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2012 NFL Mock Draft: Free Agency Changes The Landscape

NFL free agency started last week with its usual hysteria. Teams scooped up players in the hopes of plugging holes with sopping piles of cash. How will last week's moves change the 2012 NFL draft landscape?

COLLEGE STATION, TX - NOVEMBER 24:  Ryan Tannehill #17 of the Texas A&M Aggies throws a pass against the Texas Longhorns in the second half of a game at Kyle Field on November 24, 2011 in College Station, Texas. (Photo by Darren Carroll/Getty Images)
COLLEGE STATION, TX - NOVEMBER 24: Ryan Tannehill #17 of the Texas A&M Aggies throws a pass against the Texas Longhorns in the second half of a game at Kyle Field on November 24, 2011 in College Station, Texas. (Photo by Darren Carroll/Getty Images)
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NFL free agency started with its usual frenzy. With the 2012 NCAA tournament getting underway just two days after the start of the open market, it was a breathtaking week to be a sports fan and a nice break from Spring Training clichés.

Free agency was back to its normal spot ahead of the NFL Draft, after being displaced by the lockout last year. The moves made so far will change the landscape of the 2012 NFL Draft. Moves yet to be made will throw further kinks into how the first 32 picks play out on April 26.

These weekly conventional wisdom round-ups should only get more interesting in the weeks ahead. Discuss, debate and share. Please leave your rants and raves in the comments for all to enjoy.

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1. Indianapolis Colts, Andrew Luck, QB, Stanford

What else is left to say about this pick? No pressure, kid.

2. Washington Redskins (trade with St. Louis), Robert Griffin III, QB, Baylor

Some complained that Washington gave up too much for this pick. Maybe. They certainly would have had a shot at Matt Barkley in 2013 had they stayed the course. If Griffin pans out, nobody will miss those picks.

3. Minnesota Vikings, Matt Kalil, OT, USC

I believe in the natural balance of things in the universe, yin and yang and all that jazz. The Lions have become a smart franchise making good decisions and heading in the right direction. Minnesota replaced them as a sink hole on the cosmic balance sheet. How else do you explain a $25 million deal for John Carlson for a franchise with needs at almost every other place on the roster? Matt Kalil is the best offensive tackle in the draft since Jake Long, a true franchise cornerstone. I would not be surprised to see the Vikings skip over him given the current state of affairs. Morris Claiborne is a good pick and fits a need, but when trying to rebuild a team around a first-round quarterback, a left tackle of Kalil's talent is just too good to be true.

4. Cleveland Browns, Ryan Tannehill, QB, Texas A&M

Invading Russia in the winter is just another bad decision compared to what the Browns have done this month. Mike Holmgren's sniveling over his team's losing out on the trade with the Rams for the second pick may signal some awareness of the situation in Cleveland -- desperation and just how perilously close he is to living out his life in relative obscurity as just another old fat guy draped in Tommy Bahama, puttering around a Florida golf course. Ryan Tannehill has plenty of potential, and the Browns cannot afford to wait and take a chance on whatever falls to them with the 22nd pick.

5. Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Trent Richardson, RB, Alabama

Tampa Bay invested heavily in their offense last week. Richardson is the pièce de résistance. With Carl Nick opening holes for him and Vincent Jackson helping to keep defenses honest, the Buccaneers' offense could be very good in 2012. Morris Claiborne might be the pick here. The team signed Eric Wright for five-years, $37.5 million and expects Aqib Talib to return, so they might wait on a cornerback.

6. St. Louis Rams (trade from Washington), Justin Blackmon, WR, Oklahoma State

What choice do they have? They lost out on Pierre Garcon, Mario Manningham and Robert Meachem in free agency, and wide receiver has been the team's biggest need since Torry Holt got shipped off in 2009. Blackmon may not have the ceiling of recent first-round receivers, but he can catch the ball, work on the outside and run after the catch. That instantly makes him the best receiver the Rams have.

7. Jacksonville Jaguars, Morris Claiborne, CB, LSU

Claiborne takes a precipitous fall in the first mock draft following free agency. Jacksonville is just fine with that. The Jaguars wisely re-signed Rashean Mathis, but he is 32 and recovering from a torn ACL. Claiborne is a brilliant cover corner with fine ball skills that should have an impact even as a rookie.

