In my latest 2012 NFL mock draft, I decided to do something out of my comfort zone. Typically, I avoid projecting trades into my mock draft. However, this draft is very unique, as one spot seems like a guaranteed trade. In this mock, the St. Louis Rams trade the No. 2 pick to the Miami Dolphins for the Nos. 8 and 40 picks as well as a 2013 first-round pick.
Matt Barkley's decision to return to USC is what prompted this trade scenario. I don't see a situation where somebody doesn't move up to select Baylor's Robert Griffin III. The difference between the No. 2 and No. 3 ranked quarterbacks is very big.
Please keep in mind that this mock was developed prior to the Week 17 games, so the draft order might be a little off.
Stanford's Andrew Luck will be the top overall pick in the 2012 NFL draft, no matter who holds the selection. The Indianapolis Colts control their own destiny, a loss versus the Jacksonville Jaguars ensures them the top pick and rights to Andrew Luck.
The Colts absolutely want Luck, as he gives them a long-term replacement for Peyton Manning. Due to a neck injury, Manning faces a cloudy future. Luck provides the Colts with an unheard of opportunity to land back to back franchise quarterbacks.
If this pick happens to land in the laps of the St. Louis Rams we could see some crazy trade scenarios. St. Louis would need to either trade this pick or Sam Bradford.
I rarely project trades into my mock drafts, but Baylor's Robert Griffin III will be selected No. 2 overall. The Miami Dolphins desperately need a quarterback, and have the ammo needed to move up. This would be a high risk/high reward type of move. The price will be steep, possibly two 1st round picks and a 2nd rounder. However, Griffin III possesses the ability to turn this franchise around.
Griffin III isn't just an athlete, he also boasts excellent quarterback skills. His best attribute is his ability to attack the deep part of the field. Because of his long range accuracy, he is capable of putting points on the board from anywhere on the field.
If St. Louis hangs onto this pick they will likely target one of the offensive tackles. Stanford's Jonathan Martina and USC's Matt Kalil would be their targets.
The Minnesota Vikings offensive line situation needs to be improved. Charlie Johnson shouldn't be the starting left tackle for a team looking to break in a young quarterback. Stanford's Jonathan Martin would provide an immediate upgrade.
Martin's fluid movement and balance allows him to effectively protect the passer. He does an excellent job shutting down both speed and power rushers. Martin also excels at opening running lanes, keeping his pad level low to gain leverage.
Minnesota needs to add Martin to help keep Christian Ponder upright, as well as to improve the rushing attack.
Alabama's Trent Richardson is a special talent, capable of making an immediate impact. The Cleveland Browns appear likely to be parting ways with Peyton Hillis, making adding a running back one of their top priorities. Richardson doesn't just fill a need, he gives the Browns and elite level running back.
Richardson's combination of quickness and power makes an every-down back. He possesses the ability to grind out the tough yards, while also being a threat to break-off a long run. Richardson is already better than Hills, and possesses even more upside.
Cleveland also could target a wide receiver like Oklahoma State's Justin Blackmon. Either way, the Browns need to add some offensive fire-power.
The inconsistent play of Eugene Monroe and injuries to Eden Britton will force the Jacksonville Jaguars to consider adding an offensive tackle. USC's Matt Kalil would fit at left tackle and allow Monroe to shift to the right side. At this point, Kalil fills a need and represents the best player available.
Kalil possesses the size, strength and quickness to develop into and elite NFL tackle. His ability to move defenders off the line will increase the production of Maurice Jones-Drew. He will also help lower the 40+ sacks allowed this season. Adding a left tackle isn't a glamor selection, but it improves the play of the entire offense.
If Jacksonville still believes in the combination of Monroe and Britton, they will look to add a playmaking wide receiver. Oklahoma State's Justin Blackmon would be the likely target.
LSU's Morris Claiborne boasts excellent athleticism and instincts. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers need to find some stability at the cornerback position. Both Aqib Talib and Ronde Barber face questionable futures. Talib's off-the-field issues always make him a stone's throw away from a suspension, while Barber is 36 years old and at the end of his career.
