Nearly a week removed from the 2012 NFL Scouting Combine, the landscape of the 2012 NFL Draft is changing.
Some players worked their way up or into the first round at the combine, while others worked their way out. Furthermore, more rumors about the specific players that teams may be targeting are starting to spread.
The biggest report to come out of the combine came from ESPN’s Adam Schefter, who discovered from league sources that the Rams have decided that they will trade down from the No. 2 overall pick. While this was already expected from the Rams, staying put with the second overall selection to draft USC left tackle Matt Kalil certainly would have been reasonable.
Read on to find out why my latest projections have the Cleveland Browns, rather than the Washington Redskins, making the move up to No. 2 overall to select Baylor quarterback Robert Griffin III.
Overall Prospect Rank: No. 1
No change at the top. Andrew Luck did not throw at the combine, but he had no reason to. With all the fantastic throws Luck has made during his career at Stanford, he is the consensus No. 1 overall prospect in the draft and set to become the franchise quarterback of the Indianapolis Colts.
The Peyton Manning era for the Indianapolis Colts appears to be approaching its end. Manning missed the entire 2011 season coming off of neck surgery and has a $26 million roster bonus due on March 8.
Manning is one of the greatest quarterbacks in NFL history, but now is the time for the Colts to move on. They have the opportunity to go from one superstar quarterback to another, and all indications suggest the Colts are going to make that move.
Projected Trade: The St. Louis Rams trade the second and 66th overall selections in the 2012 NFL Draft to the Cleveland Browns in exchange for the fourth and 37th overall selections and the Browns’ first-round selection in the 2013 NFL Draft.
Overall Prospect Rank: No. 3
In Adam Schefter’s report, sources claimed that the Rams have had discussions with multiple teams, including the Cleveland Browns, Washington Redskins and Miami Dolphins.
The Dolphins are not expected to be serious contenders in the RG3 sweepstakes. The Rams are unlikely to trade out of the top six draft picks, and with former Green Bay Packers offensive coordinator Joe Philbin as the Dolphins’ new head coach, along with former Texas A&M head coach Mike Sherman as offensive coordinator, the Dolphins are likely to either sign former Packers quarterback Matt Flynn via free agency or target Texas A&M quarterback Ryan Tannehill in the draft.
There is no team in the NFL that needs a franchise quarterback more than the Washington Redskins do, which is why I believe that they are likely to make the strongest offer to the Rams. That said, the Browns are in the best position to make this deal.
The Rams are likely to be targeting either Oklahoma State wide receiver Justin Blackmon or LSU cornerback Morris Claiborne in a trade down and could potentially miss out on both players by trading down to the sixth spot. Additionally, the Browns hold a second first-round selection from the Atlanta Falcons at No. 22 overall.
While the Browns are reportedly unwilling to trade the 22nd pick, this could be part of the negotiation process. That said, I believe the Browns can make this deal and still keep the 22nd overall selection by trading their second-round draft pick and their 2013 first-round selection.
While that is a steep price to pay to trade up two spots, having a second first-round pick this year may make them more willing to part ways with the other draft picks, and Baylor’s Robert Griffin III is a rare talent who the Browns believe could be their franchise quarterback. Griffin III makes the worth of this No. 2 overall pick effectively the same worth as a No. 1 overall pick in other drafts, because he is a franchise quarterback prospect who would be the No. 1 overall pick in most drafts.
While I believe the Browns should give Colt McCoy another year to prove himself at quarterback, a team should never pass up an opportunity to get a franchise quarterback if they do not feel they have one on the roster, and if that is the case, they should take advantage of their prime position and make the move up for Griffin.
Overall Prospect Rank: No. 2
USC’s Matt Kalil is an obvious choice for the Minnesota Vikings if he is still on the draft board at No. 3 overall.
The combine only made this selection more obvious, as Kalil clearly stood out among all the offensive linemen in attendance and further established himself as an elite left tackle.
Charlie Johnson is a high-motor offensive lineman who is a strong run blocker, but he simply is not of the caliber to be a starting left tackle in the National Football League. He does possess the footwork and athleticism to fend off pass rushers as a blindside protector in the NFL.
