2012 NFL Final Mock Draft – Round 3 plus a few

Alright, well we’ve made it through the first two rounds of the 2012 NFL Draft.  With the third round comes the first time that the Saints are on the board and due to the departure of Asomugha after the 2010 season, the Raiders sneak in right at the end of the 3rd round, with a compensatory pick.  Without further ado, I round out my top 100 of the 2012 NFL Draft.

The Colts talked Reggie Wayne into returning but the rebuilding process has to involve surrounding Andrew Luck with some weapons.  Criner is a big, physical receiver who has large hands that seemingly swallow up every ball thrown his way.

The Rams would like to get some depth at the running back position as well as find an heir to Stephen Jackson’s position.  Wilson is a fierce runner and an absolute steal at the top of the 3rd round.

The Vikings have been trying to find an answer for the safety position ever since Darren Sharper went to the Saints.  Tyler is one of the best safeties in the draft and a great value for Minnesota here.

Trumaine Johnson is one of the more underrated players in this draft.  He’s a very physical cover corner who has a great ability to make a play on the ball.

The Buccaneers are in desperate need of running back help.  In the 3rd round, they land one of the top running backs in the draft.  Lamar Miller can be a threat for Tampa both on the ground and in the passing game.

The Redskins need some help at the tackle position and now that they have their QB of the future they must protect him.  Schwartz is a tough tackle who is excellent in the run game and shows promise as a pass protector.

The Jaguars have a number of needs but solidifying the offensive line is a big one.  Jacksonville lands one of the draft’s best centers here.

The Buffalo Bills have got to get someone opposite of Stevie Johnson and Marvin McNutt is their man.  He’s a large target who has great separation skills and shovels for hands.  Definitely a much needed addition to this receiving corps.

The best receiver left on the board at this point, Jenkins has good separation skills, great hands, and is unbelievably humble which may be a nice change of pace for the Dolphins who just traded away Brandon Marshall.

The Dolphins are back on the board again and with this pick they select Jared Crick.  A player who can play the defensive end or tackle position, I believe if Crick has success in the NFL, it will be on the interior defensive line.

And so far the Kansas City Chiefs are having an excellent draft.  Here in the 3rd round, they select the 3rd best pure nose tackle in the draft at a great value.  This fills the one remaining void in a very young and potent defense.

Even though Seattle was able to extend Marshawn Lynch, they are still looking for depth at the position.  Landing one of the top 5 running backs in the draft in the third round is a no-brainer for the Seahawks.

There are a lot of things I love about Zebrie Sanders and I believe he’s a steal in the third round.  He’s a tough athletic tackle who excellent a pass protection.   While his run blocking is lacking, this is a great addition to the Texans’ line

The Jets land Zach Brown in the 3rd round which allows them to commit Upshaw to the defensive end position.   A superb tackler who is great against the run, Brown’s a perfect fit for Rex Ryan’s defense.

The Chargers definitely need some help in their secondary and Bentley is the best corner left on the board at this point.  Bentley is  a potential “ballhawk” type corner who could be a huge part of San Diego’s rebuilding efforts on the defensive side of things.

The Bears made a must-needed move in the offseason by trading for Jay Cutler’s all-time favorite target in Brandon Marshall but the Bears’ receiving corps still needs a lot of work.  In Keshawn Martin, the Bears select a very athletic and skilled, but very raw wide receiver with a high ceiling.

The Cardinals were able to re-sign Early Doucet but they still have to bolster their wide receiving corps.  Ryan Broyles was originally projected to be a late 1st round/early 2nd round pick.   He has fallen due to injury but Arizona will take a chance on him here.

The Cowboys continue the much needed project of building up their offensive line by selecting Ben Jones here.  Jones is a very instinctive and aware tackle who is  a solid blocker in both the passing and running game.  He is the best center left on the board and a necessary pick for Dallas here.

The Titans really need some help in their receiving corps.  There are some good young weapons there in Kenny Britt and Jared Cook but this corps is lacking.  Projected by many early on to be an early to mid second round pick, Toon is an excellent route runner with a great ability to make a play on the ball.

The Bengals are a young team on the rise who have some major concerns in their secondary.  They have already addressed the cornerback position and here they find one of the top 5 safeties in the draft in Martin.  He’s a great value this late in the 3rd round and the right pick for Cincy.

There are a lot of things I love about Brandon Boykin and I feel that he is vastly underrated. A lights out cornerback at Georgia, Boykin is great against the run, has the ability to make a play on the ball, and has phenomenal coverage skils.  While many have questions about Boykin’s instincts and recognition skills, he represents a great value for the Falcons here and I believe he can be a successful corner in the NFL.

Most seasons, Chase Minnifield and Brandon Boykin would be top 40 draft picks but where they fall shows you how deep this cornerback class really is.  Chase Minnifield is a cornerback with phenomenal ball skills and a very rare sense of awareness.  He reads defenses well and plays exceptionally well against the run.  Most of the questions surround Minnifield are in regards to his size and a knee injury that required surgery in January, 2012.

The Steelers need some help on the offensive line and Stephenson is best offensive tackle left on the board.  In college, Stephenson was excellent in pass protection and pretty solid at opening up lanes for Oklahoma’s backs.  The issue with Stephenson is his inconsistency and his lack of hustle.  Doesn’t always block until the whistle but he has the tools to be a good lineman for Pittsburgh.

Many will be shocked that I have Nick Foles falling this far but after the run on quarterbacks in the 1st and 2nd rounds, there are a number of teams with much bigger needs.  Now that Elway has shipped out Tebow and taken out a 3-5 year lease on Peyton Manning, the Broncos need depth at the quarterback position and somebody to develop behind Peyton.  Foles is a large quarterback with a big arm who is a proven leader.  While his pocket presence leaves much to be desired, he is an accurate quarterback with great athleticism who has a pass first mentality but can gain yards on the ground.  Something tells me Elway will see a little bit of himself in Foles.

The Eagles have not had a safety since the departure of Brian Dawkins and any thought that the Eagles might move Asante Samuel to the safety position is out the window now that he’s been traded to Atlanta.  Antonio Allen is the best safety on the board and fills a huge need for Philadelphia.

And for the first time all draft, we see the New Orleans Saints make a draft pick. The Saints largest need is overwhelmingly the outside linebacker position and Terrell Manning represents a good value at this point.  He’s a solid tackler with good instincts who could help New Orleans’ defense.

Love ’em or hate ’em, you have to respect how well Green Bay drafts.   The Packers are in need of some help in their backfield and Pead is the best available rusher.   He’s a competitive runner with good vision who is solid between the tackles and adds much needed depth behind Starks.

It’s no secret that Baltimore needs to bolster their wide receiver corps and Joe Adams is a speedy dynamic receiver who could be dangerous in the slot.  As an added bonus, Adams can be a threat in the return game and adds one more dimension to a very talented and dangerous Baltimore team.

The Miami of Ohio product is the best interior lineman available at this point and could go a long way to help solidify San Francisco’s offensive line.  He’s excellent at pass protection and pretty good at run blocking as well.  Most questions that surround Brooks are in regards to a shoulder injury he suffered in 2010.

The Patriots also have a number of needs on their interior offensive line and Joe Looney is the best available option.  Bellichick knows the value of a strong offensive line and he must address that need here.  He’s a big guard who blocks extremely well and has good instincts.   Looney could’ve gone much higher but drops because a left foot injury held him out of 2012 workouts.

Josh Norman is an exceptional athlete with superb coverage skills who is great against the run and has Darren Sharper type potential as far as being a “ballhawk-type” corner are concerned.  There are questions about his instincts and character but the Giants need help at the position and Norman is the best possible pick here.

The Raiders finally get to make a pick! Thanks to the departure of Nnamdi Asomugha last offseason Oakland receives the highest possible compensatory pick.  While the team has a number of needs the overwhelming need is outside linebacker.  Spence is a fierce outside linebacker who was great on 3rd down for Miami and is a solid tackler.  He has excellent instincts and reads plays well.   There are questions about his size and durability but he’s likely the pick Oakland makes here.  But you never know – Oakland could feel the need to take yet another quarterback…

THE 4TH ROUND

And now, as an added bonus to round out the top 100 picks, the first five picks of the 4th round.  A nice little bonus for all of you whose teams had just an awful season.

For all the St. Louis Rams fans who complained about a lack of receivers after having a tradition that boasted Isaac Bruce and Torry Holt, you are welcome to rejoice.  Tommy Streeter is my biggest sleeper at the wide receiver position and someone who I believe, in the right situation, could be a #1 wide receiver in this league.  He is the perfect complement to Justin Blackmon.   He is 6’5″ and has the big play ability to stretch the filed.   While he has issues with separation, he is the type of guy you can throw a jump ball to and have confidence he’ll come down with it.  He has great hands and long arms and is a great addition to this St. Louis team.

The Colts have always loved the tight end position and I don’t see that changing under Pagano.  Orson Charles is the 3rd best tight end in the draft and a necessary weapon for the Colts to add if Luck’s going to win any games.

The Vikings have to be excited to be getting Chris Cook back after some legal trouble but Cedric Griffin is gone and Antoine Winfield is getting older.  Casey Hayward is a great value in the 4th round and fills a necessary need for Minnesota.

I don’t know how Brandon Thompson falls this far but he does and the Texans are here to snatch him up as a result of the DeMeco Ryans trade.   Thompson is a violent player who is a perfect fit for Wade Phillips’ defense.

The Browns have a need at the inside linebacker position and will be thrilled to find Wagner available at the 100th overall pick.  A superb tackler who plays well against the run, he’s an excellent pick for Cleveland at this point in the draft.

Questions? Comments? Snide Remarks? Let me hear ’em! As always follow me @can_of_corn

Enjoy the Draft! 

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2012 NFL Final Mock Draft – Round 1

As the NFL Draft approaches, a lot of things come into focus and the crystal ball becomes more clear.  The NFL Combine, pro days, and individual workouts have given us a better idea of the expected talent and impact of these young rookies and how teams will rank them.  As teams invite players for private workouts we get a better idea of who teams might have interest in.  The stock of some players continues to rise while others continue to fall as we approach Draft Night.  And of course a large factor in any mock draft, the order has been finalized and compensatory picks have been awarded.

Peyton Manning, Matt Flynn, Mario Williams, Vincent Jackson, Carl Nicks, and the other high profile free agents have signed which has allowed a number of teams to address needs they otherwise would have in the draft.  In some cases the signing of one or two players has entirely transformed a team’s draft priorities (As is the case with the Broncos, Bills, and Buccaneers).

The top 20 picks of this final mock draft are pretty consistent with what we saw in my previous post.   Throughout this week leading up to the draft I will be publishing who I believe will be the first 100 picks with Round 1 coming today, Round 2 coming Monday, and Round 3 and the first five picks of the fourth round coming on Wednesday. You will notice that this time around I have included my previous pick and for the first round, I have also included other possible picks the team might take at their given position.

NOTE: In a lot of cases where I list a position as an area of need it may just be depth and not a starter.  This is very true of positions like quarterback, running back, wide receiver, and line positions for a number of teams.

