2012 NFL Draft: Predictions and Analysis for Top Players, Free Agency Edition
Now that free agency has gotten going, a lot has changed. The Broncos are no longer looking for players to complement a Tebow-led offense, the Colts have released half their old players and the Cowboys are no longer in need of a cornerback.
So, now that free agency is winding down a little bit, what will the first round of the draft look like? Read on for my take.
1. Indianapolis Colts: Andrew Luck, QB, Stanford
Obvious pick is obvious. Peyton Manning being out of town just makes it 100 percent certain.
The Colts are drafting Luck, we all know it, so let's just move on.
2. Washington Redskins: Robert Griffin III, QB, Baylor
I expected the Browns to trade up for Robert Griffin, but I was wrong. Yet again, they refused to pull the trigger on a top quarterback, which is why they'll be drafting in the five to 10 range next year too.
The Redskins traded up for one reason, and that was to secure RG3. And while I thought the price was a little steep at first, I'm starting to think it was actually pretty fair. They gave up three first-round picks and one second-rounder for Griffin.
Really, because one of those firsts is the trade, they're only giving up two firsts and a second, which sounds much more reasonable.
Besides, if they'd waited until the end of free agency, the Dolphins might suddenly be willing to give up a ton to land Griffin, since no free agent quarterback seems to want to go to Miami.
The Redskins needed a quarterback badly, and they did what it took to get one. Good move.
3. Minnesota Vikings: Matt Kalil, OT, USC
Matt Kalil has everything you'd want from a left tackle. First of all, he has all the measurables. He's the right size (6'7" tall and just over 300 lbs), he's got long arms (34.5") and he has good strength (30 reps on the bench at the combine).
Then, he's got great game tape. If you ever watched USC games, one thing you've noticed is that he doesn't get beaten by bull rushes or speed rushes. At least, I've never seen anyone beat him.
And last but not least, he's got NFL bloodlines. His brother Ryan plays for the Panthers and has been to three Pro Bowls.
The Vikings reached on Christian Ponder, but they'll need to keep him on his feet either way if they want to make anything out of him.
While they have shown some interest in Morris Claiborne, I can't imagine a team needing a franchise left tackle and passing up on one as good as Kalil.
4. Cleveland Browns: Morris Claiborne, CB, LSU
While Ryan Tannehill is a possibility here, I don't think it will happen. If Mike Holmgren was unwilling to part with two first-rounders to get Griffin, I don't see him spending the fourth overall pick on Tannehill.
Holmgren also doesn't like to spend high picks on wide receivers. So instead, they'll take the best player that makes sense, which is Morris Claiborne.
Claiborne looks a lot like his former teammate Patrick Peterson, who went fifth overall last season. Claiborne doesn't return kicks though, so he'll have to make his impact just on defense.
So far though, he's been great from the first game of the season all the way through the end of the postseason, and seems to have no red flags. He's a great player all around.
5. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Trent Richardson, RB, Alabama
I never thought I'd find myself mocking Trent Richardson this high, but with Morris Claiborne off the board and Vincent Jackson now with the team, I can't think of anyone else the Buccaneers would take.
They could reach for Dre Kirkpatrick, but that's a huge reach.
Well, luckily for them Richardson is a great player. He was an absolute beast on the field for Alabama and losing him will set their offense back drastically. Even with other teams stacking the box, he had a Heisman-nominated season.
He powers through defenders, holds the ball well and is fast for his size. He's one of the best running back prospects in a long time, but the value of running backs isn't what it used to be.
However, he might inject some much needed life into the Bucs offense and take some pressure off Josh Freeman.
6. St. Louis Rams: Justin Blackmon, WR, Oklahoma State
The Rams lucked out and got the player they wanted anyway, even though they traded down and picked up a ton of additional picks.
Justin Blackmon is unquestionably the best receiver in the draft, and since he was catching bullet passes from Brandon Weeden in college, he ought to have no problem not dropping the passes from Sam Bradford.
Blackmon will finally give Bradford a legitimate deep target, and with Scott Wells hiking the ball, an improved defense and now a No. 1 receiver, the Rams could be on their way to being a good team again.
