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The final 2012 mock draft

Wednesday, April 25th, 2012

First round

#1 Andrew Luck (QB, Stanford)
Confirmed.
#2 Robert Griffin III (QB, Baylor)
Robert Griffin III has probably already started looking for property in the capital.
#3 Matt Kalil (OT, USC)
Minnesota want what the Rams got from Washington, and they’re trying, but ultimately they’ll stay here and take Kalil.
#4 Trent Richardson (RB, Alabama)
The Browns have to find someone to build around. Richardson is a future superstar.
#5 Morris Claiborne (CB, LSU)
The biggest spenders in free agency, Tampa Bay could still use a stud cornerback.
#6 Justin Blackmon (WR, Oklahoma State)
The Rams need to find an X-factor on offense.
#7 Stephon Gilmore (CB, South Carolina)
Who knows what the Jaguars are going to do? Will Gene Smith or Shahid Khan make the choice?
#8 Ryan Tannehill (QB, Texas A&M)
Don’t be surprised after a month of hype if Miami does something else and Tannehill falls a bit.
#9 Fletcher Cox (DT, Mississippi State)
Carolina could go in many different (defensive) directions.
#10 Mark Barron (S, Alabama)
The Bills need a left tackle, but can they justify taking one here?
#11 Luke Kuechly (LB, Boston College)
Scott Pioli loves guys like this – blue collar, high work ethic. He’ll make him fit into the 3-4.
#12 Courtney Upshaw (DE, Alabama)
It’s all about the pass rush.
#13 David DeCastro (OG, Stanford)
Arizona needs to make a solid commitment to the offensive line.
#14 Dontari Poe (DT, Memphis)
If Barron falls here he could be the choice. Otherwise, I suspect Brockers or Poe.
#15 Chandler Jones (DE, Syracuse)
The fastest riser going into the draft.
#16 Riley Reiff (OT, Iowa)
New York wants to run the ball and dominate up front.
#17 Dre Kirkpatrick (CB, Alabama)
Better in run support than coverage, but I suspect Cincy will try and add a corner in round one.
#18 Melvin Ingram (DE, South Carolina)
If he starts to drop, where does he leave the board? San Diego would have alternatives here.
#19 Quinton Coples (DE, North Carolina)
He could fall further if you believe the talk.
#20 Michael Floyd (WR, Notre Dame)
Tough to read this guy’s stock. Tape not as great as the numbers/measurables. Off-field concerns. But talented.
#21 Peter Konz (OG/C, Wisconsin)
Underrated.
#22 Rueben Randle (WR, LSU)
After taking Richardson to star on the ground, they go for Randle.
#23 Jonathan Martin (OT, Stanford)
Concerns about existing lineman could force Detroit to address the offensive line.
#24 Dont’a Hightower (LB, Alabama)
This guy was made to play in the AFC North.
#25 Michael Brockers (DT, LSU)
This is arguably Denver’s biggest need.
#26 Stephen Hill (WR, Georgia Tech)
Would they consider Coby Fleener as an alternative?
#27 Shea McClellin (OLB, Boise State)
Mike Vrabel is often the comparison for this guy.
#28 Whitney Mercilus (DE, Illinois)
Green Bay’s priority has to be finding another pass rusher.
#29 Kevin Zeitler (OG, Wisconsin)
There could be a late rush on offensive lineman.
#30 Amini Silatolu (OG, Midwestern State)
The Niners may well take a guard and Silatolu is raw – just like Mike Iupati.
#31 Doug Martin (RB, Boise State)
For whatever reason, I can just picture this guy as a Patriot.
#32 Cordy Glenn (OT, Georgia)
He looks a bit sloppy and his stock is all over the place. Even so, he could go higher.

Round two

#33 St. Louis – Jerel Worthy (DT, Michigan State)
#34 Indianapolis – Alameda Ta’amu (DT, Washington)
#35 Minnesota – Alshon Jeffery (WR, South Carolina)
#36 Tampa Bay – Lamar Miller (RB, Miami)
#37 Cleveland – Coby Fleener (TE, Stanford)
#38 Jacksonville – Kendall Wright (WR, Baylor)
#39 St. Louis – Bobby Wagner (LB, Utah State)
#40 Carolina – Josh Robinson (CB, UCF)
#41 Buffalo – Mitchell Schwartz (OT, California)
#42 Miami – Vinny Curry (DE, Marshall)
#43 Seattle – Zach Brown (LB, North Carolina)
#44 Kansas City – Kirk Cousins (QB, Michigan State)
#45 Dallas – Jared Crick (DE, Nebraska)
#46 Philadelphia – Devon Still (DT, Penn State)
#47 New York Jets – Andre Branch (DE, Clemson)
#48 New England – Casey Heyward (CB, Vanderbilt)
#49 San Diego – Bobby Massie (OT, Ole Miss)
#50 Chicago – Jayron Hosley (CB, Virginia Tech)
#51 Philadelphia – Lavonte David (LB, Nebraska)
#52 Tennessee – Kendall Reyes (DT, Connecticut)
#53 Cincinnati – Mychal Kendricks (LB, California)
#54 Detroit – Nick Perry (DE, USC)
#55 Atlanta – Michael Egnew (TE, Missouri)
#56 Pittsburgh – Kelechi Osemele (OG, Iowa State)
#57 Denver – David Wilson (RB, Virginia Tech)
#58 Houston – Mohamed Sanu (WR, Rutgers)
#59 New Orleans – VOID
#60 Green Bay – Brandon Weeden (QB, Oklahoma State)
#61 Baltimore – Harrison Smith (S, Notre Dame)
#62 San Francisco – Bruce Irvin, (DE, West Virginia)
#63 New York Giants – Brandon Boykin (CB, Georgia)
#64 New England – Keyshawn Martin (WR, Michigan State)

Seahawks beyond rounds 1-2

If the Seahawks go DE & LB with their first two picks, running back is likely to be high on the agenda in round three. Chris Polk and Robert Turbin could be options given they’re more likely to be able to carry the load if Marshawn Lynch misses time. That is the key here. It may put off the Seahawks looking at an Isaiah Pead or LaMichael James. If the value just isn’t there at running back, there are some nice options at tight end such as Dwayne Allen and Orson Charles. At receiver, Seattle worked out Brian Quick and if you get Dwight Jones at any point in this draft, I think you’re getting a steal.

Expect Seattle to look at the quarterback market in rounds 4-6, although round three is a possibility depending on how things shake out. Brock Osweiler, Kirk Cousins and Russell Wilson could be on the radar as ‘early’ options, with Chandler Harnish a possible later round choice. Keep an eye on any cornerback over 5-11. There’s solid depth in this class all the way to round four, so Seattle may be able to address several key needs.

Why I’m starting to get excited about Upshaw

Sunday, April 22nd, 2012

Written by Kip Earlywine

Last night I sat down to begin my Draft Spotlight article for Courtney Upshaw, and like I had done previously with Zach Brown, I had to stop partway through because I felt that a scouting report wouldn’t sufficiently convey the thoughts I had discovered while going through the process.  I’ll go ahead and treat this like a scouting report and include my Draft Spotlight graphic, but there is also a larger point I want to get across.

Before today, I liked Upshaw as a player but I couldn’t help but shake the feeling that drafting him to fix our pass rush was misguided.  I had seen a few compilation videos of Upshaw.  He wasn’t explosive.  He didn’t seem fast enough to fit the LEO role currently occupied by Chris Clemons.  And while I thought Rob’s estimated guesses about scheme changes made a lot of sense, in the back of my mind I wondered.  Changing the defense fundamentally for Von Miller is one thing.  Changing it for a guy like Upshaw is another.  Then there was the question about how Seattle would shift its defense around to make it all work.

After scouting several games tonight, a realization came upon me.  I’ll get to that realization later in the scouting report section, because first I think its important to explain the entirety of my observations so that my thoughts will make sense.  I want to show my work so that you can understand the answer I came to.

Background:

Coming out of high school, Upshaw was ranked a four star prospect by both Scout and Rivals.  He was the 4th best graduating high school defensive end in the country according to ESPN.  Upshaw had a whopping seven different scholarship offers, but settled on Alabama since he was born and raised there.  At Alabama, Upshaw was promoted to full time starter during his junior season (2010) and started nearly every game since.  During those two seasons he accumulated 16.5 sacks and 32.5 tackles for loss.  Upshaw started in two bowl games, and was awarded MVP both times, including the MVP of the 2011 national championship game.  He was also a consensus All-American in 2011.

Scouting report:

Thankfully there is a lot of material out there for Upshaw, so I was able to get a larger than usual sampling of his play.  One thing that really surprised me is how many 4-3 fronts Nick Saban uses in his “3-4″ defense, and on almost every single play that featured Upshaw, he was lined as a 4-3 end, typically on the strong side, though occasionally he’d see snaps at weak side end too.  Upshaw only played a handful of snaps at linebacker in the seven game sample I broke down.  He only dropped into coverage one or two times as well.  Almost without exception, Nick Saban used Upshaw like a typical 4-3 end, but dropped him into coverage even less than a typical 4-3 end would.

As strictly a 4-3 end, Upshaw probably reminds me the most of Adrian Clayborn, whom I was a big fan of in last year’s draft.  Both are enormous strong side ends in the 280 pound range who win with power and awareness instead of speed.  Clayborn posted 7.5 sacks as a rookie on what was otherwise a disastrous 2011 season for Tampa Bay’s defense.  If Seattle drafted Upshaw with Adrian Clayborn in mind and gave Upshaw Red Bryant’s job straight up, it would upgrade the team and the pass rush.  Maybe that’s what the Seahawks could be thinking, and it wouldn’t be a terrible idea, but based on some of the subtle traits I noticed in Upshaw’s game, I think there could be a better use yet, which I’ll explain a bit later on.

Upshaw has short 32″ arms, the same length as Robert Gallery’s.  For all the (well deserved) grief that Melvin Ingram gets for his short arms, they are only half an inch shorter than Upshaw’s.  However, when watching Upshaw’s tape you honestly wouldn’t know that he had short arms, because his arm usage is one of his biggest strengths.  Arm length is important because when linemen engage, the one with the longer arms has the first strike and all the advantages that come with it.  What’s neat about Upshaw, and this was only something I noticed after studying him very closely, is how he compensates for this problem.

