2012 NFL Mock Draft: Where Things Stand at Week 11
With most teams now 10 games into the 2011 NFL season, we are starting to see contenders emerge from the pack and early pretenders fall back with the crowd. Moreover, the strengths and weaknesses of each franchise are beginning to show.
That being the case, now is a perfect time to take a peek at what we could see come April and the 2012 NFL Draft.
First things first—the draft order. Using a bit of math and intuition, I have projected results for the remainder of the season, the playoffs and up through Indianapolis. Below are the regular season results for each team.
1. Indianapolis Colts: 1-15
2. Miami Dolphins: 2-14
3. Cleveland Browns: 3-13
4. Washington Redskins: 3-13
5. Jacksonville Jaguars: 4-12
6. Denver Broncos: 4-12
7. Kansas City Chiefs: 5-11
8. Arizona Cardinals: 5-11
9. Seattle Seahawks: 5-11
10. Minnesota Vikings: 5-11
11. St. Louis Rams: 5-11
12. Carolina Panthers: 6-10
13. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: 6-10
14. Oakland Raiders: 7-9
15. Philadelphia Eagles: 8-8
16. Tennessee Titans: 9-7
17. Cincinnati Bengals: 9-7
18. Buffalo Bills: 9-7
19. Dallas Cowboys: 10-6
20. Atlanta Falcons: 10-6
Now for the playoffs. The seeding is as follows:
1. Baltimore Ravens: 13-3
2. New England Patriots: 12-4
3. Houston Texans: 10-6
4. San Diego Chargers: 8-8
5. Pittsburgh Steelers: 12-4
6. New York Jets: 10-6
1. Green Bay Packers: 14-2
2. San Francisco 49ers: 13-3
3. New Orleans Saints: 13-3
4. New York Giants: 12-4
5. Chicago Bears: 12-4
6. Detroit Lions: 11-5
I have the Matt Leinart-led Texans and the woeful San Diego Chargers losing in the AFC Wild Card round with the NFC's Detroit and Chicago joining them.
In the second round, the Jets fall to Baltimore and the Patriots get revenge on the Steelers. In the NFC, the Saints bring an end to the 49ers improbable season and the Packers continue to roll by defeating the Giants.
As a result, the final 12 picks are:
21. San Diego Chargers: 8-8
22. Houston Texans: 10-6
23. Detroit Lions: 11-5
24. Chicago Bears: 12-4
25. New York Jets: 10-6
26. New York Giants: 12-4
27. Pittsburgh Steelers: 12-4
28. San Francisco 49ers: 13-3
29. Baltimore Ravens: 13-3
30. New Orleans Saints: 13-3
31. New England Patriots: 12-4
32. Green Bay Packers: 14-2
1. Indianapolis Colts: Andrew Luck (QB, Stanford)*
Ezra Shaw/Getty Images
Although the Indianapolis brass are doing their very best to maintain their poker faces when it comes to the future of Peyton Manning, there has to be plenty of panic going on behind the scenes.
There has yet to be any positive news regarding Manning's neck surgery; related rehab and rumors of the injury being potentially career-threatening are starting to swirl.
Regardless of the state of Peyton's neck, he will be 36 years old when 2012 kicks off. This begs the question of how many more years the franchise can rest its fortunes on his shoulders. There's speculation that Manning would not take kindly to the Colts selecting his replacement should they land the top pick.
Bill Polian and company would be foolish to let Peyton's feelings get in the way, though, especially given the uncertainty surrounding his future. That will be particularly true if they have the unique opportunity to select the most heralded QB prospect since the franchise took Manning with the first overall pick of the 1998 draft—Andrew Luck.
2. Miami Dolphins: Matt Barkley (QB, USC)*
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I'll preface this explanation by stating that I firmly believe Matt Barkley will return to USC for his senior season. The Trojans are likely to be contenders on both the Pac-12 and national stages if they keep their young core.
If Barkley does make the NFL jump, though, he will not have to wait long to hear his name called on draft day. There is a need at the QB position for teams currently projected to select in the Top 5.
Barkley's got the advantage of playing in a pro-style system; he has been playing his best football as of late. The big question is going to be where his ceiling lies.
Unlike an Andrew Luck, Barkley is limited in terms of physical attributes—namely arm strength—so it is not unfair for scouts to question just how far he can progress before maxing out his potential.
