Every draft class produces impact players on both sides of the ball immediately upon entering the NFL. There is already a healthy debate about which rookie will end up being the Defensive Rookie of the Year. Tampa Bay's Mark Barron, Dallas' Morris Claiborne, San Diego's Melvin Ingram and Carolina's Luke Kuechly are all considered favorites to take home the honor. In speaking to one NFL scout, he said that Kuechly is his prediction to win the award, and he believes that Kuechly can do for Carolina's defense what Cam Newton did for the offense in 2011.
The Panthers had a weak run defense in 2011 allowing 131 yards per game on the ground, ranking 25th in the department. Kuechly was the best run defender in the draft, and he led college football in tackles the past two seasons. Kuechly amassed 191 tackles with 12 tackles for a loss, three passes broken up and three interceptions in 2011. He had 183 tackles in 2010. That included a 110 solo tackles. The All-American also contributed 10.5 tackles for a loss, 1.5 sacks, two forced fumbles and three interceptions. With veteran linebacker Jon Beason coming back from injury, the Panthers should immediately have their defense upgraded.
Kuechly is initially starting out at Will (weakside) linebacker, with Beason staying in the middle. Veteran Thomas Davis could play the strongside if he's healthy, and that would be a talented trio. Having Kuechly at Will linebacker makes a lot of sense. Not only does he not have to worry about calling the plays and audibles immediately as a rookie, playing Will linebacker should help him avoid more blocking attention that is focused on the middle linebacker. That will allow Kuechly to use his superb instincts to fly around the field and make tackles. Long-term, they may flip Kuechly and Beason, but it makes sense for the veteran to handle the middle right now.
Kuechly is also a fabulous pass defender in man or zone coverage. He figures to stay on the field for three downs immediately. Kuechly showed an astounding ability to get deep in his drop and stay with receivers downfield at Boston College. His pass coverage ability will provide big dividends in the divisional matchups, as Carolina faces three good receiving tight ends in the Saints' Jimmy Graham, Falcons' Tony Gonzalez and Buccaneers' Kellen Winslow. The expectations are high for Kuechly, but the intelligent, hard worker seems very capable of meeting them. The scout said that Carolina could seriously contend for the postseason. If the Panthers do, Kuechly will probably be the catalyst for a huge improvement on defense.
Two defensive linemen from the 2011 NFL Draft class went down with significant injuries this past week. Buccaneers' defensive end Da'Quan Bowers (torn Achilles) and Browns' defensive tackle Phil Taylor (torn pectoral) were starters with high expectations for their second seasons. Taylor's injury could allow him to play in 2012 at some point. Bowers said he plans on playing, but typically a torn Achilles wipes out a year.
Another similarity is both teams have front offices that are under pressure to show progress in 2012. Cleveland and Tampa Bay have selected in the top 10 of the draft in two of the past three years. With Bowers and Taylor on the shelf for significant time, and little talent available in free agency, the Bucs and Browns could consider making trades to help offset the loss of their second-year linemen.
One team that could be a potential trading parter is the Indianapolis Colts; they have a new regime that is transitioning from a 4-3 to a 3-4 defense. Both Cleveland and Tampa Bay operate a 4-3.
One player the Buccaneers could target in a trade with Indianapolis is third-year defensive end Jerry Hughes. He was a late first-round pick of the Colts in the 2010 NFL Draft, but he has been a flop to this point. The new Indianapolis regime is not tied to Hughes. Sources told WalterFootball.com that the Buccaneers had Hughes as their top target for the 35th-overall pick in the 2010 NFL Draft. Hughes was gone to the Colts, so Tampa Bay took defensive tackle Brian Price. Hughes could benefit from a fresh start and probably would only cost a mid- to late third-day pick.
The Colts have used recent draft picks on defensive tackles Fili Moala and Drake Nevis. They also have veteran starter Antonio Johnson returning. Perhaps the new coaching staff doesn't like the fit of one of these holdovers in the 3-4, and Cleveland could trade for one.
Another team the Browns could look into would be the Oakland Raiders. They have veteran tackles in Richard Seymour and Tommy Kelly. The new Raider regime may be ready to part with one of the older veterans to get a draft pick to help their rebuilding process. There could be other players on the market, and dealing a late-round pick may be the best options for Cleveland and Tampa Bay.
One undrafted free agent whom I should have included in the best UDFA signings was Marc Tyler, who signed with the Packers. Green Bay has a great offense, but the running back position could use more depth with James Starks and Alex Green being injury-prone. At least Tyler could be a good special-teams player, but he may contribute as a situational back for the Packers.
Prior to the draft, I wrote that Tyler could be a nice boom player. I ran that behind some NFL sources and scouts. They agreed with my assessment, and felt he could be a steal as a late-rounder or free agent signing.
Tyler looked very good at the East-West Shrine Game. Green Bay general manager Ted Thompson worked the East-West hard. During a rainy practice, 90 percent of team scouts skipped it to stay out of the rain. Thompson was out there watching and getting soaked - never mind the fact that many general managers don't even attend the East-West Shrine. Thompson saw what Tyler is capable of that week.
The 5-foot-11, 219-pound Tyler was a one-cut downhill runner, and that could translate into him being a load in the Packers' zone-blocking scheme. He runs with power and physicality. He is a North-South power back who has enough of a burst to get through the hole and reach the second level of the defense. He could be back who picks up a lot of yards after contact and could serve as a short-yardage option.
Tyler wasn't the focal point of the Trojans' ground offense, as running back Curtis McNeal received more carries throughout 2011. Tyler totaled just 568 yards and four touchdowns as a senior. He dislocated his shoulder against California, and that knocked him out for basically two games. He led USC in rushing in 2010 with 913 yards and nine touchdowns while part of a running back-by-committee approach. He comes from a pro-style West Coast offense under Lane Kiffin, and that should help him pick up the Packers' West Coast system.
It's definitely realistic that Tyler could provide a nice boost to Green Bay. Starks did that in 2010 and in the postseason. Tyler could be a physical back like the Packers had in Dorsey Levens.
James Brown Fell Because of Off-the-Field Concerns
One of the surprising players who fell into the undrafted ranks was Troy left tackle James Brown. He was a multi-year starter who had success as a blind-side protector. Brown also had a decent week at the Senior Bowl. He lost some reps, but overall he held his own as he fought and scraped with the better competition.
Many projections had Brown going in the third round of the 2012 NFL Draft. He was viewed as one of the few left tackle candidates available in the middle rounds. The 6-foot-3, 307-pounder has some strength and quickness. While he is shorter than most tackles, he could move inside to guard if he struggles on the edge.
Sources from the scouting community have revealed that Brown went undrafted because of off-the-field concerns. They did not get specific about what those issues were, but said that was the reason for Brown to become an undrafted free agent. He signed with Chicago, a team that has had problems at left tackle. Brown will have the opportunity to compete for a roster spot, but a reputation for off-the-field issues will decrease his margin for error.
Brown is fortunate he signed with a team that needs help at tackle, which should increase his odds of making the roster. After falling into the undrafted ranks, Brown has a lot to prove on the field and off of it.
There have been some good acquisitions of undrafted free agents around the NFL recently. Chicago signed James Brown, Tampa Bay picked up Leonard Johnson, Philadelphia inked Cliff Harris, Washington reeled in Chase Minnifield, while Dallas brought in guard/tackle Ronald Leary. There were a few quality undrafted free agents who were available to teams that had needs at those positions, but those players signed elsewhere. Here are three undrafted free agent signings who would have made a lot of sense but didn't happen.
Washington running back Chris Polk signed with the Philadelphia Eagles, but a team that really could have used him was the Detroit Lions. The Lions have durability issues at the position with Jahvid Best, Mikel Leshoure and Kevin Smith all battling injuries.
Polk went undrafted because of durability concerns, but he was mainstay in the lineup for the Huskies. The past three seasons Polk ran for over 1,000 yards each year and never missed a game because of injury. Throughout his time at Washington, he was an extremely productive runner totaling 4,049 yards and 26 touchdowns.
Even if Polk didn't make Detroit's roster over one of those veterans, he would be nice insurance in case one goes down in the preseason or is slow to recover from last season's injuries. Polk may have a better shot of making the team with the Eagles, but the Lions really could have used another running back who is his caliber.
The Titans have a big need at center, but didn't adequately address it in the draft. They decided to take North Carolina linebacker Zach Brown in the second round instead of the top center in the class, Wisconsin's Peter Konz. Titans GM Ruston Webster didn't draft a center in the middle or late rounds, but a quality one hit the undrafted free agent ranks.
Ohio State center Mike Brewster was a four-year starter and All-American. He had some struggles at the Senior Bowl, but was a good college player who is very experienced. Brewster (6-4, 312) signed with a division rival in the Jacksonville Jaguars even though they aren't in dire need of a center. If the Titans continue to have a weakness at center next August, they could be regretting their inability to sign Brewster. Tennessee may look to sign a veteran free agent center like Jeff Faine.
The Vikings had a lot of needs so it is completely understandable that they were unable to fill them all in the 2012 NFL Draft. One second-line need was at the defensive tackle position. Minnesota signed three undrafted free agents at defensive tackle with Tydreke Powell, Terrell Resonno and Chase Baker. Throwing those bodies at the position could be helpful.
Powell is a quality nose tackle candidate. Baker also could play the nose. One tackle who would have been a nice signing for the Vikings was Miami defensive tackle Marcus Forston. He has some real upside and could serve as a gap-shooting three-technique. Forston has speed and quickness to fire into the pocket.
That type of tackle is needed for Minnesota to develop behind Kevin Williams. Forston signed with New England and doesn't look like a good fit as a five-technique defensive end in a 3-4. The Patriots use a 4-3 defense as well, so Forston isn't completely misfit for New England, but he would have been better for the Vikings and their Tampa-2-style defense.
An interesting prospect just came on the scene and may be entering the supplemental draft. Boston College kicked out all-time leading rusher Montel Harris on Tuesday. If he enters the supplemental draft, Harris could be worth a late-round pick. He missed the majority of the 2011 season with a knee injury and was granted a medical redshirt for 2012.
After totaling 3,735 yards (4.7 average) and 27 touchdowns in his career at Boston College, Harris will have a tough decision to make. He could enter the supplemental draft, or he could transfer to an FCS school, as Janoris Jenkins did going from Florida to North Alabama last spring. Harris was kicked out of Boston College for violating unspecified team rules, but he will not lose his year of eligibility to play college football.
Harris' best season was his sophomore year when he totaled 1,457 yards (4.7 average) and eight touchdowns. The 5-foot-10, 207-pounder runs with a nice combination of speed and power, when healthy. He had arthroscopic surgery last August and missed the first three games of the season. Harris returned to play in two contests, but in the second, against Wake Forest, he injured his knee after running for 108 yards on 22 carries. This spring, Harris was quickly shut down after having knee issues again in practice.
Considering the injury concerns, Harris would be better off following Jenkins' route and playing next season in college football at the FCS level. If Harris manages to stay healthy and productive, he can, perhaps, return to mid-round status. In the supplemental draft this year, Harris would probably be worth no more than a late-round pick. With the durability and now character concerns, no team is going to commit a selection for him in the top few rounds. At this time, he has not made any kind of announcement regarding his intentions for the 2012 season.
The Cincinnati Bengals have gotten very positive reviews for their 2012 NFL Draft class. That is understandable and deserved with where they landed some of their mid-round picks. The Bengals were able to land defensive tackles Devon Still and Brandon Thompson along with wide receiver Mohamed Sanu on Day 2. Still was a potential first-round pick who Cincinnati acquired at No. 53 overall. Thompson was considered to be a second-round prospect, yet they snagged him with No. 93 at the end of the third round.
Cincinnati acquired that selection from New England after it traded down in the first round from No. 21 to No. 27. Sanu was another potential second-rounder whom the Bengals grabbed late, using the No. 83 selection during the third round. All three of those players were excellent value picks for the team.
The Bengals continued the trend on the final day of the draft. They took tight end Orson Charles in the fourth round and landed three good picks in the fifth with cornerback Shaun Prater, wide receiver Marvin Jones and safety George Iloka. All three of those players could have been selected earlier, especially Jones and Iloka.
While Cincinnati really did well with those seven players, there is one reach that stands out, and that is in the first round. The Bengals snagged guard Kevin Zeitler with the 27th pick after trading down with the Patriots. If Cincinnati had stayed at No. 21, the team could have landed the top guard in the draft, David DeCastro. Many considered him to be the top guard prospect to enter the NFL in the past decade.
Instead of taking DeCastro, Cincinnati moved down with New England and saw the rival Steelers grab DeCastro. The Bengals will have their hands full with DeCastro combining with Pro Bowl center Maurkice Pouncey to lead Pittsburgh's rushing attack for years to come. The DeCastro-Pouncey tandem will also make it extremely difficult to get any pass rush up the middle of the Steelers' line.
Meanwhile, Zeitler was projected to go in the second round, and there was a huge drop off from DeCastro to the Wisconsin guard. The Bengals also could have traded down and probably have still landed him. Minnesota and Tampa Bay were trying to move up back into the first round and eventually were successful. Even if Cincinnati missed out on Zeitler, it would've had its choice of guards in Cordy Glenn (No. 41 to Buffalo) and Amini Silatolu (No. 40 to Carolina). In speaking with another NFL team, they had a second-round grade on Zeitler, so by both their draft board and the consensus draft board, he was a reach.
Overall, it was a good draft for the Bengals, but it would look better if they had taken DeCastro as a first-round pick (along with Dre Kirkpatrick) rather than acquiring Zeitler and Thompson in the trade down.
It will be interesting to see how DeCastro's career compares to that of Zeitler and Thompson in the years to come. One can be sure that the Steelers and Bengals fans will be paying attention to the comparison.
The Jacksonville Jaguars have made no secret that they are open to trading down in the 2012 NFL Draft. Sources have revealed the the Jags' ideal draft would be to move down to pick up another second-day pick while targeting a wide receiver or defensive end. If they stay at No. 7 overall, it seems they would be happy to select South Carolina defensive end Melvin Ingram. If, however, they move down, they would likely miss out on Ingram, but they would be happy to land a wide receiver like Notre Dame's Michael Floyd or Baylor's Kendall Wright.
There are two teams that seem to be interested in dealing with the Jaguars. The New York Jets are said to covet Ingram. According to the draft trade chart, the Jets would have to give up their second-round pick and a fourth-round pick. They already dealt their fourth-rounder for quarterback Tim Tebow, so it would probably be a 2013 fourth-rounder, or perhaps a veteran player on their roster.
The other team that could be a trade partner is the Philadelphia Eagles. They are rumored to badly want Mississippi State defensive tackle Fletcher Cox. The Eagles love taking defensive linemen early, and Cox has the pass-rushing ability that Philadelphia desires on the interior of its line. It seems like a stretch for Cox to fall to the Eagles pick at No. 15, and he could easily go ninth overall to the Carolina Panthers.
The Eagles have been aggressive in the past and traded up for defensive end Brandon Graham in 2010. Philadelphia has more resources to get a deal done as they have two second-round picks (46 and 51 overall). To move up from the 15th-overall pick to No. 7, the Eagles would probably have to give the 51st overall pick with their first-rounder according to the draft trade chart.
If both teams want to deal, the Jaguars could amp up a bidding war and get more than what the chart dictates. That was the case for the St. Louis Rams when they traded down with the Washington Redskins instead of the Cleveland Browns. Floyd may be off the board, but Jacksonville could drop to 15 or 16 and they should have Wright available.
Just days before the 2012 NFL Draft, the most likely trade in the top 10 looks like the Jaguars moving down with either Philadelphia or New York.
I have some sad news to report. Rick Gosselin, the greatest mock drafter in the world, has decided to call it a career - at least as far as being an NFL Draft analyst is concerned. Gosselin has received a promotion and will now be a columnist for the Dallas Morning News. Good for him, bad for us NFL Draft fans. I'm going to miss eluding the Dallas Morning News' annoying paywall to see Gosselin's mocks every April.
Gosselin still has great sources and knows the Cowboys better than almost anyone. He answered some questions about them in a recent chat session. Here are some of the interesting things that he said:
Answering a comment from Mike B: "Let's assume that somehow Fletcher Cox, Mark Barron, DeCastro and either Courtney Upshaw or Melvin Ingram are available to the Cowboys are on the clock with the 14th pick:"
Gosselin's response: "A couple of teams would have to pass on their picks for all of those players to be available. I'd find Cox and Ingram the most attractive of that group. Cox would be an end and Ingram likely be a linebacker. I'm not sure either one will be there, though."
It definitely would be a shock. I have Cox and Ingram at Nos. 9 and 7, respectively, in today's 2012 NFL Mock Draft update.
A question from Stu: "Which player do you see the Cowboys drafting at 14? Barron, Upshaw, Poe, or somebody else?"
Gosselin's response: "I think the Cowboys would love to find a pass rusher at 14. But after watching the Giants win the Super Bowl last season with their pass rush, I think defensive linemen and pass-rushing linebackers will be pushed up the board. The best ones will likely be gone when the Cowboys go on the clock at 14. Mark Barron would be a safe fallback selection at a position of need. Having come from Alabama, he would also bring a winning mentality to Valley Ranch. This team needs more players who know what it takes to win."
Ingram and Cox are sure to be off the board, and I don't think Dallas will take Upshaw, so I'm pretty sure the pick will come down to Poe or Barron. It's a tough call. Poe has more upside, and according to Sports Illustrated, the Cowboys are smitten with him. On the other hand, Dallas also loves Barron, who is a safer prospect and fills a bigger need.
What if David DeCastro is available? Would he be the choice over Barron?
"There is a greater need for a safety than a guard. And I think Barron will be higher on draft boards than DeCastro."
DeCastro may not even make it to Dallas - both the Chiefs and Cardinals will be interested - but Jerry Jones did say that he satisfied his need for guards in free agency with Nate Livings and Mackenzy Bernadeau.
How about Dre Kirkpatrick versus Barron?
"Barron. I think Kirkpatrick is the third cornerback on the board. If I can have a cornerback at 14, I would hope it would be Gilmore of South Carolina. But I doubt he makes it there."
Make it someone else who thinks Stephon Gilmore would be off the board. I couldn't find a place for him in my top 16.
Gosselin also answered a question about the Browns. Whom will Cleveland take at No. 4?
"An offensive playmaker. Having failed to move up for Robert Griffin, I think the Browns are committed to Colt McCoy at quarterback now. They need to accelerate his development and you do that by giving him some playmakers. Last season he was carrying the entire offensive load and it was a heavy burden. The Browns finished 29th in the NFL in offense. The Browns should have their choice at four of either Alabama RB Trent Richardson or Oklahoma State WR Justin Blackmon. Richardson will be higher rated on draft boards and there are quality wideouts to be found in every round. For that reason, I think they go Richardson."
No argument there. Richardson makes more sense than Blackmon. He'll be the pick unless Mike Holmgren strongly believes that Ryan Tannehill has a very good chance of becoming a franchise quarterback.
Speaking of Tannehill, former NFL general manager Tim Ruskell, who has worked with the Seahawks and Bears since 2005, gave his thoughts on the Texas A&M quarterback:
"There's not much not to like ... He has some bouts with inaccuracy, but he can run the team and has a great brain. There's a lot of good things going for Ryan Tannehill."
Having said that, Ruskell noted that he was worried about the one year of production. He also didn't like that Tannehill didn't win close games.
"That's not a lot of time to say he's worth this kind of money. He also didn't win close games at the very end.
"I see him as a late-first, early-second player," Ruskell said.
Ruskell provided a list of his combined 2011 and 2012 quarterback rankings:
If there is one team that is likely to be moving around on Draft Day it's obviously the New England Patriots. Every year, the Patriots deftly move up and down the draft board and stockpile picks. Through trades with the Raiders and Saints, New England enters the 2012 NFL Draft with four picks in the top 60 selections. They have two first-round and two second-round selections. There is no doubt that New England is sure to be moving around again.
If the Patriots wanted to, they could climb high in the first round. If they packaged their two first-round picks together (Nos. 27 and 31), they could move up to the 10th- or 11th overall-pick according to the draft trade chart. Buffalo and Kansas City sit at 10 and 11, respectively. New England could be interested in South Carolina outside linebacker/defensive end Melvin Ingram if he is available, as he would be an instant upgrade as a pass-rusher. The Patriots could also target a potential five-technique defensive end like Mississippi State's Fletcher Cox or North Carolina's Quinton Coples. Maybe they would be intrigued by Memphis nose tackle Dontari Poe, as Vince Wilfork is aging.
While all of those players could appeal to New England. The Patriots always seem to be more willing to move down and add more picks rather than move up and sacrifice players.
The most likely move for New England would be to trade away one of its first-round picks. In speaking with one well-informed league source, they believe that the Patriots will take a player with the 27th-overall pick and move down from 31. They will exploit a player falling lower than expected and possibly pick up a 2013 first-rounder for a team that wants to jump back into the first round.
Also keep in mind that New England doesn't have a fifth-round pick, so it wouldn't be a shock if it looks to add one and be in position for a player in case someone it likes falls into that range.
Why Michael Brockers, Michael Floyd Have So Many Pre-Draft Visits
NFL teams go to lengths to convince the media that pre-draft visits don't matter and that they are just doing their due diligence. That is all a smokescreen. The vast majority of teams have their draft classes comprised of players that they hosted on pre-draft visits. Teams are only allowed a certain amount of visits, so they have to be selective with whom they bring in.
It can indicate a few things if a player has a lot of team visits lined up. One is that the player has character concerns and the teams want to get more time with the player to interview them. Another is because teams simply think that player could be available to them at their selection.
The player who has the most pre-draft visits scheduled right now is LSU defensive tackle Michael Brockers. The early entry is a one-year wonder who is going to be a first-round pick. As of this writing, Brockers is slated to see St. Louis, Cleveland, Tampa Bay, Jacksonville, Miami, Carolina, Seattle, Dallas, Philadelphia, New York Jets, Cincinnati, Tennessee, New England and Washington.
After speaking with some league sources, Brockers does not have character issues, so that's not the reason he is generating all of these visits. Teams are looking at Brockers because he is grading out in the 10-30 range. Thus, a lot of teams want to see him because he could be there when they pick.
On the flip side, Notre Dame wide receiver Michael Floyd has a lot of visits because of his off-the-field concerns. Floyd has visits scheduled with St. Louis, Minnesota, Cleveland, Carolina, Miami, Arizona, Philadelphia, Cincinnati, New York Jets, Tennessee and San Francisco. Some of those teams may not take Floyd where they are slated to draft, but perhaps they could consider him if they trade up or down.
With Brockers and Floyd taking a lot of visits it sounds like there are teams that could see them going early, in the middle or possibly falling late in the first round. Both perhaps have the widest ranges of any first-round prospects, and all of their visits seem to be an indication of that.
Adam Schefter answered a ton of NFL Draft-related tweets Saturday. I found some of the commentary pretty interesting:
Of the Browns' No. 4 pick: "My sense today, subject to change, is Richardson."
I'm sticking to what I wrote in my 2012 NFL Mock Draft. The most likely to least likely options at No. 4 are Trent Richardson, Ryan Tannehill, Justin Blackmon and Morris Claiborne. Richardson just makes the most sense because he's the top prospect available and fills a huge need. If the Browns have concerns that Tannehill can develop into a franchise quarterback, then he can't be the pick.
Speaking of the No. 4 selection, will the Rams move up to take Justin Blackmon? "That would be an upset. Don't see it."
That would be pretty illogical. The Buccaneers aren't picking Blackmon at No. 5, so if the Oklahoma State wideout makes it past the Vikings, the Rams will be sure to get him.
Blackmon will be Jacksonville's choice if he's still available. But what will the Jaguars do at No. 7 if he's not? "Many think pass rusher, which is possible. But don't dismiss a WR."
Per a very reliable source, the Jaguars dislike Quinton Coples. Melvin Ingram interests them much more, but they're going to attempt to move down so they can select either Michael Floyd or Kendall Wright. Ingram could also be available in the event of a trade, so Jacksonville will desperately try to shift out of the No. 7 spot.
As for No. 8? "If Miami doesn't get Tannehill, Fins fans will be boisterous."
