2012 NFL Mock Draft: Matt Miller's Three-Round Predictions

Matt Miller@nfldraftscoutNFL Draft Lead WriterDecember 19, 2011

2012 NFL Mock Draft: Matt Miller's Three-Round Predictions

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    The order for the 2012 NFL draft is starting to come into focus as teams at the bottom of the standings continue to lose games. Which players are NFL teams looking at in each of the first three rounds of the 2012 NFL draft?

    Underclassmen have until January 15 to declare their draft intentions, but already names like Manti Te'o and Jarvis Jones have been removed from the board, as they will return to college next season. Which underclassmen make up the top of the mock draft, and which player will your team find waiting when they come on the clock?

    Our mock draft has been updated, this time featuring the first three rounds. Draft order is based on predicted order of finish until regular season is complete.

1. Indianapolis Colts

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    Andrew Luck, Quarterback, Stanford

    No surprise here, right?

    Andrew Luck is hands down the best quarterback in college football, and on top of that he's the best quarterback prospect I have ever scouted. Don't let the naysayers get you down on Luck; this is a rare talent at quarterback, and NFL scouts know he's the real deal.

    Indianapolis has to plan for a future without Peyton Manning. I don't buy into the talk that Manning and Luck can't co-exist—they can and will as long as Manning wants to be a Colt.

    Forget the talk that the Colts would select Robert Griffin III over Luck, or that they plan to trade this pick. The Colts need Luck and shouldn't make any other pick when they are on the clock.

2. Minnesota Vikings

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    Matt Kalil, Offensive Tackle, USC

    The Minnesota Vikings have the young quarterback to lead this team (Christian Ponder) and the work-horse running back (Adrian Peterson) to carry the load. What they don't have is a franchise left tackle. Yes, it's shocking, but Charlie Johnson isn't getting it done on the left side.

    Matt Kalil is not on the same level as Jake Long or Joe Thomas as far as prospects go, but he's a massive upgrade over Charlie Johnson. Kalil would be an opening-day starter on Ponder's left side and allows Minnesota to focus their later picks on improving the talent in the secondary and at wide receiver.

3. St. Louis Rams

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    Justin Blackmon, Wide Receiver, Oklahoma State

    The St. Louis Rams could go a few directions with the No. 3 overall pick, but their best bet would be to get help for quarterback Sam Bradford. And pronto.

    Some would argue that offensive tackle is a bigger need, but I'm not ready to give up on Rodger Saffold or Jason Smith. Give them one more year to gel and learn a new offense before putting the two talented young tackles out on the street.

    A healthy St. Louis in 2012 would be greatly enhanced by a threat at receiver like Justin Blackmon. Look at the impact A.J. Green has had on the Cincinnati Bengals as a model for what Blackmon could do to help Bradford and the Rams.

    If this is the order when the actual draft rolls around, expect St. Louis to trade back with Miami or Washington, as both would like to move up and select a quarterback.

4. Jacksonville Jaguars

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    Alshon Jeffery, Wide Receiver, South Carolina

    It's tough to predict much for the Jacksonville Jaguars right now without knowing what offense they will be running in 2012, but we know for sure that they need help at wide receiver in a big way.

    Jeffery has been one of college football's elite receivers over the past two seasons. He's big, strong, productive and has the toughness to be a difference maker against press coverage and in the red zone. While he doesn't bring elite speed, Jeffery uses his body well to separate from defenders and is a major deep threat.

    If Jacksonville is to ever improve upon what they have with Blaine Gabbert, they need to get him help on the edges, and fast.

5. Tampa Bay Buccaneers

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    Morris Claiborne, Cornerback, LSU

    The Tampa Bay front office could look to draft a cornerback here to replace the aging (or maybe aged is better) Ronde Barber.

    Morris Claiborne would be an immediate starter opposite Aqib Talib, giving Tampa a fearsome coverage duo to build their young defense around. When facing quarterbacks Drew Brees, Matt Ryan and Cam Newton six times each season, building a solid secondary has to take priority in Tampa Bay.

6. Cleveland Browns

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    Trent Richardson, Running Back, Alabama

    Peyton Hillis is suffering from the curse of a video game in his contract year, Montario Hardesty can't stay off the trainer's table and Chris Ogbonnaya is a good backup but nothing more than a spot starter.

