Another four teams were sent home from the playoffs this weekend, which cements another four spots in the 2012 NFL Draft. A clearer picture of the draft order also means another chance to piss off fans of all stripes with our new 2012 NFL mock draft.
The deadline for underclassmen to declare for the draft passed on Sunday, Jan. 15, adding even more clarity to the draft picture. There were few surprises among the prospects declaring, but the entrance of LSU redshirt sophomore defensive tackle Michael Brockers was the biggest surprise among underclassmen. He was swayed by potential first round possibilities from the draft advisory board, and that's where you'll find him in this mock.
We're getting into the thick of the draft season. The East-West Shrine game is Saturday, following a week of practices. The Senior Bowl is the week after that. Prospect all-star games and practices always vault a few players up draft boards, or down. Christian Ponder was last year's Senior Bowl poster boy. I've inserted a few predictions based on the next two weeks of activity in this mock draft.
As always, I expect this to inflame certain passions among the partisans. I'll be around the comments to take your arrows.
1. Indianapolis Colts, Andrew Luck, QB, Stanford
There is absolutely no suspense around who the first pick in the draft will be, unless you're just getting out of a Turkish prison after the last 13 years. In that case, welcome back; need the number for my psychoanalyst? This pick is already creating considerable intrigue as speculation runs wild about what the Colts will do with Peyton Manning.
2. St. Louis Rams, Matt Kalil, OT, USC
This is where the drama starts in the draft this year. Some other team will most likely be picking Baylor quarterback Robert Griffin III in this spot, giving Jeff Fisher and the Rams a boatload of picks to fill out a woeful roster. They hope. St. Louis really needs a receiver, but they also need an offensive tackle. Blackmon might be the better pick for need, but Kalil should be closer to the top of any draft board.
3. Minnesota Vikings, Morris Claiborne, CB, LSU
The Vikings corners are bad. Really bad. Chris Cook heads to trial for domestic abuse charges in March. Antoine Winfield will be 35 in June. Cedric Griffin is a candidate for release owed $4+ million in 2012 and having spent plenty of time on the bench in 2011. Put aside the absurd suggestions that they should draft Robert Griffin III. They can't say no to the best cornerback in draft.
4. Cleveland Browns, Justin Blackmon, WR, Oklahoma State
They're the most logical trading partner to move up for Robert Griffin III, with the need and two first-round picks to make it happen. Don't be surprised if they forego that opportunity ... or get outbid. I actually wonder if Mike Holmgren and Pat Shurmur think that Colt McCoy will be fine. Maybe they just feel bad about that whole concussion thing. Either way, I think he gets another chance, and they'll try to help him out by giving him a weapon like Blackmon ... and a better helmet.
5. Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Riley Reiff, OT, Iowa
Josh Freeman needs help, lots of it. Tampa's two starting tackles, Donald Penn on the left and Jeremy Trueblood on the right, allowed 13 sacks and almost 80 pressures according to the stats at Pro Football Focus. The re-signed Penn last season. Drafting Reiff gives them a better pair and insurance in case Penn underwhelms as he did in 2010.
6. Washington Redskins, Robert Griffin III, QB, Baylor
Mock drafts in January are pretty implausible to begin with; mock drafts in which RG3 gets picked sixth are fantasy, pure fantasy. Of course, the very real possibility exists that Washington makes the move up for Griffin. Or they could also find a veteran free agent. Peyton Manning is already getting kicked around the rumor mill, and Matt Flynn could be an option as well. If they do that, look for Alabama CB Dre Kirkpatrick to be an option here.
7. Jacksonville Jaguars, Dre Kirkpatrick, CB, Alabama
The Jaguars really, really need a wide receiver. Alshon Jeffery (mocked here last time), Michael Floyd and Kendall Wright could all be in play here with a good pre-draft season. For now, they go with Kirkpatrick. Rashean Mathis tore his ACL in 2011, and he's 31. William Middleton, who showed some promise in six starts, landed on IR in December. They need help, Kirkpatrick could beef up a secondary with Derek Cox and a healthy Middleton, assuming they keep the RFA, in 2012.