Tannehill figures to be the pick if he's available. The NFL Network's Albert Breer reported that the Dolphins liked Tannehill even before hiring Mike Sherman. So unless Sherman tells Jeff Ireland that Tannehill's mother is a whore, the Texas A&M quarterback will be in a Miami uniform, assuming no one trades up for him.
So, the question must be asked: Who would trade up for Tannehill? Perhaps the Chiefs will jump to No. 7. Schefter didn't rule it out, saying that the only way Kansas City would land Tannehill is if it moved up. Meanwhile, Comcast Sports Net Philadelphia reported Saturday morning that the Eagles won't leap to No. 4 for Tannehill. Some people want to construct crazy scenarios in which some team trades up for Tannehill, but it's highly unlikely to happen. The Eagles and Dolphins aren't going to do it, and I highly doubt Kansas City will jump into the top five. Assuming the Browns go with Richardson, Tannehill, in all likelihood, won't be picked until No. 7 or 8.
Meanwhile, Schefter still is doubtful about Matt Kalil going to Minnesota. When asked, "Claiborne or Kalil for the Vikings," Schefter responded, "Or Blackmon. Vikings considering all three. But Kalil is not a lock at 3."
General manager Rick Spielman should just change his name to "Matt Millen 2.0" if he passes on Kalil. Hopefully he doesn't assault anyone from the rear with kielbasas.
Everyone assumes that Blackmon will be the first wideout off the board, but can Michael Floyd be selected earlier? "Don't think so, but it wouldn't floor me."
Blackmon has always been the heavy favorite to be the initial receiver chosen on April 26, so this is just confirmation.
Schefter was asked what the Titans would do with No. 20 overall. "In a perfect world, a quality CB falls to the Titans."
Everyone assumes that Tennessee will obtain the best defensive lineman available, and the front office very well could, but both Dre Kirkpatrick and Stephon Gilmore are in play for the 20th selection.
This is a non-Schefter related note, but Buccaneer corner Ronde Barber told WQYK 1010 in Tampa that the Buccaneers "probably will" draft Morris Claiborne. Claiborne will probably be Tampa's pick, but both Richardson (if he falls) and Kalil can't be ruled out. As we reported yesterday, Kalil met with the Bucs.
WalterFootball.com has learned that USC offensive tackle Matt Kalil took a pre-draft visit with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers earlier in April. Kalil is a projected top-five pick, and the Bucs hold the fifth-overall selection. The Buccaneers don't have a need at left tackle with Donald Penn signed long-term, but if the draft falls in a certain way, Kalil could be the top player available to Tampa Bay.
The consensus opinion is that Kalil will be the third-overall pick for the Minnesota Vikings. There have been reports that the Vikings aren't all that keen on Kalil and prefer LSU cornerback Morris Claiborne. If Minnesota takes Claiborne and Cleveland drafts Trent Richardson, the Buccaneers could consider Kalil along with Oklahoma State wide receiver Justin Blackmon. Tampa Bay right tackle Jeremy Trueblood is in the final year of his contract, and the Bucs could look for an upgrade. If they draft Kalil, they could start him at right tackle and flip Kalil and Penn later on as Penn finishes out his career.
Kalil has been the blind-side protector for USC quarterback Matt Barkley over the past few seasons. The 6-foot-7, 306-pound tackle is an elite pass protector who projects to be a franchise blind-side protector. He has quick feet and uses rare athleticism to neutralize speed rushers. Kalil had an excellent showing at the Combine.
Kalil going to Tampa Bay is remote, but the Buccaneers have gotten to know him better in case he is available.
Adam Schefter wrote some pretty interesting things in an ESPN Insider blog entry today:
- I happen to believe the Vikings will [pass on Matt Kalil]. I'm in the minority there, and the Vikings are still deciding what to do, but I don't think Kalil is the lock that others do -- even if Minnesota stays at No. 3.
It's hard to imagine an NFL general manager being that stupid, but then again, Matt Millen did many dumb things with the Lions. As I tweeted shortly afterward @walterfootball, "If the Vikings pass on Matt Kalil, Rick Spielman will be the next Matt Millen."
- Speaking of USC prospects, Schefter believes Nick Perry will fall to Round 2:
What's the old expression from NFL scouts -- looks like Tarzan, plays like Jane? Not saying that Perry fits into that category, but I am saying he has worked out better than he has played. He still is expected to go somewhere in the second round, though, and even could creep into the bottom of the first if a team likes him enough.
I currently have Perry at No. 27 in my 2012 NFL Mock Draft (Round 6 added Friday), but I'd be shocked if he dropped into Round 2 because of his potential as a pass-rusher.
- While Perry is falling, Chandler Jones is rising. Both Todd McShay and Mel Kiper had him in the first round of their 2012 NFL Mock Drafts. Schefter is the latest to acknowledge the possibility that he could be chosen on Thursday.
Pass-rushers always are at a premium, Niles, and that likely will help Jones, who is one of the top pass-rushers in this draft. He will be a first-round pick, and on draft day pass-rushers always seem to go higher than people think. ... Anyone who draws comparisons to Cardinals defensive end Calais Campbell is going to be a high pick.
Mike Mayock is also high on Jones; he said that he likes him better than Quinton Coples, Whitney Mercilus and Courtney Upshaw. He called Jones a "mid-first-round prospect."
A note on another pass-rusher - Shea McClellin was invited to the NFL Draft. That's a great sign that he'll be a first-round pick. Mayock suggested that McClellin's draft range is 18-31.
The Vikings aren't sold on Matt Kalil. At least that's what Adam Schefter said today. He reported that general manager Rick Spielman was desperately looking to trade down because he really likes Justin Blackmon, Morris Claiborne and Kalil all fairly equally.
Sports Illustrated's Don Banks suggested that the Browns could move up to No. 3 for Ryan Tannehill. If Cleveland does this, Spielman deserves an Academy Award for fooling Mike Holmgren. There is absolutely no reason for Cleveland to move up to No. 3. Despite what Jim Irsay tweets, no one is willing to move up to the third pick for Tannehill. The NFL Network's Albert Breer already reported that the Dolphins won't trade up for the Texas A&M signal-caller. So if they're not willing to do it, who will?
This whole thing is silly. The only logical move is for Minnesota to select Kalil. If Spielman doesn't receive a blockbuster trade and passes on Kalil, he should be fired right on the spot.
Schefter also answered a tweet about the Bills: "Do you think Bills go WR at the tenth pick?"
His reply: "Would be surprised if they didn't go OT, specifically Riley Rieff."
Facebook friend Ryan E. asked me why I haven't changed the write-up of my Bills' selection in a while. It's because there hasn't been a reason to change it. Reiff to Buffalo is just such a great fit. That probably means that it won't happen.
I mocked Quinton Coples to the Bills a long time ago. I currently have him going to the Bears in my 2012 NFL Mock Draft. But Mike Mayock wouldn't even take him that high.
"If I'm a general manager, I'm not taking him in the first round," Mayock said. "He wouldnt even be a draftable player."
Coples admitted that he gave a C effort as a senior to Charley Casserly on Path to the Draft. He definitely looked lethargic at times, so at least he was honest. Charlie Campbell will have an interview with Coples posted soon, so hopefully the North Carolina defensive end will be able to clarify that statement.
At any rate, Coples is No. 50 on Mayock's big board. The entire board is not available, but some notable rankings include: Luke Kuechly (6th), Mark Barron (9th), Shea McClellin (20s).
Some interesting things from Mel Kiper:
- He posted the following thing about Wisconsin quarterback Russell Wilson: "Wisconsin QB Russell Wilson could go as high as round 3. Would be a lock 1st rder if he were 2-3 inches taller."
I could see that actually. I have Wilson going into the fifth round, but I've had him in the third in previous updates.
- Another tweet about Michael Floyd: "I have Michael Floyd going at 13 to the Cardinals, but I don't feel good about that. He could go higher."
Floyd could go as high as No. 7 to the Jaguars. If Justin Blackmon isn't available and Jacksonville can't trade down, the team will decide between Floyd and Melvin Ingram.
It's worth noting that Pro Football Talk recently tweeted that Jacksonville's interest in Ingram is a smokescreen, but per very reliable sources, I can confirm that the Jaguars are, in fact, heavily considering the South Carolina defensive end with the seventh pick. The source indicated that Pro Football Talk's news about Ingram was the actual smokescreen. Sounds like something out of the Twilight Zone, doesn't it?
- Kiper moved Appalachian State's Brian Quick to No. 4 on his receiver rankings. Quick could go at the top of the second round.
Speaking of receivers, the Cleveland Plain Dealer's Mary Kay Cabot believes that the Browns will select Justin Blackmon at No. 4 because of Mike Holmgren's commitment to Colt McCoy.
I don't agree with Cabot at all. Blackmon could be the pick, but Trent Richardson and Tannehill are the two heavy favorites. Richardson, because he's a much better prospect than Blackmon, and Tannehill because he's a possible franchise quarterback.
A tweet from Cabot: "#Browns conducted private workout w/ Georgia OT Cordy Glenn, projected 1st-rounder, source told PD. Possible at 22 if there."
Glenn would be a great fit for the Browns if he falls. He could fill a huge hole at right tackle, and if he struggles there, he could move to left guard to upgrade an ineffective Jason Pinkston.
Jim Thomas of the St. Louis Post Dispatch said that the Rams' pick will come down to four players: Matt Kalil, Morris Claiborne, Richardson and Blackmon. This is noteworthy because some publications believe that Fletcher Cox will be St. Louis' choice at No. 6. The smart money is still on Blackmon.
Prior to the blockbuster trade with the Washington Redskins, many believed that the St. Louis Rams would select USC left tackle Matt Kalil with their first-round pick. The move down to No. 6 eliminates St. Louis from the Kalil sweepstakes. Obviously, the Rams were willing to miss out on the USC left tackle in order to do the deal with the Redskins.
Many felt that St. Louis should look to upgrade their left tackle situation. They could move current left tackle Rodger Saffold to the right side of the offensive line. However, the Rams showed no inclination to sign a tackle in free agency. They had plenty of cap room to sign a quality veteran tackle like Demetress Bell, but they decided to pass on him. According to sources, the Rams don't really feel they are in the tackle market.
Don't be surprised if the Rams decide to stick with Saffold at left tackle in 2012. He was a high selection in the 2010 NFL Draft, and he had an excellent rookie season. He struggled in 2011, but the entire St. Louis team had a down year, as it was ravaged by injuries to starters on both sides of the ball. Saffold is a young player who could easily improve his pass protection for quarterback Sam Bradford as he gains more experience at the NFL level. He also has a new coaching staff that has decided to stick with him after reviewing his performance in his first two seasons.
If Kalil fell to the Rams at the sixth pick, perhaps they would take him because he probably would be the top player on the board, but St. Louis passed on signing Bell and eschewed selecting Kalil by trading down. The actions of the Rams indicate that they are comfortable with Saffold protecting Bradford's blind side.
Mel Kiper did some tweeting today. Two tweets in particular are worth noting:
1. "I have Syracuse DE/OLB Chandler Jones (SD), Boise St. OLB Shea McClellin (NE), and Cincy DL Derek Wolfe (NE) all going in the first round."
You can look at Mel Kiper's 2012 NFL Mock Draft here. It's odd to see those three players in the first round. Jones and Wolfe will probably be drafted on Friday, but McClellin has a good chance to go on Thursday. There's a lot of buzz about him right now, and the Packers are rumored to be smitten with him.
2. "Alabama safety Mark Barron is just about locked into the top 16 overall. I have him projected to go to Dallas at pick #14."
I have Barron going to the Jets in my 2012 NFL Mock Draft. I'd slot him to the Cowboys if Dontari Poe weren't available there.
Speaking of Poe, he's someone that Charles Davis didn't include in his mock for some strange reason. When asked about this, Davis said, "People asked me where Dontari Poe is in my mock draft. That's a legitimate question."
If Poe falls, could Ryan Tannehill drop as well? Charley Casserly said something interesting a couple of days ago regarding the Texas A&M quarterback:
"I interviewed a dozen teams on this guy at the end of season. They all pretty much told me late 1 to early 2. The most accurate grades I ever get are the ones I get in December and January."
I don't doubt that for a second. Just remember that Christian Ponder had a second-round grade by most teams, yet he went No. 12 overall because of the need at the position. Tannehill will be pushed up in a similar fashion.
Casserly also said that Janoris Jenkins is "50-50" to be drafted in the first round. "He's been arrested on three occasions," Casserly said. "I'm not sure I remember a first-rounder with that in his history."
I'm bringing this up because I've had Jenkins going to the Lions in my past few mocks. I'm going to change that next week because of the Mikel LeShoure and Nick Fairley marijuana-related arrests. Selecting Jenkins after what happened to LeShoure and Fairley would be a terrible PR move, no matter how talented he is.
As for earlier picks, Tony Softli, the Rams' Vice President of Player Personnel from 2006-2010, thinks Melvin Ingram will go to Jacksonville. Meanwhile, Ted Sundquist, the Broncos' general manager from 2002-2007, has Michael Floyd going there.
That's the debate. Unless Justin Blackmon or Morris Claiborne falls to them, the Jaguars will decide between Ingram and Floyd. Quinton Coples is popularly mocked to them, but he's not an option there.
Softli has Tannehill going to the Dolphins. Sundquist said that he wouldn't draft Tannehill at that juncture. "I'd take Floyd over Tannehill if I were the Dolphins," he said.
Both Softli and Sundquist think the Panthers will go with a defensive tackle, mocking Poe and Fletcher Cox there, respectively. Both also agreed that Riley Reiff will be the No. 10 choice.
What about the 11th pick? Ken Babb, of the Kansas City Star, was a guest on Path to the Draft, and he had this to say about that selection:
"There's been some talk of Luke Kuechly, but I think they're going to go with David DeCastro."
I think it'll come down to DeCastro and Poe, but the former is the better, more-proven player. He's the more likely selection despite being a guard.
Floyd is an option at Nos. 12 and 13, but Softli revealed something interesting about him:
"I know several of his teams are worried about his off-the-field issues," said Softli, who also noted that he wouldn't take the Notre Dame wideout in the top 10.
Meanwhile, Kent Somers of the Arizona Republic thinks Floyd is a strong option at No. 13. He pointed out that the Cardinals took Ryan Williams in the second round last year, which was an indicator that they stay true to their board and don't look at need as much as some other teams. Floyd could be the top prospect available.
The weakest defensive position group in the 2012 NFL Draft is safety. By a wide margin there is less talent at safety compared to the defensive line, linebackers and cornerbacks. It is possible that there won't be even a handful of safeties selected in the first two days of the draft. The NFL is a passing-driven league, so there is a big demand for safeties. There is a bigger need for safeties than there are draft prospects to fill it. With that in mind, some teams are thinking of taking some cornerback prospects and moving them to safety. Here is a brief list of corners who could be considered for a move to safety.
Alfonzo Dennard, Nebraska - The Cornhuskers' stand out is a physical defender who is strong and a quality tackler. He is a good defender against the run, and moving to safety could hide some his weaknesses. Dennard's lack of hip flexibility was exposed at the Senior Bowl, but at safety he wouldn't have to turn and run with receivers as much. Dennard (5-10, 204) played almost exclusively at the line of scrimmage jamming receivers in college, so he would need to get used to lining up off the ball.
Trumaine Johnson, Montana - Johnson showed enough stiffness at the NFL Scouting Combine, that some teams may put him at safety in the NFL. Johnson (6-2, 204) could be a good defender for breaking up passes downfield with his size to defend big receivers. Many view Johnson as a second-day prospect and he looks like he would make a smooth transition to safety.
DeQuan Menzie, Alabama - With so many top prospects from Alabama, Menzie has gone under the radar to a degree. Menzie (5-11, 202) is projected by some as a safety in the NFL. He had a quality senior season and held up well with teams going his direction instead of Dre Kirkpatrick. Menzie has the size and enough speed to be a free safety candidate in the NFL. He looks like a third- or a fourth-round pick.
Donnie Fletcher, Boston College - Fletcher (6-0, 201) is a big defender who could be too stiff to play corner in the NFL, which would make him a better fit at safety. Fletcher has the size to add a little more muscle for safety with cover skills to match up on tight ends. Fletcher looks like a third-day pick and could be a good candidate to move to safety in the NFL.
The big news today occurred when the Eagles announced that left tackle Jason Peters ruptured his Achilles tendon. You can click the link to read all of Philadelphia's possible scenarios. The NFL Network discussed the No. 15 selection, and both Charley Casserly and Michael Lombardi agreed that Mark Barron will be a strong option.
I don't see it. The only positions Andy Reid has ever taken in the first round are: quarterback, receiver, offensive line, defensive line and cornerback. It's not his style to pick a safety. He passed on Earl Thomas a couple of years ago in favor of Brandon Graham, and Barron is not a better prospect than Thomas.
If the Eagles stay at No. 15, their options will be: Fletcher Cox, Michael Brockers, Devon Still, Stephon Gilmore, Jonathan Martin and Michael Floyd. Riley Reiff can obviously be added to the mix if he falls because of his short arms.
Speaking of the top 15, Ted Sundquist, the Broncos' general manager from 2002-2007, and Tony Softli, the Rams' Vice President of Player Personnel from 2006-2010, both agreed that David DeCastro would go in the 10-15 range because he's a special player. Sundquist same the same of Luke Kuechly, but Softli didn't talk about him.
The bottom line is that both DeCastro and Kuechly have to be in the top 15 of a 2012 NFL Mock Draft. Special talents like them don't fall on Draft Day.
On the flip side, both Sundquist and Softli agreed that they wouldn't touch either Quinton Coples or Dontari Poe in the top 10 because of their character concerns. I'm not so sure about Poe, but I completely concur that Coples will drop. He admitted on the air that he gave a C effort in his senior year. That's a major red flag. I have him at No. 14 in my 2012 NFL Mock Draft, but it wouldn't surprise me if he fell to No. 19 (Chicago).
Arizona State held its Pro Day today. Vontaze Burfict ran a 4.8 40, which is an improvement over his 4.93 time from the Combine. He'll probably be drafted on Day 3, though Mike Mayock said yesterday that he doesn't see a draftable prospect when looking at Burfict on film.
Meanwhile, Brock Osweiler had a great Pro Day, which is no surprise because all prospects look good working out at their school. NFL.com's Gil Brandt came away very impressed, however, and he wrote that Osweiler will now generate some first-round consideration.
Osweiler is super raw, but I wouldn't be surprised if some teak took him at the end of the first round. If Christian Ponder can go No. 12, then Osweiler can be selected in the 22-32 range. Quarterbacks get pushed up. That's just a fact of life in the NFL right now. Having said that, Osweiler will probably be chosen in the first half of Round 2.
The Texas A&M and Alabama Pro Days were today. Trent Richardson ran a 4.46 40. He also knocked over a Browns' running back coach in the drills. When asked about that, Richardson angrily said, "He was in my way." He's going to be awesome.
Ryan Tannehill, meanwhile, also looked great, but that's almost always the case when it comes to the Pro Days. The Browns, Seahawks and Dolphins had a huge contingent to watch him work out.
"It was a franchise quarterback workout," Mike Mayock said. "He can make all of the throws on the outside." Mayock doesn't believe Tannehill is ready to play, but because the Texas A&M product has the potential to be really good quarterback, Cleveland must strongly consider him at No. 4. Jason La Canfora confirmed that the Browns are "thinking of selecting" Tannehill next month.
Will Tannehill even make it to No. 4 though? That's a legitimate question. The Dolphins desperately need a quarterback, so they could move up to No. 3 to get him. Kansas City and Philadelphia will also be in the mix. The Vikings would love to move down because they have so many needs to fill.
As with many rookie quarterbacks, there are varying opinions. Mayock believes Tannehill will go third or fourth overall. Adam Schefter tweeted: "A lot of teams like him an awful lot."
On the flip side, Charley Casserly vehemently proclaimed, "NO WAY AT 4. TAPE IT - NO WAY AT 4." Brian Billick, meanwhile, didn't seem to understand why Tannehill is being considered in the top 10. He said that Tannehill would be a decent option for Cleveland at No. 22.
Tannehill is obviously not falling to No. 22. In fact, I'm inclined to agree with Mayock. Too many teams need quarterbacks, and like Schefter said, too many teams like him.
Speaking of Schefter, he had a very interesting tweet regarding Minnesota's pick:
My feeling today is in the minority. Think WR Justin Blackmon.
I don't know how the Vikings can possibly pass on Matt Kalil, so perhaps this would be in a trade-down scenario. Regardless, this does make more sense than those ridiculous Morris Claiborne rumors. Christian Ponder needs help. The pick has to be Kalil or Blackmon via moving down.
The third pick is in some question, but what about No. 2 overall? Donovan McNabb believes that the Shanahans won't adapt their offense for Robert Griffin, opining that the Baylor quarterback would be a bad fit in Washington. Feel free to ignore this. McNabb has plenty of sand in his vag and is even more upset than ever because he's finally realized that no one wants him.
Vontaze Burfict will have his Pro Day tomorrow. Steve Wyche said last week that Burfict has been removed from some draft boards after his poor 2011 campaign and subsequent disastrous offseason. Mayock was even harsher:
"When I watch him on tape, I don't see a draftable prospect."
Wow. It's insane to think Burfict was a first-round prospect this time last year. I don't think I've ever seen anyone ruin his draft stock that quickly without getting into legal trouble.
Many teams want to trade down in the NFL Draft every year. Many are unable to find a deal as it can be tough to find a partner that wants to move up toward the top of the draft. General managers are in love with the concept of moving down a few spots to pick up another selection while still landing a player whom they like a lot. This year is no exception. Here is a short list of teams in the top 16 picks that are rumored to want to move down.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers:
General manager Mark Dominik has told Tampa Bay Times reporter Stephen Holder that the Bucs are interested in moving down. Moving down would probably cost Tampa Bay a shot at LSU cornerback Morris Claiborne and Alabama running back Trent Richardson. The Buccaneers are also without a fourth-round pick. If the Bucs do move down, they could target Alabama cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick or Boston College linebacker Luke Kuechly.
Ideally, the Jags would be able to trade down to select Notre Dame wide receiver Michael Floyd. Jacksonville has a huge need at the position and many regard Floyd to be a reach at No. 7. If the Jags move down a long ways and Floyd is off the board, they could target Baylor wide receiver Kendall Wright or Georgia Tech wide receiver Stephen Hill.
The Panthers could use a defensive tackle and this is a great draft to target that position. Carolina could move back and still land a quality tackle. It also makes sense for Carolina as they are without a pick in the third round. If the Panthers are able to move back, they could target a defensive tackle like Mississippi State's Fletcher Cox, a corner like Kirkpatrick or a linebacker like Kuechly.
It makes a lot of sense for the Cardinals to trade down. They lost their second-round pick in the Kevin Kolb trade, and they have needs that they could address with more picks. Arizona badly needs a left tackle. Many believe that Stanford offensive tackle Jonathan Martin is a reach at 13, while Iowa's Riley Reiff could easily be gone at that point. If the Cardinals move down a few spots, they could recover a second-day pick and still land Martin to fill their hole at left tackle.
Dallas doesn't have a lot of needs, and at No. 14, they stand a better chance of being able to move down. The Cowboys could target a number of players if they move down. They've recently been linked to having interest in Wisconsin center Peter Konz, and he would make sense as a trade-down target. If they move down, they also could consider Alabama safety Mark Barron or North Alabama cornerback Janoris Jenkins.
In the past few weeks, the Minnesota Vikings have sent out the message that they prefer LSU cornerback Morris Claiborne over USC offensive tackle Matt Kalil, which was very surprising. Minnesota's biggest need is at left tackle, and while cornerback has to be addressed, they run a zone-based system that doesn't require shutdown corners like Claiborne. The talk that the Vikings prefer Claiborne sounds like complete smoke to try and drum up a trade market for the third-overall pick.
After Minnesota, there are three teams that could consider Claiborne: Cleveland (4), Tampa Bay (5) and St. Louis (6). Browns' shot-caller Mike Holmgren has been inclined to drafting defensive backs highly, and Claiborne would give Cleveland two shut down corners. Tampa Bay badly needs cornerback help. The Rams could use a corner to pair with Cortland Finnegan. Plus St. Louis has let it be known that it likes Claiborne a lot as well. Aside from those teams, the Panthers (9) and Jaguars (7) could use cornerback help as well. With those three teams being a potential landing spot for Claiborne, he is the best player to try and create a trade market for.
