March 12, 2013

NOPF 2013 NFL Mock Draft 4.0

We go a full 32 with less than 50 days to go before the draft, though the major news since our last mock hasn't shaken us much.  The wildcard of Utah DT Star Lotulelei is an outstanding factor of unpredictability,  as well as the NFL's free agency season opening on Tuesday.  The descent of quarterbacks and runningbacks and the ascent of wide receivers is interesting in this draft, which will be heavy on heavies early on.

The Saints have locked up Junior Galette and have young Martez Wilson in the middle of a rookie contract, so aren't necessarily in need of outside pass rushers.  But as we'll see, 3-4 pass rushers is easily the deepest position in the draft, and the Saints will have a handful of edge rushers to pick from in any scenario at 15.

The bigger question is whether the draft's elite defensive backs or offensive tackles slide, because an excellent value pick there could pull the Saints off their biggest need - to add youth and talent to the transforming front seven.  A pick to build the core of the 3-4 alignment is a slam dunk with the Saints' first round pick, barring an unexpected drop or a trade down for more picks.

Considering the need for re-tooling the front seven and last year's prolific amount of trading, the end result of the Saints 2013 draft will hopefully contain more draft picks than the five they currently own.

This mock draft does account for the Percy Harvin trade, but not any free agency additions.

*indicates underclassman

1. Kansas City Chiefs - Texas A&M OT Luke Joeckel* - Even before the release of RT Eric Winston, there's no way the Chiefs would pass on Joeckel, with no skill positions players worthy of the pick, with their left tackle under the one-year franchise tag, and Winston hardly the example of long-term dependability.

2. Jacksonville Jaguars - Florida DT Sharrif Floyd* - Fisher might be the safest pick here, but the Jaguars already have a franchise left tackle who will be earning big money.  Eugene Monroe is probably the best player on the Jaguars' roster, and the #2 overall pick can't be relegated to right tackle.  Taking Geno Smith also seems foolish - Blaine Gabbert would probably be the highest rated QB in this draft, and Smith could conceivably be available at 33.  Floyd has built on an outstanding performance in the Sugar Bowl and a great junior season, blossoming as a pass rusher when moved from end to tackle in 2012.  He'd help the Jaguar pass rush from the inside more than any of the edge rushers might, and gives the ailing franchise a local fan draw.

3. Oakland Raiders - Utah DT Star Lotulelei - We're sticking with Lotulelei until given notice otherwise that his heart injury is significant.  He makes the most sense in post-Seymour Oakland.

4. Philadelphia Eagles - Central Michigan OT Eric Fisher* -  Fisher's stock couldn't be higher, but still not as high as Joeckel's.  Offensive line meanwhile is a no-brainer for the new Eagles front office.

5. Detroit Lions - Alabama CB Dee Milliner* -  The Lions' highly skilled defensive front could only do so much to protect its outclassed secondary.  Milliner's floor is the fifth pick to Detroit.

6. Cleveland Browns - BYU DE/LB Ezekiel Ansah - Raw superathlete Ansah is a gamble, but so are all the top hybrid pass rushers, both this year and historically.  Combined with Sheard, Ansah helps the Browns build a two-headed attack at pass rush.

7. Arizona Cardinals - North Carolina G Jonathan Cooper - Bruce Arians' zone run blocking scheme is the best fit for Cooper, the best guard in the draft for that offense, and the best available offensive lineman is the best fit for Arizona.

8. Buffalo Bills - Oregon DE/LB Dion Jordan - Tall, fast Jordan gets to learn from tall, fast Mario Williams and contribute to a Bills defense that is ironically in the middle of rebuilding and looking for its massive past investments (Williams) to pay off.

9. New York Jets - Florida State DE Bjoern Werner* - Aside from Darrelle Revis, it appears the Jets are also jettisoning the core of their 3-4 scheme - Calvin Pace, Bart Scott, Mike DeVito are all free agents.  New defensive coordinator Dennis Thurman said that the defensive scheme is going to be more dependent on player personnel.  A richer mix of the 4-3 in the Jets defense would open the door for Werner, who is probably better suited for 4-3 DE than 3-4 OLB, but would be a dynamite mix of athleticism for a defense that finds ways to maximize player potential.

