The three-day draft starts Thursday night at Radio City Music Hall.
The 2012 NFL Draft starts Thursday night, and the prime time first round has become a must-see event for football fans everywhere. Hope always springs eternal at the draft, and here’s my projection for the opening round.
1. Indianapolis Colts — Andrew Luck, QB, Stanford
There was no need for the Colts or any of us to overanalyze this pick. Luck will try to carry Indy back to its Peyton Manning heights, and he is the best quarterback prospect in the draft since No. 18.
2. Washington Redskins — Robert Griffin III, QB, Baylor
Mike Shanahan has had success with quarterbacks who could roll out, and he’ll get a supreme athlete in Griffin. The Heisman Trophy winner will have an interesting transition to the sack-happy NFC East.
3. Minnesota Vikings — Matt Kalil, T, USC
The former Trojan is a prototypical left tackle with his size and agility. The Vikes took a chance on Christian Ponder in last year’s first round, and Kalil will be the perfect blindside protector.
4. Cleveland Browns — Trent Richardson, RB, Alabama
The franchise that passed on LaDainian Tomlinson and Adrian Peterson in the top 10 will not break the Dawg Pound’s hearts again. Richardson is a complete back and supplies the Browns with a much-needed star.
5. Tampa Bay Buccaneers — Morris Claiborne, CB, LSU
The Bayou Bengal is the clear-cut best cornerback in the draft and was the best player on LSU’s SEC Championship defense. The Bucs need secondary help in a division with Brees, Ryan and Newton.
6. St. Louis Rams — Justin Blackmon, WR, Oklahoma State
Jeff Fisher inherits a team with many needs, including a top receiver like Blackmon for Sam Bradford. A Bulldog-to-Yellow Jacket works in Detroit, and a Sooner-to-Cowboy should play well in St. Louis.
7. Jacksonville Jaguars — Melvin Ingram, DE, South Carolina
The Jags will look to trade down, but getting a pass rusher like Ingram would meet one of Jacksonville’s top needs. The former Gamecock scored three touchdowns to go with his 15 tackles for loss last season.
8. Miami Dolphins — Ryan Tannehill, QB, Texas A&M
The Fins struck out with Peyton Manning and Matt Flynn in their search for a signal caller. Miami gets a smart and athletic quarterback in Tannehill, who will be reunited with new offensive coordinator Mike Sherman.
9. Carolina Panthers — Fletcher Cox, DT, Mississippi State
The Panthers’ defense struggled mightily in 2011, and a pass-rushing tackle like Cox will provide a major upgrade on the line. He had 14.5 tackles for loss last season playing in the SEC.
10. Buffalo Bills — Stephon Gilmore, CB, South Carolina
This will be a tough decision for the Bills, who could go with offensive line help or a receiver like Notre Dame’s Michael Floyd. In the end, Buffalo takes a battle-tested corner with size and speed.
11. Kansas City Chiefs — Luke Kuechly, LB, Boston College
It is rare to take an inside backer this high, but Kuechly’s tackling and leadership credentials warrant his selection. The former BC star will upgrade a KC run defense that rated 26th a year ago.
12. Seattle Seahawks — Quinton Coples, DE, North Carolina
Pete Carroll’s bunch needs help in the pass rush department, and Coples had 15 tackles for loss last year. There have been some questions about his motor, but the former Tar Heel should flourish in Seattle.
13. Arizona Cardinals — David DeCastro, G, Stanford
Many pundits question taking an interior lineman this early, but DeCastro’s play is worthy of this selection. His top talent will be aided by offensive line coach and Hall of Fame guard, Russ Grimm.
14. Dallas Cowboys — Mark Barron, S, Alabama
The former Tide star is an elite talent and would solve a huge hole at safety for the ‘Boys. There is a good chance that another team tries to trade up for Barron, so Dallas may need to make a move to get him.
15. Philadelphia Eagles — Michael Brockers, DT, LSU
Philly needs interior help, and Brockers was a force on the star-studded Tigers’ defense last season. Some will project Memphis’ Dontari Poe here, but the young LSU product is a safer pick.
16. New York Jets — Courtney Upshaw, LB, Alabama
Rex Ryan will be as excited as ever to bring the hybrid pass rusher to New York. Upshaw is a perfect fit for the Jets attacking style, and he had 18 tackles for loss for the national champions last year.
17. Cincinnati Bengals — Michael Floyd, WR, Notre Dame
Cincy probably has more pressing needs, but a talented receiver like Floyd is too much to pass up. His addition to A.J. Green and Jermaine Gresham would give Andy Dalton a scary amount of weapons.
