Andrew Perloff>INSIDE THE NFL
The 2012 NFL Draft illustrated teams’ focus on the passing game, with quarterbacks, cornerbacks and pass rushers flying off the board. Teams can now afford to be much bolder at quarterback thanks to the rookie salary slotting system, allowing them to take guys higher than graded and to give up on former first-rounders quicker than before. Next year’s class doesn’t have an Andrew Luck in it, so predicting the top QB picks will be tougher, but teams will always find players to fit that need.
1. Jacksonville Jaguars — Tyler Wilson, QB, Arkansas
The Jaguars made a commitment to Blaine Gabbert this offseason by improving his receiving corps, but those efforts may give them an excuse for dumping him if the offense struggles again this season. They can say they tried to put Gabbert in a position to succeed, and move on. Wilson may have been the third quarterback taken if he had entered this year’s draft. He doesn’t jump out at you as a classic No. 1 overall, but will end up grading higher than both Matt Barkley and Tyler Bray.
2. Indianapolis Colts — Luke Joeckel, OT, Texas AM
Colts management is going to be patient surrounding Andrew Luck with talent, and Joekel is exactly the kind of building block they’ll need. The Aggie lineman gets less attention than he should because Clay Matthews’ son Jake is on the other side, but Joekel is the bona fide stud left tackle. NFL teams certainly know all about him after watching hours of Ryan Tannehill tape this offseason, and will be watching him closely this season.
3. Tampa Bay Buccaneers — David Amerson, CB, NC State
The Bucs went safety this year with first-round pick Mark Barron, but still have plenty of room to improve in the defensive backfield. Amerson had 13 interceptions last season and could insert himself into Heisman contention if offenses aren’t smart enough to avoid him this season.
4. Oakland Raiders — Tyler Bray, QB, Tennessee
If you want to see what an NFL throw looks like, look up Bray on YouTube. But the 6-foot-6 signal-caller has been inconsistent at Tennesee — in part because he and his receivers have been injured. He’s a boom-or-bust prospect a year out — he’s been fragile and could move up to No. 1 or fall back into the pack.
5. Minnesota Vikings — Robert Woods, WR, USC
Woods is listed at 6-1, 190, so he lacks Calvin Johnson size, but teams have to realize there aren’t a lot of Calvin Johnson types out there. Justin Blackmon is about the same size as Woods and went No. 5 overall in this year’s draft. Woods is more polished and will get a lot of attention playing for the Trojans this season.
6. Cleveland Browns — Sam Montgomery, DE, LSU
After focusing on offense in this year’s draft, the Browns turn back to defense in 2013. Montgomery had nine sacks last season and stands out on a defense once again loaded with future NFL players.
7. Miami Dolphins — Xavier Rhodes, CB, FSU
Cornerbacks have been going higher than expected in recent years, and the Dolphins need to continue to chase the Patriots. Rhodes is sometimes overshadowed by defensive backfield mate Greg Reid, but he’s a better pro prospect. You can compare Rhodes to LSU’s Morris Claiborne and Reid to Tyrann Mathieu.
8. Seattle Seahawks — Matt Barkley, QB, USC
Barkley has been compared to Andrew Luck for staying at USC even though he could have been a high selection in 2012, but he may get picked apart in a way Luck did not. Some people wonder if Barkley is big enough, and how much his outstanding receivers and the system at USC help him look good. Trojans QBs have not done well in the NFL lately, but if anyone can overlook that it’s Pete Carroll.
9. St. Louis Rams — Barrett Jones, OT, Alabama
The 2011 Outland Trophy winner for outstanding offensive lineman is 6-5, 302 pounds, and solid. The Rams didn’t seem interested in upgrading their offensive line in this year’s draft, but left tackle Rodger Saffold is far from elite. Jones has also shown versatility playing at different spots on the line at Alabama. Some have teammate D.J. Fluker rated higher, but Jones is too solid to pass up.
10. Carolina Panthers — Jarvis Jones, OLB, Georgia
Jones totaled 13.5 sacks and 19.5 tackles for loss in 2011, and enters the season as the highest-profile defensive player. But at 6-3, 241 pounds, he’s not very big for his position. He’s caught between outside linebacker and defensive end, like No. 18 overall pick Melvin Ingram in this year’s draft.
11. St. Louis Rams (via Washington Redskins) — Jonathan Banks, CB, Mississippi State
The Rams turn one of their picks from the Robert Griffin III trade with the Redskins into a productive cornerback. Banks reportedly got a fourth-round grade from the NFL Draft advisory board and decided to return to Starkville. But the advisory board is notoriously stingy. He’s a better prospect than that. Banks has had plenty of big plays at Mississippi State, including two pick-6s off Tim Tebow in one game.
12. Buffalo Bills — Chris Faulk, OT, LSU
The Bills focused more on the defensive side of the ball this offseason and will return to building the offense and protecting quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick by picking this big-time tackle prospect.
13. San Diego Chargers — Keenan Allen, WR, California
The Cal receiver missed spring practice after having ankle surgery, but if he can stay healthy he has the size and explosiveness to be the second receiver taken. Allen got off to a great start last season, but fell off because of quarterback problems at Cal. The Bears’ passing game will improve this year and Allen will shine.
14. Tennessee Titans — Justin Gilbert, CB, Oklahoma State
Gilbert hasn’t really come on to most people’s radar yet as a cornerback, even though many recognize his outstanding return skills. The former high school quarterback and track star could turn develop into a very good cover man. He’s already intercepted passes from Andrew Luck, Robert Griffin III and Ryan Tannehill.
15. Detroit Lions — Marcus Lattimore, RB, S. Carolina
Even as teams have deemphasized drafting running backs high in recent years, three went in the first round this year. If healthy, Lattimore will have the same kind of production Trent Richardson had last season.
16. Dallas Cowboys — Jake Matthews, OT, Texas AM
The Texas AM lineman is Hall of Famer Bruce Matthews’ son, and bloodlines matter to the NFL. The Cowboys are still trying to put together a complete offensive line.