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NFL Draft Rumors: Fletcher Cox, Ryan Tannehill, Trent Richardson & More

With just two days before the first round of the 2012 NFL Draft, here are a couple of interesting storylines circulating the rumor mill.

Browns to draft the best overall receiver available at No. 22?
Take it for what it’s worth but TFY Draft Insider Tony Pauline hears from league insiders that the Browns will select Trent Richardson with the No. 4 overall pick and the best available wide receiver at No. 22. As Rotoworld.com points out, I’m not sure how these so-called league insiders would be privy to the Browns’ draft plans but this is noteworthy none the less. I’ve had Ohio State offensive tackle Mike Adams slated Cleveland at No. 22 in my first two mocks, but Baylor’s Kendall Wright arguably makes more sense for the receiver-needy Browns.

Bills to take Barron or Gilmore at No. 10?
The consensus among mock drafts is that the Bills will select Iowa OT Riley Reiff with the No. 10 overall pick but WGR 550 in Buffalo says that the team is interested in Alabama safety Mark Barron and South Carolina cornerback Stephon Gilmore. I would be surprised if the Bills took Barron over Reiff but then again I don’t have access to Buffalo’s big board. If they have Barron and Gilmore rated ahead of Reiff, then obviously one of those players will be the pick. That said, with Demetrius Bell gone, my money is still on Reiff landing in Buffalo.

Cox moving into the top 5?
This rumor is surprising but not altogether shocking – NFL Network’s Jason LaCanfora is reporting that some teams are considering trading up to No. 5 to take Mississippi State defensive tackle Fletcher Cox. LaCanfora tweets that teams want to jump up ahead of the Rams, who could take Cox at No. 6. Viewed as one of the more versatile defenders in this year’s draft based on his potential to play either defensive tackle or as a five technique in a 3-4, Cox could definitely go in the top 10. But the top 5? That seems like a reach although hey, the Chiefs did take LSU DE/DT Tyson Jackson with the third overall pick in the 2009 NFL Draft and he was slated to go somewhere between No. 10 and No. 15. I’m not ruling out anything at this point.

Tannehill not a first-round pick?
NFL.com is reporting that one high-ranking personnel chief believes that a lot of teams don’t view Texas A&M quarterback Ryan Tannehill as a first-round pick. “I can see a situation where he doesn’t go at all in the top 20,” says the unknown source. My response to that is: It doesn’t matter if 31 teams don’t consider him a first-round pick. All it takes is one (*cough* Miami *cough*) and he’ll be a first rounder.

Spielman fanning the trade flames again
Vikings’ GM Rick Spielman has been highly entertaining the past few weeks. He’s now insisting that trade talks for the No. 3 pick have heated up and a deal could potentially get done by Thursday evening. “We’re going to be very open to the trade scenario,” Speilman said. “That front has really heated up over the last 24 hours and I’m sure it’ll continue to heat up as we head into Thursday night.” I don’t doubt that the Vikings will consider Matt Kalil, Justin Blackmon and Morris Claiborne with their selection, nor do I dispute the notion that they could trade out of that spot. But at the end of the day they’re guaranteed to get Kalil and their current left tackle is Charlie Johnson. Unless they receive a sweetheart deal from a team wanting to get ahead of the Browns at No. 4 (who probably want Richardson), I doubt the Vikings will be able to trade out and thus, they’ll wind up with Kalil.

Follow the Scores Report editors on Twitter @TheScoresReport. You can also follow TSR editor Gerardo Orlando @clevelandteams and @bullzeyedotcom, and you can follow TSR editor Anthony Stalter @AnthonyStalter.

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Is Brandon Weeden a first-round prospect?

Outside of whether or not the Vikings and/or Browns will pull off a surprise in the top 5 and seeing if any team will touch Janoris Jenkins in the first 32 picks, one of the biggest questions heading into the 2012 NFL Draft is whether or not Brandon Weeden is worth a first-round selection.

The Oklahoma State quarterback completed 766 of his 1,102 pass attempts for 9,260 yards and 75 touchdowns in 30 games while in college. He’s currently viewed as a second-round prospect but the recent buzz is that the Browns may select him with the 22nd overall pick in next week’s draft.

