NFC South: Dontari Poe

Checking out McShay's final mock

April, 26, 2012
Todd McShay has his final first-round mock draft out, and it has some major changes from what he had Wednesday. Check out this Insider post Insider.

McShay now has the Buccaneers taking LSU cornerback Morris Claiborne at No. 5. That’s a big swing from Wednesday when he had them taking Boston College linebacker Luke Kuechly. The big difference here is that Claiborne was available in this scenario. On Wednesday, he was already off the board.

I think the Bucs would be delighted if Claiborne is, in fact, available Thursday night. Of course, I think what happens with Minnesota and the No. 3 pick will go a long way in determining what Tampa Bay ultimately does.

At No. 9, McShay has Carolina taking Memphis defensive tackle Dontari Poe. McShay could end up being correct, but I have a tough time seeing the Panthers taking a guy who wasn’t all that productive in college and has seen his stock rise after a strong showing at the combine. It would seem out of character for the Panthers to take a workout wonder. Besides, I think there might be other defensive tackles they like better. Plus, in McShay’s scenario, Kuechly and North Carolina defensive end Quinton Coples are available. I’m not sure the Panthers would pass on either of those two.
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.
Pre-draft news conferences are usually pretty dull. That’s largely because most coaches and general managers go out of their way not to provide any clues about what they plan to do in the draft.

Carolina general manager Marty Hurney, the dean of NFC South general managers, mastered that art long ago. Second-year coach Ron Rivera followed the same pattern as he and Hurney met with the media Thursday afternoon. They were careful not to say much about specific players or go into detail about areas of need.

But Rivera did have one interesting statement. The Panthers had the No. 1 overall pick last year. They used it on quarterback Cam Newton, who became an immediate starter. The Panthers have the No. 9 pick this year, but they’re not looking to draft a guy who's going to spend a year or two on the bench.

“We're not like where we were last year,’’ Rivera said. “We had the pick of the litter. Now we've got to react to what's happening -- who goes here, who goes there and then we'll decide who fits us best and who's going to help us immediately. We're not taking a guy early to have him develop. We're taking a guy early to put him on the field and have him help us right away. That's what the expectation is.”

If you want to read into that, you might think the Panthers could be leaning toward players like Mississippi defensive tackle Fletcher Cox or Boston College linebacker Luke Kuechly. Most draft experts say Cox has more polish than the other highly-rated defensive tackles -- Memphis’ Dontari Poe and LSU’s Michael Brockers. Those same experts also say Kuechly is by far the best linebacker in the draft and should be able to make a quick impact in the NFL.

Breaking down DTs with Todd McShay

April, 18, 2012
A lot of people think the Carolina Panthers will take a defensive tackle with their top pick (No. 9 overall) in the first round. If they do decide to go in that direction, there’s still the question of which one they would take.

The names you hear as candidates in that area of the draft are Mississippi State’s Fletcher Cox, Memphis’ Dontari Poe and LSU’s Michael Brockers.

Let’s turn to ESPN draft guru Todd McShay for a breakdown of those three defensive tackles. He’s got Cox at the top of his list.

“Fletcher Cox, the more tape I watch, the more he just grew on me, and I love his versatility,’’ McShay said in a recent conference call with the national media. “I think he plays the game hard. I think he can rush the passer both from the inside and the outside, different styles, more of a three technique. On the outside he seals the edge and is stronger at the point of attack than when he plays on the inside, but I also see some ability to get off the quarterback with power moves and leverage moves as a left defensive end type or a 3-4 defensive end, as well, on occasion. I think he's the best of the group, I really do, and I think he'll continue to get better."

McShay also said he’s high on Brockers, but doesn’t see him as a finished product.

“I realize that he has some maturing to do, both as a football player and just as a young man, and I think that he shows a lot of potential, but he's not quite there yet,’’ McShay said. “But I think he's going to get stronger. I see some power in his game. I think he can be a really good 3-4 defensive end or play defensive tackle, possibly even nose tackle depending on the scheme, and I think he's the second best defensive tackle.’’

McShay isn’t nearly as high on Poe, who seemed to gain a lot of attention after an impressive workout at the scouting combine.

