We're just more than two weeks away from the beginning of the 2012 NFL draft, and in front offices across the nation, team executives are poring over game tapes and scouting reports in the hopes of making the perfect selection when their turn at the podium comes up.
That, of course, won't be the case, but hope springs eternal, so here's yet another look at how the first round of this year's draft could work out if all the NFL's general managers have their thinking caps on by April 26.
1. Indianapolis Colts: Andrew Luck, QB (Stanford)
Luck was in Indianapolis Tuesday to meet with the Colts, and although he's traveling to Washington afterward, there's next-to-no chance he won't be the first overall pick.
2. Washington Redskins (from St. Louis Rams): Robert Griffin III, QB (Baylor)
As Luck was in Indy, Griffin was meeting with Redskins brass in the nation's capital, so it would appear that the Top Two picks are (GASP!) set.
3. Minnesota Vikings: Matt Kalil, OT (USC)
Elite left tackle prospects don't grow on trees, and the team desperately needs an upgrade over Charlie Johnson at the position after allowing the fifth-most sacks in the NFL last year.
4. Cleveland Browns: Justin Blackmon, WR (Oklahoma State)
There is probably no team in the National Football League that needs playmakers on offense more than the Cleveland Browns. So, while Morris Claiborne would form an imposing duo with Joe Haden at cornerback, the Browns need to go offense here.
Justin Blackmon is the the two-time defending Biletnikoff Award-winner as college football's top pass-catcher after racking up more than 3,300 receiving yards over that stretch. The 6'1", 207-pound wideout would instantly be quarterback Colt McCoy's top option in the Cleveland passing game, as pointed out recently by Dennis Manoloff of the Cleveland Plain Dealer.
"Blackmon immediately would be the best receiver on the Browns and take pressure off, among others, Greg Little. Makes the difficult catch seem routine. Secures the ball in traffic as easily as in space. Physicality enables him to pile up yards after catch, which are a key ingredient in the West Coast offense."
5. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Trent Richardson, RB (Alabama)
The Buccaneers need help in the secondary, but Richardson is a special talent, even if this move won't be especially well-received by some Tampa Bay players.
6. St. Louis Rams: Michael Floyd, WR (Notre Dame)
The Rams may be mildly disappointed about missing out on Justin Blackmon, but after catching 100 passes in 2011 and tearing up Notre Dame's pro day, many believe the drop-off from Blackmon to Floyd is a minimal one.
7. Jacksonville Jaguars: Morris Claiborne, CB (LSU)
The Jaguars added free-agent cornerback Aaron Ross to bolster their secondary, but the team isn't about to pass on the chance to snag the 5'11" Thorpe Award-winner.
8. Miami Dolphins: Ryan Tannehill, QB (Texas A&M)
After repeatedly swinging and missing at the QB position in free agency, the Dolphins are just desperate enough to spend a Top 10 pick on a signal-caller with less than 20 career starts.
9. Carolina Panthers: Michael Brockers, DT (LSU)
The Carolina run defense was gashed up the middle almost at will last season. LSU defensive tackle Michael Brockers is a 322-pound force who has only scratched the surface of his potential.
10. Buffalo Bills: Riley Reiff, OT (Iowa)
After losing starting tackle Demetress Bell in free agency, the Bills' draft plans were somewhat altered, but luckily for Buffalo, Reiff both fills that need and represents a solid value here.
11. Kansas City Chiefs: Dontari Poe, DT (Memphis)
The Chiefs were able to address many of their offseason needs in free agency by adding right tackle Eric Winston, running back Peyton Hillis and cornerback Stanford Routt.
However, 2011 starter Kelly Gregg is a 35-year-old free agent, so nose tackle is still an area of need for Kansas City.
Memphis defensive tackle Dontari Poe exploded into first-round consideration after running a sub-five-second 40-yard dash and tearing up the bench press at February's combine. The NFL Network's Gil Brandt believes that Poe is worth the risk (h/t The Commercial Appeal), even after a limited collegiate resume.
"'Dontari is the kind of guy that the smartest scouts and coaches in the world miss on,' said Gil Brandt, former vice president of player personnel for the Dallas Cowboys, now the main analyst for NFL.com. 'I think he's one of those guys you roll the dice on.'"
12. Seattle Seahawks: Melvin Ingram, DE (South Carolina)
The Seahawks ranked in the bottom half of the National Football League in sacks last year, and the South Carolina star would form an excellent pass-rushing tandem with defensive end Chris Clemons.
13. Arizona Cardinals: David DeCastro, OG (Stanford)
The Cardinals reportedly prefer DeCastro over his Stanford teammate, Jonathan Martin. Whether it's inside at guard or outside at tackle, the team badly needs to improve the offensive line, and the Cards can't go wrong with the two-time consensus All-American.
14. Dallas Cowboys: Dre Kirkpatrick, CB (Alabama)
The Cowboys secondary was embarrassed in their season-ending loss to the New York Giants. Jerry Jones is sure to make improving the defensive backfield a priority in April's draft, and a large Cowboys contingent was present at Alabama's second pro day.
15. Philadelphia Eagles: Mark Barron, SS (Alabama)
The Eagles used a revolving door at the safety position last year, and Barron, the 213-pound All-American, would go a long way toward solidifying the back-end of the Eagles secondary.
16. New York Jets: Courtney Upshaw, OLB (Alabama)
The Jets were forced to blitz almost constantly to generate a consistent pass-rush last year, and Upshaw's extensive experience in the 3-4 defense would be an added benefit for Gang Green.
