Posted: Wednesday April 4, 2012 11:17AM ; Updated: Wednesday April 4, 2012 11:50AM
Don Banks
Don Banks>INSIDE THE NFL
2012 NFL Mock Draft 4.0
The first round of the NFL Draft is always a jigsaw puzzle that takes four months to assemble. The grades are one component that has to fall into place, but so do roster needs and the assessment of how each player fits into a particular team's scheme. With 22 days to go before the picking starts, most of the legwork has been done and the big picture is starting to come together for many clubs.

Our biggest headline this time around is Alabama running back Trent Richardson's rise back into the top five, where he seems destined to stay. There's also still no deal for No. 3 quarterback Ryan Tannehill, who I've left paired with No. 8 Miami. Some new names appear in the bottom third of our first round, and some familiar ones (Kendall Wright, Janoris Jenkins) have disappeared. Here's our fourth attempt to mock out what will transpire April 26 in midtown Manhattan. (Send comments to siwriters@simail.com)

 
1 QB Andrew Luck Stanford Jr. 6-4 235
The Colts may continue to try to convince us that Robert Griffin III remains in play for the top pick, but in choosing Luck, the echoes of taking Peyton Manning first overall in 1998 are unmistakable for owner Jim Irsay. And Irsay is very much running this show.
2 QB Robert Griffin III Baylor Jr. 6-2 220
(Trade with St. Louis). I was watching Jon Gruden's QB Camp show on ESPN the other day, and saw where the Scowler asked RG3 what the story was with his colorful socks. Really? Talk about old news. Is there anyone in America at this point who doesn't know about Griffin's sock collection?
3 OT Matt Kalil USC Jr. 6-7 295
I'm sure the Vikings would love it if the Dolphins took the bait and traded up past No. 4 Cleveland to ensure they get Texas A&M quarterback Ryan Tannehill, but I think it's still wish list stuff, rather than a likely scenario. If the Vikings sit tight, Kalil still makes the most sense. If you're going to develop young quarterback Christian Ponder, it would help to protect him.
4 RB Trent Richardson Alabama Jr. 5-11 224
Like others, I've come around to the conclusion the Browns don't view Tannehill as a clear-cut upgrade over incumbent quarterback Colt McCoy. That leaves Cleveland choosing between a pair of offensive weapons in Richardson and Oklahoma State receiver Justin Blackmon. On the premise that a quality receiver can be had by the Browns at No. 22, taking the only elite running back in the draft is the logical path for the team that lost Peyton Hillis in free agency.
5 CB Morris Claiborne LSU Jr. 6-0 185
Almost every draft season, like clockwork, we get a Wonderlic test score news leak. This year, the recent headline was that Claiborne scored a woefully low four (out of 50) on the NFL's favorite aptitude test. Proving what? Maybe that he's not a great test-taker? The film still seems to indicate Claiborne is a heck of a football player and the best defensive back in the 2012 draft. That's going to carry the day with someone in the top six, and the Bucs are the most cornerback-needy team in that neighborhood.
6 WR Justin Blackmon Oklahoma State Jr. 6-1 215
New Rams head coach Jeff Fisher last week broached the idea of trading down again if the opportunity presents itself. But not in this scenario. Not if Blackmon is sitting there for the taking. Getting Sam Bradford a No. 1 receiver to grow with would put the cherry on top of last month's blockbuster trade with Washington.
7 DE Melvin Ingram South Carolina Sr. 6-2 276
The Jaguars on the clock might entertain trade offers from teams trying to get Tannehill ahead of No. 8 Miami, and Notre Dame receiver Michael Floyd seems to be a trendy pick for the Jags as well. But Ingram helps Jacksonville's anemic pass rush, and receiving depth is far more plentiful this year than impact edge rushers.
8 QB Ryan Tannehill Texas A&M Sr. 6-4 222
The Dolphins finally get their future starting quarterback, and it'll be offensive coordinator Mike Sherman's job to determine when it's time to transition from the Matt Moore/David Garrard tandem to the athletic and accurate former Aggie.
