After projecting that in Mock Drafts 1.0 and 2.0 that the Washington Redskins would successfully execute a trade up to select Baylor quarterback Robert Griffin III, I mixed things up in Mock Draft 3.0, projecting that the Cleveland Browns would be able to execute the trade with the St. Louis Rams for the No. 2 overall selection, given that they were in higher draft position.
That said, I had originally projected the Redskins to make the move over the Browns because they have the more desperate need at quarterback of the two teams. Redskins owner Dan Snyder is known for making aggressive trades to get the players he wants, and I knew it was a possibility that the Redskins would offer a package that the Rams could not refuse.
That is exactly what the Redskins did, agreeing to trade the No. 6 overall pick in the 2012 NFL Draft, the No. 37 pick in the draft and their 2013 and 2014 first-round draft picks in exchange for only the Rams’ No. 2 overall selection. Unsurprisingly, the Rams pounced upon that offer, and the Redskins are now in position to acquire the franchise quarterback they need.
While Griffin was going to be the No. 2 overall pick whether it was to the Browns or the Redskins, the trade shakes up how the rest of the first round plays out. Therefore, with a big trade at the top of the draft, there is reason for Mock Draft 4.0 to be released prior to Tuesday’s start of free agency.
Overall Prospect Rank: No. 1
The Washington Redskins’ trade for the No. 2 overall selection was not the only big NFL news of the past week. The other big news came from the Indianapolis Colts, who officially released legendary quarterback Peyton Manning last Wednesday.
Manning is one of the greatest quarterbacks ever to play in the National Football League, the NFL’s only four-time Most Valuable Player and a future first-ballot Hall of Famer. That said, this move was unsurprising and expected to happen.
With Peyton Manning sidelined for all of last season due to four neck surgeries, the Colts had the worst record in the NFL. The Colts have recognized that it is time to move on from the Manning era, and rebuild for the future.
Fortunately for the Colts, they have the opportunity to draft an elite quarterback prospect, one of the best draft prospects at the position in a long time, in Stanford’s Andrew Luck.
Andrew Luck is a consensus No. 1 overall draft prospect. He certainly has huge footsteps to follow as Peyton Manning’s replacement in Indianapolis, but few quarterbacks have ever been as prepared to take on such a challenge as a rookie as Luck will be.
While the Colts may have some hard times next season as they begin their rebuilding process, building around Luck is the best long-term option for the franchise.
Trade: The St. Louis Rams traded the No. 2 overall selection to the Washington Redskins for the No. 6 overall selection, No. 37 overall selection and the Redskins’ first-round picks in 2013 and 2014.
Overall Prospect Rank: No. 3
As previously mentioned in the introductory slide, the Redskins have made the blockbuster trade of the 2012 draft. The Redskins have paid a steep price to move up four spots in the draft, giving up two future first-round picks and their second-round pick to go from No. 6 to No. 2 in the first round.
While the Redskins may have overpaid in this trade, they do have the opportunity to finally get a franchise quarterback, something they have not had for more than two decades. Robert Griffin III is a tremendously talented athlete with the special abilities that could make him a star NFL quarterback.
There is no doubt that the Redskins made this move up to acquire Griffin, and if he becomes a star quarterback, it could pay off. Griffin is athletic, has a strong arm, can make difficult throws with accuracy, and has great intangibles. He is worthy of being a top-two selection in the draft.
Read here for more on the impact of the Robert Griffin III trade on the Redskins, St. Louis Rams and Cleveland Browns.
Overall Prospect Rank: No. 2
The Redskins’ trade up to the second overall pick all but guarantees that USC left tackle Matt Kalil will be available at No. 3 overall. With the Vikings in serious need of offensive line help, and Kalil the best player available on the board, it should be all but a guarantee that the Vikings will select Kalil at this slot.
On Saturday, the Minnesota Vikings released their two starting guards from last season, Steve Hutchinson and Anthony Herrera. Charlie Johnson will likely kick inside to play one of the guard spots, but that leaves a complete void where an upgrade was already needed at left tackle.
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. 7
With the top three picks in the 2012 NFL Draft seemingly set, speculation will now center around what the Cleveland Browns will do the No. 4 overall selection.
