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Combine Judgements: No shortage of impact D-linemen in draft

by | CBSSports.com Senior Writer

INDIANAPOLIS -- This year's draft is so loaded with defensive linemen that people who know said they believe 20 or more could go in the first round. Compare that to last year when nine defensive linemen were first-round draft choices, and you understand how top-heavy the draft is at the position.

"Regardless of the defense," said Kansas City general manager Scott Pioli, "there are players that can help any defense in the National Football League."

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Defensive tackle Nick Fairley might be the first choice of the draft. Or it could be Alabama's Marcell Dareus. Take your pick. All I know is that, like last season, there might be two defensive tackles gone with the first three picks.

Defensive end is loaded, too, with Clemson's Da'Quan Bowers, UNC's Robert Quinn, Wisconsin's J.J. Watt, Purdue's Ryan Kerrigan, Iowa's Adrian Clayborn and Cal's Cam Jordan the best and brightest.

"Everybody's looking for pass rushers," Cleveland GM Tom Heckert said.

Then they're in the right place at the right time.

2. The NFL keeps telling us how big its TV ratings are for the combine, which means it won't be long before it considers opening the doors to the public and charging admission for the event. One NFL source I trust said he could see it happening within three years. He also said he's surprised it hasn't happened by now. Make that two of us.

3. The only slam-dunk first-round quarterbacks? Blaine Gabbert and Cam Newton, and each should go in the first 10 picks ... probably sooner. You know what I don't like about Newton, including his mechanics, but I'll tell you what concerns me about Gabbert: Those 16 touchdown passes in 2010. If he's as good as scouts think he is, why didn't he crush the competition last season?

4. So Jake Locker and Newton each ran a 4.59 40. So what? That shouldn't pump their draft stock in anyone's eyes, and here's why: You know what Tom Brady ran at the 2000 combine? Try 5.23 seconds. Based on that, you might not draft him, which means you might not have a job in a year, either.

5. I'm with Pete Prisco on Auburn defensive tackle Nick Fairley. He's the best player in this draft, but look out for Alabama's Marcell Dareus. He had a great combine, is 28 pounds heavier and is squeezing Fairley at the top of the board.

6. Georgia wide receiver A.J. Green is so far ahead of the pack that a GM said that if he were to step into the NFL right now "he'd be one of the six or top seven wide receivers." I say he doesn't get past Cincinnati at the fourth spot.

7. You've got to feel for Oregon linebacker Casey Matthews. First of all, he has to follow his brother, Clay, who was the runner-up in this year's Defensive Player of the Year voting. Second, he had to withdraw from the combine after re-injuring his shoulder during the bench press. Apparently, it's an injury similar to one he suffered his freshman season. "Unfortunate" is how Matthews described it. I'll say. Clubs might be scared off if they think Matthews is an injury waiting to happen.

8. Look for USC's Tyron Smith to vault up draft boards in the coming weeks. The guy has all the measurables (he's 6-5, 307) and might be the best tackle in the draft. He's young (20), tested well and has a wingspan so wide that he conceded "it was tough to buy shirts with long-enough sleeves." Smith played the right side in college but is projected as a left tackle in the pros.

Dominating defensive tackle Nick Fairley could be the top pick, and shouldn't slip past No. 3. (Getty Images)  
Dominating defensive tackle Nick Fairley could be the top pick, and shouldn't slip past No. 3. (Getty Images)  
9. Like Joe Flacco before him, quarterback Pat Devlin transferred from a major college program (Penn State) to play at the University of Delaware. But the comparisons stop there. Devlin is a project; Flacco was a first-round draft pick. Plus, Devlin said Matt Ryan -- who is from his hometown -- was more of an influence on him than Flacco.

10. Based on what I heard here, I'd be surprised if the Philadelphia Eagles made a play for free-agent cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha. In fact, I'll say it right now: I don't see it happening. Philadelphia doesn't seem all that interested.

11. A coach I trust told me Cincinnati will have no choice but to trade quarterback Carson Palmer. When I notified him that the Bengals weren't interested, he said, "Well, then, Carson will retire. He's that dead set against playing for that organization. This goes way back." And this guy should know.

12. There's something Oregon State defensive tackle Stephen Paea should know about setting the combine bench-press record with 49 reps. The top guys on that list didn't do much of anything in the pros, with Philadelphia's Brodrick Bunkley the exception.

13. One problem with all this trade talk: If a CBA isn't resolved by the April 28 draft a lot of guys aren't going anywhere. I don't know of many teams interested in peddling a high-profile player for a 2012 draft pick.

