There is so much misinformation spreading like wildfire these days that it is very difficult to identify what reports/leaks are truly believable. With just 3 more days to go, here we have my latest stab at predicting what will happen in the first round of the NFL Draft on Thursday night.
1. IND QB Andrew Luck (Stanford)
This one is a no-brainer, as the Colts have already reportedly informed Luck that he will be the pick. Luck appears to be the most highly-rated QB to have come out of college, since, well, Peyton Manning.
2. WAS QB Robert Griffin III (Baylor)
Like last year’s Cam Newton (not comparing the 2 as their skill sets are quite different), RG3 has lottery-style potential. There are many scouts around the league who actually prefer him to Luck, and I can understand why. The kid is smart, has off-the-charts leadership skills and is a fantastic athlete. The only knock is that it may take him some time to adjust to the NFL coming from Baylor’s rather simplistic offense. That was a concern for Newton last year too, no?
3. MIN OT Matt Kalil (Southern California)
Here is where the draft gets very interesting. The word is that Minny REALLY wants to trade out of this spot, which I do not doubt. However, we saw all the ammo that Washington had to give up to move up to #2. I just do not see any team willing to give the Vikings what it will take to move into that spot. The Vikings could go CB here with Claiborne, given that Antoine Winfield is coming off an injury-shortened season and is not getting any younger. They could also go with WR Blackmon in hopes of giving Ponder a quality target. I am sticking with the Kalil pick because it does fill a need, and Kalil is unquestionably the top LT in this draft class.
4. CLE RB Trent Richardson (Alabama)
I feel a little better about this pick, but it is hardly a sure thing. Look for Mike Holmgren to play games in hopes of confusing some of the teams picking in the bottom half of the top 10 to see if he can extort a trade-down opportunity. I honestly do not get the sense that the Browns are all that high on Tannehill, for example. Richardson has real game-breaking skills — and, while the Browns can use a lot of help on offense in the aerial game too, they could certainly stand to upgrade the RB position as well, especially given that Peyton Hillis is gone.
5. TB CB Morris Claiborne (LSU)
The Bucs spent a lot of money in free agency to upgrade the WR position, so I doubt that they would pull the trigger on Blackmon. That leaves Claiborne as the only other blue chip prospect in a draft class that appears to only have 6 of them.
6. STL WR Justin Blackmon (Oklahoma State)
Jeff Fisher prefers to build his defense and offensive line by going in that direction early in the draft. He also likes drafting RBs early (Eddie George, Chris Henry, Chris Johnson), so if either Kalil or Richardson fall, either would be a natural pick here. He also could care less about character issues (Pac Man Jones, Albert Haynesworth), so he could roll the dice on a left-field pick like Coples here. Regardless, Blackmon is likely to be the BPA at this point.
7. JAC CB Stephon Gilmore (South Carolina)
There has been a great deal of buzz about Gilmore in the last few days. He went from being a borderline first rounder at the end of the season to a top 15-20 guy as recently as a couple of weeks ago. Part of me thinks he still winds up going in the middle of the round to a team like Cincinnati. However, if the buzz is true, there are at least a few teams — one of them being Jacksonville — that have him ranked ahead of Clairborne. With no obvious selection at #7, Gilmore would NOT be a tremendous reach here.
8. MIA QB Ryan Tannehill (Texas A&M)
With the owner making it known that he wants Tannehill, the real football men in Miami may have no choice but to abide. I am still torn about whether or not I believe Tannehill has long term potential. There is just so little to go on. There is the obvious Mike Sherman (now the Dolphins’ OC, who coached Tannehill at Texas A&M) connection, and even if Tannehill does require a couple of years to get his feet wet, Matt Moore was actually pretty decent in the second half of last year. It would probably make more sense to go DL here — either a pass rusher like Coples/Ingram or a a DT like Poe/Cox. If I were making the pick here, I would actually lean toward Fletcher Cox, who could play inside or outside for the Dolphins.
9. CAR ILB Luke Kuechly (Boston College)
Kuechly is a real wildcard. He may be one of the most sure things in this draft. He was a tackling machine at BC, and can play any linebacker position in either a 4-3 or a 3-4. If the trend were not to draft LBs later in the draft, he would be a top 5 pick. The Panthers will have no qualms about taking him #9 overall.
