2012 NFL Mock Draft: First-Round Projections for the Top 16 Picks

Matt SmithContributor IIIJanuary 17, 2012

2012 NFL Mock Draft: First-Round Projections for the Top 16 Picks

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    Following the New York Giants' upset of the Green Bay Packers, there are still four spots left to be determined in the first round of the 2012 NFL draft.

    With the season over for all but those four, many teams shift their attention to scouting.

    With the Senior Bowl, Shrine Game, NFL combine and workouts still to come, stocks of prospects will fluctuate.

    That said, here first-round projections for the first 16 teams in the NFL.

    Note: The eighth and ninth picks as well as the 11th and 12th picks are subject to coin flip. It will suck for the teams that get the short end of the stick.

1. Indianapolis Colts: Andrew Luck, QB, Stanford

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    It's debatable as to whether Andrew Luck or Robert Griffin III is a better QB prospect, but Luck is the safer prospect. A team with as little talent as the Colts can't afford to miss.

    Reports came out a few weeks ago saying that the Colts will draft Luck, and that's that.

2. St. Louis Rams: Justin Blackmon, WR, Oklahoma State

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    Justin Blackmon is more polished and has a better skill set than previous Oklahoma State alum Dez Bryant of the Dallas Cowboys.

    Sam Bradford needs a WR with whom to develop a rapport quickly, and Blackmon has the least bust potential of any WR in the first round.

3. Minnesota Vikings: Matt Kalil, OT, USC

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    Matt Kalil's brother is Ryan Kalil, a center for the Carolina Panthers. Teams love bloodlines.

    The USC product is an excellent pass-protector who may need to add bulk to help in the run game. This would be a no-brainer, but Morris Claiborne is still an option here.

4. Cleveland Browns: Robert Griffin III, QB, Baylor

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    Viewed as barely more than an athlete before the season started, Robert Griffin III shot up boards after dominant play.

    Unlike many dual-threat college quarterbacks, the Baylor QB doesn't run at the first sight of trouble.

    Colt McCoy is not the answer in Cleveland, and the ability Griffin brings as both a passer and runner will help out the struggling Browns.

5. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Morris Claiborne, CB, LSU

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    Though his teammate Honey Badger gets the most attention, Claiborne is more likely to be a better NFL player.

    Claiborne is the best cover corner in the NCAA and had a fantastic season, recording six interceptions.

    Ronde Barber seems to be on the brink of retirement and Aqib Talib has either been injured or suspended. Cornerback is a pressing need for Tampa Bay.

6. Washington Redskins: Kendall Wright, WR, Baylor

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    Though most view Kendall Wright as a late first-round prospect, there is no way a player of his caliber lasts that long. 

    Wright is a legitimate No. 1 receiver with elite speed and playmaking ability. Though lacking in size, he doesn't have many deficiencies in his game and has plenty of upside.

    Washington is stacked with mediocre receivers and Wright can become the No. 2 receiver behind Santana Moss for the meantime.

7. Jacksonville Jaguars: Alshon Jeffery, WR, South Carolina

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    Had he had better quarterback play, Alshon Jeffery would likely go in the top five.

    Unfortunately for him, his quarterback play won't be any better in the NFL than it was in college.

    Jeffery has all the physical tools to become one of the NFL's premier receivers and could make or break Blaine Gabbert's career.

    Jacksonville needs a receiver badly, so they take the best available.

8. Carolina Panthers: Michael Brockers, DT, LSU

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    The Panthers need to fortify their defensive front, and while Devon Still is still available, he's not much compared to redshirt sophomore Michael Brockers, who decided to come out early.

    At 6'6", 306 pounds, Brockers has all the physical tools to make an impact in his first year.

    Since Chris Gamble performed exceedingly well this year, cornerback is not as much of a need. Dre Kirkpatrick can wait.

9. Miami Dolphins: Riley Reiff, OT, Iowa

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    Riley Reiff was honored as a first-team All-Big Ten tackle this season for his efforts in the trenches.

    The Iowa tackle is a good run-blocker and even better pass-blocker due to his athleticism and ability to mirror defenders.

    Jake Long had a down season and the Dolphins line needs upgrading. Reiff would kick over to right tackle.

10. Buffalo Bills: Jonathan Martin, OT, Stanford

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    Though not the most athletic lineman in the draft, Jonathan Martin is a technically sound player who's done a good job of protecting the consensus No. 1 pick in the draft.

    Martin is solid in both pass protection and run blocking, but the big knock on him is his lack of elite athleticism.

    The Bills need a tackle, and pick the best remaining one off the board.

11. Kansas City Chiefs: Luke Kuechly, MLB, Boston College

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    The Chiefs have two great linebackers in Tamba Hali and Derrick Johnson, one an outside linebacker and one an inside linebacker.

    The Chiefs have a hole at MLB, as Derrick Johnson can only hold one spot down (debatable?).

    Luke Kuechly has superb instincts to go with underrated athleticism and good coverage ability. He's a three-down player who can step in immediately.

12. Seattle Seahawks: Whitney Mercilus, DE, Illinois

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    On one end of the line, the Seahawks have the mammoth, run-stuffing defensive end known as Red Bryant (who is a free agent).

    On the other end, the Seahawks would love to have a pass-rusher.

    Whitney Mercilus led the NCAA in sacks this season and is one of the best pass-rushers this draft has to offer. Seems like a no-brainer.

13. Arizona Cardinals: Trent Richardson, RB, Alabama

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    A top-five prospect, Trent Richardson's fall ends here.

    A physically dominant back who can pretty much do anything, the Arizona Cardinals pass up on an OLB like Courtney Upshaw to take a running back here.

    Though the Cardinals have Beanie Wells and Ryan Williams, Wells is oft-injured and Williams suffered a ruptured patella tendon, a devastating injury for a running back.

    Richardson is the best player available and serves a partial need for Arizona.

14. Dallas Cowboys: Dre Kirkpatrick, CB, Alabama

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    The Cowboys have a pressing need in the secondary, and Dre Kirkpatrick can fill whatever need the Cowboys have.

    Kirkpatrick is a big, physical corner who has a history of struggling against dominant receivers (see: Alshon Jeffery), especially fast ones.

    Either way, Dallas' cornerback play was atrocious at times and FS Abram Elam is an impending free agent.

    Kirkpatrick can play either position if needed.

15. Philadelphia Eagles: Michael Floyd, WR, Notre Dame

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    Though 'Bama OLB Courtney Upshaw is still available, his likeliness to play DE in a 4-3 isn't as big of a need as the one Notre Dame WR Michael Floyd fills.

    Floyd has had character and health issues, but the talent is certainly there.

    Coming in at 6'3", 224, Floyd has the size to immediately take over the Eagles' No. 2 receiver spot and keep Jason Avant in the slot.

    If there's one thing that's a concern, it's Floyd's speed, as he's expected to run in the 4.5 range for the 40-yard dash.

16. New York Jets: Courtney Upshaw, OLB, Alabama

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    Though the Jets could easily go with a running back like Chris Polk or Lamar Miller here, Courtney Upshaw is too good to pass up on. Had Michael Floyd not been taken, he would've been in consideration too.

    The Jets are in serious need of a pass rush and a stud outside linebacker. In comes Upshaw.

    Upshaw has violent hands and makes good use of his athleticism as a pass-rusher, while still holding his own as a run-stopper.

    Upshaw's experience in a 3-4 defense will greatly help him and he'll anchor an outside linebacker spot for the Jets for years to come.