NFC West: Luke Kuechly

I thought NaVorro Bowman deserved to win the NFL Defensive Player of the Year award.

But I didn’t think he’d win. I didn’t think Luke Kuechly would win, either, though. Saturday’s announcement that Kuechly -- Carolina’s star inside linebacker -- won the award over Bowman surprised me.

I thought Indianapolis pass-rusher Robert Mathis, who had 19.5 sacks, was going to win the award. It’s tough for a player like Bowman, an inside linebacker for the 49ers, to win the award. But to see Kuechly get the award over Bowman is strange.

Kuechly is a wonderful player. But Bowman had a better season. In my opinion, the voters gave the award to the wrong inside linebacker.

And the fact that the Associated Press reported that Bowman wasn’t one of the six players to get a vote is stunning and, in my opinion, ridiculous.

Bowman dominated every game he played in; including the NFC title game in which he suffered a major knee injury on a play he stripped the ball away at the goal line.

Kuechly had 156 tackles. But Bowman had 143 tackles and he had 118 solo tackles, which was more than Kuechly. Plus, Bowman had five sacks, four forced fumbles, two fumble recoveries and two interceptions, one he returned 89 yards for a touchdown to seal the 49ers' playoff-clinching win.

Again, I have no problem with Kuechly. But if an inside linebacker was going to win this year, it needed to be Bowman.
Robert Mathis, Richard Sherman and NaVorro BowmanAP Photo, USA TODAY SportsIndianapolis' Robert Mathis, Seattle's Richard Sherman and San Francisco's NaVorro Bowman have all put up numbers that could result in defensive player of the year honors.
Denver's Peyton Manning broke passing records with his arm. Kanas City's Jamaal Charles was a treat to watch running the ball and catching it out of the backfield. Detroit's Megatron (Calvin Johnson) was simply incredible with his freakishly athletic skills at wide receiver.

But there were some players on the other side of the ball who deserve to be honored for their play this season.

The problem is deciding who deserves it more than the other players.

The NFL's Defensive Player of the Year will be named this weekend.

ESPN.com Colts reporter Mike Wells and 49ers reporter Bill Williamson discuss the top candidates for the award.

Wells: Bill, it appears that defensive player of the year is a wide-open race this season. There are a number of different players who deserve to win it. Robert Mathis in Indianapolis, Carolina's Luke Kuechly, St. Louis' Robert Quinn, Seattle's Richard Sherman and Earl Thomas, San Francisco's NaVorro Bowman, who you cover on a regular basis. Who do you think deserves the award?

SportsNation

Who deserves to win NFL defensive player of the year honors?

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    7%
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    6%
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    21%
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    47%
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    19%

Discuss (Total votes: 5,271)

Williamson: Yes, Mike, there are some very solid candidates. But I have to go with the player I saw dominate for 19 weeks. Bowman is simply unbelievable. He stood out in every game. He set the tone for one of the NFL's finest defenses with his dominant play from a 3-4 inside linebacker position. Bowman had 143 tackles, five sacks, four forced fumbles, two fumble recoveries and two interceptions, one he returned 89 yards for a touchdown to seal the 49ers' playoff-clinching win. Bowman excelled against both the run and the pass. He's a football player's player. Sadly, his season ended in the fourth quarter of the 49ers' loss at Seattle in the NFC title game when he suffered a torn ACL. In typical Bowman fashion, he was hurt by stripping the ball at the goal line. Mike, a player you cover, Mathis, is considered the favorite to win the DPOY. Do you think he deserves it?

Wells: I'm sure some people will call you and I homers, but I've got to give the edge to Mathis because he was a one-man wrecking crew on defense. It was personal and team oriented for Mathis. He wanted to prove the he could still be a force without playing alongside of Dwight Freeney. Mathis had no problem talking about how that added fuel to his already flaming fire. He backed it up by leading the league in sacks with 19.5. He ended up accounting for 46.4 percent of the Colts' sacks this season because they only had 42 as a team. Mathis used his infamous chop down on the quarterback's passing arm to force a league-leading eight fumbles. Those eight forced fumbles led to 35 points for Indianapolis. The Colts struggled at times defensively during the season. They would have been really bad if they didn't have Mathis on the roster. You covered games involving Seattle's Earl Thomas and Richard Sherman three times, including the NFC Championship Game. Is there a legitimate argument for either one of them to be DPOY?