8. Carolina Panthers*, Devon Still, DT, Penn State
Carolina's run defense bleed yards in buckets. This is a thin class of defensive tackles, and Still is the top player at the position ... for now. The Penn State product has the strength to bolster a soft middle for the Panthers.
9. Miami Dolphins*, Ryan Tannehill, QB, Texas A&M
It's too bad that Tannehill will miss the Senior Bowl. He could have followed Christian Ponder's path, raising his draft stock significantly with a big week in Mobile, AL. Right now, it looks as though he could throw again before the draft. Miami can grab him to sit behind Matt Moore, spend some time learning the ropes.
10. Buffalo Bills, Courtney Upshaw, OLB, Alabama
Upshaw got big boost ahead of the draft with his MVP performance in the BCS National Championship [insert comment about BCS sham here]. The Bills really need a pass rusher after posting one of the league's worst sack rates in 2011.
11. Seattle Seahawks*, Quinton Coples, DE, North Carolina
Seattle's defense played well this season, but they had a worse sack rate than the Bills. Coples is a versatile pass rusher who can play on the inside or the outside. Coples comes with some questions about his attitude, but it's nothing that Pete Carroll can't handle.
12. Kansas City Chiefs*, Mike Adams, OT, Ohio State
Once regarded as one of the country's top tackle prospects, Adams stock fell amid all the shenanigans at Ohio State. I think he's a prime candidate to rise up draft boards after the Senior Bowl. The Chiefs can unceremoniously dump Barry Richarson.
13. Arizona Cardinals, Luke Kuechly, ILB, Boston College
Arizona has bits and pieces here and there on their defensive roster. What they lack is a linchpin inside linebacker. Stewart Bradley was not that guy; Kuechly is. In a year or two, he could rival Patrick Willis and James Laurinaitis for the best inside linebacker in the NFC West.
14. Dallas Cowboys, David DeCastro, OG, Stanford
Finally, some attitude and meanness to the Cowboys interior line. DeCastro should probably be a top ten pick; he is that good. Derrick Dockery will be a free agent after spending the better part of the season injured.
15. Philadelphia Eagles, Dont'a Hightower, ILB, Alabama
Where Hightower would play in Philly's defense remains to be seen. His best fit might be on the strong side in their 4-3, but he might be able to play well in the middle. Wherever he plays, the Eagles defense lacked anyone with his instincts and power among their linebackers.
16. New York Jets, Alshon Jeffery, WR, South Carolina
Despite his contract, it will be hard for the Jets to justify keeping Santonio Holmes. Drafting Jeffery gives Mark Sanchez a receiver who could actually help him, rather than complain about the offense. The Jets could think about Trent Richardson here or a pass rusher.
17. Cincinnati Bengals (from Oakland), Trent Richarson, RB, Alabama
Cedric Benson is a free agent. They could re-sign him, but they could draft a much better running back with Richardson. The Alabama product would come cheaper too.
18. San Diego Chargers, Vinny Curry, DE/OLB, Marshall
Curry is a late arrival to the first round mock drafts. His draft stock should continue to rise through the Combine and pre-draft workouts. Curry adds some needed pass rushing ability to the Chargers defense.
19. Chicago Bears, Kendall Wright, WR, Baylor
There's already talk of Wright as the top receiver in the draft, above Blackmon in some quarters. Maybe. His speed will definitely impress teams in Indianapolis.He also has the kind of hands that will make Jay Cutler very happy.
20. Tennessee Titans, Nick Perry, DE, USC
Tennessee is another team in desperate need of pass rushers. They picked up just 28 sacks in 2011, second-lowest total in the league. Perry's stock took a tumble after his 2011 season, but he still possesses the fundamental ability desirable among pass rushers.
