Tag Archive: Dont’a Hightower


1- Luke Kuechly, ILB, Boston College
Analysis: Kuechly emerged out of Mark Herzlich’s heroic shadow this year thanks to an extremely impressive season statistically. Standing at 6’3″, 235 pounds Kuechly produced an astonishing 183 total tackles (11o solo), 10.5 TFL, 1.5 sacks, 3 INT’s, 2 FF’s and 3 pass deflections. He was hugely productive and he deserves this ranking as the top linebacker in the country despite only being a junior this season. The fact that he had 183 total tackles and 110 solo tackles as a sophomore is mind-blowing, especially considering that his 110 solo tackles would have tied him for 48th place in the country if every other players assisted tackles were included in their total. He also produced 158 tackles the year before as a freshman, demonstrating remarkable consistency from the start that makes me believe he will probably leave after his junior season. It also leads me to believe that if Kuechly stays healthy for his junior season it’s a safe bet he will end up with 150 tackles for a third year in a row.
2- Manti Te’o, ILB, Notre Dame
Analysis: Te’o has impressed me every single time I have watched Notre Dame and he has impressed me so much that it has led me to ranking him as the #2 ILB in the entire country. A lot of people may be surprised that Burfict or Hightower aren’t in this spot, but I think Te’o is a more cerebral player than any of those guys and that, combined with his 6’2″, 245 pound frame, 4.59 listed 40 yard dash time and 129 total tackles (64 solo), 8.5 TFL, 1.0 sacks, 1 FF and 3 pass deflections makes him quite the linebacker prospect. I can’t wait to watch more of him this year to see if he lives up to the hype I am giving him before the season starts.
3- Vontaze Burfict, ILB, Arizona State
Analysis: Vontaze Burfict is an absolute beast at 6’3, 245 pounds and plays an extremely physical style of football. He produced 90 total tackles this year (54 solo), 8.5 TFL, 2 FF’s and 3 pass break-ups. I’m not sure he has the mental capacity to be a great player at this point, so while he is a great athletic specimen I don’t know that he will ever be a true student of the game. He has more than enough athletic ability to warrant 1st round consideration though.
4- Jerry Franklin, ILB, Arkansas
Analysis: Franklin has always impressed me when I have watched Arkansas and he has a pretty nice combination of size and athletic ability at 6’1″, 245 pounds with a listed 4.66 40 yard dash time. He produced 95 total tackles (58 solo), 13.0 TFL, 6.5 sacks, 1 FF and 2 pass break-ups last season as a junior. He is one of the best linebackers in the SEC which says a lot considering the great tradition of producing defensive players the SEC has. I am very excited to see how he looks as a senior this season.
5- Dont’a Hightower, ILB, Alabama
Analysis: Dont’a Hightower first and foremost is a pretty impressive athlete. He is 6’4″, 260 pounds and he has great speed and strength to go with his impressive size. He is a very versatile player than can line up at middle linebacker on one play and then put his hand down and rush the passer in nickel packages the next. I don’t think he is very good in pass coverage, but he does support the run quite well. This season he managed 69 total tackles (30 solo), 3.5 TFL and 3 pass break-ups. I tend to think he is a bit overrated because of his lack of production both as an overall linebacker but especially as a pass rusher because he frequently rushes the passer as a blitzer or when he puts his hand in the dirt. He does get some hits on quarterbacks, but while he is an impressive athlete I just don’t know if he is cerebral enough to maximize his ability. We will have to see how he develops as a junior.
6- James-Michael Johnson, ILB, Nevada
Analysis: I will admit that I don’t know a whole lot about James-Michael Johnson and I haven’t seen him play much, but I do know that he has pretty good size at 6’2″, 240 pounds and a listed 4.68 40 yard dash time. Plus, he produced 88 total tackles (51 solo), 8.0 TFL, 2.5 sacks, 3 FF’s, 1 FR and 2 pass break-ups. I didn’t see him much last year when I was watching Dontay Moch or Colin Kaepernick, so I am looking forward to evaluating him for the first time this season.
7- Korey Williams, ILB, Southern Mississippi
Analysis: Williams is a guy I have not seen play yet but he has pretty impressive size for a linebacker at 6’2″, 243 pounds and has a listed 40 yard dash time of 4.65 seconds. As a junior last year he produced 92 total tackles (52 solo), 14.5 TFL, 3.0 sacks, 1 INT and 1 FF. I am looking forward to seeing him play this upcoming season.
8- Chris Marve, ILB, Vanderbilt
Analysis:
Marve is one of the best prospects Vanderbilt has had in recent years from what I can remember. Marve doesn’t have elite size, but at 6’0″, 230 pounds he has enough size for the inside linebacker spot. Last season as a sophomore Marve managed to produce 80 total tackles (45 solo), 8.0 TFL, 2.5 sacks and 2 pass break-ups. I am excited to watch Vanderbilt this year because I haven’t had much reason to watch them in recent years.
9- Kevin Reddick, ILB, North Carolina
Analysis: Reddick is another talented player on North Carolina’s defense, and it seems that UNC has a chance to replicate the dominant defense they were supposed to have this past season prior to the suspensions doled out by the NCAA. Reddick has good size at 6’3″, 240 pounds and a listed 4.67 40 yard dash time. As a sophomore last season Reddick produced 74 total tackles (48 solo), 6.0 TFL, 1.0 sack, 2 INT’s (1 TD), and 5 pass deflections. I am really looking forward to seeing what he can do with an entire season starting inside at middle linebacker.
10- Shayne Skov, ILB, Stanford
Analysis: Skov may only be a junior but I think he could be one of the better linebackers in the country. He has impressive size at 6’3″, 243 pounds and a listed 4.65 40 yard dash time, plus he produced 83 total tackles (50 solo), 10.0 TFL, 7.0 sacks, 2 FF’s and 5 pass deflections. I am very much looking forward to seeing him play at Stanford this year as all eyes will be on Andrew Luck, but I’m sure Skov will draw some attention to himself with quality play.

