February is almost over and Indianapolis can finally get back to normalcy. As usual, the NFL Combine has shaken up the prevailing conventional wisdom regarding the 2012 NFL Draft. Prospects surprised and disappointed. The rumor mill started cranking with the flurry of free agency. Conditions demand predictions, and the latest post-Combine mock draft should satisfy those urges.
Keep in mind that the draft picture will change significantly after March 13, when free agency begins. This is a rich year for free agent talent, and teams will rearrange their draft board based on the veterans they acquire. For now, here is another look at how things might shake out on April 26.
1. Indianapolis Colts, Andrew Luck, QB, Stanford
Peyton Manning divorce ... blah, blah, blah. This pick has been preordained. Or has it? Could the Colts throw everyone a curve ball and draft Robert Griffin III ahead of Andrew Luck? The possibility exists, though nobody seems to think that would happen. Keep an eye on what's coming from Jim Irsay's Twitter account.
2. Cleveland Browns, Robert Griffin III, QB, Baylor (Projected trade: from St. Louis)
The St. Louis Rams are going to trade this pick. All that remains to be determined is which team they will trade it to and when. Washington wants the pick as well, but Cleveland's two first-round picks this year would trump any sensible package Washington can put together. Cleveland has been lapped many times over in the AFC North by Baltimore and Pittsburgh. Even Cincinnati has overtaken them in the division. If they ever intend to compete, they have to follow the Bengals' lead and draft a franchise quarterback. Griffin is a cornerstone in every sense of the word. Yes, there is his seemingly unlimited ceiling for play, but he would also become the face of a faceless franchise. With Griffin, the "Browns to the Super Bowl" joke would be slightly less hilarious three years from now.
3. Minnesota Vikings, Matt Kalil, OT, USC
Beyond Luck and Griffin, Kalil is the only other kind of building block player in this draft. He ran the 40 in under 5 seconds; he weighs 306 pounds. The Vikings' quarterbacks will feel safe and warm for years to come with Kalil protecting their blind side.
4. St. Louis Rams, Morris Claiborne, CB, LSU (Projected trade: from Cleveland)
Jeff Fisher is no stranger to picking defensive backs early in the first round. He famously picked Pacman Jones with the sixth pick in the 2005 NFL Draft. He managed to get some production out of Jones, until Jones decided to focus his attention on assaulting others. No worries in that department with Claiborne, who is known as a high-character player and a hard worker, something that no doubt came in handy as part of the prestigious LSU "general studies" degree program.
5. Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Trent Richardson, RB, Alabama
Richardson was limited at the Combine, but his impassioned defense of the value of running backs was hard to ignore, in his case anyway. Richardson is the exception that proves the rule -- a talented, versatile running back that can improve an offense from the first snap of the season.
6. Washington Redskins, Ryan Tannehill, QB, Texas A&M
Too high for Tannehill, right? Probably, but people said the same thing about Christian Ponder and Jake Locker last year. Besides, the sixth pick at these prices is like grabbing an extra bottle of Yellow Tail for Dan Snyder. According to a report from the Washington Post, this is a distinct possibility should the Redskins lose out on RG3. Tannehill has the ability to develop into a good quarterback. They could still add a veteran to get them through the short term.
7. Jacksonville Jaguars, Quinton Coples, DE, North Carolina
Coples did nothing at the Combine to upset his status as the top outside pass rusher in the draft this year. In fact, Coples' speedy times in the workouts confirmed his explosive ability. The Jaguars could make some quick gains and help out Blaine Gabbert by improving their defense. They are talking contract with Jeremy Mincey. Pairing him with Coples would improve their pass rush.
8. Miami Dolphins, Justin Blackmon, WR, Oklahoma State
Prior to the Combine, most would have thought it impossible that Blackmon fell outside the top five. A week in Indy was a good reminder of exactly what people mean when they say the Oklahoma State product is not A.J. Green. Blackmon looks like he will be a fine receiver in the NFL. At his pro day, we may get a better idea whether or not he can be a dynamic one or just a solid possession receiver. Either way, the Dolphins could use a second set of hands to go with Brandon Marshall. That should make life easier for whoever their quarterback is this season.
9. Carolina Panthers, Michael Brockers, DT, LSU
Brockers' NFL future divided eggheads before the Combine, and his workout in Indianapolis only exacerbated the debate. Carolina already has a March 8 visit scheduled with Brockers, likely the first step toward finding out whether or not he has the explosiveness required of an interior lineman drafted in the first 10 picks. There is no doubt he would improve Carolina's line.
