AFC South: Corey Liuget
It’s time for me to hear yours.
I think the Colts could be tempted by a skill position guy. I just don’t see any who appear to qualify for consideration here. One of the offensive tackles listed in this poll will likely be gone, and I suspect it will be Anthony Castonzo. But he is not clearly rated above the other two and he could still be on the board, so he’s here.
So here are four guys who could be available for the Colts at No. 22 and an opt-out scenario that’s started to gain a little steam in whispers. I wish I had more than five slots, because Bill Polian is unpredictable on draft day. But we have to work within the limitations.
I encourage you to vote for what you think the Colts will do as opposed to what you think they should do, but it's your call.
I think my blog network brethren would say the same thing I do: Most of my thinking in our combined mock draft came from an educated connecting of the dots that combines what I know about my teams’ draft philosophies, what I know of teams' needs, who’s available in this context, what I’ve been told, what my gut says and what I've been calling for.
So Kevin Seifert over at the NFC North isn’t saying Andy Dalton is the 12th-best player in the draft. He’s reiterating what he’s been writing about how quarterbacks have to have a higher value and how Minnesota has to have one.
Three of my four picks for the AFC South line up with what I’d call the conventional thinking at this point. Maybe I outsmart myself with the Colts, but I’ll explain myself in a second.
Here’s a bit more than I was able to offer in my comments in the mock, which you’ll find here.
Titans at No. 8 – Nick Fairley, DT, Auburn
I think the defensive rebuild has to go inside-out. I think the character concerns on Fairley are overblown or are something that line coach Tracy Rocker, who worked with him at Auburn, and defensive coordinator Jerry Gray can handle. I think that the Titans can find ways to turn him into a consistently productive player. But maybe this match is too easy. The alternatives would be a defensive end, though Da'Quan Bowers has dropped for them because of his knee, or quarterback if they choose to be bold.
Texans at No. 11 – Aldon Smith, DE-OLB, Missouri
Somehow, I sense that Smith has become unpopular with a good share of Texans fans. His name certainly lacks the juice of Von Miller or Robert Quinn. But plenty of teams would like to get their hands on Smith, who’s an intriguing option as an outside linebacker in Houston’s new 3-4 defensive front. He’s got intriguing size at 6-foot-4, 263 pounds. The best defensive player in this scenario may be Wisconsin’s J.J. Watt, but rushing the passer is not what he does best and that’s what the Texans need most.
Jaguars at No. 16 – Ryan Kerrigan, DE, Purdue
Too easy a fit? Perhaps. But when GM Gene Smith said last week that there are a lot of guys who, like Kerrigan, fit into the formula he likes, there is no doubting that Kerrigan does. Still, who among us saw Smith taking Tyson Alualu at No. 10 last season? We could see another surprise. Smith loaded up on defensive linemen last year. If he takes Kerrigan or another end now, it should be the last defensive linemen for a while, and he should move on to secondary and receiver help. Cameron Jordan, Adrian Clayborn and Cameron Heyward are all heavier. But with a rugged interior, the Jaguars need speed more than size.
Colts at No. 22 – Corey Liuget, DT, Illinois
Everyone and everything says offensive line. And I could have taken Nate Solder, Gabe Carimi or Derek Sherrod here. I just think the odds of Bill Polian doing what we all expect are low. While there will be one and should be more than one offensive linemen for Indianapolis in this draft, Polian won’t let the need steer him. Two years ago we all had the Colts liking Peria Jerry, but he went to Atlanta three spots before Indy took Donald Brown. I hear Liuget is a better fit that Jerry would have been. More interior push helps Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis and Liuget would help the run defense.
We spent three days last week emailing back and forth and compiling a mock put together by eight divisional bloggers. John Clayton stood in for the NFC East.
Perhaps we add some different insight to the speculation. Perhaps we echoed prevailing wisdom. (I can raise my hand on that, as you will see.)
At any rate, we know we’re mostly wrong, and we’re eager to write names in draft slots in ink instead of pencil when things kick off Thursday evening. Here’s hoping this helps tide you over.
