With the start of the 2012 NFL offseason unofficially upon us following the Steelers wild card round loss to the Denver Broncos this past Sunday, let's turn the floor over to Jason for what I imagine will be the first of many mock drafts between now and the 2012 NFL Draft in late April. Please note: Jason finished this prior to Wild Card Weekend, when the first 24 spots in the draft had been determined, but prior to knowing how the final eight teams would shake out in the playoffs. Obviously the Steelers won't be picking at No. 31 as is listed here. But that's not really the point of a huge undertaking like this anyway. Good stuff and many thanks to him for the fine effort.
1. Indianapolis Colts - Andrew Luck QB, Stanford
2011 1st round Draft Pick: Anthony Castonzo OT, Boston College
Team Needs: RT/OC/WR
At this stage of the game it's pretty much a forgone conclusion that the Colts will take Andrew Luck with the first overall pick. The only other option is ransoming this pick for a treasure trove. They could conceivably get two first round picks out of any deal, and that's just going to be the starting point. In all likelihood they could get three first round picks, or two firsts and a couple of seconds which would seriously help them rebuild their defense. There is a rumor that Dolphins owner Stephen Ross is absolutely infatuated with Andrew Luck. A move like that might drop the Colts back too far to get an elite prospect. The Cleveland Browns hold two firsts in this draft thanks to the Atlanta Falcons trade last year and they have almost nothing invested in Colt McCoy. If they do pull that trade the Colts could be looking at Justin Blackmon or Alshon Jeffery to replace Reggie Wayne who is a free agent or bolster their defense by taking LSU CB Morris Claiborne.
2. St. Louis Rams - Matt Kalil OT, USC
2011 1st round Draft Pick: Robert Quinn DE/OLB, UNC
Team Needs: WR/FS/DT/RB
St. Louis' biggest downfall this season was their inability to protect Sam Bradford. Fortunately for them they are the first team up that doesn't need a quarterback so that leaves them with the top tackle in the draft. Matt Kalil is the only tackle in the draft without any flaws to his game and would be a great blindside protector for Sam Bradford. Taking him means they could move Rodger Saffold over to right tackle and move the disappointing Jason Smith to guard. If the Rams go in any other direction they could take Justin Blackmon to give Bradford another weapon. Defensively they could really use LSU cornerback Morris Claiborne given that they are currently reduced to starting 36 year old Al Harris.
3. Minnesota Vikings - Morris Claiborne CB, LSU
2011 1st Draft Pick: Christian Ponder QB, FSU
Team Needs: RG/LT/WR/CB/S
The Vikings offense is really hurting since they lost Sidney Rice to free agency and Justin Blackmon would be a great replacement for him. However they also need a better option than Charlie Johnson at left tackle so if the Rams don't take Matt Kalil he will certainly garner a lot of consideration. Defensively they must improve their secondary at some point. Antoine Winfield is getting frail in his old age and Chris Cook has legal troubles. With the Colts likely not trading away the right to draft Andrew Luck this is where the draft will get interesting. Matt Barkley is staying at USC and Landry Jones may stay at Oklahoma after a mediocre season. That leaves RGIII as the only other viable first round quarterback. With Cleveland sure to take him at number 4 Minnesota will find themselves in prime trading territory. The Redskins and Dolphins will be falling over each other to make the Vikings an offer for this pick and it would certainly be in their best interest to deal if the price is right. If they trade back with Washington it'll be Justin Blackmon, and if it's with Miami it'll be Riley Reiff.
4. Cleveland Browns - Robert Griffin III QB, Baylor
2011 1st round Draft Pick: Phil Taylor NT, Baylor
Team Needs: RT/DT/OLB/WR
Cleveland drafted Greg Little in the second round of the 2011 NFL draft and he'll be a nice addition to a very underachieving WR core but they still need a legitimate number one WR. They could take Jonathan Martin or Riley Reiff to fill the void at right tackle but there will be plenty of solid options in the later rounds. But apparently there is a huge rift between the team and current battering ram Peyton Hillis over his contact and he will probably not be there next year. If the Browns were going to find someone to replace him who better than Trent Richardson? On the other side of the ball they could take Morris Claiborne and have one of the top cornerback tandems in the league when paired with Joe Haden. At quarterback Colt McCoy hasn't shown much and since the Browns took him in the third round they don't have anything invested in him. As such RGIII makes perfect sense. He has supreme athletic ability with a rocket arm and has drastically improved his decision-making skills from the previous season.
5. Tampa Bay Buccaneers - Trent Richardson RB, Alabama
2011 1st round Draft Pick: Adrian Clayborn DE, Iowa
Team Needs: CB/RT/OG/OC
Going into the 2012 season the cornerback position is going to be a huge area of need for the Bucs. Rhonde Barber will be 37 years old by the time the 2012 draft rolls around and who knows what's going to happen to Aqib Talib as he may be going to jail at some point. Morris Claiborne is already off of the board and it's too early to draft Alfonzo Dennard. Offensively the Bucs need some serious upgrades on the O-line and as such Riley Reiff and Jonathan Martin will garner some consideration. Donald Penn looks grossly overweight and it would really help Josh Freeman's development to find a replacement for Penn. They also need a compliment to LaGarrette Blount. Richardson is better than his Heisman trophy predecessor Mark Ingram and has a perfect combination of speed and power running ability. At this point it'll be a toss-up between Richardson and Justin Blackmon but for now I'll give the nod to Richardson who has the higher draft grade.
