First edition of SportSmasher’s NFL Mock Draft – 2012
1) Indianapolis Colts – Andrew Luck, QB – Stanford – The Colts have LUCKED their way into a quarterback prospect that most teams would kill for, and I fully expect them to cut ties with longtime “Face of the Franchise” quarterback Peyton Manning in favor of the best quarterback prospect to come out of college since Manning himself in 1998. The NFL is a business, and as hard as it’s going to be for the new Colts regime, Manning is about to turn 36 years old and is coming off multiple neck surgeries. Andrew Luck is ready to play in the NFL right now and has to be the future franchise player in Indianapolis for the next 10 years. He’s simply too good to pass up.
2) St Louis Rams – Matt Kalil, OT – USC – New head coach Jeff Fisher wants to get tougher up front, and former second overall pick Jason Smith has been a total bust for the Rams, who need to do a better job of protecting quarterback Sam Bradford. Kalil is close to a can’t miss prospect, who possesses the athleticism and strength to anchor the left tackle spot for the Rams over the next ten years. The Rams will hold an auction for this pick and if a team is willing to pay a lot for Baylor Quarterback Robert Griffin III (Browns are a serious option, don’t sleep on Seattle or the Redskins) they can have it, however I’m not I the business of mocking trades. Barring a trade, Kalil is the pick here, value meets need.
3) Minnesota Vikings – Justin Blackmon, WR – Oklahoma State – The Vikings kick themselves for drafting quarterback Christian Ponder in the first round of the 2011 draft in this scenario. Ponder has some talent, but is nowhere near the prospect that Robert Griffin III is, and they are forced to pass on him. They desperately need a left tackle, but the clear top prospect on the board is gone, so instead they draft a fantastic wide receiver who can make a lot of plays on the outside. Blackmon is tough as they come, hard working and possesses excellent hands, he reminds me of Anquan Boldin with more big play ability. If someone (Browns) trade into the Rams spot to secure Robert Griffin III, Kalil becomes a no brainer for the Vikings here. The Vikings could also trade back or swap with the Browns to acquire more picks.
4) Cleveland Browns – Robert Griffin III, QB – Baylor – Dream scenario for the Browns, RGIII falls to them at the #4 pick and they get to keep their other first round pick which was acquired from the Falcons. I think this is unlikely, as many teams will try to trade up for Griffin, and think the Browns will have to surrender some picks, including their second first rounder, to select him. You cannot win in the NFL without a capable starting quarterback, and Colt McCoy should be nothing more than a solid career backup, while RGIII could instantly provide a spark like Cam Newton did for Carolina in 2011. The Browns have some nice young players, and while they have other needs, drafting RGIII would be a huge step in the right direction for the perennial losers in Cleveland.
5) Tampa Bay Buccaneers – Morris Claiborne, CB – LSU – After a surprising 2010 season, Tampa Bay took a huge step back in 2011. They started the season at 4-2, but lost their final 10 games, costing head coach Raheem Morris his job. They have a lot of needs, but at this point, Morris Claiborne has the highest value on the board. A true lockdown corner with excellent man to man cover skills, Claiborne is clearly the best cornerback in a good crop at the position. Tampa Bay’s corners right now are a 36 year old Ronde Barber and Aquib Talib, who cannot stay out of trouble, so grabbing a lockdown corner like Claiborne here makes sense. I could also see Justin Blackmon as the pick if he is available here, as the team lacks a true number one receiver.
6) Washington Redskins – Trent Richardson, RB – Alabama – It will greatly disappoint owner Dan Snyder if the Redskins are unable to trade up and grab RGIII, and he will have no problem mortgaging his future to do so, however with two first round picks Cleveland can trump any Redskins offer. It is killing Snyder and head coach Mike Shannahan that they have to start Rex Grossman at quarterback in a division that features Eli Manning, Tony Romo and Michael Vick. The Redskins will be forced to look for a quarterback on the Free Agent or Trade Market, so here they select the top running back on the board. Coach Shannahan does not value running backs and has made the likes of Olindis Gary and Reuben Droughns thousand yard rushers in the past, but the organization cannot resist a top talent like Richardson. His blend of speed, power and pass catching ability will quickly make him a star on the next level and is too good to pass up.