    Running back is a need in Cleveland, and an early one. 

    With two first-round picks (thanks, Atlanta), the Browns can make a move to get the best back in the class (and in many classes prior)—Trent Richardson of Alabama. The Heisman-caliber back has torn through SEC defenses for two seasons and is ready to assault the NFL.

7. Washington Redskins

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    Robert Griffin III, Quarterback, Baylor

    The Washington Redskins have proven over the past few weeks just how badly they need a new quarterback. Rex Grossman and John Beck just can’t get it done.

    Mike Shanahan has built a good offensive line and defense in Washington; now he needs his quarterback.

    In the past, Shanahan has targeted athletic quarterbacks who can get outside the pocket and make plays. He likes players who aren’t afraid to take chances but have the accuracy to pick apart a defense underneath. John Elway and Jay Cutler are his type of player.

    Griffin may not be in the Elway-level of quarterbacks, but he’s as good a prospect as Cutler was when Shanahan nabbed him to be his starter in Denver.

8. Carolina Panthers

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    Dre Kirkpatrick, Cornerback, Alabama

    The Carolina Panthers would love to see Justin Blackmon or Alshon Jeffery available here, but they just miss out.

    Cornerback is not the biggest need in Carolina—that would be defensive tackle—but the Panthers are in a good position to draft the highest-rated defensive player on the board. In this case that's the first defender to go off the board, and he's a good one.

    Dre Kirkpatrick would be an immediate starter opposite Chris Gamble, giving Carolina a fearsome coverage duo to build their young defense around. With a healthy Jon Beason returning in 2012, Carolina's defense could start to keep up with their offense.

9. Miami Dolphins

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    Matt Barkley, Quarterback, USC

    This is a match made in football heaven for the Miami Dolphins.

    If you missed the Fourth and Long: A Football Podcast show three weeks ago, you missed hearing me say Miami would be a playoff team with a consistent quarterback—but I did, and it's true.

    The Dolphins will have a healthy Jake Long next year, they'll have a new (smarter) coaching staff and a defense that's one year more mature as a unit. I like Miami's chances in 2012.

    Matt Barkley has moved up the big board all season, to the point where if he's taken in the first two or three picks I wouldn't be surprised.

10. Buffalo Bills

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    Riley Reiff, Offensive Tackle, Iowa

    The Demetrius Bell project can be deemed a failure. Bell wasn't able to last through the 2011 season, but that's a moot point here. The Buffalo Bills need a dominant offensive line, and as of today the left side at tackle is incredibly weak.

    Not only is Reiff the best player on the board at this spot, he fills a valuable need for the Bills, who have been searching for a franchise left tackle since Jason Peters left town.

11. Arizona Cardinals

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    Jonathan Martin, Offensive Tackle, Stanford

    The Arizona Cardinals have been down this road before. With the No. 5 overall pick in the 2007 draft, the Cardinals were hoping to draft a tackle to protect then franchise quarterback Matt Leinart. They used the selection on Levi Brown.

    Brown, like Leinart, has been a bust. Even though he’s still starting at left tackle, Brown is the worst left tackle in the league this season. And that’s not just conjecture. Pro Football Focus ranks Brown as the worst tackle in the NFL this season.

    The Cardinals will hope things are better this time around.

    Jonathan Martin is a more proven prospect than Brown ever was. He’s coming from a pro-style offense and has the technique and intelligence to immediately make an impact at left tackle. I have moved Martin down slightly on the Big Board lately, but in a passing offense his athleticism makes him a great prospect at left tackle.

12. San Diego Chargers

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    Cordy Glenn, Offensive Tackle, Georgia

    The San Diego Chargers have a rock-solid left tackle in Marcus McNeill, but his health is in question and his career may be over. Opposite him they have a sinking ship with Jeromey Clary. A one-time promising prospect, Clary is quickly becoming a weak link.

    The Chargers are in a good position if they can fix Philip Rivers' problems this summer and add protection for him up front. The addition of Glenn, who has played both guard and tackle in the SEC, will help the San Diego offensive line out immediately.

