2012 Mock NFL Draft

By – Eric Caldwell

1. Indianapolis Colts – Andrew Luck, QB – Stanford


-So this is the pick we’ve all known since September; the boy who’s supposed to step in for the legend and fill the void between a Superbowl berth and 2-14. Characterized by a rocket arm, superior athleticism, and unheralded leadership qualities, I see no reason why Luck can’t be the best thing to come to Indy since the 1998 Draft. With the Colts’ quarterback situation momentarily hosting only Drew Stanton and Trevor Vittatoe (who?), don’t be surprised if Luck is at the reigns by the first week of the Pre-Season.


But enough about “Why Luck,” I want to talk about “Why not Griffin,” and the first thing that comes to mind when elevating Luck over RG3 is their experience in a pro system. Under Jim Harbaugh, Andrew Luck was commanding the most sophisticated offense in the country, learning to key in on his pre-snap reads, adjust routes accordingly, and dissect defenses based upon coverage and the location of matchup advantages mid-play. Griffin on the other hand, operated out of the spread and became accustomed to more of a “chuck it up” style of quarterbacking, receiving plays from the press box rather than basing play-calls on his own judgment. None of this goes to suggest that Griffin isn’t pro-ready, but Indy’s need at the position is so immediate that they really don’t have time for a potential project and need the guy who can be under center Week 1.

2. Washington Redskins (from STL) – Robert Griffin III, QB – Baylor


-The Redskins wouldn’t chance their future on anyone but college football’s most exciting playmaker. Heisman Trophy winner Robert Griffin shot up draft boards like a high striker game after a Junior campaign where he tossed for over 4,000 yards and 37 touchdowns. His mobility makes him dangerous, but his pocket presence is what makes him unique. Unlike most quarterbacks with the mobility to take off when things break down, Griffin prefers to wait it out, utilizing his molded skills as a pocket passer to shred defenses rather than trying to force plays while on the run.

This pick makes all the sense in the world for Washington, finally giving them a guy who they can build an offense around. Not only will Griffin offer the team the dynamic playmaking ability to contend for the division in the very-near future, but he’s also going to be a financial blessing to the franchise because of the jersey and ticket sales that he’ll generate. However, because of the cost that the Redskins paid to acquire the #2 pick, there’s going to be a ton of pressure on Griffin to succeed right out of the gate. If he starts out 0-4 then we may be looking at a rocky relationship with the D.C. media.

3. Minnesota Vikings – Matt Kalil, OT – USC


-Although the Vikings have reportedly been looking into dealing this pick, I doubt that the teams picking in slots 4-7 would going to be willing to give up a reasonable compensation to move up when they can still get a top-tier player by just waiting it out. That given, Kalil is the best option of the three players (Blackmon and Claiborne are the other two) that Minnesota is going to be looking at come the 26th. Fundamentally, Kalil is pretty close to flawless and may in fact be the best LT prospect we’ve seen since Joe Thomas in ’07. Not only will this pick appease Christian Ponder by offering him solid blindside protection, but it should allow Phil Loadholt to make the permanent switch to RT, where he’s bound to thrive and improve the quality of the Vikings’ already-stout running game.

Matt Kalil was almost insurmountable in college, showing off phenomenal power and explosiveness while maintaining the footwork of a ballerina. Overall, he’s just a better value pick than Claiborne or Blackmon, though Minnesota’s secondary is their most glaring area of need. I don’t doubt that this pick will be dealt if a willing suitor can be found, but if not, Vikings’ fans can rest easily on this pick, as they’ll be taking a hard right-step towards whipping up a competitive offense.

4. Cleveland Browns – Trent Richardson, RB – Alabama


-Poor Cleveland – stuck at #4 with so many profound players left to fill their multitude of immediate needs. The only disadvantage to having this pick is that they might accidentally run out the clock deciding who they want.

I like Richardson here for several reasons. For starters, the number of truly outstanding collegiate backs is dwindling at a rapid rate. With the exception of Adrian Peterson, we haven’t seen a first round back in the last 10 years who appears to be anything even resembling a franchise-defining player. Richardson has the bulky body to take an array of hits and still stay on the field for 16 games, without sacrificing pro-caliber speed and a crafty elusiveness that makes him just as scary in the open field as he is on the goal-line.

