NFC West: Morris Claiborne

EARTH CITY, Mo. -- When news broke that Dallas Cowboys cornerback Morris Claiborne had been demoted from the starting lineup and subsequently departed the team's facility in a huff, it didn't make much of a ripple around the St. Louis Rams.

Brockers
Claiborne
But there's actually a deeper history involving Claiborne and the Rams than many realize. While the Rams' 2012 draft trade with the Washington Redskins centered on the No. 2 overall pick and Robert Griffin III, it's easy to forget about the second first-round trade the Rams made that year.

After moving down to No. 6, the Rams cut another deal as Claiborne, that draft's consensus top corner, fell to their spot. Although the Rams had brought Claiborne to St. Louis for a visit and showed interest in him, they weren't sold enough to make him their pick. Dallas, however, had no such qualms.

The Cowboys traded the No. 14 overall pick along with their second-round pick, No. 45 overall, to the Rams for No. 6. Dallas coveted Claiborne and the Rams decided to gamble that the object of their affection, defensive tackle Michael Brockers, would slip to them.

As it turned out, both teams got what they wanted. The Rams later traded the No. 45 overall pick to the Chicago Bears for the No. 50 pick and a fifth-round choice that they turned into running back Isaiah Pead and guard Rokevious Watkins. Neither of those choices has paid dividends for the Rams but the Bears took receiver Alshon Jeffery with the pick acquired from St. Louis.

Clearly, the move up for Claiborne hasn't been a good decision for the Cowboys, especially considering reports they would have taken Brockers at 14 and linebacker Bobby Wagner with that second-round pick. Wagner has thus far been better than both players in his first two-plus seasons.

Brockers, meanwhile, has been a solid if unspectacular pick so far for the Rams. If nothing else, he's a dependable starter who still boasts some upside, something that might be hard for Claiborne to claim moving forward.

Drawing the tie even closer, it's worth noting that Claiborne's blowup Wednesday came on the heels of a rough outing against the Rams on Sunday. He did make the game-sealing interception in the fourth quarter but that came after the Rams repeatedly targeted him for big plays. He allowed five catches for 118 yards and two touchdowns and was flagged for defensive holding in the Cowboys' victory.

In retrospect, the Rams could have done much better with the second-round pick acquired from Dallas but the Brockers selection alone makes them clear winners in the deal.
Arizona Cardinals coach Ken Whisenhunt, mindful of minicamps' limitations as tools for evaluation, has regularly balanced his excitement for the coming season with disclaimers.

One recent example: "I'm excited for our defensive players because of their confidence and how they feel about where we are, but it doesn't mean anything if we don't play well and we don't win games."

Whisenhunt's excitement for rookie third-round cornerback Jamell Fleming seemed instructive in that context:
"He’s been a productive player at a big-time program, one that has played in some big-time games against good talent, so you like that. But the thing that jumped off the film to me was his quickness. Even watching him out here and doing some of the stuff inside in the nickel, his change of direction is really, really outstanding. You like to see that. He’s a competitive guy, he’s big, he was physical off the tape, which is one of the things you like.

"But when you talk about a guy who can play inside or outside, those guys have to be physical. The bigger they are, makes it more difficult for the offenses. I’m interested to see how it’s going to translate, if he can handle that position. The physical skill set is a good match for that."

Fleming, chosen 80th overall from Oklahoma, was the eighth of 34 cornerbacks selected in 2012 and the third by an NFC West team.

Cornerback depth has improved dramatically within the division over the past two seasons.

I'll be interested in seeing how Fleming develops relative to St. Louis' Janoris Jenkins (second round, 39th overall) and Trumaine Johnson (third round, 65th overall). NFC West teams did not draft another corner until Seattle chose Jeremy Lane in the sixth round. The Cardinals took Justin Bethel five picks later, also in the sixth.
St. Louis Rams fans should know that Bob Mcginn, who recently finished first among 60 analysts projecting which players teams would draft among the top 100 picks, also forecast Trumaine Johnson as a first-rounder in his 2012 mock.

The Rams drafted Johnson in the third round, with the 65th overall choice. Johnson downplayed any concerns stemming from an arrest following a party he hosted.

"I just decided to throw a party after a win," Johnson told reporters during a conference call following his selection Friday. "It got loud. The cops came and shut it down. As we were shutting it down, one of my buddies got tased, so I went over there to try to see what was going on and I got tased. We both got booked and arrested."

Authorities accused Johnson of disorderly conduct, obstructing an officer and resisting arrest.

"I believe everybody throws parties and has fun in college," Johnson said. "I feel like I was just in the wrong place at the wrong time, so I shouldn’t have thrown the party in the first place just because we were in the season. I learned from it and it’s behind me now."

