50 2012 NFL Draft Prospects Who Will Have the Best Pro Careers

Matt SteinCorrespondent IIFebruary 29, 2012

50 2012 NFL Draft Prospects Who Will Have the Best Pro Careers

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    With the 2012 NFL draft less than two months away, the big question for every GM is whether their most coveted prospect will turn into a fantastic pro player or whether they will be a complete bust.

    Well, you need not wait any longer to find out which of the NFL draft prospects will turn into great NFL players—because we have it all figured out.

    Here are the 50 prospects who will end up having the best pro careers.

Center

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    The only center that will likely have a stellar career in the NFL is Peter Konz from Wisconsin.

    Konz is an extremely intelligent player who could play either center or guard for a team. He has a good combination of size, strength and athleticism and will likely anchor the interior offensive line for a team for many years.

    Whatever team drafts Konz in the first round will end up being very pleased with their selection.

Safeties

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    This is one of the weakest safety classes in recent memory, but there are still a few players who will end up having successful professional careers.

     

    Harrison Smith, SS, Notre Dame

    When you look at Smith on the football field, the first thing you'll see is a kid who loves to play the game. Add to that his natural instincts and you have the making for a center field type safety in the NFL.

    He'll need to become more fluid at the position, but once he does that he could become quite the playmaker for a team.

     

    George Iloka, SS, Boise State

    Iloka has been riding under the radar, but he is an extremely talented kid. He has the body of a linebacker, but the athleticism of a safety.

    He excels in press-coverage, and while he'll need to develop when playing the deep ball, he still has plenty to offer an NFL team.

     

    Aaron Henry, FS, Wisconsin

    Whatever team drafts Henry will likely sit him on the bench for a year or two before letting him loose.

    You see, Henry is still learning the intricacies of the game, but once he has those done, he could be a great player. He has quality cover skills and the ability to cover the field.

     

    Markelle Martin, FS, Oklahoma State

    With not much competition, Martin has become the top free safety prospect in the draft. The main reason for this is his off-the-charts athleticism.

    Martin is another player who needs to develop, but his elite athleticism is what makes him such a strong candidate to succeed.

Tight End

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    Tight end is another relatively weak group of players, but the top guys should be able to make an immediate impact. There are also some interesting developmental players who will go in the later rounds of the draft who could end up being quality players.

     

    Orson Charles, Georgia

    Charles is built in a similar mold to Aaron Hernandez of the New England Patriots.

    He is the type of player who excels at creating mismatches in the passing game. He isn't the most polished route runner, but his overall skill set will cause him to be widely successful in the NFL.

     

    Coby Fleener, Stanford

    There may not be a better pass catcher in the draft than Fleener. He has great hands with the ability to catch the ball away from his frame.

    The only knock on Fleener's game right now is his lack of strength as a blocker, but he has the frame to add some weight. Once he does that, he should become a well-rounded player.

     

    Ladarius Green, UL-Lafayette

    What Green lacks in experience and blocking ability, he makes up for in size and potential.

    He's surprisingly quick for such a large player, and he'll be a constant hassle in the open field against smaller defenders. He should also excel in the red zone immediately.

Inside Linebacker

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    Inside linebacker is an interesting position in this year's draft because the prospects have been all over draft boards. Players like Vontaze Burfict and Emmanuel Acho have potential to be great players, but they'll need to prove they are hungry enough first. 

    However, these following players all appear ready to make an instant impact in the NFL.

     

    Dont'a Hightower, Alabama

    There aren't many things that Hightower doesn't excel at. He can take on blockers and stop the run, and he also has the ability to pressure the quarterback with natural pass rushing abilities.

    Two areas of concern with Hightower are his intensity on the field and in coverage. However, a team that runs a 3-4 defense will be extremely pleased with what Hightower brings to the field.

     

    Luke Kuechly, Boston College

    Heading up to the draft, the biggest concern with Kuechly was his lack of elite athleticism. However, after the combine, Kuechly has proved that he is no slouch in that category.

