Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - The NFL is truly a copycat league. That
is, at least in most cases.
Now, surely teams won't be emulating the controversial practices that helped
the New Orleans Saints to a Super Bowl title during the 2009 season, not after
commissioner Roger Goodell's historically unrelenting crackdown on the
organization in response to the Bountygate scandal. You can bet they've been
paying close attention to the business model the New York Giants have
administered, with Big Blue's philosophy of stockpiling high-end pass rushers
a vital component to the franchise's enviable recent success.
Jerry Reese was widely panned for his selection of Jason Pierre-Paul with the
15th overall pick of the 2010 NFL Draft. The critics viewed the addition
of a wonderfully gifted yet incredibly raw defensive end with only one year of
proven production at the major college level as a needless and risky inclusion
to a team that already contained a pair of established sack artists on the
Two years later, the Giants general manager's bold move is now being hailed as
a stroke of genius after Pierre-Paul quickly blossomed into an All-Pro
defender and invaluable contributor to New York's victory in Super Bowl
XLVI this past season.
The immediate impact of Von Miller and Aldon Smith, two top-10 choices from
last year's draft who each played critical roles in the sudden 2011
turnarounds of the Denver Broncos and San Francisco 49ers, respectively, has
further illustrated just how important a premier pass rusher is to a team's
chances for contending for a championship.
Of course, quarterback remains the sport's glory position, which is just one
reason why all the buildup to this draft has almost exclusively been centered
around the blue-chip duo of Stanford's Andrew Luck and Baylor's Robert Griffin
III, both of whom are already locked in as the top two picks in some order,
and explains how the continued rise of Texas A&M's Ryan Tannehill has become
such a hot topic for debate.
But in the two weeks between now and when the best and brightest of the 2012
rookie class convene upon New York's Radio City Music Hall to find out their
professional destinations, expect to learn a lot more about players like
Southern California's Nick Perry, Illinois' Whitney Mercilus, Clemson's Andre
Branch, Syracuse's Chandler Jones, Boise State's Shea McClellin and West
Virginia's Bruce Irvin. All fit the mold of the new breed of edge rusher whom
teams are seeking to build their high-pressure defenses around as they search
for their own Pierre-Paul, Miller or Smith, and the relevance of the position
to today's game has caused their stock to soar as a result.
So without any added hype, The Sports Network presents its first 2012 NFL mock
draft, with a brief explanation of each team's possible direction along with a
few projected trades thrown in for a bit of fun:
1) Indianapolis Colts: Andrew Luck, QB, Stanford -- Jim Irsay has tried his
best to provide some mystery as to which of the two coveted quarterbacks the
Colts will take with the top choice, and Griffin's exceptional showing during
the scouting process has made the decision a little less clear-cut as it was
back in January. Still, Indy has been locked in on Luck as Peyton Manning's
successor ever since it secured the No. 1 spot, and the Stanford prodigy
hasn't done anything to make the team change its thinking.
2) Washington Redskins (from St. Louis): Robert Griffin III, QB, Baylor -- The
Redskins have already gone on record that they'll be selecting whomever's
still available between Griffin and Luck, as if the three premium draft picks
they shipped to the Rams to move up to No. 2 wasn't evidence enough that the
club didn't intend to address its most obvious need. Washington may prefer
Griffin anyway, as the reigning Heisman Trophy winner's mobility and
intelligence are tailor-made for head coach Mike Shanahan's offense.
3) Minnesota Vikings: Matt Kalil, OT, Southern California -- General manager
Rick Spielman has told anyone who'll listen that he's open to fielding offers
to move down, and trading out makes some sense considering the Vikings'
abundance of holes. But unless he can coerce Cleveland to flip-flop if the
Browns are dead set on landing Tannehill, the best course of action may be
staying put and grabbing Kalil, who's head and shoulders above the other left
tackle candidates in this class and should be a 10-year fixture.
