The NFL draft is nearly upon us, and teams across the NFL are furiously working away on last-minute scouting reviews, potential trade negotiations and disseminating the occasional tidbit of disinformation about their strategy.
With each passing day, news comes out that both clarifies and muddies the waters for the first round of the 2012 draft, but that doesn't mean we can't take another stab at predicting which NFL clubs will reel in steals on the draft's first night.
1. Indianapolis Colts: Andrew Luck, QB, Stanford
Luck was one of 26 players invited to attend the first round of the draft by the National Football League, and it's all but certain that once things get underway, Andrew Luck's name will be the first called by commissioner Roger Goodell.
2. Washington Redskins (from St. Louis Rams): Robert Griffin III, QB, Baylor
Given the hefty price the Redskins paid for the second overall pick, it's awfully hard to call Griffin a "steal", but that doesn't mean that the Heisman Trophy winner doesn't have the potential to be one of the biggest stories of this year's draft. In fact, ESPN analyst Jon Gruden recently raved about that very potential in a conference call with the Washington Post.
“I think it’s real exciting for the Redskins because of Mike Shanahan’s expertise with mobile quarterbacks,” Gruden said during a teleconference Wednesday. "They took advantage of Elway’s mobility. A lot of people forget how extraordinary Elway was handing the ball off to Terrell Davis, and those bootlegs, those naked bootlegs off of those stretch plays was devastating."
Redskins offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan is already meeting with Griffin to help acclimate him to the Redskins system, so it's pretty safe to say that the Heisman Trophy winner is headed to D.C.
3. Miami Dolphins (from Minnesota Vikings): Ryan Tannehill, QB, Texas A&M
This theoretical trade would complete the bumbling disaster that has been the Dolphins' pursuit of a quarterback this offseason. With Miami deperate for a signal-caller, other teams sniffing around Tannehill and the Vikings reportedly open to trading down, this deal actually has a better-than-average chance of happening.
4. Cleveland Browns: Trent Richardson, RB, Alabama
Richardson would seem to be an easy choice for the Browns after gaining over 2,000 yards as a junior at Alabama. The Browns are desperate for offensive playmakers and lost 2011 starter Peyton Hillis in free agency, and former Colts executive Bill Polian called Richardson one of three "sure things" in this year's draft.
5. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Morris Claiborne, CB, LSU
Ronde Barber is 36 years old and nearing the end of the line and Aqib Talib is a headcase that could be heading for jail time. That makes it imperative that the Buccaneers do more work in the secondary than just adding the regularly torched Eric Wright.
6. St. Louis Rams (from Washington Redskins): Matt Kalil, OT, USC
The Rams allowed the most sacks in the National Football League last year, so the team wouldn't hesitate for a second to improve the pass protection for quarterback Sam Bradford by selecting the draft's top tackle prospect, who would be an excellent value in the sixth slot.
7. Jacksonville Jaguars: Justin Blackmon, WR, Oklahoma State
Quarterback Blaine Gabbert might have a much better chance to succeed in his second NFL season if he had viable targets in the passing game. Blackmon, a two-time Biletnikoff Award winner as college football's top wideout, and the newly acquired Laurent Robinson should provide just that.
8. Minnesota Vikings (from Miami Dolphins): Riley Reiff, OT, Iowa
If the Vikings are going to develop quarterback Christian Ponder this year, it would help to keep him upright. That makes upgrading at left tackle over the abysmal Charlie Johnson a priority for Minnesota.
9. Carolina Panthers: Fletcher Cox, DT, Mississippi State
The Carolina run defense was among the worst in the NFL in 2011, ranking 25th in the league. The biggest contributor to that dismal ranking was bad defensive tackle play, so the team needs to look to address the interior of the defensive line.
Mississippi State defensive tackle Fletcher Cox was a third-team All-American after tallying 56 tackles, five sacks and a forced fumble in 2011, and the 6'4", 298-pound junior's blend of speed and power is a tantalizing combination, according to Russ Lande of The Sporting News.
Cox has the strength to anchor against one-on-one run blocks. In addition, he can shed blocks and make tackles on inside runs. He's an exceptional interior pass rusher who uses his long, 34.5-inch arms and foot quickness to stay free from pass blocks.
Both his quickness off the ball and strength are evident when he easily jolts and drives pass blockers backward. His versatility enhances his value as few defensive linemen enter the NFL with the ability to play multiple positions along the line.