10. BUF OG/OT Cordy Glenn (Georgia)
Assuming nothing crazy happens with the first 5-6 picks and that Gilmore and Kuechly are gone as I have projected, the Bills could go any number of directions here. They could go WR (Michael Floyd), DB (Dre Kirkpatrick) or OT(Riley Reiff), or they could even go BPA and take someone like SS Mark Barron, even though he does not fill an obvious need. After Kalil there is significant drop-off, but there is plenty of depth at the OT position in the draft. Hence, the Bills could wait until the 2nd or 3rd round to address that position. Still, there is much about Glenn that the Bills like: he is a huge mauler with long arms, who was very durable in college. Given the rash of injuries that the team endured along the OL in 2011, they will find all of these traits inviting, especially since Glenn can play either OG or OT.
11. KC CB Dre Kirkpatrick (Alabama)
Worst case scenario: Eric Berry is coming off a serious knee injury, and the Chiefs need some insurance. Best case scenario: Berry makes a complete recovery, and the Chiefs suddenly have 2 quality corners to stifle opposing QBs and WRs. David DeCastro, maybe aside from Kuechly the draft’s most “sure thing”, would also be a solid selection here.
12. SEA DE Quinton Coples (North Carolina)
With David Hawthorne gone, the Seahawks would love for Kuechly to fall to them. Assuming that doesn’t happen, might they reach a bit for Alabama’s Dont’a Hightower? They could also roll the dice and hope that California’s Mychal Kendricks is still available in the 2nd round. With the signing of free agent Matt Flynn, the Seahawks are actually in pretty good shape otherwise — although they supposedly do like Ryan Tannehill a lot. Assuming that the Seahawks cannot trade down, they would be quite happy with Coples, given their need for an edge rusher to compliment Chris Clemons in nickle situations.
13. OG David DeCastro (Stanford)
The sexy pick here is WR Michael Floyd. That is who Larry Fitzgerald has been begging the front office to draft, and Floyd says that it would be a dream come true to play along side Fitz. I think the Cards will want to be a bit more practical, and there are several players that I have still on the board who could fill that recipe: SS Mark Barron, OT Riley Reiff, DE Melvin Ingram, and OG DeCastro. I think in the end the Cardinals will covet DeCastro’s mean streak and understand the importance of keeping their QB healthy. Yes, Kolb was a disappointment — but he battled concussion symptoms much of the year.
14. DAL DT Fletcher Cox (Mississippi State)
Mark Barron would be an excellent choice here too. There is certainly mutual interest, as Barron has tweeted (and then deleted) his love for the ‘Boys. In my mind, the Cowboys’ biggest need is at DT, and if the draft unfolds the way I have it, they would get their choice of the top DT in the draft. Like Gilmore, Cox is a fast riser, who could actually find himself drafted in the top 10. If that happens, Dontari Poe or Barron could be an option after all.
15. PHI SS Mark Barron (Alabama)
Yes, former Eagle, Free Safety Brian Dawkins, is retiring, and even though it is not necessarily related, I do expect the Eagles to be interested in Strong Safety Mark Barron. That is simply because the team will be looking for “value” at this point in the draft, and Barron (who could actually be a top-10-caliber player) is the top player that I have rated at this point. Another possibility is DE/OLB Melvin Ingram. If Tannehill is still on the board here, do not be surprised if the Eagles bite: Vick will be 32 when the season starts.
16. NYJ WR Michael Floyd (Notre Dame)
I have seen mocks were the Jets actually trade up to get Melvin Ingram, so you would have to think that they would be doing cartwheels to find him still on the board at #16, right? Perhaps. But with all of the chemistry issues between the QB and WRs and with Plaxico having not re-signed, I think Floyd could make a more instant contribution.
17. CIN CB Janoris Jenkins (North Alabama)
The Bengals will definitely be in the market for a corner. Until a couple of weeks ago, I had Gilmore going here.
18. SD OLB Courtney Upshaw (Alabama)
There have to be plenty of office pools to guess how many Alabama players will be drafted in the 1st round. The over/under is 5. Upshaw can get pressure on the QB from the OLB position, and his pass coverage skills are not as lacking as some analysts would have you to believe.
19. CHI DE/OLB Melvin Ingram (South Carolina)
The Bears have made some major moves to help the offense in the off-season, and now they happily wait patiently for one of the draft’s top pass rushers to fall to them. Imagine this kid pairing up with Peppers to antagonize opposing QBs?
