More than in any other sport, getting things right in the NFL Draft is critical to a team's ability to create and maintain long-term success.
In most cases, it is not necessarily the player(s) selected in the first round each year that leads to that success. It is the ability to find players in the later rounds of the draft or even the undrafted free agents that can contribute.
As we get closer to the draft, we will include mock drafts that go beyond the first round.
Last week, Brendan Donahue released his first 2012 NFL Mock Draft,
Here is how I see the first round unfolding:
We've seen the results without a healthy Peyton Manning, a four-time league MVP. The trio of Kerry Collins, Curtis Painter and Dan Orlovsky led the Colts to two wins and subsequently the No. 1 overall pick in this year's draft. And we've seen the results with a healthy Manning: double-digit wins in 11 of 12 seasons. It is looking less and less likely that Manning, who will turn 36 this year, will be on the Colts' roster to receive the $28 million bonus he's due on March 8th. Fortunately for Indianapolis, who may or may not have decided to move on weeks ago, Luck is one of the best quarterback prospects to come along in a long time.
2. St. Louis Rams (2-14) - Matt Kalil, OT, USC
It is possible (even likely) that one of the quarterback-needy teams will trade up to the No. 2 spot to take Baylor quarterback Robert Griffin III. While the Rams trading down is a very real possibility, I'm going to keep them here, for now.
Much of this month, I felt like the pick would be receiver Justin Blackmon, especially with Brandon Lloyd expected to leave via free agency (and perhaps to follow Josh McDaniels to New England). Instead, I have the Rams going with Kalil, an athletic offensive tackle from USC and the brother of Panthers Pro Bowl center Ryan Kalil. No team allowed more sacks than the Rams (55) last year. Although St. Louis had injuries along their line, Jason Smith has been a bust so far and the team may even cut him if he doesn't agree to a pay cut.
[Related: Take our poll on which player will be selected second overall.]
3. Minnesota Vikings (3-13) - Morris Claiborne, CB, LSU
If the Rams trade down (and RG3 goes second overall), I would expect the Vikings to take Kalil. Only four teams allowed more sacks than Minnesota. However, their pass defense was atrocious last year and they have to face the Packers and Lions four times a year. No team allowed more passing touchdowns (34) than the Vikings and no team intercepted fewer passes (eight). After Dre Kirkpatrick's brush-in with the law earlier this month, Claiborne is clearly the top corner in this year's draft class.
4. Cleveland Browns (4-12) - Robert Griffin III, QB, Baylor
If the Browns don't trade up to take RG3 and he's still available here (I'm beginning to sound like a broken record), the Browns won't pass up the opportunity to take this year's Heisman Trophy recipient (see past winners). Accurate, athletic and intelligent, Griffin completed 72.4 percent of his passes and was just shy of 5,000 combined yards — 4,293 passing yards and 699 rushing yards — in 2011. For his career, Griffin has a 78:17 touchdown-to-interception ratio not counting his 33 rushing touchdowns.
5. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (4-12) - Trent Richardson, RB, Alabama
The Bucs would probably prefer to take Claiborne at this spot with Ronde Barber nearing (or maybe coming to) the end of his career and the off-the-field issues of Aqib Talib. That said, I don't think the Bucs take Kirkpatrick, who created some questions about his character as noted above. Richardson has an impressive combination of size, strength and speed and is one of the best running back prospects in years.
6. Washington Redskins (5-11) - Justin Blackmon, WR, Oklahoma State
There is plenty of speculation that the Redskins will try to trade up to select RG3. If they don't, they will boost their passing game with the draft's most talented pass-catcher. Blackmon, who is the back-to-back Biletnikoff recipient, has 232 receptions for 3,304 yards and 38 touchdowns combined over the past two seasons.
7. Jacksonville Jaguars (5-11) - Quinton Coples, DE, North Carolina
If Blackmon is still available at No. 7, they won't hesitate to get their "franchise" quarterback a legitimate weapon in the passing game. (Granted, Blaine Gabbert looked horrible — and scared — last season, but the Jags arguably have the league's worst receiving corps). While many question Coples' motor, he is the premiere pass-rusher in the draft and the Jags have ranked in the bottom 10 in sacks for the past three years in a row.
8. Miami Dolphins (6-10) - Riley Reiff, OT, Iowa
Although the Dolphins have an elite left tackle in Jake Long, the top overall pick in 2008, they could certainly use an upgrade on the right side to replace Marc Colombo. Along with Kalil and Jonathan Martin, Reiff is one of the three best offensive tackles in this year's draft class.
9. Carolina Panthers (6-10) - Dre Kirkpatrick, CB, Alabama
Regardless of how free agency shakes out, the top two teams in the NFC South (New Orleans and Atlanta) have elite passing attacks. As noted earlier, Kirkpatrick will have some 'splaining to do (as Ricky Ricardo would say) about his off-field issues, but the Panthers get a cornerback with elite size (approximately 6'3") to pair up with Chris Gamble.
10. Buffalo Bills (6-10) - Courtney Upshaw, DE/LB, Alabama
Only the Titans (28) and Bucs (23) had fewer sacks last year than the Bills (29). Defensive tackle Marcell Dareus, Upshaw's teammate at Alabama and the Bills' first-round pick last year, led the team in sacks last year with only 5.5. Upshaw will help.
To see the full first-round mock, click here.
For more mocks from around the internet, check out our 2012 NFL Mock Draft Database.