It has been a long time since we have made any post on the blog. I am partnering, and participating, with Chris Boyle, a freelance sports writer for the Orlando Sentinel and radio host for the University of Central Florida, to post this mock draft he has put together. It will take place from April 21 and run until the actual draft starts on April 28. Check back often for updates.
1. Carolina Panthers: Marcell Dareus, DT, Alabama. “This will give the Panthers the dominant defense tackle they have lacked since trading Kris Jenkins. Cam Newton can be tempting. However, Dareus is a safe and immediate impact pick.” — Jarrett Bailey (Advance, NC)
Boyle’s take: Carolina shores up an awful defensive line with one of the safer prospects available. However, defensive tackle is traditionally not a No. 1 overall pick position. It will be interesting to see if the defensive-minded Ron Rivera begins his tenure in Carolina taking a less sexy player who fits a position of need or if he tries to hit a home run and goes with Newton or Gabbert. Jimmy Clausen doesn’t have to be his guy, but given the fact Carolina spent a second-rounder on him last season, I see them giving him a chance to earn his merit. Dareus can slide right in from day one and help a defense that ranked 23rd against the run and tied for 20th in the league in sacks.
2. Denver Broncos: Von Miller, LB, Texas A&M. “[The Broncos] need a pass rusher. Besides [Elvis] Dumervil, we need another linebacker that can pass-rush. D.J. Williams isn’t cutting it. We need a linebacker that can rush the passer and stop the run.” — Raul Correa (Oviedo, FL)
Boyle’s take: No team in the NFL had fewer sacks in 2010 than the Denver Broncos. There’s no chance that a coach as defensively sound like John Fox doesn’t take a top-tier defensive player with this pick. Denver does have options should Dareus, an ideal fit for Denver’s new 4-3 scheme, fall to them. Miller can get to the passer easily and is responsible in the rest of his duties as a linebacker. And Patrick Peterson could potentially be the shutdown corner in waiting while learning from the great Champ Bailey. Overall, I can’t disagree with Miller being the choice. Denver could not generate pressure last year and Todd McShay believes that Miller is the most NFL-ready prospect in the entire draft.
3. Buffalo Bills: Patrick Peterson, CB, LSU. “I like how good of a cover corner he is. He can cover anybody in the league. He’s going to start right away and make an impact. He’s a good all-around player. The history of cornerbacks taken in the first round is good if you look back. Spending a high pick on a cornerback is a much safer option than a quarterback or wide receiver. He’s going to tear it up.” — Joe Hamm (Oviedo, FL)
Boyle’s take: I did a little research seeking to confirm or deny Joe’s claim of the cornerback success rate. Among the list of underclassmen cornerbacks selected in the first round since 1997: Champ Bailey, Charles Woodson, DeAngelo Hall, Antonio Cromartie, Darrelle Revis (24 combined Pro Bowl appearances). The good thing in seeing these names is that they all went in the top 20, as compared to underclassmen such as Willie Middlebrooks, Jamar Fletcher and Ahmad Carroll who went later in the first round and were major busts. To me, Peterson is the best player available and should be as good as it gets at the cornerback position in the next couple of years. Buffalo’s numbers against the pass were misleading. They ranked third in the league in passing yards allowed per game, but it was largely due to the ineptitude of its run defense. Only four teams allowed opposing quarterbacks to have a higher passer rating while also giving up 28 touchdown passes.
