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2012 NFL Draft Predictions: 6 Players That Could Sneak into the First Round

Rocco ConstantinoContributor IMarch 26, 2012

2012 NFL Draft Predictions: 6 Players That Could Sneak into the First Round

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    One of the incredible phenomenons of the NFL draft is that it is one of the most analyzed and scrutinized events on the sports calendar, yet it still remains utterly unpredictable.

    It seems that every NFL writer and expert has their own mock drafts, some updated on a weekly basis.  While most experts have their variations on draft positions, the players projected to go in the first round generally are pretty similar from mock draft to mock draft.

    However, despite all the analysis and general consensus, every year some players sneak up into the first round unexpectedly.

    Whether it's an impressive performance at a pro day or a team making a reach for a need, any number of factors could boost a player's draft status from early second-rounder into first-round territory. 

    This slideshow takes a look at six players who could make that leap into the first round.

    Because there are so many mock drafts available online, there are some simple ground rules to make players eligible for this slideshow.

    Mel Kiper's March 7 mock draft was used as a first reference along with the top four mock drafts from NFL.com.  In order for a player to be considered for this slideshow, he couldn't have been listed as a first-round pick in more than one of those drafts.

Chris Polk (Washington RB)

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    The evolution of the NFL has seen teams drifting away from the workhorse running back in favor of a "two-headed monster" attack.

    As a result, draft values of running backs have been on the decline.

    In 2011, Mark Ingram was the only running back picked in the first round.  This year, Trent Richardson is the only running back guaranteed to go in Round 1.

    Lamar Miller is a borderline first-rounder and because Charley Casserly and Bucky Brooks project the Bengals to take him in Round 1, he is ineligible for this slideshow.

    After Richardson and Miller, most mock drafts have Chris Polk listed as the next best running back.

    Polk is a solid all-around runner, and if he played in an era when more teams looked for full-time, load-carrying running backs, Polk might be a solid first-rounder.

    He is a strong runner, who can show a quick burst at times and is a capable receiver out of the backfield.

    While most mock drafts have Polk being selected during the top 15 of the second round, it is entirely possible for a team at the end of Round 1 to fall in love with his complete game and tough running style.

    The Patriots have two picks at the end of Round 1 and could be a candidate to nab Polk after the departure of BenJarvus Green-Ellis.  

    Also, keep an eye on the Giants here, as questions about Ahmad Bradshaw's health remain and Brandon Jacobs is all but guaranteed to move on.

David Wilson (Virginia Tech RB)

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    David Wilson is in the same boat as Chris Polk, even if he is a different type of runner.

    Wilson is a little smaller than Polk (Wilson is 5'9", 206 pounds compared to Polk who is 5'11", 222 pounds) but as a result Wilson is a faster running back.

    Wilson possess the breakaway speed that lacks in Polk's game and is more of a shifty runner, as compared to Polk who runs more north-to-south.

    Because of this, some are projecting Wilson to be a top-notch change-of-pace back.  Unfortunately for Wilson, teams who spend a first-round pick on a running back generally would like to see him become a starter.

    Wilson could jump into the first round if a team already has a feature back in place and could be looking for a game-breaker on offense.

    If the 49ers aren't in love with any wide receivers at the end of Round 1, they could be a possibility here as they don't have major needs on defense and could use a complement to Frank Gore.

Mohamed Sanu (Rutgers WR)

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    Wide receiver figures to be one of the deeper positions in the NFL draft as some mock drafts have between four to five wide receivers as first-round possibilities.

    The NFL has evolved into a pass-first league and that subsequently has boosted the value of the dominant wide receiver.

    Three wide receivers were selected in the first round last year (AJ Green, Julio Jones and Jonathan Baldwin) and that number is expected to increase this year.

    The three receivers selected last year all had some degree of success last season, making it more likely that teams will be willing to spend their first pick on a wideout. 

    Mohamed Sanu is a player on the rise and could be one of the beneficiaries of the value placed on his position.