Secondly, I feel that Richardson is the best player on the board at this point. Since the Browns have another first round pick that can be used on an aerial threat or possibly even a developmental quarterback, I view this pick as an opportunity to begin constructing one of the league’s most dynamic offenses. They have key pieces in place along the offensive line, so it only seems natural to go get a punishing back and build this unit from the inside-out.

Finally, I love what Richardson brings to the field in the form of a pass-blocker. Whoever the Browns’ quarterback is going to be in 2012, they have to make protecting him a priority if they are to have any worldly shot at contending in the near future. Richardson’s value comes in assorted packages, single-handedly improving your offense as a runner, blocker, and pass-catcher, so it’s like Cleveland will be filling multiple need areas with one pick.

5. Jacksonville Jaguars (from TB)* - Justin Blackmon, WR – Oklahoma St.


-Now here’s a trade that’s much more likely to go down, with Mike Mularkey pulling some strings to acquire the playmaker that the offensive mastermind so desperately needs. In the last two years, the Jags have pulled the trigger on some interesting draft day decisions, reaching for Tyson Alualu at #10 in 2010 and moving up to the same spot to take Blaine Gabbert in 2011. In this case, Jacksonville will actually be getting one of the top-5 players in the class, a highly productive wideout with the electrifying presence to both sell tickets and score touchdowns, not to mention give your young QB a long-awaited weapon to work with.

Blackmon’s dazzling combination of separation speed and productivity after the catch should automatically thrust him into the #1 receiver role in Jacksonville’s offense. Perhaps having a guy reliable enough to just toss up a prayer to will be exactly what Gabbert needs to climb out of that lower-plateau of the quarterbacking world, up into the “inexperienced but talented” level that was closer to what was expected of him as a rookie. The Jags could sit back and wait for Michael Floyd at #7, but new owner Shahid Khan is going to want to make a splash in his first draft with the team, and moving up for the best receiver in the class is a move that will make him popular with the fans.

6. St. Louis Rams (from WAS) – Morris Claiborne, CB – LSU


-Despite all the reports of Blackmon being the Rams’ primary target on draft day, I feel like Morris Claiborne is the guy that defensive-minded head coach, Jeff Fisher, really has his eye on. St. Louis’s defense was absolutely pitiful in 2011, ranking 26th in points-allowed and hosting a secondary that looked helpless in run-support. The free agency acquisition of troubled Titans’ DB, Cortland Finnegan should help in the short-run, but Claiborne has the tools be a solid #1 cornerback for years to come, fully equipped with the versatility to fill in at safety if necessary.

In 2011, Mo Claiborne emerged from the shadow of Patrick Peterson to solidify his status as the nation’s best corner, offering more discipline and flexibility in man coverage than his predecessor. His tall and lanky physique makes it difficult for opposing quarterbacks to squeeze passes by him in tight spaces and his long powerful arms make him a reliable tackler. I’d go ahead and pull the trigger on this guy if I were Fisher, because shut-down corners are a rarity in today’s NFL and passing on a guy with this kind of promise could really come back to bite you.

7. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (from JAC)* - Dontari Poe, DT – Memphis


-After making a splash during the free agency frenzy in early March, the Bucs have the liberty of trading back to stockpile picks and using the 7th overall pick on a luxury. The standout of the Combine will fit comfortably next to fellow top-10 pick, Gerald McCoy in the Bucs 4-3 scheme, utilizing his eye-popping athleticism to terrorize the middle of the line. This acquisition will give the Bucs a young fearsome foursome up front, with Da’Quan Bowers and Adrian Clayborn accompanying up the two heavyset tackles to form a group hell-bent on ship-wrecking this conferences’ outstanding quarterbacks.

It’s also possible that the Bucs will continue to trade down, seeing as how new head coach, Greg Schiano, is likely going to be in favor of stockpiling some new offensive talent. However, amassing an intimidating D-line has become a popularized trend in the league and I just don’t see Tampa passing on the most sought-after middle-man in the class.

