NFL free agency began on March 13. In more than two weeks since, many moves have been made that have affected the makeup of each of the NFL’s 32 teams, and also affected the needs that they will have to fill in April’s NFL draft.
With most of the top free agents signed, and every team’s roster affected because of the free-agent changes, my mock draft has been updated significantly from Mock Draft 4.0, which was released just prior to the start of free agency.
Not only have many of the picks changed, but I have also added a second round to my mock draft for the first time this year.
Overall Prospect Rank: No. 1
Peyton Manning has dominated the headlines of the past two weeks, but while the future Hall of Fame quarterback is no longer with the Indianapolis Colts, another quarterback who will soon dominate the headlines will be less than a month from now.
Andrew Luck is a consensus No. 1 overall draft prospect. He certainly has huge shoes to fill 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.
The Colts made a big move to help out Luck by re-signing star wideout Reggie Wayne, and have also brought in another potential target for Luck in free-agent wide receiver Donnie Avery. That said, free agency has done little to change anything with how the Colts will approach this draft choice, as the team's plan all along has been to draft Luck to be their franchise quarterback.
Overall Prospect Rank: No. 3
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.
With the exception of the Denver Broncos signing Peyton Manning, no offseason move has had greater implications than the Redskins’ blockbuster trade, giving up their second-round pick and two future first-rounders in order to secure the opportunity to draft Baylor quarterback Robert Griffin III.
While the Redskins may have overpaid in this trade, they will 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 abilities to become a star NFL quarterback.
The Redskins have added two weapons to the passing game via free agency to work with Griffin: free-agent wide receivers Pierre Garcon and Josh Morgan.
Overall Prospect Rank: No. 2
The Minnesota Vikings are in desperate need of a left tackle, and have done nothing via free agency to address that need. That is because the best plan to upgrade at left tackle is USC’s Matt Kalil, one of three elite prospects in this draft class.
Kalil has 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 immediate and long-term dividends.
Overall Prospect Rank: No. 7
The Cleveland Browns have made no major moves this offseason, so little has changed in trying to determine who they will draft with the No. 4 overall selection in the 2012 NFL draft. That said, the favorites to be this selection should continue to be Alabama running back Trent Richardson and Oklahoma State wide receiver Justin Blackmon.
Either player is a strong possibility, with the Browns looking to add playmakers to their offense. That said, I am leaning towards Richardson over Blackmon with this selection.
Peyton Hillis, who was the Browns’ starting running back each of the past two seasons, signed a one-year contract with the Kansas City Chiefs. Meanwhile, the Browns’ second running back, Montario Hardesty, has only played 10 games in two seasons due to injuries. The Browns need to find a feature running back, and Richardson is a tremendous all-around runner who could be a star on the Browns offense.
LSU cornerback Morris Claiborne is also an option with this pick, but Browns general manager Tom Heckert recently told the Cleveland Plain-Dealer that drafting a defensive playmaker is unlikely despite interest in the former Tiger.
Overall Prospect Rank: No. 6
In my first four mock drafts, LSU cornerback Morris Claiborne has been an easy selection every time, and he would still be a terrific choice for the Buccaneers. He is the best defensive player in the draft, and could be the star of the Buccaneers’ secondary for many years to come.
However, the Buccaneers’ signing of free-agent cornerback Eric Wright to a five-year, $37.5 million contract could have the team resetting their priorities for the draft. If Trent Richardson is still available at this pick, he is likely to be Tampa Bay’s target. However, with Richardson off the board, the Buccaneers could address their biggest remaining need, linebacker, by drafting Luke Kuechly.
Kuechly has most often been mocked outside of the top 10, so mocking him in the top five is sure to draw reactions. That said, he would be a terrific choice here. Kuechly can be the star linebacker that Tampa Bay needs, and he is one of the best prospects in the entire draft class.
If Kuechly is their target here, the Buccaneers could explore a trade down, but they cannot trade down far, for they would be at significant risk of missing out on him if they go outside of the top 10.
In the end, if the Buccaneers stay put, they should draft the player who is best for them. With Eric Wright and Ronde Barber already re-signed to compete with Aqib Talib for starting positions, the Buccaneers could shift their priorities away from a cornerback and onto the linebacker position.
Overall Prospect Rank: No. 9
The St. Louis Rams are expected to be targeting a trio of players at the No. 6 overall pick in Richardson, Claiborne and Blackmon. Chances are good that only two of the three players will be available, giving the Rams a difficult decision to make between Claiborne and Blackmon.
The Rams have needs at both positions, but they made a big free-agent signing toward rebuilding the secondary with the signing of a very good cornerback, Cortland Finnegan. Meanwhile, wide receiver has been the greater need all along, and signing Steve Smith (formerly of the Giants and Eagles) is not enough to rectify the problem.
Therefore, Blackmon should get the nod over Claiborne. While Claiborne is the better overall prospect of the two, Blackmon is the best wide receiver in the draft class, and has the talent to be the go-to No. 1 wideout that the Rams and quarterback Sam Bradford truly need.
Blackmon brings collegiate productivity, great hands, route running, athleticism and size to the wide receiver position, and could end up being well worth this draft selection.
Overall Prospect Rank: No. 8
Even with the re-signing of Jeremy Mincey, the Jaguars have a serious need for a pass-rusher. Fortunately for them, Melvin Ingram is the best pass-rusher in the draft class and one of the best players available on the draft board.
At only 6’2’’ and 264 lbs. with short arms, Ingram does not fit the prototype for a 4-3 defensive end. That said, Ingram is very explosive and has skilled technique as a pass-rusher, and is also very solid against the run.