Johnson should have a future with the Vikings at guard, but in order for Christian Ponder to thrive in the Vikings’ offense, the franchise needs to find a left tackle who can keep Ponder out of harm’s way. Kalil can be that player.
Kalil is an elite left tackle prospect, with everything scouts look for in an offensive tackle: ideal size, terrific technique, strength and great footwork. By drafting Kalil at this pick, the Vikings bring in the best player available on the board, fill their biggest need and make a pick who should pay off with both immediate and long-term dividends.
Overall Prospect Rank: No. 9
In trading down from the No. 2 overall selection and passing up Kalil, the Rams’ target should be either LSU cornerback Morris Claiborne or Oklahoma State wide receiver Justin Blackmon.
The Rams have needs at both positions, and Claiborne is the best player available on the board, so he makes great sense here. However, the Rams really need to make their focus of the first round upon finding help for their franchise quarterback Sam Bradford on offense, whether that be by bringing in a big weapon or upgrading on the offensive line.
Blackmon may not be quite the star prospect that Claiborne is, but he is a true No. 1 wideout who should be able to flourish with a talented young quarterback in Bradford able to deliver the football his way. Blackmon had tremendous productivity in college, has great size and strength, is a very skilled route runner and has great hands.
Blackmon did have a disappointing combine. He did not run the 40-yard dash due to a hamstring injury. He did participate in on-field drills, where he had a solid but unspectacular day, certainly re-raising some questions in my mind of whether he is truly a top prospect in this draft class.
That said, Blackmon is the best wide receiver in the 2012 draft class, and a player who has the ability to be a tremendous player at his position and be the weapon that Bradford needs to have to work with. He is the right pick for the Rams in this position.
Overall Prospect Rank: No. 4
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers suffered a complete free fall this past season, in large part due to the horrendous play of their defense. The Buccaneers lost the final 10 games of their season, with a defense that ranked 30th in total yards allowed and worst in the league in scoring defense.
The Buccaneers really need to upgrade their secondary, and LSU’s Morris Claiborne is the best defensive player in the 2012 draft class. He can become the No. 1 cornerback the Buccaneers need, and he is the best player available on the draft board.
Alabama running back Trent Richardson is also a potential pick here, as the Buccaneers would certainly benefit offensively by adding a star running back to pair with LeGarrette Blount. That said, the Buccaneers need defensive help more than they need offensive help and should not pass upon Claiborne if he is available at this selection.
Overall Prospect Rank: No. 57
The thought that Texas A&M quarterback Ryan Tannehill, who rates as a third-round draft value and No. 57 in my overall prospect rankings for the 2012 draft, is taken in the first round is appalling to me.
That said, it became clear in the 2011 draft that teams will overdraft at the quarterback position if they have a need and see a player who they believe has the potential to be a franchise quarterback. For good measure, I rated Christian Ponder as a fifth-sixth round draft value and No. 164 on my overall prospect rankings, and he was actually selected with the 12th overall pick by the Minnesota Vikings.
Ultimately, if the Washington Redskins miss out on trading up for Robert Griffin III, I expect them to attempt to trade down, but their target would still be Tannehill. The Redskins are in more desperate need of a quarterback than any other team in the National Football League, and Tannehill appears to be their next option if they miss out on RG3.
Two Alabama players, running back Trent Richardson and outside linebacker Courtney Upshaw, could potentially be trade-up targets at this slot, but there is no clear team that would be in position to trade up this high in the draft.
In the end, if head coach Mike Shanahan feels strongly enough that the Redskins need a quarterback and the team believes that Tannehill can be a franchise quarterback, they are going to draft him, even if it is a massive reach at the sixth overall draft selection.
Overall Prospect Rank: No. 8
Wide receiver is the Jacksonville Jaguars’ most pressing need, but they also have a major need for a pass-rushing defensive end and there is much better value on the board at that position. Their decision at this pick will come between North Carolina’s Quinton Coples and South Carolina’s Melvin Ingram.