4) Cleveland Browns: Trent Richardson, RB, Alabama -- While it's no secret the
Browns will be exploring an upgrade on the modestly skilled Colt McCoy in this
draft, Tannehill's limited track record (just 20 starts at Texas A&M) and
inconsistent college career may cause some reservations at a pick the
franchise simply can't whiff on. Richardson, regarded as the best running back
prospect since Adrian Peterson, is a much surer bet and can immediately lessen
the burden of whomever is under center next season with his hard-to-find
5) Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Morris Claiborne, CB, LSU -- It's common knowledge
that the Bucs love Richardson and would probably snare him here if he's still
on the board. Bringing in the draft's best cover corner wouldn't be a bad
consolation price if Richardson not there, though. Though Tampa signed Eric
Wright in free agency to help shore up its leaky secondary, Ronde Barber just
turned 37 and Aqib Talib is in the last year of his contract and has some
pending legal issues, so additional aid could still be of use. It also
wouldn't be surprising if the Buccaneers attempt to trade down and gain some
6) St. Louis Rams (from Washington): Justin Blackmon, WR, Oklahoma State --
The Rams' lack of a bona fide No. 1 receiver has made Blackmon a very popular
mock ever since their blockbuster deal with Washington, but it shouldn't be a
foregone conclusion. Opinions are mixed on whether the two-time Biletnikoff
Award recipient has the deep speed and separation skills to merit going this
high, and St. Louis also has large voids to fill in the secondary and across
both lines. Still, there's little question he can bring a needed boost to one
of the league's most anemic passing attacks.
7) Jacksonville Jaguars: Nick Perry, DE, Southern California -- The Jags only
managed 31 sacks last season and don't have a reliable pass-rushing presence
opposite end Jeremy Mincey, and Perry had a productive three-year career at
USC and blew up the NFL Combine with his athletic prowess. He'd be somewhat of
a reach at this point, but general manager Gene Smith has pulled some
surprises with high picks in the past. Jacksonville also could use some more
weapons for young quarterback Blaine Gabbert, so Blackmon may be an option if
he falls, but the character-conscious Smith could balk at Notre Dame phenom
Michael Floyd due to a history of off-field incidents.
8) Miami Dolphins: Ryan Tannehill, QB, Texas A&M -- The Dolphins have been
searching for a quality young quarterback for seemingly forever and likely
wouldn't hesitate to pull the trigger on Tannehill if the Browns pass. It's a
perfect landing spot for the former Aggie, as he played collegiately under new
offensive coordinator Mike Sherman and can be eased into duty with veterans
Matt Moore and David Garrard currently on the payroll.
9) Carolina Panthers: Dontari Poe, DT, Memphis -- The Panthers have the
makings of a dangerous offense for years to come after striking gold with 2011
Rookie of the Year Cam Newton, so repairing a defense that was abysmal in head
coach Ron Rivera's debut will be the focus. Though he wore an underachiever's
label at Memphis, the 345-pound Poe has the brute strength and uncanny
quickness to develop into a force who can bolster the team's greatest area of
weakness, the middle of the line.
10) Buffalo Bills: Michael Floyd, WR, Notre Dame -- Most draftnicks have the
Bills targeting Iowa standout Riley Reiff to fortify an opening at left
offensive tackle, but the former Hawkeye isn't a top-10 talent and Buffalo
likes the promise of 2011 fourth-rounder Chris Hairston. General manager Buddy
Nix generally maintains a best-player-available philosophy in the first round,
and the talented Floyd better fits that bill while also filling a need for a
big-bodied complement to Stevie Johnson in the passing game.
11) Kansas City Chiefs: Fletcher Cox, DL, Mississippi State -- Personnel guru
Scott Pioli has always been a big believer in investing heavily on the
offensive and defensive lines, and Cox was one of the most formidable stoppers
in the prospect-rich SEC the past two years. He can contribute immediately as
an interior rusher on nickel downs as well as give the Chiefs insurance in
case impending free agent Glenn Dorsey isn't re-signed at season's end.
12) Seattle Seahawks: Whitney Mercilus, DE, Illinois -- One of the Seahawks'
sore spots last season was the absence of a consistent edge rusher alongside
veteran end Chris Clemons, a situation the team expects to rectify in the
draft's first two days. Mercilus, who led the nation in sacks as a junior with
the Illini, is an ascending player with similar qualities to Clemons in terms
of speed and hustle and would make a nice bookend. Seattle also may have
interest in Perry, who was recruited to USC by Pete Carroll and fits the
club's defensive criteria.
13) Arizona Cardinals: Melvin Ingram, OLB, South Carolina -- Surrendering
their second-round pick as part of last summer's Kevin Kolb trade will force
the Cardinals into a tough decision unless they're able to move down, as both
the offensive line and the pass rush must be upgraded. With the way this draft
may shape up, finding a player who can put heat on the quarterback could be
more difficult in the middle stages, and there's next to chance they'll be
able to get one the caliber of Ingram, who's drawn comparisons to Pittsburgh
Pro Bowler LaMarr Woodley, in the third round.
14) Dallas Cowboys: Mark Barron, S, Alabama -- The Cowboys usually aren't very
tight-lipped about the players who strike Jerry Jones' fancy, and the two
names most linked to the team's plans have been Poe and Barron. Though the
latter often battled injuries during his tenure with the Crimson Tide, he'd
bring a more physical and athletic dynamic to the back end than the present
projected starting tandem of Gerald Sensabaugh and Brodney Pool.