Ingram can be the big-impact player that the Jaguars need on their defensive front.
Overall Prospect Rank: No. 4
Projected Trade: The Miami Dolphins trade the No. 8 overall selection to the Seattle Seahawks
for the No. 12 and No. 75 overall selections.
With a specific target in mind who is a big reach as a top-10 draft pick, the Miami Dolphins will be looking to trade down, and with one of the draft’s top prospects still available in Morris Claiborne, they should be available to find a suitor to move up.
The Seattle Seahawks’ top target should be Boston College middle linebacker Luke Kuechly with a big need at the position, but with Kuechly off the board, the Seahawks could be enticed to move up and get terrific value on Claiborne. The Seahawks recently released cornerback Marcus Trufant, and Claiborne could be the No. 1 shutdown cornerback that the team needs.
In a passing league, it is important to be strong at the cornerback position, and the Seahawks have definite room for upgrade. Claiborne is a top-five prospect who is a tremendous value at this spot.
Overall Prospect Rank: No. 5
When asked about which positions the Carolina Panthers need to upgrade defensively, head coach Ron Rivera said, “We need help pretty much all over,” as quoted by Joseph Person of the Charlotte Observer.
To this point, the Panthers have not made any big moves to upgrade defensively via free agency, so they should go into the draft employing a strategy of drafting the best defensive player available. The Panthers would certainly be delighted to pounce on Claiborne if he fell to this pick, but Alabama’s Courtney Upshaw would be a nice consolation.
Upshaw has tremendous versatility, which would serve the Panthers’ struggling defense well. He would be able to stand up and play linebacker in a 4-3 system, but can also line up as a defensive end in pass-rushing situations.
With the Panthers in need of a pass-rusher to line up opposite Charles Johnson, another possibility for a more conventional 4-3 defensive end here would be to stay in-state and draft North Carolina’s Quinton Coples. Defensive tackle is also a need, making Mississippi State’s Fletcher Cox another attractive option.
Nonetheless, Upshaw’s value as the best player available at any defensive position makes him the best choice for Carolina.
Overall Prospect Rank: No. 11
The Bills made big acquisitions in free agency to upgrade their pass rush with the signings of defensive ends Mario Williams and Mark Anderson, but they still have a major concern with blocking opposing pass-rushers, especially with last year’s starting left tackle, Demetrius Bell, still unsigned.
The Bills should be pursuing an offensive tackle with this pick, and have a choice between Stanford’s Jonathan Martin and Iowa’s Riley Reiff. They could go either way, with both players being of nearly equal value, but Martin is slightly ahead of Reiff in my overall rankings, which gets him the nod here.
With no other players of great value who really make sense for the Bills with this pick, the options here should be to select one of those two offensive tackles or trade down. I believe their best bet is to stay put and select Martin, who can fill the major void they have at left tackle.
Overall Prospect Rank: No. 17
The Kansas City Chiefs have made some terrific moves this offseason, filling numerous voids including the needs for a right tackle and a second running back, but one lingering position of need that must be upgraded for the success of the Chiefs’ 3-4 defense is nose tackle.
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 on defensive linemen. Memphis’ Dontari Poe, the only true nose tackle worthy of a selection in the early rounds of this draft, could end up being the anchor they need in the middle of their three-man defensive front.
Drafting an offensive lineman in Stanford guard David DeCastro or Iowa offensive tackle Riley Reiff could also be an option, but is much less likely following the free-agent signing of Eric Winston, one of the NFL’s best right tackles.
Overall Prospect Rank: No. 55
Results of the free-agent quarterback frenzy ended up with Peyton Manning signing with the Denver Broncos, Matt Flynn signing with the Seattle Seahawks and Alex Smith signing with the San Francisco 49ers. The Dolphins were in the market for all three quarterbacks, but the best they could get was former Jaguars quarterback David Garrard, who the Dolphins signed to a one-year deal.
Garrard was apparently promised a chance to compete for the starting quarterback job, but that will not stop the Dolphins from targeting a young quarterback in the draft if they believe he can be a long-term franchise quarterback option. Ryan Tannehill would be a massive reach in the first round who may never be a franchise quarterback, but this is a mistake that I can see the Dolphins making, as Garrard is not a starting-caliber quarterback and they are desperate to upgrade.
Tannehill would at least have familiarity coming into the Dolphins offense as their new offensive coordinator, Mike Sherman, was Tannehill’s head coach at Texas A&M over the past four seasons. Sherman ran a pro-style offense there, so there should not be major changes in offensive philosophy if Tannehill is to go to the Dolphins.
The Dolphins could also pursue a pass-rusher in North Carolina defensive end Quinton Coples or upgrade at right tackle with Iowa’s Riley Reiff, but this is a trade down that would be made solely for the purpose of getting slightly better value but still drafting the quarterback they covet in Tannehill.
Overall Prospect Rank: No. 12
In a surprising move, the Arizona Cardinals brought back last year’s starting left tackle, Levi Brown, not long after releasing him due to salary cap reasons. But while Brown will be back, the Cardinals should still seek to upgrade at left tackle and kick him to right tackle spot.
The upgrade that the Cardinals need could come in the form of Riley Reiff. Reiff is a big, athletic left tackle who is very skilled and has high upside. He could be the blindside protector that the Cardinals have lacked for many seasons.
USC hybrid pass-rusher Nick Perry is also a possibility at this pick, but the Cardinals’ target should remain Reiff.
Overall Prospect Rank: No. 18
The Dallas Cowboys made a major move toward fixing their biggest need, which is upgrading the secondary, by signing a very good starter in Brandon Carr to a five-year contract.
