While there are two more days of drills at the scouting combine, most of the media has called it a wrap, and all the players are done talking. All the offensive players have their times in the bag, and the defensive linemen and linebackers are going at it Monday, which means that we're just that much closer to the post-combine evaluation process.
The draft positions in our first mock draft of 2011 are affected by combine work to a degree; there are players like Oregon State's Stephen Paea and Illinois' Mikel Leshoure whose exploits in Lucas Oil Stadium pushed them into the first round. Mocks will change as we go through the process, but our basic philosophy is to get into the heads of every front office as opposed to imagining who we would pick.
Here's the bottom of the first round. Where applicable, each player's "Shutdown 40" scouting report is linked in their names.
The Pats have been looking for a pass rusher for years; it's the one obvious positional debit the team has had since the last time Bill Belichick's team won a Super Bowl, and that's probably not a coincidence. Smith is a double-team splitting edge rusher who is learning the fine points of run defense and pass coverage, but where he'll make an immediate impact in the NFL is with his ability to get through gaps off the snap with his great feet. Smith will play faster than he looks.
The Chargers are looking for their next great pass rusher, and he looks nothing like Shawne Merriman(notes). Ayers was a long, lanky, SAM linebacker at UCLA, but where he translates best in the pros is as a pure edge guy, disrupting tackles and occasionally dropping into coverage. San Diego put together a great defense last season without that key edge rush, and Ayers could fill in the blanks.
The G-Men have other needs, but they're at positions where the elite guys are either too high (cornerback) or too low (linebacker). There is a need for definition at the tackle position, though the team likes young blocker Will Beatty(notes). Castonzo is a versatile, nasty lineman, and the tie to Boston College (a haven for tackles, and Tom Coughlin's former coaching home) wouldn't hurt.
The Bucs have put a lot of money into their line recently, but they're still coming up short in the sacks department. Styles G. White led the team with 4.5 takedowns. Kerrigan is a natural disruptor in any front. He's been shedding weight with some interest in being a pure 3-4 "endbacker," but he explodes off the line in a way that brings Kyle Vanden Bosch(notes) to mind.
At the tackle position, the Chiefs have Branden Albert(notes) as the incumbent, and Barry Richardson(notes) as a player with potential. It would be a good time to draft a tackle with tremendous physical gifts who might be a season or two away from making a real impact. Solder is the most athletic tackle in this class, but the former tight end still lurches around too often instead of locking on with defenders, and he can get beaten on the back half of edge rushes. He's a work in progress who could pay off in a major way.
There are obvious offensive line needs here, but as the Colts' defense becomes a bit more aggressive and complex, its similar need for linemen who can disrupt outside and kick inside to help stop the run could have it looking harder at this great class of hybrid defensive linemen. Liuget may be downgraded by some because his size doesn't match up, but you've seen the Colts have great success with body types similar to the 6-foot-2, 300-pound defenders.
Now that the Eagles have made an enormous financial commitment to Michael Vick(notes), the next step is to make sure he's protected. Sherrod is the most fundamentally sound tackle in this class, and his abilty to play either right or left tackle is a huge advantage for an Eagles team looking for blocking help just about everywhere.
Watt is another hybrid tweener guy, and that's a problem in some defenses, where the roles are more clearly defined. But in a defense run by Gregg Williams, you have to go from 3-4 to 4-3 to 3-3-5 and back again - sometimes in the same series. Watt has some finishing work to be done, but he's got what it takes to be an every-down player in an outside-the-box defense.
Since the Seahawks lost Steve Hutchinson(notes) to the Vikings after the 2005 season, their offense has atrophied every season - especially in the run game. Marshawn Lynch(notes) and Justin Forsett(notes) are ready to be a great two-back tandem, but they need someone nasty opening up those holes inside. Pouncey's the perfect solution.
26. Baltimore Ravens - Justin Houston, OLB, Georgia
Because of Ozzie Newsome's personnel acumen, the Ravens are generally set in most areas. But with the injuries that have plagued Sergio Kindle(notes), there's still a desperate need for a pass rusher opposite Terrell Suggs(notes). Houston can set the edge in the way that the Ravens need.
27. Atlanta Falcons - Aaron Williams, CB, Texas
Like the Ravens, the Falcons are now built to contend for a Super Bowl. But after the way Aaron Rodgers(notes) carved them up in the playoffs, Atlanta's primary need became clear. Brent Grimes(notes) has very quietly become one of the best cornerbacks in the NFL, but the Falcons will need to put someone of relative quality on the other side, or quarterbacks will simply stop throwing Grimes' way. Williams has the skills to make that difference.
28. New England Patriots - Danny Watkins, OG, Baylor
The ongoing soap opera with Logan Mankins(notes) aside, Bill Belichick has always believed in drafting for need a year early. Watkins is a perfect Patriots player - he's nasty on the line, ridiculously strong against the bull rush and the 26-year old former firefighter from Canada will take the Boston media by storm.
29. Chicago Bears -- Tyron Smith, OT, USC
If the Chicago Bears want to hit a Super Bowl window with Jay Cutler(notes), they must rebuild the worst offensive line in football. Smith played at 280 pounds, but has bulked up to 307 and looks to project well as an athletic left tackle.
Yes, Paea set the combine bench-press record with 49 reps, but the more important thing is that he plays with that level of strength. He's far from a workout warrior. The Jets need to reset their hybrid fronts, and Paea could play everywhere from straight-over nose to outside three-technique.
In this case, offensive line needs could be trumped by the obvious needs at cornerback. As it was with the Falcons in the playoffs, it's amazing how teams may have started looking hard at their secondary after playing the red-hot Aaron Rodgers late in the season.
And speaking of those Packers, Rodgers was the team's leading rusher in three of their last six regular-season games. Things turned around when James Starks(notes) came out of nowhere, but the Packers need a big, powerful guy who's proven it at a high level. Leshoure is inconsistent, and you'd like to see more leg drive from a guy weighing 230 pounds, but his speed/size combination could make the Packers' offense even more lethal.