2012 NFL Draft Projections: 8 Players Guaranteed to Become Studs

Brett Lyons@@Brett__LyonsContributor IIIFebruary 7, 2012

2012 NFL Draft Projections: 8 Players Guaranteed to Become Studs

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    With Super Bowl XLVI now a memory, some would argue the NFL season is over.

    Thankfully, it's not even close to ending. As a matter of fact, the season never concludes. Once the title game is over, the focus immediately shifts to the NFL draft.

    Just under two-and-a-half months from now, the commissioner will take to the podium at Radio City Music Hall and pronounce that the Indianapolis Colts are officially on the clock. Football fans cannot wait for those sweet, saving words.

    The first round will see plenty of moves and trades to go up in the draft and take franchise players, but are the moves really worth it?

    This slideshow will take you through the top eight can't-miss prospects of the NFL draft. These are eight players who will become studs in the National Football League.

Andrew Luck

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    For the Colts' sake, they better pray Andrew Luck is a franchise quarterback for a decade and a half.

    Plenty of rumors are swirling around what Indianapolis should do with the No. 1 overall pick and the future of longtime quarterback Peyton Manning. Reports indicate the team has already decided to grab Luck in the draft, meaning it needs to decide whether to hold on to Manning or release him and move the franchise in a different direction.

    Luck appears to be one of those "once in a generation" draft picks. He could have gone No. 1 overall last season had he not gone back to school. 

    Colts fans shouldn't be worried about making the transition.

Matt Kalil

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    Kalil is as steady of an offensive tackle prospect as they come. Assuming the Rams either trade down or select a skill player, the Vikings appear to be the likely front-runners for the services of Kalil.

    Minnesota needs to shore up the offensive line to protect a young quarterback and a running back who is recovering from an ACL injury. Blindside protection will be a huge part of that. Considering that the NFC North has pass-rushers like Julius Peppers and Ndamukong Suh, Kalil will be needed immediately to fix a hole on the left side.

    Kalil should be a solid rock on the left side of the line for the next 10 years.

Robert Griffin III

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    Cam Newton and Tim Tebow have paved the way for quarterbacks with great mobility to win games in today's NFL. Depending on what team he goes to and what scheme he winds up in, Griffin could make an immediate impact just like Newton did for the Panthers in 2011.

    Griffin won the Heisman Trophy for more than just his legs. He's actually a very precise passer as well. A few games into the 2011 Baylor season, he had more touchdown passes than he had incompletions. Think about that for a minute.

    Griffin, assuming all goes well with his drafted team, looks to be a smart long-term selection.

Morris Claiborne

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    I think of Claiborne much like I did of Patrick Peterson in last year's draft. He's an incredibly gifted athlete who could fall to a team in the top five or top 10 teams easily. His special teams skills don't hurt his credentials either.

    The team that takes Claiborne might not even need help at corner. Remember when the Cards took Peterson while Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie was still on the roster as the team's best corner? They had that trade with the Eagles for Kevin Kolb set in stone well in advance.

    Free agency is weeks before the draft this year. Depending on if a team makes a move and a need at corner opens up, Claiborne could find himself with the Bucs, Browns or Panthers.

Jonathan Martin

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    The left tackle from Stanford, Jonathan Martin has been protecting a pro-style quarterback in Andrew Luck for years. His skill set and Stanford's success speak for themselves. Martin looks to be a solid all-around offensive lineman who could be plugged into almost any offense.

    If there is a run on left tackles in this year's draft like there was last year, someone around pick No. 7 or 8 could end up with tremendous value on their hands.

Courtney Upshaw

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    The Alabama senior linebacker is a fantastic outside pass-rushing presence who is more than capable of getting into the backfield and causing all sorts of hell. 

    Upshaw is a key ingredient to a defense in transition. For example, teams moving from a 4-3 to a 3-4 scheme that need that combination hybrid defensive end/outside backer position to build around would love to get their hands on Upshaw.

    He's a pure talent, and he won't fall out of the top 10 at the absolute worst.

Michael Floyd

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    Perhaps a bit of wishful thinking here concerning Floyd of Notre Dame, but the raw talent is certainly there. As long as Floyd can stay out of legal issues in the NFL, he should be all right. 

    The presence of Floyd on an NFL roster would be like that of a Vincent Jackson or Brandon Marshall: a tall, fast possession receiver who can climb the ladder and go get jump balls out of thin air. He's every quarterback's dream weapon and can add an entirely new dimension to an offense with a downfield presence.

Trent Richardson

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    Mark Ingram, if two years younger, would've been in a serious battle to start with Trent Richardson in Alabama's backfield. 

    Richardson is easily the best running back in this year's draft. Plenty of teams with running back needs in the top 10 (especially the Browns) would love to have the services of Richardson in August. 

    Richardson is comparable to Ahmad Bradshaw with his size and his running style. His stature makes him an every-down back who is capable of working inside and outside of the tackles. Overall, he's fundamentally sound and ready to show the league what he can do.