Thanks for reading my pre-season inside linebacker rankings! Just two more rankings posts left before I get to some film break-down. The end is in sight! I’m excited to get a lot of film study underway, so hopefully either tomorrow night or Monday at some point I will be able to polish those last two rankings lists off. Thanks again!

–Tom

New Mock Draft: 12.22.10

1st Round NFL Mock Draft:

1st– Carolina- Andrew Luck, QB, Stanford- The Panthers have a lot of holes and a lot of work to do on turning their team around, but I don’t think they have seen anything out of Jimmy Clausen that would make them say “Yes, this guy is definitely our franchise quarterback.” If that is the case then there is no way they can pass on Luck here if they think he is a potential franchise QB. We’ve seen the turnaround that a good, young QB can help a team accomplish if they come to the right situation with the Falcons, Ravens, Jets and now the Rams and to a lesser degree the Browns. The Panthers have a lot of needs, but solidifying the QB play can improve the whole offense. Luck is a very good QB prospect, and unless the Panthers are seeing something in Clausen that I’m not then they should take Luck #1 overall.

2nd– Cincinnati- A.J. Green, WR, Georgia- Cincinnati has a few needs as well, which makes sense or they probably wouldn’t be picking in the top five selections. I think Carson Palmer needs to be replaced in the next two years, if not sooner, their offensive line could use upgrades, they could use another quality wide receiver to play opposite Ochocinco and eventually replace him, and they could use pass rush help at DE and some serious safety help. It goes without saying that Cincinnati can’t really afford to miss with this pick, and I think that is why A.J. Green has to be the selection. He is the consensus #1 WR in the NFL Draft if he decides to come out according to just about everyone, and he would give the Bengals a very impressive cast of receivers with Ochocinco, Green and Shipley in the slot.

3rd– Dallas (F/ DEN)- Patrick Peterson, CB/S, LSU- Is this trade down especially likely to happen? No. Do I think it will happen if this is how the draft plays out? Maybe, but it probably isn’t especially likely. But I have to do something to keep things interesting right? Now, Denver will probably be looking at a front seven pick here, and they could pick Marcell Dareus here, but to be honest that feels a little high for him in my opinion. So, will anyone actually trade up here? I’m not sure, but if anyone was going to do it I think it would be the Cowboys. The Cowboys have a lot of talent and hopefully they bring Jason Garrett back because they have looked better with him at the helm. However, safety is a huge need for the Cowboys and I think that if they fall in love with Patrick Peterson they will go and get him if they need to. Peterson is an absolute playmaker, and he could be one of the most dynamic safeties in the league if he adjusts well to the position. His combination of size, speed and ball skills is something you rarely see out of a safety even in the NFL, so if they think he can be a game-changer for them that can dramatically help their secondary I would expect the Cowboys to make the move and go get him.

4th– Arizona- Prince Amukamara, CB, Nebraska- The Cardinals could arguably use a QB here, but I don’t think I would feel comfortable spending a top five pick on Jake Locker or Ryan Mallett. So if the Cardinals aren’t going with a quarterback until round 2 (most likely) then they have to look to fill another need. Cornerback could be that position. Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie is a good corner, but they don’t have much opposite him. They might have bigger needs than #2 corner, but there aren’t many better players available here than Prince Amukamara, so Arizona could end up getting the best player they can here.

