NFL Mock Draft 2012: Pick-by-Pick Predictions for First Round
With only Super Bowl XLVI remaining to be played, the 2011 NFL season is nearing its conclusion.
However, "draft season" is just heating up, and with the Senior Bowl being played this weekend in Mobile, Alabama, fans of teams across the National Football League are filled with anticipation as to which players their squads will select in April's NFL Draft in an effort to improve for 2012.
With that said, here's an updated look at how the first round of the 2012 NFL Draft could shake out, with a couple of theoretical trades tossed in to spice things up a bit.
1. Indianapolis Colts: Andrew Luck, QB, Stanford
There may well be only one selection I accurately "predict" in this April's draft, but this pick is as about as mortal a lock as things get in the NFL.
The biggest question now isn't whether or not the Indianapolis Colts will take Luck, who's widely considered one of the best prospects at his position in the past decade.
What's unknown at this point, with all the uncertainty swirling around quarterback Peyton Manning and his future in Indianapolis, is whether Luck will begin his rookie season as Manning's understudy or as the Colts' opening-day starter.
2. St. Louis Rams: Matt Kalil, OT, USC
The St. Louis Rams will undoubtedly receive several offers from teams looking to move up to the second overall pick in an effort to acquire Baylor quarterback Robert Griffin III.
However, the Rams also allowed an NFL-high 55 sacks in 2011, and a big part of helping quarterback Sam Bradford develop in St. Louis lies with keeping the youngster off his back.
So, since elite left tackle prospects don't grow on trees, unless a team makes an irresistible offer St. Louis may well stand pat and select Matt Kalil of USC, who didn't allow a single sack during his junior season.
3. Washington Redskins (from Minnesota Vikings): Robert Griffin, QB, Baylor
Should the Rams keep the second overall pick and take Kalil, you can bet the farm that the same teams that were making offers to St. Louis will then give the Minnesota Vikings, who choose third in April's draft, a call.
The Washington Redskins have 18 draft picks over the next two years, are in desperate need of a "franchise" quarterback and Redskins owner Daniel Snyder has never been shy about spending big to get what he wants.
The Vikings drop a few spots and acquire some extra draft picks, while Washington gets the player they hope will become the face of their franchise for years to come.
Sounds like a win-win deal to me.
4. Cleveland Browns: Justin Blackmon, WR, Oklahoma State
If the Redskins jump to the third overall spot and take Robert Griffin, it's quite possible that Cleveland Browns team president Mike Holmgren will spend the first 12 of the 15 minutes afforded to teams in the first round of the draft beating his head against the table, unless the Browns address the quarterback position in free agency.
However, regardless of who lines up under center in Cleveland in 2012, the Browns desperately need playmakers on offense.
Oklahoma State wide receiver Justin Blackmon, who won the Biletnikoff Award as college football's top wide receiver the past two years, would certainly seem to qualify as one.
5. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Morris Claiborne, CB, LSU
Cornerback Ronde Barber is 36 years old and showed his age in 2011, and Aqib Talib is a headcase who's constantly half a step this side of doing something stupid off the field.
That leaves the Tampa Bay Buccaneers with a glaring need at the position, and makes selecting the draft's best cover corner in Morris Claiborne of LSU an easy decision for the Bucs to make.
6. Minnesota Vikings (from Washington Redskins): Jonathan Martin, T, Stanford
If you've seen much of Minnesota Vikings starting tackle Charlie Johnson, then you know that the Vikings could use an upgrade on the left side of their offensive line.
Jonathan Martin may not be as hot a prospect as Matt Kalil, but the 6'6", 304-pound second-team All-American is a smart player with solid technique. Given the premium placed on offensive tackles in the NFL draft, it wouldn't be a huge shock to see the Stanford standout go this high.
7. Jacksonville Jaguars: Quinton Coples, DE, North Carolina
The Jacksonville Jaguars have a number of needs to address this offseason, including a pass rush that ranked 25th in the NFL in sacks in 2011.
Quinton Coples was something of a disappointment in his senior season at North Carolina, but the 6'6", 281 pounder has been drawing raves in Senior Bowl practices and would provide an excellent batterymate for Jeremy Mincey on the Jacksonville defensive line.
8. Carolina Panthers: Michael Brockers, DT, LSU
Defending the run was a problem for the Carolina Panthers in 2011, who ranked 25th in rushing defense and allowed over 130 yards per game.
