The rookie wage scale the owners and players agreed to last summer relieved great pressure from teams drafting in the top 10, yet shrewd GMs remain very cognizant of the positional value associated with each pick.
In this latest mock draft, PFW concentrated on team needs and consensus league-wide grades on talent, yet factored contract values into the equation in an effort to illustrate why there could be another run on quarterbacks in this year's draft. In cases where there were multiple pressing needs or comparable graded talent available, the more highly paid positional value took priority. The value of each pick, calculated on an average-per-year (APY) basis, is included with each pick, based on 2011's first-round contracts.
The averages that starters were paid at each position last season are listed below in order of highest paid, based on information obtained from NFL executives.
|QB — $8.9M
CB — $5.0M
DT — $4.7M
DE — $4.5M
|OT — $4.5M
ILB — $4.5M
WR — $4.3M
RB — $4.3M
|OLB — $3.9M
TE — $3.9M
C — $3.8M
OG — $3.0M
|S — $3.0M
PK — 2.1M
P — $1.3M
FB — $1.2M
LS — $0.8M
|1. Indianapolis Colts
Andrew Luck | QB | Stanford [ Jr. ] | APY: $5.5M
There's no arguing this pick. Owner Jim Irsay made the decision long ago. Luck will be presented with the challenge of following in Peyton Manning's footsteps and leading the Colts into the next decade with a four-year contract that does not even equal what the Colts paid Manning to rehabilitate in 2011.
|2. Washington Redskins (from St. Louis Rams)
Robert Griffin III | QB | Baylor [ Jr. ] | APY: $5.3M
If Mike Shanahan did not infuse some youth into the QB position this year and find his future franchise passer, he might not survive through the season, hence the hefty package of picks he sent the Rams' way. The QB position has never been more important than it is now, and given that starting quarterbacks average nearly twice as much money as the next highest-paid position, Shanahan's decision to mortgage the future could be easily justified if Griffin translates his college playmaking ability to the pro game.
|3. Minnesota Vikings
Morris Claiborne | CB | LSU [ Jr. ] | APY: $5.1M
The Vikings' roster aged during the Brad Childress years, as Brett Favre retired, the Williams' wall faded and injuries took their toll in the offensive and defensive backfields. The lines remain an area in serious need of improvement, but the CB position carries a higher premium. On average, it is the most highly paid defensive position in football and a priority in a division with elite receivers on every team. No. 1 corners on average earned $7.75 million as opposed to the $6.6 million that No. 1 tackles commanded, giving Claiborne an edge over other non-passers.
|4. Cleveland Browns
Ryan Tannehill | QB | Texas A&M | APY: $4.9M
Many evaluators cringe at the mention of Ryan Tannehill being a top-five pick, as his tape clearly does not support it, yet the premium on the position could easily allow him to be drafted far higher than he grades as a football player. Given that the average starting quarterback earns nearly twice what a contract in the No. 4 slot commands, it's easy to understand why momentum is surging for the draft's next-best passers behind Luck and Griffin III.
|5. Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Trent Richardson | RB | Alabama [ Jr. ] | APY: $4.6M
From a positional value perspective, selecting a RB in the top five picks might not be prudent, but there are exceptions to every rule, and elite talent qualifies as one of those exceptions. Richardson is a franchise-type runner and quickly could prove to be one of the top five backs in football, putting him in company that averages $8.2 million, this year's franchise tag for running backs, and justifying selecting Richardson over higher premium positions for a team without a bellcow seeking to build its identity on a physical, ball-control offense.
|6. St. Louis Rams (from Washington)
Matt Kalil | OLT | USC [ Jr. ] | APY: $4.0M
The Rams are sorely in need of more playmaking talent, yet playmakers might not help Sam Bradford much if the heavy-footed pocket passer cannot stay healthy, a tall task given the two injury-prone offensive tackles, Rodger Saffold and Jason Smith, still guarding the edges. USC alum Jeff Fisher could welcome a safer pick at a higher-paid position than two receivers with character questions. A starting tackle commands an average salary of $4.5 million, with elite left tackles commanding more than $10 million, making Kalil's contract very club-friendly if he lives up to the hype of a can't-miss left tackle.
