Senior Bowl Week festivities in Mobile, Alabama didn’t catapult any players to the top spot in the Draft, but it did help several seniors looking to improve their draft stock. Pocket quarterbacks Brandon Weeden and Kirk Cousins, though not the most scintillating of prospects, proved that they’re worthy of second or third round picks in April’s Draft.
North Alabama cornerback Janoris Jenkins, a player who was dismissed from Florida last season for disciplinary reasons, showed the he possessed first-round talent. Quinton Coples, the pass-rushing beast out of North Carolina, solidified himself as a Top 10 pick.
A lot will happen in the next three months, but here’s how my first round is looking as of now:
Note: This mock draft does not account for potential trades. This mock draft also is seeding the remaining playoff teams based on their order of finish in the regular season.
* Denotes a coin toss to determine Draft Order between two teams. Coin tosses occur at NFL Draft Scouting Combine in February
1. Indianapolis Colts: Andrew Luck, QB, Stanford: Things have gotten a tad bit ugly in Indianapolis over the past few weeks, and you’re crazy if you don’t think this Peyton Manning storyline isn’t going to play a prominent role during Super Bowl week. Andrew Luck’s going to be an Indianapolis Colt. That’s not even an issue. The questions is, “What happens to Peyton Manning?” As I’ve been saying since Week 4, what the front office and ownership decide to do with the best Indianapolis Colt in franchise history should make for one of the most intriguing personnel moves of all time.
2. St. Louis Rams: Justin Blackmon, WR, Oklahoma State: Most draft pundits are treating it as some foregone conclusion that the Rams are trading this pick for a quarterback-starved team — think Miami or Washington — but I’m not so certain they do. Sam Bradford needs a No. 1 target to grow old with. Blackmon’s compared to everyone from Dez Bryant to Terrell Owens. He’s that good. St. Louis hasn’t had a receiving talent like this since Torry Holt in the "Greatest Show on Turf" era. Blackmon would give their new front office and head coach a guy to get the local fanbase pumped up.
3. Minnesota Vikings: Matt Kalil, OT, USC: The way Christian Ponder finished the season this year in Minnesota, I’m not exactly convinced he’s the long-term guy for the future. The defensive backfield was an absolute disaster in 2011, too. But with the third selection, I think the Vikings will go with Kalil, the younger brother of Panthers center Ryan Kalil. The All-American tackle flat-out dominated the competition in the Pac-12 this season. He’s a 6-foot-7, 295-pound pass protector who has surprisingly quick feet. He’s the top tackle in this draft, and that’s not even debatable. I think he’ll be protecting the blind side of the Vikings QB — whoever that might be — for many years to come.
4. Cleveland Browns: Robert Griffin III, QB, Baylor: If there’s one guy who’s got the moxie and experience to take a longtime losing franchise and turn them into a winning one, it’s Robert Griffin III. Long considered the joke of Big 12 football, Griffin III brought Baylor to new heights and turned the program into one of the nation’s most exciting in four years in Waco. The Browns haven’t been to the playoffs since 2002 and the last quarterback to start a postseason game was Kelly Holcomb. Though you could make the argument that Colt McCoy had no weapons and he’s not to blame for yet another lost season by the Lake, I can’t see the Browns passing on Griffin if he’s available at No. 4. You know all about his mobility and athleticism, but his arm is what impresses me most. He’s got a cannon that can battle those late-December Cleveland winds.
5. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Morris Claiborne, CB, LSU: The Greg Schiano era begins! The Buccaneers have a new coach, plenty of salary cap room, and a lot of young pieces. They fell apart last year, but I actually don’t think they’re that far away from being relevant again. Claiborne’s the wise pick at number 5. Some scouts like Claiborne even more than last year’s 5th overall pick and Claiborne’s former defensive backfield partner at LSU, Arizona Cardinals cornerback Patrick Peterson. Claiborne would be a much-needed addition to a young Tampa defense that got trounced upon last season.
6. Washington Redskins: Riley Reiff, OT, Iowa: This pick should have a giant asterisk next to it because it entirely depends on what a) the Redskins do in free agency, and b) what they’re willing to do to move up to that number 2 spot. If the Redskins opt to sign Packers backup Matt Flynn in March, look for Daniel Snyder, Bruce Allen and Mike Shanahan to grab him a bookend tackle to pair with Trent Williams on the offensive line. Protecting their next franchise quarterback with two Top 10 tackles isn’t the worst thing to do. In a division with DeMarcus Ware, Jason Pierre-Paul, Justin Tuck and Jason Babin, it’s almost required.