That was due in large part to the play of Carolina's defensive tackles, who were mediocre at best and awful at worst. Michael Brockers, who has been steadily moving up draft boards of late, would provide the Panthers with an instant and significant upgrade at the position.
9. Miami Dolphins: Riley Reiff, OT, Iowa
Let's see, how shall I put this...
Starting right tackle Marc Colombo of the Miami Dolphins, um, sucked in 2011.
Colombo is, luckily for the Dolphins, a free agent, so they can not only rid themselves of some dead weight by not re-signing him but also filling the void left by his departure quite nicely with Riley Reiff, who was a first team All-Big Ten performer in 2011. He is easily the draft's best prospect at right tackle.
10. Buffalo Bills: Courtney Upshaw, OLB, Alabama
One of the most glaring needs for the Buffalo Bills in 2012 is upgrading their pass rush, as no player on the team had more than 5.5 sacks last season.
In adding outside linebacker Courtney Upshaw of Alabama, the Bills should be able to accomplish that goal, as Upshaw notched 9.5 sacks in 2011 and has reportedly looked very good in practices at the Senior Bowl.
11. New England Patriots (from Seattle Seahawks): Dre Kirkpatrick, CB, Alabama
I'll freely admit that this trade is pretty unlikely, as the New England Patriots are known much more for trading down and stockpiling picks than burning picks to move up.
However, smarting from a potential Super Bowl loss and with a dire need to upgrade a terrible secondary, the Patriots would likely gladly part with their two late first-rounders and additional compensation for the opportunity to draft shutdown cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick, whose draft stock may slip a bit after his recent arrest for marijuana possession.
12. Kansas City Chiefs: David DeCastro, OG, Stanford
The Kansas City Chiefs have needs in quite a few areas, with one of those being on the interior of the offensive line, where neither Ryan Lilja or Jon Asamoah can exactly be considered standouts at the guard position.
David DeCastro of Stanford would present the Chiefs with a best-of-both-worlds scenario in this spot. Not only is the consensus All-American likely the best player available at this point, but he would also allow Kansas City to address an area where they could stand to improve.
13. Arizona Cardinals: Mike Adams, OT, Ohio State
While the Arizona Cardinals have a number of needs, especially at linebacker, none are as pressing as at left tackle, as the Cardinals allowed the second-most sacks in the NFL in 2011 and Levi Brown may well be the worst starter in the league at his position.
The second-team All-Big Ten tackle's stock is on the rise, his strong showing so far in Mobile certainly isn't hurting it any and as I said earlier, offensive tackle is a premium position in the NFL Draft.
This pick may not be the reach it appears to be at first glance to some.
14. Dallas Cowboys: Janoris Jenkins, CB, North Alabama
As was made clearly evident in the Cowboys' season-ending loss to the New York Giants, the Achilles' heel of their defense is in the secondary, where starting cornerbacks Terence Newman and Mike Jenkins are serviceable at best.
Jenkins' dismissal from the University of Florida certainly raises some character concerns, but the Cowboys have been known to roll the dice on talented players with checkered pasts before, and there were reports earlier this week that Dallas might meet with Jenkins at the Senior Bowl.
15. Philadelphia Eagles: Alshon Jeffery, WR, South Carolina
The Eagles desperately need help at the linebacker position, but since defensive coordinator Juan Castillo still has a job at this point, I have to conclude that the Eagles have given up on that side of the ball entirely.
DeSean Jackson is a free agent, and given his grousing about a contract in 2011, he may well have pouted his way out of Philadelphia, leaving the Eagles with a hole at wideout that Jeffery would fill very well.
16. New York Jets: Michael Floyd, WR, Notre Dame
Jets owner Woody Johnson's protestations to the contrary aside, I have a hard time imagining wide receiver Santonio Holmes will remain with the New York Jets next year after he essentially quit on the team and was a constant distraction all season.
Even if Holmes does stay with Gang Green, they badly need a number two wideout to complement him. If quarterback Mark Sanchez's career in the Big Apple is going to be salvaged, he could use another weapon in the passing game, which the 6'3" Floyd would provide.
17. Cincinnati Bengals (from Oakland Raiders): Trent Richardson, RB, Alabama
Although Richardson is arguably a top-10 talent, it's not inconceivable that he could slip this far given that the running back position has become devalued in recent drafts, but it would take the Cincinnati Bengals about nine seconds to pull the trigger on this pick.