In Adam Schefter’s report of the trade, he revealed that the Browns were also making a big offer to move up to No. 2 to draft Robert Griffin III, possibly going as far as offering three first-round picks and a second-round pick according to a source.
However, the Rams accepted the Redskins’ offer, leaving the Browns as losers in the sweepstakes.
Four different players could be in play at this selection, so the Browns now hold the cards to shaping the rest of the first round. For this mock draft, I revert back to my pick from Mock Drafts 1.0 and 2.0, which has the Browns selecting running back Trent Richardson.
The Browns are likely to lose starting running back Peyton Hillis as a free agent, and would really benefit by adding the best available offensive playmaker after missing out on RG3. Richardson, a back with a tremendous combination of size, power, and speed, could be the big playmaker they need.
Along the same lines, Oklahoma State wide receiver Justin Blackmon could add a much-needed playmaker in the passing game, and the Browns are rumored to be quite interested in him. LSU cornerback Morris Claiborne could also end up as the target of the Browns here, although offense would be a better selection than defense at No. 4 overall.
One other possibility that is arising at this selection is Texas A&M quarterback Ryan Tannehill, as the Browns are clearly looking to move forward from Colt McCoy under center, and are rumored to have interest in Tannehill.
That said, the Browns should wait until pick No. 22 or No. 37 to draft their quarterback; reaching on Tannehill, a third-round value, would be a huge mistake.
Overall Prospect Rank: No. 4
This is one selection that I do not anticipate changing unless Morris Claiborne becomes the target of the Cleveland Browns. 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.
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.
Alabama running back Trent Richardson could also draw consideration here if he is available, but with Richardson off the board, Claiborne should be an obvious selection for the Buccaneers here.
Overall Prospect Rank: No. 9
The St. Louis Rams start out this draft as big winners, making a blockbuster trade in which they set themselves up with three of the first 39 selections in this year’s draft, along with multiple first-round picks for both 2013 and 2014, to move down only four spots.
Additionally, the Rams leave themselves in position to get one of their three targets in this year’s draft: LSU cornerback Morris Claiborne, Oklahoma State wide receiver Justin Blackmon, or Alabama running back Trent Richardson.
With the likely scenario that only one of those three players will be available at No. 6 overall, the Rams should be content selecting any one of them, but the best pick for them would be Blackmon, making this scenario really work in their favor.
The Rams really need a true go-to receiving target for Sam Bradford and a playmaker for their offense, and Blackmon could be that guy as the best wideout in this year’s draft class.
Blackmon answered questions about his speed at Oklahoma State’s Pro Day, running faster than 4.5 seconds in the 40-yard dash.
Blackmon is no star sprinter, but he was very productive collegiately, and has great hands and route-running ability.
He displayed that he has the speed to be a legitimate No. 1 wideout in the NFL, and he has established himself as a legitimate top-10 prospect in this draft class.
Overall Prospect Rank: No. 8
Wide receiver is the Jacksonville Jaguars’ most pressing need, but unless Justin Blackmon ends up being available at this selection, expect the Jaguars to stay with the value of the draft board and focus on their other major need, a pass rusher.
South Carolina’s Melvin Ingram and North Carolina’s Quinton Coples are the likely options for the Jaguars here, with the nod going to Ingram.
While Coples has more prototypical size at 6’6’’, 284 pounds to play 4-3 defensive end (Ingram is only 6’2’’, 264 pounds), Ingram is the more explosive and skilled pass rusher.
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 is not receiving the credit he deserves as a draft prospect. While many draft prognosticators have Upshaw sliding to late in the first round following a subpar combine performance, there are few players in this draft class who stand out more on tape than Upshaw does.
Upshaw was a consistent playmaker for the Crimson Tide who plays his best in big situations, and in his years at Alabama, he established himself as a prospect worthy of being a top-10 pick.
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 certainly should be focused on the defensive line with the No. 9 overall pick, as they have needs for both a pass-rushing defensive end to line up opposite Charles Johnson, as well as for upgrades at defensive tackles.
The Panthers could go either way with this selection, but they could stay close to home to select the best defensive lineman available, North Carolina defensive end Quinton Coples.
Coples is very much in the mold of another former Tar Heel and Panther defensive end Julius Peppers, with a very impressive combination of size and athleticism that gives him the potential to be a real game-changer on the Panthers’ defensive line.
