NFC West: Kendall Wright
It's looking like the Rams came out just fine without him.
Blackmon, charged with DUI last offseason when authorities said they measured his blood-alcohol content at .24 percent, faces a four-game NFL suspension to open the 2013 season, according to ESPN's Adam Schefter.
The Rams held the sixth overall pick in the 2012 draft. Jacksonville traded into the No. 5 spot to select Blackmon. The Rams then traded back, eventually taking defensive tackle Michael Brockers, who showed flashes of dominance after recovering from injury.
St. Louis wound up using a 2012 second-round choice for receiver Brian Quick and a fourth-rounder for Chris Givens. The team drafted receivers Tavon Austin and Stedman Bailey over the weekend.
Blackmon caught 64 passes for 865 yards and five touchdowns as a rookie. He led all drafted rookies in receiving yards and tied Kendall Wright for most receptions. Blackmon also suffered nine drops, according to ESPN Stats & Information.
Givens caught 42 passes for 698 yards and three scores. Quick added 11 receptions for 156 yards and two scores.
A four-game suspension for Blackmon would prevent him from playing against Kansas City, Oakland, Seattle and Indianapolis to open the season. He would be eligible to return for the Jaguars' Week 5 game -- against the Rams in the Edward Jones Dome.
"If you think the Rams will use one of their first-round picks on a WR, why not sign Victor Cruz, a young known quantity, to a deal and give up the pick -- or force the Giants in to a bad cap place by keeping him," Bill wrote. "Either way you are hurting one of your competitors for a wild-card slot."
Sando: Salary is the No. 1 reason. The Rams hold the 16th and 23rd picks in the draft. The cap charges associated with those picks will fall far short of the cap charges associated with a long-term deal for a veteran receiver.
Now, if the Rams saw Cruz as a Percy Harvin-type talent, the price could be worth considering. But if they see Cruz as merely a good receiver, they should proceed with caution when considering the costs.
The chart illustrates the point by comparing annual salary-cap charges for Vincent Jackson, the receiver Tampa Bay signed in free agency last offseason, to the cap charges for Kendall Wright, the wide receiver Tennessee drafted with the 20th pick of the draft.
I'm not comparing Jackson to Wright as players. I'm not comparing either one of them to Cruz, either. The point is one of cost, and I make it under the assumption the Rams would be getting a very good receiver in the first round.
As noted in the chat, Wright's contract as the 20th pick is scheduled to count $8.2 million against the cap over four years. The contract Jackson signed counted nearly twice as much in 2012 alone. It is scheduled to consume $55 million in cap space over five seasons.
So if the Rams can find their version of Cruz in the first round, they will come out far ahead. The question, of course, is whether the Rams can find that kind of value, and whether the cost associated with Cruz is worthwhile.
Givens is averaging 21.2 yards per reception. The routes he runs average 17.0 yards past the line of scrimmage. The average is 7.6 yards for the rest of the team and 10.0 yards for the Rams' other wide receivers, according to ESPN Stats & Information.
Last season, no Rams wideout averaged better than 15.0 yards past the line of scrimmage on his routes. The leader was at 13.3 in 2010, 12.7 in 2009 and 14.2 in 2008 among players with at least one reception. Givens' average could come down as the Rams expand their plans for him. The big-play aspect is something they'll want to keep, of course.
Givens, a fourth-round choice from Wake Forest, has 22 receptions for 467 yards and three touchdowns. He had a string of five consecutive games with at least one reception covering 50-plus yards. He's coming off a 115-yard game against Arizona, the first 100-yard game of his career. Givens averages a healthy 8.9 yards after the catch, tops among the 21 drafted rookie wideouts with at least one target this season.
"You're seeing more production, different types of production," Rams coach Jeff Fisher told reporters Monday. "The first few weeks it was the long balls and now he’s making the short catches and runs, the jailbreak screens, and then the third-down catch there in the fourth quarter (Sunday) was a big play for him as well."
A one-game suspension for violating team rules kept Givens from playing during a 24-24 tie at San Francisco in Week 10. Givens will be available for the rematch Sunday in St. Louis. The 49ers have allowed eight pass plays of 30-plus yards, tied for second-fewest in the NFL behind the Rams and Minnesota Vikings, who have allowed seven apiece. Tampa Bay has allowed a league-high 22.
