If Cam Newton jokingly uses a video game character to nickname one of his opponents, it makes all sorts of headlines. But if the Panthers quarterback plays a near-flawless game in a must-win situation with two broken bones in his back 12 days after crawling out of his flipped-over truck, it doesn’t seem to attract the same amount attention.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers (2-12)COLLEGE: OregonClass: JrHT: 6-4WT: 211POS: QB
Analysis: Mariota is a dynamic athlete with excellent top-end speed. He is elite at throwing on the run. He has a quick and compact over-the-shoulder release, and he possesses excellent intangibles. The concern I have with him is that while he's good with his anticipation and accuracy when passing from inside the pocket (and he's gotten better at it this season), he isn't great -- and that's the most important quality for QBs transitioning to the NFL level. Is that enough of a risk for the Bucs, a team in serious need of a franchise quarterback, to pass on him? Maybe, or perhaps they would wind up giving Winston a higher grade. But I just can't see either of these guys sliding out of the top 10. This is as shallow of a draft at the QB position as I can remember -- at least in the past several years.
Analysis: Winston has all the tools to be great on the field as an NFL quarterback. He excels from inside the pocket, has prototypical size, can drive the ball downfield and to the outside hashes, and displays very good game-management skills and on-field leadership. But his off-field behavior to this point frightens me. The Titans and any team that considers drafting him are going to have to be comfortable with what they find when they look into his past, and with his psychological testing. But as I mentioned in the Mariota section, even if one or two teams that need a QB pass on either of these top two QBs, I don't think they all will. It's hard to envision either getting out of the top 10, at this point.
Jacksonville Jaguars (2-12)COLLEGE: USCClass: JrHT: 6-5WT: 290POS: DE
Analysis: The Jaguars have a much bigger need on the offensive line than on the defensive line -- and overall, the defense is in much better shape than the offense -- but there's too much of a talent gap between the top D-linemen and top O-linemen prospects in this class, and the Jags could afford to get younger at the position with Red Bryant already 30 years old. Williams is the No. 1 prospect on our board, with excellent strength and speed for his size, and he'd fit as a 5-technique defensive end in Gus Bradley's scheme. The Jags could also go with an edge rusher here in Nebraska's Randy Gregory or Missouri's Shane Ray, or with a big-time playmaker at wide receiver in Alabama's Amari Cooper.
Oakland Raiders (2-12)COLLEGE: NebraskaClass: JrHT: 6-6WT: 245POS: DE
Analysis: The Raiders need an edge rusher, and the presence of Gregory and Khalil Mack along the same front seven would create problems for opposing offensive lines for seasons to come. I actually have a slightly higher grade on Ray than I do Gregory, but Gregory has the length to be a better fit as a 4-3 right defensive end. He needs to add strength to succeed in the NFL, as right now he is lean and can get pushed around a bit against the run. But he is a very good pass-rusher with his lateral quickness and closing speed.
Washington Redskins (3-11)COLLEGE: MissouriClass: JrHT: 6-2WT: 240POS: DE
Analysis: The Redskins need a lot of help on defense, and in particular could use a legit pass-rusher with Brian Orakpo unable to stay healthy and Trent Murphy currently starting opposite Ryan Kerrigan. Ray would help immediately. I studied the Missouri defense on tape a lot during last season's draft process, and it was Ray who jumped out on tape as the most talented player on a front that included Kony Ealy and Michael Sam. He is an absolutely relentless pass-rusher who is tough, aggressive, can bend the end and has an explosive first step. He's also versatile and has improved his ability to convert speed to power.
New York Jets (3-11)COLLEGE: AlabamaClass: JrHT: 6-1WT: 205POS: WR
Analysis: In this scenario, Mariota and Winston are already off the board. The Jets are desperate enough to find a franchise quarterback that they could trade up a few spots to draft either player if they fall in love with one, but if they're stuck at this spot, I think they should take the best player available in Cooper. They need O-line help, but the top-rated prospect on my board, Brandon Scherff from Iowa, is best-suited to play guard at the next level. He'll be a great one for a long time, but the No. 6 overall pick is a steep price to pay for a great guard. Percy Harvin provides no guarantees, and Cooper would be an upgrade over Eric Decker, who is really best-suited to be a No. 3 WR. He'd provide a great target for whenever the Jets find their guy at QB.
