Draft guru and Baltimore native Mel Kiper has put out his most recent Mock Draft, and has the Ravens selecting one of the higher ranked players at his position at the29th spot of the first round. Most fans believe the team needs an offensive lineman or an inside linebacker, with the wide receiver position also in the mix for additional depth.
Kiper has the Ravens selecting Wisconsin center Peter Konz, arguably the best center in this year's draft class. He's a huge guy that might even be able to go the route of former Ravens player, Jason Brown, who started out at left guard to learn the ropes and then was moved to center for his finalyear in Baltimore before signing a ridiculously high free agent contract with the St. Louis Rams.
Even All Pro and soon-to-be Hall of Fame LT Jonathan Ogden started his NFL career at left guard before moving over to left tackle to become one of the best at that position for the next decade. Konz could start there or even right at center just like the Pittsburgh Steelers Maurkice Pouncey did his rookie year.
(Check out the full first round of Mel Kiper's Mock Draft and see what he has to say about the Ravens' pick after the 'Jump')
While the public relations drama continues between Jim Irsay and Peyton Manning, there's little drama surrounding whom the Colts will take with the No. 1 pick. I doubt Luck throws next week at the NFL combine, but his status among evaluators really isn't in question. Arm talent, strength, size, smarts, leadership, intangibles -- it's all there. The only question is whether he'll be serving an apprenticeship under Manning, but my guess right now would be that he won't have to.
St. Louis Rams
I've said before this pick could be in play. Cleveland, Washington or maybe even Miami could slide into this spot if they want to make a move at quarterback, but Blackmon goes here in this mock because I'm not able to reflect trades. It will be interesting to see if Blackmon is willing to run in Indy. He could bypass it and wait for his pro day given his current status. St. Louis is in desperate need of a weapon in the passing game, and will get one with one of its first two picks. Remember, it could also lose Brandon Lloyd in free agency.
The Vikings need to upgrade at left tackle, and Kalil is the rare one who could step into that position right away at the NFL level. Great feet, arm length, athleticism and finishing skills as a run-blocker make him a very complete prospect. I can see the Vikings tempted if Blackmon is around here, which he very well could be, because they're also lacking weapons in the passing game. They could also go for a cornerback. It'll be one of three, all top needs.
Given the makeup of the roster, and the fact that they have two first-round picks and can really enhance the level of young talent, I think the Browns are far more likely to look at a young QB prospect than get into the bidding war for a veteran like Manning, or even Matt Flynn. One question I have is whether Cleveland stays at this spot and hopes Griffin is still around, or gets aggressive and moves up to No. 2 and guarantees they get their guy. Given his experience, leadership qualities and overall skill set, I don't see it as much of a leap for Griffin to be a Week 1 starter in 2012.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
I'll say it again -- don't simply dismiss the idea that Richardson could land here because of the presence of LaGarrette Blount. A great running team now needs more than one good back, and Richardson is by far the best back on the board this year. As well, if the Bucs are going with a "best player available" mantra early on -- very possible given a wide range of needs -- Richardson would make a lot of sense here. Blount has power, but he's far more limited as an all-around back than Richardson. The Bucs were actually below league average in yards per rush in 2011, and could look to improve there.
The Redskins are a team I could certainly see moving off this pick, but if the draft broke this way, the pick makes a lot of sense on both need and value. And obviously, what the Skins could do in free agency for their offense is something I'm considering. Tyrann Mathieu got the headlines at LSU, but the best cornerback on the team was Claiborne. He's the top corner in the draft, and while the Skins have offensive needs, they should also be willing to draft best available when possible because the roster needs more talent, period. While not quite the athlete, Claiborne is actually a better pure cover corner than Patrick Peterson, the No. 5 overall pick from last year.
If the Jags don't add help at wide receiver in free agency, they could look for help here, but they're also desperate for pass rush help. They sacked opposing quarterbacks fewer than two times a game in 2011, and Coples would fit in the scheme as the top 4-3 defensive end in the draft. He has ideal physical traits, with great length at 6-foot-6, and the size to hold up in the run game, complementing his pass-rush skills. Jacksonville is another team that simply needs to upgrade the talent level, so it shouldn't reach on offense at the cost of adding superior talent.
The Carolina defense in 2011 wasn't helped by injuries, but the result was a unit that couldn't stop the run, but also had a tough time generating consistent pressure on opposing quarterbacks. It starts up front, where the Panthers simply need to add talent. Brockers is a high-ceiling defensive tackle, a player who will thrive in any scheme, but could be particularly effective as a penetrator in the 4-3. The Panthers had to make do rotating a pair of rookies on the defensive interior last season, and really need to add talent and depth. The offense is going to be there -- they have to find some stoppers.
The Dolphins will be adding a quarterback, and Reiff helps them finish what could be a solid offensive line in 2012. Reiff's tape was exceptional this past season, and given how complete he is right now, stepping in immediately on the right side shouldn't be a problem. Outside linebacker also makes some sense here, but Miami knows its offense is really close, and Reiff makes the quarterback situation that much more appealing, regardless of who takes the snaps. The Dolphins aced their first-round pick last year, also hitting the O-line. Wouldn't hurt them one bit to double down.
