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Draft King Analysis
April 13, 2012
Lou Pickney, DraftKing.com

Reader feedback is always welcomed here on Draft King. Sound off with your thoughts on Twitter (@LouPickney) or via email at LouPickney@gmail.com.


As promised on Wednesday, here is part two of my take on how the first round of the 2012 NFL Draft looks at this point. If you missed part one, I recommend that you read it first.

Also, as I've mentioned before on here, I'll be in New York City two weeks from tonight at Radio City Music Hall, attending the NFL Draft in person for the first time. It should be great meeting up with media, NFL, and even other draft prognosticator friends in person, some who I've never actually met face-to-face before (and others I've met but haven't seen in years).

Cincinnati Bengals, #17: This is one of the picks that Cincinnati received from Oakland in the Carson Palmer trade, the desperation move made by Hue Jackson in full Save Hue Jackson's Job mode (similar to the modes that the Redskins and Seahawks are in with their current coach/GMs). The Bengals have this selection and their own pick at #21, which gives the franchise all kinds of options on night one of the draft, which is just two weeks away.

I like what the Bengals did to fix their cornerback problem, exasperated by the torn Achilles tendon that Leon Hall suffered in his left leg last November. There is speculation that Hall might be out for 2012 as well as he recovers from the injury, and some of that speculation included the belief that the Bengals might take a cornerback at #17 or #21.

The situation is not unlike what the Eagles faced when OT Jason Peters was lost to injury for 2012 and the team filled his spot with a one-year stop-gap in the form of former Bills OT Demetress Bell, who has a multi-year deal but one that the team can dump after 2012 with little financial recourse. For the Bengals, instead of possibly stretching to take a corner who isn't worthy of going in this spot or at #21, they instead signed free agent corners Jason Allen and Terence Newman along with signing incumbent CB Pacman Jones, whose contract expired at the end of the last season.

Cincinnati going offense with both of its first-rounders makes sense, particularly when you consider that the Bengals defense finished in the top ten best in both rushing and passing defense, whereas the offense wasn't as strong (20th in rushing yards and 19th in passing yards) last year. As of this writing I have Stanford OG David DeCastro falling to this spot, though the Bengals signed two free agent guards already (Travelle Wharton and Jacob Bell) and really don't need DeCastro like other teams do. But it probably will prove to be moot with DeCastro more than likely to go in the top sixteen of the draft.

One additional thing to keep in mind is that Cincinnati will likely look at the team needs and likely picks for teams in the #18-20 range and act accordingly, though they also have to account for the possibility of other teams trading up into that area.

San Diego Chargers, #18: The Chargers need DeCastro considerably more than Cincinnati, though him falling to #18 would be a surprise given the expectations that exist at this point.

My expectation would be the Chargers snatching up a 3-4 OLB pass rusher, and there should be several excellent candidates on the board for them at this spot. San Diego signed former Ravens OLB Jarret Johnson in free agency, though he recorded just four sacks total over the past two seasons in Baltimore. He's consistent, having started every game for the Ravens since 2007, which is why the Chargers gave him $10 million guaranteed to come on board. But Johnson is not the pass rush threat that the Chargers need, but they should be in position to remedy that need here.

Chicago Bears, #19: I have Stanford OT Jonathan Martin slated to the Bears here, though I have heard from at least one Bears fan who encouraged me to reconsider. I'll have that, and some way overdue mailbag responses coming in my next column.

If it's not Martin or another offensive lineman at this spot, defensive tackle makes sense for the Bears, both with their team needs and with the talent at the position that should be on the board in this spot. Quinton Coples might be an interesting choice here to play 4-3 DT. Pass-rushing defensive tackles are more valuable now than ever before, which might cause Coples to go higher than some expect.

Tennessee Titans, #20: The Titans had a tremendous interior pass-rush threat with Jason Jones at defensive tackle in 2010. For reasons that are still unclear to me, the new administration in Nashville thought that Jones would be better-suited as a defensive end in 2011 -- and his production dropped as a result. His signing in Seattle might prove to be the best under-the-radar signing of this off-season.

So, much like Chicago above, Coples as a 4-3 pass-rushing DT makes sense here as well for the Titans, and you could potentially link Coples to any 4-3 team in that respect and have it make sense to me. So that is one option here for Tennessee.

But that might be a secondary interest here -- my expectation is that the Titans will give strong consideration to selecting a cornerback in this spot. They let CB Cortland Finnegan walk, reportedly without even offering him a new contract. That worked out well for Finnegan, who promptly received $24 million guaranteed as part of a multi-year deal with the Rams.

If the Titans aren't able to find a cornerback they like here and don't look for a 4-3 DL here, it's possible they will target Wisconsin C Peter Konz, though the Titans might also roll the dice, trade down, and hope Konz falls to them later in the first round.