10. Buffalo Bills, Courtney Upshaw, DE, Alabama
By Chan Gailey's own admission, Buffalo's pass rush needs help. Upshaw would provide that help in their new 4-3 defense. A product of Nick Saban's defense, Upshaw can get up the field and still hold his own against run blockers.
11. Kansas City Chiefs, Jonathan Martin, OT, Stanford
Illness kept Martin from going through all the workouts at the Combine. He did manage to struggle through position drills. Conventional wisdom says Riley Reiff should go before Martin, but the Iowa tackle's measurements, particularly his shorter wingspan, raised some concerns. Martin could emerge as the better tackle prospect. Adding Martin would give the Chiefs a very good offensive line.
12. Seattle Seahawks, Melvin Ingram, DE/OLB, South Carolina
Seattle fans, you should applaud this pick. Ingram looks like the real deal as a pass rusher. He might be a better fit as a rush linebacker in a 3-4 system. Pete Carroll finds ways to use talented players, rather than trying to force players into his scheme. Ingram has the strength and skills to be a threat from almost anywhere on the field, even on the inside. Wait and see what Seattle does in free agency. If they decide to pursue Mario Williams, they might look for a quarterback here.
13. Arizona Cardinals, Riley Reiff, OT, Iowa
Finding help for the outside of their offensive line with this pick would be ideal for the Cardinals, who right now might be forced to keep Levi Brown. Even if the landing spots for Martin and Reiff were switched, it would be hard for Arizona to pass on either player. Reiff could upgrade their right tackle spot right away, making life easier for Kevin Kolb or perhaps even Peyton Manning.
14. Dallas Cowboys, David DeCastro, OG, Stanford
Dallas might fill their cornerback needs in free agency, targeting either Brandon Carr or Cortland Finnegan. If they do, they would be under no pressure to grab one in the first round of the draft. DeCastro matches need and draft spot as one of the more promising interior linemen since Steve Hutchinson.
15. Philadelphia Eagles, Luke Kuechly, LB, Boston College
I started to wonder if the Eagles might just opt to find a linebacker in free agency or some other route. Kuechly's Combine, from the 40 time to the time at the podium, reinforced why so many have him pegged for this spot. He is a building block, and should be the heart and soul of Philadelphia's mercenary defense, not to mention the vital link in the middle of the field the unit so sorely missed last year.
16. New York Jets, Nick Perry, OLB, USC
Perry really showed off his athleticism at the Combine. At 270 pounds, he still cannot shake the "tweener" label, but the talent is there whether he plays in 3-4 or a 4-3. He played a hybrid version of both at USC. As a pass rusher, he could make an impact right away for a Jets team that needs another rush linebacker to go with Aaron Maybin.
17. Cincinnati Bengals (from Oakland), Dre Kirkpatrick, CB, Alabama
It might be tough for Kirkpatrick to fall out of the top 15 picks this year, but mock drafts are a place where reality meets bizarro world. His 40 time, 4.51 seconds, was a bit of a disappointment, but will likely be overlooked. The Bengals would certainly be fine with this scenario. They could use his physical style of play in the secondary.
18. San Diego Chargers, Dontari Poe, DT, Memphis
Poe was a big winner at the Combine. At 346 pounds, he looked more explosive than players half his size, earning perfectly reasonable comparisons to Ravens' defensive lineman Haloti Ngata. The Chargers could use an outside linebacker, but their pass rush will benefit significantly from the addition of Poe. San Diego also had the worst defensive line in the league in the power department, according to Football Outsiders. Opponents either got a new set of downs or scored when facing third or fourth downs with two yards or less to go. Poe upgrades the entire defense.
19. Chicago Bears, Michael Floyd, WR, Notre Dame
This might be a little low for Floyd after he addressed concerns about his speed in Indianapolis with a sub-4.5 seconds time in the 40-yard dash. If Blackmon stumbles further at his pro day, Floyd could really benefit. As for the Bears, they will be happy to have a big target with good hands on the outside. Cutler will still need more to work with, but adding Floyd would be a great start.
