2012 NFL Mock Draft: Top Defenders Rising on Big Boards

Rob Goldberg@TheRobGoldbergFeatured ColumnistApril 24, 2012

KNOXVILLE, TN - OCTOBER 29: Melvin Ingram #6 of the South Carolina Gamecocks celebrates during the game against the Tennessee Volunteers at Neyland Stadium on October 29, 2011 in Knoxville, Tennessee.  (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)
Andy Lyons/Getty Images

With NFL offenses becoming almost unstoppable, it is important for teams to draft top defensive talent to help slow down opponents.

Teams change their big boards many times throughout the year. From game scouting to combine performances to individual workouts, players have many chances to change the opinions of scouts for better or worse.

There are a bunch of defenders who are peaking at the right time and will be rewarded with a high selection on draft day.

1. Indianapolis Colts: Andrew Luck, QB, Stanford

The Colts have surprised no one by informing Andrew Luck that he will be the No. 1 pick of the draft.

Luck has all the characteristics scouts look for in a quarterback, but the key is if he has the mental strength to live up to his lofty expectations.

2. Washington Redskins: Robert Griffin III, QB, Baylor

In many other drafts, Griffin would be the top overall pick. He not only has great accuracy, but can tuck the ball and run for a first down if the passing lanes break down.

The quarterback's ability to beat a defense will help bring the Redskins back to the playoffs in a few years.

3. Minnesota Vikings: Matt Kalil, OT, USC

Kalil is easily the best left tackle in the draft and it is a position of need for a team looking to rebuild. Young quarterback Christian Ponder needs to be protected.

4. Cleveland Browns: Trent Richardson, RB, Alabama

The Browns have a lot of needs, but Richardson can transform a stagnant offense and succeed even without good blocking. 

5. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Morris Claiborne, CB, LSU

ATLANTA, GA - DECEMBER 3: Morris Claiborne #17 of the LSU Tigers returns an interception for a touchdown against the Georgia Bulldogs during the SEC Championship Game at the Georgia Dome on December 3, 2011 in Atlanta, Georgia.  (Photo by Scott Cunningham
Scott Cunningham/Getty Images

Claiborne should be the first defensive player taken in the draft, the only question is where he will be taken.

The top of the draft is expected to be settled, but the Vikings are still deciding between Claiborne, Kalil and Justin Blackmon.

No team will regret taking the LSU product, as he is a rare talent that is sure to succeed at the next level.

He has great size for his position and it will help him stick with some of the bigger receivers that have dominated the league for the past few years.

6. St. Louis Rams: Justin Blackmon, WR, Oklahoma State

Blackmon was incredibly productive in college and should have success in the NFL, but his lack of size and speed will not allow him to live up to a high pick. 

7. Jacksonville Jaguars: Michael Floyd, WR, Notre Dame

The Jaguars could go defense with this pick, but Floyd is an instant upgrade over the current receiving corps. He could help Blaine Gabbert as he gets acclimated to the NFL. 

8. Miami Dolphins: Ryan Tannehill, QB, Texas A&M

The Dolphins need a quarterback, and they need to sell their fans on something after missing out during free agency.

Unfortunately, Tannehill will require some time to learn before seeing the field.

9. Carolina Panthers: Quinton Coples, DE, North Carolina

Ingram is still available, but Coples could be more useful to the Panthers as he can play inside or outside on the defensive line. 

10. Buffalo Bills: Melvin Ingram, DE, South Carolina

COLUMBIA, SC - OCTOBER 01:  Melvin Ingram #6 of the South Carolina Gamecocks celebrates after a sack during their game at Williams-Brice Stadium on October 1, 2011 in Columbia, South Carolina.  (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)
Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

There should be a very short transition period to the NFL for Ingram.

His pure athleticism will help him provide Buffalo with additional pass rush to keep the double-teams away from newly acquired Mario Williams.

Ingram should be able to start as a blitzing outside linebacker, similar to San Francisco's Aldon Smith. Over time, he has the technique to become a complete player at defensive end.

Teams recognize his ability, and he will not be on the board for too long.

11. Kansas City Chiefs: Riley Reiff, OT, Iowa

The Chiefs signed Eric Winston to play right tackle this offseason, but Riley Reiff could be a long-term solution on the left side of the line for Kansas City. 

12. Seattle Seahawks: David DeCastro, OG, Stanford

DeCastro could be the next Steve Hutchinson in Seattle and help the team return to one of the best rushing teams in the league.

13. Arizona Cardinals: Jonathan Martin, OT, Stanford

One reason for Kevin Kolb's struggles in Arizona is his lack of time in the pocket. Jonathan Martin can be an upgrade after protecting Andrew Luck during his college career.

14. Dallas Cowboys: Dre Kirkpatrick, CB, Alabama

Dallas needs help with its pass defense, and Dre Kirkpatrick is the type of physical cornerback that the team needs in the NFC East.

