I think everybody knows what this so I do not see the need for a lot of build-up. Now that we are officially in the offseason and the draft order has been set, I can look into the future and see how I believe the NFL Draft will play out at this time. This is my rough draft, the sports landscape can change and so I will likely adjust what I see happening as the draft nears. There are always injuries, trades, and free agent moves that could affect these things but as the NFL Landscape stands now, this is how I believe the draft will play out. Unlike most mock drafts, I plan to also give you the 2nd round of the draft as well (with minimal commentary on those picks for the sake of article length). This will give every NFL fan a chance, unless your team is the ultra-foolish Raiders that don’t have a pick until Round 5, to see at least one pick that your team will make in this year’s draft.
*While I understand teams have multiple needs I identified (in most cases) what I saw as the 3-4 biggest needs for each team. Also note that when I say a team is in need of a position I could be referring to depth at a position and not a starter – with a lot of teams this is the case at positions like running back and quarterback.
THE 1ST ROUND
It has become pretty obvious to me that Peyton Manning will not be with the Colts next season (unless he retires and is a member of the coaching staff) and I believe that he will eventually land with either the Kansas City Chiefs, Arizona Cardinals, Seattle Seahawks, or San Francisco 49ers. That being said, the Colts find themselves in good fortune. In the 1980′s they had the #1 overall pick to be able to take John Elway, in the 90′s it was the can’t-miss Peyton Manning #1 overall and now in the 2010′s the Colts will take Andrew Luck, the best rookie QB prospect that we have probably seen since Manning. Since I do not see the Colts dealing this pick or maintaining Manning when they have the chance to take Andrew Luck here – this is what I see happening with this pick.
There are a lot of people who see the Rams trading this pick, which would not be a bad move considering the number of needs this team has. There are some who have the Rams taking WR Justin Blackmon but in my humble opinion, he is a receiver, that while talented, is not worthy of being selected in a Calvin Johnson/Larry Fitzgerald-type position. I believe that Jeff Fisher understands that his new team is about two major pieces – Sam Bradford and Steven Jackson. He understands he needs to create wider running lanes for Jackson and protect Sam Bradford. Kalil is an OT that like Jake Long and Joe Thomas is can’t-miss and with Andrew Luck off the board, ANY team that passes on Kalil (regardless of need) is foolish. The addition of Kalil and placing him at Left Tackle could make the Rams woeful offensive line a very formidable unit.
TRADE ALERT! The Washington Redskins have already made it clear that they will find a quarterback for the team this season. It’s clear that Beck and Grossman are not the answer. I do not believe the Redskins have a shot at Manning nor do I believe they will be very active in the Matt Flynn sweepstakes which means taking the 2nd best QB in the draft before he falls to the Browns at #4 overall. The Vikings have 3 or 4 players they are interested but with Kalil off the board will be looking to trade down within the top 10. So when the Redskins offer a 1st, 2nd, and 4th to move up 3 spots to take RG3, the Vikings will not hesitate to pull the trigger.
The Browns are in a very good draft position given their needs. They know Andrew Luck and Matt Kalil are not options but know that out of Morris Claiborne, Justin Blackmon, and Robert Griffin III – at least one of these three players will be waiting for them. While the smartest pick for the Browns here would probably be Morris Claiborne, the Browns will not hesitate to take the best WR in the class. The Browns have never had a true #1 receiver since the departure of Braylon Edwards and really need someone for Colt McCoy to throw to to see what they have in the kid. The Browns really were hoping to get A.J. Green out of last year’s draft and this year will be excited when the best WR in the draft falls to them.
For the 2nd year in a row, a cornerback out of LSU that might be the best overall athlete in the draft, will go #5 overall. Tampa Bay is a team desperately in need of some help in their secondary and Claiborne is an unbelievable prospect who can step in for the Bucs and start from Day 1. With Justin Blackmon off the board, this becomes a very easy decision for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
Last season the Minnesota Vikings lost 13 games, 9 of these were by a margin of less then 7. They led at halftime in each of their first 4 losses. This is a team that is very talented but has a few gaping voids in their roster. The Vikings have one of the most intriguing quarterback competitions in the NFL with Christian Ponder and Joe Webb. The key to the Vikings now is to protect their young quarterback (whichever one they choose). There are no worthwhile wide receivers here (plus the wide receiver position is one of the deepest in the draft and free agency) and with this being a deep cornerback draft, the Vikings will make the pick here they may have made anyway with the #3 overall pick. Reiff is a tough, physical tackle who should fill the void left by Bryant McKinnie quite nicely.