The Rams' offense has needed a vertical dimension for years. Brandon Lloyd and Mark Clayton provided one sporadically in recent seasons. Givens has a team-high six receptions of at least 30 yards despite having only 43 targets. The 2009 Rams had six of them on 513 targets. St. Louis had 15 last season. The team has 14 through Week 12 this season.
Givens was the 14th receiver drafted in 2012 behind Justin Blackmon, Michael Floyd, Kendall Wright, A.J. Jenkins, teammate Brian Quick, Stephen Hill, Alshon Jeffery, Ryan Broyles, Rueben Randle, Devier Posey, T.J. Graham, Mohamed Sanu and T.Y. Hilton. Givens ranks third among drafted rookie wideouts in yardage, tied for fourth in touchdown receptions, first in 30-plus catches, second in yards after the catch and first in average route depth among rookies with at least one reception.
The first chart shows the Rams' play-action passing stats for wide receivers. The second chart shows corresponding figures on all passes, not just play-action attempts. I've ranked both charts by average route depth, which ESPN Stats & Information charts for all throws. It's a fresh way of looking at how teams use players.
The receiver rankings were particularly interesting this time.
The one San Francisco selected in the first round, A.J. Jenkins, had higher ratings from teams than analysts suggested in their mock drafts. The Arizona Cardinals and St. Louis Rams also differed over how to rate Notre Dame's Michael Floyd, the player Arizona drafted with the 13th overall selection. Floyd was the second of 33 receivers drafted.
Darren Urban of azcardinals.com says the team had Floyd ranked seventh on its board of 120 players fitting team needs, regardless of position. Floyd was the team's second-rated receiver, presumably behind Oklahoma State's Justin Blackmon. Urban: "Most analysts had six 'elite' players at the top of the draft, and assuming the Cards had the same guys -- Andrew Luck, Trent Richardson, Justin Blackmon, Robert Griffin III, Matt Kalil and Morris Claiborne -- in the top six, then Floyd was the guy right after and the natural pick at No. 13 overall."
Jim Thomas of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch says the Rams had their second-round choice, Brian Quick, rated as the second-best receiver in the draft, behind Blackmon. Thomas: "When a Rams contingent hopped a private jet a week ago to work out five wide receivers, they were so enamored of Quick, they rated him as 1B of the five, right behind Oklahoma State's Justin Blackmon at 1A. Next came Illinois' A.J. Jenkins, followed by Michael Floyd of Notre Dame and Kendall Wright of Baylor. Yes, the Rams had Quick and Jenkins rated ahead of Floyd. So in the case of their first two picks, the Rams must trust their talent evaluators and have faith that their coaches can get [first-round pick Michael] Brockers and Quick up to speed as quickly as possible."
Jerry Brewer of the Seattle Times says the Seahawks' unorthodox approach to evaluating players has worked well enough to secure the benefit of the doubt. Brewer: "When you examine them closely, you realize they've made the right move more times than not. And so far, even their mistakes haven't been of the franchise-killing variety. Despite all the confusion and debate they inspire, this has been a trustworthy front office. ... Because they're so thorough and believe so fully in themselves, it's wise to couch skepticism or at least delay unleashing it until you see the plan in action. They're eccentric, not stupid. Recognize the difference."
Cam Inman of the San Jose Mercury News checks in with new 49ers receiver Randy Moss, who arrived for the team's offseason program. Moss: "It was eye opening. Today was the first day, and we were moving so fast. Today felt like we'd been out here for a week or two."
Also from Inman: comments from 49ers general manager Trent Baalke regarding Moss and other 49ers subjects. Baalke: "We actually talked with Randy’s agent a year earlier and wanted to know if there’s any interest. When we reached out to him, the response was, 'Not interested. Done. Hanging the cleats up.' So we just let it go. Obviously Randy didn’t come back (in 2011) and sat out the year."
Matt Barrows of the Sacramento Bee says the 49ers had interest in Irvin, the player Seattle drafted 15th overall. Barrows: "Before the draft, I wrote that West Virginia's Bruce Irvin was a possibility to the 49ers in the first round. (You collectively scoffed). It turns out that notion only was ludicrous because the Seahawks chose Irvin 15 picks earlier. It also turns out that the 49ers flew an assistant cross country to work out Irvin a mere two days before the draft, according to CBS Sports.com."
