It's time for Les to have a turn!
Before any of us can predict the free agency and draft of 2012, we have to look at the big picture. Rivera, Hurney, and Richardson are really committed to the youth movement. One mediocre season isn't going to change this, so we have to be realistic at what we can expect from the front office in the offseason. Basically, I expect the same thing we did this previous offseason to show what we will do in 2012. I don't expect any huge signings, especially veterans who have been in the league longer than 4 or 5 years. So you can go ahead and take guys like Vincent Jackson, Desean Jackson, Wes Welker, Antonio Garay, or any CB off the table. It is a possibility they may bring in a NT like Paul Soliai, but given that we will have Ron Edwards back who has been a great teacher and mentor to the young guys, I doubt it.
I do think we sign J-Stew, Shockey, Derek Anderson, and Applewhite to a long term deal, and possibly Dan Connor. Clausen I think will be gone and replaced with a UDFA. Goodson I think we will try to trade and we won't resign MacBern. Barnidge unfortunately I think we will let go of as well. I could go through the whole team, but the others I think are pretty obvious.
Now on to the draft:
I think the trade back scenario is the most logical choice for the Carolina Panthers. I am going to stick with James's scenario of us picking at 5 and trading for Seattle's 1st, 2nd, and 3rd. Other possibilities of teams that are looking to trade up are Kansas City, Washington, Miami, Cleveland, and a slight chance of NY Jets and Denver.
1st round: Pick 12- David DeCastro, OG Stanford
Why a guard in the first round you ask? Short answer, this guy is special. Wharton and Hangartner are both at the end of their careers and we don't know how Schwartz will bounce back from injury. DeCastro is one of the best guards scouts have seen in decades, who is an absolutely phenomenal run blocker. He also VERY rarely gets beat on pass blocking as well.
Other options are: OT Johnathan Martin - Scouts are mixed on him. And I personally think we will be fine on OT's next year. Gross is still elite, Otah will be back (they only put him on IR so he could get healthy), Byron Bell is looking like a pretty solid back-up if not eventual starter, and Garry Williams will be back as well.
WR or DT: We are deep at WR, Smith has shown no signs of slowing down. LaFell looks like a natural #2, and Gettis will be back next year, and I am one of the few who thinks he can become an eilte #1 WR with time. Not to mention Pilares, Adams, and AE. Besides we run a 2 WR 2TE on most sets anyways. There really is no DT worthy of this high of a pick in my opinion. You might say Devon Still, and while I wouldn't be upset if we got him, it would be a reach. Especially after I saw him get manhandled by Wisconsin's O-Line last Saturday.
2nd Round: Pick 37- Whitney Mercilus, DE Illinois
It's hard to say exactly where he will end up. Most sites have him as an early 2nd round pick, but with the combine coming up who knows. We already have Johnson and Hardy as our starters. Keiser is looking like a diamond in the rough, and Applewhite is an excellent hybrid. Mercilus would add relief to Hardy and Johnson, as well as play the end when Hardy slides to DT. He honestly has been abusing OT's and QB's this season, and you can also add in the fact that he probably is the BPA at that point of the draft.
Other options are: DT Alameda Ta'amu - My main concern with him is his short arms. He may be powerful, but if he can't get his hands on his man he won't be able to bull rush. When Washington played against Stanford, he didn't line up much on DeCastro, but when he did DeCastro abused him. We need a NT that can handle double teams to free up our ends.
DT Dontari Poe - Massive man! At 6'5" 350lb's he is a monster. Unfortunately he is one of the slowest monsters in this draft. Also at 6'5" he would need to have a quick snap off the line to keep offensive linemen from getting under his pads which he doesn't have as of yet.
2nd Round: Pick 43- Travis Lewis, LB Oklahoma
See James's description as to why him. I'd also add that he has the frame to add more weight to be an excellent LB.
3rd Round: Pick 74- Lavonte David, LB Nebraska
I know what you're thinking. Two LB's back to back? Well not really. Because of his size David would come in as a starting safety. I would then move Sherrod Martin to CB or try to trade him. To me Martin is the only guy on the defense, other than the rookies, who is having trouble with this system. David would correct this, as well as he is the best tackler I have seen in a long time. His first two years he went to a junior college, and played in the national championship his freshman year, against a well known Blinn College when Cam was there. His job was to spy Newton the entire game. He managed to tackle him 18 times! Can you believe someone actually tackled Cam 18 times? His Junior year he broke the school record for tackles at Nebraska. This year, he is on pace to break it again. Has the quickness to stay with RB's on pass coverage and the strength to stay with TE's. By the way, he went to Junior college because of academics.
4th Round: Pick 101- Josh Chapman, NT Alabama
Different sites have him going at different places. Some at the end of the 3rd, some at the end of the 4th. I'll put him here and hope to God he falls to us because I think he is just what we need. At 6'1" and weight from 310 to 320 he isn't a huge man. But what he lacks in size he makes up for in long arms and BRUTE strength. According to his conditioning coach at Alabama he is bench pressing 580 lb's and squatting 630. He won't wow you with stats, but he will do whatever Rivera wants. He takes double teams with 1 to 2 steps back then holds firm. When he is 1on 1 he pushes the offensive lineman back or stays at the line to let the DE's and LB's get to the backfield. He doesn't have bad speed, but it isn't great. In this blitz defense though, you don't want your NT running down players. Basically put, he is a wall that RB's avoid because there is no hole in the middle.
5th Round: Pick 133- Trumaine Johnson, CB Montana
3 reasons why he drops this low, he doesn't have elite speed, he played in the FCS division, and his off the field incidents. He will probably be nothing more than a #2 corner, but he is physically gifted and too much talent to pass up on. At 6'2" 204 lb's he has the size, length and quick footwork that NFL teams look for. Has a quick burst to get to the ball in zone, and is very physical with his man at the line of scrimmage in man coverage. An excellent wrap up tackler, even against the run on the flats. His off the field issue's really are not bad at all. His freshman year he got in a fight, and I think as a junior he was tasered by a police officer for arguing with him, after the police officer tasered his friend who was the QB of Montana. So it looks like he definitely would stick up for his teammates like BAMF wants.
6th Round: Pick 165- Jeff Demps, RB Florida
I know he will never last until the 6th round of the draft, even though it is where he should go because he is so small and raw. More than likely the Raiders will pick him up early on the second day, because he is the fastest SOB in college football. Has about the same size as Darren Sproles, but much faster. Would be perfect as a return man for us on punts. However he needs a lot of work catching out of the backfield, and he relies too much on speed during his rushing attacks. Basically a project, but teams that love speed will take a chance on him in a much earlier round.
7th Round: Pick 191- BPA
I'm tempted to say Matt Conrath DT out of Virginia. But honestly, his best attribute is that he is 6'7" and easily bats balls out of the air from the line of scrimmage. It would get really frustrating for smaller QB's but I really don't think he would be able to have enough push to get that close being only 270 lb's. He is a definite project and probably a practice squad player for the first 2 years. I honestly think there will be a prospect with a 4th or 5th round grade that falls to us, like they do every year.
These are just my educated guesses, as far as the draft goes. But as far as free agency, this is what you guys should expect. I will probably make one more mock draft after the season and the combine is over, but that will be it. Let me know what you think!