The Vikings would love to get a load of picks to help rebuild the franchise, but it seems unlikely that they will get the deal they want. Cleveland didn't do enough to trade up for Robert Griffin, so they won't make a move for Claiborne.
Tampa could be a target, as general manager Mark Dominik has moved up to get players in all three of his drafts with the Buccaneers (Josh Freeman in 2009, Arrelious Benn in 2010 and Luke Stocker in 2011). However, Tampa Bay has brought some veterans to their secondary and would be happy with landing Trent Richardson.
St. Louis has enough needs where it doesn't want to give up premium picks. They can stay at six and land a good player who will upgrade their talent, including Claiborne.
While the Vikings are trying to see if they can work up a big deal for their pick, it seems like wasted posturing. Minnesota is highly likely to be stuck at the third pick, and it would be a shock if it passed on Kalil.
Andrew Luck and Robert Griffin had their Pro Days on consecutive afternoons. Both were really impressive. Luck went 46-of-50 with three drops, while Griffin completed 49-of-51 attempts. Gil Brandt, who worked in Dallas' front office for nearly 30 years, wrote that he's not sure if the Colts should select Griffin or Luck. Pro Football Talk has Griffin going No. 1 to Indianapolis in their 2012 NFL Mock Draft. Here's a link to it, as well as a discussion.
One of Luck's targets, tight end Coby Fleener, had a phenomenal Pro Day. He ran a 4.45 40, solidifying his status as the consensus No. 1 tight end. There was never much doubt that he'd be the first tight end off the board; the question was whether he could propel himself into the first round. The answer now has to be yes. I've had Fleener slotted at No. 30 for a while in my 2012 NFL Mock Draft, but I'll have to move him up soon.
David DeCastro will be selected before Jonathan Martin, according to Mike Mayock. "I would lean toward DeCastro over Martin if I'm Arizona at 13, Dallas at 14," he said. Martin was once a top-10 prospect, but a mediocre 2011 campaign has caused him to fall. Mayock believes Martin will be chosen in the 20-30 range, and I'm inclined to agree.
Fellow tackle Riley Reiff's stock has also fallen because of his short arms. Teams will be reluctant to select him in the top 10 because of Sam Baker's failure, though Reiff is more athletic than Matt Ryan's blind-side protector. Reiff will likely be selected in the 9-13 range, but Mayock believes he could drop to around 20. Brandt, meanwhile, compared Reiff to Bryan Bulaga, calling him a "carbon copy" of the current Packer.
Mayock and Brandt disagree on Michigan State defensive tackle Jerel Worthy:
"There's no way Jerel Worthy gets past the top 20 or 25 picks in the first round," Mayock said.
Brandt, however, has Worthy in the 27-50 range. "There's a question of maturity and a question of motivation," he said.
Brandt is probably correct. Worthy is a top-25 talent, but his work ethic and attitude will probably cause him to fall to Round 2.
Another potential second-rounder from Michigan State is Kirk Cousins. Cousins wowed onlookers at his Pro Day by scripting his own workout, which showed great leadership.
With Peyton Manning on the open market and the Denver Broncos being one of the favorites to land his services, many have pointed to the Jacksonville Jaguars as Tim Tebow's future landing spot. There are plenty of sensical reasons for the Jags to bring Tebow back to his hometown, but it's not going to happen, per league sources.
As a business decision, it is flawless. Tebow would sell a ton of tickets and jerseys, and invigorate the fan interest in a franchise that could use a superstar. He is the most popular athlete in the state of Florida. The Jaguars would be able to remove the tarps covering seats and no longer have to worry about blackouts.
On the football side of things, Jacksonville had the worst-rated quarterback in the NFL in 2011 in rookie Blaine Gabbert. While Tebow has a lot of room for improvement, he had more success and was far more effective than Gabbert was last season. The Jaguars signed free agent quarterback Chad Henne, but he is slated to be Gabbert's backup - not the starter - so there is still room on the roster for Tebow.
While Tebow going to the Jacksonville makes a lot of sense, the odds of it happening aren't good. In speaking to league sources, the Jaguars do not have a consensus desire within the organization to acquire Tebow. General manager Gene Smith passed on Tebow in the 2010 NFL Draft. He invested a first- and second-round pick in Gabbert last year, so he wants him to play to prove him right.
The new coaching staff led by head coach Mike Mularkey is in agreement with Smith. They are not interested in bringing Tebow into the stable. He isn't a good fit for their offense, and they would prefer to turn to Henne if Gabbert doesn't make strides this season.
The lone person wanting Tebow is new owner Shahid Khan. He is interested in obtaining Tebow, but it sounds like he will defer to this football staff to make the decision. While Tebow would invigorate the fan base, it doesn't sound like Jacksonville has any real interest in him.
Texas A&M wide receiver Jeff Fuller was considered a potential first-round pick at the beginning of the the college football season. He was coming off an excellent junior campaign in which he caught 76 passes for 1,066 yards and 12 touchdowns. Fuller could have entered the 2011 NFL Draft as a potential second-day pick.
A disastrous senior year filled with a series of bad luck has Fuller now being projected to be a third-day prospect. Fuller dealt with injuries all season. He had a pulled hamstring, a concussion and a turf toe injury. Fuller played through the injuries and totaled 70 receptions for 828 yards and six touchdowns in 2011. WalterFootball.com caught up with Fuller's college quarterback Ryan Tannehill (see our Ryan Tannehill interview here), and he shared his view of Fuller.
"He's way better than the year he had - he had a hamstring early, then a concussion and then a toe. It just was always something," said Tannehill. "As soon as he got over one thing, something else came up. It was a really tough year. I think going into Bowl practice and the Bowl game, he finally got healthy again. He had a great last two games. I think everybody knows what he can do. He had tough injuries to battle through the whole year, but he has a got a lot of talent. I get to throw to him again at my Pro Day so I'm excited about that."
Fuller caught 14 passes for 226 yards and two touchdowns in the last two games of the season. Fuller did not particularly stand out at the Senior Bowl and Combine, however. But if an NFL team gets a healthy version of Fuller who plays like he did as a junior, they could have a steal on the third day of the 2012 NFL Draft.
The hot streak for the St. Louis Rams continued on the first day of free agency. Not only did they acquire the top cornerback available, Cortland Finnegan, they had a good break go their direction with another signing. When the Tampa Bay Buccaneers inked wide receiver Vincent Jackson to a 5-year $55.5 million contract, the Rams got one step close to landing Oklahoma State wide receiver Justin Blackmon with their first-round pick.
After the Rams traded back from second to sixth, they jeopardized their chances of landing Blackmon. St. Louis desperately needs to obtain a top receiver like Blackmon to pair with young quarterback Sam Bradford.
With the Bucs adding Jackson, it pretty much rules them out of drafting Blackmon. Jackson will be their No. 1 receiver, and they have third-year wideouts in Mike Williams and Arrelious Benn to fill out their three-receiver sets. Tampa Bay isn't ready to give up on Williams or Benn. With the Bucs having lots of other needs, taking a wide receiver in the first round falls to the back of the list. Plus, Tampa Bay general manager Mark Dominik did not attend Blackmon's Pro Day. Dominik doesn't attend Pro Days as much as other general managers, but if he were thinking of using the fifth-overall pick on Blackmon, there is a greater chance he would've been there.
Now, the only team the Rams really have to worry about taking Blackmon ahead of them is Cleveland. The Browns could use a No. 1 receiver, but they have other more pressing needs. Cleveland badly needs a quarterback (Ryan Tannehill). Morris Claiborne is also an option. A defensive end like South Carolina's Melvin Ingram or an offensive tackle like Iowa's Riley Reiff could be dark-horse options for the fourth pick in the 2012 NFL Draft.
Thus far in 2012, the Rams have had a tremendous offseason. They landed the consensus top available head coach in Jeff Fisher. They pulled off a fabulous trade with Washington to load up their franchise with three high picks in the next three drafts. Now they land Finnegan, and with the Bucs signing Jackson, the Rams have only one team to worry about in taking Blackmon. St. Louis finally may have luck on its side.
There wasn't much going on during Path to the Draft today because the panelists spent most of the time discussing the Robert Griffin trade. While two-thirds of the Internet poll voters thought Washington surrendered too much, the analysts liked the move for the Redskins. I definitely agree with the latter. You can't put a price tag on a franchise quarterback. If Griffin becomes the perennial Pro Bowler he's billed to be, no one will remember that the Redskins gave up three first-rounders and a second. If he ends up sucking, well, Washington would have missed the playoffs anyway, so what's the difference?
As for another incoming rookie quarterback, Ryan Tannehill will be on the Dolphins next year, according to Michael Lombardi.
"Ryan Tannehill seems to be heading to Miami. That's what I'm hearing," said Lombardi, who correctly predicted the Patriots drafting Ryan Mallett last year.
If the Dolphins want Tannehill, they'll have to take him at No. 8. "There's no way in the world the Seahawks are going to see Ryan Tannehill at 12," said Mike Mayock.
I agree with that. Many may think that No. 8 is too high for Tannehill, but think about what happened with Christian Ponder and Blaine Gabbert last year. Quarterbacks really get pushed up because of the demand at that position.
With that in mind, if Tannehill is off the board at No. 12 for the Seahawks, as Mayock projects, it wouldn't surprise me if Pete Carroll moves back a bit and takes either Brandon Weeden or Kirk Cousins later in the first round. Carroll really likes Cousins, and he may worry that the Michigan State product may not be there in Round 2. That may sound a bit crazy right now, but who would have thought that Ponder would be the 12th pick in the 2011 NFL Draft?
Some AFC East team needs were discussed. Jenny Vrentas of the Star-Ledger said that the Jets "might look to get a play-making receiver in the first round." She mentioned Michael Floyd in particular, but he's unlikely to be there. Vrentas also brought up Mark Barron and Andre Branch.
"They like Andre Branch, but he's a reach at 16," Vrentas said.
John Murphy of the Bills Radio Network revealed that the Bills would "happily settle for Riley Reiff" at No. 10 rather than reach for a need.
More team interest: Sports Illustrated's Tony Pauline wrote, "Sources tell me Mike Adams was the apple of [the Steelers'] eye" during the Ohio State Pro Day. Adams isn't tough, so it's a bit surprising that Pittsburgh would be interested.
Staying with the Ohio State Pro Day, Gil Brandt of NFL.com wrote that Michael Brewster would be a third- or a fourth-round pick come April. It's amazing how far he has fallen; he was projected as a late first-rounder back in the summer.
Brandt also mentioned Alfonzo Dennard's draft range (25-45). He's another prospect who has dropped.
With the Denver Broncos in a full-court press pursuit of Peyton Manning, the clouds of uncertainty are firmly over the head of incumbent starter Tim Tebow. After the second-year quarterback led Denver to division championship and overtime playoff win against the defending AFC Champion Pittsburgh Steelers, the Broncos said that Tebow would enter training camp as the starter. Well, apparently John Elway and John Fox were disingenuous with those statements. If the Broncos sign Manning, he would be the instant starter. That could easily lead to Tebow being traded rather than backing up Manning. Here are some potential teams that could trade for Tebow.
Miami Dolphins - If Miami loses out on Manning, it is going to need to make a move for a quarterback. Between signing Matt Flynn, drafting Ryan Tannehill, picking another rookie, or trading for Tebow, the Dolphins have to get a long-term answer at quarterback. Owner Stephen Ross loves star power, and Tebow brings that in spades. Plus, he is unconditionally loved in his home state of Florida. Tebow may not be a good fit for Joe Philbin and Mike Sherman's West Coast offense, but Miami should jump at the chance of bringing Tebow into their franchise. The Dolphins could potentially land Tebow for a second-round pick.
Buffalo Bills - The Bills were said to be targeting Tebow in the 2010 NFL Draft with one of their second-round picks. Ryan Fitzpatrick could stay the starter with Tebow coming into the game for a package of plays. If Fitzpatrick plays poorly like he did in the second half of 2011, the Bills would have his replacement ready to go. Tebow would be a nice fit in Chan Gailey's offense. Buffalo's second-round pick may be enough for Denver.
New England Patriots - Another team that was aiming to draft Tebow was New England. The Patriots took three of Tebow's college teammates in the 2010 NFL Draft, and were said to love Tebow. The coach who did draft Tebow, Josh McDaniels, is back in New England, and he definitely would be pleased to have Tebow as a backup to Tom Brady. The Patriots could use Tebow in a certain packages and groom him to be Brady's replacement in a few years. Learning from Brady, McDaniels and Bill Belichick would definitely make Tebow a better quarterback. Brady turns 35 in August, so preparing for the end of his career would be astute planning by New England. The Patriots could trade backups Brian Hoyer and/or Ryan Mallett in the deal with a third-round pick. They also have two second-round picks and two first-round picks, so New England has plenty of resources to make a trade happen if it wanted.
Jacksonville Jaguars - Owner Shad Khan has stated that if he owned the team in 2010, he would have drafted Tebow. Now he could have the opportunity of trading for him. Tebow would be an upgrade over starter Blaine Gabbert, but the Jags' new coaching staff may not want him. Obviously, brining him back to his hometown would be a great public-relations move and would sell a lot of tickets. The problem is Jacksonville has a first- and second-round pick invested in Blaine Gabbert. They need to use their draft picks at need positions like wide receiver. Still, sending a second-day pick to Denver to land Tebow would be a massive move to invigorate the fan base. From a business perspective, trading for Tebow is a no-brainer for Jacksonville.
Cleveland Browns - Cleveland has the ammo to get a deal done and could give the 22nd-overall pick for Tebow (or their second-rounder), but Mike Holmgren passed on drafting Tebow back in 2010, so it is unlikely that he would pursue a trade for Tebow. Even though the Browns need a franchise quarterback, Tebow isn't the best fit for their West Coast offense.
Seattle Seahawks - Another team that needs a long-term answer at quarterback that could make a move for Tebow is Seattle. However, Pete Carroll also eschewed drafting Tebow back in 2010, so it seems unlikely that he would trade him for now.
Orson Charles gave NFL evaluators another reason to downgrade him after a DUI arrest on March 9. Since Charles left Georgia early to enter the 2012 NFL Draft, it seems that all he's done is hurt his stock.
The 6-foot-2, 251-pound Georgia tight end showed up at the NFL Scouting Combine having put on about 10 pounds of bulk. In an impressive showing, Charles led all tight ends with 35 reps on the bench press. After that, however, he elected not to run the 40-yard dash even though he didn't have an injury. He then screwed up some of the drills and didn't run them correctly. He also dropped a few passes.
Charles' arrest is troubling because it is crystal clear to all draft picks that they are under heightened scrutiny in the weeks leading up to the NFL Draft. It raises concerns about Charles' decision-making and what kind of player he will be as a professional. It also is a big impediment for him to be selected over Coby Fleener or Dwayne Allen. The arrest could cause Charles to fall late in the second round or even Round 3.
Will Peyton Manning be a Denver Bronco? Mike Klis of the Denver Post told the NFL Network that he thinks there's a 33-percent chance that the Broncos will sign Manning, citing that this was only a 5-percent possibility a couple of days ago. Klis also said that Tim Tebow will no longer be with the team if Denver wins the Manning sweepstakes.
And so John Kreese Elway and Johnny Lawrence Fox will finally get their wish. They will destroy Tim Tebow-san's career. I don't think that weird crane kick move will work this time.
The other big news was Justin Blackmon's Pro Day. Blackmon ran a 4.46 official 40, which is really good, especially considering that he measured in at 6-1, 215. Blackmon slimmed down to 207 at the Combine, and there was some speculation that he lost weight to achieve a better time. Getting a 4.46 at 6-1, 215 is pretty impressive.
All of the panelists on the NFL Network believed Blackmon will be chosen in the top 10. "Except for A.J. Green, Blackmon stacks up with the other top-10 receiver picks," said Michael Lombardi. Bucky Brooks, meanwhile, compared Blackmon to Anquan Boldin.
I really can't imagine Blackmon falling past the Jaguars at No. 7. They're desperate for a receiver to help the beleaguered Blaine Gabbert, and Blackmon is the consensus No. 1 wideout in the 2012 NFL Draft.
As for the rest of Oklahoma State's Pro Day, Brandon Weeden completed 42-of-52 passes that he attempted Friday (Mike Mayock said he completed all 56, so I'm not sure what to believe.) Mayock noted that Weeden showed ability to drive the ball outside the numbers. He guessed the 28-year-old would go in the second round. As for Weeden's age: "There are some real concerns about the 28-year-old number because of when he gets into the second contract."
Of course, the Eagles drafted a guard nearly as old a year ago, so it's conceivable that a team might be stupid/desperate enough to use a first-round selection on Weeden. I wouldn't put it past the Browns at No. 22 or Broncos at No. 25.
Safety Markelle Martin didn't work out at his Pro Day because of a knee scope. Mayock called Martin a "middle-round guy." Martin will likely fall on Draft Day if he can't work out prior to April 26.
Orson Charles, who recently had his Pro Day, was arrested for a DUI on Friday morning. And thus ends Charles' chances of being a second-round pick. Charles never really had a chance at the first round because of his height (a poor Combine and Pro Day didn't help), but teams will now be scared off because of character concerns. Seriously, how stupid can you be to get a DUI a month before the NFL Draft? What an idiot.
Speaking of players with character concerns, Brooks was optimistic regarding Janoris Jenkins' draft status:
"Janoris Jenkins will be a first-round pick regardless of the character issues," Brooks said, comparing the former Florida corner to Asante Samuel. Brooks predicted that Dallas, Cincinnati, Detroit will be in play for him.
Some team needs were discussed. Adam Teicher of the Kansas City Star said that offensive tackle is the one obvious area that the Chiefs had to address.
"Jonathan Martin would make a lot of sense," Teicher said, noting that Branden Albert will be a free agent next year. Obtaining someone like Martin or Riley Reiff would give the Chiefs some insurance.
Kevin Acee of the San Diego Union-Tribune stated that the Chargers will be looking for a pass-rusher in the NFL Draft. He revealed that San Diego really likes Courtney Upshaw and Nick Perry.
"I believe Upshaw, if he's there, will be a Charger," Acee said.
Speaking of pass-rushers, Mike Mayock predicted that Whitney Mercilus would be taken off the board between Picks 20 and 30. I have Mercilus going to the Titans in my recent 2012 NFL Mock Draft update.
One more guy who can get to the quarterback: Quinton Coples' stock has dropped since the Senior Bowl. Brooks noted that the North Carolina defensive end doesn't have an elite motor. However, Brooks projected that Coples would still be a top-10 selection, with Buffalo being a "perfect landing spot" for him.
Michael Lombardi revealed his 2012 NFL Mock Draft, which you can see here
I was floored when Lombardi mocked Dontari Poe to the Buccaneers at No. 5 and Melvin Ingram to the Rams at No. 6 (via Redskins trade). Poe isn't even close to being the best player available at the fifth pick, so I can't see Tampa passing on Morris Claiborne or Trent Richardson. As I tweeted (@walterfootball), "I think I'd give the #Bucs a Millen grade if they took Dontari Poe at No. 5. Or maybe a Millen on LSD & Crack."
As for Ingram, I don't see how the Rams would use him. What would Jeff Fisher do with Chris Long and Robert Quinn? If he wants to draft a defensive end highly to have a great rotation, that's fine; he can probably get Andre Branch, Vinny Curry or Chandler Jones atop Round 2. Spending the sixth-overall selection on an end, when he isn't even the best player available, would be inexcusable.
On a positive note regarding Lombardi's mock, I liked that he compared Robert Griffin to Steve Young because that's what I've been doing this offseason. Lombardi also had some great things to say about Cleveland having to move up for Griffin. He said that both the Ravens and Steelers would be concerned if the Browns landed Young Griff, and he's absolutely right. Cleveland will never be a threat to Baltimore or Pittsburgh with a system quarterback like Colt McCoy or Matt Flynn. It would become an instant AFC North title contender with Griffin.
Lombardi criticized Mike Holmgren's way of thinking, chiding him for putting too much of an emphasis on the system and not enough on the players. This was a great point. Great coaches, like Bill Belichick, adapt a system to the players on their roster; not the other way around. You really have to wonder how good of an NFL personnel man Holmgren is. He was lucky enough to have Brett Favre to run his precious system in Green Bay. Where would he be without Favre?
Here are various NFL Draft-related items discussed on Thursday's NFL Network Path to the Draft, as well as my thoughts on some of them.
Mel Kiper wasn't on Path to the Draft, but he conducted a conference call Wednesday afternoon. He said three things of note:
1. Kiper revealed that South Carolina's Stephon Gilmore is battling Dre Kirkpatrick to be the second cornerback off the board behind Morris Claiborne. This is a surprise, as Gilmore has been widely mocked in the second round. I'll have to think about moving him up in next week's 2012 NFL Mock Draft update.
2. Ryan Tannehill is a "lock" to be drafted by the middle of the first round, according to Kiper. This goes with what the NFL Network crew said yesterday. We'll have a real interview with Tannehill posted on this Web site next week.
3. Kiper thinks that the Redskins are the favorites to move up for Robert Griffin if they can't sign Peyton Manning. Considering that someone out of Manning's camp leaked that Washington isn't a possibility, it appears as though Griffin will be Daniel Snyder's new signal-caller. I switched the No. 2 pick to Washington in yesterday's 2012 NFL Mock Draft update.
While Kiper was on the phone, Mike Mayock reported from Clemson's Pro Day. He had good things to say about Andre Branch, who showed 3-4 teams today that he can drop effectively into coverage. Mayock predicted that Branch will come off the board between Picks 25-40.
Defensive tackle Brandon Thompson ran well, notching a 1.77 10-yard split in his 40. However, he was fatigued in the drills, so you have to wonder how he's going to be in shape once he receives a signing bonus. Thompson will probably be chosen in the second round.
Dwayne Allen opted not to run in the 40 for some strange reason. He had a 4.9 at the Combine, and this was his chance to redeem himself. I can't understand why he wouldn't try to improve. He did look good in the drills, looking like a "4.7 guy," per Mayock, but the fact that he quit is a big concern. Mayock said that Allen has a second-round grade, but I wouldn't be a surprise to see him fall to Round 3 at this point.
Cornerback Coty Sensabaugh is another Clemson defender who stood out at his Pro Day. Mayock called him a third- or a fourth-round pick.
Some team needs were discussed by various beat writers. Dave Birkett of the Detroit Free Press noted that cornerback and offensive line are the Lions' two major areas of concern. He listed Dre Kirkpatrick, Stephon Gilmore and Cordy Glenn as possibilities at No. 23. He also said that Detroit would "do homework on Janoris Jenkins to see if he's worth the risk."
Tyler Dunne of the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel listed rush linebacker as Green Bay's biggest need. He said that Nick Perry would be looked at with the 28th pick.
Brad Biggs of the Chicago Tribune broke some news. He reported that Lovie Smith had lunch with Stephen Hill after the Georgia Tech Pro Day. Biggs also said that Chicago would love Michael Floyd at No. 19, but the Notre Dame receiver would probably be off the board. Biggs' other possibilities at No. 19 include Peter Konz, Jonathan Martin and a pass-rusher to complement Julius Peppers.
As for the Vikings, the consensus was that they would take Matt Kalil at No. 3. Bucky Brooks also liked Kalil there, but he suggested that Morris Claiborne might be a possibility. I find that hard to believe; a Cover-2 team won't take a cornerback that high. Twitter follower @JaredHuntley had his tweet posted on NFL Network: "If [the Vikings] don't take Matt Kalil, Christian Ponder should quit on the spot."
Brooks posted his 2012 NFL Mock Draft, available here. I like the mock, but I don't understand why these analysts don't go beyond Pick No. 10. As Kansas City fan and forum member Centurion joked, "I hate his Chiefs pick."
Michael Lombardi's criticism of Brooks' mock was that "Ryan Tannehill fits more for Cleveland than Washington." Lombardi then implied that the Browns may take Tannehill at No. 4 overall, which is what Charlie posted in his mock today. Lombardi also said that Tannehill is a better fit for Cleveland than Griffin is, which is why Mike Holmgren probably wouldn't trade up for the latter. And this type of absurdity is why the Browns haven't made the playoffs since 2002.
