16 December 2011

2012 NFL Mock Draft: 1st Edition

It's my first mock draft of the season as so many clubs are already looking ahead to the 2012 NFL Draft to help turn their fortunes. Andrew Luck is the presumptive top choice at this point but how do I think the draft will shake out? Why, let's take a look.
This is how the draft order would shape up today.

1. Indianapolis Colts - Andrew Luck, QB, Stanford
This is rather obvious. Colts owner Jim Irsay has indicated that if the Colts were in position to draft Luck that they would pull the trigger and you can't really pass a guy of his caliber up, especially with the uncertainty of Peyton Manning's neck injury. If Manning comes back healthy, either he can mentor Luck or they can trade him and get a nice package back for him. And the Colts can't really trade out of this pick because the QB crop has turned out to be very good, especially if Matt Barkley does indeed come out.

2. St. Louis Rams - Matt Kalil, OT, USC
Another pretty easy pick. You could make a case for Justin Blackmon or Morris Claiborne with this pick but Kalil is the superior prospect plus fills a more important need. There is nothing more important than to keep a young quarterback healthy and the Rams' offensive line has been letting Sam Bradford down, leading to some injury woes and inconsistency. Rodger Safford has taken a step back on the left side and Jason Smith on the right side blows. Kalil has all the tools to be a stud left tackle for years.

3. Minnesota Vikings - Morris Claiborne, CB, LSU
Going with Claiborne here because of the serious struggles of the Vikings secondary. Antoine Winfield is a shell of himself and they will continue to get torched by Calvin Johnson and Greg Jennings if they do not find a top flight cornerback. Claiborne is a step behind Patrick Peterson in terms of being a prospect but he's got solid size, tremendous speed and incredible ball skills.

4. Carolina Panthers - Justin Blackmon, WR, Oklahoma State
The Panthers could really use Claiborne as their secondary, and defense as a whole, has been trash all season. Blackmon is the best prospect on the board in my opinion and does fill a need at wideout. Steve Smith has been awesome this year and really rebounded with Cam Newton playing great for a rookie but the Panthers have nothing besides him at receiver and Smith is 32. Blackmon and Newton could make for a stellar combo down the line.

5. Washington Redskins - Matt Barkley, QB, USC
If the Redskins go into another season with Rex Grossman as their quarterback, they should fold. Mike Shanahan needs to develop a quarterback of the future and needs to pick one in this draft. I think Barkley will be their guy instead of Robert Griffin III because he is the more pro-ready quarterback and a better fit in Shanahan's offense. Barkley has steadily improved in his three years at USC and has all the tools you want in a franchise quarterback. Granted this is if Barkley declared, which he may not.

6. Cleveland Browns - Quinton Coples, DE, North Carolina
I think the Browns will draft a quarterback on the second day of the NFL Draft and I think they won't go running back here because you can always find good backs later in the draft. The Browns really need to apply more pressure on the quarterback because while Jabaal Sheard has done decent work, they have not gotten any production in terms of pass rush from the rest of the line. Coples is the prototypical 4-3 end thanks due to plus size, speed and athleticism.

7. Miami Dolphins - Robert Griffin III, QB Baylor
Granted this is if Griffin declares. Matt Moore has played decently this year but he maxes out as a fine backup. Chad Henne blows. Owner Stephen Ross is all about bringing in big names, such as that red carpet nonsense and getting celebrities to own a piece of the team. Griffin can be Cam Newton 2.0, he's much smaller but he is faster and more accurate. And they both won Heismans.

8. Jacksonville Jaguars - Alshon Jeffrey, WR, South Carolina
A tough spot for Jacksonville with many of their top targets off the board. I don't see them drafting a quarterback either, personnel chief Gene Smith did just draft Gabbert and not giving him another chance when he's been throwing to nobody is not smart. I think they would reach slightly here for Jeffrey, who has not had a great season but has had some quarterback troubles to deal with. Jeffrey is no speed demon but he is a big and physical wideout who has the athleticism to go up and get it, if he shows plus speed in the workouts, his stock would warrant this selection.

9. Tampa Bay Buccaneers - Dre Kilpatrick, CB, Alabama
The Buccaneers do have a solid cornerback tandem in Aqib Talib and Ronde Barber. But I would be surprised if Talib was on the team next season considering his numerous character concerns, he almost got cut before this season before Raheem Morris said no. And Barber is 36. Kilpatrick is a big corner who is not afraid to get physical and could have Barber as a mentor.

