The 2011 Heisman Trophy in hand, Baylor quarterback Robert Griffin III now has a tough decision on his hands.
Of course, RG3 won't be the only blue-chip junior with a tough decision on his hands. USC's Matt Barkley and Matt Kalil, Oklahoma State's Justin Blackmon, Oklahoma's Landry Jones and Alabama's Trent Richardson will also weigh the pros and cons of taking the money and running.
(Notice I didn't include Stanford's Andrew Luck in that group. Hmmm...I wonder why...)
Assuming these high-profile upperclassmen take their talents to
South Beach Indianapolis for the meat market known as the NFL Combine, where might each one hope to land? And what else would the first round of the draft have in store?
Read on/click through to find out.
Not sure I even needed a slide for this one, but I might as well just restate the obvious.
Luck is the most sure-fire quarterbacking prospect to come out of college since at least Peyton Manning in 1998, if not John Elway in 1983. He's got size, arm strength, accuracy, smarts and plenty of affability to boot.
The Colts might as well start pumping out Luck jerseys now, maybe even ship a few to Manning's house for Christmas.
The Vikings need to protect Christian Ponder (or Joe Webb), which has proven to be a difficult task with Charlie Johnson at left tackle.
Enter Kalil, the best prospect in this draft class whose job description doesn't involve throwing the ball and getting sacked.
Of course, there's no guarantee that Kalil, a First-Team All-Pac-12 performer at USC, will throw his hat into the ring, but if he does, look for him to get snatched up in a hurry.
The Rams need to stop fiddling around and finally get Sam Bradford a No. 1-caliber wide receiver to throw to.
Justin Blackmon, the two-time Biletnikoff Award winner, is as good as they'll find in this draft class. He's not the biggest body for the position (6'1", 215 pounds), but the kid from Oklahoma State is a superb athlete who runs crisp routes and Velcro pads for hands.
Pair him with Brandon Lloyd and Bradford might never throw an incomplete pass again.
Quality corners are usually tough to come by, though there are some dandies for the Buccaneers to choose from here. Claiborne is the best of the bunch, a defensive back who may not be as dynamic overall as fellow former LSU Tiger Patrick Peterson, but who sports the sort of size, speed and technique that may make him a superior cover guy.
Tampa Bay could use some help in the second level of their defense, too, though to snag a linebacker at No. 4, at least among this crop, would be a bit of a reach.
So, does anyone still think Blaine Gabbert is the quarterback of the future in Jacksonville?
I thought so. Jaguars GM Gene Smith has never been shy to at least consider loading up on quarterbacks in consecutive drafts. It stands to reason, then, that he'll see Gabbert as a "sunk cost," especially with Barkley and RG3 staring him in the face.
Not to mention the mistake of passing over Tim Tebow dogging him.
Chances are, new owner Shahid Khan wouldn't mind sacrificing another high pick for a quarterback under those circumstances. Barkley is the more polished product at this point, even if he can't run as fast or throw the ball as far as Griffin can.
And with the clock ticking on Maurice Jones-Drew's good years, the Jags need a signal-caller who can play right away, as awkward as the concept of a Trojan handing off to a Bruin may seem.
...Robert Griffin III.
The Redskins will gladly snap up whichever of the two quarterbacks, between Barkley and RG3, is left on the board when it's their turn to pick. Frankly, they'd have no other choice after watching Rex Grossman and John Beck play Musical Chairs under center all season.
Griffin's a bit small for the position at 6'2" and 220 pounds, but as he showed during his Heisman Trophy campaign, he's got a rocket launcher for an arm, can make all the throws from inside or outside the pocket and, for good measure, sports world-class-sprinter speed.
Oh, and let's not forget, RG3 is a highly intelligent dude, too. He needed only three years to earn his undergraduate degree AND delve into graduate-level work.
South Carolina's Alshon Jeffery would make sense here, if not for the fact that Carolina's defense is flat-out terrible.
