Philadelphia, PA – Ever since the NFL Scouting Combine concluded, many top prospects have climbed up and plummeted down draft boards.
Plenty of rumors have made the rounds, and it's been difficult to distinguish truth from lies when examining quotes from NFL front office personnel.
Starting Thursday night, there will be no more secrets or smoke screens. The 2012 NFL Draft is upon us, and here's a final look at one way Thursday's first round might play out.
1. INDIANAPOLIS COLTS: ANDREW LUCK, QB, STANFORD
A contract has yet to be signed, but the Colts are a lock to pick Luck, who will try to fill Peyton Manning's shoes. Some have called him the top quarterback prospect in the draft since John Elway. Hey, at least they're not putting any pressure on the kid.
2. WASHINGTON REDSKINS (from St. Louis Rams): ROBERT GRIFFIN III, QB, BAYLOR
Griffin, the Heisman Trophy winner, will be compared to Luck throughout both players' careers. Luck is the consensus top prospect, and he could very well end up with the superior career, but Griffin is the more likely to succeed in 2012 because the Redskins are currently a more complete team than the Colts.
The Redskins gave the Rams a king's ransom to acquire this pick, but no one will criticize the move if Griffin turns into a franchise quarterback.
3. MINNESOTA VIKINGS: MATT KALIL, OT, SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA
Since the Vikings have three or four prospects they'd consider drafting here, a trade down is possible. Maybe the Rams would move up for Alabama running back Trent Richardson. Perhaps someone will move up here to secure Texas A&M quarterback Ryan Tannehill.
In the end, though, I think teams will balk at the price it would cost to trade up to No. 3. If the Vikings keep the pick, it would make sense to take Kalil, the draft's top-rated left tackle, which also happens to be the team's biggest need. Morris Claiborne and Justin Blackmon would be possibilities, too.
4. CLEVELAND BROWNS: TRENT RICHARDSON, RB, ALABAMA
Plenty of people figure this will be Ryan Tannehill's landing spot. I don't think the Browns see him as enough of an upgrade over incumbent QB Colt McCoy, whose struggles could be blamed largely on Cleveland's shortcomings at wide receiver and running back.
A No. 1 receiver is probably the bigger need, but wide receiver is the draft's deepest position and the Browns could easily grab one at pick No. 22. It's too hard to pass up on Richardson, who could instantly become one of the league's top five running backs.
5. TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS: MORRIS CLAIBORNE, CB, LOUISIANA STATE
Perhaps the Bucs' front office's hearts will sink a little when Richardson goes to the Browns, but Claiborne will be a nice consolation prize. Ronde Barber's likely in his final season, and Aqib Talib is facing a June trial that could affect his availability for all or part of the 2012 season.
Cornerback is a huge need, and taking the best one in the draft at No. 5 is certainly worth it, especially when you're playing in a division against Drew Brees, Matt Ryan and Cam Newton.
6. ST. LOUIS RAMS (from Washington): JUSTIN BLACKMON, WR, OKLAHOMA STATE
This could be a real wild card spot in the first round for several reasons. The Rams have plenty of needs, and they reportedly like Blackmon and defensive tackle Fletcher Cox a lot. They also covet Trent Richardson, which would require a trade up to No. 3 or No. 4. Don't count it out, though, because the deal with Washington gave St. Louis plenty of ammunition to move up.
In the end, I think the Rams will stay put and draft Sam Bradford a go-to receiver, which he has sorely lacked.
7. PHILADELPHIA EAGLES (projected trade with Jacksonville): FLETCHER COX, DT, MISSISSIPPI STATE
If the Eagles are targeting a defensive tackle, one could argue that they should stay at No. 15 and still draft a quality one. That's probably what they'll do if the Rams take Cox at No. 6.
If the Rams don't, though, the Eagles could make the bold move up. They'd have to surrender their Nos. 15 and 46 picks, but it'd be worth it. Cox is a perfect fit for the Eagles' wide-nine defense, and this team is built to win now. A Dontari Poe or Michael Brockers, for instance, would be more of a gamble. No need to gamble when you're just a couple of pieces away, especially when you would still have a second-round pick you'd keep (No. 51, which the Eagles obtained in last year's Kevin Kolb trade).
8. MIAMI DOLPHINS: RYAN TANNEHILL, QB, TEXAS A&M
You never know. Miami traded Brandon Marshall to the Bears at the start of free agency, so wide receiver is a big need, too. So is defensive end, since the Dolphins plan to transition from a 3-4 to a 4-3 defense.
If the Dolphins have the chance to pick Tannehill and pass, that would seem to be a knock on his abilities. Miami's new offensive coordinator is Mike Sherman, who coached Tannehill at Texas A&M. Surely, Sherman would believe in him and jump at the chance to work with him again in the NFL, right?