Upshaw’s is not a speed demon, but his ability to go from a standstill to top speed is impressively quick.  One of the tricks he likes to do sometimes is to slow down before engaging, almost to a full stop, and just as he nears arms reach, he’ll explode into the blocker’s body, not merely engaging the blocker but attacking him.  This attack is sometimes preceded by a bit of a quick wiggle move, which makes the initial punch more difficult to deliver for the blocker.   Upshaw doesn’t do this to shed the block.  Upshaw is actually attacking the blocker’s upper body to throw off the blocker’s balance with a violent body impact, and Upshaw is pretty damn good at it.  The blocker remains engaged with Upshaw, which temporarily seems as if Upshaw is losing.  However, when Upshaw senses that he’s knocked the blocker off balance, he turns on the jets and walks the blocker into the backfield like John Carlson attempting to block Jared Allen.  Off balance and reeling, the blocker is doing his best just to simply stay in Upshaw’s way.  Upshaw powers into the pocket in moments, and uses his impressive upper body strength to shed the off balance blocker with ease and close for the pressure, hit, tackle for loss, or sack.

If Upshaw was able to pull off this power move with more consistency, he’d be a threat to break double digit sacks with regularity.  The reason he can’t is precisely because he’s often playing in a five or six tech role that doesn’t allow him enough of a “flight deck” to take off.  Funny enough, I’ve always thought that Upshaw was a terrible fit for the LEO because he lacks the speed and agility of a typical weak side rusher, but on snaps when Upshaw is given the extra yard outside to work with he is able to explode and attack the blocker’s balance with much better consistency.  Just an extra yard or two often makes a big difference.  Now try to imagine how effective this attack would be if given a full running start instead.  It’s an exciting thought, and I’m surprised that Upshaw didn’t get almost any reps as a pass rushing linebacker when he looks his best with momentum at his back.

Upshaw is also very strong in run support.  He has the power and leverage to hold his ground, he has the arm strength to disengage from blocks, and he generally does a good job tracking the ball and knowing when to break free for a tackle.  He seems to always sniff out cut blocks, though unfortunately he doesn’t have the quickness to completely avoid being slowed by them.  I haven’t seen enough of Upshaw at linebacker to pass judgement, but my initial impression is that he’d be a more extreme version of David Hawthorne, really good against the run but even weaker against the pass.

I wouldn’t go so far to say that Upshaw stands out on a great defense, but you might say that he’s the Alan Branch or Red Bryant of the Crimson Tide, not because he’s anything like either of those players, but because Branch and Bryant made the defense better last year in ways that were not easy to notice, and Upshaw was just one of those players that somehow made his defense better.  There is so much NFL talent on Alabama’s defense that it would be almost impossible for that defense to have one true standout player.  We’re talking about a defense that is probably going to have three players go in the first round next week.

That said, I don’t think its an accident that Upshaw won the MVP award in both of his bowl games.  Not just because Upshaw stepped up big in both games, but because his tenacity and spirit sets the tone for the rest of the defense.  Nick Saban called Upshaw “the meanest player [he] ever coached.”  We saw last year how the nasty style of play by Red Bryant, Kam Chancellor and Brandon Browner helped set the tone and changed the mentality of the defense completely.  In that sense, Upshaw seems like a perfect fit for what Carroll is trying to build in Seattle.

I only have two notable complaints about Upshaw that haven’t been said elsewhere ad nauseum.  The first is that once the play is by him he will often jog in pursuit instead of running.  That’s a minor gripe, but there will be times in a game where backside pursuit can lead to an important tackle that minimizes damage.  For a guy that plays so hard when the play is in front of him, he doesn’t really share that urgency when he thinks the play is past him.

The other complaint is that for a guy who doesn’t get a ton of sacks, he had a lot of sacks where quarterbacks slipped or fell down and Upshaw was credited.  It makes his eight sacks a year stat feel like five or six instead.  Or to put it another way, it felt like Upshaw “over-achieved” to reach 16.5 sacks the last two years because of him having so many shoe-string sacks that very nearly weren’t sacks at all.  I think if Carroll plays Upshaw exactly as he was used at Alabama, he’d be a 5-8 sack a season defensive end in the NFL.

In conclusion:

Upshaw’s ability to disrupt a blocker’s balance and subsequently walk the blocker into the pocket is a potentially elite trait that has yet to be harnessed.  It’s probably because of this that Upshaw looked much more effective in pass rush attempts that gave him even a small head of steam at the start.  Nick Saban is one of the best coaches on the planet, but he didn’t experiment much with Upshaw and I’m starting to think he should have.  When Upshaw has enough momentum and power to unbalance blockers he looks like an elite pass rushing talent on those snaps.  The question is, “how can we enable Upshaw to be in that position more often?”

I’m guessing Pete Carroll has asked himself similar questions regarding Upshaw.  Not that I have anything against adding an Adrian Clayborn or Robert Ayers type player to this defense, but I wouldn’t do it at #12 overall, and I don’t think Carroll would either.  I think Carroll sees more than a sub-elite defensive end when he looks at Upshaw.  If given the chance to rush the passer from an outside linebacker spot with a head of steam, he’d be a fundamentally different pass rusher than the Upshaw who played at Alabama lined up directly across from the tackle and too often had to rely only on hand usage.

It’s common to dismiss the idea of Upshaw as a rush linebacker because of his lack of burner speed.  Fair enough.  It should be noted though that Lamarr Woodley, a 3-4 outside linebacker for the Steelers, ran the same forty time as Upshaw at a very similar size and weight.  Woodley has had 44 sacks over the last four seasons, and he isn’t as violent as Upshaw with his upper body use either.   Upshaw may not become a typical rush linebacker, but he wouldn’t be unprecedented.

How Seattle would get Upshaw on the field for a Woodley type role is a discussion in itself, but that’s not the point.  The point is that pass rushers are very hard to find, and if you feel good about your chances of landing a difference making pass rusher with a certain player who may not fit the scheme like a glove, there is a lot to gain by getting creative.  Carroll has already shown that he’s perfectly willing to tweak the defense to fit available talent.

Whether Seattle plays Upshaw at outside linebacker, the LEO spot, or another position that gives him some room to build up speed, I’m starting to believe there is a chance that he could develop into an elite level bull rush pass rusher.  And if I’m wrong, then Upshaw could still be a solid 4-3 defensive end who generates a modest amount of pressure while being very strong against the run.  If the Seahawks do draft Upshaw at #12, I think its because they believe they can get more out of Upshaw’s unique  talents than he showed at Alabama.  Even if they are wrong, Upshaw will still be a solid contributor to this defense.  Contrast that with Quinton Coples and Melvin Ingram, who have high ceilings but very low floors.  There is a chance that Upshaw has a high ceiling too, but he also comes with a nice parachute if he doesn’t become the bull in the china store that he could be.

Its hard to get behind a pick as high as 12th overall without feeling there is a chance that he could become an elite contributor.  But after looking into Upshaw very closely, I can see the faint signs of some untapped talent as a pass rusher that may actually give Upshaw a real chance to justify the #12 pick after all.

Compilation videos:

vs. South Carolina, Auburn and Michigan State (2010)

vs. Auburn

vs. Mississippi State

vs. Florida

vs. LSU

How picks 7-11 could impact the Seahawks

Saturday, April 21st, 2012

Ryan Tannehill actually has an evil twin named Bryan Tannehill. They lock Bryan in the garden.

Jacksonville Jaguars

They’re till a major mystery given nobody’s really sure who’s making the pick. Shahid Khan (the owner) and Gene Smith (the GM) could have different ideas about the #7 pick. Khan’s pursuit of Tim Tebow was all about ticket sales, and this is his first opportunity to get involved in a draft. Despite signing a new contract, Smith’s position was slightly undermined in the bid for Tebow and speculation has suggested he may leave the franchise after the draft. You have to believe Khan would like the big name, flashy pick. They need a receiver to help Blaine Gabbert, so Justin Blackmon and Michael Floyd fits the bill. Khan may also buy into the potential of a physical specimen like Quinton Coples. Smith is more unpredictable and less inclined to fall in love with athletic potential. Stephon Gilmore, Courtney Upshaw, Whitney Mercilus, Melvin Ingram, Riley Reiff, Luke Kuechly – who knows what he’d do. It’s worth remembering that it was Smith who traded up for Gabbert and he may feel obliged to support that decision with help for the offense.

Miami Dolphins

The debate has to start with Ryan Tannehill. Mike Sherman coached Tannehill at Texas A&M and has the inside track. You would hope – you would really, really hope – Jeff Ireland is using that resource to the maximum. Why employ Sherman otherwise? If he’s banging the table for Tannehill, and he’s on the board at #8, you would expect Miami to make that pick. However, nothing is predictable or smooth with this franchise. Ireland could just flat out ignore Sherman and go in his own direction. Tannehill might be off the board if someone trades up. Sherman may not even be giving the hard sell, especially considering he chose Jerrod Johnson over Tannehill for the Aggies. Maybe they go quarterback in round two, copying the Bengals last year? If the Dolphins don’t select a quarterback in round one they will probably look at pass rushers. Wide receiver is a greater need these days following the Brandon Marshall trade, but Joe Philbin directed an offense in Green Bay that regularly found WR talent beyond round one.

Carolina Panthers

There are several options for the Panthers, all on defense. They’ve extended Steve Smith’s contract, have a healthy stable of running backs and some nice pieces on the offensive line. Cam Newton is going to be a star in the NFL. They can keep adding to the offense, but it already has the makings of a productive unit. So this draft should be all about the defense. They have some pass rush threat, but they need more. Carolina needs a defensive tackle who can absorb the run and collapse the pocket. Cornerback and linebacker are need areas. Really, they can’t go wrong with whoever they take at #9. Ron Rivera apparently wants to use 4-3 and 3-4 looks, so scheme diversity seems to be important. Fletcher Cox, Quinton Coples, Melvin Ingram and Courtney Upshaw can all work into different looks. Luke Kuechly would fit for the Panthers, while Stephon Gilmore is an en vogue suggestion in the top ten. Do they go nose tackle with Dontari Poe? Having the ninth pick is a good spot for Carolina.

Buffalo Bills

Mario Williams and Mark Anderson have added quality to the Bills defensive line, so you would assume they’ll go offense, right? A lot of people think Buffalo will keep building a defense that has to face Tom Brady twice a year. Michael Lombardi today projected Mark Barron to the Bills, while this is another place where Stephon Gilmore’s name gets mentioned. Despite all of that, they still don’t have a left tackle. What might sway things here is the way Buffalo’s front office grade the two most likely tackle options – Riley Reiff and Cordy Glenn. Both make a lot of sense, but are they good enough at #10 if the Bills can’t move down? And would they be better served taking a superior player on their board even if it’s a lesser need? There’s going to be some offensive line value at the top of round two, so maybe Buffalo does go defense at #10? Wide receiver is also perceived to be an option if Justin Blackmon or Michael Floyd are available. I doubt either goes 10th overall.

