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Draft King Analysis

December 31, 2011
Lou Pickney,

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I published my latest updated 2012 NFL Mock Draft on here on Wednesday after spending some time during the Christmas holiday break working on it. Though, with so many teams in the mix with similar records, it was a bit like building a sand castle, working on detail despite knowing that the tide is going to knock it all down soon. This is the reality anyone who puts together mock drafts knows will happen, and it comes with the territory. Like any good analyst, I have to continually modify and adjust projections based on new information.

Last week, my brother Matt expressed his disappointment that I hadn't updated it last week after Matt Barkley's announcement that he plans to return to USC for 2012. Technically it's still possible that Barkley could wake up tomorrow, realize that he won't have Matt Kalil to protect his blind side in 2012, and reverse course for the NFL, but that's not a realistic thing to expect. Barkley isn't in the new mock, and suddenly the already rising stock of Robert Griffin III soared even higher thanks to the law of supply and demand.

Speaking of The Blind Side, I made the mistake of suggesting to my girlfriend some time ago that Sandra Bullock might have had some plastic surgery. Wow, was that a bad idea. It's an instant fight starter now anytime I mention Bullock, the movie, the book, Michael Oher, or even Baltimore's purple jerseys (though only because she isn't fond of purple, which also happens to be the main color of my high school and college alma maters). Is this an isolated thing, or have other guys experienced this?

It has been remarkably difficult to find the NFL opponent strength of schedule information online. That is something that *really* needs to be on For the have-nots, knowing who to cheer for on New Year's Day could lead to additional time spent watching games, something that would benefit the NFL. Much like the NFL goes out of its way to provide fantasy football stats at stadiums (even with the strong connection between fantasy football and low-stakes gambling), knowing who to cheer for/against relative to their favorite team's draft position might encourage people to watch games that they might otherwise skip.

Trying to put together a list of pending free agent wide receivers is a process that is easier said than done. In large part that is due to the volume of quality wideouts who will potentially be in position to find their value on the open market, including multiple players from the same team in some cases.

Wide Receivers

Wes Welker, Patriots (DOB: 5/1/1981)
If there is still any doubt that Welker has recovered from the torn ACL and MCL in his left knee suffered late in the 2009 season, just take a look at his numbers through 15 games this season: 116 receptions, and career highs in both receiving yards (1,518, the most in the NFL this season to date) and touchdowns (9). Welker will turn 31 this upcoming off-season, but it seems hard to fathom that the Patriots wouldn't either sign Welker to a long-term deal or use the franchise tag on him. Remember that New England gave up a second and a seventh round pick in trading for him from Miami. Notice how the Patriots seem to come out on the winning end of almost every trade they make; that doesn't happen by accident.

Wes Welker
Wes Welker leads the NFL in receiving yards after 16 weeks of play. (Icon SMI)
DeSean Jackson, Eagles (DOB: 12/1/1986)
The situation with Jackson in Philadelphia is contentious, to say the very least. Jackson ended his brief holdout this past preseason due to the $30,000 a day that teams can fine no-shows under contract as part of the new Collective Bargaining Agreement. But, while he finally reported to camp, he has been vocal about wanting a new deal... one which hasn't yet materialized.

Worse for Jackson is the looming possibility that the Eagles could slap the franchise tag on him. He would earn $9.5 million for 2012 under that scenario, presuming that Philadelphia would use the non-exclusive version of the franchise tag on him. It's hard to fathom that the Eagles would just let Jackson go after the season, particularly with the possibility of a division rival like the Washington Redskins signing him to a huge deal.

Marques Colston, Saints (DOB: 6/5/1983)
The Saints made a major steal in the 2007 NFL Draft, landing Colston in round seven. He didn't have a glowing resume coming out of I-AA/FCS Hofstra, but Colston has delivered the goods, breaking out as an elite receiver on a Saints team that is loaded at the position. Colston has averaged more than 1,000 yards receiving per season in his six years with New Orleans, and unless New Orleans can sign Drew Brees to a new contract before free agency begins, the Saints will almost for sure use their franchise tag to keep Brees. That would allow Colston to become an unrestricted free agent, and there are several teams in the league that are likely to be willing to pay big bucks to bring him on board.

Dwayne Bowe, Chiefs (DOB: 9/21/1984)
For the third time in four seasons, Bowe has passed the 1,000 yard receiving mark this year. The five-year pro out of LSU, who was memorably told by Herm Edwards to buy a box of a dozen glazed donuts as shown on HBO's Hard Knocks during training camp as a rookie in 2007, has been one of the few bright spots for Kansas City's injury-riddled offense this season. The Chiefs used a first round pick last year to draft Pitt WR Jonathan Baldwin, potentially to be groomed as Bowe's replacement as the top wide receiver in Kansas City. It's possible that Kansas City might use the franchise tag on Bowe, but if not then he could end up being courted by several different teams.