7.Dante Fowler Jr.
Atlanta Falcons (5-9)COLLEGE: FloridaClass: JrHT: 6-2WT: 271POS: DE
Analysis: There's a drop-off in talent after the first six prospects, so no matter which player I assign to the Falcons it feels like a reach. I'm also not going to lose too much sleep over which pass-rusher I place here on Dec. 17, since the Falcons still have a chance to win the NFC South and wind up picking in the 20s. Fowler has the size, quickness, power and relentless motor you look for in a defensive end. He also has experience playing all along the D-line, including occasionally dropping into underneath zone coverage, and that versatility adds to his value.
New York Giants (5-9)COLLEGE: ClemsonClass: SrHT: 6-2WT: 220POS: DE
Analysis: Iowa's Brandon Scherff would be a consideration here, given the Giants' needs along the O-line, but they'd have to be convinced he's a tackle and not a guard (I think he's a guard) to justify taking him at No. 8 overall. The defense has shown improvement in the second half of the season, but it needs another legitimate pass-rushing threat to complement Jason Pierre-Paul (who is a free agent this offseason), and Beasley is a difference-maker in that role. His first-step quickness and closing speed are near elite. He plays bigger than his size, but he's still only 220-230 pounds, so he may fit better as a SLB and when turned loose as a pass-rusher.
Chicago Bears (5-9)COLLEGE: AlabamaClass: JrHT: 6-0WT: 212POS: S
Analysis: Safety was a need area for Chicago in last year's draft, and the Bears didn't address the position until the fourth round when they selected Brock Vereen. He's a solid player, but certainly not the talent that Collins is. Collins is a very impressive athlete for the safety position, with a strong, compact build, quick feet, and good length and leaping ability. He's a good open-field tackler, possesses good ball skills and plays with an edge. The Bears need all the help they can get on defense.
Carolina Panthers (5-8-1)COLLEGE: IowaClass: SrHT: 6-4WT: 320POS: OT
Analysis: Scherff reminds me a lot of Zack Martin, the Cowboys' first-round pick at No. 16 overall in the 2014 draft, in that he could be a good starting right tackle in the NFL or a great starting guard. He possesses excellent strength and toughness, and is perfectly wired for life as an NFL offensive lineman. The Panthers really need to get better in pass protection for QB Cam Newton, as they haven't done well this year following Jordan Gross' 2013 retirement. Byron Bell has been just decent at left tackle, and right tackle has been a problem area with Nate Chandler and now David Foucault.
"They got a big lead on us and they were still dropping back trying to throw the ball deep. That speaks volumes when you have a team down and it's late in the fourth quarter and you're still trying to throw the ball deep," Davis told Panthers beat reporters on Thursday, according to the Charlotte Observer.
"That's their offense. That's their team. They can run it, do whatever they want to do. But that's a sign of disrespect."
During that particular game, the Saints were up 24-6 in the fourth quarter when Brees led the team on another scoring drive, completing an 8-yard pass to Jimmy Graham for a touchdown that put the Saints up 31-6. The Saints ran only twice on the 9-play drive, for a gain of one yard.
Saints outside linebacker Junior Galette knows the chippiness that goes along with playing the Panthers. Davis was fined more than $16,000 for a cheap shot on Graham in the team's last meeting, a 28-10 Saints win in October.
"They play us tougher than any other divisional team," Galette said.
The Panthers have accused the Saints of running up the score more than once. They seethed in 2011 after the Saints went for individual records in a 45-17 blowout.
"Definitely, you could feel it," defensive tackle Dwan Edwards said after the Panthers beat the Saints 35-27 in September, 2012. "Coach was pretty adamant about reminding us what happened last year with them running up the score. Guys don't forget that. It definitely gave everyone a little extra motivation."