Sunday, January 15, 2012

2012 NFL Mock Draft 1.0

The offseason is officially here for 24 of the NFL's teams, and I thought now would be a good time to peak ahead to the 2012 NFL Draft (Apr. 26-28) and post my initial first-round mock draft. Obviously this thing is going to change drastically over the next 3+ months, but it's always a fun exercise to start thinking about where prospects will end up.

Remember that the Panthers and Dolphins will flip a coin for the No. 8 pick (loser gets No. 9) and the same process will decide the Seahawks' and Chiefs' picks at No. 11 and 12. And of course, only the teams out of the playoffs know their current draft spot, so the rest of them are projected.

1. Indianapolis Colts — QB Andrew Luck, Stanford

This pick has been assumed for months, and I'm sticking with it. Regardless of what they decide to do with Peyton Manning, the Colts simply cannot pass on the best signal-caller in the draft.

2. St. Louis Rams — CB Morris Claiborne, Louisiana State

The Rams have a lot of needs here, but their corners dropped like flies in 2011 and that absolutely killed their season. Claiborne is a rare prospect and new head coach Jeff Fisher—a former NFL defensive back himself—could fall in love with him.

3. Minnesota Vikings — OT Matt Kalil, Southern California

Charlie Johnson has been completely overmatched, and the brother of Panthers' center Ryan Kalil seems like the perfect guy to protect Christian Ponder's blind side.

4. Cleveland Browns — QB Robert Griffin III, Baylor

The Browns may have to package their first two picks and move up to No. 2 if someone like the Dolphins is threatening to trade up, but I don't project trades and Griffin wouldn't go before No. 4 in this case. Some people think the Browns have biggest needs, but Colt McCoy is not a franchise quarterback and the Browns shouldn't pass on RG3 if they have a chance to grab him.

5. Tampa Bay Buccaneers — CB Dre Kirkpatrick, Alabama

The Buccaneers have a ton of need and will be playing for a new head coach in 2012, but corner is certainly an area of concern with Ronde Barber soon turning 37 and Aqib Talib likely to end up incarcerated at some point. Kirkpatrick is an elite corner prospect and would be a nice addition.

6. Washington Redskins — QB Ryan Tannehill, Texas A&M

A foot injury threatens to harm his stock, but Tannehill appears to be the third-best quarterback prospect in this class thanks to some other guys returning for their senior years. The Redskins can't pass on a quarterback again and might have to reach for one here.

7. Jacksonville Jaguars — WR Justin Blackmon, Oklahoma State

The only weapon the Jaguars have on offense is Maurice Jones-Drew. If they are going to roll with 2011 first-round quarterback Blaine Gabbert at quarterback after a disastrous rookie season, then he'll been a big target to throw to. Blackmon is a poor man's Calvin Johnson and fits the bill perfectly.

8. Carolina Panthers* — DT Devon Still, Penn State

The Panthers tried a large mix of young players at defensive tackle in 2011, with little success. Still's stock is on the rise and could start as a rookie while providing a big boost to the team's run defense.

9. Miami Dolphins* — OT Riley Reiff, Iowa

Many of us are hoping the Dolphins can move up and land a quarterback like RG3, but I don't project trades and moving up will be extremely difficult and un-Jeff Ireland-like. In the event they stay pat, they'd probably be better served taking a quality player at a need area rather than reaching for a lesser quarterback, and Reiff would be a huge upgrade over Marc Colombo at right tackle.

10. Buffalo Bills — OLB Whitney Mercilus, Illinois

Bust Aaron Maybin continues to loom large in the minds of Bills fans, and the team still has no pass rush to speak of. Mercilus might be the best all-around pass rusher in the draft and would be a significant addition behind their quality defensive line.

11. Kansas City Chiefs* — OT Jonathan Martin, Stanford

Branden Albert hasn't exactly lived up to being the No. 15 pick in 2008 and the rest of the Chiefs' starting-caliber tackles are free agents. The Chiefs would be wise to shore up the line with an established talent like Martin here.

12. Seattle Seahawks* — QB Nick Foles, Arizona

If you thought Tannehill at No. 6 was a reach, I'm sure you'll think this one is too. But Christian Ponder wasn't a true first-round talent last year and went in this spot as NFL teams that need signal-callers were taking them en mass. Pete Carroll dips into his old conference to get someone to compete with and/or eventually replace the very average Tarvaris Jackson.

13. Arizona Cardinals — OG David DeCastro, Stanford

Deuce Lutui is a free agent, while Daryn Colledge and Rex Hadnot have no real business starting in the NFL. DeCastro may just be the safest lineman prospect in this draft and would be an instant starter for the Cardinals inside.

14. Dallas Cowboys — LB Dont'a Hightower, Alabama

Keith Brooking and Bradie James are free agents, so Dallas will need a replacement alongside Sean Lee inside. Last year's second-rounder, Bruce Carter, may be able to handle the job, but Hightower is a superior prospect and I think he'd be a great fit for the Cowboys here.

15. Philadelphia Eagles — LB Luke Kuechly, Boston College

The Eagles must have forgotten to address linebacker last offseason, and it cost them greatly in 2011. Arguably the best linebacker in football and recipient of the Butkus and Lombardi Awards, Kuechly would be a huge addition to the Eagles' defense and could make an immediate impact.