7. Jacksonville Jaguars: Quinton Coples, DE/DT, North Carolina: Jacksonville’s D showed flashes a year ago, but still is missing an elite pass-rushing threat from the outside. If Justin Blakmon slips, he could be a consideration at 7. If not, Coples would give the Jacksonville fans something to be jazzed about on the defensive side of the ball. An absolute star at the Senior Bowl this week, his stock will only continue to rise throughout February’s Combine and the interview process.
8. Carolina Panthers*: Devon Still, DT, Penn State: Though not the flashiest of picks, Still to Carolina makes a whole lot of sense. The Big 10 Defensive Player of the Year from 2011, Still can rush the passer and provide the run stuffing up front that Carolina’s D so desperately needs. The unit gets Jon Beason back next season and showed improvements down the stretch. Still would be a huge addition up front.
9. Miami Dolphins*: Jonathan Martin, OT, Stanford: If Miami can’t get an elite QB in the first round, they could do a lot worse than locking up another franchise tackle in Martin. Some quarterback — whether it be Matt Moore, a re-signed Chad Henne or a free agent to be named later — would have the amazing luxury of having Jake Long, Mike Pouncey and Martin protecting him for the next decade. Who that quarterback is remains the looming — and most important — offseason question mark in Miami this offseason. Oh, and finding a head coach, too.
10. Buffalo Bills: Courtney Upshaw, OLB, Alabama: Though he was certainly a first rounder beforehand, Upshaw played himself into the Top 20 with his dominant performances in January’s BCS National Championship Game and last week’s slate of Senior Bowl practices. Capable of playing either the defensive end or outside linebacker spot, Upshaw possesses what Todd McShay calls … wait for it … ”scheme versatility” (now, drink!). The Bills desperately need a pass-rushing threat. Adding Upshaw to a front seven that already includes his college teammate Marcel Dareus would be wise.
11. Kansas City Chiefs*: Trent Richardson, RB, Alabama: The Chiefs lost Jamaal Charles in the second week of the 2011 NFL season, and the offense never rebounded. Charles should be back and healthy next season, but Richardson is the rare running back talent who can completely change an offense. The way this mock draft has unfolded, he’ll be slipping out of the top 10 — something few scouts or experts expect. I’ve seen Richardson going as high as No. 4 to Cleveland in some mock drafts. I don’t think he falls any further than No. 11. The last running back prospect I felt this strongly about was Adrian Peterson.
12. Seattle Seahawks*: Melvin Ingram, DE/OLB, South Carolina: Ingram solidified himself as a top-20 pick with a dominant week of Senior Bowl practices. Capable of playing either the outside linebacker or defensive end spot, he’s a pass-rushing force who rarely fails to make an impact on a play. Seattle’s got needs all over and the local fan base may be pushing for a quarterback here, but I think they go Ingram, the high-octane pass rusher.
13. Arizona Cardinals: David DeCastro, OG, Stanford: The Arizona Cardinals’ defense was one of the best stories of the season’s second half. The offense struggled mightily, though. Look for Arizona to bolster the interior of its offensive line, adding a mauler like DeCastro in the middle. Lost in a lot of the Andrew Luck and Jonathan Martin draft buzz this year was the season DeCastro had at guard for Stanford. He’ll help open up holes for a run game that hasn’t been very good in years.
14. Dallas Cowboys: Dre Kirkpatrick, CB, Alabama: Kirkpatrick was caught with marijuana a few weeks back and that certainly doesn’t “help” his draft stock, but I don’t think it knocks him out of the first round, either. A 6-3 cornerback (think Patrick Peterson size) with top-flight speed (think Patrick Peterson speed), Kirkpatrick is the rare tall cornerback who can keep up with the game’s fastest receivers (like Patrick Peterson). The Cowboys are desperate for some depth and some young talent at cornerrback. Kirkpatrick — a guy I could see going in the top 10 — would be an absolute steal at No. 14.
15. Philadelphia Eagles: Zach Brown, LB, North Carolina: Though the Eagles defense finished the season strong, their linebackers still had their issues. The LBs were a problem all season. In Brown, a guy I like considerably more as an NFL prospect than Boston College’s Luke Kuechly, the Eagles would get the type of player that’s in on every play with a ton of potential to get better. A 6-foot-2, 240-pound tackling machine, Brown’s a guy who changes games. Watching a UNC game is like watching a Zach Brown highlight reel. The Eagles could use some of that resourcefulness roaming the middle.
