We’re eight weeks out from the 2012 NFL Draft, and while the Combine has helped most of the league set their respective draft boards we still have free agency for teams to address their roster and alter draft-day needs. With that in mind, here’s the sure-to-change first version of my 2012 mock draft.
1. Indianapolis Colts: Andrew Luck, QB, Stanford
There are few certainties in life, but Luck to the Colts appears to be one of them. Now about that whole Peyton Manning situation…
2. Cleveland Browns (from Rams): Robert Griffin III, QB, Baylor
Two good reasons why the Rams take the Browns’ offer: first, I think ultimately it will have to include both of this year’s first-rounders; second, if the Rams drop behind Tampa Bay they don’t get Morris Claiborne, who sits atop their non-QB draft board alongside Matt Kalil. The Browns give up the two picks (and likely several more) to acquire a franchise quarterback and inject a little excitement into the organization.
3. Minnesota Vikings: Matt Kalil, OT, USC
That late-season win against the Redskins cost Minnesota Adrian Peterson and the bounty St. Louis reaps from dealing out of the two spot. Consolation prize: a blindside protector for Christian Ponder for the next decade.
4. St. Louis Rams (from Browns): Morris Claiborne, CB, LSU
Plenty of holes to fill in St. Louis, and with the other first-round pick they acquire from Cleveland they can get a wide receiver. Word is that Kalil and Claiborne are the guys they covet, so a draft that sees them fill needs, add extra picks, and still get one of their must-have players is a nice start for the Jeff Fisher regime.
5. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Trent Richardson, RB, Alabama
This is the jumping-off point for most mocks, as the first four picks seem set; after that, it’s a real crapshoot. Yes, the Bucs have LeGarrette Blount; yes, running backs are becoming a disposable commodity in the NFL. But with Richardson drawing comparisons to Adrian Peterson he won’t be treated like other backs, and it’s not as if Blount was a bastion of consistency last season.
6. Washington Redskins: Justin Blackmon, WR, Oklahoma State
Though the Redskins are always a threat to give away first-round picks in a trade, for the purposes of this mock I have them using free agency to fill their QB need. That frees them up to use this pick on someone for Peyton Manning or Matt Flynn to throw to, and unless Blackmon walks his 40 at his pro day—or Mike Shanahan is a closet Notre Dame fan—he’ll get the call here.
7. Jacksonville Jaguars: Michael Floyd, WR, Notre Dame
Jacksonville desperately needs playmakers to inject life into their passing game. Floyd’s stats at Notre Dame stack up against anyone’s, and after his 4.4 40 at the Combine there should be no more lingering questions about his speed. Blaine Gabbert will absolutely love the immediate upgrade to his receiving corps.
8. Miami Dolphins: Ryan Tannehill, QB, Texas A&M
This could be the most interesting offseason in-house struggle to watch: Matt Flynn’s former OC (new Dolphins coach Joe Philbin) and Tannehill’s former college coach (new Dolphins OC Mike Sherman) deciding who will be Miami’s QB of the future. Tannehill is a work in progress, but keeping him with Sherman should expedite the process.
9. Carolina Panthers: Quinton Coples, DE, North Carolina
Plenty of options for Carolina here, but with Coples still on the board the Panthers have visions of Julius Peppers 2.0—not to mention a burning need for defensive line help—and make him the choice. Should Coples be gone, the Panthers will have their pick of a deep crop of DTs: Michael Brockers, Devon Still, Fletcher Cox, Dontari Poe
10. Buffalo Bills: Jonathan Martin, OT, Stanford
Assuming Stevie Johnson returns, the Bills are actually quite set at the skill positions. However, their offensive line could use some upgrading and Martin helps protect last year’s investment in Ryan Fitzpatrick.
11. Kansas City Chiefs: Dontari Poe, NT, Memphis
Freakish athleticism, on display at the Combine, meets the Chiefs’ desperate need for a nose tackle. O-line help such as Riley Reiff wouldn’t be a bad way to go, either.
12. Seattle Seahawks: Courtney Upshaw, LB/DE, Alabama
The Seahawks need linebacker help and someone to pressure the passer; Upshaw gives them both in one fell swoop. Nick Perry could be an option as well, but Carroll hasn’t dipped in the USC talent pool as an NFL coach nearly as much as expected.
13. Arizona Cardinals: Cordy Glenn, OT/OG, Georgia
Arizona may have overpaid for Kevin Kolb, but there’s nothing they can do about that now. What they can do is keep Kolb from being beaten to a pulp, and the athletic (and massive) Glenn is more in line with what Ken Whisenhunt looks for in an offensive lineman than Riley Reiff.
14. Dallas Cowboys: Dre’ Kirkpatrick, CB, Alabama
The Cowboys need help in the secondary; do they go with the drug bust guy or the guy who got booted out of Florida and is making a run at Antonio Cromartie’s paternity record? Stephon Gilmore could enter the conversation as well, but Dallas hasn’t shied away from players with off-the-field issues in the past and isn’t likely to start now.
