Welcome to the third-annual ESPNBoston.com mock draft (2011 mock here; 2010 mock here).
"PatsFanTRichter", "Mr. Scratch" and "DinoScapelli", three regulars in the comments section who add terrific insight to this blog, will join me in doing the selecting. The picks will be made in the comments section of the blog and then I'll cut-and-paste them into the main area of the blog.
Let's proceed in that order for making the picks -- Mike Reiss, "PatsFanTRichter", "Mr. Scratch" and "DinoScapelli" -- as we make our way through the first round (note a slight switchup in the mid-20s when it comes to order).
1. Indianapolis (Mike Reiss) -- QB Andrew Luck (Stanford) -- Last year, there were questions as to whether quarterback Cam Newton was a worthy No. 1 overall pick. There are no such questions this year with Luck. He's the new face of the Colts franchise as it's hard to believe it ended this way for Peyton Manning.
2. Washington (PatsFanTRichter) -- Robert Griffin III (Baylor) - -RG3 to the Redskins is as much of a lock as Luck to the Colts, and there are a few prognosticators who think he should be the first overall pick. That won't happen, but Griffin has enough talent to make the front office in Indianapolis consider the possibility, at least.
3. Minnesota (Mr. Scratch) -- OT Matt Kalil (USC) -- The Vikings land their franchise LT with plenty of work still left to do.
4. Cleveland (DinoScapelli) -- RB Trent Richardson (Alabama) -- Pretty easy to pick when your team needs nearly everything, but the thing Cleveland needs most is to make its offense viable and to take pressure off of Colt McCoy or whoever will play QB.
5. Tampa Bay (Mike Reiss) -- CB Morris Claiborne (LSU) -- Was ready to jump on Trent Richardson if the Browns went with the QB at No. 4, but figure GM Mark Dominik and first-year head coach Greg Schiano will be pleased to land the draft's top cover corner. When you have to beat the explosive Saints to keep pace in the NFC South, a top CB who fills a top area of need makes a lot of sense.
6. St. Louis (PatsFanTRichter) -- WR Justin Blackmon (Oklahoma State) -- Michael Floyd seems to be entering the conversation for who the first receiver taken will be, but I think this pick is still Blackmon. Sam Bradford needs targets in the worst way, especially with Brandon Lloyd making his way to the Patriots this offseason, and Blackmon is one of the safest prospects in the draft.
7. Jacksonville (Mr. Scratch) -- DE Melvin Ingram (South Carolina) -- Either Blackmon or Floyd would work here if available, as the Jaguars are desperate for help in the passing game, but pass rush is also a huge weakness. The Jags were 25th last year with 31 sacks and while they have spent at WR (Laurent Robinson), they've done little to upgrade the DL. It's an organization that has a history of drafting defeensive linemen high. Coples may be in play, but Ingram is the true elite pass rush prospect here.
8. Miami (DinoScapelli) -- WR Michael Floyd (Notre Dame) -- It's a Miami pick. They should go for a DE, but ...it's a Miami pick. No, not Tannehill.
9. Carolina (Mike Reiss) -- DT Fletcher Cox (Mississippi State) -- Considered giving QB Cam Newton an explosive target opposite Steve Smith by looking in Michael Floyd's direction (he was surprisingly picked one slot ahead), but then realized those are the type of decisions that get you fired (memories of Matt Millen/Detroit). Head coach Ron Rivera has a defensive background, and his first draft in 2011 was headlined by offense (Newton at No. 1), so it's time to address the other side of the ball. Cox fits in any scheme and bolsters an interior line in need of help. Other considerations: DT Michael Brockers, LB Luke Kuechly, CB Stephon Gilmore.
10. Buffalo (PatsFanTRichter) -- OT Riley Reiff (Iowa) -- With both elite receiver prospects off the board, the Bills should look to bolster their suspect offensive line. Reiff is ahead of Jonathan Martin and Mike Adams on most boards, and while I think he may be a better prospect for the right side of the line, he has left tackle potential, and the Bills have to protect Ryan Fitzpatrick better if they want any chance of seeing their $59 million dollar investment pan out.
11. Kansas City (Mr. Scratch) -- QB Ryan Tannehill (Texas A&M) -- With Tannehill sliding out of the Top 10, KC could very well jump here. They obviously aren't entirely sold on Matt Cassel and there isn't anything they desperately need enough to have as a top priority right now other than the equally risky Dontari Poe. It gives them that development year and as we saw last year, QB's are often overdrafted.
12. Seattle (DinoScapelli) -- DE Quinton Coples (North Carolina) -- Seattle underperformed last season and needed a QB more than anything else; they signed Matt Flynn. The next biggest need is to improve its pass rush, and in that division their best bet is to take a [big] chance with the potential of Coples. Chris Clemons is coming around the final turn, and Red Bryant is as much a DT as a DE. Coples is anything but a certainty, but he has enormous upside.