Kansas City

Scott Pioli likes tough, solid football players. Then he goes and picks Jonathan Baldwin last year. I really liked Baldwin’s potential at Pittsburgh as a big, tall, athletic receiver – but people thought he was soft. The pick contradicted what a lot of people expected from Pioli. So while we stand here wondering if he’ll take Luke Kuechly or David DeCastro, maybe there’s a surprise in stall? Are they interested enough in Ryan Tannehill to move up? Will Tannehill be there at #11? Will they buy into the potential of Dontari Poe as a future nose tackle? It actually wouldn’t surprise me if KC moved above Miami to get Tannehill, allowing Jacksonville to move down a few spots. When you think about what the Chiefs need, they’re suddenly competing in a division with Peyton Manning and Philip Rivers. Is Matt Cassel going to get it done? There wouldn’t be pressure to play Tannehill immediately with Cassel, Brady Quinn and Ricky Stanzi on the roster, but he could start in year two. For some reason I have a hard time imagining Tannehill in Miami.

Seattle Seahawks

There’s really a lot of options for the #7-11 picks. Although the top five or six seem pretty secure, it could be a free-for-all beyond that. There also seems to be little difference in value from the #6 pick all the way to around #25. That shouldn’t necessarily be considered a negative for Seattle. They aren’t picking high enough to rue the fact there aren’t better top-ten players available, but they’re high enough to get one of the guys they want without worrying too much about him leaving the board. There’s likely to be a rush on defensive ends in the teens and twenties, and the Seahawks could be the catalyst. It’d be incredibly surprising if the best pass rushers left the board in the top ten, meaning the Seahawks are likely to find good value with their pick at #12. However, there’s also a case to be made for Jacksonville, Miami and Carolina all addressing that area – even if it’s unlikely all three go for defensive ends. A perfect scenario for the Seahawks could be:

#7 Kansas City (trades with Jacksonville) – Ryan Tannehill

#8 Miami – Quinton Coples

#9 Carolina – Fletcher Cox

#10 Buffalo – Riley Reiff

#11 Jacksonville – Stephon Gilmore

Only one pass rusher is off the board (Quinton Coples) leaving plenty of options for the Seahawks at #12. A worst case scenario would see Jacksonville stay put and Miami simply pass on Tannehill, making it extremely possible pass rushers are drafted at #7, #8 and #9. The Seahawks won’t want to contemplate that scenario.

Updated mock draft: 18th April

Wednesday, April 18th, 2012

This is our penultimate mock draft. Next week’s update will be our last, and the one I enter into the Huddle Report before the inevitable 93rd placed ranking. I’ve made some changes in the first and second round.

A few team’s still give me headaches. What are the Jaguars going to do and more specifically, who is making their pick? With a lack of elite, top end offensive tackles beyond Matt Kalil, what are teams like Buffalo and Arizona going to do? Reach for need, move down the board or go for greater value at other positions?

Something about the Eagles suggests they’re primed to make a move up the board, but for whom? They can get good value at #15, but is there someone they just have to get?

Will there be a team in the 20′s that sees a prospect linger on the board beyond expectation? Will that provoke a phone-call to move up? And if that is the case, could a team like Kansas City, Seattle or Arizona benefit? That 11-15 region has been active in previous drafts. The Seahawks would probably love to get some 2013 stock. I wonder what that would be used for?

And I make no apologies for again mocking Courtney Upshaw to Seattle. The Seahawks need someone who can realistically play three downs in the same team as Red Bryant and Chris Clemons. The Seahawks need someone who can provide some extra pass rush and play hard against the run.  That screams Upshaw to me. I’m not going to conform to the other billion mock drafts out there. How many had James Carpenter going in the top-25? Don’t be shocked if Upshaw isn’t even on the board at #12.

In round two I have the Seahawks taking Doug Martin, who would be a steal at any point in round two. It may seem unrealistic that he’d still be on the board, but let’s not forget Ray Rice lasted into the 50′s. Teams believe they can find running backs later, and this is a deep class. Seattle’s re-signing of Leroy Hill and addition of Barrett Ruud has taken some of the pressure off needing to get a linebacker in round two. There will be options in rounds three and four, and let’s not forget that KJ Wright is a former fourth round pick.

Updated mock draft

#1 Andrew Luck (QB, Stanford)
Maybe they’ll take a kicker instead?
#2 Robert Griffin III (QB, Baylor)
Robert Griffin III can start looking for property in the capital. He probably already is.
#3 Matt Kalil (OT, USC)
There’s some talk Kalil isn’t such a sure thing here. File this under Minnesota ‘testing the water’. They will surely draft Kalil.
#4 Trent Richardson (RB, Alabama)
The Browns have to find someone to build around. Richardson is a future superstar.
#5 Morris Claiborne (CB, LSU)
The biggest spenders in free agency, Tampa Bay could still use a stud cornerback.
#6 Justin Blackmon (WR, Oklahoma State)
The Rams know they’re in a three-draft plan so they need to take whoever is highest on their board with this pick.
#7 Whitney Mercilus (DE, Illinois)
Jacksonville don’t do things by the book. Even if Mercilus isn’t the pick here, expect a surprise.
#8 Ryan Tannehill (QB, Texas A&M)
How much does Mike Sherman rate his former Texas A&M starter? We’ll find out if here’s still on the board.
#9 Fletcher Cox (DT, Mississippi State)
Carolina could go in many different (defensive) directions. More than anything, they want guys who are scheme diverse.
#10 Riley Reiff (OT, Iowa)
The Bills are surely going to draft a left tackle here? Who’s the alternative blocker?
#11 Luke Kuechly (LB, Boston College)
Scott Pioli loves guys like this – blue collar, high work ethic. Not always spectacular, but always solid.
#12 Courtney Upshaw (DE, Alabama)
Seattle needs to find a DE/OLB hybrid to fit into the defense and help the pass rush. Upshaw could go earlier than this.
#13 Melvin Ingram (DE, South Carolina)
Is it a case of offensive line at any cost, or could Arizona consider a pass rusher here?
#14 Dontari Poe (DT, Memphis)
One of the 3-4 teams will convince themselves they cannot live without Poe’s potential.
#15 Quinton Coples (DE, North Carolina)
Philadelphia can afford to take a chance on this working out.
#16 Mark Barron (S, Alabama)
The hot name a week before the draft, Barron could go in the top-15.
#17 Stephon Gilmore (CB, South Carolina)
Tall, fast and athletic – the en vogue cornerback for the time.
#18 Michael Floyd (WR, Notre Dame)
They have a lot of needs, but lost Vincent Jackson and this makes sense.
#19 Michael Brockers (DT, LSU)
Trading for Brandon Marshall will allow Chicago to concentrate on cornerbacks and defensive lineman here.
#20 Peter Konz (OC, Wisconsin)
Underrated player. Don’t be surprised if he goes earlier than expected. The best player at his position since Alex Mack.
#21 David DeCastro (OG, Stanford)
A very solid player – but very solid players tend to get a little overrated. This is the range he should go.
#22 Cordy Glenn (OT, Georgia)
He can play guard or tackle. Cleveland must know they can get a top receiver early in round two.
#23 Dre Kirkpatrick (CB, Alabama)
Coverage skills are the issue here but eventually someone will pull the trigger on Kirkpatrick.
#24 Dont’a Hightower (LB, Alabama)
This guy was made to play in the AFC North.
#25 Jerel Worthy (DT, Michigan State)
I’m not a big fan but I can see why he could end up going in this range.
#26 Stephen Hill (WR, Georgia Tech)
Mind-blowing potential given his size, athleticism and hands. He stood out despite limited targets in 2011.
#27 Chandler Jones (DE, Syracuse)
Part of me wonders if Bill Belichick will see a guy like this as fool’s gold. Meh. We’ll run with it.
#28 Shea McClellin (DE, Boise State)
Green Bay’s priority has to be finding another pass rusher.
#29 Nick Perry (DE, USC)
Baltimore are well positioned to go with the best defensive player available here.
#30 Kevin Zeitler (OG, Wisconsin)
The Niners may well take a guard and Zeitler is a good one.
#31 Devon Still (DT, Penn State)
He’s flexible enough to work his way into New England’s scheme.
#32 Jonathan Martin (OT, Stanford)
This would be a steal.

Round two

#33 St. Louis – Josh Robinson (CB, UCF)
#34 Indianapolis – Coby Fleener (TE, Stanford)
#35 Minnesota – Reuben Randle (WR, LSU)
#36 Tampa Bay – Bobby Wagner (LB, Utah State)
#37 Cleveland – Kendall Wright (WR, Baylor)
#38 Jacksonville – Alshon Jeffery (WR, South Carolina)
#39 St. Louis – Alameda Ta’amu (DT, Washington)
#40 Carolina – Andre Branch (DE, Clemson)
#41 Buffalo – Zach Brown (LB, North Carolina)
#42 Miami – Mike Adams (OT, Ohio State)
#43 Seattle – Doug Martin (RB, Boise State)
#44 Kansas City – Kelechi Osemele (OG, Iowa State)
#45 Dallas – Jared Crick (DE, Nebraska)
#46 Philadelphia – Brandon Weeden (QB, Oklahoma State)
#47 New York Jets – Vinny Curry (DE, Marshall)
#48 New England – Bobby Massie (OT, Ole Miss)
#49 San Diego – Ronnell Lewis (OLB, Oklahoma)
#50 Chicago – Jayron Hosley (CB, Virginia Tech)
#51 Philadelphia – Lavonte David (LB, Nebraska)
#52 Tennessee – Kendall Reyes (DT, Connecticut)
#53 Cincinnati – Mohamed Sanu (WR, Rutgers)
#54 Detroit – Mychal Kendricks (LB, California)
#55 Atlanta – Casey Heyward (CB, Vanderbilt)
#56 Pittsburgh – Amini Silatolu (OG, Midwestern State)
#57 Denver – Lamar Miller (RB, Miami)
#58 Houston – Brandon Thompson (DT, Clemson)
#59 New Orleans – VOID
#60 Green Bay – David Wilson (RB, Virginia Tech)
#61 Baltimore – Harrison Smith (S, Notre Dame)
#62 San Francisco – Brandon Boykin (CB, Georgia)
#63 New York Giants – Dwayne Allen (TE, Clemson)
#64 New England – Keyshawn Martin (WR, Michigan State)

Still trying to work out Whitney Mercilus

Saturday, April 14th, 2012

Every year there seems to be at least one player you struggle to work out. Increasingly I’ve found that player to be a pass rusher. In 2010, I occasionally mocked Jason Pierre-Paul to Seattle at #14. At the same time, it seemed impossible to judge what kind of player he would become. He had the elite measurables and a ceiling higher than virtually any other player in the draft. Yet the tape was inconsistent, he was an inexperienced JUCO transfer and the question marks were almost as substantial as the potential. He turned out pretty well in the end.

Last year, Robert Quinn was another athletic defensive end who flashed an effective speed rush, consistently troubling college offensive lineman. Many ranked him as a top-ten talent, yet he missed his final year at UNC through suspension and looked like a bit of a one-trick pony. He had five sacks as a rookie and grew into a role at St. Louis, but can he develop into a productive pass rusher? The jury’s still out.