10. Tennessee Titans - Alabama OG Chance Warmack -  Titans need to add talent to the defense, where notably they were 31st in defensive player spending in 2012.  Not surprisingly, they were 30th in yards allowed in 2012.  And between Kenny Britt's negative 2012 season, losing passing target Jared Cook and a young quarterback to develop, taking the draft's best wide receiver is a possibility.  But after losing Steve Hutchinson to retirement and potentially losing three more guards to free agency, Warmack is the choice.

11. San Diego Chargers -  Oklahoma OT Lane Johnson* - Assigning the best available offensive lineman is easy for the Chargers.  There really shouldn't be any doubt. Unseasoned offensive tackle prospect Lane Johnson, a former juco quarterback, is an outstanding athlete coming off an outstanding final season at Oklahoma, even if that was only his second season starting at the position.

12. Miami Dolphins - Tennessee WR Cordarrelle Patterson* -With Jake Long apparently on his way out of Miami, the Dolphins need to fill the vacuum to protect their young quarterback.  Sadly, there are no offensive linemen worth picking here.  On the other hand, the draft's best wide receiver is still available, and overpaying Brian Hartline doesn't make him and a collection of no-name receivers any more viable. Patterson bring legitimate talent to the Dolphins offense.

13. Tampa Bay Buccaneers - Florida State CB Xavier Rhodes* -  Local product Rhodes helps to replace Tiki Barber at cornerback and stitch together a terrible secondary.

14. Carolina Panthers - Texas S Kenny Vaccaro - The Panthers pick the best safety in the draft coming off an outstanding combine workout.  Vaccaro's metrics only enhance many hours of solid tape and help rebuild a secondary that lost Chris Gamble and may also lose free agents Captain Munnerlyn and Sherrod Martin.  And with Drew Brees and Matt Ryan to face twice annually, how can you not upgrade the secondary?

15. New Orleans Saints - We'll look at three 3-4 outside pass rushers that are available first.  Texas A&M's Damontre Moore, LSU's Barkevious Mingo, Georgia's Jarvis Jones are the second wave of elite pass rushers in the draft, behind Ansah, Jordan and Werner.   Even with Werner perceptibly dropping down published draft boards, the Saints may not consider him given his lack of mobility in space to play 3-4 OLB.

Texas A&M LB/DE Damontre Moore is also sliding thanks to a poor combine performance which featured only 12 reps of 225 and a terrible 4.95 40-yard run.  Desperate for a pro day rebound, Moore's lack of intensity is being scrutinized as well, and the favorable comparisons to former teammate Von Miller are fading.

Mingo we would have no surprise or doubt about at this pick.  The local product would be a big hit for the team off field and provide uncoachable speed from the 3-4 outside linebacker.  The knock against Mingo is that he didn't play much as a stand-up defender, instead with a hand on the ground.

That's not an issue for redshirt junior Georgia LB Jarvis Jones, who seems the perfect fit at 3-4 outside linebacker.  Jones is sliding out of the top five because of a attention-drawing neck injury suffered in 2009 as a true freshman at USC.  The spinal stenosis diagnosis has been checked out extensively since the NFL Scouting Combine, and is being used as leverage to lower his draft stock.  Despite a good diagnosis on the neck, he's dropping because of those concerns.  His smaller frame doesn't have great lower-body strength yet, but really, the legitimate gripes about him as a top 3-4 OLB prospect are few.  A playmaker, elite athlete with arms like an offensive tackle, Jones would be ready to contribute immediately as an edge rusher and push for starts immediately, and has a more complete game than LSU DE Barkevious Mingo, who was our pick in version 3.0.

