I debuted my first 2012 mock draft prior to the start of the NFL season. At the time, a lot was unknown, especially how teams would perform after an abbreviated training camp and preseason. And, after watching a few weeks of play, I have a better sense of where teams may end up falling, in terms of draft position, next April.
Speaking of the draft order, the order in my mock draft is loosely based on the current standings in the NFL, as it’s a reflection of how I foresee the season unfolding. There are a few surprises, and I’m sure there will be some critical responses to where I see your favorite teams finishing.
Again, it’s hard to forecast a draft in September that takes place in April, because there are a lot of variables that may occur. It’s very possible that at least 30 percent of the players projected in my mock draft are not even selected in the first round. And, who is to say that all of the draft-eligible prospects listed in my first 32 picks actually declare for the annual spring spectacle?
By no means is this a finished product, but it will give you an idea of who the top prospects are and which players your favorite team could target.
With that said, the pick is in ... and with the first pick in the 2012 NFL Draft, the ...
Football in Indianapolis is very different without Peyton Manning behind center, and the fans and players are realizing that first-hand.
Not since 1999 have the Colts held a top-five pick in the NFL Draft, and the way things are going thus far, it’s possible that the Colts will end up with the No. 1 overall pick for the first time since they drafted Manning in 1998.
Luckily for the Colts, with Manning’s future uncertain due to neck surgery, Stanford’s Andrew Luck, who has been described as the best quarterback prospect since Manning, is likely to fore-go his senior season and enter the 2012 draft.
This would be a dream scenario for the Colts to transition from Manning to Luck.
The Chiefs are a complete mess on offense and defense. They’ve been overmatched in the early going and lost their two best players, Eric Berry and Jamaal Charles, to season-ending ACL injuries.
Matt Cassel has struggled this season and hasn’t been nearly as effective as he was last season. And usually during a down year, organizations generally look to change their Head Coach and/or quarterback.
With Andrew Luck off the board, the Chiefs will turn to Landry Jones or Matt Barkley. They will do their due diligence on both signal callers, but in the end Jones becomes the hot name and emerges as the future of the franchise.
The Seahawks have been just as bad as the Colts and Chiefs, and some may say that they’ve been worse. A year after they backed into the playoffs during Pete Carroll’s first year in the Great Northwest, these Seahawks lack the talent to make it to the postseason this year.
The only way the Seahawks can move forward as an organization is if they have a franchise quarterback in place to lead the way. Matt Barkley would be the ideal selection, since Carroll recruited him and coached him while he was a freshman at USC.
Chad Henne has played better this year, but he isn’t the long-term solution at quarterback, and an upgrade is needed.
But, with the top three quarterbacks off the board, this is the worst scenario for the Dolphins.
It will come down to upgrading their offensive line or adding a big-time target opposite Brandon Marshall. There are plenty of options on the board: offensive tackles Matt Kalil and Jonathan Martin or wide receivers Alshon Jeffery or Justin Blackmon.
Even though the receivers are enticing, selecting Kalil, who has experience at right tackle but has primarily played left tackle at USC, and adding him to a line that already has Mike Pouncey and Jake Long, gives the Dolphins one of the best offensive lines in the league.
It’s time to give Sam Bradford a legitimate No. 1 weapon that he can grow with.
Every great quarterback has a receiver that they can rely on, and Bradford desperately needs a big-play threat to make his job easier.
The Rams have added young wide receivers to their roster over the last couple of years, but they need a difference-maker, and Alshon Jeffery or Justin Blackmon would be the answer.
At 6 foot 4, 229 lbs, Jeffery is an imposing figure who can dominate a game. He would command double teams on the outside and allow others around him to have more room to roam to make plays.
Jeffery is the missing piece on offense.
For the Jaguars to become one of the NFL’s elite again, they have to build around their newly crowned franchise quarterback Blaine Gabbert and provide him with the proper weapons to be successful.
It all starts with an upgrade at wide receiver.
Adding a potential No. 1 wide out to an offense that lacks a premier target would go a long way for Gabbert—as well as Justin Blackmon, who routinely posts virtual reality numbers—and would be the perfect fit.
At 6 foot 1, 215 lbs, 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.
