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The worst part about football is that so many of its players are not properly recognized.
With 22 men on the field at once and all of them wearing helmets, few faces stick out aside from the quarterback.
The only other player to truly stand out in a crowd is a star wide receiver. There are the “look at me” variety like Chad Ochocinco and Terrell Owens, and there are the “I can’t help but pay attention” types like Calvin Johnson, Wes Welker, Andre Johnson and Steve Smith.
This year’s draft class features four receivers who have the potential to fall into the second category. Starting with Justin Blackmon, you could easily make the case that the 2012 receiver class features four future stars.
Here’s the latest look on where they’ll land in the draft.
Note: The first 28 picks are set in stone (with the exception of a few coin flips marked with asterisks*). Picks 29-32 are based off playoff projections.
1. Indianapolis Colts: Andrew Luck, QB, Stanford
Not much to say here. The Colts have an incredibly tough decision on their hands and the clock is ticking. We all know Luck is the best player in the draft and there is no doubt that whomever picks first will be selecting Luck.
Will it be Indy?
2. St. Louis Rams: Matt Kalil, OT, USC
3. Minnesota Vikings: Justin Blackmon, WR, Oklahoma State
The Vikings season was doomed from the second that management decided Michael Jenkins could be their No. 2 receiver.
The Vikes are desperately in need of a playmaker, and Blackmon is the top one available in the entire draft. There isn’t a single knock on Blackmon. He caught eight passes for 186 yards and three TDs while dealing with an injury in the Fiesta Bowl. At 6'1", 215 pounds, he has the prototypical size for a receiver and has the sort of breakaway speed that translates to the next level.
Blackmon will instantly become Christian Ponder’s most reliable weapon, and when you place him next to Adrian Peterson...suddenly the Vikings offense is going to be very hard to stop.
4. Cleveland Browns: Robert Griffin III, QB, Baylor
The Browns luck out by having RGIII slip to No. 4 and draft him without having to use the entire 15 minutes. Colt McCoy simply didn’t show enough in two mediocre seasons to warrant another year without somebody pushing him for his job.
5. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Dre Kirkpatrick, CB, Alabama
The marijuana possession charge is a big deal now, but the draft is still 90-plus days away. After he shows his ridiculous athletic attributes at the NFL combine, all will be forgotten.
6. Washington Redskins: Trent Richardson, RB, Alabama
Unless Dan Synder feels frisky and trades up to snag RGIII, the ‘Skins settle on the best running back prospect since Adrian Peterson. Richardson is as sure of a thing as there is in this year’s draft.
7. Jacksonville Jaguars: Morris Claiborne, CB, LSU
The Jags need plenty of help on offense, but go with the best available pick with Claiborne still on the board.
8. Carolina Panthers* (subject to coin flip): Melvin Ingram, DE, South Carolina
The Panthers defense was one of the worst in the league in 2011. Ingram should be able to produce consistent pressure on the opponents' QB and be a solid contributor against the run as well.
9. Miami Dolphins*: Riley Reiff, OT, Iowa
The Dolphins have a strong defense, but lack multiple pieces on offense to be consistent from week-to-week. Landing Reiff produces stability on the line, and the sort of work ethic that can rub off on his teammates.
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10. Buffalo Bills: Quinton Coples, DE, North Carolina
One of the biggest wild cards of the draft, few players entering the draft have the strength of Coples. If the Bills can convince him to play hard every down, their D-Line will be set for years after drafting Marcell Dareus No. 3 overall a season ago.
11. Kansas City Chiefs* (subject to coin flip): Jonathan Martin, OT, Stanford
Chiefs could desperately use help on the O-Line, and Martin did a tremendous job of protecting Luck in college. Perfect match.
12. Seattle Seahawks*: Alshon Jeffery, WR, South Carolina
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Jeffery could go in the top five picks or not even in the first round. The ugly finish to his college career is still fresh on the minds of scouts—but so is his talent.
At 6'4", 230 pounds, Jeffery has the sort of size you can’t teach. Few NFL cornerbacks will be able to beat him physically. With his height he can go up and snag any jump ball coming his way and that makes him deadly around the goal.
Sure, his character issues are a concern, but I think Pete Carroll is a guy who likes to take on violating personalities like Jeffery. Consider it his personal challenge.
13. Arizona Cardinals: David DeCastro, G, Stanford
The best interior lineman in the draft should help clear up the inconsistencies of the Cardinals' running game. A healthy Beanie Wells would help too.
14. Dallas Cowboys: Courtney Upshaw, OLB, Alabama
The Cowboys defense is what ultimately failed them in 2011, and the pass rush was one of the main culprits for the problem. The 6'2", 265-pound pass-rusher can team up with Marcus Ware to form a deadly 1-2 punch.
