2012 NFL Mock Draft: Where Will the Top Prospects Land?

Gerard MartinCorrespondent IJanuary 24, 2012

2012 NFL Mock Draft: Where Will the Top Prospects Land?

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    Andrew Luck, Robert Griffin III and Justin Blackmon head the NFL Draft Class of 2012. All are sure to make an impact right away, but where will they end up?

    The most intriguing element of the NFL draft is the cascading impact of every pick. Each team's preferences and needs are different; a mock draft can never be just a list of the best players available.

    Unheralded players rise, celebrated players fall—it happens every year. In this year's version, one top SEC player will experience a bit of the Aaron Rodgers treatment.

1. Indianapolis Colts: Andrew Luck, QB (Stanford)

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    Regardless of whether Peyton Manning is traded, cut, returns or decides to hang 'em up, the Indianapolis Colts will select Andrew Luck.

    Luck is universally heralded as one of the best quarterback prospects ever to enter in the NFL draft. No team can pass on that opportunity, especially not one whose quarterback didn't play a game all season.

    There are plenty of other talented prospects available in this draft, but none offer the franchise-shifting potential of Luck.

2. St. Louis Rams: Matt Kalil, OT (USC)

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    The St. Louis Rams have drafted plenty of linemen recently, but have still allowed more sacks and quarterback hits than any other team in the NFL. Matt Kalil is a "set it and forget it" left tackle prospect. He'll start from Day 1 and will only get better from there.

    Justin Blackmon is certainly a consideration here, but the top priority for St. Louis has to be protecting its investment in Sam Bradford. Once they prove that they can protect their young passer, then the Rams can look to add weapons.

3. Minnesota Vikings: Morris Claiborne, CB (LSU)

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    Even with Jared Allen nearly conquering the single-season sack record, the Minnesota Vikings' pass-defense was awful. The Vikes allowed opposing quarterbacks to rack up a rating of 107.6.

    That figure was the worst in the NFL.

    Only Aaron Rodgers and Drew Brees posted higher ratings—as individuals.

    With that in mind, Morris Claiborne has to be the pick. He's big, fast and ready to lock down receivers right from the jump.

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

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    The Cleveland Browns' offense was on life support in 2011. The Brownies were one of just three NFL teams to average fewer than two touchdowns per game.

    In fact, Cleveland scored more than 20 points just once, putting 27 on the Colts in Week 2.

    In a division that features daunting defenses in Pittsburgh, Baltimore and Cincinnati, the Browns need a dynamic playmaker.

    There's no player in this draft more dynamic than Robert Griffin III. RGIII could start immediately and give a spark to a Cleveland team that's grown a bit too comfortable in the AFC North cellar.

5. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Justin Blackmon, WR (Oklahoma State)

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    Wide receiver probably isn't at the top of the needs list for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, but if Justin Blackmon remains on the board this late, the value is too great to pass up.

    Josh Freeman regressed in 2011, but more importantly, so did top receiver Mike Williams. Williams equaled his 65 catches from 2010, but delivered nearly three fewer yards per reception. As a result, Williams scored only three times this season—a significant drop from his 11 touchdowns as a rookie.

    Bringing in Blackmon would give Freeman a true No. 1 receiver and would open up the field for Williams, adding explosiveness to the passing game from multiple angles.

6. Washington Redskins: Riley Reiff, OT (Iowa)

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    The Washington Redskins will certainly be disappointed to miss out on Griffin here, but there are no shortage of quality players remaining.

    The Redskins' offensive line was not a strength, and neither starting tackle is an elite player. Washington was one of only nine teams in the NFL to average four yards per carry or less and finished third-worst in quarterback hits, allowing 108 on the season.

    Riley Reiff can plug in immediately and stabilize the offensive line for whichever quarterback ends up starting in Washington.

    Trent Richardson will certainly be in consideration here, but Mike Shanahan has never been one to spend high draft picks on running backs.

7. Jacksonville Jaguars: Quinton Coples, DE (North Carolina)

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    The Jacksonville Jaguars really need some help for Blaine Gabbert, but at this point in the draft, there isn't a good value pick at wide receiver. Rather than stretch for Alshon Jeffrey or Michael Floyd, the Jags would be wise to address the other side of the ball.