Williamson: Oh, certainly on both Seattle players. Again, lots of great candidates here. Sherman and Thomas are among the best defensive players in the league and they are a big reason why the Seahawks are preparing to play in the Super Bowl. Thomas is a tone-setter at the back end of a special defense. Sherman is probably the best cornerback in the NFL and one of the best players in the game regardless of position. The 49ers tested him with the game on the line in the NFC title game and they lost because of it. There are really no wrong answers here. I can't knock Mathis or any of the other candidates. But I just think Bowman deserves to win the award because of his overall impact on the game. There's really no way for offenses to avoid him. Mike, do you think Mathis is a complete player or is he a top candidate solely on his pass-rush prowess?

Wells: This is where the argument doesn't favor Mathis. He rarely dropped back into coverage because he's a pass-rushing linebacker. I'm not saying he isn't capable of being in pass coverage, but I haven't seen him do it enough because coach Chuck Pagano's 3-4 defense is all about getting after the quarterback with Mathis. His ability to pressure the quarterback trickles down to players like linebacker Jerrell Freeman and the entire secondary. It allows them to gamble on the ball more defensively. Some may consider Mathis a one-dimensional defensive player, but he does that one thing well. Seattle's Russell Wilson and Manning, the two starting quarterbacks in this weekend's Super Bowl, can validate that because Mathis sacked both of them during the regular season.

Is Bowman's ability to defend pass coverage the main reason you give him the edge over Mathis?

Williamson: No, it's just his overall game. Again, he impacts it in every way. Look at his stat line: There's nothing he didn't do. He was making plays on first, second and third down. And, yes, he was just as apt to make a play 15 yards downfield as he was at the line of scrimmage. In fact, on his interception return for a touchdown, he was supposed to blitz but he read the play and darted back into coverage. He had 118 solo tackles, the second most in the NFL this season. Again, there are no wrong answers here, but for me Bowman is the best answer.

Quick Take: 49ers at Panthers

January, 5, 2014
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Three things to know about the San Francisco 49ers' matchup at the Carolina Panthers in the NFC divisional round at 1:05 p.m. ET Sunday:

1. Rematch: All Colin Kaepernick said about the Carolina Panthers on Sunday night, after the 49ers secured their trip there with a 23-20 win at Green Bay was “we owe them.” The Panthers beat the 49ers in San Francisco, 10-9, on Nov. 10. It was one of the NFL’s most physical games of the season. Both offenses struggled as both teams played brilliant defense. Expect another low-scoring game, although the point total likely will exceed 19 this time around.

2. Young quarterback battle: This will be a terrific national spotlight game for two of the better young quarterbacks in the league, Kaepernick and Carolina's Cam Newton. One of these two quarterbacks is heading to the NFC Championship Game. Newton was the No. 1 overall pick in the 2011 draft. Kaepernick, who already has been to one Super Bowl, was taken in the second round.

3. Great linebacking play: The first meeting was highlighted by stellar defensive play, particularly by the inside linebackers. San Francisco’s NaVorro Bowman and Patrick Willis and Carolina’s Luke Kuechly are among the game’s best middle linebackers. Bowman and Kuechly are legitimate NFL Defensive Player of the Year candidates. Expect this matchup to be run through these guys once again.

No shame for rookies Wagner, Jenkins

February, 2, 2013
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NEW ORLEANS -- Seattle's Bobby Wagner was second and St. Louis' Janoris Jenkins fifth in defensive rookie of the year balloting by the Associated Press.

Throw in a third-place finish in offensive balloting for Seattle's Russell Wilson and the future appears bright in the NFC West.

Wagner, the Seahawks' starting middle linebacker as a second-round draft choice, finished a distant second to Carolina's Luke Kuechly in balloting.

Kuechly also enjoyed a strong rookie season. He entered the 2012 season amid greater fanfare than Wagner. That gave Kuechly a head start with voters. I suspect the same factor helped Robert Griffin III and Andrew Luck finish ahead of Wilson in balloting on the offensive side.

710ESPN Seattle audio: Wagner's chances

December, 13, 2012
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The NFC West has produced playmaking defensive rookies in 2012.