4. Cincinnati Bengals: A.J. Green, WR, Georgia. “He’s arguably the safest and top-rated prospect in the draft, and if any team needs a sure thing, it’s the Bengals. With Carson Palmer’s situation up in the air, one of the QB prospects would make sense. But, owner Mike Brown naively thinks there is still a chance he comes back so Brown wouldn’t want to offend the Golden Boy. Green would give the Bengals a great young receiving core along with Jerome Simpson, Jordan Shipley and last year’s first round pick, TE Jermaine Gresham. Obviously, this would put Chad Ocho-Johnson on the outs, but coach Marvin Lewis has been tired of his antics for years so this would be the perfect chance to finally part ways.” — Ian Jacobson (Cincinnati, OH)
Boyle’s take: Man, things went downhill fast in the ‘Nati last season. From division champs to, well, reality. The Bengals are nearly annual members of the top five and yet again have a ton of needs to fill. Carson Palmer reportedly wants to be traded so badly he’s threatened to retire from the NFL, the T.Ocho Show is about to get cancelled, and the worst part is that Marvin Lewis is still the head coach. Seriously? He’s 60-67-1 for his career. In Cincinnati, I suppose mediocrity earns a contract extension. Palmer may force the team’s hand in drafting a QB, which hurts because they have many other holes to fill. If they don’t elect to go with a QB, Green is the likely pick as Chad Johnson and Terrell Owens are free agents.
5. Arizona Cardinals: Cam Newton, QB, Auburn. “[The Cardinals] should take a QB because, well, it’s obvious why.” — Carlos Rivadeneyra (Phoenix, AZ).
Boyle’s take: What Carlos meant in such blunt honesty was that the Cardinals ranked next-to-last in the NFL in passing yards per game. The trio of Derek Anderson, Max Hall and John Skelton combined to toss just nine touchdowns last season. NINE?!?!?! In 16 games?!?!?! Yes, this is sad but true. They also threw a total of 21 interceptions to insure themselves as the worst team in the league in passer rating. Newton is far from a surefire NFL quarterback, but he is a rare breed. The Heisman winner is an incredible athlete with speed, agility and power. His ability to run alone will cut down on Arizona’s sacks allowed number, which was tied for second-worst in the league.
6. Cleveland Browns: Julio Jones, WR, Alabama. “They need receivers. Give me Julio. [I like] the big-play capability, and the Browns have really not had anyone to throw to since they lost [Braylon] Edwards and [Kellen] Winslow. [Colt] McCoy has no one to throw to.” — Chad Hounshell (Kirtland, OH)
Boyle’s take: Not a single Browns wide receiver amassed more than 400 yards receiving last season, and Chansi Stuckey was the only one to catch at least 40 balls. The Browns collectively may have the worst set of receivers in the entire league, and in general, one of the least talented offensive teams. They have also been dreadful with their draft picks of skill positions, dating all the way back to Tim Couch and William Green. Jones has skyrocketed up the draft board after a tremendous combine. He’s one of the fastest receivers in the class, runs good routes and has improved his hands. Should A.J. Green not be available, Jones should be the pick. If not, the Browns can improve upon a solid defensive foundation.
7. San Francisco 49ers: Blaine Gabbert, QB, Missouri. “It makes sense because [the 49ers] have only got one quarterback on the roster. They’re going to re-sign Alex Smith to a one-year deal. Blaine is the prototypical pro-set quarterback they’re going to want. I think that if Blaine were to fall to them at No. 7, they would have no choice but to take him.” — Victor McDaniel (Oakley, CA)
Boyle’s take: The 49ers may have been the most disappointing team in the league in 2010. The season unraveled after they lost their opening six games. Three quarterbacks started for San Francisco last season (Alex Smith, Troy Smith and David Carr), and in comes quarterback guru Jim Harbaugh and his $25 million contract to save the day. Unfortunately for Harbaugh, he can’t bring Andrew Luck with him to the pros yet. The 49ers will most likely look for a quarterback early on in this draft, whether it be in the first round or not. Gabbert comes from a fast-paced spread offense in Missouri but has been erratic at times. However, he’s got a strong arm and good mobility. If anyone can make him a star at the next level, it’s Harbaugh.
8. Tennessee Titans: Jake Locker, QB, Washington. “Are you serious? Do [the Titans] really want to go into the season with Rusty Smith as their starting quarterback? Jake Locker is underrated. He would have been the No. 1 pick last year. He has a cannon for an arm, is fast and has height. The Titans might try to trade down, but I don’t think he’ll get past Washington or Minnesota, and I heard they want him.” — Tyler Griffin (Oviedo, FL)
Boyle’s take: And here we have the mock draft’s first real surprise. Just when the scouts thought Jake Locker wouldn’t get drafted in the first round, he’s made a late push and has almost certainly solidified himself as a first-rounder. Tennessee may elect to acquire a veteran to start in the short-term, giving Locker a chance to develop. But he has all the physical tools to be a great NFL quarterback. With Locker, it’s all about accuracy. He completed only 55 percent of his passes in his senior year at Washington and struggled at the combine. If he can fix these flaws and play as he did in his junior year, Locker will be a steal in this draft. If not, Tennessee has big problems.