8. Miami Dolphins – Courtney Upshaw, DE/OLB – Alabama


-It appears that the consensus pick here is Texas A&M QB, Ryan Tannehill. I, however, feel that this assumption has been highly popularized by Minnesota’s overly-extensive reach for Christian Ponder during the last draft. 8th overall is ridiculously high to consider a quarterback with unsound fundamentals, an inept head for the game, and only one year of experience at the position. Dol-fans may not go nuts over this pick, and I’ll admit they plenty of reasons to be angry right now, but they have to realize that if another unsafe pick doesn’t pan out then it’s going to mean even longer, disastrous rebuilding years for this franchise.

On to Upshaw: The MVP of the BCS National Championship Game has seen his stock fluctuate thoroughly over the past three months, battling criticism for his undersized body-type with his explosive hustle-play. With Jason Taylor calling it quits at last, the Dolphins are going to need another rush specialist to play opposite Cameron Wake. When you play in the same division as Tom Brady, you can’t overemphasize the importance of being able to get after the quarterback.

9. Carolina Panthers – Quinton Coples, DE – North Carolina


-The Panthers showed a lot of promise behind emerging star Cam Newton last year, but to be honest they really don’t have many pieces in place and are likely to suffer setbacks in year two with Cam at the helm. Quinton Coples offers a cornerstone on a defense that needs work, to say the least. A big and powerful local product from Kinston, NC, the 6’6”, 285lb hand-in-the-dirt end is strikingly similar to fellow Chapel Hill alum, Julius Peppers, who saw a great deal of success with the Panthers up until testing the free agency market in ’09.

The Panthers need to use the 2012 Draft to work on filling the numerous holes in their defense, with the line and secondary both in shambles. Coples, who happens to be the best player available on my board, meets an immediate need and can fill the void at the most important position on the defensive side of the ball, left end. The Panthers may also help out Cam by going after a big, physical receiver here, after just granting Steve Smith what will likely be the last contract of his career.

10. Buffalo Bills – Jonathan Martin, OT – Stanford


-The Bills have been waiting years to find a franchise LT to anchor their O-line, and the search may finally be over if Martin falls to them here. There are just so many things about this selection that fit. For instance, Ryan Fitzpatrick just got a big new contract, complete with $24 million dollars in guaranteed money. That’s something they’ve got to protect. The departure of Demetrius Bell this offseason has also left a gaping void along the offensive line, leaving recent breakout skill players like Freddy Jackson and Stevie Johnson running directly into a minefield of defenders.

Jonathan Martin has the athletic physique and rhythmic footwork to be a day-one starter on this Bills’ O-line. They may start him out on the right side until he hones his pass-blocking ability, but he should make a permanent move to left by Week 8, especially if the Bills are unable to keep Fitzpatrick on his feet. In 2011, this offense demonstrated that it has the firepower to run with the big boys and if they can keep their playmakers healthy, there’s a chance we’ll be looking at a new titleholder in the AFC East.

11. Kansas City Chiefs – Luke Kuechly, ILB – Boston College


-A quick and versatile all-purpose linebacker, Kuechly is a borderline luxury pick for KC, but a commanding and knowledgeable presence may be precisely what they need to pull their talented defense together. His instinctive and relentless pursuit should drastically improve the Chiefs’ 26th ranked run-defense, while allowing a recovered Eric Berry to roam freely instead of being restricted to the box, like he was forced to do throughout most of 2010.

The Chiefs have done well addressing their offensive woes through free agency, reeling in proven talents like Kevin Boss and Eric Winston, and eliminating the need to spend an early pick upgrading the line. Luechly may not have the furnishings to be mentioned in the same breath as Patrick Willis and Jon Beason, but his stunning combine performance abstracted the BC product distinctly as the best linebacker in the class of 2012.

12. Seattle Seahawks – Melvin Ingram, DE/OLB – South Carolina


-Offensively, the acquisition of free agent quarterback Matt Flynn has turned the Seahawks from flat to contentious. Defensively, this looks more like a team that’s falling apart than one in the closing stages of rebuilding. They lack both the ability to rush the passer and clog the middle, so I can guarantee that stockpiling defensive linemen is going to be the focal point in Seattle’s green room.

