cardinals' transformation was a much-improved defense that will continue to be a strength in 2012.
The LB corps, led by Darryl Washington, is heading in the right direction, although Paris Lennon is getting up there in years.
The defensive front is anchored around Darnell Dockett, but the star of this unit has to be Calais Campbell. The fourth-year pro out of Miami recorded 71 total tackles and eight sacks from his DE position.
In order to compete with San Francisco the offense is going to have to improve.
That will need to begin in the trenches. After the offseason and the stupefying decision to sign free agent Adam Snyder, the Cardinals absolutely have to acquire an offensive lineman and this is where they need to do it.
The Cardinals will choose Riley Reiff.
Reiff will slide into the right tackle spot opposite Levi Brown and may, sooner or later, challenge Brown for the left tackle position. He is a balanced lineman that is extremely aggressive blocking in the running game.
His only drawback may be his overall strength. However, that should be resolved once he enters into a professional training program.
Mark Barron (S) Alabama
Eleven games into the 2011 season, the Dallas Cowboys were sitting atop the NFC East. At 7-4 they seemed to be on their way to the playoffs for the first time since 2009. Unfortunately, the wheels fell off and they finished with an 8-8 record.
On offense the Cowboys have the horses to make a deep run into the playoffs. Tony Romo is coming off a year where he posted 102.5 QBR, the highest rating of his career. Running back DeMarco Murray averaged 5.5 yards per carry, but ended the year on the IR.
Murray will be back in 2012 and, if healthy, should be able to create the kind of balance the Cowboys have lacked since the departure of Emmit Smith.
Tyron Smith, Dallas' best lineman, will move to left tackle and Doug Free will move back to right tackle. This will allow Free to return to the position he knows best and will also take advantage of Smith's strong blocking ability.
Although, they can blame their collapse last year on the defense, the Cowboys do have some studs on that side of the ball. Namely DeMarcus Ware.
Ware led the team last year with 19.5 sacks. He was both a Pro Bowler and first-team All-Pro. On top of that Ware is reliable; he has started the last 111 of 112 games. Along with Ware, Dallas has two other solid linebackers in Sean Lee and Anthony Spencer.
The defensive line isn't stacked, but it does include four-time Pro Bowler Jay Ratliff, who has the ability to play end or tackle. The other linemen didn't play to potential and will need to get better.
That leaves the defensive backfield.
This is where the Cowboys fell off. This unit gave up 3,906 passing yards in 2011, second most in franchise history. In an attempt to fix the leaks, Dallas signed former Kansas City Chiefs cornerback Brandon Carr. According to Adam Schefter, over the past two seasons Carr has knocked down 28 passes, second only to Joe Haden.
Carr will slide into the No. 1 slot and will be expected to defend the NFL's top receivers. With Mike Jenkins at No. 2 corner and Gerald Sensabaugh starting at SS, the real need is at free safety.
The Cowboys will fix this by selecting Mark Barron.
Barron's experience with complex defensive schemes will allow him to transition easily into the NFL. He is a hard-hitting ball hawk with excellent instincts and closing ability.
Melvin Ingram (DT/LB) South Carolina
The 2011 Philadelphia Eagles were the most disappointing team in the NFL. And, then they weren't. For the first 12 games it seemed they couldn't get out of their own way. Then the gears clicked into place, the grinding stopped and what once wouldn't move became unstoppable.
They are a conundrum wrapped in an enigma. How does a team with so much talent, so much potential, end up stinking so bad?
A lot of that had to do with the abbreviated offseason. A team stacked with high-priced free agents needs time to gel. Consequently, the lack of OTAs hurt them.
This will not be the case in 2012.
After a normal off season, the Eagles will not only compete for the NFC East, but for the Super Bowl.
That being said, the one weakness that may exist is at the linebacker position. With the acquisition of DeMeco Ryans this weakness is considerably reduced. Although, Ryans has not performed as well since being injured in 2010, he still adds a strong presence in the middle.
