With the NFL’s 32 teams having more than a week to re-tool and address needs – from Peyton Manning and Mario Williams to the Vikings cornering the fullback market – the landscape of the draft has taken on a markedly different look as players have signed with new teams and simultaneously solved positional issues for one team and created them for another. As a result, Version 5.0 of the Viking Update mock draft is radically different. Things haven’t changed for the Vikings, but, for the rest of the league, the needs have changed and so has the jockeying for position among the Class of 2012. There are changes afoot and the competition for guys not named Luck and Griffin is just starting to heat up.
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 to Commissioner Roger Goodell. The Colts have imploded the QB position to start over – jettisoning Peyton Manning, Curtis Painter and Dan Orlovsky. If that isn’t stacking the deck for Luck, nothing is.
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 – Trent Richardson, RB, Alabama. The Browns may hit the chicken switch and pull a reluctant too-high trigger on QB Ryan Tannehill, but they could easily trade down and still land Tannehill. If they stay here, swallow hard and commit another year to Colt McCoy, the Browns have to go with the most valuable player they need. That would be Richardson. Peyton Hillis jumped ship and went to Kansas City and the void at that position is massive. A strong case can be made for WR Justin Blackmon or CB Morris Claiborne, but the need at running back is too glaring. It doesn’t hurt that T-Rich may be the best RB to enter the draft since Adrian Peterson.
5. Tampa Bay – Morris Claiborne, CB, LSU. The Bucs stepped up big-time to address a couple of glaring needs – signing WR Vincent Jackson and G Carl Nicks to lucrative free agent deals. If Richardson is still on the board, they would likely consider him, but, given the circumstances, they meld need with talent. Claiborne may end up being the most impressive player in this year’s draft. Ronde Barber is 37 years old – well beyond the age at which most CBs hit the wall. Fellow CB Aqib Talib’s off-field issues make him a huge question mark moving forward. In Claiborne, the Bucs get perhaps the best non-QB prospect in the draft, and, after spending big to get a couple of heavy hitters on offense, land the best defensive player in the draft.
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 – Ryan Tannehill, QB, Texas A&M. If he is still on the board at this point (just say no, Cleveland), the Dolphins may have to make this pick simply to appease their fans. It seemed like a foregone conclusion that Joe Philbin, the new head coach and former offensive coordinator in Green Bay, would pull a “Scott Mitchell move” and bring in Matt Flynn. But Flynn signed with Seattle because Miami got enamored with Peyton Manning and struck out on both counts. The Dolphins signed David Garrard, but he opted to sit out all of the 2011 season because he was salty about being released by the Jaguars and turned down offers to sign on elsewhere. His commitment isn’t there. He’s a bridge to grooming Tannehill in Philbin’s vision. He’s Donovan McNabb. All Vikings fans can hope is that Miami gets scared and jumps to No. 3 to get him – and gives the Vikings a harvest of picks to move. If they do, Riley Reiff, welcome to Minnesota.
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 – Riley Reiff, OT, Iowa. A month ago, the two biggest needs on the team were at pass-rushing defensive end and wide receiver. The Bills made sure they didn’t lose WR Stevie Johnson. They broke the bank to solve the other with the signing of DE Mario Williams. Buffalo had to overspend to get the top free agent in this year’s class to sign, but they got it done. Now they have to draft well to make it all work. The team split time at left tackle in 2011 with Demetrius Bell and fourth-round rookie Chris Hairston. Reiff would step in immediately and help upgrade an offense that needs a foundation piece like Reiff on Ryan Fitzpatrick’s blindside.
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 –Luke Kuechly, MLB, Boston College. QB Ryan Tannehill was our pick in the last mock, but the Seahawks swooped in once spurned by Peyton Manning to snatch up Matt Flynn of the Packers – giving them a frontrunner in the competition to replace Tarvaris Jackson. Kuechly is far from a reach at this spot, but, with the re-signing of Red Bryant and the free-agent signing of versatile D-lineman Jason Jones of Tennessee, the need at defensive end has also been addressed. David Hawthorne wasn’t re-signed and allowed to hit the open market. Kuechly is a tackling machine that can provide the kind of impact the Seahawks need with this pick – the same the Vikings had last year when they jumped on Christian Ponder. It’s a make-or-break season for Carroll, who needs to bring Seattle to relevance. Kuechly can help that quickly.
13. Arizona – Jonathan Martin, OT, Stanford. This may be the first of many opportunities for WR Michael Floyd to come off the board, but, at this point, the Cardinals have more pressing needs. Another team spurned by Peyton Manning, they begrudgingly gave QB Kevin Kolb a $7 million bonus, even though he knows he was Plan B in terms of who the team wanted as its QB in 2012. The Cards re-signed Early Doucet and need help on the O-line badly. Levi Jones was released and re-signed at a lower price and right tackle Brandon Keith has battled injuries. Martin could take his place at right tackle immediately and push Brown out the door at left tackle in relatively short order.