5th– Buffalo- Robert Quinn, DE/OLB, North Carolina- Everyone thought the Bills were a lock to take a QB, but Fitzpatrick has played well enough to make them reconsider, so I don’t think they will go after a QB unless Andrew Luck somehow falls to them (which I don’t think is likely). Is Fitzpatrick the long term answer? Probably not, but if they aren’t sold on Locker or Mallett in the top five it makes sense to stick with Fitzpatrick and look to shore up other areas. Normally I think the Bills would grab a quality LT here, but since no such player is worth this high of a selection (when was the last time there wasn’t an offensive tackle worth this pick??)  I think the Bills could go after a pass rusher to help boost their pass rush. The Bills have used both 3-4 and 4-3 formations on defense this year, so I can’t say I know what formation they will stick with in the future. However, I think Quinn has the athleticism to potentially play in a 3-4 at OLB and I know he has the athletic ability to harass quarterbacks at RE in a 4-3. This is another big high risk/high reward pick for the Bills but it could pan out for them with a burst to their pass rush.

6th– Detroit- Da’Quan Bowers, DE, Clemson- I think this would probably be a worst-case scenario for the Lions, but even if Peterson and Amukamara are gone the Lions will have options. One of the most appealing would have to be adding a pass rusher with as much potential as Bowers. Bowers might not fly off the edge like you might think he would considering his amazing 15+ sack season, but he has an intriguing combination of size, speed and strength and projects well to the LE position in the NFL. Adding another potential stud pass rusher to that defensive line could help their secondary out, and in a very deep cornerback class the Lions will have an opportunity to select a corner with their 2nd round pick.

7th– Denver (F/ Dallas)- Marcell Dareus, DE/DT, Alabama- Denver traded down to try to pick up some draft picks to fill some more needs and still gets their guy! This would probably have to be a best-case scenario for the Broncos as they could really use some help on the defensive line and Dareus is probably the best 3-4 DE prospect in this draft class.

8th– Cleveland- Justin Blackmon, WR, Oklahoma State- Colt McCoy has shocked me with his play so far and he has impressed me thus far in his career. I did not think he was capable of this, but like I did with Sam Bradford I really underestimated his intangibles. And like I always say, I am man enough to admit when I’m wrong! I am going to re-watch the Bengals-Browns game and watch McCoy specifically, I will post my thoughts on him. However, I think it’s safe to say Cleveland has found a quarterback worth developing, so they need to work on getting him some weapons. That starts with a stud wide receiver, and outside of A.J. Green there isn’t a receiver I like more than Justin Blackmon. Blackmon has had an absolutely unreal season as he has had over 100 yards and at least one touchdown in EVERY SINGLE GAME this season. That kind of consistent performance is exactly what Cleveland needs out of a wide receiver, which is why I think they may pick him even over the bigger, potentially faster wide receiver in Julio Jones who has a potentially higher ceiling. Another reason they might not pick Jones? His lapses in concentration that lead to drops may remind them too much of Braylon Edwards.

9th– Houston- Nick Fairley, DT, Auburn- Houston has such a dominant pass rusher in Mario Williams but they have had so much trouble finding help for him along the defensive line so that teams can’t just double him, take him away and then buy time for their quarterback to throw. Nick Fairley has been one of the most dominant defensive players in the country this year and the first time I watched him play he reminded me of Kevin Williams the way he was coming off the ball, splitting double teams and making plays in the backfield. Adding Fairley could give the Texans a pass rusher who can collapse the pocket and help force quarterbacks to scramble, which could mean more sacks for Mario Williams.

10th– Minnesota- Jake Locker, QB, Washington- I struggled a bit with this pick because I really think the Vikings need to think about trading down at this spot because they have so many holes on their team. They need a quarterback, a left tackle, a center, a right guard, a defensive tackle, potentially a left end if they let Ray Edwards walk (and I really think they should, especially if he wants a big pay day), a cornerback and of course safety help. That’s a pretty long list of needs, and the more picks they have in the first two or three rounds to help fill those holes the better off they will be now that they will probably have to start rebuilding. Remember, they don’t have a 3rd round pick this year because they traded it to the Patriots for Randy Moss. But if they can’t or don’t trade down and Patrick Peterson isn’t available you have to imagine they will pick a quarterback. I don’t know which they will ultimately prefer between Locker and Mallett here at #10, but I think that with a couple years of development Locker will be the better NFL QB of the two, so I mocked him to the Vikings here. Locker is not ready to start as a rookie like so many people thought he might be after his great season as a junior, but in reality he needs significant work before he will be ready to start. The Vikings have very little talent at quarterback with only Joe Webb likely to be back next season. First and foremost they need to bring in a veteran quarterback who will be able to keep some pressure off of Locker, or whoever they draft, so he isn’t rushed in too early. Donovan McNabb, if or when he is released from the Redskins, would be ideal.

11th– Washington- Julio Jones, WR, Alabama- The Redskins, regardless of who is playing quarterback, could really use some firepower at wide receiver. They need help at the skill positions, namely running back and wide receiver, and Julio Jones has a higher ceiling than just about any receiver in this draft class because of his great combination of size, strength, speed and his ability to make unbelievable catches. He has such great hands, but he will still drop more routine passes sometimes that will frustrate you as a scout and as a fan. If he can improve his concentration and become more consistent he could be one of the best receivers to come out of this draft class (if not the best).

