Peyton, Tebow and Colt McCoy

It’s been ages since my last post but my Master’s thesis, my girlfriend and a concussion has taken up all my time and energy. There are some things about the off-season that I would like to comment a bit on though.

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The Peyton Manning Trade

Peyton is a Bronco now as you all know. There has been a lot of talk about the fallout from that move with Tebow going to the Jets, San Francisco resigning Alex Smith and the perceptions of the 49ers, Seahawks and Titans being the losers in the race. I think it would have been an upgrade for those two teams to get Manning, obviously. Tennessee owner Bud Adams was desperate to get one of the greatest QB’s of all time on his team and at first glance it seems obvious why. The combination of Manning, WR Kenny Britt and RB Chris Johnson does look great on paper, but Adams gave up too much. The team was willing to give him a “contract for life” which was very extravagant. The 49ers didn’t give Manning to same lucrative deal, but could on the other hand offer a team that was only two special teams plays away from going to the Superbowl in 2011.
I don’t think it would have been worth it for either. I know you probably think that’s crazy talk. But look at it. Peyton is 36 years old and has had four neck surgeries in the last couple of years. His production has been steadily declining every year since his record-breaking season in 2004. He is a player that has benefited a lot from playing in domes and the Mile High Stadium is quite the opposite. In fact it is one of the windiest stadiums in the NFL. I think Peyton will improve the Broncos a lot. Head coach Fox will work with Manning to arrange the offense so it suits the QB’s playing strengths and Manning will no doubt be an upgrade over Tebow. But I believe Manning will play like a good above-average quarterback and not the All-Pro he once was. He will probably take the Broncos to the playoffs because of the weak division but it will be one-and-done.

Lastly, I don’t think the Titans and 49ers would really have been improved by the addition of Manning. Matt Hasselbeck and Alex Smith did solid jobs last years and if they can repeat those performances it will a much cheaper solution for both teams to just stick with what they’ve got.

Tim Tebow to the Jets

Why, oh why? At first I thought this was a bad move by the Jets and now that I have thought about for a few weeks I think it is a terrible move by the Jets. I am by no means a fan of Mark Sanchez. I think he is too inaccurate and I just don’t think he has what it takes to be a starter. But that doesn’t mean that Tebow is the answer. I don’t think the Jets have the personnel to mould Tebow into an NFL-caliber passer. The Jets had just resigned Sanchez and seem set to make him their starter next year. So Tebow will be the backup and will probably have some tailored red zone packages where he will substitute Sanchez. So purely from a football point of view, this could work. But Mark Sanchez had a very shaky hold on his job to begin with and if he struggles just a bit the Jets’ fans will be comparing for Tebow. That will put increase pressure on Sanchez, the coaching staff and management. In time it will also divide a locker room that is already split. This is a recipe for disaster.

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Cleveland Browns and RGIII

One thing I had a hard time wrapping my head around was the fact the Cleveland Browns were looking into a trade with the St. Louis Rams for their second overall pick. Ok, so Colt McCoy hasn’t performed as well as one could have hoped. His passer rating through two seasons is 74.5. Not exactly impressive. But have you looked at Sam Bradford’s rating lately? It is 74.2. And he has had nine lost fumbles compared to McCoy’s two fumbles lost. Both have had nine wins combined and neither have made a playoff push. Sure Bradford came close in 2010 but was that really because of his great play or because he had the Seahawks and Cardinals to play with. McCoy has to play against the Steelers and Ravens twice a year. I am not vying for the presidency of McCoy’s fan club, I am just saying I don’t get why Bradford is still considered a potential franchise star while McCoy is headed towards a future as backup QB. You get the feeling that your draft position means more for job security than your production on the field. If I Mike Holmgreen I would stay put and happily draft WR Justin Blackmon at number four in the first round.

…By the way, I believe that McNabb is right. He has been getting a lot of flak for his shots at the Redskins, and it does sound like sour grapes to me, but he might be right in saying that Washington will make a mess out of developing QB Robert Griffin. The Redskins do not have a great track record of developing quarterbacks. I know Shanahan hasn’t been there for players like Jason Campbell, but the Redskins have sure looked like the same old Redskins under Shanahan’s stewardship.

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NFL Draft Recap 2012 part 1

I have skipped doing a mock draft this year because I simply haven’t had the time. But I couldn’t resist the urge to second-guess GM’s and coaches that know so much more about football than I do, so I decided on writing a draft recap instead:

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1. Indianapolis Colts – QB Andrew Luck.
They took Luck and they obviously should take Luck. This is probably the biggest no-brainer move in the last decade of the draft. Luck is accurate, strong-armed and has every tool you need to be a great QB. Plus he was already starting to call his own plays in college. The Colts strike gold for the second time in a row with another superb quarterback.

2. Washington Redskins – QB Robert Griffin III
Griffin is the dual threat QB every team dreams of. Again, great accuracy and poise and he is said to be a better athlete than Michael Vick was when he came out of college and that to me speaks volumes. Adding that to the fact that he completed 72% of his throws makes him an exciting prospect indeed. Still, I think they overpaid in the trade with St. Louis. Three first round picks is a crazy amount of trade value and too big of a gamble in my opinion. It seems like a classic Dan Snyder move. This could backfire and set the franchise back for years.
Of course they will make me look stupid if he turns out to be a great player. Then it will of course be worth all the picks and more. But remember that word “if”.

3. Cleveland Browns – RB Trent Richardson
I don’t like taking running backs in the first round and especially not this high. The fact that they traded up for Richardson is something I of course like even less. Do you know how many teams that started first round running backs in the divisional round of the playoffs last year? One. Willis McGahee of the Broncos and he wasn’t even drafted by them. (If you are wondering about the rest: Ray Rice 2nd round; Frank Gore 3rd rd; James Starks 6th rd; Ahmad Bradshaw 7th rd; Arian Foster, Green-Ellis and Pierre Thomas/Chris Ivory all undrafted)
Richardson is a special talent and is touted as the best RB prospect since Adrian Peterson came out of college. That makes it defensible to take him this high, but I would have stayed at number four and taken Justin Blackmon and given QB Colt McCoy a proper weapon to throw to.

