Unless you're someone completely focused on Miami's attempt to snuff the Jets' minuscule playoff chances this Sunday, it's likely that you've turned your attention to the Dolphins' 2012 offseason and the prospects they'll target in the NFL Draft next April. In the spirit of the latter mindset, I present to you, loyal Dolfans, my first 2012 NFL Mock Draft.
Instead of previewing college prospects every Thursday, I'll now be putting out mock drafts and related news and notes, as well as articles highlighting the prospects who I believe the Dolphins should actually avoid. It's going to be a fun offseason (no, that's not an oxymoron), and I hope to build a pretty accurate first-round draft projection come mid-April. I consider myself fairly knowledgeable when it comes to college prospects, but I will absolutely listen to feedback from each and every one of you. Don't like my picks? Great! Tell me who you'd take instead. This is all calculated speculation, but you'd be surprised how mocking picks now can, over the next several months, help you draw parallels between prospects and pro teams.
As a side note, yes, I realize that the 2012 draft order is not concrete, but several variables (players going back to school, getting hurt in pre-draft workouts, experiencing personal meltdowns, putting up huge numbers at the NFL Combine, etc.) are bound to change over the next few months, and that's why we'll do these projections every other week. Make sense?
Okay, enough of the gushy stuff. Let's get to the mocking already.1) Indianapolis Colts - Andrew Luck, QB Stanford
The selection we've suspected all along, but a better story right now is the budding likelihood that Bill Polian and the Irsays will send a South American death squad (ala Scarface) to Dan Orlovsky's house if he wins the Colts out of the first overall pick.
2. St. Louis Rams - Matt Kalil, T USC
Three years after the Rams used a No.2 pick on a man-child left tackle (Baylor's Jason Smith), St. Louis gets to do it all over again and use the second pick on a blindside protector. This time, however, the Rams have a guy under center (Sam Bradford) worth protecting, and the addition of a knockout prospect like Kalil would allow St. Louis to move Smith inside to guard. In that scenario, the Rams would have an offensive line of Kalil, Smith, center Jason Brown, guard Harvey Dahl and right tackle Rodger Saffold. Not bad.
3. Minnesota Vikings - Morris Claiborne, CB LSU
So ... Joe Webb last Saturday won the Vikings out of the chance to get Matt Kalil. And since Webb will likely be traded, Christian Ponder now has no choice but to continue getting pounded by NFC North pass rushers. So cruel. Anyway, the Vikings secondary is utter garbage right now, as well, and LSU's Morris Claiborne is a premier cover corner with technique for days and the potential to erase any No.1 receiver in his way. I am not sure how the Vikings can pass on Claiborne when they have to see Greg Jennings and Calvin Johnson twice a year.
4. Jacksonville Jaguars - Justin Blackmon, WR Oklahoma State
Contrary to what a lot of people are saying about Blaine Gabbert, it's a really bad idea to throw away a quarterback you traded up for last spring. Instead, the Jaguars should think about getting Gab an elite receiving weapon who can immediately force opposing defenses to respect Jacksonville's passing game. A defensive prospect could also be in play for the Jaguars at this spot, but while the team experienced plenty of injuries on that side of the ball, their receiving corps is genuine clown shoes. Taking a top prospect to fix your biggest need is a no-brainer.
5. Cleveland Browns - Trent Richardson, RB Alabama
Tough call for the Dawg Pound, since Colt McCoy is still unproven and Baylor's Robert Griffin III will likely be staring the Browns in the face when they're on the clock on draft night. However, my quarterback credo is this: never part with a young, promising one until you see him struggle while surrounded by considerable skill-position talent. Cleveland literally has nothing special at running back or wide receiver, and I am not sure how fair it is to expect McCoy to blow it up every Sunday with an infirmary for a backfield and freaking Greg Little as his No.1 wideout. The Browns' turnaround on offense should start with a powerhouse back like Trent Richardson, who has the build to take all the punishment AFC North defenses can dole out, and the speed and vision to become an elite ground weapon in the NFL.
6. Tampa Bay Buccaneers - Dre Kirkpatrick, CB Alabama
So much for the Bucs only having a few holes to address this offseason. Tampa's defense was an absolute turnstile against the run this season, and their pass defense wasn't anything to write home about, either. The quick fix? Find a corner with the size and speed to attack the run and also pummel receivers while in coverage. Dre Kirkpatrick (6'2 1/2", 195) is a massive cornerback prospect who is tailor-made for the Tampa 2 scheme. And while he's not an in-your-pocket coverage defender like Morris Claiborne, Kirkpatrick can bring the wallop, boasting a lanky frame that will almost certainly create problems for opposing passing attacks.
