NFC South: Michael Brockers

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.’’

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

Around the NFC South

March, 9, 2012
A look at the Friday morning headlines from around the NFC South.

Jeff Duncan takes a look at the curious relationship between Mike Ornstein and the New Orleans Saints. A convicted felon, Ornstein does not hold any official title with the Saints. But he’s been a fixture around the team and coach Sean Payton devoted a chapter of his book “Home Team’’ to detailing how Ornstein set up logistics for the team in Miami the week of the only Super Bowl win in franchise history. Ornstein’s name also has surfaced in the NFL’s investigation of the Saints’ bounty program.

Although there were early reports the Saints could find out their punishment for the bounty program before the NFL meeting at the end of March, there now appears to be no definitive timetable. The league may proceed slowly as the NFL Players Association begins an investigation of its own.

LSU defensive tackle Michael Brockers is making a pre-draft visit to the Panthers. Ordinarily, I'd say don’t read too much into these visits because lots of teams have lots of different players in. But it seems very possible the Saints take a defensive tackle at No. 9 and Brockers certainly appears to be a strong candidate.

Free-agent cornerback Cortand Finnegan reportedly has been lobbying free agent receiver Vincent Jackson to join him in a package deal, perhaps in Tampa Bay. If the Bucs could land those two, it would be a major coup. It at least seems like a possibility because Finnegan and Jackson are likely to be two of the most sought-after free agents on the market and the Bucs have plenty of salary-cap room. Tampa Bay hasn’t been a popular spot with free agents in recent years, but that’s mainly because the Bucs hadn’t been spending much money. They say they’ll open the checkbook this year and that should make Tampa Bay a desirable destination. Throw in warm weather and no state-income tax and the Bucs should be able to land almost any free agent they want, as long as they're serious about spending money.

Georgia’s Orson Charles, who grew up in Tampa and is considered one of the top prospects at tight end in the NFL draft, reportedly has been charged with driving under the influence. There has been speculation Charles could be a second-round target for the Atlanta Falcons.

Carolina linebacker Thomas Davis said he can’t wait to play the Saints next season. Although Davis missed almost all of last season with a knee injury, he said he felt disrespected when the Saints left their starters in until the fourth quarter and ran up 45 points on the Panthers late last season.

Around the NFC South

February, 27, 2012
Time for a look at the top Monday morning headlines from around the NFC South.

Carolina coach Ron Rivera said he plans to be a little more involved with the defense in his second season. That’s a good thing. Rivera is a coach with a strong defensive background, and Carolina’s defense struggled in his first season. Now that he has a grasp of his duties as a head coach, that should give Rivera a little more time to get involved with the defense.

Wide receiver Mario Manningham, a potential free agent, said he’s 75 percent sure he’s done with the New York Giants. Keep an eye on this one Tampa Bay fans. The Bucs need help at receiver. Former Giants quarterback coach Mike Sullivan knows Manningham well, and is now the offensive coordinator in Tampa Bay.

Former Atlanta and Carolina linebacker Chris Draft is working to raise awareness about lung cancer after losing his wife to the disease. Draft’s wife never smoked, and a big part of his message is that non-smokers can get the disease.

Tampa Bay’s coaching staff and scouting staff are going through an important adjustment period. The scouting staff is trying to get a grasp on what the new coaches like in players at various positions. The Bucs might be a bit behind in this process because coach Greg Schiano was hired late and it took some time for him to fill out his staff.

The Falcons won’t begin their offseason program until April 23. That’s not uncommon. All teams will be starting around that same time. That’s about a month later than in the past, but the new collective bargaining agreement cut down the time teams are allowed to hold offseason programs.

Penn State’s Devon Still caused a bit of a stir at the combine by saying he’s “hands down’’ the top defensive tackle in the draft. Some say that honor belongs to LSU’s Michael Brockers. Either way, it’s likely the Panthers are keeping a close eye on both. They have the No. 9 pick in the draft, and could be using it on a defensive tackle.

Keeping an eye on Indy

February, 23, 2012
Most of the NFL world is in Indianapolis for the scouting combine. We’ll be keeping tabs on things up there from a distance.

Tampa Bay coach Greg Schiano and Carolina coach Ron Rivera are scheduled to speak to the media late Thursday afternoon. We’ll bring you highlights of what they have to say. This will be only the second time Schiano has spoken to the media since his hiring. Now that he’s had some time to get settled in, we may get updates on the future of Ronde Barber and some official word on where Schiano stands on filling out his staff of assistant coaches.

No word yet if New Orleans coach Sean Payton or Atlanta coach Mike Smith will meet with the media. As we wait for things to develop in Indianapolis, let’s take a look at another mock draft. This one is from Charlie Campbell.

He has the Bucs taking LSU cornerback Morris Claiborne at No. 5. Just about every mock I’ve seen has the Bucs taking either Claiborne or Alabama running back Trent Richardson. I can see the Bucs going either way if all things are equal between those two players.

At No. 9, Campbell has Carolina taking LSU defensive tackle Michael Brockers. That’s the trendy pick for the Panthers right now. But let’s see if the combine workouts change anything.

