2012 NFL Mock Draft: Who Does Your Team Target in Round 1?
It's terribly early to do a 2012 mock draft, and I'll acknowledge that before we get started here, but with no NFL season to look forward to yet, it is certainly enticing to look towards the future.
Much variation can occur during the collegiate season, so I will account for some of that variation with bold predictions.
Leave your scathing hate for my putting of players too high or too low on the draft board, in the comments section under this slide show.
Without further ado, here is an early look at the 2012 draft.
1. Washington Redskins: Andrew Luck, QB, Stanford
Andrew Luck is the best quarterback prospect since Peyton Manning came out. There is no doubt that he will be the number one pick in next year's draft if he has another Luck-like year.
The Redskins figure to be an absolute shambles this year. At least they will start from scratch with a new franchise quarterback from Stanford after next year.
Luck has a gifted arm and runs a complicated offense to perfection. The quarterback is also mobile enough to succeed in Mike Shanahan's offense.
The Redskins would be lucky (pun, I know) to bring in such a talent, and Washington may become a relevant football destination again with this quarterback on the roster.
2. Carolina Panthers: Alshon Jeffery, WR, South Carolina
Alshon Jeffery is a true top prospect. Look for him to elevate himself above Justin Blackmon on many draft boards with a big 2011 campaign.
The Gamecock is an athletic, No. 1 receiver who can be a gamebreaker at the next level no matter where he goes.
By draft day 2011, it is feasible to say that the Panthers will no longer have Steve Smith. The team will be in search of a new No. 1 receiver fir Cam Newton.
Jeffery more than fits the bill and will combine with Newton to form a feared duo for many years to come.
3. Denver Broncos: Dre' Kirkpatrick, CB, Alabama
The Denver Broncos' Achilles heel in 2010 was their secondary. The team drafted Rahim Moore in the second round of the draft to remedy the problem.
With both Brian Dawkins and Champ Bailey in the twilight of their illustrious careers, the Broncos will need to add another dominant player in that area.
With Dre' Kirkpatrick on the board, the Broncos will pull the trigger for the young corner and bolster their defensive back corps.
The Broncos will continue to go with defense-oriented drafts and Kirkpatrick will become an heir apparent to the incumbent Champ Bailey.
4. Seattle Seahawks: Matt Barkley, QB, USC
If the Seahawks are sitting here in 2011 with a top five pick, something at the quarterback position went dreadfully wrong.
With Charlie Whitehurst not inspiring much confidence, Pete Carroll decides to go with a Trojan quarterback named Matt Barkley.
Barkley has a big arm and could be a franchise quarterback in Seattle, as he'd be able to work with Carroll in an offense tailored to his strengths.
The young signal-caller would be the first pick if not for Andrew Luck. Look for Barkley to become a Pro Bowler in time if he goes to Seattle.
5. Minnesota Vikings: Jerel Worthy, DT, Michigan State
First, I need to use this pun, because I haven't seen it anywhere and it's irritating me that no one is using it: Jerel Worthy is "Worthy" of being a top five pick in the 2011 draft.
Pardon that, but it's certainly true; the Michigan State defensive tackle is among the top prospects for next year's draft. He should be a top five or ten pick.
The Vikings' 'Williams Wall' is beginning to crumble, as Pat Williams may be retired by next year's draft. Minnesota would be well served to bring in Worthy to the fold.
The Vikings need some youth along the lines and drafting this Michigan State prospect is a great start.
6. Jacksonville Jaguars: Justin Blackmon, WR, Oklahoma State
By now, the Jaguars will be in complete denial that they made, quite possibly, the worst pick in the first round in 2011.
The Jaguars will try to justify picking Blaine Gabbert by providing the Missouri product with a top wideout in next year's class.
With Alshon Jeffery off the board at this point, Justin Blackmon seems like a smart pick for a team that can't afford to waste a first-rounder two years in a row.
Blackmon is every bit as talented as Jeffery, and will produce well for the Jaguars, no matter who is under center.
7. Cincinnati Bengals: Quinton Coples, DE, UNC
Coples is the first of a healthy number of UNC defensive players off the board in this first-round mock draft as the Cincinnati Bengals nab the young defensive end with the seventh pick.
The Bengals don't have many glaring needs, but could certainly use a defensive end after revamping their entire offense in the 2011 draft.
With Carlos Dunlap on the other side, the two young pass-rushers would make for a formidable duo that could terrorize quarterbacks for many years to come.
Cincinnati fills a need and goes with the best player available.
8. Buffalo Bills: Matt Kalil, OT, USC
The Bills could go a number of ways with this pick considering that they need a franchise quarterback and a rush linebacker to play opposite Shawne Merriman.
