Philadelphia, PA – The NFL Scouting Combine is over, stopwatches have been temporarily put away and football fans will soon be focused on what figures to be quite an interesting draft late next month.
Here's an early look at how the first round of the draft, scheduled from April 26-28, may materialize:
1. INDIANAPOLIS COLTS: Andrew Luck, QB, Stanford
There won't be any drama surrounding the No. 1 pick in the draft because the Colts have not hidden the fact Luck is their guy. Years from now, the interesting thing to track will be whether the Colts made the right decision. Surprisingly, quarterbacks have gone 1-2 in the draft only four times since the AFL-NFL merger, and never have both teams wound up completely happy with their selections. The most recent 1-2 QB draft was in 1999, when the Cleveland Browns picked Tim Couch (ouch) prior to the Philadelphia Eagles taking Donovan McNabb. In 1998, the Colts correctly picked Peyton Manning, while the San Diego Chargers followed with epic bust Ryan Leaf. In 1993, Drew Bledsoe was a solid No. 1 for the New England Patriots, but No. 2 Rick Mirer was anything but solid for the Seattle Seahawks. The best 1-2 QB tandem drafted since the merger came in 1971, when the Patriots took Jim Plunkett and the New Orleans Saints followed with Archie Manning. Even then, neither ever played in the postseason for the team that drafted him. Bottom line: Luck and Robert Griffin III look like sure things, but history shows there is no such thing.
2. WASHINGTON REDSKINS (in trade from St. Louis Rams): Robert Griffin III, QB, Baylor
All we know for sure is Griffin will be the player selected here, and the Rams won't be making the selection. Cleveland has the best ammunition to move up, given its two 2012 first-round picks (including the No. 4 selection), but the Redskins might be the more desperate team. It's going to be costly - more, even, than this year's first and second and next year's first - but the Redskins should come away with their first franchise quarterback since Mark Rypien (or Joe Theismann, if you don't consider Rypien a franchise QB).
3. MINNESOTA VIKINGS: Matt Kalil, OT, Southern Cal
The Vikings spent their first-rounder last year on a quarterback, Christian Ponder. The jury's still out on him, but adding a left tackle who is by far the best at his position in this year's draft will at least keep Ponder upright a bit more often.
4. CLEVELAND BROWNS: Trent Richardson, RB, Alabama
If the Browns aren't going to get a big upgrade at quarterback, the best they can do is give incumbent Colt McCoy a legitimate weapon to help him succeed. Teams are increasingly wary of taking running backs this high in the draft, but Richardson is the best prospect at the position since Adrian Peterson and fills a need. Peyton Hillis appears to be on the way out of Cleveland, which would, minus Richardson, leave injury-riddled Montario Hardesty as the featured back.
5. TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS: Morris Claiborne, CB, LSU
One 2011 Bucs starting cornerback (Aqib Talib) has legal issues that cloud his playing future, and the other (Ronde Barber) is going to turn 37 next month. Seems like a no-brainer to add Claiborne, who is virtually a unanimous choice as this year's best cornerback prospect.
6. ST. LOUIS RAMS (in trade from Washington Redskins): Justin Blackmon, WR, Oklahoma State
The Rams have too many needs to mention them all, but if Brandon Lloyd departs as a free agent, quarterback Sam Bradford would be left with arguably the worst wide receiver group in the league (or at least the worst outside Jacksonville). Blackmon could immediately become the Rams' go-to guy in the passing game.
7. JACKSONVILLE JAGUARS: Quinton Coples, DE, North Carolina
An athletic freak, the 6-foot-6, 284-pound Coples is widely considered the draft's best defensive end prospect. He ran a 4.72-second clocking in the 40- yard dash and had a 10-yard split of 1.63 at the Combine - blazing fast for a man his size. It's hard to pass up the chance to add a potentially elite pass rusher.
8. MIAMI DOLPHINS: Melvin Ingram, DE, South Carolina:
This pick assumes Miami will have settled its quarterback situation prior to the draft, either by signing Peyton Manning or Matt Flynn. Ingram is rocketing up the charts lately and it looks like he's versatile enough to provide a pass rush as either a 4-3 end or a 3-4 outside linebacker. The Dolphins are switching to a 4-3, and Ingram could be a heck of a bookend complement to Cameron Wake.
