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Tavon Austin Draft Profile

By: — March 29, 2013 @ 10:18 am
Filed under: NFL Draft
Tavon Austin

Austin: The next Randall Cobb?

Height/Weight: 5’8/174
Hands: 9 1/8”

Important NFL Combine Numbers
40-Yard Dash: 4.34
Vertical Jump: 34”
Broad Jump: 10’
20-Yard Shuttle: 4.01

Background (College Stats)
A two-time Maryland high school player of the year that set a number of state career and single-season records, Austin led the NCAA in all-purpose yards as a junior (198/game) and finished second in the category as a senior (224.4). Austin was already in consideration to be a potential late-first or early-second round draft pick midway through last season, but likely solidified his standing as a top-20 selection with a historic performance against Oklahoma on Nov. 17, 2012. In that contest, Austin – a wide receiver who had no more than five carries in any of his first 48 career games – rushed 21 times for a school-record 344 yards in his first action at running back since high school and set a Big 12 record with 572 all-purpose yards. As a result of his stellar senior season, Austin won the Paul Hornung Award (most versatile player) and earned first-team All-America honors as an all-purpose player.

NFL Player Comp(s): Randall Cobb / T.Y. Hilton

Austin combines incredible acceleration with breathtaking quickness, allowing him to be the kind of “space player” the NFL has found a role for in recent years. Perhaps the one aspect of his game that really jumps off the tape is his stop-and-start ability which – when combined with his body control and vision in the open field – allows him to create a lot of “whiffs” and make defenders look silly. These same qualities obviously bode well for his chances to be one of the NFL’s top kickoff and punt returners – areas in which he excelled in college. While his size will likely always be an issue, defenders rarely get a chance to square up Austin – particularly in the open field – and, as such, he never missed a practice or game at West Virginia. That quality, along with the fact that he plays to his timed speed, should help quickly dissolve the notion that he is a slot-only receiver with return skills. Austin gains separation rather easily, has a solid feel for the soft areas in zone coverage and transitions out of cuts effortlessly. Although he wasn’t used much as a deep threat in college, he certainly has the ability to do that and will fight for the ball in the air.

Size – and how it relates to his ability to absorb punishment in the NFL – is probably always going to be the biggest question mark with Austin. He isn’t the most consistent “hands-catcher” and will drop balls that he should catch. On the rare occasion that he can’t make a defender miss, he tends to get tripped up easier than he should. Austin often plays as if he has gotten used to defenders being unable to corral him – which could easily come back to haunt him at the next level. His vertical jump is average for a receiver – which accentuates his lack of height even more – meaning quarterbacks probably won’t throw to him as much down the field despite his top-end speed unless he has at least a step or more on his defender.

Bottom Line
Austin isn’t built in the same way Percy Harvin is – and probably never will be – which will likely result in him being used slightly less on offense than he should be, at least initially. The upside for his future employer is that while he may only see 30-40 snaps on offense per game in his first season or two, his contributions as a returner may help make for it. In that way, it is entirely possible that his career trajectory is similar to Cobb’s in which he essentially forces his way into the starting lineup in Year 2 simply because he will prove to be his team’s most explosive playmaker. As is usually the case with a young skill-position player entering the league, the creativity, aggressiveness and scheme of the offense he enters will have a big say in his overall production. His best fit will likely be in a wide-open passing offense that uses him all over the field and isn’t scared of how someone of his size will hold up long-term. Austin projects better to the NFL than a similar-sized player such as Dexter McCluster simply because he is more elusive and explosive. While Austin could line up in the backfield in theory to dictate defensive personnel, it would be a mistake for his future team to put him in a position where he may be forced to run in between the tackles. Austin is a slot receiver that should hold his own on the outside in two-receiver packages and contribute as a returner, not a receiver that should be asked to serve in a third-down back role at any cost.

Fantasy Impact – Greg Jennings Signs with Division Rival

By: — March 16, 2013 @ 9:35 am
Greg Jennings

Jennings gives Ponder a legitimate weapon on the outside.

Following the path of other ex-Packers (QB Brett Favre, K Ryan Longwell, S Darren Sharper), wide receiver Greg Jennings tested the free agent market and found a home in Minnesota.

Jennings signed a five-year, $47.5 million deal with the Vikings worth roughly $27 million over the first three years. His contract comes in below deals recently signed by Mike Wallace (5 years $60 million) and Dwayne Bowe (5 years, $56 million) but substantially above Wes Welker’s agreement in Denver (2 years, $12 million).

Minnesota had little choice but to sign Jennings after trading away their main receiving threat, Percy Harvin, to the Seahawks in exchange for draft picks. Jerome Simpson was resigned earlier this week but given the lack of talent in the receiving corps it won’t come as a surprise if the Vikings use one of their two first-round draft picks (#23 & #25) on a receiver.

