2012 NFL Mock Draft: The First Round Before College Bowl Season
Despite the fact that we're months away from draft time, college football's regular season just ended and it's time to evaluate who is where before the bowl games begin.
The NFL season is only in Week 14, but you can be assured that teams are already concerned with who they'll be drafting in 2012.
It may be premature, but with college football almost in the books for 2011, here is the first-round mock draft for the NFL.
Side note: If you're too lazy to read through every player, I have included a full summary of the mock draft as the last slide, listing each team, player and position in pick order.
1. Indianapolis Colts: QB Andrew Luck, Stanford
Luck combines intelligence with arm strength, accuracy, leadership and scrambling ability to be the most complete player on the board.
The Stanford quarterback has a perfect release and is able to place the ball in his receivers' arms, consistently fitting the ball into tight windows and allowing his receivers to make plays.
With experience in multiple offensive sets, Luck will have no problem running a pro-style offense to perfection.
This is an easy pick for the Colts, and they take a huge step in the right direction by selecting Andrew Luck first overall.
2. St. Louis Rams: OT Matt Kalil, USC
USC's Matt Kalil is one of two complete offensive tackle prospects in the draft and his skill set justifies a high pick here.
This past season, Kalil has shown an uncanny knack for both pass and run blocking, driving defenders back and keeping the USC backfield intact all year.
This blindside blocker was the reason Tyron Smith (a top prospect last year) played right tackle instead of left tackle.
In 2011, Kalil protected Matt Barkley and in 2012, he'll be tasked with keeping the St. Louis Rams' Sam Bradford upright.
3. Minnesota Vikings: LB Vontaze Burfict, Arizona State
The best middle linebacker prospect to come out since Patrick Willis, Vontaze Burfict has a ton of potential.
Burfict is a hard-hitter who has exceptional play-recognition skills, getting to the ball and making the tackle before the rest of the defense even knew what was happening.
On some draft boards, this talented player's draft stock has fallen a bit due to off-the-field concerns, but I don't mind a middle linebacker who isn't the most upstanding citizen.
With EJ Henderson's contract set to expire, it's time for the Vikings to find a new player to build this defense around. Burfict is the guy.
4. Jacksonville Jaguars: WR Justin Blackmon, Oklahoma State
Justin Blackmon is a top-notch prospect who brings together rare body control, superior production and game-breaking speed at the wideout position.
Any team would be happy to bring in a player like Blackmon and the Jacksonville Jaguars can nab him with the fourth pick here.
The Oklahoma State Cowboy makes a lot of catches and gets the ball in the end zone, which will help him to a nice, long career in the NFL.
The Jaguars need a shot in the arm for their passing game and Blackmon could be the guy.
5. Cleveland Browns: DE Quinton Coples, UNC
Quinton Coples is a high-quality speed rusher, able to set up slow-footed offensive linemen with an inside stem and then quickly beat the pass-blocker to the outside.
UNC is notorious for their defensive players and Coples looks to follow in the footsteps of another top-flight defensive end from North Carolina named Julius Peppers.
Coples has a great set of moves that he employs to get after the quarterback and he'd be a perfect fit on any NFL defense.
The Browns need to get after the quarterback with guys like Andy Dalton, Ben Roethlisberger and Joe Flacco in the division—Coples will help them achieve that goal.
6. Washington Redskins: QB Matt Barkley, USC
I had my doubts about Matt Barkley going into the season, but he shattered them after the win over Oregon, completely changing my opinion on him and his draft stock in my mind.
Barkley incorporated the ability to make progressions this year, working the ball around equally throughout his receiving corps.
This USC quarterback has made the transformation from average signal-caller to blue-chip prospect, and I am really impressed with Barkley.
The Redskins need a franchise quarterback to run the offense and Barkley is the perfect fit for Mike Shanahan and the crew in D.C.
7. Miami Dolphins: QB Robert Griffin III, Baylor
Robert Griffin III has burst onto the scene as a Heisman candidate and top quarterback prospect, thus justifying his selection as high as seventh here.
