1. Andrew Luck, QB, Stanford
2. Robert Griffin III, QB, Baylor
3. Morris Claiborne, CB, LSU
Claiborne is the best pure cover corner in the draft, and reminds me some of a young Champ Bailey. His ability in run support is a work in progress, but in terms of pure coverage ability he stands alone. Leslie Frazier is a former defensive backs coach, and drafts as potential shutdown corner that he hopes can cover the likes of Calvin Johnson, Greg Jennings, and Brandon Marshall, each of whom the Vikings face twice a year.
4. Trent Richardson, RB, Alabama
Richardson is a special talent and the best running back prospect the league has seen since Adrian Peterson. He’s a complete back and a workhorse that personifies the blue collar mentality of a city like Cleveland. This draft’s deepest position is wide receiver, and Mike Holmgren knows he can get a quality receiver to pair with Greg Little later in the draft. The Browns believe in a balanced offense, and a running back like Trent Richardson will hopefully take some of the pressure off of who ever the quarterback is in Cleveland next year.
5.Luke Kuechly, LB, Boston College
The Bucs would have loved to get Trent Richardson, but he’s off the board. They’ll look to add a running back later, and instead spend this pick on the best player available in my opinion- Luke Kuechly. Kuechly is a blue-chip linebacker prospect with all the tools to be be the next Brian Urlacher. Head coach Greg Schaino is old school. His top priorities are running the ball on offense and stopping the run on defense. Paired with another insanely productive linebacker in college (Mason Foster), and the talent they already have on the defensive line, the Bucs would have one of the best front sevens in football.
6. Fletcher Cox, DT, Mississippi State
Cox is the type of defensive tackle that head coach Jeff Fisher could fall in love with. He fits the Rams scheme perfectly as a penetrating 3-technique defensive tackle. He has the versatility to be able to play both defensive tackle and defensive end similar to Jason Jones who Fisher drafted in Tennessee and tried to sign this offseason. This draft is rich at the receiver position. I suspect the Rams will go with the best defensive tackle prospect, over the top receiver in the class Justin Blackmon.
7.Justin Blackmon, WR, Oklahoma State
If the Jaguars want Blaine Gabbert to succeed they desperately need to get him some help. Laurent Robinson and Mike Thomas aren’t going to cut it. Blackmon is the top wide receiver in the draft and would give a young quarterback like Gabbert a fighting chance.
8.Ryan Tannehill, QB, Texas A&M
As we all know, quarterback is the single most important position in sports. The impact of having a franchise quarterback in the NFL is unmatched by any other position in any sport. A franchise quarterback can single-handedly take a team from being a cellar-dweller to a division champion and beyond. Franchise quarterbacks are rare, and any time you have the chance to get a player with franchise quarterback potential, you’d be foolish not to consider it. Tannehill may not be ready to play right away, but he does have all the tools of a future franchise quarterback. You’re not going to find players with a franchise quarterback caliber skill set like Tannehill’s floating around in the middle rounds. If you want a chance at franchise quarterback you’re going to have to pay the price. The position is a premium today. Look at what the Redskins gave up to get RG III. If he turns out to be what I think he is capable of, they could’ve given up ten first round picks and it would still be worth it. That’s how valuable a franchise quarterback is. Tannehill is a superior prospect to Blaine Gabbert and Christian Ponder, who went in this range last year. He may not be the eight best football player in the draft at this point in time, but the Dolphins can’t pass up this shot at their first franchise quarterback since Marino. The Dolphins finally get a quarterback of the future they can sell to their fans with Ryan Tannehill. If their wise, they’ll let their investment develop for a year behind a quality starter in Matt Moore, and turn the reigns over to Tannehill in 2013.
9. Stephon Gilmore, CB, South Carolina
The Panthers are in desperate need of a corner. Vincent Jackson is now a member of the Panthers’ division which also includes the likes of Roddy White, Julio Jones, Marques Colston, and Jimmy Graham. Ron Rivera comes from a defensive background, and as enticing as drafting someone like Michael Floyd might be, the Panthers turn their attention to defense here. The two top corners available are Stephon Gilmore and Dre Kirkpatrick. Gilmore and Kirkpatrick are similar players. Both prospects boast above average size, strength, and arm length, as well as the physicality and tenacity of a safety. The Panthers opt for Gilmore, who is the more polished of the two prospects. Although Kirkpatrick has more upside, his character issues may give the slight edge to Gilmore in the eyes of Carolina’s brass.
