Welcome back. It's been so long since we last talked.
Now that the Jan. 15 deadline to declare has passed, we officially know which college prospects will be available in the 2012 NFL Draft. Unfortunately for quarterback-hungry Dolphins fans, it looks like the asking price for the right to draft Robert Griffin III will be flat-out insane. This means Miami could take a best-player-available strategy (a great thing, in my opinion) into the draft this April.
This week, I have the Dolphins selecting a less-than-glamorous prospect who just happens to be a mammoth talent--able to come in and contribute from day one. I am just telling you this now in case you were expecting to see Griffin or Andrew Luck as the Dolphins' selection. I am not that cruel.
Anyway, enough chatter. Let's take a look at how the first round of the 2012 NFL Draft would play out if held today.1) Indianapolis Colts - Andrew Luck, QB Stanford
Not much needs to be said to validate the selection of Andrew Luck at this spot. He's everything teams look for in a quarterback--the mind and arm of a classic pocket passer, coupled with durability and above-average athleticism for the position. In fact, Luck's such a special prospect, his pending arrival in Indianapolis has already led to the firings of Colts Vice Chairman Bill Polian, General Manager Chris Polian and head coach Jim Caldwell. That's impressive stuff.
2) St. Louis Rams - Justin Blackmon, WR Oklahoma State
Jason Smith's likely departure suggests the Rams will use this selection to add a premier left tackle, but quarterback Sam Bradford needs weapons in the worst possible way, and Oklahoma State wide receiver Justin Blackmon has been on St. Louis' radar since January 2011 (when he was the second- or third-best receiver behind A.J. Green). Easily the No.1 wideout in a strong 2012 receiver class, Blackmon will bring a physical go-to presence to a Rams receiver corps that couldn't get any worse at this point, and he might be able to give St. Louis' backfield some breathing room, as well.
3) Minnesota Vikings - Matt Kalil, OT USC
Despite an ultra-meaningless win in Washington on Christmas Eve, the Vikings could still end up with the 2012 draft prospect they need the most: USC's Matt Kalil. Minnesota's offensive line desperately needs a franchise-caliber presence on the left side, and Kalil is a herculean-type prospect who combines phenomenal upper body strength with impressive technique and footwork. Consider this: The Vikings' offensive line is the worst in the NFC North. It almost takes effort to be that bad.
4) Cleveland Browns - Robert Griffin III, QB Baylor
The Browns claim they're good with quarterback Colt McCoy? That means Baylor's Robert Griffin III should probably brace himself for a move to Cleveland. Unfortunately for the Heisman Trophy winner, the Browns are short on talent in the receiver corps and backfield, so it's going to be an uphill climb the moment Griffin joins the Dawg Pound. Still, RG3 is an unbelievably gifted--both physically and mentally--quarterback prospect who could have the Browns' offense clicking sooner rather than later.
5) Tampa Bay Buccaneers - Morris Claiborne, CB LSU
For a defense that was supposedly a linebacker and cornerback away from becoming a premier unit, the Buccaneers took a colossal step backward in 2011. Tampa has needed a premier cornerback for a while now, and LSU's Morris Claiborne is about as premier as it gets at that position. Claiborne isn't a physical freak, but his man-coverage skills are near unparalleled, which would buy the Buccaneers' burgeoning defensive line a bit more time to get to the quarterback.
6) Washington Redskins - Jonathan Martin, OT Stanford
With Robert Griffin III off the board, the Redskins will likely turn to its next-biggest need and select the best offensive tackle available. Now, I don't believe Stanford's Jonathan Martin is actually the best tackle available at this juncture, but his outrageously solid ability as a run blocker will suit him to the right side of the Washington's hologram-like offensive line. Great need meets greater value in this scenario.
7) Jacksonville Jaguars - Dre Kirkpatrick, CB Alabama
Dre Kirkpatrick looked like a fast, heavy-hitting stork during the BCS National Championship Game, but the big story about the Alabama cornerback this season was his huge improvement in coverage. Kirkpatrick still lacks top instincts at the corner position, but he's ultra-physical when playing the run and has the speed and length to disrupt in coverage.
