As the NFL prepares for the scouting combine in Indianapolis, Ind., this week, it is time to take a fresh look at the landscape of the NFL.
Free agency kicks off March 13 and will dramatically alter the needs of NFL teams and their draft boards. With that in mind, how would the first three rounds of the 2012 NFL draft look if the annual lottery was held this weekend?
Andrew Luck seems to be a slam-dunk pick at No. 1 overall, but the combine could change that. Here is one final look at the draft before the combine begins.
Please note: Mock drafts in February are a look at what I feel each NFL team should do in terms of the best players available and filling needs. The picks are selected after careful evaluation of team needs and the top 500 players available in the 2012 NFL draft.
Andrew Luck, Quarterback, Stanford
With the scouting combine kicking off this week, expect talk of Andrew Luck to the Indianapolis Colts to heat up even more. As of now this pick seems set it stone.
A few dates to note are below:
March 8: Colts owe Peyton Manning $28 million roster bonus
March 13: Free agency begins
March 22: Stanford pro day (worth noting, also Baylor quarterback Robert Griffin's pro day)
April 26: 2012 NFL draft begins
The Colts may have already decided on Luck; it would be a smart move if so. They have little more than two weeks to decide what they will do with Manning and the quarterback position.
Trade with St. Louis Rams: Redskins send 2012 first- and third-round picks and 2013 first-round pick to St. Louis for No. 2 pick overall.
Robert Griffin III, Quarterback, Baylor
The Washington Redskins need a quarterback. The mayor of the District has openly pined for the team to not sign Peyton Manning. He has one follower in this writer.
The Redskins need to think long-term; adding Manning doesn't accomplish that. It may not even accomplish a winning season in 2012. The bitter truth is that no one knows if or when Manning will ever play again.
What we do know about Robert Griffin III is that he's supremely confident, an electric playmaker, a leader on the field and a high-class citizen off it. RG3 can be the rejuvenation Washington needs.
Matt Kalil, Offensive Tackle, USC
Everything you hear and see concerning Matt Kalil is positive. He was a stud at USC, playing in a pro-style offense that asked him to become a sound pass- and run-blocker. He's added "good weight" in his combine preparation—now weighing in around 310 lbs.
The Vikings have a major need at left tackle after letting Bryant McKinnie go before the 2011 season began. The team went with Charlie Johnson at left tackle, a player who you will see near the bottom of our B/R 1,000 rankings of left tackles later this week.
Kalil is a rookie starter who the Vikings can "plug-and-play" at left tackle.
Trent Richardson, Running Back, Alabama
Mel Kiper may think the Tampa Bay Buccaneers will draft Richardson, but he is going one pick earlier in this edition of the 2012 NFL draft.
The Cleveland Browns remain a likely competitor for the services of RG3, but they are also in play for free-agent quarterbacks like Matt Flynn and Kyle Orton if they move on from Colt McCoy as the starter.
With two selections in the first round and three in the top 37, the Browns can afford to draft the best player available in Richardson—who just so happens to fill a need at the position with Peyton Hillis' contract expiring.
Morris Claiborne, Cornerback, LSU
The cornerback position is full of uncertainty in Tampa for the 2012 season. Ronde Barber may retire. Aqib Talib faces an offseason trial. The team needs a solid, sound, young player to step in and right the ship.
The best way to describe Morris Claiborne is to say this: He's a better cover man than former LSU corner Patrick Peterson. Peterson was drafted No. 5 overall by the Arizona Cardinals last year.
TRADE: Redskins send 2012 first-round, third-round and 2013 first-round picks to St. Louis for pick No. 2
Michael Brockers, Defensive Tackle, LSU
If you haven't had time to watch the "leaked" clips of Michael Brockers working out, take a bit to check them out. He's an animal.
Brockers isn't a finished product, but he offers tremendous value in the early part of the first round. In a best-case scenario, he becomes an All-Pro with his quick first step and ability to stuff the run in the middle of the defense.
Brockers isn't a safe pick, but his potential is impossible to ignore when your roster is starved for a defensive tackle presence.
What about a wide receiver? If the Rams use their franchise tag on Brandon Lloyd, the position becomes less of an immediate need. With the Rams expected to have major money available in free agency, wide receiver can also be addressed through that avenue.
Alshon Jeffery, Wide Receiver, South Carolina
Alshon Jeffery's name has been dragged through the mud and back in the last week. First there were reports that he weighed near 250 lbs and ran a 4.88 in the 40-yard dash. Once debunked, no one knew what to expect.
