2012 NFL Mock Draft: 3 Defenders Who'll Make an Immediate Impact
When it comes down to it, the purpose of the NFL Draft is for downtrodden teams to bring in players that are going to help them over the long haul. With that said though, teams are also looking for players who can step into the starting lineup from day one and contribute in a big way.
There are always several such players in any given draft, and the 2012 crop should be no exception. It seems as though there are many defensive players in particular who can start immediately and make a huge impact on their respective defenses right away.
In addition to a full first-round mock draft, here are three defensive players who are in line to make plays from the onset.
1. Indianapolis Colts (2-14): Andrew Luck, QB, Stanford
There's a sticky situation in Indy with Peyton Manning's health still in question. Regardless of what happens though, the Colts can't pass up a generational talent like Luck.
2. St. Louis Rams (2-14): Matt Kalil, OT, USC
The Rams have a ton of holes to fill, but quarterback Sam Bradford needs to be protected first and foremost. Kalil has the potential to do just that for a decade or more.
3. Minnesota Vikings (3-13): Morris Claiborne, CB, LSU
The Minnesota Vikings featured one of the worst pass defenses in football last season. While some of that had to do with injuries to players like cornerback Antoine Winfield, there is generally a lack of talent in Minnesota's secondary. In order to make strides in that area, the Vikings to need to address it in the draft.
With the No. 3 pick, the most logical selection would be LSU cornerback Morris Claiborne. Not only was Claiborne the leader of the best secondary in college football, but he himself was likely the best corner in the college game. While this may seem pretty high for a cornerback to go off the board, the New York Jets' Darrelle Revis has proven how much of an effect a shutdown corner can have.
I'm not suggesting that Claiborne will be Revis by any stretch of the imagination, but he clearly has that type of potential. The Vikes have major issues in their defensive backfield, so Claiborne would likely be afforded the opportunity to start right away, much like Revis was. As the anchor of the secondary, Claiborne figures to make an immediate impact.
4. Cleveland Browns (4-12): Trent Richardson, RB, Alabama
The Browns seem like they're willing to let running back Peyton Hillis walk, so a replacement is needed. Richardson offers everything Hillis does and a whole lot more.
5. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (4-12): Dre Kirkpatrick, CB, Alabama
Ronde Barber is on his last legs and you never know when Aqib Talib is going to screw up next, so the Bucs need a cornerback. Kirkpatrick is right behind Morris Claiborne in terms of value.
6. Washington Redskins (5-11): Robert Griffin III, QB, Baylor
Rex Grossman and John Beck aren't going to get the job done, so the Redskins need a quarterback. Griffin may not fit Mike Shanahan's offensive system, but Washington can't pass him up.
7. Jacksonville Jaguars (5-11): Justin Blackmon, WR, Oklahoma State
Quarterback Blaine Gabbert looked lost as a rookie, but much of that had to do with a lame supporting cast. Blackmon gives him what could be an elite target from day one.
8. Carolina Panthers (6-10)*: Devon Still, DT, Penn State
There may not be a consensus dominant defensive tackle in this draft as there has been the past couple years in Marcell Dareus and Ndamukong Suh, but there is no question that Penn State's Devon Still is the best at his position. He was a finalist for nearly every defensive award he was eligible for and he was the driving force behind an excellent Penn State defense.
Not only is Still a disruptive presence when it comes to blowing up running plays, but he is capable of rushing the passer as well. The Carolina Panthers have been missing a player like Still in the middle of their defense since the now-retired Kris Jenkins departed for the New York Jets. Still figures to bring that same type of game to the table.
The Panthers have next to nothing at defensive tackle, so Still figures to slide in and start from the get go. There will likely be some growing pains along the way, but if linebackers Jon Beason and Thomas Davis return to health, then he will have plenty of help. Look for Still to be a big contributing factor in a Carolina playoff push.
9. Miami Dolphins (6-10)*: Courtney Upshaw, DE, Alabama
The Dolphins have needs on both sides of the ball, but they could use a complementary pass rusher across from Cameron Wake. Upshaw was the best pass rusher on the best defense in college football.
10. Buffalo Bills (6-10): Riley Reiff, OT, Iowa
The Bills allowed the fewest sacks in the league this season, but most of that was due to quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick getting rid of the ball. Reiff will give Fitz much more time in the pocket.
11. Seattle Seahawks (7-9)*: Nick Perry, DE, USC
It may seem like a reach, but Perry has been flying up draft boards as the Senior Bowl and NFL Combine approach. He would be a great fit on a Seattle team that struggles sacking the quarterback.
12. Kansas City Chiefs (7-9)*: Jonathan Martin, OT, Stanford
The Chiefs drafted offensive tackle Branden Albert in the first round a few years back and he hasn't worked out. Martin has much less bust potential though, and should be a fine pick.
13. Arizona Cardinals (8-8): Melvin Ingram, DE, South Carolina
Arizona had a lot of trouble getting to the quarterback this past season, especially with Joey Porter in sharp decline. That makes Ingram a smart pick at this juncture.
