The NFL Draft is only seven days away and the rumors and speculation are building. We know the Colts will draft Andrew Luck first overall and we know that the Redskins will draft Robert Griffin III second overall, but after that it is a guessing game at this point. Here are some of the rumors that I am hearing since the release of my most recent mock draft (version 4.0) late last week.
Stephon Gilmore, CB – South Carolina - Cornerback has become a pivotal position in the NFL, and throughout this draft process, one big question has been “who will be the second cornerback selected after LSU’s Morris Claiborne?” With only seven days until the draft, it seems that the answer will be Gilmore, a development which I predicted early in the draft process. Gilmore has a nice combination of size (6’0 190lbs) and speed (4.40 40 yard dash) and played against the best competition possible. He is solid in run support and is best in man coverage, plus he does not come with the off the field baggage that other top cornerback prospects like Northern Alabama’s Janoris Jenkins and (to a lesser degree) Alabama’s Dre Kirkpatrick come with. If the first round breaks down as many experts currently predict, Gilmore could begin to receive attention as early as Jacksonville at #7 overall or Carolina at pick #9, he is definitely a hot name right now.
Chandler Jones, DE/OLB - Syracuse – NFL scouts are drooling over Jones, who has amazing genetics (his brother Arthur is a defensive lineman for the Baltimore Ravens, his brother Jon is the UFC Light Heavyweight Champion) and a frame which can get bigger and stronger (6’5 266lbs 35.5 arms). Jones projects well as a pass rusher in any front, and is rising up draft boards quickly due to his freakish athleticism. I think the latest that Jones hears his name called will be in the early 20′s on draft day, as he has surpassed some of the other prospects at his position, such as Nick Perry and Whitney Mercilus.
Brian Quick, WR – Appalachian State - A hot name right now, Quick is big target (6’4 220lbs) and can run (4.55 40 yard dash) plus he is a former basketball player and high jumper. He does not have a lot of experience playing high level football, and needs polish and lots of coaching, but you cannot teach size and he is athletically gifted and has very good hands. I compare him a little bit to a young Brandon Marshall, without the attitude problems, because he is loaded with potential. He is presently flying up draft boards, and I would not be shocked if he is drafted early in the second round, ahead of several bigger name players.
Keyshawn Martin, WR – Michigan State - Another receiver on the rise, Martin was very productive as a two year starter at Michigan State. Martin is not big (6’0 188lbs) but is explosive with the ball in his hands and excels at picking up yards after the catch. He is both quick and fast (4.45 40 yard dash) and was able to score three rushing touchdowns over his career at MSU, while also contributing as a kick and punt returner in addition to being an outstanding wide receiver. Martin will likely succeed best in the slot in the NFL and should be able to contribute immediately on special teams, his versatility has moved him into the earlier part of the middle rounds, up from being considered a late round pick.
Kevin Zeiter, OG – Wisconsin - A three year starter at perennially one of the best offensive lines in the country, Zeiter was thought of as a second rounder by most experts until recent days. Do not be surprised if you hear Zeiter’s name called in the middle to late first round, the 49ers, who desperately need a right guard are known to be very interested. Zeiter is clearly the second best guard in the class, behind Stanford’s David DeCastro (the safest pick in the draft, a can’t miss prospect) and I would be surprised if his name is not called early on the first night of the draft.
Michael Brockers, DT – LSU - Brockers is not polished, and is far from a finished product, but no defensive player in this draft has a higher ceiling than the big defensive lineman. He is huge (6’5 322lbs) and has freakish athleticism for his size, and loads of potential. Coaches are drooling over what Brockers could be in a year or two, with the proper coaching and an NFL strength and conditioning program, he might be one of the most feared defensive linemen in the NFL. A staff with job security (if such a thing exists in the NFL) will take a gamble on Brockers, because of what he could potentially be with some experience and hard work. I have heard from multiple sources that Jeff Fisher, head coach of the Rams, loves the untapped potential of Brockers.
Lavonte David, OLB – Nebraska - When you watch tape of Nebraska, David really stands out, he flies from sideline to sideline making plays all over the field. The problem with David was his size, but he bulked up before the combine and showed he did not lose any athleticism, at 6’1 233lbs. As we get closer to the draft, teams look for guys who stand out on tape, guys who know how to play the game. David is very instinctive in run defense and is excellent in coverage, with the speed to match up with tight ends or even slot receivers. At the start of the draft process, David was a borderline second round pick, but it seems he could sneak into the later part of the first round and the Lions are known to be intrigued.
