2012 NFL Mock Draft: College Studs Who Are Can't-Miss, First Round Prospects

Ryan RudnanskySenior Writer IJanuary 18, 2012

NEW ORLEANS, LA - JANUARY 09:  Trent Richardson #3 of the Alabama Crimson Tide runs with the ball against the Louisiana State University Tigers during the 2012 Allstate BCS National Championship Game at Mercedes-Benz Superdome on January 9, 2012 in New Orleans, Louisiana.  (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)
Chris Graythen/Getty Images

There are the first-round prospects, and then there are the can't-miss prospects.

As we edge closer to the 2012 NFL draft and the NFL season draws to a close, there are several prospects who are destined to become superstars in the pros.

Here's my latest mock draft, complete with prospects who are bound to be difference-makers in the NFL (shown in italics). 


1. Indianapolis Colts: Andrew Luck, QB, Stanford

The Colts appear dead-set on grooming their next quarterback of the future, and there hasn't been a QB prospect like Andrew Luck in years.

With Luck's combination of arm strength, accuracy, poise and leadership, it's hard to pass him up. Plus, he can run if he gets flushed out of the pocket.

Luck passed for over 3,500 yards and 37 touchdowns to 10 interceptions this season for Stanford. He also completed 71 percent of his passes.

Luck is a comparable prospect to—yes, Peyton Manning—when Manning came out of Tennessee. 


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

According to Fan Nation, the Browns are considering trading up to No. 2 overall to select Robert Griffin III and block other teams from nabbing him.

With the way Colt McCoy played this season, I can understand why.

Griffin is considered an elite prospect: He has tremendous arm strength, accuracy, pocket poise and the legs to become a dual-threat QB in the NFL.

Griffin passed for over 4,200 yards and 37 touchdowns to six interceptions while leading Baylor to an Alamo Bowl victory this season.

I see the Browns trading their first-round pick (No. 4 overall), and a second and third-round pick for the opportunity to land Griffin.

3. Minnesota Vikings: Matt Kalil, OT, USC

The Vikings need someone to help protect young quarterback Christian Ponder and give him time in the pocket.

Matt Kalil projects as a franchise tackle with the strength to hold firm against the bull rush and quickness laterally to protect against speed rushers. He's a complete lineman, and he has the pedigree, too. 


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

This trade actually would work out very well for the Rams. I already had them selecting Justin Blackmon, and they get a couple more picks for the future with this move.

Blackmon has the strength and ability after the catch to be a handful at the next level. He doesn't have elite speed, but his leaping ability and excellent use of his body to shield defenders will make him a great possession receiver, and possibly even more. 


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

Aqib Talib not only disappointed with the Buccaneers this season, he's facing legal troubles as well. On top of that, Ronde Barber is aging.

Morris Claiborne would be a godsend and considered a better cover corner than former teammate Patrick Peterson. He's fast, strong and good against the pass and the run.

The NFL combine will only highly Claiborne's abilities. 


6. Washington Redskins: Alshon Jeffery, WR, South Carolina

The Browns landing Robert Griffin III would be devastating for a Redskins team that currently sports Rex Grossman and John Beck under center.

Nonetheless, they're going to have to make do, and I see them drafting Alshon Jeffery as a consolation.

The Redskins have numerous aging receivers and Santana Moss appears to be on the downslope. Jeffery could be their next star receiver: He has the strength and speed to be a handful in press coverage and down the sidelines in the NFL. 


7. Jacksonville Jaguars: Michael Floyd, WR, Notre Dame

I know it's a bit of a reach to plant three receivers in the Top 10, but the Jaguars desperately need a receiver for the future and Michael Floyd has done everything possible to quiet people's doubts about his ability at the next level.

Floyd's size, strength and hands project him as a very good possession receiver in the NFL, which is something young QB Blaine Gabbert needs. Floyd also has the leaping ability to be dangerous on deep routes. 


