Archive for the ‘Featured’ Category

Instant reaction: Seahawks draft Bruce Irvin

Thursday, April 26th, 2012

The Seattle Seahawks keep you guessing.

There were a few whispers doing the rounds in the media pre-draft that a team would take Bruce Irvin in round one. I remember hearing that, pausing for a moment and contemplating. “I wonder? Nah.” In hindsight, I should’ve offered that rumor more than a momentary glance. The Seahawks traded down three spots from #12, collecting a fourth and sixth round pick from Philadelphia. The Eagles drafted Fletcher Cox. The Seahawks drafted Bruce Irvin at #15.

First of all, let’s address the pick. We’ve been saying on this blog for some considerable time that the Seahawks would draft a pass rusher. It has always been the focus in round one. We – and the rest of the world – just didn’t locate who was Pete’s pass rusher. As it turns out, that guy played for West Virginia. Carroll referenced in the video above that he recruited Irvin: “I thought we had special information.” Carroll claims he has incredible speed and that for a time he was the best pass rusher in college football. All true.

A year ago almost to the day, I turned my attention to the 2012 draft. It was time to start looking at the next class after Seattle had just taken James Carpenter in round one. I discovered a player so striking, he stood out as a top-ten prospect immediately. He flew off the screen. He stood out.

His name was Bruce Irvin.

In May 2011, I wrote an article titled: ‘Bruce Irvin is ready to crash the 2012 NFL Draft

Here is an exert:

When I scan through the various early 2012 mock drafts and big boards, one name is unusually absent.

Tony Pauline doesn’t list him among 40 prospects to watch this year. He isn’t part of Walter Cherepinsky or Rob Rang’s 2012 mocks. He isn’t part of Chris Steuber’s big board. In fact the only place I’ve seen this guy register is in Chad Reuter’s early projection – as the 32nd overall pick.

Yet in my opinion, he’s right up there at the top end. Ultimate star potential, a defensive prospect who may be the best overall in college football. This is one player who will help define his team as they mount what I believe is a realistic shot at making a BCS Bowl, maybe even the big one. On his highlight’s tape, they borrow the name ‘Beast Mode’, but if Marshawn Lynch watches this guy play I’m sure he won’t complain.

The best pass rusher in college football is Bruce Irvin of the West Virginia Mountaineers. He was part of my top-50 prospects for 2012.

He’s lightning quick as you’d expect given the size but unlike Von Miller who relied completely on speed, Irvin is more than willing to engage a tackle, drive him into the quarterback or beat him with stunning hand placement. I’ve never see a guy with this size paddle away an offensive lineman before.

He’s the best kept secret in college football. Last season he recorded 14 sacks and yet received virtually no hype. West Virginia pulled off a masterstroke appointing Dana Holgorsen as their offensive coordinator and future head coach. He was the mastermind behind Oklahoma State’s free-scoring offense which consistently churned out talent at running back and wide receiver. The Mountaineers will have a productive offense next season and with Irvin leading the way on defense they’re an outside pick to go unbeaten next year. That’ll help to put this guy firmly on the map.

Make no mistake this is the most devastating, dominating and exciting player you’ll watch during the 2011 college season. I’d recommend reading this piece from Geoff Coyle on Irvin’s background and route to WVU. More importantly, take a look at the schedule and make sure you grab the opportunity to watch him in action.

Irvin himself read that article, and retweeted it. He expected to be a round one pick, probably because so many people were complimenting his game. He referenced it in interviews, he talked about having a fantastic final season at WVU and being a round one pick. Without doubt the best pass rusher in college football in 2010 was not Da’Quan Bowers or Von Miller, it was Bruce Irvin.

So what happened?

Irvin had a big impact as a specialist rusher in 2010, acting on third downs and recording 14 sacks after transferring as a JUCO prospect. In 2011, the Mountaineers attempted to turn him into an every down type player. He was used in three-man fronts, right on the line and not in space. He faced regular double teams, he was hit out of plays and struggled to have an impact. In his first five games last season, he had just one sack. When he reverted back to a ‘specialist’ role, he notched 7.5 sacks in five games. Go figure.

At the combine he exploded, running the fastest time by any pass rusher with a flat 4.50 forty yard dash at 6-3 and 245lbs. He had a 1.58 10-yard split. You can see his workout by clicking here.

The Seahawks have gone after their schematic version of Aldon Smith. Except their version of Aldon Smith looks more like Clay Matthews. Don’t expect Irvin to play every down. For those wondering if Irvin is going to translate to linebacker, it probably won’t happen. He’ll play obvious passing downs, either at the LEO or replacing Raheem Brock’s nickel role. Yet he may well be just as productive. One day he could replace Chris Clemons at the LEO.

He’s a pure, speed, edge rusher with a bit of fight to his game and occasionally surprising strength. But overall, he’s going to have one responsibility – get to the QB. He’s not that young at 24, so they’ll expect an impact. In fact, he turns 25 on November 1st.

The pick at #15 summed up an extraordinary first round which flew by at just over three hours and contained many surprises. There were a number of trades, especially late in the first round. At one point Tampa Bay moved up several spots back into the first to grab Doug Martin and they merely flipped fourth rounders with Denver for the pleasure. That was a king steal for such a talented running back. Prospects like AJ Jenkins went in the first round unexpectedly. Brandon Weeden – a 29-year-old rookie to be – went 22nd overall. Irvin was the first edge rusher off the board at #15, ahead of Quinton Coples. Nobody could call events as they unfolded.