But is he worthy of first-round consideration?

What impresses me most about Weeden is his ability to throw the deep out. That’s the one throw that separates the college quarterback from the NFL arm. If a prospect can’t make that throw, then he’s looking at a mid-round grade or there’s a very good chance that he won’t be selected at all.

Weeden also does a nice job of surveying the field, working through his progressions, and recognizing when he needs to either deliver a fastball or take a little off in order to get the proper touch. While some have criticized his pocket presence, I actually think he moves around a little better than given credit for. He’s no RGIII but he’s not a stature either.

When it comes to his measurables, Weeden checks out there, too. At 6-foot-4 and 221 pounds, he’s got average size for a NFL quarterback and his forty time of 4.89 is slightly above average for a pro signal caller.

But there are three very distinct reasons why I wouldn’t take him in the first round. The first two are legitimate issues while the third I would be willing to look past if I were an NFL general manager, but it’s still worth noting.

For starters, Weeden was in the shotgun his entire collegiate career. That doesn’t mean that he can’t learn to play from under center but when he’s never done it then how confident can a team be that he’ll be successful? It may take Weeden two years before he’s comfortable in a pro-style offense.

Which brings me to Weeden’s age. There are some benefits to him being 28, such as his maturity level and leadership abilities. But if he needs one or two years before he’s ready to start (which is a possibility given the fact he played in a spread system at Oklahoma State), he might be 30 by the time he sees the field.

Then again, his age is the thing that bothers me the least. If he winds up playing at the same level as Drew Brees, Peyton Manning or Tom Brady, who cares if he’s 28 or 38?

No, the thing that bothers me the most is the fact that he didn’t face a ton of pressure while playing in the ultra-soft Big 12. And when opponents did get defenders in his face, he didn’t perform very well. He would rush his throws, display poor footwork, or throw into coverage to avoid sacks. Those aren’t the best qualities to have in quarterback, especially considering defenses are light years better in the NFL than in the Big 12.

Thus, would I draft Brandon Weeden at No. 22 overall? No, but I think he’s an intriguing second-round prospect that is definitely worth a look at No. 37 if I’m the Browns. While his age is a knock against him, Weeden is a better quarterback prospect than Colt McCoy was coming out of Texas based on his arm strength alone.

It would be interesting to see the former Big 12 quarterbacks battle it out in Cleveland for the next few years, but if I’m a Browns fan I’m hoping that the key piece in the Julio Jones trade (i.e. the 22nd overall pick) isn’t invested in Weeden.

Browns’ Heckert disputes King’s report about Justin Blackmon

Oklahoma State’s Justin Blackmon (C) heads to the end zone for his second touchdown in the second quarter of the Fiesta Bowl between Stanford and Oklahoma State at University of Phoenix Stadium in Glendale, Arizona, January 2,2012. UPI /Art Foxall

In his latest edition of “Monday Morning Quarterback,” SI.com’s Peter King recently reported that Browns GM Tom Heckert “loves” Oklahoma State wideout Justin Blackmon and if Heckert wasn’t overruled by president Mike Holmgren, Blackmon would be Cleveland’s pick at No. 4.

But Heckert states otherwise.

I haven’t spoken to Peter King in years so I have no idea where that came from,” Heckert told reporters on a conference call. “Everything you have heard is complete nonsense. It’s just this time of year and I understand that.”

In defense of King, he could have received that information from a trusted source that knows Heckert. But it’s easier to dismiss King’s report when you hear Heckert say, “I haven’t spoken to Peter King in years…”

If the Browns were to take Blackmon at No. 4, it would be extremely interesting to see what the Rams do at No. 6. Listening to Jeff Fisher’s comments this week at Rams Park, it definitely appears that St. Louis is fully committed to Steven Jackson as its primary back. But if Blackmon was off the board at No. 6 and Trent Richardson fell, I have a hard time believing the Rams wouldn’t take the Alabama running back with their first selection. After all, St. Louis would only have to worry about having Jackson and Richardson on the same roster for one year. If Richardson looked like he could handle the full-time rushing load in his rookie season, then the Rams could part ways with Jackson next year when he turns the dreaded age of 30.