8. Miami Dolphins, Quinton Coples, DE, North Carolina

First, Jeff Fisher rejected them. Peyton Manning never really seemed to want anything to do with them. As a final insult, the Dolphins lost out to Seattle on Matt Flynn, despite Joe Philbin's ties to the quarterback. Watch for them to trade up as Ryan Tannehill gets more attractive as a consolation prize. Or, will they trade down for Brandon Weeden?

9. Carolina Panthers, Dontari Poe, DT, Memphis

A healthy debate exists among prospect watchers as to who is the draft's top defensive tackle. It could be Devon Still or Fletcher Cox, but I put Poe here this time because he has such a high ceiling. Being compared to Haloti Ngata is nothing to take lightly. There will be some development involved with Poe, but he can still make an immediate difference on the Panthers' defense.

10. Buffalo Bills, Riley Reiff, OT, Iowa

The Bills could lose free agent Demetrius Bell as teams get desperate and start throwing money at offensive tackles. If they do, Reiff would be an attractive pick. Yes, he has short arms, but he can still block well. In previous drafts, a pass rusher was the pick here, but that was before the Bills signed Mario Williams. That still may be a good idea given that they play the Patriots twice a year.

11. Kansas City Chiefs, Dre Kirkpatrick, CB, Alabama

The Chiefs were busy in free agency, filling their most glaring roster needs. They signed Stanford Routt to replace Brandon Carr, and paired with Brandon Flowers, that's a good duo of corners. Drafting Kirkpatrick gives them a trio of good corners. Depth and flexibility.

12. Seattle Seahawks, Michael Floyd, WR, Notre Dame

Matt Flynn was used to having a handful of wide receivers to target when he was with the Packers -- in practice anyway. Seattle will want to give him as many options as possible, especially with Sidney Rice's health a continual question mark.

13. Arizona Cardinals, David DeCastro, G, Stanford

The Cardinals signed two offensive linemen in free agency, bringing back Levi Brown and adding Adam Snyder. Neither are very good. Drafting DeCastro gives them a blue chip protector who should be a yearly contender for the league's best guard.

14. Dallas Cowboys, Melvin Ingram, OLB, South Carolina

Salary cap punishment or not, Jerry Jones filled his hat with free agents, most notably Brandon Carr. They also used the franchise tag to keep Anthony Spencer. Adding another pass rusher would only help the defense stay competitive in the NFC East.

15. Philadelphia Eagles, Luke Kuechly, LB, Boston College

I still think the Eagles will sign a linebacker(s) in free agency. The linebacker market has been slow to develop, so teams that wait might be able to get a bargain. For now, the Kuechly picks stays. His ceiling compares favorably, if not exceeds, any player on the market right now. He would also come much cheaper.

16. New York Jets, Courtney Upshaw, OLB, Alabama

The Jets have a number of needs they could fill with this pick. Pass rushers are always at a premium, and Upshaw gives the Jets another player that can get to the quarterback.

17. Cincinnati Bengals (from Oakland), Mark Barron, S, Alabama

Safeties are in high demand this year, but the quality of available talent is lacking, which is a win for Mark Barron. Once he assures teams about his injury concerns -- he recently underwent a double hernia surgery -- his draft stock should only rise.

18. San Diego Chargers, Cordy Glenn, G, Georgia

San Diego looked a little desperate in free agency, which is not surprising since A.J. Smith and Norv Turner miraculously survived the season on a last-chance promise. With Glenn, the Chargers replace Kris Dielman in the interior line.

19. Chicago Bears, Jonathan Martin, OT, Stanford

Chicago stunned the world and mock drafters alike when they sent a pair of third-round picks to the Dolphins for Brandon Marshall. It reunites Jay Cutler with a receiver he knows well. Now they have to think about keeping Cutler upright. Martin may not slip this far in the draft, but the way things have played out in free agency takes some of the teams more desperate for tackle help out of the mix.

20. Tennessee Titans, Nick Perry, DE, USC

Tennessee decided to chase Peyton Manning rather than Mario Williams. Once Manning makes a decision, we will know more about how that decision will pay off for the Titans. At the very least, they upgraded their offensive line to entice the free agent quarterback. With this pick, they address their other side of the line, which is desperately in need of help on the edges. Perry has the moves and athleticism to develop into a very good pass rusher.