8. Carolina Panthers: Dre Kirkpatrick, CB, Alabama

With Dre Kirkpatrick's height, physicality and big-play ability, NFL scouts continue to eye him up. He has the ability to be a dependable difference-maker in the NFL, and the Panthers need help in their secondary after giving up 246 passing yards per game and 28 passing touchdowns in 2011. 


9. Miami Dolphins: Riley Reiff, OT, Iowa

The Dolphins won't be able to find an elite QB prospect here, so they might as well add an elite tackle prospect for the offense.

Reiff is not only a good pass-blocker, he's an outstanding run blocker and he has a way of getting in the heads of opposing lineman. 


10. Buffalo Bills: Courtney Upshaw, OLB, Alabama

The Bills use a 3-4 defense, yet have zero standout outside linebackers. Their pass rush suffered tremendously as a result this season and the strong, athletic Courtney Upshaw would be a great addition. 


11. Kansas City Chiefs: Jonathan Martin, OT, Stanford

Jonathan Martin is an elite run-blocker, and he has the demeanor and athleticism to make an impact in the NFL. The Chiefs need someone other than Barry Richardson on the edge. 


12. Seattle Seahawks: Nick Perry, DE/OLB, USC

The Seahawks need an edge rusher—whether it be at defensive end or outside linebacker—and Perry has the versatility to be both.

He collected 9.5 sacks for USC this season and has the length, strength and athleticism to be a solid player in the NFL. 


13. Arizona Cardinals: Mike Adams, OT, Ohio State

According to Tony Pauline's twitter, the Shrine Game did wonders to elevate Mike Adams' draft stock. The Cardinals badly need to replace Levi Brown at tackle and give quarterback Kevin Kolb some time in the pocket.

Adams may be a bit raw as far as technique, but his elite height, size footwork and frame project him well into the next level. 


14. Dallas Cowboys: Stephon Gilmore, CB, South Carolina

I love Stephon Gilmore's game. He's tough, strong, physical and has impressive instincts. He also works as a return man, which should allow the Cowboys to use Dez Bryant strictly as a receiver. 


15. Philadelphia Eagles: Luke Kuechly, LB, Boston College

The Eagles are in desperate need for some linebackers and Luke Kuechly could be a solid inside linebacker in the NFL.

Kuechly doesn't have ideal size for the position, but his instincts, tackling ability and drive should make up for that. We've seen undersized linebackers still excel in the NFL.

16. New York Jets: Mark Barron, S, Alabama

Unfortunately for Jets fans, the Jets seem fine with Mark Sanchez at quarterback and Shonn Greene at running back.

In that case, I expect them to address safety with Mark Barron. Barron has the athleticism, instincts and big-play ability to round out the Jets' secondary, and they don't know how Jim Leonhard will hold up. 


17. Cincinnati Bengals (via OAK): Trent Richardson, RB, Alabama

Trent Richardson is obviously a Top-10 prospect. I just don't see a lot of teams that have a legit need for a running back besides the Browns, and it appears the Browns may go a different direction.

In that case, the Bengals may get the steal of the draft with Richardson, who has a dazzling combination of power, speed, quickness, vision and patience. 


18. San Diego Chargers: Zach Brown, OLB, North Carolina

The Chargers have been looking for a difference-maker at outside linebacker for years, and Zach Brown has the ability to do it all: rush the passer, stop the run and trail elite tight ends in pass coverage. 


19. Chicago Bears: Kendall Wright, WR, Baylor

The Bears won't find an elite tackle at this spot, but they do need a receiver to help out QB Jay Cutler. Kendall Wright is an explosive, lightning-quick athlete who should shoot up draft boards after the combine. 


20. Tennessee Titans: David DeCastro, G, Stanford

David DeCastro has impressive footwork, technique and an NFL-ready frame. He also has the determination and tenacity to help open up holes for running back Chris Johnson. 


