By Dan Durkin-
(CBS) 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 final take on how the first-round will shake out:
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 Claibourne, CB, LSU
One spot earlier and LSU cornerback Morris Claibourne 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. Claibourne 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 – Fletcher Cox, DT, Mississippi State
This pick may raise some eyebrows, but if you look at Jeff Fisher’s draft history it shouldn’t, Fisher loves to draft defensive lineman early. When Fisher was in Tennessee, his teams operated best with a disruptive force in the middle of the line, which is exactly what Fletcher Cox is. Cox had to fight through numerous double-team blocks in college and was still a disruptive force in offensive backfields. Yes, the Rams still have a need at wide receiver, but they have the first pick in the second round, which could be an ideal spot to land a receiver like Alshon Jeffrey.
7. Jacksonville Jaguars – Justin Blackmon, WR, OSU
The Jaguars benefit from the Rams decision to go defense, and could perhaps look to trade out of this spot for a team interested in Oklahoma State wide receiver Justin Blackmon. Simply put, the Jaguars are a team with needs at just about every position. Despite shelling out $14M guaranteed to Laurent Robinson, the Jaguars wide receivers are still amongst the worst in the NFL (second worst to the Dolphins in my estimation), so Blackmon is a huge value pick for the Jags.
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 – Michael Brockers, DT, LSU
While they would’ve preferred to see Fletcher Cox still on the board, the Panthers settle for a nice consolation prize in LSU’s Michael Brockers. 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 Brockers to the mix. Brockers didn’t ‘wow’ at the combine, but his tape shows that he will be a stout point-of-attack run defender, who will immediately bolster a porous Panthers’ run defense.
10. Buffalo Bills – Michael Floyd, WR, Notre Dame
Recent “reports” from Buffalo claim that the Bills are high on Alabama safety Mark Barron. I view this as a smokescreen to entice a team with sights on Barron – Dallas and San Diego – to trade up to #10. If Dallas is the team, the Bills could possibly land Michael Floyd at 14, but since I am not projecting trades in this mock, Notre Dame’s Michael Floyd is the pick for Buffalo. The Bills have needs at receiver, left tackle, and could be tempted to draft a linebacker like Luke Kuechly here, but after a free agency period focused on improving the front seven, thinking the Bills go offense, and pair Stevi Johnson with a big target like Floyd.
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. Historically speaking, this is high for an interior offensive lineman, but 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, LB, 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 – Cordy Glenn, OG/OT, Georgia
With Michael Floyd off the board, this pick is a prime spot for a trade down. However, in this scenario the Cardinals tab Georgia’s Cordy Glenn, who may be the second best left tackle prospect in this draft. Glenn has the athleticism and versatility to play inside or outside in the NFL, which would allow the Cardinals to plug him in on the right side of the line, either at guard or tackle.
14. Dallas Cowboys – Mark Barron, S, Alabama
After addressing their need at cornerback in free agency – Brandon Carr – the Cowboys continue to fix their broken secondary by selecting the draft’s top safety propect, Alabama’s Mark Barron. Barron will be an ideal in-the-box strong safety, who can physically attack downhill against the running game.
15. Philadelphia Eagles – Dontari Poe, DT, Memphis
With Cox, Brockers, Floyd, and Kuechly off the board, the Eagles are in an unfortunate position. 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 Eagles get in on the run at defensive tackle to fortify the interior of the line with 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.
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 is also an option here.
19. Chicago Bears – Quinton Coples, DE, North Carolina
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 North Carolina defensive end Quinton Coples. Much like another former Tarheel and current Bear Julius Peppers, scouts have questioned Coples’ motor. I think his performance last year had more to do with him playing not to get hurt. There’s no doubting Coples ability, he has elite talent, which is exactly what the Bears need on defense, young cornerstones on defense who can contribute now, and be the foundation for the future.
20. Tennessee Titans – Whitney Mercilus, DE/OLB, Illinois
Titans fans may be clamoring to find a replacement for cornerback Cortland Finnegan, but a good pass rush makes up for a mediocre secondary, and it doesn’t work the other way around. Passing on Dre Kirkpatrick would be tough, but I think the upside of Illinois defensive end Whitney Mercilus will be too much for the Titans to pass on. 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.
21. Cincinnati Bengals – Rueben Randle, WR, LSU
Shockingly, the Bengals were frugal in free agency, doing a lot of bargain hunting primarily on the defensive side of the ball. With the acquisition of Benjarvus Green-Ellis, they may not need to take a flier on a guy like Doug Martin of Boise State, but they still have to find a complimentary receiver to AJ Green, so LSU’s Rueben Randle is the pick. Randle isn’t a burner, but is a smooth athlete who would see a lot of single coverage opposite Green, and give Andy Dalton another young target to grow with.
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 – Dre Kirkpatrick, CB, Alabama
Lions GM Martin Mayhew has already said – and proven – that he’s not deterred by players who have used pot, so the Lions add to their smoking circle with Alabama cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick. 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 Lions – a team that is clearly not shy about bring in players with character concerns – to pass on.
24. Pittsburgh Steelers – Dont’a Hightower, LB, Alabama
Despite needs on the offensive line, the Steelers select the best player available at another position of need, when they make Alabama linebacker Dont’a Hightower the newest member of Steeler nation. Hightower will step in immediately and fill the inside linebacker void left by recently released linebacker James Farrior. Hightower is the most physically imposing prospect in this year’s draft, who regularly delivered NFL-like shots at Alabama.
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) – Shea McClellin, OLB, Boise State
Boise State’s Shea McClellin says he molds his game after former Patriot Mike Vrabel, and now he has a chance to be a Patrot. McClellin is an ideal 3-4 outside linebacker, whose versatility to play both in coverage and pin his ears back to rush the passer will allow the Pats to line him up from various rushing angles.
28. Green Bay Packers – Chandler Jones, DE, Syracuse
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 Syracuse’s Chandler Jones. Jones has some injury concerns, stemming from a knee injury that kept him out of five games last season, but when he was active, he is a very effective pass rusher. Jones is a liability against the run, but the Packers need help putting pressure on the quarterback.
29. Baltimore Ravens – Peter Konz, C, Wisconsin
Missing out on a potential Ray Lewis successor in Dont’a Hightower, the Ravens look to Matt Birk’s eventual successor in Wisconsin’s Peter Konz. Konz wowed scouts for his “board work” at the combine and is the best center prospect in this year’s draft, but at 6-foot 5-inches and 315 pounds, he possesses a frame you don’t typically see in a center. Longer arms are a good thing for tackles, but can be problematic in the interior of the line as smaller and quicker tackles can get underneath his punch. Konz also lowered his stock with 19 reps in the bench press.
30. San Francisco 49ers – Kevin Zeitler, OG, Wisconsin
Back-to-back Badgers as the 49ers tab Konz’s linemate offensive guard Kevin Zeitler. Zeitler is a mauler who is athletic enough to get to the second level of the defense on lead and pulls. For a team that is loaded on defense, and focused on improving the offensive weapons in free agency, the 49ers are in a position to take the best available player at a need position.
31. New England Patriots – Janoris Jenkins, CB, North Alabama
When Julian Edelman is matched up against Anquan Boldin in the AFC Championship game, your secondary is a mess. 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 was the best player at the Senior Bowl, and seems like a worthwhile gamble for Bill Belichick.
32. New York Giants – Riley Reiff, OT, Iowa
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 Iowa’s Riley Reiff. While Reiff 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.
Follow me on Twitter @djdurkin
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.