Since last month when I looked into the NFL crystal ball to give us an idea of what will happen at the end of April, the picture has begun to come more into focus. Now with the NFL combine we have a better idea of how rookies will rank. Some players’ stock rose and others fell. As free agency begins, some teams have already addressed the needs they would’ve in the draft. Others have at least signed free agents that will change their draft priorities. You may notice that there are some drastic changes between this mock draft and my original publication. I do not see the changes between this and my final mock draft being nearly as drastic. Similar to my original mock draft I will provide the first two rounds of the 2012 NFL Draft in order to give all fans a chance to see at least one draft pick their teams will make. Unless your team is the wreckless Oakland Raiders, you will find at least one draft pick for your team.
My final mock draft will come out right before the NFL Draft a the end of April. As an added bonus, the final mock draft will include three rounds – sorry Raiders fans, you still won’t get to see any picks.
NOTE: In a lot of cases where I list a position as an area of need it may just be depth and not a starter. This is very true of positions like quarterback and running back for a number of teams.
THE 1ST ROUND
Well the Colts pulled the trigger as anticipated and released future Hall of Fame quarterback Peyton Manning. If it wasn’t obvious enough before, the Colts will be drafting a quarterback with the #1 overall draft pick in April. While Robert Griffin III’s stock has risen dramatically as of late, he has established himself as a top 2 quarterback. Andrew Luck is still by far the best QB prospect of this draft. And he’s the best QB prospect of the last 8 years and one of the best prospects of the last 30. The 1980′s had John Elway (drafted 1st overall by the Colts), the 1990′s had Peyton Manning (drafted 1st overall by the Colts), the 2000′s had Eli Manning (drafted #1 overall by the Chargers), and the 2010′s have Andrew Luck. He has a rare combination of arm strength, precision, and poise and is the best overall prospect on the board. There’s no reason to believe the Colts won’t make this pick.
Last month I saw that, given Dan Snyder’s statements, the Redskins would make the necessary moves to trade up for RG3. I just did not see the Rams being smart enough to trade down and who could’ve seen the Rams getting the king’s ransom they did for Robert Griffin III. In the past month, Robert Griffin III has established himself as the clear cut #2. It’s clear that the Redskins made the sacrifice they did to take whichever QB the Colts don’t and I fully believe the quarterback left on the board will be RG3.
The Vikings have their quarterback of the future. They are still trying to decide if it’s Christian Ponder or Joe Webb but whatever they do they need to build around their QB and the Vikings have a lot of work to do. The most glaring need for this run first team is a left tackle. Matt Kalil is the best offensive lineman prospect we have seen since Jake Long and in my opinion any team that passes on Kalil with Luck and RG3 is foolish. Regardless of need Kalil might be the top overall player in this year’s draft. He is big, physical, fast, and a perfect young fit for that rushing game and those 2 tight end sets the Vikings like to employ. The Vikings could target Morris Claiborne or Justin Blackmon here but Blackmon does not merit this high of pick and I believe, with such a deep CB class, the Vikings will also pass on Claiborne.
The Cleveland Browns have a lot of needs, especially on the offensive side of the ball. Earlier I had the Browns taking WR Justin Blackmon with this pick because this team does need to provide weapons to Colt McCoy but I just cannot see Mike Holmgren taking a wide receiver this high. Maybe a Calvin Johnson or Larry Fitzgerald type prospect would be taken this high but I do not see Holmgren taking Blackmon. I don’t see the Browns overreaching for Ryan Tannehill nor do I see them taking a running back as high as #4. Morris Claiborne is far and away the best cornerback in the draft class and when you have to play Ben Roethlisberger, Joe Flacco, and Andy Dalton twice a year, you need to have a strong secondary. Claiborne gives the Browns, paired with Joe Haden, perhaps the best young CB tandem in the league. Claiborne can contribute right away and Holmgren won’t hesitate to take the best defensive player in the draft.
