The Vikings have issues all over their roster, but there is one position few are talking about –…
Viking Update 2012 mock draft: Version 4.0
1. Indianapolis Colts – Andrew Luck, QB, Stanford. It's been a while since a No. 1 pick has been as locked and loaded as this one. VU has a strong track record of putting a guy at No. 1 and sticking with him even when the conventional wisdom has pointed at someone else early on in the draft process. This time, it's such a no-brainer that even a donkey could figure this one out. The only way Luck doesn't do a grip-and-grin with Jim Irsay is if the Colts trade the pick or Luck suffers a fluke off-field injury that puts his health in question. Otherwise, the Colts will be on the clock for about 10 seconds – the time it takes their runner in New York City to walk the pick up to Commissioner Roger Goodell.
2. Washington (from St. Louis) – Robert Griffin III, QB, Baylor. The Redskins met the outrageous demands of the Rams, giving up their first-round draft pick in each of the next three drafts and a second-round pick this year to land the QB of the future. Why did they do it? Simple. Since 2000, they have started Brad Johnson, Jeff George, Tony Banks, Shane Matthews, Patrick Ramsey, Danny Wuerffel, Tim Hasselbeck, Mark Brunell, Jason Campbell, Todd Collins, Donovan McNabb and Kyle Orton – only one of them they actually drafted. If that isn't reason enough to make the deal, nothing is.
3. Minnesota – Matt Kalil, OT, USC. This is a great spot to be in, because, with the Vikings not having an interest in drafting a QB in the first round two years in a row, they could take Kalil, WR Justin Blackmon or CB Morris Claiborne – all of whom would provide a significant, immediate upgrade at their respective positions. While general manager Rick Spielman has always drafted horizontally – assigning comparable grades to players from different positions – now that he's the shot-caller, he doesn't have to do that anymore. He can draft the player he wants, not submit a list for others to mull over and decide upon. No position in the top 10 draft picks has been as a consistent in producing Pro Bowlers as left tackle, so, for our money, Kalil will be the blindside protector of Christian Ponder. As we are currently projecting our mock draft, the Vikings will have their choice of any non-quarterback.
4. Cleveland – Morris Claiborne, CB, LSU. The Browns missed out on RG3, so they turn their attention to other areas of need. Wide receiver remains a priority, so Justin Blackmon could well be the choice here, but Claiborne is the dominant cornerback in the draft and wide receiver talent runs relatively deep in this year's draft. It's too early for the Browns to make a run at Texas A&M quarterback Ryan Tannehill, whose stock is rising quickly, so trading down three or four spots remains a possibility if the Browns like what they see in Tannehill. As it stands, Cleveland needs to take the best player available and, at this point, Claiborne fills that need. Starting CB Sheldon Brown is 33 and is trending downward. Given that the offenses in the division are improved and all three made the 2011 playoffs, the Browns' best approach may be to try to build up its defense as a way to compete.
5. Tampa Bay – Trent Richardson, RB, Alabama. This one appears to be going in one of two directions – Richardson or cornerback Morris Claiborne. Much like last year, when I had Patrick Peterson as my pick as the best pro prospect in my view, I did so knowing that because of the depth at the position, teams at the top of the draft would pass on him. I feel much the same way about Claiborne this year. While I wouldn't draft him No. 1, I have him as my No. 3 prospect behind Luck and Kalil. However, that being said, the Bucs have problems on both sides of the ball. Richardson is a difference-making game-changer that could step in immediately and upgrade the Bucs running game. Depth at cornerback will stretch into the third round. In this year's running back crop, Richardson effectively stands alone. This would be a strategic pick, since the run defenses of the other three teams in the division were 20th or worse. The two-headed beast of LeGarrette Blount and Richardson would give the Bucs a chance to dictate the tempo and pace. After him, however, I wouldn't be surprised to see the Bucs draft heavy on the defensive side of the ball, but not here.
