2012 NFL Mock Draft: Predicting the Entire First Round, Pre-Combine Edition
As news starts to filter in from around the NFL, the draft picture is starting to take more shape regarding what teams have on their wish list.
The NFL Combine is the most hotly anticipated chance for teams to "window shop" and determine which players grade out well enough to make their big boards.
Prior to all of that information coming in, and without knowing exactly where the trades and draft day drama will happen, here is a projection for every pick in the first round.
1. Indianapolis Colts: Andrew Luck, Stanford QB
Despite increasing speculation that Peyton Manning may be returning to the Colts next season, it does nothing to change the fact that Andrew Luck will be a quarterback on Indy's roster after April.
If Manning is to return, the debate that will invariably ensue is how long Luck can be kept on the bench?
The simple answer depends on how well Manning can perform...and for how long.
2. St. Louis Rams: Justin Blackmon, Oklahoma St. WR
This draft pick is still on high alert for potential trade scenarios involving teams that wish to trade up in order to select Robert Griffin III.
However, if teams run out of time to pull the trigger and the Rams hold onto the pick, they are surely going to fill their biggest roster hole at WR with Justin Blackmon.
His game-changing ability was on display against Stanford, and the Rams are hoping that Sam Bradford can find the same kind of connection with Blackmon that Brandon Weeden had.
3. Minnesota Vikings: Matt Kalil, USC OT
The Minnesota Vikings will be ecstatic to land the best lineman in the draft and add him to the mix in their already potent running game.
Kalil will be invaluable in helping to keep Adrian Peterson productive as well as protecting their young quarterback, Christian Ponder.
4. Cleveland Browns: Robert Griffin III, Baylor QB
There has been some talk that Cleveland may be looking at defense for their fourth overall pick, but that could be a smokescreen to mask their true intention of maybe trading up or out of their draft position.
However, if they are presented with the chance to draft RGIII, they will take him and not look back. Mike Holmgren and company are in need of a star to make the Browns relevant again, and Griffin has all the makings of an NFL superstar.
The Brown still have a lot of need in other places, but a franchise quarterback is a tremendous cornerstone.
5. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Morris Claiborne, CB LSU
The Tampa Bay Bucs have a lot of talent in their midst already, and with new head coach Greg Schiano, they simply need to take the best talent available on the board.
Claiborne will come in and take the reins from Ronde Barber in the defensive backfield and not miss a beat doing it.
It may take time to fill the immense shoes of Barber, but in time, Tampa fans will grow to love the former LSU Tiger just as much.
6. Washington Redskins: Trent Richardson, RB Alabama
Mike Shanahan always had great luck picking running backs while in Denver, but this time there will be no luck involved.
Roy Helu and Evan Royster have done a great job, but neither are the kind of game-changer that Richardson will be at the next level.
Shanahan will look to upgrade at QB and pair him with Richardson in the backfield to launch his offensive attack on the NFC East.
7. Jacksonville Jaguars: Michael Floyd, WR Notre Dame
There is a lot of speculation that Jacksonville will be looking for a big splash at receiver, similar to what new head coach Mike Mularkey received with Julio Jones while in Atlanta.
It makes sense that they would want to add weapons for Blaine Gabbert, but the smarter solution would be to add tools like Floyd, who hauled in 100 balls this season for the Irish.
Gabbert and Co. must find stability before they find firepower, and having Maurice Jones-Drew covering the ground and Floyd helping to keep possession through the air, they may have that.
8. Carolina Panthers: Devon Still, DT Penn St.
The Carolina Panthers have got something special going on offense with Cam Newton, but they need to lay the foundation to control the line on both sides of the ball.
Devon Still gives them the best chance to do that from this draft position. If he can come in and stabilize the middle of the line on defense, the rest of the defense, from pass-rush to coverage, should improve.
9. Miami Dolphins: David DeCastro, OG Stanford
The Miami Dolphins will look to add beef to their offensive line and help Reggie Bush and whoever is playing quarterback to keep this offense on track.
DeCastro is the top-ranked interior lineman in the draft and has equal experience pounding the ball and protecting a future legend at quarterback in Andrew Luck during his time at Stanford.
