Finally, after months of teams poking and prodding NFL draft prospects, scouts picking apart players they had previously pumped up, and media folks like me doing hours of homework trying to make sense of it all, the 2012 NFL draft is less than 48 hours away. I would be lying if I told you that part of me wasn't ready for all of this just to be over and done with, but still, draft weekend is easily my favorite weekend on the NFL calendar.
After all, 253 young men -- well, technically 252 young men plus 28-year-old Oklahoma State quarterback Brandon Weeden -- will hear their names called by the commissioner and realize lifelong dreams as they become NFL players. Sure, the journey is really just beginning, but hope springs eternal at the draft for these players, all 32 teams and their fans. Yes, even ones in Cleveland, Jacksonville, Buffalo and Washington, D.C.
The Ravens have a handful of needs. Most are not pressing. They have yet to address the offensive line this offseason and will be forced to do it in the draft. Even with the emergence of Torrey Smith a year ago, they are looking for another game-changer at wide receiver. Terrell Suggs lacks a true sidekick. And then there is the annual question about whether this is the year they need to prepare for life after Ray Lewis and Ed Reed.
On Thursday, I will release my sure-to-be-wrong projection of who the Ravens will select with each of their eight draft picks. But in this, my fifth and final first-round mock draft, all you get is a semi-educated guess at whom the Ravens will select with the 29th pick. Is it still Wisconsin center Peter Konz? Read on to find out.
1. Colts: Andrew Luck, QB, Stanford. It's already been reported that the Colts plan to select Luck, so there will be little suspense with this pick.
2. Redskins: Robert Griffin III, QB, Baylor. Ditto for the Redskins and RGIII. Griffin might already be the most popular athlete down in D.C.
3. Vikings: Matt Kalil, OT, USC. Taking a corner makes sense given the quarterbacks in the NFC North, but I suspect someone is blowing smoke.
4. Browns: Trent Richardson, RB, Alabama. Running backs are no longer in vogue, but this one is a rare prospect. They can find a wideout later.
5. Buccaneers: Morris Claiborne, CB, LSU. Ronde Barber said the Bucs will probably take Claiborne. It's even more likely if Richardson is gone.
6. Rams: Justin Blackmon, WR, Oklahoma State. The Rams must do whatever they can to get Sam Bradford going. Blackmon is a good start.
7. Jaguars: Fletcher Cox, DT, Mississippi State. They could go cornerback or receiver here, but Cox is the kind of clean, safe pick the Jaguars like.
8. Dolphins: Ryan Tannehill, QB, Texas A&M. Rumor has it ownership is pushing for a quarterback after they were stiff-armed by Peyton Manning.
9. Panthers: Michael Floyd, WR, Notre Dame. Cam Newton was very impressive as a rookie. Now he gets a big target to grow up with in Floyd.
10. Bills: Stephon Gilmore, CB, South Carolina. Gilmore is rising up draft boards late, and the Bills would be wise to add him to their secondary.
11. Chiefs: David DeCastro, OG, Stanford. They may be interested in an inside linebacker here, but scouts say DeCastro has All-Pro potential.
12. Seahawks: Quinton Coples, DE, North Carolina. The Seahawks have a good, young defense. Adding a top pass rusher might make them elite.
13. Cardinals: Riley Reiff, OT, Iowa. Draftniks say Reiff's stock is falling, but he would bolster the Cardinals offensive line at either tackle spot.
14. Cowboys: Mark Barron, S, Alabama. The Cowboys could go corner or safety. Barron is the draft's top safety. A cornerback can come later.
15. Eagles: Michael Brockers, DT, LSU. They might be hoping for Barron. If not, they have been linked to Brockers and other defensive linemen.
16. Jets: Melvin Ingram, DE/OLB, South Carolina. The Jets have created pressure through Rex Ryan's schemes. They need to improve the talent.
17. Bengals: Luke Kuechly, ILB, Boston College. Kuechly could go as high as the fifth pick. If he falls, he might not get past his hometown Bengals.
18. Chargers: Nick Perry, DE/OLB, USC. They signed a do-it-all linebacker in Jarret Johnson, but they need someone to chase after the quarterback.
19. Bears: Whitney Mercilus, DE, Illinois. The Bears, who could use a defensive end, surely noticed the crazy stats this kid put up down the road.
20. Titans: Dre Kirkpatrick, CB, Alabama. After losing Cortland Finnegan in free agency, the Titans can select a young replacement in Kirkpatrick.
21. Bengals: Janoris Jenkins, CB, North Alabama. Some scouts think he is the draft's top cover corner, and the Bengals aren't afraid of baggage.
22. Browns: Kendall Wright, WR, Baylor. With the ability to make plays after the catch, the speedy Wright would be a good fit in their offense.
23. Lions: Mike Adams, OT, Ohio State. I'm guessing they will draft the best prospect among cornerbacks and offensive tackles on their board.
24. Steelers: Cordy Glenn, OG/T, Georgia. They need reinforcements at right tackle and both guard spots. Glenn can fill one of those spots now.
25. Broncos: Dontari Poe, DT, Memphis. Denver is said to be interested in a defensive lineman here. Poe has been compared to Haloti Ngata.
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26. Texans: Stephen Hill, WR, Georgia Tech. He is a raw prospect, but they can ease him into the offense thanks to Andre Johnson's presence.
27. Patriots: Courtney Upshaw, DE/OLB, Alabama. Bill Belichick is fond of SEC players, and Upshaw would give him the pass rusher they lack.
28. Packers: Shea McClellin, OLB, Boise State. Upshaw would be a great fit in Green Bay, too, but if not, McClellin is an intriguing fallback plan.
29. Ravens: Dont'a Hightower, LB, Alabama. My gut tells me they are hoping one of the Alabama guys -- Barron, Upshaw or Hightower -- falls to them. If not, Konz or Hill could be the pick if they don't trade out of Round 1. In Hightower, they might find that elusive successor to Lewis.
30. 49ers: Coby Fleener, TE, Stanford. The 49ers can pair Fleener with Vernon Davis to give them one of the league's top tight end tandems.
31. Patriots: Harrison Smith, S, Notre Dame. History says they will trade one of their first-rounders, but their secondary could use a little attention.
32. Giants: Jonathan Martin, OT, Stanford. If Martin plummets, they may stop his fall. Their creaky offensive line could use some young legs.