AFC East: Brandon Harris

Double Coverage: Patriots at Texans

November, 29, 2013
11/29/13
12:00
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Andre Johnson and Chandler JonesUSA Today SportsAndre Johnson, left, and the Texans hope to surprise Chandler Jones and the Patriots.
HOUSTON -- The last time the Houston Texans faced the New England Patriots during the regular season, Houston was 11-1 and the hottest team in the league. To celebrate their youthful camaraderie, they ordered letterman jackets, the kind high school teams wear, and the jackets happened to come in right before the Patriots game.

That game marked a turning point for the Texans.

The timing of the jackets had nothing to do with the opponent; former Texans Connor Barwin and Shaun Cody were simply trying to create a tradition. That they lost so badly just after unveiling them turned the jackets into a punch line.

The Patriots won 42-14, and the Texans finished their season having lost three of their last four games. That meant losing the home-field advantage that seemed theirs before that game and led to another meeting with the Patriots in the divisional round of the playoffs. New England won again, 41-28.

It was a lesson for the Texans in what it takes to be a great team.

Heading into this season, many thought the Texans were positioned to be one of the top teams in the NFL. The Patriots seemed poised for a down year, by their standards, but here we are in Week 13 and they sit in their usual spot atop the AFC East.

ESPN.com Texans reporter Tania Ganguli and Patriots reporter Mike Reiss discuss the matchup.

Ganguli: Mike, how has the loss of so many of his top targets from last season impacted Patriots quarterback Tom Brady?

Reiss: We saw it impact Brady more significantly through the first eight games. But things have started to click the past two games, and it’s no coincidence that it coincides with tight end Rob Gronkowski's reaching a new level of comfort since his return Oct. 20, and running back Shane Vereen's coming off the injured reserve list. With those two joining receivers Aaron Dobson, Julian Edelman, Danny Amendola and Kenbrell Thompkins, the pass-catching corps has been as stocked as we’ve seen all season.

I know it’s been a down year for the Texans, but is J.J. Watt still creating havoc? Is that defense still tough?

Ganguli: Watt is still creating havoc. He has 9.5 sacks, three forced fumbles and four passes defensed. He is someone opposing offenses must track on every play. The Texans' defense has played well, but it has holes. On Sunday, the Jaguars had success with the matchup of receiver Cecil Shorts against cornerback Brandon Harris in the slot. Injuries to middle linebacker Brian Cushing and strong safety Danieal Manning have been particularly damaging. The Texans have statistically been much better with Cushing than without him since he was drafted. Their attempt to add some mental toughness with Ed Reed didn’t work as they had hoped, so two young players are starting at safety -- Shiloh Keo at free safety and D.J. Swearinger at strong safety. Swearinger is the Texans’ rookie second-round pick. He will be really good, but right now he’s learning a lot about playing at this level. They haven’t allowed a lot of yards, but have allowed too many points and not created enough turnovers.

Speaking of turnovers, as I watched Sunday night’s Patriots game against the Broncos, it seemed every time I looked up the Patriots had either committed or forced a turnover. What did you make of that? Was it an aberration?

Reiss: The forced turnovers were the norm, as the Patriots recently ended a streak of 36 games with at least one forced turnover (Nov. 18 vs. Carolina). The Patriots' committing turnovers was a little more out of character, although one of the pressing issues facing the club is what to do with lead running back Stevan Ridley (3 lost fumbles in the past three games). The Patriots are traditionally strong in turnover differential, and this season is no different, as they are plus-8 with 23 takeaways and 15 giveaways.

I know this probably comes out of left field, but how is the playing surface at Reliant Stadium? Patriots followers remember the last visit, in 2009, when Wes Welker tore his ACL. I saw a recent game, and it looks like there are patches of grass on the field with noticeable seams in certain parts.

Ganguli: Not out of left field at all. If the game you saw was the Texans’ Nov. 3 Sunday night game against the Indianapolis Colts, this was a major topic of conversation that night. The field looked pretty bad, mostly because there was a college game played on the same grass that week. They replaced the center of the field, but the outer grass was a mess. The University of Houston has played five games at Reliant Stadium this season while its stadium is being renovated. It has played most of them on field turf. The Cougars will play again on Friday morning, and none of the grass will be replaced between that game and the Texans-Patriots game Sunday. I believe the thinking is that will give it enough time to recover. Something to watch, though.

Let’s talk more about defense to wrap up here. Will Aqib Talib be assigned to Andre Johnson on Sunday? How do you think he’ll fare?

