Here is the eleventh 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 11 action, here are the top contenders at this time.
Indianapolis had their bye on Sunday. Last week, 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 Indianapolis, but their offense was completely ineffective. Previously, the Colts had played tight games with the Steelers, Browns and Buccaneers. 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.
The Vikings attempted a comeback but fell short and lost to the Oakland Raiders 27-21. Minnesota falls to 2-8 on the season. Last week, the Vikings were blown out on Monday night by the Packers. Five of Minnesota's final six opponents are all in the playoff race: Atlanta, Denver, Detroit, New Orleans and Chicago. The Vikings have a winnnable game against Washington, but Minnesota could easily finish 2-14 or 3-13 this season. If, somehow, the Colts win enough and the Vikings lose enough to have Minnesota land the first pick, they would probably make a trade as they took Christian Ponder in the first round last year.
Carolina is capable of a massive offensive game any week of the season, but their defense is equally capable of getting destroyed in any game. If the Panthers somehow lose out, and the Colts win a few games, Carolina would trade Luck for a king's ransom. Quarterback Cam Newton has had an excellent rookie season. The Panthers have some winnable games remaining on their schedule. They play the Colts next week and Tampa Bay twice before the end of the year. They could easily split with the Buccaneers and beat the Colts. That would put the Panthers at 4-12.
St. Louis Rams:
St. Louis fell to 2-8 on the season after getting dropped by the Seattle Seahawks. A week ago, the Rams had a one-point win over Cleveland. St. Louis shocked New Orleans with a 31-21 win a few weeks ago. 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 probably already have enough wins to avoid the first pick after their win over the Browns last week.
The Jaguars lost to the Browns 14-10 in a game that equaled the hype it received ahead of time. Jacksonville is capable of pulling off some surprising wins, but they are an awful team. They have the worst-rated offense and it is painful to watch. Rookie quarterback Blaine Gabbert struggles to move the ball since he doesn't have any quality wide receivers to help him. It appears that Jack Del Rio will be done as head coach in Jacksonville and the players could quit on him before the end of the season, especially when they lose to teams like the Browns.
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.
Green Bay Packers: T.J. McDonald, S, USC
The Packers' defense gave up a lot of yards to Tampa Bay. Quarterback Josh Freeman, tight end Kellen Winslow and running back LeGarrette Blount all had big yardage totals against Green Bay. The defending champs are missing injured safety Nick Collins. Blount ran through some tackles from the secondary while Winslow exploited some soft zones. The Packers could use a safety like McDonald who can be a real presence in the back end of their defense. He matches up well against tight ends in pass coverage and is a strong tackler in run defense. There is a lot of doubt over whether McDonald can dish out big hits. He could be a good fit in Green Bay.
Tennessee Titans: Lavonte David, LB, Nebraska
The Titans' defense struggled with Falcons running back Michael Turner. Tennessee has previously been torched by Arian Foster this season, and they have to play him twice a year for years to come. Last April, the Titans used a second and third-round pick on Sam (strongside) linebacker Akeem Ayers and Mike (middle) linebacker Colin McCarthy. This year they could complete their trio with a Will (weakside) linebacker like David, who is adept at shutting down running games. Against Michigan on Saturday, he had 17 tackles (14 solo) with 2.5 tackles for a loss. For the season, David has 114 tackles with nine tackles for a loss, 2.5 sacks, two interceptions and a forced fumble.
Carolina Panthers: Morris Claiborne, CB, LSU
The Carolina secondary allowed Matthew Stafford to throw for five touchdowns on Sunday. ESPN's Panthers expert Pat Yasinskas said that Carolina should draft defense rather than taking a weapon for Cam Newton. Yasinskas has the pulse of all the NFC South decision-makers, and he would know if Carolina is leaning towards a defensive draft. Claiborne is the top defensive prospect in the draft and he could be available for the Panthers. He has proven to be a true shutdown corner capable of splash plays at critical times. Claiborne has four interceptions this season and has been a dangerous kick returner. He would be an immediate upgrade for Carolina's defense.
Minnesota Vikings: Marvin McNutt, WR, Iowa
The Vikings' offense could use an outside weapon for Christian Ponder. Percy Harvin is a good target, but they could use a big receiver who can help move the chains. McNutt would be a perfect fit. The 6-foot-4, 215-pounder has been very productive and reliable for Iowa. This season, he has totaled 74 receptions for 1,240 yards and 12 touchdowns. McNutt torched Purdue on Saturday with nine receptions for 151 yards and two scores. He has the speed to make plays downfield and has the size to be effective in the short to intermediate part of the field. McNutt would be good value for Minnesota at the top of the second round.
