Just hours away from the primetime pick-fest, the Top 12 of this year's NFL draft seems to be coalescing into something approaching consensus. As we count down the minutes to the start of the 2012 NFL Draft on Thursday, April 26 at 7pm ET, here's my best and final assessment of how I believe the first round will unfold.
1. Indianapolis Colts—Andrew Luck, QB, Stanford
The 6-4, 235-pound product will have his hands full taking over operations for one of the greatest players in NFL history. Andrew Luck is now a lock for the No. 1 slot and will have an even tougher task with the recent departures of Pierre Garcon, Dallas Clark, Joseph Addai, Gary Brackett and Melvin Bullitt, among others. At least luck will be on his side.
2. Washington Redskins—Robert Griffin III, QB, Baylor
While Washington is without a second-round selection this April (and also shipped its first-round picks in 2013 and 2014), something tells me RGIII is smiling more these days than Andrew Luck. Contrary to Indy, the Redskins aren't starting from scratch and scrapping everything. Instead, they're adding weapons right and left.
3. Minnesota Vikings—Matt Kalil, OT, USC
One of the best offensive tackle prospects to come along in years, Matt Kalil will protect Ponder’s blindside and help the incandescent decision-maker avoid any type of sophomore slump after taking his lumps as a rookie.
4. Cleveland Browns—Trent Richardson, RB, Alabama
Featuring an unmatched combination of size, drive, speed and strength, Trent Richardson racked up 1,679 yards and 21 touchdowns on the ground with 29 receptions for 338 yards and 3 TDs through the air in 2011. T-Rich is a complete back that will not only alleviate Colt McCoy’s or whoever is under center next year and to have the Browns bounce back to relevancy.
5. Tampa Bay Buccaneers—Morris Claiborne CB, LSU
Josh Freeman requires stronger protection, but the secondary-starved Bucs have bigger fish to fry. Morris Claiborne is flat out the best defensive back in this year’s draft class. Last season, Claiborne collected 44 tackles and had six picks for LSU.
6. St. Louis Rams—Justin Blackmon, WR, Oklahoma State
When you couple strength with talent, Justin Blackmon is the best player available and St. Louis is in some serious need of offensive weapons. Blackmon also has a tremendous ability to stretch the field, which will make life much easier for Sam Bradford.
7. Jacksonville Jaguars—Melvin Ingram DE, South Carolina
Ingram's stock has soared since his impressive display at the Combine. Melvin Ingram is very versatile and productive, having chalked up 15 tackles for a loss and 10 sacks in 2011. Jacksonville needs a corner and wide receiver like nobody's business, but upgrading the trenches is among the top priorities as well.
Look for the Philadelphia Eagles and New York Jets to try to strike a trade here, nevertheless.
8. Miami Dolphins—Ryan Tannehill, QB, Texas A&M
Sure, he's slightly overrated. He's also fairly raw and inexperienced under center. He's not a Top 10 talent, either, albeit he's hands down a first-round prospect and a lock for the Top 10 due to demand and the importance of the position.
Miami has other needs to address like adding a pass-rusher, wide receiver and an offensive tackle and Matt Moore and David Garrard are more than serviceable signal-callers. However, the Dolphins desperately need a franchise quarterback.
This team also needs to sale tickets and to get the fans excited, instead of having them protest with pitchforks.
After spending the last four years as head coach at Texas A&M, Mike Sherman was hired as the new offensive coordinator by Dolphins coach Joe Philbin. Sherman and Philbin go back centuries (OK, decades). Sherman was Philbin's high school English teacher. Then when Sherman was the head coach of the Packers, he gave Philbin his first coaching position in the NFL.
The 6-4, 222-pound signal-caller out of A&M is a brilliant fit for the 'Phins. He began his collegiate career as a wide receiver and led A&M in receptions in 2008 and 2009. Ryan Tannehill completed 61.6 percent of his passes for 3,744 yards and 29 touchdowns to 15 interceptions with 306 yards and four scores on the ground in 2011. He's the only player to accumulate over 4,000 passing yards and 2,000 receiving yards in NCAA history.
9. Carolina Panthers—Fletcher Cox, DT, Mississippi State
Carolina is simply in a mess on the defensive side of the ball and can use upgrade on the line. Last season’s second rounder Terrel McClain was pushed around playing DT. Selecting someone to jump right in and take over on the defensive front is exactly what the Panthers need. Cox comes in with a tremendous upside he is very quick off the line and is very versatile where the Panthers can use him to get to the quarterback. Fletcher Cox will be a great NFL player for many years. In college last season he racked up 56 tackles and 5.0 sacks in 11 contests.