Fantasy Impact

The 29 year-old Jennings appeared in eight games last year due to injury and turned in his worst season as a pro (36 rec, 366 yds, 4 TDs). He fills a gaping hole in the Vikings offense and has the ability to play on the outside or in the slot. Regardless of any moves at the receiver position yet to come, he will be the focus of the passing attack.

An attack led by Christian Ponder, not Aaron Rodgers.

Ponder and the Vikings passing offense won’t be confused the Packers aerial assault anytime soon. Minnesota ranked 31st in passing yards last season and with Ponder averaging 6.1 yards per attempt (31st also), Jennings could catch 90 balls and not break 1000 yards. And do forget, the offense runs through Adrian Peterson and their run-first philosophy won’t change anytime soon.

It’s not all doom and gloom however, as Jennings would be one of many mouths to feed in Green Bay as Randall Cobb, James Jones, Jordy Nelson and TE Jermichael Finley are very deserving of targets… and will get them. In Minnesota, Jennings will be the big fish in the purple pond but will have a hard time cracking WR1 territory without significant improvement from QB Christian Ponder and the Vikings demonstrating a willingness to open up the offense.

In the end, this likely is a neutral move for Jennings’ fantasy value, representing as a low-end WR2 with very little upside due to below average quarterback play.

2013 Fantasy Impact – Falcons Land Steven Jackson

By: — March 15, 2013 @ 10:07 am
Steven Jackson

The Falcons have themselves a workhorse at running back.

With a gaping hole at running back following the release of Michael Turner, the Atlanta Falcons have landed the top free agent at the position in former Ram Steven Jackson.

Reports indicate that Jackson will sign a three-year, $12 million contract.

Atlanta’s interest in Jackson was perhaps the league’s worst kept secret entering the free agency period. It is likely that only the lukewarm interest Jackson received from the Green Bay Packers kept him from agreeing to terms with Atlanta earlier.

In the 29-year-old Jackson, the Falcons gain a player long considered one of the league’s premier power running backs and perhaps the most consistent player at his position, as evidenced by his eight consecutive 1000-yard seasons. In 2012, he gained 1,042 rushing yards and scored four touchdowns while averaging 4.1 yards per carry. He also chipped in 38 receptions for 321 yards.

With Jackson on the roster, third-year player Jacquizz Rodgers will remain the team’s top backup, with Jason Snelling providing additional depth.

Fantasy Impact

Jackson has ranked as the 17th, 11th and 14th fantasy RB in the past three years, as his low touchdown totals (4, 6, and 6, respectively) have held his ranking down.

In Atlanta, with one of the league’s leading offenses, Jackson figures to approach the 11 touchdowns Turner scored in 2012, meaning the only issues that could prevent Jackson from being a lower-tier RB1 in 2013 are injuries (two missed games over the last four years) and a decline in performance.

While Jackson will hit the dreaded 30-year-old mark prior to the season and has accumulated 2,395 rushing attempts and 407 receptions over his nine-year career, his performance in 2012 was not indicative of a player on the downside of his career.

His yards per carry was a respectable 4.1 (just off his career average of 4.2) and he caught 38 passes, making it the eighth straight year he has caught at least that many, while averaging 8.4 yards per reception. With Roddy White, Julio Jones and Tony Gonzalez around to keep opposing defenses honest, Jackson won’t face the eight- and nine-man fronts he saw during most of his tenure in St. Louis.

In an era dominated by the running-back-by-committee approach, Jackson bucked that trend as a true workhorse during his stay with the Rams. However, with Rodgers in tow as his backup, and worthy of 8 to 10 touches per game, Jackson is likely in line for 250 to 280 touches in 2013. That should make him an upper-tier RB2 with an outside chance of low-end RB1 production. Rodgers is a solid handcuff and decent flex option in 12-team leagues.

Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan gains another option in the passing game (Turner had a career-high 19 receptions in 2012), which should add to his production. He remains just outside of the big four at quarterback.

Jackson’s presence has little to no impact on White, Jones and Gonzalez.

2013 Fantasy Impact – Welker Jettisons Patriots for Denver

By: — March 14, 2013 @ 9:04 am
Wes Welker

Wes Welker moves from Hall of Fame QB to another.

In one of the more stunning free agent signings in recent years, Wes Welker has agreed to terms with the Denver Broncos.

Unable to reach a deal with New England after playing the 2012 season under the franchise tag, Welker chose to leave the Patriots and end his longstanding and productive relationship with quarterback Tom Brady to sign with the Broncos, where he will join Peyton Manning.

In an era of ever-churning news cycles, Welker’s decision to leave New England for Denver will be debated for a long time, particularly given that he agreed to a modest deal (reportedly two years and $12 million) shortly after Brady signed a below-market extension that granted the Patriots an abundance of salary cap space.

Brady’s reaction to the deal will be almost as interesting as watching Welker on the field in Denver with Manning.

Regarded as the league’s premier slot receiver, Welker recorded 672 receptions during his six-year stint in New England, endearing himself to the team’s fan base with his solid production and toughness. He missed just three games due to injury despite suffering a torn anterior cruciate ligament in the final game of the 2009 season.

