2012 NFL Mock Draft: Bust Potential for Every 1st-Round Pick

Jeff RoemerContributor IFebruary 28, 2012

2012 NFL Mock Draft: Bust Potential for Every 1st-Round Pick

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    With the crescendo of excitement and piqued fan emotion that comes with the NFL draft, the dirty elephant in the room is constantly looming.  It is a four-letter word that may account for the strongest emotional bond between an NFL front office, its fans and the draftnik community: B-U-S-T!

    This connection between the three consumers of the draft process (team, analyst and fan) is rooted in the negativity inherent to most draft bust realizations, particularly those in the first round. 

    For the organization, it can mean worse results in the standings and the loss of jobs at the top of the regime. 

    The analyst, if he was high on the player and rated it a quality pick at the time, is left stung by the reality of inaccuracy.  Missing on players, like for actual NFL front offices, is something that draftniks have to be able to handle. 

    And the fan, perhaps with the least at stake but the highest emotional charge of the three parties, endures the ridicule of those in his life that do not share affinity for the same team and whatever negative impact shows up on the team's win/loss mark.

    With respect, there is quite a different level of true consequences felt at each of the three stations in the wake of a draft bust.  The men whose professional lives directly relate to the development and ultimate success of these players are much more in the crosshairs than either the analyst or fan, whose lives go on almost without incident from these same outcomes.  But this does not change the draft bust condition from being one of the most agonizing components to the NFL experience.

    The coincidence of Jason Smith (pictured above) being one of the biggest recent draft busts is rooted in the cross section that the St. Louis Rams, his drafting team in 2009, once again have the No. 2 overall pick three years later.  And that the most tempting prospect for the Rams not to trade out of this slot is another would-be franchise left tackle in Matt Kalil from the University of Southern California.

    It also serves as an example of the suffering I described above as a tangible aspect in the aftermath of a draft bust.  The general manager (Billy Devaney) and head coach (Steve Spagnuolo), at the time of the Smith draft selection, presided over a 10-38 three-year run and were both fired at the conclusion of the 2011 season. 

    St. Louis Rams Nation has obviously suffered through this period and some of their pain is directly related to the Jason Smith pick.  And while many revisionist draftniks will presently wax poetic about seeing Smith's potential failure, the reality is that he was widely seen as a franchise left tackle that would serve as Orlando Pace's successor for years.  The industry's two most visible draft analysts both agreed he should go in that spot to the Rams three years ago.

    As the combine finishes up early this week, there will be an even more fevered pitch surrounding the hype and prospect of different players.  This presents an excellent juncture in the process to mock the entire first round and comment on the bust potential of every player predicted at each slot.

Pick 1-1, Indianapolis Colts

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    Andrew Luck, QB, Stanford University, 6'4" 235, redshirt junior, DOB: 9/12/1989

    BUST POTENTIAL: moderate

    Despite being anointed the greatest quarterback prospect since John Elway and arguably the best overall NFL draft prospect in the modern era, and at the same time quite because of it, Andrew Luck still maintains moderate bust potential.  These aforementioned subjective designations compound the typical peril for No. 1 picks, an ever more endangered species when classified further as quarterbacks that go first overall.

    He still brings all the promise in the world and as much certainty as a quarterback prospect can fairly project.  The Indianapolis Colts appear to be starting over, with a new regime upstairs and on the field, and its roster needs a ton of a work.  But the rebuild will get its biggest boost on April 26 when Luck's name gets called first by Roger Goodell.

Pick 1-2, Washington Redskins (from St. Louis Rams in Trade Up)

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    Robert Griffin III, QB, Baylor University, 6'2.5" 225, redshirt junior, DOB: 2/12/1990

    BUST POTENTIAL: moderate

    As much natural pressure as there will be on Andrew Luck after going No. 1 overall to the Indianapolis Colts, perhaps no player will take on as much built-in expectations as will be thrust upon Robert Griffin III. 

    Whichever team trades up to No. 2 in order to select him, and I have the Washington Redskins still doing so in this latest mock, will have mortgaged a substantial amount of current and future resources for him.  He will be looked upon to justify such a weighty payload of personnel compensation, at the same time assuming the role of savior of a downtrodden organization.

    In this scenario, he will do so for the Washington Redskins in a huge media market with a sizable longstanding fanbase that has not seen its traditional level of success since the end of the first Joe Gibbs era; these factors will only add to the pressure scales. 

    But there are some things in place: Mike Shanahan is an experienced NFL head coach with a winning track record and innovative offensive background; this team also beat the eventual Super Bowl-champion New York Giants twice in 2011; and the defense made strides a year ago and has some quality young pieces around which to build. 

    Griffin is also one of the most exciting and talented quarterback prospects of all time, blessed with solid size, 4.4 speed in the 40-yard dash, great intelligence on and off the field and leadership intangibles, along with excellent arm strength and passing skills.  His presence in that city, with that franchise, and paired with Shanahan could be an exciting marriage of master and jedi.

