In what is hoped to be, barring a slip of the tongue or another Wonderlic score release, our final mock update as the clock ticks down to the Colts making Andrew Luck the first pick of the draft. The Vikings would appear to be the team holding all the cards as the draft gets underway Thursday. With the first two picks already locked and loaded, if anyone wants to get a player other than Luck or Robert Griffin III, they will have to deal with the Vikings to assure that happening. As such, the Vikings are in an enviable position – able to either take the player they covet most or trade out of the spot to acquire additional picks. Expect the phones to be buzzing Thursday as teams make their pitch and hope it’s enough for the Vikings to move off the third pick.
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. We stand by this pick, the thought being that Kalil has the greatest likelihood of being a Pro Bowl type talent for years to come at the vital position of offensive left tackle and blindside protector of Christian Ponder. There is some momentum growing that the Vikings may consider cornerback Morris Claiborne or wide receiver Justin Blackmon here – a seed planted by Rick Spielman – as well as their willingness to trade out of the No. 3 spot. If a team wants Kalil, Blackmon, Claiborne, running back Trent Richardson or quarterback Ryan Tannehill, they can assure themselves of getting the player they covet by dealing with the Vikings. As a result, there may be a flurry of activity leading up to the spot and there is a growing sentiment that the Vikings may trade out. If, however, they stay at No. 3 and make the pick, our money stays on Kalil as the safest investment of the millions of dollars the No. 3 pick will garner.
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 – Melvin Ingram, DE/OLB, South Carolina. WR Michael Floyd may get a lot of consideration, but the Jags have quietly built a respectable defense that may only be a pass rusher away from being one of the better units in the league. With the depth of the wide receiver position likely able to allow the Jags to hold off on that need until the second round, Ingram can provide a quick, immediate upgrade in the pass rush – something that was sorely lacking from the Jags defense last year.
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 – Fletcher Cox, DT, Mississippi State. One of the fastest rising prospects in this year’s draft, the Panthers have a glaring need for an upgrade at the defensive tackle spot. Dontari Poe is a possibility here, but he is more of a two-down nose tackle prospect that ideally fits in a 3-4. Cox has run-stuffing ability, but is also a penetrator that can be disruptive in the passing game as well, which should be enough to give him the nod over Poe as the Panthers look to return to respectability in the NFC South.
10. Buffalo – Michael Floyd, WR, Notre Dame. The Bills have other needs, but have committed to Ryan Fitzpatrick in the short-term and, in order to determine if he can be the long-term answer at quarterback, he needs more weapons. Floyd is a college rarity – an NFL-ready receiver who has improved each of his four seasons at Notre Dame. He will give the Bills an ideal complement on the other side of Stevie Johnson and give Buffalo a big-play dimension that has been largely missing from the offense in recent years.
11. Kansas City – Dontari Poe, DT, Memphis. Head coach/defensive coordinator Romeo Crennel learned how vital the nose tackle position is to the overall success of a defense when he had Vince Wilfork in New England. Poe’s rise up draft boards began in earnest when he wowed scouts at the Combine with his athleticism. This is a pick that blends need and talent and, seeing as the Chiefs are one of the few pure 3-4 defenses in need of a run-stopping nose tackle, it would appear to be a match made in draft heaven.
12. Seattle – Luke Kuechly, MLB, Boston College. Middle linebacker David Hawthorne led the Seahawks in tackles each of the last three seasons, but signed away with New Orleans in free agency, creating a significant vacuum at a critical position. Kuechly has been steadily climbing draft boards in recent weeks and is a tackling machine that makes plays to the sidelines. Losing Hawthorne was a blow to the Seahawks defense, but replacing him with Kuechly will ease the pain considerably.
13. Arizona – Riley Reiff, OT, Iowa. If Michael Floyd is still on the board here, the Cardinals will jump on him because Kevin Kolb needs all the help he can get on offense. But, because the Cards don’t have a second-round pick because of the Kolb trade, they need to make this one count. Reiff can come in at right tackle and, if struggling Levi Brown, who was cut and re-signed at a lower price last month, doesn’t work out, Reiff can move to left tackle in 2013 and likely be entrenched there for years. This may be a spot where the Cards may look to trade down and get their second-round pick back.
14. Dallas – Mark Barron, S, Alabama. The Cowboys secondary was brutal last year and with Michael Vick, Eli Manning and RG3 in the division, they needed significant upgrades. The team addressed cornerback in free agency with the big-money signing of Brandon Carr, but safety remains a missing front tooth in the defense. In a relatively weak safety class, the Cowboys can’t bypass the position and hope that someone like Harrison Smith lasts until their second-round pick. Barron is head and shoulders the best safety in this year’s class and fits a screaming need – a marriage of talent and need that the Cowboys will be happy to bring together.