Despite the Eric Wright signing, if Morris Claiborne is still on the board here there is no doubt in my mind that the Buccaneers pull the trigger and take him. However he’s gone and with the signing of Vincent Jackson, the Buccaneers can afford to wait at least a round before addressing their wide receiver concerns. While I believe that the running back position has been highly devalued and it’s really not the best idea to draft one in the top 5, Richardson is the best running back prospect we have seen since Adrian Peterson. Richardson is a great ball carrier with excellent instincts, great speed, and brutal strength. He would fit perfectly in the Bucs’ offense and complement Blount quite nicely. There have been some concerns about his knee injury but the Buccaneers passed on Peterson due to injury concerns back in 2007 and will not be looking to make the same mistake twice. If Richardson were to fall past the Bucs and Rams, there is no doubt in my mind that he will fall all the way to the Cincinnati Bengals.
The Rams traded down giving themselves the necessary ammunition to rebuild the once great franchise and they still get their man in Justin Blackmon. The Rams already had a pressing need at wide receiver and with Brandon Lloyd signing with the Patriots that need just became more dire. The Rams could potentially draft OT Riley Reiff out of Iowa here and if Blackmon’s off the board they could consider Richardson or Claiborne but I believe in this instance they take Blackmon. They have not had a true #1 receiver since the departure of Torry Holt and their young QB Sam Bradford needs a target. Blackmon has the speed and catching ability to open up the passing game for the Rams and at 6th overall is a great pick for the Rams.
If Justin Blackmon is somehow still on the board here this is who the Jaguars will pick. However Blackmon is off the board and so they will look to address the pass rush with Quinton Coples. There seem to be a few trends in the NFL Draft and one of them is that it seems like the Jaguars draft a defensive end every year with their top pick. Coples has the size, speed, and instincts to be an elite pass rusher in this league and the Jaguars are said to have interest in him. Jacksonville will take Coples 7th overall and hope that the 3rd time is the charm on defensive ends.
The Dolphins won the coin flip with Carolina at the NFL Combine and have moved into the 8th overall spot. Ryan Tannehill was definitely helped by quarterbacks like Matt Barkley and Landry Jones who chose to stay in college another year. And at this point Ryan Tannehill is probably an early 2nd round quarterback grade but he has a very high ceiling and a lot of potential. He has a strong arm and very good instincts. Yes, Tannehill is a reach here and a guy who is going to need at least a year of developmental time but with the Dolphins out on Manning and on Flynn, this is a move that has to be made. And with the new Dolphins offensive coordinator, Mike Sherman, having been Tannehill’s college coach at Texas A&M, he understands what Tannehill is capable of and can continue developing him. The Dolphins could take Reiff here but I believe they will reach and take the consensus 3rd best quarterback in the draft. If the Dolphins don’t take him here, I think he could fall to the Browns later in the round.
Did anyone else impress as much at the NFL Combine as Dontari Poe. Sure Poe makes more sense as a Nose Tackle but he can also be very effective in a 4 man front. The Panthers could not stop the run and in a division that includes the Saints, Buccaneers, and Falcons – this is essential. He has already drawn comparisons to Haloti Ngata in his technique and his combine numbers. He is the best defensive lineman in the draft and while I had him falling to the end of the 1st in my last mock draft, I do not see him lasting past the 12th overall pick. He is the closest thing to “can’t miss” I’ve seen for a defensive line prospect in a long time.
The Bills have signed Mario Williams but nonetheless pass rush help remains a big priority. I believe that given the opportunity the Bills would draft Courtney Upshaw or Melvin Ingram and double up on the pass rush as they try to become relevant in the AFC East again. However, the Bills also have some offensive line woes and with an NFL-ready tackle like Reiff slipping to the 10th overall pick, the Bills won’t hesitate to pull the trigger. With the exception of Upshaw and Ingram the only other player I could see Buffalo taking here is Notre Dame’s Michael Floyd.