“I see the workout numbers, and I found myself wanting and waiting and wishing and hoping is what I keep saying,’’ McShay said. “Every single play I watched from Memphis, just hoping that he would make a big play. He will disrupt and he'll be involved in some plays, but for a guy that you're talking about potential top-10, top 12-pick, I just didn't see the production, and I just didn't see a guy who understands and has a great feel for the game. And that's not to say he won't develop, and he very well may, and one day he may be a junior Haloti Ngata. But Haloti Ngata coming out was a much better football player than Dontari Poe is right now, and that scares me, and that's why I've dropped him to where he is as the third best defensive tackle, somewhere in kind of the middle range.’’

NFC South evening update

April, 13, 2012
There hasn’t been a great deal of positive news out of the NFC South for the last month or so. Let’s break tradition and start our Friday evening roundup off with something bright and cheery.

If you’ve ever spent much time around the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, you probably know or have heard of Jill Hobbs. That’s largely because she’s been with the team forever -- almost. Hobbs, currently the team’s director of player benefits and alumni programs manager, will celebrate the 35th anniversary of her hiring on Sunday. The Buccaneers started the celebration Friday by calling all staff members together for a meeting. Then, the Bucs surprised Hobbs, who has worked in a variety of capacities throughout the years, with a celebration and some very nice gifts.
  • Updating a story we mentioned previously, it’s now official -- New Orleans Saints owner Tom Benson has agreed to buy the New Orleans Hornets from the NBA. The league took ownership of the team in 2010. Ironically, the announcement of the deal comes on the same day the Hornets host the Utah Jazz, the same franchise that left New Orleans in 1979.
  • Carolina quarterback Cam Newton is in the final four of the Madden 13 Cover Vote. Newton said he’s not worried about the so-called “Madden Curse’’ that has seen some players featured on the cover suffer injuries or have bad seasons. Newton said being on the cover is "what you make it."
  • Take a look at this Insider post Insider that features three underrated prospects that could be available early in the second round. The Buccaneers have a pick early in the second round and this list features a linebacker and running back -- two positions the Bucs could be considering at that time.
  • No surprise here. Safety Tanard Jackson, who was released by the Bucs earlier this week, will join the Washington Redskins. Former Tampa Bay coach Raheem Morris is the defensive backs coach in Washington.
  • Another player released by Tampa Bay this offseason is getting interest from the Tennessee Titans. That's center Jeff Faine.
  • Jeff Duncan reports the deal linebacker David Hawthorne signed with the Saints is very salary-cap friendly. That’s not surprising. Despite having limited cap room, general manager Mickey Loomis has done a nice job of overhauling the linebacker corps. He also has signed Curtis Lofton and Chris Chamberlain to cap-friendly deals.
  • For those tracking pre-draft visits, Memphis defensive tackle Dontari Poe recently visited with the Carolina Panthers.

Who's in New York for the draft?

April, 13, 2012
It’s looking like there’s a good chance the players the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Carolina Panthers choose in the first round of this year’s NFL draft will be in New York that night.

The league has announced that an all-time high 26 players will be at Radio City Music Hall for the first round. I’m looking at the list and the three realistic candidates for the Bucs at No. 5 -- LSU cornerback Morris Claiborne, Alabama running back Trent Richardson and Oklahoma State receiver Justin Blackmon -- are scheduled to be in New York.

The Panthers have the No. 9 overall pick in the draft. I’m looking at the list and seeing multiple players that have a chance to end up in Carolina, including Blackmon, LSU defensive tackle Michael Brockers, North Carolina defensive end Quinton Coples, Mississippi State defensive tackle Fletcher Cox, Georgia offensive tackle Cordy Glenn, Memphis defensive tackle Dontari Poe and Penn State defensive tackle Devon Still. I also think Boston College linebacker Luke Kuechly and Iowa offensive tackle Riley Reiff are also possibilities for the Panthers, but they’re not scheduled to be in New York.

