2012 NFL Draft: Ranking the 50 Best Defensive Prospects

James Christensen@@nepatriotsdraftContributor IApril 10, 2012

2012 NFL Draft: Ranking the 50 Best Defensive Prospects

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    For the 2011 NFL draft, my Top 100 NFL Draft Prospects list at NEPatriotsDraft.com was the highest-rated on the internet, according to the Huddle Report.

    Want to know about half of the players who will make up our 2012 list?

    Read on to find out my top 50 defensive prospects for the 2012 NFL draft

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    1. Morris Claiborne, CB, LSU

    Claiborne is the best pass defender in this draft. He can also return kicks and is a threat to score every time he intercepts a pass.

     

    2. Quinton Coples, DE, North Carolina

    Coples will be as good as he wants to be. Properly motivated, Coples has the physical talent to dominate in nearly any scheme.

     

    3. Fletcher Cox, DL, Mississippi State

    I'm not sure anyone is higher on Cox than I am. Whether you play him at 3-4 DE or 4-3 DT, I think he will have an immediate impact.

     

    4. Dontari Poe, DL, Memphis

    If Poe maximizes his potential, he will be an absolute menace on the defensive line. If he fails to develop, he'll be a really fast, really big...backup.

     

    5. Nick Perry, DE/OLB, USC

    Perry is an elite pass-rusher that can play in both odd and even fronts. I think he'll be a better pro than Melvin Ingram.

     

    6. Courtney Upshaw, OLB, Alabama

    Upshaw is at his best standing up in my opinion, so 3-4 teams should take a hard look at this powerful prospect.

     

    7. Luke Kuechly, LB, Boston College

    Kuechly is just a great football player. He isn't going to make a ton of huge plays but should have a Jerod Mayo-esque impact on the game.

     

    8. Dre Kirkpatrick, CB, Alabama

    Kirkpatrick has the size and versatility (FS or CB) that puts him over Stephon Gilmore right now. He's better in zone but has some skills that will translate to man coverage as well.

     

    9. Stephon Gilmore, CB, South Carolina

    Gilmore has the length, speed and instincts to have an impact as a rookie in the NFL. It wouldn't surprise me if many teams had Gilmore ranked ahead of Kirkpatrick.

     

    10. Devon Still, DL, Penn State

    When Still's motor is running, he plays like a Top 10 pick. When it is off, he gets washed out of plays with ease. 

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    11. Melvin Ingram, DE, South Carolina

    I'm not a big fan of Ingram's game. I see the flashes of talent, but I don't see a defined position or the consistency I would want out of a possible top-10 pick.

     

    12. Dont’a Hightower, LB, Alabama

    Hightower was a relentless edge rusher on passing downs while also playing middle linebacker. He's an incredibly versatile player.

     

    13. Janoris Jenkins, CB, North Alabama

    If you assured me Jenkins would never have issues off the field, I'd take him in the top five. Alas, he's a late first-round pick.

     

    14. Mark Barron, S, Alabama

    Barron is the lone true safety to garner a first-round grade from me. He can cover better than he gets credit for and is very good in run support.

     

    15. Michael Brockers, DT, LSU

    Brockers has a very impressive frame and lackluster tape. Teams looking for a huge 3-4 DE though could be in the market early.

     

    16. Zach Brown, LB, North Carolina

    Brown is an incredible athlete playing football. Teams looking to upgrade their coverage against tight ends and running backs will love Brown, although he does miss his share of tackles.

     

    17.  Vinny Curry, DE, Marshall

    Curry is a wonderful football player who doesn't have the elite athleticism that seems requisite for being a top-20 pick.

     

    18. Jerel Worthy, DL, Michigan State

    Worthy has the ability to penetrate and make plays behind the line of scrimmage. If he was more consistent, he could go much earlier in the 2012 NFL draft.

     

    19. Brandon Thompson, DL, Clemson

    Thompson is a versatile lineman who can play in both odd and even fronts. Teams looking for a penetrator will love Thompson.

     

    20. Jayron Hosley, CB, Virginia Tech

    Hosley is an instinctive corner who loves jumping routes and making picks. He could end up being a first-round pick.

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    21. Shea McClellin, LB, Boise State

    McClellin is one of those guys who just might sneak into the late first round if the Patriots or Packers want to grab a versatile 3-4 OLB who can rush and cover.

     

    22. Jared Crick, DT, Nebraska

    If Crick hadn't been injured the majority of the 2011 season, he would be getting first-round consideration. He will be either a 3-4 DE or a 4-3 DT in the NFL.

     

    23. Whitney Mercilus, DE, Illinois

    Mercilus wasn't that impressive on tape, even though he had a ton of sacks. Teams looking for the next Aldon Smith aren't going to find him in this draft.


