Here goes with a look at how the first round of the 2012 NFL draft will unfold. For this mock draft, I held off projecting trades up or down in the order, although as you read on there’s several spots where I think such a move is merited.
1) Indianapolis—Andrew Luck (QB, Stanford): I trust I don’t need to explain this one.
2)St. Louis—Matt Kalil (OT, USC): I suspect the Rams will end up dealing this pick for a team anxious to grab Robert Griffin III, but if they hold onto it, someone that can protect Sam Bradford’s blind side makes the most sense.
3)Minnesota—Justin Blackmon (WR, Okla State): I know the current player rankings don’t have him this high, but I have a hard time thinking that he really slips to 10-15. He’s the best receiver in the draft, a tough player and an NFL-caliber route-runner. A perfect target for Christian Ponder to grow with.
4) Cleveland—Riley Reiff (OT, Iowa): If they don’t start getting some offensive lineman in there to help Joe Thomas, the skill players should file a lawsuit for violation of worker safety.
5) Tampa Bay—Quinton Coples (DE, Tampa Bay): The Bucs have some young defensive lineman, but they need a true pass rusher. Coples takes care of that.
6)Washington—Robert Griffin III (QB, Baylor): Pending what happens in the Peyton Manning sweepstakes, the Redskins are a likely team to swap with St. Louis and grab RG3. If this current draft order holds, Griffin could slide to #6, but I find it hard to think someone won’t move up to get him.
7) Jacksonville—Michael Brockers (DT, LSU): The Jags really need a playmaker on the defensive interior and Brockers fits the bill.
8) Carolina*–Morris Claiborne (DB, LSU): If Blackmon really does fall this far, Carolina would be smart to grab him, but Claiborne’s a terrific defensive playmaker to help take this team to the next level.
9) Miami*–David Decastro (OG, Stanford): Note that Miami could end up #8, as their order with Carolina is settled in a coin flip. I think the Dolphins would be smart to trade down. The best players on the board right now don’t meet their needs, and while Decastro would be a good pick, they’d be better off dropping down a few slots, still getting him and saving some money.
10) Buffalo—Courtney Upshaw (OLB, Alabama): The Bills need a playmaker on the outside for their 3-4 scheme.
11) Kansas City*–Jonathan Martin (OT, Stanford): Similar to Miami, Kansas City would be well-advised to trade down in this spot. Martin might well be available at 15, and even if they don’t get him, it’s not a disaster. He just happens to be the best fit based on what’s available.
12) Seattle*—Melvin Ingram (DE, Alabama): The Seahawks can put him opposite Chris Clemons on the defensive front and their 4-3 would have ends that can collapse a pocket from both sides. Again, note the Seahawks could pick 11th if they win a coin flip with KC.
13) Arizona—Luke Kuechly (ILB, Boston College): He’s not spectacular, but a steady, sure tackler is what the Cardinal defense needs and someone Ken Wisenhunt will appreciate.
14) Dallas—Trent Richardson (RB, Alabama): A lot of factors at play here. In this scenario, Richardson is the falling pick, as scouts have him ranked as a top five prospect. I see him slipping, and Kansas City, Miami and Arizona all pass on the chance to take some backfield insurance with a first-round pick. Then you have the possibility the Cowboys may trade up to get Claiborne, the player who could make the most immediate impact. But Richardson’s a nice prize and gives them a back with the durability to be an every down player.
15) Philadelphia—Mark Barron (S, Alabama): Now the fourth Crimson Tide player in the last six picks and every one of them are more likely to go higher than lower. Barron fills an immediate need for the Eagles.
16) NY Jets—Michael Floyd (WR, Notre Dame): Floyd is ranked by scouts right around here, so it’s a good value pick by the Jets. But I’m going to say that by the time draft day rolls around the Jets will not pick 16th. Either Indy will have this pick as part of a deal for Peyton, or the Jets will trade down, because I don’t see Floyd as a silver bullet solution to their receiver problems. But I’ll hold off on the really creative scenarios until closer to draft day.