7. Washington Redskins - Jonathan Martin, T Stanford
Surprise! Washington has a QB need that is right on par with the Dolphins', but if the Colts do end up parting ways with Peyton Manning, look for the Redskins to be a major player for his services. Also, Mike Shanahan isn't in a position where he can sit around and watch a young quarterback develop. Shanny needs wins pronto, and a veteran addition like Manning would flip the Redskins' fortunes in a hurry (plus we'd get to watch the Manning-Face Bowl twice a season. Hooray).
Once Washington's quarterback situation is solved, the next step is to give Manning what he didn't have in Indy: an actual offensive line. Left tackle Trent Williams has been impressive, but the right side of the Redskins' offensive line is absolutely godawful. Jonathan Martin, Andrew Luck's current blindside protector, is arguably the best run defender of any tackle in the 2012 class, and is essentially a plug-and-play prospect on the right side of the trenches. Remember, Shanahan needs instant results here, and Martin is a player who will light things up right off the bat.
8. Miami Dolphins - Robert Griffin III, QB Baylor
I have no doubt that the Dolphins are going to be major players for Robert Griffin III this spring (if he declares). Ironically, Miami's interest in RG3 will likely be because of general manager Jeff Ireland (I'll explain why in a moment), who is public enemy No.1 amongst Dolphins fans right now.
What is in question, however, is whether or not Miami will have to move up to get the Baylor wunderkind. Perhaps Daniel Snyder damns all logic and takes Griffin. Maybe Mike Holmgren feels frisky on draft night and snags RG3 with the fifth pick. Who knows? Keep this in mind, though: Jeff Ireland is a former Baylor player, and chances are that he's had his eye on Robert Griffin long before many of us even knew he existed. And if Ireland's going to stake his reputation on a quarterback, you have to figure he'll gravitate towards the guy who is absolutely killing it for Ireland's alma mater right now.
Of course, this pick could go a few ways, depending on who is hired to be the Dolphins' head coach. If Miami transitions back to the 4-3, then a powerhouse defensive end like Quinton Coples could be in play at this spot. If the Dolphins stay the course of the 3-4, then a knockout edge-rush linebacker like Courtney Upshaw would make tons of sense.
9. Carolina Panthers - Alshon Jeffery, WR South Carolina
Now that the Panthers know quarterback Cam Newton is the real deal, it's time to find him a big, No.1 wideout. Yes, Steve Smith has paired well with Carolina's rookie signal caller, but he's on the back end of his career, and Newton needs a receiver he can call his own. South Carolina's Alshon Jeffery is a massive (6'4", 230), aggressive wideout with elite ball skills and sure hands for the position, and in a division full of undersized corners, Jeffery would absolutely run amok. This is not a receiver opposing defenses will want to leave in single coverage.
10. Kansas City Chiefs - Riley Reiff, T Iowa
This pick depends largely on whether or not Kansas City likes its quarterback situation (doubtful). Nevertheless, the Chiefs proved this year that no quarterback is safe behind KC's teetering offensive tackles--a problem that a stud prospect like Riley Reiff would help rectify in a hurry. Reiff is unbelievably refined for a collegiate tackle and can come in and immediately lock up either side of the Chiefs' line. Despite still being more of a finesse protector, Reiff is pretty much the total package. Dolphins fans probably don't want to hear this right now, but Reiff could get plenty of attention from Miami's front office, as well.
11. Buffalo Bills - Quinton Coples, DE North Carolina
Regardless of whether the Bills want to run a three- or four-man front, a capable pass rusher is a dire need for a defense that rarely touched opposing quarterbacks in 2011. Best of all, Quinton Coples (6'6", 285) would line up next to Kyle Williams and rookie extraordinaire Marcell Dareus to form a stout-yet-vicious defensive line. Good luck running the ball inside on these guys if Coples heads to upstate New York next April.
12. Arizona Cardinals - Vontaze Burflict, ILB Arizona State
The Cardinals' defense just hasn't been the same since inside linebacker Karlos Dansby skipped town, and their linebacker corps is in serious need of youth, speed and tenacity. Vontaze Burflict's attitude problems are well documented, but so is his punishing style of linebacking. Fast, instinctive and violent, Burflict's presence would have Arizona's D back on track ... and he wouldn't even have to leave the state to join his new team. Great success.
13. Philadelphia Eagles - Luke Kuechly, ILB Boston College
The Eagles have what is arguably the worst linebacker corps in the league, so they'd be insane to pass on a linebacker of Luke Kuechly's caliber. Kuechly lacks outright size and pure athleticism, but his instincts, overall intelligence and domination of the inside linebacker position will make him a ultra-fast study in any pro defense he joins. Think of him as a bigger Zach Thomas.