10. Kansas City Chiefs - Landry Jones, QB, Oklahoma
Matt Cassel is, quite frankly, not good. The Chiefs overpaid him dearly and he has rewarded them with mediocre play. But if Josh McDaniels is hired as the next Chiefs coach, not crazy at all, he may want to work with Cassel and get him playing like he did in 2008. That said, Jones would still be a good pick. I think Jones should go back to school but him sitting on the bench and not playing right away would be beneficial as well.

11. Philadelphia Eagles - Micheal Floyd, WR, Notre Dame
I'm just gonna say that I'm pretty certain that DeSean Jackson will not be an Eagle next season. Andy Reid does not like players calling him out and the organization must be tired of his childish antics and his severe lack of maturity. Besides Jeremy Maclin is better than him anyways. But they will need a replacement at wideout with Jackson all but gone. Floyd has some off the field issues and does not have Jackson's top level speed (who does) but he is an awesome athlete who can catch any pass and is a boss in the red zone.

12. Buffalo Bills - Courtney Upshaw, DE/OLB, Alabama
The Bills seriously need to improve their pass rush. They right now are last in the NFL with 19 sacks on the year, that's pretty pitiful. Upshaw is an ideal 3-4 outside linebacker having played that position in coach under Nick Saban. He may not have tremendous speed but he is athletic enough to chase the quarterback and has proven to make big plays in big games. At 'Bama, Upshaw defended the run and the pass equally well.

13. Arizona Cardinals - Riley Rieff, OT, Iowa
The Cardinals offensive line has been just pitiful yet again and it's not helping whoever is their quarterback, whether it be Kevin Kolb, who's getting the big bucks, and John Skelton. Levi Brown just does not cut it. Rieff is a very good pass blocker who has the frame to add more weight and strength to his body. It is easier to improve as a run blocker than as a pass blocker and he already is a solid enough run blocker. His versatility is also a plus.

14. Seattle Seahawks - Janoris Jenkins, CB, North Alabama
The Seahawks are in that middle ground where they miss out on the top quarterback prospects, although Landry Jones could certainly fall to them without a doubt, and taking another quarterback would be a major reach at this point. They do need help at cornerback so Jenkins is a wise selection. Jenkins has some major character concerns and is not the biggest guy in the world but has tremendous cover skills thanks to his excellent speed and athleticism. If Pete Carroll keeps him off the police blotter, he can be an elite corner.

15. San Diego Chargers - Jonathan Martin, OT, Stanford
Right tackle has been a gaping hole along the Chargers offensive line and they really should address it in this draft. Martin needs to work on his pass protection which makes him an iffy left tackle but his tremendous run blocking skills make him an ideal tackle on the right side. If he works on his pass blocking he can be a stud on the left side but the right side may be a better fit, at least initially.

16. Dallas Cowboys - Alfonzo Dennard, CB, Nebraska
Once again, cornerback is a major need for the Cowboys. Their secondary has been shredded multiple times of late after starting the season well. Terrence Newman has taken a couple of steps backward and Orlando Scandrick should be a nickelback. Dennard has shut down one part of the field for the Huskers this season and has displayed really good cover skills, especially after playing opposite Prince Amukamara last season.

17. Tennessee Titans - Luke Kuechly, OLB, Boston College
Tennessee needs to fill a void at outside linebacker and Kuechly should be able to step right in and start from day one. He is not the greatest athlete in the world, but he is very instinctive and intelligent. He works his ass off on every play and knows how to find the football. He has been the most consistent linebacker in all of college football and would make for a very solid pro.

18. New York Giants - Trent Richardson, RB, Alabama
Without question is this a fall for Richardson because he is a top prospect and one of the better running back prospects to come out of college in years but I feel that in today's world with teams finding quality backs late in the draft that they do not want to take them with high picks. He would be a steal here and the Giants would love to add him thanks to Ahmad Bradshaw's injury woes and as well as Brandon Jacobs potentially getting cut.

19. Cincinnati Bengals - David DeCastro, G, Stanford
The Bengals do have a pretty solid offensive line but they could use some upgrades in the interior and particularly at guard. DeCastro is a guy that can develop into one of the elite guards in football. He's got great size, can move very well, he's tough and physical and loves to pancake defenders. In fact, don't we all?

20. Chicago Bears - Mark Barron, SS, Alabama
It's been several years since the Bears had a legitimate thumper at one of the safety positions. They did manage to find a quality free safety in rookie Chris (Don't call me Victor) Conte but need a hard-hitter to complement him. And Barron can be that guy. He also is a solid cover guy but his best attribute is his instincts which allow him to find the ballcarrier and leave a mark.

21. Cincinnati Bengals (from Oakland) - Chase Minnifield, CB, Virginia
Cornerback will be a big need in this draft for the Bengals with Nate Clements not getting any younger and not playing that great to begin with this year. Minnifield has nice size for a corner and it has been clear that this season that teams are not targeting him and throwing at his partner opposite the field. He fights hard for the football and has quality instincts and can contribute in the return game as well.

