The NFL draft is just over 24 hours away, and mock drafts can be found everywhere on the Internet. I made my first attempt at one two weeks ago, and this is my revised edition. I included the previous pick for that team in italics.
I also kept with conventional mock draft rules and didn’t project any trades, even though this could be the year that multiple teams try to move up to grab coveted players.
When I made the mock draft two weeks ago, Indianapolis Colts owner Jim Irsay had said the pick was still in the air. Fortunately, he’s come to his senses by now and said he will make Andrew Luck the first overall pick in the 2012 draft.
Luck is said to be the most NFL-ready quarterback since John Elway in 1983, and he’s also got exceptional speed to go with terrific size, arm strength, accuracy and supreme intelligence. Luck should be the face of the franchise for the next 15 years, and he looks like a Hall of Fame quarterback in the making.
The Colts just need to surround him with more talent at the wide receiver position and on the offensive line, and Indianapolis will again be a perennial playoff contender. While there is really no such thing as a sure thing coming out of the college game, Luck is as close as it gets.
Previous Pick: Same
The Washington Redskins traded a slew of first-round draft picks to move up to the No. 2 slot and take the St. Louis Rams’ pick, a selection they will assuredly use to draft Baylor quarterback Robert Griffin III.
RGIII was the Heisman Trophy winner last year, and he’s as talented of an athlete at the quarterback position as the game has ever seen. He can run a 4.37 40-yard dash, and he has superior arm strength and accuracy to that of Andrew Luck, the expected No. 1 overall draft pick.
Griffin is also extremely intelligent and possesses a dynamic work ethic that should make him a perennial Pro Bowl player.
It’s high time the Redskins get a quarterback that can be the franchise guy, and after whiffing on Patrick Ramsey and Jason Campbell in recent drafts, the Redskins have a pretty safe bet in Griffin, a guy that will help head coach Mike Shanahan turn Washington back into competitors in the NFC East.
Previous Pick: Same
There are pretty two much two options for the Minnesota Vikings with this pick: draft Morris Claiborne or draft Matt Kalil, unless the Vikings actually find a team willing to trade up to this spot.
I think the Vikings are blowing smoke with all this talk about Claiborne. Kalil is exactly what the team needs to protect Christian Ponder. He’s a prototypical tackle that should be able to step right in and block the blind side.
Last year’s free agent signing Charlie Johnson was a colossal bust, surrendering eight sacks and 32 quarterback pressures in his lone season with the Vikings. The Vikings will likely move him inside to left guard, with former All-Pro Steve Hutchinson having departed for the Tennessee Titans.
Football runs in Kalil’s bloodlines, as his older brother Ryan is a Pro Bowl center for the Carolina Panthers.
Matt was talented enough while at USC to keep last year’s ninth overall pick Tyron Smith at right tackle for his senior season. Kalil is equally talented in both pass and run-blocking, and the only thing he could do to improve his game would be to add some more muscle to his 6’6”, 300-pound frame.
Previous Pick: Same
There are a number of ways the Cleveland Browns could go with this pick.
They could trade the pick to a team looking to move up and draft Texas A&M quarterback Ryan Tannehill, the best quarterback in this year’s draft other than Andrew Luck and Robert Griffin III. The most likely team to trade up would be the Miami Dolphins, but I think their management likes Matt Moore too much to go after Tannehill.
The Browns could go for LSU standout corner Morris Claiborne, Oklahoma State wide receiver Justin Blackmon or Alabama stud running back Trent Richardson, all players that are said to be talents worthy of a top-five pick in this year’s draft. And they could also take Tannehill for themselves, the move I thought would happen for quite some time.
I think the Browns aren’t as confident in McCoy as they say; after all, they did try to move up to draft Griffin. But I don’t think they will pass up on Richardson, the most electrifying running back to come out of the NCAA in quite some time.
The 20-year old rushed for 1,679 yards and 21 touchdowns in 13 games as a junior in 2011, also picking up 338 receiving yards and three scores as a receiver out of the backfield.
With Peyton Hillis entering free agency, the Browns need a back to step in and help take the load off of Colt McCoy; Richardson can do just that.
The ideal situation for the Browns would be to focus entirely on upgrading the skill positions in the early rounds of the draft, and if they get Richardson in the first round, a wide receiver with their second pick in the first round, and maybe a quarterback like Brandon Weeden in the second round, it could be a good situation for the team.
Previous Pick: Same
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers would be thrilled to be able to pick up Morris Claiborne with the fifth overall pick in the draft. Claiborne is as good of a cover corner as Patrick Peterson was in last year’s draft, and Peterson went fifth overall to the Arizona Cardinals.
