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With one of the most important processes of the NFL Draft evaluation process in the review mirror, it's time to look at how the draft could lay out at this point as we all await the NFL Combine, which begins Feb. 22.
The Senior Bowl is the best chance for the draft's top seniors to turn some heads of scouts and several proved capable of doing so this past week. However, only a handful of the participants of the Senior Bowl will actually find themselves being selected in the first round. As usual, the top of the draft is littered with talented juniors, who will command the spotlight come draft day.
But guys like North Carolina DE Quenton Coples, North Alabama CB Janoris Jenkins, South Carolina DE/LB Melvin Ingram, Alabama LB Courtney Upshaw and North Carolina LB Zach Brown certainly helped their stock in Mobile over the past week.
Even so, we all still know who the first pick overall is likely to be.
1. Indianapolis Colts
Andrew Luck, QB, Stanford
I had a friend remark that he found Luck boring to watch. He meant it as a complement, saying Luck just made everything look so easy and effortless that he didn't look challenged at the college ranks this past season. While Luck certainly had some challenges at times, I found the description of him to be true. Luck's game has been probed, poked, proded and downright violated by scouts this year, yet he remains the overall consensus as the draft's top prospect. That's no easy feat, and it only speaks volumes about the type of QB prospect the Colts will be getting.
2. St. Louis Rams
Morris Claiborne, CB, LSU
I really considered Matt Kalil here, but reality is the Rams have invested too many recent high draft picks at OT and should let Jason Smith and Rodger Saffold develop. Some would argue Justin Blackmon in this slot, but impact receivers can be had later in the draft. When it comes to Claiborne's skill set, there isn't another CB in this draft that is close to what he is capable of in coverage. He's as much of a shutdown cover man as any CB who has been drafted in recent memory.
3. Minnesota Vikings
Matt Kalil, OT, USC
There isn't a bigger need for the Vikings. It's such a huge need the Rams should consider bluffing Minnesota into thinking they're going to take Kalil and convince them to trade up a spot to secure the draft's best LT. Kalil has truly earned this designation this season as he came into the season in a battle with Stanford's Jonathan Martin and Iowa's Riley Reiff to see who would be the top OT in the draft. Kalil was the best player on an OL that allowed just eight sacks last season. He didn't allow any.
4. Cleveland Browns
Trent Richardson, RB, Alabama
There's a lot of hype surrounding the Browns taking Robert Griffin III with this selection. It's hard to believe Mike Holmgren won't be more patient with Colt McCoy, though. After all, it's not like Colts had much help. The right side of the OL was poor. McCoy had no prime receivers to throw to, and the RB situation was bad due to injuries. Finding legit pieces for McCoy to work with should be the Browns' focus. That's where Richardson comes in. He makes the Browns better in both the ground and passing games immediately. Typically, I wouldn't grade a RB this highly, but Richardson is the complete package and the best RB prospect since Adrian Peterson.
5. Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Justin Blackmon, WR, Oklahoma State
Josh Freeman regressed this season, so much so his head coach Raheem Morris was fired and many fans in Tampa Bay are pushing for a new QB -- ideally Robert Griffin III. But Freeman should have a longer leash than that. I can't imagine new head coach Greg Schiano wanting Freeman out already. The Buccs need to put some more consistent weapons around him, though. Mike Williams also had a poor sophomore campaign, which makes upgrading at WR vital. Blackmon is the most complete receiver in this class. Think Dez Bryant without all the off-the-field drama.
6. Washington Redskins
Robert Griffin III, QB, Baylor
John Elway had a huge arm and was considered one of the best athletes to ever play the QB position. Griffin throws the best deep ball in the country and set track records in the hurdles during his time at Baylor. In other words, Griffin fits exactly what Mike Shanahan looks for in a QB. Throw in all of Griffin's intangibles such as his intelligence and leadership qualities, and the Heisman Trophy winner only becomes more insatiable. There's a pretty good chance someone will try to trade up for Griffin. Cleveland's No. 4 pick might be the spot the Redskin, Dolphins, Bills and maybe Seahawks begin bidding for the rights to draft Griffin. But since I'm not projecting trades, he projects best to the Redskins.
7. Jacksonville Jaguars
Quinton Coples, DE, North Carolina
The Jaguars have numerous holes to fill, and wouldn't mind seeing Justin Blackmon falling to them. Instead, they'll settle for the draft's best DE. Coples is built similarly to Mario Williams, but isn't the pass rusher Williams is. Some are starting to think Coples might work as a DT in some schemes, or as a 3-4 DE. But Coples showed this week at the Senior Bowl he's more than capable of rushing the passer from a three-point stance. There wasn't a DL tougher to block all week in Mobile.