15) Philadelphia Eagles: Quinton Coples, DE, North Carolina -- Last month's
trade for middle linebacker DeMeco Ryans allows Philly to focus on drafting
for talent as opposed to plugging in holes. Coples may have the highest
ceiling of any defensive lineman in this year's crop, but questions about his
toughness and desire have worried prospective suitors and could possibly cause
his stock to slip. Capable of playing both outside or along the interior, his
versatility should appeal to an Eagles team that traditionally places a high
priority on the defensive line.
16) New York Jets: Andre Branch, OLB, Clemson -- The Jets have been connected
with virtually every top-tier pass-rushing prospect and are sure to emphasize
that aspect with one of their early selections. They've shown particular
interest in Ingram and personally worked out Branch, a speedy but somewhat
unpolished player with a lot of upside who's best suited to stand up in a 3-4
17) Cincinnati Bengals (from Oakland): Luke Kuechly, ILB, Boston College --
Middle linebacker doesn't seem to be at the top of the Bengals' wish list at
first glance, but incumbent Rey Maualuga has encountered questions about his
instincts and struggled in pass coverage during his three-year career. There
are no such concerns about Kuechly, who's universally lauded for his
intelligence and all-around abilities as one of this draft's safest choices.
And he's a Cincinnati native to boot.
18) Cleveland Browns (projected trade with San Diego): Kendall Wright, WR,
Baylor -- With an astounding 13 picks, the Browns have the capability of
maneuvering up the ladder and zeroing in on the players they most desire. And
Wright, perhaps the most polished member of this year's receiver group,
appears to be very high on their board as a potential field-stretcher for an
offense that's woefully devoid of playmakers. He's also believed to be on
Chicago's radar at No. 19 as well, so a trade may be necessary to reel him in.
Cleveland could wait until the second round to address its quarterback
situation, with Michigan State's Kirk Cousins a possibility.
19) Chicago Bears: Chandler Jones, DE, Syracuse -- The Bears could explore a
number of different avenues, as the offensive line is littered with mostly
marginal players and they're still a little short at wide receiver even after
the offseason trade for Brandon Marshall. A young pass rusher to team with
Julius Peppers is also on the checklist and they may not be able to afford to
wait until the second round to take one. Jones, the younger brother of UFC
light heavyweight champion Jon Jones, has been rocketing up draft boards
following a strong performance on the workout circuit and offers an intriguing
blend of size, length and tenacity.
20) Tennessee Titans: Peter Konz, C, Wisconsin -- Unsuccessful pursuits of
Scott Wells and Jeff Saturday in free agency was a good indicator that the
Titans aren't overly pleased with the work of starting center Eugene Amano,
and Konz could provide a younger and cheaper replacement if the club is
comfortable with some durability issues he experienced in college. As the
product of a Wisconsin program renowned for churning out good NFL linemen, his
technique and preparation aren't in question.
21) Cincinnati Bengals: Courtney Upshaw, DE, Alabama -- After losing key cogs
Frostee Rucker and Jonathan Fanene in free agency, the Bengals are on the
lookout for reinforcements to the defensive front. Upshaw had been touted as a
possible top-10 pick early in the draft process as a scheme-versatile pass
rusher, but a lack of lateral agility exposed at the combine will likely limit
him to a down lineman in 4-3 looks. Still, his track record of production as
one of the stalwarts of a vaunted Alabama defense offers some value at this
22) San Diego Chargers (projected trade with Cleveland): David DeCastro, G,
Stanford -- A rash of injuries over the course of last season revealed San
Diego's paucity of depth along the offensive line, and perennial Pro Bowl
guard Kris Dielman's forced retirement due to concussion problems only
compounds those problems. General manager A.J. Smith would be doing cartwheels
if indeed he's able to trade down and still obtain a pro-ready replacement in
DeCastro, a durable technician who excels in pass protection.
