The NFL regular season is rapidly coming to a close, meaning the majority of NFL teams need to start focusing on the NFL draft. The upcoming draft has a lot potential stars who are capable of coming in and making an instant impact.
Stanford's Andrew Luck is the top overall prospect, and is a lock to be the first player selected. Many feel Luck is a can't-miss prospect who will quickly become an NFL star.
However, Luck isn't the only quarterback with star potential.
This quarterback class could also feature USC's Matt Barkley, Baylor's Robert Griffin III and Oklahoma's Landry Jones. Each of these quarterbacks have the potential to develop into franchise quarterbacks. Luck still appears a notch head of the rest of the class, though.
The quarterback position isn't the only one possessing talented players. Offensive tackle also has two players who could find themselves selected in the Top Five. Stanford's Jonathan Martin and USC's Matt Kalil could develop into All-Pro tackles.
Defensively the cornerback position has a lot of talented players. LSU's Morris Claiborne is at the top of the class, and will likely come off the board in the Top 10.
The Indianapolis Colts are going to have a very tough decision to make this coming April. They will need to figure out if they are ready to start moving away from the Peyton Manning era, or if they want to make another Super Bowl run.
If the Colts land the top overall pick they will have the opportunity to either draft Stanford's Andrew Luck or trade down. I feel they will make the tough choice and select Luck. Selecting Luck isn't really a tough decision, but it does mean they are closer to ending Peyton Manning's career.
Adding Luck will ensure that the Colts go from a Hall of Fame quarterback to a prospect who is seen as a can't-miss franchise quarterback. This all but guarantees that the Colts will continue to find some success.
The Carolina Panthers have found a potential star at the most important position on the field. Cam Newton has gone from a controversial pick to one of the brightest stars in the league. Carolina needs to utilize a lot of their resources to surround Newton with talent.
This team has plenty of holes, especially on defense, but that doesn't mean they need to avoid the offensive side of the ball. Owning the No. 2 pick allows a team to add a great talent, but it also limits their choices.
Carolina will need to find a player worthy of this selection. My top-rated defensive player is cornerback Morris Claiborne, but I don't think he is worthy of the second pick; Stanford's Jonathan Martin is more than worthy of this selection.
Martin is my top-rated offensive tackle prospect who will man the left side of a line for the next decade. Carolina has Jordan Gross and Jeff Otah, but this tandem has not really played at a top level. Otah has been hampered by injuries, and Gross is rapidly aging.
The addition of Martin would allow Gross to shift to the right side and solidify the offensive line for Newton.
For years the Minnesota Vikings' offensive line was seen as one of the best units in the NFL. Age has started to take its toll though, and several top players have moved on. At this point, the Vikings need to start committing resources to improving the line.
USC's Matt Kalil is seen as one of the top offensive tackles in the draft, typically ranked at the top of list. However, I have him slightly below Jonathan Martin. Kalil is still a terrific prospect who is capable of immediately improving a team's offensive line play.
The addition of Kalil will help put the proper pieces around rookie quarterback Christian Ponder. Minnesota needs to ensure Ponder has the right environment to succeed, and that environment includes a franchise left tackle.
The majority of successful NFL quarterbacks have a wide receiver who possesses game-changing ability. Sam Bradford and the St. Louis Rams need to find that wideout who can help open up the offense, as Bradford has been surrounded by other team's castoffs and mid-round draft picks.
Oklahoma State's Justin Blackmon is one of the nation's top wide receivers. He has put up enormous numbers, which earned him the 2010 Biletnikoff Award. (The Biletnikoff Award is given to the top college receiver.)
Blackmon has the ability to make an instant impact. He does a nice job creating separation while also gaining yards after the catch. Blackmon and Bradford would make a great team, which would in turn help open things for the running game.
The addition of Blackmon has a chance to really change the efficiency of the St. Louis Rams' offense.
As of late, Matt Moore and the Miami Dolphins have found a way to play some competitive football. They are still a long way from where they want to be, but at least they are playing inspired. Moore has played well, but I doubt it has been enough to earn him a long-term job.
