I’ve decided to start including trades in my 2012 NFL Mock Draft. Yeah, I know…predicting trades in a mock draft muddles things up, but I figure that if I’m going to do something as ridiculous (and sad) as guessing what players teams will select in the NFL Draft (three months before the fact), I may as well go that extra mile. Besides, the simple fact is that trades do happen…quite often, actually. Why not accept the challenge and take “hypothetical” to the next level?
In my recent stabs at no-trade mocks, RGIII lasted to #4 (won’t happen), and I often had Trent Richardson slipping well into the teens unless I forced him to Washington at #6 (also won’t happen). Those mocks just didn’t sit right. Throwing in a few, well thought-out trades has made for a more fluid, realistic mock that I’m much more comfortable with. The 2012 NFL Draft looks to be very top-heavy at QB, OT, and ILB, and one could argue that Trent Richardson, Dwayne Allen, Peter Konz and Mark Barron will be the only prospects that project as immediate NFL starters among this year’s crop of RBs, TEs, Cs, and safeties, so I expect to see a ton of trade action as teams vie for such a small handful of “sure things”.
1. Indianapolis Colts- Andrew Luck QB Stanford (Jr.)
With the firing of the Polians, the dominoes may have already begun to fall in Indy…the coaching staff and Peyton Manning will probably follow. The Polians’ ultimate downfall was their decade-long, Manning-centric approach to personnel decisions, and Manning’s absence in 2011 exposed the Colts as a team that simply lacked the coaching, talent or depth to compete without him. Huge changes are forthcoming. The new regime will look to overhaul the roster, and regardless of Manning’s fate, will draft Luck to be the cornerstone of the rebuilding process. I won’t end this paragraph with a scouting report singing the praises of Luck’s once-in-a-generation potential…I’ll defer to Brad’s expertise in that department. If you want concise, meat ‘n’ potatoes scouting reports on this year’s 2012 NFL Draft QB prospects, click the link above. Brad combs more game film than Joel Buschbaum and had RGIII in his top 10 back when most of us were still in love with Jeff Fuller and Kheeston Randall…trust me, he knows his stuff.
Also considered: None
2. TRADE!! Cleveland Browns (from St. Louis)- Robert Griffin III QB Baylor (Jr.)
Fans of the Dolphins, Redskins, Chiefs and Seahawks will hate me for making this prediction, but it makes perfect sense. The Browns have a talented, young nucleus, but to keep from becoming a complete afterthought in the rugged AFC North, where the Ravens and Steelers are annual playoff contenders and the Bengals are brimming with young talent, Holmgren and Heckert must find their answer to Roethlisberger, Flacco and Dalton. It’s obviously not Colt McCoy. (I’m not buying the old, “Colt just needs more to work with” argument anymore…Philip Rivers puts up 375 yards and 4 TDs with the likes of Legedu Naanee, Seyi Ajirotutu and Patrick Crayton at WR. Good QBs find a way. McCoy is mediocre…at best.) I have a hunch that the Browns will be aggressive in upgrading the QB position this offseason.
If the Rams trade down from #2 overall, Cleveland’s #4 slot would be the ideal landing spot. It’s the only trade scenario in which St. Louis would positively net either Justin Blackmon or Matt Kalil. Furthermore, the second first-rounder they would acquire (the one the Browns acquired from Atlanta in the Julio Jones trade) is #22…which jives almost perfectly with the trade value chart (if you’re into that sort of thing). The Rams could conceivably come out of the first round with Kalil and a quality WR (Kendall Wright, Mohamed Sanu, maybe even Alshon Jeffery), or Blackmon and a high-upside OT like Mike Adams or Zebrie Sanders. (A desperately-needed DT like Devon Still, Fletcher Cox, Dontari Poe or Jerel Worthy could even be an option with the second first-rounder.) Meanwhile, the Browns finally get their first legit franchise QB since Bernie Kosar was making QB coaches cringe with his ugly (but effective) passes back in the ’80s. RGIII is destined to thrive at the next level (regardless of scheme), and with his athletic upside, intelligence, work ethic and charisma, he has the potential to be the Browns’ first true superstar since Jim Brown. In the wake of “The Decision”, Jose Mesa, “The Drive”, etc., no city needs a promising new star more than Cleveland.
Also considered: Rams draft OT Matt Kalil or WR Justin Blackmon, trade down with Was./Mia./K.C./Sea.
3. Minnesota Vikings- Matt Kalil OT USC (Jr.)
You can make an argument for Justin Blackmon or Morris Claiborne here, but I firmly believe that Kalil would be the pick in this scenario. In all likelihood, the Vikings could find a big, WCO target to complement Percy Harvin (Sanu/Nick Toon/Dwight Jones) or a solid corner who fits the cover-2 scheme (Alfonzo Dennard) sitting at the top of the second round, but they certainly won’t find a potential franchise LT like Kalil there (or in free agency, for that matter). Kalil is a plug ‘n’ play blindside protector, and his presence would allow Charlie Johnson to move over to RG (his natural position) to replace the mediocre and injury-prone Anthony Herrera. Kalil/Hutchinson/Sullivan/Johnson/Loadholt would make for a rock solid O-line, maximizing protection for the fragile Christian Ponder, and offering a better push for A.P./Gerhart in the running game. Value, value, value.
