College football season is almost here, and with the start of a new year comes a mock draft. Mock drafts are the most highly anticipated and scrutinized publications in the NFL draft world.
While it is impossible to even predict the order of the draft at this point, it is still interesting to analyze potential selections. By the time the draft rolls around in April, players not even on the radar will be top-10 picks and current first-round picks will be late-round selections.
Positions currently thought to be strengths on NFL teams will be revealed as weaknesses, and players will come out of nowhere to add credibility to a unit.
Over the next eight months, much of what is currently thought about the draft will change dramatically.
Despite this fact, here's a look at the first 32 picks of the 2012 NFL Draft.
It's a pretty well accepted fact that Andrew Luck is a fantastic quarterback. The Stanford star has excellent size, intelligence and accuracy. He has played in a pro-style offense throughout his career and has virtually no weaknesses.
And then there's the Bengals. The team as a whole is a mess and the quarterback position is no exception. Carson Palmer refuses to play for the team and rookie Andy Dalton has done little to inspire confidence.
In reality, the Bengals aren't a terrible team for Luck to go to. They have a decent offensive line, good running backs and a potentially awesome wide receiver in A.J. Green. There is some talent on offense, but there are also gaps and a quarterback is needed.
As a franchise, the Seahawks may be in even worse shape than the Bengals. Though the team was able to make the playoffs at 7-9 in 2010, the talent is not there to be a winning team.
Tarvaris Jackson scares no one except Seahawks fans, and there isn't a ton of offensive talent to back him up. Sidney Rice, Marshawn Lynch and Mike Williams aren't terrible, but none of them are legitimate stars either.
Barkley, on the other hand, is an excellent prospect. The 6'2" 220-pound Trojan has a great arm and possesses well above-average physical tools. Though he isn't a great athlete, Barkley is very poised in the pocket and can feel when he needs to step up.
Barkley is no Andrew Luck, but he is far from a scrub. In some drafts, Barkley would be a front runner for the first overall pick.
While the Bills have spent multiple high picks on the defensive line, they have largely ignored the offensive line since the 2009 NFL Draft. As as result, Buffalo has one of the NFL's worst offensive lines. Demetrius Bell and Erik Pears are not an acceptable tackle tandem.
Jonathan Martin isn't Joe Thomas or Jake Long (at least not yet), but he isn't a terrible reach in the top five. The athletic offensive tackle uses his size and natural gifts to keep pass-rushers at bay while excelling in the second level.
The Bills still need to find their franchise quarterback, and if Luck and Barkley aren't gone here, they likely go that direction. However, they should gladly pounce on the opportunity to improve along the offensive front.
This pick really isn't as much about Washington's wide receiver unit as it is how phenomenal of a player Alshon Jeffery is. With that said, the Redskins' receiving corps could definitely use some work.
Santana Moss has been a solid player over the years, but he is 32 years old and past his prime. After Moss, the unit includes Jabar Gaffney, Anthony Armstrong and Leonard Hankerson. That won't exactly cause defenses a whole lot of concern.
The 6'4" 235-pound Jeffery is incredibly strong and catches nearly everything. While he's not a burner, the South Carolina wideout makes up for it with his size, physicality and overall athleticism. He's not Calvin Johnson as a prospect, but he may be the next best thing.
The Broncos have what is arguably the worst defensive tackle unit in the NFL. Broderick Bunkley isn't a terrible player, but he will never be mistaken for a star. After Bunkley, it gets really rough with Kevin Vickerson and Marcus Thomas.
Worthy is a quality athlete capable of making plays in the backfield. At 6'3" 310 pounds, the Michigan State defender has more than adequate size and can hold his own against the run as well. Worthy isn't quite Ndamukong Suh, but he can be justified in the top five.
With Elvis Dumervil and former first-round pick Robert Ayers already in tow, Denver does have some talent along the defensive front. If another solid player is added, the unit could even become very good.
It has now been more than six years since the 49ers made Alex Smith the first pick of the 2005 NFL Draft. However, Smith has failed to show that he has the ability to be a solid starting quarterback and it is time for San Francisco to move on.
