As we creep closer and closer to the 2012 NFL Draft you begin to see teams put serious thought into whether or not they can get the player that they want at the position they currently find themselves in. The top five is fascinating in that regard because, outside of the Indianapolis Colts and their No. 1 pick, almost nothing is set in stone.
The St. Louis Rams appear prime candidates for a trade with someone – but with whom? The Rams would gladly take Oklahoma State wide receiver Justin Blackmon with the No. 2 pick, however, they could also undoubtedly trade down and still get him at a lower slot.
Ideally, in a panic move for Baylor’s Robert Griffin III, the Cleveland Browns would dangle something appetizing in front of St. Louis and then the latter team could get the best of both worlds. Then again, knowing that none of the three teams above them want Griffin’s services may embolden Cleveland to stay put and simply pray that somebody (read: Washington or Miami) doesn’t move up to steal their Heisman winner.
Heading into the home stretch of pre-draft fever, you’re going have paranoia on paranoia on paranoia when it comes these potential transactions. Bluffs and misinformation will flow heavy for days, and after a while you won’t even care what the truth is. The reality of it all is, though – the teams that ultimately figure out how to play the game best will reap the benefits come draft night. And as the Detroit Lions, Houston Texans and a number of other teams can attest to, just one good pick can change everything for a given franchise.
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Here is the top five as we see it shaking out:
1. Indianapolis Colts – Andrew Luck, QB, Stanford. This pick is self-explanatory. We had Luck going to the Colts last time, and nothing has changed between then and now to put this selection in doubt. With new upper management and a clear-cut team re-organization in progress, Peyton Manning’s days are likely numbered. The franchise obviously wants to rebuild and the most NFL-ready passer to hit the scene in at least five years will not slip through the cracks regardless of how the Peyton-loving media feels about it.
2. St. Louis Rams – Justin Blackmon, WR, Oklahoma State. A lot of buzz has developed over the last week about the Rams perhaps taking Matt Kalil with this pick if they can’t trade down. This is mostly because -- while nobody really wants to admit it -- Blackmon doesn’t feel like he’s worth a No. 2 overall pick. Taking an offensive line stud early in the draft is typically easier to justify than taking a talented wide receiver.
Ideally the Rams would be able to trade down a few spots here and net Blackmon and something else, but unless the Browns are ready to give up more than they need to for Griffin, I don’t see that happening. The fact of the matter is that Sam Bradford is a really good quarterback who just needs time grow and talented option to throw to. It may not feel right, but Blackmon helping out with the latter necessity justifies the high pick more than just about anything else could.
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And frankly, the Rams don’t need Kalil this high either. If they want to shore up the offensive line, they should trade this pick down to the bottom of the top 10 and aim to pick up someone else there.
3. Minnesota Vikings – Matt Kalil, OT, USC. By virtue of his size and athleticism Kalil will be a difference-maker in the NFL starting day one. Christian Ponder (at this point) appears to be Minnesota’s quarterback for the foreseeable future, and it’s hard to envision a better pick-up to ensure his success than a left tackle who didn’t give up a single sack last year. Kalil fills a glaring need and, most importantly, is good enough for the Vikings to not even consider trading this pick away to a team hoping to sneak past Cleveland and reel in Griffin.
4. Cleveland Browns, Robert Griffin III, QB, Baylor. With Andrew Luck being the consensus No. 1 pick, Griffin gets to have the honor of watching a bunch of teams fight for his services. There are any number of scenarios where a given squad will move up the No. 2 pick and select him there, but I’m just not sure who that team would be at this point in time. There are some questions about whether the powers that be in Cleveland are officially ready to throw in the towel on Colt McCoy, but I don’t see them passing up Griffin if he falls to No. 4. If they’re really looking to give McCoy another shot, it might make sense for them to pick up someone else if another team tries to trade up to No. 2 for Griffin. But to not select the Heisman winner if he falls into their laps? I just don’t see it.
The Colts and Vikings will keep their picks at all costs, so the Rams will ultimately end up playing the biggest role in what the Browns end up doing. If Griffin goes at No. 2 to a team that swapped picks with St. Louis, Cleveland could (and if they did, it would be hilarious) theoretically get back at them by picking up Blackmon to pair up with McCoy.
5. Tampa Bay Buccaneers – Morris Claiborne, CB, LSU. There is some talk about the Bucs going with Trent Richardson here, but I just don’t see it. Even if you were to factor out the anti-running back sentiment that always pops up when it comes to early first round selections, it just doesn’t make sense for a team with an obvious need at corner to pass on the best one available. Again, Claiborne is big, strong, fast, can tackle, played in the toughest conference in college football and fits this team’s biggest need. No way Bucs management picks anyone else.