St. Louis Rams cornerback Janoris Jenkins has three interceptions, two of them returned for touchdowns. He scored another touchdown after picking up a loose ball during an overtime victory over San Francisco. Jenkins' teammate, defensive tackle Michael Brockers, has hit his stride recently after overcoming an ankle injury.

Seattle Seahawks defensive end Bruce Irvin, chosen one spot after Brockers in the first round, has eight sacks through 13 games. His teammate, second-round middle linebacker Bobby Wagner, has three picks and two sacks. He remains on the field for passing downs.

Which ones might be deserving for defensive rookie of the year?

Former NFL linebacker Dave Wyman made his case for Wagner before our conversation Thursday on 710ESPN Seattle. My colleague, NFC South blogger Pat Yasinskas, recently advocated for Carolina's Luke Kuechly.

NFL scouts I've spoken with think Tampa Bay's Lavonte David deserves strong consideration for the award. David has played nearly every defensive snap. He leads the NFL in tackles for loss with 17. Kuechly has 10 and Wagner has 7.5.
The Buffalo Bills' thinking at No. 10 in the 2012 draft had the potential to affect the Arizona Cardinals three picks later.

Both teams have needs at offensive tackle and wide receiver.

But with the Bills using the 10th choice for cornerback Stephon Gilmore, the Cardinals' pick approached with tackle Riley Reiff and receiver Michael Floyd both available. Kansas City (11th) and Seattle (12th) stand between Arizona and having a shot at those players.

Tackle is the bigger need for Arizona, in my view. How will the Cardinals value Reiff against the other available players?

Also: With linebacker Luke Kuechly going to Carolina at No. 9, the Seahawks appear more likely to address linebacker later than No. 12.
Draft analysts Mel Kiper Jr. Todd McShay, Rob Rang and Nolan Nawrocki have published their final 2012 NFL mock drafts, with NFC West picks on display in the chart.

There's more consensus with the 30th overall choice than with the sixth overall choice. All four have San Francisco selecting a guard. Three of the four point to Wisconsin's Kevin Zeitler as the one.

I'll revisit these after the draft and hand out awards as warranted.

We've made it, just about, to the 2012 NFL draft.

The anticipation kept at least one NFC West fan and probably a few NFL general managers from sleeping Wednesday night (throw me into that category as well, given that I was up to receive the above-linked tweet).

Let's pass at least some of the remaining time with a spin around the division.

Eric D. Williams of the Tacoma News Tribune checks in with draft analyst Rob Rang for thoughts on defensive backs the Seahawks could consider in each round. South Carolina cornerback Stephon Gilmore is one consideration. Rang: "An athletic cover corner with the size and physicality to be successful in Seattle’s press scheme, Gilmore’s stock is on the rise as the draft approaches."

Also from Williams: Sounds like the Seahawks plan to keep Kam Chancellor at safety, an indication Mark Barron isn't a likely first-round selection for Seattle. General manager John Schneider: "We usually try not to move Pro Bowl players to different positions."

Brock Huard of 710ESPN Seattle thinks Luke Kuechly would be the best choice for the Seahawks with the 12th overall choice if the Boston College linebacker remains available at that point.

Kent Somers of the Arizona Republic considers the Cardinals' draft options and offers this: "The Cardinals have had their shares of busts, such as linebackers Cody Brown (second round, 2009) and Buster Davis (third round, 2007). Others haven't played up to their lofty draft status, such as tackle Levi Brown (fifth overall, 2007). And others have developed slower than the team had hoped, such as nose tackle Dan Williams (first round, 2010). But early returns suggest the Cardinals had one of their better draft classes in 2011. Three of the eight picks became regular starters on a team that went 8-8."

Also from Somers: what draft analysts are saying about Riley Reiff and Michael Floyd.

Darren Urban of azcardinals.com has the Cardinals selecting Reiff at No. 13. He has Justin Blackmon to St. Louis, Melvin Ingram to Seattle and Amini Silatolu to San Francisco.

