It is nearly impossible to predict the NFL Draft.
Analysts produce mock drafts in ever-changing clusters, sometimes a year in advance - and they almost always get it wrong. With the first round of this year's draft taking place Thursday, the guessing game is nearly over.
The draft is so unpredictable because no one truly knows how the 32 individual teams rate players or what their thought processes are. Team decision makers may form a different opinion as they compare similar college standouts at the same position or top players at different positions.
As a result, someone expected to go in the top five to 10 picks can fall into the mid 20s (Aaron Rodgers in 2005, Brady Quinn in 2007), and some projected to go later get taken earlier (Darrius Heyward-Bey in 2009).
And don't get me started on draft-day trades.
So consider what follows as entertainment. Keep it close by on draft day if you need a good laugh. It has been compiled using the current first-round draft order with no projected trades, even though that seems like a preposterous assumption.
1. Indianapolis Colts – Andrew Luck, QB, Stanford The first two selections seem to be as much of a guarantee as you'll find in the ever-changing world of the NFL draft. Recent reports say the Colts have already told Andrew Luck he will be the first pick, confirming what was widely suspected.
The Colts let longtime star QB Peyton Manning walk away without a fight and are in full rebuilding mode. Luck appears to be the surest of sure things since, well, Peyton Manning. The Colts have many other issues they will need to address - defense in particular - but replacing Manning will be the toughest job by far and deserves the highest priority.
2. Washington Redskins – Robert Griffin III, QB, Baylor Washington traded with St. Louis to move up four spots and all but stopped pursuing Manning during his frenetic free-agent days, essentially sending a memo to the rest of the world that they are going for the dazzling RG3.
Griffin was a stellar college player with the best highlight reel of any prospect this year, and winner of the Heisman Trophy. His and Luck's careers will likely be forever linked the way Manning's and Ryan Leaf's were after they were selected No. 1 and No. 2 in 1998.
The Redskins hope their No. 2 pick ends up better than Leaf. At the very least, it would be hard for him to do worse. RG3 - or whoever else may get chosen - will have to live with knowing the 'Skins gave up their second-round pick in this year's draft as well as their first-round picks in 2013 and 2014 to get him.
That's a lot of pressure, and could end up making Washington look brilliant or give us a new name to add to the biggest draft busts of all time.
3. Minnesota Vikings – Matt Kalil, OT, USC Every analyst is predicting Minnesota to take Kalil here, and with a young quarterback in Christian Ponder trying to gain a foothold in the NFL, it's easy to see why.
Every year there seems to be an offensive lineman who comes off the board early, and compared to other positions, the potential for a big-time bust is relatively low. It's smart, safe and fills a need, which is what Top 5 picks are for. But it is possible for Minnesota to take a trade offer and drop a few spots since Kalil should still be available there.
The Jaguars and Dolphins could try to move ahead of Cleveland, because what the Browns do with their selection could alter several other teams' plans.
4. Cleveland Browns – Trent Richardson, RB, Alabama All eyes are on the Cleveland Browns. It seems like they will take Richardson, but it is by no means a certainty.
Cleveland could draft Richardson, wide receiver Justin Blackmon or quarterback Ryan Tannehill, even though Tannehill would be seen as a reach. The Browns are likely to get a QB, but most expect it to be Oklahoma State's Brandon Weeden later in the first round (they have the 22nd pick) or early in the second. The Browns have many options and no one right answer.
Richardson would be a smart pick; he would be the best available player. Blackmon would give whoever ends up playing quarterback in Cleveland a good target to throw to, and Morris Claiborne would add yet another solid defender to the secondary. Kalil is another possibility if Minnesota does not get him.
Trading the pick could give them more selections later and let other teams make the choice for them, relieving some of the pressure. Regardless, it seems the Browns can't lose.
But, then again, they are the Browns. If anyone can pick the wrong player over four right ones, it's Cleveland.
5. Tampa Bay Buccaneers – Morris Claiborne, CB, LSU Tampa Bay's choice is much easier than Cleveland's. If Richardson is unavailable, the Bucs take Claiborne.