The Buccaneers are bringing back Ronde Barber, but Pro Football Focus ranked Barber as the second worst corner out of 109 qualifiers in 2011, and at 37 years old, he doesn’t have much left.
The team did sign Eric Wright to a five-year, $37.5 million deal, a contract that is one of the most bizarre I have ever heard of in all my days of following the NFL. Wright was torched repeatedly in 2011, rating 104th among 109 corners per PFF, and regardless of how much money the Buccaneers think he is worth, they desperately need an upgrade at corner.
Aqib Talib is another very talented corner, but he really wasn’t nearly as good in 2011 as people think (six touchdowns, two interceptions, 109.8 rating), and he won’t be much help at all if he goes to prison.
Claiborne would start from day one. He is a terrific athlete with good size, great speed, phenomenal ball skills and excellent acceleration, regardless of what his Wonderlic score was.
Previous Pick: Same
The St. Louis Rams emerged as winners in this year’s draft when they received three first-round draft picks from the Washington Redskins in exchange for the No. 2 overall pick. There is enough talent projected to go in the top 10 that the Rams still have their pick from a number of great players at sixth overall.
The Rams desperately need a stud defensive tackle to store up a unit depleted with lack of key players at the position in 2011. Fred Robbins and Justin Bannan have been released since the end of the season, and Gary Gibson needs some help at the other tackle spot.
I think Fletcher Cox is a coveted enough player that the Rams will take him; after all, he provides versatility with his ability to play both defensive tackle and defensive end, and he ran a 4.79 40 yard dash, a time that will put him among the fastest defensive linemen in the league.
Cox isn’t as exciting as a wide receiver like Justin Blackmon or Michael Floyd, but I think the Rams can get a good enough receiver in the second round that they won’t pass on Cox here.
Previous Pick: Justin Blackmon, WR, Oklahoma State
The Jacksonville Jaguars absolutely have to get help for quarterback Blaine Gabbert, or 2012 will be the end of him. Gabbert struggled immensely as a rookie, but he wasn’t helped by a group of subpar wide receivers consisting of Mike Thomas, Jarett Dillard, Jason Hill and Chastin West.
Justin Blackmon was a sensational wide receiver at Oklahoma State University, twice winning the Biletnikoff Award for the nation’s top wide receiver. Blackmon is a physical receiver who lacks the elite speed to burn cornerbacks long, but he is a talented enough all-around playmaker and draws comparisons to Anquan Boldin for his style of play.
Blackmon averaged 1,652 yards and 19 touchdowns his final two seasons in college, and he has nearly everything you would want in a franchise receiver—strength, hands, ball skills, body control and aggressiveness—except for elite speed.
I almost had the Jaguars picking Michael Floyd over Blackmon but since I see both being available here, I think the Jaguars will go with Blackmon. If they don’t do something to upgrade their receivers, Gabbert won’t last very long.
Previous Pick: Michael Floyd, WR, Notre Dame
The Miami Dolphins surprised many people when they didn’t really make much of an effort to go after Matt Flynn and fell short with the bid to acquire Peyton Manning. I honestly think the team is committed to Matt Moore, at least for the 2012 season, and they signed David Garrard as quality backup insurance if Moore falters.
So that means the Dolphins won’t be drafting Ryan Tannehill, even though the Dolphins’ offensive coordinator, Mike Sherman, coached Tannehill at Texas A&M University.
In the past decade, the Dolphins haven’t bothered to spend more than a second-round pick on a quarterback, whether in the draft or via trade—John Beck, Daunte Culpepper, A.J. Feeley, Chad Henne and Pat White—and none of them have worked out like the team hoped. The Dolphins haven’t spent a first-round pick on a quarterback since Dan Marino, and I think they are holding out for Matt Barkley in the 2013 draft.
The Dolphins will try to bolster their secondary with the pick of Alabama playmaking safety Mark Barron, especially after releasing long-time Dolphin Yeremiah Bell. Barron is one of the top players a team would trade up to target, but if he is still here, Miami has to take him.
Barron is a natural athlete; he played wide receiver, running back and linebacker at the high school level, and at 6’2” and 215 pounds, he is a big man to play safety. Barron ran a 4.50 40-yard dash, giving him the speed to match up with most wide receivers and today’s new breed of tight ends.
He is clearly the best safety in this year’s draft class, and he would be an upgrade for the Dolphins over Reshad Jones and Tyrone Culver, two players that didn’t really make much of an impact for Miami in 2011. Barron is always around the ball, he reads offenses well and he’s a natural playmaker at the safety position.
