Here is the 13th 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.
Here are the standings for the race for the No. 1 overall pick to have the first shot at Stanford quarterback Andrew Luck.
Indianapolis fought, but lost to the Patriots 31-24 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 Peyton Manning will return. At 0-12, the Indianapolis Colts look like they are headed to a winless season. It would be a shock if they didn't land the No. 1 pick.
Minnesota got 'Tebowed' (which means blowing a fourth quarter lead and losing to Tim Tebow). The Vikings fell to the Broncos 35-32, and are now 2-10 on the season. Throughout the 2011, Minnesota has lost a lot of games late. Three of the Vikings' final four opponents are all in the playoff race: the Lions, the Saints and the Bears. Minnesota has a winnnable game against the Redskins, but the Vikings could easily finish 2-14 or 3-13 this season. Minnesota looks like a lock for a top-five pick next April.
St. Louis Rams:
St. Louis fell to 2-10 on the season after getting shutout 26-0 by the 49ers. The Rams had a one-point win over Cleveland, and also shocked the Saints with a 31-21 in the middle of the season. St. Louis has had a tough schedule to go along with a lot of injuries, which have decimated their talent. The Rams on their way to a top-five pick in the 2012 NFL Draft
Jacksonville plays on Monday Night Football. Two weeks 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. The Jaguars have the worst-rated offense and it is painful to watch. Rookie quarterback Blaine Gabbert struggles to move the ball and he doesn't have any quality wide receivers to help him. On a short week, the Jaguars play the Buccaneers in Tampa Bay next Sunday.
The Browns fell to 4-8 on the season after losing to the Ravens. Baltimore running back Ray Rice ran for over 200 yards. It has been an ugly year for the Cleveland. The Browns lost to the Rams with narrow wins over the Jaguars, Seahawks and Dolphins. All three of those games could have been losses. Cleveland may not win another game this season. They go to Pittsburgh, Arizona and Baltimore in the next three weeks before finishing the season at in Ohio against Pittsburgh. That spells 4-12, and it would be surprising if the Browns beat the Cardinals to finish 5-11.
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.
Denver Broncos: Alfonzo Dennard, CB, Nebraska
The Broncos need to upgrade their cornerbacks. Minnesota's Percy Harvin caught eight passes for 156 yards and two touchdowns while Devin Aromashodu had six receptions for 90 yards against Denver. Rookie quarterback Christian Ponder threw for almost 400 yards on Sunday. The Broncos obviously have a dynamic pass rush for years to come in Elvis Dumervil and Von Miller. Now, they need to find some long-term corners who can force quarterbacks to hold the ball longer.
Dennard is exactly that type of corner. He is very good in bump-and-run while having the speed and strength to match up in man coverage. Dennard performs well in zone too. With Denver continuing to win, they are now more of an option for the third-rated corner in the draft rather than either of the top two, Morris Claiborne and Dre Kirkpatrick. Dennard would be a good fit in Denver.
Philadelphia Eagles: Luke Kuechly, LB, Boston Colllege
The Eagles were run over by Marshawn Lynch and the youngest offensive line in the NFL. Philadelphia's linebackers have been a weakness all season and were clearly a concern at its outset. A linebacker like Kuechly would immediately upgrade the Eagles� 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 Philadelphia. If Kuechly declares for the draft, the Eagles could get a shot at him with their first-round pick.
Carolina Panthers: Morris Claiborne, CB, LSU
The Carolina secondary allowed big pass plays to Dezmon Briscoe, Mike Williams and Arrelious Benn. Veteran corner Chris Gamble does not look good when receivers go deep against him, and the Panthers are going to need to find some cover corners to match up against New Orleans and Atlanta. Claiborne is the top defensive prospect in the draft, and he could be available for Carolina in the first round. Claiborne has proven to be a true shutdown corner capable of splash plays at critical times. He has six interceptions this season and has been a dangerous kick returner. Claiborne would be an immediate upgrade for the Panthers defense.
Green Bay Packers: Vinny Curry, DE/OLB, Marshall
The Packers really could use a pass rusher on the other side from Clay Matthews. On Sunday, Giants quarterback Eli Manning had good time to throw the ball, and the lack of pass rush only made the Green Bay secondary more vulnerable. Curry has been the most consistent pass rushers in college football the past two seasons. After recording 12 sacks last year, he had 11 sacks this season. Curry had 18 tackles for a loss in 2010 and 21 tackles for a loss in 2011. The speedy and agile, he is electric off the edge and has the athleticism to execute in pass coverage for the Packers' 3-4 defense. Curry would be a perfect fit in Green Bay. It will likely require their first-round pick to land him.