Reiss: That would make a lot of sense, as Talib has often been assigned the opponent’s top receiver. After a rocky game Nov. 18 against Carolina and Steve Smith, he was very good this past Sunday night against Demaryius Thomas in the 34-31 win against the Broncos. Talib has been key for the pass defense. Meanwhile, the loss of key players to season-ending injuries (defensive tackles Vince Wilfork and Tommy Kelly, and linebacker Jerod Mayo) has hurt the run defense at times, such as in the Broncos game. But they played a 4-2-5 nickel for most of the game, and I don’t think that will be as much of a factor against the Texans. The Patriots will probably be in their base defense more often, and they played well against the Panthers’ tough running attack in that package.

One thing I think Patriots followers would be interested to hear is what has happened to the Texans? How could a team go so quickly from the AFC divisional round of the playoffs and talking about “letterman” jackets to vying for the No. 1 pick in the draft?

Ganguli: Even with some of the missteps in the offseason, it would have been difficult to foresee this. There are a lot of issues, but I'll focus on the quarterback situation. The biggest mystery is what happened to quarterback Matt Schaub. He was never on the level of Brady, but he gave the Texans what they needed. He was consistent and productive. He actually played really well in leading comebacks against the San Diego Chargers and Tennessee Titans this season. That seems so long ago. The Texans' turnover margin has been among the worst in the league all season, and Schaub was part of that. He became the first quarterback in NFL history to throw pick-sixes in four consecutive games. He threw one on the first pass of the game against the San Francisco 49ers, and that game marked the only time this season Schaub played poorly from start to finish. There were myriad other problems, but Schaub lost his starting spot when he suffered a foot and ankle injury in Week 6. First-year quarterback Case Keenum took over, but his play hasn't meant victories. In his first three starts, he played well in the first half and not so well in the second half. His most recent game, against Jacksonville, was his worst of the season. Keenum threw for 169 yards, no touchdowns and one interception.

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Tom Brady and JJ WattGetty ImagesThe Texans sacked Tom Brady, left, just once in their first meeting with the Patriots. Can J.J. Watt and the front seven do a better job in the rematch?

The Patriots seemingly snickered after they blew out Houston on "Monday Night Football" back on Dec. 10.

The Texans arrived in New England wearing letterman jackets that they thought showed team unity, but instead came off as high schoolish, particularly after they were easily dispatched in what Andre Johnson called the biggest game in franchise history.

For the Patriots it was the next game on the schedule.

Before the Texans got on the bus, middle linebacker Bradie James said the Patriots had delivered a lesson in championship football. The Texans headed back to Houston, humbled and officially in a slump. They lost two of their next three, fumbling away the AFC’s No. 1 seed and a first-round bye.

A win over Cincinnati in the wild-card round earned the Texans a trip back to Gillette Stadium.

Can the Texans put up a better fight as major underdogs Sunday? James Walker of the AFC East blog joins me to discuss the game.

Paul Kuharsky: Tom Brady shredded the Texans in that regular-season game, James. He threw four touchdown passes in no time, recognizing Houston couldn’t keep up with his targets, particularly Aaron Hernandez. Now, Brady has Rob Gronkowski back.

Do you see any way the Texans can get Brady off his game at home in the playoffs?

James Walker: The key to stopping Brady is not a secret: You must beat him up. Brady doesn’t like getting hit in the face, especially at age 35. The problem is that is much easier said than done. New England is extremely good at self-scouting and schemes very well to keep Brady upright. Houston got only one sack against Brady in the first meeting, so it was no surprise that he threw four touchdowns. I expect New England to once again keep some running backs and tight ends in protection to keep Houston’s pass rush off Brady. The Texans will need to throw caution to the wind and blitz more defenders than New England has blockers, and that’s where the chess match begins. Brady is tremendous at reading the blitz and rarely gets fooled with coverages. That's why he's so difficult to beat. Speaking of quarterbacks, what do you expect from Houston counterpart Matt Schaub in his first divisional-round playoff game?

[+] EnlargeMatt Schaub
Mike Carter/US PresswireMatt Schaub's ability to connect on big plays downfield could be key for the Texans.
PK: Schaub finally had his first playoff experience last week and he’s now 1-0 in the postseason. But facing Cincinnati at home and New England on the road are two different things. He did fine against the Bengals, but I felt like coach Gary Kubiak was especially careful not to require many throws that were even moderately risky -- especially after Schaub threw that bad pick-six. Schaub has a bit of an unfair reputation for not being good in big games, mostly because he hasn't been in many big games. To spring an upset here, he’ll have to supplement the run game with some big plays and, obviously, avoid killer mistakes. To have a chance, the Texans need to really ride Arian Foster. He has gone over 100 yards in all three of his playoff games. He had 19 touches in that regular-season blowout. To maximize their chances, I’d say he’s got to have close to 30 this time.