14. Dallas Cowboys (8-8): Luke Kuechly, LB, Boston College
Perhaps no defensive player in college football has been more productive over the past two seasons than Boston College linebacker Luke Kuechly. He has racked up at least 183 tackles and three interceptions in each of his last two campaigns, and was the recipient of the Dick Butkus Award, Bronko Nagurski Award, and Vince Lombardi Award in 2011.
With all of those accolades it's no surprise that Kuechly is projected to go quite high in the upcoming draft. One team that could desperately use his services is the Dallas Cowboys. Dallas has a couple aging inside linebackers in Keith Brooking and Bradie James, meaning Kuechly would probably start right away.
What Kuechly might lack in pure speed and athleticism, he more than makes up for with will and effort. Because of his insistence on succeeding, I can't envision any scenario in which Kuechly fails at the next level. At the very least he is going to be a high-volume tackler and that is something sorely needed on Dallas' defense right now.
15. Philadelphia Eagles (8-8): Michael Floyd, WR, Notre Dame
Wide receiver DeSean Jackson seems to have overstayed his welcome in Philadelphia, meaning the Eagles need a replacement. Floyd would make a nice complement to Jeremy Maclin.
16. New York Jets (8-8): Quinton Coples, DE/DT, UNC
As bad as the Jets were on offense at times this past season, their defense regressed as well. They could use a big-time pass rusher up front, so Coples is a perfect fit.
17. Cincinnati Bengals (via OAK 8-8): David DeCastro, OG, Stanford
Which defensive player will make the biggest immediate impact in the NFL?
The Bengals are a team that relies on playing good defense and running the ball. In order to run the ball effectively though, the offensive line must improve. DeCastro would be an immediate upgrade.
18. San Diego Chargers (8-8): Alfonzo Dennard, CB, Nebraska
With Quentin Jammer aging and Antoine Cason looking more and more like a bust, the Chargers could go with a cornerback again this season. If they do, Dennard looks like a very safe pick.
19. Chicago Bears (8-8): Peter Konz, C, Wisconsin
The Bears' offensive line was bad to begin with and losing center Olin Kreutz certainly didn't help matters. Konz is the best center in the draft and should help fill the void.
20. Tennessee Titans (9-7): Vontaze Burfict, LB, Arizona State
Tennessee was able to do a lot with a patchwork linebacker corps this season, but they could use a player to replace departed middle linebacker Stephen Tulloch. Burfict fits the bill.
21. Cincinnati Bengals (9-7): Lamar Miller, RB, Miami
Running back Cedric Benson looked old and slow in the Bengals' playoff loss to the Houston Texans. Miller would provide a major spark as he is one of the most exciting players in the draft.
22. Cleveland Browns (via ATL 10-6): Alshon Jeffery, WR, South Carolina
Greg Little looks like a legitimate threat for the Browns, but quarterback Colt McCoy still needs another weapon. Jeffery brings a rare combination of size and speed to the table.
23. Detroit Lions (10-6): Mike Adams, OT, Ohio State
The Lions' biggest issue may be their secondary, but their offensive line isn't far behind. Jeff Backus is getting old and Gosder Cherilus is nothing special, so Adams could start immediately.
24. Pittsburgh Steelers (12-4): Cordy Glenn, OG, Georgia
Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger was beaten and battered relentlessly this season, so the Steelers need to address their offensive line issues. Glenn will provide a solid, steady presence.
25. Denver Broncos (8-8): Jerel Worthy, DT, Michigan State
The Broncos have one of the best pass rush pairings in football in Elvis Dumervil and Von Miller, but they need some more help from the defensive line. Worthy is an excellent start.
26. Houston Texans (10-6): Mark Barron, S, Alabama
Houston orchestrated one of the finest year-to-year defensive turnarounds in recent memory this season. The final piece of the puzzle is a playmaking safety, and Barron is just that.
27. New York Giants (9-7): Zach Brown, OLB, UNC
The Giants defense was ravaged with injuries this season, especially at linebacker. Brown would give the G-Men excellent depth and would likely receive significant playing time immediately.
28. New England Patriots (via NO 13-3): Mohamed Sanu, WR, Rutgers
Quarterback Tom Brady has an embarrassment of offensive weapons, but he could use an outside threat at wide receiver. Sanu could eventually replace Deion Branch in that role.
Which non-highlighted defensive player will have the best NFL career?
29. Baltimore Ravens (12-4): Dont'a Hightower, LB, Alabama
The Ravens have a great defense year in and year out because they are able to continually bring in new blood. Hightower could start alongside Ray Lewis next season and be his eventual replacement.
30. San Francisco 49ers (13-3): Kendall Wright, WR, Baylor
The 49ers have gotten by this season with a great defense and a great running game. If they want to reach the next level though, a deep threat like Wright is needed to complement Michael Crabtree.
31. New England Patriots (13-3): Janoris Jenkins, CB, North Alabama
Words cannot describe the issues that the Patriots have had defending the pass this season. Some of that has to do with injuries, but they need an infusion of talent. That makes Jenkins a great pick.
32. Green Bay Packers (15-1): Chris Polk, RB, Washington
Despite their defensive shortcomings, the Packers have no glaring needs. Since they can afford to take a luxury player, I see Green Bay adding Polk to a running back stable that already includes Ryan Grant and James Starks.
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