NFL Draft guru Mel Kiper, Jr. has turned in his fifth and final mock draft on the eve of the big event. In it, Kiper has charted a possible course for tomorrow's first-round selections.
How well do I think he did? Overall, it's hard to argue with anything that he's put out there for tomorrow's opening round. There are a few things I don't agree with, however. Here's a look at how his first 32 picks grade out.
Andrew Luck, QB, Stanford
If Kiper had mocked anyone different here, he'd have turned a significant amount of heads and would be flying in the face of all logic. The Colts have been on the Andrew Luck train since they clinched the league's worst record (2-14) at the end of the 2011 season.
Kiper says rightly that there's a lot more intrigue around who the Colts select with their next pick. I agree there with his assertion that they need to help Andrew Luck out, perhaps with a tight end or a target who can be groomed to eventually replace the aging Reggie Wayne.
Robert Griffin III, QB, Baylor
This is another no-brainer. The Redskins traded most of their future to get the quarterback that they hope will lead them out of the mediocrity they've been mired in for a long, long time. I can't even remember the last real franchise quarterback the Redskins had (no I'm not counting Donovan McNabb or Jason Campbell).
Kiper has some things to say about how the Redskins surrounded their future quarterback with receiving talent. I'm lukewarm on that score right now. I think that they could have done better and I certainly think they massively overpaid for the right to pick one player. I do, however, like the potential of Griffin III.
Morris Claiborne, CB, LSU
I both agree and disagree with Kiper's assertions. First, I agree with his belief that the Vikings are doing everything they can to shop this pick to someone else. They don't need a quarterback, but a lot of other teams are vying for Ryan Tannehill's services.
The problem I think the Vikings have is that no one thinks they'll take Tannehill, so teams are more apt to try and deal with Cleveland at fourth overall rather than bother with paying a king's ransom to Minnesota, who isn't a threat.
Where I disagree is his belief that the Vikings will go with Claiborne if they can't move out. While I agree it's a need, the Vikings have a more urgent need to either give Christian Ponder a big target (Justin Blackmon) or some protection (Matt Kalil).
Trent Richardson, RB, Alabama
If only Kiper could be the GM of the Browns. They may not be picking this high this often. Unfortunately, the Browns have become a historically bad franchise when it comes to making smart decisions with players. This pick has everything right, but I can't give Mel a perfect because I don't think the Browns really will do this.
Cleveland is on the fence with Colt McCoy. They have no right to be (the talent around him is mostly Arena League-level stuff), but they have given no indication that they trust their former draft choice. Drafting Richardson would virtually lock in McCoy for next season. Drafting Ryan Tannehill is more likely to me, but hopefully I'm wrong.
Matt Kalil, OT, USC
Given what the board has so far, I like this pick and I agree with Kiper that trading out will be on the radar of possibilities if things go this way. If I had my pick here, I'd go with Morris Claiborne. Ronde Barber can't go on forever. Claiborne has potential to be the next big thing.
That said, I'm grading on whether or not I think Mel has things right with the board he's giving. I think that Kalil fills a need for Tampa Bay, which must do a better job of protecting Josh Freeman and opening holes for the running game. When you can get a franchise tackle, you just have to do it.
Justin Blackmon, WR, Oklahoma State
Unlike Kiper, I cannot see any reason why the Rams would want to trade out of this spot if they could get Justin Blackmon. Accumulating picks when you have a lot of needs is important, but the Rams have padded their draft pockets with the Redskins' help already.
Getting a target like Blackmon for quarterback Sam Bradford, especially now that Brandon Lloyd has headed north, is going to be very important if the Rams have any hope of turning things around under Jeff Fisher and not stunting Bradford any further.
Fletcher Cox, DT, Mississippi State
Kiper makes a trade here, assuming that Jacksonville will trade down if they get a good offer since they can't get a valuable piece here that would make fiscal sense. While I think that trying to mock trades is like trying to bet on the weather, this one has some legs.
I like the pick, too. Cox is the perfect pick for the Eagles, who badly need to improve their presence up front. They were inconsistent against the run last season and couldn't get a lot of good pressure up the middle. Cox has the potential to completely change all of that.