Also considered: WR Justin Blackmon, CB Morris Claiborne
4. St. Louis Rams (from Cleveland)- Justin Blackmon WR Oklahoma State (Jr.)
The Rams are currently only $4.1 million under the salary cap, but once they get rid of a few cumbersome contracts (Jason Smith, Jacob Bell, Fred Robbins, Justin Bannan, maybe even James Hall), they should have enough cabbage to make a play for a potential free agent WR like Robert Meachem, Vincent Jackson or Desean Jackson. In that scenario, I think that they stay put at #2 and draft Kalil. For now, the choice at #4 of my 2012 NFL mock draft has to be Blackmon. The need for a reliable, #1 target for Bradford to lean on is well-chronicled, and with Brandon Lloyd possibly following Josh McDaniels toNew England, the need at WR could become crucial. Blackmon isn’t the towering, field-eating prototype (a la A.J. Green/Calvin Johnson), but his physicality, excellent route-running and ability to break tackles make him no less dangerous. Besides, “Bradford to Blackmon” has a very nice ring to it.
Also considered: None (With the solid Bradley Fletcher/Ron Bartell starting duo and nickelback Jerome Murphy set to return from injuries in 2012, the need for a CB in St. Louis has been overblown, IMO…so no Claiborne.)
5. Tampa Bay Buccaneers- Morris Claiborne CB LSU (Jr.)
Ronde Barber is approaching the finish line of his (Hall of Fame?) career, and Aqib Talib, while very talented, is simply a headcase who can’t be relied upon. If Claiborne makes it to #5, this is a hand-in-glove fit for Tampa Bay. An athletic playmaker who excels in man-coverage, Claiborne is a hard-working and humble (as humble as a CB can possibly be, anyway) prospect with no known character concerns…no small potatoes to an organization that has been burdened by a “talented, but undisciplined” rep during Raheem Morris’ tenure, and may be looking to revamp it’s image this offseason.
Also considered: RB Trent Richardson (In 2011, LeGarrette Blount showed glimpses as to why he went undrafted in ’10.)
6. TRADE!! Arizona Cardinals (from Washington)- Riley Reiff OT Iowa (Jr.)
Luck and RGIII are long gone, so just like in the 2011 NFL Draft, the Redskins bail out of the top ten. It’s obvious to anyone who has watched impending free agents Levi Brown and Brandon Keith kindly escort pass-rushers toward Kolb and Skelton all season that the Cardinals desperately need to locate two new starting tackles. There will be very few quality tackles available in free agency, and after Kalil, Riley Reiff and Jonathan Martin, there are no sure-fire starters available among the remaining OT prospects in the 2012 NFL Draft (Mike Adams and Zebrie Sanders are “maybes”). It’s doubtful that Reiff or Martin make it toArizonaat #13, so I expect the Cardinals to be proactive in addressing this glaring need on the draft’s first day. This is probably a touch high for Reiff right now, but league-wide demand for high-level pass-protectors and Reiff’s athletic upside could land him in the #5 to 10 range, perhaps just ahead of Martin. At #13, the ‘Skins would be at a better value spot for potential targets like CB Dre Kirkpatrick, WR Alshon Jeffery, OG David Decastro, ILB Luke Kuechly (if London Fletcher isn’t re-signed) and QB Ryan Tannehill (if they don’t sign free agent Matt Flynn or acquire Peyton Manning).
Also considered: Redskins stay put and draft CB Dre Kirkpatrick
7. Jacksonville Jaguars- Whitney Mercilus DE Illinois (Jr.)
I love that new Jags owner Shahid Khan has given GM Gene Smith a vote of confidence. I think that Smith is one of the most underrated GMs in the business, so Khan is obviously a wise man (as if that miraculous mustache wasn’t evidence enough of his wisdom). Aside from my respect for Smith (and Khan’s mustache), I love the element of unpredictability that Smith brings to the table on Draft Day. (I could mock Mark Barron here and nobody could argue because, well…it’s Gene Smith.) With Smith, all we know for sure is that he won’t draft a player with character concerns. Otherwise, anything is possible.
Now that I’m finished with my open love letter to Gene Smith…on toJacksonville’s pick. A cursory glance at the Jaguars depth chart is all you need to know that WR is their most glaring need, but with Blackmon off the board and Michael Floyd definitely qualifying as a character risk, it’s “no go” on a WR. (Besides, at $32.9 million under the cap, and with a bold, deep-pocketed new owner who will probably be looking to make a splash in free agency, I can’t help but think that Jacksonville will have acquired somebody like Robert Meachem by Draft Day.)
Blaine Gabbert is simply a scaredy cat in the pocket, so upgrading his protection would be next up on the priority list…but with Eugene Monroe entrenched on the blindside, spending the #7 overall pick on a RT to replace overmatched Guy Whimper (Jonathan Martin) or a guard (DeCastro) is a stretch…even for Gene Smith. Those positions are just too easily addressed through free agency and in later rounds. Rashean Mathis’ age and impending free agency make Dre Kirkpatrick a possibility, but with so much cap space (and more to come when Aaron Kampman is released), I think that the Jags will keep Mathis in the fold. (Before Mathis landed on the I.R., he and Derek Cox were playing as well as any duo in the AFC.)
That leaves two major needs: Safety (I was just kidding about Barron…kinda), and a high-end pass-rusher to complement the late-blooming Jeremy Mincey. Mincey’s team-leading 8 sacks was (sadly) the highest sack total from a Jaguar since Bobby McCray racked up 10 back in 2006. Matt Roth (who may or may not return in 2012) was next in line with a mere 3.5 sacks. The need for a dominant pass-rusher in Jacksonville has been sitting on the back burner for far too long.
