Mock: Can Lions Land Draft's Top Player?

Josh Liskiewitz makes changes to his prospect board, offering his latest mock -- including his unique perspective on what the Detroit Lions might do -- as the draft nears.

After watching additional film I have made some significant changes to my Lions first round draft board.  I now have five elite prospects, eight top 15 caliber players, and 10 late first round graded prospects, lowering my total number of first round prospects to 23.  You will notice that two prospects are making their debuts in my top ten; Pittsburgh DE Jabaal Sheard at No. 6 and USC OT Tyron Smith at No. 9.  The more film I watch on these two players the more I am impressed with their abilities and potential.

  Player Pos. Key  
1 Da'Quan Bowers DE    
2 Patrick Peterson CB    
3 Cam. Jordan DE    
4 AJ Green WR    
5 Von Miller OLB    
7 Nick Fairley DT Red Elite
8 P. Amukamara DB Orange Top 15
9 Tyron Smith OT Navy Late First
10 A. Castonzo OT    
11 M. Dareus DL    
12 C. Liuget DT    
13 Julio Jones WR    
14 Robert Quinn DE    
15 Jimmy Smith CB    
16 Ryan Kerrigan DE    
17 D. Watkins OG    
18 R. Hudson OL    
19 L. Hankerson WR    
20 R. Williams RB    
21 J. Jernigan WR    
22 M. LeShoure RB    
23 S. Wisniewski OL    

One of the main concerns with Tyron Smith is the fact that he never started at left tackle in college.  While this might raise flags at other schools, the fact of the matter is he started at right tackle is sophomore year opposite 2010 second round pick Charles Brown (Saints), and this past year underclassman Matt Kalil (his older brother Ryan is a pro bowl center for the Panthers) stepped in at LT, and is likely to be considered one of the top eligible prospects for the 2012 draft.  Smith plays much stronger than his college playing weight would suggest, in large part because he has a very aggressive initial punch that helps him knock his man off line and keep him out of his framework.  He is an excellent athlete with super quick feet and the ability to pull and change directions effectively in space.  I rate him just a slight notch below 2010 tackles Russell Okung (now with the Seahawks) and Trent Williams (starting for the Redskins) purely because of experience level, but his ceiling is every bit as high.While I love Sheard's explosiveness and natural ability to dip and bend on the edge, I am even more impressed by his strength and hand usage.  He is an aggressive, high motor player who consistently keeps his man from getting into his chest, allowing him to hold the point of attack against the run and set up an array of pass rushing moves as well.  Some will discount him to an extent because of his listed size, but he has the height and length you want at defensive end, and his frame suggests he should have no problems adding a weight.  He does come with off the field concerns, but from everything I have been told by scouts these issues have been overblown.

North Carolina DE Robert Quinn and Colorado CB Jimmy Smith have both dropped in my rankings, but for completely different reasons.  While Quinn has the potential to be an elite pass rusher as either a 4-3 DE or 3-4 OLB, his film is wildly inconsistent game to game.  If game film alone was the measuring stick on Jimmy Smith, he would likely come in at No. 4 or No. 5 on my list.  However, his past arrests and more concerning, his apparent apathy toward his past, has me concerned enough to drop him to No. 15, and into the mid to late round range.  This being said, it is my opinion that Martin Mayhew and Jim Schwartz have done plenty enough in terms of re-building the franchise to earn my trust.  So if Smith is indeed the pick at No. 13 come April 28th, I will take that as a sign that they have done their homework, and feel comfortable that his red flags coming out will not be a concern going forward.

1.      Carolina Panthers   |   Cam Newton, QB Auburn
Owner Jerry Richardson’s primary concern is saving money, thus seeing all signs point to a rookie salary cap being put into place whenever a new CBA agreement is reached, taking a QB No. 1 overall is no longer a $50 million plus investment.  Priority No. 2 is making money, and that means filling Bank of America Stadium.  While I personally believe that Newton will never become a viable franchise quarterback, picking him here will certainly accomplish what Richardson values most.