As always, feedback is much appreciated so please comment below or tweet us @can_of_corn

PREVIOUS PICK: Andrew Luck, QB – Stanford

UPDATE: As I type this, multiple sources are reporting that the Indianapolis Colts have informed Andrew Luck he will be the #1 overall pick

This has been my #1 overall draft pick for the past year (regardless of team)  and there is nothing I have seen yet to make me feel otherwise.   He is an intelligent young quarterback with a strong arm and as we saw in his pro day, underrated athleticism.  He is a mobile quarterback who can extend plays and a natural-born leader.  He is ready to run a pro-style offense now and has the pro-typical size that NFL execs and coaches love.  In college he was a winner, he was prolific, and more importantly, he was an efficient quarterback throwing 37 touchdowns and only 10 interceptions in his senior campaign.  I stated early last season that teams should only consider doing three things with the first overall pick – draft Andrew Luck, draft Andrew Luck and trade him (or your current quarterback depending on the team), or trade the pick to somebody who will draft Andrew Luck.

If I were to rank Andrew Luck against other quarterback prospects of the last 30 years he would rank in the top 3 alongside John Elway and Peyton Manning.  One thing all three will soon have in common is they were drafted first overall by the Indianapolis Colts – talk about your incredibly lucky franchises.

Other Possibilities: None

PREVIOUS PICK: Robert Griffin III, QB – Baylor

The Washington Redskins came out and promised their fans that this would be the year that they addressed their quarterback situation.  It was clear last season that John Beck and Rex Grossman were not the answer.  Knowing that they were unlikely to be players in the Peyton Manning sweepstakes, the Redskins pulled the trigger and swapped first round picks with the St. Louis Rams and sent St. Louis their 2012 2nd round pick, their 2013 first round pick, and their 2014 first round pick.   The only other quarterback in the draft beyond Andrew Luck that might be considered worthy of that type of an investment is RGIII.

I believe that Robert Griffin’s stock has been helped by the success of Cam Newton with the Panthers this past year but there is no denying that last season RGIII was the consensus best player in all of college football.   Griffin can throw the deep ball and throws it with accuracy.  He has blazing speed (ran a 4.4 40 at the combine) but is definitely a throw-first type quarterback.   He fits Shanahan’s offense and he’s a high character guy who has the intangibles you want in the future leader of your franchise.

Other Possibilities: None

PREVIOUS PICK: Matt Kalil, OT – USC

With it being presumed that Luck and RG3 go 1 and 2, the Vikings are essentially on the clock.  I have been very high on Matt Kalil from the start and I believe that he is in the same class as Cleveland’s Joe Thomas and Miami’s Jake Long as far as offensive line prospects go.   The Vikings shocked everyone last year when in the quarterback frenzy they selected Florida State’s Christian Ponder with the 12th overall pick setting up the most intriguing young quarterback competition in the NFL between Ponder and Joe Webb. Presuming that Ponder will be the starter, the Vikings must protect their investment and as Matt Kalil told the Vikings, if they were to select him they, “won’t have to worry about finding a left tackle for the next decade.”  I could not agree more.

How good  is Matt Kalil? He is the reason that Dallas’s Tyron Smith (who just had a great rookie year) played on the right side at USC.  He is the most athletic offensive line prospect I’ve seen in a long time and has quick feet and great strength that will make him an elite pass blocker.   The great thing about Matt Kalil is that with this one draft pick the Viking’s all of a sudden take an abysmal offensive line from 2011 and make it one of their strengths.  The Kalil pick allows them to move Charlie Johnson from tackle to guard, Loadholt is solid at right tackle, and the Vikings have added depth in free agency to compete with second year player Brandon Fusco.   This line could be elite with Matt Kalil next to center John Sullivan (quietly one of the best centers in the NFC last year).  Imagine how effective the three headed monster of Adrian Peterson, Toby Gerhart, and Percy Harvin could be at running the ball if the Vikings offensive line wasn’t awful?

This is definitely the pick the Vikings make.  Any team that does not need a quarterback and passes on Matt Kalil is making a HUGE mistake.  He is the 2nd best player (after Luck) available in this draft.

Other Possibilities:
1. The Vikings trade the pick; the Vikings have been sending out flyers about interest in other players which I believe is a diversion to get a team who wants Trent Richardson, Matt Kalil, or Ryan Tannehill to move up.  Ultimately I believe Minnesota wants to move down within the top 10-12 picks.

2. The Vikings give their secondary a huge boost by selecting LSU cornerback Morris Claiborne

3. The Vikings give Christian Ponder another weapon by selecting WR Justin Blackmon

PREVIOUS PICK: Morris Claiborne, CB – LSU

Trent Richardson is the best running back prospect since Adrian Peterson in my opinion.  He is an intelligent player and a very complete running back who can be a threat in the running and passing games.  A few months ago I believed that Richardson could slip to the middle of the first round because the pass-happy tendencies that teams are leaning towards combined with the success of running backs such as Ray Rice, Maurice Jones-Drew, Arian Foster, Matt Forte, and Fred Jackson has greatly devalued the running back position.  Trent Richardson is leaps and bounds ahead of any other running back in this draft and so this devaluation won’t affect him one bit and I’d be shocked if he fell past the 6th overall pick.  If he did fall past the Rams, there is a chance he could fall all the way to the Bengals as I originally projected.

Richardson is a talented running back with the vision, speed, and strength to come into the league and be a top five running back in the league immediately if he’s used correctly.  The Browns need some help on the offensive side of the ball and since Holmgren won’t find a quarterback worth building around here and he does not believe in using early picks on wide receivers, he will take Richardson.  While there are league-wide concerns about his knee injury, the Browns were one of the teams that passed on Adrian Peterson due to injury concerns in 2007 and likely won’t make that same mistake again.

Other Possibilities:
1. If Mike Holmgren decides that Ryan Tannehill could be his quarterback of the future he will not hesitate to select him here and may even swap picks with the Vikings before someone else can move up.

2. The Browns could take Morris Claiborne here and pair him with Joe Haden giving them the best young CB tandem in the NFL.

3. The Browns could trade down with a team interested in Ryan Tannehill (Dolphins, Chiefs, or Eagles) or Trent Richardson.

PREVIOUS PICK: Trent Richardson, RB – Alabama

In spite of the Eric Wright signing, the Buccaneers still have a glaring need at the cornerback position.   The Buccaneers need to find an heir to Ronde Barber who is only getting older and someone to take the place of Aqib Talib (off-field issues).  When you play Drew Brees, Matt Ryan, and Cam Newton twice a year, finding potential shut down corners has to be a priority and Morris Claiborne is the best defensive prospect in the entire draft.  While there are some concerns surrounding his rumored Wonderlic score of a 4 (8%), I don’t believe that will affect his draft stock.

Claiborne is a quick cornerback with excellent instincts and great ball skills.  As he showed at LSU, he has the skills to be a true shut-down cornerback.  He has the speed and athleticism to be elite in the NFL.   Like his former teammate Patrick Peterson (who went 5th overall to the Cardinals last season) the young cornerback can also be very dangerous in the return game.   If Morris Claiborne is still on the board here, he’s the pick.

Other Possibilities:
1. If Trent Richardson is available here the Buccaneers may go Richardson over Claiborne.

2. The Buccaneers could elect to use the pick to give Josh Freeman another deep threat alongside Vincent Jackson by drafting Justin Blackmon.

PREVIOUS PICK: Justin Blackmon, WR – Oklahoma State

The Rams made a wise move in trading down out of the #2 spot and in the process gave themselves the draft picks necessary to potentially rebuild this once great franchise that has been the joke of the NFL in recent years.  The Rams had a pressing need at wide receiver the past couple of years and with Brandon Lloyd signing with New England, the receiving situation is even more dire.   I believe that with this pick the Rams will select the best wide receiver prospect in the draft in Justin Blackmon.  While this was a pick some thought the Rams might take at the #2 overall position, I don’t believe the Rams are entirely sold on Blackmon but at this point he’s probably the best pick for St. Louis.

The Rams really wanted Julio Jones last season and now with Blackmon they’ll finally give Bradford the big play weapon he needs.   Blackmon is an athletic and speedy receiver who has the ability to make contested catches in the middle of the field but can also stretch defenses vertically.   He was consistent throughout his college career and caught 111 catches for 20 touchdowns and over 1700 yards last year with the Cowboys and did so against double and triple coverage packages.   The Rams haven’t had a #1 wideout since Torry Holt and Blackmon could fill that void for St. Louis.

Other Possibilities:
1. If Trent Richardson or Matt Kalil are available here, that’s the pick for St. Louis.

2. If Morris Claiborne is available here along with Blackmon, the Rams will have a difficult choice to make

3. The Rams could choose to address their defensive line issues here by selecting Fletcher Cox or Dontari Poe or address their offensive line by selecting Riley Reiff

4. The Rams may once again trade down, given all of their needs, with a team interested in Riley Reiff, Justin Blackmon, or Ryan Tannehill.

PREVIOUS PICK: Quinton Coples, DE – North Carolina

When it comes to the NFL Draft, there are trends that can’t be ignored.  One glaring trend as a fan is that it seems like the Jacksonville Jaguars are consistently selecting defensive ends in the top 10.  First it was Derrick Harvey, then it was Tyson Alualu, and now Gene Smith is going to hope that the third time is indeed the charm when he selects South Carolina’s Melvin Ingram.

Melvin Ingram is not the most talented defensive end prospect in this class (that distinction belongs to Quinton Coples) but Ingram is probably the best all-around.  He is a fast and agile defensive end who has a nose for finding the ball.  He is a very mobile defensive end who is extremely effective in open space and could also have success as an outside linebacker in a 3-4 scheme.   He isn’t the most explosive defensive end but still would significantly boost the pass rushing efforts of the Jaguars.  One thing that makes Ingram the more desirable defensive end (over Coples) for Jacksonville is there is no doubt about his work ethic – he is pure hustle.  The same cannot be said of Quinton Coples.

Other Possibilities:
1. If Justin Blackmon falls to the Jaguars here, there is no doubt he’s the pick.  The Jaguars may also consider taking Notre Dame’s Michael Floyd here.

2. The Jaguars trade back with a team that is interested in Riley Reiff or Ryan Tannehill

3. The Jaguars select Riley Reiff to shore up their offensive line.

4. Jaguars GM Gene Smith goes against his usual mantra of wanting “safe players” and takes a risk on Quinton Coples

PREVIOUS PICK: Ryan Tannehill, QB – Texas A&M

Don’t get me wrong, I love what I have seen of Ryan Tannehill and believe that he can be a franchise QB and someone that a team builds around.  I am such a big believer in Ryan Tannehill that I believe the Cleveland Browns should pull the trigger and select him in the first round …. with the 22nd overall pick.  He is a young quarterback with a very high ceiling and loads of potential but at the 8th overall pick, I believe he’s a reach.  After last year’s draft though where we saw Cam Newton, Jake Locker, Blaine Gabbert, and Christian Ponder all off the board by the 12th pick; I am not going to be shocked when Tannehill’s name is called in the top 10.

