We are now only three weeks away from the 2012 NFL draft. Taking all of the free-agency movements into consideration, here is my updated first-round projection with commentary.
After having Peyton Manning, a four-time league MVP, under center for more than a decade, the Colts have the "Luck" to be able to transition into the next era with a quarterback many have called the best prospect since John Elway. Like Manning, Luck is expected to have the opportunity to start Week 1 as a rookie.
2. Washington Redskins (trade with Rams (2-14)) - Robert Griffin III, QB, Baylor
Of course, any franchise that gives up two additional first-round picks and a second-rounder in order to move up a few spots has its sights set on drafting a potential franchise quarterback. Griffin, this year's Heisman Trophy winner, has all the tools—intelligence, rare athleticism for the position, strong arm and accuracy—to develop into a franchise-changing quarterback.
3. Minnesota Vikings (3-13) - Matt Kalil, OT, USC
Without question, Kalil is the top offensive tackle prospect in this year's draft class. Some have described Kalil as the best left tackle prospect since Joe Thomas. Kalil has size (6-6, 295 pounds), pedigree (brother Ryan is the Panthers' Pro Bowl center) and athleticism. Kalil is one of 15 offensive line prospects to run a sub-5.0 40 since 2006 (see 2012 combine results).
Considering only four teams allowed more sacks than the Vikings last year, this pick a no-brainer.
4. Cleveland Browns (4-12) - Trent Richardson, RB, Alabama
Based on talent alone, Richardson should be a top-five pick; however, it is easy to argue that no running back should be taken this high and the Browns can go in a few different directions. If they don't draft Richardson, the likely choice will come down to LSU cornerback Morris Claiborne, Texas A&M quarterback Ryan Tannehill or Oklahoma State wide receiver Justin Blackmon.
As far as Richardson goes, he's a physical freak with a rare combination of size, strength and speed that is capable of handling the pounding that an every-down back takes in the NFL.
5. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (4-12) - Morris Claiborne, CB, LSU
Prior to the start of free agency, cornerback was arguably the team's biggest need with Ronde Barber's potential retirement and Aqib Talib's legal issues. Since then, Barber, who will turn 37 in April, has announced he will return for another season and the Bucs have signed free-agent Eric Wright to a five-year deal.
That said, the Bucs have to face Drew Brees, Cam Newton and Matt Ryan (at least) six times per year, so adding the best cornerback in this year's draft class makes sense. Not only does he have good size, athleticism and ball skills, but Claiborne does not have the character concerns of some of the other top cornerbacks in this year's draft class.
6. St. Louis Rams (5-11) - Justin Blackmon, WR, Oklahoma State
Yes, the Colts won the "Suck for Luck" sweepstakes, but the Rams are certainly winners as well as they added two additional first-round picks (2013 and 2014) and a second-round pick (2012) to move down a few spots (as noted above).
Blackmon, the back-to-back Biletnikoff winner, gives Sam Bradford a potential No. 1 receiver. Over the past two seasons combined, the physical receiver has been highly productive with 232 receptions for 3,304 yards and 38 touchdowns combined.
7. Jacksonville Jaguars (5-11) - Melvin Ingram, DE, South Carolina
If Blackmon is still available at No. 7, the Jags would likely opt for getting their "franchise" quarterback a legitimate weapon in the passing game and they might consider Notre Dame's Michael Floyd here. (As bad as Blaine Gabbert looked as a rookie last season, in his defense the Jags arguably have the league's worst receiving corps even after signing Laurent Robinson via free agency.)
With the depth of this wide receiver class, however, the Jags will have the opportunity to add a playmaker early in the second round and/or later in the draft. Considering the Jags have ranked in the bottom 10 in sacks for the past three years in a row, Ingram gives them an athletic pass-rusher with a high motor.
8. Miami Dolphins (6-10) - Ryan Tannehill, QB, Texas A&M
After converting to receiver (from quarterback) when he arrived at A&M, Tannehill led the team in receiving in his first two seasons. He became the team's starting quarterback in the middle of his junior season, however, and has the size (6-4, 220 pounds), athleticism, smarts, intangibles and arm strength that teams desire in quarterbacks despite lacking the experience.