21. Cincinnati Bengals: Alfonzo Dennard, CB, Nebraska

Alfonzo Dennard doesn't have great size for the NFL, but his physicality and leaping ability should help him out in that regard. Dennard is also very fluid changing direction. The Bengals could line him up opposite corner Leon Hall in Cincy. 


22. Cleveland Browns (via ATL): Lamar Miller, RB, Miami (FL)

Now that I think of it, the Browns may score huge in the draft.

If everything goes according to plan, they could land Griffin at QB and nab who I consider to be an elite running back prospect in Lamar Miller.

Miller has the quickness, size and vision to be a star in the NFL, not to mention the receiving ability out of the backfield. He would help Griffin out in a variety of ways.

23. Detroit Lions: Alfonzo Dennard, CB, Nebraska

Alfonzo Dennard's height is not ideal for the NFL, but he makes up for it with outstanding strength and leaping ability. There is also very little wasted movement when he changes direction.

The Lions need help in the secondary after they were exposed by the New Orleans Saints in the playoffs. 


24. Pittsburgh Steelers:  Cordy Glenn, G, Stanford

The Steelers need help all over the offensive line (with the exception of center), and Cordy Glenn would be the best offensive lineman on the board here.

Glenn has great size at 6'5", 348 pounds, and he has the burst and lateral movement to deal with speed rushers. He'd be a nice add for the Steelers. 


25. Denver Broncos: Michael Brockers, DT, LSU

When Michael Brockers declared, he changed everything.

Brockers has overpowering strength, which should allow the Broncos to free up defenders while he gets double-teamed. Brockers also has the speed and quickness to spin off blocks and collapse the pocket. 


26. Houston Texans: Dontari Poe, NT, Memphis

If the Texans were dominant this season, just imagine if they had a cog in the middle of the line to free up their defenders.

Dontari Poe has the size and frame to command double teams, allowing players like Mario Williams, J.J. Watt and Brooks Reed to go in for the kill. 


27. New England Patriots (via NO): Melvin Ingram, DE/OLB, South Carolina

I expect the Patriots to shift to a 3-4 defense next season and top pass-rusher Andre Carter enters free agency this season.

Expect them to nab Ingram, whose athleticism and quickness would help them out right away in the pass-rushing department. 


28. Green Bay Packers: Whitney Mercilus, DE/OLB, Illinois

The Packers need help rushing the passer at defensive end, and Whitney Mercilus has risen dramatically this season.

Mercilus is a frenetic pass-rusher whose explosion off the snap really stands out. He currently struggles against the run, but he has the potential to be a disruption in the pocket right away. 


29. New York Giants: Vontaze Burfict, LB, Arizona State

Vontaze Burfict has legit maturity concerns—he's racked up numerous personal fouls this season, sometimes at critical moments of the game.

But I'm beginning to wonder if the Giants will even care. They've had such a gaping hole in the middle since Antonio Pierce retired, and their rush defense struggled this season.

Burfict has the instincts, strength and quickness to be a menace at the next level if he can stay out of trouble. 


30. Baltimore Ravens: Dont'a Hightower, LB, Alabama

Dont'a Hightower's combination of speed and strength could make him an outside linebacker or inside linebacker. I expect the Ravens to use him alongside Ray Lewis until Lewis retires.

Then Hightower can step into Lewis' shoes.

31. San Francisco 49ers: Mohamed Sanu, WR, Rutgers

Braylon Edwards didn't work out for the 49ers and Josh Morgan is entering free agency. Quarterback Alex Smith needs another weapon in the receiving corps and Sanu has the strength, quickness and fearlessness to be a great asset slanting across the middle of the field. 


32. New England Patriots: Peter Konz, C, Wisconsin

With 32-year-old Dan Koppen coming off a fractured ankle, it's crucial for the Patriots to find Tom Brady's next protector.

Konz has tremendous strength and great awareness—he is rarely caught off guard. He'd be a great add for the Patriots.

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