The 2012 NFL Draft is now just hours away, and make no mistake about it, today is a great day to be a football fan. It's even a greater day to be a draftnik! This year's draft is filled with a few certainties and a lot of unpredictability. Yes, we know the Colts are selecting Andrew Luck with the first overall pick in the Draft. Yes, we know the Redskins gave up a king's ransom to trade up to the second spot and will be selecting Robert Griffin III. But then what? Hopefully, I can shed some light on that subject with the release of my final mock draft, which has become an annual staple of the TIMES NEWS for the past 12 years.
The draft will get interesting right away as the Vikings are a wild card with the third pick that can set the tone for the rest of the Top 10. After the consensus six blue chip prospects are off the board, then the draft will really get unpredictable, as the Jaguars can do anything and everything as they sit there with the seventh pick (need I remind you all of the Tyson Alualu pick in 2010). I try not to predict trades in my mock draft, as it only takes one to change the entire landscape of the first round. Yet, for the first time ever, I've included two trades in my top seven picks (I guess you can say I'm going "all in"). Either I'm extremely smart or extremely crazy (I'd bet on the latter), but I guess only time will tell.
As in previous years, I will once again be represented in The Huddle Report's esteemed annual mock draft contest (www.huddlereport.com). The contest scores the mock drafts of the most reputable and widely-published draft resources in the world. Last year my final mock draft finished second out of 121 publications, and over the last five years, my mock drafts rank second for overall accuracy . For those keeping track, mock drafts are scored under the following criteria: 1 point for each player placed in the first round and 2 points for players matched to the correct team that picks them.
1. INDIANAPOLIS COLTS - Andrew Luck (QB, Stanford)
For Indianapolis, I guess it's better to be "luck"y than good. The Colts sure know when it's time to have a down season, and this year, they were the winners of the "Suck for Luck" sweepstakes. Luck is considered by many to be the best quarterback prospect to be drafted since Peyton Manning and John Elway. Ironically enough, the Colts drafted both Manning and Elway with the #1 overall pick in 1998 and 1983 respectively. There won't be any drama to kick off Draft Day...Luck to the Colts is a done deal.
2. WASHINGTON REDSKINS (from St. Louis) - Robert Griffin III (QB, Baylor)
The Redskins targetted RG3 with this pick for months and they certainly paid the price to make sure they got their guy. Washington gave up a king's ransom by trading three first round picks and a second round pick to the Rams to move up four spots for the Heisman Trophy winner. Now the only question that remains is if they gave up too much, but if you ask me, at the end of the day it's impossible to overpay for a stud quarterback that will be the face of your franchise for the next decade.
3. MINNESOTA VIKINGS - Morris Claiborne (CB, LSU)
This is where the draft will start to get interesting, as the Vikings pick will have huge implications on the rest of the Top 10. The obvious pick here - and the right one - is for the Vikings to draft offensive tackle Matt Kalil; however, GM Rick Spielman has been sending out mixed signals that they might prefer to either trade down or select cornerback Morris Claiborne. Clailborne definitely fill a needs for a team that must play Green Bay and Detroit twice a year, but when you spend the #12 overall pick last year on Christian Ponder, you need to protect your investment. This is just a hunch, but I'm thinking Minnesota opts for Claiborne.
4. CLEVELAND BROWNS - Trent Richardson (RB, Alabama)
Cleveland tried to resurrect its offense by trading up for Robert Griffin III, but its plans were foiled by the Redskins. Now, the Browns (who have 13 picks in the draft), need to start rebuilding by selecting from a trio of playmakers which include running back Trent Richardson, wide receiver Justin Blackmon and quarterback Ryan Tannehill. Richardson is the surest thing and GM Mike Holmgren didn't seem to do so bad when he went to the Super Bowl with the Seahawks when he relied on a first round running back from Alabama (Shaun Alexander) to carry his offense.
5. * TRADE * BUFFALO BILLS (from Tampa Bay) - Matt Kalil (OT, USC)
When Minnesota decided to take Morris Claiborne and Cleveland followed by taking Trent Richardson, that left the Buccaneers stuck between a rock and a hard place. Matt Kalil is the best player available, but he doesn't really fulfill an immediate need. Cue the trade card! One teams that needs an stud left tackle more than any team in this draft is the Buffalo Bills who are sitting at the tenth pick. Tampa Bay only has six picks in the draft, so if they can the Bills' tenth pick and their second round pick, that could be enough to seal a deal. It makes sense for both teams, plus I have a feeling Tampa Bay may like who might still be there at #10. If the Bills can't trade up, they may trade down as I don't think there's another tackle worth selecting in the top 10.