USC's Matt Barkley will be one of the quarterback prospects looking to work his way into the Top 10. Barkley could easily find himself the opening day starter for an NFL franchise next season, and the Miami Dolphins need to consider adding Barkley with this selection.
The quarterback position is arguably the most important on the field, and it is imperative to fill this position with a star. Barkley has star potential while also possessing the ability to make an instant impact.
LSU's Morris Claiborne is one of the hottest prospects eligible for the 2012 draft. He has emerged as the top cornerback prospect and a true playmaker.
Claiborne is a very versatile player, capable of playing in any defensive system. The Jacksonville Jaguars have several needs across their entire roster. Some may feel the wide receiver position is their biggest need. That might be true, but they also need to focus on finding value.
Claiborne not only represents great value but he also fills a position of need.
Jacksonville has some decent cornerbacks, but their top player, Rashean Mathis, is on the back-end of his career. Adding Claiborne would really bolster the Jaguars' secondary.
The Washington Redskins are one of a few teams that really need to find a long-term solution at quarterback. Current starters John Beck and Rex Grossman have shown they are not the long-term answer, as both have struggled to effectively move the Redskins' offense.
Coach Mike Shanahan is seen as an offensive guru, but has yet to really get things going in Washington. He is now in his second year with back-to-back failed quarterback experiments. Shanahan needs to make a move to bring in a young quarterback to develop.
Baylor's Robert Griffin III is quickly moving up draft boards, much like Cam Newton did last season. Griffin III is an extremely athletic quarterback who has improved his overall quarterback play. He is anything but a finished product, but he is still getting a lot of attention because of his upside.
Arizona State's Vontaze Burfict is one of the most explosive defensive prospects in the country. He possesses excellent size and the quickness to cover sideline to sideline. Burfict is a tenacious player who is always in pursuit of the football.
The Arizona Cardinals need a player like Burfict who will command the attention of opposing offensive coordinators. Arizona is allowing 127 rushing yards per game, which can be placed directly at the feet of the linebacking corps. Darryl Washington is a good-looking young player, but the 3-4 system requires great play from the entire linebacking unit.
Adding Burfict would give the Cardinals some attitude and nastiness. He has the potential to change the identity of this defense.
Nobody expected the Cleveland Browns to contend for a playoff spot this season, but many felt they were heading in the right direction. This year the Browns have taken a step back, especially on the offensive side of the ball.
The Browns' offense lacks any real playmakers, especially with Peyton Hillis out of the lineup. Quarterback Colt McCoy has been forced to make a living delivering the football to unspectacular receivers. Rookie Greg Little has shown flashes, but he seems like the only keeper.
South Carolina's Alshon Jeffery is battling Justin Blackmon to be the first receiver selected. Jeffery is a big target capable of making plays down the field, and his size makes him a great red zone target. McCoy and the Browns' offense would really benefit from the presence of Jeffery.
The Kansas City Chiefs are allowing close to 140 rushing yards per game—this is an unacceptable number. Kansas City has some good defensive pieces in place, but could stand to add more talent. They need to put their attention toward bolstering the linebacking corps.
Derrick Johnson is playing the best football of his career, but he could use some help along side him. Notre Dame's Manti Te'o would be a great addition to the Chiefs' defense. He is a talented player who also possesses excellent instincts.
The combination of Johnson and Te'o would go a long way to improving the Chiefs' run-defense.
Oklahoma's Landry Jones is locked in a heated battle to be the next quarterback selected after Andrew Luck. Jones is going to be compared to Matt Barkley and Robert Griffin III as the quarterback-needy teams develop their draft boards.
Jones has all the physical tools needed to be a successful NFL quarterback. He has a strong arm and enough mobility to extend plays. Jones has improved his accuracy each and every season, something that shows his best football is yet to come.
The Seattle Seahawks need to find a long-term answer at the quarterback position. Tarvaris Jackson has done a good job plugging the hole, but he is nothing more than a short-term solution. Jackson would be a good mentor for Jones, helping to groom him for the future.
