The Senior Bowl is in the books and for all intents and purposes, the 2011 college football season is behind us. With less than a month until the scouting combine and less than three months until the draft, things are starting to come into focus a bit. Here's a mock draft of how I see things shaking out if the draft were held today:
*Note that I am not projecting trades for the purposes of this mock draft1. Indianapolis Colts - Andrew Luck, QB, Stanford
No brainer. Next.
2. St. Louis Rams - Justin Blackmon, WR, Oklahoma State
The Rams will likely lose Brandon Lloyd in free agency (he's said he wants to follow Josh McDaniels, and the Patriots seem likely to be interested) and need to give Sam Bradford an elite weapon to utilize. St. Louis will probably try to move out of this pick, as there will be demand from QB-starved teams who covet Robert Griffin III. Sliding down a few spots should still allow the Rams to get their man Blackmon, who is the consensus #1 WR on the board.
3. Minnesota Vikings - Matt Kalil, OT, USC
The Vikings could go in a few directions here. They could use a CB and perhaps even a WR if they love Blackmon and he is there. However, protecting 2nd year QB Christian Ponder has to be a priority. Matt Kalil has a high upside and should keep Ponder's blindside clean for the foreseeable future
4. Cleveland Browns - Robert Griffin III, QB, Baylor
Cleveland cannot pass on Griffin if the Baylor signal caller is sitting there at #4. Colt McCoy hasn't established himself as a franchise guy and Griffin's upside is too high to pass up for the mediocre McCoy. If Griffin goes #2, Blackmon could make some sense here for the Browns.
5. Tampa Bay Buccaneers - Morris Claiborne, CB, LSU
It remains to be seen whether or not new Bucs head coach Greg Schiano will want to deal with his troubled, but talented, CB Aqib Talib. Even if he is willing to give Talib a chance, Ronde Barber is nearing the end of his great career and the Bucs need quality DB's to compete in the NFC South against the likes of Steve Smith, Julio Jones and Marques Colston. Claiborne is the top CB available and would be a welcome addition to an already young and promising defense.
6. Washington Redskins - Riley Reiff, OT, Iowa
The Redskins find themselves in no-man's land here. Griffin is gone and their #2 need (WR) doesn't give them good value. Washington seems like a good possibility to move up to grab Griffin, but if they stay put a talented OT like Riley Reiff makes a lot of sense. Jammal Brown hasn't been able to get back to the level he was playing at before his hip injury a few years ago and could be on the way out. Reiff could bring long-term stability to the Redskins' OL.
7. Jacksonville Jaguars - Jonathan Martin, OT, Stanford
If the Jaguars want to develop 2nd year QB Blaine Gabbert, they need to do a better job in keeping him upright - as he got rattled early and often in 2011. Stanford's Jonathan Martin is an instinctive and powerful blocker who did a great job keeping Andrew Luck upright over the last 3 years. Martin's also a talented run blocker and should be able to open running lanes for the Jaguars' talented Maurice Jones-Drew.
8. Carolina Panthers - Michael Brockers, DL, LSU
Brockers caught a lot of people off guard by declaring for the 2011 draft as a redshirt sophomore. He definitely is a raw prospect who will need some refinement before he realizes his immense upside. That said, Brockers is an extremely talented DT who can play inside in a 4-3 front or slide over to the 5-technique in a 3-4. The young LSU DL has a great motor and uses his impressive lower body strength to power past OL in both the run and pass games. He'd provide the Panthers an elite presence in their interior line that they've lacked for many years.
9. Miami Dolphins - Courtney Upshaw, DE/OLB, Alabama
Upshaw measured in a little smaller than expected at the Senior Bowl, but he's still the premier edge rusher in the 2012 draft. The Dolphins will most likely be shifting to a 4-3 next year and need a DE to play opposite Cameron Wake. Unless the Dolphins make a move to grab Griffin, and give themselves the franchise QB they've lacked since Dan Marino, Upshaw should be their guy
10. Buffalo Bills - Nick Perry, OLB, USC
The Bills will be reportedly staying with a 3-4 alignment (for now) and desperately need a pass-rushing presence to complement their talented DL (Kyle Williams, Marcel Dareus). Perry is a good looking pass rush prospect who could play standing up, or go back to DE if the Bills revert back to a 4-3 scheme.
11. Kansas City Chiefs - Trent Richardson, RB, Alabama
Jamaal Charles is coming off a serious knee injury, Thomas Jones is old and Jackie Battle is mediocre. The Chiefs will likely remain a run-heavy team under now full-time coach Romeo Crennel. Richardson is an elite RB prospect with an excellent combination of vision, power and athleticism. While RB doesn't make sense for a lot of teams in the 1st round, the Chiefs would greatly benefit from having a talented back like Richardson. If Charles comes back healthy, the Kansas City running attack would be a real force to be reckoned with.