Fortunately for Miami and Barkley alike, there's likely to be a new regime in South Beach for 2012. They are sure to be looking for a franchise QB and will tailor the offense to best suit that QB's skill set.
3. Cleveland Browns: Landry Jones (QB, Oklahoma)*
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The whole Colt McCoy experiment made for a good underdog story and was worth a shot. More than halfway through his first full season as a starter, though, it's quite clear that McCoy is not a starting-caliber NFL quarterback.
As long as he is under center, the Cleveland offense is going to be extremely limited.
Granted, the offensive line and the lack of a consistent running game has not helped matters, but the physical limitations are clear. Mike Holmgren should not hesitate to use his first selection on a QB—especially if that QB is Landry Jones.
Considering Pat Shurmur's success with former Sooner Sam Bradford in St. Louis, it would be an ideal situation. Shurmur understands Jones' previous offense and the parts of his game—at least from a purely schematic standpoint—that need refinement for the NFL level.
This will greatly increase the chances that Jones can finally give the Browns some positive, long-term consistency under center.
4. Washington Redskins: Robert Griffin III (QB, Baylor)*
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It is often said that the NFL is a copycat league. After this season, teams are going to look to duplicate Cam Newton, if they can.
This sounds extreme, but Newton is redefining the quarterback position—or at the very least challenging traditional views of what constitutes an NFL quarterback.
One prospect who seems poised to take advantage of the momentum Newton has created is Baylor's Robert Griffin. The Bears' dual-threat sensation has been among the most efficient passers in the NCAA this season.
The fact that he is a legitimate Heisman candidate—given Baylor's minute presence nationally—speaks volumes to his abilities as a playmaker.
He is not the physical specimen that Cam Newton was as a prospect, but Griffin is ahead of where Newton was as a passer—in terms of accuracy and ability to read a defense. His ability to make plays on the move makes him a nice fit for Mike Shanahan's bootleg-driven passing attack.
5. Jacksonville Jaguars: Justin Blackmon (WR, Oklahoma State)*
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The Jacksonville decision-making duo of Jack Del Rio and Gene Smith really rolled the dice when they took Blaine Gabbert in the Top 10 last year—and then subsequently released David Garrard, only to prematurely put Gabbert under center by Week 3.
So far, that gamble does not look like it's paying off. Gabbert has been completing less than 50 percent of his passes. He is under 5.5 yards per attempt and has thrown more interceptions than touchdowns.
Given that Del Rio and Smith's jobs will ultimately depend upon how Gabbert progresses next season—if they both last past this season—they'll want to ensure they give the young quarterback the best chance at success.
That has to start by upgrading the weapons around him—namely in the receiving core. There is not a single legitimate (or even potentially legitimate) No. 1 on the roster. The Jags need a player with Just Blackmon's ability to find openings in the opposing defense, which will make life a little easier for Gabbert.
6. Denver Broncos: Trent Richardson (RB, Alabama)*
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If Tim Tebow miraculously keeps winning games, then there's a solid chance that the Denver Broncos may find themselves on the outside looking in when it comes to the top-tier quarterbacks.
If that is indeed the case, John Fox and John Elway need a solid plan B.
That has to be Trent Richardson. Neither Knowshon Moreno nor Willis McGahee can be counted on to shoulder the heavy workload in the Denver backfield in 2012. Moreno simply doesn't have the talent or durability and McGahee is has too much wear and tear already.
Compared to those two, Richardson is young, durable and very explosive. He has been the lone consistent playmaker on the offensive side of the ball for the Crimson Tide this year. He continues to produce, despite being the focal point of every opposing defense.
There's no doubt Richardson is among the elite in terms of talent; with the way John Fox likes to run the ball, Denver has to have top talent in its backfield.
7. Kansas City Chiefs: Matt Kalil (T, USC)*
Jeff Golden/Getty Images
Like his teammate Matt Barkley, I would be surprised if Matt Kalil walked away from the opportunity to compete for a national title next year in favor of the NFL.
Much like Barkley, though, if Kalil does opt for the NFL over another season with the Trojans, he will not have to wait long to hear his name called on draft day.
The subject of Matt Cassel's future in Kansas City post-2011 is up for debate. The quarterback has continued the implosion that began in the 2010 Wild Card Game against Baltimore. Whether Cassel gets one last chance in 2012 or whether Scott Pioli opts for some new blood under center, the Kansas City line is going to need an upgrade to give any passer a chance at success.
