2012 NFL Mock Draft: Conference Championship Edition (Round 1)
The champs have been dethroned, "Tebow Time" is over and football is finally back in the Bay. Those were just some of the things we've learned after an intriguing divisional round of postseason football.
So with the NFL's final four now set, we look forward to the conference championships. The Giants will head to San Francisco to face off against the Niners as the Ravens will take flight to nearby New England in hopes of knocking off the Patriots.
Each of these four teams have put up quite a fight and will continue to do so en route to a Super Bowl trip to Indianapolis.
The Super Bowl, however, isn't the only thing becoming somewhat clearer after this week's events. Even though it's in its very early stages, the 2012 NFL Draft is also coming together.
So to hold you off until this April extravaganza, here is my latest Round 1 mock of the 2012 draft.
1. Indianapolis Colts: Andrew Luck, QB, Stanford
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With their Week 17 loss to the Jacksonville Jaguars, the Indianapolis Colts have officially clinched the No. 1 pick in the 2012 NFL Draft. Even though they'll be on the clock for four months, we all know the pick must be Stanford's Andrew Luck.
Luck going No. 1 overall is a clear no-brainer. The ability and intelligence are there, and it looks as if he's the next big thing coming into the NFL.
Indianapolis, however, will be in perhaps the stickiest situation in the game's history. If they take Luck, which they will, what happens to the quarterback they have now?
Maybe you've heard of him—Peyton Manning?
Will the Colts draft Luck and start him immediately?
Will they take Luck only to place him under the wing of Manning for a chunk of the season?
Or will Indy just cut ties with their long-time quarterback to make way for what looks like the second version of Manning?
There are many questions surrounding that potential scenario, but there are none when it comes to drafting Andrew Luck with the first pick in 2012.
2. St. Louis Rams: Matt Kalil, OT, USC
Since the Rams do not get into the No. 1 spot in the draft, Matt Kalil should be the pick here.
Despite his disappointing sophomore season, Sam Bradford is still a franchise quarterback and could certainly use some protection. Kalil is 6'7", 275 lbs. and is far and away the best prospect in the draft not named Andrew Luck.
Although I believe this pick ultimately gets traded, Kalil could instantly come in for the Rams and improve perhaps the worst offensive line in all of football.
3. Minnesota Vikings: Morris Claiborne, CB, LSU
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The Minnesota Vikings will have two major needs coming into the 2012 draft—one being on the offensive line and the other being in their secondary. Since Matt Kalil was just snatched up by St. Louis, expect Minnesota to take LSU's Morris Claiborne.
Minnesota's defense has allowed 251.2 passing yards per game, leaving them as the seventh-worst pass defense in the NFL. So drafting Claiborne could be a nice boost for this thin secondary.
At 6'0" and 185 lbs., Claiborne has been one of college football's best cornerbacks over the last two seasons. In fact, he may be the best defensive player coming out in 2012.
The Vikes could also opt for Oklahoma State's stud wideout, Justin Blackmon, in this spot. He would provide their young quarterback, Christian Ponder, with a very capable target.
I would still side with Claiborne going No. 3 due to the deep group of wide receivers available through free agency. As legitimate receivers such as Vincent Jackson, DeSeanJackson and Dwayne Bowe hit the market, the cornerback spot looks pretty shallow to say the least.
Grabbing Claiborne to improve their defense would be a more logical selection.
4. Cleveland Browns: Justin Blackmon, WR, Oklahoma State
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Cleveland will be tempted by the prospect of taking Robert Griffin III. The Browns, however, should stick by their current investment at the quarterback position.
Colt McCoy hasn't been the greatest, but he hasn't had much help either. So instead of throwing him away for Griffin, the Browns could go with a sure-fire selection in JustinBlackmon.
Blackmon is the top wide receiving prospect in the draft. He has the size, the footwork and the hands to become an elite receiver in the NFL. And from the looks of his Tostitos Fiesta Bowl performance, Blackmon is certainly worth a go this early in the draft.
There would be no doubt Blackmon would become the immediate No. 1 wideout in an otherwise thin group of receivers.
If McCoy isn't the guy, the Browns would still have an elite talent in Blackmon and could always hope for Matt Barkley or even Landry Jones in next year's draft.
5. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Trent Richardson, RB, Alabama
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The Buccaneers need help in just about every spot besides the quarterback position. Expect Tampa to take the best available player not named Robert Griffin III at the fifth slot in the draft.
That man would obviously be Alabama's Trent Richardson. Richardson is the undisputed champion when it comes to this year's crop of running backs and would most definitely give the offense some help. LeGarrette Blount isn't the best or brightest bulb in the bunch, so replacing him wouldn't be a problem.
If anything, Blount can assume the No. 2 RB role.
Richardson has nice vision, great speed and the hands to take some passes out of the backfield. Quite frankly, the guy is probably the most complete running back coming into the NFL since Adrian Peterson.
6. Washington Redskins: Robert Griffin III, QB, Baylor
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If available at this spot for Washington, Baylor's Robert Griffin III would be the easiest selection in the draft.
We all know about Washington's horrific quarterback history, so Griffin would be nothing short of a savior for the struggling franchise. He has ridiculous accuracy on his deep throws, can make plays with his feet and was college football's best player in 2011.
Griffin has passed for 36 touchdowns, 3,998 yards and has thrown just six picks. He has also displayed his explosive run game, rushing for 644 yards and nine touchdowns.
After seeing Carolina taking a risk that paid off huge dividends with Cam Newton, perhaps the Redskins will have no problems taking a calculated chance of their own on a quarterback with multiple tools.
7. Jacksonville Jaguars: Alshon Jeffery, WR, South Carolina
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Mike Mularkey surrounded Matt Ryan with a bunch of legitimate targets during his time as offensive coordinator in Atlanta. Now that he's been hired by Jacksonville as their head coach, Mularkey could look to do the same here.
If so, the best available talent at this spot is certainly Alshon Jeffery.
Jeffery is 6'4" and 229 lbs. He has an incredible combination of size and speed, making him a very desirable player in the upcoming draft. In three seasons at South Carolina, Jeffery has hauled in 22 touchdowns and eclipsed the 600-yard receiving mark each year.
He would finally give Mularkey's new quarterback, Blaine Gabbert, something to work with. Gabbert undoubtedly had the worst group of wideouts last season, which played a huge factor in his considerably disappointing campaign.
Now that Jacksonville has an offensive-minded coach, Jeffery could emerge as the favorite for the Jags.
8. Miami Dolphins: Riley Reiff, OT, Iowa
With Robert Griffin just taken and Andrew Luck being far gone, the next best quarterback prospect would be Ryan Tannehill of Texas A&M. If the Dolphins want to reach in an attempt to fix their quarterback problems, they may take a flyer on him.
I just don't see that happening, though.Tannehill is a good prospect but is not worth the eighth overall selection for Miami given the recent success of Matt Moore.
Moore isn't the long-term solution at quarterback, but he has bought himself at least another season after this year's impressive play.
If this is indeed the case, Riley Reiff would be a great pick for Miami.
Reiff has emerged as one of college football's best players as a result of his impressive 2011 season. He's 6'6", 300 lbs. and has been praised for his great fundamentals. Reiff has great footwork, bends very well and has already played in a pro-style offense.
He would be a much-needed addition for an offensive line that has allowed the third most sacks in the NFL.
9. Carolina Panthers: Dre Kirkpatrick, CB, Alabama
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Although the hiring of Mike Mularkey by Jacksonville may have saved Carolina their offensive coordinator, Rob Chudzinski, it may now cost them Alshon Jeffery instead. Jeffery would have been a nice addition to an already explosive offense and would have given the Panthers a top target for years to come.
If that's the case, Dre Kirkpatrick will be an incredible consolation prize for Ron Rivera and his crew.
At 6'3", Kirkpatrick is a considerably tall cornerback. He has great speed, elite size and a knack for making big plays. He is also extremely effective against the run, something Carolina had trouble stopping all season.
In addition to helping the Panthers weak run defense, Kirkpatrick would become a nice presence against the aerial assaults of Carolina's divisional foes, New Orleans and Atlanta. Rivera needs to bulk up his secondary in order to challenge the likes of Drew Brees and Matt Ryan.