7. Jacksonville Jaguars: Michael Floyd, WR, Notre Dame
I know that Gene Smith doesn't take players with character issues and the Jaguars just signed Laurent Robinson, but hear me out.
Smith's job is on the line, and he knows it. After trading up for a quarterback who should've gone in the second round, he has to give him what it takes to succeed. Furthermore, he knows he can't keep passing on great characters with minor character issues and win games.
Secondly, Laurent Robinson is not a No. 1 receiver, so Michael Floyd makes sense anyway. The Jags receiving corps is just plain awful.
Michael Floyd had an impressive combine to cap off an impressive season. Picking him at No. 7 is hardly a reach.
The Jags could also look to Melvin Ingram here, but they re-signed Jeremy Mincey, so a pass-rusher isn't as critical as it was before free agency.
8. Miami Dolphins: Ryan Tannehill, QB, Texas A&M
One team desperate for a quarterback didn't take him, so the other one will.
Ryan Tannehill could be a great quarterback one day, but he's pretty raw. However, given how well he played in 2011 and the fact that he played that well despite being a quarterback for just over a year in all, he looks like he could improve.
He also has great running ability, which could help him compensate for sloppy throws early on in his career.
Of course, the Dolphins may have a little time anyway. Since Matt Moore did a pretty good job running the offense at the end of last season, they don't have to rush Tannehill into a role as the starter.
New coaches means new quarterbacks, and Philbin is going to want to bring in his own guy. If Tannehill looks good at his pro day, then I don't see him slipping past both the Browns and the Dolphins.
9. Carolina Panthers: Fletcher Cox, DT, Mississippi State
Dontari Poe is the other possibility here, but Fletcher Cox had a very impressive workout at the combine too, and he as better game tape than Poe. He's also a better system fit, so I still think he'll be the pick.
There's also the fact that Cox had a very impressive combine himself. He managed 30 reps on the bench despite his long arms and looked very good in the drills.
With his combination of on-field consistency, his impressive combine and his great work ethic, Cox seems to be the safer pick at defensive tackle.
If the Panthers want boom or bust, they'll go with Poe.
Then again, they could surprised everyone and take Riley Reiff as a right tackle and heir apparent to Jordan Gross.
10. Buffalo Bills: Riley Reiff, OT, Iowa
Now that they've spent $100 million on Mario Williams, the chances of the Bills taking a pass-rusher are slim to none. Instead, they'll use their first pick to grab a franchise left tackle.
While they may regret their huge investment in Ryan Fitzpatrick, they've made their bed, so now they have to sleep in it. If they get him better protection, maybe he'll look more like he did at the beginning of 2011.
Reiff has been the consensus No. 2 left tackle prospect for months, and many have him slotted as high as No. 7 on their overall big boards, so he makes perfect sense here.
The Bills fill a big need with one of the best players available. Sounds like a match made in heaven.
11. Kansas City Chiefs: Dontari Poe, NT, Memphis
This is as far as I can see Dontari Poe falling. After he tore open the combine, only a few teams will pass on his rare combination of athleticism and size.
Poe put up 44 reps on the bench at the combine. That's more than any other player this year. He also moved surprisingly quickly in the drills, and looked very fluid for a man of his size.
He's by a large margin the best nose tackle in this year's draft class. However, his game tape is a little mixed, and he appeared to take a lot of plays off. With that kind of questionable work ethic, it'll take a team that's confident in its coaching staff.
However, like I said, his ceiling is incredibly high, so I don't see him making it past the Chiefs.
12. Seattle Seahawks: Melvin Ingram, DE, South Carolina
I think Melvin Ingram's floor is the 12th pick, and he just happens to fall that far in this mock.
Ingram's one flaw is his size. He's shorter than team's prefer (6'2") and has short arms. However, every single other aspect about him is great.
He's got great game tape against the run and the pass, he had a fantastic combine performance, he was great in the Senior Bowl, he has a great work ethic, and despite his height, he's got plenty of mass (276 lbs).
If anyone will succeed despite measurements, it'll be Ingram.