6. St. Louis (from Washington) – Justin Blackmon, WR, Oklahoma State. The Rams would be absolutely thrilled if this projection pans out. Had they not been able to swing a trade to move out of the No. 2 spot, they likely would have selected Blackmon with their pick. As it stands, not only do they get the most impressive wide receiver in the draft, they get another second-round pick and two more first-rounders in the next two drafts. Even if Robert Griffin III becomes a Pro Bowl-type quarterback, the Rams will benefit more by being able to fill their many gaping holes with first-round talent for the next three years. When the Rams made Sam Bradford the first overall pick in the 2010 draft, the one thing they never did was give him a go-to receiver to throw to. With this pick, that mission is accomplished.
7. Jacksonville – Quinton Coples, DE, North Carolina. The Jaguars have many, many needs and the problems with the Jags offense are as glaring as any. It could be argued that Jacksonville has the worst offense in the NFL and if Maurice Jones-Drew would get injured, they would be a decent college offense. There will be a sentiment that says they have to address offense early, whether it's a go-to wide receiver to help Blaine Gabbert's maturation as an NFL quarterback or a left tackle to protect his blind side. However, if you watch any Jags games from 2011, the defense was close to dominating. With an offense that scored more than 20 points just once all season, the Jags defense should have allowed 35 points a game on average. They allowed more than 30 points just three times. The team can take the Ravens approach and build around its defense as a dominant unit. Jeremy Mincey emerged last year as a pass-rush threat, but needs someone on the other side. Aaron Kampman wasn't the answer. Coples may well be the best fit for building a viable team in the short-term in hopes the Gabbert will help lift the offense sooner than later.
8. Miami – Riley Reiff, OT, Iowa. Miami is going to try to adopt a Packers-style offense with new head coach Joe Philbin and, while they need a quarterback, it's widely speculated that Miami will sign free-agent backup Matt Flynn. The Dolphins need to solidify their O-line. They have a rock in left tackle Jake Long and a good young talent in center Mike Pouncey, but right tackle is a big question. The drafting of Reiff, who played left tackle in college, could give Miami three dominant offensive linemen for the next decade. Flynn is still a raw talent and will need all the protection he can get. Reiff could move to left tackle if Long gets injured without a significant dropoff, which is saying something given Long's talent. If RB Trent Richardson falls here, it would be very tempting to team with Reggie Bush and safety is a concern as well. But Reiff is an elite offensive lineman and very few teams succeed without have a stout O-line. Reiff is as good a value pick as the Dolphins could make at No. 9
9. Carolina – Michael Brockers, DT, LSU. The Panthers have a lot of defensive needs, which could see them go to any level of the defense, but their inability to stop the run last year was a huge problem. Cam Newton did an incredible job of transforming the offense and there could be a push to try to make the Carolina offense the dominant focus of the team – which could lead the team to look at Iowa OT Riley Reiff to replace oft-injured Jeff Otah at right tackle. But the deficiencies in the Panther defense prevented the team from being more of a contender in 2011 than they were. With the offense taken care of last year, it's time to address the defensive side of the ball. Brockers is extremely raw – a one-year starter who is a DT version of Jason Pierre-Paul, whom the Giants took a chance on and reaped a harvest. If the Panthers are convinced they can harness his talent and coach him in their image, he has an unlimited upside ceiling, which is always critical on draft day.
10. Buffalo – Melvin Ingram, DE, South Carolina. It seems clear that new defensive coordinator Dave Wannstedt was brought in to improve a defense that struggled badly after a strong start to the 2011 season. The Bills have a strong interior D-line, but when nose tackle Marcell Dareus, whose primary job is to clog middle run lanes, leads the team in sacks, there are serious concerns about the edge rush. With 19 sacks over the last two seasons, Ingram meets that requirement as well as anyone available to Buffalo at this point. While far from a no-brainer type pick, Ingram fills a need and, even if Buffalo lures a veteran to attack the QB blind side, he makes the most sense in terms of need and talent blending together for a marriage that works.
11. Kansas City – Dontari Poe, NT, Memphis. We had Poe going to the Chiefs before the combine, where he put on a show for a man his size. Now it seems the question is, despite his being a raw talent from a non-football power school, will he still be available here? But he is ideal for Romeo Crennel's 3-4 defense as a pure nose tackle. The "safer" pick might be Devon Still, but Poe is the best nose tackle for a 3-4 in the draft. Because of that, the Chiefs may be willing to drop five or six spots and pick up a couple of extra draft picks. If they stay here, however, Crennel will have a huge say in making draft decisions. He is still going to be the defensive coordinator and, armed with the power of being both head coach and DC, he will likely push to get players that fit his system and Poe is a poor man's Vince Woolfork, who made Crennel's defense in New England better from Day 1.
