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NFL Quick-Hits: Ten Observations from Week 3 of Preseason

Every Sunday our NFL columnist Anthony Stalter will share his quick-hit observations from the week that was in football. This week he focuses on topics that emerged from Week 3 of preseason.

1. The gap has widened in the AFC North.
The Steelers have had issues with their offensive line for years but they created hope this offseason by drafting Stanford OG David DeCastro and Ohio State OT Mike Adams. But Adams proved in Pittsburgh’s first preseason game that he isn’t ready to start and DeCastro dislocated his right kneecap, tore his MCL, and suffered damage to his patellar tendon in Saturday night’s game against the Bills. ESPN’s Adam Schefter hasn’t ruled out the possibility that DeCastro could play this year, but it doesn’t look good for the Steelers’ first-round pick. Finding a suitable replacement for running back Rashard Mendenhall continues to be an issue and Mike Wallace remains a holdout. Meanwhile, the Ravens’ offensive line, which was a question mark heading into training camp, has started to gel. Joe Flacco also looks comfortable running Baltimore’s no-huddle offense and receiver Torrey Smith is on the verge of a breakout season. The Steelers are going to complete – that’s just what they do. But the gap between them and the Ravens has widened the past three weeks.

2. Bradford is quietly becoming one of the more polarizing players in the NFL.
His defenders point to the fact that he’s now learning his third offense in three years, has never played behind a sturdy offensive line and doesn’t have a bona fide No. 1 to throw to. His critics say that he needs to be less skittish in the pocket, needs to do a better job of going through his reads and needs to throw more downfield. He is Sam Bradford. Which side is correct? As of right now both sides are. In the Rams’ second preseason game last Saturday, Bradford stood tall in the pocket, went through his progressions and delivered the ball downfield when given an opportunity. But on Saturday night in Dallas he reverted back to the quarterback that his critics have grown tired of. At this point it’s not fair to call Bradford a bust when his offensive line continues to get him killed in the pocket. But at some point he needs to raise the level of his play. It’s not fair to compare him to Aaron Rodgers or Ben Roethlisberger, two quarterbacks with three Super Bowl rings between them. But Rodgers and Roethlisberger have both delivered behind suspect offensive lines. It’s true that both QBs have had better weapons around them but the point is that Bradford needs to elevate his teammates. He succeeded as a rookie because Pat Shurmur built an offense that focused on short to intermediate routes that allowed Bradford to get the ball out of his hand quickly. Last season Josh McDaniels nearly got Bradford killed because he continued to call five and seven-step drops even though his receivers couldn’t get open and his offensive line couldn’t protect. This season the focus is back on Steven Jackson and the ground attack, as well as the short passing game. So can Bradford make significant strides in his development or will he give his detractors more fuel? The jury is still out.

3. Luck continues to impress.
Back in April the media fawned over how the Colts drafted two tight ends in Coby Fleener and Dwayne Allen for No. 1 pick Andrew Luck. “Tight end is a young quarterback’s friend,” is what everyone said, which is true. But what’s interesting is that Luck hasn’t even used his tight ends in preseason. Fleener does have four catches for 38 yards but both he and Allen were shut out on Saturday against the Redskins. Even in the face of poor pass protection and having to learn the nuances of the pro game Luck hasn’t been afraid to throw to his receivers. (Donnie Avery finished with six receptions for 38 yards after being targeted seven times on Saturday while Reggie Wayne caught six of his seven targets for 41 yards.) The Colts don’t have enough pieces to be a threat this season but thanks to Luck they will be more competitive. He continues to stand tall in the pocket, step into all of his throws, and display accuracy and touch on his passes. Expectations should be tempered but the Colts have to be thrilled with what they’ve seen thus far.

4. Concerns continue to grow in Chicago.
The problem with the Tampa 2 defense is that if the front four can’t generate pressure then there’s a lot of holes that opposing quarterbacks can exploit. Fortunately for the Bears they’ve had a player in Brian Urlacher who has manned the all-important MIKE linebacker position for the past decade and they’ve been able to drum up consistent pressure under Smith. But Urlacher’s health will likely be a concern all season and the team just placed free safety Brandon Hardin on injured reserve with a neck injury. With Chris Conte (shoulder) questionable for Week 1, Chicago could have a growing issue in the middle of their defense. It’s imperative that pass rusher Julius Peppers not regress because if he does, opposing quarterbacks will have a field day picking on Nick Roach (Urlacher’s backup) and the safeties.

5. The Lions are seemingly walking a thin line when it comes to health.
Detroit fans should be excited about the possibility that the Lions will make back-to-back postseason appearances for the first time since the mid-90s. But their players continue to drop like flies this offseason. Matthew Stafford (hand), Kevin Smith (ankle), Chris Houston (ankle) and Bill Bentley (shoulder) were all injured in the team’s third preseason game on Saturday. Louis Delmas, Mikel Leshoure and Jahvid Best were already dealing with injuries or have just recovered from injuries that occurred before last night’s game. Thus, it’s fair to ask whether or not the Lions will be able to stay healthy enough all season in order to compete with the Packers and Bears in the division. Remember, Detroit would have likely missed the playoffs last season had Jay Cutler and Matt Forte not been injured down the stretch. Thanks to Stafford, Calvin Johnson and that outstanding vertical passing game, the Lions remain a threat in the NFC. But this wasn’t a team that steamrolled into the playoffs last year. Questions remain on the defensive side of the ball, specifically in the secondary, and the offense is without a reliable running game at the moment. Outside of the 2010 Green Bay Packers (who were the sixth seed that year, don’t forget), teams that are usually riddled with injuries early in the year don’t have what it takes to make a deep run. It’ll be interesting to see if Detroit can get guys healthy and avoid future scares.

