2011 NFL Draft

Jeff Fisher’s departure could impact Titans draft plans

My immediate reaction to the surprising Jeff Fisher news yesterday was: does this mean Vince Young is staying? ESPN’s Adam Schefter quickly put an end to that possibility, at which point my mind turned to their draft.

The Titans have been a fairly well-run organization from top to bottom during the Jeff Fisher era, but owner Bud Adams does have an Al Davis streak in him when it comes to the draft; and particularly when it comes to quarterbacks. Adams was instrumental in the Oilers decision to draft Steve McNair in 1995 (a decision which worked out just fine) and played an even larger role in the selection of Vince Young in 2006 (a decision which didn’t work out so well).

Bud Adams has always liked big, mobile QBs

Throughout the past five seasons it often appeared as though Adams was Young’s only supporter, which undoubtedly played a role in the rift that grew between Adams and Fisher, ultimately pushing them apart.

So now that Fisher and Young are both gone, Adams is left with no quarterback and a young coach whom he can easily control. In other words, if Adams wants someone in the draft, he’ll get him.

Considering their desperate need for a signal caller and Adams affinity for strong-armed, mobile quarterbacks, Cam Newton suddenly looks like a very strong possibility.

I mentioned this on Twitter last night, to which @TitansMCM (of MusicCityMiracles.com) replied: “Not as long as [Mike] Reinfeldt and [Steve] Underwood are in charge… I think Bud learned his lesson [after drafting Vince Young]. The key word there is think.”

There’s a strong possibility that he’s right, and Adams will remain hands off. But as he eludes to, you just never know with an owner like Adams. For whatever reason he seems to trust a certain type of quarterback and it may be hard to pass up a Heisman winner who fits that mold perfectly.

Posted on by Ryan McCrystal in 2011 NFL Draft, Titans Comments Off

Senior Bowl notes, thoughts, rumors

I like Kaepernick's potential, but don't get carried away with projecting his place in the draft

- Colin Kaepernick is getting a lot of love this week, which prompted ProFootballTalk to hype him up as a potential 1st or 2nd round pick, comparing his potential rise to that of Jay Cutler in 2006. First of all, Cutler had clear NFL-talent and was viewed as a potential 1st-round pick long before the Senior Bowl. Kaepernick was never in that category, and never will be. He has big arm and is good athlete, but so was Spergon Wynn. Kaepernick’s mechanics are shaky and his accuracy is mediocre. He’s a developmental prospect and shouldn’t come off the board before the 4th round at the absolute earliest.

- Tony Pauline of DraftInsider.net has tossed out the rumor that Owen Marecic may not be interested in the NFL. He’s an intelligent kid with a Stanford education and certainly has other career options, but who in their right mind would turn down a chance at a NFL salary? Very bizarre story. Hopefully he sticks with it and at least gives football a chance.

- Another great note from Pauline:  ”When discussing the player’s history and off the field concerns, a source close to [Da'Quan] Bowers said, ‘He admits he was a jackass his first two years at Clemson.’ Then the source reiterated something TFY reported earlier discussing how the death of his father really matured the young underclassmen greatly.” Interesting stuff. Bowers was an underachiever through his first two years before emerging as a dominant force as a senior. The only real concern I have with Bowers is the potential that he was a one-year wonder motivated by a NFL contract – if Pauline’s source is correct, NFL teams may be less concerned after getting to know Bowers a little better during the interview process.

- Leonard Hankerson is another player getting praised for his performance this week. My only response to that is: you have to watch him on film to get to know the real Hankerson. There’s no denying his talent, but when it comes time to perform in game situations he’s a choke artist. He drops too many passes and looks lost at times on the field. It’s hard to watch him in games and not question his focus and effort. Take everything he does in offseason workouts with a big grain of salt.

Posted on by Ryan McCrystal in 2011 NFL Draft 3 Comments

Broncos draft plans hinge on Champ Bailey’s decision?

