Tuesday, April 24, 2012

2012 NFL draft - The way it SHOULD happen

Every year, we're inundated with hundreds of mock drafts that speculate on what experts, pundits and anyone else with an active Internet connection thinks each team will do.

Well, I've given up mind-reading, instead opting to complete my mock draft based on team needs and logical fits. Each of these picks follows the theories of what I would do if I were running each team's draft.

As with most pieces I write, this one won't go without controversy.

Let's get to the picks.

1. Indianapolis - Andrew Luck (QB, Stanford)
Last week, ESPN reported Andrew Luck was told he'd be the top pick, which confirmed what was largely expected. Luck is the most polished quarterback prospect to enter the NFL draft since 1998 - the year Tennessee's Peyton Manning was taken first overall. By the Colts. Luck will be saddled with unrealistic expectations, but he definitely has the tools to be something special from Day One.

2. Washington (via St. Louis) - Robert Griffin III (QB, Baylor)
When the 2011 college football season began, Robert Griffin III wasn't mentioned as a first-round pick. Now, he's believed to be the best overall prospect in the draft by some. I have a hard time believing one season can vault a guy to the top of the draft, but Washington has needed a quarterback for a long, long time. The investment has been made. There is no backing out now.

3. Minnesota - Morris Claiborne (CB, LSU)
Most mocks will have the Vikings taking USC's Matt Kalil, but the right choice for Minnesota is Morris Claiborne. When your division rivals have Greg Jennings, Calvin Johnson and Brandon Marshall on their respective rosters, pass defense is a must. Cedric Griffin left via free agency, making an already thin secondary even thinner. Claiborne won't fix all the problems, but he'll certainly help.

4. Cleveland - Trent Richardson (RB, Alabama)
In the last three years, the AFC North has been won by each of the Browns' three divisional opponents. In those championship seasons, the team's featured back ran for 1,364 yards (Ray Rice last season), 1,273 yards (Rashard Mendenhall in 2010), and 1,251 yards (Cedric Benson in 2009). The key to winning the division is running the ball, and Trent Richardson is the type of back that can help Cleveland compete for their first division crown since 1989.

5. Tampa Bay - Matt Kalil (OT, USC)
In a perfect world, Morris Claiborne or Trent Richardson would fall to the fifth spot. The NFL draft, however, is anything but a perfect world. Matt Kalil would be a welcome addition to an offensive line in need of an upgrade. He may not be Tampa's first choice, but the Bucs could do a lot worse than the draft's only elite offensive tackle prospect.

6. St. Louis (via Washington) - Justin Blackmon (WR, Oklahoma State)
Matt Kalil would probably do more for the Rams in the long run, but adding Justin Blackmon to the mix will make the lives of Sam Bradford and Steven Jackson all that much easier. St. Louis must address the offensive line before the regular season begins, but giving Bradford a long-term outside threat will do wonders for both facets of the Rams offense.

7. Jacksonville - Melvin Ingram (DE, South Carolina)
To say the Jags had no pass rush last year may be putting it lightly. Melvin Ingram and Quinton Coples may grade similarly as the draft's top two defensive ends, but Ingram is the better pass rusher of the two. Jeremy Mincey had a decent season last year, and if he can continue to develop as a threat on the edge, Jacksonville could have a solid pass rushing duo for years to come.

8. Miami - Michael Floyd (WR, Notre Dame)
Ryan Tannehill isn't a top-10 pick, and shouldn't go to the Dolphins at no. 8. With a chasm at wide receiver after the offseason trade of Brandon Marshall, Miami is sorely lacking at wide receiver. Enter Michael Floyd, who is the second of two top-flight receiver prospects in this draft, and will step in to fill the void left by Marshall's departure.

9. Carolina - Fletcher Cox (DT, Mississippi State)
There's still plenty of work to do for the Panthers to get to where they want to go, but a great place to start is the front seven. Carolina ranked 25th in rush defense last year, and Fletcher Cox could be part of the answer. Cox doesn't present true run-stopping size, but his athleticism and readiness will pay dividends for the Panthers.

