With mere days to the draft, front offices are putting the hay in the barn. It’s time to make those last calls to the people you trust around the league to do that final due diligence, watch that last little bit of game tape if possible, and get your final board in order. Most importantly, this is where the positional fantasies and “what-if” ideals fly out the window. It is now up to 32 different NFL front offices to set their mindsets to the same page and wrap it all up. For the bottom half of the first round, it could be a mad scramble for a few positions as the underrated and previously undervalued come out of the woodwork to make their stands. Here’s picks 17-32 of our Monday Morning Mock; the first half of the first round can be found here. Links in the names of the players go to their Shutdown 40 scouting reports.
It’s been a long time — February of 2005, to be specific — since the Patriots have won a Super Bowl. Bill Belichick’s team has an ungodly 73-23 regular season record from 2005 through 2010, so overall team excellence is not the problem. But when isolating the issues that are different since that last championship, point one is that 2004 was the last time New England had a dominant running back, when Corey Dillon pounded through for 1,635 yards, making the integrated offense off-the-hook dynamic. Now that Belichick is putting together personnel for that same kind of fast-break system, he could really use a do-it-all running back that can succeed on every down. Ingram doesn’t fly off the tape, but he’s the kind of smart, productive player the Pats have favored through the years.
Formerly the possessors of one of the best front sevens in the game, the Chargers have become lighter and less effective up front due to A.J. Smith’s ever more capricious personnel decisions. Formerly able to spot stars among supposedly replaceable players, Smith seems more tied up in draft day tradeups and salary wars, and things are starting to skip. San Diego has Jacques Cesaire and Luis Castillo at end in their 3-4 front, but most of the quarterback pressure and pure dynamism these days comes from outside linebacker Shaun Phillips. Watt is a workout wonder whose attributes transfer to the field, and he could put a serious spark back in the Chargers’ pass rush.
It wasn’t so long ago that the Giants were led to a Super Bowl win by the best and most consistent offensive line in the game, but things change — people get older and more injury-prone, and that’s what’s going on with the G-men and their front five. Sherrod comes to the NFL as quite possibly the most NFL-ready tackle in this draft class, and the ability to kick over to the right side, as he did during Senior Bowl week. He’s an agile blocker with an underrated nasty streak, and his strong technique should keep Tom Coughlin’s blood pressure on the good side.
In reality, Bowers shouldn’t drop this low — he passed his medical re-check in Indianapolis with flying colors, and his recent sub-par pro day was as much about getting back into shape after surgery on his torn meniscus. But if teams still shy away, Bowers could be a great fit for a Bucs team still looking for a player who can combine sacks and power against the run. Bowers was mentored by the late Gaines Adams, and the memory of the former Tampa Bay end inspired Bowers through his 2010 season.
After some misfires in the transition to a 3-4 defense, Chiefs personnel czar Scott Pioli finally has things rolling which is one reason the Chiefs were the AFC West’s surprise winner last season. But there are still problems in the middle of their front seven, and Paea, who set the combine bench-press record with 49 reps, has the on-field power to take on double teams and make plays by sheer force.
The Colts were blasted with injuries through the 2010 season, so some of their needs will be sorted out by the odds. But there’s been a hole at the left tackle position for years, and while Charlie Johnson has done a decent job, he’s more a natural guard, which leaved the Colts at a disadvantage at two positions. Carimi could not only grow into that blindside protector in one of the NFL’s most complex offenses, but he could also kick over to the right side as a flash replacement for Ryan Diem, if that need is diagnosed.
The Eagles have taken risks on players with character concerns before — Terrell Owens and Michael Vick come to mind — and the rumors surrounding Smith’s prior off-field issues (which he has said are behind him) and possible overconfidence (which has not gone away — he was quoted at the combine as saying that he has better ball skills than Nnamdi Asomugha). In truth, Smith is a tall, rangy, dynamic man cornerback with a lot of potential — the only question is whether the light goes and stays on from a common sense perspective.
Gregg Williams’ defense demands scheme versatility from each player, and Houston played well in 4-3 and 3-4 base defenses for the Bulldogs. Will Smith will need help in the short term and a successor in the long term, and Houston brings the dual abilities to set the edge as a pass rusher and back off to play the run required in the Saints’ complex sets.
The Seahawks saw their run defense plummet after the mid-season injury to five-tech end Red Bryant, and they go into the 2011 draft looking at that position as a need along with several others. With the elite quarterbacks and cornerbacks taken off the board in this particular scenario, Seattle will have no trouble putting Jordan’s name on their card. The most impressive player through Senior Bowl week. Jordan is an underrated player with elite potential.
It’s a chicken-or-egg question in Baltimore — did the declining pass rush affect the coverage abilities of the team’s cornerbacks? No matter the reason, pass defense was a problem for Baltimore all season long, and Harris could provide the answer. Possibly starting in nickel or as a second corner, Harris has the in-space speed and route awareness to be an elite corner someday — he needs to work on intercepting more and batting the ball away less.
While it’s true that the Falcons need help in the pass rush department to supplement the efforts of veteran John Abraham, they also could use some help at outside linebacker — Mike Peterson isn’t getting any younger, and Stephen Nicholas could leave in free agency. Wilson not only rushed the passer at Illinois; he also showed good range in frequent nickel sets and could be an ideal fit if the Falcons look to play more nickel sets to transition around their outside linebacker issues.
28. New England Patriots — Danny Watkins, OG, Baylor
The contract feud between Bill Belichick and Logan Mankins has been at high DEFCON for years, and Belichick isn’t exactly known for retaining players who don’t buy in. The 27-year-old Watkins, who spent time as a firefighter in his native British Columbia before replacing Jason Smith at Baylor, is a versatile and incredibly string player who would fit the Patriots’ pulling/trapping style expected of their guards.
They made the NFC Championship game despite the worst offensive line in the game, but Jerry Angelo can’t expect that to happen again. This class of tackles is very intriguing in that there is no one alpha dog, but a number of players with lower ceilings and more immediate starting potential. Solder’s on the other end of that equation — the former tight is still very raw from a technique standpoint, but could be worth the time investment. His overall athleticism is the most impressive among these tackles.
Rex Ryan’s Jets have made it to two straight AFC Championship games — not bad for a guy with just those two seasons of head coaching experience. One thing Rex will need to finally climb to the top rung is a defensive line that doesn’t have to resort to spit-and-baling-wire solutions to cover for the loss of Kris Jenkins as an effective nose tackle. Taylor, who has two-gap nose tackle size but three-tech agility, would be a great fit for a creative coaching staff using an impressive number of effective fronts.
Some see Liuget as an ideal three-tech in a four-man front, but game tape may have other s questioning his ability to split gaps and be violent at the line from a pressure perspective. Where his size and skills might optimally fit is as a five-tech in a 3-4 defense, and the Steelers have had some issues in that department in recent years — they’re still waiting for Ziggy Hood to bloom, and replacing the great Aaron Smith down the road is something nobody in that front office wants to contemplate.
Going back to the great Ron Wolf in the early 1990s, the Packers’ draft philosophy has stayed very consistent — look for players with great-to-outlier size and speed, and retrofit them to your scheme. Wilkerson would be an amazing fit in Dom Capers’ defense, because he has the potential to play anything from three-tech to five-tech, can stand up to disrupt in an “amoeba” defense, and closes quickly against the pass and the run.