As the NFL season comes to a close, just one game remains, and as the draft season heats up this week at the Senior Bowl, it's time to take another hard look at the first round of the 2012 NFL draft.
The order for the first 30 teams is set, with just Super Bowl 46 left to determine the final order. Until then, here's what we know about how the first round will look.
A quick note on my mock drafts: This isn't a prediction of what NFL teams will do, but a look at what I would do as the general manager of each team. Attempting to predict what 32 individuals will decide in late April is meaningless at this point.
Andrew Luck, Quarterback, Stanford
It's all but certain that Andrew Luck will be the choice of the Indianapolis Colts when they are officially placed on the clock. Ignore those who are clamoring for a trade or saying the team won't put Luck and Peyton Manning on the same team. Those people are wrong.
Luck is hands-down the best prospect I've ever scouted, and that's a sentiment shared around the NFL. He's a slam-dunk selection for Indianapolis.
The new regime in Indianapolis will kick off their first offseason by welcoming Luck to town.
Michael Brockers, Defensive Tackle, LSU
Remember, this is what I would do, not necessarily what the St. Louis Rams will do.
It's worth noting that I fully expect this pick to be traded when the actual NFL draft rolls around in April. It's too early to predict a trading partner or compensation, though, so for now the pick stays in St. Louis. In this scenario, the Rams shouldn't reach for a wide receiver like Justin Blackmon or Alshon Jeffery. Jeff Fisher needs to build a defense.
Fisher knows the importance of a dominant defensive line, and he'll move to secure the draft's best defensive lineman and a player with unlimited potential as a three-technique defensive tackle.
Brockers isn't graded as a top-10 player yet, but his potential and the need for a defensive tackle make this pick work, especially if the Rams can trade down with a team hoping to move up and get Robert Griffin III.
Matt Kalil, Offensive Tackle, USC
The Minnesota Vikings have the young quarterback to lead this team (Christian Ponder) and the workhorse running back (Adrian Peterson) to carry the load. What they don't have is a franchise left tackle.
Yes, it's shocking, but Charlie Johnson isn't getting it done on the left side.
Matt Kalil is not on the same level as Jake Long or Joe Thomas as far as prospects go, but he's a massive upgrade over Charlie Johnson. Kalil would be an opening-day starter on Ponder's left side and allows Minnesota to focus its later picks on improving the talent in the secondary and at wide receiver.
Justin Blackmon, Wide Receiver, Oklahoma State
No, the Browns won't select a quarterback in the first round. At least not this year. Expect Robert Griffin III to be selected No. 2 overall after a trade. On top of that, team president Mike Holmgren has said the Browns will go after a quarterback to compete with Colt McCoy, so expect them to look to free agency.
There are two players available who make sense for Cleveland: Justin Blackmon and Trent Richardson. Richardson grades out higher, but drafting a running back this high isn't something NFL teams need to do anymore (see Foster, Arian).
Cleveland would line up Blackmon and Greg Little to help support McCoy, who will have a healthier offensive line in 2012 and a full summer of working with Pat Shurmur on the West Coast offense.
Morris Claiborne, Cornerback, LSU
Veteran cornerback Ronde Barber is nearing the end of a great career and may not return. Losing Barber will hurt a defense that's very young and looking for leadership. Even with Barber back for 2012, the team needs to draft a cornerback.
Starting opposite Barber is Aqib Talib, who is one more off-field issue away from being shipped out of town.
Claiborne has quietly emerged as the country's best cover man. He has elite coverage ability and will be an instant star in Tampa Bay on an improving defense.
Robert Griffin III, Quarterback, Baylor
The Washington Redskins have proven over the past few weeks just how badly they need a new quarterback. Rex Grossman and John Beck just can’t get it done.
Mike Shanahan has built a good offensive line and defense in Washington—now, he needs his quarterback.
In the past, Shanahan has targeted athletic quarterbacks who can get outside the pocket and make plays. He likes players who aren’t afraid to take chances, but have the accuracy to pick apart a defense underneath. John Elway and Jay Cutler are his type of players.
Griffin may not be an Elway-level quarterback, but he’s as good a prospect as Cutler was when Shanahan nabbed him to be his starter in Denver.
Full disclosure: Washington will most likely have to move up to get Griffin. It's highly unlikely he's still on the board at No. 6 overall. I do expect Washington to lead the trade talks to move up and get RG3.
Alshon Jeffery, Wide Receiver, South Carolina
Not every fan will like this pick, but they will once Alshon Jeffery helps save Blaine Gabbert, and it's what Mike Mularkey should be expected to do at head coach.
Young quarterbacks need a good wide receiver they can depend on. Cam Newton has Steve Smith. Andy Dalton has A.J. Green. Gabbert needs Jeffery.