The Dolphins must address their QB situation and even though Tannehill needs to be developed, he is a quarterback that can make plays with his feet and has an incredibly strong arm.  The downside on Tannehill is that he’s inconsistent and fumbling could be a concern with him.  He also played one full season at quarterback in college.   There’s no question that he’s a talented, intelligent quarterback with a short learning curve and a great grasp on fundamentals with firm mechanics.  And considering that Miami offensive coordinator Mike Sherman was his head coach at A&M last year, his knowledge of the offense definitely helps his draft stock here.

Other Possibilities:
1. The Dolphins address their offensive line issues by selecting Iowa offensive tackle Riley Reiff.

2. The Dolphins fill the void left by the Brandon Marshall trade with the selection of Michael Floyd

3. The Dolphins address their defense by selecting Melvin Ingram/Quinton Coples or Fletcher Cox/Dontari Poe

PREVIOUS PICK: Dontari Poe, NT/DT – Memphis

I don’t think anyone was as impressive at the NFL Combine as Dontari Poe.  Dontari Poe showed up at the NFL Combine at 6’4″, 346 pounds and impressed scouts with an unofficial sub 4.9 40 and 44 reps on the bench press (the most at the combine).  The one negative on Poe is that many are worried because his combine workout does not match his game tape which is why many believe Fletcher Cox out of Mississippi State will be taken ahead of him but I remain confident that Poe is the pick here.

When it comes down to it, I believe the comparisons to Baltimore’s Haloti Ngata are merited.  Poe is a phenomenal athlete that can immediately help to remedy Carolina’s biggest defensive woe – stopping the run.   While he is traditionally a 3-4 nose tackle, Poe is a great athlete and will fit the Panther’s 4-3 scheme nicely.  I believe his measurables and athleticism will be too much for Carolina to pass up.

Other Possibilities:
1. The Panthers go defensive end (Coples or Ingram) as opposed to defensive tackle

2. The Panthers elect to take the top player of their board regardless of position.  That could be Boston College’s Luke Kuechly.  The second best wide receiver (Floyd), cornerback (Gilmore/Kirkpatrick depending on who you ask), and offensive tackle (Reiff) will also all be available here and all represent big needs for the Panthers.

PREVIOUS PICK: Riley Reiff, OT – Iowa

The Bills could go a number of different directions with this pick but they will be thrilled when the second best offensive tackle on the board falls to them at #10 overall.  It has been ten years since the Bills have selected an offensive tackle in the first round but given the fact that they just extended Ryan Fitzpatrick, it’s now essential that they give Fitzpatrick time to throw the ball.

In the tradition of University of Iowa offensive lineman, Reiff is a large tackle (6’5″, 315 lbs.) who plays a hard-nosed style of football.  He is incredibly effective in the run game.  Fundamentally he is a very sound player that is ready to contribute immediately and would fill a huge void in Buffalo’s roster.  Not the sexiest pick but the best pick for Buffalo here.

Other Possibilities:
1. The Bills decide to give Ryan Fitzpatrick a weapon to line up opposite of WR Steve Johnson and select Notre Dame’s Michael Floyd.

2. The Bills continue to bolster the defense by adding either Quinton Coples/Melvin Ingram or with ILB Luke Kuechly

PREVIOUS PICK: Luke Kuechly, ILB – Boston College

If he’s available, Dontari Poe would make the most sense for the Kansas City Chiefs who have a gaping need at the nose tackle position.  However, given GM Scott Pioli’s hesitance towards “unproven players” there’s a chance that if Poe were available, the Chiefs still might pass on him.  However I believe that if Poe is available here, he’s the pick.  Since Dontari Poe is off the board – Luke Kuechly becomes the pick for Kansas City.

The Chiefs are in a unique position where they have a relatively high draft pick but have a pretty complete team with few needs.  Many consider Luke Kuechly to be one of the safest picks in the entire draft.  At 6’3″ and 240 lbs, Kuechly had a great combine workout.  He is a great athlete with excellent instincts and a short learning curve.  He has the ability to read defenses quickly and adapt his style of play accordingly.  He led the nation in tackles the last two years (by a wide margin).  This is a guy who makes plays from sideline to sideline who Chiefs fans will fall in love with.  There is no doubt that he’s the best linebacker in this year’s draft class.   Kuechly’s style of play fits Romeo Crennel’s defense perfectly and would be a perfect complement to Pro Bowler Derrick Johnson.  Kuechly is exactly what Kansas City needs: a run-stopping linebacker who plays aggressively and with great instincts.

Other Possibilities:
1. The Chiefs decide to address their interior offensive line and select Stanford’s David DeCastro

2. Pay attention to trends, the Chiefs could surprise everyone and select LSU defensive lineman Michael Brockers who many consider a better talent and safer pick than Dontari Poe.  The Chiefs have used a first round pick on an LSU player three times since 2007 and Brockers would the be the third LSU defensive lineman (Dorsey and Jackson) that Pioli has selected in the first round since 2008.

3. The Chiefs trade up and draft Ryan Tannehill.PREVIOUS PICK: Luke Kuechly, ILB – Boston College

PREVIOUS PICK: David DeCastro, OG – Stanford

If Luke Kuechly is still on the board, he might be the pick here but I don’t expect him to last this long.  The Seahawks need to address their pass rush and failed to land their biggest free agent target in Mario Williams.  Quinton Coples is the most athletic defensive end/outside linebacker in the draft with the only major concerns being his work ethic and attitude.  At UNC, Coples showed a great ability to defend against the run and find the quarterback.  There are some who believe that Coples’ attitude will have him fall out of the first round but I don’t believe that at all – I believe his athleticism will be too much for the Seahawks to pass up.  He spent a majority of his collegiate career being double blocked and still managed to have success, his performance at the Senior Bowl showed what teams can expect when they make the mistake of single blocking him.  Quinton Coples could be the final piece in a young defense that’s on the rise.

Other Possibilities:
1. The Seahawks may choose to focus on the interior offensive line and select David DeCastro out of Stanford.  Being the franchise that selected Steve Hutchinson, they know the value of a good guard.

2. Select either Stephon Gilmore, Dre Kirkpatrick, or Janorris Jenkins and bolster their secondary

PREVIOUS PICK: Jonathan Martin, OT – Stanford

The popular pick for Arizona seems to be Notre Dame’s Michael Floyd but the $64M they invested in Kevin Kolb last season and the issues on the offensive line have me 100% certain that the Cardinals will be selecting an offensive lineman,  out of Stanford to be more exact.  Given the gaping hole at left tackle I believe they will opt for Jonathan Martin over guard David DeCastro.   Martin is not the talent that Kalil or even Reiff are but he is the consensus third best offensive tackle in the draft and there is a significant drop off in offensive line talent after Martin.

Jonathan Martin is a big, physical, athletic tackle who is a great run blocker and has the tools necessary to be an elite pass protector. He is very adept at setting the edge in screen situations and given the Cardinals two-headed rushing attack of Beanie Wells and Ryan Williams, Martin could be the perfect fit for this Cardinals offense.

Other Possibilities:
1. Draft Notre Dame’s Michael Floyd to take pressure off of Larry Fitzgerald similar to what the Falcons did with the Julio Jones last year.

2. Draft David DeCastro and address the interior offensive line.

3. Address the pass rush with the best available defensive end or outside linebacker

PREVIOUS PICK: Mark Barron, SS – USC

There are a number of ways that the Cowboys could go with this pick but I think at this point the Cowboys go with the best available player that fits a need which makes it a choice between David DeCastro and Mark Barron. I think they choose Barron. Even though they signed Brodney Pool, safety remains an area of need for the Cowboys. Their secondary was awful last season and in a division that includes the matchup nightmares of Cruz and Nicks or Jackson and Maclin, a good safety is essential.  Barron is, without a doubt, the most NFL-ready safety in the draft. Barron is a hard-hitting safety who has a tendency to find himself wherever the ball is on the field. He has the potential to be an impact defensive player and an eventual Pro Bowler for Dallas.

Other Possibilities:
1. Build up their interior offensive line by selecting David DeCastro

2. Address the defensive line by selecting either Fletcher Cox or Michael Brockers

PREVIOUS PICK: Michael Brockers, DT – LSU

If Mark Barron is available here, I believe he’s the pick. Fletcher Cox has been really moving up the draft boards as of late and could go as early as #6 overall to the St. Louis Rams. But if he falls to this point (which I believe he will) then Philadelphia will not hesitate to take him. Fletcher Cox was a disruptive force for the Bulldogs and considered by many to be a pretty safe pick. He is the kind of defensive tackle that can fit almost any role or scheme and selecting him would go a long way toward solving the Eagles’ rush defense woes.

Other Possibilities:
1. TRADE ALERT – Don’t be shocked if the Eagles try and trade up.  Ryan Tannehill, Trent Richardson, Matt Kalil, Riley Reiff, or Melvin Ingram might all be reasons they move up.

2. If Riley Reiff or Jonathan Martin are available the Eagles may try to address their offensive line.

3. They could also address their pass rush with Courtney Upshaw or Chandler Jones.

PREVIOUS PICK: Courtney Upshaw, DE/OLB – Alabama

The New York Jets find themselves in a tough spot because they have a number of glaring needs here but it’s difficult to choose which one to address or which prospect best fits their team. At the end of the day thought, the Jets have trouble getting to the quarterback and when you’re a defensive minded head coach that has to play Tom Brady twice a year, that’s definitely a problem. Originally projected to be a top 10 draft pick, Upshaw is the best choice for the Jets here. He is the highest rated defensive end/outside linebacker prospect on the board at this point. The one drawback on Upshaw is that many consider him a “player without a position”. There are some consider him too small to be an every down defensive end but too large to be an every down outside linebacker. Regardless, he is a great physical talent that could really help Rex Ryan’s pass rush.

Other Possibilities:
1. The Jets could give Mark Sanchez another weapon and select Notre Dame’s Michael Floyd.

2. The Jets address their offensive line and select the best available offensive tackle (Ohio State’s Mike Adams)

3. Trade up to select Melvin Ingram or Quinton Coples

4. Trade back and select the best available player at that point.

PREVIOUS PICK: Michael Floyd, WR – Notre Dame

Every year’s draft has two stories: the reach and the drop.  Well I believe that in spite of the fact that some teams have Michael Floyd as the top receiver on their draft boards he drops to the Bengals here.  It is likely that the Bengals will address their offensive line or secondary with this pick but when Michael Floyd falls, the Bengals will not hesitate to pull the trigger.

The Bengals are a very talented young team but they definitely took a step back last year without A.J. Green on the field.  Michael Floyd is very comparable to Justin Blackmon and most consider him the 2nd best receiver on the board. He has unbelievable hands, good speed, and is an excellent route runner. He is a big target who has the ability to break open the big play. He also has the leaping ability and body control necessary to fight for a ball in the endzone. There may be some hesitance in regards to his alcohol-related problems but the Bengals tend to overlook those things. The rare opportunity to take a quarterback that wasn’t even playing for you and turn him into the best young wide receiver tandem in the league is not one that Mike Brown should pass up.

