Are you getting excited?
Less than three weeks remain until the 2012 NFL Draft takes place in New York City. This is an event that is filled with high hopes for all 32 franchises and their fanbases.
For some teams, it is a time to start anew. For others, it is a time to build off a strong foundation. Either way, the draft marks the most hopeful time for every franchise in pro football.
We have started to acquire a better understanding of how the big board is going to play out during the draft. Projections continue to be thrown out there by some of the foremost experts of the draft, and several top prospects continue to plan visits to potential suitors.
You can read between the lines and make pretty strong predictions as to how the first three picks in the draft are going to go. After that, it is a proverbial crapshoot.
This mock draft is going to give you a detailed explanation of all 32 first-round picks. Some of the selections will be solely based on need, others will be solely based on value and the remainder will be based on a combination of the two.
Andrew Luck, Quarterback, Stanford
All of this talk about the Indianapolis Colts not being completely sold on Andrew Luck as the No. 1 pick in the draft is just plain crazy.
Luck has the best skill set of any quarterback prospect since the 1998 season when Peyton Manning came out. He has the ability to make an immediate impact both on and off the football field. Not only is Luck ultra talented, he is probably as level headed as you can get at the quarterback position.
This means that the Colts are going to get an individual that is going to lead the community of Indianapolis as well as the franchise.
Robert Griffin III, Quarterback, Baylor
In a normal draft, RGIII would be the consensus No. 1 overall prospect. Well this just isn't a normal draft. Instead, it involves one of the best quarterback prospects in the modern history of the game in Andrew Luck.
This revelation pushes a player with top pick credentials down a spot in the draft.
Accordingly, the Washington Redskins have made it pretty clear that they traded up to the No. 2 slot in order to draft a quarterback. With Luck off the board, they get a player in Griffin III that has a tremendous amount of upside.
The former Baylor standout will make an immediate impact as the first franchise quarterback in Washington since the days that Joe Theismann was straddled behind the "hogs."
Matt Kalil, Offensive Tackle, Southern California
Any talk of the Minnesota Vikings going in another direction here needs to be taken with a grain of salt. Not only is Matt Kalil the best player on the board at No. 3 overall, he fits a tremendous need along the left side of their offensive line.
Charlie Johnson was atrocious last season and Steve Hutchinson will not be returning to Minnesota after being released this offseason.
The VIkings need to have an elite player protect the blind side of Christian Ponder and they get that with Kalil. The USC product is going to be a franchise bookend for the next decade.
This is something that all young quarterbacks need in order to be successful in the National Football League. Minnesota puts Ponder in a position to succeed with this pick.
Trent Richardson, Running Back, Alabama
There are reports that the Cleveland Browns are down to Richardson and Justin Blackmon in their decision-making process for the No. 4 overall pick. That makes perfect sense considering this team needs all the help it can get at the skill positions.
I go with Richardson here because he provides Cleveland with the best possible value at a position of need.
The former Alabama back has to be considered one of the top prospects at his position over the course of the last five years. He will be able to come in and help Colt McCoy a great deal on the offensive side of the ball. Give the young quarterback something that resembles a running game and he will be more successful moving forward.
The Browns can look at wide receiver and possible competition at quarterback with their next three picks.
Morris Claiborne, Cornerback, Louisiana State
There have been mixed results for cornerbacks that go in the top 10 of the NFL Draft. For every Joe Haden, you have a Pacman Jones. In fact, teams have much better success addressing this position later in the first round.
With that said, Claiborne isn't your ordinary corner prospect. He already has better coverage skills than former teammate and 2010 top-five pick Patrick Peterson. That says a lot.
This is a prospect that has true shutdown capabilities. He can play in both man coverage schemes as well as up at the line in press. That is something that few top-caliber corners in the NFL can do.
He also fits a tremendous need for an underperforming Tampa Bay Buccaneers defense. There is no telling whether Aqib Talib will play in 2012 and Eric Wright isn't going to be a true No. 1 type of guy.
Tampa Bay gets the consensus top corner in the draft and runs with it.
Justin Blackmon, Wide Receiver, Oklahoma State
The St. Louis Rams were targeting Blackmon at No. 2 overall prior to their trade down with the Washington Redskins. It made perfect sense for them to make that move and get a stockpile of picks to help rebuild a talent-lacking roster.
In this scenario, Blackmon is still available at No. 6, meaning that the Rams will gladly pluck the All-American receiver in this slot.
Blackmon would give Sam Bradford a consistent outside threat that the young quarterback has been missing in his first two NFL seasons. While Blackmon might struggle initially, he has the build and talent to be a No. 1 type of guy.
You can also expect the Rams to entertain offers to move further down and acquire even more picks. Short of that happening, they need to go wide receiver.
