2012 NFL Draft: Rising and Falling

October 08, 2011; Houston, TX, USA; Memphis Tigers defensive lineman Dontari Poe (74) attempts to get past Rice Owls offensive lineman Ian Gray (72) in the second quarter at Rice Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Troy Taormina-US PRESSWIRE

In my recent Mock Draft v. 2.0, I mentioned in passing that every draft seems to have “That One Guy…” the one who slides and slides until he’s a bargain…then slides some more. Aaron Rodgers and Alex Smith were both up to be the top pick 4 or 5 years ago and the 49′ers chose the wrong one. Rodgers slid all the way down to #24. A couple of years ago, Auburn had the top Offensive player AND the top defensive player coming off their national championship season. Cam Newton was rewarded as the top pick, but concerns about DT Nick Fairley made him slide down to 14th from a projected 3rd-9th.

This year will be no different as players fly up and down the draft board like waves at the beach. Which players are safe and which ones aren’t? Only time will tell for sure, but there are a few current risers and fallers to look at, ask why, and a current NFL comparison.

Falling:

Dontari Poe, DT, Memphis – I have this guy going #11 overall to KC, but the more I think about things, the more I see him sliding on down to the latter half of the first round and possibly completely out of it. We all know about his freakish numbers for a 350 pound guy at the combine, but he also played a Conference-USA schedule without showing a dominant player on the game film. Why is that? I can only figure perhaps he wasn’t properly motivated or challenged by his coaches, or that he just hasn’t developed his football skills yet. Since I haven’t personally studied hours upon hours of anyone’s film myself I hate to blame the Memphis coaches, but I would think a 350 lb guy with the measurables he had should dominate at a smaller school and the simple fact is that he did not. While an NFL strength and conditioning program won’t hurt I don’t think that’s the issue here. I think the guy CAN be a very productive player, and one with Pro Bowl potential, but I see him more and more as a developmental prospect now. My early thoughts are that Poe will be THIS years “That One Guy.” Haloti Ngata is the oft-used comparison physically.

Courtney Upshaw, DE/OLB, Alabama – It isn’t that Upshaw isn’t a talented player or has some huge negatives, or that he should even fall all that far. The issues with him are his tweener size and his narrow job description in Saban’s scheme. He rushed the passer. He was very good at it. However, he had a great cast around him, his team played with a lead pretty much all the time, and as such he wasn’t asked to do much else. He still has a lot of learning to do at the next level especially in defending the run. As a rookie, he may be limited to end/OLB in nickel sets before he hits his stride. I don’t think he’ll fall completely out of the first round; he’s too much of an athlete for that. He’ll need to broaden and deepen his knowledge while asked to play OLB. Melvin Ingram has the advantage of playing both in college; Upshaw does not. His college scheme boxed him in more, making him more of an unknown quantity in that way.

Michael Floyd, WR, Notre Dame – His is a case of off-field issues overshadowing his ability. A couple of months ago, I’ve seen him as high as 6th overall on a few lists, but he has steadily, albeit slowly, drifted downward. Multiple alcohol arrests in college can mean either he doesn’t learn from his mistakes or hasn’t grown up yet and neither of those are recipes for anything good when you throw millions of dollars at them – not to mention missing out on a different player who actually produces with that pick. I’ll have to let him stew a bit and find out more about him to really be able to tell much more, but those arrests would make me take my own pass with him in the first round. At this point, he could wind up going anywhere from 7 on down but the fact that the question is a part of the conversation with his talent will make him hard to nail down. A top-ten talent with UFA intangibles, he’s a candidate to possibly slide out of the first round completely. His situation generally speaking reminds me of Mario Manningham’s at the time.

Rising:

Ryan Tannehill, QB, Texas A&M – Ever since the new CBA began protecting owners and GMs from themselves with the Rookie wage scale, we’ve seen Washington overpay crazily with draft picks to jump a mere 4 slots in this year’s draft to get RG3. The existence of the rookie wage scale means teams aren’t shelling out 50-60+ million in guaranteed money to sign a kid who has never played a down as a pro, so they’ve become emboldened to reach early and often for a guy they think (hope) will be a franchise QB. Blaine Gabbert and Christian Ponder were both huge reaches last year and they played like it. It doesn’t matter when you draft the kid and it’s still up to him to absorb, learn and play. I think Tannehill goes in the top-10 in this year’s draft even though developmentally he’s nowhere near first-round material. He had a good Pro Day so he’s rising a little bit on his showing there, but whoever gets him will overpay, period. He’s simply at the right position at the right time. Ultimate ceiling? Jake Plummer.

Fletcher Cox, DT, MSU – A young guy like Michael Brockers, Cox has some polished moves and is an excellent penetrator from the DT position. He’s got the frame to add 15-20 pounds so he’d stand up to more punishment inside at the NFL level or he can play as a 3-4 end and do it well. If the Panthers want a very good DT, Cox very well could wind up being their pick at #9 overall and be the top DT taken. I’ve been sold on Brockers as the best overall DT for some time now especially when you consider how stifling LSU’s defense vs. the run was last year and Brockers’ play in particular. Both tackles have high ceilings and should be great pros so it’s more a question of which style player you are looking for. The fact that Cox has shown a sustained ability to be a disruptive force tells me he’ll probably be the rookie DT with the most sacks and/or tackles for loss. He’ll have countless more pressure/hurries/blown up plays in general to add to that and you’ve got a unique piece to build a line around. His ultimate ceiling? A Warren Sapp type.

Shea McClellin, LB, Boise St. – This is a case of sunlight doing its job. McClellin has extensive game tape as he’s been on the blue (ew!) field for the past few years and all he does is make plays. He’s all over the field causing all sorts of problems doing all manner of things being a general pain in the…ankle…to opposing offenses. ESPN’s Mike Mayock noted he’s ranked lower than Whitney Mercilus, who was a 1-year wonder at Illinois. Of course, the Illini played a Big Ten schedule to somewhat offset that lack of longevity, but Shea did a lot of damage to a lot of teams at Boise State, and they play a few ranked teams every year and have a great program going. McClellin could go as high as the bottom of the first round when all’s said and done. A team like New England could really use an edge guy with a great motor like Shea, who projects to be an outside linebacker. His ultimate ceiling? A Clay Matthews type.

Topics: Courtney Upshaw, Dontari Poe, Fletcher Cox, Michael Floyd, Ryan Tannehill, Shea McClellin

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