With Matt Flynn now in as the quarterback in Seattle, Pete Carroll can go back to drafting defensive players like we all know he really wants to.
13. Arizona Cardinals: Jonathan Martin, OT, Stanford
The Cardinals re-signed Levi Brown, but he's one of the worst tackles in the league. They need an upgrade, and they just happen to have one available in Jonathan Martin.
Guarding Andrew Luck's blind side will get you plenty of attention, and it helps if, like Martin, you do it very, very well.
Martin was beaten several times by Nick Perry, but other than that, his protection of Andrew Luck was superb. He is a very strong run blocker, which he showed game in and game out at Stanford, but he's pretty good at pass protection too.
He'll need to develop his pass protection skills at the next level, but I have no worries about his abilities. I doubt the Cardinals do either.
14. Dallas Cowboys: David DeCastro, OG, Stanford
Now that the Cowboys have locked up their biggest defensive need in free agency (they signed Brandon Carr to a five-year $50 million deal), I think they'll keep improving that offensive line and take David DeCastro.
The fact that Bill Nagy is a starter for the Cowboys is unsettling. Now, since Jerry Jones has moved away from not taking offensive linemen in the first round, I don't see any reason for him not to beef up the interior line further.
David DeCastro is the best guard prospect to come along in years. He's arguably a better prospect than Mike Iupati was a few years ago. He's great at both pass blocking and run blocking; he showed great power and natural technique at the combine; he was never beaten by any interior defensive player that I've seen.
He's fantastic. That's all there is to say about it.
15. Philadelphia Eagles: Luke Kuechley, MLB, Boston College
Luke Kuechley only makes it this far down the board because of the needs of other teams. He's an elite prospect.
The Eagles also happen to have a big need at middle linebacker. Casey Matthews just isn't doing it.
With Kuechly's incredible production in college, he was already a top prospect. Once he showed a surprising amount of athleticism in the combine, he became elite.
Kuechly won pretty much every award a linebacker can win in his junior season, including the Butkus Award (best linebacker). He'll be a welcome addition to the Eagles.
16. New York Jets: Quinton Coples, DE, North Carolina
A 4-3 player in a 3-4 system? No way!
Way. Rex Ryan loves taking great defensive players, and Quinton Coples is by a large margin the best player available. He could gain a little weight and play at 3-4 defensive end, or lose a little weight and play a 3-4 rush linebacker.
Mario Williams did it, and he's about the same size as Coples, so why not?
With the Jets history of taking big names, I don't see them letting Coples get past them, as strange as it may seem. He's a top five prospect, he just falls because of the questions about his motor.
He's a steal at No. 16, even if there is a little risk.
17. Cincinnati Bengals: Dre Kirkpatrick, CB, Alabama
The Bengals will be giddy that Dre Kirkpatrick fell to them.
One of the biggest needs for the Bengals (at least on defense) is cornerback, and so they'll happily take the second best corner in this class with their first pick.
Pacman Jones was a shadow of what he used to be, and he's a free agent anyway, so they've got to replace him. Kirkpatrick was a big part of what may be the greatest defense ever to play at the college football level, so he's definitely worth taking at No. 17.
The Bengals defense was surprisingly good last season, despite their first two picks being used on offensive players. This season, they'll switch, and take a defender with their first pick.
18. San Diego Chargers: Courtney Upshaw, DE, Alabama
The Chargers seemed very interested in Courtney Upshaw during the Senior Bowl.
They need a pass-rusher, and Upshaw looked like a top 10 selection before the combine, where he disappointed everyone by only putting up 22 reps on the bench.
Still, he has so much good tape that it would be foolish to completely dismiss him. He also had a fantastic Senior Bowl week, and looked unstoppable in most of his matchups. Since he fits a need, I don't see the Chargers passing up on him here.
After all, like I said with Kirkpatrick, Upshaw was a big part of the best defense in the country last season. Passing on him because of a bad combine would be an error.
19. Chicago Bears: Cordy Glenn, OG, Georgia
They simply cannot sit around and not address their offensive line. It is do or die for them now, and I think they'll do and pick Cordy Glenn.