    Jacksonville was one of the worst teams in football at getting to the quarterback, recording only 31 sacks as a team. North Carolina's Quinton Coples would start immediately at defensive end and provide an infusion of speed and power to the Jaguars' pass-rush.

8. Carolina Panthers: Dre Kirkpatrick, CB (Alabama)

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    With Jonathan Stewart and DeAngelo Williams both in place, the Carolina Panthers can't take advantage of the incredible value that Trent Richardson could yield at this spot.

    Instead, Carolina will look to fortify its defense.

    In a division that features the Atlanta Falcons and New Orleans Saints, two of the top eight passing teams in the league in 2011, cornerback has to be a priority. Dre Kirkpatrick would give the Panthers a perfect complement to Chris Gamble. Kirkpatrick has the size to hold his own against bigger receivers like Roddy White and Marques Colston.

9. Miami Dolphins: Jonathan Martin, OT (Stanford)

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    Even with an elite left tackle in Jake Long, the Miami Dolphins allowed the third-most sacks in football this season. The Dolphins need to continue to add depth to the offensive line, especially if the team decides to invest some cash in free-agent-to-be Matt Flynn.

    The best tackle left on the board is Stanford's Jonathan Martin, who will plug in perfectly on the right side. He's not an elite player, but opposite Long, he won't have to be.

    With a rejuvenated Reggie Bush teaming with young Daniel Thomas crowding the Miami backfield, Trent Richardson somehow still remains on the board.

10. Buffalo Bills: Trent Richardson, RB (Alabama)

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    The Buffalo Bills will reap the benefits from Trent Richardson's drop, scooping up one of the top talents in the draft all the way down at No. 10. Defense is a bigger challenge for the Bills, but there's no way that a team with numerous needs can pass up this kind of value.

    Buffalo has talent at running back, but Richardson does bring a physical element that neither Fred Jackson nor C.J. Spiller can provide. He'd also provide some security; when Jackson went down this season, Spiller proved incapable of handling the load as the starter.

11. Kansas City Chiefs: Michael Brockers, DT (LSU)

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    Tamba Hali led a Kansas City Chiefs defense that excelled at getting to the passer, but KC struggled against the run, allowing more than 130 yards per game.

    In a division where the Denver Broncos and Oakland Raiders are loaded with talented runners, the Chiefs need to beef up their rushing defense.

    Michael Brockers would be a perfect replacement for the aging Kelly Gregg and would be a nice fit as a run-stuffer in the middle of Kansas City's three-man front.

12. Seattle Seahawks: Melvin Ingram, DE (South Carolina)

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    The Seattle Seahawks' defense was very good this season, but counted on two players over the age of 30 (Chris Clemons and Raheem Brock) as their primary pass-rushers. A team that plays its home games in the loudest venue in the NFL should prioritize pressure on defense, and that's just what Seattle will do in this draft.

    Melvin Ingram is an off-the-charts athlete who can wreak havoc on the edge. He's not polished, but a defensive coach like Pete Carroll would love to have this ball of clay in his hands.

13. Arizona Cardinals: David DeCastro, OG (Stanford)

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    The Arizona Cardinals weren't a strong running team in 2011, averaging just barely 100 yards per game and only 4.2 yards per carry as a team. After investing recent draft picks in Beanie Wells and Ryan Williams, Arizona would be wise to bolster the line in front of its young runners.

    David DeCastro would be an immediate upgrade from the Cardinal to the Cardinals. He played in a forceful offense at Stanford, and Arizona could absolutely use some of that attitude.

14. Dallas Cowboys: Mark Barron, S (Alabama)

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    The Dallas Cowboys' defense was quietly bad in 2011. Though they allowed an acceptable 21.7 points per game, the Cowboys gave up 5.6 yards per play—ninth in the NFL.

    A cornerback would be ideal here, but with Claiborne and Kirkpatrick already off the board, the smart move for Dallas is taking the next best thing in the secondary.

    Mark Barron isn't great in coverage, but he's definitely an upgrade over Abram Elam at strong safety. Barron is well-trained coming out of Alabama and should fit perfectly with Wade Phillips' aggressive style of defense.

