NFC West: David DeCastro
The injury was a tough one for the Cardinals. They are rebuilding their long-neglected offensive line around Cooper, the seventh overall pick in the draft. Injuries sidelined multiple starters on the line last season, including left tackle Levi Brown and center Lyle Sendlein. Losing Cooper before he plays a regular-season game reduces the margin for error even though overall line depth is improved.
There is hope for Cooper. Other highly drafted offensive linemen have bounced back from injury-shortened rookie seasons in recent years. Russell Okung, taken sixth overall by the Seattle Seahawks in 2010, rebounded to earn Pro Bowl honors in his third season. Cincinnati's Andre Smith and Atlanta's Sam Baker have been more durable lately after rough early stretches.
The chart below ranks first-round offensive linemen from 2008 through 2012 by most games missed as rookies.
Chris McIntosh, Steve Hutchinson, James Carpenter, Okung and Jason Smith are five first-round offensive linemen from NFC West teams to miss time early in their careers since the NFL realigned into eight four-team divisions for the 2002 season. All but Hutchinson suffered significant injuries as a rookie. Hutchinson suffered a broken leg four games into his second season.
NFC West teams made two of those surprise selections: Bruce Irvin to the Seattle Seahawks and A.J. Jenkins to the San Francisco 49ers. I've listed four others in the chart below after consulting with our other seven divisional bloggers.
While it's possible the teams involved made poor decisions in some cases, accounting for the surprise factor, there's no question the rest of us could have done a better job anticipating. I'll set aside the Dallas Cowboys' selection of cornerback Morris Claiborne. We knew Dallas could take a corner, but there was little way we could know the Cowboys would trade into the sixth overall spot to make it happen.
But in breaking down the other surprise selections, we can hopefully avoid making similar mistakes in the future.
Jenkins and New York Giants first-round running back David Wilson fall into this category.
We knew the 49ers could target a receiver early. We figured running back would be a position for the Giants to address. We simply misidentified the players they were most likely to select.
I had projected Kendall Wright to San Francisco in a mock draft several weeks ago, but Tennessee selected him 20th overall, 10 spots before the 49ers selected. Stephen Hill and Rueben Randle, among others, were popular projections.
The knock on Jenkins was that he lacked sufficient physical strength. The 49ers are a very physical team. They have valued physical players. Josh Morgan was a physical wideout the team would have retained if Washington hadn't made an over-the-top contract offer.
In retrospect, however, perhaps we should have more closely considered the receivers San Francisco did sign this offseason. Mario Manningham has never been known as a physical player. Ted Ginn Jr. is not physical at all.
The 49ers now have drafted two wide receivers under coach Jim Harbaugh. Ronald Johnson, a sixth-round pick in 2011, was the one before Jenkins. Lack of physical strength was a knock on Johnson coming out of college.
So far, the 49ers have done a very good job evaluating personnel at just about every position, but receiver has been an exception. Perhaps that changes with Jenkins.
For the Giants, Doug Martin was the running back projected as a first-round candidate somewhat regularly. Tampa Bay drafted Martin at No. 31, one spot ahead of where the Giants were picking. That gave this draft three first-round backs, one more than was typically projected.
Irvin and Chicago Bears first-round defensive end Shea McClellin fall into this category.
We could put Irvin in the mistaken identity category as well because the Seahawks' need for a pass-rusher was well-established. But the projections commonly assumed Seattle would be looking for a more traditional defensive end, one big enough to hold up against the run.
In retrospect, we should have at least mentioned Irvin as a possibility.
Seattle gave run-stuffing defensive end Red Bryant a $35 million contract this offseason. Bryant is going to start and play early downs for the next few seasons. That meant the Seahawks were in the market more for a player in the "Leo" role filled by leading sacker Chris Clemons.
Irvin is that type of player. The other defensive ends commonly associated with Seattle before the draft were not "Leo" types. They would have projected as eventual starters on the other side, where Bryant appears entrenched.
What the Seahawks needed, from their perspective, was a pure pass-rusher to play a situational role similar to the one Aldon Smith played with San Francisco last season. That player, Irvin, would project as the eventual replacement for Clemons, most likely.
Syracuse's Chandler Jones, a common projection for Seattle in the days before the draft, could have fit that profile. Concerns over a toe injury probably hurt his stock.
In Chicago, meanwhile, the Bears' need for a defensive end was no secret. However, most projections seemed to suggest McClellin would make more sense as a 3-4 outside linebacker, perhaps in Green Bay. In retrospect, however, Bears assistant Rod Marinelli does tend to like smaller defensive ends. Perhaps McClellin should have been considered more strongly as a candidate for Chicago.
Positional evaluation error
I'd throw Stanford guard David DeCastro into this category.
The assumption heading into the draft was DeCastro would not be available when the Pittsburgh Steelers selected with the 24th overall choice. As a result, DeCastro wasn't commonly linked to Pittsburgh before the draft.
But as we discussed on the blog a while back, teams had taken only five pure guards among the top 17 overall selections since 1995. Only one had gone higher than 17th since 1998.
Guards have made significant gains in financial compensation over the years. However, teams still value other positions at a much higher level. Guard was a common projection for San Francisco at No. 30, but the 49ers did not select one until the fourth round.
There's a tendency to criticize teams for making decisions we did not see coming.
That is self-serving.
I'd rather take a closer look at the surprises and find out where the rest of us went wrong.
There was some thought the San Francisco 49ers might take a character risk by selecting North Alabama cornerback Janoris Jenkins with the 30th overall choice Thursday night.
Illinois' A.J. Jenkins is a receiver, not a cornerback. A.J. Jenkins was an all-academic selection in the Big Ten Conference, whereas Janoris Jenkins was arrested, suspended and kicked off the team at Florida before transferring to North Alabama.
Enough about that other Jenkins. A.J. is the only one who matters for the 49ers at this point. He joins a relatively crowded position and projects as a starter, but perhaps not immediately.
Scouts Inc. gave A.J. Jenkins high marks for intangibles, separation skills and ball skills while raising questions about his slight frame (6-foot, 190 pounds) and durability.
Nolan Nawrocki of Pro Football Weekly had this to say: "Lean, fast, slippery 'X' receiver boasting playmaking perimeter speed combined with quickness to separate short-to-intermediate. Best football might be ahead of him if he sharpens his route running, grows up and becomes more consistent."
The 49ers had needs at guard and cornerback, plus receiver. Guards David DeCastro and Kevin Zeitler were not available when the 49ers selected. The 49ers could have taken Stanford tight end Coby Fleener, reuniting him with Jim Harbaugh, but they didn't have a need at tight end.
That’s when James Walker, our AFC East representative, put out the word: “I’m willing to make a trade back with Buffalo at No. 10.”
Before anyone could respond, AFC South representative Paul Kuharsky announced he’d swung a deal with Dan Graziano of the NFC East. The Jaguars had traded the seventh overall choice and a sixth-rounder to Philadelphia for the 15th, 88th and 153rd selections.
The Eagles took defensive tackle Fletcher Cox at No. 7.
“By the way,” I wrote in an email to the group, “Seattle would love to trade back from 12.”
Then came the word from Walker, sent only to me, the NFC West rep: “Don’t make your pick at No. 12 yet. I have an offer from New England coming. Working out the point chart. First, I have to figure out Buffalo’s pick at No. 10.”
A few seconds passed before the AFC West’s Bill Williamson, unaware Walker had already made contact regarding the 12th pick, reached out to me in another email.
“If Melvin Ingram is on the board at 12,” Williamson wrote, “I might have San Diego come up from 18.”
This was intriguing. Seattle’s actual leadership had swung a deal with San Diego for quarterback Charlie Whitehurst a couple of years ago, so trade talks for the 12th pick seemed realistic. But the Seahawks also have a working relationship with the Patriots, having traded Deion Branch to them not all that long ago.
“Sounds good,” I replied to Bill. “James might also make an offer here.”
The potential deal with Williamson and San Diego was fleeting. Walker executed a trade with himself, allowing the New York Jets to move into Buffalo’s spot at No. 10. The Jets took Ingram, the player Williamson had wanted for San Diego.
The fun was only beginning.
