The 2012 NFL Pro Bowl has concluded, and now fans and NFL teams turn their attention to the next major offseason event—the 2012 NFL Draft.
With the Senior Bowl game in the rear-view mirror, teams now have a better idea of what prospects they would love to take once the draft hits. The NFL Scouting Combine is approaching, but teams are surely already moving pieces around on their big boards.
The stock of all players will continue to rise and fall, but here’s what each team will do come draft day, starting with the Indianapolis Colts:
Andrew Luck, QB, Stanford
No surprise here, as conventional wisdom all but guarantees Peyton Manning is gone via free agency or retirement before the Scouting Combine.
Andre Luck steps in as the heir apparent to Manning, and the only player in the draft worth the first overall pick. Luck is the best quarterback prospect that has entered the draft in a decade or more, and the Colts can’t afford to pass on him.
The rebuilding process is beginning in Indianapolis, and there is not better way to start than by selecting a potential franchise quarterback.
Morris Claiborne, CB, LSU
Morris Claiborne continues to stand out as the must-have defensive player in this year’s draft. Jeff Fisher is looking to start things off right in St. Louis, and he loves his defensive backs.,
Claiborne is the right guy for the job. While a popular pick here would be a receiver to help out quarterback Sam Bradford, the Rams could address that issue in free agency.
Taking a player like Claiborne is a no-brainer. Claiborne was rated higher than fellow corner back Patrick Peterson, who left for the draft last year and was taken by the Arizona Cardinals fifth overall. Claiborne is better, and will help to lead a culture change in St. Louis.
Matt Kalil, OT, USC
It’s no secret that the Vikings need help across the board. It’s also no secret that Matt Kalil is easily the best lineman available in the draft.
Last year, the Vikings selected who they hope turns out to be their franchise quarterback in Christian Ponder. This year, the organization has to ensure that Ponder remains on his feet and able to throw the ball down the field.
Kalil is a stud tackle that has all the tools necessary to protect his quarterback. No other player at this spot makes sense for the Vikings at this point.
Justin Blackmon, WR, Oklahoma State
The Browns have been linked to Baylor quarterback Robert Griffin III, but it’s hard to imagine Mike Holmgren and Pat Shurmur have already given up on quarterback Colt McCoy—especially considering McCoy has never had the opportunity to play with a true No. 1 receiver.
Enter Justin Blackmon, a receiver comparable to a rookie taken last year—A.J. Green. Blackmon is a game-breaker on every play, and fits the west-coast offense nicely.
Not trading up for a quarterback allows the Browns to keep the 22nd overall pick and further upgrade the offense while having consistency at the quarterback position. McCoy (with a full offseason), Blackmon and Greg Little will form a solid core.
Dre Kirkpatrick, CB, Alabama
The Buccaneers were hoping for Morris Claiborne to fall here, but Dre Kirkpatrick is a nice consolation prize. The Buccaneers are a very young and talented team with a new coach, and Kirkpatrick is a great pick up.
Kirkpatrick is a solid corner that was projected to fall further because of a marijuana incident. However, Tampa can’t afford to let the cornerback position continue to deteriorate, with Ronde Barber aging and Aqib Talib always in trouble.
Kirkpatrick is a slight reach here, but a sound move for a franchise ready to contend much sooner than most realize.
Robert Griffin III, QB, Baylor
Robert Griffin III single-handedly took Baylor from laughingstock to contender. The Redskins have an issue at the quarterback position, and Griffin is the perfect fit.
While it wouldn’t be shocking to see Washington try and move up for Griffin, he falls to six anyway. Griffin is everything Mike Shanahan has never had in a quarterback, and should revitalize football in Washington.
Washington is likely of the mind-set that Griffin has the potential to break out like last year’s No. 1 overall pick Cam Newton did—and rightfully so. Griffin is a rare talent that can start from day one and be effective in a brutal NFC East conference.
Quinton Coples, DE, UNC
Quinton Coples absolutely dominated the Senior Bowl this year and solidified his being picked in the top 10. Jacksonville needs help on the defensive line and in the secondary, but at this point Coples is the smartest choice.
The Jaguars’ defense last year was quietly one of the better units in the league, despite the absence of an elite pass-rusher. Coples comes in and immediately addresses that need.
While second-year quarterback Blaine Gabbert could use some more targets, moving a defensive unit from above-average to elite in one move is too hard to pass up.