Aside from the players mentioned above, here’s the rest of the list of guys scheduled to be in New York for the draft:
  • Matt Kalil, offensive tackle, Southern California

Mocking with McShay

March, 28, 2012
I just arrived back at NFC South Blog headquarters after a rather busy few days at the owners meetings in Palm Beach. I’ve got a tape recorder full of quotes from NFC South coaches and other officials that I’ll work into various posts in the coming days. And I’m sure there will be much more to come on the New Orleans Saints’ bounty scandal and how they’ll replace coach Sean Payton during his suspension.

But let’s take a little break from all that. Let’s take a quick look ahead to the NFL draft, which suddenly appears to be coming up soon. Let’s turn to Todd McShay’s latest mock draft in this Insider post Insider. This one goes two rounds deep, so we also can get the Falcons involved this time around.

The Buccaneers and Panthers are the only two teams with first-round picks, so we’ll start with them. McShay has the Bucs taking Alabama running back Trent Richardson at No. 5. That thought probably will gain even more momentum after coach Greg Schiano talked about LeGarrette Blount’s ball-security issues. It certainly is possible the Bucs go with Richardson, but I still think LSU cornerback Morris Claiborne remains a strong possibility with this pick.

At No. 9, McShay has the Panthers taking Memphis defensive tackle Dontari Poe. That certainly makes sense and lots of people think the Panthers are almost certain to use this pick on a defensive tackle. I’m not so sure about that's a given. I think the Panthers are looking at defensive tackles, but also considering some other options.

In the second round, McShay has North Carolina linebacker Zach Brown going to the Bucs at No. 36. This makes lots of sense because the Bucs have a bunch of question marks at linebacker. At No. 40, McShay has Carolina taking North Alabama cornerback Janoris Jenkins. He’s had some off-field issues and I know the perception started last year that the Panthers no longer will take only squeaky-clean prospects. I don’t think that’s entirely accurate. I think the Panthers are willing to look at guys who have had problems, but will only take a chance on them if their homework shows there’s not a lot of risk.

At No. 55, McShay has the Falcons taking Marshall defensive end Vinny Curry. Atlanta recently re-signed John Abraham. But let’s face reality. The Falcons need someone besides Abraham to rush the passer.
The Carolina Panthers are having a neighbor in for a visit Monday.

North Carolina defensive end Quinton Coples reportedly is having his pre-draft visit with the team Monday. Although defensive tackles Dontari Poe and Devon Still have been commonly linked to the Panthers at the No. 9 spot, don’t rule out Coples as a possibility.

Defensive end might not seem like a huge priority for the Panthers, but coach Ron Rivera wants to make his defense as explosive as possible. Coples has the tools to be a disruptive pass-rusher and that would only help Carolina’s entire defense.

The knock you see in draft reports on Coples is that he doesn’t show up on every play. Gee, does that sound familiar to Carolina fans?

That was the exact same knock that followed Julius Peppers, another North Carolina defensive end, when he entered the league in 2002. Peppers quickly shed that label as he produced 12 sacks as a rookie. Peppers was a little streaky at times, but he produced double-digit sacks in six of his eight seasons in Carolina and offenses always had to account for him.

If the Panthers think Coples can be anything like Peppers, they have to at least consider drafting him.

Mocking with McShay and Kiper

March, 8, 2012
Resident draft experts Mel Kiper and Todd McShay have the latest versions of their mock drafts out.

These are Insider posts and you can see Kiper’s draft here and McShay’s here. The notable thing is that they differ on their picks for the two NFC South teams that have first-round picks (the Falcons and Saints don’t have first-round picks).

Kiper has the Buccaneers taking Alabama running back Trent Richardson at No. 5, while McShay has Tampa Bay taking LSU cornerback Morris Claiborne. I can see either scenario because the Bucs have needs at both positions. I know the growing thought is that you shouldn’t draft a running back in the top 10, unless he is truly special. But the Bucs might view Richardson as special. If not, Claiborne certainly would be a good fit. The only wild card I see in all this is if receiver Justin Blackmon somehow is still on the board. He’d have to be a consideration because the Bucs very much want to build up the supporting cast around Josh Freeman.

