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2012 NFL Draft First-Round Primer

Athlon Sports looks at some story lines, players and teams to watch on Thursday night

The first-round of the 2012 NFL Draft begins Thursday night and although the Indianapolis Colts have the first pick, there's no mystery where the Colts or Washington, who have the second selection are going.

Indianapolis general manager Ryan Grigson confirmed on Tuesday what everyone already knew — that the Colts would take Stanford quarterback Andrew Luck with the No. 1 overall pick. It's also pretty much a done deal that the next name NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell announces from his podium will be Robert Griffin III, the Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback from Baylor that the Redskins have had in their sights for some time.

Even though the identity of the first two picks in this year's draft is known that doesn't mean there's no reason to follow the rest of the first round. In fact, here are some story lines, players and teams to keep an eye on as the remaining 30 picks play out.

The Fun Starts at No. 3
Since it’s well known what direction the Colts and Redskins are going with the first two picks, that means the Minnesota Vikings, who have the third pick, are on the clock. It also means that what the Vikings decide to do with the pick – use it or trade it – could significantly impact or even alter how the first round plays out.

The Vikings are picking third because they finished 3-13 last season and are a team with plenty of holes to fill, so they could certainly use the pick to meet one of these needs with the player that’s at the top of their draft board at that position. Minnesota is reportedly considering three players with this pick – tackle Ryan Kalil from USC, cornerback Morris Claiborne from LSU or Oklahoma State wide receiver Justin Blackmon.

If presented with the offer, however, I think the Vikings would gladly move down from the No. 3 pick, in hopes of acquiring additional picks along the way. Again, the Vikings have many needs, and stockpiling picks would allow them the opportunity to address several of them.

Of the teams most likely to swing a deal and move up, I think you can put Miami, Jacksonville, Seattle and possibly Tampa Bay in that group. I also don’t think you can rule out New England, who has two first-round picks it can use as trade ammo, or Dallas, if anything because of Jerry Jones.

I the think the chances that the Vikings trade down are better than 50-50 at this point. However, if Minnesota doesn’t get the offer they are looking for and decided to keep the pick, I think the choice will be Kalil.

What Will the Browns Do?
Cleveland has the fourth pick, the first of its team’s 13 selections in this year’s draft, which is the most of any team. That’s the good news for Browns fans, the bad news is your team also has numerous holes to fill.

If the Vikings decide to trade down and get out of the third spot, then the teams that didn’t put in the winning bid for the pick could turn their attention to the Browns to get their guy at No. 4. However, the Browns are in a unique situation in that they have two first-round picks, Nos. 4 and 22, and 11 more after that, so they will probably only move out of the fourth spot if they are blown away with a package that greatly improves their positioning for the rest of the draft or nets them early future picks.

Since it appears the Browns will be staying put at No. 4, the question then becomes who do they take? Depending on what happens at No. 3, the Browns conceivably could have their pick of Ryan Tannehill, considered to be the best available quarterback on the board, running back Trent Richardson, far and away the top running back in this year’s draft, Blackmon, largely considered the No. 1 wide receiver option, or perhaps even Kalil, the best offensive lineman available. Any of these four would fill a significant need for the Browns.

In the end, I think it comes down to choosing between Richardson or Blackmon, depending on which player the front office and coaching staff likes best. Even though NFL teams are shying away from taking running backs with early first-round picks, I don’t think the Browns will let Richardson slide past them. Production in the running game was a big problem for the Browns’ offense last year, and Richardson by all measures is one of those unique talents that a team shouldn’t pass on.

Where Will Tannehill Land?
The aforementioned Tannehill, and not Luck or Griffin or anyone else, has arguably received the most buzz and attention in recent weeks. The wide receiver-turned-quarterback’s stock has intermittently soared and plummeted on respective draft boards, depending on who you ask.

Teams reportedly seriously interested in the former Texas A&M signal-caller include Cleveland, Jacksonville, Miami and Seattle. All of these teams are slotted in the top 12, but the consensus among draft pundits is that Tannehill will be off the board as early as No. 3 and no later than the eighth pick.

Minnesota has the third pick and they took a quarterback (Christian Ponder) in the third round last year, so the only way Tannehill goes at No. 3 is if the Vikings trade out of that spot. Miami is currently in the eighth slot and are said to be the team that’s highest on Tannehill. The fact that Tannehill’s former college coach, Mike Sherman, is the Dolphins’ offensive coordinator does nothing to diffuse this idea.

If the Dolphins do want Tannehill, do they want him bad enough to trade up to either the third or fourth spot, currently held by Cleveland, to ensure that they get him? In my opinion the Vikings seem more likely than the Browns to trade down in this draft, but either way the price is sure to be high for the Dolphins.

Miami has eight picks in this year’s draft, including an additional third-round selection they got from Chicago in the Brandon Marshall deal. If they do trade up, it more than likely will cost them either a first- or second-round pick in next year’s draft to get a deal done. If that’s the case, the Dolphins’ front office has to decide whether that’s a price their willing to get Tannehill, who is anything but a can’t-miss prospect, or do they take their chances and see if he’s still there at No. 8?

