Ten things I think I think with this year's draft approaching
The Browns are split over what they'll do at the pivotal No. 4 pick in the draft
Super athletic DT Dontari Poe could either be the next Haloti Ngata, or a big bust
Despite the headlines, Drew Brees missing the Saints workouts is no big deal
After a long weekend of fact-finding (and misinformation-farming) for my Sports Illustrated mock draft, which was put to bed Sunday, here are the 10 things I feel good about 10 days before the first round of the draft:
1. Andrew Luck has put to rest questions about his arm strength. I wrote a Luck/Robert Griffin III piece for the magazine this week and unearthed this tidbit from his March 21 workout on the Stanford campus. It was windy that day, with gusts around 15 mph, and Luck chose to throw into the wind.
"Never seen that before,'' said one veteran club official who was on the field at Stanford for the workout. "But I think he wanted to show everybody who had any question about his arm that they shouldn't. The great thing was, his last throw of the day, into the wind, was a go with the ball snapped from his own 30. He dropped back and released it around his 24. That ball went all the way to the goal line, about 75 yards in the air. Perfect spiral. He hit the receiver in stride, and he dropped it. And someone said, 'That's saying take that to Phil Simms.' You know, because Simms said he didn't have a great arm.''
Simms actually said last fall he didn't see "big-time NFL throws ... and not a tremendous amount of power.'' I didn't see much of it either, watching Luck tape last week from Stanford's game against Oregon last season; Stanford plays a lot of power football and a move-the-chains game. But this throw shows some of the power. Take a look.
2. The Browns are the pivot point of the first round at No. 4. You have the big quarterbacks going 1-2, and then Minnesota is praying it can stir up interest at No. 3. Not going to happen, according to the teams I've talked to, because there isn't enough love for another of these five prospects -- tackle Matt Kalil, running back Trent Richardson, cornerback Morris Claiborne, wideout Justin Blackmon or quarterback Ryan Tannehill to move up to three. Or four.
If the Vikings stay where they are, it's most likely they go for the long-term protector of second-year QB Christian Ponder instead of a desperately needed cover man like Claiborne. Then, Cleveland. I heard different things over the weekend from people I trust. GM Tom Heckert loves Blackmon and that would be his pick; president Mike Holmgren is still trying to decide with finality if Tannehill is the franchise quarterback worth taking here. The safest pick? Richardson, at a need position, even though receiver is a bigger need.
3. The Eagles don't want to trade up from 15 to anywhere between three and eight. It'd cost too much, and I sense their interest in Tannehill has been overstated. Philadelphia has sniffed around the quarterback position through the offseason, which could be a sign they've cooled on Michael Vick as their long-term solution at the position, and the Eagles have been linked to the Texas A&M quarterback because they sent quarterback coach Doug Pederson to the school to work out Tannehill two weeks ago. The Eagles might pay something to move up for Tannehill, but it won't be much, and the move won't be far.
4. In the unlikely event Tannehill makes it out of the top 10, I believe he'll be the 11th overall pick. That spot belongs to the Chiefs. I don't see the Chiefs taking Tannehill. I see Kansas City taking the best offer for the pick, and there will certainly be offers for that pick if Tannehill slips. Still, the most likely scenarios are Tannehill to Cleveland at four or Miami at eight. But why 11? Because teams around the league know how much Seattle loves Tannehill. And you can write this down: If Tannehill were to be there at 12, Seattle would take him, even though the Seahawks just paid medium dollar for Matt Flynn in free agency. That's how much Seattle loves him. "At Tannehill's workout,'' one source told me, "[coach] Pete Carroll was giggling like a schoolgirl watching him throw. His attitude was like, 'What are we even doing here? He'll never be there for us.' ''
5. Jeff Fisher loves Trent Richardson, and the impact of the Rams ending up with the Alabama running back would be huge. First, the Rams would presumably either trade or release Steve Jackson if this happens. I don't see them paying Jackson $7 million in 2012 to share the job with a player certain to eclipse him soon. And that big number takes some logical teams (Steelers, Giants) out of the running for Jackson. Now, I view this scenario as unlikely anyway, because the Rams simply have to get receiver help for Sam Bradford. But if Justin Blackmon is gone here and Richardson's still there, he's logical for the Rams. Of course, Cleveland likes Richardson a lot, and rookie Tampa coach Greg Schiano does too, so I don't see Richardson making it to six.