Ryan Tannehill, QB, Texas A&M
It's hard to argue here. Miami needs a future starting quarterback in the worst way possible. Joe Philbin has done well nurturing young talent at the position. Ryan Tannehill is the only quarterback who has the potential to get this far down the board. Even that isn't guaranteed.
Combine all that and this is what you get. If the board flows the way he's predicted, there's almost no way Kiper is wrong here. I like this fit, too. Tannehill isn't as polished as the first two quarterbacks in this draft. He's going to need work and adjustment time. Matt Moore and Joe Philbin give him just that.
Luke Kuechly, LB, Boston College
This is an intriguing spot. The Panthers appear to have the offensive firepower to compete, but their defense is a trouble spot, particularly with injuries. Kiper's feeling is that they'll take the best defensive player available. Kuechly also fills a need to a point if those injury woes continue.
I wonder, though, if the Panthers will take a defensive lineman. Dontari Poe isn't likely to go this high, especially now that there seems to be a renewed doubt in him. But there are a wealth of defensive ends that fit this area of the round that I could see going. I just don't see the wisdom of overloading a position when you've got other issues.
Michael Floyd, WR, Notre Dame
I agree with Kiper that Floyd is a high-upside player that could become a major piece of any offense, but I do not like this pick at all. I think that Buffalo has some more important needs to fill with this pick and none of them are on the offensive skill position wagon.
An offensive lineman would be my first stop. I think that Buffalo must find better protection for the quarterback that they shelled out big money to last season. He has targets already. He doesn't have the time. They could do almost anything on the defensive side of the ball and be right. The key is not to reach, regardless of what they do.
David DeCastro, OG, Stanford
No arguments from me here. DeCastro is a huge prospect and I think he may go higher than this. Kiper is gaga over him, saying that he'll improve a running game immediately and that he's the best prospect at the position since Steve Hutchinson.
The thing is, I can't argue one bit. Any team that needs a guard is foolish not to take DeCastro if they can. The Chiefs need a boost in the running game and could stand to protect the quarterback better too. This guy will do just that.
Chandler Jones, DE, Syracuse
I think that Kiper is right that the Seahawks could use a pass-rusher. Jones certainly fits the model for that, although I like Melvin Ingram better if you're trying to create more disruption. The truth is that Pete Carroll has the luxury of picking either player. I just think he'll go with the other guy.
The Seahawks could use some offensive help, too. They doled out big money for Matt Flynn, but they could use some more help at receiver. Unless Michael Floyd is still waiting, I think, however, that they'll sit on that need for the time being.
Melvin Ingram, DE, South Carolina
I'm with Mel here. There's no way a team that wants a disruptive rusher passes on this guy. I'd flip him and Jones in the order, but if Seattle doesn't take him, Arizona would be foolish to do the same. They do, as Kiper points out, have other major needs, but their defense was a mess last season.
If Ingram is gone, I think they look at the offensive line and find a tackle. They're in that uncomfortable draft position where the biggest of the big names are gone and the rest all seem like they might be a bit of a reach. It's not a fun spot, but they will hopefully get a guy like this that can make a huge difference.
Mark Barron, S, Alabama
Anyone who didn't know that Dallas wanted/needed secondary help wasn't paying attention during the 2011 season as they got burned by just about everyone. They also might have missed the rapt attention paid to that area by the team during free agency.
That should continue in the draft. The Cowboys could use a playmaking safety that can really tear into an offense's production. Barron is the best available in this draft. If he's on the board, there's no reason I can see Dallas passing on him. They have no need as important as stopping the passing game of their opponents.
Stephon Gilmore, CB, South Carolina
I'm kind of opposed here. Gilmore is a good player, but this is significantly higher than I think he'd go. I also don't see what Jacksonville, an offensively inept team, can gain from taking a defensive player in this round.
The Jaguars need someone who can make an impact on offense. Receiver is a spot I'd be looking at if I were the GM. Laurent Robinson is good, but he's not the guy you'd expect to be the No. 1 talent. Would Stephen Hill be a reach here? I don't think so for this team.