Previous Pick: Quinton Coples, DE, North Carolina
The Carolina Panthers have spent a slew of picks on defensive tackles as of late, but they haven’t panned out as the team would have hoped—Terrell McClain and Sione Pouha from the third round last year and Corvey Irvin from the third round in 2009.
As a result, the Panthers had the 27th ranked scoring defense, 28th ranked defense in yardage and 25th in run defense.
If Fletcher Cox were available at this pick, there’s no doubt in my mind the Panthers would snatch him up. But since I have him going to the St. Louis Rams three picks earlier, the Panthers will probably settle for University of South Carolina cornerback Stephon Gilmore.
Gilmore has nearly everything you would want in a cornerback. He’s big with good speed and good hands, and he’s an aggressive hitter in the secondary. He has tremendous ball skills, he’s a dedicated worker with a great ethic, and he’s a natural ballhawk. He also has the versatility that he could move to safety later in his career if the Panthers feel he is a good fit there.
Previous Pick: Fletcher Cox, DT, Mississippi State
The Buffalo Bills took a significant step in upgrading their rush in the offseason when they signed pass-rushing sensation Mario Williams in free agency, which makes it likely they won’t spend another pick on a defensive lineman in the 2012 draft.
The Bills lost left tackle Demetress Bell to the Philadelphia Eagles, meaning offensive line is a priority, but I think Riley Reiff may be a bit of a stretch at this point in the draft.
The Bills have made it well-known that they love Alabama safety Mark Barron, and if someone doesn’t trade up before this spot to take him, the Bills have to consider him. But I think the Bills are bluffing on how much they like Barron, and since I have him going to Miami at No. 8, Buffalo will take Luke Kuechly here, the top linebacker for this year’s draft class.
Kuechly is an absolute tackling machine; he set the NCAA record for career tackles by a defensive player, and he did so in just three seasons. Kuechly finished with 191 tackles in just 12 games as a junior, topping out at 23 in one game.
He is said to be the safest player in the draft, and his performance at the NFL scouting combine speaks volumes about his overall athletic ability.
Kuechly ran a 4.58 40-yard dash, he benched 225 pounds 27 times and he posted an amazing 38-inch vertical leap. He is said to be an extremely intelligent football man, and his high IQ should make him an instant leader in the Bills defense.
He is athletic enough that he should be able to replace Hawthorne, and his awards at the college level back up his talent—he was the ACC Defensive Player of the Year, he was an All-American and he won both the Bronko Nagurski Trophy and Butkus award in 2011.
Kuechly is at his best against the run, but he’s also very adept against the pass; he is a former safety from his high school playing days. Kuechly is the kind of guy a team can build their defense around, and Bills need to take him.
Previous Pick: Riley Reiff, OT, Iowa
The Kansas City Chiefs could really use an enormous body like Dontari Poe that they can plug in the middle of their defensive line. Kelly Gregg is 35 years old and an unrestricted free agent, and the Chiefs have said they will likely wait until after the draft before deciding whether they want him back for 2012.
David DeCastro was one of Andrew Luck’s blockers at Stanford, and he was a unanimous First-Team All-American in 2011. DeCastro has drawn comparisons to Steve Hutchinson, and he should be able to solidify the offensive line.
The Chiefs already signed Eric Winston to play right tackle and the combination of DeCastro and Winston will make Kansas City’s offensive line much more stable.
DeCastro is said to be one of the safest picks in the draft, and while this would be the highest a guard has gone in the draft since the turn of the century, this is a player who is worth the pick.
DeCastro is said to be the best guard prospect since the Seattle Seahawks drafted Steve Hutchinson 17th overall in the 2001 draft; that worked out pretty well for the Seahawks. DeCastro could start from day one, and he has perennial Pro Bowler written all over him.
Previous Pick: Ryan Tannehill, QB, Texas A&M
If Luke Kuechly is still around at the 12th pick, it’s a no-brainer that the Seattle Seahawks will select him. After all, the team did let David Hawthorne go in free agency, and they need a stud linebacker to replace him. But I have Kuechly going to the Buffalo Bills at No. 10, which means Seattle has to look elsewhere.
There have been reports that if Ryan Tannehill is still around, the Seahawks will definitely pick him, but I just don’t see that happening. The Seahawks didn’t sign Matt Flynn to bring in quarterback competition for him. What the team does need is an elite pass-rusher, and Chandler Jones’ draft stock has been rising constantly.