Glenn is great for the Bears because they like big, powerful guards, and that is definitely what Glenn is. He could also play tackle in a pinch, and for a team like Chicago, who need upgrades nearly everywhere, he's a great fit.
Also, with Mike Tice on the team, his raw talent will be appealing. Tice could get a cheerleader to pass block adequately. He'll love getting to mold the big-bodied Glenn.
20. Tennessee Titans: Nick Perry, DE, USC
Now, I am aware that the Titans just signed Kamerion Wimbley from the Raiders, but I also think they'll be looking to draft an every down defensive end here as well.
The Titans will be looking hard at both Whitney Mercilus and Nick Perry here. Mercilus had better on-field production, while Perry has better athleticism.
Those two things make it nearly a toss-up, but Perry is a better fit in the Titans' system, so I think that'll tip the scale in his favor. They could also look to defensive tackle Michael Brockers here.
As Derrick Morgan is starting to look like a bust and Jason Jones just skedaddled to the Seahawks, the Titans may need two new defensive ends, so signing Wimbley doesn't mean they won't take Nick Perry here. Perry also is one of the top players available.
Perry absolutely blew the draft out of the water, so he makes sense as the absolute best player available anyway. Besides, the Giants seem fine with having three good defensive ends on the roster, and in a copycat league, I wouldn't be surprised if the Titans steal that idea.
21. Cincinnati Bengals: David Wilson, RB, Virginia Tech
David Wilson is still the second best running back in this year's class and the Bengals still need one, so this pick is a no-brainer.
Imagine an offense with Andy Dalton, A.J. Green and David Wilson. Sounds pretty lethal, no?
Wilson was by far the most impressive running back at the combine. He had fantastic speed, the perfect build and he caught very well in passing drills, giving Dalton a reliable dumpoff target.
The addition of Wilson and Kirkpatrick ought to make the Bengals real contenders next season.
22. Cleveland Browns: Kendall Wright, WR, Baylor
If they're gonna stick with Colt McCoy another season, the least they could do is give him a legitimate target.
Kendall Wright was ranked much higher than this until the combine. For whatever reason, he ran a much slower 40-yard dash than everyone thought he would (4.61 seconds). This hurt him because what made him such a dangerous receiver was his speed.
However, if you watch his game tape, it's clear that he plays a lot faster than 4.61 seconds, so he still won't escape the first round.
Holmgren doesn't like taking wide receivers early, but this late in the first, I think he'll be OK with it.
23. Detroit Lions: Peter Konz, C, Wisconsin
This something the Lions never do...a slight reach.
Here's the thing: I'm sure the Lions don't want to keep having to replace their running backs because of injuries. The fact that Jahvid Best's career nearly ended this season is a sign that something needs to change.
Keep in mind that Matt Stafford has stayed injured until last season too. There is no law saying that the Lions can't break with tradition, and I think this year, they will.
Peter Konz is the best interior lineman available, so he'll be the pick. Better to reach slightly and start to repair the line than to have to permanently replace a first-round running back.
24. Pittsburgh Steelers: Janoris Jenkins, CB, Northern Alabama
Ike Taylor was awful down the stretch last season, so the Steelers need to bring in a new cornerback. Janoris Jenkins also happens to be the best player available, so he makes sense for that reason too.
With the NFL becoming more and more a passer's league, the value of corners and pass-rushers is at a similar premium, so when you have a chance at a great one, you take it.
Janoris Jenkins has early first-round talent, but his off-the-field concerns have pushed him down.
He does have major off-the-field problems, but like I said, he plays a valuable position and is very good at it. He's worth some risk here.
25. Denver Broncos: Michael Brockers, DT, LSU
Peyton Manning might want an upgrade at tight end, but I expect the Broncos to remedy that by bringing in Dallas Clark. John Fox will be in charge of this pick.
Peyton may want the Broncos to bring on some additional offensive players, but they still have quite a bit of cap space to work with, so bringing on a free agent running back or tight end or wide receiver could still happen.
I doubt they'll bring in a defensive tackle of Brockers' caliber.
