Archive for March, 2011

2011 NFL Mock Draft 10.0

1. Panthers – Blaine Gabbert, QB, Missouri: It’s hard to pass on the consensus top franchise passer in the draft.

2. Broncos – Marcell Dareus, DT, Alabama: The Broncos need help everywhere on defense, but by resigning Champ Bailey and cutting their defensive tackles, there’s no question that Denver is tipping their hand with this pick.

3. Bills – Cam Newton, QB, Auburn: Chan Gailey, famous for his love of dual-threat quarterbacks, will undoubtedly be enamored with the charismatic Newton.

4. Bengals – Patrick Peterson, CB, LSU: Arguably the top talent in the draft can replace either Leon Hall or Jonathan Joseph, quality players due for big contracts in the near future.

5. Cardinals – Von Miller, OLB, Texas AM: An amazing athlete with superb production in college that fits a tremendous need in the desert.

6. Browns – A.J. Green, WR, Georgia: Cleveland’s offense is starved of talent at the receiver position, and Green is a dynamic playmaker.

7. 49ers – Nick Fairley, DE, Auburn: San Francisco is committed to improving its defensive line, and Fairley is not a reach here.

8. Titans – Robert Quinn, DE, North Carolina: Ever since Albert Haynesworth left, Tennessee has been sorely lacking a disruptive defensive lineman.

9. Cowboys – Prince Amukamara, CB, Nebraska: Good value and Jerry Jones fills a tremendous need here.

10. Redskins – Julio Jones, WR, Alabama: A rising prospect who is the type of talent that can make Washington’s offense dangerous again.

11. Texans – Aldon Smith, OLB, Missouri: Smith intrigues a lot of scouts with his amazing raw athleticism. He will be counted on in Houston’s new 3-4 defense.

12. Vikings – Da’Quan Bowers, DE, Clemson: Bowers is seeing his stock plummet due to injury concerns, but would be an ideal replacement for Ray Edwards.

13. Lions – Anthony Castonzo, OT, Boston College: A steady, reliable pass protector is badly needed in Detroit.

14. Rams – Ryan Kerrigan, DE, Purdue: A very productive college end whose stock is rising after impressive pre-draft workouts.

15. Dolphins – Mark Ingram, RB, Alabama: It’s a cliche pick for a reason.

16. Jaguars – Christian Ponder, QB, Florida State: Without any can’t-miss prospects remaining, Jacksonville would be wise to find a challenger/successor for David Garrard.

17. Patriots – J.J. Watt, DE, Wisconsin: Your typical Bill Belichick defender who is versatile and around the ball.

18. Chargers – Cam Jordan, DE, California: San Diego is rumored to be absolutely in love with the former Golden Bear.

19. Giants – Tyron Smith, OT, USC: An amazing talent who will help the Giants get younger along the offensive line.

20. Buccaneers – Brooks Reed, DE, Arizona: As the Clay Matthews comparisons come flying in, Brooks Reed is seeing his draft stock soar. I see him getting drafted before Adrian Clayborn and Justin Houston.

21. Chiefs – Phil Taylor, NT, Baylor: GM Scott Pioli always takes care of the defensive line first in the draft.

22. Colts – Nate Solder, OT, Colorado: An athletic tackle to keep Peyton Manning upright.

23. Eagles – Gabe Carimi, OT, Wisconsin: Philadelphia has to do a much better job of keeping their quarterbacks on their feet. Their downfall in 2010 was their inability to stop the blitz, and the offensive line will be a huge concern this offseason. Carimi can start at either right guard or right tackle from day 1 and has been drawing comparisons to former Eagle great Jon Runyan.

24. Saints – Adrian Clayborn, DE, Iowa: Expect the Saints to bolster their front four with this selection. Justin Houston, Muhammad Wilkerson, and Corey Liuget are also strong possibilities. Clayborn reminds me of Charles Grant.

25. Seahawks – Mike Pouncey, G, Florida: Seattle gets the best player available while filling a big need.

26. Ravens – Justin Houston, OLB, Georgia: Baltimore relies too much on Terrell Suggs to generate a pass rush. They need younger, more athletic rush linebackers on their defense.

27. Falcons – Muhammad Wilkerson, DT, Temple: John Abraham is essentially a one-man-show for Atlanta’s defensive line at this point.

28. Patriots – Torrey Smith, WR, Maryland: A high-character player who is certainly the vertical threat New England missed after Randy Moss was traded.

29. Jets – Jimmy Smith, CB, Colorado: Antonio Cromartie will probably not be a Jet in 2011, and Rex Ryan has the opportunity to replace him with a very similar player here.

30. Bears – Derek Sherrod, OT, Mississippi State: Chicago needs to do a better job of protecting Jay Cutler, starting with replacing right tackle J’Marcus Webb.

31. Steelers – Brandon Harris, CB, Miami: Pittsburgh’s lack of depth in the defensive secondary was exposed on the biggest stage in all of sports. They’ll fix that up ASAP.