10. Buffalo - Riley Reiff (OT, Iowa)
This should be a no-brainer, but it's the Bills, so there are no guarantees. Ryan Fitzpatrick has no blind-side protection after the departure of Demetrius Bell, and Bell's replacement should be atop Buffalo's to-do list. Riley Reiff is widely considered the no. 2 tackle prospect behind Matt Kalil, and he would be a perfect fit in Buffalo.

11. Kansas City - David DeCastro (OG, Stanford)
The cupboard isn't bare on the interior offensive line in Kansas City, but it could stand an upgrade. With Romeo Crennel installing a run-based offense, Thursday night is the time to infuse young talent into the offensive line. David DeCastro spent much of his college career making sure Andrew Luck's jersey stayed clean, and he did a great job of it. DeCastro will be a great addition to Kansas City's offense.

12. Seattle - Luke Kuechly (ILB, Boston College)
Seattle may be hoping for another talent to slide down the board, like South Carolina's Melvin Ingram, but Luke Kuechly is exactly the type of player the Seahawks need. Kuechly can anchor Seattle's defense, and he represents the upgrade at linebacker the Seahawks defense badly needs.

13. Arizona - Quinton Coples (DE, North Carolina)
The Cardinals are young and inexperienced on the edge, and Quinton Coples won't do anything to fix that. But it's never a bad thing to solidify the edge, where Coples can team with Sam Acho and O'Brien Schofield. Coples can take the focus off defensive end Calais Campbell, freeing up the fourth-year man and balancing Arizona's front seven.

14. Dallas - Mark Barron (S, Alabama)
Mark Barron isn't the fastest defensive back in the 2012 draft - he ran in the mid-4.5's at the combine - but he brings the leadership and intelligence a secondary needs to truly make a difference. Barron could be to the Cowboys what Ed Reed is to the Baltimore Ravens: A defensive leader and all-around ball hawk.

15. Philadelphia - Michael Brockers (DT, LSU)
One of Philadelphia's biggest weaknesses is the center of the defense. Enter the 6'5", 322-pound Michael Brockers, who ate up space, and offensive lineman, for three years in Baton Rouge. Brockers is an unfinished product, but could end up plugging the middle of opposing offenses for years to come.

16. New York Jets - Courtney Upshaw (OLB, Alabama)
When Rex Ryan was the defensive coordinator in Baltimore, he had guys like Adalius Thomas, Terrell Suggs, and a young Bart Scott to create pressure from the outside linebacker position. Guys like Vernon Gholston and Jason Taylor have come and gone, leaving Ryan with a void on the outside.

17. Cincinnati (via Oakland) - Dre Kirkpatrick (CB, Alabama)
Cincinnati shocked many - including me - last year, joining division rivals Baltimore and Pittsburgh in the playoffs. To continue running with the big dogs, the Bengals will have to be solid on both corners. Leon Hall has one side locked down, and Dre Kirkpatrick could be just the guy to go toe-to-toe with the AFC's most physical wide receivers.

18. San Diego - Cordy Glenn (OL, Georgia)
Kris Dielman's sudden retirement leaves a hole on San Diego's interior offensive line. Ideally, Stanford's David DeCastro would fall to the Bolts, but Cordy Glenn will be equally as welcome with the Chargers. Glenn's versatility along the line - he can play all three positions - will prove valuable for Norv Turner's offense.

19. Chicago - Janoris Jenkins (CB, North Alabama)
Four times each year, the Bears will have to play an All-Pro quarterback. The road to the playoffs is also littered with guys like Tony Romo, Drew Brees and Matt Ryan. With a solid front seven, Chicago's defensive backfield could use a talent boost, and Janoris Jenkins has top-five talent. Jenkins shut down Julio Jones and A.J. Green while playing at Florida. It wouldn't hurt the Bears to see how Jenkins could hang with Calvin Johnson and Greg Jennings.

20. Tennessee - Jonathan Martin (OT, Stanford)
Chris Johnson caught a lot of heat for his down year in 2011, but it would have helped the all-world running back to have a line to run behind. The Titans are thin at tackle, and Jonathan Martin would represent an upgrade at the position. The former Stanford standout could learn the ropes from future Hall of Famer Steve Hutchinson, who joined the Titans via free agency.