Other Possibilities:
1. The Bengals could select David DeCastro, the best guard in the draft.  He’s an excellent value here!

2. The Bengals could elect to address their secondary concerns with Janorris Jenkins or Dre Kirkpatrick.

PREVIOUS PICKS: Mike Adams, OT – Ohio State

If I had a big board, David DeCastro would easily fall into my top 10 overall prospects and the San Diego Chargers would be thrilled if he fell all the way to 18 (he could be gone as early as 11). He is by far the best guard prospect we have seen in a long, long time. He is an excellent run blocker who is great at pulling and setting the edge on screen plays. He’s an intelligent player who is pure hustle. He is incredibly athletic and my favorite thing about watching him play for Stanford was that DeCastro tends to knock down the first defender and then lay another block on a linebacker or corner. He plays from whistle to whistle and would greatly satisfy the Chargers need on their interior offensive line. With DeCastro the Chargers could be set at guard for the next decade.

Other Possibilities:

1. The Chargers could address their pass rush with Chandler Jones or Nick Perry

2. Though they have greater needs, the Chargers may draft Kendall Wright to replace Vincent Jackson.

3. The Chargers could reach a little bit and draft the top running back on their board.


PREVIOUS PICK: Cordy Glenn, OG – Georgia

I really thought that Stephon Gilmore would be an early second round pick but in recent weeks, because of his measurables, he has moved ahead of Dre Kirkpatrick and Janorris Jenkins on most boards. I have always been very high on Stephon Gilmore and think he is a very special athlete but at South Carolina he proved inconsistent. I think he is clearly one of the top four cornerbacks in the draft and he might have the highest ceiling of any cornerback available. However, I do believe that his performance will largely be based on the system he’s in and the coaching staff that gets to develop him. I consider Gilmore an elite physical talent with amazing speed and great instincts but he still has much to learn. Regardless he would fit Chicago’s defense well and they need all the secondary help they can get if they hope to take the division from Aaron Rodgers and Matthew Stafford.

Other Possibilities:

1. The Bears address their pass rush with Chandler Jones, Shea McClellin, or Nick Perry

2. They could address their wide receiving corps by selecting Kendall Wright to line up opposite Brandon Marshall.

3. The Bears could also choose to go with Dre Kirkpatrick or Janorris Jenkins over Stephon Gilmore here.

PREVIOUS PICK: Melvin Ingram, DE – South Carolina

The Tennessee Titans have a number of needs but their secondary is a huge concern and the chance to get a cornerback from the top tier of this class is one the Titans should not pass up.  As far as talent goes, Kirkpatrick is the 2nd best cornerback available at this point.  In my opinion, Janorris Jenkins is a much better cover corner and fits Tennessee’s defense better BUT there are the off the field issue concerns with Jenkins and the last thing the Titans want is Pacman Jones: The Sequel.   There are questions surrounding Kirkpatrick as well (marijuana charges that were later dropped) but he is a big physical corner with great leaping ability who has the potential to be a ballhawk for the Titnas.  He is a violent tackler and smart player with great speed that could really help Tennessee on defense.

Other Possibilities:
1. They could select either Mike Adams or Cordy Glenn to shore up their offensive line

2. The team does have a need at inside linebacker and could select Dont’a Hightower out of Alabama.

3. They may consider selecting Baylor’s Kendall Wright or Georgia Tech’s Stephen Hill to give Matt Hasselbeck/Jake Locker a receiving threat opposite of Kenny Britt

PREVIOUS PICK: Janorris Jenkins, CB – North Alabama

In this draft, the Bengals could have opted to select David DeCastro with their 17th overall pick and taken Kendall Wright here.  However when Floyd falls to them they will select the 2nd best wide receiver in the draft and now they get the good fortune to also select the 2nd best guard.   Glenn is a large (6’5”, 345 pounds) guard who is an excellent run blocker.  While he played the tackle position in college, he could be a truly dominant guard in the NFL.  He is incredibly mobile for someone his size, has great strength, and long arms.  He would be the perfect addition to this young Bengals’ offense.

Other Possibilities:
1. The Bengals have huge holes in their secondary and could address it by selecting Janorris Jenkins.  Unlike other teams, the Bengals won’t have the same concerns with his off-field issues.

2. Trade back and use a later pick on either Jenkins, Notre Dame safety Harrison Smith, or a running back.

PREVIOUS PICK: Kendall Wright, WR – Baylor

The Cleveland Browns made a great choice in passing on Justin Blackmon and now at the 22nd overall pick they still land the 3rd best wide receiver in the draft in Kendall Wright.  Wright is an explosive receiver with great speed who can challenge defenses deep down the field but is also the type of player who catch a ball on a slant pattern underneath coverage and gain yards after the catch.  In college, Wright was RG3’s favorite target and had similar production to Justin Blackmon last season.  He played for four years at Baylor, never missing a game and never held to under 2 catches in all four years of play.  This is the perfect pick for Cleveland because all of a sudden if defenses load the box up for Richardson, Wright will make them pay and vice versa.  Mike Holmgren still gets McCoy a deep threat and in true Holmgren fashion, does it without using a top 10 pick on a receiver.

Other Possibilities:
1. The Browns could reach for a quarterback here but I don’t see it, if Ryan Tannehill somehow fell past the Dolphins, Chiefs, Cardinals, and Eagles – he’s the pick here.

2. The Browns could address their offensive line and select Mike Adams.

3. The Browns could opt to address their pass rush with Shea McClellin, Chandler Jones, or Nick Perry

PREVIOUS PICK: Dre Kirkpatrick, CB – Alabama

The Lions have needed to find an heir to Jeff Backus for years and this is the year they finally do that.  Mike Adams is a physical offensive tackle who is very athletic and has great size (6’7”, 320 lbs).   He is an excellent run blocker which should be of great benefit to Leshoure, Best, and Smith.  While Adams is a great run blocker, he still does need to be developed in terms of his pass blocking ability and needs to become better at picking up the speed rush.  However, in a division that includes Jared Allen and Julius Peppers, this is a pick the Lions have to make if they hope to stay on top in the NFC North.

Other Possibilities:
1. The Lions could address their secondary and select either CB Janorris Jenkins or S Harrison Smith

2. The Lions could select Chandler Jones to help with their pass rush

PREVIOUS PICK: Dont’a Hightower, ILB – Alabama

Due to salary cap restrictions, the Steelers had to let James Farrior go.  The Steelers are in desperate need of an inside linebacker who can play right away.  In college, Hightower called the defense for Alabama and had success against top SEC teams as a blitzer.  What he really brings to the game is tackling.  He’s an excellent tackler who plays well against the run.  He is a large, physical linebacker with good speed given his size.  This deadly combination made him a dangerous blitzer for the Crimson Tide and should make him one in the NFL.  He fits the mold of a Dick LeBeau player which makes this a perfect match.

Other Possibilities:
1. The Steelers may address their defensive line and select Michael Brockers

2. The Steelers may address their offensive line and select Bobby Massie

PREVIOUS PICK: Fletcher Cox, DT – Mississippi State

Last season the Broncos surprised everyone by not only winning the AFC West but then by knocking off the defending AFC Champions in the first round of the playoffs.  The Broncos started rebuilding last season by selecting Von Miller 2nd overall.  At times the Broncos D looked elite but overall the front four struggled and had trouble stopping the run.  Michael Brockers is a great athlete with a great ability to penetrate the offensive line.  His ability to break through and force quarterbacks to the edge plays right into the strength of Denver’s defense – Elvis Dumervil and Von Miller.  He’s a big player with long arms and is an absolute monster in the trenches.  Brockers is an excellent fit for Denver’s defense and a great value at 25th overall.

Other Possibilities:
1. The Broncos could grab LaMichael James or Lamar Miller here to help with their run game

2. With Claiborne, Gilmore, and Kirkpatrick off the board; the Broncos may try and trade back in order to grab a quarterback, running back, or wide receiver.

PREVIOUS PICK: Stephen Hill, WR – Georgia Tech

Before the injury to Matt Schaub last season, I thought the Texans were the best team in the AFC.  Even without Schaub the Texans were formidable but when Andre Johnson got hurt was when Houston took a step back.  Houston has two desperate needs – a disruptive nose tackle and a receiving threat to line up opposite Johnson.  26th overall is a little high for a prospect as raw as Hill but with all the potential based on the skills he showed at the combine he has the tools to be an elite receiver in this league.  Hill had an amazing combine showing very reminiscent of two Georgia Tech wideouts who had big playoff performances last season (Calvin Johnson and Demaryius Thomas).  He is a 6’4″ wide receiver who ran a 4.36 40 and has an unbelievably high ceiling.   He has amazing speed, great hands, amazing leaping ability, and unmatched athleticism and body control.   He’s raw but if he develops into the kind of receiver he has the potential to be (an Andre Johnson/Larry Fitzgerald type of threat), this pick will be an absolute steal.

Other Possibilities:
1. If Dontari Poe somehow falls this far, there is no doubt in my mind that he’s the pick. (I don’t see Poe falling past Dallas)

2. The Texans would also consider Hightower, Martin, or Adams if they were available.

PREVIOUS PICK: Whitney Mercilus, DE/OLB – Illinois

The New England Patriots were just a few minutes away from their 4th Super Bowl trophy but in the end, it was their defense who failed them.   The Patriots made it no secret that they were pursuing Mario Williams in free agency – New England has some gaping voids in their secondary and a non-existent pass rush.  The Patriots had trouble putting pressure on Eli Manning and were incapable of covering Hakeem Nicks and Victor Cruz in the Super Bowl.   Chandler Jones is the perfect pick for Bellichick and a great value at #27 overall.   Chandler Jones is a great talent who has the athleticism to also be moved to the OLB position in a 3-4 defense.  He could be the perfect start to the rebuilding process for the Patriots’ defense.

Other Possibilities:
1. The Patriots could choose to address their offensive line and select Wisconsin center Peter Konz

2. If the Patriots are not concerned about Janorris Jenkins’ off the field issues, they could address their secondary here.

PREVIOUS PICK: Lavonte David, OLB – Nebraska

Last season, Green Bay’s defense was absolutely awful and posted the worst sack rate in the NFL.  An inability to create pressure and sack opposing quarterbacks is the main reason Green Bay was sent packing  three weeks earlier than most expected.  While their very explosive offense overshadowed their defensive woes, they need some help creating pressure.  There is some debate about who the Packers will select with this pick but there’s no doubt in my mind it will be a defensive end or outside linebacker.

I originally had Shea McClellin going to the Packers… in the second round.  In the last few weeks though he has surged up draft boards.  The Packers are apparently in love with this kid and if they want him, they are going to have to take him here (if he’s still available).   It’s easy to see why they like him so much.   He’s a defensive player that can tackle well in the open field.  He has excellent instincts that allows him to recognize plays and adapt accordingly.  His unusual combination of size, strength, and speed make him a natural pass rusher.  He’s a very disciplined, hard nosed player with great work ethic that fits the personality of the Packers perfectly.  Ted Thompson is going to be extremely pleased to get his man at #28 overall.