Jonathan Martin, OT, Stanford
Jonathan Martin is quietly moving up draft boards across the nation while continuing to impress. The Dolphins have a need at quarterback, but could use a franchise tackle as well.
Martin would come in as an immediate starter and join Jake Long and Mike Pouncey to form one of the best offensive lines in the NFL. Protection like that allows a free agency or rookie quarterback to come in and have time to develop.
While there are sexier picks for the Dolphins here, Martin is the smartest selection. The NFL is won in the trenches, and the Dolphins would be wise to follow that philosophy.
Devon Still, DT, Penn State
The 2011 Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year is the smartest move for the Panthers here. Last season, the defense lacked a run-stuffing presence, and Still fits that need nicely.
While the Panthers could use some help on the offensive line, Still is too good to pass up. He continues to rise as the offseason progresses. Still joins a defense that sees Jon Beason returning, and could help to form one of the better units in the league.
Zach Brown, OLB, North Carolina
The Buffalo Bills appear to be happy with the offensive line they have at the moment, so the next biggest need is a pass-rusher from the linebacker spot.
Zach Brown impressed at the Senior Bowl, and will continue to do so through the Scouting Combine. Brown is great at rushing the passer, and has shown the ability to be able to cover running backs and tight ends.
Brown has the potential to become a standout on a defensive unit like the one the Bills use, and is typically in on every play. A solid all-around player like Brown will allow the Bills to continue to improve in all areas.
Riley Reiff, OT, Iowa
Kansas City needs help on the line as well as on defense. The Chiefs have a lot of options at this spot, but Riley Reiff is the way to go at this point.
Reiff is a space-eating tackle that can improve a line from the get-go. While not the most athletic tackle in the draft, Reiff is effective in pass and run-blocking. Reiff is a hard-nosed kid that will allow the Chiefs to address other areas while he provides consistency and stability on the line.
Michael Brockers, DT, LSU
Seattle needs help in a variety of areas coming into the draft, but shoring up the run defense would be a solid way to go. Fans may want a quarterback here, but it’s hard to justify taking one that still remains on the board.
Michael Brockers can come in and immediately boost the run defense, and more importantly, the pass-rush from the three-technique spot. Having a legit pass-rusher from the defensive tackle position adds another dimension to an already rapidly-improving defensive unit in Seattle.
Courtney Upshaw, OLB, Alabama
It’s no secret that the Cardinals need help on the offensive line, but Courtney Upshaw is too valuable of a player to pass up. Upshaw is extremely effective at rushing the passer from both the outside linebacker spot and defensive end.
Upshaw’s versatility will allow the Cardinals to continue to develop an emerging defense. He will join one of the better linebacker crews in the NFL and contribute in the run game as well.
Upshaw is nearly unblockable, and as the Giants, 49ers and Broncos have shown this past season, an elite rookie pass rusher could be the missing piece to a deep playoff run.
David DeCastro, G, Stanford
The Cowboys need help in a variety of areas, offensive line being one of the most pressing. Quarterback Tony Romo needs more time to make plays, and stealing David DeCastro will give Romo just that.
DeCastro was overshadowed by Andrew Luck this past season at Stanford, but could turn out to be the better pro player. DeCastro is a force on the interior of any offensive line and instantly upgrades a unit.
Corner back is another major need for the ‘Boys, but passing on a talent like DeCastro this far into the first round just doesn’t make sense.
Dont’a Hightower, ILB, Alabama
The “Dream Team” from last season had a glaring weakness at the linebacker position, and that was very apparent to anyone that paid attention before the season. The Eagles can’t afford not to address the problem multiple times in this draft, and it begins with Dont’a Hightower.
In Hightower, the Eagles get an immediate starter and upgrade at the weakest spot on the defense. Hightower is a natural leader and will be for years to come. He is explosive and a tackling machine straight out of Alabama, the school that has been churning out the best players for a while now.
Cordy Glenn, OG, Georgia
Enter Cordy Glenn, one of the biggest names coming out of the Senior Bowl. Glenn is absolutely massive and can be an anchor on a multitude of positions along the line. Glenn will likely come in and play guard for the Jets, but can fill in where needed.
The Jets could look at upgrading the secondary here, but no player is really worth the value at his spot. The Jets take a sure thing and address a need that is equally important with Glenn.