Both players are talented pass rushers with high potential. Coples has much more prototypical size for a defensive end at 6’6’’ and 284 pounds, whereas Ingram is only 6’2’’ and 264 pounds, making him better suited to play outside linebacker with a 3-4 defensive scheme. However, Ingram has proven himself as the more explosive and skilled pass rusher of the two players and should vault ahead of Coples on the draft board.
Ingram lacks size, but his ability should make up for it at the next level. In a tremendous senior season, a great week at the Senior Bowl and again at the combine, Ingram has displayed that he is a tremendous athlete for his size, a very fluid and explosive player who should be able to contribute and make plays for an NFL defense early in his rookie season.
The Jaguars need an impact pass rusher on their defense, and Ingram can be that player.
Overall Prospect Rank: No. 5
Under new head coach Joe Philbin and defensive coordinator Kevin Coyle, it is unclear whether the Dolphins will run a 4-3 or a 3-4 as their base defense, but Coyle has implied that the team will be running a hybrid defensive system with elements of both next season.
Alabama’s Courtney Upshaw would be a great fit for the Dolphins’ new defensive scheme. Upshaw is a versatile player who would be a tremendous fit as a hybrid pass rusher across from Cameron Wake, but he has the ability to play any linebacker position in either defensive scheme, as well as line up as a pass-rushing end in the 4-3 scheme.
Upshaw has not received the full credit he deserves as a draft prospect. Upshaw did not light up the combine, and he will not stand out at Alabama’s pro day either, but while Upshaw is not an outstanding athlete, he plays with great football speed and makes his biggest impact in big situations.
Another possibility for the Dolphins would be to draft Iowa offensive tackle Riley Reiff for a much-needed upgrade at right tackle, a move with which new head coach Joe Philbin could replicate making another Hawkeye alumnus, Bryan Bulaga, his right tackle as offensive coordinator in Green Bay.
That said, defense is the better choice here. Upshaw can be a cornerstone for the Dolphins’ defense, which they could really benefit from finding.
Overall Prospect Rank: No. 13
The Carolina Panthers really need another pass-rushing defensive end to line up across from Charles Johnson, so they are likely to continue the run on pass rushers, stay close to home, and select Quinton Coples with this pick.
Coples does face some concerns following a disappointing senior season regarding his motor, but he is a very talented player with the potential to be a game-changer on the defensive line. The Panthers really need to upgrade defensively, and Coples is the best defensive player available.
The Panthers also have a need at defensive tackle, so Memphis’s Dontari Poe and Mississippi State’s Fletcher Cox could also garner consideration here after tremendous combine showings. Additionally, if the Panthers are not sold on Coples, they could select USC defensive end Nick Perry if they still want a pass rusher. They have many options with this pick, but all of their choices are on the defensive line.
Overall Prospect Rank: No. 10
The Bills need to upgrade their offensive line, especially with starting left tackle Demetrius Bell being an unrestricted free agent. Even if the Bills re-sign Bell, they would be best suited in drafting an upgrade at left tackle and converting Bell to right tackle.
With Stanford’s Jonathan Martin and Iowa’s Riley Reiff both still available, the Bills have great options in upgrading at the position.
Either would be a very viable option here, as they rank as the third and fourth best prospects available. Martin is ranked ahead of Reiff, as he was the more consistently dominant offensive tackle at the collegiate level and may be the better suited of the two to remain at left tackle in the NFL, although both have the potential to be franchise left tackles.
The Bills could also add another linebacker and select the best player available in Boston College’s Luke Kuechly, but with a need at left tackle and value available at the position, the Bills should go with Martin or Reiff here, and as the prospect with the higher rating, Martin gets the slight nod.
Overall Prospect Rank: No. 17
Rumors have it that the Chiefs are interested in Alabama running back Trent Richardson, and I think it is also possible that the Chiefs could trade down from this spot to a team interested in moving up for a chance to draft him. That said, their most likely option here is to stay put and draft Dontari Poe.
Having a great nose tackle is pivotal to the success of a defense that runs a three-man front. Chiefs’ vice president of player personnel Scott Pioli knows that from his time in New England and the impact that Vince Wilfork makes on the Patriots’ front.