6. Can the Titans establish an identity?
The Texans are the class of the AFC South and they might even be the class of the entire conference, with apologies to the Patriots and Ravens. But the Titans have enough talent to make things interesting in the division if Jake Locker can improve on his accuracy. I like that Tennessee has installed Run ‘N Shoot elements in the offense and thanks to Locker’s arm strength, this team will strike for big plays throughout the year. Chris Johnson should also have a bounce back campaign if the offensive line can do a better job run-blocking and the defense is decent despite the losses of Cortland Finnegan and James Jones. But who are the Titans? Locker has a couple of nice weapons in Kenny Britt and Kendall Wright, but Britt is always in trouble or hurt and Wright is still a rookie. So are they a run-first team? The defense doesn’t have a huge weakness but it also doesn’t have a reliable strength either. What is the identity on defense? I could see Tennessee winning eight or nine games this season but at some point they’re going to need to figure out who they are under Munchak or they’ll remain the definition of blasé and questions will pop up throughout the year.

7. The Cardinals should kick the tires on Hasselbeck.
Since John Skelton couldn’t create any separation between himself and Kevin Kolb in the team’s fourth preseason game, it looks like Kolb is going to win Arizona’s starting quarterback job based on his inflated salary. It’s fair to point out that the Cardinals’ offensive line has been a disaster for the past three weeks and that has played into Kolb’s shaky preseason performance. But let’s not make excuses for him: He’s been brutal. Not that Tennessee has any interest in trading its most valuable backup, but if I’m Arizona I’m at least picking up the phone and seeing what the Titans would want for Matt Hasselbeck. No quarterback is going to succeed behind that offensive line but at least Hasselbeck is a savvy veteran that can get the ball out of his hands quickly and be a ball distributor. That’s all the Cardinals really need because they have enough specialty players. I’m sure Hasselbeck will remain in Tennessee but if the Cardinals are interested in a veteran QB (and why wouldn’t they be?), then the former Seahawk would be an interesting fit.

8. The rich have gotten richer.
Three weeks ago it looked like Cedric Benson wasn’t going to play in 2012 because nobody wanted anything to do with him. But then James Starks struggled in camp and preseason, and Alex Green was slow to recover from ACL surgery. Thus, Benson winds up in Green Bay…and he looks good. Against the Bengals on Thursday night, the guy ran like he was angry at the ground. He was quick, he was spry, he was incredibly motivated. He doesn’t need to be Adrian Peterson or Maurice Jones-Drew in that Green Bay offense. The Cedric Benson that rushed for 1,000 yards last year will do. Because of the Packers’ up-tempo, no-huddle offense, Benson will face plenty of soft defensive fronts so as long as he’s consistent from week to week, he’s going to make a larger impact for Green Bay than people think.

9. The Bucs are still a year away.
Thanks in large part to Josh Freeman and an opportunistic defense, Tampa Bay surprised in 2010. Even though Freeman and Co. fell off a cliff last season, optimism began to grow for the Bucs when they hired former Rutgers head coach Greg Schiano to replace Raheem Morris. (The front office finally opened their checkbook this offseason too, signing Vincent Jackson and Carl Nicks.) But the defensive front seven remains a weakness and Freeman doesn’t look comfortable in Mike Sullivan’s offense yet. Through three preseason games he’s completed just 52.9-percent of his passes and has relied mostly on checkdowns. There’s no question the Bucs will be more competitive this year than last, because they’ll rely on Schiano’s power run game to eat up the clock and keep games close. But losing OG Davin Joseph to a season-ending injury doesn’t help and the Saints and Falcons simply have more overall depth and talent in the division.

10. The Davis trade is good for both sides.
Earlier this week Colts owner Jim Irsay tweeted that a trade was coming and as it turns out, he was telling the truth. Indy acquired cornerback Vontae Davis from the Dolphins in exchange for a second-round and conditional sixth-round draft pick in 2013. Chuck Pagano brought Baltimore’s defense to Indianapolis when he was hired by the Colts earlier this year. And for his defense to ultimately succeed, Pagano knew he had to acquire a corner that could play press-man. Last week the Colts traded for Josh Gordy of the Rams, but Indy still lacked a defensive back that can be physical at the line of scrimmage and compete on an island. Davis can be that player, although he’s far from justifying his first-round talent. On the other side, the Dolphins weakened their secondary but Davis had already lost his starting job to Richard Marshall and wasn’t a fit in Kevin Coyle’s system. Considering they’re not going to compete this season, the Dolphins got good value in exchange for a player that they no longer viewed as a starter.

Follow the Scores Report editors on Twitter @TheScoresReport. You can also follow TSR editor Gerardo Orlando @clevelandteams and @bullzeyedotcom, and you can follow TSR editor Anthony Stalter @AnthonyStalter.

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2012 NFL Draft First Round Recap

Notre Dame Wide Receiver Michael Floyd hugs NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell after the Arizona Cardinals select him as the #13 overall pick in the 2012 NFL Draft at Radio City Music Hall in New York City on April 26, 2012. UPI /John Angelillo

Which teams emerged from the first round of the 2012 NFL Draft as winners?