15. Philadelphia Eagles, Luke Kuechly, LB (Boston College)

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    There's no pick in this draft that's an easier match than Luke Kuechly and the Philadelphia Eagles.

    Philly's defense was excellent overall in 2011, but the Eagles were weak at linebacker.

    Kuechly would start immediately and boost Philadelphia's run-defense. With defensive ends focused completely on rushing the passer, the Eagles' defense requires a productive middle linebacker.

16. New York Jets: Courtney Upshaw, LB (Alabama)

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    Courtney Upshaw and Rex Ryan are a match made in heaven. Upshaw is an intelligent and aggressive linebacker—a perfect fit for Ryan's 3-4 scheme.

    The New York Jets have struggled to find an elite edge pass-rusher in recent seasons. Upshaw could be that in 2012, while also giving Ryan the flexibility to drop him into coverage.

17. Cincinnati Bengals (via Oakland): Alfonzo Dennard, CB (Nebraska)

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    The Cincinnati Bengals' defense was very good in 2011, allowing only five yards per play.

    However, the Bengals' D undoubtedly missed the departed Johnathan Joseph at cornerback. Leon Hall remains, but Cincinnati has a hole to fill on the opposite side of the field.

    Alfonzo Dennard doesn't have great height, but he's thick and powerful. He won't get pushed around by bigger receivers and has enough speed to stick with them down the field.

18. San Diego Chargers: Vontaze Burfict, LB (Arizona State)

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    The San Diego Chargers' defense used to have a reputation for pounding opposing passers, but in recent seasons, it hasn't been backed up on the field. San Diego averaged just two sacks per game in 2011—only eight teams were worse at getting to the passer.

    Vontaze Burfict may line up inside or outside, but no matter where he is, he's going to create some havoc. He may not be the one getting to the quarterback, but his freakish athleticism will force offenses to game plan for him and open up space for his teammates.

19. Chicago Bears: Michael Floyd, WR (Notre Dame)

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    Jay Cutler took some huge strides before his injury this season, but even as Cutler improved, it was clear that the Chicago Bears were in desperate need of a No. 1 wide receiver.

    Michael Floyd is big and fast, but, most importantly, he's strong. He'll be able to shake press coverage and the line to get himself open for Cutler.

20. Tennessee Titans: Andre Branch, DE (Clemson)

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    The Tennessee Titans finished second-worst in the NFL with only 28 sacks on the year. The rest of the defense is solid, but without a pass-rush, the Titans struggle to get off the field, allowing opponents to covert more than 40 percent of third down chances.

    Andre Branch would be an instant upgrade at defensive end, giving Tennessee a pass-rushing presence on the edge.

21. Cincinnati Bengals: Lamar Miller, RB (Miami)

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    Cedric Benson has been outstanding as a Cincinnati Bengal, but he'll turn 30 next season. The Bengals need to think about a succession plan.

    Lamar Miller is a similarly powerful runner and enters the NFL with very little tread on his tires. In two seasons at Miami (Fla.), Miller had only 335 total carries.

22. Cleveland Browns (via Atlanta): Cordy Glenn, OG (Georgia)

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    If the Cleveland Browns bring in Robert Griffin III to take over a quarterback, offensive line must become priority No. 2. The Browns will not only have to protect Griffin, but they'll have to improve the running game to take the pressure off of him.

    Only one NFL team rushed for fewer yards per carry in 2011 than Cleveland's 3.7. Cordy Glenn is a dependable blocker who can solidify the line in the pass and run games.

23. Detroit Lions: Peter Konz, C (Wisconsin)

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    The Detroit Lions need to find a way to generate more out of the run game.

    Mikel Leshoure's return from injury will give Detroit a fresh runner, and center Dominic Raiola is getting up there in age. That leaves offensive line as the chief need for the Lions.

    Peter Konz comes from a school with a great pedigree for running the football. He's a beast at center, with a 6'5", 313-pound frame that would fit just as well at offensive tackle.

24. Pittsburgh Steelers: Devon Still, DT (Penn State)

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    The Pittsburgh Steelers' defense was once again the best in football, but that doesn't mean that the troops couldn't use a little backup. Casey Hampton seems ageless in the middle of the Steelers' front, but I assure you, he won't last forever.

