NFC South: Quinton Coples

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.

Around the NFC South

April, 26, 2012
Let's take a look at the top draft-day headlines from around the NFC South.

Tom Sorensen writes that the Panthers must take North Carolina defensive end Quinton Coples, unless Oklahoma State wide receiver Justin Blackmon still is available at No. 9. I agree Blackmon would be a great pickup if he somehow slides. But I can see the Panthers going with Coples. I also can see them going with Boston College linebacker Luke Kuechly, a defensive tackle or a cornerback.

Draft analyst Mike Mayock says the Panthers should stay clear of Coples. Mayock says that Coples is a boom-or-bust player that comes with risk.

The Panthers put Mississippi State offensive tackle Lamar Holmes through an individual workout Wednesday. Holmes is viewed as a late-round pick. He’s from just outside Charlotte, and the workout was held at his former high school.

Speaking of the Panthers and potential late-round picks, keep an eye on Mississippi State wide receiver Darius Reynolds. The Panthers called him this week to make sure they have his correct phone number.

There has been some speculation the Buccaneers could move up to No. 3 to assure they will get either Alabama running back Trent Richardson or LSU cornerback Morris Claiborne. But that’s easier said than done, because the Bucs don’t have a fourth-round pick at the moment. If they want to move up two spots to get Minnesota’s pick, they likely would have to give up their first- and third-round choices, and that might be too steep a price.

Martin Fennelly writes that the Bucs should stay at No. 5, or trade down and add an extra pick or two.

The Saints won’t be active players in Thursday’s portion of the draft. In fact, they won’t be active until late Friday night. The Saints don’t have a pick until the third round (No. 89 overall). They traded away their first-round pick last year in the deal to get Mark Ingram, and had to forfeit their second-round pick as part of their punishment for the bounty program.

Sounds like Atlanta second-year running back Jacquizz Rodgers could be earning an unexpected bonus. Rodgers wore No. 22 as a rookie. But cornerback Asante Samuel, acquired Tuesday in a trade, sounded pretty confident he can get Rodgers to give up the number.

Mocking with Mel Kiper Jr.

April, 25, 2012
We ran through the NFC South portion of Todd McShay’s latest mock draft earlier. Now, let’s turn to ESPN’s other draft guru.

Check out this Insider post in which Mel Kiper Jr. unveils his latest mock draft Insider. Kiper differs significantly from McShay when it comes to the only two NFC South teams with first-round picks.

In Kiper’s draft, LSU cornerback Morris Claiborne and Alabama running back Trent Richardson are gone before the Bucs pick at No. 5. As recently as a week ago, the consensus was at least one of those two players would be available for the Bucs. But the consensus seems to be changing and I’m sure the Bucs have been preparing themselves for all scenarios.

Kiper gave the USC offensive tackle Matt Kalil to the Bucs and I don’t think that’s at all out of the realm of possibility. Yeah, Tampa Bay could take Boston College linebacker Luke Kuechly and fill a big need. Or the Bucs could take Oklahoma State receiver Justin Blackmon to give quarterback Josh Freeman another play-maker to go with Vincent Jackson.

But Kalil makes some sense. He’s viewed as pretty much a can’t-miss prospect. The Bucs already have Donald Penn at left tackle, but right tackle Jeremy Trueblood is a bit of a question mark and he’s heading into the final year of his contract. Kalil could step in and play the left side immediately and Penn could switch to the right side. Or Penn could stay on the left side for now and let Kalil begin his career on the right side.

At No. 9, Kiper, who had been giving the Panthers a steady diet of defensive tackles in the past, made a significant change. He has the Panthers taking Kuechly. Makes total sense. Kuechly might be the best player on the board at that point and the Panthers have linebackers Thomas Davis and Jon Beason returning from major injuries.

But I also could see Carolina going with South Carolina cornerback Stephon Gilmore or North Carolina defensive end Quinton Coples if Kiper’s first eight picks come true.
Todd McShay has his latest mock draft out and it includes some major changes from what he’s had in the past for the NFC South.

