AFC South: David DeCastro
It’s an intriguing opening day matchup for two teams looking to bounce back from seasons that didn’t meet standards and fell short of expectations.
ESPN.com Steelers' blogger Scott Brown joins me for his first edition of Double Coverage, and I know he’ll understand if we skip the pleasantries and dive right in.
The Titans' rebuild is centered around their offensive line. They’ll be way more physical with a new interior of Andy Levitre, Rob Turner and Chance Warmack.
Scott, I know the offensive line has been an issue in Pittsburgh, too. What’s the status of things there, and how much better can we expect the Steelers to be up front?
Scott Brown: Paul, that is one of the biggest questions facing the Steelers. The offensive line is one of the youngest and most inexperienced the Steelers have assembled in decades. But the group is athletic and has plenty of what coach Mike Tomlin likes to call "pedigree."
Two of the starters are first-round draft picks. Two others are second-round selections. The Steelers have clearly made a big investment in the offensive line, and they need a major return on that investment for this team to return to the playoffs.
I think the interior of the line with Pro Bowl center Maurkice Pouncey and guards David DeCastro and Ramon Foster has a chance to be really good. I'm not as sold on tackles Marcus Gilbert and Mike Adams, who will protect Ben Roethlisberger's blind side.
The Titans, I'm sure, will test that line with plenty of blitzes, as the first-team offensive line struggled with pass-blocking in the preseason.
Speaking of blitzes, Titans quarterback Jake Locker will see his share with the ageless wonder Dick LeBeau still calling defenses in Pittsburgh.
How is Locker progressing, and is he the long-term answer at quarterback in Tennessee?
Paul Kuharsky: The verdict on whether Locker is the guy for the long haul won’t come until after we see this season.
He steadily improved in camp and the preseason and has reason to feel good about the state of things. I don’t think he’s going to have many games in his career in which he throws for 300 yards, but the Titans aren’t built to ask that of him. They’ll get him on the move to make simple throws and decisions, especially early, when he often needs to settle down and find a rhythm.
That line will give him time and be far better at creating space for Chris Johnson and newcomer Shonn Greene. If the Titans run effectively -- and the preseason suggested that’s one thing they are definitely good at -- they can build play-action off that and Locker will be in a perfect setting to succeed.
The two big questions are about his accuracy and how he will react to new, unforeseen circumstances. You know, the kind of stuff Lebeau has designed for this game especially for him.
Does LeBeau have the pieces to do the sort of things to confuse a young quarterback?
Brown: He has one of the most valuable pieces of all in Troy Polamalu. The dynamic strong safety allows LeBeau to do so much because he plays all over the field and opposing quarterbacks don't know where he is going to be from snap to snap.
Polamalu missed nine games last season because of a recurring calf injury, but he looked like his old self in training camp and the preseason. In that sense, the timing isn't good for the Titans to play the Steelers because Polamalu is at full strength. Outside linebacker LaMarr Woodley also seems poised to bounce back from an injury-plagued season in which he registered just four sacks.
With those two and other players such as inside linebacker Lawrence Timmons and rookie outside linebacker Jarvis Jones, LeBeau won't hold back -- particularly against a relatively inexperienced quarterback who is still finding his way in the NFL.
Paul, the Steelers have never lost at Heinz Field in September under Tomlin. My question for you is what will it take for the Titans to pull off the upset on Sunday?
Kuharsky: I think it’s possible. They’d have to show poise, withstand the bad moments, minimize mistakes. You know the drill.
This is a team that has been run on by lesser running backs in the recent past, so it can’t take Isaac Redman lightly, and we’ll find out fast if Sammie Hill and Ropati Pitoitua are going to help answer the run-defense deficiencies.
The Titans must get Roethlisberger to the ground when they have the chance. After an offseason talking of press coverage, they haven’t changed at all at cornerback, and I imagine Roethlisberger will find things to attack. He knows Titans strong safety Bernard Pollard from his time in Baltimore. I won’t be surprised if the Steelers plot to get Pollard in coverage situations they feel they can exploit.
The other big question here, the elephant in the room: Your first game for ESPN.com? You ready?
Brown: To help myself to some Tomlinisms: This is where the rubber meets the road, but this is not my first rodeo. I believe I have sharpened my pen (does that still apply in the dot.com world?) for battle, but I will have to pay attention to detail. Ultimately, it comes down to making plays (or deadline in this case) inside stadiums with the lights on (yes, I know it is a 1 p.m. start, but gray days in Pittsburgh are as noteworthy as grass on a golf course). Such is life in the National Football League (and ESPN.com), and I embrace the challenge.
Paul Kuharsky: I’m not on a bandwagon. I write about what’s going on.
What’s going on is the Texans are one of two undefeated teams left in the whole league. Would you like me to pretend they aren’t winning now because you think it’ll tail off?
Who should I act like is good instead? A team that got beat in it's last game by the marvelous Blaine Gabbert-Cecil Shorts tandem?
Mike W from Jacksonville Beach writes: In reference to your weekly what you think the Jags are thinking. This is what a 5 year Jag's season ticket holder is thinking: It could be argued the three most important positions for all 32 NFL teams are GM, Coach and QB. If you had their peers rank Gene Smith, Mike Mularkey, and Blaine Gabbert against others in the league, there is no way that anyone would rank them above a 27 or 28. Until any or all of these individuals are removed, you realistically cannot be successful. I've had (or heard) countless discussions with others, on sports radio, and from local media, but isn't that really their problem in a nutshell? Other comments are deflections and distractions from the root cause of why the Jags continue to lose.
