2012 NFL Mock Draft: Updated Projections for College Football's Biggest Stars
The 2012 NFL draft is only a couple of days away, and while we know who the first two picks in this year's draft will be, there is still plenty of uncertainty regarding how the rest of the first round will play out.
With that said, here's an updated look at how things could unfold on Thursday at Radio City Music Hall, from the pair of signal-callers who will kick things off to the last pick of the first round made by the defending Super Bowl champions.
1. Indianapolis Colts: Andrew Luck, QB, Stanford: This one appears to be a certainty, as Indianapolis general manager Ryan Grigson announced Tuesday that the Colts will indeed select the Stanford star first overall.
2. Washington Redskins (from St. Louis Rams): Robert Griffin III, QB, Baylor: Redskins offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan has met with Griffin to help prepare him for the NFL, and all signs point to the first two picks in the draft being quarterbacks for the first time since 1999.
3. Minnesota Vikings: Matt Kalil, OT, USC: There is some uncertainty as to which direction the Vikings will go with the third-overall pick, but the smart play is for Minnesota to draft the best available offensive lineman after surrendering the fifth-most sacks in the NFL last year.
4. Cleveland Browns: Trent Richardson, RB, Alabama: The Browns are absolutely desperate for offensive playmakers, and the 228-pound Richardson is widely viewed as the best running back prospect in several years after topping 2,000 total yards for the Crimson Tide in 2011.
5. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Morris Claiborne, CB, LSU: Buccaneers head coach Greg Schiano shot down rumors last week that the team was shopping cornerback Aqib Talib, but whether Talib stays or goes won't change the fact that the Buccaneers badly need to improve the secondary.
6. St. Louis Rams (from Washington Redskins): Justin Blackmon, WR, Oklahoma State: With Brandon Lloyd now in New England, the Rams don't have a wide receiver on the roster that topped 450 yards last year, making improving the receiving corps a priority.
Oklahoma State wide receiver Justin Blackmon won the Biletnikoff Award as college football's top wideout each of the past two seasons, topping 3,300 receiving yards over that stretch, and as Gene Frenette of the Florida Times-Union reports, Cowboys offensive coordinator Todd Monken doesn't see any reason why the 6'1" Blackmon won't excel at the next level.
"Justin does everything that's hard, easy," Monken said. "The hardest things to coach are what he does well. He plays strong to the ball, judges the ball down the field, likes to play the game, and has natural after-the-catch instincts. Those are hard things to coach."
7. Jacksonville Jaguars: Melvin Ingram, DE, South Carolina: The Jaguars are reportedly interested in trading down, but in any event, Jacksonville needs to bolster a pass-rush that ranked near the bottom of the NFL in sacks in 2011.
8. Miami Dolphins: Ryan Tannehill, QB, Texas A&M: The Dolphins spent most of the offseason pursuing a starting quarterback, and there are conflicting reports from South Florida claiming that team owner Stephen Ross may or may not have informed management that he wants Tannehill to be the pick.
9. Carolina Panthers: Fletcher Cox, DT, Mississippi State: The Carolina run defense ranked 25th in the league last year and was especially soft up the gut, and the 298-pound Bulldogs standout has been rocketing up draft boards of late.
10. Buffalo Bills: Riley Reiff, OT, Iowa: The loss of starting tackle Demetress Bell to the Philadelphia Eagles in free agency leaves the Bills with a glaring hole at the position, and the 313-pound All-Big Ten performer would address that need quite nicely.
11. Kansas City Chiefs: Michael Brockers, DT, LSU: Last year's starter, Kelly Gregg, is a 35-year-old free agent who is considering retirement, which leaves the Chiefs with a hole at nose tackle. At 322 pounds, Michael Brockers has the size to man the middle of a 3-4 front, and the youngster's upside is considerable.
12. Seattle Seahawks: Luke Kuechly, MLB, Boston College: With David Hawthorne now in New Orleans, the Seahawks need to upgrade the middle of the defense, as although Barrett Ruud and KJ Wright may be serviceable replacements, they are little more than that.
Boston College's middle linebacker led the nation with 191 tackles en route to winning the Butkus Award as college football's top linebacker a season ago, and NFL Network draft expert Mike Mayock recently told the Boston Globe that he's a big admirer of Keuchly's talents.
“He’s one of the 10 best players in this draft,’’ said NFL Network analyst Mike Mayock, a BC grad. “The intriguing thing about Luke is that, historically, inside linebackers are not valued, mostly because they get replaced on sub downs in sub packages and nickel packages. He’s the opposite and his strength lies in the pass game.’’
13. Arizona Cardinals: Michael Floyd, WR, Notre Dame: The Cardinals badly need to upgrade an offensive line that allowed the second-most sacks in the NFL last year. However, the 6'3" Floyd would provide an excellent complement to Larry Fitzgerald at wideout after catching 100 passes for the Fighting Irish in 2011.
14. Dallas Cowboys: Mark Barron, SS, Alabama: The Cowboys need to upgrade the back end of the secondary, and Don Banks of Sports Illustrated reported recently that he thinks that Dallas has "been fairly well locked in on the Crimson Tide safety for weeks now."
15. Philadelphia Eagles: Dontari Poe, DT, Memphis: The Eagles defense was susceptible up the middle a season ago, and while the 346-pound Poe's stock has cooled somewhat since his explosion at the combine, the physical talents would certainly seem to be there.
