In a perfect National Football League, all 32 teams would have the opportunity to draft the player that they coveted most. Instead, the teams of the National Football League must jockey for position to get the best value on the players who can help each team the most.
While many teams are not in position to make their ideal first-round selection, this is the player that each team should select in an ideal scenario.
Scenarios have been kept realistic (for example, Andrew Luck and Robert Griffin III cannot be the ideal scenario for any team other than the Colts or Redskins).
Note: Teams are ordered by the first draft selection they hold.
By releasing future Hall-of-Fame quarterback Peyton Manning, the Indianapolis Colts made it clear that they would be looking for a new franchise quarterback in the 2012 NFL draft, and Stanford’s Andrew Luck should be that guy with the No. 1 overall pick.
While the Colts have feigned interest in Baylor’s Robert Griffin III, there is little doubt that their pick will end up being Luck. While both players should be franchise quarterbacks, Luck is one of the greatest quarterback prospects coming out in college in many years.
For any team in need of a quarterback, Andrew Luck would be the ideal choice in this year’s draft. He is a complete quarterback prospect with few flaws in his game and can be the franchise signal-caller of the Colts for many years to come.
One team has already made a big trade up the draft board for the opportunity to draft their ideal first-round pick. The Washington Redskins need a franchise quarterback, and by trading up to the No. 2 overall selection, they have the chance to select one of two in this draft in Baylor’s Robert Griffin III.
While Andrew Luck may actually be the Redskins’ ideal selection, they are in position to select RG3, who is about as ideal as a No. 2 overall pick. Griffin is a terrific quarterback prospect with huge upside and would be a No. 1 overall pick in many draft classes.
The Redskins specifically traded up for the opportunity to select Griffin and will be able to get their ideal first-round selection.
With the No. 3 overall pick in the draft, the Minnesota Vikings sit in an ideal situation.
Left tackle is the Vikings’ most pressing need. Matt Kalil is one of three elite prospects in this draft class, with the other two being quarterbacks (Luck and Griffin). Kalil should be the No. 3 overall pick in this draft, and he is the perfect choice for the Vikings.
Kalil has everything scouts look for in an offensive tackle: ideal size, terrific technique, strength and great footwork. The Vikings offensive line has really fallen apart, but adding Kalil could give that unit a star for many years to come.
In truth, the Cleveland Browns’ ideal first-round pick was Robert Griffin III. Unfortunately for them, they were outbid by the Redskins in trading up with the St. Louis Rams and are now forced to look in another direction.
Without any franchise quarterbacks remaining (Ryan Tannehill does not qualify as a franchise quarterback), the Browns have no true ideal selection. The Browns have many needs to fill on their roster, but there is no elite prospect who stands out above the rest that they will have the opportunity to draft at the No. 4 overall pick.
That said, the Browns really need to upgrade at the running back position. Richardson is the clear-cut top running back in this draft class and ranks as the No. 7 overall prospect in the draft class. He may not quite be the ideal first-round selection for the Browns, but they do have a chance to bring in a running back who could be elite from his rookie season, and should not pass that up.
The Browns also hold the No. 22 overall selection. The Browns have a serious need at the guard position, so Stanford guard David DeCastro would be an ideal pick there, although it is unlikely he makes it past the Bengals’ two selections at No. 17 and No. 21.
Even after some big signings in free agency, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers still have a roster with many holes. Their biggest remaining need, however, is at linebacker, which makes Boston College’s Luke Kuechly the best first-round selection for the Buccaneers.
The ideal situation for the Buccaneers, however, would be to trade down and still have the opportunity to draft Kuechly. While Kuechly is one of the top prospects in the 2012 draft class, the Buccaneers could most likely trade down within the top nine and still have the chance to select him.
While most of these ideal selections are players that the team would not pass up, Kuechly is simply the player who would be the best fit for the Buccaneers as a top-10 pick. LSU cornerback Morris Claiborne is a higher-rated draft prospect and would also make great sense for the Buccaneers if he is available at No. 5 overall. Alabama running back Trent Richardson is also a top prospect who would be a huge upgrade.
If Kuechly, Claiborne and Richardson were all available, the Buccaneers would have a very tough decision to make and could not go wrong by selection any of the trio. That said, if all three of those players were still available, the Buccaneers’ best option would be to trade down a few spots and still likely have the chance to draft one of them.
The chances of Matt Kalil getting past the Minnesota Vikings, let alone being available at the No. 6 overall pick, are slim to none. That said, it should not be ruled out, and if the Rams have a chance to select Kalil, he would be the ideal choice for them.
