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April 26, 2012 - Ray Eckenrode

Disclaimer #1: This is the longest blog in “15 Minutes” history.

Disclaimer #2: We’re not draft “experts” here at 15 Minutes blog. We’re fairly successful educated guessers. (We once predicted the Steelers first-round selection for three consecutive seasons.) The following mock NFL draft was constructed using information culled from the writings of talent evaluators, media in the cities involved, expert mocks and our own observations about trends and tendencies in the NFL. For the first time ever, this mock contains several guest picks. These are who we think each team WILL pick, not necessarily who they SHOULD pick. It is intended for entertainment purposes only. Please, no wagering.

#1 Indianapolis Colts select Andrew Luck, QB, Stanford
The skinny: After seeing Luck’s interview with Jon Gruden, not only would we select him first in the draft, but we’d also allow him to invest our retirement portfolio and perform delicate brain surgery on us. Dude has got a brain on him, to go along with everything else.

#2 Washington Redskins select Robert Griffin III , QB, Baylor
The skinny: In our experience, managed selfishness is one of the most important qualities of any elite achiever. That said, the deck seems to be stacked against Griffin succeeding in the NFL (bad team, meddlesome owner, tough division). We hope he beats those odds because a winner in DC makes for a better league.

#3 Minnesota Vikings select Matt Kalil,OT,USC
The skinny: There is some talk of the Vikes trading this pick to drop down and get defensive help at a more appropriate value spot along with more picks, but we’re guessing they won’t find a serious suitor.

#4 Cleveland Browns select Trent Richardson, RB, Alabama
The skinny: Many evaluators now say they think Richardson is the best player in the draft, but the value of a RB in the NFL has fallen so far (now below QB, pass rusher, LT and deep threat, with safety gaining in the rearview mirror) this even going fourth might be a reach.

#5 Tampa Bay Bucs select Morris Claiborne, CB, LSU
The skinny: The most complete corner to come out in years (watch this guy play run support), he might have scored a 4 on the Wonderlic, but we’re betting he’ll be All Pro at least that many times.

#6 St. Louis Rams select Justin Blackmon, WR, Oklahoma State
The skinny: Blackmon is a man! And he’s nowhere near 40 years old!! Seriously, what do they put in the wide receivers’ water bottles in Stillwater?.

#7 Jacksonville Jaguars select Melvin Ingram, DE, South Carolina
The skinny: The Jags have so many holes that it’s hard to wrong with this pick and an SEC pass rusher is usually a good bet.

GUEST PICKER: If you see Mirror sports writer/parenting columnist/headline writer extraordinaire Scotty Franco sporting an NFL jersey, don’t assume he’s a fan (he just owns a lot of jerseys), unless it’s a Dolphins jersey. He’s also a draftnik so we knew we’d get the real scoop from him on the next pick:

#8 Miami Dolphins select Ryan Tannehill, QB, Texas A&M
The skinny: The Dolphins should go for Michael Floyd, the Notre Dame wideout, who can contribute immediately. Instead, they’ll make another round mis-step as experts say Tannehill will have to wait for two years and Miami can’t afford to wait that long. With the choice of either Matt Moore or David Garrard this year at QB, the Dolphins could parlay that into the Matt Barkley sweepstakes for 2013.

Blogger’s note: There’s no doubt the first round could change dramatically based on this pick. And for no one more than Tannehill, who could fall another 15-20 spots (a la Aaron Rodgers) if he doesn’t go at #8.

#9 Carolina Panthers select Mark Barron, SS, Alabama
The skinny: This is such a tough call for Carolina, who needs DL badly and has Dontari Poe and Fletcher Cox sitting there, but safety play has become so important in the TE-crazy NFL that they can’t pass by Barron.

#10 Buffalo Bills select Luke Kuechly, ILB, Boston College
The skinny: The Bills might try to trade out of here, but even if they do it’d likely be to a team that’s trying grab Kuechly before the Chiefs.

#11 Kansas City Chiefs select Don’t’a Hightower, LB, Alabama
The skinny: With Kuechly snatched away, the Chiefs still focus on defense.

#12 Seattle Seahawks select Fletcher Cox, DT, Mississippi State
The skinny: Seattle gets great value here with the closest thing a sure-thing selection historically, a defensive tackle.