4. Minnesota Vikings – OT Matt Kalil
They could have filled one of two areas of need here. One being the void at left tackle that was created when Bryant McKinnie left for Baltimore. The other would be cornerback. Minnesota’s passing defence was atrocious last year and that needs to be remedied. This could be done by CB Morris Claiborne. But getting a blind side protector for your quarterback just has higher value than a cornerback so they should take Kalil. So I like the pick. That they managed to trade down and still get their man makes it even better.

5. Jacksonville Jaguars – WR Justin Blackmon
Jacksonville traded up to get Blackmon. Blackmon isn’t the second coming of Calvin Johnson and won’t be nearly as good a player, but he is a solid WR that can catch the ball in traffic. He is not that tall but compensates for it by tremendous athletic amd jumping ability. Second year quarterback Blaine Gabbert can certainly use him. Mike Thomas can’t catch them all. I like this pick even though some help with the offensive line would probably have been more useful. I understand why they went for the receiver though. Jacksonville needs to sell some tickets and drafting an offensive lineman doesn’t do that.

6. Dallas Cowboys (trade with St. Louis)- CB Morris Claiborne
The ‘Boys make headlines once again with the blockbuster trade of the round. So nothing new there. But with the pick they fill a big area of need with one of the drafts top players so I still like the move. A lot was made over Claiborne’s score of four in the Wonderlic. I wouldn’t read too much into it. The fact that he defended it by saying he didn’t bother finishing the test makes me more anxious. I would rather have a dumb cornerback than a defiant and/or lazy one.

7. Tampa Bay Buccaneers – S Mark Barron
In my opinion Tampa is one of the worst teams in the NFL right now and they need help at almost every position. They did plug some holes with the acquisition of players like WR Vincent Jackson and Eric Wright. Barron is the draft’s top safety and will help shore up a defence that bled points last year. They could also have taken CB Stephon Gilmore here as a replacement to stalwart CB Ronde Barber that started showing his age last year but Barron is clearly the superior player and he may be even better than recent top safety picks Eric Berry and Earl Thomas.

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8. Miami Dolphins – QB Ryan Tannehill
This decision will make or break Jeff Ireland’s career in Miami. If this guy doesn’t produce this year, Ireland gets the boot. I am personally not keen on Tannehill. I think he is an average talent that belongs in the second round. This screams “need pick” by the Dolphins and I think it’s a bad choice. They may need a QB but why take one that isn’t worth the high pick? Why not take a good player instead? Tannehill may quiet the fans’ displeasure with the teams’ administration but not for long. They would have been better off staying with Matt Moore and taking a player like WR Michael Floyd to help Moore instead.

9. Carolina Panthers – LB Luke Kuechley
The Panthers need some help on defence and they took the Dick Butkus Award winner and top linebacker to remedy that problem. Still, I don’t think middle linebackers should be picked this high. They may rack up a lot of tackles but aren’t really the difference-makers they once were and Kuechley can’t rush the passer.

10. Buffalo Bills – CB Stephon Gilmore
Gilmore was widely regarded as the second-best cornerback after Claiborne and some even believe that they are very close in ability. Getting him at 10 seems about right. Not a reach and not a scoop either. With the addition of Gilmore and superstar defensive end Mario Williams (in free agency), the Bills’ passing defence should see a boost in this upcoming season.

11. Kansas City Chiefs – DT Dontari Poe
Poe is one of those prototypical “workout warriors” that impresses in the combine and at workouts but who doesn’t really produce in games (see Vernon Gholston). I generally have a ton of faith in the decision-making of Kansas City’s general manager Scott Pioli and I like taking linemen early but I really question this pick. Poe’s combine numbers look great but his last college season was very average.

12. Philadelphia Eagles – DT Fletcher Cox
Andy Reid loves linemen in the first round. This pick may seem odd considering the Eagles are pretty stocked at defensive line. Some of those are getting up there in age though (Cullen Jenkins 31, Trent Cole 29) and the Giants have proven that you can never have too many pass rushers. Still, I think it is a bit much that they also took a d-lineman in the second round in Marshall’s DE Vinny Curry. Their offensive line could have used those picks more.

13. Arizona Cardinals – WR Michael Floyd
At first I didn’t really like the pick seeing as this is a position where the Cardinals already have a star in Larry Fitzgerald. But they need someone to take some coverage off him and give QB Kolb a second target. Secondly getting Floyd at 13 is cheap. I know they have plenty of other needs than WR but this is a good value pick. Floyd is neither tall (6’1″) nor fast but he will be able to catch the ball over the middle.

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14. St Louis – DT Michael Brockers
The beginning of a very smart draft from the Rams. Rookie GM Les Snead kept trading down from the number two pick and stockpiled picks for a team with a plethora of needs. Defensive tackles being one of them. Brockers is huge, strong and versatile with a good burst and can be used all over the Rams’ front four. The knock on him being that he is a little raw and not much of a pass rusher.

15. Seattle Seahawks – DE Bruce Irvin
A controversial pick. Considered a big reach by the Seahawks’ GM John Schneider as few analysts had him going the first round. Also the Seahawks’ defensive line is one their few strengths. But like I said before, you can never have too many pass rushers. Whether or not he is a first round talent? Draft expert Mike Mayock called him the “most natural pass rusher in the entire draft”. That is high praise to me. But he may be too one-dimensional and has character issues, and even if he is worth the high pick, the consensus opinion seems to be that they could have traded down and still gotten him.

16. New York Jets – DE Quinton Coples
The Jets defence has not had the signature Rex Ryan dominance in the last few years and the help is welcome. Coples brings size and versatility to a front seven that could use a good pass rusher. He has the physique of Julius Peppers but not quite the same talent. Some question his motor, but I think he is worth the shot.

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The Eli Manning infatuation is over the top

NFL writers are the very definition of fickle and their love of a player can change in a heartbeat. Whomever last won a big game is quickly crowned one of the best in the league. And by that definition Trent Dilfer must have been considered the best quarterback in the league at some point in the spring of 2001. Sometimes it just gets a bit much.

I am writing this because I just stumbled upon an article by NFL.com’s Jason Smith where he lists Eli Manning as the best quarterback in the NFL today. Not one of the best, but the best. This is hyperbole. Eli Manning has won two Superbowls in the last five years and that certainly puts him up there in the top 10 of current quarterbacks. He has shown resilience when the chips are down and has proven himself in two separate playoffs. I will give him that much. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves.