16. New York Jets — WR Michael Floyd, Notre Dame

Plaxico Burress was serviceable last year and Santonio Holmes may be back with the team even after quitting on them at the end of this season, but it's about time the Jets got some youth and play-making ability into this receiving corps. Floyd fits the bill.

17. Cincinnati Bengals (from Oakland) — RB Trent Richardson, Alabama

This might be a bit lower than many expect Richardson to go, but running backs just aren't worth taking in the top 10 and Richardson is no exception. Cedric Benson has been a horrendous starter over the past few seasons and Richardson would give the Bengals a legitimate home run threat in the backfield.

18. San Diego Chargers — OT Zebrie Sanders, Florida State

The Chargers' offensive line was plagued by injuries and ineffectiveness in 2011, and a few of their key plays might have career-threatening injuries. Sanders is the best tackle left on the board at this point and would provide some much-needed insurance.

19. Chicago Bears — CB Alfonzo Dennard, Nebraska

Charles Tillman isn't getting and younger and the Bears have struggled to find another consistent starting cornerback. Dennard is a safe pick and would shore up the depth quite a bit.

20. Tennessee Titans — CB Janoris Jenkins, North Alabama

A legitimate top-10 talent, Jenkins was kicked off the Florida Gators' team after multiple drug arrests and finished out his collegiate career at Division II North Alabama, where he was an All-American this season. With Cortland Finnegan likely to walk in free agency, rolling the dice on a high-upside player like Jenkins might be worth the gamble.

21. Cincinnati Bengals — LB Zach Brown, North Carolina

Former first-rounder Keith Rivers missed the entire 2011 season and Rey Maualuga has failed to live up expectations, so it might be time to bring some fresh blood into the linebacker corps. Brown is a nice talent that could play inside or outside in Cincinnati.

22. Cleveland Browns (from Atlanta) — WR Kendall Wright, Baylor

At No. 4, the Browns got their quarterback in RG3. With their other first-round pick, they get Griffin's favorite target at Baylor. Wright is a fast-rising playmaker and would give the Browns a high-upside receiver after Greg Little's rough rookie season.

23. Detroit Lions — OT Mike Adams, Ohio State

Jeff Backus has been one of the worst starting left tackle for a while now and the 34-year-old upcoming free agent suffered a torn bicep in the playoffs. It's time the Lions addressed the position in the draft and Adam is a solid pick.

24. Pittsburgh Steelers — LB Vontaze Burfict, Arizona State

Veteran linebacker James Farrior is now 37 years old, so it's time to find a long-term replacement to start inside with Lawrence Timmons. Burfict is a strong all-around player and has the bulk for the 3-4 scheme, so he could be the next great linebacker in the Steelers' defense.

25. Denver Broncos — OG Cordy Glenn, Georgia

Russ Hochstein is no one's idea of a starter, Chris Kuper will be coming off a broken leg in 2012, and Zane Beadles has fizzled as a starter. The best guard in this class not named DeCastro, Glenn would give the Broncos' offensive line the SEC mauler it needs.

26. New England Patriots (from New Orleans) — DE Quinton Coples, North Carolina

Talented enough to go in the first half of the round, Coples would be a great value here and has the position flexibility to fit whatever scheme Bill Belichick decides to go with. He's got excellent bulk and can get to the passer from inside or outside.

27. New York Giants — OT Andrew Datko, Florida State

This may be a bit of a reach, but tackle is a huge need for the Giants after Kareem McKenzie and David Diehl combined to allowed 16 sacks and 97 quarterback pressures in 2011. Datko might not be able to start right away but he's a strong talent and has some upside.

28. Houston Texans — S Mark Barron, Alabama

On paper, the Texans have very few obvious needs and Wade Phillips has completely turned the defense around. That being said, the front seven is stronger than the secondary and Glover Quin's transition to strong safety hasn't worked out, so Barron would be a great replacement.

29. San Francisco 49ers — OLB Nick Perry, Southern California

The 49ers hit a home run with 2011 first-rounder Aldon Smith and his 14 sacks as a rookie, but the team could use more depth and a local talent like Perry might be too tempting to pass up here toward the end of the firsgt round.

30. Baltimore Ravens — C Peter Konz, Wisconsin

Veteran Matt Birk is still a great center, but he'll be 36 in 2012 and is a free agent this offseason. Even if Birk doesn't retire, it's time to plan for the future and Konz is the best center of this class.

31. New England Patriots — LB Courtney Upshaw, Alabama

The Patriots currently run the 4-3, but they still utilize some 3-4 looks and still play some 4-3 personnel at 3-4 spots (i.e. Rob Ninkovich at outside linebacker). Upshaw is one of college football's best pass rusher and could help the NFL's second-worst defense either standing up or with his hand in the ground.

32. Green Bay Packers — DE Jared Crick, Nebraska

The 15-1 Packers are riding high on their unstoppable offense, but he defense has really struggled lately and could use help almost everywhere. Crick would help solidify the line and give the team a long-term starting talent next to B. J. Raji.

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