The team will likely consider North Carolina defensive end Quinton Coples or South Carolina defensive end Melvin Ingram, but Jones gives the team their best defensive player here. No Seahawks defensive linemen had more than four sacks last year, other than Chris Clemons, and Pete Carroll needs a player that can step in and shore up this unit.
Jones has a relentless motor and outstanding size, and he’s a tremendous pass rusher with the versatility to play at multiple positions on the defensive line. NFL Network’s Mike Mayock says in three years, Jones will be the best defensive player taken in this year’s draft.
Previous Pick: Luke Kuechly, LB, Boston College
Kevin Kolb struggled immensely in his first season with the Arizona Cardinals, and the team could use to give him another playmaking wide receiver. The club re-signed offensive tackle Levi Brown to a five-year deal in the offseason, so I don’t think it’s likely they use a pick on an offensive linemen this early in the draft, especially with Michael Floyd still around.
Floyd hauled in 100 receptions for 1,147 yards and nine touchdowns as a senior, and that should be enough to make people forget about the DUI he got a year ago.
Floyd is a complete receiver, and I think there’s a possibility he might go higher than Justin Blackmon because he’s slightly bigger and posted a faster 40 time. But since I have Blackmon going to the Jacksonville Jaguars at No. 7, the Cardinals will have to settle with Floyd here at No. 13.
Floyd is a big and physical receiver with terrific coordination and body control, and he showed steady improvement as a blocker in 2011. He put up his numbers without the elite quarterback that Blackmon benefited from, and Floyd should be a good complement to Larry Fitzgerald in the passing game.
Previous Pick: David DeCastro, G, Stanford
The Dallas Cowboys have been reportedly targeting Dontari Poe or Mark Barron, but I have Barron going to the Buffalo Bills and I think Poe is too much of a reach to go at No. 14.
Quinton Coples, the elite pass-rushing stud from the University of North Carolina, is what the Cowboys need to get after the other NFC East quarterbacks in Michael Vick, Eli Manning and Robert Griffin III.
Defensive ends have a tendency to go higher than they should, and Coples is arguably the top talent coming out of college football that can simply get to the quarterback, although his work ethic has been questioned.
He is a physical freak who has been compared to Julius Peppers; however, Coples won’t go in the top 10 because there are concerns that he took plays off his senior season. Coples has the abilities to be a sensation in the NFL, and he would be a good fit in the Cowboys’ defense.
Previous Pick: Mark Barron, S, Alabama
Before the Philadelphia Eagles traded for DeMeco Ryans, most mock drafts had the team picking middle linebacker Luke Kuechly. While that would be a superb fit, Andy Reid simply does not value the linebacker position enough. He has picked defensive linemen in the first round in five of his past 10 first round selections, and I think 2012 will make six times out of 11.
There are a slew of talented defensive linemen in the draft, but I think Reid will likely address the interior defensive line. Cullen Jenkins and Mike Patterson solidify the position, and both Antonio Dixon and Derek Landri were re-signed to give the Eagles depth, but I still think another defensive tackle is the way the Eagles will go.
Fletcher Cox would probably be Reid’s ideal pick, as he is versatile enough to play both end and tackle, but I don’t envision him being around by this selection. I think it will come down to Dontari Poe and Michael Brockers, and I went Brockers, although I really think it’s a toss-up between the two.
Brockers is very raw, and he’s still just a redshirt sophomore from LSU. He is a project, and Reid absolutely loves those type of players. Brockers has the physical abilities to be a sensation, and the best part about playing behind Jenkins and Patterson is that he won’t be expected to contribute immediately as a starter.
He can play in either a 3-4 or a 4-3, and has excellent size (6’6”, 305 pounds) with strong hands. He’s an explosive tackler that plays with a high motor and shows good speed. He has remarkable upside and a good coach can get the most out of him.
If both Poe and Brockers are gone by this point, I think the best move for the Eagles would be a cornerback like Dre Kirkpatrick or Stephon Gilmore.
Previous Pick: Same
There are several key needs of the New York Jets for this upcoming draft. A wide receiver that can stretch the field and make life easier for starting quarterback Mark Sanchez (soon-to-be Tim Tebow) would be terrific news for Jets fans.
If Michael Floyd is there at this pick, the Jets absolutely have to take him, but that would be surprising for Floyd to fall that far.
What the Jets really need is a disruptive pass-rusher that can get to the quarterback. As good as Rex Ryan has made his defense in the last three years, the Jets don’t have a defensive end that can consistently rack up 10-12 sacks and pressure the opposing quarterback regularly.
In fact, former Buffalo Bills castoff Aaron Maybin led the Jets with six sacks last season; while Maybin fit well with the Jets, relying on him for the pass rush is not a solution of a team hoping to compete with the New England Patriots for AFC East supremacy.
