NFL Nation: John Jenkins

TAMPA, Fla. -- The New Orleans Saints placed nose tackle John Jenkins on injured reserve and promoted quarterback Ryan Griffin from the practice squad Saturday.

That doesn’t mean Griffin is expected to play in Sunday’s season finale against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. When the Saints made similar moves with two other practice-squad players earlier this week, coach Sean Payton explained that they were just using the roster spots to “secure” younger players under contract heading into 2015.

Payton has insisted the Saints (6-9) will play their starters and play to win Sunday and that they won’t use the game to audition younger players.

Jenkins was listed as questionable with an abdomen injury Friday after not practicing all week. Clearly the Saints decided they weren’t going to play him in the game.

Griffin, a second-year pro from Tulane, is expected to compete for New Orleans' backup job behind Drew Brees next year. He was beat out for the job by veteran Luke McCown this year and wound up spending the season on the practice squad. The Saints are high on the potential of the undrafted QB, though, and moved Griffin to the active roster in 2013 to prevent him from being signed away by the St. Louis Rams.
METAIRIE, La. -- The New Orleans Saints defense found a new way to struggle in last Sunday's 34-27 loss to the Baltimore Ravens. It was really the first time all season their run defense got beat so badly at the point off attack. (Most of the big gains by the Cowboys, 49ers and Bengals had come around the edges).

Both end Akiem Hicks and nose tackle John Jenkins got shoved back at least three times by 1-on-1 blocks on big run plays.

[+] EnlargeRavens
Derick E. Hingle/USA TODAY SportsEclipsing 95 yards or more rushing in four games this season, Ravens RB Justin Forsett has at least earned his way into Pro Bowl consideration.
Clearly the Saints didn't adjust well to the Ravens' zone-blocking scheme and stretch-run plays. Jenkins, who was singled out by ESPN analyst Jon Gruden for getting blown up three times in the second quarter, said that was the case for him.

"I was trying to get the feel of that whole scheme, it's not often we go against a zone team like that," Jenkins said. "So trying to get the feel, trying to find a fit and being able to make plays was on my mind."

Jenkins did respond with a big-time run stuff right after Gruden's comments. And he settled in better in the second half. The Saints will need that type of continued improvement from the second-year big man going forward since veteran nose tackle Brodrick Bunkley will miss time with a quadriceps injury -- possibly the remainder of the season.

"Honestly, just whatever they need me to do, that's what I'm gonna do. So it's unfortunate that Brodrick went down and so late in the season, but I guess I gotta do what I gotta do," said Jenkins, who's had a roller-coaster season with a torn pectoral muscle in the summer, followed by inconsistent play on the field that left him inactive for three games.

The 6-foot-3, 359-pounder said he feels like he's been making progress, though.

"Being able to overcome that injury and then trying to find my fit back on the team and being able to play the schemes that I'm playing, it was a growth period for me this whole season," Jenkins said.

Those interior linemen were hardly the Saints' only problem against Baltimore, though, as the Saints gave up a season-high 215 rushing yards. Running back Justin Forsett ran for 182 of them and two touchdowns. He and backup Bernard Pierce combined for five runs of 20-plus.

Safety Kenny Vaccaro whiffed once when Forsett came around the corner. Linebacker Curtis Lofton missed one potential tackle. He and linebacker David Hawthorne each ran into blocks at least once when Forsett made some sharp cutbacks.

And the Ravens' linemen and fullback did a consistently good job of sealing off the edges and moving up into the second level to take out New Orleans' linebackers (sometimes a result of the Saints' linemen not being able to occupy multiple blockers).

"If we went through some of the breakdowns in the runs last week, it's just gap integrity and fitting it correctly," Saints coach Sean Payton said. "Especially when you're playing some down-safety defense, understanding your alignment to begin with, and then your gap to fit it correctly. I think that's the No. 1 thing when you look at the runs."

"A lot of different reasons," Vaccaro said. "It kind of goes back to the first of the season, a guy's out of his gap on this play, then another guy's out of his gap on this play. ‘Cuz it only takes one person out of your 11 to get creased, especially with these schemes like the Ravens run. We've just gotta be more clutch all together."