    As the most instinctive linebacker this year, Kuechly will be a tackling machine for years to come.

     

    Bobby Wagner, Utah State

    Wagner may be a newer name to some of you because he is from a smaller school, but this kid can flat out play.

    He can play the run, blitz or drop back into coverage. Wagner also has the ability to wrap up in the open field and hit with some violence.

    There will be a learning curve for him as he gets used to elite competition, but the skill set is definitely there.

Offensive Guard

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    With offensive guard becoming more and more important in today's passing league, teams are willing to use a high draft pick to shore up a future Pro Bowl guard. Luckily for NFL teams, offensive guard is a rather deep and talented position in 2012.

     

    David DeCastro, Stanford

    DeCastro is the best guard prospect we've seen in years. He will likely fight for a Pro Bowl spot his first year in the league.

    The only way you could find a fault in his game is if you took it under a super-powered microscope. He's simply that good.

     

    Cordy Glenn, Georgia

    This mammoth of a man has a huge lower frame and loves to get physical in tight spaces on the offensive line.

    Once Glenn puts his hands on a defensive lineman, the battle is pretty well over. He is that strong and powerful in both the run and pass game.

    Some teams may try to move Glenn to tackle, but that would be a big mistake. As a guard, Glenn has All-Pro written all over him.

     

    Brandon Washington, Miami

    The next three guards are all going to need time to develop, but once they do, they should all be very good players.

    Washington is the best and most polished of the three, mostly because of the fact that he played at a big university. However, he still struggles with footwork and getting leverage at the initial point of contact.

    Those are two things that will quickly be worked out in the NFL, and Washington will be a talented player once they do.

     

    Amini Silatolu, Midwestern State

    Technique is the biggest issue that Silatolu has right now, but that is mainly because he hasn't had the coaching that these other guards have had.

    As of today, Silatolu is ready to dominate in the run game. He loves to get in open space and does well at finding a player and sticking to them.

    His pass protection skills need some work, but once again, that will come with proper coaching. Silatolu has as much or more potential than any of the other high-caliber guards in the draft.

     

    Brandon Brooks, Miami (Ohio)

    The right team will have to draft Brooks, but if that does happen he could turn into quite the player.

    Brooks is a big, wide player with natural power and girth. He plays well in both the run and pass game. He also displays some impressive quickness for how big of a kid he is.

    Once Brooks gets to the NFL, he should have little difficulty getting into the starting lineup.

Wide Receiver

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    This year's class of wide receivers isn't nearly as talented or as deep as we've seen in recent years. There is no A.J. Green or Calvin Johnson this year, but there still should be some quality No. 1 threats who will produce for a long time.

     

    Michael Floyd, Notre Dame

    Of all the receivers at the combine, Floyd put on the most impressive show. While there are still concerns about his character, there is absolutely no worries about his abilities on the field.

    Floyd has great size, hands and speed. He is a polished route runner and has the ability to adjust to the ball while it is in the air.

    He may possibly be the first receiver taken in the draft.

     

    Justin Blackmon, Oklahoma State

    Blackmon has been the top receiver for many scouts since about mid-way through the college season. 

    He's the type of player who does everything you ask of him, but isn't necessarily an elite prospect. He isn't ultra-fast or super-athletic, but he has a well-rounded game and should contribute immediately.

     

    Kendall Wright, Baylor

    Don't let the "official" 40-yard dash time of Wright make you think he is less of a prospect. He's faster than that time would make you think, and he plays much faster on the field.

    Wright is a natural playmaker who excels once the ball is in his hands. He can beat defenders vertically, but also isn't afraid to make plays over the middle of the field.

    He's a competitor who will have the ability to put up big numbers in the NFL.

     

    Joe Adams, Arkansas

    Seeing Adams on this list may seem surprising, but I actually think he'll be a rather successful kick/punt returner and wide receiver in the league.

    He has elite quickness once the ball is in his hands and can make plays all over the field. He'll likely get an instant chance to see the field on special teams, and it will only be a matter of time before he lines up as a slot receiver.

