We’re 50 days away from the 2012 NFL draft and just over a week away from the start of free agency. The complexion of the draft could shift dramatically when the market opens, with teams adjusting priorities and making deals. Where will Peyton Manning land? What about Mario Williams? We could be looking at a very different first round projection by April.
There are a few minor tweaks to this weeks mock, but no substantial changes. I’ll continue to project Cleveland trading up for Robert Griffin III rather than Washington. Although many people make the Redskins favorites at this stage, the Browns will have to physically reject the chance to draft Griffin III not to make this happen. Whatever Washington is willing to pay, Cleveland can better it with their two first round picks this year.
Some reports have suggested the Browns aren’t willing to part with the #22 overall pick. We’re in a period now where teams are jostling for leverage in negotiations, things will eventually pick up after the posturing is complete and a deal will be made. Cleveland appointed Brad Childress – a coordinator from the Andy Reid coaching tree – for a reason. The Redskins would have to be creative to beat the Browns to RGIII and I suspect they’ll be less inclined to do so knowing they can still draft Ryan Tannehill at #6 without giving up as much as three first round picks. Given time I expect Cleveland will do what it takes to get the deal done and it’s very much in their hands.
The prospect I’m most intrigued with at the moment is Alabama’s Trent Richardson. He won’t participate in Alabama’s pro-day after minor knee surgery, having already missed the combine. A player with such undoubted quality doesn’t need work-outs to prove anything, but teams will want to see him healthy and running prior to the draft. Richardson is good enough to be a top-five pick and could be drafted as a luxury by teams with a star running back already in the stable. For example, there’s nothing to stop Tampa Bay, Jacksonville or Miami deciding the guy is just too good to pass. If he’s an option for the Seahawks having just re-signed Marshawn Lynch to a four-year extension, he’s an option to partner Maurice Jones-Drew or Reggie Bush.
At the moment I have Richardson going to Kansas City, a team who could build their offense around a double-headed monster alongside Jamaal Charles. But if he did make it to #12, the Seahawks would have a choice to make. The concept of a Lynch-Richardson partnership is beyond exciting, yet Seattle really wants to improve their pass rush first and foremost. With a lot of the second tier defensive ends promoting their stock into round one, the Seahawks would be taking a big risk by not adding to their front seven in round one. At the same time, the depth at running back in rounds 2-3 is very good with the likes of Doug Martin, Lamar Miller, David Wilson and Chris Polk likely to be available.
Passing on a player like Richardson would be tough to handle, even though Seattle has one of the more productive running backs in the NFL. But if other teams picking in the top-ten are willing to look elsewhere, so could the Seahawks.
I can already hear the groans from some as Courtney Upshaw is once again placed with the Seahawks in this mock. I have to stick to my guns with this and call the board as I see it. There’s still a chance Upshaw could go higher than a lot of people expect, even in the top ten. A prospect like Melvin Ingram has momentum on his side after an impressive display at the combine, but over the next few weeks teams will go back to the tape. Below I’ve included two games from each prospect – Ingram against two tough opponents from 2011 in Nebraska and Clemson, Upshaw against Cam Newton and Auburn (National Champions) from 2010 and also this year’s BCS Championship game against LSU. Ingram takes the athletic edge, but on tape I firmly believe Upshaw wins out. Judge for yourself:
Melvin Ingram vs Nebraska & Clemson
Courtney Upshaw vs Auburn & LSU
Either way, it seems likely both players – and Quinton Coples - will be off the board when Jacksonville, Miami, Buffalo and Seattle have made their picks.
Updated first round mock draft
|#1 Andrew Luck (QB, Stanford)
Indianapolis confirmed the inevitable this week. Peyton Manning will be cut, Andrew Luck will be the team’s new quarterback.
|TRADE #2 Robert Griffin III (QB, Baylor)
The Browns have the ammunition to make this happen. Eventually, they’ll come to a deal with St. Louis.
|#3 Matt Kalil (OT, USC)
Minnesota won’t waste any time calling Kalil’s name. He has elite potential.
|TRADE #4 Justin Blackmon (WR, Oklahoma State)
I wouldn’t take Blackmon this early, but the Rams need a playmaker more than anything else.