Paul Kuharsky: I certainly understand your frustrations. But the guys that you’d rank in the top five at those spots were once nobodies who ranked 28th, don’t you think?
Maybe not at QB, but certainly with coaches and GMs.
Where did Gary Kubiak and Rick Smith of the Texans, for example, rank on your coaches and GMs lists three years ago? Where do they rank now? I’d suspect substantially higher. Their owner was patient with them and is now collecting dividends.
Also important: who are the guys you you want replacing Smith, who’s at least had some time, and Mularkey, who’s FOUR GAMES into his tenure with the Jaguars, and Gabbert, who’s played in all of 18 games?
Marcus in Winter Park, FL writes: I was the person who was annoyed with the lack of an upgrade at the CB spot during the Texans' off season, my username being eramthgin007. I just wanted to admit that I was wrong about Kareem Jackson's ability to improve. He impressed me long before he got that pick-6 against the Titans yesterday. I am now cautiously optimistic, for I am still not going to put all of my chips on KJ because Hasselbeck was the QB yesterday. I want him to do well against Rodgers and Flacco and Brady, then I will trust in his abilities more. But I admit to being wrong, and I look forward to seeing KJ improve even more. Oh, and I really enjoy your posts, especially your humor. Sarcasm is possibly the greatest thing to ever happen, ever. Not really but you get the point.
Paul Kuharsky: Wow. Score one for reader accountability. Rare. Dogs and cats living together.
I much appreciate the feedback.
Jackson is definitely better, but he’d still be the guy I’d go after based on how strong they are elsewhere.
Saeed Fakhruddin from Brentwood, TN writes: I am a season ticket and PSL holder of the Titans. Why does this team ignore glaring needs and go after players in the draft that don't address those needs. We ranked almost dead last in sacks last year and had almost no pass rush. We get Kendall Wright and pass on SEC defensive players in a year where there was a bumper crop of linebackers and defensive linemen. We once again have no pass rush and J.J. Watt’s has more sacks than the entire Titans defense. Mike Reinfeldt and Ruston Webster are always looking to outsmart the league. They are idiots. Why are they always trying to save Bud Adams’ money. We consistently pass on free agents that could fill holes and let go of good players who are leaders in the locker room while getting no draft picks in return. We were an elite team in the years we had a dominating pass rush with Albert Haynesworth. The Giants won the Super Bowl with a fearsome D-line. The blueprint is there but it appears the brilliant minds in the Titans front office had other ideas. They are stale and have almost no pressure to show results because the Nashville media is way too polite. Bud Adams has been out to lunch for a while. I won't even elaborate on the need to reinvigorate the O-line. Leroy Harris is a liability. David Castro would have been worth moving up in the draft. Thank you.
Paul Kuharsky: No, thank you. You’ve given me great fodder.
They’ve missed on a lot of players, for sure.
But they didn’t miss on leting Haynesworth walk -- did you see what he did after he got that giant contract? Would you somehow feel better if they’d wasted $40 million guaranteed on a guy who was going to mail it in from there just to prove to you a willingness to spend? And they got a third-round compensatory pick for losing him.
They didn’t do enough at defensive end, but didn’t do nothing. Kamerion Wimbley was an expensive free agency.
They passed on J.J. Watt because they had to have a quarterback. We won't know if they picked the right one for a while. But they were hardly alone in not jumping on Watt.
I don’t know what they would have had to do to draft David Castro, but they wouldn’t have had to move up for David DeCastro. They passed on him and he went four spots later. I would have liked to have seen them make that pick too. But of course if they took him, you’d be complaining about not having enough depth behind Kenny Britt at receiver or still ranting about defensive end. (The guy the Titans may really regret passing on is DE Chandler Jones.)
Drafting strictly for position of need has proven to be a bad strategy. You draft players, not positions. Last year were you bemoaning the selections of Jurrell Casey and Colin McCarthy and Karl Klug?
If you want to crush the Titans, crush them. They deserve it. I’ve been doing it. But how about you crush them accurately?
Rick in Ponte Vedra Beach, FL writes: Two questions: 1. Do you think Jack Del Rio kept a tight leash on Dirk Koetter's offense in Jacksonville? With David Garrard and Blaine Gabbert, the Jaguars were (and still are) a 3-yards and a cloud of dust offense. Koetter goes to Atlanta and the Falcons light up the scoreboard. He has better offensive players in Atlanta, but still the Jags were so predictable. 2. Have you ever been to Roberts Western World on Broadway in Nashville? Do locals go there?
Paul Kuharsky: 1) Yes. Koetter didn’t have a lot of talent to work with and I don’t think Del Rio let Koetter do everything he would have liked.
2) Yes. Once at the end of a late night. Good spot. Mix of locals and tourists. But downtown is not where most of locals go. Try Midtown
LX from El Chuco, TX writes: Now that the Texan's are 4-0, the media/public praise almost make me forget the 10 previous seasons of inconsistency and frustration. Honestly, I expected them to win by less than a TD vs. the Titans and lose by 10+ to Peyton Manning's Broncos. Still the early success bothers me. Against Manning, as usual, the Texans folded in the fourth quarter; Peyton would have won if he had the level of familiarity with his WRs/TE in DEN as he did in IND. The Manning hex has not been lifted because the Texans have yet to win at IND; besides, they usually struggle with rookie QBs and Andrew Luck will be well experienced by Week 17. Speaking of insurmountable hurdles, the Texans have never beet two of the three teams they will face before the bye: NYJ and BAL!!! I know you love the Texans when they win, but their success remains unproven. I hope they DO lose at least one game in the next three weeks so that they can focus on reaching the SB and not fall into the Pursuit-of-Perfection BS that killed the Patriots when they went 18-1.