Griffin led his Baylor Bears to the Alamo Bowl with a stellar showing this season.
His seldom-seen combination of arm strength, medium-to-deep ball accuracy and athleticism is unrivaled in this class, and I rate him third on my big board of quarterbacks, just ahead of Landry Jones.
With the Dolphins ready to organize a complete turnover of their franchise, drafting a new quarterback to build around would be a big step to a winning season.
8. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: CB Morris Claiborne, LSU
Morris Claiborne is a special prospect and a potential 10-year starter at the cornerback position for an NFL team.
Claiborne has rare playmaking ability and he is the true definition of a ball hawk, helping him skyrocket up draft boards.
LSU is undefeated on the year and their record is thanks in large part to Claiborne's ability to lock down top-flight SEC receivers.
The Bucs have a lot of young talent already entrenched at cornerback and adding Claiborne to the mix would help supplant Ronde Barber and give the Buccaneers a top-notch secondary.
9. Philadelphia Eagles: WR Alshon Jeffery, South Carolina
Alshon Jeffery is an exceptional prospect who should find himself in the Top 10 when draft day rolls around.
Jeffery is a big, physically-imposing receiver with soft hands and big-play capability.
The South Carolina wideout has been a top-level prospect for quite some time and he should be a very good player at the next level.
With DeSean Jackson’s contract expiring this offseason, the Eagles will need a split end to make plays down the field—Jeffery is their guy.
10. Carolina Panthers: LB Zach Brown, UNC
Zach Brown is a physical specimen who knows how to rush the passer and get after the quarterback at any level.
He and aforementioned Quinton Coples have combined to wreak havoc on ACC quarterbacks thus far in 2011—I like Brown as an NFL rush linebacker.
Look for Brown's name to be called early on draft day—don't be surprised if he finds his way into the Top 10.
11. Arizona Cardinals: OT Jonathan Martin, Stanford
Jonathan Martin is the best pure pass-blocking left tackle available in the 2012 NFL draft and he's rated second on my board of offensive linemen overall.
He has put in two great campaigns over the last two years, keeping Andrew Luck healthy and productive with a great pocket to work in.
Martin would be a great player to build an NFL offensive line around and he is a top prospect in this draft class.
The Cardinals need to keep Kevin Kolb upright and, here with this pick, they further commit to their passing attack by drafting a pass-blocker.
12. Seattle Seahawks: QB Landry Jones, Oklahoma
After the "Bedlam Beatdown" in which Jones' Sooners lost 44-10 to a superior Oklahoma State team, I was forced to move Jones behind Robert Griffin III on my draft board.
With the need for a franchise quarterback in the NFL though, a team will be tempted to reach a bit for this Oklahoma quarterback.
There is still a lot to like about Jones, including his size, pocket presence, arm strength and field vision.
The Seahawks will select this young field general here as they try to build their team with the help of coach Pete Carroll's quarterback-friendly system.
13. Kansas City Chiefs: OT Reilly Reiff, Iowa
Reilly Reiff is a big mauler at offensive tackle who could step in and be an immediate starter at the highest level.
This Iowa lineman combines raw strength with great footwork in the run game and the ability to stand his ground.
He's far from the best player left despite Scott Pioli's typical drafting strategy of the best guy available, but offensive tackles typically go quickly once the second guy on the board (see Martin, Jonathan) is picked.
This season, the Chiefs saw how important it is to keep their star players healthy, and drafting Reilly would be a result of that observation.
14. Buffalo Bills: CB Dre Kirkpatrick, Alabama
As a cornerback, with his quick, fluid hips, great route recognition and soft hands, Dre Kirkpatrick almost has it all.
Kirkpatrick really excels in controlling his body as well as backpedaling with speed, but he needs to bulk up and work on his jamming ability.
He is a tall, lanky cornerback with long arms and a knack for pass breakups—Kirkpatrick will be a solid player in the NFL.
