March 28, 2011
After spending the better part of last week at Athletes Performance in L.A. with Travelle Gaines and the players he trains, I came away with some interesting insights as to the physical and mental states of certain draft prospects, as well as the specific interests of certain NFL teams. I found out that the hubbub about Da'Quan Bowers' knee seems rather overblown, and I saw running back Taiwan Jones set himself up to run perhaps the fastest 40-yard dash in the 2011 draft class. This version of the Shutdown Corner mock reflects the need-based mindset driven by the current lockout, and a few picks are dialed into team interests. Here's the back half of the first round; picks 1-16 can be found here.
As great as Bill Belichick's Patriots teams have been over the last half-decade, the franchise hasn't actually won a Super Bowl since the 2004 season, when running back Corey Dillon put up perhaps the greatest single season in Pats history at the position. Belichick and his coaches have run different types of offenses in the last few years to compensate for the lack of an elite running game, but even the 2007 pseudo-spread offense that broke all those offensive records had no answer for the furious blitz of the New York Giants in Super Bowl XLII. Now that the Pats have gone back to the future with a more integrated approach, Ingram could be the missing piece with his ability to do it all and play every down. If Belichick reaches out to old buddy Nick Saban and asks for the Ingram scouting report, he'll hear nothing but praise. Maybe Ingram is the final piece that gets Belichick his fourth ring.
The Chargers had a surprisingly effective defense in 2010, but Shaun Phillips(notes) (who did put up 11 sacks on his own) could use some help on the edge as he did when Shawne Merriman(notes) was at his best. Kerrigan, who has been working on his weight (beefing up to 267 pounds for the combine) and getting more involved in linebacker drills to prove his ability to switch roles in different defenses and hybrid fronts. With a relentless sense for pass rush, an outstanding first step, and the right combination of intelligence and determination, Kerrigan is the kind of do-it-all player the Chargers will need going forward as they try to plug some of the holes created by A.J. Smith's recent unpredictable moves on various draft weekends.
19. New York Giants — Anthony Castonzo, OT, Boston College
Nothing would make Tom Coughlin happier (if anything can make Coughlin happy) than to fill an obvious need on the offensive line with a guy from his old stomping grounds. Castonzo plays the way Coughlin likes his guys to go — he's tough, relentless, technically sound, and he has room to get even better. The G-Men need help on their defensive line (specifically inside), but in the best D-line draft class we've ever seen, teams can wait to fill those needs in the later rounds.
Many mocks have the Bucs taking another defensive lineman in the first round, but as one of the pleasant surprises of the 2010 season, the Bucs need to start regenerating things along the offensive line. They've got the franchise quarterback in Josh Freeman(notes), but to protect Freeman, Tampa Bay will have to reconcile the free-agent statuses of right guard Davin Joseph(notes) and right tackle Jeremy Trueblood(notes). Carimi can play either side, and he's a very fundamentally sound tackle. He'll need work blocking at the second level, but he'd be a great option for a rushing attack now led by the powerful LeGarrette Blount(notes).
The Chiefs have swung and missed along their front line in recent years, but that puts all the more pressure on decision-makers Scott Pioli and Todd Haley to make the right choice as the Chiefs try to retain the momentum predicated on their surprising division win last season. Liuget could play three-tech in a four-man front when the Chiefs go that way, and he'd be especially effective lined up next to sackmaster Tamba Hali(notes), leaving offensive lines vulnerable no matter who they double. When the Chiefs switch to a 5-2 front, Liuget can play the five-technique with aplomb. This pick doesn't solve the team's need at pure nose tackle, but that's not a position you want to overdraft.
A key question Colts in 2011 will be how many of their 2010 shortcomings were related to a pretty horrific injury run, and how many were due to the inevitable need to fill holes for whatever reason. As much of a personnel genius as Bill Polian has been through the years, one thing that has to drive him nuts is his recent inability to find the protector of Peyton Manning's(notes) blind side. Natural guard Charlie Johnson(notes) has done an admirable job as a patchwork solution over the last couple of years, but it's time to solve the problem in the long term. Smith could start at right tackle, where he played at USC, and eventually move to the left side as his acumen matches his athleticism.
When you give up 31 touchdown passes, the most in your franchise's history, it's safe to say that you'll be looking pretty hard at various secondary positions in the draft. The Eagles have Asante Samuel(notes) (or, as Phil Simms insists on calling him, "Samuels"), but little else of elite exchange in the last line of defense. Harris is a bit of a sleeper who could work very well in the Eagles' scheme — he's a smooth-player with excellent man coverage skills, and like Samuel, he's not shy at all about jumping routes. He gets a bit lost in larger zone spaces, and he tends to bat balls away when he should be picking them off, but the points that need work are outweighed by Harris' overall potential.
