Editor’s note: This version of the mock draft includes two predicted trades in the first round, one by the Chiefs and one by the Jets. It also includes 63 picks in the first two rounds, taking into account the New Orleans Saints’ loss of a second-round pick in the wake of the bounty scandal.
We’re less than three weeks away from the greatest three-day event of the entire calendar year — the NFL Draft. Some prospects are rising on my board, others are dropping and I’ve got two trade predictions in the top 10 that’ll shake it all up for everyone. Here’s my latest take on the draft’s first two rounds.
1. Indianapolis Colts: Andrew Luck, QB, Stanford
A lot of draftniks have come out and said they like Robert Griffin III more than Andrew Luck. They think Griffin has a better arm, more potential and more mobility than the two-time Heisman runner-up. That’s all well and good. It makes for good fodder online. Luck will go first. He’ll step in Week 1 and immediately assume the role as the new locker-room leader.
2. Washington Redskins (from St. Louis Rams): Robert Griffin III, QB, Baylor
Griffin is a great fit for Washington. He fits into the Shanahan scheme perfectly and has all the moxie necessary to lead a struggling franchise back to the top. He’s already taken Baylor from the basement of the Big 12 to the Alamo Bowl. If he can do that, bringing the Redskins back to the playoffs is nothing. There’s more talent at the wideout position in Washington than there was a year ago. Pierre Garcon and Josh Morgan are solid, veteran receivers that RG3 will click with. There are better days ahead, ’Skins fans.
3. Kansas City Chiefs (via predicted trade with Minnesota Vikings): Ryan Tannehill, QB, Texas A&M
Whaddya say, let’s have a little fun. Matt Cassel is a fine enough middle-of-the-road starting quarterback, but he’s not leading the Chiefs to the Super Bowl anytime soon. There also doesn’t seem to be an overwhelming amount of confidence in him from the head coach and front office. Tannehill is not close to a finished product, but he has unlimited potential. Unlike his doubters — and there are many — I think he could end up being a tremendous NFL quarterback. The more I watch him on tape, the more I love what he can bring to an offense. He’s mobile and smart and has the size and arm for the NFL. Using the ol’ trade value chart, the No. 3 overall pick would cost Kansas City its first (11th overall), third (66th overall) and fourth (98th overall) selections. To get a franchise QB? If I’m Scott Pioli, I’m asking, “Where do I sign?”
4. Cleveland Browns: Morris Claiborne, CB, LSU
Claiborne got a 4 on his Wonderlic test. Well, I had a McGriddle for breakfast today. What do those two things have in common? Neither matter come Day 1 of the NFL Draft, at all. Claiborne is a top-five talent and could go as high as No. 3 to the Vikings if they opt to keep the pick. Browns fans may roll their eyes in disgust over the selection of another defensive player in the first round, but the pairing of Joe Haden and Claiborne as starting cornerbacks — in a passing league — for the next 3-5 years is an awfully impressive way to build a defense.
5. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Trent Richardson, RB, Alabama
Arian Foster went undrafted and led the league in rushing two years ago. Ahmad Bradshaw went in the seventh round and has been the Giants’ feature back for the past three years. My point? You don’t need to spend a top-five pick to get production out of the running-back spot. So, why would Tampa use one in 2012? Because Richardson is the extremely rare talent who’s worth it. Watching his film, I can tell you with no hesitation that he’s the highest-rated running back I’ve had on my draft board since Adrian Peterson left Oklahoma in 2007. Richardson running behind Davin Joseph and Carl Nicks? Wow.
6. New York Jets (via predicted trade with St. Louis Rams, from Redskins): Ryan Kalil, OT, USC
Another trade? With first-round picks not making the same astronomical rookie salaries that they made from 2005-10, you better believe there will be more trades. Aggressive teams — such as the Jets — will be looking to hop up into the top 10 if/when a player high on their board slips. Kalil is far and away the best offensive tackle in the 2012 NFL Draft. He can play left tackle, but he is most likely a right tackle out of the gates. Having watched Mark Sanchez get destroyed from the right side of his line throughout the 2011 season, I can assure you that New York’s front office would be salivating if Kalil slipped out of the top five. What would it take? New York’s first- and second-round picks. Done and done.