The Panthers appear to have interest in Coples, having met with him on Monday.
Two defensive tackles whose stocks are well on the rise, Memphis’s Dontari Poe and Mississippi State’s Fletcher Cox, are both possibilities here as well. Regardless of who they decide, expect this choice to be a defensive lineman.
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
General manager Scott Pioli and head coach Romeo Crennel, both in their time with the Patriots and with the Chiefs, have always placed an emphasis personnel-wise upon defensive linemen. That said, the Chiefs could really use an upgrade at nose tackle, the most important position in a three-man front.
Memphis’s Dontari Poe, the only true nose tackle worthy of a selection in the early rounds of this draft, is really rising up draft boards after standing out at the combine. Poe has the potential to be a star nose tackle, and could really shore up the interior of the Chiefs’ defense.
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 fits the Chiefs’ philosophy and what the team really needs on their defensive front, so he should be the choice here.
Overall Prospect Rank: No. 6
Luke Kuechly should be a clear-cut choice here for the Seattle Seahawks. The Seahawks have a major need at linebacker, and Kuechly is great value as the best player available.
Kuechly was tremendously productive at Boston College, leading the NCAA in total tackles in each of the last two seasons, which speaks for itself in regards to his instincts and tackling ability.
Kuechly is an athletic linebacker who is always around the play, and would be able to contribute and start immediately as the Seahawks’ middle linebacker.
Another possibility at this selection, however, is Texas A&M quarterback Ryan Tannehill. The Seahawks could definitely benefit from upgrading at the position; however, while Tannehill is expected to be a high draft choice, he should not even be a first-round draft pick, so the Seahawks should not make that decision.
Kuechly’s value is great and fills a greater need, while Tannehill would be a reach, so the Seahawks should set their focus on Kuechly if he is available.
Overall Prospect Rank: No. 11
On Monday, Adam Schefter reported that the Arizona Cardinals are set to release left tackle Levi Brown. This comes as no surprise, as Brown has really struggled at left tackle, and he would be owed $17 million for 2012.
That said, Brown’s release only makes the Cardinals’ need at left tackle more desperate. With Iowa’s Riley Reiff still on the board, the Cardinals should have no thoughts of passing him up.
Reiff is a very talented offensive line prospect who can fill the Cardinals’ biggest need at left tackle, and is the best player available on the board.
USC pass rusher Nick Perry could be a possibility here as well, but they would really be hard-pressed to pass up Reiff.
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.
Among all defensive linemen in this draft class, Cox projects best to play the 5-technique defensive end position in a 3-4 defense. His combination of penetrative ability, athleticism and size give him the upside to be a true difference-maker.
The Cowboys need to upgrade in the secondary, so Alabama cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick is also a possibility here, as is Stanford guard David DeCastro, who would be an upgrade on the interior offensive line and is the best player available.
That said, Cox would really be a great choice for the Cowboys.
Overall Prospect Rank: No. 22
Dont’a Hightower is somewhat of a reach as a top-15 draft selection, but the Philadelphia Eagles really need to upgrade at linebacker.
With Luke Kuechly off the board, Dont’a Hightower stands out among all available linebackers, and could be the answer that the Eagles really need at middle linebacker.
Casey Matthews and Brian Rolle showed promise as rookie linebackers, but the Eagles need a real playmaker in the middle of their second line of defense, and Hightower has the talent to be that player.
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.
Overall Prospect Rank: No. 21
The pairing of Peyton Manning and the New York Jets that I have been projecting failed to come to fruition; instead, the Jets made a surprising decision to sign current quarterback Mark Sanchez to a three-year contract extension through 2016.
While the decision to re-sign a quarterback who has struggled in his development to a high-paying three-year extension is puzzling, the Jets’ draft strategy should remain the same.
After investing big money into Sanchez as their long-term franchise quarterback, they need to add more weapons to the passing offense for him to work with.
Notre Dame wide receiver Michael Floyd’s stock is rising, so he could end up being the draft selection, but for this choice, I will stick by my personal positional rankings.
Alshon Jeffery is the second-best wide receiver in this draft class, and while his stock has been falling, he could get his stock back in the right direction with a strong showing at South Carolina’s pro day on March 28.