Much like Courtney Upshaw, Ingram has had to overcome questions about his size en route to contending for a top-10 pick, leaning on his highlight tape and heroic playmaking ability to make his way to this spot. Actually, I feel like Ingram has more potential to bust than any other player in the top-16 due to his one-sighted play and lack of team discernment. However, if he can make his instinctive play relevant in Seattle’s 4-3 scheme, he may end up finding a home as an upright outside linebacker, where he’ll be free to roam and put himself in position to be around the ball.

13. Arizona Cardinals – Riley Reiff, OT – Iowa


-The Cardinals badly need to upgrade their situation at LT. After being picked 5th overall in 2007, Levi Brown hasn’t played up to expectations to say the least, as we’ve seen this team start five different quarterbacks over the past five years. Reiff has a big body, fundamentally sound technique, and a lightning-fast first step that left Big 10 defensive ends gouging turf out of their horse-collars. With all the money currently invested in Kevin Kolb, this is the pick that needs to be made to assure fans that the Cardinals won’t be embarking on another QB hunt anytime soon.

14. Dallas Cowboys – David DeCastro, G –Stanford


-The end result of a Cowboys game can be determined by one key factor – whether you’re getting the Tony Romo who’s well-guarded and on-point, or the defenseless Romo who gets his lungs punctured and makes poor decisions. As of now, Dallas’s offensive line is a crumbling wall, with Tyron Smith lacking any trace of consistency and Romo getting better protection from his shoulder pads than from his tackles. The addition of DeCastro, as well as a few more bodies, should help this team slowly build a line that this team can follow deep into the post-season.

David DeCastro comes fully loaded with wide-hinging hips, Hulk-like lower body strength, and so much quickness off the line that I’d consider strapping a parachute to his back to prevent injury. This guy can help spawn gaping holes for DeMarco Murray and Felix Jones to barrel through, assisting at the second level with inept awareness and broad vision. Most importantly, he’ll give the ‘Boys a guy who can command double teams and clear out post-300lb DTs, giving this team identity on the interior.

15. Denver Broncos (from PHI)* - Dre Kirkpatrick, CB – Alabama


-While John Fox is usually content with waiting his turn and just taking the best available player, Denver’s pending need to find a successor for Champ Bailey is too vital to ignore. Kirkpatrick is a guy who rarely allowed a catch in college, earning All-American honors in 2011 while consistently taking away half of the field for the nation’s #1 defense. His strictly disciplined man-coverage skills will come in handy on a team that prides itself in defending the pass, and any talent that can contribute right off the bat will be preferable for to Peyton Manning, who’s trying to get one more shot at the Superbowl before he calls it quits.

Denver is desperately trying to get young in the secondary, using last year’s draft to add safeties Quinton Carter and Rahim Moore in the early rounds and even giving Chip Vaughn a starting opportunity towards the end of the season. The Broncos could always chance Kirkpatrick or Janoris Jenkins sliding to them at 25, but when you need to tap into the fountain of youth, chance isn’t a game you like to play.

16. San Diego Chargers (from NYJ)* – Michael Floyd, WR – Notre Dame


-The Chargers basically have two options heading into the first round – get Philip Rivers some receiving help or get him some protection. The latter would be preferable, but with the options at tackle and guard quickly dwindling, it looks like they’ll just opt to add a deep threat. At 6’3” and 225lbs, Michael Floyd is one of the most physically imposing receivers in this class, showing off clean-cut route-running and soft hands during his tenure with the Irish and wowing scouts at his Pro-Day.

This addition would give the Bolts a clear #1 receiver, allowing new signees Robert Meachem to stand in at #2 and Eddie Royal to fill the slot. Alongside Antonio Gates, this line-up would finally give San Diego a dynamic aerial assault, worthy of being mentioned with the Packers, Saints, and Patriots of 2011. If they choose to be passive and sit back at 18, the Jets or Bengals will likely go ahead and pull the trigger on Floyd, while the Chargers are forced to settle for a second-tier offensive lineman.

17. Cincinnati Bengals (from OAK) – Mark Barron, S – Alabama


-We’re looking at a team in Cincinnati that has a chance to contend for a Superbowl this year if they can assemble just a few more pieces. Mark Barron will be a significant upgrade from Chris Crocker at SS, bringing a fast-closing mentality to playing the box that will compliment Reggie Nelson’s lingering knock-out play beautifully. The Bengals will have another pick in about 30 minutes, which they can use to address the much more evident need along the O-line, but for now it’s smart to just stick with the best player available, who happens to help you fill out one of the most complete secondaries in the league.