Here are various NFL Draft-related items discussed on Wednesday's NFL Network Path to the Draft, as well as my thoughts on some of them.
Nick Perry has been slotted in the first round on many Web sites, including my 2012 NFL Mock Draft, but the entire panel seemed to agree that he'll be chosen late in the first round at the very highest.
"Most teams see him as a 4-3 defensive end; he's not comfortable being a 3-4 outside linebacker," said Bucky Brooks, who stated that Perry's range is the bottom of the first or top of the second.
Charles Davis agreed. "He's definitely a second-round pick unless a team is desperate for a pass-rusher at the end of the first round," he said.
Charley Casserly, meanwhile, called Perry "more late 1 to an early 2."
Pass-rushers often get pushed up in the NFL Draft because it's all about pressuring the quarterback on defense. However, if teams truly think that Perry is 4-3 only, he'll have trouble coming off the board prior to Cleveland's No. 22 selection.
As for another USC product, Casserly likened Matt Kalil to Joe Thomas rather than Jake Long, whom Casserly called a right tackle playing on the left side. In comparing Kalil to Tyron Smith, Casserly opined that Smith is more athletic, but that Kalil is the safer choice. "I'm sure Minnesota will take him," Casserly said.
Mike Mayock was at Alabama's Pro Day, and he raved about Dont'a Hightower, talking up his pass-rushing skills and calling him a three-down linebacker (Hightower joked that he was really a four-down linebacker because he could also play special teams.)
Mayock likes De'Quan Menzie as a "great value pick." Menzie ran a 4.7 at the Combine, but improved to the high 4.5s at his Pro Day. NFL.com's Gil Brandt is also high on Menzie as a third- or fourth-rounder.
Many are mocking Trent Richardson to the Buccaneers, but Mayock isn't sure he'll go that high. "I'm having a problem with running backs, justifying a pick in the top 10," Mayock said. "As talented as Trent Richardson is, I'm not convinced he's going in the top 10."
I wouldn't take Richardson in the top 10 either, but Tampa is a likely destination for him. It also wouldn't surprise me if the Browns selected him at No. 4. Scott Wright of DraftCountdown.com has Richardson going that high in his most recent update.
According to sources, scouts were pretty frustrated that Courtney Upshaw didn't work out at his Pro Day. Upshaw said that he has tendinitis in his knee, and that he'll be able to show off his talents at the end of the month. He's a falling player. I moved him to No. 22 in today's 2012 NFL Mock Draft update.
Dre Kirkpatrick had a great Pro Day. Casserly said that he thinks he'll go in the top 15. Davis agreed, citing that "the value of corners gets pushed up." Brandt also concurs. "I look at him as first half of the first round," he wrote.
Kirkpatrick probably has moved himself ahead of Janoris Jenkins, who has four kids with the surname of "Orange."
In other SEC news, Greg Childs ran a 4.39 40 at his Pro Day. Brandt called Childs a "possible third-round pick."
While Childs is ascending, Jeff Fuller continued his free fall. He ran a 4.65 40, prompting Brandt to say that the Texas A&M product might be better off becoming a tight end.
Here are various NFL Draft-related items discussed on Tuesday's NFL Network Path to the Draft, as well as my thoughts on some of them.
This show wasn't very long because of the Peyton Manning "breaking news." Seriously, I don't understand why the NFL Network had to interrupt everything for that. Everyone knew Manning would be cut eventually.
The Colts will have Andrew Luck as their starter next year. The third quarterback off the board after Luck and Robert Griffin will be Ryan Tannehill. Charley Casserly said that he likes Tannehill better than the three signal-callers drafted in the first round after Cam Newton last year. However, Casserly stated that he believes that like Blaine Gabbert and Christian Ponder, Tannehill has been pushed up because of his position.
"I don't see him as a top-10 talent," Casserly said. "You don't see special throws like you do with Andrew Luck or Robert Griffin."
Casserly noted that Tannehill needs to work on his ball placement. He also stated that the Texas A&M product telegraphs his throws.
Mike Mayock was at Georgia Tech's Pro Day. Mayock noted that Stephen Hill helped himself by showing off great route running.
"I don't think he gets out of the first round," Mayock said. "Worst case, an early two."
Another receiver who impressed today was Illinois wideout A.J. Jenkins. Gil Brandt raved about Jenkins:
"Anytime you've got a guy over 6-feet tall, runs a sub-4.4 40-yard dash and who catches the ball well, that's an indicator he's a third-, fourth-round type of guy," Brandt wrote.
Some team needs were discussed. A Bengals' beat writer (didn't catch his name or newspaper) opined that guard and cornerback were the team's biggest weaknesses. He thought David DeCastro and Dre Kirkpatrick would be solutions at Nos. 17 and 21, but it's unlikely the former will be there.
Gerry Dulac of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette noted nose tackle and inside linebacker as two areas the Steelers had to address. "Dontari Poe is very intriguing to them, but he probably won't be there around 24," Dulac said.
Dulac has repeatedly written that Dont'a Hightower is Pittsburgh's most likely selection. That's where I have the Steelers going in today's 2012 NFL Mock Draft update.
Jeff Zrbeiec of the Baltimore Sun believes the Ravens will fix the offensive line. He has the Ravens picking Peter Konz to be Matt Birk's successor. Zrbeiec suggested that Konz can play guard for a year if Ben Grubbs leaves.
Here are various NFL Draft-related items discussed on Monday's NFL Network Path to the Draft, as well as my thoughts on some of them.
Mike Mayock raved about Central Florida cornerback Josh Robinson. "I don't think there's any way he's getting out of the first round," Mayock said. Mayock's only criticism of Robinson is that he "goes flat-footed at the transition point."
Teams value cornerbacks heavily, so it wouldn't be a shocker if Robinson does in fact get drafted on Thursday. He probably has a better chance of going in the upper half of Round 2 though.
Mayock also had high praise for Fletcher Cox, apologizing to the Mississippi State defensive tackle for focusing too much on Dontari Poe during the Combine coverage. Mayock said that Cox was almost equally impressive, and that there was "no way" he'd get past No. 15 or 20 in the first round.
Cox would be a great fit in the Eagles' scheme. He also makes sense for the Panthers, Seahawks, Chargers and Titans.
Justin Blackmon will run his 40 soon, with 4.5 being an ideal time. Mayock compared the Oklahoma State wideout to Larry Fitzgerald. Blackmon is a stud and will almost certainly be drafted in the top seven.
This sounds like Blaine Gabbert all over again - another second-round talent being pushed into the top 10 because of the dire need for quarterbacks. No one should be surprised if Tannehill goes as high as No. 4 to Cleveland if the Browns can't land Matt Flynn or trade up for Robert Griffin.
For anyone still mocking Griffin over Andrew Luck - there are a couple of mocks having it go down like this in the 2012 NFL Mock Draft Database - you can stop it. The Indianapolis Star's Mike Chappell told the NFL Network that "Jim Irsay is convinced that it is Andrew Luck [over Griffin.]"
Chappell also discussed the Colts' needs, listing cornerback, safety, defensive line and wide receivers as areas that have to be upgraded. The No. 1 need per Chappell, however, is on the offensive line. Chappell said that there were big question marks beyond left tackle Anthony Castonzo.
Charles Davis and Jamie Dukes provided us with a 2012 NFL Mock Draft. You can see it here and read our discussion about it.
Elsewhere, Sports Illustrated's Tony Pauline wrote Monday afternoon that Cordy Glenn really impressed the coaches at his Pro Day.
"There's a feeling in the scouting community Glenn is headed into the top half of round one, possibly to the Dallas Cowboys," Pauline wrote.
As we stated in a recent rumor mill post, the trade chart for the NFL Draft is useful and viable for top-five picks. In past years, the chart was outdated at the top of the draft because of the mammoth contracts that came with the top handful of selections, but now with the rookie wage scale teams will have a greater interest in trading for a top-five choice. With that in mind, it is worth looking at the possibilities for what it would take for the Rams to move down with teams that may want to trade up for Baylor quarterback Robert Griffin III.
In speaking with sources, the Rams will seek a deal that is comparable with what the trade chart suggests should be given at the very minimum. They believe the trade chart could now undervalue a top-five pick with how cheap a team can land a franchise quarterback for multiple years. The Rams pick at No. 2 overall is worth 2,600 points according to the trade chart, so any team moving up with St. Louis will have to fork over a value of at least 2,600 points.
Here are the three teams that are believed to be the most serious options for a trade with St. Louis, and what they would have to send to the Rams according to the trade chart. The value of the late-round picks is not exact because compensatory picks in Rounds 3-5 will move their value down.
Cleveland Browns: No. 4 pick (1,800 points) + No. 22 pick from Atlanta (780 points) + sixth-round pick (20-25 points)
The Redskins and Dolphins would almost certainly have to give up next year's first-rounder. If they tried to deal only 2012 picks, it would basically take their entire draft according to the trade chart. No team has dealt an entire draft since the Saints did so for Ricky Williams.
Right now, St. Louis is more interested in a deal like the one the Chargers made in sending Eli Manning to the Giants in 2004. San Diego received a couple of first-round picks, a third-round selection and a fifth-round choice. That goes beyond the trade chart. The Rams' argument is the team trading for Griffin is getting a franchise quarterback for a bargain contract compared to other franchise signal-callers, or even recent draft picks like Sam Bradford and Matthew Stafford. Thus, looking at the price it would take to move up, the Browns clearly sit in the best position. According to the trade chart they can move up two spots to land Griffin without giving up any high picks in next year's draft.
One team executive told me that when you are trading up using picks you acquire from other teams, you are essentially gambling with house money. The team itself is not losing any of its own draft picks. If the Browns do the deal as highlighted above, it would make sense for St. Louis as it could still land a top-five talent. If the Rams want a lot more than what the trade chart says they should get, it could be even harder to find a team willing to fork over that kind of price. If the Rams follow the trade chart, a deal with Cleveland is much more reasonable from the Browns' perspective.
The NFL Draft trade chart has been in use for over 20 years after former Dallas Cowboys head coach Jimmy Johnson developed it in the early 1990s. Over the years, the chart increased in relevance and consideration before losing influence for top five picks in the past decade because of the massive size of the contracts that went to first few selections. As a result of the contracts that were being required to sign top draft picks, teams did not want to trade up into the top five of the NFL Draft.
The NFL adopted a new collective bargaining agreement (CBA) last summer with a rookie wage scale that limits the size of the contracts at the top of the draft, so the trade chart has renewed relevance for the hight picks in the first round. In speaking with one executive of a top-10 team, he agreed that the trade chart was more useful and viable for the top five picks because of the new CBA. The executive said that with the new acceptable contracts that rookies get the trade chart may even undervalue picks in the top five. Certainly the St. Louis Rams would feel that way as they want more for the second-overall pick than what the trade chart would require.
Sources in NFL front offices said that the chart has always been a useful tool for the other 245-250 picks, but the new CBA restores the relevance for the top five of the NFL Draft. The last time there was a trade involving top-five picks was in 2004 with the Giants acquiring Eli Manning, but 2012 should be the year to end the drought. The Rams have a lot of trade speculation surrounding them as they sit with the second-overall pick and already have a franchise quarterback. With multiple teams in need of a young quarterback and Baylor's Robert Griffin III expected to be available, St. Louis expected to move down and acquire more picks to rebuild its roster.
The Rams could use the trade chart, but if they believe that the chart undervalues top-five picks, they will seek to get more for the rights to select Griffin. Cleveland, Washington and Miami may have to give up multiple first-round picks over a few drafts. Beyond the Rams, the Vikings (third overall) or Buccaneers (fifth overall) could aim to move down. Thanks to the new CBA restoring sanity to rookie contracts, it is now viable for teams to move into the top five. The NFL Draft will definitely benefit with more excitement if teams resume trading for top-five picks.
Didinger: Browns Favorite to Trade for Robert Griffin
Ray Didinger, an NFL Hall of Fame writer, considers the Browns to be the favorite to trade with the Rams for Robert Griffin.
"I'll be shocked if Griffin isn't drafted by the Browns," Didinger said as a guest on Comcast Sportsnet's Daily News Live. He didn't offer a reason for this, but he's well connected, having covered the NFL for more than 25 years. He opined that both Griffin and Andrew Luck will be special players in the league.
Didinger has written for the Philadelphia Daily News and knows the Eagles better than anyone. He said that the Eagles are unlikely to trade for Griffin despite meeting with him during the 2012 NFL Scouting Combine. If they did, however, it would be a way for Andy Reid to stay in Philadelphia awhile longer.
"Trading for Griffin could be a way for Andy to receive an extension," Didinger said. "He would say, 'Look, we're building something here.'"
The Eagles won't be able to acquire Griffin, however, because the compensation would be too much. Instead, Didinger expects Philadelphia to go with a defensive tackle at No. 15.
"Dontari Poe won't be there," Didinger said. "Devon Still would fit what Andy is looking for."
An interesting team to keep an eye on in the first round of the 2012 NFL Draft is the Carolina Panthers. After enjoying a rebound season led by star rookie quarterback Cam Newton, the Panthers appear to be on the up as they go into year two under head coach Ron Rivera. In 2011, Carolina produced big point totals on a weekly basis, but struggled to stop anyone on the defensive side of the ball. As a result, they lost a lot of high scoring shootouts.
With the defense being a clear weakness, many have penciled in the Panthers to focus on the defensive side of the football with their first-round pick. That is definitely possible as they could use help at cornerback and defensive tackle. Even though Carolina has a huge need to upgrade the talent of their defense, they also could pursue an offensive tackle.
Left tackle Jordan Gross turns 32 this year, and Carolina has to start thinking of his long-term replacement. Jeff Otah has had a two-year knee injury and his long-term future is in question. The Panthers are optimistic that they won't be picking in the top half of the draft over the next few years, and they know that landing a franchise left tackle is very difficult to do in the later half of the first round. As a result, Carolina will consider Iowa tackle Riley Reiff and Stanford tackle Jonathan Martin.
Reiff is the more polished pass protector, while Martin is a much better run blocker. Right now, many believe that Reiff won't make to the Panthers pick at No. 8 or 9, but a lot can change in leading up the draft. Martin could start his career on the right side for Carolina and move over to left tackle after Gross calls it a career. If Carolina opts to pass on Martin or Reiff, they'll have a hole at tackle for years to come. Therefore, even though they badly need defensive help, this may be the time for them to add an offensive tackle who can protect Cam Newton through the prime years of his career.
The Cowboys have had an obvious need at the cornerback position since the beginning of the 2011 season. It would not be surprising to see them make a run at some free agent corners and/or potentially use their first-round draft pick on the position. Aside from corner, the Cowboys need help at safety and on the interior of their offensive line, but interestingly, sources have told WalterFootball.com that the Cowboys are putting immense effort into scouting the linebacker position.
Dallas has two impending free agents in Bradie James and Anthony Spencer. Some reports have stated that Spencer could be slapped with the franchise tag despite being inconsistent since entering the league out of Purdue. The former first-rounder would carry an expensive price tag of $8.8 million for the 2012 season, and that doesn't equate to his production of six sacks last season. Dallas may look to the second day of the draft to add an edge rushing linebacker. Some candidates include Marshall's Vinny Curry, Oklahoma's Ronnell Lewis and Troy's Jonathan Massaquoi. The Cowboys could keep Spencer around for another season and develop a draft pick to replace him.
Behind James, the Cowboys have 2011 second-round pick Bruce Carter. Aside from Carter and Sean Lee, Dallas could use more depth at inside linebacker. Sources have said they are showing a lot of interest in mid-round inside linebacker prospects. Some players who might be fits include North Carolina State's Audie Cole, TCU's Tank Carder and Nevada's James-Michael Johnson.
While most predictions have Dallas going hard at the secondary and offensive line with their early picks in the 2012 NFL Draft, free agency could change that, and a position that Dallas could turn their attention to is linebacker. That would become especially apparent if they decide to let both Spencer and James sign with other teams.
Ever since Andrew Luck passed on entering the 2011 NFL Draft, it has been the forgone conclusion that he would be the No. 1 overall pick in the 2012 NFL Draft. That is still the most likely outcome on April 26.
However, sources in the coaching community believe that Griffin has some real momentum and that he could push Luck to be the first pick in the draft. Coaches still believe that Luck will be No. 1, but it won't be the automatic selection that many have made it out to be. Sources believe the Colts are going to do their due diligence in considering Griffin before going with Luck. That is significant because in the past, teams have changed their minds when going through that process.
The NFL is a copycat league, and with coaches citing the success of Cam Newton and Tim Tebow, they are thinking that players that hail from college spread offenses are still able to make quick transitions to the NFL. The college offenses are also not viewed as a reason to downgrade a player as heavily as they used to be. All of that helps Griffin's stock, and many other quarterbacks that come from collegiate systems that yield big numbers with a premium on running quarterbacks.
As with any top prospects at the same position, some coaches will like Griffin more than Luck. That was the case in 2010 when there were coaches that preferred Oklahoma defensive tackle Gerald McCoy over Nebraska defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh. One reason why some have an inclination toward Griffin is the arm strength that the Baylor product has. Luck has a quality arm, but does not have the power of Griffin. Both quarterbacks have excellent mobility while Griffin, the former track athlete, is faster. Luck is bigger and is more advanced mentally for the NFL. Both are said to be good character individuals who are positive team leaders.
While Luck is still the favorite to be the first selection, don't be surprised if you hear and read many reports leading up to draft day saying that Griffin could get chosen over him.
Mike Williams to Fizzle Out?; Josh Freeman Inaccurately Criticized
In the midst of a disastrous 4-12 season, there was plenty of chatter about the lack of work ethic for various members of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Former Buc defensive tackle Warren Sapp was critical of the short work days of general manager Mark Dominik. Others said the coaching staff wasn't working hard enough, and plenty of blame went to the players. Since the end of the season, there were some reports from national media members that Tampa Bay Buccaneer quarterback Josh Freeman was one of those players lacking a good work ethic.
After speaking with former coaches from the Bucs, they completely dispute the notion that Freeman wasn't working hard. They felt that Freeman had things to improve, but they were adamant that the effort was there from him. In the first couple of months after Freeman was drafted in 2009, teammates told me he had to pick up the pace, but he did that early in his rookie season. In his young career, Freeman has been attacking his job and putting in the necessary time required by starting quarterbacks. Former Buc coaches said that during the 2011 season, even after Tampa Bay fell out of playoff contention during a 10-game losing streak, Freeman was still working hard and putting in long hours.
Two players who allegedly deserve some criticism for not working hard enough are running back LeGarrette Blount and wide receiver Mike Williams. Sources said both players were not spending the right amount of time preparing their bodies for Sunday. Neither one was hitting the weight room or training room as they should. Former coaches said both players needed to spend regular time in the cold tub and build their bodies in the weight room to play better on Sundays.
Former team staff said Williams in particular was a mess. In the beginning of the season, Williams was struggling to get separation from defensive backs. He thought he was too heavy, so he started losing weight, and by the end of the season, sources said that Williams was too frail and didn't have the strength to fight off jams and re-routes. Williams also was said to be partying a lot at night, and as a result, he was falling asleep during meetings.
One coach said that if Williams doesn't wake up and turn things around, he will have another down year. After that, the Bucs would likely look to replace him, and he could end up hooking on with another team or two before fizzling out of the league. They said they wouldn't be surprised if Williams career fades and he never pans out. If that happens, Williams will indeed become the second coming of Michael Clayton. It is imperative for new head coach Greg Schiano and the new coaching staff to get through to Williams on working harder. Perhaps the disappointing 2011 season will be motivator with Williams halfway through his rookie contract.
Schiano stated he is going to change the culture and create a "Buccaneer Way" of working hard. Schiano inherits some high-effort players in Freeman, defensive tackle Gerald McCoy and guard Davin Joseph. Getting Williams and Blount to fall in line will be vital for Tampa Bay in 2012.
Former Buc coaches bemoaned the lack of talent on the roster, and how much the team is made up of players that have been cut by other teams and dependent on playing late-round picks. They said the last five drafts from the team can only be described as terrible.
Getting the team to overachieve like they did in 2010 is possible for Schiano, and at least he has a quarterback who will do everything he can to make it happen.
Mike Mayock Shares Thoughts on Michael Floyd, Harrison Smith
Entering the 2011 season, Notre Dame safety Harrison Smith was seen by many to be a second- or third-round draft pick. That was based on Smith's banner 2010 campaign in which he recorded 91 tackles with seven interceptions and seven passes broken up.
In 2011, Smith did not record a single interception with 90 tackles and 10 passes broken up. After his decreased turnover production, some have knocked Smith down. After speaking with scouts at the East-West Shrine practices, WalterFootball.com has heard both sides of the argument. To help get some clarity we caught up with NFL Network's Mike Mayock to get his analysis. Mayock attends some of the Irish practices and is very familiar with their players.
"I think he is one of the best safeties in the country and I thought he had a great year this year," said Mayock. "He didn't have seven interceptions like he did the year before, but keep in mind I think three of them came against [Miami]. This year he made a bunch of plays on the ball, he tackled extremely well. He is the leader of the secondary. He is one of the smartest kids I think I've met as far as understanding the game of football and I think he'll be surprisingly athletic when they test him at the combine, so I'd be really surprised if he didn't go in the first two rounds."
Mayock also shared his thoughts on Notre Dame wide receiver Michael Floyd. The projected first-rounder had a productive 2011 season with 100 receptions for 1,147 yards and nine touchdowns. That came after he caught 79 passes for 1,025 yards and 12 scores in 2010. Floyd has had some off-the-field problems, and it isn't clear how much NFL teams will hold that against them. Mayock believes that Floyd projects as No. 1 receiver at the next level.
"I think Michael Floyd has done a great job kind of rehabbing his image. He lived on campus this year. I think he sublimated his ego a bit and became a better football player," said Mayock. "I watch an awful lot of Notre Dame practices starting back in August, and I didn't see him drop a pass in a practice or game until the Maryland game late in the year, so his concentration was phenomenal. He has strong hands. He is a big strong kid. I thought he lost a couple of pounds and that made him quicker. He is a legit first-round pick and No. 1 wide out in the NFL."
It is not earth-shattering news to say that the Chicago Bears need wide receiver help. Chicago hasn't had a 1,000-yard wideout since Marty Booker in 2002 under wide receivers coach Todd Haley.
Roy Williams was a free agent bust. He tied Johnny Knox with 27 receptions on the season, the most of any Bear wideout. Williams is a free agent, and it would be a shock if Chicago re-signed him. Earl Bennett is a solid depth receiver, and Devin Hester is a spot player, but the team really needs two new starters. There are rumors going around that Chicago is going to make some bold moves to address the receiver position this offseason.
Under new offensive coordinator Mike Tice, Chicago is expected to have a run-based offense, but they know they need some receivers to work with quarterback Jay Cutler. The Bears are in Cutler's prime years as an NFL quarterback, and they have to get him some receivers that can take advantage of a quality signal-caller.
Chicago is discussed as a team that could make a big run at a free agent receiver. Right now there could be a few good options to pick from: New Orleans' Marques Colston, Kansas City's Dwayne Bowe, San Diego's Vincent Jackson and Buffalo's Steve Johnson could all hit the open market.
One of the rumors that Chicago is being linked to is a big trade in the first round of the 2012 NFL Draft to land Oklahoma State wide receiver Justin Blackmon. The fast and physical playmaker looks like a young Terrell Owens and a future game-changer. In order for the Bears to get high enough to land Blackmon, they might have to trade away their 2013 first-rounder in a deal similar to what Atlanta did to acquire Julio Jones in the 2011 NFL Draft. The Bears have some extra ammo for a trade as they have two third-round picks because of the Greg Olsen deal.
Another audacious move that is being linked to the Bears concerns their top rival. Green Bay Packers tight end Jermichael Finley could be available on the open market. Some believe that he will be given the franchise tag, and he has previously stated that he is OK with it. But if Finley hits the open market, Chicago is team that some are talking about making a big push to sign him. Former offensive coordinator Mike Martz had no use for a receiving tight end, but Tice is said to believe the opposite. In signing Finley, the Bears would bolster their passing attack and weaken the Packers.