Conventional wisdom says the Broncos will address their defense with the 2nd-overall selection in April’s draft. This likely means deciding between Nick Fairley, Da’Quan Bowers and Patrick Peterson.

At the moment, defensive line looks like their most pressing need. However, that could all change if Champ Bailey decides to leave once free agency opens (if it ever does).

Is Champ Bailey done in Denver?

If we ever get to the point where teams are allowed to negotiate with free agents, Bailey would certainly have good reasons to leave Denver. He’ll be 33 in June and has won just one playoff game in his seven years with the Broncos. If he wants to chase a championship, Denver probably isn’t the place to do that.

Bailey’s departure would leave the Broncos with journeyman Andre Goodman and troubled rookie Parrish Cox as their starting cornerbacks. Cox, however, may not even be available for all or part of the 2011 season and beyond, depending on the outcome of his arrest for sexual assault.

Given these potential departures from the Broncos secondary, Patrick Peterson may start to look like the most attractive option in the draft. He compares favorably to Bailey, and is one of the most talented corners to enter the draft in a number of years.

The Broncos may also be swayed toward Peterson due to the depth in this year’s defensive line class. The difference in talent between Peterson and potential early 2nd-round options (Brandon Harris, Aaron Williams) is far greater than the difference between Fairley/Bowers and a player such as Cameron Heyward, who may still be available with the 36th pick.

Posted on by Ryan McCrystal in 2011 NFL Draft, Broncos Comments Off

Early star of the Senior Bowl: Phil Taylor

I’ve been a huge fan of Phil Taylor since I saw him play for the first time earlier this season. I believe he is a true nose tackle in every sense of the word and deserves to be a 1st-round pick. I currently have him as my 4th-rated defensive tackle, ahead of some much bigger names such as Marvin Austin, Drake Nevis and Allen Bailey.

Based on the reports out of Mobile, it sounds as though others are starting to fall in love with Taylor as well. Here’s what others are saying about Taylor as the Senior Bowl:

Shane P. Hallam – DraftCountdown.com - ”He wasn’t ripped and didn’t show a six-pack like many of the other players, but he carried his 337 pound frame EXTREMELY well. You would never guess he was that heavy, but he still has the size to eat up space”

Scouts, Inc. – “[S]howing great feet through the bags for a 6-4, 337-pounder.”

Tony Pauline – DraftInsider.net - “The massive interior defender ate up double-teams and clogged the middle of the line. He also displayed a very nice swim move while rushing the passer.”

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I currently have Taylor going to the Chiefs with the 55th pick in my most recent mock draft, but that could certainly change if he continues to impress this week. He would be a great fit at nose tackle in Kansas City, and potentially could end up as a 1st-round option for them if his stock continues to rise.

Posted on by Ryan McCrystal in 2011 NFL Draft, Chiefs 2 Comments

Cowboys targeting a cornerback in the draft?

Tony Pauline of DraftInsider.net passed along an interesting rumor in his blog the other day.

According to his sources two of the Cowboys early targets in the draft are cornerbacks Patrick Peterson and Brandon Harris.

In order to get Peterson they would need to move up – probably into the top three – which the source acknowledges. Their interest in Harris, however, is somewhat unclear.

For the sake of Cowboys fans, I really hope the source meant they would target him in the 2nd round and not with the 9th overall pick in the draft. Harris is talented, but far too inconsistent. I also question his ability to match up against bigger, more physical receivers. In Miami’s bowl game, Harris looked helpless when matched up against Notre Dame’s Michael Floyd.

That said, I would fully endorse the Cowboys trading up for Peterson or taking Harris in the 2nd round. They need to upgrade the secondary and taking a corner in one of the first two rounds is probably the best way to do so.

2008 1st-round pick Mike Jenkins looks like a bust and Terrence Newman is clearly regressing.

You could even make a case that no cornerback was less reliable than Jenkins this past season. According to ProFootballFocus.com Jenkins ranked dead last in the NFL with an average of 11.2 yards allowed per target. Newman wasn’t far behind, allowing 9.3 yards per target – 8th worst in the league.