Matt Maiocco of CSNBayArea.com also has the 49ers selecting Silatolu in the first round. Maiocco: "Offensive line coaches Mike Solari and Tim Drevno drove to meet Silatolu last week at his old high school. They drew up several 49ers offensive plays on the board, along with the corresponding adjustments based on the defense. And then they had Silatolu repeat the plays back to them. Silatolu told CSNBayArea.com on Wednesday that the zone blocking scheme he ran in college is similar to the 49ers' system."

Also from Maiocco: thoughts on why the 49ers should wait until after the first round before selecting a wide receiver.

Lowell Cohn of the Santa Rosa Press-Democrat says the 49ers would be much better off drafting Fleener than their next starting right guard. Cohn: "Right guard is the least important offensive lineman. Because Trent Baalke moved up in the draft last year to take Daniel Kilgore, so Baalke and his brain trust must feel Kilgore has potential. Because a good right guard is not hard to find in later rounds."

Tim Kawakami of the San Jose Mercury News lays out a case for the 49ers drafting Georgia Tech receiver Stephen Hill.

Cam Inman of the San Jose Mercury News explains why he thinks receiver Alshon Jeffery will be the 49ers' choice at No. 30.

Jim Thomas of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch says Rams coach Jeff Fisher downplayed "rumors" regarding running back Steven Jackson being unhappy with his contract or on the trading block. Fisher: "Steven's here in the offseason program. He's upstairs every other day (where the coaches’ offices are located). He’s doing great. Having fun. Learning the offense. No discussion, conversation, or anything along that sort to my knowledge."

Also from Thomas: thoughts on the Rams possibly trading down. Thomas: "If they stay at No. 6, Justin Blackmon is the logical choice -- and it looks like he’ll be there when they pick. But the Rams need more picks, and if the right offer presents itself to trade down, the Rams will do that."

Bernie Miklasz of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch says the Rams should use the sixth overall choice for Blackmon. Miklasz: "It makes no sense to draft quarterback Sam Bradford No. 1 overall, invest $50 million guaranteed in his rookie (2010) contract, then continue to surround him with mediocrity. I agree with those who say Blackmon isn't the prototype No. 1 wideout. But here are the names of the seven wide receivers on the Rams' roster: Danny Amendola, Danario Alexander, Brandon Gibson, Steve Smith, Austin Pettis, Greg Salas and Dominique Curry."

Jeff Gordon of stltoday.com passes along highlights and notes from Fisher's news conference.

Todd McShay's most recent mock draft has the St. Louis Rams selecting USC tackle Matt Kalil with the sixth overall choice, one spot before Jacksonville selects receiver Justin Blackmon.

The change reflects recent rumblings suggesting Minnesota might not select Kalil with the third overall choice. It also reflects a lack of consensus after the first two overall choices.

I'll pass along a link to McShay's mock once it's available. In the meantime, the video atop this entry outlines his top 10 choices.

This version would remove Michael Floyd from consideration for Arizona at No. 13, perhaps allowing them to select offensive tackle Riley Reiff instead, should they value him enough to justify addressing a need at the position. Linebacker Luke Kuechly would be off the board before Seattle selected at No. 12, perhaps increasing the likelihood of the Seahawks using that choice to address their pass rush.

St. Louis, meanwhile, would emerge with Kalil and 2009 first-round choice Jason Smith as its projected starting tackles, with incumbent left tackle Rodger Saffold presumably moving to guard. The Rams would then consider receiver options in the second round.

NFL Blog Network mock draft 2.0

April, 23, 2012
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The first six picks of ESPN’s Blogger Mock Draft unfolded pretty much as expected.

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.

Big Board Bar
QB
6-4
234

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)

OT
6-6
306

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)

RB
5-9
228

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)

CB
5-11
188

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)

WR
6-0
207

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)

DT
6-4
298

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)

QB
6-3
221

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)

LB
6-3
242

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)

DE
6-1
264

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)

G
6-4
316

Analysis: The Chiefs take a sure thing and an instant starter who strengthens a good offense. (Bill Williamson)

S
6-1
213

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)

WR
6-2
220

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)

CB
6-0
190

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)

OT
6-5
313

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)

DE
6-5
284

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)

DE
6-2
271

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)

OT
6-5
345

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)

OT
6-5
312

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)

CB
6-1
185

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)

DT
6-3
346

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)

DT
6-2
309

Analysis: The Broncos would have pounced on Poe, but Worthy is a highly valued player who fills a huge hole. (Bill Williamson)

G
6-3
314

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)

DE
6-5
266

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)

LB
6-3
260

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)

DE
6-1
272

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)

CB
5-10
193
N. Alabama

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)

TE
6-6
247

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)

WR
6-4
215

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)

What's going on: Our eight divisional bloggers are participating in an ongoing mock draft Monday. Each blogger can make selections or trade picks for the four teams in his division.