Honestly? Who knows. It’ll be at least three years before we can answer that question.

That said, based on draft strategy, trades, value based on pre-draft projections, here are my thoughts from Thursday’s first round, including moves that I liked and didn’t like.

- The Vikings traded down one spot, collected three extra picks, and still landed the player they wanted at No. 3. While I bought into the rumors that Morris Claiborne was the top player on their board, Matt Kalil made the most sense for a Minnesota team that needs to protect young quarterback Christian Ponder. GM Rick Spielman did a great job not only landing the top left tackle in the draft, but also acquiring three extra picks. (Albeit they were late picks, but extra picks nonetheless.)

- While the Cowboys could stand upgrades at safety and along both lines, they didn’t have any pressing needs coming into this year’s draft. Thus, for them to nab a top 5 prospect when they came into the draft with the No. 14 overall pick was impressive. At the end of the day, giving up a second rounder to pair Morris Claiborne with Brandon Carr was an opportunity that Jerry Jones couldn’t pass up. And say what you want about Jones, he usually lands impact players in the first round.

- Based on his potential alone, Fletcher Cox should have gone in the top 10 and could have gone in the top 6 based on some of the pre-draft reports that emerged about his soaring stock. So for the Eagles to land him at No. 12 was huge, especially considering how porous their run defense was last season. Cox is still raw in some areas but his skill set is a perfect fit for Philadelphia’s aggressive defense.

- Rams fans are no doubt frustrated that their team didn’t land either of the top two receivers in this year’s draft. But once the Jaguars traded up for Justin Blackmon and Les Snead was presented with the option to trade back, he took it. As you would imagine, the 2-14 Rams have a ton of holes to fill so acquiring as many picks as Snead did was impressive. Plus, they land the best run-stuffing defensive tackle in Michael Brockers, who will look great playing alongside Kendall Langford…

- …that said, the Rams had a golden opportunity to land a top 5 prospect had they just stayed at No. 6. Granted, St. Louis did sign Cortland Finnegan in the offseason but this was a team decimated by injuries in their secondary last year. Having a chance to add Claiborne opposite Finnegan would have been an opportunity I would have jumped at, but Snead weighed that option against potentially acquiring one more starter (i.e. that second round pick he acquired from the Cowboys). Time will tell if he should have went with the impact player instead of the opportunity to address another need in the second round.

- Three years ago A.J. Smith whiffed on Larry English in efforts to beef up the Charges’ pass rush. He should have more success with Melvin Ingram, who could be an impact defender if San Diego can get creative with his skill set.

- There’s no doubt that the Titans’ selection of Kendall Wright was a surprise but it’s hard to argue with the pick. Wright is a playmaker with outstanding run-after-the-catch ability and he’s a great add to an up-and-coming offense.

- It’s amazing that one of the safest picks in the draft fell into the Steelers’ laps at No. 24. David DeCastro has the talent to be a top 15 pick but since guards aren’t viewed as impact players he fell into the middle 20s. The Steelers always seem to draft well and this is why – they continue to select players at the top of their position class.

- The Bengals did well to land two players in Dre Kirkpatrick and Kevin Zeitler that not only addressed needs, but could also make impacts in their rookie seasons. Kirkpatrick helps the Bengals get younger and more physical at corner, while Zeitler is a mauler in the running game that helped Wisconsin finish eighth in the league in rushing last season.

- Just like the Eagles and Steelers, the Packers had a very good prospect fall into their laps and they didn’t over think the situation – they just pulled the trigger. Nick Perry should have been off the board well before No. 28 based on his explosiveness and ability to rush the passer as a 3-4 outside linebacker. He’ll look great opposite Clay Matthews in Dom Capers’ defense.

- Bruce Irvin looks like a reach in the first round. He gets swallowed up by offensive lineman because he relies too much on his speed and athleticism to get to the quarterback. He’s also undersized as a 4-3 defensive end and isn’t thick enough to shed blockers as an outside linebacker. With Quinton Coples still on the board at No. 15, I’m surprised the Seahawks went with Irvin.

- With how many trades transpired in the first round this year, I’m surprised that the Bears weren’t able to trade back and still land Shea McClellin. Not to knock the highly productive, high-motor defensive end/outside linebacker out of Boise, but you’re telling me the Bears couldn’t trade back, acquire more picks and pick him in the 20s? I didn’t have the luxury of being in the war room with Phil Emery and Lovie Smith so maybe McClellin was at the top of their board and they just pulled the trigger on their guy. But again, with how many times teams moved back and forth tonight, I’m shocked the Bears stood pat and took McClellin at No. 19.

- Neither Ryan Tannehill nor Brandon Weeden look like first-round prospect in my eyes, but I can understand why the Dolphins and Browns felt the need to take each quarterback where they did. Weeden can make all the throws but he played in a college offense, he doesn’t fare well under pressure and he’s already 28. Tannehill has limited experience, he’s a major work in progress and he wouldn’t have been a top 10 pick in most other drafts. But we’ll see if either quarterback can prove doubters wrong in a couple of years.

- Dont’a Hightower is just a pure football player in every sense of the word. He’s going to make a ton of plays in Bill Belichick’s system and while I don’t know enough about Chandler Jones as Mike Mayock, he’s an intriguing talent on paper. No surprise – the Patriots did well in another draft.

Final 2012 NFL Mock Draft

The National Football League logo is displayed near the stage during round one of the 2011 NFL Draft Pick at Radio City Music Hall on April 28, 2011 in New York City. UPI/Monika Graff

After putting the finishing touches on my final mock for the 2012 NFL Draft, I sat back, looked it over and become extremely disappointed.

