NFC South: Blogger Mock Draft Live

With the No. 9 pick in the Blogger Mock Draft Live, I just selected Boston College linebacker Luke Kuechly for the Carolina Panthers.

I went into the draft thinking I would target Mississippi State defensive tackle Fletcher Cox and Kuechly. Cox was gone before I got on the clock, so I went with Kuechly.

Why? He reminds me a lot of Dan Morgan, who the Panthers drafted in the first round in 2001. Yeah, I know Morgan dealt with injury issues throughout his career. But, when he was on the field, he was a tremendous player. Take away the injuries and Kuechly could be what Morgan never had the chance to become: a Pro Bowl regular. Like Morgan, who was a favorite of general manager Marty Hurney, Kuechly is coming off a very productive college career and is ready to play immediately in the NFL.

I know a lot of people are saying the Panthers don’t need a linebacker because they have Thomas Davis and Jon Beason coming back from injuries. But Davis is coming back from his third ACL injury and there are no guarantees he’ll be the same player he once was. The Panthers can’t afford to go through another season like last year when they were plugging in backups and special-teams players and asking them to start at linebacker.

I did give some thought to taking defensive tackles Dontari Poe, Devon Still and Michael Brockers, but I don’t think they’re as much of a sure thing as Cox. Besides, I think the Panthers are better off at defensive tackle than people give them credit for. They have Ron Edwards coming back from an injury that kept him out all of last season and they’ve got Terrell McClain and Sione Fua returning for their second seasons. I did give a little thought to taking an offensive tackle because the Panthers need to find an heir to Jordan Gross at some point.

But Carolina needs a guy that can help the defense immediately. That’s why Kuechly was the choice.

Mock: Claiborne to Bucs at No. 5

April, 23, 2012
With the No. 5 pick in the Blogger Mock Draft Live, I just selected LSU cornerback Morris Claiborne for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

Lots of people are assuming this will come down to a choice between Claiborne and Alabama running back Trent Richardson. In this draft, it didn’t shake out that way. AFC North colleague Jamison Hensley helped make the decision for me by taking Richardson for Cleveland at No. 4.

I immediately pounced on Claiborne because this pick makes sense on many levels. He’s the best cornerback in this draft. Tampa Bay currently has Aqib Talib, Eric Wright, Ronde Barber and a few other role players at cornerback. But Barber could be moving to safety this season. Even if he doesn’t, this might be his last season before retirement. Talib has an uncertain future with an assault trial in Texas coming up in June. He could face prison time or a suspension by the NFL. Even if Talib plays this season, he’s heading into the last season of his contract. It’s time for the Bucs to find a long-term, top-notch starter and Claiborne fits the profile.

We’ll see if the Bucs agree Thursday night, assuming Richardson isn’t available when they really are on the clock. I also think it’s at least possible we could all be wrong in thinking the Bucs are focused only on Claiborne and Richardson. If available, I think USC offensive tackle Matt Kalil, Oklahoma State receiver Justin Blackmon and Boston College linebacker Luke Kuechly also could be in the mix.

Ready for Monday's mock draft

April, 22, 2012
Just wanted to give you another reminder that the Blogger Mock Draft Live will be held Monday.

We’ll start at 1 p.m. ET. All eight division teams will be making picks for the teams that they cover. Since the Saints and Falcons don’t have first-round picks and our mock covers only the first round, I’ll be making picks only for the Buccaneers and Panthers.

I have scenarios in place for both teams, but some things obviously will depend on what happens in front of those picks. There’s a wide-spread assumption that the Bucs’ choice will be as simple as deciding between LSU cornerback Morris Claiborne and Alabama running back Trent Richardson. But what if one or both of them are gone by the time Tampa Bay picks? What if USC offensive tackle Matt Kalil suddenly is available at No. 5? That’s a scenario I’m prepared for. I would give serious consideration to Kalil because adding a top-notch tackle could give Tampa Bay one of the league’s best offensive lines.

Also, it’s entirely possible that all the assumptions about this being simply a choice between Claiborne and Richardson could be wrong. Yeah, that’s the way most draft gurus, media members and fans are seeing it. But we don’t know exactly what the Bucs are thinking. I suspect there’s at least a possibility Oklahoma State wide receiver Justin Blackmon and Boston College linebacker Luke Kuechly are considerations at No. 5.

I’ve got a plan in place for Carolina, too. I’ve got Mississippi State defensive tackle Fletcher Cox and Kuechly as my top two targets. But I have backup plans in place that could lead me to pick another defensive tackle, North Carolina defensive end Quinton Coples, a cornerback, offensive tackle or a receiver. Again, what I do will depend largely on what happens with the picks in front of me.

Join us Monday and you’ll be able to see how everything unfolds. This is an interactive event and you’ll be able to chat with the bloggers and with other readers throughout the draft. You can also track this live via Twitter (#ESPNbloggermock).
The Blog Network will be doing something a bit different this year. We’re going to hold our Blogger Mock Draft Live on Monday, starting at 1 p.m.

Each of the eight bloggers will make the picks for the teams in their division. We’re only doing the first round, so I’ll be in a unique situation because the Buccaneers and Panthers are the only division teams with first-round picks.

At No. 5, I’ve got a couple of guys I’m considering for the Bucs. Heck, I’ll share them with you right now because I think everyone is looking at these two guys for the Bucs -- LSU cornerback Morris Claiborne and Alabama running back Trent Richardson. But I’ve got a hunch that decision could be made by the guys in front of me, mainly by Kevin Seifert who will be picking for the Vikings at No. 3 and Jamison Hensley who will make Cleveland’s pick at No. 4. I’ve also got a backup plan in case somehow Richardson and Claiborne are off the board at No. 5, but I’ll save that for Monday -- if needed.

I’m trying to keep all my options open for Carolina’s pick at No. 9. That’s mainly because what I end up doing will depend on what happens with the eight picks in front of me. But I will tell you I see scenarios where I could go with a defensive tackle, defensive end, linebacker, receiver or offensive tackle.

The best thing about this draft is that it will be interactive. You’ll be able to chat with all of us before and after we make our picks. You also will be able to follow the Twitter feed (#ESPNbloggermock).