2012 NFL Mock Draft: Morris Claiborne and Franchise Players Flying Under Radar

Mike Chiari@mikechiariFeatured ColumnistJanuary 8, 2012

OXFORD, MS - NOVEMBER 19: Morris Claiborne #17 of the LSU Tigers looks on against the Ole Miss Rebels on November 19, 2011 at Vaught-Hemingway Stadium in Oxford, Mississippi. LSU beat Mississippi 52-3. (Photo by Joe Murphy/Getty Images)
Joe Murphy/Getty Images

Everybody knows about the likes of Stanford quarterback Andrew Luck and Baylor quarterback Robert Griffin III.

It's certainly understandable, as they are among the most talented players in the draft and are locks to go early. At the same time, though, there are plenty of great players who aren't really being talked about.

Both Luck and Griffin could very well have fantastic careers, but they certainly aren't guaranteed to be the best players that come out of this draft. Every year there are less heralded players that end up developing into something so much more and becoming cornerstones for their teams.

There is nothing to suggest that the same won't happen this year as there is no shortage of candidates. Here are three under-the-radar players that will eventually become indispensable to their respective franchises.


1. Indianapolis Colts (2-14): Andrew Luck, QB, Stanford

Whether Peyton Manning is healthy or not, it has already been said that the Colts are likely to take Luck. It will be interesting to see how the situation plays out.


2. St. Louis Rams (2-14): Matt Kalil, OT, USC

The Rams were a mess this year, largely because they couldn't protect Sam Bradford. Kalil will ensure that that won't be an issue any longer.


3. Minnesota Vikings (3-13): Morris Claiborne, CB, LSU

Defensive backs are rarely hyped up prior to the draft and that has been the case with LSU defensive back Morris Claiborne. With Luck and Griffin commanding essentially all of the attention, Claiborne, who may very well be the best defensive player in the draft, has barely been talked about.

Claiborne is the anchor of the LSU defensive backfield, which happens to be the best in college football at the moment. His numbers may not be eye-popping, but a lot of that has to do with the fact that opposing quarterbacks have tried to throw away from him as often as possible.

The Minnesota Vikings were torched in the passing game time and time again this season, so a shut-down cornerback is a must. Claiborne has the ability to step in right away and be just that.

For the New York Jets, Darrelle Revis is a franchise player at the cornerback position. Claiborne has the potential to be mentioned in the same breath as Revis.


4. Cleveland Browns (4-12): Trent Richardson, RB, Alabama

It isn't yet known if the Browns will re-sign Peyton Hillis, but I'm guessing they won't. Richardson gives them a franchise running back and a real weapon on offense.


5. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (4-12): Dre Kirkpatrick, CB, Alabama

With Ronde Barber getting up there in age, the Buccaneers need a new No. 1 cornerback. Kirkpatrick has all the tools to be just that.

6. Washington Redskins (5-11): Robert Griffin III, QB, Baylor

Neither Rex Grossman nor John Beck are the answer at quarterback for the Redskins. Griffin may not fit Mike Shanahan's system, but his talent trumps any kind of system.


7. Jacksonville Jaguars (5-11): Justin Blackmon, WR, Oklahoma State

Quarterback Blaine Gabbert looked very shaky in his rookie season, but much of that was due to a lack of weapons. Blackmon can be an elite receiver immediately.


8. Carolina Panthers (6-10)*: Devon Still, DT, Penn State

Ever since Kris Jenkins bolted for the Jets, the Panthers' situation at defensive tackle has been dire. Still is unquestionably the best in the draft, though, and is a major playmaker.


9. Miami Dolphins (6-10)*: Alshon Jeffery, WR, South Carolina

Taking Jeffery at this point may seem like a reach for the Dolphins, but no quarterback is worth taking. Instead, they'll grab a talented complement for Brandon Marshall.


10. Buffalo Bills (6-10): Riley Reiff, OT, Iowa

The fact that the Bills allowed the least sacks in the league this season is an aberration. Quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick needs a true blindside protector, and Reiff is just that.


11. Seattle Seahawks (7-9)*: Nick Perry, DE, USC

Perhaps the fastest riser in the draft, Perry's ascent is reminiscent of that of Clay Matthews a few years ago. The Seahawks desperately need somebody who can pressure the quarterback.


12. Kansas City Chiefs (7-9)*: Jonathan Martin, OT, Stanford

Matt Kalil and Riley Reiff may be considered better offensive tackle prospects by most draft experts, but Stanford's Jonathan Martin has the potential to be the best of the bunch. While you can't measure Martin's worth statistically, you need only to look at quarterback Andrew Luck's stats.

Luck completed 70 percent of his passes and was barely sacked over the last two seasons and a big reason for that was Martin, who was in charge of protecting his blind side.

Without Martin, there's no telling if Luck would have been the runner-up for the Heisman Trophy twice or if he would be the sure-fire No. 1 pick.

Martin has it all in terms of production, technique, size and smarts, so he should be able to anchor the Kansas City Chiefs' offensive line for years to come.

Branden Albert hasn't worked out from a couple years ago, so the Chiefs might be gun-shy, but Martin seems to be as close to a sure thing as you can get.


