The first round of the 2012 NFL Draft is tonight, and speculation continues to run rampant as to who will be picked where.
In fact, the only picks that are certain right now are Andrew Luck and Robert Griffin III at No. 1 and No. 2, respectively. Every other pick is fair game, with very few media outlets agreeing on who will go next.
The following are my projections for the first 10 picks of the draft.
1. Indianapolis Colts – Andrew Luck, QB, Stanford
This one is a no-brainer. Luck is the best quarterback prospect since who knows when, and there couldn’t be a player more fitted to succeed Peyton Manning in Indianapolis.
Some think that Griffin will be better in the long run, but Luck is more NFL ready at this point because he has ran a pro-style offense his two years at Stanford.
It will take him a while to win, but once he does, he will do it for a long time. And I see him being a durable and reliable quarterback in the NFL for many years.
2. Washington Redskins (from St. Louis Rams) – Robert Griffin III, QB, Baylor
The Redskins could not wait any longer to get a franchise quarterback in the nation’s capital, so it is no shocker that they traded up so they can draft one of the most versatile quarterbacks in recent years.
There may not be a more exciting prospect in this year’s draft class. Think of Cam Newton, except more polished.
Griffin has a stronger arm and is more accurate than Luck. He has more upside than Luck and I think will have a better career.
The only reason Luck was drafted first is because the Colts have a new general manager and he does not want to pass up on the safest pick in Luck.
Griffin will likely be one of the top contenders for the NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year, and he will have a better rookie season than Luck.
3. Minnesota Vikings – Matt Kalil, OT, USC
Minnesota could go with a receiver at this pick, but to be honest, neither Justin Blackmon nor Michael Floyd is worth the third overall pick.
Their best bet is to draft a franchise left tackle in Kalil to protect their franchise quarterback, Christian Ponder. While it isn’t the sexiest pick, it is the best pick for the Vikings.
With owner Zygi Wilf meeting with Roger Goodell and represenitives in Los Angeles, the Vikings must have a good and profitable season, or this could be the last season we see the Vikings playing in Minnesota.
4. Cleveland Browns – Trent Richardson, RB, Alabama
There has been quite a bit of talk as to what Cleveland will do with this pick, but if they draft anyone other than Richardson, it will prove that the franchise is in complete disarray.
A running back like Richardson doesn’t come around every year. He has the ability to be an offensive juggernaut in Cleveland for years to come.
Richardson reminds me a lot like Adrian Peterson without the agility. He is a beast and plows over anyone who gets in his way.
He may run into injury problems because of the reckless style he is accustomed to playing, but he will produce right away.
5. Tampa Bay Buccaneers – Morris Claiborne, CB, LSU
After bringing in some major free agents on the offensive side of the ball with Vincent Jackson and Carl Nicks, the Buccaneers will address their defense with the best cornerback in this class.
Claiborne will be the eventual replacement of Ronde Barber, if he ever decides to retire.
Claiborne won the Jim Thorpe Award as the nation’s top defensive back and was voted the Southeastern Conference Defensive Player of the Year. He had six interceptions and 51 tackles as a true junior.
He will provide some much needed relief for quarterback Josh Freeman, who is an upcoming star in the NFL. Claiborne may not be that quick, but he has phenomenal ball skills.
6. St. Louis Rams (from Washington Redskins) – Justin Blackmon, WR, Oklahoma State
The truth is that drafting Blackmon here is over drafting him. However, no other pick makes sense for the Rams.
They desperately need a top receiver for Sam Bradford, and while Blackmon may not be “elite” in any way, he is good enough to provide a big boost to the Rams offense.
Blackmon is no Calvin Johnson by any means, but he is the best WR in this year’s draft and he can stretch the field giving defensive coordinators headaches.
7. Jacksonville Jaguars – Melvin Ingram, DE/OLB, South Carolina
Quinton Coples of UNC is a potential pick here, but I think that as we get closer to the draft, Coples could drop due to the lack of motivation he showed during the 2011 season.