32. Packers – Corey Liuget, DE, Illinois: A top twenty talent falls right into Ted Thompson’s lap and Liuget will replace Cullen Jenkins perfectly.



Investigating the Kevin Kolb situation

Clearly, the Eagles have a huge decision on their hands. Kevin Kolb, still only 26 years of age, is drawing plenty of interest from around the league. Backup quarterbacks are rarely so talented, young, and well-coached in the NFL, and all indications point to the Eagles landing quite a bounty for the University of Houston product. However, with starter Michael Vick one of the most injury-prone passers in the game and under contract for only one more season, can the Eagles afford to trade away their only backup plan? Will the Eagles even be able to trade Kolb for draft picks in the 2011 draft? There are so many components to this decision that only the Eagles really know about, but if I were the GM, I wouldn’t allow Kolb to be easily pried away.

There’s a good chance that Vick will miss time in 2011, and if he does, the Eagles run a high risk of looking very, very stupid for trading away a quality reserve. However, since Kolb will be a free agent after this next season, trading him for value this offseason would pay dividends in the long run. The best teams always make moves for future benefit. With that said, the Eagles should not deal Kolb unless they feel confident that they can bring in another backup. The organization truly believes in Mike Kafka, but he’s not ready to start quite yet. So, the free agent route seems like the safest, most logical option for a new backup. Alex Smith is a very talented young player who has never been blessed with a good offensive coordinator. With Andy Reid and Marty Morninwheg, the Eagles could turn Smith into a starting caliber quarterback. Billy Volek is a solid, unspectacular, veteran backup who is similar in some ways to Jeff Garcia, who was a great number two option for the Eagles. Matt Moore would probably be my third option. He is another talented young guy who may thrive in Philadelphia, where he will have elite weapons and much better coaching. If the Eagles feel certain that they can land one of those three players, I would certainly trade Kolb.

I would be much happier to hold onto Kolb in 2011 if he was willing to accept the backup role once again. I wouldn’t want a disgruntled player on my team, and if he becomes too publicly outspoken, his trade value will plummet. So, if a new CBA gets done before the draft, I would certainly look to deal him. Reportedly, the Seahawks have offered their 25th overall selection for him. That doesn’t interest me especially. I’m finding that the talent pool thins out dramatically after the 18th or 19th pick. A steal may be there at 25, but I’m not willing to take that chance. I feel pretty good about Minnesota offering the 12th pick, and I’m convinced that the Eagles could trade Kolb and their second rounder to vault themselves into the top eight picks, where Cincinnati, Arizona, Cleveland, San Francisco, and Tennessee could all conceivably part with their top selection. In a Minnesota trade, the Eagles could draft Tyron Smith and Mike Pouncey in the first round, cementing the offensive line for the next eight to ten years. They could double up on defense as well, potentially landing Ryan Kerrigan and Jimmy Smith. Where things could get tricky is if a CBA is not reached by the draft, and this is of course a scenario under which players cannot be traded for draft picks. Andy Reid claims the Eagles would be open to accepting 2012 picks for Kolb under these circumstances, and I would be as well. Generally, future picks are considered to be less valuable than current year picks, and the Eagles could then get a better deal for Kolb. When all is said and done, Kolb’s wish will likely come true as he will be suiting up in a different uniform in 2011.


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Predicting the busts and steals of the 2011 draft

Thankfully, the NFL Draft is completely unlike the circus the NBA runs. In football, prospective pros must prove themselves for multiple years on the gridiron if they want to dream of being selected high in the draft. Teams have a lot of film on pretty much every player and they do their homework. However, in basketball, players get drafted solely on potential, and beyond the top six to eight picks, the draft is a complete crapshoot. Still, the bust rate in first round picks in the NFL is still rather high, and I will show you ten players that I believe are likely to bust at the next level as well as ten more that could be late round gems that blossom into stars.


10. Robert Quinn, DE/OLB, North Carolina: Quinn is supremely talented, can play in any scheme, and is rated seventh on my big board. However, while he could turn into an elite pass rusher, he comes with risk. He sat out the entire 2010 season, and skated by on his remarkable natural athleticism in 2009. In the wrong situation, he could be reduced to a situational pass rusher.

9. Cameron Jordan, DE, California: Jordan won’t be a monumental bust because he plays with sound technique and he won’t be drafted in the top ten, but I have a hard time envisioning him as a true difference maker. He could be very underwhelming if a team drafts him to be the cornerstone of their defensive line.

8. Adrian Clayborn, DE, Iowa: Clayborn was a great college player because he was either too quick or too strong for opposing tackles. At the next level, there’s a good chance he could be neither. He’s a 4-3 left end only and he has a strange shoulder condition that should scare some teams away. If Clayborn is forced into the lead pass rusher role, he will bust.