If Richardson is available then a decision will need to be made. Tampa signed a free agent defensive back this offseason in Eric Wright, but he and the aging Ronde Barber are not long-term solutions for a passing defense that was 21st in the NFL last year.
LeGarrette Blount is a serviceable running back, so drafting his replacement would not be an immediate need. Then again, a Richardson-Blount 1-2 punch would be enticing.
We're at pick No. 5 and it is already a mess of options. See what I mean about predicting the draft?
6. St. Louis Rams – Justin Blackmon, WR, Oklahoma State St. Louis traded down from No. 2, and some think it might trade back up so it isn't at the mercy of Cleveland's whims. That seems counterproductive.
No matter what happens ahead of them, the Rams will have no shortage of options. If Blackmon is available, he will almost certainly be taken here. If he goes to the Browns, either Claiborne or Richardson is a possibility, with Claiborne the most likely.
If the Rams do trade up, it signals they are dead set on Blackmon and are afraid the Browns want him too.
7. Jacksonville Jaguars – Melvin Ingram, DE, South Carolina Ingram gives teams a lot of options because of his versatility. He can play anywhere on the defensive front and swing out to linebacker as well.
His strength is against the run, so if the Jags want a pass rusher they could trade down and take North Carolina's Quinton Coples later, unless a more attractive option falls to them here. Wide receiver is a big need for Jacksonville, but with Blackmon gone, it will turn to defense if the pick isn't traded to, say, the New York Jets (see pick No. 16).
8. Miami Dolphins – Ryan Tannehill, QB, Texas A&M Miami needs a quarterback. Luck and RG3 are not an option so the Dolphins have targeted Tannehill, and will likely stop at nothing to get him.
This could include trading up to as high as No. 3 to assure them of his services. If Miami can't make a deal happen or decides to just play it safe, their future is in Cleveland's hands. If Cleveland takes Tannehill fourth, then Miami could do any number of things I won't even try to speculate on here.
If the Browns pass on Tannehill, the eighth pick can't come soon enough for Miami and it might jump over Jacksonville just to be safe.
9. Carolina Panthers – Fletcher Cox, DT, Mississippi State Carolina's defense was ranked 28th out of 32 teams last year. It will undoubtedly address that issue here, as well as in later rounds.
Cox is seen as the lineman most ready to start as a rookie. Another option here is Dontari Poe of Memphis, who had an impressive showing at the NFL combine, but is not as polished as Cox.
NFL coaches have a history of being wowed by workout warriors such as Poe, but to get an immediate fix, which is exactly what the Panthers need, Cox is the better choice.
10. Buffalo Bills – Riley Reiff, OT, Iowa It seems like a no-brainer. Reiff represents Buffalo's biggest need, safest pick and a decent value.
But wide receiver Michael Floyd will also get a long look here. If the Bills do take Floyd, they will probably trade up later in the draft to get another top lineman. But the smart play is to eliminate the variable and get him here.
They could also trade down and take Reiff - or Floyd - a few picks later.
11. Kansas City Chiefs – Dontari Poe, DT, Memphis Most are predicting linebacker Luke Kuechly as the pick should the Chiefs not trade up for Tannehill, but defensive line is a bigger need.
Taking Poe is a bit of a stretch, and he will require some work, but the upside in his development is very appealing. The Chiefs have a serviceable tackle in Jerrell Powe, but their run defense finished 26th in the NFL last season.
It's hard not to see them addressing that red flag as soon as possible. A longshot pick would be a defensive back such as Dre Kirkpatrick or Mark Barron, now that Peyton Manning is an opponent twice a year.
12. Seattle Seahawks – Luke Kuechly, LB, Boston College Assuming Kuechly is available, he's the obvious choice. Seattle needs a linebacker.
Actually, the Seahawks probably need two. If Kansas City doesn't move up for a QB, Seattle will be content here, but if the Chiefs sit at No. 11, Seattle could target Carolina or Buffalo as trade partners to move up for a linebacker, presumably Kuechly.
13. Arizona Cardinals – Jonathan Martin, OT, Stanford Offensive line is the biggest question mark for Arizona. Taking Martin here is a reach, especially over teammate David DeCastro.