Paul Kuharsky: You write: “Still, the early success bothers me.” So after the 10 years you complain about, they are finally good, they are crushing people, and you are bothered by success? What do they need to do to make you happy?
Teams win all the time with some sort of statistical or personnel deficiencies. Trust me here, right now the Texans don’t have much of either. They gave up a big lead in the fourth quarter in Denver -- and still won. They beat Manning where and when they were scheduled to play him. Did you want them to petition to relocate the game to Indy?
Your team is playing great but your choice is to fret about their Week 17 matchup on the road against Andrew Luck?
I think you’re right. They probably will lose that game. Because it probably will mean nothing to them in terms of playoff positioning. How in the world will you deal with such a catatrophe?!?
I wouldn’t worry about a perfect record. They’ll lose more than one game. But if you like them, you don’t have to be compelled to root for it. Just let it happen.
Jake from Tennessee writes: How did your lover boy Matt Hasselback do for you Sunday? I bet you were devastated that he sucked and CJ performed. You might be the worst blogger, due to your always biased opinions, in ESPN history!
Paul Kuharsky: You are confused.
This will help you understand what you see as “bias.”
Did you think Chris Johnson was good in the first three games? Should I have raved about him?
Craig Adams from Lubbock, Texas writes: I've never done the fantasy thing before until this year. For some reason all your bad mouthing of MJD, who I've never really followed, stood out to me as the season approached. As of late I have looked for comments by you seeing if you had given him any kudos as of late but have not seen any? Do you have a pride issue?
Paul Kuharsky: Maurice Jones-Drew’s been everything we’ve come to expect of him. But I haven’t had any real cause to write about him. I said during his holdout that they could go 5-11 just as easily with him or without him. And they look to be on track to do it with him, again.
Also, I don’t believe I said he wouldn’t play well when he played. I never questioned his talent. He’s very talented. I said he didn’t deserve a new contact. What he’s done since he returned hasn’t really swayed my thinking on the contract or changed my reaction to how he handled things.
Romeo Hughes from Starkville, MS writes: When it comes to Tennessee Titans defense, is horrible coaching by Jerry Gray or are they just don't have the talent? They are missing way too many tackles, the safeties are lined up way too far deep, the line gets no pressure, and they don't use Akeem Ayers like they should. Thank you for your time and I enjoy reading your columns.
Paul Kuharsky: It’s a combination of both, plus a third ingredient: They’ve played four pretty good teams.
Guy No. 1:
“If guys like David DeCastro, a third offensive tackle and Ryan Tannehill go before 20, that will help push someone the Titans like a lot to 20.”
“They could like Michael Floyd, they could like Kendall Wright. But I don’t think a receiver is going to outweigh a defensive player.”
“Dre Kirkpatrick could be there for them. He’s a playmaker. He’s been coached hard. He can help them."
“There may be a lot of options for them at defensive end and defensive tackle, and I wouldn’t dismiss linebacker, either.”
Guy No. 2:
“Last year their big thing was ‘stop the run, stop the run, we don’t like these little defensive linemen.’ Every time I hear something now it’s, ‘We’ve got to rush the passer, put heat on the passer.’
“They’d take Kirkpatrick if he’s there. I don’t think he will be there. Then I don’t think there is a corner that’s attractive at 20.”
“It’s too soon for a guard or center, but if DeCastro fell, I could see them taking him.”
“I’m talking myself into Dontari Poe for them. Jerry Gray has had Pat Williams and Sam Adams. Poe will give some push and chase some sacks to Kamerion Wimbley and Derrick Morgan. Last year they liked Nick Fairley. Poe has a similar profile to Albert Haynesworth but better football character. He hustles, he tries hard. He’s only played five seasons of football.”
That’s when James Walker, our AFC East representative, put out the word: “I’m willing to make a trade back with Buffalo at No. 10.”
Before anyone could respond, AFC South representative Paul Kuharsky announced he’d swung a deal with Dan Graziano of the NFC East. The Jaguars had traded the seventh overall choice and a sixth-rounder to Philadelphia for the 15th, 88th and 153rd selections.
The Eagles took defensive tackle Fletcher Cox at No. 7.
“By the way,” I wrote in an email to the group, “Seattle would love to trade back from 12.”
Then came the word from Walker, sent only to me, the NFC West rep: “Don’t make your pick at No. 12 yet. I have an offer from New England coming. Working out the point chart. First, I have to figure out Buffalo’s pick at No. 10.”
A few seconds passed before the AFC West’s Bill Williamson, unaware Walker had already made contact regarding the 12th pick, reached out to me in another email.
“If Melvin Ingram is on the board at 12,” Williamson wrote, “I might have San Diego come up from 18.”
This was intriguing. Seattle’s actual leadership had swung a deal with San Diego for quarterback Charlie Whitehurst a couple of years ago, so trade talks for the 12th pick seemed realistic. But the Seahawks also have a working relationship with the Patriots, having traded Deion Branch to them not all that long ago.
“Sounds good,” I replied to Bill. “James might also make an offer here.”
The potential deal with Williamson and San Diego was fleeting. Walker executed a trade with himself, allowing the New York Jets to move into Buffalo’s spot at No. 10. The Jets took Ingram, the player Williamson had wanted for San Diego.
