Robert Griffin III accomplished the near impossible when he unseated Andrew Luck for the Heisman Trophy, and he has only continued to dazzle his audience more in the NFL’s offseason, lighting up the Scouting Combine and pro-day circuit. However, to kick off the draft with a bang, the one man he still needs to “wow” is Jim Irsay, and the Colts’ owner made his decision last fall.
PFW forecasts that 19 juniors will be selected in the first round, with the need for quarterbacks greatly helping the cause of Texas A&M senior Ryan Tannehill. Although offensive skill talent figures to be highest in demand early, linemen remain the strength in this year’s draft, and 14 are projected to fit into the first round.
|1. Indianapolis Colts
Andrew Luck | QB | Stanford [ Jr. ]
The offense that Colts offensive coordinator Bruce Arians ran in Pittsburgh with Ben Roethlisberger emphasized the big-strike, vertical passing game and allowed the quarterback to create plays with his legs — talents best displayed in this year's draft by Baylor's Robert Griffin III. Nonetheless, Luck is more advanced at this stage of his development than even Peyton Manning was coming out of Tennessee, and he's a far superior athlete with no discernible downside. He showed he could uncork it 70 yards on his final throw at his pro day and has plenty of arm to carve up NFL defenses. Owner Jim Irsay let Manning walk, knowing that Luck was waiting in the wings to resurrect the franchise. The challenge for GM Ryan Grigson will be surrounding Luck with the skill talent that allowed Manning to thrive.
|2. Washington Redskins (from St. Louis)
Robert Griffin III | QB | Baylor [ Jr. ]
When the Redskins decided to ship three first-round picks to the Rams, it reeked of desperation to fill their pressing quarterback need. Mike Shanahan has one of the best track records in football developing quarterbacks and will be excited to begin refining Griffin's immense physical tools. Griffin will provide an immediate impact in a division featuring Michael Vick. With a legitimate starting-caliber quarterback on the roster, Shanahan finally can compete in a very demanding division.
|3. Minnesota Vikings
Matt Kalil | OT | USC [ Jr. ]
The Vikings surprised observers last year by making Christian Ponder the future of their franchise. However, he could struggle to stay healthy again in his sophomore season with Charlie Johnson left to protect his back, leaving Kalil to come off in the same slot as Joe Thomas back in 2007. It's too difficult to find premium pass protectors for GM Rick Spielman to pass on Kalil.
|4. Cleveland Browns
Morris Claiborne | CB | LSU [ Jr. ]
Browns czar Mike Holmgren and GM Tom Heckert showed how much they prized the CB position when they made Joe Haden the first pick of their tenure. They will not pass the opportunity to pair Claiborne with Haden and give Dick Jauron the ability to blanket the league's increasingly prolific passing games.
|5. Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Trent Richardson | RB | Alabama [ Jr. ]
A rare bell-cow back allows Greg Schiano to build a foundation for his offense and gives the Buccaneers the missing piece they have been seeking since Jon Gruden ran Cadillac Williams into the ground in his rookie year (2005).
|6. St. Louis Rams (from Washington)
Fletcher Cox | DT | Mississippi State [ Jr. ]
Sam Bradford needs more weapons, but they can be found more easily in the coming rounds than a legitimate interior defender. Jeff Fisher knows games are won and lost up front and immediately seeks to add a pressure piece to a D-line that's weak in the interior.
|7. Jacksonville Jaguars
Justin Blackmon | WR | Oklahoma State [ Jr. ]
For Blaine Gabbert to take big strides this season, he needs a much stronger supporting cast. The Jaguars' receiving corps ranks among the worst in the league, and Blackmon can provide an easy target to alleviate pressure in Mike Mularkey's new offense.