This is another pick that I'm staying with for now. The pass rush still needs a lot of help, and Upshaw is currently the best 3-4 outside linebacker in the draft. Even as Buffalo looks to shift that defense to a 4-3 (see Denver's draft strategy at No. 2 last year) Upshaw can still easily fit. Don't pass talent because of small scheme questions. He should be able to apply a lot of pressure to opposing quarterbacks from the edge for whoever gets him for 2012. Remember, nobody on the Bills managed more than 5.5 sacks in 2011, and as a team, they simply haven't been able to get pressure unless they bring numbers. This is an energetic talent, an edge linebacker in the mold of a more athletic LaMarr Woodley, a guy who has been well-coached and can start early.
Kansas City Chiefs
In Romeo Crennel's system, you have to find linebackers with great instincts who can be physical in the run game, make stops through the hole and get into the backfield. Kuechly is simply a machine, a prototype for what you want in an interior linebacker. He has exceptional instincts, and masks any questions of his speed by diagnosing the play faster than anybody out there. Can play a little high, but that's just quibbling, as he takes few false steps. I can see the Chiefs looking for a nose tackle, but this slot might be a little high for great value there.
Some see the Seahawks looking at a QB this high, but the value doesn't make a lot of sense for me just yet. On the defensive side of the ball, the big need is help for the pass rush. Ingram has enough size to hold up in the 4-3, and will provide an upgrade. The Seattle defense is really fast, and could become dynamic if it can generate more pressure on opposing passers. If Kuechly is still here, I can also see that pick, but the development of K.J. Wright makes Ingram a good target.
As I've noted before, Arizona hasn't drafted an offensive lineman before the fifth round since 2007 -- and it's about time. Martin may start on the right side, but he has the physical tools to become the blindside tackle here. Questions remain about what the Cardinals will do at quarterback -- my guess for now is they simply stick with Kevin Kolb and hope that investment pays off -- but there's no question they have to be better up front regardless of who is back there. Martin has a lot of athleticism, is a very good run blocker, and should continue to improve his game.
Dallas got shredded far too often with the passing game in 2011, and while Barron might be a very slight reach here in terms of his current grade, he's a perfect fit for the Cowboys. I have "defensive back" on my sheet as a big need in Big D, meaning they can't go wrong with either the top safety or the top cornerback here, and Barron offers the most value. Better in run support right now than he is in coverage, Barron could get better against the pass, but he's an upgrade for the Cowboys.
No team was softer up the middle than Philly in 2011, and while linebacker is a bigger need, it wouldn't be a very good value here if the board lines up like this. In Cox, you get a player who should be great in the 3-4, a powerful bull-rusher who can collapse the pocket, but also a guy who does a good job against the run and plays with a really high motor. I have wide receiver as another potential need, but the Philly defense needs to be a bigger priority in the draft. The Eagles can target a linebacker in the next round.
New York Jets
The Jets like to bill themselves as a ball control team on offense, able to run to set up the pass, and put away games with physical play up front. Well, it's hard to do that if you're 29th in the NFL in yards per rush, as they were in 2011. With Tony Sparano coming to town, my guess is shoring up the offensive line will be a priority (just as it was with his last pick in Miami) as the Jets try to get the offense back where they want it. Glenn is a really versatile guy who could probably be adequate at tackle, but could dominate inside. He could start there immediately.
Cincinnati Bengals (from Oakland)
The Bengals held up pretty well against the pass last year, but should look for the heir to Johnathan Joseph, whom they lost to Houston before the 2011 season. Kirkpatrick fits the bill as a big, physical corner who doesn't give up much in coverage given his size (nearly 6-foot-3), which makes him particularly good inside the red zone. He's also not one to shy away from run support. The Bengals need a running back, too, but they can find value at that position much later. Glenn is also an option if the Jets don't make that pick.
San Diego Chargers
What happens with Vincent Jackson obviously could have an effect on this selection, but even if Jackson remains, the Chargers could use another player who can create matchup problems in the passing game. Floyd showed me a lot this year -- he cut his weight some and played lighter than 230 pounds, and it really made him a more explosive player. He can make plays all over the field in the passing game. The Chargers also must get some help on the offensive line, and could go that route here if they really like a player.
We know the Bears will be looking for help at wide receiver, but just because the offensive line could be characterized as semi-adequate doesn't mean they should make the mistake of neglecting it and letting it fall apart again. Mike Tice knows as well as anybody that Jay Cutler can be successful in the passing game first if he's not getting hit on every play. Adams is a guy who I've come around on, because he simply knows how to protect the pocket. He can slide his feet and doesn't get beat inside, but he has the length and technique to protect the edge.
They've devoted some draft attention to it in recent years, but the Titans' pass rush still needs help. Only Tampa Bay had more of a struggle getting to opposing passers last year. People talk about the quarterback situation in Tennessee, but I think it was the lack of a pass rush that kept the Titans (barely) out of the playoffs last year. Mercilus is, quite simply, a pass-rusher. I like his athleticism and uncanny ability to beat blockers. He needs a good combine to cement his status, but he could move even higher, and might be a good value here. The Titans need someone who can breathe on an opposing quarterback.