Jeffery is the big, athletic wide receiver that the Jets truly need. The Jets lack impact playmakers on their offense, so adding Jeffery to the mix could play a big part in improving the Jets’ passing offense.
Trade: The Cincinnati Bengals received this draft pick from the Oakland Raiders during the 2011 season as part of a package in exchange for quarterback Carson Palmer.
Overall Prospect Rank: No. 12
The Bengals need to upgrade on the interior offensive line, and Stanford guard David DeCastro is the best player available on the draft board, making them a perfect match with the first of the Bengals’ two first-round draft picks.
DeCastro is a tremendous interior line prospect who should rank among the NFL’s top guards for many years to come. DeCastro could be an immediate upgrade at either guard spot, which the Bengals need, and his value is tough to pass up here.
Alabama cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick is also a strong possibility at this selection, but the Bengals will likely wait to address the secondary until their second first-round draft pick at No. 21 overall.
Overall Prospect Rank: No. 16
Some believe the Chargers should use this selection to address the need for a pass rusher, and the Chargers would have a good option available in USC’s Nick Perry. That said, the Chargers’ first-round pick really should address the offensive line.
Starting left guard Kris Dielman has retired, left tackle Marcus McNeill is likely 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.”
Glenn is the best available offensive lineman, and would be a great fit for the Chargers given his versatility to play both tackle and guard.
Glenn may not be a left tackle in the NFL, but he should be able to be a very good starter at right tackle or at left guard, where the Chargers have major holes.
Overall Prospect Rank: No. 28
The Chicago Bears have many major needs, but none more pressing than at the wide receiver position. Notre Dame’s Michael Floyd has emerged as the third-best wide receiver in the draft class, and could be a very good fit for the Bears.
Bears fans have been clamoring for Floyd, and although I was originally resistant to him being one of the Bears’ best options at this pick, his stock is rising and he fits what the Bears need: a No. 1 wide receiver who can make plays deep downfield and along the sidelines.
Floyd is raw and has serious character concerns, but he is a big, athletic wideout who was one of the standouts of this year’s scouting combine.
Another possible selection here for the Bears is Georgia Tech wide receiver Stephen Hill. Hill is even more raw than Floyd, running mostly streak routes in college, but he is rising after being the standout of the combine, and has a tremendous combination of size and athleticism.
The Chicago Tribune reported Bears head coach Lovie Smith attended Hill’s pro day at Georgia Tech, and then dined with Hill, a clear sign that the Bears are interested in drafting him.
Overall Prospect Rank: No. 20
Nick Perry is a raw prospect whose productivity never lived up to his potential during his time at USC, but he has the potential to emerge as the best pass rusher out of the 2012 draft class.
After a tremendous combine, where Perry displayed great potential as a 4-3 defensive end, his stock is well on the rise, and he is a very good value selection here at No. 20 overall.
The Titans, who ranked 31st in sacks last season, desperately need a pass rusher, and Perry could be exactly what they need. Perry has the size, strength and athletic ability to excel as a defensive end.
Illinois’s Whitney Mercilus is another talented pass rusher whose stock is on the rise, so he would also be a great choice here for the Titans. Alabama cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick is also great value and would fill a need, but the Titans would be hard-pressed to pass upon pass-rushing value.
Overall Prospect Rank: No. 15
The Cincinnati Bengals’ secondary really suffered from the effects of losing top cornerback Jonathan Joseph via free agency last season, so the Bengals would be smart to address the position in the first round.
Alabama’s Dre Kirkpatrick is great value at No. 21 overall, and is the big, physical cornerback that the Bengals really need.
Another Alabama defensive back, safety Mark Barron, would also make sense at this selection, as the Bengals need help at safety as well. Miami running back Lamar Miller is also an option here.
That said, the Bengals have a chance to fill two needs with two top 15 overall prospects in DeCastro and Kirkpatrick, and they should make that happen.
Trade: The Cleveland Browns acquired this draft pick from the Atlanta Falcons as part of a package in exchange for the sixth overall selection in the 2011 NFL Draft.
Overall Prospect Rank: No. 47
While the Cleveland Browns were still in the mix for Baylor quarterback Robert Griffin III, I mocked his top wide receiver from Baylor, Kendall Wright, to the Browns in all of my first three mocks.