Melvin Ingram would be a great fit to team with Muhammad Wilkerson, last year’s first-round pick. Ingram was a stud at the University of South Carolina, totaling 8.5 sacks and 13 tackles for a loss his senior year.
Ingram would likely play outside linebacker in the Jets’ 3-4 defense, and he has a good combination of size, strength, and speed that should make him a key piece of the defense.
Ingram also played some snaps at tackle in college, so if the Jets had interest in moving him inside on third downs to give him an edge against slower guards, that’s always an option as well.
Previous Pick: Same
Most mock drafts have the Cincinnati Bengals picking Janoris Jenkins at this selection, but simply because the Bengals frequently pick players with character issues doesn’t mean Jenkins has to go to the Bengals.
And I think the latest concerns to come out about Jenkins—that he’s still a party guy who really hasn’t changed at all—will hurt his draft stock, at least enough that he won’t go this high in the first round of the draft.
The Bengals need pass-rushers, and Courtney Upshaw is their best bet at this point. No player on the Bengals had more than 7.5 sacks in 2011, and Upshaw would team well with Geno Atkins and Carlos Dunlap. Upshaw was disappointing at his combine, reportedly appearing out of shape and refusing to run, which I think will drop his draft stock some.
But he is still a great option for the Bengals at No. 17, and the team needs a player that can get after Ben Roethlisberger and Joe Flacco for the next handful of seasons. Upshaw is very strong, powerful at the point of attack and best when he is just turned loose and allowed to attack the quarterback.
Previous Pick: Stephon Gilmore, CB, South Carolina
The San Diego Chargers could really use a player like Whitney Mercilus, a pass-rushing force who led the nation in sacks (16) and forced fumbles (nine) his senior season.
Outside of pass-rushing specialist Antwan Barnes—who had a career year with 11 sacks—the Chargers didn’t have anyone total more than four sacks. As a team, San Diego rated fifth in scoring offense, but just 22nd in scoring defense, 16th in total defense, and 20th in rushing defense.
It’s clear that the defense has been holding this team back from advancing deep in the playoffs, and with a division that now includes Peyton Manning on one of the rival teams, the Chargers could use a force like Mercilus on their defense.
Mercilus could be used initially in a similar role as San Francisco 49ers pass-rushing linebacker Aldon Smith, playing primarily on passing downs. There are concerns that Mercilus is a one-year wonder; after all, he had just two career sacks before his breakout ’11 campaign, but his high sack total should get him drafted at or around the first 20 picks.
Previous Pick: Courtney Upshaw, DE/LB, Alabama
The Chicago Bears have faltered the past two seasons because of the status of their backup quarterback (first Todd Collins and then Caleb Hanie), but that situation might be indirectly addressed with the drafting of big solid offensive lineman like Riley Reiff.
I initially had the Bears picking a wide receiver, but the trade for Brandon Marshall solidified that position. Devin Hester, Earl Bennett, Johnny Knox, Roy Williams, and Dane Sanzenbacher, plus Marshall, give Jay Cutler a more than solid group of receivers. That leaves offensive line as the real problem.
J’Marcus Webb is clearly not the answer at left tackle, not after giving up 12 sacks, six quarterback hits and 30 pressures in 2011, plus a league-high 14 penalties. If the Bears don’t address this position, they might as well send Cutler a note that says they don’t care about him at all.
Reiff should instantly step in and shore up the left tackle spot for Cutler. Reiff is said by some to be a stretch as a left tackle because of his short arms, but his 33.25" arms are longer than both those of Joe Thomas (32.5") and Jake Long (32.875").
Reiff was a two-time All-American in college, and he’s widely seen as the second-best left tackle in the draft, behind only Matt Kalil. Reiff is effective as both a run and a pass-blocker, and he displays excellent size at 6’5”, 315 pounds. He should be the cornerstone of the Bears offensive line for the next decade or more.
Previous Pick: Kendall Wright, WR, Baylor
The Tennessee Titans lost Jason Jones to the Seattle Seahawks in free agency, and the team could stand to use an upgrade after that loss. Dontari Poe is a workout warrior, but I think too many teams will be scared off by the prospect of him being the next Mike Mamula, and that will push him out of the first half of the first round of the draft.
Poe is 6”4, 346 pounds, he runs the 40-yard dash in 4.87 seconds and he can bench press 225 pounds 44 times. He’s an absolute physical freak of nature and can play in both a 3-4 defense or in a 4-3, and that will likely make him go in the first half of the first round of this year’s draft.
