Here is the tenth 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 could 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 10 action, here are the top contenders at this time.
The Colts took a commanding lead in the "Suck for Luck" standings after losing at home to the Jaguars. It was a winnable game for the Indianapolis, but Curtis Painter and their offense were completely ineffective. Previously, the Colts had played tight games with the Steelers, Browns and Buccaneers. The Indianapolis was blown out by New Orleans in an embarrassing loss. Right now, there is no certainty when or if Peyton Manning will return. Without him, the 0-10 Colts could be headed to a winless season and a strong possibility for the No. 1 pick.
St. Louis Rams:
The St. Louis Rams improved to 2-7 after their one-point win over Cleveland. A week ago, the Rams lost in overtime to the Cardinals. Before that, St.Louis shocked New Orleans with a 31-21 win. The Rams have had a tough schedule and a lot of injuries which have decimated their talent. In the 2012 NFL Draft there is little chance the team would take Andrew Luck, considering they drafted Sam Bradford with the first-overall pick in 2010. Instead, the team would probably look to trade down if they have the first pick. Bradford looks like he will be a good pro quarterback. The Rams should get enough wins to avoid the first-overall pick; they may have already after beating the Browns this week.
The Dolphins have won two in a row after dropping the Washington Redskins 20-9. A week ago, Miami finally put it all together and routed the Kansas City Chiefs 31-3 on Sunday. The Dolphins are now 2-7 on the season. After playing well but losing many games, Miami finally has been able to play a complete games the past two Sundays. Previously, the Dolphins played the Giants tough, and though Miami was winning the whole game, they lost the lead midway through the fourth quarter. A few weeks ago, the Dolphins blew another lead as Broncos quarterback Tim Tebow made a second-half comeback to beat Miami at home.
Previously, the Dolphins have stayed "strong" in the Suck for Luck derby, having lost ("won?") "playoff games" to the Cleveland Browns and the Broncos. Miami has an added advantage in the race for the bottom in that they play in a tough division which should produce at least two playoff teams and a playoff contender.
The Dolphins find ways to lose, and that matters in the Suck for Luck standings. Still, Miami is playing improved football, so they fall to third.
The Browns should have won, but they lost at home to the Rams and are now 3-6 on the season. Cleveland has been playing bad football for weeks. They lost handily to the Texans last week after losing to the 49ers the week before. The Browns' third win of the season against Seattle was by a score of 6-3. Cleveland's offense, led by Colt McCoy, is struggling to produce points on a weekly basis.
Looking at the Browns remaining games, Cleveland could easily finish 3-13 or 4-12. They have winnable games against the Jaguars and Cardinals, but otherwise they play Pittsburgh twice, Baltimore twice and Cincinnati. It could be a rough final seven games for the Browns.
The Cardinals recorded one of the big upsets of the week with a 21-17 win over the Eagles. A week ago, Arizona needed a win badly and came through with an overtime win over St. Louis. Rookie Patrick Peterson returned a punt 99 yards in overtime for the winning score. Earlier, the Cardinals had a big lead and blew it against the Baltimore Ravens. Arizona played competitively against Pittsburgh, but lost. The Cardinals have lost to other bad teams in the Vikings and Seahawks. Arizona has some more winnable games on the schedule against the Browns and Seahawks. Thus, they are a long shot to lose enough and get passed by the Colts.
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.
Cleveland Browns: Landry Jones, QB, Oklahoma
The Browns offense needs a quarterback who can consistently move the ball through the air and work the ball downfield. Quarterback Colt McCoy is showing thus far that he really isn't up to the task. Last year as the Rams offensive coordinator, Browns head coach Pat Shurmur had success with a pocket-passing quarterback who was an Oklahoma product in Sam Bradford. Current Oklahoma quarterback Landry Jones could fit Shurmur's offense well. Jones is having a massive junior season. He has completed 65 percent of his passes for 3,349 yards with 28 touchdowns and nine interceptions. The big-armed Jones could lead a powerful aerial attack for Cleveland.
New York Giants: Mike Brewster, C, Ohio State
The Giants� offensive line had its hands full with the 49ers� front seven. Quarterback Eli Manning saw the pocket get pushed on a number of plays, and New York could use a long-term center to pair with Manning. David Baas is decent veteran, but he could be upgraded. Baas gave up some pressures straight up the middle against San Francisco. Brewster has been one of the best centers in college football the past few years. He would immediately be an upgrade for their pass protection and is a strong run blocker who would be a good fit in the Giants' offense.
Houston Texans: Alameda Ta'amu, DT, Washington
The Texans' defense played a dominant game on Sunday. The one thing they could use is a more natural nose tackle. Shaun Cody is a good player to rotate into the game, but Houston could use a big body in the one technique to bull rush and occupy blockers. The best candidate in college football to fill that role in the NFL is Ta'amu. He has 22 tackles with 4.5 tackles for a loss this season. With the exception of the Stanford game, Ta'amu has been a load at the line of scrimmage who is nearly impossible to move. If Houston had Ta'amu occupying a couple of blockers that would make inside linebackers DeMeco Ryans and Brian Cushing even more dangerous.
