AFC South: 2012 NFL draft

Since the Titans added seven players in the draft, I’ve said several times that I am a bit scared of their leanings toward potential over production, or the weight of athleticism in several of the selections.

But it’s important to note that of the seven players, that “complaint” centers on less than half the class.

Second round outside linebacker Zach Brown brings some questions about being more of an athlete than a football player. Fourth-round cornerback Coty Sensabaugh is an excellent athlete with great speed. Fifth-round tight end Taylor Thompson is a big-time athlete who didn’t play tight end in college.

(“You may say there are some more productive,” GM Ruston Webster said of Brown, “but few are more talented.”)

Perhaps those perceptions from draft analysts are off.

Perhaps three Titans assistants -- linebacker coach Frank Bush, secondary coach Brett Maxie and tight ends coach John Zernhelt -- will coach that trio up, and they will pan out in just the way the team imagines.

Perhaps we’ll rave about how their athleticism benefits the team.

It’s also worth noting that the rest of the class, led by receiver Kendall Wright, appears to be composed of guys who qualify, without question, as football players.
When I saw him in mid-April, Jacoby Jones said he would happily mentor a Texans’ receiver draft pick. He also sounded like a guy who knew he could be on the way out.

And according to John McClain of the Houston Chronicle, the Texans have released the receiver and return man after drafting two receivers: Ohio State’s DeVier Posey in the third round (68th overall) and Michigan State’s Keshawn Martin in the fourth round (121st overall).

It was time.

While Jones showed flashes, his ability to disappear and make costly mistakes isn’t worth waiting for the peaks in his game.

He wasn’t going to be worth the scheduled $3 million base salary he was due this season.

Undoubtedly he will get a chance somewhere, likely for a deal at a minimum base salary with incentives.

AFC South draft notes

April, 28, 2012
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The big draft review file will arrive shortly, but a few quick thoughts in the meantime:

Houston Texans

Three offensive linemen should help the team sort through options at right guard and right tackle. Antoine Caldwell and Rashad Butler are the guys moving up the depth chart, but now their challengers will include Brandon Brooks and Ben Jones at guard and Nick Mondek at tackle.

Indianapolis Colts

Andrew Luck will come in at the head of a class that also includes two tight ends, two receivers, a running back and an offensive tackle. That change to a 3-4 defense will be in hybrid mode a lot in its first season, as only defensive tackle Josh Chapman and defensive end/outside linebacker Tim Fugger arrived to help. The Colts still get the draft’s final pick.

Jacksonville Jaguars

The Jaguars stayed with big school guys most of the way. Their first five selections came from Oklahoma State, Clemson, Cal, Nevada and Florida State. But Gene Smith got his small school guy in the seventh round, with defensive tackle Jeris Pendleton from Ashland.

Tennessee Titans

The Titans didn’t have a pass rusher and were out of picks, but traded a sixth rounder in 2013 to Minnesota in order to select Rice defensive end Scott Solomon. The team sees a relentless pass rusher who fits in their mix and thought it could afford to sacrifice a sixth next year since it expects a compensatory pick or two.
NASHVILLE -- The NFL draft is often an exercise in weighing production against potential.

In the scales of that debate over Taylor Thompson, the Titans went heavily with potential.

The Titans traded up 10 spots with Miami and spent pick No. 145 in the fifth round on Thompson from SMU. In an offense that didn’t use tight ends, he played defensive end.

Now the Titans will look to develop a guy who hasn’t regularly played the position since high school. The Titans fell in love with Thompsonat a no-name all-star game and a pro day.

They insisted his athleticism, enthusiasm and intelligence will quickly offset the lack of college experience at the position. At 6-foot-6 and 260 he ran a 4.58 40 on the watch of Titans scout Jon Salge.

“As far as a receiving tight end, I think he’s uncanny,” offensive coordinator Chris Palmer said. “… I don’t think it’s four years behind. There are no bad habits.”

Are there good habits from not playing?

Palmer said Thompson had 10 visits.

“It’s not like we’re the only one who saw the acorn,” he said.

In a conference call, Thompson spoke very confidently about his ability to play tight end in the NFL.