8. Carolina Panthers
Dre Kirkpatrick, CB, Alabama
The Panthers don't have a huge hole to fill at CB, making this a bit of a luxury pick. They probably need help at guard or wide receiver more, but Kirkpatrick is too good to pass up here. His big body allows him to be extremely physical with bigger WRs and he's got the speed and quickness to hang with the smaller wideouts. Let's not forget the Panthers are trying to catch up to the Saints, who have a bevy of talented receivers, making cover men a priority. Kirkpatrick did have a recent arrest for possession of marijuana, but it's the first disciplinary issue he's had in college. For now, I give him the benefit of the doubt.
9. Miami Dolphins
Riley Reiff, OT, Iowa
The Dolphins are candidates to move up in the draft for Robert Griffin III, but the price might be too steep. Matt Moore was good enough late in the year, the Dolphins could take a QB in the second round with hopes of developing him into a future starter while Moore holds the position steady. If the Dolphins stay, then Reiff is a nice fit in this situation. Miami has Jake Long on one side, but adding Reiff on the right side gives Miami a nice set of bookend tackles. Rush LBs for a 3-4 scheme like Melvin Ingram and Courtney Upshaw should also be considered.
10. Buffalo Bills
Melvin Ingram, DE, South Carolina
Ingram is a wonderful athlete, who can line up in a multitude of positions. He played OLB, DT, DE and FB this past season at South Carolina. His likely positions in the NFL are as a 3-4 OLB or a 4-3 DE. The Bills have been using both schemes recently, but would like to switch back to a 4-3. Ingram gives Buffalo a transitional player capable of making that move much simpler.
11. Seattle Seahawks
Devon Still, DT, Penn State
The Seahawks certainly have bigger needs, particularly at QB, DE and OLB. But unless they trade up for Robert Griffin III, a first-round QB isn't happening for the 'Hawks. With Coples and Ingram off the board, the next best end for a 4-3 scheme is Whitney Mercilus, who I'm personally high on but have to admit he hasn't proven he's worth this high a selection yet. The Seahawks could take Courtney Upshaw and try him at DE, but he's more suited as a 3-4 OLB. With Still, the Seahawks still get very good value with their pick, while also filling a moderate need. And he is the best DT in this draft.
12. Kansas City Chiefs
Jonathan Martin, OT, Stanford
The Chiefs are another team outside the top 10 looking for a QB. They should probably be considered a threat to trade up for Robert Griffin III, but the price to do so might be daunting. After QB, RT is probably the biggest need. Martin, who has the potential to move to LT as well, can fill that void. Of the top three OT prospects, Martin is the best run blocker of the three. Considering the Chiefs are likely to be a run-first offense with the return of a healthy Jamaal Charles next season, Martin should be a nice fit.
13. Arizona Cardinals
Courtney Upshaw, LB, Alabama
The Cards would love to see one of the top three OTs fall to them, but in this scenario they obviously just missed on that occurring. Arizona needs to find an edge rusher, though. They've never truly replaced Calvin Pace after he left via free agency a few years ago. Upshaw would allow the Cardinals to play the 3-4 scheme more often, but he could also fit into their 4-3 alignment as well. Upshaw is relentless of the edge and was the motor of a great Alabama defense.
14. Dallas Cowboys
David DeCastro, OG, Stanford
Seeing a second Stanford OL come off the board in a three pick span speaks volumes about what might have been the best OL in the country last season. DeCastro is an elite guard prospect and could come off the board much sooner. He could even end up in the top 10. Dallas is happy to have him land at No. 14, though. He would answer one of the Cowboys' biggest needs. It won't be surprising if Dallas addresses the guard situation in free agency, though, with New Orleans' Carl Nicks a likely target.
15. Philadelphia Eagles
Luke Kuechly, LB, Boston College
This is a best-case scenario for the Eagles. There shouldn't be a player higher on their boards than Kuechly. There's no doubt the weakest point of the Eagles defense was at LB. Kuechly makes that unit 10 times better right off the bat. He's a tackling machine with instincts that are second to none. He's also a natural leader much like Brian Urlacher, Ray Lewis or Zach Thomas. The way he plays demands respect. His presence will make the entire defense play better.
16. New York Jets
Alshon Jeffery, WR, South Carolina
The Jets need a bit of a makeover, and it's amazing to me the organization still trusts Rex Ryan to lead it on the field. But internal issues aside, the Jets are going to be in the market for a WR with Santonio Holmes likely headed elsewhere. They like what they saw in Jermey Kerley, but he's a slot guy at best. Plaxico Burress is in his late 30s and only a real threat with jump balls. Jeffery was once considered a top five prospect, but didn't have the senior year he was hoping for. He's not a polished route runner and there's plenty he can be coached up on. But Jeffery is a nature athlete and can make the difficult catches. He'd be a welcome addition for Mark Sanchez to throw to.