Some shuffling at the tackle spot would improve the offensive front. Right tackle Barry Richardson could take a back seat in a swing tackle role and Brandon Albert could slide over to the right side. That is, if the Chiefs land a better solution at left tackle, like Kalil, during the offseason.
8. Arizona Cardinals: Jonathan Martin (T, Stanford)*
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After spending the last few seasons protecting top prospect Andrew Luck in Palo Alto, left tackle Jonathan Martin has earned some well-deserved attention as one of the elite tackles available for 2012. With the high need for pass protectors in the NFL, the junior should make the jump.
Of the numerous teams that need help at the position, none need it worse than Arizona. The Cardinals have been a sieve at the position for some time—former fifth overall pick Levi Brown has been a total bust.
To make matters worse, the Cardinals are weak at quarterback after they unwisely traded for Kevin Kolb and proceeded to award him with a long-term lucrative contract (before he played a down in the desert).
Now the Cards are forced to make the most of their investment. A big part of accomplishing that goal will be keeping him upright. Landing the top left tackle in the 2012 class will go a long way toward achieving that task.
9. Seattle Seahawks: Morris Claiborne (CB, LSU)*
Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images
The Seahawks have been left extremely thin at corner after both Marcus Trufant and Walter Thurmond III ended up on IR. Trufant is unlikely to resign this offseason after an up and down career in Seattle; Thurmond faces a tough rehab to repair a torn MCL, PCL and ACL.
Even with a healthy Thurmond, Seattle is still in need of a premium corner—a corner capable of being left on an island with opposing primary receivers, play in and play out.
That's the type of ability that Morris Claiborne brings to the table.
He's been a shut-down corner against the best competition the NCAA has to offer—picking up right where 2011 first-rounder Patrick Peterson left off for the Tigers. Having a premier presence like Claiborne, to go along with standout safety Earl Thomas, can make an average Seattle secondary become the strength of the defense.
The importance of that cannot be understated in an increasingly quarterback-driven league.
10. Minnesota Vikings: Riley Reiff (T, Iowa)*
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After drawing criticism for using a Top 15 selection on Christian Ponder, the Minnesota Vikings look to be proving draft analysts wrong. Ponder is breathing life into the Vikings' offense after taking over for Donovan McNabb.
As with any young passer, a big component of continued growth and development is going to be keeping his jersey clean and allowing him as much time as possible to digest opposing schemes in the pocket.
Right now, the Vikings cannot afford Ponder that luxury. The team released Pro Bowl malcontent Bryant McKinnie in favor of free agent Charlie Johnson—who you may know as one of the men who contributed to banging Peyton Manning up enough to keep him out for the 2011 season.
Johnson may be an upgrade in the locker room, but on the field he is far from a legitimate starting tackle. Things aren't much better on the right side either, with Phil Loadholt giving average performances.
11. St. Louis Rams: Alshon Jeffery (WR, South Carolina)*
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After an impressive rookie season, Sam Bradford's sophomore year in the NFL has been a dud. Among the numerous factors limiting Bradford in 2011—including poor line play, the loss of coordinator Pat Shurmur and injuries—is the lack of talent in the wide receiving core.
Beyond just a lack of talent, St. Louis has also seen its squad of pass catchers severely depleted due to injuries. The Rams did take a step toward correcting the issue with the trade for Brandon Lloyd prior to the deadline. But Lloyd is set to become a free agent at season's end, which means there is no guarantee he will return.
Even if he did, he is not the long-term solution.
What St. Louis needs is a young, dynamic playmaker like Alshon Jeffery who can formulate a long-term connection with Bradford. With a skill set similar to Chiefs' rookie wideout Jonathan Baldwin, Jeffrey is physically gifted enough to make an immediate impact at the next level (while he works on refining route running and other the mental aspects of his game).
12. Carolina Panthers: Brandon Thompson (DT, Clemson)
Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images
With Cam Newton under center, the Carolina offense is suddenly exciting again. However, that offensive reawakening has not translated to many wins—thanks in large part to a defense that can't prevent games from turning into a shootout.
To begin to reverse that trend, Carolina has got to take control of the trenches when defending the run. Currently fielding the fifth-worst run defense in the league, the Panthers are allowing opponents to control the clock and dictate the pace of the game.
