Who can help contenders on defense?
Much has been made of the fact the Green Bay Packers have gotten to 13-0 and are chasing a perfect season despite ranking 31st in the NFL in total defense, giving up 394.7 yards per game. The Packers are hardly alone as Super Bowl contenders with defensive issues, though.
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Steve Muench's Stock Report
Up: NC State TE George Bryan
Bryan's stock took a hit when authorities reportedly found marijuana and drug paraphernalia in an apartment he was in with three of his teammates during the offseason. The charges were dropped, but teams will have questions and it's important that he interviews well. The 2011 season didn't go as well as expected, either. Bryan caught just 10 passes in the first seven games and had issues with dropped passes. However, he recorded 16 of his 30 catches in the last three games and that strong finish should quiet concerns about his ability to contribute as a receiver. He's never going to be a big-play threat and clearly needs to be more consistent catching the ball, but Bryan is an effective route-runner who can use his frame to box out defenders. More importantly, he's the best in-line blocker in the class and teams looking for that skill will raise his value as they firm up their draft boards. At 6-foot-5 and 268 pounds, Bryan is quick enough to get into position and strong enough to move smaller defensive ends off the ball.
Down: Arizona QB Nick Foles
Foles finished his collegiate career with a strong showing against Louisiana-Lafayette, and he completed 69.1 percent of his passes this season. He also has a strong arm and a quick release, but Foles did throw a career-high 14 interceptions and hasn't eased concerns about his ability to side-step interior pressure. His performance against USC is a microcosm of his overall profile. Foles threw for 425 yards and four touchdowns but was picked off twice, while Trojans QB Matt Barkley* threw for 468 yards, four touchdowns and only one interception in USC's win. Foles has played well this year, but Barkley, Baylor's Robert Griffin* and Oklahoma State's Brandon Weeden have performed even better and Foles' stock has not risen in unison.
Kevin Weidl's Stock Report
Up: Utah DL Dave Kruger*
Kruger, the younger brother of Ravens DE Paul Kruger, is just a junior but at 6-5 and 285 pounds is agile for his size and shows good strength. Dave Kruger plays with good leverage to stack blockers inside, shows quick hands and knows how to get skinny in order to get through creases. He also flashes good quickness as an interior rusher. He's a great fit as a 5-technique (DE) in a 3-4 scheme, and even has the versatility to play the 3-technique (DT) in a 4-3. It remains to be seen whether Kruger will enter the 2012 draft, but either way he's a player to watch going forward.
Down: Illinois DE Whitney Mercilus*
His production has been through the roof (19.5 TFL, FBS-best 14.5 sacks) and Mercilus certainly shows an impressive motor, but I don't necessarily agree with those who are touting him as a first-round prospect. He flashes good hands and strength, but there are questions about his overall athleticism. Mercilus is stiff overall and especially in the upper body, raising concerns about his ability to bend the edge at the next level, and his initial quickness is not elite. I do like his relentless style, but on the whole Mercilus looks to me to be more of a solid value on Day 2 than a solid first-rounder.
Scouts Inc. Observations
Muench: The average height for cornerbacks at the past three NFL combines is 5-11, and some teams have shied away from drafting corners any taller than that for two reasons. First, they tend to play a more physical style and are more likely to have durability issues. Secondly, a relatively high center of gravity raises concerns about their ability to sink their hips and change directions quickly without losing their balance. However, all three corners taken in the first round in 2011 were 6-foot or taller. More teams are looking for taller corners because the wide receivers they cover are getting bigger. Cincinnati took 6-4 A.J. Green with the fourth overall pick in 2011, Atlanta traded up to take 6-3 Julio Jones sixth overall and Kansas City took 6-4 Jon Baldwin 26th overall. Teams need corners who are big enough to match up, and the top two corners on our 2012 board fit the bill. LSU's Morris Claiborne* (6-foot) and Alabama's Dre Kirkpatrick* (6-2) both project as first-round picks and have the long arms, fluid hips and speed to develop into effective press corners who can match up with bigger receivers.
Weidl: There has been a lot of talk about the 2010 tight end class in recent weeks due to the emergence of the Patriots' Rob Gronkowski and the Saints' Jimmy Graham, but there are plenty of other players from that class who could help turn the class of 2010 into one of the best of all time. Cincinnati's Jermaine Gresham -- who, like Gronkowski, missed his entire senior season with an injury -- has come on this season to become one of rookie QB Andy Dalton's favorite targets. In Baltimore, Ed Dickson and Dennis Pitta have combined for 79 catches and five touchdowns, and in Kansas City Tony Moeaki had an outstanding rookie season in 2010 but suffered a season-ending injury early this year. That's six quality contributors from one tight end class, and only Gresham (first) and Gronkowski (second) came off the board before the third round.