2012 NFL Mock Draft: An Early Look at Team Needs and Who's Going Number 1
The weeks after the 2011 NFL Draft are spent reviewing the picks that were made and starting our preseason list of the top players for the 2012 NFL Draft and evaluating team needs for all 32 NFL franchises.
Without free agency to fill needs this offseason we are able to take a clean look at the positions each NFL club has weaknesses, potential free agents or generally bad players filling starting roles.
Stanford's Andrew Luck is our clear-cut number one player heading into the offseason, but that doesn't necessarily mean he will be draft first overall.
With much of the preseason work started here is our look at the 2012 first round and the team needs for each club.
*Draft order based on Super Bowl 46 odds.
1. Carolina Panthers
Justin Blackmon, Wide Receiver, Oklahoma State
For anyone who doesn't know already, Stanford quarterback Andrew Luck will be the No. 1 overall pick next year if he enters the draft.
With Carolina using the No. 1 overall pick in 2011 on Cam Newton we can't rightly have them taking a quarterback No. 1 overall again.
Which is why Justin Blackmon sees himself as our preseason No. 1 overall pick. It's all about need, and value.
Blackmon is a huge target with exceptional hands, speed and athleticism. He compares very well to Andre and Calvin Johnson as a big target with redzone domination ability.
Team Needs: Wide Receiver, Offensive Guard, Defensive End, Tight End
2. Buffalo Bills
Andrew Luck, Quarterback, Stanford
In 10 years of analyzing, scouting and breaking down the NFL draft I have never scouted a more perfect quarterback prospect than Andrew Luck. The only two players who come close are Peyton Manning and Matt Ryan.
Luck will be the No. 1 overall pick if he decides to leave Stanford after his redshirt junior season and enter the NFL draft. It just might mean a team like Buffalo trades up to get him.
The Bills passed on a quarterback in 2011, instead focusing on rebuilding their defense.
Luck can have a greater impact as a rookie than either Ryan or Sam Bradford had in their first seasons.
Team Needs: Left Tackle, Outside Linebacker, Wide Receiver, Quarterback, Tight End, Nose Tackle
3. Arizona Cardinals
Matt Kalil, Offensive Tackle, USC
Trojans' tackle Matt Kalil was good enough to keep 2011 Top 10 pick Tyron Smith at right tackle, so he's good enough for us.
Unlike the 2011 draft, which features no clear-cut franchise left tackle, the 2012 class is loaded at left tackle.
Kalil is the best of the bunch, and should he choose to leave USC early he'll be a Top 10 draft pick.
Arizona would love to find a true franchise tackle. The Cardinals 2011 selections should focus on outside linebacker and quarterback. If they can add a left tackle here they will be very, very close to contending for the NFC West crown.
The question will be asked, why not a quarterback? We believe Arizona will make a play for Kevin Kolb or Matt Flynn, filling their need at the position.
Team Needs: Quarterback, Left Tackle, Left Guard, Right Tackle, Free Safety
4. Washington Redskins
Landry Jones, Quarterback, Oklahoma
The Redskins shocked us all by not drafting a quarterback in the 2011 NFL Draft. And feel free to add us to the group of unbelievers in John Beck as the future of the Redskins under center.
Landry Jones brings productivity, excellent NFL-caliber skills and the athleticism that Mike Shanahan covets in his quarterbacks.
Washington must find a way to add pieces to the puzzle on offense for the Shanahan system to work. The Redskins drafted three wide receivers and two running backs in the 2011 draft, now it's time to find their quarterback.
Team Needs: Quarterback, Offensive Tackle, Cornerback, Center, Fullback
5. Tennessee Titans
Quinton Coples, Defensive End, North Carolina
The Titans chose to draft quarterback Jake Locker with their first-round pick in 2011, opening the door for them to add a pass rushing defensive lineman in 2012.
Coples is perhaps the best of the many talented North Carolina defenders. He has natural ability as a pass rusher, great size and the speed to remind Titans fans of Jevon Kearse's glory days.
One situation to watch closely is the legal issues surrounding Kenny Britt. Should the troubled wide receiver have another run-in with police, he could be on his way out of town.
Team Needs: Defensive End, Offensive Guard, Center, Strong Safety, Wide Receiver
6. Cincinnati Bengals
Jerel Worthy, Defensive Tackle, Michigan State
We were surprised when the Bengals did not use a higher draft pick on a defensive end in 2011, but we are happy with the additions of A.J. Green and Andy Dalton to replace Chad Ochocinco and Carson Palmer, respectively.