7. Jacksonville Jaguars: Justin Blackmon, WR, Oklahoma State
Gene Smith waits patiently and gets the guy his quarterback Blaine Gabbert so desperately needs — a playmaking, No. 1 receiver. I’ve seen Blackmon compared to everyone from Terrell Owens to Hakeem Nicks. I think he’s somewhere in between those two, and he has a very impressive 10-year career ahead as a top-10 NFL receiver. Gabbert had no weapons last year. Now, there are no excuses.
8. Miami Dolphins: Riley Reiff, OT, Iowa
That collective groan you’ll hear April 26? That’ll be the frustrated Dolphins fans across the country when they fail to land Ryan Tannehill come draft day. With Peyton Manning in Denver, Matt Flynn in Seattle, Alex Smith in San Francisco, and Luck, RG3 and Tannehill going elsewhere — I think new coach Joe Philbin goes with the best offensive tackle available. This won’t go over as badly as when Cam Cameron was booed for drafting Ted Ginn Jr. over Brady Quinn in 2007, but it won’t go over particularly well, either.
9. Carolina Panthers: Fletcher Cox, DT/DE, Mississippi State
At the end of the college football season, I penciled in Cox as a second-round selection. Less than four months later, I’m sold on Cox as a top-10 pick. His draft stock is on fire after a huge week at the NFL Scouting Combine and a sound pro day workout. A 6-foot-5, 300-pound run stuffer who can play in either a 3-4 or a 4-3 defense, he’s a young, versatile defensive lineman who could flourish in Ron Rivera’s defense.
10. Buffalo Bills: Melvin Ingram, DE/OLB, South Carolina
There may be no unit in the entire NFL that I’m more excited about than the 2012 Buffalo Bills defense. No, I’m not being sarcastic. With a healthy Kyle Williams, Marcell Dareus and now Mario Williams in town, there’s a ton of talent on Buffalo’s defensive line. Adding Ingram, either as an OLB in Dave Wannstedt’s 4-3 or as another defensive end (see Aldon Smith in San Francisco), would only make them scarier. Love Ingram’s skill set; love him in Buffalo red and blue.
11. Minnesota Vikings (via predicted trade with Chiefs): Jonathan Martin, OT, Stanford
Minnesota fans may see this selection and ask, “Um, why trade out of the No. 3 pick if we’re drafting an offensive tackle with the 11th pick, anyway?” Minnesota doesn’t just need an offensive tackle; it needs cornerbacks, defensive tackles, linebackers and receivers. And guards and centers and whatever other positions there are on a football field. Getting Kansas City’s third- and fourth-round picks will give the team a chance to bring in more quality players. Simple as that.
12. Seattle Seahawks: Quinton Coples, DE, North Carolina
I loved the Seahawks’ quiet re-signing of Red Bryant, one of the most underrated producers in the game, and picking up Jason Jones for one year was a no-lose move. Coples had a monster 2011 season and a solid combine workout. He could play defensive end or rush the passer from the OLB spot. A lot of draftniks have him going in the top 10. He could be a steal at No. 12 for the pass-rush-hungry Seahawks.
13. Arizona Cardinals: Mike Adams, OT, Ohio State
Mike Adams? In the top 15? I can see it happening. Adams has the most NFL-ready frame of all the left tackles in this draft. From what I’m hearing from a variety of scouts, there’s a lot to like about the Buckeyes star. The Cardinals may be reaching at 13th overall for a guy many have going in the second round, but I can see GM Rod Graves and Co. rolling the dice on a future franchise left tackle.
14. Dallas Cowboys: David DeCastro, OG, Stanford
Signing Brandon Carr is a tremendous upgrade at cornerback for Dallas, but there are some who’ll be clamoring the Cowboys to pick Alabama safety Mark Barron if he’s still on the board here. The defensive backfield was the team’s Achilles’ heel last year, but the ’Boys could use a big mauler such as DeCastro on the offensive line. Guards got big money in free agency this year. Taking one with the 14th pick in the draft isn’t considered too high anymore.
15. Philadelphia Eagles: Michael Brockers, DT, LSU
Before trading for DeMeco Ryans, just about everyone (including me) had the Eagles drafting Luke Kuechly, the do-everything middle linebacker out of Boston College. With the linebacker position addressed via Ryans, Philly can go a variety of directions with the 15th pick. Brockers may fulfill a huge area of need—Philly already has Cullen Jenkins and Mike Patterson at DT—but he could be the best player on the board. An active, big body, Brockers came on strong towards the end of the 2011 season and had a fantastic week at the Combine.
