This is our fourth-annual backward mock draft. It's what it sounds like: What would the 2012 NFL Draft look like if the order were reversed? Whom would the Giants take with the first pick? My annual Backward NFL Mock Draft is listed below.
San Francisco 49ers: Andrew Luck, QB, Stanford
TRADE! OK, some of you might think I'm nuts right now. Barely anyone creates a backward mock draft, but of the few people who do, I'm willing to bet that I'm the only one who predicts trades in them.
Now that I've addressed my insanity, let me talk about the trade. Andrew Luck has to be the first pick. The Giants won't take him, but his former head coach would. The 49ers would have to trade two first-round picks, a pair of second-rounders and some other stuff to move up from No. 3 to No. 1, but it would be worth it. Luck is the best quarterback prospect since Peyton Manning, and he projects to be an Aaron Rodgers clone. I'd say that's a slight improvement over Alex Smith.
Cleveland Browns: Robert Griffin, QB, Baylor
Another trade! This time, the Browns move up from No. 11 to No. 2 and also thrown in No. 29, next year's first-rounder and some other early-round selections.
This makes sense for both sides. Bill Belichick loves to move down, so he'd love to pick up extra picks and end up with three first-rounders. The Browns, meanwhile, are desperate for a franchise quarterback. They tried to move up in the real draft but didn't offer enough to the Rams. Perhaps they underestimated the price the Redskins were willing to pay. If so, maybe Mike Holmgren learned his lesson.
New York Giants: Matt Kalil, OT, USC
The Giants still get their man despite moving down two spots. They really need help at tackle, and they're landing arguably the top non-quarterback in the class (take note, Vikings). William Beatty can't stay healthy and James Brewer, a fourth-round pick in 2011, hasn't played yet. Landing Kalil would really bolster Eli Manning's protection.
Baltimore Ravens: Justin Blackmon, WR, Oklahoma State
The Ravens are a disgrace. They have the best quarterback in the NFL, yet they do Joe Flacco a disservice by surrounding him with an aging Anquan Boldin and a butterfingered Torrey Smith. Horrible. Just horrible.
OK, in all seriousness, Baltimore is desperate for a No. 1 receiver. The media is trying to create some competition for Blackmon in Michael Floyd, but the Oklahoma State product is the unquestioned top wideout in the class.
Green Bay Packers: Trent Richardson, RB, Alabama
It was a really close call between Trent Richardson and Morris Claiborne. Both fill needs, but the former is the better prospect.
I guess it's a good thing for the rest of the league that the NFL Draft isn't ordered like this. Can you imagine how sick Green Bay's offense would be with Richardson complementing Aaron Rodgers and his receivers?
New England Patriots: Morris Claiborne, CB, LSU
The last of the six elite prospects goes to the Patriots. Cornerback isn't a major need for New England, but Bill Belichick can afford to go pure "best player available" in this spot because he has two other first-round picks.
Houston Texans: Michael Floyd, WR, Notre Dame
It's no secret that the Texans are desperate for a receiver. They wouldn't take 10 seconds handing in their card if a stud like Michael Floyd were somehow available to them. And as the pick is announced, you can bet that at least a dozen defensive coordinators would suffer panic attacks. How do you stop an offense featuring Andre Johnson, Arian Foster, Floyd and Owen Daniels?
Denver Broncos: Fletcher Cox, DT, Mississippi State
This is another instance in which a big need matches up with a top prospect in this backward order. The Broncos are desperate to find a defensive tackle, and Fletcher Cox's stock has risen enough that it'll be surprising if he falls out of the top 10.
Pittsburgh Steelers: Luke Kuechly, LB, Boston College
I've had the Steelers picking Dont'a Hightower for months in my real 2012 NFL Mock Draft, so why not give them a better inside linebacker? Kuechly's a blue-chip prospect and is arguably the top player on the board. He could go as high as No. 9 in the real draft and is unlikely to fall past the teens because he's so good.
Detroit Lions: Riley Reiff, OT, Iowa
Riley Reiff goes 10th in both my real mock and this backward edition. The Lions always pick the top player available, and it's conceivable that they could have him as the best available prospect on the board. Reiff would fill an obvious need at left tackle, a position that has eluded Detroit for a very long time.
New England Patriots: Melvin Ingram, DE/OLB, South Carolina
New England's second pick in the 2012 Backward NFL Mock Draft (via the Robert Griffin trade) can be used to fill a big need with one of the top players available. The Patriots are desperate to find a pass-rushing upgrade, and Melvin Ingram has the bulk and the versatility that Bill Belichick loves out of his outside linebackers.
Cincinnati Bengals: David DeCastro, G, Stanford
I don't understand how some people believe that David DeCastro will fall on Draft Day. There's a good chance that he will be the top guard in the NFL over the next decade. He can also play center. Blue-chip prospects like him don't fall. I have him at No. 11 in my real 2012 NFL Mock Draft, and I'm going to slot him at No. 12 in the backward edition. The Bengals need help at the guard position.
Tennessee Titans: Dontari Poe, NT, Memphis
The Titans will probably select the top defensive lineman available unless a surprise prospect falls to them. The player fitting that description is Dontari Poe. He'd be a nice complement next to Jurrell Casey. Current starter Sen'Derrick Marks needs to be upgraded.
Chicago Bears: Quinton Coples, DE, North Carolina
The middle of the backward mock can be boring at times because the picks in the real mock match up. That's the case here. As I wrote in my real mock, "The Bears need a pass-rusher across from Julius Peppers, who also happens to be a talented defensive end out of North Carolina. The front office may believe that Peppers could be a great tutor for Coples."
San Diego Chargers: Mark Barron, SS, Alabama
There's a chance Mark Barron could fall to San Diego on Draft Day. If this happens, he's not slipping past them. The Chargers have a huge need at strong safety; they haven't had a stud there since Rodney Harrison. Barron is definitely one of the top prospects available.
Cincinnati Bengals: Stephon Gilmore, CB, South Carolina
Cornerback is a need for Cincinnati. Nate Clements, who turned 32 in December, was inconsistent this past season. Meanwhile, Leon Hall won't be ready to play next year because of his torn Achilles.
This will be either Stephon Gilmore or Dre Kirkpatrick. The former appears to have moved ahead in the consensus big board.
I really don't understand why you keep bashing the 49ers contracts. You have to overpay for guys when you have one of the worst rosters in the NFL. Beyond that, they have nearly $70 mill in cap space even after free agency, so what's the big deal if they overspend?