|7. Jacksonville Jaguars
Justin Blackmon | WR | Oklahoma State [ Jr. ] | APY: $3.6M
If Ryan Tannehill is selected before the Jaguars pick, GM Gene Smith could get his wish and welcome an accomplished receiver and trusted target to support the development of Blaine Gabbert. Smith also could have additional leverage to trade back and acquire more picks to fill a roster in need of a lot of help in multiple areas.
|8. Miami Dolphins
Brandon Weeden | QB | Oklahoma State | APY: $3.1M
When the Jets traded up to secure the services of Mark Sanchez, it surprised many around the league, who did not grade Sanchez as a top-five pick. When Jake Locker was selected in this same slot a year ago, similar questions arose, as they did when Christian Ponder was the fourth quarterback selected in the top 12 in 2011. From a talent perspective, it might seem wildly rich to draft Weeden in the top 10, but given that the 28-year-old will be signing a very modest contract by QB standards at the No. 8 slot, it's not at all unrealistic, especially if the Dolphins want to fill a glaring need and avoid their second-round QB jinx. Matt Moore came on late last season but is not built to make it through a 16-game season, and a strong reinforcement will be needed.
|9. Carolina Panthers
Fletcher Cox | DT | Mississippi State [ Jr. ] | APY: $3.1M
Defensive linemen who can create inside pressure and disrupt the pocket are even more valuable than edge rushers, both in the eyes of quarterbacks who do not like to be flushed and in the eyes of NFL executives who paid the average defensive tackle slightly better. The ability of Cox to factor in either spot only enhances his value and gives Ron Rivera the building block of his defense.
|10. Buffalo Bills
Luke Kuechly | ILB | Boston College [ Jr. ] | APY: $3.0M
Dave Wannstedt's defenses in Dallas, Chicago and Miami featured some notable linebackers, including Ken Norton (Cowboys) and Zach Thomas (Dolphins). MLB Kelvin Sheppard was better suited for the Bills' odd front than the speed-based, upfield attack Wannstedt plans to deploy and the middle of the defense still could use a centerpiece. Elite inside 'backers such as Patrick Willis, Brian Urlacher and Jerod Mayo command in the neighborhood of $10 million annually, making a surefire pick such as Kuechly as attractive as a top cornerback or offensive tackle and arguably more valuable as the unit's signalcaller.
|11. Kansas City Chiefs
Michael Brockers | DE-DT | LSU [ Soph.-3 ] | APY: $2.8M
What better place for Brockers to learn the ropes than under the tutelage of two former Tigers, Glenn Dorsey and Tyson Jackson. Brockers possesses the strength to line up anywhere along an odd front and can bring valuable insurance to Romeo Crennel's defense with future decisions to be made on both Dorsey and Jackson. Some GMs take the approach that they will not get burned by the same school twice, as Ron Wolf was known to do, and Jackson has not lived up to his lofty draft status. However, the DLE position remains critical to the success of a stout 3-4 front, and LSU has proven its linemen can make the transition.
|12. Seattle Seahawks
Stephon Gilmore | CB | South Carolina [ Jr. ] | APY: $2.5M
Pete Carroll's defense thrives on the size and physicality of its cornerbacks. Gilmore has the size desired to hem the line at a premium position of need, a prime reason why cornerbacks such as Gilmore and Alabama's Dre Kirkpatrick could be drafted in the top 15.
|13. Arizona Cardinals
Cordy Glenn | OT-OG | Georgia | APY: $2.5M
Glenn's ability to play guard or tackle could serve the Cardinals well, with needs at both positions. Levi Brown returned, but Glenn could kick him to the right side or kick inside and push Adam Snyder outside. The premium on the tackle position likely will force a team that drafts Glenn early to try him at tackle first and let him fail before moving him inside.
|14. Dallas Cowboys
Mark Barron | SS | Alabama | APY: $2.4M
Brodney Pool signed to shore up the secondary, but he has struggled to stay healthy and maintain a starting job throughout his career. Barron gives the Cowboys a hammering, Darren Woodson-like box presence, and could bring great value in this slot, with top safeties commanding more than $5 million annually, more than twice what this slot pays on average.
|15. Philadelphia Eagles
Dontari Poe | DT | Memphis [ Jr. ] | APY: $2.3M
The Eagles' defensive line thrives on its quickness. Neither Mike Patterson or Cullen Jenkins have been models of durability, with Patterson coming off January brain surgery and his future up in the air. Poe possesses freakish movement skill for a man his size and could benefit from the tutelage of DL coach Jim Washburn. President Joe Banner remains at the forefront of sage positional spending and is likely to land a premium position player such as a quarterback or defensive tackle with his team's top pick.