15. Philadelphia Eagles: Luke Kuechly, ILB, Boston College
The Eagles had a glaring hole at linebacker this season and it has to be addressed in the first round. The 6'3", 240-pound Kuechly has the speed and size to be a contributor right away.
16. New York Jets: Michael Floyd, WR, Notre Dame
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The decision to skip the Senior Bowl may hurt him a bit, but in the end his talent will prevail. He holds plenty of records at Notre Dame, and his senior season (1,147 yards, nine TDs) was more than enough to warrant a first-round pick.
He has prototypical size (6'3", 225 pounds) and the sort of hands that make you think he could catch any ball thrown in his direction.
His past alcohol-related arrests are going to be brought up time and time again during the pre-draft interviews, but ultimately it won’t scare away a Jets team that may be cutting ties with a disgruntled Santonio Holmes in the near future.
17. Cincinnati Bengals (from Oakland): Cordy Glenn, OT, Georgia
Bobbie Williams isn’t getting any younger, and they may be cutting ties with Andre Smith as well. With the question marks on the line, Glenn can provide the answer.
18. San Diego Chargers: Mike Adams, OT, Ohio State
No team dealt with more changes on the offensive line and no team needs a tackle in the first round more than the Chargers.
19. Chicago Bears: Lamar Miller, RB, Miami
Matt Forte is one pissed-off dude, and the prospect of losing him his real. After Richardson, Miller is the best back to help them move on.
20. Tennessee Titans: Devon Still, DT, Penn State
The Titans need help on the interior line and Still is the sort of bulky and strong player Tennessee could use. At 6'5", 310 pounds, he can start from Day 1.
21. Cincinnati Bengals: Stephon Gilmore, CB, South Carolina
The Bengals still haven’t gotten over the loss of Jonathan Joseph and might as well replace him with another Gamecock.
22. Cleveland Browns (from Atlanta): Janoris Jenkins, CB, North Alabama
Jenkins was a top-10 pick last year, but smoked that chance away. He is still a first-round talent, but needs to mature in a hurry. No player has more at stake in pre-draft interviews and the NFL combine than Jenkins.
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23. Detroit Lions: Baylor Vontaze Burfict, ILB, Arizona State
The Lions need help in the middle of their defense and could use a sure tackle with terrific fundamentals like Burfict. The Arizona State product can be a solid contributor quickly as well.
24. Pittsburgh Steelers: Dontari Poe, NT, Memphis
Casey Hampton’s age really showed during the 2011 season, and drafting his replacement now is a good idea. Poe is hands down the best tackle in the entire draft.
25. Denver Broncos: Kendall Wright, WR, Baylor
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Blazing fast at 5'10", 190 pounds, Wright had an eye-popping 1,663 yards and 14 TDS his senior season, but how much of that was because of RGIII?
Wright needs to have a strong combine to prove to scouts he isn’t just a speed-freak who had a good college quarterback. His size already puts him behind the likes of Blackmon, Floyd and Jeffery.
And if you watched one Broncos game this season, there is little doubt that receiver depth is a major priority.
26. Houston Texans: Alfonzo Dennard, CB, Nebraska
The Texans have a well-rounded team with few holes, but adding cornerback depth is a smart move to make with such a late pick.
27. New England Patriots (from Saints): Chris Polk, RB, Washington
The Pats need help on the D-Line, but it’s hard to pass on Polk at pick 27. He had a tremendous college career and has the foot speed to break off a huge run on any given play.
When was the last time New England had a back like that?
28. Green Bay Packers: Markelle Martin, S, Oklahoma State
The Packers had the worst pass defense in the NFL this season and their safeties were a big culprit. Martin is the best available on the board.
29. New York Giants: Zach Brown, OLB, UNC
The Giants could go either OLB or CB here and will likely go for whomever is the top talent still on the board. Brown is a sure tackler who fits in well to Tom Coughlin’s 4-3 scheme.
30. Baltimore Ravens: Dont’a Hightower, ILB, Alabama
I hate to say it Ravens fans, but Ray Lewis is old. At the age of 36 he only has so many years left in the tank. Grooming a potential replacement here would be ideal.
31. San Francisco 49ers: Andre Branch, DE, Clemson
Call me crazy, but the 49ers defense can get even better. Adding more depth to keep everybody fresh would make the No. 1-rated rush defense even deadlier.
32. New England Patriots: Jared Crick, DE, Nebraska
If it wasn’t for a season-ending injury in October, Crick would be 10 spots higher. It’s a perfect blend of drafting for need and best available player. A great pick by New England? Who would have guessed?