16. New York Jets: Mark Barron, Safety, Alabama: The Jets should have a new look on offense under offensive coordinator Tony Sparano and could certainly use a legitimate right tackle to replace the Robert Turner/Wayne Hunter duo. But with no elite prospects left on the board, I don’t see New York reaching on taking an offensive lineman for the sake of taking one. Barron’s a tough-nosed hitter who can make an impact in pass coverage, He can start right away.
17. Cincinnati Bengals (via Oakland): Janoris Jenkins, CB, North Alabama: Jenkins is no angel. He’s had multiple issues off the field and was dismissed from the Florida Gators football squad by Will Muschamp a year ago. Talent-wise? He’s got top-10 ability. Considered a bit of a gamble because of the off-the-field stuff, he might not even be on some teams boards. If there’s one franchise willing to roll the dice, it’s the Bengals.
18. San Diego Chargers: Nick Perry, DE, USC: As a junior, Perry matured into a pass rushing force, leading the Pac-12 in sacks and serving as the anchor on a young Trojans defensive line. Perry excelled in Monte Kiffin’s pro-style defensive scheme and is one of the guys I see flat-out dominating at the Combine. His stock can only go up. The Chargers defense could use another outside pass-rushing threat.
19. Chicago Bears: Peter Konz, C, Wisconsin: Apparently, one of the main reasons Jerry Angelo is no longer the GM in Chicago is his inability to build an adequate offensive line. That horrific offensive crew, paired with Jay Cutler’s injury, ended up costing the Bears a spot in the playoffs this year. The Bears drafted one Badgers offensive lineman in Gabe Carimi last year and would be wise to take another in Konz. He’s a mauler who can play either guard or center at the next level.
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 the league 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. This might not be a household name at the moment, but I think he finds his way into the top 20 come April.
21. Cincinnati Bengals: Luke Kuechly, LB, Boston College: The 2011 winner of the Butkus Award, Kuechly recorded a school and ACC record 532 tackles in just three seasons up at Chestnut Hill. At 6-foot-3, 240 pounds, Kuechly is more than merely a tackle machine that cleaned up the mess from an awful B.C. front four. He has good speed, can rush the passer and can defend the pass. Cincinnati can go a variety of ways with its two first-round picks this year. They can’t go wrong with picking up an elite cornerback talent like Jenkins and a potential 10-year starter at linebacker in Kuechly. Another bonus? Kuechly grew up in Ohio.
22. Cleveland Browns (via Atlanta): Kendall Wright, WR, Baylor: I’m sticking with this one, pairing Griffin III with his longtime No. 1 Kendall Wright for years to come up in Cleveland. The rival Bengals hit the jackpot with a rookie quarterback and a top wideout last year, riding Dalton and A.J. Green to a playoff berth this season. Perhaps RGIII and Kendall Wright can bring the same sort of magic to Cleveland. The Browns have had one of the worst receiving corps in the league for the past three seasons (Fact: No one’s ever started a Browns receiver on a fantasy team since Braylon Edwards left town). Wright — a 5-10 playmaker who was used a million different ways by Art Briles — could be that number one guy the team’s so desperately needed. Think DeSean Jackson.
23. Detroit Lions: Alfonzo Dennard, CB, Nebraska: The last time the Lions went to Lincoln, Nebraska for a first-round pick, it worked out fairly well. Look for Jim Schwartz and Martin Mayhew to poach another one of Bo Pelini’s defensive talents by scooping up Dennard. After missing some of the early part of the season because of an injury, Dennard finished the season as one of the Big Ten’s few shutdown corners. He struggled with South Carolina’s Alshon Jeffery in the ‘Huskers’ bowl game, but has enough good game film to ensure he’s still a first round selection.
24. Pittsburgh Steelers: Coby Fleener, TE, Stanford: If the success of Rob Gronkowski, Jimmy Graham, Aaron Hernandez, and Vernon Davis showed us anything this season, it’s that a dynamic tight end can make a good offense into a great one. Heath Miller’s had a great run in Pittsburgh, but Fleener would be a tremendous addition to the already potent Steelers offense. Andrew Luck’s top target at Stanford, Fleener is a 6-6, 240 pound athletic big man who could make an immediate impact on the next level. Other pundits have different tight ends as their top prospects at the position. I love Fleener’s NFL potential and think he’s the first one off the board come April.
