By Travis Stahl
With the NFL free-agent signing period underway it clears up the draft picture a little bit more. There are still a lot of free agents to be signed that will alter the way the draft unfolds further but for now we can still start to connect some dots. Remember, crazy things happen during the draft every year, so this list is not gospel it is just our interpretation of how we think things will play out in the draft this April.
1. Colts – Andrew Luck, Quarterback, Stanford: This is the one gimme putt of the draft. There is speculation that Baylor quarterback Robert Griffin III could be a possibility for the Colts but don’t believe a word of it. Luck gives the Colts the franchise quarterback they need for the next 10-15 years. Plus, Luck will have Reggie Wayne around to show him the ropes which will help out the young quarterback a lot.
2. Redskins – Robert Griffin III, Quarterback Baylor: Washington mortgaged its future to move up to this spot so it better pay off. RGIII has a strong arm and is very mobile but people forget he also has a good head on his shoulders. If the Redskins can add any talent to the offense (Pierre Garcon doesn’t count) to help Griffin the team could come close to eight wins.
3. Vikings – Matt Kalil, Offensive Tackle, Southern California: Minnesota struggled last year on the offensive line, if the team shores that up they may not be too bad. But, you have to give quarterback Christian Ponder time to throw and Adrian Peterson room to run. Kalil can accomplish both of those tasks.
4. Browns – Trent Richardson, Running Back, Alabama: Peyton Hillis is gone and beyond him Cleveland has had no running game the last two years. Richardson is much better than his predecessor at Alabama Mark Ingram. Richardson will really help quarterback Colt McCoy in the passing game as he gives the team a legitimate receiving threat out of the backfield.
5. Buccaneers – Morris Claiborne, Defensive Back, LSU: That “Oh, Crap!” sound you just heard was from the Tampa Bay war room where they just saw Cleveland take Richardson off the board. The Bucs were sitting at home waiting for Richardson to fall into their laps. Claiborne is not a bad consolation prize. He fits a need in Tampa and is as talented a cover corner as has entered the league in years. But Tampa thought their offense was really going to take off by pairing Richardson with Vincent Jackson.
6. Rams – Justin Blackmon, Wide Receiver, Oklahoma State: Blackmon is the most talented wide receiver to enter the draft since Calvin Johnson. He gives quarterback Sam Bradford a big-play threat that knows how to get separation from coverage. Blackmon will significantly upgrade the St. Louis offense all by himself.
7. Jaguars – Michael Brockers, Defensive Tackle, LSU: Name a position Jacksonville doesn’t need to improve upon, go ahead, I dare you. There are no wide receivers worthy of drafting this high so the Jags take the best player available in Brockers. Brockers is a physical freak who can dominate on the defensive line with his quickness and gives the Jags some needed help in the pass rush.
8. Dolphins – Ryan Tannehill, Quarterback, Texas A&M: Another swing and a miss for the ‘Phins. Miami is so desperate for a quarterback at this point it’s either Tennehill or David Gerrard. Miami hired Tannehill’s college coach, Mike Sherman, as its new offensive coordinator so the transition to the NFL will be a little easier. But this is still a full round higher than Tannehill should be drafted and at this point the Dolphins are out of options.
9. Panthers – Courtney Upshaw, Defensive End, Alabama: If you want to beat the Saints you better be able to pressure Drew Brees and Upshaw can do that. Carolina’s pass rush last season was non-existent allowing opposing quarterbacks time to pick the secondary apart. Upshaw is a fiery competitor who can wreck havoc in the opponents backfield.
10. Bills – Jonathan Martin, Offensive Tackle, Stanford: This pick should be obvious but I’m still counting on Buffalo screwing it up somehow. Martin would greatly solidify the Bills offensive line which in a word is awful. Buffalo began the trend of building on the lines two years ago so the plan should continue. A lot of draft experts have stated Buffalo would draft to fill its pass rush needs but with Mario Williams now signed the Bills can look elsewhwere.
11. Chiefs – Dontario Poe, Defensive Tackle, Memphis: Poe was the big winner from the scouting combine this year. For a guy as big as he is Poe is incredibly mobile and can penetrate the backfield with force. Kansas City is hoping with Poe and the return of safety Eric Berry the team’s defense will dominate the AFC West.
12. Seahawks – Melvin Ingram, Defensive End, South Carolina: Seattle coach Pete Carroll is building up the team’s defensive front in to an impressive unit. And now, here’s Ingram. Seattle was another team that couldn’t rush the passer and Ingram can do that impressively. Having a solid Seahawks secondary behind him will only give Ingram that much more time to reach opposing quarterbacks.
13. Cardinals – Cordy Glenn, Offensive Guard, Georgia: Glenn is an absolute mauler. Defensive linemen, linebackers, it doesn’t matter; Glenn is going to bulldoze anyone in his way. Arizona has long lacked a physical presence to its offensive line and Glenn brings some toughness to a group that needs to produce better rushing the football. The Cardinals have decent running backs, just nobody to create any room for them to run.
14. Cowboys – David DeCastro, Offensive Guard, Standford: This is a safe, sound, common sense selection for Dallas. In other words, it’s a long shot. But after Jerry Jones went tackle last year maybe he now understands how important the offensive line is. DeCastro has been considered by many as the smartest guard to enter the league in years. This bodes well for a Cowboys team that makes a lot of mistakes.
15. Eagles – Riley Reiff, Offensive tackle, Iowa: Michael Vick is great when he has an offensive line that can protect him and that was a rarity last season in Philadelphia. Reiff is a physical blocker and Andy Reid loves to build on the lines. The Eagles offensive line was paper thin last season and in the NFC East if you can’t block, you can’t compete.
