The ESPN.com Blog Network put out its mock draft on Monday and I got to make the choices for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Carolina Panthers. The Atlanta Falcons and New Orleans Saints don’t have first-round choices.
At No. 5, I took LSU cornerback Morris Claiborne for the Buccaneers. It was an easy call. The current wide-spread speculation is that the Bucs will be choosing between Claiborne and Alabama running back Trent Richardson. That wasn’t a choice I had to make because AFC North colleague Jamison Hensley took Richardson off the board and gave him to the Cleveland Browns at No. 4. Still, even if Richardson had been on the board, I probably would have gone with Claiborne to the Bucs. I’m not entirely certain how the Bucs feel about this, but the growing belief in the NFL is that you don’t take a running back in the first half of the first round. The logic behind that is that the NFL has become such a passing league that running backs don’t have the same value they once did. Yes, the Bucs need someone to go with LeGarrette Blount, but they can find that a bit later in the draft.
The conventional belief is that the Panthers are locked in on a defensive tackle or maybe even North Carolina defensive end Quinton Coples. But I went in a different direction. I took Boston College linebacker Luke Kuechly. Yeah, I know the Panthers have linebackers Jon Beason, Thomas Davis and James Anderson. But Davis is coming off his third ACL and Beason also is coming off a major injury. The Panthers have to come out of this draft with some players to improve their defense and I see Kuechly as the best defensive player available at No. 9.