In fact, it is Jones that draws more comparisons to Von Miller than Moore.  But like Lotulelei, each team's medical grade of Jones will determine his draft status more than anything else.  If a team doesn't consider those health issues to be a problem, we wouldn't be surprised to see Jones go as high as #2 overall to the Jaguars.

Other prospects the Saints should consider are Mizzou DT Sheldon Richardson, Purdue DT Kawann Short and UCLA DE Datone Jones, who would line up at defensive end in the 3-4.  Cornerbacks Desmond Trufant of Washington and Johnthan Banks of Mississippi State couldn't be argued against either, with Saints starters Jabari Greer aging and Patrick Robinson flailing.  The Saints have very little young depth at the position as well, given 2012 late round pick Corey White's terrible rookie year.

We've talked a lot about offense, but offensive tackle could be a major consideration depending on free agency's developments.  But the top offensive line prospects are gone.  Next up would be Alabama's DJ Fluker would be a better fit on the right side than free agent Jermon Bushrod's left tackle spot, but it isn't like right tackle wasn't a major ongoing concern for the Saints in 2012.  Notre Dame TE Tyler Eifert can't be ignored either, as the draft's top tight end would give the Saints leverage in star Jimmy Graham's upcoming contract negotiations.

In this mock draft, no quarterbacks have been selected yet, an outcome that could give the Saints a golden opportunity to trade down and add rookies to a five-man draft class.  Any draft pick on the defensive side should be ready to play - this is no year for developmental projects.  Moving out of 15 and adding more picks to history's worst defense should be strongly considered.

We're not so adventurous to predict trades, so the tremendous value Georgia LB Jarvis Jones is the pick here.

16. St. Louis Rams - Cal WR Keenan Allen* - Fans won't like passing on Mizzou's Richardson, but adding a premiere, pro-ready offensive threat like Allen is worth the investment, especially considering its payoff for Sam Bradford.

17. Pittsburgh Steelers - Georgia DT Johnathan Jenkins - Hard to imagine the Steelers passing on a pass rusher with James Harrison out, but Jenkins fills a more crucial vacancy - Casey Hampton's difficult nose tackle job.

18. Dallas Cowboys - Missouri DT Sheldon Richardson* - Reinforces the front and provides pass rush from inside the tackles, Richardson is a bargain here and has slid far enough.  Richardson is the ideal off-tackle in the 4-3 front.  North Carolina DT Sylvester Williams is a different type of player but also a potential fit at 4-3 defensive tackle.

19. NY Giants - LSU DE Barkevious Mingo* - Mingo just isn't a great fit for the Giants' scheme, but he's someone the Giants would love to scheme for.  With Kiwanuka moving to end, Michael Boley and Chase Blackburn off the roster, there definitely needs to be an injection of youth in the front seven.  There are no more traditional 4-3 linebackers for the taking here, though North Carolina DT Sylvester Williams would help replace Chris Canty on the front line.

20. Chicago Bears - West Virginia WR Tavon Austin - Eventually replacing Devin Hester is no small task, but the electric Austin has the wheels to make it happen.

21. Cincinnati Bengals - Georgia MLB Alec Ogletree* - It is too easy to give a troublemaker to the Bengals, but Marvin Lewis has both a need at linebacker and a tolerance for off-field shenanigans.

22. St. Louis Rams (from Redskins) - Alabama RT D.J. Fluker - An upgrade to the offensive front is due, and the Rams can't get out of the first round without upgrading the front.  Fluker should step in immediately at offensive right tackle.

23. Minnesota Vikings - Purdue DT Kawann Short - Vikings go after a sooner-or-later replacement for Kevin Williams.

24. Indianapolis Colts - Florida State OT Menelik Watson* - The top need is pass blocking, so they'll look for Menelik Watson, the 24-year old former Martist basketballer, rugby player and native of England.  Watson is terribly raw and needs to get into NFL shape, but the sky is the limit for him on this young team.

25. Minnesota Vikings - (from Seattle Seahawks) - Tennessee WR Justin Hunter* - Vikings replace Harvin with another SEC speedster.  Except that Hunter is 6'4, can jump through the inflatable Metrodome roof, and doesn't appear to suffer from mental illness.