10. Buffalo Bills: Michael Floyd, WR, Notre Dame
The Bills made some big splashes on the defensive side of the ball in free agency, and while the team needs to fill a hole at offensive tackle after Demetress Bell departed, Reiff's selection by the Vikings will send the Bills looking to improve the offensive weaponry at quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick's disposal.
11. Kansas City Chiefs: Michael Brockers, DT, LSU
Last year's starter, Kelly Gregg, is a 35-year-old free agent who may be hanging them up, which leaves the Chiefs with a hole at nose tackle. At 322 pounds, Brockers has the bulk to man the middle of a 3-4 defensive line, and the Tigers standout would add youth and athleticism up front.
12. Seattle Seahawks: Melvin Ingram, DE, South Carolina
Defensive end Chris Clemons has 11 sacks in each of the past two seasons, but the Seahawks ranked 19th in the NFL in that category last year. Seattle needs to get Clemons some help, which the 264-pound All-American Ingram would certainly provide.
13. Arizona Cardinals: David DeCastro, G, Stanford
The Cardinals have needs at both the tackle and guard positions. While the 316-pound DeCastro was puzzlingly not invited to Radio City Music Hall the two-time consensus All-American is easily the top prospect at his position in this year's draft class.
14. Dallas Cowboys: Dre Kirkpatrick, CB, Alabama
There has been speculation that Dallas head coach Jason Garrett's presence at Alabama's pro day is a harbinger of the Cowboys selecting a Crimson Tide defender, and Dallas also invited the 6'2" Kirkpatrick in for a visit, which it's done with every first-round pick since 2006.
15. Philadelphia Eagles: Mark Barron, S, Alabama
The Eagles reportedly would love to get Cox here, but with him long gone, the team should look to upgrade the back end of the secondary. Jaiquawn Jarrett has done nothing to this point in his brief NFL career, and Kurt Coleman is a journeyman at best,
16. New York Jets: Courtney Upshaw, OLB, Alabama
The Jets were forced to blitz almost constantly to generate any sort of real pressure on the quarterback last season, which makes upgrading the front seven one of the first orders of business for Gang Green on draft day.
Alabama outside linebacker Courtney Upshaw didn't exactly shine at either the NFL combine or Alabama's pro day. However, not only are there are miles of tape that demonstrates Upshaw's propensity for chasing down opposing quarterbacks, but he has extensive experience in the 3-4 defense, and ESPN's Mel Kiper also sees Upshaw in the Big Apple.
Rex Ryan should see Upshaw as a great fit for what he's trying to do on defense. Upshaw has size to hold up against the run even as a pass-rusher in a 3-4, making him an ideal fit here. He plays with a high motor, sheds blocks well with quickness and violent hands, and he'll make plays all over.
17. Cincinnati Bengals (from Oakland Raiders): Stephon Gilmore, CB, South Carolina
Even after adding cornerback Terence Newman in free agency, the Bengals could still use a boost in the secondary, and NFL draft expert Mike Mayock believes Gilmore is actually the second-best cornerback available in the 2012 NFL draft.
18. San Diego Chargers: Whitney Mercilus, DE/OLB, Illinois
Mercilus had half as many sacks in 13 games last year as the Chargers had as a team in 16 games. There is some concern that Mercilus is a "one-year wonder", but after leading the nation in sacks, the Chargers could absolutely use the services of the 6'4", 261-pound All-American.
19. Chicago Bears: Quinton Coples, DE, North Carolina:
The Bears re-inked veteran defensive end Israel Idonije after missing out on Mario Williams in free agency, but the team is still looking to upgrade the defensive front opposite Julius Peppers, which the 6'6", 281-pound Coples will do if the team can get his effort to match his impressive physical talents.
20. Tennessee Titans: Luke Kuechly, MLB, Boston College
College football's leading tackler in 2011 may seem something of an odd fit with youngster Colin McCarthy seemingly entrenched at middle linebacker. However, the Titans have already had the Butkus Award winner in for a visit, and the team may have visions of kicking either McCarthy or Kuechly outside.
21. Cincinnati Bengals: Cordy Glenn, OG, Georgia
The Bengals have a glaring need along the inside of the offensive front, and the 345-pound All-SEC performer is a monstrous run blocker who would probably step into an immediate role as a starter in the Queen City.
22. Cleveland Browns (from Atlanta Falcons): Reuben Randle, WR, LSU
After addressing the running game by selecting the draft's top running back in Trent Richardson, the Browns should then use their second first-round selection on bolstering Cleveland's aerial attack.