6. Washington Redskins - Justin Blackmon WR, Oklahoma State
2011 1st round Draft Pick: Ryan Kerrigan DE, Purdue
Team Needs: QB/RT/CB/RG/OC
As I've already stated I believe the Redskins will make a play to move up for Robert Griffin III. However they could go in the opposite direction and move back. The Redskins definitely need to upgrade the interior of their offensive line but it's too early to take Stanford's David DeCastro. If Washington stays here the player that makes the most sense is Justin Blackmon. Santana Moss, Jabar Gaffney, and Donte Stallworth are all over 30 years old and behind them are a bunch of late-round 2011 rookies. Defensively they need an upgrade over Adam Carriker at DE and eventual successor to London Fletcher at ILB. Blackmon has officially declared after a great showing in the Fiesta bowl in which he had three touchdowns while battling a leg infection.
7. Jacksonville Jaguars - Quinton Coples DE, UNC
2011 1st round Draft Pick: Blaine Gabbert QB, Missouri
Team Needs: DE/FS/SS/CB/WR
Blaine Gabbert hasn't shown anything this season that leads me to believe he is a starting caliber quarterback. He looks very skittish in the pocket. Ordinarily it would be inconceivable for a team to take a quarterback in the first round of consecutive drafts. But the team has a new owner that didn't pay Gabbert his signing bonus, will have a new head coach, and thanks to the rookie wage scale they do not have a lot invested financially in Gabbert. If the team has any reservations about Gabbert's future they have to pull the trigger if RGIII is available. However at this juncture RGIII will be long gone. If they stick with Gabbert another year they'll need to get him some weapons so a WR would definitely be an option. Defensively they need a pass-rusher and some help in the secondary. Rashean Mathis will be a 32 year old free agent this offseason and with the Dre Kirkpatrick and Alfonzo Dennard both still on the board they would be worth looking into. But the top player available is Quinton Coples and he does fill a big need for the Jags.
8. Miami Dolphins - Riley Reiff OT, Iowa
2011 1st round Draft Pick: Mike Pouncey OG/OC, Florida
Team Needs: QB/RT/RG/TE
As noted above the rumor is that Dolphins owner Stephen Ross is absolutely infatuated with Andrew Luck. If so he's going to have to make a huge deal with the Colts to get him. Given how he's handled the franchise so far it wouldn't surprise me to see Ross mortgage the future of the team by trading up for Luck. But since I don't do trades in my mock draft I'll have to mock them a player to fill their second biggest need. Marc Colombo has been absolutely terrible at right tackle and needs to be replaced immediately. While they may not get an upgrade over Matt Moore they can give him a bookend to pair with Jake Long. They could also take Alshon Jeffery to help Matt Moore out as well. Defensively they could very well take Courtney Upshaw as a successor to Jason Taylor.
9. Carolina Panthers - Dre Kirkpatrick CB, Alabama
2011 1st round Draft Pick: Cam Newton QB, Auburn
Team Needs: WR/CB/O-line depth
The only dependable wide receiver on the Panthers roster is Steve Smith who will be 33 years old shortly after the 2012 NFL draft so the easy pick would be Alshon Jeffery but his stock has taken a bit of a hit after a down year. If one of the tops tackles manages to fall this far don't be surprised to see the Panthers pull the trigger. Right tackle Jeff Otah cannot seem to stay healthy and Jonathan Martin would be a great replacement. The biggest issues for Carolina are on defense, especially in the secondary. Dre Kirkpatrick or Alfonzo Dennard would provide a much needed upgrade. Right now I give a slight edge to Kirkpatrick but we'll see how well he performs in the rematch against LSU.
10. Buffalo Bills - Jonathan Martin OT, Stanford
2011 1st round Draft Pick: Marcell Dareus DE/DT, Alabama
Team Needs: OT/OLB/OG/WR
The Bills biggest needs are on the offensive line and at outside linebacker. Their line has to be upgraded at some point if they want to sustain any kind of success. Outside of Erik Pears everyone else has been a disappointment. Defensively their lack of pressure is very troubling. They could just as easily take Courtney Upshaw. And given the headaches of Stevie Johnson they could find another WR in Alshon Jeffery. At this juncture it'll come down to Martin, Upshaw, Jeffery, and possibly even David DeCastro.
11. Kansas City Chiefs - Landry Jones QB, Oklahoma
2011 1st round Draft Pick: Jonathan Baldwin WR, Pittsburgh
Team Needs: OT/RB/CB
Their biggest need going into the 2012 draft will be at right tackle where Barry Richardson is just plain awful in pass protection. Another issue is at quarterback. Matt Cassel is mediocre at best but does give the Chiefs the option to sit Landry Jones for at least a season while he adjusts to the NFL. One issue they may face this offseason is resigning Brandon Carr and Brandon Flowers who will both be free agents. They may only be able to sign one of them which means they'll be in a market for a replacement and it would be a wise move to take one of them here instead of waiting until the second round when the talent drops off considerably.
12. Seattle Seahawks - Alshon Jeffery WR, South Carolina
2011 1st round Draft Pick: James Carpenter OG/OT, Alabama
Team Needs: QB/CB/ILB
Aside from a nice little win against the Ravens and a couple of other decent spurts current starting quarterback Tavares Jackson is not a long term answer at the position. Unfortunately there just aren't any other quarterbacks available worthy of this pick. Of course we could see an early rush on QB's like last year with Chris Ponder and Jake Locker in which case the next QB up would be Texas A&M's Ryan Tannehill. They could use another playmaker for Jackson, or whoever is their starting QB in 2012, which is why they'll take Alshon Jeffery here. Their biggest need defensively is at cornerback so they could take Alfonzo Dennard.