When does the NFL draft ever play out the way everyone expects? The answer is never. The NFL draft never goes as planned and yet my mock had zero trades, very few surprises and not enough risks. It was boring, which is the one thing the NFL draft isn’t.

The NFL draft is a study in failure, from the prospects that don’t pan out, to the teams that misjudged players’ talent, to clowns in the media who think we have it all figured out. And that’s exactly why I decided to scrap my mock and start over.

Mock drafts are supposed to be fun and creative and yet, everyone gets so caught up in trying not to look foolish that they don’t make bold predictions.

Lucky for you I don’t mind looking foolish so without further adu, here is my final mock for the 2012 NFL Draft.

1. Indianapolis Colts: Andrew Luck, QB, Stanford
The Colts will have an opportunity to rebuild the way all teams in their situation would want to: By drafting a franchise quarterback to usher in a new era. Luck certainly has some big shoes to fill but he has all the tools to become successful.

2. Washington Redskins: Robert Griffin III, QB, Baylor
It’s great that the Redskins have found their franchise signal caller but they better protect their investment by building Griffin a quality offensive line and by continuing to add playmakers that will help shoulder the load. If they don’t, they’ll look awfully foolish for giving up so much to trade up to No. 2.

3. Minnesota Vikings: Morris Claiborne, CB, LSU
GM Rick Spielman has been a godsend for Roger Goodell and the NFL because he’s brought intrigue to the top of a draft that will offer no conspiracy at No. 1 or No. 2. Seeing as how Charlie Johnson is penciled in at left tackle and the Vikings invested a first round pick in Christian Ponder last season, Matt Kalil makes the most sense at this pick. But considering nearly half of Minnesota’s schedule is against the likes of Aaron Rodgers, Matthew Stafford and Jay Cutler, watch Spielman surprise and take the best cornerback in the draft.

4. Cleveland Browns: Trent Richardson, RB, Alabama
There’s a chance that someone will jump ahead of the Browns and nab Richardson at No. 3 but which team has the resources to do that? The Bucs may pull a fast one but it’s doubtful – Richardson falls to the Browns as projected.

5. Buffalo Bills (Projected trade w/Tampa Bay): Matt Kalil, OT, USC
Rumors have started circulating that the Bills want to move up to No. 3 in order to secure Kalil. But if the Vikings want what the Rams got in exchange for the No. 2 overall pick, then the Bills will likely baulk. That said, with Claiborne off the board, there isn’t a clear choice for the Bucs at No. 5. Thus, they trade back with the Bills, who land the left tackle they so desperately need.

6. St. Louis Rams: Fletcher Cox, DT, Mississippi State
The Rams need a receiver that can make plays outside the numbers, which is why Justin Blackmon is the most logical fit at this spot. But Jeff Fisher is a defensive-minded coach and a throw back, so look for him to build from the inside out. In a division that features Frank Gore, Marshawn Lynch and Beanie Wells, the Rams beef up the interior of their defensive line with the best DT in the draft. Seeing as how deep the draft is at receiver, the Rams could always trade back into the first round for Michael Floyd or Kendall Wright by using one or some of the selections they acquired from the Redskins for the No. 2 pick.

7. Jacksonville Jaguars: Melvin Ingram, DE, South Carolina
The Jaguars could go a number of different routes with this pick, including selecting a receiver or trading out of this spot entirely. But Jeremy Mincey emerged as the Jaguars’ only legitimate pass rusher last season and you can’t win in the NFL if you can’t get after the quarterback.

8. Miami Dolphins: Ryan Tannehill, QB, Texas A&M
Thirty-one teams may grade Tannehill as a second round prospect but it only takes one team to view him as a franchise quarterback in order for him to be selected in the first round. The moment the Dolphins hired Mike Sherman to be their offensive coordinator Tannehill was the most logical choice at this pick.

9. Carolina Panthers: Justin Blackmon, WR, Oklahoma State
Blackmon could come off the board at No. 6 to the Rams and if that happens, Fletcher Cox will likely fall into the Panthers’ laps at No. 9. But if team’s draft boards get dirty and Blackmon falls to the Panthers here, they take the best player available and give Cam Newton another weapon opposite Steve Smith.

10. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (Projected trade w/Buffalo): Stephon Gilmore, CB, South Carolina
If Claiborne comes off the board at No. 3, the Bucs could do much worse than to trade back, acquire more picks and still wind up with one of the top cornerbacks in the draft.

11. Kansas City Chiefs: David DeCastro, G, Stanford
Inside linebacker and defensive tackle are definite needs for the Chiefs, who may even surprise and trade up for quarterback Ryan Tannehill. But if I were a GM, DeCastro is a much better player than Luke Kuechly (the top inside linebacker) and Dontari Poe (who is arguably the best DT left on the board, although I think Michael Brockers is a better prospect). DeCastro played in a pro style system at Stanford and could start right away. Guards aren’t typically top 15 picks but DeCastro is a as close to a guarantee as you can get in my eyes.

12. San Diego Chargers (Projected Trade w/Seattle): Mark Barron, S, Alabama
The strong safety position has been a revolving door in San Diego since Rodney Harrison left in 2002. The Chargers could wait and hope that Notre Dame’s Harrison Smith falls to them in the second round but why? They might as well trade up ahead of Dallas (which could also use Barron) and land the best safety in the draft.

