2012 NFL Draft: Predicting Landing Spots for Top Defensive Prospects

Jeff Kayer@thereal_kmanCorrespondent IApril 26, 2012

2012 NFL Draft: Predicting Landing Spots for Top Defensive Prospects

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    As we draw closer to the NFL draft, we appear to have late breaking news that could shake the entire draft order.

    Virtually every analysts since the draft order was announced believed the Minnesota Vikings would be taking Matt Kalil, the left tackle out of USC.  After all, rookie quarterback Christian Ponder took a beating last year.

    However, with some noise that they may be trying to either trade the pick or move away from Kalil, there is all of a sudden some much-needed drama in this NFL draft.

    With the Vikings pick uncertain, let's take a look at where of the top defensive prospects will go in the NFL draft. 

Whitney Mercilus: Cleveland Browns, 22nd Overall

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    For a team that was decent at getting to the quarterback, the Cleveland Browns clearly have more pressing needs.  However, if Mercilus falls this far, it's a case of getting the best player available.

    Mercilus is the type of player that could quickly turn into a Pro Bowl player, or a guy who had one lucky year and proves to be a bust.  He had 16 sacks in his last year with the Illinois Fighting Illini.  If he can bring those types of stats in Cleveland, they could all of a sudden have one of the more formidable defensive lines in the AFC.  

Dre Kirkpatrick: Chicago Bears, 19th Overall

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    A lot of people believe the Bears will go for someone on one of their interior lines.  It's true, the team needs a tackle and more pass-rushers.  But do people see how thin the Bears are at cornerback and safety?

    Charles Tillman isn't exactly a young player anymore, yet he's the only true shutdown guy they have back there.  Kirkpatrick can provide an immediate boost to a team that has to play guys like Aaron Rodgers and Matt Stafford numerous times.

Quinton Coples: New York Jets, 18th Overall

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    At 6'5" and 284 pounds, Coples is a beast of a man who could play both end and tackle in the Jets 3-4 defensive system.  And believe me, the Jets need a defensive line as their number of sacks and overall pressure on the quarterback have both gone steadily downward since Rex Ryan's arrival. 

    Coples may not be the fastest or strongest guy, but the Jets are going to hope they can maneuver him around to present bad matchups for the oppositions. 

Stephon Gilmore: Philadelphia Eagles, 15th Overall

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    With the Eagles doing everything in their power to trade former Pro Bowl cornerback Asante Samuel, the Eagles could get a great value and immediately draft his replacement in Gilmore. 

    He's routinely rated as one of the top 10 draft prospects, and with a division of quarterbacks like Eli Manning, Tony Romo and Robert Griffin III, they can use as many shutdown corners as they can get. 

Mark Barron: Dallas Cowboys, 14th Overall

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    Like Gilmore, Barron is someone who has often been thought of as a top 10 prospect, but based on the needs of other teams, he could likely fall down to Dallas.

    The Cowboys have needs at cornerback and safety, but Barron has a better value here.  He can come in, start immediately and hopefully improve a secondary that arguably has kept Dallas from being a true Super Bowl contender.  

Melvin Ingram: Seattle Seahawks, 12th Ovrall

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    Ingram is a guy who can come to Seattle, start immediately and put together the best defensive line in the NFC West. 

    An end with perhaps the best explosiveness out of all the top flight defensive linemen, he's a 6'1", 264-pound end that could be a Pro Bowl player in no time.  This pick will also help bring back the defensive identity that defined the Seahawks for the better part of a decade that culminated in their run to the title game at Super Bowl XL. 

Chandler Jones: Kansas City Chiefs, 11th Overall

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    At 6'5" and 266 pounds, Jones is an absolute physical specimen at defensive end.  

    Amidst the many problems of the Chiefs last year, they finished in the bottom half of sacks last year.  Ingram has the kind of talent that can help the Chiefs improve their defensive line immediately.

    With their offensive skill pieces coming back healthy, and a guy like Ingram to come improve the defense, Kansas City could easily compete for a title in a wide open AFC West. 

Luke Kuechly: Buffalo Bills, 10th Overall

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    The sexy pick here lately has been the Bills going after Michael Floyd.  He may indeed become a great receiver, but ultimately what derailed Buffalo's promising 2011 start was defense.

    Luke Kuechly is a guy who can come be an anchor for a linebacking corps that was one of the NFL's worst last year.  If this guy is available at No. 10 overall, the Bills would be crazy not to jump at the opportunity and make this guy the captain of the defense for the next 10 to 12 years.  

Fletcher Cox: Carolina Panthers, 7th Overall

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    Cox is an interesting choice here for Carolina.  I, for one, like big men who have the ability to play numerous positions on a defensive line because they can create some big-time matchup problems for the opposition.

    At 300 pounds, Cox still ran a 4.8 40-yard dash at the scouting combine.  He was durable at college at Mississippi State and was good against both the pass and the run. 

    Was Carolina OK on the line last year?  I suppose.  But this team still has not sufficiently recovered since losing Julius Peppers two years ago. 

Morris Claiborne: Minnesota Vikings, 3rd Overall

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    And here is the guy that may turn the top end of the draft upside down.

    For several months the belief was the Vikings would take Matt Kalil with the third pick.  But in the past three or four days, analysts have heard the Vikings are leaning towards Claiborne, or just trading their pick altogether.

    For what it is worth, Claiborne is a bigger need in my opinion.  Six of their games are against Pro Bowl talent, and a Super Bowl champion.  Considering how old the secondary is for Minnesota, drafting a guy who could be a Pro Bowl-caliber cornerback immediately is just something you do not pass up.