After having success drafting another Alabama defensive player last year (defensive lineman Marcel Dareus), the Bills will shore up their secondary here with the addition of this Alabama cornerback.
15. San Diego Chargers: WR Michael Floyd, Notre Dame
Last year, Michael Floyd made one of the best decisions in all of college football when he elected not to go to the draft.
This year, instead of losing his footing as a prospect, Floyd has shown all kinds of talent and he's vaulted himself into the top half of the first round on my board.
Floyd has good size and will evolve into a great possession receiver at the highest level. He catches the ball with his hands and uses his strength to make tough catches.
The Chargers have to supply Philip Rivers with a reliable receiver who can catch the ball all over the field—Floyd will help bring Rivers' interception total down.
16. New York Giants: LB Manti Te'o, Notre Dame
A rough, physical linebacker, Manti Te'o is just the kind of bruising linebacker to build a corps around for years to come.
Te'o is one of the most cerebral linebackers in the NCAA right now, calling different checks and taking charge of the Notre Dame defense.
I rank this player as one of the top open-field tacklers available in the draft, something that typically carries over to the NFL.
The Giants need another linebacker to bring their defense to the next level and Te'o is the perfect pick in that regard.
17. Tennessee Titans: OG David DeCastro, Stanford
The Stanford offensive line combination of Jonathan Martin and this player, guard David DeCastro, was pivotal in Andrew Luck's success this season.
DeCastro is a young, high-motor player who is great in pass-blocking and will allow a young quarterback like Jake Locker to feel safe in the pocket.
The most talked-about trait of this lineman is his toughness, being that he is a ruthless player in the trenches.
Titans coach Mike Munchak was a lineman himself and would love to add a tough, young guard like DeCastro to the fold.
18. Detroit Lions: CB Alfonzo Dennard, Nebraska
Alfonzo Dennard is a talented man-to-man cornerback who excels in the press-coverage game.
Dennard gets physical with opposing receivers at the line of scrimmage, making an impact as a bump-and-run cornerback and open-field tackler.
He doesn't have elite foot speed and he's not much of a zone-covering cornerback, so he will need to improve on that to become a complete NFL player.
Know, though, that the Lions typically keep their cornerbacks in man coverage while bringing blitzes at the quarterback—Dennard could have real success in Jim Schwartz's system.
19. New York Jets: LB Courtney Upshaw, Alabama
When it comes to rushing the passer, not many in this draft class are better than Courtney Upshaw.
Upshaw is the classic rush linebacker, blending good bulk with solid athleticism and football smarts.
The Alabama linebacker does have some questions surrounding him, including how he will overcome his lack of ideal height at 6'2" and whether or not he will be able to do much else than blitz.
Rex Ryan loves disciplined players though and Upshaw is one of the most focused players in this whole class—look for the Jets to spend a pick on this youngster for a better pass-rush in 2012.
20. Cincinnati Bengals (via Oakland Raiders): RB Trent Richardson, Alabama
Trent Richardson is an explosive running back who fits the mold of a classic bruiser.
This Alabama rusher has fresh legs after sharing the workload with Mark Ingram last year and he really burst on the scene as a top-level prospect this season.
One of the best players overall in the draft, he falls a little here because of the decreasing need for a tailback in the NFL.
The Bengals have to love this pick here, for they’ll have the most youthful, talented offense in the NFL with Richardson, Andy Dalton and AJ Green.
21. Denver Broncos: DT Devon Still, Penn State
Devon Still is a disruptive defensive tackle who plugs up the inside gaps—he is a perfect fit as a 4-3 defensive tackle.
Still is the highest-rated interior defensive lineman available and he won't fall much further than the 21st selection, if that.
Having a fantastic senior season, all this prospect needs to do is work on his effort level and intensity, but the physical attributes are there.
Instead of supplanting a winning quarterback in Tim Tebow, the Broncos go for some more defense and get an upgrade on the line.