14. Seattle Seahawks - Landry Jones, QB Oklahoma
The "Tarvaris Jackson can be the guy" talk in Seattle is likely over following the Seahawks' loss to San Francisco last Saturday, and perhaps rightfully so. Seattle has the making of a fantastic offensive line in place (Russell Okung, Robert Gallery, Max Unger and James Carpenter) and great weapons in Marshawn Lynch, Zach Miller and Sidney Rice. The only thing missing is a franchise-caliber quarterback, and though Landry Jones' stock may be ho-hum following his rather unimpressive 2011 campaign, he's a strong-armed, accurate passer who could come to the Pacific Northwest and blow holes in NFC West defenses. Jones would be a great fit in the Seahawks' semi-new-look offense.
15. San Diego Chargers - Janoris Jenkins, CB North Alabama
Despite a record of not behaving himself while at the University of Florida, Janoris Jenkins is a technique-minded corner prospect who can virtually glue himself to any wide receiver he sees (check out his near-domination of A.J. Green in 2010 if you need a reference). Jenkins' services will be greatly appreciated by a Chargers secondary that has been constantly diced by opposing passing games this season, and his lock-down presence could buy the Bolts' pass rush some much-needed time, as well.
16. Chicago Bears - Michael Floyd, WR Notre Dame
Memo to Bears general manager Jerry Angelo: Jay Cutler is a franchise quarterback who is durable enough to play into his 40s. Get him weapons and protection now. Stanford guard David DeCastro will likely be in play at this spot, but the Bears might be wise to get Cutler the No.1 receiver he sorely lacks right now. Notre Dame's Michael Floyd is a big (6'3", 225), punishing target with adequate speed and near-perfect mitts, and he'd be a nightmare assignment in a division with plenty of undersized defensive backs.
17. Tennessee Titans - Melvin Ingram, DE South Carolina
Titans defensive end Derrick Morgan has been both hit and miss during his time in Tennessee, and the Titans could really use a formidable pass-rushing presence, South Carolina's Melvin Ingram is a do-everything defensive end who can fit in multiple schemes and still manage to wreak havoc. Ingram is still developing in terms of instincts and overall technique, but his pure athleticism and ability to absolutely eat the run will make him a worthy selection at this spot.
18. Dallas Cowboys - Alfonzo Dennard, CB Nebraska
Hmmm. Dallas could really use an elite interior offensive lineman, but the Cowboys' secondary is at a point where the front office shouldn't even hesitate to select a cornerback with this pick. Alfonzo Dennard lacks size for his position, but he's a springy, opportunistic corner who excels at staying with his man. Dennard is surprisingly strong for a smaller cornerback, and he's more than willing to beat up his assignment a bit at the line of scrimmage. Gotta love that.
19. New York Jets - Courtney Upshaw, OLB Alabama
The Jets' pass rush has looked deplorable this season, and since Gang Green is now struggling to control the trenches (losing Shaun Ellis and Kris Jenkins probably didn't help in this regard), the least New York can do is add a legitimate edge rusher and put some heat on opposing on quarterbacks. Courtney Upshaw has the speed, active hands and pure strength necessary to light it up on the line of scrimmage, and he's surprisingly effective in coverage, as well.
20. Cincinnati Bengals - David DeCastro, G Stanford
Yes, this is the pick that the Bengals thieved from Oakland in the Carson Palmer deal (which I still believe was brokered by Al Davis from the grave), and Cincinnati can do Andy Dalton and Co. a favor by adding a ridiculous guard prospect like David DeCastro to the roster. DeCastro is the best college guard I have ever seen (and I watched a lot of Steve Hutchinson when he was playing for Michigan)--a plug-and-play prospect who will come in and crack skulls immediately. DeCastro is superb in pass pro, but where he really makes noise is in the run-blocking game.
21. Denver Broncos - Mark Barron, S Alabama
Rookie Rahim Moore has been impressive at the free safety spot for Denver, but Brian Dawkins is ancient. Therefore, the Broncos could really use a leader at safety who can hold his own in coverage and then turn around and take out the running game. Much has been made of Barron's speed, but he's an instinctual safety prospect with adequate wheels and big-play ability.
22. Cleveland Browns - Kendall Wright, WR Baylor
Ah, yes, here come the Browns and their awful offense again. With Trent Richardson in their backfield, Cleveland's next step should be to add an explosive factor to its passing game. Baylor's Kendall Wright is pretty much the epitome of "explosive," pairing good hands with a strong frame and jaw-dropping speed, He's also eligible for some Jon Gruden commentary. Let's take a look:
"I want to talk about Kendall Wright for a minute. You know what they call him, Jaws? In. Stant. Speed. And when you think of fast, you should think of this spectacular young man. He's six-foot, two-hundred and ten pounds of concrete dynamite in pads. Blink ... and you'll miss him. I have to tell you, I LOVE watching Kendall Wright play football. That guy is a football player, gentlemen, and what I wouldn't have given to have a receiver like this when I was in Tampa. Those guys fired me, you know.