Mike Munchak said the Titans thought Thompson would be gone in the third round. The lack of blocking experience would be virtually the same even with a guy who has played tight end in college, Munchak said, because spread offenses are all the rage and few players do in college what will be asked of them in the NFL.

“He’s not going to fail,” Munchak said.

Thompson will rate as the Titans second receiving tight end behind Jared Cook. They also have a quality blocker in Craig Stevens. Veteran Daniel Graham, added last year, is due a $2 million base salary this year and will now likely not get to it.

Tennessee has made five picks. Two areas regarded as needs have not been addressed: interior offensive line and defensive end.

Munchak said the Titans are not in dire need on the offensive line, downplayed visits by veteran centers early in the free agency period and hit a theme he used after getting the job: "We have guys we can win with."

He also said the team planned on getting at least one defensive lineman and third-round tackle Mike Martin took care of that.
Through three rounds and four picks, the Indianapolis Colts had gone all offense. Chuck Pagano said his defensive coordinator, Greg Manusky, was spending a lot of time on the elliptical machine burning off his energy while remaining empty-handed.

Manusky's exercise session ended with the first pick of the fifth round.

Pagano and Manusky need a lot as they build a 3-4 defense, and their first drafted help comes in the form of Alabama nose tackle Josh Chapman.

A shade over 6-feet tall, Chapman weighs in at about 316 pounds. I’d imagine Chapman will work in tandem with free-agent acquisition Brandon McKinney as the Colts nose tackle, which could mean Antonio Johnson is a swing guy playing some inside and some outside. GM Ryan Grigson recently spoke of Johnson as the team's second nose tackle.

Pro Football Weekly’s NFL Draft guide’s write-up of Chapman offers reason to be encouraged about the pick:
“Stout, gritty, two-down, block-occupying plugger with a lunchpail mentality, Can provide a team comfort knowing what it’s getting given his dependable play for a national champion.”
A day after they took Miami (Ohio) guard Brandon Brooks in the third round, the Houston Texans followed up with an odd offensive line choice.

Georgia center Ben Jones is a good player, but he’s very much a center. And Houston just re-signed veteran Chris Myers to man the spot.

Perhaps Jones is a backup center who can be tried at guard.

But the Texans lost their right guard (Mike Brisiel as a free agent to Oakland) and right tackle Eric Winston (as a salary cap cut).

Center certainly didn’t appear to be a spot they needed to address.

Countdown Live: 2012 NFL draft

April, 28, 2012
4/28/12
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It's finally here. Join our ESPN.com NFL experts as they break down the 2012 NFL draft, round-by-round. We'll have input from blog nation, Scouts Inc., Stats & Information and fantasy perspectives.

Thursday night we'll kick off Round 1 at 7 p.m. ET. For Friday night's Rounds 2 and 3, we'll be here at 6:30 p.m. ET. And we'll be back Saturday morning at noon ET to finish things off.

Contribute your thoughts and questions on all things NFL draft below. We'll see you there.

Indianapolis used its third round pick, 64th, on Clemson tight end Dwayne Allen, a guy who’s more of a blocker than Coby Fleener, their second-round pick.

“The offense calls for two tight ends who are dynamic and can do different things,” said Allen, sharing what he learned in a phone conversation with offensive coordinator Bruce Arians.

On back-to-back tight ends, GM Ryan Grigson said: “It’s nice when your board lines up with your needs. It worked out real well. We secured two great football players that were just staring us right in the face.”

The Colts traded to get a another third-round pick, 92nd overall, giving No. 97 in the fourth round and a fifth next year. They used the pick on Florida International receiver and returner T.Y. Hilton.

I’ve seen some impressive highlights that show a smooth, incredibly fast player.

“Teams got to be ready for me because I’m a blazer,” he told us on a conference call. “…Me and (Andrew) Luck are going to do just fine.”

The Colts have added three skill guys for Luck. I may have said it before, but I really mean it now: It’s now time to get to work on the defense.

Titans add another high-motor wrestler

April, 28, 2012
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Nose tackle Mike Martin should pressure veteran Shaun Smith for playing time, and could ultimately push Smith off the roster. Tennessee nabbed Martin in the third round, 82nd overall.