9. CAROLINA PANTHERS: Dontari Poe, DT, Memphis
The star of the Combine, Poe has vaulted to high first-round status. The Pittsburgh Steelers, picking at No. 24, are probably not so pleased that Poe opened as many eyes as he did last week. They would have loved to add the 346- pound run stuffer who possesses an almost unheard of strength-speed combo. Carolina simply could not stop the run last year. If the Panthers add Poe, they won't be so easy to push around anymore.
10. BUFFALO BILLS: Courtney Upshaw, DE, Alabama
Upshaw was considered a sure-fire, top-10 prospect prior to the Combine, but scouts have seemed to sour on him lately. Perhaps it's because the 3-4 linebacker with the Crimson Tide suddenly looks too stiff to play the position. He now figures to be a 4-3 defensive end in the NFL, and that's fine with the Bills. They're switching to a 4-3 and have a complete void at the end positions.
11. KANSAS CITY CHIEFS: Jonathan Martin, OT, Stanford
Martin has passed Iowa's Riley Reiff on most draft boards on the basis of being more likely to fill the role of NFL left tackle. The Chiefs could either break Martin in at right tackle or play him at left tackle and kick Brandon Albert over to guard. Either way, it'd represent a nice offensive line upgrade.
12. SEATTLE SEAHAWKS: Ryan Tannehill, QB, Texas A&M
He's only played 19 collegiate games at quarterback, but Tannehill's considerable upside and NFL teams' need to find the elusive franchise quarterback could land him higher in this draft. He'll probably go to the Redskins or Dolphins if they fail to find alternative quarterbacks. I think those teams will find help elsewhere and Seahawks coach Pete Carroll will be happy to sit tight and grab Tannehill at No. 12.
13. ARIZONA CARDINALS: Cordy Glenn, OG-OT, Georgia
The Cardinals desperately need help at offensive tackle and Glenn has the look of a real mauler who could step in on the right side from day one. At 6-foot-6, 346 pounds, he is big enough to dominate at tackle and nimble enough to be an elite guard.
14. DALLAS COWBOYS: Dre Kirkpatrick, CB, Alabama
The Cowboys have two major needs - offensive line and cornerback - and they'll likely fill one of them with this pick. It wouldn't be surprising if the pick was for Stanford guard David DeCastro, but Kirkpatrick plays a position that's a bit more difficult to fill.
15. PHILADELPHIA EAGLES: Fletcher Cox, DT, Mississippi State
The Eagles' biggest need is at linebacker, but coach Andy Reid never drafts linebackers in the first down. Just a hunch, but that trend could continue this year. Defensive linemen are usually treasured in Philadelphia drafts and Cox looks like he's going to be a really good one. Plus, the Eagles will likely go the free-agent route for linebacker help.
16. NEW YORK JETS: David DeCastro, OG, Stanford
This is not the Jets' ideal draft scenario. Likely, they would have preferred to target either a 3-4 outside linebacker to rush the passer (but Ingram is gone) or an offensive tackle (but the top three are off the board). DeCastro represents a good value pick as the draft's best interior line prospect, and he could be plugged in between Pro Bowlers D'Brickashaw Ferguson and Nick Mangold. If the team could upgrade at right tackle through free agency or the later round of this draft, coach Rex Ryan's Ground and Pound could be back in gear.
17. CINCINNATI BENGALS: Stephon Gilmore, CB, South Carolina
The Bengals would probably want to go with a guard here, but David DeCastro and Cordy Glenn are off the board. Perhaps they'll trade up a couple of slots to secure one of them because guard is the team's biggest weakness. Cornerback is right up there, though. Janoris Jenkins would be a consideration, but his off-the-field issues could work against him, even though the Bengals have dealt with their share of problem players in the past. Gilmore has good size and 4.4 speed in the 40, and he'll be a solid, dependable player for a young team on the rise.
18. SAN DIEGO CHARGERS: Luke Kuechly, LB, Boston College
Inside linebackers don't usually go high in the draft, but it would be hard to pass up the productive and athletic Kuechly at No. 18. It's a solid value pick, although the Chargers also could go with a tackle here, and all but one wide receiver would still be on the board, too.
19. CHICAGO BEARS: Michael Floyd, WR, Notre Dame
It's about time the Bears think about adding a No. 1 receiver. They probably would have leaned toward picking a receiver anyway, but it would enhance the chances of them doing so if Justin Blackmon were the only one off the board at that position. Floyd has good size (6-3, 220) and good enough speed (4.5 in the 40). Jay Cutler will be a happy man.
