After months of speculation, observation, postulation and more than a little consternation, the big night is finally here, as the 2012 NFL draft kicks off Thursday night with the first round from Radio City Music Hall in New York City.
The first two selections are foregone conclusions, but after that, things will likely get very interesting very quickly. It may be nearly impossible to predict what NFL teams will do, but that doesn't mean we can't examine what teams should do, and here's a draft-day breakdown of the first-round moves each club should make.
1. Indianapolis Colts: Andrew Luck, QB, Stanford
There won't be much drama with the first pick of this year's draft, as the Colts have reportedly informed the Stanford star that he will be the first overall selection in the 2012 NFL draft.
2. Washington Redskins (from St. Louis Rams): Robert Griffin III, QB, Baylor
3. Minnesota Vikings: Matt Kalil, OT, USC
The Vikings have reportedly narrowed their choices to three players, but the smart move would be to improve the pass protection for second-year quarterback Christian Ponder with the draft's top left tackle prospect.
4. Cleveland Browns: Trent Richardson, RB, Alabama
The Browns have numerous needs as a team, and the club has been linked to a handful of the draft's top prospects with the fourth-overall pick, including wide receiver Justin Blackmon, quarterback Ryan Tannehill and cornerback Morris Claiborne.
Alabama running back Trent Richardson topped 2,000 total yards last season for the Crimson Tide. After losing 2011 starter Peyton Hillis to free agency, the Browns have a huge hole in the offensive backfield, and CBS Sports' Gregg Doyel feels that Richardson is worthy of being the first running back taken in the top 5 since Darren McFadden in 2008.
Again, we haven't seen a guy like this since Adrian Peterson. Before him? Marshall Faulk. Then Barry Sanders. That's how far back you have to go to find three more promising running backs, pre-draft, than Trent Richardson.
5. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Morris Claiborne, CB, LSU
Tampa head coach Greg Schiano dispelled rumors last week that the team was shopping cornerback Aqib Talib, but whether Talib remains with the Buccaneers or not, Tampa Bay needs to improve the secondary.
6. St. Louis Rams (from Washington Redskins): Justin Blackmon, WR, Oklahoma State
With Brandon Lloyd now in New England, the Rams don't have a wide receiver on the roster who notched 500 yards last season, making improving the receiving corps by adding the two-time Biletnikoff Award winner a priority.
7. Jacksonville Jaguars: Michael Floyd, WR, Notre Dame
The Jaguars are reportedly "desperate" to trade down, but with no suitors evident at this point, the team should look to upgrade the offensive weaponry available to quarterback Blaine Gabbert.
8. Miami Dolphins: Ryan Tannehill, QB, Texas A&M
I'll freely admit that I'm not a fan of the Aggies standout, but all signs point to Miami pulling the trigger on the strong armed signal-caller. If nothing else, selecting Tannehill could prove a precursor to a move the Dolphins should have made some time ago...firing general manager Jeff Ireland.
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, and the 298-pound Bulldogs standout has been shooting up draft boards as of late.
10. Buffalo Bills: Riley Reiff, OT, Iowa
The loss of starter Demetress Bell in free agency leaves the Bills with a big need at offensive tackle, and while Reiff may not possess fantastic upside, there's also little risk that the 313-pounder will bust.
11. Kansas City Chiefs: Michael Brockers, DT, LSU
Last year's starter, Kelly Gregg, is a 35-year-old free agent who is considering retirement. This leaves the Chiefs with a hole at nose tackle, and the 322-pound Brockers could fill that both literally and figuratively.
12. Seattle Seahawks: Melvin Ingram, DE, South Carolina
Chris Clemons has developed into a dependable pass-rusher in the Emerald City, notching 11 sacks each of the past two seasons, but the Seahawks badly need to find the ninth-year veteran a battery-mate.
South Carolina defensive end Melvin Ingram was named a first-team All-American after logging 10 sacks a year ago for the Gamecocks, and the 6'1", 264-pound senior is the best pass-rusher in the 2012 draft class, according to Pete Prisco of CBS Sports.
This is a defensive talent who made plays in the mighty SEC against good football players. He made them as a rush end. He made them as a stand-up linebacker. He made them in coverage. He even made them on special teams, his fake-punt run for a touchdown against Georgia is something you should watch on YouTube.
13. Arizona Cardinals: David DeCastro, OG, Stanford
The Cardinals have needs at both the tackle and guard positions on the offensive line after allowing the second-most sacks in the NFL last year, and the two-time consensus All-American is widely considered one of the best guard prospects in years.
14. Dallas Cowboys: Mark Barron, S, Alabama
The Cowboys need to upgrade the back end of the defense, and Don Banks of Sports Illustrated stated recently that he thinks that Dallas has "been fairly well locked in on the Crimson Tide safety for weeks now."
15. Philadelphia Eagles: Dontari Poe, DT, Memphis
The Eagles defense was susceptible up the middle a season ago. The 346-pound Poe's stock has cooled somewhat since his explosion at the combine, but as his phenomenal workout shows, the physical talents would certainly seem to be there.
16. New York Jets: Courtney Upshaw, OLB, Alabama
The Jets were forced to blitz more than any team in the NFL (57.1 percent) to get pressure on opposing quarterbacks last season. The 272-pound All-American struggled at the combine and Alabama's pro day, but Upshaw's impressive collegiate resume and experience in the 3-4 defense should be more than enough to overcome his mediocre workouts.