Let us look at Eli Manning’s record. It started off very poorly. His first three-and-a-half regular seasons (2004-2007) where very sub-par. In fact were it not for his last name I believe he would have been benched after the 2006 season. But then came the impressive Superbowl win over the Patriots and his numbers have improved quite a bit since.  Still, his career passer rating is a very meager 82.1. By comparison, much-maligned players like Joe Flacco, David Garrard and Donovan McNabb all have career ratings above 85. Only Manning’s last four seasons have hovered just above 85 in passer rating and he has yet to throw for more than 25 touchdowns or complete more than  63% of his throws in a season. Compare that to players like Drew Brees, Tom Brady, Aaron Rodgers and yes, even division rival Tony Romo and you will find those numbers very mediocre.

Most quarterbacks are measured by their wins and I find that somewhat insulting to the rest of the team. Sure, a quarterback is the most important player on the field, but having a strong running game and a good defense helps. A lot. Eli Manning has had that through most of his career (with 2011 being the clear exception) and it has helped him get to those playoffs that have made him the media darling he is today.

I am not saying that Eli Manning is not a good quarterback. He might even be on the verge of being great. He is just not quite there yet and let us give him a chance to get there before we crown him.

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Matt Leinart and other NFL news that has puzzled me lately

With the NFL finally back in business there has been quite a free agency frenzy and I just need to reflect a little on some of the action we have seen.

Matt Leinart while he was still playing for the Cardinals

Matt Leinart
What has puzzled me about the news of Matt Leinart lately is more the lack of news. There was very little buzz around him though several teams could use an upgrade at the QB position.
Why has this guy not been given a second chance? People see that he had four years in Arizona and only had a combined passer rating of 70,8. But the bigger picture is that Leinart has only attempted 595 passes in his career so far. That about equals Peyton Manning’s rookie year where he had 575 pass attempts. Manning’s passer rating in those first 575 attempts? 71,2. Leinart even averaged the same yardage as Manning through those first 600-ish pass attempts (6.5 YPA). Is Matt Leinart therefore the next Peyton Manning? No, that is not what I am saying. I am just saying that Leinart came out of college as one of the best college QB’s of all time and he has now been all but forgotten after only 16 career starts. He deserves another shot.

The Eagles’ shopping spree
As everyone who follows the NFL knows by now the Eagles have been out shopping. Big time. And that’s all well and good, but what I don’t get is that everyone now sees them as the NFC favorite to go to the Superbowl.
The Eagles may have upgraded a few positions, but they have downgraded one very important position, the backup quarterback. This position is one of the more overlooked positions in football, because it is a player that rarely sees time, but good coaches know that their season is only one injury away from being entirely on the shoulders of their backup QB, and when your starting quarterback is Michael Vick – a player who has so far only played one 16 game season in his entire career – you better make sure that you have a competent backup at QB. That backup QB is now Vince Young You cannot tell me that you wouldn’t rather have Kevin Kolb holding the clipboard on your team than Young.
Michael Vick is an amazing player and the Eagles will go far if he plays as well he did last year, but history tells us that Vick’s backup will be starting at least once this year and for Eagles fans let us hope it’s not a game of too much importance when Vick inevitably goes down this year.

This is the Haynesworth that needs to show up for the Patroits

Patriots’ 3-4
I am still trying to get my head around the fact that the Patriots will be playing a 4-3 defense this season. Bill Belichick and 4-3. It just seems wrong.
With that said it certainly makes sense. Belichick’s team has been woefully and uncharacteristically thin at linebacker that last couple of seasons and with Haynesworth coming to town they definitely have better lineman than linebackers. Wilfork and Haynesworth together in the middle of that line will be a formidable duo, if Haynesworth rediscovers his former self and plays like he occasionally did for Tennessee.

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Quick thoughts for the – hopefully – upcoming season

Nothing about the labor negotiations. First of all, I don’t have any news to bring, and secondly the labor negotiations are boring. So I’ll skip those and talk about football instead.

Free agents

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Kevin Kolb (QB) – the most sought after QB on the market and probably a better bet than any of the QB’s that were drafted this year in a quite weak draft class. From what we have seen from him, he is a good starter in this league with Pro Bowl potential. A lot of pundits are marrying him with the Cardinals who had very poor play from their quarterbacks last year.

The question is whether the Eagles want to get rid of him. Michael Vick is of course the starter in Philly after his stellar play last year, but he was also hurt a lot and Andy Reid may think that having Kolb as a backup is more valuable than even a first round pick in next years draft.

Carson Palmer (QB) – whether Carson will even be available is up to Bengals’ owner Mike Brown, but after having drafted Andy Dalton in the second round earlier this year, the team looks willing to part with him. If Palmer is serious about retiring unless he is traded – and everyone seems to think so – then there’s no reason why the Bengals shouldn’t trade him and get something out of the situation. Even at his age and with his recent sub-par play, Palmer should still warrant a second rounder from some QB-needy team that missed out on the Kolb Sweepstakes.

Nnamdi Asomugha (CB) – the Raiders cornerback with the impossible name is ready to leave the Bay Area for a team with more potential to take him in to the playoffs. Almost every team in the league would love to have this shutdown corner who is rivaled only by the Jets’ Darelle Revis for the title of best CB in the NFL.

Houston has the greatest CB need. They were dreadful in pass defense last year and they have been since Dunta Robinson’s departure for Atlanta. They also have the cap space (of course depending on what happens to the cap once the NFL and the NFLPA settle on a new deal).

Plaxico Burress (WR) – Plax is not a young WR anymore at 33 and was never a big star to begin. In fact in his nine seasons in the league, he has only had four with 1000 or more yards and only two seasons with double-digit touchdowns. With that said he is a big target at 6’5″ (196 cm) and a lot of teams would still give him a shot. Teams like Carolina, Tampa Bay, Oakland, Chicago and St. Louis should be willing to give him a second chance.