Mike Wallace, Steelers *RFA* (DOB: 8/1/1986)
Wallace is a restricted free agent, as he has only three years of NFL experience. If he hits the restricted free agent market, might a team use a poison pill to make Pittsburgh choose between losing him or matching an offer sheet that could make his contract 100% guaranteed? The poison pill has not been used by any team since 2006, leaving some suspecting collusion on the issue. Wallace on the open market would be a great test of the possibility of a poison pill being used, with a clause like "contract becomes guaranteed if Wallace plays four games in Pittsburgh in a calendar year" or something similar.

It will be interesting to see how Pittsburgh handles Wallace's upcoming restricted free agency. His production has been tremendous over the past two seasons, with him effectively filling the hole left by the trade of Santonio Holmes after the 2009 season, and he is quickly becoming one of the great young wide receivers in the NFL. Will the Steelers go on the cheap and hope to sign Wallace to a relatively small one-year deal with him being restricted? Or will they be able to reach terms with Wallace on a long-term deal? That will be an interesting sub-plot to follow in the upcoming off-season.

Pierre Garçon
Pierre Garçon has been one of the few bright spots for the Colts in 2011. (Icon SMI)
Reggie Wayne, Colts (DOB: 11/17/1978)
The Colts are not expected to sign Wayne to a new deal beyond this year. And, while Wayne is likely to end up with less than 1,000 yards receiving this season (for the first time since 2003), that has as much to do with Indianapolis' difficult situation at quarterback as anything. It's my estimation that Wayne still has some fuel left in the tank, and in the right situation Wayne could prove to be a valuable extra weapon for a contender looking to add a few veterans for a Super Bowl run next season.

Pierre Garçon, Colts (DOB: 8/8/1986)
One of the surprise breakouts of 2009 as a second-year player out of Mount Union College (where he helped his team win back-to-back NCAA Division-III football championships), Garçon has been everything that 2007 first-round bust Anthony Gonzalez was expected to be for the Colts. Perhaps I was a bit harsh on Bill Polian and his son Chris in my recent mock draft where I said that the elder Polian was living off his reputation, and in fairness to the Colts they did find a great talent in Garçon as a 2008 sixth-round selection. Garçon goes into Sunday's finale in Jacksonville needing just 75 yards to reach 1,000 in a season for the first time, and he seems the most likely of the three Colts wideouts with contracts that expire after the season that the team would work to keep.

I'm not sure if the Colts would franchise Garçon -- $9.25 million is a large sum of money. But I imagine the organization would be inclined to do everything it could to sign him to a new deal before off-season free agency begins.

Steve Johnson, Bills (DOB: 7/22/1986)
For reasons I don't understand, the media seems content in vacillating between referring to him as "Steve" or "Stevie" Johnson. Besides Michael/Mike Vick, is there a more high-profile player in the NFL today in the gray area on which first name should be used? And LeSean "Shady" McCoy doesn't count; I'm not talking about nicknames.

As for S. Johnson, the former Kentucky wideout is just 24 yards away from posting back-to-back 1,000 yard receiving seasons. He broke out big in 2010 as a go-to target for gunslinging QB Ryan Fitzpatrick, and it would be a tough blow to Buffalo if they ended up losing him to unrestricted free agency. Much like Garçon, Johnson was a late pick in the 2008 NFL Draft (round seven) who has developed into a quality NFL wise receiver. Johnson's proclivity to make ill-advised celebration decisions on the field has hurt the Bills at times, but his capacity to get open and make big catches makes him a valuable receiver.

Vincent Jackson, Chargers (DOB: 1/14/1983)
After being the victim of the change from four to six years required for unrestricted free agency in the last year of the previous CBA in 2010, Jackson can finally kiss San Diego (and Chargers GM A.J. Smith) goodbye following this season. Jackson reported for the minimum amount of time required to gain a year of NFL service credit in 2010, but he came back this season to post 1,000+ receiving yards for the Chargers, matching the output levels he showed in 2008 and 2009.

Mario Manningham, Giants (DOB: 5/25/1986)
Injuries have preventing Manningham from posting the kinds of numbers he had in 2009 and 2010, and he doesn't have the strong pro level resume that many of the others above him on this list have. But he's a capable wide receiver and it will be interesting to see what ends up happening with him.

Robert Meachem, Saints (DOB: 9/28/1984)
A former first round pick out of the University of Tennessee in the 2007 NFL Draft, Meacham hasn't been able to post the numbers than many expected out of him in the NFL, though he is part of a system in New Orleans that has multiple talented wide receiver targets. It's unlikely that the Saints would make a big money offer to keep him around for 2012, but he might find some interest on the open market if he doesn't reach a new deal from New Orleans.


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