17)Cincinnati (from Oakland)—Kendall Wright (WR, Baylor): This is kind of a reach pick, as I don’t see the Wright as more than a high second-rounder, but the Bengals need offense and having made the playoffs last year, they’re likely to think short-term. The better players on the board are defensive right now, meaning the Bengals should either stockpile in areas of non-need, or trade down. But they won’t.
18) San Diego –Janoris Jenkins (CB, North Alabama): Any impact player on defense helps the Bolts, and Jenkins can play nickel back before eventually taking over for Antoine Cason or 32-year-old Quentin Jammer.
19)Chicago—Fletcher Cox (DT, Mississippi State): The Bears are already tough on the ends, and adding Cox gives them the kind of dominating front four that can get after Aaron Rodgers and Matthew Stafford in the NFC North.
20)Tennessee—Devon Still (DT, Penn State): A Nittany Lion pedigree never hurts with Mike Munchak, and Still was a part of one of the country’s better defenses.
21)Cincinnati—Coby Fleener (TE, Stanford): Another toy for Andy Dalton, Fleener joins Jermaine Gresham to give the Bengals two threats at tight end, along with A.J. Green and Kendall Wright at wideout.
22)Cleveland (from Atlanta): Cordy Glenn (OG, Georgia): The Browns take their second offensive lineman of the second round with a pick obtained in Atlanta’s maneuvering for Julio Jones.
23) Detroit: Vontaze Burfict (ILB, Arizona State): A combustible combination of talent and personality issues, he could merit being drafted closer to the top ten and also falling out of the second round. If he’s available, Detroit strikes me as a team that would take a chance, but having him going in the 20-25 neighborhood is the safe play.
24) Pittsburgh: Dre Kirkpatrick (CB, Alabama): Based on scouts’ rankings he could go a few slots higher. The corner-starved Steelers are delighted to have him.
25) Denver: Mike Adams (OT, Ohio State): If you’re going to play physical football, Tebow-style, you better get some linemen in the house.
26)Houston: Brock Osweiler (QB, Arizona State): The injury to Matt Scab and the inadequacy of T.J. Yates, who only won two starts against the Bengals, has the Texans thinking for the future. The fact the best players available now are all defensive and the team has no glaring weaknesses there, especially with Mario Williams coming back, make this a value pick.
27) New England (from New Orleans)—Chandler Jones (DE, Syracuse): Did we say defensive talent is out there right now? Its music to the ears of Bill Belichick, with two picks at the end of the first round and he starts it off with some help rushing the passer.
28)Green Bay: Lamar Miller (RB, Miami)—I know, they should draft a pass-rusher too and there’s players available. But the Packer 3-4 is better suited for an outside linebacker, which doesn’t have quality on the board right now, as opposed to defensive end, where the best young talent is. Miller is a tough back, who can stabilize the position and the offensive-minded Mike McCarthy needs little persuasion to add another jewel to his treasure chest at the skill spots.
29)Baltimore: Dont’a Hightower (ILB, Alabama)—The heir apparent to Ray Lewis arrives in Charm City.
30)San Francisco: Ronnell Lewis (OLB, Oklahoma)—Jim Harbaugh could use a havoc-wreaker opposite Ahmad Brooks in his 3-4 scheme, and Lewis joins Brooks in pressuring from the outside, while Willis attacks from the inside.
31)New England: Nick Perry (DE, USC)—If you can’t get top secondary talent like you need, then get two pass rushers who can get after the quarterback.
32)NY Giants: Dwyane Allen (TE, Clemson): There’s still good defensive lineman sitting out there and the Giants are a team that will stockpile here, but they could use some help at tight end.
The highest-ranked player I left off the board was Texas A&M quarterback Ryan Tannehill, who’s actually projected as a mid-first-rounder, but both following his career and looking at his scouting report on ESPN.com I’m just not seeing it.