Chicago's coaching staff could be under the gun in 2012, as they will have a new general manager who did not hire them. The Bears' championship window with defensive stars Brian Urlacher, Lance Briggs and Julius Peppers is closing. Some major acquisitions to upgrade the offense to make another run at a Super Bowl are necessary for Chicago. Considering that, the rumors of bold moves shouldn't be too surprising.
Why Not Consider Monte Kiffin For Bucs Head Coach?
It is clear that Tampa Bay's owners, the Glazers, and general manager Mark Dominik are focused on old and experienced coaches for the next head coach of the Buccaneers. They have interviewed the likes of Mike Sherman, Wade Phillips, Marty Schottenheimer and Brad Childress. Since the Bucs seem to be looking for a coach in their final years before retirement, why not consider a proven winner in Tampa Bay's past with former defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin?
Kiffin was extremely successful as the defensive coordinator of the Buccaneers from 1996-2008. The Bucs had seven playoff appearances during Kiffin's tenure including their Super Bowl Championship in 2002. All of those playoff teams were led by the Bucs' defense. Kiffin is 71, so his age fits the experience prerequisite the team is looking for. Plus, Kiffin has always been an excitable high-energy guy who obviously has had a relentless fire to coach and compete.
According to media reports, the Bucs' total attendance fell short of the Tampa Bay Rays' total for the 2011 season. Tampa Bay was one of the few markets that had the baseball team outdraw the pro football team, so the Buccaneers have to do something to generate some fan interest. Kiffin is a known commodity and would invigorate the casual fan base that currently is down on the team. He is beloved in the Tampa Bay area and known by the fair-weather fans. While he bumped heads on occasion with the local media, generally Kiffin had a good relationship with the Bucs' reporters.
Dominik has drafted a defensive line for Kiffin's Tampa-2 defense, so he would immediately have a front four that can execute his scheme. Since Kiffin left, Tampa Bay has had the worst run defense in the NFL in two of the past three seasons. Kiffin never allowed offenses to run the ball that effectively even when he deployed an undersized front.
The roster has been turned over by Dominik since Kiffin left, but Kiffin has some knowledge of the current Buccaneers. He has consistently visited One Buc Place and used offices there since he left the team after the 2008 season. Tampa Bay has reduced the size of the organization in that time so there have been empty offices available for Kiffin to use.
Sources have said that deep down, Kiffin never really wanted to leave the Bucs or the NFL, but did so to try and help his son, Lane Kiffin, get his coaching career straightened out. Sources said that Monte Kiffin was livid about Lane taking the USC job because Monte wanted to remain in the Southeast. After a quality 2011 season at USC, Lane Kiffin appears to be on solid ground, so Monte Kiffin could move on and let former Bucs linebackers coach Joe Barry take over the defensive coordinator duties for the Trojans.
Kiffin still owns a home in the bay area. Sources said he lent his beach residence to many Bucs staffers for weekends while he was in California or Tennessee over the past three years.
You can make a strong argument that Kiffin is more accomplished than any of the Bucs candidates they've interviewed, and none of them would fire up the casual fans the way Kiffin would.
In the coming days, Wisconsin Badgers running back Montee Ball will make it known if he is going to bypass his senior season and declare for the 2012 NFL Draft. Ball submitted paperwork to the NFL advisory committee after being a Heisman Trophy finalist. Hefinished his season well in the Rose Bowl against Oregon. Many feel that Ball is a second-day pick if he enters the draft.
The obvious first concern with Ball returning to school is the injury risk. Especially as a running back who gets a large amount of carries, it is very possible that Ball could sustain an injury that will impact his 2012 season. A serious injury like a torn knee ligament could sink Ball's draft stock and send him to the later rounds.
Even if Ball stays healthy, he will be subjecting himself to more wear-and-tear. In the new CBA, players don't get big pay days until their second NFL contract. If Ball returns to Wisconsin, that pushes back another year until he could financially reap the benefits of being a bell-cow back. In the NFL, running backs have a short shelf life, and enduring another season of hits at the college level could be one less year for Ball in the NFL.
It is going to be extremely difficult for Ball to come close to duplicating his production next season. For starters, he is losing a lot of key elements of his supporting cast. There were three seniors that played an integral roles in helping Ball to produce his staggering numbers. Guard Kevin Zeitler was Ball's best blocker, and Zeitler looks like a second-round pick. Quarterback Russell Wilson and wide receiver Nick Toon won't be back either. There were many touchdown runs from Ball that came on drives that were extended by Wilson. With his arm or legs, Wilson maintained possession for the Badgers and Ball would finish the possession by plunging into the end zone. Junior center Peter Konz could also declare for the draft, and that would be another excellent blocker that Ball would lose. Losing those teammates will definitely hurt Ball's ability to produce in 2012. A dip in production won't help his stock heading into the 2013 NFL Draft.
Overall there are a lot risks that Ball is taking in returning to school. One college coach told players considering if they should make the jump to the NFL, "You can either help your family, or you can help mine." Ball probably wouldn't improve his stock by returning to Wisconsin, so the time is right for him to go to the NFL.
Ball ran for 1,923 yards with an average of 6.3 yards per carry with 33 touchdowns in 2011. He also caught 24 passes for 306 yards and six scores. Ball has displayed the ability to run with excellent vision, balance and pad level. The 5-foot-11, 210-pounder has a mix of power, speed and toughness. He comes from a college system that correlates well to an NFL West Coast offense.
Tyron Smith Shares Insight on Kalil, Barkley and Perry
WalterFootball.com caught up with Dallas Cowboys offensive tackle Tyron Smith to get his insight into some of his former USC teammates.
Offensive tackle Matt Kalil and defensive end Nick Perry are potential high draft picks next April after deciding to bypass their senior seasons. Kalil is a projected top-five pick with Perry looking like a first-rounder. Smith played on the other side of the line from Kalil in 2010, and had lots of battles with Perry in practice. Looking ahead to the 2013 NFL Draft, Smith also shared some thoughts on quarterback Matt Barkley.
"Me and Kalil are real good friends. We've known each other since high school. He's a real good guy and he's grown up a lot since high school," Smith said. "[Matt] Barkley is a good leader and he'll take control of the game. It doesn't surprise me that he improved again because he's improved every year."
The common knock on Kalil entering the league is his run blocking, and his lacking ability to blow defenders off the ball. Smith didn't buy into the criticism and cited something else for the biggest adjustment that Kalil will need to make for blocking NFL linemen.
"He'll need to adjust to knowing what has to get done," said Smith. "It is a big technique game. He is going to need to know his opponent and know what you are doing on the field."
In practice, Smith went against Perry and got to see what kind of talent he has entering the NFL. After battling NFL pass rushers during his rookie season, Smith sees Perry as having the potential to be a special player at the next level. Smith raved about Perry on and off the field.
"Nick Perry is a very talented guy. With his speed and power and quickness, he is going to be a great player in this league," Smith said. "Yeah going against him was tough, because he can do everything. He also is a really good guy. We hung out a lot and became good friends."
Of course Smith wouldn't trash former teammates, but he has a good perspective having played some elite NFL pass-rushers in his division like Washington's Brian Orakpo, Philadelphia's Jason Babin and New York's Jason Pierre-Paul. Coming from an NFL coaching staff at USC should have Kalil and Perry ready to make a quick transition to the NFL.
There are many high-profile names who are run through the coaching rumormill on a daily basis. Just as important, but more under the radar, are the general manager candidates who are available. After speaking with league sources, here is a short list of potential GMs for teams that are looking for a change in the leadership of their front office. All of these executives are said to have a good eye for talent and are ready for a GM position.
Baltimore's director of player personnel has been part of the Raven organization for 15 years. He has steadily risen up the ranks and learned under general manager Ozzie Newsome. DeCosta started as a college scout before becoming the director of college scouting. After having success with the NFL Draft, he was put in position to oversee both college and pro scouting. DeCosta was also part of the interviewing committee that hired head coach John Harbaugh in 2008. DeCosta is ready to run his own team.
Green Bay's director of college scouting, Dorsey played for the Packers in the 1980s before being a college scout in the 1990s. Dorsey is in his third season as the director of college scouting. He has learned from general manager Ted Thompson, and the organization has had a string of good drafts over the past six years. Even though Dorsey is not the director of player personnel, he is actively involved in pro scouting as well.
Gamble has helped build the 49ers as they've enjoyed a breakout season. Gamble was made San Francisco's director of player personnel 10 months ago. He was the director of pro personnel for seven years before the promotion. Free agents like Justin Smith and Takeo Spikes were signed under Gamble's tenure as the head of pro scouting. Gamble is in his 24th NFL season and seventh with the 49ers. He was a college scout with the Colts from 1998 to 2004, and has experience in contract negotiations and in the coaching ranks. Gamble has also worked with the Jets, Panthers, Ravens and Eagles.
NFL sources said that Williams is very sharp. He is in his second season with the Rams after being in San Francisco for nine years. Williams is the Rams' vice president of player personnel. He started out there as the director of pro personnel in 2009 before being put as Billy Devaney's point person over pro and college scouting.
Snead is in his third season as the director of player personnel for the Atlanta Falcons. Snead played in the NFL after being an All-American tight end for Auburn in 1992-93. He started out as a pro scout for the Jaguars before going to Atlanta. He oversees both the NFL Draft and free agency for Atlanta.
Keim has steadily risen in the Cardinals organization over the past decade. Keim started as a regional college scout before taking over as the director of college scouting in 2006. Keim helped put together Arizona's Super Bowl team, and in 2008, he was made the director of pro personnel. Keim is the right-hand man of general manager Rod Graves.
North Carolina outside linebacker Zach Brown is going to face some scrutiny for his mental and behavioral makeup during the draft process, per sources in the scouting community. Brown is an elite athlete that had an excellent senior season on the field. However, his off-the-field personality is going to get a tough examination as he has earned the reputation for being immature.
Brown was suspended from playing anything but special teams in North Carolina's game against Georgia Tech this season. Brown had violated team rules, and he was greatly missed against the Yellow Jackets' option ground game.
WalterFootball.com caught up with former teammate and current Cowboy linebacker Bruce Carter to get some insight into Brown. Carter didn't pull any punches and hinted that Brown needs to have the proper focus.
"I tried to help speak to him to help him be a lot more mature," said Carter. "He and Kevin [Riddick] had pretty big roles as underclassmen, so I tried to speed them up and get them more mature and on the right path."
Carter made it clear that he didn't think that Brown was a bad guy, but reading between the lines, it sounds like Brown needs to get more focused and become more professional for the NFL.
"He's a good guy. As long as he keeps his head straight he'll be a good player," said Carter. "He's a terrific athlete. He just has to keep his head straight."
Carter did believe that Brown could play quickly in the NFL.
"The hardest part is just learning different systems and stuff like that, but as far as a skill set, I know he can do it," said Carter.
Whoever drafts Brown has to be confident that he is mature enough to handle a big-money NFL contract. It is definitely clear the Brown has the talent to be a special player, but as Carter said, Brown needs to have his head straight. Maturity concerns could put into question Brown's status as a first-round pick with some teams in the 2012 NFL Draft.
Brown totaled 91 tackles with 11.5 tackles for a loss, 5.5 sacks, three forced fumbles, four passes broken up and two interceptions this season.
Ronnell Lewis About to Declare
Last September in our NFL Draft Rumor Mill, we reported that Oklahoma defensive end/outside linebacker Ronnell Lewis would be skipping his senior season and entering the 2012 NFL Draft. Sources have told WalterFootball.com that Lewis is expected to hire an agent shortly and finalize the process of entering the 2012 NFL Draft.
Lewis missed the final two games of the season with a minor injury and will not play in the Bowl game against Iowa because of academic eligibility issues. One option available for Lewis was to transfer to a smaller program and play in 2012 before going pro. That is the route that former Florida Gators cornerback Janoris Jenkins took when he transferred to North Alabama for the 2011 season. If Jenkins' off-the-field problems had occurred earlier, he probably would have entered the draft, but his options were the supplemental draft or North Alabama. Lewis will enter the 2012 NFL Draft, and that is a wise move for him.
Lewis needed a good junior season to help his draft stock, and he had one. Throughout the season, Lewis was an active, physical football player who performed well for Oklahoma on a weekly basis. At the beginning of the season, the coaching staff asked Lewis to switch to defensive end from outside linebacker, and Lewis agreed to the move since that was the best option for the Sooners defense.
While Lewis hadn't played end in the past, he took to the position quickly and had a quality season. For a significant portion of the season, Lewis was the team's leading tackler despite playing on the edge. In 10 games this season, Lewis totaled 59 tackles with 13 tackles for a loss, 5.5 sacks, one forced fumble and five passes broken up. Lewis gave NFL scouts a very good tape going against Texas A&M and their quality offensive tackles Luke Joeckel and Jake Matthews. Lewis had eight tackles with two tackles for a loss, an interception and a pass batted. He also got pressure on quarterback Ryan Tannehill in the game.
Lewis' physical skill set is truly special. He is extremely fast and built like a truck. He is a violent football player who is a force in the trenches. Earlier this year, Lewis was listed at 6-foot-2, 244-pounds, but he looks like he has put on a lot of bulk to play defensive end. Lewis could easily be in the 250s. The impressive Lewis has the raw strength to hold up against offensive tackles who outweigh him by big margins.
In the NFL, Lewis best fit would be in a 3-4 defense. He could move between inside and outside linebacker, depending on the situation. He would be a tough run defender on the inside while also being a dangerous edge rusher on the outside. There are a number of 3-4 defenses picking in the back half of the first round, and Lewis would be a nice addition for teams like New England, Pittsburgh, Baltimore and Green Bay.
The academic issues shouldn't impact Lewis in the NFL. He is a small-town product who will thrive when he can focus on just football without having to manage an academic work load.
The decision by USC quarterback Matt Barkley to return to school for his senior year has a real impact on the next two NFL Drafts. Barkley would have been a top-10 pick this year and now becomes the favorite to be the first-overall pick in the 2013 NFL Draft. However, Barkley is assuming a risk by returning to school.
Barkley's stock could take hit next college football season. He could get injured, or he may not play as well. It will be difficult for him to duplicate his production from this season. Barkley completed 69 percent of his passes for 3,528 yards with 39 touchdowns and seven interceptions. He will retain his top wide receivers, but he will lose left tackle Matt Kalil who decided to skip his senior season. Kalil said they would be a package deal, but Barkley blew that away by going the alternate route from his teammate.
If things don't go well, Barkley could move down in the draft in a similar way to former Trojan Matt Leinart. If Barkley stays healthy, it would have to be a massive meltdown performance for him not to be a first-rounder in 2013. If he has a down year, he could move down slightly like Leinart.
Two quarterbacks in particular will benefit from Barkley returning. They are Oklahoma's Landry Jones and Texas A&M's Ryan Tannehill. Baylor quarterback Robert Griffin III would be a top-10 pick regardless of if Barkley was in the draft, so at most, Griffin would only go a selection or two sooner, if at all. Jones played poorly late in the season, but he now should be the third rated signal-caller in the draft if he and Griffin declare.
Tannehill is raw and needs time to develop after starting his career at wide receiver. He had too many interceptions this season and needs to improve his decision-making. With Barkley out of the 2012 NFL Draft, that leaves one more quarterback-needy team looking for a signal-caller. Tannehill could be this draft's Christian Ponder and move up into the middle of the first round.
In a surprising move, USC junior safety T.J. McDonald has decided to return for his senior collegiate season. McDonald was in the running to be the first safety selected if he declared for the 2012 NFL Draft. Two teammates, defensive end Nick Perry and offensive tackle Matt Kalil, have declared for the draft already.
Former USC defensive end Kyle Moore told me that he advised safety Taylor Mays to enter the draft in 2009 because the team was losing a lot talent around him. Moore said that as a result, Mays wouldn't look as good the next season and his draft stock would be damaged. Moore was exactly right, as Mays went from a projected first-round pick to the middle of the second round in 2010.
The same scenario could play out for McDonald. The 2013 NFL Draft also could feature a deep crop of safeties, and some of them could move ahead of McDonald in the first round. That group could include Georgia's Bacarri Rambo, Florida's Matt Elam and Oklahoma's Tony Jefferson. McDonald is now accepting the pressure to have a big senior season.
With McDonald not in the 2012 NFL Draft, the top safety prospect would be Alabama's Mark Barron. He could go late in the first round next April.
Following running back Lamar Miller, wide receiver Tommy Streeter and defensive end Marcus Forston, the Miami Hurricanes had two more underclassmen declare for the 2012 NFL Draft. Offensive tackle/guard Brandon Washington and defensive end Olivier Vernon decided to skip their senior seasons for the NFL. Both players could have improved their stock if they returned for their senior campaign.
The 6-foot-4, 320-pound Washington had a strong sophomore season at guard before being moved to left tackle this year. Washington had some struggles in pass protection on the edge and was called out by head coach Al Golden for needing to protect better. Washington fired back at his coach in the media, citing his positional change, but Washington remained in the lineup after Golden threatened a move to the bench. Washington's strength is run blocking, and he should move back inside in the NFL. At best Washington, would be a second-day pick.
Vernon could be headed for the third day of the draft. Vernon (6-4, 265) was suspended for the first six games of the season for his role in the latest scandal that engulfed the Hurricanes program. In six games last year, he had 18 tackles with 1.5 sacks and 3.5 tackles for a loss. In 2010, Vernon totaled six sacks with 10.5 tackles for a loss and 39 tackles. He is a good athlete, but never dominated the competition. If he had returned for his senior season and had a good year, Vernon could have had a better shot at the second day.
ESPN's Chris Mortensen reported on twitter that USC offensive tackle Matt Kalil would be entering the 2012 NFL Draft, and later on, Kalil confirmed Mortensen's report. A day earlier, Sports Illustrated's Tony Pauline tweeted that defensive end Nick Perry signed with an agent. With Kalil and Perry skipping their senior seasons, that could signal that quarterback Matt Barkley and safety T.J. McDonald are also going to enter the draft.
Previously, Barkley and Kalil have said that they are a package deal. With his left tackle going pro, it seems like an extreme long shot that Barkley would return to USC. Both Barkley and Kalil are strong candidates to be top-five picks.
Perry looks like he could be a late first-round or early second-round pick. Perry finished the season strong and totaled 9.5 sacks in 2011. In this writer's opinion, Perry should have returned for his senior season. It is very feasible that he would come close to matching, if not improving on his sack production in 2012. That could have made Perry one of the top defensive linemen in the draft class and a top 16 pick in the 2013 NFL Draft.
McDonald's tackle production fell from 89 in 2010 to 67 this season, but he had a quality year. He would be a prime candidate to be the first safety selected next April. Like Perry, McDonald looks like a late first-round or early second-round pick.
Signs point towards Oregon junior running back LaMichael James entering the 2012 NFL Draft. A story from Oregon Live said that James was probably going to skip his senior season and declare early. James called the story a lie on his Facebook page, and the school said he is still making his decision. It seems that the story came out ahead of when James wanted to announce the news, but James did not proclaim that he was returning to Oregon next year.
James has been one of college football's most productive backs over the past two seasons. He also has had to deal with the injuries from the heavy dose of hits he has taken, and with nothing left to prove at the collegiate level, James should enter the draft.
Entering his bowl game, James ran for 1,646 yards and 17 touchdowns this season. He also caught 17 passes for 210 yards and a score. James averaged 7.4 yards per carry but did miss two games because of a dislocated elbow. Last year James led the NCAA with 1,731 yards rushing (5.9 average) with 21 touchdowns. He carried Oregon's offense to an appearance in the BCS Title tilt against Auburn.
Along with the durability concerns, James didn't produce well when he went against the two elite defenses from the SEC in Auburn last season and LSU this year. That brings into question how well James' speed translates to the NFL. Still, if James returns for his senior year he is just taking another injury risk, and after two ultra-productive seasons, James probably can't raise his stock any higher. James (5-9, 185) looks like a second-day pick due to his size and durability concerns.
A while back WalterFootball.com heard rumors from media members and other league sources that former Tampa Bay Buccaneers head coach Jon Gruden would be a leading candidate to be the new head coach of the Miami Dolphins. Tony Sparano has been fired and the Dolphins can now start talking to candidates about the opening. Gruden is finishing his third season as an analyst for Monday Night Football, and many believe that he is ready to get back into coaching.
Gruden to the Dolphins makes a lot of sense for a variety of reasons. Miami owner Stephen Ross likes superstar players and coaches, so Gruden definitely fits that criteria. Ross said that he wants a young Don Shula type, and there are some similarities between Gruden and Shula. Both had a lot of success with previous teams, Shula with Baltimore, and Gruden in Tampa Bay and Oakland. Gruden, 48, still has a lot of coaching years left in him with an unmatched passion, similar to Shula when he went to Miami. Ross also is willing to spend money, and Gruden would not want to go to a team with limited resources.
Dolphins general manager Jeff Ireland said they wanted someone who had been in the trenches before, and Gruden has 12 years of head coaching experience. Ireland is said to be staying in Miami, and Gruden has never wanted to be the coach and GM. Having Ireland stay in his role should work for Gruden.
Miami believes it has the talent to compete, and there are a lot of players who will appeal to Gruden for his offense. Left tackle Jake Long and center Mike Pouncey give him two good young offensive linemen up front. Gruden loves the style of running back Reggie Bush, and will also utilize Daniel Thomas. He also has a big, quick receiver in Brandon Marshall to be his X (split end) receiver; his offense is based around the quarterback and the X receiver.
After spending part of his youth in Florida and coaching in Tampa Bay, Gruden understands the rigors of playing in the heat and how to prepare a team for the grind of the season. Gruden also would probably be happy to retain young rising defensive assistant Todd Bowles as his defensive coordinator. It would not be at all surprising if Gruden is coaching in Miami next season.
In a somewhat surprising move, Notre Dame middle linebacker Manti Te'o announced that he will be returning for his senior collegiate season at Notre Dame. Many, including WalterFootball.com, projected Te'o to be a mid first-round pick next April if entered the 2012 NFL Draft. Te'o has until Jan. 15 to change his mind, but considering the university and his father confirmed that he is returning to school, it sounds like Te'o already went through the thought process and made his decision.
Te'o was the leader on the Irish's defense this past season. He recorded 115 tackles with 13 tackles for a loss and 4.5 sacks. In 2010, Te'o had 133 tackles with 9.5 tackles for a loss, one sack and a forced fumble. If Te'o stays consistent with his production as a senior he should remain a first-rounder in 2013.
With Te'o returning to school, the other linebackers that are first-round prospects should benefit. If Boston College junior Luke Kuechly enters the draft, teams that want a linebacker may have to trade up for him. Two other linebackers who could benefit from Te'o returning are Arizona State's Vontaze Burfict and Alabama's Dont'a Hightower.
If Kuechly, Burfict and Hightower all return to school with Te'o, the 2013 linebacker class will be special, and it would leave the 2012 class void of any first-round middle linebacker prospects.
Arizona State junior linebacker Vontaze Burfict should give strong consideration to returning for his senior season. Burfict has a great skill set with the physical talent to be a special player in the NFL. After bursting onto the scene in 2009 and 2010, Burfict's play regressed as a junior and his draft stock has slid significantly.
The 6-foot-3, 255-pound Burfict entered the season as the top linebacker draft prospect in the nation, but the big decrease in his production has him potentially rated behind other linebacker prospects like Boston College's Luke Kuechly. The instinctive Kuechly had almost three times the number of tackles that Burfict had in 2011. Kuechly totaled 191 tackles on the season, while Burfict had only 68 stops. In 2010, Burfict recorded 90 tackles and was a real presence in the middle of the Sun Devils' defense.
Aside from Kuechly, there are other draft eligible linebacker who could appeal to teams ahead of Burfict. They include Notre Dame's Manti Te'o, North Carolina's Zach Brown and Alabama's Dont'a Hightower. All of them produced larger tackle totals than Burfict.
On a weekly basis, Burfict's tackle production left something to be desired as he did not record a single game with 10 or more tackles. He had a season high of nine tackles twice. His best game came against USC when he had five tackles with an interception returned 36 yards. It was the only turnover caused by Burfict all year. In the season finale against Cal, Burfict was benched for the final 24 minutes of the game after two personal foul penalties. The penalty problem has plagued Burfict throughout his time at Arizona State.
