Flowers, showers, short shorts ... all those things herald the arrival of spring. Football fans may have missed all of those signs, but even those us who rarely crawl up from mom's basement know spring is here thanks to the flood of draft talk filling up our news feeds and timelines 140 characters at a time. The 2012 NFL draft is now less than a month away, and teams are busying themselves evaluating prospects and stirring the rumor mill.
Our latest edition of the 2012 NFL mock draft incorporates some of the most notable, and believable, pre-draft innuendo. Everyone likes to talk about teams throwing out "smoke screens" this time of year. The reality is that most front offices are merely doing their due diligence, checking out any number of players that might be available. Naturally, coaches and GMs will make remarks about some players they like, setting off a flurry of speculation. Keep that in mind as you read the breathless accounts of team and player travel agendas.
1. Indianapolis Colts, Andrew Luck, QB, Stanford
The Colts are making everyone crazy by refusing to rule out Robert Griffin III with their top pick. Most insiders remain convinced the pick will be Luck. I'll leave it to the Colts fans to decide which talented quarterback they would rather have to replace Peyton Manning.
2. Washington Redskins (from St. Louis), Robert Griffin III, QB, Baylor
Washington was smart to make this move, getting a franchise quarterback. Mike Shanahan's team also opened the wallet to add receivers Pierre Garcon and Josh Morgan to give their new quarterback some targets, making his transition to the NFL that much easier. The Redskins have high hopes for their rookie quarterback in year one.
3. Minnesota Vikings, Morris Claiborne, CB, LSU
The Vikings should take Matt Kalil but public swooning over Claiborne and Justin Blackmon has people wondering about their intentions. Ultimately, the Vikings may want to trade this pick, luring others with some well-timed swooning. Claiborne would obviously meet a need. So would Kalil, who is the best prospect in this draft behind the two quarterbacks. Hard to go wrong here.
4. Cleveland Browns, Ryan Tannehill, QB, Texas A&M
Cleveland's brass has been expressing their love for Colt McCoy, even after coming close to trading with the Rams for the second pick. Professional talkers heaped praise on Tannehill after he reminded everyone how well he makes throws while on the run at his pro day. The Browns have some time set aside with Tannehill before the draft, and Jason LaCanfora of the NFL Network recently suggested that the Texas A&M quarterback could be the pick here.
5. Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Trent Richardson, RB, Alabama
If Kalil were still available here, the Buccaneers would have a tough decision to make. They have a left tackle in Donald Penn, who signed a six-year deal in 2010. On the other side, they have Jeremy Trueblood who is terrible and entering the last year of a two-year contract extension. Ultimately, I doubt Kalil gets this far down the board. His talent might lure a team up, like the Rams, to the fourth spot if he falls past Minnesota. But Richardson is not a bad pick at all here, and gives Tampa's offense an excellent running game to complement the addition of Vincent Jackson as their top receiver.
6. St. Louis Rams, Matt Kalil, OT, USC
Again, I doubt Kalil falls this far, but stranger things have happened. The new rookie wage system will put less pressure on teams to stick with the traditional positions that used to make up the top 10 picks. Kalil would be a fine addition to the Rams, who are still looking to replace Orlando Pace after all these years. Alex Barron and Jason Smith were supposed to be the answers.
7. Jacksonville Jaguars, Justin Blackmon, WR, Oklahoma State
The Jaguars signed Laurent Robinson, but with just one productive year, he could be primed for disappointment or the top bargain in free agency. Either way, adding a second receiver helps their offense and whatever quarterback ends up ostensibly running it, Blaine Gabbert or Chad Henne.
8. Miami Dolphins, Quinton Coples, DE, North Carolina
After dealing away Brandon Marshall, Miami may be forced to give Michael Floyd some consideration here. Drafting Coples gives their defense, which is making the switch to a 4-3, another pass rusher on the outside.
9. Carolina Panthers, Fletcher Cox, DT, Mississippi State
Nobody agrees on the order for the defensive tackles in this draft. I listened to Nolan Nawrocki from Pro Football Weekly make the case for Cox in a conference call last week. The Bulldogs defensive tackle certainly fills a need for the Panthers, giving them some heft against the run and the ability to pressure quarterbacks from the interior line.
10. Buffalo Bills, Riley Reiff, OT, Iowa
Brian Galliford of Buffalo Rumblings noted the Bills' desire to trade down in the SB Nation NFL bloggers mock draft, and that certainly would be a good move given the alignment of needs and talent available with this pick. Reiff would replace free agent Demetrius Bell.
11. Kansas City Chiefs, Dontari Poe, NT, Memphis
This would be the ideal pick for the Chiefs, whose defense lacks a solid anchor in the middle of the interior line. Poe should have an impact right away as an immovable object. Over time, Kansas City can develop his athletic ability that could make him a dual threat.
12. Seattle Seahawks, David DeCastro, OG, Stanford
Another offensive lineman early in the draft seems like a stretch for Seattle. They do have the need, and DeCastro is one of the better interior linemen in the draft in a long, long time.
13. Arizona Cardinals, Luke Kuechly, LB, Boston College
Passing on a talent like Kuechly would be ill advised for the Cardinals, even with needs on their offensive line and pass rushers available with this pick. Next to Daryl Washington, Kuechly solidifies the middle of the field for the Cardinals.
14. Dallas Cowboys, Michael Brockers, DT, LSU
Dallas' defense disappointed everyone last year, it may have even cost Rob Ryan a shot at a head coaching job. Holes in the secondary were obvious, but the Cowboys also need an impact player at defensive end. Brockers is one option for the Cowboys, who might be inclined to trade out of this pick.