7. Prince Amukamara, CB, Nebraska: Great instincts, technique, and size are what will get the Prince drafted in the top ten, but I am very concerned about him. Against your run-of-the-mill college receiver, he looks outstanding, but his aggressiveness and fundamentals seem to vanish when you line him up across from a better player. There’s not a ton of examples of this, but it would prevent me from picking him in the top fifteen knowing that he’ll have to shut down much better receivers than in college every week for the next ten years.

6. Aldon Smith, DE/OLB, Missouri: Smith is unbelievably athletic, not unlike Robert Quinn, but is raw and unpolished. If his development fails to proceed in the way that his future team envisions it to, he could be a major disappointment. Also, he will have a very hard time against the run with his tall, lanky frame that gets pushed around a little too easily at times.

5. Anthony Castonzo, OT, Boston College: While the former tight end is sound fundamentally, I don’t see him as a franchise left tackle. He’s not an overly powerful run blocker, and he can be had in pass protection, although not as easily as some other prospects in the draft. I see him as a fringe first rounder, but he will likely be taken in the top fifteen and rushed into a starting job at left tackle, which could spell disaster for both Castonzo and his future team.

4. Cam Newton, QB, Auburn: There’s no doubting Newton’s talent, but he’ll be taken in the top ten and will probably have to start long before he’s ready to. He ran a very basic, fluke offense in college and never proved that he could throw the intermediate routes in college. He can also count on rushing yards being much tougher to come by in the NFL, where everybody is both bigger and faster than in college.

3. Brandon Harris, CB, Miami: Harris won’t be taken until the twenties, but I don’t see a bright future for him in the NFL. He can tackle and plays with confidence, but isn’t all that agile, doesn’t have good recovery speed, and doesn’t have the elite body control that all successful NFL corners must have.

2. Blaine Gabbert, QB, Missouri: I have no clue why Gabbert is regarded so highly by pro scouts. Yes, he has prototypical size, but that’s about it. His deep ball isn’t in the same league as Ryan Mallett or Cam Newton’s, he played in a fluke offense where he never had to make any reads, displays no poise or pocket presence, and didn’t even put up very good numbers in 2010.

1. Nate Solder, OT, Colorado: Solder is extremely athletic and tall, and has shown consistent improvement as a starter. However, I think he still has too far to go for me to take him in the first round. He gets beaten way too easily and will get eaten alive if he starts at tackle next year. He will be drafted solely on potential, and needs at least one full season to sit on the bench and refine his technique.


10. Dane Sanzenbacher, WR, Ohio State: A tough, high-effort player who produces in just about every game he plays. He’s one of those guys who always seems to fly under the radar and looks like he could be a great slot receiver at the next level. He reminds me of the “unknowns” that Peyton Manning throws to over and over again.

9. Orlando Franklin, OG, Miami: Franklin has everything a team could want in a guard. He’s tough but athletic, fundamentally sound but with good potential, and can both run block and pass protect. He will be a very good starter who reminds me a lot of Todd Herremans. Both are tall, well-rounded players who can kick out to tackle if necessary.

8. Marvin Austin, DT, North Carolina: There was talk of Marvin Austin being a top five selection before the 2010 season, when Austin was suspended for the entire year. He has great size and even better power. He fits the Eagle scheme beautifully and reminds me a lot of Brodrick Bunkley. He could be a solid starter for any 4-3 team in the league.

7. Austin Pettis, WR, Boise State: Not as flashy as teammate Titus Young, I think Pettis will actually have the better pro career. He’s not a blazer, but he has good hands, knows how to get open, and uses his body very well. He should be a very reliable target in the NFL who may slip into the fourth or fifth round.

6. Delone Carter, RB, Syracuse: A bowling ball of a running back, Delone Carter packs more power into 222 pounds than anybody in college football. He’s very tough to wrestle to the ground, but Carter is also very shifty and has decent speed. He’s a good receiver out of the backfield and could be a starter in the league before long. He’s definitely worthy of a second round pick, but will probably be drafted in the fourth.

5. Johnny Patrick, CB, Louisville: Patrick has a legitimate shot at being the best cornerback in this class three or four years down the road from now. All the measurables are there, but Patrick’s real strengths lie in his aggressiveness and competitiveness. His toughness and attitude would lead me to believe that he will find success in the NFL.

4. Jabaal Sheard, DE/OLB, Pittsburgh: I have Jabaal Sheard ranked above both Aldon Smith and Adrian Clayborn. He’s a lot stronger and more polished than Smith and he’s more explosive and nimble than Clayborn. He won’t be the next elite pass rusher, but he looks like a first round pick to me that is ready to start from day 1. He will have an impact in both the run and pass games, and whoever drafts him in the second or third round will be very happy they did so.

3. Ras-I Dowling, CB, Virginia: Dowling is a long, physical corner who is very instinctive and loves to hit. There were questions about his long speed, but he ran a 4.4 flat after pulling his hamstring towards the end of the sprint. He can play corner, but a move to free safety is also a possibility. He is very similar to Malcom Jenkins.