18. New York Jets (from SD)* - Mohamed Sanu, WR – Rutgers


-The various locker room incidents involving star wideout, Santonio Holmes, lead me to believe that that Jets are going to be looking to go a different direction at receiver soon. Enter Mohamed Sanu, the Big East’s all-time leading receiver and multi-talented touchdown machine. Sanu conveys a unique combination of speed and strength that allow him to separate from tight coverage and find the ball in spaces that would be out of the reachable range of most receivers, but most strikingly noted, his determination after the catch in inextinguishable.

Acquiring a new receiver now will free up room for the Jets to deal Holmes before the deadline if need be, and still maintain a competitive, synchronized offense with enough firepower to put up points against AFC East competition. After missing the playoffs in 2011, I’d like to think Rex Ryan is going to start taking charge in the Jets’ locker room, and leadership role players with strong character like Sanu are going to be noticed and get chances to participate in this experimental, Tebow-pertaining offense in new and exciting ways.

19. Chicago Bears – Pete Konz, C – Wisconsin


-The move that the Bears made to go get Brandon Marshall was the best trade of the offseason in my opinion. Not only did it reunited Jay Cutler with his old favorite target and give Chicago its first viable receiver since Muhsin Muhammad, but it also freed the team up to address other offensive needs early in the draft. Peter Konz will step in where Olin Kreutz left off at the end of the 2010 season, manning the middle of an O-line known more for its aggressive bull-blocking than precision and fundamentals. Konz and Kreutz are very similar players, excelling in one-on-one blocking assignments with a tendency to hold ground rather than take it. However, Konz is a fair deal larger than Kreutz and will only get bigger and stronger once he enters and NFL workout program. The Bears should seize this opportunity to acquire another franchise center and continue building an offense designed to score with the Packer and Lions.

20. Tennessee Titans – Jerel Worthy, DT – Michigan St.


-Tennessee’s defensive line has been slowly deteriorating since the since 2009 with the departures of Albert Haynesworth, Tony Brown, and Jason Jones. It’s high time to reestablish the unit that once defined this team, and the monstrous Jerel Worthy is a great player to start with. Judged harshly for his inconsistent effort on the field, Worthy is entering the draft with a lot of question marks about his character and overall conditioning, but those aren’t factors that have deterred Titans’ owner, Bud Adams, from drafting players in the past. This team will be looking for anybody who can help stop the run, and this solid 310 pounder is like a dream come true on paper.

Worthy’s presence in the middle of the line is near unmovable, capable of holding down a section of the field like he’s just started building Monopoly hotels on it. Having a player that requires consistent double teams to keep out of a hole is exactly what made the Titans so difficult to run on throughout their 13-3 season in 2008. I expect Tennessee to spend a lot of this year’s picks revamping their defense with playmakers in the secondary and depth along the D-line, starting with a man they can rely on to own the middle.

21. Cincinnati Bengals – Mike Adams, OT – Ohio St.


-Andre Smith has been the one player in recent memory that has truly lived up to his Combine performance…and that is in no way, shape, or form a compliment. Often looking slow and lagging at RT while Andrew Whitworth has been battling injuries on the other side, upgrades at many spots on the O-line are going to be a priority for the Bengals in this year’s draft.

Mike Adams is a guy I’ve grown on over the past months, as he worked himself back into football shape and showed us the dominant play at LT that Buckeye Nation had grown accustomed to pre-tattoo scandal. Plugging in a guy who can drive bulkier ends to the inside and still possesses the body control and footwork to excel in pass-blocking is an idea that’s got to have Andy Dalton excited. The Bengals are just trying to bring their offense full-circle in order to contend with the aggressive defenses of Baltimore and Pittsburgh within the division, not to mention their rough non-conference schedule.

