Every mock draft has its own theme.
The last theme involved picking players for teams based on need. I personally believe the better part of what happens on draft day can be attributed to the concepts of need and fit, and so that came relatively easy for me.
Today's theme is trades, and that one is a little more difficult for me. In short, I hate projecting trades in a mock draft.
Mock drafts are already difficult enough. Some of the grading systems you see out there have shockingly low standards and bell curves. If you are able to nail 30 of the 32 players in the 1st round, and match 6 different teams with the exact right player, you're cooking with gas.
When you add the wild card of trades into the mix? Forget it.
Yet, at the same time, there will be trades on the first day of the 2012 NFL Draft. Since moving to prime time coverage, NFL teams have seemed to amp up their trading habits for the sake of crowd appeal.
So, let me swallow my misgivings and take a crack at this.
There won't be any trades here, or surprises.
The Indianapolis Colts have officially cut ties with Peyton Manning, and they have the opportunity to move on quickly.
The media will attempt to stir up controversy about this pick—it's what they do.
Andrew Luck and Robert Griffin are two of the most-hyped quarterbacks to come out in the last decade.
They are talented, and they play the most important position in the sport. Yet, because their destinations are all but known, they are now boring.
So, every now and then, the media tries to pick up that old suit in the closet, dust it off, and see if they can get a little more use out of it. In this case, that farce is to pretend that Robert Griffin may actually go to the Colts at No. 1 overall.
But this is the draft standing for which Andrew Luck has been destined for years.
In the first week of November of 2009, I had just finished watching several Stanford games where this redshirt freshman quarterback was absolutely lighting up the field.
I correspond near daily with several writers that I have written with during the past decade in various spots, and those writers can tell you that I texted and emailed them at that time (approximately 28 months ago) and warned them that little-known Andrew Luck would be the No. 1 overall pick in either the 2011 or 2012 draft.
So, you will forgive me if this time around I stick to my guns on this one.
Given my trade projection phobias, this is exactly the kind of trade I love projecting: one that has already happened.
Last year, the Washington Redskins bowed out of the quarterback market, convinced that the combination of John Beck and Rex Grossman were better than any player they could have realistically acquired.
They will not make that mistake again.
The team has a need at this position, the most important in the sport, and they traded a King's ransom to move up so that they could get a crack at this player.
As I said, the media will attempt to stir controversy, posing "what if" questions about Luck being passed over by the Colts.
That is just an attempt to take a subject that has become boring and make it more interesting.
The reality is, both Luck and Griffin might as well sign their contracts now. They aren't going anywhere unpredictable.
Here we have our first trade of the day. The Buccaneers and Cleveland Browns are both rumored to covet star Alabama tailback Trent Richardson.
We also know that the Minnesota Vikings are absolutely itching to trade down from their spot at #3 overall. Trading from #5 to #3 overall on the Draft Value Chart would normally cost about the price of a 2nd round pick, however the Vikings may be desperate enough to pick up extra value that they are willing to do this deal for the price of the Buccaneers' 3rd round pick in 2012, and perhaps a 3rd rounder in 2013.
I do not personally believe the Buccaneers should give up on LeGarrette Blount by picking up a tailback that is so similar to Blount, but there is no denying that Richardson is an elite tailback.
Trent Richardson being off the board due to a trade up would shake up my previous mock draft projections considerably.
I previously had Richardson projected here to the Browns due to my own perceived importance of the tailback in Pat Shurmur's offense.
However, with Richardson gone, the Browns may be forced to move on to Plan B which could be Ryan Tannehill, who is a good fit for Shurmur's West Coast Offense.
Rick Spielman may get his wish. It is the worst kept secret in football that he would like to trade down from the #3 overall pick. He may lower his asking price enough to get the job done.
I had originally thought the Minnesota Vikings would steer toward a defensive player with this pick—their defense was awful in 2011, especially the secondary.
Even when the offense managed to put up 20-plus points a game, the defense ensured that Minnesota would continue losing.
However, I think Rick Spielman is in a tough position with respect to the quarterback he selected in the 2011 NFL draft, Christian Ponder of Florida State. The consensus at the time was that Minnesota took Christian much higher than he should have gone.
I have heard Spielman talk about Christian's season, and I thought he hit the nail on the head when he said that Christian came out of the gates slinging the ball with reckless abandon and actually succeeding, simply because he didn't know any better.
As the season wore on, Christian started to get a little beat up, and that is when he started to go into a shell.
The pressure will be on Spielman to make Christian Ponder comfortable enough to succeed, because if he doesn't, then Rick is probably out of a job. Hearing Spielman talk specifically about Ponder getting hit a lot and this being the direct cause of him going into a shell signals a strategy to me.