2. James Carpenter, OT, Alabama: I’m not sure why James Carpenter doesn’t get more credit than he does. He’s an elite left tackle in the SEC, and he jumped out to me at the Senior Bowl over the likes of Nate Solder and Anthony Castonzo. He can play either tackle spot or kick inside to guard. He will be a long-time starter for somebody either way after being drafted in the middle rounds.

1. Patrick Sherman, CB, Stanford: I don’t think Sherman will be as sure of a pick as Carpenter or Johnny Patrick, but he has the most upside and will be drafted last. He’s 6’3″ and was locking absolutely everybody down at the Senior Bowl. As a former receiver, he’s very intelligent and understands how he’s being attacked. Couple that with his length and athleticism and he just may become the next top cover man in the NFL.

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2011 NFL Mock Draft 9.0

1. Carolina Panthers: Blaine Gabbert, QB, Missouri: Often times, it seems as though a non-quarterback will be drafted first overall. However, come draft day, you can count on teams taking signal callers when in doubt.

2. Denver Broncos: Marcell Dareus, DT, Alabama: Denver is sniffing around Von Miller and Blaine Gabbert, but I fully expect they will take the best defensive lineman available.

3. Buffalo Bills: Von Miller, OLB, Texas AM: The Bills could take Cam Newton here, but Von Miller is the type of athlete scouts drool over, and Chan Gailey got a great look at Miller at the Senior Bowl.

4. Cincinnati Bengals: Patrick Peterson, CB, LSU: With Jonathan Joseph hitting free agency and Leon Hall under contract for only one more season, Cincinnati has a great excuse to take the best player available.

5. Arizona Cardinals: Robert Quinn, OLB, North Carolina: The top talent at a position of weakness for the Cards.

6. Cleveland Browns: A.J. Green, WR, Georgia: The Browns desperately need a threat on the outside to make their offense dangerous. Green will remind them of Braylon Edwards without the drops or the attitude.

7. San Francisco 49ers: Nick Fairley, DE, Auburn: San Francisco really wants an elite defensive line, and adding Fairley to a group that already includes Aubrayo Franklin and Justin Smith will accomplish their goal.

8. Tennessee Titans: Cam Newton, QB, Auburn: Tennessee is a quarterback away from returning to the playoffs, and he has the arm to get the ball to Kenny Britt and co. down the field.

9. Dallas Cowboys: Prince Amukamara, CB, Nebraska: The Cowboys have nothing in the secondary, and they could allow Gerald Sensabaugh to walk.

10. Washington Redskins: Julio Jones, WR, Alabama: Washington needs to land the biggest difference maker available with this spot on either side of the ball.

11. Houston Texans: Aldon Smith, OLB, Missouri: Smith is an excellent pass rusher who could go higher than most anticipate. He will be a key piece in Houston’s transition to the 3-4.

12. Minnesota Vikings: Da’Quan Bowers, DE, Clemson: Expect Bowers to fall on draft day due to medical concerns, but Minnesota would be more than happy to pair him with Jared Allen.

13. Detroit Lions: Anthony Castonzo, OT, Boston College: The new top offensive tackle prospect should go in the first half of round one, and Detroit is a great landing spot.

14. St. Louis Rams: J.J. Watt, DE, Wisconsin: Steve Spagnuolo loves his defensive linemen, and he needs somebody to pair with Chris Long.

15. Miami Dolphins: Mark Ingram, RB, Alabama: Simply too obvious of a partnering here.

16. Jacksonville Jaguars: Ryan Kerrigan, DE, Purdue: The Jags are never afraid of adding defensive linemen when they need them.

17. New England Patriots: Tyron Smith, OT, USC: The Patriots need to get younger along the offensive line, and Tyron Smith is great value and has unlimited potential.

18. San Diego Chargers: Cameron Jordan, DE, California: Great value and Jordan fills a big need.

19. New York Giants: Mike Pouncey, C/G, Florida: Pouncey’s stock is soaring and the Giants need young talent to protect Eli Manning.

20. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Adrian Clayborn, DE, Iowa: The Bucs will take the best pass rusher available.

21. Kansas City Chiefs: Phil Taylor, NT, Baylor: Scott Pioli will be itching to cement his defensive line in this draft.

22. Indianapolis Colts: Nate Solder, OT, Colorado: A very gifted pass protector as the Colts continue to build around Peyton Manning.

23. Philadelphia Eagles: Gabe Carimi, OT, Wisconsin: The Eagles need to do a much better job of protecting the passer and Gabe Carimi would be an ideal right tackle for them. He fits the mold of a Reid offensive tackle perfectly, and the pick makes almost too much sense here.

24. New Orleans Saints: Corey Liuget, DT, Illinois: New Orleans will be looking for somebody to pair with Sedrick Ellis up front.

25. Seattle Seahawks: Christian Ponder, QB, Florida State: It’s beginning to look like Christian Ponder will sneak into the first round while Jake Locker and Ryan Mallett will be on the outside looking in.

26. Baltimore Ravens: Justin Houston, OLB, Georgia: The explosive edge rusher Baltimore needs to complement Terrell Suggs.

