Here's my first swing at the first round for the 2012 NFL Draft. A few notes:
1. The biggest question at the top of the draft appears to be which team, not whether a team, will trade with the Rams to draft Robert Griffin at the second pick. The top two candidates seem to be the Browns and Redskins. The former has much more to offer in a trade, but the latter has historically been more aggressive. For now I'm picking aggression over ability, with Washington giving up the sixth pick as well as their second and third-round picks to get Griffin at second overall.
2. I really wanted to get the defensive tackles off the board earlier than I do on here. I don't see any clear standouts among this year's group, however, and I see even less demand for the position in the top half of the draft. I'd expect things to shake up a bit after the Combine, though, and for a frontrunner to emerge from the group as a potential top-15 pick. If I had to guess right now who that might be, I suppose I'd lean towards Fletcher Cox from Mississippi State, though there appears to be more love for Penn State's Devon Still out there at the moment.
3. One player I wanted to fit in the first round but couldn't find room for is Georgia tight end Orson Charles. He's undersized -- he might weigh in at less than 250 pounds and measure under 6-foot-3 -- but his athleticism makes him a huge mismatch against linebackers. Now that the league has seen how to turn a player like Aaron Hernandez into a dominant receiving threat, someone, I think, will try to play copycat with Charles.
1. Indianapolis Colts - Andrew Luck, QB, Stanford
There's not much to explain here. The Peyton Manning neck situation is unfortunate, but the Colts have been blessed with the chance to draft an all-decade prospect at quarterback. They'll take it.
2. Washington Redskins (from St. Louis) - Robert Griffin, QB, Baylor
The Browns have more ammunition to make this trade, but I'm not convinced that they're daring enough to offer as much as the Redskins, an organization that has been consistently reckless under Dan Snyder's leadership. To be fair, the Redskins do have surprisingly few holes outside of quarterback, so giving up their first, second and third-round picks would be reasonable if Griffin's as good as everyone thinks he is.
3. Minnesota Vikings - Matt Kalil, OT, USC
This pick is just as much of a no-brainer as Luck to Indianapolis. The Vikings invested the 12th overall 2011 pick in quarterback Christian Ponder, a player who has been quite fragile both in college and as a pro. If Charlie Johnson is the best the Vikings can do at left tackle, Ponder won't stay in one piece and their investment in him will be a waste.
4. Cleveland Browns - Trent Richardson, RB, Alabama
Wide receiver is a bigger need for Cleveland than running back, but Richardson is a much better player at his position than Justin Blackmon is at wideout. Talented as they may be, Peyton Hillis and Montario Hardesty are both unreliable, and Richardson would easily exceed their production while bringing less injury drama.
5. Tampa Bay Buccaneers - Morris Claiborne, CB, LSU
Tampa could go in a number of directions at this pick, but Claiborne appears to be the top talent on the board. The arrival of coach Greg Schiano means the Buccaneers could abandon their long-held cover-2 approach on defense, in which case an elite cornerback talent like Claiborne would be a more justifiable investment.
6. St. Louis Rams (from Washington) - Riley Reiff, OT, Iowa
As bad as the wide receiver situation is in St. Louis, the offensive line is just as troubling. It won't matter what receivers Sam Bradford is throwing to if he can't get rid of the ball in the first place, and Reiff should give the team a chance to solidify the blind side for Bradford.
7. Jacksonville Jaguars - Justin Blackmon, WR, Oklahoma State
There are plenty of reasons to abandon 10th overall 2011 pick Blaine Gabbert at this point, but the Jaguars have shown no interest in doing so. That means they'll look to improve Gabbert's supporting cast in hopes of salvaging their investment. Not only is Blackmon the best means of doing that, but he's worth the pick regardless of Jacksonville's commitment to Gabbert -- it's a move that can be made without making the team's desperation obvious.
8. Carolina Panthers - Quinton Coples, DE, North Carolina
Cam Newton is an NFL offense in himself, but the Panthers went nowhere in 2011 due to the team's atrocious defense. Carolina has a greater need at defensive tackle and cornerback than end, but Coples has a talent advantage over any other players that might be considered at this point. With offenses zeroing in on Charles Johnson on the other side of the line, Coples would be poised for immediate success for the Panthers.