The 2011 third-round rookies Sione Fua and Terrell McClain have not given the Panthers that intimidating presence inside (at least not at the level that a prospect like Brandon Thompson potentially can).
Thompson—often the forgotten member of the impressive Clemson defensive fronts over the past few seasons—has been a rock inside. He takes up blockers and clogs up running lanes.
Thompson is finally getting his due as a senior. He has risen up draft boards as the 4-3 nose tackle to be had in this year's class.
13. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Dre Kirkpatrick (CB, Alabama)*
Greg McWilliams/Getty Images
Between 2010 and 2011, the Tampa Bay pass defense went from being the strength of a young, emerging defense to being among the worst units in the NFL.
That tends to happen when the veteran you have leaned on for over a decade begins to decline and your young standout is looking at potential jail time from an alleged assault with a handgun.
Things could get worse in 2012 for the Bucs. Ronde Barber is set to potentially retire any year now; Aqib Talib is facing incarceration and/or a league-mandated suspension after his trial, at the very minimum.
GM Mark Dominik must take measures during the up coming offseason to bolster the secondary. He'll be looking to the draft, which looks to be deep at the cornerback position.
Given the struggles of the Tampa Bay offense this season, engaging in a shout-out with opponents is not going to result in very many wins. Slowing down the opposing offenses is a must for the Bucs.
14. Cincinnati Bengals (F/ OAK): Lamar Miller (RB, Miami)*
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The traditionally bad luck Bengals have stumbled upon a great deal of good fortune over the past year.
First, the franchise struck gold twice in the 2011 draft with Andy Dalton and A.J. Green—a duo that has the potential to surpass the bar set by the Palmer-to-Ocho Cinco connection.
Then, Mike Brown emerged victorious from a stare down with Carson Palmer and performed the NFL equivalent of highway robbery on the Oakland Raiders. He dumped the disgruntled QB for two potential first-round picks.
This pick, the first of the two, should further the Bengals' fortunes by netting them a young impact player. Lamar Miller fits that description. He will bring some much needed, explosive talent to the Cincinnati backfield—where Cedric Benson is currently plodding along at under four yards a pop.
The young trio of Dalton, Green and Miller would give Cincy fans a real reason to get excited for the future of their football team.
15. Philadelphia Eagles: Vontaze Burfict (MLB, Arizona State)*
Norm Hall/Getty Images
What a mess the Philadelphia Eagles have become after such high expectations going into the season.
Mike Vick has gone back to the .500 QB that he has always been, injuries have left the offensive line a mess and there is a discernible lack of direction defensively.
In order to solve the defensive woes, Philly needs to establish leadership both on and off the field. One change that is likely to occur is the replacement of first-year coordinator Juan Castillo—who had no business taking over the defense in the first place. All of his NFL experience was from the other side of the ball.
That will serve to establish guidance off the field, but still leaves the defense lacking a field general. Enter Vontaze Burfict. He'll bring a much needed influx of talent to the linebacker core.
More importantly, though, he'll bring a type of fiery on-the-field presence that the Philadelphia defense has been sorely lacking (ever since allowing Brian Dawkins to walk two seasons ago).
The picture alone is enough to make him a first rounder in my book.
16. Tennessee Titans: David Decastro (G, Stanford)*
Christian Petersen/Getty Images
Is there a more disappointing player in football this season than Chris Johnson?
I'm sure anyone who drafted the running back in their fantasy draft will argue that no, there isn't. After rushing for 4,598 yards—with an average of 4.97 yards per carry and 38 total TDs—in his first three seasons, Johnson is on pace to gain less than 900 yards on the ground, with a 3.4-yard average and three or four touchdowns.
Many critics say that Johnson got lazy after finally being rewarded a lucrative contract from Tennessee. While that may be true, at least in part, not all the blame can be placed on his shoulders.
The Titans are not winning the battles up front this year like they have in years past. That has definitely put more of a burden on CJ. Johnson. Johnson is finding less running room, which limits his ability to use the speed that makes him a special back.
Improving the interior of the o-line should allow the Titans to see more flashes of the Chris Johnson from the three years ago—rather than this year's pedestrian version.
17. Cincinnati Bengals: Quinton Coples (DE, North Carolina)
Streeter Lecka/Getty Images
Quinton Coples is an interesting prospect.