Today word comes from Aaron Wilson of Scout.com:
Hearing that South Carolina WR Alshon Jeffery has actually lost weight down to 217 to 220 and hopes to run in 4.5 range at combine We'll see— Aaron Wilson (@RavensInsider) February 19, 2012
If Wilson's report is true, and we expect it is, Jeffery is very much deserving of the top-10 credit he has received in this space all season.
No player in the 2012 NFL draft class can compare to Jeffery's ability to make the big catch. Remember, Jeffery led the SEC in receiving back in 2010. Not A.J. Green and not Julio Jones.
Nick Perry, Defensive End, USC
Nick Perry may not be the apple of draftniks' eyes yet, but wait until after the scouting combine. Once people get a load of Perry's physique and burst, he'll be a fan favorite in the top 10.
Perry will ease Miami into its transition to a 4-3 defense, allowing Cameron Wake to play either left or right defensive end and keeping Koa Misi at outside linebacker.
Don't be surprised if Miami reaches for Quinton Coples here. Coples doesn't register high on my draft board, but he could be a fit at left defensive end.
Perry has a chance to be among the biggest risers after the combine. This is a name worth remembering.
Justin Blackmon, Wide Receiver, Oklahoma State
If you are looking for a potential team that could trade back to pick up extra selections later, the Carolina Panthers are a sleeper target. With needs at defensive tackle overpowering its draft board and no players of value available, Carolina could send this pick away in exchange for buying power later on.
Justin Blackmon is under heavy pressure to perform well at the combine. He is the favorite among media scouts as the best wide receiver in this class, but he will have to impress in the three-cone and 40-yard dash drills in Indianapolis to live up to his billing.
Carolina may have bigger needs than wide receiver, but if a player as gifted as Blackmon falls to the Panthers, they should make the selection. Another consideration would be to bolster the offensive line with David DeCastro (G, Stanford).
Melvin Ingram, Defensive End, South Carolina
Like the Miami Dolphins, the Buffalo Bills will finally make the move to a 4-3 defense in 2012. In doing so, they will need to use their draft picks wisely to round out the roster.
The Bills lack pass-rushers in a bad way. Shawne Merriman has one year left on his deal, but he has been unproductive. The good news is they are set at defensive tackle with Kyle Williams and 2011 draftee Marcell Dareus.
Ingram has the strength to play left defensive end but enough burst to line up on the right side and rush the passer. If Merriman is healthy, expect Ingram to begin his career on the left side.
David DeCastro, Offensive Guard, Stanford
Scott Pioli and Romeo Crennel have few needs to address in the 2012 draft, especially if they can re-sign wide receiver Dwayne Bowe and cornerback Brandon Carr—even if it means using the franchise tag on one of them.
With a healthy lineup returning in 2012, the Chiefs have very few needs and are ready to make a run at the AFC West title.
An inside linebacker like Dont'a Hightower (Alabama) or a right tackle like Riley Reiff (Iowa) could be tempting here, but David DeCastro is the best player available and gives the Chiefs a building block on the interior offensive line.
Teamed up with Jon Asamoah, the Chiefs would suddenly have one of the best guard duos in the game.
Lamar Miller, Running Back, Miami (FL)
The Seattle Seahawks' mock draft picks have been a bit of a roller-coaster ride lately. The team could look to improve at guard, where Robert Gallery was terrible in 2011. They could try to upgrade from Chris Clemons at left defensive end. They can hope a quarterback is available.
Or maybe they draft the best player available and bolster their backfield for an impending Peyton Manning signing.
Lamar Miller is sure to impress folks at the scouting combine. He has a chance to break into the 4.3 range in the 40-yard dash, has first-class agility and is an accomplished receiver.
Teamed with Marshawn Lynch, who is expected to receive the franchise tag as a free agent, the Seahawks would have a dynamic one-two punch at running back.
Jonathan Martin, Offensive Tackle, Stanford
The last time the Arizona Cardinals drafted an offensive lineman in the first four rounds, it was April 2007. It shows on film.
The Cardinals absolutely have to address their needs along the offensive line—and fast. The team allowed 44 sacks in 2011, with 11 of them coming on Levi Brown's watch. Finding a new starter at left tackle is need numero uno.
The Stanford offense has Jonathan Martin ready for the NFL as a run- and pass-blocker. He's ready to be a day one starter.
Quinton Coples, Defensive End, North Carolina
Look around the NFL today and tell me, which general manager is most likely to fall in love with an athlete and draft him too high? And remember, Al Davis has passed away.
The answer is Jerry Jones. Easily.
Jones has done a nice job rotating the talent in Dallas, but the 3-4 defense the Cowboys are running needs new ways to add pressure to the quarterback. Jerry will have Rob Ryan looking to San Francisco to see how the 49ers did so well with Ray McDonald and Justin Smith working the edges. Once he does that, he'll come to like Quinton Coples from North Carolina.
