The NFL doesn't sleep, so the 2012 season really began the second that confetti was shot into the air to celebrate the Giants' victory in Super Bowl XLVI. The first big event in the 2012 offseason is the NFL Combine, which started this week in Indianapolis. Draft stock for players will rise and fall based on what happens this week.
Free agency will change things up quite a bit, and so will the Combine, but here's our pre-Combine mock draft, with a couple of surprises.
Here we go ...
1. Indianapolis Colts, Andrew Luck, QB, Stanford
This is happening. In fact, I'll say that this is the only guaranteed pick. The only question in Indianapolis remains whether or not Luck will learn from Peyton Manning, or if he'll take the reins as a rookie.
2. Cleveland Browns, Robert Griffin III, Baylor (Projected trade: From St. Louis)
There are a handful of teams who badly need a quarterback, but the Redskins and Browns are considered to be two of the teams that would strongly consider trading up to grab RG3. The Browns seem to be the team that is more likely to make a move for RG3, though. They have two first round picks in 2012 and they have more to offer than the Redskins do.
3. Minnesota Vikings, Matt Kalil, OT, USC
The Vikings need help on the offensive line, specifically at left tackle, to open running lanes for Adrian Peterson and protect Christian Ponder's back. Kalil can step in as a rookie and be an immediate starter at left tackle playing at a high level. Kalil is too good for the Vikings to pass up at No. 3.
4. St. Louis Rams, Justin Blackmon, WR, Oklahoma State (projected trade: from Cleveland)
The Rams need help at wide receiver and they could lose Brandon Lloyd in free agency. To give young quarterback Sam Bradford some help, the Rams should go after the best wide receiver in this draft class, and that's Blackmon. He doesn't have Michael Floyd's speed but he has great hands and has enough speed to be a deep threat.
5. Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Morris Claiborne, CB, LSU
The Buccaneers' 21st-ranked pass defense from the 2011 season could use a major shot in the arm, especially considering that Ronde Barber is pushing 37 years old, and Aqib Talib has had legal troubles. Claiborne is the best cornerback in a very deep class of talented defensive backs. The Bucs could really use Claiborne to help the team defend against the passing attacks from guys like Drew Brees, Matt Ryan and Cam Newton.
6. Washington Redskins, Michael Floyd, WR, Notre Dame
With Blackmon off the board, the Redskins surprise and go after Floyd here. Yes, it's a reach, but Blackmon isn't that far ahead of Floyd, who has superior speed among the two. Whoever is taking the snaps for the Redskins next season now has a big-play threat.
7. Jacksonville Jaguars, Quinton Coples, DE, North Carolina
The Jaguars only sacked the opposing quarterback 31 times in 2011, which tied them with the Panthers for 25th most in the league. Coples has the potential to be an every-down defensive end that has the ability to get after the quarterback and the ability to stop the run. In a passing league, you can't have too many guys that are good at pressuring the passer. Coples is a good pickup here.
8. Carolina Panthers, Michael Brockers, DT, LSU
Brockers is the best interior defensive tackle in this year's draft class, and the Panthers, a team that gave up an average of 130 rushing yards per game last season, could use some help on the defensive line. While Brockers would be best at stopping the run, he can also help get some inside pressure on the quarterback. This is the kind of player, along with Charles Johnson, that the Panthers could build their line around.
9. Miami Dolphins, Riley Reiff, OT, Iowa
Good teams are built in the trenches and with the pick of Reiff here, it'll be two years in a row that the Dolphins go after an offensive lineman in the first round (center Mike Pouncey at No. 15 in 2011). Add those two to Jake Long, and you have terrific potential along the offensive line. Drafting Reiff won't hurt the running game either.
10. Buffalo Bills, Courtney Upshaw, DE/OLB, Alabama
Upshaw can rush the passer and he can do it as a 4-3 defensive end or a 3-4 outside linebacker. The Bills weren't very good at pressuring the quarterback in 2011, racking up only 29 total sacks (27th in the league), and that's not nearly enough considering they play the Patriots twice a season. Upshaw could give Buffalo's pass rush a major boost.