9. Miami Dolphins - Kendall Wright, WR, Baylor
One has to assume new coach Joe Philbin will push to sign Matt Flynn, in which case the Dolphins would be uninterested in a quarterback in the first round. One position Miami does need more talent at, though, is receiver. Brandon Marshall can play the workhorse role, but outside of the Brian Hartline Fan Club, there can't really be anyone out there who thinks the Dolphins have anyone capable of stretching the field like Greg Jennings did in Green Bay. Wright would bring the big-play ability that the Dolphins currently lack in spread-out formations. If Philbin is more interested in a receiver with a Jordy Nelson/James Jones sort of build, though, Michael Floyd from Notre Dame warrants a look here.
10. Buffalo Bills - Nick Perry, DE, USC
Despite Buffalo's enduring commitment to marginalizing its offensive line in free agency and the draft, the Bills managed to allow a league-low 23 sacks last year. Given those results, it's difficult to see them considering Stanford tackle Jonathan Martin at this spot. The Bills are desperate for some pass rush, on the other hand, and Perry's standout athleticism could help fill that void.
11. Kansas City Chiefs - Jonathan Martin, OT, Stanford
It's tough to tell how committed the Chiefs are to Matt Cassel at this point, so Texas A&M's Ryan Tannehill could be a consideration here if he has a strong showing at his pre-draft workout. Assuming Kansas City isn't ready to bail on Cassel, though, Martin would be a good fit at the right tackle position, where the Chiefs badly lack options.
12. Seattle Seahawks - Ryan Tannehill, QB, Texas A&M
It definitely takes a leap of faith to list Tannehill this high at this point, but he does fit the Pete Carroll mold. He has all the tools to turn into a starting quarterback, and his athleticism in particular stands out -- Tannehill played receiver up until Jerrod Johnson imploded in 2010, leading his team in receptions (55) and receiving yards (844) as a freshman. The flaws he showed in college can be rationalized by the fact that he had to play receiver those first two-plus years.
13. Arizona Cardinals - David DeCastro, OL, Stanford
Arizona would ideally find help at offensive tackle, but the options at this point are badly limited. DeCastro, at least, is the top-rated guard and should provide an instant improvement for the Cardinals, even if not at the preferred position.
14. Dallas Cowboys - Dre Kirkpatrick, CB, Alabama
Jerry Jones has a big chunk of cash devoted to Mike Jenkins and Orlando Scandrick, but even an optimist like Jones can't delude himself into thinking either of those players are convincing as starters. Assuming his character checks out fine (a recently dismissed charge of marijuana possession is a concern), Kirkpatrick's size advantage over Janoris Jenkins should make him the second cornerback drafted as long as he runs well in timed drills.
15. Philadelphia Eagles - Janoris Jenkins, CB, North Alabama
Asante Samuel isn't expected to stick around, and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie is a disappointment on a one-year contract. Jenkins is a major talent at cornerback, and the Eagles love collecting those.
16. New York Jets - Michael Floyd, WR, Notre Dame
The Jets really need help at right tackle, so Georgia's Cordy Glenn could be an option here, but Floyd would be another good choice. Santonio Holmes can't be trusted and, even with him around, the Jets will have no big-body options at receiver with Plaxico Burress gone (and a substandard one if Burress re-signs). Alabama outside linebacker Courtney Upshaw would also be a strong option here, but the Jets' top priority, sound reasoning or not, is to validate Mark Sanchez as the team's franchise quarterback.
17. Cincinnati Bengals (from Oakland) - Courtney Upshaw, DE, Alabama
The Bengals really like to pick SEC players, and Upshaw is a nice value at this point, particularly for a team whose top four defensive ends combined for just 17 sacks last year. Robert Geathers has been a full-time starter for Cincinnati since 2007, yet he has just 13 sacks since then. Upshaw should be capable of doing better.
18. San Diego Chargers - Melvin Ingram, (3-4) OLB, South Carolina
Larry English appears unlikely to emerge as anything other than an injury threat for the Chargers, so finding a competent pass rusher besides Shaun Phillips remains a high priority for San Diego. Ingram's athleticism and college production say he warrants a selection higher than this, but his short arms are a concern that should push him down a bit.
19. Chicago Bears - Rueben Randle, WR, LSU
This might be a bit high for Randle, but the Bears are desperate for a prototypical receiver, and Randle is exactly that. He should measure in at the 6-foot-3 range and push for the low 4.5-second range in the 40-yard dash, and the athleticism that made him a five-star recruit for LSU should let him shine bright in workouts.
