2012 NFL Mock Draft: Peyton Manning to Denver Broncos Edition
It sounds weird to read that. It was even weirder to type it.
Peyton Manning is no longer a member of the Indianapolis Colts—and Andrew Luck soon will be. Or maybe it will be Robert Griffin III. What we do know for sure is that the Colts will draft their next franchise quarterback with the first-overall pick.
We also know the Washington Redskins will draft their next franchise quarterback with the second pick.
They traded three first-round picks and one second-round pick to the St. Louis Rams for the No. 2 overall slot.
After that, it's anyone's guess as to where each team will look to fill needs and build strengths. This is our best guess, based on talks with NFL teams, scouts and agents and looking at my own big board (developed over the last nine months).
Sit back and enjoy the latest look at the first round of the 2012 NFL draft.
1. Indianapolis Colts
Andrew Luck, Quarterback, Stanford
New week, same pick.
The Indianapolis Colts may have a decision to make between Andrew Luck and Robert Griffin III, but it's very safe to assume Luck is their guy.
With Manning (and many other veterans) on the way out of town, Luck will face a roster lacking talent, but he's the type of quarterback who can win with smart decisions, not needing elite players around him.
The re-signing of Reggie Wayne was huge for Luck's early development.
With Luck in hand, the Colts can use their picks in the rest of the 2012 draft to add as much talent as possible, selecting the best player available at each pick.
2. Washington Redskins (from St. Louis Rams)
Robert Griffin III, Quarterback, Baylor
The Washington Redskins will gladly sit back and draft whichever quarterback the Indianapolis Colts pass on. Gladly.
Griffin is the electric type of athlete who can be expected to make big plays and move the ball early on.
He'll have a tough system to learn under Mike Shanahan, but with a full offseason to work on it (take that, lockout), Griffin will be ready to roll on day one.
Adding big targets through free agency certainly helps.
Wide receivers Pierre Garcon and Josh Morgan were added to provide RG3 with legitimate options in his first year.
3. Minnesota Vikings
Matt Kalil, Offensive Tackle, USC
The Minnesota Vikings will most likely move Charlie Johnson to guard after releasing Steve Hutchinson and Anthony Herrera.
This opens a big door at left tackle.
Matt Kalil is among the better left tackle prospects in the last decade.
While maybe not quite on a level with Joe Thomas and Jake Long, he's close. Damn close.
Kalil will be the 12-year bookend tackle the Vikings need to protect second-year quarterback Christian Ponder.
4. Cleveland Browns
Trent Richardson, Running Back, Alabama
With Peyton Hillis signing in Kansas City, the Cleveland Browns are in desperate need of a feature back.
The best thing the Browns could do would be to draft Richardson, adding talent around young quarterback Colt McCoy.
With Matt Flynn in Seattle and the Browns missing out on a potential trade-up for RG3, they are facing a 2012 season with McCoy as their guy.
To have any chance of success, the Browns must add talent at the position.
Justin Blackmon could be an option here, but as of today, the running back position is a bigger need in Cleveland.
5. Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Morris Claiborne, Cornerback, LSU
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers addressed their need at cornerback through free agency, signing Eric Wright quickly after the signing period began.
Wright is a solid cornerback, but he's not a true No. 1 corner.
With Aqib Talib's future in question due to an offseason trial on gun charges, the Buccaneers should look to draft his replacement. Morris Claiborne is that guy.
Claiborne is a high-character stud from LSU, where cornerbacks seem to grow on trees.
Tampa Bay would find itself with a top talent who won't be a distraction off the field.
6. St. Louis Rams (from Washington Redskins)
Justin Blackmon, Wide Receiver, Oklahoma State
The St. Louis Rams lost Brandon Lloyd to the New England Patriots, leaving an already-thin wide receiver corps depleted.
As of today, the starters would be Brandon Gibson and restricted free agent Danny Amendola.