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.
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.
Another season with that record would feel like stagnation.
That is one reason the Seahawks would be best off, at least in theory, using their early draft choices for immediate contributors. Selecting a quarterback in the first round Thursday would qualify as more of a long-term move -- and perhaps as a redundant one, given Matt Flynn's addition through free agency.
Art Thiel of Sports Press Northwest says there's no way the Seahawks should select Ryan Tannehill in the first round. Thiel: "Carroll had so many good quarterbacks at USC that he tends to see the world behind center in Trojan colors. But as has been pointed out to him numerous times, relative to their respective empires, the Seahawks aren’t the Trojans. Tannehill isn’t the next Matt Leinart. Actually, maybe he is, which is even worse." Noted: Carroll and general manager John Schneider continue to speak glowingly of Tannehill. The team could be interested in Tannehill and/or trading back in the draft with a team eager to land him.
Clare Farnsworth of seahawks.com has this to say about the team's needs: "An edge pass-rusher is high on Carroll's list, but he’d also like to add to competitive aspect of the roster by adding a touchdown-maker on offense, a young quarterback and depth and unique qualities at linebacker. Carroll said he’s even open to adding to the already large pile on the offensive line and the talented collection in the secondary, if the right player is there."
Jerry Brewer of the Seattle Times likes what he sees from Carroll and Schneider. Carroll on going young: "One of my favorite coaches ever, Bud Grant, said one time, 'For every young guy you start, you lose a game.' That was classic, traditional thinking. I was of that mindset in classic fashion until I had to be in charge of calling all the shots, and then it just flipped in me that we don't know where we're going unless we find these guys out."
Eric D. Williams of the Tacoma News Tribune passes along notes from the Seahawks' pre-draft news conference Monday, including this one: "Barrett Ruud, Seattle's projected starting middle linebacker, is not healthy. Carroll said he’s still recovering from groin, knee and shoulder injuries that landed him on the injured reserve while he was with Tennessee last year." Noted: Seattle will presumably find a starting linebacker in the draft. Ruud is veteran insurance, but not a player to count on at this stage.
Draft analyst Rob Rang considers wide receivers and running backs Seattle could consider, one per round in the upcoming draft.
Jim Thomas of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch says the Rams ran top receivers Justin Blackmon, Michael Floyd and Kendall Wright through last-minute pre-draft workouts. Thomas: "A six-person Rams contingent traveled from site to site via private jet, a contingent that included coach Jeff Fisher, general manager Les Snead, and offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer. Kevin Demoff, the Rams' executive vice president for football operations, joined the others for the Blackmon workout."
Also from Thomas: Gil Brandt thinks the Rams strongly need to consider selecting Blackmon. Thomas: "Former Rams general manager Billy Devaney was known to say that you could always find a receiver. Thus, it is not a surprise that the team has not used any of its 14 first-round picks since 2000 on the position. The only second-round receiver was Donnie Avery. Instead, the Rams have hoped that lesser-known names would produce. Since drafting Holt they have picked 13 receivers, who have averaged 1 1/2 years with the team each and produced a combined 450 catches, 5,420 yards and 26 touchdowns."
More from Thomas: The Rams need help at linebacker. Thomas: "There are some legitimate options for the Rams in rounds 2-4, including Mychal Kendricks of California and Sean Spence of Miami, who paid pre-draft visits to Rams Park. Kendricks was named Pacific-12 Conference defensive player of the year last season after racking up 107 tackles, 14.5 tackles for loss, three sacks and two interceptions. Under defensive coordinator Clancy Pendergast, Cal ran a complex scheme, and Kendricks was used in a variety of ways -- playing inside, outside and used as a blitzer. (He had 8.5 sacks in 2010.)"
Bob McManaman of the Arizona Republic asks whether the Cardinals would select receiver Floyd even if offensive tackle Riley Reiff were available to them with the 13th overall choice.