#13 Arizona Cardinals select David DeCastro,G, Stanford
The skinny: Like the Bills at #10, the Cardinals would like to trade down here and still get the player they want, but with no willing partner they’re forced to reach a little (valuewise) for a player who will start from Day 1.

#14 Dallas Cowboys select Quinton Coples, DE, North Carolina
The skinny: The Cowboys don’t get the man they covet (Barron) and have to opt for the most enigmatic talent in the first round.

#15 Philadelphia Eagles select Dontari Poe, DT, Memphis
The skinny: Ultimately, Poe’s lack to on-field production drops him out of the Top 10, but he has the physical tools to dominate someday like Haloti Ngata. Penn State’s Devon Still could also be a darkhorse pick in this slot.

#16 New York Jets select Courtney Upshaw, LB, Alabama
The skinny: This pick could have a profound impact on the Steelers pick (if you think Pittsburgh is leaning LB first as we do).

GUEST PICKER: How do you end up a Bengals fan growing up in western Pennsylvania in the ‘80s? Ask Kurt D’Andrea (@dandrea15 on Twitter), extreme athlete, medical researcher and all-around nice guy, who’s been bleeding orange and black since he was a kid in Carrolltown (and now pulls off the rare Pirates/Bengals/Sabres fan trifecta). Here’s his take on the Bengals first of two picks this round: #17 Cincinnati Bengals select Michael Floyd, WR, Notre Dame
The skinny: A nice compliment to A.J. Green, especially with Jerome Simpson all but gone. The Bengals also need some security at CB and hopefully can get that on their next selection.

#18 San Diego Chargers select Cordy Glenn, G/T, Georgia
The skinny: Another huge pick for the Steelers as San Diego is likely to go either OL or LB.

#19 Chicago Bears select Michael Brockers, DT, LSU
The skinny: Brockers is a space eater and dominant run stopper. He falls a bit because of concerns about his pass rush and becomes a great value for Da Bears.

#20 Tennessee Titans select Shea McClellin, OLB, Boise State
The skinny: The Titans break the Packers’ hearts here, snagging the under-the-radar pass rushing stud in this draft.

#21 Cincinnati Bengals select Dre Kirkpatrick, CB, Alabama
The skinny: If they can shore up the secondary, the Bengals are ready to make some noise again in the AFC North.

#22 Cleveland Browns select Kendall Wright WR, Baylor
The skinny: The Browns could reach for Ryan Tannehill at #4 or Brandon Weeden here, but our gut says they’ll wait year on the QB of the future and try to put some high-octane guys around Colt McCoy now.

GUEST PICKER: Altoona Curve General Manager (and Michigan native) Rob Egan and the Lions find themselves in a very strange place here: outside the NFL Draft Top 10. And with pieces in place on both sides of the ball, a sold choice could have them picking even later next year. Imagine that.

#23 Detroit Lions select Jonathan Martin, T, Standford
The skinny: Jonathan Martin is who the Lions should pick and who they will pick if he’s still on the board. They need OL depth and even though they signed 12-year vet Jeff Backus to a two-year deal in March, they need to start grooming Matt Stafford’s future protector now. They could also use him at RT until Backus is done as Gosder Cherilus has been less-than-expected since he was picked in the first round out of BC five years ago. Janoris Jenkins (CB) could provide help in the secondary at this pick, but I believe the Lions will address their secondary concerns via free agency.

Blogger’s note: These has been chatter the last few days that the Lions might trade this pick to the Ravens so they could jump ahead of Pittsburgh to grab Dont’a Hightower. Obviously, Hightower is long gone in this mock, but as we told Rob, should that scenario unfold, the Lions are dead to us.

STEELERS PICK: In making this selection, we took several things we know about the Steelers history and trends into consideration. First, is the trend in the Colbert-Tomlin era to go with BCS-conference players, especially with the first choice (you have to go back to Big Ben in 2004 (and Troy Edwards before him in 1999) to find someone not fitting that bill, some would say the trend started with William Shakespeare from Notre Dame in 1936). Second, is consideration of repeated examples in the past two seasons where Steelers management action aimed at the offensive line did not match the media and fans sense of urgency about same. And, third, and most important, is this simple question: Where have the Pittsburgh Steelers drawn their identity for the past 20 years? From pass rushing linebackers, of course. So, without further ado…

#24 Pittsburgh Steelers select Nick Perry, OLB, USC
The skinny: Since that last first rounder from USC worked out so well…. We’re betting that Pittsburgh feels like they have a good shot at getting their OL prospect in the second round and will go for value, tradition and impact here. An edge rusher like Perry (who also excels at run contain from outside) can step in and contribute immediately in situational packages. If the pick here is Hightower, keep in mind it’s unlikely he’ll see the field much his rookie season as playing inside in the 3-4 in considerably more cerebral (and less instinctive) that lining up at OLB.