Since the 'Fins whiffed on signing Peyton Manning (or Matt Flynn), Tannehill will be reunited with his former college coach, Mike Sherman, who is now the Dolphins offensive coordinator.
[Take our poll on where Tannehill will be drafted.]
9. Carolina Panthers (6-10) - Fletcher Cox, DT, Mississippi State
Not only were the Panthers bad versus the run (130.8 rushing yards and 18 rushing touchdowns allowed last year), but they also ranked in the bottom quarter of the league in sacks (31). Cox has good size (6-4 and 298 pounds), strength (30 reps at 225) and athleticism (4.79 40) and will immediately help improve the Panthers defensive line.
10. Buffalo Bills (6-10) - Michael Floyd, WR, Notre Dame
Previously, I had Iowa offensive tackle Riley Reiff here and I think this choice comes down to a tackle or receiver after they landed the biggest free-agent prize of the offseason in defensive end Mario Williams.
A four-year starter with some off-the-field issues, Floyd (6-3, 220 pounds, 4.47 40) finished his Notre Dame career with 271 receptions for 3,686 yards and 37 touchdowns. Take our poll on how high Floyd will be drafted.
11. Kansas City Chiefs (7-9) - Dontari Poe, DT, Memphis
Simply stated, he's a freak. At 346 pounds, Poe benched 225 pounds a combine-best 44 times and ran a sub-5.0 40 (4.87 unofficially, 4.98 officially). While some have compared Poe athletically to Haloti Ngata, he hasn't looked like Ngata on tape.
12. Seattle Seahawks (7-9) - Luke Kuechly, ILB, Boston College
With the loss of linebacker David Hawthorne, who led the Seahawks in tackles the past three seasons, to the Saints, Kuechly fills one of the team's pressing needs. Last year's Butkus Award recipient (see past winners), Kuechly is an instinctive player with a nose for the football.
Some were concerned about his athleticism, but he tested extremely well at the combine: 4.58 40 (third among linebackers), 38-inch vertical (third) and 27 bench press reps (tied for seventh).
13. Arizona Cardinals (8-8) - Riley Reiff, OT, Iowa
In my last mock draft, I had Michael Floyd falling to the Cardinals to give them a legitimate weapon opposite Larry Fitzgerald. With Floyd off the board, the Cardinals get the second-best offensive tackle prospect in this year's draft class.
14. Dallas Cowboys (8-8) - Quinton Coples, DE, North Carolina
Coples gives them an extremely athletic and versatile player with enormous upside that should immediately help boost their pass rush. Based on talent alone, Coples deserves to be a top-10 pick. The biggest knock on Coples is his motor, and he has even admitted he has not always gone as hard as he could, according to The Charlotte Observer.
15. Philadelphia Eagles (8-8) - Michael Brockers, DT, LSU
The Eagles were fortunate to significantly upgrade themselves at middle linebacker by trading for linebacker DeMeco Ryans, who was the AP Defensive Rookie of the Year in 2006. Since 2000, the Eagles have used half (five) of their first-round picks (10) on defensive linemen (see Eagles' draft history).
The other five first-rounders during that span have been used on offensive line twice, wide receivers twice and cornerback once.
16. New York Jets (8-8) - Courtney Upshaw, OLB, Alabama
Even after signing LaRon Landry in free agency this offseason, the Jets may go with Upshaw's Alabama teammate Mark Barron, the top safety in this year's draft class. If Notre Dame's Michael Floyd is still on the board, that's a possibility as well. That said, Upshaw had 9.5 sacks last season and five sacks in his final two games (vs. Auburn and Michigan State) in 2010 and will help boost the Jets' pass rush.
According to Tony Pauline, Alabama coach Nick Saban has called Upshaw the “meanest player he’s ever coached.”
For the rest of the first round, click here.