Defensive line, on the other hand, is a need that the Cowboys have not addressed via free agency, but will likely target with the No. 14 overall selection.
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, a 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 game-changer.
The Cowboys are also looking to upgrade on the interior offensive line, which makes Stanford guard David DeCastro, the best player available on the draft board, another possibility here. That said, expect the Cowboys to target an upgrade on the defensive line, where Cox is the right fit.
Overall Prospect Rank: No. 42
With the tremendous trade that the Eagles made in giving up a fourth-round draft pick in exchange for one of the NFL’s top middle linebackers in DeMeco Ryans, they became much less likely to reach on Alabama middle linebacker Dont’a Hightower with this selection. That said, this scenario leaves them likely to make an even bigger reach in LSU defensive tackle Michael Brockers.
Brockers was a situational player at LSU whose vaunted explosiveness was put into question by a poor combine performance. Although he showed the ability to be a tremendous difference-maker on the defensive line, he should be selected no earlier than the second round.
That said, there are many scouts who are huge fans of Brockers, making it a strong possibility that he will be the next defensive tackle taken off the board after Dontari Poe and Fletcher Cox. Meanwhile, the Eagles are likely to target a defensive tackle in the first round, and they are meeting with Brockers.
Hightower is still an option here, or the Eagles could look in a completely different direction by drafting one of two wide receivers in Notre Dame’s Michael Floyd or South Carolina’s Alshon Jeffery. That said, a defensive tackle is the most likely choice, with Brockers being selected ahead of superior prospect Jerel Worthy.
Overall Prospect Rank: No. 19
The New York Jets have created a likely-to-be quarterback controversy by re-signing franchise quarterback Mark Sanchez to a three-year contract extension, then trading with the Denver Broncos for Tim Tebow.
Nonetheless, the goal remains the same that for whoever the Jets quarterback ends up being: the team needs to add more weapons to the passing game. Therefore, the pick at this selection should be a wide receiver.
This will leave the Jets with a decision to make between Notre Dame’s Michael Floyd and South Carolina’s Alshon Jeffery. Both wide receivers qualify as the big, fast, downfield receiver that the Jets need to add to their passing game.
Floyd will be the popular choice here as his draft stock has been rising, but Jeffery is the better prospect of the two, so I follow my wide receiver board in making the choice between the two players, and go with the player with higher upside and less character concern in Jeffery.
The Jets also need a pass-rushing outside linebacker, so USC’s Nick Perry would be a great choice here, but the Jets should go for a wideout.
Overall Prospect Rank: No. 11
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.
The Cincinnati Bengals have lost their starting left guard and center from last season via free agency, leaving them with serious voids on the interior offensive line. Stanford guard David DeCastro is the best player available on the draft board, and a terrific value at this stage of the first round.
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, 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 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 team's first-round pick really should address the offensive line.
While the Chargers did make a re-signing for their offensive line by bringing back left tackle Jared Gaither, they also made a good signing in outside linebacker Jarret Johnson, who helps fill their void at that position as well. San Diego still has needs for upgrades at left guard and right tackle, and is very thin across the offensive line.
Glenn is the best available offensive lineman, and has great versatility to play guard or tackle, making him very valuable to the Chargers at the No. 18 overall selection.
Overall Prospect Rank: No. 13
In my last two mock drafts, I mocked Notre Dame wide receiver Michael Floyd to the Chicago Bears, as they had to fill a desperate need of a big, fast, deep downfield receiver. However, the Bears already filled that need this offseason, trading the 73rd overall pick in this year’s draft, along with their 2013 third-round draft selection, to the Miami Dolphins for wideout Brandon Marshall.
Teaming Marshall back up with quarterback Jay Cutler enables the Bears to address another need with this selection. This pick, however, should be a value selection. The Bears, who pursued but came short of signing top free-agent defensive end Mario Williams, should draft the best player available, Quinton Coples.
By drafting Coples, the Bears can find the defensive end they need to start across from Julius Peppers, giving the team two big, athletic North Carolina alums on either side of the defensive line. Coples could easily be a top-10 draft selection, so his value should not be passed up by the Bears at No. 19.
Other needs for the Bears include interior offensive line and the secondary, making Wisconsin center Peter Konz, Alabama safety Mark Barron and Alabama cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick other strong possibilities at this selection.
Overall Prospect Rank: No. 15
While signing pass-rusher Kamerion Wimbley does not necessarily mean that the Tennessee Titans will not still target a defensive end with this selection, they also have a need at cornerback, and Alabama’s Dre Kirkpatrick is the best value available on the draft board. Therefore, I see the Titans turning their priorities away from USC’s Nick Perry and Illinois’s Whitney Mercilus at defensive end.
The Titans have lost top cornerback Cortland Finnegan via free agency, leaving them with a need to upgrade at the position. Dre Kirkpatrick is a tall, physical and athletic cornerback who has the skill set to be a terrific starter at the position for many years to come.
As a top-15 prospect in the draft class, Kirkpatrick is great value at the end of the top 20.
Overall Prospect Rank: No. 33
With Dre Kirkpatrick off the board, the Cincinnati Bengals go from one cornerback with a troubled past to another, and select North Alabama cornerback Janoris Jenkins. Jenkins, a former standout for the Florida Gators before he was dismissed from their program, is a very talented cornerback who would bolster a secondary which struggled last year following the departure of Johnathan Joseph via free agency.
Jenkins is ranked lower on my draft board due to serious concerns with his character, but if it were not for his off-field red flags, his talent would warrant a top-15 selection. Jenkins is a terrific cornerback who often outshined Joe Haden, the seventh overall pick in the 2010 NFL draft, when they played cornerback across from one another at Florida.