Other possible picks: It might turn out Pittsburgh likes Clemson DE Andre Branch better as their pass rusher of the future (both visited the South Side) or this could be where Todd Haley gets a lovely housewarming gift in the form of Stanford TE Coby Fleener. If they do go OL here, it’s likely to be a slight reach for one of two guards, Wisconsin’s Kevin Zeitler or Midwestern State’s Amini Silatolu, although in this scenario, Iowa’s Reilly Reiff might also be in play at tackle. We should probably also mention Ohio State’s Mike Adams, an early favorite in this spot, who we assume fell out of favor after he tested positive for marijuana at the NFL Combine (although no one from Pittsburgh’s front office has confirmed he’s off their board).

AN ALTERNATE VIEW: For a different perspective on the Steelers pick, we consulted brother John (@CdrEck), an officer (in the U.S. Navy), a gentleman and a rabid and knowledgeable Steelers fan. He did not know our pick when he made his.

Will pick: Nick Perry, OLB, USC. According to Kevin Colbert, the Steelers don't draft for “need” they draft for “want” and they want players. Perry is the best player on the board and fits perfectly with Steelers 3-4 as OLB. With James Harrison aging and talk about Jason Worilds moving inside, Perry will contribute right away on special teams and learn from two of the best OLBs in the game in Harrison and Lamarr Woodley.

Should pick: Reilly Reiff, OT, Iowa. If Reiff is still available at 24 he is a steal. The Steelers have ignored their offensive line woes for far too long. Reiff can be a day one starter at RT which will allow them to kick Willie Colon inside to guard and finally, if they can stay healthy (I'm talking about you Maurkice Pouncey), field a quality offensive line.

#25 Denver Broncos select Coby Fleener, TE, Stanford
The skinny: Peyton. Tight end. Need we say more? Other than Fleener continues his run as the luckiest man in football, playing tight end with Andrew Luck and Manning.

#26 Houston Texans select Reilly Reiff, T, Iowa
The skinny: A tremendous value at the bottom plus fills a need for a team on the rise.

#27 New England Patriots select Whitney Mercilus, DE, Illinois
The skinny: Although there’s some worry he’s a “one-year wonder,” Mercilus is not just a pass rusher, but a disruptive football players, forcing 11 fumbles in his college career.

#28 Green Bay Packers select Andre Branch,DE, Clemson
The skinny: The Pack wants to get some help for Clay Matthews and goes with Branch after McClellin soars into the Top 20.

#29 Baltimore Ravens select Peter Konz, C, Wisconsin
The skinny: Mike Adams and Janoris Jenkins (two talented guys with character questions) might really tempt the Ravens here, but with Hightower gone, they opt for Kunz’ flexibility as they rebuild their offensive line.

#30 San Francisco 49ers select Stephen Hill, WR, Georgia Tech
The skinny: The Niners look to be set on defense so Jim Harbaugh goes with what he knows here (and probably takes SF out of the Mike Wallace sweepstakes in 2013).

#31 New England Patriots select Janoris Jenkins, CB, North Alabama
The skinny: Hey look, the Patriots have two picks in the first round. Hey look, there’s a Top 10 talent left who fell because of character questions. Hey look…..with so much value left on the board, don’t be surprised if the Pats fleece someone who wants this pick.

#32 New York Giants select Devon Still, DT, Penn State
The skinny: Still might be the only PSU player selected in the entire draft (Jack Crawford has the best chance otherwise) and he’d look good (and fill a need) in the world champion’s colors.

Biggest riser: Luke Kuechly at #10.
Biggest drop: Reilly Reiff to #26.
Highest ranked guys still on the board: Stephon Gilmore, CB, South Carolina; Lavonte David, OLB, Nebraska; Mike Adams, OT, Ohio State.
Safest pick: Trent Richardson for the Browns (top talent in the draft).
Scariest pick: Melvin Ingram for the Jags (no consensus after top 6 prospects).

Tomorrow: We’ll be back with quick, first round thoughts and projections on the Steelers second- and third-round selections.

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