Contrary to those who would still have you believe that Quinton Coples is the best pass-rusher this draft will have to offer, If I’mJacksonville, I take Mercilus over Coples in a heartbeat. You can tell me all about Coples’ upside…his prototypical size and long arms…how he has contended with double teams…or how Mercilus is a one-year wonder/product of the system…I don’t care. The Jags need a productive, relentless edge-rusher with 15-sack potential…a bona fide sack artist, not a “high upside” DE/DT ‘tweener who takes plays off (Carlos Dunlap 2.0).
16 sacks, 22.5 TFL and 9 FF…Mercilus is all production. Is Mercilus a risky pick? Sure, he is. He’s not an elite athlete and you always have to temper your enthusiam for any prospect who seemingly emerges from nowhere, but if I remember correctly, current All-Pro DE Jason Pierre-Paul was a one-year wonder who almost everybody thought had “bust” written all over him. What Mercilus has (and all great pass-rushers share) is an incredible motor. Almost every year, a wildly productive college pass-rusher is nit-picked to death during the predraft process, and ends up slipping a bit in the draft due to a perceived lack of speed (Terrell Suggs), height (Dwight Freeney/Elvis Dumervil) athleticism (Ryan Kerrigan)….whatever. They almost always continue to be wildly productive in the NFL. Why? The motor. With Sam Montgomery’s recent announcement that he’ll be returning to LSU next season, Mercilus is the best pure pass-rusher available in the 2012 NFL Draft, IMO…and will come off the board in the first 10 to 15 picks next April.
Also considered: OT Jonathan Martin (Guy Whimper is a turnstile), OG David DeCastro, CB Dre Kirkpatrick (if Mathis leaves) , S Mark Barron (hey…it’s Gene Smith)
8. Carolina Panthers- Dre Kirkpatrick CB Alabama (Jr.)
Thanks to Cam Newton, scoring points is suddenly not the issue inCarolina, so with Drew Brees and his deep stable of weapons representing the NFC South standard, I expect Marty Hurney and Ron Rivera to orchestrate a defense-heavy draft. Rivera runs an aggressive scheme that can never have too many physical, high-quality corners (remember first-rounders Quentin Jammer, Antonio Cromartie and Antoine Cason in San Diego?). Kirkpatrick is comparable to Cromartie in size and athletic ability, but unlike Cromartie, Kirkpatrick isn’t allergic to contact. Chris Gamble (reborn under Rivera), Kirkpatrick and gritty Captain Munnerlyn (the perfect nickel corner) would comprise a formidable trio, opening up a world of blitz possibilities for Rivera and Sean McDermott.
Also considered: Trade down with a team desperate to grab OT Jonathan Martin ahead of Miami (Bears? Chiefs? Steelers?), WR Alshon Jeffery (only if he absolutely kills it at the Combine), OT Jonathan Martin (if expensive, injury-prone RT Jeff Otah is a cap casualty), OG David DeCastro (Travelle Wharton is waaaay too expensive), DE/DT Quinton Coples (Greg Hardy may be better off as a backup), DT Devon Still (not sure if even more youth is the answer at DT…maybe a F.A. like Antonio Garay)
9. Miami Dolphins- Jonathan Martin OT Stanford (Jr.)
Sorry,Miami fans…no RGIII. I realize that Stephen Ross is desperate for an exciting product (and that no prospect in this draft is more electrifying than Griffin), but it looks like GM Jeff Ireland is getting a stay of execution through 2012, so I doubt that he’ll want to put his tentative job security in the hands of a rookie signal-caller. I could be wrong, but I’m guessing that Miami breaks camp with Matt Moore or Matt Flynn under center, and looks to build on the strong running game/stout defense formula that served them well over the second half of the 2011 season.
Ireland isn’t afraid to exhaust premium picks on relatively “low value” positions like 3-4 DE (Odrick) and C (Pouncey), so don’t be surprised to see him use the ninth overall pick to shore up the RT position, where incumbent starter Marc Colombo is abysmal. I’m not convinced that Martin has the athleticism to be an elite LT (he strikes me as more of a solid, Bob Whitfield/Roman Oben-type), but he would be a helluva RT, and the final piece of a potentially dominant O-line.
Also considered: Trade down, OG David DeCastro (RG Vernon Carey is a free agent and terminally banged-up), DTDevon Still (Kendall Langford and Paul Soliai are free agents)
10. TRADE!! Cincinnati Bengals (from Buffalo)- Trent Richardson RB Alabama (Jr.)
Anyone who saw impending free agent Cedric Benson sulking on the sidelines and Bernard Scott dropping screen passes and tiptoing around in the backfield during the Bengals’ season-ending loss to the Texans understands exactly why I’m predicting this trade. Andy Dalton is an intelligent game-manager and showed good promise during his rookie season, but his upside is limited. He sorely needs a do-it-all, workhorse runner to lean on if the Bengals ever want to be legitimate Super Bowl contenders. It’s obvious to all of us that Richardson would be a perfect fit in Cincy, so I have to believe that it’s also obvious to Bengals management, and that they would jump at the opportunity to move up for Richardson if he begins to slide (which is very possible if he makes it past the Browns at #4).