The 2011 draftees set the Bengals up nicely to use their 2012 picks on the best available defensive lineman.
In this case that is the talented Jerel Worthy of Michigan State.
Worthy would be an immediate starter, giving Cincinnati a solid complement to Geno Atkins at defensive tackle.
Team Needs: Defensive End, Running Back, Defensive Tackle, Strong Safety, Inside Linebacker, Kicker, Kick Returner
7. Denver Broncos
Cliff Harris, Cornerback, Oregon
The Broncos chose outside linebacker Von Miller over cornerback Patrick Peterson with the No. 2 pick in the 2011 draft. In 2012 they'll get a chance to draft the shut-down cornerback they passed on in 2011.
Cliff Harris ranks as our No. 1 cornerback for 2012.
Harris compares well to Patrick Peterson, if only a smaller version. He's an electric playmaker in the secondary and has a shot to be drafted in the top 10 next year.
Team Needs: Defensive Tackle (x2), Defensive End, Running Back
8. Cleveland Browns
Alshon Jeffery, Wide Receiver, South Carolina
The Browns are the beneficiaries of two first-round picks in the 2012 draft, thanks to the monster trade that sent the No. 6 overall pick in 2011 to the Atlanta Falcons.
With their first selection the Browns will draft the position most of us predicted they would use their original 2011 first-rounder on: wide receiver.
Jeffery is a player to put on all of your preseason draft watch lists. He has the size/speed combination to be a hot-riser once the draft nears.
Team Needs: Wide Receiver, Cornerback, Right Tackle, Outside Linebacker, Offensive Guard, Strong Safety, Defensive End
9. St. Louis Rams
Vontaze Burfict, Inside Linebacker, Arizona State
It's hard to find an accurate comparison for Vontaze Burfict among current NFL players.
He has the instincts of Patrick Willis during his time at Ole Miss, but he hits unlike any college inside linebacker we can remember. And with better consistency. He's essentially a more explosive Willis.
The Rams would love a player with Burfict's ability. He has the speed to play at outside linebacker or man the MIKE position if the team wanted to move James Laurinaitis to the outside.
Team Needs: Defensive Tackle, Outside Linebacker, Strong Safety, Running Back
10. Seattle Seahawks
Matt Barkley, Quarterback, USC
Think Pete Carroll would love to have his hand-picked quarterback from USC under center in Seattle?
To quote Sarah Palin, "You betcha!"
Barkley fits everything Pete Carroll wants to do in Seattle, and with the last two draft classes used to re-load the offensive line, Barkley would walk in to a situation with an established front-five and good skill players.
Team Needs: Quarterback, Cornerback, Strong Safety, Defensive Tackle, Defensive End
11. Jacksonville Jaguars
Alfonzo Dennard, Cornerback, Nebraska
The Jaguars, like many teams, chose to ignore their need at cornerback and hinge their future on quarterback Blaine Gabbert-- who they traded up to No. 10 overall to select.
In 2011 the Jaguars will feature one of the worst secondaries in football, unless they can reel in a marquee free agent like Nnamdi Asomugha.
Dennard compares very well to former Nebraska cornerback and 2011 first-rounder Prince Amukamara. Both are aggressive, physical corners with the speed to turn and run.
Dennard just finds himself drafted eight spots higher.
Team Needs: Cornerback, Free Safety, Defensive End, Outside Linebacker
12. Minnesota Vikings
Jonathan Martin, Offensive Tackle, Stanford
Jonathan Martin ranks as one of our favorite players found during the preseason draft prep.
Martin is trusted to protect star quarterback Andrew Luck's blind side at Stanford, has played in a pro-style offense and has been among the most consistent tackles we graded during 2010.
All of this adds up to Martin being a very high pick in the 2011 NFL Draft. In fact, he could go much higher than No. 12 overall by next April.
The Vikings must realize a future without Bryant McKinnie is nearing. Martin could start at left tackle immediately, allowing Minnesota to move the aging Mount McKinnie to the right side.
Team Needs: Outside Linebacker, Offensive Guard, Wide Receiver
13. Oakland Raiders
The Raiders would do back-flips if the super-freak that is Donte Paige-Moss falls to them in the first round.
