With the conclusion of the scouting combine, it's time for the annual NFL mock draft season to kick into high gear. With Longhorn spring practices ensconced in the Bubble and what appears to be at least a momentary lull in Mack's assemblage of a monster 2013 recruiting class, it's also a good time for the Carnival to make a foray into prognostication and try to divine the order in which Sheriff Goodell will inform 2012's draft hopefuls of their new NFL homes. As a concession to both the drawn-out nature of the offseason and my unfortunate tendancy towards verbosity in NFL matters, we're making our first-round mock draft a three-parter. In this first piece, we'll take a look at who'll join the proud ranks of Tony Mandarich, Akili Smith and Joey Harrington as Top Ten NFL draft picks.
Obviously, any mock that comes out before free agency has even begun isn't going to rock the world in terms of ultimate accuracy. With that said, I think it's still a fun exercise to look at who teams might take based on the current state of the franchise, and with each selection I've included a key number that explains why each choice would be the best one for that team.
Pick 1 – Indianapolis Colts
The Pick: Andrew Luck, QB – Stanford
Key Number: 28,000,000
That’s the number of US American dollar bills that the Colts would owe iconic QB Peyton Manning as of March 8 - a number that, combined with lingering uncertainty about Manning’s recovery from neck surgery last season, will almost certainly bring about his release. Into the breach will step Luck, who, despite the ever-increasing allure of RGIII, has been the most inevitable #1 overall pick in recent memory. The Colts’ one-season dip into the NFL abyss will likely prove a small price to pay for another 10-15 seasons of upper-echelon QB play – the situation calls to mind the San Antonio Spurs’ great fortune in enduring one wretched and injury-plagued season to enable the smooth transition from David Robinson to Tim Duncan. The prospect of a Robinson-Duncan style mentoring relationship was out the door, however, as soon as the Manning Clan followed its typical playbook with Daddy Archie playing mouthpiece and informing the world that it was "doubtful" that Peyton and Luck would want to be teammates. Translation – "If you keep Peyton and draft that Luck fella, my boy’s gonna make the Brett Favre/Aaron Rodgers ‘relationship’ look like Yoda and Luke on Dagobah. We are the Kennedys of football, and my boys play where and with whom they choose." Thus, Peyton and his trusty right arm (which may have regained nearly 80% of its nerve function!) will be searching for a new home, and his eventual landing spot should make for one of the league’s most intriguing free agent stories.
Pick 2 – Cleveland Browns (TRADE with St. Louis Rams)
The Pick: Robert Griffin III, QB – Baylor
Key Number: Zero
Zero is the amount of help that Colt McCoy got from the Browns’ Mos Eisley Cantina-caliber skill position players in 2011. In fact, the phrase ‘skill position players’ contains at least one lie and possibly two when referring to this bunch. However, zero is also the degree of blame that Mike Holmgren and the rest of the Browns’ brain trust want to shoulder for this sorry state of affairs, so the allure of chalking up the offense’s vile play to Colt and going after the ‘savior QB’ will be strong indeed. A few points of interest here:
Point #1 – I don’t say this to bag on the idea of making this move for its own sake – I think Colt can be a solid NFL QB if he’s given a remotely reasonable cast of weapons, but RGIII has a lot of indications that he could be an elite one and I’d be hard pressed not to make this move if I was running the show in Cleveland.
Point #2 – I usually don’t like factoring in not-yet-consummated draft position trades into a mock as they tend to introduce a further degree of uncertainty and likely cascading error that makes the whole thing less accurate. In this case, though, I think Griffin has too much additional value as the second pick that the Rams won’t be able to capture by drafting him with
Chief Lazy Eye Bradford already in the fold, so some kind of trade is near-inevitable.
Point #3 – There will be a ton of contrary rumors and posturing about what will go down with this trade scenario, but in breaking down the likely trade-up candidates I think the Browns make the most sense.
Vikings – No reason for them to pay a ransom to move up one spot with two youngsters like Ponder and Joe Webb already in the mix and absolutely howling needs at a couple of positions where elite players will be available at #3.