The Bills could emerge as willing trade partners. Buffalo produced only 28 sacks this season…with 10 coming in a flukey performance against an injury-decimated Redskins’ O-line.The Bills desperately need someone (or two) who can get to the QB. Right now, Quinton Coples, Whitney Mercilus, Melvin Ingram, Courtney Upshaw and Nick Perry are all lumped together near the top of the list of available pass-rushers…in various orders, and with varying opinions on all of them. The predraft process will probably provide some clarity as to what order they ultimately come off the board, but if you’re Buffalo, why not move down seven spots (where you’re still likely to have your choice from at least a few of the above-mentioned group) and pick up an extra second-round pick?
Of course, GM Buddy Nix could simply go BPA and draft Richardson…in the process, becoming the new Matt Millen. Don’t rule out Alshon Jeffery or Michael Floyd, either. WR Stevie Johnson (and his bone-headed antics) will probably return in 2012, but there’s no guarantee. Even if he’s re-signed, the need remains for a play-making #2 target.
Also considered: Bills stay put and draft RB Trent Richardson (BPA), WR Alshon Jeffery, WR Michael Floyd, or Coples/Ingram/Upshaw/Perry
11. TRADE!! Dallas Cowboys (from Seattle)- David DeCastro OG Stanford (Jr.)
Just as with the Bills, the Seahawks could go into the 2012 NFL Draft targeting a pass-rusher, and may be willing to trade down if they’re confident that their target guy will still be on the board at wherever they land. In my 2012 NFL mock draft scenario, the Cowboys, fearing that DeCastro may not make it past Kansas City and Washington, leave nothing to chance and give up their third-round pick to the Seahawks in order to secure their target.
Anyone who frequents this site is probably aware of Brad’s shameless man-crush on DeCastro. Well, you better watch out, Mr. Clark- Profetta is moving in on your fella. DeCastro has a balanced skill set and is a very underrated athlete capable of thriving in any blocking scheme. He’s a perfect fit in Dallas, where his experience in Stanford’s WCO would serve him well as part of a unit that is in the process of moving away from oversized, Leonard Davis-types, and toward more athletic blockers like Tyron Smith. DeCastro could step in immediately at RG in place of probable cap-casualty Kyle Kosier, who is 33, expensive, and coming off of a MCL injury in Week 17. DeCastro has All-Pro potential and is a safe, plug ‘n’ play starter who has a good chance of becoming the first pure guard to crack the top ten since 1997 (Chris Naeole).
Also considered: Seahawks stay put and reach for QB Ryan Tannehill (if they don’t sign a free agent like Jason Campbell), WR Alshon Jeffery (the guy that many compare to Mike Williams could replace…Mike Williams), DT Devon Still (Alan Branch is just okay), DE/DT Quinton Coples, DE/OLB Melvin Ingram, DE/OLB Courtney Upshaw, or ILB Luke Kuechly (David Hawthorne is a F.A.)
12. TRADE!! New York Jets (from Kansas City)- Luke Kuechly ILB Boston College (Jr.)
After a humbling, tumultuous season, I expect the Jets to put a premium on character when targeting players to fill their (many) needs. ILB Bart Scott has one foot out the door, and Kuechly would be the perfect replacement. Kuechly offers better instincts, range and coverage ability than Scott, and more importantly, Kuechly’s quiet, no-nonsense demeanor would be a refreshing change from Scott, who has personified everything wrong with this team with his trash-talking and false bravado (backed up by iffy production). Fearing that Kuechly won’t make it past the Eagles at #15, the Jets toss a third-rounder at the Chiefs (who are looking to bail with Martin, Reiff and Decastro off the board) and move up for their new defensive tone-setter.
Also considered: Chiefs stay put and draft QB Ryan Tannehill (unlikely…Pioli’s leash is too short to start over with a raw, rookie QB), WR Alshon Jeffery (only if Dwayne Bowe leaves…doubtful), OT Mike Adams (RT Barry Richardson must be replaced), C Peter Konz (Weigmann is ancient, Lilja is slipping), DT Devon Still (Glenn Dorsey is not a 3-4 DE…could be traded), or Kuechly (Jovan Belcher is mediocre)
13. Washington Redskins (from Arizona)- Alshon Jeffery WR South Carolina (Jr.)
Having endured Donovan McNabb and Mike Shanahan’s Beck/Grossman miscalculation for the last few seasons, I know that ‘Skins fans have their heart set on RGIII, but as I explained earlier, the Browns, sitting at #4 (where Kalil or Blackmon will be on the board) and armed with two readily-available first-rounders, just seem like the most logical trading partner with the Rams. Ryan Tannehill was a consideration here, but I have a feeling that the ‘Skins will have acquired a new QB by April, whether it be Matt Flynn or Peyton Manning. Manning is a superstar in the twilight of his career…history suggests that a move for Manning would be right up Daniel Snyder’s alley. (McNabb, Bruce Smith, Deion Sanders…)
Red-zone efficiency has been a serious problem in D.C. for a few years now, and while conditioning, motivation and deep speed are all legitimate concerns with Jeffery, at 6-4/230 (with incredibly long arms and catcher’s mitts for hands…perfect for high-pointing the rock), there’s no doubting that he’s the prototypical red-zone threat. His recent ownership of Alfonzo Dennard should help rehabilitate his declining draft stock. If he shows well during the predraft process (no pizza, Alshon), Jeffery’s upside should land him in the top 15. With Kirkpatrick and DeCastro off the board, Jeffery offers the best value for the Redskins here.
Also considered: Another trade down, QB Ryan Tannehill, WR Michael Floyd (Bruce Allen/Shanahan may be leary of drafting a character risk in the wake of McNabb/Haynesworth/etc.)