Landry Jones found great success in his first year as "the guy" at Oklahoma, throwing for 4,718 yards and 38 touchdowns. At 6'4" 230 pounds, Jones has good size and is extremely accurate as well. It is difficult to judge Jones' arm strength due to the number of short passes he throws, but it seems to be more than adequate. Oklahoma's spread offense remains a concern and Jones will have to adjust in the NFL.
Colin Kaepernick may perform well enough to prevent the 49ers from taking a quarterback, but unless he really impresses, the team seems likely to address the position early.
Jim Harbaugh's West Coast offense is the perfect scheme for Jones due to his accuracy and lack of experience in a vertical offense. He likely won't be considered an elite prospect, but look for Jones to be talked about as a high pick.
The Panthers could go a number of ways here, but in the end, Kirkpatrick makes the most sense. He is probably the best player available and cornerback is a serious need for Carolina.
Chris Gamble isn't a bad player, but he probably should be the second cornerback on a defense. Captain Munnerlyn should be no more than a nickelback, and the Panthers safeties leave a lot to be desired as well.
The 6'3" 195-pound Kirkpatrick has great length and uses his long arms to dominate in press coverage. He also possesses good speed and fluid hips, so he is capable of running with fast receivers. The Alabama cornerback won't be mistaken for Patrick Peterson, but he is yet another excellent prospect.
Jacksonville would love to have Kirkpatrick here but, with him off the board, they turn to another pressing need. The Jaguars' top two receivers combined for just over 1,000 yards in 2010 and no high draft picks have been spent on the position.
Blackmon isn't quite the player Jeffery is, but he is not too shabby himself. The 6'1" 215-pound receiver has great hands and is shifty enough to get yards after the catch. He does not, however, have great speed and isn't much of a deep threat.
The Oklahoma State star won't be one of the NFL's best, but he projects as a good primary receiver and a consistent target. After drafting Blaine Gabbert in 2010, the Jaguars need to find him some weapons in the pass game.
Even after devoting the team's first two picks in the 2011 NFL Draft to the defensive line, the Browns still need to work on the unit. Phil Taylor and Ahtyba Rubin should be fine at defensive tackle, but the end spot is a bit more worrisome.
Jabaal Sheard looks to be a fine player, but it is unlikely that he will ever be a great pass-rusher and he may have to play on the strong side. Taylor, on the other hand, has the ability to be a truly dominant sack artist.
At 6'7" 260 pounds, the South Carolina defensive end has freakish athletic ability and a long frame that can handle more weight. Taylor is still raw, but he is already producing at the college level—if he improves his technique, he should take over the college game.
Everyone knows that Al Davis loves the flashy pick. The fastest and most athletic of draft prospects frequently end up as Oakland Raiders. But at this point, there is no freakish skill player and Davis has actually been getting decent value in the early rounds the past couple of years.
Oakland's offensive line is a major issue and the team finally selected Stefen Wisniewski in 2011. Kalil is a great athlete and an excellent pass-blocker. He does, however, need to bulk up some from his current 6'7" 295-pound frame in order to handle power ends.
It's always hard to predict what the Raiders will do on draft day, but it seems plausible that they would look to the offensive line next. It's definitely overdue for some help.
Burfict is one of the most intimidating defenders in the NCAA, and his physical presence will be noticed immediately. Stephen Tulloch left for the Lions in free agency and Barrett Ruud is nothing more than a one-year stop gap.
The 6'3" 250-pound Burfict has tremendous size and athleticism and has no problem playing sideline to sideline. If he can improve at the mental aspect of the game, Burfict could even be selected higher than this due to his enormous potential.
Rookie Akeem Ayers has earned a starting spot as an outside linebacker, and he and Burfict would make an excellent duo. The Titans' defensive scheme requires physical linebackers like Burfict to help in run support in order to compensate for a small defensive line. Burfict can do that and much more.
Even after acquiring Daniel Thomas in the draft and trading for Reggie Bush, uncertainty surrounds the Miami running back position. However, what the team needs more than anything is offensive talent, and Richardson provides plenty of it.
The 5'11" 225-pound bowling ball is incredibly strong and never goes down on first contact. He also has 4.4 speed and can run away from defensive backs as well as linebackers. Richardson truly is a phenomenal talent and could immediately be a 1,000-yard rusher.