9 DT Dontari Poe Memphis Sr. 6-5 350
There are other good options still open to Carolina, like North Carolina defensive end Quinton Coples or Boston College linebacker Luke Kuechly, but Poe is the kind of athletic freak who can improve an entire defense with his disruptive playmaking.
10 OT Riley Reiff Iowa Jr. 6-6 300
The Bills are another team thought to have Floyd on their radar, but the value of getting a potential blindside tackle for quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick keeps me returning to Reiff as the safer and more sensible pick.
11 LB Luke Kuechly Boston College Jr. 6-3 237
If Poe somehow lingers past No. 9 Carolina, the Chiefs will gladly jump on him. But in our scenario, Poe is gone and Kansas City will snap up Keuchly, upgrading their linebacking corps and adding the kind of smart, instinctive and versatile defender Scott Pioli looks for.
12 DE Quinton Coples North Carolina Sr. 6-6 285
Seattle needs to generate more heat on opposing quarterbacks, and Coples has natural ability in the pass rush department. His effort level has been inconsistent, and he could drop into the teens because of it. But his upside makes him a decent gamble at No. 12 for the Seahawks.
13 OT Cordy Glenn Georgia Sr. 6-6 346
With Trent Richardson going to the No. 4 Browns in this mock, I'm off the proposed Bengals-Cardinals trade at No. 13 and No. 17 that I laid out in the 3.0 version. This is a little higher than many have Glenn going, but he has outstanding size and athleticism and would provide a needed upgrade at right offensive tackle in Arizona.
14 DE/LB Courtney Upshaw Alabama Sr. 6-2 265
The Cowboys have to like their position, because they're going to be in line to fill a need no matter which direction they go. Safety Mark Barron or guard David DeCastro would be solid picks, but in Upshaw they get another edge pass-rush talent to plug into their 3-4 defense.
15 DT Fletcher Cox Mississippi State Jr. 6-4 295
The Eagles are another team that could take Barron, but I'm sticking with Cox because of how much value there is in having a deep defensive line rotation in the NFC East (see Giants, New York). I've moved Cox ahead of LSU?s Michael Brockers on the consensus opinion that he's more NFL-ready in 2012.
16 S Mark Barron Alabama Sr. 6-2 218
Versatile safeties are integral to quality defenses these days, and the Jets won't be able to pass on Barron, the highest-ranked player at his position. Notre Dame receiver Michael Floyd is another possibility, but New York knows it can't assume the newly acquired and oft-injured LaRon Landry will be ready to play 16 games this season.
17 OG David DeCastro Stanford Sr. 6-5 310
(From Oakland). One of the easiest picks to make in my mock, because the guard-needy Bengals would be in line to grab the draft's top-rated player at that position. Cincy also will be looking at cornerbacks, but it can land a quality cover man with its No. 21 pick.
18 DE/OLB Whitney Mercilus Illinois Jr. 6-4 254
Stanford offensive tackle Jonathan Martin is probably the safer choice, but Mercilus had that monster season leading the nation in sacks in 2011, and San Diego needs more pass rush. The downside may be that Mercilus is too similar to the Chargers' disappointing 2009 first-rounder, outside linebacker Larry English. Like Mercilus, English was a bit of a tweener who played defensive end in college, in the state of Illinois. Is that enough to spook general manager A.J. Smith? We shall see.
19 OT Jonathan Martin Stanford Sr. 6-6 304
I don't think the Bears should get tricky here. J'Marcus Webb is not the answer at left tackle, and Martin has a solid first-round grade. It's a match made in heaven. Jay Cutler got his No. 1 receiver in Brandon Marshall, now he needs to get better protection. Martin and last year's first-round pick, offensive tackle Gabe Carimi, would be bookends for the future.
20 CB Stephon Gilmore South Carolina Jr. 6-1 193
Another case of the board providing exactly what the Titans need. With cornerback Cortland Finnegan now in St. Louis, the Titans will have their choice between Gilmore, Alabama's Dre Kirkpatrick and North Alabama's Janoris Jenkins. Gilmore has good size and cover skills, and he's passed up Kirkpatrick in the eyes of many teams.