16. Jets – Whitney Mercilus, Defensive End, Illinois: For all the defensive coaching praise Rex Ryan receives he sure couldn’t find a way to generate a pass rush last season. This really is a boom or bust pick. Mercilus is a tremendous athlete with great explosion up field, but he only had one good year at Illinois.
17. Bengals – Quinton Coples, Defensive End, North Carolina: This is the Carson Palmer pick the Raiders traded to Cincinnati so the Bengals can swing for the fences here. Coples has a world of talent, Bengals coach Marvin Lewis just needs to put him in situational pass rushing sets to start out. Cincy’s pass rush has been average the last couple of years but it could drastically improve after this pick.
18. Chargers – Kendal Wright, Wide Receiver, Baylor: Now that Vincent Jackson is in Tampa Bay San Diego better find somebody for quarterback Phillip Rivers to throw the ball to. Wright is a good addition for the Bolts, he has tremendous speed and finds ways to get the ball in the endzone. This may not be the position the Chargers wanted to address in the first round but with Jackson gone this selection is out of necessity.
19. Bears – Mike Adams, Offensive Tackle, Ohio State: After the trade for Brandon Marshall Chicago doesn’t need to draft a wide receiver here for Jay Cutler. That’s good news because the offensive line is still terrible. Adams and last year’s first-round pick Gabe Carimi give the Bears a powerful offensive line that could really pound out some yards on the ground.
20. Titans – Luke Kuechly, Linebacker, Boston College: Quick, name me a linebacker that plays for Tennessee. Can’t do it can you? That’s how badly the Titans need linebackers. Kuechly is graded as a top-ten pick so grabbing him here is a steal for the Titans.
21. Bengals – Malcolm Floyd, Wide Receiver, Notre Dame: This is another all-in pick by Cincinnati. Floyd is unbelievably talented and could give the Bengals the best young receiving tandem in the league with A.J. Green. In order for that to play out though Floyd has to eliminate the alcohol-related incidents that have plagued him in the past and Cincinnati may not be the best place to accomplish that goal.
22. Browns – Dre Kirkpatrick, Defensive Back, Alabama: This is the pick the Browns picked up last year from Atlanta and it pays off big time. Kirkpatrick is a big, physical corner who can disrupt anybody in pass coverage or fly up to the line in run support. There are some character issues associated with Kirkpatrick but if those get evened out the Browns have picked up a shut-down corner.
23. Lions – Peter Konz, Center, Wisconsin: If the Lions are going to take the step to the next level they need to upgrade the offensive line. Konz is an unbelievable talent that can step in and be the leader of the offensive line from day one. This isn’t a glamour pick but Konz is the kind of player that can partner with Matthew Stafford for the next 10 years.
24. Steelers – Mark Barron, Strong Safety, Alabama: There’s a dirty little secret around the NFL that nobody wants to talk about, Troy Polamalu is really not that good anymore. Barron is a defensive leader in the mold of Polamalu or Ed Reed in Baltimore and Pittsburgh loves its safeties to be physical which Barron is. Barron struggles a bit in coverage at times but nobody supports the run as well as he does.
25. Broncos – Nick Perry, Defensive End, USC: With Peyton Manning on board the offense is now solidified. John Fox loves to draft defense and Perry would be a great addition to a unit that was murder on quarterbacks at the end of the season. Perry would give Denver four legitimate pass rushers to send into the backfield. Everybody thinks the Broncos need to draft wide receivers for Manning to throw to but Peyton has a way of making average players look better so Eric Decker should be just fine.
26. Texans – Alshon Jeffery, Wide Receiver, South Carolina: First of all, this is too high for Jeffery to be drafted, but Houston has to reach at this point. When Andre Johnson was out injured last year there was nobody to throw to at all. If nothing else Jeffery forces defenses to lighten up a little bit on Johnson. Jeffery’s effort can be questionable at times but maybe Johnson can show him the ropes.
27. Patriots – Dont’a Hightower, Linebacker, Alabama: When New England was at its best defensively its linebackers were the core of the unit. The team got away from that philosophy and the defense struggled as a result. With Hightower teaming with Brandon Spikes and Jerod Mayo though the Patriots are once again stacked linebacker for years to come.
28. Packers – Doug Martin, Running back, Boise State: Ryan Grant won’t be back and Green Bay is unsure if James Starks can stay healthy for more than two quarters in a row. The Packers have said upgrading the running game is the top priority of the offseason and Martin is a definite upgrade. The former Bronco isn’t flashy but he does everything you would want a running back to do very well.
29. Ravens – Vinny Curry, Defensive End, Marshall : Baltimore really wanted Barron but will settle for Curry. In the NFL it’s all about getting to the quarterback and Curry is as good at that as anybody. Baltimore has always built its team around defense and Curry continues the trend.
30. 49ers – Lamar Miller, Running Back, Miami: In case you didn’t know, Frank Gore is old. Its amazing Gore has held up this long considering he seems to get hurt every season. Enter Miller who is a Gore clone. The basis of Jim Harbaugh’s offense is running the ball and Miller can team with Kendal hunter to give San Francisco a duel threat out of the backfield.
31. Patriots – Fletcher Cox, Defensive Tackle, Mississippi State: New England continues its steady reloading process on defense with another piece to the puzzle. Cox isn’t flashy which makes him perfect for the Patriots.
32. Giants – Coby Fleener, Tight End, Stanford: Fleener was Luck’s favorite target at Stanford and gives Eli Manning a receiving threat over the middle he has never has. The comparisons being made around the league are that Fleener is similar to Rob Gronkowski.