Shea McClellin, OLB – Boise State - One of the hottest names in the draft right now, McClellin has risen from a second round pick into the first round. Has a terriffic blend of size (6’3 260lbs) speed and bulk, and is a natural fit on the outside of a 3-4 defense as a rush linebacker. I like him and think he will be a good player, he has great hands and instincts on the field, however I would not take him before players like Courtney Upshaw, Nick Perry or Whitney Mercilus. In fact I would not be shocked if Penn State’s Jack Crawford (a true defensive end, expected to be a mid-round pick) turned out to have a better career. McClellin has also had concussion issues in the past (I am hearing he had three). I think he will be a good pro, but his position is deep this year, and I would probably not pick hom before the middle of round two. He will be gone earlier.
Melvin Ingram, OLB/DE – South Carolina - There is no doubting Ingram’s motor, explosiveness and tenacity on the field, but his smaller size (264lbs on a 6’1 frame with just 31.5″ arms) have scouts questioning if he will be able to have success in as a defensive end in a 4-3 front. Teams that run a 4-3 defense and were once interested in Ingram as a straight defensive end are starting to gravitate more towards players like Syracuse’s Chandler Jones (6’5 266lbs with 35.5″ arm length). Ingram is still a top prospect with big time talent, but I have my doubts on if some of the teams projected to have interest in the top ten (Jacksonville, Carolina) are actually more interested in guys like Chandler Jones or Quinton Coples (6’6 285lbs 33.5″ arms).
Dontari Poe, DT – Memphis - NFL teams fell in love with the monstrous Poe after one of the All-Time legendary combine performances, where the 6’4 346lb nose tackle ran a ridiculous 4.98 40 yard dash and then bench pressed 225lbs a ridiculous 44 times. However as we get closer to draft day and interested teams continue to study film, they are realizing that Poe is not very productive on tape. If the big man was neutralized in Conference USA, how will he fair in the NFL? Poe will still be a first round pick on draft day, but should slide closer to the middle of the first round than the beginning, due to a lack of production at the college level.
Jonathan Martin, OT – Stanford - The problem with Martin is that he is a solid tackle prospect in all areas, but great at none. He has good size (6’5 312lbs), has good technique and is extremely tough. However, Martin is a good pass and run blocker, but excels in neither area. I feel that most scouts consider him a solid, but unspectacular prospect which is causing him to slide down draft boards a bit, into the later part of round one. At the beginning of the draft process Martin was in competition with Riley Reiff to be the second tackle drafted. Now he is in a battle with Mike Adams over who will be the third tackle drafted.
Kendall Wright, WR – Baylor – When Wright looked heavy (5’10 197lbs), slow and ran a bad 40 time (4.65) at the combine everyone said “Ignore it, he is not a great workout guy, he does not play with clock speed, he’ll be fine.” It tuns out, teams are suddenly just before the draft, out on Wright. I am hearing that several teams have a third down grade on Wright, but he is expected to slide with prospects like Stephen Hill and Brian Quick gaining ground. I am a little surprised, but it sounds like Wright will be around into the second round.
Riley Reiff, OT – Iowa - At the combine I started hearing rumors that some NFL scouts were not fans of Reiff, because if he is drafted early he will be expected to play right tackle, and they saw him as a guard on the next level. This criticism went away for a while, until I started hearing rumblings again this week that Reiff was sliding again, for the same reasons I was hearing at the combine. Listen, it only takes one team that thinks he can be an effective right tackle, and he is off of the board. How far can he possible slide? The Jets have a massive need at right tackle, and I cannot see them passing on Reiff at #16 overall. This is if Reiff slides past the Dolphins, Bills, Chiefs, Cardinals and a slew of other teams that can use him. I still wonder how much of this comes down to “Robert Gallery Syndrome” a similar prospect out of Iowa who was drafted second overall by the Raiders in the 2004 NFL Draft, and was forced to move inside to guard (where he became a very good one). Reiff is a different player than Gallery and their similarities end at the fact they played the same position for the same university and both have short arms. Shorter arms are more of a problem for left tackles than right tackles, so if a team has a hole on the right side, Reiff is still a great option to fill it. I don’t think you would want Reiff starting as your left tackle, and this could hurt him on draft day.