13. Arizona Cardinals: Cordy Glenn, OT/OG, Georgia
I could see the Cardinals taking DeCastro or even Floyd if he were to fall this far. But given what’s available in this mock, Glenn is arguably the best fit. Most assume he’ll kick back inside to guard after playing one year at left tackle at Georgia (his senior season), but he had a strong showing as a tackle in the Senior Bowl and would upgrade Arizona’s situation at RT.

14. Dallas Cowboys: Michael Brockers, DT, LSU
The Cowboys need help at safety and guard, but with Barron and DeCastro off the board they decide to take the best run-stuffing defensive tackle in the draft in Brockers.

15. Philadelphia Eagles: Luke Kuechly, LB, Boston College
I was a little surprised that the Eagles didn’t pursue middle linebacker Curtis Lofton in free agency, but maybe they figured they could address their need at MLB without having to spend over $6 million a year on a veteran. Kuechly could go earlier than this but I doubt it. Teams just don’t put a premium on inside linebackers anymore, but he’s certainly a great fit for Philadelphia.

16. New York Jets: Courtney Upshaw, OLB, Alabama
The Jets have been missing that outside pass-rushing threat since Rex Ryan arrived to New York in 2009. Upshaw is a fit as a 3-4 outside linebacker who has the ability to battle offensive linemen in run defense but also rush the passer when the situation calls for it.

17. Cincinnati Bengals: Michael Floyd, WR, Notre Dame
There’s a good chance that Floyd won’t fall this far but considering his issues with alcohol-related arrests, don’t rule out the possibility. No offense to Brandon Tate or Jordan Shipley but after A.J. Green the Bengals’ depth at receiver is thin. Getting younger at cornerback is also a priority for Cincinnati but receiver is arguably a much bigger need and if Floyd were to fall this far, he’d be a solid selection.

18. Seattle Seahawks (Projected trade w/San Diego): Quinton Coples, DE, North Carolina
Coples has top-10 talent but he’s a risk to fall because teams reportedly question is motor, which runs “hot and cold.” He would be a value at this spot, however, and would fill Seattle’s massive need for a pass rusher.

19. Chicago Bears: Riley Reiff, OT, Iowa
Reiff could be long off the board by the time the Bears are on the clock and if he is, then I fully expect Chicago to address its needs along the defensive line. But if Reiff does fall, look for the Bears to upgrade over left tackle J’Marcus Webb, who is constantly battling injury issues and inconsistent play.

20. Tennessee Titans: Dre Kirkpatrick, CB, Alabama
Stephon Gilmore will be an option at this pick if he falls but if he doesn’t, Kirkpatrick would be a nice consolation gift for a Tennessee team that was burned repeatedly through the air last season.

21. Cincinnati Bengals: Dontari Poe, DT, Memphis
The Bengals could take a defensive end or a cornerback at this spot but Poe is arguably the best player on the board (albeit a very controversial player).

22. Cleveland Browns: Kendall Wright, WR, Baylor
Offensive tackle is also a need for the Browns but Wright is a better much prospect than Mike Adams and Jonathan Martin, who are the two best OTs available. Wright had an underwhelming performance at this year’s combine but watch the film – the kid can play.

23. Detroit Lions: Cordy Glenn, OT/OG, Georgia
Cornerback is the Lions’ top need but with Claiborne, Gilmore and Kirkpatrick all off the board, they’ll select a versatile Glenn and groom him as Jeff Backus’ replacement. They can address their need at corner and running back in the middle rounds.

24. Pittsburgh Steelers: Dont’a Hightower, LB, Alabama
The Steelers could zero in on their offensive line and therefore move up for somebody like Mike Adams, David DeCastro, Cordy Glenn or Jonathan Martin. But Hightower has experience playing in the 3-4 and could help fill the void left by the release of James Farrior.

25. Denver Broncos: Jerel Worthy, DT, Michigan State
Once Brodrick Bunkley left via free agency the Broncos had an immediate need to fill at defensive tackle. Ty Warren is 31 and Justin Bannan is 33, so Worthy would inject much-needed youth along the interior of Denver’s defensive line. As a potential wildcard, don’t rule out the Broncos selecting running back Doug Martin.

26. Houston Texans: Ruben Randle, WR, LSU
Some may view Randle as a slight reach at this pick but the Texans need a No.2 receiver that can make plays outside the numbers. Randle is a legitimate vertical threat that would look great opposite Andre Johnson in Houston’s passing attack.

27. New England Patriots: Nick Perry, OLB, USC
The Patriots have a massive need for a pass rusher and Perry fits the bill. He’s a highly disruptive edge rusher that could flourish in Bill Belichick’s defensive scheme.

28. Green Bay Packers: Shea McClellin, OLB, Boise State
The Packers’ pass rush regressed last season so adding a player in McClellin who racked up 19.5 sacks for Boise State last season makes sense. He could be a solid addition opposite Clay Matthews in Dom Capers’ 3-4 defense.

29. Baltimore Ravens: Amini Silatolu, G, Midwestern State
Silatolu is projected to go in the second round but the Ravens have a need at guard with the departure of Ben Grubbs in free agency. Silatolu might be a little raw coming out of a small school but he could turn out to be one of the gems of this year’s draft.

30. San Francisco 49ers: Kevin Zeitler, G, Wisconsin
Adam Snyder and Chilo Rachal both left via free agency, leaving the Niners thin at guard. Zeitler is a powerful run blocker who helped Wisconsin become the eighth best rushing team in the nation last season. He appears to be NFL-ready and could be a starter in his rookie year.