21. Cincinnati Bengals, Stephon Gilmore, CB, South Carolina

The Bengals avoided chasing the big ticket corners in free agency, probably a wise move given their two first-round picks. Gilmore's physical style of play and coverage skills fill the void left by Johnathan Joseph after last season.

22. Cleveland Browns (from Atlanta), Doug Martin, RB, Boise State

Whether the Browns go with a rookie quarterback or turn again to old friend Colt McCoy, they need help in the running game to take some heat off either option. Forced to skip over Trent Richardson because of their quarterback needs, the Browns get an acceptable substitute in Martin, a do-it-all running back.

23. Detroit Lions, Janoris Jenkins, CB, North Alabama

The talent is there with Jenkins, but will teams take a chance with all the off-field concerns floating around him? For now, we assume Detroit is willing to take that risk. Jenkins replaces Eric Wright, who signed a deal with Tampa for far more than he is worth. If Jenkins can keep his head on straight, he will be a much better player.

24. Pittsburgh Steelers, Dont'a Hightower, LB, Alabama

It was a massacre in Pittsburgh, a salary cap massacre. The Steelers' defense needs youth, and Hightower gives their linebacking corps just that. The Alabama product is more than just young; he looks like the spiritual heir to James Farrior and is a tough, versatile player who can contribute immediately.

25. Denver Broncos, Devon Still, DT/DE, Penn State

Denver needs to get stronger and more capable of getting more pressure along its defensive front. Still would be a fine addition, if he really were to fall this far. The defensive tackle picture is unsettled. Denver will have several possibilities for their defensive front with this pick. If they end up winning the Peyton Manning sweepstakes, this pick could change.

26. Houston Texans, Kendall Wright, WR, Baylor

Wright would be an interesting option for the Texans, who still have Andre Johnson. A very different player, Wright makes a nice complement to Johnson and tight end Owen Daniels as a vertical threat and a player explosive enough to win battles anywhere on the field. Houston's offense could be one of the league's best with a pick like this.

27. New England Patriots (from New Orleans), Michael Brockers, DE/DT, LSU

Brockers is an enigma. Possessing elite natural talent, he still has questions about whether or not he can be more than a one-dimensional run stopper in the NFL. The Patriots will be hoping that they can extract his full value, adding some strength and the ability to penetrate to their defensive line.

28. Green Bay Packers, Peter Konz, C, Wisconsin

Ted Thompson was unwilling to pay what Scott Wells wanted. Agree or disagree, the Packers lost perhaps their best offensive lineman. They cannot afford to whiff on a replacement. Konz is the best center in the draft, from a program that breeds blocking talent.

29. Baltimore Ravens, Kevin Zeitler, G, Wisconsin

The Ravens lost big in free agency when they let Ben Grubbs get away and did not sign any of the other top guards on the market. Normally, good teams can wait on interior linemen, but they are so close to winning it all, and so much of what they do is predicated on Ray Rice. They have to fill that vacancy with a player ready to start on day one. Zeitler is that guy. He might be the best run blocker in the entire draft.

30. San Francisco 49ers, Mike Adams, OT, Ohio State

The 49ers went on a minor binge themselves in free agency, taking care of their receiver needs with the additions of Mario Manningham and Randy Moss. Bringing in some fresh blood for their offensive line would be a smart move in the draft. Adams has tools, but needs some development and someone to keep him motivated.

31. New England Patriots, Whitney Mercilus, DE/OLB, Illinois

The Patriots need younger pass rushers, even if they keep Mark Anderson. Mercilus carries the dreaded one-year-wonder label. New England will see the raw talent he possesses as well as the "scheme versatility" that has suddenly become a hallmark of the Patriots' defense.

32. New York Giants, Zach Brown, OLB, North Carolina

Brown's draft stock is cooling. He has the athleticism desired in an outside linebacker, but people are starting to question whether or not he can actually make the tackles needed to go with the ability to get to the ball. Really, the Giants could go almost any direction with this pick. Offensive line depth would be helpful. A replacement for Brandon Jacobs is a need as well, but that is one they can fill in later rounds.

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