The need at left tackle is at least as strong as any need in the Vikings secondary.
Though I previously had Morris Claiborne being snapped up by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers fifth overall, a trade within the top 5 could shake things up considerably, moving the St. Louis Rams off the idea of picking Justin Blackmon here.
Blackmon is my favorite receiver in this Draft. However, he is not elite at the NFL level. He will not be an Andre Johnson or a Calvin Johnson.
I figure Justin Blackmon to be more of a Hakeem Nicks, whom I loved when he came out of North Carolina.
Morris Claiborne has the potential to be more than that. I staunchly believe that need picking dominates the NFL draft, however this pick could be more of a valuation call, even with Cortland Finnegan freshly in the fold.
A trade which knocks Justin Blackmon out of the top six could start a disappointing slide for Oklahoma State wide receiver Justin Blackmon.
In this case, with Shahid Khan having already signed Laurent Robinson, whom Shahid loved watching play locally in college, the Jaguars may not have the motivation to keep working on the receivers unit.
The corner position was an absolute wreck in 2011, but that was mostly due to injuries. Frankly, it amazed me how well Mel Tucker had the unit playing in 2011 with so many injuries and emergency players in the game.
The addition of Aaron Ross along with the return to health of several players makes this a position that is not a need.
The defensive end position is the team's biggest need despite the re-signing of Jeremy Mincey. The problem is that Mincey does not create his own opportunities. He has no burst off the line of scrimmage, his running ability is mediocre at best, he is not physically powerful, nor does he do a good job bending at the bottom of his pass rush.
His best attributes are his motor and his ability to keep blockers off his body. Regardless, he needs other teammates—be it pass rushers or coverage players—to create opportunities for him to get after the passer.
In Quinton Coples, the Jaguars could get a guy that actually creates his own opportunities.
Here we have our next major shake-up in the top 10 of the NFL Draft.
I had previously projected Melvin Ingram to make it all the way to the Tennessee Titans' pick at #20 overall. I have always kept the possibility of the Titans trading up in mind, and my habit with mock drafts (which are usually trade-less) is to marry the player with the team, to where even if the team trades up, you still have a chance of nailing the pick.
In this case, having Melvin Ingram fall to #20 overall may be a stretch considering the status of his draft stock, which seems to be red hot. Some feel that Ingram could be another Dwight Freeney. The Titans are intimately familiar with the damage Freeney can cause.
The team’s biggest needs are at defensive end and corner. Derrick Morgan is not performing up to expectations, and even after signing Kamerion Wimbley to be the primary pass-rusher, the team should still regard this as a position of need.
The Carolina Panthers' top need is clear.
In 2011, they tried to get away with a rookie pairing of Sione Fua and Terrell McClain on the defensive line, and it was a disaster.
The defense did not solidify until those two were taken off the field.
It might already be time to go back to the drawing board and pick up a legitimately premium talent to man the middle of the defensive line, and the team has made no moves at the position in free agency.
Fua plays as more of a space-eater at 1-technique, where McClain is supposed to be more of a dynamic presence as a 3-technique.
I have wanted to put Dontari Poe here in past mock drafts. I still believe that could ultimately be the case, but taking Fletcher Cox here would be more true to both the themes of need and best player.
Many would point to the dynamic, two-way defensive tackle as being the much more important need in any defensive front. Fletcher Cox is the top defensive tackle in the draft, and can play exactly that role.
The Buffalo Bills could abruptly end Justin Blackmon's draft day "slide" by snapping him up to play opposite Stevie Johnson and give the offense some real fire power to go along with the re-vamped defensive line.
An offensive tackle figures prominently in the Bills' needs, and Buddy Nix has never been opposed to going against the grain, but I think that Blackmon would be the pick if he were available.
I hate to chase rumors, but the hot one making the rounds is that the Dallas Cowboys are very high on Dontari Poe of Memphis.
I have toyed in the past with the idea of the Kansas City Chiefs taking Poe at this pick, as Dontari could be Scott Pioli's latest foray into the "Planet Theory."
Instead, it could be the Dallas Cowboys who re-ignite the "Planet Theory" labels, and take Poe to help Jay Ratliff on the defensive line.
One team I do not imagine trading up into the top 10 in order to claim their target is the Seattle Seahawks.
The Seahawks appear prepared to allow middle linebacker David Hawthorne to walk in free agency amidst whispers of them being unhappy with Hawthorne's durability and athletic ability.
They see him as more of a two-down run defender.
