January 29, 2013

NOPF 2013 NFL Mock Draft 2.0

Rarely do events as large as a defensive scheme change occur to change conventional thinking about NFL mock drafts, but that's what we got last week when Sean Payton ran out of bubblegum and kicked Steve Spagnuolo and the 4-3 out of New Orleans, and announced the team as-yet unhired new defensive coordinator would run the 3-4.

The Saints' defense was already due for a mass-scale gutting, coming off the worst 16-game performance in NFL history. While they will need fewer defensive lineman to rotate in a 3-4 scheme, the Saints need different kinds of linemen - their 3-4 nose tackle probably isn't on the roster yet.

At linebacker, the Saints have the pieces to make the transition but need time and depth. Martez Wilson, Curtis Lofton, David Hawthorne and Junior Galette appear on paper to be the team's four-wide linebacker lineup for the 3-4, but it is too early to be sure. None of these players have played the 3-4 before.

The only trade that could potentially impact the Saints' 2013 draft class is the acquisition of LB Barrett Ruud from the Seahawks in August 2012 for an undisclosed draft pick. The conditions of the trade were never made public, and could potentially result in a late-round pick going from New Orleans to Seattle. The Saints cut Ruud in October, he joined the Texans.

*indicates underclassman

1. Kansas City Chiefs - Texas A&M OT Luke Joeckel* - A consensus is emerging that Joeckel is the best player in the draft and the best fit for the Chiefs.

2. Jacksonville Jaguars -  Texas A&M DE Damontre Moore*- Gus Bradley picks a new face for his defense, to pair with or replace Daryl Smith.

3. Oakland Raiders - Utah DT Star Lotulelei - So long Richard Seymour, hello a new Star.

4. Philadelphia Eagles - Georgia OLB Jarvis Jones* - Expecting to make the change to a 3-4, Jones is a perfect addition at outside linebacker. Kelly eschews his Oregon prospect Dion Jordan, who will drop in the draft because of injury concerns.

5. Detroit Lions - Florida State DE Bjoern Werner* - Desperate for a defense capable of pacing their offense in frequent shootouts, the Lions add to pass rush. Werner is a perfect fit for a blue-collar town.

6. Cleveland Browns - LSU DE Barkevious Mingo* - Aside from an amazing name, Mingo brings pure speed to the Browns defense and should team with Jabaal Sheard to terrorize quarterbacks. If Mingo can contribute, the Browns defense will be formidable.

7. Arizona Cardinals - West Virginia QB Geno Smith - The strong-armed passer is now Larry Fitzgerald's best friend.

8. Buffalo Bills - Alabama CB Dee Milliner* - A failed 2012 defense needs to begin the rebuilding process immediately, with the best defender on the board.

9. New York Jets - Mississippi State CB Johnthan Banks - Trading one of their cornerbacks, Cromartie or Revis, sounds like an illogical inevitability. Adding their younger, cheaper replacement logically follows.

10. Tennessee Titans - Alabama G Chance Warmack - Warmack is the unusual interior offensive lineman worth a top 10 draft pick, hoping to solidify the Titan offensive line.

11. San Diego Chargers - Eric Fisher OT Central Michigan* - 6'7 Fisher is a natural left tackle and is pro ready. Playing in the lesser MAC didn't prevent him from being All-Pro by Sports Illustrated.

12. Miami Dolphins - Oklahoma OT Lane Johnson - If they don't keep LT Jake Long, they may reach for an offensive tackle or trade up. Johnson is a 6'6 juco quarterback who shut down Damontre Moore in the Cotton Bowl, at the end of only his second year playing offensive line.

13. Tampa Bay Buccaneers - Ohio State DT Johnathan Hankins* - Desperate for bulk inside the defensive line, the Bucs look for Hankins, whose 335 pounds would pair with Gerald McCoy perfectly.

14. Carolina Panthers - Missouri DT Sheldon Richardson* - Disruptive pass rusher from Mizzou is a great fit for the Panthers, who struggled against the run in 2012.

15. New Orleans Saints - With a 3-4 mindset, the Saints look for different types of men in the defensive front seven and barring an offensive tackle, we'd be stunned to see the Saints not begin to stock the cupboards with 3-4 type talent.

Senior Georgia DT Johnathan Jenkins is the massive nose tackle prospect the Saints will hope to see fall to them. Jenkins is the second best nose tackle prospect in the draft, behind Star Lotulelei, and at 363 pounds has that unique build to be the two-gap widebody at the heart of a 3-4. But Mickey Loomis has seen the Saints burned by a Georgia defensive tackle named Johnathan before, burning a top pick on a loafer named Johnathan Sullivan in 2003.

A dominating performance by big John Jenkins in the Senior Bowl was encouraging, as Jenkins showed off his enormous wingspan and quick feet.  With his size, you can forget about academic problems that sent him the juco route to Georgia, where he played only two seasons of major college football.  But unlike Sullivan, Jenkins showed more character by staying in school for his senior season.