Pick 1-3, Minnesota Vikings

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    Matt Kalil, OT, University of Southern California, 6'6.5" 305, redshirt junior, DOB: 7/6/1989

    BUST POTENTIAL: low

    When the dust settles at the outset of the draft and the top two quarterback prospects are gone, Matt Kalil will be left atop the board for an elated Minnesota Vikings club that needs him.  Not only is he one of the elite prospects in this class, but he fills a crucial position of need.  The Vikings have not enjoyed consistent quality left tackle play since the end of Bryant McKinnie's prime some years ago.

    The first left tackle in every class is almost always a top-10 pick due to the rare talent required to project so highly at the position along with the inherent premium placed on its role.  Sometimes this results in overdrafting players at this position, though a very high percentage of first round offensive tackles, offensive linemen in general really, turn out to be solid starters if not above-average, for a good number of years.  This is referred to as a player having a high floor—the idea that a guy's lowest projection is still going to equate to a relatively successful career.

    Kalil is widely held to be legitimately in that elite class of projectable blindside tackles, deserving of a top-five pick on his own merits and not simply due to being perceived as the best in class at the position, and thus thrust up the board.  The high end of this evaluation is that he is very close to the rare left tackle category, the caliber of which is only seen every two or three years.

Pick 1-4, Cleveland Browns

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    Trent Richardson, RB, University of Alabama, 5'9" 230, junior, DOB: 7/10/1990

    BUST POTENTIAL: low

    If the Cleveland Browns fail to win the RG3 sweepstakes, as I have mocked in this space, they may feel the pressure to add another marquee offensive skill player, staying put and selecting Richardson.  It does remain a possibility that Cleveland trades down and out of this pick if it does not see a player of value here, including Richardson, as this is historically high for a running back.

    While some running backs bust that are taken top five, there is a highly reasonable expectation that he will at least be solid.  The Browns have a developing and fairly young offensive line on the upswing and Richardson is a three-skilled (run, receive, block) player already that should be capable of seeing the field on every down and carrying the load from the outset.

Pick 1-5, Tampa Bay Buccaneers

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    Morris Claiborne, CB, Louisiana State University, 5'11" 185, junior, DOB: 2/7/1990

    BUST POTENTIAL: moderate

    Claiborne is another one of the prospects seen as elite in this class and should enjoy a lengthy career as an above-average starting corner back in the NFL. 

    There is some question about him being an elite player at the next level because of what are expected to be just average physical measureables.  But Claiborne is plenty talented and brings great cover ability to the position otherwise with anticipation, ball skills, and competitiveness. 

    He is considered more advanced defensively, albeit with a lower ceiling, than 2011 top pick and former LSU teammate Patrick Peterson.  But corner is a developmental position in the NFL due in large part to the complexity of coverage schemes, as well as the tightening of contact rules and natural increase in receiver talent.  Almost no rookie cornerback hits the ground running smoothly right away.

    The Tampa Bay Buccaneers remain a likely destination for Claiborne as a sensible intersection of elite talent and need.  Tampa Bay had problems last year in many positional areas, but cornerback is one of the biggest with the advanced age of Ronde Barber and the ongoing legal problems for Aqib Talib.

Pick 1-6, St. Louis Rams (from Washington Redskins in Trade Down)

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    Riley Reiff, OT, University of Iowa, 6'6" 315, redshirt junior, DOB: 12/1/1988

    BUST POTENTIAL: low

    Reiff may be a slight reach at sixth overall but he should be the first very good player for the St. Louis Rams in the haul they acquire for the rights to the No. 2 pick and Robert Griffin III.  Reiff's appeal in this spot is that he has a good chance of shoring up a problem area for the Rams, left tackle, and also brings more certainty than the next few prospects on the board.

    He could be considered an overdraft, but to me carries a low degree of bust potential, because his ability at left tackle is based more on technique and tenacity than overwhelming leverage and athleticism.  His arms measured 33 inches in length at the combine, which is an inch shorter than the average for offensive tackles who have been drafted in the last four years.  This shows up on film at times when Reiff appears to let guys too close into his frame, where it is much easier for a defensive lineman to control him with their own hands, rather than reach them like a boxer's jab and stymie their advance.

    He will likely require some coaching up, and suffer through the growing pains of adjustment to NFL pass-rushers, but his overall footwork and athleticism should allow him to turn out very good at this spot.

Pick 1-7, Jacksonville Jaguars

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    Justin Blackmon, WR, Oklahoma State University, 6'1" 210, redshirt junior, DOB: 1/9/1990

    BUST POTENTIAL: high

    Wide receivers that go in the top 10 should be consensus elite prospects, and even in those cases the value of the pick can be argued much the same way running backs are, because of the incidence of quality players at the position later in the draft.  Blackmon does not scream elite to me in the same way that A.J. Green or Julio Jones did a year ago, nor Calvin Johnson or Andre Johnson in previous years.

    In this scenario he will also be going to a situation with the Jacksonville Jaguars where he is needed as a potential No. 1 receiver, but one that is also ripe for failure.  Blaine Gabbert struck me as a likely bust at the time of his 2011 selection and his quarterback play, along with a suspect pass-blocking offensive line, will only serve to further Blackmon's potential futility.