Put even more succinctly, Lofton said, "It's guys not doing their job."

As Payton also pointed out, when the Saints are forced to add an additional safety into run defense, it puts even more stress on the secondary. So it can be a domino effect.

The good news is this hasn't been a consistent problem for New Orleans' defense all season. Their struggles against Cincinnati a week earlier came mostly from four big runs, but the Saints actually stuffed the Bengals for two yards or less on 17 of their 31 carries.

The bad news is that the task doesn't get any easier as they face the Pittsburgh Steelers on the road this week. Pittsburgh's Le'Veon Bell is second in the NFL with 951 rushing yards (not to mention 484 receiving yards).

"It surprises me a little bit," Vaccaro said of the recent breakdowns. "I thought after that Lions game [in Week 7], our run defense was going uphill. And then to have something like this these last two weeks, it's just kinda like, ‘Alright man, let's get this handled.'

"We've gotta get it fixed because the Steelers are a big running team. Le'Veon Bell to me is the most complete back in the league."
METAIRIE, La. -- New Orleans Saints defensive line coach Bill Johnson was blunt in his assessment of nose tackle John Jenkins' struggles earlier in the season. But Johnson and other Saints coaches were clearly encouraged by what they saw this past Sunday as Jenkins finally got his season headed in the right direction.

Jenkins, who was inactive for three of the Saints’ first four games after missing much of the offseason because of a pectoral surgery, played well during 24 snaps in the Saints’ 37-31 overtime victory over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

“John, you know, missed a lot of training camp ... and he was limited even in the first week of the season. So we played him in the second week, but I thought he played probably one of his worst games he had played against Cleveland. So we let him sit down another week or so,” Johnson said. “But I thought (this past Sunday) he looked more like his old self. I thought he looked quicker. I thought he played strong at the point of attack. And it looks to me like he’s finally got the number of reps it takes for a big man like that to play.

“I just thought he got behind during the preseason ... and I thought the last two weeks he really got better.”

Coach Sean Payton and defensive coordinator Rob Ryan made similar comments about Jenkins’ performance against Tampa Bay. Jenkins didn’t have any tackles or sacks in the game, but he helped build a wall up the middle that stifled the Buccaneers’ run game while splitting time with fellow nose tackle Brodrick Bunkley.

Tampa Bay finished with a total of 66 rushing yards on 21 carries (and one of those was a meaningless 16-yard run as time expired in regulation).

Jenkins had a standout rookie season last year after being drafted in the third round out of Georgia, with two of his best games coming in the playoffs (a career-high four tackles against Philadelphia and his lone career sack at Seattle). And he was expected to build off that by making that “Year 2 leap” this season. But then the pectoral injury wiped out all of OTAs and the first couple weeks of training camp.

Weight never seemed to be a big issue for the big man, who is listed at 6-foot-3, 359 pounds. He said he and the Saints prefer he plays in the 340s, and he said he was 347 when he returned to practice in August.

But as Ryan said, missing all that offseason work is even harder for bigger guys, in general. And clearly it took a while for Jenkins to get back to full speed.

“Everybody knows at this point I had that injury, and I’m just trying to work on it and get right and trying to do my job,” Jenkins said. “I’m not looking far down the road or anything, just taking it one day at a time, improving in practice and doing what I need to. And get back on the field and whatever they need me to do.”

Jenkins was held back from the Saints’ Week 4 trip to Dallas for an undisclosed reason. When asked if it was a disciplinary issue, Jenkins said only that it was Payton’s decision.

But in general, Jenkins seemed to keep a positive attitude while he was benched. When I talked to him last month, he said all the right things about being ready when needed and using the opportunity to learn how to get better after he relied on “pure instincts” and “want to” last season.

And now Jenkins said he was definitely encouraged by the way the coaches quickly gave him another opportunity.

“Of course,” Jenkins said. “We’re here to play games and have fun. So I was encouraged and excited at the same time.”
New Orleans Saints defensive tackle John Jenkins didn’t make the trip for Sunday night’s game at the Dallas Cowboys. The team said it was non-injury related but didn’t announce any specifics. Teams are required to announce when players don’t make the trip.

