2012 NFL Mock Draft: Predictions for All 32 First Round Picks
I know it’s early for a mock draft. The college football calendar just turned to Week 3, and the NFL is about to wrap up Week 1 of its 16-game schedule. But conducting a mock draft this early allows analysts like myself to get a feel for NFL team needs as the season begins and to see how they change as the season progresses.
It also tests my skills as a prognosticator in September for a draft that takes place in April. It’s very possible that at least 30 percent of the players projected in my first attempt to predict the future are not even selected in the first round next April.
And, who is to say that all of the draft-eligible prospects listed in my mock draft actually declare for the annual spring spectacle?
Yes, a lot will change, and by no means is this a finished product—especially since the official draft order won’t be finalized until 2012.
Speaking of the draft order, the order in my mock draft is based on my vision of how the NFL season will play out. There are a few surprises, and I’m sure there will be some critical responses to where I see your favorite teams finishing.
I do foresee a team that doesn’t need a young quarterback ending up with the No. 1 overall pick, which would spark a lot of controversy considering Stanford quarterback Andrew Luck is the potential (he’s only a junior) prized possession. If this were to occur and Luck declared for the draft, there would be a bidding war of astronomical proportions for that selection.
With that said, the pick is in…and with the first pick in the 2012 NFL Draft, the…
1. Indianapolis Colts: *Andrew Luck, QB, Stanford
Let me start off by saying that I don’t think the Colts will finish with the worst record in the NFL this year, but I’m predicting they will earn a top-five pick for the first time since 1999, with Peyton Manning likely out for the year after having neck surgery.
For the Colts to trade up for the No. 1 overall pick and land Andrew Luck, they have to hope for a team like Carolina, Jacksonville or Tennessee to finish with the worst record.
It’s possible that one of those teams finish with the worst record, and by doing so, they will have plenty of suitors angling to move up to select Luck, including the Colts, who could be inclined to overpay with Manning’s future in jeopardy.
How ironic would it be for the Colts to land the best quarterback prospect to enter the NFL since Manning?
2. Miami Dolphins: *Landry Jones, QB, Oklahoma
Even though the Dolphins missed out on Luck, and in this scenario, they probably did all they could to move up to draft him, they will settle for the next best option and the signal caller likely to rise the most during the draft process, Landry Jones.
Since replacing an injured Sam Bradford during the 2009 season, the 6'4", 230-pound Jones continues to improve his overall game and has developed into one of college football’s most prolific signal callers.
The presence of Jones would conclude Chad Henne’s reign in Miami, and if the Dolphins finished the season with the second-worst record in the league, Tony Sparano would receive his walking papers as well.
A new era begins in South Beach.
3. Buffalo Bills: *Matt Kalil, OT, USC
This is a tough choice for the Bills. They desperately need a young quarterback to lead their franchise into the future, but they also have a need for a dominant left tackle.
There are a few options on the board, but the selection will come down to two USC standouts: QB Matt Barkley and OT Matt Kalil.
Prior to the 2010 NFL Draft when there was a debate if the Bills should target Tim Tebow, former Bills great Jim Kelly, who was high on Tebow, stated that the Bills should keep their options open and do their due diligence on the top quarterbacks in the draft. He also went on to say, “You look for a guy with good character, good leadership ability and good arm strength—and a guy who doesn't come from California."
Even though Kelly doesn’t make decisions on draft picks, he has a voice and it’s respected in Buffalo; Barkley was born, raised and played football in California. Does this mean the Bills won’t draft him? No, but could they opt for Kalil, who fills just as big of a need? Sure, and in this mock draft, they do.
4. Carolina Panthers: *Alshon Jeffery, WR, South Carolina
The Panthers turned their franchise over to Cam Newton, for better or worse, and I believe it was the right decision. But, when you have a young quarterback, it’s crucial to surround that player with the proper protection and plenty of weapons.
Carolina has a solid foundation on the offensive line with Jordan Gross, Ryan Kalil and Jeff Otah (if he stays healthy), but it’s unknown how much longer Steve Smith will remain with the Panthers. Either way, adding a big, playmaking wide receiver on the outside would only enhance the progression of Newton.
At 6’4”, 229 pounds, Jeffery is an imposing figure who can dominate a game. He would provide the target necessary to disguise any inaccurate throws by Newton with his ability to catch anything thrown in his direction.
