The 2012 NFL draft is quickly coming into view as the final weeks of the 2011 regular season are finally winding down. Top prospects from around the nation are playing in their final college games and are looking forward to strapping on the pads in an NFL uniform next season.
Here is a complete first round mock draft for the 2012 NFL draft. It is the first mock released by this author for the 2012 season and will be updated periodically over the next several months. Draft order will be based on current NFL standings and is current as of Dec. 13, 2011.
*Note: Order will likely change drastically before the end of 2011.
With the first selection of the 2012 NFL draft, the Indianapolis Colts select...
It is hard to believe the Indianapolis Colts would pass on the opportunity to draft a top-rate quarterback, especially with the health concerns of Peyton Manning moving forward. Manning and Luck would likely not be able to co-exist on this team, and many experts predict the Colts to give Manning his outright release shortly after the NFL draft concludes.
Luck would have to fill some pretty big shoes in Indianapolis, but is the consensus pick on nearly every mock draft around the country. Throughout his career at Stanford, Luck threw for over 9,000 yards, 80 touchdowns and posted an overall record of 11-1 during this past season.
Luck was also the recipient of the Johnny Unitas Golden Arm Award, Maxwell Award and Walter Camp Award.
The Minnesota Vikings already seem to have some key positions locked in on their offensive unit moving forward. Christian Ponder and Adrian Peterson should be able to lead a pretty substantial offensive attack if their offensive line can pass block and open some holes along the way.
Matt Kalil should be the man to help solidify that offensive line for the Vikings and give Minnesota that stability they have been looking for all season long. The Vikings currently have Charlie Johnson starting at the left tackle position, but he has struggled all season long against some of the talented defensive ends of the NFC North.
The St.Louis Rams really need help at multiple positions on the defensive side of the ball. Unfortunately, no defensive players really seem worthy of being selected with the third overall pick at this point in the scouting process.
Justin Blackmon is the best player on the board at this point in the draft and easily has the ability to be the A.J. Green of 2012. The Rams would love to add Blackmon to a receiving corps that will have Brandon Lloyd and a healthy Danny Amendola returning next season.
The Rams will also have to look at solidifying their offensive line in the next few rounds in order to give Bradford time to get the ball to his playmakers.
Matt Barkley has already solidified himself as one of the premier quarterbacks the 2012 NFL draft has to offer. Barkley has consistently been in the conversation as a prime quarterback talent and has been putting up some huge numbers as he gets more comfortable with USC's offensive game plan.
Many Critics claim that Barkley's success comes from the system he plays in and that he will likely struggle if he does not sit for a few seasons to start his NFL career. The Redskins would likely have other plans with Barkley if he falls to them with the fifth overall selection.
Washington has struggled to find any type of consistency from Rex Grossman or John Beck, and the franchise seems to be getting tired of the quarterback carousel. If Barkley could bring his 39 touchdown passes from the 2011 season with him to Washington, expect him to start early despite his level of preparation.
A lot of Jaguars fans across the country are already calling for Blaine Gabbert to be replaced before the 2011 season. If history proves anything in the NFL, it's that some quarterbacks take time to develop into good football players and it is necessary to surround those quarterbacks with solid talent.
Alshon Jeffery is player 1A when it comes to the wide receiving corps in the 2012 NFL draft class. Jeffery has the size, hands and overall talent to be one of the best receivers in the AFC South. The Jaguars would simply love to have a talented receiver for Gabbert to rely on as he continues his progression in the coming seasons.
Jacksonville currently at the bottom of the NFL in nearly every passing statistic, but it would show great franchise instability to draft a quarterback after selecting Gabbert in 2011. Getting a top wide receiver gives Gabbert no excuses moving forward and also gives him a weapon to showcase his talents as the organization makes a final decision on his future.
The Carolina Panthers seem to have all the offensive firepower needed in order to make serious run at the postseason in 2012. The defensive side of the ball needs some help holding opponents down and making sure Cam Newton has control of the game from start to finish.
Morris Claiborne should be the perfect candidate for making those defensive changes possible. Claiborne is considered by many to be the best defensive talent in the entire draft and could even become a lock down corner in his first NFL season. Throughout college, teams would intentionally play away from Claiborne because of his big play ability and natural talent to seek the ball in the air.
The Panthers have lacked a household defender since Julius Peppers left a few seasons ago. Claiborne can help finally give the Panthers defense a new identity moving forward and could push them over the hump into the postseason.