Martin
Martin
“Mike Martin is what you want in a nose tackle,” general manager Ruston Webster told Nashville media. “He is tough as nails. He is a grinder. He doesn’t mind doing the dirty work and brings the kind of mentality that we want on our defense.”

Like Karl Klug, a successful pass rushing DT from last year’s draft, Martin has wrestled and said it helps him operate in close quarters.

“I’m a guy that the whistle is going to have to be blown three or four times for me to stop on the play,” Martin said. “I think that (Ndamukong) Suh plays that way, he’s got a heck of a motor and I just want to be that guy who can prove that he has that motor in the NFL. I feel like that is what I relied on in college. When guys would quit on a play or just decided not to finish, I was going to finish and I was going to make a play because of that.”

I was (too) hard on Zach Brown, the second-round linebacker. I like the sound of Martin.

Still, the Titans are due for a defensive end.
Bryan AngerCal Sport Media/AP ImagesUsing the 70th pick on Cal punter Bryan Anger hurts the Jaguars more than it helps them.


The Jacksonville Jaguars have been accused (occasionally by me) of not doing well enough in assessing how the rest of the league's teams value some players the Jags draft.

Some personnel people around the league say the Jaguars simply don’t care about that. In a way, I admire them for it. Don’t be overly concerned and influenced by the forces around you, by the competition. Do your own thing. Bank on your convictions.

But when it comes to taking Cal punter Bryan Anger in the third round, the Jaguars absolutely should care about league context.

I know at least one other team had him rated as a fifth-rounder.

Anger is the first punter to go in the top 100 picks since 1995, when Todd Sauerbrun went in the second round to Chicago, 56th overall.

There is a reason for that.

It’s important that you don’t punt terribly. But it’s not so important that you punt fantastically, certainly not important enough that you sacrifice the chance to improve at a position that could be on the field for three downs a game.

“I think it will be evident when you get a chance to see him punt: He’s got a strong history which I feel will transfer to this level in helping us defensively with the yardage we can gain in field position,” general manager Gene Smith said.

“… He’s the player in that round at your pick that you feel can upgrade your football team. I think that’s an easy decision for me, to get a starter in the third round.”

Calling a punter a starter is beyond a stretch.

The Jaguars' defense played 970 plays in 2011. The Jaguars' offense played 958 plays. The Jaguars punted 99 times.

“I think it’s first downs that you gain,” Smith said in a further defense of the pick. “And I feel like in the third round it’s not a round that you always get proven starters.”

Really?

In Smith’s three previous drafts, he picked four times in the third round. Guard Will Rackley, defensive tackle Terrance Knighton and cornerback Derek Cox are starters. The only nonstarter, defensive tackle D’Anthony Smith, has missed his first two seasons with injuries.

The Jaguars averaged 41.9 yards per punt last season, 31st in the NFL. They averaged 36.5 net yards per punt, 28th in the NFL. Those numbers were, in part, a testament to the team’s foolish conclusion that greybeard Matt Turk was the man to replace Adam Podlesh, who left for Chicago as a free agent.

The Jaguars cut Turk after five games, going with Nick Harris the rest of the way. Harris was 3 yards (and 5.1 net yards) better per punt than Turk had been.

A longer punt is easier to cover, so this is too simple.

Nevertheless, here is my counterproposal to drafting Anger 70th:

Jacksonville uses an average punter and boosts its net average to what was the midpoint for 2011. By my calculations, that would give the Jaguars an extra 15.5 net yards a game. Then use the 70th pick on an offensive lineman who, as part of a better scheme, could help cut the Jaguars’ sack yardage in half. That would give the team an extra 10.3 yards a game, and also help young quarterback Blaine Gabbert not worry so much about getting crunched.

The overall gain from my plan -- not just estimating the average that will come with a big leg, but actually factoring in context -- would be better.

The goal is not to punt, and you drafted a punter. That was the first thing a reporter in Jacksonville said to coach Mike Mularkey after the pick.

“And hold, hold for extra points,” Mularkey said. “If you want to write about him, he’s a really good holder for extra points and field goals, and he just so happens to be a difference-maker when it comes to punting.”

