This 2012 NFL mock draft is a snapshot of how things might go down on April 26 before free agency changes the picture.
The next two weeks are big ones in the NFL. Sometime before Thursday, the Colts will have to act on Peyton Manning, who is due a $28 million bonus on March 8. Setting him free will shape the quarterback market and alter the NFL landscape.
A week from Wednesday, on March 13, the doors open on the league year and free agency. Despite a bevy of franchise tags and new contracts handed out recently, this is still a very deep group of free agents. Teams will change their draft boards based on how they choose to spend their owners' money after Wednesday.
Without further ado, one more look at the 2012 NFL Draft before things get wild.
1. Indianapolis Colts, Andrew Luck, QB, Stanford
Luck is still the top prospect in this draft. Compare him to whomever you want to. Aaron Rodgers may be the most appropriate, but he will forever be compared to Peyton Manning. No pressure, kid.
2. Washington Redskins, Robert Griffin III, QB, Baylor (Projected trade: from St. Louis)
So Cleveland wants to be stubborn. Valuing their 22nd pick and whatever acceptable player they can get with it over a franchise quarterback. Washington will recognize the value if Cleveland cannot, throwing its picks at the Rams and coming out better in the long run.
3. Minnesota Vikings, Matt Kalil, OT, USC
Franchise quarterback (hopefully), meet franchise left tackle. Kalil will help right away. If Adrian Peterson can rebound, the Vikings should be more than a punchline in 2012.
4. Cleveland Browns, Morris Claiborne, CB, LSU
Morris Claiborne has a bright future in the NFL. Blessed with the physical gifts required to be a top corner, he and Joe Haden strengthen an already surprisingly adequate defense. Claiborne also has good hands, which the Browns will need since no trade means they plan to rely on Pat Shurmur's offense to score points.
5. Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Trent Richardson, RB, Alabama
You rarely see running backs in the draft this good, not since Adrian Peterson. Richardson's stock should only rise after his March 27 pro day. This is a good addition for Tampa Bay's offense.
6. St. Louis Rams, Justin Blackmon, WR, Oklahoma State (Projected trade: from Washington)
The buzz on Blackmon right now is harsh. His pro day on Friday should settle some of the questions teams and pundits have about his NFL future. Blackmon is probably not going to evolve into another Larry Fitzgerald, but he has the makings for a reliable receiver who can catch the ball and separate himself from coverage.
7. Jacksonville Jaguars, Quinton Coples, DE, North Carolina
Coples stays in this spot again this week because he is the best pass rusher in the draft. His future is on the outside in a 4-3, which is perfect for the Jaguars. If they can get Jeremy Mincey re-signed and plug some holes in their secondary, Jacksonville's defense could net them a few more wins this season.
8. Miami Dolphins, Michael Brockers, DT, LSU
Brockers represents an unknown. He offered only a "meh" performance at the Combine, but he was an integral part of one of the best defensive fronts in college football. The Dolphins are moving to a 4-3 defense. Brockers gives them a solid presence in the middle, but they have to develop him as a pass rusher to justify a top-10 pick.
9. Carolina Panthers, Fletcher Cox, DT, Mississippi State
Cox is red hot after his outing in Indy. He instantly upgrades the middle of a Panthers' line that was porous against the run. More importantly, Cox provides the ability to bring pressure on opposing quarterbacks from the front.
10. Buffalo Bills, Courtney Upshaw, DE, Alabama
This pick is unchanged, but it might look different once free agency starts if the Bills decide to chase one of the top pass rushers to help their switch to a 4-3 defense. Upshaw does not wow with any one skill, but he is a good football player who has the tenacity to work around blockers.
11. Kansas City Chiefs, Riley Reiff, OT, Iowa
This is a fairly obvious pick for the Chiefs, who need to upgrade over Barry Richardson, the waterlogged sugar packet who holds down the right side of their offensive line. Why not pursue a tackle in free agency? Drafting Reiff is cheaper and carries way more upside than someone like Levi Brown.
12. Seattle Seahawks, Ryan Tannehill, QB, Texas A&M
Seattle needs to address its quarterback situation. Finding a long-term solution rather than renting Peyton Manning would make more sense. Tannehill may not be a plug-and-play starter in year one, but he has the tools and the mentality to evolve into a good NFL starter. He has an arm and works well on the move. Sitting behind Tarvaris Jackson or whoever for a while will be to his advantage.
13. Arizona Cardinals, Jonathan Martin, OT, Stanford
The Cardinals are losing Levi Brown in free agency. Even with Brown on the roster, they still needed a better answer on the left side. Martin finally provides some stability and blocking ability to the Cardinals' front five. Perhaps there is still a little life left in Kevin Kolb.
14. Dallas Cowboys, David DeCastro, OG, Stanford
Dallas seems intent to find help for their secondary in free agency. Of course, they could also go all in on Saints' free agent guard Carl Nicks. Whatever they do, it could shape their pick here. For this mock, we assume they sign one of the top cornerbacks, Cortland Finnegan or Brandon Carr in free agency. DeCastro then beefs up their interior line, giving Dallas an elite protector that will be a focal point of their front five for years to come.
15. Philadelphia Eagles, Luke Kuechly, LB, Boston College
This pick is almost too easy, which makes me wonder about it. Middle linebackers behind a four-man front are mostly faceless figures. Anonymity should take nothing away from their importance to tying a defense together (insert Lewbowski rug joke here).
16. New York Jets, Melvin Ingram, OLB/DE, South Carolina
The Jets could opt to help their offense here, but pass rushers are far more valuable picks in the first round of the draft, especially compared to the offensive players available here. Beside, the Jets really need a pass rusher to go with Aaron Maybin, who led the team with six sacks last year.