Last season, everyone mocked Marcell Dareus to the Broncos for a reason. They needed help at defensive tackle, and I see them fixing it this year.
26. Houston Texans: Stephen Hill, WR, Georgia Tech
Stephen Hill has done nothing but help himself since the end of the college regular season.
He had a ridiculous combine performance, registering a 4.36 second 40-yard dash and an 11-foot broad jump. That made people take notice.
His route running looked a little raw, but the upside was there.
Then, at his pro day, he showed marked improvement in his route running, which has cemented his status as a first-round wide receiver.
The Texans will need to eventually replace Andre Johnson. Even if they expect him to be back at 100 percent this season, then they'll need someone behind him who can play adequately. Hill could fill both those roles, so it's an easy pick for the Texans.
27. New England Patriots: Whitney Mercilus, DE/OLB, Illinois
The Patriots need to eventually establish a pass rush. Luckily for them, Whitney Mercilus has managed to fall to the bottom of the first round.
Mercilus led the FBS in tackles for loss (22) and sacks (16) this season. He also forced nine fumbles. No big deal.
He also looked good in the combine and at his pro day. The only red flag about Mercilus is the fact that he came out of nowhere in his junior season to get those numbers. Before that, he'd done nothing of note.
He supposedly is a high-motor, hard-working guy though, so Belichick will love him.
28. Green Bay Packers: Mark Barron, SS, Alabama
The Packers usually take the best player available, and they do need some safety help, so bringing in Mark Barron does make some sense.
The safety class this year is weak, so if the Packers have safety anywhere on their wish list, I don't see a reason to not address it now, when the best strong safety of the class is available and when he's one of the best players available.
Barron didn't work out at the combine, but he's got plenty of good game tap to make up for it. He doesn't seem like a risky pick.
29. Baltimore Ravens: Dont'a Hightower, ILB, Alabama
The Ravens have made it no secret that they're after Ray Lewis's replacement. That's exactly what they'll get with Dont'a Hightower.
Hightower started the season out slowly, taking a back seat to the many other stars on Alabama's defense. He came into his own eventually though, and is now the consensus No. 2 inside linebacker prospect.
He's got fantastic size, even though he could use better quickness. He definitely has weight he could lose if the Ravens think it's a liability.
It'd be scary to see him play next to Lewis for one year before Lewis calls it quits.
30. San Francisco 49ers: Alfonzo Dennard, CB, Nebraska
The 49ers did need wide receivers, but after signing both Randy Moss and Mario Manningham, I think they're actually all right at receiver.
Last year, a lot of people had them selecting Prince Amukamara with their first pick, but they passed. This season, I think they'll go ahead and take his teammate Alfonzo Dennard.
Dennard looked like an early first-round pick until he looked stiff in the Senior Bowl. He looked a little better in the combine, but his hip injury is still clearly a concern.
If he checks out fine with the team's physicians before the draft, I don't think the 49ers will hesitate to make the best defense in the NFL a little bit better.
31. New England Patriots: Devon Still, DT/DE, Penn State
With Brandon Lloyd on the team and a talented pass-rusher secured, the Patriots will stick to defense and grab Devon Still.
There are questions about Still's motor, but Belichick has taken risks on guys like Albert Haynesworth and Chad Ochocinco in the recent past, so I don't see that putting him off of a great prospect like Still.
Still was a beast this season for Penn State, and if it weren't for the questions about his work ethic, he'd be a much higher selection.
The Patriots need a defensive tackle; the signing of Haynesworth shows that. They may as well take a slight risk when they're already picking this low.
32. New York Giants: Coby Fleener, TE, Stanford
Seeing so many Stanford players in the first round is weird, but Stanford was a great team this season, and those players are worth it.
Coby Fleener is just one of them. At 6'6" tall, he might remind teams a little bit of Jimmy Graham, and I don't know if you followed the Saints this year, but Graham had a pretty good season.
With Manningham off the team, the Giants may want to give Eli a new target. However, with Cruz and Nicks at receiver, the Giants are stacked there, so instead they grab the top tight end in the class.
They certainly don't need help on defense, so why not booster the offense a little more?
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