Alshon had a very good showing this season, even if his production was down thanks to very bad quarterback play. Not everyone is sold on Jeffery, but count me in the camp who see Alshon as a future All-Pro wide receiver.
Adding on to that logic, which other player would the Jaguars draft here? They have a good young offensive line, their linebackers are solid and there's good development potential in the secondary (when healthy). Jeffery makes the most sense.
David DeCastro, Offensive Guard, Stanford
The Panthers could really stand to add at both guard spots, but left guard Travelle Wharton is by far the worse of the two starters.
Carolina would love to add a wide receiver here, or even a defensive end, but there are no players at those positions who are a good value here. Michael Floyd is the next best receiver, and he's a reach inside the top 10. Same at defensive end, where the best players project to outside linebacker in a 3-4 defense.
DeCastro has a higher ranking than any guard I have scouted, with only Steve Hutchinson having a higher grade. He has the look of a future All-Pro.
Riley Reiff, Offensive Tackle, Iowa
No team is hurt more by the decision of Matt Barkley to return to USC than the Miami Dolphins. With Barkley out of the draft, the Dolphins will sit at No. 9 and find no quarterback of value on the board. Without Barkley in the draft, Miami may go the route of a free-agent quarterback.
Assuming the Dolphins go after a Matt Flynn-like starter in free agency, they can use this selection to fix the offensive line.
Riley Reiff would be a great addition if they can't draft a quarterback here. He would step in at right tackle, where Vernon Carey leaves via free agency, and become an instant starter and an upgrade.
Reiff compares very well to Nate Solder from the 2011 draft class.
Nick Perry, Outside Linebacker, USC
Getting an explosive pass rush is what the Buffalo Bills need most. Don't get me wrong—they need a lot of things, but a true presence at outside linebacker is chief among those needs.
Nick Perry isn't as complete a player as Courtney Upshaw or even Melvin Ingram right now, but he has more potential and is much more explosive as a true 3-4 outside linebacker. Perry, ironically enough, has a lot of the same characteristics as former Bill Shawne Merriman did when healthy.
The temptation to get a tackle or wide receiver here is great, but the true need for this team is on defense.
Trent Richardson, Running Back, Alabama
The Seattle Seahawks played themselves out of a chance to draft a quarterback in the first round and were hurt by decisions from Matt Barkley and Landry Jones to return to college.
Re-signing Marshawn Lynch should be on the docket for this offseason, but it comes with a risk due to his number of carries and the beatings he takes running the ball. Signing Lynch is good, but drafting a true complementary back would be as well.
Richardson grades out as the No. 4 player overall on my board, but with the running back position being devalued some, he slips down here.
Dont'a Hightower, Inside Linebacker, Alabama
All season, you read many things in this space criticizing Dont'a Hightower's season. Then he went and blew up in the national championship game, showing the burst and versatility that made him an early first-round prospect entering the 2011 season.
Throw Hightower into the linebacker corps with Derrick Johnson, Tamba Hali and Justin Houston and watch out. The four would almost instantly be the most athletic linebacker crew in the NFL.
There are perhaps bigger needs in Kansas City, but remember, they return four injured starters (Matt Cassel, Jamaal Charles, Tony Moeaki and Eric Berry) to a roster that played very well down the stretch.
Jonathan Martin, Offensive Tackle, Stanford
The Arizona Cardinals have been down this road before. With the No. 5 overall pick in the 2007 draft, the Cardinals were hoping to draft a tackle to protect then-franchise quarterback Matt Leinart. They used the selection on Levi Brown.
Brown, like Leinart, has been a bust. Even though he’s still starting at left tackle, Brown is the worst left tackle in the league this season. That’s not just conjecture: Pro Football Focus ranks Brown as currently one of the worst tackles in the NFL.
The Cardinals will hope things are better this time around by selecting a player our own Jon Dove thinks is the best left tackle prospect in the class.
Stephon Gilmore, Cornerback, South Carolina
The Dallas Cowboys toyed with the idea of drafting a cornerback last year but instead struck gold with right tackle Tyron Smith and running back DeMarco Murray. This time around, they'll look to the defensive side of the ball.
Dallas seems unhappy with Mike Jenkins and Terence Newman, opening up at least one spot in the secondary at cornerback. It's not out of the question to think Dre Kirkpatrick could also be an elite prospect at free safety.
Gilmore takes the place of Dre Kirkpatrick, who was in this spot last week, after Kirkpatrick was arrested on drug possession charges.
Michael Floyd, Wide Receiver, Notre Dame
The Philadelphia Eagles were supposed to field the best team money could buy this season. Instead, they are on the verge of a coaching change if they don't make the playoffs in 2012.
With DeSean Jackson's contract expiring and Steve Smith failing to make an impact, the Eagles will be desperate to add a consistent threat for Michael Vick. Michael Floyd has the body type and run-after-catch skills to be very dangerous in Andy Reid's offense.