12. Seattle Seahawks - Ryan Tannehill, QB, Texas A&M
Like the Redskins, the QB starved Seahawks find themselves in an awkward spot. They could use an edge player to play in Pete Carroll's "LEO" position, but there isn't a great fit here at #12. Tannehill will strike some as a reach, but he has great upside and the Seahawks could try to skate by with Tarvaris Jackson for another year while Tannehill develops.
13. Arizona Cardinals - David DeCastro, OG, Stanford
The Cardinals find themselves in the opposite position of the Seahawks - they should have top players available at all of their positions of need. DeCastro is, perhaps, the best interior OL prospect in 15 years and could be the first guard since Chris Naeole to go in the top 10. If he's sitting here at #13, he is close to a no-brainer for Arizona - who badly needs an upgrade on their OL. If they pass on DeCastro, a WR like Michael Floyd or Kendall Wright could make sense. A LB could also be in play here.
14. Dallas Cowboys - Peter Konz, C, Wisconsin
The Cowboys OL has been a problem for a long time and always seems to hold them back. They grabbed Tyron Smith in the 1st last year, and this year grab Wisconsin Badgers center Peter Konz. Current starting C Phil Costa is not a realistic long-term solution and upgrading that spot would go a long way to letting Tony Romo and the Cowboys' offense realize their potential.
15. Philadelphia Eagles - Michael Floyd, WR, Notre Dame
DeSean Jackson is unsigned and unlikely to come back. The Eagles haven't had a quality "big" receiver for awhile and Michael Vick needs a reliable down-field target. The 6'3 220 lbs Notre Dame WR plays with good physicality and is athletic enough to consistently separate from defenders. Floyd also has good run-after-catch abilities and can contribute as a blocker in the run game.
16. New York Jets - Dont'a Hightower, LB, Alabama
The Jets need a big WR like Floyd or Alshon Jeffery, but Rex Ryan's defense also needs an infusion of talent in the LB corps. Bart Scott is old, declining and a good bet to be a salary-cap casualty. Dont'a Hightower plays a downhill, hard-hitting style which fits well in New York's scheme. He also has better athleticism than people give him credit for and is the premier 3-4 ILB in the draft.
17. Cincinnati Bengals - Dre Kirkpatrick, CB, Alabama
Leon Hall is coming off a serious Achilles injury and Nate Clements is a free agent after 2012. Kirkpatrick is a tough and aggressive CB who fits a big need for the Bengals. There is some talk that he might be a better fit at safety, which also is a need for the Bengals with Chris Crocker and Reggie Nelson as underwhelming starters.
18. San Diego Chargers - Alshon Jeffery, WR, South Carolina
Malcolm Floyd was a disappointment playing opposite of Vincent Jackson and the Chargers need an upgrade at WR. There will be plenty of questions about Jeffery's athleticism and work ethic between now and the draft. If he checks out and runs well, he will likely end up in the mid 1st round. At #18, he is a good value for San Diego and would help Philip Rivers rebound from a mediocre 2011 season.
19. Chicago Bears - Kendall Wright, WR, Baylor
The Bears have needed an elite playmaking WR for a long, long time. Kendall Wright is shooting up draft boards now due to his speed and athleticism. He would give Jay Cutler a great deep threat and take some pressure off Matt Forte (if he returns) and the Bears' running game.
20. Tennessee Titans - Zach Brown, OLB, North Carolina
Coach Mike Munchak has stated his desire for a playmaker on defense. Zach Brown has elite speed and athleticism and is the best 4-3 WILL backer in the draft. Playing alongside 2nd year players Akeem Ayers and Colin McCarthy, Brown would give the Titans one of the youngest and promising LB corps in the NFL.
