2012 NFL Draft: Mel Kiper's first mock draft of the year - ESPN
Started at pick 6, as I didn't want to include the whole article.
Washington RedskinsRecord: 5-11* Morris Claiborne, CB, LSU
While the "Honey Badger," Tyrann Mathieu, piled up the headlines at LSU, the best cornerback on the team was quietly dominant all season. Currently a top-five player on my Big Board, Claiborne is the top cornerback in the draft. He has good length at 6-foot-1 and is a physical player at more than 180 pounds. The Redskins will need help at corner headed into 2012, particularly in a division in which the Giants, Cowboys and Eagles have elite talent at wide receiver. While not quite the athlete, Claiborne is actually a better pure cover corner than Patrick Peterson, the No. 5 overall pick from last year.
Jacksonville JaguarsRecord: 5-11Quinton Coples, DE, North Carolina
The Jags desperately need help at wide receiver, but they also really need help in the pass rush. They got to opposing quarterbacks less than two times a game in 2011, and Coples would fit the scheme as the current top 4-3 defensive end in the draft. Coples has great length at 6-foot-6, and while he has excellent skills as a pass-rusher, he also has the size to hold up in the run game. He doesn't quite have the athleticism of former North Carolina star Julius Peppers but should be able to upgrade the Jacksonville pass rush immediately, and guys with his size and skills aren't that easy to find.
Carolina PanthersRecord: 6-10* Dre Kirkpatrick, CB, Alabama
Were they to line up Kirkpatrick across from Chris Gamble, the Panthers would have a pair of corners with elite size and talent in a divison in which you can't have enough good corners. Opponents completed a hair less than 65 percent of their passes against the weak Carolina secondary in 2011, and Kirkpatrick can provide an immediate upgrade. He has elite size for the position, at 6-foot-3 and nearly 200 pounds, but doesn't give much away in cover skills. Kirkpatrick has some off-the-field questions that could hurt his stock, but reserving judgement for now, he'd be a fit here.
Miami DolphinsRecord: 6-10* Riley Reiff, OT, Iowa
The Dolphins made big improvments to the offensive line last year with their first-round pick, and Reiff would offer them an immediate starter and make the offensive line a big strength. Reiff's tape was exceptional this past season, and he has a lot of experience and a proven ability against top competition. The Dolphins were very close to being a good team in 2011, and I do think they can target a player on offense, although help at outside linebacker also makes sense. The Dolphins could be another team looking for options at quarterback, but even if they go into the season with Matt Moore back as starter, Reiff adds further stability to an offense that could continue to improve.
Buffalo BillsRecord: 6-10Courtney Upshaw, LB, Alabama
Buffalo did well when it drafted Alabama defensive tackle Marcell Dareus with its first pick last year, but the pass rush still needs a lot of help. Upshaw is currently the best 3-4 outside linebacker in the draft, and he should be able to apply a lot of pressure to opposing quarterbacks from the edge for whoever gets him for 2012. No Buffalo player had more than 5.5 sacks in 2011, and the Bills simply can't get enough pressure without bringing extra players. Upshaw is a part of the solution. This is a big-time talent, a player who already was making an impact at Alabama as a freshman. He'll follow a similar path as a pro.
Kansas City ChiefsRecord: 7-9Devon Still, DT, Penn St.
Romeo Crennel could use a disruptive interior line presence in his system, and Still can be a penetrator in the 3-4, capable of occupying blockers and making plays in against the run while also splitting gaps against the pass. He came on in 2011 at Penn State and should help this defense up front, as the Chiefs also get Eric Berry back in the secondary in 2012. With this kind of reinforcement, the Chiefs have a chance to become an upper-echelon defense going forward, something they showed glimpses of this past season.