No matter what you think of Luke Kuechly, he is not a two-down run defender, and he showed in Indianapolis that he is a lot faster than many thought.
I interpret the Seahawks' letting Hawthorne walk as a sign that they want a player like Kuechly who can make more of an impact against the passing game.
Pete Carroll recruited and put out a lot of really good linebackers at USC. I could see him steering toward Kuechly come April.
I had a tough time projecting this pick based on need, but when I put it all together, it still fit.
I have had the Cardinals leaning toward David DeCastro in several mock drafts now, and I believe that this is a pick that the Cardinals could justify on the basis of getting an elite player at a position of need.
The key is DeCastro's versatility.
He does not have to be a guard any more than Branden Albert had to be a guard when he came out of Virginia. Albert made a smooth transition over to tackle, and DeCastro may do the same.
He is clearly the best player available that could play guard or tackle, even with Riley Reiff still on the board.
I see the Cardinals giving O'Brien Schofield and Sam Acho another year to see if they have the right pairing at those all-important pass-rush positions.
There is a certain poetry involved in having the Dallas Cowboys and Kansas City Chiefs swap picks yet keeping my exact 11th and 14th overall projections intact.
The Kansas City Chiefs are set to part ways with Casey Weigmann, and it remains uncertain whether Rodney Hudson will definitely take over the spot or compete at guard.
In Konz, Scott Pioli may see his new Dan Koppen.
The Eagles took care of a big need when they traded for linebacker Demeco Ryans of the Houston Texans.
They also got DeSean Jackson locked up on a long-term deal.
Not unlike the Cowboys, I look at this team's roster and I am struck by how many solid players they have across all positions.
One of the more obvious positions of need is at center, where Jason Kelce was a rookie late-round pick in 2011.
However, he played better than most expected, and I could see the team feeling optimistic about what he could become.
A sneaking need the team has is at corner, where Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie has been a disappointment, and the team seems ready to potentially trade Asante Samuel.
Given the issues in the team's secondary during 2011, they could look at Dre Kirkpatrick as a player with the kind of versatility to work his way into the rotation in nickel packages, or switch positions between base and nickel packages.
His tackling skills and size should be coveted in the team's style of defensive line play which requires everyone in the back seven to shoulder a little more of the load in support tackling.
Rex Ryan is a sucker for lengthy, explosive pass-rushers. Whitney Mercilus sets off many of the same red flags that Vernon Gholston did for me when he came out of the 2008 NFL Draft. Therefore, given the Jets' history favoring Gholston, a pick of Mercilus wouldn't be out of character here.
However, Mario Williams' signing in Buffalo, paired with signing standout pass rusher Mark Anderson to make sure Mario is free to rush over right tackle, had to have sent some shock waves through the division.
Not even Tony Sparano—he of Marc Colombo fame—can be naive enough to believe he gets away with blocking the likes of Mario Williams and Cameron Wake with Wayne Hunter, one of the very worst offensive lineman I witnessed in 2011.
The Cincinnati Bengals appear ready to allow the oft-troubled Jerome Simpson to escape via free agency, though he has yet to find a suitor.
This actually creates a fairly bad situation for the team at wide receiver.
Outside of A.J. Green, the position is full of role players—Jordan Shipley and Ryan Whalen, anyone?
Michael Floyd’s history of alcohol-related issues may give the Bengals a chance to pick up another true stud to pair up with A.J. Green.
Owner and general manager Mike Brown loves to pick up players that are more talented than their draft standing. He tends to have little regard for the reason the players fell.
The San Diego Chargers got good pass rush production out of Antwan Barnes in 2011, a play who I had pegged as highly underrated that could be a valuable bargain acquisition. He re-signed with the Chargers for less than $2 million per year.
However, there are reasons his price tag was so low, despite what should have been obvious potential on film, just as there are reasons he is working on his third team as a pro.
Those reasons may not have gone away, even though Barnes' production has gone up. Success may go to his head.
I become worried about Whitney Mercilus because of some things I see in common with Vernon Gholston when he came out of Ohio State. However, Mercilus played tighter to the offensive line formation a lot in Illinois, and it might be nice to see him play from the wider splits that you could see in a more aggressive 3-4 defense.
The most obvious and glaring hole on the Bears’ roster is at the tight end position.
Kellen Davis hasn't been nearly enough to provide Jay Cutler with a security blanket over the middle.
Brandon Marshall is a fantastic threat on the outside, but teams are too willing to erase him by rolling coverage his way at all times, and that means the Bears need other options to keep him free.
Fleener would be ideal in that role.
