NFL draft time!
Seven short days from now, the first round will be over and 32 young college stars will have new teams, fans will have new heroes to cheer for and a ton of experts will look foolish.
No one knows for sure how the first round (or the second, or the third, or the fourth, etc.) will play out, largely because one simple surprise can upset the entire perceived order of things.
But after a long college season, the combine, the pro days and the enormous rumor mill, things have come into focus.
Here's my prognostication about the first two rounds, excluding the possibility of trades, which always seem to crop up somewhere on draft day.
Although we've pretty much known this for six months or so, recent reports from ESPN have us closer to a guarantee about the Colts' first overall selection: It's going to be Andrew Luck.
We can all break down this pick for hours but there's really no need to.
Not only do the Colts currently have the bleakest long- and short-term quarterback situation in the NFL, but they just parted ways with a future first-ballot Hall of Famer, the centerpiece of the franchise for over a decade and the most important sports figure in the city's history.
While Robert Griffin III is a dazzling athlete with tremendous upside, the fact that Luck is so polished and believed to be so NFL-ready today makes it a no-brainer. They have to take the safer choice.
The Redskins didn't pay a ridiculous price (i.e. multiple first-round draft choices) to take Matt Kalil, Trent Richardson, Justin Blackmon or Morris Claiborne.
Mike Shanahan wants a quarterback, Daniel Snyder wants a quarterback and most importantly, the fans in Washington—tired of years of Rex Grossman, John Beck, Donovan McNabb, Jason Campbell, Patrick Ramsey, etc.—want a quarterback.
There is certainly a huge element of risk in this choice. RG3 burst on the scene relatively late in the process (midway through last college football season) and doesn't have the same polished veneer of Andrew Luck.
But he's got stellar athleticism and speed, played great in the spotlight last year and fills an enormous need in D.C.
I think a comparison to Cam Newton—short- or long-term—is inaccurate, but never count out an athlete with his throwing ability.
This spot is a hotbed of debate. According to Pro Football Talk's Mike Florio, plenty of teams out there are reportedly interested in trading up to No. 3 so they can roll the dice on Ryan Tannehill.
Assuming the Vikings keep the choice, the selection is another foregone conclusion.
Minnesota needs to upgrade at tackle, and Kalil has been crowned the top tackle and the top lineman in this draft.
While I don't see him as the next Anthony Munoz, Orlando Pace or Joe Thomas, I don't think he's the next Robert Gallery either. Expect him to become a quality starter, a semi-perennial Pro Bowler, and a security blanket for both Adrian Peterson and hopefully (for Vikes fans) Christian Ponder.
Of all the early selections in this draft, I think this is the most difficult to analyze.
For months I've believed that the Browns must take Justin Blackmon here.
They have a weak overall collection of wide receivers. They're really doing themselves and Colt McCoy a disservice by putting that group out there and telling him, "Go throw for 300 yards, go complete 65 percent of your passes and go win."
But now that they've lost Peyton Hillis, there is such a void at running back that they really have no choice but to go for Richardson. I know that they like Montario Hardesty as a possible starter, but his torn ACL from two years ago makes it difficult to put all their faith in him.
Richardson is considered the clear-cut best running back in this draft and one of the few "locks." So, because Cleveland has another pick later on in the first round, it can afford to target a wideout later. There is more top-notch wide receiver talent in this draft than running back talent.
There really shouldn't be any concern over Morris Claiborne's poor Wonderlic score. Remember, his former LSU defensive backfield-mate Patrick Peterson didn't do much better (he scored a nine); he still went fifth overall last year and had an outstanding rookie season.
Claiborne doesn't have the same impressive size and isn't nearly the returner Peterson is, but he's every bit the cover man.
The Bucs play in arguably the toughest passing division in all of football. For the foreseeable future, they have to play Matt Ryan (i.e. Julio Jones and Roddy White), Drew Brees and Cam Newton six times a year.
If they do in fact unload troubled (but talented) corner Aqib Talib, that puts an already shaky defense much further behind. Claiborne would be an instant fix.
Although the Rams' crop of pass-catchers isn't quite as bad as the Browns'—some combination of Danny Amendola, Danario Alexander, Greg Salas and Austin Pettis—if Blackmon is still on the board here, they have to take him.
Blackmon's presence will not only allow Sam Bradford to get back on track and resume the fine progress from his rookie season, but it may very well just keep him healthy.
The Rams have struggled mightily to protect Bradford, and a large reason why is their inability to handle the blitz. With Blackmon on the field, teams will become leery of sending extra bodies after Bradford because the Oklahoma State receiver is so dangerous deep and over the middle on short passes.
If the Rams had stayed at the second overall spot, drafting Matt Kalil might have been an option, but with him gone they won't "settle" for Riley Reiff, Jonathan Martin or Cordy Glenn. So this is the next-best way to protect their franchise quarterback.
To be perfectly honest, I think Floyd is a reach at the seventh overall spot. But without this choice, by the end of the draft, the Jaguars will easily usurp the Browns, Rams and any other team with a destitute crop of wide receivers.
So, with free agency virtually over, this is a choice simply out of necessity.
Floyd may or may not be worthy of a top-10 selection, and there is some baggage there. However, much like Colt McCoy and Sam Bradford, Blaine Gabbert needs help.
