2012 NFL Draft: Projecting the First 10 Defensive Players Taken
The 2012 NFL draft will focus on players on the offensive side of the ball for the first 10 picks but then will switch over to the defenders after that in the first round.
With the NFL becoming more of a passing league, the players teams look for on defense can either rush the passer or shut down receivers.
Much like running backs have lost value on offense, run-stopping linebackers have lost value as well. Some will say Luke Kuechly belongs in the discussion as a top draft pick, but I could see him sliding into the early second round.
Let's take a look at the first 10 defensive players to be drafted and where they will go. Some of the predictions are no-brainers, others are more controversial, and there may be others like Mark Barron or Fletcher Cox that teams may fall in love with and take higher than they are rated.
Look for the guys on the defensive side of the ball to dominate in the second half of the first round.
1. Morris Claiborne, CB, LSU
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Just about as easy as it is to predict Andrew Luck going first overall in the draft will be guessing that Morris Claiborne is the first defensive player off the board.
With cover skills as good or better than former LSU teammate and fifth overall pick last year Patrick Peterson, Claiborne brings a very desired skill set to a league that has become more pass oriented than ever before.
Claiborne also has some value in the return game as he brought back 17 kickoffs for a 26-yard average per return and one touchdown.
Claiborne will be gone no later than sixth overall to Washington and possibly as earlier as third to the Vikings.
2. Michael Brockers, DT, LSU
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Following Claiborne is LSU teammate Michael Brockers.
As a redshirt sophomore, Brockers was dominant inside for the Tigers as he proved to be a beast stopping the run, stuffing ball-carriers in the backfield 9.5 times.
Even though he stands 6'6", Brockers still manages to get decent leverage and is also quick enough to penetrate a seam in the line and cause havoc in the backfield.
Carolina needs help in the middle of its defense and will not pass on this mammoth prospect who is still improving.
3. Courtney Upshaw, OLB, Alabama
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Continuing with another defender from the national championship game, Courtney Upshaw is the third defender to be picked.
At Alabama, Upshaw was used almost exclusively as a pass-rusher and excelled at it racking up 16.5 sacks including 8.5 his senior season. Never really asked to drop back in coverage, Upshaw is enough of an athlete to be able to handle it.
Ideally suited to play weakside linebacker in a 3-4, Upshaw may be able to also play end in a 4-3.
I have Upshaw playing in Buffalo next season.
4. Melvin Ingram, DE/OLB, South Carolina
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Another edge-rusher comes off the board a few picks later as the Cowboys surprise everyone and take Melvin Ingram to line up opposite of DeMarcus Ware.
Seeing what a tandem like Von Miller and Elvis Dumervil can do to opposing passers will lead Dallas to put together a threat on each edge.
Ingram really turned it on his senior season, notching 8.5 sacks and 13.5 tackles for loss. He will need to work on his coverage skills but he will be drafted to rush the passer.
5. Devon Still, DT, Penn State
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A team looking for a run-stuffing defensive tackle in the middle of the first round should look no further than Penn State's Devon Still.
Still is not a great threat as a pass-rusher but is able to slow down opponent's running games with his ability to split double-teams and stuff ball-carrier in the backfield.
All Still needs to know about playing in the NFL can be found out by just asking his cousins Art Still, a Pro Bowl defensive end with Kansas City, and Levon Kirkland, a star linebacker in Pittsburgh.
Philadelphia was gashed by the run last year and will look to take a player to help there. I don't see a linebacker worth taking here so I think the Eagles go with Still to strengthen their line.
6. Quinton Coples, DE, North Carolina
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Quinton Coples has undeniable talent that he has shown the last two seasons at North Carolina first as a defensive end, his natural position, and then as a tackle his senior season.
Coples lacks the bulk needed to play inside in the NFL and will certainly be moved back outside in the pros.
Already equipped with a fearsome bull rush, Coples will benefit from the coaching he receives in the NFL in adding more moves to his repertoire. The question is whether or not Coples has the motivation to improve himself after bringing in big paychecks.
That question will lead him to being available when the Jets pick, and they will be happy to select him as he would be a perfect fit in their 3-4 defense.
7. Nick Perry, OLB, USC
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Another 3-4 rush linebacker comes off the board when San Diego takes Nick Perry with the 18th pick.
Perry is highly productive as a pass-rusher, leading the Pac-12 in sacks with 9.5 while being named to the All-Pac-12 first team. Although his forte is rushing the passer, Perry is not bad at playing the run and is probably a little better at it than Upshaw and Ingram.
The former Detroit King High School star should be a good value to the Chargers in the middle of the first round.
8. Janoris Jenkins, CB, North Alabama
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The troubling history of Janoris Jenkins is pretty well known. His ability to shut down top-level receivers is just as well known.
Earning a starting cornerback job in the SEC as a true freshman is no small deal and slowing top competition like A.J. Green and Julio Jones is a bigger deal.
Jenkins earned All-SEC honors as a junior before being dismissed from the team after two drug-related arrests in a three-month span.
Jenkins may possess the best cover skills in this draft and I can't see the Bengals passing on him if he is there when they pick for the second time in the first round. Losing Johnathan Joseph was a blow to their defense and Leon Hall may not be at full speed to start the season while recovering from an ankle injury.
9. Dre Kirkpatrick, CB, Alabama
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The only reason Kirkpatrick may fall out of the top 15 is due to concerns over an arrest for marijuana possession the day after he declared for the draft.
Those charges were dropped, but putting himself in that position shows a lack of judgment. On the field Kirkpatrick has size that is rarely seen in a corner; standing at 6'2", he won't get beat on jump balls often.
If he falls to the Detroit Lions at 23, there is no way they can pass on him.
10. Dontari Poe, NT, Memphis
The best nose tackle prospect available is available when the Steelers pick at 24 and they will be happy to select Dontari Poe to take over the center of their line from Casey Hampton.
Poe is amazingly agile for a man that is 350 pounds and is able to cut into the backfield and make plays.
The Steelers know that a great zero-technique tackle is a key to running a 3-4 defense and will want to make sure they have someone who can continue the stellar play they have gotten at the spot since they drafted Hampton.