14. Right around the corner from one of the hotels where teams stayed is Loughmiller's Pub and Eatery, and on its front door and windows are cardboard signs that read, "Don't Lock Us Out. Our Super Bowl is at stake."

15. True story: An AFC head coach was at a restaurant Sunday night watching the Miami Heat-New York Knicks basketball game. When it was over, a woman sitting nearby asked an employee if he could switch the TV to the Oscars. He tried but without success. So the coach intervened, asking for help again, certain that the Oscars were on. Once again an attempt was made, and once again it failed. Finally, the employee said that the Oscars weren't on but that he found something called "The Academy Awards" on ABC. I don't make 'em up.

Five guys I liked

1. Patrick Peterson, CB, LSU: He has the size, the range, the ball skills and the speed. In case you missed it he ran a 4.34 in the 40, one of the fastest at the combine. What's not to like? If you're not at or near the top of the draft board you're not going to get him, but Nebraska's Prince Amukamara isn't a bad second option. I just wish he had an interception last season.

2. Ryan Kerrigan, DE, Purdue: The Denver Post's Jeff Legwold asked offensive linemen at this year's Senior Bowl which pass rusher gave them the most trouble, and Kerrigan was the unanimous choice. "Never happened before," said Legwold, who asks the question each year. This guy is the next Kyle Vanden Bosch waiting to happen.

3. Marcell Dareus, DT, Alabama: He showed up 28 pounds bigger than Fairley, but tested as well, if not better. He came to Indianapolis as a top-10 pick; now he's a cinch to be top five.

4. Von Miller, LB, Texas A&M: He had a solid Senior Bowl, then followed it with a solid combine -- featuring a 4.53 40 and a terrific time in the 20-yard shuttle. Plus, he did it at 246 pounds, up nine pounds from his Senior Bowl weight. He's the first outside linebacker to come off the board.

5. Robert Quinn, DE, UNC: He didn't play last season because of a suspension, but he looked like the all-ACC choice from 2009 when ripping through drills. Quinn is a monster off the edge and is a dead-bolt cinch as a top-10 choice.

Five guys I didn't

1. Ryan Mallett, QB, Arkansas: OK, so he threw well. He's still a jerk. I want a quarterback who wants to be the next Joe Montana, not the next Eminem.

2. Cam Newton, QB, Auburn: He didn't throw all that well vs. air so what happens when defenders are on the field? He handled his media interview far better than Mallett, but his mechanics are screwed up, there are character concerns and he wants to be an entertainer as much as he wants to be a quarterback. I know he has all the athletic ability in the world, but there are so many caution flags here I'd be hesitant to invest a high draft pick in him.

3. Ryan Williams, RB, Virginia Tech: He had one good season ... OK, great season ... in college but enters the draft off a down year where he tore his hamstring. "I want to be playing when I'm 40 years old," he said. Question: Playing what?

4. Jimmy Smith, CB, Colorado: It's one thing to be confident; it's another to be cocky -- and Smith was so cocky that when he was asked about comparisons to Asomugha he said, "I think I have better ball skills than he does." Please. One guy's an All-Pro; the other hasn't played a down of pro ball. Whom would you trust?

5. Luke Driscoll, scout, St. Louis Rams: I don't know him, but people who do tell me he's a decent guy. Great. He still screwed up, getting arrested when he was caught urinating on a building downtown. He was charged with public nudity and intoxication, and, no, this is not how you set an example for draft-eligible players, Luke.

Five quotes to remember

1. Rex Ryan, head coach, N.Y. Jets: "I believe this is the year we're going to win the Super Bowl. The fact is: I thought we'd win it the first two years. I guarantee we'll win it this year."

2. Florida State QB Christian Ponder: "I really think I'm the whole package at quarterback."

3. A.J. Green, WR, Georgia: "I think I'm the best [wide receiver]."

4. Mike Pouncey, C, Florida: "I've got to be drafted higher than [brother] Maurkice, 18th or better."

5. Blaine Gabbert, QB, Missouri: "I really don't see the problem with being a 'spread' quarterback in college because if you're good, you're good, and you're going to play wherever."

Just asking?

  Blaine Gabbert or Cam Newton?

  Will Patrick Peterson become the first cornerback to be taken higher than the third pick?

  Who's the better defensive end -- Da'Quan Bowers or Robert Quinn?

  Who's responsible for prepping -- or not prepping -- Ryan Mallett for his news conference?

  CBA or no CBA by April 28?


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