25. Denver Broncos: Michael Brockers, DT, LSU: Brockers may be the biggest question mark in the Draft, with some pundits giving him top-10 love and others saying he’ll slip to the second round. Why? Because he’s incredibly raw. Just a redshirt sophomore, he has the size and the speed to be a beast at the next level. He just needs a little time and coaching. Put him on a defense that includes guys like Champ Bailey, Von Miller, D.J. Williams, and Elvis Dumervil, have John Fox coach him up, and I think he’s a can’t miss for Denver.
26. Houston Texans: Michael Floyd, WR, Notre Dame: The Texans have gone with a defensive player in the first round seemingly every year, and in 2011 they spent their first four selections on defensive players. It paid off, as both Brooks Reed and J.J. Watt were stars for the first Texans playoff team in franchise history. I think they go offense in 2012. Michael Floyd suffered an injury in the Champs Sports Bowl that may cost him come Draft time, but I still think he’s a first round pick. Lining up across from Andre Johnson would give Matt Schaub — when he returns next year — an awfully nice 1-2 at wide receiver.
27. New England Patriots (via New Orleans): Lavonte David, OLB, Nebraska: With two picks at the end of the first round, don’t be shocked if Bill Belichick does what he usually does and trades down and gets some picks for future drafts in the process. When you know you’re not getting fired and you know you’re always a win-now team, you have the luxury of doing such things. If New England keeps this pick — which they very well might — I’d look for them to take a defensive player. Few other pundits have David as a first round pick, and that’s understandable. His physical build — 6-0, 225 pounds — isn’t going to blow you away on paper. But with 258 tackles the past two seasons and a very impressive week of practices at the Senior Bowl, I think he finds his way into the first round. Is he a linebacker or a safety? I’m not sure. I’m confident Belichick will figure it out.
28. Green Bay Packers: Ryan Tannehill, QB, Texas A&M: Gil Brandt came out this week and said Ryan Tannehill was a top-10 pick, but I think that has to come with a caveat. Tannehill has top-10 ability and potential, but I’m not sure he’s the kind of quarterback prospect who can just step in and play right away. Having just played quarterback for two seasons at Texas A&M (he was an Honorable Mention All-Big 12 receiver in ’09), he needs a little time to grow into a franchise NFL quarterback. Green Bay certainly doesn’t need a quarterback, but if Tannehill slips past Seattle — which I think he will — I don’t see many other teams jumping to grab him. This is a luxury pick, and with the talent the Packers have on their roster, they can effort to make it.
29. Baltimore Ravens: Cordy Glenn, OG, Georgia: With Matt Birk retiring at the end of this season and Ben Grubbs scheduled to hit the free-agent market, the Ravens could have a bit of work to do on their offensive line this offseason. If Glenn slipped all the way to 30th, Ravens fans from Pikesville to Parsonburg would be awfully happy. A 345-pound beast of a man who can play right away at the next level, Glenn’s a Day 1 NFL starter. Though the Ravens defense isn’t getting any younger, I can’t see them passing on Glenn if he slips this far in the first round.
30. San Francisco 49ers: Alshon Jeffery, WR, South Carolina: It became increasingly obvious during the NFC Championship Game just how bad the 49ers’ wide-receiver situation really is. Jeffery has all the physical tools and ability and would give Alex Smith a true number one wideout. If there’s any coach who’ll get him in line and will be able to maximize his potential, it’s Jim Harbaugh. Jeffery’s ability to make plays after the catch and pick up additional yardage is something that could be very appealing to San Francisco’s front office brass.
31. New York Giants: Dont’a Hightower, LB, Alabama: The Giants have passed on drafting a linebacker in the first round for many years, going with defensive line and defensive back talent instead. If Hightower — the second-rated inside linebacker talent on my board — is available, they should grab him. A tackling machine out of Nick Saban’s defensive star factory down in Tuscaloosa, he could be an opening day starter in 2012.
32. New England Patriots: Mohamed Sanu, WR, Rutgers: Bill Belichick’s son played long snapper for Rutgers in 2011. What Bill Belichick likely saw this season from Rutgers was an offense that was entirely built around Sanu, a 6-2 playmaker that can do it all. Sanu had 104 catches this season and over 200 in three seasons at Rutgers. The Patriots offense could use another wide receiver threat, and with two picks in the first round, look for Belichick to scoop up a guy he’s likely quite familiar with.