Newton to Jeffery could be a special connection.
5. Jacksonville Jaguars: *Justin Blackmon, WR, Oklahoma State
The Jaguars’ situation is almost identical to the Panthers. They have a young quarterback in Blaine Gabbert, who they have to build around, and the area that needs the most improvement is at wide receiver.
Adding a potential No. 1 WR to an offense that lacks a premier target would go along way for Gabbert, and Justin Blackmon, who routinely posts virtual reality numbers, is the perfect fit.
At 6’1”, 215 pounds, Blackmon compares to Julio Jones as a prospect. Blackmon is explosive, runs crisp routes, flashes sure hands and is a high-effort player.
He becomes a starter from day one.
6. Cincinnati Bengals: Quinton Coples, DE, North Carolina
There are a few areas that the Bengals will target with this selection: cornerback, running back and defensive tackle.
With the likes of Dre Kirkpatrick, Trent Richardson and Jerel Worthy available, why would the Bengals choose Quintin Coples? Well, he’s the best player available and has the versatility to play inside or outside on the defensive line.
As a junior, Coples primarily played defensive tackle, due to the suspensions North Carolina endured, and recorded 10 sacks. He moved back to defensive end this year and is still dominating the competition.
Regardless of need, the Bengals can’t afford to pass up on talent.
7. Washington Redskins: *Matt Barkley, QB, USC
It’s possible that the Redskins shock the world and live up to Rex Grossman’s quotes of him saying, “I really feel like this team’s gonna win the (NFC) East.” Whether that statement materializes or not, the Redskins have a plan, and I don’t think it involves Grossman or John Beck beyond this season.
The plan is to draft one of the top three quarterbacks in next year’s draft and possibly keep Grossman or Beck in the fold as a veteran presence. The way that this board shaped up, Matt Barkley was the one who fell into their lap.
Barkley could go higher, depending on the exact draft order, but I’m sure Redskins fans will celebrate if he’s behind center.
8. Seattle Seahawks: *Dre Kirkpatrick, CB, Alabama
In a perfect world, the Seahawks would love for one of the top three quarterbacks to still be available. But, with all three of them off the board, they will look to upgrade another area.
With Marcus Trufant turning 31 this season and under a one-year contract, it’s possible that he departs as a free agent next year. If Trufant leaves, drafting a young cornerback makes sense, and Dre Kirkpatrick is the best CB available.
At 6’2”, 192 pounds, Kirkpatrick is an ascending player who’s only scratched the surface. He has the size and skill set to develop into a premier defender at the next level.
9. Oakland Raiders: *Jonathan Martin, OT, Stanford
You never know what the Raiders will do in the first round of the draft. They can surprise you to no end with a selection like Darrius Heyward-Bey, or they can make a safe pick like they did with Rolando McClain.
The point being, you never know.
With this choice, I will go easy on them and have them go the safe route to select a top offensive tackle in Jonathan Martin; Martin’s stock continues to soar with him protecting Andrew Luck’s blindside. Former third-round pick Jared Veldheer could emerge as a solid starter, but he’s an unknown at this time, and you can never have enough quality linemen.
10. San Francisco 49ers: Jared Crick, DL, Nebraska
The 49ers selected Colin Kaepernick in the second round this year, but that won’t stop Jim Harbaugh from investigating a possible deal to land Andrew Luck. It’s highly unlikely, but I’m sure a discussion will take place.
But for San Francisco to continue its rebuilding project, it has to add talent on defense. A player that will be thought of as an ideal selection and draw comparisons to former Wisconsin standout and first-round pick of the Houston Texans this year is Jared Crick.
Crick is a prototypical five-technique in a 3-4 defense and would give the Niners a boost off the edge. With the highly productive Crick, the Niners defense will be much improved.
11. Tennessee Titans: *Jerel Worthy, DT, Michigan State
The Titans could select one of the top cornerbacks on the board or reach for a wide receiver with this selection, but drafting the best player available at a position that could use a little punch wins out; Jerel Worthy is the pick.
Worthy is the top defensive tackle in the draft and would solidify the defensive front for the Titans. Over the last few years, the Titans have selected defensive linemen high in the draft, but due to injuries and inconsistent play, there’s still a need.
