March 16, 2011
The scouting combine is done for another year, many pro days are in the bag, and it's time to get a better sense of need assessment per team in the chaos the NFL now faces. Obviously, with free agency a non-factor as long as the lockout lasts, we're left with the notion that drafting for need may be a bigger factor this year than it has been in others. Teams that may have been reasonably willing to give up multiple picks for, say, Kevin Kolb(notes) might be off the market now, because Kolb may not have time to come in and learn a new system if the NFL's work stoppage drags on into training camp time. As such, the picks in this particular mock are generally attuned more to team needs that you'd normally find; usually, there's more of a balance between need and best player available. And once in a while, a player with talent will drop, and that becomes the priority. Picks 17-32 reside on this page; we'll have the top half of the first round mocked up later today.
The Patriots haven't ranked in the top 10 in Football Outsiders' Adjusted Sack Rate metric since 2007, which is the last time they went to a Super Bowl. Kerrigan, the reigning Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year, may be able to change that all by himself. Showing the kind of versatility that will allow him to play in three- and four-man fronts, Kerrigan would be a perfect fit in New England's multiple defensive schemes, and the Pats' would defense would benefit from the disruptive ability which allowed Kerrigan to log 12.5 sacks and five forced fumbles in his 2010 campaign.
The Chargers have been putting impressive defenses together with spit and baling wire -- at times, their defense looks like a convention of undersized defenders with a real need for power and explosion upfront to support the efforts of Luis Castillo(notes) and Jacques Cesaire(notes). Clayborn can upset the applecart in multiple ways; though he's probably best as a fit in a five-tech end role, he can also flash power and hand moves inside on specific stunts.
The G-Men need depth at tackle, and though Tom Coughlin might prefer the already-gone Castonzo from Boston College, Sherrod could very well have the most well-balanced skill set in his draft class. Stout run and pass defenders, and able to kick over to the right side with no problem (as he showed at the Senior Bowl) Sherrod has impressive technique, and underrated mean streak, and a focus on fundamentals that will keep Coughlin from blowing his top.
Most have the Bucs taking yet another defensive lineman high in this draft, but the Bucs wouldn't have to go much further than their in-state neighbors in Jacksonville to see what happens to your roster depth when you bank too much on a line. Conversely, there's a definite need for an upgrade in Tampa Bay's offensive line; a line that struggled with consistency in run protection, especially on the edges. At the combine, Carimi said with much confidence that he's the best tackle in this draft class. A subjective point to be sure, but Carimi does have the kind of well-rounded skill set that could make him an anchor in any offense for years to come.
On the other hand, many mocks have the Chiefs taking an offensive lineman early on. Certainly a potential need, but one thing that upended this team on its impressive return to form in 2010 was an inability to stop the run consistently, specifically in key down and distance situations. Liuget isn't mentioned with the frequency of many other elite defensive linemen in this class, but he's strong at the point and can play multiple positions — a perfect balm for what has ailed Kansas City's defensive line.
The left tackle position has been a major question mark in Indianapolis for a long time. Mitigated to a great degree by Peyton Manning's(notes) own ability to deflect the rush, the Colts' blind side slot must be shored up. Smith played right tackle at USC, but his athleticism projects well for a move to the left side on a team requiring quick and agile tackles in a multi-faceted zone scheme. Unable to do a full workout at the combine because of a pre-existing knee injury, Smith will hope to impress at his pro day on March 30. If he does so, he may be gone long before the Colts pick.
In his first draft as the head coach of the Philadelphia Eagles, Andy Reid signed off on the selection of a mobile, accuracy-impaired quarterback with great tools and future potential. From that rookie, who completed less than 50 percent of his passes, grew a franchise quarterback by the name of Donovan McNabb(notes). Locker shares those early accuracy issues, but he's supremely mobile, totally coachable, and he can make every throw … most of the time. Michael Vick(notes), current franchise quarterback or not, is on the downhill slide of the age curve for a quarterback who takes as many hits as he does, and Kevin Kolb could attract spectacular trade value in a quarterback-desperate league — even at a time where he might not be able to pick up a system right away. Reid is one of the league's best quarterback tutors, and we've seen what he and offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg did to turn Vick into more of a pure thrower. This would be a surprise pick that could work out very well for all involved.
Saints defensive coordinator Gregg Williams needs players who can fit in multiple fronts; it really helps when you're asking your linemen to adapt from 4-3 to 3-4 to 3-3-5 — sometimes, all in the same series. Houston has excelled both as an end in Georgia's former 4-3 and as an outside linebacker in the newer 3-4 looks. As good as he looks shooting in off the edge, Houston also has the potential to be a complete defender with a little bit of tutoring on short-area coverage and reading the run.