    There will be those asking for a linebacker here, but this draft is deep at pass rusher with no real marquee player there. Any 3-4 outside linebacker to play opposite Shaun Phillips would be a poor value compared to Glenn.

13. Kansas City Chiefs

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    David DeCastro, Guard, Stanford

    Why draft an offensive guard with the No. 13 pick overall? Because this offensive guard has All-Pro skills as a rookie.

    Kansas City is in a great position to simply draft the highest player on their board, a philosophy Scott Pioli employed many times during his run with the New England Patriots. No one thought the Patriots were wise to draft Logan Mankins, but we now know the pick was brilliant.

    DeCastro allows the Chiefs to move Rodney Hudson to center, where he will replace Casey Wiegmann. This solidifies four of five positions on the line, with only right tackle left to be fixed.

14. Philadelphia Eagles

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    Michael Floyd, Wide Receiver, Notre Dame

    The Philadelphia Eagles were supposed to field the best team money could buy this season; instead, they are on the verge of an insurmountable climb back into contention. It won’t be too much longer until fans in Philly are looking forward to 2012—if they aren't already.

    With DeSean Jackson's contract expiring and Steve Smith failing to make an impact, the Eagles will be desperate to add a consistent threat for Michael Vick. Michael Floyd has the body type and run-after-catch skills to be very dangerous in Andy Reid's offense.

15. Tennessee Titans

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    Whitney Mercilus, Defensive End, Illinois

    The Tennessee Titan defense has been solid all season, but they rank sixth worst at sacking the quarterback. The defensive tackles are solid, but bringing in speed and power at defensive end is needed.

    Derrick Morgan, the team's last first-rounder at defensive end, has been a bust and may discourage the front office from pulling the trigger on another defensive end, but outside of drafting a cornerback to replace Cortland Finnegan should he leave in free agency, no other selection makes sense for the Titans.

16. Seattle Seahawks

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    Landry Jones, Quarterback, Oklahoma

    The Seattle Seahawks are rolling with Tarvaris Jackson and Charlie Whitehurst at quarterback this season, which is why they are drafting in the top half of the draft. Finding a quarterback is the No. 1 priority of this offseason.

    Landry Jones is the prospect the Seahawks need. He’s big, strong and comes from a spread offense at Oklahoma that will position him well for an early starting gig in the NFL. He’s also head and shoulders above Jackson and Whitehurst when it matters most—the fourth quarter.

    Jones isn’t the safe pick that Andrew Luck is, but he’s right there in the mix to be the second or third quarterback drafted this season. With three quarterbacks already selected, Seattle cannot afford to pass on a franchise passer again this year.

    Should Jones choose to stay at Oklahoma, the Seahawks could look at defensive end or cornerback here.

17. New York Giants

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    Zach Brown, Outside Linebacker, North Carolina

    The New York Giants have a fierce defense, but they could use more speed and more coverage ability from their outside linebackers. Zach Brown can handle both in his first season.

    Brown would immediately step in at weakside linebacker, replacing Michael Boley and potentially allowing him to move to middle linebacker. Boley is a fine, veteran starter, but he doesn't have the speed or impact ability of Brown.

    The Giants could also look at offensive tackle here, depending on how free agency shakes out.

18. Chicago Bears

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    Mike Adams, Offensive Tackle, Ohio State

    The Chicago Bears used their first pick in the 2011 NFL draft to select offensive tackle Gabe Carimi. While Carimi has missed much of his rookie season to injury, he's projected as a long-term starter at right tackle.

    Fixing the problem at left tackle is the focus of this pick. Adams is a fast-rising prospect who will catch the eye of NFL scouts with exceptional agility and strength at the position.

    Chicago needs to get better at many positions, but none is more important than finding an NFL-quality left tackle.

19. Cincinnati Bengals (from Oakland Raiders)

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    Janoris Jenkins, Cornerback, North Alabama

    It is an overused joke that the Cincinnati Bengals will take on players with character issues, but there's usually some truth to every joke. The Bengals haven't been afraid to roll the dice on troubled but talented players before. Janoris Jenkins may be the most talented player they've gambled on.

    Jenkins had to leave Florida after three marijuana-related arrests, landing on his feet at North Alabama this season, where he's kept his nose clean and played at a very high level as a cornerback and return man.

