Line of Scrimmage: Final first-round mock draft
Philadelphia, PA – Ryan Tannehill is a very intelligent young man. Still, even he admits he doesn't have the slightest idea how his future as a professional football player will unfold.
Just about everybody with a web domain seems to believe they know where the ex-Texas A&M quarterback who scored a brainy 34 on the Wonderlic exam will end up in the 2012 NFL Draft, which takes place this week at New York's Radio City Music Hall.
Scour the Internet and you'll find countless numbers of mock drafts predicting the first round, and many of them have the same six players in the same order pegged with the first six selections. The consensus assumption is that Stanford quarterback Andrew Luck will go first to Indianapolis, followed by Baylor's electric Heisman Trophy winner Robert Griffin III to Washington, Southern Cal offensive tackle Matt Kalil to Minnesota, Alabama running back Trent Richardson to Cleveland, LSU cornerback Morris Claiborne to Tampa Bay and St. Louis taking Oklahoma State wide receiver Justin Blackmon with the sixth pick.
The overwhelming majority also has Tannehill, who's become the most pivotal and polarizing player of this year's rookie crop, destined to begin his career as the hopeful savior of the perpetually stuck-in-neutral Miami Dolphins with the eighth overall choice.
The first two declarations are no brainers, as the Colts have publicly stated they'll take Luck and Griffin is certain to join the quarterback and star- starved Redskins immediately afterward.
If all the pundits are truly on point, then there's really no reason to tune in for the first hour and a half of Thursday's first-round coverage. But as history has shown time and time again, when it comes to the draft -- always expect the unexpected.
What if Vikings general manager Rick Spielman, apparently awash in jealous admiration over the bonanza of premium picks the Rams extracted from Washington to move down from No. 2 to the sixth slot, makes good on his continual threat to pass on the ready-made Kalil and trade out of the No. 3 post? And what if St. Louis, known to covet Richardson, is a willing partner to climb back up and potentially create an uncomfortable camp conflict between new head coach Jeff Fisher and established running back Steven Jackson?
Or if the Browns decide that Tannehill is indeed the answer to their long- lingering problem at quarterback and take him over Richardson?
Or if the Dolphins really aren't as sold on Tannehill as everyone thinks, even with his old college coach now running the offense and the franchise desperate for a young field general? Would other teams think twice about pulling the trigger if the well-respected Mike Sherman subtly declares that his former pupil isn't worth a top-10 pick?
And what will be the potential impact that Fletcher Cox, the previously overlooked Mississippi State defensive tackle who's recently gained more instant notoriety than Kato Kaelin or William Hung, has on the draft's early stages?
So as you can see, there's plenty of suspense that remains, which is precisely why the draft may be the most exciting event on the NFL calendar. Even the Super Bowl can't guarantee this amount of mystery and drama.
Below is The Sports Network's final opinion on how the first round could shake out based on team needs, tendencies and media scuttlebutt. For instant pick- by-pick analysis throughout the first round and beyond, also feel free to follow along at twitter.com/sgarbarini.
1) Indianapolis Colts: Andrew Luck, QB, Stanford -- No surprises here, as the Colts are prepared to make the cerebral Stanford star their quarterback for what they hope will be the next dozen years. PREVIOUS PREDICTION: Luck.
2) Washington Redskins: Robert Griffin III, QB, Baylor -- The Redskins wouldn't have given away their first-round picks for the next two years if they weren't confident in Griffin's abilities as both a passer and leader. PREVIOUS PREDICTION: Griffin.
3) Minnesota Vikings: Matt Kalil, OT, Southern California -- Unless they can get the Rams to bite, Vikings' best move would be to secure the best available player and rectify one of their most glaring problem areas. PREVIOUS PREDICTION: Kalil.
4) Cleveland Browns: Ryan Tannehill, QB, Texas A&M -- Sooner or later, team president Mike Holmgren is going to realize Colt McCoy best belongs as a backup. Now could be the time. Every clue the Browns have dropped has hinted they'll go with Richardson, which is reason to believe they're trying to throw everyone off the scent. PREVIOUS PREDICTION: Richardson.
5) Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Trent Richardson, RB, Alabama -- New coach Greg Schiano gets the dependable all-around running back he intends to build the offense around. LeGarrette Blount probably feels like throwing punches. PREVIOUS PREDICTION: Morris Claiborne, CB, LSU.
6) St. Louis Rams: Fletcher Cox, DT, Mississippi State -- There are enough questions about Blackmon's validity as a true No. 1 receiver to make the Rams seriously consider switching gears. The need for a disruptive defensive tackle is arguably just as great, and Cox's power and quickness fits the mold of what coach Jeff Fisher wants up front. PREVIOUS PREDICTION: Blackmon.