15. Philadelphia Eagles, Mark Barron, S, Alabama
The Eagles do have last year's second-round pick, Jaiquawan Jarrett, but early returns were not good last year. Barron is a blue chip talent. He can step in and play at a high level right away, giving the Eagles an instant upgrade that fixes a real problem spot from last year.
16. New York Jets, Melvin Ingram, OLB, South Carolina
In addition to some organizational therapy, the Jets need another pass rusher. Aaron Maybin led the team with six sacks last year. Rex Ryan will love Ingram's energy, as well as his ability to move around the field and give the defense different looks.
17. Cincinnati Bengals (from Oakland), Stephon Gilmore, CB, South Carolina
The Bengals' defense really missed Johnathan Joseph last season. Drafting Gilmore or Dre Kirkpatrick would replace fill that void. Cincinnati's defense actually has decent depth at the position, just no headline talent on top of the depth chart.
18. San Diego Chargers, Courtney Upshaw, DE/OLB, Alabama
The Chargers really need high-impact players in the draft, which makes this pick a little odd. Upshaw obviously loves to play football, but there are real questions about whether or not his skills translate to the NFL. Nevertheless, his body of work speaks for itself, and San Diego needs to add a threat from the outside.
19. Chicago Bears, Michael Floyd, WR, Notre Dame
What a change of fortunes this could be for the Bears. Last year, they were starved for help in the passing game; this year, they could have Brandon Marshall and Floyd snagging balls from what ought be a be much happier Jay Cutler.
20. Tennessee Titans, Dre Kirkpatrick, CB, Alabama
The Titans may be less inclined to reach for a pass rusher here after signing Kamerion Wimbley. Replacing Cortland Finnegan with Dre Kirkpatrick would be a better move.
21. Cincinnati Bengals, Cordy Glenn, OG, Georgia
The Bengals lost Nate Livings who was never really a consistent blocker. Glenn will not have that problem. The Georgia Bulldog has all the makings of an elite interior lineman in the NFL. His ability to play tackle is an added bonus and something that might get him plucked off the board higher than this.
22. Cleveland Browns (from Atlanta), Rueben Randle, WR, LSU
Cleveland will likely have to find some help at running back or wide receiver with this pick, especially if they go with Tannehill earlier in the draft. As an LSU receiver, Randle is officially an enigma, blessed with the physical traits needed to be a top receiver but there are questions about his ability to put it all together in the NFL.
23. Detroit Lions, Peter Konz, C, Wisconsin
The Lions still have Dominic Raiola at center, but he is 33-years old. Having Konz waiting in the wings would ease the transition and give the Lions a better blocker in front of Matt Stafford. Konz can also pick up some work at right guard while he waits.
24. Pittsburgh Steelers, Dont'a Hightower, LB, Alabama
Hightower stole the show at Alabama's pro day. Showing off his speed, Hightower looked like a plug-and-play linebacker in almost any system. His record as a pass rusher in college only improves his resume. He would be a natural replacement for James Farrior, as we have said before, and give the Pittsburgh defense some much needed youth.
25. Denver Broncos, Devon Still, DT, Penn State
Lost in the Peyton Manning circus is the fact that Denver's defense still needs a little help. Still adds some strength to the middle of John Fox's four-man front. He also brings the ability to pressure quarterbacks from the middle, which should only help what was already a solid Denver pass rush thanks to last year's addition of Von Miller.
26. Houston Texans, Kendall Wright, WR, Baylor
Andre Johnson cannot be expected to do it all alone. Wright gives this offense a second receiving option to pair with Johnson. He also make a nice complement, someone to work out of the slot with Johnson split out wide and the backfield threatening on every play.
27. New England Patriots (from New Orleans), Whitney Mercilus, DE, Illinois
As much as we talk about the Patriots' needs in the secondary, they also need another pass rusher to pair with Andre Carter. They needed another pass rusher even before they lost free agent Mark Anderson. Mercilus will be a welcome addition, and a versatile one that fits in any number of the Patriots' defensive looks.
28. Green Bay Packers, Jerel Worthy, DE/DT, Michigan State
I doubt you could make the case that the Packers' defensive front ruined their date with inevitability, but they were a particularly weak link in a disappointing defense. Worthy adds strength to the group. His upside as a pass rusher may be limited, but he should at least help in that department.
29. Baltimore Ravens, Kevin Zeitler, OG, Wisconsin
The Ravens lost out on the great free agent guard shuffle of 2012, watching Ben Grubbs slip away to the Saints really hurt. With so much of their offense dependent on Ray Rice, they have to find a blue chip replacement, hence what may be a slight reach for Zeitler, who is still one of the top run blockers in this draft class.
30. San Francisco, Coby Fleener, TE, Stanford
If the 49ers are ready to give up on Anthony Davis, Jonathan Martin is an option with this pick. Since Davis has just two seasons under his belt, the 49ers might find someone to push him in the later rounds. Adding Fleener could make this team one of the more potent offenses in the league, a West Coast version of the Patriots, except for Tom Brady.
31. New England, Janoris Jenkins, CB, North Alabama
Jenkins' revelations at the Combine scared off a few teams. He was at least forthcoming about his off-field issues and intention to put the past behind him. New England could certainly use his talent and coverage ability in their secondary.
32. New York Giants, Jonathan Martin, OT, Stanford
New York is parting ways with 32-year-old Kareem McKenzie, its right tackle since 2005. More notable, the Giants got by with the temporary solution of David Diehl filling in on the left side with William Beatty out of action last season. They need depth at tackle, and Martin can compete for a starting job immediately.