As we get closer to the draft I suspect rumors surrounding the Cowboys interest in Peterson to heat up. He is a potentially elite cornerback and Jerry Jones is one of the few draft decision makers out there that doesn’t hesitate to take a defensive back early. In his career in Dallas he’s already taken two DBs in the top 10 (Newman and Roy Williams) and two others in the 1st round (Jenkins and Kevin Smith).

Posted on by Ryan McCrystal in 2011 NFL Draft, Cowboys 3 Comments

Players who need a big week at the Senior Bowl

Andy Dalton - QB – TCU
Opinions of Dalton vary greatly. Some feel as though he is a fringe 1st-rounder, others believe he is a late-round prospect. How he performs this week could sway a lot of scouts one way or the other. He wasn’t always consistent at TCU, and the fact that he wasn’t being tested against elite defenses on a weekly basis raises some concerns. Going head-to-head with the top prospects in the nation will help us get a better idea of how he really stacks up.

Gabe Carimi – OT – Wisconsin
I’m not convinced that Carimi can play left tackle.  He held his own against players such as Adrian Clayborn and Cameron Heyward, but neither of those guys is an elite pass rusher. I need to see him match up against faster edge rushers before I would be willing to consider him a left tackle.

Casey Matthews and Jake Locker both need big weeks to prove doubters wrong

Casey Matthews – ILB – Oregon
Like his older brother, Casey is never the best athlete on the field, but what he lacks in talent he makes up for in effort. Just as Clay rose up the draft boards in 2009, I expect Casey to do the same this offseason. This week will be his best opportunity to separate himself from some of the others in a relatively week class for inside linebackers.

Jake Locker – QB – Washington
Locker’s senior year was a letdown, and this is his best chance to prove his doubters wrong. Locker’s apologists point to his supporting cast as an excuse for his performance. Well, no such excuse can be made this week. He is the most talented of the senior quarterbacks and if he can’t outperform guys like Andy Dalton and Colin Kaepernick, be prepared for his stock to plummet.

Greg Salas – WR – Hawaii
I like Salas a lot; he has good size and great hands and was tremendously productive at Hawaii. However, everyone is always skeptical of someone who puts up big numbers in Hawaii’s offense.  This is a very weak class of senior receivers, and Salas has a chance to make a name for himself this week.

Bilal Powell – RB – Louisville
Scouts have very little film on which to grade Powell. He saw limited playing time until his senior year. However, he is a bruising downhill runner and could be a standout this week in Mobile.  If he emerges as one of the top senior running backs, he could raise his stock to the 2nd or 3rd round range. However, if he struggles his stock will fall fast.

Posted on by Ryan McCrystal in 2011 NFL Draft 1 Comment

Jake Locker: Future Cincinnati Bengal?

After a disappointing senior year, all eyes will be on Jake Locker this week at the Senior Bowl. But no one will be scrutinizing his every move like the Cincinnati Bengals.

Could Locker be Carson Palmer's replacement?

Locker was placed on the North Team, which will be run by the Bengals coaching staff.

Coaching a player in the Senior Bowl certainly doesn’t mean the team will show an interest, but it’s safe to say that their attention to Locker will be heightened following Carson Palmer’s recent trade demand.

Teams typically spend more time getting to know the quarterbacks they’re interested in than other positions, so this is a golden opportunity for the Bengals.

That said, taking Locker No. 4 overall looks like a reach right now. He’ll need an impressive week just to solidify his place in the 1st-round, much less climb back into the the top-10 discussion.

However, much of Locker’s appeal is his leadership and work ethic. After spending a week with Locker the Bengals may fall in love with his talent and be convinced by his intangibles to take a chance.

While it sounds like a long shot right now, it’s definitely something to keep an eye on. A lot can change during Senior Bowl week and this has the potential to be a developing storyline.

Posted on by Ryan McCrystal in 2011 NFL Draft, Bengals Comments Off

10 teams looking for a new starting quarterback

Nearly one-third of the league could have new starting quarterbacks by September. Due to a greater demand than supply, it’s likely that not all of these teams find themselves a new signal caller, but here are the top 10 teams we’ve identified as most likely to have a new quarterback in 2011.

