Here is the 14th 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 was handled by Baltimore this week. The Colts locked up first place in the "Suck for Luck" standings after losing at home to the Jaguars in November. It was a winnable game for Indianapolis, but their offense was completely ineffective. This season, the Colts have played tight games with the Patriots, Steelers, Browns and Buccaneers. Right now, there is no certainty when Peyton Manning will return. At 0-13, the Indianapolis Colts look like they are headed to a winless season. While it is still possible they won't select first, it would be a shock if they didn't land the No. 1 pick.
The Vikings fought hard but lost to the Lions 34-28. A week ago, Minnesota got "Tebowed." The Vikings fell to the Broncos 35-32, and are now 2-11 on the season. Throughout 2011, Minnesota has lost a lot of games late. Two of the Vikings' final three opponents (the Bears and the Saints) are in the playoff race. Minnesota has a winnnable game against Washington, 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:
The Rams play on Monday night against the Seahawks. Last week, St. Louis fell to 2-10 on the season after getting shutout 26-0 by San Francisco. The Rams had a one-point win over the Browns, 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.
The Browns fell to 4-9 on the season after losing to the Steelers in a close game. A week ago, Baltimore running back Ray Rice ran for over 200 yards against Cleveland. It has been an ugly year for the Browns. They 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 year. They go to Arizona and Baltimore before finishing the season at home against Pittsburgh. That spells 4-12, and it would be surprising if the Browns beat the Cardinals to finish 5-11.
Jacksonville blew out Tampa Bay 41-14. They scored 41 unanswered points and forced seven turnovers after falling behind early. The Jaguars are capable of pulling off some surprising wins, but this Sunday shouldn't be considered a shocker. In most games, the Jaguars offense is painful to watch. Prior to playing Tampa Bay, rookie quarterback Blaine Gabbert struggled to move the ball, and he doesn't have any quality wide receivers to help him. On a very short week, the Jaguars play Atlanta on Thursday night.
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: Trent Richardson, RB, Alabama
The Browns' offense clearly can't compete with an elite defense. All season, Richardson has faced defenses focused on stopping him, and they've been unable to do it. He is used to succeeding against heavy fronts having averaged six yards per carry in the 2011 regular season. This year, Richardson has totaled 1,583 yards and 20 touchdowns on the ground along with 27 receptions for 327 yards and three scores. He would be a good fit in a West Coast offense like Cleveland's system under Pat Shurmur.
Jacksonville Jaguars: Justin Blackmon, WR, Oklahoma State
The Jaguars' offense has got to get some weapons around the quarterback, whether it is Blaine Gabbert or someone else. An elite passing threat would take some of the heat off of running back Maurice Jones-Drew. All day against Tampa Bay, Jacksonville's receivers struggled to get separation from the defensive backs. The Jaguars would have to use their first-round pick to land Blackmon, but he would be worth it. This year, Blackmon has 113 receptions for 1,336 yards and 15 touchdowns. He would stretch the field for the Jacksonville offense and take advantage of teams loading up the box to defend Jones-Drew. Blackmon's big play ability could also help generate some fan interest for a team that has issues selling tickets.
Cincinnati Bengals: Janoris Jenkins, CB, North Alabama
The Bengals allowed Texans quarterback T.J. Yates to throw for 300 yards and two touchdowns in a second-half comeback. Cincinnati made a real mistake allowing Jonathan Joseph to leave in free agency. With Leon Hall out for the season, the Bengals don't have the cornerbacks to limit receivers from getting separation. Jenkins is an excellent man corner who can match up and limit elite receivers. His tight coverage would help the Cincinnati pass rush. The Bengals have two first-round picks, and Jenkins could be a good selection with one of them.
New England Patriots: Mark Barron, S, Alabama
The Patriots gave up some big plays through the air and were gashed on the ground by Roy Helu for 126 yards on 27 carries. New England could use a safety that can contribute to their run support and prevent some big plays downfield. Barron is an instinctive player that plays in a complex 3-4 collegiate defense that should translate well for New England. Barron recorded 66 tackles this season with four tackles for a loss and two interceptions. New England would have a shot at Barron in the first round, and potentially with their two second-round picks.
Chicago Bears: Mohamed Sanu, WR, Rutgers
The Bears are definitely missing Jay Cutler, but their receivers couldn't produce much against Denver. Johnny Knox led Chicago in receiving with three catches for 37 yards. Sanu would be a great fit in the Bears offense and 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. Chicago could target Sanu with a trade down in the first or a trade up in the second round.
Detroit Lions: Barrett Jones, OT, Alabama
Detroit allowed three sacks to Jared Allen on Sunday, and if they want to protect Matthew Stafford for the long-haul, the team has to upgrade their pass protection. If Jones declares for the draft, the Lions could have a shot at him in the first round. He has been a dynamic run blocker since breaking into the starting lineup as a guard in 2009. In 2011, Jones showed the ability to be a blind side protector at left tackle. The LSU game in particular illustrated that he can neutralize speed rushers. Jones would be a good fit in Detroit's offense and could be a quick upgrade for the Lions.