This is an area where Philadelphia could also look at linebackers, but no player fits the bill in a 4-3 defense this early.
Courtney Upshaw, Outside Linebacker, Alabama
The New York Jets have so many needs that it would almost be easier to tell you what they don’t need. They won’t draft a quarterback, left tackle, middle linebacker or cornerback—that much is certain. Any other position is wide open.
The biggest need in New York is for a pass-rusher. The team has struggled with free agent Calvin Pace and never got a return from Vernon Gholston or Bryan Thomas here. It’s time to try again.
Upshaw slides a bit this week and likely will on draft day when you consider the more athletic options at outside linebacker. He's a very safe pick, though, something the Jets need at outside linebacker.
Chris Polk, Running Back, Washington
After an early exit from the playoffs, where their lack of a run game was exposed, the Cincinnati Bengals will use their first-rounder to look to find a change-of-pace back to pair with (or replace) Cedric Benson next season.
Miami's Lamar Miller ranks higher than Polk on my big board, but in the AFC North you need a big back who can run between the tackles. That's Polk. Miller is shifty and fits best in a West Coast offense, whereas Polk is the bigger back the Bengals need to start taking over the North.
Vontaze Burfict, Inside Linebacker, Arizona State
At left tackle, Jared Gaither has played very well since being picked up off the street and may earn himself the starting job next season if he's re-signed. That's why left tackle will most likely not be a need in San Diego.
If the Chargers don't look to fix their offensive line, fixing their defense will be a key. Finding a pure pass-rusher opposite Shaun Phillips was a need before the improved play late in the season from Antwan Barnes. Ideally, San Diego can use this selection to draft the best player on their board.
The best player left on my board, on defense, is inside linebacker Vontaze Burfict. Known for his big hits and head-hunting style of play, Burfict will give the San Diego defense a menacing presence in the middle.
Mike Adams, Offensive Tackle, Ohio State
The Chicago Bears used their first pick in the 2011 NFL draft to select offensive tackle Gabe Carimi. While Carimi has missed much of his rookie season to injury, he's projected as a long-term starter at right tackle.
Fixing the problem at left tackle is the focus of this pick. Adams is a fast-rising prospect who will catch the eye of NFL scouts with exceptional agility and strength at the position.
Chicago needs to get better at many positions, but none is more important than finding an NFL-quality left tackle.
Melvin Ingram, Defensive End, South Carolina
The Tennessee Titans defense was solid all season, but they ranked sixth-worst at sacking the quarterback. The defensive tackles are solid, but bringing in speed and power at defensive end is needed.
Derrick Morgan, the team's last first-rounder at defensive end, has been a bust and may discourage the front office from pulling the trigger on another defensive end.
Outside of drafting a cornerback to replace Cortland Finnegan—should he leave in free agency—no other selection makes sense for the Titans.
Dre Kirkpatrick, Cornerback, Alabama
The arrest of Dre Kirkpatrick on drug possession charges will push him down draft boards, but his fall is the Cincinnati Bengals' gain.
Kirkpatrick is the third-best cornerback in this class, behind Claiborne and Gilmore, and he's the type of athlete the Bengals need opposite Leon Hall.
Hall is still one of the better cornerbacks in the NFL, but he needs help on the other side of the field. Nate Clements and Pacman Jones are stopgap players. What the Bengals need is a true cover man. This is an area Cincinnati could address with one of its two first-round picks.
Lamar Miller, Running Back, Miami (FL)
At running back, Peyton Hillis was average in his contract year, Montario Hardesty can't stay off the trainer's table and Chris Ogbonnaya is a good backup but nothing more than a spot starter.
Running back is a need in Cleveland, and an early one.
With two first-round picks (thanks, Atlanta), the Browns can select the best back on the board to fill this space. Miami's Lamar Miller is the best of the backs left on the board—he ranks as my No. 9 overall player right now.
Miller is a capable runner, receiver and return man. He's bringing the three "Rs" to Cleveland, where a speed back is needed to complement Hillis' bruising style of play.
Peter Konz, Center, Wisconsin
The Detroit Lions would love to find a left tackle on the board, but no player of value is on the board. This means Detroit will move on to need No. 2.
Some may say a cornerback or even a running back would be the better pick. I disagree.
Wisconsin's All-American center Peter Konz hasn't yet declared for the 2012 NFL draft, but once he does, he'll carry a first-round grade.
General manager Martin Mayhew generally drafts for the best player on their board, but Dominic Raiola's career is nearing the end. Detroit could look to upgrade at center through the draft if a player as talented as Konz is on the board with pick No. 23.
Whitney Mercilus, Outside Linebacker, Illinois
At face value, you might not think outside linebacker is a need in Pittsburgh. It is.
