The 2012 NFL draft kicks off on April 26th, and many of the teams picking towards the back end of the first round such as the New England Patriots, Green Bay Packers and New York Giants have needs on the defensive side of the ball that they may look to address with their first draft choice.
Those defense-needy clubs may want to take a look at the following trio of players as the first round of April's draft winds down, as these collegiate standouts have all seen their draft stock rise over the past few weeks.
Derek Wolfe—DT, Cincinnati
Cincinnati defensive tackle Derek Wolfe enjoyed a very productive senior season for the Bearcats last year, as the 6'5" 295-pounder racked up 70 tackles, 9.5 sacks and two forced fumbles en route to being named the Big East defensive player of the year.
Wolfe also put in a solid workout at February's NFL scouting combine, running the 40-yard dash in under five seconds and performing well in position drills. On the heels of that strong showing in Indy ESPN's Mel Kiper believes that the Patriots may give Wolfe a long look with one of their two first-round picks.
Will fit best as a 3-4 DE, where he can use his size (6-5, 295) to become a disruptive pass-rusher. Not considered explosive in terms of foot speed, he plays with great leverage and can disrupt pockets by driving linemen back, demanding extra help. Another good fit for the Patriots as they add pieces up front.
Shea McClellin—DE/LB, Boise State
Shea McClellin displayed a great deal of versatility during a productive collegiate career at Boise State, as the 6'3" 260-pound senior lined up at both inside and outside linebacker in addition to spending time at defensive end.
McClellin was a disruptive force wherever he lined up on the field, notching 50 tackles, seven sacks, two interceptions and a forced fumble in 2011. Furthermore, as Tyler Dunne of the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel recently pointed out, McClellin's flexibility could appeal to the Green Bay Packers, who are desperate for an upgrade to their pass rush.
Of course, most of McClellin's damage came as a violent pass rusher off the edge. Of late, McClellin has snuck into the first round of some national mock drafts.
Dating back to the Senior Bowl, the Green Bay Packers have shown "significant interest" in McClellin, per a league source.
Janoris Jenkins—CB, North Alabama
For cornerback Janoris Jenkins it's not so much a matter of crashing into the first round as it is a matter of not falling from it. Although few question the talents of the 5'10" 193-pound senior, Jenkins' troubled past makes it a coin flip as to whether or not he'll be taken in the first round according to Jeffri Chadiha of ESPN.
"The toughest thing is what are the issues," said former Baltimore Ravens coach and current Fox analyst Brian Billick when asked about drafting players with character questions. "Young people tend to do stupid things. Do you have a sense he understands he has to change his behavior? … Going forward, is this an ingrained part of his character, or did he just do some stupid thing? If it's the latter, you can be optimistic about the NFL and what's at stake for him will help sort that out. If it's an innate part of the character, that's where you don't want to make that mistake."
However, the back end of the first round is riddled with teams that have a need in the defensive backfield, and given today's pass-happy National Football League one of those squads will likely roll the dice in the hopes that Jenkins has put the past behind him and is focused on his NFL career.