Buffalo Bills: Manti Te'o, LB, Notre Dame
Dallas running back DeMarco Murray torched the Bills' defense on Sunday. He ran for 135 yards on 20 carries with six receptions for 36 yards. Buffalo could use an upgrade at middle linebacker. They need a player who can fit their hybrid 3-4 and 4-3 defense. Te'o would be a good fit. He has the size to play the 3-4, and the speed to play the 4-3. Te'o has 91 tackles with 11 tackles for a loss, 4.5 sacks and one pass breakup. The 6-foot-3, 255-pounder would bring a real presence to the middle of the Bills' defense.
San Diego Chargers: Cliff Harris, CB, Oregon
The Chargers need cornerback help. The Raiders' offense got some vertical passing going, and the San Diego cornerbacks couldn't keep up with the speed of the Oakland receivers. Harris has been suspended for Oregon, but in 2010, he showed the speed to be a man corner and had six interceptions on the season while returning four punts for touchdowns. Adding a corner like Harris would be helpful for San Diego as they need a corner who can run with wide receivers down field. The Chargers could land him on the second day of the draft.
Cincinnati Bengals: Trent Richardson, RB, Alabama
Cincinnati got 57 yards on 15 carries from starting running back Cedric Benson. Rookie quarterback Andy Dalton has had an excellent performance, but against a tough defense like Pittsburgh, the Bengals needed a running game that can help make his job easier. Cincinnati has all the pieces in place for Jay Gruden's offense except a running back. The Bengals would have to make a big trade to land Richardson, but with two first-rounders this year, and extra picks in 2013, they have the ammo to move up for him. He's averaged six yards per carry this season with 1,205 yards rushing and 18 touchdowns. Richardson has also caught 25 passes for 318 yards and a score. He would be the perfect piece to complete the Bengals' young offense.
Washington Redskins: Matt Barkley, QB, USC
The Redskins aren't going to be able to win consistently until they find a quality quarterback. Rex Grossman and John Beck aren't the answer in the short-term or long-term. Landing a franchise quarterback has been a need for years. Barkley would be a good fit in Mike Shanahan's offense, and Washington could get good insight into him through general manager Bruce Allen's good relationship with the Kiffins. The junior Barkley has made strides with his decision making and intelligence this season. He has completed 67 percent of his passes for 2,782 yards with 29 touchdowns and six interceptions. The Redskins could have a shot at getting Barkley with their first-round pick, especially if Miami keeps winning and Washington keeps losing.
Denver Broncos: Chris Polk, CB, Washington
The Broncos ran the ball down the throat of the Chiefs on Sunday, but it took a stable of backs to do it. Knowshon Moreno and Willis McGahee both went down with injuries in the game. Moreno has been injury prone since he entered the league and McGahee is aging. Denver could use an injection of youth at running back, and Polk looks like a bell-cow back who has the speed, strength, and intelligence to be an every-down back at the next level. He has averaged 5.2 yards per carry this year with 1,132 yards and 10 touchdowns. The 5-foot-11, 222-pound Polk is an underrated back who could be even better in a pro offense. Denver could look to land him in the second round. Head coach John Fox likes the dual-back approach and Polk would go well with Moreno and McGahee.
Team Draft Report:
In this section we take a deeper look at specific teams and where they stand in regards to the 2012 NFL Draft.
Many in NFL circles believe that the Carolina Panthers are having a great season. That may be surprising considering they are 2-7 on the season, but throughout 2011, the Panthers have played tough and lost a number of close ball games. This week, they were handled by Tennessee 30-3 with Titans running back Chris Johnson discovering his old form.
Still, Carolina is having a season that can help them build for the long-term. One league executive explained that it is ideal for a young team that is not a playoff contender to play well and get some confidence while gaining experience, but still lose some games so they will be drafting highly. There can be a huge difference in the talent available to a team that went 5-11 versus a team that goes 8-8. Right now, Carolina would be drafting in the 2-5 range. That would let them get an elite wide receiver like Justin Blackmon to pair with promising young quarterback Cam Newton, or they could land a shutdown cornerback in Morris Claiborne. The Panthers will also benefit with picks at the top of the second and third day of the draft. Landing a potential future star receiver over a decent starter can be a huge difference.
While Carolina has had plenty of losing the past two seasons, Panthers fans have a reason to be optimistic about the future with Newton and the potential of their 2012 draft class.
The Seahawks are an inconsistent team that can be hard to predict from week to week. They lost 6-3 to the Browns after beating the Giants 36-25 on the road. After losing three in a row, Seattle shocked the Baltimore Ravens by handing them a 22-17 road loss. The Seahawks could conceivably win their next two games as they take on the Rams and the Redskins. They play St. Louis twice, Philadelphia and the Cardinals before the end of the year, so they have some winnable games there, plus who knows if they have another surprise win in them when they play Chicago or San Francisco.
Even though Seattle has played better than many expected this season, they still clearly need a quarterback of the future. Considering their schedule, it wouldn't be surprising if the Seahawks play well enough to miss out on the top-three quarterbacks who are expected to go in the first round next April (Luck, Barkley, and Jones). If that is the case, and Baylor's Robert Griffin III returns to school as many expect, Seattle will have to look to the second day of the draft to land a quarterback. That would put Arizona's Nick Foles and Texas A&M's Ryan Tannehill firmly on their radar.
The Seahawks could also look to trade up for one of the top three, but the way they are playing right now, Seattle is setting themselves up to once again miss out on a franchise next quarterback next April.