16. New York Jets: Courtney Upshaw, OLB, Alabama: The Jets were forced to blitz more than any team in the NFL (57.1 percent) to generate pressure on the quarterback last season. The 272-pound Upshaw struggled at the combine and Alabama's pro day, but an impressive collegiate resume and experience in the 3-4 defense should be more than enough to overcome his so-so workouts.
17. Cincinnati Bengals (from Oakland Raiders): Stephon Gilmore, CB, South Carolina: Even after adding cornerback Terence Newman in free agency, the Bengals could still use help in the defensive backfield. The 6'0" Gamecocks star could be a great value here given that many pundits view Gilmore as a top-10 pick.
18. San Diego Chargers: Whitney Mercilus, DE/OLB, Illinois: The Chargers managed only 32 sacks as a team in 2011. In fact, besides linebacker Antwan Barnes, no San Diego player had more than four sacks, making pass-rush help a necessity for the Bolts in this year's draft.
Whitney Mercilus led all FBS players with 16 sacks in 2011 while at the University of Illinois, and while some experts question whether the 261-pound junior's statistical explosion last year was a one-year aberration, Mike Mayock recently told the Chicago Sun-Times that he sees a ton of potential when viewing Mercilus on tape.
When you look at what he is on tape, he’s a natural edge rusher. He’s got excellent takeoff. He understands how to work up the field. Does he need to learn technique and more pass-rush moves? Yes, because right now, like a lot of gifted college kids, he depends on his speed to win.’
19. Chicago Bears: Quinton Coples, DE, North Carolina The Bears brought back 31-year-old defensive end Israel Idonije after missing out on Mario Williams in free agency, but the team is still looking to improve the defensive front opposite Julius Peppers. At 6'6" and 281 pounds, Quinton Coples has the sort of size and athleticism that scouts drool over.
20. Tennessee Titans: Chandler Jones, DE/OLB, Syracuse: Only one team in the National Football League racked up fewer sacks last season than the Tennessee Titans, and the Syracuse standout is making a late push up draft boards.
21. Cincinnati Bengals: David Decastro, OG, Stanford: The Bengals have a glaring need along the inside of the offensive front, and the 312-pound two-time consensus All-American is considered by some to be the best prospect at his position in years.
22. Cleveland Browns (from Atlanta Falcons): Cordy Glenn, OG, Georgia: The right side of Cleveland's offensive line needs work, and the 345-pound Glenn could immediately step into a starting role opening holes for Trent Richardson.
23. Detroit Lions: Dre Kirkpatrick, CB, Alabama: The Lions are in dire need of improvement at the cornerback position, and the 6'2", 186-pound All-American would be a fantastic value that fills a huge need for the Lions at this point.
24. Pittsburgh Steelers: Dont'a Hightower, ILB, Alabama: The release of longtime starter James Farrior after 10 years in Pittsburgh leaves Pittsburgh with a hole at inside linebacker, and while Larry Foote is a capable pro, he's much more stopgap than longtime solution at the position.
All-American linebacker Dont'a Hightower is a punishing hitter and stout run defender, and WTAE-TV in Pittsburgh reports that it seems more likely by the day that the Steelers will select the 265-pound Alabama star if he is available.
There's also been late buzz that the team could opt to grab Alabama linebacker Dont'a Hightower as an eventual successor to Larry Foote. Hightower has the size - 6-2, 265 pounds - to withstand taking on offensive linemen. Even better, he helped the Crimson Tide win a pair of national titles during his tenure despite missing most of the 2009 season with a knee injury.
25. Denver Broncos: Derek Wolfe, DT, Cincinnati: The 295-pound Big East Defensive Player of the Year has surprising quickness for a player of his size, and Wolfe would help strengthen a Broncos defensive front that was the soft spot of the defense last season.
26. Houston Texans: Kendall Wright, WR, Baylor: Mediocre workouts have damaged the draft stock of the 5'10", 196-pound senior despite a ridiculously productive 2011 season in Waco. However, the Texans need to upgrade at wideout opposite Andre Johnson, and Wright's game tape doesn't lie.
27. New England Patriots (from New Orleans Saints): Nick Perry, DE/OLB, USC: The Patriots need help all over on defense, including a front seven that lost both Mark Anderson and Andre Carter. The 271-pound Perry led the Pac-12 in sacks in 2011, and his versatility would appeal to Bill Belichick.
28. Green Bay Packers: Shea McClellin, DE/OLB, Boise State: The Packers ranked dead last in the NFL in defense a year ago due in large part to a moribund pass-rush, and McClellin has drawn comparisons to Packers star Clay Matthews.
29. Baltimore Ravens: Stephen Hill, WR, Georgia Tech: Anquan Boldin looked nothing like his former self in 2011, leaving the Ravens with a need at wide receiver. After playing at run-first Georgia Tech, Stephen Hill may need some time to develop at the professional level, but as NFL Network draft expert Mike Mayock said, “There is value to this kid.”
30. San Francisco 49ers: Amini Silatolu, OT/OG, Midwestern State: Recent reports from San Francisco state that the 49ers may be eying a replacement for the departed Adam Snyder at guard in the first round. Silatolu played tackle at tiny Midwestern State, but projects better as a guard in the NFL.
31. New England Patriots: Janoris Jenkins, CB, North Alabama: Jenkins has boatloads of talent, but just as many character concerns. However, when your secondary is as bad as New England's was last season, sometimes you just have to roll the dice.
32. New York Giants: Jonathan Martin, OT, Stanford: The Giants offensive front is getting a little long in the tooth and lost tackle Kareem McKenzie, and Martin's falling draft stock would be a blessing in disguise for the G-Men if he slipped this far.
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