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2012 NFL Draft Projections: Ranking the Draft's Top Defensive Playmakers

David LevinSenior Writer IIApril 21, 2016

2012 NFL Draft Projections: Ranking the Draft's Top Defensive Playmakers

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    When you think of playmakers in the NFL draft, you tend to think of the offensive side of the ball. Players like Trent Richardson of Alabama, Alshon Jeffery of South Carolina and Robert Griffin III of Baylor garner attention for their dynamic plays and impressive statistics.

    But what about the other side of the ball?

    There are plenty of defenders in this year's draft who can make just as much of an impact from defending their own goal line as trying to score on the opponent.

    These players are some of the best playmakers in the country who have declared for the 2012 NFL Draft.

Dont'a Hightower, LB (Alabama)

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    I think someone like Hightower will steadily move up draft boards in the coming months.

    The Crimson Tide's defense had many stars display their talents the past two seasons, but who could argue with a player who had four sacks, one interception and eight quarterback hurries this season, playing at 260 pounds as an outside linebacker?

    Hightower could also play on the edge in rush situations on third down with his hand on the ground.

Chase Minnifield, DB (Virginia)

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    Minnifield had 13 career interceptions for the Cavaliers in the four years he was at Virginia and was a multiple All-ACC selection.

    Virginia had not had a player on the team receive those accolades since D'Brickashaw Ferguson was in the trenches.

    Minnifield has good speed (4.49 in the 40), and while he does not get the attention of Dre Kirkpatrick or Morris Claiborne, Minnifield could be a late first-round selection who impresses teams with that speed and the ability to help in the return game.

Melvin Ingram, OLB/DE (South Carolina)

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    Melvin Ingram is a player who will move up the board.

    While many other players get more attention for having played in the BCS Championship or for major highlights on ESPN, Ingram had a solid senior season for the Gamecocks and defensive coordinator Ellis Johnson.

    What I like about Ingram is the size he packs (276 pounds) on his 6'2" frame. He can play outside in a 4-3 defense or move to the line in blitz packages or rush downs.

    Could he be a Jared Allen? Who knows, but Ingram will excite nonetheless.

Dre Kirkpatrick, DB (Alabama)

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    Do you think people will look at Kirkpatrick and wonder if he is as talented as, say, Morris Claiborne?

    Kirkpatrick is uber-talented, and as a junior coming out in this draft, he could be the best off the board in three seasons.

    Kirkpatrick was one of the standouts for the Crimson Tide defense who shut down the LSU Tigers for the 2011 national title. He should be a Top-15 selection when all is said and done.

Vontaze Burfict, LB (Arizona State)

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    Vontaze Burfict may be the enigma of this draft. He will be drafted in the later part of the first round, mainly because he is a raw talent who needs seasoning.

    But if the right team gets him (e.g., Baltimore, New Orleans), what a great pick they will make.

    At 6'3" and 250 pounds, Burfict is a beast and has great speed (4.67) for his size. What may concern some teams is his erratic play and attitude on the field that was questioned sometimes when he was playing for the Sun Devils.

    Burfict could be the perfect player to eventually replace someone like a Ray Lewis for the Ravens.

Morris Claiborne, DB (LSU)

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    While LSU proved it could not stop much in the BCS Championship, it did not take away from the fact that Claiborne may be the first defensive player taken off the board this April.

    With good size at 6'0" and 4.45 speed in the 40-yard dash, Claiborne is certainly among the top coverage players in 2012.

    Claiborne led LSU with six interceptions this season and returned one for a touchdown. He is the Jim Thorpe award-winner as the nation's top defensive back. Claiborne was also LSU's top kickoff returner, averaging 25 yards per return with one touchdown against West Virginia.

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