There seems to be a few trends in the NFL Draft and I would swear that every year the Jacksonville Jaguars use a top 10 draft pick on a defensive end. This year shouldn’t be any different. While the Jaguars have obvious needs at wide receiver and cornerback, this is a deep draft for both positions and the Jaguars could easily find #1 caliber at both of these positions in the 2nd round. However, they have a chance to get an elite pass rusher here in Coples and won’t pass on that chance. The Jaguars will cross their fingers, hope the 3rd time really is the charm and take Coples.
The Panthers have a very young and talented roster that could use some depth at many positions. The Panthers really could use some help on their defensive line but with Dre Kirkpatrick still on the board will not pass on the opportunity to take the cornerback out of Alabama. While there are character concerns with Kirkpatrick, Rivera will be excited to get a big corner opposite Chris Gamble who can not only tackle well but should match up well with the big time receiving targets that the Saints and Falcons have.
Philbin has already said that he plans to convert the Dolphins to a 4-3 defense which makes a defensive lineman the popular choice here and while there are doubts about a number of positions the best option here for the Dolphins is to take Jonathan Martin out of Stanford and give themselves one of the best offensive lines in the NFL. While there will be 4 teams in play for Green Bay’s Matt Flynn (Jets, Dolphins, Browns, and Seahawks) I think the Dolphins will be the winner of those sweepstakes and with Reggie Bush coming off the best year of his career the best thing the Dolphins will be able to do for Flynn and Bush is protect them. Martin represents a good value pick for the Dolphins at 9 and could be the difference maker in their offense.
The Buffalo Bills have some interesting plans for 2012. They plan to go back to a 4-3 defense, but with their personnel there is also a lot of potential for the Bills to throw some 3-4 looks out there. The Bills have a huge need for someone who can rush the passer. While Upshaw was mostly a linebacker at Alabama, he does have experience at the defensive end position and has a knack for finding the ball in the backfield. He would be a great and necessary addition to what has the potential to be a very potent Buffalo defense.
The future is very bright for the Kansas City Chiefs as they boast one of the youngest, most talented rosters in the NFL. With injuries to 5 of their top 6 players last season, the Chiefs still managed to fall just one game shy of making the playoffs for the second consecutive year. There have been many who have cried for a new quarterback in Kansas City but the right pick for KC in the first round is clearly some help on the offensive or defensive line. With Kalil, Reiff, and Martin off the board, Devon Still out of Penn State makes the most sense for the Chiefs. I believe that Still is not only the most NFL ready defensive lineman in the draft, but he also the best all-around defensive lineman in the draft and should be taken ahead of the highly touted Michael Brockers. Still also is the best player on the board to plug up the middle of the line in Romeo Crennel’s 3-4 defense.
The biggest need the Seattle Seahawks have is quarterback. Tarvaris Jackson does not appear to be the answer and I know that the answer is definitely not Charlie Whitehurst. However, the Seahawks are not going to find the solution to their problem here. The second biggest need the Seahawks have is a pass rusher and while Upshaw and Coples figure to go higher, I believe Melvin Ingram is the best defensive end in the draft. Carroll needs a player who can get to the quarterback and Ingram is not only a great defensive end but an athlete who is flexible enough to excel at the outside linebacker position. Plan on seeing Seattle take Ingram with this pick.
WAIT JUST A SECOND – Alabama Running Back Trent Richardson is still on the board?
Every year on the first night of the draft there are the big stories in regards to “the reach” and “the slide”. This year the slide will be Trent Richardson. Richardson is the best running back prospect I’ve seen since Darren McFadden but McFadden’s draft is the reason that Richardson will slip. McFadden is a good running back but keep in mind he was taken #4 overall in 2008. Then keep in mind that Chris Johnson and Rashard Mendenhall were taken #24 and #25 overall respectively in the same draft. Matt Forte and Ray Rice were #44 and #55 overall. Arian Foster went undrafted in 2009. The running back position has been highly devalued. Many experts have him going to Cleveland or Tampa but I expect him to slide based on the devaluation and the fact that the top half of the draft has much more pressing needs than running back.