7) Jacksonville Jaguars: Stephon Gilmore, CB, South Carolina -- The Jaguars' preference seems to be trading out of this spot, and they may have some takers if Claiborne or Blackmon are still available. They appear to like the rapidly ascending Gilmore more than Claiborne, and general manager Gene Smith has gone against the grain before. PREVIOUS PREDICTION: Nick Perry, DE, Southern Cal.
8) Miami Dolphins: Melvin Ingram, OLB, South Carolina -- If Tannehill is off the board, Dolphins will likely target a pass rusher to pair with Cameron Wake. Ingram's one of the best in this draft and showed during the NFL Combine he's agile enough to convert to a stand-up outside linebacker in a 3-4. PREVIOUS PREDICTION: Tannehill.
9) Carolina Panthers: Morris Claiborne, CB, LSU -- Though Blackmon would probably be the fans' choice, expect the Panthers to select the top remaining defender from a group of Claiborne, Cox, Gilmore or Boston College linebacker Luke Kuechly. PREVIOUS PREDICTION: Dontari Poe, DT, Memphis.
10) Buffalo Bills: Justin Blackmon, WR, Oklahoma State -- There's been a lot of recent buzz about the Bills wanting Alabama safety Mark Barron here, but Blackmon could alter those plans if he's around. Coach Chan Gailey's offense is similar to the one the Biletnikoff Award winner racked up over 230 catches with the Dallas Cowboys the past two years. PREVIOUS PREDICTION: Michael Floyd, WR, Notre Dame.
11) Kansas City Chiefs: Michael Brockers, DL, LSU -- The 6-foot-5, 322-pound Brockers is incredibly raw but brimming with potential. The same was said about Richard Seymour, whom Chiefs general manager Scott Pioli drafted in the first round while with the New England Patriots back in 2001. PREVIOUS PREDICTION: Cox.
12) Seattle Seahawks: Luke Kuechly, MLB, Boston College -- Kuechly's tremendous instincts and underrated athleticism would be an upgrade over injury-prone veteran Barrett Ruud in the middle of coach Pete Carroll's defense. PREVIOUS PREDICTION: Whitney Mercilus, DE, Illinois.
13) Arizona Cardinals: Cordy Glenn, OT, Georgia -- Glenn would be a mild reach at this spot, but the Cardinals don't have a second-round pick and have to get a tackle capable of stepping in and starting. They'll be fielding calls to move down and possibly grab him at a later point. PREVIOUS PREDICTION: Ingram.
14) Dallas Cowboys: Mark Barron, S, Alabama -- The Cowboys are determined to improve the defense and have shown a lot of interest in the heady Alabama safety. Cox and Brockers could be options as well if they're still in play. PREVIOUS PREDICTION: Barron.
15) Philadelphia Eagles: Quinton Coples, DL, North Carolina -- Cox is believed to be the player the Eagles want the most, but they may have to move into the top five to land him. Coples, the most talented and versatile defensive lineman in this draft who's slipping because of motivational concerns, could be a nice fallback option. Defensive line coach Jim Washburn got Albert Haynesworth to play hard in Tennessee, so Philly may not be as scared off as other teams. PREVIOUS PREDICTION: Coples.
16) New York Jets: Michael Floyd, WR, Notre Dame -- The Jets' No. 2 wide receiver behind Santonio Holmes at the moment is Chaz Schilens, who's missed 20 games due to injuries over the last three years. Floyd is bigger, faster and stronger than Blackmon, but comes with more baggage off the field. PREVIOUS PREDICTION: Andre Branch, OLB, Clemson.
17) Cincinnati Bengals (from Oakland): Dre Kirkpatrick, CB, Alabama -- The Bengals have a track record of selecting corners early under coach Marvin Lewis and hit on Johnathan Joseph and Leon Hall in back-to-back years in 2006 and 2007. The secondary could use some young blood as well. PREVIOUS PREDICTION: Kuechly.
18) San Diego Chargers: David DeCastro, OG, Stanford -- Don't discount always- aggressive general manager A.J. Smith trading up for defensive help, with Barron, Coples and Kirkpatrick all possible fits. Standing pat and grabbing the pro-ready DeCastro to be the retired Kris Dielman's successor at left guard also makes sense. PREVIOUS PREDICTION: DeCastro (trade down with Cleveland to No. 22).
19) Chicago Bears: Whitney Mercilus, DE, Illinois -- The Bears' highest priority appears to be finding a defensive end who can get to the quarterback, with Mercilus, Syracuse's Chandler Jones and Southern Cal's Nick Perry all known to be on the team's radar. Mercilus, the nation's leader in sacks last season, is the most advanced pure pass rusher of the bunch. PREVIOUS PREDICTION: Jones.