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Tiki Barber (RB) – I think Barber’s return to the league is sad. Sure he was very productive when he last played but that was four years ago and he is 36 years old now. Most running backs start to break down at 30 so in running back years, 36 is sitting-in-a-wheelchair-yelling-at-the-TV old. But on the other hand he hasn’t been hit in those years which is what tears down RB’s so if he trained hard for it, he might get into the right kind of shape. But that’s another problem. He doesn’t seem motivated. He has just gotten fired from his sportscaster job and rumor has it he is broke. So he is doing this for the money. That is not the right kind of motivation in my opinion and it should put many teams off. …And there can’t be that many interested to begin with.
Sure he will get a sniff. In fact Sports Illustrated’s Peter King seems positive he will wind up in Pittsburgh. I could also see him in New England, where Bill Belichick has grown fond of over-the-hill running backs lately. But that doesn’t mean he will be productive. In fact I don’t think he will make it through training camp before being cut.

In the news

There isn’t much news to talk about in a league with work stoppage, but I have a few thoughts.

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James Harrison (LB) should keep quiet. Even though he is a man who has always spoken his mind and even though I tend to agree that Ben Roethlisberger is overrated, it is foolish of him to publicly bash his quarterback at a time where the news papers are yearning for anything football to write about. The article in Men’s Journal doesn’t make him out to be the most emotionally stable person, and it may be true that he was misquoted, but from what I know of him it seems plausible that he said a lot of what the article quoted him for. He is a scary-looking dude and I would never say it to his face, but he doesn’t seem all that smart. If he was, he wouldn’t put himself in these situations at his age. At 33, he is no spring-chicken as a pass rusher and if he keeps putting himself in the news for all the wrong reasons he will soon find himself superfluous in Pittsburgh when his age cathces up to him and his performance declines.

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Denver’s QB battle seems odd to me. I never really understood why the Broncos drafted Tebow to begin with. Kyle Orton has passed for over 7400 yards combined in his two seasons in Denver, despite missing four games and he has kept the offense competitive. Maybe he isn’t the second coming of John Elway, but he gets the job done and he has certainly played better than most of the QB’s in the league. Sure, Tebow might be better than Orton, but he might also be a whole lot worse. Tebow was a Josh McDaniels’ project and it will be interesting to see how the new coach John Fox handles this.

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First round draft recap

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Brand new Carolina Panther Cam Newton

1. Carolina Panthers – QB Cam Newton – Auburn
I was in serious denial about this pick. Everyone seemed to see it but me. That was mainly because I think it is a terrible pick. Newton comes with personality issues, conduct baggage and most importantly, very limited experience. He is the kind of high risk, high reward, dual-threat QB that some team always fall in love with. He has the psychical tools. Sort of. But he is not the kind of leader you like to see in a first overall pick.
To my mind he is a high second, low first round pick at best. There are just too many question marks around and though he has tremendous upside, he will need several years on the bench before he can work from a full playbook and be efficient, if he ever reaches that level.
I feel sorry for Jimmy Clausen who never really got a shot, and now probably never will and is resigned to bench warmer.

2. Denver Broncos – LB Von Miller – Texas A&M
I thought that Marcell Dareus would be the pick, but as Mike Mayock argued, they can have a good DT in the second round and as it stands now players like Christian Ballard or North Carolina’s Marvin Austin are still available. But so are pass rushers Akeem Ayers and Da’Quan Bowers. So in hindsight I think Dareus would have been the right pick, but I understand Denver’s reasoning.

3. Buffalo Bills – DT Marcell Dareus – Alabama
Definitely the way to go here. To my mind the second-best player in the draft (Peterson is still the only true star quality player in the draft) and the way to go for Buffalo. I think Dareus is better suited as a 3-technique DT in the 4-3, but he will do well as a 5-technique in their 3-4 as well.

4. Cincinnati Bengals – WR A. J. Green – Georgia
The draft’s third-best player and also a position of need for the Bengals – or at least it will be when they cut T. O. and Ochocinco after the draft. Green is a great WR, who will probably take a little while to develop, but then look out. Hopefully for Cincinnati this move will entice QB Carson Palmer to stay. This all depends on whether or not they take Andy Dalton in the second round.

5. Arizona Cardinals – CB Patrick Peterson – LSU
Finally Peterson comes off the board and not to a team that I expected to grab him. Peterson is the prototypical cornerback and has all the tools you look for – even return ability – and the only knock on him seems to be that he is slightly stiff in the hips. Pairing him with Dominic Rodgers-Cromartie should give the Cards a great tandem in pass defense.
I am quite surprised that they didn’t nap Blaine Gabbert after he slipped by both the Bengals and Bills. I guess this is a vote of confidence for QB Max Hall.

6. Atlanta Falcons (trade with Cleveland) – WR Julio Jones – Alabama
The Falcons and Browns rocked the draft night with this blockbuster trade high in the first round. The Falcons paid a king’s ransom to trade up 21 places. Atlanta paid the 27th 1st rd) 59th 2nd rd) and the 124th (4th rd) pick this year as well as their first and fourth round picks next year for Cleveland’s first rounder this year. This is a great deal for Cleveland who could trade around and end up having two sets of draft picks next year if they so wished. I think Atlanta got a great player but overpaid big time. The mortgaged half their picks as well as a big part of next year’s for a WR with so-so hands. I have a lot of respect for GM Thomas Dimitroff but this seems rash to me.

7. San Francisco 49ers – DE Aldon Smith – Missouri
Another surprising move. With Blaine Gabbert still on the board they take a pass rusher. Smith is a good player and will fit well in the 3-4 as a pass rusher. They had a mediocre 36 sacks last year and hopefully Smith can add a few to that number. But if this means new head coach Jim Harburgh is going to see if he can be the one to get QB Alex Smith going then I am not impressed.

8. Tennessee Titans – QB Jake Locker – Washington
The first big reach of the draft. This was a definite need pick and the Titans would probably have liked to trade down a bit, but might have been afraid of the Vikings kurking at 12.
Locker has all those mental attributes that Newton doesn’t and he can be a great leader. His accuracy is a big question mark though. He will need some good training and it is now up to offensive coordinator Chris Palmer to make that happen. Palmer has had so-so succes previously with David Carr in Houston and Eli Manning in New York and we’ll see what he can do with Locker.

9. Dallas Cowboys – OT Tyron Smith – Southern California
Everyone and I mean EVERYONE had Smith packed and ready for Dallas, TX. It is a good pick. The ‘Boys are still one of best teams in the league on paper and this covers one of their few real needs.

10. Jacksonville Jaguars (trade with Washington) – QB Blaine Gabbert- Missouri
Finally Gabbert comes off the board. GM Smith must have grown weary of David Garrard’s hot-and-cold play and have now found his replacement. Most pundits have cooled off Gabbert, but I haven’t. He doesn’t have the upside of a Cam Newton, but he is a much safer bet.