|16. New York Jets
Melvin Ingram | OLB | South Carolina | APY: $2.2M
Few players in this draft are big and athletic enough to play any position in the front seven. Ingram is one of the few who is warranting interest at all four spots by different teams. In New York, he would fit best as a 3-4 rush outside linebacker but could be used as a creative mismatch piece by Rex Ryan. Outside linebackers with rush ability such as DeMarcus Ware and Terrell Suggs get rewarded like defensive ends and easily can command contracts four to five times greater on an annual basis than Ingram would see as a rookie in this slot, which could prove to be a terrific value.
|17. Cincinnati Bengals (from Oakland)
Michael Floyd | WR | Notre Dame | APY: $2.1M
Strong postseason performances have pushed Floyd up draft boards, yet concerns have been raised about how much his speed is manufactured, not to mention off-field character concerns that could make the Bengals a very safe landing spot should he happen to slide. Floyd would be a strong complement to A.J. Green. No. 2 receivers on average earned $2.3 million in 2011, nearly three times less than a No. 1 receiver, and slightly more than the 17th slot pays.
|18. San Diego Chargers
David DeCastro | OG | Stanford [ Jr. ] | APY: $2.1M
Few offensive linemen possess the grit, toughness and mean streak that the retired Kris Dielman regularly displayed before abruptly retiring. DeCastro is one of the few who could match, not only Dielman's intensity, but his level of performance. GM A.J. Smith would only need a second on the clock to pick DeCastro if he slides. With Carl Nicks and Ben Grubbs signing mega-deals in free agency, the average guard salary should continue to climb from its $3 million average starter pay as the position increases in importance in fortifying the pocket.
|19. Chicago Bears
Riley Reiff | OT-OG | Iowa [ Jr. ] | APY: $2.0M
After championing Gabe Carimi last year, the Bears' Mike Tice could see his influence grow in the draft room after assuming coordinator responsibilities. For the second year in a row, he could land a Big Ten left tackle. Reiff might prove to have a higher ceiling as a guard than tackle, where he lacks ideal length, yet he is efficient enough to handle the left side, where J'Marcus Webb struggled last season. Versatility is a plus after injuries weakened the unit a year ago.
|20. Tennessee Titans
Dre Kirkpatrick | CB | Alabama [ Jr. ] | APY: $2.1M
Kirkpatrick could stand to benefit from the premium on the cornerback position and easily could be drafted sooner for teams that have strong support structures comfortable with their ability to manage him. The Titans have taken chances on players with high-risk character in the past because of their strong support structure, and Mike Munchak knows how to hold his players accountable. Kirkpatrick fills a pressing area of need with Cortland Finnegan moving on via free agency to reunite with Jeff Fisher.
|21. Cincinnati Bengals
Quinton Coples | DT-DE | North Carolina | APY: $2.0M
The Bengals signed Terence Newman, adding some depth to the secondary, and have benefited in the past from free-falling defensive talent. Coples was more disruptive from the inside as a junior than he was loafing as a senior, when he turned off evaluators with his lack of effort and desire. His ability to contribute at multiple positions along the line is a plus, and he could prove most valuable from the inside, where his gap quickness could trouble guards.
|22. Cleveland Browns (from Atlanta)
Mike Adams | ORT | Ohio State | APY: $2.0M
Joe Thomas is one of the best pass protectors in the league, but ORT Tony Pashos was let go and Oniel Cousins has struggled to adapt to the pro game and is very susceptible against the blitz. That leaves the right side vulnerable for Colt McCoy or a young passer such as Ryan Tannehill or Brandon Weeden. Mike Adams handled J.J. Watt well as a junior and has the size and length to match up with the stout fronts prevalent in the AFC North. An average starting tackle earns $4.5 million annually, but the team's second-best tackle typically commands $2.2 million on average, more than what the Browns would be spending annually on the 22nd pick they received from Atlanta.
