NFC West: Shea McClellin
» AFC pressure points: West | North | South | East
Examining who faces the most challenging season for the St. Louis Rams and why.
Jason Smith should be hitting his prime years as an offensive tackle for the Rams. There's a chance that will be the case, unlikely as it seems after three underwhelming seasons marked by injuries. The Rams reworked Smith's contract and will find out whether new line coach Paul Boudreau can help Smith, still only 26, fulfill more of his potential. Smith, limited to six games last season after suffering a concussion during a freak collision, will need better luck with injuries for that to happen.
It's instructive to recall the Rams' thinking when they made Smith the second player chosen in the 2009 draft. The feeling then was that Smith remained in the early stages of a transition from tight end to tackle, and that Eugene Monroe, selected eighth overall that year by Jacksonville, was more polished coming out of college.
"The way we look at it, he has played at a high level with only three years at the position," Billy Devaney, then the Rams' general manager, said of Smith at the time. "So you try to project a year or two down the road with that kind of development that we see, he’ll be that much better. If you take Monroe, he comes in and lines up on Sunday, if we're playing, at left tackle and plays. He's been there longer. Jason has been a right tackle and that’s what gives us flexibility. ... His production is good now and his potential is outstanding."
The Rams are envisioning more of a run-oriented offense this year. That could help Smith, their projected starter at right tackle, find his bearings. The schedule presents challenges, however. Smith opens the season on the road against Detroit and the Lions' franchise player, Cliff Avril. The Washington Redskins' Ryan Kerrigan is on the schedule in Week 2, followed by matchups against rookie first-round picks Shea McClellin (Chicago) and Bruce Irvin (Seattle). Green Bay's Clay Matthews is also on the schedule in the first seven games.
- Specific role: The Seahawks envision Irvin as a situational pass-rusher for now and the evenutal successor to Chris Clemons in the "Leo" role. Clemons was a 236-pound linebacker coming out of college. He had a 4.7-second time in the 40-yard dash, went undrafted as a junior and floundered in Philadelphia. The Seahawks acquired him with a specific role in mind. Clemons ranks eighth in the NFL with 22 sacks over the last two seasons, more than Julius Peppers, James Harrison, Clay Matthews, Dwight Freeney, Trent Cole, Jason Pierre-Paul and others. Clemons now weighs 255 pounds and has become much stronger against the run. Irvin is Clemons' height (6-foot-3) and weighs 245 pounds, but he is much faster, having run the 40 in 4.4 seconds. The plan would be for Irvin to grow into a bigger role, not to remain a situational player forever.
- Value at No. 15: Draft analysts did not anticipate Irvin's selection at No. 15. It's impossible to know whether the Seahawks could have drafted Irvin later than that. Three teams running variations of the 4-3 defense selected defensive ends in the first round. Irvin went first, followed by Shea McClellin to Chicago at No. 19 and Chandler Jones to New England at No. 21. Jacksonville, picking 38th, was the next 4-3 team to select a defensive end (Andre Branch). There was a six-pick window for 4-3 teams to select a pass-rusher in the first round. Seattle opened the window. Chicago and New England closed it, with the Patriots trading up to make sure the window did not slam on them. The Seahawks liked Jones, but concerns over a toe injury raised questions about how early they would select him. They were comfortable with the off-field issues Irvin carried into the draft.
- Whether Irvin starts: Aldon Smith collected 14 sacks in a situational role with San Francisco last season. Robert Mathis had three seasons with double-digit sacks as a reserve at various points in his career with Indianapolis. Years ago, a young Anthony Smith put together three consecutive seasons with double-digit sacks despite rarely starting for the Los Angeles Raiders. The plan is for Aldon Smith to become a starter this year. Mathis continued to produce as a starter. Anthony Smith's sack numbers fell. Clemons is the best comparison for Irvin. They have physical similarities. They are playing in the same scheme. The same coaches and personnel people decided they fit the same role.
Irvin will be a fun player to watch during training camp. Dexter Davis is another Seattle pass-rusher to keep in mind. He missed all but one game last season after suffering a hip injury and could be overlooked heading toward the season.