    Devon Still can ease into a role behind Hampton, and has the bulk to hold the front line and free up the Pittsburgh linebackers.

25. Denver Broncos: Dwayne Allen, TE (Clemson)

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    If the Denver Broncos are going to build an offense around Tim Tebow, they'll need to find a versatile tight end.

    Every player on the Broncos' offense must be a capable blocker. A tight end who can be a threat flexed out into the slot would be incredibly valuable.

    Dwayne Allen is outstanding as a pass-catcher, but he also has the ability to excel as a blocker in a zone-read system.

26. Houston Texans: Alshon Jeffrey, WR (South Carolina)

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    Andre Johnson hopefully still has a long career ahead of him, but with his checkered injury history, the Houston Texans have to think about a backup plan.

    Houston has the advantage of not having any gaping holes on offense or defense, giving them the luxury of making an upside pick here.

    Alshon Jeffrey has fantastic size and hands. He doesn't have elite speed, but he uses his bulk well to shield defenders. He can be a devastating target in the red zone and has the strength to be an excellent blocker in support of the run game—an important component of the Houston offense.

27. New England Patriots (via New Orleans): Nick Perry, LB (USC)

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    The New England Patriots were able to plug enough holes to make it to the Super Bowl, but even so, this team has some serious needs.

    The foremost of those needs are depth and athleticism along the front seven.

    Nick Perry is a great value pick at this point. He is a raw prospect, but has the talent to develop into a dominant pass-rusher. The Patriots can line him up opposite Rob Ninkovich and cut him loose after the quarterback.

28. Green Bay Packers: Fletcher Cox, DE (Mississippi State)

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    Clay Matthews and co. have a reputation for getting after the passer, but the Green Bay Packers actually ranked in the bottom five in the NFL in sacks this season.

    Green Bay is deep in its back eight, but could use some help up front.

    Fletcher Cox can contribute immediately, and his disruptive, penetrating style will fit perfectly from either end or tackle.

29. Baltimore Ravens: Kendall Wright, WR (Baylor)

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    The Baltimore Ravens have almost every component you'd want in a receiving corps. Torrey Smith is the deep threat, Anquan Boldin is the possession guy, and Dennis Pitta and Ed Dickson are seam-stretching tight ends.

    The only thing missing is a shifty slot receiver.

    Enter Kendall Wright.

    Wright would give the Ravens a reliable third-down target, which is good news for an offense that converted only a third of its passes into first downs.

30. San Francisco 49ers: Ryan Tannehill, QB (Texas A&M)

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    Although the San Francisco 49ers fell short in the NFC Championship Game, their run this season showed that Jim Harbuagh's team doesn't have many holes. That puts the 49ers in an enviable position, as they are able to add depth with their first-round pick.

    Alex Smith had a fantastic season, but he struggled under the championship game spotlight. At this point in his tenure, it looks more likely that San Francisco will have to win in spite of him rather than because of him.

    With that in mind, Ryan Tannehill is a worthwhile risk at this spot. He was a wide receiver just two seasons ago, but he has all of the size and physical tools necessary to develop into a top-flight NFL passer.

31. New York Giants: Zebrie Sanders, OT (Florida State)

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    The New York Giants have reached the Super Bowl, but they certainly have holes.

    The Giants allowed 72 hits on Eli Manning during the regular season and finished dead last in the NFL in rushing. Against a division that features rushers like DeMarcus Ware and Jason Babin, rebuilding the offensive line must be a priority for the Giants.

    There isn't much spectacular about Zebrie Sanders, but he'll inject some youth into a line that's struggled this season.

32. New England Patriots: Janoris Jenkins, CB (North Alabama)

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    The New England Patriots' pass-defense was bad in 2011, allowing nearly 300 yards per game and eight yards per attempt. One of the Pats' top priorities for this offseason has to be adding depth in the secondary or at least allowing Julian Edelman to concentrate on playing on one side of the ball.

    Officially, Janoris Jenkins is coming out of North Alabama, but he spent most of his career playing for the Florida Gators. He's got great size for a corner, as well as the athletic ability to run down deep routes.