13. Arizona (Mike Reiss) -- G David DeCastro (Stanford) -- This is a spot where the need and value don't match, as the Cardinals would prefer a tackle. So Arizona is a strong trade-down candidate, especially when considering the club doesn't have a second-round pick (no truth to the rumor Bill Belichick was calling here to inquire about moving up for Barron/Brockers). LB Luke Keuchly is appealing, but Arizona likes what it has in Daryl Washington and spent on Stewart Bradley last year. DeCastro is a safe pick who starts from Day 1, and then free-agent signee Adam Snyder can move to tackle for a year until that position is more decisively squared away. Let's protect Kevin Kolb -- the Cardinals surrendered 54 sacks in 2011 -- and give him a better chance to succeed.
14. Dallas (PatsFanTRichter) -- DT Dontari Poe (Memphis) -- The Cowboys have several areas of need on defense and the offensive line, but with DeCastro off the board, they opt for a big presence to clog the middle on defense. By all accounts, the Cowboys are enamored with Poe, following his terrific combine showing. His college tape may not be very impressive, but his upside will be tantalizing enough to get Jerry Jones to bite.
15. Philadelphia (Mr. Scratch) -- LB Luke Kuechly (Boston College) -- LB is still is an area of need here and Kuechly is the type of player a team should feel confident in at this spot. The Eagles LB were atrocious last year and Kuechly is an instant upgrade.
16. N.Y. Jets (DinoScapelli) -- OLB Whitney Mercilus (Illinois) -- The Jets could not get anywhere near the QB last season, and that has to drive Rex Ryan cuckoo. In a division where they are always looking up at Tom Brady, the position is an easy choice. Ryan likes his OLBs tall, and Mercilus is that, as well as very fast ... in a straight line, anyway. He racked up the stats for the Illini, and will be taken earlier than I think he should.
17. Cincinnati (Mike Reiss) -- S Mark Barron (Alabama) -- The Bengals will start by turning to assistant coach Hue Jackson in their draft room and thanking him for this pick (via the Raiders, when Jackson was head coach and traded it away for Carson Palmer). The Bengals could easily go cornerback here (Stephon Gilmore?), but the thought is why pass on the top-rated safety when you just released Chris Crocker and can possibly fill the corner need with the next pick at 21? There was disappointment here that David DeCastro was off the board, as guard is another need.
18. San Diego (PatsFanTRichter) -- OT Jonathan Martin (Stanford) -- Kris Dielman retired, Marcus McNeil was cut for health reasons, and Philip Rivers isn't getting any younger or more mobile. The Chargers might be tempted by a pass rusher, but their recent acquisition of Jarret Johnson sees them stay in state and go with a third Stanford prospect in the first round. Martin has the requisite length and athleticism to be a blindside protector, and has plenty of experience blocking for an elite quarterback as a three year starter for the Cardinals.
19. Chicago (Mr. Scratch) -- CB Stephon Gilmore (South Carolina) -- Bears seem to be leaning toward addressing their aging defense and in a division with Aaron Rodgers and Matthew Stafford bulking up the secondary would be a very good place to start.
20. Tennessee (DinoScapelli) -- C Peter Konz (Wisconsin) -- Tennessee needs to shore up the interior of its offensive line to protect the aging and battered Matt Hasselbeck and the youngster who shall soon replace him, and to open running lanes for the disappointing Chris Johnson. They have signed Steve Hutchinson at Guard, but they have a void at Center named Eugene Amano. Konz is the default No. 1 Center in this draft.
21. Cincinnati (Mike Reiss) -- CB Dre Kirkpatrick (Alabama) -- There is a high need for a guard and Cordy Glenn could fit, but in a deep draft at that position, that can be addressed later. Looking at Marvin Lewis' history, even stretching back to his time as an assistant with the Ravens, one sees a lot of first-round picks at cornerback -- Leon Hall, Johnathan Joseph, Chris McAlister and Duane Starks (he was highly touted at one point, Pats fans). That has worked for Lewis and by using two first-rounders on the secondary (Barron at No. 17 and Kirkpatrick here), the Bengals look primed to put together a top defensive backfield. Not to mention, with Hall coming off an Achilles injury and Nate Clements on the other side, the Bengals have a need at corner.
22. Cleveland (PatsFanTRichter) -- DE Nick Perry (USC) -- The Browns have glaring holes at quarterback, right tackle and outside linebacker, but they also have a big need at defensive end to play opposite "Mike Reiss favorite" Jabaal Sheard. Weeden is a logical choice at this spot, but with the Browns picking again at 37 and in position to make a move if they want him in the late first or early second round, they opt for a pass rusher to help up front. A receiver is also a consideration, but Mike Holmgren has traditionally favored addressing that position later in the draft.