Pair Floyd with Maurice Jones-Drew and (assuming he gets back to his 2010 form) Marcedes Lewis, and the Jags offense won't be half-bad under Mike Mularkey.
Besides, something that few people took note of last fall is how good the Jacksonville defense played at times. While a Quinton Coples or Stephon Gilmore would provide a huge boost, Floyd fills a greater need.
Even if you don't count losing out on several of the head coaching candidates they wanted, namely Jeff Fisher, it's been a pretty horrible offseason for the Dolphins. The only thing that could make it worse would be trading up to get Tannehill, who should still be on the board at this spot.
Spurned by Peyton Manning, Matt Flynn and Alex Smith—and having taken themselves out of the running for Andrew Luck long before that—the Dolphins finally get a quarterback for the future, even if Matt Moore might be a better candidate to lead the team.
Tannehill has tremendous physical talent and awesome size, but he's just too raw to be considered a top-three choice. GM Jeff Ireland would be wise to hold his breath and hope no one trades up with Minnesota.
Here's another player who appears to be going higher than he's really worth. Just because a prospect is the 10th-best player in the draft or the best available player on the board doesn't necessarily mean he has to be selected.
The Panthers are certainly in the market for a tackle to both protect Cam Newton and open holes for that (potential) three-headed monster of Jonathan Stewart, DeAngelo Williams and Mike Tolbert.
As a sophomore and junior, Reiff was a left tackle at Iowa, but he does have some experience playing the opposite side. He should be able to step into the front-side position.
With Jordan Gross already 31 years old and making a ton of money, a few years from now Reiff can always switch over to left tackle and be the anchor of that line. That will certainly validate a ninth overall selection.
The Bills might have jumped all over Michael Floyd if he was still on the board, but they have to readjust with the Jags pulling a minor surprise move.
Under Chan Gailey, Buffalo seems to be building an offense-first club. In order for Ryan Fitzpatrick, C.J. Spiller and Fred Jackson to really reach their potential, that O-line needs an upgrade.
Martin might be the third-best tackle in this draft, but he's fairly used to a pro-style offense coming out of Stanford.
According to NFL.com, he doesn't have great footwork or agility, but those are things that can be fixed at the next level.
Is it a reach? Probably. But the Bills built up so much good will with the signing of Mario Williams that they can afford this pick.
To some extent, Gilmore has flown under the radar during the draft process, especially since his contemporaries all have more compelling side stories: Morris Claiborne's Wonderlic test, Janoris Jenkins' off-the-field issues and Dre Kirkpatrick being a part of that overloaded Alabama defense.
But Gilmore really has the skill set to make a major impact at the next level.
The Chiefs lost Brandon Carr to free agency, and although they "replaced" him with Stanford Routt, Gilmore is too good to pass on. He started 40 games in the SEC and blew away the competition at the combine, running a 4.40 40-yard dash and the second-fastest 20-yard shuttle at his position.
Romeo Crennel is putting together a young, powerhouse defense in K.C. (Glenn Dorsey, Tyson Jackson, Justin Houston, Allen Bailey, Brandon Flowers, Eric Berry), and Gilmore could be the piece that puts it over the top.
Coples is hands down the most impressive pass-rusher in this draft.
He's got tremendous size and strength, and certainly comes from a place that has a reputation for dominant pass-rushers.
Seattle's pass rush isn't necessarily one of the worst in the NFL. Chris Clemons had a big year in 2011, but he's already 30 and will be a free agent after 2012.
Coples would infuse new life into a front four that could use it.
The Cardinals will probably be ecstatic to see Ingram still available here.
Last year, they did half of the job of upgrading those 3-4 outside linebackers, finding Sam Acho in the fourth round.
Now they can find the other piece and not have to pay through the nose in free agency to do it.
Ingram is something of a tweener—part 4-3 defensive end, part 3-4 outside linebacker. But with his ability to rush the passer (19 sacks in his last two years at South Carolina), Arizona will make sure to put him in the right place at the right time.
The release of Terence Newman left the already shaky Cowboys defense in a real pinch this offseason.
To some extent, they filled that need by signing Brandon Carr away from Kansas City, but that move does nothing to fix the inconsistent play of Mike Jenkins, who does become a free agent after 2012.
Bringing in Kirkpatrick as a potential replacement would not only light a fire under Jenkins, but it would also help to create a much-needed winning attitude in Big D. Kirkpatrick played on two national championship teams for Alabama.
More importantly, however, he has outstanding height and leaping ability, something the Cowboys really need when they face the Giants and Eagles twice a year.
Fresh off their borderline disastrous season, the Eagles could go in several different directions with this choice.
For months they were a lock to take Luke Kuechly out of Boston College, who was projected to fill that enormous middle linebacker void. Now that they added DeMeco Ryans, that shouldn't be the move.
Instead, adding an interior defensive lineman to help Ryans roam free and help those pass-rushers find space would be ideal.
And pairing Cox with Cullen Jenkins? Well, that might just make the Eagles finally live up to their potential.
It's a bit surprising that the Jets—who have one of the best pairs of corners in the NFL—had so many problems on defense late in the 2011 season.
A big reason why is their lack of a pass rush, especially from the edges.