12. Denver Broncos: *Vontaze Burfict, ILB, Arizona State
There’s no denying the talent that Vontaze Burfict possesses; he’s an incredibly instinctive defender who has the potential to be an instant impact player at the next level. But, there’s also risk with him as well, and that risk could cause him to fall in the first round.
But not in this mock draft.
Burfict fits extremely well with the Broncos and would be an immediate upgrade at middle linebacker. Lining up next to Von Miller gives the Denver defense a scary look at the second level, as Miller’s speed and Burfict’s strength would be tough to match up against.
13. Arizona Cardinals: *Riley Reiff, OT, Iowa
The Cardinals invested a lot in Kevin Kolb to be their franchise quarterback, and for him to be successful, they have to add a quality tackle to protect him.
Former first-round pick Levi Brown has struggled since being the fifth overall pick in 2007 and he isn’t the answer at left tackle moving forward. It’s that conclusion that leads to the selection of Iowa’s Riley Reiff.
At 6’6”, 300 pounds, Reiff has the athleticism, size and technique scouts salivate over. He’s a maximum-effort guy who loves the physical aspect of the game and is an experienced starter in a tough conference.
He would be an upgrade at LT.
14. Cleveland Browns: *Donte Paige-Moss, DE/OLB, North Carolina
Switching from a 3-4 to a 4-3 defense means that the Browns have to continue to add pieces that fit their new puzzle. The front seven is improved with this year’s draft picks, Phil Taylor and Jabaal Sheard, but they still have to add more playmakers at defensive end and linebacker.
Paige-Moss is a bit of a tweener who can play DE in a 4-3 or OLB in a 3-4. He’s a rangy defender, but is deceptively strong and could be an impact player from the down position. His upside is through the roof and could ascend into the top 10 with a strong season and offseason.
15. Chicago Bears: Michael Floyd, WR, Notre Dame
It’s early, but Roy Williams has been a bust thus far, and since he only signed a one-year deal, a long-term plan for a big, physical receiver who can be paired with Johnny Knox, Earl Bennett and Devin Hester should be in place; the 6’3”, 227-pound Floyd is the answer.
Floyd is an imposing figure who gets off the line well, is deceptively quick in and out of his breaks and can separate himself from the opposition with his aggressive route-running and surprising explosiveness after the catch.
It’s that skill set which will expand the playbook and create more room to roam for others to make plays.
16. St. Louis Rams: *Trent Richardson, RB, Alabama
The Rams have Steven Jackson in the backfield, and he’s still a productive running back. But, he can become a free agent after this season, because the remaining two years of his contract are voidable. Jackson would have to reach certain statistical figures to become a free agent, but those numbers are obtainable.
If Jackson became a free agent after the season, a perfect replacement for him would be Trent Richardson. Richardson brings a similar hard-nosed running style to the field, and it’s likely that the offense wouldn’t skip a beat.
17. Kansas City Chiefs: *Brandon Jenkins, OLB, Florida State
The Chiefs could select the best available player. They don’t have many pressing needs, but they will take a look at the talent along the offensive and defensive lines with this selection. Scott Pioli usually has his eyes focused in the trenches.
However, when you run a 3-4 defense, you can never go wrong with adding hybrid players who can rush the passer. Florida State’s Brandon Jenkins is a rising player with tremendous physical tools and is continuing to get better.
If you look at the talent Pioli assembled in this year’s draft, he drafted a lot of guys with outstanding physical tools. Why not add another one?
18. Minnesota Vikings: Jeff Fuller, WR, Texas A&M
The loss of Sidney Rice is significant, as he was the Vikings' tall, big-play threat wide receiver. And even though the Vikings signed former Falcons WR Michael Jenkins to a three-year deal this offseason, they should look for a younger, more productive option in next year’s draft.
At 6’3”, 220 pounds, Jeff Fuller is an intriguing name for the Vikings. He’s not a burner, but he’s a big target who finds openings within a defense and flashes consistent hands.
With a young quarterback in Christian Ponder waiting in the wings, adding Fuller—to an offense that already features two impressive receiving options in Percy Harvin and Kyle Rudolph—could be special.
19. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: *Stephon Gilmore, CB, South Carolina
The Buccaneers are a team on the rise, as they have quality young players at key positions. But, one area that needs to be addressed is at cornerback. The legal troubles of Aqib Talib hit an all-time low this offseason, and 36-year-old Ronde Barber isn’t getting any younger.
Luckily for the Buccaneers front office, next year’s draft is loaded with talent, and there will be plenty of guys who intrigue them, one of them being the Stephon Gilmore. At 6’1”, 193 pounds, Gilmore is a three-year starter who brings a physical presence to the field and has great versatility.
He’s an impact player who would be an immediate starter.
20. Dallas Cowboys: Alfonzo Dennard, CB, Nebraska
Just like the Buccaneers, the Cowboys need an upgrade at cornerback. It’s an area of weakness on the team and it must be addressed—especially with Terence Newman’s best days behind him and Mike Jenkins having some issues last season.
With there being a handful of corners the Cowboys could select, it all comes down to preference. Alfonzo Dennard brings a physical style to the field and would fit well in the NFC East. Going up against the likes of Hakeem Nicks, DeSean Jackson and Jeremy Maclin, patience, positioning and physicality is a must.
Dennard fits the profile.
21. Detroit Lions: *Chase Minnifield, CB, Virginia
It’s rare to see the Lions drafting a player this low in the first round, but it shows how good their draft picks have been over the last five years, as they’ve risen out of the cellar. However, for them to contend for a championship in the next few years, they have to upgrade their secondary to compete with the Green Bay Packers.
Not having a front-line, lockdown cornerback still makes the Lions vulnerable to a high-powered passing offense, and one player won’t make a significant difference, but Minnifield would be a nice start.
He’s a physical corner who has great size and cover skills and has the potential to be a star at the next level.
22. Houston Texans: Brandon Thompson, DT, Clemson
Like other teams transitioning from a 4-3 to a 3-4, the Texans find themselves shuffling some of their personnel to fit their new scheme. With that transition, there are going to be some positions in makeshift mode, and one of them is defensive tackle.
Shaun Cody is a good veteran player, but he’s not a long-term solution at nose tackle, and Earl Mitchell, while a promising lineman, is not an every-down tackle. Clemson’s Brandon Thompson would be a solid selection and a guy who can penetrate and take on blocks.
He’s doesn’t have the bulk many would desire out of their nose tackle, but he’s stout inside and possesses a similar game to former Illinois standout Corey Liuget.
23. New York Giants: *Luke Kuechly, ILB, Boston College
The Giants are a team that doesn’t usually draft for need; they prefer to draft the best player available rather than settle for a lesser-ranked prospect just because he fills a hole. In next year’s draft, they may land the BPA who also fills a huge need.
It’s no secret that the Giants have strong ties to Boston College, and with one of the nation’s premier linebackers playing for BC in Luke Kuechly, it almost seems to be a perfect fit. Kuechly is a sure tackler who brings outstanding leadership qualities to the next level. He’s the consistent performer the Giants need at the middle linebacker position.
24. San Diego Chargers: *Bruce Irvin, OLB, West Virginia
This will be a defensive selection for the Chargers, preferably a linebacker or defensive tackle. The highest-rated talent on the board is at the linebacker position, and there are players available who could become immediate starters.
Of the linebackers available, Bruce Irvin and Courtney Upshaw fit the Chargers scheme the best. Irvin has the pass-rushing ability that the Chargers need off the edge, and they hope that this selection turns out better than the Larry English debacle.
25. Philadelphia Eagles: *Manti Te'o, ILB, Notre Dame
It’s obvious that the Eagles need help on the offensive line, but it’s too early to say that first-round pick Danny Watkins is a bust. Time will tell if their line, as constructed, will be successful or fail. If it’s successful with Todd Herremans at right tackle, it isn’t necessary for the Eagles to use a high pick on a young tackle.
The biggest need for the Eagles is at middle linebacker, but the Eagles haven’t drafted a linebacker in the firstround since 1979. Casey Matthews is a good player, but he’s best suited to play weak side linebacker in the NFL; Jamar Chaney is fine on the strong side.
But, drafting Manti Te’o gives the Eagles a smart, instinctive, tackling machine in the middle. It’s time to break the trend.
