Here is the fourth edition of the Monday Morning Draft - a column that delves into the past weekend's action from an NFL Draft perspective. As the season goes on, the draft picture and slotting will become more clear, but every Sunday will provide a few hints for next April.
As the season progresses, there will be a lot of turnover in the positioning of which team will land the No. 1 overall pick to have the first shot at Stanford quarterback Andrew Luck. After the Week 4 action, here are the top contenders at this time.
The Dolphins lost to the San Diego Chargers and fall to 0-4 on the season. Last week, Miami lost a "playoff game" in the "Suck for Luck" derby to the Cleveland Browns. The Dolphins play in a tough division that should produce at least two playoff teams and a playoff contender. Miami find ways to lose, and that matters in the "Suck for Luck" standings. They also have been hit hard by injuries, and they simply don't have the depth to withstand losing the amount of starters that are missing time for Miami. It looks like a long season for the Dolphins. The players could easily quit on head coach Tony Sparano, who could get fired before the end of the season.
The Vikings are 0-4 after losing a "Suck for Luck" playoff game to the Kansas City Chiefs. The Chiefs were winless, but don't look as terrible as they did in the first two games of the season.
In the first three games of the year, Minnesota blew three big leads. The Vikings play in a tough division and are clearly the worst team in that division. It wouldn't be surprising if they are swept by their division rivals and their conference matchup against the NFC South. With the Vikings unable to protect a lead, and not having an offense that can produce consistently, they look as if they are a strong candidate to land the first overall pick in the 2012 NFL Draft.
The problem for Minnesota is having spent a first-round pick on quarterback Christian Ponder last April. If they have the first pick, they would have a tough decision to make. Luck is good enough that he is worth considering taking even though they just drafted a quarterback. Fortunately for Minnesota, they have Adrian Peterson and some other good players, so they could pull out a few wins. Considering they've been close to winning all four games this season, it wouldn't be surprising if worse teams pass them for first place in the "Suck for Luck" standings.
Last week, the Colts almost pulled off a big-time upset of the Pittsburgh Steelers, but lost 23-20. The Colts played a tight game with the Browns. Right now, there is no certainty when Peyton Manning will return, but he could miss the entire season. Without Manning, the 0-3 Colts could be headed to a season with 1-3 wins and a strong possibility for the No. 1 pick. They play Tampa tonight (10/3/11).
Kansas City Chiefs:
If the 1-3 Chiefs wanted to land Andrew Luck, they shot themselves in the foot by getting their first win of the season. Kansas City won 22-17 at home against the Minnesota Vikings. Obviously the Chiefs are still a bad team. Beating a winless team by five is nothing to brag about. Last week, the Chiefs made a comeback but fell to San Diego 20-17. In the first two weeks of the season, the Chiefs were blown out by the Bills and Lions.
Veteran quarterback Matt Cassel will turn 30 just after the 2012 NFL Draft, so it would make sense to groom a young quarterback with a veteran playing into his 30s. Hurting the Chiefs' chances of winning games this season is their loss of running back Jamaal Charles to a torn ACL. Still, they look destined to be picking at or near the top of the first round in 2012.
The Seahawks battled but lost at home to the Atlanta Falcons on Sunday 30-28.
Helping Seattle to try and regain the lead in the "Suck for Luck" standings is that their offensive line is one of the youngest fronts in the NFL. The line has first-rounders from the last two drafts in Russell Okung and James Carpenter. They also start Max Unger (third season) and rookie John Moffitt at guard. All of those players need time to develop, which will hold back the Seahawks' offense in 2011.
The quarterback position is a clear weakness. With Seattle starting 1-3 and featuring that line with those quarterbacks, they are likely to stay in the running for Luck.
Let's Play Match-Maker:
This section will look at some of the top talent in college football and match those prospects up with teams that have a dire need at the position.
Detroit Lions: Morris Claiborne, CB, LSU
The Lions cornerbacks were targeted and burned by Dallas quarterback Tony Romo. He beat both starters, Chris Houston and Eric Wright, for touchdowns. The Lions had their corners in a lot of man coverage, and they struggled to stay with wide receivers Dez Bryant and Laurent Robinson. Even though Houston had a pick-six in the game, Detroit really needs cornerback help. A physical cover corner like Morris Claiborne would be a fabulous addition for Detroit. Claiborne (6-0, 188) has been playing excellent football in 2011. He's been a big-play machine for the Tigers. Claiborne has two interceptions with a kickoff returned 99 yards for a touchdown. He would be a good fit in the Lions defense.