Yes, the St. Louis Rams desperately need a wide receiver and could get a true No. 1 wideout and the best receiver in the class by selecting Oklahoma State’s Justin Blackmon. The Rams may even be considering trading up for Blackmon, but if there is any player they should try to trade up for, it would be Kalil.
While the Rams have invested two recent high draft picks in 2009 first-round pick Jason Smith and 2010 second-round pick Rodger Saffold at offensive tackle, neither has quite panned out to be the left tackle they need to protect quarterback Sam Bradford, who has been hit often in his time with the Rams and has battled injuries as a result.
Kalil is an elite left tackle prospect who could be exactly the protector the Rams need to lead their offensive line.
If the Vikings pull a shocker by drafting LSU cornerback Morris Claiborne over Kalil, neither the Browns nor Buccaneers are likely to draft Kalil, as neither needs a left tackle. That said, if Kalil makes it past the third selection, the Rams will most likely have to trade up before the Browns or Buccaneers trade down with a team interested in Kalil.
Even with the signing of Laurent Robinson, the Jacksonville Jaguars still need to find a big weapon for their passing game. Oklahoma State wide receiver Justin Blackmon is unlikely to make it past the No. 6 pick, but if he is available for the Jaguars, they should not pass him up.
Blackmon is a legitimate No. 1 wideout who can be the go-to receiving weapon that young quarterback Blaine Gabbert needs. Blackmon has the combination of size, route-running and receiving skills that make for top receivers at the next level.
The Jaguars are also in serious need of a pass-rusher, so South Carolina defensive end Melvin Ingram also has a case for being their ideal selection here and will most likely be their choice assuming Blackmon is off the board. That said, the Jaguars really should not pass up Blackmon if he is available at the No. 7 overall pick.
By now, it has become apparent that the Dolphins are in desperate need of a quarterback and are targeting Texas A&M quarterback Ryan Tannehill as their first-round pick.
However, Tannehill is far from ideal to be any team’s first-round pick. He is not near the caliber of prospect that top quarterbacks Andrew Luck and Robert Griffin III are and is more of a developmental quarterback prospect worth a Day Two draft choice.
The Dolphins’ focus with the No. 8 overall pick should be finding the best value, but one position that would really make sense to address is to find a pass-rusher. The Dolphins will run a hybrid defensive system next year, but will be based out of a 4-3 defense and need another defensive end to line up across from Cameron Wake.
Ingram is a versatile pass-rusher with the ability to play defensive end in a 4-3 or outside linebacker in a 3-4, as well as being solid against the run. Ingram would be a terrific fit for the Dolphins defense and makes sense on value as the No. 8 overall prospect in the draft class.
Another argument for the ideal selection here could be made for Oklahoma State wide receiver Justin Blackmon. Having traded away Brandon Marshall, the Dolphins really need a No. 1 wideout for whoever their quarterback will be.
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.
The Panthers’ ideal selection should be the best defensive player in the draft class, which Morris Claiborne is. Aside from Chris Gamble, the Panthers are weak at the cornerback position, and Claiborne is a terrific defensive back who could be the impact player that the team lacks in their secondary.
Claiborne is unlikely to be available at the No. 9 overall pick, so trading up to No. 5 with the Buccaneers or No. 6 with the Rams may be their best bet to get Claiborne. That said, if they stay put and he somehow falls, the Panthers should be ecstatic.
Having lost Demetrius Bell to free agency, the Buffalo Bills have a desperate need at offensive tackle. While the Bills will most likely settle on Stanford’s Jonathan Martin and Iowa’s Riley Reiff at the No. 10 overall pick, a trade up for Kalil would be worth exploring if the Vikings were to pass upon him.
The Bills brought Kalil in for a visit on Thursday. Given the team’s need for an offensive tackle, they should consider making a move up if the Vikings look to trade down or if they draft Claiborne over Kalil, in which case, the Browns would likely make an effort to trade down.
The Browns have said that they will not trade down past No. 8, but if the Bills wanted Kalil badly enough, they may be able to put together a package strong enough to entice the Browns to moving down two extra spots.
The chances of Kalil ending up in Buffalo are almost none, but he would certainly be the ideal choice if the Bills had any chance of drafting him.
Nose tackle is the Kansas City Chiefs’ biggest need, and Memphis’ Dontari Poe is easily the best true nose tackle prospect in the draft class.
As an athletic 346-pound nose tackle, Poe has the potential to be a very disruptive force as the anchor of a three-man defensive front. The nose tackle position is the most important position to the success of a 3-4 defense, and if the Chiefs do not have the chance to draft Poe, they will not be able to address the need in the first round.
The answer at nose tackle is simply not on the Chiefs roster, and Poe would be good value if available at No. 11 overall.
