Here is the 18th edition of the Monday Morning Draft – a column that delves into the past weekend’s action from an NFL Draft perspective. As the season goes on, the draft picture and slotting will become more clear, but every Sunday will provide a few hints for next April.
By Charlie Campbell.
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Let’s Play Matchmaker:
This section will look at some of the top talent in college football and match those prospects up with the losing teams from Wild Card weekend.
Detroit Lions: Chase Minnifield, CB, Virginia
The Lions� secondary got torched throughout the 2011 season. Going up against Drew Brees in the playoffs was a recipe for disaster as the Saints Pro Bowler threw for 380 yards and three touchdowns. It will be tough for Detroit to go any further until it upgrades its pass defense, especially playing in the NFC North.
Picking outside of the top-20 picks, it could be a stretch for the second or third cornerback to reach the Lions. Assuming Morris Claiborne, Dre Kirkpatrick and Alfonzo Dennard are already gone, Minnifield could be the top corner that Detroit has a shot at. As a senior, Minnifield recorded 50 tackles with seven tackles for a loss, 1.5 sacks, eight passes broken up and three interceptions. He has good bloodlines with his father Frank being a Pro Bowl corner for the Browns in the 1980s. Chase Minnifield (6-0, 185) is a good cover corner who is well balanced as a zone and man corner.
Cincinnati Bengals: Trent Richardson, RB, Alabama
The Bengals were without a quality running game all season, and it came back to bit them in the playoffs as they really could have used a back to help take the pressure off of Andy Dalton. Cedric Benson ran for 14 yards on seven carries and Brian Leonard led them in rushing with 34 yards on three carries. Cincinnati has two first-round picks, so the team should consider trading up in the first round to land the top running back in the draft.
Richardson enters the BCS Championship having been a consistently dominant player this year. He has averaged six yards per carry and totaled 1,583 yards with 20 touchdowns. Richardson has also been an excellent receiver, snagging 27 receptions for 327 yards and three scores. He would be a perfect fit in Jay Gruden’s offense.
Atlanta Falcons: Andre Branch, DE, Clemson
The Falcons could use more pass rush. Outside of John Abraham, they don’t have defenders who can consistently put heat on the quarterback. On Sunday, Eli Manning was efficient and picked apart Atlanta. He threw for 277 yards and three touchdowns on only 23 completions. Abraham is aging, so the Falcons have to start preparing themselves for his eventual decline.
Branch is a streaky player, but he is a very good athlete with speed to burn. As a senior, Branch led the ACC in sacks with 10.5. He also had 77 tackles with 17 tackles for a loss and a forced fumble. Atlanta may have to trade up in the second round to land Branch.
Pittsburgh Steelers: Ronnell Lewis, OLB/ILB, Oklahoma
The Steelers� defense is aging and needs some youth. James Farrior, James Harrison and Casey Hampton are all facing the end of their careers in the next few years. The linebackers struggled and missed some tackles against the Broncos, while also not getting enough pass rush, allowing Tim Tebow to connect on a number of deep passes. Pittsburgh needs some young talent at the inside and outside linebacker positions.
Lewis would be a perfect scheme fit for the Steelers. At 6-foot-2 and weighing around 250 pounds, he could play inside linebacker on running downs and rush the passer from the edge in passing situations. In 10 games this season, Lewis recorded 59 tackles with 13 tackles for a loss, 5.5 sacks, one forced fumble and one interception. He is a violent defender who is built like a truck. Lewis flies around the field and can be an intimidating presence.
Let’s Play Coaching Matchmaker:
This section will look at some of the available head coaching positions and who could be a good fit for a given position. We’ll assume that the consensus is correct and that Kansas City is not a real opening as Romeo Crennel will be named the permanent head coach.
St. Louis Rams: Jeff Fisher
Fisher would be a good fit in St. Louis. The Rams have a franchise quarterback and a willingness to spend money. Those are significant differences from what Fisher dealt with at the end of his tenure in Tennessee. His coaching style and experience would provide an improved model and tone for the Rams� young roster.
Miami Dolphins: Todd Bowles
Jon Gruden would be a good fit in Miami, but he isn’t interested. With Fisher probably heading to St. Louis, the Dolphins may be better off going with Bowles. He is extremely popular in the locker room, and the team responded to him when he was made the head coach to finish out the season. If Miami can’t land a proven coach, its best bet might be to stick with a young, promising coach who already has earned the respect of the locker room.
Jacksonville Jaguars: Jay Gruden
The Jaguars need to find a coach who can work with Blaine Gabbert. The franchise has a first and second-round pick invested in their signal caller, so finding a coach who can get something out of him has to be the utmost priority. Gruden did a fantastic job with rookie Andy Dalton this season. He also spent many years working closely with older brother Jon Gruden in Tampa Bay, and grew up as a coach’s kid. Jay Gruden is more prepared to be a head coach than any typical young coordinator.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Mike Zimmer
Zimmer is ready to be a head coach. He has done an excellent job as the defensive coordinator with Cincinnati, and has gotten young defenders to play well quickly. That skill set is a dire need for Tampa Bay as its defense features a lot of high draft picks, but remainss one of the worst units in the NFL. Zimmer has been around the coaching community long enough to know some good offensive coordinator candidates to help rectify Josh Freeman. Zimmer is a disciplinarian, and that stringency is very needed in the Buccaneers’ locker room.
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