The Saints had just 10.5 sacks from their defensive ends in 2010, and as often as Gregg Williams switched fronts, they're in the market for a guy who can rush the passer and play in multiple sets. Houston excelled in both 4-3 and 3-4 defenses at Georgia; he's one of the few elite pass rushers in this draft class with film showing him in both systems for a full season — and his blast off the edge would be a welcome addition to Williams, who has never seen a blitz he didn't like.
Needs at quarterback abound, as do holes in the offensive and defensive lines. But the Seahawks are looking hard at Smith, and for good reason. General manager John Schneider and head coach Pete Carroll are looking at a division in which one team is just a hot receiver away from tearing it up with a great new quarterback (the Rams), and two teams with receivers in place, just needing the right kind of quarterback (the 49ers and Cardinals). Seattle's pass defense was burned far too often, especially when Marcus Trufant's(notes) back was hurt down the stretch. Smith can cover a lot of ground, and plays both man and zone very well.
The Ravens have a quarterback in Joe Flacco(notes) with quite possibly the best arm in the game, but they have nobody to stretch defenses in the passing game. Smith is still a raw player — his somewhat clumsy work around the cones at the scouting combine spoke to the fact that he needs some serious help with route concepts — but he's a tough day in waiting for all but the quickest NFL cornerbacks, he's a dynamic returner, and he plays tougher than some speed receivers tend to. The routes will come in time, but you can't create speed out of a playbook. It's past time for the Ravens to get some.
The Falcons have invested some pretty heavy draft stock in potential pass-rushers over the last few years, but Jamaal Anderson(notes) was an unmitigated bust, and Lawrence Sidbury(notes) is still finding his feet. With Wilson, the Falcons could actually solve two defensive problems under the right circumstances — the need to get stronger in their pure linebacker corps (Wilson displayed great range in Illinois' frequent nickel sets) and the need for a real edge rusher to complement and eventually replace John Abraham(notes). Like Karlos Dansby(notes), Wilson is that rare linebacker with legitimate reverse and forward gears, and the Falcons would benefit greatly from that versatility.
28. New England Patriots — Danny Watkins, OG, Baylor
The Pats need a full-time edge-rusher, but they also need a full-time replacement for elite guard Logan Mankins(notes), whose relationship with the team's front office has been about as friendly as the one between David Stern and Mark Cuban. Watkins replaced Jason Smith(notes) as Baylor's left tackle, but he projects to guard at the next level. The former volunteer fireman from British Columbia would be a perfect fit in the Pats' offensive system especially as it goes more with a fast-break football look with multiple timing-based targets. Watkins is incredibly strong at the point, quick to the second level, he's very intelligent, and he can play new positions with very little ramp-up speed. Sound like a Belichick guy?
When it comes to the Bears' offensive line, perhaps the one positive that no matter where Jerry Angelo drafts to fill a hole, the hole's already there. The fact that Chicago made it all the way to the NFC Championship game with the worst offensive line in football should be a pretty severe heads up. Pouncey, who may drop a bit if people remain uncertain about his ability to play center at the NFL level, projects very well as a power guard in the Ben Grubbs(notes) mold. And if the Bears want to turn Pouncey into their next franchise center over time, who better to mentor him than veteran Olin Kreutz(notes)?
The Jets need a speed rusher, but they also need someone to man it up at nose tackle consistently now that Kris Jenkins(notes) is less of a factor (if he's a factor at all). Paea can't help with the speed-rushing stuff, but he can play just about every other position in Rex Ryan's multiple fronts. He can crash inside as a three-tech on a four-man front, blast inside double teams as a one-gap nose tackle, and he has the strength to learn how to be a true two-gap over center player in time.
Like the Bears, the Steelers have made multiple deep postseasons runs in the last few years despite offensive lines that have been indifferent at best. That works when your quarterback has an amazing sense of avoiding pressure (and making stick throws with defenders hanging all over him), but it's a risky game to play. Solder would be a good pick for a team needing to improve its offensive line, but that also accepts and adapts to the shortcomings of its linemen. At this point, Solder is a very athletic project player who's still learning the fine points of his position after previous years as a tight end and defensive end. He will get beaten in the short term by speed moves, and he needs some help with the back end of the pocket, but there are times when line coaches look more that what a player could be than what he currently is.
The Super Bowl champs got a bit of a wake-up call in that big game against the Steelers when Charles Woodson(notes) broke his collarbone, and that vaunted Green Bay pass defense started springing some leaks. Ted Thompson has set the secondary up with some great young talent (including lockdown corner Tramon Williams(notes)), but there's a hole at that hybrid corner/safety position that Woodson mans so very well that could eventually be filled by two players in this class — Texas' Aaron Williams and UCLA's Rahim Moore. While Williams is a former corner who projects better as an NFL safety (think Malcolm Jenkins(notes)). Moore is a college safety whose skills may set him up very well to be a hybrid blitzing run-stopping nickel-back.
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