Claiborne is capable of locking down his size of the field, or taking a team's top target out of the game. However, his greatest attribute is his ability to create turnovers. Because of his ball skills, he pulls down a lot of interceptions.
Tampa would love to add either Matt Kalil or Jonathan Martin, and both would be in consideration if available.
The height of Oklahoma State's Justin Blackmon's draft stock depends on 40-time. However, his playmaking ability all but guarantees him a spot in the top 10. The Washington Redskins could use a young No. 1 receiver on the roster. Regardless of his 40-time, Blackmon is capable of increasing the explosiveness of the offense.
Both Santana Moss and Jabar Gaffney are effective pass catchers, but are over the age of 31. They have each lost a step or two, limiting their big play potential. Adding Blackmon would help open things up for the running game, and decrease the attention on Moss.
Ideally, Washington wants to improve the quarterback position. However, a trade will be needed to accomplish that upgrade. It could cost as much as two 1st round pick and a 2nd rounder just to get into position to draft a quarterback.
This is the second part of my projected trade-- St. Louis Rams receive this pick, 2nd rounder and 2013 1st round pick from the Miami Dolphins. The Rams put themselves in a great position to add a playmaking wide receiver. South Carolina's Alshon Jeffery fills one of the Rams biggest holes.
Jeffery's excellent size and leaping ability allow him to make plays on poorly thrown balls. This is just one of the ways he helps a young quarterback. Sam Bradford needs a big target who can help increase the explosiveness of the offense. The combination of Jeffery and Brandon Lloyd would provide St. Louis with a good receiving tandem.
If Miami isn't able to pull off a trade they need to consider someone like Oklahoma's Landry Jones. Their quarterback situation lacks a long term solution. The new coaching staff will want to make their mark and find a new face for the franchise.
Cam Newton and the Carolina Panthers offense is in good shape, but the defense needs a lot of work. The biggest defensive issues are along the line. North Carolina's Quinton Coples possesses the skill-level to step in and immediately improve the defense. He and Charles Johnson would form and excellent defensive end tandem.
Coples is a complete player, capable of generating a pass rush and holding up against the run. His pass rush skills will have a ripple effect on the defense, helping both the secondary and linebacking corps. Adding some talent to the defense and the continued development of Newton could put Carolina in the playoff hunt next season.
This pick could change if either Justin Blackmon or Alshon Jeffery were still on the board.
As we inch closer and closer to the draft, Alabama's Courtney Upshaw will get more attention. His versatility and playmaking abilities make him one of the top prospects in the the draft. The Buffalo Bills defense would get a major boost from the addition of Upshaw.
The Bills rank towards the bottom of the NFL in sacks, thanks to limited contributions from the outside linebackers. Chris Kelsay and Spencer Johnson have combined for a total of seven sacks. Upshaw could potentially hit double digit sacks in a season.
Buffalo could also look to make some upgrades along the offensive line. Iowa's Riley Reiff would immediately improve their left tackle situation.
Iowa's Riley Reiff has emerged as one of the fastest rising prospects eligible for the 2012 NFL Draft. He currently sits at No. 3 on my offensive tackle ranking, and might crack the top 10. The Kansas City Chiefs offensive line needs some help at the tackle position. The unit could improve by selecting Reiff and shifting Brandon Albert to the right side.
Kansas City knows the strength of their offense is the running game, and adding Reiff only makes them stronger in this area. He also improves their ability to protect the passer, especially against speed rushers. Albert does a decent job protecting the edge, but he doesn't posses the quick feet to stall the leagues top pass rushers.
The Chiefs also have needs on the defensive side of the ball. They could add a linebacker like Arizona State's Vontaze Burfict, or a defensive lineman like Clemson's Brandon Thompson.
North Carolina's Zach Brown exhibits great versatility and explosiveness. He possesses the ability to fit multiple schemes and positions. The Arizona Cardinals need a linebacker capable of both creating pressure and supporting the run. Brown's athletic ability gives him the potential to fit both those needs.
Arizona's 3-4 defense will only be successful if they continue to add talented linebackers. Brown fits on the outside and would complement Sam Acho on the other side. Despite a limited sack total, Brown still possesses pass rushing potential. His short area burst will allow him to get off the line and close on the quarterback.