22. Cincinnati Bengals: CB Janoris Jenkins, North Alabama
Despite many concerns about his character and maturity, Janoris Jenkins is the right pick here at 20.
Jenkins, much the opposite of aforementioned cornerback Alfonzo Dennard, excels as an off-cover cornerback and is best utilized in a zone scheme.
This former Florida Gator really reminds me of a poor man's Asante Samuel with his ball skills and big-play capability despite average size.
The Bengals are more than happy to rein in Jenkins' personality and get the young defensive back to buy into the new Cincinnati mentality of focus and success.
23. Chicago Bears: OT/OG Cordy Glenn, Georgia
He's not an overly talented lineman and his physical skills aren't fantastic, but Glenn is just the type of technician that every NFL team needs.
Glenn can play guard or tackle and even though he lacks great foot speed in his footwork, the Bulldog is a strong player who is very reliable.
He has a lot to work on when he gets to the NFL, but his technical skill set is good enough to start him as a rookie in the NFL.
The Bears need another offensive lineman to help keep Jay Cutler up and well, so they draft Glenn here in very typical Chicago fashion.
24. Dallas Cowboys: LB Dont'a Hightower, Alabama
Last year, some scouts were concerned with Hightower's lack of effort during the middle of games and how he looked like he didn't want to be out there.
In 2011, the Crimson Tide linebacker changed for the better, incorporating a high motor with his great size and tackling ability.
This hard-hitter is the captain of Alabama's No. 1-ranked defense and brings unrivaled ferocity to the table.
With Bradie James and Keith Brooking on the way out, Dallas brings in a top-notch replacement with this beast.
25. Cleveland Browns (via Atlanta Falcons): OT Mike Adams, Ohio State
When on the field, Mike Adams is really a top prospect, having the long arms, big build and quick feet that scouts love to see in a tackle prospect.
Off the field, however, Adams has some issues; he was one of the players involved in the Ohio State tattoo scandal and he's also racked up a few misdemeanors (including running a stop sign and possessing drug paraphernalia).
In time, I feel like Adams can mature into an NFL player and he can be a difference-maker on either side of the line.
It's not time to draft a new quarterback yet, Browns fans; give Colt McCoy another chance, this time behind a bolstered line.
26. New England Patriots: S Mark Barron, Alabama
Mark Barron is the top-rated safety in this class and is the perfect complementary piece to a professional defense that already has its key players.
Where this defensive back really struggles is in man coverage—he doesn't match up well against receivers and tight ends.
The Alabama safety is at his best in zone coverage, where he can use his superior bulk and above-average hands to both box-out receivers and make plays on the ball.
New England would love to bring in Barron to round out their defense and secondary, allowing the young safety to develop into a deep-zone defender.
27. Pittsburgh Steelers: NT Alameda Ta'amu, Washington
Alameda Ta'amu is not an often talked-about prospect, but he is a huge (literally) reason that Washington has been somewhat competitive this season.
Ta'amu is a huge defensive lineman at 6'3" and 335 lbs, combining size and strength to draw many double teams and open up run-through gaps for his inside linebackers.
This player is, in my opinion, a surefire first rounder and a better player than Memphis' highly rated Dontari Poe.
The Steelers will nab Casey Hampton's eventual replacement here and continue with their youthful injection on defense.
28. Houston Texans: C Peter Konz, Wisconsin
Peter Konz has really burst onto the scene as a top interior lineman prospect who could conceivably stay at the center position in the NFL.
Konz was a relative unknown before the season, but the Badger lineman has put together a stellar campaign and will be yet another Wisconsin offensive lineman to be picked in the first round.
This lineman can be exposed when taking on defenders one-on-one, but he has fantastic strength for a center and moves exceptionally well.
The Texans take a chance on Konz here to bulk up their interior line and keep Matt Schaub standing upright for next season.
29. San Francisco 49ers: CB Chase Minnifield, Virginia
Chase Minnifield is a good prospect with slightly above-average size and great football instincts.