They really need to get younger, faster and stronger at the outside backer position. After Melvin Ingram, Upshaw is probably the best fit to transition into a stand-up, 3-4 outside 'backer.
He should be able to bring some swagger back to a Jets team that really has lost its bravado after their horrible season in 2011.
One of the most overlooked stats of the 2011 season was just how great (not good, great) the Bengals defense played at times.
They were top 10 against both the run and the pass. That type of consistency is not easy to achieve.
They did lose Frostee Rucker this offseason, and Robert Geathers, who had just one sack last season, becomes a free agent after next year.
Yes, they have Carlos Dunlap to step in, but almost every team needs three solid defensive ends to rush the passer. The Bengals have to face big, strong quarterbacks in Ben Roethlisberger and Joe Flacco twice a season.
If Mercilus can gain a bit more muscle and weight, he'll be a perfect bookend to Dunlap, maybe as early as this fall.
I'm of the belief that Glenn is a much better pro prospect—not necessarily a better offensive lineman—than Stanford's David DeCastro for a variety of reasons.
For one, he's got superior agility and footwork.
Secondly, he was the anchor of that Georgia line, while DeCastro benefited from having Jonathan Martin on the other side of the line.
But most importantly, Glenn is extremely versatile, having played both guard and tackle at a very high level for the Bulldogs.
The Chargers need a lineman who has that flexibility.
Kris Dielman retired, so there's a hole there. Also, right tackle Jeromey Clary is making a ton of money for underwhelming production, and he could be a cap casualty. Glenn could move right in and take his place.
If the Lions can spend back-to-back first-round draft choices on superstar defensive tackles (Ndamukong Suh in 2010 and Nick Fairley in 2011), then the Bears can certainly get away with spending a second-round choice on Stephen Paea in 2011 and a first-rounder the next year on another defensive tackle.
Amobi Okoye left Chicago to sign with the Bucs, and they released Anthony Adams, so there is a void there. Henry Melton did not have a great season in 2011.
In short, there's a void at both the 3- and 5-technique on the Bears defensive line. Brockers is believed to be able to play both.
His tremendous size (6'6", 325 pounds) and underrated pass-rush skills will allow Brian Urlacher to roam free much easier in the latter stage of his career. If Brockers draws enough attention, Julius Peppers' speed should become a nightmare for opposing quarterbacks.
Michael Griffin still hasn't re-signed with the Titans, and even if he were eager to do so, he's going to ask for a ton of money.
A much cheaper and younger option for them might be the clear-cut best safety in the draft, Alabama's Mark Barron. He is big, physical and more than anything, was a leader and signal-caller for two national championship-winning defenses.
The Titans, who have lost Cortland Finnegan and possibly Chris Hope this offseason to free agency, really need that type of leadership if they are going to continue to succeed in the Mike Munchak era.
The Titans would have been in the market for a middle linebacker like Kuechly, but the emergence of rookie Colin McCarthy makes that position no longer a must-fill.
So the Bengals, who are fortunate to have a second first-round pick thanks to the deal for Carson Palmer, have to be thrilled to see the draft's top middle linebacker and one of the stars of the combine still on the board.
Rey Maualuga had an above-average season with Cincinnati last year, but he's a free agent after 2012 and just ran into some off-the-field trouble this winter, something the Bengals can't be happy about.
If Cincy is able to add a star middle linebacker and an exciting pass-rusher in Whitney Mercilus (in the span of five picks) to an already promising young defense, it will be on its way to proving last year's Wild Card was no fluke.
Having passed up on Justin Blackmon with the fourth overall choice, the Browns still have a major void to fill at wide receiver. Greg Little and Mohamed Massaquoi are fine secondary receiving options for Colt McCoy, but the team is still in the market for some kind of addition.
Fortunately—thanks to the deal with Atlanta last year—they have a second first-round pick and can also spend it on a wide receiver.
They'll have a handful of promising candidates to choose from, including LSU's Rueben Randle and Georgia Tech's Stephen Hill. Still, neither of those receivers played in an offense that threw the ball enough to really prove they are refined route-runners and that their game will translate to the NFL.
In that respect, Baylor's Kendall Wright has a leg up. Along with Robert Griffin III, he played in an offense that threw the ball with great frequency and consistency. That should be enough to convince Pat Shurmur that he'll fit his scheme.
It might be a surprise to some to see DeCastro "slip" to this spot, but it's still reasonably rare to see a guard come off the board in the top half of the first round.
Teams might be a bit scared off by selecting him too high considering he's coming from an offense that had a top-10 offensive tackle, likely a first-round tight end and the first overall selection in the draft.
Still, DeCastro is capable of becoming a top-notch guard. For a lineman, he has reasonably good speed and tremendous upper-body strength.
Stephen Peterman is coming off a foot injury and is 30 years old. If the Lions can land DeCastro in order to bolster that poor running game, they won't hesitate.
One of the more curious cases in the 2012 NFL draft, Poe's destiny seems to be sitting on the fence right now, somewhere in between Mike Mamula—a combine warrior and eventual bust—and Vince Wilfork—a true beast in the middle of the Pats defense.
Only time will tell which side he lands on, but I wouldn't be surprised to see the Steelers run to turn in their card if Poe is still available.
Even if they keep Casey Hampton into training camp and throughout the 2012 season, the Steelers have to be preparing for life after that (literal) anchor of a borderline dynastic defense.
