2012 NFL Mock Draft: The Biggest Upside to Every First-Round Pick
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When NFL commissioner Roger Goodell reads the name off of your team's card during the first round of the 2012 NFL Draft, you are not thinking about the bad things that are going to happen—unless you are a Jets fan, that is.
You are dreaming of the heights that this player can reach. The Pro Bowls. The MVP awards. The Super Bowl rings. You dream of upside.
In this 2012 NFL Mock Draft, we examine the upside of each of the first 32 picks.
Knowing full-well that I risk angering fan bases across the nation, Andrew Luck could not only be as good as John Elway, Peyton Manning, Joe Montana and Tom Brady, he has the potential to be better. Will he be there this year? Almost no chance—the Colts won't have much talent left on offense, and rookie quarterbacks typically don't set the world on fire. That said, the tools are all there—it is scary to think what the Colts might (again) look like two or three years down the road.
2. Washington Redskins (via St. Louis): Robert Griffin III, QB, Baylor
After trading their first three picks in the 2012 NFL draft and a first-round selection in 2013 for the rights to draft Griffin, they better be getting a good prospect. Griffin's upside, not unlike Luck, is seemingly without bound. I'm not sure I've ever seen a quarterback with this level of athleticism combined with the arm and football IQ that Griffin possesses. Surpassing Cam Newton as a rookie might just be the start.
3. Minnesota Vikings: Matt Kalil, OL, USC
The biggest upside to Kalil is that he will never be talked about once the games start. After some high-profile misses—Troy Williamson, Kenechi Udeze and Chris Cook just to name a few—a stalwart left-tackle that disappears due to his effectiveness is just what the Vikings needed.
4. Cleveland Browns: Morris Claiborne, CB, LSU
When projecting Claiborne's ceiling, you have to look at man on an island—Darrelle Revis. Claiborne has the ability to be a cornerback that offenses must game-plan against—especially with the talented Joe Haden across from him.
5. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Trent Richardson, RB, Alabama
If Trent Richardson played in the 1980's, he would be the first overall pick, without a doubt. He is the best running back prospect that we've evaluated since Adrian Peterson came through Oklahoma. His ceiling will only be limited by how many defenders teams are able to stack in the box against him. If Josh Freeman can make teams pay, Richardson is going to be a star.
6. St. Louis Rams (via Washington): Quinton Coples, DE, North Carolina
Talented defensive linemen impact the entire defense. Corners don't have to cover as long, linebackers stay cleaner and other defensive linemen are suddenly not seeing double teams. Coples is that rare prospect that, when "on," can command that double team on nearly every play. His game is really only limited by himself.
7. Jacksonville Jaguars: Michael Floyd, WR, Notre Dame
The Jaguars only need a replacement for Jimmy Smith—a receiver they have been trying to replace since 2005. Floyd has a chance to be so much more. If Blaine Gabbert can get him the ball, Floyd can be a 1,400-yard receiver for years to come.
8. Miami Dolphins: Ryan Tannehill, QB, Texas A&M
After waxing hyperbolic on Andrew Luck and Robert Griffin III, I'm ready to be a little more mellow. Tannehill might not have a Hall of Fame career ahead of him, but he does have the skills to be a top-12 quarterback in the NFL within a year or two. Isn't merely an above-average QB all the Dolphins really need to become a contender?
9. Carolina Panthers: Dontari Poe, DL, Memphis
Should Dontari Poe be a top ten pick?
I'm not sure you can adequately predict the upside for a 346 pound prospect who can move like Poe. Perhaps if you combine the games of Ted Washington and Warren Sapp you might get close, but that would be a mighty projection for a prospect that hasn't done a lot on film.
10. Buffalo Bills: Nick Perry, DE/OLB, USC
Aldon Smith showed what rookie pass rushers can do last year, easily racking up double-digit sacks while playing a limited role. Perry is another guy who can average 12-plus sacks a year for a decade if he keeps improving his game.
11. Kansas City Chiefs: Riley Reiff, OL, Iowa
Willie Roaf and Will Shields have already shown how it is done when it comes to the offensive line in Kansas City. Reiff has the skills to excel at either Roaf's tackle or Shields' guard position. Whether he will join Roaf and (probably) Shields in Canton remains to be seen.
12. Seattle Seahawks: Fletcher Cox, DL, Mississippi State
Cox's versatility holds the key to his upside. He could dominate the 3-4 DE position, man-handling double teams, or be a penetrating 4-3 DT, looking to get after the quarterback. A team that can use him as both will get the most out of him.
13. Arizona Cardinals: Jonathan Martin, OL, Stanford
If only Martin could bring his former teammate Luck with him. Martin's athleticism and footwork will get him drafted early and keep him in the lineup. His lack of physicality limits his potential as a perennial Pro Bowl player.
14. Dallas Cowboys: Cordy Glenn, OL, Georgia
Like Reiff, Glenn has the skills to play both guard and tackle. While he moved well at the combine, I'm not a fan of his playing in space. His highest ceiling will be at left guard to me.