Pick 1-8, Miami Dolphins

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    Michael Brockers, DT, Louisiana State University, 6'5" 325, redshirt sophomore, DOB: 12/21/1990

    BUST POTENTIAL: high

    Brockers is arguably the highest risk factor of any of my projected top-10 picks, carrying with him the classic boom/bust label following his early declaration for the draft this year as a sophomore.  The upside comes from being so long with good natural athleticism and strength at a relatively young age and experience level.  Interior defensive linemen are rarely this tall and his most consistent on-field trait in his two seasons at LSU was quality run defense.

    The considerable risk, especially in being drafted this high, comes with him not showing much in the way of natural pass-rush skills or productivity during these same two years.  In fact, LSU substituted him out on many obvious third-down passing situations. 

    The thought is that he will develop into an above-average interior rusher and become a complete player at a very high level within a few years.  The concern is that he lacks the suddenness to make an impact pursuing the quarterback and that his instincts for it will never be that good.  He may also make a better 3-4 defensive end where he can set the edge and have less playmaking responsibility, ultimately kicking inside on passing downs.

    With the Miami Dolphins transitioning to a 4-3 defense, the allure of Brockers' talent and rare physical attributes may be too much to pass on.  With potential comparisons to former Pro Bowl defensive tackle John Henderson, the Dolphins could have a key piece to its future defense.

Pick 1-9, Carolina Panthers

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    Quinton Coples, DE, University of North Carolina, 6'6" 285, senior, DOB: 6/22/1990

    BUST POTENTIAL: high

    Coples is another player that finds himself in a lot of top-10 prospect and draft projection conversations because of his natural physical gifts and the as yet perceived lack of a slam dunk 4-3 defensive end in the class.  And while Coples showed flashes of dominance at the Senior Bowl in one-on-one match-ups, the kind which to speak to his considerable ceiling, he has mostly disappointed with all of that talent.

    A sour senior season with surprisingly low production has brought about a lot of questions regarding his motor, motivation, instincts and aptitude.  Some of this was illuminated further when closer statistical analysis reveals that 4.5 of his 7.5 sacks in 2011 came against significantly weaker competition in James Madison, East Carolina and Duke.

    The thinking here is that the Carolina Panthers bite on his prototypical build for the position with the goal of molding his easy athleticism into a more complete and productive player on its defensive front.  This would complement Charles Johnson well and the Chapel Hill to Carolina path will also bring hopes of Julius Peppers.

Pick 1-10, Buffalo Bills

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    Melvin Ingram, DE/OLB, University of South Carolina, 6'2" 265, redshirt senior, DOB: 4/26/1989

    BUST POTENTIAL: moderate

    I am not as high on Ingram as the majority of the draftnik community, who love his athleticism, versatility and potential impact pass-rush skills.  I do see those positives but my single biggest gripe with Ingram was how he disappeared at times from games and almost seemed stubborn, failing to make adjustments to how an offense was handling him.

    There is no denying his physical talent, which shows up plenty on film and that he reinforced yesterday at the combine: 28 repetitions of 225 lbs. on the bench press, a 4.66 40-yard dash time, 1.65 10-yard split and 34.5-inch vertical leap.  This is a stellar composite of results for a man his size.

    The Buffalo Bills are changing base defensive schemes this offseason to a 4-3, though I think it is generally accepted that they will still play a lot of versatile looks due to their personnel.  This hybrid flexibility could be something else appealing about Ingram's projection.  Along with his athleticism, he has had successful experience in college playing with his hand down, on two feet in space and kicking inside occasionally to rush the passer.

Pick 1-11, Kansas City Chiefs

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    Fletcher Cox, DE/DT, Mississippi State University, 6'4" 300, junior, DOB: 12/13/1990

    BUST POTENTIAL: low

    Fletcher Cox is the best interior defensive lineman in the class, something I have been saying since bowl season, and one of the safer high-end talent projections available.  Not every NFL team will have him this highly rated on its own board because of scheme fit. 

    Cox's profile is best suited as a playmaking 3-4 defensive end or a penetrating three-technique 4-3 defensive tackle.  Some teams either prefer or will be looking for a two-gap 4-3 tackle that is a lot bigger and will consistently anchor versus the run and take on double-teams to free up linebackers behind him.

    There are several directions the Kansas City Chiefs can go with the 11th pick.  I like Cox for them as an impact 3-4 DE that will be ready to upgrade the position in 2013 when either or both incumbent starters, Tyson Jackson and Glenn Dorsey, are gone.  But there will also be plenty of talk about a nose tackle, and possibly even another quarterback, though I think Cox's talent and value are the best play at this spot.

Pick 1-12, San Diego Chargers (from Seattle Seahawks in Trade Up)

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    Courtney Upshaw, OLB, University of Alabama, 6'1.5" 275, senior, DOB: 12/13/1989

    BUST POTENTIAL: low

    While Upshaw may not be a consensus elite player because he lacks optimal measureables, is seen as a bit of a tweener and does not necessarily excel in any one area, I do firmly believe that he will have an elite career.  He is another one of the prospects that I consider to be among the safest in the first round and attractive enough that the San Diego Chargers will move up six spots to acquire him.

