By Dan Durkin-
(CBS) Twenty days and counting until the 77th annual meeting of NFL franchises to select eligible football players. The NFL has truly become a 365/24/7 operation – especially for draftniks – so with the combine and free agent frenzy complete, here’s my second take on how the first-round will shake out.
More: NFL Mock Draft 1.0
1. Indianapolis Colts – Andrew Luck, QB, Stanford
The Colts hope lightning strikes twice and they have a repeat of the 1998 draft, where they made Peyton Manning the top overall selection. New Colts offensive coordinator Bruce Arians’ offense functioned well with Ben Roethlisberger, a quarterback who can keep plays alive with his legs and hit down-field strikes. This description may fit Robert Griffin III best, but Luck is the pick here to be the new face of the Indianapolis franchise.
2. Washington Redskins from St. Louis Rams – Robert Griffin III, QB, Baylor
The Redskins outbid the Browns (big shock there) and other suitors for the right to select Baylor quarterback Robert Griffin III. Griffin really burst on the scene in 2011, posting Nintendo-like numbers en route to the Heisman trophy. Griffin’s athleticism and accuracy make him an intriguing NFL prospect, as with the right coaching and supporting cast, his ceiling is higher than that of Luck. Will the Redskins – specifically Shanahan squared – loosen up the reins they like to put on quarterbacks? They’d be wise to, as a talent like Griffin needs opportunity to freelance and let his fleet feet open up down-field strikes.
3. Minnesota Vikings – Matt Kalil, OT, USC
It sounds odd to say it, but the Vikings Week 16 win over the Redskins was about as costly as a win can be. They lost star running back Adrian Peterson to a torn ACL, rallied to win the game, the Colts inexplicably beat the Texans, and the Vikings ended up losing out on the ultra-valuable #2 pick. However, USC offensive tackle Matt Kalil is a nice consolation prize. Kalil will be a blindside anchor for the next decade, which is something that doesn’t come around very often.
4. Cleveland Browns – Trent Richardson, RB, Alabama
For someone who believes it’s not a wise financial investment to pick a running back – where your job description is essentially to have 35+ car accidents every week – this early in the draft, Trent Richardson is the pick for the Browns. Keep in mind, that the new CBA has made changes to the rookie pool, so the amount of that investment has decreased. Football-wise, Richardson may be the best prospect in this draft, he is compact, powerful, elusive, durable, stout in pass protection and blitz pick-up, and most importantly, he protects the football. For a Browns team desperate for talent on offense, Richardson gives them a “bell cow” back, who will pay immediate dividends in 2012.
5. Tampa Bay Buccaneers – Morris Claiborne, CB, LSU
One spot earlier and LSU cornerback Morris Claiborne could’ve matched his wonderlic score. In a division with the Saints, Falcons, and Panthers, the Bucs must improve a secondary that gave up 30 passing touchdowns last season. Claiborne is the best pure cover corner in the draft, who was lost in the shadow of teammate and fellow cornerback sophomore Tyrann “Honey Badger” Mathieu.
6. St. Louis Rams from Washington Redskins – Justin Blackmon, WR, OSU
Man, the Rams absolutely worked the Redskins in the RG3 trade. This will be their first of six, yes, six, first round draft picks over the next three seasons. For a team with holes all over the roster, the Rams could be in for a huge turnaround if they hit on just half of these picks. The issue may be, can they re-sign all of these picks in 6-7 years? Alas, that’s a another problem for another day. For now, the focus is on getting better with the number six pick in 2012. The Rams will get much better when they pair Sam Bradford with a legit #1 wide receiver in Oklahoma State’s Justin Blackmon.
7. Jacksonville Jaguars – Quinton Coples, DE, North Carolina
When a guy named Jeremy Mincey leads your team with 8 sacks, you’re in desperate for help on the edge. North Carolina defensive end Quinton Coples has the explosiveness teams look for in a traditional RDE, with the ability to dip his pad level and either powerfully rip his way through a block, or simply use his speed to win the edge.
8. Miami Dolphins – Ryan Tannehill, QB, Texas A&M
While, I don’t believe Tannehill is worthy of the eighth overall selection, I felt the same way last year when Jake Locker went off the board at No. 8, Blaine Gabbert went off the board at No. 10, and Christian Ponder went off the board at No. 12. Granted, last year was different in that the draft preceded free agency, but every year quarterbacks go higher than expected. Tannehill is that guy this year. After losing out on Peyton Manning and Matt Flynn, Miami is dealing with a mob of pitchfork and torch-bearing fans, and the selection of Tannehill may make them even more irate. I think Matt Moore is a serviceable quarterback, who can hold them over until Tannehill is ready to go in an offense coordinated by his college coach Mike Sherman.