14. Dallas – Dre Kirkpatrick, CB, Alabama. The Cowboys have decided to blow up their secondary during the offseason. They released Terence Newman and have lost confidence in Mike Jenkins, whose injury history has derailed his career. The team invested in free agent Brandon Carr and, teamed with Kirkpatrick, could give the Cowboys a pair of the best cornerbacks this side of Philadelphia. Given that the division already includes Eli Manning and Michael Vick and the addition of RG3 to the Redskins make this pick one that not only make sense, but might be necessary if the Cowboys intend to compete for a playoff spot.
15. Philadelphia – Mark Barron, S, Alabama. The biggest need for the Eagles and embattled defensive coordinator Juan Castillo was at linebacker, but the inexplicable trade that gave them DeMeco Ryans took LB off the front burner. Barron’s stock has slipped because he had hernia surgery that kept him out of the combine workout, his pro day and individual workouts. But his surgery isn’t expected to set back his progress once the team starts post-draft workouts. The Eagles arguably have the best cornerback tandem in the league with Nnamdi Asomugha and Asante Samuel. Adding a playmaking, big-hitting safety would fill a defensive void that has existed since Brian Dawkins got old.
16. New York Jets – Melvin Ingram, DE/OLB, South Carolina. WR Michael Floyd will get a lot of consideration here, but the Jets have tried to build a reputation on defensive toughness that took a big hit last year when they got pushed around far too often and faded down the stretch. Ingram gives the Jets a rarity for a 3-4 defense – an Anthony Spencer-type 270-pound pass rusher that can be a stand-up OLB in the defense, which can be tailored to accentuate his strengths. Ingram has the versatility to line up as both a hand-in-the-dirt DE and a stand-up rush linebacker. Floyd would be a big help for Mark Sanchez, but Ingram could make a bigger immediate impact, something the tough-talking Rex Ryan needs right now.
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. The Chargers faded badly last year and have question marks on both sides of the ball. Offensive tackle was a concern prior to the free-agent period, but the team re-signed OT Jared Gaither, who filled in for former Pro Bowler Marcus McNeill when he went down to injury. With both of them back, the emerging O-line needs to address guard with the retirement of Kris Dielman. After losing Vincent Jackson and Mike Tolbert, not to mention the laundry list of injuries Antonio Gates has sustained, the last thing the Chargers need is an O-line that was a porous as it was late last year. DeCastro is a Steve Hutchinson prototype that will likely fill the left guard spot for a decade, making him a strong value pick at this point.
19. Chicago – Mike Adams, OT, Ohio State. We had WR Michael Floyd going here, but, seeing that the Bears traded to reunite Jay Cutler and Brandon Marshall, it would take a lot of sand for the Bears to hit the wide receiver spot with their first-round pick after giving up two third-rounders to get Marshall. Anyone who has seen J’Marcus Webb play knows that he is not the long-term (or short-term) answer at left tackle. Cutler has routinely taken a beating because Webb whiffed on a speed rush and left Cutler open to blindside shots. Adams is huge, but his inconsistent effort at OSU has made him somewhat suspect in terms of sure-fire first-rounders. He’s the kind of guy Mike Tice would drool over the opportunity to mold him into an elite left tackle. If Tice gets any say in the matter, look for the Bears to go O-line with this pick.
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 lost Jason Jones in free agency, 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 – Cordy Glenn, G/OT, Georgia. Like the Vikings, both of the Bengals’ starting guards from last year (Nate Livings and Mike McGlynn) are gone and have yet to be replaced. Glenn is an ideal pick here because he is massive and has the size, strength and foot quickness to move to left tackle at some point in the next year or two and has the potential to be a Pro Bowl caliber guard if they keep him there. It is a pick that combines need and talent, and Andy Dalton will be happy to see it happen if it plays out this way.
22. Cleveland (from Atlanta) – Michael Floyd, WR, Notre Dame. The Browns used the No. 4 pick on a running back to help the offense and now lock down a go-to wide receiver they haven’t since Braylon Edwards was in his prime. It can be argued that, without a viable quarterback, Floyd would be lipstick on a pig, but, with so many teams locking down QBs of the future over the last couple of years, the Browns could be in line to land one of the top QBs in the draft next year and have a couple of big-time weapons in place – Cleveland’s version of having Adrian Peterson and Percy Harvin in the fold before they drafted Christian Ponder. Colt McCoy clearly isn’t the answer, but Cleveland’s offense will be markedly better with the addition of Trent Richardson and Floyd.
