Here is the twelfth 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 12 action, here are the top contenders at this time.
Indianapolis was dropped by Carolina 27-19 on Sunday. A few weeks ago, 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. Right now, there is no certainty when or if Peyton Manning will return. At 0-11, Indianapolis looks like it seriously could be headed to a winless season. It would be a shock if they didn't land the No. 1 pick.
Minnesota was dropped 24-14 by the Atlanta. The Vikings fall to 2-9 on the season. A week ago, Minnesota attempted a comeback but fell short and lost to Oakland 27-21. Before that, the Vikings were blown out on Monday night by the Packers. Four of Minnesota's final five opponents are all in the playoff race: Denver, Detroit, New Orleans and Chicago. The Vikings have a winnnable game against the Redskins, but Minnesota could easily finish 2-14 or 3-13 this season. The Vikings looks like a lock for a top-five pick next April.
St. Louis Rams:
St. Louis fell to 2-9 on the season after getting dropped by Arizona 23-20. 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. St. Louis is on its way to a top-five pick in the 2012 NFL Draft
Jacksonville lost to the Texans 20-13 on Sunday. A week ago, 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 the head coach in Jacksonville and the players could quit on him before the end of the season.
The Panthers got a win against the Colts, but that is nothing to brag about. Carolina is capable of a massive offensive game any week of the season, but its defense is equally capable of getting destroyed in any game. Quarterback Cam Newton has had an excellent rookie season, and he could get even better down the stretch as he learns more about NFL defenses. The Panthers have some winnable games remaining on their schedule. Carolina could finish with 4-6 wins on the season.
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.
Detroit Lions: Barrett Jones, OT, Alabama
The Lions� offensive line was overmatched versus the Packers front seven. Detroit is going to need to upgrade its line to compete with the elite of their division. Jones would be a great fit for the Lions. He could start at guard if need be, but Jones looks like a future starting left tackle in the NFL. He has been phenomenal in his first season at left tackle for Alabama. Jones is a road grader of a run blocker who had no issues with the speed rushers of LSU. Jeff Backus has had an underrated career but needs to be replaced, and if Detroit can land Jones in the first round, they would start on rebuilding their offensive line.
Miami Dolphins: Jonathan Martin, OT, Stanford
The Cowboys turned up the heat on the Dolphins� offensive line and the Miami wasn't able to match up. The Dolphins have been playing improved football, and it wouldn't be surprising if Miami falls far enough down in the first round where they miss out on the top quarterbacks. If that is the case, a player like Martin could be a good fit. He would give the Dolphins two bookend tackles with current left tackle Jake Long. Martin is a powerful run blocker who still needs some work as a pass protector, if he stays on the left side. At right tackle, Martin could be a standout. With the demand for left tackles, most teams will look at playing him there in the NFL, but if he were to land with Miami, he and Long could form one of the top tackle combinations in the NFL.
San Francisco 49ers: Alshon Jeffery, WR, South Carolina
The 49ers have gotten nothing out of Braylon Edwards, and against Baltimore, he loafed on a jump-ball interception with a smaller cornerback. Edwards has 14 catches and no scores this season. Alshon Jeffery (6-4, 220) would give the San Francisco a big receiver who can help move the chains and would be a good fit in Jim Harbaugh's offense. This season, Jeffery has been hurt by terrible quarterback play. He has 45 receptions for 614 yards and seven touchdowns. Jeffery with Michael Crabtree and Josh Morgan could give Alex Smith the wide receivers to help take advantage of having a good running game and a special tight end. The 49ers would have to trade up to land Jeffery.
Tennessee Titans: Michael Floyd, WR, Notre Dame
The Titans� offense is badly missing Kenny Britt. They need a playmaker in the passing game and a red-zone weapon. The Tennessee offense needed more big plays and left a lot of points on the field against Tampa Bay. One way to address that would be if the Titans used their first-round pick on a weapon like Michael Floyd. In 2011, he has been Notre Dame's best weapon, making 95 receptions for 1,106 yards and eight touchdowns. Floyd would bring a much needed big-play producer to Tennessee�s offense.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Luke Kuechly, LB, Boston Colllege
As ESPN's NFC-South expert Pat Yasinskas wrote, the Buccaneers� run defense was the answer to Chris Johnson's 2011 slump. Tampa Bay has had run defense issues the past few seasons. A linebacker like Kuechly would immediately upgrade the Buccaneers� run defense. This year, he recorded 191 tackles with 12 tackles for a loss, three interceptions and three passes broken up. Kuechly is extremely intelligent and instinctive. He would help produce second-and-long and third-and-long situations for Tampa Bay. If Kuechly declares for the draft, the Buccaneers could get a shot at him with their first-round pick.