8) Miami Dolphins - Riley Reiff, OT Iowa
The selection of another offensive lineman in the first round might send Dolphins fans into a Jonestown-like frenzy, but with quarterback options likely available via free agency (Matt Flynn, unless the Packers pull some funny stuff) or in the second round of the 2012 draft (Arizona's Nick Foles, Texas A&M's Ryan Tannehill), the Dolphins should look to match need with value at this spot. Iowa offensive tackle Riley Reiff has the potential to be the best offensive tackle in this class, and would lock up the right side of a Dolphins offensive line that was absolutely violated throughout season. Also, don't forget that potential Dolphins head coach Joe Philbin did his best work in Green Bay with an Iowa Hawkeye (Bryan Bulaga) at right tackle.
9) Carolina Panthers - Michael Brockers, DT LSU
Regardless of Carolina's defensive scheme next season, it's entirely possible Panthers head coach Ron Rivera will develop a serious man-crush on LSU behemoth defensive tackle Michael Brockers. A disruptive force in the trenches this season--and one of the lone bright spots for LSU in the BCS National Championship Game--Brockers excels at collapsing the pocket, and he'll become even more devastating once he refines his hand technique at the line of scrimmage.
10) Buffalo Bills - Whitney Mercilus, DE/OLB Illinois
The Bills need a gung-ho pass rusher, and could have a tough time selecting between Illinois' Whitney Mercilus and Alabama's Courtney Upshaw. The clincher for Mercilus could be his insanely close resemblance to San Francisco pass-rushing monster Aldon Smith (they also both wore the same college number: 85). Mercilus is an edge rusher with great speed, length and power, and he'd do great damage in a defense that already features Marcell Dareus and Kyle Williams.
11) Kansas City Chiefs - Trent Richardson, RB Alabama
Chiefs running back Jamal Charles proved this season that he's a little on the frail side, and with questions remaining at the quarterback position, the Chiefs simply cannot undergo another year with an injury-plagued backfield. Alabama's Trent Richardson is far and away the best running back prospect in this draft class, equipped with the speed and thick build to tear off big plays and withstand the pounding that AFC West defenses can dole out. And he'd be an absolutely steal at this spot, as well.
12) Seattle Seahawks - Quinton Coples, DE North Carolina
Thanks to the emergence of their secondary, Seattle can address its godawful pass rush with a franchise-caliber defensive end at this spot. North Carolina's Quinton Coples is equally capable of smashing quarterbacks or destroying the run, and that's why he should maybe think about buying some flannel shirts this spring.
13) Arizona Cardinals - David DeCastro, G Stanford
Yes, this is a very high spot to take a guard, but when that guard is arguably one of the best to ever play college football, it's probably okay to reach a bit. And when your interior offensive line is as godawful as Arizona's, then reaching on a freakish guard like David DeCastro is pretty much a no-brainer. For those of you who went through the 2011 season wondering how Beanie Wells was racking up huge yardage behind the Cardinals' porous offensive line, imagine how he'll do with DeCastro bulldozing paths well into the second level of defense.
14) Dallas Cowboys - Janoris Jenkins, CB North Alabama
Cornerback is a flat-out necessity for the Cowboys, who were helplessly slapped around by the Giants receivers in Week 17 Janoris Jenkins, despite the fact he couldn't behave himself while at Gainesville for three seasons, is a corner prospect with excellent technique and the ability to play much bigger than his listed size (5'10", 180). Check out his near-domination of A.J. Green during the Florida/Georgia game in 2010 if you need further evidence that Jenkins is the real deal.
15) Philadelphia Eagles - Luke Kuechly, ILB Boston College
Philadelphia's linebacker corps is as bad as it gets--in need of athleticism, awareness and plain old hitting ability. Boston College's Luke Kuechly isn't the fastest linebacker prospect in this draft class, but he's absolutely the smartest and most technically sound. You could even make the case that Kuechly's ability to diagnose and attack the play borders on genius level.
Keuchly (6'2", 235) will remind you of a taller, faster Zach Thomas.
