With Tuesday's release of the full NFL schedule for 2012, only one more major event remains before teams begin getting ready in earnest for the upcoming season, and that's the 2012 NFL Draft beginning April 26th in New York City.
As the draft nears, let's take yet another look at how the first round could shake out this year at Radio City Music Hall, as 29 teams take their best shot at drafting a player who will make a big impact in the National Football League.
1. Indianapolis Colts: Andrew Luck, QB, Stanford
I think it's pretty safe to say that we've all accepted that Andrew Luck will be the first overall pick in this year's draft, and on September 9th we'll begin to see if the 6'4" All-American has been worth all the hype when the Colts take the field in Chicago.
2. Washington Redskins (from St. Louis Rams): Robert Griffin III, QB, Baylor
Redskins offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan is already meeting with Griffin to help acclimate him to the Redskins system, and if Griffin is going to start Washington's season opener in a very hostile Superdome, the Heisman Trophy winner will need all the help he can get.
3. Minnesota Vikings: Matt Kalil, OT, USC
ESPN's Adam Schefter has joined a number of experts in positing that the Vikings could pass on Kalil. However, with a young quarterback and leaky offensive line, it would be in Minnesota's best interests not to overthink things and select the draft's best offensive line prospect.
4. Cleveland Browns: Trent Richardson, RB, Alabama
The Browns are beyond desperate for offensive playmakers, 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. The Browns need to pull the trigger on Richardson here regardless of the team's reported waffling about two other players.
5. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Morris Claiborne, CB, LSU
The Buccaneers have one corner who is the wrong side of 35 (Ronde Barber), another who may need a second job to cover legal fees (Aqib Talib) and a newly acquired free agent in Eric Wright who was the second-most targeted cornerback in the National Football League a season ago.
6. St. Louis Rams (from Washington Redskins): Justin Blackmon, WR, Oklahoma State
Among the Rams' myriad needs this offseason is the improvement of the receiving corps, as the St. Louis wideouts didn't exactly instill fear in opponents last year and Brandon Lloyd is now in New England.
Oklahoma State wide receiver Justin Blackmon has actually seen his draft stock drop a bit despite over 3,300 receiving yards the past two seasons, but the 6'1", 207-pound junior still has plenty of supporters, including ESPN's Mel Kiper.
The possibility remains that St. Louis could move off this spot, but if the Rams stay here and get Blackmon, they'll immediately upgrade a huge weakness, which is the lack of talented options for Sam Bradford in the passing game. Blackmon's speed is adequate, but his smarts, ball skills, route running and work habits translate to a guy who can contribute immediately, which is what this offense desperately needs.
7. Jacksonville Jaguars: Michael Floyd, WR, Notre Dame
Quarterback Blaine Gabbert might have a much better chance to succeed if he had someone to throw the ball to, and there are some among the draft community that feel that the 6'3" Floyd my actually be a better pro prospect than Blackmon after hauling in 100 passes for the Fighting Irish in 2011.
8. Miami Dolphins: Ryan Tannehill, QB, Texas A&M
Brian Billick made the comparison of doom regarding Tannehill last week, but he reportedly looked very impressive at Texas A&M's Pro Day. The Dolphins are absolutely desperate for a franchise quarterback, and there's a real possibility that the team will trade up if necessary to get the strong-armed Aggies standout.
9. Carolina Panthers: Michael Brockers, DT, LSU
The Carolina run defense ranked a moribund 25th in the National Football League last year, so upgrading the interior of the defensive line is a priority that the Panthers need to address early in the 2012 draft, making the 322-pound Brockers a nice fit here.
10. Buffalo Bills: Riley Reiff, OT, Iowa
The Bills made some big splashes on the defensive side of the ball in free agency, but the loss of tackle Demetress Bell leaves a big hole along the offensive line in Buffalo that the All-Big Ten performer could fill quite nicely.
11. Kansas City Chiefs: Dont'a Hightower, ILB, Alabama
The Chiefs' prescient additions in free agency afford them a great deal of flexibility in this year's draft, and the 6'2", 265-pound All-American would form a fearsome duo at linebacker in Kansas City with Derrick Johnson.
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 in the bottom half of the league in that category last year. Seattle needs to add a batterymate for Clemons, and oftentimes a role opposite an established veteran such as Clemons can help a youngster such as Ingram acclimate to the NFL by keeping early double-teams off him.
13. Arizona Cardinals: David DeCastro, OG, Stanford
The play of Levi Brown improved as last season progressed, but the Cardinals still have a need at the guard position, and the team has expressed a fair amount of interest in the 6'5", 316-pound, two-time consensus All-American.
14. Dallas Cowboys: Stephon Gilmore, CB, South Carolina
The Dallas Cowboys made a big improvement to their defensive backfield by adding cornerback Brandon Carr in free agency, but that doesn't mean that Jerry Jones is by any means finished with his overhaul of the secondary.
South Carolina cornerback Stephon Gilmore has been steadily climbing draft boards of late, but NFL Network draft analyst Mike Mayock has been claiming for some time that the 6'0", 190-pound Gilmore is actually the second-best cornerback available in the 2012 NFL draft.
“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."
15. Philadelphia Eagles: Fletcher Cox, DT, Mississippi State
The trade that brought linebacker DeMeco Ryans to Philadelphia should help fix at least some of the Eagles problems in the middle of their defense. However, the Eagles could still use an upgrade at defensive tackle next to Cullen Jenkins, and the team is reportedly "drooling" over Cox.
16. New York Jets: Courtney Upshaw, OLB, Alabama
Upshaw didn't exactly shine at either the NFL combine or Alabama's Pro Day. However, the Jets need pass-rush help after finishing in the middle of the pack in sacks a year ago and there are still years of film that demonstrates Upshaw's talent for chasing down opposing quarterbacks.