6. ST. LOUIS RAMS (from Washington) - Justin Blackmon (WR, Oklahoma State)
Plain and simple, St. Louis needs to surround Sam Bradford with weapons (especially after Brandon Lloyd signed with New England during the offseason), and selecting Justin Blackmon here should be a no-brainer. However, there have been some rumblings over the past few days that St. Louis has defensive tackle Fletcher Cox on its radar, and my opt to defy logic and select the interior pass rusher from Mississippi State. If so, the Rams will gain a great player at the expense of ruining Bradford's career.
7. *TRADE * PHILADELPHIA EAGLES (from Jacksonville) - Fletcher Cox (DT, Mississippi State)
If the first six picks go chalk, the number seven selection becomes very interesting because the Jaguars are one of the top candidates to trade down, at which point they can address any number of needs. However, who would be willing to move up? With two second round picks, the Eagles could be a prime trading partner, as they are said to covet Fletcher Cox. If Justin Blackmon slips to the Jaguars, they'll select him. If not, they'll be working the phones and hopefully, for the sake of this mock draft, the Eagles are on the other end ready to consumate a deal. Remember, Andy Reid loves drafting defensive linemen.
8. MIAMI DOLPHINS - Ryan Tannehill (QB, Texas A&M)
The Dolphins' quarterback situation is a mess and this is a chance to fix it. They struck out in trying to land Peyton Manning and Matt Flynn in the offseason and they were forced to settle on David Garrard as a stop-gap solution to their problems. Owner Stephen Ross is pushing hard for Tannehill and Mike Sherman (Tannehill's former college coach at Texas A&M) is now the offensive coordinator in Miami. The stars seem to be aligning, but keep in mind this is the Dolphins wer're talking about? If they bypass Tannehill, it'll most likely be for a pass rusher.
9. CAROLINA PANTHERS - Quinton Coples (DE, North Carolina)
The Panthers are another team that would love nothing more than to trade down a few spots, but as with the Jaguars two picks earlier, it takes two to tango. A lof of mocks have Fletcher Cox here, but I really don't think the Panthers will go defensive tackle after spending two third round picks on the position last year. With that being said, I think this pick comes down to the local product in Coples or linebacker Luke Kuechly. The Panthers front office paid a last minute visit to Coples on Monday, which I think speaks volumes.
10. *TRADE * TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS (from Buffalo) - Luke Kuechly (ILB, Boston College)
Tampa Bay lands the tenth overall selection by trading picks with the Buffalo Bills and picks up an additional early round pick in the process. I really hate predicting trades in a mock draft because it could really screw things up, but I just think this makes too much sense (providing Minnesota doesn't screw me over and take Kalil for themselves). As much as I think Tampa Bay loves Morris Claiborne and Trent Richardson, I have a sneaky suspicion they also love Luke Kuechly. He is a Greg Schiano type of player and can be an impact player in the middle of the Buccaneers' defense for years to come.
11. KANSAS CITY CHIEFS - David DeCastro (OG, Stanford)
Without a doubt, the Chiefs' biggest need is at nose tackle, but they don't seem to have high grades on Dontari Poe. Therefore, I think it's a two-horse race between Luke Kuechly and David DeCastro. Kuechly would definitely be an upgrade as an inside linebacker in Kansas City's 3-4 scheme, but I seem him more as a luxury than as a necessity. Offensive guards usually don't go this high, but Kansas City needs to improve the interior of its offensive line.
12. SEATTLE SEAHAWKS - Dontari Poe (DT, Memphis)
The Seahawks may be hoping for Coples or Kuechly to fall to them, but you have to think the big physical freak from Memphis will at least be a little intriguing to head coach Pete Carroll. While Poe may not be a popular here, I just can't help but think he's Pete's Carroll's type of player. We was the talk of the Combine and will can provide Seattle with a legitimate nose tackle to transition to 3-4 sets.
13. ARIZONA CARDINALS - Michael Floyd (WR, Notre Dame)
The Cardinals definitely need to address their offensive line to help protect Kevin Kolb and Riley Reiff or Cordy Glenn could be just what the doctor ordered. However, assistance can also come in the form of a wide receiver and Larry Fitzgerald is giving Floyd his full endorsement and is urging the Cardinals brass to select him with this pick. Floyd (who offers a similar skill set) will help open up the field for Fitzgerald just like Anquan Boldin used to do.
14. DALLAS COWBOYS - Mark Barron (S, Alabama)
I don't think it's much of a secret to anyone that the Cowboys have been targeting Mark Barron with this pick, and I'm sure they'll be collectively holding their breath for the first hour or two of the draft hoping he falls to them. There has been talk about teams trading up in the first round for a shot at the Alabama star, but if he's here, he's a no-brainer. Should he be off the board, the Cowboys will probably turn their attention to upgrading their front seven with a defensive tackle or a passing rushing end/linebacker.