9. Carolina Panthers – Fletcher Cox, DT, Mississipi State
Seeing that the Panthers spent two third-round draft picks last year on defensive tackles Terrell McClain and Sione Fua, this pick may raise some eyebrows. But the bottom line is, McClain and Fua shouldn’t preclude Ron Rivera from adding a talent like Mississipi State’s Fletcher Cox to the mix. Cox had to fight through numerous double-team blocks in college and was still a disruptive force in offensive backfields. Cox will immediately improve a dreadful Panthers’ run defense.
10. Buffalo Bills – Riley Reiff, OT, Iowa
The Bills bought themselves $120M in defensive ends this off-season, spending $100M on prized free-agent Mario Williams, and subsequently paired him with Mark Anderson. These signings give the Bills an impressive defensive line and allow them to address other needs. With left tackle Demetrius Bell still unsigned, the Bills have some uncertainty on their offensive line. Reiff played left tackle at Iowa, but his short arms may make him better suited for the right side in the pros. If the Bills are able to re-sign Bell, they have a solid set of young bookend tackles. Michael Floyd is also a possibility at this spot.
11. Kansas City Chiefs – David DeCastro, OG, Stanford
The Chiefs have been very focused on improving their offense in free agency, and the signing of offensive tackle Eric Winston gives them a great pair of bookends, but the interior of the Chiefs offensive line needs help. They could elect to go defense, but I think they’ll go with the best player available and select the draft’s best interior offensive lineman – Stanford guard David DeCastro. DeCastro’s tape showed he is one of the most NFL-ready players in the draft, and he only improved his stock by showcasing incredible strength and agility at the combine. DeCastro would be a great value pick for a Chiefs team who would like to regain their position as the top rushing team in the NFL.
12. Seattle Seahawks – Luke Kuechly, ILB, Boston College
After losing David Hawthorne to the Saints and with LeRoy Hill still on the free-agent market, the second level of the Seahawks defense is in need of a serious talent infusion, so Boston College’s Luke Kuechly is the pick. Everyone is quick to point out the ever-popular “football IQ” with Kuechly, but his stellar athletic performance at the combine solidified Kuechly as the top linebacker prospect in this year’s draft. This pick will definitely be in play on April 26th, so a trade down for a team with eyes for Michael Floyd is very possible as well.
13. Arizona Cardinals – Michael Floyd, WR, Notre Dame
The Cardinals have two primary needs: protecting the passer and and finding a receiver to compliment All-World Larry Fitzgerald. With Kalil and Reiff off the board, the Cardinals choose to draft the best player still available on the board, Notre Dame’s Michael Floyd. Pairing Floyd and Fitzgerald will give opposing defensive coordinators nightmares. The Cardinals would be wise to look for an offensive tackle in round 2, as whomever lines up at quarterback needs better protection, as he can’t make passes to Fitz and Floyd lying on his back.
14. Dallas Cowboys – Dontari Poe, DT, Memphis
After addressing major needs at cornerback and offensive guard in free agency, the Cowboys have some latitude with the 14th selection. I fully expect this pick to be in play for a trade on draft day, but am not projecting any new trades in this mock, so the Cowboys stay put and select Memphis defensive tackle Dontari Poe. Poe made a lot of money at the underwear olympics in Indianapolis (a.k.a, the NFL Scouting Combine), dazzling teams with freakish athleticism for a man his size. Poe didn’t overly impress at Memphis, but he won’t be the first or last player to cash in from the combine. Only time will tell if Poe is more Haloti Ngata or Dewayne Robertson.
15. Philadelphia Eagles – Michael Brockers, DT, LSU
Eagles offensive tackle Jason Peter’s Achilles’ injury has had a cascading effect on the Eagles offensive line, and a visit from free agent offensive tackle Demetrius Bell tells me the Eagles are more inclined to fill this void in free agency. To properly run the Wide-9 alignment the Eagles have a need on the interior of their defensive line, so LSU defensive tackle Michael Brockers is the pick. Brockers will help improve the Eagles’ run defense from day one.
16. New York Jets – Melvin Ingram, DE/OLB, South Carolina
Seismic activity may register in Florham Park, New Jersey as Rex Ryan jumps for joy when South Carolina’s Melvin Ingram is still on the board. In order for Ryan’s defense to operate, pressure from the edge is essential, and the Jets simply aren’t getting enough of it. While he may be a man without a true position in the pros, Ryan will figure out the best way to utilize Ingram. Ingram is one of the best pure football players on the board this year. Not only did he terrorize offensive lines, but he was on the hands team on onside kicks, and was also used as an upback on a fake punt – which he took 68-yards for a touchdown. Ingram should be able to make the transition to the 3-4 OLB, and give the Jets a new piece to work with on defense.
