NFC West: Melvin Ingram
"The Cardinals have caught grief over the last few years for not drafting offensive lineman, so this year they go out and draft three," he writes. "Now, they are catching grief for not addressing the outside linebacker position. Why can't this team ever do anything right?"
Mike Sando: I don't know whether the Cardinals are taking significant grief for failing to select an outside linebacker. Let's assume they are, and then let's weigh their perceived needs against known opportunities.
The Cardinals used the 13th overall choice for receiver Michael Floyd when they could have selected Melvin Ingram, who went 18th to San Diego. Whitney Mercilus (26th to Houston) and Nick Perry (28th to Green Bay) were the other projected outside linebackers drafted in the first round by teams running 3-4 defenses. Time will tell whether the Cardinals might have fared better selecting one of those players over Floyd.
Having no second-round choice limited the Cardinals' options in this draft, but drafting an outside linebacker in that round might have been a stretch. Courtney Upshaw, chosen 35th overall by Baltimore, was the only 3-4 outside linebacker chosen in the second round (Miami used a third-round choice, 72nd overall, for Olivier Vernon).
That suggests Arizona, which sent the 51st overall pick to Philadelphia in the Kevin Kolb trade, did not necessarily miss out on pass-rush help in that round.
Vernon was the only 3-4 outside linebacker selected in the third round. Arizona, picking eight spots later, took cornerback Jamell Fleming.
The fourth round did provide an opportunity for the Cardinals to select help at outside linebacker. Arizona was picking 112th overall. Dallas took outside linebacker Kyle Wilber with the 113th pick. Washington took Keenan Robinson at No. 119.
Offensive tackle was clearly the No. 1 need for Arizona, however. The Cardinals' decision to use the 112th choice for tackle Bobby Massie seemed reasonable and almost imperative because the team had not taken an offensive lineman to that point in the draft.
Perhaps things would have been different for Arizona in the fourth round if the team had held onto the 51st overall choice. Tackle Mike Adams, selected 56th overall by Pittsburgh, would have been an option for the Cardinals.
Arizona used its fifth-round choice (151st overall) for another offensive lineman, Senio Kelemete. This again appeared reasonable, although teams did take 3-4 outside linebackers among the next 14 picks.
The Cardinals already have young pass-rushing prospects in Sam Acho and O'Brien Schofield. If they were going to select an outside linebacker, they arguably needed to get a true difference maker. Ingram, Mercilus and Perry would have been the options, but drafting one of them would have meant passing on Floyd.
The shift in NFL disciplinary emphasis from off-field behavior to on-field safety should serve the NFC West well over the coming months.
The division took calculated gambles early and often in the 2012 NFL draft, selecting players with rap sheets as varied as the players' on-field skill sets.
But player safety is trumping player behavior as the prevailing NFL issue these days, and NFC West teams aren't likely to draw much scrutiny for their decisions, at least initially.
Five of the first 10 players NFC West teams selected had, at various times, faced accusations relating to drunken driving (Michael Floyd), robbery (Bruce Irvin), marijuana possession (Janoris Jenkins), attempted strangulation (LaMichael James) and resisting arrest (Trumaine Johnson).
They were not all charged nor convicted. They are not necessarily bad guys, of course. But each carried red flags into the evaluation process. Each represents a heightened risk for his new NFC West team.
What's going on here?
A theory: Pete Carroll, Jeff Fisher and Jim Harbaugh, in particular, are three of the higher-profile, more highly paid coaches in the NFL. Higher-paid coaches tend to have more power (Carroll and Fisher demanded personnel influence as a condition of employment). Coaches also tend to listen to their assistants. They might be more apt to take chances, confident in their ability to manage players.
Cardinals coach Ken Whisenhunt, also well-compensated and facing a pivotal year at quarterback, has made it clear that he's a believer in drafting with character in mind. He also might need to win his bet on Kevin Kolb, perhaps one reason the Cardinals, having done their homework on Floyd, took the first calculated gamble among NFC West teams.
Arizona made Floyd the second receiver drafted, taking him at No. 13. Irvin went to Seattle two spots later, followed by Jenkins to St. Louis (39th), James to San Francisco (61st) and Johnson to the Rams (65th).
The Rams' pre-draft move to trade back four spots from the second overall pick set up their next three drafts, beginning with this one.
