1. Indianapolis Colts – QB Andrew Luck, Stanford
No one is buying owner Robert Irsay’s claim that the Colts are still undecided about who to select with the first pick overall. Indy has cleaned house and will rebuild with the obvious selection as their cornerstone. A white and blue “12” jersey is waiting for Luck.
2. Washington Redskins – QB Robert Griffin III
You might not be a fan of Jay Cutler, but ‘Skins head coach Mike Shanahan drafted Cutler and turned him into a productive pro. Shanahan will do the same with Griffin, with the difference being that Griffin will turn Washington into winners finally.
3. Minnesota Vikings – OT Matt Kalil, USC
The Vikes surprised everyone by selecting QB Christian Ponder in the first round last year. Selecting Kalil would be a no-brainer. The Vikings allowed 49 sacks last year. Ponder already has some good weapons around him. Now he needs protection.
4. Cleveland Browns – RB Trent Richardson, Alabama
RB Peyton Hillis couldn’t leave town quick enough. Cleveland is ecstatic to be rid of a player that put his contract ahead of his team. Quarterback is a dire need for the Browns, but they go with the best player available this early in the draft.
5. Tampa Bay Buccaneers – CB Morris Claiborne, LSU
The Buccaneers drafted DTs Gerald McCoy and Brian Price just two years ago. If the duo can stay healthy, play at the position should recover. What needs help is the secondary, even after signing free agent Eric Wright and re-signing Ronde Barber.
6. St. Louis Rams – WR Justin Blackmon, Oklahoma State
Not only did the Rams acquire additional picks by trading down, they still get the player they originally had their eyes on. QB Sam Bradford will have a go-to receiver for years to come after losing Brandon Lloyd in free agency. If the offensive line can stay healthy, Bradford to Blackmon could be a connection we hear from for years to come.
7. Jacksonville Jaguars – DE Quinton Coples, North Carolina
The DE Aaron Kampman free-agent signing was a complete bust and the Jags must move forward from that mistake. Coples is compared to elite pass-rusher Julius Peppers. That’s a huge compliment for Coples, but it also says a lot about Coples’ potential.
8. Miami Dolphins – QB Ryan Tannehill, Texas A&M
Reaching for quarterbacks in the first round has become a trend, from Tim Tebow (Denver, 2010) to Christian Ponder (Minnesota, 2010), and next will be Tannehill. After failing to land either Peyton Manning or Matt Flynn, the ‘Fins get a signal-caller.
9. Carolina Panthers – DT Dontari Poe, Memphis
The Panthers need defense in any form. Head coach Ron Rivera, a former linebacker, would appreciate what being strong up the middle defensively does for a defense. Stopping the run becomes the priority, and Poe might be the best at it in this year’s draft.
10. Buffalo Bills – OT Riley Reiff, Iowa
LT Demetrius Bell will be taking snaps in Philadelphia next year, as he recently signed with the Eagles, leaving the Bills with Chris Hairston to protect QB Ryan Fitzpatrick’s blind side. Buffalo invests in Reiff insurance.
11. Kansas City Chiefs – DT Fletcher Cox, Mississippi State
Glenn Dorsey isn’t a natural fit in a 3-4 defense and Tyson Jackson, though improved, hasn’t lived up to being the third pick overall. KC’s run defense ranked 26th (132 yards per game) and could use Cox’s strength and quickness.
12. Seattle Seahawks – DE Melvin Ingram, South Carolina
DE Chris Clemons’ 11 sacks was exactly one-third of the Seahawks' sack total (33). Seattle also has to plan for the future, as Clemons will turn 31 years old in October.
13. Arizona Cardinals – OG David DeCastro, Stanford
‘Zona was out of the Peyton Manning sweepstakes very early. That was probably because the Cardinals couldn’t guarantee Manning’s safety after allowing 54 sacks last year. This could be a tough call between protecting the quarterback or addressing the run defense.
14. Dallas Cowboys – S Mark Barron, Alabama
The secondary is undergoing an overhaul after the pass defense was ranked 23rd overall. Already in the fold are CB Brandon Carr and S Brodney Pool. After adding Barron, that’s three-fourths of the Cowboys secondary changed from last year.
15. Philadelphia Eagles – DT Michael Brockers, LSU
1,801 yards. 4.4 yards per carry. Philadelphia was bullied on the ground last year. The first step in shoring up the run defense was trading for MLB DeMeco Ryans for basically a fourth-round pick. Add Brockers to the mix, and opponents won’t go very far up the middle.
16. New York Jets – WR Michael Floyd, Notre Dame
If the Jets want QB Mark Sanchez to succeed, they must surround him with quality weapons. WR Santonio Holmes is becoming toxic and WR Plaxico Burress couldn’t even fill Braylon Edwards’ shoes.
17. Cincinnati Bengals – CB Stephon Gilmore, South Carolina
Cincinnati had a solid defense last year, but they didn’t win the turnover tug of war. The Bengals broke even in the turnover ratio, coming up particularly short in the interceptions department with just 10. Free agent Jason Allen and Gilmore could change that.