In order to further reduce this weakness, the Eagles will select Melvin Ingram.
At 6'1" and 264 lbs, Ingram has the ability to play the 5 technique in a 4-3 defense. And yet, with his speed he can step back and play outside linebacker in a 3-4 defense.
Stephen Hill (WR) Georgie Tech
For Jets fans, last year was a nightmare. As the season progressed it became clear that this was a daycare masquerading as an NFL franchise.
The division in the locker room was pathetic and the antics of Santonio Holmes were shameful.
It got so bad that by the end of the year players began to speak out in the media. LaDainian Tomlinson, in an interview with Showtime's Inside The NFL went so far as to say, "... it was as bad as I've been around."
Holmes is being brought back in 2012. Maybe it helps that Holmes is Sanchez's only weapon at wide receiver. Perhaps that is why Holmes is professing happiness.
The failed experiment that was Plaxico Burress has been terminated, and as for the other members of the Jets' receiving corps, they are so suspect that allowing themselves to be named in this article could be a violation of their Fifth Amendment rights.
The Jets only have six picks in this draft and they need to fill the No. 2 receiver slot.
That is why they'll select Stephen Hill.
Hill is amazingly fast. He ran a 4.36-second 40-yard dash at the combine. He's also big. He stands tall at 6'4" and weighs in at 215 lbs.
Hill is a solid route-runner that is still fairly raw. For now he will fit nicely into the No. 2 receiver spot.
Cordy Glenn (G/OT) Georgia
In 2011, NFL fans got the chance to meet Andy Dalton and A.J. Green. These two rookies came out the gates in Cincinnati and brought the Bengals the credibility that seemed to elude them with Carson Palmer at the helm.
In 2012, the Bengals have three of the first 53 picks. They will use these picks to find the tools to protect and the weapons to complement their two superstars.
The Bengals will select Cordy Glenn. A 6'5" offensive tackle from the University of Georgia. Weighing in at 345 lbs, Glenn is a prototypical offensive lineman. Although, he played tackle in college, the Bengals will move him into the left guard position and he will excel there.
Courtney Upshaw (LB) Alabama
That being said, they have all the pieces to make it happen. They are returning all five offensive linemen they had down the stretch. Ryan Mathews will start at running back and the Chargers are saying this will be a breakout season for him. Quarterback Philip Rivers is coming off one of his worst seasons as a pro, but is expected to return to form in 2012.
Sure, the Chargers lost Vincent Jackson to free agency, but they more than made up for it with the signings of Eddie Royal, Robert Meachem, Roscoe Parrish and Michael Spurlock.
The Chargers needs are on defense, specifically at defensive end or outside linebacker.
Even though Luis Castillo is healthy and they have re-signed him, the jury is out on whether he will be able to return to form. That being said, the Chargers need a legitimate rush end. The pressure put on the linebackers is tremendous and has to be alleviated.
That's why they pick Courtney Upshaw.
Upshaw is a beast. He stands 6'2" tall and weighs in at a hefty 272 lbs. He carries that weight like a bear, but has the speed of a big cat. He consistently runs the 40-yard dash in the 4.70-second range.
Jonathan Martin (OT) Stanford
Ten games into the 2011 season, the Chicago Bears were 7-3 and appeared to be heading back to the playoffs. Chicago was winning behind a balanced offense that included a dominant running back in Matt Forte and a confident quarterback in Jay Cutler.
And then injuries struck. Cutler was taken down in Week 11 and Forte followed him onto the IR the following week. Chicago lost its next five games and ended the season at 8-8.
Both players will be back in 2012 and in a bid to get back to the NFC Championship Game, Chicago traded for Brandon Marshall. Marshall was Cutler's favorite target in Denver and should bring an added dimension to the Chicago offense.
The problems in Chicago stem from the offensive lines inability to protect the quarterback. Correcting that will be the key to the Bears' success.
