• Strange as it might sound at this late date, I talked to two club executives Tuesday who said it's not out of the question that LSU defensive end Tyson Jackson cracks the top five. That's right, the top five. Both No. 3 Kansas City and No. 5 Cleveland were mentioned as teams that conceivably could pull the trigger on a prospect who is widely considered the best 3-4 end in the draft.
It does make some sense in that the Chiefs and Browns are 3-4 defensive formation teams, and K.C.'s Scott Pioli and Cleveland's Eric Mangini came out of a Patriots system that says you always value defensive linemen above almost any other position in the draft. But Jackson in the top five might still be a little rich in terms of his draft grade, and teams are always hesitant to select someone in that ultra-pricey neighborhood and overpay for a pick that smacks of being a reach.
• With Jackson in mind, one rule of thumb in the NFL draft that always bears repeating in the late stages of the evaluation process is that there are defensive linemen/pass rushers who perennially get pushed higher than maybe they were first projected. Jackson, Tennessee defensive end Robert Ayers and Northern Illinois defensive end-linebacker Larry English are all likely to come off the board earlier than most expected for much of the scouting season.
Just this week, I've heard all three names mentioned as potential top 12 picks, with No. 9 Green Bay perhaps targeting English. All three of those names being called in the top 12 is probably a long shot, but it speaks to the reality that quality defensive linemen are always in short supply and subject to early round runs.
• While I've heard of at least two teams that flunked Virginia offensive tackle Eugene Monroe on their physicals at the combine, there doesn't seem to be any teams at the top of the draft that have big concerns about the condition of his left knee.
Monroe dislocated his knee as a sophomore in college, and some teams have concerns about him potentially developing a disorder called OCD in the area of the knee cap. It's a situation where bone fragments break off from the knee joint surface and interfere with normal knee function, while causing knee pain and swelling. In some cases it can lead to a degenerative case of knee arthritis and require surgery.
In fairness to Monroe, NFL team doctors can make distinctly different evaluations after examining the same prospect for the same medical issue at the combine, and it's not uncommon for some teams to fail a player on his physical while others have him sail through. I talked to at least five teams about their medical assessment of Monroe, and the majority said his left knee passed their physicals.
The No. 2 Rams are still considering Monroe along with Baylor offensive tackle Jason Smith, and from what I know, Smith might have the slimmest possible edge. But in any scenario, it's hard to imagine Monroe getting past more than two of those tackle-needy teams in the second half of the top 10, where the No. 6 Bengals, No. 7 Raiders, No. 8 Jaguars, No. 9 Packers and No. 10 49ers all could use help.
• Here's the key distinction that NFL club executives make between a player who fails a drug test in college versus failing the drug test that's administered at the NFL Scouting Combine in February: Failing the combine test means the team that drafts you does so knowing you're already enrolled in the league's drug program and you're one more strike away from a possible suspension. That's a pretty big red flag for any club that takes commissioner Roger Goodell's low-to-no tolerance approach seriously.
Having a history of failing drug tests in college won't get you smiled upon by NFL personnel decision-makers, but you're not half-way to a suspension at the start of your rookie season either. As one club executive told me this week: "Maybe that shouldn't make a big difference, but in reality it does when considering a player with those kind of question marks on his record.''
One NFL general manager this week said: "It's really as much of an intelligence test as a drug test. If you're dumb enough to test positive at the combine, do we really want to invest in the future of a player like that? That's what it comes down to.''
• The buzz about the Chiefs resuming their attempts to trade veteran tight end Tony Gonzalez has restarted, and it sounds as if the Eagles might have nosed ahead of the Falcons as the most likely trade partner. Philly is thought to be willing to give up a third-rounder for Gonzalez. But Kansas City is seeking at least a second-round pick for a player it considers a future Hall of Famer, and may not be willing to bear the brunt of any criticism that could come if it's perceived to have given away Gonzalez too cheaply.
• I'm pretty sure I won't be leaving Florida's Percy Harvin in the No. 22 slot to the Vikings in my final mock draft Thursday. Even though Minnesota is eager to add a play-making receiver to their run-heavy offense, the buzz surrounding Harvin for weeks now has centered on him potentially being one of the players who tested positive (for marijuana) at this year's combine.
Harvin is indeed on that list, according to a FoxSports.com report, and the Vikings, given their recent off-field issues dating from the Mike Tice coaching era, just can't go there again with a pick as risky as the Gators' junior. Come Saturday night, many NFL talent evaluators expect Harvin to fall into the mid-to-low 20s of the first round. Another receiver-needy team that I've heard will not touch Harvin is No. 30 Tennessee, who is still feeling the effects of the Pacman Jones'error.
• The Saints like all three of their top choices at No. 14 quite a bit, and they still haven't definitively settled on which player they'll pick if all three remain on the board. But my hunch at the moment is they have USC linebacker Brian Cushing at No. 1, Ohio State running back Chris "Beanie'' Wells a very close second, and Ohio State cornerback Malcolm Jenkins at No. 3.
• This is the first draft he's overseeing, so we're going to cut new Lions general manager Martin Mayhew some slack. But when Mayhew claimed Tuesday in a news conference with local Detroit media that "there's been some moderate interest'' from teams wanting to strike a deal for the Lions' No. 1-overall pick, the response drew laughter for obvious reasons.
At some point later on, I'd like to hear Mayhew give us his definition of "moderate.'' My guess is a couple teams probably called the Lions and inquired what Detroit was willing to give them in order to take the burdensome pick off its hands?
• Here's a potential meaningful coincidence that could really come to fruition by Saturday night: In 1996, the first-year Baltimore Ravens selected University of Miami middle linebacker Ray Lewis at No. 26 in the first round. This year, the Ravens might find themselves in position to select the eventual heir to Lewis' throne, and it very well could be ... another inside linebacker, from a warm-weather school, at No. 26, who at least phonetically answers by the same first name: USC's Rey Maualuga.
I don't know about you, but I've got chills.
• As much as the Chiefs feel Wake Forest linebacker Aaron Curry might be the cleanest prospect in this draft, as many have labeled him, he's still a linebacker. And in his schooling in the Patriots Way under Bill Belichick, Pioli learned that one of the rules was that you don't usually spend first-round picks, especially top-five picks, on linebackers.
True, Pioli and Belichick went against their history in taking Jerod Mayo No. 10 out of Tennessee last season in New England. But that's the exception, not the rule, and it was driven by the Patriots' obvious need at the position. And for that reason, I'm hearing Pioli may not opt to spend No. 3-level money on Curry no matter how impressive the ex-Demon Deacon is.
• From what I understand from the PR powers that be at SI.com, I'll be making my debut in the world of Twitter at some point this weekend, in order to better covey any and all (140-character or less) thoughts and insights I might have about this year's NFL draft.
I am atwitter with anticipation, as I hope you are.