2012 NFL Draft: Five prospects that the experts can’t seem to agree on

No matter which NFL draft analysts you follow, the consensus pretty much agrees on which prospects in this year’s class belong in the top 5.

But which players are the so-called experts having a hard time agreeing on?

Analysts unanimously concede that Andrew Luck, Robert Griffin III, Ryan Kalil, Morris Claiborne and Trent Richardson comprise the top 5 in this year’s draft. Some may rank the prospects in a different order, but those are the five names that you see listed atop the media’s version of a big board. (Justin Blackmon is generally listed as the sixth-best prospect for those scoring at home.)

But the names below are some of the prospects that, for one reason or another, the analysts just can’t seem to agree on.

1. Ryan Tannehill, QB, Texas A&M
Depending on the analyst, Tannehill lies somewhere between Jay Cutler and whatever JaMarcus Russell ate this morning for breakfast. The overall consensus is that Tannehill is the third best quarterback prospect behind Luck and Griffin, but the majority of analysts can’t agree on whether or not he’s worthy of a top-10 selection. And seeing as how the Dolphins (who own the No. 8 pick) have been the team most linked to Tannehill, his situation has made for an interesting debate over the past few weeks. Dan Pompei of the National Football Post suggested that Tannehill isn’t ready to start at the NFL level because he only played 19 games at quarterback for A&M. NFL Network’s Charley Casserly also said in early April that most teams view Tannehill as a late first-round pick at best. But former Colts GM Bill Polian called Tannehill a “unique talent” who “merits a high pick,” and there have been others who claim he has the skill set to succeed at the next level. We’ll see.

2. Dontari Poe, DT, Memphis
Poe is one of the more polarizing prospects in this year’s draft. Some analysts view him as a top 15 prospect while others don’t even rank him among their first 32 picks. In fact, SI.com’s Peter King recently reported that Poe is drawing the “widest disparity of opinion” among first-round prospects. He has drawn comparisons to both Haloti Ngata (good) and Ryan Sims (bad), with most of the positive comparisons coming after his dazzling combine workout. Analysts can agree that he’s extremely athletic, has excellent size and strength, and has plenty of upside. But he’s not a very good interior pass rusher, he wasn’t productive in college and he may be this year’s poster child for “workout warriors.” The media just can’t get an accurate gauge on where Poe will be selected and at this point, nobody should be surprised if he goes somewhere in the first 15 picks or drops into the second round.

3. Stephen Hill, WR, Georgia Tech
Hill was largely considered a second-round prospect when he announced that he would forgo his senior season at Georgia Tech back in January. But after he ran an average of 4.32 in the 40-yard dash at this year’s scouting combine, analysts started to suggest he would be taken in the first round. When you consider he’s 6-foot-4 and 215 pounds, and can run a 4.32 forty, it’s hard to argue with that line of thinking. The problem, of course, is that Hill played in the tripe option offense under Paul Johnson at Georgia Tech and thus, he’ll be behind when he enters the NFL because he’s limited as a route runner. Some believe that Hill isn’t NFL-ready and his rising draft stock is based on his combine workout alone. What’s interesting is that if a team selects Hill in the bottom of the first round, they may get scrutinized but if someone takes him in the second, they would likely be viewed as a team that found value. (Just one more example of why all the pre-draft talk is rather silly. Fun as hell, but silly.)

4. Quinton Coples, DE, North Carolina
There’s no question that Coples is a first-round prospect but where in the first round he’ll be selected is certainly up for debate. Many analysts view him as the best defensive end in the draft but there are questions about his motor. At 6-foot-6 and 285 pounds, people are enamored with his size but he isn’t viewed as an elite pass rusher so you almost have to buy the rumors that he’ll fall into the teens come Thursday night. But yet you look around and some analysts can’t help but put him in the top 10 of their mock drafts.

5. Janoris Jenkins, CB, North Alabama
In the case of Jenkins, the disagreements have been whether or not he’ll be too much of a risk to take in the first round – not whether or not he’s talented. From a talent standpoint, there’s no question that he’s a first-round prospect. But he was kicked off the team at Florida because of multiple drug arrests and an assault charge, and also has four children born to three different women. There was a report that came out a few weeks ago that stated Jenkins admitted at the scouting combine that he continued to smoke pot last year while playing at North Alabama. But he has since denied that claim so it’s hard to know what to believe at this point. What we do know is that it only takes one team to fall in love with Jenkins to make him a first round pick. But given his off-field transgressions, it’ll be interesting to see if some analysts are correct when they think he’ll drop into the second round.

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Browns’ Heckert disputes King’s report about Justin Blackmon

In his latest edition of “Monday Morning Quarterback,” SI.com’s Peter King recently reported that Browns GM Tom Heckert “loves” Oklahoma State wideout Justin Blackmon and if Heckert wasn’t overruled by president Mike Holmgren, Blackmon would be Cleveland’s pick at No. 4.

But Heckert states otherwise.

I haven’t spoken to Peter King in years so I have no idea where that came from,” Heckert told reporters on a conference call. “Everything you have heard is complete nonsense. It’s just this time of year and I understand that.”

In defense of King, he could have received that information from a trusted source that knows Heckert. But it’s easier to dismiss King’s report when you hear Heckert say, “I haven’t spoken to Peter King in years…”

If the Browns were to take Blackmon at No. 4, it would be extremely interesting to see what the Rams do at No. 6. Listening to Jeff Fisher’s comments this week at Rams Park, it definitely appears that St. Louis is fully committed to Steven Jackson as its primary back. But if Blackmon was off the board at No. 6 and Trent Richardson fell, I have a hard time believing the Rams wouldn’t take the Alabama running back with their first selection. After all, St. Louis would only have to worry about having Jackson and Richardson on the same roster for one year. If Richardson looked like he could handle the full-time rushing load in his rookie season, then the Rams could part ways with Jackson next year when he turns the dreaded age of 30.

But I was at Rams Park earlier this week and like he always seems to be at this time of year, Jackson is in tremendous shape. Thus, the hope for St. Louis is that Cleveland takes Richardson at No. 4, Blackmon falls to the Rams at No. 6, and Sam Bradford finally gets his big-time weapon in the receiving game.

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.

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.

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