Last season, Welker caught 118 passes for 1,354 yards and six touchdowns.

Fantasy Impact

Well, the widespread assumption was that if Welker left the Patriots, he would be hard pressed to match his production in New England with his new team. However, if there is a quarterback that can keep Welker relevant, it is Manning.

If a 36-year-old Brandon Stokley can catch 45 passes playing out of the slot with Manning, Welker has a solid chance to surpass 100 receptions for the sixth time in the past seven seasons.

In Denver, Welker joins a pair of 1000-yard receivers in Demaryius Thomas and Eric Decker, but there is little reason to suggest he can’t top 100 receptions and 1,000 yards with the Broncos. Throw in another six- or seven-touchdown season and Welker will once again rate as a high-end WR2 in 2013.

With Welker owning the slot, the team’s tight ends will almost certainly become persona non grata in the Broncos passing attack. Jacob Tamme and Joel Dreessen are once again expected to share that role, so neither will be worth owning for fantasy purposes.

Thomas and Decker both had outstanding seasons in 2012, and Welker’s signing shouldn’t have a major impact on their production as both players enter their fourth season in the league.

Of the two, Thomas has the most upside, having accumulated 1,442 receiving yards and ten touchdowns last season. He has the potential to become a top three fantasy WR in 2013.

Decker was the seventh-ranked fantasy WR in 2012, with 1,064 yards and 13 touchdowns. But since such a large portion of his production came from touchdowns, another top 10 fantasy season seems unlikely. Decker still shapes up as a mid-tier WR2 next season, however.

As for Manning, he moves from being a mid-tier QB1 to an upper-tier option, given the plethora of outstanding talent the team now possesses at receiver.

In New England, Brady will be left to lament the loss of his security blanket, as will his fantasy owners. Although reports indicate that the Patriots have signed former Ram Danny Amendola to replace Welker, he is little more than a poor man’s version—and an injury-prone one at that.

With Welker’s departure, Brady becomes a riskier fantasy option, though he remains an upper-tier fantasy QB for 2013.

Free Agent Frenzy – Day 2

By: — @ 1:04 am

Fantasy highlights from Day 2 of free agency. It didn’t disappoint.

The biggest splash occurred when Wes Welker moved on from Tom Brady and into the arms of Peyton Manning. The Patriots reportedly offered the prolific slot receiver $10 million plus incentives for two years. The Broncos offered $12 million for the same time frame. This move creates a ripple effect in Denver. Eric Decker‘s fantasy value takes a hit along with the Broncos’ tight ends. Downgrade the fantasy value of Welker also. It’s hard to catch 100 passes with Demaryius Thomas on the outside… but our own Dave Stinger doesn’t agree.

Danny Amendola

Injury history is a huge red flag with Amendola.

After losing Welker, the Patriots turned right around and picked up Danny Amendola to fill the void. Long thought of as a poor man’s Wes Welker, Amendola’s fantasy value took a jump today but his huge injury risk limits his leap. He’s missed 20 games in the last two years.

If the Patriots hold firm with the receivers they have now, the biggest beneficiary may be TE Aaron Hernandez who is capable of playing in the slot and could rack up huge numbers if Amendola continues to demonstrate his brittle nature.

After a quiet Day 1, the running back position made some noise as Reggie Bush left South Beach for Detroit, signing a four-year deal. This gives Bush added upside but with Mikel Leshoure still in the mix and likely to get goaline carries, Bush’s value will be greatest in PPR leagues with 60 catches a real possibility.

Rashard Mendenhall reunites with Bruce Arians as the former Steelers running back signed a one-year deal with Arizona. Mendenhall tried to come back last season after tearing his ACL in early January of 2012. He never rushed for more than 50 yards in any game. If Mendenhall can win the starting job over Ryan Williams he may slide into low-end RB2 territory but with injury concerns and no quarterback play, that’s wishful thinking.

Tennessee added depth at running back, picking up Shonn Greene from the Jets. Both Greene and Chris Johnson take hits to their fantasy value with this move. Greene could become a vulture at the goaline and gives the Titans the option to form a RBBC if desired. This is still CJ2K’s starting job but a 65-35 split wouldn’t surprise me.

2013 Fantasy Impact: Reggie Bush Becomes a Lion

By: — March 13, 2013 @ 10:40 pm
Reggie Bush

Bush’s PPR value is on the rise.

With the free agent market at running back lacking quality, the Detroit Lions moved quickly to address their need at the position, agreeing to terms with former Dolphin Reggie Bush.

Reports indicate that Bush will sign a four-year deal worth $16 million.

Detroit’s interest in Bush comes as no surprise to league observers, as the team had shown plenty of signs that it had given up on former second-round pick Jahvid Best due to his history of concussions and their need to add playmaking ability at the running back position.

Arguably the most talented running back available in free agency, Bush will assume the starter’s role in Detroit ahead of Mikel Leshoure, who had a disappointing sophomore campaign after missing all of his rookie season due to an Achilles tendon tear.