17. Cincinnati Bengals (from Oakland), Dre Kirkpatrick, CB, Alabama
Even the Bengals draw the line at dealing weed, sending Jerome Simpson off to greener pastures. But Kirkpatrick is no weed dealer, just a typical twenty-something that got caught up in the drug war. Who hasn't been there a time or two? Big and physical, Kirkpatrick will fit right into the Bengals' defense, filling the void left by Johnathan Joseph.
18. San Diego Chargers, Nick Perry, OLB/DE, USC
San Diego could really use some offensive line help. They also need pass rushers who can make an impact. Perry is an explosive player. He has questions after choosing to leave school after one productive season, but the potential is there.
19. Chicago Bears, Michael Floyd, WR, Notre Dame
This is another pick that could change after free agency. Of course, the best free agent wide receivers cost significantly more than the 19th pick in the draft would. Teams are looking more and more to the draft to fill immediate needs thanks to an owner-friendly new wage scale for rookies. Floyd should fit in right away as a sure-handed target for Jay Cutler.
20. Tennessee Titans, Whitney Mercilus, DE, Illinois
Tennessee's pass rush was terrible in 2012. They moved Jason Jones to the outside, which only hurt the Titans' defensive line by taking away their ability to get pressure from the inside. Jones is probably gone in free agency, but the need for a pass rusher remains. Mercilus has had just one fruitful year in college, but the raw talent to rush the passer is there.
21. Cincinnati Bengals, Lamar Miller, RB, Miami
This sure looks like a reach with the declining value of running backs, but this might be Cincinnati's only option for getting the best player they can find at the position, in the draft or free agency. Miller is a speedster who will pair well with Bernard Scott.
22. Cleveland Browns (from Atlanta), Cordy Glenn, OL, Georgia
Since the Browns are opting to go with Colt McCoy or some other half measure at quarterback, they need to beef up the system around him. Glenn has the makings of an elite guard. He also looks like he can legitimately play on the outside in the NFL as well.
23. Detroit Lions, Janoris Jenkins, CB, North Alabama
Detroit is unlikely to spend big in free agency since they lack cap space. That means they will have to address the cornerback position in the draft. Jenkins raised red flags at the Combine with startling revelations about his personal life. His stance on birth control aside, Jenkins has the makings of a really good corner.
24. Pittsburgh Steelers, Dontari Poe, NT, Memphis
This might be the only mock draft in the country right now that has Poe in the 20s. Casey Hampton has to concern the Steelers, as any 35 year old coming off ACL surgery should. His $8 million cap hit also has to be a concern as they try to ward off teams from poaching Mike Wallace as a restricted free agent. Poe flashed some upside as a pocket crasher, and he should be able to fill a need at nose tackle immediately.
25. Denver Broncos, Kendall Wright, WR, Baylor
I think Wright is a good fit to pair with Tim Tebow because it sort of replicates what Tim Tebow had at Florida with Percy Harvin. Wright is a multifaceted threat, capable of working on the outside, in the slot and out of the backfield. He can make their option offense better and still be a threat in more traditional NFL packages.
26. Houston Texans, Stephen Hill, WR, Georgia Tech
If Houston wants a nose tackle, they ought to kick the tires on Paul Soliai who is leaving the Dolphins in free agency. They could even find a cheaper option via some other route since they would be surrounded with talent elsewhere on the defensive line. Upgrading their offense is a priority if the Texans are going to build off last season's incredible run. Hill can be worked in with Andre Johnson, who is still the lead horse in the passing game.
27. New England Patriots (from New Orleans), Mark Barron, S, Alabama
For the second year in a row, the safety class is weak. Barron represents the only first-round worthy player, and he is recovering from double hernia surgery. He should be ready to go before the draft, and New England has hit a home run by doing their homework on other injured players in the past. If they do draft Barron, it would dramatically improve their safety situation, giving them better coverage in the middle part of the field.
28. Green Bay Packers, Kendall Reyes, DT, Connecticut
Reyes has quietly pushed his way up draft boards, starting with a coming out party at the Senior Bowl in January with a solid all-around showing at the Combine. He can pressure quarterbacks, but just as important for the Packers, he adds some needed muscle to their defensive front, which will help versus the run and allow Clay Matthews to do his thing.
29. Baltimore Ravens, Peter Konz, C, Wisconsin
Konz might have been drafted higher with a better week at the Combine, but the circus in Indianapolis is just part of the picture. Konz is a smart player with a bright future as an NFL pivot. Perhaps just as important for the Ravens is that he can also play guard, where they might need him if Ben Grubbs gets away in free agency.
30. San Francisco 49ers, Rueben Randle, WR, LSU
The free agent market for receivers is drying up fast, which means intense competition for the handful of top tier players out there. The 49ers can draft Randle, giving Alex Smith a big target that can start right away. His ability to get yards after the catch will be appreciated in Harbaugh's offense.
31. New England Patriots, Stephon Gilmore, CB, South Carolina
Gilmore has a chance to be the third corner off the board if Janoris Jenkins fails to satisfy teams about his character concerns. Gilmore is one of the speedier corners in this draft, and combines that with a physical style of play required of defenders who match up with big wide receivers.
32. New York Giants, Coby Fleener, TE, Stanford
This is a great draft for Stanford products. The Super Bowl champs probably need a vertical threat to replace Mario Manningham who they will likely lose in free agency. That might be something they can find later in the draft or via FA. Adding the top tight end in the draft will also improve their offense, giving Eli Manning a big, quick tight end