It's go time kiddies, as Thursday, April 26th, is a day that fans of the National Football League have been discussing and dissecting for months now...the first round of the 2012 NFL draft at Radio City Music Hall in New York City.
The first round of this year's draft has been examined more times than the Zapruder film (welcome to the Internet age), but there's always room at the virtual table for one more look, so here's my final pre-draft take on how the first round of this year's NFL draft will shake out.
1. Indianapolis Colts: Andrew Luck, QB, Stanford:
There's no question as to what name will be called the first time Roger Goodell steps to the podium this year, as Indianapolis general manager Ryan Grigson announced Tuesday that the Colts will indeed select the Stanford star first overall.
2. Washington Redskins (from St. Louis Rams): Robert Griffin III, QB, Baylor:
Washington cornerback DeAngelo Hall has already dubbed the 2011 Heisman Trophy winner "The Prince of D.C.," but we'll see how long the honeymoon lasts if the Redskins don't win some games.
3. Minnesota Vikings: Matt Kalil, OT, USC:
There is some uncertainty as to which direction the Vikings will go with the third-overall pick, but the best move is for Minnesota to draft the top available left tackle prospect after allowing the fifth-most sacks in the NFL last year.
4. Cleveland Browns: Trent Richardson, RB, Alabama:
The Browns are absolutely desperate for offensive firepower, and the 228-pound Richardson is widely viewed as the best running back prospect in several years after topping 2,000 total yards for the Crimson Tide in 2011.
5. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Morris Claiborne, CB, LSU:
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers may or may not be moving Ronde Barber to safety and may or may not be shopping cornerback Aqib Talib. However, regardless of who stays and who goes the fact remains that the Buccaneers badly need to upgrade at the position.
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 that topped 450 yards last year. That makes improving the receiving corps a priority that the team will address with the two-time Biletnikoff Award winner.
7. Jacksonville Jaguars: Melvin Ingram, DE, South Carolina:
The Jaguars are reportedly interested in trading down, but in any event, Jacksonville needs to bolster a pass-rush that ranked near the bottom of the NFL in sacks in 2011.
South Carolina defensive end Melvin Ingram would likely be of considerable assistance in that regard after logging double-digit sacks for the Gamecocks in 2011, and the 6'1", 264-pound All-American is the top pass rusher available in this year's draft according to Doug Farrar of Yahoo! Sports.
Teams that are building their defenses with size as the main priority will shy away from Ingram, and they may very well regret it when he's beating the crap out of their quarterbacks for the next decade. For teams in need of versatile players who do many things very well, Ingram will be of more interest. I would think that any defensive coordinator with a preference for multiple fronts would love to have him in the palette.
8. Miami Dolphins: Ryan Tannehill, QB, Texas A&M:
The Dolphins spent most of the offseason pursuing a starting quarterback, and there are conflicting reports from South Florida claiming that team owner Stephen Ross may or may not have informed management that he wants Tannehill to be the pick.
9. Carolina Panthers: Fletcher Cox, DT, Mississippi State:
The Carolina run defense ranked near the bottom of the NFL last year and was especially soft up the gut, and the 298-pound All-SEC performer has been shooting up draft boards of late.
10. Buffalo Bills: Mark Barron, SS, Alabama:
Speaking of shooting up draft boards, the top safety prospect in this year's class is making a late push to crash the top 10 amid speculation that the Bills are "very interested" in the Alabama star.
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, which leaves the Chiefs with a sizable hole at nose tackle. At 322 pounds, Michael Brockers has the bulk to man the middle of a 3-4 front and the talent to be a force in the middle for Kansas City for years.
12. Seattle Seahawks: Luke Kuechly, MLB, Boston College:
With David Hawthorne now in New Orleans, the Seahawks need to upgrade the middle of the defense, and although Barrett Ruud and KJ Wright may be serviceable replacements, they aren't on the same level talent-wise as the 2011 Butkus Award winner.
13. Arizona Cardinals: Michael Floyd, WR, Notre Dame:
The Cardinals badly need to upgrade an offensive line that allowed the second-most sacks in the NFL last year, but this may be an instance where the talent on the board outweighs the need at another position.
Notre Dame wide receiver Michael Floyd (who I have called Malcolm approximately 137 times this spring) is considered by many pundits to be an even better wideout prospect than Justin Blackmon after catching 100 passes last year, and Sports Illustrated draft expert Don Banks feels the 6'3" Floyd would be an excellent fit in the desert.
While the Cardinals would go for a Cordy Glenn or a Riley Reiff if they were drafting by a need-first approach, they'll be instead pleasantly surprised that a playmaker like Floyd has fallen to them. That'll make Larry Fitzgerald happy, and if you think Ken Whisenhunt and the Cardinals front office don't care about that, you haven't been paying attention.
14. Dallas Cowboys: Stephon Gilmore, CB, South Carolina:
Even after adding Brandon Carr, the Cowboys could still use some help at cornerback, and the 6'0" Gamecocks star is viewed by many draftniks as a top-10 pick.
15. Philadelphia Eagles: Dontari Poe, DT, Memphis:
The Eagles defense was susceptible up the middle a season ago, and while the 346-pound Poe's stock has cooled somewhat since his explosion at the combine, the physical talents certainly seem to be there after his phenomenal display of speed and strength in Indianapolis.
16. New York Jets: Courtney Upshaw, OLB, Alabama:
The Jets were forced to blitz more than any team in the league (57.1 percent) last year to pressure the quarterback. Courtney Upshaw struggled at the combine and Alabama's pro day, but an extensive collegiate resume and experience in the 3-4 defense should be more than sufficient to overcome his moribund workouts.
