It’s time for a quick status check on how the draft order looks today. I also want to run through the first few picks, look at what teams might do early on. It’s also important to remember that a lot can change between now and April – specifically during Senior Bowl workouts and the combine.
Currently, the top seven picks are easy to distinguish. Carolina (1-12) would own the first overall selection with Cincinnati (2-11) in second. Denver, Detroit and Buffalo all have a 3-10 record, but the Broncos would pick third based on strength of schedule with the Lions selecting fourth and the Bills fifth.
The Cowboys and Cardinals are 4-9, but Arizona would own the 6th overall pick.
It then gets a bit more complicated. Four teams have a 5-8 record, with Houston and Minnesota (5-7) both potentially joining them after Monday’s games.
If the Texans and Vikings both improved their record to 6-7, strength of schedule would give the Seahawks the 12th overall pick with three games to go.
Here’s some thoughts on what could happen - subject to changes over the next few weeks.
#1 Carolina Panthers (1-12)
Projection: Andrew Luck (QB, Stanford)
There is no question what will happen with this pick if, as expected, Andrew Luck declares for the 2011 Draft (the deadline for that decision is January 15th). With a new regime and fresh start imminent in Carolina, they will select the top ranked quarterback to lead the path forward. The new coaches will have no ties to Jimmy Clausen, who isn’t of the same class as Luck anyway. A no brainer.
#2 Cincinatti Bengals (2-11)
Projection: Cam Newton (QB, Auburn)
This could be an interesting team to follow. Carson Palmer has had a disastrous season and could be released in favor of a fresh start. Cam Newton, in my opinion, needs to be discussed even as high as this pick. It could happen. If the Bengals pick second, they can cut Palmer loose knowing they’d be guaranteed one of Luck or Newton. The Auburn prospect could be their own version of Big Ben – big in size and arm, mobile, occasional miracle worker.
Cincy are also joint last in the NFL for sacks, so you can’t rule out Da’Quan Bowers. It appears to be a pretty safe bet that if the Bengals do pick second overall – it’ll be a quarterback (Luck, Newton) or defensive end (Bowers).
#3 Denver Broncos (3-10)
Projection: Da’Quan Bowers (DE, Clemson)
Denver appear likely to appoint a GM to control the draft and the appointment of a head coach – that will be a significant change for the franchise. Josh McDaniels invested a lot in young offensive talent (Tebow, Thomas, Moreno) but who knows how the new regime will view what is a stagnant offense. Even so – the defense needs to be a priority.
Whether they switch back to a 4-3 or maintain a 3-4 defensive scheme – Da’Quan Bowers makes a ton of sense. Getting bigger up front and adding to the joint worst pass rush in the NFL is crucial (even when Elvis Dumervil returns in 2011). Marcell Dareus and Nick Fairley are other options, but don’t be surprised if we see a move for A.J. Green or Patrick Peterson either.
#4 Detroit Lions (3-10)
Projection: Patrick Peterson (CB, LSU)
The Lions are joint fifth in the NFL for sacks but only eight teams have given up more passing touchdowns. I could see a situation where this team pairs Ndamukong Suh with Da’Quan Bowers (if available) but it would appear unlikely they’d spend so much draft stock at the DT position by considering Nick Fairley or Marcell Dareus.
A.J. Green and Calvin Johnson would be a frightening, yet unlikely combo. The offensive line needs an upgrade – but there are no solutions here. Cornerbacks don’t always go this early – but I have a hard time seeing Detroit pass on Patrick Peterson in this particular scenario.
#5 Buffalo Bills (3-10)
Projection: A.J. Green (WR, Georgia)
This is the most interesting team currently picking in the top ten. How can you project Buffalo? They had so many needs last year and took the flashy running back (C.J. Spiller). I could easily see a similar situation this year with the team snubbing other needs to draft another dynamic playmaker - A.J. Green. Why not? After all - if they persist with a 3-4 defense, neither Nick Fairley or Marcell Dareus are ideal fits. There are no OT’s worthy of the pick and the top two QB’s are gone.
In a situation like this particular projection – I’d almost make Green the favorite to go here. They believed Spiller was too good to pass and in my opinion, Green is a bettter overall prospect than Spiller was last year – and I liked Spiller a lot.
After that it gets a little harder to project. Arizona with the 6th overall pick have big needs at quarterback, offensive tackle, pass rushing OLB and cornerback. I cannot project Ryan Mallett to work under Ken Wisenhunt. Jake Locker has the right mental make-up and can’t be ruled out even despite his major issues with accuracy this year. Even so, I suspect Arizona will address the QB position before the draft. They need to find an experienced veteran who can manage the extreme talent they have on offense.
Robert Quinn (DE/OLB, UNC) is a possibility – but he has a lot of convincing to do in work outs after missing the entire year thanks to a NCAA suspension. Tyron Smith (OT, USC) may be the best bet for a top-ten left tackle, but lacks the size Arizona would prefer to have on their offensive line. He would need to add 15lbs before the combine. Janoris Jenkins and Prince Amukamara are possibilities at cornerback. I wouldn’t rule out Green or Julio Jones if both are available. Arizona is a difficult team to project at this position.
The Cowboys picked at #7 are a little clearer. Their biggest issue is amongst the secondary, but there are no Eric Berry’s or Earl Thomas’ this year. You can see Jerry Jones falling for Patrick Peterson, but not necessarily for Janoris Jenkins or Prince Amukamara. Both have to be considered however. The depth at CB may also afford the Cowboys to look at beefing up their defensive front with one of Nick Fairley or Marcell Dareus – even if both are better placed in a 4-3.