15. * TRADE * JACKSONVILLE JAGUARS (from Philadelphia) - Stephon Gilmore (CB, South Carolina)
If Jacksonville is able to trade out of the seventh pick, which I have them doing with the Eagles, I believe they'll be looking to shore up their defense with either cornerback Stephon Gilmore or defensive end Melvin Ingram. The Jaguars were really decimated in their secondary last year and there's been a lot of talk over the past 48 hours that they really love Gilmore. In this case, they move down out of the top 10 and get great value at a huge need.
16. NEW YORK JETS - Melvin Ingram (DE/OLB, South Carolina)
The Jets would probably jump at the chance to land Ingram, but it's tough to say if they'll have to trade up to get him or if he'll fall into their laps. Rex Ryan's defense was a big disappointment last year, so it may be time to bring in an outside linebacker that can be a threat off the edge. Ingram played defensive end in college, but would transition nicely into Ryan's 3-4 scheme as an outside backer. Courtney Upshaw from Alabama also profiles as a similar player that would fit right in with the Jets.
17. CINCINNATI BENGALS (from Oakland) - Courtney Upshaw (DE/OLB, Alabama)
As the youngest team in the AFC, Marvin Lewis and Mike Brown have this team moving in the right direction and two first round picks will only help their cause. Cincinnati doesn't have many glaring holes as they can simply let the draft come to them. For the first time in four years, I don't really have a clear indication on who the Bengals are going to pick, although two things I do know is that they love drafting out of the SEC and they love Upshaw. Who Dey!
18. SAN DIEGO CHARGERS - Chandler Jones (DE, Syracuse)
No player has been rising up draft boards in the days leading up to the draft faster than Syracuse's Chandler Jones. Jones is the brother of UFC Light Heavyweight Champion Jon "Bones" Jones, so you know he comes from a solid pedigree. Jones is somewhat raw as a prospect, but he has that "it" factor that teams look for in an outside linebacker. Besides, GM A.J. Smith has been known to gamble on players similar to Jones in past drafts.
19. CHICAGO BEARS - Whitney Mercilus (DE, Illinois)
All indications are that the Bears will draft the best defensive lineman available with this pick. When you play Aaron Rodgers and Matthew Stafford twice a year, getting to the quarterback needs to be a priority. Chicago already has Julius Peppers on one side, but Mercilus would be a nice complimentary piece on the other end of the line. Mercilus is a local product that can can simply be left loose in passing situations after racking up 16 sacks for Illinois last season.
20. TENNESSEE TITANS - Dre Kirkpatrick (CB, Alabama)
Defensive end was Tennessee's most pressing need this offseason, but I suspect the signing of Kamerion Wimbley has helped fill that void enough that the Titans will look elsewhere in the first round. Certainly they could stand to still upgrade the defensive line, but after losing Cortland Finnegan in free agency, I have to think that cornerback has risen to the top of their wish list. Unless they wanted to reach for Janoris Jenkins (and all his baggage), Kirkpatrick is the last of the first round cornerbacks left for the taking.
21. CINCINNATI BENGALS - Stephen Hill (WR, Georgia Tech)
With Jerome Simpson signing with the Vikings and Andre Caldwell going to Denver, perhaps the biggest need the Bengals must fill in this draft is an outside wide receiver to pair with A.J. Green. While Michael Floyd will probably be gone by the time the Bengals pick, two options that might fall into their lap are Stephen Hill and Kendall Wright. I think Wright might be a little undersized for the Bengals liking but Hill is a beast at 6-4 that runs a 4.3 40. While Hill was a one-trick pony at Georgia Tech, if he can transition his talents to the NFL, Hill and Green on the same field will be a nightmare for opposing defenses.
22. CLEVELAND BROWNS (from Atlanta) - Kendall Wright (WR, Baylor)
I think the game plan for Cleveland is to come out of the first round with playmakers at running back and wide receiver. Assuming they take Richardson with their earlier pick, I believe they'll look to grab the best available receiver left on the board. The Browns also seem to like quarterback Brandon Weeden, although I think he's more of a second round option. With Hill off the board, Wright seems to be the "right" pick for a rejuvenated Cleveland offense.
23. DETROIT LIONS - Cordy Glenn (OT/OG, Georgia)
Detroit can go one of two ways with this pick - cornerback or offensive line. With the top three corners already off the board, the Lions should look to beef up their O-line. No one offers more beef in the trenches than Georgia's Cordy Glenn (6-5, 345). Detroit needs to keep Matthew Stafford upright (and healthy) and adding Glenn will help those efforts. After playing left tackle his final year at Georgia, Glenn's best first might be guard or right tackle in the pros, but either way, he's a great fit for the Lions.
