With less than two weeks to go until the draft, the big talk around Vikings Country is whether a team (Miami or Kansas City, perhaps) will make the Vikings a sweet enough offer to move off the No. 3 pick. As we get closer to the draft itself, the tension may get ratcheted up, but the Vikings will be calling the shots for the next week and a half with the first two picks already locked and slotted and the No. 3 pick becoming the de facto No. 1 pick. Will somebody make them an offer they can't refuse? Stay tuned.
1. Indianapolis Colts – Andrew Luck, QB, Stanford. It's been a while since a No. 1 pick has been as locked and loaded as this one. VU has a strong track record of putting a guy at No. 1 and sticking with him even when the conventional wisdom has pointed at someone else early on in the draft process. This time, it's such a no-brainer that even a donkey could figure this one out. The only way Luck doesn't do a grip-and-grin with Jim Irsay is if the Colts trade the pick or Luck suffers a fluke off-field injury that puts his health in question. Otherwise, the Colts will be on the clock for about 10 seconds – the time it takes their runner in New York City to walk the pick to Commissioner Roger Goodell. The Colts have imploded the QB position to start over – jettisoning Peyton Manning, Curtis Painter and Dan Orlovsky. If that isn't stacking the deck for Luck, nothing is.
2. Washington (from St. Louis) – Robert Griffin III, QB, Baylor. The Redskins met the outrageous demands of the Rams, giving up their first-round draft pick in each of the next three drafts and a second-round pick this year to land the QB of the future. Why did they do it? Simple. Since 2000, they have started Brad Johnson, Jeff George, Tony Banks, Shane Matthews, Patrick Ramsey, Danny Wuerffel, Tim Hasselbeck, Mark Brunell, Jason Campbell, Todd Collins, Donovan McNabb and Kyle Orton – only one of them they actually drafted. If that isn't reason enough to make the deal, nothing is.
3. Minnesota – Matt Kalil, OT, USC. Tannehill Mania will need to be running wild for the Vikings to move off this pick. While national analysts still believe that Morris Claiborne and/or Justin Blackmon might be the player the Vikings are targeting, the smart money remains with Kalil. The reality of their situation is that, while both Claiborne and Blackmon are elite talents, a lot of scouts rank Kalil on par with Pro Bowl tackles like Joe Thomas and Jake Long. If Christian Ponder is going to succeed, he's going to need blindside protection the Vikings currently haven't been able to provide him. Aside from quarterback, left tackle is arguably the most important position on offense, which is why the elite LTs annually go higher in the draft than players of equal value at other positions. The Vikings have only had a handful of full-time starting left tackles in their 51-year history because, once they find one, he's entrenched for eight to 10 years or more. Claiborne and Blackmon have a window of dominance that is less than 10 years. The same can't be said for Kalil. If they're looking at the big picture, the Vikings would be wise to just say "no" to a trade offer (unless it involves an additional first-round pick) if it means moving down far enough that they would lose out on Kalil. Franchise blindside protectors are almost as valued as franchise quarterbacks, which should make this decision easy. They can listen to offers, but, when they're on the clock, write down Kalil's name and get the rebuilding process started.
4. Cleveland – Trent Richardson, RB, Alabama. The Browns may hit the chicken switch and pull a reluctant too-high trigger on QB Ryan Tannehill, but they could easily trade down and still land Tannehill. If they stay here, swallow hard and commit another year to Colt McCoy, the Browns have to go with the most valuable player they need. That would be Richardson. Peyton Hillis jumped ship and went to Kansas City and the void at that position is massive. A strong case can be made for WR Justin Blackmon or CB Morris Claiborne, but the need at running back is too glaring. It doesn't hurt that T-Rich may be the best RB to enter the draft since Adrian Peterson.
5. Tampa Bay – Morris Claiborne, CB, LSU. The Bucs stepped up big-time to address a couple of glaring needs – signing WR Vincent Jackson and G Carl Nicks to lucrative free agent deals. If Richardson is still on the board, they would likely consider him, but, given the circumstances, they meld need with talent. Claiborne may end up being the most impressive player in this year's draft. Ronde Barber is 37 years old – well beyond the age at which most CBs hit the wall. Fellow CB Aqib Talib's off-field issues make him a huge question mark moving forward. In Claiborne, the Bucs get perhaps the best non-QB prospect in the draft, and, after spending big to get a couple of heavy hitters on offense, land the best defensive player in the draft.