22. Cleveland Browns (from Atlanta) - Cordy Glenn, G/T, Georgia
The Browns need to bring in some reinforcements at guard after Eric Steinbach's back surgery. They also need some help at right tackle as well and fortunately for them, Glenn can probably play both. Glenn played guard at Georgia then moved to left tackle his senior year. He has the blend of size, strength and athleticism that you want out of your guards if he can play tackle as well, the more the merrier.

23. New York Jets - Ronnell Lewis, OLB, Oklahoma
The Jets have still struggled to develop a consistent pass rush threat. Aaron Maybin has shown some flashes but they don't have that consistent sack threat that would make their defense badass. Lewis played mostly defensive end for the Sooners and very well in fact but has also played a little at outside linebacker and has the size to be able to play the 3-4 outside linebacker spot.

24. Detroit Lions - Barrett Jones, T, Alabama
Will the Lions finally draft a left tackle? They've needed one for years but Jeff Backus has someone convinced the Lions management that he can hold up. Now as he is a free agent, the Lions may finally pull the trigger and select one in the draft. Jones was moved to the left tackle position this year and has been great for the Crimson Tide in pass blocking and run blocking and has better athleticism than advertised.

25. Denver Broncos - Devon Still, DE/DT, Penn State
The Broncos are still looking for more production from their defensive line, even as Brodick Bunkley played very well. The importance of guys who can tie up the offensive line is high because the Broncos get most of their pass rush from defensive end Elvis Dumervil and outside linebacker Von Miller. Still can play both end and tackle and has shown solid pass rush ability from the tackle spot and can take up blockers thanks to his size.

26. New England Patriots (from New Orleans) T.J. McDonald, S, USC
It does not very well of Bill Belichick's recent drafts that he has had to continually draft defensive backs with high picks but he's going to have to do it again because the Patriots' pass defense is god awful. If McDonald is not the best safety in the draft then he's the second best. He can play both safety positions, which would allow greater freedom of where to line him and Patrick Chung up, and has good instincts.

27. San Francisco 49ers - Brandon Jenkins, DE/OLB, Florida State
Aldon Smith has been really impressive as a rookie rushing the passer off the edge and Ahmad Brooks has been solid as well. However, Brooks is a free agent after the season and the 49ers do not have anyone on roster that could adequately rush the passer. Jenkins could be that guy and can also put his hand down if the 49ers wanted to go to a four man front. Jenkins has 20 combined sacks over the past two seasons.

28. New England Patriots - Whitney Mercilus, DE, Illinois
Andre Carter has been very good in 2011 rushing the passer but he's been the lone ranger on this Patriots defense. The Patriots could really use another sack threat and Mercilus could be that guy. Mercilus has the size to hold up as a 4-3 end and he has been arguably the finest pass rusher in college football this year, leading the nation with 14.5 sacks as well as leading the nation with nine forced fumbles.

29. Houston Texans - Brandon Thompson, DT, Clemson
The Texans have strung together a couple good drafts in a row and don't have too many needs on their roster. One need the team does have is to beef up as nost tackle. Thompson can help in that regard as he has proven to be a very strong run stuffer at Clemson. Thompson can also play the defensive end positions in the 3-4 front making him a valuable role player along the Texans' defensive line.

30. Baltimore Ravens - Zack Brown, LB, North Carolina
The Ravens are looking for a potential replacement for Ray Lewis as well as a talented linebacker to play alongside him for the time being. Brown is the top defensive player left on the board and is an incredible athlete, a talented blitzer and can play the run and pass well. If he is still available this late in the first round, it will be yet another steal for Ozzie Newsome.

31. Pittsburgh Steelers - Vontaze Burfict, LB, Arizona State
Widely thought of as the finest linebacker in America entering the season, Burfict has seen his draft stock fallen due to an average senior season and some character concerns. For what it's worth, Burfict is said to be a very competitive player and can make dumb decisions on the football field due to overaggression. But nobody can deny Burfict's talent and he can provide a nice infusion of youth to the aging Steelers linebacking units.

32. Green Bay Packers - Vinny Curry, DE/OLB, Marshall
The Packers have been gashed on the defensive side of the field. Of course one can attest it to consistently playing with a big lead but nevertheless, the defense has not played great as compared to last year's unit. While the Packers have some solid players playing opposite Clay Matthews, they still do not have much of a pass rush threat to move the offense's attention away from Matthews. Curry is a very fast and athletic rusher off the edge who could put up nice sack numbers on Dom Capers' defense.

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