    Jenkins excels as a press-cover man and would be a great fit to replace Johnathan Joseph opposite Leon Hall and allow Nate Clements to play as more of a nickel package guy.

20. Dallas Cowboys

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    Alfonzo Dennard, Cornerback, Nebraska

    The Dallas Cowboys toyed with the idea of drafting a cornerback last year but instead struck gold with right tackle Tyron Smith and running back DeMarco Murray. This time around they'll look to the defensive side of the ball.

    Dennard is a powerful press-coverage corner who has good lateral quickness, but he really excels at high-pointing the ball and shutting down elite receivers in a press-bail system. He's good in space, but Dennard excels in man-to-man coverage.

21. Cincinnati Bengals

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    Lamar Miller, Running Back, Miami (FL)

    With their second pick in the first round, the Cincinnati Bengals will look to find a change-of-pace back to pair with (or replace) Cedric Benson next season. Miami's Lamar Miller is the best of the backs left on the board—he ranks as my No. 9 overall player right now.

    Miller is a capable runner, receiver and return man. He's bringing the three "Rs" to Cincinnati, where a speed back is needed to complement Benson's bruising style of play.

22. New York Jets

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    Courtney Upshaw, Outside Linebacker, Alabama

    The New York Jets have so many needs, it would almost be easier to tell you what they don’t need. They won’t draft a quarterback, left tackle, middle linebacker or cornerback—that much is certain. Any other position is wide open.

    The biggest need in New York is for a pass rusher. The team has struggled with free agent Calvin Pace and never got a return from Vernon Gholston or Bryan Thomas here. It’s time to try again.

    Courtney Upshaw is a dynamic pass rusher who can get to the quarterback and is always around the football. He has some ability in coverage and comes from a 3-4 defense at Alabama, so he's comfortable playing on the edge.

23. Denver Broncos

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    Peter Konz, Center, Wisconsin

    You might think the Denver Broncos would want to look for defensive tackles, cornerbacks, maybe a quarterback or even help at running back. Nope.

    If the Broncos are committing to Tim Tebow as their quarterback of the future, their first order of business will be improving the talent around him and finding players to protect their investment.

    According to our friends at Pro Football Focus, no team has a worse starting center. With an All-Pro caliber player sitting on the board, the Broncos will find their offensive line's captain with Peter Konz.

24. Detroit Lions

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    Melvin Ingram, Defensive End, South Carolina

    The Detroit Lions would love to find a left tackle on the board, but no player of value is on the board. This means Detroit will move on to need No. 2.

    Some may say a cornerback or even a running back would be the better pick, but what about the possibility of Cliff Avril leaving in free agency? Can Detroit afford to pay Ndamukong Suh's inflated rookie contract and Avril on the defensive line?

    Drafting Melvin Ingram not only insures Detroit if Avirl should leave, but it gives them depth and a player to eventually take over for Kyle Vanden Bosch.

    The Lions aren't afraid to draft the best player on their board, and in this instance Ingram is the best player available.

25. Houston Texans

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    Kendall Wright, Wide Receiver, Baylor

    The Houston Texans, if healthy, should be considered a Super Bowl contender in 2012. To make those dreams a reality, Houston needs to find and develop options at wide receiver other than Andre Johnson.

    Jacoby Jones has been a fine No. 2 receiver, but the team needs a burner in the slot who can stretch a defense and create mismatches. Kendall Wright is a human mismatch. 

    Wright brings speed to the Houston offense, something sorely missing, and gives the team a big-play threat who can attack defenses from multiple positions.

26. Cleveland Browns (from Atlanta Falcons)

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    Nick Toon, Wide Receiver, Wisconsin

    The Cleveland Browns hold two first-round picks, thanks to the Atlanta Falcons and their 2011 draft-day trade to move up and get wide receiver Julio Jones. With the selection they received in return, the Browns will draft their own receiver.

    Greg Little has been progressing as the season wears on, but he's not a true No. 1 wide receiver and may never be one. Nick Toon has No. 1 threat written all over his DNA and his production at Wisconsin.

    Toon has impressive talent, and if not for nagging injuries we would be talking about him as a top-15 pick.