The Saints and Falcons don’t have first-round picks, but Campbell’s draft goes four rounds deep. With the 55th overall pick, he has the Falcons selecting Virginia defensive end Cam Johnson. That makes a lot of sense on the heels of the news that John Abraham isn’t likely to re-sign with Atlanta.

Campbell also has the Saints taking a defensive lineman at No. 59. He has them taking Michigan defensive tackle Mike Martin. I think the Saints also could be looking for a defensive end here, but Martin makes sense because he can generate some pressure from the middle of the defensive line.

Around the NFC South

February, 22, 2012
Time for a look at Wednesday morning's top headlines from around the NFC South.

With the Panthers $9.6 million over the salary cap, Joseph Person writes that linebacker Thomas Davis, quarterback Jimmy Clausen, guard Travelle Wharton and punter Jason Baker are potential cap casualties.

Here’s the scouting report on LSU defensive tackle Michael Brockers, who has been mentioned as a possible first-round target for the Panthers.

Atlanta’s Tyson Clabo graded out as one of the league’s top pass-blockers. Speaking of Clabo, here’s one writer’s explanation why he ranked Clabo among the top 20 tackles in the league and left Carolina’s Jordan Gross and Tampa Bay’s Donald Penn off the list.

Stephen Holder writes that the Buccaneers are likely to try to re-sign potential free agents Jeremy Zuttah and kicker Connor Barth. They’re two of Tampa Bay’s younger free agents. Zuttah has value because he can play center and guard and Barth has shown good accuracy. Age could work against running back Earnest Graham and safety Sean Jones as the Bucs look at their own free agents.

Mocking with Mel Kiper

February, 20, 2012
We’re a little more than two months away from the NFL draft, but we’re about to enter a key time.

The scouting combine starts later this week and that’s when you’ll see the stock of various prospects rise or fall. As it stands right now, there seems to be a fairly clear consensus on the top 10 players, but that could change after players work out at the combine.

The NFC South has only two teams with first-round picks because Atlanta and New Orleans traded away their choices last year. But Tampa Bay and Carolina each are in the top 10 and should be able to come out of the draft with players that can make instant impacts.

Let’s take a look at the latest Insider mock draft Insider by Mel Kiper.

He has the Bucs taking Alabama running back Trent Richardson at No. 5. I’m not ruling this one out at all because the Bucs clearly have to improve their backfield. LeGarrette Blount is not an every-down back and it doesn’t seem real likely that Earnest Graham, who will be a free agent, will return. But conventional wisdom says you can get a good running back a little later in the draft.

The Bucs have plenty of needs and running back is high on that list. But cornerback could be even higher. That’s why I wouldn’t be surprised if the Bucs pass on Richardson and take LSU cornerback Morris Claiborne. Cornerback could end up being the biggest need of all. We don’t know yet if veteran Ronde Barber wants to continue playing. Even if he does, we don’t know if the Bucs want him back. Aqib Talib is the other starting cornerback, but he’s got a trial on an assault charge coming up. Talib could end up with a prison sentence. He also could be subject to discipline from the league. It’s also possible new coach Greg Schiano might send a message to his team about off-field issues by parting ways with Talib.

We’ll know Friday if the Carolina Panthers will pick No. 8 or 9. A coin flip with the Miami Dolphins at the combine will determine that.

Either way, it’s not that difficult to project what Carolina might do. Kiper has the Panthers taking LSU defensive tackle Michael Brockers and I think that’s entirely possible. Even with Ron Edwards expected back from injury and the presence of second-year players Terrell McClain and Sione Fua, the Panthers need to make sure they finally fix the middle of their defensive line. I could also see them going with a cornerback if Claiborne falls a bit. I also wouldn’t be all that surprised if the Panthers went with an offensive tackle, such as Iowa’s Riley Reiff or Stanford’s Jonathan Martin. Left tackle Jordan Gross is getting older and right tackle Jeff Otah has had chronic knee problems. It might be a long time before the Panthers pick in the top 10 again. It might be hard to pass on a can’t-miss left tackle. The Panthers could play the new guy at right tackle for a year or two and eventually move him to the left side.

Around the NFC South

February, 16, 2012
Let's take a look at the top headlines from around the division.

A coin flip on Feb. 24 at the scouting combine will determine if the Carolina Panthers or the Miami Dolphins get the No. 8 pick in the NFL draft. At the moment, LSU defensive tackle Michael Brockers is the trendy pick for the Panthers by draft gurus.

NFL Network draft analyst Mike Mayock said Atlanta quarterback Matt Ryan needs to take the next step and start winning some playoff games. I don’t think Mayock is going out on any big limb there. The general feeling in Atlanta, reaching as high as Falcons owner Arthur Blank, is that having winning seasons isn’t enough. The expectation is that Ryan and the Falcons will start winning playoff games and perhaps challenge for a Super Bowl.

Saints defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo explains why he chose to come to New Orleans over joining the Eagles, despite his deep ties to Philadelphia.

The name of Ohio State assistant Bill Sheridan reportedly has surfaced in Tampa Bay’s search for a defensive coordinator. Sheridan was defensive coordinator for the New York Giants in 2009 and has experience as a linebackers coach in the NFL.

The Bucs recently hired Jimmy Raye as a senior offensive assistant. Here’s a blast from the past on a bizarre incident that took place when Raye was Tampa Bay’s offensive coordinator back in the 1980s.