10. Buffalo Bills: Riley Reiff, OT Iowa
11. Kansas City Chiefs: Jonathan Martin, OL Stanford
If the Chiefs decide to roll with Kyle Orton, or even bring back incumbent starter Matt Cassel, protection is going to be a high priority.
Throw into the mix the fact that Jamaal Charles is returning from injury, and the need to have big bodies in front of their offensive stars is a must for Kansas City.
The defense was resurgent for Kansas City down the stretch, and that will allow them to utilize this pick to help the offense.
12. Seattle Seahawks: Dre Kirkpatrick, CB Alabama
Don't look now, but with the addition of Kirkpatrick, the Seahawks may have one of the most talented and exciting young defensive backfields in the NFL.
The Crimson Tide star will join Brandon Browner and Cam Chancellor and make Seattle one of the hardest teams to pass on the NFL.
Seattle has many needs, but it will be hard to pass on talent like this, who in other years could be in the Top Five.
13. Arizona Cardinals: Quinton Coples, DE North Carolina
Coples is a player whose stock could rise above this spot if his Combine performance is anywhere near his Senior Bowl performance. The former North Carolina star was dominant for his team in the Senior Bowl, and Arizona could use the help in their pass-rush.
Many experts are trying to draw comparisons between Von Miller and Quinton Coples in terms of sheer speed and strength in the pass-rush, and the Cardinals defense could use a young star up front to pair with Patrick Peterson on the back end.
14. Dallas Cowboys: Alfonzo Dennard, CB Nebraska
The Dallas Cowboys are seriously in need of a cornerback who cannot be leaped over by Jake Ballard.
Terence Newman has been a great Cowboy, but for Rob Ryan's attacking style to work, he must have cover corners who also know their way around tackling.
Dennard comes from a strong pedigree of Blackshirts in Nebraska and will fit in very well in Dallas.
15. Philadelphia Eagles: Luke Kuechly, ILB Boston College
The Philadelphia Eagles have got the pass-rush taken care of with Jason Babin, but what they need is a strong presence inside that does nothing but tackle.
Luke Kuechly is a tackling machine with over 190 combined tackles in 2011 and will provide much-needed support to a struggling Eagles defense.
16. New York Jets: Nick Perry, DE USC
The New York Jets are in serious need of a pass-rush and someone with speed to help do it.
Coming out of USC, Nick Perry runs a 4.64 40-yard dash and uses all of that speed to apply pressure.
Rex Ryan and his defense are in serious need of a lift to restore their elite ranking in the NFL, and it starts with this draft. Ryan hasn't had the best track record here, but Perry should be solid NFL player relatively quickly.
17. Cincinnati Bengals: Courtney Upshaw, DE Alabama (from Oakland Raiders)
The Bengals are playing with house money here, so they can go after the best talent left on the board and make an already-stout defense even better with Upshaw. His Senior Bowl performance was second only to Quinton Coples, who is sure to be gone at this point, but Upshaw is a great prospect.
His size, speed and football smarts gained at Alabama will make him a Pro Bowl-caliber player for the Bengals for many years to come.
18. San Diego Chargers: Fletcher Cox, DT Mississippi State
The resurgence of the rushing game in every AFC West city but San Diego means that the Chargers need to shore up their interior defensive line.
19. Chicago Bears: Mohamed Sanu, WR Rutgers
He hauled in 112 balls last season and has the ability to play the possession game for the Bears, as well as be a home run hitter when new quarterbacks coach Jeremy Bates wants to cut it loose through the air.
20. Tennessee Titans: Melvin Ingram, DE South Carolina
The Titans will be eager to follow up their 2011 campaign with another push for the playoffs, but with many of the top offensive prospects at receiver off the board, the Titans need to go defense and get help for their pass-rush.
Ingram netted 8.5 sacks and over 13 tackles for loss for the Gamecocks last season, and the Titans will be hopeful that he can do the same against AFC South opponents.
21. Cincinnati Bengals: Cordy Glenn, OG Georgia
The Bengals have to like the production that they have gotten out of Cedric Benson, but as he gets older and they search for changes of pace and replacements, they need to solidify their offensive line.
Glenn has the size at 6'5" and almost 350 pounds to be a staple on the line for many years and can help protect Andy Dalton as the Bengals try to climb to the top of the AFC North.