Blackmon isn't worthy of a top-10 pick on my draft board, but the Rams are desperate.
He fills their biggest need and is a playmaker worthy of this selection in the eyes of some.
Blackmon teamed up with Sam Bradford gives St. Louis the groundwork for a dynamic, young passing attack.
7. Jacksonville Jaguars
Quinton Coples, Defensive End, North Carolina
The Jacksonville Jaguars were rumored to be in on the Mario Williams pursuit before the defensive end signed in Buffalo.
They missed out on one huge defensive end, freeing them up to draft another.
Jacksonville did re-sign pass-rusher Jeremy Mincey, but they are still looking for a left defensive end to replace Aaron Kampman. Quinton Coples can be that guy.
Coples doesn't always show a great motor, but if coached up, he could become an elite left defensive end.
Don't expect huge pass-rushing numbers from Coples, but his overall impact could be huge on this defense.
8. Miami Dolphins
Michael Floyd, Wide Receiver, Notre Dame
A little high for the Notre Dame receiver? Not so fast.
The Miami Dolphins struck out on every quarterback they entertained so far this year (Peyton Manning, Matt Flynn).
The one thing they can control to improve the passing game is who they line up at wide receiver.
With Floyd in tow, the Dolphins have a viable replacement for Brandon Marshall, whom they traded to Chicago, and a proven target for whomever they bring in to run the show at quarterback.
9. Carolina Panthers
Michael Brockers, Defensive Tackle, LSU
The Carolina Panthers drafted two defensive tackles in the third round of the 2011 NFL draft.
Neither flashed enough potential or production as a rookie for the team to feel like they are starters in 2012 without some major competition.
Where Ron Rivera's defense needs help most is in finding a penetrating defensive tackle who can draw attention away from Charles Johnson at right defensive end.
Michael Brockers lined up as a two-gap tackle at LSU, being asked to draw double-teams and hold gaps, but he has the athletic ability to be a penetrator when lined up in a gap and asked to fire off.
Brockers fills a need and will instantly decrease the double-teams Johnson sees on the edge.
10. Buffalo Bills
Riley Reiff, Offensive Tackle, Iowa
The Buffalo Bills have enjoyed a very good free-agency period.
They re-signed wide receiver Stevie Johnson and locked up premier defensive end Mario Williams.
The team hasn't re-signed left tackle Demetrius Bell, who had an up-and-down career with the team due to inexperience and injury. With Bell not returning—or at least unlikely to return at this point—the Bills need to find a true bookend at left tackle.
Riley Reiff is the best available option for Buffalo.
He's a former tight end who was coached up under Kirk Ferentz at Iowa and has the technique to be a day-one starter in the NFL.
11. Kansas City Chiefs
David DeCastro, Guard, Stanford
Signing Eric Winston was the best move Scott Pioli has made since becoming the general manager of the Kansas City Chiefs.
What was once a weakness at right tackle is now a strength. But why stop there?
The best offensive guard in the 2012 NFL draft happens to be the best guard since the 2001 NFL draft (Steve Hutchinson).
The Chiefs have a big opening at guard and would have one of the dominant offensive lines in the NFL if they were to replace Ryan Lilja with David DeCastro.
DeCastro can play left or right guard, allowing Jon Asamoah to pick his position.
This also lets the team move Rodney Hudson to his more natural position of center.
12. Seattle Seahawks
Nick Perry, Defensive End, USC
The Seattle Seahawks took care of business in free agency—re-signing key players Marshawn Lynch (RB) and Red Bryant (DE) before going after Matt Flynn to be their new franchise quarterback.
There's still work to be done.
The Seahawks also cut Robert Gallery, opening up a hole at offensive guard.
David Hawthorne is a free agent and could open up a spot at middle linebacker.
There are areas the Seahawks could go, but perhaps most important is finding a pass-rushing defensive end. Chris Clemons had a very good 2011, but Bryant isn't a pass-rusher.