12. Seattle – Ryan Tannehill, QB, Texas A&M. Let me start by saying I hate this pick. I think this is a kneejerk reaction pick that is becoming the trend in a pass-happy NFL. As much as I have learned to be impressed by Christian Ponder – never underestimate a brain on a quarterback because they have to make instantaneous decisions – I felt the Vikings jumped way too early to take him last year. They weren't alone. Ponder was the fourth QB off the board in 12 picks and, given the success Andy Dalton had as the "Fifth Beatle" in the Class of 2011, it only ramped up the belief that QBs can be developed quickly and make an immediate impact. Few coaches have the ego that Pete Carroll has. Tarvaris Jackson, like him or not, is ideally suited as a No. 2 QB who can make plays. Tannehill is a long-term prospect that could use a year to sit and wait – maybe not wait that long if T-Jack stinks out the joint early and the Seahawks fall out of contention. If I was calling the shots in Seattle, I wouldn't draft Tannehill here. But, I'm not. Carroll and John Schneider (not the "Dukes of Hazzard" John Schneider) are the shot-callers and, given the recent draft frenzy of making QBs a priority, if they wait, they lose. Only due to that factor, Tannehill goes here and Seattle moves forward with their fingers crossed.
13. Arizona – Jonathan Martin, OT, Stanford. In the second half of the season, the Cardinals defense was one of the best in the entire NFL, quietly winning seven of their last nine games and setting the foundation for the future. It wasn't a coincidence that the Cardinals made the rare in-season turnaround – winning seven of their final nine games – after switching from a 4-3 to a 3-4 defense midstream in the season. The team embraced it and will carry that momentum into the offseason. Now the focus turns to offense. Given all the scouting attention Andrew Luck garnered over the last three seasons, it was hard not to notice Martin. The Cardinals have multiple needs, including a wide receiver to line up opposite Larry Fitzgerald in hopes of eliminating double teams on him, but the Cardinals have had solid luck in developing complementary receivers. Linebacker may be a consideration because of the age of the starting core, but the biggest problem with Arizona down the stretch was an offense that struggled mightily, leading us to believe that addressing the anemic offense will be the top offseason priority.
14. Dallas – Dre Kirkpatrick, CB, Alabama. The Cowboys secondary was a mess late in the season last year and they're going to need help this offseason at both cornerback and safety. Dallas has a history of taking cover corners early in the draft and, with Terence Newman nearing the end of the line, that position needs to be addressed sooner than later. The Cowboys also have needs at safety and the interior of the offensive line, but those positions have historically still had good talent available beyond the first round. There is a reason why cornerbacks go high on draft day – because in the new-look NFL, they are required if a team is going to be successful (just ask the Vikings). Jerry Jones would be giddy to see Kirkpatrick – a legitimate top-10 talent – still available at this point of the draft and he would likely find himself on the field from Day One of the 2012 season.
15. Philadelphia – Luke Kuechley, MLB, Boston College. This pick would make history. Andy Reid has never taken a linebacker in the first round, but the need is simply too great to ignore. Kuechley was the Butkus Award winner in 2011 and would likely move into the starting lineup almost immediately. He has the athleticism that could revitalize a position that for years was a strength of the Eagles team but recently has been transformed from strength to weakness. The Dream Team added a lot of talent last year, but it didn't take hold. If DeSean Jackson defects via free agency, wide receiver may also become a front-burner issue as the Eagles look to regain their spot atop the NFC East.