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J. J. Watt showing off his new Texans’ jersey

11. Houston Texans – DE J. J. Watt – Wisconsin
I really thought they would go cornerback here, especially with Prince Amukamara available. With that said I like this pick. Houston needs big bodies like Watt for their new 3-4 defense and though most people probably had California’s Cameron Jordan rated higher, I think this is a good need pick for the Texans.

12. Minnesota Vikings – QB Christian Ponder – Florida State
Minnesota finally picks a QB with Brett Favre and head coach Brad Childress out the door. A QB should have been drafted two years ago, but now it finally gets done. But Ponder? At 12th?? This is without a doubt the reach of the draft – including the remaining six rounds – and is an act of desperation. First of all I think Ryan Mallet and TCU’s Andy Dalton are better options and second Ponder could probably be had in the middle of the second round.

13. Detroit Lions – DT Nick Fairley – Auburn
I scoffed when I saw that Rick Gosselin of The Dallas Morning News had the Lions taking Fairley in his mock because they took the game-changing DT Ndamukong Suh with the second overall pick just last year. But now I have slept on it and I don’t think it’s that bad of an idea after all. In my opinion good defensive play starts at the defensive line and their interior line might just be the best in football now. This is a passing league and Suh and Fairley both excel at getting after the quarterback.

14. St. Louis Rams – DE Robert Quinn – North Carolina
St. Louis pick up one of the best pass rushers in the league and coach Spagnuolo now has a long-term replacement for James Hall. A great pick for the Rams though they would probably have loved for a WR like Julio Jones to have dropped to them.

15. Miami Dolphins – G/C Mike Pouncey – Florida
I an not a big fan of Pouncey’s. I think he is overrated because of the success of his win brother Maurkice of the Steelers. Mike can’t snap out of the shotgun and is not a true mauler in the run game. I think Danny Watkins is a better player than him.

16. Washington Redskins (trade with Jacksonville) – DE Ryan Kerrigan – Purdue
Some much-needed pass rush for Washington. The Redskins can pair him with Brian Orakpo on the other side. Reports on Kerrigan are very mixed. On paper he is a beast with a nation-best 26 tackles for a loss last season, but technically he doesn’t wow anybody. I don’t really know what to think of him. I still think they should have gone with Mark Ingram though I usually don’t think RB’s in the first round is a good idea. I just think Ingram can be really special.

17. New England Patriots (trade with Oakland) – OT Nate Solder – Colorado
Surprise! Belichick didn’t trade down! People seem to think that the Patriots will trade down all the time. On occasion they will have to pick somebody and they do here. This is the pick they acquired for Richard Seymour two seasons ago and with it they strengthen the other side of the ball with an offensive linemen. Solder was not rated as highly as Carimi or Castanzo but apparently was to them. Their offensive line was a position of strength last year but both LT Matt Light and LG Logan Mankins seem to want out of New England, so the pick makes sense.

18. San Diego Chargers – DT Corey Liuget – Illinois
Liuget slipped a little which the Chargers don’t mind. He can fit in at end in their 3-4 but will most likely serve as a rotation player at first with Jaques Cesaire and Luis Castillo. Still, it is a little bit of a curious pick since they seem to be well-stocked there already. San Diego must have considered him the best man on the board.

19. New York Giants – CB Prince Amukamara – Nebraska
the cornerback with a title for a first name and five equally odd-named sisters has dropped a lot and the Giants snatched him right up. They don’t really need a CB, but Amukamara is just too good to pass up. One of the safer players in the draft and has top ten talent. In a league where teams use three and four receiver sets more and more, you can never have too many good cornerbacks. Good pick.

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Iowa’s Adrian Clayborn

20. Tampa Bay Buccaneers – DE Adrian Clayborn – Iowa
Generally assumed to be the safety net for Da’Quan Bowers, but he kept on slipping, right on out of the first round. I had Clayborn to the Bucs in my mock but that was only because Bowers was long gone by then. I am no doctor but I think the concerns over Bowers’ knee seem excessive.
Still some teams have dropped Clayborn as well because of the rare Erb’s Palsy syndrome in his hand. Another case of over-scrutinizing. Clayborn is a great pick here. He’s big and versatile and can rush the passer.

21. Cleveland Browns – DT Phil Taylor – Baylor
The draft’s premier 3-4 nose tackle goes to a team who are converting to the 4-3. Another player who dropped for medical reasons. I am like him though and think he is a great value to the team. Still, it is a shame he doesn’t get to play the 3-4 nose, which I think he would be great for.

22. Indianapolis Colts – Anthony Castonzo – Boston College
Not surprisingly the Colts take care of their o-line woes. Castonzo was rated even higher than Tyron Smith by some and especially Castonzo’s pass blocking has been lauded. A great pickup for the Colts.

23. Philadelphia Eagles – Danny Watkins – Baylor
Andy Reid loves his first round linemen and here he gets himself another one. Watkins is the premier inside o-lineman in this draft in my opinion and the only knock on him is his age. He will be 27 in November. I love Reid’s focus on the lines and I think this a very sensible pick.

24. New Orleans Saints – DE Cameron Jordan – California
Big, strong and versatile player that can be moved all over New Orleans’ 4-3 line. Not the supreme pass rusher that the Saints need but he helps with the run game. Still I think they should have taken someone like the free-falling Da’Quan Bowers instead.

25. Seattle Seahawks – OT James Carpenter – Alabama
A bit of a surprise move by the ‘Hawks. Most people expected them to trade down here, but they stay and take a tackle that was not rated as highly as Gabe Carimi or Derek Sherrod – players that are still in the board. The Seahawks hope to bookend Carpenter with last year’s pick Russel Okung and be set at tackle for years to come.

26. Kansas City Chiefs – WR Jonathan Baldwin – Pittsburgh
The Chiefs jump ahead of the Ravens here because of some confusion with Baltimore’s trade attempts with the Bears.
Not a pick I totally love. Sure the Chiefs could use more weapons for Matt Cassel to throw to, but I think the lines need it more and Cabe Carimi would therefore have made more sense to me. With that being said I think Baldwin has a lot of potential. He is a little raw however and will probably take a year or two to develop.

