The 2012 NFL Combine starts this week, and with it will come a frenzy of draft talk. More than another advertisement for Under Armour, the Combine allows teams and pundits to answer pressing questions about this year's group of prospects. Draft boards will start evolving and solidifying this week. Mock drafts will change significantly. In fact, SB Nation will have several more mocks as the week goes on reflecting Combine buzz and early moves as teams start applying the franchise tag to their free agents.
Here is what our latest 2012 NFL mock draft looks like as Combine week approaches.
1. Indianapolis Colts, Andrew Luck, QB, Stanford
Fait accompli. Luck is the best player in the draft, and the fact that he will be picked first overall has reconciled him to a side story in the draft. That will change as he starts to fill those shoes.
2. Cleveland Browns (projected trade with St. Louis), Robert Griffin III, QB, Baylor
It looks as if the Browns are the favorites in the RG3 race ... for now. The Cleveland Plain Dealer says that the team is "very likely" to trade up, and their two picks in the first round would be the best deal any team could offer. Griffin has questions to answer this week at the Combine. Height -- is he closer to 6'0 than 6'2? -- is one issue. If he wows teams during one-on-one time and the drills, which he probably will, it will chum in the water for rebuilding teams and the media.
3. Minnesota Vikings, Matt Kalil, OT, USC
Kalil still has improvements to make in his game. Even with some professional growth ahead of him, he is still the best offensive tackle in the draft. His natural ability in pass protection will improve the life of Vikings' quarterbacks considerably. As he learns the fine art of run blocking in the NFL, he should round into Pro Bowl shape.
4. St. Louis Rams (projected trade with Cleveland), Trent Richardson, RB, Alabama
At his introductory press conference, Rams new GM Les Snead told a story about the most important personnel move he made as Thomas Dimitroff's chief lieutenant in Atlanta. It was the acquisition of running back Michael Turner, whom he signed with an eye toward drafting and developing quarterback Matt Ryan. Snead also stated a preference for explosive players, and Richardson is the most explosive, complete offensive skill player, beyond the two quarterbacks, in the draft. Plus, Jeff Fisher likes to run, and Richardson will be an understudy to Steven Jackson, who has almost 800 touches in his last two seasons.
5. Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Morris Claiborne, CB, LSU
Claiborne has been here before in previous mock drafts. He fits. Barring some bizarre, unlikely happening at the Combine, Claiborne is the best corner in the draft, and maybe a better all around cover man than his former teammate Patrick Peterson. Replacing Aqib Talib with a high character guy like Claiborne will also be a welcome change for the Bucs.
6. Washington Redskins, Justin Blackmon, WR, Oklahoma State
Everyone is confused and divided about the receivers in the draft. Blackmon looks like the best, but no 40 will be scrutinized as closely as his. If he satisfies concerns about his speed, it will make him a top-five pick. A 4.4 40 or not, he is still a very good player, and Washington will be relieved to have young talent at the position, regardless of which quarterback they saddle with restoring franchise credibility.
7. Jacksonville Jaguars, Quinton Coples, DE, North Carolina
For now, Coples is considered the top pass rusher in the draft. Teams will pry into his final season at UNC in order to satisfy their concerns about taking him with an early draft pick. If he says all the right things and makes all the right moves, he should be a top 10 pick. Jacksonville could certainly use another pass rusher.
8. Carolina Panthers, Michael Brockers, DT, LSU
Brockers, a late entrant into the draft pool, needs a big spring, starting this week at the Combine. Anyone that watched LSU play this season knows he has the talent to be the first interior defensive lineman off the board. Teams need to know just how ready he is for the NFL. Carolina already has a visit scheduled with Brockers on March 8.
9. Miami Dolphins, Riley Reiff, OT, Iowa
Combine performances could change the conversation about the offensive tackles in this draft. A big week from Reiff and the chattering classes will be debating their positional rankings. Reiff shores up pass protection on the right side and gives the Dolphins some insurance for Jake Long, who battled injuries last year and will be a free agent in 2013.