The fun was only beginning.
Our eight divisional bloggers made four trades involving the seventh, 10th, 12th, 15th, 16th, 27th, 31st and 32nd overall choices, plus later considerations.
Five of our first-round selections in this mock failed to appear in our previous one. Jerel Worthy, Kevin Zeitler, Chandler Jones, Shea McClellin and Coby Fleener pushed out Rueben Randle, Andre Branch, Peter Konz, Kendall Wright and Mike Adams.
Courtney Upshaw, Dontari Poe and Stephen Hill made double-digit drops from then to now. Michael Brockers, Cordy Glenn, Stephon Gilmore and Cox climbed at least eight spots since last time.
We drafted seven defensive ends/outside linebackers, six offensive linemen, five defensive backs, four defensive tackles, three receivers, three quarterbacks, two inside linebackers, one tight end and one running back.
Mostly, we had some fun with the process. Thanks for coming along.
ESPN.com's NFL bloggers went through one final mock draft leading up to Thursday's start of the NFL draft. Here is how #ESPNbloggermock played out.
Analysis: We're going to hit at least one of the AFC South's four picks here, so we thank the Colts for that. Luck draws raves from all corners and gives Indianapolis another quarterback who could set high standards for more than a dozen years, like the guy he's replacing did. (Paul Kuharsky)
Analysis: A no-brainer for Washington, which traded three first-round picks and a second-rounder to move into this spot to take the young man they believe will be their next franchise quarterback. Skins fans have already been wearing Griffin's name and face on T-shirts for weeks. (Dan Graziano)
Analysis: I burned up the email lines trying to drum up interest for this pick, much as I imagine Vikings general manager Rick Spielman will do in the coming days and heading into Thursday night. But my colleagues were too smart for that, and I was more than happy to scoop up Kalil and presumably put quarterback Christian Ponder's mind at ease. (Kevin Seifert)
Analysis: Not buying into the Browns' interest in wide receiver Justin Blackmon or quarterback Ryan Tannehill. Richardson is clearly the best offensive player in the draft outside of Luck and RG3. The Browns' struggling offense needs an identity, and Richardson can instantly give it a tough one. (Jamison Hensley)
Analysis: Once Richardson went off the board, this became an easy call. The Bucs need to add a top-notch cornerback because Ronde Barber is nearing the end of his career and Aqib Talib could face prison time or a suspension. Even if Talib is able to play this season, he's headed into the last year of his contract. The Bucs addressed the position they needed to most. They can get a running back early in the second or third round. (Pat Yasinskas)
Analysis: Blackmon has long been a popular projection for the Rams. I'm not convinced he'll be the choice or even the first receiver drafted, but there was also a fear of overthinking the situation. (Mike Sando)
Analysis: The Eagles fell in love with Cox and were convinced he wouldn't get past Carolina at No. 9. So after the Rams picked Blackmon, Philadelphia offered Jacksonville the No. 15 pick and the No. 88 pick (third round) for the Jaguars' overall No. 7. Jacksonville countered by asking for a fifth-round pick (No. 153) and offering a sixth (No. 176), and the Eagles said yes. They get the guy they wanted and still have their two second-rounders. (Dan Graziano)
Analysis: There was speculation that Tannehill wouldn't make it to No. 8. The Dolphins do the right thing by not trading the farm to move up to No. 3. Miami gets its quarterback of the future to reunite with Dolphins offensive coordinator Mike Sherman. (James Walker)
Analysis: Defensive tackle is a consideration, but Cox is the only sure-fire player at that spot. With him gone, the Panthers go with another low-risk player. Kuechly was exceptionally productive in college and is NFL-ready. He can contribute right away and that's something the Panthers want from this pick. (Pat Yasinskas)
Analysis: Buffalo didn't like its spot at No. 10, and the Jets are hot on Ingram. So the two division rivals worked out a trade. The Jets get the dominant pass-rusher Rex Ryan covets, while the Bills get additional picks in the third, fifth and sixth rounds (Nos. 77, 154, 187). (James Walker)
Analysis: The Chiefs take a sure thing and an instant starter who strengthens a good offense. (Bill Williamson)
Analysis: The Patriots pull off a blockbuster trade with Seattle by giving up their two first-round picks (No. 27 and No. 31) for No. 12 overall and a fourth-rounder (No. 106). The Patriots, who were 31st against the pass, get the best safety in the draft. (James Walker)
Analysis: Floyd is arguably the most promising wide receiver in the draft. He would fit well in the Cardinals' offense while providing better value than the offensive tackles available at this point. (Mike Sando)
Analysis: They wanted Barron, and after the Pats made the bold move to trade up and take him at 12, the Cowboys looked into trading down. But they found no takers, so they took the highest defensive player on their board -- a versatile defensive lineman who deepens them at a key position and allows them to be flexible both with roster decisions and on-field alignments. (Dan Graziano)
Analysis: I didn't get a great haul in the trade. But the Jaguars could consider Gilmore at No. 7 and get him at 15 while picking up a third-rounder and swapping a sixth-rounder for a fifth-rounder. Corner is not the biggest need after the acquisition of Aaron Ross, but no defensive end or receiver screams to be taken at No. 7 or 15. Trade details: Eagles sent 15, 88, 153 to Jaguars for 7, 176. (Paul Kuharsky)