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.
At 6 foot 6, 285 lbs, Quinton Coples possesses a unique blend of size and speed, and has the versatility to play inside and outside. He would be a perfect complement opposite Sheard and would complete a tremendous, young front four in Cleveland.
There are two positions that the Vikings will look to address in the first round: offensive tackle and wide receiver.
The loss of Sidney Rice during the offseason was a major blow, as he was the team’s big play threat.
However, with Jeffery and Blackmon off the board, the Vikings, instead of reaching for a receiver, would likely draft the next best offensive tackle available in Stanford’s Jonathan Martin.
The release of Bryant McKinnie prior to the season left a hole at left tackle, and the addition of Martin fills a major need moving forward, as he will be the man to protect Christian Ponder’s blindside, just as he did for Andrew Luck at Stanford.
The Bengals could go in a few directions with this selection.
They could look to upgrade on defense with an addition to the defensive line or secondary, but with an ascending young offense that features Andy Dalton, A.J. Green and Jermaine Gresham, an explosive running back would complete their attack.
With Cedric Benson scheduled to be a free agent next season and most likely not to return to Cincinnati, a perfect replacement would be Trent Richardson.
Richardson is a special runner and possesses tremendous balance and strength. He gives maximum effort on every carry and always pushes forward for tough yards.
Those qualities are needed in an aggressive AFC North.
There’s no denying the talent that 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.
This may be a little high for Michael Floyd, but he’s the best wide receiver available, and he provides Cam Newton with a big, physical receiver who has the potential to take over a game.
The Panthers have the makings of a solid offense, especially with their running game and offensive line—if they all stay healthy.
But it’s unknown how much longer Steve Smith will remain with the Panthers. Whether Smith remains or not, adding a playmaker like Floyd on the outside would only enhance the progression of Newton.
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 their rebuilding project, they have 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.
For years, the Bills have been searching for a franchise quarterback, and amazingly, without really knowing for sure, they had their man on their roster for the last few years in Ryan Fitzpatrick.
With the quarterback situation resolved, the Bills can focus on upgrading their offensive line, specifically at left tackle. The top-two tackles, Matt Kalil and Jonathan Martin, are off the board, but Iowa’s Riley Reiff is a solid consolation prize for Buffalo.
At 6 foot 6, 300 lbs, 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.
The Cardinals would also be in the market for an offensive tackle, but with the top three guys off the board, they will look to address another need on their roster.
Finding an athletic rushing linebacker who can star in Arizona’s 3-4 scheme is a huge need, and a player that will continue to rise up draft boards is North Carolina’s Donte Paige-Moss.
Paige-Moss is a bit of a tweener, but has the size and speed to be a factor off the edge. He’s a rangy defender, but is deceptively strong and could be an immediate impact player.
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 a player 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.
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 selection, the Raiders fill a need and select the best cornerback in the draft in Dre Kirkpatrick. Kirkpatrick could go higher, but as we’ve seen in recent drafts it’s possible that players can slip in the first round, just as Prince Amukamara did this year.
The loss of Nnamdi Asomugha hurt the Raiders secondary, but adding a big, physical corner who possesses great ball and cover skills will be a welcomed addition in Oakland.
The Redskins have been a surprise team thus far and have played well, but playing well has taken them out of contention for one of the top quarterbacks in the draft.
Even though Rex Grossman has been a pleasant surprise, they still have to find a young quarterback they can build around.
Unfortunately, there isn’t a quarterback worth drafting with this pick. With that said, it’s possible that Washington selects a wide receiver to help their offense, but defensively they could use more punch.
This year’s second-round pick Jarvis Jenkins suffered a season-ending knee injury, and it’s unknown how he will recover.
So, the Redskins tap into the Clemson talent pool once again and select Jenkins' former teammate Brandon Thompson to fill the gap in the middle of the defensive line.
The Titans could select one of the top corner backs 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 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.
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 seemingly regressing.
With there being a handful of quality corners on the board for the Cowboys, it will be a hard choice, but Morris Claiborne is the playmaker that the Dallas defense craves.
He has the ability to blanket top-level receivers, and in a tough NFC East that features great receivers such as Hakeem Nicks, DeSean Jackson and Jeremy Maclin, a cornerback with his talents is long overdue.