Ronde Barber has had a great NFL career, but at 36 years old he is reaching the end. Barber doesn't have the quickness to continue playing at a very high level, and he is joined in the starting lineup by Aqib Talib, a talented but troubled player. Talib has had some off-the-field problems that could eventually result in a suspension.
At the very least, Tampa Bay needs someone to replace Barber and maybe even Talib.
Alabama's Dre Kirkpatrick is currently ranked as my second overall cornerback eligible for the 2012 draft. He possesses good size and quickness, which allows him to excel in press man coverage. Kirkpatrick is extremely talented and possesses a lot of upside.
Boston College's Luke Kuechly might be one of the more underrated prospects in the 2012 draft class. He is a heady player who always seems to be around the football. His ability to diagnose a play and pursue is something every defensive coordinator will appreciate.
The Philadelphia Eagles need to find a defensive leader capable of covering a lot of ground. They especially need to find someone who can step in at the middle linebacker position.
Philadelphia's defense has been a disappointment, especially their run-defense. Adding Kuechly would be a great start to improving this Eagles defensive unit.
North Carolina's Zach Brown is flying up my overall rankings. He is a super-athletic linebacker who seems to always be around the football, and his quickness allows him to make plays from sideline to sideline. Brown is still developing as a pass-rusher, but he possesses tremendous upside in this area.
The Buffalo Bills' season has taken a negative turn, losing three straight games. One of the biggest issues is the play of the defense. They have really struggled to find a consistent pass-rush, which is something that has impacted the production of the defense.
Brown's versatility would immediately help the Bills' defense. He would line up at outside linebacker and be asked to rush the passer, drop back in coverage and play the run.
The direction of how the San Diego Chargers use their first-round pick will depend on the health of left tackle Marcus McNeil. If McNeil is given a clean bill of health and the Chargers feel good about his long-term health they will likely turn their attention to the linebacker position.
San Diego has been searching for somebody to replace Shawne Merriman, while also drawing some attention away from Shaun Phillips. The Chargers run a 3-4 base defense, but lack great talent at the linebacker position.
Alabama's Courtney Upshaw would be able to step in and immediately challenge for a starting spot. He has experience in a 3-4, as that is the base defense run by Alabama and Nick Saban. Upshaw is a versatile player, possessing good size and athletic ability.
The Denver Broncos are in the middle of Tebow mania, but lost in all this is the other needs of this football team. Denver has some talented players, but overall they lack top-level talent at a number of positions.
Offensively, the Broncos need to find the long-term answer at running back. John Fox loves to run the football and needs a talented running back to become that run-first team. Willis McGahee has done a nice job, but at 30 years old he is at the end of his career.
Alabama's Trent Richardson is a Top 10 talent, but drops because of the declining value of the running back position. Every year we see top-level running backs drop in the draft.
However, Richardson is a game-changing running back.
He has the quickness and power to be an every-down back. Richardson's skills would allow Fox to effectively orchestrate his offensive game plan.
Clemson's Brandon Thompson has seen his draft stock rise and then stabilize. He is considered to be the top defensive tackle prospect and is likely to come off the board in the middle of Round 1. Thompson has good size and strength, but his best attribute is his ability to occupy blockers and push the pocket.
The Tennessee Titans' defense was at its best when Albert Haynesworth was playing for a new contract. Haynesworth was a dominant force who both penetrated the pocket and stuffed the run.
Thompson has the same type of skills as Haynesworth. Adding Thompson would really improve the Tennessee Titans' defensive front.
South Carolina's Melvin Ingram is the most versatile player eligible for the 2012 draft. At South Carolina, he lines up at outside linebacker, defensive end, defensive tackle and several special teams spots. He has the athletic ability to almost play any position on the defense.
Ingram would be a nice piece of clay for Rex Ryan to mold into a star. Ryan's ability to draw up different defensive concepts would only increase with the presence of Ingram. However, he would likely line up at outside linebacker.
The NFL is full of players who are considered specialists, but Ingram is much more than a specialist. He is a four-down player who will contribute on both defense and special teams. The Jets could expect Ingram to step in and immediately bolster their pass-rush.