12th– San Francisco- Ryan Mallett, QB, Arkansas- It is pretty apparent that San Francisco needs help at quarterback after the Alex Smith experiment, at long last, has proven to be a complete failure. Troy Smith showed some ability, but it wasn’t consistent enough to make QB enough of an afterthought to pass on one here if there is a good one available. I am not a huge Mallett fan, and I personally think that his ceiling may be what Cutler is dealing with now. I don’t know how consistent Mallett’s footwork will ever be, and that contributes to his inconsistent accuracy and ball placement. When he gets in the zone, just like Cutler, Mallett can make any throw and put the ball wherever he wants it. But like with any QB, that ability comes and goes, and when they aren’t on their footwork causes erratic passes because they can get away with throwing off of their back foot, plus both of them have questionable decision-making. I was really high on Cutler when he came out of Vanderbilt, and I still like him as a QB, but I don’t think Mallett will ever be as effective as Cutler has been this season for the Bears. Maybe I’ll be wrong, but that is just my opinion. However, if the 49ers feel differently then he makes a lot of sense for them because they could use a strong armed QB who can make any throw to deliver the ball downfield to Crabtree and Vernon Davis as well as any other passing weapons they develop. I’m not sold on Mallett’s leadership capability either, but it would be nice if the 49ers could get a leader at QB who could lead the offense like Patrick Willis leads the defense.

13th– Seattle- Stephen Paea, DT, Oregon State- Seattle needs help all over their defensive line, but outside of Red Bryant they don’t have a lot of talent at defensive tackle. There isn’t really a DE that I believe is worth this pick (I am not high on Adrian Clayborn after the way he played this year…) so if I was the Seahawks I would look at grabbing one of the quality DT’s still on the board. Paea might be the best one available, so he could very well be the pick. Paea is incredibly strong in the weight room but unlike some players his weight room strength seems to translate to the field, plus he is very quick off the ball and is very disruptive in the backfield. Playing next to Red Bryant (if he’s healthy next year, hopefully he will be) would mean a lot of one on one matchups for Paea which could mean some early impact from him. That would be huge for the Seahawks who really need a boost to their pass rush however they can get it.

14th– Tennessee- Akeem Ayers, OLB, UCLA- Tennessee needs OLB help, and they probably have needed it for a while, so they should be looking at that need first and foremost. It looks like they need a QB of the future since Vince Young has not been playing in favor of Kerry Collins, but there is no QB worth this high of a selection in my opinion unless they wanted to take Cameron Newton. However, if I was the Titans he would remind me way too much of Young to take a risk on him here. Ayers is a much safer pick that is good versus the run, versus the pass and can even rush the passer.

15th– Miami- Mark Ingram, RB, Alabama- You might think to yourself: Ingram? Really? The Dolphins have Ronnie Brown and Ricky Williams! Well, both of them are getting a little older. Brown is getting close to that 30 year old mark where RB’s tend to start to decline, plus he has been dealing with injuries. It’s tough to pinpoint how much longer Ricky has left because of his time away from the game, but like Favre is beginning to find out you can’t play forever. Ingram is the best running back in the country and he should be able to contribute immediately to take some of the load off of Brown and Williams. Plus if one or both of them gets hurt Ingram would be comfortable carrying the load until they are healthy. Chad Henne has been inconsistent like I expected him to be in the NFL, so he hasn’t inspired a lot of confidence at Miami. I think it’s a little too early to pull the plug on him though.

16th– New England (F/ OAK)- Von Miller, OLB, Texas A&M- The Patriots could use some pass rush help at OLB and that is one thing Von Miller does as well as about anyone in the country. Miller started slow this season but he has picked it up since then and has put together a quality senior season after he exploded onto the scene his junior year. He projects very well to the 3-4 OLB position and I think he would fit into the Patriots defensive scheme very nicely.

17th– Tampa Bay- Rahim Moore, S, UCLA- This might seem like a strange pick, especially with Adrian Clayborn still on the board, but like I said I’m not that high on him. However, I do like Rahim Moore and the Bucs need serious help at safety. I think they could use an upgrade at corner, but safety might even be more pressing than that. They have been rotating anyone in at safety this year trying to find someone who can play well, but no one has stepped up it appears. Moore is the essence of a center fielder and he has good ball skills which makes him a very nice fit for the Bucs defensive scheme.