That is why the Bears select Jonathan Martin.
At 6'5" and 312 lbs, Thomas is not the largest of tackles, but the Stanford grad is extremely intelligent, as well as tough.
Dre Kirkpatrick (CB) Alabama
In 2011, the Titans had their first winning season since 2008.
And yet, for the third straight year they missed the playoffs.
A big part of that was line play. While the Titans have two of the best offensive tackles in the league in Michael Roos and David Stewart, their interior offensive line stunk last year. Eugene Amano was terrible at the center position. He needs to add strength and power to his run-blocking game or he needs to be replaced.
This offseason the Titans did bring in Steve Hutchinson to play left guard and there has been nobody better than "Hutch" over the last decade. However, he is getting up there in age and Titans' fans probably won't see his best years. That being said, he will provide solid pass protection and give Chris Johnson much better running lanes, while bringing veteran leadership to the line, as well as the locker room.
Across the ball, the defensive line struggled as well.
The Titans started two rookies on the interior last year and both were surprisingly good. Jurrell Casey started 15 of 16 games at defensive tackle and finished the year with 53 tackles to go along with 2.5 sacks. Rookie Karl Klug only started one game on the interior, but played in all 16 and finished with 20 tackles to go along with a hardy seven sacks.
The signing of Kamerion Wimbley (seven sacks) negates the loss of Jason Jones.
However, the loss of Cortland Finnegan in the defensive backfield leaves a tremendous hole. The Titans finished 2011 ranked 14th in passing defense. If they don't replace Finnegan that will get worse.
That is why Tennessee will choose Dre Kirkpatrick with the 20th pick in the 2012 NFL draft.
At 6'2" and 186 lbs, Kirkpatrick is a long, rangy defender that will be able to shut down most NFL receivers. He has strength and size, as well as tremendous closing speed.
Quinton Coples (DE) North Carolina
As stated earlier, Cincinnati's future is bright. And it will only get brighter with this pick. They addressed their needs on the interior of offensive line with the 17th pick and will now augment an already solid defensive side of the ball.
With the emergence of Geno Atkins as an interior pass-rusher and with the solid play of Domata Peko stuffing the run, the Bengals only need a true speed rusher to bring them into elite status as an NFL defense. They ended 2011 with the seventh-best overall defense, the ninth-best passing defense and the 10th-best rushing defense.
Quinton Coples is that speed rusher. At 6'6" and 284 lbs, Coples has that rare combination of size and speed. He is strong against the run and can play the 5 technique when needed.
Kendall Wright (WR) Baylor
Earlier in the draft, the Browns selected Trent Richardson. That will alleviate much of the pressure on third-year quarterback Colt McCoy.
McCoy is coming off a year in which he improved, but he absolutely has to have more weapons in the passing game.
That is why, with the 22nd pick, the Browns will select Kendall Wright.
Wright had a dynamic year in 2011, finishing the year with 1,663 yards on 108 catches and 14 TDs.
This will give Cleveland both the running back and the No. 1 receiver it needs to help McCoy find his potential.
Stephon Gilmore (CB) South Carolina
2011 was a banner year for the Detroit Lions. Their star quarterback, Matthew Stafford, had a breakout year, throwing for over 5,000 yards and 41 touchdowns. Stafford's main target and arguably the best receiver in the NFL, was Calvin Johnson Jr., aka Megatron. Johnson finished the year with 1,681 yards on 96 receptions and 16 touchdowns.
More importantly, for the first time since 1999, Detroit ended the season with a winning record and it made the playoffs!
If they are going to repeat that performance the Lions will need to make upgrades at some key positions.
On offense the Lions need to solidify the running back position.
Head injuries to Jahvid Best could force him to retire early. Mikel Leshoure's rookie season ended before it began and now he has been charged with felony possession of marijuana. This leaves serious questions that need to be answered before the start of training camp.