Dallas Cowboys: T.J. McDonald, S, USC
The Cowboys had a good pass, rush which masked some of the struggles of the Dallas defensive backs. Dallas could really use a physical presence in the back of Rob Ryan's defense. A safety who could match up against tight ends and running backs would be a help, as the Lions had some success with passes to tight end Brandon Pettigrew and running back Javhid Best. They also got back into the game with a jump-ball touchdown pass to Calvin Johnson who beat a corner and a safety. McDonald had a two-interception game against Arizona quarterback Nick Foles on Saturday. He is a hard hitter who covers a lot of ground. The 6-foot-3, 205-pound McDonald could be the top safety in the 2012 draft.
Houston Texans: Michael Floyd, WR, Notre Dame
In the first half, the Texans saw star receiver Andre Johnson go down with a knee injury. Even before Johnson had this injury crop up, the Texans were considered to be in the market for a wide out in next year's draft. Houston has gotten some quality play out of Kevin Walter, but they could use a young, playmaking receiver to pair with Johnson as he ages. Johnson will be 31 in 2012, so it is a good idea for them to find a young receiver with size and speed to add to their offense. Floyd lit up Purdue on Saturday with 12 receptions for 137 yards and a touchdown. For the season, he has 47 catches for 561 yards and three touchdowns. Houston could have a shot at him in the second half of the first round. Floyd (6-3, 224) has the size and speed to be a playmaker in the NFL.
Cleveland Browns: Chase Minnifield, CB, Virginia
Browns fans would probably be thrilled to bring in the son of Browns great Frank Minnifield, a pro bowl corner in the 1980s. Chase Minnifield is a good cover corner, and the Tennessee Titans showed that the Browns need a cornerback to pair with young, star cornerback Joe Haden. Titans tight end Jared Cook and wide receiver Nate Washington had big games for Tennessee. Minnifield has teams throwing away from him this year after recording six interceptions last year. Still, Minnifield produced a good game on Saturday with his first pick of the year, four tackles, .5 sacks and a pass broken up. Adding Minnifield (6-0, 185) would be a strong compliment to Haden, and they could potentially get Minnifield in the second round.
Miami Dolphins: Andrew Datko, OT, Florida State
Miami has two killer weaknesses on their offensive line: left guard Richie Incognito and right tackle Marc Columbo. Both players allow consistent pressure on the quarterback, and at this point in their careers, should be nothing more than backups. Columbo was beat by Chargers' outside linebacker Larry English for a sack, and Columbo has been terrible all season long for Miami. Datko looks like a late first round or possible second-round pick. He is strong and athletic. Datko (6-6, 321) could stay at left tackle in the NFL while having the size and power to play on the right side. Having him on the other side of left tackle Jake Long could make for a dynamite tackle tandem in Miami that would provide them with two excellent pass blockers and hard-nosed run blockers.
Seattle Seahaws: Casey Hayward, CB, Vanderbilt
The Seahawks had no answer for Falcons receiver Julio Jones on Sunday. They play in a division with Larry Fitzgerald, so they definitely need to find some cornerbacks after this season. If Seattle can land a cornerback like Hayward at the top of the second round, that would be good value. He is off to a fabulous start in his senior season with four interceptions in four games. He had six interceptions last year and has proven to be a magnet for the football early in 2011. Hayward (5-11, 188) played well against a big, fast receiver in South Carolina's Alshon Jeffery last week. Getting a cornerback who can battle and limit a receiver with size and speed is direly needed for Seattle.
This week's scouting report comes from Atlanta Falcons wide receiver Julio Jones. Unfortunately, the Falcons public relations staff limited our time to do the interview with Jones, but he has some interesting comments about some of the draft prospects at Alabama.
Jones spoke with WalterFootball.com about his former Alabama teammates including: running back Trent Richardson, safety Mark Barron, safety Robert Lester, cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick, outside linebacker Courtney Upshaw, and inside linebacker Donta' Hightower.
The questions and comments from WalterFootball.com appear in italics. Jones' quotes follow.
Talk about Trent Richardson and the kind of teammate he is. He looks like an unselfish player who is willing to share carries.
"I know him as a person and he is a great guy. He's going to be a great NFL player. He is a really hard worker. He comes to work every day. He is going to continue to get better."
You went up against an excellent secondary in practice. They must have helped prepare you for the NFL.
"They helped me a lot. They prepared me for the NFL going against those guys on a daily basis. Mark Barron, Dre Kirkpatrick, even Upshaw and Hightower. All of those guys. I could go on and on, but those guys really prepared me with how well they cover. How well they play zone and the speed that they play with. "
Which of those guys really stands out to you as a player who is ready to play at this level?
"All those guys I just named. The coaching they've gotten by coach Saban is great. He's going to push guys to reach their potential, and get the best out of you. I think all those guys are ready to come in and play."
It seems like with all those guys contributing, it can be hard for any one guy to have a season with a huge stat line.
"Yeah everybody does their role. A lot of guys don't get recognized for how good they really are, but they all make plays that lead to wins for the team."