After a big junior year for the Tar Heels, he returned to Chapel Hill only to see his production take a significant dip as a senior. That has left scouts wondering just what to make of him.
There is no doubt that he is a unique talent physically, but his ultimate fit in the NFL is questionable. To his credit, Coples has shown the ability to be effective—whether he's lined up inside or outside. That versatility may be what saves him at the end of the day.
Although I do not feel he is the top 10 talent that most had him pegged as going into 2011, he is still a very talented defensive lineman.
If there is a defensive mind out there capable of molding that talent into something useful at the next level, then Bengal's coordinator Mike ZImmer is that guy. The possibilities for a duo like Carlos Dunlap and Coples—purely from a physical standpoint—are enough to make a defensive shot-caller excited.
18. Buffalo Bills: Courtney Upshaw (OLB, Alabama)
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The Bills took a gamble that Shawn Merriman would bounce back and support the pass rush this season—but the lights are truly out on Lights Out.
The linebacker has made his third trip to the IR in four years and has appeared in just five games in 2011. The chances are beyond slim that the Bills bring Merriman back next year—particularly given his poor production, durability issues and, perhaps the biggest factor, $4 million base salary (along with a $1 million roster bonus).
Buffalo cannot afford to not replace Merriman with an effective pass rusher. The team has shown that it is prepared to compete for a spot in the post season—that is, of course, if the defense can allow the team to win games without scoring 30-plus points.
In order to do that, opposing QBs have to face more pressure. The Bills put too much stress on the secondary. They allowed wide receivers too much time to get open and gave quarterbacks a comfortable enough pocket to locate those open targets and throw.
19. Dallas Cowboys: Janoris Jenkins (CB, North Alabama)
Janoris Jenkins was set to be one of the premier defensive talents in the 2012 class. He was among the best overall prospects, regardless of position.
But that was before some marijuana troubles got him booted from the Florida Gators program and forced him to enroll at North Alabama. Even on the smaller stage, though, Jenkins' talent continues to shine. He's shown that he still belongs in the first-round conversation.
Dallas is one team that may take a flier on the talented defensive back—given Jerry Jones' willingness to roll the dice in the past and the team's need at corner. The Cowboys have seen both starting corners Terrence Newman and Mike Jenkins miss significant time due to injuries this year. That has left the Cowboys thin at the position.
Beyond simple depth, Jerry Jones will bring some young talent to spot. Next season, Newman will be 34 years old. His on-field production has already declined to a point where it is nowhere near where his pay grade suggests it should be.
20. Cleveland Browns (F/ Alt): Mike Adams (T, Ohio State)
Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images
Despite having prime talents at both left tackle and center, the Cleveland offensive line is still a weak unit as a whole. That's due mainly to weakness on the right side.
Pairing a top prospect with Joe Thomas would give the Browns bookends at tackle— that's a must considering the shakiness of the Cleveland backfield.
After missing five games as part of the Ohio State tattoo controversy, Mike Adams has picked up right where he left off as a junior. He has done an excellent job rebounding his draft stock—to the point where he is again firmly in the first-round conversation and is trending toward a Top 20 pick.
As an Ohio native, he should feel right at home in Cleveland. He would offer an immediate solution at right tackle—a position that has been a problem for several seasons now.
21. San Diego Chargers: Cordy Glenn (T, Georgia)
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More than any prospect, what the San Diego Chargers need most is an overhaul of the coaching staff. However, since you can't draft coaches, the Chargers should look to improve in the up front on both sides of the ball.
On the right side of the offensive line, there are real problems. Right tackle Jeremy Clary has been a weak link for the past three seasons. He's continued that trend in 2012 and that hasn't helped an already inconsistent ground attack (or quarterback Phillip Rivers, who looks like a shell of what he was in previous seasons).
Rebounding after a poor opening performance against Boise State, Cordy Glenn has come on strong in left tackle for the Bulldogs. While he may not have the agility to play on the blind side at the next level, he has shown enough to project to the right side—or, at the very worst, inside at guard.
Either way, he'd be a serviceable addition to the Chargers' roster.
22. Houston Texans: Alameda Ta'Amu (DT, Washington)
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With Wade Phillips at the helm, the Houston defense has gone from liability to asset in just one offseason.
In seasons past, the inability of the unit to keep teams out of the end zone was often seen as the main factor keeping the Texans from getting over their proverbial hump. This year, though, it may propel the squad into the postseason—even though Matt Schaub has been sidelined with a Lisfranc injury.