With Thomas Howard expected to leave via free agency this summer the Raiders will feature a patch-work outside linebacking crew during the 2011 season.
Adding a premier pass rusher and athlete like DPM would be worth one season of bad 'backer play.
Depending how the season goes for Jason Campbell the Raiders could look at quarterbacks Nick Foles, Terrelle Pryor and Brandon Weeden here.
Team Needs: Offensive Guard, Quarterback, Outside Linebacker, Offensive Tackle
14. Detroit Lions
Nate Potter, Offensive Tackle, Boise State
The Lions ignored needs at offensive tackle and cornerback to use their No. 13 pick on the best available player-- Auburn defensive tackle Nick Fairley.
The 2012 draft will be their chance to fill needs that are now even more pressing.
Nate Potter is an athletic solution to the Jeff Backus problem, which is that Backus turns 34 this year and has no replacement on the roster.
Potter can start from day one and has equal ability as a pass and run blocker.
Team Needs: Cornerback, Left Tackle, Outside Linebacker, Strong Safety
15. Miami Dolphins
Dre Kirkpatrick, Cornerback, Alabama
The Dolphins chose to not draft a quarterback during the 2011 NFL Draft, and we think they'll do the same in 2012.
Count us among the few believers in Chad Henne, but we're holding out on him until the end of the 2011 season.
Dre Kirkpatrick fills a need for Miami, even if it's not a pressing need. With the NFL moving toward spread offenses every team needs at least three solid cornerbacks to cover in four-wide sets.
Miami likes Vontae Davis a lot as their No. 1 cornerback but the jury is out on Sean Smith opposite him.
Team Needs: Tight End, Free Safety, Quarterback, Center
16. San Francisco 49ers
Brandon Jenkins, Outside Linebacker, Florida State
Brandon Jenkins, a college defensive end with excellent tools to project as a 3-4 rush linebacker, is an exciting prospect as we head into the 2011 college football season.
Jenkins may not have the raw pass rushing talent to match Von Miller of Texas A&M, but we could see a similar rise in draft stock for Lewis in the months leading up to the 2012 draft.
The 49ers grabbed Aldon Smith in the first round to anchor one outside linebacker position. Adding Jenkins to a linebacker unit already featuring Patrick Willis and Navorro Bowman will give San Francisco the best young linebacking crew in the entire NFL.
Team Needs: Cornerback, Wide Receiver, Defensive End, Free Safety, Center
17. Houston Texans
Billy Winn, Defensive Tackle, Boise State
The Texans are building a defense based on the 3-4 stylings of Wade Phillips, and to do so they will need to continually add bodies on the defensive line.
In 2011 Houston wisely added a defensive end to replace Mario Williams, who is moving to outside linebacker. They also drafted an outside linebacker and cornerback in rounds two and three, respectively, filling major needs on defense.
This means 2012 will be the year of the defensive end for them.
Winn, at 6'4" and 290lbs, is ideal for the five-technique position in the Texans' three-man front opposite 2011 rookie J.J. Watt.
Team Needs: Free Safety, Nose Tackle, Defensive End, Wide Receiver
18. Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Courtney Upshaw, Inside Linebacker, Alabama
The Buccaneers could use upgrades at all three linebacker positions, whether as starters or depth players. Adding a future Pro-Bowler lke Manti Te'o is a huge find for Tampa Bay.
Courtney Upshaw has the tools to play inside or outside linebacker, but will be a great fit at the MIKE 'backer position in Tampa Bay's Cover 2 scheme.
Thankfully for Tampa inside linebackers are not drafted very high. Upshaw will be a steal with this pick.
Team Needs: Inside Linebacker, Right Tackle, Offensive Guard, Center
19. Kansas City Chiefs
Manti Te'o, Inside Linebacker, Notre Dame
The Chiefs really like what they are getting from Derrick Johnson at one inside linebacker position, and they rewarded him with a new contract in 2010. Finding another tackler to line up next to him in the four-linebacker defense is a key for 2011.
Te'o has rare ability, and could ideally play both inside and outside linebacker depending on the alignment of the defense.
Kansas City added Justin Houston to complement Tamba Hali on the outside. Putting Te'o next to Derrick Johnson will put Kansas City's linebacking crew over the top.
