2012 NFL Mock Draft 2.0

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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Vikings have need at receiver but Kalil remains logical choice at No. 3

Over the past week, ESPN’s Adam Schefter has been adamant that USC left tackle Matt Kalil is not a lock to go to the Minnesota Vikings at No. 3 in next week’s draft. But logic dictates otherwise.

According to Schefter, Kalil, LSU cornerback Morris Claiborne, Oklahoma State receiver Justin Blackmon, and Notre Dame wideout Michael Floyd are the players that the Vikings are “strongly debating” taking with the third overall pick. All four prospects would make sense based on Minnesota’s needs, but out of that group Kalil sticks out like a sore thumb.

The Vikings must build around quarterback Christian Ponder and while they could certainly help him by adding a playmaker at receiver, the left tackle position must be addressed. The Vikings could get by at wideout with Percy Harvin and Michael Jenkins, but to return to the field next year with Charlie Johnson penciled in at left tackle would be a mistake. Johnson struggled mightily in pass protection last year and wasn’t much better as a run blocker either. It would be difficult for Ponder to make strides in his second season if he has defenders constantly at his backside.

It’s difficult to find left tackles in the middle rounds that are ready to start right away. It makes more sense for the Vikings to snag Kalil at No. 3 and then target a receiver like LSU’s Ruben Randle in the second round if he were to fall. The wide receiver position is deep in this year’s draft. Offensive tackle, meanwhile, is not.

Schefter is the most plugged in NFL reporter in the league and there’s always legitimacy to his reports. But you have to wonder if GM Rick Spielman is putting a spin on things trying to draw interest in the No. 3 pick. If the Vikings trade down, they could acquire multiple picks and fill multiple needs in the first couple of rounds.

But at the end of the day, the Vikings need help now and I believe Kalil will ultimately be too good to pass up at No. 3.

Breaking down the cornerback class in the 2012 NFL Draft

Best in Class: Morris Claiborne, LSU
Despite reportedly scoring a 4 on the Wonderlic Test at this year’s scouting combine, Claiborne is a shoe-in to be selected in the top 10, if not the top 5. He was college football’s top cover corner coming out of LSU and won the Thorpe Award with a six-interception season in 2011. He also averaged 26.3 yards per kickoff return and is viewed as a better prospect than former No. 5 overall pick Patrick Peterson, who is also an LSU alum.

Next in Line: Stephon Gilmore, South Carolina; Dre Kirkpatrick, Alabama
Unlike Kirkpatrick, there’s no questioning Gilmore’s speed. He ran a 4.44 and a 4.47 at the scouting combine and has excellent size at 6-foot-1 and 190 pounds. He’s gained a ton of media attention over these past few weeks and is now predicted to go somewhere in the top 15 picks thanks to his combination of size, speed and athleticism…At 6-foot-3 and 192 pounds, Kirkpatrick is more known for his run support than his cover skills and Mike Mayock even said that the former ‘Bama defender may have to convert to safety “down the road.” But he ran in the 4.40s at the combine and may have put to rest the idea that he’s a 4.6 guy. He may fall into the 20s, but he will be selected at some point in the first round.

The Risk: Janoris Jenkins, North Alabama
Jenkins might be the most polarizing figure in this year’s NFL draft. He has the talent and cover skills to be the second best cornerback prospect behind Claiborne, but he’s been arrested multiple times for drug use, was booted from the team at Florida, and has four children born to three different women. Obviously teams are justified for being a little skeptical that Jenkins can stay out of trouble once he signs his first contract. But if can fly straight off the field, then he could be a tremendous value for teams picking in the bottom of the first round (or at the top of the second if he falls that far). He played plenty of press man while at North Alabama and while he isn’t the best tackler, receivers will have a hard time separating from him in coverage thanks to his speed and change-of-direction skills. But again, nobody is questioning his talent – it’s his inability to stay out of trouble that is cause for concern.