|8. Miami Dolphins
Ryan Tannehill | QB | Texas A&M
In the same slot that brought Jake Locker off the board sooner than anticipated in last year's draft, the Dolphins are forced to reach for a raw quarterback with first-round tools. That's because owner Stephen Ross and GM Jeff Ireland scared away Peyton Manning and head coach Joe Philbin could not recruit Matt Flynn, his No. 2 in Green Bay, to address the QB position.
|9. Carolina Panthers
Dontari Poe | DT | Memphis [ Jr. ]
A critical component in a Ron Rivera defense is inside pressure. The Panthers have been searching for a solution in the middle of their "D" for years. Although Poe is still raw and feeling his way, he possesses the rare physical skill set to be molded into an interior force.
|10. Buffalo Bills
Riley Reiff | OT | Iowa [ Jr. ]
Chan Gailey can scheme around average protection, but with the addition of Mario Williams and Mark Anderson, the defensive line has been vastly upgraded. That allows GM Buddy Nix to concentrate on fortifying the O-line for Ryan Fitzpatrick.
|11. Kansas City Chiefs
Dont'a Hightower | ILB | Alabama [ Jr. ]
GM Scott Pioli knows how valuable Jerod Mayo was in New England. Hightower has a similar type of leadership presence and is even more versatile, with the potential to plug the middle or set the edge in Romeo Crennel's defense. He would be an upgrade over Brandon Siler or Justin Houston and offers the Chiefs unique scheme versatility to keep the best 11 on the field.
|12. Seattle Seahawks
Luke Kuechly | ILB | Boston College [ Jr. ]
The demise of Jim Mora and Tim Ruskell in Seattle was partly because they invested so highly in the LB position. But a group that not long ago included the likes of Julian Peterson, Aaron Curry, Lofa Tatupu and Leroy Hill no longer features a standout performer and is sorely in need of a tackling machine. Enter Kuechly.
|13. Arizona Cardinals
Cordy Glenn | OG | Georgia
From a physical standpoint, Glenn fits the classic mold of a Russ Grimm offensive lineman, with excellent mass and core strength. His ability to play on the edges only enhances his value and could allow Ken Whisenhunt to shuffle the deck. Grimm should have little trouble maximizing Glenn's talent.
|14. Dallas Cowboys
Mark Barron | SS | Alabama
The Cowboys invested highly in Gerald Sensabaugh last season and signed Brodney Pool to provide a short-term fix, but neither can provide the overall type of impact on the defense that Barron can. Despite having double-hernia surgery following the season, he stands to benefit from an extremely weak safety class.
|15. Philadelphia Eagles
Quinton Coples | DE | North Carolina
The Eagles made a run at Julius Peppers several years ago but were unable to land him. Coples is not quite as gifted and brings more issues about his competitiveness, but DL coach Jim Washburn has made his name maximizing underachievers. Coples can be special inside or outside if he plays up to his potential.
|16. New York Jets
Courtney Upshaw | OLB | Alabama
Bryan Thomas and Calvin Pace are both in their 30s and came along slowly early in their careers, as did the developing Aaron Maybin. Rex Ryan's defense thrived in Baltimore with two of the game's best power-leverage rushers, Terrell Suggs and Jarret Johnson. Upshaw fits the same mold and, though rough around the edges, would be best in a Ryan-type environment.
|17. Cincinnati Bengals (from Oakland)
Michael Floyd | WR | Notre Dame
The Bengals completely revamped their offensive philosophy last season under Jay Gruden. The presence of A.J. Green allowed Andy Dalton to perform at a relatively high level for a rookie, but he still could use a strong, complementary No. 2 receiver in order for the offense to flourish. Floyd can be exactly that.
|18. San Diego Chargers
David DeCastro | OG | Stanford [ Jr. ]
Kris Dielman made his name in the NFL by playing with a nasty temperament that few could match, and his abrupt, concussion-related retirement leaves a glaring deficiency in the middle of the Chargers' line. That's an area of high importance given Philip Rivers' immobility. DeCastro is intense and fills the void now.