27. Baltimore Ravens – CB Jimmy Smith – Colorado
Another case of my stubbornness being wrong. I thought Smith would drop into the second round because of his substantial character issues. He is a very talented player with great size and speed, so if they can keep him in check this is great pickup, but it’s a pretty big “if”.

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Alabama’s Mark Ingram fighting with safety Earl Thomas – now of the Seattle Seahawks

28. New Orleans Saints – RB Mark Ingram – Alabama
New Orleans traded back in to the first round to grab Alabama star Ingram. To my mind not a position of need to the Saints with Reggie Bush, Chris Ivory and Pierre Thomas already on the roster and though head coach Sean Payton has said to the press that Bush still has a place on the team, I think this must mean goodbye to his $11,2 mill. 2011 salary.
I have said it before but Ingram is a beast and he should have gone off the board at lot sooner.
By the way, what a great day for Alabama’s Crimson Tide as their fourth player comes off the board in the first round.

29. Chicago Bears – OT Gabe Carimi – Wisconsin
The Bears get lucky as the player they were trying to trade up to get falls to them after they messed up the trade with Baltimore. The Bears gave up a league-high 56 sacks in 2010 and although giving up a lot of sacks is one of the drawbacks of offensive coordinator Mike Martz’ system, 56 is still entirely too many. Offensive line coach Mike Tice is said to be elated that they got Carimi.

30. New York Jets – DT Muhammad Wilkerson – Temple
A rarity. A small-school DT in the first round. Head coach Rex Ryan really did his homework this year, appearing at the Pro Day of every major DT talent in this year’s draft and he will be pleased with getting Wilkerson who dominated at his division two school. I think New York is probably a little disappointed that Phil Taylor didn’t drop to them as he would be a great replacement for the hulking Kris Jenkins on the nose.

31. Pittsburgh Steelers – DE Cameron Heyward – Ohio State
If I was Derek Sherrod I would almost be insulted. The Steeles have an obvious need at offensive tackle but still went the defensive end route Sherrod still on the board. Heyward is a good player and is probably meant to replace the 34 year old Brett Keisel in time, but I still think they should have gone need over value at this point.

32. Green Bay Packers – OT Derek Sherrod – Mississippi State
For the second year in a row the Packers try to inject some youth in to their offensive line. Left tackle Chad Clifton played great last year and protected QB Aaron Rodgers’ blind side all the way to a Superbowl title, but he will be 35 in June and has been injured a lot lately, so this pick meant sense. Sherrod is solid but doesn’t really wow anybody, so this feels a little conservative for at team that could do with another pass rusher opposite Clay Matthews like for instance LB Akeem Ayers who is still available.

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Mock draft top 14 version 2.0

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Alabama’s DT Dareus stiff-arming the Longhorn QB Gilbert

As I’ve mentioned previously, mock drafts are difficult. This year even more so than usual. Draft gurus and experts such as Rick Gosselin, Peter King and Mike Mayock have talked about how unpredictable this draft this – Gosselin even went as far as to call it one of the most unpredictable drafts he could remember. Even figuring out the first pick is extremely difficult this year. I have seen mock drafts with Da’Quan Bowers, Marcell Dareus, Blaine Gabbert, Cam Newton and even Nick Fairley going first overall. And some people think (myself included) that Patrick Peterson is better than all of them.
What I am trying to say is that I have changed my mind. I am going with my gut this time around and changing the first pick of the draft. This obviously has ripple effects for the rest of the mock, so I have made some changes in the first 14 picks.
It is not necessarily because I think that is what Panthers’ GM Marty Hurney is likely to do. I have changed mainly because I think it would be a better pick for them going forward. Therefore I give you my 2.0 version of the top 14 picks.

1. Carolina (2-14) – Marcell Dareus
I can’t bring myself to give the Panthers a QB here. I just don’t think Gabbert (or Newton for that sake) is worth the pick. Yes, Clausen was awful last year but one year is just not enough to evaluate a QB.
Blaine Gabbert is good, but not special and Cam Newton has thrown less than 300 passes in college and will take a lot of development before he is ready. Sure, Mike Mayock says he has better mechanics than Vince Young or Tim Tebow – whom Newton is often likened to – but they shouldn’t have been picked in the first round either, let alone first overall. The only problem is that they don’t have a second round pick and can’t get a shot at a QB before pick 65.
But even though Carolina’s offense was clearly the weak link in the chain in 2010, I still give them this defensive upgrade. Dareus is no Ndamukong Suh, but he is one of the safest players in the draft who comes plug-n-play and ready “straight out of the box”. He will upgrade the run defense instantly and defensive-minded head coach Ron Rivera can build the defense around him.

2. Denver (4-12) – CB Patrick Peterson
I am not changing my mind on this one. This is not only a need pick but a value pick. Peterson is the best player in the draft in my opinion and Denver will not regret picking him here. He will immediately upgrade one of the league’s worst defenses that gave up a league high 62 passes of 20 yards or more.
Denver also finished last in sacks last year with 23 so a pass rusher would be welcome here. Sadly Von Miller is the only one with the quality to be picked top five and he probably fits better in a 3-4 as an outside rusher. Denver did also play all of last season without sack meister Elvis Dumervil, so having him back this season will most certainly help.

3. Buffalo (4-12) – QB Blaine Gabbert
Like I said in my last mock, Buffalo would take Gabbert if he was still available so they do. In my opinion he is better than Newton, but still doesn’t deserve a top five pick in my book. He might do that in GM Buddy Nix’ book though and that’s still the book that counts. With Gabbert the Bills might finally get the franchise passer they have been seeking for so long.

4. Cincinnati (4-12) – WR A.J. Green
No change here either as the Bengals still take A. J. Green. Green has been flying a little under the radar lately, but he is a solid player with great upside. More importantly, he doesn’t flash the diva mentality of a Chad OchoCinco and Terrell Owens and that is probably a huge plus to the Cincinnati staff. Maybe drafting Green and cutting the Batman & Robin Show will also help head coach Marvin Lewis convince Carson Palmer to stick around.

5. Arizona (5-11) – QB Cam Newton
I cannot make my mind up on Arizona’s intentions. Are they going QB or does coach Whisenhunt still feel that Max Hall is the way to go and chooses to upgrade the new 3-4 defense instead? Hall had an atrocious passer rating of 35.7 last year which was bad enough to make even Jimmy Clausen look good. That’s why I still think they go QB over defense and bring Newton into the fold. This move might also appease Larry Fitzgerald and keep the disgruntled receiver on the team for a few more years.