Oh, he holds, too? Well, that changes everything.

No, actually, any guy on offense with good hands, starting with your backup quarterback, should be able to function as a holder.

Maybe Anger is the league’s best punter and holder for 15 years.

Even if he is, it says here there will be at least three dozen players among the picks after Anger who have more impactful careers than he will. And that’s a modest 20 percent of the 183 guys we’re talking about. If the Jaguars missed on him by two rounds, maybe it’s 64 players. It could be more.

Are the Jaguars, coming off a 5-11 season, good enough that they can pass on such potential people? They are not. Perhaps they are expecting Gabbert to be terrible again, knowing they’ll be punting a ton and being proactive?

They need more guys who can score touchdowns or stop touchdowns. Get more guys who can get you first downs and you’ll punt less, kicking more field goals and scoring more touchdowns. Get more guys who can stop a third-down run or break up a third-down pass and you’ll be fielding punts, not covering them.

Do those things, and getting a few additional yards when you have to kick the ball away doesn’t mean so much.

Know where you have a chance to add guys who fit that bill?

With the third-round pick you just used on a punter.

Too often the Jaguars are a punching bag or a punch line.

This time, they deserve it.
I’m eager to hear the Titans talk about North Carolina linebacker Zach Brown, whom they just picked at No. 52.

Brown
Brown
The outside reviews are not very good. Over in our chat, Matt Williamson of Scouts Inc. said Brown is a track star with no football acumen.

The Titans have emphasized getting bigger and are trying to improve their pass rush. It would appear Brown does neither, as he’s just over 6-foot-1 and around 244 pounds and his speed seems to lend itself more to coverage work than pass rushing.

Even if the Titans envision him in that role going forward, they’ve long been a team that likes to talk about rushing linebackers but rarely follows through. Is he going to knock veteran Will Witherspoon from the weakside spot? Or succeed him next year?

Draft analyst Mike Detillier likes Brown -- rating him second at outside linebacker behind only Courtney Upshaw and putting him as a late first- or early second-round guy. Pro Football Weekly put Brown in the top 50. Mel Kiper said he was a second- or third-round player who would create split opinions and cited instinct concerns.

Detillier wrote that Brown's acceleration upfield is "unmatched my any other linebacker," that he has "rare closing speed to the ballcarrier" and that he has "first-rate flow skills laterally and eats up a lot of ground."

While Brown could be a tease, Detillier also said that with hard work, Brown can show he "has the skills to be a special player."

Still, like a lot of people, I'm thinking Tennessee could have done better in the spot.
INDIANAPOLIS -- Stanford’s academic quarter doesn’t end until June 7.

NFL rules say college players can’t bolt school to join their NFL team after they are drafted until their school is finished. So while Andrew Luck will return to Indianapolis for a rookie minicamp Friday, Saturday and Sunday, he will then disappear until June 8.

“The rule was made for a reason -- encouraging guys to finish up and stay in school,” Luck said during his introduction at Lucas Oil Stadium Friday evening. “Obviously in that situation I wish I could be out here starting with the guys tomorrow working out. But that’s the rule, I’m not going to complain about it.

"It’s the cards we were dealt, so put your best foot forward. I know it’s terribly cliché. But you’re going to find ways, within the rules, for learning your playbook, maybe to try to get together with the guys somehow outside the facility. It’ll be a bump in the road but it’ll have to be overcome.”

Colts owner Jim Irsay said he would facilitate any creative get-togethers for Luck and his receivers with his plane or however possible.

Luck knew that Peyton Manning had traveled to Columbus to work with Anthony Gonzalez when the first-round receiver faced similar restraints.

“We’ll try to be very creative,” Luck said. “I got a couple texts from Reggie (Wayne) about trying to organize some things.”

Tight end Coby Fleener, the Colts' second-round pick, is a classmate and close friend of Luck’s. He said the two could work out together as soon as Saturday if Fleener makes it back to campus in time.
If the Jacksonville Jaguars can boost quarterback Blaine Gabbert’s play to roughly average, I think they’ll be significantly better in Mike Mularkey’s first year as coach.