Coples is an absolute beast off the edge and would pair well with Charles Johnson on the opposite side of the Panthers' defensive line. A native of the Tar Heel State, Coples still managed to finish his senior season with 7.5 sacks and 13 tackles for a loss, even though he clearly wasn't giving his best effort the whole time.
Assuming Coples' perceived maturity issues don't get in the way in the NFL, he'll be a huge help to Ron Rivera's dogged D.
Barkley and RG3 are off the board, Landry Jones is a beat of a reach here after the way he's struggled without Ryan Broyles and, well, Matt Moore has proven to be a fairly solid quarterback when given the opportunity to play.
Sunday's subpar performance against the Eagles notwithstanding, of course.
The Dolphins could use some help at right tackle, where Marc Colombo has s...t...ruggled all season. Reiff, meanwhile, is shooting up draft boards across the nation after a strong redshirt junior campaign at Iowa.
I'm no matchmaker, but that sounds like a pretty good fit.
Peyton Hillis? Head for the hills. Montario Hardesty? Hardly. Chris Ogbonnaya? Nice to know ya.
The Browns need a running back and there's none better in this draft class than Trent Richardson, assuming he bids Nick Saban goodbye.
Richardson's essentially a bigger, better version of Mark Ingram, who'd done quite well for himself with the Saints before missing Sunday's game against the Titans with a toe injury.
The Eagles have so many needs in so many different areas right now, but if protecting their steep investment in Michael Vick is at all a priority, then they must upgrade their offensive line. Vick has been batted around like a pinball this season behind a hoard of hogs that's been patently awful due to injuries and constant shifting by the coaching staff.
True, adding a rookie to the mix won't solve those woes. Still, Philly would be foolish to pass up an All-American tackle of Jonathan Martin's caliber. Surely, Andrew Luck wouldn't mind testifying to Martin's excellence in pass protection.
Recent struggles sans Ryan Broyles aside, Landry Jones is still a top-flight quarterbacking prospect, rivaled only by Andrew Luck as far as the proverbial eye test is concerned. He's tall, he's got a cannon and every wide receiver he plays with in the NFL will be just as good as, if not better than Broyles, his buddy at Oklahoma.
Dwayne Bowe included.
Matt Cassel's been mediocre at best when he's been healthy in Kansas City. The guy's clearly not the future of the franchise for the Chiefs and could come off the team's books rather easily.
In other words, time to start fitting Jones for the post-Todd Haley era in KC.
Defense, defense, defense.
That's what should be running through the minds of the Bills' front office personnel as they busy themselves assembling a team that's competent on both sides of the ball.
Luke Kuechly would be an excellent option to fill the gaping hole at linebacker left behind by Paul Posluszny, who left for Jacksonville via free agency last summer.
A corner along the lines of Alabama's Dre Kirkpatrick is also a distinct possibility here.
Unfortunately for the Seahawks, their recent success has put them out of range to draft a quarterback capable of displacing Tarvaris Jackson.
With Marcus Trufant likely to be let go and Seattle lacking in starting-caliber corners, look for Pete Carroll to push for Alabama's Dre Kirkpatrick, who was arguably the best player on a Crimson Tide defense loaded with NFL talent.
Once upon a time, San Diego was home to one of the finest collections of linebacking talent in the NFL.
Those days are all but long gone now, with veteran retreads like Takeo Spikes and Travis LaBoy holding down the fort.
Vontaze Burfict would be the perfect choice to carry the torch. The Arizona State product and southern California native is an absolute terror at the second level due to both his tremendous talent for the position and his notorious mean streak on the field.
Chargers fans know all too well that their beloved team could use a bit of Burfict's attitude, even if it results in a bit of recklessness here and there.
Sanders is a bit of a reach, but the Cardinals are desperate for an upgrade at offensive tackle. Levi Brown and Brandon Keith just aren't cutting it anymore, and if Arizona is ever going to get any sort of discernible return on its investment in Kevin Kolb, it'll need to replace one or both of its liabilities up front.