26. Green Bay Packers - North Carolina DT Sylvester Williams - Productive senior interior defensive lineman Williams was a two year starter for the Tar Heels after going the juco route. Packers need to get bigger and younger in the middle of their defense and Williams will be a great combination next to Raji at defensive tackle and steal snaps from Pickett.

27. Houston Texans - Texas A&M LB Damontre Moore* - The slide ends here, where Moore will be hailed as a fan favorite each time runs around the edge.  A dismal combine performance and an injury-shortened pro day have sent Moore's stock falling out of the top five. A steal for the Texans here, Moore will play standup outside linebacker in the Texans' 3-4, his more natural position.

28. Denver Broncos - Washington CB Desmond Trufant - After that scorching loss to Baltimore in the playoffs, how do the Broncos not draft defensive backs?

29. New England Patriots - Ohio State DT Johnathan Hankins* - Groomed to replace Wilfork, widebody Hankins will immediately provide rotational snaps.

30. Atlanta Falcons - SMU DE Margus Hunt - A 6'8" Estonian is just what the Falcons need to block Drew Brees' passing lanes and help fill the void left by John Abraham.

31. San Francisco 49ers - LSU S Eric Reid - With Dashon Goldson expected to leave and Whitner in his final season, the 49ers grab hard-hitting Reid to learn from a master of the form in Whitner.

32. Baltimore Ravens - LSU LB Kevin Minter* - Tackling machine, Minter is an ideal steady candidate to throw into the fray that will be the Ravens' post-Ray defense.

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

3rd round (13th pick) - UConn CB Dwayne Gratz - Considering the state of the cornerback situation before free agency begins, the Saints must spend one of the picks on the position in the first two days of the draft.  Fast enough and with big plays dotting a long career at UConn, Gratz helped the underdog Huskies post the 10th best defense in the NCAA.  Overshadowed by more heralded Blidi Wreh-Wilson, experienced Gratz has been starting at cornerback since 2009.  A great athlete at 5'11, 201 and with a 38" vertical, Gratz's blazing 6.70 three-cone time shows impressive quickness to go with his size.

4th round (12th pick) -  Missouri Western DE/LB David Bass - 39.5 career sacks and 56 TFL's in fifty career starts can't be ignored. At 6'4, 262 and with airplane-like 33.5" arms, Bass is big an edge rusher but a small school prospect who shined at the East-West Shrine game.  Earned a combine invite, but didn't exploded as expected, running a disappointing 4.84 40.  Put Bass in a pro weight room and that would improve.

5th round (11th pick) - Michigan WR Denard Robinson - The Michigan star quarterback would be an interesting addition to the Saints receiver corps, where Joe Morgan is expected to ascend to join Marques Colston and Lance Moore in the top three.  The Saints have had success developing wideouts even after the departure of Curtis Johnson, see Morgan's progress in 2012.  Robinson struggled fielding punts at Senior Bowl and showed up and down promise as a wideout in the NFL, but looked improved at the combine.  Natural ability is there, and the Saints can have the patience to watch it flourish.  His potentially serious elbow injury in October 2012 limited him at Senior Bowl, and Robinson's stock took a hit there.  He will not be able to contribute much as a rookie, having played quarterback as a collegian, and has zero real life experience in the return game, but would be an development project.

6th round (15th pick) - Mississippi State DT Josh Boyd - Run defender enjoyed success throughout his Bulldogs career, started for more than three years. Put up 32 reps of 225 pounds, important to see because Boyd will be a one-dimensional run defender, built to play nose tackle, in the NFL.  Numbers as a senior dropped off because he wasn't next to first rounder Fletcher Cox in the middle, but leaves it all on the field and at 6'3, 310, that's what the Saints could use to earn snaps at the 3-4 nose tackle.

7th round (14th pick) - traded to Seattle for LB Barrett Ruud

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