Poe has the potential to be a star nose tackle in his own right, and the Chiefs have shown no hesitancy in the past to spend high draft picks on defensive linemen. Coming off of a tremendous combine performance, Poe now stands as a potential top-15 draft pick and is clearly the best nose tackle prospect in this draft class.
Another great option for the Chiefs with this pick would be Iowa offensive tackle Riley Reiff, as the Chiefs have a need at right tackle, and he could also be an eventual upgrade at left tackle. That said, Poe is the most likely selection at this point.
Overall Prospect Rank: No. 6
If Luke Kuechly is still available at the 12th overall selection, he should be an absolutely clear-cut choice for the Seattle Seahawks. Linebacker is a major need for the Seahawks, and Kuechly is a steal outside of the top-10 picks.
In my last mock draft, I claimed that “Kuechly lacks the athleticism to be a star middle linebacker at the next level.” Kuechly proved me wrong at the scouting combine, where he stood out athletically among the entire group of linebackers.
Kuechly’s athleticism combines with his tremendous productivity at the collegiate level. He led the NCAA in total tackles in each of his past two seasons. He has great instincts, tackling ability, and the athleticism to be an impact player.
Kuechly has the skill set to be a great NFL middle linebacker for many years to come and would be a perfect choice for the Seahawks at this spot.
Overall Prospect Rank: No. 11
The Arizona Cardinals are in need of an upgrade over Levi Brown at left tackle, and fortunately for them, the draft board falls very well for them in this scenario, with Iowa’s Riley Reiff being the best player available.
The Cardinals offensive line was overmatched last season, giving up the second most sacks in the National Football League. Reiff is a big, strong and athletic offensive tackle who could be the upgrade they need to protect the quarterback.
The Cardinals have been rumored to be looking at a trade down with the Bengals if Trent Richardson is still available at this selection, so that becomes a definite possibility here, but they should not pass upon the opportunity to select Reiff.
Pass-rusher is also a need for the Cardinals, so USC defensive end Nick Perry is also a possibility here, but they should not pass up on the chance to select Reiff, the best value to fill their biggest need.
Overall Prospect Rank: No. 18
The Dallas Cowboys need to find another impact player for their defensive front to line up next to nose tackle Jay Ratliff at the 5-technique defensive end position. Fletcher Cox, an athletic, explosive and difference-making defensive lineman from Mississippi State, fits the bill for exactly what the Cowboys should be looking for.
Cox’s stock is rising after a tremendous performance at the combine, in which he showed tremendous athleticism for a 298-pound defensive tackle. Cox projects perfectly to playing defensive end in a 3-4 scheme and would also be able to line up next to Ratliff when the Cowboys use four-man fronts.
Cox is a tremendous penetrator who remains a raw talent but has the upside to be a real difference-maker at the next level.
The Cowboys have no shortage of options with this selection. The Cowboys also really need to upgrade in the secondary and could do so by selecting Alabama cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick. The Cowboys could also go with value here and upgrade at guard by selecting Stanford’s David DeCastro or trade down to a team interested in making a move up the board to select Trent Richardson. That said, Cox will be hard for them to pass up, and they miss the opportunity to take him if they trade down.
Projected Trade: The Philadelphia Eagles trade the 15th overall selection and their fifth-round selection in the 2012 NFL Draft in exchange for the 17th (originally from Raiders) and 84th overall selections.
Overall Prospect Rank: No. 7
Alabama running back Trent Richardson can only fall so far. The Cincinnati Bengals could potentially trade up as high as the ninth overall selection if Richardson slides, but if Richardson falls this far, just two spots ahead of the No. 17 overall pick they acquired from the Raiders, they are going to ensure that they are able to draft him.
While chances are good that none of the other teams from spots seven to 14 would be looking to trade down as a result of the players available in this scenario, the Philadelphia Eagles are in a great position to trade down, as the value on the board is not at their positions of need, and they can pick up a third-round draft pick in this scenario by only dropping down two draft spots.