This year’s unknown quantity comes in the form of Whitney Mercilus, who came from nowhere in 2011 to lead the NCAA with 16 sacks. You put on the tape, sit down and try to work out how good this guy is going to be. But you can’t. At least I can’t. This is the third time since he declared for the draft that I’ve sat down and considered what kind of pro he’ll become. Is he a one-year wonder? Or is his emphatic junior year a sign of things to come?

Perhaps the bigger question is whether teams will have the same view. Can they work him out any better? (more…)

Updated mock draft: 11th April

Wednesday, April 11th, 2012

Could Whitney Mercilus be set for a surprise top-ten appearance?

We’re two weeks away from the 2012 draft, meaning two more projections after this. I wanted to mix a few things up this week and look at scenarios not being discussed. After all, there’s always a surprise or two…

- Fletcher Cox has the athletic potential to be a top-ten pick. So did Cam Jordan last year, and he dropped to #24. Jordan had decent tape and a great combine, but teams just didn’t like him enough to pull the trigger. What was his best position? Where did he fit? The same questions may be asked of Fletcher Cox. I could see him going in the top ten very easily, but nobody is talking about the other end of the scale. He could drop a bit and go in a similar range to Jordan.

- Whitney Mercilus divides opinion, but he had great production in 2011. Someone might buy into the guy, believing he’s a pure pass rusher capable of emulating Aldon Smith who went 7th overall last year. Mercilus has the athleticism to match the stats and the kind of character that will appeal to certain teams. Kind of like Flecther Cox, you could see him going at both ends of the first round. Jacksonville GM Gene Smith is one of the more unpredictable drafters and if he’s still calling the shots for this draft, I could see Mercilus being on his radar. The Jaguars are a team that tend to arrange meetings with the prospects they intend to draft, recent history has shown that. Jacksonville hosted Mercilus and also attended his pro-day.

- Melvin Ingram is widely considered to be a top-ten pick and he’d be a strong option for Seattle at #12. He’s also a bit of a tweener and could suffer if a prospect like Mercilus makes a surprise jump in round one. If Ingram makes it past the Seahawks, his next most likely destinations are New York at #16 and San Diego at #18.

One of the topics discussed a lot on this blog is whether Seattle will move up or down. With only six picks in this year’s draft, there’s little chance the team will move up. I’d put the chances at slightly above 0%. Would they move down? That’s unclear at this stage and would depend on who leaves the board before the #12 pick. It’s common knowledge that the Seahawks had a deal to trade the #14 pick in 2010 but passed because they rated Earl Thomas so highly. That could be the case again this year, where need meets value and any deal to move down is ignored. But if certain favored players go in the top ten, it increases the chances of a trade.

It’s also worth considering why the Seahawks would want to accumulate stock. Pete Carroll and John Schneider like picks as much as any GM in the league, but they’d probably love to get some extra picks for 2013 if possible. I’ll let you decide why that might be the case. A trade similar to the one that saw Atlanta move up for Julio Jones last year would be hard to ignore. The only thing is – who would be prepared to make such a generous trade, and who would you trade up for? At this stage I think any movement in round one is unlikely, but not impossible. Onto this week’s projection…

Updated first round mock draft

#1 Andrew Luck (QB, Stanford)
The inevitable.
#2 Robert Griffin III (QB, Baylor)
The inevitable part II.
#3 Matt Kalil (OT, USC)
Minnesota won’t waste any time calling Kalil’s name. He has elite potential. The inevitable part III.
#4 Trent Richardson (RB, Alabama)
The Browns have to find someone on offense to build around. Richardson would be the wise choice here.
#5 Morris Claiborne (CB, LSU)
The biggest spenders in free agency, Tampa Bay could still use a stud cornerback.
#6 Justin Blackmon (WR, Oklahoma State)
The Rams know this is now a three-draft plan so they need to take whoever is highest on their board with this pick.
#7 Whitney Mercilus (DE, Illinois)
This would be no more surprising than the time the Jaguars drafted Tyson Alualu 10th overall.
#8 Ryan Tannehill (QB, Texas A&M)
If the Dolphins don’t take Tannehill here he could fall. How much does Mike Sherman rate his former Texas A&M starter?
#9 Quinton Coples (DE, North Carolina)
Carolina wants players that will fit into 3-4 and 4-3 looks.
#10 Riley Reiff (OT, Iowa)
The Bills are going to draft an offensive lineman here, the only question is which one will they choose?
#11 Luke Kuechly (LB, Boston College)
Scott Pioli loves guys like this – blue collar, high work ethic. Not always spectacular, but always solid.
#12 Courtney Upshaw (DE, Alabama)
Seattle needs to find a DE/OLB hybrid to fit into the defense and help the pass rush. Upshaw could go earlier than this.
#13 Cordy Glenn (OT, Georgia)
Whoever is playing quarterback for Arizona next year, the Cardinals simply must draft an offensive lineman.
#14 Dontari Poe (DT, Memphis)
One of the 3-4 teams will convince themselves they cannot live without Poe’s major potential.
#15 Mark Barron (S, Alabama)
Talented prospect at a position that’s becoming increasingly important in the NFL.
#16 Michael Floyd (WR, Notre Dame)
He’s rising, but not everybody will buy into a guy with off-field issues. New York might be willing to turn a blind eye.
#17 David DeCastro (OG, Stanford)
Cincinnati will want to make sure one of their first round picks is a corner, but DeCastro is hard to pass here.
#18 Melvin Ingram (DE, South Carolina)
A bit of a fall for Ingram, but San Diego would be a good fit for his skill-set.
#19 Michael Brockers (DT, LSU)
Trading for Brandon Marshall will allow Chicago to concentrate on cornerbacks and defensive lineman here.
#20 Peter Konz (OC, Wisconsin)
Underrated player. Don’t be surprised if he goes earlier than expected. The best player at his position since Alex Mack.
#21 Stephon Gilmore (CB, South Carolina)
Gilmore’s performance at the combine has seemingly done enough to cement his place in the top-25 picks.
#22 Jonathan Martin (OT, Stanford)
Cleveland needs to keep adding playmakers but may look at Martin as too good to pass here.
#23 Dre Kirkpatrick (CB, Alabama)
Coverage skills are the issue here but eventually someone will pull the trigger on Kirkpatrick.
#24 Dont’a Hightower (LB, Alabama)
This guy was made to play in the AFC North.
#25 Doug Martin (RB, Boise State)
This is now the Peyton Manning show and they need to build around their prized addition. Martin does everything well.
#26 Stephen Hill (WR, Georgia Tech)
Mind-blowing potential given his size, athleticism and hands. He stood out in limited targets during the 2011 season.
#27 Fletcher Cox (DT, Mississippi State)
He has the physical potential, but where does he fit? Like Cam Jordan, he could suffer a fall.
#28 Shea McClellin (DE, Boise State)
Green Bay’s priority has to be finding another pass rusher.
#29 Vinny Curry (DE, Marshall)
A great fit for this defense, Curry would be a real threat in Baltimore.
#30 Coby Fleener (TE, Stanford)
His pro-day raised a few eye-brows and he could go in the top-25.
#31 Chandler Jones (DE, Syracuse)
New England might consider adding a rangy pass rusher early in the draft.
#32 Bobby Massie (OT, Ole Miss)
A bit of a late riser, Massie looks like a solid right tackle. New York are good enough to make a pick this this.

Round two

#33 St. Louis – Jerel Worthy (DT, Michigan State)
#34 Indianapolis – Kevin Zeitler (OG, Wisconsin)
#35 Minnesota – Reuben Randle (WR, LSU)
#36 Tampa Bay – Bobby Wagner (LB, Utah State)
#37 Cleveland – Kendall Wright (WR, Baylor)
#38 Jacksonville – Alshon Jeffery (WR, South Carolina)
#39 St. Louis – Kelechi Osemele (OG, Iowa State)
#40 Carolina – Jayron Hosley (CB, Virginia Tech)
#41 Buffalo – Mychal Kendricks (LB, California)
#42 Miami – Andre Branch (DE, Clemson)
#43 Seattle – Zach Brown (LB, North Carolina)
#44 Kansas City – Amini Silatolu (OG, Midwestern State)
#45 Dallas – Jared Crick (DE, Nebraska)
#46 Philadelphia – Nick Perry (DE, USC)
#47 New York Jets – Lamar Miller (RB, Miami)
#48 New England – Devon Still (DT, Penn State)
#49 San Diego – Mike Adams (OT, Ohio State)
#50 Chicago – Josh Robinson (CB, UCF)
#51 Philadelphia – Lavonte David (LB, Nebraska)
#52 Tennessee – Kendall Reyes (DT, Connecticut)
#53 Cincinnati – Mohamed Sanu (WR, Rutgers)
#54 Detroit – Sean Spence (LB, Miami)
#55 Atlanta – Casey Heyward (CB, Vanderbilt)
#56 Pittsburgh – Brandon Brooks (OG, Miami-Ohio)
#57 Denver – Brandon Thompson (DT, Clemson)
#58 Houston – Josh Chapman (DT, Alabama)
#59 New Orleans – VOID
#60 Green Bay – Brandon Weeden (QB, Oklahoma State)
#61 Baltimore – Harrison Smith (S, Notre Dame)
#62 San Francisco – Brandon Boykin (CB, Georgia)
#63 New York Giants – David Wilson (RB, Virginia Tech)
#64 New England – Keyshawn Martin (WR, Michigan State)

Updated mock draft: 4th April

Wednesday, April 4th, 2012

A third round option for the Seahawks?

We’re three weeks away from the draft, meaning just three more projections before April 26th. The top six should be fairly predictable, with really only the order in which Trent Richardson, Morris Claiborne and Justin Blackmon leave the board to be determined. After that, it’s a free-for-all.

I suspect we could see some movement. Jacksonville will hope there’s a market beyond Miami for Ryan Tannehill, enabling them to conjure up an attractive trade offer. Even if that isn’t the case, it makes sense for the Jaguars to explore trade options given their priority must be to build around Blaine Gabbert first and foremost.

Miami could receive trade offers depending on the defensive prospects Carolina are eyeing, while the Panthers themselves could receive interest from anyone looking for the #2 offensive tackle. Even Kansas City could be a hot-spot for teams fearing who the Seahawks will draft.

That uncertainty makes picks 7-11 difficult to project, and therefore it’s tough to gauge who’ll be left for Seattle. Despite increased speculation over the possibility the Seahawks could draft Luke Kuechly or David DeCastro, the teams priority has to be the pass rush. This is a defense that is edging closer to being extremely good. Yet without a compliment to Chris Clemons and an increase in quarterback pressure, it’ll never reach its full potential. Expect the Seahawks to draft a pass rusher in round one and field a top-10 unit if healthy.