    He has the look and style of a strong side 3-4 outside linebacker and someone that gives a defense an immediate identity of toughness.  His coverage skills may only be adequate but he moves well enough in space to man his zone.  His strengths include strong hands at the point of attack and excellent change-of-direction skills.  With these traits he rushes the passer well and is a stellar run defender both in pursuit and in front of him.

Pick 1-13, New York Jets (from Arizona Cardinals in Trade Up)

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    Mark Barron, S, University of Alabama, 6'1" 215, senior, DOB: 10/27/1989

    BUST POTENTIAL: low

    Barron is a player that is not being talked about a lot right now because his diagnosis and subsequent recovery from hernia surgery has caused him to miss out on both the Senior Bowl and the recent NFL combine.  He has likely lost some strength weight in the process, as it is expected that he will play in the 220s when in prime shape.

    In many cases a pre-draft process injury will drive a player's market down the board but I do not think this will occur with Barron.  Firstly, the hernia surgery is viewed as a relatively minor procedure with a high success rate without complications.  Second is that Barron is seen as the premier player at a position that is gaining importance on NFL defenses and is pretty thin depth-wise, both in terms of the draft as well as the free agent crop.

    While Barron is not regarded in the same class of safety prospects as Ed Reed, Troy Polamalu or more recently Eric Berry, he is in that next tier and brings quality tools and play to the position in both pass and run defense.  I see him as compelling enough for the Jets, who have a gaping need at the back of its secondary, to leapfrog over Dallas and Philadelphia (two other mid-first round teams that will be eyeing him) to reel him in.

Pick 1-14, Dallas Cowboys

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    David DeCastro, OG, Stanford University, 6'5" 315, redshirt junior, DOB: 1/11/1990

    BUST POTENTIAL: low

    DeCastro represents the last of the safely elite prospects on the board, though this opinion is highly-debatable based on some of the names still remaining in this mock draft.  DeCastro is unanimously seen as the best guard prospect in the class and one of the best at his position over a number of years.  He looks the part and is athletic, strong and shows up consistently on film in both phases.

    This may be a less obvious fit with the Dallas Cowboys because they need so much help in the defensive secondary and I have every cornerback after Claiborne sitting here.  But I think several factors will lead to this selection occurring. 

    Dallas will address an immediate need at corner in free agency where there are several excellent candidates in Brent Grimes, Cortland Finnegan and Brandon Carr right now.  And with Mark Barron gone one pick earlier to the Jets, the Cowboys do not risk this slot on another defensive back.

    DeCastro falls to them at No. 14 because offensive guard is not a priority position in terms of procurement but he also allows them to address a secondary positional need, the interior offensive line, and take advantage of this draft class' impressive depth at corner by looking there in the second round.

Pick 1-15, Philadelphia Eagles

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    Luke Kuechly, MLB, Boston College, 6'3" 245, junior, DOB: 4/20/1991

    BUST POTENTIAL: moderate

    There will likely be a lot of talk after the combine about Kuechly being both an elite prospect, as well as one of the safest in the class, a very unlikely bust.  This is because after compiling historic tackle numbers (the best in college football history, averaging approximately 175 per season), he went out and killed the combine tests.  And I give him a lot of credit for doing so. 

    He weighed in five to 10 pounds heavier than expected, ripped off a 4.5-second 40-yard time, 27 bench reps (225 lbs.), a 38-inch vertical and broad jumped 10'3" inches.  These results rightly quiet any questions about his inherent athleticism.  Common sense dictates that between quality intelligence and intangibles, which he has, historic statistics even in just one category and a great combine, that we have a complete prospect.  And we might.

    But the great combine figures actually make me wonder louder, what I have been all along to this point, about why Kuechly does not flash more in games.  Yes, he is in on a lot of plays but he does not get downhill well and make plus plays at or behind the line of scrimmage.  He does not appear to play as fast on film as he timed yesterday in Indianapolis.  But if he is that fast, is he late with reads or instincts or does he struggle to get off blocks?

    My questions about him aside, most linebackers tend to project pretty safely even if they do not completely hit the mark on expectations.  The Philadelphia Eagles will look to Kuechly to captain its defense and be the glue for a lot of talented pieces that largely underachieved in 2011.

Pick 1-16, Arizona Cardinals (from New York Jets in Trade Down)

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    Jonathan Martin, OT, Stanford University, 6'5.5" 315, redshirt junior, DOB: unconfirmed date 1989

    BUST POTENTIAL: moderate

    The Arizona Cardinals' primary need in the 2012 NFL draft, if they do not address it with one of the very few options in free agency, is offensive left tackle.  With the 13th pick, they miss out on the top two prospects in Matt Kalil and Riley Reiff. 

    But Jonathan Martin comes with outstanding tools for the position and upside; and they risk a small gamble by dropping down three spots with the Jets and still get their guy in Martin.  The three-slot ride likely nets them an additional day two pick this year.