10. Buffalo Bills—Stephon Gilmore, CB, South Carolina
After recently signing a couple of wide receivers and signing defensive-end Mario Williams during the free agency period the team addressed their primary needs. The Bills now switch gears an add a corner-back since they defiantly need an upgrade from Drayton Florence, who was terrible last season. Secondly Terrance McGee isn't getting any younger. Gilmore is a big intensive corner good fluid athleticism. He does excellent in zone coverage and has solid ball handling skills.
11. Kansas City Chiefs—David DeCastro, OG, Stanford
Chiefs in the first round have a perfect opportunity to solidify their offensive line by selecting one of the top linemen in this year’s draft. Chiefs select David DeCastro the guard that made Andrew Luck shine in Stanford. Decastro is a dominating run blocker. He has quick first step at the snap and excels when ask to pull. He has the athleticism to cover a lot of ground, with good all-around balance. DeCastro is the making of a future Pro-Bowl lineman.
12. Seattle Seahawks—Luke Kuechly, LB, Boston College
An old-school, hard-nosed run-stuffer, Luke Kuechly is an intelligent linebacker and instinctive playmaker that floats like a butterfly and stings like a bee. Kuechly is renowned for his speed and tackling ability and many believe he will be a safe pick with a long career. Kuechly’s performance at the combine proved his elite athleticism makes Kuechly an excellent pick.
13. Cardinals—Riley Reiff OT, Iowa
Left tackle is still a glaring need for the Cards the best thing they can do to improve their team is select and offensive lineman.Reiff has excellent blend of size and athleticism. He is a natural need bender with length and quick feet to mirror pass rushers. Riley Reiff has tremendous upside and will be part of the Cardinals line for many years to come.
14. Cowboys—Quinton Coples DE , North Carolina
Dallas can use an upgrade on their defense-line from Kenyon Coleman/Marcus Spears. Quinton Coples comes in ready to start in the NFL. He's capable of dominating the edge off the inside. Coples is long armed with a big frame and elite strength. He's flexible and moves extremely well for his size. While his role was a defensive end with Tar Heels, he should be able to adapt to the Cowboys’ 3-4 scheme and provide an immediate impact.
15. Eagles—Dontari Poe DT, Memphis
The Eagles can use some defensive help especially on the interior line and linebacker position but trading for DeMeco Ryans only solve half their issues. The team decides to select a defensive tackle and a good one. Dontari Poe had a stellar performance at the combine at his position. He is enormous defensive tackle weighing 346 pounds but is fast for his size. Poe ran a 4.86 40 at that weight and also benched 44 reps of 225 at the Combine.
16. Jets —Mark Barron S, Alabama
Barron is the top safety in this year’s draft class. Physically he is a big-in-the box safety and a sure tackle that thrives going down against the run. Great thing about Barron is that he does well at reading the quarterbacks eyes towards the direction of the ball. With his great instincts Barron is ready to start in the NFL. Jets did bring in LaRon Landry but in the past two seasons he has become injury prone and the Jets can need to have a full time answer.
17. Bengals— Michael Floyd WR, Notre Dame
Bengals can provide Andy Dalton another target after Jerome Simpson recent arrest it would only make sense. Floyd could come in and be the number two receiver across from last seasons rookie A.J. Green right from the start. Michael Floyd is a physical receiver who has no problem with contact over the middle. After addressing their main need in free agency by signing re-signing Manny Lawson, if they do not go with Floyd here they can possible select an offensive lineman or corner-back two another primary needs for the Bengals.
18. San Diego Chargers—Cordy Glenn, OG/OT, Georgia
A safe pick that fills in a need for the Chargers. Cordy Glenn will fit well with their offense and start right away with the Bolts. Glenn has excellent strength and long arms. He locks onto a block and presents a well understanding of angles. He has quick feet to keep up in pass protection. At San Diego, Glenn will be able to show his balance and flexibility as he starts on the offensive-line .
19. Chicago Bears—Whitney Mercilus, DE, Illinois
Best bet here is the Bears go with an defensive lineman is Whitney Mercilus, who will fit well in Chicago.Whitney Mercilus is a relentless power rusher and gets off the snap quickly and wins the battle with his strength. In the NFL he could wreck havoc on opposing quarterbacks. Last season in college he had 57 total tackles and 16 sacks.
20. Tennessee Titans—Nick Perry, DE, USC
The Tennessee Titans snatch Nick Perry with the 20th overall pick. Collecting 21.0 sacks in three seasons (9.5 as a junior), Perry plays with leverage and athleticism and is an ideal fit for the 4-3 front after putting some pounds since the Combine. He is a long arm pass rusher with great burst off the line, with a little coaching at the next level he has the ability to get 10 sacks a season.