Robert Griffin III took the college football world by storm in 2011 and eventually took home the Heisman Trophy for his efforts.
There will be a new regime for the Miami Dolphins in 2012, and even though Matt Moore had limited success in 2011, it is understandable if the team wants to move a new direction with a new quarterback. Chad Henne will likely get another opportunity to start for Miami before all is said and done, but Griffin could finally be the quarterback the Dolphins have been looking for over the past 10 seasons.
Many teams are already coveting a quarterback heading into the 2012 draft, and it is possible that many teams may look to trade into position to acquire Griffin early in the first round.
Assuming that Peyton Hillis' reign with the Cleveland has come to an end, the Browns will have a huge hole to fill at the running back position on draft day. Trent Richardson could help the Cleveland faithful get over the days of Hillis and also bring to Cleveland what has been missing since 1999—an elite rusher.
Richardson was the Doak Walker Award winner in 2011 for being considered the best running back in the nation. Cleveland should be able to take their offensive game plan to the next level by adding not only a ground threat, but a backfield passing option for Colt McCoy.
The AFC North could easily become one of the best rushing divisions with the addition of Richardson to Cleveland, as he would join the ranks of Ray Rice, Rashard Mendenhall and Cedric Benson.
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers have a ton of holes to fill on the defensive side of the ball, and Alfonzo Dennard looks like the perfect prospect to sure up their weak secondary. Dennard has great ball skills and also has the type of speed to be able to keep up with the quality wide receivers of the NFC South.
The Buccaneers are also weak at the linebacker position, but will likely look in other places due to the withdrawl of Man'ti Teo from draft consideration.
The linebacker position for the Philadelphia Eagles has been a weak spot in what was supposed to be a powerhouse defense for 2011. It is reasonable to believe the Eagles could look at any defensive position with this pick, but will ultimately a bunch of needs to fulfill and will likely look to bolster the position that struggled the most this season.
Kuechly is the best linebacker in the entire 2012 NFL draft class and has the ability to become a significant force from the first day in an Eagles uniform. The Eagles will also be looking to add to their secondary with the possible departure of Asante Samuel looming in the coming weeks.
Maurice Claiborne is still on the draft board at this point, but the Eagles still have Nnamdi Asomugha and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie at the corner positions.
The Buffalo Bills had their fans thinking about postseason glory before the wheels fell off midway through the 2011 season. Fred Jackson was one of the brightest spots in the entire AFC and looked as if he would be considered for the Pro Bowl by year's end.
Buffalo would like to add a few pieces along the offensive line to help open holes for Jackson next season, and protect Ryan Fitzpatrick from the relentless rushers on the New York Jets and other division rivals.
The Bills offensive line has looked solid for most of the season, and this pick should put them somewhere near the top of the AFC.
The Matt Cassel and Tyler Palko experiments in Kansas City do not seem to be going as planned, and now with Todd Haley out as head coach, it may be time for a change at Arrowhead in 2012.
Landry Jones would be the fourth overall quarterback taken in this mock draft, but his talents are not too far away from the first overall selection, Andrew Luck. Jones threw for over 12,000 yards in his college career and finished the 2011 regular season with 92 career touchdown passes.
The Chiefs would love to get a quarterback that they could reasonably sit while Matt Cassel plays out the rest of his contract in a new coaching regime. Jones is very well known in the midwestern part of the country and should have a great following immediately after draft day.
The Arizona Cardinals have a lot of money invested in Kevin Kolb and also seem to have a resurgent running back in Beanie Wells heading into the 2012 season. Reiff can not only protect both these players, but is a safe option for the Cardinals who are trying to get their potent offense back on track for the future.
Kolb has some quality targets to throw to in Arizona, and one would only imagine the Cardinals would let to get him more time in the pocket to be able to look down field. The Cardinals have surrendered 43 sacks on the season and are ranked 20th in overall passing.
Pete Carroll looks as if he has the Seattle Seahawks offense on track and should finally have a healthy group of receivers to work with in 2012. It is no surprise here that Seattle would look at the defensive side of the ball as they are only a few pieces away from being considered one of the elite defenses of the NFC.
Dre Kirkpatrick may not have the hype of Patrick Peterson in 2011 or Joe Haden in 2010, but he has the ability to be a shut down corner from the early portion of his career. A good supporting cast will also be a great benefit for Kirkpatrick, as he will likely have time to learn from the likes of Marcus Trufant and the rest of the secondary.