31. New England Patriots: Janoris Jenkins, CB, North Alabama
Jenkins could easily slip into the second round with the amount of baggage he carries into the draft, but Bill Belichick is rarely scared off by players with character concerns (see Randy Moss, Corey Dillon and Albert Hanyesworth). Maybe landing in New England and playing for Belichick will help Jenkins fly straight off the field.

32. New York Giants: Jonathan Martin, OT, Stanford
There’s a chance that Martin will slip into the second round but I’m basing this pick mostly on need. Like all teams picking at the bottom of the first round, the Giants could go in multiple directions with this selection.

Updated: 6:00PM ET.

2012 NFL Mock Draft 2.0

The University of Alabama Crimson Tides Trent Richardson runs past the University of Texas Longhorns Aaron Williams to score a touchdown during the second quarter in the NCAA’s BCS National Championship football game in Pasadena, January 7, 2010. REUTERS/Mike Blake (UNITED STATES – Tags: SPORT FOOTBALL)

Here’s my second crack at predicting the first round of the 2012 NFL Draft. You can also check out my 2012 NFL Mock Draft 1.0 to see what changes I made from my first projections.

1. Indianapolis Colts: Andrew Luck, QB, Stanford
There’s not much intrigue at the top of the draft, at least not compared to previous years. Barring a massive upset, Luck will be taken No. 1 and Griffin will be selected No. 2.

2. Washington Redskins: Robert Griffin III, QB, Baylor
See above.

3. Minnesota Vikings: Matt Kalil, OT, USC
ESPN’s Adam Schefter insists that Kalil isn’t a lock for this pick and I believe him. But at the end of the day, can the Vikings really go with Charlie Johnson again at left tackle? They invested a first-round pick in Christian Ponder last year and now they need to protect him. Kalil could anchor their line for years to come.

4. Cleveland Browns: Trent Richardson, RB, Alabama
Running backs are becoming increasingly less valuable in today’s pass-happy NFL. But the Browns need to replace Peyton Hillis and the Browns aren’t going to win if Colt McCoy has to throw the ball 50-plus times a game. The comparisons to Adrian Peterson might be slightly off but if Richardson comes anywhere close to AP’s production in his first couple of years, Cleveland will be thrilled.

5. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Morris Claiborne, CB, LSU
Upgrading at cornerback isn’t an absolute necessity at this point but it might be depending on how Aqib Talib’s June 25th felony assault trial plays out. The team did sign Eric Wright and re-signed Ronde Barber but Wright is inconsistent and Barber is nearing retirement. Claiborne is a stud and a bona fide top 5 pick.

6. St. Louis Rams: Justin Blackmon, WR, Oklahoma State
I wouldn’t rule out the Rams trading back for defensive help but the reality is that this team needs to give Sam Bradford more weapons. Both Blackmon and Floyd are very talented but to me, Blackmon is the safer choice based on injury history and offensive fit.

7. Jacksonville Jaguars: Michael Floyd, WR, Notre Dame
The Jaguars’ two biggest needs are receiver and defensive end. And even though they signed Laurent Robinson in the offseason, he’s had a history of injury problems and Blaine Gabbert will need more than one guy on the outside. Floyd could be a difference maker if he stays healthy and out of trouble.

8. Miami Dolphins: Ryan Tannehill, QB, Texas A&M
The Dolphins’ biggest need is a component front office but the NFL doesn’t make those available in the draft. Truth be told I’m not completely convinced that the Dolphins will take Tannehill, but what else are they going to do at quarterback? Find another John Beck in the second round? They might as well take their shot with Tannehill at No. 8 (even if he’s a small reach), instead of hoping that Brandon Weeden falls to them in the second round.

9. Carolina Panthers: Melvin Ingram, DE, South Carolina
The Panthers could go in a variety of different ways here, including cornerback, defensive tackle, and linebacker. But the Panthers also need more pass rushers and Ingram is a safer choice than North Carolina’s Quinton Coples.

10. Buffalo Bills: Riley Reiff, OT, Iowa
Tackle was a need for the Bills before Demetress Bell signed with the Eagles. Stanford’s Jonathan Martin and Georgia’s Cordy Glenn are also options here but Reiff is rumored to be their top choice.

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2012 NFL Mock Draft 1.0

Stanford quarterback Andrew Luck (12) hands off to running back Stepfan Taylor (33) against USC in the first half at the Coliseum in Los Angeles on October 29, 2011. UPI/Lori Shepler

For some reason while compiling my annual mock drafts I always imagine all 32 general managers getting together after the draft, sharing a few adult beverages and just laughing at how off us bloggers are when it comes to these picks. I’d laugh too if I weren’t crying inside.

Enjoy!

1. Indianapolis Colts: Andrew Luck, QB, Stanford
Bill Polian has hinted in recent weeks that the Colts haven’t settled on Luck but there’s very little chance that Indy will take Robert Griffin III. What impresses me most about Luck is his pocket presence. A signal caller that can stand in the pocket and give his receiver time to complete his route is invaluable to a NFL team and Luck has excellent pocket awareness.

2. Washington Redskins: Robert Griffin III, QB, Baylor
The Washington media is already discussing whether or not Griffin will start Week 1 for the Redskins. He was a slam-dunk for the No. 2 pick as soon as the Skins gave up 17 first round picks to move up. Griffin is a plus-athlete who can make every throw at the next level, including the deep post, which separates a good quarterback prospect from a great one.