20. TENNESSEE TITANS: Kevin Zeitler, OG, Wisconsin
It's rarely a sexy pick when a team takes a first-round guard, but that's the Titans' biggest need. Their coach is Hall of Fame guard Mike Munchak, who understands that inferior interior line play was a major culprit in Tennessee's inconsistent ground attack last year. This looks like a good fit.
21. CINCINNATI BENGALS: Doug Martin, RB, Boise State
With Cedric Benson not expected to be back, the Bengals will be looking to add a featured running back. They may opt to do so through free agency (with Michael Bush being an intriguing target). If not, Martin would be a fine addition. His showing during Senior Bowl week demonstrated he has all-around ability, including solid pass protection skills. That should get him on the field right away as a rookie.
22. CLEVELAND BROWNS: Nick Perry, DE, Southern Cal
The Browns have built three-quarters of an impressive, albeit under-the-radar, defensive line. They have Ahtyba Rubin and Phil Taylor at the tackles, and Jabaal Sheard at one end spot. They could make the line complete by adding Perry, who has vast potential, although some scouts are worried he might be a one-year wonder.
23. DETROIT LIONS: Janoris Jenkins, CB, North Alabama
Off-the-field concerns have dropped Jenkins down many a draft board, but the Lions will take the gamble here at No. 23. He's too talented for them to pass up, since cornerback is their biggest need and he's clearly the best one still on the board.
24. PITTSBURGH STEELERS: Michael Brockers, DT, LSU
Brockers was a popular top-10 pick in January mock drafts, but many scouts have reportedly lowered their opinions after his poor Combine. The 6-5, 322- pounder is certainly worth taking at No. 24, as the Steelers are in the market for a young nose tackle. Another possibility, though, would be Dont'a Hightower. The Alabama inside linebacker would be a great fit, but he might not have as much upside as Brockers.
25. DENVER BRONCOS: Devon Still, DT, Penn State
A 303-pounder who can provide a pass rush from the tackle position, Still would be another solid performer to add to a quickly improving Denver defensive unit.
26. HOUSTON TEXANS: Kendall Wright, WR, Baylor
When Wright ran a disappointing 4.6 in the 40 at the Combine, it slowed his momentum up draft boards. Prior to then, some had been calling him the top wide receiver prospect. There's a chance his star will ascend again on his pro day, but the Texans are probably hoping it doesn't. That way, they can steal him at No. 26.
27. NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS: Whitney Mercilus, DE, Illinois
Was he a one-year wonder? Coach Bill Belichick will happily take a shot at him at No. 27. If Mercilus lives up to his potential, he could fit either as a 4-3 defensive end or 3-4 outside linebacker. His versatility would play well in Foxboro, since he'd likely see plenty of chances to play in both roles.
28. GREEN BAY PACKERS: Peter Konz, C, Wisconsin
The Packers don't have all that many needs, but they won't have to look too far geographically to fill one with Wisconsin's Konz, the consensus No. 1 center in the draft.
29. BALTIMORE RAVENS: Dont'a Hightower, LB, Alabama
If the Steelers don't take Hightower, their archrivals from Baltimore probably will. If Konz is available, the Ravens would consider him, too. But with Baltimore looking to get a little younger on defense, Hightower would be a great place to start.
30. SAN FRANCISCO 49ERS: Stephen Hill, WR, Georgia Tech
Hill doesn't have the college production to match his remarkable Combine performance, but that's more the result of Georgia Tech's offense not featuring a deep threat. He only caught 28 passes last season, but averaged 29.3 yards on those receptions. Plus, he's 6-4, 215 pounds and runs a 4.36 in the 40, and he could really open things up in the middle of the field for tight end Vernon Davis if the 49ers select him.
31. NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS: Mark Barron, S, Alabama
The Patriots need help in the secondary and Barron is the top-rated safety in the draft. His double hernia surgery may cause him to drop down the board a little, but he's a guy who should have little trouble stepping in as a rookie starter.
32. NEW YORK GIANTS: Coby Fleener, TE, Stanford
The Giants' Jake Ballard and Travis Beckum both suffered torn ACLs during the Super Bowl. The world champions would fill the void nicely if Fleener, a 6-6, 247-pounder who has drawn comparisons to the Saints' Jimmy Graham, were still available at No. 32.