North Carolina DT Sylvester Williams will put on a good show, but has has too long a history of slacking off to earn the love of the Saints here. An alternative to Jenkins may be Alabama DT Jesse Williams, who possesses incredible strength and a other-worldly 6'4, 320 pound frame. "The Monstar" will show well in the combine, where he will try to match a reported 4.71 40 time. That speed isn't an important stat for a nose tackle, but it's a sign of the requisite tremendous athleticism needed to play the position. Injury concerns with Williams will be checked carefully, including a knee injury suffered in December that limited him in the BCS national championship game.

In light of the transition to a new defensive front, would the Saints burn their top pick of the draft at offensive right tackle?  Don't doubt it. Right tackle was a scheme-limiting protection problem for the 2012 Saints, and something they'd like not to see again. But in this scenario, there are no offensive lineman worth the value of the #15 pick. Zach Strief, good when healthy, hasn't appeared in all 16 regular season games since 2009.

Defensive end is no longer a position of need, with Brodrick Bunkley, Akiem Hicks and Cam Jordan all looking like good fits at 3-4 end. Outside linebacker, the primary source of pass rush in a 3-4, is a revolver to fire at the offense. Martez Wilson and Junior Galette appear to be the first rounds in the chamber, but the Saints will need more than two pass rushers to send from this position. Our prediction in our first mock draft, LSU's Sam Montgomery, would still fit here at 6'4, 245 pounds with a reactor of energy and aggressiveness. Other options at 3-4 OLB include: Oregon DE Dion Jordan, 6'6, 240, will be taken by a team confident his injury situation is not a major concern; quick Auburn DE Corey Lemonier, 6'4, 242, spent most of his time as a hand-down end, but has a great build for speed; Georgia LB Alec Ogletree, 6'3, 234, is an outstanding and versatile athlete as a former basketball, track, and defensive back.

At inside linebacker, the Saints would appear to be ready to start Curtis Lofton and David Hawthorne, though Ogletree could help there as well. Another inside linebacker option with a high draft grade is the much-discussed Manti Te'o from Notre Dame, who may suffer as much from a poor showing vs Alabama in a BCS blowout than he will from a bizarre pretend girlfriend hoax. We project that Te'o will slip past the Saints and other teams for those reasons and also that inside linebacker is typically not a high value position.

While we could see the Saints moving fast in the free agent nose tackle market, in this scenario we'll project that the Saints swallow deep and take a chance on another big man from Georgia named Johnathan. Georgia NT John Jenkins is a potentially a Shaun Rogers-type player, and a potential keystone to the Saints' switch to the 3-4.   Even with a free agent addition at the position, barring a major new contract investment, the Saints would not shy away from Jenkins.

2nd round (14th pick) forfeited as punishment for the bounty scandal and coverup

3rd round (13th pick) - Washington State OLB Travis Long - 6'4, 245 Long started 47 games for the Cougars, finishing with 201 tackles, 20.5 sacks and 42 TFL. 9.5 of those sacks came as a senior, when he played 3-4 OLB as a senior. Considered a natural pass rusher with high football IQ, the disciplined Air Force family kid is too lanky and needs a pro weight room to get him ready to start. A 2011 shoulder injury and a 2012 knee injury also temper his stock, but should check out at the Combine, where he should run in the mid-4.7 40 range.  Long would be a good rotational player at rush linebacker.

4th round (12th pick) - San Diego State CB Leon McFadden - All-MWC as a senior, the speedster McFadden picked off three passes against Nevada as a senior, returning two for touchdowns. Recruited as a wide receiver, switched to DB and plays aggressively and with speed. Better in zone defense at this point and not the greatest tackler, McFadden is a proven ballhawk. Not related to other NFL McFadden's, but his father was a professional baseball player in the 60s and 70s.

5th round (11th pick) - Arkansas-Pine Bluff OL Terron Armstead - Small school riser played in both the East-West Shrine and Senior Bowls in the offseason, helping raise his profile. At 6'5, 306, Armstead doesn't have the longest arms and needs to spend time in a pro weight room. Great quickness and feet gives him potential at the next level, much like other late-round prospects the Saints have developed on the offensive line.

6th round (15th pick) - Southern Methodist OLB Ja'Gared Davis - Experienced linebacker and special teamer who recorded two touchdowns, four sacks, two interceptions, seven passes defensed, three forced fumbles, a fumble recovery, 77 tackles, a blocked punt and eleven tackles for loss as a senior. Four year contributor had nine sacks as a sophomore. Has five career touchdowns as a linebacker. Helped SMU whup Fresno in the Hawaii Bowl in December.

7th round (14th pick) - Penn State ILB Michael Mauti - Mandeville, Louisiana native is son of Rich Mauti, a former Penn State alum and New Orleans Saint wide receiver. Mauti has been snake bit as a collegian - major knee injuries ended his 2009 and 2011 seasons, ankle and shoulder problems hurt him in 2009 and 2010. If not for injuries, Mauti would be considered a good inside linebacker prospect who is quick to defend the run and very smart. At 6'2, 235 pounds, Mauti would be an interesting investment in the late rounds to see what he's got left after a Sisyphean college career at Penn State.

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