7) Jacksonville Jaguars – Michael Floyd, WR – Notre Dame – Talk about a team who needs a lot of work. The Jags have one of the best tailbacks in the NFL, a decent offensive line when healthy, and a serviceable defense. The new head coach will need to figure out if Blaine Gabbert is capable of becoming a winning quarterback in the NFL, and to do this, he needs to provide Gabbert with some weapons. The Jaguars top receiver was Mike Thomas (44 catches, 415 yards, 1 touchdown) last season. They have to get Gabbert a threat on the outside, which opens up the game for everyone else. Ideally Justin Blackmon would fall (receivers tend to fall), or the Jaguars could trade back a few picks and grab Floyd later, but they have to get a big playmaker on the outside. Although Floyd is a reach here, in this scenario, he is the Jags guy.
8 ) Miami Dolphins – David DeCastro, OG – Stanford – The Dolphins are the most complete out of any teams picking in the top ten, with a solid defense, but I am not confident they will start winning until they find a quarterback. Matt Moore is a competent NFL quarterback, but would clearly be better served as a backup, and I would not be surprised if they make a move for Green Bay’s Matt Flynn this offseason. When you sign a quarterback, you need to protect him, and David DeCastro is one of my favorite prospects in the 2012 draft. A guard with supreme toughness and strength who plays with a nasty streak, DeCastro will instantly upgrade any offensive line in 2012. An argument could be made that the Dolphins could use a right tackle more, but a guard like DeCastro is not available often, and the new Dolphins head coach will be happy to have him on board.
9) Carolina Panthers – Quentin Coples, DE – UNC – The Panthers found their franchise quarterback in the 2011 draft by selecting Cam Newton first overall, and they instantly became a feared offensive unit, although they could really use another playmaker at wideout opposite Steve Smith. Carolina’s problem was their defense, which was atrocious last season and turned every game into a shootout, and I expect them to focus heavily on this unit during the 2012 draft. Carolina has needs everywhere on defense, and I was tempted to give them a cornerback here, but after Dre Kirkpatrick’s recent arrest he will fall due to character concerns. Quentin Coples is a local prospect coming out of North Carolina, and while he is as physically impressive as you’ll see, he was disappointing in 2011. Coples is a huge lineman (6’6 285lbs) who can play outside on rushing downs and inside on passing downs, and while it worries me that he never consistently dominated or became a great pass rusher, he has the tools to develop into a force in the NFL.
10) Buffalo Bills – Courtney Ingram, OLB – Alabama – The Bills had the worst pass rush in the NFL last season, and it was embarrassing to watch opposing quarterbacks sit in the pocket and pick them apart all day. Ingram is exactly what the Bills need, a versatile outside linebacker coming out of the best defense in the country, who can pressure the quarterback coming off the edge as an outside linebacker or with his hand in the dirt at defensive end. He will also be reunited with fellow Crimson Tide defender Marcel Dareus, who was drafted by the Bills in the first round of 2011, and we know Alabama knows how to recruit defenders. Many Buffalo fans will be begging them to finally draft an offensive lineman in the first round, and I would have no problem swapping picks with Kansas City, who picks 11th. Given the Bills track record, they will pass on the offensive line.
11)Kansas City Chiefs – Mike Adams, OT – Ohio State – Kansas City has a nice foundation of players, but they lack steady quarterback play, a great offensive line, and a pass rush opposite Tamba Hali. These are all things that winning franchises usually have. They can kill two birds with one stone by improving the offensive line and drafting huge left tackle Mike Adams out of Ohio State. Adams is a player who should see his stock skyrocket as we get closer to draft day and he certainly looks the part of a bookend left tackle at 6’7 323lbs. With the return of injured stars running back Jamaal Charles and safety Eric Berry in 2012, the addition of Adams could really help out Kansas City’s offense.