Our eight divisional bloggers made four trades involving the seventh, 10th, 12th, 15th, 16th, 27th, 31st and 32nd overall choices, plus later considerations.
Five of our first-round selections in this mock failed to appear in our previous one. Jerel Worthy, Kevin Zeitler, Chandler Jones, Shea McClellin and Coby Fleener pushed out Rueben Randle, Andre Branch, Peter Konz, Kendall Wright and Mike Adams.
Courtney Upshaw, Dontari Poe and Stephen Hill made double-digit drops from then to now. Michael Brockers, Cordy Glenn, Stephon Gilmore and Cox climbed at least eight spots since last time.
We drafted seven defensive ends/outside linebackers, six offensive linemen, five defensive backs, four defensive tackles, three receivers, three quarterbacks, two inside linebackers, one tight end and one running back.
Mostly, we had some fun with the process. Thanks for coming along.
ESPN.com's NFL bloggers went through one final mock draft leading up to Thursday's start of the NFL draft. Here is how #ESPNbloggermock played out.
Analysis: We're going to hit at least one of the AFC South's four picks here, so we thank the Colts for that. Luck draws raves from all corners and gives Indianapolis another quarterback who could set high standards for more than a dozen years, like the guy he's replacing did. (Paul Kuharsky)
Analysis: A no-brainer for Washington, which traded three first-round picks and a second-rounder to move into this spot to take the young man they believe will be their next franchise quarterback. Skins fans have already been wearing Griffin's name and face on T-shirts for weeks. (Dan Graziano)
Analysis: I burned up the email lines trying to drum up interest for this pick, much as I imagine Vikings general manager Rick Spielman will do in the coming days and heading into Thursday night. But my colleagues were too smart for that, and I was more than happy to scoop up Kalil and presumably put quarterback Christian Ponder's mind at ease. (Kevin Seifert)
Analysis: Not buying into the Browns' interest in wide receiver Justin Blackmon or quarterback Ryan Tannehill. Richardson is clearly the best offensive player in the draft outside of Luck and RG3. The Browns' struggling offense needs an identity, and Richardson can instantly give it a tough one. (Jamison Hensley)
Analysis: Once Richardson went off the board, this became an easy call. The Bucs need to add a top-notch cornerback because Ronde Barber is nearing the end of his career and Aqib Talib could face prison time or a suspension. Even if Talib is able to play this season, he's headed into the last year of his contract. The Bucs addressed the position they needed to most. They can get a running back early in the second or third round. (Pat Yasinskas)
Analysis: Blackmon has long been a popular projection for the Rams. I'm not convinced he'll be the choice or even the first receiver drafted, but there was also a fear of overthinking the situation. (Mike Sando)
Analysis: The Eagles fell in love with Cox and were convinced he wouldn't get past Carolina at No. 9. So after the Rams picked Blackmon, Philadelphia offered Jacksonville the No. 15 pick and the No. 88 pick (third round) for the Jaguars' overall No. 7. Jacksonville countered by asking for a fifth-round pick (No. 153) and offering a sixth (No. 176), and the Eagles said yes. They get the guy they wanted and still have their two second-rounders. (Dan Graziano)
Analysis: There was speculation that Tannehill wouldn't make it to No. 8. The Dolphins do the right thing by not trading the farm to move up to No. 3. Miami gets its quarterback of the future to reunite with Dolphins offensive coordinator Mike Sherman. (James Walker)
Analysis: Defensive tackle is a consideration, but Cox is the only sure-fire player at that spot. With him gone, the Panthers go with another low-risk player. Kuechly was exceptionally productive in college and is NFL-ready. He can contribute right away and that's something the Panthers want from this pick. (Pat Yasinskas)
Analysis: Buffalo didn't like its spot at No. 10, and the Jets are hot on Ingram. So the two division rivals worked out a trade. The Jets get the dominant pass-rusher Rex Ryan covets, while the Bills get additional picks in the third, fifth and sixth rounds (Nos. 77, 154, 187). (James Walker)
Analysis: The Chiefs take a sure thing and an instant starter who strengthens a good offense. (Bill Williamson)
Analysis: The Patriots pull off a blockbuster trade with Seattle by giving up their two first-round picks (No. 27 and No. 31) for No. 12 overall and a fourth-rounder (No. 106). The Patriots, who were 31st against the pass, get the best safety in the draft. (James Walker)
Analysis: Floyd is arguably the most promising wide receiver in the draft. He would fit well in the Cardinals' offense while providing better value than the offensive tackles available at this point. (Mike Sando)
Analysis: They wanted Barron, and after the Pats made the bold move to trade up and take him at 12, the Cowboys looked into trading down. But they found no takers, so they took the highest defensive player on their board -- a versatile defensive lineman who deepens them at a key position and allows them to be flexible both with roster decisions and on-field alignments. (Dan Graziano)
Analysis: I didn't get a great haul in the trade. But the Jaguars could consider Gilmore at No. 7 and get him at 15 while picking up a third-rounder and swapping a sixth-rounder for a fifth-rounder. Corner is not the biggest need after the acquisition of Aaron Ross, but no defensive end or receiver screams to be taken at No. 7 or 15. Trade details: Eagles sent 15, 88, 153 to Jaguars for 7, 176. (Paul Kuharsky)
Analysis: Buffalo is happy it moved down six spots and still landed its target in Reiff. Left tackle was a rotating door in Buffalo last season, and Reiff has the ability to be a Day 1 starter to protect Bills quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick's blind side. Trade details: Jets sent 16, 77, 154 and 187 to Bills for 10. (James Walker)
Analysis: Things didn't go as planned in the first half of the draft for the Bengals, who watched guard David DeCastro, safety Mark Barron and cornerback Stephon Gilmore all get taken in the top 15. Defensive end isn't a major need for the Bengals, but it would be hard to resist taking a talent like Coples. Even though Coples has boom-or-bust potential, this is a pick based on best player available. (Jamison Hensley)
Analysis: The Chargers go for the best value on the board and take an impact defensive player. (Bill Williamson)
Analysis: The Bears were forced to play their starting defensive ends, Julius Peppers and Israel Idonije, on more than 80 percent of their plays last season. Depth, and a possible replacement for Idonije, was sorely needed. Mercilus seemed a better fit than Syracuse's Chandler Jones or Alabama's Courtney Upshaw. (Kevin Seifert)
Analysis: Perry provides a combination of size and speed that should round out the Titans' top four defensive ends and solidifies the position for the foreseeable future. If he can get to the quarterback with some regularity as a rookie, Tennessee can make a nice jump on defense. (Paul Kuharsky)
Analysis: The decision here came down to Glenn, wide receiver Kendall Wright or cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick. You could argue wide receiver is the bigger need, but Glenn is the better prospect. After failing to get DeCastro at No. 17, the Bengals turn to Glenn to make an immediate impact at right or left guard. (Jamison Hensley)
Analysis: This was a tough call because the Browns need speed at wide receiver, and Wright and Hill are sitting there. But that's the reason the pick is Martin. There are so many more wide receiver prospects available than offensive tackles, so the Browns have a better chance of seeing a wide receiver fall to them early in the second round. (Jamison Hensley)
Analysis: The Lions' secondary was their weakest link in 2011, and starter Eric Wright signed with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers during free agency. General manager Martin Mayhew isn't a need-based drafter, but the position is a high priority. I had hoped for Kirkpatrick's former teammate Mark Barron here, but he was long gone, and I didn't have the guts to take North Alabama cornerback Janoris Jenkins. (Kevin Seifert)
Analysis: Could the Steelers have envisioned a better draft unfolding than this? Pittsburgh would've been happy with Dont'a Hightower, Courtney Upshaw or even Amini Silatolu. Instead, Poe falls into their laps. He becomes the heir apparent to Casey Hampton. (Jamison Hensley)
Analysis: The Broncos would have pounced on Poe, but Worthy is a highly valued player who fills a huge hole. (Bill Williamson)
Analysis: The offensive line was a team strength a year ago, but gone are the right guard (Mike Brisiel) and the right tackle (Eric Winston). Houston loves Wisconsin players, and Zeitler will be ready to be plugged right in. We also thought hard about Bobby Massie and Rueben Randle. (Paul Kuharsky)
Analysis: Trading back was the plan all along. Jones has the length Seattle covets in its players on defense (think Brandon Browner, Richard Sherman, K.J. Wright, Kam Chancellor, etc.). Jones also fills an obvious need for a pass-rushing defensive end. Trade details: Patriots sent 27 and 31 to Seattle for 12 and 106. (Mike Sando)
Analysis: There were a number of possibilities here, but defensive coordinator Dom Capers loves to develop wrinkles off his 3-4 base, and McClellin is said to be versatile. It's possible the Packers could trade down and still get him at the top of the second round. (Kevin Seifert)
Analysis: The Ravens are always looking for pass-rushers, and Upshaw gives them another tone-setter on defense. He replaces Jarret Johnson in Baltimore's base defense and plays opposite Terrell Suggs as an edge rusher in passing situations. Upshaw has drawn comparisons to LaMarr Woodley, so you know he's an AFC North type of player. (Jamison Hensley)
Analysis: The 49ers face a long list of top quarterbacks this season. They lack glaring needs and should be able to find guard help later in the draft. Coby Fleener was a consideration, but the 49ers like their existing tight ends and could extend Delanie Walker's contract. (Mike Sando)
Analysis: The Seahawks need another tight end after losing John Carlson to the Vikings in free agency. Adding Jones at No. 27 gave them flexibility in this spot. Seattle entered draft week with 19 players from the Pac-12. Fleener would give them 20. Trade details: Patriots sent 27 and 31 to Seattle for 12 and 106. (Mike Sando)
Analysis: The Bills aren't done with a busy day of trading. Buffalo gets back in the first round by swapping a second-rounder and two fourth-rounders with the Giants. Hill is a big-play receiver to pair with Bills starter Steve Johnson. Hill averaged an astounding 29.3 yards per catch last season. Trade details: Giants trade 32 to Buffalo for 41, 105 and 124. (James Walker)
The chart below shows new projections from reporters covering the Seattle Seahawks, San Francisco 49ers and St. Louis Rams.