17. Cincinnati Bengals (from Oakland)
Janoris Jenkins, CB, North Alabama
Heading into this season, CB was one of the Bengals' stronger positions. But injuries, including a torn Achilles suffered by Leon Hall, decimated the position and the Bengals were left reeling late in the season. Jenkins established himself as the third best CB in the draft at the Senior Bowl this week, showing the ability to hang with any receiver in attendance. He's not the fastest player, but he's physical and understands how to make up for his lack of straight line speed and stick with receivers. He does have to prove the off-the-field problems that plagued him at Florida are in the past, but it's not like the Bengals are afraid to take on guys with issues.
18. San Diego Chargers
Cordy Glenn, OG, Georgia
Glenn was perhaps the most impressive OL at the Senior Bowl. He's a massive prospect, but is a surprisingly good athlete for his size. Glenn showcased his ability to play either guard or tackle during Senior Bowl practices and even held his own at left tackle. He'd probably be more suited at right tackle if he were asked to play on the outside, but Glenn's best position is still at guard. The Chargers could use a road grater like Glenn to help reinvigorate the run game, but won't mind the insurance of a potential tackle as well.
19. Chicago Bears
Whitney Mercilus, DE, Illinois
The Bears could probably use some help on the OL, but there isn't an OT worth taking at this spot. Finding a DE to play opposite Julius Peppers and take some of the attention away from him should also be considered a must. Mercilus is one of my personal favorite players in this draft after having a huge junior season during which he practically took up permanent residence in opposing backfields. Mercilus is a player I expect to soar up draft boards and could move into a top 10 pick. For now, this is a good spot for him and Chicago should hope he's a available.
20. Tennessee Titans
Peter Konz, OC, Wisconsin
Tennessee's OL really left much to be desired this past season and needs to be overhauled, starting at center. Konz is head and shoulders above the rest of the center class and it's not really close. This is a talented top-heavy interior lineman class and Konz is as skilled as Cordy Glenn or David DeCastro. He's a better prospect than either of the Pouncey twins and gives Tennessee a great centerpiece to build an OL around.
21. Cincinnati Bengals
Lamar Miller, RB, Miami
The Bengals got some serviceable seasons out of Cedric Benson, but it's probably time to upgrade the RB position and supply the backfield with a little more lightning. That's exactly what Miller brings to the table. He can be an electrifying runner, capable of going the distance everytime he touches the ball. He's also big enough to carry a significant load adn become the focus of the Bengals' ground attack. Miller would give the Bengals an offense that could develop into one of the league's best in the future.
22. Cleveland Browns (from Atlanta)
Kendall Wright, WR, Baylor
After taking a RB with the the fourth overall selection, the Browns continue to place more weapons around Colt McCoy with a receiver. Wright emerged as one of the most dynamic receivers in the country this past season, playing the part of Robert Griffin III's more reliable and favorite target. Wright has elite speed and elusiveness that makes him a threat to score each and every time he receives the ball in open space. The Browns have no playmakers of Wright's ability in its receiving corps. Adding one is crucial to the future of the Browns' offense and can make McCoy's job significantly easier.
23. Detroit Lions
Mark Barron, S, Alabama
The Lions aren't far from being a legit Super Bowl contender, but one of the areas they should address is the secondary. An upgrade at CB is a bigger need, but with no player at the position currently holding the proper value of this selection, the Lions can still significanly improve their secondary with Barron. The Alabama product was the quarterback of the Crimson Tide's defense, playing a significant role is both run and pass defense. He could be a difference maker from Day 1 for Detroit -- one that could push the Lions even further into the playoffs.
24. Pittsburgh Steelers
Michael Brockers, DL, LSU
The Steelers should consider addressing their OL, but they can get better value for their pick in this scenario. Brockers is a very nice pick up here, considering he could easily be gone in the top 20. The Steelers have some need along the DL, particularly at NT where Casey Hampton is dealing with a late-season injury. With the addition of a little weight, Brockers could be that guy, although he would be much quicker than Hampton. Brockers stands at 6-5, 306 pounds with room to add more weight. Considering he weighed just 250 pounds when he arrived at LSU in 2009, there's no doubt about that possibility. His length alone will be able to keep blockers busy on the front line. He's the only third-year sophomore to enter the draft this season.
