It’s a little too early for Atlanta and New Orleans fans to start thinking about the draft. Besides, the Falcons and Saints don’t have first-round picks in 2012 at the moment due to the trades they made to draft Julio Jones and Mark Ingram, respectively.
But the Buccaneers and Panthers are at a point where fans can start thinking about April. That’s why Todd McShay’s initial mock draft is out. It is Insider content, but I’ll share what he has the Bucs and Panthers doing.
Keep in mind, we don’t know exact draft order yet and we don’t know all the underclassmen who will be in the draft. But McShay went with the order as it currently stands and went with his best guess on the underclassmen.
At No. 6, McShay has the Buccaneers taking Alabama cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick. It’s logical because Kirkpatrick is widely considered the second-best cornerback likely to be in this draft and McShay has LSU’s Morris Claiborne going to Minnesota at No. 3. McShay cites Ronde Barber’s age and a possible uncertain future for Aqib Talib as the reasons for this pick. But, even if Barber and Talib both remain with the Bucs, I think adding a cornerback makes sense. Barber’s not going to play forever and Talib can become a free agent after the 2012 season.
The Panthers currently are sitting at No. 9 and McShay has them taking Oklahoma State receiver Justin Blackmon. McShay cites the Panthers wanting to surround quarterback Cam Newton with talent. I’m not ruling this one out by any means, but Steve Smith hasn’t shown any signs of slowing down, Brandon LaFell has made some progress in his second season and David Gettis should be back from an injury.
I think there are more pressing needs on defense and I also wouldn’t rule out the guy McShay has going to Buffalo at No. 10. That’s Riley Reiff, a left tackle from Iowa. There’s no doubt the Panthers are building everything around Newton. So it would make some sense if they found an heir apparent for veteran Jordan Gross as the guy protecting Newton’s blind side. There's a rule of thumb that says you can only get elite left tackles in the top 10. If the Panthers even end up in the top 10 this year, they might want to consider a left tackle because they might not see the top 10 again for a while.