2.      Denver Broncos   |   Marcell Dareus, DT Alabama
After watching more film on Dareus, my opinion of him has changed.  When healthy in 2009 he displayed the quickness to penetrate gaps consistently, something he struggled with in 2010 due to an ankle injury.  While he didn’t make a ton of flashy plays this past season, he was still physically dominant at the point of attack.  In particular he had his way with Florida's entire interior line, all three of which will be drafted in two weeks.  I now view him as an elite talent, and a safe, productive choice at No. 2 overall for Denver.

3.      Buffalo Bills  |  Blaine Gabbert, QB Missouri
While I have my reservations on Gabbert and only view him as a late 2nd round prospect, Buffalo is a good situation for him to head into.  He must learn how to play from center, and improve his footwork and poise in the pocket drastically before he sees the field in the NFL.  But with the emergence of Ryan Fitzpatrick, the Bills can be patient with their new investment, and let him spend the 2011 season (assuming there is one) as the understudy while he develops his skill set. 

4.      Cincinnati Bengals  |  AJ Green, WR Georgia
Now that it looks like Carson Palmer will never suit up for the Bengals again, Cincinnati will need to find the future of their franchise at the position.  However with Newton and Gabbert already off the board in this scenario the Bengals take the best available player on their board at another position of great need, hoping someone like Colin Kaepernick or Ryan Mallett is still available when their name is called on day 2.

5.      Arizona Cardinals  |  Von Miller, OLB Texas A&M
Regardless of whether or not is still on the board come their pick, I expect the Cardinals to bypass the QB position in round one, with the intentions of signing a veteran signal caller like Marc Bulger that is capable of stepping in immediately to lead Arizona back to the playoffs.  Miller has the potential to be an elite pass rusher in Arizona's 3-4 defense, and could form a formative duo with 2nd year pass rush specialist O'Brien Schofield now fully on the mend.

6.      Cleveland Browns  |  Nick Fairley, DT Auburn
I believe the supposed red flags on Fairley to be completely overblown, in particular his "consistency" issues.  The national championship game was just one of several this past season that Fairley completely took over, and its his knack for coming up big in the most important games that makes him the elite prospect he is.  Cleveland needs to load up on 4-3 personnel now that they are transitioning away from the 3-4, and Fairley has the strength, size and outstanding athleticism to play either tackle position.

7.      San Francisco 49ers  |  Patrick Peterson, CB LSU
The 49ers are in the perfect position to upgrade their defense with this pick.  While they will certainly consider taking a 5-technique end or pass rush specialist, they have a huge need at corner as well, and the best prospect in the position in the past several years has dropped into their lap in this scenario.  Peterson will also contribute immediately as a return man, as he proved to be one of the most explosive special team players in the country as a junior at LSU.

8.      Tennessee Titans  |  Prince Amukamara, DB Nebraska
The Titans would be disappointed with how this scenario played out, as they would love to take one of the top two defensive tackles with this pick.  While I believe Illinois DT Corey Liuget should be the selection here, Tennessee instead opts for the talented Nebraska DB that will be a starter almost immediately uponentering the league, whether it be at corner or safety.  

9.      Dallas Cowboys  |  Tyron Smith, OT USC
The Cowboys could look to strengthen their defensive line with this pick, put Smith will be hard to pass up at this point.  He is a top athlete at his position, but its his competitiveness that has made him fly up draft boards this spring.  He is capable of playing either tackle position, and in Dallas would start out on the right side with Doug Free manning the blind side in 2011.

10.     Washington Redskins  |  Julio Jones, WR Alabama
Shanahan will be tempted to take QB Jake Locker here, but with WR being such a huge need he opts instead for the highest player left on his board.  Jones has an outstanding combination of size and raw athleticism, and is also a competent blocker.  He would immediately become Washington's primary receiver, regardless of who is under center come week 1.

11.     Houston Texans  |  Cameron Jordan, DE California
Kubiak will be tempted to take the top true nose tackle in the draft (Baylor's Phil Taylor), but instead takes the sure thing in Jordan.  Jordan at this point is an absolute steal, and would immediately improve Houston's defense against both the run and pass.  The rest of the AFC South (and NFL for that matter) should fear this pick, as putting Jordan opposite Mario Williams is downright scary.