Burfict could still be a first-round pick if he declares for the 2012 NFL Draft, but he may go late in the first round based on his physical skill set and previous seasons. It may be in Burfict's best interest to return for his senior season. If he comes back and has a big year, he could get consideration as a top-10 pick in 2013.
With the change in coaching staffs at Arizona State, the program will need leaders to step up in the locker room and help keep the team unified. Burfict has the opportunity to be a leader and help rally the team to come together under the new coaches. That could pay dividends for Burfict when teams are looking into his background leading up to the 2013 NFL Draft. Coming off a bad year, Burfict should contemplate waiting on the NFL.
Wisconsin running back and Heisman Trophy finalist Montee Ball recently shared his thinking on his draft decision. Like many juniors, Ball is contemplating entering the 2012 NFL Draft or returning for his senior collegiate season. In speaking to the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel's Jeff Potrykus, Ball said that he would enter the draft if he received a a first- or second-round estimate from the NFL Draft Advisory Board.
"Obviously I'd love to hear first round," Ball said. "I'd love to hear even late second. But third or four, I'd most likely stay."
Depending on where you look, Ball is being projected as a second- or third-round pick. This season, Ball dominated the Big 10 with 1,759 yards rushing and 32 touchdowns. He also caught 20 passes for 255 yards and six touchdowns. Ball runs with excellent vision, balance and pad level. The 5-foot-11, 210-pounder has his speed questioned by some, but this season he showed the burst to hit the hole quickly and rip off yards in chunks. Ball also picks up yards after contact.
One thing going for Ball is the translation of his offense to the NFL. Sources on NFL coaching staffs have told WalterFootball.com that the Badgers' offense is good preparation for the pros. The Wisconsin blocking schemes, running plays and pass routes all transition well to an NFL West Coast offense. Not only did Ball show the ability to be a strong runner and good receiver; he also was a quality blitz protector. That won't be lost on NFL coaches, and is an attribute that not all of the top running backs possess. If Ball decides to come out, or stay in school, fans will have a good approximation for where the advisory board rates him.
I received several e-mails, Facebook messages and tweets (@walterfootball) from people today who wanted to give me the heads up about USC left tackle Matt Kalil returning back to school for his senior season. Since Kalil and his quarterback, Matt Barkley, previously stated that they would be making their decision together, this meant that two of the top five picks in today's 2012 NFL Mock Draft would have to be changed.
This pissed me off, as you may imagine, but I wanted to make sure the rumors were legit. They're not.
To those who are eager to break stories to draw traffic to their Web site, please leave the news reporting to Adam Schefter, Jason La Canfora, Jay Glazer, etc. Trust me, it's more fun to be a fat guy who analyzes football than a nobody who gets 15 minutes of fame by conjuring up false news.
Two Miami Hurricanes have taken a gamble in declaring for the 2012 NFL Draft. Defensive tackle Marcus Forston and wide receiver Tommy Streeter decided to skip their senior seasons with Miami. Both have reportedly hired Drew Rosenhaus, and after doing that, the NCAA won't allow them to change their mind and come back to school.
Of the two, Forston is the bigger surprise. This season, Forston totaled five tackles with a sack and a forced fumble in three games. He was suspended for the first game of the season and missed the final eight contests because of a knee injury. Before being injured, Forston was dominated by Ohio State and center Mike Brewster. He played better against Kansas State before going down with his injury.
Last year as a sophomore, Forston recorded 37 tackles with 12 tackles for a loss, three sacks and one interception. He missed almost all of the 2009 season because of an injury. As a freshman in 2008, Forston had 18 tackles with 4.5 tackles for a loss and three sacks. He entered Miami as a highly touted recruit.
Perhaps Forston was afraid of getting injured again in 2012 and didn't want to take the injury risk of coming back to school. Right now he looks like a mid-round pick. The 6-foot-3, 300-pound Forston would fit best in a 4-3 defense that has roots in a Cover-2 system. Forston is a quick, gap-shooting defensive tackle who could play the three technique in the NFL. If he had returned to Miami and had a strong senior season his draft stock would undoubtably be better than it is currently coming off a season-ending knee injury he suffered in practice.
Streeter enjoyed a breakout year in 2011. Entering this season, he had six receptions for 156 yards in 2009 and 2010 combined. With Leonard Hankerson leaving for the NFL, Streeter took his place and led Miami in receiving. He recorded 46 catches for 811 yards and eight touchdowns. His 17.6 yards per catch was first in the ACC. He recorded only one 100-yard receiving game this season, although he came close to 100 yards in a few other games. If Streeter had returned for his senior season, he could have improved his draft stock before entering the 2013 NFL Draft.
The 6-foot-5, 215-pound Streeter has deep speed with the size to operate in the short and intermediate part of the field. He is very fast, and that combined with his large stature, allows him to get downfield and win jump balls. Right now, Streeter is a very raw prospect, and that isn't surprising considering he has only one year of playing time. He needs to work on his route-running and that should be the primary focus of his development. Running the route tree is the biggest negative to his game, but he has the potential to make a lot of improvements if he lands with the right coaching staff. At this time, Streeter looks like a second-day draft pick who could go in the third round like Hankerson did last April.
The latest indications are that Stanford quarterback Andrew Luck and USC quarterback Matt Barkley are getting ready to declare for the 2012 NFL Draft. Luck is viewed as a lock to be the first-overall pick, while Barkley is projected to be a high first-round pick.
Luck has completed 70 percent of his passes for 3,170 yards with 35 touchdowns and nine interceptions, and has led Stanford to an 11-1 record including a signature overtime win over USC this season. The 6-foot-4, 235-pounder has another year of eligibility, and some believed that Luck might decide to return to Stanford if he didn't like the franchise that was drafting first.
Stanford head coach David Shaw indicated on the Dan Patrick Show that Luck will be entering the draft. He said that the only way he thinks that Luck won't be in the draft is if he kidnaps him. Shaw gave the impression that Luck definitely will be leaving for the NFL. After Stanford plays in the bowl game, Luck could make his official announcement. He could also announce beforehand that the bowl game will be his finale game for the Cardinal.
Barkley did an interview on Versus and declared that he could have played his last game for USC. In the 2011 season, Barkley showed improved decision-making while putting up some massive numbers. The Trojans are banned from postseason play so Barkley's season is over. He completed 69 percent of his passes for 3,258 yards with 39 touchdowns and seven interceptions. If Barkley returned to school he could be in the running to be the first-overall pick in 2013, but he also would take a big injury risk and the possibility that things could go poorly next year, and as a result damage his draft stock.
Both players come from pro-style offenses that featured former NFL coaches as their quarterbacks coach and offensive coordinators. They also have been starters for multiple seasons with a lot of experience. Luck's draft stock can't get any higher, and Barkley would probably be better off going pro than returning to college. Right now, the early hints are both are ready to enter the 2012 NFL Draft.
Of all the players in college football, the biggest breakout star this season was probably Illinois defensive end Whitney Mercilus. He entered the season with only two career sacks, but the junior erupted to be the most productive pass-rusher in college football. Mercilus leads the nation with 14.5 sacks and also tops the country with nine forced fumbles.
It was a banner season for Mercilus against good competiion as well. He won his matchup with Ohio State offensive tackle Mike Adams to the tune of 1.5 sacks and a forced fumble in a game where the Buckeys barely threw the ball. Against Wisconsin, he had success against both their left and right tackle with a sack and forced fumble. Mercilus was was very consistent as he recorded sacks in 10 of Illinois' 12 games. He also notched 52 tackles with 19.5 tackles for a loss.
To go along with the massive production, Mercilus is a superb athlete who combines special speed with good strength. The 6-foot-4, 265-pound defensive end looks like a legit right defensive end for a 4-3 defense in the NFL. Former Illinois head coach Ron Zook was a top-shelf recruitor and brought in some elite physical talents. Mercilus is the latest in that line.
After his huge season, Mercilus is expected to declare for the NFL Draft. That is not earth-shattering news by any stretch, but the word in the scouting community is the Illinois star is probably going to declare for the draft in the weeks to come. Mercilus looks like a pick in the later half of the first round right now. If he returned to school and had another dominant season he could be a top 10 pick, but Mercilus is expected to be suiting up on Sundays next fall.
The final week of the college football will be the last chance for fans and NFL scouts to see a number of top prospects play a game before the 2012 NFL Draft. Some of the players won't get a chance to play in a bowl game because their team has been banned from bowl play, and others won't play in a bowl game because their teams have failed to qualify.
The USC Trojans are banned from playing in the postseason, so their finale against UCLA is the last chance to watch their prospects this season. A couple of players that could be in the top five are left tackle Matt Kalil and quarterback Matt Barkley. They are both dangerous weapons in the passing game who come from a West Coast offense that translates precisely to the NFL.
Junior teammate T.J. McDonald is also a potential first-rounder and could be the first safety selected next April. Junior defensive end Nick Perry has come on strong and has improved a lot this year. He could be an early pick on the second day of the draft. All of these juniors will have a favorable matchup against UCLA and should provide one more quality game tape to impress NFL scouts.
Another player who could be playing his last game before the draft is Boston College linebacker Luke Kuechly. Boston College had a rough season and did not win enough games to be bowl eligible. Despite playing one fewer game, the junior Kuechly is likely to lead college football in tackles for the second straight season. He needs 18 more tackles against the Miami Hurricanes to reach 200 on the season. Thus far in his career he has 523 total tackles as a collegiate player. Miami has a strong ground game with running back Lamar Miller, so Kuechly should have a shot at reaching 200.
Kuechly, Barkley, Kalil, McDonald and Perry are all underclassmen and won't be eligible to play in the Senior Bowl. Perhaps they will play in the NFLPA's new college all-star game that will include underclassmen, but this is the first year for that bowl game and the level of participation from the players is a mystery. It could be the last chance for fans and scouts to see these top players before watching them on Sundays.
As the college football season comes into the home stretch, more draft prospects are suffering injuries that could have a big impact on the 2012 NFL Draft. The latest is Wisconsin junior center Peter Konz. The Badger standout went out of last Saturday's game against Minnesota with a dislocated ankle.
Wisconsin head coach Brett Bielema has been optimistic that Konz can return and play in the Badgers bowl game, and wouldn't rule him out for the Big Ten conference championship if Wisconsin is in the game. Right now, Konz's return to the field is up in the air and nobody knows for sure when he will be back. Wisconsin is hopeful it will be in the 2-4 week range.
Konz's recovery could have a real impact on the 2012 NFL Draft. The 6-foot-5, 315-pounder has done an excellent job of opening up running lanes for running back Montee Ball this season. Konz has also been a rock solid pass protector for quarterback Russell Wilson. Most project Konz as the top center for the 2012 NFL Draft if he decides to skip his senior season. Konz is viewed as a first-round pick.
Not many centers - and Wisconsin offensive linemen - leave school early for the NFL. If Konz's injury lingers and he is unable to play in the bowl game, one would think he is more likely to return for his senior season rather than head into the draft workouts and Combine with a healing ankle.
If Konz decides to return for his senior season that pushes Ohio State center Mike Brewster to the head of the class. Centers have been rising in the draft over the past few years. Cleveland's Alex Mack, Buffalo's Eric Wood, Pittsburgh's Maurkice Pouncey and Miami's Mike Pouncey have all been first-round picks in the last three drafts. Brewster could easily be a first-round pick if Konz returns to Madison for another collegiate season.
Konz's injury shouldn't hurt his draft stock, but could push him towards returning for his senior season and that could benefit Brewster next April.
Last week we discussed a few non-obvious head coaches who could be on the hot seat. After reaching out and talking to staff around the league, we have a new list of veteran coaches who are likely to return even if their teams fall short of making a run into the postseason. A lot can change in the next eight weeks, but as of right now these coaches appear to be on firm ground.
Chicago Bears head coach Lovie Smith
The Bears are a good team, but they may not make it into the postseason. Green Bay looks like a lock to win the NFC North, Detroit is in second place, and other teams have easier schedules than Chicago in the competition for a wild card berth. Smith has been on the hot seat at different times during his tenure in Chicago, but next year is said to be safe. Smith led the Bears to the NFC Championship Game last season and the Bears are poised to at least contend for the playoffs this year. He also is well liked by the McCaskey family.
Atlanta Falcons head coach Mike Smith
Even if the Falcons disappoint down the stretch and fail to make the playoffs, sources say that Smith will be back next season. Smith was given a contract extension and has a good working relationship with the Falcons hierarchy. Atlanta had high expectations entering this season after finishing with the best record in the NFC last year. The Falcons also made some bold moves to acquire wide receiver Julio Jones and defensive end John Abraham. Atlanta has a wild card tie-breaker over the Lions and Eagles, but does not have a tie-breaker over the Bears. It is feasible that the Falcons will fall short of expectations and miss the postseason, but Smith's is said to be very safe.
Washington Redskins head coach Mike Shanahan
It can be tough to predict or get a feel for how patient Redskins owner Daniel Snyder will be with a head coach, but by the sounds of it, Shanahan will have more time to try and rebuild the Redskins. Washington started out the season strong, but has struggled of late. Still, Snyder is said to have a good relationship with Shanahan and general manager Bruce Allen. The Redskins need more than two offseasons to fix the damage that had been done.
CORRECTION: I'd regret if I didn't correct a previous blog. Tampa Bay Buccaneers head coach Raheem Morris is under contract for next season. The option that the team exercised last January was for two more seasons at $2 million per season; not one year as previously written. Getting the team's head coach and defensive coordinator for $2 million is a massive bargain, and has to be one of the biggest in the NFL. Considering Morris' contract status, one would have to think that barring a second-half meltdown, it is likely he will be back with the Bucs in 2012.
Finally, the wait is over. Thanks to the NFLPA, there will finally be a college all-star game for draft prospects that allows non-seniors to participate. For years the games of the Senior Bowl, East-West Shrine Game, and the other smaller all-star games have only allowed college seniors to play their games. On Jan. 21, the NFLPA will hold the first-ever AstroTurf NFLPA Collegiate Bowl in Los Angeles with juniors and red-shirt sophomores going against senior draft prospects.
The players will have a week of practice and be coached by current and former NFL players. Former Super Bowl winning head coaches Dick Vermeil and Tom Flores will be the head coaches of the two teams this year. The NFLPA's stated goal is to help future union members in their preparation for the NFL. While that certainly could be the case, the fact that underclassmen will be eligible to participate will be loved by NFL scouts, talent evaluators and fans.
The Senior Bowl has been a great event to get an idea as to how top prospects would fair against each other. Many times, players don't draw the best matchups in the regular season and the Senior Bowl has served scouts well to see which players are the best of the best. A point of frustration for some has been the exclusion of the underclassmen.
By allowing all draft-eligible players to participate, this game could pass the Senior Bowl in terms of relevance for the draft process. The Senior Bowl has been the premier college All-Star game, but now a game that could feature a junior like Oklahoma State wide receiver Justin Blackmon going against a junior cornerback like Alabama's Dre Kirkpatrick could surpass the Senior Bowl, especially if the top seniors are at the same game.
It will be interesting to see which underclassmen and seniors decide to participate in the NFLPA game. The fact that it is run by the union with current union members coaching in the game should help be a draw. The guess here is that the top players like Stanford quarterback Andrew Luck and USC left tackle Matt Kalil will pass on participating. However, it could be a game that would help to evaluate juniors like Kirkpatrick, Virginia Tech cornerback Jayron Hosley and LSU cornerback Morris Claiborne. Right now Claiborne is rated ahead of the other two, but a week of them practicing together could cause changes.
The AstroTurf NFLPA Collegiate Bowl has the potential to change the entire draft evaluation process. This game puts another event in place and could reduce the significance of other games like the Senior Bowl and the NFL Scouting Combine. Draft fans should feel free to rejoice.
Texas A&M head coach Mike Sherman revealed Monday that Aggies junior running back Christine Michael will miss the remainder of the season after suffering a torn anterior cruciate ligament against Oklahoma last Saturday. It is devastating news to Michael's draft status. The injury provides a big opportunity, however, for senior running back Cyrus Gray, who will become the leading halfback for the Aggies for the remainder of he season.
A year ago, a broken leg ended Michael's season, and that put Gray in the starting lineup. Gray went on to run for seven straight 100-yard games. He finished with 1,133 yards and 12 touchdowns in 2010. Gray hasn't gotten as large a workload with Michael healthy this year. Gray has totaled 733 yards and seven touchdowns this season. His biggest game was the opener when he had 132 yards rushing and two touchdowns against SMU.
Thus far in 2011, Michael has been the Aggies' leading rusher with 899 yards and eight touchdowns in nine games. He ran for 230 yards and three touchdowns against Arkansas. He went over 100 yards in three other games and had 88 yards on 17 carries when he left the game against Oklahoma. The 5-foot-11, 213-pound Michael offered more power than Gray without losing much speed. Michael also had the ability to get yards after contact, while Gray is not as good at breaking tackles.
The 5-foot-10, 200-pound Gray will be the starting back for the Aggies games against Kansas State, Kansas, Texas and a likely bowl game. If Gray can finish strong he should go over 1,000 yards for the second straight season. Gray looked like a potential third- or fourth-round pick, but if he finishes well, he could improve on that.
Michael has a tough decision to make. If he returns to school in 2012 and gets injured again, he could be undraftable. Right now, Michael would probably be a late-round pick at best. If he returns to school and has a big season while staying healthy, Michael could make the case that he should get drafted. It will be a tough call for him, but one would think he would lean towards returning to school. For Gray, the time is now to show NFL teams what he can do.
There are some obvious coaches on the hot seat across the NFL. Tony Sparano is a dead man walking in Miami. There are already rumblings that Jacksonville's Jack Del Rio, Indianapolis' Jim Caldwell and Kansas City's Todd Haley could be fired if things don't go well in the second half of the season. Aside from these coaches, there are some others who could be replaced if their team's disappoint down the stretch.
Houston head coach Gary Kubiak
If the Texans don't finish the season strong and win the AFC South, it would be a surprise if Kubiak returned. Houston has been a talented team that has come up short the past few years. If they can't win the division decisively with two terrible teams, Indianapolis and Jacksonville, and an average team in Tennessee than Kubiak deserves to be replaced. This is Kubiak's sixth season as head coach and Houston has yet to make the playoffs. The Texans look poised to break into the postseason this year, but if they don't get it done than Kubiak is likely done.
Arizona head coach Ken Whisenhunt
With the Cardinals putting together another terrible season, Whisenhunt is under increasing pressure. Arizona is on its way to a draft pick in the top five for the second straight year, and many coaches don't survive that kind of output. Arizona won five games last year and is on pace to do worse this season despite the costly trade that brought them quarterback Kevin Kolb. If Arizona doesn't rally in the second half and finishes with 1-4 wins, it is hard to see Whisenhunt surviving. The Cardinals haven't been the same team since Kurt Warner.
Dallas head coach Jason Garrett
Another disappointing season where Dallas fails to compete for the postseason could prompt owner and general manager Jerry Jones to make Garrett one and done in Dallas. Jones had a quick trigger on other coaches like Dave Campo and Chan Gailey in the past. The Cowboys have been underachievers for years and Jones is getting frustrated with the losing. Jones has had the inclination to pursue big-name coaches in the past. With Bill Cowher, Jeff Fisher and Jon Gruden all out there, it is possible that Jones could be tempted to make another change. Garrett needs to produce some wins down the stretch and have the Cowboys at the very least contending for the postseason. Another top-10 pick would be tough to overcome.
Tampa Bay head coach Raheem Morris
The Buccaneers could exercise an opt-out option in Morris contract to not have him return next season. One of the draws to Morris has been how cheap he has been for Tampa Bay. They have gotten their defensive coordinator and head coach for $2 million or less the past three seasons. Under former head coach Jon Gruden they were paying between $6-7 million for Gruden and coordinator Monte Kiffin. Next year is the first in which the Bucs owners, the Glazers, won't be paying Gruden $4 million. Between that $4 million and the $2 million they would save from cutting Morris loose, they could sign a big-name head coach. Morris is well liked by the players, but the Glazers and general manager Mark Dominik may want a coach who evokes more disciplined and professional behavior on and off the field from himself and his players. Twice the Glazers have fired the franchise's all-time winningest head coach in Gruden and Tony Dungy.
Oregon cornerback Cliff Harris has done a fabulous job of steadily hurting his draft stock since the end of the 2010 season. This week, Harris was suspended indefinitely from the team after another driving incident.
At the beginning of the 2011 season, Harris was suspended for the first game after getting stopped by cop for driving 118 mph with a suspended license last spring. Harris was suspended again this week after being caught driving with a suspended license, driving while uninsured, and failure to use a seatbelt. His family is seeking legal counsel and plans on fighting the charges. They say that Harris' license was reinstated after 60 days and they have proof of insurance. If they are successful, that could help Harris see the field again in 2011.
As a sophomore in 2010, Harris totaled six interceptions, 33 tackles and 17 passes defensed. He was a dynamic punt returner, with four punts brought back for touchdowns. At 5-foot-11, 180-pounds, Harris has been a very good, man-cover corner who plays the ball well. After last season, many believed that Harris was a future first-rounder.
Throughout most of this season, Oregon had decreased Harris' playing time. However, Harris recently started to get more playing time. He recorded his first interception of the season with a 50-yard return and a 23-yard punt return against Arizona State. In 2011, Harris has nine tackles and five pass breakups, and it is unclear if he is going to be activated to play in Oregon's remaining five regular-season contests and bowl game.
Right now, Harris' draft stock is probably down in the Round 3-5 range if he were to declare for the 2012 NFL Draft. Even though Harris could help himself if he returns for his senior season and plays well, it seems that Oregon is getting tired of Harris' off-the-field issues. Despite Harris' latest arrest and his stock sliding, he may be better off getting out of college and entering the NFL.
As the season progresses, more NFL head coaches are going to land on the hot seat, and more coordinators are going to get touted as possible head coaching candidates. There are some big-name veteran coaches who may get back into coaching after this season. Bill Cowher and Jeff Fisher could decide to get back into coaching, and there should be some owners who are willing to pay their price.
There also are likely to be owners who don't want to play between $5-10 million a season for their head coach. Those owners could look to hire a current coordinator and save a lot of money. After speaking to multiple league sources, there were a few coordinators who were mentioned as good head coaching candidates. Four names in particular have a buzz about them.
Cincinnati Bengals Defensive Coordinator Mike Zimmer
Zimmer has been one of the coordinators that has been mentioned as a head coaching candidate for the past few years. This season could be the year where Zimmer gets his shot. Cincinnati has been a surprise team this season, but while Andy Dalton and A.J. Green get a lot of hype, the Bengals defense has played very well.
The Bengals have the second-ranked defense in the NFL allowing only 278.5 yards per game. They have the fourth-rated pass defense and sixth-ranked rushing defense. Zimmer has done a good job of getting young players ready to contribute quickly, and is highly respected around the NFL. His players play for him, and he could be poised to be a head coach in 2012.
Carolina Panthers Offensive Coordinator Rob Chudzinski
Chudzinski has become a hot name with how quickly he has gotten Cam Newton to play competitively. The Panthers have the fifth-ranked offense in the NFL with an average of 418 yards per game. Carolina has averaged 297.8 passing yards per game.
League staffers have said that Chudzinski is well respected around the NFL. He was the offensive coordinator of the Browns in 2007 when they had a 10-win season with Derek Anderson as their signal caller. Newton could make Chudzinski look really good this season.
Buccaneers Offensive Coordinator Greg Olson
While general manager Mark Dominik and head coach Raheem Morris love to bask in the praise for drafting Josh Freeman, the pick has worked out due to the hard work of Olson. People often forget that Freeman was very raw entering the NFL. He had a losing record and a completion percentage below 60 percent at Kansas State. Olson has worked wonders developing Freeman; specifically he helped him to improve his accuracy and his footwork, and taught him how to execute an offense and read NFL defenses.
He also has gotten quick contributions out of young players like Mike Williams, Arrelious Benn and LeGarrette Blount. Olson is loved by his players, and works well with the media. If Freeman plays well in the remaining 10 games, Olson could be one of the hottest coordinator candidates. He also could leave the pros for a college head coaching job. He recruited Drew Brees and Ray Edwards to Purdue.