10. Matt Kalil, OT, USC
The Bills are clearly interested in upgrading at corner, but they can’t pass up a shot at a premier left tackle like Matt Kalil. Kalil is already a tremendous pass protector and has the potential to become an elite left tackle in the NFL. His addition would potentially give Buffalo one of the best offensive lines in the league. Eric Wood and Andy Levitre are already two of the best interior offensive linemen in the game, and Erik Pears played well at right tackle last year. Chris Hairston is still developing and would provide quality depth at both tackle spots. On paper they may already have the best defensive line in the league. Throw in Matt Kalil on the offensive line, and Buffalo would personify winning games in the trenches. The Bills do not seem interested in spending their first round pick on Michael Floyd, and apparently feel they can find a good receiver later in the draft. Rueben Randle, Stephen Hill, Alshon Jeffery, A.J. Jenkins, Juron Criner, and Greg Childs are all possibilities for Buffalo in the second and third round. Jenkins is a personal favorite of mine, and I think he’d be a great fit for the Bills offense.
11.David DeCastro, G, Stanford
This will be a tough decision for the Chiefs. They’re biggest need is on the defensive line and two perfect candidates to play the nose for them are available with this pick- Michael Brockers and Dontari Poe. I’m not very high on either of these players. While they both have prototypical size and outstanding athleticism for their size, they don’t play like first round prospects on tape. I just don’t see either of them getting off blocks consistently enough. Both prospects are raw and will have a learning curve to overcome before they can make an impact in the NFL. In the 3-4 defense, all that is really asked out of the nose tackle is to be a plug and occupy two blockers in the interior. The Cheifs can find quality candidates do this later in the draft. Josh Chapman, Alameda Ta’amu, and Brandon Thompson all would make sense in rounds two and three. They pass on Brockers and Poe, and elect to go with arguably the best player available, David DeCastro, who many feel is the best pure offensive lineman in the draft. DeCastro will improve the interior of the Chiefs’ offensive line, and with a healthy combination of Jammal Charles and Peyton Hillis, this team could be a powerhouse on the ground.
12.Melvin Ingram, DE, South Carolina
Chris Clemons was the only Seahawk to record more than four sacks last year. Brandon Mebane and Red Bryant are dominant run stuffers in the interior, but Seattle needs someone that can get after the quarterback. Melvin Ingram is the best pass rusher on the board, and possesses the athleticism and versatility that Pete Caroll loves in his defensive linemen.
13.(from Arizona) Mark Barron, S, Alabama
San Diego moves up ahead of the Cowboys to take Mark Barron who they are reportedly enamored with. No one on the board here is a great fit for the Cardinals, and their lack of a second round pick makes them a strong candidate to trade down. Barron is far and away the best safety in the draft, and the best defensive back available at this point in the draft. He’s got size, speed, athleticism and a high football IQ. Barron is a ball hawk capable of reading throws, jumping routes, and running back pick sixes. He’s very good in 1-on-1 coverage, and his potential ability to cover move tight ends like Rob Gronkowski, Aaron Hernandez, and Jimmy Graham make him especially in valuable in today’s NFL. Barron has some Brain Dawkins in him, and he’ll bring leadership, physicality, and passion to the Chargers defense.
14.Courtney Upshaw, LB, Alabama
The Cowboys have needs all over their defense. Courtney Upshaw would be a perfect book end complement to DeMarcus Ware, and would immediately make the Cowboys a better team. Upshaw is well-versed in 3-4 schemes and complex defensive concepts after playing for Nick Saban. Because of this, he is someone Rob Ryan could trust to make an impact right away. His versatility is amazing. He played snaps at inside linebacker, outside linebacker, defensive end, and defensive tackle at Alabama. He can get to the quarterback, stop the run, and drop in coverage. An innovative defensive coordinator like Rob Ryan’s could capitalize on Upshaw’s versatility and maximize his value.
15. Dont’a Hightower, LB, Alabama
The Eagles are in desperate need of a middle linebacker. With the wide-9 front they play, they are very vulnerable against the run and need a presence in the middle of the field like Hightower to prevent runs from getting to the second level. The Eagles have been lacking leadership on defense since they cut Brian Dawkins, and Hightower has the leadership qualities you look for in a potential captain of your defense.