6. The team you don't want to be in this draft is Jacksonville at 7, because the first-round power grid goes something like this: 2-4-1-Everybody Else. By that I mean the Andrew Luck-Robert Griffin III twosome are going at the start of the draft; Kalil, Richardson, Claiborne and Blackmon are the presumptive next four to go off the board, in some order, unless the 1, Tannehill, forces himself in there.
As I did the magazine's mock draft over the weekend, the one thing I found is a cadre of about 20 picks mentioned throughout the round. South Carolina cornerback Stephon Gilmore, the second corner on the board now that Janoris Jenkins' character has knocked him out of the first round, could go anywhere from 7 to 27, defensive tackle Michael Brockers from 9 to 25. So what does iconoclast GM Gene Smith do in Jacksonville? This could be a Tyson Alualu-type draft. A couple of years ago, Jacksonville overpaid for Alualu at 10, unable to trade down a few spots where GM Gene Smith would still be able to take him. Gilmore could be tempting for the Jags.
7. Michael Floyd's a major wild card. The Notre Dame receiver could go as high as 10 to Buffalo; Arizona (13), Cincinnati (17, 21), San Diego (18), Chicago (19) and Cleveland (22) all would love to have a shot at him. Two months ago, the receiver group was Blackmon alone at the top and then a big gulf. Now it's Blackmon edging Floyd -- and I talked to one team in the top 10 with a receiver need that had Blackmon just barely over Floyd entering the final week of board-shuffling. Good for Floyd that he has apparently changed his life to get to this point. A year ago, he was arrested for DUI on the Notre Dame campus, and that came on the heels of twice being cited for underage drinking in his home state, Minnesota. Floyd lived in a freshman dorm with three non-football players, away from off-campus temptations, and had a quiet year off the field and a resurgent year on, and now what seemed impossible 12 months ago is on the verge of happening in 10 days. At 6-2 ˝ and 220, and running 4.4 in the 40, the most accomplished receiver in Irish history could crack the top 10.
8. The widest disparity of opinion is on Dontari Poe. Is the Memphis defensive tackle the next Haloti Ngata, or just another winner of the underwear Olympics known as the Scouting Combine? The 6-3 ˝, 346-pound Poe ran a tight-end-like 4.9-second 40 at the combine and benched 225 pounds 44 times, which are all-time incongruous. But for a guy with such athletic talent, I heard more comments like, "I see no production,'' or "The guy just disappears in games.'' But one AFC personnel man did compare him to Ngata and said, "He could be one of the most versatile tackles in our league. Ngata didn't come into the league without questions either.'' Here's my biggest question about Poe: For such a marvelously disruptive pocket-presser, how did he have eight tackles for loss and one sack in 12 games last year? I can't see Carolina reaching for Poe at 9, and I can't see Kansas City taking him because of his poor college production, but I do think he'll go somewhere soon after that. I could see Jets coach Rex Ryan and defensive coordinator Mike Pettine, who had Ngata at Baltimore, thinking they can make history repeat itself with Poe.
9. Falling: DE Melvin Ingram, T Riley Reiff, DE Quinton Coples, G-T Cordy Glenn, T Jonathan Martin.
10. Rising: CB Stephon Gilmore, S Mark Barron, DT Fletcher Cox, OLB Shea McClellin, QB Brandon Weeden, OL Amini Silatolu.
Finally, it's fitting that, on Patriots Day in Massachusetts, Bill Belichick celebrates his 60th birthday. Time to wonder how much longer the 17-year head coach has on the sidelines.
Belichick doesn't seem to age in dog years the way some coaches do. He has said he won't be coaching until he's 70, but no one with the Patriots thinks he's in his final year or two either.
He starts 2012 ninth on the all-time win list, with a 192-104 record, including playoffs. Next to pass: Chuck Knox (193), Dan Reeves (201), Marty Schottenheimer (205). All of those men could be passed this season, if the Patriots excel in the regular season again.
Then we get to the top five: Chuck Noll 209, Curly Lambeau 229, Tom Landry 270, George Halas 324 and Don Shula 347. I can see him passing Noll and Lambeau, but the siren song of his life outside football might be too great for him to coach the seven or eight more years he'd need, realistically, to catch Landry, particularly with Tom Brady getting up there in age. But sometime in the next two seasons, we should see Belichick enter the hallowed ground of the five winningest coaches ever.
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