This draft goes seven rounds deep and McShay has help from Steve Meunch and Kevin Weidl. But we’ll just focus on the first round here and that means we’re talking about the Bucs and Panthers, the only two division teams with first-round picks.

It long has been thought that Tampa Bay’s choice at No. 5 would come down to LSU cornerback Morris Claiborne and Alabama running back Trent Richardson. But McShay is buying into growing speculation that Minnesota is going to throw off the direction many saw this draft going. McShay now has the Vikings taking Claiborne at No. 3. He follows that up by giving Richardson to Cleveland at No. 4.

Then he goes in a direction that many suddenly seem to be headed. He has Tampa Bay taking Boston College linebacker Luke Kuechly at No. 5. I don’t have a big problem with that scenario, assuming new coach Greg Schiano’s defense is ready to put increased emphasis on the middle linebacker position. Back in the Cover 2 days, middle linebacker wasn’t all that important and the Bucs relied on outside linebacker Derrick Brooks to make the big plays.

If the Bucs want a strong presence and are willing to make a significant investment on middle linebacker, then go with Kuechly. He’s viewed as a can’t-miss prospect with no real questions on or off the field. (That in itself would be a departure from the approach Tampa Bay took with some picks in the past.)

But, I also see some other scenarios for the Bucs if Claiborne and Richardson are gone. They probably could trade down a few picks and still get Kuechly and they also would add a pick or two.

Even if the Bucs stay put, I’m not certain Kuechly really is the guy they would take. They at least would have to consider Southern California offensive tackle Matt Kalil or Oklahoma State receiver Justin Blackmon. Neither plays a position where the Bucs have a huge need, but they might be hard to pass up. Kalil is viewed as the kind of guy who can be an elite left tackle for a decade.

The Bucs are pretty well set on the offensive line. The interior is very strong and left tackle Donald Penn is above average. Right tackle Jeremy Trueblood is a bit of a question mark. The Bucs could take Kalil and start him off on the right side and eventually have him switch spots with Penn. Or the Bucs could take Kalil and switch Penn, who has a history of getting off to fast starts and then not playing as well down the stretch, to the right side. That could give them one of the league’s best offensive lines and it’s become clear one of Schiano’s priorities is to structure this team to help quarterback Josh Freeman.

Speaking of helping Freeman, Blackmon also could do that. I know the Bucs just signed Vincent Jackson and they have a bunch of young guys with potential. But Mike Williams and Arrelious Benn haven’t really shown they are big-time players. The Bucs already have given Freeman one big playmaker in Jackson. They could give him two if they take Blackmon.

McShay also departs from previous conventional wisdom by selecting South Carolina cornerback Stephon Gilmore for Carolina at No. 9. There are rumblings that Gilmore is a player on the rise. He’s also a local kid. He grew up just over the South Carolina border in what qualifies as a suburb of Charlotte. Cornerback is certainly a need and owner Jerry Richardson likes to bring in players from the Carolinas. I can see this one happening. But there’s another local guy who could be in the mix. That’s North Carolina defensive end Quinton Coples. General manager Marty Hurney and coach Ron Rivera drove up to Chapel Hill for a meeting with Coples on Monday and I don’t think they would have made that trip if they weren’t seriously considering him.

NFC South evening update

April, 24, 2012
New Orleans interim head coach Joe Vitt is meeting with the local media right now. It sounds like he’s addressing the bounty situation, the offseason program and lots of other things. We’ll have more on that after Vitt wraps up.