13. Arizona Cardinals - Courtney Upshaw DE/OLB, Alabama
2011 1st round Draft Pick: Patrick Peterson CB, LSU
Team Needs: LT/OLB/FS
Arizona's two biggest needs will be to upgrade the pass-rush and the offensive line. The combo of Clark Haggans and Joey Porter is just ridiculous. They drafted Sam Acho who will probably man one spot, but they'll need someone to man the other. They also need an ILB to pair with Daryl Washington. The Cards need to give some serious upgrades to protect their investment in Kevin Kolb. Coach Whisenhunt has stuck by Levi Brown but he is not left tackle material. Unfortunately Riley Reiff and Jonathan Martin are both gone and their need at guard isn't big enough to draft David DeCastro. They could/may take ASU linebacker Vontaze Burflict. His stock has dropped but he would certainly be a fan favorite and he can play any linebacker position, and is scheme versatile. Courtney Upshaw is the highest rated 3-4 OLB and would provide a much needed boost to their pass rush. If he's unavailable the Cards could look to replace DRC at cornerback.
14. Dallas Cowboys - Alfonzo Dennard CB, Nebraska
2011 1st round Draft Pick: Tyron Smith OT, USC
Team Needs: CB/FS/DE/SS
Dallas has a dire need at cornerback, and really at both safety spots as well. Anyone who watched their season finale against the Giants can see that. Terrence Newman is getting old and Mike Jenkins should be a nickel back at best. Dennard has the potential to be a shutdown cornerback and Dallas has to draft him if he's available. If Dallas goes in any other direction it'll be to upgrade the offensive line. David DeCastro is a stud and this is just about the range that he'll be drafted in. They could also use an upgrade over Igor Olshansky but it's way too early for Devon Still who's the highest rated 3-4 end.
15. Philadelphia Eagles - David DeCastro OG, Stanford
2011 1st round Draft Pick: Danny Watkins OG, Baylor
Team Needs: RT/LB/S
So much for the Dream Team huh? Philly's big free agent spending spree didn't net them much beyond a colossal failure. They still have a few holes to fill. Linebacker has been an issue for years because Andy Reid just doesn't value the position. However if he were so inclined to do so this would definitely be the right time to take one with the likes of Vontaze Burflict, Zach Brown, or Luke Kuechly. With so much invested in Mike Vick they need to do everything they can to protect his fragile body which is where DeCastro comes into play. He would instantly upgrade the left guard spot. Also its most likely that DeSean Jackson won't be back next season. He's worn out is welcome with Andy Reid and is too injury-prone to consider giving a massive contract to, and as such Michael Floyd will definitely be given some consideration.
16. New York Jets - Brandon Jenkins DE/OLB, FSU
2011 1st round Draft Pick: Muhammed Wilkerson DE, Temple
Team Needs: OLB/RT
The Jets are still having issues generating a consistent pass-rush. Calvin Pace has been good but the Jets still need someone opposite of him. Free safety Eric Smith looked overmatched against the Patriots but there aren't any safeties worthy of a pick this high. On the offensive line the Jets have struggled to replace Damien Woody. With the talent available Brandon Jenkins makes the most sense. Given the swagger of Rex Ryan I can see the Jets making a move upward to draft Courtney Upshaw or taking the volatile Vontaze Burflict. Golden boy Mark Sanchez days might be numbered in New York. There are rumors that he could be traded to Seattle to be reunited with Pete Carroll. In the event that happens don't be surprised to see the Jets make a bold move for Robert Griffin.
17. Cincinnati Bengals (via Oakland Raiders) - Janoris Jenkins CB, North Alabama
2011 1st round Draft Pick: A.J. Green WR, UGA
Team Needs: CB/OG/RB
Cincy's biggest need will be at the cornerback position. They lost Jonathan Joseph to free agency and Leon Hall to a torn Achilles. Even if Hall comes back healthy next season they'll still need another cornerback to play opposite of him. Janoris Jenkins is a top-15 talent but he comes with a lot of off the field concerns. In addition to cornerback the Bengals may also have a need a safety as Reggie Nelson will be a free agent. Offensively the Bengals definitely need to replace the weak line on the line in Nate Livings. This is just about the range where Cordy Glenn will come into play. It's also time for them to start looking for a replacement for Cedric Benson as well.
18. San Diego Chargers - Whitney Mercilus DE/OLB, Illinois
2011 1st round Draft Pick: Corey Liuget DT, Illinois
Team Needs: OLB/ILB/RT
Offensively the Chargers are just about set. They could definitely use an upgrade over Jeromey Clary at right tackle but they can find much better value for that in the later rounds. Plus next year when Marcus McNeill returns the Chargers could replace Clary with Jared Gaither. It also seems like Kris Dielman's career may be coming to a close so if David DeCastro were available he would be an option. Michael Floyd would be a San Diego-type pick but they have much bigger needs defensively. They simply have to upgrade their pass-rush. Mercilus has absolutely terrorized his opponents this season and has raised his stock higher than perhaps any other prospect. The Chargers could also give a look at some of the available cornerbacks as well as they may be inclined to move Quinton Jammer to the strong safety position.