At No. 9, Kiper has the Panthers taking Memphis defensive tackle Dontari Poe, while McShay has North Carolina defensive end Quinton Coples as the pick. The Panthers already are in pretty good shape at defensive end, but Coples could be a great value pick here. Defensive tackle is the bigger need and Poe seems to be rising faster after a strong performance at the combine. But I also could see the Panthers using this pick on an offensive tackle.

Around the NFC South

March, 8, 2012
Let's take a run through the Thursday morning headlines from around the NFC South.

Charlie Campbell has the latest version of his mock draft. He’s got the Bucs taking cornerback Morris Claiborne at No. 5. No big surprise there, because it’s looking like Claiborne and running back Trent Richardson will be the two options. But Campbell does have a surprise at No. 9, where he has Carolina taking defensive tackle Dontari Poe, whose stock seems to be soaring after a strong showing at the combine. Since the Saints and Falcons don’t have first-round picks, we’ll tell you what Campbell has them doing in the second round. He has the Falcons taking center Phillip Blake, which makes sense, because of the age of Todd McClure. He has the Saints taking linebacker Bobby Wagner. That makes sense, simply because the Saints need outside linebackers that can run.

The NFL Players Association has announced it will conduct its own investigation of the New Orleans Saints’ bounty program.

Former Falcons linebacker Keith Brooking has been sued by a bank that says he has $2 million in unpaid loans. A representative for Brooking says that’s not accurate.

The Panthers reportedly signed kicker Justin Medlock, who had a brief stint with the Kansas City Chiefs and has kicked in the Canadian Football League. The Panthers at least want someone in camp to push Olindo Mare, who struggled last season.

The Saints reportedly have agreed to a one-year deal with center Brian de la Puente, who is an exclusive-rights free agent. He’ll probably be looking at a bigger deal down the road, because de la Puente seemingly came out of nowhere to solidify the position after the sudden retirement of Olin Kreutz.

Around the NFC South

February, 28, 2012
Here's a look at the top Tuesday morning headlines from around the NFC South.

Here’s a debate about whether Atlanta’s trade up to get receiver Julio Jones was worth the draft picks the Falcons gave up as compensation. It’s a legitimate question, and you can make points on both sides of the argument. But I think time will show the Falcons did the right thing by trading for Jones. He’s going to be a special player. We saw flashes of it in his rookie season. Consistency is the next step, and that will come soon because Jones will get a full offseason program this year.

Stephen Holder takes a look at how a potential trade by St. Louis out of the No. 2 spot in the draft would impact the Buccaneers at No. 5. He says it likely would mean the Bucs would have their choice at No. 5 between LSU cornerback Morris Claiborne and Alabama running back Trent Richardson. That appears to be a no-lose decision. Both are good players, and the Bucs have needs at both positions.

In this chat, Jeff Duncan said the Saints will continue to negotiate with quarterback Drew Brees right up until the March 5 deadline. He says the Saints will only use the franchise tag on Brees if all else fails, and says it’s more likely the tag will be used on guard Carl Nicks.

D. Orlando Ledbetter writes that the market for Atlanta free-agent linebacker Curtis Lofton has been set by the five-year $42.5 million deal signed by Cleveland’s D’Qwell Jackson. While Lofton’s agent might use that as a negotiating point, I’m not sure Jackson’s deal is a realistic parameter for Lofton’s deal. Lofton is a very good middle linebacker and a defensive leader, but I don’t think it would be accurate to say he’s one of the top five middle linebackers in the game. I think his market value is somewhere less than Jackson’s.

Nakia Hogan writes that one draft prospect who could be intriguing to the Saints is West Virginia’s Bruce Irvin. At 6-foot-3 and 245 pounds, he’s a “tweener’’ between a defensive end and a linebacker. But the guy has unique pass-rush skills, and the Saints need to improve their rush. They don’t have a first-round pick, but Irvin could be available in the second round.

Defensive tackles Michael Brockers and Devon Still are commonly mentioned as prime candidates for the Panthers, who have the No. 9 pick. But Joseph Person writes that Memphis tackle Dontari Poe has worked himself into the argument with a strong showing at the combine.