16) New York Jets - Courtney Upshaw, OLB Alabama
The Jets' pass rush has looked deplorable this season, and since Gang Green is now struggling to control the trenches (losing Shaun Ellis and Kris Jenkins probably didn't help in this regard), the least New York can do is add a legitimate edge rusher and put some heat on opposing on quarterbacks.
Alabama's Courtney Upshaw looks every bit the part of a game-changing pass rusher, combining a stout (6'2, 270) frame with good athleticism, heavy hands and the ability to take on and dominate blocks. Upshaw is also capable of either dropping into coverage or busting up the run, and has the instincts and overall intelligence to be a cerebral defender at the next level. He's the total package as a 3-4 outside linebacker.
17) Cincinnati Bengals - Alfonzo Dennard, CB Nebraska
You're just asking for it when Nate Clements and Kelly Jennings are holding it down for you at corner. And though the Bengals will have Leon Hall back next year, Cincinnati needs to find a young, shutdown corner who can come up and smack the run. Nebraska's Alfonzo Dennard is an undersized corner prospect with loads of athleticism, and he has the stout build and great leaping ability to take on bigger, stronger receivers. Dennard isn't as big or technically refined as former Cornhusker (and current New York Giants stud) corner Prince Amukamara, but he might actually have better ball skills at this point.
18) San Diego Chargers - Nick Perry, DE/OLB USC
Lack of quarterback pressure on defense was a big reason for San Diego's sub-par 2011 season, and it's not going to get any better until the Bolts commit to improving their pass rush from the edge. The Chargers won't have to travel far to get a glimpse of what USC outside linebacker Nick Perry is capable of on the football field, as he absolutely tore it up for the Trojans in 2011. Perry is a defensive end who has the speed and active hands to seamlessly transition to outside linebacker in the 3-4, which makes him an ideal prospect for a Chargers defense that needs sacks pronto.
19) Chicago Bears - Peter Konz, C Wisconsin
It's hard to believe that, on a Chicago Bears offensive line bereft of talent, center is actually the team's biggest need. Wisconsin's Peter Konz is a mammoth-yet-cerebral center prospect who has all the traits often found in Wisconsin offensive linemen--size, strength, intelligence and a surprising level of athleticism. Despite suffering a dislocated ankle this season, Konz proved week in and week out that he was the best center in college football, and he'll probably quickly assert himself in the trenches at the next level.
20) Tennessee Titans - Mark Barron, S Alabama
Do-everything safeties will be in short supply this spring, which should add to Alabama safety Mark Barron's already impressive draft stock. Barron is athletic enough to play centerfield in passing downs and physical enough to come up and take on the run. And though he lacks elite speed for the position, he's as complete a safety prospect as you'll find in this draft.
21) Cincinnati Bengals - Lamar Miller, RB Miami
Cedric Benson's on the back end of his stay in Cincinnati, and the Bengals really need a powerful, explosive running back to complement their burgeoning pass attack. Lamar Miller has the game-changing speed and prototypical build to make a difference against the stout defenses in the AFC North, so he could be an ideal selection for the Bengals at this spot.
22) Cleveland Browns (via Atlanta) - Michael Floyd, WR Notre Dame
Robert Griffin III, meet the second-best receiver in the 2012 NFL Draft. Notre Dame's Michael Floyd was unbelievable for the Fighting Irish this season, and the kind of big-bodied wideout who could immediately become a match-up problem for any secondary in his way. Floyd doesn't have top-flight speed, but his hands are outstanding and he's a tough tackle in the open field.
23) Detroit Lions - Vontaze Burflict, ILB Arizona State
Arizona State's Vontaze Burflict is a mega-athletic and physical (i.e., flat-out violent) inside linebacker with supposed character concerns, which means he's basically tailor-made for the Lions. Burflict will restore order to Detroit's linebacker corps by bringing the fearsome "take no prisoners" defensive approach that Lions head coach Jim Schwartz craves.
24) Pittsburgh Steelers - Dont'a Hightower, ILB Alabama
Dont'a Hightower was simply dominant in Alabama's rematch with LSU last week, and since the Steel Curtain's linebackers corps could use an upgrade, Hightower--a rangy, powerful defender and leader for the Crimson Tide--could be on Pittsburgh's radar when they're on the clock on draft night. Hightower's also a ruthless prospect who would undoubtedly mesh well with guys like James Harrison and LaMarr Woodley.
