- Mel Kiper Jr., Football analyst
With the intentions of all juniors and draft-eligible sophomores now officially declared (noted by *), it's finally time for a first look at how the 2012 NFL draft could play out. There will be a number of shifts over the next three-plus months as teams get to take a close look at prospects, physical skills are matched against the tape, measurements on height and weight are confirmed and medicals come in. A few notes:
• My Big Board gives a glimpse at how I value players as prospects, but mock drafts also involve what teams and scouts are telling me regarding their assessments, and how needs align with value.
• The position next to a player is where I see him lining up for that team. A college defensive end could easily shift to outside linebacker, and so on.
• I can't reflect possible trades. For instance, I'll keep St. Louis at No. 2 even if speculation persists it could trade down.
Lastly, a few positions could move as coin flips determine draft spots for teams that had the same record during the season. Plenty will change, but it's time to get draft season kicked off. Read the basis for the pick, and love it or hate it, as always, let me know.
More Kiper NFL draft content:
* Andrew Luck, QB, Stanford
We don't know yet who will be coaching the Colts in 2012 and we don't know who will be starting at quarterback, but I have a pretty good hunch Luck will be on the roster. I've said it before: He's the best quarterback prospect I've evaluated since John Elway, which also makes him a player who should be ready to start in Week 1 if the Colts do part ways with Peyton Manning. As a college player, Luck thinks and reads the game at an advanced level, can make adjustments on the fly and call plays and audibles at a remarkably high level for his age. He throws well moving left or right, keeps his eyes down the field and gets through progressions and into checkdowns extremely well. Nobody expects an easy transition for a rookie signal-caller, but Luck has the tools to make the transition easier than most.
* Justin Blackmon, WR, Oklahoma St.
There's a clear value question here, because I think St. Louis could leverage this position to trade down for more picks for 2012 and into the future, and then still target Blackmon perhaps a few spots later. But if the Rams can't find a dance partner for a trade, Blackmon still represents precisely what this offense needs. Sam Bradford took a step back in 2011, but he got little help, and Blackmon is a big target, a great route runner and a workaholic who could transition and learn the pro game quickly. St. Louis also could try to shore up an offensive line that took a step back, but Blackmon right now represents the top wide receiver in the draft and fills a big need for the Rams. It should be noted there are a number of teams drafting behind St. Louis that need an elite wide receiver.
* Matt Kalil, OT, USC
The Vikings are another team with a young quarterback, and while they could use a target such as Blackmon in the offense, they also really need to shore up their protection. You see a lot of left tackles drafted and moved to the right side as they transition into the NFL -- Tyron Smith with Dallas last year is a recent case -- but Kalil has big-time talent and could start on the left side early. I don't think the comparisons to Jake Long are too far off. Athletic, with long arms, great feet and deceptive power given an athletic frame, Kalil also could land at No. 2.
* Robert Griffin III, QB, Baylor
If a team moves ahead of the Browns for Griffin, they also could be in play for Blackmon, or even the guy I have at No. 5, Trent Richardson. However, the questions on Colt McCoy's ceiling as a starting NFL quarterback are getting louder, and if the Browns don't go after a solution such as Matt Flynn, a quarterback certainly could be in play here. Griffin made big strides this past season, particularly with his deep accuracy. He is a big-time athlete at the quarterback position but has developed a very good pocket presence and the ability to read the game, and his big arm comes with a nice touch on intermediate throws. He is a leader and has intangibles that should really impress evaluators during the draft process.
* Trent Richardson, RB, Alabama
Don't simply dismiss the idea that Richardson could land here because of the presence of LaGarrette Blount. For one, we know that if you want a potent running game in the NFL, it can't be built simply around one running back. The reality of injuries is too much of a constant to overlook. Secondly, are the Bucs ready to commit to a longer deal with Blount after the 2012 season? Bottom line, the idea can't be dismissed from a team-building standpoint, and that's before you get to what kind of a player Richardson is. A physical freak, he is extraordinarily powerful, explodes from contact, has lower mileage than many third-year studs because he split carries as a freshman and sophomore with Mark Ingram and has developed as a pass-catcher. Richardson is a first-year impact player.
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