18. San Diego Chargers — Cordy Glenn, G, Georgia
The former Bulldog has the versatility to play guard or tackle and would provide a talent upgrade for the Chargers’ offense. A pass rusher will be tempting, but San Diego needs O-line help as well.
19. Chicago Bears — Kendall Wright, WR, Baylor
RG3’s favorite target would provide a dynamic complement to Brandon Marshall. Chicago can look for offensive line help later and give Jay Cutler another playmaker to keep up with the Green Bay and Detroit attacks.
20. Tennessee Titans — Whitney Mercilus, DE, Illinois
Mike Munchak’s crew finished next to last in sacks in 2011, so Mercilus would be a welcome addition in Music City. The former Illini led the country in sacks and forced fumbles last fall.
21. Cincinnati Bengals — Dre Kirkpatrick, CB, Alabama
Leon Hall is recovering from injury and Nate Clements is a fading veteran, so the talented corner would be a solid fit for the Cincy defense. The flood of Bama defenders continues.
22. Cleveland Browns — Riley Reiff, T, Iowa
Pat Shurmur would love to see the former Hawkeye available here. Reiff could play right tackle, and his addition – along with stud RB Richardson – would greatly improve the Cleveland offense.
23. Detroit Lions — Jonathan Martin, T, Stanford
The former All-Pac-12 lineman can play either tackle spot in Detroit. The Lions offense will put up big points as long as Matt Stafford stays protected, and Martin is an excellent fit in the Motor City.
24. Pittsburgh Steelers — Dontari Poe, DT, Memphis
There has been much debate over this workout warrior, but his immense size and athleticism make Poe very tempting. With a year to learn from Casey Hampton, the Steelers have their future nose tackle.
25. Denver Broncos — Jerel Worthy, DT, Michigan State
There is a good chance the Broncos look to trade down, but defensive tackle is a priority with the loss of Brodrick Bunkley. Worthy can stuff the run and also has the ability to play multiple line positions.
26. Houston Texans — Mike Adams, T, Ohio State
Many prognosticators have the Texans adding a receiver here, but the offseason attrition from a quality offensive line must be addressed. The former Buckeye’s athleticism makes him a great fit in Houston.
27. New England Patriots — Chandler Jones, DE, Syracuse
Bill Belichick is always a top candidate to trade down, but Jones is a solid pass rusher. The Pats need help on defense, and the former Syracuse star has the versatility to fit well in New England’s scheme.
28. Green Bay Packers — Shea McClellin, LB, Boise State
The sack total in Green Bay decreased dramatically a year ago from the Super Bowl season of 2010. The edge-rushing McClellin had 12.5 tackles for loss and two interceptions last year for the ultra-successful Broncos.
29. Baltimore Ravens — Dont’a Hightower, LB, Alabama
The Tide’s leading tackler may not still be here, but he would be a perfect fit in Baltimore. The Ravens could look at a center like Wisconsin’s Peter Konz, but the Bama sledgehammer is the correct play.
30. San Francisco 49ers — Coby Fleener, TE, Stanford
This may seem like a strange selection with Vernon Davis on the roster, but Fleener’s athleticism would form a dynamic tight end duo. Jim Harbaugh knows him well and keeps the former Cardinal in NorCal.
31. New England Patriots — Kendall Reyes, DT, Connecticut
Once again, there is a high probability that this pick is traded. However Reyes had 13.5 tackles for loss last year and would be another good fit in the multiple looks employed by the Patriots.
32. New York Giants — Nick Perry, DE, USC
The champs could use O-line help, but a pass-rushing talent like Perry is too good for the G-men to pass up. New York has shown a penchant for edge rushers early in past drafts, and the former Trojan is the latest.
--Patrick Snow (@AthlonSnowman on Twitter)
Other NFL Draft-Related Content
NFL Draft: A Look at First-Round Trades
2012 NFL Draft First-Round Primer
2012 NFL Draft: Ranking the Positions
2012 NFL Draft Sleepers and Steals
2012 NFL Draft Busts: Ryan Tannehill and Dontari Poe
NFL Draft History: Busts, Sleepers and Solid Picks - Part 1
NFL Draft History: Busts, Sleepers and Solid Picks - Part 2
Biggest Busts in NFL Draft History
2012 NFL Mock Draft: Our First-Round Projection
2012 NFL Draft Stock Watch
2012 NFL Draft: Andrew Luck vs. Robert Griffin III