9. Dallas Cowboys: Prince Amukamara, CB, Nebraska. “Terence Newman is getting old. Mike Jenkins is starting to suck. [The Cowboys’] entire secondary could use an uplift, more so than the offensive line.” — Sean Roberts (Chuluota, FL)
Boyle’s take: The Cowboys’ secondary is still icing itself down from being torched for the entirety of the 2010 season, one in which the ranked 26th in the NFL giving up 243.4 yards per game through the air. Terence Newman will be 33 on opening day, Mike Jenkins is one of the league’s most penalized defensive backs and Orlando Scandrick has really struggled in the nickelback position. Bryan McCann was a bright spot down the stretch, but in Amukamara, Dallas potentially adds a lockdown corner. He had a terrific year, shutting down all opposition. Prince may not blow you away with his measurables, but he plays much faster on the field and always manages to hang in the receiver’s hip pocket. This is the ideal situation for Jerry Jones and the Cowboys.
10. Washington Redskins: Anthony Castonzo, OT, Boston College. “He’s got size and was a four-year starter. [The Redskins] need offensive linemen. I wanted Julio Jones or one of the top two cornerbacks, but all of them were off the board.” — Mark LaBalbo (Oviedo, FL)
Boyle’s take: The Redskins are a bit out of luck in this mock draft. Both Carlos Rogers and Philip Buchanon are free agents, so landing a cornerback would have been huge (all the more reason for ‘Skins fans to hate the Cowboys, I suppose). Also, the top three quarterbacks are gone and top two receivers are gone, Washington’s other primary needs. Instead, they opt for a tackle for the second straight year. Castonzo and Trent Williams would be a nice pair of bookends for the next decade or so. Personally, I think that if this scenario held true that Washington would try like hell to trade out of the pick and grab Jimmy Smith later in round one.
11. Houston Texans: Robert Quinn, DE/OLB, North Carolina. “The Texans’ defense didn’t have enough pass rush last year. I like Robert Quinn’s athleticism that he showed on his pro day. I think he would be a great fit on the line with Mario Williams and Amobi Okoye.” — Christian Peterson (Danville, VA)
Boyle’s take: This is an excellent pick for the Houston Texans. Houston ranked 23rd in the NFL in sacks last season and suffered as its secondary was obliterated, giving up the most yards in the league. Houston blew a number of games late in large part due to the combination of a stagnant pass rush and a soft, irresponsible secondary. Since both elite corners are gone, Quinn’s value at No. 11 is far too good to pass on. Though he, like the majority of the Tar Heels’ defense, sat out last season via NCAA suspension, Quinn has not missed a beat on the field. He projects as a DeMarcus Ware-type of hybrid 3-4 linebacker. He will have to learn the nuances of that position, but the guy can flat out get to the quarterback. He should give Mario Williams a much-needed partner.
12. Minnesota Vikings: Nick Fairley, DT, Auburn: “It will give the Vikings a little more speed and give the Williams’ a break. Fairley provides youth and could probably replace Pat Williams.” — Michael Boyle (Oviedo, FL)
Boyle’s take: This pick is a little smarter than you would expect on first glance. Yes, the Vikings have two strong defensive tackles in Kevin and Pat Williams. And yes, Pat signed a contract extension in 2008 that runs through the 2013 season. But, he is also 38 years old now and just starting to enter the twilight of his career. The Vikings finished in the top 10 again last year in rushing yards allowed but were a pedestrian 20th in the league in sacks. Fairley could be the heir apparent to Pat Williams, has the ability to absolutely dominate the game and can blossom under the tutelage of the two Pro Bowlers. If Fairley is on the board this late, his value alone is intriguing. If not, expect the Vikings to look for either a quarterback, defensive end (Ray Edwards is a free agent) or offensive lineman.