After losing middle linebacker David Hawthorne via free agency to the New Orleans Saints, the Seahawks should have their target set on drafting Luke Kuechly if at all possible. The Seahawks seriously need linebacker help, and Kuechly is the best 4-3 linebacker prospect in the draft class.
If Kuechly gets past the Buccaneers at the No. 5 overall pick, the Seahawks should start exploring the possibility of trading up to draft him. Kuechly is a terrific all-around middle linebacker prospect who can come in and be productive immediately, exactly what the Seahawks would benefit most from out of their first-round pick.
If Kuechly gets past the Panthers at No. 9 overall, he could fall to the Seahawks at No. 12, which would be the truly ideal situation for them. That said, even if the Seahawks have to make a move up to get Kuechly, it would be well worth it.
Even with the re-signing of offensive tackle Levi Brown to a five-year contract, the Arizona Cardinals still desperately need to upgrade at the position. Ideally, the Cardinals can draft a franchise left tackle and move Brown over to right tackle.
The Cardinals are much too far back to have any chance at drafting Matt Kalil and are more likely to explore trading down than they would up. That said, Stanford’s Jonathan Martin is the second-best offensive tackle available in the draft class, and he would be good value as a potential franchise left tackle.
Martin does not stand out considerably as being better than Iowa left tackle Riley Reiff, so either one would be an ideal selection at No. 13 overall for the Cardinals.
Additionally, the lure of drafting Alabama outside linebacker Courtney Upshaw, the No. 5 overall prospect in the draft class, could be too good for the Cardinals to pass up if he is available at this pick. However, while the Cardinals do need pass-rushing help, they should be focused on pass protection with their first-round draft pick.
The Dallas Cowboys are much more likely to trade down in the first round than they are to move up, but if there is one player they could consider trading up for, it would be Morris Claiborne.
Claiborne will not make it past the No. 9 overall selection, but if Claiborne falls past the Rams at No. 6, the Cowboys could become interested in putting together a package to try to move up ahead of the Panthers for the opportunity to select Claiborne.
Considering that the Cowboys signed Brandon Carr to a five-year, $50.1 million contract, it is much more likely that the Cowboys will stay put and focus on Mississippi State defensive lineman Fletcher Cox. That said, if the Cowboys ended up with an opportunity to draft Claiborne, they would not pass up the opportunity to add the impact player to their secondary.
It will be a shocker if Luke Kuechly gets past the Seahawks at No. 12, but in a scenario where he were to fall to the Eagles at No. 15, he would be an absolutely ideal selection.
Even though the Eagles made a tremendous trade in getting middle linebacker DeMeco Ryans for a fourth-round pick, they still need help at linebacker, and even though Kuechly is better suited to play in the middle, he is capable of playing outside linebacker in a 4-3, and his value would be too good for the Eagles to pass up here.
Assuming Kuechly is off the board, the ideal pick here for the Eagles at No. 15 overall likely becomes Mississippi State defensive tackle Fletcher Cox, as he would be good value and could be the disruptive force that they need on the interior defensive line.
In every mock draft thus far, I have had the New York Jets drafting a wide receiver, and that is the direction I see them going in this draft. That said, if Alabama outside linebacker Courtney Upshaw is still available at the No. 16 overall pick, his value becomes much too good for them to pass upon.
The Jets need to upgrade at outside linebacker, and Upshaw is an ideal fit to play the position in a 3-4 defense. Upshaw rates as the No. 5 overall prospect in this draft, but there is a real possibility he could still be available at this pick.
If that possibility actually comes to pass, the Jets should add a tremendous piece to their defense and draft one of the top players in the draft class, a pick that would be ideal for both value and need.
Trent Richardson will most likely be off of the board within the first six picks of the draft, but if he falls farther than that, the Bengals could make a move up the draft board for a chance to select him.
The Bengals hold two first-round draft picks at No. 17 and No. 21 and will most likely be perfectly content with staying put with both draft picks and selecting two quality players. That said, the Bengals could use a big playmaker at the running back position, and their two first-round picks give them the flexibility to make a move up the draft board if Richardson were to fall.
If Richardson ends up going in the top five, then the Bengals’ ideal selection should turn to Stanford guard David DeCastro, who would give the team a much-needed upgrade at guard. That said, expect the Bengals’ interest to be piqued if the Browns and Buccaneers both pass upon Richardson.
I stand firm that the Chargers should be focused on upgrading the offensive line rather than the pass-rush with their first-round draft pick, but value should always considered first and foremost. If Courtney Upshaw manages to make it past the Jets and is available at the No. 18 overall selection, the Chargers should pounce on a tremendous steal and get their much-needed outside linebacker.