All three have the Rams and Seahawks drafting for defense. They all have the Arizona Cardinals drafting an offensive lineman and the 49ers drafting a pass-catcher of some sort.
I'll be participating in a live mock draft Monday at 1 p.m. ET, with trades permitted. Details to come.
Moving along ...
Kent Somers of the Arizona Republic checks in with Ken Whisenhunt and Rod Graves regarding the Cardinals' draft options. Somers: "Addressing the offensive line in the first round makes considerable sense. The Cardinals haven't drafted a lineman the past two seasons. They haven't taken one above the fifth round since selecting Brown fifth overall in 2007. They have tried to plug holes with veterans at the end of their careers (guard Alan Faneca) and low-round picks they hoped would develop (right tackle Brandon Keith). The results have been mixed at best."
Also from Somers: Whisenhunt points to continuity with Graves and personnel director Steve Keim as keys to success in the draft.
Darren Urban of azcardinals.com looks at whether the Arizona Cardinals need a stronger No. 2 receiver to pair with Larry Fitzgerald. Urban: "The Cardinals went to a Super Bowl with Anquan Boldin alongside Larry Fitzgerald, but one of the reasons the Cards were eventually comfortable with dealing Boldin was the success Fitzgerald and the passing game had even in games Boldin missed with injury." Noted: Kurt Warner was the constant.
Eric D. Williams of the Tacoma News Tribune has the Seahawks selecting Alabama inside linebacker Dont'a Hightower in his 2012 first-round mock draft. Williams: "Hawks might move down to get Hightower, but he fills an obvious need and will be the team's quarterback on defense for the next 10 years."
Danny O'Neil of the Seattle Times looks at the Seahawks' need for a linebacker, noting that general manager John Schneider says this draft has more good ones than the previous draft offered. Schneider: "It's completely different than it was last year. There's good numbers up there." Noted: Value could lead the Seahawks to draft a linebacker in the first round, but if there are more to be found throughout the draft, the team could have reason to draft early at a position featuring fewer talented prospects.
Dave Boling of the Tacoma News Tribune explains why he thinks Melvin Ingram might have more appeal to the Seahawks than Luke Kuechly. Boling: "Carroll and his staff like to find players with unique skills and then develop ways to work them into a scheme. While Kuechly looks to be a conventional middle linebacker type, Ingram could be more of a fun toy for Carroll."
Brock Huard of 710ESPN Seattle makes two observations after attending a charity event featuring most of the team: Team chemistry appears strong, and the Seahawks have become a much bigger team physically.
Jim Thomas of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch projects LSU cornerback Morris Claiborne to the Rams with the sixth overall pick after teams picking among the top five selected Justin Blackmon and Trent Richardson, among others.
Also from Thomas: The Rams need help at defensive tackle, but none of the top three prospects appears worthy of the sixth overall choice. Thomas: "In a deep defensive tackle class, there should be multiple options for the Rams at the top of the second round and perhaps even at the top of the third."
More from Thomas: a closer look at Claiborne and the cornerbacks. Thomas: "From a pure coverage standpoint, there are those who feel Claiborne is a significantly better prospect than his much-ballyhooed predecessor at LSU, Patrick Peterson, who went No. 5 overall in the 2011 draft to Arizona."
More yet from Thomas: New Rams linebacker Jo-Lonn Dunbar has good things to say about Gregg Williams.
Pat Yasinskas of ESPN.com says HBO has interest in the Baltimore Ravens and San Francisco 49ers as "Hard Knocks" alternatives to the Atlanta Falcons, who declined to participate. Noted: Tough to envision the 49ers accepting. Their football leadership has sought to close ranks.
Matt Maiocco of CSNBayArea.com passes along thoughts from 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh on GM Trent Baalke's suggestion the team has one player in mind for the 30th overall choice. Maiocco: "I think Trent's trying to be dramatic with you guys -- build the drama. There's several -- there's a lot of good guys. There are a lot of good guys we'd love to have at that pick. Having been through this once, most of the guys you recognize as great football players are going to be playing against you. That's just the fact of business. But getting the right guy, the right fit for our team, is what we're all focused on."
Matt Barrows of the Sacramento Bee has the 49ers drafting receiver Stephen Hill with the 30th pick.
Gwen Knapp of the San Francisco Chronicle looks at history precipitating the 49ers' impending stadium move from San Francisco to Santa Clara.
Eric Branch of the San Francisco Chronicle says new 49ers running back Brandon Jacobs has great speed -- on the highway.
Phil Barber of the Santa Rosa Press-Democrat outlines five positions to watch in the draft for San Francisco.
Mike Pouncey (15th 2011) and Mike Iupati (17th in 2010) were the only projected guards drafted among the top 17 overall selections in the last 10 drafts.
Before that, Steve Hutchinson was on a short list of highly drafted guards as the 17th player chosen in 2001.
So, how seriously would the Seahawks consider selecting a guard, David DeCastro, with the 12th overall choice this year?
Kevin Calabro, Jim Moore and I spent about 10 minutes Monday discussing that and other issues relating to the Seahawks on 710ESPN Seattle (audio here).
History says 12th overall is earlier than teams select guards, but I would not rule out the possibility.
The Seahawks did not value guards at a high level, in theory, when Mike Holmgren and Ted Thompson decided to select Hutchinson. But they obviously thought Hutchinson was good enough to warrant an exception. On a side note, current Seahawks general manager John Schneider was the Seahawks' player personnel director at the time.
Note: The chart shows guards drafted among the top-17 overall picks since 1995. Robert Gallery and other tackles have moved to guard during their NFL careers. The chart shows only those players drafted as guards. Damien Woody, chosen 17th overall by New England in 1999, was a candidate for inclusion. He was drafted as a center, however.
Full chat transcript here. A few highlights below:
Adam from Rancho Santa Margarita, Calif., enjoyed the mock draft comparison, but he's not so sure the San Francisco 49ers will seriously consider a guard in the first round. He thinks adding to the defensive line or finding a speed player at receiver would carry move value.
Mike Sando: Thanks, Adam. I understand what the mock drafters are thinking. They are going with perceived needs because it's tougher to figure out value differentials for players drafted later in the first round. It's easy to give the 49ers a guard at that point in the draft. I agree with the thinking that a team should be able to develop a guard chosen later in the draft. It's OK to take a guard early if you're getting a special one, but harder to justify in other cases. The 49ers have a great defense already, but if they could find someone to project as an eventual Justin Smith successor, that would help the team. Bucky Brooks had that thought in mind in putting together his mock, which I linked to from the item you referenced.