19. Chicago Bears - Michael Floyd WR, Notre Dame
2011 1st round Draft Pick: Gabe Carimi OT, Wisconsin
Team Needs: OG/OC/WR
Offensively Chicago needs desperately to upgrade the line. If Jay Cutler had time to throw the ball on a consistent basis they could really contend every year. Unfortunately all of the top tackles are gone as well as David DeCastro. They could take Cordy Glenn or Wisconsin OC Peter Konz. Defensively the Bears could use a linebacker to replace Nick Roach and serve as an apprentice to Brian Urlacher who isn't getting any younger And tore his ACL in the final game of the season. And if the Bears hope to compete with the Packers they will need to upgrade/add to their secondary. One thing they've lacked for years is a legitimate number one wide receiver. Devin Hester is good but he's much better in the slot playing against a nickel CB. Floyd has had some maturity issues in the past but is a quality talent at this point in the draft.
20. Tennessee Titans - Cordy Glenn OG/OT, UGA
2011 1st round Draft Pick: Jake Locker QB, Washington
Team Needs: LG/OC/DE
The Titans biggest needs are along the interior of the offensive line. Leroy Harris and Eugene Amano both need to be replaced in a hurry but unfortunately David DeCastro is gone. Given how Mike Munchak criticized the offensive line they'll make a slight reach for Glenn. Tennessee's defense clearly misses Stephen Tulloch as Barrett Ruud just isn't getting it done so Boston College's Luke Kuechly could be a good fit. Kenny Britt tore his ACL and MCL and may not come back the same player. Even if he does the Titans could still use another playmaker for their offense.
21. Denver Broncos - Devon Still DE/DT, Penn State
2011 1st round Draft Pick: Von Miller DE/OLB, Texas A&M
Team Needs: DT/CB/RT/RB
Offensively Denver just needs a new quarterback, unfortunately they are stuck with Tebow for at least another season. Defensively the Broncos have to stop neglecting the tackle position. Given the weak crop of tackles in this year's draft they must take this opportunity to take the highest rated one in this draft class. They could also draft an heir to Champ Bailey. He's turned in another good year but at age 33 (he turns 34 before the 2012 season) how many good years can he have left? At running back Willis McGahee is 30 years old and Knowshon Moreno cannot stay healthy. Head Coach John Fox loves running back by committee so Lamar Miller would be an option as well.
22. Cincinnati Bengals - Lamar Miller RB, Miami
2011 1st round Draft Pick: A.J. Green WR, UGA
Team Needs: DE/CB/RB
This time Cincy upgrades the offense. Miller has steadily climbed the draft boards and is now garnering first round consideration. Drafting him would make a great young offensive core with Andy Dalton and A.J. Green. If they don't take a cornerback with the their first pick in the first round they'll probably take one here, or take Cordy Glenn if he's available to upgrade over Nate Livings.
23. Cleveland Browns (via Atlanta Falcons) - Luke Kuechly LB, Boston College
2011 1st round Draft Pick: Phil Taylor NT, Baylor
Team Needs: RT/DT/OLB/WR
With Cleveland grabbing RGIII with their first pick and securing their future they can focus on other minor things. They still need to upgrade the right side of their offensive line, especially over Tony Pashos. On the defensive side it's the right side of the line as well. In the secondary the Browns could use a better compliment to Joe Haden than Philly castoffs Sheldon Brown and Dimitri Patterson. MLB D'Qwell Jackson is good when healthy but has missed a lot of games over the last few years. Others rate Kuechly much higher than this but given his lack of athleticism and difficulty shedding blocks I expect him to fall a bit on draft day like a lot of similar style ILB's. He reminds me a lot of former Buckeye and current Rams MLB James Laurinaitis.
24. Detroit Lions - Vontaze Burflict LB, Arizona State
2011 1st round Draft Pick: Nick Fairley DT/DE, Auburn
Team Needs: CB/LT/OLB/OC/SS
Detroit has a habit of taking the best player available regardless of need. It's why they have one of the best defensive lines in the NFL but also have one of the worst offensive lines in addition to one of the worst secondaries. Virginia CB Chase Minnifield or Wisconsin OC Peter Konz would both be solid options here but the best player available is Vontaze Burflict. When his game is on he's absolute beast. With his attitude he'll fit right in with Ndamukong Suh.
25. New York Giants - Peter Konz OC, Wisconsin
2011 1st round Draft Pick: Prince Amukamara CB, Nebraska
Team Needs: OC/RB/OLB/OG
The Giants got a steal when Prince Amukamara fell to them in the 2011 draft but they failed to address a majority of their needs. They still need a left tackle because William Beatty hasn't worked out, they had to cut Shaun O'Hara and Rich Seubert, and their linebacking corps still needs an overhaul. The Giants generally do not take offensive lineman in the first round but that will have to change if they want to stay competitive. Wisconsin's Peter Konz would provide a serious upgrade over David Baas. Or the Giants could stick with conventional wisedom and draft another defensive lineman like Clemson's Brandon Thompson. Just like Philly the Giants have serious issues at linebacker but their history suggests they'll ignore their need at that particular area again.