14. Seattle Seahawks (from Dallas)- Courtney Upshaw DE/OLB Alabama
Pete Carroll’s unorthodox defensive scheme, which shows 4-3 and 3-4 tendencies and utilizes 6-4/325 Red Bryant as a king-sized, run-stopping 4-3 DE, is predictably stout against the run, but offers little pass-rush outside of Chris Clemons and blitzing smoke-and-mirrors. Clemons turns 31 next season, so finding a youthful edge-rusher should be a top priority for the Seahawks in this draft. Upshaw’s versatility would make him a great fit in Seattle. LeRoy Hill finished a distant second to Clemons in sacks this season with a measly four, so Upshaw would be a welcome addition inSeattleas a legitimate “second fiddle” pass-rusher. Upshaw has short arms and probably won’t blow anyone’s cap off with his forty time at the Combine, but it’s impossible to ignore his tenacity, production, and penchant for playing big in big games.
Also considered: QB Ryan Tannehill (I’m guessing that Matt Flynn or Jason Campbell ends up inSeattle), WR Michael Floyd (Carroll loves his huge WRs), DT’s Devon Still and Dontari Poe (Alan Branch is just okay), DE/OLB Melvin Ingram, DE/OLB Nick Perry (Seahawks/USC connection is overblown…just ask Taylor Mays)
15. Philadelphia Eagles- Devon Still DT Penn State
I’m aware of the Eagles’ desperate need at LB, but they haven’t drafted a LB in the first round since the Carter administration and this is probably too high for Dont’a Hightower (and definitely too high for Vontaze Burfict). I love Hightower, a huge thumper with excellent blitzing ability, but his limitations in coverage suggest a better fit in a 3-4 scheme. The natural Jeremiah Trotter comparison would seem to make Hightower a logical fit in Philadelphia, but in reality, he’s just a much bigger (albeit much better) version of what they already have in Jamar Chaney. Burfict has better sideline-to-sideline range than Hightower and offers the athletic ability to be a three-down force at MLB, so I could see the Eagles targeting the enigmatic Burfict with one of their two second-round picks (only if management is convinced that they’re getting the 2009-2010 version of Burfict, not the tentative, non-force that we saw in 2011).
In my 2012 NFL mock draft, I’m guessing that Andy Reid will do what he does so often come draft day…address the trenches in the first round. On the surface, there’s no obvious need at DT. Mike Patterson is a quality run-stuffer and Cullen Jenkins is a great interior pass-rusher, but the Eagles really don’t have a guy that is a combination of both. If the rumors that Steve Spagnuolo will be the next D-coordinator in Philly hold water, even more depth will be needed on the D-line, as Spags loves to send waves of fresh bodies at opposing QBs. At 6-4/310, Still could serve as a Barry Cofield/Chris Canty-type force in Philadelphia, capable of shutting down the run or collapsing the pocket, freeing up Trent Cole and Jason Babin to wreak even more havoc from the edges.
Also considered: QB Ryan Tannehill (it’s not a question of if Vick will get injured, just when), WR Kendall Wright (DeSean Jackson without the ‘tude), ILB Dont’a Hightower, S Mark Barron (sorely-needed Brian Dawkins-type presence at the last line of defense)
16. Kansas City Chiefs (from New York Jets)- Mike Adams OT Ohio State
If every team had a shameless need-filler like Scott Pioli as their GM, we would all be 100% accurate with our mock drafts. Here’s how it works: Pioli locates the weakest link among the 22 starters on his team and drafts the next best available player at that position…annoyances like “positional value” and “overall value” be damned. Need a 3-4 DE? Boom!…Tyson Jackson. Glaring hole at safety? Boom!…Eric Berry. Tired of bums like Samie Parker, Bobby Wade and Chris Chambers masquerading as viable #2 WRs? Boom!…Jonathan Baldwin. Pioli is the polar opposite of former comrade (and infamous mock draft destroyer) Bill Belichick.
So who’s the weak link this year? Ask any Chiefs fan. Matt Cassell, Tyson Jackson, Glenn Dorsey, Jovan Belcher and Ryan Lilja might receive mention, but the honor undoubtedly goes to RT Barry Richardson, who grades out as the worst tackle in the NFL on every site where poor souls make it their business to mathematically figure out such things. Who’s the next best RT prospect still on the board? Boom!…Mike Adams.
Also considered: QB Ryan Tannehill (unfortunately, Pioli is married to Cassel), WR Michael Floyd, C Peter Konz, DE/DT Quinton Coples, ILB Dont’a Hightower
17. Buffalo Bills (from Cincinnati, thru Oakland)- Melvin Ingram DE/OLB South Carolina
There are questions as to whether Ingram’s production was a byproduct of the attention paid to ubertalented DE Jadeveon Clowney and Devin Taylor, but I’m not buying it. Nobody dominates the NFL Developmental League SEC by accident. Ingram simply has a nose for the ball. He creates turnovers, boasts an array of polished rush moves, plays with great leverage and is an underrated athlete. He’s stout vs. the run, and has the pass-rushing potential to contribute 7 to 10 sacks annually.
After Shawne Merriman went on the I.R.(again) in 2011, the Bills began to show a lot more 4-3 looks out of neccessity. With the recent promotion of Dave Wannstedt to D-coordinator, we can expect a flexing, 4-3/3-4 hybrid in 2012, with Chris Kelsay and Kyle Williams often lining up at their natural LDE and RDT positions, and Marcell Dareus at LDT. Adding Ingram to this group would make for a potentially formidable four-man line.