Chuck Pagano has actually been mentioned as a possible head coach by TV analysts. Pagano commands a tremendous amount of respect from Ray Lewis, Ed Reed, and the rest of Baltimore's locker room.
In his first year as defensive coordinator after taking over as the secondary coach, Pagano has done an incredible job reviving a Baltimore defense that was commonly thought of as "over the hill."
More importantly, Pagano seems to have that "leader of men" quality that is so important for head coaches in the NFL.
Some league sources tossed out a few other names to consider, but they did not have the passion of the top four. Those other coaches are: Dallas Cowboys defensive coordinator Rob Ryan, Detroit Lions offensive coordinator Scott Linehan and New Orleans Saints defensive coordinator Gregg Williams.
The top running back in the 2012 NFL Draft looks like it is a done deal with Alabama's Trent Richardson. The Crimson Tide standout is putting together an excellent junior season, and barring injury it looks like he is all but guaranteed to be the first running back chosen next April.
After Richardson, the next running back is unclear, and right now there isn't another senior running back who is being projected to be a first-round pick. Wisconsin junior running back Montee Ball and Miami red-shirt sophomore Lamar Miller could both get first-round consideration if they declare for the 2012 NFL Draft. Right now it is still extremely early, but there have been no hints that either player is looking to declare.
That leaves a void for a running back to rise up draft boards and become the No. 2 player at his position. A potential candidate to do that is Washington's Chris Polk. Right now Polk looks like a third-round pick, but he could get consideration in the second round.
In 2010, Polk averaged 5.4 yards per carry with 1,415 yards rushing and nine touchdowns. He runs with good vision and cutting ability, and hits the hole quickly. Polk also has run behind a sub-par offensive line in his career at Washington. That line has forced Polk into becoming a patient runner as he had to wait for an opening on many runs. When a hole is there, he has a nice burst to run through before it closes.
Thus far in 2011, Polk has 611 yards rushing with an average of 5.3 yards per carry and three touchdowns in five games. Without Jake Locker at quarterback, defenses have been keying on Polk, but he has stayed productive despite many eight man fronts.
Polk is listed at 5-foot-11, 222-pounds so he has the size to be a bell cow back in the NFL. What could push his draft stock up is straight-line speed that is hard to see due to his offensive line and the heavy run fronts he sees. Former teammate Mason Foster, the starting middle linebacker for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, told WalterFootball.com that Polk is going to surprise people.
"He's a big strong guy," said Foster. "He's a lot bigger than people think he is. He's 225 pounds, 6-foot. He runs hard. I've seen him run a 4.3. He's a monster. He'll do big things when he goes to the combine."
Foster and Polk are extremely close, as they roomed together at Washington when Polk first arrived on campus. If Polk can run a 40-yard dash at his size in the 4.4 to low 4.5s, his draft stock could really soar. Getting a 4.3 is harder at the combine than it is at school workouts, but a fast 40 time could accelerate Polk's draft stock greatly.
If Ball and Miller return to school, there will be a void at running back at the end of the first round and in the top half of the second round. Don't be shocked if Polk becomes a candidate to fill the opening.
Check back on Monday morning for our Monday Morning Draft column with more comments from Foster on Polk and Washington draft prospects like defensive tackle Alameda Ta'amu and wide receiver Jermaine Kearse.
Significant injuries are starting to hit the 2012 NFL Draft class, with Florida State left tackle Andrew Datko being the latest to have a serious injury that should have massive ramifications next April. Datko was on his way to being a mid first-round pick with a strong senior season, but that fell apart with the revelation that he is likely out for the season with a shoulder injury.
Datko was held out of Florida State's last game against Wake Forest. The team decided pre-game that Datko couldn't play. He underwent shoulder surgery this week, and head coach Jimbo Fisher said the procedure "didn't take." Fisher said that he doubts that Datko will return to the field this season.
Datko had a streak of 27 straight starts dating back to his freshman year snapped because of a shoulder injury last year. He had offseason surgery on the shoulder, and that kept him out for most of the spring. Datko apparently was playing through pain in the early going of this season. He struggled in the Oklahoma game with defensive end Frank Alexander, getting beat regularly. That was surprising, but Datko rebounded a week later with a good game against Clemson's Andre Branch. It looks like that contest against Clemson on Sept. 24 was Datko's last for Florida State.
The 6-foot-6, 312-pound Datko has steadily bulked up from starting his Seminoles career much lighter. Perhaps the strain of working to add weight led to his shoulder injury.
If Datko misses the remainder of the season, his draft stock will take a huge hit. A recurring shoulder injury that has required multiple (unsuccessful) surgeries will be a huge medical red flag. Unless Datko makes a surprising recovery and plays this season, he will be hard pressed to avoid a free fall in his draft stock.
Datko will need to be healthy to workout leading up to the 2012 NFL Draft to even have a shot at being a pick on the second day. Right now, he looks like a gamble even in the third round. He will have to prove to teams that his shoulder was fixed permanently to go on Day 2. Datko is more likely to be a third-day pick by a team risking that it gets a steal.
The news that Nebraska defensive tackle Jared Crick would be out for the season with a torn pectoral muscle is a huge blow to the Cornhuskers, and a massive hit to Crick's draft stock. The senior defensive tackle entered the season as a first-round pick, and prior to this injury, he was looking like a late first-rounder.
Crick's stock was on the decline recently after bad performances against Wisconsin and Ohio State. Perhaps Crick playing injured that was one of the reasons why he did not perform well in those contests. The Badgers' offensive line, led by senior guard Kevin Zeitler and junior center Peter Konz, was able to run up the middle at Crick throughout the Badgers 48-17 victory. Crick had five tackles and blocked an extra point in that contest. Against Ohio State, standout senior center Mike Brewster was very effective going against Crick, who totaled only three tackles in that game. Crick wasn't able to rush the passer in either contest.
Crick ends his season with 22 tackles, one sack and 2.5 tackles for a loss in five games played. He had an excellent tape in Nebraska's game against Washington. He posted six tackles with a sack and was extremely disruptive with a lot of pass pressures.
During the 2011 season, Crick was proving that he really should be a five technique defensive end in a 3-4 defense. The 6-foot-6, 285-pounder does not have the size or strength to hold up as a 4-3 defensive tackle in the NFL. If he gets drafted by a 4-3 defense, he would be better served as a left defensive end on running downs who moves inside to rush as a tackle in passing situations.
Entering this season, Crick had put two quality campaigns together. In his sophomore season playing next to Ndamukong Suh, Crick had 73 tackles with 12.5 tackles for a loss, 9.5 sacks and four passes broken up. Last year, he had 70 tackles with 14.5 tackles for a loss, 9.5 sacks and one forced fumble.
Now that Crick has sustained this torn pectoral muscle, he likely will have to have surgery to repair the injury. One would have to think that Crick playing in the Senior Bowl is unlikely considering that it's only a few weeks after Nebraska would play a prospective bowl game.
It looks questionable that Crick would want to work out at the NFL Scouting Combine in February even if he is healthy at that point. He and his agent probably will decide not to have him participate because he will be at a disadvantage over other players who have been healthy and training for the combine drills while Crick has been rehabbing.
The injury will be a concern going forward. One NFL coach told me before last year's draft that players entering the league with muscle and ligament tears are more worrisome than those who have broken bones. The nature of the line play and the need for Crick to have power in his game is essential, and teams are going to want to feel confident that this injury is not going to linger or be a risk to happen again.
Crick will miss the remainder of the season, and his status for the Senior Bowl, combine, and pre-draft workouts is unclear right now. Right now, this injury pushes Crick's stock down into the second day of the 2012 NFL Mock Draft.
WalterFootball.com has heard from sources that regime change is brewing in Miami. The Dolphins are off to an 0-4 start, and are headed for a last-place finish in the AFC East. The losing, in addition to the turmoil from last January, has the Dolphins headed for a house cleaning.
Sources have told WalterFootball.com that things have never been the same after owner Stephen Ross pursued Jim Harbaugh to be the head coach last offseason. No deal could be worked out with Harbaugh, and Miami tried to mend fences with head coach Tony Sparano.
Miami tried to put a good face on in public with Ross giving Sparano a vote of confidence, but that is not they way things are in private. Sparano is said to hate Ross for the Harbaugh pursuit. At one time, Sparano and general manager Jeff Ireland got along and worked well together, but sources say that relationship as deteriorated to being barely cooperative.
Sources have also said that the way Sparano mopes around the team facility, he has many wondering if he wants his job. He doesn't want to resign and lose his contract, so he'd rather force the Dolphins to fire him. That has many wondering when, not if, the team is going to quit on Sparano.
Despite all that, Sparano has a chance to finish out the season as the head coach. Sources say that the organization is not completely on board with firing him in mid-season and making Mike Nolan the interim coach. Ross and Ireland are said to not be committed to Nolan.
One league source said they believe that the Dolphins will hire Jon Gruden after the season, with Bill Cowher also being a possibility. Either one will probably want their own guy as the general manager, so that would send Ireland packing also. It really is a question of when, and not if, the Dolphins clean house.
After the Seattle Seahawks benched linebacker Aaron Curry, it wasn't surprising to hear that he was available on the trade market. The fourth-overall pick in the 2009 NFL Draft has not lived up to expectations, but he has not been a terrible player either. The Seahawks turned to rookie K.J. Wright to start over Curry, and it looks like it is time for the them to part company with Curry.
One team that would make sense as a trade parter for Curry is the Tennessee Titans. Starting weakside linebacker Will Witherspoon is in the final year or two of his career, while middle linebacker Barrett Ruud was signed only to a 1-year contract. Last April, the Titans drafted Akeem Ayers and Colin McCarthy. Ayers is starting, while McCarthy is backing up Ruud. Making a trade for Curry would complete the Titans' young linebacking corps.
Titans Vice President of Player Personnel Ruston Webster had the same role with the Seahawks when Curry was drafted out of Wake Forest. In his time with the Titans, Webster has drawn his knowledge of the Pacific Northwest. Webster got to know Jake Locker well while he played for Washington, and this past April, the Titans took Locker in the first round. Webster turned to former Seahawks quarterback Matt Hasselbeck in free agency to be the Titans' new starter and mentor to Locker.
It shouldn't take much to acquire Curry; probably no more than a mid-round pick. Considering the linebackers that are typically available in the mid-rounds, Curry has more upside and a higher ceiling so it could be worth the Titans sending a fourth-round pick to Seattle for Curry. The trade deadline is a few weeks away, so there is still time for this deal to get done.
Falcons Ready to Move on from Sam Baker, Thomas DeCoud
The Atlanta Falcons have had a number of draft needs become apparent in the first three games of the season. Those weaknesses have been massive holes that have been the catalyst for a 1-2 start with a bleak chance at a playoff push. A big problem for the Falcons in filling their needs is they traded away their 2012 first-round pick in the deal that brought them wide receiver Julio Jones.
The biggest need that has become apparent is at left tackle. Sources close to the Falcons have told WalterFootball.com that Atlanta is recognizing that Sam Baker is not the franchise left tackle that he was drafted to be. Atlanta traded up in the first round in the 2008 NFL Draft to select Baker at the 21st overall pick. The Falcons had selected Ryan with the third-overall pick and needed to find someone to protect him. At the time, many in the league felt that Atlanta was reaching with Baker, and those thoughts are being proven true.
After the draft in 2008, sources with the Buccaneers told me they were actually happy that Baker landed with Atlanta. They felt his arms were too short for him to match up on speedy edge rushers.
In Week 1, Baker was dominated by Chicago Bears defensive end Julius Peppers. The Falcons didn't do Baker any favors by letting him single block Peppers all game; even good tackles can need help with Peppers. Baker's struggles continued in Week 3 against Buccaneers rookie defensive end Adrian Clayborn. He bull rushed Baker effectively, and Clayborn notched his first NFL sack against Baker after being relatively quiet in the first two games of the season. In fact, the Lions' Jeff Backus did well against Clayborn, while Baker struggled.
It is difficult to land a franchise left tackle in the second round, so Atlanta will probably give a hard look at which tackles hit free agency. Assuming they can land a new left tackle, Atlanta can't move Baker to right tackle because they just signed Tyson Clabo to an extension. One option the Falcons have for Baker is moving him inside to guard. Atlanta allowed guard Harvey Dahl to escape to St. Louis in free agency, and new starter Garrett Reynolds hasn't been effective for them. Baker might be a better fit at guard, although it would be advisable for him to try and add some more strength for battling heavier defensive linemen.
There are other needs that are cropping up in Atlanta. Sources have also told WalterFootball.com that the Falcons are about ready to give up on safety Thomas DeCoud. Finding a safety who could compete to be a starter is possible after the first round, and this class of safeties looks strong on the second day of the 2012 NFL Draft.
There are other needs on the roster as well. The Falcons could use a young defensive end to groom under John Abraham. They really need that player to be able to serve as a situational pass rusher to rotate into the game. Abraham is 33 and could begin declining soon.
A veteran who has been slowing down is running back Michael Turner. Turner will turn 30 after this season, and many running backs start feeling the wear and tear around that age. Atlanta could use a young power back to groom as Turner's replacement.
Atlanta figures to be making some moves in the draft and free agency in order to fill these needs, but they could be stuck with Baker as their left tackle in 2012. Talented left tackles are seldom available in free agency. Without a first-round pick, it will be much harder to find one in the draft. It is not surprising that trading away next year's first-rounder, while reaching and blowing a first-rounder on Baker is coming back to haunt Atlanta.
As the season progresses more and more underclassmen will come closer to making their decision about whether they will return for another collegiate season or enter the 2012 NFL Draft. Every year, the draft class is bolstered by underclassmen, and one who is likely to be in the next draft is Oklahoma outside linebacker/defensive end Ronnell Lewis. Sources close to the Oklahoma program have told WalterFootball.com that Lewis is likely to skip his senior season and enter the 2012 NFL Draft.
Lewis is in a tough spot because he probably needs another year at school, but off-the-field concerns are forcing him toward declaring early. The biggest reason why Lewis should possibly stay in school is the fact that he had a position change forced on him this season. After playing linebacker in 2010, Lewis was moved to defensive end this season. In 2010, Lewis had 37 tackles with five tackles for a loss, 3.5 sacks, three passes broken up and one interception. Almost all that production came in the last half of the season when Oklahoma started to feature Lewis.
Physically, Lewis is a beast. He is built like a truck and plays the game with violence. Last season, Lewis was a force who consistently dished out big hits. Lewis is listed at 6-foot-2, 244-pounds but that was before he switched to end, and since then, he looks like he has bulked up some more. In two games at end this season, Lewis has played well. He has 15 tackles with four tackles for a loss, 1.5 sacks and one pass defended. Those 15 tackles lead Oklahoma.
With the position change, it would probably be in Lewis' best interest to return to school to improve, get bigger, and provide another season of tape for NFL evaluators at his new position. The problem is that Lewis has been dealing with academic eligibility issues. Those caused him to miss part of training camp practices and put his junior season in doubt. He returned on time, but those are vital reason why Lewis may have to leave school early. According to sources, it is because of those eligibility challenges that Lewis is likely to enter the 2012 NFL Draft.
Teams are going to have to decide what position Lewis will play in the NFL. That analysis will be harder to make with Lewis not playing his senior season in college. If he tops 250 pounds, he could be an outside linebacker in a 3-4 defense. Lewis could play Sam (strongside) linebacker in a 4-3 defense if he is in the 240s. His current height and weight (6-2, 250s) make him a bit of a tweener for a 4-3 defense, and possibly a better fit as a 3-4 outside linebacker.
Sources tell WalterFootball.com that Lewis does not have a bad reputation and is not said to have off-the-field issues with discipline or legal problems. In past conversations with some NFL coaches, they have explained that some players have academic issues in college and those problems are erased in the NFL because they don't have time limits of preparing for football while balancing the academic load. Lewis could use another year of college, but his academic challenges will likely force his hand and make him enter the 2012 NFL Draft. Right now, he is a late first- or second-round pick.
Even though Carolina Panthers wide receiver Steve Smith had a massive game with rookie quarterback Cam Newton, it looks this is going to the swan song for Smith in Carolina, according to sources.
For the better part of the past decade, the Panthers' passing game has been carried by Smith. Carolina has never featured an elite quarterback, but Smith has been one of the top receivers in the NFL. In speaking to an NFL defensive backs coach earlier this year, they said that the top two receivers in the NFL were Andre Johnson and Calvin Johnson. After them, they said Smith still causes special game planning on the part of defensive coordinators.
Smith showed why in the first game of the 2011 season. He caught eight passes for 178 yards and two touchdowns in Newton's first professional game. Still, Newton to Smith is not a connection that Panther fans should expect in 2012.
Sources said the first reason Smith will be gone after this season is that he is starting to decline physically. That is to be expected as Smith is 32, and has had some injuries in his career. The other definitive reason my sources said he will be moving on is because next season is the last year of his contract with a large cap figure. That is likely to cause him to be released or traded after the season. The Panthers won't be willing to pay it, so if they can't trade him than he will be cut. The tone from the sources was that the team wouldn't be interested in restructuring his cap figure with a new contract.
It looks like the Panthers could have a good shot at landing one of the top receivers in the 2012 NFL Draft: Oklahoma State's Justin Blackmon or South Carolina's Alshon Jeffery. Blackmon (6-1, 208) looks like a young Terrell Owens. He is strong and fast, and a big-play threat. Jeffery (6-4, 233) is a massive receiver whos has a skill set similar to Calvin Johnson's. He is not quite as fast or as big as Johnson, but has elite talent. Either receiver would be a fabulous target to serve as Newton's long-term No. 1 receiver.
Other than wide receiver, keep an eye on the cornerback position. Chris Gamble had a rough 2010 season and is trying to make a bit of a comeback this season. Their other starter is Captain Munnerlyn (5-8, 186), and he is more of a nickel and slot cornerback. Perhaps cornerback could prove to be a more pressing need than receiver, but offering the 2011 No.1 overall pick an elite target is going to be hard to pass up.
Fortunately for Carolina, the 2012 NFL Draft looks to be especially strong at wide receiver and cornerback, the Panthers' two biggest needs.
The Panthers had a lot of injuries last season, so don't be surprised if they play better than expected this season. For years, the NFC South was the division that annually saw its last place finisher from the previous year turn things around to have a winning season and contend for the playoffs. Since the division started, last year was the first time the previous last-place finisher did not make the postseason. The Buccaneers went 3-13 in 2009, but fell just short of the playoffs last year with a 10-6 record.
If Carolina does perform better than expected, it will still probably be the end of the line for Smith, while if they are bad enough, it could usher in a new receiver like Jeffery or Blackmon in 2012. If they surprise, they will have to consider other receiving options as both Jeffery and Blackmon should go high in the first round.
During the preseason, we wrote here on WalterFootball.com that Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Josh Freeman looked off. After a breakout second season where he only threw six interceptions, he was inaccurate and not making good decisions in the preseason. Freeman had rough preseason performances against the Patriots and Dolphins. Buccaneers head coach Raheem Morris and Freeman insisted that he was fine and didn't need more playing time in the preseason to get ready for the season.
Well in Week 1 against the Detroit Lions, Freeman struggled. He started the game slowly, and the team found themselves in a big hole. Freeman started to play better late in the game and it wasn't until the fourth quarter that he led a touchdown drive. For the game he completed 28-of-43 passes for 259 yards with one touchdown and one interception. While Tampa Bay only lost by seven (27-20), the Lions outplayed the Buccaneers more than the score indicated. Freeman never seemed to get in a rhythm or comfortable in the pocket. Throughout his first two seasons in the league Freeman always seemed comfortable no matter how much the team may have been struggling.
In all of his interviews, even on draft day, he was always calm and poised. Even after some rough games as a rookie against the Saints, Panthers and Jets the Buccaneers signal caller seemed unflappable. Yesterday after the Lions game that was not the case. Freeman was asked one question and rambled for a long time, speaking very quickly. Freeman seems flustered and rattled right now. Perhaps he has lost some confidence. Here is Freeman's quote, with the transcription coming courtesy of the Buccaneers organization circulated post-game quotes.
�I mean you talk about a rhythm, but in the first quarter, I was on the field for maybe five plays. It's definitely tough. You have to maximize your potential on first and second down so you're not in a third and long situation. The Detroit offense did a good job of holding the ball for a long time. We've got to help our defense out in that manner because being on the field for that long just wears and wears and wears on the defense. We can find a way to equalize the possession. If we don't take control of it, it's going to be a long day for our defense. I mean, the heat is going to wear on anybody.
�We saw the second half in the fourth quarter, we dominated possession; their defense was huffing and puffing. They had to sub their whole [defensive] line all of the time. It's really frustrating because we felt like that was for sure going into a winnable game. I thought our [offensive] line stepped up and played tremendously in the pass game. We just have to find a way to score points earlier. I was really optimistic coming out of the locker room at halftime. We got the ball back. I was like �let's go down and get some points on the board.' The next thing you know, I'm cramping up. It was just really frustrating. Today was just one of those days.
�One thing I will say is I'm really proud of how our guys fought. Our guys fought extremely well and hard today. It's rough, but at the same time you see guys like Arrelious Benn struggling early on, but then he came back and fought back in the two-minute. [WR] Mike [Williams] is huge for us always and [TE] Kellen [Winslow], but the guys fought to the very end. Even on that last play, I felt like we had an opportunity. You hate to start the season out 0-1, but this is the first game of the year; it's not going to make or break anybody. We were in the locker room and [CB] Ronde [Barber] was talking about the Super Bowl year and how they lost the first game to a Saints team they felt like they should have beat that year in the first game. I feel like we have enough good character and leadership on this team. A lot of guys who are staying positive are really going to knuckle down this week in the locker room and come back and hopefully fight for a different result next week.�
There have been interview sessions where Freeman didn't say that much in the entire interview combined. After this season, the Bucs should make finding some talent to put around Freeman a priority. While they have a promising young receiver in Mike Williams and running back in LeGarrette Blount, the Buccaneers' offense lacks some speed and playmakers. In the preseason, Morris said that Tampa Bay isn't a big-play, quick-strike offense and they have to sustain long drives to score points.
The organization should look to find a speed receiver, speed running back, and possibly some help along the offensive line. That would make Freeman's job much easier. Right now, Freeman seems to be entering some growing pains that were expected a year ago rather than in his third season.
The Jacksonville Jaguars' release of veteran quarterback David Garrard was a shock felt around the NFL, and the decision should have a definite impact on the 2012 NFL Draft. With Garrard looking for a new team, the Jags are going to start veteran backup Luke McCown for the time being. First-round pick Blaine Gabbert is waiting in the wings and it is only a matter of time before Gabbert is in the lineup. Although don't be surprised if McCown plays well.
McCown has been an underrated backup in the NFL. He spent four years being developed by Jon Gruden in Tampa Bay, and McCown never has gotten the chance to be a starter for more than a few games. I asked Gruden in his final press conference as Buccaneers head coach if McCown would re-sign with the team, would he have him compete to be the starting quarterback, and Gruden answered yes.
McCown had some justifiable concerns about Gruden's ability to stay loyal to a starter, but Bucs general manager Bruce Allen was planning on making a strong sales pitch to convince McCown to re-sign with Tampa Bay. Allen and Gruden were fired a few weeks later, while McCown was re-signed. Even though he outplayed Byron Leftwich in the preseason in 2009, head coach Raheem Morris chose Leftwich to be his starter and traded McCown to the Jaguars.
This will be McCown's third season in Jacksonville and eighth season in the NFL. While getting reduced reps as a backup in training camp and the preseason will hurt McCown, he has the experience to step in and operate the offense. McCown is in a contract year, and he is under pressure to produce victories in order to stay in the starting lineup. In preseason action McCown completed 66.7 percent of his passes (12-of-18) for 133 yards and two touchdowns with zero interceptions.
Even if McCown has the Jaguars at .500 in October or November, Gabbert will be in the lineup sooner rather than later. Considering the Jaguars youth, it wouldn't be surprising if the team struggles. Even if Garrard had stayed, many people were projecting the Jags to be battling to avoid a last place finish, rather than a division title. Management could see the team is in rebuilding mode and decided to get the veteran out of the way.