Upshaw is a complete 3-4 outside linebacker prospect who should be a top-10 draft selection, but it is foreseeable that he could end up falling into the middle of the first round. If the Chargers did have the opportunity to draft him, he would be a perfect fit and a big upgrade.
Assuming Upshaw is off the board, then another ideal choice would be Georgia offensive lineman Cordy Glenn. Glenn is a talented offensive lineman with the ability to play at either guard spot or right tackle, and his versatility would be very beneficial to the Chargers offensive line
The Chicago Bears have many needs to address, one of which is their offensive line. Numerous offensive linemen could be in play at the No. 19 overall pick, but the Bears should not pass up Stanford guard David DeCastro if he is available at their selection.
The Bears really need to upgrade the interior line, and if DeCastro were available near the end of the top 20 picks, he would be very much a steal. He is a complete guard prospect, and the only reason that he could potentially still be available at the Bears’ pick is because of the position he plays.
Even with the signing of Kamerion Wimbley, the Titans should still be looking to upgrade at defensive end.
Melvin Ingram, the best 4-3 defensive end prospect in the draft class, will almost certainly be gone before the Titans pick at No. 20 overall. However, the Titans could really benefit by adding a pass-rusher like Ingram and could consider making a move up the draft board if he falls past the top seven picks.
A tweet from Bleacher Report’s own Matt Miller reported that the Titans may be looking to trade up into the top 10. Presumably, their target would be Ingram, who would be an ideal selection for them.
Offensive line is the Detroit Lions’ biggest need, and assuming one of the top offensive linemen is still available on the draft board, that should be the direction the Lions go with their first-round pick.
Stanford guard David DeCastro would be the truly ideal selection for the Lions, but it is truly unlikely that he will be available at the 23rd-overall pick and unlikely the Lions will trade up. Chances are also slim that Iowa offensive tackle Riley Reiff will be available, but more likely an ideal scenario.
The Lions re-signed left tackle Jeff Backus for two years, but the best move for the Lions would be to find Backus’s successor in a player who can be an upgrade at right tackle or guard while developing into the team’s left tackle of the future. Reiff could play either tackle or guard position and would be the perfect pick to develop as Backus’s successor.
If Stanford’s Jonathan Martin were to be available and Reiff were not, he would also be an ideal choice late in the first round.
In recent seasons, the constant of the Pittsburgh Steelers has been having one of the worst offensive lines in the National Football League, which has resulted in quarterback Ben Roethlisberger taking much too many hits. The Steelers have spent many picks early on the offensive line the past couple of years, but should continue to do so in this draft.
The Steelers have expressed interest in Mike Adams, who could be the upgrade at left tackle that they need. Of any of the top offensive linemen, Adams is the most likely to still be available at the Steelers’ No. 24 overall selection.
Adams has high upside as a left tackle prospect and could be a much-needed upgrade on a maligned offensive line. Drafting him would be a great choice if they have the opportunity.
Defensive tackle is the Denver Broncos’ biggest need, and there should be good value in the late first round at the position. While the Broncos are more likely to have an opportunity to draft Michigan State’s Jerel Worthy, who would be a great value in his own right late in the first round, the opportunity to select Mississippi State’s Fletcher Cox would truly be the ideal scenario.
Cox is a very explosive defensive tackle who could be the disruptive force inside that the Broncos have lacked for years. It will be a surprise if he falls outside of the top 15 picks, but if he were to slide down the draft board, the Broncos could explore moving up for a chance to select him.
That said, the Broncos will most likely stay put. In the most likely scenario that Cox is off the board, the Broncos will still have a strong likelihood of being able to select Worthy, or Penn State’s Devon Still would be a solid choice at No. 25 as well.
Dontari Poe will most likely be off of the draft board long before the Texans are on the clock, but if he makes it past the Kansas City Chiefs, he could begin to slide down the draft board. If Poe makes it past the top 15, the Texans would be smart to consider trading up for an opportunity to draft him.
The Texans do not have an abundance of needs, so they are a team that could afford to trade up. One need they do have is to upgrade at nose tackle, and Poe is far and away the top nose tackle prospect in the draft.
Poe has an rare combination of size and athleticism that give him the upside to be a truly disruptive force, and adding him would give the Texans one of the NFL’s most formidable defenses.
The Patriots have two first-round draft picks and have been rumored to consider trading up in this draft. While it is more likely that the Patriots will trade one of their picks out of the first round rather than moving up, the team could be inclined to make a big move up if Alabama’s Courtney Upshaw slides out of the top 10.