Nick Perry is my top-rated defensive end, and his athleticism and burst off the edge will give the Seattle defense a wrinkle it hasn't had in years past.
13. Arizona Cardinals
Melvin Ingram, Defensive End/Outside Linebacker, South Carolina
The Arizona Cardinals made the interesting move to release and then re-sign left tackle Levi Brown this offseason, which does help their bottom line if not the football team.
Brown had his best season in 2011, but he's still a bottom-tier left tackle. Signing him all but guarantees the Cardinals will not draft a tackle at No. 13 overall.
An area where Arizona does need help is at outside linebacker opposite Sam Acho.
By drafting Melvin Ingram, the Cardinals will get a freakish athlete who can line up in multiple locations and pressure the quarterback.
14. Dallas Cowboys
Dontari Poe, Defensive Tackle, Memphis
The Dallas Cowboys would have loved to find David DeCastro available here, but after signing Mackenzy Bernadeau and Nate Livings, the team feels it has a lockdown on the offensive guard position.
One area where Dallas could use an upgrade is along its three-man defensive line.
Memphis' Dontari Poe is the player receiving the most hype this offseason after a dominant combine performance.
In Dallas' 3-4 defense, Poe is a natural nose tackle, but much like B.J. Raji in Green Bay, Poe can be moved around to play end or tackle depending on the needs of the team.
Dallas is in a position to draft the best available player after it filled many of its needs through free agency. Poe is clearly the best available at this spot.
15. Philadelphia Eagles
Dont'a Hightower, Inside Linebacker, Alabama
The Philadelphia Eagles have remained intent on re-signing their own players this year, locking up DeSean Jackson, Evan Mathis and Trent Cole to new deals.
All three moves were greatly needed, but how do the Eagles take the next step in the division?
The defense in Philadelphia last year was plagued by poor play at linebacker and safety, where young players were asked to step in and even play out of position as the Eagles tried to fill holes.
By drafting Dont'a Hightower, the Eagles will have poured cement in their middle linebacker hole.
Hightower is a leader, a thumper against the run and a versatile athlete who can patrol the box and make plays on the run or pass.
He's exactly the kind of middle linebacker the Eagles need.
16. New York Jets
Alshon Jeffery, Wide Receiver, South Carolina
The New York Jets have done little in free agency other than extend Mark Sanchez's contract.
That alone won't be enough to take out the New England Patriots in the division.
It may not even be enough to beat the Buffalo Bills.
The Jets' needs are more than can be filled in one or two draft picks. They have legitimate needs at running back, wide receiver, right tackle, defensive end, outside linebacker and safety.
So where do they go in Round 1?
Best available player.
Alshon Jeffery ranks as my No. 7 overall player and is a top value that also fills a need. Need and value—what an oddly logical choice.
17. Cincinnati Bengals (from Oakland Raiders)
Stephon Gilmore, Cornerback, South Carolina
The Cincinnati Bengals do a good job filling holes through the draft, and no hole needs filling more than the one opposite Leon Hall at cornerback.
Nate Clements is a fine player, but as he ages, it would be best to move Clements into a nickel role.
By drafting the No. 2-rated cornerback in the 2012 draft, the Bengals can start to ease Clements into a smaller role.
Gilmore is an aggressive, all-around player who has the tools to attack the ball in the air. He'll be an immediate upgrade in the secondary.
18. San Diego Chargers
Fletcher Cox, Defensive End, Mississippi State
The San Diego Chargers are letting defensive end Luis Castillo go in free agency, which means they need to hurry to fill his shoes as a 3-4 defensive end.
Fletcher Cox is an underrated name in the 2012 NFL draft.
He has the strength to play on the edge and the quickness to penetrate the offensive line.
In a 3-4 defense, he looks best as a right end, but he could slide inside next to Corey Liuget on passing downs.