11. Kansas City Chiefs, Luke Kuechly, ILB, Boston College
A lot of mock drafts have the Chiefs going after an offensive tackle at No. 11, but Kuechly is by far this year's best inside linebacker. The Chiefs were close to breaking the top 10 in total defense in 2011, and the addition of Kuechly next to Tamba Hali and Derrick Johnson could get them over that hump.
12. Seattle Seahawks, Ryan Tannehill, QB, Texas A&M
This might not be a very popular pick, but the Seahawks need a longterm answer at quarterback. Their defense played well in 2011, finishing ninth in the league, and if they re-sign or use the franchise tag on Marshawn Lynch, they're a quarterback upgrade away from competing for the NFC West title.
13. Arizona Cardinals, Jonathan Martin, OT, Stanford
The Cardinals need help on the offensive line, both at the guard and tackle positions, to help open running lanes and keep Kevin Kolb standing upright. I'll go with tackle here because the guard position is a little deeper and one can be found in a later round. Current Arizona left tackle Levi Brown allowed a mind-blowing 11 sacks and 40 quarterback pressures in 2011. Martin may not be able to start at left tackle from day one, but he'll be a major upgrade at one of the two tackle positions.
14. Dallas Cowboys, David DeCastro, OG, Stanford
The Cowboys need a cornerback but DeCastro, this year's best guard, may be too tough to pass up. Cowboys guard Kyle Kosier wasn't great at protecting Tony Romo in 2011, but he was even worse at run blocking. If DeCastro is on the board, they need to pick him.
15. Philadelphia Eagles, Fletcher Cox, DT, Mississippi State
The Eagles need help in the middle of the field on defense. They were projected to take a middle linebacker at this point, but since Luke Kuechly is off the board and it seems as though Vontaze Burfict is a "fake tough guy," they may go after a good defensive tackle. Cox is good at both stopping the run and pass rushing and should be a starter on the line from day one.
16. New York Jets, Mark Barron, S, Alabama
Mark Barron is this draft class' best safety and the Jets definitely need help there. Strong safety Jim Leonhard is coming back from another season-ending injury, and the Jets may look for somebody more reliable. Free safety Eric Smith is a liability in coverage as well. Barron has a strong safety body type, and he has the speed to be good in coverage. This would be a solid pick for the Jets to help shore up their secondary.
17. Cincinnati Bengals, (from Oakland), Trent Richardson, RB, Alabama
Richardson is probably too good to fall to No. 17, but good running backs fall in the first round all the time, especially those coming off knee surgery as Richardson is. The Bengals need a new running back badly, and Richardson is too talented to pass up. He's the kind of running back that could play all three downs and improve Cincinnati's young offense.
18. San Diego Chargers, Mike Adams, OT, Ohio State
Mike Adams is the best offensive tackle left on the board and the only other one worth a first-round pick at this point. Right tackle Jeromey Clary was bad in 2011, allowing seven sacks and 42 quarterback pressures. Adams would be a big upgrade at the right tackle position. Now all they need to do is hope that they can re-sign Vincent Jackson because they're leaving Kendall Wright on the board.
19. Chicago Bears, Kendall Wright, WR, Baylor
Hey, speaking of Wright...he doesn't have Blackmon or Floyd's size, but he has elite speed and the Bears badly need help at wide receiver. Wright had a big season in 2011, with 1,663 receiving yards and 14 touchdowns. He may not have the ability to consistently make the tough catch over the middle, but with Jay Cutler's arm, Wright will be a huge deep threat and should open things up for other receivers.
20. Tennessee Titans, Dre Kirkpatrick, CB, Alabama
The Titans have two good corners but Cortland Finnegan is a free agent and recent reports have hinted that he may not be coming back. If that's the case, the Titans could use Kirkpatrick and they should be counting their lucky stars that he was available this far down the first round.