27. Baltimore Ravens

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    Vontaze Burfict, Inside Linebacker, Arizona State

    It is simply amazing that, at age 36, Ray Lewis is still one of the top two inside linebackers in the NFL. He’s a guaranteed first-ballot Hall of Famer when the time comes.

    If the Baltimore Ravens play up to expectations and make the Super Bowl, it’s very likely Lewis will ride off into the sunset, ending a brilliant career. If that happens, Baltimore will be hurting.

    While no one can replace Lewis immediately, the team will draft a linebacker to learn under him and ease the pain of losing Ray to retirement.

    Vontaze Burfict is a name college football fans know well. It may be for his violent hits, or for his 15-yard unsportsmanlike conduct penalties, but there's no doubt Burfict is a difference maker.

    Vontaze routinely lines up at outside linebacker in the ASU defense, particularly when they are facing three-receiver sets. He has the athleticism and speed to make plays on the edge and help in pass coverage.

28. San Francisco 49ers

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    Mohamed Sanu, Wide Receiver, Rutgers

    The San Francisco 49ers are finally getting solid production from Michael Crabtree, but Braylon Edwards' signing has been a bust in the Bay and it's unlikely the team will ask him back when his one-year deal expires this summer. Enter Mohamed Sanu.

    Sanu is a triple-threat as an offensive weapon. He has lined up at wide receiver, quarterback and even running back at Rutgers. His versatility as a weapon will excite Jim Harbaugh, among others, as the NFL draft heats up.

29. Pittsburgh Steelers

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    Dontari Poe, Nose Tackle, Memphis

    Casey Hampton has been one of the best nose tackles in the NFL over the past decade, but his time is wearing out. The Pittsburgh Steelers have spent their last two first-round picks drafting future starters at defensive end. They will round out their new defensive line with the selection of Dontari Poe this year.

    Poe is a massive body with the strength to command a double-team from the center-guard combination. He's also quick enough to shoot the gap and makes plays in the backfield.

    Poe has the talent to be another B.J. Raji.

30. New England Patriots (from New Orleans Saints)

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    Jared Crick, Defensive End, Nebraska

    The New England Patriots are getting by with cast-offs in the starting line up at defensive end and defensive tackle, but the lack of talent outside of Vince Wilfork has been evident. Mark Anderson and Andre Carter have had good games, but are they long-term answers? If the team hopes to transition back to their 3-4 scheme, or even if they want to improve the play next to Wilfork at the three-technique position, they'll need to focus on the draft.

    Jared Crick has top-15 talent but has missed the second half of the 2011 season with a torn pectoral muscle. He should be fine by the time the Scouting Combine rolls around in late February, but there is a likely chance his draft stock takes a hit from it.

31. New England Patriots

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    Stephon Gilmore, Cornerback, South Carolina

    When the New England Patriots have two first-round selections, Bill Belichick has never traded the first of those picks. The second, he's not afraid to move. 

    Chances are this pick will not belong to New England by the time the pick comes up on the clock, but should Belichick buck history and decide to hold on to the selection, the team could do worse than adding a rookie starter at cornerback.

    Stephon Gilmore is as NFL ready as any cornerback this class. He's been very good in run support, can help immediately as a returner and has experience playing off the ball and in press coverage. Others aren't as high on Gilmore as I am, but I see a long-time NFL starter and playmaker on defense and special teams.

32. Green Bay Packers

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    Devon Still, Defensive End, Penn State

    The Green Bay Packers have built a juggernaut through the draft. Their 2012 class will feature solid picks on the offensive line and defensive line, with help coming in the secondary and at running back in later rounds.

    First up, getting a defensive end. Ryan Pickett and Jarius Wynn are merely average, both being protected by exceptional play at nose tackle and linebacker.

    Still has played very well this year, and I may have him higher if not for a down performance against the Wisconsin Badgers. This is a weak class for defensive tackles and five-technique ends, but Green Bay finds a good value here with a player who can start from Day 1.

Round 2

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    The second round of the 2012 NFL draft features a long list of names who have a great chance to enter the end of the first round by the time the April draft rolls around. With some underclassmen inevitably choosing to return to school, these will be the players moving into those first-round slots.