Is this a sign of the times? Or the sign of a bad draft class? Will the numerous trades and unexpected picks continue next year, or is it simply the latest trend? How will teams approach the second round? The Seahawks still have needs at running back and linebacker, but will they keep building the pass rush? Or will they look for a touchdown maker?

The Seahawks got their pass rusher, but it wasn’t the guy many expected. I hope the article I linked to above, written almost a year ago today, shows the kind of potential Irvin has. Don’t be down on this pick. I’ll leave you with some links, game tape and a quote to stew on from Seattle’s latest first round pick: “I love eating quarterbacks.”

NOTE – We’re back tomorrow for another live chat from 15:30 PST

LINKS

Les Carpenter: West Virginia prospect Bruce Irvin ditches burglary, drug game for shot at NFL

Frank Rose: Bruce Irvin Turning Heads at the 2012 NFL Combine

James Choy: Irvin sees a bright future ahead

Sports Illustrated: Seattle takes West Virginia’s Bruce Irvin

NFL Network: Bruce Irvin draft profile

Live Chat: NFL Draft 2012

Thursday, April 26th, 2012

The 2012 draft is here. Instant analysis as round one unfolds.

Final thoughts

Thursday, April 26th, 2012

Later we’ll be launching a live chat session, half an hour before the draft running through until the end of the first round. It’ll feature on this blog and also on Field Gulls, with analysis from myself, Danny Kelly and hopefully Kip will be there too. You’ll also be able to join in. It was a great success last year and I hope you’ll join us again.

A few final thoughts…

Albert Breer is reporting that the Seahawks are negotiating with Cincinatti and New England about trading down. It’s not surprising news, if true. Seattle could realistically drop to #21 and maybe even to #27 and still draft a pass rusher. A deal which includes a 2013 first rounder to drop to either of those picks would probably appeal. However, wise man says don’t trade with Bill Belichick and the Bengals haven’t traditionally been the kind of team that throws away future picks. I doubt either team would pair their first round picks this year to get up to #12, but they’d have that option. Can you really see New England making that move though? And why #12?

The Seahawks are going to draft a pass rusher if they stay put. Hey, if they move down they’ll probably still draft a pass rusher. I understand that has been the team’s ambition all along. There’s been some classic misdirection over the last few weeks, and it’s got a lot of people talking about guys like Ryan Tannehill. Yet it’s always been about the pass rush. The big question is – who will they take? I’ve never been as confident about that question as I have knowing Seattle will take a pass rusher in round one. I’m sticking to my guns and saying it’ll be one of Courtney Upshaw or Melvin Ingram. I could be wrong. Maybe it’ll be Quinton Coples? Maybe it’ll be Whitney Mercilus? Maybe it’ll be another pass rusher? We’ll found out shortly.

Chandler Jones from Syracuse is the big riser the night before, at least according to the media. I asked Tony Pauline from SI.com and Draft Insider for his thoughts on Jones’ meteoric rise so late in the day:

“Rob – I’m baffled. Jones is a solid prospect yet not the spectacular talent many are making him out to be…. he’s a solid athlete with a lot of natural pass rushing skills, which teams always look for in the draft. That said, I’m a film guy and not a stats guy- but just ten sacks in 32 college games in the Big East, which has had just one offensive lineman drafted in the initial four rounds the past two years? These were not Big Ten or SEC tackles he was playing against. I also have my concerns about Jones playing OLB in a 3-4. Things like this, players making huge rises the weeks before the draft, often take on a life of their own and the perception is greater than the reality.”

It’s food for thought as we get closer to the start of the draft. I tend to agree with Pauline. Jones has some potential, no doubt about it. But to hear Mike Mayock suggest he’ll be the best defensive player from this draft in three years, 24 hours before the event, is staggering. There are some people who don’t work for NFL front offices that know what they’re talking about. Nobody has made that kind of statement about Jones. I wouldn’t want to bank on Mayock’s premonition coming true.

If the Seahawks did end up moving down, I think that would be with a nod to 2013. They’d love to get some extra stock to take into next year’s draft, knowing full well there will be at least two highly rated quarterbacks available. Regulars will know I’m not one who ever buys into the ‘next year’ theory regarding quarterbacks. In fact, I’ve argued against the banality of the annual “next year’s group are better” debates you see before each draft. There won’t be a quarterback with the grade of Andrew Luck. Indeed, this year’s twosome of Luck/Griffin III have much more hype than any of the 2013 class will gain by next year. However – not being rated quite as highly as that pair could make certain quarterbacks more attainable. Matt Barkley and Logan Thomas are the most intriguing college quarterbacks I’ll be watching in 2012. Tyler Bray and Tyler Wilson could also work into the equation.

And there’s no getting away from the fact Pete Carroll and Matt Barkley are tight. If the Matt Flynn-project doesn’t work out too well in 2012, it could be the precursor to a big move up for Barkley. So getting stock in the bag for next year while also being able to improve key areas like the pass rush and running back would be seen as a positive.

If Seattle does a deal – unexpectedly I would say – for either Cincy’s two picks or New England’s, then I would imagine they’d address the pass rush and one of the offensive skill positions – depending on value.

Names to keep an eye on: Courtney Upshaw, Melvin Ingram, Zach Brown, Quinton Coples, Vinny Curry, Dont’a Hightower.

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)