There are at least two major wild cards in front of the Buffalo Bills in the 2012 NFL Draft.
Jacksonville at No. 7 and Miami at No. 8 are two spots where the course of the first round could take major shifts. The Jaguars need a receiver and a pass rusher, but there may not be an elite player they like in those positions at No. 7. The Dolphins need a quarterback. Do they gamble on Texas A&M's Ryan Tannehill, who has just 19 college starts, or do they make a safer pick?
It's hard to predict what will happen in those two spots.
Furthermore, the talent pool is relatively even throughout the first round, which is creating uncertainty about how the top 20 picks will unfold.
"My thought is in this draft, what you get at 9, 10, 11, 12, is what you're going to get at 17, 18, 19, 20," said ESPN analyst Todd McShay. "I think there is a drop-off (after the first six or seven picks), but there is a lot of depth in the middle of the first round."
"You'll talk to five teams you'll get guys in the top seven of one team that the other team doesn't even think three of those guys even belong in the top 15," said ESPN analyst Mel Kiper. "So there's no consensus to seven, eight, nine, 10, I can just tell you that."
With that in mind, here's a forecast for Round One, based on conversations with league scouts and a mock draft held this week among beat writers in every NFL city:
1. INDIANAPOLIS. Needs: Everything except kickers. For suffering through their first losing season after nine straight double-digit victory seasons, the Colts get the top prize. The pick: Andrew Luck, QB, Stanford.
2. WASHINGTON. Needs: QB, OT, G, TE, CB, LB. The Redskins scored a coup by outmaneuvering Cleveland to vault from sixth to second in the draft order. Besides that flip of picks with St. Louis, they had to give up two first-rounders and a second-rounder. The deal was worth it. The pick: Robert Griffin III, QB, Baylor.
3. MINNESOTA. Needs: DB, WR, LT, MLB, NT. Everyone has figured since January the Vikings would pick a left tackle. Consider this: Their pass defense last year allowed opposing QBs to compile a passer rating of 107.6, second worst in league history. They're in a division with QBs Aaron Rodgers, Matt Stafford and Jay Cutler. Maybe the surprises will start here. The pick: Morris Claiborne, CB, Louisiana State.
4. CLEVELAND. Needs: WR, RB, RT, QB. The Browns have three of the top 37 picks and a league-high 13 choices overall. The prediction is the Browns won't reach for a QB. Colt McCoy will get more weapons for his awful offense. The pick: Trent Richardson, RB, Alabama.
5. TAMPA BAY. Needs: LB, RB, CB, S, TE, depth at OG, C. The Bucs ranked 32nd against the run and 30th overall on defense last season. Their linebacking corps is Quincy Black, Mason Foster and Adam Hayward. Their corners are Ronde Barber (who is 37), unspectacular Eric Wright and Aqib Talib (who faces off-the-field issues). Claiborne is the likely pick if he's available. The pick: Luke Kuechly, LB, Boston College.
6. ST. LOUIS. Needs: WR, DT, OLB, OG, RB, P, S. The Rams are suffering from poor drafts in the past decade. But they have a talented QB in Sam Bradford. They had a league-low nine TD receptions last year. The pick: Justin Blackmon, WR, Oklahoma State.
7. JACKSONVILLE. Needs: WR, DE, RT, CB. The Jaguars' passing game was the worst in the NFL last season and their pass rush ranked 24th in sacks per pass attempt. Jaguars General Manager Gene Smith is a good drafter. He's not a gambler. He could go cornerback, but he likes big guys. The pick: Matt Kalil, OT, Southern California.
8. MIAMI. Needs: QB, WR, RT, S, OLB, TE. Will the Dolphins take the best player on their board or fill their dire QB need? The trade of Brandon Marshall leaves a big hole at wideout. Cameron Wake needs help rushing the passer. Right tackle is a mess. Miami fans want a big splash. New offensive coordinator Mike Sherman just came from Texas A&M. The pick: Ryan Tannehill, QB, Texas A&M.
9. CAROLINA. Needs: DE, DT, CB, WR, LB. The Panthers ranked seventh on offense, 28th on defense. They need to keep games closer to give Cam Newton a chance in the fourth quarter. Do they go DE or DT? The pick: Quinton Coples, DE, North Carolina.
10. BUFFALO. Needs: LT, CB, WR, LB. The Bills addressed their colossal weakness (pass rusher) in free agency by signing Mario Williams and Mark Anderson. Good thing, too, because the answer to their edge-rush prayers would not have come at No. 10. This gives them a ton of flexibility. They have more faith than a lot of their fans in their incumbent wideouts. So in this scenario, the pick comes down to an elite defensive back (cornerback Stephon Gilmore or safety Mark Barron), a left tackle (Cordy Glenn) or the top linebacker (Luke Kuechly). Gilmore might not get past No. 7. But if he does, the Bills stick with their draft-board ranking. The pick: Stephon Gilmore, CB, South Carolina.
11. KANSAS CITY: Needs: NT, S, WR. The Chiefs were 26th in run defense last year. The pick: Fletcher Cox, DT, Mississippi State.