12) Seattle Seahawks – Whitney Mercilus, DE – Illinois – Once again, Seattle was just not bad enough to land a top quarterback. Tarvaris Jackson was actually serviceable this season, but I think Pete Carroll’s squad needs a true blue chip signal caller before they can take that final step. When you look at their roster, there is solid young talent nearly everywhere, so I will call them my darkhorse to either select a quarterback (Ryan Tannehill? Mortgage the future for RGIII?) or find one in trade/free agency. Although Seattle has some nice young pieces on every level of defense (love that young secondary) they could still use a pure speed pass rusher off the edge. Mercilus is a athletic freak who really came on for Illinois in 2011, and can really pressure the quarterback. He would be a big upgrade opposite veteran Raheem Brock, especially on sure passing downs, from day one.
13) Arizona Cardinals – Riley Reiff, OT – Iowa – Exactly what Arizona needs, a tough offensive lineman who could bring and edge to a unit that lacked any toughness or accountability in 2011. I felt awful for the Cardinals quarterbacks last season, as it seemed the pass rush had them flustered the second they received the snap and forced bad throws on nearly every release. The offensive line needs a full overall, and a good place to start is Reiff, a tough as nails tackle, who should be off the board by this point. He may struggle with speed rushers on the next level, and he should probably start off on the right side, where his talents will be used best.
14) Dallas Cowboys – Dre Kirkpatrick, CB – Alabama – Anyone who saw the Dallas secondary play last season knows that Terrence Newman has nothing left in the tank. Watch his performance against the Giants in the season finale, if Dallas wins that game they and not the Giants are in the playoffs, and maybe they are making a similar run to the Super Bowl. Newman was abused in the passing game, could not tackle in the run game, and possibly cost Dallas a playoff berth. Kirkpatrick is one of the most talented players in this draft, and he would have been off the board earlier, if not for his recent arrest. Jerry Jones will look past that mistake and immediately upgrade his secondary by selecting Kirkpatrick.
15) Philadelphia Eagles – Dont’a Hightower, LB – Alabama – This isn’t where the dream team is supposed to be picking! Philly could not follow through on lots of preseason trash talk and high expectations, and while they are talented almost everywhere and played well at times, they were unable to make the playoffs. Maybe they should look into drafting a linebacker who can make a tackle or one with instincts and Hightower has both. The rugged leader of Alabama’s championship defense, Hightower is more fluid than I thought, and can hold down the middle of Philly’s 4-3 front. He probably fits better in a 3-4 defense, but he is good enough to fit in any scheme.
16) New York Jets – Nick Perry, DE/OLB – USC – The Jets have some issues. Their Overall talent is good, but their holes are glaring ones that Rex Ryan needs to fill. They desperately need a right tackle who can at least get a hand on pass rushers, Wayne Hunter was an embarrassment last season. They need at least one safety, Jim Leonhard cannot stay healthy and their depth of Brodney Pool and Eric Smith are absolute garbage. They also need a time machine for Bart Scott, but what is really apparent on defense is the lack of a pass rush, which kills them as a unit. Without a pass rush, Rex Ryan is forced to blitz constantly, and when this is picked up the Jets are vulnerable (except whoever Revis is covering). Nick Perry is a former top recruit who is athletic and physically gifted and will turn heads at the combine, an instant upgrade to the Jets pass rush. They can target offensive playmakers, a right tackle and a safety or two later.
17) Cincinnati Bengals – Kendall Wright, WR – Baylor – The Bengals have a promising young core on offense lead by quarterback Andy Dalton and stud receiver A.J. Green, who were fantastic last season. Putting Wright across the field from Green could really enhance this offense, and he knows how to get open when the defense will be focused on Green. Wright also immediately becomes a top flight NFL punt returner, and while the Bengals already have some nice young depth at receiver (although Jerome Simpson’s future is now in doubt following an arrest), none of them have the upside or skill set of Wright. Paring Wright with Green and Dalton and the pre-existing depth at the position (Jordan Shipley, Simpson, Andre Caldwell) gives the Bengals an explosive core for the future.