27. Atlanta Falcons: Muhammad Wilkerson, DT, Temple: Atlanta gets good value here, and they could certainly use another impact defensive lineman.

28. New England Patriots: Cameron Heyward, DE, Ohio State: A strong, tough 5-technique that will thrive in New England under coach Bill Belichick.

29. New York Jets: Jimmy Smith, CB, Colorado: With Antonio Cromartie as good as gone, Rex Ryan will add another lanky cover man with serious character concerns to replace him.

30. Chicago Bears: Brandon Harris, CB, Miami: After Tim Jennings was shredded in the NFC Championship Game, the Bears should look to draft his replacement.

31. Pittsburgh Steelers: Derek Sherrod, OT, Mississippi State: With a lot of questions on the offensive line, the Steelers should aim for some stability at the tackle position with this pick.

32. Green Bay Packers: Rahim Moore, S, UCLA: Without a slam-dunk pick, the Packers could add Rahim Moore, who will pair with Nick Collins and make the Green Bay secondary even tougher to crack.

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Big Board 4.0

I haven’t done one of these in a while, so here are my top 32 prospects as of mid-March.

1. Nick Fairley, DT/DE, Auburn: Very few players are capable of taking over games from the heart of the trenches. Fairley is dominant against the run and the pass, showing very few weaknesses in his game. He should be in the same class as Ndamukong Suh, Haloti Ngata, and Darnell Dockett very soon. Carolina, Denver, and Buffalo all desperately need an inside presence like Fairley on their team.

2. A.J. Green, WR, Georgia: Green has the unbelievable combination of height, hands, and explosiveness that every team covets minus the diva attitude. A skinnier Calvin Johnson comes to mind.

3. Julio Jones, WR, Alabama: Yes, Julio Jones is in my top three because he brings a toughness and physicality to the receiver position that you just don’t see these days. His frame has to remind you of Andre Johnson, and he ran a sub-4.4 on a broken foot. A rare blend of toughness and talent who appears to be a very, very safe pick.

4. Marcell Dareus, DT/DE, Alabama: Dareus is stout against the run and will beat pretty much any guard in the league one-on-one. He’s not quite as dominant as Fairley, but he’s as complete as they come and can play in any scheme. It’s very hard to envision a scenario where he’s not a high level starter within the next two or three seasons.

5. Patrick Peterson, CB, LSU: Peterson has all the talent in the world, plays aggressively, and is also a dynamic return man. While he plays with sound technique, I don’t see the elite instincts of Darrelle Revis or Nnamdi Asomugha. However, he should be a very good starting cornerback and return man at the next level.

6. Von Miller, OLB, Texas AM: An ideal 3-4 linebacker, Von Miller is the best pass rusher in this draft class and comparisons to DeMarcus Ware are legitimate. His frame appears to be maxed out at 246 pounds though and likely won’t be all that good in a 4-3. A perfect fit for Arizona or San Francisco.

7. Robert Quinn, DE/OLB, North Carolina: A phenomenal pure pass rusher who can thrive in any defense. His athleticism is astonishing and reminds me of a taller Dwight Freeney the way he runs the arc. However, he’s been out of football for a year and still needs to develop better pass rush moves.

8. Da’Quan Bowers, DE, Clemson: A natural fit as a 4-3 end who looks like a man among boys on the field. He is big and disruptive, but there are some questions about him being a one year wonder, his health, and rawness.

9. Ryan Kerrigan, DE/OLB, Purdue: Kerrigan isn’t nearly as physically gifted as the pass rushers in front of him, but he is a great fit as a 4-3 end and has very developed pass rush moves. He is also a master of the forced fumble, and looks to be more pro-ready than Quinn or Bowers, though he doesn’t have quite as much potential.

10. Gabe Carimi, OT, Wisconsin: Carimi is much more sound in pass protection than people give him credit for. What isn’t in question is his experience, prototypical size, and run blocking skills. He’s a very well-rounded tackle who shouldn’t be written off as a right tackle. Just because he’s not a finesse player doesn’t mean he’s not good enough to handle the best pass rushers in the league.

11. Prince Amukamara, CB, Nebraska: Very fundamentally sound, a willing tackler, and unbelievably instinctive, Prince has everything teams are looking for in an NFL corner. What bothers me is that Justin Blackmon won their battle decisively in 2010, and Amukamara will have to match up with players as good or better than him every week in the NFL.

12. Tyron Smith, OT, USC: A physical marvel who looks the part of a franchise left tackle. He’s more polished than people give him credit for, but he’s always played on the right side in college.

13. J.J. Watt, DE, Wisconsin: Not an elite edge rusher, but Watt can do so many other things well. He is a disruptive force and is great at batting passes down at the line of scrimmage. He can thrive as an end in either the 4-3 or 3-4 and will enjoy success with any team that drafts him.