After five largely disappointing and injury-plagued seasons in New Orleans, Bush joined Miami prior to the 2011 season and topped 1,000 rushing yards for the first time in his career. In 2012, he played in all 16 games for the first time since 2006, finishing just shy of consecutive 1000-yard seasons with 986 rushing yards.

Fantasy Impact

In Miami, Bush finished 2011 as the 12th-ranked fantasy running back, dropping a couple of notches to 14th this past season as he clearly established himself as a quality lead runner for the first time in his career. Those were impressive feats given his previous production in New Orleans coupled with the lack of playmakers and questionable quarterback play in Miami.

The Lions clearly don’t have the offensive issues that Bush had to deal with in Miami. With Calvin Johnson lining up out wide and strong-armed Matthew Stafford at quarterback, opposing defenses will have to pick their poison, and it is safe to assume they will choose to double cover Johnson rather than Bush.

That should translate into Bush facing fewer eight-man fronts, as well as having plenty of open space in the passing game. It should be noted that he hasn’t topped 45 receptions since the 2009 season and failed to reach 300 receiving yards in each of the last three years.

Expect those trends to change in 2013 given the Lions reliance on their running backs in the passing game. Bush should approach 1,000 rushing yards and 400 receiving yards provided he remains healthy. Throw in seven or eight touchdowns and he would rate as a low-end RB1 or high-end RB2 in 2013.

If you’re looking for red flags, there are a couple. First off, Leshoure is a solid short-yardage back and Joique Bell isn’t a slouch in that area either. Their presence will cut down on Bush’s looks inside the 5-yard line. Secondly, Bush’s injury history can’t be ignored (20 missed games during his tenure in New Orleans), although he did miss just one game during his two-year stay with Miami.

Given Bush’s solid upside and recent run of good health, fantasy owners should feel comfortable drafting him as an upper tier RB2 in 2013.

NFL Mock Draft – Version 2.0

By: — @ 10:49 am
Filed under: NFL Draft

NFL DraftRound 1
Listed by pick, team, player, position, college

Mock – Version 1.0

1. Kansas City Chiefs – Eric Fisher, OT, Central Michigan
For the first time since 2008, the first overall pick won’t be a quarterback. The Chiefs acquired Alex Smith for a second-round pick this year and a conditional third-round pick next year. That move combined with the team’s decisions surrounding their current offensive line seems to clear up the picture at the top of the draft, at least on position if not player. The Chiefs released right tackle Eric Winston and gave left tackle Branden Albert the franchise tag, instead of a long-term deal. This sets them up to draft Fisher or Luke Joeckel with the first overall pick and plug that pick in at right tackle. With Albert returning at least for a year, the team has the luxury of easing their top pick in on the right. Not that Albert has the final word on it, but when asked via Twitter after the trade and release of Winston if he would move from right tackle to offensive guard to accommodate the presumptive pick of tackle, “nope” was the reply.

While Joeckel has been the consensus best player available for some time, Fisher continued through the Combine riding a wave of positive momentum that started at Senior Bowl practice and has closed the gap. Don’t confuse my pick here as simply overvaluing Fisher’s superior testing. While that played in to it, more interesting to me are the historical tendencies of head coach Andy Reid. He has shown some preference during his career for valuing extra experience and drafting seniors, specifically Senior Bowl alums. In 9 of his 14 drafts, he has selected a senior with his first overall pick, and only one of those (Corey Simon) had not participated in the Senior Bowl.

Previous pick: Geno Smith, QB, West Virginia

2. Jacksonville Jaguars – Geno Smith, QB, West Virginia
Rarely in the last 15 years has a team had the opportunity to take the first quarterback in the draft after the first overall pick. New general manager David Caldwell and new head coach Gus Bradley have expressed confidence in quarterback Blaine Gabbert, but I may have bought in to that too much in my last mock. Bradley, Seattle’s former defensive coordinator, could push to resolve the lingering absence of a pass rush with one of the many promising ends in this class, but he has also seen the impact the right quarterback can instantly have on a team. Smith didn’t overwhelm at the Combine, but he did enough to maintain his status as the top quarterback prospect in this class. How high that means he’ll go remains to be seen.

Previous pick: Jarvis Jones, DE, Georgia

Oakland Raiders3. Oakland Raiders – Sharrif Floyd, DT, Florida
Some had Floyd rated as the best defensive tackle ahead of Star Lotulelei prior to the Combine. While Floyd furthered his case at the Combine, Lotulelei pretty much had the worst case scenario come out of the Combine when he didn’t work out after it was found he has a heart issue, the severity of which has yet to be determined. In my previous mock, I addressed the reasons Oakland should be looking at defensive line, rather than just the best player available. With the team potentially releasing Carson Palmer, they could enter the quarterback derby, especially if Jacksonville passes. They should see what they have with Terrelle Pryor if they let Palmer go, but head coach Dennis Allen refused to give Pryor a sufficient opportunity last year when it made sense, so it wouldn’t be a surprise to see Allen jump right to a new option at the position if Palmer is cut.