18) San Diego Chargers – Cody Glenn, OG – Georgia – I cannot believe Norv Turner did not get canned. Again. Every year the Chargers think they can sleepwalk through the regular season, cruise into the playoffs, and suddenly become a threat. Well that finally didn’t happen, and one of the NFL’s most talented offensive units is watching the postseason unfold at home. I wanted to give the Chargers a fiery leader/pass rusher here, but remembered that there are several huge question marks on their offensive line, and a few players may be forced into retirement due to medical concerns. Glenn is a good pick here, because he is totally massive (6’6 350lbs) and while he will be best at guard, you can plug him in almost anywhere if need be, and his versatility will add to his value for a unit that may need it.
19) Chicago Bears – Alshton Jeffery, WR – South Carolina – The Bears need playmakers alongside Jay Cutler and Matt Forte, clearly Roy Williams is a total bust and Sam Hurd could be going to jail for a long time. They have got to do better than Earl Bennett and Devin Hester if they want to win. Jeffery is a big target who will instantly give the Bears a playmaker in the red zone, which Jay Cutler desperately needs. I think it’s pretty funny that Mike Martz forces Chicago to trade one of the top tight ends in the game and his quarterback’s favorite target, Greg Olsen, because his system deemphasizes the tight end and then retires a year later.
20) Tennessee Titans – Michael Brockers, DT – LSU – The Titans have a lot of impending free agents, many of whom were drafted by former head coach Jeff Fisher, who is now the coach of the Rams. I expect the Rams to chase many of these players, and would think they would be able to land a few, so I am really not sure what direction the Titans will go in on draft day. We know they are set at quarterback with Jake Locker and running back with Chris Johnson for the foreseeable future, and the Titans leading sack man was Karl Klugg with just 7.0. Hence, I gave them the impressive underclassman Bowers, who can both stop the run and pressure the quarterback, and we know head coach Mike Munchak will emphasize the trenches.
21) Cincinnati Bengals – Lamar Miller, RB – Miami – The Bengals continue to build into a young offensive powerhouse by drafting the dangerous Miller, a back whose game should translate perfectly into the NFL, and who should be clearly the second best back in this draft class. With the addition of Kendall Wright and Miller complementing last year’s selections of quarterback Andy Dalton and receiver A.J. Green, the Bengals could quickly become the most talented young team in the AFC. Cedric Benson had a solid year for the Bengals at running back in 2011, however his best days are behind him, and it’s time for an upgrade. You can afford to wait on running backs and take an offensive lineman or defender here, however you will miss out on the talented Miller.
22) Cleveland Browns – Melvin Ingram, DE/OLB – South Carolina – The Browns found a great pass rusher in the draft last season in Jabaal Sheard, who lead the team with 8.5 sacks in 2011, but he is the teams only legitimate threat off the edge. Ingram is a fiery player who can be a leader for the Browns defense and would provide a pass rush opposite Sheard for the future in Cleveland. With Joe Haden at corner and big Phil Taylor manning the middle of the line, things are looking up for the Browns defensively.
23) Detroit Lions – Jonathan Martin, OT – Stanford – This would be a huge get for the Lions, as current left tackle Jeff Backus is coming off an injury and is an impending free agent. The Lions will try to keep Backus, as he is one of the toughest players in the NFL, but a move like this would protect them from a Backus defection. Martin does not have the toughness or aggressiveness of teammate David DeCastro, but he is a stout and athletic left tackle, who will improve the offensive line. Other options for the Lions include linebacker Zach Brown and cornerback Alphonzo Dennard.
24) Pittsburgh Steelers – Devon Still, DE/DT – Penn State – You have to wonder what direction the Steelers will go in here, as they have a lot of needs, and may be looking at a year or two rebuilding process coming up. Their defense showed it’s age in 2011 (James Farrior is 37, Aaron Smith and Chris Hoke are 35, Casey Hampton is 34, Brett Keisel and James Harrison are 33, Ryan Clark is 32, Ike Taylor and Larry Foote are 31) and they need help on the offensive line, plus running back Rashad Mendenhall tore his ACL in the season finale, which will likely cost him parts if not all of the 2012 season. This makes the Steelers a tough team to call right now, but you have to assume they will be content with quarterback, tight end, wide receiver, safety, outside linebacker. Devon Still will give Pittsburgh another big, versatile defensive lineman who can eat up blockers and play multiple positions along their three man front.