Ideally, the Cardinals would love to add Iowa's Riley Reiff, but he is off the board. They might considered move up a few spots to ensure they land a left tackle.
The play of the Philadelphia Eagles linebacking corps limited the effectiveness of the defense. This unit struggled to identify plays and support the run. Boston College's Luke Kuechly possesses the instincts and leadership ability to quickly improve the defense. He is NFL ready, and even ready to make all the defensive calls.
Philadelphia's defense was one of the main reasons this team struggles. Young linebackers like Casey Matthews and Brian Rolle just didn't play consistent football. This wide-9 defense puts a lot of pressure on the linebackers to step up and support the run. However, this unit just wasn't capable of handling that task.
The Eagles could opt to go after a bigger linebacker like Arizona State's Vontaze Burfict. However, his character concerns have him dropping on my draft board.
The Seattle Seahawks future looks a lot brighter as of late. They have developed several young players into key contributors. However, the long term future of the quarterback position remains in question. Oklahoma's Landry Jones possesses the physical attributes to develop into a top-level passer.
Tarvaris Jackson is under contract for another season, and would be a great mentor for a young quarterback. Jones potentially needs to spend some time on the bench learning the ins and outs of the game. He also might struggle adjusting to a pro-style system, after his years in Oklahoma's spread attack.
If Seattle wants to avoid selecting a quarterback, Clemson's Brandon Thompson would be a great addition. He potentially would replace either Red Bryant or Alan Branch.
Takeo Spikes is 35 years old and on the downside of his career. The San Diego Chargers need to find a long term replacement for Spikes. Arizona State's Vontaze Burfict provides the type of tenacity and explosiveness needed to excel at inside linebacker.
Burfict's quickness allows him to make plays from sideline to sideline. He also possesses strength to step up and fill the running lanes. His versatility will allow the Chargers to use him at either inside or outside linebacker until Spikes retires.
San Diego is another team that would love to add Iowa's Riley Reiff. However, they will have to move up in order to land the offensive tackle.
Notre Dame's Michael Floyd fits a major need for the Chicago Bears. His combination of size, speed and leaping ability instantly makes him the top receiver on the roster. Because of his skills, he will make life easier for Jay Cutler. Floyd provides the Bears with a legitimate No. 1 receiver, something they have lack for many years.
Chicago's current receiver corps consists of No. 2 and No. 3 type targets. None of them should be counted on to lead the team in receiving. Adding Floyd would help someone like Earl Bennett be more effective, as the majority of coverage will be rolled towards him.
The Bears offensive line is also an area that needs an upgrade, especially at left tackle. Ohio State's Mike Adams might be another target for the Bears.
Alabama's Dre Kirkpatrick is a top 10 talent, and would be a steal at this point in the draft. His length and aggressiveness makes him one of the top prospects in this draft. The Tennessee Titans may need to find a replacement for Cortland Finnegan, who is a free agent. There is no guarantee that Finnegan is retained, he might get a big contract from another franchise.
Kirkpatrick reminds me of a more physical version of Antonio Cromartie. His long arms and ability to play close to the line allows him to lockdown receivers. He loves to press and disrupt the timing of the route. Adding Kirkpatrick will improve the entire Titans defense, especially the pass rush.
Clemson's Brandon Thompson also makes sense for the Titans. He would provide some of the interior push lost when Albert Hayesworth left.
The Dallas Cowboys secondary allowed over 280 yards per game this season. A lot of those yards were a result of blown coverages and mistakes, the rest were due to ineffective play. Terrence Newman and Mike Jenkins no longer offer top-notch cornerback play. North Alabama's Janoris Jenkins will provide an instant upgrade.
Jenkins might be the most talented cornerback in the draft, but falls because of his off-the-field concerns. He does a great job reading the quarterback's eyes and breaking on the ball. Because of his ball skills, he is always a threat to pull down an interception.
Dallas' other draft targets will likely be offensive linemen. Wisconsin's Peter Konz would be an immediate upgrade over the struggling Phil Costa.
Rex Ryan and the New York Jets defense always looks to create pressure. However, this the Jets are an Aaron Maybin away from ranking near the very bottom in sacks. Ryan and the Jets need to add someone capable of bring pressure off the edge. South Carolina's Melvin Ingram would be a nice piece of clay for Ryan to mold.