Alongside Chris Gamble, Kirkpatrick may very well give Carolina one of the most formidable cornerback duos in the league.
10. Buffalo Bills: Quinton Coples, DE, North Carolina
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In last year's draft, Buffalo took defensive tackleMarcell Dareus to improve their struggling line. Dareus, however, has not really done much to help the team this season. The Bills ranked 27th in sacks and were the fifth-worst rush defense in the league.
So, Quinton Coples of North Carolina would be an incredible value pick for Buffalo here. The 6'6", 275 lb. defensive lineman racked up 7.5 sacks with 10 tackles for loss in his 2011 campaign. He certainly looks to be the very best pass rusher this draft has to offer.
Although Coples is undervalued in many mock drafts, he has the tools to become a very effective player in the NFL.
11. Kansas City Chiefs: Jonathan Martin, OT, Stanford
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Kansas City didn't have the worst offensive line in football, but passing up on Stanford's Jonathan Martin would be quite a mistake.
Martin is flat-out huge, standing at 6'6", 305 lbs. He has good footwork, has great mobility and is a very smart player. Martin has the ability to open holes for running back Jamaal Charles and keep their quarterback, whomever that may be, off the ground.
Instead of reaching for a quarterback in the first round, they can certainly help out their future play-caller with a great lineman in Martin.
12. Seattle Seahawks: Ryan Tannehill, QB, Texas A&M
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This happens every draft. A team in need of a quarterback ignores the ol' big board and reaches for a potential play-caller.
The most recent instance of taking such a gamble came when Minnesota selected Christian Ponder with the 12th pick in last year's draft. But although he was considered by many as a second-round talent at best, Ponder did turn in an impressive rookie campaign with the Vikings.
Given Seattle's desperate need at the position, Ryan Tannehill could very well be this year's version of Ponder. Just like Ponder, Tannehill is not regarded as a first-round talent and could be taken well ahead of his time.
As we await for his performance at the combine, Tannehill looks to be a pretty decent prospect as of now. He threw for 3,744 yards along with 29 touchdowns and 15 interceptions in 2011. Tannehill has a quick release, exhibits solid accuracy and is a very good athlete.
Some of his concerns lie in his ability to throw the deep ball as well as his inexperience at the quarterback position.
13. Arizona Cardinals: David DeCastro, G, Stanford
The Cards offensive line hasn't exactly been great in 2011, ranking 31st in pass protection. So if the team believes Kevin Kolb is their guy, they must help him.
Stanford's David DeCastro would be a great fix for the O-line. DeCastro plays with a consistent mean streak and never takes a play off. He is also very athletic, exhibits nice footwork and is quite intelligent at his position.
DeCastro is undoubtedly the best guard in the upcoming draft.
14. Dallas Cowboys: Devon Still, DT, Penn State
With Dre Kirkpatrick gone, the Cowboys will narrow it down to Alfonzo Dennard and Devon Still. Dennard could help Dallas' much-abused secondary, as Still would fill a needed spot on the defensive line.
If it does come down to these two, Dallas would look to the latter. Still has nice size and can plow over opposing linemen en route to opposing quarterbacks. He moves with great focus, intelligence and explosiveness when coming off the line.
Dallas' inability to get to Eli Manning in their two meetings with New York played a factor in their disappointing stretch. Adding this Penn State product would certainly help Rob Ryan's defense pick up their pass rush.
There is still room for improvement, but he could be a very nice investment for a team who could use help in that spot.
15. Philadelphia Eagles: Luke Kuechly, ILB, Boston College
Philly's linebacking corps have been nothing short of terrible. This problem has been plaguing their defense and needs to be addressed. So if Luke Kuechly of Boston College is still there for the Eagles, expect them to jump on him.
He is a sound tackler, displays good mobility and is a very intelligent player. Kuechly also has good size and always seems to be in the middle of every play.
16. New York Jets: Courtney Upshaw, DE/OLB, Alabama
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The Jets must upgrade their pass rush as well as their run defense in order to regain their spot amongst the league's best defenses.
Rex Ryan's crew ranked 13th against the run and 17th in sacks, lower than their top-10 positioning from the previous two seasons. They need a legitimate threat to rush the quarterback so Ryan doesn't have to use the blitz so much.