The Potential Sleeper: Casey Hayward, Vanderbilt
Hayward would likely get exposed even he was asked to primarily play in man coverage at the next level. But considering most teams stick to Cover 2 or zone schemes, Hayward shouldn’t have any problems sticking on a NFL roster. His best attributes are that he’s instinctive, locates the ball well in coverage, and is a smart player overall. While at Vanderbilt he was also highly productive, racking up 15 interceptions in his four-year career, as well as 198 tackles and 31 pass breakups. Considering he may fall into the third round, he could be a solid value for a team that primarily plays Cover 2.

Rang: Blackmon not viewed as an elite prospect

While Justin Blackmon is viewed as the top receiver in this year’s draft class, he reportedly isn’t considered an “elite” prospect.

From Rotoworld:

According to a poll done by CBS Sports’ Rob Rang, 3-of-3 teams interviewed on Friday night did not consider Oklahoma State WR Justin Blackmon an “elite” or top-five prospect in the 2012 draft.

There was a consensus among the teams that Andrew Luck, Robert Griffin III, Matt Kalil, Trent Richardson, and Morris Claiborne are “elite,” and the draft’s clear-cut top-five players. All three clubs did rate Blackmon as the No. 1 receiver on their board and a top-ten talent, though. We were skeptical early in the draft process that Blackmon would be a top-ten lock, but at this point we don’t expect him to get beyond the Dolphins at No. 8.

Not to discredit Rang’s research but “3-of-3 teams?” Not really a large sample size there, Rob.

That said, I would agree that Blackmon isn’t a top-5 prospect. Luck, Griffin III, Richardson and Claiborne are elite, and I would even throw David DeCastro and Michael Brockers into that mix as well. They won’t be selected in the top 5 because they don’t play impact positions (at least in terms of the first round of the draft), but DeCastro and Brockers are excellent prospects.

But let’s not mince words here: Blackmon is a very talented player. He’s very instinctive, has a great frame and is a natural pass-catcher. Whichever team drafts him will have the opportunity to use him all over the field, including outside the numbers and as a seam-buster in the slot. If he was in last year’s draft class I would have slotted him behind A.J. Green and Julio Jones, but that’s not a knock on Blackmon’s ability.

Vikings not sold on Matt Kalil at No. 3?

Colts? Andrew Luck.

Redskins? Robert Griffin III.

Vikings? Matt K…

Well, maybe not.

ESPN’s Adam Schefter reported on SportsCenter today that he doesn’t believe USC offensive tackle Matt Kalil is a lock to be the Vikings’ selection at No. 3 in this month’s NFL draft, “by any stretch.”

This is noteworthy because a) Schefter is one of the most plugged in reporters in the NFL, if not the most plugged in reporter, and b) Kalil has seemingly been a slam-dunk to the Vikings at No. 3 for the past month. Schefter appeared on NFL Live later in the day and said Minnesota was eyeing three players with the No. 3 pick: Kalil, Justin Blackmon and Morris Claiborne.

It has been reported that the Vikings would like to trade down, acquire more picks and still land an impact player later in the first round. But just like I’ve stated with the Browns (who also may want to trade down), which team is going to trade up and for whom would they trade up for? Trent Richardson is a hell of a prospect but running backs are becoming less and less valuable in a pass-heavy league. Ryan Tannehill, meanwhile is the next best quarterback prospect after Luck and Griffin but I don’t think he’s worthy of a top 5 pick.

I don’t see a team willing to move up for Blackmon, Claiborne or Kalil either. Thus, short of the Colts and/or Redskins shocking everyone by not taking Luck and/or Griffin, I firmly believe teams like the Vikings and Browns will be hard pressed to move out of their spots.

If the Vikings do pass on Kalil for Blackmon (we’ll use Blackmon for the sake of this example), then it’ll be interesting to see what St. Louis does at No. 6. Kalil could essentially fall into their laps and given the issues the Rams had up front last year, they’d almost have to pull the trigger on the best left tackle in the draft.

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