D from Valley of the Sun thinks value would compel the Arizona Cardinals to select David DeCastro in the first round, if available. The team could move Adam Snyder to tackle, then draft a tackle in the third round, a pass-rusher in the fourth (think Sam Acho last year) and a receiver after that. Emphasizing the ground game would help Kevin Kolb this season, in his view.
Mike Sando: You've thought through the scenario well, I would say. That is a less-than-ideal scenario, however. The team already spent big for left guard Daryn Colledge in free agency. Investing a first-round choice in a right guard just doesn't seem like the preferred path philosophically. Beanie Wells and Ryan Williams need to stay healthy, first and foremost. Wells had 1,000 yards last season despite not being healthy much of the time. The thought of Snyder at right tackle isn't appealing, either. Jeremy Bridges might be a better starting option there.
Corey from Washington, D.C., proposes the following scenario: Ryan Tannehill slips past Cleveland at No. 4; Seattle trades up with Miami to take Quinton Coples at No. 8; and the Dolphins select Tannehill at No. 12, a position Corey deemed "more respectable" for the Texas A&M quarterback. "For the record, I have a hard time buying Kansas City passingon Luke Kuechly to get a raw QB, which I factored in," he added.
Mike Sando: I question whether the Dolphins would have the patience to try such a move. They're likely desperate for a quarterback. Can they really afford to get cute if they think Tannehill is their guy? I don't see how they could do that, given the risk of losing the player.
Roland from Winnipeg notes that three of the 14 mock drafts cited had the St. Louis Rams passing on Justin Blackmon for Fletcher Cox. He likes the thinking because he sees quality receivers available later, but he wonders whether the Rams have a great enough need at defensive tackle to justify the decision.
Mike Sando: The Rams are starting over in a lot of areas, but especially at defensive tackle. They flushed out Fred Robbins and are starting almost from scratch there. The thinking on Fletcher Cox would reflect Jeff Fisher's general belief that you build with a strong running game and strong defense. Yes, you need playmakers too, but the first priority is to take pressure off the QB by running the ball, perhaps diminishing the need to build right away with a receiver taken sixth overall, especially if that receiver isn't as appealing as some of the other receivers taken very early in drafts. Cox would then be a value selection.
Thanks for keeping the conversation going. The NFC West chat will return to its usual Thursday schedule next week.
Enjoy your Wednesday night.
Joe from Fort Worth asked about the Arizona Cardinals' chances for acquiring a second-round choice to replace the one they sent to Philadelphia in the Kevin Kolb trade.
"I'd like to hear your thought process regarding your answer -- the philosophy of the decision makers, needs of the team, depth and/or positional strength of this draft, etc.," Joe wrote.
The Cardinals hold the 13th overall choice, so we start there.
In 2001, Buffalo traded the 14th pick to Tampa Bay for the 21st and 51st picks.
In 2010, Denver traded the 13th overall choice (acquired from San Francisco) to Philadelphia for the 24th choice and two third-rounders (70th, 87th).
In other cases, teams moved back five or six spots from No. 13 for packages including a pick in the 70s or 80s overall, plus lesser considerations.
Sliding back five or six spots would be a realistic expectation for the Cardinals.
San Diego picks 18th and Chicago 19th, to name two potential trading partners in such a scenario. Both teams have acted aggressively and with urgency this offseason. That could indicate a willingness to move up in the draft for a specific player.
The Chargers' front office and coaching staff narrowly averted getting fired following a disappointing 2011 season. The Bears replaced general manager Jerry Angelo with Phil Emery, who traces some of his philosophy to New England's Bill Belichick via Atlanta's Thomas Dimitroff.
Dimitroff, who orchestrated the Falcons' bold trade to acquire the sixth overall choice of the 2011 draft, described Emery as "aggressive" and part of a new wave of GMs.
"I believe this is indicative of where we are as team builders in this league as far as making bold, aggressive moves if we deem they’ll be impactful for our team," Dimitroff told the Chicago Sun-Times, speaking of Emery's move to acquire receiver Brandon Marshall.
Arizona needs a tackle and might see little choice but to select one if, say, Riley Reiff or another highly rated prospect were available. But if the tackle-needy Bears were willing to part with the 19th and 50th choices for a chance to move up, would they consider it?
San Diego could use a guard to replace the recently retired Kris Dielman. Would the Chargers part with the 18th and 49th choices for a shot at, say, David DeCastro? Might they consider moving up for other players, as AFC West blogger Bill Williamson suggested they might? And what might they pay to do so?
We cannot answer such questions definitively. The teams themselves might not know the answers. But we can have fun considering the possibilities, and hopefully learn something along the way.
Thanks, Joe, for advancing the conversation.
Adam Snyder is out, having signed with Arizona. Chilo Rachal appears to be out, having reached free agency without the 49ers showing much interest in him. Daniel Kilgore remains, but he remains a developmental player entering his second NFL season.
What about swing tackle Alex Boone?
Matt Maiocco of CSNBayArea.com says the 49ers are expected to give Boone a shot at the job. Former NFL center LeCharles Bentley, who helps train Boone during the offseason, had this to say about the idea: "Honestly, in their scheme, guards are a dime a dozen. A good young offensive tackle is such a premium. It would be a waste of ability. .. But if he's one of the five best, yeah, get him on the field." Noted: The 49ers paid more than a dime for left guard Mike Iupati, a first-round choice in 2010, the year before Jim Harbaugh arrived as the 49ers' head coach. Boone could, in theory, remain a backup option at tackle even while playing guard. At 6-foot-8 and 300 pounds, however, Boone looks like a tackle, not a guard. Bentley thinks the team should move right tackle Anthony Davis to guard, but there are no indications the 49ers plan to head in that direction.
Also from Maiocco: lists players scheduled to attend the 49ers' pro day for local prospects.
Eric Branch of the San Francisco Chronicle says the 49ers have shown interest in tight end Andre Hardy, a college basketball player.
Matt Barrows of the Sacramento Bee says the 49ers made little apparent effort to keep safety Madieu Williams, who reached agreement on a contract with the Washington Redskins. Noted: The 49ers signed Williams last offseason while Dashon Goldson remained a free agent. They then signed Goldson to a one-year deal. They had less need for Williams as an insurance policy with the franchise tag restricting Goldson this offseason.
Jim Thomas of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch points during a recent chat to Jeff Fisher's history in suggesting the Rams probably will not select guard David DeCastro with the sixth overall choice. What if Matt Kalil were available? Thomas: "No. 6 is too high for DeCastro. Plus, I think it's been pretty well established that Fisher would rather not taken an offensive lineman in the first round. He didn't do it once in 16 full seasons with Houston/Tennessee. So it'll be very interesting if Kalil's there at No. 6, as was the case in the P-D's latest mock draft from last Sunday. Do the Rams take him or trade down?"
Also from Thomas: The Rams might need to draft a punter after watching Donnie Jones sign with the Houston Texans.
Clare Farnsworth of seahawks.com shares what various mock drafts are projecting for Seattle in the first round this year. Luke Kuechly showed up four times and Quinton Coples twice. Nick Perry and Fletcher Cox each showed up once. Pat Kirwan of CBSSports.com: "The Seahawks could go in a few directions at this spot, but Kuechly makes the most sense to me to QB Pete Carroll’s defense. As Carroll said to me last week, linebackers in free agency moved off the board slowly because there are some very interesting linebackers in the draft."
Also from Farnsworth: Ricardo Lockette's speed overshadows other parts of the receiver's game.
Danny O'Neil of the Seattle Times has this to say about new Seahawks guard Deuce Lutui: "Lutui was signed to a one-year deal. That's not a long-term investment. Rather, it's an opportunity for Lutui to play his way back into position to earn a longer-term contract, going to a team coached by a man he's familiar with. For Seattle, the upside is that if Lutui is motivated and in shape, the Seahawks are getting a former second-round draft pick who started for five seasons at a bargain of a price."
