NFC West: Luke Keuchly

Raise your hand if you had the San Francisco 49ers selecting Aldon Smith with the seventh overall choice in the 2011 NFL draft.

Not seeing many hands out there. Not seeing any hands, actually.

OK, let's try this again.

Raise your hand if you had the Seattle Seahawks selecting James Carpenter at No. 25.

Hmmm. Not seeing many hands out there. Not seeing any, actually.

Do not feel bad. Even if you knew which 32 players would become first-round picks in a given NFL draft, there would be more than 263 decillion possible combinations.

The number looks like this: 263,130,836,933,693,530,167,218,012,160,000,000.

With that in mind, our 2012 NFL Blog Network mock draft comes guaranteed not for accuracy but for its ability to promote conversation, a process that has already begun here on the NFC West blog.

"Kendall Wright pick makes no sense" CHI-TOWN-BULLS protested upon seeing the Baylor receiver projected for the49ers at No. 30.

More on that in a minute.

We penciled in Andrew Luck and Robert Griffin III at the top with a reasonable degree of confidence. Matt Kalil, Trent Richardson, Morris Claiborne and Justin Blackmon fell third through sixth. Most choices seemed logical, but somewhere among the top five or 10 selections, an NFL team breaks from projected form, tapping into those 263 decillion combinations.

Two years ago, the Jacksonville Jaguars obliterated mock drafts by selecting Tyson Alualu with the 10th pick. Last year, four quarterbacks went among the top 12 choices, with Christian Ponder a surprise choice for Minnesota at No. 12.

My thinking for the NFC West was rather straightforward:
  • Rams at No. 6: Blackmon was an easy choice. The team has an obvious need for a wide receiver. Blackmon is widely regarded as the highest-rated one in this draft class, to the point that some question whether he will be available to the Rams. Going in another direction for this mock would have represented over-thinking a simple situation. Sure, St. Louis could trade back or select a player at another position. Richardson or Claiborne would carry appeal if available. But when Blackmon was available, I turned in the imaginary card right away.
  • Seahawks at No. 12. I wondered going into the mock whether Boston College linebacker Luke Kuechly might be available for Seattle in this slot. Would the team take an inside linebacker that early? San Francisco fared well taking Patrick Willis with the 11th pick in 2007. Scot McCloughan, now a top Seahawks personnel executive, was the driving force behind the Willis decision. Would the Seahawks see Kuechly in a similar light? They do need help at linebacker, after all. The thought became a fleeting one when Kuechly went to Carolina at No. 9. That made it easier to focus on the highest-rated pass-rushers. Quinton Coples was the choice because he seemed to be the most talented one available, based on scouting reports.
  • Cardinals at No. 13. This choice was tougher than the previous two. I went with Alabama's Courtney Upshaw, figuring he might fit the profile for a pass-rushing outside linebacker in the Cardinals' 3-4 scheme. He's on the shorter side at not quite 6-foot-2, and there is no clear consensus on whether Upshaw projects as an outside linebacker. The height factor seemed less important given that Arizona patterns its defensive scheme after the one Pittsburgh has used under Dick LeBeau. The Steelers' LaMarr Woodley (6-2) and James Harrison (6-0) get the job done. Could Upshaw enjoy situational success the way Smith did as a rookie for San Francisco last season? Receiver Michael Floyd was a consideration for Arizona. I thought the Cardinals needed improved quarterback play more than they needed improved receiver talent.
  • 49ers at No. 30. Wright was the choice simply because he appeared to be the highest-rated receiver available, but the 49ers could easily go in another direction. Quite a few mock drafts have linked Georgia Tech's Stephen Hill to the 49ers, but he was not available to them in this mock, having gone 22nd to Cleveland. I was drafting more for position than for the specific player. The 49ers could use another cornerback. Perhaps Janoris Jenkins would have been a better value choice. He went 31st to New England in our mock. The 49ers could use a starting right guard, but they might already have one in Daniel Kilgore, a 2011 draft choice. Besides, how many first-round picks can one team use for offensive linemen? Current starters Joe Staley, Mike Iupati and Anthony Davis were first-rounders. Ultimately, the 49ers are picking this late for a reason. They don't have as many clearly defined needs as less successful teams. They're in good position to keep an open mind.

I used ESPN's 2012 NFL Draft Machine to make selections and keep general track of which players remained available as the mock unfolded. Toggling between the overall list and specific position lists made it easier to balance value with need.

This conversation is to be continued.

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