AFC South: Da'Quan Bowers
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)
Here’s what he’s got the AFC South doing.
Tennessee Titans, No. 8
Nick Fairley, DT, Auburn
Scenario 1: Fairley makes the most sense at this point and he has tremendous upside. He's worth the pick from a talent standpoint, but there are legitimate questions about his football character and if the Titans pass, that will be the reason.
Scenario 2: [Prince] Amukamara is worth the pick and would fill one of the Titans' top five needs.
Scenario 3: If [Julio] Jones were to fall this far, Tennessee would consider taking him given Kenny Britt's recent off-field issues, or if he were available it might provide an opportunity to trade back with a team like the St. Louis Rams and perhaps address need at quarterback with someone like Washington's Jake Locker.
My thoughts: I’m on board with Fairley if things unfold as expected with the top seven players. If Blaine Gabbert or Patrick Peterson somehow slip, I think they’d pounce. Among players likely available, I think Locker is second-most likely to Fairley, with Jones next.
Houston Texans, No. 11
Robert Quinn, DE/OLB, North Carolina
Scenario 1: Taking Quinn is the best-case scenario outside of [Von] Miller somehow falling this far. Quinn would be a nice complement to fellow OLB Connor Barwin, one of the best ILB tandems in the league in DeMeco Ryans and Brian Cushing, and difference-maker Mario Williams up front.
Scenario 2: If Quinn is gone, then a 5-technique like [J.J.] Watt or California's Cameron Jordan would be the pick.
Scenario 3: The Texans could be forced to weigh value against philosophy here if the players above are gone. Amukamara would be the value pick, but I tend to think they would lean toward Missouri DE Aldon Smith because new defensive coordinator Wade Phillips is determined to upgrade the front seven.
My thoughts: Quinn would feel like a home run. If he’s gone, I feel like one of those more rugged ends who could play in a 3-4 would be the value, though Smith would fill the more the outright need. Amukamara would surprise me.
Jacksonville Jaguars, No. 16
Ryan Kerrigan, DE, Purdue
Scenario 1: General manager Gene Smith likes safe, high-motor, strong-character picks who can contribute right away, and Kerrigan fits that mold perfectly.
Scenario 2: If the Jaguars were to take a chance with this pick, it could be on Clemson DE Da'Quan Bowers and his knee issues.
Scenario 3: Their three other top needs are reaches here, so reaching for Locker or moving back for another quarterback might be a possibility.
My thoughts: Kerrigan is an easy match to make, but he’s not the only high-motor, hard-worked Smith is going to have a crack at here. They already have a DE with knee questions in Aaron Kampman, and I suspect they’d fear Bowers. Watt or Smith are possibilities.
Indianapolis, No. 22
Nate Solder, OT, Colorado
Scenario 1: Solder is a no-brainer. The Colts gave up the fewest sacks in the league last year, but that was mostly due to QB Peyton Manning getting the ball out quickly. But Solder has the athleticism to help in protection when he's ready to step into the lineup. More importantly, he's already a monster at 6-foot-8 and 319 pounds and would help upgrade a running game that finished 29th in the league (92.7 yards per game) last season.
Scenario 2: Liuget is the higher-ranked prospect and is a strong possibility as the kind of quick, penetrating defensive lineman the Colts like.
Scenario 3: If the top four offensive tackles are off the board, Indianapolis could reach for Mississippi State OT Derek Sherrod.
My thoughts: As soon as a player or a position is deemed a no brainer for the Colts, I get scared. One of the top four offensive tackles sure looks like a match. I don’t see them looking to Sherrod as he seems a bit like Tony Ugoh. I could certainly see Liuget. Is there a receiver value here?
Bowers' stock: Even before what was reported to be an unimpressive pro day Friday, the stock of Clemson defensive end Da'Quan Bowers was falling, according to Adam Schefter:
“For starters, teams have medical questions about him and his knees. It's a real concern. Another front-office exec told me that his biggest questions about Bowers were not his medicals but his video. He watched the tape and didn't see what some others have. He said that of Bowers' 15 sacks last season, six came when he wasn't blocked and three others came from a certain kind of scheme -- so his 15 sacks last season are effectively down to six. The film also showed his effort was not consistent and his production was spotty.
“After listening to some people talk about Bowers, it will not surprise me if he falls out of the top 10 or even out of the top 20.”
I wrote last week about Bowers as an attractive option for the Titans at No. 8 overall. Would his his medical issues prompt them to pass?
Alternate plans: Mel Kiper says Temple defensive tackle Muhammad Wilkerson could be a contingency plan for the Titans at No. 8 if things don’t pan out in ideal fashion for Tennessee.
