OpinionApril 11, 2012

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2012 NFL Mock Draft: Picks 1-10

By R.J. White

The draft is a mere two weeks away, which means draftniks are knee-deep in mock drafts and prospect news updates. I’m going to throw my own 2012 NFL Mock Draft into the ring in three parts. Today we’ll be going through the first ten picks of the draft. I had a lot of great feedback about my live Twitter draft predictions last year, and the plan is to do it again, so follow me @rjwhite1 if you want some instant reactions and ongoing predictions on draft night.

1. IND Colts: QB Andrew Luck, Stanford
Despite the indecision they’re trying to give off to the media, the Colts are locked into Andrew Luck with the No. 1 pick. Luck is the best QB prospect of the past 20 years by most accounts. It’s a rare breed that can take over for one of the best players in the history of the NFL and still cause fans to be excited about him.

2. WAS Redskins: QB Robert Griffin III, Baylor
Like the Colts, Washington knows exactly who they’ll take on Day 1 of the draft. Somewhat overshadowed by Luck’s historically high stock, Griffin could very well be the second-best QB prospect of the last 6-8 years after Luck. Mastermind Mike Shanahan is likely drooling at the thought to using every one of Griffin’s skills. His bust potential is near zero.

3. MIN Vikings: OT Matt Kalil, USC
The Vikings apparently haven’t settled on a No. 3 pick yet, and they’re truly the ones “on the clock” over the next couple weeks with the first two picks of the drafts 100 percent locked in. Despite public indecision, the Vikings really only have one move here, and that’s to pick up Kalil as a franchise left tackle and be done with it. Expect a few reports of the Vikings being in negotiations to trade the pick to a mystery team or two over the next two weeks, as the Minnesota front office tries to make the Dolphins panic and trade a fortune to move up and draft the third quarterback here. I don’t think it happens.

4. CLE Browns: QB Ryan Tannehill, Texas A&M
The Browns clearly aren’t enamored with Colt McCoy and seem set to begrudgingly enter the season with him as the starter at QB. NFL teams without franchise signal callers or developing first-round picks at the position are always a good bet to grab a highly rated QB prospect above all else, and Tannehill’s stock has risen to the point where it would surprise if he fell out of the top 8. This would be the first curveball of the 2012 draft, as most draftniks figure the Browns to grab a running back and receiver with their first two picks. But value should present itself at WR later in the first, and there will be some good RBs available in Round 2 when Cleveland’s on the clock. Franchise quarterbacks just don’t come to Cleveland, so the team has to find their next top-shelf QB1 in the draft, or drastically overpay a mediocre free agent and hope he somehow becomes elite. With the new rookie pay scale, the draft is the perfect place to grab a potential QB1 as many times as necessary until you find “the guy.” Tannehill’s the pick, and look for him to sit for at least a year before assuming the mantle of starter and team savior.

5. TB Buccaneers: RB Trent Richardson, Alabama
Running backs just aren’t featured as much in drafts anymore with most of the league adopting a multiple-back system. Richardson is the lone exception, a freak of nature with Adrian Peterson type upside in his pocket. New coach Greg Schiano is overly committed to focusing the offense on running the ball, and LeGarrette Blount hasn’t shown the ability to be a feature back in the mold of Peterson, Steven Jackson or potentially Richardson. They’ll also look long and hard at drafting an elite cornerback here, especially with quality backs expected to be available in Round 2, but in the end the offensive philosophy has to change, and an upgrade on Blount is critical.

6. STL Rams: CB Morris Claiborne, LSU
Ever since the Rams traded back with the Washington Redskins, No. 6 has become the de facto Justin Blackmon pick. However, I’m not so sure that’s a great idea for St. Louis. The wide receiver position is pretty deep, and there will be some pretty solid options when the Rams pick with the first pick of the second round. And after months of assuming Blackmon was by far the best WR prospect in the draft this year, Michael Floyd is now gaining steam as a potential better pick than Blackmon. After Claiborne, the cornerback class dries up in a hurry. For years, the CB position has been a problem in St. Louis, and the Rams went and did something about it by signing Cortland Finnegan, but they need another starter in this pass-happy era of the NFL. Finnegan-Claiborne could challenge as the league’s best CB duo immediately.

7. JAC Jaguars: WR Justin Blackmon, Oklahoma St
The Jaguars rejoice! Nabbing Blackmon without trading up fulfills a dream scenario for Jacksonville, and if Tannehill gets drafted in the top four, Tampa Bay could be very willing to move down to this spot and let the Jaguars move up for Blackmon anyway. In this mock Blackmon slips just a bit to the Jaguars, the WR-neediest team in the league. Laurent Robinson is a quality No. 3 receiver being paid to be a No. 1, and the hope is that Blackmon can quickly fill that No. 1 role and prevent Robinson from overextending himself. Will the presence of non-replacement level talents like Blackmon and Robinson fix what ails Blaine Gabbert?

8. MIA Dolphins: WR Michael Floyd, Notre Dame
Some would question whether the Dolphins would take a receiver with off-the-field concerns after just trading Brandon Marshall. Two things: when have the Dolphins shown any capability of learning from their mistakes, and what do they need more than a receiver with Marshall shipped away? Neither Davone Bess or Brian Hartline should be starting for an NFL team, yet both would probably start for Miami if we kicked off tomorrow. Floyd can do a lot of different things on the field, lining up at all three receiver positions. At this point, I’d be shocked if he didn’t go in the top half of the first round.

9. CAR Panthers: DT Fletcher Cox, Mississippi St
The Panthers tried to upgrade the defensive tackle position last year by spending third-round picks on Terrell McClain and Sione Fua, but neither guy solidified a long-term starting role. Expect the Panthers to go to the well in the first round this year, as there are at least three defensive tackles worthy of being top 20 picks. Cox seems to have established himself as the No. 1 guy at the position, and he fits well schematically in Carolina’s defense. He should immediately jump into a rotation with the two second-year players, and the team will hope he can handle starter snaps by mid-season.

10. BUF Bills: OT Riley Reiff, Iowa
The Bills did a phenomenal job of upgrading their pass rush by adding Mario Williams and Mark Anderson, and that should put them on the hunt for either a receiver or an offensive lineman. With Demetress Bell departing for Philadelphia, tackle becomes the No. 1 need in Buffalo by far, and they’re fortunate to have Reiff fall in their laps. There’s concern that Reiff won’t cut it as a left tackle after his arms measured short at the Combine, but if he has talent, he’ll be a starter in Buffalo as long as he wishes, whether it be on the inside or outside. Expect Buffalo to start him at tackle and go from there.

Check back with us in a few days to see the next 10 picks of my 2012 NFL Mock Draft.

R.J. White is the head editor at the Cafe, writes for FanDuel and Razzball and has previously written for FanHouse. Catch up with him in the forums under the name daullaz. Follow him on Twitter; don't follow him in real life.
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