Jenkins could have missed the trip for any number of reasons, so it may have nothing to do with football.

The second-year pro has taken a step back this year after a strong rookie season. He has been a healthy inactive for two of the Saints’ first three games this season after missing all of OTAs and part of training camp with a pectoral injury.

But Jenkins seemed to have a positive outlook on his demotion when I asked him about it Thursday.

“You know what, I can’t really say that I’m battling frustration. If anything, I’m using this opportunity to get better and work on things that I wasn’t good at last year and be able to pinpoint my flaws more,” Jenkins said. “There’s a place for me, and right now I just need to make sure when they do call my name and they need me, that I’m ready like I was last year.”

Defensive coordinator Rob Ryan said “the biggest thing with John is that he missed all of that time due to injuries.”

“When you’re a big guy missing that kind of time, it’s hard to get back,” Ryan said Friday. It’s hard to [miss] the sweating in training camp and all of the hard knocking and all of that. It takes a while for a defensive lineman. [Brandon Deaderick, who moved ahead of Jenkins], is doing a great job playing. [Jenkins] is working really hard, he’ll get back, but it’s a long process.

“You can’t play this game on your own terms; so if you’re hurt it’s hard to get out there and play it. If you miss all of training camp it’s a hard thing to do, especially for a defensive lineman.”
WHITE SULPHUR SPRINGS, W.Va. -- It's still unclear whether or not safety Jairus Byrd will be back on the field for the New Orleans Saints' first training camp practice on Friday. But coach Sean Payton said he expects the three-time Pro Bowler back "sooner than later."

"Much like we expected," Payton said of Byrd, who underwent a minor back surgery this summer to alleviate a nagging disc issue.

The Saints' original projection was for Byrd to be healthy enough to participate in training camp -- and back to full speed in plenty of time for the regular season. And a league source confirmed earlier this week that Byrd's recovery has been going as expected this summer.

Payton and general manager Mickey Loomis declined to make any official announcements about whether any veterans will be placed on the physically unable to perform list after they underwent their physicals and conditioning tests on Thursday.

But Payton compared Byrd's situation to that of second-year defensive tackle John Jenkins, who was placed on the PUP list earlier this week when the younger players reported to camp early for their conditioning tests in Metairie. Jenkins underwent minor pectoral surgery this summer and is also expected back soon.

Payton did, however, specify that receiver Joe Morgan is "a go" after Morgan missed all of organized team activities and minicamp this summer while still recovering from last year's knee surgery. Payton said Morgan has healed enough now to do everything, but it will just be a matter of the Saints deciding how quickly to bring him back up to speed.

Payton also addressed the injury that landed rookie offensive tackle Tavon Rooks on the non-football-injury list earlier this week. Payton said it was a minor back issue that he doesn't believe is significant and shouldn't keep Rooks off the field for long.

"Fortunately for us, that's not a big list right now," Payton said of the injuries. "And hopefully it can remain small."
New Orleans Saints safety Jairus Byrd's recovery from back surgery has gone as expected this summer, according to a league source. Byrd is expected to be healthy enough to participate in training camp, though it’s unknown if he will be limited when the Saints begin practicing Friday at the Greenbrier resort in West Virginia.

Obviously there’s a good chance the Saints will take a cautious approach with their prized free-agent acquisition. But all along, they expected Byrd to recover in plenty of time to participate in training camp and be fully healthy for the regular season.

Byrd missed all of OTAs and minicamp during the summer after he and the team decided he should have a minor surgery to alleviate a nagging disc issue in late May.

At the time, Saints coach Sean Payton described the surgery as “something that didn’t need to be done” and said it wouldn’t have been done if it were the regular season. But Payton said all parties, including doctors, felt it would be the best approach for Byrd’s long-term health.

Byrd, 27, was a three-time Pro Bowl selection during his first five seasons with the Buffalo Bills. The Saints signed him to a six-year, $54 million contract, in large part because of his ball-hawking history. Byrd’s 22 interceptions over the past five years rank second in the NFL during that span. He also forced 11 fumbles.