13. Detroit Lions: Tyron Smith, OT, USC. “[The Lions] need an offensive tackle who can protect [Matthew] Stafford. H had a pretty good year at USC, and he is big guy with good size. They need more protection and he’s like 6-foot-5 and300lbs. I saw a few games [where] he did some big things.” — Jared Barrett (Oviedo, FL)
Boyle’s take: Finally, the Lions elect to protect their $41 million investment by giving him someone who can block. Detroit elected to pass on Michael Oher two years ago and have seen Matthew Stafford get his head handed to him on a weekly basis. Stafford’s undergone multiple shoulder injuries in his brief tenure in the NFL, which is never a good thing. If Detroit plans on contending in the near future (the talent is finally starting to come along), they need to address major weakness on the offensive line and in the defensive back seven. Smith is a good pass blocker, a tremendous athlete and good value in the early stages of round one. If the Lions can hit on this pick like they have with Ndamukong Suh and Calvin Johnson in recent years, they might be able to break out of the cellar for once.
14. St. Louis Rams: Leonard Hankerson, WR, Miami (FL). “[Hankerson] proved himself versus the top talent in college, broke Michael Irvin’s wide receiver records at Miami and had 13 receiving touchdowns last year, which is great for a college receiver. He is a strong, physical wide receiver, and the Rams need that. He’s like a younger version of [Anquan] Boldin or Andre Johnson.” — Brandon Santiago (Oviedo, FL)
Boyle’s take: There’s no doubt that the Rams have to get a wide receiver early on in this draft. They have no true no. 1 guy, as eight receivers caught touchdowns last season and none had more than three. I don’t mind them taking Hankerson, just so long as they trade down and pick up extra selections. Obviously, there’s no trades in a mock so I’ll forgive Brandon for the reach. Hankerson has immense talent and managed to be productive despite abysmal quarterback play at the U. He should be a first rounder for sure and does have the physical tools to warrant that selection. His hands have come into question though, and he’ll need to show consistency in catching the football at the next level to blossom into the players he’s been compared to.
15. Miami Dolphins: Mark Ingram, RB, Alabama. “Both [Miami’s] running backs are unrestricted free agents. I could see them bringing one back but not both. [Ronnie] Brown didn’t even average four yards per rush and [Ricky] Williams is 34.” — Brian Jones (Orlando, FL)
Boyle’s take: It has become a rarity to see running backs go in the top half of the first round in the past few years, but Miami has a definite need for one and lacks a second round pick. Certainly, the Dolphins would consider trading down to reacquire a second rounder, but in Ingram, they get a hard-nosed, between-the-tackles runner who thrives on contact. Miami, Wildcat offense and all, tied for worst in the league in yards per carry and ranked 21st overall in yards per game. Brown has bad knees, Williams has long since past his prime and both are without a contract. Don’t be surprised if this is the pick. It’s the big name that Dolphins fans will be calling out for on draft day.
16. Jacksonville Jaguars: Ryan Kerrigan, DE, Purdue. “The general consensus is that Jacksonville is very high on this kid, and for good reason. He has a high motor, is a hard worker, and is a high character guy. He fits perfectly into Gene Smith’s high character system, not to mention the Jaguars have not had a good pass rush in year. He has drawn comparisons to Aaron Kampman.” — Mike Clinton (Winter Park, FL)
Boyle’s take: Jacksonville has tried and tried and failed and failed to find a defensive end via the draft. Former top 10 pick Derrick Harvey has been a huge bust, Aaron Kampman was productive last year until suffering a knee injury, etc. With a plethora of defensive ends still on the board (J.J. Watt, Da’Quan Bowers, Aldon Smith, Adrian Clayborn), the Jaguars elect to take Kerrigan, a hard worker who may not be a super athlete but was very productive in his senior season. Kerrigan had 13 sacks last year to go along with 12 the year before. He’s the type of guy that should be great in the locker room and that should fill a major void for the Jags.
