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Pre-Bowl Mock Draft

(Originally posted by me at Mocking the Draft)

Bowl season is nearly upon us, and NFL draft talk is starting to kick into high gear. While things will change a lot between now and April’s draft, here is how I envision things could play out:

*Note that I project Landry Jones to go back to school.

1. Indianapolis Colts – Andrew Luck, QB, Stanford.

This one seems pretty obvious. There will be rumblings that maybe Griffin could go here, or the Colts could trade for a king’s ransom but Luck has to be the guy. Whether or not he’s as good as some claim, or whether or not taking a QB with Peyton Manning already in tow is a good idea is irrelevant. The Colts passing on Luck would be a huge surprise.

2. St. Louis Rams – Morris Claiborne, CB LSU

If the Rams end up in the #2 spot, I’d expect them to trade out to someone who wants either Griffin or Barkley (assuming both declare). Since I’m not projecting trades in this mock, Claiborne makes the most sense. If the Rams don’t re-sign Brandon Lloyd, a WR needs to be the pick. The Rams’ CB’s are mediocre at best when healthy and Claiborne is definitely the best DB in the draft

3. Minnesota Vikings – Matt Kalil, OT, USC

There have been rumblings that Kalil will go back to USC, but if he comes out he has to be the pick for the Vikings. With a great RB and a young QB, a solid OL would go a long way towards solidifying the Vikings’ offense. Currently, the Vikings are lining up Charlie Johnson at LT. That’s a sure sign that they need a big-time upgrade on Christian Ponder’s blindside. If Claiborne is still around, I expect the Vikings to give him a long look as well

4. Carolina Panthers – Justin Blackmon, WR, Oklahoma State

The Panthers really need a DT or LB but this is a terrible draft for those positions. It would be too much of a reach for them to take a front 7 player this high. The Panthers’ WR corps could use an upgrade – Steve Smith is getting old, Brandon LaFell is a nice player but not a gamebreaker and David Gettis is coming off a knee injury. Giving Cam Newton a target like Blackmon could instantly make the Panthers’ offense one of the most exciting in the game.

5. Washington Redskins – Robert Griffin III, QB, Baylor

The Redskins have a good thing going on defense with Brian Orakpo and Ryan Kerrigan, but their offense is a mess. They have lacked a true franchise QB for 20 years (and that’s assuming you count Mark Rypien as a franchise QB). Griffin is likely to impress scouts at the combine and has probably solidified himself as a top 10 pick. Matt Barkley is perhaps a safer (and more likely?) pick here, but Griffin offers a degree of excitement which could be too much for Dan Snyder, Bruce Allen and Shanahan to resist

6. Cleveland Browns – Trent Richardson, RB, Alabama

The Browns are in an interesting spot at #6. Come April, they will most likely be sitting on the clock with at least one top QB prospect, one top WR prospect and the best RB prospect on the board. I’m not at all sold on Colt McCoy, but I tend to think that the Browns will give him one more year – one with some real weapons to utilize. Trent Richardson is the fashionable pick here for a reason. This draft is knee-deep in wide receivers for the Browns to add later in the 1st or in the 2nd. The question really is: is Pat Shurmur going to want a RB over a WR given how often he likes to throw? He doesn’t make the draft day decisions, but it wouldn’t surprise me if the Browns go with a WR like Michael Floyd instead of the RB.

7. Miami Dolphins – Matt Barkley, QB, USC

Like the Redskins, it’s been a very long time since Miami has a franchise QB. Matt Moore is a decent enough stopgap in case Barkley isn’t ready to start on Day 1. Passing on a QB in 2012 would be a huge mistake for a Dolphins team which isn’t too far away from being competitive.

8. Jacksonville Jaguars – Alshon Jeffery, WR, South Carolina

The Jaguars need help just about everywhere. I don’t think they give up on Gabbert quite yet and they might be reluctant to going OT with recent investments in Eben Britton and Eugene Monroe. Quinton Coples could make some sense here, but Jacksonville really has to give Gabbert some weapons if he is to have any chance at success. Michael Floyd’s off-field transgressions might get him pulled from the Jaguars’ draft board, as they are fairly stringent upon selecting “high character” players early. For Jeffery to go this high, he will need to have had an excellent combine and/or Pro Day

9. Tampa Bay Buccaneers – Zach Brown, LB, North Carolina

The first semi-surprise of the draft is the Buccaneers take the best 4-3 OLB in the draft. Brown is a near-perfect fit for the WILL spot in the Bucs’ defense. While many will think a top 10 pick on Brown is a bit crazy, he is one of the few LB’s in this very poor crop of defensive players who has above-average pass rushing upside. The Bucs could also consider a CB here, with Aqib Talib having off-field issues and Ronde Barber near retirement.