Previous pick: Star Lotulelei, DT, Utah

Philadelphia Eagles4. Philadelphia Eagles – Luke Joeckel, OT, Texas A&M
Injuries devastated the Eagles’ bookends last season. Left tackle Jason Peters ruptured his right Achilles’ tendon twice and right tackle Todd Herremans suffered ligament damage, a strained tendon, and bone crack in his foot last November. While the team is optimistic about their return, Peters just turned 31 and Herremans turns 31 this season. If Joeckel or Fisher is available, they would be smart to reload at the position. The Outland Trophy winner impressed at his Pro Day last week and this should be his floor.

Previous pick: Luke Joeckel, OT, Texas A&M

Detroit Lions5. Detroit Lions – DeMarcus “Dee” Milliner, CB, Alabama
As I mentioned in my previous mock, speed was the only question about Milliner. He answered that with two sub-4.4 times in the 40 at the Combine. Milliner is having surgery this month for a torn labrum in his right shoulder. It is a minor issue and should not impact his draft stock.

Previous pick: Dee Milliner, CB, Alabama

Cleveland Browns6. Cleveland Browns – Dion Jordan, OLB, Oregon
Concerns remain around Jarvis Jones, and new ones have surfaced regarding Damontre Moore and Björn Werner after the Combine, so I’m moving Jordan, Barkevious Mingo and Ziggy Ansah to the front of the line among edge rushers for now. I’d be a bit surprised if one of them wasn’t taken within the first five linebacker picks, but I don’t see a perfect fit for the Browns right at this moment. Still, with Cleveland converting to a 3-4, I like Jordan slightly more in an outside linebacker role, whereas I like Mingo slightly better as a conventional 4-3 defensive end.

Previous pick: Barkevious Mingo, DE, Louisiana State

Arizona Cardinals7. Arizona Cardinals – Matt Barkley, QB, Southern California
Despite not working out, Barkley helped himself at the Combine with his interviews and the fact no quarterback turned in a dominant performance. New general manager Steve Keim seems likely to move for a quarterback here, and the decision probably becomes easier if Eric Fisher and Luke Joeckel are unavailable, though fellow tackle Lane Johnson continues to rise after testing excellently at the Combine. I’d go with Geno Smith first among the quarterbacks, and after him I see either Barkley or E.J. Manuel being the second off the board. As previously mentioned, I’m not a fan of Barkley’s ceiling, but he is likely the best prepared to start from day one in the NFL and this team needs that. They need someone to get Larry Fitzgerald the ball, and Barkley showed he can do that for stud receivers in college. His pocket presence, decision-making and intelligence are all strong attributes.

Previous pick: Matt Barkley, QB, Southern California

Buffalo Bills8. Buffalo Bills – E.J. Manuel, QB, Florida State
The league will be chasing the next Colin Kaepernick, and while Manuel is neither as swift a runner nor blessed with the same arm, he is the closest thing in a draft full of questionable quarterback prospects. I don’t think Manuel will ultimately be drafted this high, but his stock should continue to rise, and whoever wants him may have to maneuver in the first round, trading down or moving back up from the second round, acquiring another first-round pick. General manager Buddy Nix has indicated his desire to find a future franchise quarterback, but could Manuel be the target? New head coach Doug Marrone revamped his offense last season at Syracuse and integrated elements of the zone-read option offense that continues to successfully gain traction in the NFL. Draft analysts Greg Cosell of NFL Films and ESPN’s Todd McShay have both tagged Manuel as the best read-option quarterback in this class. Mike Mayock has moved him up to his second-rated quarterback prospect. The Eagles’ new head coach and zone-read option guru, Chip Kelly, whose Oregon offense Marrone borrowed from last year, has expressed his interest in Manuel. Whether or not that is a smokescreen, Kelly did recruit Manuel, so the praise has some truth to it. Manuel was the star of the Senior Bowl and tested out as well as expected at the Combine. He isn’t a fit for every team but is quickly becoming one of the most intriguing prospects in the draft.

Previous pick: Mike Glennon, QB, North Carolina State

N.Y. Jets9. New York Jets – Barkevious Mingo, OLB, Louisiana State
My previous pick here, Damontre Moore, had a Combine performance that could be devastating to his draft stock. While at his Pro Day last week, with head coach Rex Ryan in attendance, Moore improved in agility tests and knocked out 19 reps on the bench, after a brutal 12 at the Combine, but he tweaked his hamstring while working out. He was unable to run the 40 to improve on his disappointing 4.94 at the Combine and it also hampered him in positional drills. What Moore’s done on the field doesn’t jibe with his test results, and that will be taken in to account, but the concern is lack of preparation. Players adapt training regimens to prepare for the Combine tests, and teams put that against the tape for those who exceed athletic expectations. By the same token, when a player doesn’t live up to athletic expectations it won’t erase accomplishments on the field; but when the numbers are this far out of tolerance, it’s clear the player didn’t dedicate the time or effort to prepare, and that is more of a concern than the test results. Regardless, I had Mingo rated higher than Moore prior to the Combine, so he falls here in this mock. He is better suited to be a conventional 4-3 left defensive end, and less a fit as a 3-4 outside linebacker than fellow top-rated pass-rush tweeners like Jordan or Jarvis Jones, though Mingo does have more than enough talent to fit in to that role. I think his excellent Combine performance locked him in as a top ten pick.