17. Cincinnati Bengals (from Oakland Raiders): Stephon Gilmore, CB (South Carolina)
Gilmore racked up 46 tackles, four interceptions, a forced fumble and a sack last year. The 6'0", 190-pounder is also rocketing up draft boards after an outstanding pro day.
18. San Diego Chargers: Whitney Mercilus, DE/OLB (Illinois)
The San Diego pass-rush was among the worst in the National Football League last year, and Mercilus would provide an immediate upgrade after leading the NCAA with 16 sacks in 2011.
19. Chicago Bears: Jonathan Martin, OT (Stanford)
The Bears were able to upgrade the offensive weaponry at quarterback Jay Cutler's disposal by trading for wide receiver Brandon Marshall, and now the team needs to turn to improving Cutler's pass protection.
Jonathan Martin, a 6'5", 312-pound offensive tackle, helped anchor the offensive line that paved the way for Andrew Luck's collegiate success at Stanford. Don Banks of Sports Illustrated agrees that Martin would be a good fit in the Windy City.
"I don't think the Bears should get tricky here. J'Marcus Webb is not the answer at left tackle, and Martin has a solid first-round grade. It's a match made in heaven. Jay Cutler got his No. 1 receiver in Brandon Marshall, now he needs to get better protection. Martin and last year's first-round pick, offensive tackle Gabe Carimi, would be bookends for the future."
20. Tennessee Titans: Quinton Coples, DE (North Carolina)
In 2011, only one NFL team notched fewer sacks than the Titans, so they would gladly take a player with Coples' athletic skills despite questions about his motor.
21. Cincinnati Bengals: Cordy Glenn, OG (Georgia)
The Bengals are in need of an upgrade along the interior of their offensive line, and if there's one thing the 345-pound Glenn knows how to do, it's plugging a hole.
22. Cleveland Browns (from Atlanta Falcons): Mychal Kendricks, OLB (Cal)
Given the Browns' numerous needs on offense, it may seem strange that the team would use their second-first round pick on defense.
However, Scott Fujita may face suspension over the "player bounty" scandal, and the 2011 Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year would more than fill the void at weak-side linebacker.
23. Detroit Lions: Peter Konz, C (Wisconsin)
The Lions would be bummed if they miss out on the top cornerback prospects, but Detroit can still take advantage of the opportunity to upgrade over journeyman Dominic Raiola with the 2012 draft's top center, Peter Konz.
24. Pittsburgh Steelers: Dont'a Hightower, ILB (Alabama)
With veteran James Farrior gone, the Steelers have a hole at linebacker. Hightower's familiarity with the 3-4 defense and his hard-nosed attitude would make him a great fit with the no-nonsense Steelers.
25. Denver Broncos: Luke Kuechly, MLB (Boston College)
It's been an offseason of excitement for the Denver Broncos, but lost among the hoopla is the unpleasant fact that Denver will likely be without top linebacker D.J. Williams for the first six games of the 2012 season.
Boston College middle linebacker Luke Kuechly led college football with 191 tackles en route to winning the Lombardi and Butkus awards in 2011, and ESPN's Mel Kiper believes that Kuechly would be a ridiculous value pick in this spot.
"When you talk about a tackling machine, Kuechly is the definition. His read/react ability is second to none and he is an excellent form tackler. … Kuechly is a real student of the game and he acts like a coach on the field. He is certainly one of the top 10 players in this draft, at any position, and he deserves an early first round grade."
26. Houston Texans: Stephen Hill, WR (Georgia Tech)
The Texans desperately need a wide receiver to complement Andre Johnson, and the 6'4" Hill has leaped into first-round consideration after fantastic outings both at the NFL Combine and Georgia Tech's pro day.
27. New England Patriots (from New Orleans Saints): Nick Perry, DE/OLB (USC)
New England could stand to upgrade just about every facet of its defense.
Perry, who led the Pac-12 in sacks in 2011, could appeal to Belichick given his ability to play defensive end in the 4-3 or kick outside to linebacker in the 3-4.
28. Green Bay Packers: Andre Branch, DE/OLB (Clemson)
Many of the Packers' issues on a defense that ranked dead last a season ago can be traced back to a pass-rush that ranked 27th in sacks.
The addition of Branch, the Clemson standout who tallied 9.5 sacks in 2011, opposite Clay Matthews would definitely be an improvement in that regard.
29. Baltimore Ravens: Kendall Wright, WR (Baylor)
The speedy wide receiver hauled in more than 100 passes while at Baylor last year, and with Anquan Boldin a shadow of his former self, the Ravens need to address the wideout position.
30. San Francisco 49ers: Coby Fleener, TE (Stanford)
Fleener has seemingly laid claim to the title of top tight end in the 2012 draft class after an excellent pro day. His old college coach could look to pair him with Vernon Davis to create the sort of matchup nightmares that the Gronkowski/Hernandez duo does for the New England Patriots.
31. New England Patriots: Devon Still, DT (Penn State)
New England needs to bolster its front seven, and the Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year has the versatility to play tackle in a 4-3 front or slide to defensive end in the 3-4.
32. New York Giants: Amini Silatolu, OT/OG (Midwestern State)
The Giants offensive line isn't getting any younger, and the big man from the small school could provide depth at both tackle and guard as he makes the jump from a tiny Division II school to the bright lights of the National Football League.
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