Seattle SeahawksRecord: 7-9Melvin Ingram, DE, South Carolina
The Seahawks have quietly made major strides in overhauling the roster and finding solutions to grow with in the past two years. Last year, they targeted offensive linemen early, and with the addition of Sidney Rice and Doug Baldwin, also have good talent at wide receiver. Even banged up at O-line, they ran the ball with some effectiveness. Obviously, quarterback remains a big question, but that's not something they can target at this spot in the draft. What they can do is add a final piece to a defense that is young, fast and extremely good in the secondary. The linebacking corps was strengthened by the emergence of K.J. Wright. So the work is up front and at defensive end for a team that was just 23rd in the NFL last year in sack percentage. Ingram is just big enough to fit this system as a 4-3 defensive end, and should add a boost to the pass rush early.
Arizona CardinalsRecord: 8-8* Jonathan Martin, OT, Stanford
The Cardinals need to mend the offensive line -- they haven't drafted an offensive lineman before the fifth round since 2007 -- and Martin is an athletic, powerful left tackle who can help upgrade this unit immediately. While questions remain about what the Cardinals have at the quarterback position after they committed so much both in terms of value and dollars to Kevin Kolb, there's no question they have to be better up front regardless of who takes the snaps. Again, that's a long time to go without getting some talent up front early in a draft. Martin would be a solid value here.
Dallas CowboysRecord: 8-8* David DeCastro, OG, Stanford
Last year, the Cowboys got Tyron Smith at No. 9 overall, and that pick helped them turn over the offensive line. The results were pretty good in 2011. With DeCastro, the Cowboys have a chance to solidify the interior of the line, helping both the running game and protection for Tony Romo and make that unit a strength. The way I see it, the Cowboys have good pieces in place at every other spot on the offense. The talent at wide receiver and tight end is fine, Romo was quietly among the top-performing quarterbacks and there's plenty at running back. Doubling down on the O-line should be an option for Jerry Jones. If the value is there, Dallas could also target the secondary.
Philadelphia EaglesRecord: 8-8* Luke Kuechly, LB, Boston College
The Eagles were really weak up the middle in 2011, and Kuechly is the top interior linebacker available in the draft. Since Brian Dawkins departed, safety has also been a perpetual question mark, so I could see that being considered here. But in Kuechly you get a player who can fill a massive void in the defense. He's a guy who can come in and start immediately; he's got exceptional instincts, is a very good athlete, demonstrates great form and can fly around making tackles in the middle of the field. He's just a machine. Last year, few teams were forced to utilize lesser talent at linebacker than Philly, and Kuechly can help fix that problem.
New York JetsRecord: 8-8Mark Barron, S, Alabama
Last year the Jets targeted help up front in the first round, and while the pass rush still needs some work, the secondary is a big concern because of the way the Jets' safeties got abused this year. You'd see teams lining up bigger receivers in the slot to target New York's smaller safeties and force Rex Ryan to make some tough decisions in coverage. In Barron, the Jets would get the best safety in the draft, a big, rangy talent with big-game experience and the ability to match up against taller receivers and tight ends. The Jets have schemed around a weakness at safety, but it's time to put a better talent back there.
Cincinnati Bengals (from Oakland)Record: 8-8Alfonzo Dennard, CB, Nebraska
It says a lot about last year's draft that Cincinnati can put the focus back on defense with one of its first-round picks in 2012. Dennard is a solid, physical cover corner who would offer a talent upgrade in the secondary. The Bengals could go a few directions here, but after getting a decent year out of veteran Nate Clements, they should look at getting a younger player who can develop even as he helps early. Dennard fits the bill.
San Diego ChargersRecord: 8-8Cordy Glenn, OG, Georgia
The Chargers fell apart up front this past season, mostly due to injury, and Glenn is one of those really attractive picks who can help you immediately because he can play pretty much everywhere. That's what he did during his time at Georgia, as a dominating guard who also has worked on the edge at a high level. Glenn is a safe pick, and the Chargers simply must do something up front to help Philip Rivers get comfortable again. He struggled in 2011, but his problems started up front.
