NFC West: Dre Kirkpatrick
I'm not sure whether Spurrier was serious, but as Seattle Seahawks coach Pete Carroll pointed out, the notion is ridiculous (unless, perhaps, Spurrier had the 2002-03 Washington Redskins in mind).
"Alabama's got a great team and Nick [Saban] is a fantastic coach," Carroll said, "but when you match up the interior lines against regular NFL teams on either side of the ball, it wouldn't even be close."
Athletic prodigies occasionally flourish in the professional ranks. LeBron James was 18 years old when he had 25 points, six rebounds, nine assists and four steals in his NBA debut.
In the NFL, rules prohibit players from participating until they're at least three years removed from high school. It's generally thought athletes aren't ready for the physical pounding until they're older. Rookies face adjustment periods. Even the best ones can appear lost during the first days of training camp.
The majority of players on Alabama's roster will likely never play in the NFL. It is absurd, then, to think those players would defeat a roster filled with players who are, by definition, good enough to play in the league.
For fun, I've put together a chart showing 2012 NFL draft choices from Alabama. There were eight, including four first-rounders. Injuries have sidelined three of them. Four others have played quite a bit. Another pick, fullback/tight end Brad Smelley, is on the Cleveland Browns' practice squad.
We'll have to wait and see if Alabama produces 22 rookie starters, three full-time specialists and some core special-teams players for NFL teams in 2013. Kind of thinking not.
One recent example: "I'm excited for our defensive players because of their confidence and how they feel about where we are, but it doesn't mean anything if we don't play well and we don't win games."
Whisenhunt's excitement for rookie third-round cornerback Jamell Fleming seemed instructive in that context:
"He’s been a productive player at a big-time program, one that has played in some big-time games against good talent, so you like that. But the thing that jumped off the film to me was his quickness. Even watching him out here and doing some of the stuff inside in the nickel, his change of direction is really, really outstanding. You like to see that. He’s a competitive guy, he’s big, he was physical off the tape, which is one of the things you like.
"But when you talk about a guy who can play inside or outside, those guys have to be physical. The bigger they are, makes it more difficult for the offenses. I’m interested to see how it’s going to translate, if he can handle that position. The physical skill set is a good match for that."
Fleming, chosen 80th overall from Oklahoma, was the eighth of 34 cornerbacks selected in 2012 and the third by an NFC West team.
Cornerback depth has improved dramatically within the division over the past two seasons.
I'll be interested in seeing how Fleming develops relative to St. Louis' Janoris Jenkins (second round, 39th overall) and Trumaine Johnson (third round, 65th overall). NFC West teams did not draft another corner until Seattle chose Jeremy Lane in the sixth round. The Cardinals took Justin Bethel five picks later, also in the sixth.
The Rams drafted Johnson in the third round, with the 65th overall choice. Johnson downplayed any concerns stemming from an arrest following a party he hosted.
"I just decided to throw a party after a win," Johnson told reporters during a conference call following his selection Friday. "It got loud. The cops came and shut it down. As we were shutting it down, one of my buddies got tased, so I went over there to try to see what was going on and I got tased. We both got booked and arrested."
Authorities accused Johnson of disorderly conduct, obstructing an officer and resisting arrest.
"I believe everybody throws parties and has fun in college," Johnson said. "I feel like I was just in the wrong place at the wrong time, so I shouldn’t have thrown the party in the first place just because we were in the season. I learned from it and it’s behind me now."
Johnson was among the subjects Bernie Miklasz and I discussed during our weekly conversation Tuesday on 101ESPN St. Louis. Johnson was the sixth of 34 cornerbacks drafted. The Rams previously used the 39th choice, a second-rounder, for cornerback Janoris Jenkins, a player carrying greater concerns off the field.
The Rams will lean on their veteran defensive coaching staff and newly signed cornerback Cortland Finnegan to assist Johnson and Jenkins.
By the time the chat ended, word had come that no such talks had taken place.
Just another NFC West chat, this one was not. Let's hit some highlights:
Birdman from Arizona thinks the Cardinals could use a first-round choice for a cornerback. He calls into question the team's quality depth at that position and says Stephon Gilmore or Dre Kirkpatrick would be the choice if tackle Riley Reiff were not available.