25. Denver Broncos
Dwayne Allen, TE, Clemson
Don't worry. No QB is being projected here so Tebowmania remains intact. Instead, here's some help for the polarizing signal-caller. Allen is the best TE in this class with a nice blend of size, speed, hands and blocking ablity. He understands how to use his body to create separation as well as how to set down in the open spaces of a zone defense. Allen is also capable of lining up anywhere on the field from the traditional TE position, to more of a motion H-Back spot or further out wide in the slot. The Broncos need to add more weapons if they want their offense with Tebow to truly work, and what QB doesn't love a reliable TE as a security blanket.
26. Houston Texans
Michael Floyd, WR, Notre Dame
It's strange to say, but it almost feels like Floyd is flying a bit under the radar heading into the evaluation process. Many thought he could be a first-round pick last season, and some still believe he could be off the board in the top 15. That's too many receivers in the top 20 for my liking, though. It's a position more and more teams are waiting until the second, third or fourth rounds to address. Floyd has a great combination of size and speed, while also being an advanced route runner. He definitely passes the eye test. There are concerns about injuries as well as some alcohol-related off-the-field issues, but Floyd is a great answer for the Texans to finally address the WR position opposite Andre Johnson.
27. New England Patriots (from New Orleans)
Fletcher Cox, DT, Mississippi State
I've honestly considered projecting this spot as a trade. Does anyone seriously expect New England to make both of its first-round picks? The Patriots always seem to have two selections in the first round and never use both of them. This is a prime spot for a team in the second round to trade back into the first round and acquire a QB -- a trend in the last few drafts. That QB appears to be Texas A&M's Ryan Tannehill at this point, but I'm going to hold off projecting that for now. Should the Patriots shock us all and actually use this selection, Cox would make a lot of sense. The Patriots have been lining up in both a 4-3 and 3-4 scheme in the past two seasons, and Cox can fit into either scheme with a solid combination of size and quickness.
28. Green Bay Packers
Andre Branch, LB, Clemson
There's no doubt this pick should be used on defense. The Packers were their own worst enemy last season. Aaron Rodgers had to lead a scoring drive every time he stepped onto the field because the defense was so awful. Clay Matthews' production slipped off a bit and that's largely due to the lack of a true pass rusher opposite him, allowing opposing offenses to focus on Matthews with their pass protection. Branch came on strong late in the season and is a natural pass rusher off the edge. He played DE in college, but appears to have the right amount of agility to play OLB in a 3-4 at the next level. Proving he's comfortable playing from a standing position is key for Branch at the combine and could push his stock up significantly.
29. Baltimore Ravens
Brandon Washington, OL, Miami
Pick a position on the OL for Washington. Chances are he can play it. Washington has shown the ability to line up at either guard or either tackle position and flourish. The only spot he doesn't have a lot of experience with is center, and it wouldn't shock me if he managed to handle it as well. He's a very versatile lineman, who played guard as a sophomore and more to left tackle as a junior. That versatility makes him a first-round pick. He's not nearly as dominant as guys like Cordy Glenn or David DeCastro, but impressive nonetheless. His best position in the NFL is guard and Baltimore might need to replace Ben Grubbs should the veteran depart in free agency this season.
30. San Francisco 49ers
Jerel Worthy, DL, Michigan State
The Niners really aren't far away from being the best team in the NFC. A receiver would be a nice fit in this spot, but there's isn't one I'm crazy about sneaking into the first round. The secondary coud also be addressed, but I'm not comfortable with any of the DBs in this spot, either. Worthy is a much better value as a player who could play multiple positions in San Fran's 3-4 scheme. There wasn't a more consistent DT in the country last season as Worthy anchored one of the best defenses in the country. His most natural fit is as a DE in the 3-4, but he could be a more than adequate pass rusher from the NT position on third downs. Consistently pushing the pocket was one of this best traits at Michigan State.
31. New York Giants
Vontaze Burfict, LB, Arizona State
Many draftniks have cooled a bit on Burfict. I remain pretty high on him, and wouldn't be shocked to see him picked well before this spot. This a great value for him in the scenario and I view Burfict as the perfect fit for the Giants defense. That's mostly due to Burfict being an excellent pass rusher from the MLB position. He's great at timing his blitz and is quick enough to give interior linemen fits. NFC East foes would dread seeing the Giants fill a need with yet another player capable of getting to the QB.
32. New England Patriots
Zach Brown, LB, North Carolina
I've seen some scouting reports labeling Brown as a one-scheme player who will only be able to function in the NFL as a "Will" LB. From the Senior Bowl practices I watched, I saw something else. Brown is very instinctive and quick to the ball. His size might limit his ability to hold up in a 3-4, but smaller LBs have thrived in that defense before. His nose for the ball make his a valuable LB for any scheme. He's a very underrated prospect at this point and is worthy of a much higher selection.