North Carolina's Quinton Coples is a very intriguing prospect who possesses tremendous upside. He has both the size and quickness to develop into a well-rounded NFL defensive end.
Coples is going to gain a lot of attention because of his ability to rush the passer. The Cleveland Browns are in the beginning stages of transitioning to the 4-3 defensive attack. They have worked to add some important pieces, but could use another pass-rushing defensive end. Rookie Jabaal Sheard has done a great job, but adding Coples on the other side would only improve the defense.
A defensive line that features Sheard, Coples, Phil Taylor and Ahtyba Rubin would be one of the most talented in the entire NFL. It would also really speed up the Cleveland's defensive transition.
The New York Giants' offensive line is a unit that needs an infusion of youthful talent. They have aging starters across the offensive line, and they now are dealing with a possible long-term injury to William Beatty. Even if Beatty is able to return, he hasn't exactly played at a very high level.
Iowa's Riley Reiff would be a steal at this point in the draft. He has the capability to step in and instantly make an impact. Reiff would be an ideal fit at left tackle, but he could also play right tackle. Adding Reiff would allow Beatty to slide to the right side and replace/backup the aging Kareem McKenzie.
New York needs to find a way to improve their offensive line. This team knows the importance of offensive line play, as it played a major role in their last Super Bowl run.
Stanford's David DeCastro is my top-rated interior offensive lineman and seems like a lock to be a first-round selection. DeCastro is a well-rounded offensive lineman who is an above-average run and pass blocker. He does a good job playing with leverage, which allows him to absorb contact and create a push off the line.
The Cincinnati Bengals have a lot of nice offensive pieces in place. However, they could use a long-term replacement for the aging Bobbie Williams. Williams has had a very successful career, but at the age of 35, he is at the back-end of the career.
Williams missed the first four games of the season, and when he returned the offense started to perform more efficiently. Andy Dalton is having a great rookie season, but he may never be the type of quarterback you want to throw the ball 40 times a game. All quarterbacks appreciate good offensive line play.
This has been a breakout season for the Detroit Lions, and they still have their sights on a playoff berth. The Lions' roster has a lot of young and talented stars, but they still have few holes to plug; one of those holes is at the cornerback position.
Current starters Chris Houston and Eric Wright have done a nice job, but neither have true star potential. Nebraska's Alfonzo Dennard would give Detroit a potential lock-down corner. He likes to play close to the line of scrimmage and get his hands on the receiver.
Adding a player with Dennard's skills would allow the Lions to do different things on the defensive side of the ball.
The Chicago Bears' biggest need is along the offensive line.
However, they also have a major need for a playmaking wide receiver. Their current wide receiving corps features middle-of-the-road talent such as Earl Bennett, Roy Williams, Johnny Knox and Devin Hester. All of these players are good second or third options, but none should be considered a team's top target.
Notre Dame's Michael Floyd has the skills to be a No. 1 receiver in the NFL, as he has a combination of good size and quickness. Floyd would give the Bears a player capable of going up and making the tough catch in traffic. Chicago really needs to add a bigger target to help out their quarterback.
The Pittsburgh Steelers' offensive line has suffered some major injuries, only emphasizing the importance of depth. Pittsburgh not only needs some depth but they also could upgrade some of their current starters. Players like Chris Kemoeatu and Ramon Foster are anything but star players.
Georgia's Cordy Glenn is one of the most versatile linemen in the 2012 draft class. He is a massive player who also possesses quick feet. His ability to slide and shuffle allows him to protect the passer. Glenn could potentially line up at guard or either tackle position.
The addition of Glenn would give the Steelers another option at several offensive line spots.
The Cincinnati Bengals have been one of the better surprises this season. They have found a way to make a strong playoff push while featuring a rookie quarterback.
During the offseason, Cincinnati focused on shedding players. They let go of Chad Ochocinco and were dealing with the retirement of Carson Palmer. Cincinnati's offseason subtractions only lowered the expectations for a team coming off a 4-12 season.
However, rookie quarterback Andy Dalton has helped lead this team into playoff contention.