Though he's not really a great man-to-man defender, Minnifield could end up being the best zone-coverage cornerback in this draft.
He doesn't jam receivers well and may struggle initially, but he is a hardworking player who chose to go back to college for an extra year and work on his game, something to be admired.
The 49ers bring in a cornerback to play alongside Carlos Rogers and funnel receivers inside to Patrick Willis and Navorro Bowman—Minnifield is a good value pick here.
30. Green Bay Packers: DE Jared Crick, Nebraska
Another Nebraska defensive player, Crick dealt with an injury this year and wasn't able to play down the stretch for talent evaluators to see how he'd perform in his last year.
A lot of his draft stock will inevitable depend on the Scouting Combine and individual workouts, but Crick is as talented as they come for 3-4 defensive ends and he is a perfect fit here at the end of the first round.
He's not a great pass-rusher really, but he has been awesome against the run and would really pair well with a dominant nose tackle to plug up the gaps in the trenches.
The Packers are developing a need for a 3-4 end to play opposite Ryan Pickett and Jared Crick would step in and be a day-one starter.
31. New England Patriots (via New Orleans Saints): DT Jerel Worthy, Mich. State
Jerel Worthy is the only do-it-all defensive tackle on the board, as he's able to rush the passer and control the offensive guards in the run game.
Worthy has stretches where he's unstoppable, but he can also lose focus at times and take plays off—he needs a work-ethic-oriented coach to push this lineman hard.
He has some slight technical issues, like standing too upright at times, but all of that can be fixed with the right dedicated coaching staff.
New England has been looking for a 4-3 defensive tackle to pair with Vince Wilfork in some sets and after failing with Albert Haynesworth, the Patriots give it another go with Worthy.
32. Baltimore Ravens: LB Luke Kuechly, Boston College
I have my doubts that this happens, but it's quite possible that a diminished need for inside linebackers pushes Kuechly all the way to the back of the first round.
This would be a dream scenario for whatever team picking here as Kuechly is a top-notch tackler who is really the definition of a top prospect at middle linebacker.
This talented War Eagle followed up a solid 2010 campaign with an amazing 2011 season for Boston College, putting ballcarriers into the turf and making plays all over the field.
Should the Ravens win the Super Bowl like my predictions indicate here, I believe Ray Lewis will ride off into the sunset with his Super Bowl ring, leaving a void at inside linebacker for Kuechly to fill.
1. IND - (QB) Luck, A.
2. STL - (OT) Kalil, M.
3. MIN - (LB) Burfict, V.
4. JAX - (WR) Blackmon, J.
5. CLE - (DE) Coples, Q.
6. WAS - (QB) Barkley, M.
7. MIA - (QB) Griffin III, R.
8. TB - (CB) Claiborne, M.
9. PHI - (WR) Jeffery, A.
10. CAR - (LB) Brown, Z.
11. ARZ - (OT) Martin, J.
12. SEA - (QB) Jones, L.
13. KC - (OT) Reiff, R.
14. BUF - (CB) Kirkpatrick, D.
15. SD - (WR) Floyd, M.
16. NYG - (LB) Te'o, M.
17. TEN - (OG) DeCastro, D.
18. DET - (CB) Dennard, A.
19. NYJ - (LB) Upshaw, C.
20. CIN (via OAK) - (RB) Richardson, T.
21. DEN - (DT) Still, D.
22. CIN - (CB) Jenkins, J.
23. CHI - (OT/OG) Glenn, C.
24. DAL - (LB) Hightower, D.
25. CLE (via ATL) - (OT) Adams, M.
26. NE - (S) Barron, M.
27. PIT - (NT) Ta'amu, A.
28. HOU - (C) Konz, P.
29. SF - (CB) Minnifield, C.
30. GB - (DE) Crick, J.
31. NE (via NO) - (DT) Worthy, J.
32. BAL - (LB) Kuechly, L.