JW: Paul, I agree: Foster is the biggest key for the Texans in this game. He enters with some momentum after rushing for 140 yards and a touchdown last week against the Bengals. Getting Foster 30 or more productive carries would not only wear on New England’s defense, it would keep the Patriots’ high-scoring, up-tempo offense off the field. New England has thrived this year by getting off more plays and offensive possessions than its opponents. Houston's best chance is to slow down the game and make it ugly. Teams that beat the Patriots this year, such as San Francisco and Baltimore, ran the football well and limited New England’s possessions.

PK: What’s the status of the Patriots' run game? Stevan Ridley ran fine in the regular-season game, gaining 72 yards on 19 carries. He earned a little doghouse time late in the season because of some fumbling issues. Has he regained the trust of Bill Belichick and the staff? And how much does it matter? It’s not as though New England needs to run or is afraid to play a game without handing it off a lot and we know that they will keep throwing it even in a blowout situation. So does it even matter if they can run it?

JW: Trust is big in New England, and Ridley has yet to earn it in the playoffs. Last year Ridley fumbled in the divisional round and didn’t play for the remainder of the postseason. The Patriots do not have the luxury to bench him again this year, which makes Ridley a key player to watch. New England’s offense usually passes to set up the run, but the ground game is more important than most people think. The Patriots rarely blow leads because they can run successfully when they need to. That time usually comes in the second half once they’re ahead.

[+] EnlargeStevan Ridley
AP Photo/John BazemoreStevan Ridley may not figure heavily in the game plan, but he needs to make the most of his opportunities and limit mistakes.
I don’t expect Ridley to be a huge part of the game plan. His carries probably will be in the teens. But he needs to make the most of each carry and take care of the football. If Ridley doesn’t step up, look for the Patriots to go to a more dependable and sure-handed option such as Danny Woodhead. The Texans' defense allowed 42 points and 419 yards in the first meeting. What adjustments will Houston’s defense need to make to be more successful in the rematch?

PK: The coverage has to be way tighter. Johnathan Joseph played in the first meeting but had not been practicing and had missed time with groin and hamstring injuries. Brandon Harris was starting for the first time as the nickel after Brice McCain’s foot injury. The Texans set out to slow Wes Welker and they did, then got killed by everyone else. They know they aren’t going to get more than a sack or two on Brady because of how he gets rid of the ball and how skilled he is at changing protections. I expect they’ll mix it up on Hernandez and Gronkowski but they won’t be afraid to treat them as receivers.

The secondary had a bad night in Foxborough and a bad final quarter of the season. Joseph and Kareem Jackson and safeties Glover Quin and Danieal Manning are all better cover guys than they showed that night, when they were even getting beaten by Donte' Stallworth, who had been back in the league for barely five minutes. They simply have to be better if the Texans are going to be in this game.

JW: I was with you in Houston last weekend, and I noticed the secondary played much better than the last time I saw the Texans in Foxborough. Joseph looked more like himself and did a good job, for the most part, on Bengals Pro Bowl receiver A.J. Green. On the other hand, I think an intriguing matchup will be Patriots corner Aqib Talib against Houston’s Johnson, who had another monster season. Big games and matchups like this are why the Patriots acquired Talib in a midseason trade. He instantly became New England’s best cover corner. The Patriots usually play a lot of zone, but they’ve been able to mix zone and man coverages a lot better in the second half of the season with Talib in the lineup. Houston will have a few opportunities to take shots down the field with Johnson against Talib one-on-one, and I think whoever wins those battles will have an impact on this game.

PK: It’ll be hard for the Texans to pull a surprise if there aren’t a couple of big Schaub-to-Johnson connections.

Houston will arrive in New England with an "us-against-the-world" mentality, because the Texans are heavy underdogs. The Patriots aren’t invincible. But if they start fast, they may look that way to the Texans yet again.

Kiper evaluates our AFC East reader mock

April, 27, 2011
4/27/11
9:15
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Mel KiperHoward Smith/US PresswireMel Kiper largely agreed with AFC East readers and the blog's mock draft.
U.S. Department of Labor analysts have confirmed Mel Kiper is the second-busiest man in the country this week and would have been first had the president not felt compelled to hold a weird news conference Wednesday.

Even with Kiper's heavy workload -- imagine how much care must go into crafting his final notes and hair the night before the draft -- he took the time to share his thoughts on our AFC East reader mock draft.

We verified our first round Wednesday with a long-form certification process: a six-week, pick-a-day reader vote.

Kiper's intrepid editor, Chris Sprow, caught up with him to go over the AFC East reader mock draft.