Chicago BearsRecord: 8-8Michael Floyd, WR, Notre Dame (YEAH!!!!!!)
If the Bears learned anything when Jay Cutler went down this season, it was that the offense wasn't very pretty without him. But Cutler also needs help. Last year, Chicago had to start up front because the offensive line was such a weakness. But as the Bears anticipate getting some healthy bodies back up front to start 2012, they now must find some help for Cutler at wide receiver. The current group has some speed, but he could use a big target, and Floyd can be that guy. He has a big frame, but Floyd actually dropped some weight for the 2011 season, and he managed to look quicker and more explosive in and out of his breaks without giving up much as a physical receiver. He'd be a nice option in this offense and a threat in the red zone.
Tennessee TitansRecord: 9-7* Nick Perry, DE, USC
He started as a freshman at Southern Cal, and it's because he is just a natural pass-rusher. This season, he added to his repertoire, and he can help a team early as a pass-rushing specialist in a 4-3 defense. Tennessee's pass rush was really bad this season; the Titans got to opposing quarterbacks on just 4.52 percent of drop-backs, a rate that was 31st in the NFL. Perry probably could add some bulk to his frame, but his instincts as a pass-rusher are in place and the Titans certainly need the help.
Cincinnati BengalsRecord: 9-7* Lamar Miller, RB, Miami (Fla.)
Cedric Benson has been serviceable for the Bengals, but they desperately need to add some explosiveness in the run game. Even with what I considered an underrated offensive line, the Bengals managed just 3.9 yards per rush attempt this season. With solutions now in place in the passing game, they are one of the teams that can afford to take a shot on a potentially elite running back in the first or second round. Miller can run inside but also break off the big run, something the Bengals never got with Benson.
Cleveland Browns (from Atlanta)Record: 4-12Kendall Wright, WR, Baylor
Quietly, Wright had a season that almost matched Blackmon's in the Big 12. The Browns might not end up with Griffin with the No. 4 pick, but his teammate would make a lot of sense here. Greg Little is a developing big target and had a pretty good rookie season given the overall performance of the Cleveland offense. Wright is smaller at about 5-10, 190 pounds, but could add a speed threat this offense really needs. He can beat teams over the top with straight-line speed but also works underneath and will do a lot of damage after the catch. The Browns need weapons, and Wright, who also has great hands, fits the profile.
Detroit LionsRecord: 10-6Zach Brown, LB, North Carolina
Detroit again will go into the 2012 season with perhaps the best front four in the NFL. Martin Mayhew and Jim Schwartz calculated well that the secondary would make strides after being such a weakness in previous seasons. Where the Lions could use help is at linebacker, and Brown would be a good fit. Brown has great instincts as a rangy tackler, and he has a lot of speed and can run with tight ends. I certainly can see the Lions looking for help on the offensive line at this spot, but if a top tackle doesn't fall to them here, Brown makes sense.
Pittsburgh SteelersRecord: 12-4* Dontari Poe, DT, Memphis
Dick LeBeau can do a lot of things, but he can't scheme around age. The Steelers were very good on defense this season, but they simply have to get younger, particularly up front, if they want to maintain it. Poe has risen a lot for me in terms of value, but he's also a rarity, that zero-technique centerpiece to a 3-4 defense, the guy who simply eats up tacklers and is a human wall in the run game. If he develops, Poe can be the heir to Casey Hampton in the middle of that scheme, a human boulder who will free up those linebackers.
Denver BroncosRecord: 8-8* Fletcher Cox, DT, Mississippi St.
Denver had some really good stretches on defense, particularly in the pass rush, but the Broncos weren't very consistent and the numbers were a little worse than people might realize. The pass rush is there on the outside, but Cox is a guy who can penetrate and get tackles for loss from the inside. The Broncos could go a few ways, including receiver if they see a value or perhaps corner. But the way the board falls here, Cox would be a good fit for a defense that better be elite as the offense attempts to find consistency.