10. Broncos
It sounds as though Josh McDaniels was the lone Tebow support in Denver, and with him gone it seems likely that the Broncos will consider other options. John Fox has indicated that he likes Tim Tebow, but he also isn’t ready to commit to a starting quarterback. They’re unlikely to address this need in the draft, but signing a veteran is a strong possibility.

9. Raiders
Jason Campbell is still under contract but their other four quarterbacks (seriously, they have four other quarterbacks on the roster) are free agents. Keeping Campbell is a definite possibility, but you just never know what Al Davis as in mind. I wouldn’t rule out the possibility of them trading up into the 1st-round (they already traded their own 1st-round pick) in an effort to land Cam Newton or Jake Locker.

8. Seahawks
Matt Hasselbeck is a free agent and may return, but he doesn’t have much left in the tank. They would certainly love to have Hasselbeck around to groom a young quarterback, but I don’t expect the Seahawks to commit to him as the starter. If he wants a guarantee that he’ll be a starter for the next year or two, he may need to go elsewhere.

7. Dolphins
Owner Stephen Ross has stated that he wants a creative, hurry-up offense in 2011, and that won’t be happening with Chad Henne under center. The Dolphins have grown tired of his slow development and seem ready to move on. Drafting a quarterback (possibly Newton) is a possibility, but they may prefer to bring in a veteran in an effort to turn things around quickly.

6. Bills
With the 3rd pick in the draft the Bills could have their pick of the quarterbacks, and Blaine Gabbert is a definite possibility. But the reason I don’t rank them higher is because I think they’ll strongly consider bringing Ryan Fitzpatrick back for another season. He was one of the biggest surprises of the 2010 season. The Bills may even draft Gabbert, or someone in the 2nd or 3rd round, and let them sit for a year behind Fitzpatrick.

5. Titans
Vince Young is as good as gone, and Kerry Collins is a free agent. However, I wouldn’t rule out Collins’ return. The Titans are in position to draft a quarterback (Gabbert, Newton or Mallett) and I suspect Jeff Fisher will prefer to keep Collins around to help groom their future franchise quarterback.

4. Redskins
After getting benched in favor of Rex Grossman, it’s hard to imagine Donovan McNabb returning to Washington. It’s equally difficult to image the Redskins sticking with Grossman for 2011. With the 10th pick in the draft Mike Shanahan is in position to select his quarterback of the future. Ryan Mallett and Newton are both strong possibilities.

3. Vikings
We know Favre won’t be back (and I actually believe him this time) and Tarvaris Jackson is a free agent. Joe Webb performed far better than anyone could have expected of a guy who was drafted as a wide receiver, but I can’t imagine Leslie Frazier sticking with him for 2011. The Vikings will either draft a quarterback (Newton or Mallett) or bring in a veteran (possibly Kevin Kolb).

2. Cardinals
Ken Whisenhunt wasn’t happy with the Cardinals quarterback situation entering last season and I’m guessing he’s even less pleased after seeing how it played out.  Drafting Blaine Gabbert is a possibility, but I suspect Whisenhunt would prefer to bring a veteran aboard, as he did last offseason. Either way, their opening day starter is definitely not on the current roster.

1. 49ers
Alex Smith and Troy Smith are both free agent and I would be very surprised if either returned.  I currently have them selecting Gabbert in my mock draft, but trading for Kevin Kolb is also possibility. Another option is signing a veteran, such as Matt Hasselbeck or Seneca Wallace, to keep the seat warm for whoever Jim Harbaugh choses to groom for the position.

Posted on by Ryan McCrystal in 2011 NFL Draft, 49ers, Bills, Broncos, Cardinals, Dolphins, Raiders, Redskins, Seahawks, Titans, Vikings Comments Off

Most intriguing battles at the Senior Bowl

Von Miller vs Ryan Kerrigan
There aren’t many elite 3-4 pass rushers in this year’s draft class, which is typically one of the most sought-after positions early in the draft. Both Miller and Kerrigan are capable of playing outside in the 3-4 scheme and a number of teams could be in the market for them in the 1st round. Both players grade out very close and this could be an opportunity for one to get the upper hand.