LSU wide receiver Reuben Randle didn't put up huge numbers last season for the Tigers, but the 6'3", 210-pound wideout has an interesting combination of size and athleticism, and NFL Films analyst Greg Cosell calls Randle the most "intriguing" receiver of this year's draft class.
Like WR Randle. Smooth, athletic, acceleration off the LOS. Believe he can win isolation routes on outside as "x". Similarities to H. Nicks.
— Greg Cosell (@gregcosell) April 7, 2012
23. Detroit Lions: Doug Martin, RB, Boise State
Running backs Jahvid Best and Kevin Smith both have extensive injury histories and Mikel LeShoure is apparently a pothead. The Lions suddenly have a need in the offensive backfield that the versatile Martin would fill quite well after rushing for nearly 1,300 yards in 2011 for the Broncos.
24. Pittsburgh Steelers: Dont'a Hightower, ILB, Alabama
The release of veteran James Farrior after a decade with the team leaves the Steelers with a hole at linebacker. Hightower's familiarity with the 3-4 defense and his hard-nosed attitude would make him a perfect fit with the no-nonsense Steelers.
25. Denver Broncos: Derek Wolfe, DT, Cincinnati
Cincinnati defensive tackle Derek Wolfe racked up 70 tackles and 9.5 sacks en route to being named the Big East defensive player of the year in 2011. The interior of the defensive front was the Achilles heel of the Broncos defense last year, so Wolfe would seem an excellent fit in the Mile High City.
26. Houston Texans: Kendall Wright, WR, Baylor
Among the Houston Texans' major needs this offseason is a complementary wide receiver for Andre Johnson, and the 5'10", 196-pound Wright is a blazing speedster that reeled in over 100 passes for over 1,600 yards for the Bears a season ago.
27. New England Patriots (from New Orleans Saints): Nick Perry, DE/OLB, USC
With free agency taking a toll on an aging New England front seven, the Pats need to improve their pass rush. Nick Perry is a versatile player who has demonstrated the strength to play defensive end in a 4-3 defense and has the quickness to kick outside to linebacker in the 3-4, and the 6'3", 271-pound junior led the Pac-12 with 9.5 sacks a season ago.
28. Green Bay Packers: Shea McClellin, DE/OLB, Boise State
The Packers defense ranked dead last in the NFL a season ago, and a significant part of Green Bay's struggles on defense in 2011 can be traced to an anemic pass rush that gave opposing quarterbacks all day to survey the field.
Boise State's Shea McClellin is one of the 26 players that were invited to New York City after a 2011 campaign in which the 6'3", 260-pound defensive end had 50 tackles, seven sacks, two interceptions and a forced fumble, and Greg Cosell sees similarities to another Packers' star in McClellin's game.
What I liked immediately was his lateral agility and quickness. He showed the ability to get low and bend the edge as a pass rusher. He also had an instinctive feel as an inside rusher for getting skinny and getting through small cracks. He shed blocks and made plays in the run game. He was a smooth change-of-direction athlete with excellent balance and body control. My sense is he will get better in the NFL with a chance to be a dynamic edge pass rusher. He’s not as purely explosive as Clay Matthews, but I see some similarities as McClellin matures and develops.
29. Baltimore Ravens: Amini Silatolu, OT/OG, Midwestern State
Baltimore lost starting guard Ben Grubbs in free agency, and while there might be a bit of a learning curve for the small school star after playing at the Division II level the 6'4", 311-pound Silatolu is a powerful blocker with excellent footwork that has a ton of upside.
30. San Francisco 49ers: Dontari Poe, NT, Memphis
After a fantastic showing at February's combine where Poe put on a show of speed and strength, the 346-pounder's stock as cooled as scouts wonder why those traits weren't displayed on the field more at Memphis. However, Poe's size and strength make him a great fit in San Francisco's 3-4 defense, and should he play as advertised, Poe would make the 49ers' already formidable defense even more fearsome.
31. New England Patriots: Janoris Jenkins, CB, North Alabama
The Patriots secondary was torn apart by opposing quarterbacks on a weekly basis last year, as no team in the AFC was softer against the pass than the Pats. Jenkins's checkered past and dismissal from Florida make him a risky choice, but it's a risk worth taking for the Pats given their dire need at the cornerback position.
32. New York Giants: Jonathan Martin, OT, Stanford
Starting right tackle Kareem McKenzie turns 33 in May and his play dropped off significantly last year. Martin's stock has been dropping in some expert's eyes, but he'd be a solid value here that fills a need for the defending Super Bowl champion.