Analysis: Buffalo is happy it moved down six spots and still landed its target in Reiff. Left tackle was a rotating door in Buffalo last season, and Reiff has the ability to be a Day 1 starter to protect Bills quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick's blind side. Trade details: Jets sent 16, 77, 154 and 187 to Bills for 10. (James Walker)
Analysis: Things didn't go as planned in the first half of the draft for the Bengals, who watched guard David DeCastro, safety Mark Barron and cornerback Stephon Gilmore all get taken in the top 15. Defensive end isn't a major need for the Bengals, but it would be hard to resist taking a talent like Coples. Even though Coples has boom-or-bust potential, this is a pick based on best player available. (Jamison Hensley)
Analysis: The Chargers go for the best value on the board and take an impact defensive player. (Bill Williamson)
Analysis: The Bears were forced to play their starting defensive ends, Julius Peppers and Israel Idonije, on more than 80 percent of their plays last season. Depth, and a possible replacement for Idonije, was sorely needed. Mercilus seemed a better fit than Syracuse's Chandler Jones or Alabama's Courtney Upshaw. (Kevin Seifert)
Analysis: Perry provides a combination of size and speed that should round out the Titans' top four defensive ends and solidifies the position for the foreseeable future. If he can get to the quarterback with some regularity as a rookie, Tennessee can make a nice jump on defense. (Paul Kuharsky)
Analysis: The decision here came down to Glenn, wide receiver Kendall Wright or cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick. You could argue wide receiver is the bigger need, but Glenn is the better prospect. After failing to get DeCastro at No. 17, the Bengals turn to Glenn to make an immediate impact at right or left guard. (Jamison Hensley)
Analysis: This was a tough call because the Browns need speed at wide receiver, and Wright and Hill are sitting there. But that's the reason the pick is Martin. There are so many more wide receiver prospects available than offensive tackles, so the Browns have a better chance of seeing a wide receiver fall to them early in the second round. (Jamison Hensley)
Analysis: The Lions' secondary was their weakest link in 2011, and starter Eric Wright signed with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers during free agency. General manager Martin Mayhew isn't a need-based drafter, but the position is a high priority. I had hoped for Kirkpatrick's former teammate Mark Barron here, but he was long gone, and I didn't have the guts to take North Alabama cornerback Janoris Jenkins. (Kevin Seifert)
Analysis: Could the Steelers have envisioned a better draft unfolding than this? Pittsburgh would've been happy with Dont'a Hightower, Courtney Upshaw or even Amini Silatolu. Instead, Poe falls into their laps. He becomes the heir apparent to Casey Hampton. (Jamison Hensley)
Analysis: The Broncos would have pounced on Poe, but Worthy is a highly valued player who fills a huge hole. (Bill Williamson)
Analysis: The offensive line was a team strength a year ago, but gone are the right guard (Mike Brisiel) and the right tackle (Eric Winston). Houston loves Wisconsin players, and Zeitler will be ready to be plugged right in. We also thought hard about Bobby Massie and Rueben Randle. (Paul Kuharsky)
Analysis: Trading back was the plan all along. Jones has the length Seattle covets in its players on defense (think Brandon Browner, Richard Sherman, K.J. Wright, Kam Chancellor, etc.). Jones also fills an obvious need for a pass-rushing defensive end. Trade details: Patriots sent 27 and 31 to Seattle for 12 and 106. (Mike Sando)
Analysis: There were a number of possibilities here, but defensive coordinator Dom Capers loves to develop wrinkles off his 3-4 base, and McClellin is said to be versatile. It's possible the Packers could trade down and still get him at the top of the second round. (Kevin Seifert)
Analysis: The Ravens are always looking for pass-rushers, and Upshaw gives them another tone-setter on defense. He replaces Jarret Johnson in Baltimore's base defense and plays opposite Terrell Suggs as an edge rusher in passing situations. Upshaw has drawn comparisons to LaMarr Woodley, so you know he's an AFC North type of player. (Jamison Hensley)
Analysis: The 49ers face a long list of top quarterbacks this season. They lack glaring needs and should be able to find guard help later in the draft. Coby Fleener was a consideration, but the 49ers like their existing tight ends and could extend Delanie Walker's contract. (Mike Sando)
Analysis: The Seahawks need another tight end after losing John Carlson to the Vikings in free agency. Adding Jones at No. 27 gave them flexibility in this spot. Seattle entered draft week with 19 players from the Pac-12. Fleener would give them 20. Trade details: Patriots sent 27 and 31 to Seattle for 12 and 106. (Mike Sando)
Analysis: The Bills aren't done with a busy day of trading. Buffalo gets back in the first round by swapping a second-rounder and two fourth-rounders with the Giants. Hill is a big-play receiver to pair with Bills starter Steve Johnson. Hill averaged an astounding 29.3 yards per catch last season. Trade details: Giants trade 32 to Buffalo for 41, 105 and 124. (James Walker)
WILL PICK: Andrew Luck, QB, Stanford
SHOULD PICK: Andrew Luck, QB, Stanford
PK: “Tough duty ahead for Luck, who'll be fortunate in 2012 to win as many games as the Colts' last No. 1 overall, Peyton Manning, did as a rookie in 1998 (three). Indy has been stripped bare of stars (except for graybeards Reggie Wayne, 33, and Dwight Freeney, 32) and needs to be sure it doesn't overhype Luck's arrival. It'll be a long road back to the playoffs.”
The other PK: Again, hard to have much to say about pairing the Colts with Luck. He’s the right guy and he will be the guy. An aside on King’s other comment -- he forgets Robert Mathis, also not young, but definitely a star-caliber pass-rusher.