Poe is said to have not really done anything his senior year of college, and there have been strong comparisons of Poe to former defensive tackle busts Jimmy Kennedy and Ryan Sims, neither of whom did much in the NFL, but I think if Poe is still around by the 20th pick, the Titans have to snatch him up.
Previous Pick: Same
Cordy Glenn is an extremely attractive offensive lineman in the sense that he can play both tackle and guard, but the Cincinnati Bengals are set at the tackle positions with Andrew Whitworth at the left side and Andre Smith at the right side.
If they draft Glenn, he would help to store up the guard positions, a clear weakness for the Bengals last season. Bobbie Williams is 35 years old and likely won’t be back, and Nate Livings signed with the Dallas Cowboys. The team needs interior offensive linemen, and Glenn would be a great fit.
It’s widely assumed Glenn will move to guard in the NFL because he is susceptible to bull rushers at the tackle position and he’s dominant inside.
Glenn never missed a game in his career due to injury, and he would be a great addition to an up-and-coming young team with Andy Dalton, A.J. Green, and Jermaine Gresham.
Previous Pick: Same
The Cleveland Browns should pick Trent Richardson with their fourth overall pick, which means a wide receiver would be the best fit at No. 22 overall. Justin Blackmon and Michael Floyd will be long gone, which means the top receivers available would likely be someone like Alshon Jeffery, Kendall Wright, Stephen Hill, Rueben Randle or Mohamed Sanu.
But Ryan Tannehill is still around, and the Browns absolutely can’t pass him up at this point in the draft. I have Tannehill dropping immensely in the draft, a la Aaron Rodgers in 2005 or Brady Quinn in 2007.
The Browns won’t take Tannehill at fourth overall because that is too high and I don’t think the Miami Dolphins will take him at No. 8. The Buffalo Bills and Kansas City Chiefs are definitely candidates at Nos. 10 and 11, but I think they will jump on Luke Kuechly and David DeCastro at those spots.
Tannehill is likely too raw to start right away as a rookie, but a few seasons behind Cassel would be good for him. Despite playing primarily as a wide receiver his freshman and sophomore season, Tannehill took over as the starting quarterback as a junior in college in 2010 and became a star in 2011, throwing for 3,744 yards and 29 touchdowns.
Tannehill has good speed (4.6 40 yard dash), and he ran an NFL offense that should help him translate well to the pro game.
He will also have a bona-fide stud running back in Trent Richardson to hand the ball to; combine that with the up-and-coming Greg Little and the perennial Pro Bowl Joe Thomas at left tackle, and Tannehill inherits a good situation in Cleveland.
Previous Pick: Alshon Jeffery, WR, South Carolina
The Detroit Lions need offensive line desperately or Matthew Stafford won’t come close to 5,000 yards again. Okay, he may never come close to 5,000 yards again anyway, but still, Stafford needs an upgrade over Jeff Backus and Gosder Cherilus.
But when have the Detroit Lions ever have good cornerbacks? It’s about time that changes.
Dre Kirkpatrick is the type of player the Lions need in a division that has Aaron Rodgers and Jay Cutler throwing the ball. Kirkpatrick is immensely undersized at 6’1” and just 185 pounds, but fortunately if he goes to Detroit, he won’t have to worry about covering All-World receiver Calvin Johnson.
Kirkpatrick will also be helped by a furious defensive line in Ndamukong Suh and Nick Fairley that simply gets to the opposing quarterback. Kirkpatrick was a part of a championship football team in Alabama, and he has exceptional quickness, balance, cover skills, aggression, and confidence.
He is also a plus player in run defense, which should make him an intriguing option for the Lions at No. 23.
Previous Pick: Mike Adams, OT, Ohio State
The Pittsburgh Steelers always seem to have good linebackers, but they did just release long-time Steeler James Farrior, and four-time Pro Bowl selection James Harrison is nearly 34 years old.
Dont’a Hightower would be a pleasant addition to the team, as he was one of five possible first-round stars on the fearsome Alabama defense.
Hightower is probably an inside linebacker in a 3-4 defense at the NFL level, and he compares well to a player like Brandon Spikes of the New England Patriots. Hightower is a good run-stuffer, he has terrific mobility, he’s aggressive, and he’s a great tackler as well as an effective blitzer.
If the Steelers don’t pursue Hightower, they could always try to beef up their offensive line; the Steelers always seem to be lacking on the line, and there are a handful of players that could be drafted in the first round as either tackles or guards.
The Steelers could also go running back, as Rashard Mendenhall is entering his contract season and is trying to rehab from a torn ACL. And the Steelers could also go cornerback opposite Ike Taylor or tight end to team up with Heath Miller.