26. Houston Texans - Chase Minnifield CB, Virginia
2011 1st round Draft Pick: J.J. Watt DT/DE, Wisconsin
Team Needs: NT/OG/CB
The Texans really don't have any huge pressing needs. The biggest would be to upgrade the interior offensive line, especially over Wade Smith. With DeCastro, Glenn, and even Peter Konz off of the board it's not really an option. They could also use a better compliment to Andre Johnson than Kevin Walter and Jacoby Jones. However it's still too early for Kendall Wright, Mohamed Sanu, or Dwight Jones. Defensively they appear to be pretty well stacked. They could use a bigger run-stuffing nose tackle but it's too early for Washington's Alameda Ta'amu whose stocked has dipped after a subpar year. Kareem Jackson is coming close to being labeled a bust. Even if he does turn things around it wouldn't hurt to have another quality cornerback on the roster with the NFL coming increasingly pass-heavy. Minnifield has the bloodlines, his father was a Pro bowl cornerback for the Browns in the late 80's-early 90's, and was completely avoided this season by opposing quarterbacks.
27. San Francisco 49ers - Nick Perry DE/OLB, USC
2011 1st round Draft Pick: Aldon Smith DE/OLB, Missouri
Team Needs: CB/OC/NT/RT
Thanks to Jim Harbaugh this team has completely turned around for the better. Heading into the draft the 49ers will only have a few needs and none of them should be too pressing. One will be at cornerback where Carlos Rogers will be a free agent and the second will be at wide receiver where they lacked depth even before releasing Braylon Edwards. Unfortunately with Minnifield gone there's no other cornerbacks worthy of a first round pick and it's still too early for any available WR. They already have the best tandem of inside linebackers with Navarro Bowman and Patrick Willis and a budding star at outside linebacker with Aldon Smith and here they can complete the quadruplet with Nick Perry.
28. New England Patriots - Ronnell Lewis DE/OLB Oklahoma
2011 1st round Draft Pick: Nate Solder OT, Colorado
Team Needs: OLB/DE/WR
There's almost no chance the Patriots use both of their 2012 first round picks. It's likely they'll find someone to give them a ridiculous deal for this selection, but I don't do trades in my mock draft. New England needs to just about overhaul their entire defense. They also need a receiving threat that can stretch the field vertically. Unfortunately there aren't any wide receivers available that would warrant this pick. Belichick has shied away from taking converted ends-to-OLB's early in the draft. But now that they run a hybrid 3-4/4-3 scheme it does seem plausible that he would gamble with one now. Ronnell Lewis is an OLB that was moved to defensive end this season and has flourished. That sort of experience would make him valuable to the Patriots.
29. Baltimore Ravens - Dont'a Hightower ILB, Alabama
2011 1st Draft Pick: Jimmy Smith CB, Colorado
Team Needs: OC/ILB/CB/FS/NT
The Ravens are all about taking the best player on the board as opposed to drafting to fill a need. Offensively they will need to find an eventual long-term successor to Matt Birk at center. Defensively they must find a successor to Ray Lewis and Ed Reed. Hightower should be high on the Ravens list of wants. He's a great playmaker and a natural leader who is already experienced in the 3-4 scheme. At this point I really can't see the Ravens taking anyone else unless they want to get bold and trade up for Vontaze Burflict. Alabama could serve up couple more prospects that the Ravens could look at in Robert Lester and especially Mark Barron.
30. New England Patriots (via New Orleans Saints) - Fletcher Cox DE/DT, Miss. State
2011 1st round Draft Pick: Nate Solder OT, Colorado
Team Needs: OLB/DE/WR
As previously stated the Patriots will most likely not use both of their first round picks. Here they have the luxury of taking the best player available that fits any sort of need. Cox's stock has risen and he can play end in a 3-4 and tackle when they switch to the 4-3 and he would help revamp New England's lacking pass rush. I would love to have given them a wide receiver but the value isn't there as I still feel it's early for Kendall Wright. The Patriots could continue the trend of taking a cornerback in the first round given the troubles they've had in that department as well.
31. Pittsburgh Steelers - Zach Brown LB, UNC
2011 1st round Draft Pick: Cameron Heyward DE, OSU
Team Needs: OG/NT/ILB/OT/S/CB
Easily the Steelers biggest need is at offensive guard. I think it's easy to agree that the frustrating carousel of Chris Kemoeatu, Ramon Foster, Trai Essex, and Doug Legursky is not working. The Steelers could use two starters at the position. And while he was embarrassed by Aldon Smith on several occasions the newly svelte Max Starks has played surprisingly well since his return. At right tackle it seems the future is Marcus Gilbert. Some in Steelers Nation, including me, would like to see Willie Colon come back from injury next year and play right guard but Colon might not take kindly to switching positions. Add to that his injury history and the fact that he makes 6mil a year and Colon could end up a cap casualty.
With Rashard Mendenhall's ACL tear I've seen some chatter about the Steelers possibly drafting a replacement for him. ACL tears are a serious issue, especially for running backs, and next year will be the final year of his contract.
Defensively the Steelers still need to find a long term successor to Casey Hampton at nose tackle. Alameda Ta'amu is available but after watching him be a non-factor against Stanford, USC, and Baylor it's unlikely he'll go in the first round. In the secondary I've seen enough promise out of the youngsters at cornerback to finally be ok with the Steelers bypassing the position early in the draft.
At safety though the time is near so start looking for at least one safety for depth to groom behind Ryan Clark and Troy Polamalu. The Steelers would have their pick of Alabama's Robert Lester and Mark Barron. But with the talent available the player who makes the most sense is North Carolina linebacker Zach Brown. Many tab Brown as a 4-3 player only but I look at him as the next Lawrence Timmons. He's extremely athletic and can cover running backs, tight ends, and even slot receivers across the middle. James Farrior has clearly lost a step and at 36 years old may be playing his last season. Some have high hopes for Stevenson Sylvester but at this point he's just a late round pick who's been a special teams standout. He hasn't shown enough to warrant being expected to take over the starting duties.