But I was at Rams Park earlier this week and like he always seems to be at this time of year, Jackson is in tremendous shape. Thus, the hope for St. Louis is that Cleveland takes Richardson at No. 4, Blackmon falls to the Rams at No. 6, and Sam Bradford finally gets his big-time weapon in the receiving game.

Vikings have need at receiver but Kalil remains logical choice at No. 3

Minnesota Vikings’ quarterback Christian Ponder (R) passes under pressure from Seattle Seahawks defensive end Alan Branch (L) in the quarter of a pre season game on August 20, 2011 at CenturyLink Field in Seattle. UPI /Jim Bryant

Over the past week, ESPN’s Adam Schefter has been adamant that USC left tackle Matt Kalil is not a lock to go to the Minnesota Vikings at No. 3 in next week’s draft. But logic dictates otherwise.

According to Schefter, Kalil, LSU cornerback Morris Claiborne, Oklahoma State receiver Justin Blackmon, and Notre Dame wideout Michael Floyd are the players that the Vikings are “strongly debating” taking with the third overall pick. All four prospects would make sense based on Minnesota’s needs, but out of that group Kalil sticks out like a sore thumb.

The Vikings must build around quarterback Christian Ponder and while they could certainly help him by adding a playmaker at receiver, the left tackle position must be addressed. The Vikings could get by at wideout with Percy Harvin and Michael Jenkins, but to return to the field next year with Charlie Johnson penciled in at left tackle would be a mistake. Johnson struggled mightily in pass protection last year and wasn’t much better as a run blocker either. It would be difficult for Ponder to make strides in his second season if he has defenders constantly at his backside.

It’s difficult to find left tackles in the middle rounds that are ready to start right away. It makes more sense for the Vikings to snag Kalil at No. 3 and then target a receiver like LSU’s Ruben Randle in the second round if he were to fall. The wide receiver position is deep in this year’s draft. Offensive tackle, meanwhile, is not.

Schefter is the most plugged in NFL reporter in the league and there’s always legitimacy to his reports. But you have to wonder if GM Rick Spielman is putting a spin on things trying to draw interest in the No. 3 pick. If the Vikings trade down, they could acquire multiple picks and fill multiple needs in the first couple of rounds.

But at the end of the day, the Vikings need help now and I believe Kalil will ultimately be too good to pass up at No. 3.

Rang: Blackmon not viewed as an elite prospect

Oklahoma State’s Justin Blackmon (C) heads to the end zone for his second touchdown in the second quarter of the Fiesta Bowl between Stanford and Oklahoma State at University of Phoenix Stadium in Glendale, Arizona, January 2,2012. UPI /Art Foxall

While Justin Blackmon is viewed as the top receiver in this year’s draft class, he reportedly isn’t considered an “elite” prospect.

From Rotoworld:

According to a poll done by CBS Sports’ Rob Rang, 3-of-3 teams interviewed on Friday night did not consider Oklahoma State WR Justin Blackmon an “elite” or top-five prospect in the 2012 draft.

There was a consensus among the teams that Andrew Luck, Robert Griffin III, Matt Kalil, Trent Richardson, and Morris Claiborne are “elite,” and the draft’s clear-cut top-five players. All three clubs did rate Blackmon as the No. 1 receiver on their board and a top-ten talent, though. We were skeptical early in the draft process that Blackmon would be a top-ten lock, but at this point we don’t expect him to get beyond the Dolphins at No. 8.

Not to discredit Rang’s research but “3-of-3 teams?” Not really a large sample size there, Rob.

That said, I would agree that Blackmon isn’t a top-5 prospect. Luck, Griffin III, Richardson and Claiborne are elite, and I would even throw David DeCastro and Michael Brockers into that mix as well. They won’t be selected in the top 5 because they don’t play impact positions (at least in terms of the first round of the draft), but DeCastro and Brockers are excellent prospects.

But let’s not mince words here: Blackmon is a very talented player. He’s very instinctive, has a great frame and is a natural pass-catcher. Whichever team drafts him will have the opportunity to use him all over the field, including outside the numbers and as a seam-buster in the slot. If he was in last year’s draft class I would have slotted him behind A.J. Green and Julio Jones, but that’s not a knock on Blackmon’s ability.

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