After months of speculation, the NFL draft is nearly here. So it seems fitting to fill the final hours before the Panthers are officially on the clock" with the latest rumblings.
I am convinced the Bengals and Cardinals, for all of their needs at quarterback, are not taking one in the first round. The cost is too steep, the various issues with each passer are a concern to some degree or another, and they know there's a chance their guy is there in the second round. The more general managers and agents I speak to, the more convinced I become.
First round could be trade-heavy
Cam Netwon goes to the Carolina Panthers. So, if the Denver Broncos stay at No. 2, I have them taking Marcell Dareus, and the Buffalo Bills nabbing linebacker Von Miller. I have the Cincinnati Bengals grabbing stud receiver A.J. Green and the Arizona Cardinals taking the next best defensive player available -- cornerback Patrick Peterson.
The San Francisco 49ers, I'm told, would be thrilled to see Peterson or Quinn available. Prince Amukamara would also be a consideration. Quinn is still on the board in my quasi-mock, so Quinn it is. Rounding out the top 10, after Andy Dalton to the Tennessee Titans (see how that happened), I have the Dallas Cowboys choosing tackle Tyron Smith over linebacker J.J. Watt, who is potentially safer, but might not have as much upside. And we have the Washington Redskinsending up with Blaine Gabbert, whether at No. 2 or 10.
This is where the run on hybrid edge rushers should intensify. The Houston Texans would face an interesting choice here between a rusher like Aldon Smith, or a corner like Amukamara -- I'll give them the corner. With Tyron Smith gone, I think the Minnesota Vikings take Nick Fairley (he could end up going to the Titans at No. 8, as well). If Tyron Smith ends up being available at 12, two general managers I chatted with believe the Vikings take him.
Bowers would tempt the Detroit Lions at 13, and I could see them taking troubled but uber-talented corner Jimmy Smith. It's a consideration. If Smith doesn't land there, I see the Ravens or Eagles making a move. As for the Lions, I believe ultimately the allure of an offensive lineman like Anthony Castonzo or Nate Solder will be too much to resist. League sources said Solder is rated particularly high by Detroit; his size is coveted. I'm giving the Lions Solder.
The St. Louis Rams will be open to moving down from 14 -- perhaps hopeful of someone wanting to leap the Dolphins for Mike Pouncey -- but they know the odds aren't great. Defensive tackle Corey Liuget is someone they are very high on, and I'm going that route. After Colin Kaepernick at 15 to the Miami Dolphins, the Jacksonville Jaguars would think long and hard about Ryan Kerrigan and Cam Jordan. GM Gene Smith puts a heavy premium on character and maturity, and other GMs believe Kerrigan fits the prototype too closely not to be the pick.
The New England Patriots could very well be long gone out of the 17th choice by now, but I will give them Castonzo for these purposes. I'll say the San Diego Chargers take Jordan one pick later. The New York Giants have several offensive linemen that intrigue them -- Danny Watkins and Gabe Carimi among them -- but given the way this quasi-mock is going, I would give them end Watt at 19 in this case.
I do believe the potential for a Steelers/Bucs swap would be great if the draft played out anything close to this way, with Pouncey still available his slide would end here. However, barring that trade, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers would be facing a decision between Aldon Smith and Bowers here. I say they go the safer route and take Smith, a player other GMs believe they are very high on.
The Kansas City Chiefs have spent a lot of time investigating defensive tackles, and I have them taking Phil Taylor 21st overall. The Indianapolis Colts have spent a lot of time on offensive linemen ... but in this scenario, I see Bill Polian looking at Bowers, seeing a player who was meriting first overall consideration a few months back and seeing too much potential value to pass up at 22.
The Philadelphia Eagles are up next. It's interesting, as Baltimore and Philadelphia are both looking closely at Temple DL Muhammad Wilkerson and Jimmy Smith. If those teams don't trade down, whichever doesn't take Smith, could well take Wilkerson. (I'll give Smith to the Eagles at 23 and Wilkerson to the Ravens at 26.)
The New Orleans Saints would love to bolster their defense but also know that the players they most covet on that side of the ball could be long gone at 24. In which case, running back Mark Ingram, a former Heisman winner, is the pick. Sure, they have Pierre Thomas and Reggie Bush under contract, but Thomas could have durability issues and Bush will have to accept a hefty pay cut to stay. Getting an every-down back for Sean Payton's offense here is too great a lure to resist.
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The Seattle Seahawks are not afraid to gamble on players or risk it on character at times. Jimmy Smith might pique their interest, but I have him off the board. Defensive tackle Marvin Austin is another risky player who could end up picked here. They need to keep building from the inside out, and Carimi and Watkins would be appealing, as would a corner like Aaron Williams. I'm going to give them Williams, but any of these players would make sense.
The Baltimore Ravens take Wilkerson, and the Atlanta Falcons, unable to pull off a trade that makes sense in my quasi-mock, take Watkins and feel very good about it. I would be very surprised if the New England Patriots actually make their selection at 28. I strongly believe this will be a spot where some other club selects a quarterback. I mean, strongly ... But if I am forced to make a pick for them, I'm going with linebacker Brooks Reed.
The Chicago Bears have made no secret of their desire for offensive line help -- Carimi, a Big Ten kid, would fall right in their laps in this exercise. The New York Jets would be all about trading down with Phil Taylor gone, but if they stay at 30, I'll give them Austin. The Pittsburgh Steelers figure they won't have the luxury of choosing between corners Aaron Williams and Brandon Harris, and in this quasi-mock they don't. So pencil in Harris.
I'll round out this monster with what might be considered another surprise, giving the Green Bay Packers running back Mikel Leshoure. A receiver like Torrey Smith would make sense, as they could be losing one or two to free agency in coming years and can make a luxury pick. Reed would be in play, if around. If Ingram is available, he would fit the bill as well.