About the Author
Recent posts by Nolan Nawrocki
An NFL-record 65 underclassmen were sorely needed to upgrade the talent in a weak senior class and figure to dominate the top of this year's draft, with PFW projecting that eight underclassmen will be drafted with the first eight picks. In all, 20 underclassmen are projected to go in the first round, starting with the prize of this year's draft — Stanford QB Andrew Luck. Offensive talent is expected to come off the board early. The DT crop stands out for its strength atop the draft, with six being projected in the first round. A number of quarterbacks, receivers and linemen will get pushed into the first round because of great demand, despite not grading that highly.
Editor's note: Underclassmen are denoted by an asterisk (*).
1. Indianapolis Colts
QB / Stanford
New GM Ryan Grigson has a lot of work to do to clean up an undersized, injury-prone roster, but at the most critical position on the field, he inherits the wealthiest situation in football, with arguably the best quarterback ever to play the position returning, and one of the finest ever to don a college uniform waiting in the wings to become Manning's successor. Luck could enter an environment where he could receive his Ph.D. in quarterbacking before being thrust into the hot seat. With a surefire solution at the QB position in this year's draft, the Colts could be enticed to deal down, with Grigson's former Philadelphia boss, Browns GM Tom Heckert, holding extra picks from last year's blockbuster trade with Atlanta.
2. St. Louis Rams
WR / Oklahoma State
The Rams' offense was broken by a litany of injuries and a lack of playmaking talent. With Brandon Lloyd in danger of departing in free agency and likely to follow Josh McDaniels, the roster is barren of NFL starting-caliber talent at the WR position. For Sam Bradford to flourish, he needs more support. Blackmon can factor immediately and give Bradford the No. 1 target he sorely needs to dig out of a sophomore slump.
3. Minnesota Vikings
OLT / USC
After Bryant McKinnie was sent packing, Charlie Johnson stepped into the starting lineup and servicably got through the season, but the chance to land a premium left tackle does not come along often, and Kalil can protect Christian Ponder's blind side for years to come — a safe way for GM Rick Spielman to protect his investment in the team's quarterback of the future.
4. Cleveland Browns
Robert Griffin III*
QB / Baylor
The Browns are in prime position to make a run for the top pick and nab a quarterback that best fits Mike Holmgren's preferred precision-passing game. However, if Indy stands firm, the Browns still will have a glaring need to fill, as Colt McCoy lacks the arm talent to compete in the rough-and-tumble AFC North, and they could devise their offense to fit the strengths of an athletic passer like Griffin.
5. Tampa Bay Buccaneers
RB / Alabama
Although the quarterbacks in the division receive the most glory, it is strong ground games that help carry the offenses of the Saints, Falcons and Panthers. Richardson has bell-cow potential to force opponents to stack the box, which would help open up the passing game for Josh Freeman. He is the most talented runner to enter the draft since Adrian Peterson.
6. Washington Redskins
CB / LSU
Mike Shanahan coached Champ Bailey in his prime and knows the value that a shutdown cornerback can bring to a defense. Although more pressing concerns need to be addressed on offense, Shanahan knows the sum of his offense is far greater than the parts and continues building defensively.
7. Jacksonville Jaguars
OT / Iowa
QB Blaine Gabbert needs more time in the pocket to function than he had as a rookie. New head coach Mike Mularkey should be able to upgrade the protection scheme, but with Eben Britton kicking inside and ORT Guy Whimper potentially hitting the market, upgrading talent on the offensive line becomes the top priority. Reiff can help solidify the edges.
8. Carolina Panthers**
DT / LSU
The interior of the defensive line has been a sore spot for the Panthers for years, and despite spending two third-round picks on the position a year ago, Sione Fua and Terrell McClain struggled to make it through the season healthy. Brockers can become a disruptive force in the middle of the defense and provide Ron Rivera with the centerpiece of his "D."
9. Miami Dolphins**
S / Alabama
Interchangeable safeties have become increasingly difficult to find and have become more critical to match up with the new breed of tight end dominating the NFL. With Patriots TEs Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez on the schedule twice a year, GM Jeff Ireland can be justified making Barron a top-10 pick.
10. Buffalo Bills
OLB / Alabama
Upshaw does not have ideal length, but similar to Brandon Graham (13th overall pick) and Dwight Freeney (11th overall), his intensity, toughness and bulldog style will push him up draft boards, especially in a draft lacking outside pass-rushing talent. The fact that Upshaw has played in a 3-4 front alongside last year's Bills first-round pick Marcell Dareus should only comfort GM Buddy Nix.
11. Kansas City Chiefs**
NT / Memphis
Although still very raw, Poe's size-speed combination is rare and could allow him to be groomed into a Haloti Ngata type of player in the middle of Romeo Crennel's defense. That would fill a pressing need, with Kelly Gregg showing signs of winding down.
12. Seattle Seahawks**
DE / North Carolina
Pete Carroll has shown he can manage and maximize the talent of underachievers, and he could take a big gamble on a rare talent with a very questionable makeup because of the Seahawks' need for pass-rushing talent.
13. Arizona Cardinals
WR / Baylor
A big-bodied power blocker who can give QB Kevin Kolb more time in the pocket is a higher priority, but with few available, the Cardinals could benefit just as much from a versatile, playmaking weapon who can take some of the pressure off Larry Fitzgerald. Wright could make a Lee Evans-like climb up draft boards after a sensational senior season.