10. Kansas City Chiefs – Riley Reiff, OT, Iowa

The Chiefs really need a QB but there isn’t one worth taking at this point. If Landry Jones comes out, he could be a consideration here. The Chiefs also have some holes in their front 7 which need to be addressed but they have to find a solution at OT. 10th overall might be too high for a RT to replace the below-average Barry Richardson, but for a team that loves to run the ball a high-quality OL would go a long way.

11. Philadelphia Eagles – Luke Kuechly, LB, Boston College

With Manti Te’o going back to school for 2012, Kuechly shoots up into a surefire top 15 pick. The Eagles’ LB’s are abysmal and desperately need an upgrade. Kuechly, a highly productive and versatile linebacker, will go a long way in solidifying the Eagles defense.

12. Buffalo Bills – Courtney Upshaw, OLB, Alabama

The Bills could go in a number of directions here. They could grab an OT or even WR in this spot but they make a slight reach to grab the top 3-4 OLB available. Upshaw would instantly upgrade the Bills’ pass rush and provides a fair bit of versatility.

13. Arizona Cardinals – Jonathan Martin, OT, Stanford

The Cardinals have seemingly had OL struggles forever and upgrading RT Brandon Keith is a must. Martin could play either RT or LT (with Levi Brown flipping over to the right side) and will bring some stability to a perpetually problematic unit. Don’t rule out a LB if there is a post-Combine riser.

14. Seattle Seahawks -Ryan Tannehill, QB, Texas A&M

The Seahawks absolutely have to come out of the 2012 draft with a young QB. If they miss out on the “big 3” and Landry Jones goes back to school, Tannehill has to be their guy. While many draft experts and fans will be screaming “reach!!!”, the naturally exuberant Pete Carroll will be plenty “pumped and jacked” to have a better option than Tarvaris Jackson or Charlie Whitehurst. Passing on Tannehill here would put the Seahawks in a tough position – they would likely have to trade up from their mid-2nd round pick or settle for a guy like Nick Foles or E.J. Manuel

15. San Diego Chargers – David DeCastro, G, Stanford

DeCastro is possibly the best guard prospect since Chris Naeole in 1997. The Chargers’ OL is a mess with injuries and under-producing talent. All-Pro guard Kris Dielman is reportedly considering retirement after suffering a seizure following a concussion. DeCastro is a big, mean guy who has surprising quickness for his size. He’d look pretty good opening holes for Ryan Mathews.

16. Dallas Cowboys – Dre Kirkpatrick, CB, Alabama

The Cowboys need a CB to play opposite Mike Jenkins. Terence Newman is getting old and has a high price tag. Kirkpatrick gives the Cowboys some size to match up with the NFC’s taller receivers. He offers the aggressiveness and versatility that defensive coordinator Rob Ryan likes in his CB’s.

17. Tennessee Titans – Quinton Coples, DE, North Carolina

Derrick Morgan and Jason Jones have both been underwhelming for the Titans and Coples is too good to pass up here. He has top 10 talent, but lacks the consistency that you’d like to see from a player taken that early.

18. New York Giants – Mike Adams, OT, Ohio State

The Giants need help in a few places, including LB, but Adams is a great value pick at #18. Kareem McKenzie and David Diehl both look to be at the end of the line and the Giants have very little behind either. Adams can most likely be an opening day starter at RT with some potential to play LT down the road.

19. Chicago Bears – Michael Floyd, WR, Notre Dame

It would be a bit surprising if Floyd drops this far, especially if his character issues are smoothed over in combine interviews. The Bears need some help at OL (as always) but need a truly dynamic receiving option for Jay Cutler. The recently re-signed Earl Bennett is a nice complementary player, but the Bears haven’t had an elite WR in a long time. If they can re-sign Matt Forte, Chicago will have a very nice arsenal of weapons.

20. Cincinnati Bengals – Lamar Miller, RB, Miami

Cedric Benson is unsigned, has legal troubles, and isn’t very good. Andy Dalton and A.J. Green give the Bengals an exciting offensive core, but they need to get a RB to take some of the pressure off the passing game. Miller has an excellent combination of size and speed and gives the Bengals another home-run threat for their developing offense.

21. Cincinnati Bengals (via Oakland) – Alfonzo Dennard, CB, Nebraska

Johnathan Joseph is gone and Leon Hall has a torn Achilles. There is serious doubt as to whether or not Hall will be able to get back to his 2009 All-Pro form. Even if Hall rebounds, there is plenty of room to upgrade from Nate Clements and Kelly Jennings. Dennard lacks the top-end speed that the Bengals often covet, but he’s the best guy on the board and should make for a highly productive NFL player.