With three second-round choices this year, the Rams felt comfortable taking a chance on Jenkins, a player widely regarded as a first-round talent. Jenkins might have the ability to make this draft for the Rams, but taking him at No. 39 and amid so many other early selections insulated the team from undue risk.
The Rams move forward with four first-round selections over the next two drafts. They're in position to get better the right way through the draft.
There were a few candidates for consideration, including the Cardinals' decision to draft a wide receiver instead of an offensive tackle at No. 13.
But Irvin's selection with the 15th overall choice stands out given his background, one-dimensional nature and the surprise factor associated with his selection.
Irvin dropped out of high school, lived on the streets for two years, was arrested on robbery charges and more recently was charged with disorderly conduct. His life and career have been trending in the right direction for a few years, but with so few analysts projecting Irvin for the first round, the Seahawks can expect louder than usual criticism if Irvin fails to develop.
Seattle could have drafted Fletcher Cox, Quinton Coples, Michael Brockers, Melvin Ingram or Chandler Jones among the defensive players available when the Seahawks were scheduled to select with the 12th overall choice. They traded back and took Irvin after Philadelphia took Cox at No. 12 and St. Louis took Brockers at No. 14.
MOST SURPRISING MOVE
We could double up on Irvin in this space, but the 49ers deserve a mention as well.
They made Illinois receiver A.J. Jenkins a surprise selection with the 27th overall choice. Analysts knew San Francisco might consider a receiver in the first round, but if any of them projected Jenkins as a possibility in that slot, that would be news to me.
Personnel people I've spoken with said they liked Jenkins. The Rams reportedly had him ranked not far behind Justin Blackmon, the first receiver selected.
Receivers Stephen Hill, Alshon Jeffery and Rueben Randle drew more mention before the draft. All were available when the 49ers selected Jenkins, as were Brian Quick and Ryan Broyles, all taken in the second round. The 49ers will get an up-close look at Quick, drafted by the Rams. But Jenkins was the player they wanted.
FILE IT AWAY
The quarterback situations in Seattle and Arizona have become more competitive.
The Seahawks used a third-round choice for Wisconsin's Russell Wilson, a strong-armed quarterback with fantastic intangibles. Concerns over Wilson's 5-foot-11 height knocked him down draft boards, but a third-round pedigree in Seattle should put Seahawks quarterbacks Matt Flynn, Tarvaris Jackson and Justin Portis on notice.
Arizona used a sixth-round choice for San Diego State quarterback Ryan Lindley. The Cardinals have shown a willingness to let less-heralded quarterbacks compete for playing time. John Skelton and Max Hall over the last couple seasons come to mind. With Kolb and Skelton battling for the starting job, Lindley arrives as a potential alternative for the future.
The 49ers did not head into this draft needing to draft a quarterback, but this is a good time to recall the move they made to acquire Colin Kaepernick in the second round a year ago. Alex Smith is the incumbent starter, but his contract gives the 49ers an easy out after one or two seasons.
RENTON, Wash. -- There were no bold strikes up the draft board for NFC West teams Thursday night.
There was resignation among those hoping the St. Louis Rams would emerge with a No. 1 wide receiver for quarterback Sam Bradford. The Rams traded down instead, taking LSU defensive tackle Michael Brockers after wideouts Justin Blackmon and Michael Floyd vanished from the talent pool right before St. Louis picked.
There was the expected in Arizona, where the Cardinals went with Floyd over tackle Riley Reiff, no slam dunk but a widely projected scenario in recent weeks.
There was waiting in San Francisco, where the 49ers did not pick until No. 30, where they selected Illinois receiver A.J. Jenkins shortly after two top guards landed elsewhere.
And then there was utter shock in Seattle, where the Seahawks used the 15th overall choice for a player with more time logged in jail than in the mainstream media mock drafts circulating recently.
The Seahawks could have had pass-rushers Quinton Coples, Melvin Ingram or Chandler Jones, but instead they went with West Virginia's Bruce Irvin, a former junior-college transfer with a rough past, a sensational first step and a history with Seahawks coach Pete Carroll, who once recruited him to USC.
Irvin is not Charles Haley, Chris Doleman, Derrick Thomas or Dwight Freeney. He is not even Von Miller or Jevon Kearse. The Seahawks think he'll become that type of player quickly, however, and they are not shy about leaving that impression. It's an upset if Irvin fails to reach double digits in sacks this season, to hear the Seahawks speak of him.
"This guy comes off the ball like Dwight Freeney and Von Miller and Jevon Kearse," general manager John Schneider said.
