AFC East: Mel Kiper
That is why it is so important for Miami to nail the NFL draft. The Dolphins hold the No. 19 overall pick and should be able to get some quality talent in what is considered one of the deepest draft pools in years.
It’s no secret the Dolphins must address their offensive line. Miami made a huge splash this week by signing left tackle Branden Albert to a five-year, $47 million contract. That is a move in the right direction. But major holes at right tackle and guard remain. The Dolphins won’t be able to fill all those positions on the offensive line by signing expensive free agents. Therefore, expect Miami also to use resources in the draft -- perhaps in the first round.
With Albert now firmly entrenched at left tackle, that relieves some pressure to fill the hardest position on the offensive line. Key targets such as Zack Martin of Notre Dame and Cyrus Kouandjio of Alabama could be possibilities at No. 19 to play the easier position of right tackle.
Dolphins general manager Dennis Hickey has said on several occasions that he’s looking for the best available player regardless of position. If that’s the case, the Dolphins could be a wild card. Ignoring a glaring need on the offensive line doesn’t seem like the best move. But there will be quality players on the board at other positions such as cornerback, linebacker, wide receiver and defensive tackle.
Here is how they view the Miami Dolphins with the No. 19 overall pick:
Interestingly, both Kiper and McShay projected the same position and player for Miami in May’s draft. It’s no secret that offensive line is a huge need for the Dolphins after allowing a franchise-record 58 sacks last season. Miami's running game also was rated 26th in the league. Starting offensive linemen Bryant McKinnie, Tyson Clabo, John Jerry and Richie Incognito will all become free agents in March and most -- if not all -- are expected to leave.
Martin would be a solid addition with the 19th pick. He was a very productive player at Notre Dame and is coming off a productive Senior Bowl. He is a three-year starter and team captain, which shows leadership.
The only question I have about Martin is his physical tools. He's not as naturally gifted as other left tackle prospects in the draft. But Martin is a high-motor player who gets the most out of what he has.
Martin would be a safe pick for the Dolphins, albeit not a spectacular one.
ESPN draft guru Mel Kiper Jr. posted his NFL all-rookie team , along with his picks for offensive and defensive rookies of the year. Most notably, he selected Buffalo Bills linebacker Kiko Alonso over New York Jets defensive tackle Sheldon Richardson as the top rookie on defense.
Alonso and Richardson are thought to be the top candidates for NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year, presented by the Associated Press.
Kiper's take: "If this were purely on per-play impact, I think Sheldon Richardson could back up his case as the best rookie overall, but I give Alonso a slight edge here based on his total impact. Alonso was third in the NFL in tackles and, perhaps just as impressive, was one of the best coverage linebackers in the NFL, a significant bonus. Because of his ability to cover, Alonso never came off the field; he played nearly 1,200 snaps. Richardson might be a better player, but I give the season edge to Alonso."
Kiper placed two Jets on his all-rookie team -- Richardson and fullback Tommy Bohanon. Rex Ryan wouldn't agree with this list, as Kiper didn't include cornerback Dee Milliner. Obviously biased, Ryan believes Milliner was the top rookie cornerback. Kiper opted for Desmond Trufant of the Atlanta Falcons and Logan Ryan of the New England Patriots. For what it's worth, ProFootballFocus -- a stats-based web site -- ranked Trufant, Logan and Milliner as the No. 7-, No. 29- and No. 53-rated cornerbacks, respectively, based on at least 50-percent play time.
Here are the two-round results for the AFC East:
No. 8 overall: G Jonathan Cooper, North Carolina
No. 41: QB Ryan Nassib, Syracuse
Analysis: There is growing momentum that the Bills will take a guard with the No. 8 pick. That is unusual. However, there are some strong interior offensive linemen in this draft. Kiper has Buffalo taking Cooper over Alabama guard Chance Warmack, who is still on the board according to this mock. I think Warmack is a better prospect and better for the Bills if they go in that direction. Most expect the Bills to draft a quarterback in the second round and Nassib played for new Bills head coach Doug Marrone in Syracuse. So that's a good fit.