    A few names to keep an eye on as the pre-draft circus begins: Nick Foles, Brandon Thompson, Rueben Randle, Chris Polk and Nick Perry could all jump up draft boards.

    Pick Team Player Pos School
    33 Colts Brandon Thompson DT Clemson
    34 Vikings Rueben Randle WR LSU
    35 Rams Jerel Worthy DT Michigan St.
    36 Jaguars Alex Okafor DE Texas
    37 Redskins Chris Polk RB Washington
    38 Bucs Kelechi Osemele OG Iowa State
    39 Panthers Quinton Coples DE/DT North Carolina
    40 Dolphins Orson Charles TE Georgia
    41 Browns Luke Kuechly ILB Boston College
    42 Bills Vinny Curry DE/OLB Marshall
    43 Eagles (f/ARI) Ryan Tannehill QB Texas A&M
    44 Chargers Ronnell Lewis OLB Oklahoma
    45 Chiefs Dont'a Hightower ILB Alabama
    46 Eagles Lavonte David OLB Nebraska
    47 Titans Kevin Zeitler OG Wisconsin
    48 Seahawks Nick Perry DE USC
    49 Giants Levi Adcock OT Oklahoma St.
    50 Bears Dwight Jones WR North Carolina
    51 Patriots (f/OAK) Mark Barron SS Alabama
    52 Cowboys Brandon Jenkins OLB FSU
    53 Bengals Jarius Wright WR Arkansas
    54 Jets Billy Winn DE Boise State
    55 Broncos Nick Foles QB Arizona
    56 Lions Nate Potter OT Boise State
    57 Texans Josh Chapman NT Alabama
    58 Falcons Ben Jones OC Georgia
    59 Ravens Fletcher Cox DE/DT Miss. State
    60 49ers Markelle Martin FS Oklahoma St.
    61 Steelers Andrew Datko OT FSU
    62 Saints Keenan Robinson OLB Texas
    63 Patriots Robert Lester FS Alabama
    64 Packers Chase Minnifield CB Virginia

Round 3

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    Opinions may differ, but I've always believed NFL teams are built in the first and third rounds. You may draft your All-Star players in the first round, but in Round 3 you find players who need to improve one or two areas before they're graded as elite. Once the players get in NFL locker rooms and weight programs and under NFL-level coaching, they take off.

    The third round is a great place to find steals. Here are a few names to look for: Kirk Cousins, Shaun Prater, Kheeston Randall and Andre Branch.

    Pick Team Player Pos School
    65 Colts Dwayne Allen TE Clemson
    66 Vikings Alameda Ta'amu DT Washington
    67 Rams Jayron Hosley CB Virginia Tech
    68 Jaguars Andre Branch DE Clemson
    69 Redskins DeVier Posey WR Ohio State
    70 Bucs David Wilson RB Virginia Tech
    71 Bears (f/CAR) Doug Martin RB Boise State
    72 Dolphins Zebrie Sanders OT FSU
    73 Browns Shaun Prater CB Iowa
    74 Bills Kirk Cousins QB Michigan State
    75 Cardinals Tyler Eifert TE Notre Dame
    76 Chargers Audie Cole ILB NC State
    77 Chiefs Sylvester Williams NT North Carolina
    78 Eagles T.J. McDonald FS USC
    79 Titans Coryell Judie CB

    Texas A&M

    80 Seahawks Isaiah Pead RB Cincinnati
    81 Giants Coby Fleener TE Stanford
    82 Bears Nigel Bradham OLB FSU
    83 Raiders Jonathan Banks CB Miss. State
    84 Cowboys LaMichael James RB Oregon
    85 Bengals Emmanuel Acho ILB Texas
    86 Jets Montee Ball RB Wisconsin
    87 Broncos Brandon Boykin CB Georgia
    88 Lions David Molk OC Michigan
    89 Texans Kheeston Randall DT Texas
    90 Falcons Lucas Nix OG Pitt
    91 Ravens A.J. Jenkins WR Illinois
    92 49ers Kawann Short DE Purdue
    93 Steelers Josh Robinson CB USC
    94 Saints Cam Johnson DE Virginia
    95 Patriots Brandon Lindsey DE/OLB Pitt
    96 Packers Bruce Irvin OLB West Virginia