Strong safety is also an area of concern in the Bengals’ secondary, so Alabama’s Mark Barron would also be a great choice here, but Jenkins is a player the Bengals should covet.
Overall Prospect Rank: No. 29
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.
The Cleveland Browns could go in many directions here, with quarterback, wide receiver, cornerback, right tackle, guard and linebacker all being positions worth addressing with their second draft pick.
In Mock Draft 4.0, I mocked Oklahoma State quarterback Brandon Weeden here. However, I believe that the Browns will look in a different direction than quarterback with this selection after head coach Pat Shurmur said that the team was going to move forward with Colt McCoy.
While Shurmur also said that the Browns will have competition with McCoy for the starting job, I believe that the Browns have decided to put enough faith in Colt to focus on building around him with their first-round draft selections.
If cornerback Janoris Jenkins is available, I expect him to be the pick here for the Browns, teaming him up with former teammate Joe Haden as starting cornerbacks. However, with Jenkins off the board, the Browns should add a playmaking wideout for whoever their quarterback ends up being.
The Browns have three potential options at wide receiver here between Baylor’s Kendall Wright, Notre Dame’s Michael Floyd and Georgia Tech’s Stephen Hill. Wright is the top-rated receiver available, but Floyd’s stock has really been rising to the point where most believe he will be drafted within the top 20 picks.
The Browns really need a speed receiver who can stretch the field and be a playmaker downfield. All three of these receivers can be that guy, but Wright is a smaller receiver while Hill is raw and unproven. With a great combination of size, speed and receiving ability, Floyd would be a great addition to the Browns’ passing offense with this draft pick.
Overall Prospect Rank: No. 20
The Lions re-signed longtime left tackle Jeff Backus to a two-year contract, but he is 34 years old, leaving the Lions in need of finding a franchise left tackle for the long term. Ohio State’s Mike Adams has the talent to fill that role, while also providing an immediate upgrade at right tackle over Gosder Cherilus.
The Lions could address a need at cornerback by drafting South Carolina’s Stephon Gilmore, but they really should not pass up on Adams, who is the best offensive tackle left by a wide margin.
Overall Prospect Rank: No. 25
Ike Taylor is the only starting-caliber cornerback on the Pittsburgh Steelers’ roster even though he is not a true No. 1 cornerback. While offensive line is the Steelers’ most pressing need, there are no offensive linemen worth taking here, and cornerback is also a major need which they should address by selecting South Carolina’s Stephon Gilmore.
Gilmore is a very talented cornerback with the size, physicality, athleticism and ball skills to be the cornerback that the Steelers need. He stands out as the best player available at his position, and is good value late in the first round.
Overall Prospect Rank: No. 14
The Denver Broncos have been big winners in free agency, mostly due to the signing of four-time NFL MVP and future Hall of Fame quarterback Peyton Manning to become the new leader of their offense. It may be suggested that the Broncos should use this pick to add another weapon to the offense for Manning to work with, but they really should address the lingering problem area they have at defensive tackle.
Drafting a defensive tackle makes all the more sense with Michigan State’s Jerel Worthy still available on the draft board. 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.
If the Broncos do decide to add a weapon to the offense, Baylor wide receiver Kendall Wright could be an attractive option, but they will address their biggest need and draft the best player available in Worthy.
Overall Prospect Rank: No. 21
The Houston Texans have a very good pair of young hybrid outside linebackers in Brooks Reed and Connor Barwin, but the team lost its most talented pass-rusher, Mario Williams, to free agency. In an era where pass-rushers are at a premium, USC’s Nick Perry is a steal late in the first round, and could be drafted by the Texans as a replacement for Williams.
Perry’s productivity never quite matched his potential at USC, but he has the upside to be a tremendous NFL pass-rusher and possesses the combination of size and athleticism make him a tremendous candidate to convert from defensive end to playing outside linebacker in an NFL 3-4 defense.
The Texans are also in the market to add a wide receiver with this draft selection, making Baylor’s Kendall Wright and Georgia Tech’s Stephen Hill both strong options with this selection. However, with no pressing choice, I believe the Texans will make a move to replace Williams by drafting the best player available in Perry.
Overall Prospect Rank: No. 23
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.
For years, the New England Patriots have neglected their need of a pass-rusher early in the draft, but this could be the year that finally changes. The Patriots lost pass-rusher Mark Anderson to the Buffalo Bills, while Andre Carter remains a free agent but is coming off of a torn ACL.
The best pick for the Patriots at No. 27 overall would be Illinois pass-rusher Whitney Mercilus, a great athlete who presents the potential to play both defensive end and outside linebacker in the Patriots’ complex defensive system. Mercilus may have been a one-year wonder at Illinois, but he is a very talented player who could be the talented hybrid pass-rusher that the Patriots defense really needs.
The Patriots should look at defense with this selection, but have many options who are good value here. The Patriots could also upgrade at safety with Alabama’s Mark Barron, bring in one of Barron’s teammates and the best player available in linebacker Dont’a Hightower or bring in a 5-technique end in Clemson’s Brandon Thompson. That said, this should be the pick where the Patriots pounce on a pass-rusher.
Overall Prospect Rank: No. 28
The Green Bay Packers are very much in need of a pass-rushing outside linebacker to line up opposite of Clay Matthews III, so they will definitely be hoping that the Patriots pass up on Mercilus. With him off the board, however, the Packers should turn to addressing a need at either defensive end or center.