17. New England Patriots (from Oakland): Da’Quan Bowers, DE, Clemson. “He’s got no. 1-pick-of-the-draft talent. He was listed up there almost the whole season. They have some injury concerns with him, which is why I think he’ll drop to where he is now. But, I think the Patriots will take the talent.” — Maxx Kumiski (Chuluota, FL)
Boyle’s take: Bowers certainly does have talent, and the Patriots certainly need a potential game-changing pass rusher. But, there are two major questions with this pick. 1) Will Bowers’ knee hold up? Scouts have legitimate concerns that the long-term durability of his knee will hold him back from being an elite pro sack artist. 2) Would Bowers fit in New England’s 3-4? Bowers comes from a 4-3 scheme at Clemson and his been projected as a right defensive end in this defense. It’s an interesting pick, considering Aldon Smith and J.J. Watt might be better fits.
18. San Diego Chargers: Cameron Heyward, DE, Ohio State. — Alan Hadley (Oviedo, FL)
Boyle’s take: The Chargers could not overcome an inconsistent start and a pair of losses to the Raiders, surrendering the AFC West crown for the first time since 2005. Granted, the Chargers faced a number of injuries to key players, especially in the receiving corps, but still this team should have done better than 9-7. They ranked no. 1 in the NFL in both offensive yards per game and defensive yards allowed per game. It’s one of football’s great statistical anomalies. It appears that San Diego will address the defense early in this draft to try and improve upon its pass rush. Former first-rounder Larry English has vastly underwhelmed through two NFL seasons, so Heyward could be a nice replacement. Heyward provides terrific versatility. He can line up as an end and defend the run well, and he can also rush the passer as a 3-4 outside linebacker. This team has missed the influence of Shawne Merriman through injury and, later, release. They want an impactful defensive player right away.
19. New York Giants: Mike Pouncey, G, Florida. “The ideal situation is for the Giants to find a true left tackle, but I’ll take the safe option and draft the best lineman available. The Giants’ O-line was decimated last season, and Pouncey should team up with Chris Snee and become the best set of guards in the entire league. Good luck to interior defensive lineman trying to shoot the gaps on those two guys.” — Chris Boyle (Oviedo, FL)
Boyle’s take: First, let me say how weird of a position it is to have a take on myself. Anyway, on to more relevant information. Just two seasons ago, it looked like the Giants’ offensive line was set. All the starters were under 30, the team ranked no. 1 in the league in running the football and Eli stayed upright for the majority of the season. Don’t get me wrong: when healthy, the five guys they have are still very solid. The ideal situation is to land a true left tackle and allow David Diehl to move to his natural position of right tackle while subsequently cutting Kareem McKenzie. But Pouncey has great blocking skills on the left side, a perfect complement to arguably the best right guard in football (Snee). The Giants pride themselves on the ability to run the football with anyone they plug behind the QB, such as a seventh-rounder like Ahmad Bradshaw who went over 1,000 yards last season. That all starts up front. If this isn’t the direction the Giants go in, keep an eye on Illinois defensive tackle Corey Liuget.
20. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Akeem Ayers, LB, UCLA. “Tampa needs to continue to strengthen their front seven, and with Ayers we get a quality linebacker with the possibility of adding weight to become a defensive end.” — Alex Herrera (Cooper City, FL)
Boyle’s take: The Buccaneers have drafted as well as any team in the league the past two seasons, adding the face of the franchise in QB Josh Freeman, a dynamic wideout in Mike Williams and a defensive stalwart in Gerald McCoy. Now, the Bucs elect to address their linebacking corps. The Bucs finished 28th in the NFL defending the run and lack a true threat from the outside backer position. Tampa is going to have a number of choices with this pick. They now desperately need a corner after news broke that the team is expected to release Pro Bowler Aqib Talib for off-the-field discretions. The Bucs could also use a defensive end. In Ayers, the Bucs get a linebacker who can get to the quarterback and defend both the run and the pass respectably. Regardless of what player they take, the Bucs will go defense in the first round.