|19. Chicago Bears
Stephon Gilmore | CB | South Carolina [ Jr. ]
Former GM Jerry Angelo did not believe cornerback was a premium position and seldom invested highly there. When he did, it was for a big corner with rare length (Charles Tillman). Gilmore has the size and speed that Lovie Smith covets in his defense and could be overdrafted for his measurables.
|20. Tennessee Titans
Melvin Ingram | DE | South Carolina
The addition of Kamerion Wimbley will help the Titans' pass rush, but losing a versatile inside-out rusher like Jason Jones in free agency still hurts the defense. Ingram can fill that role.
|21. Cincinnati Bengals
Janoris Jenkins | CB | North Alabama
Leon Hall is coming off injury, and Nate Clements is 32 and on the downside of his career. Jenkins is one of the more gifted cover men in this year's draft and would blend well into Mike Brown's unique, very tolerant locker room.
|22. Cleveland Browns (from Atlanta)
Coby Fleener | TE | Stanford
Ben Watson's season was shortened after he suffered his third concussion in 2011, and the league is trending toward playmaking tight ends. After Fleener blazed a sub-4.5 40-time at his pro day, he figures to claim a first-round slot in a very weak class.
|23. Detroit Lions
Jonathan Martin | OT | Stanford [ Jr. ]
Matthew Stafford showed great resolve staying on the field last season, but it did not come without pain, and improving the blind-side protection remains an area of concern. Jim Schwartz could tab Martin to protect the investment in his quarterback.
|24. Pittsburgh Steelers
Amini Silatolu | OG | Midwestern State (Texas)
When healthy, Willie Colon has been solid, and Marcus Gilbert returns after a good showing as a rookie. Where the Steelers could use the most help is alongside C Maurkice Pouncey. Silatolu could be great, adding to a long line of small-school Steeler picks.
|25. Denver Broncos
Jerel Worthy | DT | Michigan State [ Jr. ]
Ty Warren is returning from injury and could be a welcome addition, but the Broncos' defensive interior remains an area in need of addressing to keep Von Miller from receiving extra attention. John Fox has a history of maximizing underachievers like Worthy.
|26. Houston Texans
Rueben Randle | WR | LSU [ Jr. ]
When the Texans triplets are healthy, the offense is one of the leagues most productive. The absence of Andre Johnson was felt most last season, and Matt Schaub would benefit greatly from the addition of another downfield threat like Randle.
|27. New England Patriots (from New Orleans)
Kendall Reyes | DT | Connecticut
The Patriots are more than capable of stuffing the run with Vince Wilfork and Kyle Love, but they could benefit from more interior penetration, and Reyes has the traits and makeup to appeal to a coaching staff that is one of the best in the league in developing talent.
|28. Green Bay Packers
Andre Branch | OLB | Clemson
Clay Matthews was very disruptive last season but received a lot of extra attention without a legitimate threat opposite him. Packers OLB coach Kevin Greene could help hone Branchs raw instincts.
|29. Baltimore Ravens
Chandler Jones | DE | Syracuse [ Jr. ]
With Jones brother Arthur in the fold, the Ravens have more insight into the youngest of three professional athlete brothers and can be comfortable pairing the two siblings.
|30. San Francisco 49ers
Kevin Zeitler | OG | Wisconsin
With Adam Snyder signing with the Cardinals, the Niners have an opening at right guard that the big, strong Zeitler could fill quickly and help Jim Harbaugh preserve his smashmouth attack.
|31. New England Patriots
Stephen Hill | WR | Georgia Tech [ Jr. ]
Offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels took a shot on Demaryius Thomas in Denver, and with Chad Ochocinco failing to grasp the offense, the team is still in need of a legitimate vertical threat.
|32. New York Giants
Dre Kirkpatrick | CB | Alabama [ Jr. ]
Maturity issues could affect Kirkpatrick's draft standing, but the Giants have proven they are one of the best in the league in managing undisciplined talent. Kirkpatrick can help readily.