2012 NFL Mock Draft: Standout Defensive Prospects Heading into April

Vincent Frank@VincentFrankNFLCorrespondent IMarch 19, 2012

AUBURN, AL - NOVEMBER 26:  Courtney Upshaw #41 of the Alabama Crimson Tide reacts after a defensive stop against the Auburn Tigers at Jordan-Hare Stadium on November 26, 2011 in Auburn, Alabama.  (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

The core of the best defenses in the National Football League are built through the draft. Take a look at the Baltimore Ravens with Ed Reed and Ray Lewis—two first-round picks that have anchored one of the best defenses in the league over the course of the last decade.

The San Francisco 49ers are another prime example of this. Patrick Willis, NaVorro Bowman and Aldon Smith were all originally selected by the 49ers, and remain the core of that up-and-coming defense.

You can expect other teams to model their philosophy after the Ravens and 49ers, among others. The good news is that there is a tremendous amount of talent available on the defensive side of the ball in the 2012 NFL Draft.

This mock is going to have an emphasis on which players I believe are the best on the defensive side of the ball heading into April.

1. Indianapolis Colts: Andrew Luck, Quarterback, Stanford

2. Washington Redskins: Robert Griffin III, Quarterback, Baylor

3. Minnesota Vikings: Matt Kalil, Offensive Tackle, Southern California

INDIANAPOLIS, IN - FEBRUARY 28: Defensive back Morris Claiborne of LSU participates in a drill during the 2012 NFL Combine at Lucas Oil Stadium on February 28, 2012 in Indianapolis, Indiana. (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)
Joe Robbins/Getty Images

4. Cleveland Browns: Justin Blackmon, Wide Receiver, Oklahoma State

5. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Morris Claiborne, Cornerback, Louisiana State

A true shutdown corner prospect if I have ever seen one, Claiborne doesn't seem to have a flaw to his game. The LSU product is solid in press coverage, and plays with fluid hips in man. He doesn't get turned around a lot, and has the ability to stay with his receiver on the outside.

Overlooked in the nuances of his game is the fact that Claiborne is an extraordinary athlete, and his combine performance proved this to a tee. He is already a better cover guy than former LSU teammate and 2011 first-round pick Patrick Peterson. That says a lot.

6. St. Louis Rams: Michael Floyd, Wide Receiver, Notre Dame

7. Jacksonville Jaguars: Riley Reiff, Offensive Tackle, Iowa

INDIANAPOLIS, IN - FEBRUARY 27: Defensive lineman Dontari Poe of Memphis takes part in a drill during the 2012 NFL Combine at Lucas Oil Stadium on February 27, 2012 in Indianapolis, Indiana. (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)
Joe Robbins/Getty Images

8. Miami Dolphins: Ryan Tannehill, Quarterback, Texas A&M

9. Carolina Panthers: Dontari Poe, Defensive Tackle, Memphis

Poe is easily one of the strongest prospects that I have ever seen. He has the ability to absolutely dominate in the trenches and isn't a scheme-specific player. This means that the former Memphis standout has the ability to play in both the 3-4 and 4-3 defenses.

He has tremendous upper-body strength, consistently pushing offensive linemen into the backfield. An added aspect of Poe's game is his ability to surprise you with quarterback pressures here and there. He has the ability to dominate immediately, which is going to be attractive to teams moving forward.

10. Buffalo Bills: Melvin Ingram, Defensive End/Linebacker, South Carolina

11. Kansas City Chiefs: David DeCastro, Guard, Stanford

STARKVILLE, MS - NOVEMBER 12:  Linebacker Dont'a Hightower #30 of the Alabama Crimson Tide lines up against the Mississippi State Bulldogs on November 12, 2011 at Davis Wade Stadium in Starkville, Mississippi. Alabama won 24-7. (Photo by Butch Dill/Getty
Butch Dill/Getty Images

12. Seattle Seahawks: Trent Richardson, Running Back, Alabama

13. Arizona Cardinals: Jonathan Martin, Offensive Tackle, Stanford

14. Dallas Cowboys: Dre Kirkpatrick, Cornerback, Alabama

15. Philadelphia Eagles: Dont'a Hightower, Linebacker, Alabama

I envision Hightower having an immediate impact for the Eagles here. They are in desperate need of someone that can actually tackle, and he is one of the best in that regard in the entire draft. This is a linebacker that goes sideline to sideline in a heartbeat, which forces teams away from running out on the edge.

He also played in a pro-style defense with Alabama. That only decreases the learning curve for the talented linebacker.

