Mel Kiper Jr. 2012 NFL Mock Draft: Grading ESPN Guru's Round 1 Projections

Wes ODonnellFeatured ColumnistApril 26, 2012

NEW YORK, NY - APRIL 25:  (L-R) NFL Draft prospects Trent Richardson, Robert Griffin III, Andrew Luck and Justin Blackmon visit the NYSE Trading Floor at New York Stock Exchange on April 25, 2012 in New York City.  (Photo by Slaven Vlasic/Getty Images)
Slaven Vlasic/Getty Images

The die is all but cast, the hay all but in the barn, and after months and months of countless mock drafts, endless debate and nonstop coverage, the 2012 NFL draft is finally here.

One man has brought it harder and more frequently than most, and that is the incomparable Mel Kiper Jr. of ESPN.

A man of legendary hair and, at times, legendary folly, draft coverage wouldn't be what it is today without Kiper. Love him or hate him, he was the forerunner to so many that have now entered the NFL draft analysis game.

Here's a look at his final picks for this year's first round—where Kiper even projects a trade. 


1. Indianapolis Colts (2-14): Andrew Luck, QB, Stanford


Grade: A

2. *Washington Redskins (5-11): Robert Griffin III, QB, Baylor

Just as easy.

Grade: A

KNOXVILLE, TN - OCTOBER 15:  Morris Claiborne #17 of the LSU Tigers against the Tennessee Volunteers at Neyland Stadium on October 15, 2011 in Knoxville, Tennessee.  (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

3. Minnesota Vikings (3-13): Morris Claiborne, CB, LSU

The best move for the Vikes is to trade down the board. If they don't get too greedy and offer the Bucs a fair price, they can move down to No. 5 and still land Claiborne or Matt Kalil there—No. 3 is too early.

Grade: B

4. Cleveland Browns (4-12): Trent Richardson, RB, Alabama

This could be the best pick of the draft within the first five years.

Grade: A

5. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (4-12): Matt Kalil, OT, USC

The Bucs will work like all hell to get out of No. 5 if this scenario plays out. Kalil is an elite left tackle, but coach Greg Schiano and company are better suited to move down the board and acquire more picks...the problem is there won't be a ton of people looking to move up.

Grade: B

6. *St. Louis Rams (2-14): Justin Blackmon, WR, Oklahoma State

Enough is enough in St. Louis; Sam Bradford needs a weapon and Blackmon is a superstar in waiting.

Grade: A

7. Philadelphia Eagles (Projected Trade with Jaguars): Fletcher Cox, DT, Mississippi State

STARKVILLE, MS - NOVEMBER 12:  quarterback AJ McCarron #10 of the Alabama Crimson Tide scrambles away from pressure from defensive lineman Fletcher Cox #94 of the Mississippi State Bulldogs on November 12, 2011 at Davis Wade Stadium in Starkville, Mississ
Butch Dill/Getty Images

Philly is always going to what it pleases when it comes to drafting, and if trading up for a versatile defensive lineman is what it wants to do then, by all means, go for it.

The Jags, meanwhile, make their smartest draft decision in years.

Grade: B

8. Miami Dolphins (6-10): Ryan Tannehill, QB, Texas A&M

This is simply the only thing Miami can do at this spot. It won't help the Dolphins immediately, but they have only themselves to blame for that.

Grade: B-

9. Carolina Panthers (6-10): Luke Kuechly, LB, Boston College

Kiper gets things right here as the Panthers land a superstar-in-waiting at linebacker for years to come. Coach Rivera has to be thrilled with this pick.

Grade: A

ORLANDO, FL - DECEMBER 29: Wide receiver Michael Floyd #3 of the Notre Dame Fight Irish runs upfield against the Florida State Seminoles in the Champs Sports Bowl December 29, 2011 at the Florida Citrus Bowl in Orlando, Florida.  FSU won 18 - 14. (Photo b
Al Messerschmidt/Getty Images

10. Buffalo Bills (6-10): Michael Floyd, WR, Notre Dame

It is hard to argue with this move by the Bills, as they've been linked to a number of players. Floyd is one of the few that immediately helps them.

Grade: B+

11. Kansas City Chiefs (7-9): David DeCastro, OG, Stanford

Kuechly or Floyd will fit, but DeCastro helps this team in more ways than one.

Grade: A

12. Seattle Seahawks (7-9): Chandler Jones, DE/OLB, Syracuse

This is a reach from Kiper, plain and simple. The 'Cuse pass-rusher has huge upside, but he's far from a sure thing.

Grade: C+

13. Arizona Cardinals (8-8): Melvin Ingram, DE/OLB, South Carolina

Kiper is making a mistake thinking Ingram can play in a 3-4 at the next level, but this is a position of need for them.

Grade: C+

14. Dallas Cowboys (8-7): Mark Barron, S, Alabama

A lot has been made of Barron in the last few weeks, but he'll fall to the Cowboys and he fits perfectly—even though he's an overrated prospect.

Grade: B+

15. Jacksonville Jaguars (Projected trade with Eagles): Stephon GIlmore, CB, South Carolina

ATLANTA, GA - DECEMBER 31:  Stephon Gilmore #5 of the South Carolina Gamecocks against the Florida State Seminoles during the 2010 Chick-fil-A Bowl at Georgia Dome on December 31, 2010 in Atlanta, Georgia.  (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

The projected trade by Kiper is a fantastic move by the Jags, and Gilmore is a great fit for them going forward with the new regime.