Houston TexansRecord: 10-6* Mohamed Sanu, WR, Rutgers
When Andre Johnson was lost for a long stretch this season, it didn't totally derail the Houston offense. What it did do was severely hamper the Texans' play-action game, which can be simply devastating with the combination of a steady run game and the presence of Matt Schaub. In that scheme, the Texans can pile up chunk yardage with the pass, and Sanu is the type of guy who can stretch the field and be a huge threat across from Johnson. And when you consider that Johnson will be 31 entering the 2012 season, the Texans need this kind of presence around if he misses any more time. Sanu is hugely productive, creates space, has good speed and can contribute early.
New England Patriots (from Saints)Record: 13-3* Michael Brockers, DL, LSU
The Patriots have a pair of picks in the first round, and my guess is they'll look to get younger on the defensive line and work to add some pieces to a pass rush. That was something they really didn't address in last year's draft, but as creative and resourceful as they are, it might be time. Brockers could end up a lot higher than this when the evaluation process is over because his reputation is growing. I list him simply as a defensive lineman because the Pats could use him in a couple of different ways up front in that scheme. What he can do is add explosiveness on the interior -- he's a pentrator with the ability to dominate if left to a single blocker, which frees people up.
Green Bay PackersRecord: 15-1Whitney Mercilus, LB, Illinois
It was masked somewhat by reputation, but no team in the NFL had a lower sack rate than Green Bay during the regular season. And it was on display again in the playoffs -- the Packers simply can't create pressure without bringing blitzers, leaving the secondary vulnerable. Mercilus (pronounced "merciless") played to that description at Illinois this past season. I see him standing up as an outside linebacker after playing with his hand on the ground in college. At 6-4, 265 pounds, he has a good profile for the position, and he really knows how to get to the quarterback. The question on him is he really exploded this season, so the body of work is lighter than some, but the Packers need to find some pass-rush help and Mercilus is a good value here based on his current grade.
New York GiantsRecord: 9-7Zebrie Sanders, OT, Florida St.
The Giants have done a fantastic job of coaching up this offensive line after some big changes heading into the season, but they could get younger and add some talent, and Sanders would be a solid fit. This offense is going to be dynamic if it can open holes for the run game and provide time for Eli Manning, so an investment in the offensive line is never a bad idea.
Baltimore RavensRecord: 12-4* Vontaze Burfict, LB, Arizona St.
He's been drawing comparisons to Ray Lewis since he got to Tempe, and hopefully Lewis will be around for another year to mentor Burfict. But either way, the Ravens have to consider what they'll do, as retirement talk now is a reality for their legendary linebacker, and Burfict is the kind of player who could develop into a star in his own right in that defense. He is instinctive and rangy, and plays with an edge. He developed a bit of a reputation as a guy who was prone to the personal foul, but if he channels that energy, Burfict could be a very good one. He has a ton of experience as an immediate freshman starter and reads the game pretty well.
San Francisco 49ersRecord: 13-3* Alshon Jeffery, WR, South Carolina
The 49ers got much better production out of the offense this season, but I still see a need for a big target on the outside, something Braylon Edwards wasn't able to provide. Jeffery is an absolute beast, a guy who plays at more than 230 pounds and easily could top 6-foot-4 when he measures out. He goes up over corners and attacks the ball, catching it away from his body like a rebounder. The Niners struggled mightily in the red zone all season, and Jeffery might not be a burner but is the kind of player you can post up in the end zone to help solve that problem.
New England Patriots: Who gives a sheit. Dude's going to trade back, and end up with 10 late rd picks, that don't have to be signed, and hope 1 or 3 are serviceable or Tom Brady. I hate the PATS, trade Gronk to anyone else so I can stop rooting for these patsies. (NOT MEL KIPERS OPINION, BTW).
To read who the PATS are projected to get, along with the first five picks, go to:
2012 NFL Draft: Mel Kiper's first mock draft of the year - ESPN