6. St. Louis (from Washington) – Justin Blackmon, WR, Oklahoma State. The Rams would be absolutely thrilled if this projection pans out. Had they not been able to swing a trade to move out of the No. 2 spot, they likely would have selected Blackmon with their pick. As it stands, not only do they get the most impressive wide receiver in the draft, they get another second-round pick and two more first-rounders in the next two drafts. Even if Robert Griffin III becomes a Pro Bowl-type quarterback, the Rams will benefit more by being able to fill their many gaping holes with first-round talent for the next three years. When the Rams made Sam Bradford the first overall pick in the 2010 draft, the one thing they never did was give him a go-to receiver to throw to. With this pick, that mission is accomplished.
7. Jacksonville – Michael Floyd, WR, Notre Dame. In my opinion, this is a reach. As such, the Jags could easily swing a trade downward – whether it's to a team looking to get Ryan Tannehill before the Dolphins are on the clock or someone looking for a premier defensive player like Melvin Ingram, Dontari Poe or Quinton Coples. Given the needs of the next four or five teams behind them, the Jags could drop down several spots and still get Floyd. That being said, if Blaine Gabbert is ever going to be a franchise QB, he needs a go-to target – something the Jags haven't had since Mark Brunell was throwing to Jimmy Smith and Keenan McCardell – a long, long time ago. The Jags need help at several spots, but the elite talent Floyd can bring to the pass game trumps what Jacksonville can get at other positions.
8. Miami – Ryan Tannehill, QB, Texas A&M. If he is still on the board at this point (just say no, Cleveland), the Dolphins may have to make this pick simply to appease their fans. It seemed like a foregone conclusion that Joe Philbin, the new head coach and former offensive coordinator in Green Bay, would pull a "Scott Mitchell move" and bring in Matt Flynn. But Flynn signed with Seattle because Miami got enamored with Peyton Manning and struck out on both counts. The Dolphins signed David Garrard, but he opted to sit out all of the 2011 season because he was salty about being released by the Jaguars and turned down offers to sign on elsewhere. His commitment isn't there. He's a bridge to grooming Tannehill in Philbin's vision. He's Donovan McNabb. All Vikings fans can hope is that Miami gets scared and jumps to No. 3 to get him – and gives the Vikings a harvest of picks to move. If they do, Riley Reiff, welcome to Minnesota.
9. Carolina – Dontari Poe, DT, Memphis. This is a tough pick because the Panthers clearly need help on the defensive front and, while LSU's Michael Brockers has a higher ceiling moving forward, Poe is a massive tackle with athleticism that was on display at the Combine. He didn't play top competition at Memphis, but, when draft rooms are evaluating talent, they often look as much at athletic ability as they do who he played for and against. It's clear the Panthers have needs at all three levels of the defense, but the defensive tackle crop is the one that the talent pool drops the fastest. Poe should be able to step in quickly and make an impact. Two months ago, we thought he might be a reach at No. 11 to Kansas City. Two months later, the Chiefs will have to consider trading up from No. 11 to land him.
10. Buffalo – Riley Reiff, OT, Iowa. A month ago, the two biggest needs on the team were at pass-rushing defensive end and wide receiver. The Bills made sure they didn't lose WR Stevie Johnson. They broke the bank to solve the other with the signing of DE Mario Williams. Buffalo had to overspend to get the top free agent in this year's class to sign, but they got it done. Now they have to draft well to make it all work. The team split time at left tackle in 2011 with Demetrius Bell and fourth-round rookie Chris Hairston. Reiff would step in immediately and help upgrade an offense that needs a foundation piece like Reiff on Ryan Fitzpatrick's blindside.
11. Kansas City – Luke Kuechly, MLB, Boston College. If Poe is still on the board, I think the Chiefs would jump on him. But, with Poe gone, the Chiefs and head coach/defensive coordinator Romeo Crennel go for the biggest difference-maker they can find on defense. Kuechly was a tackling machine at B.C. and has the combination of brains and brawn that will be an ideal match in the middle of the Kansas City defense. Given that the three division rivals all have veteran QBs and strong running games, if the Chiefs hope to compete, they need as many athletes as they can find on defense. Kuechly should start from Day One and be a fixture on the defense.