But Martin is a tackle and DeCastro is a guard. While the Cardinals need both, tackle is a more urgent need. It makes sense to take either one, but tackle will be harder to fill later on.
14. Dallas Cowboys – Mark Barron, S, Alabama Dallas will take a defender and likely one from Alabama, but who that will be won't be known until Roger Goodell reads his name.
Mark Barron seems to be the consensus choice, but Dre Kirkpatrick is also a likely option, as is South Carolina's Stephon Gilmore. Safety is a need for Dallas, but pass rusher is an even bigger one.
Enter Courtney Upshaw. If the team determines Upshaw is a capable defensive end it might take him, though that will be a big gamble. Upshaw is a hybrid linebacker/defensive end, but Dallas needs no help at linebacker and if Upshaw can't play on the line, picking him would be a waste.
15. Philadelphia Eagles – Courtney Upshaw, LB, Alabama The Eagles covet a higher draft position and may trade to get it, perhaps all the way up to No. 4 to take Tannehill.
A team executive reportedly said that won't happen, but when it comes to the draft, never trust what any team announces publicly. Aside from that, Mark Barron would be a logical choice. Should he not be available, enter Upshaw … again.
Philadelphia brought in DeMeco Ryans in the offseason to help make the linebacker corps less anemic. Upshaw would boost the unit even more and offer yet another pass rusher to an already stout defensive front.
16. New York Jets – Quinton Coples, DE, North Carolina New York would love to trade up for Melvin Ingram. So much so that it's probably going to happen.
There's a good chance Coples would still be taken in this position even if it was to Jacksonville, though the Jaguars could also take a receiver.
17. Cincinnati Bengals – Michael Floyd, WR, Notre Dame Floyd will prove to be a nice complement to A.J. Green in the potent Bengal offense.
Most analysts think the Bengals will seek defensive help. They will, but Floyd represents excellent value if he's still available. This draft is defense heavy, and there will be plenty of options left when the Bengals pick again at No. 21.
18. San Diego Chargers – David DeCastro, OG, Stanford San Diego could do any number of things with this pick. There are still a ton of top-notch defenders available and San Diego is expected to target that area of its squad.
Some defensive options that make sense here are Kirkpatrick, Chandler Jones, Nick Perry or Upshaw, if he's still on the board. But coach Norv Turner is an offensive guy, and his biggest concern may be keeping star QB Philip Rivers upright, which DeCastro would help to do.
19. Chicago Bears – Stephon Gilmore, CB, South Carolina Gilmore could go much higher than this, and he represents good value if he's still around.
It is likely Chicago will take a cornerback; Kirkpatrick and Janoris Jenkins are both possibilities, too. Jenkins is very talented - first round talented - but off-field issues caused him to leave Florida for North Alabama, and his problems followed him there.
Many teams are avoiding Jenkins altogether, and if the ones still interested brand him with "character issues," he will plummet. Jenkins is thought to be the best player at the position, but he is high-risk, high-reward, and the first round is not the place for risky selections.
20. Tennessee Titans – Dre Kirkpatrick, CB, Alabama Tennessee is a team with too many holes and not enough plugs.
The obvious one to fill first is cornerback, after the loss of Cortland Finnegan to the Rams. Linebacker is another possibility, as is wide receiver. Tennessee can pretty much take whomever it thinks is the best available player and be fortifying a weakness.
21. Cincinnati Bengals – Whitney Mercilus, LB, Illinois With the receiver issue solved, the Bengals may kick themselves a little if they expected to get one of the two cornerbacks who just went ahead of them, and it's possible they could have gotten Floyd here if they waited.
But cornerback isn't a glaring need and Mercilus will be able to play linebacker and defensive end, giving the Bengals some options. Expect Dont'a Hightower to get a long, long stare as well.
22. Cleveland Browns – Cordy Glenn, OG, Georgia With an offensive playmaker taken at the fourth pick, the Browns have to get to the meat of the issue.
Playmakers are no good if no one blocks for them, so expect the Browns to take a few offensive linemen when they have the chance. Weeden is another option at this spot, and if the Browns are afraid someone will trade up to take him before they get the chance in the second round, Weeden will go here.