Meantime, let’s take a quick run through some headlines around the NFC South.
  • Louisiana state police and the FBI are conducting a joint investigation into allegations that New Orleans general manager Mickey Loomis had the ability to listen to opposing coaches during home games from 2002 through 2004. Loomis and the team have strongly denied the allegations.
  • Bradley Handwerger writes that the Saints have a public-perception problem on their hands, and they now are viewed as guilty before having a chance to prove their innocence. How do they start getting people to view them in a more positive light? Well, I think that’s going to be a process. But one good way to start that process would be to get quarterback Drew Brees signed to a long-term contract.
  • I’m not a big believer in the alleged “Madden Curse’’. But, apparently, a lot of people are. Here’s a very thorough story on the economic impact of the curse. Keep this in mind, because the Madden 13 Cover Vote ends Wednesday and all indications are that the voting is very close between Carolina quarterback Cam Newton and Detroit receiver Calvin Johnson.
  • Carolina general manager Marty Hurney and coach Ron Rivera reportedly traveled to Chapel Hill on Monday to meet with North Carolina defensive end Quinton Coples. I’m not sure exactly what to read into this, and I’m not ready to go ahead and say Coples will be Carolina’s pick at No. 9. But I do think it’s important to note that Hurney is not the type to play games and send out smokescreens. If he took the time to have this meeting, I’d guess there’s a very real chance Coples could be the pick, if he’s available at No. 9.
  • Here’s an overview of Mark Dominik’s draft classes since taking over as general manager of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. I guess it’s fair to say the jury is still out. But I also think it’s fair to say the upcoming season is a crucial one for Dominik picks such as Josh Freeman, Gerald McCoy and Brian Price. If they play well, Dominik’s draft history suddenly will look a lot better.

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).

NFC South evening update

April, 17, 2012
As we wait for Tuesday night’s release of the NFL regular-season schedule, let’s take a quick run through some NFC South notes.
  • Tampa Bay coach Greg Schiano didn’t last too long into his first minicamp before clearly letting his players know things are going to be different. Schiano, who has a reputation for being very organized, didn’t like the way some of his players were lined up as they began stretching. “Football is about details -- toes on the edge, toes on the edge!’’ Schiano shouted. I don’t know if Schiano will end up being a successful NFL coach, but it already is obvious he’s about as different from predecessor Raheem Morris as a coach can be.
  • Speaking of the Bucs and their toes, kicker Connor Barth was a notable no show as minicamp began. Barth is carrying the franchise tag and has yet to sign his tender. Barth clearly wants a long-term deal and I believe the Bucs want him to be their kicker for a long time. They have plenty of salary-cap room to work with, so I wouldn’t be surprised if a long-term deal comes between now and the start of training camp. If Barth ends up playing for the tender, he’ll make $2.654 million, which isn’t bad money for a kicker. The Bucs just announced that they have claimed kicker Kai Forbath off waivers from Dallas. Unless things get really ugly in the negotiations with Barth, Forbath probably won't end up staying with the Bucs for long.
  • Filmmaker Sean Pamphilon, the man who released audiotapes of former New Orleans defensive coordinator Gregg Williams talking to his players the night before last season’s playoff game in San Francisco, has talked to the media several times about why he did what he did. Now, Pamphilon has gone on camera to explain himself. Pamphilon also says he isn’t trying to “strong arm’’ NFL commissioner Roger Goodell into an interview in exchange for a copy of the tapes. But Pamphilon says he really, really would like to ask Goodell one question.
  • The Falcons have announced their schedule for minicamps and offseason workouts.
  • Friend and former co-worker Scott Fowler predicts the Panthers will get at least one and likely two nationally-televised games. I’ll go out on a limb and say before the night is over Carolina has at least two and possibly three prime-time games. Quarterback Cam Newton draws attention and the NFL and television networks like attention.
  • North Carolina defensive end Quinton Coples said he visited with two NFC South teams. He visited the Bucs where he got to catch up with his former college coach Butch Davis, who is working as a senior advisor. But don’t look for Coples to end up with the Bucs who have more pressing needs than defensive ends. Coples also visited the Panthers and sounded like that meeting went well. I think it’s at least possible Coples could end up with the Panthers.
  • Peter King has his mock draft out. He has the Bucs taking LSU cornerback Morris Claiborne at No. 5. Absolutely no argument with that one. He has the Panthers taking Mississippi State defensive tackle Fletcher Cox. I agree partly. If the Panthers decide to go with a defensive tackle and Cox is available, I think he’ll be the guy. But I’m not sure the Panthers will go with a defensive tackle.
  • The schedule will be announced at 7 p.m. ET. Start checking back here soon after that. I’ll be posting a quick schedule analysis for each of the four teams as quickly as possible.