WILL PICK: Stephon Gilmore, CB, South Carolina
SHOULD PICK: David DeCastro, G, Stanford
PK: “Like Tampa, Jacksonville has a major hole at cornerback, and I hear the Jags like Gilmore a ton, which would have to be the case for them to reach for him here. Still, I'd solve a position of need for the next 10 years with the second-best offensive lineman in the draft — and a guy with the mean streak Jacksonville's O-line needs — then take the corner in round 2.”
The other PK: I look at Derek Cox, Rashean Mathis, Aaron Ross and Drew Coleman as the Jaguars’ top four corners and hardly see a “major hole.” The major holes are at receiver and defensive end. There may not be a solution sitting at No. 7, so anything seems possible. I wouldn't mind DeCastro. But a DeCastro-CB one-two punch King suggests would leave the two major holes unaddressed until round three.
WILL PICK: Whitney Mercilus, DE, Illinois
SHOULD PICK: Shea McClellin, OLB, Boise State
PK: “This is a good season: 16 sacks, nine forced fumbles. That was Mercilus's breakout 2011 campaign at Illinois, and that's why he'll be a first-round pick this year. But he's not as versatile as McClellin, whose stock is rising because he has the speed (a 4.6 40 at 260 pounds) to be an edge rusher and is a sure-enough tackler to play inside if needed.”
The other PK: This is the first I’ve seen McClellin mentioned in this spot. If he projects as a 4-3 end and can get to the passer, I wouldn’t have any serious objection if the sense is the rest of the league sees him as worthy of this range. But another media outlet, Pro Football Weekly, ranks him 120th and a third- or fourth-rounder.
WILL PICK: Rueben Randle, WR, LSU
SHOULD PICK: Stephen Hill, WR, Georgia Tech
PK: “Kendall Wright makes sense if he lasts this long, but Randle is a good fallback. Houston thinks that at 6-4 and 210 pounds he'll be another matchup problem along the lines of Andre Johnson. What team has the corners to cover two wideouts 6-3 or taller? Then again, if that's the logic, I'd take Hill, who's bigger (6-5) and a speed threat.”
The other PK: I’ve long thought Randle will be the choice, but could see them going with him, Wright or Hill if they have all the options. I think a Johnson-Randle pairing would create problems for secondaries, as King suggests, and that Randle could be a quality successor for Johnson down the road.
I think he's mostly on target for two AFC South teams. I think he's a bit off target on a third, and misses the mark by a great degree on the fourth.
1) Indianapolis Colts
Andrew Luck, QB, Stanford
Scenario 1: (Andrew) Luck is a once-in-a-generation prospect, and adding him is the best option for a team that is starting over in the post-Peyton Manning era.
Scenario 2: The Colts could pull one of the all-time draft surprises and take Baylor QB Robert Griffin III instead, but that doesn't seem likely after Griffin declined to work out for the team.
Kuharsky’s thoughts: Don’t understand why Jim Irsay is being coy? Why not? What’s to be gained by saying it’s Luck? The contract part is simple with the new CBA.
7) Jacksonville Jaguars
Melvin Ingram, DE/OLB, South Carolina
Scenario 1: If (Justin) Blackmon should fall this far the Jaguars have to pull the trigger. They've gone far too long without a true No. 1 target in the passing game, and it's hard to fully evaluate second-year QB Blaine Gabbert without proper weapons around him.
Scenario 2: Jacksonville would certainly like to take advantage of a team looking to get ahead of the Miami Dolphins to draft (Ryan) Tannehill. Moving back and adding picks would help a team that has plenty of needs.
Scenario 3: If stuck here, the Jags go with the best available defensive end. General manager Gene Smith likes safer, more proven prospects, so Ingram fits better than North Carolina's Quinton Coples. Ingram is versatile, explosive and shows a knack for making big plays, while Coples has impressive tools but faces questions about his motor and work ethic.
Scenario 4: If he falls in ahead of Ingram on their board, the Jaguars could take (Riley) Reiff and shore up their offensive line.
Kuharsky’s thoughts: I am in line with scenarios one, two and three and if I am a Jaguars backer I’d be happy with any of the three. Shoring up the offensive line? I don’t love the depth, but if Eben Britton is healthy, they should have enough.
20) Tennessee Titans
Dre Kirkpatrick, CB, Alabama
Scenario 1: Cornerback is the team's top need and the Titans would take (Stephen) Gilmore if he were available.
Scenario 2: Kirkpatrick is a good fit in Tennessee's zone-heavy scheme with his size, toughness and instincts.
Scenario 3: Alabama ILB Dont'a Hightower is a possibility. The Titans have a need at the position, and while they like 2011 draft pick Colin McCarthy there is no other inside linebacker worth taking here.
Scenario 4: Take the highest-rated available tackle offensive tackle on their board, whether that's (Jonathan) Martin or (Mike) Adams.
Kuharsky’s thoughts: I completely disagree that corner is the team’s top need. Losing Cortland Finnegan doesn’t automatically create a need as they have people to step up. They’d take one if they think he’s the best player because other areas have dried up. They Titans don’t like Colin McCarthy, they love him, just like they love their tackles, Michael Roos and David Stewart. I see a defensive lineman or maybe a value if Mark Barron or David DeCastro somehow lasts.
26) Houston Texans
Stephen Hill, WR, Georgia Tech
Scenario 1: The Texans would like nothing more than to see (Kendall) Wright fall to them and add a dynamic playmaker opposite Andre Johnson.