Mike Sando: That would be purely a value pick, Birdman. The Cardinals like their corner situation. They think they have four starting corners (Patrick Peterson, Greg Toler, A.J. Jefferson and William Gay). They also have Michael Adams, who has played a lot in sub packages. Corner is not really a big priority position for the Cardinals right now. I think we saw that in the value decision they made on Marshall. So, if they take a corner that early, it's because the value screamed at them, not because the need was primary.
Kyle from St. Louis asks whether the Rams appear likely to trade back from the sixth overall pick.
Mike Sando: My general feel is that the Rams have moved back enough in the first round, and now they need to maximize the value of the pick (unless someone makes a crazy offer). Right now, the Rams have the best of both worlds: a pick high enough to get the top-rated player at a position, but also additional picks (this year and in the future).
Gus from Seattle asks about the Seahawks possibly drafting a "touchdown maker" instead of a pass-rusher in the first round. "Does any part of you think they are playing possum and may jump on a Michael Floyd or Kendall Wright or Doug Martin instead?" he asks.
Mike Sando: Yeah, I could see them going in that direction. Mostly, I think they would like to trade back and then take what falls to them. We should account in our minds for the fact that Jason Jones' addition in free agency was seen by the team as a move to upgrade the pass rush. They could also get Dexter Davis back, with some thought he could help their pass-rush. So I would not lock in a pass-rusher as the pick in the first round. It would make a lot of sense, however.
Chex Norris from San Diego asks whether the 49ers would select Kendall Wright or Stephen Hill at No. 30 if other prospects, notably Kevin Zeitler and Janoris Jenkins, were not available.
Mike Sando: Wright was the projection to the 49ers at No. 30 in our initial Blogger Mock Draft. Hill might be the better fit from a physical standpoint. I might lean toward Wright on overall value, but Hill as the more likely fit because of his physical dimensions. Maybe they could move back a couple spots if faced with that dilemma? Thinking out loud here.
We're down to the final few hours before the draft. I'll be heading over to Seattle Seahawks headquarters and getting set up over there in the not-too-distant future.
And that might not be such a good thing from a need standpoint.
With the draft two days away, I reached out to Steve Muench of Scouts Inc. for thoughts on potential unwelcome or complicating developments for NFC West teams, based on their needs and where they are selecting in the draft order.
For the most part, however, Muench liked where teams in the division stood. After discussing every NFC West team with him, I'll pass along highlights from our conversation, beginning with thoughts on the 49ers and working backward through the order:
Muench: I would think they will want a corner, but they probably will not reach for one. Dre Kirkpatrick will probably be off the board. Janoris Jenkins, that would be fascinating for me. I'm not sure how he would work out.
Sando: Jenkins was the choice for San Francisco at No. 30 when I chose for them in our recent ESPN Blogger Mock Draft. My thinking was that the 49ers had the leadership on defense to take a risk on a talented player with a few red flags.
Muench: That is one way of looking at it. My concern with him is that when he gets challenged and has someone get in his face, how is he going to react? If he reacts well, then you've won. If not, it goes south quickly and that is the concern. From what I have understood, I wouldn’t say he was coddled or babied at Florida, but he got away with a lot, and when he was challenged, the next thing you know, he’s at North Alabama. There was talk of him firing an agent. I'm just not sure he's that guy looking for redemption. Some guys, you just cannot get to. Now, at what point does the risk become worth the reward? Maybe it's at the end of the first round. He is a top 15 talent.
Sando: You're talking me out of Jenkins. Maybe he's not the type of guy an organization wants to hold up as a first-round selection. If the 49ers do not find a corner to their liking at No. 30, which direction do they go? They appear set at tight end, so Coby Fleener might be a luxury pick. They do have a need at guard.
Muench: Jeff Allen from Illinoi and Kevin Zeitler from Wisconsin are two guards they could take a look at -- guys who might normally go in the second round. They could consider a defensive end, like a Kendall Reyes from Connecticut, but it's hard to say you're looking to the future there, as well as Justin Smith is playing. It's a little early for Derek Wolfe from Cincinnati, maybe Devon Still from Penn State. Those are all guys that are fringe guys (first-round wise).
Sando: Nothing jumps out.
Muench: I think they can sit there and take the best available player.
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 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)
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.