15. Philadelphia Eagles: Luke Kuechly, LB, Boston College
The 2011 draft saw Philly throw three late-round picks at the linebacker position without much to show for it. After Kuechly’s Combine success look for the Eagles to use a first-round selection on a linebacker for the first time in more than three decades.
16. New York Jets: Melvin Ingram, LB, South Carolina
Ingram fits multiple schemes and could very well be off the board by the time the Jets step to the podium, but in this scenario he slides and Rex Ryan is more than happy to add him to Gang Green.
17. Cincinnati Bengals (from Raiders): Stephon Gilmore, CB, South Carolina
With two of the next five picks the Bengals control the middle of the first round. Their primary needs are a running back and a cornerback; with the pickings slimmer in the secondary expect them to go defense first with Gilmore and address Cedric Benson’s replacement later in the round.
18. San Diego Chargers: David DeCastro, OG, Stanford
The concussion-related retirement of Kris Dielman leaves a huge gap in the San Diego offensive line, and DeCastro is a long-term fix. Of course, if Vincent Jackson doesn’t return the Chargers may feel the need to replenish Philip Rivers’ arsenal of weapons.
19. Chicago Bears: Reuben Randle, WR, LSU
It’s our annual plea for the Bears to upgrade their receiving corps, and it’s only fitting they actually do so after Mike Martz departs. Underused at LSU, Randle gives Chicago a big receiver in the Roy Williams mold—only better.
20. Tennessee Titans: Whitney Mercilus, DE, Illinois
As it stands right now the Titans’ pass rush consists of Derrick Morgan, who has just four sacks since Tennessee took him in the first round of 2010, and three guys set to become free agents. Mercilus is still raw, but he gets after the passer and can learn on the job.
21. Cincinnati Bengals: Doug Martin, RB, Boise State
If the Bengals go after Michael Bush in free agency it would free them up to use this pick elsewhere. If they don’t, there are multiple backs who could fit here—Lamar Miller, Chris Polk—but Martin feels like the best fit for what Jay Gruden’s offense likes to do.
22. St. Louis Rams (from Browns): Kendall Wright, WR, Baylor
It all works out for the Rams: rather than take Justin Blackmon second overall they deal back, upgrade their secondary, and still get a playmaking receiver for Sam Bradford.
23. Detroit Lions: Riley Reiff, OG, Iowa
Will Reiff actually fall this far? Unlikely. But if he’s still on the board the Lions race to the podium to upgrade Matthew Stafford’s protection.
24. Pittsburgh Steelers: Michael Brockers, DT, LSU
Brockers is a raw physical marvel who could very well hear his name called among the first 10 picks. But right now he’s primarily potential, so this mock has him sliding to a team with the luxury of developing him rather than throwing him to the wolves—something the Steelers have historically done and done well with early selections on the defensive side of the ball.
25. Denver Broncos: Fletcher Cox, DT, Mississippi State
Last year the Broncos were expected to draft a defensive tackle with the second overall pick; they opted instead for Von Miller, and it worked out just fine. However, there’s still a glaring need on the interior of their defensive line and Cox is just the guy to fill it.
26. Houston Texans: Alshon Jeffery, WR, South Carolina
Finally, the Texans pursue a non-tight end threat to help Andre Johnson. Jeffery may not have field-stretching speed but he can work the middle of the field and free up Johnson to get vertical.
27. New England Patriots (from Saints): Stephen Hill, WR, Georgia Tech
The Patriots always seem to have multiple first round picks, and they could very well trade down and continue to stockpile. But this offense is more effective with a field-stretcher, and Hill has the speed to do just that. He’s raw, but that hasn’t stopped Bill Belichick in the past.
28. Green Bay Packers: Peter Konz, OC/OG, Wisconsin
Green Bay has no glaring needs, but if they opt not to bring back free agent center Scott Wells it will leave a large gap in Aaron Rodgers’ protection. Konz stays in-state and gives the Packers a versatile interior lineman who can play right away.
29. Baltimore Ravens: Donte’ Hightower, LB, Alabama
The Ravens’ vaunted defense isn’t getting any younger, and with talented players like Hightower and Mark Barron in this draft class there’s no better time to start thinking about life after Ray Lewis and Ed Reed.
30. San Francisco 49ers: Devon Still, DT/DE, Penn State
What are the chances it’s actually the Steelers making this pick after San Francisco signs Mike Wallace? Better than we thought a week or so ago, that’s for sure. Expect the Niners to address WR via free agency and beef up a formidable yet aging defensive front with Still, who has the talent to go off the board earlier than this.
31. New England Patriots: Mark Barron, S, Alabama
Projecting the Patriots to draft based on need is like expecting network television to produce quality programming: good luck with that. However, Barron fits the Patriots in several ways and just plain makes sense here.
32. New York Giants: Dwayne Allen, TE, Clemson
The Super Bowl champs wouldn’t mind an offensive tackle falling to them, and guard Kevin Zeitler is an option as well. But with the pickings slim in free agency and both of their regular tight ends expected to start the season on the PUP list with knee injuries, tough to pass up giving Eli Manning a potential Gronk of his own.