Team Needs: Nose Tackle, Right Tackle, Inside Linebacker
20. Dallas Cowboys
Chase Minnifield, Cornerback, Virginia
The Cowboys passed on Prince Amumakara in round one of the 2011 draft, choosing instead to draft a right tackle in Tyron Smith.
The Dallas secondary will be a major focal point if and when free agency hits the NFL offseason.
Should the Cowboys fail to lure Nnamdi Asomugha to the Big D look for them to address the position through the 2012 draft.
Team Needs: Cornerback, Free Safety, Defensive End, Strong Safety, Outside Linebacker
21. Indianapolis Colts
Nick Foles, Quaterback, Arizona
Peyton Manning is now 35-years old, and if the 2010 season is any indication, he's starting to show signs of regression.
While the Colts can still be very successful with Manning for a few more seasons, if they can start protecting him better up front, there is still the urgency to draft his replacement sooner rather than later.
Barkley comes from a pro-style offense, has a golden arm and is smart enough to handle the NFL. Given a few seasons behind Manning he would be ready to step in and lead the Colts without too much of a drop off.
Team Needs: Right Tackle, Strong Safety, Quarterback
22. Chicago Bears
Ryan Broyles, Wide Receiver, Oklahoma
The Bears 2011 draft was a smart one. We loved what they did with limited picks and General Manager Jerry Angelo did a nice job filling what needs he could with value picks.
They need a similar result in 2012.
One area the Bears failed to address in 2011 was at wide receiver. The team hopes Earl Bennett and Johnny Knox can develop in to true go-to receivers, but we are doubtful.
What Jay Cutler needs is a possession receiver whom he can trust.
That's what Ryan Broyles is to a "T".
Team Needs: Wide Receiver, Center, Running Back, Outside Linebacker, Defensive End
23. New York Giants
Knile Davis, Running Back, Arkansas
So much about the Giants running back situation is hanging in the balance of the current CBA talks. Ahmad Bradshaw may be a free agent this year, or it might be next year.
Either way the Giants need to use the first-round pick in 2012 on finding a three-down running back who can carry the load and take pressure of quarterback Eli Manning.
Knile Davis is our No. 1 running back in the country. His physical blend of running is a great mix to his quickness and shifty open-field moves.
Team Needs: Offensive Tackle, Running Back, Center, Outside Linebacker
24. San Diego Chargers
Jared Crick, Defensive End, Nebraska
Some mock drafts and early 2012 rankings we have seen rank Crick in the top five players available for next fall. While that may be a little ambitious, he does have the tools to see himself drafted in the first round.
Crick is a great fit at defensive end in a 3-4 defense. He has the size and strength to play on the edge, and compares well to 2011 draftee J.J. Watt in terms of style of play and ability.
This is of course assuming the Chargers play 2011 first-rounder Corey Liuget at nose tackle and not defensive end.
Team Needs: Defensive End, Inside Linebacker, Center, Free Safety, Right Tackle
25. New England Patriots (from New Orleans)
Travis Lewis, Outside Linebacker, Oklahoma
The Saints went for bang or bust in the 2011 draft, selecting a stud defensive end in Cam Jordan and then trading back in to Round 1 for Alabama running back Mark Ingram.
The Patriots were fine to sit and reap the benefits.
With the selection sent from New Orleans the Patriots will draft the best outside linebacker in college football.
Lewis isn't your average pass rusher from outside linebacker, but he's a tackling machine and athletic enough to start blitzing.
Team Needs: Outside Linebacker, Wide Receiver, Defensive End, Nose Tackle, Offensive Guard
26. New York Jets
Bruce Irvin, Outside Linebacker, West Virginia
We really thought the Jets would spend a 2011 draft pick on adding a pass rusher at outside linebacker, but they didn't. They won't be able to ignore this position again in 2012.
Bruce Irvin is a little light for the 3-4 defense, but like Bruce Carter and Von Miller from the 2011 draft, he can add weight in his senior season.
Irvin could realistically be at 255 lbs by the 2012 draft rolls around, plenty big enough to play the weakside position for the Jets.
Team Needs: Outside Linebacker, Cornerback, Free Safety, Right Tackle, Offensive Guard
27. Philadelphia Eagles
Zach Brown, Linebacker, North Carolina
Depending on the system he is drafted into, Zach Brown could find himself playing at inside or outside linebacker in the NFL.
The Philadelphia Eagles would be happy to have him at either.