15. Philadelphia –Quinton Coples, DE, North Carolina. The Eagles defense needs upgrading. The trade for DeMeco Ryans helps the middle level of the D, but finding a pass rusher that can make a difference is critical. Over the last couple of offseasons, the Eagles have pursued Julius Peppers and Mario Williams and lost out on both. This time, they take care of their own business and use the draft to find the difference-making pass rusher that has been missing from the Eagles defense the last three or four seasons. Coples will provide an immediate upgrade.
16. New York Jets – Courtney Upshaw, DE/OLB, Alabama. The Jets collapsed late in the season due in large part to a defense that talked a good game but didn’t play it. Upshaw is the type of player Rex Ryan would love to mold into his image. Initially, he will likely be a part-time player, but, in an aggressive defense like the Jets run, having a player with the versatility to play both DE and OLB is a bonus that provides depth at two positions. Many believe Upshaw is a top-10 talent, which would make him a value pick here, as the Jets try to get over the hump that has eluded them and made Ryan look like an arrogant bigmouth. After taking a big backward step last year, the Jets need to get their aggression back and Upshaw will be a big step in that direction.
17. Cincinnati (from Oakland) – David DeCastro, G, Stanford. The Bengals have made the playoffs two of the last three years. In 2009, they did so largely on the strength of their defense. Last year, they did it in large part to a youth-infused offense. Andy Dalton and A.J. Green both made an immediate impact, but anyone who knows the smashmouth nature of the AFC North, those games are won and lost in the trenches more than anywhere else in the NFL. Cornerback and running back may both be bigger immediate needs, but DeCastro is a younger version of Steve Hutchinson and could be a critical piece to the O-line puzzle for years to come. There isn’t a CB or RB at this point of the draft that warrants selection here.
18. San Diego – Cordy Glenn, G/OT, Georgia. The Chargers had one of the better guards in the league in Kris Dielman, but multiple concussions have ended his career. Glenn is massive and gives San Diego some interesting options. If Marcus McNeill and Jared Gaither can stay healthy, Glenn could become a dominating Pro Bowl guard. If, however, they continue to struggle with their health, he has the agility and power to be a left tackle for years to come – serving in a way as two draft picks instead of one, depending on team need. That kind of elite versatility is hard to find.
19. Chicago – Jonathan Martin, OT, Stanford. The Bears may also look on the defensive line if a player they covet remains on the board at this pick, but new offensive coordinator Mike Tice needs to make significant upgrades on the patchwork O-line, especially at left tackle – where J’Marcus Webb has rated out as one of the worst OLTs in the league. Martin could start his career on the right side of the line, because there are concerns about Gabe Carimi’s long-term viability or even move inside for a year if needed. But, given Webb’s penchant for allowing sacks, Martin may end up competing for the starting OLT job immediately.
20. Tennessee – Stephon Gilmore, CB, South Carolina. The Titans lost Cortland Finnegan to free agency and need to find a replacement sooner than later. The team held off making any big moves in free agency while they wined and dined Peyton Manning and held cap space open in the event they signed him. That didn’t happen and now they have to scramble to replace some of their own free agents they lost. He is a prospect that has been steadily rising since the combine and is a playmaker in the Finnegan mold that can help make a difference on the defensive side of the ball.
21. Cincinnati – Dre Kirkpatrick, CB, Alabama. The Bengals addressed the offensive line with their first pick of the round and now have to turn their attention to defense. Leon Hall tore his Achilles tendon in the playoffs last year and there remain questions about his return. Even if he does return, Nate Clements and Pacman Jones both stunk out the joint last year, so an upgrade is needed. The only question is whether Kirkpatrick will be the No. 2 CB in the starting lineup or the No. 1 guy.
22. Cleveland (from Atlanta) – Mike Adams, OT, Ohio State. The Browns need a go-to wide receiver, but, until they have an improved offensive line, they could have Calvin Johnson and he would struggle to put up big numbers. Adams has battled injuries during his college career, but he has prototype size and can be plugged in on either the right or left side depending on need. With the selection of Richardson with the fourth overall pick, the Browns need to improve the front line as they commit to the run game instead of getting in the QB sweepstakes right away. Reports that Adams tested positive at the Combine for marijuana could cause his stock to go into free-fall, but given his prototype size and upside, putting him as a bookend opposite Joe Thomas could have an immediate impact on the Browns offense and make them more formidable in opening holes for Trent Richardson.
23. Detroit – Whitney Mercilus, DE, Illinois. The Lions proved the hard way that they have enough talent to get to the playoffs, but, after getting torched by the Packers B-team in Week 17 and the Saints in the wild-card playoffs, they need more difference-makers on defense. The team had to put the franchise tag on Cliff Avril to keep him from bolting via free agency and Kyle Vanden Bosch is 34 years old. At a minimum, they need young blood to plug into the rotation. In a worst-case scenario, Mercilus will be asked to play immediately. With Ndamukong Suh and Nick Fairley set up for years to come in the middle of the D-line, getting youth on the edge could make the Lions front line truly fearsome.