San Diego Chargers: Matt Reynolds, OT, BYU
The Chargers definitely need some tackle help. Elvis Dumervil and Von Miller gave San Diego more than they could handle from the edge. The Chargers need a right tackle who can be a good pass protector. Reynolds needs to improve his run blocking, but he looks like he will be a good pass blocker at right tackle in the NFL. Reynolds slides and mirrors well on speed rushers while being too big to bull rush. With Dumervil and Miller on the schedule twice a year, San Diego is going to have to improve its pass protection for Philip Rivers.
Cleveland Browns: Dwight Jones, WR, North Carolina
The Browns were led in receiving yards by Jordan Norwood with 69 yards; Greg Little had 57 yards. The Bengals are without Leon Hall and their cornerback roster will need help after this season, so that only begins to indicate the ineffectiveness of Cleveland�s passing attack. Jones has a lot of potential and could be a No.1 receiver at the next level. This season, he has 79 receptions for 1,119 yards and 11 touchdowns. That production came despite subpar quarterback play. The Browns may be able to land Jones at the top of the second round.
Denver Broncos: Dwayne Allen, TE, Clemson
The Broncos need to surround Tim Tebow, or whoever their long-term quarterback is, with more weapons. Denver tight end Daniel Fells and Donate Rosario are quality depth players, but not special playmakers. Denver used a fourth-round pick on Julius Thomas last year, but they could use an elite tight end like Allen. He would be a good blocker in their run game and is a special passing weapon who is a fabulous red-zone threat. This season, Allen has 46 receptions for 545 yards and six touchdowns. He would be a good fit in the Broncos� offense. They probably would have to trade up in the second round to land Allen.
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.
The Browns are likely to have three picks in the top 45 next April, and they have to seriously consider using them all on the offensive side of the ball. Cleveland has some good young talent on defense with defensive end Jabaal Sheard, cornerback Joe Haden and defensive tackle Phil Taylor. They have some veteran linebackers who are quality players, but their ineffective offense has wasted a number of good defensive efforts this season.
It all starts at quarterback. Colt McCoy has proven that he shouldn't be viewed as a franchise signal caller. Even if they can get one of the top quarterbacks in the first round, they shouldn't pass on a new trigger man. The Browns also have to find a No. 1 receiver as we wrote above in the matchmaker section. Cleveland has used a lot of picks after the first round on receivers in recent drafts, and the team could have a good receiving corps, if the Browns can find that top dog who produces and opens up the field for other receivers.
The right tackle position needs to be addressed as Tony Pashos is a journeyman. They also have to think about running back, even though they drafted Montario Hardesty last year. Peyton Hillis looks like he is on the way out of Cleveland. Landing an elite running back would definitely help to open things up in the passing game. They seriously have to think about using a first-round pick on Trent Richardson. Watching the Browns� offense has to be painful for Mike Holmgren and head coach Pat Shurmur. Overhauling the offense has to be the focus of Cleveland's drafts.
Arizona has played better football of late, and Sunday they enjoyed a massive debut by linebacker Sam Acho. The rookie from Texas had a huge game with two sacks and a fumble recovery. Joey Porter is just about done in the NFL, and Acho made the case for the Cardinals to think of him as Porter's long-term replacement. If Acho can continue to prove that down the stretch, it would be huge for Arizona in how the team goes about treating needs in the 2012 draft.
The Cardinals have to get another receiver to help Larry Fitzgerald. He draws so much focus from the defense, and if Arizona could get a deep threat on the other side of the field, they could exploit the bracket coverage rolled over to Fitzgerald. Quarterback John Skelton had an awful game, so Arizona should think of getting a new quarterback in case Kevin Kolb gets injured or doesn't pan out. The team shouldn't use an early draft pick but should think of a free agent quarterback like Tampa Bay's Josh Johnson.
The Cardinals (4-7) have to upgrade their offensive line. They will have to think hard about offensive tackles Jonathan Martin and Riley Reiff in the first round. With Acho playing well, Arizona can think of addressing wide out and more offensive line help in rounds three and four.