In the eyes of many, the Arizona Cardinals are a step back from where they were a year ago. They needed a quarterback and broke up the best pair of young cornerbacks in the league when they sent Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie to Philadelphia in exchange for Kevin Kolb. So far that appears to have been a very bad move. The answer to the Cardinals quarterback problem is not here but North Alabama’s Janorris Jenkins could give the Cardinals a highly touted corner opposite Patrick Peterson. It’s not every day that you see a Division II player go in the first round but keep in mind that there are character issues with Jenkins that landed him at N. Alabama in the 1st place. Either way, this kid can flat out play and would complement Peterson nicely.
In Dallas the mindset still exists that anything short of a Super Bowl is a failure, in spite of the fact that Dallas has only won one playoff game this century. The Cowboys made the right pick with OT Tyron Smith last season and if they are smart will take DeCastro this year to give their super powered offense one of the best young offensive lines in the league. They clearly need some help in their secondary but this is a deep draft for cornerbacks and there is no one on the board worthy of this pick. It may not be a flashy pick but DeCastro is the right pick for the Cowboys.
If DeSean Jackson does leave via free agency, wide receiver becomes a top need for this team but with the Eagles still having Jeremy Maclin, I still believe their middle linebacker situation is much more dire (plus the wide receiver position can be addressed in the 2nd round where the team has 2 picks or via free agency). Casey Matthews was not the answer for the Eagles last season. Luke Kuechly is by far the best middle linebacker in this year’s draft. Kuechly has great instincts, is a phenomenal open field tackler, and could be the solution to a number of Philadelphia’s defensive woes.
Rex Ryan loves his pass rushers and at this point in the draft there’s none better on the board than Nick Perry. Perry is a natural pass rusher who could probably use some bulking up but nonetheless he could be a great asset to that Jets’ defense. The Jets could also take Mark Barron here but I see Rex Ryan really liking what Perry has to offer him.
And the slide of Trent Richardson has finally stopped! The Bengals were excited to turn a quarterback that wasn’t even playing into a 1st and 2nd round pick but now they get to convert their pick from the Palmer deal this year into the best running back in the draft and a great athletic talent. Combining Trent Richardson with Andy Dalton and A.J. Green could give the Bengals their own version of “The Triplets” going forward and allows the Bengals an impressive start to this year’s draft.
The Chargers secondary was a big concern for them in a much-improved AFC West. Phillip Rivers is no longer the only quarterback in this division and while the team has bigger needs, an opportunity to take the best safety in the draft is one that San Diego will not pass on. Barron is strong, quick, and has great instincts. He has the potential to be a Pro Bowl safety going forward for the Chargers.
A few years ago the Bears gave up two first round picks to bring in Jay Cutler but since they got themselves a quarterback they’ve had no one for Cutler to throw the ball to. The Bears will not hesitate to take a wide receiver with their first round pick and I believe the Bears will choose Michael Floyd over Alshon Jeffrey.
The Titans have committed to Jake Locker as their quarterback of the future and Matt Hasselbeck is clearly the QB of the present. While there are a number of needs for this team, the most glaring one is the interior offensive line. For the Titans this will mean a choice between Glenn and Peter Konz, the center out of Wisconsin. Glenn is a very strong guard who also has experience on the edge of the offensive line. He is believed to be maybe the safest offensive line pick on the board aside from Kalil and should fit the Titans scheme nicely.
A year ago, the Bengals were worried about their offense but after taking Andy Dalton and A.J. Green last year and already getting Trent Richardson in this draft, the Bengals can turn their focus back to defense. They would’ve loved to see Cordy Glenn still on the board here but with him gone, Alfonzo Dennard at cornerback is a pretty obvious choice. The Bengals could use some help in their secondary and Nate Clements is getting up there in years. Dennard is a physical cover corner who can help some in his rookie year as they develop him behind Clements and makes sense for this young Bengals team.
The Browns had the opportunity to take Julio Jones last season and their reward was Justin Blackmon this season and now the chance to take the second best running back in the draft in Lamar Miller. Lamar Miller is a running back that has big run potential and can catch passes out of the backfield. With all the questions surrounding Peyton Hillis and the lack of production from Montario Hardesty, this pick makes perfect sense for the Browns and represents a good value for Cleveland.