Buffalo, however, can't ignore a growing need on the offensive line. The team drafts Matt Kalil with the eighth pick here.
Chan Gailey would love to bring in a player like Kalil to keep Ryan Fitzpatrick (or whoever is under center) upright.
Kalil is a talented, young lineman who has kept Matt Barkley in one piece. He was also the reason that Tyron Smith played on the right side as opposed to the left last season.
9. Arizona Cardinals: Jonathan Martin, OT, Stanford
I predict that by now the Cardinals will have someone entrenched at quarterback, but I'll leave them with their first rounder.
Arizona has had a tough time with the offensive line, and with a potent offense, this team needs someone to hold the pocket for those valuable extra seconds.
The Cardinals go with Martin here, who provided Andrew Luck with enough time in the pocket to become a big-time playmaker for Stanford.
Ken Whisenhunt hopes that Martin will carry that success into the pros and hold down the left tackle position in the desert.
10. Miami Dolphins: Landry Jones, QB, Oklahoma
Landry Jones' slide stops here. The Dolphins are elated that the young star fell into their laps with this pick.
Jones just isn't a fit with any team after Barkley goes off the board, therefore he slides down to the tenth pick and finds an interesting niche in Miami.
If the Dolphins are picking tenth, Tony Sparano may be gone, and a new coach in Miami may want to start his regime with a rookie quarterback at the helm.
Landry Jones has the smarts, the talent, and the arm to be 'the guy' in Miami, and with the right pieces around him, look for Jones to surprise people early on.
11. Oakland Raiders: Marcus Forston, DT, Miami
Al Davis loves his Miami athletes so Marcus Forston would be a perfect fit for the Oakland Raiders.
Forston has the size and ability to make waves along the line, and with Richard Seymour and John Henderson on the way out, the Raiders will be needing a defensive tackle by this time.
Oakland doesn't have too many immediate issues, while cornerback is an option, the team seems to have faith in Stanford Routt after signing the corner to a big contract.
When Nnamdi Asomugha leaves, it won't be a pretty scene in Oakland, but drafting Marcus Forston would be a good step in restoring Raider respectability.
12. Tennessee Titans: Vontaze Burflict, MLB, Arizona State
Vontaze Burflict is looking like the top inside linebacker prospect in next year's draft, and he projects as a mid-teens pick in the first round.
The Titans would be getting good value by drafting Burflict, a tackling machine, and would fill a need in the process.
Tennessee can't be sure how much longer Stephen Tulloch will be a Titan, especially with the team in the throes of a rebuild, so drafting Burflict would help set the tone for a young, good linebacker corps.
Akeem Ayers is already entrenched at one of the outside linebacker positions. Burflict would only make this group younger and better.
13. Dallas Cowboys: Manti Te'o, ILB, Notre Dame
Some rank Manti Te'o ahead of Vontaze Burflict as the best inside linebacker in this class, and while debatable, Burflict is ahead of Te'o for right now.
Either way, the Cowboys are happy to address a need with this pick, as Keith Brooking and Bradie James simply aren't getting the job done.
Te'o would come in and wreak havoc playing alongside of DeMarcus Ware and behind Jay Ratliff.
The wealth of defensive talent around Te'o would only lift him up, and the Notre Dame product would perform well for Dallas.
14. San Francisco 49ers: Stephon Gilmore, CB, South Carolina
The 49ers wanted to get Patrick Peterson in the 2011 draft and couldn't, so the second time around, they won't let a talented corner slip through.
San Francisco's secondary is aging and declining, and the team would be well suited to get a new face of the defensive back corps in Gilmore.
A talented, unique cornerback, Gilmore has size and agility, two things that separate defensive backs.
Here, the Gamecock is the second South Carolina player picked in the top fifteen, something the school should be proud of.
15. Chicago Bears: Riley Reiff, OT, Iowa
If the Bears are picking fifteenth, it will be because the offensive line didn't hold up and Jay Cutler got injured.
Say what you want about Cutler, he's tough-as-nails for taking all of the hits he did in 2010, and despite drafting Gabe Carimi, this team still needs help on the offensive line.
The Bears could have a very high ceiling, but their offensive line keeps them from being a top-tier team.
With Reiff, Chicago would be taking another step in making their offensive line respectable, and the team would be able to ascend to greatness in 2012.
16. Indianapolis Colts: Trent Richardson, RB, Alabama
So far, I've kicked three 2010 playoff teams out of the 2011 playoffs in this mock draft, and the Colts are yet another victim of my harsh predictions.