Also considered: QB Ryan Tannehill (nah…Nix, Gailey and Fitzpatrick are in this thing together), WR Michael Floyd, DE/OLB Nick Perry
18. TRADE!! Pittsburgh Steelers (from San Diego)- Zebrie Sanders OT Florida State
Following Alabama’s D.J. Fluker andVirginia’s Oday Aboushi’s respective decisions to return to school, Zebrie Sanders is suddenly a very hot commodity. After Kalil/Reiff/Martin/Adams, Sanders is the only tackle remaining in this year’s crop with even a remote chance of starting on the blindside as a rookie, so a team in desperate need of a serviceable LT will have to aggressively pursue him. The Steelers definitely fall into the “desperate” category. You can say what you will about the need for more young blood for the Steelers’ “old” defense, or mention Pittsburgh’s history of drafting the BPA (regardless of need), but all of that goes out the window in the face of what has become a “code red” situation on the offensive line. Pulling Max Starks out of line at the local Hometown Buffet to guard Big Ben’s blindside on short notice just isn’t going to cut it anymore. The Steelers need a viable, long-term solution at LT, so in my 2012 NFL mock draft scenario, they cough up a third-rounder to jump ahead of Chicago (who desperately need to replace LT J’Marcus Webb) and throw a net over Sanders, a versatile, athletic tackle with Duane Brown-type potential.
Also considered: Chargers stay put and draft WR Michael Floyd (V-Jax could bolt in F.A.), OT Zebrie Sanders (McNeill’s career is in doubt, history suggests that Gaither probably isn’t the long-term solution at LT, and Clary is no great shakes on the right side), C Peter Konz (Dielman and Hardwick are approaching the finish line), or DE/OLB Nick Perry
19. Chicago Bears- Michael Floyd WR Notre Dame
With Sanders off the board, Floyd is a no-brainer here. In a division featuring the high-octane Packers and Lions, the Bears have no chance of keeping pace as long as Matt Forte and undrafted free agent Dane Sanzenbacher are Jay Cutler’s only reliable targets. Floyd is a productive, size/speed monster with the potential to finally end Chicago’s ridiculously lengthy search for a legitimate #1 WR. (The last Bears receiver to even break 1,000 yards was Marty Booker…back in 2002.) Floyd is a top-ten talent who is only available here because of some alcohol-related issues. Considering the fact thatChicagowillingly brought in reknowned locker room cancer Brandon Meriweather this season, I have to assume that they would pull the trigger on Floyd without hesitation.
Also (briefly) considered: DE/DT Quinton Coples (LDE Idonije is a F.A., RDE Peppers is aging)
20. Tennessee Titans- Peter Konz C Wisconsin (Jr.)
The Tennessee coaching staff has called out the O-line on their abysmal run-blocking…the Titans haven’t used a draft pick in the first three rounds on an offensive lineman since 2005 (I’d say they’re overdue)…HC Mike Munchak is a former Penn State All-American interior O-lineman…Tennessee’s incumbent center, Eugene Amano, is a natural RG, and incumbent RG Jake Scott is a free agent who won’t be back…the coaching staff has expressed a desire to get bigger and more physical along the interior O-line (Konz is 6-5/315 and as physical as they come)…
Yeah…I’d say that it’s a safe bet that run-blocker deluxe Peter Konz doesn’t get past the Titans.
Also considered: DE/DT Quinton Coples (LDE Jason Jones is a F.A.), DT Dontari Poe (the Titans have a decent collection of serviceable parts at DT, but not a potentially dominant force like Poe), S Mark Barron (Chris Hope is a F.A. and mediocre)
21. Cincinnati Bengals- Stephon Gilmore CB South Carolina (Jr.)
Leon Hall is the only CB on the Bengals’ depth chart assured of a roster spot in 2012. Mike Brown rarely throws big money around in free agency, so I’m guessing that Cincy drafts the best available corner with their second first-rounder…especially since they gave up their second round pick in the move up for Richardson. Janoris Jenkins is a popular pick for the Bengals these days, but I like Gilmore better. There’s no doubt that Jenkins’ man-coverage skills and athletic ability are right up there with any corner in the 2012 NFL Draft, but I think that the character concerns will knock him down more than a few draft boards…including the Bengals’, a frugal organization that normally doesn’t like to invest in character risks in the first round. (Yes, you read that right…check out the “also considered” segment of this pick for more on that.) There’s some serious risk with Jenkins. Sure, dominating at North Alabama has helped to rehabilitate his draft stock, but let’s face it…you have to be a pretty bad egg to get kicked out of the Florida Gators football program.
Gilmore is usually seen hanging around the top of the second round in most mock drafts these days, but I like him in the mid-late first round. He has ideal size and athleticism for the position, and you won’t find a more physical corner in run-support in college football. Gilmore still has some upside, and has the character and work ethic to max out his potential.
Also considered: WR Mohamed Sanu or WR Kendall Wright (if F.A. Jerome Simpson bolts), OG Cordy Glenn or OG Kelechi Osemele, DE/DT Quinton Coples (value pick/Geathers could be cap casualty, but Coples would be redundant with Dunlap in tow), CB Janoris Jenkins (the notion that the Bengals like to draft character risks in the first round is simply untrue. A.J. Green…David Pollack…Levi Jones…Leon Hall…Jonathan Joseph…Justin Smith…Keith Rivers…Jermaine Gresham…Willie Anderson…all rock-solid guys. Andre Smith’s only crime was being morbidly obese. Akili Smith’s only crime was being overrated. Ki-Jana Carter? Good charter…bad luck. You have to go all the way back to Peter Warrick to find a Cincinnati first-rounder that was of questionable character. It’s in free agency where the Bengals like to roll the bones on character risks…T.O., Tank Johnson, Pacman, Cedric Benson, etc….only because those players are usually economical, risk/reward options…and Mike Brown is cheap.)