Cincinnati Bengals, #21: If the Bengals don't go with a wide receiver at #17, I'd expect them to look in that direction with this selection. A.J. Green was a home run for them in 2011 at wide receiver and showed that, in the modern NFL, a rookie QB (Andy Dalton) and a rookie top wide receiver (Green) can find a quick rhythm and succeed right away.

But, with WR Jerome Simpson not likely to return with an expired contract and pending criminal charges, bringing in another top receiver makes a great deal of sense. If the Bengals don't deal either pick, it will be interesting to see which player they snap up at #17 and who goes off the board in the three spots before this one. It's a great example of why there is so much intentional misdirection put out at this time of the year in the NFL.

Cleveland Browns, #22: This is one of the picks that the Browns obtained during the 2011 NFL Draft from Atlanta, who moved into Cleveland's #6 spot to draft Alabama WR Julio Jones.

What Cleveland does at #4 will impact their decision for this slot; if they take Oklahoma State WR Justin Blackmon or Notre Dame WR Michael Floyd there, it would seem highly unlikely that they would select yet another receiver here. If it's Alabama RB Trent Richardson at #4, it would seem likely (but not a lock) that the Browns would go with a receiver in this position, though they could also opt to wait until the #37 to go with a wide receiver in the second round for a second consecutive year.

Detroit Lions, #23: Safety is a need for the Lions, but unless they luck out and have Alabama SS Mark Barron fall to them at this spot, it's unlikely this pick will be used on a safety. Cornerback is a possibility, as is a pass-rushing defensive end, and it would be a mild surprise to see the Lions not use this pick on a defensive player.

Pittsburgh Steelers, #24: There are some huge needs in Pittsburgh: offensive line (particularly at tackle) and cornerback. The front seven on defense was tremendous last year, as it has been for the past several years. But it was running on some old parts that have been jettisoned, including 37-year-old ILB James Farrior and DE Aaron Smith, who turns 36 next week.

The Steelers have found success in spite of an inferior offensive line, which might have taken some years off of QB Ben Roethlisberger's career. Look at the number of sacks that Big Ben has taken over the past several years:

2006: 46
2007: 47
2008: 46
2009: 50
2010: 32 (missed four games due to suspension)
2011: 40

While it's not David Carr 2002 territory (where he took 76 sacks), Roethlisberger has been sacked 314 times in regular-season games since his 2004 debut. Even last year's 40 number is misleading since he was sacked five times in the preseason and five times in Pittsburgh's playoff loss at Denver. There is no doubting Roethlisberger's toughness, particularly after seeing him play through pain with a left high ankle sprain last season, but at some point the physical beating he has taken will catch up with him, particularly since he's now on the wrong side of 30.

Denver Broncos, #25: Winning the Peyton Manning sweepstakes trumps anything that Denver could have landed in this draft. The key now for the Broncos has to be protecting Manning and providing him with as many viable weapons as possible. I currently have Denver stretching to select Stanford tight end Coby Fleener at this spot, but it wouldn't be surprising to see them target a wide receiver or offensive lineman here.

Houston Texans, #26: Alabama ILB Dont'a Hightower would be a perfect fit to replace DeMeco Ryans (who also played his college ball at Alabama), who Houston traded to Philadelphia for a 2012 fourth-round pick. But remember the distance rule of the NFL Draft: the further you move from the top spot, the longer the odds grow that a player who appears to be a "natural fit" actually ends up being picked in that spot. Replacing former #1 overall pick Mario Williams is important as well -- the DE/OLB standout signed with Buffalo in free agency. Even with Indianapolis and Jacksonville in rebuilding mode, the Texans need to add some fresh blood to its defensive front seven in this draft, and there will be some excellent options for that in this position.

New England Patriots, #27: This pick was acquired from New Orleans in last year's draft when the Saints traded their 2011 second-rounder (#56 overall, used on Cal RB Shane Vereen) and this selection for the #28 overall pick last year that New Orleans used on Alabama RB Mark Ingram. The Patriots keep fleecing teams in trades, and even when they take a chance on a veteran and it doesn't work out (e.g. trading a fifth-rounder to Washington for DT Albert Haynesworth), the Patriots have such an edge due to making so many great trades that it's worth the risk long-term.

I expect the Patriots to trade this and/or the #31 selection in this draft. It's a brilliant formula: a desperate team calls wanting a late first-round pick, the Patriots get a second-rounder and a future first-rounder. Rinse, repeat. It allows for the kind of long-term success that teams with coach/GMs desperate to save their job don't have the long-term flexibility to mimic.

