Here is the 17th edition of the Monday Morning Draft - a column that delves into the past weekend's action from an NFL Draft perspective. As the season goes on, the draft picture and slotting will become more clear, but every Sunday will provide a few hints for next April.
Here are the standings for the race for the No. 1 overall pick to have the first shot at Stanford quarterback Andrew Luck.
Indianapolis locked up first place in the "Suck for Luck" standings after losing to Jacksonville. The Colts gave some fans a scare with two late season wins over the Texans and Titans, but Indianapolis lost to Blaine Gabbert in Week 17 and earned the first pick. The 2-14 Colts have the tie-break advantage over the St. Louis Rams. It looks like Andrew Luck is a sure bet to land in Indianapolis.
St. Louis Rams:
St. Louis fell to 2-14 on the season after losing to San Francisco. The Rams had a shot to land the top pick in the 2012 NFL Draft if they had lost and the Colts had won. However, Indianapolis remained futile. St. Louis could look to trade the second-overall pick for a ransom of draft picks to a team that is desperate to land Baylor quarterback Robert Griffin III. Even if the Rams had landed the first-overall pick, they would stick with Sam Bradford as their franchise quarterback. That information is based on speaking with sources, and it has been reported by others in the media.
Let's Play Matchmaker:
This section will look at some of the top talent in college football and match those prospects up with teams that have a dire need at the position.
Miami Dolphins: Robert Griffin III, QB, Baylor
The Dolphins have some talent on offense, and what they really need is a difference maker at the quarterback position. Miami would have to trade up in the draft to land Griffin, but he would a great addition for the team. This season, he completed 72 percent of his passes for 4,293 yards with 37 touchdowns and six interceptions. Griffin also ran for 906 yards (he had 699 net yards because the NCAA subtracts negative yards from sacks) and 10 touchdowns. Griffin has a powerful arm with elite athleticism and speed. In the NFL, he will be a difficult player for defenses to defend. Griffin could help sell tickets and will provide some star power. He would be a good fit in Miami.
Detroit Lions: Alfonzo Dennard, CB, Nebraska
The Lions allowed another big game through the air with backup Packers quarterback Matt Flynn throwing for 480 yards and six touchdowns. Detroit has to bolster its cornerbacks this offseason. If Dennard makes it to the Lions first-round pick, he would be a good fit in Detroit. Dennard is an excellent man corner who is very good at jamming receivers at the line. His rerouting skills disrupt plays and give his pass rushers more time to get to the quarterback. Dennard is thickly built and has the speed to run with receivers downfield. He also operates well in zone. Dennard looks NFL ready and is a gritty corner who limits the opposition's passing attack.
Denver Broncos: Dwayne Allen, TE, Clemson
The Broncos need to upgrade their weapons on offense. The receivers and tight ends constantly struggle to get separation. Landing a tight end like Allen in the second round would be ideal for Denver. This season, the junior has dragged in 48 receptions for 577 yards and eight touchdowns. Allen is a top-notch route-runner who is too fast for linebackers to cover and is too big to be covered by safeties. He is also a fabulous red-zone weapon. If Allen enters the draft along with Notre Dame's Tyler Eifert and Georgia's Orson Charles, then the Broncos could have a shot at landing Allen on Friday night.
Carolina Panthers: Dre Kirkpatrick, CB, Alabama
To end the season, the Panthers were torched by Drew Brees throwing for 389 yards with five touchdown passes. Carolina's cornerbacks have been a weakness all season. Kirkpatrick (6-3, 192) is a fast and physical defender who looks like a potential shutdown corner. For Alabama, he is a good man cover corner who could also transition well to a zone-coverage-based defense. Entering the rematch with LSU, Kirkpatrick has 26 tackles (23 solo) with nine passes broken up and two forced fumbles, but no interceptions. He is an ideal value for the Panthers' first-round pick.
Washington Redskins: Mohamed Sanu, WR, Rutgers
You know that you have a problem at wide receiver when your quarterback makes 45 pass attempts and your leading receiver is a running back with five catches for 52 yards. Sources with Washington have said that wide out is a priority and that is obvious. If the Redskins could land Sanu in the second round, that would be perfect. He totaled 115 receptions for 1,206 yards and seven touchdowns this season. Sanu has size and speed to be a potential No.1 receiver in the NFL and that is exactly what Washington needs.
Arizona Cardinals: Michael Floyd, WR, Notre Dame
Once again, the Cardinals' receivers opposite Larry Fitzgerald were a weakness. Against Seattle, Andre Roberts (4-24) and Early Doucet (1-7) could not produce well for Arizona while Fitzgerald had a massive game. The Cardinals' offense badly needs to finally find a true replacement for Anquan Boldin. Arizona could use its first-round pick on Floyd, and he would be a good fit in the offense. Floyd could operate in the short to intermediate part of the field in a similar manner to Boldin. This season, Floyd caught 100 passes for 1,147 yards and nine touchdowns. He has the size and speed to exploit how defenses send bracket coverage over Fitzgerald.