22. St. Louis Rams (from Cleveland, thru Atlanta)- Dontari Poe DT Memphis (Jr.)
The Rams miss out on Mike Adams and Zebrie Sanders with the second first-rounder acquired in my proposedClevelandtrade (cross your fingers that 2011 was just a sophomore slump for LT Rodger Saffold, St. Louis fans), so they address their awful interior D-line with the mountainous (6-5/350) Poe. Spagnuolo-favorite Fred Robbins and journeyman Justin Bannan were a welcome mat for opposing rushing attacks in 2011. Neither will return in 2012. Poe is unpolished, but has the potential to be the double-team absorbing, pocket-collapsing force needed to free up DEs Chris Long and Robert Quinn, while keeping MLB James Laurinaitis clean.
Also considered: DT Jerel Worthy, DT Fletcher Cox, S Mark Barron
23. Detroit Lions- Quinton Coples DE/DT North Carolina
Martin Mayhew’s BPA policy has served the Lions very well…why stop now? (Especially considering that the early returns on one of Mayhew’s rare “target” moves, Jahvid Best, have not been promising.)
There’s no immediate need along the Lions’ defensive front, but in order to lock up DE Cliff Avril long-term, Detroit may have to release expensive DT Corey Williams (Nick Fairley is waiting in the wings) and maybe even DE Kyle Vanden Bosch (although restructioning his $26 million dollar deal is more likely). Even if KVB is retained, he’s 33 years old, so the Lions should start thinking about finding his replacement. As you’ve probably gathered from my essay at pick #7, I’m not a huge Coples fan. However, I recognize the tremendous value he would represent at #23.Detroit could actually be the perfect fit for Coples. Who better for Coples to apprentice behind for a season than the high-motor KVB? The release of Williams would thin the depth considerably, so Coples would be valuable as a deluxe, backup DE/DT next season, until taking over for KVB in 2013. I don’t think that Coples will ever be a 15 sack guy, but if his fire is lit, he could be a strong, run-stuffing base end, capable of moving inside in passing situations and chipping in a healthy 8 or 9 sacks a season. Coples would complement Avril perfectly, and a Coples/Suh/Fairley/Avril D-line could keep Aaron Rodgers’ head on a swivel for years to come.
Also considered: OG Cordy Glenn, OG Kelechi Osemele, CB Janoris Jenkins (I’m thinking that Mayhew will address the need at CB during free agency)
24. San Diego Chargers (from Pittsburgh)- Nick Perry DE/OLB USC (Jr.)
As it turns out, the Chargers pick up a third-rounder from the Steelers and still get their target player in the first round.
It’s think it’s safe to say that the Larry English Era is officially over inSan Diego. The need for a bookend pass-rusher to ease Shaun Phillips’ load remains. Journeyman Travis LaBoy is a favorite of recently-axed D-coordinator Greg Manusky. I’ll be surprised if LaBoy is on the roster next season. Antwan Barnes is a one-trick pony best suited as a pass-rushing specialist. Perry’s phenomenal strength and athleticism should have him rising up draft boards throughout the predraft process. Chargers’ GM A.J. Smith has a penchant for drafting late-rising prospects and Perry neatly fills a glaring need. Perry/Chargers is a perfect match. So perfect that it probably won’t happen.
Also considered: RB Lamar Miller (Tolbert is a F.A.), WR Mohamed Sanu (V-Jax is a F.A.), OG Cordy Glenn, OG Kelechi Osemele, ILB Dont’a Hightower (Spikes is approaching the end/Mouton is unproven), S Mark Barron (Steve Gregory is the living definition of “average”)
25. Denver Broncos- Mark Barron S Alabama
Brian Dawkins has played his last NFL game and Rahim Moore has really stunk up the joint during his rookie season, so the Broncos look to Nick Saban’s NFL prospect factory for an immediate upgrade at safety. Barron is a big, physical leader reminiscent of Broncos’ all-timers Steve Atwater and Dennis Smith.
Also considered: RB Lamar Miller, WR Mohamed Sanu, WR Kendall Wright, TE Dwayne Allen (John Fox should really reconsider his aversion to TEs not named Dante Rosario if he wants to maximize Tebow’s effectiveness), DT Fletcher Cox, CB Janoris Jenkins, CB Chase Minnifield
26. New York Giants- Dwayne Allen TE Clemson (Jr.)
Offensive coordinator Kevin Gilbride strives for a balance of power running and deep passing, making Allen, who is equal parts physical run-blocker and seam-stretching mismatch, the ideal TE for the Giants’ attack. Pro Bowl potential.
Also considered: RB Lamar Miller, WR Mohamed Sanu or WR Kendall Wright (if F.A. Manningham bolts), OG Cordy Glenn, OG Kelechi Osemele, CB Chase Minnifield or CB Janoris Jenkins (Aaron Ross and Terrell Thomas are F.A.s)
27. Houston Texans- Mohamed Sanu WR Rutgers (Jr.)
It was a close call between Sanu and Kendall Wright here, but I decided that Sanu’s superior size and blocking ability make him a neater fit in Kubiak’s WCO than Wright. A sticky-fingered, versatile weapon, Sanu would be an immediate upgrade from Kevin Walter as the #2 WR, and offers the upside to evolve into Andre Johnson’s eventual successor as the #1 WR.