If Dontari Poe is still on the board here that becomes the most obvious pick for the Chiefs here. With the recent signing of Eric Winston, the Chiefs will look at more pressing needs as opposed to signing Jonathan Martin here. The Chiefs have a very talented young defense but need some linebacker help alongside Pro-Bowler Derrick Johnson. Kuechly is far and away the best inside linebacker in this year’s draft and would fit right into Crennel’s defense. Kuechly is exactly what the Chiefs need, a run-stopping linebacker who plays aggressively and with great instincts. He performed amazingly well at the combine and is the right pick for KC.
The Seahawks hope they have found their quarterback in free agent Matt Flynn. Signing the back-up to an All-Pro Packers quarterback worked for the Seahawks once before. The Seahawks could address their defense here with Melvin Ingram or Courtney Upshaw but the interior offensive line is a pressing concern for the Seahawks who will need to give Flynn time to throw and help Marshawn Lynch in the run game. A month ago DeCastro was not expected to come off the board before his Stanford counterpart Jonathan Martin but now that could very well happen.
The Arizona Cardinals have pressing needs at the Quarterback position, in their receiving corps, and their secondary but with Jonathan Martin available the Cardinals get a great opportunity to improve their offensive line. Due to illness Martin did not get a chance to work out at the combine but he is the consensus 3rd best OT in the draft. Martin dominated the Pac-12 during his college career. He is a great run blocker who can be very effective in the screen game. He can do a lot to help with the Cardinals’ rushing attack of Beanie Wells and Ryan Williams and is a smart move with this pick.
The Cowboys would’ve probably made the playoffs last season over the Super Bowl Champion Giants if not for concerns in their secondary. Even with the signing of Brodney Pool this is a pick that makes a lot of sense for the Cowboys. He is considered the most NFL-ready safety in the draft. Barron is a hard-hitting safety who has a tendency to be wherever the ball is and has the potential to be a big-play safety and an eventual Pro Bowler for the Cowboys.
The Eagles have a tendency to draft linemen on both sides of the ball in the first round and they really need some help stopping the run. Michael Brockers is a disruptive force that can cause chaos along the line of scrimmage. He is a large physical tackle that can stop the run and be a leader for the Eagles defensive line going forward.
The Jets really need some help rushing the pass and are going to be thrilled that Courtney Upshaw is sitting here for them at the 16th pick. The negative on Upshaw is that many consider him too small to be an every down defensive end but too large to be an every down outside linebacker. Regardless he is a great physical talent that could really help with Rex Ryan’s pass rush.
There is a chance that the Jaguars take Floyd in the top 10 or that the Cardinals could pick him up but I see Floyd being available for the Bengals at the 17th overall pick and the Bengals will not hesitate to draft him. The Bengals are a great young team but they took a significant step back last year when A.J. Green got injured and they need someone to complement Green. The opportunity to take a quarterback that was doing nothing for the Bengals and turn that into the best young wide receiver tandem in the NFL is one that Mike Brown should not pass up.
Even with the re-signing of Jared Gaither, the Chargers need to build up their offensive line and find a way to better protect Phillip Rivers and open up the run game if San Diego is going to compete in the AFC West anytime soon. He is a very agile athlete with the size and long arms you look for in a tackle. The Chargers need to re-establish the run game and open up the pass game and picking Adams here could go a long way to help San Diego.
The Bears addressed their wide receiver concerns by trading for Brandon Marshall and signing Eric Weems. Interior offensive line is a huge concern for the Bears and Cordy Glenn would fit well with the Bears offense. He was a very physical tackle at LSU but fits the NFL better as a guard and has the tools to be one of the best interior linemen in the game. With Melvin Ingram still on the board the Bears could also go that route but Glenn makes the most sense for the Bears here.
Melvin Ingram might be the best defensive end in the draft and I like him better than the more highly rated Quinton Coples. He has explosive speed and is very physical off the edge. He impressed scouts at the NFL Combine and has shown that while he will make a great NFL defensive end, he has the ability to play the outside linebacker position in a 3-4 scheme. The Titans largest need is a better pass rush and they will be thrilled to find Melvin Ingram waiting for them at #20 overall.