Coples has the frame to play end in a 3-4 defense, and based on his superior performance at defensive tackle over defensive end, it may be best for his career.
Dont'a Hightower, Inside Linebacker, Alabama
Nothing against Brian Rolle, Jamar Chaney and Akeem Jordan—the Philadelphia Eagles need to make major upgrades at linebacker.
The Eagles' front seven has talent, but they need a leader and captain in the middle to hold everything together. Dont'a Hightower can be that player for Andy Reid's defense.
Hightower is athletic enough to chase and close on runners, but thick and tough enough to step up and close holes in the run game. He's the answer to the Dream Team's problems on defense.
Courtney Upshaw, Outside Linebacker, Alabama
The New York Jets survived with decent play from Bryan Thomas, Aaron Maybin and Calvin Pace at outside linebacker in 2011. But they missed the playoffs—a first under Rex Ryan as head coach. To get back on track in 2012, the Jets must add pass-rushers.
Upshaw is a safe pick. Here is a player I recently classified as a "jack of all trades, master of none" at outside linebacker. You may never get 15 sacks in a season from Upshaw, but it's likely a team can expect 10 sacks, three interceptions and 15 tackles for loss.
Upshaw isn't flashy—he's just a damn fine football player.
Stephon Gilmore, Cornerback, South Carolina
Thanks to the trade that sent Carson Palmer to Oakland, the Bengals have two selections in the first round. It's a good thing too, because they need both to continue building a roster that is close to taking the AFC North championship.
The Bengals would love to use their first pick to draft a starter opposite Leon Hall at cornerback. Stephon Gilmore is a player who is sure to rise on all boards after the combine.
During his three years at South Carolina, Gilmore started at cornerback, returned punts and kicks, completed two passes (2-of-3 for 68 yards) and had eight interceptions and seven sacks.
Riley Reiff, Offensive Tackle, Iowa
There are some fans of the San Diego Chargers who comment each week (thank you, by the way) that drafting an offensive tackle is not a need. I continue to disagree.
Marcus McNeill will retire or be released in a salary-cap move. Jared Gaither is a free agent and will command big money on the open market. Jeromey Clary is horrible.
Spoiler alert: In our upcoming B/R 1,000 series, Clary graded out as the third-worst tackle in all of football. He's horrid and shouldn't be a starter, no matter what San Diego is paying him.
Reiff will step in and immediately upgrade either side of the line. In a dream world, the Chargers re-sign Gaither, draft Reiff and find a way to keep their skill players healthy in 2012.
Michael Floyd, Wide Receiver, Notre Dame
If this pick isn't a wide receiver or offensive tackle, a lot of very nice people in Chicago are going to be very pissed off. And rightfully so.
The Bears have an elite quarterback with no targets and an elite running back who constantly sees maximum pressure from defenses because the opposition knows the Bears receivers are no good. To see the full potential of Jay Cutler and Matt Forte realized, Chicago has to draft a wide receiver here.
The days of Jerry Angelo ignoring needs in the draft are over. Phil Emery is in town, and with him comes a mindset of drafting for need based on value. Emery will quickly realize the importance of a legitimate No. 1 receiver in the Windy City.
Whitney Mercilus, Defensive End, Illinois
With 16 sacks in 2011, Whitney Mercilus led the NCAA in attacking the quarterback. That's what the Tennessee Titans need.
The inside is set for the Titans with Jurrell Casey, Karl Klug and Sen'Derrick Marks at tackle. They must now find an outside player to complement the inside pressure.
Mercilus' ability to hit the edge, throw off blockers and keep attacking the quarterback jumps out on film. His raw ability will stand out at the scouting combine too.
Chris Polk, Running Back, Washington
The days of Cedric Benson plunging ahead for three and four yards a pop are gone. Enter Chris Polk—a strong back with the quickness to make moves inside the hole and the versatility to be an option as a receiver.
People are focusing too much on Polk's physique and failing to look at his body of work. His production at Washington—behind an offensive line that hasn't had a player drafted since 2006 (and even then it was in the fourth round)—was amazing. Polk leaves with over 4,000 yards rushing and 26 touchdowns in a spread offense.
He's as NFL ready as they come. In the Bengals' West Coast offense, he will be a dual threat sure to produce.
Kendall Wright, Wide Receiver, Baylor
Call me crazy, but an offense featuring Kendall Wright and Trent Richardson next season puts the Browns close to playoff contention—even in the toughest division in football.
