Tuesday, December 27, 2011

2012 NFL Draft Watch: Week 17

The Miami Dolphins lost a heartbreaker to the New England Patriots in Week 16, failing to protect a 17-point lead and eventually falling at the hands of Tom Brady's second-half surge.

There was a ray of sunshine to the defeat, however, as the Dolphins' improved their draft position from ninth to eighth. Unfortunately, they were only able to move up one spot (leapfrogging the Panthers) thanks to the rest of the teams directly ahead of them losing as well. But I'll always take a higher pick.

As it stands right now, the draft order looks like this (first tiebreaker of strength of schedule in parentheses, courtesy of Ben Volin):
1. Colts 2-13 (.552)
2. Rams 2-13 (.571)
3. Minnesota 3-12 (.565)
4. Cleveland 4-11 (.516)
5. Jacksonville 4-11 (.529)
6. Tampa Bay 4-11 (.545)
7. Washington 5-10 (.476)
8. Miami 5-10 (.511)
9. Carolina 6-9 (.482)
10. Buffalo 6-9 (.498)
11. Kansas City 6-9 (.516)

After an 0-13 start, the Colts are in danger of losing the first overall pick with their two straight wins. A victory over the Jaguars in the season finale, coupled with a Rams loss to the 49ers, would give St. Louis the first overall pick. Minnesota at 3-12 is out of the running thanks to their win over the Redskins in Week 16.

According to Volin, the Dolphins can pick no lower than 10th in the 2012 NFL Draft and no higher than fifth. For them to end up with the fifth overall pick, the Dolphins would need to lose to the Jets and have Cleveland (vs. Steelers), Jacksonville (vs. Colts), Tampa Bay (at Falcons), and Washington (at Eagles) all win in Week 17.

Unfortunately for the Dolphins, their options at quarterback regardless of where they end up picking will be limited by the absence of potential top-five selection Matt Barkley, who decided to stay for his senior season at USC.

As a result, the top quarterback prospects will be Stanford's Andrew Luck, who is likely to go first overall, Baylor's Heisman winner, Robert Griffin III, and Oklahoma's Landry Jones—should they choose to enter the draft.

Barkley staying at USC increases Griffin's draft value and the chances he will declare, and his parents have reportedly already started talking to agents. Jones, meanwhile, is a much bigger question mark, as he's coming off a bit of a disappointing junior season and could boost his stock if he stays with the Sooners in 2012 and performs well as a senior.

Second-tier guys like Brandon Weeden (Oklahoma State), Ryan Tannehill (Texas A&M), and Kirk Cousins (Michigan State) could see a bump in value as well and sneak into the first round. We saw a handful of quarterbacks go in the first round last year (some arguably reaches) and if enough teams again feel like they need to take a quarterback early, we could see the same occurrence.

If I had to mock the first 11 picks (all teams with six wins or fewer) based on the current draft order, I'd do it like this:
1. Colts (2-13) — QB Andrew Luck, Stanford
2. Rams (2-13) — CB Morris Claiborne, LSU
3. Minnesota (3-12) — OT Matt Kalil, USC
4. Cleveland (4-11) — QB Robert Griffin III, Baylor
5. Jacksonville (4-11 — WR Justin Blackmon, Oklahoma State
6. Tampa Bay (4-11) — CB Dre Kirkpatrick, Alabama
7. Washington (5-10) — QB Landry Jones, Oklahoma
8. Miami (5-10) — QB Ryan Tannehill, Texas A&M
9. Carolina (6-9) — WR Alshon Jeffery, South Carolina
10. Buffalo (6-9) — LB Whitney Mercilus, Illinois
11. Kansas City (6-9) — OT Riley Reiff, Iowa

As you can see, with Barkley out of the picture and Cleveland and Washington sitting ahead of the Dolphins, Miami could potentially be left with the fourth-best quarterback prospect in the draft as their only option. Their options would be limited even more if Griffin and/or Jones stay in school.

Obviously, the Dolphins could go another direction, bringing in a pass rusher like Mercilus or a starting lineman like Reiff or Stanford's David DeCastro, but the team needs to find a franchise quarterback above all else and I expect them to do everything they can to accomplish that in this draft.

As a result, the Dolphins' only option may still be to trade up, in which case they would need to target the No. 2 or No. 3 pick to jump ahead of Cleveland and secure Griffin. Obviously, St. Louis with Sam Bradford and Minnesota with Christian Ponder will give the Dolphins the best options to trade up, assuming they land the second and third picks. St. Louis makes a lot of sense, as they could trade down with Miami and receive a nice haul in picks, including an elite corner prospect with Miami's first-round selection.

The Dolphins have secured a top-10 pick in 2012, but this thing is far from over and we may not even know where the Dolphins are picking until after the draft begins on Apr. 26. However, a higher pick means more options both in players on the board and in trading up, so this weekend I suggest we all become Browns, Jaguars, Buccaneers, Redskins, and yes—Jets—fans if we want to see the Dolphins land an elite quarterback prospect in the upcoming draft.

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