16. St. Louis Rams (via predicted trade with Jets, from Redskins): Michael Floyd, WR, Notre Dame
Les Snead and Kevin Demoff could win Executives of the Year if they can parlay the second overall pick into the 16th overall pick, two additional future first-rounders, the Redskins’ and Jets’ second-round picks this year — and still snag a No. 1 receiver in Michael Floyd. The Notre Dame record-holder stole the show at the combine, measuring in at 6-3, 220 pounds, and running the 40-yard dash in 4.47 seconds. He’s had some off-field issues with alcohol-related incidents, but he has been all aces in the interview process. Some guys I’ve spoken to like Floyd even more than Blackmon.
17. Cincinnati Bengals (from Oakland Raiders): Dre Kirkpatrick, CB, Alabama
A 6-1 DB with top-flight speed (think Patrick Peterson speed), Kirkpatrick is the rare tall cornerback who can keep up with the game’s fastest receivers. I’ve heard some scouts say they see him fitting in better at safety at the next level, but I think he could be an elite cornerback. With guys such as Calvin Johnson, Julio Jones and A.J. Green catching passes, there’s nothing wrong with a big cornerback if he’s got the speed to keep up. Kirkpatrick does.
18. San Diego Chargers: Courtney Upshaw, DE/OLB, Alabama
Upshaw fits San Diego’s defensive scheme quite well and could be the elite pass rusher the defense needed in 2011. He was an absolute stud during his time in Tuscaloosa, owned Senior Bowl week and was solid on his pro day.
19. Chicago Bears: Nick Perry, DE, USC
The Bears have been aggressive this offseason, trading a pair of third-rounders for Brandon Marshall, locking up Eric Weems with a long-term deal and signing Devin Thomas away from the Giants. At the very least, they’ll have a nice special teams unit. The defensive line played poorly last season. Aside from Julius Peppers and breakout talent Henry Melton, there wasn’t much production out of Chicago’s front four. Perry had a big year in 2011; he could be a nice fit in Chicago.
20. Tennessee Titans: Whitney Mercilus, DE, Illinois
The Titans were a win away from a wild-card berth in 2011 and did that without much impact from the team’s defensive ends. The Tennessee defense was 24th in the league against the run and an embarrassing 31st in sacks. Mercilus, a guy not everyone has listed as a first-round pick, can do one thing and one thing for sure — get to the quarterback. A 6-4, 270-pound athlete, Mercilus put up huge numbers in 2011, recording 16 sacks. He might not be a household name at the moment, but I think he finds his way into the top 20.
21. Cincinnati Bengals: Luke Kuechly, LB, Boston College
Kuechly won the Butkus, Nagurski, Lombardi and Lott Impact Trophy awards last season and has more career tackles (532) than any other player in the draft. There were questions about his speed heading into the combine, but he put those to rest with a blazing 4.5 40. He’s been compared to Sean Lee, without the durability and injury issues. An added bonus here? Kuechly’s a local guy, born and raised in Cincinnati.
22. Cleveland Browns (from Atlanta Falcons): Coby Fleener, TE, Stanford
The Browns pick a cornerback with the fourth overall selection and get Colt McCoy a go-to target in Fleener with the 22nd. If talents such as Jimmy Graham, Rob Gronkowski, and Aaron Hernandez have shown us anything, it’s that a big, athletic tight end can take an offense to the next level. Fleener is just starting to scratch the surface of what he can do. He stole the Cardinal’s pro day, clocking between a 4.5 and 4.55 40-yard dash while sizing up at 6-5, 240 pounds.
23. Detroit Lions: Mark Barron, CB/S, Alabama
The big debate surrounding Alabama’s defensive backfield is whether Dre Kirkpatrick is a cornerback or safety at the next level. I’m actually more intrigued by Barron. Hands down the best safety in this draft class, I think Barron actually could play cornerback at the next level. Yeah, he played safety in college. And sure, he is 6-1, 215 pounds. But he’s fast enough to make the move. At either spot, he’s a great pickup for Detroit here.
24. Pittsburgh Steelers: Dontari Poe, DT, Memphis
The local fan base might be pushing for Penn State DT Devon Still, but I think Pittsburgh goes with combine wunderkind Poe. At 6-4, 350 pounds and able to run a 40 in less than five seconds, Poe stole headlines at the combine. His tape reveals a kid who didn’t dominate against smaller opponents. I’ve seen him going in the top 10 in other mocks, but I’m not sure a team is going to roll the dice on him that high. He fits Dick LeBeau’s 3-4 quite nicely, physically, but he needs to get there mentally. Memphis did not run a 3-4.