6. Cleveland (5-11) – WR Julio Jones
Mike Holmgreen and new head coach Pat Shurmur would have loved to see Dareus still on the board as this point. Another dream scenario would be A. J. Green, but they are both gone and the Browns choose the next best thing with Jones who some say is just as good as Green. I am not too sure about that but he will definitely help the development of promising QB Colt McCoy.
DT Nick Fairley and DE Da’Quan Bowers are also possibilities for Cleveland as their d-line needs a lot of help, but the depth at WR is very thin this year and very deep at DL so this pick makes more sense.

7. San Francisco (6-10) – CB Prince Amukamura
San Francisco is one of the few QB needy teams in the top ten that I don’t think will try to trade down. They are quite happy with this years crop as a number of the available players could help them. I do think a QB is something they will address in round two as the Alex Smith experiment must surely be over by now.
Von Miller has dropped, which a player of his talent shouldn’t, but San Fran’s need for some help in pass coverage outweighs their need in their front seven. Amukamura is a top ten talent who is just outshined by Peterson and therefore tends to be underrated a bit.

8. Tennessee (6-10) – DE Da’Quan Bowers
I still believe that Nick Fairley has too much of an Albert Haynesworth stink on him to be taken by Tennessee, though they could use a player like him.
Bowers has been dropping like a stone in most mock drafts and even though a lot of people had him going first overall to Carolina just a few months ago, he is now going in the late teens in most mocks. He is not dropping that far in my mock. There was a scare over his knee a few weeks ago, but the knee turned out to be in better shape than feared and last year’s college sack star is not dropping out of the top ten.

9. Dallas (6-10) – OT Tyron Smith
Smith has been placed in this spot in a lot of mocks for a long time now. It just makes sense. Dallas badly needs o-line help and Smith is the highest rated tackle. No need to overthink this one.

10. Washington (6-10) – RB Mark Ingram
I am being stubborn on this one, even though nobody else seems to believe that this will happen. Washington needs a RB big time and Mark Ingram is a star. Sure, he was injured last year, but that was a year ago and I believe he is worth the shot. My only real concern is that it is not Shanahan’s style, as I mentioned in my last mock. Still it is not Shanahan’s choice to make, it is GM Bruce Allen’s and he has previously showed a willingness to take RB’s high as he did with Cadillac Williams in 2005 when he was GM for the Bucs.

11. Houston (6-10) – LB Von Miller
This is a dream come true for Houston as they get their second-highest rated player (the first being Peterson) without having to spend a pick on trading up. They are switching to the 3-4 and need help with their pass rush. Miller is far and away the best linebacker in this year’s draft and they are very fortunate if he lasts this long.

12. Minnesota (6-10) – DT Nick Fairley
Fairley drops once again in this mock and he is a top ten talent. He is not as safe as Dareus and some worry that his college production won’t translate well to the NFL as he has relied a lot on psychically overpowering opponents so far. That won’t be as easy in the NFL for Fairley who weighed in at just 291 lbs at the combine. That is a little undersized for today’s defensive tackles and he will need to add at least 15 lbs of bulk which might hurt his burst.

13. Detroit (6-10) – OT Anthony Castonzo
Jeff Backus is no spring chicken and he needs to be replaced soon. Castonzo has the tools to play the crucial left tackle position but he may need some grooming. If Backus plays through 2011, Castonzo will have time to grow. Detroit played better last year than most people think and they don’t need to reach for a player here. This pick continues their development and sets them up nicely for the future with 2008 first round pick Gosder Cherilus bookending the o-line.

14. St. Louis (7-9) – DE Robert Quinn
The Rams would have loved for WR Jones to fall to them, but he didn’t. Instead they have Quinn sitting there and that’s a pretty good consolation prize. DE Chris Long – the Rams’ first round pick in 2008 – finally showed signs of life with 8.5 sacks last year and DE James Hall had 10.5, so pass rush doesn’t seem to be a big problem for St. Louis. But Hall just turned 34 and his long-term replacement is needed. Head coach Spagnuolo likes to stock up on d-linemen, which the Giants did a lot when he was defensive coordinator there, so this fits the profile.

After these 14 picks I have wound up using the same 14 players as I did in the first mock. This suits me fine as the rest of the draft was made so recently that I am still quite satisfied with it. It is therefore unchanged:

15. Miami (7-9) – C/G Mike Pouncey
It seems the consensus that Miami will go RB in the first round. I don’t see that. I realise that Ronnie Brown has been quite injury prone and that Ricky Williams is getting old. Still I don’t think it is something that requires first round attention. I am much inclined to believe those that think they will try to strengthen the lines. Here they could pick up the highly overrated Mike Pouncey. He is riding the success of his twin brother and he is in my opinion not the same caliber player. Especially his inability to snap consistently worries me, but Miami might be looking at him for the guard position which he is probably better suited for.

16. Jacksonville (8-8) – DE Aldon Smith
The Jags would like to get a weapon in the receiving game here, but there is no one left that rates high enough to be drafted here. They could also be tired of the inconsistent performance of QB David Gerrard altogether and that would make Jake Locker an option. Still I think they will take one of the many good defensive linemen available. Here the pass-rushing skills of Aldon Smith might come in handy to bookend with Aaron Kampmann who they hope will be more productive in his second season with the team.

17. New England – from Oakland (8-8) – DE J. J. Watt
The Richard Seymour pick and New England’s first of three picks in the top 33. They will need to strengthen the lines both offensive and defensive with these picks as they have been an uncharacteristic weakness for Belichick’s team as of late.
They also need some help with the running game and Illinois’ Mikel Leshoure is therefore a possibility but Belichick doesn’t value RB’s that high and the one time that he did, it didn’t work out that well (see Maroney, Laurence). Therefore I think Watt is the replacement. Quite fitting that they pick a big 3-4 DE with the pick they got from the Seymour trade.

18. San Diego (9-7) – DT Phil Taylor
San Diego’s biggest need last season was decent special teams play but the first round is obviously not where you cover that need. That’s what the later rounds are for.
The Chargers are still a well-stocked team at pretty much every position. Their d-line could use some help though and 3-4 end Muhammad Wilkerson is option now that Watt is gone. Still I think some help at nose tackle is the way to go. The athletic (for a guy at +330lbs) Taylor gives them some penetration from the nose and further strengthens their pass rush.