16. Michael Floyd, WR, Notre Dame
Floyd is ready to come in and start right away, which is good because Mark Sanchez needs someone to throw the ball to besides Santonio Holmes. Sanchez is on a short leash, but the Jets are still going to do everything in their power to allow him to be successful, and that means surrounding him with talented wide receivers. Floyd is a huge target with a large catch radius that can compensate for some inaccurate throws and make plays after the catch. He’ll be a great red zone target as well.
17.Quinton Coples, DE, North Carolina
The Bengals go best player available with their first pick of the first round. They have other needs, but the prospect of getting a Julius Peppers caliber of defensive end is too much for Marvin Lewis and Mike Zimmer to pass up. Motor and work ethic concerns don’t seem to be an issue for Lewis and Zimmer. See 2009 1st round pick Andre Smith and 2010 second round pick Carlos Dunlap for example.
18. (from San Diego) Riley Rieff, OT, Iowa
The Cardinals are able to pick up an extra pick by trading down with San Diego, and still get their man. Levi Brown has struggled at left tackle and would likely be a better fit on the right side. Rieff is an athletic tackle prospect with a blue collar attitude that coach Ken Whisenhunt could fall in love with. The Cardinals need to be able to protect Kevin Kolb/John Skelton.
19.Michael Brockers, DT, LSU
The Bears defensive tackle situation is weak. They drafted Stephen Paea in the second round last year, but even if he pans out they could still use another defensive tackle. Brockers is raw but he has a ton of potential and is a good fit for the Bears defense. At this point in the first round it’s tough to get an elite player, so the Bears swing for the fences hoping to put it on the board with Brockers.
20.Kendall Wright, WR, Baylor
Tennessee needs to get Jake Locker another receiver to throw to besides Kenny Britt. Wright is a dynamic playmaker that can stretch the field vertically, and complements Britt’s style of play quite well. He’s great with the ball in his hands, and would also be an asset on quick underneath routes that get him the ball in space. He’s also exceptional in the screen game.
21.Janoris Jenkins, CB, North Alabama
NFL Films legend, creator of NFL Matchup, and respected talent evaluator Greg Cosell had Janoris Jenkins going fifth overall in his mock draft, which was purely based on tape and disregarded all off the field issues. Cosell called Jenkins “the best pure man-to-man corner in the draft”. I have a great deal of respect for Cosell and trust his evaluations. There’s no doubt that NFL teams see what Cosell sees, and know how good Janoris Jenkins can be. However, there are very few teams out there who are willing to look the other way when it comes to off the field issues like the Bengals are. He fits defensive coordinator’s Mike Zimmer’s scheme to a tee, where ability in man coverage and strong tackling is a necessity. He’s better in man-to-man coverage than Dre Kirkpatrick, who is another strong possibility for the Cincy here. Jenkins and Coples are both risky picks, but the Bengals aren’t afraid to roll the dice.
22. (from Cleveland) Dre Kirkpatrick, CB, Alabama
The Broncos move up ahead of Detroit to select the player I suspect is at the top of their short list- Dre Kirkpatrick. The Broncos have a need at defensive tackle, but John Elway expressed faith in the guys on the roster in his pre-draft press conference saying “We don’t feel as bad about our [defensive] tackles as every body else does.” Elway indicated the Broncos would take the best player available, and not try to draft based on need. He also said the Broncos were willing to move up or down in the draft. Denver had Kirkpatrick in for a pre-draft interview, and are apparently very high on the Alabama corner. They have an extra fourth round pick so parting with it to ensure they get their guy here would not be too big of an issue for Denver. The defensive tackle position could be addressed in the second round with prospects like Brandon Thompson, Billy Winn, or Mike Martin.
23.Mike Adams, OT, Ohio State
The Lions could use some help on the offensive line and Mike Adams is a promising prospect. They have to keep Stafford healthy and give him enough time to throw those deep patterns to Calvin Johnsons. Adams is very athletic, has long arms and quick feet- all the makings of a franchise left tackle. He could be a tough sell to the fan base though considering his positive test for marijuana at combine.
24. Dontari Poe, NT, Memphis
The Steelers need to find a replacement for Casey Hampton, who is not only getting up there in age, but will likely miss the start of the season because of ACL surgery. Poe is exactly what the Steelers are looking for as a potential anchor in the middle of that 3-4 defense, and I think they pull the trigger on the boom or bust prospect from Memphis.