22.Cleveland Browns (via Atlanta) – Kendall Wright, WR, Baylor

With Trent Richardson in tow, the Browns have to add an explosive receiver to help the seemingly overwhelmed Colt McCoy. Wright is a burner who will give the Browns their first true deep threat in years. It might seem a little early for him, but smaller, speedy WR’s are en vogue right now and Pat Shurmur loves to throw the ball.

23. New York Jets – Vontaze Burfict, LB, Arizona State

If there is one coach to whom Vontaze Burfict could respond, it’s Rex Ryan. Burfict has a lot of questions surrounding him about his character, coachability and instincts but his upside is very high if he can harness his ability. The Jets need help at S, G, and OLB but Ryan will have a hard time passing up Burfict who would make an excellent replacement for the aging Bart Scott.

24. Denver Broncos – Dontari Poe, DT, Memphis

The stop gap DT’s in Denver, Bunkley and Thomas, have held up surprisingly well. However, it would be a surprise if the Broncos didn’t try to upgrade this spot early in the draft. Poe is a massive DT with pretty good mobility for his size. Post-combine, he is likely to shoot up the boards as he appeals to both 4-3 and 3-4 teams. A CB could also be a consideration here.

25. Detroit Lions – Levy Adcock, OT, Oklahoma State

The Lions’ OL has needed a premium upgrade for awhile now and Adcock would be a huge upgrade over just about anyone on their current unit. Detroit has struggled with both run blocking and pass protection this year. Adcock isn’t the toughest, meanest guy out there but he is huge with above average athleticism. An offensive guard could also warrant consideration.

26. New England Patriots – Devon Still, DT, Penn State

The Patriots will most likely be looking to trade one of their 1st round picks as usual. If they stay put, Still is an easy choice for Bill Belichick. He offers the size and versatility that Belichick likes in his lineman and could lineup next to Vince Wilfork inside in a 40 front or kick out to 5-technique if the Patriots return to a 3-4 scheme. Penn State DL don’t have the best track record of success in the NFL, but it would be tough to pass up on Stll at this point.

27. San Francisco 49ers – T.J. McDonald, FS, USC

The 49ers need a big-play WR, but it’s probably too early for any of the guys still on the board so a safety makes the most sense. Dashon Goldson is a pending free agent (and upgradable even if he were to return). McDonald offers a similar playmaking ability and hard-hitting approach as his father did for the 49ers in the late 1990’s. He has some issues with personal foul penalties, and needs some refinement in his technique, but McDonald has the most upside of any safety in what is looking like another terrible crop.

28. New England Patriots – Mark Barron, S, Alabama

The worst kept secret in the NFL is that Bill Belichick’s secondary is a horror show. While there is some talent (both underachieving and injured) at CB, safety is a huge problem. Pat Chung is a good player, but has really struggled with injuries. Matthew Slater, a WR/special teams ace is starting at FS. James Ihedigbo and Sergio Brown should strictly stick to kick coverage units. The Patriots have to address the safety position in a big way this offseason. While the Patriots need a FS more than a SS, they need the best possible guy they can get which is Barron. An edge rusher like Whitney Mercilus or Brandon Jenkins could be a possibility at this spot, if the Patriots don’t trade out

29. Houston Texans – Cordy Glenn, OG, Georgia

The Texans don’t have too many glaring holes, but could use an upgrade along their OL. At #29, Cordy Glenn is a steal. He has impressive physical tools, the size and ability that scouts drool over. Glenn projects to a guard in the NFL but could make it at RT as well. The already elite running game of the Texans would become even more deadly with Glenn paving the way for Arian Foster and Ben Tate.

30. Baltimore Ravens – Don’ta Hightower, ILB, Alabama

Ray Lewis is nearing the end of his Hall Of Fame career and the Ravens don’t have much depth at ILB. Hightower is a pretty good fit for the Ravens D. He plays the hard-hitting and aggressive style hat has become synonymous with Ravens football. He is a decent blitzer from the inside and has the size and strength to take on NFL linemen.

31. Pittsburgh Steelers – Kelechi Osemele, OG, Iowa State

The Steelers need a lot of help on their OL. Current LG Chris Kemoeatu is unlikely to return in 2012 and RG Ramon Foster hasn’t established himself as a permanent fixture along the line. Osemele would help the Steelers’ mediocre running game, as well as help prevent Ben Roethlisberger from taking a beating game in and game out. If Casey Hampton retires, a NT like Josh Chapman has to be a consideration here.

32. Green Bay Packers – Brandon Thompson, DT, Clemson

The Packers defensive line has struggled a bit this year and could use an infusion of young talent at the 5-technique spot. Thompson is perhaps best suited for the 4-3, but he could fit in Dom Capers’ attacking 1-gap 3-4 scheme. He will remind Green Bay fans of former Packers’ DL Cullen Jenkins in his ability to push the pocket and also help in stuffing the run. This low in the first round, he is a steal.

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