The questions about Janorris Jenkins have never been about his talent or physicality but instead about his off-field issues. He is a Division II player whose character had him dismissed at the University of Florida. While there are teams that would be scared away by Jenkins character issues, the Bengals are not one of those organizations. The Bengals need some help in their secondary and Jenkins is a perfect pick for them here. After running a 4.44 40 yd dash, posting a 33.5 inch vertical jump, and showing fluidity in a number of drills- Jenkins has moved ahead of Kirkpatrick according to several scouts. Leon Hall should be great if he’s recovered from injury but Nate Clements is not getting any younger and Adam Jones is just not working out for the Bengals. Jenkins could be the cornerstone of the Bengals youth movement in their secondary.
Holmgren does not tend to draft wide receivers early but I believe this is a pick the Browns make. Cleveland needs to find someone for Colt McCoy to throw the ball to if they are ever going to compete in the AFC North. Kendall Wright is a speedy receiver with great hands who was largely overlooked in the Big 12 in college because of the success of Justin Blackmon. He’s a quick receiver with breakaway speed that is very reminiscent of Percy Harvin. This would provide the Brown’s offense a much needed receiving threat.
I could still see the Lions addressing their offensive line with this pick because they need an heir apparent to Jeff Backus but with the top 4 offensive tackles off the board, the Lions need to address their secondary. The defense was formidable up front but had issues in the secondary and with the Packers passing attack and now Brandon Marshall in the division, the Lions need a physical corner to lead their secondary. Kirkpatrick is in the very top tier of this deep cornerback class. He’s a big, physical corner who should be very good inside the redzone and will provide the Lions a much needed presence in their woeful secondary.
Due to salary cap restrictions, the Steelers had to let James Farrior go. The Steelers are in desperate need of an inside linebacker who can contribute immediately. Hightower is 6’2″ 265 lb linebacker who ran a 4.6 40. His combination of size and speed made him a dangerous blitzer for the Crimson Tide and should make him one in the NFL. He fits the mold of what Dick LeBeau looks like in a defensive player which makes this a perfect match.
The Denver Broncos had a very solid year in using a late season surge to win the weak AFC West. The offense showed there are some definite weapons there and the run game showed promise. The defense at times looked elite but had trouble in the front four and stopping the run. Fletcher Cox is a very strong, physical, versatile defensive lineman that can play on position among the front four and is a perfect fit for Denver’s defensive scheme.
Before the injury to Matt Schaub last season, I thought the Texans were the best team in the AFC. Even without Schaub the Texans were formidable but when Andre Johnson got hurt was when Houston took a step back. Houston has two desperate needs – a disruptive nose tackle and a receiving threat to line up opposite Johnson. 26th overall is a little high for a prospect as raw as Hill but with all the potential based on the skills he showed at the combine he has the tools to be an elite receiver in this league. Hill had an amazing combine showing very reminiscent of two Georgia Tech wideouts who had big playoff performances last season (Calvin Johnson and Demaryius Thomas). He is a 6’4″ wide receiver who ran a 4.36 40 and has an unbelievably high ceiling. If he develops into the kind of receiver he has the potential to be, this pick will be an absolute steal.
The Patriots are in need of some defensive help. They were a couple minutes away from their 4th Super Bowl trophy this century but had no way to match up against the Giants wide receiver corps or to put pressure on Manning. Mercilus is a linebacker that lives up to his name. While he played defensive end in college, many see him being an outside linebacker in the NFL. He’s an explosive player who knows how to get to the quarterback and that could serve the Patriots very well in trying to rebuild their defense.
Last season the Packers defense was absolutely awful and posted the worst sack rate in the NFL. An inability to create pressure and sack opposing quarterbacks is the reason the Packers were sent home 3 weeks earlier than anyone expected them to be. Their very dynamic offense overshadowed the Packers defensive woes but they need some help creating pressure. LaVonte David has surged up the draft boards as of late with his speed and tackling ability. Despite concerns about his size, he is a talented open field talented who is 100% hustle and plays sideline to sideline.