Brown has the tools to dominate an offense, and he has shown in the past he can rush the passer as well as he stops the run.
The only thing keeping Brown from being a top 15 pick? He's not the biggest linebacker you'll ever see. At 6'2" and 225lbs he will need to add 15-20lbs of muscle in the NFL.
Team Needs: Defensive Tackle, Outside Linebacker, Strong Safety, Quarterback
28. Baltimore Ravens
Marcus Forston, Defensive Tackle, Miami (FL)
Baltimore addressed future needs at cornerback by selecting top 15 talent Jimmy Smith from Colorado in the 2011 NFL draft. If Smith can keep himself out of trouble he has Pro Bowl potential.
The 2012 draft will allow Baltimore to build for the future.
Marcus Forston is a big man (6'3", 305lbs) and can play any position along the defensive line in the Ravens' hyrbid, flex defense.
Team Needs: Defensive End, Inside Linebacker, Offensive Guard
29. Cleveland Browns (from Atlanta)
Jacquies Smith, Defensive End, Missouri
We had previously predicted the Browns would spend their first two picks in the 2011 draft on a wide receiver and then a defensive end. They didn't, so we're predicting this again in 2012.
Smith will pair with 2011 draftees Jabaal Sheard and Phil Taylor to anchor the Browns defensive line.
Team Needs: Wide Receiver, Defensive End, Cornerback, Right Tackle, Outside Linebacker, Offensive Guard, Strong Safety
30. Pittsburgh Steelers
Michael Floyd, Wide Receiver, Notre Dame
Were it not for three alcohol-related issues during his time at Notre Dame so far, Michael Floyd might be competing with Justin Blackmon for the No. 1 wide receiver spot.
Instead he'll spend 2011 trying to rehab his image and his person in preparation for the 2012 NFL draft.
Floyd is supremely talented, but will NFL teams run away from him and his checkered past?
In Pittsburgh Floyd will join a veteran locker room and learn from solid players Hines Ward, James Harrison and Troy Polamalu.
Team Needs: Wide Receiver, Offensive Guard, Nose Tackle, Inside Linebacker, Tight End
31. Green Bay Packers
Kelechi Osemele, Offensive Guard/Tackle, Iowa State
The Packers used their first-round pick in 2011 on athletic left tackle Derek Sherrod, who will pair with 2010 first-rounder Bryan Bulaga to form a very young and very talented duo at tackle in Green Bay.
A troubling area on the current offensive line is at guard, where free agent Daryn Colledge will leave a gaping hole in the offensive line.
By drafting Kelechi Osemele the Packers find a player who can play guard or tackle, is athletic enough to handle the stretch plays Green Bay loves so much and is smart enough to play as a rookie.
Team Needs: Defensive End, Offensive Guard, Quarterback
32. New England Patriots
Mike Martin, Nose Tackle, Michigan
At 6'2" and 300lbs Mike Martin is a little smaller than most nose tackles, except the Baltimore Ravens star Kelly Gregg.
Martin has the frame to beef up by 20lbs, and he has the natural leverage to provide an excellent anchor in the middle of the Patriots 3-4 scheme.
With Vince Wilfork turning 30 this season there is some pressure for the Patriots to add a quality rotational player at nose tackle.
Team Needs: Outside Linebacker, Defensive End, Wide Receiver, Nose Tackle, Offensive Guard
The Atlanta Falcons traded their 2012 first-round pick to Cleveland for the opportunity to move up to No. 6 overall and draft Julio Jones during the 2011 NFL Draft.
The Falcons 2012 draft will be able adding defensive line help, particularly at defensive end if they are unable to sign a marquee free agent.
Atlanta will also look to replace veteran Tony Gonzalez at tight end and Mike Peterson at outside linebacker.
Team Needs: Defensive End, Outside Linebacker, Tight End, Offensive Tackle, Cornerback, Strong Safety
New Orleans Saints
The Saints mortgaged their 2011 and 2012 drafts for the chance to move back in to Round 1 and add Alabama running back Mark Ingram.
With no first-round pick in 2012 the Saints must do a great job building the roster in rounds two through seven.
Adding speed on defense, particularly at outside linebacker and defensive tackle, will be keys for the 2012 offseason.
Team Needs: Outside Linebacker, Defensive Tackle, Strong Safety, Offensive Tackle, Offensive Guard
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