17. Cincinnati Bengals (from the Oakland Raiders) – Stephon Gilmore, CB, South Carolina
The Bengals are still trying to plug the hole at cornerback left by the departure of Jonathan Joseph. With Nate Clements entering the final year of his contract, and Leon Hall recovering from a torn Achilles, cornerback is a big need for the Bengals, so they address it here with South Carolina’s Stephon Gilmore. Gilmore has been shooting up draft boards with great size, quick feet, and closing speed to break on the ball.
18. San Diego Chargers – Courtney Upshaw, DE/OLB, Alabama
Alabama defensive end Courtney Upshaw was my favorite player to watch in college football last season, as he was simply dominant on the best defense in the land. Upshaw was an every down player for Nick Saban, who met the challenge of both stopping the run and rushing the passer. Questions about his true position in the NFL linger, but when he showed up to the Senior Bowl at 273 pounds, he showed he can play OLB in a 3-4 or put his hand on the ground as a 4-3 DE. The Chargers have yet to fill the pass rush void since Shawne Merriman left. Whitney Mercilus and Nick Perry are also options here.
19. Chicago Bears – Whitney Mercilus, DE/OLB, Illinois
What a difference a general manager change – something I asked for back in September of 2011 here – has made in Chicago. With the 2012 NFL season a mere one minute old, new general manager Phil Emery was able to provide Jay Cutler with a legitimate No.1 wide receiver, something Jerry Angelo failed to do in three seasons. Emery has been quite active throughout free agency, bolstering the offense and special teams, so now it’s time to give the defense a little love, in the form of Illinois defensive end Whitney Mercilus. Mercilus had one productive season, accumulating 16 sacks and 9 forced fumbles, and flashed elite closing speed with his 1.57 10-yard split at the combine. Mercilus is a risk, but with Peppers on the opposite side, he should be able to win singles with his speed alone.
20. Tennessee Titans – Dre Kirkpatrick, CB, Alabama
The pot possession charge against Alabama cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick has been dropped, as a buddy copped to the charges – a buddy who will probably get a nice fat check in a few months from Kirkpatrick – but it still calls into question Kirkpatrick’s character. Physically, Kirkpatrick is the prototype for the next generation of cover corners with long arms and a great size-to-speed ratio, which could make him impossible for the Titans – a team not shy about bring in players with character concerns – to pass on.
21. Cincinnati Bengals – Cordy Glenn, OG/OT, Georgia
After addressing their need at cornerback a few picks back, the Bengals make an effort to improve the offensive line by selecting Georgia offensive guard/tackle Cordy Glenn. Glenn plays stiff from time-to-time, but is powerful at the point of attack. Glenn showed impressive athleticism at the combine, and his versatility to play guard or tackle is a benefit to any team who drafts him. Look for the Bengals to plug Glenn it at guard and fill the void left by Nate Livings.
22. Cleveland Browns – Stephen Hill, WR, Georgia Tech
The Browns lack offensive playmakers, and after addressing their void at running back earlier in the round, they take a shot on a physical specimen like Georgia Tech’s Stephen Hill at 22. Hill opened a lot of eyes at the combine with a blazing 4.3 40-yard dash, on a 6’4” frame. You can’t teach people to have that size-and-speed ratio. Coming from an option offense at Georgia Tech, Hill will have a steep learning curve with the NFL route tree and working through jams, but his upside is very intriguing.
23. Detroit Lions – Janoris Jenkins, CB, North Alabama
Janoris Jenkins is yet another talented cornerback with character concerns, stemming from the increasingly ubiquitous pot bust. I heard that kids smoke pot in the daytime in college, but refused to believe such a cockamamie notion. I’m more amazed at the fact that Jenkins already has four kids under the age of 4, sounds like Antonio Cromartie II. While Jenkins doesn’t have imposing size, he is a strong cover corner who would fit in well in Gunther Cunningham’s scheme.
24. Pittsburgh Steelers – Mike Adams, OT, Ohio State
While it may be tempting to select Alabama’s Dont’a Hightower here, seeing Ben Roethlisberger get bruised and battered last year called into focus the needs the Steelers have on the offensive line. After losing Willie Colon to a triceps injury, the Steelers turned to Max Starks to help save a sinking ship. How effective will Colon be this season? The bottom line here is the Steelers have paper thin depth at offensive tackle, so they turn to Ohio State’s Mike Adams. Adams could be paired with current offensive tackle Marcus Gilbert, and allow the Steelers to consider kicking Colon inside to guard.