18th– Jacksonville- Cameron Newton, QB, Auburn- This might seem like a strange pick here, but I think it makes some sense. David Garrard is about to turn 33 in February so he might have another year or two left playing at a high level, so a developmental QB would be a nice thing to have. Enter Cameron Newton, the ultimate developmental QB. Garrard could be a good mentor for Newton because Newton will probably play with a similar style to Garrard in the NFL if he ever develops his fundamentals like Garrard has. But with Garrard still playing well he would keep the pressure off of Newton while he developed as a QB and more importantly if they worked him into the game on some Wildcat formations he could help sell tickets, which is one of the reasons this pick makes the most sense. The Jags didn’t get Tebow last year to get people to buy tickets but Newton should have a similar impact. He really needs some development and coaching, but the amount of attention he would bring to the Jaguars would be worth the development and patience they will have to have with him.

19th– Green Bay- Janoris Jenkins, CB, Florida- The Packers could go a couple of different directions here.  The Packers could use a future LT (I think Bulaga should stick at RT), a RB, a DE (depending on Johnny Jolly), an OLB to play opposite of Clay Matthews and some help at corner. Al Harris is no longer with the Packers but Tramon Williams has stepped up into the starting role before and he has played well in his stead opposite Charles Woodson. The only problem is they don’t have much depth behind Woodson and Williams and Woodson himself is getting up in age and won’t be able to play as well as he had the past few years for a lot longer. That makes me think that corner should be addressed in one of the first two rounds, if not in the first round. Jenkins would do a couple things for the Packers as their draft pick. First, he would bring a physical presence because of the way he supports the run which is what the Packers like in their corners. Second, he would bring some impressive ball skills which the Packers LOVE in their defensive backs. Third, he would keep the streak alive of the Packers having at least one corner with dreads starting in their secondary alive for a long time. Yeah, I went there.

20th– San Diego- Cameron Heyward, DE, Ohio State- This might seem surprising but I think it makes a lot of sense. Cameron Heyward is an absolute beast in the trenches and I think he is the #2 3-4 DE prospect in this draft class for that reason. The Chargers could really use a 3-4 DE, so Heyward makes perfect sense for them at #20. He would help solidify a defensive line that used to be a strength for them, and while they do need an OLB to replace Merriman because Larry English has disappointed at OLB (I thought he was more of a 4-3 DE to be honest) I think they might be able to get one of those in the second or third round if they like a prospect there. Heyward could potentially contribute right away and fill a big need, so I think he has to be the pick here.

21st– St. Louis- Adrian Clayborn, DE, Iowa- I don’t know if this pick makes perfect sense because Clayborn projects better to LE which is where Chris Long plays currently, but he played RE at Iowa so maybe the Rams will get creative with him at RE to help their run defense and then move him inside on passing downs. Regardless, he’s a pretty good value here even if he has had a down season this year in my opinion. The Rams already have a pretty good defensive line but if Clayborn plays up to his potential then he could really turn this unit into a dominant force.

22nd– Kansas City- Justin Houston, OLB, Georgia- There are questions about how Houston will look at OLB in the NFL because he doesn’t drop that well into coverage, but at #22 he has to get serious consideration from the Chiefs because of his ability to rush the passer, even if he isn’t very natural at dropping back into coverage. The Chiefs have the start to a pretty good defense with a couple solid DE’s in Dorsey and Jackson, Derrick Johnson playing well in the middle and Eric Berry continuing to be impressive in the secondary. Grabbing a pass rusher seems like a logical next step, and there aren’t a lot of better pass rushers available than Houston at this point.

23rd– Indianapolis- Drake Nevis, DT, LSU- The Colts definitely need help up the middle of their defense and I am really high on Nevis. He is extremely disruptive up the middle for LSU, he gets off the ball quickly, splits double teams well, can bull rush his man to collapse the pocket and should really help solidify the Colts interior of the defensive line when he is ready to contribute.

24th– New York Giants- Dont’a Hightower, ILB, Alabama- The Giants could use a stud ILB and even though I wonder how good Hightower is in coverage I think he could be a good fit for the Giants. The Giants more than anything preach getting after the passer and Hightower is a very good ILB prospect but on some passing downs he lines up at DE when Alabama has four down lineman to rush the passer. If he can do that in the NFL, which I imagine with some development he could, he could give the Giants a quality ILB who could drop down and rush the passer with his hand down if they wanted him to. That seems like something the Giants would probably be interested in.

25th– New Orleans- Bruce Carter, OLB, North Carolina- I thought Carter would go earlier than this because he would test well and look good in drills but because of his surgery that is all up in the air so the last 1st is probably where he will end up going if/when he recovers from his surgery. The Saints probably shouldn’t complain though, especially since they have had good luck with linebackers coming off of injury (Jonathan Vilma). Carter would give the Saints a very athletic OLB as well as a potential special teams ace because of how well he pressures punts.

