2012 NFL Mock Draft: Predicting All 32 First-Round Picks
The draft order of the non-playoff teams will be decided after this weekend, and the NFL prospects are using their last chance to impress scouts in the next few weeks with the bowl games.
As such, draft projections are considerably easier than they were at the start of the season. We can pretty much nail down the pressing needs of each NFL team, and the players who are likely first-round prospects have mostly been identified.
Here is our last mock 2012 NFL Draft of 2011.
1. St. Louis Rams: Andrew Luck (Quarterback, Stanford Cardinal)
I'm going to go out on a limb here and say that the St. Louis Rams will come away with the first pick in the 2012 NFL Draft. The Indianapolis Colts are on a bit of a run after winning two straight, and thus they have a good chance of upsetting the Jacksonville Jaguars (who have lost five of their last six).
Meanwhile, the Rams are likely going to get pummeled by the San Francisco 49ers, who are still battling with the New Orleans Saints for a first-round bye.
I don't feel the need to list Andrew Luck's stats or argue why he should be the first pick. Everyone knows he's going to be. With the bad season that Sam Bradford has had, the Rams won't hesitate to take Luck.
2. Indianapolis Colts: Justin Blackmon (Wide Receiver, Oklahoma State Cowboys)
This pick is more about which player I think the Indianapolis Colts will take than at which spot the player will be taken. No. 2 is higher than most people project Oklahoma State Cowboys wide receiver Justin Blackmon being chosen.
However, he's still the best receiver in the field. With three of the Colts top receivers (Reggie Wayne, Pierre Garcon, and Anthony Gonzalez) becoming free agents at the end of this season, they will need a star player to lead next year's receiving corps.
My guess is that if the Colts win next week and lose the opportunity to get Andrew Luck, they will either trade down or take Blackmon.
3. Minnesota Vikings: Matt Kalil (Offensive Tackle, USC Trojans)
Charlie Johnson has struggled mightily this season at left tackle for the Minnesota Vikings. As luck would have it, there's a premier left tackle available in this year's NFL draft.
The USC Trojans' Matt Kalil is an elite pass and run blocker. The Vikings need protection for their young quarterback Christian Ponder and star running back Adrian Peterson (when he returns from his ACL injury), and Kalil will go a long way in improving the strength of the offensive front.
4. Jacksonville Jaguars: Alshon Jeffery (Wide Receiver, S. Carolina Gamecocks)
While most projections have the South Carolina Gamecocks' Alshon Jeffery going later in the first round, I think he will be one of the surprise picks in the top 10.
Jeffery's stock has diminished this season along with his production, but he's still a superior talent. The Jacksonville Jaguars need to get a playmaker to help out their fledgling first-round pick from last season, quarterback Blaine Gabbert.
Jeffery has a unique skill set and will likely be a Pro Bowl receiver in the near future. The Jaguars had one of the worst receiving corps in the NFL this season, and therefore need to address the position early.
5. Cleveland Browns: Trent Richardson (Running Back, Alabama Crimson Tide)
The success that Trent Richardson has had against SEC defenses this season is astounding. The Alabama Crimson Tide running back has 1,583 yards and 20 touchdowns on the season.
Peyton Hillis may have been the man last year, but he's struggled mightily with injuries this season and he'll be a free agent at the end of the year.
The Cleveland Browns will not hesitate to take the fast, shifty Richardson. Even if they keep Hillis around, the NFL is a two-back league now anyway, and Hillis and Richardson would complement each other well.
6. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Morris Claiborne (Cornerback, LSU Tigers)
Morris Claiborne is one of the most talented players available in the 2012 NFL Draft. Between him and Tyrann Mathieu, the LSU Tigers have the best cornerback duo in college football.
Claiborne needs some work with his tackling, but he's got good speed, excellent cover skills, and solid hands (which have helped him snag six interceptions this season).