Johnson was among the subjects Bernie Miklasz and I discussed during our weekly conversation Tuesday on 101ESPN St. Louis. Johnson was the sixth of 34 cornerbacks drafted. The Rams previously used the 39th choice, a second-rounder, for cornerback Janoris Jenkins, a player carrying greater concerns off the field.

The Rams will lean on their veteran defensive coaching staff and newly signed cornerback Cortland Finnegan to assist Johnson and Jenkins.
The disparate ratings teams place on NFL draft prospects can lead to surprises, as when the Seattle Seahawks made defensive end Bruce Irvin the 15th overall choice this year.

The receiver rankings were particularly interesting this time.

The one San Francisco selected in the first round, A.J. Jenkins, had higher ratings from teams than analysts suggested in their mock drafts. The Arizona Cardinals and St. Louis Rams also differed over how to rate Notre Dame's Michael Floyd, the player Arizona drafted with the 13th overall selection. Floyd was the second of 33 receivers drafted.

Darren Urban of azcardinals.com says the team had Floyd ranked seventh on its board of 120 players fitting team needs, regardless of position. Floyd was the team's second-rated receiver, presumably behind Oklahoma State's Justin Blackmon. Urban: "Most analysts had six 'elite' players at the top of the draft, and assuming the Cards had the same guys -- Andrew Luck, Trent Richardson, Justin Blackmon, Robert Griffin III, Matt Kalil and Morris Claiborne -- in the top six, then Floyd was the guy right after and the natural pick at No. 13 overall."

Jim Thomas of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch says the Rams had their second-round choice, Brian Quick, rated as the second-best receiver in the draft, behind Blackmon. Thomas: "When a Rams contingent hopped a private jet a week ago to work out five wide receivers, they were so enamored of Quick, they rated him as 1B of the five, right behind Oklahoma State's Justin Blackmon at 1A. Next came Illinois' A.J. Jenkins, followed by Michael Floyd of Notre Dame and Kendall Wright of Baylor. Yes, the Rams had Quick and Jenkins rated ahead of Floyd. So in the case of their first two picks, the Rams must trust their talent evaluators and have faith that their coaches can get [first-round pick Michael] Brockers and Quick up to speed as quickly as possible."

Jerry Brewer of the Seattle Times says the Seahawks' unorthodox approach to evaluating players has worked well enough to secure the benefit of the doubt. Brewer: "When you examine them closely, you realize they've made the right move more times than not. And so far, even their mistakes haven't been of the franchise-killing variety. Despite all the confusion and debate they inspire, this has been a trustworthy front office. ... Because they're so thorough and believe so fully in themselves, it's wise to couch skepticism or at least delay unleashing it until you see the plan in action. They're eccentric, not stupid. Recognize the difference."

Cam Inman of the San Jose Mercury News checks in with new 49ers receiver Randy Moss, who arrived for the team's offseason program. Moss: "It was eye opening. Today was the first day, and we were moving so fast. Today felt like we'd been out here for a week or two."

Also from Inman: comments from 49ers general manager Trent Baalke regarding Moss and other 49ers subjects. Baalke: "We actually talked with Randy’s agent a year earlier and wanted to know if there’s any interest. When we reached out to him, the response was, 'Not interested. Done. Hanging the cleats up.' So we just let it go. Obviously Randy didn’t come back (in 2011) and sat out the year."

Matt Barrows of the Sacramento Bee says the 49ers had interest in Irvin, the player Seattle drafted 15th overall. Barrows: "Before the draft, I wrote that West Virginia's Bruce Irvin was a possibility to the 49ers in the first round. (You collectively scoffed). It turns out that notion only was ludicrous because the Seahawks chose Irvin 15 picks earlier. It also turns out that the 49ers flew an assistant cross country to work out Irvin a mere two days before the draft, according to CBS Sports.com."
Months of mocks and related analysis did not adequately prepare us for a half-dozen selections in the first round of the 2012 NFL draft.

NFC West teams made two of those surprise selections: Bruce Irvin to the Seattle Seahawks and A.J. Jenkins to the San Francisco 49ers. I've listed four others in the chart below after consulting with our other seven divisional bloggers.

While it's possible the teams involved made poor decisions in some cases, accounting for the surprise factor, there's no question the rest of us could have done a better job anticipating. I'll set aside the Dallas Cowboys' selection of cornerback Morris Claiborne. We knew Dallas could take a corner, but there was little way we could know the Cowboys would trade into the sixth overall spot to make it happen.