22. Cleveland Browns (from ATL) – Stephen Hill, WR – Georgia Tech


-Remember what I said about the Browns trying to build a dynamic offense with the class of 2012, well, so-far so-good. Stephen Hill didn’t have the opportunities to really display his talent in Georgia Tech’s option offense, making only 28 receptions on the year. However, his ideal measurables and jaw-dropping Combine results (including a 4.36 second 40-yard dash and 39-inch vertical) have him rising up draft boards like a hot air balloon. Hill may not have a lot of tape to prove his natural ability, but all indications point to him being a frightening deep threat and an all-around remarkable receiver, which the Browns could really use right about now.

If Cleveland pulls this pick off, they’ll now be armed with two of the top offensive weapons from a deeply talented class. The acquisition of both Richardson and Hill should prove complementary, drastically improving both the 24th ranked pass-offense and 28th ranked rushing-offense of this Browns’ team. Heck, with this kind of help around him maybe Colt McCoy will keep his job after all.

23. Miami Dolphins (from DET)* - Ryan Tannehill, QB – Texas A&M


-Ok, nobody really thinks the Dolphins are going to go through 2012 with Matt Moore and David Garrard duking it out for the starting QB job right? He may not be worthy of a 1st round pick, in fact, I feel like Kirk Cousins would be a better option at a better value, but with all the hype surrounding Tannehill, it’s going to be hard to just ignore him this late in the draft. There is no circumstance, even in Miami, where I can picture this one-year-removed wideout starting before Week 6. Still, if the Tannehill project turns out to be a success then maybe Jeff Ireland will be remembered for this instead of for asking Dez Bryant if his mom was a prostitute.

This trade makes a lot of sense for Detroit too, as they’ll likely receive a 2013 1st round pick and multiple other early draft slots as a benefactor. The Lions’ unavoidable need at left tackle isn’t really addressable here either, making trading down out of the first round a bold likelihood unless Mike Adams was to fall this far. If this is indeed how the Tannehill situation goes, then this move will be the first thing scrolling across ESPN’s bottom-line on Friday morning.

24. Pittsburgh Steelers – Dwayne Allen, TE – Clemson


-Ben Roethlisberger has been begging for protection ever since Haloti Ngata broke his nose in 2010, and with the uncertainty surrounding Mike Wallace’s return, Pittsburgh will also be looking to some pass-catching talent. There’s only one guy on the board who can address both of these needs at once, and it’s the physical and versatile tight end, Dwayne Allen. While today’s tight end is usually more coveted for his ability in the receiving game, Allen has put together an A-grade tape with nothing but his magnetic blocks.

None of this goes to indicate that Allen isn’t applicable as a deep threat as well, showcasing spectacular body control and creating mismatches in the red-zone with his unique size. His style of play is very similar to a quicker Heath Miller in, which will make him particularly attractive to a team that prefers to utilize its tight ends mainly for down-blocking and underneath routes.

25. Philadelphia Eagles (from DEN)* - Cordy Glenn, G/OT – Georgia


-Michael Vick’s 2011 regression was largely ado to his inability to find a comfortable pocket. Whether it was off the edge, up the middle, or from the corner, Phili just couldn’t keep the guy protected. Enter Cordy Glenn, a 350lb mauler of a guard who could hold his ground against a rhinoceros if you asked him to, relying on his superior size as a base for delivering crushing blocks. The Eagles ranked 5th in the league in rushing last year, and with a little extra consistency in an otherwise rotating starting line, they may end up with a playoff berth to show for it in 2012, not to mention we all know how Andy Reid loves his trench warriors.

26. Houston Texans – Nick Perry, DE/OLB – USC


-Losing Super Mario Williams was a huge hit to this young Texans’ defense. Initially, I would have thought they’d use this selection to go grab a receiver who they can finally use to compliment Andre Johnson, but they’ll now be forced to use it to replace their franchise pass-rusher instead.

Nick Perry is an intriguing prospect, expressing unreal athleticism and a sixth sense for forcing turnovers, while somehow managing to underperform when the spotlight’s off. He’s a natural fit at a 3-4 OLB, which is what makes him more attractive to the Texans than other rushers like Whit Mercilus and Fletcher Cox. Perry possesses the same freakish athleticism that convinced Houston to take Williams first overall in ’06, which is why I think he’s going to be the guy that Bob McNair won’t be able to pass on in ‘12.