|23. Detroit Lions
Kevin Zeitler | OG | Wisconsin | APY: $2.0M
Jim Schwartz prides the Lions on playing smash-mouth, power football with a line of heavy maulers capable of creating creases. Zeitler is one of the strongest guards in this year's draft and is capable of starting readily. Strong guard play has become more valuable than front-side edge protection, and for the Lions' stagnant ground game to take off, more help is needed inside, where Stephen Peterman barely gets by on grit.
|24. Pittsburgh Steelers
Amini Silatolu | OG | Midwestern State (Texas) | APY: $1.9M
Maurkice Pouncey has carried the offensive line with little talent around him and is more than capable of setting protections and keeping his linemates on the same page. Silatolu plays with the violence that Mike Tomlin desires in his offensive line, and the mental limitations of the small-school prospect could be camouflaged by the presence of a savvy veteran like Pouncey.
|25. Denver Broncos
Devon Still | DT | Penn State | APY: $1.9M
Still has shown the ability to change games when he wants to and easily could warrant late first-round interest based on his flashes, especially for a team long in need of interior D-line help such as the Broncos. The inability to play with good pad level and consistency very well could push him out of the first round, but at this slot, he will be paid like some situational nickel rushers, not a bad haul for a team in need of more inside sack production.
|26. Houston Texans
Dont'a Hightower | ILB | Alabama [ Jr. ] | APY: $1.9M
Hightower played heavier than necessary at Alabama and has fallen into the category of a two-down thumper for some teams, an undesirable distinction given the increased emphasis on the passing game. Nonetheless, he possesses the size desired in the middle of an odd front and would be a big upgrade over the undersized Darryl Sharpton after the Texans dealt DeMeco Ryans to the Eagles. There's a good chance a team will be looking to break his fall with a trade up if he happens to make it into the 20s.
|27. New England Patriots (from New Orleans)
Chandler Jones | DE | Syracuse [ Jr. ] | APY: $1.9M
Jones lacks the elite burst of a game-changing pass rusher, but he is uniquely scheme-diverse and possesses the raw upside that a skilled technical coaching staff such as the Patriots can mold. Since the Patriots dealt Richard Seymour, they have lacked a game-changing inside rusher and Jones has the talent to contribute in a similar way and allow the Pats' front to become more multiple.
|28. Green Bay Packers
Courtney Upshaw | OLB | Alabama | APY: $1.9M
Concerns about Upshaw's work ethic, intelligence and character could negatively affect his draft standing and allow the rich drafting at the back of the round, once again, to get richer. Upshaw has the power and girth the Packers desire in their edge setters, and could be enticed by the risk-reward ratio of the 28th slot. With elite rush 'backers commanding upward of $10 million, Upshaw could be worth the risk in a draft slot averaging a fifth of the cost on the rookie deal.
|29. Baltimore Ravens
Peter Konz | C | Wisconsin [ Jr. ] | APY: $1.8M
Matt Birk turns 36 years old in July and has contemplated retirement after 15 years in the league, which has taken a major toll on his body. Last season, the Ravens adopted a zone-blocking scheme very similar to the protection scheme employed at Wisconsin, and Konz could be groomed to take over the post. The average center earns $3.8 million annually, more than twice what Konz's rookie deal will command the first four years, and he stands a very good chance to be much better than average if he can stay healthy and develop physically.
|30. San Francisco 49ers
Rueben Randle | WR | LSU [ Jr. ] | APY: $1.7M
The 49ers have upgraded their weaponry for Alex Smith, adding Randy Moss and Mario Manningham to a crew that already featured Michael Crabtree, Kyle Williams and Ted Ginn, who recently re-signed. All 11 starters are returning on defense, and they can afford to draft the best available player. A young vertical threat with starter potential could be groomed to replace Moss and leave opposing secondaries gasping at a very minimal cost.
|31. New England Patriots
Josh Robinson | CB | UCF [ Jr. ] | APY: $1.7M
Robinson did not always play up to his potential, but he showed at the NFL Scouting Combine that he is one of the most explosive athletes in the draft and has physical tools to be molded. He can quickly carve out a role in a secondary that's short on speed at a price tag more in line with No. 3 corners.
|32. New York Giants
Whitney Mercilus | DE | Illinois [ Jr. ] | APY: $1.7M
Having one of the most talented defensive lines in football has not stopped the Giants from continually reloading it. Mercilus has the length and edge speed to provide a spark in a situational role and develop into a starter and could give the Giants the extra ammunition to part ways with the disgruntled Osi Umenyiora.