The 2012 NFL draft is just over two weeks away, and while we have a pretty good idea who the first two players are that will hear their names called on April 26th, there are still many more questions than answers regarding the draft strategies of the teams that will be gathering at Radio City Music Hall in New York City.
That doesn't mean that there isn't some information to be gleaned regarding the draft day machinations of some clubs, so here's a look at the latest scoop on some of the burning questions we face as the big night in the Big Apple approaches.
What Will the Vikings Do with the Third Overall Pick?
The first two picks in the 2012 draft are just about as set in stone as you can get, as Baylor signal-caller Robert Griffin will all but certainly follow Stanford quarterback Andrew Luck as the draft's first pair of selections.
However, after that things get a little tricky, as the Minnesota Vikings have glaring needs at left tackle and cornerback that could be filled by choosing USC offensive lineman Matt Kalil or LSU defensive back Morris Claiborne, who are considered the top players available at their respective positions.
Minnesota general manager Rick Spielman doesn't appear to be in any hurry to tip his hand, however, and Spielman recently told Pro Football Weekly that the team is keeping all their options open, including the possibility of trading down.
If they are intent on addressing a top need — left tackle, for instance — and feel that USC’s Matt Kalil fits the bill, they’ll stay put. If they think they can get a quality player a little lower and there is a trade to be made, that option is very much on the table.
“If we want to get out of that pick, we’ll (determine) what it will take to get out of that pick,” Spielman said. “Plus you have to be careful of how far you would want to go back (down in the draft). You have to know what you’re looking at, depending on how far you go back. Are you getting yourself out of the (range of) the supposedly blue-chip type of players?”
The smart money still says that given that Minnesota is trying to develop a young quarterback in Christian Ponder and that the team allowed the fifth-most sacks in the NFL last year that Kalil will be the pick, but that appears to be far less certain than one would expect.
Will a Running Back Be Drafted in the Top Five for the First Time Since 2008?
Alabama running back Trent Richardson gained over 2,000 total yards en route to winning the Doak Walker award as college football's top ball-carrier in 2011. With two teams with a hole at the position choosing in the top five the stage would seem to be set for Richardson to be the highest drafted running back since Darren McFadden in 2008.
The Cleveland Browns, who select fourth overall, have expressed a considerable amount of interest in the 5'9" 228-pound bellcow, and the Cleveland Plain Dealer's Dennis Manoloff feels that Richardson would be an excellent fit along the shores of Lake Erie.
Richardson is the best running back in draft -- by plenty. Arguably the most NFL-ready player in draft. Product of the BCS national champion Crimson Tide, which means he has faced good competition and is well-coached. Combination of power and speed makes him effective inside and outside the tackles. Low center of gravity helps him bounce off would-be tacklers. As with Blackmon, Richardson possesses "game speed." Finds another gear when he turns the corner. Catches passes and picks up blitzers. Plays with an attitude.
However, the Browns are also considering Oklahoma State wide receiver Justin Blackmon, Texas A&M quarterback Ryan Tannehill and trading down, which would leave Richardson available to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers with the fifth pick. That may be just fine with the new regime in Tampa Bay, but it's apparently a possibility that doesn't sit well with Buccaneers running back LeGarrette Blount, who told CBS Sports that he wouldn't appreciate company in the Tampa backfield.
"I would not like that pick," Blount said at Nike's unveiling of the new NFL uniforms in New York City. "I would definitely not be happy with that pick."
Blount stressed that he wants to be a feature back, and when asked about the possibility of taking on a Brandon Jacobs-like role, he expressed, in no uncertain terms that he wouldn't want to simply be a goal-line guy.
"I don't want that role," Blount said.
It's always possible given recent history that a running back such as Richardson could fall, although it's doubtful that a draft-day drop would have anything to do with Blount's bickering. That said, Richardson is a special talent, and it's more likely than not that one of those two squads is going to buck the recent trend of waiting to take a running back in the NFL draft.
What Player Is Making the Biggest Pre-Draft Push Up Draft Boards?
In the weeks leading up to each NFL draft there is always at least one player whose stock begins a significant climb, as outstanding workouts at the NFL combine and pro day or the changing needs of NFL clubs gives that player's draft value a boost.
This season that player may well be South Carolina cornerback Stephon Gilmore, who has been steadily climbing draft boards and is now considered the second-best prospect at his position by many pundits, including the NFL Network's Mike Mayock, who recently raved about Gilmore's potential following the Gamecocks' recent pro day.
“Trust me, six-foot corners with long arms are rare, especially when they run 4.4 with his movement skills,” Mayock said of Gilmore. “I’ve got him as the No. 2 corner for a reason. I think he’s a Top 10 to Top 15 pick. Not a lot of people have him that high, but I saw it again today.”
In today's pass happy National Football League, cornerback has become a premium position. With teams with a need at the position such as the Dallas Cowboys, Cincinnati Bengals and Tennessee Titans all picking around the middle of the first round, Gilmore seems to be a safe bet to be chosen in the top 20. There's also a very real possibility that the All-SEC performer won't make it past the first 15 picks.