QB: Colt McCoy
RB: Trent Richardson-Peyton Hillis-Montario Hardesty
FB: Owen Marecic
WR: Greg Little
WR: Kendall Wright
TE: Evan Moore
It may not sound like much, but given another year in the Pat Shurmur offense—with a full offseason this time—McCoy could be the ideal West Coast offense quarterback with these additions in place.
Wright's ability as a run-after-catch player makes him an ideal option at the "X" position made famous by John Taylor in San Francisco during the 1980s.
Janoris Jenkins, Cornerback, North Alabama
The Detroit Lions do a great job of drafting the best player available, even when it means loading up at an already solid position. They did it in the 2011 draft by selecting Nick Fairley in the first round one year after selecting another defensive tackle, Ndamukong Suh, with the second overall pick.
Cornerback isn't quite as loaded as defensive tackle was, but it's not the major weakness on the team; that would be the offensive line.
It's possible Detroit could address the offensive line here, but finding a lockdown cornerback like Janoris Jenkins is just as likely.
Chris Houston and Aaron Berry are solid, but neither strikes fear in offensive coordinators—Jenkins would.
Cordy Glenn, Offensive Guard/Tackle, Georgia
Among the most impressive players at the Senior Bowl, Cordy Glenn has the burst and strength off the line to make an impact early on.
Some will project Glenn at tackle, but at guard he has the look of a Pro Bowler. Glenn does need to work on maintaining leverage, but the rest of the tools are there to be a longtime star at the position.
The Steelers offensive line has been a wreck for years, but they are making smart investments through the draft. Maurkice Pouncey and Marcus Gilbert figure to be cornerstones for years to come along the line.
Fletcher Cox, Defensive Tackle, Mississippi State
Before the 2011 NFL draft, many believed the Denver Broncos would select defensive tackle Marcell Dareus with the No. 2 overall pick—filling an obvious need with a great player. Instead John Fox went with future Defensive Rookie of the Year Von Miller at outside linebacker.
The hole at defensive tackle is still there one year later.
Cox isn't the all-around player that Dareus was, but he has nice upside as a penetrator in the middle of the defensive line. The Broncos could also look at cornerback, running back or maybe even quarterback here.
Dontari Poe, Nose Tackle, Memphis
A name to keep in your mind during the scouting combine is that of Dontari Poe. The Memphis product is a massive human being (6'5", 350 lbs) who moves like someone 75 pounds lighter. He's a tremendous athlete for his size.
The Texans have a need at nose tackle. Shaun Cody has been good but not great at the position. Poe would be an instant starter and help anchor a young defense on the rise.
Wide receiver is a bigger need, but the Texans are expected to be major players in free agency and could secure a solid No. 2 receiver there or in the next round of the draft.
Peter Konz, Center, Wisconsin
The smart money would be on Bill Belichick using the first pick in the 2012 draft on defense, but that's what we all thought in 2011. Belichick used his first-rounder last year on Nate Solder, a tackle from Colorado.
Peter Konz, if healthy, is a great prospect at center, and that's a need in New England. Dan Koppen missed the year with injury, and his replacement, Dan Connolly, was not good. Both players are now free agents.
Adding Konz would give New England a surprisingly young offensive line to work with. Solder at left tackle with Logan Mankins and Marcus Cannon at guard with Sebastian Vollmer at right tackle gives New England five potential starters under 30 years old.
Vinny Curry, Outside Linebacker, Marshall
Vinny Curry hasn't made the first round of our mock draft in some time, but he's worthy. Curry should be a repeat offender from here on in.
Similar to Trent Cole in build and burst, Curry would move from right defensive end at Marshall to right outside linebacker in Green Bay. With Erik Walden set to hit the free-agent market, Curry would be a rookie starter from day one.
The Packers are close to competing for another title, but improving the pass rush in the front seven has to be a key to the offseason. Curry is a fine addition to a salary-cap-strapped team hoping to improve.
Mike Adams, Offensive Tackle, Ohio State
The Baltimore Ravens are "comfortable" with Jah Reid moving from tackle to guard if the team is unable to re-sign guard Ben Grubbs to a new deal. Reid is certainly talented, but who then takes over at the open tackle spot opposite Michael Oher?
Mike Adams fits the Ravens' M.O. of big, long offensive tackles who can block out the sun while also blocking defenders. Adams and Oher are eerily similar, which could make for an interesting combination at left and right tackle.
Kelechi Osemele, Guard, Iowa State
Previous editions of the 2012 mock draft have featured the San Francisco 49ers drafting a wide receiver. My own daughter told me tonight they need to draft a wide receiver, as "they are good at stopping the other team from scoring, but they sucked at scoring touchdowns this year."