As for other injuries, it remains unclear if defensive tackle John Jenkins (pectoral) and receiver Joe Morgan (knee) will remain sidelined or be limited at the start of training camp. Both players were also held out of OTAs and minicamp, but both are also expected to participate in training camp.
They say it takes three years to properly rate a draft class. But it’s clear that the New Orleans Saints are already sold on many of last year’s rookies.

Safety Kenny Vaccaro (first round), left tackle Terron Armstead (third round), nose tackle John Jenkins (third round), receiver Kenny Stills (fifth round), running back Khiry Robinson (undrafted) and center Tim Lelito (undrafted) are all expected to play major roles this season, among others.

In fact, the Saints’ high hopes for those players helped inspire a lot of the dramatic moves they made this offseason:
  • They traded away running back Darren Sproles, in part because they want to get Robinson more touches.
  • They released receiver Lance Moore, in part because Stills already supplanted him as a starter last season.
  • They didn’t re-sign left tackle Charles Brown or spend big on any other veteran left tackles because of their faith in Armstead.
  • They let center Brian de la Puente leave in free agency, in part because of their belief in Lelito’s potential.
  • They released safety Roman Harper and let safety Malcolm Jenkins get away in free agency, in part because of Vaccaro’s dynamic debut last year.
  • They worked out a significant pay cut with veteran nose tackle Brodrick Bunkley, in part because he’ll be in a timeshare with Jenkins.
  • And they let defensive end Tom Johnson leave as a restricted free agent, in part because of undrafted rookie Glenn Foster's impressive performance last year.

From top to bottom, it’s entirely possible that this could wind up being an all-time great draft class for the Saints -- though it’s still far too early to bring up any comparisons to 2006, 1986 or 1981.

Vaccaro has generated the most buzz so far. A versatile safety in coverage and run support, he played all over the field as a full-time starter last year and finished third in the NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year voting. ESPN scouting Insider Matt Williamson described Vaccaro as a “eight-or-10 Pro Bowl type of player.”

Armstead could wind up being just as important if he can lock down the critical left tackle job. He showed promise last season after taking over the job in December and improving through each of his four starts.

Robinson might be the most fascinating of the bunch. The product of West Texas A&M exploded onto the scene during the playoffs last year. And Saints coach Sean Payton revealed that his mentor Bill Parcells compared Robinson to Curtis Martin.

Stills and Jenkins look like long-time starters in the making. Lelito could have that same potential. And fellow sophomores like Foster, pass-rusher Rufus Johnson, cornerback Rod Sweeting, linebacker Kevin Reddick, tight end Josh Hill and quarterback Ryan Griffin could all wind up playing bigger roles down the road, as well.

The most important part of the Saints’ 2013 draft class is that it has allowed the Saints to spend big in other key areas -- like the addition of Pro Bowl safety Jairus Byrd in free agency.

I spoke with ESPN analyst Louis Riddick recently about whether the Saints have proved that teams can thrive by pushing the salary-cap envelope each year. And he said to make that work, it’s essential that teams keep finding “cheap, affordable labor that is playing at a high level.

As Riddick pointed out, that’s something the Saints have been great at in recent years. And it’s something teams like the Dallas Cowboys have not been able to do consistently.

“That's a testament to (general manager Mickey Loomis) and Sean and the rest of the scouts down there,” Riddick said.
A look at the New Orleans Saints' defensive line through the first six weeks of the 2013 season:

Looking back: The Saints’ defensive line play has been outstanding this season -- especially considering how many young players have stepped up through a barrage of injuries. They’ve arguably been New Orleans’ most valuable unit during the team’s 5-1 start.

End Cameron Jordan was excellent last season, but he’s been even better in his third NFL season, earning a lot of national attention for his play. A power rusher and a standout run defender, he has five sacks and a forced fumble this season. According to Pro Football Focus, Jordan also has five quarterback hits and 24 hurries.

[+] EnlargeCarson Palmer
AP Photo/Bill FeigCameron Jordan has led an early season surge by New Orleans' defensive line.
Second-year end Akiem Hicks and rookie nose tackle John Jenkins have also been very good as the primary starters in the Saints’ three-man front. Both are stout run-stuffers, but they’ve also shown an ability to push the pocket back on passing downs, sometimes leading to sacks on the edges. Hicks has one sack of his own. Backup ends Tyrunn Walker, Tom Johnson and Glenn Foster have taken turns producing while rotating in and out of the lineup because of injuries. They each have one sack this season. And veteran nose tackle Brodrick Bunkley just returned in Week 6 from a Week 1 injury.