Kent Somers of the Arizona Republic says the Floyd-Reiff dilemma is a tough one. Somers: "And depending upon the day, I've taken both players. I guess I have myself covered. My thinking today is that the Cardinals will take Reiff, figuring that they are good enough at receiver with Larry Fitzgerald, Andre Roberts, Early Doucet and whomever emerges from the rest of the pack. They haven't taken an offensive lineman above the fifth round since 2007, so it's time."
Also from Somers: The Cardinals have become more apt to trade draft choices since Ken Whisenhunt succeeded Dennis Green as head coach, with mixed results. Somers: "Green, who coached the team from 2004-06, preferred to stay rooted in the team's original draft slot. His mantra was to never fall in love with players. But since 2007, coincidentally the year Ken Whisenhunt became coach, the Cardinals have been more active during draft week. That year, they made two trades on draft week. In 2010, they made three during the draft in addition to two others that came before. The results have been mixed, but the Cardinals have shown they won't always sit still during the three days of the draft."
Matt Barrows of the Sacramento Bee thinks the 49ers will address guard, running back and wide receiver in the 2012 draft. Barrows: "While the need for an offensive tackle in 2010 and a quarterback last year helped narrow the list of draft candidates, San Francisco's stacked roster this year means it can go in many directions."
Matt Maiocco of CSNBayArea.com picks one player per round for the 49ers. On first-round projection Kevin Zeitler: "Right guard might be the only starting job on the team that's up for grabs, and Zeitler would enter that competition against Alex Boone and Daniel Kilgore. Zeitler fits the 49ers' style. He started three seasons and won the Badger Power Award for he weight-room dedication. At the combine, he bench-pressed 225 pounds 32 times -- 14 more than his former Wisconsin teammate Peter Konz."
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 mocks are arranged by which players the St. Louis Rams were projected to select sixth overall. A couple other mocks fell from consideration because they projected trades, throwing off the comparisons.
A quick look at the player counts per team:
- St. Louis Rams: receiver Justin Blackmon 7, cornerback Morris Claiborne 3, defensive tackle Fletcher Cox 3, tackle Matt Kalil 1.
- Seattle Seahawks: linebacker Luke Kuechly 7, defensive end Quinton Coples 5, Cox 1, defensive end Nick Perry 1.
- Arizona Cardinals: outside linebacker Melvin Ingram 4, guard Cordy Glenn 3, receiver Michael Floyd 2, tackle Riley Reiff, 2, tackle Jonathan Martin 1, Blackmon 1, outside linebacker Courtney Upshaw 1.
- San Francisco 49ers: guard Kevin Zeitler 4, receiver Stephen Hill 3, defensive tackle Dontari Poe 2, tight end Coby Fleener 1, receiver Kendall Wright 1, defensive lineman Chandler Jones 1, defensive lineman Jerel Worthy 1, Glenn 1.
Each selection has the potential to affect subsequent ones, a big factor for mock drafts featuring more than one participant. Our ESPN.com Blog Network mock featured eight participants. The others featured one apiece.
These 14 mocks singled out 19 players for the four NFC West teams. There were five offensive linemen, four defensive end/outside linebacker types, four bigger defensive linemen, four receivers, one linebacker and one cornerback.
Most of the picks filled obvious team needs.
Not seeing many hands out there. Not seeing any hands, actually.
OK, let's try this again.
Raise your hand if you had the Seattle Seahawks selecting James Carpenter at No. 25.
Hmmm. Not seeing many hands out there. Not seeing any, actually.
Do not feel bad. Even if you knew which 32 players would become first-round picks in a given NFL draft, there would be more than 263 decillion possible combinations.
The number looks like this: 263,130,836,933,693,530,167,218,012,160,000,000.
With that in mind, our 2012 NFL Blog Network mock draft comes guaranteed not for accuracy but for its ability to promote conversation, a process that has already begun here on the NFC West blog.
"Kendall Wright pick makes no sense" CHI-TOWN-BULLS protested upon seeing the Baylor receiver projected for the49ers at No. 30.
More on that in a minute.
We penciled in Andrew Luck and Robert Griffin III at the top with a reasonable degree of confidence. Matt Kalil, Trent Richardson, Morris Claiborne and Justin Blackmon fell third through sixth. Most choices seemed logical, but somewhere among the top five or 10 selections, an NFL team breaks from projected form, tapping into those 263 decillion combinations.