20. Tennessee Titans, Whitney Mercilus, DE, Illinois
The Titans need some help on the outside of their defensive line. Mike Munchak's team mustered the second-worst sack total in the league last season, and it probably cost them a shot at the playoffs in an injury-riddle AFC South. Mercilus has just one season of productivity under his belt, giving some experts pause. At the Combine he showed the kind of burst teams like to see in a pass rushing prospect.
21. Cincinnati Bengals, Cordy Glenn, OL, Georgia
Glenn showed off the kind of athleticism prized in NFL left tackles at the Combine. His natural position is on the inside at guard, where he has a seemingly limitless ceiling. Inside is where the Bengals will put him, which would allow them to let Nate Livings walk in free agency.
22. St. Louis Rams, Kendall Wright, WR, Baylor
Wright impressed no one with his 4.61 40-yard dash, but professional pundit and armchair analysts all agreed that Wright's speed performance was not an accurate representation of the kind of player he is. He can erase it all at his pro day in March. Explosive and versatile, the Rams have not had a receiver of this caliber since the Greatest Show On Turf days.
23. Detroit Lions, Stephon Gilmore, CB, South Carolina
Gilmore gave his draft stock a big boost at the Combine, showing off the kind of speed prized among cornerbacks. The Lions could certainly use some help in that department. With a limited budget and more pressing matters, like re-signing Stephen Tulloch, Detroit is unlikely to make a play for Cortland Finnegan.
24. Pittsburgh Steelers, Dont'a Hightower, ILB, Alabama
You have to think the Steelers would really like to have Poe, having gotten familiar with what Ngata can do and seeing the 34-year old Casey Hampton recover from a torn ACL. The Rams will not be the only team making a trade in the draft this year, but we lack those kind of predictive powers. As such, we put Hightower here. The Alabama product is solid replacement for the aging James Farrior.
25. Denver Broncos, Fletcher Cox, DL, Mississippi State
Another big winner at the Combine, Cox might find his name called well before this spot. If not, the Broncos would certainly consider the powerful defensive tackle. Cox would bolster the Broncos' ability to pressure quarterbacks from their defensive line.
26. Houston Texans, Stephen Hill, WR, Georgia Tech
Premature, possibly unwarranted hype alert. Yes, it is probably too soon to pencil in Hill at the bottom of the first round, but it is hard to ignore his speedy results from the Combine, not to mention the past pedigree of other Tech alums like Demaryius Thomas and Calvin Johnson. Houston can use him right away, and not be forced to rely on him with Andre Johnson in the lineup.
27. New England Patriots (from New Orleans), Mark Barron, S, Alabama
Barron missed the Combine recovering from double hernia surgery. He should be ready to go before the draft. He should serve the Patriots well, vastly improving a struggling secondary that was forced to use a rotation of players to bluff their way to the Super Bowl.
28. Green Bay Packers, Devon Still, DT, Penn State
The rise of Cox, Poe and the other defensive linemen in this draft class have depressed Still's stock. The Packers will not mind at all if he fell this far. Still gives Green Bay some needed strength in their front three, where he would step in as a five technique. He can also create some pressure from the front three, something the Packers need to improve their defense.
29. Baltimore Ravens, Peter Konz, C, Wisconsin
Konz underwhelmed at the Combine with his 18 reps on the bench press. He still looks like the best center in this draft and was a tough blocker for the Badgers. Baltimore will probably bring back Matt Birk, but they still need to groom his replacement. Konz could do double duty at guard, especially if the Ravens fail to re-sign Ben Grubbs.
30. San Francisco 49ers, Janoris Jenkins, CB, North Alabama
The 49ers might not be able to re-sign Carlos Rogers. After locking down Ahmad Brooks, safety Dashon Goldson looks like the next logical priority. Jenkins is a big risk to take given his checkered past. If they feel like he is ready to move past those issues, the 49ers could get a real steal in Jenkins.
31. New England Patriots, Andre Branch, DE/OLB, Clemson
Branch displayed the kind of athleticism at the Combine to match his productivity as a pass rusher in college. He also looked good in linebacker drills there. New England needs to add a pass rusher, or two. Bill Belichick should be more than capable of finding a role for Branch early on and developing his natural talents.
32. New York Giants, Kelechi Osemele, OT, Iowa State
The Super Bowl champs need help all over their offensive line. Osemele is big, wide blocker who should start right away on the right side. Kareem McKenzie is a free agent, and the Giants would gain little bringing him back.