Looking forward: It’s hard to imagine we’ll keep seeing the same level of dominant production that we saw from this group in September -- especially now that the secret is out around the league. But there is nothing fluky about the individual performances. Jordan has been on this steady rise since his rookie season. Hicks and Walker showed flashes of this kind of talent as rookies last season. And Jenkins and Foster showed signs of this type of ability in the summer. Now that all of the injuries are healing, the Saints are suddenly overloaded with depth.

It will also help the pass rush if they keep things unpredictable. After relying heavily on a four-man rush in the first four games, defensive coordinator Rob Ryan caught offenses off guard with more frequent blitzes over the past two weeks.

Snaps played (out of a possible 375): Jordan 349, Hicks 238, Jenkins 207, Foster 93, Johnson 65, Walker 59, Bunkley 14, defensive end Keyunta Dawson 11.

ESPN scouting Insider Matt Williamson’s take: “I love their defensive line. I think Jenkins was a find (in the third round out of Georgia). Hicks has come on strong in his second year. Jordan is a star in the making. They have depth. Bunkley is a good player. And they’re better suited to a 3-4. I think it’s one of the better 3-4 defensive lines out there, and they’re really the unsung heroes of this whole success story.”

Saints' surging defense is the truth

September, 22, 2013
Cameron JordanStacy Revere/Getty ImagesCameron Jordan notched two of the Saints' four sacks Sunday versus Arizona.
NEW ORLEANS -- At some point, we've got to stop asking whether or not what we're seeing from the New Orleans Saints' defense is for real.

The defense has been the driving force behind all three victories by the unbeaten Saints, including a dominant 31-7 win against the Arizona Cardinals on Sunday. New Orleans has already blown open a two-game lead in the NFC South.

How much more real does it have to get?

"It's nothing to get super excited about, other than the fact that we show a lot of promise, and that's what we've got to keep doing," cautioned defensive end Cameron Jordan, who has been the breakout individual player of the bunch with a team-high three sacks so far, including two on Sunday.

"You always want to have that hungry attitude of just straight grinding and building on each game," Jordan added. "I don't ever want to be like, 'This is the defense that we are.' I just want to keep going and keep getting better."

After a disastrous defensive performance last season, in which they set the NFL record for yards allowed in a season (7,042), the idea was that the Saints could get back to being playoff contenders if they could just find some way to get their defense back to being a "middle-of-the-pack" unit.

[+] EnlargeCarson Palmer and Junior Galette
AP Photo/Bill FeigJunior Galette and the Saints kept pressure on Carson Palmer all game long.
Consider that goal already surpassed.

Of course, the Saints' defense is still a work in progress after making drastic changes this offseason -- both intended (hiring coordinator Rob Ryan, signing free-agent cornerback Keenan Lewis and drafting safety Kenny Vaccaro) and unintended (losing veterans Will Smith, Jonathan Vilma, Victor Butler and Kenyon Coleman to summer injuries).

But they've been thriving behind a youth movement, especially on the defensive front. Jordan, 24, and pass-rush specialist Junior Galette, 25, have been terrific on the edges, while Akiem Hicks, Tyrunn Walker, Glenn Foster and John Jenkins -- all first- or second-year pros -- have taken turns doing damage up the middle.

Their performance up front has gone hand in hand with improved play on the back end, where veteran cornerbacks Lewis and Jabari Greer have done an outstanding job against top receivers like Arizona's Larry Fitzgerald, Atlanta's Julio Jones and Roddy White and Tampa Bay's Vincent Jackson and Mike Williams.

"I think that's the bright side of our defense is that we really don't have any stars, if you talk about big-name guys. We've just got a lot of young guys with talent who are building confidence not only in themselves, but in each other," safety Malcolm Jenkins said. "So we really don't know how good we are or how good we can be. It's just all about going to work every day and getting better.