Upshaw has tremendous versatility, which would make him a perfect fit for the Patriots’ hybrid defense. He is best suited to play outside linebacker in the 3-4 scheme, but can also line up as both a linebacker and defensive end in a 4-3 defense.
If the Patriots stay put, then the ideal scenario would be for USC hybrid pass-rusher Nick Perry to fall to No. 27.
The Green Bay Packers are in need of another pass-rushing outside linebacker to line up across from Clay Matthews III. If USC’s Nick Perry were to fall to their selection at No. 28, he would be a perfect fit.
Perry is somewhat raw, but he is a talented pass-rusher with ideal size and athleticism to make the transition to outside linebacker in a 3-4 defensive scheme. If Perry is off the board but Illinois’ Whitney Mercilus is still available, he would also be a terrific choice for the Packers.
The Packers also need a 5-technique defensive end, so Mississippi State’s Fletcher Cox would also be an ideal pick. The chances of him falling to No. 28 are slim to none, although the Packers could consider trading up.
The Ravens are known to draft for value over need, and they have few pressing needs, so the Ravens will draft the highest-rated player on their draft board. That said, the Ravens are believed to be high on Wisconsin center Peter Konz, and with a need for an interior lineman, he will be tough for them to pass up.
There will be players of higher value on the board, which could possibly include Alabama inside linebacker Dont’a Hightower, Illinois pass-rusher Whitney Mercilus and Alabama strong safety Mark Barron. That makes calling Konz an ideal selection a stretch, but he could have the higher rating on the Ravens’ draft board.
Any of these mentioned player would make sense and address a position of need, but Konz seems like the most likely target and ideal choice for the Ravens. They recently attended his workout in Wisconsin. He could fill in for the departed Ben Grubbs at left guard until the retirement of Matt Birk, then take over at center.
Cordy Glenn will most likely be selected somewhere between the 18th and 22nd-overall picks, but if he slides to where the 49ers would have a chance to select him, the 49ers could be enticed to make a move up to draft him. The 49ers’ only major need is for a right guard, and Glenn would be the perfect pick to fill that need.
Glenn is a first-round caliber offensive lineman whose best fit is at the guard position, and could be the missing piece the 49ers need to shore up their offensive line. Trading up may be unlikely for the 49ers, but without many needs to fill, they would be smart to try to make a move up if Glenn begins to slide down the board.
It is highly unlikely that Dont’a Hightower will make it past both of the New England Patriots’ picks at No. 27 and No. 31, along with the Ravens at No. 29. That said, if he is available with the last pick of the first round, he would be an ideal choice for the Giants, who need to upgrade at linebacker.
Hightower could be the impact player at the middle linebacker position that the Giants lack. He would be great value late in the first round, even if the Giants were to move up a few spots for the opportunity to draft him.
The Atlanta Falcons traded their first-round pick to the Cleveland Browns in their blockbuster move to get wide receiver Julio Jones in the 2011 draft, leaving them with the No. 55 overall pick as their first selection in this year’s draft.
The Falcons will not be drafting in the first round this year, but if they were, Hightower would be their ideal target. They lost free agent Curtis Lofton to the Saints, and at this point in his career, Lofa Tatupu is not an ample replacement at middle linebacker.
Hightower would be the upgrade that the Falcons need at middle linebacker, but the Falcons should have no complaints about trading out of the first round if Jones becomes a major weapon for their offense.
The Saints traded their first-round pick to the New England Patriots in the 2011 draft to select running back Mark Ingram, while their second-round pick has been forfeited as a result of the well-known bounty scandal.
The Saints’ first pick is in the third round, leaving them almost no possibility of moving into the first round. If the Saints had their original first-round pick, South Carolina’s Stephon Gilmore would be the ideal target for them.
The Saints lost cornerback Tracy Porter, leaving the position as a weakness for them. Gilmore would be the athletic cover corner that they need to upgrade the secondary. Unfortunately for New Orleans, they will have to wait until the middle rounds to draft a cornerback.
The Oakland Raiders’ first two picks are compensatory third- and fourth-round picks, leaving them without a tradeable pick until the fifth round. Therefore, the team likely has no chance of trading up into the first round.
It is unfortunate for the Raiders that they have so few draft picks, for they have many positions of need. If the Raiders did have a first-round pick, it would be expected that even in the era following the passing of the legendary Al Davis, they would target a highly-athletic combine standout.
The Raiders really need help on the pass rush, so Nick Perry would be a great selection if they had a first-round pick. Perry is a terrific athlete who would fit the Raiders’ philosophy and could be the edge rusher that they need on their defensive front.
Thanks for reading!
For more coverage of the 2012 NFL draft, follow me on Twitter @Dan_Hope.