One area Cincinnati needs to address is the cornerback position, where they are still dealing with the free-agency loss of Johnathan Joseph. North Alabama's Janoris Jenkins has the skills to step in and make an instant impact.
Jenkins is extremely talented, but equally troubled. He has had several off-the-field issues that have really impacted his draft stock. However, if a team can overlook those problems they would be adding a potential top-level cornerback.
The Dallas Cowboys' roster has a lot of talent, especially at the skill positions. They appear to have their long-term answers at quarterback, running back, wide receiver and tight end. However, they still need to improve their offensive line; they appear set at tackle, but need help on the interior of the line.
Kyle Kosier and Montrae Holland are the current starting guards, and both could potentially be replaced next season. Wisconsin's Kevin Zeitler is one of the top interior line prospects in the 2012 draft. He is one of the more NFL-ready players who can step right in and help any offensive line.
Zeitler plays with excellent technique, which allows him to gain leverage and create a push. He is a dominant run-blocker, but can also hold up in pass protection.
The Houston Texans' addition of Wade Phillips has been one of the best offseason moves in the entire NFL. He has taken a terrible unit and transformed them into one of the top defenses in the NFL.
The biggest difference has been the change in scheme.
Houston's new 3-4 system has allowed them to create pressure and protect the back-end of the defense. Despite their success, this unit could still use another dynamic pass-rusher. Oklahoma's Ronnell Lewis has the potential to develop into a great edge-rusher.
Lewis is having a breakout season, proving that is capable of bring pressure off the edge. He would be a great fit as an outside linebacker in a 3-4 system.
The New England Patriots' pass-defense ranks dead last in the NFL; they are allowing nearly 300 passing yards per game. One of the weakest parts of the defense is the safety position, where they are dealing with inefficiency and injuries. Patrick Chung is the team's top safety, but he has his share of struggles.
Alabama's Mark Barron is the my top-rated 2012 safety. He does a nice job in both pass coverage and run support. Barron would instantly upgrade the Patriots' defense.
The New England Patriots don't only need to improve their secondary but they also need help along the front seven. Their starting defensive line consists of castoffs and rotational players, so they need to add an interior defensive lineman capable of penetrating the pocket.
Penn State's Devon Still is one of the top defensive tackle prospects in the draft. He has had a terrific season and appears like a sure-fire first-round pick. Still has made a ton of plays behind the line of scrimmage. His ability to disrupt the offense is something all defensive coordinators covet.
Jim Harbaugh and the San Francisco 49ers seem committed to winning football games with their defense and ball control. The 49ers' defense has really played great football, but they could use help in the secondary.
Current starters Carlos Rogers and Tarell Brown are decent players, but neither have a lot of potential. South Carolina's Stephon Gilmore has tremendous upside and potential. He has the quickness and balance to be an excellent cover-man. Gilmore also has excellent ball skills, which make him a threat to create turnovers.
The addition of Gilmore would allow the 49ers to bring more pressure with their front seven.
The Baltimore Ravens could go in a few different directions, but I feel they need to address the left tackle position. Bryant McKinnie is the current starting left tackle, and he doesn't have a lot of years left in the tank. The addition of McKinnie leads me to believe that the Ravens don't see Michael Oher as the left tackle of the future.
Baltimore's apparent lack of faith in Oher makes adding another offensive tackle a major need. Ohio State's Mike Adams would be a great addition to the Ravens' offensive line. He has the size and foot speed needed to play left tackle.
Adams' stock is on the rise, as he has done a good job remaining focused after his five-game suspension.
It is hard to find many flaws with a team that has started the season 11-0, but the Green Bay Packers do have some weaknesses. Green Bay's defense has not been performing at a very high level, and they have seemed to regress from last season.
Looking at the defensive starters, Green Bay appears to need some more playmakers along the defensvie line. Ideally, they would love to find an upgrade for defensive ends Ryan Pickett and Jarius Wynn.
Connecticut's Kendall Reyes would be a nice addition to the defensive line. Reyes is a versatile player who can play two-gap football and penetrate the pocket. He would be a great fit as a 5-technique in the Packers' 3-4 system.