16. New York Jets – Mark Barron, S, Alabama. The Jets were one of the more disappointing teams in the league and one of the primary reasons is that they didn't have playmaking safeties that could stop the bleeding when the defense was struggling. There are a lot of questions at wide receiver, which might get the Jets looking in that direction depending on what happens in free agency, but the need at safety is glaring for a defense that struggled badly last year after coming into the season with high expectations. Given the passing capability of the Patriots and Bills and the anticipated improvement of Miami's passing game next season, the need at safety is so pronounced the Jets may feel a little bit forced to make a pick here. It doesn't hurt that they will have their choice of any safety they want. We believe Barron has the most talent and would be the best fit. Barron's status remains in flux, because he is not only going to miss the combine, but also his pro day and, most likely, the chance to work out individually for teams prior to draft day. If the Jets are convinced he will be 100 percent when they need him, they pull the trigger, but he could be one of the players whose stock drops hard post-combine.
17. Cincinnati (from Oakland) – Janoris Jenkins, CB, North Alabama. The Bengals defense is their calling card. It is what made them division champions in 2009 and a wild card last year. However, the defense needs insurance in the secondary to remain a playoff contender. It can be argued that the team will need a running back, but with this pick they go after a cover corner who can upgrade the defense and, given the teams in between them between this pick (obtained in the lopsided Carson Palmer out-of-retirement trade) and their own pick at No. 21, the teams currently with those picks already have running backs in place that make drafting a RB here a risk worth holding off until they pick again. Jenkins made a dual impression at the combine – both positive and negative. He has three arrests on his record – two involving marijuana – and, at age 23, has four children. Either can be interpreted as someone who doesn't have his focus on the NFL – the "eyes on the prize" defense. Yet, in the skills portion of the combine, he shined. He is the Catch-22 pick of the draft. He will likely post some eye-popping numbers that will make somebody jump. With Leon Hall expected to miss the 2012 season with a torn Achilles, this need has jumped to the top of the list – even if the Bengals add a CB in free agency.
18. San Diego – David DeCastro, G, Stanford. Long the class of the AFC West, the Chargers faded badly last year after an uncharacteristically strong start. The problems were on both sides of the ball. A pass-rushing DE/OLB is possible, but the Chargers O-line needs a lot of upgrades and was the most glaring weakness on the team last year. DeCastro is one of the most technically sound guards in the draft and will likely be able to step in immediately. With longtime guard Kris Dielman facing the possibility of retirement after recent concussions, the need may also be commensurate with DeCastro's talent, creating a draft-day marriage that makes sense on multiple levels.
19. Chicago – Michael Floyd, WR, Notre Dame. When the Bears signed Jay Cutler, he was hailed as the savior of the franchise – the rare young quarterback with a decade of playing time in front of him that becomes available. However, unlike in Denver where he had Brandon Marshall as a go-to receiver, Cutler has had little more than a collection of No. 3-type receivers at his disposal. The Bears have needs on the offensive line and at cornerback, but if they are to make the most out of their heavy investment in Cutler to be a contender, they need to have a go-to receiver and Floyd could develop into that player for the Bears offense.
20. Tennessee – Nick Perry, DE, USC. For years, the Titans were known for their impressive pass rushers creating pressure off the edge. Last year, their top sacker was Karl Klug, a fifth-round rookie. The Titans have three of their current defensive ends as free agents, which makes this pick even more imperative. They have a similar problem at safety, where the top four players currently on their depth chart are slated for free agency. But, unless Barron is still on the board, there isn't a safety worth taking here, making Ingram, who has the athleticism to play outside linebacker if needed, more of a priority.
21. Cincinnati – Lamar Miller, RB, Miami. Cedric Benson is in a lousy position. He is a free agent and wants a big contract. But he is too old to receive a long-term deal and isn't a dynamic runner. Unlike players like Adrian Peterson that can break a long run that can change a game at any time, Benson is a between-the-tackles plodder and isn't worth the money he wants. Running back is one of the most readily replaceable positions on the football field and Miller has the chance to step right in and fill the void if Benson is allowed to leave or even if he is signed to a short-term contract to remain the featured back in 2012. With two picks in the first round, the Bengals will be able to address both sides of the ball, which will be needed if they want to contend with the Steelers and Ravens and make it back to the playoffs next season. If the Bengals re-sign Benson, they may look for a better change-of-pace back in Boise State's Doug Martin, who is a poor man's Ray Rice, but Miller is a better one-cut, hit-the-hole type of runner.