15. Philadelphia Eagles: Luke Kuechly, LB, Boston College
Luke Kuechly is as polished a college player as you'll find on the defensive side of the ball. Unfortunately, that might mean what we see is what we'll get in the NFL as well. I see Kuechly having a Jerod Mayo-esque impact as a rookie—tons of tackles, but not many impact plays.
16. New York Jets: Mark Barron, S, Alabama
Mark Barron, injury or no injury, is by far the best safety in the 2012 NFL Draft. If he can stay disciplined, Barron's athleticism gives him the chance to be an All-Pro strong safety very early in his career.
Kirkpatrick doesn't tackle like a corner, but he sure covers like one. With a combination like that, his upside has to be to challenge Champ Bailey and Darrelle Revis as one of the best all-around corners in the last 10-15 years.
18. San Diego Chargers: Devon Still, DL, Penn State
Keep Still motivated and his motor running, and you will see everything that he has to offer. In a defense like the Chargers, you could see Still racking up double-digit sacks and tackles for loss for years to come.
19. Chicago Bears: Justin Blackmon, WR, Oklahoma State
Blackmon hasn't been getting the respect that I feel he deserves lately. He has been a top-10 player all year, and if he can land on a team with a good arm—Jay Cutler would qualify—he could have an explosive career.
20. Tennessee Titans: Melvin Ingram, DE, South Carolina
I'm not a huge fan of Ingram, but he is a prospect who flashes a lot of potential. If he is able to land in a system that can utilize under-sized pass rushers, he could log double-digit sacks year after year.
21. Cincinnati Bengals: Doug Martin, RB, Boise State
What RB will be taken second?
Curtis Martin made it into the Hall of Fame, so why not a prospect like Martin? He has that same all-around game and the same last name. Martin's blocking, running and receiving are all top-notch—some team is going to be very happy.
22. Cleveland Browns: Kendall Wright, WR, Baylor
When all is said and done, it wouldn't surprise to see Wright become the first receiver selected in the 2012 NFL Draft. People make comparisons to DeSean Jackson, but ultimately, I think Wright will end up being a much more complete wide receiver.
23. Detroit Lions: David DeCastro, OL, Stanford
When I watch DeCastro on tape, I see the best college guard in the last five years at least. He has the ability to be the next great guard in the NFL.
24. Pittsburgh Steelers: Courtney Upshaw, LB, Alabama
Upshaw is not as explosive as Lawrence Timmons, but Upshaw's best fit is as an inside linebacker at the next level. He could have a huge impact playing ILB on first and second down and then rushing the passer from either the DE or OLB spot on third down.
25. Denver Broncos: Lamar Miller, RB, Miami
When I watch Lamar Miller, I see Clinton Portis with even more speed. He can be a home-run hitting back like the Chris Johnson we saw a few years back.
26. Houston Texans: Reuben Randle, WR, LSU
Many people, including myself many times, have mocked South Carolina's Alshon Jeffery here to the Texans. Randle's speed, athleticism and ability to track the deep ball might just give him the edge though. Making Andre Johnson even more dangerous is what Randle's deep game will do.
Simply put, Brockers might have the highest upside of any defensive prospect in this draft outside of Dontari Poe. Like Poe, he doesn't have a lot of production to show for it. At an athletic 6'5" and 322 pounds, Brockers could have a Richard Seymour-esque impact early on if he can improve his technique.
28. Green Bay Packers: Janoris Jenkins, CB, North Alabma
Jenkins' downside is very evident—it is pretty tough to get kicked out of Florida—but his upside has been forgotten by many. He has a chance to be a shutdown corner for whatever team takes a chance on him—he certainly showed that ability covering the best receivers in the SEC.
29. Baltimore Ravens: Dont’a Hightower, LB, Alabama
We can't possibly say that Hightower could be the next Ray Lewis, so we won't. What he can do is be part Terrell Suggs, part Ray Lewis and part old-school Adalius Thomas. He might not be elite at any one position, but being above-average at rush-DE, ILB and OLB is an incredible skill-set.
30. San Francisco 49ers: Coby Fleener, TE, Stanford
If you saw what the tight end position did during the 2011 NFL season, you know just how important this position is becoming. Coby Fleener might be a middle-class man's Rob Gronkowski or Vernon Davis—not bad for the end of the first round.
31. New England Patriots: Stephon Gilmore, CB, South Carolina
Fantastic instincts and the ability to close on the ball give Gilmore the chance to lead the league in interceptions, something that former Patriot Asante Samuel once did. However, like Samuel, Gilmore's hands might be the only problem.
32. New York Giants: Peter Konz, C, Wisconsin
Like Kalil, Konz' upside lies in never being heard from again. No botched snaps. No blown calls. No missed blocks and panicked quarterbacks. Konz is a consistent performer that won't overpower you, but will make everyone around him better.
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