9. NEW YORK JETS (projected trade with Carolina): MELVIN INGRAM, OLB, SOUTH CAROLINA
It's been remarkable that the Jets have fielded a top-five defense in all three of Rex Ryan's years at the helm, even though they've never possessed a standout individual pass rusher. The Jets have plenty of other needs (safety, right tackle and wide receiver immediately come to mind), but the guess here is that New York will finally address the lack of a big-time pass rushing threat.
Ryan had Adalius Thomas in Baltimore, and now, for the price of the Nos. 16 and 47 picks (with the Jets' also getting the Panthers' fourth-round selection in the swap), New York will find Ingram too good a fit to pass up. His pass rush ability as a 3-4 outside linebacker would probably be more of sure thing than standing pat and taking someone like Courtney Upshaw, Whitney Mercilus or Chandler Jones.
A trade down to select someone like Nick Perry, Shea McClellin, Vinny Curry or Andre Branch is possible, too, with Detroit possibly moving up to secure a cornerback.
10. BUFFALO BILLS: MICHAEL FLOYD, WR, NOTRE DAME
It's hard not to like what the Bills did to improve their defense through free agency, but now it's time to upgrade the offense. Left tackle is probably the Bills' biggest need, but it's going to be tough for offensive guru Chan Gailey to pass up the playmaking skills of Floyd, who could be a Vincent Jackson clone at wide receiver.
The problem with the available left tackle prospects is that none are likely worth the No. 10 pick. Iowa's Riley Reiff is a popular mock selection here, but some scouts question his ability to play left tackle. This might also be too high to consider Cordy Glenn or Jonathan Martin.
11. KANSAS CITY CHIEFS: DONTARI POE, NT, MEMPHIS
This is another wild card spot in the first round. On the one hand, Boston College linebacker Luke Kuechly or Stanford guard David DeCastro are the kind of productive, high-character, low-risk players general manager Scott Pioli usually drafts. On the other hand, the team's biggest need is nose tackle, which is traditionally one of the hardest positions to fill. A 346-pound, athletic hole-plugger like Dontari Poe doesn't grow on trees.
If the Chiefs stay put at No. 11, it's going to be hard to pass up a potentially dominating nose tackle.
12. SEATTLE SEAHAWKS: LUKE KUECHLY, LB, BOSTON COLLEGE
The Seahawks' top need is probably inside linebacker, so this would be a perfect match. A trade up to get Ryan Tannehill is a rumor, too, and there's a chance Kuechly will be off the board at the time of this pick. If he's not, though, he should be the selection.
13. ARIZONA CARDINALS: DAVID DECASTRO, OG, STANFORD
Plenty of scouts consider DeCastro one of the surest things in this draft. The Cardinals need to bolster their offensive line, so this could be the pick, especially if Michael Floyd and Melvin Ingram are off the board. They could really use a tackle more than a guard, but they'll likely value DeCastro over available tackles like Cordy Glenn and Riley Reiff, although Glenn would be a good fit, too, with the versatility to play either tackle or guard.
14. DALLAS COWBOYS: MARK BARRON, S, ALABAMA
Dallas has been linked to quite a few players at this spot, and it might opt for the second best cornerback in the draft here. Still, I believe Dallas' interest in Barron is real, since safety is a need position, too, and he is better than the next best safety prospects by a wide margin.
Dallas might even be able to draft a cornerback like Janoris Jenkins in the second (or even third) round, if his projected free fall down draft boards comes to fruition. Jerry Jones doesn't shy away from players with character issues.
15. JACKSONVILLE JAGUARS (projected trade with Philadelphia): STEPHON GILMORE, CB, SOUTH CAROLINA
The Jaguars trade down and still get a player they would have considered at No. 7, since Gilmore is reportedly the No. 1-rated cornerback on their board. The defensive line will still need to be addressed, but the projected trade with the Eagles would give Jacksonville an additional second-round pick with which it could do just that.
16. CAROLINA PANTHERS (projected trade with New York Jets): QUINTON COPLES, DE, NORTH CAROLINA
This turns out to be a good deal for the Panthers, whose needs on the defensive line might have led them to consider taking Coples at No. 9. Although he has been an underachiever, most scouts would agree he has top-10 talent. Whether he ever realizes that potential, well, that's why they say the draft is a crap shoot.
17. CINCINNATI BENGALS: DRE KIRKPATRICK, CB, ALABAMA
Character concerns could result in Kirkpatrick dropping a bit in the first round, but the Bengals would be getting good value here. The pick fills a major need, too.
18. SAN DIEGO CHARGERS: CORDY GLENN, OT, GEORGIA
The Chargers could use a powerful run blocker at the right tackle position, and the 345-pound Glenn would fit the description. He's also played guard at Georgia, so his versatility should only make him a more attractive option.
19. CHICAGO BEARS: MICHAEL BROCKERS, DT, LOUISIANA STATE
A defensive end like Mercilus, Chandler Jones or Nick Perry would be an interesting option, and so would a wide receiver like Rueben Randle, Kendall Wright or Stephen Hill. The value of Brockers this late in the first round would be tough to pass up, though. The 322-pounder has great athletic ability and potential. If he lives up to it, he could be a steal here.