Houston Texans: Mohamed Sanu, WR, Rutgers
The Texans took another injury on the chin with wide receiver Andre Johnson hurting his left hamstring. Even if he finishes the season healthy, the need for Houston to find another play-making wide receiver is clear. The Texans need some more depth in case Johnson, 30, misses more time with injuries as he ages in the years to come. Sanu is an underrated prospect who had a fantastic junior season. He caught 109 passes for 1,144 yards and seven touchdowns. The 6-foot-2, 215-pound Sanu has a good combination of size and speed, but his hands and body control are truly special. Houston could target him in the second round, but may have to trade up to get him.
Buffalo Bills: Dont'a Hightower, LB, Alabama
The Bills got gashed on the ground by Titans running back Chris Johnson on Sunday. All season, Buffalo has had a weakness in defending the run. They need a long-term run stuffer to help defend the tackle box. Hightower (6-4, 260) makes it hard to run up the middle. This season, he has 81 tackles with 9.5 tackles for a loss, three sacks, one interception and one blocked kick. The Bills could target Hightower early in the second round, but may have to trade back into the first round in order to land him.
Detroit Lions: Casey Hayward, CB, Vanderbilt
Drew Brees had his way with the Lions' secondary on Sunday night. Playing against Green Bay quarterback Aaron Rodgers twice a year is going to require Detroit to upgrade their cornerbacks. Hayward is an underrated prospect who can play both man and zone. He had five interceptions this season after picking off six passes last year. Hayward has good instincts and came close to a number of other interceptions. He is the kind of cornerback who could take advantage of the Lions pass rush and turn some pressured throws into interceptions. Detroit could look to land Hayward in the second round of the 2012 NFL Draft.
Cincinnati Bengals: Montee Ball, RB, Wisconsin
The Bengals have had running back issues all season and that was the case again versus the Steelers. Cincinnati needs to find a work-horse back who is capable of taking some of the heat off Andy Dalton. Ball leads college football in scoring as he has totaled 38 touchdowns (32 rushing and six receiving) this season. Ball is a three-down player who can lead a power run game, and he fits well in a West Coast offense like the one run by Bengals offensive coordinator Jay Gruden. Ball has 1,759 yards rushing (6.4 average) and 20 receptions for 255 yards. He would be an instant upgrade over Cedric Benson. Cincinnati could use one of their first-rounders on Ball if they didn't want to risk him not getting to their second-round pick.
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.
Green Bay Packers:
The defending Super Bowl Champions are going to need to devote their 2012 draft to the defensive side of the ball. The Packers have drafted offensive tackles in the first round the past two seasons while acquiring a good stable of weapons for quarterback Aaron Rodgers. Plus, Green Bay has signed a lot of their offensive playmakers to long-term contracts. Over the 2011 season, the Packers' offense has been a machine, consistently putting up big point totals on a weekly basis. On the other side of the ball, the defense has allowed some big point totals.
There are multiple needs for the defense. Green Bay could use some safety help as Nick Collins may never see the field again. Cornerback Charles Woodson won't play forever, and the Packers have to prepare themselves for the day that he decides his next stop is Canton. One reason why the secondary has allowed some splash plays is because outside of Clay Matthews, the Packers don't have an edge rusher who can consistently get to the quarterback. Entering Week 13, Matthews had only five sacks in 2011, so Green Bay needs another edge rusher for Dom Capers' defense.
The Packers could also use a young five-technique defensive end. If Green Bay can devote a good draft or two to building up their defense, there is no reason why they shouldn't play for, and win, another Lombardi Trophy or two.
The Redskins started the season strong, but faded in the middle of the season. The New York Jets dropped Washington on Sunday, and now the Redskins find themselves at 4-8. Our sources have said, Washington currently would target the offensive side of the ball in the 2012 draft. Quarterback and wide receiver are the two primary positions to address, with some help for the offensive line as well.
The quarterback position is obviously needing a long-term solution. Rex Grossman and John Beck aren't the answer, so they will have to find a new signal caller in the offseason. Depending on who declares for the draft, and where the Redskins fall in the order, Washington could land one of the top quarterback prospects. Stanford's Andrew Luck won't make it to their pick. However, the Redskins could have a shot at USC's Matt Barkley, Baylor's Robert Griffin III or Oklahoma's Landry Jones.
If Washingon misses out on a franchise quarterback, the Redskins could opt to take a potential No.1 receiver. The team has two veterans in Santana Moss and Jabar Gaffney, but they aren't long-term players. Washington drafted Leonard Hankerson in the third round last year. The Redskins also took two more wide outs in the fifth and sixth round. However, none of them project to be a true leading receiver in the NFL. This season, Washington has been led in receiving by tight end Fred Davis.
While the team may not be picking high enough to land the top receiver, Oklahoma State's Justin Blackmon, they could have a shot at South Carolina's Alshon Jeffery or Notre Dame's Michael Floyd. Landing a playmaking wide receiver or quarterback will help open up the running game that defenses are loading up against. Watch for the Redskins to make an improved passing attack a top priority in the draft and free agency.