Other Possibilities:
1. They could opt to draft Andre Branch, Whitney Mercilus, or Lavonte David instead

PREVIOUS PICK: Peter Konz, C – Wisconsin

If Dont’a Hightower falls to the Ravens here, there’s not a doubt in my mind that he’s the pick.  But he’s not so let’s move on.  In spite of the fact that the Ravens just re-signed All-Pro center Matt Birk to a 3 year contract, I am fairly certain this will be his last year in the NFL.  The Ravens must find an heir to Matt Birk and Konz is by far the best center in the draft.   Peter Konz is a strong, athletic, intelligent center that could be the cornerstone of any NFL offensive line for the next 10 years.  The beauty of drafting him now is that he has a year to learn from one of the best centers the NFL has ever seen.  And since Konz is ready to play now, the Ravens could use him immediately to fill the void at the offensive guard position while they wait for Matt Birk to retire.

Other Possibilities:
1. They could select Notre Dame safety Harrison Smith as replacing Ed Reed should also be a priority

2. They could select Rueben Randle or Alshon Jeffrey – whichever receiver is higher on their board

3. They may also trade up for Hightower or Hill or trade back to find better value.  The Ravens have been pretty consistent at finding great value in the draft and it’s very rare that they reach for players on the first day.

PREVIOUS PICK: Rueben Randle, WR – LSU

Even with the additions of Randy Moss and Mario Manningham, the 49ers receiving corps still needs some help.  The 49ers came within two muffed punts of making the Super Bowl last year and they did so with a receiving corps that did not catch a pass before the 4th quarter.  San Francisco lacked any ability to convert on 3rd down and relied heavily on tight ends Vernon Davis and Delanie Walker to provide any kind of pass offense.  With no nose tackles on the board worthy of this pick, San Francisco will take the top receiver on the board which will likely be Rueben Randle.  Randle is a large, physical redzone threat that could be a boost to the 49ers passing attack.

Other Possibilities:
1. I really believe the 49ers will try and trade back and then select either the best available nose tackle or wide receiver at that point.

2. They could continue to work on defense and take the top defensive player on their board

PREVIOUS PICK: Harrison Smith, SS – Notre Dame

TRADE ALERT! I fully expect the New England Patriots to trade out of this pick.  There are about three or four teams I could speculate on that may want to move here but I would be shocked if the Patriots actually make both of their first round selections.   If the Patriots do pick here though, they’re going to continue to address defense and I believe that Harrison Smith is the pick.  The safety out of Notre Dame is the second best safety in the draft and after Smith there is a significant drop off at the position.  Smith is a safety with incredible instincts, top-end speed, and great ball skills.   He is a physical, aggressive player who can close running lanes quickly and can compete with receivers for jump balls.  His personality and playing style are exactly what Bill Bellichick looks for on defense.

Other Possibilities:
1. They really need help on the defensive line and could select UConn’s Kendall Reyes here
2. Once again, if they are sold on Janorris Jenkins, he could be the pick here
3. Most likely the Patriots will trade back into the top half of the 2nd round and gain additional draft picks.

PREVIOUS PICK: Coby Fleener, TE – Stanford

The Super Bowl Champs do have some needs and if Peter Konz is available he fills one of their biggest needs.   But the Giants are really in a position where they should just be drafting the best player available and at the 32nd overall pick, Coby Fleener is an absolute steal.  He is one of the best players in the draft.  He has great size, absolutely blazing speed, is a terrific route runner, and could be deadly in the red zone.  He has amazing hands and great awareness and body control.  He has Rob Gronkowski type potential.   If you really want to know how good Coby Fleener is, just think about this – at Stanford’s Pro Day (which featured Andrew Luck, David DeCastro, and Jonathan Martin among others) it was Fleener who stole the show and was the talk of the Pro Day.  The Giants need some tight end help and while Fleener’s stock has been helped by players like Gronkowski and Jimmy Graham, there is no doubt he’s the right pick for the Giants.

Other Possibilities:
1. The Giants could address their offensive line and select OT Bobby Massie

2. They could address their pass rush and take Andre Branch or Whitney Mercilus here

3. They may select a running back with this pick

4. Once again, this is another team that could trade back if another team is looking to move up

Questions? Comments? Snide Remarks?
Let me hear ’em!!

And as always, please follow me on Twitter @can_of_corn




2012 NFL Mock Rough Draft with Edits

Since last month when I looked into the NFL crystal ball to give us an idea of what will happen at the end of April, the picture has begun to come more into focus.  Now with the NFL combine we have a better idea of how rookies will rank.  Some players’ stock rose and others fell.  As free agency begins, some teams have already addressed the needs they would’ve in the draft.  Others have at least signed free agents that will change their draft priorities.  You may notice that there are some drastic changes between this mock draft and my original publication.  I do not see the changes between this and my final mock draft being nearly as drastic.  Similar to my original mock draft I will provide the first two rounds of the 2012 NFL Draft in order to give all fans a chance to see at least one draft pick their teams will make.  Unless your team is the wreckless Oakland Raiders, you will find at least one draft pick for your team.

My final mock draft will come out right before the NFL Draft a the end of April.  As an added bonus, the final mock draft will include three rounds – sorry Raiders fans, you still won’t get to see any picks.

NOTE: In a lot of cases where I list a position as an area of need it may just be depth and not a starter.  This is very true of positions like quarterback and running back for a number of teams.

THE 1ST ROUND

Well the Colts pulled the trigger as anticipated and released future Hall of Fame quarterback Peyton Manning.  If it wasn’t obvious enough before, the Colts will be drafting a quarterback with the #1 overall draft pick in April.  While Robert Griffin III’s stock has risen dramatically as of late, he has established himself as a top 2 quarterback.  Andrew Luck is still by far the best QB prospect of this draft.  And he’s the best QB prospect of the last 8 years and one of the best prospects of the last 30.  The 1980’s had John Elway (drafted 1st overall by the Colts), the 1990’s had Peyton Manning (drafted 1st overall by the Colts), the 2000’s had Eli Manning (drafted #1 overall by the Chargers), and the 2010’s have Andrew Luck.  He has a rare combination of arm strength, precision, and poise and is the best overall prospect on the board.  There’s no reason to believe the Colts won’t make this pick.

Last month I saw that, given Dan Snyder’s statements, the Redskins would make the necessary moves to trade up for RG3.  I just did not see the Rams being smart enough to trade down and who could’ve seen the Rams getting the king’s ransom they did for Robert Griffin III.   In the past month, Robert Griffin III has established himself as the clear cut #2. It’s clear that the Redskins made the sacrifice they did to take whichever QB the Colts don’t and I fully believe the quarterback left on the board will be RG3.

The Vikings have their quarterback of the future.  They are still trying to decide if it’s Christian Ponder or Joe Webb but whatever they do they need to build around their QB and the Vikings have a lot of work to do.  The most glaring need for this run first team is a left tackle.  Matt Kalil is the best offensive lineman prospect we have seen since Jake Long and in my opinion any team that passes on Kalil with Luck and RG3 is foolish.  Regardless of need Kalil might be the top overall player in this year’s draft.  He is big, physical, fast, and a perfect young fit for that rushing game and those 2 tight end sets the Vikings like to employ.  The Vikings could target Morris Claiborne or Justin Blackmon here but Blackmon does not merit this high of pick and I believe, with such a deep CB class, the Vikings will also pass on Claiborne.

The Cleveland Browns have a lot of needs, especially on the offensive side of the ball.  Earlier I had the Browns taking WR Justin Blackmon with this pick because this team does need to provide weapons to Colt McCoy but I just cannot see Mike Holmgren taking a wide receiver this high.  Maybe a Calvin Johnson or Larry Fitzgerald type prospect would be taken this high but I do not see Holmgren taking Blackmon.  I don’t see the Browns overreaching for Ryan Tannehill nor do I see them taking a running back as high as #4. Morris Claiborne is far and away the best cornerback in the draft class and when you have to play Ben Roethlisberger, Joe Flacco, and Andy Dalton twice a year, you need to have a strong secondary.  Claiborne gives the Browns, paired with Joe Haden, perhaps the best young CB tandem in the league.  Claiborne can contribute right away and Holmgren won’t hesitate to take the best defensive player in the draft.

Despite the Eric Wright signing, if Morris Claiborne is still on the board here there is no doubt in my mind that the Buccaneers pull the trigger and take him.  However he’s gone and with the signing of Vincent Jackson, the Buccaneers can afford to wait at least a round before addressing their wide receiver concerns.  While I believe that the running back position has been highly devalued and it’s really not the best idea to draft one in the top 5, Richardson is the best running back prospect we have seen since Adrian Peterson.  Richardson is a great ball carrier with excellent instincts, great speed, and brutal strength.   He would fit perfectly in the Bucs’ offense and complement Blount quite nicely. There have been some concerns about his knee injury but the Buccaneers passed on Peterson due to injury concerns back in 2007 and will not be looking to make the same mistake twice.  If Richardson were to fall past the Bucs and Rams, there is no doubt in my mind that he will fall all the way to the Cincinnati Bengals.

The Rams traded down giving themselves the necessary ammunition to rebuild the once great franchise and they still get their man in Justin Blackmon.  The Rams already had a pressing need at wide receiver and with Brandon Lloyd signing with the Patriots that need just became more dire.  The Rams could potentially draft OT Riley Reiff out of Iowa here and if Blackmon’s off the board they could consider Richardson or Claiborne but I believe in this instance they take Blackmon.  They have not had a true #1 receiver since the departure of Torry Holt and their young QB Sam Bradford needs a target.  Blackmon has the speed and catching ability to open up the passing game for the Rams and at 6th overall is a great pick for the Rams.
If Justin Blackmon is somehow still on the board here this is who the Jaguars will pick.  However Blackmon is off the board and so they will look to address the pass rush with Quinton Coples.  There seem to be a few trends in the NFL Draft and one of them is that it seems like the Jaguars draft a defensive end every year with their top pick.   Coples has the size, speed, and instincts to be an elite pass rusher in this league and the Jaguars are said to have interest in him.  Jacksonville will take Coples 7th overall and hope that the 3rd time is the charm on defensive ends.

The Dolphins won the coin flip with Carolina at the NFL Combine and have moved into the 8th overall spot.  Ryan Tannehill was definitely helped by quarterbacks like Matt Barkley and Landry Jones who chose to stay in college another year.  And at this point Ryan Tannehill is probably an early 2nd round quarterback grade but he has a very high ceiling and a lot of potential.  He has a strong arm and very good instincts.   Yes, Tannehill is a reach here and a guy who is going to need at least a year of developmental time but with the Dolphins out on Manning and on Flynn, this is a move that has to be made.  And with the new Dolphins offensive coordinator,  Mike Sherman, having been Tannehill’s college coach at Texas A&M, he understands what Tannehill is capable of and can continue developing him.   The Dolphins could take Reiff here but I believe they will reach and take the consensus 3rd best quarterback in the draft.  If the Dolphins don’t take him here, I think he could fall to the Browns later in the round.