Coples is without a doubt the best pure pass rusher in this draft, but Ingram does have the tools to become an elite defender because of his versatility.
Ingram might not be as pure of a pass-rusher as Coples, but he still fills a major need for the Jaguars with the seventh pick. He also has the upside to turn into one of the top defensive players in this draft.
8. Miami Dolphins – Ryan Tannehill, QB, Texas A&M
I don’t really think the Dolphins have a choice with this pick. Trading back is an option, but if they do that, they could miss out on Tannehill and that is not an option.
While Tannehill isn’t as polished as Luck or Griffin, he is an extremely intriguing prospect who has all the tools you could ever want in a franchise quarterback.
Tannehill is slightly overrated and if Brandon Weeden was younger I think the Dolphins would go with him. Tannehill is inexperienced only starting 18 games as a quarterback, but he is one of the safest picks and will join his old head coach in Mike Sherman, who is the offensive coordinator.
9. Carolina Panthers – Fletcher Cox, DE/DT, Mississippi State
Cox is quietly moving up draft boards in recent weeks as people are starting to realize that his game tape matches his impressive workout sessions.
Cox is a more polished prospect than either Michael Brockers or Dontari Poe, and his versatility would be an extremely valuable asset to the improving Panthers.
Cox is naturally big, plays bigger and is expected to grow even more in size and ability.
The light-footed Cox played both defense end and defensive tackle and his versatility will be an asset in the NFL, where scouts think he is similar to San Diego’s Corey Luiget, an 18th overall pick out of Illinois last year.
10. Buffalo Bills - Michael Floyd, WR, Notre Dame
Buffalo fans will be extremely excited to see Floyd drop to them at No. 10. In my opinion, he has more potential than Blackmon.
Floyd will pair with Stevie Johnson to give the Bills one of the best one-two punches at receiver in the entire NFL. With Floyd, the Bills greatly improve their chances at contending in the AFC East.
Floyd had off the field issues, which might hurt his draft stock, but his size and prolific on-field performances are tantalizing for NFL teams.
Matt Nielsen, Asst. Sports Editor
1. Indianapolis Colts- Andrew Luck, QB, Stanford
It is all but certain that the Colts will take Andrew Luck with the first overall pick. Indianapolis informed Luck on the decision early last week.
After losing future Hall-of-Famer Peyton Manning in the off-season to the Denver Broncos, the Colts have no choice but to draft a quarterback.
The Colts lost a lot of its best offensive targets this off-season including TE Dallas Clark and WE Pierre Garcon. If Luck’s rookie season is anything like Manning’s, it looks like it will be a long season for Colts fans.
2. Washington Redskins- Robert Griffin III, QB, Baylor
The Redskins made an epic off-season trade with the Rams to move up from the sixth spot to the second spot in this year’s draft. Washington must of known who they wanted as they gave up quite a bit to receive the second overall pick.
Griffin came out of nowhere this year and proves to have the talent it takes to be an elite quarterback in the NFL. The Heisman Trophy winner has the potential to turn the Redskins back into playoff contenders.
With a more talented team than the Colts, Griffin looks like he will be in a better position than Luck to help his team succeed early in the NFL.
3. Minnesota Vikings- Morris Claiborne, CB, LSU
The Vikings have many positions that they need to fill. Claiborne is easily one of the most athletic players in the draft. With the Vikings being in one of the best quarterback divisions in football, Claiborne would help out dramatically.
Matt Kalil is a safer pick in this spot for Minnesota and would really help Christian Ponder develop as it would give him more time to make decisions.
Aaron Rodgers, Matthew Stafford, and Jay Cutler are three of the NFL’s elite quarterbacks. Picking Claiborne would make for a much tougher match-up when the Vikings meet with their NFC North foes.
Other: Matt Kalil, OT, USC
Justin Blackmon, WR, Oklahoma State
4. Cleveland Browns- Trent Richardson- RB, Alabama
If the Browns could have resigned Peyton Hillis in the off-season, this pick would certainly not be a running back.