25. Denver Broncos – Devon Still, DT, Penn State
Any time you can upgrade your quarterback situation from Tim Tebow to Peyton Manning, you deserve a round of applause. Pulling off this coup in free agency, allows the Broncos to focus on getting better at defensive tackle. The Broncos were in need of more defensive tackle talent before the departure of Broderick Bunkley, so this makes the selection of Devon Still an easy one. Still is a powerful defensive tackle, with long arms, whose versatility will be maximized by new defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio.
26. Houston Texans – Kendall Wright, WR, Baylor
A poor combine showing for Kendall Wright – specifically a slow 40-yard dash time – has dropped him into the bottom half of the first round, and the Texans capitalize. My question about Baylor wide receiver Kendall Wright is, is he a receiver who simply benefited from RG3’s stellar quarterbacking? Or does he have the skills to excel at the NFL level? To be determined. Either way, it was apparent last season that the Texans desperately need a complementary receiver to Andre Johnson.
27. New England Patriots (from New Orleans Saints in Mark Ingram trade) – Mark Barron, S, Alabama
The Patriots have a glaring needs in their defensive secondary, which makes the selection of Alabama’s Mark Barron a virtual no-brainer. Barron will be an ideal in-the-box strong safety, who can physically attack downhill against the running game. Pairing Barron with Patrick Chung gives the Patriots an enviable young safety tandem. Barron is the top talent in a very weak safety class, but a recent double hernia will raise some medical flags and potentially see him slide down draft boards.
28. Green Bay Packers – Andre Branch, DE, Virginia
Clay Matthews suffered a bit of a down year in 2011, and a lot of that can be attributed to the lack of a legitimate pass rusher opposite him. Without a complimentary pass rusher, opposing blocking schemes were able to dedicate extra attention to Matthews, so the Packers get some help from Virginia’s Andre Branch. Branch is a bit of a tweener, who may lack the instincts to play OLB in a 3-4, but he has potential to disrupt passing games, which is exactly what the Packers need.
29. Baltimore Ravens – Dont’a Hightower, LB, Alabama
High fives all over the Ravens draft room when Alabama’s Dont’a Hightower is still on the board. Hightower will step in immediately at an interior linebacker spot for the Ravens, and be the successor to Ray Lewis. Hightower is the most physically imposing prospect in this year’s draft, who regularly delivered NFL-like shots at Alabama. Hightower may be creeping up into the early 20’s on draft boards, so if he’s off the board at this pick, Wisconsin center Peter Konz may be the pick.
30. San Francisco 49ers – Coby Fleener, TE, Stanford
Reunited and it feels so good. Jim Harbaugh plucks former Stanford standout tight end Coby Fleener. The 49ers love to run two tight end sets, so the idea of lining up a two tight end set with Vernon Davis and Coby Fleener, flanked by Randy Moss and Mario Manningham is downright scary. Only if they had a quarterback.
31. New England Patriots – Nick Perry, DE, USC
After losing Mark Anderson in free agency, the Patriots turn to USC defensive end Nick Perry. Perry has freakish athleticism that would allow the Patriots to use him as a hybrid DE/OLB, who can put his hand on the ground in passing situations. Perry may be a liability in pass coverage, and would be best suited as a DE in a 4-3, but I’m sure he would be very content playing for a perennial Super Bowl contender.
32. New York Giants – Jonathan Martin, OT, Stanford
The Giants sure were able to mask their less than stellar offensive line last year. The Giants ranked dead last in rushing, and their offensive tackles provided spotty protection for Eli Manning. With Kareem McKenzie on the open market, William Beatty recovering from a detached retina, and Dave Diehl offering mediocre protection at left tackle, the Giants pluck Stanford’s Jonathan Martin. While Martin may be best suited as a right tackle in the NFL, he gives the Giants needed depth and flexibility on the offensive line.
I’ve equipped myself in Twaron and Kevlar, so, flame away, folks.
Dan Durkin joined The Score’s columnist community after finishing runner-up in the 2011 Pepsi Max Score Search. He is a graduate of the University of Illinois where he was a member of the men’s football team (despite his best efforts to join the women’s team). Dan is a longtime Scorehead, known as Dan in Wicker Park – even though he no longer resides in Wicker Park – who will be sharing NFL analysis and opinions. You can follow Dan on Twitter @djdurkin. To read more of Dan’s blogs click here.