Irvin is not for everyone. At 6-foot-3 and 248 pounds, he's a pure pass-rusher, not a player with the strength to anchor against the run on early downs. Irvin represents what Carroll wants for the "Leo" role manned capably by Chris Clemons in recent years. Irvin will play immediately as a situational pass-rusher. The plan will be to groom him as Clemons' successor eventually.
"He is exactly the makeup that you are looking for," Carroll said. "This goes all the way back to Charles Haley and Chris Doleman and Derrick Thomas. That is the kind of effect this guy has a chance to have. He has a lot to learn. He is going to have to grow up with us and learn our system. But the makeup of this player is so rare. He looks like a carbon copy of Von Miller rushing the passer."
Seattle spent big to retain run-stuffing defensive end Red Bryant in free agency. The money Bryant commanded means he'll be on the field for early downs. And with Clemons coming off an 11-sack season, that meant the Seahawks weren't looking for an every-down defensive end. They were looking for a player with a unique set of skills, and Irvin fits on that front. His 6.7-second time in the three-cone drill was the fastest for any player at the scouting combine.
"This position is so rare to find a guy that runs this fast," Carroll said.
Irvin follows a pattern in Seattle. Bryant is much bigger than the typical defensive end. Brandon Browner (6-4) and Richard Sherman (6-3) are taller than the typical cornerback. Kam Chancellor is the biggest strong safety in the league. Earl Thomas might be the NFL's fastest free safety. Linebacker K.J. Wright stands 6-4 and is rangier than most.
Now comes Irvin, who played wide receiver in high school before flunking out as a junior. Irvin was living on the streets for two years, at one point keeping his possessions in a bag. He spent a couple weeks in jail after allegedly robbing a drug dealer. Irvin pulled himself together, earned his GED and landed, eventually, on the football team at Mount San Antonio College.
"I went through a lot of stuff in my life," Irvin said. "I've seen a lot. The average person would not be on this call."
Nothing came of a more recent arrest for destruction of property.
A year ago, the Seahawks shocked draft analysts by selecting tackle James Carpenter with the 25th overall choice. Carpenter hadn't appeared in many first-round mock drafts, but the Seahawks weren't the only team with a first-round grade on him. Pittsburgh and Green Bay also liked him. An injury derailed Carpenter last season, making it tough to evaluate that choice. The Irvin selection was similar in that virtually no one projected the move.
So far, though, Carroll has usually been right when targeting specific defensive players for specific roles. And there is precedent within the division for surprise first-round selections making an immediate impact.
The 49ers selected Aldon Smith seventh overall last year when few projected the Missouri pass-rusher to San Francisco. Smith, unlike Irvin, was widely considered a top-15 prospect by analysts. Smith finished his rookie season with 14 sacks, finishing behind only Miller in defensive-rookie-of-the-year balloting, even though conventional wisdom suggested Smith would need time to develop.
Smith succeeded right away largely because the 49ers used him properly, asking him to do the one thing he could do best: rush the passer.
The bar has been set high for Irvin.
"I'm just a great athlete," Irvin said. "I'm going to do great things for this organization. The sky is the limit for me."
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.
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.
The San Francisco 49ers (Kevin Zeitler), Arizona Cardinals (Melvin Ingram) and Seattle Seahawks (Chandler Jones) went first in our analysis, reflecting reverse draft order.
The St. Louis Rams, picking sixth overall, round out the series.
6. St. Louis Rams: Justin Blackmon, WR, Oklahoma St.
Kiper's give: I had St. Louis as a team likely to move down, given that we know the front office has been openly interested in the idea. But if they're still here, I think Blackmon is the pick. He'll pay immediate dividends for the offense, and Sam Bradford will finally have a target most of us evaluators can see as a potential true No. 1.
Sando's take: Kiper had Morris Claiborne, Trent Richardson and Matt Kalil going with the third through fifth picks, respectively. It doesn't matter so much what order those players come off the board if they're gone among the top five picks. The Rams aren't likely to trade up. Blackmon was also the player I projected going to the Rams at No. 6, despite some concerns about value. The Rams have needs throughout their roster. They have acute needs at wide receiver, defensive tackle and outside linebacker, with a special emphasis on finding weapons to help quarterback Sam Bradford succeed. The Rams don't simply need a wide receiver. They have decent depth at the position. They specifically need a No. 1 receiver, the type teams seek near the top of the draft. The question is whether Blackmon projects as that type of player.