One reason the Jaguars could have released Garrard is because it is always unpopular in the locker room to bench an established veteran starter for a rookie signal caller. Especially a veteran that is popular with his teammates like Garrard. The veterans on the roster like running back Maurice Jones-Drew can become more disgruntled if they believe a player that can help them win is sitting on the bench for the sake of a first-rounder.
When Gabbert does enter the lineup, one can expect him to struggle. More rookies have growing pains rather than lead their teams to the playoffs. In the preseason, Gabbert completed 50 percent of his passes for (35-of-70) for 365 yards with one touchdown, one interception and seven sacks taken. As Gabbert takes his lumps, it will be hard for Jacksonville to get wins as they take on a schedule the features two strong divisions in the NFC South and AFC North. With Gabbert taking on some tough defenses and quarterbacks that could easily lead to the Jaguars drafting in the top five of the 2012 NFL Draft.
College football features two games Friday night of opening weekend. Michigan State hosts Youngston State in what is likely to be a massive blowout for the Spartans. The other game is a much better matchup with TCU going to Baylor.
The key matchup from a draft perspective is TCU linebackers Tank Carder and Tanner Brock going against Baylor dual-threat quarterback Robert Griffin III. He is a sleeper prospect who could surprise many in 2011. Baylor is busy promoting him as a Heisman candidate and that is a stretch, but the junior signal-caller is an exciting playmaker.
Last year Griffin (6-2, 220) completed 67 percent of his passes for 3,501 yards with 22 touchdowns and eight interceptions. He also ran for 635 yards on 149 carries (4.3 average) with eight touchdowns. It will be a challenge for Carder and Brock to contain Griffin, and it will be a good indicator to see how the linebackers can handle mobile quarterbacks.
The 6-foot-2, 237-pound Carder has a lot of buzz about him heading into his senior year. Carder had 60 tackles last season with 9.5 tackles for a loss, 3.5 sacks, one interception and one fumble recovery. The leader of TCU's defense, Carder was a second team AP All-American last season. He enters the season as a second- or third-rounder.
Brock led the team in tackles last year with 106 stops. He also had 5.5 tackles for a loss with two sacks and an interception. Brock (6-3, 250) is a physical run-stuffing linebacker who is strong at the point of attack.
A prospect worth watching for the 2013 NFL Draft is Baylor defensive end Tevin Elliot. He had a strong red-shirt freshman season in 2010. Elliot (6-3, 250) recorded 36 tackles with five sacks and nine tackles for a loss.
Michigan State features a few draft prospects. The highest rated among them is junior defensive tackle Jerel Worthy. Right now he is projected to be a high first-round pick and the consensus top defensive tackle in the 2012 NFL Draft. Worthy did not have a big stat line last year with eight tackles for a loss and four sacks, but he was double teamed regularly and was a consistent disruptive player for the Spartans. If he can increase his production while fighting through those double teams, he could make the case to be the first defensive player selected.
On the offensive side of the ball, quarterback Kirk Cousins is one of the top signal-caller prospects entering the 2011 season. The senior Cousins could be the top quarterback in the Big Ten this season.
Cousins completed 66.9 percent of his passes for 2,825 yards with 20 touchdowns and 10 interceptions. His numbers were similar to his sophomore year production when he completed 60 percent of his passes for 2,680 yards and 19 touchdowns with nine picks.
The 6-foot-3, 202-pound Cousins has a big enough arm to be a starting NFL quarterback. He is a good game manager who could be a good quarterback to install in a play-action based passing attack with a strong running game. When given time to throw, Cousins is very effective. He struggles and makes bad decisions when he gets defensive linemen in his face. He's unlikely to see a lot of pressure from Youngstown State, so he should have a dominant performance. If he doesn't, that's a red flag. Entering the season, Cousins is projected to be a second-day selection.
While Cousins has been consistent and productive for the Spartans, the focal point of their offense is the ground game led by running back Edwin Baker. He is a back who can get yards after contact and is tough to bring down. Baker (5-9, 208) averaged 5.8 yards per carry while running for 1,201 yards and 13 scores. He has good speed and vision. He enters the season as a mid-round prospect. One of Baker's top blockers is guard Joel Foreman. Some injuries hurt Foreman (6-4, 310) this spring, but the strong run blocker could be a mid-rounder if he stays in the lineup and productive.
Michigan State also features two defensive backs with NFL potential. Senior safety Trenton Robinson (6-2, 210) has shown a nice skill set to go along with quality production. Robinson had 76 tackles with eight passes broken up and four interceptions last season in his first full season as a starter. He led the Spartans' defense in picks last season. Not only does Robinson have ball skills, but he is a quality run defender. If Robinson matches his production or improves on it, he could solidify himself as a candidate to be a second-day pick.
Cornerback Johnny Adams (5-11, 175) is a late-round prospect. He was an All-Big Ten second-team selection after recording 50 tackles with three interceptions and seven passes broken up. Adams needs to add some bulk and show improved ball skills to make sure gets drafted.
Usually Week 1 of college football features a plethora of mismatched opponents. Alabama plays Kent State. Nebraska plays Chattanooga. Oklahoma plays Tulsa, and so on. Still, as college football kicks off on Thursday night, there are a few players to watch from a draft status perspective.
When Wisconsin takes on UNLV on Thursday night, there will be a good opportunity to see which running back gets more carries between James White and Montee Ball. White ran for 1,052 yards and 14 touchdowns last season as a freshman, while Ball rushed for 996 yards and 18 touchdowns as a sophomore. In 2010, Ball had seven more carries than White, while John Clay had the most carries for the Badgers. With Clay trying to make an NFL roster, either Ball or White should emerge as the feature back for Wisconsin. That player could see their draft stock rise sharply, although White won't be draft eligible until 2013. Ball has a fabulous combination of size and speed, and could be in line for a massive 2011 season.
Another running back to watch tonight is Mississippi State's Vick Ballard. He ran for 968 yards and 19 touchdowns last season while averaging 5.3 yards per carry. The 5-foot-11, 215-pound Ballard is a physical downhill runner who is capable of logging a large amount of carries. He will go against a quality run stuffer in Memphis defensive tackle Dontari Poe (6-5, 350). Poe recorded 41 tackles and with 6.5 tackles for a loss last season. The junior Poe is a massive plugger at the point of attack and he could make it hard for Ballard to run between the tackles. Ballard enters the season as a middle- to late-round pick, while the junior Poe looks like a mid-rounder.
Mississsippi State has a couple of defensive tackles worth watching in Fletcher Cox and Josh Boyd. Cox (6-4, 295) had 29 tackles with 6.5 tackles for a loss and 2.5 sacks. Boyd (6-3, 295) made 24 tackles with 7.5 tackles for a loss and 2.5 sacks. Both players could be fits as 3-4 defensive ends in the next level and are late-rounders right now.
Also on Thursday night, Rutgers takes on North Carolina Central. Rutgers wide receiver Mohamed Sanu had a frustrating sophomore season due to injuries, catching 44 passes for 418 yards and two touchdowns. As a freshman Sanu had 51 receptions for 639 yards and three touchdowns. Due to a strong skill set, Sanu (6-2, 215) is viewed as an early-round pick as long as he can stay healthy and increase his production. He should have a big night in the season opener.
Kentucky takes on Western Kentucky on Thursday night, and that game should feature a good draft matchup in the Kentucky run defense going against Western Kentucky running back Bobby Rainey. Last year, Rainey was third in the nation with 1,649 yards. The small and quick Rainey (5-8, 205) averaged 4.9 yards per carry and had 15 touchdowns. He needs to be very productive again in 2011 to have a shot at getting drafted.
Safety Winston Guy, Jr. and linebacker Danny Trevathan lead Kentucky's run defense. The senior Trevathan (6-1, 225) led the SEC with 144 tackles last season. He also had 16 tackles for a loss with three sacks and four forced fumbles. Guy (6-1, 210) recorded 106 tackles with three interceptions and two passes broken up. Both are viewed as mid-round picks who need to show that they can handle a smaller speed back like Rainey.
While everybody is looking forward to Georgia vs. Boise State and LSU vs. Oregon on Saturday, there will be some good draft matchups to watch starting tonight.
Some in college football felt that the Miami Hurricanes program should have gotten the death penalty for players and recruits receiving improper benefits from boosters and agents. Miami and Ohio State will both have to weather suspensions to start the season, and both programs could have gotten busted harder by the NCAA. Perhaps the NCAA is realizing how big of a hypocrite it is, but the elitist egalitarians that run the NCAA think their crap doesn't stink, so that is probably hoping for too much honesty.
The sanctions and suspensions levied against Miami, Ohio State and USC could be done across the nation at other prominent programs. Regardless of that, there are numerous Hurricanes that have had their 2012 NFL Draft stock take a hit because of a suspension, including some early round prospects.
The highest-rated prospect to land a suspension is defensive tackle Marcus Forston. The 6-foot-3, 310-pounder received money for athletic equipment, meals, nightclub cover fees and party money at a strip club. Many view Forston as a potential late first-round or early second-round pick at this time. In his second year as a sophomore in 2010, Forston had 37 tackles with 12 tackles for a loss, three sacks and an interception. Fortunately for Forston, his suspension is for only one game, so his draft stock shouldn't be effected too much by his suspension.
A potential second-round pick, junior safety Ray-Ray Armstrong landed a four-game suspension. Armstrong was a Second Team All-ACC selection last year. He recorded 79 tackles with three interceptions in 2010. Armstrong has tons of physical talent, but has not translated that into a dominant on-field performance yet. It will be harder for Armstrong to improve his stat line with missing roughly a third of the season. The suspension could prompt Armstrong to return for his senior season in 2012 to try and help his draft stock.
A second- or third-round pick, linebacker Sean Spence received a one-game suspension. Last year he had 110 tackles with 16 tackles for a loss, 2.5 sacks, six passes broken up and one forced fumble. Spence has good instincts with a nose for the football. One missed game shouldn't hurt Spence's draft stock that much.
The biggest suspension was slapped on junior defensive end Oliver Vernon. He'll miss six games. Vernon had six sacks with 10.5 tackles for a loss last season. The suspension will hurt Vernon's stat line and could make it difficult for him to enter the draft early.
Tight end Dyron Dye also received a four-game suspension. Defensive lineman Adewale Ojomo, quarterback Jacory Harris, and wide receiver Travis Benjamin each received a one game ban. All of those players are marginal prospects, and the off-the-field trouble could make some of them undraftable for a lot of teams.
One issue that will be a problem for all of these prospects is the disclosure of them accepting benefits to party at strip clubs. Teams that are strict about players avoiding trouble off the field will not like that, and it could definitely impact the number of teams that consider these players as options on draft day.
One of the most exciting players in college football last year, and this year barring injury, is Oregon running back LaMichael James. An electric play-maker, James led Oregon's offense on its way to winning the Pac-10 and playing for the BCS championship. While James led the FBS in rushing last season, it could be tough for him to be a first-round pick, or even a high second-round pick, per two sources.
The NFL is really moving away from selecting undersized backs with high draft picks, and the 5-foot-9, 185-pound James could be even smaller than his listed measurements. While he should light up the stopwatch in the 40-yard dash at the NFL Scouting Combine, his weigh-in will have as big an impact on his draft status.
In the 2011 NFL Draft, speed backs Taiwan Jones (6-0, 194) and Kendall Hunter (5-7, 199) both fell to the fourth round, and they were the highest drafted backs that were sub-200 pounds. All of the running backs selected in the top two rounds (Mark Ingram, Ryan Williams, Mikel Leshoure, and Daniel Thomas) were all over 210 pounds.
Other smaller, speed backs like Jacquizz Rodgers (5-6, 196) and Dion Lewis (5-7, 193) fell to the fifth round even though they were massively productive in college like James. To make matters worse, Rodgers, Lewis, Jones, and Hunter are all bigger than James.
Perhaps James can make one team fall in love and make a move like Buffalo did with C.J. Spiller and the Chiefs did with Dexter McCluster. Both of those backs were top 40 selections in the 2010 NFL Draft despite weighing less than 200 pounds. It looks more likely that James could be a pick in the second half of Round 2 as long as he stays healthy and productive.
In our mock drafts we have James going off the board in the second round, and that would be bucking the odds to a degree. In recent weeks, we've had an NFL running backs coach and other league sources tell WalterFootball.com that they want backs that have size with some speed. They cited the examples of Chris "Beanie" Wells (6-2, 229) and LeGarrette Blount (6-0, 247). Cowboys running back Felix Jones (5-10, 220) was mentioned as a back who has a nice combination of skills. They said those are the backs that the league is trending toward, and that is bad news for James' draft stock.
Three quality college football players face tough decisions on if they should enter the 2012 NFL Draft or return to play college football. They may not have any game action during the 2011 season, so these three players have to evaluate their decision based on their previous performance and how they would benefit from a potential return to college football in 2012.
Arkansas running back Knile Davis, Arizona State cornerback Omar Bolden and Missouri left tackle Elvis Fisher all had strong 2010 seasons to put them in good position to be drafted in the first two rounds. Unfortunately, all three went down with serious injuries this preseason. Now they have to decide if they would be better off getting healthy this fall and entering the NFL Draft or returning to play college football.
Davis broke his ankle for the second time. The first occasion happened in high school. Davis said he may return to play this season but will only do so if he is 100-percent healthy. The 6-foot, 226-pound Davis entered training camp as one of the top backs in the 2012 NFL Draft class. Last year, he ran for 1,322 yards with 13 touchdowns while averaging 6.5 yards per carry. Davis also caught 19 passes for 136 yards and one score.
If Davis is able to get healthy and play the second half of the season, it would definitely be in his interest to return to college football. Durability concerns are always a huge red flag for a running back, so if Davis can get back on the field and have a strong finish to the season, that will help rehabilitate his draft stock. That plan could backfire if Davis gets hurt again, but it is probably worth the risk for Davis to have the chance at playing well and getting to the Senior Bowl healthy with some good tape. If all of that goes well Davis would stay a second-day pick.
Fisher had started 40 straight games for Missouri at left tackle. He was a very good pass protector for quarterback Blaine Gabbert the past few seasons. As a pro prospect, Fisher (6-5, 295) could use some more bulk and power as a run blocker, but he definitely has proven the ability to protect a pocket passer and keep them healthy. Fisher missed spring football with a shoulder injury before going down this August with a ruptured patellar tendon in his left knee. .
At this point, Fisher has plenty of good tape for the NFL to look at. His last game tape was him dominating Iowa defensive end and future first-round pick Adrian Clayborn in the Insight Bowl. Gabbert attempted 57 passes in that game, and Fisher kept Clayborn from touching Gabbert. Clayborn recorded only one tackle in the contest. If Fisher returns to school and gets injured again, it could send him into the late rounds. He probably would be better off entering the 2012 NFL Draft.
The 5-foot-10, 195-pound Bolden recently said that he is healing faster than expected, and he is keeping the window open for playing late in the 2011 season. That still appears to be a long shot, and Bolden said he is preparing for the 2012 NFL Draft. Last year, Bolden had three interceptions with 52 tackles and seven passes defensed. Bolden has also returned two kicks for touchdowns in his career with an average of 30 yards per kick return.
Last April, Bolden tore his ACL after having another serious knee injury in 2009. For Bolden, returning to play college football in 2012 has too much risk. Another injury in college play would probably result in him not getting drafted. If Bolden had stayed healthy and productive in 2011 he could have graded out as a second- or third-rounder. Now, he probably doesn't grade out any higher than the fourth or fifth round.
After speaking to sources with a few NFL teams, new Oakland quarterback Terrelle Pryor was not an option for many franchises for a variety of reasons.
Oakland forked over a third-round pick in the 2012 NFL Draft in order to land Pryor in the supplemental draft. Pryor left Ohio State after being the catalyst for the scandal that rocked the program and forced head coach Jim Tressel's resignation. Pryor and a host of other players were suspended to start the season.
The Raiders have been searching for a franchise quarterback since Rich Gannon finished up his career in 2004. Speaking with sources from a few teams, they feel that Pryor is more likely to flame out like JaMarcus Russell than blossom into a good pro.
Some teams didn't feel that Pryor fit their pro-style offense, and didn't even consider him because of that. Pryor
was a spread option quarterback in college, so he did not play in an advanced passing scheme and would have a lot to learn to execute a pro passing attack efficiently. Physically, he has a great skill set, but coaches have said that he needs to improve his throwing mechanics significantly for the NFL.
One NFC team that has a need at the quarterback position told us they really like the film of Pryor. The 6-foot-5, 232-pounder showed the arm strength and mobility that appealed to them as a developmental quarterback in the short-term with a high ceiling of starting potential to build toward over time. That team though ruled Pryor out after doing a background check on him. They felt that his off-the-field baggage was too much of a risk for them to spend a draft pick on him. Pryor is said to have an entourage of "hanger-ons." Those type of players concern many NFL teams.
It says something that another NFC team with a quarterback need, the Washington Redskins, passed on Pryor. With Rex Grossman and John Beck as their top two signal-callers, the Redskins need a long-term quarterback of the future. Taking a chance on a guy with suspect character is not an issue for any of the Washington decision-makers. General manager Bruce Allen drafted Aqib Talib and gave another chance to tight end Jerramy Stevens among others. Head coach Mike Shanahan drafted Maurice Clarett, and Dan Snyder has signed and drafted many players with character concerns.
If the Redskins are passing on Pryor, one has to assume their character evaluation came back with a failing grade.
Pryor has a lot of people to prove wrong as he enters the NFL, including 31 other NFL teams.
The situation in Tennessee is quickly deteriorating between star running back Chris Johnson and the Titans franchise. Johnson has continued his holdout, and after coming into town to meet with the Titans, he has returned to his home in Orlando.
Johnson is seeking a contract extension that would pay him in his rightful spot as one of the top running backs in the NFL. Tennessee and Johnson are said to be far apart on a contract extension. Johnson reportedly wants to be paid more around $13-14 million per year, with the Titans not wanting to go beyond $10 million. There are rumors that Johnson could be requesting a trade soon.
With that in mind, a trade that should happen would have Johnson being sent to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers for a first- and third-round pick. The Titans are rebuilding around quarterback Jake Locker, and have a promising young running back Javon Ringer to fall back on. Getting two picks to help rebuild other weaknesses could be a wise move for Tennessee.
The speedster Johnson would form a great running game with LeGarrette Blount. Between Blount's power and Johnson's game-breaking speed, Tampa Bay would have a dynamic running game to complement young franchise quarterback Josh Freeman. Johnson would bring a speed element that Tampa Bay does not have in the backfield, and to a degree their entire offense. Splitting carries between Blount and Johnson would also help keep each back fresh and healthy in the short-term and long-term. Johnson ran for 1,364 yards after running for 2,006 yards in 2009. He has 34 touchdowns in three seasons.
The Bucs are struggling to sell tickets as they were the only team in the league to have every game blacked out last season, and surely will have numerous blackouts in 2011. Bringing in a player of Johnson's caliber would definitely ignite some excitement in the franchise and put more fans in the seats of Raymond James Stadium.
The Bucs chose to mainly sign their own in free agency, and bringing in a superstar like Johnson would go along way to showing that ownership is committed to paying for a winner. Until the Bucs owners start signing some star players, it will be hard for the franchise to shake the label of being cheap. Fairly or unfairly, that is the general view of the Glazers in Tampa Bay. The Buccaneers definitely have the cap space to be able to afford Johnson.
The signing would be out of character for general manager Mark Dominik because he doesn't like big-money deals. He also wouldn't be in favor of trading away draft picks that now come cheap in the new rookie wage scale. However, Dominik did try and sign Albert Haynesworth and Jonathan Vilma in 2009, while dealing a second-rounder for tight end Kellen Winslow.
In speaking to sources with the Bucs, they are intrigued with the idea of landing Johnson, but feel that he is too expensive and the shelf life for running backs is too short to make the compensation worth the deal. Thus, this trade sounds like it is very unlikely to happen.
However, if the Bucs want to make a run at the Super Bowl, trading for Johnson would be a huge addition toward making that happen, and the situation in Tennessee is getting uglier by the day.
It is painfully clear that Denver needs to trade quarterback Tim Tebow. The new Broncos regime led by John Elway and head coach John Fox has moved Tebow to third on the depth chart behind starter Kyle Orton and backup Brady Quinn. With Tebow rotting on Denver's bench, it makes sense for the two sides to part ways with Tebow in terms of a trade.
A team that would be a great fit would be the Buffalo Bills. Tebow was on the Bills' radar in the 2010 NFL Draft, and many believe that the Bills would have drafted Tebow if he fell to their pick in the second round. Buffalo does not have a long-term starting quarterback being groomed under Ryan Fitzpatrick. Tebow would instantly give the Buffalo franchise some much-needed star power.
Tebow also would be an ideal fit in Chan Gailey's offense. The variety of plays that Gailey could run with Tebow's running and throwing skill set could be a perfect marriage. Gailey could have a package of plays for Tebow each game while developing him for a starting role in 2012 or 2013.
To make the deal happen, the Bills should send a second-round pick to Denver. The Broncos are rebuilding and could use the draft choice. If Denver finishes in first place in the '"Suck for Luck" sweepstakes (Stanford QB Andrew Luck), it would make a lot more sense for Denver to take Luck rather than having a first-round quarterback already on the roster and then use the first-overall pick on another signal-caller.
Although, this trade makes way too much sense for it to actually happen.
Janzen Jackson has been dismissed from Tennessee's program for off-the-field issues. In February, he withdrew from the school to deal with personal problems. He re-enrolled in July, but Volunteers head coach Derek Dooley dismissed Jackson from the team in an announcement on Wednesday, Aug. 24.
Dooley did not give an explicit reason, but in his statement on the dismissal, he said the program tried to help Jackson with his personal challenges, and his actions have caused him to be removed from the team.
Last season, Jackson notched five interceptions with 69 tackles and six passes broken up. In 2009, he started as a freshman next to Eric Berry and recorded 37 tackles with three passes broken up and an interception.
Jackson is a fast and physical defender who could have been a third-round pick if he stayed at Tennessee and improved his production. There are many options for Jackson to consider. One could be transferring to a non-FBS school in hopes of playing in 2011, or he could sit out this season while enrolling at another FBS school. He also could sit out the season and then enter the 2012 NFL Draft as he will be three years removed from high school.
The Oklahoma defense is trying to avoid another blow with linebacker Ronnell Lewis. Lewis, a junior, was out of practice for some time with a personal matter. He has returned to practice now, but the Sooners don't know if he will be playing in the season opener against Tulsa. Lewis looked poised for a breakout season after flashing as a sophomore. He recorded 3.5 sacks with an interception, fumble recovery and 37 total tackles last season in only four starts.
The 6-foot-2, 244-pound Lewis is extremely fast and is a violent hitter. He was a definite candidate to have a big season and put himself in position to declare early for the 2012 NFL Draft. Right now, Oklahoma head coach Bob Stoops would not say that Lewis would definitely play in the 2011 season. There are rumors that he could be declared academically ineligible.
Off-the-field issues are always a huge concern to NFL teams. According to sources in the NFL scouting community, Lewis needs to get back on the field quickly and produce to regain the excitement that had sprouted from the end of the 2010 season.
Teammate Travis Lewis' draft stock is also up in the air right now. Lewis, a senior, will be out until some time in October after breaking a bone in his foot during practice. Lewis has led the Sooners in tackles the past three seasons. He had a dynamic freshman season, and has followed that with some quality years in 2009 and 2010. If Lewis can come back on time in early October and finish the season productively in good health, his draft stock should not be harmed that much.
The draft stock for North Carolina State defensive tackle J.R. Sweezy took a significant hit with the news that he just had surgery to repair a broken foot. Sweezy is projected to be out six weeks. That would put his return some time in October.
A 6-foot-5, 293-pounder projected as a mid-round defensive end who could play nose tackle in a 4-3 defense or possibly be a five-technique in a 3-4 defense, Sweezy was a reserve in 2009 and had three sacks and five tackles for a loss. Last year, he earned a starting spot and broke out with 11.5 tackles for a loss, 5.5 sacks and 50 tackles. Sweezy was an All-ACC honorable mention.
When Sweezy returns he will have to hit the ground running, pun intended, to compile the production he will need to keep his draft stock in the middle rounds and not fall into the last couple of rounds.
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