Ingram is one of the most versatile prospects in this draft, lining up at defensive end, outside linebacker and defensive tackle while at South Carolina. His versatility allows him to make plays all over the field. However, Ingram might be best suited to play rush outside linebacker in an aggressive 3-4 system.
Look for the Jets to also consider a nose tackle like Memphis' Dontari Poe.
A lot of the Cincinnati Bengals success this season has been thanks to strong offensive line play. Andy Dalton and the offense wouldn't have been as effective if not for the protection and running lanes. However, this unit needs help at the guard position. Stanford's David DeCastro is capable of stepping in and making an immediate impact.
DeCastro uses leverage and proper technique to protect the passer and open running lanes. He possesses the leadership to make the necessary adjustments for the entire offensive line. Adding DeCastro will give the Bengals an All-Pro guard for the next ten years.
If a cornerback like Dre Kirkpatrick or Janoris Jenkins falls to this spot they would be the pick over DeCastro.
The New York Giants offseason priority must be upgrading the offensive line, they could use help at all five positions. Ohio State's Mike Adams fits at either left or right tackle. He possesses the quick feet and balance necessary to protect the passer. In the running game, he uses leverage and a strong leg drive to move defenders off the line.
New York's future at offensive tackle is very cloudy, with Kareem McKenzie at 32 years old and William Beatty's detached retina. The offensive line troubles have limited the once powerful Giants running game to a league-worst 88 yards per game.
The Giants also could look at Wisconsin's Peter Konz to step in and upgrade the center position.
Penn State's Devon Still was arguably the most disruptive defensive lineman in all of college football. His ability to penetrate the pocket allowed him to register 17 tackles for loss and 4.5 sacks this season. The interior of the Denver Broncos defense needs someone to get pressure up the middle.
Still and the Broncos are a perfect match. Adding him to a defense that already boasts Von Miller and Elvis Dumervil will only makes this unit more effective. Miller and Dumervil's ability to attack the edge forces quarterbacks up in the pocket where Still will be lurking.
If Tim Tebow is considered the future at quarterback, Denver needs to focus their attention on building the defense.
The Houston Texans and Wade Phillips' type of 3-4 defense allows for some versatility at the nose tackle position. He has been successful with either a massive space eater or with more of a penetrator like Jay Ratliff. Clemson's Brandon Thompson offers the best of both worlds. He possesses the anchor ability to occupy blockers, as well as the quickness to get some penetration.
Thompson would be an upgrade over current starter Shaun Cody. Houston's success this season can be attributed to the massive improvement of the defense. This unit ranks in the top five in both passing and rushing yards against. Continuing to improve this unit will help sustain long-term success for the Texans.
Outside of upgrading the defense, Houston could also look to add a playmaking wide receiver. Baylor's Kendall Wright would really help open things up on the offense.
The loss of Jonathan Joseph hurt the depth and effectiveness of the Cincinnati Bengals secondary. Adam Jones and Nate Clements are good fill-ins, but shouldn't be counted on as the long-term solution. Nebraska's Alfonzo Dennard would be a great fit in Cincinnati.
Dennard is a physical defender, who loves to play close to the line of scrimmage. His top-notch bump-and-run coverage helps disrupt the timing of the offense. However, Dennard's click and close ability is what makes him a special player.
The Bengals also need to find some insurance at running back. Miami's Lamar Miller and Boise State's Doug Martin are some good late 1st round options.
The Cleveland Browns offense lacks explosiveness, especially at the wide receiver position. Baylor's Kendall Wright is the definition of explosiveness, and would immediately improve the Browns offense. Adding Wright to their earlier pick of Trent Richardson really increases this offense's ability to score quickly.
Cleveland's current receivers are bigger possession-type receivers, including Greg Little and Mohamed Massaquoi. Wright gives the Browns a quick-twitch athlete capable of attacking the deep part of the field. Defenses will need to be aware of him at all times, because he can score from anywhere on the field.