3. Minnesota Vikings: Matt Kalil, OT, USC
GM Rick Spielman has tried to drum up interest in cornerback Morris Claiborne because the Vikings seemingly prefer to trade down. But unless some team is in love with Trent Richardson or Ryan Tannehill, the Vikings will likely stay put. They could surprise and take Claiborne but at the end of the day, they need a long-term answer at left tackle and Kalil is the best OT prospect in the draft.

4. Cleveland Browns: Trent Richardson, RB, Alabama
In a perfect world the Browns would trade this pick to Miami, acquire more draft selections and still land Richardson at No. 8. But my gut says the Dolphins won’t trade up and the Browns will be “stuck” at No. 4. Cleveland needs impact players on offense and despite my penchant for drafting running backs in the middle round, Richardson fit’s the mold of an Adrian Peterson-type prospect. The Browns could do much worse than drafting Richardson at No. 4 if they can’t trade down.

5. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Morris Claiborne, CB, LSU
Aqib Talib is a jaywalking ticket away from serving a lengthy suspension and Rone Barber is near retirement. While the Bucs did sign Eric Wright in free agency, 26-year-old corner has been inconsistent during his career. I don’t see Claiborne slipping out of the top 5 and thus, if he gets past the Vikings at No. 3 I think the Bucs will scoop him up here.

6. St. Louis Rams: Justin Blackmon, WR, Oklahoma State
There’s no shortage of possibilities for the Rams here, although I don’t believe they’ll move back up after trading down from the No. 2 pick. They could move down, they could take Blackmon, or they could wind up with someone like Trent Richardson or Morris Claiborne depending on what happens three through five. But this is a team in desperate need of an impact player at the receiver position. And while some have suggested that Michael Floyd is a better prospect than Blackmon, I think that’s just pre-draft fodder. Sam Bradford desperately needs a No. 1 and Blackmon fits the bill.

7. Jacksonville Jaguars: Michael Floyd, WR, Notre Dame
I’ll be honest, I’m not enamored with this pick but I do think the Jaguars will either choose a defensive end or receiver at this pick. Seven seems too high for Floyd, but after his strong performance at his Pro Day, there’s been speculation that he could be selected in the top 10. That said, Melvin Ingram and Quinton Coples are definite possibilities at this pick.

8. Miami Dolphins – Ryan Tannehill, QB, Texas A&M
I think the Dolphins will land Tannehill and they won’t have to move up to get him. I firmly believe the Browns won’t select him at No. 4 and teams like the Chiefs won’t want to part with a first round pick in order to move up. Thus, the Dolphins can stay pat and take their franchise signal caller at No. 8. Now, whether Tannehill will pan out is a topic for another time.

9. Carolina Panthers: Quinton Coples, DE, North Carolina
The Panthers desperately need a defensive tackle but No. 9 is too high for Dontari Poe, who impressed at the scouting combine but who got lost in the mix when you watched Memphis games. If either Coples or Melvin Ingram fall to this slot, and I believe one of them ultimately will, then the Panthers could do worse than to add a pass rusher opposite Charles Johnson.

10. Buffalo Bills: Riley Reiff, OT, Iowa
Tackle was a need for the Bills before Demetress Bell signed with the Eagles. Stanford’s Jonathan Martin and Georgia’s Cordy Glenn are also options here but Reiff is rumored to be their top choice.

11. Kansas City Chiefs: David DeCastro, G, Stanford
Inside linebacker and defensive tackle are definite needs for the Chiefs, who may even surprise and trade up for quarterback Ryan Tannehill. But if I were a GM, DeCastro is a much better player than Luke Kuechly (the top inside linebacker) and Dontari Poe (who is arguably the best DT, although I think Michael Brockers is a better prospect). DeCastro played in a pro style system at Stanford and could start right away. Guards aren’t typically top 15 picks but DeCastro is a as close to a guarantee as you can get in my eyes.

12. Seattle Seahawks: Melvin Ingram, DE/OLB, South Carolina
Ingram may not fall this far but if he does, he would seemingly make a lot of sense for a team that needs help at both pass rusher and linebacker. Quinton Coples is another possibility at this spot if he were to fall and not Ingram.

13. Arizona Cardinals: Jonathan Martin, OT, Stanford
I actually had the Cardinals scooping up DeCastro at this spot but then I couldn’t see the Chiefs passing on him at No. 11. Offensive tackle is a huge need for the Cardinals and if Reiff falls, he’d be an option here as well. Defensive tackle, receiver, and linebacker are all possibilities, too.

14. Dallas Cowboys: Dontari Poe, DT, Memphis
Many scouts view Poe as nothing more than a workout warrior who will be overdrafted because of his impressive combine performance. But the Cowboys appear to be smitten with him and if he gets past the Panthers at No. 9, Dallas will have an opportunity to see whether or not Poe can really play.

15. Philadelphia Eagles: Luke Kuechly, LB, Boston College
I was a little surprised that the Eagles didn’t pursue middle linebacker Curtis Lofton in free agency, but maybe they figured they could address their need at MLB without having to spend over $6 million a year on a veteran. Kuechly could go earlier than this but I doubt it. Teams just don’t put a premium on inside linebackers anymore, but he’s certainly a great fit for Philadelphia.