25) Denver Broncos – Jerel Worthy, DT – Michigan State – Denver head coach John Fox knows how important defensive line play is, and while Brodrick Bunkley had a great year, the Broncos do not have a lot of depth at defensive tackle. Worthy is an extremely talented player who at times takes plays off and has trouble staying motivated, but if he can keep focused, he has Pro Bowl potential down the road.
26) Houston Texans – Mohammed Sanu, WR – Rutgers – The Texans really need another receiver opposite Andre Johnson, as they have tried many players over the past few years, and nobody has stepped up. Sanu is a big target at 6’2 215lbs with great hands, catching 115 passes for 1206 yards and 11 touchdowns for Rutgers last season, and should immediately thrive across the field across from Johnson in what would become a dangerous offense.
27) New England Patriots – Alphonzo Dennard, CB – Nebraska – The Patriots secondary has been horrible this season, and it seems they have been signing receivers off of the practice squad to play cornerback. They need to find depth this offseason in a big way, and selecting Dennard would be a good place to start to rebuild. Dennard plays well in press coverage and seems to understand the game, which is important to playing for the Patriots.
28) Green Bay Packers – Mark Barron, S – Alabama – Rumors have circulated that the Packers might consider moving cornerback Charles Woodson to safety, and if that happens, I could see them looking at a corner here. They need to improve their secondary quickly if they want to contend for the Super Bowl again, what better way to do that than bringing in one of the most consistent players on arguably the best defense we have ever seen at the college ranks in Mark Barron.
29) Baltimore Ravens – Zebrie Sanders, OT – Florida State – The Ravens were lining up Bryant McKinnie at tackle this past season, and their normally stout offensive line got pushed around by the New England Patriots in the AFC Championship game. Mckinnie often shows up out of shape, the reason he is no longer a member of the Minnesota Vikings (that and a boat trip stick out as reasons), and it would be wise for Baltimore to develop young depth behind him, so Sanders makes sense.
30) San Francisco 49ers – Dontari Poe, DT – Memphis – The 49ers have some of the best young depth in the NFL and already possess the best run defense in the league, so adding the massive (6’5 350lb) Poe would be a case of the rich getting richer. In fact do not be surprised to hear Poe’s name called earlier on draft day, because nose tackles have added value on draft day for desperate 3-4 defensive teams.
31) New England Patriots – Vontaze Burfict, LB – Arizona State – The Patriots need to improve defensively, and I expect them to lean heavily toward that side of the ball on draft day. Burfict is a stud linebacker prospect who would benefit in joining an organization with strong leadership like the Patriots, because he is extremely naturally gifted, but makes some knucklehead decisions (late hits, helmet to helmet hits). He is an intimidating player who could develop into an absolute superstar on the next level if he receives the right mentoring and discipline.
32) New York Giants – Zach Brown, LB – North Carolina – I was worried Brown would show up undersized at the Senior Bowl and measure out undersized, but he did not (6’1 236lbs) and could be gone long before this selection in April. Michael Boley has been a great addition to the Giants since being signed as a free agent from Atlanta, however he is getting older and is not cheap. Brown could develop behind Boley and eventually take over a few years down the road.
Missed the Cut: Luke Kuechly, LB – Boston College, Stephon Gilmore, CB – South Carolina, Peter Konz, C – Wisconsin, Fletcher Cox, DT – Mississippi State, Andre Branch, DE – Clemson, Ryan Tannehill, QB – Texas A&M, Janoris Jenkins, CB – North Alabama, Kelechi Osemele OG/T – Iowa State, Vinny Curry, DE – Marshall, Alameda Ta’amu, NT – Washington. Kevin Zeiter OG, Wisconsin