Missouri linebacker Aldon Smith and UCLA linebacker Akeem Ayers are secondary names Kiper likes for Houston. The Jaguars could be the team that takes the third quarterback or reaches a little on a receiver. And the Colts could consider a defensive tackle like Stephen Paea of Oregon State or Jurrell Casey of USC.
Trading Kolb: I don’t think the Titans would pay what Kevin Kolb would cost in a trade. But no one ranks as more quarterback needy than Tennessee, so the Titans have to be kept in mind in any conversation about the quarterback who could be dealt by the Eagles.
John Clayton thinks Philly should move Kolb and take advantage of the value the Eagles have created with him, while Michael Tanier thinks the team should hold on to Kolb.
Ponder vs. Locker: KC Joyner says Christian Ponder’s got a lot of things on his résumé that should put him ahead of Jake Locker in the draft.
Why is Locker still ranked ahead of Ponder by so many?
"[T]he most likely reason is that many scouts are still using the mind's eye system. Their initial mental image of Locker was as a dominant prospect and, as is so often the case, first impressions are the strongest.
"It should also be the first one to go when the metrics indicate otherwise."
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.”
Here’s a look thorough our AFC South lens:
No. 8 -- Tennessee Titans
Da'Quan Bowers, DE, Clemson
Kiper: “A tremendous natural pass-rusher, Bowers falls a little because of needs elsewhere before this pick and because of some very small but lingering questions about his knee. He was unable to work out in Indy as a precaution with his recovery. Tennessee targeted their pass rush in the first round last year, but Bowers simply represents too much value at this position, and with the pass rush still in need of an upgrade, he provides immediate help as well.”
My thoughts: With Derrick Morgan and Bowers as their top two rush ends, the Titans would be set with front-line pass-rushers. If they can consistently hurry quarterbacks, perhaps issues at defensive tackle, linebacker and safety shrink. But it takes time for most rush guys to find their mojo and Morgan was hurt early in his rookie season. It’ll be akin to putting two rookies out there.
No. 11 -- Houston Texans
J.J. Watt, DE, Wisconsin
Kiper: “Wade Phillips will love Watt, a big, aggressive, smart, scheme-versatile defensive end who can offer an immediate help for a defense in need of bodies for the front seven. At 290 pounds, with a really good burst and a relentless nature, you can do a lot with Watt along the defensive line. Houston has to find some pass-rush help to complement the great Mario Williams, and this is a good place to look.”
My thoughts: I like it. The Texans absolutely need to stock their front with the best players they can find, and Watt looks to be the sort of tone-setter the team doesn’t always have. Still, they have Antonio Smith to go opposite Williams on a three-man front and the far bigger holes are at outside linebacker and safety. But there is no safety worthy of this spot, and who’s the linebacker who’s a better pick?
No. 16 -- Jacksonville Jaguars
Aldon Smith, OLB, Missouri
Kiper: “Smith offers a raw talent package with a lot of upside. He's a player that could easily have been a top ten pick in 2012 had he stuck around Missouri for another year of development. The Jags went for veterans to spackle over the holes at defensive end last year, but it's time to develop some edge talent to go with what is a really promising defensive interior.”
My thoughts: Smith may be a wonderful player, but I feel like he’s been landing with the Jaguars in a lot of mocks sort of by default. In this scenario, they could pick between Smith and other DE/OLBs: Ryan Kerrigan from Purdue, Cameron Jordan from Cal, Justin Houston from Georgia, Akeem Ayers of UCLA and Adrian Clayborn from Iowa.
No. 22 -- Indianapolis Colts
Anthony Castonzo, OT, Boston College
Kiper: “One more that stays the same from previous mocks, I just really like the fit. The Colts have shown their age on the offensive line, and even while Peyton Manning is a maestro working out of the shotgun, they need to be able to do more both in the run game and in pass protection. Castonzo is a smart, versatile tackle who has been consistently rated as a first-round tackle option. He's added bulk, and with good awareness footwork, he fits well in Indy at a position the Colts need to fill.”
My thoughts: Castonzo does seem like a natural fit, which is why the match seems too easy. Only one tackle, USC’s Tyron Smith, if off the board at this point. So the Colts could be choosing between Castonzo, Wisconsin’s Gabe Carimi and Colorado’s Nate Solder. Could they look away from offensive tackle to defensive tackle and Muhammad Wilkerson out of Temple? Or if they see Torrey Smith or Leonard Hankerson as an eventual No. 1, could they look for the heir to Reggie Wayne?