19. New York Giants (10-6) – DT Corey Liuget
The Giants have always put a premium on defensive linemen and in a draft so deep at the position I don’t see why they shouldn’t exploit that. This is a good spot for a player like Illinois’ Liuget and the rich get richer.

20. Tampa Bay (10-6) – DE Adrian Clayborn
Last year’s 10-6 season was a surprise to pretty much everyone and much needs to be done if they are to build on the 2010 season and get in to the playoffs that only just eluded them last year.
One of the first needs to attend to for Tampa is pass rush which makes this the fifth defensive lineman in a row off the board. California’s Cameron Jordan is probably higher rated by now but he is better suited for a 3-4 defence, so they go for Clayborn who is dropping in some people’s eyes because of the Erb’s Palsy condition in his left arm, but he is an over-achiever and his kind tend to do well in the NFL

21. Kansas City* (10-6) – OT Gabe Carimi
The Chiefs need help on both the offensive and defensive lines but Clayborn, Watt and Taylor are gone, and that leaves offensive linemen for Scott Pioli to pick between. Carimi is the superior of those remaining and will help keep QB Matt Cassel upright.

22. Indianapolis* (10-6) – OT Nate Solder
The Colts have had a clear need at OT for years now and it needs to be handled even though their defense and running game could also use a hand. The passing game can’t get them back to the Superbowl on its own. Still it’s too early for the remaining RB’s and after the run on DT’s there isn’t enough quality left, so Solder it is. Solder is an excellent pass blocker and will help the Colts continue to do what they do best.

23. Philadelphia* (10-6) – T/G Danny Watkins
The Eagles gave up too many sacks last year (49) but a lot of those can be attributed to Michael Vick’s playing style which puts him outside the pocket where his linemen can’t help.
Nontheless their o-line – which looked so solid two seasons ago – needs a little help. Watkins is a bit of a reach at 23, but it’s a need pick and he will help in the run game as well.

24. New Orleans* (11-5) – DE Cameron Jordan
Some say that New Orleans will go RB in the first round which would probably spell the end for high-priced Reggie Bush. I highly doubt that will be the case with the emergence of Chris Ivory – even if Mark Ingram should fall this far which he doesn’t in my scenario.
Some help for the mediocre run defense seems more likely to me. Cameron Jordan has been dropping and is a bargain at 24. He can be moved all over the line and will also help with the sack production which wasn’t great in 2010.

25. Seattle* (7-9) – QB Jake Locker
The Charlie Whitehurst Project was not exactly a success and with Matt Hasselbeck rapidly getting older, something needs to get done in this draft. Seattle doesn’t pick again until 57th and by then players like Locker, Andy Dalton, Christian Ponder and Ryan Mallett are probably all gone. Locker has accuracy issues and needs work, but he has tremendous athletic ability and with time he can be a great player.

26. Baltimore* (12-4) – DE Cameron Heyward
I can’t bring myself to give the Ravens CB Jimmy Smith like everyone else seems to be doing. He has a ton of character issues which should give most teams pause. Also I don’t think Baltimore really needs a cornerback that badly. They had a 76.4 defensive QB-rating last year even though they only registered 27 sacks, so if they really want to improve their pass defense then they need to rush the QB better. The question is if they still believe that Sergio Kindle can do that for them. I don’t think they feel confident about him so they take Heyward who is a great value at 26 and the tenth defensive lineman off the board so far.

27. Atlanta* (13-3) – DE Ryan Kerrigan
Atlanta was the favourite to make to Superbowl late in the season last year and they were solid in all phases of the game. Their pass rush was average at best though with 30 sacks where 13 of them came from the 32 year old John Abraham. They can’t keep relying on Abraham who needs plenty of plays off every game to stay fresh for a whole season.
The arrival of Kerrigan keeps the run on d-linemen going and will probably mean goodbye to Jamaal Anderson who has only had 4,5 sacks in four seasons.

28. New England* (14-2) – OT Derek Sherrod
I seriously doubt that Belichick retains this pick. When their time comes around there will be plenty of teams eager to get a QB like Mallet or Dalton and “The Hooded One” loves to trade down. But I haven’t included trades in my mock, so assuming they stay at 28, they will look to the offensive line. Both LT Matt Light and LG Logan Mankins are disgruntled and with Sherrod in the roster the Patriots suddenly have a lot of leverage in their negotiations with the players.

29. Chicago* (11-5) – WR Jonathan Baldwin
The Bears led the league in giving up sacks and though that is one of the downsides to Mike Martz’ system, it is still something that needs to be remedied. The Bears will be really disappointed if both Carimi, Solder, Watkins and Sherrod are gone before it’s their turn, but that is the case here, so they turn to another area of dire need: wide receiver. The 6’4″ Baldwin from Pittsburgh is a bit of a gamble, but his ability to get open will give Cutler a big target and a much-needed safety valve down the field.

30. New York Jets* (11-5) – Muhammad Wilkerson
Rex Ryan has not made it a secret that he wants to help the d-line, showing up to the Pro Day of every major DT. In this mock there has been a hefty run on d-linemen and there aren’t that many left. One of the only ones left, and by the way one of the rare small school prospects at the position, is Temple’s Wilkerson and he will fit well at DE in the Jets’ 3-4.

31. Pittsburgh* (12-4) – OT James Carpenter
The Steelers have been top ten in “most sacks given up” for five seasons in a row now, albeit a lot of that can be attributed to Ben Roethlisberger’s mind boggling tendency to hold on to the ball too long, he also needs some help up front. Every remaining o-lineman is a reach at this point, but Alabama’s James Carpenter gives them a good player who might be a bit slow, but is technically sound in his pass blocks.

32. Green Bay* (10-6) – LB Akeem Ayers
The Packers went all the way last season but they lack a good pass rusher to take the heat off LB Clay Matthews. The versatile Ayers has been dropping because of his poor combine numbers, but he is a terrific pass rusher and GM Ted Thompson won’t hesitate to make this pick, though talented but troubled CB Jimmy Smith will also get a look.

* = made the playoffs in 2010
In parentheses = 2010’s win-loss for the team in regular season

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