Brady Henderson of 710ESPN Seattle passes along Adam Schefter's note about former 49ers and Saints nose tackle Aubrayo Franklin paying a free-agent visit to the Seahawks. Noted: Former 49ers general manager Scot McCloughan works for the Seahawks now, giving Seattle a feel for Franklin.
Darren Urban of azcardinals.com has details on Adrian Wilson's cameo appearance on "Hawaii Five-O" Monday night. Wilson was a prison guard on the show. Urban: "The scene was shot while Wilson was in Hawaii recently, although his spot in the show was somewhat of a fluke. One of his publicists, Carrie Carnie, got to talking to one of the producers of the show on an airline flight. Turned out the producer was a fan of Wilson’s and the role was created. It's not exactly Wilson’s arena, though. While the actual scene was being shot, it was fun, he said. But mostly, 'there was a lot of time in between shots, just waiting around.' "
Also from Urban: Cardinals guard Chris Stewart put on hold his pursuit of a law degree to play in the NFL. Urban: "He got his bachelor’s degree in history and political science in just three years at Notre Dame, and after redshirting his freshman year on the football field, he ended up with two years of football eligibility left with every option open for classes. The first year he took grad school courses trying to find his life’s direction, including some law courses. The next year -- his senior year on the football field -- he decided to work out the logistics, take the LSAT, and enter Notre Dame’s law school."
Their division rivals did make up ground as the season progressed.
The 49ers outscored Arizona, Seattle and St. Louis by a combined seven points in rematches last season, down from a 58-point gap the first time around. The Cardinals defeated the 49ers in Week 14 while winning seven of their final nine games. Two weeks later, Seattle led San Francisco with three minutes remaining in an eventual two-point defeat.
The question this offseason was whether the 49ers' rivals could do enough to close the gap. That quest will continue with the draft, where the 49ers will be picking much later than the rest of the West.
Matt Williamson of Scouts Inc. joined the conversation Tuesday with a look at what NFC West teams have done and the possibilities that await. We begin with the Cardinals.
Best move: Using the franchise tag for Calais Campbell was smart, but also an easy call once the sides failed to reach agreement on a long-term deal before free agency. Williamson: "After that, picking up William Gay was probably their best move. Not that he is great, but he does not embarrass himself, the coordinator is very familiar with him, he can start and he is a solid nickel. I would rather have Richard Marshall, but not by leaps and bounds. Both are low-end starters. Signing Gay stops the bleeding a little bit. It means you don't feel the need to take a corner super high in the draft."
Worst move: Failing to buy insurance at tackle stands out as the obvious one. Demetress Bell was one option, but Philadelphia signed him for what amounts to a one-year deal with an option for more. Levi Brown's return to a cap-friendlier deal made some sense without upgrading anything. Williamson took issue with the team's decision to sign guard/tackle Adam Snyder from San Francisco for a deal including a $5 million signing bonus. Williamson: "The worst move would be an inability to upgrade on the offensive line. I don't like Snyder at all. I watched him and thought, 'Man, he is awful.' I can live with him as maybe the sixth guy because he can play multiple positions, but even then, I'm not thrilled. And the Cardinals played against him twice a year. I'll bet their defensive linemen are rolling their eyes."
Williamson's ideal first-round scenario: "I don't love where they sit based on their needs. They are a good candidate to trade down, and without a second-round pick, that makes more sense for them. They would jump on Michael Floyd, but I think he goes in the top 10. He would fit given their need for a solid receiver opposite Larry Fitzgerald, but it almost has to be offensive line. I don't love the tackles who are likely to be available in this spot. I would live with Riley Reiff, but he might not be there and he looks like just an average starting offensive tackle. They would be reaching on Mike Adams there. He can work out fine. David DeCastro would be great, but that is not really the need. They need tackles more than inside guys."
San Francisco 49ers
Best move: We could single out re-signing Carlos Rogers or franchising Dashon Goldson or even making sure Ahmad Brooks did not reach free agency. Or we could focus on the collective, as Williamson chose to do. Williamson: "I was extremely impressed in their ability to bring back the best defense in the league. They had guys who easily could have left in free agency. You would expect them to take a hit or two. Instead, the 49ers kept their guys. That was the home-run move of the Niners this offseason."
Worst move: We won't take issue with the 49ers' inability to land Peyton Manning. They tried, but in the end, they could not force Manning to make what arguably would have been the best football decision for him. While there was much to like about the 49ers' offseason, Williamson questioned Brandon Jacobs' signing: "I just don’t think he is all that good of a football player. He needs room to operate and isn't a very good receiver. I would rather use a third-round pick on back than sign Jacobs. He is not consistent. If you just watch his highlights, he's great. But he gets hit in the backfield, it takes him a while to get going and the Giants started using Ahmad Bradshaw, a much smaller back, more as the goal-line guy a lot of the time."
Williamson's ideal first-round scenario: "Addressing the offensive line, I think. They are another team that could trade up or down. I don't see a wonderful fit for them. The guard from Midwestern State, Amini Silatolu, might be a really nice player to plug in at right guard. I'll bet Jim Harbaugh is high on Coby Fleener and I would understand that. Delanie Walker is entering the final year of his contract. Fleener would be one more weapon to make Alex Smith's life easier. Maybe a Rueben Randle type of guy would work, too, but all of a sudden you can't keep all these receivers on the roster."
St. Louis Rams
Best move: Easy call here. The Rams got good value for the second overall choice, sending it to the Washington Redskins for the sixth and 39th choices this year, plus first-round selections in 2013 and 2014. They've got a veteran first-year head coach with the job security to use those selections over the next few seasons. With Sam Bradford already in place at quarterback, the Rams were not interested in taking Robert Griffin III second overall, so moving out of that spot made sense.
Worst move: While the draft choices acquired from Washington help for the long term, the Rams still haven't done much to improve the odds for Bradford in 2012. Williamson and I could not point to any one example of the Rams failing to add a specific player. The team did not have obvious options, in other words. Williamson: "They did not screw up in one instance, but collectively, not doing anything at tight end, receiver or running back beyond signing Steve Smith was not good. They will probably use some high picks in the draft on offense, but is that going to help this year? You have to get a guy or two to make Bradford's life a little easier. It wouldn't kill them to get a Jerricho Cotchery, a chain-moving veteran. But it is a deep receiver draft and they probably want to go young."
Williamson's ideal first-round scenario: "Matt Kalil will be gone, but I sit there and take Morris Claiborne, Justin Blackmon or Trent Richardson. I probably would take Claiborne first considering their needs, but he is probably not there. Blackmon would be my last choice because he is not as good as those other guys, but he certainly would address the biggest need. Richardson is the best prospect and has the Jeff Fisher mentality. He could be his Eddie George for years and years. I love where the Rams sit. I do not want them to trade back. They should not trade to No. 10 and lose one of those stud players. They need studs. They have so many picks in the coming years. They have to stay in the top six and get one of those three players I mentioned. There's a drop after that."
Best move: The Seahawks made a few good ones, from keeping Red Bryant to re-signing Marshawn Lynch before free agency. Adding quarterback Matt Flynn at a reasonable price (for a quarterback) stands above the others. Williamson: "I don't love Flynn, but I don't know how you can't commend a team when they get better at quarterback. They are not leaps and bounds better, but they are better and it's such an important position. Of all their moves, I cannot come up with an unimpressive one. Jason Jones will be a really good fit as well."
Worst move: The team did not improve its outside pass rush, watching Mario Williams and Kamerion Wimbley sign elsewhere. But Williams in particular was not a serious consideration. Williamson pointed to David Hawthorne's departure as potentially the worst move. Williamson: "Letting Hawthorne go was probably a mistake. They made a desperation signing with Barrett Ruud in the meantime because they need bodies. It is a position you can find in the draft and free agency. It's better than being light at tackle or wideout. Ruud is a very overrated player and I said it a year ago when he left Tampa. He is a decent tackler, but he is not physical, he lacks range and makes a lot of plays chasing guys eight yards downfield. He is a backup now, but people probably look at him as a starter. I just don't agree with that."
