NEW YORK -- It happens every year.
After months of studying players, talking with team officials and analyzing how the first round of the NFL draft might play out ... it all changes in the last couple of days before the event begins.
Teams stop being so close to the vest with their information, partially to start trade conversations, but also because team meetings have concluded and franchises have finally zeroed in the players they deem worthy of multi-million dollar investments.
Last year, for example, it did not become apparent that four quarterbacks would be taken in the top 12 picks until the day before the draft. The Tennessee Titans ended up selecting Jake Locker and the Minnesota Vikings took Christian Ponder, despite their inconsistency and injury issues, respectively.
So, here's the last-minute draft buzz making the rounds this year. A few items would've seemed highly unrealistic just one month ago. Some or none of this of this could come to fruition. This unpredictability is what makes the NFL draft so watchable.
â¢ Minnesota takes CB Morris Claiborne at No. 3. If former NFL defensive back and current Vikings head coach Leslie Frazier gets his way, he and general manager Rick Spielman will throw out the idea of picking USC left tackle Matt Kalil to protect their first-round pick from 2011 (quarterback Christian Ponder). Claiborne gives them a chance to match up better with elite receivers in their division: Green Bay Packers' star Greg Jennings, new Chicago Bears threat Brandon Marshall and, of course, Detroit Lions beast Calvin Johnson.
â¢ South Carolina CB Stephon Gilmore goes in the top 10. Whether it's the Jacksonville Jaguars with the seventh pick or the Carolina Panthers at nine, a team may agree with Minnesota that the position is too important in today's game to ignore. Six-foot-tall cornerbacks with 4.4 speed like Gilmore don't grow on trees.
â¢ The Philadelphia Eagles trade into the top 10 to pick a defensive tackle. Andy Reid and the Eagles moved up in the first round in 2003 (to get DE Jerome McDougle), 2004 (OT Shawn Andrews), 2009 (WR Jeremy Maclin) and 2010 (DE Brandon Graham). They have an extra second-round pick from the Kevin Kolb trade as ammunition, so look for a move to get a defensive tackle to rush the passer (Mississippi State's Fletcher Cox) and/or shore up the run defense (LSU's Michael Brockers or Memphis' Dontari Poe).
â¢ The Dallas Cowboys make a move. In six of the past 10 drafts, the Cowboys have moved up or down in the first round; in two of the past four, they moved up to select cornerback Mike Jenkins (2008) and wide receiver Dez Bryant (2010). If they want safety Mark Barron, Cox (as a 3-4 defensive end), receiver Michael Floyd or Gilmore, they'll make the call to get into the top 10. Jacksonville and Carolina are the two teams likely to say "yes" to trade offers with Dallas, Philadelphia or anyone else looking to be bold.
â¢ Boston College LB Luke Kuechly goes higher than expected. Tampa Bay at No. 5, Jacksonville at 7, Carolina at 9 and Buffalo at 10 are all potential landing spots for the talented Mr. Kuechly. His NFL Scouting Combine workout proved he is athletic enough to run to the ball and make plays in coverage. Remember that Green Bay selected A.J. Hawk with the fifth overall pick in 2006 and Seattle picked Aaron Curry fourth in 2009, two linebackers considered "safe picks" early in the draft.
â¢ Alabama LB Dont'a Hightower goes higher than expected. If the Chiefs can't get Kuechly, then the 6-foot-2, 265-pound Hightower may be the perfect answer to play either inside next to Derrick Johnson or outside to be another pass-rush threat alongside Tamba Hali and Justin Houston. The versatility he showed while in Nick Saban's multiple-front defense at Alabama makes him very intriguing to NFL teams running similar systems.
â¢ Syracuse DE/OLB Chandler Jones comes off the board in the first 12 picks. Last year, people didn't think Missouri DE/OLB Aldon Smith would go as high as No. 7, but the San Francisco 49ers picked him there and used him as an impact pass-rush specialist. (Smith posted 14 sacks last season.) Carolina (ninth pick), Buffalo (10) and Seattle (12) are all potential landing spots for the brother of Baltimore Ravens defensive lineman Arthur Jones and UFC light heavyweight champion Jon "Bones" Jones because of his genetic athleticism, size, length and upside.
â¢ Brandon Weeden goes No. 22 to the Cleveland Browns. Assuming the Browns are not interested in taking Ryan Tannehill and that they think Weeden is a better future signal caller than Colt McCoy, they may just take him with their second first-round pick at No. 22, eliminating the risk that another quarterback-hungry team (Bills, Cardinals, Chiefs, Eagles) could trade ahead of them later in the first or early in the second round.
â¢ Ole Miss LT/RT Bobby Massie is selected in the first round. The Steelers, Texans, Ravens and Giants could all use help at offensive tackle, and the long, athletic Massie's potential to make the switch to left tackle might push him up boards. The slide of Ohio State tackle Mike Adams, potentially out of the first round, may also help Massie's case.
â¢ Midwestern State OG Amini Silatolu goes in the first round. Scouts were disappointed Silatolu could not participate at the Senior Bowl due to a hamstring injury, but his film (even against Division II competition) created enough buzz that the Steelers could select him with the 24th overall pick. Baltimore (29) and San Francisco (30) also need interior line help and could add the runner-up for the 2011 Gene Upshaw Award (the honor for the top Division II offensive lineman was won by Joe Long, brother of Miami Dolphins left tackle Jake Long).
Follow Chad Reuter on Twitter @ChadReuter