With the NFL going to a more pass-heavy system with each passing season it'll be important to have another athlete like Timmons patrolling the middle of the field. And as I've stated in previous mock drafts, the Steelers place a premium on the linebacker position and it wouldn't be a Steelers draft without taking at least one of them. However we can all hold out hope that the Steelers make a play to move up for Stanford guard David DeCastro. I've already said that it's their biggest need. Last draft the rumor was that they tried to trade up to pick 15 to take Mike Pouncey but that the Dolphins asking price was too much. Well DeCastro is the best guard prospect I've seen in a long time, he's graded higher than Mike Pouncey, and would be well worth trading up for.
32. Green Bay Packers - Brandon Thompson DT, Clemson
2011 1st round Draft Pick: Derek Sherrod OT, Miss. State
Team Needs: OLB/LG/DE
Green Bay has the luxury of not really having any holes to fill. They do still need a pass-rusher to play opposite of Clay Matthews and will need to prepare for the day that Charles Woodson finally retires. Offensively they could continue to stockpile linemen. If they keep Derek Sherrod at guard they'll still need to find an heir to Chad Clifton at left tackle, or someone to play right tackle if Bryan Bulaga moves to the left side. Brandon Thompson is the best player on the board who fits any type of a need for the Packers. They could use an upgrade over Jarius Wynn and Mike Neal cannot stay healthy. Green Bay could trade up to take advantage of the plethora of 3-4 outside linebackers sit here and take a chance on Marshall's Vinny Curry or draft a replacement for the 36 year old Donald Driver in Kendall Wright.
33. St. Louis Rams - Jayron Hosley CB, Virginia Tech
The Rams secondary is awful.
34. Indianapolis Colts - Mark Barron SS, Alabama
With Peyton Manning in the lineup the Colts offense is good enough with what they've got. Defensively they've really missed the presence of Bob Sanders. Barron is a hard hitter with good range.
35. Minnesota Vikings - Mike Adams OT, Ohio State
Minnesota needs an upgrade at left tackle for young Chris Ponder.
36. Tampa Bay Buccaneers - Stephon Gilmore CB, South Carolina
Rhone Barber will be 37 years old before the 2012 draft.
37. Cleveland Browns - Kendall Wright WR, Baylor
Cleveland needs to upgrade its WR corps. If they take RGIII in the first round why not take his favorite target in college?
38. Jacksonville Jaguars - Mohamed Sanu WR, Rutgers
The Jags have lacked a legitimate number one WR since Jimmy Smith.
39. Washington Redskins - Ryan Tannehill QB, Texas A&M
If Washington can't get one of the top three in the first round they must take a QB here.
40. Buffalo Bills - Vinny Curry DE/OLB, Marshall
The Bills are seriously lacking in the pass-rush.
41. Carolina Panthers - Melvin Ingram DE, South Carolina
Greg Hardy is decent but can be upgraded and Ingram is the BPA and could potentially end up in the first round so he's a steal here.
42. Miami Dolphins - Dwayne Allen TE, Clemson
The Dolphins are stuck with Matt Moore so they should at least give him some weapons.
43. Seattle Seahawks - Andre Branch DE, Clemson
Raheem Brock needs to be replaced at left end.
44. Kansas City Chiefs - Dontari Poe NT, Memphis
Kelly Gregg is 35 years old.
45. Chicago Bears - Lavonte David OLB, Nebraska
The Bears need to start thinking about the future of their linebacking corps. Brian Urlacher will be 34 years old in the offseason and tore his ACL and MCL in the final game of the season, Lance Briggs is getting old and asking for a new contract, and Nick Roach needs to be replaced now.
46. San Diego Chargers - Dwight Jones WR, North Carolina
With Vincent Jackson scheduled to be a free agent he'll need to be replaced. Jones is a bigger WR that the Chargers tend to favor.
47. New England Patriots (via Oakland Raiders) - Robert Lester S, Alabama
They need to find a replacement for Brandon Meriweather and New England has a history of using early picks on defensive backs.
48. New York Jets - Alameda Ta'amu NT, Washington
Kendrick Ellis is probably going to be deported back to Jamaica.
49. Philadelphia Eagles - Jerel Worthy DT, Michigan State
Andy Reid loves spending early picks on two things, cornerbacks and defensive linemen. Mike Patterson is decent but can be upgraded.
50. Dallas Cowboys - Markelle Martin S, Oklahoma State
Dallas continues to upgrade an atrocious secondary.
51. Philadelphia Eagles (via Arizona Cardinals) - Johnathan Banks CB, Mississippi State
See Above. Asante Samuel will be a free agent and DRC has been terrible this season.
52. Tennessee Titans - Michael Brewster OC, Ohio State
Tennessee continues to upgrade the interior of their offensive line to help the running game.
53. Denver Broncos - David Wilson RB, Virginia Tech
John Fox likes running back by committee and Knowshon Moreno is always hurt.
54. Cincinnati Bengals - Kevin Zeitler OG, Wisconsin
The one weak link on Cincy's offense is left guard Nate Livings.
55. Atlanta Falcons - Ben Jones OC, UGA
2011 1st round Draft Pick: Julio Jones WR, Alabama
Team Needs: TE/OG/OC
Todd McClure will be 35 years old before the draft. Jones was the Captain and emotional leader for Georgia's offense and a 4-year starter in the always tough SEC.