However, the Browns’ failed attempt at trading up for RG3 changes the picture for the Browns with their second first-round draft pick, and brings a new player, Oklahoma State quarterback Brandon Weeden, into the first round.
As reported upon by the Morning Journal, the Browns appear to be interested in Weeden, and assuming the Browns miss out on Matt Flynn in free agency, it is likely that the Browns will target Weeden in the draft.
While there is a chance that either Weeden or Texas A&M quarterback Ryan Tannehill could be available at the Browns’ second-round pick at No. 37 overall, the Browns are more likely to take Weeden here than take the chance on missing out on him.
Weeden’s draft stock is hurt by his age given that he is already 28 years old, but he is the best quarterback prospect not named Luck or Griffin in this draft class, and if anything, the Browns seem to be viewing his age and maturity as a positive sign rather than a negative.
It has become very clear that the Browns are ready to move on from Colt McCoy, and Weeden would be the best option for them via the draft.
Another player who the Browns could target with this selection is North Alabama cornerback Janoris Jenkins. The Browns are looking for another cornerback to start opposite Joe Haden, and Jenkins would make perfect sense.
Jenkins played at Florida prior to being dismissed from their program before last season, and for two seasons, Haden and Jenkins were a dominant coverage duo in the Gators secondary. If the Browns do not focus in on Weeden with this pick, Jenkins could be the choice.
Overall Prospect Rank: No. 19
The Detroit Lions have a major need at offensive tackle, and Ohio State left tackle Mike Adams is one of the best players available on the draft board.
Jeff Backus has been a very good left tackle for the Lions, but at age 34, he is on the decline, and the Lions need to find a franchise left tackle for the long term.
The Lions are believed to be interested in Adams, a talented offensive lineman who could also start out playing right tackle, where an upgrade over Gosder Cherilus would be beneficial.
Cornerback is also a need for the Lions, so South Carolina’s Stephon Gilmore and North Alabama’s Janoris Jenkins could also be in the mix. That said, the Lions have a chance at one of the top offensive linemen in the draft here, and should not pass him up.
Overall Prospect Rank: No. 26
The Pittsburgh Steelers seriously need offensive-line help, and showed significant interest in offensive tackle Mike Adams at Ohio State’s pro day, so they will really be hoping that he is available at this pick. But with the Lions selecting him one pick earlier, the Steelers will have to turn their sights elsewhere.
While offensive line, specifically guard, is the Steelers’ most pressing need, there are no offensive tackles or guards worth selecting at No. 24 overall, so the Steelers should turn to another need at the cornerback position.
As Demaryius Thomas scored an 80-yard touchdown to win in overtime of Tim Tebow’s first playoff game, the Pittsburgh Steelers secondary was getting burned, showing that an upgrade at cornerback should be one of the team’s focuses in this draft.
While Ike Taylor, the Steeler burned on that play, should remain a starting cornerback, he is not a true No. 1 cornerback.
South Carolina’s Stephon Gilmore is a very talented cornerback with the size, physicality, athleticism, and ball skills to be that player that the Steelers need. Gilmore is good value late in the first round. North Alabama cornerback Janoris Jenkins is also a potential selection here for Pittsburgh.
Overall Prospect Rank: No. 14
This is another selection that makes too much sense in terms of both need and value not to happen. Defensive tackle may be the Broncos’ biggest need, and Jerel Worthy is the best player available.
Worthy’s stock has slid due to concerns with his motor and collegiate inconsistency, but he is a tremendous talent who has the potential to be a real impact player as a defensive tackle.
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.
Alabama safety Mark Barron is also an option, but considering that the Broncos drafted the top two safeties (in my ratings) in the 2011 draft class, Rahim Moore and Quinton Carter, they should be looking elsewhere than drafting another in the first round.
Overall Prospect Rank: No. 29
The Houston Texans are a team that currently have me really scratching my head.
On Monday, the Texans made a shocking and very difficult-to-understand move when they decided to release Eric Winston, one of the best right tackles in the National Football League who has no character concerns and rarely misses a start. It remains hard to figure out what direction they will look in the draft.
The Texans’ draft strategy could be defined by their success at re-signing two unrestricted free agents, center Chris Myers and pass-rusher Mario Williams.