"Obviously, with each win and each performance, we gain more confidence. But we really don't know where the ceiling is for this defense, so we go to work every week and treat every week like it was Week 1 versus Atlanta."

The Saints had a total of four sacks Sunday (two by Jordan and one each by Galette and Foster). Everyone on the Saints' defensive front took turns abusing a suspect offensive line to hit and hurry Cardinals quarterback Carson Palmer throughout the afternoon. They eventually forced interceptions by Vaccaro and Lewis in the fourth quarter.

After the Cardinals opened the game with an 11-play, 80-yard touchdown drive, they punted on their next eight possessions and threw interceptions on the final two.

"They can rush the passer," Palmer said. "There's two very good pass-rushers that people don't know a whole lot about. You hear a lot [about] Will Smith and Jonathan Vilma, but Cameron Jordan is really good. He showed that today. Junior Galette is really good. They're physical guys. They stop the run, and they rush the passer. A really good combination of strength and speed."

Jordan is starting to get that respect around the country. Pro Football Focus highlighted him this past week, pointing out that his 12 quarterback disruptions led all 3-4 ends through two weeks (though, to be fair, the versatile Jordan is lining up as a traditional 4-3 end in many pass-rushing situations).

More importantly, Jordan is making his mom proud. He said she gave him grief after he went sackless in Week 1.

She wasn't the only one, though. The Saints' defensive line is clearly a competitive group.

While Jordan was talking to a group of reporters Sunday, Walker yelled over that he stole one of his sacks. After Week 1, Jordan was beside himself that he didn't have any sacks against the Falcons while Hicks already had one.

And while crediting Galette for having tremendous speed on Sunday, Jordan admitted that he is more of a "power" guy. But he said that makes for an interesting race between the two to get to the quarterback.

"I've been claiming the strength of our D-line is just how much youth and talent is on the D-line. It definitely showed today," Jordan said Sunday. "From the outside to the interior, I was highly pleased. Whether it be Tyrunn Walker or big Akiem or Glenn Foster, it was all just pressure everywhere. You couldn't really locate just one spot where we were getting pressure.

"And when you're part of a D-line like that, it's a party."

Observation deck: Saints-Chiefs

August, 9, 2013

For those of you who thought coordinator Rob Ryan could come in and turn around the New Orleans Saints' defense overnight, think again.

This chore is going to take some time. That was apparent in Friday night’s 17-13 victory against the Kansas City Chiefs at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome.

The Kansas City first-team offense, which wasn’t very good last year, had no problem marching 80 yards on 14 plays for a touchdown on the opening drive of the game. The Chiefs also got a field goal on the second drive, when the starters still were on the field. I did see some good moments by the defense, particularly the pass rush, later in the game when the starters were out.

But Ryan needs to use the next few weeks to get this defense ready for the regular season.

Some other observations on the Saints:

With Marques Colston sitting, rookie receiver Kenny Stills got the start. He didn’t have a great night. He dropped a deep pass from Drew Brees and also was called for offensive pass interference.

The Saints handed the ball to Mark Ingram on the first two plays of the game. I think that’s a sign of things to come. The Saints have said they want to run the ball more often and they want Ingram more involved in the offense.

Rookie defensive tackle John Jenkins, who has had a nice camp, recorded a sack of Chase Daniel. Jenkins has had a nice camp and could end up with a spot in the rotation.

Charles Brown got the start at left tackle and didn’t seem to have any major problems. But rookie Terron Armstead got a lot of playing time and still could have a chance to start.

Wide receiver Preston Parker probably enhanced his chances of making the roster by catching two touchdown passes.

Luke McCown may have solidified his lead over Seneca Wallace in the competition to be the backup quarterback. McCown completed 18 of 28 passes for 216 yards with two touchdowns and an interception. Wallace, who has been dealing with a groin injury, did not play.
The New Orleans Saints aren’t wasting any time in getting their rookies signed.

The team announced Thursday it has signed four of its five draft picks, including first-round pick Kenny Vaccaro. Offensive tackle Terron Armstead, receiver Kenny Stills and linebacker Rufus Johnson also have signed.

Defensive tackle John Jenkins, a third-round pick, is the only remaining unsigned rookie. But getting him in the fold shouldn’t be a major problem.