Running back is not the only position of need on the offense. The offensive line needs improving, as well. Although, there is no glaring deficiencies here, there is also nothing special about this group.
The tackles are serviceable, while the interior line is nothing to write home about. If Detroit is going to compete in the NFC North and eventually contend, it will need to upgrade this group.
On defense the Lions are stacked with studs up front. Obviously, Ndamukong Suh has the potential to be one of the best defensive tackles in the NFL and with emergence of Nick Fairley, the Lions' interior defense is stout. Cliff Avril is coming off his best year in the NFL, finishing 2011 with 11 sacks. Kyle Vanden Bosch will be playing in his 11th NFL season in 2012, but is coming off his best year since 2007.
The real weakness on this team is in the secondary.
Detroit finished 22nd in the league in passing defense and has lost its best defender, Eric Wright to free agency. This unit is rife with question marks and as of right now there are no answers: at least none wearing a Lions uniform.
The loss of Wright should be viewed as a positive. Wright was at best a serviceable cornerback and at worst a beatable one. His migration to Tampa means that this need becomes much more visible, which means that Detroit will make the necessary moves to solve the problem.
To fill this need, Detroit will select Stephon Gilmore.
At 6'1" and 190 lbs, Gilmore is another big corner with speed. Although he is young and will need to mature, he is fast, has quick hips and is able to see the field well. More importantly with his size, he will be able to better defend the big receivers that have become predominant in the NFL.
Dont'a Hightower (ILB) Alabama
The Steelers were the owners of the league's best defense in 2011. Even though riddled with injury they finished No. 1 in total yards allowed, as well as at the top in passing yards allowed.
However, that defense is getting old. After 15 years in the league, James Farrior's production dropped off severely in 2011 and Pittsburgh had no choice but to lose his salary in 2012. He was released at the end of the season. James Harrison will turn 34 this year and had to fight through injuries most of last season. The same is true for Casey Hampton, who will turn turn 35 this year.
There is talk that Larry Foote will take over for Farrior at the left inside linebacker position. However, Foote will turn 32 this year and has never been a Pro Bowl-caliber linebacker. Pittsburgh needs to inject some young blood into the defense.
That is why the Steelers select Dont'a Hightower. At 6'2" and 262 lbs, Hightower is the biggest inside linebacker prospect in this year's draft.
Because of his bulk, Hightower is more of a strider that will need to play in the box. Hightower makes up for the lack of a first step with good instincts. Furthermore, he will use his length to keep clean and play off blocks. He is also quick enough to shed the block and wrap on the ball carrier.
The insertion of Hightower into the left inside linebacker position will keep Pittsburgh from dropping off next season.
Peter Konz (C) Wisconsin
The Denver Broncos, behind Tim Tebow, were the feel-good story of 2011. They created magic in fourth-quarter. This from a team that should have been dwelling in the cellar of the AFC West. Instead, Denver finished first and went on to upset the reigning AFC champion Steelers in the playoffs.
All of that being said, John Elway never seemed happy with his quarterback. As soon as he was able to replace him, he did. With four-time MVP Peyton Manning.
With Willis McGahee running the ball, the Broncos should be just fine on the ground. McGahee averaged 4.8 yards per carry last year. With opposing defenses keying on Manning and the passing game, McGahee may just be able to eclipse those numbers in 2012.
The offensive line is stout at the tackle positions, but needs to be upgraded in the middle. After breaking his leg and then dislocating his ankle, guard Chris Kuper expects to be back and practicing in June. If this happens, then the only question mark will be at center.
That is why the Broncos will select Peter Konz.
Konz showcases a natural blend of athleticism mixed with intelligence. At 6'5" and 315 lbs, he is a heavy-handed beast that will also be able to make all the line calls. Konz is also quick off the snap and gets into his blocks fast, which will greatly enhance the Broncos' run game.
Nick Perry (DE/OLB) USC
All of the weapons should be back for Houston's offense in 2012. Matt Schaub will be back at quarterback and star receiver Andre Johnson should return to full health as well.