Trying to accurately project what the Patriots will do in the draft is extremely difficult. They don't follow the expected template. They zig when the league zags. With the 3-4 defense becoming more and more popular, they dropped their longtime 3-4 approach last year in favor of a primary 4-3 attack and somehow made it work, with Vince Wilfork changing ideas in some circles of the perceived limitations of guys who fit the 3-4 nose tackle mold in 4-3 attacks. If Memphis NT Dontari Poe goes to Carolina at #9, he might have New England in part to thank for it.

It makes sense though -- in the modern NFL, you want your defensive tackles to either have strong pass-rush skill or be immovable monsters who are likely to command double-teams when the opposing offense wants to run between the tackles. As usual, the Patriots were ahead of the curve.

The NFL goes to drastic lengths to protect the competitive balance in the league. Successful teams have more difficult schedules, lower draft picks, players being poached in free agency, etc. The hard salary cap prevents teams from trying to "buy" a championship like the 1997 Florida Marlins did. Hope sells tickets, and there's a reason that most NFL teams sell out every game: fan bases buy season tickets ahead of time, even for teams coming off of bad seasons, based on the hope that moves in free agency and top draft picks will turn their hometown team into a winner.

One added benefit of the rule changes made by the NFL for player safety reasons is the decrease in the learning curve at quarterback and, to a degree, at wide receiver. Cam Newton showed that an elite rookie QB can have an immediate impact. Andy Dalton and A.J. Green turned the Bengals from a punch line to a playoff team. Remember: before last year, the Bengals had made only one playoff appearance since the death of former owner Paul Brown in 1991, the infamous home loss to the Steelers in the 2005 playoffs where Carson Palmer suffered a torn ACL and MCL in his left knee.

In short: teams can see quick turnarounds perhaps more than ever, which should have several teams thinking that they are on the brink of a breakout likely to be calling the Patriots trying to get this pick and/or the #31 selection. Some things haven't change in the NFL. And, despite rule changes and low draft slots and unexpected injuries, the Patriots have been remarkably successful by doing things their way and finding guys who fit their system who might not appear to be obvious choices from the outside.

Green Bay Packers, #28: Coming off a disappointing home playoff loss to the Giants following a 15-1 regular season, the Packers still have most of the key parts in place from last season. The injury bug hit their offensive line hard late in the year, which directly contributed to the lone regular-season loss (at Kansas City). And, while the Packers have used multiple recent first-round picks on offensive linemen, it's not impossible to think that they would go in that direction here, though outside linebacker might also be a consideration here to improve the team's pass rush.

It's possible that a running back could go here, but with a deep RB class and the position being less important than ever in the modern NFL, I would consider that to be an inferior option at this spot. But, with the Packers having such a strong overall team, perhaps they will give the nod to Boise State RB Doug Martin, Virginia Tech RB David Wilson, or speedy Miami RB Lamar Miller.

Baltimore Ravens, #29: I have projected Wisconsin center Peter Konz to the Ravens at this spot, though with veteran center Matt Birk returning for one more season, the Ravens don't have an immediate need there. If Martin falls to this spot, he could be an option for depth at offensive tackle. Wide receiver will also be tempting for Baltimore in part depending on who falls to this at this position.

San Francisco 49ers, #30: Without any glaring immediate needs, the 49ers have tremendous latitude at this spot. Trading back Patriots-style makes sense, particularly with so many of the parts from last year's team returning for 2012. Alex Smith returns with a new contract, and he played remarkably better under Jim Harbaugh last year than he did previously in the NFL. Harbaugh helped him to force fewer passes and make fewer mistakes. Look at the numbers: 16 regular-season starts, 17 TDs passes against only five interceptions.

Drafting for depth at cornerback or offensive line makes sense here for the 49ers if they keep the pick. If North Alabama CB Janoris Jenkins is on the board at this spot, he could be a compelling option for San Francisco. Reserve CB Shawntae Spencer signed with Oakland last month, and Jenkins could make an immediate impact here, providing depth for the 49ers here with a huge upside if he's able to stay out of trouble.

New England Patriots, #31: To balance out what I wrote under them at the #27 mark, I'll just add this: the infamous "Tuck Rule" game is reairing on the NFL Network this Sunday at 8 p.m. EDT. This was the final game that Jon Gruden coached for the Raiders before he was traded to Tampa Bay for two first-round picks, two second-round picks, and $8,000,000 in cash.

New York Giants, #32: I'm not particularly keen on projections that have any running back not named Trent Richardson going in the first round, but this could be the spot where Miller or Wilson or Martin could go. Offensive line depth, secondary help, or perhaps a wide receiver if someone like Kendall Wright slides further than expected might be the direction the Giants take. Of course, the best long-term value might actually be trading back if the right deal comes their way.

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