13. Arizona Cardinals (8-8): Melvin Ingram, DE, South Carolina

The Cardinals made some defensive strides late in the year, but with Joey Porter almost done, they need a pass rusher. Ingram would give them exactly that.


14. Dallas Cowboys (8-7): Luke Kuechly, LB, Boston College *

Inside linebackers aren't often highly touted in the draft, so it's understandable why Boston College linebacker Luke Kuechly has flown under the radar so far. All Kuechly did at the collegiate level was make plays and rack up hardware, though, so he should be getting much more attention.

There may never be another Brian Urlacher, but due to his athleticism and relentlessness in pursuing the ball carrier, I think Kuechly can be that guy. If put in the right situation, Kuechly should be able to become a Pro Bowl-caliber player from the onset.

With Keith Brooking and Bradie James aging in the middle of their defense, the Dallas Cowboys would be smart to bring in Kuechly.

While there are plenty of players in this and every draft who have great talent, few have the mix of talent and a will to succeed like Kuechly. I don't envision any scenario in which he disappoints at the next level.


15. Philadelphia Eagles (8-8): Michael Floyd, WR, Notre Dame

Because of his terrible attitude, DeSean Jackson is likely on the outs in Philadelphia. This means that the Eagles need a complement to Jeremy Maclin, making Michael Floyd a good fit.


16. New York Jets (8-8): Quinton Coples, DE/DT, UNC

As bad as Mark Sanchez was, I think the biggest reason for the Jets' drop off this season was a regression defensively. Coples should help turn that around next year.


17. Cincinnati Bengals (via OAK 8-8): David DeCastro, OG, Stanford

There are certainly parts of the Bengals offensive line that are strong, but they lack depth. DeCastro would give them a guard that they can plug in and have for many years to come.


18. San Diego Chargers (8-8): Alfonzo Dennard, CB, Nebraska

Quentin Jammer is aging, and Antoine Cason may be a bust, so I can see the Chargers taking another cornerback. Dennard is a nice value pick at this point.


19. Chicago Bears (8-8): Peter Konz, C, Wisconsin

The loss of Olin Kreutz clearly hurt the Bears this season, so they need a new anchor on the offensive line. Konz is the premier center in the draft.


20. Tennessee Titans (9-7): Vontaze Burfict, LB, Arizona State

After losing Stephen Tulloch to free agency, the Titans did a nice job of patching up the linebacker corps. Burfict would give them a true playmaker, though.


21. Detroit Lions (10-6): Janoris Jenkins, CB, North Alabama

The Lions' defensive backfield was really exposed by Matt Flynn and the Green Bay Packers. If he matures, Jenkins could be a major steal here.


22. Cincinnati Bengals (9-7): Lamar Miller, RB, Miami

Cedric Benson is obviously on the decline, so the Bengals need a more explosive running back. Miller is as exciting as they come and would add another dimension to the offense.


23. Denver Broncos (8-8): Fletcher Cox, DT, Mississippi State

The Broncos have elite pass rushers in Von Miller and Elvis Dumervil, but they need defensive linemen who can take on blockers for them. Cox would do that quite well.


24. Cleveland Browns (via ATL 10-6): Mohamed Sanu, WR, Rutgers

The Browns seem to have found a competent receiver in Greg Little, but quarterback Colt McCoy needs more weapons than that. The athletic Sanu has all the tools to be a star.

25. Houston Texans (10-6): Mark Barron, S, Alabama

The Texans look to be a complete team, and the emergence of their defense is the reason why. Houston could still use help in the secondary, though, and Barron is the draft's best safety.


26. Pittsburgh Steelers (12-4): Cordy Glenn, OG, Georgia

Pittsburgh's offensive line has been a mess for a while, and Ben Roethlisberger is paying for it with an ankle injury. Glenn would be a major upgrade in that regard.


27. New York Giants (9-7): Zach Brown, OLB, UNC

The Giants were plagued by injuries all season long on defense, especially at linebacker. Brown gives them great depth and could probably start right away.


28. New England Patriots (via NO 13-3): Courtney Upshaw, DE/OLB, Alabama

New England's offense was historically bad this season, and the lack of a pass rush was a major culprit. Upshaw should provide a spark from day one.


29. Baltimore Ravens (12-4): Dont'a Hightower, LB, Alabama

The Ravens continually restock the cupboard on defense and that is why they are always so good on that side of the ball. Hightower will liven up an aging linebacker corps.


30. San Francisco 49ers (13-3): Kendall Wright, WR, Baylor

The 49ers have all the tools on defense and in the running game, but their receiving corps leaves something to be desired. Wright gives them a speedy partner for Michael Crabtree.


31. New England Patriots (13-3): Chase Minnifield, CB, Virginia

New England has shown that it isn't afraid to draft defensive backs early, and that is clearly a major need. Minnifield might be able to start right away opposite Devin McCourty.


32. Green Bay Packers (15-1): Chris Polk, RB, Washington

What do you give the team that has everything? The Packers don't really have any needs, so they can do whatever they like with this pick. Polk would add some talent to an average running-back stable.


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