Here are Kiper's thoughts:

  • It's hard to argue with any of the top three picks here. If the trade domino doesn't fall, no reason this couldn't happen.
  • I'm going to stick with A.J. Green to the Bengals. Blaine Gabbert makes some sense, but if they still believe there's hope they can somehow hold onto Carson Palmer, they don't make that pick. But this could be one they are still undecided on, which is a theme this year.
  • If Green isn't there for Cleveland, I don't expect them to pass on Julio Jones, which means I don't think he's still there at No. 10 for the Redskins.
  • I like the pick of tackle Anthony Castonzo to Detroit because my gut says they know protecting Matthew Stafford is priority No. 1. I just think they might still see Tyron Smith there.
  • Texans defensive coordinator Wade Phillips will love Robert Quinn if he's around with the 11th pick. If Quinn is not, Aldon Smith could go that high. His tape is phenomenal in spots.
  • J.J. Watt and Cameron Jordan are perhaps the most interchangeable picks, so these picks don't seem off at all for the Patriots and Chargers. Could play out that way.
  • I'm not as high on Derek Sherrod as some, but would love to be proven wrong. I just think he's there past Philly at No. 23. Slight reach for me.
  • Danny Watkins is a definite possibility at No. 28, but I think New England can go in so many different directions because of how many picks they have.
  • No Jake Locker? No Andy Dalton? I wouldn't count on it.

The last point lends itself to the nature of our project. We began six weeks ago, and quarterback buzz always ramps up as we draw closer to the draft.

Mock drafts also can't accurately factor trade scenarios, and those kinds of draft-day maneuvers will dictate where quarterbacks are drafted after Cam Newton and Gabbert.

It was nice of Kiper and Sprow to share some bonus analysis for us. Much thanks.

It won't be long until we find out how well we did.

Patriots, Bills on clock together in our mock

April, 27, 2011
4/27/11
9:57
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With the 32nd pick in the 2011 AFC East reader mock draft, the Green Bay Packers select ... Akeem Ayers, outside linebacker, UCLA.

We wrapped up the first round with another slim margin. Ayers, a strong candidate for several previous spots, finally found a home -- but by one vote over Georgia outside linebacker Justin Houston.

We have a complete first round, but with two more picks still to make Wednesday(read below).

First, here's our rundown ...
  1. Carolina Panthers: Auburn quarterback Cam Newton
  2. Denver Broncos: Alabama defensive tackle Marcell Dareus
  3. Buffalo Bills: Texas A&M outside linebacker Von Miller
  4. Cincinnati Bengals: Missouri quarterback Blaine Gabbert
  5. Arizona Cardinals: Louisiana State cornerback Patrick Peterson
  6. Cleveland Browns: Georgia receiver A.J. Green
  7. San Francisco 49ers: Nebraska cornerback Prince Amukamara
  8. Tennessee Titans: Auburn defensive tackle Nick Fairley
  9. Dallas Cowboys: USC tackle Tyron Smith
  10. Washington Redskins: Alabama receiver Julio Jones
  11. Houston Texans: North Carolina defensive end Robert Quinn
  12. Minnesota Vikings: Clemson defensive end Da'Quan Bowers
  13. Detroit Lions: Boston College tackle Anthony Castonzo
  14. St. Louis Rams: Illinois defensive tackle Corey Liuget
  15. Miami Dolphins: Alabama running back Mark Ingram
  16. Jacksonville Jaguars: Missouri defensive end Aldon Smith
  17. New England Patriots: Wisconsin defensive end J.J. Watt
  18. San Diego Chargers: California defensive end Cameron Jordan
  19. New York Giants: Florida center Mike Pouncey
  20. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Purdue defensive end Ryan Kerrigan
  21. Kansas City Chiefs: Wisconsin tackle Gabe Carimi
  22. Indianapolis Colts: Colorado tackle Nate Solder
  23. Philadelphia Eagles: Mississippi State tackle Derek Sherrod
  24. New Orleans Saints: Temple defensive end Muhammad Wilkerson
  25. Seattle Seahawks: Colorado cornerback Jimmy Smith
  26. Baltimore Ravens: Miami cornerback Brandon Harris
  27. Atlanta Falcons: Iowa defensive end Adrian Clayborn
  28. New England Patriots: Baylor offensive lineman Danny Watkins
  29. Chicago Bears: North Carolina defensive tackle Marvin Austin
  30. New York Jets: Arizona defensive end Brooks Reed
  31. Pittsburgh Steelers: Texas cornerback Aaron Williams
  32. Green Bay Packers: UCLA outside linebacker Akeem Ayers

Upon the suggestion of a couple readers, I made the call to extend our mock by forecasting the Patriots' and Bills' picks at Nos. 33 and 34.

Reader mrf042579 made an excellent observation about that decision:
Tim, anyway you could make the Bills pick on Thursday end before the actual draft starts? I think if votes are still being allowed after the start of the real draft, it could potentially mess up the last pick of our mock (as in people voting after the draft starts for a player the Bills wouldn't pick if they don't actually take Miller at #3).

Consider it done. I'll ask for both selections here.

Please place your nominations in the comments section below this article, and make it clear which player you're sending to which team.

The Patriots and Bills are on the clock together. And then we're finished.