Quinton Coples, DE, North Carolina
Kiper is banking on the Jets to take a player who's a project already and putting him on a team where he may have to make a position change. That's not a recipe for a first-round success, but he's right. Coples' best chance is probably to land with Rex Ryan, who knows how to put young talent in position to succeed.
The Jets have needs, but the defensive line is probably their biggest and a guy like Coples would be the pick that could solve that. He's not going to wow anyone with big plays, but if he can be solid up front at either end or tackle, he could have an important impact.
Cordy Glenn, G/T, Georgia
Yes. The Bengals need help on the line. Their running game hasn't been up to par and they paid to get BenJarvus Green-Ellis this offseason. He should be an upgrade over the sturdy Cedric Benson, but he's going to need help up front to perform.
Green-Ellis is good at bulling his way up the middle. The Bengals biggest weakness is there, where they are small and weak at the guard spots. Glenn could play tackle, but in tiger stripes he's much more likely to slide inside and be an over-sized guard.
Riley Reiff, OT, Iowa
I'm not sold that San Diego won't go the other way and look at a defensive lineman. There are several that would be prime picks here and the Chargers, as Kiper points out, need some help with their pass rush. Still, this isn't a bad pick and is very possible.
Reiff would be able to step in and instantly help a team that's had some injury issues and some mediocrity at tackle. The Chargers line isn't terrible, which is why I think they may move in a different direction, but there's definitely need there.
Whitney Mercilus, DE, Illinois
This is a good, forward-thinking pick. As Kiper points out, Julius Peppers isn't going to get younger or faster. He's still good, but there's no harm in getting him some help. The Bears don't generate a lot of rush because teams can key on stopping Peppers. Until they get another threat up front, they're neutralizing him.
Mercilus is the guy I'd pick in this spot, too. The need is great on the other line, but Kiper points out that in his mock there isn't a lot of value left there for a mid-round pick. That said, I'm totally okay with his logic on this selection.
Dre Kirkpatrick, CB, Alabama
This is an obvious selection. The Titans no longer have Cortland Finnegan, their best corner. They need someone to replace him and they haven't done anything to rectify it during the free-agency period. They must be targeting it in the draft.
In my book, Kirkpatrick is the second-best corner in this draft. I'd put him ahead of Stephon Gilmore, so he may not be around at this spot. But if he is there, there's no way the Titans can pass on him and still do the right thing.
Stephen Hill, WR, Georgia Tech
The Bengals had the available money to go after a guy like Mike Wallace in free agency, but they've been relatively quiet. They're loaded in the draft thanks to the Raiders and can afford to be a bit frivolous with their second pick in the round.
Hill is a younger version of Wallace and, as Kiper points out, he gives the Bengals a nightmare trio of receiving threats that will drive defenses bonkers. While I could see them doing something defensively with this pick, you can't deny that this is a sexy selection.
Brandon Weeden, QB, Oklahoma State
I'm still against the Browns taking a quarterback until they can truly identify that Colt McCoy isn't the answer. They have so little in the way of offensive weaponry, it's almost a crime to put McCoy out there and expect miracles. That's basically what they've done since he arrived.
I love Weeden's upside, but the Browns are better off taking a wide receiver or offensive lineman here and continuing to build up the offense. No quarterback will be successful without weapons, so getting Weeden won't fix the biggest thing that ails this team.
Doug Martin, RB, Boise State
The Lions have one glaring need. They've had it for years. They've never found a way to fill it because they've either been unlucky or unintelligent. They can fix that here. Doug Martin is the guy that could really give that final dimension to the Lions.
Martin is the second-best back in this draft and Kiper is right to put him here. I don't see another team in between Trent Richardson and here that really needs a runner. The Lions must have one and Mikel Leshoure, last year's pick, is no sure thing coming off a big injury.
Dontari Poe, DT, Memphis
There's nothing wrong with this pick. The Steelers will be lucky if Poe gets this far, but it's certainly possible. If not, there's no reason for them not to take Dont'a Hightower, the linebacker from Alabama. I like him slightly better for the Steelers, but there's no denying Poe fills the bigger need.