If they lose Myers, Wisconsin center Peter Konz is a possibility at this selection, while Illinois pass rusher Whitney Mercilus is a possibility if Williams leaves. That said, it is really hard to put a finger on what direction the Texans are currently looking.
The Texans do appear to have interest in using this selection on a wide receiver, and have two strong potential choices here in Baylor’s Kendall Wright and Georgia Tech’s Stephen Hill. While Hill’s stock is on the rise, I think the Texans would opt to stay in-state and draft a much more polished prospect in Wright.
Wright is a fast receiver with great hands, is a great route runner and is a big-play target. He would be a very good complement as a No. 2 or slot receiver to star wideout Andre Johnson.
This is a pick that is likely to change as the free-agency picture becomes more clear, but Wright is a definite possibility for them.
Trade: The New England Patriots acquired this draft pick in the 2011 NFL draft along with the 56th overall selection in that draft from the New Orleans Saints in exchange for the 27th overall selection in that draft.
Overall Prospect Rank: No. 25
The New England Patriots really need safety help, and Mark Barron is the only safety worth selecting in the early rounds of this year’s draft. With Barron still available and one of the best players available, this pick should be a no-brainer.
The Patriots’ secondary was one of the NFL’s worst last season, especially due to poor safety play. Adding Barron, a well-rounded strong safety, could play a big part in improving the Patriots’ secondary.
North Alabama cornerback Janoris Jenkins would also be a possibility here, as the Patriots need help at both cornerback and safety.
The Patriots could also look to add a premier pass rusher in Illinois’s Whitney Mercilus. That said, Barron should not be passed upon here.
Overall Prospect Rank: No. 23
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. 27
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. 33
In Mock Draft 3.0, I projected that the 49ers would select Georgia Tech wide receiver Stephen Hill, a vertical deep threat whose combination of size and speed has drawn comparisons to Randy Moss.
Interestingly, the 49ers signed Moss to a one-year contract on Monday. By signing Moss, the 49ers have acquired the field-stretching deep threat that they needed at the wide receiver position.
This could have one of two effects on the 49ers’ interest in selecting Hill at No. 30 overall. Knowing that Hill is a raw prospect, coming out of the triple-option Georgia Tech offense, this could all be part of a plan to draft Hill, and have him develop and learn from a player who he could emulate in Moss.
However, the 49ers could also decide to address another need, with the need for a deep threat potentially set for 2012 with Moss. The 49ers’ top cornerback, Carlos Rogers, is an unrestricted free agent, and even if Rogers is re-signed, the 49ers could definitely benefit by adding another cornerback.
Janoris Jenkins is a very talented cornerback prospect who would have been drafted higher had it not been for his off-field issues, and is good value late in the first round. Jenkins would be a tremendous addition to the 49ers secondary, and is one of the best players available.
Hill is a definite option here, but I think the 49ers will lean toward Jenkins if he is available here.
Overall Prospect Rank: No. 41
As always, the New England Patriots are candidates to trade down from this selection, but regardless of whether this selection is traded, I believe that Georgia Tech wide receiver Stephen Hill will be the choice.
Tremendous combine and pro day performances established Hill as a player likely to be selected in the first round, so there could definitely be interest here from teams looking to trade into the first round to acquire him. That said, I can also see the Patriots taking a chance on Hill here for themselves.
One weakness that the Super Bowl exposed in the Patriots is the need for a deep-threat wide receiver. Hill has drawn comparisons to Randy Moss, who really made the Patriots offense more explosive during his years with the team because of his ability to stretch the field and make big plays downfield.
Hill is raw and risky as a first-round draft selection, but he has huge upside and Patriots head coach Bill Belichick is never afraid to take a chance on a player he believes he can coach into a great player.
Hill would be a tremendous coaching project for the Patriots and a player who makes sense given their need for a deep threat.
The Patriots could also use another defensive lineman, specifically a player who can play defensive tackle in a four-man front and the 5-technique defensive end in a three-man front, so Clemson’s Brandon Thompson and LSU’s Michael Brockers are also possibilities here.
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 strong-side 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.
The Giants released Brandon Jacobs last Friday, so a running back is also a possibility here, with Miami’s Lamar Miller and Virginia Tech’s David Wilson among two of the best prospects available on the draft board.
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