Scenario 2: Hightower would also be an attractive option if he were available as a replacement for the departed DeMeco Ryans.
Scenario 3: Hill offers a big, fast option who is raw but could form a dangerous tandem with Johnson.
Scenario 4: Take the best available offensive tackle, in this case Adams, to fill the void left by the release of Eric Winston.
Kuharsky’s thoughts: I don’t know how they stack Wright, Hill and Reuben Randle but another weapon is certainly a need. The inside spot vacated by Ryans is a part time spot that doesn’t require a first-round pick. I’d take a receiver first, but if there is a run, tight end Coby Fleener would be attractive. Offensive tackle wouldn’t be objectionable.
The NFL's transformation into a pass-happy league has sent teams scrambling for ways to keep up defensively.
Perhaps that explains why defensive linemen and 3-4 outside linebacker types dominated ESPN.com's first NFL Blog Network mock draft for 2012.
AFC West blogger Bill Williamson snapped up three of them for the division he covers. Six other defensive linemen and 3-4 outside linebackers found homes elsewhere in the first round.
Offensive linemen (seven), defensive backs (five) and wide receivers (five) accounted for most of the remaining first-round selections.
In keeping with the pass-oriented theme, Alabama's Trent Richardson was the lone running back selected, landing in Cleveland with the fourth overall choice.
And, of course, we kicked off the mock with a couple of quarterbacks.
Analysis: They look at Luck and see a young guy who reminds them of the quarterback the franchise selected first overall in 1998. (Paul Kuharsky)
Analysis: Not much mystery here. The Redskins traded three first-round picks and a second-round pick to get to this spot, from which they believe they're taking their next franchise quarterback. The only way they don't take Griffin here is if the Colts take him, in which case the Redskins will happily take Luck. (Dan Graziano)
Analysis: The Vikings would love to trade down a few spots, presumably with a team that wants to draft Texas A&M quarterback Ryan Tannehill. But barring a deal, Kalil is the best player remaining on the board and the Vikings just so happen to need a long-term starter at left tackle. We're not buying (yet) any of general manager Rick Spielman's posturing about LSU cornerback Morris Claiborne. (Kevin Seifert)
Analysis: Not buying the speculation that the Browns will take Texas A&M QB Ryan Tannehill here. The Browns tipped their hand when coach Pat Shurmur and general manager Tom Heckert skipped Tannehill's pro day to watch Richardson, the draft's only elite running back who can be the centerpiece of Cleveland's offense. (Jamison Hensley)
Analysis: The Bucs could be considering Richardson and he's a possibility if he stays on the board. But Claiborne is the top cornerback in this draft. The Bucs need a long-term replacement for veteran Ronde Barber and could need a short-term replacement for Aqib Talib, who could face prison time or a league suspension. (Pat Yasinskas)
Analysis: The Rams are eager to find weapons for quarterback Sam Bradford. They had a tough time addressing that area during free agency despite an aggressive approach that led to deals with Cortland Finnegan, Scott Wells and others. The last time the Rams drafted a WR sixth overall, they landed Torry Holt. (Mike Sando)
Analysis: If he catches on quickly and can have an impact as a pass-rusher, Ingram can be the final piece for a very good defense. (Paul Kuharsky)
Analysis: Tannehill shot up the draft boards fast and may be a tad overrated at No. 8. But Miami needs a quarterback of the future in the worst way, and this is the best of what's left. Both Matt Moore and David Garrard have one year left on their contracts, leaving it open for Tannehill to take over in 2013. (James Walker)
Analysis: There's a common assumption the Panthers are locked in on getting a defensive tackle. That could end up happening. But they're open to all options and Kuechly might be the best player available. This team needs help anywhere it can add it on defense. (Pat Yasinskas)
Analysis: Going receiver here is the sexy pick. But getting an offensive tackle to protect QB Ryan Fitzpatrick's blind side is the smart pick. Reiff received great coaching at Iowa, which has become Offensive Tackle U. He closes Buffalo's revolving door at left tackle for the foreseeable future. (James Walker)
Analysis: The Chiefs would be thrilled to see Poe on the board at 11. He is the best player available who fits their biggest need. Poe has a chance to be a dynamic player on a defense full of young talent. (Bill Williamson)
Analysis: The Seahawks ranked fifth in takeaways, seventh in points allowed and ninth in yards allowed last season, but their pass rush was lacking. Coples would give them a badly needed pass-rusher opposite Chris Clemons, who had 11 of the team's 33 sacks during the 2011 season. Linebacker is another need position. (Mike Sando)
Analysis: The Cardinals could also use an offensive tackle and possibly another receiver. Michael Floyd was a consideration here. But in Upshaw, the team would be targeting a potential No. 1 pass-rusher, providing welcome support for promising youngsters Sam Acho and O'Brien Schofield. The Cardinals have no second-round pick, and pass-rush help is at a premium. (Mike Sando)
Analysis: They were hoping Upshaw would fall to them, as he'd upgrade the pass rush instantly and could make Anthony Spencer expendable before long. But with Upshaw gone one pick before, the Cowboys stick with the national champs and take a safety to upgrade their biggest 2011 weakness: the secondary. (Dan Graziano)
Analysis: Michael Brockers was tempting, but the pick here is Cox because he provides a pass rush from the interior of the defensive line right away and could be more NFL-ready than Brockers at this point. The Eagles are a win-now team that relies on its defensive line to pressure the passer, and Cox fits nicely into their interior line rotation. (Dan Graziano)