    Martin carries a moderate bust rating because, while I think he will be fine overall, there are mixed opinions about how athletic he actually is and if he will be able to adjust and consistently handle the speed rushers in the NFL.  He does possess adequate size and length (34-inch arms), and is already rated as a quality run blocker, but will need to clean up his technique to fulfill his promise and the expectation of becoming Arizona's franchise left tackle.

Pick 1-17, Cincinnati Bengals

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    Cordy Glenn, OG/OT, University of Georgia, 6'6" 345, senior, DOB: 9/18/1989

    BUST POTENTIAL: low

    Cordy Glenn has enjoyed a glowing postseason draft evaluation process and has steadily been gaining favor all season.  A more natural right-side player with his power and size, Glenn struggled early in his senior campaign for Georgia while playing left tackle.  And while that will not be his NFL position, his feet and power are good enough that he did show marked improvement as the fall wore on.

    At the Senior Bowl he created a lot of buzz by consistently winning single match-ups, particularly inside, which he followed up with some quality athleticism markers over the weekend at the combine.  Keeping in mind his size, Glenn posted a 1.76 10-yard split, 5.15 time in the 40, with arms that measured close to 36 inches and hands that are over 10 inches.  Indeed, on film, when Glenn gets his hands on a defensive lineman, that tends to be the successful end of the play for him.

    The Bengals, for the first time in a long time, have the arrow pointing up and they are doing it the right way with the simultaneous development and emergence of a quality young nucleus.  With the pieces to its aerial game already in place, it is believed that Cincinnati will remake its running attack this offseason.  They are in great position to do so most cost-efficiently with their two first-round picks at 17 and 21, the first of which they fleeced from the Oakland Raiders in the Carson Palmer con.

Pick 1-18, Seattle Seahawks (from San Diego Chargers in Trade Down)

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    Nick Foles, QB, University of Arizona, 6'5" 245, redshirt senior, DOB: 1/20/1989

    BUST POTENTIAL: moderate

    An excellent first question in this mock prediction is if the Seattle Seahawks identify Nick Foles as its future franchise quarterback, why would they risk losing him by trading down six spots with the San Diego Chargers. 

    My answer is that the Seahawks probably like a couple of other guys that could be there for them at 18, will likely and correctly perceive that Foles' market is a little lower, perhaps underneath that of Ryan Tannehill and Brandon Weeden and that worst-case scenario they are sitting at No. 18 in great shape to take another highly-coveted player at a position of need for them, be it wide receiver, cornerback or pass-rusher. 

    The trade will also surely land them the Chargers' second-round selection, 49th overall, allowing the Seahawks to then pick from a bounty of attractive options at WR or CB because of this class' depth at those two positions.

    This call is also predicated on the belief that Seattle's quarterback evaluation will fall in line with my own that Foles is the No. 3 prospect amongst the signal-callers, though he will only be as high as fifth on most teams' boards.  The bust potential for Foles at this spot is at least moderate.  Despite how much I like him, he has his warts (limited athleticism, inconsistent accuracy and decision-making), and the reality is that most quarterbacks fail, even those taken in the middle of the first round.

Pick 1-19, Chicago Bears

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    Mike Adams, OT, Ohio State University, 6'7" 325, senior, DOB: 3/10/1990

    BUST POTENTIAL: high

    A lot of fans, and draftniks alike, may be screaming here for a wide receiver, especially since only Justin Blackmon is off the board and there is a lot of discussion, some of which I may even agree with, that another wideout could actually be the better prospect.

    But I think the Chicago Bears are going to prefer the higher performance certainty from a veteran and take advantage of a strong free-agent market at the WR position this offseason.  Left tackle, another sore need for Jay Cutler and this Bears offense, on the contrary is perpetually weak in free agency.  This is easily explained because most quality left tackles are so highly valued that they get retained before they can leave.

    The irony of this scenario playing out as I have it in this space is that I am also calling for Adams to be a fairly likely bust.  He has had a solid career in a premier conference and he looks the part of an NFL left tackle more than any other player in the class due to his ideal height, build and athletic lower half. 

    The problems are that he plays weak in the upper body, something that was reinforced at the combine when he did a lowly 19 reps on the bench press, and is almost too finesse in his approach.  He also bends at the waist too much and will get overextended, nullifying his athleticism, in response to a bull rush or double move.

Pick 1-20, Tennessee Titans

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    Kendall Wright, WR, Baylor University, 5'10" 190, senior, DOB: 11/12/1989

    BUST POTENTIAL: low

    Fans and readers that know me well are familiar with my rants about NFL teams focusing too much on the offensive skill positions in the early rounds.  "Fantasy picks" as I often refer to them as, I tend to view as luxuries or traps at best, and in the least cost a team the chance at a player along the line of scrimmage on either side of the ball that will more consistently contribute to a team's success.

    The reality is that elite offensive skill prospects will always be drafted highly and Kendall Wright is another example of this; and I actually like his chances for success.  The lazy knock on him will be his size. 

    It has become so vogue in some NFL analytical circles to want the wide receiver that fills out every box on the physical talent chart: tall, fast, good separation skills, excellent hands, strong after the catch and a leaper that can high point the ball.  Guess what?  Randy Moss, Calvin Johnson, Andre Johnson and Larry Fitzgerald are or were the players we know them as because of their specialness.