Previous pick: Damontre Moore, OLB, Texas A&M

Tennessee Titans10. Tennessee Titans – Ezekiel Ansah, DE, Brigham Young
I made the case for Ansah with this pick in my previous mock and he helped his cause with his Combine performance. But because of how raw he is, I’m still awfully concerned about his being a high first-round pick. He may disappoint out of the box, and his limited football experience makes his instincts questionable—the main reason workout warriors can fail to translate at the next level. However, the buzz remains high around him so I’ll keep him here for now.

In my previous mock, I also made the case why this pick won’t be an offensive guard, another potential direction for the Titans. Johnathan Cooper has joined Chance Warmack as two picks that could buck the conventional wisdom of not drafting guards this early.

Previous pick: Ezekiel Ansah, DE, Brigham Young

San Diego Chargers11. San Diego Chargers – Lane Johnson, OT, Oklahoma
My previous pick, Eric Fisher, has shot up draft boards, but I’ll stick with the position and another player who has done the same. Johnson, a converted quarterback and tight end, impressed as expected with his athleticism at the Combine and likely moved from a fringe first-round pick to the first half of the round. As the team had not yet locked up star guard Louis Vasquez as this article was going to press with free agency set to open on Tuesday, this could also be where we see either Johnathan Cooper or Chance Warmack, the highly-rated offensive guard prospects, taken—especially if Johnson is not available with this pick.

Previous pick: Eric Fisher, OT, Central Michigan

Miami Dolphins12. Miami Dolphins – Cordarrelle Patterson, WR, Tennessee
At the Combine, collegiate teammate Justin Hunter made his case to be the first receiver off the board with numbers that rivaled those of Julio Jones. However, Patterson was no slouch at the Combine either. I still see Patterson as a super-sized version of Percy Harvin and think he will be the first wide receiver off the board. Cornerback will also be a consideration here, since Miami traded Vontae Davis last year and could lose Sean Smith in free agency.

Previous pick: Cordarrelle Patterson, WR, Tennessee

Tampa Bay Buccaneers13. Tampa Bay Buccaneers – Xavier Rhodes, CB, Florida State
I wanted to put a corner here in my previous mock, but no one had made their case at that point. I believe Rhodes and Desmond Trufant have now separated themselves enough to be in consideration in the first round.

Previous pick: Björn Werner, DE, Florida State

Carolina Panthers14. Carolina Panthers – Star Lotulelei, DT, Utah
This pick is essentially a placeholder until we find out more about the heart condition discovered at the Combine. For a simple summary of it, see this Desert News article by Ryan Carreon. The cause could have been as simple as the flu, which would keep Lotulelei in the mix as a potential top five pick, but it is a bit of a concern that we haven’t heard a lot more about it yet. The only new news I’ve seen is that it is still considered serious and is being monitored. It would seem that if the cause were simply a viral illness, he’d be over it by now. So I moved Sharrif Floyd ahead of him as the first defensive tackle off the board—which some argued even before Lotulelei’s condition arose—and make Lotulelei the second tackle taken.

Previous pick: Sheldon Richardson, DT, Missouri

New Orleans Saints15. New Orleans Saints – Jarvis Jones, OLB, Georgia
Clearly I’ve arrived at the point in my mock where the parachute opens on some falling top prospects with health concerns. Combine medical reports for Jones’ reported spinal stenosis condition had opinions split. Some teams reportedly removed him from their draft boards while others didn’t consider it an issue at all. There was a report this week by Dan Pompei of National Football Post of an independent orthopedist saying the issue was never significant and this should be a non-issue. Every team is trying to hide their hand this time of year, while agents are working equally as hard to pump their clients up, so it is hard to know what to believe. If Jones is fully cleared, he ends up a top ten pick. If concerns remain, he could fall out of the first round altogether, so this compromise probably isn’t a realistic scenario, but I’ll plug him in here while we wait for more information. The Saints are switching to a 3-4 defense and a pass rush specialist is the team’s number one need right now.

Previous pick: Dion Jordan, OLB, Oregon

St. Louis Rams16. St. Louis Rams – Chance Warmack, G, Alabama
No change here. I expect them to go with the best offensive lineman available with their first pick in the first round and with a wide receiver or safety in the second.

Previous pick: Chance Warmack, OG, Alabama

Pittsburgh Steelers17. Pittsburgh Steelers – Alec Ogletree, LB, Georgia
I continue to go with the best linebacker available at this pick for a team who never fails to properly reload at the position. On the field Ogletree flashed ability worthy of a top ten pick, but he didn’t show the expected athleticism at the Combine and has some baggage with off-field issues. The latter could move him off the Steelers draft board, but his floor isn’t far from here.