Grade: A

16. New York Jets (8-8): Quinton Coples, DE, UNC

Kiper lets a potentially elite talent fall down the board to Rex Ryan and it is unlikely he'll pass him up.

Grade: B+

17. Cincinnati Bengals (8-8, via OAK): Cordy Glenn, OL, Georgia

Kiper is thinking long term here and it is hard to blame him. With Floyd and Gilmore off the board the Bengals get a chance to land a guy who can play guard or tackle for years to come. It is a slight surprise that Riley Reiff is still on the board though.

Grade: B+

18. San Diego Chargers (8-8): Riley Reiff, OT, Iowa

It remains to be seen if Chargers GM A.J. Smith is smart enough not to pass on a rock-solid guy like Reiff here—Kiper may be too generous. But if the pick is made it would be a great get at No. 18.

Grade: A

19. Chicago Bears (8-8): Whitney Mercilus, DE, Illinois

Throwing a potentially elite pass-rusher opposite Julius Peppers is something the Bears want to do, and Mercilus has the length and athleticism to benefit from facing only one blocker per play early in his career.

Grade: B

INDIANAPOLIS, IN - FEBRUARY 28: Defensive back Dre Kirkpatrick of Alabama participates in the 40-yard dash during the 2012 NFL Combine at Lucas Oil Stadium on February 28, 2012 in Indianapolis, Indiana. (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)
Joe Robbins/Getty Images

20. Tennessee Titans (9-7): Dre Kirkpatrick, CB, Alabama

The Titans lost their physical edge in the secondary when Cortland Finnegan left, and Kiper is far from wrong to have them address it immediately.

Grade: B+

21. Cincinnati Bengals (9-7): Stephen Hill, WR, Georgia Tech

Plain and simple, this should be Kendall Wright if the Bengals want to get better immediately. Hill has elite potential, but he's not ready.

Grade: C+

22. Cleveland Browns (10-6, via ATL): Brandon Weeden, QB, Oklahoma State

This is a fail from Kiper considering not many other teams are in the market for a QB at this point. The Browns could still land a talented player at No. 37 after adding Weeden here—which is Kiper's argument—but they also have 13 draft picks and can afford to take a better player here and move back in for Weeden later.

Grade: C-

23. Detroit Lions (10-6): Doug Martin, RB, Boise State

This is an interesting pick considering the injury issues Jahvid Best will have the rest of his career and the injuries suffered by Mikel Leshoure and Kevin Smith a year ago.

At initial glance you think it is a reach, but ultimately it's not a bad pick.

Grade: B

24. Pittsburgh Steelers (12-4): Dontari Poe, DT, Memphis

The Steelers are rumored to be heavily interested in the massive Poe and he'll likely fall down the board here.

Grade: B-

25. Denver Broncos (8-8): Michael Brockers, DT, LSU

OXFORD, MS - NOVEMBER 19: Barry Brunetti #11 of the Ole Miss Rebels scrambles with the ball against Michael Brockers #90 of the LSU Tigers on November 19, 2011 at Vaught-Hemingway Stadium in Oxford, Mississippi.  (Photo by Joe Murphy/Getty Images)
Joe Murphy/Getty Images

This is a huge get for the Broncos considering the upside Brockers possesses. John Elway could obviously surprise here, but it would actually be surprising if the LSU Tiger is on the board here.

Grade: B+

26. Houston Texans (10-6): Coby Fleener, TE, Stanford

Again, with Kendall Wright on the board it is a bit surprising to see Fleener go here, but he's basically a huge wide receiver any way.

Grade: B

27. New England Patriots (13-3, via NO): Courtney Upshaw, DE/OLB, Alabama

This could the be the steal of Kiper's draft. People have sent Upshaw sprawling down the board, but he's a football player with fantastic instincts and a tremendously high floor. Bill Belichick won't hesitate to add his friend Nick Saban's gifted pass-rusher.

Grade: A

28. Green Bay Packers (15-1): Shea McClellin, OLB, Boise State

Adding a weapon opposite Clay Matthews Jr. is a huge priority for Green Bay—McClellin fits that easily.

Grade: B+

AUBURN, AL - NOVEMBER 26:  Dont'a Hightower #30 of the Alabama Crimson Tide calls the defense against the Auburn Tigers at Jordan-Hare Stadium on November 26, 2011 in Auburn, Alabama.  (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

29. Baltimore Ravens (12-4): Dont'a Hightower, LB, Alabama

The fact that Kiper has the Steelers pass on Hightower only to see him wind up in Baltimore makes this pick even more exciting.

Grade: A

30. San Francisco 49ers (13-3): Kevin Zeitler, OG, Wisconsin

Zeitler is an instant starter for the 49ers from Day 1.

Grade: B+

31. New England Patriots (13-3): Harrison Smith, S, Notre Dame

Like the Upshaw pick, Kiper opts for a gifted football player who can make step in and be a starter immediately and contribute on special teams.

Grade: B+

32. New York Giants (9-7): Bobby Massie, OT, Ole Miss

This is a reach, especially with Jonathan Martin still on the board. The Giants are more likely to jump for a defensive end than reach for an offensive tackle.

Grade: C 


*Rams trade No. 2 overall pick to Redskins for 2012, 2013, 2014 first-round picks and 2012 second-round pick.