Quinton Coples, Defensive End, North Carolina
With the seventh pick, the Jacksonville Jaguars get the perfect complement to Jeremy Mincey along their defensive line.
Coples will provide immediate help in run defense because of his massive frame for a defensive end. Additionally, once the North Carolina product acquires more pass-rush moves, he could turn into a dominating force for the Jaguars.
The one issue that I have with the talented defensive end is the fact that he disappears from games at times and doesn't have a full repertoire of pro-ready pass-rush moves. These two things are going to have to change in order for Coples to produce at the level that his talent suggests.
High risk, higher reward.
Ryan Tannehill, Quarterback, Texas A&M
Let me be clear about this. The Miami Dolphins are getting absolutely zero value with the selection of Tannehill here. He isn't going to be able to make an immediate impact and will have to ride the pine for a season or two.
With that said, Jeff Ireland and company have boxed themselves into a corner. They went after three of the top free-agent quarterbacks without any success. This is a franchise that has not had a franchise signal-caller since Dan Marino. That surely speaks volumes in regards to their inability to find the right guy behind center.
Despite being incredibly raw, Tannehill does have the talent to be a very good quarterback in the National Football League. He has ideal size and possesses a cannon arm—two things that front offices drool over.
Within five years, this could be one of the best picks in the top 10 of the 2012 NFL Draft. It could also come back to bite the Dolphins in their back end.
Only time will tell.
Fletcher Cox, Defensive Tackle, Mississippi State
Cox, the most versatile defensive player in the draft, is shooting up draft boards. I wouldn't be too surprised to see the St. Louis Rams "reach" for him at No. 6.
This is a player that can play multiple positions in both defensive schemes and has the ability to dominate in the trenches. Cox is already stout against the run, creates gaps on the inside and provides a strong pass-rush move outside.
The Carolina Panthers would use him as a tackle in their 4-3 defense. This would make their poor run defense much better right out of the gate.
Moving forward, Cox projects to be a major run-stuffing cog. More than that, he is a three-down player.
Pretty much a perfect fit for the Panthers defense.
Michael Floyd, Wide Receiver, Notre Dame
Buffalo also addressed issues in their front seven by signing Mark Anderson and Mario Williams. They could still go in that direction, but Floyd is simply too much value to pass up on.
He would immediately provide Ryan Fitzpatrick with a red-zone threat on the outside while teaming up with Stevie Johnson to make a solid wide receiver tandem.
Expect the Bills to go in this direction should Floyd fall to them here.
David DeCastro, Guard, Stanford
The All-American guard is rated No. 6 on my big board, which is mighty high praise for an interior lineman. While guards usually don't get drafted this high, DeCastro is an anomaly. He will come in and immediately become the best offensive lineman on a vastly improved Kansas City Chiefs unit.
This is a player that projects not only to be a perennial Pro Bowl performer, but one of the best guards in the entire National Football League.
DeCastro could be the best guard prospect to come down the pike in a quarter century. To say I am high on him would be a huge understatement.
Melvin Ingram, Defensive End, South Carolina
Ingram is the best pure pass-rusher in the entire draft. He can line up at outside linebacker with his hands down along the defensive line.
The South Carolina product already possesses multiple pro-ready pass-rush moves and holds up pretty well against the run.
Ingram would be playing defensive end in the Seattle Seahawks 4-3 scheme, making him a dangerous presence alongside Red Bryant. Teams would have a hard time doubling up on Ingram with Bryant in the interior, making the young talent virtually unstoppable.
Front offices look at the talent they already have and how new talent would mesh with that. In doing so, they find the best fits for their scheme. Ingram is the perfect fit here.
Riley Reiff, Offensive Tackle, Iowa
If this scenario played out, Rod Graves and Ken Whisenhunt would be doing cartwheels in the Arizona Cardinals war room.
Not only is Reiff a top-10 talent, he just so happens to play a position of tremendous need for the Cardinals. Their offensive line allowed the most sacks in the entire NFL last season and the front office was unable to add any real talent along this unit in the offseason.
They can slot Reiff in as a left tackle immediately and be set at that position for the next decade. You cannot ask for much more than that outside of the top 10.
Courtney Upshaw, Linebacker, Alabama
It isn't a secret that Jerry Jones and company are looking for a stud pass-rusher opposite DeMarcus Ware in the front seven. While the Dallas Cowboys did place the franchise tag on Anthony Spencer, he really hasn't been a consistent force at outside linebacker.
The secondary is another area of concern in Dallas, but the addition of Brandon Carr lessens that concern to an extent.
Upshaw is a tremendous pass-rush threat from the outside. He can play with his hands down at the line and drop back on the outside, depending on the scheme.