56. Detroit Lions - Marvin McNutt WR, Iowa
Detroit likes to take BPA and they could use an upgrade over 30 year old Nate Burleson to take some of the pressure off of Megatron.
57. New York Giants - Chris Polk RB, Washington
Brandon Jacobs will probably be a cap casualty and Ahmad Bradshaw can't stay healthy enough to be the feature back.
58. Houston Texans - Josh Chapman NT, Alabama
Houston needs an upgrade at nose tackle.
59. San Francisco 49ers - Billy Wynn DE/DT, Boise State
Justin Smith and Ray McDonald have been great but they're 33 and 30 respectively and San Fran could use some youth in the rotation.
60. New England Patriots - Nick Toon WR, Wisconsin
The Pats need to start upgrading their WR's at some point.
61. Baltimore Ravens - Zebrie Sanders OT, Florida State
Bryant McKinnie is not the long term answer at left tackle.
62. New Orleans Saints - Travis Lewis OLB, Oklahoma
2011 1st round Draft Picks: Cameron Jordan DE/DT, Cal/Mark Ingram RB, Alabama
Team Needs: LB/DT
It's entirely possible that the Saints have the worst linebacking corps in the NFL right now with Jonathan Vilma out.
63. Pittsburgh Steelers - Kelechi Osemele OG/OT, Iowa State
If the Steelers bypass taking an offensive lineman in the first round they simply have to here. Kelechi Osemele was considered as a possible first round pick of the Steelers at the start of the season. He is a massive road grader and would bring some stability to the right guard spot. He only manages to slip this far not because of his play this season but because of so many other offensive line prospects elevating their play.
64. Green Bay Packers - Shea McClellin, DE/OLB, Boise State
The Packers need an upgrade over Erik Walden.
65. Indianapolis Colts - Ryan Broyles WR, Oklahoma
Reggie Wayne is getting old, Austin Collie and Anthony Gonzalez have a history of injury issues, and Andrew Luck could use a WR to grow with when he takes over for Peyton Manning. Broyles was garnering late first round consideration before tearing his ACL. If he comes back healthy he could be the steal of the draft. He has great hands and is a precise route runner which is perfect for the Colts offense system.
66. St. Louis Rams - Danny Trevathan, OLB, Kentucky
The Rams must improve their run defense.
67. Minnesota Vikings - Tommy Streeter WR, Miami
Minnesota needs to give Christian Ponder some weapons. Streeter is extremely raw but he's 6'5" with good straight-line speed and could be the next Sidney Rice.
68. Cleveland Browns - Brandon Lindsey DE, Pittsburgh
Cleveland needs to shore up the LDE spot. They hit on one Pitt DE so why not another?
69. Tampa Bay Buccaneers - Jordan White WR, Western Michigan
The Bucs needs playmakers on offense.
70. Washington Redskins - Jared Crick DT/DE, Nebraska
Washington needs an upgrade over Adam Carriker and Shanahan seems to have developed an affinity for Nebraska players. Crick was having a mediocre year before his season ending injury but is worth the gamble here.
71. Jacksonville Jaguars - Casey Hayward CB, Vanderbilt
The Jags must improve their secondary.
72. Miami Dolphins - Chase Thomas OLB, Stanford
Miami needs to replace the retired Jason Taylor. Chase Thomas already has experience in a 3-4 defense so he should be ahead of the learning curve.
73. Chicago Bears (via Carolina Panthers) - Nate Potter OT/OG, Boise State
Chicago needs to upgrade its offensive line and better protect Jay Cutler. Potter can play guard or tackle.
74. Buffalo Bills - Jeff Fuller WR, Texas A&M
The Bills could use a compliment to Steve Johnson, or a possible replacement he keeps screwing up.
75. Kansas City Chiefs - Coryell Judie CB, Texas A&M
Brandon Flowers and Brandon Carr are both free agents.
76. Seattle Seahawks - Doug Martin RB, Boise State
Even if they resign Marshawn Lynch Seattle still needs a dependable compliment.
77. Arizona Cardinals - Brandon Washington OG/OT, Miami
Arizona has to do something about its offensive line.
78. Dallas Cowboys - Kendall Reyes DT/DE, UConn
Dallas could use an upgrade at DE.
79. Philadelphia Eagles - T.Y. Hilton WR, Florida International
It's likely that DeSean Jackson won't be back next year and Philly will need to replace his speed.
80. New York Jets - Winston Guy jr. SS, Kentucky
Jim Leonard will be coming back from a serious injury and Eric Smith was embarrassed by the Patriots.
81. Oakland Raiders - Forfeited after selecting Terrelle Pryor in the supplemental draft.
82. San Diego Chargers - LeMichael James RB, Oregon
I bet San Diego misses Darren Sproles.
83. Chicago Bears - Luca Nix OT/OG, Pittsburgh
The Bears inability to keep Jay Cutler clean and upright is by far their biggest issue.
84. Tennessee Titans - Sean Spence OLB, Miami
The Titans need to upgrade their WLB spot.
85. Denver Broncos - Derek Wolfe, DT, Cincinnati
Denver has to improve their defensive tackles.
86. Cincinnati Bengals - Marcus Forston DT, Miami
Pat Sims is a free agent.
87. Atlanta Falcons - Cam Johnson DE, Virginia
John Abraham will be a 34 year old free agent.
88. Detroit Lions - Brandon Boykin CB, UGA
Giving up 480 yards and 6 touchdowns to Aaron Rodgers' backup is humiliating.