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers will need a cornerback with Ronde Barber nearing retirement, and Claiborne seems like a good fit to play opposite Aqib Talib.
7. Washington Redskins: Riley Reiff (Offensive Tackle, Iowa Hawkeyes)
I'm going to go out on a limb and say the Washington Redskins will use the free agency period to lock down a franchise quarterback.
After their struggles with grooming Jason Campbell, they may be wary of building a team around Robert Griffin III. The Redskins may favor going the route of picking up an established quarterback.
Thus, they would need to use their first-round draft pick to address another need. The offensive line could certainly use some help.
The Iowa Hawkeyes' Riley Reiff is one of the best offensive linemen available in the draft. He would be an excellent choice to play opposite Trent Williams.
8. Miami Dolphins: Robert Griffin III (Quarterback, Baylor Bears)
The Miami Dolphins may have lost their first seven games this season, but if you watched many of their games this season, you know they are not far from being a playoff team.
What the Dolphins really need is an elite quarterback to lead the team to victory. Heisman Trophy winner Robert Griffin III has shown this season that he is a rare talent who knows how to win. Griffin completed 72 percent of his passes this season for 36 touchdowns while only throwing six interceptions.
Most importantly, he led the Baylor Bears (a team rarely mentioned in the discussion of college football powerhouses) to a 9-3 record with a signature victory over the Oklahoma Sooners. RG3 is an excellent quarterback and will hopefully end the Dolphins' string of failures at the position.
9. Carolina Panthers: Dre Kirkpatrick (Cornerback, Alabama Crimson Tide)
With Cam Newton, Steve Smith, DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart, the Carolina Panthers are pretty much set at the offensive skill positions.
However, they could use some skill players on the other side of the ball. At cornerback, Chris Gamble has secured one of the starting spots for the near future. The Panthers could use another shut-down defender to play opposite him.
Enter Dre Kirkpatrick. Kirkpatrick has a nice large frame for a cornerback, along with above-average speed. He also has good ball skills, having intercepted five passes over the last two seasons.
He seems likely to step on the field as a rookie, which is good since the Panthers' No. 21-ranked pass defense needs immediate help.
10. Buffalo Bills: Quinton Coples (Defensive End, North Carolina Tar Heels)
It seems like Quinton Coples should be taken earlier than No. 10, but there aren't many teams with dire needs at defensive end ahead of the Buffalo Bills.
Coples is quite a physical specimen. He has amazing speed for a 6'6'' 272-pound lineman. And his athleticism brings about thoughts of another former North Carolina Tar Heels defensive end, Julius Peppers.
The Buffalo Bills could use a speed rusher to help get some pressure on opposing quarterbacks next season. With 24 sacks in his career at North Carolina, Coples has proven he knows how to get to the quarterback. He has the talent to be the next Bruce Smith for the Bills.
11-13. Kansas City Chiefs, Arizona Cardinals, San Diego Chargers
The Kansas City Chiefs will likely look to solidify their offensive line by taking Stanford Cardinal offensive tackle Jonathan Martin (who would be a steal with the No. 11 pick). If they re-sign Dwayne Bowe and Matt Cassel is healthy, their biggest need on offense would be at left tackle.
The Arizona Cardinals would love to have Martin as well, but if he's off the board, they will need to address another need, like defensive end or outside linebacker. A logical pick seems like South Carolina Gamecocks defensive end Melvin Ingram, who had 8.5 sacks this season. Ingram would be especially helpful if the Cardinals lose Calais Campbell (who'll be a free agent).
The San Diego Chargers didn't expect to have a top-15 pick at the start of this season, but another disappointing year means another high draft pick. The Chargers could use an offensive tackle, too, but aren't in a great spot to get one. So the Chargers will settle for inside linebacker Luke Kuechly. This year's Butkus, Lombardi, and Bronko Nagurski Award winner will be an NFL star right out of the gates.