21 CB Dre Kirkpatrick Alabama Jr. 6-3 192
The Bengals should be able to sit and pick whichever cornerback Tennessee doesn't take, and in this scenario that's Kirkpatrick. It would mark another quality, top-heavy draft haul in Cincinnati, and when's the last time the Bengals were back-to-back winners in that department?
22 WR Michael Floyd Notre Dame Sr. 6-3 224
(From Atlanta). If the Browns could come away with Richardson and Floyd in the first round, adding two impact playmakers on offense, maybe Colt McCoy really would start to look like the long-term answer at quarterback.
23 CB Josh Robinson Central Florida Jr. 5-10 192
I'm switching up and moving Robinson ahead of Janoris Jenkins and into the first round, filling Detroit's need at cornerback after losing Eric Wright in free agency. Robinson is a player on the rise, and his 4.3 speed makes him more attractive than the baggage that Jenkins comes with.
24 OT Mike Adams Ohio State Sr. 6-8 320
The Steelers' offensive line issues point toward making Adams a need pick, but Alabama inside linebacker Dont'a Hightower is the other name that keeps being linked to Pittsburgh. In Adams, the Steelers would be getting prototypical tackle size, with only some inconsistent play dropping his grade.
25 DT Michael Brockers LSU Soph. 6-6 306
Brockers has slipped some as the draft scouting process has unfolded, but he'd be a great value for a Denver team that needs some heft and athleticism in the middle of its defensive line. I gave the Broncos Stanford tight end Coby Fleener in my 3.0 mock, but then Denver went out and signed veteran tight ends Jacob Tamme and Joel Dreessen.
26 WR Stephen Hill Georgia Tech Jr. 6-4 215
With Baylor's Kendall Wright still available, it might be a bit unpopular in Texas for Houston to bypass the ex-Bear in favor of Hill. But the Texans need a receiver who can take the top off a defense, and that's Hill's game. He had limited production in Georgia Tech's offense, but Hill averaged more than 29 yards per catch last season. That will work.
27 DE Chandler Jones Syracuse Sr. 6-5 265
(From New Orleans). Jones makes his initial appearance of the year in our first round, but he looks to be the kind of versatile talent who can play multiple spots on the Patriots defensive line. His best spot is probably as a five-technique defensive end in a 3-4 front, the formation that's expected to return to prominence in Foxboro this season.
28 DE/OLB Andre Branch Clemson Jr. 6-5 260
Jeff Saturday's signing makes me less inclined to see Green Bay taking Wisconsin's Peter Konz as their future starter at center. That means finding more pass rush opposite Clay Matthews stays at the top of the to-do list. Branch has some rush skills and projects to outside linebacker in the 3-4 scheme.
29 LB Dont'a Hightower Alabama Sr. 6-4 269
If the Ravens don't get lucky and land Barron as the heir apparent to Ed Reed, they'd still be delighted to find Ray Lewis' heir apparent in Hightower waiting for them. If neither of those possibilities unfold, the best available guard, or Wisconsin center Peter Konz are options.
30 TE Coby Fleener Stanford Sr. 6-6 244
Just playing a bit of a hunch here, but why not give Jim Harbaugh his old Cardinal tight end? With Vernon Davis and Fleener, San Francisco could be fully engaged in the NFL's two-tight end craze, and Alex Smith's receiving weapons will have gotten a major upgrade this offseason.
31 DT Kendall Reyes Connecticut Sr. 6-4 295
It'd be just like the Patriots to deal out of this slot and turn it into future draft capital, but Reyes would be another versatile prospect who can handle more than one role in New England's defensive front.
32 OT Bobby Massie Ole Miss Jr. 6-6 316
Given Ahmad Bradshaw's health situation, the Giants might have to go for a running back like Miami's Lamar Miller or Boise State's Doug Martin at No. 32. But right tackle is still an obvious need, and Massie is a former Rebel with NFL caliber size (6-6, 316) and reach.
 

 
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