Also considered: WR Kendall Wright, CB Chase Minnifield (Kareem Jackson has showed improvement, but the jury is still out on him/Jason Allen is a F.A.)
28. San Francisco 49ers- Jerel Worthy DT Michigan State (Jr.)
Ray McDonald/Isaac Sopoaga/Justin Smith have been a brick wall this season, but Smith is getting some age on him and some quality depth wouldn’t hurt. Just as with the Chargers and Corey Liuget in the 2011 NFL Draft, the ‘Niners draft Worthy to serve as a 3-4 DE. Future investment.
Also considered: WR Kendall Wright, OG Cordy Glenn or OG Kelechi Osemele (RG Adam Snyder is a F.A., either Glenn or Osemele would be a nice fit in the 49ers’ grinding running attack), DE/OLB Vinny Curry or DE/OLB Andre Branch (bookend for Aldon Smith if F.A. Ahmad Brooks bolts), CB Janoris Jenkins or CB Chase Minnifield (Shawntae Spencer won’t return in 2012, but the ‘Niners are in good cap shape and could target a F.A. like Aaron Ross or Marcus Trufant)
29. TRADE!! Kansas City Chiefs (from New England)- Dont’a Hightower ILB Alabama (Jr.)
Pioli continues his manuevering. Looking to upgrade the 3-4 ILB spot beside Derrick Johnson, and knowing that it’s doubtful that Hightower makes it past the Ravens at #31 (let alone making it to pick #44), Pioli sends the Chiefs’ second-rounder and the third-rounder acquired in the earlier trade with the Jets to his old buddies in New England for the #29 pick. Looking at this draft’s crop of ILBs, the pickings get Todd Pinkston-slim after Kuechly, Hightower and Burfict, so I expect Pioli to aggressively pursue Hightower if it’s decided that Jovan Belcher isn’t cutting it.
Pioli’s love affair with SEC prospects has been no big secret going back to his days in New England (Richard Seymour, Ben Watson, Jerod Mayo, Tyson Jackson, Eric Berry, Dexter McCluster, Javier Arenas, Kendrick Lewis, Justin Houston, Jerrell Powe…), so after Hightower’s dominating performance in the All-SEC National Championship Game, I wouldn’t be surprised if Pioli has developed an acute man-crush on the ‘Bama linebacker by now.
Also considered: The Patriots trade down with another team. Perhaps a team with their sights set on Ryan Tannehill. Who says that the Packers won’t draft Tannehill at #30 to replace Matt Flynn?
30. Green Bay Packers- Ryan Tannehill QB Texas A & M
The Packers draft Tannehill at #30 to replace Matt Flynn.
Also considered: RB Lamar Miller or RB David Wilson (Ryan Grant is a F.A.), Kendall Wright (Donald Driver may call it a career), Kelechi Osemele (if they think he can play OT), DT Fletcher Cox or DT Brandon Thompson, DE/OLB Andre Branch or DE/OLB Vinny Curry (potential pass-rushing bookend to Clay Matthews), CB Chase Minnifield or CB Janoris Jenkins (how long can Woodson keep playing at a high level?)
31. Baltimore Ravens- Janoris Jenkins CB North Alabama
GM Ozzie Newsome has expressed a desire to bolster the ILB position this offseason, but I just can’t bring myself to force Vontaze Burfict into the first round. If someone were to scout Burfict with only his 2011 game tape at their disposal, they may describe him as no better than a third day, risk/reward project. That’s how disappointing Burfict has been this season. If Newsome targets Burfict, I could see a trade down (as he did with Sergio Kindle), but there’s no way I’m slotting Burfict here.
I realize that Baltimore just drafted Jimmy Smith in the first round, but the cornerback position is still far from settled. Lardarius Webb and Cary Williams are restricted free agents. Williams has been picked on this season, yet somehow managed to start a majority of the games at RCB without recording a single INT, sack or fumble recovery. He should really be a dime back/special-teamer. Veteran Chris Carr is far too expensive for a nickel/dime back and could be a cap casualty. Jenkins could provide valuable depth at corner, and as an added bonus, he’s an electrifying return specialist who could mercifully relieve fumble-prone return man David Reed of his duties. Jenkins comes with the “buyer beware” tag, but Newsome has never hesitated to take on a problem child if the talent is there and the value is right.
Also considered: RB Lamar Miller (Ricky Williams is ancient), WR Kendall Wright, OLB Zach Brown (Ravens could use a dose of speed in the front seven), DE/OLB Ronnell Lewis, CB Chase Minnifield
32. New England Patriots (from New Orleans)- Fletcher Cox DT Mississippi State (Jr.)
I’m going to go out on a limb and guess that the Pats will draft defense this April.
Cox is a very athletic (but raw) interior force who possesses the motor and versatility that should appeal to Bill Belichick. His size (6-4/295), length, and ability to play 3-4 DE, 4-3 DT, or even 4-3 LDE bring to mind former Patriot Ty Warren.
Also considered: Trade down (naturally), RB Lamar Miller, DE/OLB Andre Branch, DE/OLB Vinny Curry, DE/OLB Ronnell Lewis, CB Chase Minnifield, CB Alfonzo Dennard, CB Brandon Boykin (versatile, killer special-teamer, SEC…Boykin just screams “Patriots”)