With his size (346 pounds), tremendous strength (44 reps on the bench at the combine) and uncanny quickness (4.98 40-yard dash), he's the best 3-4 nose tackle option in this draft. With Cameron Heyward, Ziggy Hood and Poe holding down the defensive line, the Steelers are set for the next decade.
Considering how fantastic their defense was last year, it's hard to see the Broncos spending their top choice on a defender (especially when they could use another receiver to aid Peyton Manning). But Worthy might be too hard to pass up.
Brodrick Bunkley left Denver for New Orleans this offseason, and both Marcus Thomas and Ryan McBean are now free agents. So there is a void at the defensive tackle spot.
Worthy may be considered the fourth-highest-rated tackle on many boards (behind Fletcher Cox, Michael Brockers and Dontari Poe), but he comes from the Big Ten, which is loaded with tremendous offensive lines. Don't forget that Worthy played that awesome Wisconsin offensive line that includes two high draft choices (Peter Konz and Kevin Zeitler) and certainly held his own.
With Von Miller or Elvis Dumervil lining up near him, he's more than capable of doing the same as a pro.
For years, the Texans have completely neglected the need for someone to take pressure off of Andre Johnson.
So it's fairly amazing that during this time Johnson has been able to achieve what he has with Kevin Walter, Corey Bradford and Eric Moulds playing opposite him.
Now that Houston's defense is one of the best in the NFL and its running game is a two-headed monster, it can afford the luxury of finding a second wide receiving option.
At this point in the draft, the best candidate is Georgia Tech's Stephen Hill.
He's a tall (6'4"), big-play receiver (almost 30 yards per catch last season) who can complement Johnson and that running game even if he catches just four or five passes a game.
The Pats have a variety of needs on the defensive side of the ball. Although an edge pass-rusher is paramount right now, I'd be surprised to see them pass on Hightower.
In addition to being a product of Nick Saban's coaching (Bill Belichick's former assistant), Hightower definitely has the leadership skills that Belichick craves.
More importantly, with his versatility and likely easy transition to the Pats 3-4, he can fill the vacancy left by Gary Guyton—who signed with division-rival Miami—or contribute in any absence left by Brandon Spikes' knee surgery.
We all know how bad the Packers pass defense was in 2011, but because they had a pretty solid core of defensive backs, I think the pass rush is where the finger needs to be pointed.
Sure, they have Clay Matthews, but aside from him, they really struggled to put pressure on opposing passers, especially off the edge.
Look for them to target a DE/OLB hybrid to fill the spot opposite Matthews, especially if Erik Walden leaves as a free agent.
There are plenty of options for them if that's the route they choose, but I think the best is Nick Perry. The USC defensive end was easily one of the best pass-rushers in the nation last year, as he led the Pac-12 in sacks.
One of those "late-risers" in this year's draft, McClellin was a three-year starter for the Broncos and one of the most consistent and reliable players on that team. Considering his new weight of 260 pounds and his 4.63 40-yard dash, he's earned the right to be considered a first-round choice.
The Packers probably will take a long look at him, but he won't have to wait long after hearing Nick Perry's name called.
The Ravens do have a backup plan in place for the departure of Jarret Johnson in former Texas linebacker Sergio Kindle, but McClellin might be a better fit to fill Johnson's role.
That 49ers run defense can't get much better than it was in 2011. Considering their long-term viability, defensive tackle is a place they might want to add to.
Isaac Sopoaga did a fine job in the middle of that unit, but he'll be 31 years old at the start of the season and becomes a free agent after 2012. If the 49ers defense has another big season next year, he'll probably command more than they're willing to pay.
Penn State's Devon Still has been lost in the shuffle a bit this spring because Fletcher Cox, Michael Brockers, Dontari Poe and Jerel Worthy have really grabbed the headlines for defensive tackles. Still is such a natural run-stuffer that the 49ers will be drawn to him.
Brian Waters was a great addition for the Pats last year. The 12-year veteran helped improve that running game and was a key reason why Tom Brady had another fantastic season.
But he's 35 and has one more year on his contract, if he doesn't retire first. Even worse news for the consistency of that Pats interior offensive line is the torn ACL that Logan Mankins suffered.
If Waters retires or Mankins has any setbacks, Zeitler will come in handy. He's a rookie, but because he comes from that offensive lineman factory in Madison, he should be able to step in on day one and contribute.
One of the worst-kept secrets this offseason is the defending Super Bowl champions' need for a tight end. It's great that they signed Martellus Bennett, but he hasn't exactly been a prolific pass-catcher during his four NFL seasons, and it's only a one-year deal.
Although people can say that the Giants don't need a pass-catching tight end because they won the Super Bowl without one, the departure of Mario Manningham and the uncertainty of their younger players (Jerrel Jernigan, Ramses Barden) have to be concerns for 2012.
Fleener comes from a pro-style offense, so he should pick up the Giants' scheme quickly. Oh, and he ran a ridiculous 4.51 40-yard dash at Stanford's pro day. He very well could be a de facto upgrade from Manningham.
Can you imagine what type of numbers and consistency Eli Manning will be able to put up if he actually had a tight end with great speed and great hands?