The bigger question is if the Dolphins don’t take Tannehill, then who does? Do the Browns, Jaguars or Seahawks like him enough to pull the trigger early? Or does Tannehill do his best Brady Quinn imitation and become the last man waiting in the green room?

I would be surprised if Tannehill slips past No. 8 and I think in the end, he will be taking his talents to South Beach. After all, the last time the Dolphins drafted a quarterback in the first round was in 1983. The quarterback they took 19 years ago with the 27th pick in the first round? Dan Marino. That worked out pretty well for the Dolphins didn’t it?

Players to Watch

Mark Barron, S, Alabama
LSU’s Claiborne is considered the best defensive back prospect in this year’s draft, but Barron isn’t too far behind and he’s the No. 1 safety. His size and overall skill set could be tempting enough for a team with a need at the position to trade up in order to get him. Barron is projected by most to go somewhere in the 12-17 range.

Dontari Poe, DT, Memphis
This year’s workout warrior at the Scouting Combine, Poe’s stock seems to have fallen just as quickly as it rose back in February. Poe appears to be the complete package on paper, it’s the lack of production on the field that’s causing teams to think long and hard about calling his name early in the first round. Plenty of teams have a need for a defensive tackle, and Poe is considered among the best available at the position. But if Poe makes it past the teens, he could be waiting until the end of the first round to hear Commissioner Goodell announce his name.

Luke Kuechly, LB, Boston College
Fellow linebacker Von Miller went No. 2 overall last year to Denver. Kuechly won’t go that high, mainly because the Redskins are taking Griffin with the second pick, but the tackling machine should be the first linebacker to come off the board, most likely in the 10-15 range. Like Barron, Kuechly is another player that a specific team could trade up for to grab.

Ryan Tannehill, QB, Texas A&M
As has already been mentioned above, he could go as early as third overall if the Vikings decide to trade down or the Dolphins could wait to see if he’s still there at No. 8. If he gets past Miami, it will be interesting to see which team decides to pull the trigger and when.

Teams to Watch

Cleveland Browns
The Browns have 13 picks in this year’s draft, the most of any team. Cleveland has two first-round picks (Nos. 4 and 22) and five of the first 100. The Browns have many needs to fill and should be in a position to address several of them, especially in the early rounds.

Minnesota Vikings
Minnesota has the No. 3 pick and because the entire world knows the first two picks are going to be Luck and Griffin, all eyes are on them. The Vikings can either use the pick to address one of their most pressing needs or they can trade out of the spot in hopes of improving either their position in this year’s draft or a future draft. What the Vikings end up doing could dictate how the first round plays out.

New England Patriots
For once, the Patriots don’t have an abundance of draft picks to work with as they have a total of six in 2012. However, that doesn’t mean Bill Belichick and co. won’t be heard from this year as they have two first-round choices (Nos. 27 and 31) and a total of five in the first 100 picks. New England could use some young talent and fresh blood to help revitalize a defense that finished next-to-last in the league in 2011.

Don’t rule out the hooded one from doing what he’s done better than anyone in the draft – working with what he has to improve his draft position to get who he wants. In this case, don’t be surprised if New England tries to package some of their picks together to move up and take one of the impact defensive players, like a Barron or one of the defensive linemen.

St. Louis Rams
The Rams are also in an interesting spot, having already traded down from No. 2 with the Redskins. The Rams got an extra second-round pick in this year’s draft as well as the Redskin’s first-round picks in 2013 and ’14. It’s not out of the question that the Rams could trade down again in order to stockpile even more picks as new coach Jeff Fisher looks to remodel the roster to his liking.

Washington Redskins
Yes, the Redskins are getting Griffin, the guy they wanted all along, but it also cost them a lot – a second-round pick this year, along with their first-round picks the next two years. During Daniel Snyder’s tenure as Redskins’ owner, the team’s success in the draft has been spotty at best, thanks in large part to focusing more on free agency rather than the draft as the means to improve their roster.

And just because they made the trade to secure Griffin at No. 2 doesn’t mean this stance is going to change anytime soon. After they make it official and take Griffin with the second overall pick, the Redskins won’t be on the clock again until early in the third round (No. 69) and then have five picks after that, including two fourth-round selections.

Remember, this is a team that was originally slotted to pick No. 6 because they were just 5-11 in 2011. The Redskins have a lot of holes to fill, and while Griffin addresses their biggest need, they still have a lot of work to do, which must be accomplished with the inventory of picks they have to work with. This puts even more pressure on those who will be in the Redskins’ war room to target and draft those players in the later rounds who best fit their needs. This is a team that can’t afford many “misses” in this year’s draft.

— by Mark Ross, published on April 25, 2012

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2012 NFL Draft First-Round Primer
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NFL Draft History: Busts, Sleepers and Solid Picks - Part 2
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