The Alabama product will struggle off the line initially, but should be able to rack up double-digit sacks as a situational pass-rusher in his rookie season.
Luke Kuechly, Linebacker, Boston College
The talk of Kuechly going in the top 10 is just plain crazy if you ask me. He doesn't have the look of a dominating inside linebacker at the next level.
With that said, the Boston College product is going to be a very solid starter at the next level. He is a sure tackler, does well going sideline to sideline and is a quarterback of sorts in the middle of the defense.
Those are all qualities that the Philadelphia Eagles were missing during their disappointing 2011 season.
Kuechly would immediately become the Eagles' best inside linebacker and help their rush defense out a great deal. He is an instant impact rookie that will continue to grow as he gains more seasoning in the league.
Alshon Jeffery, Wide Receiver, South Carolina
There are a growing amount of people, including myself, that believe the New York Jets are going to go wide receiver with their first-round pick. It makes a lot of sense, too.
Santonio Holmes disappointed a great deal in 2011 and Plaxico Burress doesn't figure to be back in the fold next year. The Jets are lacking young talent at the position.
While I am nowhere near as high on Jeffery as other "experts," I do believe that he has the natural talent to be a very good receiver at the next level.
Stephon Gilmore, Cornerback, South Carolina
On the surface it would seem that the Cincinnati Bengals are not in need of help at corner. Leon Hall is a true No. 1 corner, and Nate Clements played well in his first season with the team.
But that is just on the surface.
Clements is on the downside of his career and Hall is coming off a serious injury. The Bengals have built a strong foundation on offense, but they need to start adding talent on the defensive side of the ball.
Gilmore has the technique and ability to make in instant impact in the Bengals' defensive scheme. He is able to play in both press and man coverage, which is huge at this point in the first round.
The South Carolina product will also be an immediate-impact player receiving kicks on special teams. Cincinnati gets the second-best corner in the draft with the No. 17 overall pick, which isn't a bad value at all.
Cordy Glenn, Offensive Line, Georgia
The San Diego Chargers could use a pass-rusher or defensive back here, as those are the two main areas of concern for the consistently underperforming franchise.
That being said, they cannot pass up on the value that Glenn provides here. The former Georgia standout can play both tackle and guard, and has the ability to dominate at the point of contact in the trenches.
This is a player that shocked scouts with his athleticism and technique at the combine in Indianapolis. San Diego will be able to slot him in as a guard initially, which is going to have a tremendous impact on their rushing game.
Jonathan Martin, Offensive Tackle, Stanford
I just couldn't find any value with the Chicago Bears going in any other direction in the first round. They need to continually upgrade the offensive line in order for Jay Cutler to have any success moving forward.
While Jonathan Martin has not had a great postseason, he is a very talented offensive tackle. You have to remember that Martin was tasked with protecting the blind side of Andrew Luck over the course of the last three seasons at Stanford. He almost always aced that assignment.
Martin might struggle with lateral movement against speedier pass-rushers early in his career, and he will need to hone that raw technique moving forward.
When this happens, watch out.
Peter Konz, Center, Wisconsin
Anyone that says selecting a center this early in the draft is a mistake really doesn't understand the changing landscape of the National Football League. They also fail to realize the success that recent top center prospects have had in the league.
It takes a tremendous amount of intelligence and ability to man the center position in the NFL. In short, very few players have the ability to do it.
Peter Konz is going to be a perennial Pro Bowl performer, and also happens to fit a position of need for the Tennessee Titans.
Doug Martin, Running Back, Boise State
After going to the defensive side of the ball with their initial pick, the Cincinnati Bengals look to address one of their only major holes on offense here.
They just don't have that true every-down back to rely on throughout an entire season. If the Bengals are able to acquire someone that can be counted on for 1,300 yards and double-digit scores, their offense is going to be nearly unstoppable.
Martin is the second-best running back in the entire draft. He is a dual-threat type of player in the backfield and someone that will be able to produce at a high level as a rookie.
Expect big things from the former Boise State standout.
Kendall Wright, Wide Receiver, Baylor
I have flirted with the idea that the Cleveland Browns would go to the defensive side of the ball with this pick. However, it makes sense for them to continue building talent to boost a lackluster offense.
Kendall Wright would be a major threat in the slot for Colt McCoy as a rookie. He has the ability to take it the distance every time he touches the ball.
There is no other direction that Cleveland should go with this pick if they lock up Trent Richardson in the top five.
Dre' Kirkpatrick, Cornerback, Alabama
One glaring weakness for a surprising Detroit Lions team last season was in the secondary. This weakness wasn't only exposed by the New Orleans Saints in the playoffs, it was a consistent worry throughout the season.