Meanwhile, with two first-round draft picks, the Bengals are in prime position to trade up and are rumored to be targeting Richardson. With starting running back Cedric Benson likely to leave, the Bengals have a need at the position and can add an impact player to form a formidable young trio at the skill positions along with franchise quarterback Andy Dalton and star receiver A.J. Green.
Overall Prospect Rank: No. 21
I am under the expectation that future Hall of Fame quarterback Peyton Manning will be under center for the New York Jets next season. That said, whether Manning or current quarterback Mark Sanchez is the signal-caller for the Jets next season, the Jets need to find their quarterback more playmakers to work with.
Alshon Jeffery’s stock is falling, especially after his decision not to participate in on-field drills at the combine. That said, he is the big, downfield playmaker at the wide receiver position that the Jets need and would be good value in the middle of the first round.
Another big wide receiver, Notre Dame’s Michael Floyd, could also be in play at this selection. The Jets could also look to the defensive side of the ball by adding a hybrid pass rusher in USC’s Nick Perry or an inside linebacker in Alabama’s Dont'a Hightower. That said, I believe the Jets will look for the impact offensive player here, and Jeffery can be that guy.
Overall Prospect Rank: No. 22
The Philadelphia Eagles have a major need for linebackers, but the best linebacker available, Alabama’s Dont'a Hightower, is not a great value as a top-15 draft pick. After trading down, the Eagles should feel more comfortable selecting him at No. 17 overall.
While the Eagles do have two promising young rookies in Oregon’s Casey Matthews and Ohio State’s Brian Rolle, neither is likely to be the answer as a starting middle linebacker in the National Football League. The Eagles really need a playmaker in their linebacker corps, and Hightower can be that guy.
Hightower had some problems with injuries, but he has been a very productive player when he was on the field and has a terrific combination of size and athleticism. The Eagles really must address the linebacker position with their first-round draft pick, and Hightower fits the bill.
Overall Prospect Rank: No. 16
In my first two mock drafts, I had the San Diego Chargers trading up to select Georgia’s Cordy Glenn, but in this mock draft, the same run on offensive linemen did not occur, and the Chargers are able to stay put and still select Glenn.
The Chargers’ first-round pick must address the offensive line. Starting left guard Kris Dielman has retired, left tackle Marcus McNeill is set to be released, and center Nick Hardwick and left tackle Jared Gaither (replaced McNeill following injuries last season) are unrestricted free agents. Additionally, the Chargers also have a need at right tackle, where Jeromey Clary is a weak link.
The Chargers will likely make a strong effort to re-sign Gaither, but with so many holes to fill, they will need to draft multiple offensive linemen early in this draft. ESPN.com’s Bill Williamson quoted A.J. Smith saying that the offensive line “is the area that is causing (him) to lose sleep.”
The Chargers actually had a terrific choice among offensive linemen with this selection, as Stanford guard David DeCastro and Ohio State offensive tackle Mike Adams are both still available and of value at this point. Adams could fill a void at either left or right tackle, while DeCastro would be the best option to take over at left guard, but Glenn’s versatility to play both offensive tackle and guard make him the best option here for the Chargers.
Overall Prospect Rank: No. 28
It seems there may be no fan base more hell-bent on their team getting a specific player in the first round of the 2012 NFL Draft than Chicago Bears fans are about Michael Floyd.
While I believe Floyd is far from the best option at this pick, it has become a very realistic possibility after a tremendous combine performance, in which he ran a very good time of 4.47 seconds in the 40-yard dash and caught every pass that came his way. The Chicago Bears have a desperate need for a No. 1 wide receiver who can make plays deep downfield and along the sidelines, and Floyd has the potential to be that player.
The Bears have many other major needs, including offensive line and safety, which could be filled with better value at this selection in Stanford guard David DeCastro or Alabama strong safety Mark Barron. That said, wide receiver is the team’s most pressing need, Floyd is the best wide receiver available and he has a good chance of going in the top 20 with his strong combine showing.