Starter James Harrison turns 34 before the 2012 season and started to show signs of slowing down this season. With that in mind, and with the Pittsburgh strategy of drafting for the future, look for the front office to jump all over Mercilus if he's available here.
A one-year stud at defensive end, Mercilus led the NCAA in sacks this season but has to prove he's more than a flash in the pan. Given his athletic ability and the coaching of the Steelers, Mercilus could be a stud here.
Jerel Worthy, Defensive Tackle, Michigan State
You might think the Denver Broncos would want to look for offensive linemen, cornerbacks, maybe a quarterback or even help at running back. Nope.
Under John Fox, the Broncos are committed to building a strong defense to complement a ball-control offense. The next step for Denver is to draft a stud defensive tackle to draw double-teams and split the gaps in the offensive line.
Worthy is a penetrator who can split the gaps and make plays in the backfield, giving Denver a true pressure presence at three-tech.
Kendall Wright, Wide Receiver, Baylor
The Houston Texans, if healthy, should be considered Super Bowl contenders in 2012. To make those dreams a reality, Houston needs to find and develop options at wide receiver other than Andre Johnson.
Jacoby Jones has been a fine No. 2 receiver, but the team needs a burner in the slot who can stretch a defense and create mismatches.
Kendall Wright has an opportunity to make a major move up draft boards this season. He has the speed and versatility to be a high-rising player. In Houston, Wright could play the role of the slot receiver and even replace Jones as a returner.
Jared Crick, Defensive End (3-4), Nebraska
The New England Patriots are getting by with castoffs in the starting lineup at defensive end and defensive tackle, but the lack of talent outside of Vince Wilfork has been evident.
Mark Anderson and Andre Carter have had good seasons, but are they long-term answers? If the Patriots hope to transition back to their 3-4 scheme—or if they want to improve the play next to Wilfork at the three-technique position—they'll need to focus on the draft.
Jared Crick has top-15 talent, but he missed the second half of the 2011 season with a torn pectoral muscle. He should be fine by the time the scouting combine rolls around in late February, but there is a likely chance his draft stock takes a hit from it.
Janoris Jenkins, Cornerback, North Alabama
The Green Bay Packers secondary was straight-up exposed by the New York Giants—as was their pass rush. Look for the Packers to use their first-rounder on the best available defender.
Janoris Jenkins has top-15 talent but has fallen due to off-field issues that led to his dismissal from the University of Florida. Jenkins has said that if Urban Meyer were still coaching, he wouldn't have been let go from the team and university, so that's worth considering.
Green Bay has a strong, solid locker room that can afford to take on a questionable young player with undeniable talent.
Cordy Glenn, Offensive Tackle/Guard, Georgia
The Baltimore Ravens have very few holes but do a good job drafting to fill future needs. At left guard they have free agent Ben Grubbs, and at left tackle they are running with Bryant McKinnie. This pick helps both.
Adding Cordy Glenn, a massive man who has played both tackle and guard at Georgia, will allow the team flexibility if it should lose Grubbs to free agency. Imagine a line of Jah Reid, Glenn, Matt Birk, Marshall Yanda and Michael Oher. That's a formidable group.
Replacing Grubbs with a rookie won't be easy, but Glenn has the size and strength to make an impact.
Alfonzo Dennard, Cornerback, Nebraska
Carlos Rogers has been a top-five free-agent signing this season. The 49ers will want to offer him a three- to four-year deal this summer and hope he's interested in returning. Even with Rogers back for another season, drafting for depth and more talent opposite Rogers is an early need.
Alfonzo Dennard is the best senior cornerback in this class. Dennard doesn't have great size, but he makes up for it with strong play off the line and a great leaping ability. He's tough against the run and in press coverage and would be a great fit in the 49ers scheme.
Zach Brown, Outside Linebacker, North Carolina
The New York Giants have a fierce defense, but they could use more speed and more coverage ability from their linebackers.
Zach Brown plays outside linebacker at UNC, and he projects very well to the outside linebacker position in a 4-3 defense like the one in New York. He's fast, instinctive and has the ability to track sideline-to-sideline. There's also an outside shot that Brown could play inside linebacker if the Giants decide to run a more athletic, smaller scheme.
Another plus: Brown has the speed and agility to be very good in coverage.
Chandler Jones, Outside Linebacker, Syracuse
When the New England Patriots have two first-round selections, Bill Belichick has never traded the first of those picks. The second he's not afraid to move.
Chances are this pick will not belong to New England by the time the pick comes up on the clock, but should Belichick buck history and decide to hold on to the selection, the team could do worse than adding a pass-rushing threat like Chandler Jones.
A recent entry into the draft, Jones has freakish size and strength off the edge. Teams looking for a 2012 version of Aldon Smith will fall in love with Jones' ability. He's like a younger Willie McGinest-type player, which is what the Patriots lack.