Replacing Eric Wright with Jacob Lacey really isn't going to fix these issues.
While Kirkpatrick might translate better as a free safety in the NFL, his true value in the draft is at corner right now. The Alabama product went up against some of the best offensive talent in college football over the course of the last two seasons and consistently dominated.
He also fits the Lions' defensive scheme to a tee.
Dontari Poe, Nose Tackle, Memphis
Poe is as dominating of an interior defensive lineman prospect that I have seen in the last five years.
This is a player that will clog the middle for the Pittsburgh Steelers for the next decade. He will consistently take on double-teams, fill gaps and fit perfect in their 3-4 scheme.
If the Memphis product falls here, there is absolutely no way that the Steelers pass on him. After all, I have Poe as a top-10 prospect right now.
Michael Brockers, Defensive Line, Louisiana State
Brockers is a special talent, but remains extremely raw in terms of technique.
He will struggle to make an immediate impact and will need much more seasoning to become the dominating player I think he can become.
The Denver Broncos are in need of some young talent in their front four. Once Brockers gains the seasoning that he needs, the LSU product will be an integral part of a much-improved Broncos front seven.
Stephen Hill, Wide Receiver, Georgia Tech
The Houston Texans lost some very important players this offseason. They are going to need to build depth in the front seven as well as on the offensive line.
With that said, you don't spend a first-round pick on depth. Instead, you attempt to get a legitimate starter or star-caliber player.
Stephen Hill has the build and talent to be a special receiver. While he might struggle initially, especially learning pro routes, the Georgia Tech prospect promises to be a great receiver in the NFL.
Houston has also been looking for a complement to Andre Johnson on the outside. This seems like a perfect fit for both parties.
Mark Barron, Safety, Alabama
The New England Patriots are going to attempt to revamp their lackluster defense in the first two rounds of the draft.
They will start here with the consensus No. 1 safety in the entire draft. Barron has everything that you look for in a top-flight safety prospect. He can already cover over the top and is extremely strong in the box against the run.
It also doesn't hurt that he had a lot of success against some of the best talent that college football had to offer over the last couple seasons.
New England can slot him in as a starter immediately.
Andre Branch, Defensive End/Outside Linebacker, Clemson
Most of my previous mock drafts have had the Green Bay Packers picking Vinny Curry here. While that is still a strong possibility, Branch provides more value late in the first round.
After watching two full Clemson games over the course of the last week, I have come to the conclusion that Branch does in fact translate well to outside linebacker in a 3-4 defense.
This is an area of major concern for the Packers. Their pass defense was among one of the worst in the modern history of the league last season. A major part of this was the lack of a consistent pass rush opposite Clay Matthews.
Branch will provide that added dimension.
Dont'a Hightower, Linebacker, Alabama
This would be a coup for the Baltimore Ravens. Hightower has top-10 talent but is a consistently underrated performer due to injury concerns.
He also fills a major need for a Ravens defense that will, at some point, have to move on from Ray Lewis.
The Alabama product fits perfect in their defensive scheme and will get to learn from one of the best inside linebackers to ever spike up on Sundays.
Coby Fleener, Tight End, Stanford
The NFL is definitely a need-based league. It really doesn't matter how many great players you have at one position if the other areas of the team is poor.
With that said, the San Francisco 49ers really don't have a tremendous amount of needs heading into the draft later in April. This will enable them to help build a strong foundation on an average offense.
Coby Fleener would come in and provide that added dimension that was missing in San Francisco last season.
Imagine Fleener lining up opposite Vernon Davis between the hashes. That would be enough to scare the collective jockstraps off of opposing defensive coordinators. Jim Harbaugh has to be drooling over this idea.
Janoris Jenkins, Cornerback, North Alabama
The New England Patriots addressed safety with their initial first-round pick. Now they go after the most glaring weakness on their defense.
There is absolutely no doubt that Jenkins would have been a top-10 pick if he didn't have character concerns hanging over his head. He has everything you look for in a true No. 1 corner.
With that said, teams do value character and it seems that Jenkins is dropping down the draft boards a great deal.
Still, I just don't see him getting past the Patriots here. Too much talent to pass up.
Bobby Wagner, Linebacker, Utah State
This is probably the biggest surprise of my mock draft, but I have been high on Wagner since January. This is a prospect that can be absolutely dominating on the football field.
The former Utah State standout doesn't have a glaring weakness in his game. Rather, Wagner appears to be one of the best all-around defensive prospects in the draft.
He can fly to the ball sideline to sideline, is extremely solid in run support and does a great job in coverage. Despite being listed as an outside linebacker prospect, I have Wagner playing inside for the New York Giants here.