I have guard as one of the top needs for the Bengals, and they won't do any better than DeCastro at this spot. A player who plays with exceptional awareness, DeCastro is the kind of guard who helps you crack off bigger gains in the run and screen game because he gets a great initial punch, but will also get to the second level and throw great blocks out in space. Again, I don't think Cincy gets enough value here at running back, but DeCastro helps the run game, too.
Cleveland Browns (from Atlanta)
Cleveland needs help at wide receiver but may not be able to get it in free agency, and Wright is a player who can provide an element the Browns don't have right now. The pick makes sense on both need and value. Wright quietly had a season that almost matched Blackmon's in the Big 12. Greg Little was inconsistent but certainly showed a lot of promise as a rookie, and Wright is a good complement. He's smaller at about 5-10, 190 pounds, but adds a speed threat this offense really needs. He'll stretch the field with speed. The Browns need weapons, and Wright fits the profile.
At one time, Jenkins was destined to be a top-10 pick, and his talent level hasn't dipped. After exiting Florida, he spent a year at North Alabama, and is finally ready for the NFL. As a pure cover corner, in terms of pure instincts, ball skills and athleticism, you're looking at a potential Pro Bowl player. Jenkins is already a major threat in the return game. He has a history, but get him in the right system, and you could have a star. We know Detroit needs help at corner, and Jenkins might be too much value to pass up here.
The Steelers are always going to find answers under the brilliant Dick LeBeau, but they have to get younger, particularly up front, and they know it. Poe is that rare zero-technique centerpiece to a 3-4 defense, the guy who simply eats up blockers and frees up the linebackers. If he develops, Poe can be the heir to Casey Hampton in the middle of that scheme, and these guys are just really tough to find. The value lines up as well.
Denver has the pass rush off the edge but could add some depth on the interior, and Still is a guy who can penetrate and get tackles for loss from the inside. The Broncos could go a few ways here, which is actually a good thing as they pursue value, and I could certainly look for them to target a corner at this spot, but Still makes a lot of sense in that scheme. I have wide receiver down as a need, but they have a pretty good combo there right now, and given the struggles the offense could face, they need to be able to get stops.
Houston did an exceptional job in last year's draft, locking up players who would fit in Wade Phillips' system. And even the injury Mario Williams suffered didn't derail them. Worthy, when he's on his game, can be really dynamic. He has a really good burst for his size, allowing him to penetrate and be really disruptive against both the run and the pass. He'll tie up blockers because he can be really hard to neutralize one on one. He just needs to be consistent, but if Houston can rotate him in, it'll get good production early.
New England Patriots (from Saints)
Curry is a really good pass-rusher for a team that needs to find some help in that area. I'm not sure he's the best candidate to play OLB in a 3-4, but Bill Belichick can scheme around his personnel as well as anybody, and if he loves a pass-rusher, he'll find a way to make it work. Curry has violent hands and can really get a tackle off-balance. He can also swim to the inside. The Patriots need to add talent to the front seven, and Curry is a start.
Green Bay Packers
The Packers are another team that should be looking for the best value possible at either safety or cornerback, and Smith provides value here. What I like about Smith is his ability to do it all. He's not the world's greatest athlete, but any scout will tell you: At this position, you take the instincts over the athlete 100 out of 100 times. Smith gets great jumps in coverage and will get in passing lanes, but he's also outstanding in run support. You don't lose ground in one area when he's out there.
With Ray Lewis' decision to come back for another year, the Ravens might be a little less desperate to find the next great linebacker, and can instead hit another big need. Matt Birk will need a replacement at center, and Konz is the best one in the draft. He's like a good quarterback, picking up every blitz and stunt, and has the kind of smarts in calling out things that will really help the quarterback. The Ravens were a mess up front for portions of 2011 and will need to add help there.
San Francisco 49ers
Randle could be a steal. This is a guy who, in a more dynamic passing offense, could have been far more productive. Obviously, the combine will tell us a lot, but Randle could be preferred over Alshon Jeffery of South Carolina, because he has the length, but will be a lot quicker into and out of his breaks because he's got a leaner frame. He's better suited to beat opposing defenses over the top. The Niners need a big target in the passing game outside ofVernon Davis, and Randle could be that guy.
New England Patriots
We've seen the value of Vince Wilfork, and while Reyes isn't the size of a city block, he certainly has some of the traits of a guy who can help a defense similarly. When he gets good leverage (which he usually does), Reyes is really strong and will get offensive linemen up off their feet as he pushes them into the backfield. He's not going to shed blocks as a brilliant pass-rusher would, but Reyes can develop into the guy who makes everybody else a better pass-rusher because he demands so much blocking help.
New York Giants
The Super Bowl will provide plenty of good memories for Giants fans, but from a personnel standpoint, people should also remember the injuries they suffered at tight end, and Allen is the best one in this draft. He's a fantastic athlete, can create matchup problems and further diversify the Giants' offense as they maximize this window of exceptional quarterback play. The Giants could also look for help on the offensive line, or target a linebacker here, but I expect Allen's profile to rise during the workout process, and he should represent a lot of value here