Along with Schaub and Johnson, the two-headed monster that is the Texans' running game will return in 2012. Arian Foster led the team with 1,248 yards, but was second in YPC to Ben Tate. Tate averaged 5.4 yards per carry and amassed 942 yards on the ground.
In 2011, Houston switched to a 3-4 defense and this did wonders.
Rookie JJ Watt had a promising first year. The front seven is built around left inside linebacker Brian Cushing, one of the best in the league with 125 tackles on the year. With the loss of Mario Williams and DeMeco Ryans, the other names at linebacker are less familiar, but apparently head coach Gary Kubiak has faith in Brooks Reed and Conor Barwin.
That being said, you can never have enough outside linebackers in a 3-4 set. So the Texans will select Nick Perry. Perry is a big defensive end with two-step speed that will fit perfectly into Houston's scheme.
Janoris Jenkins (CB) North Alabama
New England brought in Brandon Lloyd to bolster its passing game and give them a receiver that can stretch the field. Although, it lost its starting running back, BenJarvis Green-Ellis, that really doesn't matter to an offense that passes first and often times second, third and fourth.
The Patriots may have some problems on defense. They have lost Mark Anderson to free agency and it's not clear if they will be able to retain Andre Carter's services either. If it turns out they do lose both, look for head coach Bill Belichick to switch back to the 3-4 defense.
In any case, the most glaring need for the Patriots has been in the secondary.
That is why the Patriots will select Janoris Jenkins. He is a solid cover corner who will become a starter in his rookie season.
The Green Bay Packers seemed a lock for a return trip to the Super Bowl. By the end of the 2011 NFC regular season, all roads to Indy went through Green Bay. Unfortunately, the Packers had to play the Giants and, well, the rest is history.
With an offense that boasts Aaron Rodgers at quarterback, Greg Jennings and Jordy Nelson at wide receiver, a solid group of running backs and a tight end group led by Jermichael Finley, this team has the potential to win just about any shootout. Unfortunately, shoot outs are what they faced week in and week out in 2011.
Place the blame solely on the defense.
The Packers "D" finished dead last in the NFL last year. For as stellar as their offense was, the Green Bay defense stunk.
Clay Matthews' production fell off in 2011. After posting 13.5 sacks in 2010, Matthews was heralded by many as being one of the best outside linebackers in the business. However, he was held to six sacks in 2011. This can be attributed to opponents making Matthews the focus of their game-planning. He needs help to offset some of that attention.
That is why the Packers will select Whitney Mercilus.
To put it simply, Mercilus is a freak of nature. He stands 6'4" tall and weighs in at 265 lbs, which in today's NFL isn't saying much. What says it all is his 10-yard split time. Mercilus had a split time of 1.56 seconds on the first 10 yards. For his size that is unreal!
Mercilus will be able to rush opposite of Mathews, which will make it difficult for teams to game-plan against either one of them.
Mike Adams (OT) Ohio State
After coming off a year when they were one reception from a berth in the Super Bowl, the Baltimore Ravens are stacked in 2012.
On defense, the horses aren't getting any younger, but they're still some of the best in the business.
With Jarret Johnson heading to San Diego, Paul Kruger is expected to move to outside linebacker. If so, he will join an aging but still solid Ray Lewis, a recently secured Jameel McClain and the reigning Defensive MVP Terrell Suggs.
In the secondary, Ladarius Webb and Cary Williams are both dependable. Of course, the key to this unit is Ed Reed. He may be getting older, but he still...Ed Reed.
On offense, the Ravens boast Joe Flacco at quarterback. Flacco has led Baltimore to the playoffs in all four years that he's started. In two of those years he led them to the AFC Championship Game.
Lining up behind him is one of the most dynamic running backs in the game. In 2011, Ray Rice amassed 1,364 yards on the ground and 764 more through the air. He finished the season with 76 receptions and 15 total touchdowns.