20. TENNESSEE TITANS: WHITNEY MERCILUS, DE, ILLINOIS
This is a tough call, because the Titans could really use a cornerback, defensive tackle or offensive guard, too. There is some concern that Mercilus was a one-year wonder in college, but he lived up to his last name in 2011 with 16 sacks and nine forced fumbles against quality competition.
21. CINCINNATI BENGALS: COURTNEY UPSHAW, LB/DE, ALABAMA
The Bengals probably weren't expecting Upshaw to drop this far, but Marvin Lewis could find a way to utilize him on a young and improving defense. Maybe he won't ever be an elite pass rusher, but Upshaw is a solid football player who could move around into a number of different roles.
22. CLEVELAND BROWNS: RUEBEN RANDLE, WR, LOUISIANA STATE
In another effort to add skill position players to finally help out quarterback Colt McCoy, the Browns will have a crack at all but the top two receivers who are off the board (Blackmon and Floyd). They could go with potentially big deep threats like Wright or Hill, but Randle would probably be a better fit in Cleveland's West Coast offense.
23. DETROIT LIONS: RILEY REIFF, OT, IOWA
Not expected to drop this far, Reiff is someone the Lions could pounce on, play at right tackle immediately and groom to eventually replace left tackle Jeff Backus. Cornerback is also a big need, but the thought is that Janoris Jenkins' baggage will keep him out of the first round. A trade up to snag Gilmore or Kirkpatrick is also possible if the Lions can find a partner.
24. PITTSBURGH STEELERS: DONT'A HIGHTOWER, LB, ALABAMA
Hard-nosed linebackers have been a Pittsburgh trademark, and Hightower seems built in the Steelers' mold. Pittsburgh also needs to get younger on the defensive line, but the inside linebacker talent pool drops off significantly after Hightower. The Steelers could plug him right into the lineup.
25. DENVER BRONCOS: DOUG MARTIN, RB, BOISE STATE
John Fox likes to have a stable of capable running backs. With Peyton Manning bringing a pass-first philosophy to the organization, Martin would be a good fit because of his pass protection skills and three-down ability. The questions are whether Martin will get past the Bengals, who also need a running back, and whether the Broncos will instead address defensive tackle at this pick.
26. HOUSTON TEXANS: KENDALL WRIGHT, WR, BAYLOR
Offensive line could be a consideration here, but the Texans will have a tough time passing up the chance to finally pick a wide receiver that would be a perfect complement to Andre Johnson.
27. NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS: SHEA MCCLELLIN, LB/DE, BOISE STATE
McClellin, rising up draft boards quickly, would be a great fit with the Patriots because of his versatility. New England alternates between the 3-4 and 4-3 quite a bit, and McClellin would be able to stay on the field in either situation.
28. GREEN BAY PACKERS: NICK PERRY, DE, SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA
The Packers could go with an offensive lineman here, and there are several pretty good ones available, but they'll most likely place a higher priority on finding a pass rusher to line up opposite Clay Matthews. Perry is arguably the best choice left to provide that skill.
29. BALTIMORE RAVENS: KEVIN ZEITLER, G, WISCONSIN
The Ravens need to get younger at linebacker and in the secondary, and they could also use a wide receiver. Still, Zeitler would make plenty of sense because he's the kind of mauler Baltimore likes at guard, which became a big need when Ben Grubbs was lost in free agency. Ravens center Matt Birk is also 36, and Zeitler has the versatility to slide over to that position in the future.
30. SAN FRANCISCO 49ERS: AMINI SILATOLU, G, MIDWESTERN STATE
It could be tempting to take a wide receiver like Hill, but guard is probably the 49ers' top need. Drafting Division II mauler Silatolu would arguably give San Francisco the league's best young offensive line.
31. NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS: KENDALL REYES, DT, CONNECTICUT
The popular belief is that the Patriots won't make both of their first-round selections, given Bill Belichick's affinity for moving down and stockpiling picks. That's possible, but with Tom Brady not getting any younger, it might be time to put considerably more emphasis on the present than the future. To that end, Reyes would be a welcomed addition, since he would fit nicely next to Vince Wilfork as a versatile player who can serve as both a 3-4 end and 4-3 tackle.
32. NEW YORK GIANTS: CHANDLER JONES, DE, SYRACUSE
Ah, the luxury of being the defending champion and able to simply draft the best player available. The only "problem" is there are so many possibilities here: Hill if the Giants want to get a wide receiver replacement for Mario Manningham, Mike Adams, Jonathan Martin or Peter Konz if they want to bolster the offensive line, and so on. When in doubt, the Giants usually go for the pass rusher, and Jones' stock has been steadily rising the past few weeks.
Jeff Saukaitis is a former Sports Network writer/editor who has been a professional sportswriter since 1985.