NFL Draft 2012: Analyzing Biggest 1st-Round Defensive Risers and Fallers

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NFL Draft 2012: Analyzing Biggest 1st-Round Defensive Risers and Fallers
Joe Robbins/Getty Images

As the 2012 NFL draft draws nearer news is breaking on a daily basis that shakes up how the first round on April 26 will play out. Here's a look at some of the recent news and speculation concerning first round prospects, in addition to how these reports may affect the draft day stock of those defensive standouts.

Even amid reports earlier this week that he scored a minuscule 4-of-50 on the Wonderlic test, there remains little doubt that Morris Claiborne of LSU will be the first cornerback taken in the 2012 NFL draft.

However, the picture as to who the second cornerback chosen will be is growing cloudier by the day, but a new candidate has emerged and is picking up some first round steam in scouts' eyes.

South Carolina cornerback Stephon Gilmore, who tallied 46 tackles, 4 interceptions, a sack and a forced fumble as a junior in 2011, is making a move up draft boards according to Tony Pauline of Sports Illustrated.

South Carolina junior cornerback Stephon Gilmore is moving up draft boards.  Word is he could be off the board in the top half of round one.  We also continue to hear the opinion that Gilmore, rather than Dre Kirkpatrick of Alabama, will be the second cornerback selected after Morris Claiborne.

These reports are in line with a recent assessment given to Pro Football Talk by NFL Network draft analyst Mike Mayock, who has had the 6'0" 190-pound Gilmore ranked second at his position for some time and raved about the youngster after South Carolina's recent pro day.

“Trust me, six-foot corners with long arms are rare, especially when they run 4.4 with his movement skills,” Mayock said of Gilmore. “I’ve got him as the No. 2 corner for a reason. I think he’s a Top 10 to Top 15 pick. Not a lot of people have him that high, but I saw it again today.”

There are likely some teams who still have Alabama cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick or perhaps even North Alabama's Janoris Jenkins ranked higher than Gilmore on their draft boards. However, given Gilmore's prototypical size, good speed and solid coverage ability he's likely the safest bet at his position outside Claiborne, and it looks highly unlikely that Gilmore will last past the end of the first round.

Reports haven't been nearly as rosy for Alabama outside linebacker Courtney Upshaw, who many pundits once considered the top outside linebacker in this year's draft class after an All-American 2011 season, in which Upshaw tallied 52 tackles and 9.5 sacks for the Crimson Tide.

Upshaw elected not to run at the NFL scouting combine in February, and after a rather pedestrian showing at Alabama's second pro day last week, Upshaw's chances of being chosen in the top 20 picks have taken a hit, according to a report by Dane Brugler of CBS Sports.

For a pass rusher being considered in the first round, the comments you don't want to hear are "not overly explosive" or "strong, but not overpowering." These were just a few comments heard by scouts in attendance at Alabama's pro day last week as Courtney Upshaw was finally able to work out after not participating at the Combine. And unfortunately he didn't have a great workout, according to reports. Upshaw ran his 40-yard dash in the high 4.7's and low 4.8's while looking very pedestrian in positional drills.

It's highly unlikely that Upshaw will fall from the first round completely, as the Baltimore Ravens reportedly have interest in him, where he would be an excellent fit as a Terrell Suggs-style "tweener" defensive end/linebacker.

However, more and more draftniks seem to be coming to the conclusion that Upshaw may not be the elite pass rusher he was hyped as, and Upshaw's draft stock is heading southward as April unfolds.

The news down Tuscaloosa way has been a fair bit better for one of Upshaw's teammates, who may be the first player in recent memory to see his draft stock boosted without really doing anything to bolster it.

Alabama strong safety Mark Barron was unable to work out at either the NFL combine or Alabama's first pro day after surgery to repair a sports hernia. But, as Brugler points out as the unquestioned top option in a very weak crop of safeties, Barron's stock has risen if only because no other safety has come close to challenging his spot.

Mark Barron is clearly this year's top safety, which will push his value on draft day possibly higher than most believe. He is a very good prospect on talent alone with the NFL skills to start as a rookie. But teams seeking an impact safety know if they don't get Barron, the next few options aren't nearly as appealing in the second, third and fourth rounds.

The 6'1", 213-pound senior, who had 66 tackles, two interceptions and a sack last year, was able to work out at Alabama's second pro day last week, and after a solid but unspectacular showing many mock drafts are now predicting that Barron will be drafted 14th overall by the Dallas Cowboys. This includes the latest mock draft from ESPN's Mel Kiper Jr., who had this to say about Barron.

Dallas was aggressive in getting a solid corner in free agency with the addition of Brandon Carr, but the Cowboys still need help at safety to shore up the pass defense. I don't think another corner is out of the question at this spot, but Barron is the best safety in the draft, and the Cowboys can't go wrong if he's available. I can also see Dallas going offensive line here, as that unit could use some help, but Barron makes sense.

Fourteenth overall still feels like a bit of a reach for Barron given his rather extensive injury history and less-than-stellar coverage skills. However, with a number of teams picking behind the Cowboys with a need at safety including the Denver Broncos and New England Patriots, it's seem to assume that Barron's status as a first round selection is secure.

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