That would be ironic since it was the 22nd pick in 2007 they used to grab Brady Quinn, who is now in Kansas City. It was just two years ago when Cleveland took Colt McCoy in the third round. Stability under center is something the Browns are desperate for.
23. Detroit Lions – Mike Adams, OT, Ohio State Detroit has to have help on the offensive line. It might be a reach for Adams if no other top lineman slips to this spot. But it's a need, and it's got to be filled.
24. Pittsburgh Steelers – Dont'a Hightower, LB, Alabama If Hightower is still available, there's no reason why the Steelers wouldn't take him.
He has the athletic ability to bring another dimension and flexibility to the Steelers' defense, a 3-4 scheme like the one he anchored for the Crimson Tide.
25. Denver Broncos – Michael Brockers, DT, LSU We all know what the Broncos don't need, but summing up what they do need is nearly as easy, and it is called defense, particularly in the middle.
Brockers is a player who is hard to judge, but he is very talented. He likely will require a little work, but that will be OK for Denver. Any issues the defense has are likely to be less glaring with Manning working his magic.
He will need someone to throw to, though, and Denver almost certainly will take care of that later in the draft, perhaps as early as Round 2.
26. Houston Texans – Reuben Randall, WR, LSU Houston could take a wide receiver, but who? That's a question no one seems able to answer.
Randall, Kendall Wright, Stephen Hill and Alshon Jeffery are all being mentioned for the role. It's hard to know what the Texans are thinking, but whoever they take will be a good complement to Andre Johnson.
27. New England Patriots – Chandler Jones, DE, Syracuse New England will get to pick twice late in the first round, and could take two players at the same position.
There are so many possibilities for what New England will do; it almost defies logic to make a prediction. No matter what the Patriots do, it will probably work out flawlessly.
28. Green Bay Packers – Nick Perry, DE, USC Green Bay's front seven didn't meet its expectations last season, and the defensive line is probably the first place the Packers will look for help. Jerel Worthy and Shea McClellin are also top candidates.
29. Baltimore Ravens – Peter Konz, C, Wisconsin Offensive line is a pretty big uncertainty for the Ravens, and Peter Konz can help at guard and center.
Baltimore also needs a tackle, but that isn't as pressing a need, and it may target a quality wide receiver. That could happen with this pick, as there are plenty of receivers to choose from, but the drop off in talent from who they could pick later isn't severe.
Look for them to take a receiver in the second or third and work on bolstering an aging defense.
30. San Francisco 49ers – Kendall Wright, WR, Baylor Look for San Francisco to get another solid weapon to add to its potent offense.
Cornerback and a second receiver to take pressure off Michael Crabtree are the team's biggest woes. Hill and Jeffery could be other receiver options here as well as possibly Jenkins at cornerback.
31. New England Patriots – Shea McClellin, DE, Boise State As stated earlier, the Pats need help on the defensive line. After this pick, they won't have to worry about that.
But they could also step over to the offensive side of the ball and take running back Doug Martin or David Wilson. Given New England's penchant for grabbing undervalued skill-position guys late in the draft and turning them into stars, defense seems the most likely route.
32. New York Giants – Doug Martin, RB, Boise State With Brandon Jacobs gone, a new running back is needed, and Martin should provide an easy fix. Other possibilities include Wilson or tight end Coby Fleener. If the Giants decide to go for defense, Worthy or Derek Wolfe seem like the most likely choices.
With three teams drafting twice in the first round, that means three teams don't draft at all – New Orleans, Atlanta and Oakland.
The New Orleans Saints seem to be in pretty good position (except for coach, but they can't draft that). They figure to target defensive line and linebacker, as well as add depth at offensive line and wide receiver.
Atlanta gave up a lot to get Julio Jones last year, and may not have enough picks to address its problems, which are all related to depth. Tight end, offensive line and the secondary are places Atlanta will look.
Oakland not only doesn't have a first-round pick, but it has no second-round pick either, and only five total selections. There isn't a position where the Raiders couldn't use some help, and barring a crazy, desperation Hail Mary to get into the first or second round, they won't get it.
Just win, baby? Good luck with that.
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