Did anyone else impress as much at the NFL Combine as Dontari Poe.  Sure Poe makes more sense as a Nose Tackle but he can also be very effective in a 4 man front.   The Panthers could not stop the run and in a division that includes the Saints, Buccaneers, and Falcons – this is essential.  He has already drawn comparisons to Haloti Ngata in his technique and his combine numbers.  He is the best defensive lineman in the draft and while I had him falling to the end of the 1st in my last mock draft, I do not see him lasting past the 12th overall pick.  He is the closest thing to “can’t miss” I’ve seen for a defensive line prospect in a long time.

The Bills have signed Mario Williams but nonetheless pass rush help remains a big priority.  I believe that given the opportunity the Bills would draft Courtney Upshaw or Melvin Ingram and double up on the pass rush as they try to become relevant in the AFC East again.  However, the Bills also have some offensive line woes and with an NFL-ready tackle like Reiff slipping to the 10th overall pick, the Bills won’t hesitate to pull the trigger.  With the exception of Upshaw and Ingram the only other player I could see Buffalo taking here is Notre Dame’s Michael Floyd.

If Dontari Poe is still on the board here that becomes the most obvious pick for the Chiefs here.  With the recent signing of Eric Winston, the Chiefs will look at more pressing needs as opposed to signing Jonathan Martin here.   The Chiefs have a very talented young defense but need some linebacker help alongside Pro-Bowler Derrick Johnson.  Kuechly is far and away the best inside linebacker in this year’s draft and would fit right into Crennel’s defense.  Kuechly is exactly what the Chiefs need, a run-stopping linebacker who plays aggressively and with great instincts.  He performed amazingly well at the combine and is the right pick for KC.

The Seahawks hope they have found their quarterback in free agent Matt Flynn.  Signing the back-up to an All-Pro Packers quarterback worked for the Seahawks once before.  The Seahawks could address their defense here with Melvin Ingram or Courtney Upshaw but the interior offensive line is a pressing concern for the Seahawks who will need to give Flynn time to throw and help Marshawn Lynch in the run game.  A month ago DeCastro was not expected to come off the board before his Stanford counterpart Jonathan Martin but now that could very well happen.
The Arizona Cardinals have pressing needs at the Quarterback position, in their receiving corps, and their secondary but with Jonathan Martin available the Cardinals get a great opportunity to improve their offensive line.  Due to illness Martin did not get a chance to work out at the combine but he is the consensus 3rd best OT in the draft.  Martin dominated the Pac-12 during his college career.  He is a great run blocker who can be very effective in the screen game.  He can do a lot to help with the Cardinals’ rushing attack of Beanie Wells and Ryan Williams and is a smart move with this pick.
The Cowboys would’ve probably made the playoffs last season over the Super Bowl Champion Giants if not for concerns in their secondary.  Even with the signing of Brodney Pool this is a pick that makes a lot of sense for the Cowboys.  He is considered the most NFL-ready safety in the draft.  Barron is a hard-hitting safety who has a tendency to be wherever the ball is and has the potential to be a big-play safety and an eventual Pro Bowler for the Cowboys.

The Eagles have a tendency to draft linemen on both sides of the ball in the first round and they really need some help stopping the run.  Michael Brockers is a disruptive force that can cause chaos along the line of scrimmage.  He is a large physical tackle that can stop the run and be a leader for the Eagles defensive line going forward.
The Jets really need some help rushing the pass and are going to be thrilled that Courtney Upshaw is sitting here for them at the 16th pick.  The negative on Upshaw is that many consider him too small to be an every down defensive end but too large to be an every down outside linebacker.  Regardless he is a great physical talent that could really help with Rex Ryan’s pass rush.

There is a chance that the Jaguars take Floyd in the top 10 or that the Cardinals could pick him up but I see Floyd being available for the Bengals at the 17th overall pick and the Bengals will not hesitate to draft him.  The Bengals are a great young team but they took a significant step back last year when A.J. Green got injured and they need someone to complement Green.  The opportunity to take a quarterback that was doing nothing for the Bengals and turn that into the best young wide receiver tandem in the NFL is one that Mike Brown should not pass up.
Even with the re-signing of Jared Gaither, the Chargers need to build up their offensive line and find a way to better protect Phillip Rivers and open up the run game if San Diego is going to compete in the AFC West anytime soon.  He is a very agile athlete with the size and long arms you look for in a tackle.  The Chargers need to re-establish the run game and open up the pass game and picking Adams here could go a long way to help San Diego.

The Bears addressed their wide receiver concerns by trading for Brandon Marshall and signing Eric Weems.  Interior offensive line is a huge concern for the Bears and Cordy Glenn would fit well with the Bears offense.  He was a very physical tackle at LSU but fits the NFL better as a guard and has the tools to be one of the best interior linemen in the game.  With Melvin Ingram still on the board the Bears could also go that route but Glenn makes the most sense for the Bears here.

Melvin Ingram might be the best defensive end in the draft and I like him better than the more highly rated Quinton Coples.  He has explosive speed and is very physical off the edge.  He impressed scouts at the NFL Combine and has shown that while he will make a great NFL defensive end, he has the ability to play the outside linebacker position in a 3-4 scheme.  The Titans largest need is a better pass rush and they will be thrilled to find Melvin Ingram waiting for them at #20 overall.

The questions about Janorris Jenkins have never been about his talent or physicality but instead about his off-field issues.  He is a Division II player whose character had him dismissed at the University of Florida.  While there are teams that would be scared away by Jenkins character issues, the Bengals are not one of those organizations.  The Bengals need some help in their secondary and Jenkins is a perfect pick for them here.  After running a 4.44 40 yd dash, posting a 33.5 inch vertical jump, and showing fluidity in a number of drills- Jenkins has moved ahead of Kirkpatrick according to several scouts.  Leon Hall should be great if he’s recovered from injury but Nate Clements is not getting any younger and Adam Jones is just not working out for the Bengals.  Jenkins could be the cornerstone of the Bengals youth movement in their secondary.

Holmgren does not tend to draft wide receivers early but I believe this is a pick the Browns make.  Cleveland needs to find someone for Colt McCoy to throw the ball to if they are ever going to compete in the AFC North.  Kendall Wright is a speedy receiver with great hands who was largely overlooked in the Big 12 in college because of the success of Justin Blackmon.  He’s a quick receiver with breakaway speed that is very reminiscent of Percy Harvin.  This would provide the Brown’s offense a much needed receiving threat.

I could still see the Lions addressing their offensive line with this pick because they need an heir apparent to Jeff Backus but with the top 4 offensive tackles off the board, the Lions need to address their secondary.  The defense was formidable up front but had issues in the secondary and with the Packers passing attack and now Brandon Marshall in the division, the Lions need a physical corner to lead their secondary.  Kirkpatrick is in the very top tier of this deep cornerback class. He’s a big, physical corner who should be very good inside the redzone and will provide the Lions a much needed presence in their woeful secondary.

Due to salary cap restrictions, the Steelers had to let James Farrior go.  The Steelers are in desperate need of an inside linebacker who can contribute immediately.  Hightower is 6’2″ 265 lb linebacker who ran a 4.6 40.  His combination of size and speed made him a dangerous blitzer for the Crimson Tide and should make him one in the NFL.  He fits the mold of what Dick LeBeau looks like in a defensive player which makes this a perfect match.

The Denver Broncos had a very solid year in using a late season surge to win the weak AFC West.  The offense showed there are some definite weapons there and the run game showed promise.  The defense at times looked elite but had trouble in the front four and stopping the run.  Fletcher Cox is a very strong, physical, versatile defensive lineman that can play on position among the front four and is a perfect fit for Denver’s defensive scheme.

Before the injury to Matt Schaub last season, I thought the Texans were the best team in the AFC.  Even without Schaub the Texans were formidable but when Andre Johnson got hurt was when Houston took a step back.  Houston has two desperate needs – a disruptive nose tackle and a receiving threat to line up opposite Johnson.  26th overall is a little high for a prospect as raw as Hill but with all the potential based on the skills he showed at the combine he has the tools to be an elite receiver in this league.  Hill had an amazing combine showing very reminiscent of two Georgia Tech wideouts who had big playoff performances last season (Calvin Johnson and Demaryius Thomas).  He is a 6’4″ wide receiver who ran a 4.36 40 and has an unbelievably high ceiling.   If he develops into the kind of receiver he has the potential to be, this pick will be an absolute steal.

The Patriots are in need of some defensive help.  They were a couple minutes away from their 4th Super Bowl trophy this century but had no way to match up against the Giants wide receiver corps or to put pressure on Manning. Mercilus is a linebacker that lives up to his name.  While he played defensive end in college, many see him being an outside linebacker in the NFL.  He’s an explosive player who knows how to get to the quarterback and that could serve the Patriots very well in trying to rebuild their defense.

Last season the Packers defense was absolutely awful and posted the worst sack rate in the NFL.  An inability to create pressure and sack opposing quarterbacks is the reason the Packers were sent home 3 weeks earlier than anyone expected them to be.  Their very dynamic offense overshadowed the Packers defensive woes but they need some help creating pressure.  LaVonte David has surged up the draft boards as of late with his speed and tackling ability. Despite concerns about his size, he is a talented open field talented who is 100% hustle and plays sideline to sideline.

All-Pro Center Matt Birk was expected to retire.  Though he just signed a three year deal with the Ravens last week, I fully expect that this will be his last season.  The Ravens must find an heir apparent to Matt Birk and Konz is the best center in the draft.  Konz is a very strong, athletic center that could be the cornerstone of their line for the next 10 years and Baltimore should not hesitate to grab him here.

The 49ers came within two muffed punts of making the Super Bowl last year and they did so with a receiving corps that did not catch a pass before the 4th quarter.  San Francisco had no ability to convert on 3rd down and leaned heavily on tight ends Vernon Davis and Delanie Walker to provide any kind of offense.  Even with the recent additions of Randy Moss and Mario Manningham, the 49ers could use some help in their receiving corps.  Considering there are no nose tackles worthy of taking with this pick, San Francisco will address the receiving corps.  Randle is a large physical redzone threat and represents the best wide receiver left on the board when this pick rolls around.

The Patriots have four picks in the first 63 and will most likely use them to rebuild their ailing defense.  This may be considered a bit of a reach but New England needs help at the safety position and after Smith there is a dropoff at this position.  Smith will not be available when the Patriots pick again.   Smith had a great showing at the NFL Combine and shows extreme athleticism and versatility that could make him a force in the secondary.  He is an excellent open field tackler with the potential to create big turnovers.

Coby Fleener has established himself as the best tight end in this year’s draft class that’s pretty thin at the position.  The Giants are in desperate need of a playmaking tight end.  The Giants lost both of their tight ends to injury last year and even though they signed Martellus Bennett, taking the best tight end in the draft makes sense for New York here.  Fleener is a tight end with great hands and surprising speed.  He could be a great red zone threat for Eli and is a tight end who can battle defenders for the pass and will come down with the ball.