Williamson's ideal first-round scenario: They have to be looking at Luke Kuechly. He would be a leader of your defense and a great fit. They have to consider the rush end from USC, Nick Perry, if Pete Carroll likes him. He could be the next Chris Clemons and line up opposite him on passing downs for now. Carroll would know. You add Jason Jones with a hand on the ground at defensive tackle and Brandon Mebane or whoever next to him, and suddenly the front four can get after people. The draft will probably work out well for Seattle. Someone better than Perry will fall to them, whether it's David DeCastro, Kuechly, Michael Floyd or even Ryan Tannehill. I think they would jump on Ryan Tannehill if he is there at No. 12 and maybe even consider moving up to seven to get him. To me, he is a franchise quarterback and they do not have one on their roster, even though they got better at the position."
"He's a good player, not a great player," Jerry wrote. "At No. 6, the Rams need a great player."
Jerry makes a worthwhile point in relation to the sixth overall choice. The word "good" resonated with me because one of the draft analysts I've followed over the years, Nolan Nawrocki, recently used the same term to describe Blackmon in his 2012 Pro Football Weekly Draft Preview.
"A good, accomplished football player," Nawrocki wrote, nonetheless projecting Blackmon as a top-10 talent.
Jerry thinks the Rams would come out ahead targeting Stanford guard David DeCastro, who scouts have compared to seven-time Pro Bowler Steve Hutchinson. He thinks Blackmon would then fall far enough in the first round for the Rams to consider trading up from the second round into range to select him in the 20s.
"I see a lot of people saying the Rams will take Blackmon but that is purely filling a need and not marrying need and value," Jerry wrote. "With the new CBA in place, drafting a guard high is now reasonable. Besides, I don’t even think Blackmon is the best WR in the draft. It is Michael Floyd. Just give him a free chauffeur and he’ll stay out of trouble."
In a best-case scenario, the Rams' first-round pick would start right away and score touchdowns. Blackmon would presumably fit that profile, but what if DeCastro or someone else were an appreciably better player? That is the question Jerry is raising.
The Rams' obvious need for playmaking help could tempt them to reach in this draft. As the Rams build up their roster, they should enjoy greater flexibility in the draft. They recently signed former Philadelphia Eagles receiver Steve Smith. They have a visit scheduled with Jerome Simpson, free-agent receiver from the Cincinnati Bengals, Jim Thomas reports.
As for Blackmon, the chart from ESPN Stats & Information shows his production falling from 2010 to 2011 on passes traveling at least 20 yards past the line of scrimmage.
However, Blackmon caught 30 of 36 red zone passes thrown to him in 2011, scoring 12 touchdowns on those plays. His 20 touchdown receptions on red zone throws are the most among college players since 2010.
The NFL's transformation into a pass-happy league has sent teams scrambling for ways to keep up defensively.
Perhaps that explains why defensive linemen and 3-4 outside linebacker types dominated ESPN.com's first NFL Blog Network mock draft for 2012.
AFC West blogger Bill Williamson snapped up three of them for the division he covers. Six other defensive linemen and 3-4 outside linebackers found homes elsewhere in the first round.
Offensive linemen (seven), defensive backs (five) and wide receivers (five) accounted for most of the remaining first-round selections.
In keeping with the pass-oriented theme, Alabama's Trent Richardson was the lone running back selected, landing in Cleveland with the fourth overall choice.
And, of course, we kicked off the mock with a couple of quarterbacks.
Analysis: They look at Luck and see a young guy who reminds them of the quarterback the franchise selected first overall in 1998. (Paul Kuharsky)
Analysis: Not much mystery here. The Redskins traded three first-round picks and a second-round pick to get to this spot, from which they believe they're taking their next franchise quarterback. The only way they don't take Griffin here is if the Colts take him, in which case the Redskins will happily take Luck. (Dan Graziano)
Analysis: The Vikings would love to trade down a few spots, presumably with a team that wants to draft Texas A&M quarterback Ryan Tannehill. But barring a deal, Kalil is the best player remaining on the board and the Vikings just so happen to need a long-term starter at left tackle. We're not buying (yet) any of general manager Rick Spielman's posturing about LSU cornerback Morris Claiborne. (Kevin Seifert)
Analysis: Not buying the speculation that the Browns will take Texas A&M QB Ryan Tannehill here. The Browns tipped their hand when coach Pat Shurmur and general manager Tom Heckert skipped Tannehill's pro day to watch Richardson, the draft's only elite running back who can be the centerpiece of Cleveland's offense. (Jamison Hensley)
Analysis: The Bucs could be considering Richardson and he's a possibility if he stays on the board. But Claiborne is the top cornerback in this draft. The Bucs need a long-term replacement for veteran Ronde Barber and could need a short-term replacement for Aqib Talib, who could face prison time or a league suspension. (Pat Yasinskas)
Analysis: The Rams are eager to find weapons for quarterback Sam Bradford. They had a tough time addressing that area during free agency despite an aggressive approach that led to deals with Cortland Finnegan, Scott Wells and others. The last time the Rams drafted a WR sixth overall, they landed Torry Holt. (Mike Sando)
Analysis: If he catches on quickly and can have an impact as a pass-rusher, Ingram can be the final piece for a very good defense. (Paul Kuharsky)
Analysis: Tannehill shot up the draft boards fast and may be a tad overrated at No. 8. But Miami needs a quarterback of the future in the worst way, and this is the best of what's left. Both Matt Moore and David Garrard have one year left on their contracts, leaving it open for Tannehill to take over in 2013. (James Walker)
Analysis: There's a common assumption the Panthers are locked in on getting a defensive tackle. That could end up happening. But they're open to all options and Kuechly might be the best player available. This team needs help anywhere it can add it on defense. (Pat Yasinskas)
Analysis: Going receiver here is the sexy pick. But getting an offensive tackle to protect QB Ryan Fitzpatrick's blind side is the smart pick. Reiff received great coaching at Iowa, which has become Offensive Tackle U. He closes Buffalo's revolving door at left tackle for the foreseeable future. (James Walker)
Analysis: The Chiefs would be thrilled to see Poe on the board at 11. He is the best player available who fits their biggest need. Poe has a chance to be a dynamic player on a defense full of young talent. (Bill Williamson)
Analysis: The Seahawks ranked fifth in takeaways, seventh in points allowed and ninth in yards allowed last season, but their pass rush was lacking. Coples would give them a badly needed pass-rusher opposite Chris Clemons, who had 11 of the team's 33 sacks during the 2011 season. Linebacker is another need position. (Mike Sando)
Analysis: The Cardinals could also use an offensive tackle and possibly another receiver. Michael Floyd was a consideration here. But in Upshaw, the team would be targeting a potential No. 1 pass-rusher, providing welcome support for promising youngsters Sam Acho and O'Brien Schofield. The Cardinals have no second-round pick, and pass-rush help is at a premium. (Mike Sando)
Analysis: They were hoping Upshaw would fall to them, as he'd upgrade the pass rush instantly and could make Anthony Spencer expendable before long. But with Upshaw gone one pick before, the Cowboys stick with the national champs and take a safety to upgrade their biggest 2011 weakness: the secondary. (Dan Graziano)
Analysis: Michael Brockers was tempting, but the pick here is Cox because he provides a pass rush from the interior of the defensive line right away and could be more NFL-ready than Brockers at this point. The Eagles are a win-now team that relies on its defensive line to pressure the passer, and Cox fits nicely into their interior line rotation. (Dan Graziano)
Analysis: The Jets would like to go defense here under head coach Rex Ryan. But with Alabama DE/OLB Courtney Upshaw and safety Mark Barron both off the board, drafting Floyd is a good fallback option. Floyd has a chance to start from Day 1 opposite Santonio Holmes and gives quarterback Mark Sanchez a much-needed weapon. (James Walker)
Analysis: The Bengals need a starting right guard, and DeCastro is the best guard in the draft. Smart and fundamentally sound, DeCastro is one of the safest picks this year and would extend the Bengals' recent good fortune in the draft. (Jamison Hensley)
Analysis: Mercilus is the best pass-rusher on the board at No. 18 and the Chargers would be happy to take him. He could be a slight over-draft, but he has big league potential. (Bill Williamson)