89. New York Giants - Audie Cole ILB, North Carolina State
The Giants finally invest in their linebackers. Cole will play ILB which moves Greg Jones to WLB which is a better fit.
90. Houston Texans - Ryan Miller OG, Colorado
No more defensive picks for the Texans. Wade Smith need to be replaced.
91. San Francisco 49ers - Shaun Prater CB, Iowa
Carlos Rodgers is a free agent.
92. New England Patriots - Leonard Johnson CB, Iowa State
New England continues to overhaul one of the worst defenses in the NFL.
93. Baltimore Ravens - Trumaine Johnson CB/FS, Montana
It's time for the Ravens to find a successor to Ed Reed.
94. New Orleans Saints - Bobby Wagner LB, Utah State
New Orleans continues to rebuild their terrible linebacking corps.
95. Pittsburgh Steelers - Senio Kelemete OG, Washington
Weighing talent available combined with need Senio Kelemete makes the most sense. It would give the Steelers two staring quality guards from this draft and shore up what has become a dire need.
96. Green Bay Packers - Bruce Irvin DE/OLB, West Virginia
I know I've already given Green Bay an OLB but Irvin represents the best player available, especially over any of the available safeties, cornerbacks, or running backs.
97. St. Louis Rams - Brian Quick WR, Appalachian State
Brandon Lloyd will be leaving this offseason.
98. Indianapolis Colts - Donnie Fletcher, CB, Boston College
Indy's defense is getting torched.
99. Minnesota Vikings - Lonnie Edwards, G, Texas Tech
Anthony Herrera needs to be replaced.
100. Philadelphia Eagles (via Tampa Bay Buccaneers) - Tank Carder ILB, TCU
Philly has to upgrade their linebacking corps.
101. Cleveland Browns - Terrance Ganaway RB/FB, Baylor
Why not take the entire Baylor package? Peyton Hillis will most likely not be back and Ganaway has a nice blend of size and speed.
102. Jacksonville Jaguars - Nick Foles QB, Arizona
They may not use a first round pick on a replacement for Blaine Gabbert but the Jags need to bring in someone for competition.
103. Washington Redskins - Brandon Mosley OT, Auburn
Jammal Brown is injury prone.
104. Buffalo Bills - Rokevious Watkins OG/OT, South Carolina
The Bills lack O-line depth.
105. Carolina Panthers - A.J. Jenkins WR, Illinois
Carolina needs some more weapons for Cam Newton.
106. Miami Dolphins - Kheeston Randall DE/DT, Texas
Kendall Langford is a free agent.
107. Seattle Seahawks - Kirk Cousins QB, Michigan State
Seattle needs to bring someone to compete for the starting job.
108. Kansas City Chiefs - Levy Adcock OT, Oklahoma State
Barry Richardson can't pass-block.
109. Chicago Bears - Coby Fleener TE, Stanford
With Mike Martz gone maybe Chicago will use a tight end for more than just an extra blocker.
110. San Diego Chargers - Omar Bolden CB, Arizona State
Quentin Jammer will be 33 years old this coming season and may move to safety.
111. Washington Redskins (via Oakland Raiders) - Kevin Reddick ILB, North Carolina
London Fletcher can't play forever.
112. New York Jets - Tony Bergstrom OT, Utah
The Jets have needed a right tackle since they cut Damien Woody.
113. Philadelphia Eagles - Keenan Robinson OLB, Texas
Philly needs to walk away with at least two linebackers.
114. Dallas Cowboys - Frank Alexander DE/OLB, Oklahoma
Anthony Spencer is a free agent.
115. Arizona Cardinals - Nigel Bradham LB, FSU
Arizona needs someone to pair with Daryl Washington in the middle.
116. Tennessee Titans - Tony Dye SS, UCLA
Michael Griffin will most likely not be back next year.
117. Denver Broncos - Micah Hyde CB, Iowa
Champ Bailey can't play forever.
118. Cincinnati Bengals - DeVier Posey WR, Ohio State
Andre Caldwell and Jerome Simpson are free agents.
119. Cleveland Browns (via Atlanta Falcons) - Matt Reynolds OT, BYU
The Browns need to rebuild the right side of their O-line.
120. Detroit Lions - Andrew Datko OT, FSU
BPA, Detroit needs O-line help and if not for an injury Datko would be a possible first round pick but is worth the risk here.
121. New York Giants - Chandler Jones DE, Syracuse
What kind of draft would it be if the Giants didn't take one pass rusher?
122. Houston Texans - Phillip Blake OC, Baylor
Chris Myers is a free agent.
123. San Francisco 49ers - Antonio Allen S, South Carolina
San Fran needs an upgrade at free safety.
124. New England Patriots - Jamell Fleming CB, Oklahoma
New England needs to invest multiple picks in the secondary.
125. Buffalo Bills (via Baltimore Ravens) - Russell Wilson QB, Wisconsin
Trent Edwards had an up and down season. Wilson is a good developmental QB that fits Chan Gailey's system.
126. New Orleans Saints - Kawann Short DT, Purdue
Aubrayo Franklin and Shaun Rogers are getting old.
127. Pittsburgh Steelers - Aaron Henry S, Wisconsin
Pittsburgh finally get a safety that they can groom behind Ryan Clark and Troy. He's a tough defender with good instincts who can contribute on special teams right away.
128. Green Bay Packers - Bernard Pierce RB, Temple
The Packers will need to replacement for Ryan Grant.