15. Philadelphia Eagles: Luke Kuechly, ILB, Boston College

CHESTNUT HILL, MA - SEPTEMBER 25:  Tyrod Taylor #5 of the Virginia Tech Hokies scrambles with the ball as Luke Kuechly #40 of the Boston College Eagles defends on September 25, 2010 at Alumni Stadium in Chestnut Hill, Massachusetts.  (Photo by Elsa/Getty
Elsa/Getty Images

Kuechly had one of the most impressive collegiate careers in history, finishing with 532 tackles in only three years.

Somehow, his offseason has been just as noteworthy.

He had impressive combine numbers to prove that his production would translate to the NFL, and he has instincts that you just cannot teach.

The Eagles need someone in the middle of the defense who can make tackles, and Kuechly is the perfect fit.

16. New York Jets: Mark Barron, S, Alabama

The safeties on the roster for the Jets cannot be trusted to play a full season at a high level. Barron is a safe pick that will continue the tradition of solid defense in New York.

17. Cincinnati Bengals: Lamar Miller, RB, Miami

Even though the Bengals signed BenJarvus Green-Ellis this offseason, Miller would be the perfect compliment to the punishing runner.

Miller is a home run threat that can score from anywhere, and his speed will give Cincinnati a new dimension to a great offense.

18. San Diego Chargers: Courtney Upshaw, OLB, Alabama

The Chargers were at their best when they had a dominant pass-rusher coming off the edge. Upshaw could be the next player in line that fills the scheme by disrupting the opposing quarterback's rhythm. 

19. Chicago Bears: Mike Adams, OT, Ohio State

Mike Adams still needs to work on his technique, but the Bears need a big force that can protect the talented skill players in the backfield. Adams is that force.

20. Tennessee Titans: Cordy Glenn, OG, Georgia

The best aspect of Glenn is his versatility. He should be able to play anywhere on the offensive line in the NFL, and this should clear some running room for Chris Johnson.

21. Cincinnati Bengals: Janoris Jenkins, CB, North Alabama

Jenkins has been sliding down draft boards due to some character concerns, but he has too much talent for me to believe that every team will pass on him in the first round.

22. Cleveland Browns: Kendall Wright, WR, Baylor

After adding Trent Richardson earlier in the first round, the Browns will continue to transform the offense with a speedy receiver in Wright. 

23. Detroit Lions: Stephen Gilmore, CB, South Carolina

KNOXVILLE, TN - OCTOBER 31:  Stephen Gilmore #5 of the South Carolina Gamecocks carries the ball during the game against the Tennessee Volunteers at Neyland Stadium on October 31, 2009 in Knoxville, Tennessee.  (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)
Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

The Lions ended their season being torched by Drew Brees in the playoffs and Matt Flynn in Week 17, so a defensive back is the best solution.

Gilmore has slowly been creeping up draft boards as one of the best all-around cornerbacks in the draft.

He has above average strength and speed, but also has great instincts that will help him stick with shiftier receivers.

This pick is incredibly safe, as Gilmore should be in the league for a long time.

24. Pittsburgh Steelers: Michael Brockers, DT, LSU

Teams are very mixed about Brockers, and it will be interesting to see where he ends up being selected.

He has great size, but has not shown enough explosion at the line to be a game-changer at defensive tackle.

25. Denver Broncos: Dontari Poe, DT, Memphis

INDIANAPOLIS, IN - FEBRUARY 27: Defensive lineman Dontari Poe of Memphis takes part in a drill during the 2012 NFL Combine at Lucas Oil Stadium on February 27, 2012 in Indianapolis, Indiana. (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)
Joe Robbins/Getty Images

Dontari Poe was one of the biggest winners in the combine, and it could lead to being selected in the top half of the first round.

He led all participants with 44 reps in the bench press, and then shocked everyone when he ran a 4.87 40-yard dash.

This athleticism will cause some team to take a chance on him, but I am a little weary of his lack of production in Conference USA.

If a team is willing to take a risk and draft based on upside, Poe can go much earlier in the draft than here.

26. Houston Texans: Stephen Hill, WR, Georgia Tech

One of the best athletes in the draft, Hill would benefit from learning the position from Andre Johnson.

27. New England Patriots: Dont'a Hightower, ILB, Alabama

This will not only fill a need on defense, but Hightower is a leader on defense and a smart player that would fit well in the Patriots' system.

28. Green Bay Packers: Nick Perry, OLB, USC

The pass rush that Perry provides will keep the pressure off the defensive backs, as well as take some double-teams away from Clay Matthews.

29. Baltimore Ravens: Coby Fleener, TE, Stanford

Fleener's receiving ability will add another weapon to an offense that is finally starting to match its defense.

30. San Francisco 49ers: Alshon Jeffery, WR, South Carolina

There are other receiver options, but Jeffery's ability to catch a jump ball will help solve San Francisco's red-zone struggles from last season.

31. New England Patriots: Whitney Mercilus, DE, Illinois

Another defensive selection for the Patriots fills a hole left by Mark Anderson. 

32. New York Giants: Peter Konz, C, Wisconsin

The defending Super Bowl champions need to rebuild the offensive line to keep it a consistent force, and that starts at center.


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