Here is the sixth 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 6 action, here are the top contenders at this time.
Miami plays on Monday night, so they stay in first place in the "Suck for Luck" race. The most recent loss for the Dolphins,to the San Diego Chargers, saw them fell to 0-4 on the season. So far, Miami has stayed "strong" in the Suck for Luck derby, having lost ("won?") a "playoff game" to the Cleveland Browns. The Dolphins have an added advantage in the race for bottom in that they play in a tough division that should produce at least two playoff teams and a playoff contender.
Beyond that, Miami finds ways to lose, and that matters in the Suck for Luck standings. The team also has been hit hard by injuries, and they simply don't have the depth to withstand losing the amount of starters who are missing time. 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.
Indianapolis lost to the Cincinnati Bengals to fall to 0-6 on the season. Previously, the Colts had played tight games with the Steelers, Browns and Buccaneers. Right now, there is no certainty when Peyton Manning will return, but he could miss the entire season. Without him, the 0-6 Colts could be headed to a season with 1-3 wins and a strong possibility for the No. 1 pick.
St. Louis Rams:
The Rams are one of the more disappointing teams in the NFL with a record of 0-5. They've had a tough schedule with a lot of injuries which have decimated their talent. If the Rams land the first-overall pick, they would definitely look to trade down since they don't need Luck after taking quarterback Sam Bradford with the first selection in the 2010 NFL Draft. All St. Louis has is Bradford, who looks like he will be a good pro quarterback. Bradford should be enough to get the Rams a few wins and avoid the first-overall pick.
The Jaguars fell to 1-5 on the season with a 17-13 loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers. Jacksonville had a Week 1 win over Tennessee, and since then, the Jaguars have played some ugly games.
In the 2012 NFL Draft there is little chance the team would take Andrew Luck, considering they drafted Blaine Gabbert with the 10th-overall pick last year. Instead, the Jaguars would probably look to trade down if they have the first pick.
The Vikings were dropped by the Bears 39-10 to fall to 1-5 on the season. A week ago, they beat the Arizona Cardinals 34-10. In each of the first three games of the year, the team blew 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 as well as their conference matchup against the NFC South. Soon they will probably start rookie Christian Ponder, and that could lead to more losses as he takes his lumps at the NFL level.
The problem for Minnesota having the first-overall pick is they spent a first-rounder Ponder last April. If the Vikings "earn" 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 more wins. Considering they've been close to winning four of their losses this season, it wouldn't be surprising if worse teams stay in front of them in the Suck for Luck standings.
Let's Play Matchmaker:
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.
Buffalo Bills: Donta' Hightower, LB, Alabama
The Bills' defense needs an interior presence. The Giants were able to get some crucial yards on the ground along with some short touchdown runs. Ahmad Bradshaw ran for 106 yards and three touchdowns against Buffalo. Hightower is a physical in-the-box presence who is adept at shedding offensive linemen and making tackles. He leads Alabama in tackles this season with 40. Plus Hightower is a good interior blitzer. He would be a good replacement for Nick Barnett.
Detroit Lions: Riley Reiff, OT, Iowa
The Lions' pass protection was terrible against the 49ers as quarterback Matthew Stafford was sacked five times on Sunday. Unless Reiff has a slide like his former teammate Bryan Bulaga, the Lions would have to trade up to get him. With Florida State offensive tackle Andrew Datko injured, there is not a clear offensive tackle prospect for the latter half of the first round. Detroit has to make upgrading their offensive line a priority next offseason. The Lions also need some help on the inside of their offensive line as well.
New Orleans Saints: Melvin Ingram, DE, South Carolina
The Saints need more talent in their front seven. They put too much pressure on Drew Brees to win shootouts on a weekly basis. Will Smith is showing signs of declining. Sedrick Ellis is a quality player when healthy, and rookie Cam Jordan needs more time.
New Orleans could use a versatile defender like Ingram who can put some heat on the quarterback from defensive end and defensive tackle. Thus far in 2011, Ingram has 31 tackles with nine tackles for a loss, 5.5 sacks, two interceptions and has even scored three touchdowns (two defense, one special teams). The 6-foot-2, 276-pounder would fit well in Gregg Williams' defense as a player who could be moved around and rush from different spots.
St. Louis Rams: Janoris Jenkins, CB, North Alabama
The Rams look to be in the tough position of figuring out whether to use their high first-round pick on a wide receiver, cornerback, or offensive tackle. All three need upgrades. It is a deep cornerback class, so the Rams could potentially get a good corner at the top of the second round.
Jenkins is a natural cover corner who had success going against the top receivers he has played the last few seasons in A. J. Green and Alshon Jeffery. Prior to his arrests and getting kicked out of Florida, Jenkins was viewed as a pick in the top half of the first round. Getting him in the second would be a good value for St. Louis.