26. Baltimore Ravens: *Jayron Hosley, CB, Virginia Tech
The Ravens always have their eyes on defense, and with Ray Lewis getting older and possibly a year or two away from retirement, it’s possible they will look for his successor. Manti Te’o would’ve been a great pick, but he’s off the board. Courtney Upshaw is another intriguing name, but they decide to pass and, for the second consecutive year, draft a cornerback in the first round.
Jayron Hosley is the perfect complement to Jimmy Smith. At 5’10”, 172 pounds, Hosley is a small corner, but is extremely instinctive and anticipates the action better than anyone in the nation. He can also add a special dimension on special teams.
27. Cleveland Browns (from Falcons): Zach Brown, OLB, North Carolina
With their first pick in the first round, the Browns upgraded their defensive line with the addition of Donte Paige-Moss, and with this selection, they will continue to add to their defense and draft Paige-Moss’ college teammate Zach Brown.
Brown is a prototypical 4-3 outside linebacker and makes plays all over the field. He’s explosive and instinctive and drops well in coverage. He and Paige-Moss are the missing pieces to the Browns' defensive overhaul.
28. New York Jets: Courtney Upshaw, LB, Alabama
The Jets fell short of their goal of winning a Super Bowl once again and are stuck with another late first-round pick that’s a reminder of their shortcomings. As a defensive mind, Rex Ryan will always value defensive players in the draft, despite some deficiencies on offense.
Again, when you run a 3-4 defense, linebackers are important, and the Jets linebackers are getting older. Adding talented young players to a veteran group is important, and Upshaw is a Ryan-type of defender who can get after the quarterback.
29. New England Patriots (from Saints): *Cliff Harris, CB, Oregon
The Patriots do an amazing job of stockpiling draft picks and are always in position to draft impact players. They don’t have many needs, which allows them to draft the best available player, but another high-round cornerback?
This is a special case. Harris has the talent to be a top 15 pick, but due to off-the-field issues, he will likely fall in the first round. One of the most explosive players in the country, Harris has the instincts to be a premier playmaker at the cornerback position as well as a game-breaker as a return specialist.
30. Pittsburgh Steelers: Alameda Ta’amu, NT, Washington
The Steelers are an amazing organization. They’re always in the hunt for a championship and have a winning philosophy like no other franchise in the league. That’s why they’re in this position year after year and have the luxury, if they choose, to pick the best player available.
What the Steelers generally do is draft players where age is starting to show on their roster and have those players learn behind veterans. One veteran that’s getting older and not playing up to the level that he used to is nose tackle Casey Hampton. With Hampton slowing down, Alameda Ta’amu is a big body who has great skill, but is still a little raw.
Hampton would be a great mentor for Ta’amu.
31. Green Bay Packers: Cordy Glenn, OL, Georgia
The Packers are so good they could draft any position or player they choose. They have no major holes, and every pick they make is a bonus for them. Teams with this luxury usually draft players in the trenches, and for the Packers, it’s important for them to keep Aaron Rodgers upright at all costs.
Widely considered the top-rated guard in next year’s draft, Cordy Glenn will likely ascend up draft boards leading up to the draft. A four-year starter at Georgia, Glenn moved to tackle this season after spending most of his career at guard.
Glenn gives the Packers options, and the more options a team has on the offensive line, the better.
32. New England Patriots: Ryan Broyles, WR, Oklahoma
With their first pick in the opening frame, the Patriots went defensive and snagged talented, but troubled, Oregon cornerback Cliff Harris. Now with this selection, they turn their attention to the offensive side of the ball and upgrade their arsenal for Tom Brady.
A bigger, more physical receiver would fit better with the Patriots, but the presence of Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez at tight end gives the Patriots the ability to keep acquiring smaller playmakers at wide receiver.
Ryan Broyles isn’t the biggest or fastest receiver, but he's one of the most consistent playmakers in the country. All he does is catch passes and produce, and with Brady throwing him the ball, expect Broyles to shine.
Chris Steuber is the NFL Draft Featured Columnist for Bleacher Report. In addition to his role with Bleacher Report, Steuber serves as Director of Player Personnel for the Georgia Force of the Arena Football League. He’s previously served as NFL Draft Analyst for Scout.com and Fox Sports, as well as NFLDraftScout.com in conjunction with CBS Sports. Follow him on Twitter @ChrisSteuber.