21 Bengals—Jonathan Martin OT, Stanford
With Andy Dalton just gaining control of reins, the Bengals need to ensure his protection and can’t afford to ignore this position to upgrade his security on the line. Martin is an immediate starter and looks to do wonders to protect whoever has the ball in their hands.
22. Cleveland Browns—Kendall Wright, WR, Baylor
In his final season with Baylor, Kendall Wright chalked up 1,663 receiving yards and 14 touchdowns.Wright is a weapon of mass destruction in the slot and on the outside, and can be just as lethal on special teams. He has the makings to become a superstar at the next level and will be a brilliant compliment to Greg Little for years to come.
23. Detroit Lions—Dre Kirkpatrick, CB, Alabama
The Detroit Lions haven't taken a cornerback in any round of the past four years, with the exception of Amari Spievey, who has since switched to safety. Detroit does have an elite front four, but a great pass rush can only cover up so much. Dre Kirkpatrick is a physical corner with great size with fluid in the hips to turn and run. He also has excellent instincts in zone coverage.
24 Steelers—Donte Hightower ILB, Alabama
The Steelers defense seemed to decline last season and they could certainly use someone to work with Troy Polamalu in the middle. Hightower is a big, dominate inside linebacker with great instincts and a high football IQ. His range and coverage ability may need to adapt quicker in the next level, but he's a savvy pass rusher who play's well off the edge with some explosiveness.
25 Broncos—Michael Brockers DT, LSU
The Broncos need to put some big bodies on the defensive line. Perhaps the top talent still on the board, Michael Brockers is a natural knee bender who generates elite power from his lower half. The LSU talent has the size, length and athleticism to seamlessly fit into Denver's defense scheme.
26 Texans— Stephen Hill WR, Georgia Tech
In order to keep pace with the fellow AFC heavyweights, Houston has to find a legit No. 2 threat at wide out. Jacoby Jones and Kevin Walter combined for 70 catches for 986 yards and five scores in 2011.
That’s not going to cut it, especially considering ailing Andre Johnson had just 33 catches for 492 yards and two touchdowns. Albeit he has to have time to develop in an NFL offense, over time Stephen Hill will become a brilliant compliment to Andre Johnson. DeMaryius Thomas and Calvin Johnson have proven Georgia Tech star receivers can succeed in this league.
Hill has the size, speed, versatility and exponential potential to freak damage on teams secondary down-the-field in the NFL.
27 Patriots—Courtney Upshaw DE, Alabama
Bill Bellichick covets leaders and loves versatile players. He hits two birds with one stone here. In addition, Courtney Upshaw was also the MVP of the National Championship, in which he racked up seven tackles and 1.0 sacks against the LSU Tigers.
28. Green Bay Packers—Shea McClellin, DE, Boise State
Shea McClellin is a prototypical fit into the 3-4 outside linebacker slot at the next level. His stock has steadily been on the rise for weeks and appears to be a great fit for Green Bay, a team he visited with earlier this month and is searching to upgrade its pass rush opposite Clay Matthews.
29. Ravens— Peter Konz C, Wisconsin
The top center in this year's draft, Peter Konz possesses the skills set to develop into the leader of the Ravens' O-Line.
An athletic interior lineman with a high football IQ, Konz has great balance and coordination to cover ground and hit second level targets. The Ravens will have a high-quality starter and future Pro-Bowler in the fold from the get-go.
30. 49ers—Coby Fleener TE, Stanford
Amini Silatolu is getting connected here, too, but tight end Coby Fleener, the top target for Andrew Luck in college, was also coached under 49ers head coach Jim Harbaugh. While the Niners have bigger fish to fry at wide receiver and on the offfensive line, San Francisco can get the best of both worlds and also follow in the footsteps of the ongoing trend of running two dangerous tight ends.
Quick enough to separate himself from linebackers, Fleener has a significant size advantage against defensive backs and is equipped with decent flexibility and enough speed to stretch the middle of the field.
31 . Patriots —Jerel Worthy DT, Michigan State
A stout defensive tackle, Jerel Worthy is equipped with a quick first step, long arms and can be a tone-setter along the Patriots' defensive line. He's also versatile and New England needs to address its pass rush (or lack thereof).
32. Giants —Doug Martin RB, Boise State
Doug Martin, considered the second-best running back in this draft class, has impressive instincts and the ability to become multidimensional out of the backfield with the G-Men. His running style is chock-full of power and he should become a better compliment than Brandon Jacobs to Ahmad Bradshaw.