12.     Minnesota Vikings  |  Jake Locker, QB Washington
It seems that the Vikings have fallen for the physical potential and outstanding intangibles of Locker, although this pick is in my opinion a huge gamble.  Yes, his accuracy concerns are well documented, but what's worse is that he actually shows excellent mechanics and footwork.  If he has sound footwork and still struggles to throw accurately, he may never improve this fatal flaw, and thus may never become a full time starter in the NFL. 

13.     Detroit Lions  |  Da'Quan Bowers, DE Clemson
There are conflicting media reports about the results of Bowers’ medical retesting last week – some positive, and some stating he will have degenerative issues with his knee going forward.  I’m calling shenanigans on this one – how often does a team outside the top ten get a chance at the clear cut No. 1 rated player in the draft?  As long as Detroit’s doctors give him a passing grade, the Lions should jump all over Bowers if he falls to them at No. 13.  Head coach Jim Schwartz and general manager Martin Mayhew are both of the mind set that they are building with the future in mind, thus Bowers’ long term talent wins out in this scenario over the risk of limited rookie year production. 

14.     St. Louis Rams  |  Corey Liuget, DT Illinois
With the top two receivers off the board, the Rams know they can weight until round 2 to get better value at their most glaring need - playmakers for their 2nd year QB.  St. Louis also needs to improve their defensive front, and Liuget is an underrated prospect whose explosiveness off the ball and consistent motor is exactly what the Rams have been lacking on the interior.

15.     Miami Dolphins  |  Mike Pouncey, OL Florida
This would certainly be a surprise pick (and a huge reach in my opinion, as I have Pouncey graded as a 3rd round talent), but the Dolphins have huge needs throughout the interior of their offensive line, in particular at center, where Richie Incognito finished the 2010 season as the starter.  Pouncey is being overvalued by some, however, as he does not have the same strength and consistency his brother Maurkice (all-pro rookie for the Steelers) has.

16.     Jacksonville Jaguars  |  Robert Quinn, DE North Carolina
The Jaguars have had bad luck in recent years with picking defensive ends in the first round but hope their fortunes change with the selection of the immensely talented Quinn.  While he has all the physical tools to be a dominant pass rusher, Quinn needs play with more consistency from snap to snap and improve his production against the run./

17.     New England Patriots  |  Jabaal Sheard, OLB Pittsburgh
The Pats spend their first pick of the day on one of the most underrated players in this year's draft.  Sheard is a high motor play that can make plays in sideline to sideline to pursuit, and has the explosiveness off the edge to be a dangerous pass rusher.  His versatility and outstanding hand usage make him a perfect fit at OLB in New England.

18.     San Diego Chargers  |  JJ Watt, DE Wisconsin
Watt is a perfect fit in San Diego's 3-4, as he has the bulk to take on blockers at the point of attack but lacks the explosiveness and true athleticism off the edge that a 4-3 end needs.  The Chargers could also look at Aldon Smith with this pick, as they need to improve their pass rush as well.  In the end, Watt's attitude and consistency put him over the top.

19.     New York Giants  |  Anthony Castonzo, OT Boston College
The Giants desperately need to add young talent to their aging offensive line, and they can't believe their luck when Castonzo is still on the board.  Castonzo is ready to start immediately at either tackle position, and showed at the Senior Bowl that he can even slide inside to guard if needed in a pinch.

20.     Tampa Bay Buccaneers  |  Aldon Smith, DE Missouri
I am cautiously warming up to Smith, although I worry that he is more of a straight-lined athlete than some people realize.  Regardless, Tampa desperately needs to add an explosive pressence off the edge, and Smith is capable of bringing that to the young Bucs defense.  The Bucs could also consider CB Jimmy Smith here, but with the franchise starting to take heat for having several players with off the field issues, they opt for the cleaner of the two Smiths.

21.     Kansas City Chiefs  |  Phil Taylor, DT Baylor
Defensive coordinator Romeo Crennel did an outstanding job of finding roles that best fit the personnel he had in 2010, but in order for the defense to take the next step the Chiefs must find a true 3-4 nose tackle.  Taylor has vaulted himself into a possible first round selection with an outstanding post season circuit, but his past struggles with maintaining his weight as well as on the field consistency should have teams a bit more concerned about his long term prognosis.