The latest: I traded Seattle's first-round pick, 12th overall, and fourth-round pick, 106th overall, to the New England Patriots for the 27th and 31st selections.

My rationale: The Seahawks could use a starting middle linebacker. Luke Kuechly would have been a strong consideration, but he did not last past the ninth pick. Trading back became an appealing option. Bill Williamson of the AFC West blog reached out about possibly having San Diego move from 18th to 12th for a shot at Melvin Ingram. That was a consideration until the AFC East blogger, James Walker, moved up to take Ingram at No. 10 for the New York Jets. Walker wanted that 12th pick for New England, however, so I was in luck. The draft value chart said our exchange -- Nos. 12 and 106 for Nos. 27 and 31 -- matched up well. And so I made the move. The Patriots moved up for safety Mark Barron, a difference-maker for their defense. Seattle was already set at safety, having placed two of them in the Pro Bowl this past season. Two first-round picks were better than one in the absence of a player Seattle absolutely had to have.

What's next for the NFC West: The Arizona Cardinals are on the clock with the 13th overall choice.
Four days until the 2012 NFL draft. In the meantime, the mock drafts are piling up.

The chart below shows new projections from reporters covering the Seattle Seahawks, San Francisco 49ers and St. Louis Rams.

All three have the Rams and Seahawks drafting for defense. They all have the Arizona Cardinals drafting an offensive lineman and the 49ers drafting a pass-catcher of some sort.


I'll be participating in a live mock draft Monday at 1 p.m. ET, with trades permitted. Details to come.

Moving along ...

Kent Somers of the Arizona Republic checks in with Ken Whisenhunt and Rod Graves regarding the Cardinals' draft options. Somers: "Addressing the offensive line in the first round makes considerable sense. The Cardinals haven't drafted a lineman the past two seasons. They haven't taken one above the fifth round since selecting Brown fifth overall in 2007. They have tried to plug holes with veterans at the end of their careers (guard Alan Faneca) and low-round picks they hoped would develop (right tackle Brandon Keith). The results have been mixed at best."

Also from Somers: Whisenhunt points to continuity with Graves and personnel director Steve Keim as keys to success in the draft.

Darren Urban of azcardinals.com looks at whether the Arizona Cardinals need a stronger No. 2 receiver to pair with Larry Fitzgerald. Urban: "The Cardinals went to a Super Bowl with Anquan Boldin alongside Larry Fitzgerald, but one of the reasons the Cards were eventually comfortable with dealing Boldin was the success Fitzgerald and the passing game had even in games Boldin missed with injury." Noted: Kurt Warner was the constant.

Eric D. Williams of the Tacoma News Tribune has the Seahawks selecting Alabama inside linebacker Dont'a Hightower in his 2012 first-round mock draft. Williams: "Hawks might move down to get Hightower, but he fills an obvious need and will be the team's quarterback on defense for the next 10 years."

Danny O'Neil of the Seattle Times looks at the Seahawks' need for a linebacker, noting that general manager John Schneider says this draft has more good ones than the previous draft offered. Schneider: "It's completely different than it was last year. There's good numbers up there." Noted: Value could lead the Seahawks to draft a linebacker in the first round, but if there are more to be found throughout the draft, the team could have reason to draft early at a position featuring fewer talented prospects.

Dave Boling of the Tacoma News Tribune explains why he thinks Melvin Ingram might have more appeal to the Seahawks than Luke Kuechly. Boling: "Carroll and his staff like to find players with unique skills and then develop ways to work them into a scheme. While Kuechly looks to be a conventional middle linebacker type, Ingram could be more of a fun toy for Carroll."

Brock Huard of 710ESPN Seattle makes two observations after attending a charity event featuring most of the team: Team chemistry appears strong, and the Seahawks have become a much bigger team physically.