All-Pro Center Matt Birk was expected to retire. Though he just signed a three year deal with the Ravens last week, I fully expect that this will be his last season. The Ravens must find an heir apparent to Matt Birk and Konz is the best center in the draft. Konz is a very strong, athletic center that could be the cornerstone of their line for the next 10 years and Baltimore should not hesitate to grab him here.
The 49ers came within two muffed punts of making the Super Bowl last year and they did so with a receiving corps that did not catch a pass before the 4th quarter. San Francisco had no ability to convert on 3rd down and leaned heavily on tight ends Vernon Davis and Delanie Walker to provide any kind of offense. Even with the recent additions of Randy Moss and Mario Manningham, the 49ers could use some help in their receiving corps. Considering there are no nose tackles worthy of taking with this pick, San Francisco will address the receiving corps. Randle is a large physical redzone threat and represents the best wide receiver left on the board when this pick rolls around.
The Patriots have four picks in the first 63 and will most likely use them to rebuild their ailing defense. This may be considered a bit of a reach but New England needs help at the safety position and after Smith there is a dropoff at this position. Smith will not be available when the Patriots pick again. Smith had a great showing at the NFL Combine and shows extreme athleticism and versatility that could make him a force in the secondary. He is an excellent open field tackler with the potential to create big turnovers.
Coby Fleener has established himself as the best tight end in this year’s draft class that’s pretty thin at the position. The Giants are in desperate need of a playmaking tight end. The Giants lost both of their tight ends to injury last year and even though they signed Martellus Bennett, taking the best tight end in the draft makes sense for New York here. Fleener is a tight end with great hands and surprising speed. He could be a great red zone threat for Eli and is a tight end who can battle defenders for the pass and will come down with the ball.
THE 2ND ROUND
After Melvin Ingram, I don’t believe there is a better pass rusher out there than Nick Perry. He has dropped some on the draft board due to concerns in his size but the Colts have a number of needs and one of them is putting pressure on opposing quarterbacks. The other three teams in the division have their franchise QBs and the Colts must put pressure on them. Nick Perry is a great value at the beginning of the 2nd round.
The Rams have a number of needs on their roster greater than running back but Steven Jackson is starting to near the end of his career and the Rams must balance his workload. Thanks to the recent devaluation of running backs, the 2nd best running back in the draft is available at the beginning of the 2nd round. With so many needs the best thing the Rams can do is draft the best player available for them and that’s LaMichael James. I could also see the Rams taking Clemson’s Andre Branch with this pick.
For the Vikings they will be deciding between two South Carolina players at this pick – Stephon Gilmore and Alshon Jeffrey. The Vikings got some very good news when last week CB Chris Cook was acquitted of domestic violence charges. Nonetheless, the Vikings need secondary help and Stephon Gilmore is the last of the top tier of cornerbacks. When the Vikings have an opportunity to take a top-20 talent at 35th overall the Vikings won’t hesitate. The wide receiver class is deep enough that the Vikings can still find good talent in later rounds.
The Browns really need a quarterback but there are no prospects worth taking here. Running back is also a need for the Browns and Lamar Miller is the best on the board. He has the tools to be an all-purpose running back and a smart pick for Cleveland.
The Bucs made some big splashes in free agency but still need help on the defensive side of the ball. Andre Branch is a great athlete who can play either defensive end or outside linebacker.
Defensive tackle is a big need for the Rams and in recent weeks Kendall Reyes has shot up the boards. He is a strong tackle who should solidify the Rams’ defensive line.