The past few years the Lions have drafted really well and found good value in the draft but have neglected to address their offensive line issues. Jeff Backus has had a great career but he’s getting older and in order for the Lions to continue to compete they are going to need a young left tackle. There are a number of picks that make sense here for the Lions but with Mike Adams sitting here and the depth at other positions, the Lions will probably act and grab Adams here.
The Steelers have a lot of needs along their offensive and defensive lines because they are getting much older along the lines. With Dontari Poe, a nose tackle who would fit Dick LeBeau’s scheme perfectly just sitting here, the Steelers will not hesitate to draft him, especially with Mike Adams off the board. Poe would be an obvious heir apparent to Casey Hampton and a much more physical presence at that who can plug up the middle of the line.
The Broncos have a number of needs that are bigger than wide receiver but they are going to see Alshon Jeffrey as someone that could be great opposite Demaryius Thomas. Jeffrey is a big, physical receiver who took a step back in his final year at South Carolina but he attacks the ball and could be a big help for Tim Tebow and help alleviate some of the coverages that Thomas can expect to see after a breakout year. Jeffrey is the type of receiver who can go up for a jump ball in the endzone over several defenders and will come down with it. This isn’t necessarily the best pick for Denver but it’s a good one and one I believe they will make.
The Texans are really in need of a wide receiver to place opposite of Andre Johnson. This is a team that is poised to make a Super Bowl run and with Matt Schaub, I believe they were far and away the best team in the AFC but they need another target besides Johnson. Kendall Wright is a smaller, speedier receiver that was overlooked because of the season that Justin Blackmon had in the Big 12, he has breakaway speed very reminiscent of Percy Harvin of the Vikings. He would provide the perfect complement to Andre Johnson.
The Patriots really need some help with their pass rush and must get younger along the defensive line. Michael Brockers is a top-10 caliber talent that will likely fall to the Patriots at 27 and Bellichick will not hesitate to take the young defensive lineman. Brockers is a very versatile athlete that could potentially be a defensive end or outside linebacker but as a defensive tackle he is a force to be reckoned with on the interior and could spell trouble for the run games of the Jets, Dolphins, and Bills.
The Green Bay Packers defense was absolutely abysmal last season and had the lowest sack rate in the NFL. Few realized this because of how explosive the offense was. The Packers could not create any pressure on opposing passers without sending blitzers which forced the offense to have to put up 30 + a game to win. Mercilus is a linebacker that lives up to his name. While he played defensive end in college, many see him being an outside linebacker in the NFL. He’s an explosive player who knows how to get to the quarterback and that could serve the Packers very well in trying to re-vamp this defense.
Ray Lewis is not getting any younger. At some point, the Ravens have to think about Lewis’s heir to the most sacred position in Baltimore Ravens history. He is a perfect replacement to be mentored by Ray Lewis. He is explosive, a proven leader, and has a bit of a mean streak. To some he’s a dirty player but there’s no doubt he is an aggressive competitor who has a natural awareness of where the ball is. This pick would be a slam dunk for Baltimore.
Anyone who watched the NFC Championship knows that receiving corps for the 49ers is very weak. The team only converted one third down and Alex Smith didn’t complete a pass to a wide receiver until the 4th quarter. The 49ers were hoping Wright or Jeffrey would fall to them here but with both off the board they will grab the speedy receiver out of Rutgers.
The Patriots would like to find a young wide receiver or a young safety here to help out their team but they could definitely use some help on the pass rush and would be excited to get AndreBranch. Branch is an absolute beast. He’s around 6-5, 260 lbs and is pure athlete. He is a pure pass rusher who can find the quarterback but while he’s ready for the NFL now, it seems that he has potential to grow into an even greater player.
Last year the Giants overspent on David Baas to alleviate their center woes and while the Giants won the Super Bowl, they could really use some help along the interior line. The Giants are going to be excited to see a strong, athletic center like Peter Konz available to them at the 32nd pick and won’t hesitate to grab him here.
THE 2ND ROUND
The Colts have a gaping need in their secondary, especially when their division now has the likes of Matt Schaub, Jake Locker/Matt Hasselbeck, and Blaine Gabbert. Minnifield is a 1st round caliber player that the Colts can’t pass up here.
The Rams were probably thinking wide receiver with this pick but with Zach Brown somehow still on the board and the ability to grab a solid receiver early in the 3rd round, they won’t hesitate to make this pick.