    He should be very good as both a receiver and returner early in his career.

Offensive Tackle

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    This year's group of offensive tackles has some really nice prospects to offer NFL teams. The top three or four players look ready to make an impact instantly.

     

    Matt Kalil, USC

    What more can be said about Kalil after his impressive combine workouts?

    Kalil solidified his spot as a top-3 pick in the draft and will likely start at left tackle from day one. What makes Kalil such an intriguing prospect is the fact that he can still get bigger and stronger.

    Once he does that, he could have a similar impact like Joe Thomas and Jake Long had as rookies.

     

    Riley Reiff, Iowa

    Some people aren't as high on Reiff as I am, but I really like what he brings to the football field.

    He is a huge player who is intelligent and experienced. He doesn't use his hands particularly well, but he still has enough strength to dominate in the pass or run game.

    It won't be long before Reiff is dominating defensive ends in the NFL.

     

    Mike Adams, Ohio State

    Adams is another player whose stock may have taken a hit because of his underwhelming combine performance, but he still has a ton of talent.

    Adams already looks like an NFL player with his big frame and long arms. There is room for improvement in his footwork, but not much.

    Teams may also look at Adams' past troubles at Ohio State, but he appears as if he has moved on from that and looks focused on football.

     

    Jonathan Martin, Stanford

    Martin has the size and athleticism that you want out of an offensive tackle, but he really struggles at overpowering defenders. While he should be able to add some weight to his frame, he'll need to play with more aggression if he wants to be a successful player.

    As long as a team can motivate him and find his mean streak, he could become one of the top tackles in the entire draft.

Defensive End

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    Heading into the offseason, defensive end appeared to be filled with underachievers. However, after strong showings at All-Star games and the combine, there are now some prospects for teams to get rather excited about.

     

    Quinton Coples, UNC

    The best way to describe Coples is to call him an athletic freak of nature. He's got fantastic speed, agility, strength and can get to the quarterback in a number of ways.

    The issue with him, however, has always been his desire and motor, but after really strong showings in the offseason, those concerns should be put to rest.

    Coples looks like a top-10 pick and could be the next great rookie sack artist.

     

    Cam Johnson, Virginia

    Johnson is a player who hasn't gotten much love from the media, but he is a talented kid nonetheless.

    He may not be an overly talented pass rusher, but he plays extremely well against the run and even has the ability to drop into coverage when needed. He was productive in college, and that production should transition well over to the NFL.

    If Johnson can add some pass rushing moves to his repertoire, he could become the top defensive end in this draft.

     

    Andre Branch, Clemson

    With Branch, it is all about potential. He has a ton of it, and whatever team drafts him just needs to figure out how to tap into it.

    He has as much athletic ability as anyone else in the draft, and proper coaching should turn him into an every down player in the league.

     

    Fletcher Cox, Mississippi State

    Few players were as impressive at the combine as Cox was. For a player his size, it was incredible to see how quick and explosive he was.

    He could literally play numerous positions across the defensive line in a wide variety of defensive schemes. He can put pressure on the quarterback, as well as eat up blockers in the run game.

    Teams will enjoy the variety that Cox brings to the field, which will only make him a more valuable player.

Running Back

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    With the way the NFL is being played now, teams are less interested in spending high picks on running backs. Last year we saw only one (Mark Ingram) go in the first round, but this year we may see as many as four.

     

    Trent Richardson, Alabama

    Richardson is definitely the best running back prospect we've seen since Adrian Peterson.

    There isn't a single aspect of his game that is lacking, and he has a "plus" skill set in numerous areas of his game. He'll be an instant starter, and it wouldn't be too surprising to see him finish as one of the top running backs in the league, statistically speaking.

     

    Lamar Miller, Miami

    Even though Miller isn't as experienced as some of the other running backs in the draft, he definitely has just as much, if not more, talent than many of them.