    Plenty of small wide receivers are winners and Wright should be the next one.  He is dangerous from all alignments across the formation, plays both quick and fast (his reported 4.61 40 time be damned), runs excellent routes, that along with his footwork will help him get open a lot, and also adjusts well to the ball in the air before being productive after the catch.

    Tennessee could also look pass-rusher here but the prospect of Wright pairing with the larger target, Kenny Britt, and Chris Johnson in the backfield gives the Titans quite a dangerous den of playmakers around which Jake Locker can operate.

Pick 1-21, Cincinnati Bengals

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    Doug Martin, RB, Boise State University, 5'9" 225, redshirt senior, DOB: unknown

    BUST POTENTIAL: low

    This pick may be considered a bit of a coup at this point because of how far Martin's prospect star has come since the end of the college football season.  But with just under two months to go before the cameras roll on April 26, there is ample more time for the industry to realize just how well-rounded a running back prospect Martin is.  In a convenient comparison, it can be fairly argued that he is Trent Richardson light.

    In a previous mock draft, I had the Cincinnati Bengals trading up to pick No. 4 in order to take Richardson but they are likely better off staying put, enabling them to add two quality players (Georgia guard Cordy Glenn, the other in this slideshow) at picks 17 and 21, boosting its running game talent immensely in the process.

    The merits of even drafting a running back this high, or if it should be another one at the position (Lamar Miller, David Wilson or Chris Polk are all in various conversations for the late first round), are both worthwhile discussions to consider.

Pick 1-22, Cleveland Browns

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    Ryan Tannehill, QB, Texas A&M University, 6'4" 220, redshirt senior, DOB: 7/27/1988

    BUST POTENTIAL: high

    After losing out on the rights to Robert Griffin III when the Washington Redskins put together a more convincing package than the Browns for the No. 2 slot, Mike Holmgren still feels like he has a shot for his quarterback of the future with this pick.  Cleveland's second first-round selection is courtesy of the Atlanta Falcons in the 2011 haul for Julio Jones.

    There is a lot of buzz around Tannehill right now as several prominent analysts have him rated very highly and he brings everything physically desirable to the table.  Along with ideal size and arm strength, he also features excellent athleticism and movement skills in line with his former collegiate position of wide receiver.

    My problem with Tannehill this high, and why I have his bust potential as such, is that he is nowhere near a finished product and being able to help a team.  Beyond only making 20 starts under center in college, 2011 was also just his first full season at the position after beginning 2010 as a third-year wideout. 

    It is going to take a lot of progress for him to maximize his potential, and will a first-round drafting team be that patient, because right now he lacks natural feel for the position, which manifests in decisions and throws he makes when confused or under pressure.

Pick 1-23, Detroit Lions

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    Whitney Mercilus, DE/OLB, University of Illinois, 6'3.5" 260, redshirt junior, DOB: 7/21/1990

    BUST POTENTIAL: low

    Mercilus is one of my favorite prospects in this class and I think a lot of the industry is going to come around on him after the combine and the ensuing two months leading up to the draft.  I am normally more reserved with one-year wonder defensive players but after watching several games of him during the bowl season, I became a believer due to his motor.

    Complaints earlier in the process on Mercilus' projection revolved around lacking elite burst as a pass-rusher, that he accumulated a lot of garbage sacks on blown plays and that he will struggle at the point of attack as a 4-3 defensive end in the NFL to the tune of a third-round grade

    I wish Mercilus was a little taller for my ideal 4-3 DE projection, also the Detroit Lions' scheme with this pick, but he will naturally put on good strength weight in the next few years and reach his ceiling due to the combination of athleticism and motor.  His size and speed (4.68-40 and 1.56-10 split yesterday at the combine) means that 3-4 teams will also consider him as a pass-rushing outside linebacker.

    Detroit has needs along the interior offensive line and in the secondary.  I think they sign a starting-caliber corner in free agency and will not pass on a guy at No. 23, who could arguably be the best sack artist in this class.

Pick 1-24, Pittsburgh Steelers

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    Dontari Poe, NT, University of Memphis, 6'4" 345, junior, DOB: 8/18/1990

    BUST POTENTIAL: moderate

    Poe's profile is a lighter version of top-10 defensive line projections Michael Brockers and Quinton Coples in that there are some present first-round physical attributes but the film and playmaking evaluation is closer to the middle rounds.  In these cases, teams have to decide what the index is between their potential, their intangibles and how much they can be coached up. 

    I term Poe the lightest, no pun intended, because I like him the most of the three and his probability of hitting.  It is a potentially good fit with this pick to the Pittsburgh Steelers as the impact 3-4 nose tackle successor to Casey Hampton, who is a release and re-sign candidate at this point.  I admit at the same time that I am not totally convinced if Pittsburgh will go for a player with Poe's on-field profile as described above.