Analysis: The Panthers are aware of upside and downside with Newton. But a team that has to compete in a division with Drew Brees, Matt Ryan and Josh Freeman for the foreseeable future realizes it has to get a franchise quarterback to have a chance in the NFC South. Time to take the big leap on Newton. (Pat Yasinskas)
Analysis: The Broncos are thrilled to see Carolina go with a quarterback, allowing them to pick from the entire defensive board. Denver goes with Dareus because he's a perfect fit and he's ready to instantly impact the NFL's worst defense. (Bill Williamson)
Analysis: The Bills have a great opportunity to land a potential franchise quarterback and don't plan on drafting in this territory again. GM Buddy Nix repeatedly has said the presence of Ryan Fitzpatrick as the starter means it's the perfect time to draft a quarterback and let him grow. (Tim Graham)
Analysis: Drafting a receiver this high is risky, especially when quarterback Carson Palmer is talking retirement. So there's nothing wrong with going safe and taking arguably the best player in this draft. (James Walker)
Analysis: It's tough to second-guess the Cardinals under this scenario with the top two quarterbacks off the board. New defensive coordinator Ray Horton needs outside pass-rush help and fresh legs at linebacker. (Mike Sando)
Analysis: I think the Browns should go defense with Robert Quinn and Nick Fairley still available. But our AFC North readers voted for Green when making our mock draft board. He gives quarterback Colt McCoy a legit No. 1 receiver. (James Walker)
Analysis: The 49ers have needs in the secondary, too, so Prince Amukamara could be an option. Quinn was suspended for last season and previously returned from surgery to relieve pressure associated with a benign brain tumor. The question on Quinn is whether the 49ers' medical people would sign off on him. (Mike Sando)
Analysis: A DT with Fairley's power and feet can impact the entire defense, and the Titans need a big transformation on that side of the ball. Still, the gaping hole at quarterback means they may look to maneuver. If they love Jake Locker, it's even possible they'd take him here. (Paul Kuharsky)
Analysis: Jerry Jones may be tempted to trade down, but the revamping of the offensive line is long overdue. Smith has the best upside of any tackle in the draft. (John Clayton)
Analysis: Even though Mike Shanahan will be looking to improve his defense with the first pick, it's going to be hard to pass on a fast wide receiver and the second-best non-quarterback offensive player available in the draft. (John Clayton)
Analysis: The Texans are out of range for Miller and Quinn, who'd be huge additions. Trading down to a team that wants a quarterback here and landing an OLB later in the first would be ideal. I think they address the front before the secondary, and Smith can rush from the outside, helping the whole D. (Paul Kuharsky)
Analysis: A team desperate for a quarterback can't wait for one to fall to them in the second round. Without a third-round pick, trade-up options are limited. Sometimes you just have to jump. (Kevin Seifert)
Analysis: A speedy playmaker in the back end would enhance the Lions' defensive rebuild. (Kevin Seifert)
Analysis: With the top two receivers gone, the Rams get arguably the highest-rated defensive lineman available at this point. Watt has the versatility to play more than one position. He would give Steve Spagnuolo welcome depth on the line, upgrading and diversifying the rotation instantly. (Mike Sando)
Analysis: The Dolphins' interior line has been chaotic for the past three years, and Pouncey is a versatile player who can line up at center or guard. If the Dolphins truly are sold on Ryan Mallett, they might make a splash by taking him here because they don't have a second-round pick to use on a quarterback. (Tim Graham)
Analysis: GM Gene Smith made it clear recently that Kerrigan is hardly the only "Gene Smith guy" who could be available here. But Kerrigan's résumé, college captaincy and work ethic make him a fit considering an edge pass-rusher should complete the defensive line reconstruction. (Paul Kuharsky)
Analysis: If he's still on the board here, the Patriots likely won't be deterred by Bowers' knee injury. Bill Belichick always is searching for value and isn't afraid to draft injured players and give them time to heal. The Patriots drafted Brandon Tate in the third round in 2009 even though he was healing from reconstructive knee surgery. (Tim Graham)
