No event in sports is as unpredictable as the NCAA men’s basketball tournament, but you could make an arugment the NFL draft isn’t far behind.
This year, however, it’s crystal clear how the top two picks will shake out: Andrew Luck and Robert Griffin III will be taken in succession, it’s just a matter of who ends up in Indianapolis and who ends up Washington — count on Luck going to Indy. But beyond those two, a cloud of uncertainty surrounds each of the remaining 251 selections in the April draft.
With that in mind, let’s take a look at picks 3-7, noting which player each team will take, should take, could take, and shouldn’t take.
The Minnesota Vikings are on the clock:
Who they will take: Matt Kalil, offensive tackle, USC. Unlike the two teams in front of them, the Vikings feel strongly about a young quarterback already on their roster, as Christian Ponder looks ready to man the huddle for years to come in Minnesota. Next up on the checklist for Vikings GM Rick Spielman is surrounding Ponder with the football equivalent of a moat of protection. Kalil is a good start. He’s a sure-fire blindside protector, with all the makeup you could ask for in a tackle prospect.
Who they should take: Kalil. Ponder is the franchise’s third most valuable investment — Adrian Peterson tops the list, with Jared Allen right behind him — and keeping him upright is imperative. Kalil is the guy here.
Who they could take: Justin Blackmon, wide receiver, Oklahoma State. To be fair, the Vikings are much more than an offensive tackle away from competing. That, along with the fact that Ponder needs weapons aplenty in today’s pass-happy league, makes Blackmon a compelling pick at number three. I love his polish and ability to attack man coverage. Blackmon isn’t a major separator, but the guy finds space and catches the football.
Who they shouldn’t take: Morris Claiborne, cornerback, LSU. Not that the Vikings couldn’t use secondary help — truthfully, they could use help anywhere — but you don’t have abundant opportunities to draft instant impact offensive players like Kalil and Blackmon. Rather than drafting at a position that the team can be sufficient at anyways, the Vikings should stick to offense.
Who they will take: Justin Blackmon, wide receiver, Oklahoma State. Quick, name the Browns leading receiver from 2011. … … If you guessed Greg Little, way to go. If you didn’t, I can’t blame you, because offense was ugly in Cleveland in 2011. Blackmon would pair with Little to form an enviable young receiving duo, and the Browns might be able to finally get a fair evaluation of Colt McCoy. Coming to a judgment on his future is an important part of the franchise’s future. Drafting Blackmon would help.
Who they should take: Blackmon. Pure, smooth, and competitive. He’d instantly become Cleveland’s best skill player, and the kind of guy who would strike fear into opposing defenses.
Who they could take: Trent Richardson, running back, Alabama. Some would argue Richardson is the best overall prospect in this year’s crop; I don’t agree with the notion, but you have to love Richardson’s game. He’s tough, explosive, agile and can make guys miss in the hole. Cleveland has nothing in the way of a running back for 2012, so taking a flier on Richardson — who has some injury concerns — makes some sense.
Who they shouldn’t take: Ryan Tannehill, quarterback, Texas A&M. Trying to fit a square peg into a round hole is bad business in football and, although the Browns are interested in a quarterback upgrade, Tannehill isn’t the guy at number four. Forcing the issue would only set this franchise back, something no member of the organization can afford.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers:
Who they will take: Trent Richardson, running back, Alabama. To me, the Bucs had two areas where they needed an upgrade most heading into the offseason: cornerback and running back. With $30 million-plus now in the wallet of Eric Wright, the Bucs have temporarily solved their secondary sore, and now should focus on a backfield weapon. Richardson is that.
Who they should take: Richardson. Right now, the Bucs have just two backs on the roster, with LeGarrette Blount carrying the de facto starter tag. But it’s a two feature back league, and Blount has shades of a short shelf life – he’s oversized, lacks top-end speed and has temperament issues.
Who they could take: Claiborne. Wright helps, but in a division jam-packed with offensive playmakers, the more shutdown cornerbacks available the better. Claiborne fits that profile, and would immediately start in Tampa. Don’t forget new head coach Greg Schiano’s defensive background.
Who they shouldn’t take: Quinton Coples, defensive end, North Carolina. The Bucs don’t yet have a dominant pass rusher, but they’re loaded with young talent on the defensive front. Coples has a unique skill set, but it’s time for Tampa Bay to let the kids play on defense and find out what they’re made of. That means more reps for Da’Quan Bowers and 2011 standout Adrian Clayborn.
St. Louis Rams:
Who they will take: Morris Claiborne, cornerback, LSU. New head coach Jeff Fisher loves physical corners, and Claiborne is certainly that. He and Cortland Finnegan would team to form a nasty combination of physicality and the ability to defend the run on the perimeter.
Who they should take: Claiborne. At pick six, this guy has major value. The Rams wont let him slide any further.
Who they could take: Michael Floyd, wide receiver, Notre Dame. The Rams have plenty of draft stock to work with in the coming years, so they have the flexibility to draft for need and value. While Floyd might be a little bit of a reach here, he immediately establishes a big-framed target for Sam Bradford.
Who they shouldn’t take: Of the guys reasonably in consideration with this pick, there aren’t too many ways St. Louis can go wrong.
Who they will take: Quinton Coples, defensive end, North Carolina. Reeling Jeremy Mincey back in via free agency was a nice haul for Jacksonville GM Gene Smith, but he’s more of an effort and persistence rusher than a skilled speedster off the edge. Coples happens to be blessed with unique talent and is a force with a hand in the dirt against an offensive tackle.
Who they should take: Michael Floyd, wide receiver, Notre Dame. The Jaguars invested $32.5 million in a receiver this offseason, but Laurent Robinson isn’t your prototypical number one target. He had a nice second half of 2011 in Dallas and should provide some additional firepower for Blaine Gabbert — or Chad Henne, who I think will start — but Floyd has the skills of a top wideout. He’s big, fast, can separate from man coverage, and he’s physical at the point of catch.
Who they could take: Melvin Ingram, defensive end, South Carolina. This would be a preference pick for Smith, as he may prefer the upside of Ingram over Coples.
Who they shouldn’t take: Courtney Upshaw, defensive end/outside linebacker, Alabama. His versatility is impressive, and he can get after the passer, but this one’s too much of a reach for my taste. Never rule anything out with Smith calling the shots, however.