14-16. Tennessee Titans, Philadelphia Eagles, Seattle Seahawks
14. Tennessee Titans: Andre Branch (Defensive End, Clemson Tigers)
The Tennessee Titans haven't had an elite end pass rusher since Jevon Kearse. With both of their starting defensive ends set to be free agents at the end of the season, that position is the most urgent need for the Titans. They will select Andre Branch, who had 10.5 sacks this season for the Clemson Tigers.
15. Philadelphia Eagles: Courtney Upshaw (Linebacker, Alabama Crimson Tide)
The Philadelphia Eagles need a wide receiver, but this would be a little early to draft Michael Floyd. If Alshon Jeffery is off the board, expect them to take a linebacker. They will take the best available option, which will be Courtney Upshaw. Upshaw is perhaps the best player in an Alabama Crimson Tide defense that will have six defensive players taken in the first two rounds.
16. Seattle Seahawks: Landry Jones (Quarterback, Oklahoma Sooners)
The Seattle Seahawks have done surprisingly well in the second half of the season, but Tarvaris Jackson is still not a long-term option at quarterback. The Seahawks will address this most important position in the first round. They'll take Landry Jones, whose stock has dropped slightly because of his inconsistent play. But with his size and talent, he has enormous potential and could be a steal at No. 16.
17-19. Chicago Bears, Cincinnati Bengals, New York Jets
17. Chicago Bears: Lamar Miller (Running Back, Miami Hurricanes)
The Bears have yet to re-sign Matt Forte, but even if they do, they could use some help at running back. They will select Miami Hurricanes' tailback Lamar Miller higher than he is expected to help at the position.
18. Cincinnati Bengals: Stephon Gilmore (Cornerback, South Carolina Gamecocks)
The Cincinnati Bengals currently have Nate Clements at one starting cornerback spot, so they're likely looking to upgrade that position in the near future. An excellent option would be Stephon Gilmore, who's intercepted three passes this season for the South Carolina Gamecocks.
19. New York Jets: Ryan Tannehill (Quarterback, Texas A&M Aggies)
Call me crazy, but after this season plenty of people are questioning Mark Sanchez's ability to lead the New York Jets to the promised land. The Jets love to make bold moves.
Drafting a quarterback could only have a positive effect; it could either light a fire under Sanchez, or set up a situation where he can be easily replaced.
Ryan Tannehill is extremely talented. He threw for 28 touchdowns this year for the Texas A&M Aggies.
20-22. New York Giants, Dallas Cowboys, Cleveland Browns
20. New York Giants: Vontaze Burfict (Inside Linebacker, Arizona State Sun Devils)
One of the most pressing needs for the New York Giants is at inside linebacker, so it wouldn't be surprising if the Giants got one with their first pick. One of the best rated linebackers is Vontaze Burfict. The 6'3'' 250-pound linebacker has excellent athleticism and would fit in well with the Giants scheme.
21. Dallas Cowboys: Dwayne Allen (Tight End, Clemson Tigers)
No one expects the Dallas Cowboys to re-sign Martellus Bennett, who has been a terrible disappointment. With the success the New England Patriots have had with their two star tight ends, the Dallas Cowboys would do well to get another to play alongside Jason Witten. They will select the Clemson Tigers' Dwayne Allen to replace Bennett.
22. Cleveland Browns (from Atlanta Falcons): David DeCastro (Offensive Guard, Stanford Cardinal)
With Burfict likely gone, the Browns will have to address a different need, like offensive guard. A smart pick would be Stanford Cardinal David DeCastro, who along with Jonathan Martin has helped anchor the best line in college football the last two seasons. DeCastro would be integral in helping improve the pass protection for Colt McCoy.
23-25. Cincinnati Bengals, Denver Broncos, New England Patriots
23. Cincinnati Bengals (from Oakland Raiders): David Wilson (Running Back, Virginia Tech Hokies)
The Cincinnati Bengals could use another running back to help Cedric Benson, and thus they will select Virginia Tech Hokies running back David Wilson with their second first-round pick. Wilson had a fantastic year with Ryan Williams out of the way, rushing for over 1,600 yards.
