Five Potential Surprises for the 2012 NFL Draft

Raise your hand if you had the Falcons forking over a ransom in order to move up to No. 6 last year to select Julio Jones. Keep your hand raised if you knew the Titans would select Jake Locker at No. 8, or the Vikings would take Christian Ponder at No. 12.

Who had the Broncos trading back into the first round two years ago to select Tim Tebow? Or Oklahoma State receiver Dez Bryant dropping out of the top 20?

The NFL draft never goes as planned. It’s a study in making people look like fools and as Chris Duncan recently said on-air, “It’s amazing how much money people make to be wrong.”

Thus, when you tune into the 2012 NFL Draft tonight, don’t be surprised if…

1.the Vikings select Claiborne at No. 3.

Minnesota GM Rick Spielman has been a godsend to Roger Goodell and the NFL over these past few weeks. With zero conspiracy surrounding the first two picks, Spielman has managed to make the Vikings’ selection at No. 3 highly intriguing. The consensus is that Minnesota will stay put and draft USC left tackle Matt Kalil in order to protect 2011 first-round investment Christian Ponder, which is certainly logical. But considering the Vikings play in the same division as quarterbacks Aaron Rodgers, Matthew Stafford and Jay Cutler, don’t be surprised if Spielman opts for LSU cornerback Morris Claiborne instead.

2.the Rams draft Cox at No. 6.

The Rams need a receiver who can make plays outside the numbers, which is why Justin Blackmon makes the most sense at No. 6. But don’t be shocked if Jeff Fisher decides to build initially from the inside out and selects Mississippi State defensive tackle Fletcher Cox instead. This year’s draft is deep at receiver, and the Rams could always use one of their two first-round picks in the 2013 draft to move back into the first round in order to select a receiver like Michael Floyd or Kendall Wright. This isn’t what I’m suggesting the Rams will do, but instead what could wind up happening given Fisher’s background on the defensive side of the ball. Plus, Cox is a really good prospect and worthy of a top 10 selection.

3.the Chargers trade up for Barron.

From Terrence Kiel to Clinton Hart to Bob Sanders, the Chargers haven’t had much success finding a reliable strong safety since Rodney Harrison left in 2002. And while GM A.J. Smith may hope that Notre Dame’s Harrison Smith falls to the Chargers in the second round, why not move up in the first and get the best safety in the draft? There’s a slim chance that Alabama’s Mark Barron will fall past the Cowboys at No. 14, which is why the Chargers (who are sitting at No. 18) need to position themselves ahead of Dallas. The Jaguars, Panthers, Chiefs, Seahawks and Cardinals all pick ahead of the Cowboys and could have aspirations to move down. Don’t be surprised if the Chargers cut a deal with one of them in order to move up and snag Barron.

4.if Floyd drops to the Bengals at No. 17.

Talent-wise, teams may view Michael Floyd and Justin Blackmon evenly. But Floyd has multiple alcohol-related arrests and wasn’t very durable at Notre Dame, missing a total of eight games from 2008 through 2010 due to various injuries. Given how much of a risk he is, there’s a very good chance that he could fall to the receiver-needy Bengals at No. 17, who have never shied away from players with character flaws.

5.if Silatolu and/or Zeitler slip into the first round.

Quarterback, left tackle, receiver, cornerback and pass rusher – those are the positions that teams look to draft in the first round because of the potential impact they can make on a roster from Day 1. That said, two guards who could slip into the bottom of the first round are Midwestern State’s Amini Silatolu and Wisconsin’s Kevin Zeitler. Silatolu is a raw prospect and could need time to develop after playing at a small school, but he has the size and strength to be a solid starter at the next level. Zeitler, meanwhile, is a mauler in the running game and played a big role in helping Wisconsin finish eighth in the nation in rushing yards last season. San Francisco could be a prime landing spot for one of these players at pick No. 30.