Previous Pick: Same
If Peyton Manning has his say in this pick, the Denver Broncos will undoubtedly select a wide receiver. And considering Demaryius Thomas is the best option right now, John Elway and John Fox would be smart to upgrade the receiver corps.
Kendall Wright was Robert Griffin III’s big playmaker at Baylor University, and while he obviously benefited immensely from RGIII at quarterback, RGIII benefited from having Wright as his top receiver, too.
Wright is fast, regardless of the 4.61 time he officially posted in the 40-yard dash. He plays much faster than that, and he’s been compared to Victor Cruz as a receiver that can work best out of the slot in a three-receiver set.
Wright has tremendous acceleration and he’s able to get to top speed almost instantly. He has good hands, he’s aggressive, and he has an unbelievable 42-inch vertical leap to go with a strong, sturdy frame.
Manning should be able to get the most out of a player like Wright, a speedy player that should help Manning get back to being the 4,000-yard passer the Indianapolis Colts knew and loved.
Previous Pick: Devon Still, DT, Penn State
The Houston Texans don’t have any glaring needs that they need to address with this pick. They have a borderline top-10 quarterback, a terrific running game, arguably the best game’s wide receiver in Andre Johnson, a strong offensive line and a top-notch defense with a slew of talented linebackers, even with the loss of Mario Williams to the Buffalo Bills in free agency.
The Texans could pick a pass-rusher to take over for Williams and considering they also traded away DeMeco Ryans to Philadelphia, I think a defensive end/outside linebacker like USC’s Nick Perry is the way to go. The last first-round pass-rusher to come from USC (Clay Matthews) turned out pretty well, and Perry should thrive in a defense that includes Connor Barwin, Brooks Reed, and Johnathan Joseph.
Perry is a physical specimen, having bench-pressed 225 pounds 35 times at the NFL scouting combine. He is explosive, is quick off the line and has a good upfield burst. Perry timed fast in the 40-yard dash (4.58) and is the type of player the Texans will need to get to new AFC South quarterbacks Andrew Luck and Blaine Gabbert.
Previous Pick: Stephen Hill, WR, Georgia Tech
The New England Patriots have two first-round picks in this year’s draft, and they will likely trade at least one of them. Bill Belichick always does what is out of the ordinary, but he seems to have a recipe for success, as the Patriots have made five Super Bowls in the last 11 years.
The Patriots were the AFC champions in 2011 despite an extremely subpar defense; the team finished 31st in the league in total defense, 32nd in first downs allowed, 31st in passing yards allowed and 29th in net passing yards per attempt allowed on defense.
The Patriots did receive a strong pass-rushing performance from both Andre Carter and Mark Anderson (10 sacks apiece), but Carter is a free agent and is still limping heavily after his late-season quadriceps injury. Anderson signed with the Buffalo Bills, meaning the Patriots could go into 2012 with players like Gary Guyton and Kyle Love as their top pass-rushing specialists.
That means Shea McClellin is the guy to go with, since most of the top pass-rushers like Whitney Mercilus, Quinton Coples and Chandler Jones are already off the board.
McClellin’s draft stock has risen recently, and he could even go in the top 20 to 25 picks. He has outstanding size and an absolutely relentless motor. He never takes a play off, and Belichick will love a player like that. McClellin is versatile and dependable, and Belichick will be able to get the most out of him.
Previous Pick: Whitney Mercilus, DE, Illinois
The Packers lost Scott Wells in free agency to the St. Louis Rams, but then signed Peyton Manning’s long-time center Jeff Saturday to be his replacement. Saturday is a terrific NFL center, a veteran and still a Pro Bowl-caliber player, but he’s soon to be 37 years old, and he simply doesn’t have many years left as a starter in this league.
Konz would be a great addition to likely watch and learn as a rookie before taking over in 2013 or 2014. Konz has a good combination of size, strength, quickness, and athleticism, and he can line up at both center and guard.
The Packers would likely want to use him at center, but the fact that he can play multiple positions makes him all the more attractive as a prospect.
Konz is a good pass-blocker and a very physical run-blocker. He should be able to serve as a key piece of the Packers offensive line for the next decade or more.
Factor in that the Packers used first-round picks on tackles Bryan Bulaga in 2010 and Derek Sherrod in 2011, and the Packers will have an offensive line that will keep Aaron Rodgers standing upright with time to throw the ball.
If for some reason Konz is gone at this point, Notre Dame safety Harrison Smith is a great fit, especially considering the Packers just released three-time Pro Bowl safety Nick Collins today.