    24. Alfonzo Dennard, CB, Nebraska

    Dennard is a great press corner whose strength might actually be a weakness. At times, he tries to outmuscle receivers and will lose his balance.

     

    25. Casey Hayward, CB, Vanderbilt

    Hayward is a ball-hawk who is severely underrated in my opinion. Watch him on tape, he just makes plays.

     

    26. Josh Robinson, CB, Central Florida

    The number 4.29 says a lot about Robinson as a prospect. He can obviously run, but he also has some man-coverage skills that will help him utilize that speed.


    27. Bobby Wagner, LB, Utah State

    Wagner is barely over 6'0" but plays a lot bigger. He should be an upgrade in coverage for most NFL teams, either at ILB or OLB.

     

    28. Andre Branch, DE/OLB, Clemson

    I've mentioned before that Clemson DE/OLB converts scare me. If Branch doesn't improve against the run and play with more physicality, he might be a bust.

     

    29. Chandler Jones, DE, Syracuse

    Jones needs to find a position before he has an impact in the NFL. He could be an undersized DE or try and fit in as a 3-4 OLB. 

     

    30. Brandon Boykin, CB, Georgia

    Boykin is small, but he makes big plays. He might be best suited as a slot corner and return man in the NFL.

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    31. Chase Minnifield, CB, Virginia

    Minnifield has good size but might be scheme limited in the NFL. He could slip all the way to the third round.

     

    32. Trumaine Johnson, CB/S, Montana

    Johnson looks like a natural free safety to me. He runs like a corner but can hit like a safety. Johnson has said that he would prefer to play corner, however.

     

    33. Alameda Ta’amu, DT, Washington

    Ta'amu should be so much better than he is. If he can keep his motor running and pad level down, he could be a steal in the second or third round.


    34. Jamell Fleming, CB, Oklahoma

    Fleming is a cornerback with some swagger to him. He has the strength and quickness to fight and get his hands on a lot of throws.

     

    35. Josh Chapman, DL, Alabama

    Chapman will be a top-notch nose tackle if he can recover from his injury. He played a good portion of his senior season on a torn ACL. 

     

    36. George Iloka, S, Boise State

    Iloka is incredibly long and tall for the position, which some see as a detriment. Matched up on tight ends, however, Iloka looks very capable.

     

    37. Ronnell Lewis, OLB, Oklahoma

    Lewis is an incredible special teams player who has a lot of upside as an edge rusher. Lewis hasn't drawn rave reviews from Oklahoma coaches.

     

    38. Mychal Kendricks, LB, Cal

    Kendricks is a very small linebacker, but he plays much bigger. Running a 4.4 will also help him get drafted in the top 100.

     

    39. Leonard Johnson, CB, Iowa State

    Johnson shut down Iowa's Marvin McNutt and played well against Justin Blackmon. Teams will be concerned about speed and slight build, but Johnson gets it done when it counts.

     

    40. Kendall Reyes, DL, UConn

    If Reyes sheds a few pounds and plays 4-3 DE, instead of the projected 3-4 DE that many scouts like him at, I think he could be a dynamic player. I don't see the love for him as a 5-tech.

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    41. Cam Johnson, DE/OLB, Virginia

    Johnson has been a little inconsistent due to some illness issues, but when he's feeling good, he has got some upside rushing the passer.

     

    42. Josh Kaddu, OLB, Oregon

    Kaddu is one of the few college linebackers who can run with receivers. If he can take on blocks better, he could be a three-down linebacker.

     

    43. Lavonte David, LB, Nebraska

    David is undersized and actually a possible safety in the NFL. That said, all the guy does is make plays on the football field.

     

    44. Malik Jackson, DE, Tennessee

    Jackson is a developmental pass-rusher with some violent moves in his repertoire.

     

    45. Mike Martin, DL, Michigan

    Martin is one of the fiercest competitors who l have ever seen play. You can tell that winning means a lot to the quick and powerful Martin.

     

    46. Harrison Smith, S, Notre Dame

    Smith is fantastic against the run and is developing his coverage skills. He has good range and could certainly be a special teams ace.

     

    47. Ron Brooks, CB/S, LSU

    Brooks was the "worst house in the best neighborhood" playing with Claiborne and Tyrann Mathieu. NFL teams won't miss what he showed on the field.

     

    48. Billy Winn, DL, Boise State

    Winn is another projected 5-technique who has played all over the place in college: defensive end, linebacker, defensive tackle and perhaps more.

     

    49. Antonio Allen, SS, South Carolina

    Allen was very strong in the box at South Carolina. He hasn't shown the ability to stick with tight ends and slot receivers unless he gets a very good "chuck" on them.

     

    50. Bruce Irvin, OLB, West Virginia

    Irvin either hasn't been coached or hasn't been coachable. He has so many technique flaws, from his stance on up, that I'm not sure how high I can project him. His athleticism is certainly high enough for a top-50 grade.