Indianapolis' receiving corps isn't terribly fantastic, and the team will need to throw a more balanced attack at their opponent to succeed.
Trent Richardson is a tough runner and a better prospect than Mark Ingram—the Colts will be more than happy to move on from Joseph Addai and take in Richardson.
The Alabama running back seems to carry the ball with a purpose, and Indianapolis has needed that determination at the position ever since Edgerrin James ran himself into the ground.
17. Cleveland Browns: Donte Paige-Moss, OLB, UNC
The Cleveland Browns put an end to this pass-rusher's free-fall down the draft board by nabbing the UNC product with the 17th pick.
Paige-Moss will provide Cleveland with someone to get after the passer, something the team desperately needs from their outside linebackers.
With two first-round draft picks, Cleveland can select a sack artist here and get another player of need down the road.
The Browns ignore a need at inside linebacker, but the team could, conceivably, draft a player at that position with Atlanta's pick.
18. Detroit Lions: Jayron Hosley, CB, Virginia Tech
After drafting luxury in the 2011 draft, the Lions have to go for need in the 2012 draft, or else they will fall behind in a very competitive NFC North.
Without any offensive linemen worthy of this pick, Martin Mayhew addresses the secondary here with Jayron Hosley, a cornerback out of Virginia Tech.
Hosley doesn't have great size, but he checks out well and has great cornerback-specific skills.
The cornerback played alongside Rashad Carmichael last year, and it remains to be seen how he will play without Carmichael on the other side.
19. Kansas City Chiefs: Luke Kuechly, ILB, Boston College
The fourth team to not return to the playoffs in 2011, for me, is the Kansas City Chiefs.
They surprised a lot of people in 2010 when Matt Cassel went nuts and lit the world on fire, and I have trouble seeing him repeat his performances.
Anyway, the Chiefs could use some youth at middle linebacker, and Kuechly is a polished, young player who will inject life into the middle of that Chiefs' defense.
Should Kansas City make this pick, it would be a step in the right direction for a flimsy defense to get stronger.
20. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Cliff Harris, CB, Oregon
The Buccaneers cement themselves as legitimate contenders with another stellar season, but it proves to not be enough in the way of making a playoff appearance.
Without Aqib Talib, Tampa Bay can't run its defense like it wants to, and Raheem Morris makes it a priority to draft a playmaking cornerback with good ball skills.
Look no further than Cliff Harris for that player.
Harris is fast, dangerous, and can turn a game around in one play—playing across from Ronde Barber, he will be a Defensive Rookie of the Year candidate instantaneously.
21. St. Louis Rams: Zach Brown, OLB, UNC
Another UNC linebacker slides down the board as teams are afraid of drafting the next Vernon Gholston or Aaron Maybin.
The Rams, however, decide to take Brown off of the board with the 21st pick, and the Tar Heel will help to bolster a depleted linebacker corps.
With James Laurinaitis entrenched in the middle, Brown will have the opportunity to make plays on the outside.
The Rams will be justified when Brown proves that he is not another physical specimen whose athleticism doesn't translate to the NFL, and the linebacker posts good numbers for St. Louis.
22. New York Giants: Travis Lewis, OLB, Oklahoma
The Giants could go a number of ways with this pick, but their growing need at linebacker becomes too much to ignore.
Travis Lewis could have a national title under his belt by the end of the year, and that would certainly catapult him into the top 25 if he has good tape and a nice combine.
Lewis would help the Giants get younger on defense, and he would benefit from playing behind one of the game's best defensive lines.
The Oklahoma product could learn from Keith Bulluck and eventually become a reliable player for New York.
23. Houston Texans: Robert Lester, S, Alabama
The Texans performed abysmally against the pass in 2010, and even though they drafted Brandon Harris, look for the team to struggle again.
What Houston needs is an enforcing safety to hold the defense together, and with young cornerbacks in Harris and Kareem Jackson, Lester could, conceivably, come in and form a young trio of talented defensive backs.
The Alabama product's draft stock will benefit from playing behind Dre' Kirkpatrick, and Lester will end up being a Day One pick.
No team needs a safety more than the Texans, and look for the team to pull the trigger on the Alabama defensive back here.
24. San Diego Chargers: Jeff Fuller, WR, Texas A&M
When next year's draft rolls around, it's entirely possible that Vincent Jackson and Malcom Floyd are both no longer Chargers.
While Philip Rivers can make even average receivers into solid contributors, it would only be fair to Rivers to provide the quarterback with a legitimate weapon.
The Chargers take Fuller here, a 6'4" receiver who uses his size and speed to make plays in the passing game.