Analysis: The Chargers are thrilled the Cal pass-rusher is on the board. The intense, high-character Jordan is one of the team's top-rated pass-rushers. He should give this team an instant spark. (Bill Williamson)
Analysis: Like the Cowboys, the Giants let their offensive line get too old. Even though Mike Pouncey would have been tempting to take at this spot if he were available, the Giants need a tackle more than they do a guard. (John Clayton)
Analysis: The Buccaneers have a huge need for a pass-rusher. Houston's the best on the board. Time for the Stylez G. White (4.5 sacks last season) era to end. (Pat Yasinskas)
Analysis: The Chiefs are relieved Tampa Bay didn't take Wilkerson. He is a versatile player who will fit in with this defensive line and should help this young defense continue to improve. (Bill Williamson)
Analysis: Yes, there are good offensive line options here and Bill Polian could pounce on Nate Solder or Gabe Carimi. But the Colts are rarely in range of a top interior defensive lineman and Liuget's penetration means he helps the rush and the run defense. (Paul Kuharsky)
Analysis: The Eagles have spent a lot of time investigating Smith's character and determined he's too talented to let pass. The Eagles need cornerback help, but if Smith is gone, they will look at a right tackle or right guard. (John Clayton)
Analysis: The Saints don't need an immediate star. But he can be the heir apparent to Will Smith and contribute in a defensive end rotation for a year or two before becoming the main piece of this defensive line. (Pat Yasinskas)
Analysis: The players taken 22nd through 24th could appeal as well. Some locals will groan if the Seahawks pass up Jake Locker, but Ingram represents the value pick. Seattle wants to trade down. GM John Schneider was with Seattle in 2000 when the team drafted another Alabama back, Shaun Alexander, in the first round. (Mike Sando)
Analysis: The Ravens love drafting monsters on their front seven, and Heyward would be a good value at No. 26. He has an NFL pedigree and adds another threat to get to the quarterback. (James Walker)
Analysis: The Falcons would really love to get a pass-rushing defensive end, but the board is pretty empty. They can fill that need whenever free agency starts. For now, they'll switch things up and look for an "explosive" player on offense. Baldwin is a huge receiver and could be the perfect complement to Roddy White. (Pat Yasinskas)
Analysis: Another value pick for the Patriots if Solder still is on the board. The Patriots must stabilize their offensive line. Left tackle Matt Light went to the Pro Bowl as an alternate last season but is a free agent and will turn 33 in June. (Tim Graham)
Analysis: Looking to trade down, the Bears are stunned to find one of the draft's top tackles still available. Carimi is an immediate starter. Thanks, fellow bloggers. (Kevin Seifert)
Analysis: The Jets' primary needs are to improve their pass rush and along the defensive line. Ayers can rush the passer and help in coverage. That kind of versatility makes it easier for Rex Ryan to deploy his tricky, aggressive defensive tactics. (Tim Graham)
Analysis: Steelers catch a break with both Williams and Miami cornerback Brandon Harris still on the board. Williams' versatility and physicality give him a slight edge, and he fills the team's biggest need at corner. (James Walker)
Analysis: With Ayers off the board, the Packers continue their succession plan at offensive tackle. It's a luxury afforded to the Super Bowl champions. (Kevin Seifert)
According to ESPN Stats and Information, Colts’ opponents didn’t bother to disguise their intentions to the Indianapolis defense. When opposing offenses put multiple running backs into the backfield, the Colts ranked in the bottom five in the NFL in several major statistical categories.
They allowed 4.6 yards a carry (28th), they gave up six touchdowns (tied for 27th), and they allowed 3.7 yards on first down (30th).
As for pass defense, the Colts were solid defending passes 15 yards or more downfield when they were thrown outside the numbers, with opponents averaging 7.6 yards per pass attempt (fourth in NFL). But Indianapolis struggled defending similar passes over the middle.
Opposing quarterbacks completed 67.3 percent of their passes in that area (32nd in the NFL), they averaged 15.5 yards per attempts (29th) and the Colts gave up 34 first downs (32nd). Quarterbacks posted a 110.3 rating (32nd) when throwing deep over the middle.
What do these two areas of trouble mean?
Well, the first could be helped by a bigger, penetrating defensive tackle, which is one of the reasons I think Illinois’ Corey Liuget is an intriguing idea in the first round.