22.     Indianapolis Colts  |  Gabe Carimi, OT Wisconsin
Colts general manager Bill Polian has admitted that he probably should have taken Indiana offensive tackle Rodger Saffold in the first round of last year’s draft instead of TCU DE Jerry Hughes.  While it would appear that by drafting the big Wisconsin tackle the Colts would be avoiding making the same mistake two straight years, Carimi is limited athletically, and long term may project only at right tackle.

23. Philadelphia Eagles  |  Danny Watkins, OG Baylor

While fans may feel the Eagles are settling for second best in Watkins with Pouncey off the board, I believe that in short time it will be clear that Watkins is the superior player.  Philadelphia needs help on the left side of their line, and while Watkins’ best fit is at guard, he is actually capable of helping out at every position with the exception of left tackle.

24. New Orleans Saints  |  Ryan Kerrigan, DE Purdue

The Saints get a big break with Kerrigan falling into their lap at #24.  He has the motor and work ethic defensive coordinators love, and he surprised scouts with how much he improved as an edge athlete as a senior at Purdue.  If the Saints can continue to develop 2009 draft pick Junior Gallette opposite Kerrigan, they could have one of the better young pass rushing duos in the league.

25. Seattle Seahawks  |  Colin Kaepernick, QB Nevada

While this pick would no doubt be viewed as a huge surprise by the networks, Kaepernick is in my opinion the top QB prospect in the draft and certainly at this point the QB with the highest ceiling still on the board.  While he has an odd delivery and needs to adjust to a pro style offense, he did a great job of adapting quickly at the Senior Bowl and has all the physical tools and intangibles to be successful at the NFL level.

26. Baltimore Ravens  |  Jimmy Smith, CB Colorado

Smith would be long gone if it weren’t for his off the field concerns.  His rare combination of size and athleticism makes him physically a top ten caliber prospect.  Baltimore is a great destination for Smith, because if anyone can get him focused and motivated, it’s Ray Lewis and company.

27. Atlanta Falcons  |  Torrey Smith, WR Maryland

While Smith is not the top receiver left on my board (that honor goes to Miami’s Leonard Hankerson), his upside convinces the Falcons to pull the trigger. He must improve his route running as well as his blocking, but he has solid size and the burst and speed to consistently separate in space.

28. New England Patriots  |  Nate Solder, OT Colorado

Solder might be the most athletic offensive lineman in the draft, but his inconsistent footwork and poor technique drops him to the end of day one.  The Patriots have done an outstanding job of developing Sebastian Vollmer whose natural position is right tackle, and hope they’ve found his book end in Solder.

29.     Chicago Bears  |  Stephen Paea, DT Oregon State
Confident that his MCL will not be an issue going forward, Lovie Smith chooses the heir apparent to Tommie Harris with his first round pick.  Paea has an excellent first step and is consistently disruptive in the backfield.

30.     New York Jets  |  Cameron Heyward, DE Ohio State
The local media will no doubt have a field day with this pick after the debacle that was former OSU DE Vernon Gholston, but Heyward is a completely different player and excellent value at this point.  He is a high character, high motor competitor that would be a perfect 5-technique DE in Rex Ryan’s aggressive 3-4 defense.

31. Pittsburgh Steelers  |  Adrian Clayborn, DE Iowa

The Steelers love big, physical linemen which makes Clayborn a perfect fit in their 3-4 defense.  He is a dominant player at the point of attack, and will have no problem taking on multiple blockers, which is generally the top priority for 5-technique ends.

32. Green Bay Packers  |  Muhammed Wilkerson, DE Temple

Green Bay’s selection of Wilkerson makes it an amazing 14 defensive linemen in this mock draft.  While he has started to receive a fair bit of media hype, he is not an explosive player off the ball, making his most natural fit at defensive end in a 3-4 defensive.  Lucky for Wilkerson, that’s exactly what he will be asked to do for the Packers.

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