10. Buffalo Bills, Courtney Upshaw, DE, Alabama
Upshaw might end up being the best pass rusher in the draft. He drives pundits crazy because he is not easily squeezed into one defensive system or another. He will have his hand in the dirt with the Bills, who are converting to a 4-3 defense. Free agent defensive end Mario Williams will have a big impact on the draft by allowing his 2012 team to push pass rusher a little further down their list of needs. Whether the Bills spend that kind of money remains to be seen. If they do not, Upshaw will be a fine addition.
11. Kansas City Chiefs, Jonathan Martin, OT, Stanford
Martin is another prospect who could earn way more attention after this week. Attention or not, he is a talented prospect that would upgrade the Chiefs offensive line. An improved front five would also help the team bluff its way through one more year of Matt Cassel at quarterback.
12. Seattle Seahawks, Devon Still, DT, Penn State
Seattle already has a pretty solid defensive line, but it needs a little more to threaten opposing quarterbacks. The Penn State product provides that as well as the flexibility to move around in Gus Bradley's hybrid defense. This pick could change if the Combine reshuffles the rankings for pass rushers. Another factor to consider here is whether or not Red Bryant gets away in free agency, though he has said he would like to stay.
13. Arizona Cardinals, David DeCastro, OG, Stanford
DeCastro might be the best offensive lineman in the draft behind Matt Kalil. He is, however, a guard, a position less hyped than outside pass protectors. Either way, Arizona needs help, and with Reiff and Martin off the board, DeCastro is their next best pick. The question on everyone's mind between now and April is whether DeCastro will be picked higher than this.
14. Dallas Cowboys, Dre Kirkpatrick, CB, Alabama
The Cowboys who really need help in the secondary. This pick will depend on what they do in free agency, where Brent Grimes, Cortland Finnegan and Brandon Carr could also provide a fix. Kirkpatrick matches up well against bigger, physical receivers, which could come in handy against Dallas' division rivals in New York.
15. Philadelphia Eagles, Luke Kuechly, LB, Boston College
This pick is a perfect match of need and talent for the Eagles, who really missed a strong tackler and instinctive leader as the linchpin of their defense. Kuechly provides all of that, and should upgrade Philly's defense immediately. Again, free agency could change this pick, if the Eagles opt for a more experienced veteran to fill the void.
16. New York Jets, Melvin Ingram, OLB/DE, South Carolina
This is a strange year for pass rushers. Every player with the skill to pressure quarterbacks brings more questions than answers. Ingram answered some of those questions at the Senior Bowl. He can continue to do so at the Combine. The Jets could go another direction here if the available pass rushers fail to impress.
17. Cincinnati Bengals (from Oakland), Janoris Jenkins, CB, North Alabama
It will be interesting to see if the Bengals take a fancy to any of the free agent cornerbacks. No addition would make as much of an instant impact for Cincinnati. Until free agency starts, we can project Jenkins here. The former Florida cornerback is solid in coverage and has the speed and ball skill to increase his first-round credentials. All he has to do is assure teams about character issues, which should be easy to do with the Bengals.
18. San Diego Chargers, Kendall Wright, WR, Baylor
After some last-minute clemency, A.J. Smith and Norv Turner need to make a big splash in 2012, and big free agent move like that would do the trick. Vincent Jackson will finally be allowed to cash in as a free agent this year, and the Chargers will need to replace him. The dynamic Wright should be just the thing to erase the memories of Jackson in San Diego's downfield offense.
19. Chicago Bears, Michael Floyd, WR, Notre Dame
This is a tough pick to gauge given the Bears' needs. Building a team that can score enough points to keep pace in four games a year against the Lions and Packers is a top priority though. Floyd will also be among the most watched players in Indianapolis this week. If he runs in the 4.4s, he should be off the board well before this pick.
20. Tennessee Titans, Cordy Glenn, OG, Georgia
This is probably a little bit of a reach for Glenn. The Georgia product does possess a natural ability on the inside, moving to the second level and pulling effortlessly for a 345-pound man. If the pass rusher picture among prospects were clearer, it would be a wiser pick for the Titans. Keep an eye on Clemson DE Andre Branch or Illinois DE Whitney Mercilus.