Branch
Branch
I’m tempted to call their draft a success after just two picks: Oklahoma State receiver Justin Blackmon, selected fifth after a trade up, and Clemson defensive end Andre Branch, whom they just took 38th overall.

Says Scouts Inc.:
Pros: Quick first step. Consistently gains advantage with initial burst when he times snap correctly. Plays under control. Shows good leverage out of stance. Shows the ability to shave the edge with almost no wasted steps. Has experience playing left side and right side -- both with hand in dirt and in two-point stance. Shows good awareness as a pass-rusher. Realizes when he's not getting pressure on the QB and affects passing windows by getting hands up.

Cons: Quickly gains momentum, knows how to turn speed-to-power, but lacks functional lower-body strength to walk most OTs back into QB. Recognition skills are inconsistent, though. Takes the bait too often. Also will be late finding the football in the run game. Snap awareness is a bit inconsistent. Flashes an effective club move but needs to use it more and needs to develop better array of counters.

I’d like to see the Jaguars draft another defensive end somewhere soon.

If defensive line coach Joe Cullen, who calls his guys rushmen, can coach Branch up and get first-year pass-rush impact from him and/or another selection, the Jaguars stand a chance to be one of the league’s best defenses if they remain healthy.
INDIANAPOLIS -- At an appearance at Lucas Oil Stadium this evening, Andrew Luck said people smarter than him would be deciding on whether Coby Fleener was the guy for the Colts at No. 34.

Fleener
Fleener
Those people, led by general manager Ryan Grigson, decided Luck’s Stanford teammate was, in fact, the right guy.

Fleener is the team’s second-round pick, and will be a prime target for Luck just as he was in college.

The Colts have a couple dependable receivers in Reggie Wayne and Austin Collie. Beyond that, they’ve got a reclamation project in Donnie Avery and a tight end who’s more a blocker than a receiver in Brody Eldridge.

Fleener is a giant get and fits perfectly with the idea of surrounding Luck with weapons who will maximize his chances at success.

I wasn’t alone in being surprised he made it out of the first round.

Now I expect the Colts will start to look for defenders as they have major holes at cornerback, defensive tackle and linebacker.
What I'd like to see happen tonight as the second and third rounds of the NFL draft unfold...

Houston Texans

I’d love to see Rueben Randle at No. 58 if the LSU receiver is still on the board. An offensive lineman or a receiver is the need at this point, and it would be big if the Texans came out of the evening with at least one from their two picks. They also have pick No. 76 in the third round.

Indianapolis Colts

Stanford tight end Coby Fleener seems too good to be true at No. 34, the second pick of the second round. The Rams need a receiver and missed out on Justin Blackmon. But someone in love with Fleener could come to their spot. If the Colts have a weapon for Andrew Luck they prefer, that would work, too. Can they bear to hold off until pick 64 in the third for defensive help?

Jacksonville Jaguars

Todd McShay is a big proponent of Marshall defensive end Vinny Curry, and that would be an interesting pick. Really, if the Jaguars can land a pass rusher they like who will produce with the sixth pick tonight, 38th overall, we can call this draft a success and the rest is gravy. I also think they should consider what I am about to suggest for the Titans below: pursuit of Giants defensive end Osi Umenyiora.

Tennessee Titans

I understand the trend is to devalue veterans from elsewhere and the appeal is inexpensive rookie contracts. But the Titans should ask the Giants if they’d take a fourth, No. 115, for Umenyiora. Craft a good contract offer for the 30-year-old defensive end who’s got one year left on his deal worth $3.975 million and if he likes it, do it. There is no way a fourth-round pick will be better than Umenyiora for Tennessee. The Titans’ last 10 fourth rounders: Colin McCarthy, Jamie Harper, Alterraun Verner, Gerald McRath, Troy Kropog, William Hayes, Lavelle Hawkins, Stanford Keglar, Leroy Harris and Chris Davis. Which one wouldn’t you trade for Umenyiora? I’d consider upping it to the third rounder if that’s what it takes. The Giants don’t have to deal him, of course. But the Titans should be exploring the possibility.

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