21. Kansas City Chiefs: Aldon Smith, DE/OLB, Missouri. “Tamba Hali is a free agent. While it is expected that he’ll stay, he needs help on the opposite side. Vrabel is a good leader, but his skills are diminishing. Smith’s size and speed make him an ideal outside linebacker in the 3-4. Although there have been questions about his consistency and leadership, being mentored by Vrabel will certainly help.” — Brandon Naidus (Parkland, FL)
Boyle’s take: The Chiefs tied for 10th in the league with 39 sacks, but Hali provided 14.5 of them by himself. KC did not get a ton of production from their outside linebackers in getting to the quarterback, most notably former No. 3 overall pick Tyson Jackson who only had one sack all year. There are some good, young playmakers within this defense in Derrick Johnson, Glenn Dorsey, Eric Berry and Brandon Flowers. If they get Smith, an incredible bargain at the 21st pick, this could be the piece the Chiefs need to stay on top of the AFC West. With Smith, they get an extremely quick rusher who has a frame he can build upon (he entered the draft as a redshirt sophomore).
22. Indianapolis Colts: Derek Sherrod, OT, Mississippi State. “[Colts OT] Charlie Johnson proved he couldn’t handle it last year, and [Peyton] Manning was sacked more last year than in the previous two years combined. Manning is, of course, the most important player on that team.” — Scott Maxfield (Orlando, FL)
Boyle’s take: Colts GM Bill Polian will have it very easy in the opening two rounds. The M.O. should be simple: get an offensive tackle and get a defensive tackle, in no specific order. Manning regressed statistically in 2010, largely due to poor play by the Colts’ offensive line. The Colts also finished near the bottom of the NFL again in run defense, finishing a paltry 26th while giving up 4.6 yards per carry. Sherrod faced the some of the elite players in this draft head-to-head in the grueling SEC West division. He’s a 6-foot-6, 305-pound monster who plays with a good head on his shoulders. The Colts will likely take whoever they prefer of him, Wisconsin’s Gabe Carimi or Colorado’s Nate Solder.
23. Philadelphia Eagles: Jimmy Smith, CB, Colorado. “I really want the Eagles to take [Smith]. He’s a monster. I was reading about him, and they said he was a top-15 athlete, comparable to Prince Amukamara just with some emotional problems. Those will be fine. I think… I think. He’s a right cornerback who can cover, and that’s what the Eagles need across from Asante [Samuel].” — Zach Wishnov (Boca Raton, FL).
Boyle’s take: The Eagles really missed Sheldon Brown last season. Despite the fact that Brown did not rack up the interceptions that the hyper-aggressive Samuel did, the guy could cover. Ellis Hobbs and Dmitri Patterson both had tough years, and Hobbs was forced to retire after a major neck injury. Certainly, they’ll consider a cornerback with this selection. The question becomes talent versus character (with drug and underage alcohol possession charges to his credit). Well, considering who plays quarterback for Philly these days, it’s safe to say Smith has a good shot at getting drafted by the Eagles. He caught a number of scouts’ eyes at the combine and is a tremendous athlete with cover skills. However, I specifically remember fellow first-rounder A.J. Green having his way with Smith during the season. He’s a boom-or-bust prospect, nothing more and nothing less.
24. New Orleans Saints: Cameron Jordan, DE, California. “[Justin] Houston failed a drug test, so the Saints pass on him. They need DE/DT help in a bad way. If he wasn’t availabl,e I would say they pick Marvin Austin who has had an amazing combine and senior day workout. They recently acquired Shaun Rogers, but that is only a temporary fix, not long term.” — Shane Rope (New Orleans, LA)
Boyle’s take: The Saints have taken four defensive linemen in the first round since 2002, including current starters Will Smith and Sedrick Ellis. However, there has been a bit of a void on the end of the line opposite Smith. Cameron Jordan, son of 13-year NFL veteran Steve Jordan, has skyrocketed up the draft board with some mocks projecting him in the middle of round one. Jordan played in the 3-4 scheme in college, which obviously attracts teams such as the Patriots and the Chargers. However, New Orleans plays the 4-3. So long as Jordan displays the speed and athleticism off the edge as he did in college, he could blossom playing with a solid defensive unit and under a great coordinator like Gregg Williams.
