It's NFL Scouting Combine time! And with the Combine comes another mock draft.
For those fans who think some of my selections are completely ridiculous, please know that I made selections based on what I think is best for that particular team. I also firmly believe that this is now a league owned by quarterbacks and pass rushers, and that all other positions are secondary. If you are a franchise looking to begin a new era in a draft that features some truly great first-round talent, those are the positions you are targeting.
Overall, the deepest positions in the draft are corner, wide receiver and running back, although running back is no longer considered a position that warrants a first-round selection. The top back in the NFL this year, Arian Foster, went undrafted out of Tennessee, and the Buffalo Bills, who have taken running backs in the top 12 of the draft twice in the last five years, have undrafted Fred Jackson as their starter.
1. Indianapolis Colts, Andrew Luck, QB, Stanford
Luck is reportedly already taking his marching orders from the Colts. With Peyton Manning likely to get released soon, "Suck for Luck" will be complete and the new era in Indianapolis will officially begin.
2. St. Louis Rams, Justin Blackmon, WR, Oklahoma State
Most mocks have St. Louis trading this pick, and perhaps that is the smart thing to do. For the sake of being different, I'll be the one who says the Rams don't trade, and the reason is that they love Justin Blackmon. While the conventional wisdom is the Rams need O-line help, they do still have Rodger Saffold (who struggled with injuries in 2011 after a very impressive rookie season in 2010) and Harvey Dahl, whom Pro Football Focus rated as the best blocking tackle in football. QBs like Sam Bradford need big play wide receivers just as much as they need offensive linemen. Maybe more so.
3. Washington Redskins, Robert Griffin III, Baylor (projected trade with Minnesota)
The Redskins might have let the cat out of the bag by spilling their plans to sign Peyton Manning. Personally, I don't think Manning views Washington, playing his brother twice a year, as that attractive of a destination. Thus, the Redskins trade draft picks to take RG3. Griffin is perfect for the Shanahan bootleg offense. The Vikings get Washington's first- and second-rounders this year, plus multiple picks next year.
4. Cleveland Browns, Ryan Tannehill, QB, Texas A&M
Cleveland opts to stay put at No. 4, and they still manage to draft a quarterback that could lead them to a brighter future. Tannehill in the top five probably has many of you scratching your heads, but after watching teams reach for Christian Ponder and Jake Locker last year, the importance of a quarterback with any kind of upside cannot be overestimated in the modern NFL. This is especially true in Cleveland, where the QB situation is a joke. Tannehill is a rhythm passer who is good at throwing intermediate routes, which is ideal for Cleveland's West Coast offense. He's already the consensus third-best quarterback in the draft, and you are fooling yourself if you think he's going to still be on the board at pick No. 22. Again, before Browns fans crucify me with this selection, please note that nobody had Ponder and Locker going top 15 in last year's draft. Conventional wisdom is that Cleveland will take Trent Richardson here if they don't trade, and maybe that's the smart play. But I think Mike Holmgren absolutely cannot leave the 2012 draft without a franchise QB.
5. Arizona Cardinals, Matt Kalil, OT, USC (projected trade with Tampa Bay)
The Bucs benefit from teams getting QB crazy early in the draft. They already have Donald Penn locked up with a long-term deal, and with Kalil still on the board, a team like the Cardinals might just be willing to move up to get him, especially if they manage to lure Peyton Manning to the desert. Unlike years past, top-five rookies cost less money. Thus, there is more incentive to trade. Tampa Bay is looking for pieces to improve the team overall, especially on defense. Arizona needs talent on their O-line, which was putrid last season.
6. Minnesota Vikings, Morris Claiborne, CB, LSU (proposed trade with Washington)
Yes, the Vikings need O-line help, and they can get it in the second round (or earlier). First and foremost, though, head coach Leslie Frazier is a defensive-minded guy, and the Vikings' pass defense was 10 kinds of awful last season, surrendering 28 points per game while opposing quarterbacks completed 68 percent of their passes. Claiborne is a playmaker, snatching six interceptions in 2011 for the LSU Tigers and 11 in his college career. He's exactly what the Minnesota defense needs to get back to doing what Frazier wants them to do.
7. Jacksonville Jaguars, Kendall Wright, WR, Baylor
Jaguars GM Gene Smith doesn't care what you think. He reached for Tyson Alualu in 2010, and he'll do the same here. As Tony Pauline of Sports Illustrated recently pointed out, Wright is considered by some teams to be a better WR prospect than Blackmon. With Peyton Manning likely gone from the AFC South, the need for defense in Jacksonville is no longer paramount. The new NFL is about pass, pass and pass some more. Wright gives Gabbert someone dynamic to whom he can pass the football.
