I’ve gone against my convictions this week. Tony Pauline at Draft Insider.net and SI.com is one of the best in the business at getting the inside edge on what teams are thinking in the draft. Last year he quoted sources claiming Tyron Smith would be a top-ten pick long before people were even including him in their mock drafts. The Dallas Cowboys drafted Smith ninth overall. When Pauline reports on what the teams are thinking, it’s worth taking notice.
Ryan Tannehill isn’t someone I can grade as a first round pick. He was bitterly disappointing during the 2011 season and justifications like a lack of experience were off-set by an ideal environment including high quality pass protection and a cluster of NFL weapons. I’ve not included him in a single projection so far because I didn’t expect him to be drafted in round one. However - despite breaking his foot and pulling out of the Senior Bowl this week - Pauline is today reporting that Tannehill will very likely go in the top-15:
“Why is Tannehill making such a bounce up draft boards in recent weeks? One trusted source told me teams are eating up the quarterbacks upside potential and described it as “the love affair factor”- teams see what Tannehillcan develop into at the next level and can’t stay away. His athleticism, mobility, toughness and decision making all has scouts giddy. With Cam Newton, Jake Locker and Christian Ponder coming off the board so early in the 2011 NFL Draft, teams now feel they have the green light to select someone such as Tannehill earlier than most anticipate. Sources are saying don’t be shocked if the Texas A&M product ends up as a top 15 choice, depending on the injury.” – Tony Pauline
It’d be ignorant to brush aside such a report and for those reasons I have to put him in this week’s mock. The question is, how high does he go? I had a strong suspicion last year that Washington were hoping to draft Jake Locker with the 10th overall pick – so much so, I never budged from that predicition throughout the process. Locker fit like a glove in Mike Shanahan’s offense and it wasn’t surprising that the Redskins traded down – rejecting Blaine Gabbert in the process - after Tennessee chose Locker at #8. Tannehill doesn’t have the same upside as the former Washington quarterback, but he has a very similar skill set. Having come so close to getting their man last year, perhaps Shanahan won’t take any chances in 2012? After all, the relative cost of picking in the top-10 is much less these days so he can afford to roll the dice (at least financially). It wouldn’t necessarily prevent the Redskins from signing a prospective free agent like Peyton Manning. After all, Tennessee quickly signed Matt Hasselbeck to a three-year contract after drafting Locker.
The Cleveland Browns still provide healthy debate at #4. I think there’s a good chance they will look at other options at quarterback rather than draft Robert Griffin III and I have to believe Trent Richardson will be on their radar. We’ll know more depending on what the Browns do in free agency, with Matt Flynn a possible target and maybe even Kevin Kolb if the Cardinals trigger their ‘get-out’ clause after a series of mediocre performances last season. If the Browns do pass on Griffin III, I don’t think it’s a shoe-in that he’d automatically go to Washington. Let’s not forget, many people expected Blaine Gabbert to be the second quarterback drafted last April but he was chosen after Jake Locker. Although the hype for Rg3 is much greater, I still think there’s a very good chance he could fall to Miami at #8 or #9. If the Seahawks want a shot at Griffin, they’re going to have to move up.
For Seattle’s pick this week I’ve returned to Courtney Upshaw. He’s not going to provide that burst of speed in the front seven that Pete Carroll is looking for, but he’ll improve the team’s pass rush. Despite his lack of height, he’s a warrior at the LOS and holds up incredibly well against the run. Seattle could use a lot of different looks, using Upshaw as a power end at times in a front four and in space off the edge on certain calls with the three big bodies in the middle and Clemons at the LEO. They could even try him as a WILL linebacker and certainly he flashed decent mobility against LSU, although coverage skills aren’t a strength. What he could provide is a more balanced attack while helping to build the teams physical style that refuses to concede the run. He’ll be a tone setter, a ring leader and his attitude coincides with the other players already on the team. He might not be the lean, elite edge rusher that usually goes in the top-15 – but there’s every chance he’ll have an impact in the NFL. At the top of this blog post, you’ll find game tape from Upshaw’s performance against LSU in the BCS Championship courtesy of JMPasq.
Note: Yesterday I conducted an interview with Danny Kelly at Field Gulls talking about several quarterback prospects. To see the piece in full, click here.