Two years ago, the Jacksonville Jaguars obliterated mock drafts by selecting Tyson Alualu with the 10th pick. Last year, four quarterbacks went among the top 12 choices, with Christian Ponder a surprise choice for Minnesota at No. 12.
My thinking for the NFC West was rather straightforward:
- Rams at No. 6: Blackmon was an easy choice. The team has an obvious need for a wide receiver. Blackmon is widely regarded as the highest-rated one in this draft class, to the point that some question whether he will be available to the Rams. Going in another direction for this mock would have represented over-thinking a simple situation. Sure, St. Louis could trade back or select a player at another position. Richardson or Claiborne would carry appeal if available. But when Blackmon was available, I turned in the imaginary card right away.
- Seahawks at No. 12. I wondered going into the mock whether Boston College linebacker Luke Kuechly might be available for Seattle in this slot. Would the team take an inside linebacker that early? San Francisco fared well taking Patrick Willis with the 11th pick in 2007. Scot McCloughan, now a top Seahawks personnel executive, was the driving force behind the Willis decision. Would the Seahawks see Kuechly in a similar light? They do need help at linebacker, after all. The thought became a fleeting one when Kuechly went to Carolina at No. 9. That made it easier to focus on the highest-rated pass-rushers. Quinton Coples was the choice because he seemed to be the most talented one available, based on scouting reports.
- Cardinals at No. 13. This choice was tougher than the previous two. I went with Alabama's Courtney Upshaw, figuring he might fit the profile for a pass-rushing outside linebacker in the Cardinals' 3-4 scheme. He's on the shorter side at not quite 6-foot-2, and there is no clear consensus on whether Upshaw projects as an outside linebacker. The height factor seemed less important given that Arizona patterns its defensive scheme after the one Pittsburgh has used under Dick LeBeau. The Steelers' LaMarr Woodley (6-2) and James Harrison (6-0) get the job done. Could Upshaw enjoy situational success the way Smith did as a rookie for San Francisco last season? Receiver Michael Floyd was a consideration for Arizona. I thought the Cardinals needed improved quarterback play more than they needed improved receiver talent.
- 49ers at No. 30. Wright was the choice simply because he appeared to be the highest-rated receiver available, but the 49ers could easily go in another direction. Quite a few mock drafts have linked Georgia Tech's Stephen Hill to the 49ers, but he was not available to them in this mock, having gone 22nd to Cleveland. I was drafting more for position than for the specific player. The 49ers could use another cornerback. Perhaps Janoris Jenkins would have been a better value choice. He went 31st to New England in our mock. The 49ers could use a starting right guard, but they might already have one in Daniel Kilgore, a 2011 draft choice. Besides, how many first-round picks can one team use for offensive linemen? Current starters Joe Staley, Mike Iupati and Anthony Davis were first-rounders. Ultimately, the 49ers are picking this late for a reason. They don't have as many clearly defined needs as less successful teams. They're in good position to keep an open mind.
I used ESPN's 2012 NFL Draft Machine to make selections and keep general track of which players remained available as the mock unfolded. Toggling between the overall list and specific position lists made it easier to balance value with need.
This conversation is to be continued.
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)
Todd McShay of Scouts Inc. summed up the implications from his perspective .
The receiver group carries special interest in the NFC West and particularly for San Francisco after the 49ers acknowledged they needed help at the position. But with a potentially strong free-agent crop, I could see the 49ers addressing their 2012 rotation with a mid-priced veteran, giving them additional flexibility in the draft.
That thinking came to mind Saturday during a roughly 40-minute conversation with McShay and fellow ESPN.com divisional bloggers Kevin Seifert, Paul Kuharsky and Bill Williamson.
What did McShay think of the receivers in this draft?
"I think they're all overrated," he said. "That doesn't mean they're not going to be good. I don't think Justin Blackmon is A.J. Green or even Julio [Jones] ones or even Michael Crabtree. He's really, really good, but certainly not Calvin Johnson or A.J. Green."
McShay's quick thoughts on some of the other receivers in this draft:
- Kendall Wright, Baylor: "He should be in the top 25 picks. I really like him, but he drops a lot of passes and double catches some."