Trent Richardson, RB, Alabama
The Bengals are in desperate need of a talented running back after Cedric Benson fell off the face of the earth last year, and Trent Richardson is far and away the most talented back in the draft.
Richardson falls courtesy of the devaluation of the running back position as a whole around the NFL thanks to the emergence of the two-back system. The Bengals are happy to see Richardson fall to 17 because he fits a need and is also the best player available.
A prototypical AFC North back, Richardson comes in behind one of the better run-blocking offensive lines in the league, and teams up with Andy Dalton and A.J. Green to make one of the youngest teams in the league even better.
Nick Perry, DE, USC
The Chargers need help rushing the passer if the defense is to improve at all from the 2011 campaign, and Nick Perry is the man for the job. Perry emerged last season as one of the better pass-rushers in all of college football, and led the Pac-12 in sacks.
Perry is a force from the defensive end position and will flourish in the Chargers’ defensive scheme. His stock will only continue to rise as draft day approaches. While San Diego also needs help on the offensive line, generating a pass rush is a more pressing need at the moment. Perry fills the void nicely.
Michael Floyd, WR, Notre Dame
Quarterback Jay Cutler finally gets a rare talent at the wide receiver position in the form of Michael Floyd. Floyd has had off the field alcohol issues, but is the most talented receiver left in the draft and an incredible value pick at this spot.
Floyd is eerily similar to the Miami Dolphins’ Brandon Marshall and will give Cutler an elite player to pass to. Floyd’s presence will also take some pressure off of running back Matt Forte. Floyd is a massive receiver that can change a game on a dime.
The Bears need to address the offensive line as well, but that can happen in free agency and later in the draft. Floyd is too good to pass up for an offense that has lacked a true threat at the receiver position in years.
Whitney Mercilus, DE, Illinois
The Titans were ranked a laughable 31st in sacks last year, despite the defense playing well while making a late playoff push. In the scheme the Titans run, pressure on the quarterback must be applied by the defensive end position, and it’s hard to go wrong with Whitney Mercilus.
Mercilus is a mammoth of an end that is effective at stopping the run but makes his money rushing the passer. He recorded 16 sacks in 2011, and wouldn’t shock anyone if he matched that production in the NFL with the Titans while applying consistent pressure from the edge.
Mark Barron, S, Alabama
As 2011 wore on, the Bengals’ secondary was exposed as the weak point in an otherwise elite defensive unit. The loss of corner back Leon Hall hurt, but it was the lackluster play of safety Chris Crocker, among others, that doomed the Bengals.
Mark Barron is another Alabama product the Bengals should feel blessed to have fall, especially after already passing on him at 17. Barron is a physical freak that makes his presence known while stuffing the run, and is athletic enough to be effective against the pass as well.
Barron slides into the strong safety position for the Bengals as a starter and upgrades an already elite defense. With the return of coordinator Mike Zimmer, don’t be shocked to see Barron become a household name sooner rather than later.
Lamar Miller, RB. Miami
The Browns addressed the offensive side of the ball with the fourth overall pick earlier, and do so again here. While defensive line is a need as well, giving Colt McCoy weapons to succeed is more important at this point.
Lamar Miller is an extremely gifted multi-threat quarterback that is as good at running the ball as he is catching it. Miller breaks into the second level of defenses with ease, and the threat of him catching passes opens up receivers as well.
Miller would come in as the starter from day one and give the Browns a legitimate running back after the departure of Peyton Hillis. Miller stands out more than any other back remaining in the draft, and the dynamic weapon will be a major asset for the Browns for years to come.
Alfonzo Dennard, CB, Nebraska
No surprise here, as the Lions needs help in a big way in the defensive secondary. Alfonzo Dennard is a corner that probably shouldn’t have fallen this far, but the Lions are happy to welcome him to Detroit.
Dennard comes in and starts right away for the Lions. Dennard is great at playing press coverage and has an impact in zone coverage as well. He is great at playing the ball while it is in the air, which is something Detroit has been lacking for some time.
Dennard has the potential to be a special player in the NFL, and will have an opportunity to do so from the get-go.
Mike Adams, OT, Ohio State
Mike Adams made his presence known in the Senior Bowl and now continues to climb up draft boards. The Steelers need help in solidifying their offensive line, and Adams fits the mold of linemen Pittsburgh loves to bring in.
