I’m extremely distrustful of information that appears in the last couple weeks before the draft. Teams have reviewed tape for months, poked and prodded the prospects in person at the combine, but are just now sweetening or souring on a prospect? If you didn’t hear rumblings of it before or in the immediate aftermath of the combine, don’t trust it now. Trying to keep that in mind, here’s my take on how the draft goes down in two weeks.
1. Carolina Panthers- Marcell Dareus, DT, Alabama
There isn’t a clear #1 overall worthy prospect in this class, but none of the QBs are even close to worth it. Cam Newton strikes me as the lovechild of Tim Tebow (big, strong and mobile) and Vince Young (riding one strong season capped with a title to a top draft spot) while Blaine Gabbert was a much less effective passer than his undrafted predecessor Chase Daniel. Dareus and AJ Green are the two sensible choices here. Green is the safer pick with the talent, production and polish to succeed quickly in the NFL, but Dareus could be the capstone of a excellent defense. The Panthers had a top 10 pass D by DVOA last year but didn’t get much pressure from the interior and were below average against the run. Even with AJ Green their offense will still be bad, but with Dareus their D could be great.
2. Denver Broncos- Patrick Peterson, CB, LSU
The Broncos could use some front 7 pieces for their switch to a 4-3 defense, but they can’t pass up the best defensive player on the board after finishing bottom 4 against the pass and the run. John Fox has the Denver job because the defense in 2010 was intolerably bad, he can’t be choosey about where Denver adds defensive talent.
3. Buffalo Bills- Von Miller, OLB, Texas A&M
The Bills leading sacker was NT Kyle Williams with 5.5. All the Bills linebackers combined for less than 10 sacks. This from a 3-4 defense! Miller is a fearsome pass rusher who has both the athletic skills and college production of a top prospect.
4. Cincinnati Bengals- AJ Green, WR, Georgia
Green should be able to contribute quickly to an offense that has several good young complimentary targets but was dragged down by Owens and Ochocinco performance falling far short of their fame.
5. Arizona Cardinals- Robert Quinn, OLB, North Carolina
Peterson or Miller would be ideal, but with both gone and the top QBs not worth the pick the Cards add a badly needed edge rusher. The Cards starting OLBs were the 33 year old Joey Porter and Clark Haggens who had 5 sacks a piece. There are a lot of questions around Quinn, but he’s got the talent to justify a top 5 selection.
6. Cleveland Browns- Julio Jones, WR, Alabama
The Browns front 7 needs serious work, but their need at WR is just as big. The Browns had no WRs with more than 500 yards, 40 catches or 3 TDs last year. If their offense is going to function under Colt McCoy they need better targets.
7. San Francisco – Prince Amukamara, CB, Nebraska
The Niners need to bring their pass D up to a level closer to their run defense if they are going to stay in games. Prince is better value than any of the edge rushers left and while both were below average, the pass rush outperformed the overall pass D.
8. Tennessee – Nick Fairley, DT, Auburn
Fairley’s stock has been slipping as his performance in the national championship game faded from memory a bit, allowing everyone to remember that while he was dominant this past season, he was a non-factor previously. Add in being outshone by the much larger, stouter and more versatile Dareus and he’s no longer a serious contender for the top spot. Putting up a season that stacks up to Suh’s last year of college however, is going to get you drafted in the top 10.
9. Dallas – Cameron Jordan, DE, California
Jordan is ideal for and experienced in a 3-4 D. The Cowboys got very little impact up front from players not named Ratliff. Jordan improves the D all around.
10. Washington – Cam Newton, QB, Auburn
While I think it’ll be a horrible mistake, someone is going to pull the trigger on Cam Newton in the top 10, probably earlier than this. Washington is supposedly trying to move up for him, which is exactly the kind of short-sighted big name chasing you’d expect from them.
11. Houston – JJ Watt, DE, Wisconsin
Unless Jones or Amukamara fall to them the Texans are in a rough spot. Their biggest needs are secondary help and a LB who they can drop into coverage since likely starter at OLB Connor Barwin isn’t overflowing with coverage experience. With this board I’d be shocked if the Texans didn’t trade down, but if they had to pick here Watt would be the best move for them. They have Mario Williams and Antonio Smith solidly in place at the DE spots, but having another talented body up front would be extremely useful.
12. Minnesota – Da’Quan Bowers, DE, Clemson
With free agent DE Ray Edwards not expected to return the Vikings could use a new bookend for Jared Allen. Bowers’ knee is a serious concern, but he is progressing and performed at too high a level last year to fall far unless his lower leg falls off before the draft.
13. Detroit – Tyron Smith, OT, USC
While you can’t blame the OL for Matt Stafford’s injury last year, he was sacked 4 times in 100 dropbacks, they are going to need a new LT pretty soon. Jeff Backus turns 34 this season. Jon Ogden and Orlando Pace were out of the league by 34, Walter Jones played his final season at 34 and Willie Roaf only held on until 35. LTs don’t play much past 30, the position doesn’t lend itself to declining physical abilities. Smith can do some much needed maturing on the bench or at a less demanding position then take over at LT.
