I’m in the early stages of writing my first 2012 mock draft and wanted to share a few of the thoughts. When it’s published we’ll have weekly updates and as with previous years we’ll look at different scenarios and possibilities each week.
This is probably the most difficult draft class I’ve had to try and project since starting the blog. There’s a distinct lack of defensive line talent worthy of a high first round grade - a stark contrast to the last few years – and it means having to be creative with the offensive talent in the early first round. Several prospects such as Oklahoma State wide receiver Justin Blackmon are probably going to end up within the top-ten, when last year that wouldn’t have been the case. There’s still plenty of time for things to change, but I suspect this could be a good year to pick outside the top ten IF you have a quarterback. The difference in talent between the 3rd or 4th pick and the 15th pick could be minimal, making for a comparable situation to the 2009 draft where many of the top ten picks have so far failed to deliver.
I think we could see a rush on quarterbacks similar to last April where four left the board before the 12th pick. This is all, of course, dependant on whether certain players declare for the 2012 draft. Here’s a preview on some of the things I’m contemplating and how they might impact the projection for Seattle…
The Carolina Panthers currently own the second overall pick, which could make for an interesting dilemma. They’ve made the investment in Cam Newton and they actually have one of the better offensive lines among the teams picking early. Would they reach on a receiver to provide Newton with another dynamic target alongside Steve Smith and a decent group of tight ends? The best player on the board at #2 could be Matt Kalil – and of course his brother Ryan has become a key feature at center for the Panthers. Would they invest a high pick to bring the brothers together considering right tackle Jeff Otah has been placed on injured reserve in each of the last two season? It’d be an extreme luxury pick, but without any great defensive line talent available and with some depth at receiver for later on, they may well look to set up the best pair of tackles in the NFL with Jordan Gross.
Miami currently owns the third pick and many people expect they’ll draft a quarterback. With Andrew Luck off the board, it’s hard to work out what kind of quarterback they’d be looking for. I suspect they’ll be changing Head Coach in the off season and who knows what other front office changes could occur? That’ll be the greatest indicator as to what direction they’ll go here. I wouldn’t completely rule out Trent Richardson being the pick. After all, it wouldn’t be a total shocker if the Dolphins looked at the remaining quarterbacks left on the board and decided they couldn’t find the answer they’re looking for. They passed on Matt Ryan when they needed a quarterback in 2008 and took Chad Henne in round two. Would that impact their decision? Could they see Richardson as a can’t miss weapon for a team that has previously been set up to run the ball?
If they are going to focus on the quarterbacks in round one, I keep coming back to Robert Griffin III. Miami want to sell some tickets and whether he’s fools gold or not, RG3 is the closest thing to a big play machine in this group. They’d be foolish to look at Cam Newton and expect similar success, but they may also notice the increased attention in Carolina since Newton’s arrival and buy into the idea (wrongly in my view) that Griffin can match the fast start as a rookie. The concept of Griffin III going that early a few weeks ago may have been considered unlikely, but it’s becoming more and more of a possibility.
Another team likely to be zoned in on the quarterback market is Washington. Mike Shanahan knows what he wants in a quarterback and he’s not going to be forced to take anyone for the sake of it. He traded away the chance to draft Blaine Gabbert last year when many people were talking about the Redskins potentially trading up for Gabbert just a few days before the draft. Shanahan was enamoured by Sam Bradford, suggesting he was a once in a generation type player last season. I long projected Washington to take Jake Locker with the 10th pick and it’s more than coincidence in my mind that they traded down and avoided the quarterbacks completely once Locker left the board.
When I look at the current group I’m not convinced there’s a Shanahan type out there. He may actually show more interest in Ryan Tannehill’s skill set later on, potentially affording further investment in the offensive line or by adding a much needed skill player on offense. I’m not convinced a technical passer like Matt Barkley is what he’s looking for and I expect Landry Jones to be taken lower than most people expect. Although his offense has often produced productive runners with little investment, I just wonder if he’d look at Trent Richardson as a possible consolation prize if the quarterback he wants isn’t available.
I keep coming back to Peyton Manning for Washington. If the Colts are ready to move on with Andrew Luck, they’ll almost certainly release or trade Manning. Dan Snyder loves to make moves like that and there’s some precedent for such a trade. Last year, Donovan McNabb cost the Redskins a second round pick as they looked for a veteran bridge. If Manning is healthy, the ‘Skins have the financial clout and the positional need to make a deal happen. If Shanahan doesn’t see a quarterback he loves in the draft (or if he does prefer a Ryan Tannehill type later on to groom for the future) you have to say Manning to Washington looks ideal for all concerned, it’s almost too realistic.
There are several no-brainers in the top-ten. Minnesota needs offensive line help to protect their investments at quarterback and running back. Likewise Arizona almost have to draft a left tackle given their hopeless offenive line. St. Louis could look at lineman too – but they really need to find better targets for Sam Bradford and it’s the interior line which should be a greater concern. North Carolina linebacker Zach Brown looks like a great fit for the Eagles who currently own the #9 pick.