Redskins – The ‘Skins are almost certain to make a big, splashy move at the QB position after Shanahan’s Quixotic attempt to field a legitimate team with Sexy Rexy and John "I’m A Loser, Baby" Beck at the helm, but I don’t think this will be it. Dan Snyder tends to make his waves in free agency, and while his first target will almost certainly be Manning, there is likely a Manning Family Fiat against Peyton and Eli playing in the same division and possibly hurting each other’s
widdle feewings playoff chances. I think I see a six-year, $70 million contract for Matt Flynn in the near future.
Jaguars – This move would likely save pro football in Jacksonville, but the team won’t be willing to admit their complete boner in selecting Blaine Gabbert after just one season even though Gabbert spent all of 2011 showing more cowardice in the pocket than any QB since George Plimpton. And I doubt their new owner is all that interested in saving pro football in Jacksonville anyway – I predict a few seasons of outright ineptitude as they implement the Rachel Phelps plan in anticipation of becoming the LA Jaguars in 2017.
The Dolphins, Chiefs, Cardinals, Seahawks and Jets should all be kicking the tires on this deal, too, but ultimately the Browns have the most ammo with two first-round picks this year and that’s how I see the deal ultimately going down (with the Browns probably tossing in a 2013 3rd-rounder to wrap it up).
Pick 3 – Minnesota Vikings
The Pick: Matt Kalil, OT – USC
Key Number: 89
89 is the number of combined Splash Plays (QB sacks, hits and pressures) given up last season by the Vikings’ decidedly Undynamic Duo – tackles Charlie Johnson and Phil Loadholt. With a couple of young QB options and a ton of money invested in one of the league’s true superbacks in Adrian Peterson, improving the caliber of OL play has to be of paramount importance for the Vikes. Enter Kalil, a plus athlete with the kind of foot speed that has been sorely lacking in the Vikes’ edge-blocking efforts. I’m not usually one to go in for the whole ‘School X does a great/terrible job of producing Position Y’-type arguments, but the tremendous rookie success of fellow Trojan lineman Tyron Smith in Dallas has to increase interest in the player who kept Smith on the right side of the line at USC.
Pick 4 – St. Louis Rams (TRADE with Cleveland Browns)
The Pick: Trent Richardson, RB – Alabama
Key Number: 13-10
13-10 is the score that best represents sublime and stylish victory to new Rams head coach Jeff Fisher, so when push comes to shove I look for him to
waste a ton of value burning the fourth pick on football’s most fungible position harken back to the glory days of battering defenses with Eddie George and eschew the likely better selection of Oklahoma State WR Justin Blackmon. This move could also be the crowning moment of the Rams’ eight-year project of trying to drive long-suffering RB Steven Jackson to actually committing homicide by saying, "Hey Steven – instead of using this pick on a blocker or a legitimate downfield threat to keep the defense from annihilating you every play, we’re bringing in a guy to steal your carries!"
Pick 5 – Tampa Bay Buccaneers
The Pick: Morris Claiborne, CB – LSU
Key Number: 187
187 is the police code for homicide, which is what Bucs’ corner Aqib Talib tried to commit last off-season. It’s also the approximate age of Tampa Bay’s other starting corner, Ronde Barber. Despite the presence of the far-famed Honey Badger, Claiborne was the most talented member of LSU’s tremendous secondary last season. His mix of size, length, quickness and press coverage ability will be a welcome upgrade, since opposing air attacks treated the Bucs’ secondary like the Allies treated Dresden in 1945.
Pick 6 – Washington Redskins
The Pick: Justin Blackmon, WR – Oklahoma State
Key Number: 63
While numerologists would likely make much of the fact that "Pick 6" is held by the team that employed Rex Grossman at QB last season, the key number for this selection is 63 – the combined ages of the Redskins’ leading WRs Santana Moss and Jabar Gaffney heading into the 2012 season. While there will be plenty of receivers on the free agent market, I think the Skins spend their big money on Matt Flynn and then use this pick to make his selection of weapons a bit closer to the embarrassment of riches that enabled his one-game-wonder performance in Green Bay.
Pick 7 – Jacksonville Jaguars
The Pick: Devon Still, DT – Penn St.