    When watching Miller, you see a natural athlete who has the strength to break tackles and pick up extra yards after contact. He can also be effective as a receiver out of the backfield.

    While he may not have the talent of Richardson, he isn't as far back as people might think.

     

    David Wilson, Virginia Tech

    Wilson showed off his wheels at the combine with elite speed. With his speed being the best thing he offers to a team, it was good to see him run well.

    He is a player who doesn't take long to get to top speed. At Virginia Tech, he displayed the ability to find holes and a first-step burst.

    While it may take some time to polish the rest of Wilson's game, he could be a very productive situational player right now and develop into an every down back.

     

    Doug Martin, Boise State

    Martin was a relatively unknown prospect before putting together quite the week at the Senior Bowl a few weeks back.

    He may not have elite quickness or agility, but he reaches top speed quickly, can find a hole and separate from defenders. He can also block and possesses quality hands like a receiver.

    The skill set is there for Martin to become a very good pro player.

Outside Linebacker

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    Many of the outside linebackers in this year's draft are either raw or one-trick ponies. However, with proper coaching, they should be able to turn into Pro Bowl players.

     

    Courtney Upshaw, Alabama

    There was a little disappointment from Upshaw's combine performance, but his overall body of work still says he will be productive in the NFL.

    He displays plus strength against the run and has a violent attitude towards his tackling. Upshaw also has the ability to get after the quarterback.

    As a 3-4 outside linebacker, Upshaw could be extremely productive from the first day he steps onto the field.

     

    Melvin Ingram, South Carolina

    Anyone who has seen the pure power that Ingram has in his hands and arms knows that he is going to make a dynamic pass rusher in the NFL.

    He has a variety of moves to get after the quarterback and has a natural feel for the game. There is still room for improvement in his ability against the run, but he has the athletic ability and strength to eventually figure that out.

    It wouldn't be surprising to see Ingram have a similar impact like Aldon Smith did in his rookie year.

     

    Nick Perry, USC

    As a pass rusher, Perry may be the best player available. He has an excellent burst off the edge, but he lacks the initial strength to succeed with a bull rush.

    However, he should bulk up once he hits the NFL, and as long as he can add a few rushing moves to his arsenal, he should be extremely successful.

     

    Bruce Irvin, West Virginia

    Right now, all Irvin can bring to the table for a team is his ability to rush off the edge. He has elite speed, quickness and agility and can consistently get to the quarterback using a speed rush.

    The rest of his game needs varying levels of improvement, but the desire and work ethic to improve is there. If the team that drafts him can team him up with another pass rusher, they should become one of the better duos in the league.

     

    Zach Brown, North Carolina

    Much like his teammate Quinton Coples, Brown was an underachiever at UNC.

    However, he is a powerful hitter who can cover a large portion of the field in a short period of time. His instincts are good, as he understands blocking schemes and then gets into position to make a play on the ball.

    If Brown stays motivated, he should be a solid pro player.

Quarterback

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    We all know about Andrew Luck and Robert Griffin III, but will any of the second-tier quarterbacks be successful? My prediction is that at least two of them will be.

     

    Andrew Luck, Stanford

    Calling him the next Peyton Manning or Aaron Rodgers may be a little much, but there is no doubt that Luck is one of the greatest quarterback prospects we've ever seen.

    He displays elite ability in nearly every aspect of his game, with the exception of arm strength. However, he will be able to make every throw necessary in the NFL.

    Luck should be an All-Pro player for a very, very long time.

     

    Robert Griffin III, Baylor

    As good as Luck will be, Griffin may actually end up being the better player. He was the star of the combine and will have people talking about him right up until the first day of the draft.

    His elite speed and athleticism give him a huge advantage on the field, but Griffin is totally content with standing in the pocket and delivering the pass.

    He and Luck should battle for the Rookie of the Year Award, as they'll both start from day one for their respective NFL teams.

     

    Ryan Tannehill, Texas A&M

    You may think it's a stretch to put Tannehill on this list, but the reality is that this kid is a natural athlete who already displays positive qualities at the quarterback position.