THE 2ND ROUND

After Melvin Ingram, I don’t believe there is a better pass rusher out there than Nick Perry.  He has dropped some on the draft board due to concerns in his size but the Colts have a number of needs and one of them is putting pressure on opposing quarterbacks.  The other three teams in the division have their franchise QBs and the Colts must put pressure on them.  Nick Perry is a great value at the beginning of the 2nd round.

The Rams have a number of needs on their roster greater than running back but Steven Jackson is starting to near the end of his career and the Rams must balance his workload.  Thanks to the recent devaluation of running backs, the 2nd best running back in the draft is available at the beginning of the 2nd round.  With so many needs the best thing the Rams can do is draft the best player available for them and that’s LaMichael James.  I could also see the Rams taking Clemson’s Andre Branch with this pick.

For the Vikings they will be deciding between two South Carolina players at this pick – Stephon Gilmore and Alshon Jeffrey. The Vikings got some very good news when last week CB Chris Cook was acquitted of domestic violence charges. Nonetheless, the Vikings need secondary help and Stephon Gilmore is the last of the top tier of cornerbacks.  When the Vikings have an opportunity to take a top-20 talent at 35th overall the Vikings won’t hesitate.  The wide receiver class is deep enough that the Vikings can still find good talent in later rounds.

The Browns really need a quarterback but there are no prospects worth taking here.  Running back is also a need for the Browns and Lamar Miller is the best on the board.  He has the tools to be an all-purpose running back and a smart pick for Cleveland.

The Bucs made some big splashes in free agency but still need help on the defensive side of the ball.  Andre Branch is a great athlete who can play either defensive end or outside linebacker.

Defensive tackle is a big need for the Rams and in recent weeks Kendall Reyes has shot up the boards.   He is a strong tackle who should solidify the Rams’ defensive line.

If you can name two or more Jacksonville receivers, you are probably a Jaguars fan. The Jaguars gave up a lot to get their franchise QB last year and now they need someone for him to throw to.  Jeffrey is a big, physical first round talent who drops some because of concerns about his ability to separate from defenders. Nonetheless who is a large, physical receiver with great hands.  He’s the kind of guy you can lob a ball into the endzone and he will be the one who comes down with it.  He will make a perfect complement for Laurent Robinson.

The Dolphins could target a wide receiver with this pick given the Brandon Marshall trade but Terrell Manning gives them an opportunity to put more pressure on Tom Brady.

Think of how good Cam Newton was last year.  Now imagine what he could do if he had 2 wide receivers instead of 1…

They already got Mario Williams in free agency and now they get to bookend him with one of the best defensive ends in the draft.

The Chiefs are a young team ready to win and their biggest need is clearly nose tackle.  This pick is a bit of a reach but given the scarcity of quality at this position it’s the right pick for Kansas City.

Since the Seahawks didn’t address their pass rush in the first round, they must address it here.  Especially if Peyton Manning joins the division…

The Eagles have shown interest in Ronnell Lewis.  They continue to use this draft to rebuild their defense.

The Cowboys have some holes on their interior offensive line and get the opportunity to pick up the 2nd best center in the draft with the 46th overall pick.

The Eagles taking a quarterback in the 2nd round when they have an established starter? Here we go again…

The Jets need to solidify their offensive line and a strong, physical tackle like Sanders in the 2nd round is a perfect find for the Jets.

The depth at the cornerback position in this draft is unreal.  Hosley has the potential to be an elite corner and tighten up the Patriots’ secondary.

Alfonzo Dennard’s draft stock has dropped in recent weeks but he is still a great option for the Chargers in the 2nd round.

The Bears makeover of their offensive line isn’t done yet.  Bobby Massie is a physical athlete whose stock has risen lately and could potentially be a first round talent.

The Titans have a glaring weakness at the middle of their offensive line and will be looking to add a center or a guard in the 2nd round.

Regardless of whether or not they add a running back via free agency, the Bengals need depth at the position.  David Wilson is a top 5 running back that can help Cincy immediately.

The Falcons have the greatest tight end of all-time on their roster but Tony G. is getting up there in years and the 2nd best tight end on the board gives them a perfect opportunity to develop Gonzalez’s heir and provides Matt Ryan with yet another weapon as they try to finally win a playoff game.

The Lions franchised Cliff Avril but they still need to find a long term answer at the position and the Lions are hoping that Jones can be it.

The Steelers are trying to get younger on both sides of the line of scrimmage and with the 56th overall pick, Worthy is a steal.

Whether it’s Tim Tebow or Peyton Manning throwing the ball, he’s going to need some weapons.  Chris Givens is a perfect replacement for the departed Eddie Royal.

Osemele was a great offensive tackle in college who will most likely be a guard in the NFL.  He has the talent to go about 25 picks earlier and would be a great find for the Texans here.

The biggest need for the Saints this offseason is obviously outside linebacker.  With no first round pick and very little cap room the Saints must address that need here.  Zach Brown was once projected to be a late first/early second rounder but has recently dropped as other prospects have leapfrogged him.  He’s still the best possible pick for the Saints here.

Aaron Rodgers spends a lot more time on his back than he should.  When your division has Julius Peppers, Jared Allen, and Cliff Avril the Packers need to really address their offensive line issues.

The Ravens are a pretty complete team that are just getting older at key positions.  The Ravens hope that Mychal Kendricks can one day take Ray Lewis’ place.

The 49ers biggest need at this point is nose tackle as they have not yet recovered from the departure of Aubrayo Franklin.  Josh Chapman is the 3rd best pure nose tackle in the draft and a great pick up for San Fran here.

The defensive overhaul continues for the Patriots. Once Still was projected to be a top 15 pick, his stock has fallen in recent weeks but he’s still the best defensive lineman left on the board at this point and fills a need for the Patriots.

With the release of Brandon Jacobs, the Giants (who are a run-first team) must find a complement to Ahmad Bradshaw and Doug Martin is a top 5 running back in this class and the best running back left on the board at this point.

Questions? Comments? Snide Remarks? Let me hear ’em!
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Divided We Fall – The Saga of the Topeka Ramblers

In honor of Black History Month, we will be releasing a story every week about a black athlete or team whose story has rarely been told.  In order to appreciate the array of sports we have today, I feel that it’s important to understand where they have come from and to sing the praises of those contributors whose stories have mostly been forgotten.  

A special request was made on Twitter for this specific article after a North Carolina student read an article on ESPN that was based off of this article.  To see that article by my friend and mentor Dr. Richard Lapchick please click HERE.

“Combine the two teams.’ It seemed like a simple request at the time but one that Topeka High School Principal Buck Weaver was hesitant to grant.  It was the fall of 1948 and Trojans player Dean Smith was relentless in petitioning Weaver for a change.1 The desire to win that would eventually make Smith an icon in Chapel Hill, North Carolina was already present in this young Topeka High School basketball player.  Smith wanted to be the best; he wanted to win; and he knew that by combining both of the school’s varsity basketball teams – the Trojans and the Ramblers – Topeka High School could have the greatest basketball team in the entire state.  But Principal Weaver worried about such a move and how it would be perceived by the community.  It was true that Topeka High School did have two very talented basketball teams that, if combined, could make Topeka High a basketball power.  It was simple in theory but there was just one slight problem: the Trojans were the school’s all-white team and the Ramblers were all black.  Much like local restaurants and the high school swimming pool, Topeka High School basketball had always been segregated and, in the name of social correctness and tradition, Buck Weaver was not about to let that change.“2

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Before they decided to make headlines by naming themselves “Google, Kansas” for a month and before the band Kansas rose from being a local band to a national sensation, Topeka, Kansas became known as the place where the trail was blazed for the American Civil Rights movement.  In 1954, Topeka resident Oliver Brown (and other African-American parents) brought the case of Brown vs. the Board of Education of Topeka before the United States Supreme Court to argue against the inconvenience and inequality that was created by a segregated grade school system in the state of Kansas.  The court ruled unanimously in the favor of Oliver Brown and the NAACP (National Association for the Advancement of Colored People) and overruled Plessy vs. Ferguson’s long-held doctrine of “separate but equal” in regard to public institutions of learning.  Until this point, there were segregated grade schools, middle schools, high schools, and colleges/universities throughout the country.  In the state of Kansas all public schools below the high school level were kept “separate but equal”3 The policy of Kansas, as Alabama Governor George Wallace would declare in 1963, was, “segration now; segregation tomorrow; segregation forever.”4

The 1944 Topeka Ramblers; Photo Courtesy of Tanner Treiber

Before the historic decision of Brown v. Board, high schools in Kansas were the only public schools that were integrated.  Topeka High School was integrated from the time it was founded in 1871.  While Topeka High met the state requirement that all high schools be open to students of all races; Topeka High was not truly integrated.5 Despite the fact that black and white students attended the same high school, had the same classes, and even ate in the same cafeteria; segregation was alive and well in the Sunflower State.  Black students could not use the school’s swimming pool and had to attend separate school dances than white students.  Blacks had less representation on the student council than white students and could not play on the same basketball team as their white classmates.2 And in 1935, when the Topeka Ramblers, Topeka High School’s all-black basketball team, was formed; the significant change that Brown vs. the Board of Education would bring seemed a lot farther than nineteen years away.6  When Oliver Brown put on that Ramblers uniform, he had no idea the number of ways that he would one day effectuate social change.7

The Topeka Ramblers were formed in 1935 as the all-black high school basketball team of Topeka High School and considered a separate team from the school’s Trojans.   Topeka High School had two high school teams from the time the all-black Cardinals had formed in 1929 before they gave way to the Ramblers.   Similar to other schools of the time that had an all-white and an all-black basketball team, Topeka High School really did not claim the Ramblers as the Trojans were clearly the school’s team.  However, the Ramblers provided the one primary opportunity that young black Topeka athletes had to play competitive high school basketball. The team was formed by a group of black students from Topeka who had a love for basketball and was tired of being excluded from the same athletic opportunities that their white counterparts had.2 

The Ramblers were kept separate from the Topeka High School Trojans and were restricted from practicing or playing games in “the Dungeon” – the school’s gymnasium.  As former Ramblers player Jack Alexander recalled, “We had no connection with ‘the Dungeon” relative to basketball.”2 The Ramblers were, instead, forced to play their games and hold their practices at East Topeka Junior High.  The Ramblers also had an all-black cheerleading squad that was kept separate from the Trojans cheerleaders.   The Ramblers only had two balls to their name, one for games and one for practice, and except for the very rare occasion when a teammate had their own ball and allowed the team to use it; basketball practices were held using only one ball.6

However, to Topeka High School’s credit, though the Ramblers were kept separate from the school they represented, they were treated better by Topeka High than other all-black high school teams of the time (though this treatment was still far below what the white teams received).   Topeka High School provided the Ramblers with their uniforms and was unprecedented in providing the Ramblers players, coaching staff, and cheerleaders with buses for road games; most other black teams of that era relied on public transportation to play away from their home court. 6

