Now that the season is officially over, we can focus completely on the offseason. Apparently, the folks who cover football feel the same way. Nolan Nawrocki, Pro Football Weekly's resident draft expert, and a dude who is perched atop my draftnik rankings, has come out with his first mock draft. As in any mock worth noting, his contains a couple of interesting surprises--and they start at the top. With the first pick, he has Carolina selecting Clemson defensive end De'Quan Bowers. Bowers is a classic 4-3 end, and, according to Nawrocki, would fill the hole left by the departure of Julius Peppers.
Other notable selections include:
-- At pick #2, Denver selects Alabama DT Marcel Dareus.
-- Cleveland lucks out, finding Auburn's Nick Fairley still on the board at # 6.
--- Its definitely defense-heavy at the top: nine of the first twelve picks play D.
--- He has four quarterbacks getting snapped up in round one: Blaine Gabbert and Cam Newton go in the top ten, Ryan Mallett goes in the middle of the round and Jake Locker goes at the end.
--- There are two mini-runs on offensive linemen in the back third of the first round; Mike Pouncey, Tyron Smith, Gabe Carimi and Nate Solder go in consecutive picks from 19-22; Danny Watkins, Clint Boling and Derek Sherrod are taken between 27 and 31.
--- North Carolina DE Robert Quinn, who can be found at the top of many mocks--and had been given to the Cowboys in several of them--can't be found on Nawrocki's top 32. It'll be interesting to find out why; perhaps Nawrocki finds him to be a "bad tweener"--a man without a position?
Who does Nawrocki give the Cowboys at #9?
A player from Wisconsin...but its not Gabe Carimi, its DE J.J. Watt. Although the choice of Watt may be a first round surprise, the position he plays isn't. As such, we should probably get to know the kid.
On his big board, Wes Bunting of the National Football Post ranks Watt as the 26th best player and has this to say about him:
A tall, long-armed kid with a leaner-looking frame and has the ability to add even more girth to his frame. Displays impressive bend and flexibility when asked to coil up and sit into his stance off the edge. Has played both from a three- and four-point stance at end, has stood up on the outside and even kicked inside to tackle on pass downs. Possesses a sneaky first step off the football and because of his length and natural burst can quickly get on top of defensive tackles toward the edge. Delivers a nasty jolt at the point of attack in the run game. However, when trying to cross the face of opposing linemen inside and crash down the line, gets too upright with his pad level, doesn't protect his frame and can easily be washed away down the line. He plays hard, is a natural bender for his size and looks like a solid contributor as a three-down lineman in the NFL in any scheme he plays. Will be on just about every team's draft board.
To my mind, Watt looks like a reach at the ninth pick. That said, he could be an interesting prospect for the Cowboys in the right circumstances: if they trade down to the middle of the first round or if they don't grab a DE with their first pick and find him still on the board at # 40. I'm going to track him carefully, looking for any interest Dallas might express in him, either at the Combine or personal workouts. Perhaps he'll be a Dallas day invitee...