Previous pick: Alec Ogletree, LB, Georgia

Dallas Cowboys18. Dallas Cowboys – Sheldon Richardson, DT, Missouri
Previous pick Sharrif Floyd won’t make it this far, and Richardson may not either, but I think an explosive three technique tackle is a top priority as they convert to a 4-3 under new defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin. Kenny Vaccaro will also be a consideration here, as the team has struggled to settle the position and has the opportunity to add a playmaker up the middle.

Previous pick: Sharrif Floyd, DT, Florida

N.Y. Giants19. New York Giants – Tyler Eifert, TE, Notre Dame
As we went to press, it looks like the Giants failed to prevent tight end Martellus Bennett from hitting the free market. Eifert may have slightly separated himself from Zach Ertz as the top tight end prospect at the Combine. Eifert has work to do to become a serviceable blocker—a facet of the game that will be the biggest loss if Bennett departs—but he is a fantastic receiver who would give Eli Manning a great weapon in the passing game, especially around the end zone, where their running game is under transition.

Previous pick: Kevin Minter, ILB, Louisiana State

Chicago Bears20. Chicago Bears – Johnathan Cooper, G, North Carolina
It’s looking more like the team will have to address offensive tackle in free agency, as the top tackle prospects should be off the board by this point. But their needs up front don’t end there. Linebacker will be a strong consideration too. I could easily see Mantei Te’o go here, but the team has aspirations to win now, and if Brian Urlacher returns, they have more pressing needs than drafting his future replacement.

Previous pick: Lane Johnson, OT, Oklahoma

Cincinnati Bengals21. Cincinnati Bengals – D.J. Fluker, OT, Alabama
The Bengals have the money to pay right tackle Andre Smith but still look like they will let him hit the market. Fluker or Menelik Watson appear to be leading the second tier to be the fourth tackle drafted and sneak in to the first round.

Previous pick: Sam Montgomery, DE, Louisiana State

St. Louis Rams22. St. Louis Rams (via Washington Redskins) – Kenny Vaccaro, S, Texas
With the team potentially losing both Brandon Gibson and Danny Amendola, I’m starting to reconsider whether the Rams are best served just signing a free agent, as discussed in my previous mock. They might have to address the position early in the draft as well.

Previous pick: Kenny Vaccaro, S, Texas

Minnesota Vikings23. Minnesota Vikings – Tavon Austin, WR, West Virginia
I previously mocked Keenan Allen here, but his lingering knee issues are becoming a concern. Gil Brandt tweeted that Allen is seeing Dr. James Andrews about the knee this week, which is never good. After missing the Combine, Allen won’t be working out for NFL teams until next month, so as far as I’m concerned his stock is in a freefall until then.

The trade of Percy Harvin makes wide receiver an even bigger need. Austin was considered a borderline first-round pick and has become even more appealing after flying at the Combine. He runs crisp routes like Carolina’s Steve Smith, and has speed like Smith did in his prime, but it remains to be seen if he has Smith’s toughness. For a smaller guy, he certainly isn’t afraid to stick his helmet in their in the blocking game, which is critical on a team with Adrian Peterson.

Previous pick: Keenan Allen, WR, California

Indianapolis Colts24. Indianapolis Colts – Desmond Trufant, CB, Washington
I still love the fit for Datone Jones as a five technique end, but I wonder if cornerback isn’t a more pressing need after Joe Flacco lit them up in the playoffs. They traded for Vontae Davis last year, so they will likely be looking to pair the veteran with a rookie instead of bringing in another veteran and allocating too much cap money at the position.

Previous pick: Datone Jones, DE, UCLA

Minnesota Vikings25. Minnesota Vikings (from Seattle/Percy Harvin) – Datone Jones, DL, UCLA
After wide receiver, an aging defensive line is the Vikings’ next big concern. The versatile Jones can add value rotating across the line while the team evaluates what his best eventual fit is.

Previous pick (Seattle): Johnathan Hankins, DT, Ohio State

Green Bay Packers26. Green Bay Packers – Eddie Lacy, RB, Alabama
The release of Charles Woodson leaves a hole in the secondary that the team will have to address. Kenny Vaccaro may be hard to pass on if he’s still here, but I still think the opportunity to select the top running back in the class will be harder to pass on.

Previous pick: Eddie Lacy, RB, Alabama

Houston Texans27. Houston Texans – Justin Hunter, WR, Tennessee
Hunter tested extremely well at the Combine and has himself in the discussion for the first round. I’m sticking with this position from my last mock, just changing the player.

Previous pick: DeAndre Hopkins, WR, Clemson

Denver Broncos28. Denver Broncos – Jesse Williams, DT, Alabama
Again, I’m sticking with the position I chose in my last mock, but I’m now torn between Williams, Johnathan Hankins and Kawann Short as the player. I’ll keep it Williams for now, but I’ll be tracking updates on the other two and could easily see this pick being any one of them.