The Seahawks haven't had anything approaching a good power running game (or, for that matter, any kind of running game) since they lost guard Steve Hutchinson(notes) in 2006. They've made the playoffs twice since with an imbalanced offense, but with their quarterback situation very much up in the air, the smart play would be to get the kind of lineman who could help reaffirm that power game. Pouncey doesn't have his brother's ability to kick inside to center, but he may be an even better potential guard — he plays that position with excellent technique and a real nasty streak. Putting Pouncey next to left tackle Russell Okung(notes) for the next half-decade would go a long way to erasing the bad blocking memories of the last half-decade.
One of the advantages teams with strong leadership structures have is that they can bring in players with character concerns and have those players under effective watch from teammates to coaches. Like the Patriots and Steelers, the Ravens have the kind of org chart that allows them to establish a sense of consistency that gives risky picks their best chance to pay off. There's no question that Smith is falling past his talent on a lot of mocks and boards because of concerns regarding his character and decision-making, but if he's ready to turn a corner as he says, the Ravens have the need at the position to make this pick a potential steal down the road.
The Falcons are set at the middle linebacker spot with Curtis Lofton(notes), but with Stephen Nicholas(notes) a restricted free agent (whatever that means these days) and Mike Peterson(notes) and John Abraham(notes) getting up there in years, help is needed both at linebacker and at the dedicated pass-rusher position. Wilson could be a perfect fit — not only did he play with a lot of range in frequent nickel or other two-'backer sets in college, but he has the potential to rush from the edge and crash inside on stunts at an elite level. He'd fit very well in Mike Smith's(notes) concepts for spacing defenders out in specific zone concepts.
28. New England Patriots — Danny Watkins, OG, Baylor
It's generally been Bill Belichick's practice to replace his key cogs about a year before he needs to, and the situation at the all-important left guard position reached a crisis point when the Pats and Logan Mankins(notes) could not come to terms on a new deal. Mankins is the team's franchise-tagged player for now, but Watkins could be a more appealing long-term option. The former Vancouver volunteer fireman, who replaced Jason Smith(notes) at left tackle at Baylor, showed a real gift for kicking inside at the Senior Bowl. Smart, savvy, and tough as nails, he'd be the perfect developmental project for a franchise that always seems to stay ahead of the game.
Getting all the way to the NFC Championship game despite quite possibly the worst offensive line in the league put the Bears in an interesting position — how to best solve their most obvious problem after most of the best guys are gone? Answer: Take a shot on an athletic project who's perhaps a season or two away from elite NFL potential. That's Solder, the former tight end who displayed great athleticism at the combine, but whose game tape reveals some fundamental flaws. It's possible that line coach Mike Tice could turn Solder into the NFL left tackle Chris Williams never was.
As long as Rex Ryan in charge, the Jets will have a strong defense. But Kris Jenkins(notes), the epicenter of Ryan's front seven, is now put of the picture and may only return in a limited role. Ryan needs a replacement with size, strength, and uncommon agility, and that's where Taylor comes in. Standing 6-foot-4 and weighing 337 pounds at the Senior Bowl, Taylor amazed with the kind of short-area speed you'd expect from a five-tech end. Long enough to play outside in certain roles, but strong enough to hold the point in three- and four-man fronts, Taylor presents the kind of unique picture that Ryan and his staff could turn into All-Pro currency.
Speaking of great defenses … the Steelers' front seven is generally above reproach but Aaron Rodgers(notes) was able to do to their secondary what he did to all others on his incendiary postseason tour. Williams would be a safe pick in that he is a cornerback with safety skills — he plays the ball reasonably well, can crash down on the run or in the blitz quite well, and has an excellent on-field sense. He could hold things down while Troy Polamalu(notes) flies around, and he can make plays on his own. More athletic pass defenders with more risk attached to their names may come in the later rounds.
No, he's not Vernon Gholston(notes) II, despite the undefined role and Buckeye pedigree. Think of Heyward as the raw clay that a brilliant coach like Packers defensive coordinator Dom Capers could mold into something special. The Packers have a lot of question marks at the end position, and they need reinforcements with documented ability to play all over the line. Heyward starred just about everywhere but nose tackle, and the Pack already have that sewn up in the very large form of B.J. Raji(notes). As an edge rusher in certain sets, or lining up next to Raji in one of Capers' wacky fronts, Heyward could eventually be that dominant defender to help the Pack get back to another championship.
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