Losing center Scott Wells via free agency opened up a need at the position. The Packers found a good replacement by signing Jeff Saturday to a two-year contract, but Saturday is not a long-term replacement. Staying in-state and drafting Peter Konz would be a great choice, as they could groom Konz into their center of the future while he can also play and provide depth at guard.
That said, the Packers have drafted offensive linemen in the first round each of the past two seasons, and with the signing of Saturday, they would be better suited to draft a center in a later round and address what may be their biggest need of all, a 5-technique defensive end.
Either Clemson’s Brandon Thompson or Penn State’s Devon Still would make sense here, but Thompson is a more explosive player with higher upside and may be better suited to transition to playing the 5-technique position, so he gets the nod here between the two. Thompson is good value as a late first-round selection, and would provide a much-needed upgrade on the defensive line.
Overall Prospect Rank: No. 22
The Baltimore Ravens’ top two targets at No. 29 are expected to be Alabama inside linebacker Dont’a Hightower and Wisconsin center Peter Konz, even though they re-signed starters at both positions in center Matt Birk and inside linebacker Jameel McClain. That said, both are positions that the Ravens should be looking to build up for the long term, and could get great value with either player late in the first round.
While Birk is on the decline at age 35, he was re-signed to a three-year contract to be the Ravens’ center. Meanwhile, the Ravens have one of the NFL’s best inside linebackers in Ray Lewis, but can bring in Hightower, the best player available, to split time with McClain as the second starting inside linebacker in the Ravens’ 3-4 defense, while being the heir apparent to Lewis.
Hightower is exactly the type of inside linebacker the Ravens covet: He is big, athletic, physical and hard-hitting. Hightower, who could end up being drafted as early as 15th by the Eagles, is terrific value late in the first round, and would be a great addition to an already strong Ravens defense.
Overall Prospect Rank: No. 28
Projected Trade: The San Francisco 49ers trade the No. 30 overall selection to the Dallas Cowboys in exchange for the No. 45 and No. 81 overall selections.
The San Francisco 49ers’ only major need is at right guard, and while Wisconsin’s Peter Konz could kick out from center to guard, the 49ers are better suited trading down into the second round to find better value.
Meanwhile, the Dallas Cowboys have their own major needs on the interior line, and rumor has it that the Cowboys have considerable interest in Konz. If Konz falls past the Packers and Ravens, the Cowboys should pounce on an opportunity to move up and get the center they need and covet.
Konz is easily the best center in this draft class, but he would be a reach at the Cowboys’ first selection at No. 14 overall, and they should be focused on a 5-technique defensive end with that pick anyways. However, if Konz makes it toward the end of the first round, he would be worth the team sacrificing both their second- and third-round draft picks to move up and select him.
Overall Prospect Rank: No. 24
The Patriots are known for having two first-round picks, and trading away one of them to get better value, often a first-round pick for the next year. However, if the scenario presents itself for the Patriots to be able to select Mark Barron with the 31st overall selection, trading should not even be a consideration.
The Patriots already signed a strong safety, Steve Gregory, to a three-year contract, but that should not end their pursuit of safeties. The Patriots had arguably the worst secondary in the entire National Football League last season, and Barron is far and away the best safety prospect in this draft class.
Barron is an athletic, hard-hitting safety who is very good in run support but also effective in coverage, and would be the complete all-around safety that the Patriots truly need, while Gregory can compete with Patrick Chung and Devin McCourty for the Patriots’ other starting safety spot.
Overall Prospect Rank: No. 26
Drafting Kendall Wright is a decision the Giants should make on the basis of value over need. While the Giants have bigger needs at linebacker, running back and offensive line, Wright is the best player available and adds another explosive playmaker to the offense.
The Giants have a terrific starting duo at the wide receiver position in Hakeem Nicks and Victor Cruz, but the team should add another receiver in this draft with the departure of Mario Manningham. Wright is the perfect fit to be the Giants’ next slot receiver.
No other receiver on the Giants had more than nine receptions or 94 yards last season. Jerrel Jernigan has potential as a slot receiver, but he did not have a single reception last season, which shows that the Giants could certainly find a better option than him.
The Giants could really use an impact player at the linebacker position, so North Carolina’s Zach Brown would also make great sense here. That said, Wright’s value is hard for the Giants to pass up at the end of the first round.
Overall Prospect Rank: No. 33
The Rams have many needs across the board, so with their two second-round picks, the Rams should be drafting basically on a best player available basis. One position that the Rams must address is outside linebacker, and North Carolina’s Zach Brown is a talent worth drafting with the first pick of the second round.
Brown is a tremendous athlete who needs to become a more consistent tackler, but has the upside to be an impact player as a strongside or weakside linebacker. 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.
Other options at this pick include Miami running back Lamar Miller and Penn State defensive tackle Devon Still, who are among the best players available and would address other positions of need.
Overall Prospect Rank: No. 40
Projected Trade: The Indianapolis Colts trade the No. 34 overall selection to the Buffalo Bills in exchange for the No. 41 and No. 105 overall selections.
Andrew Luck will only begin to solve the Indianapolis Colts’ problems, as they have holes throughout their roster. Recognizing the need to get as many quality draft picks as possible, the Colts could look to trade back from the No. 34 overall pick to pick up an extra draft pick.
Meanwhile, the Buffalo Bills would be a likely team to give up a fourth-round pick to move up seven spots and draft Georgia Tech wide receiver Stephen Hill. Bills general manager Buddy Nix was at Hill’s pro day, and the Bills are looking for another big downfield receiver to start across from Steve Johnson.
Knowing that the Vikings should be set to take Hill if he is on the board at No. 35 overall, the Bills could jump to make a move and add another impact player to their offense, while the Colts benefit by picking up an extra draft pick early in the fourth round.