It's an interesting game of "what if?" to speculate: If the Buccaneers pass on Morris Claiborne at the fifth spot, will the Rams nab the LSU cornerback?
Even though they signed Cortland Finnegan this offseason, they still have a need for another top-notch cover guy.
At this point in Round 2, with Claiborne, Stephon Gilmore and Dre Kirkpatrick long gone, the best available corner is the slightly troubled former Florida Gator.
He may lack the size of Gilmore and Kirkpatrick, but he cleaned up his act while at North Alabama according to Scout.com.
That alone should at least temper his infamous run-ins with the law.
Since no one really questions his value on the football field, he might be considered a steal as the top pick of the second round.
Despite (somewhat surprisingly) being able to bring Reggie Wayne back this offseason, the Colts still have a need for a wide receiver to help start the Andrew Luck era off with some level of success.
Besides losing Pierre Garcon to the Redskins, they also lost Anthony Gonzalez to the Patriots.Iin addition to his health/concussion concerns, Austin Collie does become a free agent after next year.
The new regime in Indianapolis is fortunate to not have to dip into that third tier of wide receivers (Mohamed Sanu, Chris Givens, Alshon Jeffery) in order to give Luck another tool.
Randle had a fine junior season at LSU, catching 53 passes for 917 yards and eight touchdowns. With his great size (6'3", 210 pounds), he should be able to transition to the NFL—with some growing pains—and be a major factor in the Colts' rebuilding process.
If Devon Still has a slight complaint this spring for lacking attention compared to other defensive tackles, then Clemson's Brandon Thompson should be outraged.
Thompson has gotten almost no attention, despite the fact that he's helped to make Da'Quan Bowers, Andre Branch and a few other Tigers defensive linemen look really good over the past three years.
At the combine, Thompson showed incredible strength, benching 225 35 times, but that was only a small display of his talents. According to CBS Sports, as a junior he could bench 450, squat 615 and power clean 370.
The Vikings aren't necessarily desperate for a defensive tackle. They still have Kevin Williams, but he's set to make $7 million a season for three years starting in 2013 and will probably be a cap casualty down the line.
With Remi Ayodele being released, there's an immediate need as well.
David showed great athleticism at the combine, running the 40 in 4.66 and recording a 36.5" vertical.
If he's to become something of a surprise early second-round choice, it's mainly for other reasons. He's a great tackler and very opportunistic about stripping opposing ball-carriers, two things that NFL defensive coordinators absolutely love.
The Bucs have Quincy Black locked up long-term (and for big money) at one outside linebacker spot, and they brought back Adam Hayward. However, losing Geno Hayes does create an opening that they'll probably look to fill on draft day. Having addressed two huge holes in free agency (wide receiver and guard), they can afford to use their second-round pick on this need position.
Very quietly, the Browns are putting together a great defense, and one built for the long haul.
They have Phil Taylor and Jabaal Sheard highlighting a fine defensive line that was just bolstered by the addition of Frostee Rucker. They also locked up D'Qwell Jackson to anchor that unit, and Joe Haden is one of the best young corners in the game.
Since they spent a pair of first-round choices on offense (Trent Richardson, Kendall Wright), they should look to find an outside 'backer to better fit their 4-3 scheme.
Zach Brown is very athletic—he was both a track and wrestling star in high school—and a versatile defender. He has great instincts against the run, can rush the passer and is an above-average zone defender.
Earlier, I said that the Jaguars defense showed enough improvement last year that they could afford to pass on a stud pass-rusher like Quinton Coples in order to land a much-needed playmaker on the other side of the ball.
Well, with Michael Floyd in hand to make their collection of skill players respectable, they should turn back to the other side of the ball and address a pass rush. For the past two seasons, they have been at the bottom of the rankings in terms of sacks.
Syracuse's Chandler Jones might not have the profile or resume of some of the first-rounders this year, but he's been an All-Big East defensive end for the past three seasons. He also had a good combine, posting one of the best verticals of any defensive end.
Opposite Jeremy Mincey, Jones will see a lot of chances to rush the passer.
It's well-documented that the Rams struggled mightily to protect their quarterbacks last season, as they allowed 55 sacks in 2011.
Since they really haven't done much in free agency to improve upon that awful stat, the draft is the next best option—especially if Jason Brown leaves as a free agent.
In spite of some troublesome health issues over the past few seasons, Konz is still regarded as the best center in this draft. His pedigree as a Wisconsin Badger suggests he'll have a seamless transition to the next level.
See—that trade with the Redskins for the rights to RG3 is already paying off.
I'm not entirely sure why Jeffery has gotten something of a bad reputation; he doesn't have the same type of character issues that have plagued many names in this or previous drafts. Not even something as relatively benign as the "bad attitude" that plagued Pitt's Jonathan Baldwin at this time last year.
The weight issue has been something that's been repeated over and over, but Pro Football Talk reports he's slimmed down and ran an unofficial 4.37 40-yard dash (per Sports Illustrated's Tony Pauline). I think he's actually worthy of consideration in the first round.
Now, that won't happen; the damage to his rep has already been done.
But there's a huge difference between being a first- and a second-round pick. Teams can get away much more easily with rolling the dice on a 40th overall pick than a 25th overall pick. That's why I see the Panthers, who could use both a complement and heir apparent to Steve Smith sooner rather than later, taking a shot here.