San Francisco 49ers: Chase Minnifield, CB, Virginia
The 49ers were torched through the air on Sunday by Arizona. Larry Fitzgerald (7 for 149) and Early Doucet (3 for 73) produced big plays to lead the Cardinals in their upset win. San Francisco has had a great season, but the team definitely could use some young talent for the secondary, especially considering they have to play Fitzgerald twice a year. Minnifield is a quick and physical man corner who can match up well with receivers who have size and speed. He had tight coverage all year and teams avoided throwing his direction. Minnifield recorded eight pass breakups with three interceptions. In 2010, he had six picks with four passes defensed. The 49ers could target Minnifield with their first-round pick.
Atlanta Falcons: Robert Lester, S, Alabama
The Falcons could use another safety to replace Thomas DeCoud and improve their defense of the deep part of the field. The Panthers got long touchdowns out of running back DeAngelo Williams (74 yards) and Greg Olsen (44 yards) on Sunday. Lester is very skilled at defending the deep part of the field and not letting plays get behind him. He snuffs out runs that get to the secondary and can match up well on tight ends. Lester is reliable as the last man of defense before the open field. This season, he has 36 tackles with two interceptions. In 2010, Lester had eight interceptions. Atlanta would probably have to use their second-round pick to land him.
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.
Even though the Steelers are one of the elite franchises in the NFL, they will have a challenging draft next April. Not only does Pittsburgh have multiple needs, the Steelers have a lot of core players who are aging and are going to need to be replaced in the next few years.
Pittsburgh one of the older teams in the NFL. Their defense in particular is packed with veterans. Take look at the age of a lot of their defensive starters: nose tackle Casey Hampton (34), inside linebacker James Farrior (36), outside linebacker James Harrison (33), defensive end Brett Keisel (33), safety Troy Polamalu (30), safety Ryan Clark (32) and cornerback Ike Taylor (31). That isn't including injured starting defensive end Aaron Smith (35). The Steelers have some young backups on defense, but they may need to use a premium pick or two in order to get some additional young talent for their defense.
Pittsburgh's offensive line has received a fair amount of criticism, but that is one of the younger units on the team. Center Maurkice Pouncey, guard Doug Legursky, tackle Marcus Gilbert, guard Ramon Foster and other offensive linemen are all in their early to mid 20s. Still, the Steelers may have to look at the offensive line, and in particular, find a long-term starter at left tackle.
Wide receiver Mike Wallace is approaching the end of his contract, and if Pittsburgh doesn't want to pay him, their will be a big hole at wide receiver with Hines Ward closing in on retirement. The Steelers have a shot at making another run in January, but this offseason will require the Steelers to look at a lot of positions to reload and make for a very interesting 2012 draft class.
The Jaguars draft situation just got a lot more interesting after Blaine Gabbert produced the first quality game of his career. Prior to Sunday's game against Tampa Bay, he was awful, and it was reasonable to think that Jacksonville could potentially look at a quarterback again in the first round of the draft. Gabbert threw for 217 yards and two touchdowns with two ugly interceptions, but it was progress over past weeks. With a first and second-round pick invested in him, the Jaguars may be better off trying to help him before declaring him a bust and finding a replacement.
Adding an elite receiver has to be a high priority for Jacksonville next April. Even though they scored 41 against the Buccaneers, the Jaguars were led in receiving by tight end Marcedes Lewis (2 for 77). Running back Maurice Jones-Drew was second in receiving yards with 51. Jarett Dillard (5 for 45) is just a complementary receiver. Jacksonville has a lot of holes, but doubling up at receiver with a few early-round picks warrants heavy consideration.
Another revelation from Sunday's game against Tampa Bay was Jaguars defensive end Jeremy Mincy putting together a fabulous game against Pro Bowl left tackle Donald Penn. That kind of performance could prompt Jacksonville to think that the organization could wait on a defensive end until after the first round, but a good end to pair on the other side from Mincy could make their pass rush even more forceful. It was also nice for Jacksonville to see Tyson Alualu notch a sack in the game.
It is clear the Jaguars need help at cornerback as well. At least they have a new passionate owner, who will probably be willing to spend in free agency. Jacksonville has a lot of needs and a lot of routes the team can go, but at least Sunday provided some glimmers of hope for their fans regarding the prospects of Gabbert, Alualu and their pass rush.
I would bet 10 units on both the Packers and Patriots, and then 5 units on the Packers in the Super Bowl. The Packers will obviously blow out the Falcons and Tom Brady is the best QB of all time. They've both won 7 consecutive games (Rodgers and Brady) and they are both unstoppable. Rodgers will obviously throw a touchdown in the final seconds to win the Super Bowl. I would bet a million dollars that this will happen.