The San Francisco 49ers (Kevin Zeitler) and Arizona Cardinals (Melvin Ingram) were first up.
The Seattle Seahawks, picking 12th, are next.
12. Seattle Seahawks: Chandler Jones, DE, Syracuse
Kiper's give: The Seahawks need a pass-rusher, and I really like the fit. Pete Carroll can use a player with Jones' length and athleticism in a "Leo" role, and create an added dimension to the rush. The Seahawks will built a pretty formidable defense if they can add a final piece or two up front. Jones makes sense here.
Sando's take: Kiper will get no argument on this one. After all, Jones was the pick for Seattle during our recent ESPN Blogger Mock Draft, published Monday. In Kiper's mock, the Seahawks take Jones when Melvin Ingram, Mark Barron, Stephon Gilmore, Quinton Coples and Whitney Mercilus were also options for teams looking to upgrade on defense. Scouts give Jones high marks for work ethic, physical potential and versatility. As Scouts Inc. put it , "Best fit will be as a LDE for a 4-3 scheme. Can develop into 5-technique if he continues to get stronger and learns proper technique. Has good core strength, room on frame, and long arms. ... Has experience reducing inside to a three-technique on obvious passing situations, as well." Sounds like an outstanding fit for the Seahawks given their needs.
We discussed the San Francisco 49ers' projection at No. 30 (Wisconsin guard Kevin Zeitler was the choice).
The Arizona Cardinals, picking 13th, are next up.
13. Arizona Cardinals: Melvin Ingram, DE, South Carolina
Kiper's give: They could really use an offensive tackle, but Ingram is a steal in this spot. (Seattle could certainly be in play for him.) While we can quibble with short arms and a lack of height, Ingram is a disruptive pass-rusher with an arsenal of moves, and doesn't get engulfed by bigger tackles the way you'd worry he might. Arizona won't pass on a guy many consider the best sack artist in the draft.
Sando's take: Giving defensive coordinator Ray Horton another pass-rushing weapon to go with young linebackers Sam Acho and O'Brien Schofield could help the Cardinals sustain the defensive momentum they generated late last season. The Cardinals finished the 2011 season with good sack numbers, but they have lacked a single dominant pass-rushing force. Ingram has the potential to line up in multiple places, including outside linebacker. The value would seem to be better with Ingram than with offensive tackle Riley Reiff, who Kiper has falling to San Diego at No. 18. A dynamic pass-rusher carries much greater potential for impact than even the best right tackles. It would be tough to argue with the Cardinals' thinking if they selected Ingram.
The long-armed pass-rusher seemed to represent good value with the 27th overall choice, acquired from New England in our mock.
The reality, of course, is that Seattle enters the NFL draft Thursday with the 12th overall choice, not the 27th pick. But in speaking with Steve Muench of Scouts Inc., Jones could be a logical consideration in that spot as well.
Sando: OK, Steve, you liked where San Francisco and Arizona stood in this draft. I'm sensing a trend here.
Muench: The Seahawks are in good shape, yes. The interesting thing about this draft is that Quinton Coples is going to drop. I think Coples or Chandler Jones would make sense for Seattle. The Seahawks are going to get an edge rusher and those guys are two of the bigger defensive ends/edge rushers in this class.
Sando: Right, but every time I speak with an NFL scout about Coples, the response is less than enthusiastic.
Muench: Some are concerned with his work ethic. From what I've seen on film, he's a hard worker. With everything that went on at North Carolina, if the kid had any inclination of being a troublemaker, it would have happened there. He was dominant at the Senior Bowl, by far the best defensive lineman there. I understand why people say, 'No, is he going to work.' They say where there is smoke, there is fire. I haven’t been able to find it.
Sando: It's interesting to me that you brought up Jones unsolicited. I had read a scouting report comparing him to Calais Campbell and pointing out Jones' extremely long arms. Right away, I thought Jones would appeal to Pete Carroll, who values players with what he describes as unique or unusual traits.
Muench: Jones is skyrocketing up boards. He didn't have a monster workout at the combine. I watched his 2010 and 2011 film, and you can clearly see him improving in terms of technique and off-the-field work ethic. He put on a lot of weight at Syracuse and it's good weight. Even though he is not as explosive as an Melvin Ingram or Fletcher Cox, he bends the edge, he’s flexible. Put him opposite Chris Clemons in pass-rushing situations and that would work for them.
