NEW YORK -- As the final hours tick down to the start of the 2012 NFL Draft, here are the latest rumblings making their way around the league:
The draft starts with the third pick, and the Minnesota Vikings remain very much open for business. Several GMs I spoke to believe their best (only?) option might be getting the Tampa Bay Buccaneers to move up a few spots to make sure they land Trent Richardson. The Alabama running back loves Tampa's staff and the Bucs love him, as well. But Cleveland, picking fourth, could easily take him. So will the Bucs come and get Richardson?
If not, the Vikings are picking between Justin Blackmon, Matt Kalil and Morris Claiborne. A few GMs picking in the top 10 believe that in the end they go with Blackmon over the left tackle. Either way, the uncertainty at this point in the draft is making things interesting. And Minnesota is most definitely open to entertaining offers.
Let's say they don't take Kalil. Then where does he go? There aren't many teams in the top 10 who are crying out for a left tackle and they have bigger holes to fill. Could he fall all the way to Buffalo at No. 10 or would the Bills move up a bit to break his fall? People I've talked to who have worked with Buddy Nix don't get the sense he's inclined to move up to grab someone. And, needing to fill multiple holes, Gailey is exploring trade-down options himself.
It's going to be very interesting around 8:30 p.m. ET, with the calls and decisions being made in real time.
Browns could end up with three first-round picks
Teams and agents are trying to figure out where QB Brandon Weeden will go. Specifically, what do the Browns do at No. 22? Cleveland really likes Weeden, according to numerous sources with knowledge of the situation, but ideally, they'd love him at No. 37, in the second round.
I suspect if the Browns don't take him 22nd, and at this point I don't think they will, then a trade up into the late first round isn't out of the question. If the Browns want to get a jump on anyone thinking about leaping to the top of the second round Friday, they could go ahead and do business with Bill Belichick, who is always looking to deal, at No. 31 and get their quarterback. The Browns' dream scenario would allow them to take a WR, RB and QB with their top three picks. A year ago, GM Tom Heckert did some excellent wheeling and dealing. Maybe he can do it again.
First trade will involve Mark Barron
I will make a prediction that the first trade of the draft will come with Alabama safety Mark Barron as the target. Teams love him. Teams feel he is most definitely a value pick outside of the top 10, and if he gets past Buffalo, look out. Calls will be coming in to get ahead of teams like Dallas and nab Barron.
Three receivers in first half of the draft?
Very quietly, the Kansas City Chiefs have done a lot of work on receivers, and I hear they love Michael Floyd. I don't see Floyd getting beyond the 11th or 12th spot in this draft. Watch for Arizona to make a move. The Cards believe he is special and could form a ridiculous tandem with Larry Fitzgerald. If he's there around 10, Arizona is primed to move up.
Blackmon, at worst, ends up at No. 7. People I talk to are convinced the Jags are sold on him. (Of course, if he's gone, and given Floyd's off-field issues -- character matters infinitely in Jacksonville -- then the Jags could have a quandary.) And Kendall Wright is very hot as well. Again, Kansas City at 11 is in consideration. Everyone is predicting the Jets will take a pass rusher, and it makes sense, but Wright is someone Gang Green has paid a lot of attention to, as well. Regardless, I see three receivers going in the top half of the first round.
More bad boys for Detroit?
The Lions are not afraid to take a perceived "bad boy," or someone with a few run-ins off the field. And there are two prospects who have had off-field issues who would fill a need at No. 23: corner Janoris Jenkins and tackle Mike Adams. The Lions could take either one. I believe Alabama corner Dre Kirkpatrick will be the pick if he's there, but he might be gone. If the Lions were to go with Adams, then I'd be quite surprised if they didn't come back with a corner in the second round.
Surprise corner for the Patriots?
Like others, I expect New England to trade one of its two first-round picks. If they stay at No. 31, though, they have done a lot of work on corners. It would be a surprise, but I continue to hear strong reports on Vandy corner Casey Hayward. New England did a lot of work on him. If the Pats do deal with Cleveland, and move back atop the second round, then Hayward may be in play there, as well.
Eagles could be a wild card
With seemingly so little separating many of the pass rushers in this draft, and that being something the Eagles are looking at, Philly is perched in the middle of the first round with the ability to go in any direction. They really covet Fletcher Cox, from what I hear, though moving up to get him would be steep (the Eagles do have an arsenal of picks, however). They could drop back to the 20s and still land someone to give them a push off the edge.
Philadelphia is an aggressive front office and it is not afraid to be bold. Can't help but wonder if the Eagles do something that alters the course of the back half of Thursday's festivities.
Some have suggested to me that if Blackmon doesn't make it to the seventh pick, the Jags could take Jones there. Gene Smith is not afraid to take someone higher than many draft experts project. To me, No. 7 is the highest Jones could go, and I don't think he makes it past the middle of the first round.
Vinny Curry made something like 13 visits. He isn't the total package right now, but the raw athleticism could be enough to get him into the 20s. There's been a lot of talk about Courtney Upshaw sliding, but I don't think the Alabama product slides past fellow Crimson Tide product (and Ravens GM) Ozzie Newsome at pick 29. Quinton Coples has heard the slide talk, as well, but I think he still ends up in the top third of this draft, if not the top 10.
It's better to be second than first
Every college football player in American wants to be a first-round draft pick. Only 32 will be. And for many late first-round prospects, it might actually be beneficial to not hear their name called Thursday night at Radio City Music Hall.
In the new rookie wage system, there are actually rewards for going in the second round. And it's been talked about in the agent community for several weeks now. The difference between being taken in the late 20s, versus, say, going 34th, is roughly $300,000 a year. However, first-round contracts are for five years. Second-round picks are signed for four years. So, for roughly $1.2 million cumulatively, a young player in his prime gets to hit the market a year sooner.
It will be a tough sell to any player late Thursday night, but in terms of the economics, it's a great tradeoff. If the young man can play, and is a solid starter, he is going to make that money back quickly on his second contract, and he gets to begin that process a year sooner. "As much as it sucks for the kid, and it makes for a long night, I'll take hitting the market sooner," one prominent agent said. "In a lot of ways, going high second is actually better."
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