Running back Cedric Benson may be the least explosive starter in the NFL at his position, averaging less than four yards a carry three of the past four years, and the Bengals' playoff loss to the Houston Texans showed quite clearly that their ground game could use a spark.
Not only would the Alabama star provide that spark, but the trio of Richardson, quarterback Andy Dalton and wide receiver A. J. Green could become the foundation of a solid offense in the Queen City for the next several seasons.
18. San Diego Chargers: Whitney Mercilus, DE/OLB, Illinois
The San Diego Chargers had plenty of trouble getting to the quarterback in 2011, and with only linebacker Antwan Barnes providing consistent pressure on the passer, the Bolts should look to upgrade their pass rush in April's draft.
There are some questions as to whether last year's NCAA sack leader was a "one-year wonder," but with 16 sacks in 2011 and the speed to make the transition to outside linebacker in the 3-4, Mercilus could be a good fit for San Diego in this slot.
19. Chicago Bears: Kendall Wright, WR, Baylor
There is likely no bigger position of need in the Windy City than at wide receiver, as the Bears receiving leader in 2011 was Johnny Knox, who managed only 727 yards on the season.
Kendall Wright lacks ideal size but makes up for it with great hands and blazing speed, and the Baylor star would afford quarterback Jay Cutler the best target he's had in the passing game since he arrived in Chicago.
20. Tennessee Titans: Melvin Ingram, DE, South Carolina
The Tennessee Titans possess a fairly solid defensive unit, but getting to the quarterback was an issue for them in 2011, as they ranked 31st in the National Football League with a measly 28 sacks on the season.
South Carolina defensive end Melvin Ingram has shined in Senior Bowl practices, and his combination of speed, power and an array of pass-rush moves could be just the shot in the arm that the Titans pass rush needs.
21. Cincinnati Bengals: Chase Minnifield, CB, Virginia
If there's one thing we learned from the Cincinnati Bengals loss to the Houston Texans in the playoffs, it's that besides their aforementioned need for improvement in the running game, they could also use a boost at the cornerback position.
Chase Minnifield of Virginia could be just the player to provide that boost, with a solid combination of size, speed and an outstanding football pedigree, as his father Frank was a four-time Pro Bowl corner for the Cleveland Browns in the 1980s.
22. Cleveland Browns (from Atlanta Falcons): Lamar Miller, RB, Miami (FL)
Cleveland Browns running back Peyton Hillis suffered through a nightmarish 2011 season and is a free agent. With it rather unlikely he'll be returning to Cleveland, the Browns are apt to be in the market for a ball-carrier in April.
Miami running back Lamar Miller would be an excellent fit in Cleveland's West Coast offense, and it's absolutely essential that the Browns get some firepower on offense if they're going to begin the climb out of the AFC North's basement.
23. Detroit Lions: Peter Konz, C, Wisconsin
Starting center Dominic Raiola of the Detroit Lions is a decent NFL player, but he's also 33 years old and carries a price tag for 2012 in the $4 million range.
All-American center Peter Konz of Wisconsin would be a significant upgrade over Raiola, infusing some youth into the Lions offensive line, and would represent the sort of value at this point in the draft that is hard to pass up.
24. Pittsburgh Steelers: Dont'a Hightower, ILB, Alabama
I hate this pick, mostly because I dislike the Pittsburgh Steelers and think this would be a fantastic value for them.
Inside linebacker James Farrior is 37 years old, nearing the end of the line, and may be a cap casualty for the Steelers in the offseason, as they have been known to discard aging stars they feel are out of gas.
However, Hightower, a first-team All-American last season, and Lawrence Timmons could be a force in the middle of the Pittsburgh defense for some time, especially if Timmons can return to form after a somewhat disappointing 2011 campaign.
25. Denver Broncos: Devon Still, DT, Penn State
The Denver Broncos enjoyed a more successful than expected 2011 season, due in large part to the solid play of their defense down the stretch, but the team still ranked a mediocre 22nd in the league against the run for the season.
In order to improve upon those numbers, the Broncos could use an upgrade in the middle of the defensive line, and Devon Still of Penn State, who possesses surprising quickness given his 6'5", 311-pound frame, would provide both that upgrade and a very nice value late in the first round.