The entire NFL appears to be adjusting to the format of the labor agreement reached in 2011, which imposes a strict rookie wage scale. Jenkins can only sign for what remains in the rookie pool.

Video: Breaking down Round 1

April, 26, 2013

Chris Berman, Mel Kiper Jr. and Jon Gruden look back at the first round of the NFL draft.

Kiper mock 4.0: 49ers thoughts

April, 13, 2013
Mel Kiper Jr.'s latest mock draft Insider, this one spanning two rounds instead of the usual one, appeared while I was away.

A quiet (so far) Saturday provides an opportunity to run through Kiper's projections for NFC West teams. As usual, I'll sample from Kiper's analysis before offering a few thoughts, beginning with a look at the San Francisco 49ers.

First round

31. Margus Hunt, DE, SMU

Kiper's give: Justin Smith will be 34 in September, and the 49ers need to think about who could take over for him long term, and spell him in the interim. Pound for pound, Hunt is as good an athlete as you'll find in this draft, and the 49ers currently have a roster that allows them to draft for ceiling at this slot. Hunt could add a little bulk and could become a rotation player behind Smith this season, with the potential to become that rare kind of impact pass-rusher in a 3-4 scheme from the defensive end position.

Sando's take: Kiper has projected a defensive lineman to the 49ers at No. 31 in each of his four mock drafts to this point. The three defensive linemen he projected to them previously -- Sharrif Floyd, John Jenkins and Datone Jones -- are all over the map in this latest mock. Kiper has Floyd going third overall to Oakland. He has Jones going 38th overall to Arizona. He has Jenkins going 57th overall to Houston. Bolstering the defensive line rotation makes obvious sense for the 49ers in this draft. Smith, a physical specimen known for his relentless work in the weight room, will presumably bounce back strong from his triceps surgery. However, his contract runs only through the 2013 season.

Second round

34. Matt Elam, S, Florida

Kiper's give: They added Craig Dahl, but safety is still a need. A deep class offers options.

Sando's take: Kenny Vaccaro was the only safety off the board when Kiper sent Hunt to the 49ers at No. 31. Florida International's Jonathan Cyprien went 32nd to Baltimore under this scenario, leaving Elam to the 49ers as the third safety selected in 2013. Again, the reasoning makes sense. Defensive line and safety are two positions just about any 49ers fan would like to see the team address in this draft. Elam could project as a long-term replacement for Dashon Goldson, who departed in free agency. Also, strong safety Donte Whitner is entering the final year of his contract.

61. Gavin Escobar, TE, San Diego State

Kiper's give: A huge target for Colin Kaepernick, Escobar can keep the two-tight end look intact.

Sando's take: Hunt, Elam and Escobar would fill arguably the 49ers' top three needs this offseason. Escobar is known more for his receiving skills than for his blocking. The Scouts Inc. report on Escobar's blocking calls him "mostly a position-and-wall-off type blocker" who "frequently struggles to sustain and rarely drives defenders backwards." Of course, it's unrealistic to expect teams to land finished products in the second round. The 49ers' former No. 2 tight end, Delanie Walker, grew into his role over time. Under Kiper's scenario, Escobar would be the third tight end selected behind Tyler Eifert (17th overall) and Zach Ertz (39th). Ertz played under 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh at Stanford.

A run through McShay's two-round mock

March, 29, 2013
Thoughts on Todd McShay's latest mock draft Insider projections for NFC West teams:

Arizona Cardinals: Oklahoma tackle Lane Johnson (first round, No. 7 overall) and North Carolina State quarterback Mike Glennon (second round, No. 38) were the projections. Quarterback and offensive line were trouble points last season. Arizona needs to plan for the future -- and present -- at both positions. Johnson was the third offensive tackle drafted under McShay's scenario. West Virginia quarterback Geno Smith, the choice for Arizona at No. 7 in McShay's previous mock, was not available this time. The Cardinals haven't drafted an offensive lineman in the first three rounds since taking Levi Brown fifth overall in 2007. Steve Keim, promoted to general manager this year, reportedly wanted Adrian Peterson instead that year. Keim's read on offensive linemen would appear well qualified. He played on the offensive line at North Carolina State. The Cardinals have stressed drafting for value, not need. Defensive line and wide receiver are two positions the team might be less apt to address early, however. Coach Bruce Arians has said those positions are strengths.