24. Denver Broncos: Devon Still (Defensive Tackle, Penn State Nittany Lions)
The Denver Broncos could desperately use a premier defensive tackle. The Broncos wanted to pick one up for this season, but failed to do so. Most expect them to handle that with the 2012 NFL Draft. With their first-round pick, the Broncos will take Devon Still, a lineman who had 17 tackles for loss this season with the Penn State Nittany Lions.
25. New England Patriots (from New Orleans Saints): Michael Floyd (Wide Receiver, Notre Dame Fighting Irish)
The New England Patriots have a dearth of talent at wide receiver. With Chad Ochocinco and Deion Branch both at the ends of their careers, they need someone else besides Wes Welker for Tom Brady to throw to. The best option of late first-round talent is Michael Floyd. Floyd had 95 catches for 1,106 yards and eight touchdowns this season.
26-28. Houston Texans, San Francisco 49ers, Pittsburgh Steelers
26. Houston Texans: Kendall Wright (Wide Receiver, Baylor Bears)
The Houston Texans could use another receiver to help draw attention away from Andre Johnson. The Baylor Bears' Kendall Wright has had a highly productive season, catching 101 passes for 1,572 yards and 13 touchdowns. With his smaller size and excellent speed, he would be a nice complement to Johnson.
27. San Francisco 49ers: Jarvis Jones (Outside Linebacker, Georgia Bulldogs)
The San Francisco 49ers have one solid outside linebacker in Aldon Smith, but with their 3-4 they could use another talented linebacker on the other side. After sitting out a year, Jarvis Jones has had a monster season for the Georgia Bulldogs, as he's second in the nation with 13.5 sacks. The 49ers will spend their first-round pick on Jones.
28. Pittsburgh Steelers: Dontari Poe (Nose Tackle, Memphis Tigers)
The Pittsburgh Steelers could use another nose tackle with Casey Hampton reaching the twilight of his career. The best option would be Dontari Poe, who recently declared for the NFL and signed with Jimmy Sexton. Poe's talent is raw, but he has enormous potential.
29-32. New England Patriots, Detroit Lions, Baltimore Ravens, Green Bay Packers
29. New England Patriots: Mark Barron (Safety, Alabama Crimson Tide)
The New England Patriots desperately need players at the safety spots, as they've used Julian Edelman at the position at times this season. Nick Saban, who was the defensive coordinator under Bill Belichick with the Cleveland Browns, runs a similar system to the Patriots. So it seems likely that New England would take Alabama Crimson Tide safety Mark Barron with their late first-round pick.
30. Detroit Lions: Alfonzo Dennard (Cornerback, Nebraska Cornhuskers)
The Detroit Lions have done very well with their last few draft classes. The team is consequently greatly improved, but there are still a few problem areas, namely the secondary. If Nebraska Cornhuskers cornerback Alfonzo Dennard is still available, the Lions will snatch him up (especially if they don't re-sign Eric Wright).
31. Baltimore Ravens: Zebrie Sanders (Offensive Tackle, Florida State Seminoles)
The Baltimore Ravens are my projected AFC Champion. They have very few weak spots but may lose several offensive lineman in the free-agency period. Florida State Seminoles offensive tackle Zebrie Sanders would be a good player to add some depth.
32. Green Bay Packers: Kevin Reddick (Linebacker, North Carolina Tar Heels)
No one knows who'll win the Super Bowl, but the Green Bay Packers are the safest bet. The Packers also (unsurprisingly) are the most complete team in the NFL. One of the few areas they could improve on is outside linebacker, where they could use another star opposite Clay Matthews. Thus, they will take North Carolina Tar Heel Kevin Reddick, who amassed 67 tackles this season.