14. St. Louis – Corey Liuget, DT, Illinois
DL is the popular consensus for the Rams, but DT makes so much more sense that DE. Chris Long and James Hall combined for 18.5 sacks last year and while James Hall is 34, so is DT Fred Robbins and Robbins’ partner on the interior, Gary Gibson, was a non-factor. While Hall and Robbins will need to be replaced down the line, the Rams should complete the line to make the most of the time in which they still have the two performing at a high level.
15. Miami – Blaine Gabbert, QB, Missouri
Again probably more of where they should go than where they will, but while I’m puzzled as to why Gabbert is so highly touted, he does have the tools to be a excellent QB if he goes to a team that can leave him on the bench for a while and isn’t barren of offensive talent.
16. Jacksonville – Aldon Smith, DE, Missouri
Kerrigan is a safer choice, but with less upside. “He’ll be a decent player for a long time” is not an endorsement when you are talking about the number 16 pick. Drafting not to bust isn’t any better an idea than playing not to lose.
17. New England – Gabe Carimi, OT, Wisconsin
Can Carimi play LT? When you have Sebastian Vollmer able to flip to the left side if needed, that’s a far less troubling question. 17 is early for a RT, but 32 was early for a guard and no one calls Logan Mankins a bad pick.
18. San Diego – Muhammad Wilkerson, DE, Temple
Wilkerson has the size, strength and athleticism of a great 5-tech, and the Chargers aren’t afraid to take a small school guy early (though Larry English hasn’t really worked out).
19. New York Giants – Mike Pouncey, C/G, Florida
The Giants OL is old, 4 of their 5 starters are over 30 and the “young man” Chris Snee is a fresh faced 29 year old. The Giants have William Beatty waiting in the wings for a tackle spot and with Carimi gone there isn’t a road grater type of value, so they draft the future of their interior in Pouncey.
20. Tampa Bay – Ryan Kerrigan, DE, Purdue
Why is 16 too early, but 20 ok? Well the other options at DE aren’t as good this time around and the Bucs D isn’t wretchedly awful so rather than being chipped and/or doubled teamed into submission if he shows any flashes, the Bucs will get the most out of him.
21. Kansas City – Phil Taylor, NT, Baylor
A popular pick that’s falling out of favor due to recent reports that MRIs at the combine discovered a medical issue with his feet. Reports which didn’t come out until well after the combine. I don’t buy it, the issue might be real, but the concern isn’t.
22. Indianapolis – Nate Solder, OT, Colorado
The Colts pick is as hard to peg as ever, but with this board Solder stands out. Paea or Sherrod are possibilities of note. There are good reasons to doubt Ingram, LeShoure, Baldwin, Hankerson, Smith and Harris, but they can’t be ruled out.
23. Philadelphia – Jimmy Smith, CB, Colorado
Smith is exactly the kind of big physical DB who will excel in a man scheme that loves to get after the quarterback, if he’s half the player he thinks he is Smith will fill the Eagles need at CB extremely well.
24. New Orleans – Mark Ingram, RB, Alabama
Chris Ivory was a non-factor in the passing game and had trouble holding onto the football, Pierre Thomas can’t stay healthy even with a complementary back’s workload and Reggie Bush isn’t going to suddenly become a real runningback.
25. Seattle – Cam Heyward, DE/DT, Ohio State
Seattle can wait on a quarterback, Hasselbeck isn’t tapped out quite yet and there’s some promise in Charlie Whitehurst. Heyward can play the 5 and 3 tech spots very well in Seattle’s rather unique defense.
26. Baltimore – Justin Houston, OLB, Georgia
The Ravens got just 1.5 sacks from starting ROLB Jarrett Johnson and the LB with next most sacks to Terrell Suggs’ 11 had just 2. Houston is coming from a 3-4 defense and was extremely productive rushing the passer.
27. Atlanta – Adrian Clayborn, DE, Iowa
Like the Ravens the Falcons sacks came disproportionately from one player. Clayborn is a 3-down player who can give the Falcons some pressure off the other edge.
28. New England – Brooks Reed, OLB, Arizona
We all know how unlikely it is that the Pats hold onto both of their 1st round picks, but if they did it’s a safe bet they’ll hit two of OT, DE and OLB. Brooks Reed is being labeled a workout warrior by many, but having watched him terrorize the Iowa OL I’m not one of them.
29. Chicago – Anthony Castonzo, OT, Boston College
The king’s random they paid for Cutler is going to get everyone fired if they let him get pounded into a bloody pulp. Which won’t take much longer at a pace of a sack per 9.3 dropbacks.
30. New York Jets – Martez Wilson, LB, Illinois
Wilson’s versatile skillset would be a great fit with a creative defensive mind like Rex Ryan.
31. Pittsburgh – Derek Sherrod, OT, Mississippi State
Sherrod is good value and can slot in nearly anywhere on a OL that wasn’t great even before almost everyone got injured.
32. Green Bay – Akeem Ayers, LB, UCLA
Ayers isn’t an elite pass rusher and his stock took a hit from a luckluster combine, but his game is well rounded enough for him to fit inside or out in a 3-4 D. He’s far better in coverage than the other 3-4 OLB prospects which fits well with a team that it going to usually send the other OLB as the 4th rusher.