St. Louis Rams: Tennessee receiver Cordarrelle Patterson (first round, No. 16), North Carolina defensive tackle Sylvester Williams (first round, No. 22) and Alabama running back Eddie Lacy (second round, No. 46) were the projections for St. Louis in the first two rounds. West Virginia receiver Tavon Austin had been the projection for St. Louis at No. 16 in McShay's previous mock. This time, Austin went to Tampa Bay at No. 13. The Rams seem to like their receivers more than outsiders like them, but they could still draft one early. Defensive line is already a strength for the Rams, but that's no reason to steer clear of Williams if the value is right. Having two picks in the first round takes off pressure from a need standpoint. Lacy makes sense in the second round. He's a bigger back at 5-foot-11 and 231 pounds. Coach Jeff Fisher has said he'd like to add a bigger back this offseason. Lacy did have turf-toe issues in college, however. That is something to consider.

San Francisco 49ers: Georgia defensive tackle John Jenkins (first round, No. 31), Stanford tight end Zach Ertz (second round, No. 34) and Florida International safety John Cyprien (second round, No. 61) were the projections from McShay this time. Margus Hunt, the player McShay projected to the 49ers at No. 31 his previous mock, lasted until the 39th choice in this two-round version. The 49ers could use impact players at the positions addressed by McShay's projections. Would Jenkins fit along the line at 346 pounds? That seems heavier than the 49ers would prefer for their scheme, especially if playing defensive end is part of the expectation, but McShay says Jenkins could do that for the 49ers. The team has not drafted a true defensive lineman since using a 2009 seventh-round choice for Ricky Jean Francois. Ray McDonald was a third-rounder in 2007. Justin Smith was a free-agent addition in 2008. Ian Williams and Demarcus Dobbs stuck as undrafted players more recently. Glenn Dorsey was signed in free agency this year after the 49ers watched Jean Francois and Isaac Sopoaga depart. Perhaps this is the year the team drafts a defensive lineman early.

Seattle Seahawks: The Seahawks do not own a first-round pick. McShay has them taking 335-pound Missouri Southern defensive tackle Brandon Williams (second round, No. 56). Under this scenario, Williams would be the seventh defensive tackle selected. Sharrif Floyd, Star Lotulelei, Sheldon Richardson, Sylvester Williams, Jenkins and Kawann Short were off the board. The seventh defensive tackle went 87th overall last year. Drafting a defensive tackle makes sense from a need standpoint. Seattle signed veteran Tony McDaniel as a lower-cost alternative to Alan Branch. Using a second-round choice for another one would put into place an affordable future starter and someone to contribute to a rotation right away.

Todd McShay mock 3.0: NFC North

March, 6, 2013
Let's take an NFC North-centric look at Todd McShay's latest mock draft for

5. Detroit Lions
McShay pick: BYU defensive end Ezekiel Ansah
Seifert comment: We've discussed how intriguing a prospect Ansah has already proven to be. He might not have immediate impact, which the Lions have said they want. But Ansah could eventually thrive as an edge rusher in the Lions' defensive scheme. In this mock, Alabama cornerback Dee Milliner is already off the board.

20. Chicago Bears
McShay pick: Tennessee receiver Cordarrelle Patterson
Seifert comment: The Bears want a speedy receiver but it would be difficult to call it a primary need. McShay considers Patterson one of the draft's top playmakers, however, and chose him over Alabama offensive tackle D.J. Fluker, among others. We'll see.

23. Minnesota Vikings
McShay pick: North Carolina defensive tackle Sylvester Williams
Seifert comment: General manager Rick Spielman considers this draft deep for interior defensive linemen, and the Vikings have a need there as Kevin Williams ages.

26. Green Bay Packers
McShay pick: Georgia defensive tackle John Jenkins
Seifert comment: Jenkins is a classic 3-4 nose tackle at 346 pounds. The Packers want to strengthen their defensive line, especially against the run. Jenkins would help.