Cleveland remains a really intriguing team with their two first round picks. They are probably the only franchise with enough stock to tempt Indianapolis to consider sticking with Peyton Manning and trading the rights to Luck for a kings ransom. Would they be able to pull off an incredible trade like that? If not, do they like a player such as Matt Barkley enough to invest the top-ten pick? Mike Holmgren the coach made a career out of moulding quarterbacks to fit his system. As the man pulling the strings from the front office, can he afford to be so cute at the position? They tried to turn Colt McCoy into a legitimate starter, with very little success. Barkley would make a great deal of sense given the west coast flavor in Cleveland.
That would leave Seattle in a situation where Luck, Griffin III and Barkley are gone. I don’t expect the Seahawks to draft Landry Jones, given that his skill set is very different to what Pete Carroll and John Schneider have looked for at the position so far. They would ultimately have to trade into the top ten should they desire any of the three quarterbacks taken – or they’d have to look elsewhere.
The news this week that John Moffitt and James Carpenter have suffered serious knee injuries was deflating, but perspective is needed. While unfortunate, it certainly shouldn’t be argued that the Seahawks suddenly need to rush out and spend a third first round pick in three years on another lineman. First round picks don’t guarantee good health and the best lines in the league are built on consistency, scheme and talent – not just how many first round picks you have. In many cases the better interior lineman in the NFL are not the best athletes who get drafted in round one, but the guys who understand their jobs and manage to stay healthy.
It may well be that I project the Seahawks drafting a non-quarterback in my first round mock draft, but I still believe they have to do what it takes to move up should that prove to be the case. As I argued this week, picking in the 10-20 range doesn’t mean they can’t draft a first round quarterback – but we have to create a discussion that looks at alternatives however difficult it may be to stomach.
I think there’s a good chance most of the limited defensive talent will be available in this first mock. There is some depth at cornerback, even if there aren’t any players worthy of Patrick Peterson and Jimmy Smith type grades. LSU standout Morris Claiborne could be available and he fits the bill in what the Seahawks look for at the position. Janoris Jenkins is the most talented cornerback in the class, but off-field concerns make him a risky gamble. Dre Kirkpatrick is a 6-2, aggressive corner who excels in run support but hasn’t looked elite in coverage. Georgia’s Brandon Boykin intrigues me enough to consider a first round grade but is probably too small for the Seahawks scheme. I think this current front office believes they can find cornerbacks who fit without investing the top picks – certainly they’ve backed themselves so far and have enjoyed some success. Cornerbacks could be to Carroll and Schneider what offensive tackles were to Tim Ruskell.
There are some defensive lineman who will go in round one – Clemson’s Brandon Thompson and Penn State’s Devon Still for example. Neither look like the explosive three-technique this defense craves, however. PSU’s Still might actually kick out to the five technique at the next level and if teams like San Diego are willing to try and fit Corey Liuget into that role we could see a similar move. Thompson strikes me as a similar nose tackle 4-3 lineman to Brandon Mebane and while he’s combative enough to impact plays regularly from the backfield, his lack of end product is a concern especially considering some of the outside rushers he’s played with. He’d be a good fit for Denver who have the kind of speed off the edge to capitalise on Thompson’s interior work.
Quinton Coples remains a mystery considering he promised so much coming into the year but hasn’t lived up to expectations. How would he fit into Seattle’s scheme? He’s not big enough or explosive enough to move inside and play the three technique in the NFL – although he had his most impressive season for UNC from the middle. He’s not a LEO pass rusher in any shape or form, but the Seahawks don’t use an orthodox five-technique where he appears to be suited. Getting someone else who can consistently create edge pressure would be a huge bonus for the Seahawks, but I don’t think Coples is that man.
There’s talent and depth at both receiver and running back. While I firmly believe you can never have too many good receivers, I don’t the Seahawks’ vision is to stock pile receivers. People are going to ask about Stanford’s David De Castro, but I think expectations should be tempered there slightly. He’s a pure technician who looks polished in Stanford’s machine of an offense. However, the whole of that line struggled when USC found a way to create pressure and it’s shown the way forward for Oregon State and Oregon in the last two weeks. On a side note, Andrew Luck’s inability to maintain standards under pressure is a concern - something I’ll write about more on another day. De Castro is playing right guard for Stanford and while the hype train will serve him well, I’m not sure he’s quite as good as some people believe. Comparisons to Steve Hutchinson are ambitious to say the least.
Considering I don’t include trades in my mock drafts, I’m leaning towards the cornerback position for now based purely on the players available. I do suspect that if the Seahawks were going to spend a first round pick on defense, they’d much rather make the choice on the defensive line. Even if the team thinks it can keep adding talent to it’s secondary with later picks, they may have limited choice if the quarterbacks are off the board and with limited defensive line talent. The debate makes you realise – if you weren’t already convinced – how much the Seahawks need to be aggressive to get their quarterback if they identify him among the top ten picks.