23. Detroit – Stephon Gilmore, CB, South Carolina. Offensive tackle is a concern given Jeff Backus’ increasing list of injuries, but the Lions re-signed him in free agency, which allows them to turn their attention to the defensive side of the ball. The Lions showed they were a playoff team last year, but, in their final two games of the season vs. Green Bay and New Orleans, they were torched so badly on defense that they proved they still have a long way to go to be a Super Bowl contender. Chris Houston had a solid season last year, but Detroit needs so much help in the secondary that they may use a Day 2 pick in the secondary as well. Gilmore gives them an immediate upgrade at the position that needs help the most.
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 – Kendall Wright, WR, Baylor. The Broncos made the biggest move of the offseason by signing Peyton Manning. Now they need to increase his arsenal of weapons. Wright has excellent playing speed and his maturation will take leaps forward with Manning teaching him how to run routes. Demaryius Thomas and Eric Decker are a solid starting point to build from, but Wright could be the added piece that takes the Broncos offense from being good to being very good.
26. Houston – Courtney Upshaw, DE/OLB, Alabama. The Texans suffered a huge blow when Mario Williams was allowed to leave via free agency and he will be extremely difficult to replace. Upshaw is a value pick at this point because his stock slipped after a sub-par combine performance, but the game tape doesn’t lie. He can be the pass-rushing DE/OLB hybrid that Wade Phillips has had such a rich history of creating and exploiting. The Texans finally got over the hump to get into the playoffs last year and, while they took a significant step backward with the loss of Super Mario, Upshaw will be a strong starting point in the post-Williams era. With the young defensive stars Houston already has in place, Upshaw will be a nice addition to continue their climb toward the top of the AFC.
27. New England (from New Orleans) – Peter Konz, C, Wisconsin. These are the Patriots, so trading is always a possibility, but Konz is head and shoulders the best center in the draft. There may not be another center taken until well into Day 3 of the draft. This has become a need position, since four different guys played center for the Patriots last year and none of them excelled at it. It’s high for taking a center, but, like Maurkice Pouncey, the intent is to plug him in at center and keep him there for the rest of Tom Brady’s career and beyond. Bill Belichick is no idiot. He realizes talent when he sees it and any time you can get a player who can be a 10-year starter, you jump at it. Besides, if they don’t take Konz, the Ravens will – which is reason enough to pull the trigger.
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 – Dont’a Hightower, MLB, Alabama. If Wisconsin center Peter Konz is still on the board, the Ravens may look there even though they re-signed Matt Birk. But, with Konz off the board, the top priority needs to be finding a player to groom as a replacement for Ray Lewis, who, while still supremely talented, is nearing the end of the line. Hightower is a high-energy run-stuffer who could see his progress helped immeasurably by joining perhaps the greatest linebacker of all time. Ravens fans have never known what it’s like not to have Ray-Ray in the middle of their defense. That day is coming and the hope is that they will find his replacement in Hightower.
30. San Francisco – Alshon Jeffery, 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. The Patriots could go in several directions with this pick, including running back and defensive end (Miami RB Lamar Miller and Illinois DE Whitney Mercilus could both be options). However, the Pats have been active in free agency trying to address the DE position and used a pair of Day 2 picks in last year’s draft on running backs Shane Vereen and Stevan Ridley, whom they hope will become starting types. Of all the free-agent moves the Patriots have made, one position they haven’t brought in outsiders has been at linebacker. Brown is an active, non-stop type of player that fits the Patriots model perfectly. He will have a chance to compete immediately for a job and allow the Patriots to settle back into a 3-4 defense – last year, they played quite a bit of the 4-3 set because they didn’t have the linebacker talent to consistently make the 3-4 work. The Pats had the AFC’s worst defense all season last year, yet found a way to win the most games. With the addition of players like Brown, they will only get better.
32. New York Giants – Lamar Miller, RB, Miami. The trade for Martellus Bennett likely limits the need to use a first-round pick on a tight end, so the next most problematic position gets addressed. The Giants released Brandon Jacobs when he refused to take a pay cut and Ahmad Bradshaw has chronically bad feet that have recurring stress-related injuries. He can’t be counted on to be a bell cow for 16 games, so Miller will get a chance to compete immediately. A one-cut, hit-the-hole-hard slasher, he has the chance to cut into Bradshaw’s time and help the Giants run offense improve from uncharacteristically being one of the worst in the league last year. The Giants will field a lot of calls from teams trying to get back into the first day of the draft before it ends, but barring a free-agent signing of a running back that can carry the mail, this pick would appear to make itself.