26th– New York Jets- Ryan Kerrigan, DE/OLB, Purdue- The Jets could use a DE here and an OLB because Jason Taylor is getting old, but there is no such 3-4 DE available that I think is worth this pick, and there isn’t a NT worth this pick either (Jerrell Powe is an option but I don’t think he is worth a late 1st). So OLB figures to be the pick and Kerrigan doesn’t project perfectly to the 3-4 in my opinion but some people think he would be fine at the position apparently. I will have to wait to see it before I believe it, but he definitely has the quickness off the ball to get after the passer from the OLB position in a 3-4. And more than anything that is what the Jets need from their OLB’s in that defense.

27th– Chicago- Derrick Sherrod, OT, Mississippi State- Sherrod might not be the ideal LT that Bears fans want, but I think he is the best offensive lineman in this class and more than anything the Bears just need talented offensive linemen so they can start to rebuild one of the worst units in the NFL. Sherrod could play LT or RT so depending on whether or not Chris Williams can offer anything at either spot Sherrod could slide into either spot and provide some reliability as a run blocker and as a pass blocker. He might struggle with some of the elite speed rushers at LT, but Frank Omiyale struggles with any above-average pass rusher there already regardless of speed, so Sherrod would at worst be a step in the right direction.

28th– Baltimore- Brandon Harris, CB, Miami- The Ravens need help at CB very badly because what talent they have there will hit the free agent market this offseason with the exception of Dominique Foxworth who has been out with an injury this season. The Ravens, as much as any team in the NFL, seem to hit it big when they pull talent from Miami’s talent pool (Ray Lewis and Ed Reed being prime examples. I’m sure there are more) so if they like Harris’ game and see him available late in round one at a position of serious need then I think they could go back to that same well once again.

29th– Pittsburgh- Gabe Carimi, OT, Wisconsin- The Steelers really need an upgrade at RT and Carimi should fit in perfectly to the Steelers scheme that relies on push in the run game. Carimi could probably be a solid LT in the NFL, which gives him added value as a potential back-up at that position in my opinion, but I think he will at worst have a long, solid career at RT. If he can get coached up a bit he could very well have pro-bowl potential.

30th– Philadelphia- Aaron Williams, CB, Texas- The Eagles have a good corner in Asante Samuel but opposite him they have a lot of question marks. Ellis Hobbs was injured for the season again and his career may be over because of it, and no one has played well at all in replacing him. His replacement, Peterson, got absolutely owned this past weekend by the Giants. He gave up the first three of Manning’s passing touchdowns if I’m not mistaken. That’s a pretty bad game. So, the Eagles could use help opposite Samuels. Williams is a playmaker at corner which the Eagles obviously like and while he hasn’t quite had the season some expected him to have it’s safe to say no one on Texas did.  He still has a lot of ability and athletic potential, plus with the Eagles pass rush and ability to apply pressure he could be in position for a lot of turnovers.

31st– Atlanta- J.J. Watt, DE, Wisconsin- The Falcons don’t have a lot of serious needs but one thing they do need to improve is their pass rush. John Abraham won’t be able to play at this level for much longer, and his back-up Lawrence Sidbury has contributed next to nothing this season, and hasn’t even been active for the majority of the games. That’s not exactly a vote of confidence, and as much as I’d like Sidbury to be the future stud pass rusher the Falcons need at RE it’s just not a sensible conclusion to come to at this point. Kroy Biermann has played better than I ever expected him to when he was drafted in the 5th round, but I am not sure he is the answer at LE for us in the long term. I love watching J.J. Watt play and I think his passion for the game and his non-stop motor makes him a perfect fit on the Falcons. He might not be a 10+ sack guy at LE, but I think he will be good versus the run and get 6+ sacks for us.

32nd– New England- Cameron Jordan, DE, California- The Patriots are the masters of getting great bang for their buck and they did it again last year when they got Devin McCourty late in round one and he has been one of the best rookie corners in this draft class thus far. Jordan is a quality DE and I think he projects pretty well to the 3-4. I honestly expected him to come off the board earlier than this, but somehow he fell and the Patriots, as they probably will be on draft day no matter how it turns out, will benefit from it.

Hopefully you enjoyed my new mock draft! Please leave comments! Thanks for reading!

–Tom

Here are some of my notes on the earlier games. I will have more notes on the Nevada-Boise State game later since it ended so late. I’ll probably have those up sometime on Saturday afternoon.

Pitt-WVU Notes:

Lindsey, the DE on PITT, looks really good to me. Pretty good speed off the ball, impressive motor so far and he knows how to stay disciplined. Only a junior, but he has replaced Romeus very nicely and has 15 TFL this year. He has also showed some nice hand usage with a couple of nice swim moves to beat either shoulder of the LT he is going up against. He has 10 sacks this year, and has a sack in all but three of his games… he might fly up boards. I need to see more of him.

He looked less impressive on this past series, he wasn’t coming off the edge as quickly… but that might have something to do with their defensive scheme to contain Geno Smith. I will definitely be watching more of him though.