Previous pick: Jesse Williams, DT, Alabama

New England Patriots29. New England Patriots – David Amerson, CB, North Carolina State
Like most, I viewed Amerson as the top cornerback prospect heading in to last year, but he plummeted after a mostly disappointing season. My feeling is his stock took too big a hit. He had a lot of negative press early in the season that pushed draftniks and pundits to focus on other players, yet not enough notice of his improvement down the stretch or enough blame given to the atrocious pass defense the Wolfpack had overall, which is shared with his supporting cast and the since-terminated coaching staff. I think he goes earlier than expected, with this as his ceiling, as another Belichick pick that bucks conventional wisdom.

Previous pick: Johnthan Banks, CB, Mississippi State

Atlanta Falcons30. Atlanta Falcons – Björn Werner, DE, Florida State
Tony Gonzalez said he’ll return in 2013, so my pick of Zack Ertz here in my last mock changes to defensive end, where I see a lot of value, this time around. Werner didn’t display the athleticism expected of him at the Combine, and this fall may be too steep, but I thought he was overrated previously.

Previous pick: Zach Ertz, TE, Stanford

San Francisco31. San Francisco 49ers – Johnathan Hankins, DT, Ohio State
I made the case for a nose tackle in my previous mock, but Hawkins, who I rate higher than Jenkins, fell here this time. He is also a great fit in the middle.

Previous pick: John Jenkins, NT, Georgia

Baltimore Ravens32. Baltimore Ravens – Manti Te’o, ILB, Notre Dame
No change, although I strongly considered Damontre Moore. Moore’s disappointing testing results juxtaposed against his performance on the field is reminiscent of the team’s current leading pass rusher, Terrell Suggs, albeit not as extreme.

Previous pick: Manti Te’o, ILB, Notre Dame

Free Agent Frenzy – Day 1

By: — @ 10:11 am

Whew. It was quite a day as the NFL kicked off the calendar year with over 50 players changing teams. Here’s a quick recap of the fantasy highlights…


After a very public phone conversation between Buffalo GM Buddy Nix and Tampa Bay GM Mark Dominik, in which Nix was heard longing for a franchise QB, Ryan Fitzpatrick got cut… Hmmm. Expect the Bills to go after a QB early in the draft. They have pick No. 8.

Chase Daniel, backup to Drew Brees in New Orleans, signed in KC. He’ll backup Alex Smith as the trade between the 49ers and Chiefs will be filed with the league today.

Running Backs

All was quiet on the RB front on Tuesday. We’ll be watching Steven Jackson and Reggie Bush closely today. As we speak, Bush is paying a visit to Detroit while it appears the Packers may have cooled on Jackson.

The Pittsburgh Steelers tendered offers Jonathan Dwyer and Isaac Redman allowing them to match any offers they receive in free agency. Dwyer and Redman will likely share duties at running back for the Steelers in 2013 unless the Steelers pursue a free agent running back or address the position in the draft. This is a fantasy situation will have more clarity by the time training camp comes around in late July.

The Giants re-signed Ryan Torain. He’ll provide depth behind David Wilson and Andre Brown.

Wide Receivers

Mike Wallace

Wallace to Miami. The biggest move of the day was expected.

The Dolphins got their man for 5 years, $60 million with $30 million guaranteed. Mike Wallace will provide a much-needed lift to Miami’s offense but his fantasy value may have taken a hit into the low-end WR2 territory.

Surprisingly, Jerome Simpson was re-signed by the Vikings. They currently have the worst wide receiving corps in the league after trading Percy Harvin to Seattle.

Darrius Heyward-Bey got the axe in Oakland while the Jets retained Santonio Holmes. Holmes battled foot problems last season and didn’t play a snap past Week 4. His guarantee for 2013 ($7.5 million) forced the Jets to keep his services. On a team in rebuilding mode, Holmes will be a very risky WR3 in fantasy drafts this summer.

Tight Ends

Some interesting moves in this category. Jared Cook landed in St. Louis and judging by the contract he got (5 years, $31 million, $19 million guaranteed) he should be a focal point of the offense. His fantasy stock is on the rise.

Martellus Bennett left the Giants for Chicago and gives Cutler a legitimate receiving threat at the position.

Anthony Fasano was signed by Kansas City. He will be paired with the oft-inured Tony Moeaki. While Andy Reid likes to use the tight end position, neither will have much fantasy value unless one is thrust into a clear starting role.

The Titans lost Cook but gained Delanie Walker from San Francisco (4 years, $17.5 million, $8.6 guaranteed). He hasn’t had a chance to be a primary target at his position and is better known for his blocking ability. He’ll likely share time with Taylor Thompson.

Day 2

Guys we’re keeping our eye on include Reggie Bush, Steven Jackson, Greg Jennings, Wes Welker and Danny Amendola. The frenzy is under way.

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