2012 NFL Mock Draft: Latest Projections for Best Skill Position Studs
The high-powered, fast-paced offenses have increased the pressure on skill position prospects to make a stronger immediate impact as rookies.
Here, let's look at the 2012 NFL draft and where some of the skilled studs end up.
1. Indianapolis Colts: Andrew Luck, QB (Stanford)
The Colts need to improve everywhere on offense, but taking Andrew Luck addresses their most dire of needs. Indianapolis built around Peyton Manning and it can do the same with Luck.
2. Washington Redskins (via STL): Robert Griffin III, QB (Baylor)
Arguably the draft's most complete athlete, Robert Griffin III has potential to develop quickly under center in the pros. His mobility, if anything, bodes well in a division overrun by dominant pass-rushers.
3. Minnesota Vikings: Matt Kalil, OT (USC)
Matt Kalil is a better athlete than given credit for and he's the perfect solution to Minnesota's offensive woes. With Kalil protecting the blindside, we'll see if Christian Ponder can prove he's a franchise quarterback.
4. Cleveland Browns: Trent Richardson, RB (Alabama)
It's been a while since Cleveland has had a consistently productive running back. Trent Richardson is by far the draft's best back and the Browns need someone they can build the offense around.
5. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Morris Claiborne, CB (LSU)
Fielding one of the worst defenses in 2011, Tampa Bay needs Morris Claiborne at No. 5. He'll take away half the field, help with run support and can make plays to significantly change the field position in the Buccaneers' favor.
6. St. Louis Rams (via WAS): Justin Blackmon, WR (Oklahoma State)
As long as Steven Jackson remains a dominant threat in the backfield, the addition of Justin Blackmon is an enormous boost to the Rams' offense.
Blackmon caught 232 passes for over 3,300 yards and 38 touchdowns the past two seasons, so his ability to get yards after the catch will force defenses to play St. Louis closer to the line. Doing so, will set up the play-action pass and create more favorable opportunities to go deep.
In short: Blackmon gives the Rams a balanced offense and, provided that he improves his explosion at the snap, defenses will have to add double-coverage. That then sets up one-on-one matchups elsewhere and prevents a defense from bringing a barrage of blitzes.
Last season, St. Louis allowed a league-high 55 sacks, but the threat of a true No. 1 receiver allows the Rams to get a defense off balance early on.
7. Jacksonville Jaguars: Michael Floyd, WR (Notre Dame)
Jacksonville needs a young and promising No. 1 receiver to complement the rest of the upgraded receiving corps and Maurice Jones-Drew. Michael Floyd is a complete receiver that will stretch defenses, break tackles and run-block effectively to give the Jaguars excellent balance.
8. Miami Dolphins: Ryan Tannehill, QB (Texas A&M)
Allowing 52 sacks in 2011, the Dolphins either go offensive line or quarterback at No. 8. Ryan Tannehill brings mobility and size to Miami, but he will have to compete with Matt Moore for the starting role.
9. Carolina Panthers: Melvin Ingram, LB/DE (South Carolina)
Much like Tampa Bay, Carolina lacked against the pass and run last season. So, the Panthers invest in Melvin Ingram, who provides the most versatility of anyone in the draft. His addition addresses the majority of needs and creates a pass-rushing presence on the outside.
10. Buffalo Bills: Riley Reiff, OT (Iowa)
Buffalo needs improved pass-protection and Riley Reiff has the athleticism to start right away. He's also a quick player that can get upfield on screens and from the backside to lengthen the running lanes.
11. Kansas City Chiefs: Fletcher Cox, DT/DE (Mississippi State)
Last season the Chiefs failed to stop the run. Fletcher Cox is a fast two-gap controller that can split double-teams, get in the backfield and free up the linebackers. His selection gives Kansas City a complete defensive unit.