The Bengals improved the secondary somewhat with the addition of free agent Terence Newman, but the 6'0" Gamecocks star could be a fantastic value here given that many pundits view Gilmore as a top-10 pick.
18. San Diego Chargers: Whitney Mercilus, DE/OLB, Illinois
The Chargers managed only 32 sacks as a team in 2011, and given that the 261-pound Mercilus led all FBS players with 16 sacks last year, he would seem a welcome addition in San Diego.
19. Chicago Bears: Quinton Coples, DE, North Carolina
The Bears re-upped 31-year-old defensive end Israel Idonije after missing out on Mario Williams in free agency, but the team is still looking to upgrade up front on defense opposite Julius Peppers.
20. Tennessee Titans: Chandler Jones, DE/OLB, Syracuse
Only one team in the National Football League totaled fewer sacks than the Tennessee Titans a season ago, and while the team added linebacker Kamerion Wimbley in free agency, the pass rush is still an area of need in Nashville.
Syracuse defensive end Chandler Jones didn't light up the stat sheet for the Orangemen as a senior, but the 6'5", 266-pounder has been a favorite of some draftniks for some time now, including the NFL Network's Mike Mayock.
"My work is tape-based. I study a lot of tape and I come to my own conclusions," Mayock shared Monday on The Dan Patrick Show. "The No. 9 player on my board is Chandler Jones, the defensive end from Syracuse. Nobody has him No. 9. If he goes 20 it'll be early. So, when teams tell me, 'Mike, you've got him too high,' I'm going to keep him there because I believe in him, I did the work, I watched the tape, so ... "
21. Cincinnati Bengals: Cordy Glenn, OG, Georgia
The Bengals have a glaring need along the interior of the offensive line, and the 345-pound, All-SEC performer is a road-grader of a run-blocker, who would likely step into an immediate role as a starter in the Queen City.
Choosing a linebacker here may be an odd move to some for the Browns. However, the nation's leading tackler would be a fantastic value here and could step into the starting lineup if Scott Fujita winds up suspended for misdeeds committed while he was in New Orleans.
23. Detroit Lions: Dre Kirkpatrick, CB, Alabama
The Lions are in dire need of improvement at the cornerback position, and the team almost certainly wouldn't hesitate for a second to draft the 6'2" All-American if he falls this far.
24. Pittsburgh Steelers: Dont'a Hightower, ILB, Alabama
The release of longtime starter James Farrior leaves Pittsburgh with a hole at inside linebacker, and the Crimson Tide All-American is a tough-nosed run-stuffer who would be a perfect fit at SILB for the no-nonsense Steelers.
25. Denver Broncos: Derek Wolfe, DT, Cincinnati
The 295-pound Big East Defensive Player of the Year has excellent quickness for a player of his size, and Wolfe would instantly bolster a Denver defensive line that was the Achilles' heel of the defense last season.
26. Houston Texans: Nick Perry, DE/OLB, USC
Improvement on the defensive side of the ball was a big part of the Texans' run to the playoffs a season ago, and the addition of the 2011 Pac-12 sack king would help to offset the loss of Mario Williams in free agency.
Free agency has taken a toll on an aging New England defense due to the departure of Mark Anderson and Andre Carter, and the Boise State standout has drawn comparisons to Green Bay Packers linebacker Clay Matthews.
28. Green Bay Packers: Harrison Smith, FS, Notre Dame
The release of free safety Nick Collins after seven seasons with the team leaves the Packers with another hole to fill on a defense that ranked dead last in the NFL last year.
Unfortunately for Green Bay, this year's crop of safeties is wafer-thin, but as his former college coach recently told the New York Post, Notre Dame's Harrison Smith should be ready to contribute at the NFL level right away after tallying 90 tackles for The Fighting Irish as a senior.
Look, in the NFL, it’s about performance. You just don’t walk into a locker room and become a leader. That’s not his style. But Harrison is so consistent and so dependable, once he makes a few plays, guys will listen to him.
29. Baltimore Ravens: Stephen Hill, WR, Georgia Tech
If last year was any indication, Anquan Boldin may be nearing the end of the line, leaving the Ravens with a need at wide receiver. After playing at run-first Georgia Tech, Stephen Hill may need some time to acclimate to the pro game—but as NFL Network draft expert Mike Mayock said, "There is value to this kid."
30. San Francisco 49ers: Amini Silatolu, OT/OG, Midwestern State
The 49ers need to acquire a replacement for Adam Snyder at guard, and while Silatolu played tackle at Division II Midwestern State, he will likely kick inside at the NFL level. Speculation regarding San Francisco's interest in the small-school star is gaining steam.
31. New England Patriots: Janoris Jenkins, CB, North Alabama
The former Florida star seemingly damages his draft stock every time he opens his mouth, but New England is so starved for secondary help that they may overlook his shortcomings and focus on his not-inconsiderable talents.
32. New York Giants: Jonathan Martin, OT, Stanford
The New York offensive line isn't getting any younger and lost Kareem McKenzie in the offseason, so Martin's falling draft stock may be a blessing in disguise for the defending Super Bowl champions.