NFC West teams made two of those surprise selections: Bruce Irvin to the Seattle Seahawks and A.J. Jenkins to the San Francisco 49ers. I've listed four others in the chart below after consulting with our other seven divisional bloggers.
While it's possible the teams involved made poor decisions in some cases, accounting for the surprise factor, there's no question the rest of us could have done a better job anticipating. I'll set aside the Dallas Cowboys' selection of cornerback Morris Claiborne. We knew Dallas could take a corner, but there was little way we could know the Cowboys would trade into the sixth overall spot to make it happen.
But in breaking down the other surprise selections, we can hopefully avoid making similar mistakes in the future.
Jenkins and New York Giants first-round running back David Wilson fall into this category.
We knew the 49ers could target a receiver early. We figured running back would be a position for the Giants to address. We simply misidentified the players they were most likely to select.
I had projected Kendall Wright to San Francisco in a mock draft several weeks ago, but Tennessee selected him 20th overall, 10 spots before the 49ers selected. Stephen Hill and Rueben Randle, among others, were popular projections.
The knock on Jenkins was that he lacked sufficient physical strength. The 49ers are a very physical team. They have valued physical players. Josh Morgan was a physical wideout the team would have retained if Washington hadn't made an over-the-top contract offer.
In retrospect, however, perhaps we should have more closely considered the receivers San Francisco did sign this offseason. Mario Manningham has never been known as a physical player. Ted Ginn Jr. is not physical at all.
The 49ers now have drafted two wide receivers under coach Jim Harbaugh. Ronald Johnson, a sixth-round pick in 2011, was the one before Jenkins. Lack of physical strength was a knock on Johnson coming out of college.
So far, the 49ers have done a very good job evaluating personnel at just about every position, but receiver has been an exception. Perhaps that changes with Jenkins.
For the Giants, Doug Martin was the running back projected as a first-round candidate somewhat regularly. Tampa Bay drafted Martin at No. 31, one spot ahead of where the Giants were picking. That gave this draft three first-round backs, one more than was typically projected.
Irvin and Chicago Bears first-round defensive end Shea McClellin fall into this category.
We could put Irvin in the mistaken identity category as well because the Seahawks' need for a pass-rusher was well-established. But the projections commonly assumed Seattle would be looking for a more traditional defensive end, one big enough to hold up against the run.
In retrospect, we should have at least mentioned Irvin as a possibility.
Seattle gave run-stuffing defensive end Red Bryant a $35 million contract this offseason. Bryant is going to start and play early downs for the next few seasons. That meant the Seahawks were in the market more for a player in the "Leo" role filled by leading sacker Chris Clemons.
Irvin is that type of player. The other defensive ends commonly associated with Seattle before the draft were not "Leo" types. They would have projected as eventual starters on the other side, where Bryant appears entrenched.
What the Seahawks needed, from their perspective, was a pure pass-rusher to play a situational role similar to the one Aldon Smith played with San Francisco last season. That player, Irvin, would project as the eventual replacement for Clemons, most likely.
Syracuse's Chandler Jones, a common projection for Seattle in the days before the draft, could have fit that profile. Concerns over a toe injury probably hurt his stock.
In Chicago, meanwhile, the Bears' need for a defensive end was no secret. However, most projections seemed to suggest McClellin would make more sense as a 3-4 outside linebacker, perhaps in Green Bay. In retrospect, however, Bears assistant Rod Marinelli does tend to like smaller defensive ends. Perhaps McClellin should have been considered more strongly as a candidate for Chicago.
Positional evaluation error
I'd throw Stanford guard David DeCastro into this category.
The assumption heading into the draft was DeCastro would not be available when the Pittsburgh Steelers selected with the 24th overall choice. As a result, DeCastro wasn't commonly linked to Pittsburgh before the draft.
But as we discussed on the blog a while back, teams had taken only five pure guards among the top 17 overall selections since 1995. Only one had gone higher than 17th since 1998.
Guards have made significant gains in financial compensation over the years. However, teams still value other positions at a much higher level. Guard was a common projection for San Francisco at No. 30, but the 49ers did not select one until the fourth round.
There's a tendency to criticize teams for making decisions we did not see coming.
That is self-serving.
I'd rather take a closer look at the surprises and find out where the rest of us went wrong.
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)