J.T. Thomas of WVU has made a couple of nice plays. He comes off the edge nicely. He had a great speed rush to get a sack and force a fumble and on the very next play he did a good job to get a TFL versus the run. He looks like he has a pretty good motor, some speed off the edge and he knew just what to do to strip the ball out. He’s a senior and he isn’t the biggest guy at about 6’1 or 6’2”, 225 pounds but he’s got special teams potential and if he can add some weight (his frame doesn’t look like he can have much more than 230-240 on it though…) he could be a solid OLB in a 3-4 in my opinion.

I was wondering when Noel Devine was going to show up and make a play and he took a pass out in the flat and he nearly broke it. He turned a dump off pass into a 48 yard reception and got tackled on the three yard line. That is dynamic playmaking at its finest. Before this play WVU had 25 yards of total offense. Devine was not in a lot in this game and he seemed to be cramping up on the sideline, but when he came in he did not do a lot of running up the middle and was used more to get outside to use his speed. He is a quality change of pace prospect, but I worry about him getting nicked up frequently and not being very effective running the ball between the tackles in the NFL.

Geno Smith has looked solid today. He hasn’t made a lot of NFL throws, but he has been incredibly efficient.

Brandon Hogan has had an up and down game. He had an interception early but he got called for a PI later on in the game. He hasn’t been thrown at a lot, #8 has been targeted more, so I haven’t seen much of him. I still need to evaluate how he is in his back-pedal, how well he can turn and run and how much burst he has to break on the ball. It’s just hard to watch DB’s with TV camera angles.

I didn’t pay particular attention to Bruce Irvin in the game today. I’ll look for him when I re-watch the game, but live I didn’t notice much except that I don’t think he will stick at DE in the NFL. He’s a little light for that, but he has some potential as a 3-4 OLB because he has some edge speed.

Auburn-Alabama Notes:

Nick Fairley has looked good and bad thus far. He got downblocked very effectively by the RT of Alabama on their first series but he has also gotten nice penetration. He had a great move to get a sack but then got a celebration penalty (which I thought was questionable at best) which helped extend Alabama’s drive as they converted a 4th and short after the penalty made it more manageable. He has made some plays versus the run though, but I wonder how well he will stand up against double teams a bit. He definitely has the size, but I just haven’t seen him versus doubles enough yet to know. He reminds me a bit of Kevin Williams as far as his size and playing style. If he can anchor versus the run like Kevin Williams as well as dominate blockers and blow up plays in the backfield he is going to be a hot commodity come draft time. Fairley just made another huge play. He beat the RG very badly off the snap to the inside, Ingram tried to step up and block him and Fairley just powered through him and hit McElroy for the sack, forced the fumble and then scrambled back to the ball to recover it. This was on 2nd and goal with Auburn still down 17, so what a huge play it was for Auburn to stay in the game. Fairley has been extremely disruptive all game, he regularly beat his man off the line when he got a one on one match-up and almost demands to be double teamed. I would definitely grade him as a top 15 pick at this point.

Greg McElroy has looked fantastic thus far. That has something to do with Auburn’s secondary, but he has been delivering accurate throws and showing his whole repertoire thus far with nice zip on his short/intermediate throws as well as great touch on some of his other passes including a nice touchdown to Hanks. The most impressive play may have been when Auburn came after him on a blitz on what I believe was a 3rd down, #45 on Auburn, Carter, came completely unblocked and McElroy did a fantastic job of side stepping the rush in the pocket, setting his feet, continuing to look downfield all the while and he delivered a very nice ball to Julio Jones for a big first down. He is really smart, he has shown very nice pocket poise, good accuracy, above-average arm strength and good decision making… Auburn isn’t a very good defense as far as the pass is concerned, but it’s hard not to be impressed with the progression McElroy has made in his second season as a starter.

It’s too bad that McElroy ended up being knocked out of the game from a concussion, but you could definitely tell that he was out of it when he was trying to walk to the sideline. I would have loved to see if he could muster anything on that last drive, because I think he may have been able to make it interesting. Despite the great comeback by Auburn I was still impressed by McElroy in this game. Obviously the game didn’t go Alabama’s way, but McElroy was accurate and showed a lot of pocket poise in this game. I would definitely grade him as a 3rd or 4th round pick right now. I think he has the potential to be a starter in the NFL after some time on the bench.