Analysis: Coach Lovie Smith expressed confidence last week in left tackle J'Marcus Webb, but rarely will you hear a coach say otherwise until he has an upgraded replacement. Webb was penalized 15 times last season and gave up 12 sacks, according to Pro Football Focus. Martin would provide an upgrade at a key position. (Kevin Seifert)
Analysis: They can go many different directions, but Kamerion Wimbley doesn't solve their pass-rush issues by himself, and Perry can help. (Paul Kuharsky)
Analysis: Cincinnati has done a great job in bolstering the depth at cornerback in free agency, signing Jason Allen and Adam Jones. But the Bengals, who eventually need to replace veteran Nate Clements, can't pass on the second-best cornerback falling into their laps. (Jamison Hensley)
Analysis: The Browns need speed and a deep threat. Look no further than Hill, who averaged 29.3 yards per catch last season (albeit 28 receptions) and ran faster than Baylor's Kendall Wright at the NFL combine. (Jamison Hensley)
Analysis: ESPN.com colleagues chose Gilmore in my absence based on an obvious need the Lions have at cornerback. Starter Eric Wright departed via free agency, and the Lions' pass defense collapsed in the second half of 2011. General manager Martin Mayhew doesn't draft for need, but Gilmore would address a big one. (Kevin Seifert)
Analysis: Inside linebacker is a big need for the Steelers after they released James Farrior. Hightower excelled in Alabama's 3-4 defense and was the unquestioned leader on the nation's top defense. Seems like a perfect fit. (Jamison Hensley)
Analysis: The Broncos would gladly snag Brockers. Defensive tackle is, by far, their most pressing need, and the versatile Brockers is a good value at No. 25. (Bill Williamson)
Analysis: Randle's size will make him a nice target for Matt Schaub and the Texans, and he brings a lot of upside to an offense that's already quite good. (Paul Kuharsky)
Analysis: The Patriots need athleticism on defense and the ability to rush the passer from the outside. Branch can help replace the combined 20 sacks New England lost this offseason with the departures of DEs Mark Anderson and Andre Carter. (James Walker)
Analysis: In my absence, ESPN.com colleagues chose Konz, the draft's top center, knowing that veteran Jeff Saturday is likely a one-year bridge from departed starter Scott Wells. General manager Ted Thompson will almost certainly draft a center, but he might wait until a later round knowing he has 2012 insurance in Saturday. (Kevin Seifert)
Analysis: The Ravens have a history of top prospects falling to them in the first round. Their luck would continue with Glenn, an athletic and versatile blocker who would start immediately at left guard. (Jamison Hensley)
Analysis: Receiver was the team's obvious top need heading into free agency. Adding Randy Moss and Mario Manningham bought some flexibility, but Moss represents a short-term investment. The 49ers could use another young receiver to grow with Alex Smith and, eventually, Colin Kaepernick. (Mike Sando)
Analysis: The Patriots were surprised such a top-end talent is available at No. 31. Sure, Jenkins comes with some character concerns. But New England's strong locker-room leadership will make sure it gets the best out of Jenkins, who has the physical ability to develop into a legit No. 1 corner. (James Walker)
Analysis: This was a tough call, because Syracuse defensive end Chandler Jones just looks so much like a Giants pick. He's a super-athletic, high-upside pass-rusher from Tom Coughlin's alma mater. I mean, if Adams weren't on the board, this would have been a slam dunk. And the Giants still could go this way, or with Nebraska LB Lavonte David or Stanford TE Coby Fleener. But there's nothing wrong with Adams' upside potential, either. He becomes the Giants' starting right tackle right away, and if Will Beatty doesn't pan out, Adams has the ability to someday play on the left side. (Dan Graziano)
Their new deal with Alex Smith could last one, two or three seasons. They could hand over the offense to Colin Kaepernick at any point along the way. Signing veteran Josh Johnson to a two-year deal Thursday gives the team depth behind Kaepernick if the team does transition away from Smith.
Johnson was not coveted in the market this offseason, but the fit with San Francisco should be a good one. He played for coach Jim Harbaugh at the University of San Diego, which means the 49ers know what they are getting. It also means Johnson will have a decent grasp of the offense, most likely.
Scott Tolzien is the fourth quarterback. He has eligibility for the practice squad.
Eric Branch of the San Francisco Chronicle says Harbaugh and Johnson enjoy a special bond. Branch: "Harbaugh saw something in Johnson nearly a decade ago when nearly no on else did. At Oakland Tech, Johnson, then 5-9 and 160 pounds, spend most of his time handing off to his cousin, Seahawks running back Marshawn Lynch. No matter, the day after Harbaugh was hired at USD, he visited Johnson. The only other school to recruit him was St. Mary’s, which has since dropped its football program. Nearly a decade later, after throwing for 113 touchdowns and 15 interceptions in college, Johnson finds himself in a similar spot. In a four-year NFL career, he’s made five starts, thrown five touchdowns and 10 interceptions and posted a 57.7 rating. But now he’s back with the coach of whom he’s said 'he makes your strengths become your greatness and makes your weaknesses become your strengths.' "
Jim Thomas of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch says the Rams have re-signed offensive lineman Quinn Ojinnaka. Thomas: "He probably will serve as the Rams' third tackle rather than as a starter, which means free-agent Adam Goldberg's six-year tenure with the team probably has ended. Ojinnaka, 6-5, 295, also can play guard. He spent four seasons with Atlanta, from his rookie season in 2006 through '09, so Rams general manager Les Snead and offensive line coach Paul Boudreau know him from their time with the Falcons' organization. In six NFL seasons, Ojinnaka has appeared in 58 games with 15 starts."
Darren Urban of azcardinals.com says re-signing D'Anthony Batiste makes sense because the Cardinals need depth at offensive tackle. Urban: "The Cards have a few representatives at Stanford’s pro day today -- including head coach Ken Whisenhunt -- and part of the Stanford attraction is projected first-round offensive linemen Jonathan Martin, a tackle, and David DeCastro, a guard. At this point, free agent tackle Demetrius Bell, who visited last week, has not signed anywhere. Multiple possibilities remain in play."
Brock Huard of 710ESPN Seattle goes on camera to offer thoughts on the Seahawks' offseason to this point.
Steve Kelley of the Seattle Times says Seahawks general manager John Schneider has demonstrated a strong feel for the draft. Kelley: "In the draft last year, they plugged two more offensive line holes, but they also found a starting linebacker, K.J. Wright, in the fourth round and a starting cornerback, Richard Sherman, in the fifth. They got starting corner Brandon Browner from the CFL, and signed undrafted free-agent receivers Doug Baldwin and Ricardo Lockett. They found players where other teams weren't looking."
We discussed the previous one before the combine and covered the updated one relating to the San Francisco 49ers earlier Thursday.
The Arizona Cardinals are up next. They hold the 13th overall choice.
13. Arizona Cardinals: Michael Floyd, WR, Notre Dame
Kiper's give: Offensive line would be the more obvious pick here, but I want to see what the Cardinals do in free agency first. Floyd would be a great complement to Larry Fitzgerald in that offense, and give the Cardinals an enviable pair of guys who can work underneath, go deep and also post up smaller defensive backs in the red zone. Outside of the offensive line, Floyd is as much as you could do to help a quarterback.
Sando's take: This represents quite a change from Kiper. Stanford tackle Jonathan Martin was his choice for Arizona in the previous mock. Martin fell nowhere in Kiper's first round during this most recent mock. This surprised me and also surprised Kevin Gemmell, writing for our Pac-12 blog. The other top Stanford offensive lineman in this draft, David DeCastro, remained available when Kiper projected Floyd to the Cardinals. He projects more at guard, where the Cardinals invested last offseason, adding Daryn Colledge in free agency. Receiver qualifies as a second-tier need for the Cardinals, in my view. The team needs better quarterback play to maximize its existing wideouts. Fitzgerald was good enough last season to transcend the quarterback issues. Other receivers cannot do that to the same degree. The group behind Fitzgerald would presumably improve quite a bit if the Cardinals signed Peyton Manning.
Tuesday brought a first look at free agency for NFC West teams. Now comes a first look at the draft, to be revisited as teams add and subtract players in free agency.
Thanks to those who left comments suggesting topics for this space. I've targeted a few for future items and drawn on the general thrust — more free agency and draft stuff, please — for this one. The comments affirmed how much we look forward to NFL offseasons.