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

Blog Network mock draft

April, 2, 2012
The Blog Network put out its mock draft on Monday and I got to make the choices for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Carolina Panthers. The Atlanta Falcons and New Orleans Saints don’t have first-round choices.

At No. 5, I took LSU cornerback Morris Claiborne for the Buccaneers. It was an easy call. The current wide-spread speculation is that the Bucs will be choosing between Claiborne and Alabama running back Trent Richardson. That wasn’t a choice I had to make because AFC North colleague Jamison Hensley took Richardson off the board and gave him to the Cleveland Browns at No. 4. Still, even if Richardson had been on the board, I probably would have gone with Claiborne to the Bucs. I’m not entirely certain how the Bucs feel about this, but the growing belief in the NFL is that you don’t take a running back in the first half of the first round. The logic behind that is that the NFL has become such a passing league that running backs don’t have the same value they once did. Yes, the Bucs need someone to go with LeGarrette Blount, but they can find that a bit later in the draft.

The conventional belief is that the Panthers are locked in on a defensive tackle or maybe even North Carolina defensive end Quinton Coples. But I went in a different direction. I took Boston College linebacker Luke Kuechly. Yeah, I know the Panthers have linebackers Jon Beason, Thomas Davis and James Anderson. But Davis is coming off his third ACL and Beason also is coming off a major injury. The Panthers have to come out of this draft with some players to improve their defense and I see Kuechly as the best defensive player available at No. 9.

Panthers keep DE depth

March, 30, 2012
The Carolina Panthers just announced they have re-signed defensive end Antwan Applewhite.

This is a move that gives the Panthers some solid depth behind Charles Johnson and Greg Hardy. I’m not prepared to say this takes Carolina out of the mix for North Carolina defensive end Quinton Coples if he’s available with the No. 9 pick in the draft. Coples could be a special player and the Panthers may take him, if they really like him.

But the return of Applewhite means it’s not urgent for the Panthers to get another defensive end. Applewhite made a bit of a surprising impact after being signed in October. He had 21 tackles, two sacks and one forced fumble while playing in 12 games.

Applewhite is versatile and athletic and could even line up at linebacker. He played for Carolina coach Ron Rivera when Rivera was defensive coordinator for the Chargers and that’s part of the reason he was signed. Applewhite was re-signed because he performed even better than the Panthers expected last season. With a full offseason and training camp, Applewhite could earn even more playing time in the rotation of the defensive line.

Around the NFC South

March, 21, 2012
Time for a look at the Wednesday morning headlines from around the NFC South.

Tampa Bay cornerback Aqib Talib has had his trial on an assault charge in Texas moved back to April 14. It had been scheduled for next week. Talib could face prison time if convicted, but the Bucs should know his fate before the NFL draft later in April.

In yet another sign that the Carolina Panthers really are intent on using newly-signed Mike Tolbert at fullback, Jerome Felton has signed with the Minnesota Vikings. Felton was Carolina’s fullback most of last year.

The Atlanta Falcons are suing eight of their former players in an attempt to get them to litigate workers compensation claims in Georgia instead of California.

Mike Triplett writes that Peyton Manning and the Broncos working out a contract so quickly is proof that the New Orleans Saints and Drew Brees could do the same. He’s right. But I think Brees and the Saints will continue to play this one out slowly. There’s no pending deadline and no big sense of urgency. Both sides are trying to get the best deal possible from their individual perspectives.

The Panthers had four representatives at North Carolina’s pro day on Tuesday and presumably they were keeping a close watch on defensive end Quinton Coples. He’s viewed as a top-10 talent and the most athletic pass-rusher in the draft. Carolina’s picking No. 9 and may have a bigger need at defensive tackle. But it’s tough to pass on a talented pass-rusher and the Panthers have to do their homework on Coples.
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.