Anquan Boldin led all receivers, despite missing two games. However, he's not a true No. 1 and he's getting up there in age. He'll turn 32 in October so this draft is a good time to start addressing the needs at receiver.
However, the pressing need is on the offensive line. There are issues all along this unit, starting with the loss of right guard Ben Grubbs. The tackle positions are weak. Yeah, there is some strength with Matt Birk starting the last 48 games at center, but he's pushing 36 and may only be good for one more year.
All of that being said, the Ravens will select Mike Adams.
Adams is quick off the snap and gets into his blocks well. That quickness gives him a fluidity of movement that allows him to reach blocks on the edge. His natural talent level will see him starting for Baltimore in his rookie season.
Mohamed Sanu (WR) Rutgers
When the owners hired Jim Harbaugh, they knew they had one of the up-and-coming coaches in the college ranks. However, they couldn't have have foreseen just how quickly he would turn the ship around.
In 2011, the 49ers finished the season 13-3 and were the AFC West champions for the first time since 2002.
Excluding a perceived weakness at quarterback, the 49ers are primed to be right back in the same position. They are bringing back a unit that finished No. 1 in rushing defense and No. 4 overall.
On offense they finished the season with the No. 8 rushing attack, However, they were not nearly as good in the passing game. They ended the year ranked No. 29 in passing.
In order to improve those numbers, the 49ers will select Mohamed Sanu.
Sanu is a two-step receiver that showcases a quick first burst that allows him to create seperation, especially after the cut.
Harrison Smith (SS) Notre Dame
Just as with the 27th pick, the Patriots will continue to improve their defensive secondary. This pick is about helping Patrick Chung.
Chung was the only bright spot on an otherwise inept secondary unit. Unfortunately, he was only able to play for half the year.
That is why the Patriots will choose Harrison Smith.
Smith is a fluid athlete with the size and build to deliver a pop. What's more, he understands angles and has good instincts, which allows him to be successful jumping routes.
Lavonte David (OLB) Nebraska
The New York Giants are the Super Bowl champions, so what could they possibly need in terms of new blood, right?
Obviously they are pat at quarterback, where Eli Manning has confirmed to the world that he is an elite NFL quarterback. It shouldn't have taken this long, but there is no questioning it now.
He has legitimate targets at receiver, as well. Victor Cruz truly broke out last year, pulling in 82 receptions for a whopping 1,536 yards. Hakeem Nicks followed close behind with 1,192 yards on 76 receptions. This is the best tandem of wideouts in the league and should create matchup nightmares for just about every defense they face in 2012.
With the loss of Brandon Jacobs, the rushing load will fall on Ahmad Bradshaw's shoulders. If Bradshaw can remain healthy then the Giants should be OK. However, picking up a back in the later rounds is a definite must.
After releasing Kareem McKenzie, David Diehl is versatile and should be able to slide into the right tackle position. He had been filling in for Will Beatty, but Will says that he's 100 percent after retinal surgery sidelined him two-thirds of the way through the 2011 season. That puts Beatty at left tackle and Diehl at right tackle, with Chris Snee and Kevin Boothe at the guard positions.
This is a fairly talented group, but the Giants may want to start building some depth around them.
The defensive line is top notch. In fact, there might not be a better group in all the NFL. Jason Pierre-Paul and Justin Tuck are both elite ends that create havoc in opponents' backfields. Add to that mix Linval Joseph and Chris Canty, and that is a recipe for greatness.
The linebacker corps is not nearly as solid as the front four, but if Jonathan Goff is re-signed, then it should be fine. However, this is definitely a position where value can be added.
That is why the Giants will select Lavonte David.
At 6'2" and 233 lbs, David is smaller than most prototypical NFL linebackers, but with his motor and speed he is perfect for the weak side in a 4-3 defensive scheme. Over time David will add bulk and should grow into an every-down linebacker.