19. Chicago Bears
Jonathan Martin, Offensive Tackle, Stanford
The Chicago Bears have needed a left tackle since—well, as long as I can remember in my 10 years of covering the NFL draft.
Jonathan Martin comes from Stanford, where his athletic ability and intelligence make him a day-one starter in the NFL.
He's as NFL-ready as any tackle in this class.
Lining up opposite 2011 first-rounder Gabe Carimi, the Chicago Bears will have a top-tier prospect at each position.
20. Tennessee Titans
Courtney Upshaw, Defensive End/Outside Linebacker, Alabama
After missing out on Peyton Manning, the Tennessee Titans will turn their attention to improving their defense.
There may not be a safer pick on defense in the entire draft than Courtney Upshaw.
A versatile player who can drop down at defensive end or play up at linebacker, Upshaw is similar to Von Miller in that regard.
How the Titans use Upshaw will be up to their own creative devices.
Upshaw could step in at weakside linebacker or even see his first start come at right defensive end.
His versatility will make him a favorite of the Titans coaching staff.
21. Cincinnati Bengals
Lamar Miller, Running Back, Miami (FL)
Cedric Benson hasn't been mentioned as an option for the Cincinnati Bengals this offseason, and the team has been eerily quiet on the topic of free-agent running backs—even though it has the most available cap space.
The Bengals are in a great position to use their second pick in the first round to fill the need at running back.
Lamar Miller's speed and agility are a perfect complement to Bernard Scott's toughness and would give Andy Dalton one more target to work with in space.
22. Cleveland Browns (from Atlanta Falcons)
Kendall Wright, Wide Receiver, Baylor
After drafting a feature running back earlier in the round, the Cleveland Browns continue to add playmakers for quarterback Colt McCoy.
Up next: wide receiver.
Greg Little has nice potential to develop into a quality No. 1 receiver—he just needs some refining and experience after a lockout-shortened rookie season.
With Little's size on the outside, the Browns need a speedy wide receiver to carve up space underneath.
Wright has the best playmaking ability of any receiver in this class, and the Browns will be lucky if he lasts until pick No. 22.
23. Detroit Lions
Mike Adams, Offensive Tackle, Ohio State
The Detroit Lions have needs all across their offensive line.
After tagging defensive end Cliff Avril with the franchise tag, this selection comes down to, "Who is the best offensive lineman we can draft?"
The answer is Mike Adams.
The Ohio State offensive tackle is a mountain of a man.
At 6'7" and 323 lbs., he has rare size but also has the quick feet needed to play on the edge.
Adams projects best at right tackle, where he would replace draft bust Gosder Cherilus, but one former NFL scout we spoke with likes Adams at left tackle and even has him as the No. 2 tackle in this class.
24. Pittsburgh Steelers
Luke Kuechly, Inside Linebacker, Boston College
The Detroit Lions would strongly consider Luke Kuechly at No. 23 if they don't re-sign Stephen Tulloch, but chances of that deal getting done are good.
That leaves Kuechly on the board for the Pittsburgh Steelers.
Pittsburgh is getting older on defense, which is why finding an inside linebacker with 4.5 speed and raw instincts is a must.
As James Farrior edges closer to retirement, Kuechly would step in as his replacement next to Lawrence Timmons.
25. Denver Broncos
Jamell Fleming, Cornerback, Oklahoma
Now that the Denver Broncos reportedly have Peyton Manning and will probably have Jeff Saturday, Joseph Addai and Dallas Clark soon after, it's time to reinforce the roster for a Super Bowl run.
Jamell Fleming is a top-notch cover cornerback who has the size and strength to be aggressive at the line of scrimmage.
He's an attacking player who will go up for the football but isn't afraid to knock out receivers crossing the middle.
As Champ Bailey ages, Fleming will move into the No. 1 cornerback role.
26. Houston Texans
Stephen Hill, Wide Receiver, Georgia Tech
The Houston Texans gambled this offseason by letting Mario Williams, Jason Allen, Eric Winston and Mike Brisiel leave town as free agents.