The second has a lot to do with safety play. And while Antoine Bethea did well as the glue of a banged up secondary, the Colts were without Bob Sanders and then Melvin Bullitt due to injuries. A healthy Bullitt might be a free agent, and Colts Vice Chairman Bill Polian has said the team will approach the draft as if Bullitt and other potential Indianapolis free agents will be gone.
It’s a weak draft for safeties, but perhaps Polian sees someone who can fit the Colts' scheme and won’t be valued in the same way by the rest of the league.
Each Thursday leading up to the NFL draft (April 28-30), the ESPN.com NFL blog network will take a division-by-division look at key aspects of the draft. Today's topic: Dream scenario/Plan B.
Dream scenario: A run on quarterbacks means the team has more to choose from on defense, and while Texas A&M linebacker Von Miller is too much to hope for, North Carolina’s Robert Quinn is there for them to snatch up at No. 11. Quinn would be inserted as a starting outside linebacker in the new 3-4 scheme run by defensive coordinator Wade Phillips.
Plan B: A trade down with someone looking to come up for a quarterback would be nice, as the Texans could use extra picks to replenish the defense. In such a scenario, a spot in the middle or high 20s could be used on an outside linebacker like Georgia’s Justin Houston, UCLA’s Akeem Ayers or Arizona’s Brooks Reed. But if they remain at No. 11, Missouri’s Aldon Smith is a guy who could help them.
Dream scenario: They may not value an offensive tackle with the 22nd pick, but it seems like it’s time that they should. Ideally, they’d have their choice between Wisconsin’s Gabe Carimi, Boston College’s Anthony Castonzo and Colorado’s Nate Solder. Carimi, who got great experience at Wisconsin, gets the nod from a team that is in the middle of Big Ten country.
Plan B: Who’s the value guy who’s slipped? That’s the man the Colts are most likely to pounce on, but I can’t predict who it’ll be. A quality defensive tackle can do a lot for the defense, and if Illinois’ Corey Liuget is still available, he could be a guy the Colts like. He’s drawn comparisons to Anthony McFarland, and while McFarland didn’t work out well, the qualities he had that were appealing are still appealing.
Dream scenario: Even for a dream, the idea of a safety worthy of the 16th overall pick is far-fetched. So we’ll move past that. If they love a quarterback, they could have some appealing options. Otherwise, I see GM Gene Smith sticking with his foundation-building plan, and that would mean a defensive end. If they want bigger, it’s Wisconsin’s J.J. Watt. If they want faster, it’s Purdue’s Ryan Kerrigan. Aldon Smith would also be an option. Picking among all three would be a great spot.
Plan B: We’ll stick with the foundation plan and turn to the interior offensive line. Florida’s Mike Pouncey could be a rock at guard or center (if he can learn to snap) for a long time and looks to be the sort of fixture the Jaguars would love to stock the roster with.
Dream scenario: Missouri quarterback Blaine Gabbert slips to No. 8 while a team or two jump up to grab non-quarterbacks in the top seven. The Titans would have their quarterback of the future, with offensive coordinator Chris Palmer set to tutor Gabbert as soon as the lockout ends, while the pressure to get a veteran who can hold down the fort eases a bit since the Titans get one of the top rookies.
Plan B: With the top two quarterbacks gone, the Titans address defense and hope Auburn tackle Nick Fairley can be an impact guy whose interior play can have a positive bearing on the other 10 defenders on the field with him.
Speaking briefly Tuesday night before a charity event, Titans general manager Mike Reinfeldt offered nothing substantive on his quarterback-needy team’s feelings about the quarterback prospects.
But the guy running the team’s draft is also in need of a couple of defensive linemen, and joined the chorus raving about the talent available.
“I think it’s going to be very tempting because I think there will be 14 or 15 defensive linemen that go in the first round,” he said. “So that’ll make an interesting choice for a lot of people in the first round.”
NFL Draft Scout rates seven ends and two tackles as clear first-rounders and another two ends and four tackles as possible first-rounders. Some of those ends could wind up as pass-rushing outside linebackers in a 3-4.
At the NFL scouting combine, many of the hot defensive linemen expressed pride in the strength of their position in this draft.