That being said, the unit is not complete. What it still lacks is a big presence in the center up front, a player who can eat space and blockers. The duo of Shaun Cody and Earl Mitchell lack both the size and talent to fill that role, but a 330-plus-pounder like Ta'Amu could fill that void quickly.
His presence will clog up running lines and keep blockers off inside linebackers DeMeco Ryans and Brian Cushing. If he can find a more consistent push as a pass rusher, then he could become quite a force to be reckoned with.
23. Detroit Lions: Manti Te'o (MLB, Notre Dame)*
Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images
Detroit has to continue to add talent to a defensive front seven that struggles against the run. Manti Te'o would, without question, represent the most talented prospect on the board.
With the devastating combo of size and athleticism, Te'o is able to shed would-be blockers and flow quickly to the football. He wastes minimal time diagnosing a play. More than just a run-stuffer, Te'o is active on the blitz—registering 4.5 sacks and 11.0 tackles for a loss for the Fighting Irish.
His addition to Detroit would give the Lions the option of moving Stephen Tulloch to the weak side (should he be resigned), thereby killing two birds with one stone. Moreover, he'll provide Jim Schwartz with an on-the-field leader to help reign in his young, talented—albeit at times undisciplined—defense.
24. Chicago Bears: Zach Brown (OLB, North Carolina)
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Long-time Chicago Bears standout Lance Briggs entered the 2011 season disgruntled over his contract. Although he is playing—and playing well—under that contract, the offseason should include a renewal of that fight.
If Briggs decides to dig in and again issue the ultimatum of a trade or an extension, he could find himself playing for a new team in 2012. The Bears might be hesitant to pay the 31-year-old linebacker a hefty sum to keep him on an already aging defense.
General manager Jerry Angelo could instead look to save that cash and invest in more needed areas—such as the offensive line. In the draft, he could find a younger, cheaper replacement for Briggs.
With some strong linebacker talent in the 2012 class—and Brown among the top 'backers available—that's a real possibility.
25. New York Jets: Michael Floyd (WR, Notre Dame)
Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images
Plaxico Burress has had some bright spots in his return season to the NFL after a stint in jail cost him two prime years. But anyone who would still consider him a viable starting NFL receiver is not an informed observer.
Burress is, at best, a situational red-zone target at this point in his career. He does nothing to detract attention from the dynamic Santonio Holmes.
At 6'3" and about 225 pounds, Michael Floyd offers the same size that Burress does, while bringing an explosive element that the veteran simply cannot. His presence would be the perfect compliment to the smaller, quicker Holmes—giving Mark Sanchez a complete receiving duo outside.
Now the real question is going to be whether or not Sanchez can finally take that next step and take advantage of an upgrade in talent.
26. New York Giants: Luke Kuechly (MLB, Boston College)*
Ezra Shaw/Getty Images
Rookie inside linebacker Greg Jones has performed well as an early down run stuffer, but the limitations against the pass force him to vacate the field in third downs or clear passing situations.
Outside, Mathias Kiwanuka continues to be used as a linebacker, although he is clearly better playing with his hand in the dirt.
Adding Boston College standout Luke Kuechly could help remedy both of those issues for the G-Men. He is athletic enough to play the outside, especially on early downs, and would challenge Kiwanuka to be a much better tackler.
Come passing downs, he could slide into the middle—his college position—and take over for Jones. He could allow the pass rusher, Kiwanuka, to take his vacated strong-side linebacker spot.
He could also successfully challenge Jones for the starting spot in the middle outright. Bottom line: He gives defensive coordinator Perry Fewell more talent and more options.
27. Pittsburgh Steelers: Alfonzo Denard (CB, Nebraska)
Eric Francis/Getty Images
Although they currently sit as the league's third-best pass defense, the Pittsburgh secondary is far from a set unit. As the two games against division rival Baltimore showed, the Steelers' corners—outside of Ike Taylor—are still susceptible to giving up big plays.
Giving up big plays was the Achilles heel that really cost them last year in the Super Bowl against Green Bay. One stand-out game against the Patriots should not be enough for Pittsburgh to consider the problem fixed.
Moreover, even if the defensive backfield continues to perform at a high level for the remainder of the season, top corner Ike Taylor will be turning 32. It would be wise to keep an eye on the future and take advantage of the 2012 class—especially since it could feature some prime talent at the corner position.