The Ramblers traveled all over the state of Kansas and western Missouri to play their conference rivals.  They played local teams such as the Lawrence High School Promoters and Leavenworth High School.  They also routinely traveled to the Kansas City area (nearly 75 miles away) to play teams like R.T. Coles High School in Kansas City, Missouri and Bartlett High School in St. Joseph, Missouri.2  This geographically widespread all-black conference was often referred to as the “Chitlin’ Circuit” (the name given to the collection of concert halls and venues that black musicians were permitted to perform at in the South8) by many of the players.6   The team also played a non-conference schedule that included traveling to Independence, Missouri (nearly 85 miles), Fort Scott, Kansas (nearly 150 miles), and Parsons, Kansas (nearly 200 miles) on an annual basis.  The Ramblers were very successful and talented and always found ways to win.  While Topeka High School provided the travel and uniforms, Ramblers players had to still deal with the hardships at home and on the road of playing in a segregated era.2

Though Topeka High School was integrated, hardly anything else in Topeka was.  The local theater forced blacks to sit on the right side and whites on the left.  Restaurants, swimming pools, and other public places were segregated – the road was no different.  When the Ramblers played on the road they would eat simple meals in churches or gymnasiums with the food being provided by the families of the opposing teams.  Former Ramblers player, Donald Redmon, remarked about the food they ate that, “It [eating rabbit on road trips] wasn’t exactly what I would call first class.”3 When the Ramblers went on extended road trips to Fort Scott or Parsons, the team, cheerleaders, and coaches would stay with local black families.  Meanwhile the Trojans were afforded the relative luxury of being able to eat at restaurants and stay in hotels due to nothing more than the color of their skin.2

As time marched on, change slowly but surely came to Topeka, Kansas and the rest of the country.  In 1936, a year after the Ramblers began to play, Jesse Owens, a black track athlete, shone at the Summer Olympic Games in Berlin, Germany.   In the 1940’s, it became common in Kansas for school’s to have integrated high school football teams, baseball teams, and track teams.  In 1947, Jackie Robinson and Larry Doby broke the color barrier in the National and American Leagues respectively.  However, in Topeka, even though these young men routinely played basketball against each other in their gym classes, the high school continued to have two teams and kept the Ramblers and the Trojans separate.6  Both teams were extremely talented.  In 1948, the Ramblers placed third in the state tournament.  Bill Bunten, a former Trojans player, recalled that, if the teams had been combined that year, Topeka High School could have been state champions.2  The following year, after nearly twenty years of segregated basketball in Topeka, change seemed to be on the horizon when a young Trojans player approached the principal, Buck Weaver, and asked him to combine the two teams.1

GETTY IMAGES Dean Smith is one of the winningest coaches in NCAA history. It was while a student at Topeka he learned the importance of equality

Combine the two teams.  It seemed like a simple request at the time but one that Topeka High School Principal Buck Weaver was hesitant to grant.  It was the fall of 1948 and Trojans player Dean Smith was relentless in petitioning Weaver for a change.1 The desire to win that would eventually make Smith an icon in Chapel Hill, North Carolina was already present in this young Topeka High School basketball player.  Smith wanted to be the best; he wanted to win; and he knew that by combining both of the school’s varsity basketball teams – the Trojans and the Ramblers – Topeka High School could have the greatest basketball team in the entire state.  But Principal Weaver worried about such a move and how it would be perceived by the community.  It was true that Topeka High School did have two very talented basketball teams that, if combined, could make Topeka High a basketball power.  It was simple in theory but there was just one slight problem: the Trojans were the school’s all-white team and the Ramblers were all black.  Much like local restaurants and the high school swimming pool, Topeka High School basketball had always been segregated and in the name of social correctness and tradition, Buck Weaver was not about to let that change.2

Weaver was primarily worried about events like school dances (two separate school dances were already held at the school for blacks and whites after football games) and how the integration of the Ramblers and Trojans would be received in Topeka.   While the school’s football, track, and baseball teams were integrated, blacks and whites playing on the same basketball team was still virtually unheard of in the state of Kansas.   Blacks and whites had always been separated on the court but as Ramblers center Richard Ridley once said that, “any time that separate is not equal, there’s chicanery.”2 Though players of the day recall that there was never any documented ruling that blacks and whites could not play together, segregation on the court was enforced by simple tradition.  Black players had always expected to play on the Ramblers and white players had always expected to play on the Trojans.  While some young black players dreamed of playing on the Trojans and were disappointed when this was not the case, most did not give it a second thought because of the fact that it had “always been that way”.2 A young Dean Smith, however, was one of many who realized that it was not right and that it was not in the best interest of the school to segregate.  Weaver maintained that it was not in Topeka High’s best interest to have blacks and whites socializing at the same school dance and thus, the teams should be kept separate.1

Nonetheless, progress was coming to Topeka and not even Principal Weaver could stand in its path.  After the 1948 – 1949 season, Smith got his wish and Topeka High School’s basketball teams were integrated and the Ramblers disbanded.   Three black players joined the Trojans junior varsity squad in 1950 and during the 1951 season, Bill Petersen became the first black Trojans varsity player in school history.2  After the integration of the two teams, several of the Rambler alumni went on to play important roles in the city of Topeka and elsewhere.   Former Rambler Joe Douglas became Topeka’s first black fire chief, Jack Alexander became the town’s water commissioner, and Richard Ridley made a name for himself in real estate.  Coach Merle Ross became an administrator for the city’s elementary schools and Ira Hutchinson became the Deputy Director of the National Park Service (NPS).   Former Ramblers players Oliver Brown and Charles Scott put Topeka, Kansas on the map and scored the first major victory for racial equality in the United States when they won the landmark Supreme Court Case Brown vs. the Board of Education of Topeka in 1954.   Today, Topeka High School has one of the most racially diverse high school athletic programs in the state of Kansas.6

And what of the young Trojans player who first asked Buck Weaver to integrate Topeka High School’s teams?  Dean Smith went on to play at the University of Kansas under the legendary Forrest C. “Phog” Allen where he won a national championship in 1952.   He then served as an assistant coach with the University of Kansas and the University of North Carolina (UNC) – Chapel Hill and in 1961, was named the head coach of the University of North Carolina Tar Heels men’s basketball team.  Smith coached the team for thirty six years and when he stepped down in 1997, he had coached the U.S. Olympic team to a gold medal, had made eleven Final Four appearances, won two national championships as a coach at UNC, and had been inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame in 1983.  At the time of his retirement, his 879 career wins were the most all time among college coaches.10 But more importantly was the fact that the Trojans player who asked his principal to integrate the Ramblers and Trojans in 1948 never stopped fighting for equality.11 Smith once commented that, “It’s embarrassing [the segregation of basketball teams at Topeka High School]; I was taught that we’re all human.”1 Smith took these life lessons and applied them throughout his coaching career. In 1966, Smith successfully recruited Charlie Scott, UNC-Chapel Hill’s first African American scholarship player and one of the first in the Atlantic Coast Conference.  He used this recruitment as a stepping stone to use his influence to fight for desegregation in Chapel Hill and the rest of the state of North Carolina.11

In 1966, Charles Scott became the first black scholarship athlete at UNC. Dean Smith recruited him. Dean Smith's father also successfully integrated the Division II Basketball team at Emporia State University in Emporia, Kansas. PHOTO CREDIT - UNC ATHLETICS

Though Smith had 879 victories to speak of when he stepped down in October of 1997, perhaps his greatest victories were the ones that were not tallied.  Perhaps his utmost wins came off of the court.  Recruiting Charlie Scott, fighting for racial equality in North Carolina, and having the courage as a young man to ask his high school principal to desegregate the school’s basketball teams in spite of societal norms are much more significant than what a scoreboard read at the end of a basketball game.  Dean Smith saw through the lies that Topeka High School and society were telling him and knew Topeka High School needed to be unified.   He knew that in order to win, on and off the court, that the teams could no longer be divided on the basis of race.

In 1954, Chief Justice Earl Warren would tell the Topeka Board of Education that Plessy vs. Ferguson no longer applied to public schools.  He would explain to them that a young girl should not have to ride a bus to an all-black school when she can walk the seven blocks to a school that had been all-white.  He would explain that separate is never equal.5 Brown v. Board helped to dispel one of the greatest lies American society has ever told.

In 1858, President Abraham Lincoln declared that, “A house divided against itself cannot stand.”12 A high school cannot have two separate varsity teams divided on the basis of race and consider themselves an integrated high school.  A school cannot neglect to claim one team and force them to play and practice with less equipment and in a separate facility and call it equal.   One team cannot eat in restaurants on the road while the other is eating rabbit in churches. Yet from 1871 – 1949, Topeka High School did just that and claimed to be integrated when that really was not the case.   The Ramblers and Trojans were both conditioned to believe that exclusion and disconnection were in the best interest of all parties involved and that both were given equal opportunities.  Topeka High School had two talented basketball teams but to ensure “equality” kept them apart.  If only Topeka High School had one team instead of two, the great teams that could have been.   If only.

If only the Trojans and Ramblers had been allowed to play as one, united; Topeka High School could have multiple championships to their name.  But unfortunately, they were forced to play as two, divided.  In the name of societal interest they fell divided, with only tradition and “best interest” to blame.

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1 Mike Adams, “A Microcosm in Basketball”, The Baltimore Sun, January 6, 2002, http://articles.baltimoresun.com/2002-01-06/news/0201060203_1_topeka-jack-alexander-blacks-and-whites.

2 Steve Fry, “’49 Basketball Teams Segregated”, The Topeka Capital-Journal, October 10, 2009, http://cjonline.com/news/local/2009-10-10/49_basketball_teams_segregated.

3 Lisa Cozzens, “Brown v. Board of Education”, African American History, May 25, 1998, http://www.watson.org/~lisa/blackhistory/early-civilrights/brown.html.

4 George C. Wallace, “1963 Inaugural Address”, January 14, 1963.

5 “Brown vs. the Board of Education of Topeka Information Release”, The Topeka Capital-Journal, February 28, 2002, http://cjonline.com/stories/022802/ksb_release.shtml.

6 Topeka Public Schools, “Famous Topeka Athletes: Black Pioneers Slam-Dunk Segregation!”, Sports Gazette, Accessed June 7, 2010, http://www.hummersportspark.com/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=41&Itemid=46&limit=1&limitstart=7.

7 Topeka and Shawnee County Public Library, “In the Paint”, Accessed June 8, 2010,  http://www.tscpl.org/programs/comments/in_the_paint/.

8 Mississippi Blues Commission, “Club Ebony,” Accessed June 10, 2010, http://www.msbluestrail.org/_webapp_2179154/Club_Ebony.

Steve Fry, “Ramblers, Trojans Talk Basketball”, The Topeka Capital-Journal, October 15, 2009, http://cjonline.com/news/local/2009-10-15/ramblers_trojans_talk_basketball.

10 Phil Ponce and John Feinstein, End of an Era”, Newshour, Public Broadcasting Service (PBS), October 9, 1997, http://www.pbs.org/newshour/bb/sports/july-dec97/dean_10-9.html.

11 Elizabeth Hull, “Black History at UNC: Charles Scott”, UNC Library, February 6, 2009, http://www.lib.unc.edu/blogs/morton/index.php/2009/02/black-history-at-unc-charles-scott/.

12 Abraham Lincoln, “House Divided Speech”, June 16,1858.