2012 NFL Mock Draft: Dre Kirkpatrick and More Game-Changing First-Round Locks
Every player who goes in the first round of the NFL draft has an incredible amount of talent, but some inevitably make more of an impact than others.
The 2012 first round is guaranteed to be sprinkled with game-changing players, but they won't necessarily be the first players off the board.
At this early point in the draft process, it is almost impossible to accurately judge which players will bust and which will be perennial Pro Bowlers, but it's certainly fun to speculate.
Following is a full mock draft with three first-round picks sure to be immediate impact players.
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
Minnesota really struggled to defend the pass this season, and much of that has to do with a secondary that is aging and short on talent. Claiborne could step in and make an immediate difference.
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
Despite a recent arrest for marijuana possession, Alabama cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick figures to be one of the first corners off the board in the 2012 draft. Kirkpatrick was a major component of the Crimson Tide defense that absolutely shut down LSU in the National Championship Game and he has been for the past couple seasons.
Kirkpatrick is far from a sure bet to excel at the next level, but he certainly has the potential to be a shut-down corner in the mold of the New York Jets' Darrelle Revis.
With the passing game of such importance in the NFL today, cornerbacks are quickly becoming the cornerstones of many defenses.
One team who desperately needs an elite corner is the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Ronde Barber can still be effective, but Tampa's secondary as a whole was absolutely atrocious this past season. Kirkpatrick has the ability to make the unit instantly better and I believe he will if given the chance.
6. Washington Redskins (5-11): Robert Griffin III, QB, Baylor
Griffin may not exactly be Redskins head coach Mike Shanahan's prototypical quarterback, but the Heisman Trophy winner is a supreme talent with the potential to be great.
7. Jacksonville Jaguars (5-11): Justin Blackmon, WR, Oklahoma State
Perhaps no player in the 2012 NFL Draft has more impressive physical ability than Oklahoma State wide receiver Justin Blackmon. The well-built Blackmon is coming off two consecutive Biletnikoff Awards and is unquestionably the top receiver available.
It used to be true that rookie receivers were unlikely to make much of an impact, but over the past several seasons things have changed drastically. With such an emphasis on passing, rookie pass-catchers have become more involved at an early age.
A perfect example this past season was the Cincinnati Bengals' A.J. Green, who easily transitioned from college to No. 1 receiver in the NFL.
If he lasts until the seventh pick, the Jacksonville Jaguars will be hoping that Blackmon can make an immediate impact like Green. Rookie quarterback Blaine Gabbert had a rough season for the Jags in 2011, but a lot of that probably stemmed from the fact that he had no weapons to count on.
It stands to reason that Blackmon would be his favorite target from day one.
8. Carolina Panthers (6-10)*: Devon Still, DT, Penn State
The Panthers have been without a viable option at defensive tackle since the now-retired Kris Jenkins departed for the New York Jets. Still finally gives them a playmaker in the middle.
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
There are no sure things in the NFL Draft, but I tend to say that the closest thing in this year's draft is Boston College linebacker Luke Kuechly. At the collegiate level, Kuechly was an absolute tackling machine who put in an honest effort in every game.
Because of that, he was honored with essentially every meaningful defensive award this past season.
Kuechly may not be the best or most explosive athlete in the draft, but he has an unmatched will to succeed that will make him the cornerstone of a defense at the NFL level. Even if he doesn't have the same physical ability as a middle linebacker like Brian Urlacher or Patrick Willis, I can easily see him topping the league in tackles on a yearly basis.
The Dallas Cowboys would be a perfect fit at No. 14 as Keith Brooking and Bradie James are both getting up there in age and may not have many great years left in the tank—Brooking especially.
Kuechly would be a starter with the Cowboys from the get-go and there is little doubt that he would make their defense better right away.
Which player will be the biggest game changer in the NFL?
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
The Jets had a lot of issues this past season, but one of the biggest was that their defense took a step back. A great pass-rusher like Coples could put them back on track.
17. Cincinnati Bengals (via OAK 8-8): David DeCastro, OG, Stanford
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 it could use a player to replace departed middle linebacker Stephen Tulloch. Burfict fits the bill.
21. Cincinnati Bengals (9-7): Lamar Miller, RB, Miami
It has become quite apparent that running back Cedric Benson is on his last legs, so the Bengals need new blood in the backfield. Miller is the most explosive back in the entire draft.
22. Cleveland Browns (via ATL 10-6): Alshon Jeffery, WR, South Carolina
Cleveland has been a mess on offense for several years, but after taking Trent Richardson early in the draft, Jeffery would give them yet another weapon to help quarterback Colt McCoy.
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 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.
28. 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.
29. 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.
At which position is it easiest to make an instant impact?
30. 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.
31. San Francisco 49ers (13-3): Kendall Wright, WR, Baylor
It appears as though the 49ers have pretty much everything in place on both sides of the ball, but they could use a deep threat for quarterback Alex Smith. Wright might be the best one in the draft.
32. New England Patriots (13-3): Janoris Jenkins, CB, North Alabama
The Patriots secondary has been a mess all season long and while there is some talent, they need to add more. Jenkins could have been a higher pick if not for character issues, but the Pats would love him here.
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