Jim Thomas of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch projects LSU cornerback Morris Claiborne to the Rams with the sixth overall pick after teams picking among the top five selected Justin Blackmon and Trent Richardson, among others.

Also from Thomas: The Rams need help at defensive tackle, but none of the top three prospects appears worthy of the sixth overall choice. Thomas: "In a deep defensive tackle class, there should be multiple options for the Rams at the top of the second round and perhaps even at the top of the third."

More from Thomas: a closer look at Claiborne and the cornerbacks. Thomas: "From a pure coverage standpoint, there are those who feel Claiborne is a significantly better prospect than his much-ballyhooed predecessor at LSU, Patrick Peterson, who went No. 5 overall in the 2011 draft to Arizona."

More yet from Thomas: New Rams linebacker Jo-Lonn Dunbar has good things to say about Gregg Williams.

Pat Yasinskas of ESPN.com says HBO has interest in the Baltimore Ravens and San Francisco 49ers as "Hard Knocks" alternatives to the Atlanta Falcons, who declined to participate. Noted: Tough to envision the 49ers accepting. Their football leadership has sought to close ranks.

Matt Maiocco of CSNBayArea.com passes along thoughts from 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh on GM Trent Baalke's suggestion the team has one player in mind for the 30th overall choice. Maiocco: "I think Trent's trying to be dramatic with you guys -- build the drama. There's several -- there's a lot of good guys. There are a lot of good guys we'd love to have at that pick. Having been through this once, most of the guys you recognize as great football players are going to be playing against you. That's just the fact of business. But getting the right guy, the right fit for our team, is what we're all focused on."

Matt Barrows of the Sacramento Bee has the 49ers drafting receiver Stephen Hill with the 30th pick.

Gwen Knapp of the San Francisco Chronicle looks at history precipitating the 49ers' impending stadium move from San Francisco to Santa Clara.

Eric Branch of the San Francisco Chronicle says new 49ers running back Brandon Jacobs has great speed -- on the highway.

Phil Barber of the Santa Rosa Press-Democrat outlines five positions to watch in the draft for San Francisco.
The NFC West received only a belated dishonorable mention when Matt Williamson of Scouts Inc. listed teams set up poorly Insider for the 2012 NFL draft.

Atlanta, New Orleans, Oakland and the New York Giants made the list. Williamson generally likes where NFC West teams stand, and I would agree, but here are potential concerns for each team in the division:

  • St. Louis Rams: The Rams are set up beautifully for the long term after acquiring additional first-round picks in 2013 and 2014. They could use a true difference-maker at wide receiver, a clear No. 1 to stand out from a group with pretty good depth. Drafting a wide receiver at No. 6 would make sense, but what if the Rams aren't comfortable with taking Justin Blackmon or Michael Floyd that early? Could they feel pressure to reach? I think they'll have the long term in mind. Coach Jeff Fisher and general manager Les Snead are just starting out. Sure, their team needs playmakers, but time is on their side. Having an additional second-round choice puts the Rams in even stronger position for this draft.

  • Seattle Seahawks: The team has no fifth-round pick thanks to the Marshawn Lynch trade. But after signing quarterback Matt Flynn and helping the pass rush with Jason Jones' addition, the Seahawks should face little pressure to draft for need in the first round. The Seahawks would ideally move back from the 12th overall slot, adding picks -- perhaps a fifth-rounder to make up for the one Seattle sent to Buffalo. The team could use a starting middle linebacker. There's good depth at that position in this draft, meaning the Seahawks can come out OK even if Luke Kuechly is not available. Seattle found starting linebacker K.J. Wright in the fourth round of the 2011 draft, which had less depth at the position.

  • Arizona Cardinals: Teams prefer to enter a draft with at least one pick in every round and no glaring needs. The Cardinals have no second-round choice. They also have a clear need for an offensive tackle. That combination could put pressure on the Cardinals to select a tackle in the first round. What if there are no tackles worthy of the 13th overall selection? Arizona has done a good job favoring value over need in multiple instances over recent drafts. Taking running back Ryan Williams in the second round last year comes to mind as one example. Ideally, the Cardinals would move back in this draft, pick up a second-round choice and still find a tackle to further solidify their line. They might have to move back into the early 20s to get a second-rounder, unless they were comfortable giving up later-round picks as part of a deal.