12. Seattle Seahawks: Luke Kuechly, LB (Boston College)
If the Seahawks want to contend for the NFC West title, Luke Kuechly must come aboard. He's an effective run-stopper and possesses excellent coverage awareness to break up passes. Kuechly controlling the middle ensures reliability in Seattle.
13. Arizona Cardinals: David DeCastro, OG (Stanford)
Arizona's offense has potential to be explosive and balanced in 2012. That will only happen, though, with the addition of David DeCastro. He's a dominant run-blocker that can get upfield and a reliable pass-blocker to create a safer pocket.
14. Dallas Cowboys: Quinton Coples, DE (North Carolina)
Quinton Coples is a fierce pass-rusher off the edge, but does need to become more consistent. Well, lining up opposite of the league's best rusher in DeMarcus Ware, Coples will have plenty of opportunities to make plays.
15. Philadelphia Eagles: Jonathan Martin, OT (Stanford)
The Eagles need youth and depth on the offensive line. Jonathan Martin brings that and an excellent skill-set to the table. Possessing impressive lateral quickness, Martin is a solid pass-blocker and will wall off the outside to create faster-developed running lanes.
16. New York Jets: Nick Perry, DE (USC)
Failing to apply consistent quarterback pressure and stop the run, the Jets allowed almost 23 points per game in 2011. Instead of blaming the offense, let's get Rex Ryan a complete defender in Nick Perry that can get pressure, force bad throws/turnovers and anchor the edge against the run.
17. Cincinnati Bengals (via OAK): Stephon Gilmore, CB (South Carolina)
At age 32, Nate Clements remains the Bengals' best cornerback, but his replacement is needed this season to ensure a "reloading" as opposed to "rebuilding" period after his time.
South Carolina's Stephon Gilmore has the potential to start right away as the No. 2 corner. Also, because last season Leon Hall missed the final seven games to injury, Cincinnati needs to keep talent in the secondary and Gilmore simply knows how to get the job done.
With 181 tackles, seven picks, 23 defended passes and four forced fumbles during his tenure, Gilmore displayed excellent play-recognition and awareness skills to develop quickly. He's a physical presence on the outside, possessing great size, and is a reliable defender against the perimeter ground game.
Now, Gilmore may not see time at corner if Hall gets back to 100 percent. However, he will contribute at safety because the Bengals need an intelligent playmaker that can roll down against slot receivers and sit back in Cover 1, 2 or 3 to play anywhere over the top.
18. San Diego Chargers: Courtney Upshaw, LB (Alabama)
For San Diego to compete in the AFC West, upgrading the front seven is a must. Courtney Upshaw helps the Chargers improve against the run and get more sacks. The man just knows how to cause fumbles and make plays all day in the backfield.
19. Chicago Bears: Whitney Mercilus, DE (Illinois)
Although he's just a one-year wonder, Whitney Mercilus proved his menacing tendencies in the backfield last season. Chicago needs a young pass-rusher that creates turnover opportunities and, in doing so, gets the Bears an edge in the NFC North.
20. Tennessee Titans: Dontari Poe, DT (Memphis)
AFC South ball-carriers in Maurice Jones-Drew and Arian Foster are going to run all over the Titans in 2012. That is unless Tennessee gets a defensive tackle like Dontari Poe that can control multiple gaps, plug lanes and free up the linebackers to make plays anywhere in the box.
21. Cincinnati Bengals: Michael Brockers, DT (LSU)
Improving against the run is where the Bengals can really make strides in 2012. Michael Brockers has the speed and explosion to beat double-teams, track down from the backside and apply interior pressure.
22. Cleveland Browns (via ATL): Dre Kirkpatrick, CB (Alabama)
Cleveland has a promising front seven led by D'Qwell Jackson. So, getting Joe Haden that complement in the secondary with Dre Kirkpatrick creates one of the league's best cornerback tandems. Additionally, Kirkpatrick specializes in man coverage and is also a reliable run defender.