12. Seattle – Melvin Ingram, DE/OLB, South Carolina. The Seahawks have done a nice job at addressing needs in free agency. They spent to solve their quarterback issues with the free-agent signing of Matt Flynn, they re-signed Red Bryant and brought in versatile Tennessee D-lineman Jason Jones. Ingram brings a lot of versatility to the table as both a defensive end in Pete Carroll's defense and an outside linebacker prospect who, depending on need, can play as a stand-up linebacker and cover backs and tight ends heading up field. The division is wide open, despite the 49ers running away with the NFC West last year. The Seahawks need to add some more impact players to the roster and Ingram is the type of dynamic talent that could make the biggest splash from the No. 12 position.
13. Arizona – Cordy Glenn, G/OT, Georgia. If WR Michael Floyd is still on the board, the Cardinals may jump on him, but it should be noted that the Cards don't have a second-round pick, so this will be their only choice in the first two rounds, barring a trade. Glenn is ideally a guard and not the highest guard we have ranked – that would be Stanford's David DeCastro – but Glenn, like Brandon Albert a couple of years ago, is a massive guard who projects eventually as a left tackle. The Cardinals cut and re-signed Levi Brown, giving him one more chance to prove he isn't a bust. If he does, Glenn becomes a Pro Bowl-caliber guard. If he doesn't, they have a massive, talented player who can take his spot in 2013 and beyond. If the Cardinals had a second-round pick, this pick might be different, but they need as much bang for their buck as they can get and Glenn provides that.
14. Dallas – Mark Barron, S, Alabama. The Cowboys secondary was brutal last year and with Michael Vick, Eli Manning and RG3 in the division, they needed significant upgrades. The team addressed cornerback in free agency with the big-money signing of Brandon Carr, but safety remains a missing front tooth in the defense. In a relatively weak safety class, the Cowboys can't bypass the position and hope that someone like Harrison Smith lasts until their second-round pick. Barron is head and shoulders the best safety in this year's class and fits a screaming need – a marriage of talent and need that the Cowboys will be happy to bring together.
15. Philadelphia –Quinton Coples, DE, North Carolina. The Eagles defense needs upgrading. The trade for DeMeco Ryans helps the middle level of the D, but finding a pass rusher that can make a difference is critical. Over the last couple of offseasons, the Eagles have pursued Julius Peppers and Mario Williams and lost out on both. This time, they take care of their own business and use the draft to find the difference-making pass rusher that has been missing from the Eagles defense the last three or four seasons. Coples will provide an immediate upgrade.
16. New York Jets – Courtney Upshaw, DE/OLB, Alabama. The Jets collapsed late in the season due in large part to a defense that talked a good game but didn't play it. Upshaw is the type of player Rex Ryan would love to mold into his image. Initially, he will likely be a part-time player, but, in an aggressive defense like the Jets run, having a player with the versatility to play both DE and OLB is a bonus that provides depth at two positions. Many believe Upshaw is a top-10 talent, which would make him a value pick here, as the Jets try to get over the hump that has eluded them and made Ryan look like an arrogant bigmouth. After taking a big backward step last year, the Jets need to get their aggression back and Upshaw will be a big step in that direction.
17. Cincinnati (from Oakland) – David DeCastro, G, Stanford. The Bengals have made the playoffs two of the last three years. In 2009, they did so largely on the strength of their defense. Last year, they did it in large part to a youth-infused offense. Andy Dalton and A.J. Green both made an immediate impact, but anyone who knows the smashmouth nature of the AFC North, those games are won and lost in the trenches more than anywhere else in the NFL. Cornerback and running back may both be bigger immediate needs, but DeCastro is a younger version of Steve Hutchinson and could be a critical piece to the O-line puzzle for years to come. There isn't a CB or RB at this point of the draft that warrants selection here.