The Miami Dolphins could continue attempting to trade this pick right on down the line until they become more comfortable that they are achieving the right 'value' for Weeden, as Jeff Ireland is very strict on his draft valuations.
However, they may get stuck needing to go ahead and take a player.
With the Cleveland Browns taking Ryan Tannehill fourth overall, the Dolphins trading down and selecting Brandon Weeden becomes a much stronger possibility.
I do not buy the talk of Arizona State's Brock Osweiler rising up into the 1st round.
There remains a decent possibility that Weeden could fall significantly below this pick, as his age is a wild card factor that becomes hard to predict due to a lack of history with similar prospects.
However, with teams like the Buffalo Bills and Denver Broncos picking ahead of the Miami Dolphins' pick at #42 overall, the Dolphins could play it safe and take Weeden at #20 to make sure they get one of the few potential franchise quarterbacks in the draft.
In mock drafts over the past few years, the Cincinnati Bengals' pick in the draft, as well as the Oakland Raiders' pick in the draft, have become catch-all spots for the mock drafter to unload players he/she does not like.
Unfortunately for each team, their reputation is largely deserved.
In this case I have always felt Michael Brockers to be overrated, as I never saw special athletic ability, agility or speed on the field. However, Mike Brown loves the perception of value, and even though the need is not strong at this position, there is not a player on the roster that has legitimately earned the right to be pegged for standing shoulder to shoulder with Geno Atkins over the longer term.
Missing out on Trent Richardson at fourth overall does not make the tailback position any less important in Pat Shurmur's offense.
There has to be a valid question being batted around the Cleveland front office right now. The team could draft Ryan Tannehill at four overall, and follow up with Doug Martin of Boise State at #22 overall, or the team could draft Trent Richardson at four overall, and follow up by drafting Brandon Weeden at #22 overall.
Was it any coincidence that Weeden and Richardson were both recently in Cleveland at the same time, visiting the team on the same day?
The choice could be made for the Browns if the Buccaneers set the first domino in motion by trading up with the Vikings.
The biggest need area on the Lions’ roster is in the defensive secondary.
The team will probably look to take the most talented corner they can in the first round, and at this spot, the pick would be Stephon Gilmore.
The Pittsburgh Steelers always seem to struggle protecting Ben Roethlisberger.
The team announced that they will be moving right tackle Marcus Gilbert over to Starks' left tackle spot, and that leaves an opening for Jonathan Martin at right tackle.
With Peyton Manning in the fold, surrounding him with the best possible offensive line becomes an issue of utmost importance, and Zane Beadles was one of the worst guards in football a year ago.
The team has yet to sign Jeff Saturday, but when they do, they can rely on Kevin Zeitler to help him on double-teams.
No team in the NFL was in three-tight end sets more often than the Houston Texans.
They would like to change that by getting someone better to play opposite Andre Johnson.
Wright is the real deal and fans should not be fooled by a phantom "official" 40 time in the 4.6s range, because no scout in Indianapolis had that time on their own stopwatches.
The Patriots lost Mark Anderson and seem likely to lose Andre Carter via free agency as well.
Both players rushed the passer well in 2011.
With Nick Perry on the board, the Patriots would feel confident about marrying their need with the talent available.
Though Courtney recently had a difficult Pro Day showing, I could see the Green Bay Packers pulling the trigger on him in the first round regardless. He will not make it beyond the Colts' pick at #34 overall.
The Packers have had trouble finding a pass-rush presence to play opposite Clay Matthews in their 3-4 defense.
I believe Courtney Upshaw would be perfect for that job because he's a well-rounded run stopper as well as pass-rusher.
The combination of Michael Oher at right tackle and Bryant McKinnie at left tackle were not cutting it in 2011.
Joe Flacco is not great under pressure, so the team will need to make sure their tackle play is as good as possible.
Cordy Glenn should be able to stay out at tackle at the next level.
This team has very few needs across the board.
However, Isaac Sopoaga will soon need replacement at nose tackle due to a combination of advancing age and waning talent.
Devon Still can play multiple spots along the San Francisco defensive line and train on to be Sopoaga’s eventual replacement.
Bill Belichick needs the help in his defensive secondary badly and has a history of taking players from Urban Meyer's program.
Janoris Jenkins has serious talent, but his off-field issues have also been serious.
Despite the presence of Hakeem Nicks and Victor Cruz, the Giants will miss Mario Manningham.
His role in the Super Bowl serves to emphasize how important it can be in that offense to have more than just two weapons catching passes from their quarterback.
Stephen Hill carries with him the added benefit of being able to blow the top off a defense, which is not the specialty of either Victor Cruz or Hakeem Nicks.