But in breaking down the other surprise selections, we can hopefully avoid making similar mistakes in the future.

Mistaken identity

Jenkins and New York Giants first-round running back David Wilson fall into this category.

We knew the 49ers could target a receiver early. We figured running back would be a position for the Giants to address. We simply misidentified the players they were most likely to select.

I had projected Kendall Wright to San Francisco in a mock draft several weeks ago, but Tennessee selected him 20th overall, 10 spots before the 49ers selected. Stephen Hill and Rueben Randle, among others, were popular projections.

The knock on Jenkins was that he lacked sufficient physical strength. The 49ers are a very physical team. They have valued physical players. Josh Morgan was a physical wideout the team would have retained if Washington hadn't made an over-the-top contract offer.

In retrospect, however, perhaps we should have more closely considered the receivers San Francisco did sign this offseason. Mario Manningham has never been known as a physical player. Ted Ginn Jr. is not physical at all.

The 49ers now have drafted two wide receivers under coach Jim Harbaugh. Ronald Johnson, a sixth-round pick in 2011, was the one before Jenkins. Lack of physical strength was a knock on Johnson coming out of college.

So far, the 49ers have done a very good job evaluating personnel at just about every position, but receiver has been an exception. Perhaps that changes with Jenkins.

For the Giants, Doug Martin was the running back projected as a first-round candidate somewhat regularly. Tampa Bay drafted Martin at No. 31, one spot ahead of where the Giants were picking. That gave this draft three first-round backs, one more than was typically projected.

Scheme considerations

Irvin and Chicago Bears first-round defensive end Shea McClellin fall into this category.

We could put Irvin in the mistaken identity category as well because the Seahawks' need for a pass-rusher was well-established. But the projections commonly assumed Seattle would be looking for a more traditional defensive end, one big enough to hold up against the run.

In retrospect, we should have at least mentioned Irvin as a possibility.

Seattle gave run-stuffing defensive end Red Bryant a $35 million contract this offseason. Bryant is going to start and play early downs for the next few seasons. That meant the Seahawks were in the market more for a player in the "Leo" role filled by leading sacker Chris Clemons.

Irvin is that type of player. The other defensive ends commonly associated with Seattle before the draft were not "Leo" types. They would have projected as eventual starters on the other side, where Bryant appears entrenched.

What the Seahawks needed, from their perspective, was a pure pass-rusher to play a situational role similar to the one Aldon Smith played with San Francisco last season. That player, Irvin, would project as the eventual replacement for Clemons, most likely.

Syracuse's Chandler Jones, a common projection for Seattle in the days before the draft, could have fit that profile. Concerns over a toe injury probably hurt his stock.

In Chicago, meanwhile, the Bears' need for a defensive end was no secret. However, most projections seemed to suggest McClellin would make more sense as a 3-4 outside linebacker, perhaps in Green Bay. In retrospect, however, Bears assistant Rod Marinelli does tend to like smaller defensive ends. Perhaps McClellin should have been considered more strongly as a candidate for Chicago.

Positional evaluation error

I'd throw Stanford guard David DeCastro into this category.

The assumption heading into the draft was DeCastro would not be available when the Pittsburgh Steelers selected with the 24th overall choice. As a result, DeCastro wasn't commonly linked to Pittsburgh before the draft.

But as we discussed on the blog a while back, teams had taken only five pure guards among the top 17 overall selections since 1995. Only one had gone higher than 17th since 1998.

Guards have made significant gains in financial compensation over the years. However, teams still value other positions at a much higher level. Guard was a common projection for San Francisco at No. 30, but the 49ers did not select one until the fourth round.

Conclusion

There's a tendency to criticize teams for making decisions we did not see coming.

That is self-serving.

I'd rather take a closer look at the surprises and find out where the rest of us went wrong.
The NFL draft-value chart proved generally reliable in first-round trading Thursday night.

According to the chart, which serves only as a general guide, St. Louis sacrificed 50 value points to Dallas in the trade that sent the sixth pick from the Rams to the Cowboys for the 14th and 45th choices.

Dallas used the sixth pick for cornerback Morris Claiborne. The Rams used the 14th pick for defensive tackle Michael Brockers. The 45th choice is one of three second-rounders St. Louis holds Friday.

In theory, the Rams gave up the first corner drafted (Claiborne) for the third defensive tackle (Brockers) and a second-round choice.

How Dallas and St. Louis valued those players will largely determine how those teams fared in the trade, even without the second-round consideration. Both teams can come out ahead on their own scorecards, in other words.