21. Cincinnati Bengals, Alfonzo Dennard, CB, Nebraska
Watching Johnathan Joseph help turn the Texans' fortunes around had to be bittersweet for the Bengals who let him walk in free agency. They need help in the secondary. Pacman Jones is a free agent, and Dennard represents like a solid upgrade.
22. Cleveland Browns (from Atlanta Falcons), Lamar Miller, RB, Miami
Cleveland needs many things, including football players. Miller gives them a speedster to replace the more bruising style of Peyton Hillis. They ought to think about Cordy Glenn here to address a need at guard, but if they're really committed to Colt McCoy, getting the offensive playmakers available will hide his limitations.
23. Detroit Lions, Jonathan Martin, OT, Stanford
Jeff Backus, 34, is a free agent. Detroit could stand to upgrade their offensive line as it is, and drafting Martin strengthens the outside, helping put Matthew Stafford one step closer to elite status.
24. Pittsburgh Steelers, Dontari Poe, DT, Memphis
Pittsburgh needs to get younger all over the defensive side of their roster. Casey Hampton tore an ACL in their playoff loss to the Broncos. He'll be 35 in September, and will count $8.1 million against the salary cap. Even if he does stick around on a restructured contract, the Steelers have to start thinking about a long term replacement.
25. Denver Broncos, Mark Barron, SS, Alabama
Brian Dawkins, 38, has a severe neck injury that might put his career in jeopardy. Even if it doesn't, the Broncos need to think about upgrading the position since Dawkins' playing days are clearly numbered. Barron replaces Dawkins' hitting ability in the secondary.
26. Houston Texans, Michael Floyd, WR, Notre Dame
Andre Johnson's absence during the regular season hurt the Texans, especially with T.J. Yates at quarterback. Adding Floyd diversifies an offense that couldn't get the points it needed in Sunday's loss to the Ravens.
27. New England Patriots (from New Orleans), Michael Brockers, DE, LSU
After Saturday's game, I can imagine the Saints wish they still had this pick. Maybe the Patriots will swap it back to them so they can get some defensive help. If not, New England would be more than happy to have a five-technique guy like Brockers, who'll be racing up draft boards as April gets closer. Long and strong, he can stop the run and get to the passer. 4-3 teams will consider him as well based on his ability to play inside or out.
28. Green Bay Packers, Jared Crick, DE, Nebraska
The Packers defense was terrible in Sunday's upset loss to the Giants. Among the many places they need help is up front. Crick gives them some strength at defensive end in their three-man front, helping compensate for a sub-par B.J. Raji. They'll draft Crick hoping he's this year's J.J. Watt.
29. San Francisco 49ers, Mohamed Sanu, WR, Rutgers
Remember this time last year when everybody thought the 49ers would be in the running for Andrew Luck? Now, they need to think about adding some offensive weapons for Alex Smith. Sanu has the size and hands to impress, but he lacks the speed to be drafted higher. No need. His ability to get yards after the catch are a perfect complement to Smith.
30. Baltimore Ravens, Peter Konz, C, Wisconsin
Baltimore's line struggled against Houston's stout defensive front on Sunday. Matt Birk is getting older, and Ben Grubbs is set for free agency. Konz replenishes the interior line, making life easier for both Ray Rice and Joe Flacco.
31. New York Giants, Cordy Glenn, OG, Georgia
The Giants could go in a few directions here. They need to get younger and better on the inside. Glenn is a tough blocker whose stock should get a nice boost at the Senior Bowl later this month. Drafting him gives the Giants options on the line; they could even clear some cap space.
32. New England Patriots, Stephon Gilmore, CB, South Carolina
The Patriots' defense is not where they would like it be, with needs in both the front and the back of the unit. The can't pass up Gilmore with this pick, which will probably be traded as well. If not, Gilmore could help a defense that allowed an average of 300 yards per game in 2011. Gilmore will be attractive here because he's a smart player who understands how the game works and his place in it.