2012 NFL Mock Draft: Ranking the 50 Best Defensive Players in the Draft
The NFL Draft is the most important item on a team's agenda heading into the offseason, and I am here to provide you with a ranking of the top 50 draft-eligible players on the defensive side of the ball.
There are few players who stand out above the rest, but there are a number of guys who project as quality starters at the next level.
This year's defensive class is very deep at the cornerback with linebackers coming in second.
Suggestions are always welcome, but here are my top defensive players who are eligible for the 2012 NFL Draft.
50. Audie Cole, Redshirt Senior ILB (North Carolina State)
49. Josh Chapman, Redshirt Senior DT (Alabama)
48. Kawann Short, Redshirt Junior DT (Purdue)
47. Sean Spence, Senior OLB (Miami (Fla.))
46. Brandon Boykin, Senior CB (Georgia)
45. Vinny Curry, Redshirt Senior DE (Marshall)
44. Josh Robinson, Junior CB (UCF)
43. Travis Lewis, Redshirt Senior OLB (Oklahoma)
42. Cliff Harris, Junior CB (Oregon)
41. Robert Lester, Junior FS (Alabama)
40. Shaun Prater, Senior CB (Iowa)
39. Ray Ray Armstrong, Junior SS (Miami (Fla.))
38. Dontari Poe, Redshirt Junior DT (Memphis)
37. Sylvester Williams, Junior DT (North Carolina)
36. Fletcher Cox, Junior DT (Mississippi State)
35. Lavonte David, Senior OLB (Nebraska)
34. Jarvis Jones, Redshirt Sophomore OLB (Georgia)
33. Whitney Mercilus, Redshirt Junior DE (Illinois)
32. Nick Perry, Redshirt Junior DE (Southern California)
31. Coryell Judie, Redshirt Senior CB (Texas A&M)
30.T.J. McDonald, Junior FS (Southern California)
29. Jonathan Banks, Junior CB (Mississippi State)
28. Brandon Lindsey, Redshirt Senior OLB (Pittsburgh)
27. Mark Barron, Senior SS (Alabama)
26. Cam Johnson, Senior DE (Virginia)
25. Melvin Ingram, Redshirt Senior DE (South Carolina)
24. Devon Still, Redshirt Senior DT (Penn State)
23. Billy Winn, Redshirt Senior DE (Boise State)
22. Bruce Irvin, Senior OLB (West Virginia)
21. Jayron Hosley, Junior CB (Virginia Tech)
20. Markelle Martin, Redshirt Senior FS (Oklahoma State)
19. Brandon Jenkins, Junior OLB (Florida State)
18. Dont'a Hightower, Redshirt Junior ILB (Alabama)
17. Chase Minnifield, Redshirt Senior CB (Virginia)
16. Alfonzo Dennard, Senior CB (Nebraska)
15. Jared Crick, Redshirt Senior DE (Nebraska)
14. Jerel Worthy, Redshirt Junior DT (Michigan State)
13. Courtney Upshaw, Senior OLB (Alabama)
12. Alameda Ta’amu, Senior DT (Washington)
11. Luke Kuechly, Junior ILB (Boston College)
10. Janoris Jenkins, Senior CB (North Alabama)
Janoris Jenkins is easily a Top-15 talent, but he has witnessed a drop in stock after his documented character flaws.
Jenkins the football player is a player who possesses elite quickness, fluid hips, above-average speed and a great reaction once the football is in the air. He is very aggressive when the ball is in the air, and he has the ability to mirror receivers and cut off their routes.
Jenkins' talent alone could draw a team to forget about the character issues and select him earlier than expected.
9. Brandon Thompson, Senior DT (Clemson)
Brandon Thompson will excel as a 4-3 tackle, but a team with a 3-4 scheme could take a chance with him as a nose tackle because of the lack of depth at the position.
What makes Thompson so great are his great initial quickness and strength at point of attack.
The tackle is not going to put up great sack numbers, but he disrupts line of scrimmage and demands attention.
8. Dre Kirkpatrick, Junior CB (Alabama)
Dre Kirkpatrick is one of the most experienced players in this year's draft. He played in all 12 games as a freshman, became a starter in 2010 and has emerged as one of the best cornerbacks in the nation.
A knock on Kirkpatrick is his 4.50 40-yard dash, but he silenced some of those critics after a great performance against Reuben Randle and LSU.
The cornerback is a lock for the first round. He possesses a number of skill sets, including the agility and quickness of a much smaller defensive back despite standing at 6'2".
7. Stephon Gilmore, Junior CB (South Carolina)
Stephon Gilmore has great size for a player at his position, as he stands at 6'1" and 195 pounds.
He is excellent at jamming receivers at the line of scrimmage, has great on-field awareness and has a nose for the football.
Gilmore is also superb against the run, and has a ton of experience returning kicks and punts. He is excellent in man coverage despite his average speed.
6. Ronnell Lewis, Junior OLB (Oklahoma)
Ronnell Lewis' best trait is his aggressiveness. He is known for delivering bone-crushing hits to opposing players and usually brings a player down once he gets a hold of him.
Lewis is currently playing on the line for the Sooners, but he is a player who is very athletic and has good size for his position (OLB) at 6’2 and 245 pounds.
Since Lewis is the perfect fit in a 3-4 scheme, expect teams like the New York Jets, Dallas Cowboys, Arizona Cardinals, San Diego Chargers and Kansas City Chiefs to be his suitors.
5. Zach Brown, Senior OLB (North Carolina)
Unlike Ronnell Lewis, Zach Brown is your prototypical 4-3 outside linebacker. His physical attributes are not impressive whatsoever (he stands at 6'2'' and 230 pounds), but he makes up for his size with speed and his 4.40 40-yard dash time.
Brown is a good tackler. He is very instinctive and versatile, and is very effective as a blitzing LB. Brown is also a player who is very good in coverage. He reminds me a lot of Lawrence Timmons from the Pittsburgh Steelers.
4. Manti Te'o, Junior ILB (Notre Dame)
Manti Te'o has the skills to fit any system, and he is a four-down player who will contribute in both the running and passing games.
Te'o possesses an attractive blend of size, speed and smarts that will make him a valuable player come draft time. He projects as a MIKE linebacker to me, and he would fit in perfectly with a team like the New York Giants or Philadelphia Eagles.
3. Quinton Coples, Senior DE (North Carolina)
Quinton Coples is the best defensive end in this year's class, as he combines a great rush on the outside with great run support and athleticism.
Coples is good at getting his hands into the offensive linemen and keeping the hands off him. He is extremely strong, stunts well and is elite with his bull-rush.
Coples is talented enough to play both in a 3-4 and 4-3 scheme, but I project he will have more success with the latter.
2. Vontaze Burfict, Junior ILB (Arizona State)
Vontaze Burfict has the size, strength, range and athleticism to be an every-down linebacker at the next level.
He is great at working his way through traffic to find the ball-carrier, and he is an elite tackler. Burfict is excellent in covering short routes underneath in zone, but he will have to sharpen up his man-to-man techniques since he will be covering tight ends at the next level.
Ball-carriers always seem to know where Burfict is, and they usually want no part of him.
1. Morris Claiborne, Junior CB (LSU)
Claiborne is the best defensive prospect in this year's draft, and he has been one of the best cornerbacks in college football over the past two seasons.
Claiborne runs consistently in the 4.4's of the 40-yard dash, and has good size at 6'0'' and 185 pounds. He is an excellent cover corner, is very instinctive and is spectacular with the ball in his hands after an interception.