23. Cincinnati Bengals - David Wilson, RB Virginia Tech
I just realized that one-eighth of the picks in this draft belong to the state of Ohio. Congrats to the Browns and Bengals for both fleecing desperate teams in 2011. Anyway, now that the Bengals have an elite guard (David DeCastro) in the mix, they should think about adding a signature running back to the roster. David Wilson is a straight-up burner with excellent vision and cutting ability, and he'll further complicate things for defenses focused on stopping Andy Dalton, Jermaine Gresham and A.J. Green.
24. Detroit Lions - Zebrie Sanders, T Florida State
The Lions have made a habit out of mortgaging the tackle position, but even in a BPA situation, Detroit might opt for a strong tackle prospect like Zebrie Sanders of Florida State. Sanders is a massive, long-limbed protector with great technique and intelligence for the position, and he's also a capable bulldozer in the run game.
25. New York Giants - Dwayne Allen, TE Clemson
The Giants' interior offensive line is just unpleasant to watch right now, but can the Giants really continue to depend on tight end Jake Ballard? Probably not, so a versatile, big-play tight end like Clemson's Dwayne Allen could be the pick at this spot. Allen has massive mitts, good speed and a big frame, and he's become a very good blocker, as well. And since the 2011 season was ripe with great tight end play, you can bet that several teams will be looking for their very own Rob Gronkowski, Jimmy Graham or the aforementioned Gresham.
26. Houston Texans - Dontari Poe, NT Memphis
A unbelievable player on an unbelievably bad team, Dontari Poe is a classic two-gap space eater who can make things even easier for an already impressive Texans front seven. Defensive end J.J. Watt has been phenomenal this season, so why not continue building in the trenches? Houston's inside linebackers will also greatly benefit from the addition of a burly anchor like Poe.
27. Pittsburgh Steelers - Dont'a Hightower, ILB Alabama
Watching Ben Roethlisberger hobble around every Sunday should be more than enough to convince the Steelers that it's time to invest in a new left tackle and guard; however, we all know Pittsburgh will find a way to continue mortgaging those two positions. They can't help it. Why bother until Big Ben's leg completely falls off? Of course, the Steel Curtain's linebackers corps could use an upgrade, and Dont'a Hightower has proven himself to be a rangy, powerful defender and leader for the Crimson Tide defense. Hightower's also a ruthless prospect who will undoubtedly mesh well with guys like James Harrison and LaMarr Woodley.
28. San Francisco 49ers - Stephon Gilmore, CB South Carolina
Stephon Gilmore has slid considerably in the wake of guys like Morris Claiborne and Dre Kirkpatrick, but Gilmore's a fast, physical, opportunistic corner who excels against the run. And since the 49ers' only real weakness on defense is their secondary, it might be a good idea to reinforce the cornerback position. Gilmore's skill set and intangibles will remind you of Vontae Davis, and he can also come in and slide over to safety if necessary.
29. Baltimore Ravens - Jarvis Jones, OLB Georgia
The Ravens love their rush linebackers, and Jarvis Jones has the look of a prototypical talent at the position. Despite still showing a lot of rawness, Jones is a pass-rushing wiz with great speed and strength, and he'll be a load to handle on a front seven that is already impossibly stout.
30. New England Patriots - Brandon Thompson, DT Clemson
The Patriots' hideous inability to stop the run is mainly due to their lack of talent up front. Regardless of whether they commit to the 4-3 or 3-4 scheme, a prospect like Clemson's Brandon Thompson will give the Patriots the size and disruption skills to once again be an effective unit against the rush. One could even make the case that Thompson is the best run defender in this draft. An absolute animal in the trenches.
31. New England Patriots - Jayron Hosley, CB Virginia Tech
The Patriots have a serious problem at the corner spot opposite Devin McCourty, so it's possible that New England wastes little time snagging Jayron Hosley, who is an instinctual cover corner will considerable ball skills and impressive overall technique.
32. Green Bay Packers - Devon Still, DT Penn State
Despite boasting a handful of playmakers on the defensive side of the ball, Green Bay desperately needs to get younger in the trenches and secondary. In this spot, the Pack would likely consider adding a hulking prospect like Penn State's Devon Still to go to work as a 5-technique in the 3-4 scheme. Still isn't a natural pass rusher, but he has the strength and active hands to defeat his man at the point of attack. Still, if lined up next to B.J. Raji, would be a load for offensive linemen to handle.