STILLWATER — The suspense of the 2012 NFL Draft essentially starts with the No. 3 pick, after the Colts select Stanford quarterback Andrew Luck and the Redskins take Baylor quarterback Robert Griffin III.
How many of those teams in the top 10 want Oklahoma State star wide receiver Justin Blackmon?
Plenty of them, as Blackmon is known to have visited Minnesota (which picks third), Cleveland (fourth), Tampa Bay (fifth), St. Louis (sixth), Miami (eighth), Carolina (ninth) and Buffalo (10th).
Blackmon is not only one of the top talents available after producing more than 3,300 receiving yards and 38 touchdowns over the past two seasons and winning back-to-back Biletnikoff awards. But he also benefits from the fact that six of the eight teams picking third through 10th could really use a playmaker at wide receiver. Tampa Bay addressed its need for a wideout by signing former Chargers receiver Vincent Jackson through free agency, and Carolina already has a Pro Bowl receiver in Steve Smith.
“Steady stock, and has been for months,” ESPN NFL Draft expert Mel Kiper wrote on his most recent mock draft. “Blackmon isn't as big as some had him listed … but he's still a lock for the top 10.”
Could he possibly be taken as high as third overall?
It seemed fairly certain that the Vikings would use that pick to select USC left tackle Matt Kalil, until coach Leslie Frazier recently made comments to the Minneapolis Star Tribune that alluded to the team possibly leaning more toward taking a skill player than an offensive lineman.
“You've got to really weigh your options,” Frazier told the Star Tribune. “Because the philosophy (in the NFL) has always been to get the game-changer. And left tackle is not necessarily the game-changer.
“Usually game-changers are the guys who can score you points. Receivers. Quarterbacks. So what are we measuring that left tackle against? It's a loaded debate.”
As of Tuesday, Vikings general manager Rick Spielman said Blackmon had the same exact draft grade as Kalil and LSU cornerback Morris Claiborne, according to Star Tribune Vikings beat writer Dan Wiederer.
Even so, St. Louis seems like the most likely destination for Blackmon. There he would pair up with former Oklahoma star Sam Bradford, who desperately needed weapons in the passing game in a 2011 season where he ranked 31st in the league in completion percentage (53.5) and 29th in quarterback rating (70.5).
The Browns are essentially deciding between Blackmon and Alabama running back Trent Richardson at No. 4, according to Cleveland Plain Dealer Browns beat writer Mary Kay Cabot. Should the Rams pass on Blackmon, or trade down again, the Jaguars or Dolphins would likely welcome the chance to take him.
Blackmon hasn't been regarded as an elite speedster and is a bit undersized at 6-1, 215 pounds. ESPN/Scouts Inc.'s Todd McShay doesn't rate him as highly as last year's top-10 wide receivers, A.J. Green and Julio Jones, but Kiper believes the team that drafts Blackmon will get a productive go-to receiver for years to come.
“He might not have the upside of a superstar,” Kiper wrote earlier this month. “But he has the floor of a very good player. He's proficient at doing anything a receiver must: He'll get open, create space, fight for and work back to the ball and work underneath as well as over the top.”
Where will Blackmon land?
As of Tuesday afternoon, here are where some of the prominent NFL mock drafts project Justin Blackmon to go:
ESPN's Mel Kiper: St. Louis Rams, No. 6 overall
ESPN/Scouts Inc.'s Todd McShay: St. Louis Rams, No. 6 overall
NFL Network's Michael Lombardi: Cleveland Browns, No. 4 overall
Sports Illustrated's Peter King: St. Louis Rams, No. 6 overall
Sporting News' Russ Lande: St. Louis Rams, No. 6 overall
Pro Football Talk's Evan Silva: Jacksonville Jaguars, No. 7 overall
Compiled by Gina Mizell