Key Number: -10.6
-10.6 is the aggregate ProFootballFocus.com rating of the six guys who logged snaps at defensive tackle for the Jaguars in 2011. Considering that PFF’s highest-rated interior D-lineman, the Jets’ Sione Pouha, logged a +30.0 rating all by himself in the same season tells you that the Jags aren’t making much happen in the middle. Devon Still was the second-most destructive force in Happy Valley last season after Jerry Sandusky, and will provide an upgrade to – and motivation for – the Jags’ DT tandem of the underperforming Tyson Alualu and the overeating Terrance "Pot Roast" Knighton.
Pick 8 – Miami Dolphins
The Pick: Riley Reiff, OT - Iowa
Key Number: 100%
100% is the approximate percentage of Cowboy fans who, upon learning that the Dolphins were rolling with washed-up Cowboys castoff Marc Colombo as their starting RT for 2011, said, "Wow – the Dolphins are screwed." And screwed they were, as Colombo picked up where he left off in 2010 with a dire level of play that sabotaged many of the Fins’ best offensive efforts. Reiff is an athletic and fairly polished kid with the feet and explosion to excel in both the run and pass game. The Cowboys proved that a high pick on a right tackle isn’t a waste if you get the right guy, and increasingly flexible NFL defenses keep proving that if you’ve got a weak link at either tackle spot that they will exploit it without mercy. Reiff also has the talent to play on the left side, which could give Miami some insurance if superstud LT Jake Long should depart in free agency after 2012.
Pick 9 – Carolina Panthers
The Pick: Dontari Poe, DT – Memphis
Key Number: 32
32 is where the Panthers ranked in overall defensive DVOA in 2011 per FootballOutsiders.com. As there are only 32 teams in the league, this is not good. The Panthers actually have a reasonable DE tandem in Charles Johnson and Greg Hardy, but their defensive tackles were basically an unmitigated bag of ass. Their secondary was also horrendous, but character concerns about Alabama CB Dre Kirkpatrick and the overall depth at corner in this draft may prompt Carolina to shore up the middle of their defense with the 9th pick.
Enter Poe, a 6’4", 350 pound monster who showed up at the Combine and ran a 4.98-second 40, banged out 44 reps on the bench and then dropped the mic and walked out of Lucas Oil Stadium. As much as I wanted to put Poe on the Ravens, I don’t think there’s any way he drops that far after stealing the show in Indy. Speaking of the Ravens, though, his build and athleticism calls to mind Baltimore standout Haloti Ngata, the kind of monster DT that Ravens co-GM Ray Lewis has demanded play in front of him throughout his NFL career.
Poe’s comparative lack of polish and only occasionally dominant career at Memphis indicates that he won’t be as immediate a plug ‘n play option as someone like Still, but his potential as a long-term dominator on the defensive side will provide a nice complement to Cam Newton on the other side of the ball.
Pick 10 – Buffalo Bills
The Pick: Quinton Coples, DE – North Carolina
Key Number: 5/1
5/1 is the ratio of sacks to domestic incidents involving Tila Tequila achieved by Bills DE Shawne Merriman since The Year of Our Lord 2009. That the Bills trotted out Merriman – who at some point really should have gotten in touch with Brian Cushing to learn how one refines one’s PED regimen after an initial suspension – was indicative of the flaccid state of the Bills’ pass rush (no word on whether flaccidity played a role in the Tila Tequila incident, or whether PEDs were a root cause of same). The Bills’ defensive front was basically the inverse of the Panthers’, with a quality set of DTs (at least until Kyle Williams went down with an injury) and a collection of edge rushers more depressing than winter in upstate New York.
I forsee the Bills tapping Coples to generate some much-needed heat. He’s a 6’6", 285 pound prototype DE with an array of pass rushing skills and the strength and power to stand strong against the run. Combining Coples with a healthy Williams and emerging Colt McCoy-killer Marcell Dareus should give the Bills a defensive front that can bring some long-awaited hope to Buffalo fans, which will last until they take another look at that contract the team handed to Ryan Fitzpatrick.