Steve Muench of Scouts Inc. offered general thoughts on potential considerations for each team.
Here we go ...
St. Louis Rams
First-round position: second overall.
Three primary needs: WR, OLB, OL
In the spotlight: Matt Kalil, OT, USC
Mocking it up: Kiper has the Rams selecting Oklahoma State wide receiver Justin Blackmon. McShay has them selecting USC offensive tackle Matt Kalil.
Muench's thoughts: "The first thing that jumps out at me is the value at No. 2. Blackmon is the best receiver in the group, but No. 2 is way too rich to take a receiver in this draft, especially Blackmon, who is not Julio Jones or A.J. Green. The Rams need help at outside linebacker, but the value is not there. This defensive tackle class is very poor. When you look at those offensive tackles and what the Rams have already spent on the position, I understand the hesitation, but going after Kalil or Iowa's Riley Reiff, depending on which one they like, would make sense. Reiff is more balanced and fundamentally sound. Kalil has more talent. Blackmon would make sense if the Rams traded back, but if they are stuck at No. 2, offensive tackle makes the most sense."
Sando's follow-up: The top two needs listed are the same ones I listed in a similar item one year ago, but there are new needs sprouting up. Defensive tackle was the third need one year ago, and it remains a big need for St. Louis. The situation on the offensive line is unsettled enough to give that position a priority. Using another early choice for a tackle would not inspire much excitement in St. Louis. The need for playmakers appears paramount. Whatever the Rams do, they absolutely, positively must give quarterback Sam Bradford a fighting chance. Another season filled with sacks and injuries could inflict long-term damage to his career. Coach Jeff Fisher and coordinator Brian Schottenheimer will gear the offense toward the ground game in an effort to protect Bradford.
First-round position: 11th or 12th overall
Three primary needs: QB, DE, LB
In the spotlight: Melvin Ingram, DE, South Carolina
Mocking it up: Kiper has the Seahawks selecting South Carolina defensive end Melvin Ingram. McShay thinks Alabama running back Trent Richardson could be the choice.
Muench's thoughts: "The Seahawks are not in a great spot given their needs. Quinton Coples from North Carolina could be the edge rusher who starts from Day One and is more than just a situational player, but I do not think he'll be there when Seattle picks. He is almost 6-foot-6 and weighs 281 pounds. A lot of guys with his talent protect themselves during the offseason, but Coples worked his butt off at Senior Bowl practices and had a great game, too. Ingram does not have great size, but he is explosive enough and strong enough to play defensive end. At quarterback, there's a big drop after Andrew Luck and Robert Griffin III. Ryan Tannehill could go at the end of the first round, but No. 11 or 12 is way too rich. Brock Osweiler moves very well for a quarterback of his height. These are interesting guys and all it takes is for one team to fall in love with them, but you are reaching if you do it at No. 11 or 12. The reality is that there are so few good quarterbacks in most drafts. It usually doesn't work out when you force the issue."
Sando's follow-up: Finding a long-term quarterback remains the top priority for the Seahawks, but once again the planets appear reluctant to align for them. Parting with Matt Hasselbeck and passing over Andy Dalton have left Seattle with Tarvaris Jackson and developmental quarterback Josh Portis. Chasing after Peyton Manning could make sense for the Seahawks. They have good young players. Adding a front-line quarterback could put them over the top in the division. Linebacker has replaced the offensive line as a primary need for the Seahawks. That should not be the case, in theory, because the team had so much invested in a couple of relatively young linebackers. Aaron Curry and Lofa Tatupu are gone, however, and David Hawthorne is a free agent. The team could move K.J. Wright into the middle.
First-round position: 13th
Three primary needs: OT, LB, WR
In the spotlight: Courtney Upshaw, OLB, Alabama
Mocking it up: Kiper has the Cardinals taking Stanford tackle Jonathan Martin. McShay has them taking Martin's teammate, guard David DeCastro.
Muench's thoughts: "Kalil and Reiff are the highest-rated tackles. I doubt either one will be there at No. 13. Martin makes sense because of his upside more than anything, but he is not a mauler. He could be gone at 13 if there is a run on tackles, but he might be a reach that early, anyway. There is another dropoff after him, too. This is not a great tackle class. Thirteen is a little early for Kendall Wright, the Baylor receiver, even if he has a good combine. Wright's stock is rising, but because of his size (5-10, 194), he won't win as many one-on-one battles. There was a big jump from 2010 to 2011 in his consistency with his hands and his route running. Adding a pass-rusher is more interesting for me because Ingram and Alabama's Courtney Upshaw could fit. Upshaw doesn't have that idea closing speed, but his initial burst and power are impressive. He can get off blocks. He will be a productive edge rusher. Some 3-4 teams prefer taller outside linebackers, but Arizona and Pittsburgh have gotten away with shorter guys. Ingram and Upshaw are both in that 6-1 or 6-2 range. Neither will be great in coverage, but that has been overrated a little bit. Basically, he has to be able to hold up in underneath zone."
Sando follow-up: The Cardinals haven't drafted an offensive lineman early since selecting Levi Brown fifth overall in 2007. If Brown returns, it will be at a reduced rate. Upgrading the pass protection seems important, in my view, because quarterback Kevin Kolb has not shown great pocket awareness. He has also had injury problems. Landing Manning would obviously change those dynamics. Manning has succeeded for years without top talent across the line. The depth at receiver could use stabilizing, particularly if Early Doucet becomes the latest secondary Arizona target to depart. But with Larry Fitzgerald on the team, the position is in good hands. Very good hands. Some Cardinals fans have pointed to strong sack numbers as evidence Arizona doesn't need to make significant upgrades in that area. Have you ever met a defensive coordinator satisfied with his pass rush? O'Brien Schofield and Sam Acho have shown promise. They are not good enough for the Cardinals to lean back in their chairs and feel great about their outside rush for the next few years.
San Francisco 49ers
First-round position: 30th
Three primary needs: WR, CB, OL
In the spotlight: Dre Kirkpatrick, CB, Alabama
Mocking it up: Kiper points to South Carolina receiver Alshon Jeffery as a possibility. McShay goes with Nebraska cornerback Alfonzo Dennard.
Muench's thoughts: "Blackmon, Michael Floyd and Wright will be gone. That is your top tier of receivers. In a perfect world, you hope Wright or Floyd slips to you. Floyd makes sense in that scheme because of his ability to stretch the field, which could help Michael Crabtree underneath and Vernon Davis over the middle. Wright has speed, but he is not the traditional target to win one-on-ones. After that, we have three receivers with second-round grades. LSU's Rueben Randle, Jeffery and Rutgers' Mohamed Sanu are all vertical threats who must work on their route running. Randle might fit the Jim Harbaugh offense because he is quicker off the line. Jeffery must work on his release. Sanu might be the best for that scheme because he is a better route runner and is more consistent with his hands, but he has not shown the same kind of big-play ability. Jeffery's stock has fallen; he doesn't separate particularly well. He did have a good game against Dennard, who is a solid second-round prospect, but he is much bigger than Dennard. Sanu's size is insane and he has great body control, but can he keep his weight down? I do like Dennard at corner. He didn't have a great Senior Bowl week and he is small, but he is tough and I think that is going to go a long way to slow down receivers at the line of scrimmage. He has a short memory and that is so important. Janoris Jenkins and Kirkpatrick are two corners to watch. Both have off-field concerns. I think someone will fall in love with Jenkins and take him before the 49ers pick. Kirkpatrick is a bigger, longer corner. He can be physical. There is a good chance neither makes it that far, but if they do, it would be hard for San Francisco not to snatch one. More than likely, that would offer more value than any receiver they could get in that spot."
Sando follow-up: The 49ers have few obvious, immediate needs. That is a credit to their personnel department and to their coaches. Smith's expected return puts off for at least one season the need for San Francisco to pursue a quarterback. It probably removes the 49ers from the Manning conversation. I think the 49ers have tremendous flexibility picking this late in the draft. They do not need to target a receiver even though the position could use reinforcing after injuries knocked out Josh Morgan and diminished what Braylon Edwards could offer. Re-signing Carlos Rogers would stabilize the cornerback position, as well. The 49ers could justify going in just about any position with this pick.