Sanders, a Florida State product, sports excellent upside for the position, with a big frame to which he could stand to add a few pounds to go along his outstanding durability, intelligence and clean record off the field.
The Bengals can thank Carson Palmer and the tanking Raiders for this prime pick. They have an undying affinity for talented prospects with off-field troubles and a clear need in their defensive backfield.
Wouldn't you know it? Janoris Jenkins has a dodgy legal history, a ton of ability at corner and, most importantly, is still available.
Can we just make this happen NOW?
Their offensive line has done an amazing job making Cedric Benson look like half-decent running back, even though he's far and away the slowest guy at his position in the NFL today.
Imagine what a back with Lamar Miller's speed and agility could do with Cincy's blockers clearing space for him. Throw Miller in with the likes of Andy Dalton, AJ Green, Jermaine Gresham, Jerome Simpson and Jordan Shipley, and the Bengals could boast one of the most explosive offenses in the league for years to come.
Jerry Jones passed up a great corner out of Nebraska last year in Prince Amukamara. Think he'll do it again?
He certainly shouldn't, not after watching Dallas' decimated secondary have to pray on a play-to-play basis that DeMarcus Ware can and will cover for its ineptitude.
The odds still don't favor Jones setting aside his presumed bias against defensive backs to help his own team. If he changes his mind, Alfonzo Dennard will likely be there waiting for him.
Tennessee's defensive ends have been decidedly less than impressive this season, contributing rather negatively to the mere 22 sacks the team has registered thus far.
Who better to lend a helping hand than Melvin Ingram? He racked up 8.5 sacks and 12 tackles for a loss during his senior season at South Carolina.
Look for him to continue that sort of production once he lands in Nashville, and for the Titans to be much improved on defense as a result.
Brian Urlacher and Lance Briggs are still playing well, but they're both into their 30s and, as such, their playing days will soon be numbered.
If the Bears intend to maintain their longstanding reputation for top-tier linebacking, they'd be wise to add Courtney Upshaw. The Crimson Tide 'backer is more than capable of contributing in just about every facet of defense, with his pass-rushing skills (8.5 sacks as a senior) second to none among his peers at his position.
Then again, Chicago would just as soon opt for an offensive lineman here if one of the better prospects falls into its lap.
Rex Ryan would probably prefer Courtney Upshaw here given his abilities as a pass-rusher, but Dont'a Hightower, his 'Bama 'backing mate, isn't exactly a bad Plan B.
Hightower knows a thing or two about playing in a 3-4 defense, having starred in Nick Saban's scheme down in Tuscaloosa.
If the Jets decide that safety is a more pressing need, they could opt for Mark Barron, yet another of the Crimson Tide's litany of blue-chip defensive prospects.
Matthew Stafford's been very fortunate to avoid serious injury this season, even as he's been bombarded by opposing pass-rushers behind Detroit's shoddy offensive line.
Mike Adams might not be the popular pick here, given that he played his college ball at Ohio State, but he's certainly the smart one.
Tackles don't get much bigger than this 6'8", 320 pounder, who should help to prolong Stafford's promising career under center.
The Giants' once-sturdy offensive line continues to decay with long-time guard David Diehl looking like the next man out, thanks in large part to the $8 million he's owed over the next two years.
DeCastro is a natural fit to fill in: a tremendous offensive line prospect who's spent his collegiate career in a pro-style offense protecting Andrew Luck. He'll have Eli Manning's back covered quite nicely from day one.
Now that the Browns have already filled their gaping hole at running back, they need to dig up some help in the passing game for Colt McCoy.
Thanks to Atlanta's generosity in pursuit of Julio Jones in the 2011 NFL Draft, Cleveland will be amply able to do just that with Michael Floyd, the star wide receiver out of Notre Dame, itching to be picked up.
Floyd's big, athletic and, well, he's better than Greg Little, who's been surprisingly effective as a rookie.