14. Corey Liuget, DT/DE, Illinois: Liuget is extremely stout against the run and offers enough in terms of pass rush and lateral quickness. He’s not quite as complete or dominant as Fairley or Dareus, but he will be a solid starter in pretty much any scheme.

15. Mark Ingram, RB, Alabama: Not a blazer, but Ingram simply knows how to run the football. His instincts, power, and toughness will make him an excellent and complete back in the NFL. If he’s paired with a home-run hitter, he could lead one of the most dangerous backfields in the league.

16. Mike Pouncey, G, Florida: Pouncey is a much better fit at guard than at center where he will be able to show his elite lateral mobility. He is easily the best puller in college football and will be a great fit for a team that relies on the screen game. He can provide depth at many positions, and has no major flaws in his game.

17. Ras-I Dowling, CB, Virginia: I love how Dowling plays the game. He’s a physical corner who is smart and instinctive and has good ball skills. He answered my questions about his long speed at the combine, and he’s a player that reminds me an awful lot of Malcom Jenkins, who eventually moved to free safety.

18. Rahim Moore, S, UCLA: Moore is a ballhawk in the defensive backfield, and quarterbacks will throw away from him in zone coverage. While he won’t deliver the knockout blow, he’s a reliable tackler who won’t be much of a liability in run support.

19. Jonathan Baldwin, WR, Pittsburgh: Baldwin is really a special talent at 6’5″, and he has plenty of production to match his frame. He will win jump balls as often as anybody in this draft class and is a true vertical threat who is tough to outleap for the ball. He’s still raw, but should be a dangerous weapon down the road.

20. Akeem Ayers, OLB, UCLA: Ayers doesn’t really look like a star to me, but there’s no questioning his versatility. He can play in any scheme, rush the passer, drop into coverage, and stop the run. He’s a three down player with no glaring weaknesses, although he isn’t a true difference-maker.

21. Ryan Mallett, QB, Arkansas: The character concerns with Mallett have been blown way out of proportion. He’s got the strongest, most reliable arm in this draft class and has shown that he is capable of moving his offense up and down the field against the nation’s toughest competition week in and week out.

22. Anthony Castonzo, OT, Boston College: Castonzo isn’t a dominant player in any phase of the game, but he appears to be a well-rounded tackle who can be a steady starter on either side for somebody.

23. Phil Taylor, NT, Baylor: I haven’t seen Taylor much in game action, but he is the prototype nose tackle for the 3-4 and the way he takes care of his body tells scouts a lot about his work ethic. Talent, work ethic, and playing a critical position will get you drafted in the first round these days.

24. Muhammad Wilkerson, DE/DT, Temple: I would have liked to have seen a little more dominance on the part of Wilkerson, who played against lesser competition. However, he’s a perfect fit as a 5-technique and performed well against Penn State.

25. Aldon Smith, DE/OLB, Missouri: There’s no denying Smith’s pure talent. He’s long, lanky, and has a great burst. In many ways, he reminds me of Robert Quinn, but he’s not quite as smooth. He could be a great pass rusher, but he has to refine his game and get stronger before he can really make an impact in the NFL.

26. Orlando Franklin, OG, Miami: Franklin is nimble, powerful, and nasty. He has everything teams covet in guards, and will be a steal in the third round, where he will probably be drafted. Think Todd Herremans, but his potential does not end there.

27. Cameron Jordan, DE, California: In my opinion, Jordan has been a little too overhyped over the last month. He’s a solid 3-4 end who plays with very good technique, but I don’t see anything overly special about him.

28. Adrian Clayborn, DE, Iowa: Clayborn will be a 4-3 left end at the next level, and while he will be a good one, he will never be an elite pass rusher. He is stout against the run and can get to the quarterback, but nothing he does makes me fall off my rocker. He also has a bizarre shoulder condition that sort of freaks me out.

29. Johnny Patrick, CB, Louisville: Patrick is a very underrated prospect who has good size, length, and speed. Unlike most other corners in this class, he plays bigger and faster than he measures and is a fierce competitor on the gridiron. I love his aggressiveness and confidence.

30. Aaron Williams, CB, Texas: Williams is a long cover man who can fit in pretty much any system. He’s willing to tackle and is a fluid athlete. Apparently, he had a poor combine though and he isn’t all that polished.

31. Ryan Williams, RB, Virginia Tech: A complete back with very good balance and vision, Williams can break the big one but can also withstand a heavy load of carries in the NFL. He only has one productive college season though.

32. Jimmy Smith, CB, Colorado: Supremely talented, Jimmy Smith has the chance to be the next great NFL cornerback. However, his character concerns appear to be serious issues and many teams are dropping him off their boards entirely.

Did not make the list: QB Cam Newton, QB Blaine Gabbert, OT Nate Solder, OT Derek Sherrod, DE/OLB Justin Houston, DE Cameron Heyward, DT Stephen Paea, CB Brandon Harris

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Investigating the usual suspects at 23

April’s draft is creeping up on us, and mock drafts are out in full force. I’ll show you the seven players that I think stand a legitimate chance of being selected by the Eagles, assuming Andy Reid and Howie Roseman decide to stay put at that slot. Then, I’ll name some later round prospects who would be great additions if they fall.