    Sanu had one of the most productive season for a receiver in Big East history when he set a Big East record with 115 catches and also showed some ability as a punt returner.

    Sanu has ideal size, measuring at 6'2", 215 pounds, and by all accounts is a solid leader on the field.

    The one thing keeping him out of the first round was a 4.67 time in the 40 at the combine.

    However, Sanu addressed his combine performance in more ways than one during last week's pro day at Rutgers.

    Sanu explained that he wasn't feeling his best during the combine and then went out and ran a 4.41 and 4.48 to back that statement up.

    Like the running back position, there are a few candidates who could jump into Round 1 and a couple teams with needs at the position.

    The 49ers seem to be the most logical team to draft a wide receiver at the end of Round 1, but don't be surprised if the Giants give Sanu a long look.

    The Giants stick to their draft rankings as much as any team and will draft a highly rated player, even if it is not at a position of need.

    The last time they did that they drafted Jason Pierre-Paul despite having Osi Umenyiora, Justin Tuck and Mathias Kiwanuka in their prime.  

Alshon Jeffery (South Carolina WR)

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    While Mohamed Sanu's draft position stands pretty solidly in the top of the second round in most mock drafts, Alshon Jeffery's status is all over the place.

    Bleacher Report's Matt Miller has Jeffery projected to go in the first round to the Jets at pick 16 but none of the five mock drafts used for this slideshow have him in the first round.  

    Drafttek.com has Jeffery listed as the seventh-best wide receiver in the draft, but if he does well at his pro day (currently scheduled for March 28), he could catapult as many as four spots on that list.

    Jeffrey stands at 6'4", 220 pounds, and after a tremendous 2010 season many had him rated as a first-round lock.  In 2011, Jeffery's production slipped and he appeared overweight, admitting to playing the 2011 season at 230 pounds.   

    Jeffery did not participate in any drills during the combine, but did weigh in at 216 pounds.  

    If he has continued to lose weight in advance of his pro day and can hit the 4.5 mark in his 40-yard dash time, a team like the Texans or 49ers could take a chance on him at the bottom of Round 1. 

Mychal Kendricks (Cal LB)

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    Mychal Kendricks might be a reach as a first-round pick right now, but the way he is shooting up draft boards he might make it there by the time April 26 rolls around.

    Kendricks was rated as a solid third-round prospect after the college season ended, mostly because he was undersized at 6'0", 240 pounds.

    However, Kendricks dominated the combine and began to draw a closer look from scouts across the league.

    Kendricks ran a 4.47 40-yard dash, posted a 39.5" vertical jump and a 127" broad jump at the combine, all among the top numbers at his position.

    He is an aggressive tackler and his speed and athleticism are obvious in his on-field performance.

    In all likelihood, Kendricks will make a team in the middle-to-top of the second round happy come draft day, but it is possible a team like the Patriots or Ravens could take a chance on him in the first round.

Harrison Smith (Notre Dame SS)

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    As with Mychal Kendricks, if a team selects Harrison Smith in the first round, it will be considered a significant reach.

    However, it is entirely possible that a team could take a first-round chance on Smith.

    On drafttek.com, Smith currently rates as the second best strong safety in the draft, behind Alabama's Mark Barron.  With Barron unable to participate in any pre-draft workouts due to double-hernia surgery, this leaves the door open for Smith to move up significantly.

    Smith is a hard-hitting safety who has the size (6'2", 215 pounds) to be a real intimidating force in the secondary.  He projects as a strong run-stopper who has experience playing in the box as well as deep over the middle.

    For Smith to make the leap into the first round, he would need a team at the end of the first round looking for help at safety and scared off by Barron's injury.

    The best bet to take a chance on Smith at the end of Round 1 is the Ravens, who need to plan for life without Ed Reed.  Smith's style of play would fit perfectly with the Ravens.

    It will just come down to whether they are willing to make the reach for him.

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