Courtney Upshaw, DE/OLB – Alabama – A great football player, what is killing Upshaw is the fact that he is not as natural of an athlete as some of the other “tweener” prospects in this draft class. Upshaw does not have the pure athleticism and fluidity of Chandler Jones or the explosiveness and tenacity of Melvin Ingram. Once thought of as a surefire top ten pick, some scouts are wondering if the lack of natural athleticism will push Upshaw into the second round of the draft. I have heard some scouts say that he is a pure defensive end, and his lack of fluidity will stop him from succeeding while standing up as a pass rusher, which is what he did best at Alabama. If teams that play the 3-4 defensive front do not think Upshaw can play outside linebacker, he could be pushed way down draft boards.
Trade Talk (I am hearing that the following teams are interested in moving up/down in the draft):
Arizona Cardinals – As I reported yesterday, the Cardinals are not happy with the talent that will be available to them with the thirteenth pick overall and are want to trade. The Cardinals want to trade up, possibly to get into position to draft Notre Dame wide receiver Michael Floyd or Iowa tackle Riley Reiff, are expected to be gone before the thirteenth pick. To land either of these players, the Cardinals would probably have to get ahead of Buffalo (10th), so a swap with the Panthers for the ninth pick could get it done. I have also heard some more outlandish rumors, such as the Cardinals have approached teams in the 3rd-5th pick range, and were considering a trade up to select either USC left tackle Matt Kalil or Oklahoma State receiver Justin Blackmon, which would cost the Cardinals a King’s Ransom. The rumor mill is also buzzing saying that if the draft does not shake out the way the Cardinals want it to and they cannot trade up, they could trade down, and acquire extra picks. When there’s smoke, there’s fire, and it does not sound like Arizona is enamored with any of the players they expect to be around at pick thirteen. One way or the other, expect the Cardinals to be very active on draft day.
Philadelphia Eagles - Another team that is very active in pre-draft, here is the rumor the way I hear it. The Eagles love one of the defensive tackle prospects, although the rumors are unclear if it’s Fletcher Cox or Michael Brockers (I have not heard Dontari Poe’s name mentioned in this rumor). They think that Jeff Fisher has his sights set on the same player, and will pick them at number six overall. I have been reporting for a while that I heard Jeff Fisher loved one of the defensive tackles and the Rams were heavily considering this prospect over a wide receiver at sixth overall, picking up wide receivers later in the draft with the extra picks they gained from the Redskins trade. The rumors I am hearing say the Eagles are considering a trade up to four or five to get ahead of the Rams and select this defensive tackle.
St. Louis Rams - The second part of the Eagles rumor above is, supposedly Jeff Fisher has gotten wind of the Eagles trying to trade up and secure the defensive tackle that he wants, and he is not happy about it. Fisher wants to block the Eagles by trading up to four or five, and those teams would still have the sixth pick, instead of trading all the way back to fifteen (the Eagles pick). Would the Browns really make a trade with the Rams after the Rams accepted the Redskins offer instead of theirs for the second pick and RGIII? Would the Browns hand the fourth overall pick to the Eagles just to spite the Rams?
New York Jets – I am not sure who the Jets are targeting, but I hear they have had preliminary discussions on trading up, with either the Jaguars (seventh overall) or the Chiefs (eleventh overall) as their trading partners. I assume they have a specific pass rusher targeted, but they also have shown some interest in Michael Floyd. Gang Green is always active on draft day. Keep your eye on them.
Jacksonville Jaguars – The 2012 Draft is known as a six player draft. There are six elite players on tier one (Luck, RGIII, Kalil, Richardson, Claiborne, Blackmon) and then a dropoff into tier two. The Jaguars are lucky enough to have the seventh overall pick, and will likely miss out on the tier one prospects. I do not expect the Jags to be picking seventh overall, they are listening to all offers and will likely trade out of this spot. I have heard a rumor that they really like Georgia Tech wide receiver Stephen Hill and would consider moving back into the mid-late teens to select him, while adding additional picks.
Minnesota Vikings - They are making it blatantly obvious that the third overall pick is for sale, but I hear they are asking for a King’s Ransom for this pick, similar to what the Rams got in the trade for the second overall pick. Nobody is surrendering that much for the third pick if they are not getting a franchise quarterback out of the deal, it is not happening. I think that the franchise regrets the Christian Ponder selection last year (they should) and is trying to obtain as many draft picks as possible now, so they can ensure they get a top flight quarterback next season. This team is going to be horrible in 2012 anyway, so I would look to add pieces for the future that will help down the road, just too many needs to fix it all in one draft.
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