Overall Prospect Rank: No. 38
The Minnesota Vikings need an impact player at the wide receiver position, and should be set to draft Stephen Hill if he is still available. In this scenario, where they are beaten out for the opportunity to draft Hill, they could settle on the next-best wide receiver in Wisconsin’s Nick Toon, or change their focus toward rebuilding their secondary.
The latter option is more likely, and Virginia’s Chase Minnifield is the best defensive back available. Minnifield does not receive much hype, but he is a very solid all-around cornerback who has very good size, is solid in coverage and plays with physicality.
With the Vikings’ recent release of Cedric Griffin, drafting Minnifield makes sense here and the value is right.
Overall Prospect Rank: No. 30
After missing out on Trent Richardson in the first round, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers are likely to target a running back in the second round. Miami’s Lamar Miller is a talented running back with a very impressive combination of size and speed, and he is the best player available.
Miller would be a terrific complement to LeGarrette Blount in the Buccaneers’ backfield. Virginia Tech running back David Wilson would also make sense, but Miller should get the nod here if he is available.
Overall Prospect Rank: No. 47
While the Browns drafting Weeden at No. 22 overall is a very significant possibility, the Browns should wait and then draft him if he is available in the second round, which he is in this scenario.
By drafting Weeden in the second round, the Browns can bring in a talented quarterback to compete with Colt McCoy for the starting quarterback job while developing him for the future. That said, they do not make a pressing commitment to Weeden, allowing the Browns to make a run at Matt Barkley or another quarterback in next year’s draft if neither McCoy nor Weeden looks to be the long-term franchise quarterback.
Other valuable selections who would address needs here include Nebraska linebacker Lavonte David, Iowa State guard Kelechi Osemele and Georgia cornerback Brandon Boykin. That said, it would come as a major surprise if the Browns pass up Weeden in the second round.
Overall Prospect Rank: No. 41
While the Jaguars signed Laurent Robinson to a five-year contract, they still need more at the wide receiver position. Nick Toon is a quality wide receiver who has the ability to be a very good wideout at the next level, and is the Jaguars’ best option in the second round.
Penn State defensive tackle Devon Still and Notre Dame safety Harrison Smith could also be options here, but in terms of both need and value, Toon is the best choice.
Overall Prospect Rank: No. 31
The Rams are looking to draft a running back to complement Steven Jackson. The speedy and shifty David Wilson would be a terrific fit, and he is the best player available on the draft board.
The Rams also need help at defensive tackle, so Penn State’s Devon Still would also make great sense here. That said, the Rams signed Kendall Langford to a four-year contract to play defensive tackle on their four-man front, so while they still need help at the position, I think they would opt for Wilson over Still here.
Overall Prospect Rank: No. 36
Devon Still should be an absolute no-brainer for this selection. Still is very good value in the second round, and after drafting a linebacker with their first selection, the Panthers really must address their needs on the defensive line with their second selection.
The Panthers really need to upgrade at defensive tackle, and Still is one of the best players available on the board, so it would be hard to see them going in any other direction with this pick.
Overall Prospect Rank: No. 63
For a team with as many holes as the Colts have, reaching on Coby Fleener early in the second round is far from the best choice here. That said, the pick makes sense.
From day one with the Indianapolis Colts, new quarterback Andrew Luck is going to be thrown into an uncomfortable situation, as he faces the pressure-filled task of replacing a legend in Peyton Manning while trying to lead the Colts, who were the worst team in the NFL last season, back to success.
One way to help expedite how quickly he becomes comfortable is to create familiarity in Indianapolis, which the Colts can do by bringing in his favorite target from Stanford, tight end Coby Fleener. The Colts have a complete void of a receiving tight end anyways, so Fleener would fill a need, and immediately become a reliable go-to receiving target for Luck to work with.
Georgia cornerback Brandon Boykin and Iowa State guard Kelechi Osemele are also options with this selection.
Overall Prospect Rank: No. 46
After passing up the chance to add an impact player to their defense to draft their quarterback of the future in the first round, the Dolphins should be looking for a hybrid pass-rusher in the second round. Marshall’s Vinny Curry and Clemson’s Andre Branch are both good options with this pick.
Both players are talented, athletic pass-rushers with the versatility to play 4-3 defensive end and 3-4 outside linebacker, which will be important in the hybrid defense that the Dolphins will be running next season. Curry ranks slightly ahead of Branch in my personal ratings, so I give him the nod here.
The Dolphins could also opt to add a downfield receiver in LSU’s Rueben Randle, in an effort to replace Brandon Marshall, who was traded to the Bears prior to the start of NFL free agency.
Overall Prospect Rank: No. 35
After moving up for the value of Morris Claiborne in the first round, the Seattle Seahawks have the opportunity to get great value once again, all the while filling a need at the linebacker position by drafting Nebraska’s Lavonte David in the second round.
Linebacker is the Seahawks’ biggest need, both at middle linebacker with David Hawthorne remaining unsigned, and at outside linebacker. David is undersized for the linebacker positions, but he is athletic, instinctive and a terrific tackler. He has the skills to be a great NFL weakside linebacker.
As one of the best players available and filling a position of need, David should not be passed up here by the Seahawks.
Overall Prospect Rank: No. 45
The Chiefs filled a major need at right tackle by signing Eric Winston to a four-year contract, but could use an upgrade over Ryan Lilja at left guard. Therefore, addressing the offensive line by selecting Iowa State’s mammoth offensive lineman Kelechi Osemele would make sense here.