23) Detroit Lions: Dre Kirkpatrick, CB, Alabama -- The secondary was the
Achilles heel of an otherwise terrific bounce-back 2011 campaign for Detroit,
as evidenced by the more than 900 passing yards the defense allowed over the
team's last two games, and that was before starting corner Eric Wright left
via free agency. Standing nearly 6 feet, 2 inches with long arms, Kirkpatrick
has the size and physical demeanor to thrive in the Lions' press-coverage
scheme, though a recent run-in with the law could cause a club that just had
two players arrested on marijuana charges to pause. Detroit also is in the
market for an heir apparent to 34-year-old left tackle Jeff Backus, with
Reiff, Ohio State's Mike Adams and Stanford's Jonathan Martin all possible
24) Pittsburgh Steelers: Donta Hightower, ILB, Alabama -- The run on Crimson
Tide defenders could continue here, with James Farrior's offseason release
creating an opening at inside linebacker and declining veteran Larry Foote
merely a stopgap option. The 265-pound Hightower would seem to be a sensible
fit as run-stopping thumper who played in a 3-4 system at Alabama and can
blitz. With Rashard Mendenhall's status for next season unknown due to a knee
injury, plucking a running back early on also wouldn't be surprising.
25) Green Bay Packers (projected trade with Denver): Shea McClellin, OLB,
Boise State -- The Packers got by with using undrafted free agent-types at the
outside linebacker position opposite Clay Matthews during their 2010 title
run, but that inability to bring consistent outside pressure was the biggest
reason for the team's defensive downturn last season. A high-motor player with
some pass-rushing skills, McClellin has vaulted himself into first-round
consideration after demonstrating better-than-expected athleticism and
fluidity at the combine, and he's the high-character prospect that general
manager Ted Thompson loves. With the Patriots reportedly on McClellin's trail
as well, Thompson may have to move up to get him.
26) New England Patriots (projected trade with Houston): Michael Brockers, DL,
LSU -- Brockers' on-field accomplishments aren't commensurate with a first-day
selection, as the draft-eligible sophomore only managed two sacks and started
one year on a loaded LSU defense and wasn't very impressive at the Combine.
However, he's just 21 years old with the prototype frame for a difference-
making 3-4 end, and scouts believe he's only scratching the surface of his
potential. With extra picks in both the first and second rounds and a need for
an influx of youth on the defensive line, New England is one team that may be
able to roll the dice on such a boom-or-bust player.
27) New England Patriots (from New Orleans): Bruce Irvin, OLB, West Virginia
-- Mark Anderson and Andre Carter accounted for exactly half of the Pats' 40
sacks last season, but Anderson is now in Buffalo and Carter may not be
brought back after getting hurt late in the year. Irvin is undersized and owns
a rather sketchy background, but the former Mountaineer is an explosive
athlete with 4.5 speed who showed next-level pass-rushing prowess as a
collegian, and the possible early run on 3-4 outside linebackers could further
boost his already soaring stock.
28) Denver Broncos (projected trade with Green Bay): Kendall Reyes, DT,
Connecticut -- The Broncos' projected starters at defensive tackle heading
into the draft are 33-year-old Justin Bannan and 31-year-old Ty Warren, who
hasn't played a regular-season down the last two years because of injuries.
Needless to say, Denver can sorely use a young interior plugger with the
ability to penetrate like Reyes, who's received high marks for his work ethic
and leadership as much as for his athletic gifts.
29) Baltimore Ravens: Cordy Glenn, G, Georgia -- Strong recent drafts should
have the Ravens well prepared for the departures of several key veterans, but
the loss of left guard Ben Grubbs may be the most challenging one for head
coach John Harbaugh and general manager Ozzie Newsome. The task would be
considerably easier if Glenn, a remarkably nimble 345-pound mauler who may be
quick enough to handle right tackle in the pros, is still around at this late
30) San Francisco 49ers: Devon Still, DE, Penn State -- The additions of a re-
energized Randy Moss and Super Bowl XLVI hero Mario Manningham helped
stabilize what had been a dire situation at wide receiver for the defending
NFC West champs, allowing them to concentrate on supplying depth to both the
offensive and defensive lines. Still, the 2011 Big Ten Defensive Player of the
Year, has the size and agility to earn time as a two-gap end in the Niners'
3-4 arrangement and assist an inside rusher on passing downs.
31) St. Louis Rams (projected trade with Houston thru New England): Jerel
Worthy, DT, Michigan State -- If the Rams decide to use their first pick on a
wide receiver, odds are they'll spend one of their two early second-rounders
towards repairing a run defense that ranked 31st in the league last year.
Worthy's strength and ability to play with leverage gives him a good chance to
start immediately as part of the team's latest rebuilding effort.
32) New York Giants: Doug Martin, RB, Boise State -- Last season's Super Bowl
champs enter the offseason thin at defensive tackle, so Worthy or Reyes would
be logical candidates if either makes it this far. Brandon Jacobs' exodus and
Ahmad Bradshaw's brittleness also makes running back a position that Reese
will likely earmark in the first three rounds, and Martin's powerful style and
team-first attitude should appeal greatly to head coach Tom Coughlin as well.
The Sports Network