20) Tennessee Titans: Dontari Poe, DT, Memphis -- Many mocks have the Titans aiming for a defensive end, but a lack of interior pressure was more a culprit to the club's anemic pass rush last season. The 345-pound Poe, a rare athlete for a man his size, could help in that department. PREVIOUS PREDICTION: Peter Konz, C, Wisconsin.
21) Cincinnati Bengals: Courtney Upshaw, DE, Alabama -- Upshaw's stock has dropped dramatically over the scouting process, but the Bengals have remained high on the former Crimson Tide standout and are seeking reinforcements on the defensive line after some key free-agent defections. PREVIOUS PREDICTION: Upshaw.
22) Cleveland Browns (from Atlanta): Stephen Hill, WR, Georgia Tech -- Taking the draft's fastest receiver is one way to aid a team that's woefully devoid of vertical threats in the passing game, and Hill's size (6-foot-4, 215 pounds) also translates well to Pat Shurmur's West Coast attack. PREVIOUS PREDICTION: Kendall Wright, WR, Baylor (trade up with San Diego to No. 18).
23) Detroit Lions: Chandler Jones, DE, Syracuse -- Would the Lions actually take another defensive lineman in the first round with such pressing needs at cornerback and offensive tackle? If Kirkpatrick isn't an option, absolutely. Cliff Avril isn't presently signed beyond this season and Kyle Vanden Bosch is nearing the end of the line, and the skyrocketing Jones is a superior prospect over offensive linemen Riley Reiff and Jonathan Martin. PREVIOUS PREDICTION: Kirkpatrick.
24) Pittsburgh Steelers: Donta Hightower, ILB, Alabama -- Solidifying the offensive line with a guard or tackle could instead be Pittsburgh's first- round plan, but there's also little depth to speak of at inside linebacker and this isn't a strong draft for that position. PREVIOUS PREDICTION: Hightower.
25) Denver Broncos: Kendall Reyes, DT, Connecticut -- Age and durability at defensive tackle are big issues the Broncos must address, and Reyes' blend of strength, agility and character are appealing traits to executive vice president of football operations John Elway and coach John Fox. PREVIOUS PREDICTION: Reyes (trade down with Green Bay to No. 28).
26) Houston Texans: Riley Reiff, OT, Iowa -- Reiff has undergone a significant slide due to modest athleticism and short arm length, but he's well-versed in the zone concepts the Texans utilize and there's a void at right tackle after Eric Winston's surprising release. PREVIOUS PREDICTION: trade down with New England to No. 31, trade down with St. Louis to No. 33 (Rams take Jerel Worthy, DT, Michigan State).
27) New England Patriots (from New Orleans): Nick Perry, OLB, Southern California -- The Patriots are deficient in impact pass rushers, and Perry's a workout freak who can create havoc off the edge as either a stand-up linebacker or a down lineman. PREVIOUS PREDICTION: Bruce Irvin, OLB, West Virginia.
28) Green Bay Packers: Shea McClellin, OLB, Boise State -- The choice could come down to McClellin or Penn State defensive lineman Devon Still, as the Packers need immediate help in both areas. The former Boise State end gets the nod due to his scheme versatility and greater promise as a pass rusher. PREVIOUS PREDICTION: McClellin (trade up with Denver to No. 25).
29) Baltimore Ravens: Kevin Zeitler, OG, Wisconsin -- The Ravens got five good years out of Ben Grubbs after making him the 29th overall pick of the 2007 draft, but he's now in New Orleans. Ozzie Newsome could repeat the trend by nabbing Zeitler, a powerful product of a Wisconsin program known for producing quality NFL linemen. PREVIOUS PREDICTION: Glenn.
30) San Francisco 49ers: Amini Silatolu, OG, Midwestern State -- The 49ers are pretty well set at most positions, but there's a hole at right guard after Adam Snyder and Chilo Rachal departed via free agency. Though he played at the Division II level, Silatolu has the physicality and nasty streak to be an immediate asset to San Francisco's run-based offense. PREVIOUS PREDICTION: Devon Still, DL, Penn State.
31) New England Patriots: Janoris Jenkins, CB, North Alabama -- Jenkins is the biggest gamble of this draft, a Florida transfer with elite cover skills but who was dismissed by the Gators program after repeated run-ins with the law. If the Patriots decide he's worth the risk, he'd bring great value to a shaky secondary at this point provided he can stay out of trouble. PREVIOUS PREDICTION: Brockers (trade up with Houston to No. 26).
32) New York Giants: Jerel Worthy, DT, Michigan State -- The Super Bowl XLVI champs are in the market for adding depth to the defensive line, and Worthy's a first-round talent who's biggest knock has been inconsistency. PREVIOUS PREDICTION: Doug Martin, RB, Boise State.