New York Jets
No. 9: DE Barkevious Mingo, LSU
No. 39: TE Zach Ertz, Stanford
Analysis: This would be a power pair in the first two rounds for New York, which lacks playmakers. Mingo and Ertz could add size and athleticism on both sides of the ball for the Jets. I don't expect the Jets to draft a first-round defensive end for the third straight year. But Mingo is one of my favorite prospects in this draft. He can play a hybrid defensive end and outside linebacker under head coach Rex Ryan and provide a rush off the edge. The Jets have a big hole to fill at tight end following Dustin Keller’s departure. Ertz has the potential to develop into a nice safety valve for Mark Sanchez or David Garrard.
No. 12: OT D.J. Fluker, Alabama
No. 42: DE Tank Carradine, Florida State
No. 54: CB Robert Alford, S.E. Louisiana
Analysis: I’m not convinced on the Fluker pick. I like Oklahoma's Lane Johnson better, because I think he's better suited to be a left tackle at the next level. Fluker appears to be more natural for the right side, at least as a rookie. If Miami takes an offensive tackle in the first round, that player should have left-tackle potential. Carradine and Alford both make sense in the second round because they fill needs at defensive end and cornerback, respectively. But with three picks in the first two rounds, I think Miami can do better than this trio.
New England Patriots
No. 29: WR Justin Hunter, Tennessee
No. 59: CB Tyrann Mathieu, LSU
Analysis: Kiper views the Patriots filling needs at receiver and cornerback in the first two rounds. I'm not big on Hunter, especially in the first round, but he was productive and a teammate of top-rated receiver Cordarrelle Patterson at Tennessee. I would be shocked if New England took Mathieu in the second round. That would be a very un-Patriot like move. Mathieu is a good athlete but comes with tons of baggage. The Patriots probably wouldn’t consider Mathieu unless he was sitting there as a flier in the fourth or later.
Here is Kiper's review for the division:
Buffalo Bills (6-10)
Key picks: CB Stephon Gilmore, LT Cordy Glenn, WR T.J. Graham
Kiper’s grade: C+
Thoughts: Buffalo underachieved as a team this year but got some production from its rookie class. Gilmore lived up to his reputation of being NFL ready and started all 16 games. He had some rookie growing pains with 61 tackles and one interception. The Bills want to see more big plays from Gilmore, but that should come with experience. Glenn made 13 starts at offensive tackle and looks like a long-time starter. Graham wasn't consistent enough as a rookie. He had 31 receptions and struggled with drops and concentration at times.
Miami Dolphins (7-9)
Key picks: QB Ryan Tannehill, OT Jonathan Martin, DE Olivier Vernon, RB Lamar Miller
Kiper’s grade: B-
Thoughts: I thought this grade was low. Miami got a lot of production from its rookie class, and it was a major reason the Dolphins were in the wild-card hunt in the final month of the season. Tannehill threw for 3,294 yards and has a chance to be the long-term solution. Martin started all 16 games at both right tackle and left tackle, and Vernon flashed multiple times as a backup defensive end and special teamer. Even Miller rushed for 250 yards and averaged 4.9 yards per carry. Miller appears ready for an increased role next season.
New England Patriots (12-4)
Key picks: DE Chandler Jones, LB Dont'a Hightower, S Tavon Wilson, CB Alfonzo Dennard
Kiper’s grade: B+
Thoughts: New England spent its first six draft picks on defense and it paid immediate dividends. Jones, Hightower, Wilson and Dennard all made plays for the Patriots' improving defense. Jones provided a pass rush and Hightower added toughness against the run. Both players appear to be future staples in New England's front seven. Dennard was arguably the biggest surprise of the draft. The seventh-round pick played in 10 games, starting seven, and recorded three interceptions. Wilson also added four interceptions.
New York Jets (6-10)
Key picks: DE Quinton Coples, WR Stephen Hill, LB DeMario Davis
Kiper’s grade: C
Thoughts: I wrote in April after the draft that New York was swinging for the fences with hit-or-miss picks in the first two rounds. Coples and Hill had various questions about maturity and being NFL ready, and both players struggled at various times their rookie years. Coples started two games and had 30 tackles and 5.5 sacks, but he came on at the end of the season. Hill’s rookie campaign never got off the ground and he finished with 21 catches for 252 yards. The Jets hope this rookie class can eventually blossom.