Analysis: The Jets would like to go defense here under head coach Rex Ryan. But with Alabama DE/OLB Courtney Upshaw and safety Mark Barron both off the board, drafting Floyd is a good fallback option. Floyd has a chance to start from Day 1 opposite Santonio Holmes and gives quarterback Mark Sanchez a much-needed weapon. (James Walker)
Analysis: The Bengals need a starting right guard, and DeCastro is the best guard in the draft. Smart and fundamentally sound, DeCastro is one of the safest picks this year and would extend the Bengals' recent good fortune in the draft. (Jamison Hensley)
Analysis: Mercilus is the best pass-rusher on the board at No. 18 and the Chargers would be happy to take him. He could be a slight over-draft, but he has big league potential. (Bill Williamson)
Analysis: Coach Lovie Smith expressed confidence last week in left tackle J'Marcus Webb, but rarely will you hear a coach say otherwise until he has an upgraded replacement. Webb was penalized 15 times last season and gave up 12 sacks, according to Pro Football Focus. Martin would provide an upgrade at a key position. (Kevin Seifert)
Analysis: They can go many different directions, but Kamerion Wimbley doesn't solve their pass-rush issues by himself, and Perry can help. (Paul Kuharsky)
Analysis: Cincinnati has done a great job in bolstering the depth at cornerback in free agency, signing Jason Allen and Adam Jones. But the Bengals, who eventually need to replace veteran Nate Clements, can't pass on the second-best cornerback falling into their laps. (Jamison Hensley)
Analysis: The Browns need speed and a deep threat. Look no further than Hill, who averaged 29.3 yards per catch last season (albeit 28 receptions) and ran faster than Baylor's Kendall Wright at the NFL combine. (Jamison Hensley)
Analysis: ESPN.com colleagues chose Gilmore in my absence based on an obvious need the Lions have at cornerback. Starter Eric Wright departed via free agency, and the Lions' pass defense collapsed in the second half of 2011. General manager Martin Mayhew doesn't draft for need, but Gilmore would address a big one. (Kevin Seifert)
Analysis: Inside linebacker is a big need for the Steelers after they released James Farrior. Hightower excelled in Alabama's 3-4 defense and was the unquestioned leader on the nation's top defense. Seems like a perfect fit. (Jamison Hensley)
Analysis: The Broncos would gladly snag Brockers. Defensive tackle is, by far, their most pressing need, and the versatile Brockers is a good value at No. 25. (Bill Williamson)
Analysis: Randle's size will make him a nice target for Matt Schaub and the Texans, and he brings a lot of upside to an offense that's already quite good. (Paul Kuharsky)
Analysis: The Patriots need athleticism on defense and the ability to rush the passer from the outside. Branch can help replace the combined 20 sacks New England lost this offseason with the departures of DEs Mark Anderson and Andre Carter. (James Walker)
Analysis: In my absence, ESPN.com colleagues chose Konz, the draft's top center, knowing that veteran Jeff Saturday is likely a one-year bridge from departed starter Scott Wells. General manager Ted Thompson will almost certainly draft a center, but he might wait until a later round knowing he has 2012 insurance in Saturday. (Kevin Seifert)
Analysis: The Ravens have a history of top prospects falling to them in the first round. Their luck would continue with Glenn, an athletic and versatile blocker who would start immediately at left guard. (Jamison Hensley)
Analysis: Receiver was the team's obvious top need heading into free agency. Adding Randy Moss and Mario Manningham bought some flexibility, but Moss represents a short-term investment. The 49ers could use another young receiver to grow with Alex Smith and, eventually, Colin Kaepernick. (Mike Sando)
Analysis: The Patriots were surprised such a top-end talent is available at No. 31. Sure, Jenkins comes with some character concerns. But New England's strong locker-room leadership will make sure it gets the best out of Jenkins, who has the physical ability to develop into a legit No. 1 corner. (James Walker)
Analysis: This was a tough call, because Syracuse defensive end Chandler Jones just looks so much like a Giants pick. He's a super-athletic, high-upside pass-rusher from Tom Coughlin's alma mater. I mean, if Adams weren't on the board, this would have been a slam dunk. And the Giants still could go this way, or with Nebraska LB Lavonte David or Stanford TE Coby Fleener. But there's nothing wrong with Adams' upside potential, either. He becomes the Giants' starting right tackle right away, and if Will Beatty doesn't pan out, Adams has the ability to someday play on the left side. (Dan Graziano)
Here’s the third of four team-by-team reviews.
20) Tennessee Titans
McShay: David DeCastro, guard, Stanford
“The Titans have three defensive ends set to become free agents, so that position could be an option here. In this scenario, though, DeCastro offers a big upgrade on the interior of the offensive line. He was the most dominant interior lineman in the nation in 2011, crushed the combine, is ready to start from Day 1 and has a chance to quickly become one of the premier guards in the league.”
“The Titans also need pass-rush help, but if things break this way, DeCastro represents tremendous value, and that offensive line could use the help after a year where the running game totally fell apart. DeCastro is the kind of player you can draft who won't get big headlines, but will pay immediate dividends because they can plug him in Week 1. Obviously, if a pass-rusher they like falls to No. 20, they could go that direction.”
Kuharsky: Maybe coach Mike Munchak and offensive line coach Bruce Matthews, Hall of Fame interior offensive linemen who were drafted high, change course. Maybe DeCastro is too good to pass up if he lasts to 20. But the Titans typically coach up later picks instead of spending them high on guards.