The San Diego Chargers are a revolving door at the defensive end position and Quinton Coples could easily become a force for what has become a very lackluster rush defense this season.
Coples has very good speed and a high motor which should fit in very well with the youth movement that will likely become apparent in San Diego. Coples has 140 career tackles at North Carolina and recorded 24 sacks in the past four seasons.
San Diego is continuing to improve on the defensive side of ball, but would likely go offense for the next two or three rounds.
Whitney Mercilus is a bit of a one-year wonder at Illinois, but that shouldn't stop Jerry Jones from making one of the more controversial picks of the first round. Jones likes upside talent and Mercilus is one of those players that could be a major hit or a major bust right from the beginning of his career.
The Cowboys have been better on offense this season and have found a formidable rushing force in Demarco Murray. Defense should be the focus for their early draft needs, especially if Rob Ryan happens to get a head coaching position before April.
The Tennessee Titans have struggled to find a consistent mixture of play makers at the linebacker position all season long. Zach Brown will be the second Tar Heel off the board with this selection and could have all the tools needed to become one of the best rookies in the entire class.
Brown was selected first team All-ACC this past season and was second on the entire North Carolina defense in tackles despite sharing snaps with other talented linebackers. According to NFLdraftscout.com, Brown is the No. 1 outside linebacker in the class and is the second linebacker overall.
Janoris Jenkins has had plenty of run-ins with the law over the course of his college career. However, that has never stopped the Cincinnati Bengals from drafting players with questionable histories.
Jenkins has some of the best talent on the field in the entire draft, but needs to clear up his personal life before the draft in April. Jenkins was first team All-SEC by the media poll in 2010 and played much of that season with injuries to his shoulder.
He was eventually dismissed from the Florida Gators due to marijuana charges and went to play for North Alabama this past season.
Cordy Glenn has to be the pick for the Bears in order to solidify the offensive line and maybe give Cutler an extra boost of that confidence he had early in the season.
Devon Still was a bright spot in what was a very tumultuous season for the Penn State Nittany Lions. The 6'4" Still combined for 49 tackles on the season and recorded 4.5 sacks despite playing in two of Penn State's final three games.
The Bengals continue to work on their defense here despite having one of the youngest offenses in football. If Cincinnati should lose Cedric Benson to free agency, expect the team to be looking at the running back position at this point in the draft.
Anyone who has followed the Cleveland Browns since 2008 knows the troubles the team has had finding reliable receivers over the past few seasons. Mohammed Massaqoui and Jordan Norwood have failed to emerge as quality talents and have left much of the work load for Josh Cribbs and Greg Little.
Michael Floyd could finally give Cleveland a reliable receiving threat and should be able to eventually take over the number one role by the middle of his first season.
The Browns receiving corps is very thin, so Floyd should get a ton of reps early in his career and will have plenty of opportunities to be productive with Colt McCoy and the West Coast offense.
The New York Jets defense was supposed to be one of the best in the NFL during the 2011 season, and even though it was ranked in the top half in almost every category, Rex Ryan seemed to want more out of them every passing week.
The Jets upgrade a very weak spot in their defensive front with the addition of Courtney Upshaw, as the team has been decimated by injuries at the right end position. Upshaw led the Crimson Tide with 14.5 tackles for a loss and seven sacks in 2011.
The Detroit Lions have a very sound defensive front and should only get better with the addition of Chase Minnifield.
Minnifield is slightly taller than most of the other corners in the draft and has great speed to go along with solid football instincts. The Lions are currently ranked ninth in the NFL against the pass but have seen injuries to both starting corners and both safeties in 2011.
At the very least, Minnifield can serve as a great insurance policy for the secondary unit and should develop into a very good corner with a little coaching.
The Houston Texans had trouble keeping their quarterbacks on the field in 2011 as both Matt Shaub and Matt Leinart spent the better part of the season on the sidelines. Peter Konz should help the Texans fix those protection problems in the middle of the line and also give Houston a reason to shop the services of seven-year veteran Chris Myers in the offseason.
Konz is currently listed as 6'5" and weighs 315 pounds, according to the Wisconsin Badgers athletic website.
The New York Giants are currently ranked last in the NFL in total rushing and have surrendered 21 sacks on the season behind an offensive line that was supposed to be one of the best in the entire NFC. New York will likely try to improve these numbers in the first round by drafting the best offensive line talent on the board.