18. San Diego – Jonathan Martin, OT, Stanford. The Chargers have needs all along the offensive line, and with question marks surrounding OTs Marcus McNeill and Jared Gaither, the team needs to be better prepared for the 2012 season than they were in 2011. The ideal scenario would be if someone like David DeCastro or Cordy Glenn is still available. If either of them is, that will be the pick, because multiple concussions have brought former Pro Bowl guard Kris Dielman to the end of the line. If Philip Rivers is going to lead San Diego back to the playoffs, an upgraded O-line is needed. If the Chargers fail to make the playoffs, a lot of heads are going to roll, so this may be the most critical draft in recent years in So Cal.
19. Chicago – Fletcher Cox, DT, Mississippi State. Offensive line (especially at left tackle) is a distinct possibility because J'Marcus Webb is a sieve that routinely gets beat and needs to either be replaced or challenged for his starting job. But the Bears are a team that uses the draft to add talent whether or not it is the most pressing need. Few prospects have been climbing the charts faster than Cox. The Bears have addressed offense in free agency, reuniting Brandon Marshall and Jay Cutler and adding Michael Bush to the running game. Cox is a disruptive interior defender that can help open things up for Julius Peppers on the outside and, if the Bears are hoping to compete with Detroit and Green Bay in 2012, getting the D-line improved is Priority No. 1 and Cox is the most likely candidate to help achieve that goal.
20. Tennessee – Stephon Gilmore, CB, South Carolina. The Titans lost Cortland Finnegan to free agency and need to find a replacement sooner than later. The team held off making any big moves in free agency while they wined and dined Peyton Manning and held cap space open in the event they signed him. That didn't happen and now they have to scramble to replace some of their own free agents they lost. He is a prospect that has been steadily rising since the combine and is a playmaker in the Finnegan mold that can help make a difference on the defensive side of the ball.
21. Cincinnati – Dre Kirkpatrick, CB, Alabama. The Bengals addressed the offensive line with their first pick of the round and now have to turn their attention to defense. Leon Hall tore his Achilles tendon in the playoffs last year and there remain questions about his return. Even if he does return, Nate Clements and Pacman Jones both stunk out the joint last year, so an upgrade is needed. The only question is whether Kirkpatrick will be the No. 2 CB in the starting lineup or the No. 1 guy.
22. Cleveland (from Atlanta) – Mike Adams, OT, Ohio State. The Browns need a go-to wide receiver, but, until they have an improved offensive line, they could have Calvin Johnson and he would struggle to put up big numbers. Adams has battled injuries during his college career, but he has prototype size and can be plugged in on either the right or left side depending on need. With the selection of Richardson with the fourth overall pick, the Browns need to improve the front line as they commit to the run game instead of getting in the QB sweepstakes right away.
23. Detroit – Whitney Mercilus, DE, Illinois. The Lions proved the hard way that they have enough talent to get to the playoffs, but, after getting torched by the Packers B-team in Week 17 and the Saints in the wild-card playoffs, they need more difference-makers on defense. The team had to put the franchise tag on Cliff Avril to keep him from bolting via free agency and Kyle Vanden Bosch is 34 years old. At a minimum, they need young blood to plug into the rotation. In a worst-case scenario, Mercilus will be asked to play immediately. With Ndamukong Suh and Nick Fairley set up for years to come in the middle of the D-line, getting youth on the edge could make the Lions front line truly fearsome.
24. Pittsburgh – Dont'a Hightower, ILB, Alabama. The Steelers defense has been predicated on strong linebacker play for the last four decades. While it hasn't necessarily hit bottom, it has taken several hits in recent years. Hightower is the perfect type of player for the Steelers' 3-4 defense – he is active, hits the holes aggressively and covers a lot of ground. A big DT like Cox (if he is still on the board) or Michael Brockers could be a solid fit as well, but Hightower would make the most immediate impact for a Steelers defense that has taken a small step back since winning its last Super Bowl title.
25. Denver – Michael Brockers, DT, LSU. Every year, there are a couple of players with top-10 type talent that drop for whatever reason. Brockers is arguably the best DT in the draft class, but, because of team needs elsewhere in the dozen or so picks in front of Denver, he slides right into their laps. This is a perfect storm pick – because the Broncos' most pressing need is at defensive tackle and Brockers is a gift waiting to be opened. He's a one-year wonder but has an incredible upside that John Fox will exploit. Some might think the Broncos would go wide receiver to give Peyton Manning another weapon, but, unless the defense can stop the run (which is no small feat in the AFC West), the team won't win consistently.