23. Detroit (Mr. Scratch) -- OG/OT Cordy Glenn (Georgia) -- A potential LT like Jonathan Martin slipping through would be Detroit's hope but with what's on the board an OL like Glenn would be a good value for a line that needs an upgrade. Getting the running game going alone would be a huge benefit to their passing attack and protecting Matthew Stafford.
24. Pittsburgh (DinoScapelli) -- ILB Dont'a Hightower (Alabama) -- The "Stillers" are an elite team (anybody else getting tired of the word elite?) with many aging players and some important salary-cap casualties. Hard to imagine such a powerhouse needing so much, but they do. With Max Starks rehabbing, they could take a LT here, but this team is not normally one to make panic picks. Guard is a huge need as well, but they should be able to find help there later, with Glenn off the board. The defensive front seven is in need of replenishment since they cut James Farrior. This team lives on its defense, and Hightower seems like a perfect fit with his size and quickness.
25. Denver (PatsFanTRichter) -- DT Michael Brockers (LSU) -- The Broncos got their Man(ning), have a real pass rush, and are looking to contend now. What they don't have is a big body on the inside of their defensive line to anchor against the run. Brockers could potentially go much higher, but in this situation, the Broncos won't hesitate. The temptation of moving down in a trade with a certain New England team and still snagging a top prospect like Devon Still at the position is tempting, but they opt to keep the pick and build up front before likely turning their attention to the offensive side of the ball later in the draft.
26. Houston (Mr. Scratch) -- WR Kendall Wright (Baylor) -- The Texans have a huge need at WR and will be very happy if the Baylor product is here for them. He'd make a good compliment to Andre Johnson and provide a potential future top WR as age and injuries catch up to Johnson.
27. New England (Mike Reiss) -- OLB Courtney Upshaw (Alabama) -- Surprise. This is why it is often hard to project what a team at the end of the first round will do, because few would have thought Upshaw would be available here. He might not have the prototype height and arm length, and there are some concerns coverage-wise, but he has plenty of other things going for him, such as strength, power, pass-rush ability and physical and mental toughness that Bill Belichick is sure to appreciate. Add in that he’s been coached by a Belichick discipline in Nick Saban, and this looks like a home run. In his first 12 drafts with the Patriots, Bill Belichick has selected just one outside linebacker in the first two rounds (Jermaine Cunningham, second round, 2010). He breaks form here for a much-needed boost in the front seven. (Note: Good discussion in comments section about a possible trade with Denver at No. 25 for DL Michael Brockers).
28. Green Bay (DinoScapelli) -- OLB Andre Branch (Clemson) -- The Packers have few needs, but the need at pass rusher opposite Clay Matthews is glaring. Branch brings a lot to the table, with both length and speed. He is still developing moves, but what he already has will be plenty for opposing tackles to handle.
29. Baltimore (PatsFanTRichter) -- OT Mike Adams (Ohio State) -- The "best quarterback in the league" deserves the best protection, but unfortunately for Joe Flacco, he'll have to settle for Adams. The Ohio State lineman projects as a left tackle in the pros, but his game is predicated on finesse and athleticism, which makes him a less-than-perfect fit for the run-heavy Ravens offense. Bryant McKinnie doesn't have much tread left on the tires, so while Adams may not start from day one, he'll be a starter before long for Baltimore.
30. San Francisco (Mr. Scratch) -- OG Kevin Zeitler (Wisconsin) -- The 49ers lost Adam Snyder to free agency and OC Jonathan Goodwin turns 34 this year. Zeitler is a top talent OG who has been under the radar and could fill either spot in the near term. With Alex Smith, they still win by running the ball.
31. New England (Mike Reiss) – S Harrison Smith (Notre Dame) – Bill Belichick figures to be open to trading this pick, especially if he can pick up a 2013 first-rounder in return, but there are still some appealing options here. I’m assuming the Patriots aren’t comfortable with the complete package of cornerback Janoris Jenkins (off-field questions), and that taking a guard here in a deep draft wouldn’t be viewed as great value. A defensive lineman like Kendall Reyes could be appealing, but Smith looks like the best fit in this scenario as a possible Day 1 starter next to Patrick Chung. The Pro Football Weekly 2012 draft preview writes that he’s a “very consistent, savvy, instinctive, interchangeable safety with the competitiveness and football-playing temperament to command a secondary and factor readily against the run and pass. Offers comfort as the last line of defense.” Some comfort, after what we saw last year on the back end of the defense, would be welcome. The safety class drops off after Smith.
32. N.Y. Giants (DinoScapelli) -- RB David Wilson (Virginia Tech) -- The NFL champs [gulp] don't have a lot of major holes in their roster, but they could use a good RB immediately, after letting Brandon Jacobs go and with Ahmad Bradshaw hurt all the time. Wilson is smallish, but blazingly fast, and can play in passing downs as well.