  • San Francisco 49ers: The 49ers have one pick in every round, and no glaring needs. Picking 30th overall isn't very exciting, but neither are the 49ers' needs. They could use an interior offensive lineman (yawn). They could find room for the right receiver, cornerback or safety. Depth for the front seven could be nice. What about running back? Oh, and if tight end Coby Fleener is there, he could make sense too. The 49ers could go in just about any direction, a good thing for a team coming off a 13-3 season. The only complaint is picking so late, but that's a small price to pay for winning.

Any other concerns for these teams? These are the ones that come to mind for me.
Draft theorizing carried the NFC West chat Wednesday. Potential scenarios are virtually endless in quantity. We considered a few of them and expanded the conversation.

Full chat transcript here. A few highlights below:

Adam from Rancho Santa Margarita, Calif., enjoyed the mock draft comparison, but he's not so sure the San Francisco 49ers will seriously consider a guard in the first round. He thinks adding to the defensive line or finding a speed player at receiver would carry move value.

Mike Sando: Thanks, Adam. I understand what the mock drafters are thinking. They are going with perceived needs because it's tougher to figure out value differentials for players drafted later in the first round. It's easy to give the 49ers a guard at that point in the draft. I agree with the thinking that a team should be able to develop a guard chosen later in the draft. It's OK to take a guard early if you're getting a special one, but harder to justify in other cases. The 49ers have a great defense already, but if they could find someone to project as an eventual Justin Smith successor, that would help the team. Bucky Brooks had that thought in mind in putting together his mock, which I linked to from the item you referenced.

D from Valley of the Sun thinks value would compel the Arizona Cardinals to select David DeCastro in the first round, if available. The team could move Adam Snyder to tackle, then draft a tackle in the third round, a pass-rusher in the fourth (think Sam Acho last year) and a receiver after that. Emphasizing the ground game would help Kevin Kolb this season, in his view.

Mike Sando: You've thought through the scenario well, I would say. That is a less-than-ideal scenario, however. The team already spent big for left guard Daryn Colledge in free agency. Investing a first-round choice in a right guard just doesn't seem like the preferred path philosophically. Beanie Wells and Ryan Williams need to stay healthy, first and foremost. Wells had 1,000 yards last season despite not being healthy much of the time. The thought of Snyder at right tackle isn't appealing, either. Jeremy Bridges might be a better starting option there.

Corey from Washington, D.C., proposes the following scenario: Ryan Tannehill slips past Cleveland at No. 4; Seattle trades up with Miami to take Quinton Coples at No. 8; and the Dolphins select Tannehill at No. 12, a position Corey deemed "more respectable" for the Texas A&M quarterback. "For the record, I have a hard time buying Kansas City passingon Luke Kuechly to get a raw QB, which I factored in," he added.

Mike Sando: I question whether the Dolphins would have the patience to try such a move. They're likely desperate for a quarterback. Can they really afford to get cute if they think Tannehill is their guy? I don't see how they could do that, given the risk of losing the player.

Roland from Winnipeg notes that three of the 14 mock drafts cited had the St. Louis Rams passing on Justin Blackmon for Fletcher Cox. He likes the thinking because he sees quality receivers available later, but he wonders whether the Rams have a great enough need at defensive tackle to justify the decision.

Mike Sando: The Rams are starting over in a lot of areas, but especially at defensive tackle. They flushed out Fred Robbins and are starting almost from scratch there. The thinking on Fletcher Cox would reflect Jeff Fisher's general belief that you build with a strong running game and strong defense. Yes, you need playmakers too, but the first priority is to take pressure off the QB by running the ball, perhaps diminishing the need to build right away with a receiver taken sixth overall, especially if that receiver isn't as appealing as some of the other receivers taken very early in drafts. Cox would then be a value selection.

Thanks for keeping the conversation going. The NFC West chat will return to its usual Thursday schedule next week.

Enjoy your Wednesday night.

Sifting through 2012 NFL mock drafts

April, 11, 2012
4/11/12
11:48
AM ET
With an assist from Clare Farnsworth, I've put together a chart showing 14 mock draft projections for NFC West teams.

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:
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.

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