28. San Francisco 49ers: Peter Konz (C, Washington)*
Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images
Jim Harbaugh's successful formula in the Bay Area is a simple one: Keep games close by dictating the pace of the game and play hard-nose defense.
That design has allowed the 49ers to rack up a 8-1 record. They have taken the game out of Alex Smith's hands and put it on the shoulders of Frank Gore and Patrick Willis. Operating under the "if it ain't broke don't fix it" mentality, we can likely expect more of the same from the 49ers in 2012—especially with the top two options at QB currently being Alex Smith and Colin Kaepernick.
If that's Harbaugh's intention, then making sure the offensive line is formidable is going to be key to the plan's continued success. Grabbing a nasty road-grader like Peter Konz—to take over for Jonathan Goodwin's position anchoring the line—will serve to open up some bigger holes in the front.
That will hopefully help bring some cohesion to a relatively young front.
29. Baltimore Ravens: Ronnell Lewis (DE, Oklahoma)*
How much longer can the Baltimore Ravens continue to rely almost exclusively on Terrell Suggs to generate pressure off the edge?
Outside of Haloti Ngata, there have been no other Raven defenders able to generate pressure on opposing quarterbacks. It's been that way for several seasons.
Past high-round draft picks Sergio Kindle and Paul Kruger have not panned out as anything more than depth. That's left the franchise with once again having to go back to the well.
In Ronnell Lewis, Baltimore would be getting a player with attributes similar to those of Suggs—making him the ideal candidate to groom over the next two or three seasons. He could eventually take over the primary pass rusher role from Suggs, who will be 30 when the 2012 season kicks off.
30. New England Patriots (F/ NO): Whitney Mercilus (DE, Illinois)*
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Outside of the Week 10 matchup against the New York Jets, the pass rush for New England has been absolutely non-existent. That's put undue pressure on a rather young secondary—resulting in the Pats giving up a whopping 308.9 yards per game through the air.
In fact, the game against the Jets—which saw the defense register seven sacks—was the only time this season that an opposing QB hasn't thrown for 300 yards or more on New England.
At 34- and 32-years-old, respectively, ends Shaun Ellis and Andre Carter are past their prime. While Carter still shows flashes, Ellis has yet to register a single sack this season.
Unlike Ellis, Whitney Mercilus has frequented opposing backfields this year while playing for the Fighting Illini. The junior leads the nation in sacks, with 12.5 thus far.
He's a great prospect for a team like the Patriots, who use both a 4-3 and 3-4 alignment, as he would fit in as either a down defensive end or a rush outside linebacker.
31. New England Patriots: Devon Still (DT, Penn State)
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Bill Belichick took a gamble on Albert Haynesworth and that gamble did not pan out. The veteran tackle was released recently.
Granted, the Patriots didn't get hosed for $40 million in guarantees like the Redskins, but there is still the whole issue of finding talent for the defensive tackle. The team was banking on Haynesworth to fill the spot next to Vince Wilfork.
Unfortunately, there isn't much on the current roster. On the bright side, there are a number of defensive lineman in the 2012 class who could make an immediate impact in that role.
One player who has been making scouts take notice is Devon Still. Amidst all the ugliness at Penn State this season, he's been a lone bright spot. He is finally playing consistently to the high level he showed flashes of in previous seasons.
As with Whitney Mercilus, Still is ideal for the Pats because he can play in either the 4-3 or the 3-4. He can line up inside on even fronts and shift out to end in odd looks.
32. Green Bay Packers: Jarvis Jones (DE, Georgia)*
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For the past two seasons the Green Bay Packers have been leaning to heavily on Clay Matthews to supply the pass rusher. This year, that strategy has come back to bite them.
Matthews has five sacks so far on the season—two of which came against a terrible Vikings front. It's no coincidence that with Matthew's dip in production, the pass defense has gone from one of the best in the NFL in 2010 to the second-worst in the league.
What Green Bay needs is another pass rusher that can make opponents pay when they use double- or even triple-teams to slow down Clay.
Fortunately, with the way Aaron Rodgers and the offense has been able to put points on the board, the defense has not been an issue. It's only a matter of time before Rodgers shows he's indeed human—whether it's through a bad game, bad weather, a well-planned opposing defensive scheme or the perfect storm of all of the above.