|#5 Morris Claiborne (CB, LSU)
Linebacker and cornerback are the two biggest needs on this team, but they must be tempted by Trent Richardson too.
|#6 Ryan Tannehill (QB, Texas A&M)
If the Redskins don’t trade up, it’s hard to see them drifting into another year without some long term thinking at quarterback.
|#7 Melvin Ingram (DE, South Carolina)
The Jaguars need to improve their pass rush and will have the pick of Ingram, Upshaw and Coples.
|#8 Riley Reiff (OT, Iowa)
If the Dolphins sign Peyton Manning and Reggie Wayne, their priority would have to be protecting that investment.
|#9 Dontari Poe (DT, Memphis)
Players who weigh 345lbs and move as well as Poe don’t last long on draft day. Carolina will transition to more 3-4 looks.
|#10 Quinton Coples (DE, North Carolina)
Moving to a 4-3 defense makes Coples a solid fit here. The Bills desperately need to improve their pass rush.
|#11 Trent Richardson (RB, Alabama)
Richardson is too talented to keep falling and if he drops out of the top ten, he probably won’t get past Kansas City and Seattle.
|#12 Courtney Upshaw (DE, Alabama)
The Seahawks’ draft priority is to improve their pass rush. Upshaw will have a big impact on Seattle’s defense.
|#13 Jonathan Martin (OT, Stanford)
Whoever is playing quarterback for Arizona next year, the Cardinals simply must draft an offensive tackle.
|#14 Cordy Glenn (OT, Georgia)
Dallas could attack the corner market in free agency, allowing them to target Glenn or David DeCastro at this spot.
|#15 Flecther Cox (DT, Mississippi State)
Andy Reid hasn’t drafted linebackers early in the past and he might find it difficult to pass on a physical freak like Cox.
|#16 Andre Branch (DE, Clemson)
New York needs to improve it’s pass rush. Branch has a ton of potential and can transition to the 3-4.
|#17 David DeCastro (OG, Stanford)
Cincinnati will want to make sure one of their first round picks is a corner, but DeCastro is hard to pass here.
|#18 Whitney Mercilus (DE, Illinois)
With the top offensive lineman leaving the board before the #18 pick, San Diego may fill another big need here.
|#19 Michael Floyd (WR, Notre Dame)
Floyd’s combine performance was good enough to confirm his likely position within the first round.
|#20 Nick Perry (DE, USC)
Tennessee are another team that has to look at the edge rushers. The tape doesn’t always match Perry’s excellent combine performance.
|#21 Dre Kirkpatrick (CB, Alabama)
Tall, physical cornerback who specialises in run support but his coverage skills need work.
|TRADE #22 Michael Brockers (DT, LSU)
St. Louis has some edge rush talent but they don’t have a space clogger in the middle. Brockers could be BPA at this stage.
|#23 Stephon Gilmore (CB, South Carolina)
A smart performance at the combine will promote Gilmore’s stock into the bottom half of round one.
|#24 Mike Adams (OT, Ohio State)
There are some legitimate concerns about Adams’ play, but Pittsburgh may take a chance.
|#25 Luke Kuechly (LB, Boston College)
Yes he performed well at the combine – but he’s still a middle linebacker, a position with a restricted value.
|#26 Stephen Hill (WR, Georgia Tech)
He’s a tremendous athlete who makes spectacular plays. It’s more than combine hype that puts Hill in round one contention.
|#27 Peter Konz (C, Wisconsin)
Nick Mangold, Alex Mack and Peter Konz. That’s how good Konz is leaving college.
|#28 Vinny Curry (DE, Marshall)
The Packers are running out of options to improve their pass rush and could consider Curry in this situation.
|#29 Kendall Wright (WR, Baylor)
Wright could drop a bit after running slow times. San Francisco won’t care – they’ll find ways to max-out his talent in different ways.
|#30 Dont’a Hightower (LB, Alabama)
The very definition of a defensive prospect who fits in Baltimore. A tough football player, simple as that.
|#31 Mark Barron (S, Alabama)
The injury isn’t helping matters and although he has legitimate top-20 potential, he may fall a bit.
|#32 Josh Robinson (CB, UCF)
A late riser after a great combine. New York are in a position to look for value.