Most Bills fans are also aware that for weeks -- and perhaps months -- Notre Dame middle linebacker Manti Te'o has been linked as a possibility for Buffalo in April's NFL draft. Te'o, it was thought, brings physicality, instincts, character and natural leadership. Those are all traits the Bills could use on defense.
But this week’s bizarre story about Te'o and an apparent girlfriend that never existed raises a lot more questions than answers. Was Te'o the victim or perpetrator?
Here is another important question: Should the Bills still consider Te'o with the No. 8 overall pick? That is where ESPN draft guru Mel Kiper Jr. pegged Te'o before this strange story became public. Buffalo is starting a new era under rookie head coach Doug Marrone, and drafting Te'o with the top pick in April would be an interesting first move.
Te'o was projected to be a top-15 pick before this week. But that can always change during this pre-draft process. Te'o will be perhaps the hottest commodity at next month's NFL combine. NFL scouts, executive and media will want to know the real story from Te'o behind this controversy.
The Bills will have their choice of a variety of top prospects with the No. 8 overall pick. Te'o was once considered a safe pick at the top half of the first round, but that may no longer be the case.
Let’s take a look at both experts and see where they think teams in the division are leaning.
Pick: No. 8
Kiper: Riley Reiff, OT, Iowa
McShay: Ryan Tannehill, QB, Texas A&M
Analysis: These are two names that constantly come up with the Dolphins, and I don't like either selection. Reiff is versatile but in Miami he would play right tackle. Is it smart to take a right tackle with the No. 8 overall pick? I would get a pass-rusher here who can make more of an impact or consider trading down. The AFC East blog listed some trade possibilities for Miami last week. Tannehill's stock is rising fast to the point where McShay thinks he's a top-eight pick. I don't think Tannehill is worth such a high a pick and don't see Miami taking him here, especially if the Dolphins land Manning or Matt Flynn in free agency.
Pick: No. 10
Kiper: Melvin Ingram, DE, South Carolina
McShay: Courtney Upshaw, OLB, Alabama
Analysis: I like the thinking of both Kiper and McShay here. Buffalo should look for the best pass-rusher available with this pick. Quinton Coples would be ideal, but he's probably off the board at No. 10. Both Ingram and Upshaw have good motors and can get sacks. But Buffalo is switching to a 4-3 defense this year and would have to decide which player would be the better fit.
New York Jets
Pick: No. 16
Kiper: Courtney Upshaw, OLB, Alabama
McShay: Mark Barron, S, Alabama
Analysis: I think the Jets would be fortunate if either player fell to No. 16. The Jets need a safety badly, and Barron is the best of the bunch. He has some health ailments he's working through during the pre-draft process and that could place Barron in the teens. But his game tape shows he's an aggressive player the Jets would like. Upshaw is probably a top-10 pick and I don't see him falling this far. But if he does, Upshaw could bring the aggressive pass rush the Jets need.
New England Patriots
Picks: No. 27 and 31
Kiper: Kendall Reyes, DT, Connecticut; Janoris Jenkins, CB, North Alabama
McShay: Whitney Mercilus, DE, Illinois; Devon Still, DT, Penn State
Analysis: Defense, defense, defense, defense. This is perfect for New England. Although I think New England attacks its secondary -- either corner, safety, or both -- it's hard to argue with three defensive linemen. The Patriots need help at all three levels. New England, the reigning AFC champ, has the luxury of taking the best player on the board. As long as it helps the 31st-ranked defense, there shouldn't be any complaints. By the way, I would be surprised if Jenkins nearly falls out of the first round.
While breaking down the Bills for ESPN's "On the Clock" series, Mortensen said Gailey told him, "I think we can win a championship with Ryan Fitzpatrick."
Dilfer couldn't stifle his amusement.
"All right, look ... No," Dilfer said, shifting in his seat and trying to comprehend the statement. "If you're going to win a Super Bowl with Ryan Fitzpatrick, you better have the Baltimore Ravens' defense that I played with. That's the only formula to win a Super Bowl without a dynamic, playmaking quarterback."
Dilfer said Fitzpatrick could be Buffalo's answer at quarterback "for a year or two, yes, but that's about it." Dilfer insisted the Bills must draft Auburn quarterback Cam Newton if the Heisman Trophy winner still is on the board at No. 3.