24. Pittsburgh – Dont’a Hightower, ILB, Alabama. The Steelers defense has been predicated on strong linebacker play for the last four decades. While it hasn’t necessarily hit bottom, it has taken several hits in recent years. Hightower is the perfect type of player for the Steelers’ 3-4 defense – he is active, hits the holes aggressively and covers a lot of ground. A big DT like Cox (if he is still on the board) or Michael Brockers could be a solid fit as well, but Hightower would make the most immediate impact for a Steelers defense that has taken a small step back since winning its last Super Bowl title.
25. Denver – Michael Brockers, DT, LSU. Every year, there are a couple of players with top-10 type talent that drop for whatever reason. Brockers is arguably the best DT in the draft class, but, because of team needs elsewhere in the dozen or so picks in front of Denver, he slides right into their laps. This is a perfect storm pick – because the Broncos’ most pressing need is at defensive tackle and Brockers is a gift waiting to be opened. He’s a one-year wonder but has an incredible upside that John Fox will exploit. Some might think the Broncos would go wide receiver to give Peyton Manning another weapon, but, unless the defense can stop the run (which is no small feat in the AFC West), the team won’t win consistently.
26. Houston – Kendall Wright, WR, Baylor. The Texans have needs on both sides of the ball, but, after finally getting over the playoff hump last year, they need to take the jump to the next level as a legitimate Super Bowl contender. Andre Johnson is one of the best WRs in the league but has two problems. First, he has been injured too often and, given how much he means to the Houston offense, it was a huge blow when his hammies betrayed him last year. Second, the Texans haven’t had a legitimate complementary receiver to play opposite Andre 3000. Wright can flat-out fly and will require defensive attention, which not only will help open things up over the middle for Johnson, but help Arian Foster as well, as teams won’t be able to drop a safety in the box as often.
27. New England (from New Orleans) – Chandler Jones, DE/OLB, Syracuse. The Patriots are one of the teams in the NFL that uses role players more than most and Jones presents Bill Belichick with an ideal candidate at both the DE and OLB spots. He has the skill set to be a hand-in-the-dirt pass-rushing DE and the speed and tackling ability to play as a standup outside linebacker. The Patriots are adept at finding roles for players and Jones gives them the flexibility to plug him in at the position of greatest need.
28. Green Bay – Andre Branch, DE/OLB, Clemson. The Packers won 15 games last year, but they did so without much in the way of a pass rush and teams being able to wall off Clay Matthews because they didn’t have a legitimate pass rush threat on the other side. Branch will likely be given time to work his way into the lineup, but the potential he brings as a stand-up pass-rushing hybrid outside linebacker gives the Packers as much bang for the buck as they can find at this late stage of the first round.
29. Baltimore – Peter Konz, C, Wisconsin. Few teams draft as consistently well as the Ravens – blending the pure talents college players have with an eye to how those skills fit in the team’s scheme. Konz will be a starter from Day One, replacing departed Pro Bowl guard Ben Grubbs in 2012 and being groomed to replace Matt Birk at center for the rest of the decade starting in 2013. It isn’t a coincidence that the Ravens are consistently a playoff team in an era where teams rise and fall quickly. They draft smart with an eye to the future and Konz will cure any problems they may have down the line in the interior of the offensive line.
30. San Francisco – Stephen Hill, WR, Georgia Tech. He’s become the talk of the wide receiver draft class thanks to his incredible size (6-5) and his sprinter’s speed. Personally, I’m not sure I would take him this high because he never really blossomed as a receiver in college despite his clear athletic gifts and may end up reminding some of Troy Williamson, but with Michael Crabtree and Randy Moss playing in front of him, he will get the year or two he needs to become a savvy pro and could end up being a steal if he lives up to his massive potential. He’s a roll of the dice, but one that may pay off in a big way – not so much in 2012, but in 2013 and beyond.
31. New England – Harrison Smith, S, Notre Dame. Another case of the rich getting richer, the Patriots had the worst defense in the NFL last year and have a significant need at safety – which was a patchwork quilt at best last year. Patrick Chung has become a very good safety and, paired with Smith, could create a dynamic duo in the middle of the secondary. Because of Charlie Weis at Notre Dame, Smith is already familiar with the Patriots way. He would be an ideal fit in the New England defense and would provide a significant immediate upgrade at a position of front-burner need.
32. New York Giants – Coby Fleener, TE, Stanford. The Giants lost their top two tight ends to ACL injuries in the Super Bowl and, despite adding Martellus Bennett, need a playmaker at the position. Athletic tight ends are becoming the hot trend in the NFL and Fleener has the ability to stretch the seam for big plays and create mismatches with linebackers (speed) and safeties (size). Eli Manning hasn’t had a playmaker at TE since the team traded Jeremy Shockey and Fleener could become an immediate impact player in the New York pass offense as they attempt to defend their title.
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.