I’ve included a second round projection and also a third round choice for Seattle. This mock addresses the three key areas for the Seahawks – pass rusher, linebacker and running back. A prospect in round one who can be a hybrid DE/OLB and will get to the quarterback, a linebacker with range who can cover and a running back that’ll make sure the Seahawks don’t miss a beat when they spell Marshawn Lynch.

Updated first round mock draft

#1 Andrew Luck (QB, Stanford)
The inevitable.
#2 Robert Griffin III (QB, Baylor)
The inevitable part II.
#3 Matt Kalil (OT, USC)
Minnesota won’t waste any time calling Kalil’s name. He has elite potential. The inevitable part III.
#4 Trent Richardson (RB, Alabama)
The Browns have to find someone on offense to build around. Richardson would be the wise choice here.
#5 Morris Claiborne (CB, LSU)
The biggest spenders in free agency, Tampa Bay could still use a stud cornerback.
#6 Justin Blackmon (WR, Oklahoma State)
The Rams know this is now a three-draft plan so they need to take whoever is highest on their board with this pick.
#7 Quinton Coples (DE, North Carolina)
The Jaguars have been down this route before with Derrick Harvey, but they need a pass rusher.
#8 Ryan Tannehill (QB, Texas A&M)
If the Dolphins don’t take Tannehill here he could fall. How much does Mike Sherman rate his former Texas A&M starter?
#9 Courtney Upshaw (DE, Alabama)
Carolina wants players that will fit into 3-4 and 4-3 looks. Upshaw fits the bill.
#10 Riley Reiff (OT, Iowa)
The Bills are going to draft an offensive lineman here, the only question is which one will they choose?
#11 Luke Kuechly (LB, Boston College)
Scott Pioli loves guys like this – blue collar, high work ethic. Not always spectacular, but always solid.
#12 Melvin Ingram (DE, South Carolina)
Seattle needs to find a DE/OLB hybrid to fit into the defense and help the pass rush.
#13 Cordy Glenn (OT, Georgia)
Whoever is playing quarterback for Arizona next year, the Cardinals simply must draft an offensive lineman.
#14 Dontari Poe (DT, Memphis)
One of the 3-4 teams will convince themselves they cannot live without Poe’s major potential.
#15 Fletcher Cox (DT, Mississippi State)
Someone will fall for Cox’s athleticism and ensure he’s taken early in the first round. I prefer him in a 3-4.
#16 Michael Floyd (WR, Notre Dame)
He’s rising, but not everybody will buy into a guy with off-field issues. New York might be willing to turn a blind eye.
#17 David DeCastro (OG, Stanford)
Cincinnati will want to make sure one of their first round picks is a corner, but DeCastro is hard to pass here.
#18 Whitney Mercilus (DE, Illinois)
With the top offensive lineman leaving the board before the #18 pick, San Diego may fill another big need here.
#19 Michael Brockers (DT, LSU)
Trading for Brandon Marshall will allow Chicago to concentrate on the best lineman available at this spot.
#20 Mark Barron (S, Alabama)
He played incredibly well in 2011 and if teams are satisfied with his health, he should be a top-20 pick.
#21 Stephon Gilmore (CB, South Carolina)
Gilmore’s performance at the combine has seemingly done enough to cement his place in the top-25 picks.
#22 Kendall Wright (WR, Baylor)
Cleveland needs to keep adding playmakers and could see Wright as a nice compliment to Greg Little.
#23 Dre Kirkpatrick (CB, Alabama)
Coverage skills are the issue here but eventually someone will pull the trigger on Kirkpatrick.
#24 Jonathan Martin (OT, Stanford)
This would be tremendous value for the Steelers.
#25 Doug Martin (RB, Boise State)
This is now the Peyton Manning show and they need to build around their prized addition. Martin does everything well.
#26 Stephen Hill (WR, Georgia Tech)
Mind-blowing potential given his size, athleticism and hands. He stood out in limited targets during the 2011 season.
#27 Devon Still (DT, Penn State)
Would anyone be surprised if New England traded this pick? This could be an area where the fourth QB leaves the board post-trade.
#28 Vinny Curry (DE, Marshall)
Don’t be surprised if Curry goes much earlier than this.
#29 Dont’a Hightower (LB, Alabama)
Dont’a Hightower looks like he was born to play defense for the Ravens.
#30 Coby Fleener (TE, Stanford)
His pro-day raised a few eye-brows and he could go in the top-25.
#31 Peter Konz (OC, Wisconsin)
Possibly the best bargain in the first round. Konz is the real deal.
#32 Bobby Massie (OT, Ole Miss)
A bit of a late riser, Massie looks like a solid right tackle. New York are good enough to make a pick this this.

Round two

#33 St. Louis – Jerel Worthy (DT, Michigan State)
#34 Indianapolis – Kevin Zeitler (OG, Wisconsin)
#35 Minnesota – Reuben Randle (WR, LSU)
#36 Tampa Bay – Bobby Wagner (LB, Utah State)
#37 Cleveland – Mike Adams (OT, Ohio State)
#38 Jacksonville – Alshon Jeffery (WR, South Carolina)
#39 St. Louis – Kelechi Osemele (OG, Iowa State)
#40 Carolina – Jayron Hosley (CB, Virginia Tech)
#41 Buffalo – Mychal Kendricks (LB, California)
#42 Miami – Andre Branch (DE, Clemson)
#43 Seattle – Zach Brown (LB, North Carolina)
#44 Kansas City – Amini Silatolu (OG, Midwestern State)
#45 Dallas – Jared Crick (DE, Nebraska)
#46 Philadelphia – Nick Perry (DE, USC)
#47 New York Jets – Lamar Miller (RB, Miami)
#48 New England – Shea McClellin (DE, Boise State)
#49 San Diego – Brandon Brooks (OG, Miami OH)
#50 Chicago – Josh Robinson (CB, UCF)
#51 Philadelphia – Brock Osweiler (QB, Arizona State)
#52 Tennessee – Kendall Reyes (DT, Connecticut)
#53 Cincinnati – Ronnell Lewis (LB, Oklahoma)
#54 Detroit – Lavonte David (LB, Nebraska)
#55 Atlanta – Chandler Jones (DE, Syracuse)
#56 Pittsburgh – Mohamed Sanu (WR, Rutgers)
#57 Denver – Brandon Thompson (DT, Clemson)
#58 Houston – Josh Chapman (DT, Alabama)
#59 New Orleans – VOID
#60 Green Bay – Brandon Weeden (QB, Oklahoma State)
#61 Baltimore – Harrison Smith (S, Notre Dame)
#62 San Francisco – Casey Hayward (CB, Vanderbilt)
#63 New York Giants – David Wilson (RB, Virginia Tech)
#64 New England – (Brandon Boykin, CB Georgia)

Seahawks third round pick: Robert Turbin (RB, Utah State)

Exploring how Upshaw/Ingram would fit in Seattle

Sunday, April 1st, 2012

With the #12 pick in the 2012 draft, the Seattle Seahawks select...

If the Seahawks draft Courtney Upshaw or Melvin Ingram in round one, how would they fit into the defensive scheme? Are they LEO pass rushers? Would they play the WILL or the SAM? Are they orthodox 4-3 rushers who take over the Raheem Brock role?

These questions are asked more than any other on this blog. This probably means I’ve not done a good enough job describing why they fit in Seattle, so hopefully we can get to the bottom of this today. Firstly, I was grateful to hear Scott Enyeart – USC beat writer – discussing the subject in a podcast for the HawkBlogger site today.

“The concept is an elephant defensive end. Basically it’s kind of a hybrid linebacker/defensive end type player who’s got some 3-4 principles and it was a way to generate some pass rush and also be really super effective against the run. That fast twitch, speedy edge rusher, that Justin Tuck type – I don’t know it that’s necessarily what Seattle wants because I think they want to be able to be effective against the run and not have a drop off and have to run certain players in the game and those types of things. So I think that’s Upshaw’s versatility over your traditional, you know, ‘LT – I’m a linebacker I’m going to get down on the line and be a pass rusher’. I think that’d he’d be able to be effective against the run and I think that’s what I like about him maybe over Ingram – versus the run. But I do think that maybe an ‘elephant’ role, that would put him in the Clay Mathews class as he was used under Pete Carroll.”

The Seahawks need an elephant. Someone who continues to improve the team’s strong run defense, but also helps create more of a pass rush threat to compliment the LEO Chris Clemons. The player needs to be a three-down type who can line up at the same time as Red Bryant and Clemons. He needs to be in on any play call – 3rd and short against the run, 1st and 20 against the pass. He needs to read well in space, be aggressive against the run and get to the quarterback. He doesn’t need to be Jason Pierre-Paul or DeMarcus Ware, because this is another one of Pete Carroll’s specialist roles. The Seahawks won’t be drafting a prospect who necessarily puts up the big numbers or has the rare athleticism, but as part of a collective group, they have an essential role to play.

Since Carroll arrived in Seattle – facing a substantial rebuild as big as any in the NFL – he’s had to be both radical and patient. This off-season presents an opportunity to address the linebacker position, with David Hawthorne and Leroy Hill both entering the free-agent market and with other needs (QB, OL, DB, WR etc) addressed, at least for the immediate future. This coincides with a wealth of talent in the particular target areas discussed here.

I’ve included part of a presentation conducted by Carroll at a Nike coaching clinic during his time as Head Coach at USC. The colored words below are Carroll’s, per Trojan Football Analysis. Although there’s quite a lot of detail and X’s and O’s to this piece, it does explain the team’s base defense and how Upshaw or Ingram would be used as an ‘elephant’ or SLB if they’re taken with the 12th overall pick.

Pete Carroll:

The front of the defense is called a “4-3 under” defense. We use it in combination with different secondary schemes such as Cover 1, 2, 3, or man to man coverage, etc. I’ll start out by explaining the 4-3 under in conjunction with Cover 1. In this case we’ll call it Under-Cover-1 Flex (Diagram 1). The flex call means that free safety is going to the split end side of the offense. The word flex is just a term we use in reference to the split end side of the offensive line. The tight end side we call the solid side. From this front we get a “gap control” type of play. When you put a defensive lineman in a gap and tell him he has to control the gap he can play very aggressively. He can aggressively attack the line of scrimmage and not just read and react.

The more the attacking oriented the defense is the better off it will be. Obviously when you come off the ball, sometimes it is run and sometimes it is pass. We like to be in the mode of attacking the line of scrimmage, so when it is a pass we will get pressure on the quarterback.

Diagram 1. 4-3 Under-Cover 1-Flex Front

With this basic front we can get eight players in the box area of this defense on run plays. We are going to stop the run on defense very well when we use this front. In this defense we outnumber the offense. The defense has more players at the line than the offense can block.