Jon Martin from Stanford is one of those top players that can help the Giants get their O-line back on track in 2012. Martin made a career at Stanford blocking for one of the best quarterbacks in the country and has all the size and strength professional scouts look for.
The Giants seem relatively happy at the guard position with Chris Snee and David Diehl, which makes tackle the most likely spot to look during the first round.
The Denver Broncos hold one of the more tricky draft positions in the entire first round. Their offensive unit needs to build around the strengths of Tim Tebow, while their defense is only a few pieces away from being considered one of the best in the AFC.
For this mock draft, Jerel Worthy seems to be one of the most logical pieces for the Broncos growing defense. According to NFLdraftscout.com, Worthy "led all Spartan defensive linemen with 40 tackles, including 8.0 for a loss and 4 sacks."
The Broncos are slowing building a strong defensive unit around talented linebackers and currently have the best rushing defense in the NFL. However, the Broncos pass defense is ranked near the bottom of the entire NFL, which makes drafting a corner in this position very likely as well.
The Baltimore Ravens always seem to make the right decisions on draft day, and what better way to kick off 2012 than to select Ray Lewis' successor in the purple and black? Dont'a Hightower is a physical monster with a mentality that should fit in perfectly with the infamous Ravens defense.
According to his scouting report on FFToolBox.com, "Hightower has a great combination of size and speed at 6'4'', 260 pounds. He has been clocked as fast as 4.67 in the 40-yard dash, a number he should be able to improve upon at the combine and enhance his draft stock. When he is at 100 percent, there is no denying that Hightower is a first-round talent. He can play rush linebacker in a 3-4 scheme in the NFL while also having the ability to play inside. Look for him to go off the board in the mid or late first round."
Mike Adams is widely considered the best senior offensive tackle to come out for the 2012 NFL draft. His stock will likely change based on what the juniors at his position decide to do before the draft declaration deadline. The 49ers have to be very excited that Adams would drop this far to them with the 28th selection in the draft.
Adams would be critical in helping San Francisco fix their line that has surrendered 39 sacks already this season. The 49ers have survived one of their best seasons in decades with an offensive line that seemingly has no household names or Pro Bowl players. Adams would be a great change of pace to that trend and should help them build off their gaudy rushing numbers as well.
The New England Patriots always seem to draft well, and this year should not be an exception. New England currently holds back-to-back picks in the first round and are notorious for trading down and collecting picks for the future. In this position, if they should keep their selection, I would expect the Patriots to build their passing defense.
New England is currently near the bottom of the league in pass defense and has been surrendering more than 300 yards a game through the air. Jayron Hosley is an intelligent player that has great physical ability and should fit in well with the type of defense that the Patriots like acquire through their drafting process.
Hosley is currently seek advice from the NFL draft advisory board in order to decide whether he should declare for the draft in April.
The Chad Ochocinco experiment has simply not worked for the New England Patriots, and Mohamed Sanu could be a quality young talent to help Boston area fans forget about 85's production during this past season.
Sanu had a breakout season in 2011 with over 100 catches and seven touchdowns. Draft experts seem to worry about his sudden burst of production, but it is clear to see his progression from season to season has been significant. Sanu has great size for an NFL receiver and posted seven games with over 100 yards receiving this past season.
Vontaze Burfict is exactly the type of linebacker the Pittsburgh Steelers love. His tremendous physical ability mixed with a relentless attitude has dominant defender written all over this prospect for many seasons to come.
Pittsburgh's current linebacking corps is beginning to age, and some are even expecting the retirement of its core players over the next few years. Burfict could easily begin to work with the current group of Steelers defenders and be a significant force by the middle of 2011.
Burfict collected over 200 tackles throughout his college career and recorded seven sacks to go along with one interception. Burfict also forced three fumbles, but did not recover any of them.
It is very hard to find a weak spot on the Green Bay Packers for 2012, but there are some spots that could use a slight bit of improvement.
Even though the Packers are a pass-first team, the running back combination of James Starks and Ryan Grant has failed to be productive enough to be considered a real threat by most teams in the NFC. Lamar Miller has tremendous upside and could even take over the lead rushing role early if the Packers would like to go in a different direction. Green Bay is currently ranked 27th in the NFL in rushing.
Green Bay may also consider drafting a cornerback to help control their 31st overall passing defense as that is the only glaring weakness on the defensive side.