25) Denver Broncos - Jerel Worthy, DT Michigan State
It was evident this season that the Broncos's outside pass rush has the personnel to pile up sacks galore, but Denver still needs major upgrades along the interior to eat the run and push the pocket. Michigan State's Jerel Worthy would be an ideal fit in the Broncos' stifling 4-3 scheme, and though he's athletic enough to get into the backfield and do damage, where Worthy truly shines is his ability to dominate the point of attack.
26) Houston Texans - Kendall Wright, WR Baylor
In a cruel twist of irony, the Texans' defense was unbelievably impressive this season, while the offense was injury-riddled and devoid of any real pop through the air. Matt Schaub will be back, but Houston needs to add an explosive receiver who can take some pressure off of Andre Johnson. Baylor's Kendall Wright is pretty much the epitome of "explosive," pairing good hands with a strong frame and jaw-dropping speed, and he'll likely run amok in a division that isn't necessarily known for strong cornerback play.
27) New England Patriots (via New Orleans) - Devon Still, DT Penn State
One could make the case that the Patriots really have no choice but to use one of their two first-round picks on a stud interior defensive lineman. And regardless of which defensive scheme New England employs, the Pats could really use a player like Penn State defensive tackle Devon Still--a powerful, mega-stout defender who could come in and immediately reinforce the defensive line. Still can get to the quarterback, but he's an absolute killer against the run.
28) Green Bay Packers - Melvin Ingram, DE/OLB South Carolina
For a defense inhabited by so many stud players, the Packers' pass rush looked horrific against the Giants last Sunday. Clay Matthews is a consistent terror as an edge rusher, but Green Bay could really use another pass rusher to balance out their attacking defensive scheme. South Carolina's Melvin Ingram could be the answer for the Pack, and is a fast, ruthless defender who will likely jump into the outside linebacker position without missing a beat. Ingram lacks polish and overall technique, but his freakish strength will help him dominate at the point of attack, and he has already demonstrated an ability to effectively eat the run.
29) New England Patriots - Cordy Glenn, OT/G Georgia
It wouldn't be a true NFL draft without the Patriots trading away one of their first-round picks. However, should New England actually keep this pick, Georgia's Cordy Glenn--an absolute house of an offensive linemen--would be a no-brainer addition to an offensive line that is almost close to rebuilt at this point (Nate Solder and Sebastian Vollmer are both very promising tackles, and Logan Mankins is still the best guard in the game). Glenn can play tackle or guard, and he moves absurdly well for a linemen measuring in at 6'5", 350.
30) San Francisco 49ers - Dwayne Allen, TE Clemson
Yes, this is San Francisco taking a page out of the Patriots' playbook and adding an elite tight end to an offense that currently relies on its Pro Bowl tight end (Vernon Davis) for any and all big plays in the passing game. Dwayne Allen has become a do-everything tight end during his time at Clemson, and he'll wow you with his speed, ball skills and willingness to block. Allen is like a Swiss Army Knife at the tight end position.
Come to think of it, the thought of these Vernon Davis and Dwayne Allen playing together is actually kind of nauseating.
31) Baltimore Ravens - Alshon Jeffery, WR South Carolina
Anquan Boldin is getting up there in years, so the Ravens might want to think about getting Joe Flacco a young wideout with great hands and ball skills. South Carolina's Alshon Jeffery is a burly, big-time wideout who can pound lumps on just about any defensive back in his way, and he'll likely be a red zone threat for the Ravens right off the bat. Jeffery would be pretty much a steal at this spot.
32) New York Giants - Zach Brown, OLB North Carolina
Having the last first-round selection means the Giants will have to "settle" for North Carolina's Zach Brown--a linebacker with cornerback-like speed. Brown would be an immediate upgrade at the will linebacker spot in New York's 4-3 scheme, and he's answered questions about instincts with a very impressive senior campaign for the Tarheels.