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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.