25. Seattle Seahawks: Brandon Harris, CB, Miami (FL). “I’ve known about [Harris] for a while now, so I didn’t have to look much about him. He’s straight up good. The Seahawks can use all the help they can get [defending the pass].” — Sean St. John (Orlando, FL)
Boyle’s take: Though they may have been the worst playoff team in the history of professional sports, give the Seahawks some credit. They defended their home turf and took out the defending Super Bowl champions. Now, however, it’s back to reality. The Seahawks have a ton of holes to fill across the field, starting at the quarterback position where Matt Hasselbeck is a free agent. Seattle invested heavily in Charlie Whitehurst, so he could be in line to take the job. The interior line could also use an overhaul, but I really like this pick. Seattle ranked 27th in the NFL against the pass and only intercepted 12 passes. They’ve gotten destroyed on the opposite side of Marcus Trufant. Harris, a corner who blends speed and physicality, should be ready to make an immediate impact. It’s normally not a bad idea to draft a defensive back from the U.
26. Baltimore Ravens: Aaron Williams, CB, Texas. “They need a corner in the worst way, and he is the last viable option with first-round value. I don’t like picking for necessity, but the depth of corner falls off quick and we need a corner. The odds of signing Nnamdi [Asomugha] are not good at all, so that’s the pick.” — Michael Bibbins (Gaston, SC)
Boyle’s take: For as great as Baltimore’s front seven has been, its corners have been equally unreliable. The Ravens ranked eighth against the pass, but a large portion of the credit is due to the dominant blitz packages and Ed Reed playing an impeccable centerfield safety. To compound the problems of just a sheer lack of great players, three corners are due to be free agents including starter Josh Wilson. Williams should be the fifth corner off the board and has a good shot at finding a way into the back end of round one.
27. Atlanta Falcons: Justin Houston, LB, Georgia. “[Houston] is undersized but quick off the ball. He will be a great pass rusher, which the Falcons need one. In the playoffs, Green Bay had too much time to throw. He will most likely start this season. Plus, he is very strong for his 6-foot-3, 270-pound build.” — Ryan Hunziker (Oviedo, FL)
Boyle’s take: Atlanta will certainly want to address the defensive side of the ball in the early rounds. Falcons fans, players, coaches and Arthur Blank himself are still probably still having nightmares from the 48-21 divisional round drubbing at the hands of the Green Bay Packers. The Falcons have had a problem in finding a second legitimate pass rusher across from John Abraham. In the local product Houston, they can address this need and possibly groom him to be Abraham’s successor. There is still some debate as to what Houston’s role at the next level will be. He has the size of a defensive end put played linebacker at Georgia. He may find a nice as an edge rusher in Atlanta’s 3-4 scheme.
28. New England Patriots: J.J. Watt, DE, Wisconsin. “While an offensive lineman was being looked at, Watt had the most value for a position we need. Besides, we can pick up plenty of offensive linemen in the second round.” — Maxx Kumiski (Chuluota, FL)
Boyle’s take: Honestly, I thought Watt would be the pick at No. 17. Watt has a non-stop motor and provides a nice balance as a run stopper and a pass rusher. This pick intrigues me though, almost appearing as a safety net for Bowers. The Pats, despite having the best record in the league, have a few spots to fill with their endless draft picks. They could use a running back, deep-threat wide receiver, offensive tackle, etc. This isn’t the perfect team like it used to be. They just have no flaws in their quarterback, head coach or upper management, which is why they will always compete.
29. Chicago Bears: Danny Watkins, G, Baylor. “The Bears need an offensive lineman to protect our multi-million dollar, two-first-rounder investment.” — Tommy Humbert (Gainesville, FL).