The SLB plays the tight end in man-to-man with this front using outside leverage as he is aligned in a loose 9 technique. The SLB can not get hooked as he is playing outside leverage on all blocks. The nose tackle (NT) is in a 1 technique to the strong side. The defensive tackle (DT) is in a three technique to the weak side. The ends (DE) are in a 5 technique on the offensive tackles. The MLB has responsibility for the strong side B gap and the WLB for the weak side A gap.

The free safety (FS) is playing down to the line of scrimmage on run plays and is responsible for the number two receiver to the weak side of the formation on pass plays. He plays the receiver as well with outside leverage. It should allow him to play really aggressive in the running game because the running back can not beat the free safety coming out of the backfield. The WLB and MLB are bracketed on the other running back playing him in and out with outside leverage. The corners are matched up with the WR’s man-to-man in this scheme.

The thing that is challenging is the MLB defending the play action plays. However, he knows that he is vulnerable and can overplay to where he is vulnerable.

No matter what coverage you are playing you have to convince your players to win their leverage side. If the coach tells a player to play outside leverage and complains when a receiver catches a ball to his inside, the coach is wrong. When we give them a leverage side, we are telling them to just do that aspect right at least.

To take this even further for example we tell our corners to play inside leverage (i.e. to the inside shoulder of the receiver) in this defense. This helps the corner avoid giving up the big play to the inside of the field. If you want them to play the out route towards the sideline you have to give them someone playing support over the top. There is not a corner in college or the NFL that can both play the out routes and also avoid giving up the deep ball to the inside. You have to be realistic as to what your players can do. They only way a corner can play inside leverage and make a play on the out route is if the offense screws up or the quarterback makes a bad throw or the receiver runs a bad route. If you don’t understand that then you are asking the corner to do something he can’t do.

The flex side defensive end is playing on the outside shoulder of the offensive tackle in a 5 technique. He does not have to be a large player and can be more of a pass rushing end. The only thing he can not do is get hooked or reached by the defender and moved out of position. He can play pass first and still be effective. However he does have to maintain gap responsibility for the defense to work. The key to the defense is not getting hooked. If the solid side defensive end is aligned in the strong side C gap he simply can not get hooked. He has to control that gap as does each position on the defensive line.

If the offense comes out in a one back set everyone plays the same except for the free safety. He is still playing the number two receiver to the flex side but he has to move outside to cover him.

Diagram 2. One Back Set & Doubles

Diagram 3. Trips Set

To stay out of mismatches, the corners can take the wide receivers and match up with them (Diagram 4). If both wide receivers come to the same side, we can put both corners on them and cover the remaining receiver with the strong safety. If the corners are on the boundary side the free safety is in the middle. If the corners are on the other side of the field the strong safety is in the middle.

Diagram 4 Twin Doubles

The other one-back set we see a lot of is the one-back and two tight end set (Diagram 5). We put the free safety up on the second tight end. That gives you a problem with run support, but we can play it that way. Everything in the defense is basically the same.

Diagram 5. One-back and two tight ends set

If the offense comes out and gives the defense a two-back and two tight end look nothing changes for the defense (Diagram 6). The corner comes inside and plays man-to-man on the second tight end. Everyone else has the same match ups they had with any two-back sets.

Diagram 6. Two-back set with two tight ends

I want so show you how we react to the run so when you see the film you will know what we are doing (Diagram 7). Our defensive ends are aligned in 5 techniques. The nose tackle is in the A gap to the strong side in a one technique. The weak side defensive tackle is in a 3 technique off the outside shoulder of the guard. The WLB has the A gap to the weak side, but on plays to the strong side he has to get over the center’s block quickly. He cheats somewhat to the strong side with his alignment.

Everyone on the defense is turning the play inside. No one can ever get hooked. The MLB has the strong side B gap. If he is attacking in the B gap, he meets the block and turns it back inside. He plays with his head and outside arm free taking the block on with his inside shoulder. The free safety is our backside player. If the ball breaks back to the weak side A gap he has to make the play there. If there is a reverse run back the other way he has to make that play also. He generally does not cross the center line to make many plays.

Diagram 7. Strong side run responsibility

On the strong side if the offense is lined up in an I formation they have only four blockers to that side. The defense has four defenders and the WLB flowing fast to that side. Everyone on the defense is knocking the ball back inside to the WLB on this play.

If the ball is run to the weak side the MLB becomes the backside run player (Diagram 8). His play depends upon the direction of the run. He has to first defend against any cut back runs through the strong side B gap. If he needs to run through the backside B gap on plays away from him he can. The free safety can do the same thing on the plays away from him. If you ask the MLB to play the cutback and to get over the top then he is not going to be able to be aggressive.

Diagram 8. Weak side run responsibility

On plays to the strong side everyone plays with their outside arm free. If the SLB gets a down block from the tight end he rides him down and looks into the back field for the next block coming at him. On that block we ask him to wrong arm the block and bounce the ball outside. With that type of play we get what we call backer force. The MLB sees the power play going off tackle. He knows the SLB is going to bounce the play. He comes over the top and plays the ball with the strong safety coming up late to play the ball from the outside. Everyone plays with their outside arm free.

There are various adjustments we can make with our personnel. We can take our nose tackle and move him head-up onto the guard for example into what we call a G position. What we normally do is slant back to where we came from. As long as the defender keeps the ball on his inside shoulder he can play as fast as he wants to.

We can also use our base alignment to show overload to one side and then slant back to the other side before the snap of the ball. That is the flexibility of the defense.

There is a lot of flexibility for changing the force in this defensive scheme. If the offense picks up on the fact that the free safety is your weak side force man then they can develop schemes to make it hard for him. All we do then is to change the force on the play from the free safety to the corner in order to switch it up.

We can also change the force by slanting the defensive 3 technique and 5 techniques inside and scraping the WLB outside. We bring the corner off his wide out and make him the force man. He is playing the number 2 wide receiver out of the backfield and thus is the force man on the run to him. The free safety then rolls over the top of the corner into the deep half of the field. If you don’t want to play him in man-to-man you can play zone. With this kind of force change you can play quarter zone coverage to the strong side and half coverage to the weak side.

Most of the time we play our corners in some form of press coverage and have at least one safety deep in the hole for protection against the big play. Against some of the more spread out offenses we will back off our corners. With some spread formations we want to get the defensive backs eyes on the football. The deep safety is a player that is close to my heart. That is what I played. The deep safety has to play two routes. He has to defend the seam route and the post route. That is all I ask him to play. He has to find the seam route from the number two receiver. If there are two of them then he has to get in the middle and play them both. On the post route he has to stay on top of that route. That is easy to do but it becomes harder as offenses do more of it and get better at it.

In general we flip flop our defense. The SLB always goes to the tight end side. We often employ a rush and drop end from either side of the line. The rush guy goes with the SLB and the drop end goes with the WLB. The MLB aligns then to the SLB side of the play. The corners match up with the wide receivers and the safeties flip flop to the passing strength and running strength of the formation. This is our base defense.

As you can see, the base defense has a linebacker playing up at the LOS in each call. The determination to be strong against the run is described in detail, and a player like Courtney Upshaw would provide the kind of edge control the defense requires. The big issue that is often referred to on this blog is how Upshaw would deal in coverage versus a tight end, but I think this is adaptable. Carroll has consistently taken players (Red Bryant being the key example) and played up to their strengths, while minimising the weaknesses. Suggesting a possible adaptation or manipulation to suit a player such as Upshaw is not about changing the entire concept of the defense, it’s about limiting a weakness while still benefiting from the positives.

In many ways Upshaw is ideal for the elephant in that he can provide solid run defense but still rush the passer, as Enyeart testified in his quote at the top of this piece. If covering certain tight ends is an issue (it would be, certainly compared to a more athletic prospect such as Melvin Ingram and even he’d struggle against the best) then why can’t you work around that? One of Seattle’s tall and physical corners can move inside, the MLB can come across and cover. I would describe it as acknowledging that you can’t always find the perfect player for every role. If a prospect is ideal in every way but for a certain aspect (ie. coverage vs TE’s) then you work around it to benefit from the other positive aspects. That’s not such a major stretch and not a great detachment from game-planning to face a certain prospect in a given week. After all, it could be that in some cases against weaker tight-end opponents, you revert back to the original base-plan anyway. You’re not going to likely put a linebacker on Jimmy Graham anyway.

I think the information above will help paint a better picture of how Upshaw and Ingram would be used as an aggressive hybrid of the DE/LB position – an elephant. The reason Upshaw might have the edge is due to his superiority vs the run and his physicality, plus his ability to read in space. Ingram would still fill the role and would have other advantages, they’re just not as valued as the run defense aspect. I think the other goal aside from drafting for this position is to make the MLB and WLB as athletic as possible. Hawthorne is unsigned for a reason and I think the Seahawks would really like to install linebackers who can cover as almost a premium. This is why I believe Zach Brown could be an option, because his major positive coming into the league will be sideline-to-sideline mobility and coverage. If you have Brown covering the TE and one of the big corners in a 2TE set, you’re maxing out the potential of your elephant.

Elsewhere…

Mark Eckel of the Times has been surveying NFL scouts and personnel on the top defensive prospects in the 2012 draft. Here’s some of the quotes he received for the defensive lineman:

On Michael Brockers: “I think he’s the best DT in the draft. He can play the run and he has some pass rush.”

On Fletcher Cox: “He’s OK. He can be a bit of an enigma. He’s getting a little overhyped because of the Combine. He’s perfect for a 3-4 team as an end, I don’t like him as much in a 4-3.”

On Dontari Poe: “He’ll be overdrafted. He did all of that at the Combine, so some team will take him way higher than he should go. I mean watch him play, just watch. He didn’t do anything. And he wasn’t playing at a very high level, either. All I know is he had one sack last year and it came against Austin Peay. You probably didn’t even know Austin Peay had a football team.”

On Kendall Reyes: “Of all of them, he’s a pure 4-3 tackle, he can play the 3-technique for you.” Another scouts is quoted as saying: “He’s soft. He doesn’t finish.”

On Devon Still: “He was very inconsistent from what I saw. He’s going to need a lot of work. I think he’ll be all right, just not right away.”

On Jerel Worthy: “I don’t like him. He’s lazy and he’s not productive.”

On Alameda Ta’amu: “He’s a classic 3-4 nose. I’m not sure I like him in a 4-3.”

On Quinton Coples: “He’s good as hell, but he’s nuts. I’m not sure what’s up with him. I’d put him at left end in a 4-3, but he could do everything if he wants it.”

On Whitney Mercilus: “Those 16 sacks are a little deceiving. A lot of it was just cleaning up. He’s not good against the run at all, so he might have to be a situational pass rusher.”

On Jared Crick: “A lot of his sacks came when (Ndamukong) Suh was still there. A real try-hard guy. What you call a plugger.”