It is no secret that the Dolphins were looking to upgrade over Chad Henne, and quarterback remains a strong possibility here. But with no signal caller worthy of the pick available, the team goes with an elite running back prospect.
Even before releasing Bryant McKinnie, the Vikings offensive line was a major weak spot. Phil Loadholt has not panned out very well at right tackle and Steve Hutchinson is on the downside of his career.
A converted tight end, Reiff is a good athlete who is best when dealing with speed rushers. He isn't overly powerful yet and still needs to work on his technique, but the potential is there to be a quality blindside protector.
The 6'6" 300-pound Hawkeye is not an elite prospect and will likely never be an elite player, but he should be solid. With the 12th overall pick invested in Christian Ponder, Minnesota should take a serious look at protecting its quarterback.
For much of the time prior to the 2011 NFL Draft, the Rams were linked to Illinois defensive tackle Corey Liuget in the first round. St. Louis ended up with Robert Quinn when the North Carolina defensive end fell into their lap, but they were obviously looking at the defensive tackle position.
After six more rounds of the draft and free agency, defensive tackle remains a position to address. Forston is an incredibly talented defensive tackle who makes his name in the backfield. At 6'3" 300 pounds, Forston isn't overly big but his quickness compensates for his lack of size.
Quinn and Chris Long should make a formidable defensive end combo, but the interior line is in desperate need of work. Just one solid player would make a huge impact on the Rams defense, but Forston has the potential to be much more than solid.
The nose tackle position was a weakness for the Chiefs already in 2010, and the position has not improved. Kelly Gregg was added after being released by the Ravens, and a sixth-round pick was spent on Jerrell Powe, but both are unlikely to contribute in the long term.
Poe is a monster at 6'5" 350 pounds, and he possesses freakish athleticism and strength as well. He is inconsistent on the field, but when he is playing well, few players are better. If he can work on showing up in every game, there is no reason the Memphis tackle can't be a high first-round pick.
Scott Pioli loves drafting along the defensive line and Poe fits one of the team's biggest needs. Though he has a low floor, Poe could easily end up as a Shaun Rogers-type player (minus the lack of effort).
Many have Coples as a top-five pick, but he doesn't seem to have the burst and pass-rushing ability to be selected that high. Though he is only about 6'6" 275 pounds at the moment, the North Carolina end could easily bulk up and play the 5-technique in Dallas's 3-4 defense.
Coples's biggest strength is his versatility. He can play the run while also providing some pass-rush, and he can do it in a 3-4 or 4-3 defense. Few players are as well rounded, and though he does not have elite potential, he could be an extremely solid player.
The Cowboys lost defensive end Stephen Bowen in free agency and the position wasn't a strong spot to begin with. Dallas's defensive ends rarely weigh much more than 300 pounds and must be athletic. If Coples can get his weight up to just 290 pounds, he is a great fit.
Jay Cutler was the most sacked quarterback in the NFL during the 2010 season, and though the Bears spent a first-round pick on Gabe Carimi, their offensive line remains brutal. Osemele offers versatility and can play four of the positions along the offensive front.
Osemele is a huge lineman, measuring in at 6'6" 345 pounds, and gets a terrific push in the run game. Though Osemele will likely play guard in the NFL, he could possible play right tackle and is a good backup at either perimeter position.
While not known for his pass-blocking ability, Osemele has quick feet for a guard and should help keep Cutler off his back. Though an offensive tackle would be preferred here, Osemele is the best available lineman.
The Lions were expected to be big players for a top notch cornerback in free agency, but ended up with only Eric Wright. While Wright isn't as bad as his 2010 season suggests, he isn't a great player and another cornerback is definitely needed.
Hosley is quite small at 5'10" 175 pounds, but he should be able to bulk up some. The Virginia Tech cornerback had nine interceptions in 2010 and demonstrated excellent ball skills. Few defenders are faster and more adept at handling quick receivers.
Hosley may not ever be a true shut-down cornerback, but he can be a solid player who will create turnovers. The biggest risk with Hosley is his lack of size and whether or not he can handle playing on the outside at the NFL level. But for now, his play making ability makes him a worthwhile first-round pick.
The Browns current starting linebackers consist of D'Qwell Jackson, Scott Fujita and Chris Gocong. While Jackson and Fujita aren't bad players, Gocong is out of place in a 4-3 defense and needs to be replaced.