26. Houston – Kendall Wright, WR, Baylor. The Texans have needs on both sides of the ball, but, after finally getting over the playoff hump last year, they need to take the jump to the next level as a legitimate Super Bowl contender. Andre Johnson is one of the best WRs in the league but has two problems. First, he has been injured too often and, given how much he means to the Houston offense, it was a huge blow when his hammies betrayed him last year. Second, the Texans haven't had a legitimate complementary receiver to play opposite Andre 3000. Wright can flat-out fly and will require defensive attention, which not only will help open things up over the middle for Johnson, but help Arian Foster as well, as teams won't be able to drop a safety in the box as often.
27. New England (from New Orleans) – Peter Konz, C, Wisconsin. These are the Patriots, so trading is always a possibility, but Konz is head and shoulders the best center in the draft. There may not be another center taken until well into Day 3 of the draft. This has become a need position, since four different guys played center for the Patriots last year and none of them excelled at it. It's high for taking a center, but, like Maurkice Pouncey, the intent is to plug him in at center and keep him there for the rest of Tom Brady's career and beyond. Bill Belichick is no idiot. He realizes talent when he sees it and any time you can get a player who can be a 10-year starter, you jump at it. Besides, if they don't take Konz, the Ravens will – which is reason enough to pull the trigger.
28. Green Bay – Andre Branch, DE/OLB, Clemson. The Packers won 15 games last year, but they did so without much in the way of a pass rush and teams being able to wall off Clay Matthews because they didn't have a legitimate pass rush threat on the other side. Branch will likely be given time to work his way into the lineup, but the potential he brings as a stand-up pass-rushing hybrid outside linebacker gives the Packers as much bang for the buck as they can find at this late stage of the first round.
29. Baltimore – Chandler Jones, DE/OLB, Syracuse. Offensive line is a distinct possibility here – Konz will likely be the pick if he makes it past New England at No. 27, Bryant McKinnie isn't a long-term fix by any stretch of the imagination and the team lost Pro Bowl guard Ben Grubbs to free agency. But, with no player worthy of being taken at any of those three positions with this pick, the Ravens take the best player available. Few teams have had such a consistent track record of drafting players that work well within their system as the Ravens and Jones is the type of versatile edge rusher that can fit at both DE and OLB, giving the Baltimore defense another weapon that can tilt the field in their favor.
30. San Francisco – Stephen Hill, WR, Georgia Tech. He's become the talk of the wide receiver draft class thanks to his incredible size (6-5) and his sprinter's speed. Personally, I'm not sure I would take him this high because he never really blossomed as a receiver in college despite his clear athletic gifts and may end up reminding some of Troy Williamson, but with Michael Crabtree and Randy Moss playing in front of him, he will get the year or two he needs to become a savvy pro and could end up being a steal if he lives up to his massive potential. He's a roll of the dice, but one that may pay off in a big way – not so much in 2012, but in 2013 and beyond.
31. New England – Kendall Reyes, DT, U-Conn. The Patriots had one of the worst defenses in the NFL last year and part of the reason was that they struggled to get consistent pressure on the quarterback. Few teams are more adept at making players fit in their system. Reyes has the versatility to be a run-stopping DE on run downs and move inside on passing downs to help collapse the pocket from the inside. The Patriots love players that they can plug into specific roles and Reyes is the type that can fill more than one role in the scheme while being worked into the lineup more as he gets more comfortable with the system.
32. New York Giants –Lavonte David, OLB, Nebraska. The Giants have multiple needs despite being the defending champions, but linebacker is one that has the most impact on Giants fans. For years, New York has been defined by its strong LB play, but that has fallen off significantly over the last couple of years. David has the range and coverage skills the Giants are going to need in a division that looks stronger top to bottom than it has in the last few seasons. With speedster QBs like Michael Vick and Robert Griffin leading division rivals, their ability to extend plays is going to require the Giants to get younger at linebacker with more speed and playmaking ability. David brings all of those aspects to the table.
John Holler has been writing about the Vikings for more than a decade for Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this topic on our message boards. To become a subscriber to the Viking Update web site or magazine, click here.