Still, McCoy needs someone to throw to and Floyd fits in perfectly as that someone.
Looks like the Broncos won't have to draft a quarterback after all, am I right?
As titillating as Tim Tebow has been (not in a sexual way, of course), the real story hidden beneath the surface has been the improvement of Denver's D, despite merely so-so play from its defensive line.
Devon Still would be more than a solid pickup in that regard. He underachieved a bit during his time at Penn State, though I'd imagine John Fox wouldn't mind adding a guy to the interior of his defensive line who racked up 4.5 sacks and 14 tackles for a loss even without going full bore.
The Patriots need help in their secondary like Ndamukong Suh needs anger management, and even that might be understating just how terrible their pass defense has been.
Bill Belichick has had to make do with guys who probably came into camp wearing "Hi, My Name is..." stickers on their shirts, from James Ihedigbo to Rob Ninkovich and beyond.
Luckily, the Saints were so eager to grab Mark Ingram in the 2011 NFL Draft that they gave up this pick, which once again gives the Pats two choices in the first round.
Mark Barron, on the other hand, has the sort of talent that could help him stick around for more than, say, a year or two. Barron was a star for Nick Saban, a Belichick disciple, at Alabama, with the sort of hard-hitting, all-over-the-field ability that New England so sorely lacks in its secondary as currently constituted.
Whaddaya know? At this rate, the Pats will be in Roger Goodell's ear all night!
With the secondary (somewhat) taken care of, Belichick can get back to the business of upgrading his floundering front seven. Illinois' Whitney Mercilus, the winner of the Hendricks Defensive End of the Year Award, is versatile enough to switch between playing end in a 4-3 scheme or linebacker in a 3-4 and sports ideal Belichickian size (6'4", 265) to boot.
Not to mention the fact that he could so easily be confused for a world-famous jazz musician.
The Texans have three huge free agents with whom to concern themselves this offseason—Arian Foster, Mario Williams and Chris Myers—but likely only enough financial flexibility to keep two of them.
Granted, Williams will come a bit cheaper after tearing his pectoral earlier this season, though they're not about to let him go without a fight if it comes down to that. Neither would they dare let Foster walk.
Assuming that's the case, Houston will need to find a replacement for him, lest it risk allowing its offensive line to come undone. Wisconsin's Peter Konz is the best center in the draft this year and, as such, the best option to replace Myers.
The Steelers have to be thinking about upgrading their offensive line after watching Ben Roethlisberger take such a beating on a week-to-week basis.
Cordy Glenn, an All-American out of Georgia, would help in that regard, giving the statuesque Big Ben some measure of a reprieve up front.
Someone will take Alshon Jeffery in the first round. Why not the 49ers? Braylon Edwards will hit the free-agent market again, leaving a regressed Michael Crabtree and an out-of-place Ted Ginn Jr. to catch passes from Alex Smith (or Colin Kaepernick).
Jeffery's production has dropped off considerably from his breakout sophomore season, though he's still 6'4" and crazy athletic. That should be enough to make him an attractive option for the Niners this late in the first round.
Ray Lewis is due to vacate his throne in Baltimore in the not-so-distant future, leaving GM Ozzie Newsome to seek out a worthy successor in the upcoming draft.
Zach Brown has been all over different draft boards and projections, but should be available here in what's shaping up to be an interesting crop of linebackers. Brown made an impact all over the field during his senior season at North Carolina, racking up 91 tackles along with 5.5 sacks, two forced fumbles and two interceptions.
He'll have a year or two to ply his trade next to and behind Lewis before moving up to play second fiddle to Terrell Suggs.
Surely, the Packers have noticed how much their pass defense has regressed in just one year, from fifth in the NFL in 2010 to 31st in 2011. Tramon Williams has taken a big step back and, well, Charles Woodson isn't getting any younger.
Picking up Chase Minnifield out of Virginia would be a solid start to rebuilding Green Bay's secondary so it can keep competing for Super Bowls during Aaron Rodgers' prime.