8. Cincinnati Bengals, Trent Richardson, RB, Alabama (proposed trade with Carolina)
The Bengals have two first-rounders this year, and with Richardson slipping out of the top five, they opt to send their 17th and 53rd selections, plus a sixth-rounder, to Carolina for the eighth overall pick, which they use on Richardson. Cincy has a need at corner, what with Nate Clements being old and Leon Hall being hurt. However, the free-agent market for corners is deep, and defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer knows how to squeeze blood from a stone at that position. With QB Andy Dalton maturing into a potentially elite passer, it only makes sense to surround him with elite talent on offense. Richardson is that kind of talent.
9. Miami Dolphins, Quinton Coples, DE, North Carolina
The Dolphins need a quarterback, and the hiring of former Packers offensive coordinator Joe Philbin as their new head coach has some speculating that free agent QB Matt Flynn will join his former coach in sunny Florida. This means the Dolphins can focus their attention on getting some pass rushers for their new 4-3 base defense. Pre-Combine, Coples is considered the top pass rusher in the draft, and teaming him with Cameron Wake could mean trouble for AFC East quarterbacks like Tom Brady.
10. Buffalo Bills, Michael Brockers, DT, LSU
Like the Dolphins, the Bills are switching back to a 4-3 scheme on defense. These means guys like Courtney Upshaw don't fit. When Buffalo lost DT Kyle Williams last year, the defense (and their team overall) fell apart. Not again. Adding Brockers would take pressure off Williams, and allow the Bills to solidify the interior of their defense.
11. Kansas City Chiefs, Courtney Upshaw, DE-OLB, Alabama
Alabama head coach Nick Saban has strong ties to the Bill Belichick coaching tree, and Chiefs head coach Romeo Crennel is a big branch on that tree. Upshaw was dominant in Saban's defensive system for the Crimson Tide, which was pretty much the same scheme Crennel runs in K.C. As the New York Giants proved yet again this postseason, one can never have enough pass rushers.
12. Seattle Seahawks, Michael Floyd, WR, Notre Dame
Seattle could very well be a landing spot for Peyton Manning. If so, they don't need to do anything too crazy here, like take Oklahoma State's Brandon Weeden. If they get Manning, finding quality receivers for him would become paramount. Floyd is a big target (6-foot-3, 224 pounds) and works the underneath routes really well. This will allow Sidney Rice to do what he does best, which is go deep.
13. Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Dre Kirkpatrick, CB, Alabama (proposed trade with Arizona)
New Bucs coach Greg Schiano will look at the tape and see just how terrible his secondary is. Tampa Bay gave up 30 points per game in 2011, and opponents scored 30 passing touchdowns on them (fourth-worst in football). Corner is a deep position in this year's draft, and the 6'2 Kirkpatrick could give the Bucs the match-up advantage they need when they face division rivals Atlanta and New Orleans.
14. Dallas Cowboys, Janoris Jenkins, CB, North Alabama
Call this a mini-run on corners. The Cowboys really need help in their secondary, and while Jenkins is only 5'10, he is very versatile. Jenkins will have to answer some questions about his off-field issues at Florida (where he played before transferring) during the interview process at the Combine, but since when has questionable character ever deterred Jerry Jones?
15. Philadelphia Eagles, Luke Kuechly, LB, Boston College
I don't care who is still sitting at No. 15, the Eagles would take a linebacker anyway. And if he's still on the board, that linebacker will be Luke Kuechly. Kuechly has a nose for the football, which is exactly what Philly's linebacking corps lacked last season. It's worth noting that Andy Reid really likes trading in the first round. Like, a lot. Since 2007, he's traded up or down or, sometimes, completely out of the first round. I don't think he does that this year. Reid is coaching for his job in 2012, and he needs immediate impact out of his first-rounder. Kuechly will provide that.
16. New York Jets, Mark Barron, SS, Alabama
The Jets are likely tired of having to deal with Jim Leonhard's yearly injuries that always seem to come at the most critical time. They could go pass-rusher, offensive line or running back here, but the need for safety is just too great. Plus, after Barron, the drop-off is pretty steep.
17. Carolina Panthers, Melvin Ingram, OLB-DE, South Carolina (proposed trade with Cincinnati)
The Panthers surrendered 26 points per game last year, and for a defensive-minded coach like Ron Rivera, that really has to stick in his craw. Getting defensive tackles Sione Fua and Terrell McClain back healthy next year will likely shore things up, but Carolina needs some punch on defense (only 31 sacks last year). While Rivera runs a 4-3, he flirted with 3-4 at times last year. Ingram can rush standing up or with his hand on the ground, giving Rivera the kind of flexibility he likes when scheming against opponents.
18. San Diego Chargers, Riley Reiff, OT, Iowa
Chargers are likely to part ways with left tackle Marcus McNeill, and considering quarterback Philip Rivers is such a strong advocate for A.J. and Norv, it only makes sense to keep him healthy. Reiff is the best left tackle on the board.and Norv Turner fired their defensive coordinator, Greg Manusky, after just one year on the job. The
19. Chicago Bears, David DeCastro, OG, Stanford
The Bears said they planned to target a wide receiver in the draft, but the issues that have plagued their O-line in recent years cannot be overlooked. Mike Martz is out as offensive coordinator, and former O-line coach Mike Tice is in. Because quarterbacks, corners and pass-rushers are typically overvalued early in the first round, quality prospects like David DeCastro have a tendency to fall, and a team like the Bears can benefit. Typically, taking a guard this early is considered a no-no. However, DeCastro is highly valued and blocked in a very pro-style offense at Stanford.