"His unique skill set is going to fit Buffalo," Dilfer said. "He spins the ball at an incredibly high rate. He can knife it through the wind and the bad weather. His physicality in the run game will help them in bad-weather games, in the short-yardage game.
"He's the perfect fit, and you have a good -- good -- serviceable quarterback in Ryan Fitzpatrick to play while you groom [Newton]. It's a no-brainer in my opinion to take Cam Newton."
ESPN draft analyst Mel Kiper projects Texas A&M outside linebacker Von Miller as the pick for Buffalo because he would stabilize their feeble pass-rush.
Most of the panel's conversation deals with the Dolphins' quarterback situation. Draft expert Mel Kiper once again noted the Dolphins might have erred by taking left tackle Jake Long first overall in 2008 rather than a quarterback.
"The left tackle is not going to get you where you want to go," Kiper said. "The quarterback does. It's nice to have that great left tackle, but you've got to have the quarterback."
The Dolphins drafted Chad Henne with their second second-round pick that year.
"Chad Henne was wildly inconsistent at Michigan," Kiper said. "That's why I had some questions about him, coming out. We see that in Miami. There are games where he looks like he could be the guy and other games you scratch your head, saying 'Why did that throw go where it did?'
"The inaccuracy of Chad Henne and the inconsistency of Chad Henne is the reason right now they don't know where they're going at quarterback."
Henne completed 61.4 percent of his throws for 3,301 yards and 15 touchdowns with 19 interceptions. His 75.4 passer rating was 15th in the league.
Henne lost his starting job to Chad Pennington in Week 10 and might have remained on the sidelines had Pennington not suffered a season-ending shoulder injury.
ESPN analyst Trent Dilfer still believes Henne can be salvageable as a starter.
"When I study him on tape, there is improvement," Dilfer said. "You see improvement in his ability to change speeds on the ball, make some throws he hasn't been able to make earlier in his career.
"And I think after 27 starts, it's not a big enough body of work to come up with a definitive judgment on Chad Henne. I think the franchise would take a giant step backwards if they started over and went and got another rookie. Unless it's an established, veteran, free-agent quarterback, I think Chad Henne is the answer for the Dolphins this year."
Also discussed in the segment were the fractured front-office relationships stemming from owner Stephen Ross' pursuit of Stanford coach Jim Harbaugh. Ross and general manager Jeff Ireland flew cross country to woo Harbaugh, leaving Sparano to twist.
"That broke a trust right there," ESPN's Chris Mortensen said. "Even though this is trending down a little bit, it has not been a collapse. ... That trust is tough to repair, but somehow Ireland and Sparano have got to do that, because it's not a disaster."
ESPN analyst Trent Dilfer hasn't been too impressed lately.
For an installment of a "SportsCenter" series on team-by-team draft needs, Dilfer stressed the Jets have too many holes to warrant Ryan shooting off his mouth with Super Bowl guarantees.
"It's smoke and mirrors," Dilfer said. "It is bells and whistles. They will not be a great defense until they get some dynamic play out of their front three in that 3-4 defense. They must, must identify their bigs on the defensive front before they become great and before they can fulfill this promise of winning the Super Bowl."
The roundtable discussion also included ESPN reporter Chris Mortensen and draft expert Mel Kiper Jr.
Mortensen noted Ryan is desperately missing a Terrell Suggs-type outside linebacker like he had with the Baltimore Ravens and claimed the Jets are "tricking [the defense] up so much it catches up to them at some point."
Kiper suggested the Jets draft UCLA safety Rahim Moore because they need a free safety. Kiper considers Moore the best safety in this year's draft class, with a big drop in quality to the next prospect.
And I have good/bad news for everybody else.
First, for my Bills readers:
ESPN analyst Todd McShay put together a mock draft for 2011 and has the Bills taking Stanford quarterback Andrew Luck . Problem is, the Bills select first overall, the spot reserved for the team with the league's worst 2010 record.
The good/bad news for everybody else: People already are putting together mock drafts for 2011.