“I look at it like, if you go back in the history of watching football, before the game was started, it started up front,” said Marcell Dareus, the Alabama tackle who's expected to be the first defensive lineman off the board. “Some people were scared and backed up off the ball. But the real bulls stayed up front and played the game.”
The compelling group that could have guys coming to try to hit Peyton Manning and Matt Schaub and slow Arian Foster, Maurice Jones-Drew and Chris Johnson includes a guy who plays the guitar and the drums (Clemson end Da'Quan Bowers), another who had a brain tumor removed five years ago (North Carolina end Robert Quinn) and a third who started out not in football, but in rugby (Oregon State tackle Stephen Paea).
I asked one college scout from the AFC and Matt Williamson of Scouts Inc. to pair each AFC South team with a defensive lineman likely to be available at each team's slot. Here’s what they said.
Tennessee (No. 8)
"Add him to a young Derrick Morgan and Titans would have bookend defensive ends with pass-rush ability for many years. Look at the Titans' current DEs: Jacob Ford (potential free agent) is a nickel pass-rusher; Dave Ball (free agent and injuries) is a rotational player only; Jason Babin (free agent) is a one-year wonder and honestly just a pass-rusher; William Hayes is a base/run-down end. So the need is there for sure. Players that can play the run and rush the passer usually never hit free agency, they aren’t allowed to because they are so hard to find. If there wasn’t a issue with the knee, Bowers wouldn’t be there at eight."
Williamson: Auburn tackle Nick Fairley or Quinn
“Value and upside. Both players are dripping with upside, but have some questions. The Titans' new line coach, Tracy Rocker, comes from Auburn and already has a relationship with Fairley. He is just too good of a prospect to pass up at that point of the draft. And Tennessee’s line has enough guys already that they could sort of ease either player into his respective role.”
Texans (No. 11)
Scout: Wisconsin end J.J. Watt
"A great choice for a 5-technique player. High motor, excellent size with potential to add to frame, great kid with a huge upside. I am ignoring obvious pass-rushers because they are outside linebackers in a 3-4 defense and you wanted a lineman. The [Texans] are in need of a pass-rusher more than a 5-technique end -- Mario Williams, Shaun Cody and Antonio Smith all fit that position. Amobi Okoye is a quick nose tackle, but not a true nose. They will need to upgrade that spot as well, but there is not a value nose tackle for them with the 11th pick."
Williamson: Watt or Cal end Cameron Jordan
“For Houston, I think they would love to get a 5-technique like JJ Watt or Cameron Jordan. Nose tackle is the bigger need, but taking [Baylor’s] Phil Taylor there is too early.”
Jacksonville (No. 16)
Scout: Missouri end Aldon Smith
“An excellent pass-rusher. Young, inexperienced but has a huge upside. Should grow into his frame and maintain athletic ability. They lack true pass-rushers. Larry Hart is a situational rusher at best. Austen Lane is a run-down player… at best. Derrick Harvey hasn’t worked out. And they are already solid in the middle. [Miami end] Allen Bailey, [Iowa end] Adrian Clayborn and Cameron Jordan are too close to what they have already. The only other option would be [Purdue end] Ryan Kerrigan, but he and Aaron Kampman are similar in skills and limitations. Aldon has true edge pass-rush ability.”
Williamson: Aldon Smith
“I like Smith a lot for Jacksonville. They are set at tackle, so they only would look for an end up front in my opinion. He is loaded with upside. And with all this defensive line talent in this draft, he could be a real value pick where they select.”
Indianapolis (No. 22)
Scout: Illinois tackle Corey Liuget
“He would be a great choice for them. A very athletic defensive tackle with size, effort and upside. He can play the run as well, but helps with pressure on inside. He is a very good combo DT playing run/pass equally well. They are set at defensive end. Jerry Hughes will come around and they will have three solid players at the spot. Liuget adds to depleted interior group.”
Williamson: Taylor or Liuget
“Indy might pounce on Taylor to clog up the middle or if Corey Liuget is still there, he would be ideal. I would say it is unlikely, but Bill Polian doesn't care about what others think and he likes 'his type of players' ... so Drake Nevis from LSU could be someone he really likes.”