The Steelers need a successor and possibly an immediate replacement for Casey Hampton. Poe is exactly that and he seems to have the potential to be even more impactful than Hampton has been. He can really disrupt an offensive line.
Michael Brockers, DT, LSU
The Broncos have the outside rushers at end and linebacker that make them dangerous, but they are markedly weaker up the middle. Brockers was a beast for LSU last year and he made the whole defense tick in many ways. He could do the same for Denver.
I think this is a good pick, but I wonder if the Broncos won't go offense in some fashion now that they've added Peyton Manning. The problem is that there really isn't an impact skill player at this spot that they could select without reservations. Brockers is a safer pick and still fits a big need.
Coby Fleener, TE, Stanford
The Texans have a need at tight end and Fleener is the best and most versatile in the draft. Kiper pegs his biggest benefit as being able to get deep and also work over the middle against linebackers. That's true and it would make a huge difference in this offensive scheme.
The Texans really don't have a lot of holes. I think they'd have gone deep in the playoffs with a healthy roster for the full season. This is the one spot that they could really improve with one selection.
Courtney Upshaw, DE/OLB, Alabama
I like this pick. The Patriots defense makes lackluster seem like a compliment. They were a big reason that Eli Manning won his second Super Bowl. They were also a big reason a lot of people were kind of surprised they made it that far to begin with.
Upshaw doesn't blow people away, but he's a good rusher and he should get after the quarterback. The Patriots don't scare a lot of teams with their rush. That needs to change or that still-weak secondary is going to get another workout in 2012.
Shea McClellin, OLB, Boise State
I agree with Mel that the Green Bay rush was abysmal down the stretch last season, but I'm not sure this is what fixes it. Sometimes, things work themselves out. I'm more worried about the fact that the Packers got torched by everyone last year. Passing on them was about as simple as finding water in the ocean.
I like McClellin, but I just don't see how his ability to step in right away and help is going to help solve the bigger problem. I think that getting to the quarterback will help, but last season any quarterback would have been able to be successful and athletic ones will avoid rushers anyway.
Dont'a Hightower, ILB, Alabama
Bullseye. If the Steelers don't snag him, the Ravens have to do it. This guy belongs in the AFC North. For Baltimore, he's Ray Lewis all over again (although hopefully without the legal history). For the Steelers, he'd be the second coming of Greg Lloyd.
Don't buy anything people say about him being stiff or one-dimensional. He makes up for any shortcomings by being a fierce, aggressive competitor. He's the perfect fit for the Baltimore defense and he can even sit a year and learn from one of the finest to ever put on the uniform (and I say that as a Steelers fan folks).
Kevin Zeitler, OG, Wisconsin
For a team that prides itself on the running game, the 49ers don't do a very good job of blocking for it. The runs that were successful last year were mostly due to the talent of the runners and not the blocking of the line. That has to change.
The 49ers have gotten serious about fixing their line in recent seasons and it's made a difference in the work of quarterback Alex Smith and now it can make a difference in Frank Gore's career. Gore takes a lot of hits too early in the play. Blockers that can keep him clean at least to the hole would do wonders.
Harrison Smith, S, Notre Dame
I think Smith is a bit underrated by most, so it's good to see him here in the first round. The Patriots certainly need him. As I talked about with the them in the slide on Courtney Upshaw, this is a team that absolutely needs help in the secondary.
The Patriots pass rush has already been addressed, so there's no need to go anywhere else here. The Patriots can score enough to keep up, but keeping that defense from getting torched by big plays and worse, long drives is important.
Bobby Massie, OT, Ole Miss
The Giants have one offensive weakness right now. Protecting Eli Manning's blind side is it. The Giants managed to win the Super Bowl without a franchise left tackle. They can't keep getting lucky every season.
I think Massie is a good player, but if he gets this far it might be a toss between him and Mike Adams from Ohio State. It'll be interesting to see how the Giants handle the last pick of the round.