McShay writes about Luck:
Only a third-year sophomore this fall but coach Jim Harbaugh has Luck on the fast track mechanically and mentally. Luck has prototypical size (6-foot-4, 235 pounds) and is an underrated athlete. More importantly, he has a smooth over-the-top delivery, a strong arm and great touch as a passer. Better decisions while gaining more game experience could put Luck in position to become the top player taken in the draft -- either in 2011 or 2012.
ESPN.com columnist Ivan Maisel takes a look at how Luck is emerging into a star college quarterback. Maisel writes, "Luck already is rated as the first pick of the 2011 draft. You don't need Todd McShay to tell you that. Any agent worth his platinum Rolex Yacht-Master can see it."
Let's not get too carried away, though, Bills fans. As inexact of a science as mock drafts are, they're virtually impossible to forecast a year out. McShay has to project who's stock will be hot, what positions NFL teams will need, which underclassmen will enter the draft or return for their senior seasons while hoping against a major injury or failed drug test.
Still, mock drafts are fun to talk about, and I don't want you to go through withdrawal.
McShay used a draft order based on Scouts Inc. power rankings from Jeremy Green and Matt Williamson. It looks like a decent year for the AFC East.
McShay has the New England Patriots selecting Georgia receiver A.J. Green seventh overall with the pick they acquired from the Oakland Raiders for Richard Seymour. In the Patriots' assigned 22nd slot, they add Kansas State running back Daniel Thomas.
With the 18th pick, the Miami Dolphins select Oklahoma edge-rusher Jeremy Beal.
The New York Jets take Nebraska defensive tackle Jared Crick with the 29th pick, indicating they will reach the AFC Championship game again but won't punch their Super Bowl ticket.
ESPN draftmaster Mel Kiper explains his latest mock draft and talks about why he has Notre Dame quarterback Jimmy Clausen slotted as the ninth overall selection to the Buffalo Bills.
"They need a quarterback," Kiper said. "They also need an offensive tackle. I think people are warming to Jimmy Clausen. They realize when they do their research and their due diligence that this kid is a guy that was highly regarded by his teammates, voted captain. [Former Notre Dame defensive coordinator] Jon Tenuta raves about this kid. Defensive players rave about him. I think he's gong to be a guy moving up."
Tenuta was new Bills head coach Chan Gailey's defensive coordinator at Georgia Tech.
Kiper noted the Seattle Seahawks might take Clausen with the sixth overall pick but predicts they will go with another position and hope the Bills pass -- maybe for Rutgers tackle Anthony Davis or Oklahoma tackle Trent Williams -- because the Seahawks hold the 14th selection, too.
Mark in Champaign, Ill., writes: Tim -- With the compensatory picks now allotted, the Pats have 12 picks. In my view, there is no way BB exercises all of those picks. To do so would be tantamount to throwing assets to the wind, simply because there are not 12 openings on this, still a very deep and talented roster. My prediction: The Pats will trade some picks to move up in one or more rounds to acquire a player or players of interest, and will also trade a pick or two for (higher value) choices in future drafts. Bottom Line: Don't be surprised if the Pats acquire only 7 or 8 new players on draft day. Your thoughts?
Tim Graham: The Patriots actually own 11 draft picks at the moment. Some rundowns floating around in cyberspace haven't deducted the fifth-round selection they sent to the Eagles for Greg Lewis.
Eleven draft picks still are a lot, and the Patriots simply won't have enough room on their roster to add that many players. To use them all would be wasting assets. That's why I do agree the Patriots likely will package multiple picks to acquire a player or make trades to push some of those picks into 2010.
Tim in Goodlettsville, Tenn., writes: Tim, As a Vandy follower during the Cutler years I never saw evidence of the player criticisms being leveled. I'd be the one of the first to say to JC, "Shut up and play the game," if it were merited. I also believe that due to his college experience, Jay was better suited to early NFL success than either Young or Leinart. The Hunchback of ND could have won under center at TX and SC. Are you hearing any any positive words floating around about the issue? Thanks, Tim
Tim Graham: You probably won't like my answer, but while I was at the NFL owners' meeting last week in Dana Point, Calif., Jay Cutler might have been the most popular topic of discussion. I spoke with several owners, general managers and coaches. Nobody I talked to came to Cutler's defense. They raved about Cutler's physical ability, but the general perception was that he needed to man up and get over his wounded feelings.