Jake Locker vs Ricky Stanzi
Talent-wise, there’s no comparing Locker and Stanzi (Locker wins easily). Production-wise there’s also no comparing them (Stanzi wins easily). If Locker plays up to his full potential, this should be his opportunity to reclaim his consensus 1st-round grade. However, if he is out-played by Stanzi – who plays with a similar style and has a comparable skill set – Locker is almost certain to fall out of the 1st round.

Gabe Carimi vs Anthony Castonzo vs DeMarcus Love
Do we have a left tackle in this group? All three are fringe 1st-round prospects and what holds them back is the question about their position. None of the three have the elite athleticism you look for in a left tackle, but all three had productive careers on the left side in college. Seeing all three on the same field will help clear up the picture as to who has a legitimate case to be a 1st-round pick.

Mike Pouncey vs Ben Ijalana vs Rodney Hudson
Who is the top interior lineman in Mobile? Entering this week I give a slight edge to Ijalana, but we have yet to see him face elite competition. With a solid week Ijalana could become a potential 1st-round prospect, much like Mike Iupati used the Senior Bowl as a spring board last year. However, Pouncey and Hudson will have that same opportunity. All three have different body builds and are very different players, making this an interesting competition to watch. [updated: Mike Pouncey has elected not to participate].

Posted on by Ryan McCrystal in 2011 NFL Draft 1 Comment

Marvin Austin looks impressive at Shrine Game

I’m not at the East/West Shrine Game in Orlando this weekend, but plenty of top drafniks are and they all seem to love Marvin Austin (my 6th-rated DT as of right now). Here’s bits and pieces of what they had to say (click the links for their full reports):

Tony Pauline – DraftInsider.net -  ”[S]tarted off dominant and was unstoppable.  Beat opponents with power, quickness and speed.  They resorted to double teaming and holding him in scrimmage.  Did wear down a bit late but definitely on the rise.”

Aaron Aloysius – DraftBreakdown – “[D]id well for himself by showing up at a solid 312 lbs. He didn’t look slow or out of shape in practice, where the big man made a sizable impact. In 11 on 11s, Austin quickly disengaged from a block before making a nice stop. And on a passing play, he managed to get his hands up and deflect a Ricky Dobbs pass

Wes Bunting – National Football Post - “[C]ertainly looks the part. He showed up in shape, carried his weight very well and has the kind of natural lower body girth/mass you look for in an interior lineman. He was also very well put together in the upper body and you can tell he has been working hard

Chad Reuter – CBS Sports – “[S]tarted off strong in one-on-one drills. He flashed quick hands and feet to bull-rush or run around mid-tier prospects such as Missouri State guard David Arkin… Though it was a solid practice, scouts might want to see more to consider Austin a top-50 prospect, especially considering he was so highly touted as a prep and expectations were through the roof entering the season.”

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Austin needs to perform in these workouts to prove he is a top-50 prospect

These positive reports are great news for Austin, who is a fringe 1st-round prospect in my opinion. There’s no denying his potential, but he had an up-and-down career at North Carolina before being suspended for the entire 2010 season. A solid senior year would have boosted his stock into the 1st round, possibly into the top 10, but he never got that opportunity. As a result, his offseason workouts are his only hope to convince scouts that he is a legitimate top talent.

Perhaps the best news from the reports is that he showed up in excellent condition. Spending a year away from football can be devastating to a player’s conditioning. The fact that he maintained his physical condition without having mandatory workouts as part of a collegiate football program speaks volumes about his work ethic.

At this point I’m still projecting him as a 2nd-round or 3rd-round pick, but he is definitely building momentum towards entering the 1st-round discussion.

Posted on by Ryan McCrystal in 2011 NFL Draft 1 Comment