NFL Draft 2012: Projecting the Top Defensive Rookies of 2012

Sean MerrimanCorrespondent IJanuary 30, 2012

NFL Draft 2012: Projecting the Top Defensive Rookies of 2012

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    Patrick Peterson, Von Miller and J.J. Watt.

    All three were selected in the first round of last year's draft and all three had standout rookie seasons this year.

    So now, with the 2012 NFL Draft quickly approaching, we want to know who are going to be the top defensive rookies to come out of this year's NFL Draft?

    Let's dive into this year's draft prospects and pick out those who are going to be stars on the defensive side of the ball.

    Bleacher Report Style!

Morris Claiborne, CB, LSU

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    Morris Claiborne should be the first defensive player taken in this year's NFL Draft, and rightfully so.

    While Tyrann Mathieu stole all of the headlines in LSU's defensive backfield this season because of his popular "Honey Badger" nickname, it really was Morris Claiborne who was the star of the Tigers' defense in 2011.

    Claiborne is an exceptional shutdown corner with the ideal size and speed to be successful at the NFL level.

    Look for this defensive back stud to be a Top 5 pick, possibly to Minnesota at No. 3 or to Tampa Bay at No. 5. Either way, Claiborne has the makings of a Pro Bowl cornerback in the future.

Nick Perry, DE/LB, USC

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    Nick Perry has the size of a defensive end and the burst of an outside linebacker.

    Sound familiar to another stud defensive end/linebacker in last year's draft? Perry has the makeup on Von Miller, but the skill set to be even better at the NFL level.

    Most experts believe that Perry will be a Top 20 pick in this year's draft, possibly a nice fit with the Buffalo Bills at No. 10 overall.

    USC has produced plenty of great linebackers over the past couple of years and Perry should be the next great one.

Dont'a Hightower, OLB, Alabama

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    Remember how dominant Alabama's defense was in this year's National Championship Game?

    Well the best player on that defense was this man right here, OLB Dont'a Hightower.

    This tackling machine has been a standout for Alabama's defense since the second he stepped foot in Tuscaloosa. He has good size, speed and most importantly, a unique knack for finding the football and making plays on the field.

    Look for Hightower to be a Top 15 pick in this year's draft, possibly to Seattle at No. 11 or Kansas City at No. 12.  

Melvin Ingram, DE, South Carolina

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    Ingram was considered by many to be a borderline first-round pick, but after his impressive showing at this week's Senior Bowl, Ingram has almost guaranteed himself a spot in the opening round.

    This dominant defensive end has all the right tools to be successful at the next level. He is strong, smooth and has quickness off the edge, which will help him get to opposing team's quarterbacks at the next level.

    Look for Ingram to fall somewhere in the 15-25 range, possibly to the Bengals with the No. 17 pick or to the Titans with the No. 20 selection in the draft.

Jerel Worthy, DE, Michigan State

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    Jerel Worthy might not be a Top 20 pick, but when all is said and done, he should be the best DT prospect in this year's draft class.

    Worthy dominated competition in the Big Ten season, which is a conference known for producing great linemen.

    Worthy has elite size and if he can stay disciplined and convince his coaches that he will give a 100 percent effort every snap, then he should be a true force to be reckoned with at the NFL level.

    It is possible that Worthy could slip out of the first round, but it would be a shame to see a team like the Texans or Patriots pass up this monstrous defensive tackle prospect.