16. New York Jets: Courtney Upshaw, OLB, Alabama
This is the point in the draft where multiple names start to look good slotted next to the team’s name. The Jets need to groom somebody to eventually take over for OLB Bryan Thomas, but Michael Floyd, David DeCastro, Cordy Glenn, Mark Barron and Michael Brockers would all make sense as well.

17. Cincinnati Bengals: Dre Kirkpatrick, CB, Alabama
Leon Hall is coming off an ACL injury and while the team did sign Jason Allen this offseason, the Bengals could still stand to upgrade their secondary. Apparently Kirkpatrick didn’t interview well at the combine but that won’t scare away a team like the Bengals from drafting him.

18. San Diego Chargers: Mark Barron, S, Alabama
Barron is the top safety in the draft and I could see him being swiped by Dallas at No. 14. But if falls, he would be a great value pick for a San Diego team that, as usual, doesn’t have a ton of glaring needs heading into the draft.

19. Chicago Bears – Nick Perry, DE, USC
The Bears could use upgrades at linebacker and safety but I ultimately believe they’ll go defensive line with this pick. Some have Perry slated as an outside linebacker but at 6-foot-3 and 271 pounds, he certainly has the size to play with his hand in the dirt. He led the Pac 12 in sacks last year and could be a solid fit in the Bears’ “Tampa 2.”

20. Tennessee Titans – Fletcher Cox, DT, Mississippi State
The Titans should have a couple of defensive tackles to choose from, including Jerel Worthy of Michigan State and Michael Brockers of LSU. In fact, Dontari Poe of Memphis may also fall to them if Dallas passes on him at No. 14. Either way, I see the Titans addressing the defensive line with this selection.

21. Cincinnati Bengals: Cordy Glenn, G, Georgia
When I looked down and still saw that Glenn was available on my mock board, I was shocked. Glenn may not fall this far but if he does, he would be a great value pick for a Cincinnati team that could take David DeCastro at No. 17 if he were to fall. Glenn is the second best guard in the draft and the Bengals would do very well to address their needs at cornerback and guard in the first round.

22. Cleveland Browns: Mike Adams, OT, Ohio State
Adams has great size and long arms, which is key for offensive tackle prospects. But he doesn’t look like a left tackle to me. That’s fine for Cleveland, which has Joe Thomas already locked in at left tackle. After landing Richardson with the No. 4 pick, the Browns can target a player like Adams to help pave the way for their new back.

23. Detroit Lions: Stephon Gilmore, CB, South Carolina
Janoris Jenkins is arguably a better overall prospect than Gilmore but after the Lions were just burned by Nick Fairely (their first round pick in 2011), they may choose to stay away from a prospect with character concerns. Either way, cornerback is a top need for Detroit and either Jenkins or Gilmore would make sense here.

24. Pittsburgh Steelers: Dont’a Hightower, LB, Alabama
The Steelers could zero in on their offensive line and therefore move up for somebody like Mike Adams, David DeCastro, Cordy Glenn or Jonathan Martin. But with all the top offensive linemen off the board, Hightower would be a nice parting gift. He has experience playing in the 3-4 and could help fill the void left by the release of James Farrior.

25.Denver Broncos: Michael Brockers, DT, LSU
Some believe Devon Still as the better defensive tackle prospect but I really like Brockers’ potential. He hasn’t developed into a pass rusher yet but man can he stuff the run.

26. Houston Texans: Kendall Wright, WR, Baylor
The Texans could use an upgrade opposite Andre Johnson to take help pressure off AJ in the passing game. Wright isn’t very big but with Johnson on the other side commanding double teams, his size (or lack thereof) wouldn’t matter. Wright is a solid first-round prospect.

27. New England Patriots: Whitney Mercilus, DE, Illinois
Mercilus only produced one year at Illinois, so the question becomes: Will he turn out to be Jason Pierre-Paul or Jamaal Anderson? I trust Bill Belichick will know what to do with a raw but talented Mercilus.

28. Green Bay Packers: Peter Konz, C, Wisconsin
Lose Scott Wells in free agency? No problem – just replace him with the top center in the draft. Things always seem to work out for the mastermind Ted Thompson.

29. Baltimore Ravens: Bruce Irvin, OLB, West Virginia
With Knoz going one pick before the Ravens at No. 28, I could see Baltimore trading this pick instead of reaching for a safety like Harrison Smith. But they also need help at outside linebacker and/or defensive end, which is why I went with Irvin here. That said, I’m not enamored with the pick and if someone like Courtney Upshaw were to fall this far, I think he would be a solid selection as well.

30. San Francisco 49ers: Stephen Hill, WR, Georgia Tech
This was a tough selection because the only position that the Niners absolutely need to fill is at guard. And with so many solid guards available in the middle rounds, I’m willing to bet San Fran will wait to address that need. Hill is a second round talent in my eyes, but he won’t be there when the Niners pick in Round 2.

31. New England Patriots: Janoris Jenkins, CB, North Alabama
Jenkins has character concerns that could cause him to fall out of the first round but a player that has some off-field question marks won’t intimate Belichick. Jenkins has loads of talent and as long as he buys into the “Patriots way,” he could be a steal this late in the first round.

32. New York Giants: Coby Fleener, TE, Stanford
Fleener could be long gone by this pick but if he’s still available, what a coup he’d be for a Giants team that needs tight end help. He has to develop into a better blocker but he could essentially be the seam-buster that Mario Manningham has been for the Giants the last two years. Fleener would be an excellent fit in New York.

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