Courtney Upshaw, the linebacker from Alabama, would give them an immediate boost. Upshaw has tremendous versatility in terms of positioning on defense. He has good speed, good strength and is very quick off the ball.
Upshaw is also acquainted with 3-4 defense, something Rex Ryan would definitely like.
17. Cincinnati Bengals (from Oakland): Alfonzo Dennard, CB, Nebraska
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With the first of two first-round picks in 2012, the Bengals will look to address either the cornerback position or the linebacker position. If that's the path they take, Alfonzo Dennard will be the pick.
Dennard has excellent speed, good athleticism and displays great instincts. He does, however, need to improve his reaction on coverage. As well as improving his footwork, he also needs to make better breaks on the ball.
He does need some work but has the tools to be a great corner in the NFL.
18. San Diego Chargers: Whitney Mercilus, DE/OLB, Illinois
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If the Chargers cannot draft an offensive lineman who will be worth their while, they should be looking to upgrade their weak pass rush. San Diego ranked 23rd in sacks. Their inability to consistently get to opposing quarterbacks played a huge factor in their disappointing defense in 2011.
Whitney Mercilus of Illinois would be one of the best available at this point and could help increase the team's sack total. No defensive end in college football was better in 2011 than Mercilus. He racked a gaudy 14.5 sacks in 2011. He has slated his name into the thick of the first round.
San Diego did draft a defensive lineman last year in Corey Liuget. Liuget, however, hasn't quite panned out, as he totaled just one sack in the 2011 season. Perhaps San Diego could draft Liuget's former teammate in Mercilus to fix that.
19. Chicago Bears: Michael Floyd, WR, Notre Dame
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Jay Cutler has yet to work with a legitimate No. 1 wideout during his time in Chicago. Devin Hester and Johnny Knox are very lethal weapons. Neither, however, cut it as a top target in the NFL.
So if Michael Floyd is available, expect the Bears to take a very long look at the Notre Dame product.
The 6'3" receiver has done nothing but dazzle during his collegiate years. In his four seasons at South Bend, Floyd has never failed to put up less than 700 yards receiving and catch at least seven touchdowns. He raked in a bulky 95 passes this season, eight of them in the end zone.
And although Floyd does carry some off-field baggage, that could be overlooked given his immense talent.
Chicago could also opt for an offensive lineman such as Cordy Glenn or Peter Konz to improve their horrible pass protection. But being that Cutler really needs a top wide receiver, Floyd may be too tempting to pass up.
20. Tennessee Titans: Melvin Ingram, DE, South Carolina
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The Titans may look for some O-line help with their first pick. Melvin Ingram, however, may be much too tempting to pass up for Tennessee, given their poor defensive line play.
Ingram is incredibly athletic, has a good first step and is one of the draft's best pass-rushers. He chalked up 8.5 sacks in 2011 and could help the Titans increase their chances of getting to opposing quarterbacks, a category in which they finished 31st.
21. Cincinnati Bengals: Cordy Glenn, G, Georgia
The Cincinnati O-line proved to be very effective this season, allowing the seventh fewest amount of sacks in the entire NFL. But with Bobbie Williams and Nate Livings entering the free agent pool this offseason, the Bengals may look to reinforce their line with their second first rounder.
I do believe the team will come to terms with the 36-year-old Williams. Livings, however, may not be so fortunate. Allowing Livings to walk would leave a hole at left guard in Cincinnati.
If so, Georgia's Cordy Glenn would be a great selection here. Glenn is just huge, standing at 6'5" and 348 lbs. He is relatively nimble for a man his size and is very good in opening up holes for the run game.
22. Cleveland Browns (from Atlanta): Nick Perry, DE/OLB, USC
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After taking Justin Blackmon with the fourth pick, the Cleveland Browns could look to complete their front four at this point in the draft. The pass rush has been pretty decent but could certainly use some more help.
If USC's Nick Perry has a successful combine, he may very well be the pick. Perry exhibits elite speed, great athleticism, uses his hands very well and is extremely versatile.