Cincinnati Bengals: Montee Ball, RB, Wisconsin
The Bengals are going to need to find a long-term running back to pair with Andy Dalton after this season. Cedric Benson turns 29 in December, and Cincinnati could do better. The Bengals are surprisingly 4-2, and that is with Dalton and fellow rookie A.J. Green playing good football. If the junior Ball declares for the 2012 draft, he could be a good pick for Cincinnati in the latter half of the first round. Ball is a touchdown machine for Wisconsin with 16 scores rushing, one receiving, and one throwing thus far in 2011. He has 653 yards rushing this season with an average of 6.1 yards per carry. The 5-foot-11, 210-pound Ball has a good mix of power and speed that allows him to get to the second level of defenses quickly while also getting yards after contact. He would be a good fit in Jay Gruden's offense.
Carolina Panthers: Sean Spence, LB, Miami
The Panthers could use a mid-round linebacker to pair with Dan Connor and Jon Beason. Thomas Davis' career could be over, while Beason should be back next year. Carolina still could use some help in their run defense. On Sunday, Michael Turner ran all over the Panthers with 139 yards rushing on 27 carries with two touchdowns.
It is hard not to notice Spence when watching the Hurricanes. He's all over the field and makes a ton of tackles. In five games this season, Spence has 55 tackles with 8.5 tackles for a loss and three sacks. Carolina could look to get him in the third or fourth round.
Pittsburgh Steelers: Chase Thomas, OLB, Stanford
The Steelers were without James Harrison again this Sunday, and finding the veteran's understudy now would be a good idea, rather than waiting for his career to end to find his replacement. Pittsburgh's run defense has been vulnerable this season, and on Sunday, the Jaguars ran for 133 yards on 30 carries (4.4 average).
Thomas is a perfect fit in the Steelers' 3-4 defense. Thus far in 2011, he has 25 tackles with 7.5 tackles for a loss, 5.5 sacks and three forced fumbles. Thomas could help Pittsburgh's defense long-term as Harrison and James Farrior are entering the final years of their careers.
Washington Redskins: Michael Floyd, WR, Notre Dame
The Redskins have some veteran receivers and drafted some young receivers last year in the third, fifth, and sixth round. Still, Washington needs a true No. 1 receiver for their offense. Against the Eagles, they were led in receiving by tight end Fred Davis while no receiver had more than three catches or 60 yards.
Floyd has been a dynamic playmaker this year for the Fighting Irish. He has 53 receptions for 639 yards and four touchdowns. The 6-foot-3, 224-pound Floyd has the size and speed to be a No. 1 receiver in the NFL. He would be a good fit in the Redskins' offense.
This week's scouting report comes from Tampa Bay Buccaneers linebacker Mason Foster. He had some interesting comments about some of the draft prospects at Washington.
Foster spoke with WalterFootball.com about his former Washington teammates including: running back Chris Polk, defensive tackle Alameda Ta'amu and wide receiver Jermaine Kearse.
The questions and comments from WalterFootball.com appear in italics. Foster's quotes follow.
Alameda has really been moving up draft boards and is in the running to be the top defensive tackle in the draft. What kind of a guy is he off the field?
"He is a great guy. He is really family oriented. You can call him for anything. He definitely is working really hard. He knows what he has in front of him this year. I've told him to keep working hard and playing hard and he will get his chance."
You played behind him and have seen how he takes on blocks and fills gaps at the line of scrimmage. Do you think he would be a better fit as a nose tackle in a 4-3 or a nose tackle in a 3-4 defense?
"I think he can go either way. I think he can be a nose in a 4-3 or a nose in a 3-4. He's going to make plays. He is big enough and quick enough to play in a 4-3, and big enough and strong enough to play in a 3-4, so either way he is going to be good. "
An underrated player, in my opinion, is Chris Polk. He's a hard-runner, and he does well with less than ideal blocking. How was going against him in practice?
"Chris is like my little brother. He lived with me when he first came to college, so he picked up a lot of the things that I do: be physical and work as hard as possible. I've loved watching how he's grown these last couple of years."
You've gone up against LeGarrette Blount in practice, and in some early games this season you've seen Adrian Peterson, Javhid Best, Joseph Addai, Michael Turner and Frank Gore. From going against Polk in practice, does he present challenges like a pro running back?
"Definitely. Chris fits the mold perfectly. He's strong and breaks a lot of tackles. A downhill runner, and can break out and make plays. I think he'll fit better in an NFL offense. Compared to college where they're spreading everybody out. He'll do great in an NFL offense. "
Jermaine Kearse has been very productive for Washington, and is another guy that looks underrated.
"Jermaine is a big receiver. He's a big play guy. He works hard and in talking to the guys, he's been taking on a leadership role on the team. I saw him there working hard all summer. I think he'll keep getting better and make some big plays. I'm excited to see him come out and I think he'll do well in the All-Star games also."
It sounds like you have a close relationship with those guys.
"Oh yeah I'm close with all three of the guys you just mentioned. They're like my little brothers. We hang out off the field. They call me for whatever they need, talking about girl problems or whatever. Everybody at UW, we are a tight knit group. "