12. SEATTLE. Needs: DE, LB, WR. The pick: If Tannehill is on the board, Seattle will take him. Otherwise, the biggest need is a pass rusher. The pick: Melvin Ingram, DE, South Carolina.
13. ARIZONA. Needs: OT, WR, OLB, DE, S. Ingram would be a good fit if he gets this far, which is a distinct possibility. Larry Fitzgerald would love a big wideout on the other side of the field. The pick: Michael Floyd, WR, Notre Dame.
14. DALLAS. Needs: Their starters are mostly set. Depth needed at C, S, DE, CB. DT Michael Brockers from Louisiana State or Cox would be tempting if they're available. The pick: Barron, S, Alabama.
15. PHILADELPHIA. Needs: OLB, S, DT, RB, OL. Like Dallas, the Eagles don't have glaring needs, either. Andy Reid loves to fortify his lines. The pick: Riley Reiff, OT, Iowa.
16. N.Y. JETS. Needs: OLB, RB, WR, S, RT. The Jets' defense needs more pass rush, as evidenced by the fact they re-signed Aaron Maybin. The pick: Chandler Jones, DE, Syracuse.
17. CINCINNATI. Needs: CB, WR, S, G, LB, DE. The Bengals need a second wideout opposite A.J. Green, but they can't pass up this sure-fire hit. The pick: David DeCastro, G, Stanford.
18. SAN DIEGO: Needs: LB, SS, OL, CB, RB. The Chargers still miss Shawne Merriman in his prime. With Peyton Manning in the division, the need to get after the passer is even greater. This will be a great pick, and he's a guy the Patriots would love later in the round. The pick: Shea McClellin, OLB, Boise State.
19. CHICAGO. Needs: DE, DT, OT, G, WR, CB, SS, LB. The Bears need a better pass-rush threat opposite Julius Peppers, which is why they were disappointed free agent Mario Williams never got out of Buffalo. They could stand to upgrade LT J'Marcus Webb and LG Chris Williams. An elite DT would fit, too. The pick: Brockers, DT, Louisiana State.
20. TENNESSEE. Needs: DE, DT, LB, CB, S, Interior OL, WR. The Titans do a good job evaluating defensive linemen. But we don't see them taking someone with a thin college track record. The pick: Dre Kirkpatrick, CB, Alabama.
21. CINCINNATI. (See No. 17). With Kirkpatrick off the board, the Bengals address the pass rush. Their top man last season had seven sacks. The pick: Courtney Upshaw, OLB, Alabama.
22. CLEVELAND. (See No. 4). The Browns' offense has ranked in the bottom four for the last four years, and it has been in the bottom 10 in the NFL 12 of the last 13 years. The pick: Kendall Wright, WR, Baylor.
23. DETROIT. Needs: CB, S, OL, DE, RB. This is the latest the Lions have picked since 1992. The need for more corners to defend Green Bay's Aaron Rodgers can wait a round. The pick: Glenn, T, Georgia.
24. PITTSBURGH. Needs: OT, G, NT, ILB, RB, CB. The Steelers have ranked in the bottom nine in sacks allowed all eight years of Ben Roethlisberger's career. A tackle like Mike Adams is possible. Inside 'backer Dont'a Hightower seems like a perfect fit in Pittsburgh. But it's hard to find a 345-pound nose tackle. The pick: Dontari Poe, DT, Memphis.
25. DENVER. Needs: DT, RB, CB, LB. Despite the interior defensive line issue, the Broncos get a weapon for Peyton Manning. The pick: Coby Fleener, TE, Stanford.
26. HOUSTON. Needs: OT, OLB, WR, G, CB. The Texans are rolling the dice at right guard and right tackle with Antoine Caldwell and Rashad Butler, respectively. They also need to compensate for the loss of Mario Williams. The pick: Whitney Mercilus, DE, Illinois.
27. NEW ENGLAND. Needs: Stand-up DE, DT, CB, S, LB, OG, OT. The Pats will see if they can trade back and add a pick, as usual. Maybe a team moves up for a QB. But Bill Belichick can take a stalwart off of old buddy Nick Saban. The pick: Dont'a Hightower, ILB, Alabama.
28. GREEN BAY. Needs: OLB, DE, S, CB, QB, RB, C-G, T. The Packers have more needs than one would think for a 15-1 team. They finished 32nd in yards allowed and sack percentage. The pick: Jerel Worthy, DT, Michigan State.
29. BALTIMORE: Needs: OG, WR, C, edge pass rusher, S, OT, KR. The pick: Peter Konz, C, Wisconsin.
30. SAN FRANCISCO. Needs: G, WR, RB, S, CB, OLB, backup ILB. The pick: Kevin Zeitler, G, Wisconsin.
31. NEW ENGLAND. (See No. 27). If they don't get McClellin, they need somebody else. The pick: Nick Perry, DE, Southern Cal.
32. N.Y. GIANTS. Needs: TE, S, T, RB depth, WR depth. The pick: Jonathan Martin, OT, Stanford.