23. Detroit Lions: Janoris Jenkins, CB, North Alabama
My past few mocks saw Detroit selecting Wisconsin's big center Peter Konz. The offensive line isn't exactly the best, but they're also not the worst.
And after watching the Saints and Packers completely dismantle the Lions secondary over the last two weeks, North Alabama's Janoris Jenkins is looking like a much better option.
Jenkins is a very gifted athlete. He has nice body control, elite recognition skills and is very aggressive when the ball hits the air. Jenkins has the potential to be a great corner in the NFL, but must keep his character issues in check to do so.
If Detroit wants to get past those top-tier NFC teams, they must improve their pass defense.
24. Pittsburgh Steelers: Vontaze Burfict, ILB, Arizona State
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James Farrior and James Harrison are getting older, so in order to keep their defense atop the NFL, the Steelers may look for their predecessors in the upcoming seasons. Vontaze Burfict would be a candidate if available.
He does need work in man-to-man coverage, but he carries the agility to break off blockers and get to the ball.
25. Denver Broncos: Michael Brockers, DT, LSU
The Broncos could look to upgrade their defensive line after that horrific performance against New England. If that's the direction they choose, LSU's Michael Brockers would be an incredible value.
Although Brockers is still quite raw at the position, many draft experts regard him as the draft's best defensive tackle. He displays great quickness, has very powerful legs and is an overall freakish athlete. The most appealing aspect of his game is his size. Brockers stands at a ridiculous 6'6" and weighs a tad over 300 pounds.
It might take some time for him to develop, but Brockers and his tremendous upside will certainly find a spot in the first round.
26. Houston Texans: Peter Konz, C, Wisconsin
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I'm mocking Wisconsin's Peter Konz to the Houston Texans even though their line has been quite good. They ranked 13th in pass protection this season, allowing just 33 sacks through 16 games.
The problem, however, is the expiring contract of the team's current center, Chris Myers. If Myers, who has been one of the best centers in the league, doesn't re-sign, Konz could be the pick here.
If Myers does re-sign, Houston can find another spot on the line for Konz.
27. New England Patriots (from New Orleans): Mark Barron, S, Alabama
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There is no question that New England's secondary needs some help. They have given up 293.9 passing yards per game and 8.0 yards per attempt.
The Patriots also have a need at safety, making Mark Barron an incredible match for New England. He has nice size, decent speed and great tackling ability.
Barron is a solid pass defender and can help the Pats weak pass defense.
28. Green Bay Packers: Jerel Worthy, DE/DT, Michigan State
After taking Mark Barron a few picks back, the Patriots may look to upgrade their defensive line. If so, Michigan State's Jerel Worthy would be a nice choice.
Worthy stands at 6'3" and 310 lbs and has tremendous upside. He has a quick first step and can change direction very well. Worthy finished the 2011 season with 3.5 sacks and nine tackles for loss.
29. New York Giants: Zach Brown, LB, North Carolina
The inside linebacker position is a huge need for the New York Giants, and North Carolina's Zach Brown would provide some stability for Tom Coughlin's defense next season.
Brown can come in and immediately help the Giants. Brown is a sound athlete with the speed and ability to get to opposing ball carriers.
30. Baltimore Ravens: Dont'a Hightower, ILB, Alabama
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Sorry to say it, but Ray Lewis won't be around forever. So it's time for Baltimore to start auditions for the next big linebacker.
Alabama's Dont'a Hightower could very well be that guy for the Ravens. Hightower has great size and speed and is very effective against the run.
31. San Francisco 49ers: Chase Minnifield, CB, Virginia
San Francisco's defense has been nothing short of incredible this season. They finished fourth in total yards allowed and gave up just 14.3 points per game. The Niners, however, may look for an upgrade in their secondary.
Virginia's Chase Minnifield would be the next best available corner in the draft. He has nice speed, hits hard and has a knack for getting to the ball.
32. New England Patriots: Fletcher Cox, DT, Mississippi State
The Patriots could look to boost their defensive line this offseason, making Fletcher Cox of Mississippi State an appealing option in this spot. He is very athletic and uses his great upper body strength to get by offensive linemen.
Cox was also named SEC Defensive Lineman of the Week four times in 2011, an honor that shouldn't be taken lightly.