Dallas Cowboys: Alfonzo Dennard, CB, Nebraska
The Cowboys managed to make Rex Grossman look good at times on Sunday. All year the Dallas cornerbacks have been suspect, and the Cowboys have to address the position after the season. Dennard has been an excellent cover corner the past two seasons for Nebraska. He has taken a receiver away from the opposition all year and has been a good contributor to run defense. Dennard excels in zone and man coverage. If Dallas contends for the playoffs, they probably won't be in position to land Alabama cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick or Claiborne, but Dennard would be a good fall back.
Jacksonville Jaguars: Dwight Jones, WR, North Carolina
The lack of weapons for Blaine Gabbert is undeniable. The leading wide out for the Jaguars against the Browns was Jason Hill with three receptions for 49 yards. Jacksonville has some smaller receivers and could use a leading No. 1 receiver with some size. Jones is a big, fast playmaker for the Tar Heels' offense. This season, he has 69 receptions for 1,018 yards with eight touchdowns. Jones is a downfield threat who is also really tough to defend in the short part of the field due to his size. The 6-foot-4, 225-pounder could be a fit for the Jaguars in the second round.
St. Louis Rams: Matt Kalil, OT, USC
The Rams were abused by Seahawks defensive end Chris Clemons on Sunday. He had five tackles, three sacks and two forced fumbles. St. Louis has to get some better blocking for Sam Bradford and running back Steven Jackson. Kalil would be a good fit for the Rams. They could move Rodger Saffold to right tackle, a better fit for him, and Jason Smith could move inside to guard. St. Louis has a huge investment in Bradford, and they need to provide him with some better protection to keep him healthy.
Arizona Cardinals: Kendall Wright, WR, Baylor
The Cardinals have to get another receiving threat to pair with Larry Fitzgerald. Wright would be a great player on the other side from Fitzgerald, because he could take advantage of Fitzgerald getting extra attention. Wright has the deep speed to be a scoring threat on any reception. He has been one of the most dangerous receivers in college football this season. Wright has caught 89 passes for 1,281 yards with 10 touchdowns. He has been a consistent playmaker in his collegiate career while increasing his production each season. A durable player, Wright is currently the No. 1 receeiver for Robert Griffin III. Wright would be capable of making defenses pay for focusing a lot of attention on Fitzgerald.
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.
There are a lot of angry Dolphins fans right now. Typically that wouldn't be the case for a team that has won three straight games, but there were a massive amount of Miami fans that wanted their team to have a miserable season in order to land Stanford quarterback Andrew Luck. After winning three games, there is no way they will land Luck, unless they can pull off some massive trade. With the way the Dolphins are playing right now, they could miss out on all of the first-round quarterbacks.
The Miami Dolphins could end up with a better record than the Cleveland Browns, Washington Redskins and Seattle Seahawks. All of those teams are in need of a franchise quarterback. Miami is playing as good as, or better than, all of those four and if they finish the season strongly, they could be picking in the middle of the first round and miss out on USC's Matt Barkley, Oklahoma's Landry Jones and maybe Baylor's Robert Griffin III. All of those quarterbacks have more eligibilty and some of them may decide to stay in school.
If the Dolphins miss out on a first-round quarterback, they could look to the second day of the draft. Candidates for picks there could include Texas A&M's Ryan Tannehill, Arizona's Nick Foles, Michigan State's Kirk Cousins and potentially others. After the success that Cincinnati has had with second-round signal caller Andy Dalton, maybe Miami's fans should enjoy the team's wins and hope the franchise can still find a way to land a long-term starting quarterback next April.
San Diego Chargers:
One of the most disappointing teams in the NFL this season has to be the San Diego Chargers. In a wide-open division, the Chargers have the talent on paper to be a strong contender in January. Once again, San Diego is underachieving and after falling to Chicago 31-20, have just "accomplished" their fifth straight loss. Right now, Oakland and Denver are clearly playing better and San Diego finds itself behind both teams in the AFC West.
The Chargers' defense has been a weakness all season and that was the case again against the Bears. Jay Cutler totaled 286 yards on only 18 completions while wide receiver Johnny Know had 97 yards on three catches. San Diego's offense couldn't get it done in crunch time, gaining zero yards in the fourth quarter.
Right now, the Chargers (4-6) would have a pick in the top half of the 2012 draft, and they could go in many different directions with that pick. Their defensive front seven needs help. They had zero sacks against the Bears and their suspect offensive line. San Diego also could use a cornerback as Quintin Jammer is in his 30s and Antoine Cason has been a disappointment. The Chargers also couldn't rule out bolstering their offensive line. As their season falls apart, more needs are becoming evident. Looking at their remaining schedule, San Diego takes on Denver, Jacksonville, Buffalo, Baltimore, Detroit and Oakland. The Chargers could easily finish with a 7-9 record and a pick in the top 16. At this time, San Diego would probably look to upgrade their defense.
McDowell is a great pick by the Seahawks. He has tons of talent and upside. McDowell is very fast, naturally strong, and extremely athletic. If Pete Carroll can get the best out of him then Seattle could have a massive steal.