To many draftniks, the first three picks in the 2012 NFL Draft have already been decided. The Colts will pick Andrew Luck, Robert Griffin III will join the Redskins, and the Vikings will add Matt Kalil. It is a forgone conclusion that the Tampa Bay Buccaneers will select LSU cornerback Morris Claiborne with the fifth pick in the draft.
The wild card in the draft is Cleveland. An uneventful free agency, marked by failures to attract quarterbacks Peyton Manning and former Packer Matt Flynn, and a unsuccessful bid to trade up to the No. 2 overall draft pick placed the team in a big hole.
Despite the tenth ranked defense in the NFL, Cleveland won just four games during the 2011 season. This is because they were the league's 29th ranked offense in terms of yardage, and the 30th in points. The Browns averaged less than two touchdowns a game. They need some serious offensive help.
Sitting at No.4, the best fits would be RB Trent Richardson, WR Justin Blackmon, and QB Ryan Tannehill. Now that Madden 12 cover boy Peyton Hillis has left town to sign with Kansas City, there is a hole in the backfield. Colt McCoy is not the best quarterback in the world, but he has had no one to throw to for both of his two years as a pro. Then again, even Curtis Painter managed more yards per attempt than the Cleveland gunslinger.
Given all of their needs, perhaps the Browns would do best to trade down for more picks. The franchise already possesses two first round picks, and another couldn't hurt.
Still, if Pat Shumur and Tom Heckert decide to go the best player available route, they will add Morris Claiborne and turn a fearsome defense into an elite force.
If that happens, the Bucs will probably not draft a different cornerback. The second best corner, Dre Kirkpatrick, should hear his name called in the mid-first round, not before. While cornerback is a major need, it is not so bad that Tampa should gamble on a player less likely to make an impact.
Trent Richardson is the best RB prospect since Adrian Peterson, but drafting a running back that highly is not often a good decision. Richardson would provide an upgrade over LeGarrette Blount, and together they could form a dominant tandem. But the Bucs are a pass first offense, and should remain that way if they want to get the most out of their roster. In this case, drafting an offensive tackle makes sense.
Current RT Jeremy Trueblood doesn't seem to appear on anyone's Pro Bowl ballot. Prospects Jonathan Martin and Reilly Reiff would not be too much of a reach this early in the draft.
I see General Manager Mark Dominik selecting an upgrade for the front seven. Last year, the front office drafted two defensive ends and one inside linebacker in the first three rounds, and the gamble paid major dividends.
Look for the Bucs to possibly draft Luke Kuechly, the Boston College inside linebacker. He shines in a 4-3 scheme. Known for insane tackle numbers, Kuechly could let the team move Mason Foster to the outside.
Although we don't know what will happen come draft day, it is safe to say that Cleveland will ultimately decide the direction Tampa Bay takes.
But then again, maybe the Buccaneers have a plan that is so crazy, not even the most insane internet sports writer could dream of it.