22. Cleveland (from Atlanta) – Whitney Mercilus, DE, Illinois. The Browns addressed their defensive need in the secondary with the selection of Claiborne. This pick, acquired in last year's draft when the Falcons came calling to get Julio Jones, like the No. 4 pick, could be used on either a defensive standout or a wide receiver. If Michael Floyd is still on the board, the Browns wouldn't miss a beat in snatching him up. Beyond Floyd, however, there is a dropoff in talent that makes the next half dozen wideouts essentially interchangeable. The Browns still need to address the position, but can likely wait until the second round (again) to make that selection. Former Viking Jayme Mitchell was pressed into starting duty and managed just one-and-a-half sacks. Defensive coordinator Dick Jauron doesn't blitz often, preferring to generate pressure from his front four. Mercilus blew up last year with 16 sacks, which would be manna from heaven for the pass rush-challenged Browns.
23. Detroit – Mike Adams, OT, Ohio State. The Lions need a ton of help on defense and easily could target that side of the ball with this pick. But with all of the investments made on the offensive side – from Matthew Stafford to Calvin Johnson to Jahvid Best – perhaps the most critical offseason issue could be at left tackle. Longtime starter Jeff Backus is not only getting long in the tooth, he's an unrestricted free agent and has been battling injuries in recent years. Adams is an enormous talent but has been inconsistent. If the Lions can harness his athletic ability, he could be a fixture on the left side for the next decade to come.
24. Pittsburgh – Fletcher Cox, DT, Mississippi State. If Cordy Glenn is still on the board, the Steelers may jump on him. However, nose tackle Casey Hampton suffered a significant ACL tear during the playoff loss to Denver and may not be ready for the start of the season. In fact, the injury may be career-threatening at his age. While Cox isn't a standard 3-4 nose tackle, his athletic ability is such that the Steelers will have a hard time passing on him. The Steelers need help on the offensive line and at running back with Rashard Mendenhall expected to miss the entire 2012 season, but this is a pick based purely on talent and Cox has the type of skills that would help make an immediate impact.
25. Denver – Cordy Glenn, G/OT, Georgia. The Broncos could well target cornerback here, because starters Champ Bailey and Andre Goodman both turn 34 this year, but the team may be looking for help in free agency or in the later rounds. Glenn is a value pick here because the Broncos can be a run-dominant offense. They're already set at tackle with Ryan Clady and Orlando Franklin, which would allow Glenn to move in immediately at guard with an eye on eventually moving him to tackle when and if it's needed. He has the potential to be a Pro Bowler for years to come and, whether the Broncos land Peyton Manning or stick with Tim Tebow, he will make a good offensive line even better and set a strong foundation to the offense moving forward.
26. Houston – Kendall Wright, WR, Baylor. The Texans were one of the league's better teams despite playing a good portion of the season without stars Mario Williams, Matt Schaub, Arian Foster and Andre Johnson. Johnson is one of the game's best receivers, but he has a growing injury history and, even when healthy, doesn't have a complementary receiver to take double-teams off of him. When you watch Wright on film, he has solid game speed, but killed himself at the combine by running a dismal 4.61 40-yard dash. Perhaps no player will need to prove more at his pro day than Wright, who has enough talent to be an impact player. He won't have the impact of 2011 first-rounders A.J. Green and Julio Jones, but he could make a big impact on the Texans offense, giving Matt Schaub another weapon and taking some of the heat off Andre 3000. He's not going to have the kind of immediate impact of A.J. Green or Julio Jones last year, but he may be the missing piece for a Texans team that will likely enter 2012 as prohibitive favorites to repeat as the champs of the AFC South.
27. New England (from New Orleans) – Courtney Upshaw, DE/OLB, Alabama. Upshaw was viewed as a top-10 talent coming into the combine, because he was seen as an option as a defensive end in a 4-3 scheme or a linebacker in a 3-4. But, when he worked out, he appeared too slow to be an effective NFL OLB and too small to be a viable DE. He went from being a multi-scheme fit to being a ‘tweener who doesn't fit either. However, his production has been such that it's hard to deny what you see on film. He is the type of player that the Patriots have consistently developed and, while he will likely start as a situational pass-rushing DE, given his talent and the Pats' ability to mold players like him into dominant niche players, he seems like as good a fit here as anywhere.