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.
Fortunately for the Buccaneers front office, next year’s draft is loaded with talent, and there will be plenty of guys that intrigue them, one of them being Stephon Gilmore. At 6 foot 1, 193 lbs, 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.
After years of holding a top 10 pick, the Lions have finally developed those draft picks and added key pieces around them through free agency to become one of the NFL’s ascending teams.
Playing in a tough division that features the Bears, Packers and Vikings, the Lions will have to add more pieces on defense to advance as a contender. Adding a cornerstone cornerback like Alfonzo Dennard or Chase Minnifield, or a front-line linebacker like Manti Te’o or Courtney Upshaw, will help the Lions take the next step.
The best player on the board is Te’o, and with veteran Stephen Tulloch signing just a one-year deal, he’s a key piece to the Lions future.
With their first pick in the first round, the Browns drafted Quinton Coples to complete their front four, and now with this pick, which was acquired from the Falcons as they moved up to draft Julio Jones, Cleveland completes their secondary with the selection of Alfonzo Dennard.
The addition of Dennard spells the end of Sheldon Brown in Cleveland, but it also gives the Browns an outstanding young secondary that already includes Joe Haden and T.J. Ward.
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, Brandon Jenkins, Bruce Irvin and Courtney Upshaw fit the Chargers' scheme the best.
Jenkins 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.
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.
At 6 foot 3, 220 lbs, Jeff Fuller is an intriguing name and could be the answer for the Bears.
He’s not a burner, but he’s a big target who finds openings within a defense and flashes consistent hands. He would become an immediate favorite of Jay Cutler.
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 a 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.
Washington’s Alameda Ta’amu is a big body who has great skill, but is still a little raw. He could be a great force between J.J. Watt and Antonio Smith.
It’s obvious that the Eagles need help on the offensive line, and they could use this pick on a lineman. But it’s too early to say that first round pick Danny Watkins is a bust and time will tell if their line, as constructed, will be successful or fail.
However, the Eagles' biggest need is at linebacker; the only problem is they haven’t drafted a linebacker in the first round since 1979.
The recent linebacker shuffle of Casey Matthews moving to weak-side linebacker and Jamar Chaney back to the middle could be the answer, but drafting a quality defender like Zach Brown would make their linebacker situation more complete.
It’s time to break the trend.
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.
But with most of the top linebackers off the board, the Ravens decide to focus on another area of need on defense and draft a cornerback in the first round for a second consecutive year.
Adding Chase Minnifield, and pairing him with this year’s first-round pick Jimmy Smith, gives the Ravens a tremendous pair of big, physical corners who can shut down the opposition.
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 player available, but one element the Patriots could use, since they transitioned to a 4-3 base defense, is an explosive pass rusher off the edge.
West Virginia’s Bruce Irvin is an intriguing prospect. He’s a bit undersized to line up at defensive end, and has to become more polished in coverage to be a complete outside linebacker.
But, the skill set as a pass rusher is there, and Bill Belichick is the perfect coach who will put Irvin in the right position to excel.
Over the last few years, the Jets have been in contention for a Super Bowl, and they will be in the hunt this year—but will probably fall short once 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.
The Steelers are in the same class as the Patriots: They can usually do what they please in the draft and regardless of what happens still end up being a dominant team.
Over the last three years, the Steelers have drafted a defensive lineman (Ziggy Hood), a center (Maurkice Pouncey) and a defensive end (Cameron Heyward) in the first round, and if they continue on that trend an offensive guard or tackle should be considered next year.
Stanford’s David DeCastro is a bit overshadowed at this point by his linemate at Stanford, Jonathan Martin. But, he’s an athletic interior player, who would fit nicely next to Pouncey on the Steelers' offensive line.
The Packers don’t have many glaring 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 to keep Aaron Rodgers upright at all costs.
Considered to be one of the top interior forces on the offensive line, Cordy Glenn will likely ascend up draft boards during the offseason. 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.
With their first pick in the opening frame, the Patriots went defensive and drafted an athletic pass-rushing linebacker in Bruce Irvin. 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 play makers 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.