The Luke Kuechly debate & Thursday notes

Thursday, March 22nd, 2012

Luke Kuechly is the red-hot choice for Seattle if you believe the mock drafts. Todd McShay thinks so, stating, “Linebacker is among the Seahawks’ top needs, and Kuechly would immediately improve Seattle’s linebacker corps with his instincts, consistency, production and leadership.”

Rob Rang agrees, “Seattle doesn’t appear particularly concerned about the possibility of losing (David) Hawthorne or (Leroy) Hill to free agency. Perhaps that’s because they’re targeting the All-American Kuechly, who’d be an upgrade in the middle.”

So does Walter Cherepinsky, “Kuechly is the best player available who makes sense for the Seahawks. They’ll need an inside linebacker if they don’t re-sign David Hawthorne.”

It’s certainly true that linebacker is a top need, but whether it’s an issue addressed in round one is open to debate. The aforementioned Hawthorne and Hill remain unsigned despite limited interest in the open market. It’s still technically possible both will return to Seattle, but it seems likely the Seahawks will use the draft to upgrade. After all, Pete Carroll highlighted linebacker as an area for improvement in his end of season press conference. What’s more, this is a strong class at the position with strong depth across the first three rounds of the draft.

So are the Seahawks likely to spend their first pick on a MIKE linebacker? Not for me.

Here’s what I wrote in yesterday’s mock draft to explain my reasoning:

Improving the pass rush has to be the priority and that’s something Kuechly won’t do. He’s a pure MIKE who will make plenty of tackles at the second level, but isn’t going to cause too many problems behind the LOS. He added size for the combine (appearing at 242lbs) but is likely to have a playing weight of around 235-240lbs. That’s a concern and people wondering whether he’ll have a Brian Urlacher-type impact in the league have to remember Urlacher is 20lbs heavier. A better comparison for Kuechly would be Sean Lee in Dallas – a fine football player, but also the type that doesn’t cost a top-15 pick.

“Great leadership is another reason quoted to justify Kuechly to Seattle, but the Seahawks already have a vocal and emotional leader on defense and just gave him a $35m extension. While a hole remains at MLB, it’s also worth remembering that David Hawthorne was an UDFA and the front office did a good job plucking KJ Wright from round four last year. Without doubt the MIKE spot will have to be filled if no free agent is signed, but with prospects such as Mychal Kendricks available beyond the first round, there’s no real need for the Seahawks to avoid drafting an impact pass rusher with the #12 pick should the opportunity present itself.”

There’s a lot to like about Kuechly’s game. As you can see in the tape at the top of the article, he’s like a magnet to the ball. His decision making is first class, but he also has the pursuit to match. It’s no fluke he made 191 total tackles in 2011 and he’ll likely enter the NFL and just carry on where he left off. He’s a Field-Marshall at the second level, mopping up the work of the defensive line and consistently gravitating to the ball carrier. The comparison to Dallas’ Sean Lee is fair and just, flashing similar instinct and leadership while possessing the kind of attitude teams love. There’s a reason the Cowboys’ war room celebrated drafting Lee with such vigour, and I suspect whoever drafts Kuechly will have the same reaction. Simply put, a defensive coaches a dream.

On the other hand, there are some concerns. The size issue are unavoidable and while he’s a combative player who will consistently make tackles, he’s not a big hitter and won’t always stop the ball carrier on the initial contact. Will Kuechly be quite the same force in the much more physical NFL? He doesn’t have a lot of forced fumbles or game-changing plays and in goal-line/short-yardage situations he can be a bit of a liability because he’s just not that big. He has the speed and athleticism to be great in coverage and teams won’t have any complaints with the tape in that aspect. He’ll work well in zone, he reads the field extremely well and perhaps most importantly – plays with real control. But again, we haven’t seen many big-plays.

It’s hard to dislike a decision to draft Kuechly and there’s a very real chance someone will take him early. One team could buy into the idea he’ll be a safe, steady player for a long time. He’s the kind of prospect Gene Smith and Scott Pioli like to draft and could easily go at #7 to Jacksonville or #11 to Kansas City. Yet it’s just not a vital position on defense anymore. The introduction of mic’d up helmets has taken away the full effectiveness of an intelligent MIKE with a superb field IQ. One of Lofa Tatupu’s greatest strengths early in his career was the ability to read the offense and organise. Now, a coach sitting in a booth can tell one player on defense – usually the MIKE – what needs to happen. Players like Tatupu will soon be dinosaurs and it’ll just be another position for the bigger, faster player you can find. One of Kuechly’s greatest aspects – his ability to organise – won’t be truly maxed out at the next level.

It could also be argued that the number of difference makers at middle-linebacker in the NFL can be counted on one hand. Seattle needs a pass rush more than anything, and it’s something they just aren’t going to get from Kuechly. With so much young talent in the secondary and with some nice pieces on the defensive line, the Seahawks really need to find someone who can compliment Chris Clemons and get to the quarterback. While it can be argued there may be some defensive end talent in round two, there could be a late-first round rush on the position leaving the Seahawks with limited options. However, there’s unlikely to be a rush on linebackers and a player such as Mychal Kendricks could be primed for the team’s pick in round two. Drafting Kuechly at #12 would put a lot of pressure on Seattle to attack the second tier of pass rushers, something they’ll want to avoid if possible.

Above all else it just smacks of a luxury pick. Kuechly’s the kind of player most teams want to have, but most team’s will only draft him if they’re set at other key positions. Tony Pauline sums it up best in his pro-day round round-up for Sports Illustrated:

“Kuechly continues to impress scouts with his athleticism and quickness. The linebacker was swift today and looked better in pursuit drills than he showed at the combine. That said, most at the workout feel Kuechly grades as a late-first-round pick.”

Essentially, everybody likes the guy, but he’s likely to go to a competitive team that can afford to spend a first round pick on a middle-linebacker. I had Kuechly going to Baltimore in my latest mock draft- not because I don’t like him – simply because I couldn’t find a team that can justify the pick earlier. Denver are a strong candidate at #25, but may feel obliged to keep building their offense to suit Peyton Manning. I could still see Kuechly going in the top-15, but it wouldn’t surprise me if he dropped to the late first. And it certainly would surprise me if the Seahawks drafted him instead of one of the top pass-rushers at #12.

David DeCastro an alternative?

A quick look at the latest mock drafts on NFL.com show Charley Casserly, Chad Reuter and Bucky Brooks all projecting the Stanford guard to Seattle. There’s some logic to the pick, considering the Seahawks released Robert Gallery and haven’t been able to bring in a big-name replacement. They wanted Steve Hutchinson, but he signed a substantial contract in Tennessee. I like David DeCastro, even if I think he’s a little overrated and believe comparisons to Hutchinson are lazy. His best position might be the one he played at Stanford – right guard – where his technical quality and smarts against the run will be fully utilised. But the Seahawks spending another first round pick on the offensive line would be pure overkill and a move they’re highly unlikely to make.

Although talent will always be more important than anything else, consistency and familiarity are also integral when trying to build a succesful line. The Seahawks have talent and depth, including two first round picks, a second round pick and a third round pick on their line. That’s a sizeable investment so far, while other positions haven’t received quite as much love (namely – quarterback and defensive end). For the most part last year, Tarvaris Jackson stayed clean and Marshawn Lynch prospered. Seattle clearly likes Paul McQuistan, Lemuel Jeanpierre and Breno Giacomini while they recently signed Frank Omiyale for further depth. All are familiar with Tom Cable and the zone scheme the Seahawks wish to run, and that familiarity cannot be underestimated. Let’s not forget that the greatest offensive line in the team’s history included just two first round picks and the rest was built around two mid-rounders and an UDFA.

It’s all about weighing up what will make this team more successful. Sure, you draft DeCastro at #12 and maybe he does become a lynch-pin at left guard for the next decade (but that’s not a lock by any means). If the Seahawks start Paul McQuistan at left guard instead, will the impact on the running game and pass protection be significantly weaker in 2012? I’d argue not. This is a well coached line and I expect that’ll continue next year.

Meanwhile, if the Seahawks avoid improving their pass rush in round one, is a solution likely to be forthcoming later? Because the idea of the draft has to be continued overall improvement, not just plugging guys in who might stick around the longest. Maybe some people could argue drafting a Courtney Upshaw or Melvin Ingram is a little bit more of a gamble (I disagree, but I digress…) yet you’re still taking a chance to improve the overall quality of the team. Seattle needs a pass rush more than it needs another first round offensive lineman and I think Pete Carroll and John Schneider will focus on other areas for now. You can’t just keep pumping first round picks into one area of the team and besides – Seattle’s MVP for the offensive line may well be stood coaching from the sidelines anyway. That counts for something.

I want to see Courtney Upshaw work out

One of the consistent complaints I hear about Courtney Upshaw is the fact nobody has seen the guy work out. In fairness, he did perform at the combine - just not in every drill. He chose not to work out at the Alabama pro-day due to a minor injury, which is his prerogative considering he only gets one shot at this. He also knows that every scout in the league will be coming to watch Trent Richardson and Mark Barron, so delaying things a little bit isn’t too harmful in my eyes.

But one thing that’s also forgotten is that Upshaw did perform at the Senior Bowl - every drill. I’ve added a video from Mobile below which focuses on those work outs. I want to highlight two things. Firstly, the glowing review from Mike Mayock in the booth (the first few drills contain no volume, so don’t worry if you’re not hearing anything – it will kick in eventually). The second is a bag drill at 3:16 used to show a prospects quick feet and mobility. Upshaw is the last to compete in this clip (3:35) which also includes Melvin Ingram (the second to have a try). Anybody worried that this guy can’t move should take a look.

Updated mock draft: 21st March

Wednesday, March 21st, 2012

The dyamic within the top ten picks is constantly shifting and could be manipulated further in the final month leading up to the draft. Four teams in particular will have a big influence on who the Seahawks pick at #12:

Jacksonsville Jaguars
The big question mark here is whether Shahid Khan will allow his GM Gene Smith to have full control over the draft. The Jags were right in the mix for Tim Tebow before he was dealt to the Jets earlier today. Smith hates distractions and Tebow – through no fault of his own - would’ve been the ultimate distraction. Having traded up for Blaine Gabbert a year ago, Khan’s interest in a local hero somewhat undermines the man he employs to build the roster. Is this a sign of things to come? Will Khan put pressure on his front office to go for a more exciting draft plan than Smith has used in the past? Or will the team’s GM be allowed to get on with the job of building around Blaine Gabbert and trying to make this a relevant franchise under a new coaching setup? It’s a bit of a mess at the moment.

