The first five picks of this year’s NFL draft will obviously dictate how the rest of it will look. However, it is worth noting that things probably won’t really get interesting until the sixth overall pick.
For all of the talk and all of the hype, the only real uncertainty in the upper half of the top 10 centers around what the St. Louis Rams will do. We know the Indianapolis Colts will take Andrew Luck. We know that the Minnesota Vikings will take Matt Kalil. We know that the Tampa Bay Buccaneers will take Morris Claiborne. The only thing we don’t know is whether the Rams keep their No. 2 spot or peddle it to someone else, and what impact that will have on the Cleveland Browns.
Now compare that to all the question marks surrounding picks Nos. 6-10. Do the Washington Redskins try to move up to No. 2 and nab Robert Griffin III? Or do they stay pay -- effectively taking themselves out of the RGIII sweepstakes -- and try to shore up either their offensive line or secondary? Will the Jacksonville Jaguars reach for a wide receiver as some are projecting they will? Can and will the Carolina Panthers get Cam Newton some help? What about the Miami Dolphins – how desperate are they to position themselves for possibly scooping up RGIII’s services? And, of course, what about that gigantic holes on both sides of the ball that the Buffalo Bills desperately need to fill?
So you see – the hype may surround picks Nos. 1-5, but things don’t get really interesting until you approach the second tier of the top 10. That’s when you’ll really get an idea of what the proceedings will look like for the rest of the first round and beyond.
Here is how we see picks Nos. 6-10 shaking out:
6. Washington Redskins – Dre Kirkpatrick, CB, Alabama. Obviously the Redskins and Dolphins are prime candidates to move up and try to pick up RGIII. That being said, I don’t think this team will actually be able to pull off the feat. And if they’re not able to move up and nab their quarterback of choice, Washington will get to pick from a pretty legitimate group of young guys to shore up either their offensive line or their biggest defensive hole – cornerback.
There is some speculation that Kirkpatrick will slide down in the first round because of some off-the-field concerns (read: weed), but that's nonsense. He’ll be the obvious top corner available at this point in the draft (Claiborne will be gone), and a team like the Redskins who could actually have a very nice defense by adding him into the fold will not pass up on that opportunity. Kirkpatrick doesn’t bring with him eye-popping interception totals or the nifty return man status tag that Claiborne does, but he’s strong, great against the run, not afraid of making the big hit and has a nose for the ball that can’t be taught.
The idea that he’ll fall out of the top 15 or, worse yet, the first round is absolutely ludicrous. It’s misinformation of the worst kind, but also standard operating procedure during a time of the year when peddling untruths and bluffing out of your mind becomes commonplace.
7. Jacksonville Jaguars – Quinton Coples, DE, UNC. Look, I understand that the Jaguars have some deep offensive holes that they need fill. And, by that same token, I sort of get why some are saying that they should aim to pick up a wide receiver early if they can. What I don’t understand is how you can justify throwing away a top-tier selection like this on a wide receiver who isn't worth it when there are clearly better players who also fill holes for you still on the board.
Coples may not have the trademark speedy athleticism that we’ve come to expect from our defensive ends, but his size and versatility more than make up for that. This is a guy who has a nose for blowing up plays before they even have a chance to develop, and a track record of being successful despite being double-teamed on a regular basis (55 tackles, 7.5 sacks last year). The template for being successful in the AFC South was drawn up by the Houston Texans a few years ago, and selecting Coples at No. 7 would be an excellent way for the Jags to follow that example while also investing in this team’s future. A wide receiver can be gotten for a cheaper price at some point down the line.
8/9. Carolina Panthers – Devon Still, DT, Penn State. (V1. Pick: Jonathon Martin). The more I think about it, the most sense I think it makes for the Panthers to pick up a defensive beast that they can build around. Initially I thought that, in preemptive strike against Cam Newton’s inevitable sophomore slump, Carolina might opt for some offense line help for their young stud quarterback. But shoring up the defensive line is probably a smarter move, and it also fits exactly with the way that the defensive-minded Ron Rivera thinks. Still is strong, athletic, good against the run and will effortlessly slide into the middle of a defense that desperately needs some upgrading.
8/9. Miami Dolphins – Riley Reiff, OT, Iowa. Obviously everything here depends on how seriously Miami pursues the St. Louis Rams’ No. 2 overall pick. If they really want to nab RGIII and build around him, that’s the only way they’ll get him. For now, though, let’s operate under the presumption that they don’t move up and stay at this spot, be it because they go after Matt Flynn or because they decide to stay pat at the position. Reiff fills a need on the offensive line and, perhaps more importantly, he’s worth a high pick at this particular juncture. He's a 6'6", 300-pound monster that you can comfortably insert into the right tackle spot and then rest assured that you’re set at the position for years to come. Plus, regardless of whether you seek out a quarterback via trade, free agency or however else, shoring up the offensive line will only make that guy's job easier down the line.
10. Buffalo Bills – Courtney Upshaw, OLB, Alabama. The Bills should and will aim to land someone who can get after opposing quarterbacks. Whitney Mercilus would actually make a lot of sense here too, but the fact that Upshaw is currently shining at the Senior Bowl will put him over the top in the Buffalo’s mind. He’s great as an edge rusher, plays with power, knows how to deal with bigger offensive line players, has a strong understanding of the fundamentals, and is actually a lot more versatile than folks give him credit for being. Having played for the top defense in the nation in college, he’ll immediately spruce up an anemic Bills unit in desperate need of some help.