Adams is a massive tackle that has great strength to go along with outstanding footwork. The Steelers could place him almost anywhere on the line and he could start and be effective. Protecting Ben Roethlisberger is key, and Adams will do just that in an impressive manner.
Jerel Worthy, DT, Michigan State
It’s not hard to look at the Broncos’ defense and see what is missing: a solid defensive tackle to compliment the plethora of pass-rushers that inhabit the defensive unit.
Worthy is a three-technique player that is effective at eating up blockers, freeing up those around him. He is good at pass-rushing and run-stuffing, and is versatile enough that coach John Fox can get even more creative with his defense.
Worthy will combine with players like Von Miller and Elvis Dumervil to help form one of the more formidable defensive units in the league.
Kendall Wright, WR, Baylor
The Texans lack efficient depth at the wide receiver position after Andre Johnson, and now is the perfect time to add some. Kendall Wright surprisingly fell this far, and that works out well for the Texans.
Wright is an explosive slot receiver that is also a threat while returning kicks on special teams. His speed is impressive and adds another dimension to the Houston offense. Wright has the ability to cause mismatches all over the field from the slot position, and should be a great addition to an otherwise stacked offense.
Dontari Poe, DT, Memphis
The Patriots need help at every position on the defensive side of the ball, and that help starts here with the selection of the massive tackle Dontari Poe.
Poe is a huge player that will likely command multiple blockers on every down, which will free up other players on New England’s weak defense to make plays. With a space-eater like Poe in the middle of the field, opposing offenses will have a hard time running between the tackles.
While head coach Bill Belichick is known for trading late picks like this, it’s hard to see him passing on such a huge need at this point.
Melvin Ingram, OLB, South Carolina
The Packers need to generate more of a pass-rush on defense, and Melvin Ingram is a great way to do that. Ingram can play either defensive end or outside linebacker, but generates an impressive rush either way.
It’s surprising to see Ingram fall this far, but the Packers have no problem taking a player of his talent. The Packers struggled at defensive end after the loss of Cullen Jenkins, and Ingram fills that void nicely.
While cornerback is also another area that needs to be addressed, putting more pressure on opposing quarterbacks will take pressure off of the secondary. Ingram combines with Clay Matthews to form an impressive pass rush right away.
Peter Konz, C, Wisconsin
The Baltimore Ravens aren’t getting any younger on the defensive side of the ball, but the offensive line is beginning to suffer as well. Center Matt Birk might retire, and the hole left at the position would be massive.
Peter Konz is easily the best at his postion in this draft, and the Ravens couldn’t find a better player that fills a need at this pick. With Birk aging and Ben Grubbs becoming a free agent, Konz provides some much-needed youth and talent on the offensive line.
Alshon Jeffery, WR, South Carolina
During the NFC Championship game, it became very apparent that far and away the biggest weakness on the 49ers team was at the wide-receiver position. Michael Crabtree has been a bit of a dud, and the rest aren’t even worth mentioning.
Alshon Jeffery is a huge receiver that provides quarterback Alex Smith with a true No. 1 target. Jeffery is unique in his ability to generate yards after the catch, because he is such a large player and brings so much physicality on every down.
Jeffery has been criticized for the shape he has been in lately, but the 49ers will be able to get the best out of him right away. A team so close to a Super Bowl berth is one step away, and for the 49ers that step is Jeffery.
Andre Branch, DE, Clemson
The Patriots addressed their mediocre defense a few picks ago, and do so yet again here. The team continues to beef up the defensive line in the hopes that the upgrades there will make the players behind them better.
Andre Branch was a talented sack artist while in college, and his game translates well to the NFL. The Patriots are in desperate need of a true pass rusher, and Branch gives them just that. His athleticism means he can play on almost every down, and that’s very important for a team that touted one of the worst defenses in the league last season.
Luke Kuechly, ILB, Boston College
The Giants have to address the linebacker spot in the draft at some point, and now is as good of a time as ever to do so. Taking Luke Kuechly here will give the team a much needed upgraded at the second level of the defense.
While the Giants have an elite pass-rush, they lack a play-making linebacker that is in on every play. Kuechly impressed in college by having an unlimited motor and having an impact on almost every play.
The Giants have a lot of options with this pick, but it’s hard to pass on Kuechly here. He is a star in the making, and the Giants could use a new leader on the defensive side of the ball.