23. Detroit Lions: Zach Brown, LB (North Carolina)
A fast playmaker in the middle, Zach Brown possesses impressive instincts and a knack for finding the ball. He's also developed as a solid pass-rusher, so Detroit's front seven just got a lot tougher to block.
24. Pittsburgh Steelers: Dont’a Hightower, LB (Alabama)
The Steelers need a young, dominant defender in the middle. Dont'a Hightower plays quick and tackles hard in the box combined with sharp awareness when dropping into coverage. The Tampa 2 pass defense is an option in Pittsburgh.
25. Denver Broncos: Jerel Worthy, DT (Michigan State)
With arguably the best anticipatory skills in the draft, Jerel Worthy reacts fast at the snap to constantly make his presence in the backfield. With Von Miller and Elvis Dumervil on the outside, Worthy will have many opportunities to make plays in favorable situations.
26. Houston Texans: Kendall Wright, WR (Baylor)
The passing offense was the Achilles' heel for the Houston Texans in 2011, even with Andre Johnson in the lineup.
He wasn't 100 percent all season, and the Texans were hit hard at quarterback. To make matters worse, Houston didn't have that stud No. 2 receiver who could take over games and help the productive tight end Owen Daniels.
This is where Baylor's Kendall Wright enters the equation, because he has great speed, acceleration and reliability all over the field. Having caught 108 passes for over 1,600 yards in 2011 and scored 14 touchdowns, Wright's presence will create favorable matchups.
Whether it's Wright taking attention away from Johnson, Daniels and Arian Foster or being singled up, Houston has a complete offense. Wright is also a dependable run blocker to make the play-action pass even more dangerous.
27. New England Patriots (via NO): Mark Barron, SS (Alabama)
With two solid corners in Devin McCourty and Kyle Arrington, the Patriots need Mark Barron to field a complete secondary. Now, the Pats may have to trade up if they want him, but Barron's ability to always be around the ball will immediately pay dividends.
28. Green Bay Packers: Vinny Curry, DE (Marshall)
In today's NFL, defenses need two stud pass-rushers to really get consistent quarterback pressure. The Packers stretch for Vinny Curry to complement Clay Matthews, because Curry will get pressure, cause fumbles and shut down any running plays that comes his way.
29. Baltimore Ravens: Cordy Glenn, OG/OT (Georgia)
Cordy Glenn is a dynamic offensive lineman with great size to contribute at guard or tackle for Baltimore. As we saw in the postseason, the Ravens need Glenn's skill-set to upgrade the pass-protection, improve at selling the run and keep Ray Rice a dual-threat.
30. San Francisco 49ers: Stephen Hill, WR (Georgia Tech)
There aren't too many receivers that enter the draft as run-blocking specialists. However, that's just what Stephen Hill brings to San Francisco as the play-action pass becomes more relevant. Not to mention that Hill is a reliable playmaker and can get great yards after the catch as well.
31. New England Patriots: Shea McClellin, LB/DE (Boise State)
With Mark Barron completing the secondary, New England adds Shea McClellin to get a younger pass-rush. McClellin may be somewhat undersized, but his strength and short-area quickness will shine when blocked one-on-one.
32. New York Giants: Doug Martin, RB (Boise State)
The New York Giants may have won a second Super Bowl over the New England Patriots, but if Big Blue wants to successfully defend its title, keeping the two-back offensive philosophy must happen.
Boise State's Doug Martin is the best answer to this puzzle, because he provides consistent production at a high-level and additional pass-protection. From 2009 through 2011, Martin accounted for 47 total touchdowns and over 3,300 rushing yards.
Last season the Giants ranked dead last in rushing offense, and it almost cost them a postseason berth. Snagging Martin at the end of Round 1 creates a two-back set with two dual-threat ball-carriers.
During his final two seasons, Martin caught 56 passes for almost 600 yards and four touchdowns. His size will dominate in short-yardage situations, and he will be a reliable check down option on third down. Include his pass-blocking, and Martin opens up the playbook to delayed screens and play-action.
John Rozum on Twitter.
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