26. Houston Texans: Mohamed Sanu, WR, Rutgers
If the Houston Texans are going to repeat as AFC South Champions in 2012, one of the biggest needs to address in the offseason is a wide receiver to complement Andre Johnson, as Kevin Walter will be 31 when the season begins and Jacoby Jones is a speedster with questionable hands.
Rutgers wide receiver Mohamed Sanu, who set a Big East record with 115 receptions in 2011, is faster than Walter and has better hands than Jones, and the former Rutgers star could be just the complement to Johnson the Texans are looking for.
27. Seattle Seahawks (from NE Via NO): Ryan Tannehill, QB, Texas A&M
Here's where my admittedly unlikely trade between the Seahawks and Patriots would begin to pay off.
Quarterback Tarvaris Jackson had by far the best season of his six-year career in 2011, but at the end of the day he's still Tarvaris Jackson, and acquiring Charlie Whitehurst seems to have been a mistake at this point for the Seahawks.
Tannehill was at one point considered a potential top-10 pick, but the foot injury that kept Tannehill from playing in the Senior Bowl and may prevent him from working out at the NFL Combine has caused his draft stock to take a sizable hit.
That may be a blessing in disguise for Pete Carroll and the Seahawks, who could use a late first-rounder on the strong-armed 6'4" signal-caller in the hopes that they can develop him into their quarterback of the future.
28. Green Bay Packers: Nick Perry, DE/OLB, USC
The Green Bay Packers had any number of issues on defense in 2011, but one of their most glaring weaknesses was the lack of a pass rush, as the Packers tied for the third-fewest sacks in the NFL on the season.
Nick Perry of USC would provide an excellent bookend to outside linebacker Clay Matthews for the Packers, with his burst and speed drawing attention away from Matthews and giving the Packers a fearsome tandem similar to the one the Washington Redskins enjoy with Ryan Kerrigan and Brian Orakpo.
Green Bay would be absolutely giddy at the prospects of acquiring Perry this late, and they should be.
29. Baltimore Ravens: Vontaze Burfict, ILB, Arizona State
Linebacker Ray Lewis will one day be enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame, but the fact remains that Lewis will be 37 years old when the 2012 season begins and he started to show signs of wearing down as the 2011 season progressed, including in the Ravens loss to the New England Patriots in the AFC Championship game.
Vontaze Burfict was a million-dollar talent with a ten-cent head while at Arizona State, but with the likes of Lewis and fellow former Sun Devil Terrell Suggs to keep him in line, Burfict could be the steal of the first round.
If he plays to his potential, he could emerge as the heir apparent to Lewis in the middle of Baltimore's defense.
30. San Francisco 49ers: Cordy Glenn, OG, Georgia
Their heartbreaking loss to the New York Giants in the NFC title game aside, the San Francisco 49ers had a great 2011 season under first-year head coach Jim Harbaugh, but one of the weak spots for San Francisco all season long was the right side of the offensive line.
Georgia offensive guard Cordy Glenn was a first-team All-SEC performer in 2011, and with starting right guard Adam Snyder a free agent, for the 49ers to not only be able to fill a potential need but also upgrade at the position would be a gift.
31. Seattle Seahawks (from New England Patriots): Vinny Curry, DE, Marshall
With the second of their first-round selections, the Seattle Seahawks are in a position to address one of their most significant defensive needs, that being finding a batterymate for Chris Clemons at defensive end.
Many pundits have Vinny Curry of Marshall pegged as a 3-4 outside linebacker in the NFL, but the 6'3" Marshall standout has room on his frame to bulk up a bit more and has the speed and explosiveness off the line to give the Seattle defensive front a decent boost.
32. New York Giants: Luke Kuechly, MLB, Boston College
The New York Giants caught fire at the perfect time and have ridden that momentum all the way to a berth in Super Bowl XLVI, but the team has done so with a patchwork group of middle linebackers after Jonathan Goff tore his ACL before the season.
Even should Goff return in 2012 at 100 percent, he's a middling talent, so acquiring Kuechly, who led the nation in 2011 with 191 tackles en route to winning the Nagurski and Lombardi awards, would be a significant upgrade to the New York linebacking corps.
Kuechly has drawn comparisons to James Laurinaitis of the St. Louis Rams, and playing behind the formidable Giants front four Kuechly could rack up huge tackle totals in the Big Apple.
It's not all that likely he'll fall this far, but if he does, the Giants will be committing the draft equivalent of highway robbery.