Pack up the reader mock? Think again ...

April, 26, 2011
4/26/11
9:16
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With the 31st pick in the 2011 AFC East reader mock draft, the Pittsburgh Steelers select ... Aaron Williams, cornerback, Texas.

Slim pickings, for this one.

Only two prospects were nominated, Williams and Baylor defensive tackle Phil Taylor. Williams won by a vote.

But what caught my attention in the comments section were requests from readers frankb1031 and yehya. They asked to extend our mocktastic project to include the New England Patriots and Buffalo Bills with the 33rd and 34th picks.

What a great idea that works out perfectly. We can maintain our daily pace and reveal the Bills' selection Friday, when the second round takes place.

Yonder reads our up-to-date mock draft board ...
  1. Carolina Panthers: Auburn quarterback Cam Newton
  2. Denver Broncos: Alabama defensive tackle Marcell Dareus
  3. Buffalo Bills: Texas A&M outside linebacker Von Miller
  4. Cincinnati Bengals: Missouri quarterback Blaine Gabbert
  5. Arizona Cardinals: Louisiana State cornerback Patrick Peterson
  6. Cleveland Browns: Georgia receiver A.J. Green
  7. San Francisco 49ers: Nebraska cornerback Prince Amukamara
  8. Tennessee Titans: Auburn defensive tackle Nick Fairley
  9. Dallas Cowboys: USC tackle Tyron Smith
  10. Washington Redskins: Alabama receiver Julio Jones
  11. Houston Texans: North Carolina defensive end Robert Quinn
  12. Minnesota Vikings: Clemson defensive end Da'Quan Bowers
  13. Detroit Lions: Boston College tackle Anthony Castonzo
  14. St. Louis Rams: Illinois defensive tackle Corey Liuget
  15. Miami Dolphins: Alabama running back Mark Ingram
  16. Jacksonville Jaguars: Missouri defensive end Aldon Smith
  17. New England Patriots: Wisconsin defensive end J.J. Watt
  18. San Diego Chargers: California defensive end Cameron Jordan
  19. New York Giants: Florida center Mike Pouncey
  20. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Purdue defensive end Ryan Kerrigan
  21. Kansas City Chiefs: Wisconsin tackle Gabe Carimi
  22. Indianapolis Colts: Colorado tackle Nate Solder
  23. Philadelphia Eagles: Mississippi State tackle Derek Sherrod
  24. New Orleans Saints: Temple defensive end Muhammad Wilkerson
  25. Seattle Seahawks: Colorado cornerback Jimmy Smith
  26. Baltimore Ravens: Miami cornerback Brandon Harris
  27. Atlanta Falcons: Iowa defensive end Adrian Clayborn
  28. New England Patriots: Baylor offensive lineman Danny Watkins
  29. Chicago Bears: North Carolina defensive tackle Marvin Austin
  30. New York Jets: Arizona defensive end Brooks Reed
  31. Pittsburgh Steelers: Texas cornerback Aaron Williams

The Green Bay Packers are on the clock with the final selection of the first round.

Drop your suggestions in the comments section below or vote under the link on my Facebook page.

Readers like Reed to Jets in AFC East mock

April, 25, 2011
4/25/11
8:34
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With the 30th pick in the 2011 AFC East reader mock draft, the New York Jets select ... Brooks Reed, defensive end, Arizona.

Readers came through with a flurry of suggestions that evolved into an interesting race.

UCLA outside linebacker Akeem Ayers was the early leader. Baylor nose tackle Phil Taylor generated slower, steadier action.

But Reed proponents came on late for a convincing victory. Others to get attention were UCLA safety Rahim Moore and Oregon State defensive tackle Stephen Paea.

A lot of Pac-10 love there.

Regular voter zack10bearden weighed the options:
Akeem Ayers is probably the best pass rusher left, but I don't think he is angry enough for a Rex Ryan defense. They need Phil Taylor to make their current pass rushers better. The key to these 3-4 type defenses is the nose tackle and DEs making the OLBs better.Phil Taylor is a better value at 30

Reader willparuta21 wrote:
Brooks Reed is a monster. He has to be the pick here. Fastest split 10 time out of any DE at the combine. Everyone know that the only way to win the AFC East is if you can pressure Tom Brady. Brooks Reed will help the Jets do that from both the down lineman and outside linebacker position!

Our weeks-long project almost has reached its conclusion.