Fuller's skills translate well to the NFL, and he would be a starter from the get-go in San Diego, something the Chargers need.
25. New York Jets: Brandon Jenkins, OLB, Florida State
Calvin Pace and Jason Taylor are both on their way out, and it's not far-fetched to think that the Jets will have no one to rush the passer come April 2012.
Thus, Rex Ryan drafts the athletic rush linebacker out of Florida State, Brandon Jenkins.
Jenkins can be a true sack-artist in Ryan's crazy defense, and the Jets would continue in their concerted effort to make their front seven more youthful.
Rex Ryan would get as much as he could out of the Seminole, and Jenkins would thrive in the 3-4 scheme where he'd be able to rush the passer on a constant basis.
26. Pittsburgh Steelers: Michael Brewster, C, Ohio State
The Steelers had serious trouble when it came to keeping Ben Roethlisberger upright, as their offensive line succumbed to the grind of the NFL season down the stretch.
Pittsburgh needs some fresh blood in the middle of the line, and Michael Brewster is a sturdy interior lineman who would hold down the fort for Pittsburgh.
With Maurkice Pouncey already a long-term starter at the center position, the Steelers could kick Brewster out to guard.
Pittsburgh would have two young stars in the middle of their line, something many teams dream about.
27. Philadelphia Eagles: Alfonzo Dennard, CB, Nebraska
The Eagles have a shutdown corner in Asante Samuel, but after that, the cornerback corps is anything but formidable.
Dennard is a physical corner with enough quickness to keep up with players like Dez Bryant in the tough NFC East.
The Eagles would be able to trust their secondary more, and by drafting Dennard, the team would satisfy the biggest need it didn't address in the 2011 draft.
Dennard is the first choice cornerback at Nebraska now that Prince Amukamara has left, and he will surely live up to the title, cementing his first-round status.
28. New England Patriots Via NO Saints: Devin Taylor, OLB, South Carolina
The Patriots have back-to-back picks here, and use the first one to address a pass-rush that didn't inspire much in 2010.
Look for New England to have the same struggles in 2011, and for Bill Belichick to realize that the Patriots need a rush linebacker to run their 3-4 defense through.
Devin Taylor may never be a featured player in a 3-4 defense, but he'll be a serviceable pass-rusher who teams will game-plan for.
The Patriots have a good, young secondary, and now need to get younger in their front seven.
29. New England Patriots: David DeCastro, G, Stanford
After drafting Nate Solder in the first round in 2011 to take over at tackle, the Patriots use another pick on a young offensive lineman and draft DeCastro.
The guard out of Stanford would be able to supplant Logan Mankins, and the Patriots wouldn't miss a beat in their pass protection.
Tom Brady can only make plays when he has time to make plays, and DeCastro proved he was a good pass blocker when he kept Andrew Luck out of harm's way in 2010.
Should DeCastro follow up a strong 2010 campaign with another good year, look for him to be a late first-rounder next year.
30. Cleveland Browns Via Atlanta Falcons: Donta Hightower, ILB, Alabama
Donta Hightower could be a top 15 pick if he wanted to, but his body language and lack of desire will hold him back.
Hightower could have a great season and find himself in the top 15, certainly, but after a disappointing 2010, he's lucky to still be considered a first-round prospect.
The Browns need a middle linebacker, though, and end up taking a flier on Hightower with their second first-rounder.
Should the linebacker get his act together, he could be a productive contributor in the NFL.
31. Green Bay Packers: Courtney Upshaw, OLB, Alabama
The Packers make it to the Super Bowl, again, but fall short of consecutive titles because they can't generate a legitimate pass-rush across from Clay Matthews.
Whatever combination of Frank Zombo, Brad Jones, and whoever else the Packers send out is not working, and Ted Thompson addresses this in the 2012 draft.
Upshaw can be a big-time linebacker in the right situation, and it doesn't get much better than Green Bay for an aspiring sack artist.
The linebacker should be picked on day one, and the Packers would give him a long look if he was still on the board when it was their turn.
32. Baltimore Ravens: Jared Crick, DE, Nebraska
The Baltimore Ravens win the Super Bowl in Ray Lewis and Ed Reed's final year, as the two go out on top as champions.
After those two iconic Ravens leave, Baltimore must rebuild their defense from the inside out, and Crick is a good start to the rebuilding process.
Playing alongside Haloti Ngata, the Nebraska defensive end would be able to come in and play the complimentary brand of football that he made his name on in 2009.
When Crick played with Ndamukong Suh, Crick was a first-round type player, showing that having a dominant defensive tackle next to him does wonders for his productivity.