Clemson hybrid pass-rusher Andre Branch would also make sense for the Chiefs, but Osemele is the best choice.
Overall Prospect Rank: No. 43
This scenario would really hurt the San Francisco 49ers, whose only major need is for a right guard, and therefore they should be targeting Kelechi Osemele with this pick. That said, with Osemele off of the board and the next-best guard, Wisconsin’s Kevin Zeitler, being a reach in the middle of the second round, the 49ers should go where the value is and upgrade at cornerback.
The 49ers have three quality options at cornerback at this pick in Georgia’s Brandon Boykin, Virginia Tech’s Jayron Hosley and Nebraska’s Alfonzo Dennard. Hosley is the best fit for the 49ers; he is a playmaking cornerback with quality ball skills, and he could be very productive as a nickel cornerback covering the slot in the San Francisco secondary.
Overall Prospect Rank: No. 56
The Eagles’ trade for middle linebacker DeMeco Ryans gave them the freedom to draft at a position other than linebacker with their first-round draft choice, but the Eagles should use at least one of their two second-round draft picks on a linebacker.
Utah State outside linebacker Bobby Wagner is a versatile linebacker who is both a very effective run stopper as well as a skilled coverage linebacker. He would be a good fit to upgrade at either outside linebacker spot for the Eagles. Florida State’s Nigel Bradham is also a possibility with this pick.
Overall Prospect Rank: No. 48
The Jets need to draft a pass-rusher, and Clemson’s Andre Branch is very good value in the middle of the second round, so this should be an easy selection for the Jets to make. Branch is an athletic hybrid pass-rusher with an explosive burst, and would be a good fit for the Jets defense.
Notre Dame strong safety Harrison Smith and Boise State outside linebacker Shea McClellin could also be options here, but the Jets should have no reason to pass up Branch with his pick.
Overall Prospect Rank: No. 53
Trade: The New England Patriots received this selection from the Oakland Raiders in the 2011 NFL draft as part of a package in exchange for their third- and fourth-round picks in that draft.
The New England Patriots could very well use one of their two first-round picks on a defensive tackle who can play the 5-technique defensive end position, but if they do not, look for them to find the best player who fits the bill with this pick. Connecticut’s Kendall Reyes is a great fit for what the Patriots look for in a defensive lineman.
Reyes is an explosive interior lineman but is slightly undersized for defensive tackle, so playing 5-technique defensive end would be an ideal fit for him. That said, Reyes has great strength and power against the run, and will be to line up next to Vince Wilfork inside in four-man fronts as well.
The Patriots could also draft another defensive back in Georgia cornerback Brandon Boykin or Nebraska cornerback Alfonzo Dennard, or trade out of this selection, but Reyes is the most likely choice.
Overall Prospect Rank: No. 50
The San Diego Chargers are very much in need of another pass-rushing outside linebacker, even after signing Jarret Johnson to a four-year contract. Boise State’s Shea McClellin is a terrific fit to convert to playing outside linebacker in a 3-4 defense.
McClellin is a sleeper, but he could end up being a terrific player and a second-round steal. He is the best pass-rusher available on the draft board, and a good fit for the Chargers.
Notre Dame strong safety Harrison Smith is also a possibility here, but McClellin should be taken to fill a need of a pass-rusher.
Overall Prospect Rank: No. 44
The Chicago Bears are very thin and weak at cornerback, so they should be looking to address the position early in this draft. Two of the best available prospects, Georgia’s Brandon Boykin and Nebraska’s Alfonzo Dennard, are cornerbacks, so this pick would be a good time to do that.
Dennard, a tough and physical cornerback, would be the better fit for the Bears defense. Upgrading at tight end with Clemson’s Dwayne Allen also makes sense here, but addressing the need at cornerback would be the best choice.
Overall Prospect Rank: No. 60
Trade: The Philadelphia Eagles acquired this draft selection along with cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie in 2011 in exchange for quarterback Kevin Kolb.
The Philadelphia Eagles could be in the market for a big downfield receiver early in this draft, and after spending their first two draft picks on improving the defense, taking a chance on LSU’s Rueben Randle makes sense with this selection.
Projections of Randle as a potential first-round pick make him overrated, but he is a talented wide receiver with a dangerous combination of size and speed, and well worth a pick in the middle of the second round for a team with the flexibility to draft for value over need.
Overall Prospect Rank: No. 85
Even with the signing of Kamerion Wimbley to a five-year contract, I still expect the Titans to pursue a defensive end early in the draft, as they are in major need of generating more pressure from the edge. Syracuse’s Chandler Jones is a reach in the second round, but is the best defensive end available and could be worth the reach with the premium on the position.
Jones is a raw prospect, but he is a long, athletic defensive end who could be an impact player on an NFL defensive front. The Titans could also use an upgrade at center, and Georgia’s Ben Jones would be better value, so he is also a possibility, but I see them taking a defensive end after passing them up in the first round.
Overall Prospect Rank: No. 32
The Cincinnati Bengals signed running back BenJarvus Green-Ellis to a three-year deal, but would benefit greatly by adding a fast, shifty running back to complement him. Oregon’s LaMichael James is the perfect fit.
James is often knocked for his lack of size, but he has tremendous burst and sprinter speed, which has made him a very dangerous impact player at Oregon, and should translate to the next level. James is great value late in the second round, and is the perfect fit for what the Bengals still need at the position.
Notre Dame strong safety Harrison Smith is also a possibility here, but James should not be passed upon.
Overall Prospect Rank: No. 39
The Detroit Lions really need to upgrade at cornerback, and Brandon Boykin is one of the best players available, so this should be an easy choice for them. Boykin is a very skilled cornerback and dynamic player who is tremendous value late in the second round.