The Vikings definitely need to upgrade their cornerback position. Antoine Winfield is getting old, Cedric Griffin is injury prone, and Chris Cook’s future is uncertain. Gilmore is a great value at #35 overall.
The Browns will be in on the Matt Flynn sweepstakes but won’t get him and they need someone to compete with Colt McCoy. They saw the top WR in the draft and a young 2nd round QB from Texas pay dividends for their cross-state rivals last season. They are hoping for the same success with their picks.
Morris Claiborne solidified the secondary. Now Hightower, a 1st round caliber talent will give them the middle linebacker presence they sorely need.
The Vikings were fortunate to net the Redskins 1st and 2nd round pick in the move up for RG3. Criner is a big target with speed who should complement Harvin and that pair of tight ends Minnesota has nicely.
The Jaguars are in desperate need of somebody for Blaine Gabbert to throw the ball to and Toon is the best receiver left on the board at this point.
Most believe that Fletcher Cox could go in the top 15 but I think he slides to the Panthers here and they won’t hesitate to strengthen their front four.
Bruce Irvin can play as a defensive end in Philbin’s new 4-3 scheme or as an Outside Linebacker in a 3-4 and would be a great pick-up for Miami.
Having taken Upshaw the Bills have other needs in the 2nd round but Curry is too good for them to pass on and gives the Bills a very nice pair of defensive ends if they choose to use Upshaw that way.
The depth at offensive tackle is unreal. The Chiefs need to solidify a questionable offensive line and a physical tackle like Zebrie Sanders is a perfect find in the 2nd round.
There are questions surrounding whether or not Marshawn Lynch will be back. The fall of Richardson allows David Wilson to fall to the 2nd round where Seattle will be most fortunate to draft him.
The Eagles were supposed to be a dream team but they were more of a dream and less of a team. Jerel Worthy is a perfect fit for Philly’s defense.
The Cowboys could really use some help in their secondary and Hosley is the man for the job.
2nd round quarterback when they have an established starter? Here the Eagles go again…
Attention Mark Sanchez, you are officially on the hot seat.
The Patriots have to find a solution to their strong safety need, Harrison Smith makes perfect sense.
Phillip Rivers needs to be better protected and to find a tackle like Osemele (who will likely play guard) at the 50th pick is a steal.
The Bears need help in their secondary and on the O-Line but Thompson is one of the best defensive tackles available and could really help the Bears put pressure on Rodgers and Stafford.
The Titans continue the rebuilding of their interior offensive line by following up the selection of the 2nd best guard in the draft with the 2nd best center.
The Bengals are doing it again – finding exceptional value in the 1st and 2nd rounds. They now have a receiver with much promise to pair with A.J. Green.
The Falcons have the greatest tight end of all-time on their roster but Tony G. is getting up there in years and the best tight end on the board gives them a perfect opportunity to develop Gonzalez’s heir.
Cliff Avril had a big year but is going to demand a huge contract. The Lions need somebody to pair up with Kyle Vanden Bosch and Chandler Jones is the best DE left on the board.
The Steelers are getting old along the offensive line and Andrew Datko appears to be the perfect fit for Pittsburgh here.
For now the Broncos are invested in Tim Tebow and want to give him more options on offense. The 2nd best tight end in the draft with their 2nd round pick does not seem to be a bad way to go.
Wade Phillips’ defense was a force to be reckoned with last season but they are in need of a big nose tackle who can plug up the middle. Ta’amu is going to be that man for Houston.
Marques Colston and Robert Meachem are both unrestricted free agents which could leave the Saints vaunted receiving corps quite depleted. Jarius Wright is a fast physical receiver who could play Week 1 for NOLA.
Ted Thompson has been successful because he takes the best player available regardless of position. Looks like LaMichael James will still be wearing Green and Yellow for at least a little while longer.
The Ravens had a great offensive line this year but All-Pro Jeff Birk is likely retiring meaning Baltimore must find a centerpiece for their offensive line NOW.
The 49ers have some needs along the interior of their offensive line and Zeiter is a good value at 62 overall.
Whether or not Wes Welker returns (which I believe he will), the Patriots are still in need of receivers that don’t drop the ball. The speedster from Arkansas is a bit of a reach but a good fit for Bellichick’s offense.
The Giants are a great team without a true #1 running back. Brandon Jacobs is on the decline and a team as complete as the Giants need a better #1 option than Bradshaw. New York will be excited to find Martin waiting for them here.