16. New York Jets: Stephen Hill, Wide Receiver, Georgia Tech  

JACKSONVILLE, FL - OCTOBER 30:  Janoris Jenkins #1 of the Florida Gators looks over the offense during the game against the Georgia Bulldogs at EverBank Field on October 30, 2010 in Jacksonville, Florida.  (Photo by Sam Greenwood/Getty Images)
Sam Greenwood/Getty Images

17. Cincinnati Bengals: Lamar Miller, Running Back, Miami (Fla.)

18. San Diego Chargers: Courtney Upshaw, Linebacker, Alabama

Despite adding Jarret Johnson in free agency, the Chargers are in need of a true pass-rusher opposite Antwan Barnes. If Upshaw falls to them here, you can expect A.J. Smith and Co. to snag him up rather quickly.

The former Alabama star is the best pure pass-rusher in the entire NFL Draft. He has double-digit sack ability, and should provide an immediate spark out of the gate. He isn't a scheme-specific player either, but does fit better in the 3-4 defense that San Diego runs.

19. Chicago Bears: Mike Adams, Offensive Tackle, Ohio State

20. Tennessee Titans: Janoris Jenkins, Cornerback, North Alabama

It doesn't seem like the Titans made a strong effort to retain Cortland Finnegan in free agency. While that does puzzle me to an extent, they must have a plan here. This is an extremely deep class of cornerbacks, and they would get a major prize if Jenkins fell here.

TUSCALOOSA, AL - NOVEMBER 19:  Defensive back Mark Barron #4 of the Alabama Crimson Tide runs some practice drills before the game against the Georgia Southern Eagles at Bryant-Denny Stadium on November 19, 2011 in Tuscaloosa, Alabama.  (Photo by Mike Zar
Mike Zarrilli/Getty Images

He has all the measurements to be a top-tier corner at the next level. Jenkins is strong at the point of contact in press coverage, something that came to define Finnegan over the course of the last few seasons. He has fluid hip movement on the outside, which is an important thing that scouts look at when drawing a conclusion about a particular prospect.

Character concerns are going to be an overriding theme for the former Florida standout. If he is able to stay straight off the field, the Titans get a true shutdown corner.

21. Cincinnati Bengals: Mark Barron, Safety, Alabama

The Bengals re-signed Reggie Nelson yesterday, which may change their outlook in the first round of the NFL Draft. With that being said, Barron translates well as a strong-side safety in the NFL. He has a ton of physical ability and isn't afraid to lay the wood.

Playing up in the box in run support seems to be a strength for Barron as well. This is something that the Bengals desperately need on the back end of their defense. In short, he is a perfect fit for their system.

22. Cleveland Browns: Doug Martin, Running Back, Boise State

ATLANTA, GA - DECEMBER 31:  Stephon Gilmore #5 of the South Carolina Gamecocks against the Florida State Seminoles during the 2010 Chick-fil-A Bowl at Georgia Dome on December 31, 2010 in Atlanta, Georgia.  (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

23. Detroit Lions: Peter Konz, Center, Wisconsin

24. Pittsburgh Steelers: Michael Brockers, Defensive Tackle, Louisiana State

25. Denver Broncos: Alshon Jeffery, Wide Receiver, South Carolina

26. Houston Texans: Kendall Wright, Wide Receiver, Baylor

27. New England Patriots: Stephon Gilmore, Cornerback, South Carolina

Gilmore would immediately become the Patriots top cover guy. While that doesn't say too much about their current rotation of corners, it does speak volumes of his ability to perform at a high level immediately. He has the size and build to be dominating on the outside, shutting down one side of the field.

The South Carolina product also went up against top-tier competition in the SEC. This bodes well for his ability to make an immediate impact at the next level.

HOUSTON - OCTOBER 22:  Defensive lineman Vinny Curry #99 of the Marshall Thundering Herd lines up against the Houston Cougars at Robertson Stadium on October 22, 2011 in Houston, Texas.  (Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images)
Bob Levey/Getty Images

28. Green Bay Packers: Vinny Curry, Linebacker, Marshall

The Packers struggled to get to the quarterback consistently in 2011. This was one of the primary reasons that they struggled so much defending the pass. Clay Matthews is one of the best outside linebackers in the entire league, but he needs some help on the outside.

Curry translates well as an outside linebacker in the Packers' 3-4 scheme. While it might take him a while to get acclimated not playing at the line, he does remind me a great deal of Aldon Smith in terms of athleticism. If you remember correctly, Smith was a defensive end at Missouri before transitioning to outside linebacker in the NFL with the 49ers.

29. Baltimore Ravens: Bobby Wagner, Linebacker, Utah State

30. San Francisco 49ers: Cordy Glenn, Guard, Georgia  

31. New England Patriots: Nick Perry, Defensive End, Southern California

32. New York Giants: Luke Kuechly, Linebacker, Boston College

Follow me on Twitter @VincentFrankNFL


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