21. Cincinnati Bengals, Doug Martin, RB, Boise State
The Bengals are tough to project in the draft because they have $60 million in cap space. They could be players for the big free agent prize, Mario Williams, if they so desired. For now, Martin goes here, replacing Cedric Benson. A complete running back will be a big help to Andy Dalton in his second season. Adding veterans to fill other needs, especially defense, very well could vault the Bengals over the Steelers in the AFC North this year.
22. St. Louis Rams (projected trade with Cleveland), Mike Adams, OT, Ohio State
The Rams will once again have to rebuild their offensive line, possibly replacing tackle Jason Smith, a pricey draft bust from 2009. Inconsistency plagues Adams' draft stock, and he can assuage his critics and woo his suitors with a strong spring showing. Paul Boudreau, Jeff Fisher's offensive line coach, can iron out whatever inconsistencies have prevented Adams from being considered higher up the draft board.
23. Detroit Lions, Peter Konz, C, Wisconsin
The Lions need to get younger and better along their offensive line. Konz has the strength and the technique to make a difference right away for the Lions. Secondary help is an option here, too.
24. Pittsburgh Steelers, Alameda Ta'amu, DT, Washington
The latest Samoan sensation is getting more and more attention as one of the top defensive tackles in this draft class. Some teams will have Dontari Poe graded higher and vice versa. Wide, strong and big, he has everything teams want in a nose tackle. Pass rushing ability will separate him and Poe, a nice undercard to the spring workout sessions.
25. Denver Broncos, Jerel Worthy, DL, Michigan State
Denver needs some speed to help Tim Tebow, but speed can be found later in the draft. Beefing up the defense will pay dividends for the Broncos. Worthy strengthens their defensive line and gives them a player capable of creating pressure up front.
26. Houston Texans, Dontari Poe, DT, Memphis
Surprisingly enough, the Texans had a very good pass rush without Mario Williams last season. They do not have to replace him with a first-round pick. By drafting Poe, they get a true nose tackle for their 3-4 and stronger up front. With the right moves to add to the offense in 2012, this is going to be a very good team.
27. New England Patriots (from New Orleans), Mark Barron, SS, Alabama
Barron's most important pre-draft activity will be his medical exam, as teams get a feel for his recovery from double hernia surgery. The Pats have been rewarded before for taking a chance on players with a medical issue. They really need the help in the secondary. If his prognosis is satisfactory, Barron could be drafted higher.
28. Green Bay Packers, Fletcher Cox, DE, Mississippi State
Green Bay's woeful defense cost them a shot at inevitability. They need help all over the depth chart, but fixing their problems start up front. Cox beefs up a relatively weak three-man front, which should help Clay Matthews get back to chasing quarterbacks more regularly in 2012.
29. Baltimore Ravens, Rueben Randle, WR, LSU
Randle is a late addition to the top of the receiver rankings, but the talent has always been there ... just hidden behind awful quarterback play. Randle has the physical tools to succeed in the NFL, and looks to be faster and more explosive than Alshon Jeffery or Mohamed Sanu. Baltimore's offense needs another weapon to keep threatening for the AFC Championship.
30. San Francisco 49ers, Nick Perry, OLB, USC
Everything about this pick says it should be a cornerback or an offensive lineman. The 49ers need both, but they could also find help on the free agent market. The Giants reminded the 49ers that you can never have enough pass rushers. That will be especially true if they lose Ahmad Brooks in free agency this year. Perry would probably not be ready for a three-down role, which would still leave the 49ers with questions to answer.
31. New England Patriots, Whitney Mercilus, OLB, Illinois
Mericlus is another player that needs a big Combine to boost his draft stock after entering the year as a one-year wonder. New England needs help at pass rusher, and Mercilus has the ability to be a versatile threat in their defense.
32. New York Giants, Dont'a Hightower, LB, Alabama
The Giants could use an upgrade at linebacker. The versatile Hightower could work on the inside or the strongside, giving them an elite talent to make life hard for opposing running backs and tight ends.