The Bears are expected to target a wideout with this pick, and Floyd is the type of player that they need, which is why I have come around to them selecting him at No. 19 overall, even though he is not the best value on the board.
Overall Prospect Rank: No. 20
Before the combine, I had my doubts about whether Nick Perry could be a three-down defensive end in a 4-3 defensive scheme. After a tremendous combine, in which he weighed in larger than expected at 271 pounds, put up 35 repetitions in the bench press and was tremendous athletically, Perry’s stock is soaring, and it will actually be quite a surprise to see him still available here at the 20th overall selection.
With Perry still available, the Titans should pounce upon selecting him here. The Titans really need another pass rusher, after ranking 31st in sacks last season. Perry’s productivity never quite lived up to his hype at USC, so he is a raw prospect, but he has the potential to be a star.
The Titans also have a need at cornerback, and Alabama’s Dre Kirkpatrick is a very good value here, so he is also a possibility at this selection. That said, they should not pass up the opportunity to draft Perry.
Overall Prospect Rank: No. 15
In my first two mock drafts, in which the Bengals presumably hit the jackpot by getting two tremendous values to fill needs in Stanford guard David DeCastro at No. 17 and Alabama cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick at No. 21, I called them the “big winners of the first round.”
In this mock draft, the jackpot becomes even sweeter, and after the Bengals made the move to get their gold by trading up to No. 15 and getting star running back Trent Richardson, they have the choice between DeCastro and Kirkpatrick at No. 21. Either player would be a tremendous choice and a steal at this point in the first round, but my leaning is that they would choose Kirkpatrick.
After getting one Crimson Tide player already, the Bengals do not go wrong by selecting another player from the defending national champions here. The Bengals could really use help in the defensive backfield, and Kirkpatrick is a physical cover corner who can really bolster their secondary.
DeCastro is the best player available, and while upgrading at guard to better lead the way for Richardson would certainly be a great selection here, Kirkpatrick fits the Bengals’ mold as a troubled but very talented player whose value and upside make him worth the selection here, and it makes sense for the Bengals to go defense after starting offense.
Overall Prospect Rank: No. 29
Clearly, Baylor quarterback Robert Griffin III and wide receiver Kendall Wright made each other better during their collegiate playing days, especially in their senior season. If the Browns have the chance to keep the duo together in Cleveland at the next level, chances are good that they are going to make it happen.
The Browns found their quarterback by trading up to the No. 2 overall selection to get Griffin, but to maximize his abilities, especially his strong arm, they need to add another weapon to the receiving corps who can be a field-stretching deep threat. Wright is being targeted by the Browns to be that big-play guy, especially if that means pairing him with his familiar quarterback.
In his press conference at the scouting combine, Wright answered that he has met with the entire Cleveland Browns coaching staff, a clear sign that they are interested in drafting him with this selection.
The Browns could also use some serious help on their right side of the offensive line, so Stanford guard David DeCastro and Ohio State offensive tackle Mike Adams would both be great choices here as well. However, the allure of keeping the Griffin-Wright pairing together would be tough for the Browns to pass up here.
Overall Prospect Rank: No. 12
The Detroit Lions really need reinforcements on their offensive line and have a pair of tremendous options available to them still in Stanford guard David DeCastro and Ohio State offensive tackle Mike Adams. Offensive tackle is the bigger need than interior line, but the Lions can use upgrades all across the line, and DeCastro’s value is much too good to pass up here late in the first round.
If guard were a more valued position in the draft, David DeCastro would probably be a top-10 draft pick. DeCastro is a tremendous guard prospect who has the ability to be an All-Pro player at the position in the NFL.
DeCastro is big, tough, has great footwork and is very skilled as both a pass blocker and run blocker. DeCastro has very few weaknesses in his game and is one of the most well-rounded prospects in this entire draft. For the Lions to have the opportunity to draft him at No. 23 overall would truly be a steal and an opportunity they should not pass on.
Overall Prospect Rank: No. 19
The Steelers desperately need help at guard, so they will certainly be ready to pounce upon Stanford guard David DeCastro if he somehow makes it past the Lions and is available here. That said, the Steelers also really need help at offensive tackle, and Mike Adams would be a tremendous acquisition at No. 24 overall as well.