24. PITTSBURGH STEELERS - Dont'a Hightower (ILB, Alabama)
Hightower and the Steelers are a perfect match. Pittsburgh needs to get younger in its front seven and Hightower will be able to fill the shoes of recently released linebacker James Farrior. Hightower is a physical in-the-box defender and can slide right in next to Lawrence Timmons. The Steelers usually go for the best player available and if Hightower is there, you would think he has to be the pick. If not, perhaps the Steelers can look for offensive line help or else a replacement for the aging Casey Hamption at nose tackle (perhaps Dontari Poe if he falls this far).
25. DENVER BRONCOS - Michael Brockers (DT, LSU)
The Broncos need to address their defensive line early in the draft because they have absolutely nothing at the defensive tackle position. The question now becomes which defensive tackle to take? Michael Brockers, Jerel Worthy, Devon Still and even Kendall Reyes will up be up for consideration, but it'll be hard for John Elway to pass on Brockers, who has more upside and the potential to be a dangerous interior pass rusher once he gets his feet wet at the NFL level.
26. HOUSTON TEXANS - Riley Reiff (OT, Iowa)
A lot of mock drafts have Houston taking a wide receiver here, but I just don't think it's going to happen. Offensive tackle and a rush linebacker would seem to be the top needs for the Texans. Much like fellow Hawkeye Bryan Bulaga several years ago, Reiff could be headed for a draft day free fall due to his smaller stature, but if he falls into the 20's, I don't think Houston would hesitate to snatch him up. Houston's biggest need is on the right side of its offensive line, and while Reiff played left tackle in college (in a zone blocking scheme nonetheless), many think he'd make a better right tackle in the pros.
27. NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS (from New Orleans) - Shea McClellin (OLB, Boise State)
With two first round picks, no one really knows what the Patriots are going to do, but I have to think defense is of the utmost priority. New England has needs all over the defensive side of the ball, but I believe they'll be keying in guys that can get after the passer. Shea McClellin is rising up draft boards and his versatility could appeal to Bill Belichick by reminding him of former Patriots linebackers Teddy Bruschi and Mike Vrabel.
28. GREEN BAY PACKERS - Nick Perry (DE/OLB, USC)
Green Bay has one of the most dynamic outside linebackers in the league in Clay Matthews, but an upgrade is definitely needed on the other side. Ted Thompson already cashed in with Matthews, so why not go back to the USC program to try to strike gold a second time. Perry is a great edge rusher that will fit in nicely in Green Bay's 3-4 scheme. With news of a neck injury ending Nick Collins' Packers career, safety is also a pressing need and I wouldn't be at all surprised to see Green Bay pull the trigger on Notre Dame's Harrison Smith.
29. BALTIMORE RAVENS - Kevin Zeitler (OG, Wisconsin)
This pick could very well come down to a Wisconsin offensive lineman - guard Kevin Zeitler or center Peter Konz. Both are areas of need for the Ravens, as left guard Ben Grubbs left in free agency and center Matt Birk (36) is at the tail end of his career. The deciding point for me is that Zeitler is more of a mauler, which Baltimore likes at guard, while Konz (the best center in the draft) is more of a smart finesse player. I've also heard that Baltimore loves Shea McClellin and Dont'a Hightower.
30. SAN FRANCISCO 49'ERS - Coby Fleener (TE, Stanford)
If wide receiver Stephan Hill somehow slips to this pick, I think the 49'ers pounce. If not, I think they could address their right guard position with either Midwestern State's Amini Silatolu (who was my original pick in this slot) or Kevin Zeitler. However, how sweet would it be if Jim Harbaugh when back to his roots and drafted Stanford tight end Coby Fleener? Harbaugh's bread and butter in Palo Alto was using multiple tight end sets and pairing Fleener with Vernon Davis would be a matchup nightmare.
31. NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS - Harrison Smith (S, Notre Dame)
Does anyone think that the Patriots will actually keep this pick? I sure don't. No one in the league likes to wheel and deal draft picks as much as Bill Belichick and with two first rounders, this just makes too much sense (it wouldn't surprise me if Cleveland traded back in the first round for Brandon Weeden). If the Patriots are stuck making a pick here, I would think it would come down to the best defensive player available on their board that fills a glaring need. Smith is a smart player that can slide in at free safety and help out immediately .
32. NEW YORK GIANTS - Doug Martin (RB, Boise State)
I've seen a lot of mock drafts that have Martin going to the Giants with this pick. However, most of them were referring to Stanford offensive tackle Jonathan Martin. While it wouldn't surprise me to see the Giants grab an offensive tackle, I'll look in another direction with Boise State running back Doug Martin. New York lost Brandon Jacobs this offeseason and Ahmad Bradshaw is extremely injury prone. Reinforcements are definitely needed and Doug Martin is basically Race Rice 2.0. Can't go wrong there.