The Browns have a lot of needs in this year’s draft, but offense is easily the biggest concern for them. Cleveland needs a RB and WR, as they were near last in every offensive statistic last season.
Richardson is the best all around player in the draft and is already said to be a future Pro-Bowler. The Browns need someone to improve their offense and Richardson would easily do this. Cleveland also has the 22nd overall pick which is where they should pick up a WR.
Other: Justin Blackmon, WR, Oklahoma State
5. Tampa Bay Buccaneers- Stephen Gilmore, CB, South Carolina
With Aquib Talib going on trial in June and Ronde Barber’s career coming to an end, the Bucs need a secondary player to help their defense in the pass-happy NFC South.
The Bucs would prefer Morris Claiborne, but with the Vikings taking him third, Gilmore is the next safest pick at the CB position.
North Alabama’s Janoris Jenkins is also a possibility, but he has had off field problems of his own. The last thing the Buccaneers need is another problem player at the CB division.
Other: Janoris Jenkins, CB, North Alabama
6. St. Louis Rams- Justin Blackmon, WR, Oklahoma State
Blackmon is one of the best WRs to come out of the draft in the last few years. His athleticism at Oklahoma State shows that he is ready for the NFL.
After losing Brandon Lloyd to free agency, the Rams don’t have a lot of talent or depth at the WR position. Blackmon, Bradford, and RB Steven Jackson would become a scary trio in St. Louis.
Blackmon would help Sam Bradford turn into the quarterback that experts expect him to be in the league. Bradford hasn’t had many great WR’s on his team the past two seasons, and Blackmon would help the Rams offense become a threat once again.
7. Jacksonville Jaguars- Matt Kalil, OT, USC
The Jaguars haven’t been over .500 in four years now. Inconsistency at the QB position is one of the many reasons for this. Texas A&M’s Ryan Tannehill could be a good fit, but it would be hard for Jacksonville to select a QB in the first round two years in a row.
Kalil is said to be the best offensive linemen in the draft and would open holes for Pro-Bowl RB Maurice Jones-Drew. Even without a great line, Jones-Drew has been a dominant running back over the past few seasons, so just imagine what he could do with a hard-nosed lineman such as Kalil in front of him.
The Jags could also trade this pick, but if they do end up keeping it, Kalil would help give QB Blaine Gabbert time in the pocket and open plenty of holes for Jones-Drew.
8. Miami Dolphins- Ryan Tannehill, QB, Texas A&M
The Dolphins need a franchise quarterback and haven’t had one since Dan Marino retired in 1999. The Dolphins did sign David Garrard in the off-season, but it is only a one-year deal as Garrard only has a few years left in the league.
Tannehill is a risky choice because of his limited amount of college experience, but he is easily the third best quarterback in the draft.
Miami has talents on offense, but QB is the most important which they have been lacking for a decade now. Tannehill is the safest pick here and could help the Dolphins for many years to come.
9. Carolina Panthers- Fletcher Cox, DT, Mississippi State
After drafting Cam Newton last year with the first overall pick, Carolina’s offense improved drastically.
The Panthers improved from 2-14 in 2010 to 6-10 in 2011. Carolina plans on adding even more wins to the column this season and need to improve their defense in order to do so
Cox will be a great pick for the Panthers as he would help improve their run defense which ranked a lousy 25th in the league last season.
10. Buffalo Bills- Riley Reiff, OT, Iowa
The Bills had struggles at the left tackle position last season and it showed late in the season when QB Ryan Fitzpatrick didn’t have time in the pocket due to poor blocking from his line.
Reiff is said to be the second best tackle in the draft this year. The Bills do have other concerns such as WR, but left tackle is said to be the most important position on the offensive line.
The Bills showed signs of hope for a successful season last year, but fell off the map after a remarkable 5-2 start. Drafting a star left tackle insures that Bills QB’s will have great protection for at least a decade and could help them finally get over the hump in the very tough AFC East.
Other: Michael Floyd, WR, Notre Dame