28. Green Bay – Devon Still, DT, Penn State. For a team that won 15 games last year, the Packers boasted the worst defense in the NFL. There are so many needs that the biggest difficulty is projecting where they will go. They could use a pass-rushing DE, they need a complementary linebacker on the other side of Clay Matthews, safety Nick Collins might be done with a serious neck injury and CB Charles Woodson turns 36 this year. A wild card pick here could be Wisconsin center Peter Konz, since aging veteran Scott Wells is a free agent and drafting a "Sconny" would make huge points among the fan base. However, the Pack has too many defensive needs to ignore. In our view, they take the best athlete. The Packers need more talent in the middle to stop the run, especially in a division with Adrian Peterson, Matt Forte and Jahvid Best as centerpieces of their offensive attacks. The Packers seem destined to take a defensive player here (and throughout the draft), but Still would supply the most immediate upside from the 28th pick and has the edge at this point.
29. Baltimore – Peter Konz, C, Wisconsin. The Ravens have ignored finding a replacement for Ray Lewis for years and all Ray-Ray does is come back and show why he will be a unanimous first-ballot Hall of Famer five years after he decides to hang up his cleats. The same likely can't be said for Matt Birk. He has abused his body for more than a decade with the Vikings and Ravens, and Harvard guys are usually pretty good with their money – playing one more year doesn't seem to be an issue with him as it might be for others. He'll be fine after retirement (broadcasting may beckon) and is likely not coming back next year. If he does, the Ravens would likely look at linebacker – given Lewis' age and the fact that both Jarrett Johnson and Jameel McClain are free agents. But Konz is the pre-eminent center in this year's draft and could easily become a fixture in the middle of the Baltimore O-line for the next decade. That is a value pick this late in the round that the draft-savvy Ravens likely won't pass up.
30. San Francisco – Alshon Jeffrey, WR, South Carolina. If based purely on talent, Jeffrey would be gone long before this pick. But he has his share of red flags checkering his résumé and a lot of teams won't use a first-round pick on a talented player who could cause headaches. However, Jim Harbaugh and the 49ers might be the exception. Vernon Davis was a walking migraine for Mike Singletary, but Harbaugh harnessed his emotions and turned him into a team leader. The fact he brought in career head case Braylon Edwards last year speaks volumes. Edwards was never a problem, but his injured knees betrayed him. Michael Crabtree needs another receiver on the other side of the ball to take away double-teams and, given his talent, if Harbaugh can work his magic, Jeffrey should be able to contribute immediately.
31. New England – Zach Brown, LB, North Carolina. Having found a pass-rushing DE prospect in Courtney Upshaw with the 27th pick, the Patriots go after a pure speed linebacker who can chase plays to the sideline. Brown had an outstanding combine performance, which might push his stock higher than this when all is said and done, but the Patriots need significant defensive upgrades and, if they can come away from the first round with Upshaw and Brown, that will go a long way to repairing what currently ails them. With some still viewing Upshaw as a linebacker, it might seem a bit of overkill to take two linebacker types in the first round, but keep in mind that the Patriots used two picks on tight ends two years ago and came away with Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez. Nobody is complaining about that and the same double-dip approach could be used to help address an aging, ineffective defense.
32. New York Giants – Coby Fleener, TE, Stanford. This was a need position to begin with, but when both Jake Ballard and Travis Beckum went down with knee injuries in the Super Bowl, it became a much more pressing issue. The Giants have gone through a lot of tight ends over recent years, seeing Visanthe Shiancoe, Jeremy Shockey and Kevin Boss all go away. While Ballard and Beckum can get the job done, neither is a downfield threat. Fleener averaged almost 18 yards a catch over the last two seasons and scored 17 touchdowns. With Eli Manning reaching the elite status of quarterback using a variety of receivers, the one thing missing is a mismatch-creating tight end that can stretch the seam for big plays, as well as opening underneath lanes for crossing receivers. The Giants may have teams calling in hopes of getting in on the last pick of Day One, but, if they stay here, all indications are that they will have the chance to get another offensive playmaker in defense of their championship.
John Holler has been writing about the Vikings for more than a decade for Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this topic on our message boards. To become a subscriber to the Viking Update web site or magazine, click here.
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