Going strictly by the value chart, the Rams could have come out ahead by 18 points had they also secured the Cowboys' fourth-round choice, 113th overall. But they had already spent significantly on free-agent cornerback Cortland Finnegan. They had not spent as big on a defensive tackle in free agency. Their need at defensive tackle conceivably made Brockers more valuable to them than Claiborne would have been.

The Seattle Seahawks ran a similar deficit in their trade with the Philadelphia Eagles, according to the value chart. They gave up the 12th overall choice, valued at 1,200 points, for the 15th, 114th and 172nd choices. The 60-point differential in chart value equates to the 117th overall choice.

Going by the players selected so far, the Seahawks landed the first defensive end drafted, while the Eagles took the second defensive tackle. The bigger question is whether Seattle was right in valuing Bruce Irvin as the first defensive end. But if Irvin truly was the best pass-rusher in this draft, and if the New York Jets or another team was going to draft him in the top 20 or so, the Seahawks came out of the trade just fine.

Brockers and Fletcher Cox were the other defensive linemen the Seahawks were considering when they traded back from the 12th spot. Both were gone when Seattle picked 15th; the Eagles took Cox at No. 12.

In other trades, the Cleveland Browns held a 2,200-1902.5 points edge in their trade with Minnesota. Jacksonville came out ahead by a 1,700-1,596 margin in a trade with Tampa Bay. Baltimore held a 658-640 edge over Minnesota. Cincinnati held a 808-800 edge on New England. Tampa Bay edged the Broncos 646-636; and New England edged Denver by a 720-646 score.

Again, the point totals do not reflect winners or losers. Teams value players differently. Teams have different needs and priorities. In some cases, teams trading back at a points deficit might have wound up selecting the same players they would have taken had they remained in the higher slot.
The St. Louis Rams have been headed in reverse for a decade or so.

Their plan for moving forward involved moving backward repeatedly during the 2012 NFL draft.

The Rams, having already set up their long-term future by moving back four spots to No. 6 overall, moved back another eight spots Thursday in a trade with Dallas. They picked up the 14th and 45th overall choices immediately after Jacksonville traded ahead of the Rams to take Oklahoma State receiver Justin Blackmon. Were the Rams content moving back, or did the Jaguars outflank them for a No. 1 wideout?

Either way, the Rams now hold the 14th, 33rd, 39th and 45th choices.

Cleveland and Jacksonville scrambled among the top five picks while the Rams stood pat. The big question now is whether the Rams can land a wide receiver with the talent to become a clear No. 1 option for Sam Bradford.

The Cowboys used the sixth pick for LSU cornerback Morris Claiborne. The Rams, having spent big for cornerback Cortland Finnegan in free agency, decided quantity meant more to them than quality at that point.
Initial thoughts on the Cleveland Browns' trade with Minnesota into the third overall choice from No. 4:
  • This looks like a panic move on the surface, but the Browns did enter this draft with 13 picks, most in the league. Giving up fourth-, fifth- and seventh-round picks will not kill their draft. With the first two overall picks set, the Browns now know they can get the player they want.
  • Moving up one spot for a franchise quarterback would make more sense, in my view, than moving up one spot for a player at another position -- especially if that player is a running back (Trent Richardson) or a cornerback (Morris Claiborne). The Browns are expected to select Richardson and then build their offense around him. That seems a bit odd for a team whose leadership believes in building around a quarterback.
  • Having the Browns move up take quarterback Ryan Tannehill, thereby preventing the Miami Dolphins from doing the same, would be a good thing for the St. Louis Rams, who hold the sixth overall choice. The Rams aren't interested in a quarterback. Every QB drafted in the top five makes available to the Rams an additional player at another position. That does not appear to be the case based on initial reports, however.
  • If the Browns are moving up for a running back, that means they're not interested in receiver Justin Blackmon, a player the Rams could be interested in adding. That could help St. Louis, in theory. Some analysts had projected Blackmon to the Browns at No. 4.

Fun stuff and the draft hasn't even started.
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.


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.
We're back to where this 2012 NFL draft discussion began, with the St. Louis Rams.

The team needs a No. 1 wide receiver, a difference maker. Justin Blackmon could be the choice. But what if tackle Matt Kalil or even running back Trent Richardson were available? Cornerback Morris Claiborne?

"Kalil has to be the pick if he's there," Steve Muench of Scouts Inc. said during our final NFC West conversation Tuesday.

Sando: The Rams recently reworked Jason Smith's contract in a manner that makes him the projected starting right tackle. Left tackle Rodger Saffold could conceivably play guard if Kalil were the choice. But the need for a top wide receiver is arguably greater.