Boyle’s take: Chicago will be taking an offensive lineman with this pick. Bears quarterbacks took more abuse that Rihanna this year, as the line allowed a league-high 56 sacks. They surrendered nine in one half against the New York Giants. Chris Williams has been a major disappointment, having been moved to the right side of the line. Watkins has ability and maturity (he’s 27) and should be able to open some holes for Matt Forte along with his responsibilties in pass protection. In my view though, Chicago should go with the tackle first. At this stage, both Gabe Carimi and Nate Solder are available and can potentially protect the blind side.
30. New York Jets: Phil Taylor, DT, Baylor. “[The Jets] need to replace Kris Jenkins and establish a dominant anchor in their 3-4 defense.” — Frank Carbone (Orlando, FL)
Boyle’s take: To all the non-believers, the Jets had one of the best defenses in the league last season. Despite injuries up front, the Jets managed to finish third in the NFL against the run. But, the Steelers opened up major holes early and often in the AFC Championship, exposing a glaring hole at the nose tackle position. Kris Jenkins had been relatively productive in two seasons in New York, but his health status has never been good. He’s missed more than half of the Jets’ games in that timespan. Taylor is a monster, weighing in at a robust 334 pounds. He should be able to do exactly what the Jets envision: take on multiple blockers and stuff the run. However, he comes with a share of character concerns (he was kicked off the Penn State team in 2008) and he’s not particularly explosive or quick. If the Jets can find a responsible defensive tackle, it only encourages Rex Ryan to dial up more blitzes and be more creative with his bevy of linebackers. Also, for the record, I never thought I would ever see a pair of Baylor Bears go back-to-back in the first round. Now, if it were two UCF Knights in a row, I’d have to check the weather report in hell.
31. Pittsburgh Steelers: Nate Solder, OT, Colorado. “Hoping for Mike Pouncey to slip all the way down to 31 is a long shot, so don’t expect Steelers Nation to be holding their breath for it to happen. The O-line has been decimated with injuries and just plain atrocious play. Nate Solder is a 6-foot-8 behemoth with an 81-inch wingspan and room to grow. He can be an immediate impact, or just behind Flozell [Adams] for a year. Another option here would be one of the top-rated cornerbacks, but Solder is too good of a talent to pass up.” — Sean Sonnenberg (Fort Lauderdale, FL)
Boyle’s take: Pittsburgh bounced back after missing the playoffs in 2009-10 with a great run to the Super Bowl. Every other year this team manages to put it all together and put it all together, a testament to one of the best front offices in professional sports. However, the Steelers have two gaping holes: offensive tackle and cornerback. Since the top five corners are already gone, Solder makes for a potentially nice steal at the end of round one. Solder stunned scouts at the combine with freakish athleticism. Originally a tight end, he’s huge, fast and has a ton of potential to build upon. However, he has a ton to learn about playing the position at the upper level. He’s not mind-blowingly strong by any stretch, and some critics say he’s a bit soft for his size overall. If the Steelers can develop this kid correctly, he can be an absolute force. If not, he’ll be of the Tony Mandarich mold: super athlete, terrible offensive tackle.
32. Green Bay Packers: Brooks Reed, DE, Arizona. “With the great talent already acquired by the other teams at the offensive and defensive lineman positions along with the 2009 Heisman Trophy winner RB Mark Ingram, at this point [the Packers] must get the best available at a position that can be flexible. Reed is a solid outside linebacker that can fit in great with our 3-4 defensive scheme, where we can utilize him with his hand in the dirt or standing on the opposite side of Pro Bowler Clay Matthews.” — James Austin (Bartow, FL)
Boyle’s take: The Packers got hot at the right time and made a remarkable run to their first Super Bowl in 13 years. Aaron Rodgers is the best quarterback in the NFL right now. Period. The Pack addressed the offensive line last season and have the luxury of selecting the best available player. The Packers are young and have a ton of depth at the skill positions. To me, the only true “need” is an outside linebacker to complement Clay Matthews in the pass rush. Meet Brooks Reed, who a number of scouts have compared to Matthews and not just for his long, blonde hair. He’s quick, deceptively strong and is relentless at getting to the edge. The thought of a Clay Matthews clone playing opposite the real thing already has quarterbacks checking what their medical insurance covers.