22. Cleveland Browns: Lamar Miller, RB Miami (from Atlanta Falcons)
The Cleveland Browns will have added the quarterback earlier and now will look to find the running back they can count on game in and game out.
Miller has game-breaking speed and will be a great complement to the wide-open offense that will come along with RG3.
23. Detroit Lions: Janoris Jenkins, CB North Alabama
The Detroit Lions were exposed by the New Orleans Saints as a defense that cannot survive when the pass-rush doesn't get home.
Having a talent like Janoris Jenkins in the defensive backfield can help create coverage sacks for the already-potent defensive line and solve matchup issues for other potent aerial attacks in the NFC.
(Some legal trouble caused Jenkins to move on from Florida to North Alabama.)
24. Pittsburgh Steelers: Jerel Worthy, DT Michigan State
It's not that the Steelers lacked depth this season, but their depletion from injury showed their age at certain positions, which in time will severely threaten their depth and continued defensive dominance.
Jerel Worthy has the size to stand in the place of a force like Casey Hampton and the agility to keep up with the linebacking corps in Pittsburgh.
25. Denver Broncos: Dont'a Hightower, ILB Alabama
The Denver Broncos' defense was the main reason that they made their run to the playoffs.
However, in many games, their lack of experience and lack of run-stuffing ability at middle linebacker caused huge problems.
Hightower and his Alabama cohorts made mincemeat of the potent LSU rushing attack, and Denver fans should be hoping that Hightower can fill the enormous shoes left many years ago by Al Wilson.
26. Houston Texans: Kendall Wright, WR Baylor
The Houston Texans learned a valuable lesson after losing their first-and second-string quarterbacks in one season, and it has nothing to do with the quarterbacking position.
If you are going to be left with a third-string QB, you better have as many weapons on offense as possible to help him out.
Kendall Wright will be a great addition to the already-potent Texans offense, and if the worst happens again, than at least TJ Yates will have more to throw to.
27. New England Patriots: Dontari Poe, DT Memphis (from New Orleans Saints)
The Patriots have a solid producer in Vince WIlfork on the defensive line, but the fact that they attempted to work with Albert Haynesworth means that they are still looking for help there.
That help could come in the form of 350-pound Dontari Poe out of Memphis. His size alone can help eat up the entire middle of the field and allow linebackers to shut down opponents.
28. Green Bay Packers: Zebrie Sanders, OT Florida State
Injuries to the offensive line were not the total downfall of the Packers in the postseason, but it was a constant problem for the Pack this season.
Depth is always something that good teams are looking for, and at this point in the draft the Packers just need to add some depth to the immense talent that they have and hope they are better prepared for the offseason next year.
29. Baltimore Ravens: Whitney Mercilus, DE Illinois
Defense is still king in Baltimore, and names like Ray Lewis and even Terrell Suggs are not getting any younger. The Ravens need to start restocking the cupboard if they intend to keep their defense at an elite level.
Mercilus is immensely athletic and will fit in perfectly with the Ravens immediately and soon will help to carry the mantle of stout defense in Baltimore once the legends have moved on.
30. San Francisco 49ers: Alshon Jeffery, South Carolina WR
Jeffery has slipped tremendously in his draft status, and some think he may still fall out of the first round, but with word out of San Francisco that WR is a top priority in the draft and free agency, his outlook may be brightened.
Jim Harbaugh is eager to add more weapons to the the arsenal available to Alex Smith, and with the size and athleticism of Jeffery still on the board, he will be hard for the Niners to pass up
31. New Enland Patriots: Mark Barron, SS Alabama
It was made clear on February 5th that a great offense must have a solid defense behind it to achieve the ultimate goal of winning the Super Bowl.
Tom Brady will always have the New England offense ready to contend, but upgrades need to be made on defense for the Patriots to reclaim the championship. Mark Barron is an intelligent and athletic safety who will make an impact immediately in New England.
32. New York Giants: Zach Brown, OLB North Carolina
Brown didn't wow the scouts in the Senior Bowl, but his athleticism is apparent, and the New York Giants always make a home for impact defensive players.
The offense seems to be in good shape for next year, but free agency could steal some contributors from the championship defense of the Giants which will make room for a player like Zach Brown.
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