The direction of this pick depends on how the Browns use their first selection. If they decide to move away from selecting a receiver, Cleveland would likely look to upgrade the offensive line. Someone like Georgia's Cordy Glenn would be a nice fit.
The Detroit Lions have shown that they will drafted the best player available. However, drafting well means finding a balance between filling a need and getting value. South Carolina's Stephon Gilmore is a talented cornerback, more than worthy of a 1st round selection.
Gilmore's toughness and aggressiveness fits in with the Lions style of play. He would be an immediate upgrade over both Chris Houston and Eric Wright. Upgrading the cornerback play will increase the effectiveness of the entire defense, especially the pass rush.
Look for the Lions to also consider adding help along the offensive line. Florida State's Zebrie Sanders would be a good long-term replacement for the aging Jeff Backus.
The Pittsburgh Steelers know better than anyone the importance of offensive line depth. They have lost Willie Colon for the season and Jonathan Scott, Maurkice Pouncey and Doug Legursky have all missed time. Georgia's Cordy Glenn would provide depth at several positions.
Glenn possesses the ability to play multiple positions, and would be an upgrade for the Steelers at several of those spots. He is a massive player and fluid athlete, who opens running lanes and protects the passer. His ideal fit is at either guard or right tackle, which would allow Pittsburgh to make some adjustments and improve other spots.
Illinois' Whitney Mercilus used a breakout season to put himself into the 1st round discussion. His ability to rush the passer is what makes him such a valuable asset. The New England Patriots need to add someone capable of creating pressure off the edge.
This season the Patriots were forced to rely on veterans Andre Carter and Mark Anderson. Both have played better than expected, but lack great upside. Mercilus is a versatile player, fitting multiple schemes and positions. His best spot is at defensive end in a 4-3 system, but he could also fit at outside linebacker in a 3-4.
New England would be foolish to continue their practice of trading down in the draft. This could be the year where then move up and get an elite player. Someone like Alabama's Courtney Upshaw would make a real impact.
Wisconsin's Peter Konz is the type of player capable of anchoring an offensive line for the next 15 years. He combines physical attributes with a great football IQ to form the perfect center prospect. Jim Harbaugh and the San Francisco 49ers want to dominate the line of scrimmage, which only happens with strong line play.
Jonathan Goodwin is a decent player, but at age 33 years old is on the downside of his career. Konz offers and instant upgrade and greater potential. This isn't a flashy pick, but it is one that will help the 49ers find continued success.
The 49ers will also look to add some help at cornerback. If someone like Alfonzo Dennard or Stephon Gilmore drops they will get a lot of consideration.
Most of the New England Patriots defensive struggles are a result of poor secondary play. The safety position has been an issue all season, thanks to injuries and ineffective play. James Ihedigbo is nothing more than a backup, and needs to be replaced. Alabama's Mark Ingram would be an instant upgrade, and leader in the secondary.
The Patriots need to focus the majority of their attention on improving the defense. This unit allows the most passing yards per game, at 293 yards. They also struggle against the run, but those numbers look better because of terrible pass defense. Adding Barron provides help in both the run and pass defense.
The Baltimore Ravens must head into the 2012 Draft looking to add a left tackle. Bryant McKinnie is just a stop-gap solution, and a long-term answer is needed. Florida State's Zebrie Sanders possesses the athleticism and balance to hold up on the left side.
Sanders has spent his career at Florida State under the shadow of Andrew Datko, but is now ready to show he is a top-level prospect. His quick feet and ability to mirror allows him to reach the edge and protect the passer. In the running game, Sanders does a great job getting inside hand placement and sealing the defender from the play.
An inside linebacker like North Carolina's Kevin Reddick could be an other option with this selection.
The Green Bay Packers have dominated all season long, but there are still holes on this roster. One of their biggest need is to add another pass rusher. Clay Matthews' numbers have decreased this season because of added attention. Adding Oklahoma's Ronnell Lewis would relieve some of the pressure on Matthews.
Lewis has a quick burst off the line, which allows him to attack the edge and generate a pass rush. He used this past season to put himself into the 1st round discussion. Lewis' possesses great potential, with his best football still ahead of him.
Green Bay could also look to add some help in the secondary. If any of the top cornerback happen to fall to this spot the Packers will consider them.