She's right. But as I explained to her, sometimes to score more points you have to start up front. The 49ers certainly need to.
Both right guards on the 2011 playoff roster, Adam Snyder and Chilo Rachal, will be free agents as of March 13. The 49ers have made no attempts to re-sign either player to date, and for good reason, as they were both terrible in 2011.
Osemele would give San Francisco the best guard duo in the NFL within three years if they can keep Mike Iupati in town. His potential is through the roof as a run-blocker and pass protector.
Mohamed Sanu, Wide Receiver, Rutgers
A little-known fact outside of New England: Head coach Bill Belichick endorsed the hiring of former Rutgers head coach Greg Schiano in Tampa Bay. Another thing we know about Bill B.—he loves to draft players from his friends' colleges.
Not only does Mohamed Sanu come from a Belichick-friendly school, he also fits the bill as a value and need pick at the end of the first round. Sanu has the size, hands and versatility to eventually move into a No. 1 receiver role as the "Z" receiver in New England's offense.
Should the Patriots keep their second first-round pick (historically they do not), it's likely Bill Belichick will look to his old friend Schiano's offense for his new wide receiver.
Orson Charles, Tight End, Georgia
The New York Giants' two best tight ends from the 2011 season may not see the field in 2012 after they both suffered torn ACL injuries in the Super Bowl.
Jake Ballard and Travis Beckum are both question marks for next season, making a weak position an insurmountable deficiency if not addressed early on.
The Giants do prefer blocking tight ends traditionally, but there's a time and reason for everything to change. As the athletic tight end phenomenon moves across the NFL, even the stodgy New York Giants will become enamored with a tight end who can stretch the field and spread apart the defense.
Orson Charles is unnaturally fast for a tight end, and his yards-after-catch skills will bring a new element to the Giants offense.
While he may not be a great blocker, neither was Vernon Davis early in his career. Now he's one of the best.
The second round of the 2012 NFL draft should feature a loaded crop of players at wide receiver, defensive tackle, cornerback and quarterback who didn't fit within the first 32 selections.
Key players like Mark Barron, Zach Brown, Dre Kirkpatrick and Luke Kuechly find themselves available in Round 2 after injury, a lack of size, an impending position change or off-field issues moved their stock from the first round.
|34||Colts||Devon Still||DT||Penn State|
|36||Bucs||Zach Brown||LB||North Carolina|
|39||Redskins||Vontaze Burfict||ILB||Arizona State|
|40||Panthers||Jerel Worthy||DT||Michigan State|
|41||Bills||Brandon Weeden||QB||Oklahoma State|
|42||Dolphins||Brock Osweiler||QB||Arizona State|
|44||Chiefs||Doug Martin||RB||Boise State|
|49||Chargers||Luke Kuechly||ILB||Boston College|
|53||Bengals||Brandon Washington||OG||Miami (FL)|
|54||Lions||Bobby Wagner||OLB||Utah State|
|59||Saints||Stephen Hill||WR||Georgia Tech|
|60||Packers||David Wilson||RB||Virginia Tech|
|62||49ers||Dwight Jones||WR||North Carolina|
* Patriots pick through trade with Oakland Raiders
** Eagles pick through trade with Arizona Cardinals
The third round is where NFL scouts earn their money. Most of the big names are off the board, and teams are left to trust the work put in by their road warriors throughout the course of the year. The third round is where a team's board can differ greatly from city to city, as individual schemes are considered over pure talent.
Players drafted in the third round are generally very talented but may lack just one area, such as an injury history or a slow 40-time. Value can be found in Round 3.
|68||Browns||Sean Spence||OLB||Miami (FL)|
|69||Bucs||Amini Silatolu||OG||Midwestern State|
|71||Jaguars||Leonard Johnson||CB||Iowa State|
|74||Bears*||Billy Winn||DE||Boise State|
|76||Seahawks||Ryan Tannehill||QB||Texas A&M|
|77||Eagles||Markelle Martin||FS||Oklahoma State|
|78||Jets||Brian Quick||WR||Appalachian State|
|84||Titans||George Iloka||FS||Boise State|
|86||Falcons||Bruce Irvin||DE||West Virginia|
|89||Broncos||Michael Brewster||C||Ohio State|
|90||Texans||Antonio Allen||SS||South Carolina|
|92||Packers||Kirk Cousins||QB||Michigan State|
|93||Ravens||Audie Cole||ILB||North Carolina St.|
|94||49ers||Jayron Hosley||CB||Virginia Tech|
* Chicago received pick through trade with Carolina Panthers
** Oakland used pick in 2011 Supplemental Draft to select quarterback Terrelle Pryor