The Steelers drafted offensive tackle Marcus Gilbert in the second round in last year’s draft, and he had an impressive rookie season, but like just about everyone else on the Steelers’ offensive line, he battled injuries. The Steelers need a steady presence to hold down their left tackle spot and finally provide the protection that quarterback Ben Roethlisberger needs, and Adams could be that much-needed player.
Most likely, Gilbert would start at left tackle next season while Adams would begin as a right tackle, but in the long term, I believe Adams projects very well to being a left tackle in the National Football League, and Gilbert is better suited to play on the right side.
Adams’s stock is down a little after a disappointing combine showing, but he is still a solid first-round pick and a very good value late in the round. Adams has the potential to be the franchise left tackle that the Steelers have lacked for years.
The Steelers could also opt to upgrade at cornerback by selecting South Carolina’s Stephon Gilmore, but they should not pass up Adams here.
Overall Prospect Rank: No. 14
In my last mock, I had the Denver Broncos trading up to No. 19 overall to select Michigan State defensive tackle Jerel Worthy, but in this mock, it is not necessary.
Worthy should be the Broncos’ target here: He is a tremendous value late in the first round, and the Broncos have a major need at defensive tackle. Worthy can be the impact interior lineman that Denver needs on its defensive front.
Worthy has a questionable motor and played inconsistently at Michigan State, but when he showed up on his best game, he could be absolutely dominant. His talent will need to be harnessed by his coaches at the next level, but he has the talent to be a star and is well-worth taking a chance on here for the Broncos.
The Broncos could also upgrade at cornerback by selecting South Carolina’s Stephon Gilmore or add a running back in Miami’s Lamar Miller, but Worthy is the best player available on the board and he fills the Broncos’ biggest need, so there is no reason to pass him up.
Overall Prospect Rank: No. 24
The Houston Texans’ defense made a drastic turnaround last season, becoming one of the NFL’s best defenses in their first year under new defensive coordinator Wade Phillips. One position on that defense where the Texans could still use an upgrade is safety.
Alabama’s Mark Barron is the only safety worth drafting in the first two rounds and the second-best overall player available on the board at this point. Barron may not be a star, nor the flashy pick that Texans would covet here, but he is a very solid player who could be a big upgrade on the roster.
Another strong option here would be Wisconsin interior lineman Peter Konz, with center Chris Myers being an unrestricted free agent, and upgrades needed at the guard spots. The Texans could also draft a defensive lineman in Clemson’s Brandon Thompson or Penn State’s Devon Still, but Barron is the best choice here.
Overall Prospect Rank: No. 25
The Patriots desperately need help in the secondary, whether it be at safety or cornerback. If Mark Barron lasts one more pick and is available here, then the Patriots should pounce to draft him, as they could really use an upgrade at safety. However, in this scenario, the Patriots still have an opportunity to draft a very talented cornerback in Stephon Gilmore.
The Patriots need to find a true No. 1 cover corner. Gilmore has the size, athletic ability, ball skills and coverage skills to be that player the Patriots have been unable to find ever since losing Asante Samuel to the Eagles.
The Patriots could also look at the best player available on the board, Clemson’s Brandon Thompson, to be an upgrade on the defensive line as a 5-technique defensive end in the three-man front. That said, Gilmore is the second-best player available, and he is exactly the type of player the Patriots need, so they should not pass up on him here.
Overall Prospect Rank: No. 27
The Green Bay Packers have one star outside linebacker in Clay Matthews III but need to upgrade at the spot across from him. Enter Illinois’s Whitney Mercilus, who led the NCAA with 16 sacks last season, a very talented pass rusher who should be able to transition well to playing outside linebacker in a 3-4 defensive scheme.
Matthews had a down season this past year after being an All-Pro the season before, but a big reason for his decrease in productivity was the constant double-teaming he faced as a result of the weak play at the spot across from him.
Mercilus is a very athletic pass rusher who is able to make a big impact upon games and would force teams away from double teaming Matthews with his ability to get into the backfield and make tackles for loss.