    I think his tremendous physical gifts (frightening size and short area quickness) will lead to his drafting team getting a quality player out of him.  During the next two months teams will be digging in to find out if the discrepancy in Poe's talent and production was effort, scheme, aptitude or some combination therein.

Pick 1-25, Denver Broncos

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    Stephon Gilmore, CB, University of South Carolina, 6'.5" 190, junior, 9/19/1990

    BUST POTENTIAL: moderate

    Conventional wisdom is that the second corner back on the board will be selected long before 25 and I do not inherently disagree.  It could come from a team trading up on a guy they really believe in or a different viewpoint of best fit and value from what I have predicted in this slideshow.

    Further complicating the first-round corner discussion is the widely varied opinions on who the number two guy will be after Morris Claiborne goes, presumably very early on.  I have Janoris Jenkins dropping completely out of the first round because of character concerns, despite being arguably the second-best cover player at the position, and think Denver will prefer Gilmore's man-to-man skills over some other possibilities.

    As previously discussed, defensive backs tend to be a riskier projection than is obvious right away because of how much non-physical responsibility goes into the position along with the psychological makeup required to handle its isolating adversity.

    Gilmore projects solid across the board with good height, arm length and ball skills.  He has also shown himself to be willing in run support, a dwindling quality amongst elite college corners.  Gilmore never really dominated his competition, perhaps he would have had he decided to return in 2012 as a senior, but offers a good blend of talent and technician. 

    Denver is in the market at this spot because its two incumbent starting corners (Champ Bailey and Andre Goodman) are in their mid-30s and their successors do not appear to be on the roster yet.

Pick 1-26, Houston Texans

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    Michael Floyd, WR, University of Notre Dame, 6'2.5" 220, senior, DOB: 11/27/1989

    BUST POTENTIAL: moderate

    After being a Senior Bowl no-show, Michael Floyd's unveiling this past weekend at the NFL combine will leave a lot of opinions clamoring that he is the top wide receiver in the class based on his size-speed combination being superior to that of both Justin Blackmon and Kendall Wright.  A lot will go into this swirling cauldron of perspectives and it is important to remember there are still almost two months until the first round and that profile philosophy also comes into play regarding different teams' preferences.

    Floyd does carry an essentially unanimous first-round grade in the draftnik community and has a chance to be the most productive wide receiver in this class.  While he was more of a big-play, low-target option as an underclassman, Floyd became one of the highest-output receivers in the country over the last two seasons with 179 receptions and 21 touchdowns.

    The buzz this past weekend at the combine was that neither Floyd or Kendall Wright would get past the Chicago Bears at pick 19.  I have them both falling into the 20s, with the idea that more emphasis will be put on prospects at higher-value positions, but I would not be surprised or overly critical if this mock came out light on either or both of them.

    The Houston Texans have not had a viable No. 2 receiver throughout Andre Johnson's impressive career as one of the very few elite wideouts in the NFL.  If Floyd settles into his considerable ceiling, he could pose a very difficult matchup issue for opposing defenses, either preventing teams from doubling Johnson as effectively or putting himself in position to win against a lot of single coverage.

Pick 1-27, New England Patriots

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    Nick Perry, OLB/DE, University of Southern California, 6'3" 270, redshirt junior, DOB: 4/12/1990

    BUST POTENTIAL: low

    Perry is another one on the short list of who is arguably the best natural pass-rusher in this draft class along with Melvin Ingram and Whitney Mercilus with apologies to a few others.  Perry is also one of a handful of defensive players that fortified his position on teams' boards, as varied as that may be from the top 10 to early second round, with a stellar combine performance. 

    After adding 20 pounds from his listed weight and measuring just under 6'4" inches, Perry blazed a 4.50 40-yard dash with a 1.56 10-yard split, threw up 35 reps on the bench and posted a vertical of 38.5 inches with a broad jump of 10'4".  All things considered, he was one of the five or ten most impressive workout warriors at Indianapolis.

    The New England Patriots have been ignoring a glaring need for its pass rush for years, and they may just thumb their noses at conventional draft wisdom again after scraping together veteran overachievement from Rob Ninkovich, Andre Carter and Mark Anderson in 2011, but Perry looks like a high probability guy in that system.  He could be more of a pass rush specialist as rookie in 2012 as he learns the Patriot Way and picks up the rest of Belichick's system.

Pick 1-28, Green Bay Packers

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    Devon Still, DT/DE, Penn State University, 6'5" 305, redshirt senior, DOB: 7/11/1989

    BUST POTENTIAL: moderate

    This late in the first round, some of the risk and bust factor is mitigated this far down.  By falling to the 30th pick, there is a market acknowledgement that the player may not be as good as his high/middle first-round talent or senior year production would indicate.

    All of that being written, Still is one of the first-round defensive line prospects that I am betting on.  I think some of the maturity and aptitude issues that limited him earlier in his career, and even showed up in spots during a torrid 2011 campaign, will continue to dissipate as he develops his professionalism, especially in a place like Green Bay, where he projects as a 3-4 defensive end.

    Still has a phenomenal body for an interior defensive lineman, perhaps even more ideal than that of Brockers because the LSU prospect's height will sometimes deter him from getting underneath guys, and uses that leverage and his above-average quickness to stand guys up, drive them back and locate the football.