21. Cincinnati Bengals - Cordy Glenn, OG, Georgia
The Bengals could use a RB to replace Cedric "3 yards and a cloud of dust" Benson but they could find better value in the 2nd or 3rd round. They need a boost along their offensive line and Cordy Glenn is an impressive prospect who has shown the ability to play a few spots along the line and an impressive run blocker. Playing in the physical AFC North, the Bengals would welcome a road grader like Cordy Glenn
22. Cleveland Browns - Quinton Coples, DE, North Carolina
The Browns hit a home run in 2011, grabbing Phil Taylor and Jabaal Sheard to give them a pair of young talents on their DL. While they could use a playmaker on offense (perhaps Lamar Miller, David Wilson or Mohamed Sanu), passing on the talented-but-inconsistent Coples would be a mistake. He'd give the Browns an imposing defensive line which could wreak havoc in the AFC North for years to come
23. Detroit Lions - Janoris Jenkins, CB, North Alabama
The Lions loss to the Saints in the playoffs demonstrated just how badly they need to upgrade their defensive backfield. Janoris Jenkins is an elite talent with a lot of off-field baggage who would go a long way in improving Detroit's pass defense. If the Lions are comfortable with Jenkins' character he will be too good to pass up at this point in the draft.
24. Pittsburgh Steelers - Vontaze Burfict, LB, Arizona
The Steelers need to replace the aging James Farrior. Burfict is a "love him or hate him" type of prospect. His athleticism isn't in doubt, but his attitude and instincts have drawn a lot of criticism this year. Playing for the no-nonsense Mike Tomlin and alongside veterans like James Harrison, Burfict could mature into a star LB.
25. Denver Broncos - Dwayne Allen, TE, Clemson
The Broncos have a few needs on defense, but could also benefit from giving Tim Tebow another weapon to use on offense. Allen is a well rounded TE prospect who can help block in the run-heavy Broncos offense and also give Tebow an excellent short/intermediate target to utilize. A CB such as Stephon Gilmore or Chase Minnifield could also make sense for Denver here.
26. Houston Texans - Mohamed Sanu, WR, Rutgers
The Texans don't have a ton of holes on either side of the ball. However, they could use someone to line up opposite star receiver Andre Johnson. Sanu has nice size (6'2 215) and pretty good athleticism. He is a fairly reliable target, with big soft hands and long arms to snatch errant throws. He's not a polished route runner, but has pretty good quickness in and out of his breaks. He can line up either inside or outside and contribute in all areas of the field.
27. New England Patriots - Dontari Poe, DT, Memphis
A NT doesn't seem to be atop the Pats' wishlist. But coach Belichick is a believer in Bill Parcells' "Planet Theory" - the idea that there aren't a lot of large guys who are athletic enough to play (and play well) in the NFL. Dontari Poe is both very large and deceptively nimble for a 6'5 350 lbs DT. Drafting Poe would allow the Pats to slide Vince Wilfork to 5-technique in a 3-4 front, which they have done with some success over the last few years. In a 40 front, Poe could eat up blockers alongside Wilfork, replacing current Pats DT Kyle Love.
28. Green Bay Packers - Alfonzo Dennard, CB, Nebraska
Charles Woodson is getting old and Tramon Williams gave up more yardage than any other CB in the league. Alfonzo Dennard is a physical and tough CB who fits well with Dom Capers' scheme. Dennard is a very talented DB who seems to be sliding a bit due to questions about his athleticism and speed. If he runs well at the combine, he is likely gone by the 28th pick. If he's here, he has to be Green Bay's pick.
29. Baltimore Ravens - Mike Adams, OT, Ohio State
The Ravens' biggest needs, C and ILB don't really match the value on the board. They could try to trade down or they could grab talented Ohio State OT Mike Adams. Michael Oher has been a disappointment at T and Jah Reid might not be the long term answer either. With a lot of wear on current LT Bryant McKinnie, the Ravens could stand to add some reinforcements up front.
30. San Francisco 49ers - Kelechi Osemele, OG, Iowa State
San Francisco was below average in protecting their QB and need to upgrade their OL. Osemele has a terrific package of size, strength and athleticism for an interior lineman. He is an aggressive run blocker who also plays well in the passing game. He'd fit in well in John Harbaugh's offense. The 49ers could also consider a 2nd tier WR prospect here although they'd probably get better value in the 2nd round.
31. New England Patriots - Chase Minnifield, CB, Virginia
The Pats need a boost in their secondary. Drafting a CB will allow New England to keep Devin McCourty at safety or perhaps shift 2011 2nd rounder Ras-I Dowling to FS to partner with Pat Chung. Minnifield's father, Frank, played under coach Bill Belichick in the early 1990's and Belichick is sure to like the younger Minnifield's combination of size and athleticism.
32. New York Giants - Luke Kuechly, LB, Boston College
Every draft has a guy who slides a bit more than projected. While Kuechly is generally projected in the top 20 (and could very likely go there), it wouldn't surprise me if he slides a little. He was extremely productive at Boston College, but is unlikely to impress in combine and pro day drills. The Giants, and former BC coach Tom Coughlin, love Boston College players and Kuechly would fit the Giants' defense well.