By Steve Silverman-
(CBS) Winning in the NFL is about developing a big-play passing attack.
During the 2011 regular season, it was all about the Green Bay Packers, New Orleans Saints and the New England Patriots. Those were the three most prolific offenses in the league and it was widely expected that one of those teams would win the Super Bowl.
Defense made a stand in that game – to a degree—and the New York Giants beat the Patriots. The Giants have a solid passing game of their own but their defense played a key role in their playoff win over the Packers and again in the Super Bowl victory over the Patriots.
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Consider that defensive stand a mere blip on the radar.
Going forward, the high-powered passing model is still in vogue in the NFL. In this year’s draft, it’s all about the passing attack. The headliners, of course, are Andrew Luck and Robert Griffin III. Those two have been entrenched at the top of the draft since January and nothing has changed that in the ensuing weeks. Teams that are not looking for a quarterback are most likely looking for offensive linemen to protect the quarterback and big-play wideouts who can make life better for the quarterback.
The running game and defense have apparently become secondary factors. Coaches usually won’t talk about it, but you work on those areas of your team after the passing game can light up the scoreboard.
That’s the cycle we are in right now. That’s why you may see an unproven quarterback like Ryan Tannehill may be selected by the Browns with the fourth pick in the draft. Tannehill has a poor release point, awkward foot work, and is a hot-and-cold thrower. Could Tannehill turn out to be a solid quarterback? Yes, but he is probably no better than a second- or third-round player at this point. He’ll get drafted high in the first round because of potential, not proven ability.
That said, the Bears may focus on the linebacker position in this year’s draft. Luke Kuechly of Boston College is a can’t miss player at his position. He is dominant against the run, has rare instincts and knows how to defend the pass. He is an explosive athlete who appears to have a sensational future. The Bears have older stars in Brian Urlacher and Lance Briggs, but Kuechly could be their future at that position if they are lucky enough to select him.
Here’s my mock draft for the first round:
1. Indianapolis Colts – Andrew Luck, QB, Stanford
2. Washington Redskins (from St. Louis) – Robert Griffin III, QB, Baylor
3. Minnesota Vikings – Matt Kalil, OT, USC
4. Cleveland Browns – Ryan Tannehill, QB, Texas A&M
5. Tampa Bay Buccaneers – Morris Claiborne, CB, Louisiana State
6. St. Louis Rams (from Washington) – Quinton Coples, DE, North Carolina
7. Jacksonville Jaguars — Fletcher Cox, DT-DE, Mississippi State
8. Miami Dolphins – Justin Blackmon, WR, Oklahoma State
9. Carolina Panthers – Dontari Poe, DT, Memphis
10. Buffalo Bills –Michael Floyd, WR, Notre Dame
11. Kansas City Chiefs – Melvin Ingram, OLB, South Carolina
12. Seattle Seahawks – Nick Perry, DE, USC
13. Arizona Cardinals — Riley Reiff,OT, Iowa
14. Dallas Cowboys – Whitney Mercilus, OLB, Illinois
15. Philadelphia Eagles –Mark Barron, S, Alabama
16. New York Jets – Courtney Upshaw, DE, Alabama
17. Cincinnati Bengals (from Oakland) — Dont’a Hightower, LB, Alabama
18. San Diego Chargers – Andre Branch, DE, Clemson
19. Chicago Bears — Luke Kuechly, LB, Boston College
20. Tennessee Titans –David DeCastro, OG, Stanford
21. Cincinnati Bengals — Stephon Gilmore, CB, South Carolina
22. Cleveland Browns (from Atlanta) – Jerel Worthy, DT, Michigan State
23. Detroit Lions — Dre Kirkpatrick, CB, Alabama
24. Pittsburgh Steelers – Michael Brockers, DT, Louisiana State
25. Denver Broncos – Cordy Glenn, OT, Georgia
26. Houston Texans – Kendall Wright, WR, Baylor
27. New England Patriots (from New Orleans)—Rueben Randle, WR, Louisiana State
28. Green Bay Packers – Devon Still, DT Penn State
30. San Francisco 49ers — Kevin Zeitler, OG, Wisconsin
31. New England Patriots –Chandler Jones, DL, Syracuse
32. New York Giants – Mike Adams, OT, Ohio State
Steve Silverman is an award-winning writer, covering sports since 1980. Silverman was with Pro Football Weekly for 10 years and his byline has appeared in the Wall Street Journal, Playboy, NFL.com and The Sporting News. He is the author of four books, including Who’s Better, Who’s Best in Football — The Top 60 Players of All-Time. Follow him on Twitter (@profootballboy) and read more of his CBS Chicago columns here.