18. San Diego Chargers – DE/OLB Nick Perry, USC
Perry tipped the scales at 271 pounds at the combine after being about 250 pounds at USC. Perry should be able to make the transition from defensive end to linebacker in a 3-4 defense.
19. Chicago Bears – CB Dre Kirkpatrick, Alabama
Even though the Bears had 20 interceptions, they still gave up 4,065 yards, because they see juggernaut offenses Detroit and Green Bay twice a season. They can use some length at corner to defend the Lions’ Calvin Johnson and the Packers’ deep receiving corps.
20. Tennessee Titans – DE Andre Branch, Clemson
Tennessee’s pass rush needs a serious boost. DE Derrick Morgan is improving slowly and DT Jason Jones left as a free agent. LB Akeem Ayers will get chances to blitz, but having Branch coming off the edge full-time will help a lot.
21. Cincinnati Bengals – OG Cordy Glenn, Georgia
Free agency hasn’t been kind to the Bengals as they’ve lost both starting guards, Nate Livings and Mike McGlynn. Taking Glenn at this point might be a stretch, but it fills a severe need for Cincinnati.
22. Cleveland Browns – OT Jonathan Martin, Stanford
At some point, the Browns will take a quarterback. To ensure his future safety, Cleveland takes the first step to build a sturdy pocket. With Joe Thomas holding it down at left tackle, Martin will have to flip to right tackle.
23. Detroit Lions – CB Janoris Jenkins, North Alabama
The secondary was opportunistic because teams were able to pass on them with relative ease. It’s wise to load up on secondary depth in the NFC North. Drafting Jenkins would help with the loss of Eric Wright.
24. Pittsburgh Steelers – LB Luke Kuechly, Boston College
The Steelers want to get younger, especially on defense. They already released 37-year-old ILB James Farrior, and Larry Foote (31) isn’t too far behind. Kuechly probably will be mentored for a year before taking over full-time in 2013.
25. Denver Broncos – DT Jerel Worthy, Michigan State
Denver’s run defense was almost as bad as their rush offense was good. Opponents tore through the Broncos at a clip of 126.3 yards per game, 22nd in the NFL. With DT Brodrick Bunkley gone, there’s a hole that Worthy can fill immediately.
26. Houston Texans – WR Stephen Hill, Georgia Tech
Health kept the Texans from being at their best last year. WR Andre Johnson fell victim to the injury bug, limiting him to seven regular season games. The Texans can afford to develop Hill slowly while he learns from veterans Johnson and Kevin Walter.
27. New England Patriots – DT Kendall Reyes, Connecticut
The NFL’s second-worst defense needs help in all areas. Adding Reyes gives the Patriots depth they sorely lacked as injuries piled up along the D-line. With DE Shawn Ellis and DT Gerard Warren possibly retiring, the Patriots can really use Reyes.
28. Green Bay Packers – DE Whitney Mercilus, Illinois
Mercilus led the nation in sacks with 16, but until 2011, he had just two career sacks. No one would deny his talent, though. With nine forced fumbles last year, Mercilus fits in perfectly with Green Bay’s aggressive defense that knows how to force turnovers.
29. Baltimore Ravens – DE/OLB Vinny Curry, Marshall
OLB Jarret Johnson never put up big numbers, but he will be missed since he departed Baltimore as a free agent. Pressuring the quarterback isn’t a problem with the Ravens, but if they can grab a bookend to collapse the pocket opposite Terrell Suggs, they’ll pounce at the opportunity.
30. San Francisco 49ers – DT Devon Still, Penn State
Still’s stock has dropped during evaluations, allowing the Niners to take the former Nittany Lion. Still will have to wait his turn to get snaps, but he’ll have great veterans to learn how to play the right way from.
31. New England Patriots – CB Alfonzo Dennard, Nebraska
It will be a wide open competition for the cornerback position and Dennard will be one more vying for snaps. Dennard has solid man-to-man skills to help immediately, maybe as a slot corner to begin his career.
32. New York Giants – LB Dont’a Hightower, Alabama
The defense played great when it mattered most in the playoffs, but it almost cost the Giants a spot in the playoffs. It’s one thing to be the fourth-worst run defense, but it’s another to allow 4.5 yards per carry.
Outside the First Round
Atlanta Falcons – The gamble to trade away their first-round pick in last year’s draft didn’t pay off, as the Falcons learned they are more than one player away from being a championship contender. Getting a pass rusher will get Atlanta closer to their goal.
New Orleans Saints – Bountygate cost the Saints their second-round selection this year and next year. That hasn’t stopped New Orleans from fortifying the defense. They added three linebackers and a lane-clogging defensive tackle. The secondary might be on New Orleans’ mind if they wait until their pick at 90.
Oakland Raiders – The Raiders don’t have a selection until 95th in the third round. They could really use those selections, as the losses through free agency are setting the team back. Defense will be a priority when Oakland finally gets the chance to replenish the roster.
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