Gabe Carimi, OT, Wisconsin: At this point, Carimi is the most logical fit for the Eagles at 23. He fills a big need, presents good value, and fits Andy Reid’s scheme perfectly. At 6’7″ and 314 pounds, his frame screams Jon Runyan and he has the ideal skill set for a right tackle. Most analysts tab him as a run blocker, but Carimi was a very skilled pass protector as a left tackle in college. He is my top rated offensive tackle in the entire draft, and he will be very tough to pass up should he fall to 23rd.

Nate Solder, OT, Colorado: Nate Solder appeared to be well on his way to being the first offensive tackle selected. However, after the emergence of Tyron Smith and Anthony Castonzo, Nate Solder looks like a prime candidate to experience a draft day free fall. Philadelphia could very well be the team to end that free fall as they will undoubtedly love Solder’s 6’8″ frame. However, Solder is merely a developmental prospect who I consider to be severely overrated. He has a ton of potential, but is disturbingly inconsistent and unsound in pass protection despite his athleticism. He cannot be counted on to start from day 1, and should not be taken in the first round. I would be concerned if the Eagles took him, but I will admit that the possibility of Solder in midnight green is not far-fetched.

Jimmy Smith, CB, Colorado: I personally think Jimmy Smith will be selected either by Houston at 11th overall or by Detroit two slots later. However, a lot of other mock drafts have him sliding down to the Eagles. Smith played against elite competition, and has unbelievable triangle numbers at 6’2″, 211, 4.38. The concerns with him are with his character concerns and when I watch him on tape, there’s just something missing. He can blanket receivers, play press coverage, and tackle, but doesn’t seem to show real aggression or very good instincts. I would compare him to Antonio Cromartie. Cromartie is a great cover man due to his rare combination of length and athleticism, but just doesn’t seem to be in the right place at the right time as much as say a Troy Polamalu or Asante Samuel. Smith could prove me wrong though, and his talent is undeniable. I couldn’t argue with picking him at 23 at all.

Adrian Clayborn, DE, Iowa: The writers on the Eagle website are spewing out a whole bunch of nonsense about how defensive end is a huge need. I get the feeling that the Eagles will be looking to add a big upgrade there this offseason. Trent Cole and Juqua Parker really got worn down towards the end of the season, and none of the rookies really lived up to the hype around them. If Adrian Clayborn is still around at 23, he would be a great player to plug in on run downs as the quicker Darryl Tapp and Philip Hunt could be used as pass rush specialists. Clayborn would be good value, but I’d rather have Jimmy Smith or Gabe Carimi.

Derek Sherrod, OT, Mississippi State: If Gabe Carimi is off the board, please don’t reach for a tackle Andy Reid. Derek Sherrod is a decent player, but nothing really stands out to me that makes me believe he’s a first round pick. He’s a finesse player who looks like he’ll need another year of development or two before he’s ready to take over a starting job. Sometimes, that’s fine, but when you don’t have that much potential, you’re not worth a first round pick. Period.

Akeem Ayers, OLB, UCLA: Akeem Ayers was very disappointing at the combine, and will likely slide down draft boards leading up to the big day. I think there’s a very good chance that he falls into Andy Reid’s lap. He would fill a need, but I don’t consider outside linebacker to be a very important position in a 4-3. I wouldn’t argue with the pick, but there are other players I would rather have. If I was planning on drafting a 4-3 linebacker in round one, he’d better be special, and while Ayers can do everything well, he can’t do anything great. I don’t see him developing into a star.

Mike Pouncey, OG, Florida: Andy Reid should be very interested in Mike Pouncey because his unbelievable lateral mobility would be great for the Eagles’ screen-oriented offense. He could immediately be counted on to be the starter at right guard, and he would add stability to an offensive line that has been plagued by injuries and roster turnover in recent years. Pouncey would be a perfect fit for Reid and Morninwheg’s scheme and I would have no problem with selecting him in the first round, despite the fact that he has no ability to play tackle.

After the first round…

Pat Devlin, QB, Delaware: If Kolb is traded, the Eagles will be in the market for another quarterback. Devlin could fall into the fifth round since there are so many second and third round quarterback prospects this year.

Kendall Hunter, RB, Oklahoma State: The Eagles have already shown interest in Hunter, and he has the toughness and receiving ability the Eagles love out of their smaller running backs. He’s a fourth or fifth rounder.

Julius Thomas, TE, Portland State: Brent Celek is a quality tight end, but he needs a more athletic complement. Julius Thomas is a late round pick who is extremely fluid catching the football.

James Carpenter, OT, Alabama: James Carpenter will be a huge steal. If he’s around in round three, the Eagles need to pounce. He reminds me a lot of Rodger Saffold, who looks the Rams’ franchise left tackle.