    We haven't seen nearly enough of his abilities on the field, but the little we have seen has been impressive. He'll be a project quarterback, but with proper coaching he should turn into a special player in two or three years.

     

    Kirk Cousins, Michigan State

    Cousins separated himself from the second-tier quarterbacks at the combine. He reminds me a lot of Andy Dalton, as he is a proven winner.

    There is no quit in Cousins and it appears as if he has really improved his overall mechanics. With a strong showing at his Pro Day, he could creep up into the second round of the draft and start early in his career.

Defensive Tackle

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    Of all the positions, defensive tackle is the position that could end up producing the best talent in the draft. There are a handful of players who are ready to produce right now, and another handful who have potential through the roof.

     

    Devon Still, Penn State

    While there are questions about Still's competitiveness, when he gives 100 percent, he is a force not to be messed with.

    The strongest area of his game is against the run, where he can take on numerous blockers at a time. As long as Still shows passion for the game, he should turn into quite the football player.

     

    Dontari Poe, Memphis

    Poe was a "combine warrior," as he literally had the media drooling from their collective mouths. For a player of his massive size, Poe displayed ridiculous speed, quickness and agility.

    He is still an extremely raw prospect, but his ceiling is extremely high. Once he improves his technique and starts putting more time into football, he could develop into a top-tier defensive tackle.

     

    Michael Brockers, LSU

    Brockers is another extremely raw prospect who needs more time to develop. However, he can already stuff the run, and the ability to be an every down player is there.

    He's a few years away from truly performing at a high level, but once he gets there he will be a scary player.

     

    Alameda Ta'amu, Washington

    Ta'amu has a similar skill set to Still, except without the character issues. 

    He is massive player who can anchor against the run and create penetration against the pass. There are some worries with him finding the football in the open field, but he should still contribute in his first year and start by year two.

Cornerback

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    Cornerback is the deepest and strongest group of players in the 2012 NFL draft. The top prospects have the potential to be elite early in their careers, while there should also be some potential steals near the end of the draft.

     

    Morris Claiborne, LSU

    From the first time Claiborne steps on an NFL field, he is going to be a special player. He's easily one of the top overall players in this draft.

    He is a natural shutdown corner who also displays impressive ball skills. He can tackle in the open field and make plays against the run.

    If he can improve his technique even more in the NFL, Claiborne could have a similar effect on games like Darrelle Revis.

     

    Dre Kirkpatrick, Alabama

    Even with his recent legal troubles, Kirkpatrick will still likely be the second cornerback drafted in this year's draft. He could even end up being a top-15 pick.

    He is a big and physical cornerback who loves to get physical with receivers. He also displays quality instincts and can really lay out opposing players.

    Kirkpatrick isn't quite as good in man coverage as he is in zone coverage, but he still shows good enough quickness to be able to shutdown a receiver. He should develop into a top cornerback in the league.

     

    Janoris Jenkins, North Alabama

    Character is the big issue for Jenkins, but it truly looks like he is ready to move on.

    Jenkins has the ability to stick to his man like glue and completely shutdown opposing receivers. He isn't the biggest player on the field, but he definitely plays more physical than he looks.

    As long as Jenkins can stay out of trouble off the field, he should be able to contribute instantly for an NFL team.

     

    Brandon Boykin, Georgia

    While Boykin may be one of the smaller cornerback prospects, he plays much bigger than he looks. He enjoys going after receivers and is much more physical than given credit for.

    Boykin is also a dynamic player with the ball in his hands. He'll be able to contribute on special teams, as well as on defense.

     

    Stephon Gilmore, South Carolina

    Gilmore is either going to be an extremely productive professional player or he is going to be a total bust. Obviously, I'm going with him being extremely productive.

    He has great size for his position, but also has the athletic ability and quickness to stay with faster receivers. Gilmore can also be effective as a pass rusher in corner blitzes.

    If Gilmore can improve his footwork, he could be a dangerous defensive player.