Muench: Last year, A.J. Green went fourth and Julio Jones went sixth. I don't think Justin Blackmon is as good as either of those guys. But he separates better than Michael Floyd, and is better after the catch as well. Six is a little early. You can't ignore positional value.

Sando: The Rams do hold the 33rd and 39th picks, so they've got options.

Muench: This offensive tackle class is not as deep as the wide receiver class. You can find receiver help atop the second round better than you can find tackle help. Let's say they take Blackmon at No. 6. Mike Adams might be there in the second round, but he has issues. He is one of those guys who is off and on.

Sando: Why do you feel so strongly about Kalil?

Muench: There have been a number of sources coming out who are down on Kalil, four or five people we have talked to. I'm not backing off. They question his leverage, his run blocking, his ability to roll his hips and generate power that way. But to me he is the best left tackle in this class, a Day 1 starter, and he is going to help someone a lot. Again, I like Justin Blackmon and understand they want to get a playmaker at wide receiver, but you can wait and still find a guy to help you there.

Sando: The assumption here is that St. Louis stays at No. 6. We'll have a better idea once we see which players are available when the Rams select. Having two top players available unexpectedly would give the Rams flexibility.

Muench: They're in a great spot. I don't see how it unfolds where they don't get a good player. Richardson is going to go before the Rams pick. It could come down to Kalil or Blackmon. Either way, they will get a guy who helps their team. If Tampa trades ahead of Cleveland to get Richardson, then Cleveland possibly takes Claiborne. Minnesota would take Kalil and the Rams wouldn't have to make the choice to take Blackmon. Tampa is in one of the more interesting positions. The worst-case for Tampa is Claiborne going to Minnesota and Richardson to Cleveland. Then they're the one in a jam near the top.

Kevin Seifert of the NFC North blog tried to trade the third overall choice in the first-round mock draft we conducted Monday.

There were no takers, leaving Seifert to select USC tackle Matt Kalil -- a decision that seemed wholly unsatisfying for him.

What would it mean for the St. Louis Rams, owners of the sixth overall choice, if the Vikings selected, say, cornerback Morris Claiborne over Kalil? Cleveland, with perennial Pro Bowl choice Joe Thomas at left tackle, would have no use for Kalil at No. 4. Tampa Bay, picking fifth, has 2010 Pro Bowl choice Donald Penn at left tackle.

Most scenarios for St. Louis assume Kalil (and Trent Richardson) would be unavailable to the Rams, leaving them to choose between Claiborne, Justin Blackmon or a defensive tackle at No. 6. Could they justify passing on Kalil?

"I don't think he gets past St. Louis at six," Scouts Inc.'s Steve Muench said in the video atop this entry. "I know they've drafted tackles high, i.e. Jason Smith, and it hasn't worked out with his concussion issues, but you still need that franchise left tackle and, again, I think that position is so important that you can't just pass on it because you haven't had luck in recent years."

Muench called Kalil a "no-brainer" selection for the Vikings, but will Minnesota agree? And how would the Rams respond if presented with an unexpected choice? They recently worked out a streamlined contract with Smith, allowing him to return as the projected starting right tackle. Rodger Saffold returns as the likely starting left tackle, but he could conceivably move to another position on the line if the Rams found a better option at tackle.

I'll follow up with Muench for additional thoughts -- not just on this situation, but on draft-related subjects around the division. Back in a bit.

NFL Blog Network mock draft 2.0

April, 23, 2012
4/23/12
3:05
PM ET
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 just selected Oklahoma State receiver Justin Blackmon for the St. Louis Rams with the sixth overall choice.

My rationale: The Rams need a No. 1 receiver. Blackmon is widely considered to be the best receiver in the draft. Matt Kalil, Trent Richardson and Morris Claiborne were not available. I considered drafting a defensive tackle, but none of the available ones seemed more appealing than Blackmon. Notre Dame receiver Michael Floyd was a consideration with this selection as well. However, making an off-the-wall selection at No. 6 would have risked sending the mock into turmoil unnecessarily and unrealistically. The choice was going to be Richardson, Claiborne or Blackmon. Blackmon was the only one of the three still available in this mock. He was the logical choice under the circumstances.

Trade considerations: I received no trade offers for the sixth overall choice.

What's next for the NFC West: The Seattle Seahawks are scheduled to select with the 12th overall choice. I've made it clear to the other bloggers that Seattle would like to deal this choice. A deal will go down before I'm on the clock for Seattle. Preliminary discussions with the AFC East's James Walker and the AFC West's Bill Williamson point to New England and San Diego as suitors for this pick. Williamson has Melvin Ingram in mind for the Chargers. Walker appears to be the aggressor in trade talks to this point, though.
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.

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