Te'o is an exciting athlete who is capable of making plays all over the field. The 6'3" 255-pound Notre Dame star can play any of the three linebacker positions due to his size and speed combination. With the Browns, he would likely play middle linebacker with D'Qwell Jackson moving to the weak side.
Te'o is the type of player Cleveland needs in the middle of their defense. Currently, there is no real play maker in the front seven and the defense lacks excitement. Te'o goes a long way towards correcting this and could help bring about an attitude change on the defense.
Despite a great run defense and secondary, the Jets struggled to rush the passer in 2010. Calvin Pace is the team's best pass rusher, and even he is not particularly good.
Jenkins is a smooth athlete with excellent burst and pass-rushing potential. The 6'4" 260-pounder is the type of player that Rex Ryan is able to mold into a star. Jenkins still needs to develop more pass-rushing moves, but he has the motor and ability to dominate.
Outside of their pass-rush, New York has very few defensive weaknesses and dominates offenses. Darrelle Revis and Antonio Cromartie can cover just about any receiver duo, but a pass-rush would certainly make their jobs easier.
Similar to the Jets, the Cardinals have a plethora of defensive talent. Darnell Dockett, Calais Campbell and Dan Williams should be an excellent defensive line, capable of stopping the run and rushing the passer. Arizona also possesses a secondary with Adrian Wilson, Kerry Rhodes and Patrick Peterson.
But once again, a pass-rush is missing. Joey Porter and Clark Haggans simply are not good enough. Paige-Moss is a good athlete with a promising bull-rush and pass-rush. The 6'4" 260-pound defensive end could play in either a 4-3 or 3-4 defense, but he is primarily a pass-rusher.
The North Carolina defender hasn't put up big numbers yet, but he has the ability to produce at a high level in 2011. Paige-Moss doesn't have the great first step that other pass-rushers do, but he combines good strength and power to beat offensive tackles.
The Buccaneers chose Mason Foster in the third round of the 2011 NFL Draft, and he is the current starting middle linebacker. However, Foster can play any of the linebacker positions and it would not be an issue to move him.
Kuechly is a smart player who uses his intelligence to make plays. He isn't as big or athletic as many top linebacker prospects, but his instincts are superb and he is rarely out of position. The Boston College linebacker doesn't quite have sideline-to-sideline speed, but range is not an issue.
After using four high draft-picks on defensive linemen in the past two years, it's time for Tampa Bay to focus on the linebacker unit. Foster looks to be a good player, but the other two positions could use some work. With the addition of Kuechly, the Buccaneers should have one of the best, young front-sevens in the game.
It is extremely difficult to find any glaring holes on the Chargers. There are a few positions that aren't great, but nothing really stands out. When this is the case, a cornerback is usually a good idea. Every defensive coach knows that a team can never have too many good defensive backs, and this is more true than ever in today's NFL.
The 6'1" 185-pound Claiborne is an excellent athlete who is still developing as a cornerback. He has legitimate potential at the position and could be a great cover corner in the future. As a rookie, Claiborne could sit behind Quentin Jammer and Antoine Cason while serving as the nickelback.
With the nickel defense becoming a staple in every defensive game plan, it is more important than ever to have three good cornerbacks who can play on any down. However, with Jammer aging, it is unlikely that Claiborne would be in this role too long before he would begin playing on the outside.
Even after signing Jonathan Joseph as a free agent and spending multiple high picks on the secondary, Houston's defensive backfield still needs work. The cornerback position isn't nearly as troublesome as it once was, but safety remains sketchy.
Lester is a legitimate ball-hawking safety and compiled eight interceptions during the 2010 season. At 6'2" 210 pounds, Lester has good size even though he isn't a very physical player.
The Alabama safety really needs to work on his run support and tackling skills, but his coverage ability and ball skills make him an attractive option for any team in need of a defensive play maker.
With Steve Smith now a member of the Philadelphia Eagles, the Giants are now in need of a wide receiver. Hakeem Nicks and Mario Manningham make a solid pair but every team needs three legitimate wideouts.