20. Tennessee Titans - Cordy Glenn, OL, Georgia
Glenn just might be athletic enough to play tackle in the pros (and he could go earlier than this if he convinces a few teams of that), but at this point he would at least present a major upgrade on the interior line for Tennessee. Wisconsin center Peter Konz could be another option here.
21. Cincinnati Bengals - Lamar Miller, RB, Miami (FL)
Cedric Benson is a below average running back -- a big problem for a team that ran the ball 28.4 times per game last year. Miller has the athleticism to be a big-play threat in the pros and the build to be a feature back.
22. Cleveland Browns (from Atlanta) - Brandon Weeden, QB, Oklahoma State
Weeden's age is a concern -- he'll be 29 in October -- but his actual ability carries a high grade. With the league as quarterback-crazy as it is, Weeden's a justifiable pick at this point if a team thinks it can get four or five good years out of him.
23. Detroit Lions - Luke Kuechly, LB, Boston College
Aside from Stephen Tulloch, the Lions don't have much going on at linebacker. That's especially problematic because Tulloch is a free agent. If the Lions don't feel like coughing up big bucks to keep Tulloch around, Kuechly would be a good alternative.
24. Pittsburgh Steelers - Mike Adams, OT, Ohio State
The Steelers tend to overlook their offensive line, perhaps behind the logic that Ben Roethlisberger's mobility makes it a luxury. But as Roethlisberger's durability troubles over the years have shown, this type of thinking is no good. His ankle injury may have cost Pittsburgh a playoff run in 2011, and injuries will continue to occur as long as the team is willing to start the likes of Jonathan Scott and Max Starks at tackle.
25. Denver Broncos - Fletcher Cox, DT, Mississippi State
The Broncos could look to take a running back like David Wilson or Doug Martin here, but Cox would be too valuable to pass up if he's available. He's an aggressive, disruptive interior lineman who would complement the edge rush provided by Elvis Dumervil and Von Miller with a push in the middle.
26. Houston Texans - Peter Konz, C, Wisconsin
Pro Bowl center Chris Myers is a free agent, and it's not clear whether Houston will have the money to tie up both Myers and Arian Foster for the long term. Konz is considered by most to be the best bet in this draft to emerge as a Pro Bowl center, so he could be a cost-effective replacement for Myers.
27. New England Patriots (from New Orleans) - Devon Still, DT, Penn State
Just like Fletcher Cox, Still could easily go earlier than this. If he falls to this point, in any case, he'd be a nice fit for the Patriots. Vince Wilfork is dominant and Kyle Love did a good job last year, too, but Still would provide more disruptiveness than Love and would allow the Patriots to lower Wilfork's workload after playing 86.8 percent of New England's defensive snaps.
28. Green Bay Packers - Mark Barron, S, Alabama
Illinois end Whitney Mercilus would be a very tempting pick for Green Bay given the team's lack of pass rushers besides Clay Matthews, but Barron fills a need, too, and probably warrants a higher grade than Mercilus.
29. Baltimore Ravens - Whitney Mercilus, (3-4) OLB, Illinois
Sergio Kindle remains a complete unknown at most, and the team's starter opposite Terrell Suggs (Jarret Johnson) could be leaving in free agency. Mercilus probably isn't quite as talented as his spectacular 2011 production (16 sacks, 22.5 tackles for loss) might lead you to believe, but he's still a good prospect and an entirely reasonable pick at this point.
30. San Francisco 49ers - Dontari Poe, (3-4) NT, Memphis
San Francisco's biggest need is probably receiver or cornerback, but there's not much available at either position at this point. Poe, however, would give the 49ers a huge (6-foot-5, 350 pounds) candidate to replace Isaac Sopoaga, whose contract expires after 2012.
31. New England Patriots - Vinny Curry, DE, Marshall
Andre Carter and Mark Anderson combined for 20 sacks in 30 games last year, but Carter is a free agent (and will be 33 years old in May), while Anderson isn't an every-down player. At worst, Curry is a candidate to take the torch when Carter starts to decline, but he could earn a significant role before then, too.
32. New York Giants - David Wilson, RB, Virginia Tech
It's time for the Giants to move on from Brandon Jacobs after last year's dud of a season, but Ahmad Bradshaw is too injury prone for the team to go ahead without a strong backup. Not unlike Bradshaw, Wilson is a running back with modest size (listed at 5-foot-10, 205 pounds) who doesn't let that fact stop him from running like a bull. Wilson has work to do as far as developing his vision and patience as a runner, but his aggression and rare explosiveness would make him an excellent change-of-pace option.