Sando: The chart shows Seattle's sack leaders from last season. Clemons was the only one with more than four. The team signed Jason Jones to replace Anthony Hargrove. Raheem Brock is a free agent and not expected back. There's no question the team could use another defensive end with pass-rush ability.
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.
Mike Sando: The decision to draft Brown fifth overall was understandable. Brown started for five seasons, then received a $7 million signing bonus as part of a second contract. The Cardinals do not consider him to be a bust, in other words.
In retrospect, it's easy to say Arizona should have drafted Adrian Peterson over Brown, but the Cardinals had already invested heavily in free-agent running back Edgerrin James. They were looking to give their new line coach, Russ Grimm, a player to build around. Brown has not met expectations associated with his draft status, but he's going to start for at least a sixth consecutive season.
The Cardinals' need for another offensive tackle is acute. That is one reason the team felt compelled to bring back Brown. Arizona does not hold a second-round pick, so there will be added pressure to help the offensive line early. Free-agent options appear severely limited. This will be a recipe for reaching if the situation remains unchanged heading into the draft.
As much as I think the Cardinals need line help, I did send Upshaw their way in the NFL Blog Network mock draft we put together last week, for several reasons. The chart shows quite a few prominent draft analysts projecting defensive players to the Cardinals with the 13th overall pick. Perhaps you'll get your way, Phil.
Most analysts seem to think Upshaw will go later than 13th overall. The fit in Arizona could be right, however, as the Cardinals head into their second season running the scheme coordinator Ray Horton brought from Pittsburgh. As Pro Football Weekly analyst Nolan Nawrocki put it, Upshaw is "not as athletic as [Steelers outside linebacker] LaMarr Woodley, but could best fit a similar type of role as an intimidating 3-4 rush linebacker."
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)
We discussed the first one about a month ago, summarizing Kiper's thoughts and supplementing them with my own.
This updated look works from Kiper's updated mock, continuing with the Seattle Seahawks, who hold the 11th or 12th overall choice, pending a coin flip with Kansas City.
11-12. Seattle Seahawks: Melvin Ingram, DE, South Carolina
Kiper's give: Some see the Seahawks looking at a QB this high, but the value doesn't make a lot of sense for me just yet. On the defensive side of the ball, the big need is help for the pass rush. Ingram has enough size to hold up in the 4-3, and will provide an upgrade.
Sando's take: Kiper had the Seahawks taking Ingram in his previous mock as well. The thinking makes sense under the circumstances. Seattle can approach the quarterback dilemma in stages. Matt Flynn could be an option in free agency. Peyton Manning could be an option later, provided the Colts release him and his health improves sufficiently. Drafting a quarterback at Nos. 12 or 13 does seem unlikely based on current evaluations. The Seahawks, by resisting Andy Dalton when he was available at No. 25 last year, showed they will not draft a quarterback simply because they would like one. Projections do change, however. At this time last year, Kiper projected two quarterbacks in the first round. That number increased as the draft neared . Teams wound up drafting four among the top 12 picks. Pressure on the Seahawks to act boldly figures to increase as the team continues to finish outside the top few overall draft choices.
I'll continue with a look at Kiper's plans for the Seattle Seahawks, who will draft either 11th or 12th, pending a coin toss with Kansas City.
11-12. Seattle Seahawks: Melvin Ingram, DE, South Carolina
Kiper's give: The Seahawks have quietly made major strides in overhauling the roster and finding solutions to grow with in the past two years. Obviously, quarterback remains a big question, but that's not something they can target at this spot in the draft. What they can do is add a final piece to a defense that is young, fast and extremely good in the secondary.
Sando's take: Seattle already has a strong defense. Adding another pass-rusher is critical. Chris Clemons is signed through 2012. He needs help. Quarterback is the other obvious need. Kiper projects only two in the first round. Teams selected four among the top 12 choices last year. The Seahawks haven't drafted one in the first round since 1993. Mike Teel, David Greene, Seneca Wallace, Jeff Kelly, Josh Booty and Brock Huard are the only quarterbacks Seattle has drafted since selecting Rick Mirer second overall in that '93 draft. The Seahawks selected those players 142nd overall on average. Needing a quarterback doesn't entitle a team to one. Speculation over targeting Matt Flynn in free agency will continue in the absence of evidence the Seahawks have interest. I'm skeptical.