By Don Banks
February 22, 2012
2012 NFL Mock Draft 2.0
The build-up to the draft seems to start in about late November these days, but the week of the league's annual Scouting Combine in Indianapolis is when it begins to really engulf us and dominate the discussion in the NFL. As I head back to Indiana once again -- I'll be able to vote there any day now -- for the opening of the league's week-long extravaganza of workouts and Wonderlics, here's our latest attempt at mocking out the draft's first round:
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1 QB Andrew Luck Stanford Jr. 6-4 235
While the Luck vs. RG3 debate might rightfully rage for the next two months, I'm convinced the Colts have their minds set on taking the pure pocket passer over the more athletically gifted quarterback from Baylor. Luck returns to Indy this week for the second time this month -- he was briefly there during Super Bowl week -- and this time he gets to meet with the Colts, who still have that other quarterback issue to grapple with. Colts owner Jim Irsay is going to make this call, and he's already talking Luck.
2 QB Robert Griffin III Baylor Jr. 6-2 220
(Projected trade with St. Louis) When all is said and done, Griffin will be going in this slot to someone, and the Browns still make the most sense in terms of their need at quarterback and their good fortune to own two first-round picks in 2012. Trust me on this one: The NFL is about to fall in love with Griffin, and the top of the draft is all about quarterbacks. The Browns should jump on this deal -- and this player -- with gusto, because they're not getting the ultra-impressive Griffin if they sit tight at No. 4. If Cleveland doesn't move on Griffin, Washington might.
3 OT Matt Kalil USC Jr. 6-7 295
As tempting as Oklahoma State's Justin Blackmon might be, the smart move for the Vikings is to pick Kalil and hopefully take the critical left offensive tackle position off the to-do list for the next decade or so. There are plenty of receivers available in both free agency and the draft this year, but premier left tackles are always hard to come by. Former USC tackle Ron Yary gave the Vikings 14 Hall of Fame seasons after going No. 1 overall in 1968 -- albeit playing right tackle in the NFL -- so there's some nice symmetry at work here, too.
4 WR Justin Blackmon Oklahoma State Jr. 6-1 215
(Projected trade with Cleveland) No wonder Jeff Fisher wanted the Rams job over the Dolphins' head coaching vacancy. By dealing with the Browns, St. Louis gets the same player it likely would have taken at No. 2 -- landing the top-rated receiver it needs to help Sam Bradford and the passing game rebound from a dismal 2011 -- plus pockets Cleveland's No. 22 pick and maybe another late-round selection. Blackmon and Bradford should be able to make beautiful music together for years to come.
5 RB Trent Richardson Alabama Jr. 5-11 224
The more I hear NFL talent evaluators rave about Richardson, the more it sounds like he's that rare rushing prospect worthy of top-10 or even top-five consideration. Richardson is a three-down back, and even with LeGarrett Blount on the roster, fielding a dominant two-headed running game might be just the right call to help ease the burden on the still-developing Josh Freeman at quarterback.
6 CB Morris Claiborne LSU Jr. 6-0 185
Claiborne is likely the safest pick for the Redskins in this scenario, but so much hinges on what the Redskins do at quarterback in free agency. I gave them Texas A&M QB Ryan Tannehill in my first mock, but here's an interesting theory I heard recently that makes some sense: Mike Shanahan loves Oklahoma State quarterback Brandon Weeden, who he coached in the Senior Bowl, and might try to trade down into the 20s of the first round to take him. Weeden is 28 and that scares a lot of teams, but he's mature and ready to play in the NFL right away, and the Redskins don't have time to wait around for someone to develop.
7 CB Dre Kirkpatrick Alabama Jr. 6-3 192
I'm moving off of North Carolina defensive end Quinton Coples to the Jaguars for now, because while he's a freak athletically, some teams are worried that his so-so season and strong Senior Bowl week make him a risky proposition. By comparison, Kirkpatrick is seen as one of the safer top-10 picks, with the needed blend of size, athleticism and physicality to play coverage in today's pass-happy NFL.
8 DT Michael Brockers LSU Soph. 6-6 306
The Panthers are in the market for a run-stuffer to plug into the middle of their defensive line, and Brockers looks like the highest-rated prospect at a very deep position in this year's draft. He can both hold up stoutly against the run and penetrate the backfield, adding a disruptive force to Ron Rivera's defense. Two junior defensive tackles also bear noting as names that could be on the climb after the combine: Memphis' Dontari Poe and Michigan State's Jerel Worthy.