This is where we stand ...
  1. Carolina Panthers: Auburn quarterback Cam Newton
  2. Denver Broncos: Alabama defensive tackle Marcell Dareus
  3. Buffalo Bills: Texas A&M outside linebacker Von Miller
  4. Cincinnati Bengals: Missouri quarterback Blaine Gabbert
  5. Arizona Cardinals: Louisiana State cornerback Patrick Peterson
  6. Cleveland Browns: Georgia receiver A.J. Green
  7. San Francisco 49ers: Nebraska cornerback Prince Amukamara
  8. Tennessee Titans: Auburn defensive tackle Nick Fairley
  9. Dallas Cowboys: USC tackle Tyron Smith
  10. Washington Redskins: Alabama receiver Julio Jones
  11. Houston Texans: North Carolina defensive end Robert Quinn
  12. Minnesota Vikings: Clemson defensive end Da'Quan Bowers
  13. Detroit Lions: Boston College tackle Anthony Castonzo
  14. St. Louis Rams: Illinois defensive tackle Corey Liuget
  15. Miami Dolphins: Alabama running back Mark Ingram
  16. Jacksonville Jaguars: Missouri defensive end Aldon Smith
  17. New England Patriots: Wisconsin defensive end J.J. Watt
  18. San Diego Chargers: California defensive end Cameron Jordan
  19. New York Giants: Florida center Mike Pouncey
  20. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Purdue defensive end Ryan Kerrigan
  21. Kansas City Chiefs: Wisconsin tackle Gabe Carimi
  22. Indianapolis Colts: Colorado tackle Nate Solder
  23. Philadelphia Eagles: Mississippi State tackle Derek Sherrod
  24. New Orleans Saints: Temple defensive end Muhammad Wilkerson
  25. Seattle Seahawks: Colorado cornerback Jimmy Smith
  26. Baltimore Ravens: Miami cornerback Brandon Harris
  27. Atlanta Falcons: Iowa defensive end Adrian Clayborn
  28. New England Patriots: Baylor offensive lineman Danny Watkins
  29. Chicago Bears: North Carolina defensive tackle Marvin Austin
  30. New York Jets: Arizona defensive end Brooks Reed

The Pittsburgh Steelers are on the mock clock with the 31st pick.

Even though we've gone through all the AFC East clubs, let's sprint through the finish line on these last two choices. Please submit your Steelers recommendation in the comments section below this article or in the underneath the link on my Facebook page.

Jets finally up in AFC East reader mock

April, 22, 2011
4/22/11
8:07
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With the 29th pick in the 2011 AFC East reader mock draft, the Chicago Bears select ... Marvin Austin, defensive tackle, North Carolina.

Similar to the New England Patriots' selection at No. 28, there was a wide variety of nominations. Eight players were mentioned for the Bears. The first seven ballots cast named six players.

Austin barely beat out Maryland receiver Torrey Smith, with readers reasoning the Bears will need a replacement for Tommie Harris.

That brings us to the New York Jets with the 30th selection.

What direction will they go? Outside linebacker? Defensive line? Safety? Tackle? Wide receiver?

They can have anybody except these 29 prospects ...
  1. Carolina Panthers: Auburn quarterback Cam Newton
  2. Denver Broncos: Alabama defensive tackle Marcell Dareus
  3. Buffalo Bills: Texas A&M outside linebacker Von Miller
  4. Cincinnati Bengals: Missouri quarterback Blaine Gabbert
  5. Arizona Cardinals: Louisiana State cornerback Patrick Peterson
  6. Cleveland Browns: Georgia receiver A.J. Green
  7. San Francisco 49ers: Nebraska cornerback Prince Amukamara
  8. Tennessee Titans: Auburn defensive tackle Nick Fairley
  9. Dallas Cowboys: USC tackle Tyron Smith
  10. Washington Redskins: Alabama receiver Julio Jones
  11. Houston Texans: North Carolina defensive end Robert Quinn
  12. Minnesota Vikings: Clemson defensive end Da'Quan Bowers
  13. Detroit Lions: Boston College tackle Anthony Castonzo
  14. St. Louis Rams: Illinois defensive tackle Corey Liuget
  15. Miami Dolphins: Alabama running back Mark Ingram
  16. Jacksonville Jaguars: Missouri defensive end Aldon Smith
  17. New England Patriots: Wisconsin defensive end J.J. Watt
  18. San Diego Chargers: California defensive end Cameron Jordan
  19. New York Giants: Florida center Mike Pouncey
  20. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Purdue defensive end Ryan Kerrigan
  21. Kansas City Chiefs: Wisconsin tackle Gabe Carimi
  22. Indianapolis Colts: Colorado tackle Nate Solder
  23. Philadelphia Eagles: Mississippi State tackle Derek Sherrod
  24. New Orleans Saints: Temple defensive end Muhammad Wilkerson
  25. Seattle Seahawks: Colorado cornerback Jimmy Smith
  26. Baltimore Ravens: Miami cornerback Brandon Harris
  27. Atlanta Falcons: Iowa defensive end Adrian Clayborn
  28. New England Patriots: Baylor offensive lineman Danny Watkins
  29. Chicago Bears: North Carolina defensive tackle Marvin Austin

Now it's up to the Jets with the AFC East's final draft choice.