Eric in New York writes: what are the odds of jay cutler reaching the jets? What would be better, to draft a qb or go after cutler?
Tim Graham: If the Jets can go into the draft certain they can land one of the top three quarterbacks -- Matthew Stafford, Mark Sanchez, Josh Freeman -- then they should jump on one of them. The more we learn about Cutler, the more toxic he seems. Jets safety Kerry Rhodes this week spoke out against Cutler. Rhodes doesn't respect Cutler and insisted he's not alone in his feelings.
Leroy in Atlanta writes: Do you think that Ted Ginn Jr. can ever live up to the expectations of the Miami fans and Media? I think that because of where he was drafted and because of us passing up Brady Quinn,nothing he ever does, short of being a perinial Pro bowler, will ever validate him.
Tim Graham: Any criticism of the Dolphins' decision to draft Ted Ginn ninth overall is warranted. He doesn't need to be a perennial Pro Bowler. Not even close. Lee Evans hasn't been to one Pro Bowl, yet he's a bona fide No. 1 receiver for the Bills. But Ginn does need to be significantly more productive. He had one more reception than Greg Camarillo, who played only 11 games, and two more than Davone Bess. Neither Camarillo nor Bess was drafted.
Steve in York, Pa., writes: LT Peters - I don't see how giving him more money will help with his production. He gave up 11 sacks last year in only 13 starts. His best year was in 2006, so please, as a Bills fan move on.
Tim Graham: You're not alone, Steve. A lot of Bills fans are fed up with Peters. But he still is a valuable player despite his disappointing season. If the Bills were to move on, replacing a player at such a critical position would be difficult. If I were a Bills fan, I wouldn't be so eager to see Peters split.
NFL draft expert Mel Kiper held a recent conference call to discuss his thoughts on the upcoming conscription.
Kiper shared his thoughts on what kind of damage the New England Patriots can do with six picks among the first 97.
"It puts you in pretty good shape. You're talking about a draft that has some middle-round guys and late-round guys that will be very good players in this league. You should be able to get some depth in certain positions. Linebacker's and area they want to get younger, whether it's Clay Matthews, Brian Cushing, Larry English -- a lot of those 3-4 type guys.
"In the defensive backfield, not any first-round, guaranteed stars at the cornerback spot. I like a D.J. Moore out of Vanderbilt as a third-round pick. He'll be a heck of a third-round pick. He's a very underrated kid, and there are several others that fall in that category.
"You're going to get good players that fall for the reason that they don't have the great measurables, but they're good football players. Some of these guys with good measurables are busts. You're going to do extremely well with those picks if you're the Patriots."
As you probably can understand, I was a tad too occupied Wednesday to listen in on ESPN draft overlord Mel Kiper Jr.'s national conference call.
The New York Jets announced something or other at the same time. I assumed ESPN would do me a solid and reschedule Mel for a time that better suited my schedule. Then I remembered I don't rate.
So I must lean on ever-vigilant Boston Globe reporter Mike Reiss for an interesting Kiper exchange in which he called New England Patriots quarterback Matt Cassel a better option than anybody in the draft.
Reiss asked if Kiper were in charge of the Detroit Lions or Kansas City Chiefs and had the option of trading for Cassel or drafting either of the best prospects on the board, what would the proper play be?
The Lions own the 1st, 20th and 33rd draft choices. The Chiefs have the 3rd and 34th.
"If I were Detroit or Kansas City, I would make that move [trade for Cassel] in a heartbeat," Kiper said. "If you're asking me if I would rather have Matt Cassel or Matthew Stafford or Mark Sanchez, I'd rather have Matt Cassel."
"He looked like he should have been the No. 1 overall pick in the draft," Kiper said of the seventh-round draft choice who entered 2008 without a start since high school. "It's amazing. To watch him play this year, if he would have been the No. 1 pick in the draft, people would have been very happy with the way he's playing right now.
"He came out the same year the other three quarterbacks did, and right now he's better than those other three, and I'm including [Jay] Cutler in that. I would rather have Cassel than Cutler.
"So, to me, I think Cassel is more than worthy of being a guy that the Kansas City Chiefs or Detroit Lions go after. He's played to the level of a No. 1 pick overall this year."