Previous Pick: Same
The Baltimore Ravens need a safety to take over for the rapidly-aging Ed Reed, but Mark Barron very likely won’t be around by the time the Ravens are on the clock, and there is no other safety worth a first-round nod.
The Ravens also need to address the linebacker positions, as Jarret Johnson signed with the San Diego Chargers and Ray Lewis—although he still plays with the best in the game—can’t possibly have too many years left.
But wide receiver may be the most important position for the team to address. Joe Flacco already considers himself the best quarterback in the NFL, so maybe he doesn’t need any more help, but Hill might be a good addition.
The Georgia Tech star has great height (6’4”) and is already a natural blocker. The offense his school ran at the collegiate level mostly asked Hill to stay in and block; as a result, Hill has that skill down better than most NFL veterans, and there’s no telling what he could do in an offense that throws the ball down the field with a talented quarterback.
Previous Pick: Zach Brown, OLB, North Carolina
The San Francisco 49ers desperately need a wide receiver or tight end that can stretch the field and give Alex Smith a target to throw to, especially since Michael Crabtree hasn’t developed into what the team hoped he would be when they spent the 10th overall pick on him in 2009.
Vernon Davis is an elite tight end, and he had a phenomenal postseason in 2011, and the Niners could always go with a tight end like Coby Fleener to add to the offense.
After all, Fleener was coached by current 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh while at Stanford University, and the two-tight end set has been popularized as of late, especially with Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez, and Ed Dickson and Dennis Pitta.
But the 49ers absolutely need a right guard with Adam Snyder having gone to Arizona, and Amini Silatolu is a good fit to the offense. He is very aggressive and plays with a nasty temperament.
Silatolu played at a small school and dominated there, but he should be able to translate that success to the NFL level. He has drawn comparisons to Jahri Evans of the New Orleans Saints, although Silatolu is more athletic and probably more NFL-ready from day one.
Previous Pick: Rueben Randle, WR, LSU
It's very likely that this pick will be traded because that's just what Bill Belichick does. He has two first-round picks and he will probably trade back and add a third- or fourth-round pick to his collection. But if he does pick, the guy will be Janoris Jenkins.
The Patriots reached the Super Bowl in 2011, despite a defense that gave up an unbelievable 4,703 yards passing, the second-worst total in NFL history. The Patriots also gave up 26 touchdowns through the air, and the team could use a playmaker like Jenkins to store up the defense.
The Patriots will get Ras-I Dowling back from injury, as the 2011 second-round pick missed the majority of his rookie season with a hip injury. Leigh Bodden was released in late October, and Devin McCourty became the first player in the Pro Football Focus era (since 2008) to give up over 1,000 yards through the air.
The Patriots need a strong corner like Jenkins, a quality player that has excellent ballhawk skills. He’s drawn comparisons to Asante Samuel, a player Belichick initially drafted with the Patriots.
Jenkins obviously has extreme character concerns that will cause him to drop this far in the first place; otherwise he would be a top-five-to-10 talent, simply for what he does out on the football field. Jenkins is a high-risk, high-reward player, but I see Belichick being the type of coach to take a chance on Jenkins.
Previous Pick: Dre Kirkpatrick, CB, Alabama
The New York Giants are coming off a Super Bowl title, although there are a slew of problems on their team that could stand to be fixed.
The offensive line—notably the tackle positions with David Diehl and Kareem McKenzie—was extremely subpar. Brandon Jacobs left for the San Francisco 49ers, and the Giants could use some quality linebackers to go with the ferocious pass rush that has now won them two championships in five seasons.
The Giants also lost two tight ends—Jake Ballard and Travis Beckum—to ACL injuries in the Super Bowl, and this position could stand a major upgrade.
I’ll say the team chooses to address their offensive line, though. It’s amazing Eli Manning was able to win the Super Bowl last season with how poorly this unit played in front of him, especially veteran David Diehl at left guard.
The Giants are set to enter the season with Will Beatty and James Brewer as their starting tackles. I can’t imagine Tom Coughlin feels too comfortable doing that, and with Stanford offensive tackle Jonathan Martin still around at the end of the first round, Coughlin will grab him.
Martin blocked for Andrew Luck in college, and he’s a borderline first-round talent that the Giants will reach for because of the great need for stability on the line.
Martin probably needs to start his NFL career on the right side while he gets adjusted to the pro game, but the Giants have used Beatty before on the blind side, and he could play there in ’12 while Martin learns the speed and intensity of the National Football League.
Previous Pick: Coby Fleener, TE, Stanford