14. Dallas Cowboys
QB / Texas A&M
Although Jerry Jones abides by a best-player-available approach, the Cowboys have seen the best of Tony Romo and will struggle to progress if they do not address the QB position soon. Tannehill does not grade out this highly but has more talent than Christian Ponder and could be pushed up draft boards considerably, given the strong need at the position leaguewide.
15. Philadelphia Eagles
DT / Mississippi State
The key to the Eagles' success defensively has been the strong play of their line. When Cullen Jenkins and Mike Patterson are healthy, they are difficult to handle, but neither has been a model of durability, and the team's depth could take a hit with contract situations for Trevor Laws and Derek Landri to be dealt with.
16. New York Jets
OG / Stanford
Vladimir Ducasse has been slow to develop, Matt Slauson is average and Brandon Moore is aging. DeCastro is a plug-and-play starter who will solidify the pocket for Mark Sanchez and give the Jets a strong foundation for years to come.
17. Cincinnati Bengals (from Oakland)
CB / North Alabama
Nate Clements helped fill the void left by the departure of Johnathan Joseph in free agency, but Leon Hall is coming off injury, and the Bengals still could use help in the secondary with the status of Kelly Jennings and Adam Jones up in the air. Jenkins can lock down the slot immediately.
18. San Diego Chargers
C / Wisconsin
Centers Nick Hardwick and Scott Mruczkowski are hitting contract years, and OG Kris Dielman is staring at potential retirement after concussion issues ended his season on injured reserve. Konz has the strength and power to make an immediate impact and fortify the Chargers' interior.
19. Chicago Bears
WR / LSU
Jay Cutler has not had a true No. 1 receiver since he arrived in Chicago and would welcome a big speed merchant who's capable of making plays downfield.
20. Tennessee Titans
DL / South Carolina
Ingram has the versatility to rush inside or outside and is the type of raw talent who could develop into a havoc-wreaking force for DL coach Tracy Rocker.
21. Cincinnati Bengals
DT / Penn State
Still carries an enigmatic reputation after an inconsistent career at Penn State. However, he made a statement as a senior, showing up big against the best competition, and could bring depth to the interior of the Bengals' defensive line.
22. Cleveland Browns (from Atlanta)
RB / Virginia Tech
Peyton Hillis is unlikely to return, but the Browns return some hard-charging RB talent to handle the inside running. What Pat Shurmur's offense lacks is a dynamic, multipurpose threat who's capable of creating in space.
23. Detroit Lions
CB / Alabama
The inability to cover cost the Lions in the playoffs, and their top corner, Eric Wright, could potentially depart in free agency. Kirkpatrick excelled in the press coverage heavily employed by Lions defensive coordinator Gunther Cunningham. After recently being arrested, Kirkpatrick stands a chance to slide out of the first round, although Jim Schwartz has been very willing to take chances on talent that is rough around the edges, and Kirkpatrick fills a prime area of need.
24. Pittsburgh Steelers
OT / Stanford
Injuries have plagued the Steelers' offensive line, especially on the edges. Although the team has found able replacements the past two years, the OL injuries have taken a toll on the health of Ben Roethlisberger. Martin fits the mold of a Steelers offensive lineman.
25. Denver Broncos
MLB / Boston College
The Butkus Award winner has been a tackling machine the past three years and could give John Fox's defense the leadership presence that Dan Morgan brought to Carolina early in Fox's Panthers tenure.
26. Houston Texans
WR / Notre Dame
Andre Johnson missed half the season and did not have a reliable WR complement. Floyd could alleviate some of the attention from Johnson and add a dimension to Gary Kubiak's offense.
27. New England Patriots (from New Orleans)
DL / Clemson
Although the Tigers' program has been known to produce underachieving talent that does not fit well with the culture in New England, the program has shaped up under the direction of Dabo Swinney. Thompson offers the versatility desired to allow the Patriots' front to more effectively use multiple looks.
28. Green Bay Packers
OLB / Oklahoma
Clay Matthews saw a lot of extra attention last season because of the Packers' lack of a pass rush. Lewis has the athletic ability and burst to keep offenses honest and upgrade a marginal pass rush.
29. Baltimore Ravens
OG / Georgia
Glenn looked out of place at left tackle last season, but as a guard in 2010, he was an immovable force. He could step into a starting lineup immediately, allowing the Ravens to reshuffle their line.
30. San Francisco 49ers
CB / South Carolina
The Niners broke ground with the selection of Chris Culliver in the 2011 third round and can further dig into the rich depths of CB talent at South Carolina with the selection of another big, fast Gamecock. Although inconsistent, he is big, fast and more highly regarded than Dre Kirkpatrick by some NFL evaluators.
31. New York Giants#
MLB / Alabama
The Giants have not had a physical presence in the middle of their defense since Antonio Pierce retired and could add a hammering inside force if Hightower is still available. His inconsistent effort easily could push him down draft boards, but the lack of ILB talent should still keep him in the first round.
32. New England Patriots#
WR / Rutgers
With Chad Ochocinco struggling to grasp the offense and contract situations still to be resolved for Wes Welker and Deion Branch, the Patriots look to another safe, versatile Rutgers product earlier than expected, similar to when they selected Devin McCourty.
** — Position to be determined by coin flip.
# — Super Bowl winner picks 32nd, loser 31st.