"Cam Newton to Alshon Jeffery for six" might be heard dozens of times over the next decade.
The team that takes Oklahoma State's complicated quarterback talent Brandon Weeden will only do so if they have a franchise signal-caller in place. Weeden's going to be 30 years old by the middle of his second season; that's just not the ideal way to build a team.
So although that limits Weeden's suitors, I expect him to find one in Buffalo. The Bills are set and committed to Ryan Fitzpatrick, but really could use a viable stand-in on the roster.
Weeden may be more physically, mentally and emotionally more mature than any of his rookie quarterback contemporaries, but he's still going to be a rookie and make rookie mistakes. He's also big, has a strong arm and is very careful with the football.
Should something happen to Fitzpatrick late in the season, Chan Gailey would feel comfortable turning over the reins to the not-so-young rookie.
Branch doesn't have nearly the same type of aura of greatness surrounding him that former Tigers teammate Da'Quan Bowers did last spring, but he'll ultimately go higher than last year's early first overall front-runner.
The 6'4", 260-pound All-ACC pass-rusher nabbed 10.5 sacks last year and a whopping 17 tackles for loss, so he is a more-than-solid second-round choice. Just as importantly, he's very seasoned, having played significant time in virtually all of the Tigers' games the past three seasons.
Although the Dolphins already have an excellent pass-rusher on the edge in Cameron Wake, the retirement of Jason Taylor and the departure of Kendall Langford does leave that Miami pass rush in need of a replacement.
If the new regime in Miami plays either the 4-3 or 3-4 (or both), it'll have the edge-rusher it needs to put pressure on Tom Brady.
It's not exactly the 2004 draft that saw six Miami Hurricanes go in the first round, but the start of Round 2 is loaded with Clemson Tigers!
Not so long ago, Allen was neck and neck with Stanford's Coby Fleener for consideration as the top tight end, but Fleener's incredible pro day pushed him to the top.
Allen will still quickly find a home. He's just as big, almost as fast and put up roughly the same numbers in an offense that wasn't nearly as renowned and adored as the one in Palo Alto.
With Zach Miller, the Seahawks aren't necessarily bare at the tight end spot—although John Carlson did leave for Minnesota. But Miller really underperformed in 2011, and Allen can either boost his numbers or simply take his spot. Either way, Matt Flynn wins.
For weeks, I've pretty much been bashing Ohio State tackle Mike Adams, saying that any team who spends a first-round pick on him is making a colossal mistake.
Most of that condemnation is chalked up to his horrible combine (19 reps on the bench) and his role in the infamous tattoo scandal that rocked Columbus.
Neither of those indiscretions mean he should go undrafted—far from it.
The Chiefs need a tackle to replace Barry Richardson, who most likely won't be coming back after a very poor season. Although Adams was a left tackle at Ohio State, he should be able to make the transition over to the right side.
Not including Janoris Jenkins (since he was at Florida), this marks the first selection of a non-FBS player.
What does that mean? Well, really not much since Silatolu has started to garner strong support from the scouts out there.
A tackle in college, he is expected to move inside at the next level. While that may seem like a knock on his agility or footwork, the switch will ultimately work to his benefit. He's used to playing on an island and drive blocking all alone, something that most collegiate guards don't do.
Although Dallas would have preferred to take Kevin Zeitler, David DeCastro or Cordy Glenn, it'll put Silatolu to work quickly. Kyle Kosier is likely on his way out of Big D, and both veterans Derrick Dockery and Montrae Holland (who is coming off a major biceps injury) are also free agents.
The Eagles are hardly set at linebacker. I expect them to draft another linebacker or two, and they should. This isn’t a great linebacker class, but there are a few prospects who could slip into the middle rounds and be available to the Eagles.
One of the more underrated linebackers in this class is Cal's Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year, Mychal Kendricks.
As a senior, Kendricks made 105 tackles and recorded 14 tackles for loss, but the most appealing thing about him is that he played in all 51 Cal games during his four years at Berkeley. That type of experience in a division replete with offensive talent (Andrew Luck, LaMichael James, Matt Barkley, Jake Locker, etc.) overshadows the minor "reach" of this pick.
Forty-three spaces—that sure is a long time between running back selections. Didn't this game used to be dominated by ball-carriers, not throwers and catchers?
Regardless, much like last year, running backs will get their due early on in the first round rather than the second, and the first to come off the board on Friday will be the Boise State star.
Martin's build is almost identical to Trent Richardson's, the fourth overall choice, but the former doesn't have quite the same burst so he falls a bit.
Still, the Jets should be thrilled to see him available. Martin had a great combine (4.55 in the 40, 28 reps on the bench, 36" vertical), and with LaDainian Tomlinson gone, Shonn Greene will need someone to spell him. It won't be Tim Tebow, and Bilal Powell really didn't show much as a rookie.
It's become a recurring theme in this mock draft: Teams with terrible pass defenses need to look at the pass rush for improvement. I've said it about Green Bay and New England.
Since the Patriots have become so proficient at stockpiling selections, they'll have multiple (and early) opportunities to test that theory.
Even though Vince Wilfork often plays outside in their 3-4 scheme, the Pats have not been able to apply enough pressure with the three-man rush. Losing Mark Anderson to the rival Bills only makes things worse, as does the fact that Shaun Ellis and Andre Carter probably won't be re-signed.