- Alshon Jeffery, South Carolina: "If he wants to play, if he wants to work. You look at his body, yeah, he's down to 216, but he took a Jenny Craig 216 to cut weight. It was 240. He played at 235, I was told, and put on a little weight after, then just dumped weight. ... When the ball is in the air, he's as good as there is in this class. It's just, can he separate?
- Mohamed Sanu, Rutgers: "I like him. He's physical, he has good hands, but he's way overrated. He can't get open."
- Rueben Randle, LSU: "Of the guys are 6-2 and above, he can get down the field the best and is the most athletic. But he is still kind of developing as a route runner and quit on them. He quit on them in the national championship game."
Crabtree, 24, led 49ers wide receivers last season with 72 receptions for 874 yards and four touchdowns. Josh Morgan is returning from injury and could re-sign.
- Who did not throw: Andrew Luck, Robert Griffin III, Ryan Tannehill and Brock Osweiler were among the more highly regarded quarterbacks opting not to throw Sunday. I was watching receivers more than quarterbacks in this session. Kellen Moore, Darron Thomas and Brandon Weeden were among the quarterbacks throwing.
- Who did not catch: Alabama receiver Marquis Maze struggled holding onto the ball. He caught only 9 of 14 passes while running through the gauntlet drill with quarterbacks firing passes at him in rapid succession, seven per drill over two drills. He dropped one pass on a hitch route and watched another go through his hands without making contact.
- Running the gauntlet: Overall, receivers were much more effective in the first of the two gauntlet drills. Nineteen of the 24 receivers I charted caught all seven the first time through, with Maze dropping three, Miami's Tommy Streeter dropping two and two players, Arizona State's Gerell Robinson and Fresno State's Devon Wylie, dropping one apiece. Only 11 of the 24 receivers in this group caught all seven the second time through.
- Who showed surest hands: Washington's Jermaine Kearse, Iowa's Marvin McNutt, Penn State's Derek Moye, Stanford's Chris Owusu, Toledo's Eric Page, Appalachian State's Brian Quick, Rutgers Mohamed Sanu and Baylor's Kendall Wright did not drop passes during the gauntlet drills or when I was watching them in other drills. The ball barely made a sound when McNutt caught it.
- Sitting out: Wisconsin's Nick Toon did not participate in receiving drills with this group. He's been dealing with a foot injury. Toon did run 40-yard dashes, running in the 4.5s, and he participated in the vertical jump.
This was the second of two trips inside Lucas Oil Stadium as part of groups organized by the Pro Football Writers of America. I'll remain here until Monday morning, working from the media room at the stadium.
- order of selection;
- which underclassmen will become eligible;
- which NFL teams will have new coaches/general managers;
- how prospects will perform in bowl games, all-star games, the combine and in personal workouts;
- how team needs will evolve in relation to injuries;
- how teams will address needs in free agency before the draft.
That means we can cut Todd McShay a little slack if his first 2012 NFL mock draft, published for Insider subscribers Wednesday, winds up serving as only a general guide some four months before the draft itself. McShay has St. Louis taking USC tackle Matt Kalil second overall; Arizona taking Alabama outside linebacker Courtney Upshaw at No. 13; Seattle taking Oklahoma quarterback Landry Jones at No. 16; and San Francisco selecting Baylor wide receiver Kendall Wright at No. 30.
Arizona does need additional options at outside linebacker even with Sam Acho and O'Brien Schofield contributing recently. McShay considers offensive tackle a greater need for the Cardinals, but he questions whether the value would be right where the Cardinals are projected to select.
Seattle could use a quarterback to develop and even compete for the starting job. That was the case a year ago, but the Seahawks surprisingly made a run to the playoffs and beat New Orleans in the wild-card round, dropping them from eighth to 25th in the 2011 order. Tarvaris Jackson is in position to return as the incumbent starter. The team also thinks third-stringer Josh Portis has a chance to develop. Drafting a quarterback would give Seattle a promising mix at the position.
For the 49ers, I might question the value of selecting another receiver in the first round. The team used the 10th choice of the 2009 draft for Michael Crabtree. I see greater needs in the secondary and would not argue if the team drafted yet another player for its already strong defensive front seven.