Please tack your suggestion in the comments section under this article and provide your reason. I'll pull out a few of the more compelling thoughts and reprint them when I reveal the pick on Monday morning.

Patriots snag Watkins in AFC East mock

April, 21, 2011
4/21/11
8:09
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With the 28th pick in the 2011 AFC East reader mock draft, the New England Patriots select ... Danny Watkins, offensive lineman, Baylor.

Despite a surprisingly low number of votes, this was the most varied nomination process of our project. Ten players were presented for the second of New England's first-round draft picks. The first eight ballots cast named six different prospects.

Watkins, who can play guard and tackle, emerged as the choice ahead of Arizona defensive end Brooks Reed and Georgia outside linebacker Justin Houston. Others to get multiple votes were Ohio State defensive end Cameron Heyward, Texas cornerback Aaron Williams and even Arkansas quarterback Ryan Mallett.

Many predicted the Patriots would trade out of this slot.

Reliable mock voter zack10bearden wrote:
No question they trade this pick. Too many teams will want to give up too much to get back into the late 1st for a reach at QB. Then they will use the 1st overall pick in the second round on Justin Houston. If by some freakish miracle they actually take this pick it will likely be Houston which only means they will have traded the 33 overall pick instead.

Patriotslove12 liked the idea of Watkins to bolster a line with a couple question marks. Right guard Stephen Neal retired. Pro Bowl left guard Logan Mankins is unhappy.
If they don't trade down from this spot, I can see them selecting Danny Watkins from a value standpoint. He is most likely rated behind only Pouncey at his position on the Patriot's board, whereas there has already been a run on OT's.

Watkins has a great story. He's a Canadian who used to be a firefighter and didn't start playing football until 2007 at Butte Junior College.

With three picks to go, here's our rundown so far ...
  1. Carolina Panthers: Auburn quarterback Cam Newton
  2. Denver Broncos: Alabama defensive tackle Marcell Dareus
  3. Buffalo Bills: Texas A&M outside linebacker Von Miller
  4. Cincinnati Bengals: Missouri quarterback Blaine Gabbert
  5. Arizona Cardinals: Louisiana State cornerback Patrick Peterson
  6. Cleveland Browns: Georgia receiver A.J. Green
  7. San Francisco 49ers: Nebraska cornerback Prince Amukamara
  8. Tennessee Titans: Auburn defensive tackle Nick Fairley
  9. Dallas Cowboys: USC tackle Tyron Smith
  10. Washington Redskins: Alabama receiver Julio Jones
  11. Houston Texans: North Carolina defensive end Robert Quinn
  12. Minnesota Vikings: Clemson defensive end Da'Quan Bowers
  13. Detroit Lions: Boston College tackle Anthony Castonzo
  14. St. Louis Rams: Illinois defensive tackle Corey Liuget
  15. Miami Dolphins: Alabama running back Mark Ingram
  16. Jacksonville Jaguars: Missouri defensive end Aldon Smith
  17. New England Patriots: Wisconsin defensive end J.J. Watt
  18. San Diego Chargers: California defensive end Cameron Jordan
  19. New York Giants: Florida center Mike Pouncey
  20. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Purdue defensive end Ryan Kerrigan
  21. Kansas City Chiefs: Wisconsin tackle Gabe Carimi
  22. Indianapolis Colts: Colorado tackle Nate Solder
  23. Philadelphia Eagles: Mississippi State tackle Derek Sherrod
  24. New Orleans Saints: Temple defensive end Muhammad Wilkerson
  25. Seattle Seahawks: Colorado cornerback Jimmy Smith
  26. Baltimore Ravens: Miami cornerback Brandon Harris
  27. Atlanta Falcons: Iowa defensive end Adrian Clayborn
  28. New England Patriots: Baylor offensive lineman Danny Watkins

The Chicago Bears hold the 29th selection. For those unfamiliar with their needs or the players still hanging around our imaginary draft board, feel free to do some research on ESPN.com's draft page.

Once you've done that, drop your choice in the comments section below this article.

We're almost done, folks.

Patriots back on clock in reader mock

April, 20, 2011
4/20/11
9:58
AM ET
With the 27th pick in the 2011 AFC East reader mock draft, the Atlanta Falcons select ... Adrian Clayborn, defensive end, Iowa.

For the record, Clayborn's closest competition was Georgia outside linebacker Justin Houston.

Now quickly on to more important matters.

The New England Patriots are on the clock for their second of two first-round draft choices. Readers had them drafting a defensive end 17th overall.

Where will the Patriots go here?