21. Cincinnati - Whitney Mercilus (DE, Illinois)
With Dre Kirkpatrick already in the fold, Cincinnati could add the 2011 NCAA sack leader, Whitney Mercilus. Frostee Rucker left in free agency, and having a pass rush is mandatory when you have to chase Ben Roethlisberger and Joe Flacco around four times each year.

22. Cleveland (via Atlanta) - Kendall Wright (WR, Baylor)
Can you name either of Cleveland's starting receivers? When the list of choices is highlighted by Greg Little, Josh Cribbs and Mohamed Massaquoi, it's clearly time for an upgrade. Kendall Wright will immediately compete for a starting spot, potentially giving Colt McCoy a threat on the edge to go along with his new running back, Alabama alum Trent Richardson.

23. Detroit - Stephon Gilmore (CB, South Carolina)
Detroit's biggest weakness last year, arguably, was their ability to defend the pass. The Packers have one of the best passing attacks in football, and Chicago upgraded their passing offense with the addition of Brandon Marshall. The NFL is a passing league now, and if the Lions want to take the next step and get to the franchise's first Super Bowl, they'll have to have a balanced defense.

24. Pittsburgh - Mike Adams (OT, Ohio State)
Pittsburgh football is defined by the ability to punch the opposing team in the mouth, both figuratively and, sometimes, literally. Over the past few years, the Steelers' offensive line has been a point of contention, and now is the time to add some needed youth to the trenches. Mike Adams may be the next in a long line of Big 10 standouts who have gone on to become quality pro offensive linemen.

25. Denver - Devon Still (DT, Penn State)
The defensive tackles on Denver's roster are, in a word, old. Finding the quarterback of the future is certainly something the Broncos need to do, but a guy like Arizona State's Brock Osweiler can be had in the second round. Devon Still is the type of talent who will be able to come in to Denver and immediately compete for a starting spot.

26. Houston - Stephen Hill (WR, Georgia Tech)
When Andre Johnson was injured last season, Houston's offense became painfully one-dimensional. Kevin Walter is the next best option on the depth chart, which says more than anything I could write in this space. Stephen Hill is the type of athlete to complement Johnson and vault Walter for the second starting spot at wide receiver.

27. New England (via New Orleans) - Jerel Worthy (DT, Michigan State)
Bill Belichick loves versatile players, and Jerel Worthy is just that. Worthy played everywhere on the line in East Lansing, and will almost certainly do the same in New England. With Vince Wilfork anchoring New England's defensive line, Belichick can use Worthy as a multi-skilled, multi-position playmaker in the trenches.

28. Green Bay - Nick Perry (DE/OLB, USC)
Clay Matthews needs help, so why not go back to the well and draft another former Trojan linebacker? Nick Perry has the potential to be a terror off the edge, which is exactly what Green Bay's defense needs. With a renewed pass rush, Tramon Williams could bounce back from a lackluster 2011 season, and ball hawk Charles Woodson could return to the form he displayed when the Packers won it all two years ago.

29. Baltimore - Dont'a Hightower (ILB, Alabama)
The future must be now for the Ravens. Ed Reed teetered on the brink of retirement this offseason, and the clock is ticking on Ray Lewis. Dont'a Hightower would push to start alongside the future Hall of Famer, and could learn to take the reigns of the vaunted Ravens defense once Lewis ends his storied career.

30. San Francisco - Kevin Zeitler (OG, Wisconsin)
San Francisco has a solid offensive line, but it is umimpressive, at best, at guard. Kevin Zeitler is a hard-nosed road grader, exactly the type of player head coach Jim Harbaugh likes to have. Frank Gore likely wouldn't be upset with a little better blocking up front, either.

31. New England - Andre Branch (DE/OLB, Clemson)
Taking a look at New England's pass rushing options is a sorry task. There just isn't much there to see, and the players that are there come with big questions marks. Pass rusher extraordinaire Andre Branch can finally give the Patriots some edge pressure.

32. New York Giants - Coby Fleener (TE, Stanford)
There seemed to be a curse on the knees of Giants tight ends last year, as Travis Beckum and Jake Ballard both blew out their ACLs late last season. Coby Fleener will come in and immediately push free-agent acquistion Martellus Bennett, and may compete right away for a starting spot. Fleener will have to work on his blocking, though, which has been a point of contention throughout the draft process.

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