Size-wise, Crick is the ideal 3-4 defensive end, but he also has a tremendous motor and plays the run with the same intensity and production that he does the pass.
Although the Chargers made a major impact in the free-agent market by signing Jarret Johnson away from Baltimore, they still should consider adding another outside pass-rusher. Both Antwan Barnes and Shaun Phillips are free agents after 2012.
While most of the big names and most promising big-program athletes are gone by this time, the Chargers can still land a nice tweener out of Marshall.
Curry is big and looks the part of a 3-4 outside 'backer, but his terrible 40 time at the combine (4.98) ruined his chances of being called in the first round. But he's become renowned in some circles for his incredible quickness off the snap, something the 40 obviously can't measure.
Jonathan Bales writes for the New York Times' Fifth Down blog, and according to him:
Curry has a wealth of potential. I think his initial burst is first-round worthy, and his ability to play the run reaffirms that grade. If he can work on finishing his pass rush and disengaging from blocks in the run game, the sky is the limit.
Sanu has the same size that Rueben Randle boasts. He started three seasons in the Big East and is said to have tremendous hands. So why isn't he a first-round choice? Well, that 4.65 in the 40-yard dash ruined any shot of being picked in the first round.
Still, he showed excellent leaping ability at the combine and has no qualms about going over the middle. Although a few years back it might have actually hurt Sanu that he was a product of the Scarlet Knights, right now it's actually a boost. Look at how many former Rutgers players (and even head coach Greg Schiano) have transitioned very well to the NFL. Take Kenny Britt, for example.
Lost in all the hoopla over Peyton Manning, Tim Tebow and Bountygate was the story regarding Eagles tackle Jason Peters, who tore his Achilles and will likely miss all of 2012.
Maybe King Dunlap will step in admirably for the Dream Team Redux, but since they also dealt Winston Justice to the Colts, they are still going to have almost no depth at that critical position.
While the second round of the NFL draft isn't necessarily the ideal place to find a possible starting left tackle, the Eagles should feel a lot better with Massie on the roster.
He has the right build—not just weight and height, but also very long arms—and performed reasonably well at the combine. The most important line on his resume? He started 17 games, most of which were in the SEC, where practically every team has an NFL-caliber outside pass-rusher.
Not only did the Titans lose Cortland Finnegan to free agency, but Jason McCourty's contract expires after 2012. With the money free-agent corners are being paid these days, the Titans might not be able to bring him back after next season.
Luckily there are still some top-notch corners on the board when they pick in the second round, and the name that pops out is Josh Robinson.
A three-year starter, Robinson began earning national attention at the combine, where he ran the fastest 40 time (4.33) of anyone present. But he's more than just a blazing runner.
Robinson has a solid frame, can jump as well as most of his corner contemporaries and has very refined skills in coverage.
Very physical at the line of scrimmage, Dennard has a bright future in the NFL.
His combine numbers were above average (4.55 in the 40, 37" vertical) but something that's much harder to measure should help his draft stock: He played three seasons beside former first-round draft pick and now Super Bowl champion Prince Amukamara. Expect Dennard to have learned plenty from the Giants' second-year corner.
So what team will ultimately land all that potential?
Look for the Bengals to do so.
Obviously, Leon Hall is entrenched as a starter at one corner position, but Nate Clements—who had a solid first season in Cincy—is 32 years old and will be a free agent after 2012. Consider Terence Newman in the same boat, since he will be 34 at the start of the season and only signed a one-year deal. Although Pacman Jones figures to be healthy and a contender for the starting job, I just don't see the front office counting on his availability; he's not always been the most dependable employee.
Lions fans should be a tad cautious if their team spends another high draft pick (Jahvid Best in the first round of 2010, Mikel Leshoure in the second round of 2011) on a running back because it's a reminder of Matt Millen's three consecutive top-10 wide receiver picks between 2003 and 2005.
But this is much more of a need selection.
Best's concussion issues coupled with the torn Achilles that Leshoure suffered does leave the Lions' running back situation up in the air in 2012. If neither of those backs can be counted on, Kevin Smith won't be able to handle the load entirely.
So, if Wilson is still on the board here, the Lions will be wise to select him. He ran a great 40-yard dash (4.49) and posted some of the highest scores of anyone in the vertical leap (41"), the broad jump (132"), the 20-yard shuttle (4.12) and the 60-yard shuttle (11.59).
Assuming the Falcons don't get itchy and panic by making a deal into the first round, this will be their first selection.
While they will miss out on all the big names to come through, they still can land a quality player at a spot they need to address.
Reyes has garnered a ton of attention from scouts lately, and some have him climbing into the early portion of the first round. That's what running a sub-5.0 40-yard dash and repping the bench press 36 times will do.
Since this draft has been so defensive tackle-heavy, I think he'll slip through the cracks just a bit. Good news for the Falcons, who are clearly disappointed in Peria Jerry and are paying Jonathan Babineaux a ton of money for declining production.
Big Ben Roethlisberger would probably love this selection, and not just because the team is bringing in a fellow Miami Redhawk.
Rather than that alumni pride, Roethlisberger knows that the Steelers' running game needed a major boost even before Rashard Mendenhall was lost with a knee injury.