20. Tennessee Titans, Cordy Glenn, OG, Georgia
Hey, look! A mini-run on guards. The Titans seem content to have either Matt Hasselback or Jake Locker run their offense in 2012. Upgrading the interior of their O-line would give their dynamic running back, Chris Johnson, more opportunities to showcase his talents (by, you know, having linemen up the middle that can actually put a body on someone). Like DeCastro, Glenn is highly valued. He will work best at guard early in his career, but could be slotted out to tackle at some point.
Marvin Lewis finally gets the Ray Lewis-type linebacker that he's always coveted. Lots of questions surround the state of the Bengals' linebacking corps, which some believed underachieved last year. Hightower (6'4, 260 pounds) would provide a big answer.
22. Cleveland Browns, Whitney Mercilus, DE, Illinois
OK, Browns fans. Maybe you are hanging me in effigy for the Tannehill pick at No. 4. After this pick, you're likely looking my address up in the phone book while sharpening your hunting knives. Just like with Tannehill, please hear me out. Quarterbacks and pass rushers win in this league. Cleveland had neither in 2011, which is why they stunk. Colt McCoy is not the answer at QB. Hence, Tannehill. On defense, 32 team sacks isn't going to get it done, either. Mercilus had 16.5 sacks in 2011 for Illinois. If Cleveland lands free agent Mario Williams and teams him with Mercilus, watch out.
23. Detroit Lions, Brandon Boykin, CB, Georgia
Offensive line, especially left tackle, is a need for the Lions, but head coach Jim Schwartz cannot be happy with how poorly his secondary played last year. Schwartz likes physical corners, and Boykin plays much bigger than he measures.
24. Pittsburgh Steelers, Mike Adams, OT, Ohio State
If the Steelers take anything other than an offensive linemen at this spot, that might anger Ben Roethlisberger more than the Rooneys supposedly running his offensive coordinator out of town. It's pick No. 24, and Mike Adams is still hanging around out there. If keeping Roethlisberger healthy for a full season is a priority, GM Kevin Colbert needs to gets some talent on the O-line.
25. Denver Broncos, Devon Still, DT, Penn State
Denver's defense was lights out in 2011, and adding Still will make an already tough interior defense even tougher. It could also adds some years onto the career of their outstanding young linebacker, Von Miller.
26. Houston Texans, Joe Adams, WR, Arkansas
Houston could go defense here, but coordinator Wade Phillips could take a box of Twinkies and turn it into a pass-rushing linebacker. At pick No. 26, they need to finally find someone that will make opponents pay for double-teaming Andre Johnson. Adams might have some consistency issues when it comes to catching the football, but the kid can get downfield in a hurry.
27. New England Patriots (from New Orleans), Mississippi State
Look, I don't want to take anything away from Tom Brady ... so I won't. With the defense that Bill Belichick fielded last season, the Patriots were fortunate to be playing in the Super Bowl. Switching to a 4-3 defense was a smart move given New England's personnel, but they must upgrade their D-line and secondary if they want to win another Super Bowl before Brady gets too old. Cox can play both DT and DE in a 4-3 scheme.
28. Green Bay Packers, Peter Konz, C, Wisconsin
Veteran center Scott Wells is likely leaving, and quarterback Aaron Rodgers is the franchise. It stands to reason that you'd probably want to give Rodgers a good center if you want your offense to keep scoring all those points. Konz is smart and is noted as an excellent pass blocker.
29. Baltimore Ravens, Coby Fleener, TE, Stanford
The Ravens need to get people around Joe Flacco who can actually catch the friggin' football. Taking a wide receiver like Alshon Jeffery here is too much of a reach with Fleener still on the board. He's an excellent pass catcher and a solid blocker.
30. San Francisco 49ers, Nick Perry, OLB, USC
The 49ers saw firsthand against the Giants in the NFC Championship Game just how important it is to have a cadre of pass rushers. Perry is better suited as an outside rusher standing up than as a three-technique linemen, which means he will fit in well in Vic Fangio's 3-4 scheme.
31. Minnesota Vikings, Jonathan Martin, OT, Stanford (proposed trade with the Patriots)
The Patriots will trade this pick. They seem to every year late in the first round like this. With Martin still on the board, Minnesota trades back into the first round and snags him. Thus, the Vikes improve both the O-line and their defense in the first round, and Vikings blogger Chris Gates gives me a big, fat, sloppy kiss.
32. New York Giants, Jamell Fleming, CB, Oklahoma
Their pass rush is ferocious, but the world champs could lose some players in their secondary this offseason via free agency. Fleming has decent size, and can be versatile both in coverage and as a blitzer.