Florida State linebacker Nigel Bradham and Georgia center Ben Jones could also be options here, but Boykin should not be passed upon.
Overall Prospect Rank: No. 49
The Falcons could use an upgrade at center, so with their first pick of the 2012 NFL draft, the Falcons should make a run on Georgia prospects by staying in-state and selecting the best center available and one of the best players available in Ben Jones.
Another option is for the Falcons to draft either Clemson’s Dwayne Allen or Louisiana-Lafayette’s Ladarius Green as an heir apparent at the tight end position, with Tony Gonzalez’s upcoming season potentially being his last. That said, Jones would be an upgrade over Joe Hawley at center, and makes the best sense at this choice.
Overall Prospect Rank: No. 67
The Pittsburgh Steelers have a desperate need for guards in this draft, so although Kevin Zeitler is a slight reach in the second round, the Steelers should take him as he is the best guard available. Zeitler is a tough, mauling guard who should be a solid starter at the next level.
Miami guard Brandon Washington could also be a possibility if the Steelers prefer him over Zeitler. The Steelers could also add a running back in Washington’s Chris Polk or a nose tackle in Washington’s Alameda Ta’amu, but Zeitler is the best choice.
Overall Prospect Rank: No. 52
The Denver Broncos offense should improve considerably next season assuming that their new quarterback Peyton Manning is fully healthy, but one thing they will lose after trading former quarterback Tim Tebow is one of their best runners. Running back is a weak area for the Broncos, so it would make sense for the Broncos to either draft Boise State’s Doug Martin or Washington’s Chris Polk here.
Either back would make sense at this selection, but Martin ranks ahead of Polk in my rankings, and gets the nod here. Martin is a very solid back with a good combination of size, speed and power, along with having great vision, and he would be a very good addition to the Broncos’ backfield.
Arizona wide receiver Juron Criner or Miami guard Brandon Washington are other possibilities here, but a running back would be the best choice.
Overall Prospect Rank: No. 61
The Houston Texans are looking to upgrade at the wide receiver position. Arizona’s Juron Criner is the best wideout available and one of the better players available on the draft board, so he makes sense for the Texans with their late second-round draft pick.
If Criner’s lack of speed is too much of a concern for the Texans, other wide receiver options would be Appalachian State’s Brian Quick and North Carolina’s Dwight Jones. The Texans could also add a nose tackle in Washington’s Alameda Ta’amu, strong safety in Notre Dame’s Harrison Smith, or reach for a right tackle in Mississippi’s Bobby Massie.
Overall Prospect Rank: No. 69
Drafting a pass-rushing outside linebacker or a center would be ideal here, but there is not a player of ample value at either position. The best pick for the Packers is Notre Dame strong safety Harrison Smith.
Nick Collins is a tremendous safety, but unfortunately, he suffered a neck injury last season which put his career going forward in jeopardy. While the Packers hope that he will be able to return, the Packers would be smart to draft a safety who is an upgrade over Charlie Peprah to start alongside Morgan Burnett, in the event that Collins is forced into retirement.
Smith is a talented safety who is worthy of being selected here, and makes sense for the Packers. Washington running back Chris Polk could also draw consideration.
Overall Prospect Rank: No. 54
The Baltimore Ravens could definitely benefit by adding a powerful, between-the-tackles runner to complement Ray Rice, and Washington’s Chris Polk is a great fit. Polk is good value late in the second round, and the Ravens are known to stress value over need when drafting.
Other possible selections here include Clemson tight end Dwayne Allen, Vanderbilt cornerback Casey Hayward and Oklahoma outside linebacker Ronnell Lewis.
Overall Prospect Rank: No. 68
Brandon Washington is a raw guard prospect, but he has high upside and an intriguing combination of size and athleticism. With right guard being the 49ers’ only major need, they need to find the best option they can here, and Washington is the best available at the position.
The 49ers could choose to make a value selection over need, and draft Clemson tight end Dwayne Allen, but Washington makes the most sense.
Overall Prospect Rank: No. 37
Projected Trade: The New England Patriots trade the No. 62 overall selection to the Oakland Raiders in exchange for their 2013 second-round selection.
It is highly unlikely that the New England Patriots will use all four of their draft picks in the first two rounds, as they are known to trade frequently throughout the draft. After making three draft picks already, it would make sense for the Patriots to trade out here.
Meanwhile, the Oakland Raiders have frequently traded future draft picks to the Patriots in recent seasons. In order to work them into the mock draft, this trade makes sense on multiple levels, as the Raiders can finally get on the clock, and have an opportunity to upgrade a need position at tight end with the best player at his position.
Dwayne Allen’s stock is sliding due to a poor combine performance, but he is a well-rounded and talented tight end who is a major steal late in the second round, and could be an immediate starter at the position for the Raiders. He is worth trading into the second round for.
If the Patriots stay put, they could continue their recent trend of drafting tight ends by selecting Allen simply for his value, but the most likely choice would be to upgrade at cornerback by selecting Vanderbilt’s Casey Hayward.
Overall Prospect Rank: No. 58
The New York Giants need a playmaker in their linebacker corps. Nigel Bradham is an athletic playmaking linebacker who is the best available at the position, and would be a very good fit in the Giants defense.
Bradham is good value at the end of the second round, and fills a need. The Giants could also continue a run on tight ends by drafting Louisiana-Lafayette’s Ladarius Green or Georgia’s Orson Charles, but Bradham is the best choice.
Note: There are only 31 picks in the second round. The Saints lost their second-round draft pick as a result of punishments handed down for the bounty scandal.
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