Mel Kiper 2012 NFL Mock Draft: Bold Predictions for Kiper's Latest Projections

Gary Davenport@@IDPSharksNFL AnalystApril 26, 2012

Mel Kiper 2012 NFL Mock Draft: Bold Predictions for Kiper's Latest Projections

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    After months of news, buildup, rumors, a blockbuster trade and mock drafts by the thousands, the time for waiting has finally ended and the big night has arrived, as Thursday evening brings with it the first round of the 2012 NFL draft.

    ESPN draft expert Mel Kiper Jr. has released five mock drafts of his own this offseason. With draft day here and Kiper's latest mock draft as a template, here's a look at a fistful of fearless forecasts for first-year pros in 2012.

Michael Floyd Will Top 1,000 Receiving Yards as a Rookie

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    Kiper's Pick: Arizona Cardinals, 13th overall

    Another pick I'll stick with, Floyd is a great complement to Larry Fitzgerald and will help Arizona maximize the options for Kevin Kolb. The offensive line could use help, but Floyd has proved that he'd be a good value here. Think of Atlanta getting Julio Jones to take some pressure off Roddy White last year. Floyd could fill a similar role.

    It doesn't get much better than landing in the desert opposite Larry Fitzgerald (OK, maybe if Kurt Warner was under center...even at 40).

    If Jones can manage 54 catches for 959 yards and eight scores, I think Floyd, who some pundits have ranked higher than Justin Blackmon in this year's class, can manage another 50 yards after catching 100 passes at Notre Dame a year ago.

Chandler Jones Will Get Less Than Three Sacks in 2012

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    Kiper's Pick: San Diego Chargers, 18th overall

    Listed as a defensive end at Syracuse, Jones has the talent, upside and a great frame to make the move to OLB in a pass-rushing role. He's still a little raw, but the instincts are there and offensive linemen have a really tough time getting their hands on him. Could blossom into a star for the Chargers.

    Although Syracuse defensive end Chandler Jones amassed only 4.5 sacks as a senior, the 6'5", 266 pounder has been steadily climbing draft boards, with some draftniks viewing Jones as a top-10 prospect.

    However, between the switch to 3-4 outside linebacker and the lack of other options to take pressure off, the chips are going to be stacked against Jones in sunny San Diego as a rookie, and his first-year stats will reflect that fact.

Dont'a Hightower Will Win Defensive Rookie of the Year

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    Kiper's Pick: Pittsburgh Steelers, 24th overall

    One more I'm sticking with from the previous mock, Hightower simply makes a lot of sense based on need and Dick LeBeau's scheme. Hightower was an exceptional young player for Bama, a guy who saw major time as a true freshman (no small feat in that program) before he lost a year with an ACL injury. He has recovered, and could become a star for the Steelers, with the size to hold up anywhere, and the athleticism to take on whatever role the Steelers need.

    Dropping Alabama inside linebacker Dont'a Hightower into the middle of the Pittsburgh Steelers' 3-4 defense is like dropping a duck into water.

    The hard-hitting 6'2" All-American will supplant Larry Foote in the starting lineup before the season even begins, and after a season of wreaking havoc for the black and gold, Hightower will bring home the hardware as the top rookie defender.

Brandon Weeden Will Start by Midseason in Cleveland

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    Kiper's Pick: Cleveland Browns, 37th overall

    Cincy drafted a ready-to-play QB at a similar spot last year, and the Browns can get Weeden to push Colt McCoy.

    Were Oklahoma State quarterback Brandon Weeden not a 28-year-old rookie, it's likely that the 6'4" signal-caller would be drafted much earlier than this after throwing for 4,700 yards last season in Stillwater.

    However, that same relatively advanced age would also encourage the Cleveland Browns to see what they have in Weeden after spending an early second-round pick on him.

    Another slow start by the shores of Lake Erie will close the door on the Colt McCoy "era" in Cleveland.

David Wilson Will Lead All Rookies in Rushing

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    Kiper's Pick: New York Giants, 63rd overall

    They lose Brandon Jacobs, but Wilson will bring some power of his own, with a lot more explosiveness.

    While Trent Richardson goes fourth overall and languishes with the Cleveland Browns in Kiper's latest mock draft, fortune smiles much more brightly on the New York Giants, who get may well be the steal of the first two rounds in the Virginia Tech bellcow who gained more than 1,700 rushing yards a year ago.

    Ahmad Bradshaw is already receiving bone marrow injections in his chronically troublesome foot, and when the injury bug bites, Wilson will take the opportunity to start for the Super Bowl champs and, well, run with it.