27. New England Patriots (from NO) – Whitney Mercilus, DE – Illinois


-Mocking for the Patriots is so difficult because they never make early picks in accordance with need. For the sake of this round, I’m just going to pretend like Bill Belichick cares about building a team for the future, and mock them the NCAA’s 2011 sack leader, Whit Mercilus. A highly serviceable 4-3 end, the Warren Sapp lookalike will be a huge upgrade over the rapidly aging Shaun Ellis, using his battle-tested hands to find space and get into the backfield.

With another pick right around the corner, I feel like the Patriots should focus on the D-line, finally taking advantage of their multiple first rounders to construct a solid unit. In today’s NFL, the ability to pressure the passer is just as important as a windshield is to a car. Mercilus can work the edge with a vengeance, making a name as one of the defensive center-pieces on what may be another decade of greatness in New England.

28. Green Bay Packers – Fletcher Cox, DT/DE – Mississippi St.


-The reason that Green Bay’s defense struggled so mightily against the pass in 2011 was their inability to create pressure with anything less than six rushers. Another hand-in-the-dirt tackle will solidify their front seven and free up A.J. Hawk and Desmond Bishop to patrol the middle of the field. Cox is considered more a pass-rushing threat, adding a previously absent dimension to Green Bay’s down-three and allowing them to wreak havoc between the tackles without sending an inside backer.

Fletcher Cox moves vertically down the line-of-scrimmage with outstanding prowess, but sometimes struggles to fight off of blocks to make plays in the backfield. Regardless, Green Bay will be much more concerned with his contributions on 3rd-down and special teams, working the LT so that Clay Matthews can create a mismatch on the tight end or blitz uncontested. This addition should drastically improve the Packers’ ugly defensive situation, making them viable in the title race once again.

29. Dont’a Hightower, ILB/OLB – Alabama


-With Ray Lewis down to the closing years of his career, the pursuit of a protégé has got to heat up before the mentor is watching football from his couch. Dont’a Hightower is very similar to a young Lewis, possessing great size and instincts without ideal speed, solidifying the center of two championship defenses and providing his team a sense of aggressive identity. Though his presence may not be impactful to this Baltimore defense initially, it will be a great pick in the long run if it means retaining their destructive image.

30. San Francisco 49ers – Janoris Jenkins, CB – North Alabama


-The aging Carlos Rogers is now the only noteworthy cornerback on San Fran’s roster, providing a gaping hole that must be addressed if this defense wishes to continue playing at a championship level. Jenkins would automatically be the second best corner on their roster, and despite his character troubles, is a fantastic value pick this late in the draft.

Jenkins’s superior athleticism and steadfast man-coverage skills should be nicely applicable in Vic Fangio’s defense, helping force error on quick throws against the Niners’ swift pass-rush. With the talent pool at cornerback quickly dwindling after Jenkins, this is a pick that San Fran had better not pass up if they have any plans of properly addressing the only weakness on their otherwise iron-clad defense.

31. New England Patriots – Vinny Curry, DE/OLB – Marshall


-Like I said, the Patriots need to make the defensive line the focus of this draft class. Curry is one of the most overlooked prospects on the defensive side of the ball, quietly tearing up opposing O-lines with his superior size and agility. With both Andre Carter and Shaun Ellis getting up there in years, the Conference-USA Defensive Player of the Year should be able to find his way into the starting lineup relatively quickly. His herculean strength suggests he’ll play end in a 4-3, but his body type will allow for a smooth transition to OLB if New England decides to switch up their scheme to accommodate their talent again.

32. New York Giants – Lamar Miller, RB – Miami


-New York’s offense has excelled under the kinship of a balanced two-back system, preferring to loosen up the D with a bruising inside-back and then catching them off-guard with speedy toss runs. While Lamar Miller is no Brandon Jacobs by any means in terms of size, he does run with that same hammering confidence that made Jacobs so effective in short yardage situations. This pick can prevent the Giants from losing their offensive edge, providing another playmaker for a team that’s slowly getting sapped by free agency. Miller will also provide insurance if Bradshaw goes down, which may be the most important determining factor for rolling the dice on the last pick of the first round.

If interested, here are my earlier 2012 NFL Mock Draft Predictions.

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