The roster was good in 2011, but are they good enough to overcome those losses?
One area where the Texans can get better immediately is at No. 2 wide receiver opposite Andre Johnson.
Some would argue that the Texans need a slot or possession receiver, but why not air it out a bit?
Stephen Hill has 4.3 speed, is a raw athlete waiting to be molded into something special and would absolutely terrify safeties who have to decide between Hill, Johnson, Owen Daniels and Arian Foster.
27. New England Patriots (from New Orleans Saints)
Vinny Curry, Outside Linebacker, Marshall
The New England Patriots have been aggressive this offseason, signing wide receiver Brandon Lloyd to fill a huge gap at wide receiver.
This frees the team up to address needs on an aging and underachieving defense.
Vinny Curry has a lot of Trent Cole in his game.
He's a bit undersized and doesn't have great athleticism, but he has a very good first step and is smart and savvy on the edge.
Put Curry in a stand-up position, and he'll attack the quarterback over and over again off the edge.
28. Green Bay Packers
Peter Konz, Center, Wisconsin
Losing Scott Wells to the St. Louis Rams hurts, and don't let anyone try to convince you otherwise.
The Green Bay Packers will look to fill their need at center early on in the draft.
Peter Konz makes sense. He's local, he's the best center available and long-term, he may be an upgrade over Wells.
The Packers generally don't mess around with value and draft boards. They find their needs, and if a player with good value is available, they draft him.
Konz is not only a top-five player on the board, he's also an invaluable part of the offensive line.
29. Baltimore Ravens
Cordy Glenn, Guard/Tackle, Georgia
Losing Ben Grubbs to the New Orleans Saints was a blow to the head.
Losing out on signing Evan Mathis was the kill shot.
The Ravens have had issues over the years with the offensive line, and once again in 2012, they will be searching for a missing piece (or two) along the line.
There is a chance the team moves Jah Reid in at guard, but he's not a natural fit there.
If the Ravens decide to fortify the position through the draft—and their flirtation with Mathis would indicate they aren't comfortable with Reid at guard—then Cordy Glenn is the best answer.
30. San Francisco 49ers
Kelechi Osemele, Guard, Iowa State
The San Francisco 49ers let Adam Snyder hit free agency, and he signed with the Arizona Cardinals.
To me, this shows Jim Harbaugh and Trent Baalke are set on upgrading at the position.
With David DeCastro in this draft, don't rule out the 49ers trying to trade up to select Harbaugh's old right guard from Stanford.
The Kansas City Chiefs at pick No. 11 would be a prime location for the 49ers to try to trade up to.
Barring a trade-up, Kelechi Osemele is a fine option. He's strong enough to be a road-grader in the run game and has the quickness to be the pass protector Snyder and Chilo Rachal were not.
31. New England Patriots
Devon Still, Defensive End/Tackle, Penn State
After selecting an outside linebacker to rush the passer earlier in the round, the New England Patriots make a move to bolster their run defense.
The team has signed Jonathan Fanene to fill one spot at defensive end, and it is hosting Luis Castillo to possibly fill another, but one thing Bill Belichick has learned (or should have) is that depth is needed along the defensive line.
Devon Still is regarded by many as a first-round prospect, and his ability to take on double-teams makes him an ideal option for the 3-4 defense.
32. New York Giants
Chris Polk, Running Back, Washington
After the New York Giants cut Brandon Jacobs, it became clear the team could use its first-round pick to draft a running back.
After they signed Martellus Bennett at tight end, it became even more clear.
The Giants may look at offensive tackles here, but the big five are off the board, leaving the Giants little room to fill the position through the draft.
Instead, they will rely on William Beatty and David Diehl to get the job done.
Polk is a strong runner who will be a nice complement to Ahmad Bradshaw in the New York backfield. He's a true feature back who could see a larger role than most would expect.