The Packers also have a major need at the 5-technique defensive end, so Clemson defensive lineman Brandon Thompson, LSU’s Michael Brockers, or Penn State’s Devon Still would all also make sense here. However, Mercilus is the best selection here for the Packers.
Overall Prospect Rank: No. 26
With Matt Birk contemplating retirement, it is time for the Baltimore Ravens to find his successor at the center position. The board falls perfectly for the Ravens in this scenario, as the draft’s best center, Wisconsin’s Peter Konz, is still available.
In a draft where offensive linemen are expected to go early and often, the Ravens should not hesitate to make this selection if Konz is still on the board. While Birk would likely return to the Ravens if he chooses not to retire, next season would likely be his last. Konz is a very good center who would be the perfect fit to replace him.
The Ravens’ vaunted defense also has needs; they could add another 5-technique defensive end in LSU’s Michael Brockers or Clemson’s Brandon Thompson or draft another first-round cornerback to further shore up their secondary in North Alabama’s Janoris Jenkins. That said, Konz should be the pick here.
Overall Prospect Rank: No. 44
Before last weekend’s NFL Scouting Combine, not many draft prognosticators would have thought to project Georgia Tech’s Stephen Hill as a first-round draft pick. But after being the No. 1 standout of the combine, Hill goes from being a likely third- or fourth- round selection to sneaking into the late first round of this mock draft.
The San Francisco 49ers really need to find a true No. 1 wideout, a vertical deep threat for their passing game. Hill is a very risky first-round selection who really should not be taken until the second round, but the 49ers may fall in love with him and believe they can turn him into a star.
Hill displayed at the combine that he has a tremendous combination of size (6’4’’, 215 pounds) and speed (4.36 second 40-yard dash, best among all wide receivers), that has him drawing comparisons to Randy Moss.
Hill was not tremendously productive at Georgia Tech, but this was mostly due to the system he was in. And even though he only had 28 receptions last season, he had a tremendous yards per catch average of 29.29, easily the best in the entire NCAA last season.
Hill’s size and athleticism are eye-catching, and if he has caught the eye of the 49ers’ coaching staff and executives, he very well could end up being the selection here. Other potential selections here are Wisconsin wide receiver Nick Toon, LSU defensive lineman Michael Brockers and North Alabama cornerback Janoris Jenkins.
Overall Prospect Rank: No. 23
After getting a much-needed defensive back with their first selection, the Patriots should turn back to a usual defensive point of emphasis, the defensive line, and upgrade by adding the best player available on the draft board in Clemson’s Brandon Thompson.
Thompson is a talented athlete on the defensive line who can play 5-technique defensive end in a three-man front and defensive tackle in a four-man front, which is important to the Patriots’ defense, which interchanges between both defensive systems. The Patriots could use another impact player for their defensive front, and Thompson is a great fit and great value.
The Patriots could also opt for LSU’s Michael Brockers or Penn State’s Devon Still to fill this same role, but Thompson is the best value and the best fit. Another possibility for the Patriots would be to address their need at wide receiver by selecting Wisconsin’s Nick Toon.
Overall Prospect Rank: No. 34
Remember the last time the New York Giants drafted a North Carolina outside linebacker with 4.5-second 40-yard dash speed? That player was Lawrence Taylor, who has gone down in history next to Reggie White and Deacon Jones as the NFL’s most dominant pass rushers of all-time.
Zach Brown is no Lawrence Taylor, but as a 4-3 strongside linebacker, he can be the impact player the Giants need in their linebacker corps. Brown is a tremendous athlete who needs to become a more consistent tackler to thrive at the next level, but he has very high upside. His athleticism gives him the ability to cover the new breed of athletic tight ends, a very important capability for outside linebackers in today’s NFL.
Nebraska linebacker Lavonte David could also be in play at this pick, although it is unlikely he ends up a first-round draft pick. Clemson tight end Dwayne Allen is also a possibility here, although he likely knocked himself out of first-round consideration with his poor combine showing including a very slow 4.89-second 40-yard dash.
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