The Andrew Luck conundrumCarolina, Denver have young QBs -- so if they pick No. 1, what happens?EmailPrintComments23 By Mel Kiper
Andrew Luck could head across the country to play for the Carolina Panthers -- or maybe they'd be happy with Jimmy Clausen and look elsewhere.
Think back to last Sunday and the Detroit Lions versus Tampa Bay Buccaneers game, ultimately won by the Lions. Going in, the Lions were a team looking to break their impossibly bad 26-game road losing streak, playing against a pretty good Tampa Bay team, and down to their third string quarterback. For most of the year, no team in football has garnered the "They're close!" label more than the Lions, who have played much of the season without the services of former No. 1 pick, QB Matthew Stafford.
The Lions won -- great for their fans, and a confidence-builder -- but they also lost. Currently, they'd be picking No. 6 in the 2011 NFL draft.
This is a franchise that has seen recent picks Stafford (when healthy) and DT Ndamukong Suh start to form the core of what looks to be a bright future. And if Detroit wins another game, they could theoretically fall out of the top 10, pick-wise, and miss out on what could be a final great talent that pushes them closer to the realm of better teams. So this week, let's take a quick look at what each team currently stuck in the range of a top-10 pick could be playing for, win or lose, and the decision: are they better off winning or losing? All player valuations are based on the current Big Board, which will shift as we move toward April.
Carolina Panthers: At 2-12, the Panthers have the best shot at the No. 1 pick going into Sunday's action.
Do they want it? Well, while Jimmy Clausen has been better lately, this is still a team that can't afford to pass on a talent like Andrew Luck if he's available -- so staying at No. 1 could have a benefit there. But where Carolina could really use help is on the D-line, and DT Nick Fairley of Auburn, now up to No. 3 on the Board, would be a perfect fit. So even if they give up the top pick, Carolina should be fine addressing a big need.
Denver Broncos: At 3-11, Denver still has a shot at the No. 1 pick. That would create a weird situation, no question. This is the team, after all, that traded serious draft assets to be in place to draft Tim Tebow. And even as he gets some starts now, is he so good that they'd pass on a talent like Luck (particularly when it was now-fired coach Josh McDaniels that pushed for Tebow)? Hard to say. If Denver drops, however, or stays put here, my guess is it will look hard at Clemson's Da'Quan Bowers, a current 4-3 DE who might be good enough to play on his feet in a 3-4, a la Lawrence Taylor. If the Broncos fall to late top 10, Bama's Marcell Dareus could be an interesting 3-4 DE option.
Cincinnati Bengals: Like Denver, 3-11 Cincy still has a shot at No. 1 overall. Even with Carson Palmer, given the uncertainty there, I could see them taking Luck and then moving Palmer to one of the many QB-starved teams. Would it be Seattle, Minnesota, Arizona? Bottom line: They'd have options. If they are in this range, Bowers would be a perfect fit in their 4-3. If they win out, perhaps Purdue's DE Ryan Kerrigan would be there at the back of the top 10 or later.
Arizona Cardinals: At 4-10, Arizona likely won't need to think about the Luck sweepstakes, and could be in line for a guy such as Arkansas' Ryan Mallett toward the middle or back of the top 10 and into the low teens if they can win their final two games and are intent on taking a QB. Since I think they aren't, they might be better served trying to protect whoever's getting the snaps, and take the top-rated OT on the board, even if it's a slight reach. Nate Solder of Colorado could be the guy, giving them the option of moving Levi Brown to the right side. A trade-down is also possible. If they stay put and prefer a pass-rusher, OLB Von Miller of Texas A&M would make some sense toward the back of the top 10 and into the teens.
Buffalo Bills: At 4-10, Buffalo should be playing as hard as they can and looking to drop, because their top needs can be addressed even into the teens. They can see a superb talent, such as UNC's Robert Quinn, fall in their laps as a pass-rusher (Quinn could stand up in the 3-4). Or they could reach a little, like Arizona, on an OT, if stuck late in the top 10. That said, it'll be interesting to see whether they fall in love with a guy such as Mallett, Auburn's Cam Newton or Washington's Jake Locker, even with the good season from Ryan Fitzpatrick.
Lions: Detroit could really use one of the top two cornerbacks on the board, LSU's physically gifted Patrick Peterson, or the lockdown corner of the draft, Nebraska's Prince Amukamara. But if they win once more this season, they could fall out of the running. Could they reach a little and address the need with a guy such as Janoris Jenkins of Florida, who is back on the Big Board this week? It's possible. As well, don't dismiss the O-line option.
Julio Jones could be an option for the Browns.
Cleveland Browns: At 5-9, Cleveland fans convinced that there'll be a new head coach in town next season may want to see a couple losses, which would make the possibility of getting Georgia WR A.J. Green a little better. But given some of the serious deficiencies and needs of teams in "front" of them in the draft, maybe Cleveland still gets him if drafting later, such as late top 10 or even in the low teens. But I wouldn't count on it. If the Browns want to address that thin WR corp, perhaps Bama's Julio Jones will be there, or Oklahoma State's Will Blackmon. If not, they should take the best D-lineman. Perhaps Dareus or LSU's Drake Nevis.
San Francisco 49ers: The 49ers, at 5-9, don't look like a team that can gain a lot by losing and staying closer to the top of the draft. If intent on getting a QB, Mallett or Newton could be there in the 7-14 range the Niners could be drafting, as would a couple really good OLB options, such as Miller or even UCLA's Akeem Ayers, whose versatility is something personnel people will fall in love with during the All-Star games and workout process.
Dallas Cowboys: Since I think the Cowboys are smart to address the offensive line, they're in a good position to win out and let the best O-line options land with them while picking in the teens. Solder could be there, as could Mississippi State's Derrek Sherrod, Wisconsin's Gabe Carimi, or even Boston College's Anthony Costanzo. And even in the low teens, Jerry Jones might be best trading down to increase his pick value in a class of O-lineman where not one guy looks like a top-10 option just yet. They could also look at a corner, such as Jenkins, if they draft in the teens.
Houston Texans: At 5-9, Houston could be in a spot to get immediate pass-rush help even if the Texans fall a bit in the first round. Really, anything they do to address what is a really weak defensive line outside of Mario Williams would be smart, so positioning isn't that important. That said, if they win their last two games of the season, they could be in the range to take a safety, such as Rahim Moore of UCLA, a position where they could use an upgrade. Moore has the top cover skills at that position based on current safety grades.
Washington Redskins: There really isn't a place on offense in which Washington couldn't get better, particularly if the Redskins continue to make a mess of the QB situation. Outside of Trent Williams at LT, they can improve. If they get stuck in the top 10, perhaps Green falls to them. Later in the draft, Jones or Blackmon become WR options. If they love a QB, such as Jake Locker, they'd be better off winning out, as he's a guy who could be available late in the first. In fact, if they really are intent on addressing QB, this might be a team better off trading down, regardless of where it picks. Win or lose, this team has holes on offense, and not a lot of picks to address them with. The last two weeks should be all about evaluation.
Minnesota Vikings: The Vikings are another team in the QB mix, but I also think they could be in good position should they win out and land in the value range of some of these offensive tackles, a position they need to address after a period of stability. In that sense, Coach Leslie Frazier should be aiming for wins, a job he can call his own for next season and some help on offense. Given the talent they have, even with the need at QB, it's hard to see this team drafting one and expecting him to the man in 2011.
Sometimes running the Mularkey offense makes me feel like I'm in a prison.