Chris Kemoeatu's value declined every week in the 2011 season and it cost the Steelers any consistency. Ramon Foster did a decent job at the right guard spot, and Doug Legursky provides nice depth. Sooner rather than later, the Steelers must improve at the guard spot.
As far as late second-round picks go, Brooks is a great solution. A four-year starter, he has excellent balance and fine footwork for a guard.
Most importantly for the Steelers, who almost always seem to befall a series of crippling O-line injuries, Brooks can play both right and left guard as well as tackle.
Last year, the Broncos' passing game defied all logic and expectations, largely because Tim Tebow was at the helm. Another reason why was a real lack of experience and depth at the wide receiver position. After all, that late-season run started after they traded away Brandon Lloyd.
But Eric Decker and Demaryius Thomas are still extremely raw, and now that Peyton Manning is under (or, in his case, a few feet behind) center, they need to fill out that four-receiver set.
Although he doesn't have the size of just about all the top wide receiver prospects (aside from Kendall Wright), Wake Forest's Chris Givens would be an ideal fit inside the slot.
He ran a fantastic 40-yard dash at the combine (4.41) and is said to run routes with the type of precision and consistency that will earn the trust of a veteran like Manning early on.
While rookie T.J. Yates did an admirable job filling in for the injured Matt Schaub and then the injured Matt Leinart, his ceiling might not be terribly high.
While Schaub has had some big statistical seasons over the last few years, the fact that he is 30 years old and a free agent after next season might have the Texans looking towards the future. Since Houston actually became a wild card in the Peyton Manning sweepstakes at one point in March, that's not exactly the most adamant endorsement of Schaub's place as a long-term cornerstone.
Cousins has taken a backseat to the other big-name quarterbacks this year—even to Brandon Weeden, who has already come off the board by this point.
He was a starter in the Big Ten for essentially three-and-a-half seasons, as well as a main reason why the Spartans enjoyed so much success the past few years.
Best of all, while in East Lansing, he did a pretty solid job of making good decisions with the ball—only 30 picks in 1,128 attempts.
While I earnestly believe that the Packers (and the Patriots, for that matter) will ultimately solve their pass defense issues by improving the pass rush, improving the secondary is a nice side project.
Charlie Peprah is an aggressive and powerful strong safety, but at 29 years of age, wouldn't they have given him a contract that lasted longer than two years if they were really committed to him?
A free agent after 2012, Peprah may ultimately part ways with the Packers.
If that is the case, the Packers—who already have a huge question mark at free safety thanks to Nick Collins' neck issues—need a backup plan.
Smith, one of the top defenders for the Fighting Irish, might still be on the board here and plays safety like a linebacker, a position he played during his sophomore season in South Bend.
Would rookie Chris Polk be a suitable replacement for Ray Rice should the Ravens workhorse hold out or force a trade? No.
But even if Rice returns to the team tomorrow, there will still be a need for another running back on the Baltimore roster.
Ricky Williams is retiring, and none of the other pure running backs on the roster have any experience.
Polk runs with a style similar to Rice's and is also tremendous inside the tackles, which is a major staple of that Ravens offense. Furthermore, like Rice—who has caught 217 passes over the last three seasons—Polk developed into a pretty reliable pass-catcher toward the end of his career at Washington.
Depending on how much of Rice's role he's asked to fill, he seems like a great fit.
The 49ers bit the bullet this offseason and paid Carlos Rogers the huge deal he earned in 2011. Tarell Brown had a fine season last year as well.
Depth is key, and considering they have Tramaine Brock on a one-year deal, brought in Perrish Cox this offseason and let Shawntae Spencer go, they should look for some more support in the secondary.
Hosley is undersized and missed parts of last year due to injuries, but he's a fantastic ball hawk. In 2010, he recorded 10 picks, leading the entire nation.
Utilizing that ability to create turnovers, the 49ers can put him out on the field as a nickelback right away. Someday down the line, perhaps they'll move him into the starting role.
More front seven support for the Pats to go along with Jared Crick at defensive end and Dont'a Hightower at inside linebacker. Irvin is blessed with great size, but even better athleticism.
At the combine he ran a blistering 4.5, and he posted some of the best broad jump, cone drill and 20-yard shuttle numbers.
He's not exactly the most refined or versatile outside 'backer in this draft—he rushes the quarterback like a pro, but doesn't do much else right now—but the Patriots don't need him to be.
Rob Ninkovich's contract is up after 2012, and they don't have anyone waiting in the wings to step in at the outside (3-4) 'backer spot.
If he can get on the field, Irvin should be able to make an impact off the edge—much in the same way Aldon Smith did for the 49ers last year.
Here is a fairly simple entry to end on. The Super Bowl champions lost Brandon Jacobs to the 49ers, and a solid running back is on the board for them.
This late in second round, the cream of the running back crop has really come off the board, but Pead is something of a diamond in the rough. He ran a 4.47 at the combine, and since he put up one of the top cone-drill numbers, he clearly has the agility and footwork to make defenders miss.
Pead will begin training camp behind D.J. Ware and Da'Rel Scott, but his ability to contribute in the passing game—both as a blocker and a receiver of the short, outlet passes—will help to give him a boost. He'll possibly earn himself a job as the third-down back.