21. Cincinnati Bengals, Cordy Glenn, OG, Georgia
This is tough. Janoris Jenkins is still on the board and the Bengals need a cornerback. But Jenkins has a lot of off-the-field issues, and they have a better chance at finding a good cornerback in free agency. The Bengals need to upgrade the guard position since Bobbie Williams, Nate Livings and Mike McGlynn are all free agents, so Glenn is the pick here.
22. St. Louis Rams, Janoris Jenkins, CB, North Alabama (projected trade: from Cleveland)
The Rams don't have a top-notch cornerback and they lost a handful to injury last season. Jenkins comes with some off-the-field concerns, but he has a ton of talent, and he's the best cornerback left on the board. Jenkins could probably start for the Rams in his rookie season and be a better option for the team than any cornerback they have on the roster right now.
23. Detroit Lions, Melvin Ingram, DE/OLB, South Carolina
Ingram is the best player left on the board, and the Lions could use some insurance in case Cliff Avril is too expensive to re-sign. Ingram specializes in rushing the passer, which will be important when facing Aaron Rodgers twice every season, but he can play against the run as well. This would be a steal for the Lions at this point. You can never have enough pass rushers.
24. Pittsburgh Steelers, Dontari Poe, NT, Memphis
Poe is huge. 6'3, 350 pounds huge. Casey Hampton, the team's current nose tackle, is entering his 12th season in the league. He'll be 35 years old in September. The Steelers could use some youth at the position, and Poe has the size and strength to fit the bill.
25. Denver Broncos, Devon Still, DT, Penn State
Still isn't as big of a defensive tackle as Poe is, but he'll fit in nicely in Denver's 4-3 scheme. Still has the quickness to get into the backfield and pressure the quarterback from inside and to get some tackles for loss in the run game. With Still, Elvis Dumervil and Von Miller going after the quarterback, offensive lines will be overwhelmed.
26. Houston Texans, Mohamed Sanu, WR, Rutgers
Houston desperately needs help at the wide receiver position. Andre Johnson is still good, but he has durability concerns. With two receivers that get the secondary's attention, things will really open up for other receivers and tight end Owen Daniels. Sanu is a solid pick here.
27. New England Patriots (from New Orleans), Chandler Jones, DE, Syracuse
The Patriots need help stopping opposing teams from passing all over them. One great way to stop that is to make sure the quarterback never gets a chance to throw the ball. Jones is big, has long arms and has great speed to get around the edge. New England will also need to address positions in the secondary as well, but Jones won't be around much longer if they pass him up at No. 27.
28. Green Bay Packers, Alfonzo Dennard, CB, Nebraska
Like the Patriots, the Packers had a great offense and a bad pass defense. Sam Shields is young, but Charles Woodson is nearing the end of his career. Dennard may not start right away, but he would definitely play in certain situations and could become a starter down the road. The more talent in the secondary for the Packers the better, especially when facing the passing attack of the Lions twice every season.
29. Baltimore Ravens, Vontaze Burfict, ILB, Arizona State
Question marks with this pick, but it has a big upside for Baltimore. Ray Lewis is playing at least one more season, which means that this isn't an immediate need, but if Burfict can prove he's worthy of a first round selection, playing next to Lewis for at least a year would set him up nicely. Burfict can play "out of control" at times -- there are definitely concerns -- but with the right training he could become the next great Baltimore linebacker.
30. San Francisco 49ers, Rueben Randle, WR, LSU
The 49ers need a big and talented wide receiver for Alex Smith to target so he isn't throwing every pass to Vernon Davis. This 6'4, 208-pound receiver has above average speed and could really help the Niners on offense.
31. New England Patriots, Harrison Smith, S, Notre Dame
After taking a pass rusher with their other first-round pick, the Patriots could knock out another huge need in the first round by grabbing Smith. Safety has been a problem for the Patriots, and Smith could be the solution. He may not be the best athlete in the world, but he has great instincts and is excellent in run support and pass coverage.
32. New York Giants, Coby Fleener, TE, Stanford
Fleener is the best tight end in this year's draft class and will do a lot to help the Giants. Fleener could be the downfield threat that Ballard isn't. With another target for Eli Manning, the Giants could be set for another great season.