25.(from Broncos) Whitney Mercilus, DE, Illinois
The Browns are able to pick up a fourth round pick from Denver and still get their guy- Whitney Mercilus. Jabaal Sheard was outstanding as a rookie, but the Browns need another defensive end to pair him with. Mercilus has rare pass rushing ability. He led all of college football last year in sacks (16) and forced fumbles (9). His first step off the edge is unmatched by anyone in this draft class, and he has elite closing speed to get to the quarterback. He’s still developing as a run defender, but as a right end this shouldn’t be too big of an issue, especially with Sheard, Phil Taylor, and Ahtyba Rubin on the line with him. Some feel that the Browns will target Brandon Weeden with this pick, but I just can’t see Weeden going in the first round. I don’t hink he’s even the best available quarterback at this point in the draft, I’d rather have Kirk Cousins. I think Justin Blackmon made Weeden look a lot better than he really is over the course of their time together in Stillwater. The Browns do seem to like Weeden quite a bit, but he should still be available for their second round selection at 37 overall. If they’re worried about a team like Kansas City potentially moving up for Weeden in the second, they could always use that fourth round pick from Denver as ammunition to move up higher than the Chiefs.
26.Cordy Glenn, OT/OG, Georgia
The loss of Eric Winston leaves the Texans with a hole along their offensive line. Glenn could play right tackle or guard for Houston, and will go a long way towards helping the Texans dominate teams on the ground again this season.
27.Chandler Jones, DE, Syracuse
The Pats need players that can get after the quarterback, and Jones is a nice fit if the Patriots stick with the 4-3. Some would argue he is a steal at this point in the draft. He has good size and upper body strength. He also has very long arms and uses his hands well. The motor he plays with is something that will get Bill Belichick’s attention, as hustle and effort is a staple of the Patriot way.
28. Shea McClellin, DE/OLB, Boise State
The Packers spent five of their first six picks on offense last year, so I suspect they will turn their attention to the defensive side of the ball early in this year’s draft. They’re in need of another pass rushing option aside from Clay Matthews, and McClellin is a nice complement as a book end to Matthews.
29.Peter Konz, C, Wisconsin
Matt Birk is on his last legs, and the Ravens can get a head start on replacing him by selecting Wisconsin’s Peter Konz. Konz is a polished prospect that has the blue collar attitude of a Wisconsin offensive lineman. He’ll be right at home playing for a team like the Ravens. Konz excels both in pass protection and as a run blocker. He is arguably the third best pure offensive lineman in the draft behind David DeCastro and Matt Kalil.
30.Stephen Hill, WR, Georgia Tech
The 49ers don’t really have a glaring need here. They could take this pick in a lot of different directions, and will likely go best player available, whoever that may be in their mind. I think a receiver makes a lot of sense for them. The 49ers can opt out of Michael Crabtree’s contract at the end of the year, and the current regime isn’t tied to him. Moss is a short term solution at best, and there’s no guarantee he’s even a solution at all. Stephen Hill is essentially a clone of 2010 Georgia Tech 1st round receiver Demaryius Thomas. They are both freakishly athletic and physically gifted. Like Thomas, Hill will need time to develop. His route running is very limited coming from a triple option offense, and it will take him time to learn the mental nuances of the position. The 49ers have the luxury of not needing their first round pick to make an immediate impact, so taking a developmental, high-upside prospect like Hill makes sense. Hill could be used as a situational deep threat and return man as a rookie while he develops.
31. Kevin Zeitler, OG, Wisconsin
Brian Waters can’t have much left in the tank. The Patriots are always one step ahead of these things and take a polished, prototype right guard to be the heir apparent to Waters. Zeitler is big, strong, tough, mauler with that quintessential blue collar mean streak of a Wisconsin offensive lineman. He’s actually quite similar to Logan Mankins coming out of college, so I would guess Zeitler is on the Patriots short list for both of their first round picks.
32.Jonathan Martin, OT, Stanford
The Giants offensive line is pretty weak at both tackle spots. Will Beatty has had injury problems, and James Brewer, who was a fourth round pick last year, is yet to start his first game. Martin is a good value here at the end of the first round. He’s a smart, athletic pass protector that will help keep Eli Manning upright.