Free agency and the scouting combine are still on the horizon, but people are still hungry for 2012 NFL Mock Drafts. Plenty can change between now and April, but here are my initial thoughts on how the first round could shake out.
A lot of people have been predicting trades in the top five for teams hoping to land Robert Griffin III. I am well aware of this possibility, but chose not to include trades to make things less complicated. I don't have sources, nor do I own a crystal ball, so my ability to forecast trades is less than stellar. That being said, I think the Skins will end with RG3, if I had to strike a guess.
With that being said, here is my first mock draft of the season. Plenty of changes to come between now and the big day, so stay tuned and be sure to rip me apart in the comments.1. Indianapolis Colts - Andrew Luck, Quarterback, Stanford
The Indianapolis Colts are in an interesting spot. On one hand, they have a future Hall of Fame quarterback with another few seasons left in the tank, and on the other hand, they have the chance to draft one of the best quarterback prospects to come along in years.
The question isn't really whether or not the Colts will select Luck, I think that's a given at this point. The real issue is whether they will start him immediately or let him sit behind Peyton Manning.
Throwing Luck into the fire right away is beyond risky. Assuming Manning comes back healthy, he still has the ability to be one of the best quarterbacks in the NFL. To toss him aside for an unproven commodity, no matter how promising he may be, is a bold move.
The St. Louis Rams could potentially trade down with a team eager to draft Baylor's Robert Griffin III. But since trades are nearly impossible to predict and are based purely on speculation, I'll avoid moving a quarterback-needy team into this slot.
Instead, Matt Kalil, the best player available at a position of need for St. Louis, makes the most sense. Kalil is one of the few elite prospects in this draft class, and the Rams have to start protecting Sam Bradford if they want their franchise signal caller to pan out.
After ranking No. 30 in the league in pass defense a season ago, the Minnesota Vikings are in dire need of help in the secondary. Lucky for them, need meets value with the third overall pick.
Morris Claiborne is a physical corner with all of the tools to play in any defensive scheme. He is also a better pure cover corner that his former teammate Patrick Peterson was coming out of college.
4. Cleveland Browns - Robert Griffin III, Quarterback, Baylor
I admit this is another unoriginal pick, but it makes a ton of sense. Colt McCoy is not, nor has he ever been, a potential franchise quarterback. He is severely limited by his arm strength.
Cleveland would be doing cartwheels in the war room if Robert Griffin III slid this far in the draft. His positional value will make him a hot commodity among teams that are attempting to trade their way into the top five picks.
5. Tampa Bay Buccaneers - Trent Richardson, Running Back, Alabama
Trent Richardson makes a ton of sense for the Buccaneers. LaGarrette Blount is definitely more of a situational running back, and Trent Richardson is the top prospect available at this pick with Morris Claiborne off the board.
Until the Redskins decide what to do at quarterback in free agency, this pick will be a tough one to figure out. I really think they are going to strongly consider jumping up for one of the two big quarterbacks in this draft, but it won't be easy.
Justin Blackmon is a possibility here, but I'm not sold on him as a top ten pick. Meanwhile, the Redskins could definitely use some offensive line help. Riley Reiff would fit in nicely at right tackle.
Once considered a candidate to be the first overall pick in the 2012 NFL Draft, Quinton Coples had a down year as a senior due to a playing a variety of positions for the Tarheels and questionable effort at times.
There are some concerns about Coples' motor, but he dominated at the Senior Bowl, and odds are in favor of him being a top-ten pick in April. The Jacksonville Jaguars have been searching for an elite pass rusher for a while, and with Jeremy Mincey becoming a free agent, the need could be even more glaring by the time the draft rolls around.
Michael Brockers is shooting up draft boards after surprisingly declaring for the 2012 NFL Draft. Brockers has as much upside as any prospect in the top ten.
It's not secret how badly the Panthers need a defensive tackle, so this pick is becoming a bit cliché. Even so, Brockers is the best player available at a position of need.
9. Miami Dolphins - Jonathan Martin, Offensive Tackle, Stanford
Regardless of who the Dolphins decide to put under center in 2012, the team will need to provide better protection for their signal caller. Jonathan Martin is definitely a step below both Matt Kalil and Riley Reiff, but with the value of offensive linemen increasing all the time, Martin should find his way into the top ten.
10. Buffalo Bills - Justin Blackmon, Wide Receiver, Oklahoma State
He does, however, have a decent shot at being drafted in the first ten picks, especially if he performs well at the scouting combine. The Bills will be in need of wide receivers, particularly if Stevie Johnson bolts in free agency.
The Chiefs have had a subpar offensive line for the past few seasons. Mike Adams is physically gifted but was inconsistent throughout his senior season at Ohio State. He had a strong Senior Bowl, though, and the demand for tackles is always high.
I tried to find a spot for David DeCastro in the top ten, because he is that good, but there wasn't a fit for him that high in the draft. Seattle, however, would make sense, considering the struggles of Robert Gallery this season.
Stewart Bradley is not cutting it at inside linebacker for the Cardinals. Luke Kuechly displaying outstanding football instincts this season at Boston College and deserves to be selected in the top half of the first round in April. He would be a perfect piece to build the defense around in Arizona.