Kelvin Sheppard, LB, LSU: Sheppard is tough, instinctive, and very good at filling running lanes. He’s a perfect fit for the Eagle system, and could be a valuable member of the linebacker corps if drafted in the third or fourth round.

Johnny Patrick, CB, Louisville: The Eagles need to take a hard look at Johnny Patrick in the second round. He is an intense competitor who loves to hit and has the height, long speed, and ball skills to be a starter. He reminds me of Sheldon Brown, who was taken late in round two back in 2002.

Richard Sherman, CB, Stanford: The former receiver really caught my eye at the Senior Bowl. He’s 6’3″ and he can stick with receivers. He plays intelligently and has great length. The best part is that his skills are still a relative secret and since he is new to the position, there is still a lot of room for improvement in his game. If he’s still on the board in the fifth round, the Eagles will be forced to take him.

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Top free agent targets

Going into draft day, every NFL team has a board that they stick to. It probably doesn’t work that way with free agents, but I have compiled a list of free agents that the Eagles should be intrigued by. Also, I think it would be cool to have a free agent draft, though that doesn’t really make the agents very free.

The big fish (players who will command deals in excess of around $6 million per season)

1. Jonathan Joseph, CB, 26: Joseph, not Nnamdi Asomugha, is atop my free agent wish list for two reasons. For one, he is three years younger, which means that he will not be declining at the same time as Asante Samuel. Secondly, he will be much less expensive, as he will carry a price tag of around $12 million per season instead of $18 million per year. He’s not quite as dominant as Aso, but he is one of the top ten cover men in the league and is very underrated. With Samuel, Joseph, and promising young players such as Nate Allen, Trevard Lindley, and Kurt Coleman, the Eagles will have one of the elite secondaries in the league, as well as enough cap space to address other needs.

2. Nnamdi Asomugha, CB, 29: Signing Nnamdi Asomugha would give the Eagles two of the top three cornerbacks in the league (Darrelle Revis) and could resurrect the defense. While Asomugha is truly that good, both he and Samuel will be 30 when the 2011 season kicks off and both will carry considerable price tags. Still, Asomugha is the type of rare player that the Eagles would have to pounce on if they receive indications that Asomugha is interested in suiting up in green.

3. Antonio Cromartie, CB, 26: Yes, another corner, but it’s a very deep free agent class there and it’s the Eagles’ biggest need. Cromartie may have character concerns and an unwillingness to tackle, but he can flat-out cover. With elite athleticism and freakishly long arms, “Cro” is as good as shadowing receivers as almost anybody in the league. The Eagles could also really use his height to match up with the taller receivers in the division (Miles Austin, Dez Bryant).

4. Jared Gaither, OT, 24: It’s not often that a franchise left tackle under the age of 25 hits the open market. Yes, the signing would be risky since Gaither missed 2010 with back surgery, but inking him to a deal would be well worth it. He’s exactly what the Eagles want out of their offensive tackles and would be the perfect player to man Michael Vick’s blind side. Capable of playing left or right tackle and excelling in both pass blocking and run blocking, Gaither could very well be the player that unleashes the true potential of the offense.

The little fish (less expensive role players who are a good fit)

1. Marshal Yanda, OT/G, 26: Yanda can play either right guard or right tackle effectively. He was part of a rock solid Baltimore group and would bring youth and toughness to the Eagle. If Baltimore retains Jared Gaither, the Eagles should be all over Yanda, who would be an upgrade over either Winston Justice or Max Jean-Gilles on the right side of the line.

2. Jason Babin, DE, 30: Jason Babin had 12.5 sacks last year under Jim Washburn after having been labeled as a bust previously. He has already publicly expressed his desire to follow Washburn to Philadelphia and would be a great addition to the defensive end rotation. Trent Cole needs help, and the Eagles have enough developmental players on their roster already including Brandon Graham, Ricky Sapp, Philip Hunt, and Daniel Te’o-Nesheim. Adding Babin along with a top cornerback would make this defense exponentially better.

3. Rocky McIntosh, OLB, 28: Rocky McIntosh is a terrible fit in Washington’s new 3-4 defense, so he’ll almost certainly be allowed to walk in free agency. However, he was really beginning to blossom into a fine young weakside linebacker in a 4-3 scheme. He would be a much better WILL for the Eagles than the Ernie Sims experiment, which failed miserably in 2010. Plug him next to Stewart Bradley and Jamar Chaney and you have a solid-but-unspectacular linebacker corps with very good depth in Moise Fokou and Keenan Clayton.

4. Alex Smith, QB, 26: If Kevin Kolb is dealt, the Eagles will need to pick up a new #2 passer in free agency. They’ll be able to choose between Bruce Gradkowski, Billy Volek, and Alex Smith, but they need one of them. Alex Smith has a ton of potential as the former number one overall pick, and always had the misfortune of playing under defensive coaches (Mike Nolan, Mike Singletary). Perhaps a year or two with Andy Reid could turn him into a starting caliber player.

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