The Bengals badly need to bolster the interior of the offensive front, and the 313-pound two-time All-American is the top prospect at his position in this year's class.
18. San Diego Chargers: Whitney Mercilus, DE/OLB, Illinois:
The Chargers managed only 32 sacks as a team in 2011, so after amassing half that number on his own last year, the All-American from Illinois would be a welcome addition in sunny San Diego.
19. Chicago Bears: Quinton Coples, DE, North Carolina:
Although the Bears brought back Israel Idonije after missing out on Mario Williams in free agency, the team is still looking to improve at defensive end opposite Julius Peppers, and at 6'6" and 281-pounds, Quinton Coples is an impressive physical specimen.
20. Tennessee Titans: Chandler Jones, DE/OLB, Syracuse:
Only one team in the National Football League racked up fewer sacks last season than the Tennessee Titans, so improving a pass rush that amassed a paltry 28 sacks in 2011 has to be a priority in Nashville.
Syracuse defensive end Chandler Jones didn't post eye-popping statistics over his career with the Orangemen, but at 6'5" and 266-pounds, Jones has the prototypical frame that many scouts covet, including Mike Mayock of the NFL Network according to Rotoworld.
"I'm gonna make a statement," said Mayock. "Three years from now, I'm gonna say Chandler Jones is the best defensive player to come out of this draft." Mayock recently bumped Jones to No. 9 overall in his top-100 rankings, and to No. 1 among defensive ends.
21. Cincinnati Bengals: Dre Kirkpatrick, CB, Alabama:
The addition of Terence Newman in free agency doesn't solve the team's issues at cornerback, and the 6'2" Kirkpatrick was a second-team All-American for the Crimson Tide in 2011.
The right side of Cleveland's offensive line is an area of need, and the 345-pound Glenn is a mauling run blocker who could immediately step into a starting role opening holes for Trent Richardson.
23. Detroit Lions: Riley Reiff, OT, Iowa:
Jeff Backus is a 34-year-old who surrendered six sacks in two games against Jared Allen and the Minnesota Vikings last year, so the team needs to begin grooming a replacement for the veteran. Reiff's stock has been slipping of late, but there's less than zero chance he falls any farther than this.
24. Pittsburgh Steelers: Dont'a Hightower, ILB, Alabama:
The release of longtime starter James Farrior after 10 years in Pittsburgh leaves the Steelers with a hole at inside linebacker, and the addition of the 265-pound All-American would be a perfect storm of need meets value for the team.
25. Denver Broncos: Derek Wolfe, DT, Cincinnati:
The 295-pound Big East Defensive Player of the Year has surprising agility and quickness for a player of his size, and Wolfe would help strengthen a Broncos defensive front that was the soft spot of the defense a year ago.
26. Houston Texans: Kendall Wright, WR, Baylor:
Mediocre workouts have damaged the draft stock of the 5'10", 196-pound senior despite a very productive 2011 season in Waco. However, the Texans have a need to upgrade at wideout opposite Andre Johnson, and Wright's game tape doesn't lie.
The Patriots need help all over the defense, including a front seven that lost both Mark Anderson and Andre Carter in free agency.
Boise State defensive end Shea McClellin played all over the blue turf for the Broncos in 2011, and the 6'3", 260-pound senior has drawn some lofty comparisons, including this high praise from Greg Cosell of NFL Films.
He played both with his hand on the ground at DE, and standing up at LB in Boise State’s defense. What I liked immediately was his lateral agility and quickness. He showed the ability to get low and bend the edge as a pass rusher. He also had an instinctive feel as an inside rusher for getting skinny and getting through small cracks. He shed blocks and made plays in the run game. He was a smooth change-of-direction athlete with excellent balance and body control. My sense is he will get better in the NFL with a chance to be a dynamic edge pass rusher. He’s not as purely explosive as Clay Matthews, but I see some similarities as McClellin matures and develops.
28. Green Bay Packers: Nick Perry, DE/OLB, USC:
The Packers ranked dead last in the NFL in defense a year ago due in large part to a pass rush that ranked 27th in the NFL in sacks. Green Bay has also been known to have a measure of success with sack artists from Southern California.
29. Baltimore Ravens: Stephen Hill, WR, Georgia Tech:
Anquan Boldin suffered through a very difficult 2011, leaving the Ravens with a potential need at wide receiver. After playing at Georgia Tech, Stephen Hill may need some time to develop at the professional level, but as NFL Network draft expert Mike Mayock said of the 6'4" speedster: “There is value to this kid.”
30. San Francisco 49ers: Amini Silatolu, OT/OG, Midwestern State:
Recent reports from the Bay Area have indicated that the 49ers may be eying a replacement for the departed Adam Snyder at guard in the first round. Silatolu played tackle at tiny Midwestern State, but projects better as a guard in the NFL, and while the small school star may need some time to develop at the professional level, he has solid footwork and a prototypical frame.
31. New England Patriots: Janoris Jenkins, CB, North Alabama:
Jenkins has immense talent, and the 5'10" cornerback would probably have been a top-10 pick had he been able to keep bongs from going into his mouth or words from coming out of it.
32. New York Giants: Jonathan Martin, OT, Stanford:
The Giants offensive front is getting a little long in the tooth and lost tackle Kareem McKenzie, and Martin's recently falling draft stock would be a blessing in disguise for Big Blue if the 312-pound All-American slips this far.