If you can name two or more Jacksonville receivers, you are probably a Jaguars fan. The Jaguars gave up a lot to get their franchise QB last year and now they need someone for him to throw to. Jeffrey is a big, physical first round talent who drops some because of concerns about his ability to separate from defenders. Nonetheless who is a large, physical receiver with great hands. He’s the kind of guy you can lob a ball into the endzone and he will be the one who comes down with it. He will make a perfect complement for Laurent Robinson.
The Dolphins could target a wide receiver with this pick given the Brandon Marshall trade but Terrell Manning gives them an opportunity to put more pressure on Tom Brady.
Think of how good Cam Newton was last year. Now imagine what he could do if he had 2 wide receivers instead of 1…
They already got Mario Williams in free agency and now they get to bookend him with one of the best defensive ends in the draft.
The Chiefs are a young team ready to win and their biggest need is clearly nose tackle. This pick is a bit of a reach but given the scarcity of quality at this position it’s the right pick for Kansas City.
Since the Seahawks didn’t address their pass rush in the first round, they must address it here. Especially if Peyton Manning joins the division…
The Eagles have shown interest in Ronnell Lewis. They continue to use this draft to rebuild their defense.
The Cowboys have some holes on their interior offensive line and get the opportunity to pick up the 2nd best center in the draft with the 46th overall pick.
The Eagles taking a quarterback in the 2nd round when they have an established starter? Here we go again…
The Jets need to solidify their offensive line and a strong, physical tackle like Sanders in the 2nd round is a perfect find for the Jets.
The depth at the cornerback position in this draft is unreal. Hosley has the potential to be an elite corner and tighten up the Patriots’ secondary.
Alfonzo Dennard’s draft stock has dropped in recent weeks but he is still a great option for the Chargers in the 2nd round.
The Bears makeover of their offensive line isn’t done yet. Bobby Massie is a physical athlete whose stock has risen lately and could potentially be a first round talent.
The Titans have a glaring weakness at the middle of their offensive line and will be looking to add a center or a guard in the 2nd round.
Regardless of whether or not they add a running back via free agency, the Bengals need depth at the position. David Wilson is a top 5 running back that can help Cincy immediately.
The Falcons have the greatest tight end of all-time on their roster but Tony G. is getting up there in years and the 2nd best tight end on the board gives them a perfect opportunity to develop Gonzalez’s heir and provides Matt Ryan with yet another weapon as they try to finally win a playoff game.
The Lions franchised Cliff Avril but they still need to find a long term answer at the position and the Lions are hoping that Jones can be it.
The Steelers are trying to get younger on both sides of the line of scrimmage and with the 56th overall pick, Worthy is a steal.
Whether it’s Tim Tebow or Peyton Manning throwing the ball, he’s going to need some weapons. Chris Givens is a perfect replacement for the departed Eddie Royal.
Osemele was a great offensive tackle in college who will most likely be a guard in the NFL. He has the talent to go about 25 picks earlier and would be a great find for the Texans here.
The biggest need for the Saints this offseason is obviously outside linebacker. With no first round pick and very little cap room the Saints must address that need here. Zach Brown was once projected to be a late first/early second rounder but has recently dropped as other prospects have leapfrogged him. He’s still the best possible pick for the Saints here.
Aaron Rodgers spends a lot more time on his back than he should. When your division has Julius Peppers, Jared Allen, and Cliff Avril the Packers need to really address their offensive line issues.
The Ravens are a pretty complete team that are just getting older at key positions. The Ravens hope that Mychal Kendricks can one day take Ray Lewis’ place.
The 49ers biggest need at this point is nose tackle as they have not yet recovered from the departure of Aubrayo Franklin. Josh Chapman is the 3rd best pure nose tackle in the draft and a great pick up for San Fran here.
The defensive overhaul continues for the Patriots. Once Still was projected to be a top 15 pick, his stock has fallen in recent weeks but he’s still the best defensive lineman left on the board at this point and fills a need for the Patriots.
With the release of Brandon Jacobs, the Giants (who are a run-first team) must find a complement to Ahmad Bradshaw and Doug Martin is a top 5 running back in this class and the best running back left on the board at this point.