Updated first round mock draft
|#1 Andrew Luck (QB, Stanford)
Despite a lot of talk about keeping Manning and drafting Luck, it remains an unlikely proposition. Long term thinking will win out.
|#2 Matt Kalil (OT, USC)
The Rams have to take Kalil, he’s too good to pass up. There’s enough depth at receiver to wait until round two.
|#3 Morris Claiborne (CB, LSU)
Minnesota would love a shot at Kalil. Claiborne is a decent consolation prize to improve their struggling secondary.
|#4 Robert Griffin III (QB, Baylor)
Richardson has to be a consideration here, but the hype surrounding RG3 is intense and it’ll be tough for Cleveland to justify passing.
|#5 Trent Richardson (RB, Alabama)
Elite talent who will be a star in year one. Tampa Bay get a steal with this pick if Richardson is still on the board.
|#6 Ryan Tannehill (QB, Texas A&M)
A foolish reach but Shanahan wants his guy. If Tannehill really is going to go in the top-15, Washington is the obvious choice.
|#7 Justin Blackmon (WR, Oklahoma State)
This is too high for Blackmon in my opinion, but his production will interest teams. The Jaguars need to help Blaine Gabbert.
|#8 Riley Reiff (OT, Iowa)
Miami will pick 8th if they win a coin toss with Carolina. With RG3 off the board, expect Miami to beef up their run game.
|#9 Michael Brockers (DT, LSU)
A complete lack of defensive line talent could encourage one or two unexpected players to declare. Brockers is one to watch.
|#10 Jonathan Martin (OT, Stanford)
The Bills go into the off-season needing to improve their pass rush and pass protection. Martin would be a wise pick here.
|#11 Luke Kuelchy (LB, Boston College)
Undersized but a tackling machine. The kind of player Scott Pioli likes to draft for his team.
|#12 Courtney Upshaw (DE, Alabama)
If the Seahawks want to improve their pass rush and continue to build a defensive identity, Upshaw could be the pick here.
|#13 Andre Branch (DE, Clemson)
With the tackles leaving the board early, Arizona will be forced to address their second most important need – an outside rush.
|#14 Dre Kirkpatrick (CB, Alabama)
He’s big and good in run support, but struggles in coverage at times. Jerry Jones will like this guy, so will Eli Manning.
|#15 Zach Brown (LB, North Carolina)
The Eagles will look closely at the linebacker position and Brown is a good fit for Philly’s scheme.
|#16 Mark Barron (S, Alabama)
Few players have enjoyed the level of progress shown by Barron in 2011. He’s firmly in the round one equation.
|#17 David DeCastro (OG, Stanford)
Slightly over rated, a technician who looks great on the move but lacks elite power at the point of attack.
|#18 Dwight Jones (WR, North Carolina)
They won’t franchise Vincent Jackson again and need a weapon for Philip Rivers. Jones could be the complete package. Underrated.
|#19 Kendall Wright (WR, Baylor)
The ultimate deep threat. Jay Cutler will get the most out of Wright, who should be able to have a Mike Wallace-type impact.
|#20 Whitney Mercilus (DE, Illinois)
They need to improve their edge rush and Mercilus led the nation in 2011 for sacks. A hard player to work out.
|#21 Janoris Jenkins (CB, North Alabama)
Elite cornerback talent but troubled by off-field problems. The Bengals needs to draft a corner and Jenkins is good enough to start quickly.
|#22 Michael Floyd (WR, Notre Dame)
Cleveland needs to keep adding playmakers. Floyd has his issues, but put him on that offense with Trent Richardson and it’ll be much improved. They’d still need a quarterback.
|#23 Brandon Boykin (CB, Georgia)
He doesn’t have elite size but he’ll light up the combine and push his stock into this range.
|#24 Vontaze Burfict (LB, Arizona State)
Although his stock is falling, someone could take a shot on Burfict. My guess is he’ll end up playing in the AFC North.
|#25 Michael Egnew (TE, Missouri)
He’s very much the modern tight end – a pure pass catcher who will make spectacular plays downfield.
|#26 Lamar Miller (RB, Miami)
The Broncos run the ball well and could look to add another back to their stable. Carolina had two first round runners under John Fox.
|#27 Devon Still (DT, Penn State)
I’m still trying to get an angle on Still. It often looks like his best fit may be at the five-technique.
|#28 Peter Konz (OC, Wisconsin)
Stood out last year in a big-name Badgers offensive line. Could return for another year, but ready to have an impact as a pro
|#29 Mohamed Sanu (WR, Rutgers)
Sanu can line up anywhere and Jim Harbaugh will find different ways to get him involved. Another powerful weapon for San Fran.
|#30 Quinton Coples (DE, North Carolina)
In recent years Baltimore have capitalised on players falling into this range to get value. Coples could drop into the late first.
|#31 Alshon Jeffery (WR, South Carolina)
Jeffery divides opinion. He is capable of making big plays, but he runs sloppy routes and looks ‘too big’.
|#32 Fletcher Cox (DT, Mississippi State)
He plays a bit like a runaway train. He’s unbalanced but moves well for a big guy. He looks ideal for the 5-technique position.