25. Denver Broncos: Devon Still, DT, Penn State
The Peyton Manning era begins in Denver, but Peyton can’t play DT, can he? Draftniks seem to be divided on Still. He had an inconsistent and underwhelming first few years at Penn State, and then busted onto the scene and dominated the Big Ten, earning defensive player of the year honors last season. At the combine, Still told reporters, “I think hands down I’m the best defensive tackle. I want it more. I was able to take over a lot of games.” The Broncos defense has some nice pieces, but it can use more. Adding Still won’t make the same headlines as Manning did, but it could be just as wise.
26. Houston Texans: Kendall Wright, WR, Baylor
Wright’s stock took a bit of a hit when he showed up to the combine a bit heavier and slower than expected. I still see him going in the first round, and if he’s still around when Houston is on the clock, don’t expect the Texans to take the full 15 minutes. I’ve been hot on Wright, who’s most often compared to DeSean Jackson for his big-play ability, since I saw him toe the sideline for 30 yards on a touchdown run vs. Kansas State. He’s a lightning bolt who possesses good hands and great route-running ability. He’s not built like a Calvin Johnson or a Larry Fitzgerald, but he’d be an incredible complement to Andre Johnson in Gary Kubiak’s offense.
27. New England Patriots (from New Orleans Saints): Cordy Glenn, G/OT, Georgia
Glenn is one of the rare people on Earth who tips the scales at 345 pounds and still runs a sub-5-second 40. The big fella wowed scouts at the combine, showing speed and agility that had reporters suggesting he could play center, guard or even tackle at the next level. If he slips this far, look for Bill Belichick and Co. to scoop him up and find a place for him. He’s too talented to slip out of the first round.
28. Green Bay Packers: Shea McClellin, OLB, Boise State
McClellin is the guy I have rising rapidly up my draft board. He wasn’t the biggest high school recruit and never was the most heralded NFL prospect at Boise State, but his senior season was a monstrous one. He had 12 1/2 tackles for a loss and seven sacks and contributed on 50 tackles. He’s an active defender who could be the other 3-4 OLB so sorely needed in Dom Capers’ Green Bay defense.
The Ravens lost a longtime reliable cog in Jarret Johnson this week. Ray Lewis isn’t getting any younger, either. It’s time to upgrade at the linebacker spot. If Hightower — the third-rated inside linebacker talent on my board — is available, they should go ahead and grab him. A tackling machine out of Nick Saban’s defensive star factory, he could make an impact right away. Remember, GM Ozzie Newsome is an Alabama guy, too.
30. San Francisco 49ers: Stephon Gilmore, CB, South Carolina
With Randy Moss, Mario Manningham, Brandon Jacobs and Perrish Cox all inking deals in March, the 49ers were far more active in the free-agency period this year than last. They bring back all 11 defensive starters. Lightning fast and big enough to play against bigger receivers at the next level, Gilmore could go even higher than No. 30. He’s a steal here.
31. New England Patriots: Kendall Reyes, DT, Connecticut
Reyes’ draft stock is rising after a strong combine performance and a solid pro day workout. Reyes won UConn’s MVP and defensive player of the year awards for his play in 2011, when he accumulated 46 tackles, including 13 1/2 for loss. He’d make for a nice addition to an already solid defensive line.
32. New York Giants: Jayron Hosley, CB, Virginia Tech
Hosley follows a long line of productive NFL cornerbacks out of Virginia Tech that includes DeAngelo Hall and Brandon Flowers. Some NFL scouts think he could be the best of the bunch. He’s currently undersized, but as a guy who excelled as a true freshman in ’09 and earned All-American honors in ’10, his ability to play the position isn’t a question. Giants fans may be pounding the pavement for a linebacker here, but they can’t go wrong adding another first-round talent at corner. Hosley isn’t the biggest or fastest guy in this cornerback class, but he’s a cerebral type who can cover both big, rangy wideouts and quick, undersized ones. I like him in New York blue.
33. Rams: Jerel Worthy, DT, Michigan State
34. Colts: Rueben Randle, WR, LSU
35. Vikings: Brandon Thompson, DT, Clemson
36. Buccaneers: Janoris Jenkins, CB, North Alabama