Miami Dolphins
Speaking of franchises that are a mess, let’s move on to the Dolphins. Having struck out on Jim Harbaugh, Jeff Fisher, Peyton Manning and even Matt Flynn, Miami resembles an avalanche of destruction which will probably end up crashing into whoever has the misfortune to be the #1 pick in 2013. They have a new coaching staff, but don’t appear to have any ambitions to build around their vision. The quarterback situation is a joke and they may be forced into drafting Ryan Tannehill at #8 just to appease the masses. Ideally, they would’ve signed a player familiar with Joe Philbin’s system (Flynn), added a pass rusher in the draft and some more talent at receiver to take a methodical approach to rebuilding. They may well draft a defensive end anyway and look elsewhere for a quarterback (Brandon Weeden? Kirk Cousins? Brock Osweiler), but either way expect the Dolphins to get this wrong. A precedent has been set.

Carolina Panthers
Defense has to be the order of the day in Carolina, to support an offense led by blossoming superstar Cam Newton. Ron Rivera could sample with 3-4 looks in 2012 before making the permanent switch, putting scheme-flexible players like Dontari Poe and Fletcher Cox on the radar. Poe could easily line up at three-technique and could shed weight to play the position, but at 345lbs he’s also that rare athletic nose tackle teams drool over. Cox’s best fit is at the five-technique but can play some interior rush – although his run defense isn’t ideal playing inside in the 4-3. More importantly in terms of the impact on Seattle, let’s not rule out the Panthers drafting another pass rusher. Even with bigger needs at tackle and cornerback, Quinton Coples and Melvin Ingram are both local guys who could be on Carolina’s (and Seattle’s) radar.

Buffalo Bills
It’s fair to say the Bills’ threat to Seattle is diminishing and they won’t be competing for the same prospects. Signing Mario Williams to a mega-deal made it less likely Buffalo would add a pass rusher at #10, but the news today that Mark Anderson has agreed a four-year contract with the team shows that the draft priorities will lie elsewhere. It’s impossible to look beyond the offensive line and they’ll have a shot at the #2 ranked offensive tackle after Matt Kalil. Riley Reiff and Jonathan Martin are both good fits. The Bills have offered a contract to Demetrius Bell – the team’s starting left tackle in 2011. However, the offer comes a week into free agency and hasn’t been accepted to date, which suggests Buffalo are ready to look at alternatives. And let’s be honest here, what’s the point in having a great pass rush if your own quarterback is being equally pressured by much weaker opponents?

So what about the Seahawks?
By adding Matt Flynn and Jason Jones, it’s very clear what Pete Carroll and John Schneider are looking to get out of this draft. They still need a pass rushing compliment to Chris Clemons (the defense will never reach elite status without a much improved pass rush), they need to fill two holes at linebacker (although it’s still possible they could re-sign David Hawthorne and Leroy Hill) and finding a quality partner for Marshawn Lynch in the running game is a must. With a month to go, I fully expect the Seahawks to target a combination of – DE, LB, RB – in the first three rounds.

The popular choice for Seattle in a lot of mock drafts at the moment is Luke Kuechly, but I’m not buying into that. For starters, improving the pass rush has to be the priority and that’s something Kuechly won’t do. He’s a pure MLB who will make plenty of tackles at the second level, but isn’t going to cause too many problems behind the LOS. He added size for the combine (appearing at 242lbs) but is likely to have a playing weight of around 235-240lbs. That’s a concern and people wondering whether he’ll have a Brian Urlacher-type impact in the league have to remember Urlacher is 20lbs heavier. A better comparison for Kuechly would be Sean Lee in Dallas – a fine football player, but also the type that doesn’t cost a top-15 pick.

Great leadership is another reason quoted to justify Kuechly to Seattle, but the Seahawks already have a vocal and emotional leader on defense and just gave him a $35m extension. While a hole remains at MLB, it’s also worth remembering that David Hawthorne was an UDFA and the front office did a good job plucking KJ Wright from round four last year. Without doubt the MIKE spot will have to be filled if no free agent is signed, but with prospects such as Mychal Kendricks available beyond the first round, there’s no real need for the Seahawks to avoid drafting an impact pass rusher with the #12 pick should the opportunity present itself.

As for Seattle’s choice in this week’s mock, Quinton Coples gets the nod with Courtney Upshaw and Melvin Ingram off the board. Some team’s will avoid Coples due to his disappointing senior tape and the question marks that come with that. Other’s will believe they can tap into his upside and get the best out of an undoubted physical talent. Pete Carroll is the kind of coach that will thrive on a challenge like that. However, some teams out there are concerned about his run defense and for the Seahawks to invest their faith in the UNC lineman, they’d need to see that as an area he can improve.

Updated first round mock draft

#1 Andrew Luck (QB, Stanford)
The inevitable.
#2 Robert Griffin III (QB, Baylor)
The inevitable part II.
#3 Matt Kalil (OT, USC)
Minnesota won’t waste any time calling Kalil’s name. He has elite potential. The inevitable part III.
#4 Trent Richardson (RB, Alabama)
The Browns have to find someone on offense to build around. Richardson would be the wise choice here.
#5 Morris Claiborne (CB, LSU)
The biggest spenders in free agency, Tampa Bay could still use a stud cornerback.
 
#6 Justin Blackmon (WR, Oklahoma State)
The Rams know this is now a three-draft plan so they need to take whoever is highest on their board with this pick.
#7 Courtney Upshaw (DE, Alabama)
If Gene Smith is still calling the shots by April 26th, Upshaw is the kind of player he likes to draft
#8 Ryan Tannehill (QB, Texas A&M)
Is this Plan C? Or are we further down the alphabet by now?
#9 Melvin Ingram (DE, South Carolina)
Carolina could consider adding another pass rusher here before drafting for DT and CB.
#10 Riley Reiff (OT, Iowa)
The Bills are going to draft an offensive lineman here, the only question is which one will they choose?
#11 Dontari Poe (DT, Memphis)
Nose tackles who weigh 345lbs and move as well as this guy don’t last long in round one.
#12 Quinton Coples (DE, North Carolina)
Pete Carroll would certainly back himself to get the best out of Coples, but some teams are concerned about his run defense.
#13 Jonathan Martin (OT, Stanford)
Whoever is playing quarterback for Arizona next year, the Cardinals simply must draft an offensive tackle.
#14 Cordy Glenn (OT, Georgia)
The moves made in free agency will allow the Cowboys to target Cordy Glenn or David DeCastro at this spot.
#15 Fletcher Cox (DT, Mississippi State)
One team will fall for Cox’s athleticism and ensure he’s taken early in the first round.
#16 Vinny Curry (DE, Marshall)
A potential riser as we get closer to the draft, Curry could go earlier than this even.
#17 David DeCastro (OG, Stanford)
Cincinnati will want to make sure one of their first round picks is a corner, but DeCastro is hard to pass here.
#18 Dont’a Hightowe (OLB, Alabama)
With the top offensive lineman leaving the board before the #18 pick, San Diego may fill another big need here.
#19 Michael Brockers (DT, LSU)
Trading for Brandon Marshall will allow Chicago to concentrate on the best lineman available at this spot.
#20 Peter Konz (OC, Wisconsin)
There’s always a shock in round one. Konz is good enough to justify a pick this early and will play in the league for a decade.
#21 Stephon Gilmore (CB, South Carolina)
Gilmore’s performance at the combine has seemingly done enough to cement his place in the top-25 picks.
#22 Kendall Wright (WR, Baylor)
Cleveland needs to keep adding playmakers and could see Wright as a nice compliment to Greg Little.
#23 Whitney Mercilus (DE, Illinois)
The Lions have built up their interior defensive line, but could look to add another edge rusher here.
#24 Mike Adams (OT, Ohio State)
There are some legitimate concerns about Adams’ play, but Pittsburgh may take a chance.
#25 Doug Martin (RB, Boise State)
This is now the Peyton Manning show, and he needs a running back who does it all, including catch the ball and pass-protect.
#26 Michael Floyd (WR, Notre Dame)
There are still some lingering question marks about his character that could limit his stock in round one.
#27 Stephen Hill (WR, Georgia Tech)
Josh McDaniels saw something in Demaryius Thomas. He could make a strong case for another Georgia Tech wide receiver.
#28 Andre Branch (DE, Clemson)
The Packers are running out of options to improve their pass rush and could consider Branch in this situation.
#29 Dre Kirkpatrick (CB, Alabama)
Having attacked the receiver market in free agency, San Fran could draft Kirkpatrick to play corner or safety.
#30 Luke Kuechly (LB, Boston College)
A smart, blue collar player who will have a solid career. But he falls because how many teams drastically need a 240lbs MLB?
#31 Devon Still (DT, Penn State)
His ability to line up in multiple spots could attract the Patriots, who are looking for more pass rush.
#32 Zach Brown (LB, North Carolina)
Brown is full of potential and could go earlier than this. New York would be a nice landing spot.

Round two

#33 St. Louis – Kevin Zeitler (OG, Wisconsin)
#34 Indianapolis – Coby Fleener (TE, Stanford)
#35 Minnesota – Mohamed Sanu (WR, Rutgers)
#36 Tampa Bay – Bobby Wagner (LB, Utah State)
#37 Cleveland – Nick Perry (DE, USC)
#38 Jacksonville – Reuben Randle (WR, LSU)
#39 St. Louis – Jerel Worthy (DT, Michigan State)
#40 Carolina – Jayron Hosley (CB, Virginia Tech)
#41 Buffalo – Ronnell Lewis (LB, Oklahoma)
#42 Miami – Mark Barron (S, Alabama)
#43 Seattle – Mychal Kendricks (LB, California)
#44 Kansas City – Kelechi Osemele (OG, Iowa State)
#45 Dallas – Jared Crick (DE, Nebraska)
#46 Philadelphia – Bobby Massie (OT, Ole Miss)
#47 New York Jets – Alshon Jeffery (WR, South Carolina)
#48 New England – Shea McClellin (DE, Boise State)
#49 San Diego – Brandon Brooks (OG, Miami OH)
#50 Chicago – Chandler Jones (DE, Syracuse)
#51 Philadelphia – Brock Osweiler (QB, Arizona State)
#52 Tennessee – Kendall Reyes (DT, Connecticut)
#53 Cincinnati – Lamar Miller (RB, Miami)
#54 Detroit – Brandon Boykin (CB, Georgia)
#55 Atlanta – Josh Robinson (CB, UCF)
#56 Pittsburgh – Casey Heyward (CB, Vanderbilt)
#57 Denver – Brandon Thompson (DT, Clemson)
#58 Houston – Josh Chapman (DT, Alabama)
#59 New Orleans – VOID
#60 Green Bay – Brandon Weeden (QB, Oklahoma State)
#61 Baltimore – Harrison Smith (S, Notre Dame)
#62 San Francisco – Dwayne Allen (TE, Clemson)
#63 New York Giants – David Wilson (RB, Virginia Tech)
#64 New England – Lavonte David (LB, Nebraska)