20. TEN DE Andre Branch (Clemson)
The Titans would like to boost their pass rush and like the versatility that Branch provides. Whitney Mercilus is an intriguing option, but his production was simply not there in college. Other possibilities include Kirkpatrick, Cox, Gilmore, or Barron — should any of them fall later than I have them.
21. CIN FS George Iloka (Boise State)
The Bengals have 2 first round picks, so they have the ammunition to move up if they want. Of course, they could move down and acquire even more picks if they do not like what is on the board here. It may seem odd projecting them to draft 2 DBs in the first round, but the Bengals really could use help at both CB and FS positions. Mercilus and WR Hill are both options here too.
22. CLE WR Stephen Hill (Georgia Tech)
Having passed on Blackmon with their fist pick, the Browns take the draft’s most intriguing WR at #22. Hill turned heads at the combine with his blazing speed. Of course, minimal production in college is a concern. Another name to watch is Brandon Weeden. The buzz surrounding him reminds me a little of that with Christian Ponder last year.
23. DET OT Jonathan Martin (Stanford)
Last year, the Lions finally got a glimpse of what great things could happen if they could keep young Matt Stafford on his feet for all 16 games. They will want to keep that offensive line fortified, and make the surprising decision to take Stanford’s Jonathan Martin over Riley Reiff.
24. PIT ILB Dont’a Hightower (Alabama)
The Steelers are never afraid to draft linebackers, and they certainly have nurtured quite a few who turned into real studs over the years. Hightower should be made-to-order for the Steelers having played in Nick Saban’s 3-4 defense at Alabama.
25. DEN DT Michael Brockers (LSU)
The Broncos did what they needed to do to court Peyton Manning. They could look to protect their investment by drafting an OT like Reiff, TE like Fleener or a WR like Wright. However, what really started the Broncos on their winning ways last season was the dramatic improvement of the defense under Coach Fox. They could still improve the DL, and Brockers would be a nice fit.
26. HOU OT Riley Reiff (Iowa)
The Texans scratch their heads and wonder why Reiff, projected by some to go in the top 10, is still on the board. Since their chances of going far in the playoffs were to a large extent thwarted by their QBs dropping like flies, they are more than happy to see this pass protector fall to them.
27. NE DT Dontari Poe (Memphis)
When the Pats were winning all those Super Bowls a few years ago, it was largely due to their defense. The last couple of years, the defense has regressed mightily. They could use a DE to replace Mark Anderson, and they could also look long and hard at RBs and OL — but when it is all said and done, I believe that Belichick would like to bring in a solid big man to spell Willford. Since the Pats have 2 first rounders, they have plenty of options.
28. GB DE Whitney Mercilus (Illinois)
Whitney worries me — and he certainly comes with significant risk. But this late in the first round, it is hard to quibble — and the upside is tremendous. The Packers certainly could use a solid pass rusher to slow down the Lions and the Bears, who look to be better this year.
29. BAL C Peter Konz (Wisconsin)
With age creeping up along the OL, the Ravens will certainly take a long look at the tenacity that Konz, unquestionably the top Center in the draft, provides.
30. SF OT Mike Adams (Ohio State)
The Niners would also like to strengthen their OL. Adams, who was once thought of as a top 15 player, could fall completely out of the 1st round due to his off-field issues. Somehow, I can see Jim Harbaugh wanting to take a guy like this and manufacture a chip on his shoulder with which he can motivate him forevermore.
31. NE OLB Lavonte David (Nebraska)
Plenty of options here for the Pats. Do not laugh if they draft the top pass- catching TE in Coby Fleener even though they already have Hernandez and Gronkowski; the Pats have had a fetish for TEs for years. They could address the OL or RB here too. I think they will still want to focus on defense — and there are several possibilities on that side of the ball too. If Mercilus is still around, I think they would hop on him here. They could also boost the secondary. In the end I could see the Pats going after Nick Perry or Lavonte David.
32. NYG TE Coby Fleener (Stanford)
As the defending Super Bowl champs one would believe that the Giants do not have many holes to fill, right? Wrong. They could use a WR to replace Mario Manningham and a RB to replace Brandon Jacobs. With Osi always unhappy with his contract, they could continue to stock-pile quality defensive linemen. They could also use some help in the secondary. When it is all said and done, though, I do not believe that the Giants see Jake Ballard as the long term solution, and it would be hard to pass on Fleener if he is still here.