At 6'4" 215 pounds, Fuller is a legitimate threat in the red zone and offers a reliable target. He doesn't have the speed or quickness to be a true No. 1 receiver, but with Nicks, he doesn't need to be.
Fuller can stretch the field vertically with his size and straight line speed but don't expect too many huge plays. With Fuller added to the Giants receiving corps, the unit is once again scary for opposing defenses.
The Ravens are well on their way to a dominant defensive line with Haloti Ngata and Terrance Cody leading the way. Both Ngata and Cody are over 330 pounds, so there isn't a ton of pass-rushing ability there.
Crick is a great athlete at 6'6" 290 pounds, and is more than capable of getting after the quarterback. Though this isn't the biggest need for Baltimore, Ozzie Newsome loves taking the best player available and that is likely Crick.
With Ngata and Cody available to stuff the run, Crick can focus on getting into the backfield and making plays. The Ravens do have some potential at 5-technique, but too much depth has never been a problem in the NFL.
The Colts defense is well known for being small and fast with little physicality. However, this strategy hasn't worked very well and it may be time for Indianapolis to take a more conventional approach to defense.
Brown is still fairly small at 6'2" 230 pounds, but is a legitimate player who can play in multiple schemes. The Tar Heel linebacker has good speed and coverage ability but also has the strength to play the run unlike many Colts defenders.
There are a variety of ways Indianapolis could look to improve their defense, but the team should start with their run support and front seven. Brown is athletic enough to play in the Colt's Tampa Two defense, but is also physical enough to not struggle against the run too much.
After the Eagles went on a spending spree in free agency, it is difficult to identify many weaknesses. Already possessing a multitude of cornerbacks, Philadelphia could turn to defensive tackle depth. With Broderick Bunkley now a Bronco, the Eagles rotation isn't quite what it once was.
The 6'5" 300-pound Randall has the ability to either lose or gain weight depending on how Philadelphia would like to use him. Randall is a strong, stout player against the run who can play either defensive tackle position.
Every team likes to keep their big men fresh and Randall's versatility is valuable here. He can play alongside any other interior lineman and not be out of place. Randall may not be a great starter, but he will contribute in many ways.
For years now, the Steelers have neglected the cornerback position in the draft. Now that Pittsburgh's defensive backs are aging, the team may not have a choice any longer.
Gilmore is at his best in zone coverage and has the fluid hips required to turn with the quickest of receivers. In typical Steelers fashion, Gilmore wouldn't play much immediately but would only come in the game for dime situations.
However, Gilmore would continue to rise up the depth chart until he was eventually starting. Pittsburgh has successfully done this with many players and it would make sense that the trend would continue with Gilmore.
Even though Charles Woodson is a special player, even he cannot last forever. The Packers do have a fine cornerback in Tramon Williams but they are a little thin after him.
Dom Capers prefers to use his cornerbacks in man coverage, which is perfect for Dennard. Despite only being 5'10", Dennard is 205 pounds and excels in press coverage. He uses his surprising bulk and strength to jam receivers at the line.
Dennard lacks the athletic ability to be a great cornerback, but he seems like the type of player to have a long, successful career. With two good cornerbacks currently on the Packers roster, there would be little pressure on Dennard to shine immediately, though he could be on the field frequently.
Dan Koppen isn't necessarily a bad player, but he is one of the weaker links on the Patriots offense. Bill Belichick has begun to focus more on the offensive line recently, and Brewster fits the New England profile of smart offensive linemen.
The Ohio State center has great athletic ability and does an excellent job in pass protection. At 6'5" 295 pounds, Brewster should add more weight to avoid being overpowered, but his technique helps him considerably when dealing with strong nose tackles.
Brewster isn't quite as great of a player as many other recent first-round centers, but he has a low floor and projects as a long-term starter and team leader.
If Belichick has proven anything over the years, it is that he loves defensive backs. The Patriots have tons of depth at cornerback, and though safety isn't quite as deep, it is still extremely solid.
Brandon Meriweather has regressed and seems unlikely to return to New England when his contract expires after the 2011 season. McDonald is a physical safety who does a great job of playing the run.
At 6'3" 205 pounds, McDonald isn't huge but is big enough to play physically. Though the USC safety isn't great in coverage, he has the athletic ability to develop and can become a complete safety capable of playing the run and pass.