Not long after 8PM ET tonight, Andrew Luck will be named the No. 1 overall pick as so many folks expected. Robert Griffin III, who defeated Luck for 2011 first-team All-America honors as well as the Heisman Trophy, will be selected next by Washington. And then, things will get interesting.
The NFL draft is one of the most unpredictable events in pro sports. Longtime Dallas Morning News reporter and columnist Rick Gosselin annually produces the nation's most accurate mock drafts. He got 12-of-32 picks correct last year, beating everyone. That's a 37.5 percent success rate. Gosselin isn't doing a mock this year, but his low-yet-still-untouchable scores are a testament to the unpredictability of the NFL draft. It's also what makes draft season so much fun. We seemingly learn more about prospects every day, and how teams view them.
Here's my final attempt at a 2012 mock draft. I'll feel good if I nail six or seven of these picks. Rip where necessary.
1. Indianapolis Colts -- Stanford QB Andrew Luck
The debate about whether Luck or Griffin would be the No. 1 pick was manufactured. (Admittedly, I contributed.) As former club president Bill Polian has explained on ESPN, Colts owner Jim Irsay essentially made his mind up on Luck early in the 2011 college season, perhaps even before. I'd venture to guess that Irsay never watched a full game of RG3's. It doesn't matter, though. Luck is every bit a franchise quarterback, and his addition adds immediate credibility to Indy's offense.
2. Washington Redskins -- Baylor QB Robert Griffin III
NFL Films' Greg Cosell watches more tape than anyone on the planet, and his endorsement of RG3 as the draft's top quarterback prospect should instill confidence in Redskins fans. Cosell released a mock draft a few days ago, basing it strictly on film study and what Cosell believes teams should do in the draft. He had Indianapolis taking RG3. "Griffin is a superior arm talent and better natural passer than Luck," Cosell wrote. "That's my story, and I'm sticking to it."
3. Minnesota Vikings -- LSU CB Morris Claiborne
ESPN's Adam Schefter didn't quite "report" it on Wednesday, but he strongly hinted that USC LT Matt Kalil has moved to the back of the line in Minnesota's draft-day decision making. "The feeling around the league is that the Vikings will look at Morris Claiborne or Justin Blackmon (if they can't trade out)," Schefter said. I think the Vikings are underrating the offensive line in a division of Clay Matthews, Julius Peppers, and a Lions defense that has finished sixth and tenth in the league in sacks over the past two seasons. Minnesota's quarterback, Christian Ponder, has also been injury prone dating back deep into his college career. But the Vikes seem to want the cornerback more.
4. Cleveland Browns -- Alabama RB Trent Richardson
The Browns were late to the RG3 dance, and never deemed Texas A&M's Ryan Tannehill worthy of the No. 4 pick in the draft. Colt McCoy isn't the long-term answer at quarterback, but Cleveland can at least give itself a fighting chance by selecting a playmaking, first-down creator in the draft's top running back. The Browns are going to give Richardson the football over 300 times this year.
5. Tampa Bay Bucs -- South Carolina CB Stephon Gilmore
The Vikings' Claiborne leanings threw a bit of a wrench into the Bucs' plans, though new coach Greg Schiano's club can counter with a cornerback many folks around the NFL feel projects just as well -- if not better -- into the pros. Gilmore is 6-foot-1, 190 pounds with fluid hip turn and a 4.40 forty time. Alabama safety Mark Barron is a deep sleeper to go here, as the Buccaneers seek a means to slow Jimmy Graham, Tony Gonzalez, and Greg Olsen in the tight end-rich NFC South.
6. St. Louis Rams -- USC LT Matt Kalil
Look for the Rams to take Blackmon if Kalil works his way into the top five, either via a trade up from Buffalo or best-player-available strategy by Tampa Bay. If Kalil and Blackmon are both on the board at No. 6, St. Louis must select the higher-graded player. O-Line is just as much a need for the Rams as receiver. While they will have a shot at Baylor's Kendall Wright, LSU's Rueben Randle, or Georgia Tech's Stephen Hill at the top of round two, there won't be anyone like Kalil there.
7. Jacksonville Jaguars -- Oklahoma State WR Justin Blackmon
Blackmon isn't as strong a prospect as much of the media claims, and I'm skeptical that he'd be GM Gene Smith's top-rated player at No. 7. But Smith isn't exactly long on job security, and his fate rests on the timid shoulders of Blaine Gabbert. The Jags believe that improving Gabbert's supporting cast can turn him around, so they can't afford to go passing if the alleged-best receiver in the draft falls into their lap. If Gabbert can't produce when surrounded by Maurice Jones-Drew, Marcedes Lewis, Laurent Robinson, and Blackmon, we'll know it's probably never happening.
8. Miami Dolphins -- Texas A&M QB Ryan Tannehill
Profootballtalk's Mike Florio, SI's Peter King, and ESPN's Adam Schefter have all reported that Dolphins owner Stephen Ross wants the team to draft Tannehill. While few owners of pro sports franchises have poorer track records of getting their guy than Ross, he should execute in this instance. NFL Network's Mike Lombardi astutely noted that the Tannehill pick could buy much-maligned GM Jeff Ireland some time, too. "Ireland can make a case to his owner that, hey, if I take Ryan Tannehill, I can get a contract extension," Lombardi opined Wednesday. Makes sense.
9. Carolina Panthers -- Mississippi State DT Fletcher Cox
Cox earned first-team All-SEC accolades as a 20-year-old second-year starter. I don't pretend that all-conference honors are a predictor of NFL success, but this is a dynamic pass rusher with dominant tools and upside. In a recent interview with Sirius XM Radio's Adam Caplan, one NFL general manager called Cox the best defensive player in the draft. He is athletic enough to fill Carolina's left defensive end void on early downs, and kick inside to tackle in the nickel package.
10. Buffalo Bills -- Alabama S Mark Barron
Buffalo has solid starting safeties in Jairus Byrd and George Wilson, but they're going to have to play three-safety sets in order to combat Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez, and knock off the Pats. Gronk posted lines of 7-109-2 and 8-108-2 in New England's two matchups with Buffalo last season. Hernandez missed the first with a knee injury, but had 7-138-1 in the second. The Bills must arm themselves with the necessary defense mechanisms to take the AFC East division.