Multiple arrests got Janoris Jenkins dismissed from the Florida Gators, but the physical defensive back has received new life after staying out of trouble while at North Alabama. Jenkins followed up a strong senior season with an impressive showing at the Senior Bowl, displaying terrific ball skills and ability to play press coverage. Dallas needs multiple upgrades in the secondary.
15. Philadelphia Eagles - Dont'a Hightower, Linebacker, Alabama
One of the top run defenders in this draft, Dont'a Hightower will find a home in the first round. The Eagles desperately need help at linebacker, and Hightower is one of the most versatile players available at the position.
Rex Ryan would love to improve his pass rush this offseason after the Jets got disappointing seasons from their rush linebackers. Melvin Ingram could end up going higher than this on draft day and fits best into a 3-4 scheme.
17. Cincinnati Bengals - Dre Kirkpatrick, Cornerback, Alabama
The drug charges may have been dropped against Dre Kirkpatrick, but he still made a boneheaded decision that will affect his draft stock. Luckily a certain team that disregards off the field issues is in need of a cornerback.
18. San Diego Chargers - Courtney Upshaw, Rush Linebacker, Alabama
San Diego's pass rush was completely inept last season, which led to the Chargers having one of the worst pass defenses in the league. Larry English is clearly not the answer at rush linebacker, so Courtney Upshaw makes quite a bit of sense and presents decent value.
Kendall Wright is gaining steam leading up to the NFL Draft. There is a better than average chance that he, not Michael Floyd or Alshon Jeffery, will be the second receiver off the board after Justin Blackmon.
It seems like every year the Bears are looking for an upgrade at wide receiver. Maybe this is finally the year they will address the issue in the draft.
The interior of Tennessee's offensive line is a mess. The unit did not do Chris Johnson too many favors this season, leading to a disappointing rushing attack for the Titans. Cordy Glenn is a talented offensive line prospect and has the versatility to play multiple positions on the line in the NFL, though I think his best fit is at guard.
21. Cincinnati Bengals - Mark Barron, Safety, Alabama
With Reggie Nelson hitting free agency and Chris Crocker struggling to close out the season, the Bengals could be looking for multiple upgrades at safety. Mark Barron is the best safety in this draft class, so Cincy would be getting value if he were to fall this far.
22. Cleveland Browns - Michael Floyd, Wide Receiver, Notre Dame
Michael Floyd might be the draft's most underrated player. For my money, he is the best wide receiver in the 2012 NFL Draft, but his stock has taken a hit after missing the Senior Bowl and receiving a DUI last summer. On the field, few can match Floyd's ball skills and physical talent. The Browns would love to add the former Domer here.
Stephon Gilmore has cemented his stock as a first round pick, and the Detorit Lions have a glaring need for a cornerback. Gilmore's size and physicality would be a welcome addition to Detroit's secondary.
Iowa State offensive guard Kelechi Osemele lined up at tackle on occasion during the Senior Bowl, but it is apparent that his best fit is inside at the next level. The Steelers need help all over the offensive line, so Osemele's versatility will be a plus.
The Broncos struggled to generate a consistent pass rush up the middle last season. Von Miller is clearly going to contribute from the outside, but the Broncos need to find an interior lineman who can push the pocket. Despite his inconsistent motor, Devon Still fits the bill.
26. Houston Texans - Alshon Jeffery, Wide Receiver, South Carolina
Houston's lac of wide receiver depth was glaring once Andre Johnson went down with injury last year. Alshon Jeffery would be a steal this late in the first round. Many want to poke fun at his weight, but Jeffery displays solid burst and athleticism to go with his ideal size and ball skills.
27. New England Patriots - Nick Perry, DE/OLB, USC
Both Andre Carter and Mark Anderson will be free agents this offseason, so the Patriots will definitely be looking to upgrade their pass rush. Nick Perry can play in multiple schemes, which is a trait Bill Belichick covets.
Outside of Clay Mathews, there is nobody on Green Bay's roster that can get after the quarterback. Fletcher Cox is a big time athlete for his size and would be an ideal fit at defensive end in the Packers' 3-4 scheme.
The Baltimore Ravens will be looking for Ray Lewis' successor in the 2012 NFL Draft, and while Vontaze Burfict is a bit immature, who better to straighten him out than Ray Lewis? Plus, Burfict's attitude would fit right in with the bad boy identity the Ravens' defense has adopted.
The 49ers are in a tough spot. They desperately need an upgrade at wide receiver, but all of the best ones are off the board. Personally, I feel like Mohamed Sanu is worth a look at the end of the first round, though I'm sure plenty of people will disagree with me.
31. New England Patriots - Peter Konz, Center, Wisconsin
Dan Koppen is a free agent this offseason, and Peter Konz deserves a spot in the first round. If the Patriots fail to re-sign their veteran center, Konz could be a Patriot come April.
The 2012 tight end class is an interesting one. Everyone seems to have a different opinion on the best player in the group. Orson Charles has my vote, and after both Giant tight ends suffered knee injuries in the Super Bowl, they could be looking to bolster the position early in the 2012 NFL Draft.