    I like Still inside as a three-technique but also see him as a seamless projection to the five-tech because of his size, length and awareness, where he will also be a five- to seven-sack producer but never a premier threat in that regard.

Pick 1-29, Baltimore Ravens

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    Peter Konz, C, University of Wisconsin, 6'5" 315, redshirt junior, DOB: 6/9/1989

    BUST POTENTIAL: low

    The consensus top center in the 2012 draft class, Konz is a nice, safe, plug-and-play option for a Baltimore Ravens team that is looking to move on from the end of Matt Birk's outstanding career.  While he is not in the same elite prospect class as previous first-round centers, Alex Mack and Nick Mangold, he is in the next tier and comes from arguably the best offensive line program in modern college football.

    His size jumps out right away on paper and on film as most centers are rarely this tall.  This length and his overall run-blocking acumen also have him being talked about as a guard on a lot of teams' boards.  In the least this developmental flexibility is only going to endear him to teams like the Ravens who are looking to upgrade inside.

Pick 1-30, Indianapolis Colts (from San Francisco 49ers in Trade Up)

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    Coby Fleener, TE, Stanford University, 6'6" 250, redshirt senior, DOB: 9/20/1988

    BUST POTENTIAL: low

    With this move the Indianapolis Colts cannot resist the temptation to jump ahead four spots from its second-round pick (34th overall) and ensure it gets the top tight end on the board ahead of the New York Giants, lurking at 32.  Of course it does not hurt that Fleener will come packaged with three years of experience with Indy's new boy wonder at quarterback, Andrew Luck, from their time together in Palo Alto.

    Fleener is my top receiving tight end in the class and, based on what his projected role will be, I am not overly concerned with his blocking ceiling being only adequate.  This is a big, long target with an enormous catch radius that can really run; more of a strider than explosive quickness but he stretches the seam and can pick up big chunks after the catch.

    I predict the San Francisco 49ers being open to this move because its board does not project to change a lot between 30 and 34, almost assuredly still landing its primary target at wide receiver or in the defensive secondary, and they will acquire an extra draft pick in the process, likely a fourth-rounder.

Pick 1-31, New England Patriots

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    Dre Kirkpatrick, CB, University of Alabama, 6'1.5" 185, junior, DOB: 10/26/1989

    BUST POTENTIAL: moderate

    If the New England Patriots actually hold onto both of its 2012 first-round selections, as opposed to trading out of one of the picks, which they have typically done in recent years, it could a long way to addressing its woeful pass defense from last year.

    Four picks earlier, in the spot they acquired from New Orleans in the Mark Ingram trade-up a year ago, I mocked USC outside linebacker Nick Perry to them to infuse some pass-rushing talent.  At this spot with their own pick, Dre Kirkpatrick could make sense; a big corner that plays physically against both the pass and run.  He is the type of cornerback with some size that the Patriots have not featured in years.

    If he is able to have a good preseason and see the field early in a prominent role, it could bolster the secondary in two spots by allowing Devin McCourty to stay at free safety.  The questions on Kirkpatrick have to do with his ability to play man coverage, where the lack of fluidity in turning his hips along with his recovery speed could be a liability.  But overall it seems like Belichick could find ways to use him smartly in a zone scheme if Kirkpatrick can play assignment football and execute in space.

Pick 1-32, New York Giants

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    Kelechi Osemele, OG/OT, Iowa State University, 6'6.5" 335, redshirt senior, DOB: 6/24/1989

    BUST POTENTIAL: low

    Especially on the heels of a very strong workout, and in the wake of two serious knee injuries to incumbent tight ends Jake Ballard and Travis Beckum, there will be a lot of talk about University of Georgia tight end Orson Charles, who is also the top prospect at his position on a lot of boards.  Regardless of whether it is during free agency and/or at some point in the draft, the Giants will have to address its depth at tight end.

    Long before Ballard and Beckum went down, however, the New York Giants were going to need to make a serious commitment to getting younger and better along its offensive line.  A veteran unit that had previously enjoyed a stretch of great continuity and unit performance, it was beset with injury and ineffectiveness throughout the 2011 campaign.  At various points its futility, lowlighted by the worst-ranked rushing attack in terms of total yards and yards per attempt, appeared to be the lynchpin to the Giants missing the playoffs.

    This blemish on the 2011 regular season was triumphantly swept under the proverbial rug when the offensive line played better late in the year, including in the playoffs, and also received shots in the arm from a healthy Ahmad Bradshaw and a resurgent Brandon Jacobs.  But the issue moving forward remains.

    Enter Kelechi Osemele, a name that not every reader or casual draft fan may be familar with but should be, a mammoth right-side lineman that plays with a mauling demeanor and great power.  He also comes with the added bonus of some viable versatility to provide depth at right tackle along with his projected strength inside at guard. 

    The last time New York selected an offensive lineman in the first round was Luke Petitgout, a tackle from Notre Dame, back in 1999.  I was still in college at the time it was so long ago.  That streak should come to an end in the 2012 lottery.