On Wednesday, ESPN's Todd McShay, along with Steve Muench and Kevin Weidl, revealed a full 2012 NFL mock draft. As expected McShay has a good mock, but there are some intriguing selections that stick out.
Stephon Gilmore to Carolina is one to look at, because the Panthers do need pass defense; pairing him opposite of Chris Gamble creates a strong cornerback tandem. In addition to Gilmore though, there are other interesting selections McShay and Co. laid out for us in Round 1.
So, let's view McShay's most intriguing first-round predictions.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Luke Kuechly, LB (Boston College)
Although it's surprising to see Luke Kuechly go No. 5 overall, the man certainly is worthy of the selection and is a big addition to the Buccaneers defense.
Last season, Tampa Bay ranked No. 21 against the pass and dead last against the run. Well, Kuechly is a dominant run defender with 532 career tackles and just as reliable when defending the pass.
At Boston College, Kuechly had 17 defended passes (seven picks) and returned two for touchdowns. His instincts will significantly improve Tampa versus the run and make them less vulnerable to the play-action pass.
In a pass-happy NFC South, Kuechly to Tampa makes perfect sense and his addition fills more than one area of need.
Jacksonville Jaguars: Justin Blackmon, WR (Oklahoma State)
Despite the upgraded receiving corps, Justin Blackmon fits well in Jacksonville. This is also quite a realistic selection because Blackmon could easily fall if Morris Claiborne goes to Minnesota.
The Jaguars ranked dead last in passing offense last season, and Blackmon accounted for over 3,300 receiving yards on 232 catches between 2010 and 2011. His strength will get early separation in man coverage and the quickness draws up safeties when splitting a Cover 2.
Blackmon is also a solid run-blocker who will come in handy for Maurice Jones-Drew. This sets up the play-action pass for Blackmon downfield. Considering that he's a smooth route-runner, Blackmon will burn defenders in single coverage on double-moves and open up the middle for Laurent Robinson, Lee Evans and Marcedes Lewis.
Carolina Panthers: Stephon Gilmore, CB (South Carolina)
The cornerback position is the deepest in the 2012 draft, so it's a little surprising to see the Panthers take Stephon Gilmore at No. 9 overall.
However, Gilmore has the potential to turn out as this draft's best cornerback because of his versatility, consistent reliability and high football IQ. The man knows how to read well pre-snap, dissect and react quickly, and possesses awesome field awareness.
With 23 defended passes, four forced fumbles, seven sacks and 181 tackles, Gilmore certainly would lock down playing opposite of Chris Gamble. After all Carolina ranked No. 24 against the pass and No. 25 against the run, so any top-notch defender will suffice.
Gilmore could also contribute at safety in long down-and-distance situations, because his ability to see the field allows him to break on the ball faster than most.
Arizona Cardinals: Riley Reiff, OT (Iowa)
Despite not having the luxury of playing with a young and vibrant quarterback for most of his career, Larry Fitzgerald remains arguably the best receiver in the game.
Well, Riley Reiff to Arizona is quite an intriguing selection as the Iowa offensive tackle is worth a top-10 pick. Nonetheless, his addition significantly improves the pocket protection for Kevin Kolb, thus allowing Fitz more time to get open against double coverage.
The Cardinals also saw Beanie Wells top 1,000 rushing yards in 2011, but he was extremely inconsistent. To that end, Reiff is arguably the most athletic lineman in the draft and possesses the skill set to get upfield from the backside and on screens.
In turn, Wells will see extending running lanes both inside and out and walled off defenders on screens, and he won't have to pass-protect as much from the blind side. Arizona's line allowed 54 sacks in 2011; Reiff would help lower that number and help the Cards field a more balanced attack.
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