9 OT Riley Reiff Iowa Jr. 6-6 300
I'm still operating under the conviction the Dolphins get their quarterback in free agency, with either Matt Flynn or Peyton Manning coming to town, and that makes right offensive tackle the biggest necessity in the first round. Miami would be landing the second-highest rated tackle behind USC's Kalil, and NFL Network draft analyst Mike Mayock said Reiff is even more pro-ready than Iowa tackle/Green Bay first-round pick Bryan Bulaga was two years ago. Reiff could handle the left tackle slot at some point in the NFL, but with Jake Long already in Miami, the Fish's need is on the right side.
10 DE Quinton Coples North Carolina Sr. 6-6 285
Again, the knock on Coples is that his dominant week at the Senior Bowl didn't match what scouts saw from him all season long on tape. But he has supreme athletic skills and the potential to develop into the best pure pass rusher in this year's draft, and that means someone is going to talk themselves into selecting him in the top 10. The Bills are one of several teams in this neck of the first round desperate for more pass pressure, so Coples and Buffalo seem like a marriage that's just waiting to happen.
11 OT Jonathan Martin Stanford Sr. 6-6 304
The Chiefs have to upgrade at right offensive tackle, and Martin is the most obvious direction to head with both Kalil and Reiff already gone. An inside linebacker like Boston College's Luke Kuechly or a defensive tackle like Memphis' Dontari Poe would fill other areas of need with players who will wind up with grades in the top 15-20 range.
12 QB Ryan Tannehill Texas A&M Sr. 6-4 222
An immediate disclaimer to hopefully ward off frantic calls from Seattle radio stations: I don't know for a fact that Pete Carroll is high on Tannehill, but I do know the Seahawks have to find competition for Tarvaris Jackson in the first or second round (barring a big signing in free agency), and more NFL scouts all the time tell me that Tannehill will end up in the first round before this thing is done. I'm connecting dots here, folks.
13 LB Courtney Upshaw Alabama Sr. 6-2 265
You hear the LaMarr Woodley comparisons a bit with Upshaw, and that has to sound enticing to Cardinals head coach Ken Whisenhunt, the ex-Steelers assistant. Arizona has both of its outside linebackers, Clark Haggans and Joey Porter, as potential free agents, and Upshaw is considered the top-rated 3-4 rush linebacker in the draft.
14 CB Stephon Gilmore South Carolina Jr. 6-1 193
This may look a bit high for Gilmore at the moment, but he's a slightly off-the-radar junior who some believe is going to fly up teams' draft boards once they see him work out at the Combine. He's got good size, plenty of speed, tackles well and plays strong press coverage. He also doesn't have the character issues that plague North Alabama cornerback Janoris Jenkins, the ex-Gator who's got a bevy of red flags attached to his resume.
15 LB Luke Kuechly Boston College Jr. 6-3 237
This should be the perfect first-round melding of team need and draft slot value for the Eagles, because one of their glaring deficiences for a while now has been for a player who possesses Keuchly's skill set. He's a smart and instinct tackler who has the ability to read and react and find the ballcarrier. He's a tough player and a natural leader, and he should fit perfectly in the hard-nosed NFC East.
16 DE Melvin Ingram South Carolina Sr. 6-2 276
The Jets could really use Stanford guard David DeCastro, and Alabama safety Mark Barron would fill another position of need. But they couldn't afford to pass on Ingram, who some consider the draft's top-rated defensive end, ahead of the riskier Quinton Coples of North Carolina. Ingram might wind up at outside linebacker in the NFL, but he'd improve the New York pass rush wherever he'd line up.
17 G David DeCastro Stanford Sr. 6-5 310
(From Oakland) The Bengals have two picks in the span of five slots (17th and 21st), so logic tells you they will take the highest-rated remaining player who fills a need. That's DeCastro, the draft's best interior lineman prospect and one of the guys who kept Andrew Luck well-protected the past three years.
18 WR Kendall Wright Baylor Sr. 5-10 190
RG3's favorite target would help fill the expected void created by Vincent Jackson's departure in free agency. Wright has speed and playmaking ability and he's more explosive than available Notre Dame receiver Michael Floyd.
19 WR Michael Floyd Notre Dame Sr. 6-3 224
The Roy Williams acquisition didn't work out last year, so the Bears still need a big, strong, go-to receiver for Jay Cutler to find five or six times a game. Floyd is a physical pass-catcher who can get hot and take over games. If he runs better than expected in Indy, his stock might even climb into the first half of the round.
20 DT Dontari Poe Memphis Sr. 6-5 350
If there will be a consensus choice to come out of the Combine riding a wave of first-round upward mobility, it'll be Poe, a 6-5, 350-pound freakishly good athlete who has no business moving around as well as he does for a guy his size. When the Titans study him, they're going to see a young, playmaking Albert Haynesworth, without the attitude and poor work ethic.