On the other hand, Cam Newton has looked very bad so far today. He is being bottled up from a rushing standpoint and that is really hindering his overall effectiveness. I thought that this might happen against Alabama because their defense is so well coached that they won’t often allow him to break contain and make big plays as a result of missed tackles. They are too fast and too fundamentally sound as a defense to let him get free and make some of the ridiculous plays he has made thus far this season. He finally put together a scoring drive and capped it off with a very nice throw over the top of the defense that allowed #80 to run under it for a touchdown, but his other completions have been high throws that his receivers have made nice catches on, including two very critical completions to Kodi Burns for first downs. Now Newton has the ball with less than a minute left and he made his second good throw of the game for a nice chunk of yardage. It will be interesting to see if he plays any better in the second half, but it is absolutely laughable that people are talking about him as a 1st round pick at this point. He is nowhere near developed enough to be selected that high. He holds onto the ball far too long when he is contained in the pocket, he doesn’t have much pocket poise at all and he likes to throw off balance and without consistent mechanics. Watching him play compared to McElroy, a very fundamentally sound, poised QB, is like a night and day comparison… I hope he plays better in the second half, but he has so much work to do before he can be a quality NFL QB that if he leaves this year he will need to be on the bench for two, maybe three years and he still may not pan out considering some of the issues he is having with pocket poise, decision making and overall mechanics. He has a tough test ahead of him in the second half because Alabama has been rolling on offense and he needs to throw them back into this game.

Newton’s first pass of the second half was a touchdown, but it was not a particularly good throw. Yes, it was pretty accurate, but it was in the air a while and Mark Barron could have easily made a play on the ball but he played the ball poorly in the air and misjudged it and #81 caught the ball, stayed on his feet and got the rest of the yardage needed for the touchdown. If this safety played this better then it could have been an easy interception.

Newton has led a furious comeback. He has made probably three NFL throws the entire game, so he hasn’t been an impressive passer, but it’s hard to make an argument that anyone in the country is more valuable to his team than Newton is to Auburn. I’m impressed with his resiliency as well because he could have easily packed it in after they started so slow with two or three straight three and outs while Alabama was rolling on offense. The most impressive throw Newton has made in this game came on 4th down and 3 and he threw a very nice pass into a tight window on the sideline to #89 for a key first down to extend the drive. That was a clutch play to be sure. It’ll be interesting to see if he has another big drive left in him, because even though he might not project to the NFL yet he definitely strikes me as a winner. They’ve been in too many close games and won this year that if he wasn’t a winner and wasn’t clutch that I don’t think they would be undefeated.

Julio Jones has been an absolute beast in this game so far. He has close to 200 yards in the first half and he has been making nice catches with his hands and even though he has been targeted repeatedly he has not had a lapse in concentration that could lead to a drop. He has such great size and he uses it so well to shield smaller players from the ball on slants and curls. He also has deep speed and he is tough to bring down after he makes the catch because he runs tough. He has serious NFL potential, and he could be one of those WR’s who starts slow in his career but explodes onto the scene as a 3rd year WR. He has the highest ceiling of any of the WR’s in this draft. Unfortunately in the second half Julio had a couple lapses in concentration that led to drops that he typically has once or twice a game. That is where the risk comes into play, because his ceiling is so high but if he isn’t catching the ball in key situations his value is negated to a degree.

D’onta Hightower was regularly around the ball, and it’s interesting that he is used both at linebacker and also at defensive end in pass rush situations. That speaks to his ability to get after the passer I suppose. But he made some plays versus the run for the majority of the game. I didn’t see how well he did in coverage, but the impression I have is that he isn’t great in pass defense but that he is better versus the run and at rushing the passer. He has great size and he’s a powerful guy, but I just haven’t seen much of him in coverage specifically.

Mark Barron was pretty disappointing in this game. He was talked up as an All-American by the announcers but he didn’t look like one to me. He’s definitely a good hitter and he plays the run pretty well, though I didn’t pay particular attention to how well he tackles. I will need to see him more to evaluate that. However, I was definitely not impressed with him in coverage. He has pretty good range and enough athletic ability to close on passes, but he just doesn’t seem to play the ball well in the air. On one particular play he played the receiver’s body and the receiver managed to go up and catch the ball (which should have been intercepted in my opinion) and he stayed on his feet despite his contact with Barron and ended up scoring. So while he is a good hitter and he’s an athletic safety, I am not impressed with him as a NFL prospect, especially when it comes to coverage.

Mark Ingram was not very impressive to me yesterday either. He’s probably still the top RB in the country in my opinion, but he did not wow me yesterday to be honest. I don’t think he is going to be a terrific NFL RB, but I definitely see him being a productive workhorse back. Will he be a 1,500 yard rusher like some of the recent great backs like AP or Chris Johnson? I personally don’t think so. But 1,000+ yards and 8-10 TD’s is definitely worth a 1st-2nd round selection and that is where I would pick Ingram right now. I don’t think his stock is going to be a top-15 pick after the slow start to the year so as a later 1st rounder or maybe even an early 2nd rounder he would definitely be worth the pick. His advantage over some of the other RB’s in this class is that he is a running back who can carry the load versus other guys like Noel Devine, Demarco Murray, etc. who are more likely to be complementary backs on the next level.

I will have other notes on Oregon-Arizona (some notes, I only saw about half of the game) and more notes on Boise State and Nevada’s epic game from last night. Hopefully you enjoy these!

Thanks for reading!

–Tom