The Bengals missed Johnathan Joseph after he left in free agency a year ago, and the 6'2" Kirkpatrick is the sort of hard-nosed cornerback that reportedly appeals to head coach Marvin Lewis, given the smash-mouth nature of the AFC North.
18. San Diego Chargers: Whitney Mercilus, DE/OLB, Illinois
Whitney 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 should be willing to gamble that the 6'4", 261-pound All-American can back those stats up.
19. Chicago Bears: Quinton Coples, DE, North Carolina
The retention of veteran Israel Idonije doesn't mean the Bears are done with the defensive line, and much as I said earlier with Ingram, the presence of All-Pro Julius Peppers in the Windy City could help keep double-teams off the 6'6", 281-pound Coples until he can get his feet wet in the NFL.
20. Tennessee Titans: Nick Perry, DE/OLB, USC
Only one team in the National Football League accrued fewer sacks last year than the Tennessee Titans, and even after adding Kamerion Wimbley in free agency, the team needs to continue to try to get better on the defensive front.
USC defensive end Nick Perry led the Pac-12 with 8.5 sacks in 2011, and according to Doug Farrar of Yahoo! Sports, the 6'3", 271-pound junior's potential as a pass-rusher can't be denied.
Perry's first-step quickness absolutely explodes off the tape, and it's the primary reason the buzz about him keeps getting louder. He's not just fast through and to the pocket; he's amazingly quick from his stance and you'll see him blow by blockers before they can get their hands up at times. Even when he's blocked or ridden out of the pocket, he has the change-of-direction skills to create problems for a quarterback with his second effort and re-direct. Has a tremendous outside move that can foil even the most agile pass-blocker -- if your feet aren't set against Perry and he's on your outside shoulder, you're in a lot of trouble.
21. Cincinnati Bengals: Cordy Glenn, OG, Georgia
Cincinnati has a significant need along the interior of the offensive line, and the 345-pound All-SEC performer would be a big boost opening holes for new Bengals back BenJarvus Green-Ellis in the Queen City.
22. Cleveland Browns (from Atlanta Falcons): Stephen Hill, WR, Georgia Tech
The addition of Trent Richardson will do wonders for the Cleveland ground game, and while selecting Stephen Hill wouldn't have that drastic an effect on the Browns passing game, he would still be a significant upgrade at wideout with upside off the charts.
23. Detroit Lions: Josh Robinson, CB, Central Florida
Every year the draft's first round contains some surprises, and one of this year's could easily be cornerback Josh Robinson of Central Florida. Robinson has extensive experience in man coverage and blazing speed, and the Lions have a dire need at his position.
24. Pittsburgh Steelers: Dontari Poe, NT, Memphis
Poe's draft stock has cooled a bit since his monstrous showing at February's NFL combine. However, the 346-pound beefeater is a prototypical 3-4 run-stuffer that would be a worthy successor to the 34-year-old Casey Hampton, who is no sure bet to be ready for opening day after ACL surgery in January.
25. Denver Broncos: Peter Konz, C, Wisconsin
According to Pro Football Focus, starting center J.D. Walton was the worst starting center in the NFL last year by a significant margin, and that's not necessarily the sort of thing you want to hear about the guy standing in front of Peyton Manning.
26. Houston Texans: Kendall Wright, WR, Baylor
The Houston Texans have seemingly been searching for a receiver to pair with Andre Johnson for years, and after posting over 100 catches and 1,600-plus yards last year at Baylor, the Texans may just have found the "Wright" guy.
Free agency could take an even further toll on an aging Patriots defensive line this offseason, so one of Bill Belichick's defensive priorities as he tries to shake off that Super Bowl loss is improving the New England front seven.
Boise State's Shea McClellin played all over the Broncos defense during his time in college, and Mel Kiper Jr. of ESPN feels that the 6'3", 260-pound All-Conference performer would be a fine fit with the Patriots.
A player who has moved up boards during the draft process, he played with a hand on the ground at Boise State, but has enough athleticism and the smarts to transition to standing up on the edge in this type of a system. The Patriots have to work on the front seven in the draft, and McClellin is the type of heady player Bill Belichick can work with.
28. Green Bay Packers: Mark Barron, SS, Alabama
The Packers defense ranked dead last in the NFL a season ago, and with free safety Nick Collins' future in the NFL very much in doubt, the Packers could slide Morgan Burnett to FS permanently and add the 2012 draft's best safety prospect.
29. Baltimore Ravens: Devon Still, DT/DE, Penn State
The Ravens have a reputation for passing on perceived areas of need to pursue players that they feel fit their system, and the 303-pound 2011 Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year would form an imposing trio with Haloti Ngata and Terrell Suggs along Baltimore's defensive line.
30. San Francisco 49ers: Amini Silatolu, OT/OG, Midwestern State
The loss of Adam Snyder in free agency leaves a hole along the offensive front for the NFC West champions. While the 311-pound small-school standout played tackle in college, Silatolu projects better as a guard in the NFL. While raw, the youngster has boatloads of potential.
31. New England Patriots: Janoris Jenkins, CB, North Alabama
The Patriots secondary was torn to pieces by opposing offenses on a weekly basis last year. Jenkins' "smoky" past and dismissal from Florida makes him a significant gamble, but it's a risk worth taking for the Pats given their need at the cornerback position.
32. New York Giants: Doug Martin, RB, Boise State
Starter Ahmad Bradshaw is already receiving bone marrow injections in his chronically worrisome foot, so the defending champs may want to bolster their depth behind him in the backfield with the talented and versatile Martin.