21 CB Janoris Jenkins North Alabama Sr. 5-10 191
As we've noted above, Jenkins has first-round talent, but his character issues will take him out of play for some teams. The Bengals don't usually shy away from players with off-field baggage, or they wouldn't have ever given Pacman Jones and Terrell Owens a shot to wear the tiger stripes. Cincinnati needs help at cornerback, and that might carry the day for the ex-Gator turned North Alabama standout.
22 OL Cordy Glenn Georgia Sr. 6-5 348
(Projected trade with Cleveland, via Atlanta) With the underachieving Jason Smith a good bet to become a salary cap casualty any day now, the Rams could stand to identify a potential starting right tackle with the No. 22 pick they will get in the projected RG3 trade with Cleveland. Ohio State tackle Mike Adams remains available in this scenario, but he does come with off-field baggage that could impact his standing this spring. Here's a long-shot name to file away: Ole Miss tackle Bobby Massie.
23 OT Mike Adams Ohio State Sr. 6-8 320
The Lions have to get younger and more talented on the offensive line, because age and ineffectivness really started showing at times in 2011. Left tackle Jeff Backus and center Dominic Raiola are both in need of a heir apparent, and that should put Detroit in the position of seriously considering a pair of Big Ten linemen, either Adams or Wisconsin center Peter Konz.
24 DT Devon Still Penn State Sr. 6-5 310
The need in the Steelers' defensive line outweighs all other issues this offseason, with nose tackle Casey Hampton coming off a third ACL surgery, Chris Hoke retiring and Aaron Smith and Brett Keisel dealing with age and health issues. Michigan State defensive tackle Jerel Worthy has the higher upside, but Still is a solid and steady player who should contribute early for the Steelers.
25 DT Jerel Worthy Michigan State Jr. 6-3 310
The Broncos should have their choice of several interior defensive linemen who represent immediate upgrades: Worthy, Mississippi State's Fletcher Cox, or Washington's Alameda Ta'amu. Worthy, a playmaking junior who is rapidly gaining fans in the NFL, is, well, worthy at No. 25.
26 WR Rueben Randle LSU Jr. 6-4 208
The Texans were exposed as painfully thin at receiver once Andre Johnson suffered his hamstring injuries last season, and the bottom of the first round is a good slot to get an underrated prospect in this year's receiving class. Randle might need a year to develop, but his blend of size, speed and ability to come down with the ball make him worth the investment.
27 DT Fletcher Cox Mississippi State Jr. 6-4 295
(From New Orleans) The Patriots desperately need more pass rush, so Illinois DE-OLB Whitney Mercilus could very well intrigue them enough to be the pick. But Cox is the safer choice as a versatile, three-down lineman who would likely represent great value at No. 27.
28 C Peter Konz Wisconsin Jr. 6-5 315
Why do the Packers seem willing to hold their ground in contract talks with center Scott Wells, even if it means letting him walk away in free agency? Maybe because they've got the highly-regarded Konz in their backyard, perhaps ready to slide right into the lineup? If Konz is still on the board, Green Bay would look plenty shrewd for cutting ties with Wells.
29 S Mark Barron Alabama Sr. 6-2 218
Given Matt Birk's possible retirement, the Ravens might have jumped all over Konz if he were still available, but Barron is no mere consolation prize for Baltimore. In the AFC, you've got to get past New England, and that means matching up with their two playmaking tight ends. Baltimore can afford to wait on Barron's recent hernia surgery to heal, knowing it has one of this draft's top 25 prospects.
30 49ers">49ers">49ers_45.gif" border="0"> WR Mohamed Sanu Rutgers Jr. 6-2 215
Some scouts don't see enough "suddeness" and ability to separate from Sanu, but he was quick enough to play some Wildcat quarterback in 2009-2010 for the Scarlet Knights, and he was a pass-catching, chains-moving receiver for Rutgers last year, rolling up a whopping 115 receptions. The 49ers are desperate for playmakers in their passing game, and Sanu is a reliable and big-bodied target who knows how to catch the ball in traffic.
31 LB Dont'a Hightower Alabama Jr. 6-4 269
With the Patriots taking Mississippi State defensive tackle Fletcher Cox at No. 27, they can address another front-seven need with Hightower, a Nick Saban-coached prospect who has the versatility to play inside or outside linebacker. And we all know how Bill Belichick feels about versatility.
32 TE Coby Fleener Stanford Sr. 6-6 244
As much as the Giants could use help at right offensive tackle or even take another pass-rushing prodigy like Illinois DE-OLB Whitney Mercilus, the reality is New York lost two-thirds of its tight end contingent to ACL injuries in the Super Bowl, with both Travis Beckum and Jake Ballard going down. That puts top-rated tight ends like Fleener and Clemson's Dwayne Allen -- both of whom are strong pass-catchers -- on New York's radar screen at No. 32.

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