Chicago Bears: Riley Reiff, OT, Iowa
The Bears were dominated by Jared Allen to the tune of 3.5 sacks on Sunday. If Reiff declares for the draft, he would have to be a target for Chicago in the first round. Reiff is an experienced pass blocker who is a natural left tackle. Offensive line coach Mike Tice could help him improve his run blocking. With Reiff at left tackle, the Bears would have bookend tackles with 2011 first-rounder Gabe Carimi at right tackle. If Chicago drafts a tackle in the first round in 2012, it would be the third straight first-rounder the Bears have used on an offensive tackle.
Pittsburgh Steelers: Lamar Miller, RB, Miami
The Steelers suffered an injury that could easily carry over into 2011, a potential ACL tear to Rashard Mendenhall. Even if he returns next season and plays well, 2012 is a contract year for him. Add in his off-the-field behavior and Pittsburgh could look to find a long-term starter in the 2012 draft. Miller could be an option for the Steelers at the end of the first round. This season, Miller (5-11, 212) averaged 5.6 yards per carry with 1,272 yards with nine touchdowns. He would bring a speed element to Pittsburgh's backfield.
Team Draft Report:
In this section we take a deeper look at specific teams and where they stand in regards to the 2012 NFL Draft.
The Vikings finished third in the Suck for Luck standings, but they sit in a very interesting position for the 2012 NFL Draft. Minnesota has a lot of needs to address and the team should be in position to come away with a strong draft class. The Vikings need offensive line help, a wide receiver and secondary help. Minnesota could stay at three to address one of its holes, or the front office could potentially trade its pick and move down.
With USC quarterback Matt Barkley deciding to wait until 2013 to enter the draft, that leaves only Baylor quarterback Robert Griffin III as a true franchise quarterback prospect. With the quarterback-needy Cleveland Browns picking fourth, other teams will know that they have to trade up to the Vikings' selection to get in front of the Browns in order to land Griffin. A team like the Redskins or the Dolphins could put a package together to make it worth trading down. Minnesota is in an advantageous position to potentially start a bidding war to compile multiple picks and fill a few needs.
If the Vikings stay at three, they will have superb options to consider. It looks likely that Stanford quarterback Andrew Luck and USC offensive tackle Matt Kalil will be the only players off the board. That would leave Minnesota likely deciding between Oklahoma State wide receiver Justin Blackmon or LSU cornerback Morris Claiborne. Both positions are needs, but corner is the more critical weakness for the Vikings to improve. Minnesota plays in a division with the best quarterback in the NFL, Green Bay's Aaron Rodgers, and one of the best young signal callers in the league with Detroit's Matthew Stafford. Chicago's Jay Cutler is no slouch either, so Minnesota knows that in at least six games of the season, the team will see a dangerous quarterback capable of lighting up its secondary. Landing Claiborne seems like the better choice considering that the Vikings already have Percy Harvin and Adrian Peterson to lead their offense.
On the second day of the draft, Minnesota could do some damage. The offensive line could be upgraded with players like Wisconsin's Kevin Zeitler, Iowa State's Kelechi Osemele, Ohio State's Mike Adams or Colorado's Ryan Miller. The Vikings could look for a big wide receiver like North Carolina's Dwight Jones, Iowa's Marvin McNutt or Rutgers' Mohamed Sanu. Some youth for the interior of their defensive line is another option.
Minnesota's draft needs look like a good match for value of the prospects at the top of each round. There are a lot of directions the Vikings can go, but they have landed a nice position to have a strong draft.
New York Jets:
With the way the Jets ended the season, they have to be one of the most disappointing teams in 2011. Quarterback Mark Sanchez was terrible down the stretch, and New York has to bring in some quality competition this offseason. Sanchez might not be properly pushed by a rookie quarterback who isn't a first-round pick. If the Jets use their first pick on a signal caller, it would indicate that they are giving up on Sanchez and could trade him away. It doesn't appear New York is ready to move on from Sanchez, so a quality veteran free agent who can push Sanchez or replace him if he struggles in 2012 looks like the more likely move.
The Jets got some production out of Bills bust Aaron Maybin, but New York have to improve their pass rush. Muhammad Wilkerson looks like a good pick, and if the team can add a good edge rusher with an early-round pick, it could give the defense the capacity to rush the passer without bringing blitzers all the time. A successful acquisition would also make the Jets' blitzes more effective as they would have more talent to defeat single blocks. In the first round, New York could consider an outside linebacker like Alabama's Courtney Upshaw or Illinois' Whitney Mercilus. On the second-day of the draft, the Jets could target rush linebackers like Stanford's Chase Thomas, Boise State's Shea McClellin or West Virginia's Bruce Irvin.
New York also needs to find an upgrade at right tackle. Wayne Hunter, 30, is in need of being replaced. In the first round, the Jets could target a tackle like Stanford's Jonathan Martin or Iowa's Riley Reiff, if either or both declare for the draft. Early on Friday night, New York could consider Ohio State's Mike Adams or Iowa State's Kelechi Osmele. Third-round options include Oklahoma State's Levy Adcock.
Additionally, the Jets should consider a wide receiver since Plaxico Burress is not a long-term player. Running back could be addressed as well with LaDanian Tomlinson not certain to return. Plus, Shonn Greene may be better served as the backup. A young nose tackle would also be a route to consider on day two of the draft. Those three positions have the potential to be addressed adequately in free agency.
Reportedly, there will be changes in the coaching staff and that could alter the kind of player that New York will target, but the team should have an offseason with two clear priorities: upgrade the offense and add a pass rusher.