These are the players off the board ...
  1. Carolina Panthers: Auburn quarterback Cam Newton
  2. Denver Broncos: Alabama defensive tackle Marcell Dareus
  3. Buffalo Bills: Texas A&M outside linebacker Von Miller
  4. Cincinnati Bengals: Missouri quarterback Blaine Gabbert
  5. Arizona Cardinals: Louisiana State cornerback Patrick Peterson
  6. Cleveland Browns: Georgia receiver A.J. Green
  7. San Francisco 49ers: Nebraska cornerback Prince Amukamara
  8. Tennessee Titans: Auburn defensive tackle Nick Fairley
  9. Dallas Cowboys: USC tackle Tyron Smith
  10. Washington Redskins: Alabama receiver Julio Jones
  11. Houston Texans: North Carolina defensive end Robert Quinn
  12. Minnesota Vikings: Clemson defensive end Da'Quan Bowers
  13. Detroit Lions: Boston College tackle Anthony Castonzo
  14. St. Louis Rams: Illinois defensive tackle Corey Liuget
  15. Miami Dolphins: Alabama running back Mark Ingram
  16. Jacksonville Jaguars: Missouri defensive end Aldon Smith
  17. New England Patriots: Wisconsin defensive end J.J. Watt
  18. San Diego Chargers: California defensive end Cameron Jordan
  19. New York Giants: Florida center Mike Pouncey
  20. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Purdue defensive end Ryan Kerrigan
  21. Kansas City Chiefs: Wisconsin tackle Gabe Carimi
  22. Indianapolis Colts: Colorado tackle Nate Solder
  23. Philadelphia Eagles: Mississippi State tackle Derek Sherrod
  24. New Orleans Saints: Temple defensive end Muhammad Wilkerson
  25. Seattle Seahawks: Colorado cornerback Jimmy Smith
  26. Baltimore Ravens: Miami cornerback Brandon Harris
  27. Atlanta Falcons: Iowa defensive end Adrian Clayborn

In reality, the Patriots are strong candidates to trade out of this -- or any -- spot. But for the purpose of compiling a mock draft, projecting the trade partner and the return assets aren't feasible.

So please pick the best player.

The suggestion boxes are open in the comments section below this article or beneath the link on my Facebook page.

More cornerback love in AFC East mock

April, 19, 2011
4/19/11
9:10
AM ET
With the 26th pick in the 2011 AFC East reader mock draft, the Baltimore Ravens select ... Brandon Harris, cornerback, Miami.

Readers felt the Ravens' biggest need was at cornerback. With Jimmy Smith taken off the draft board one pick earlier, Harris was the next one in line.

Ohio State defensive end Cameron Heyward also received a healthy number of votes but fell a few short in our mission to draw up the most accurate first-round mock we can.

Here's where we stand with six picks to go ...
  1. Carolina Panthers: Auburn quarterback Cam Newton
  2. Denver Broncos: Alabama defensive tackle Marcell Dareus
  3. Buffalo Bills: Texas A&M outside linebacker Von Miller
  4. Cincinnati Bengals: Missouri quarterback Blaine Gabbert
  5. Arizona Cardinals: Louisiana State cornerback Patrick Peterson
  6. Cleveland Browns: Georgia receiver A.J. Green
  7. San Francisco 49ers: Nebraska cornerback Prince Amukamara
  8. Tennessee Titans: Auburn defensive tackle Nick Fairley
  9. Dallas Cowboys: USC tackle Tyron Smith
  10. Washington Redskins: Alabama receiver Julio Jones
  11. Houston Texans: North Carolina defensive end Robert Quinn
  12. Minnesota Vikings: Clemson defensive end Da'Quan Bowers
  13. Detroit Lions: Boston College tackle Anthony Castonzo
  14. St. Louis Rams: Illinois defensive tackle Corey Liuget
  15. Miami Dolphins: Alabama running back Mark Ingram
  16. Jacksonville Jaguars: Missouri defensive end Aldon Smith
  17. New England Patriots: Wisconsin defensive end J.J. Watt
  18. San Diego Chargers: California defensive end Cameron Jordan
  19. New York Giants: Florida center Mike Pouncey
  20. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Purdue defensive end Ryan Kerrigan
  21. Kansas City Chiefs: Wisconsin tackle Gabe Carimi
  22. Indianapolis Colts: Colorado tackle Nate Solder
  23. Philadelphia Eagles: Mississippi State tackle Derek Sherrod
  24. New Orleans Saints: Temple defensive end Muhammad Wilkerson
  25. Seattle Seahawks: Colorado cornerback Jimmy Smith
  26. Baltimore Ravens: Miami cornerback Brandon Harris

The Atlanta Falcons hold the 27th selection and are up.

Please drop your nomination in the comments section below this article. Facebook friends can cast their ballots on my page under the link.

As a reminder, you can visit ESPN.com's draft page if you'd like to research team needs and top prospects with analysis from Mel Kiper, Todd McShay and Scouts Inc.

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