It may only be mid-November, but it’s never too early to talk NFL Draft.
If the season were to end this week and we went from records and tiebreakers alone, the 2012 NFL Draft order would be as found below. The Eagles would have the No. 8 overall pick, selecting before the Jaguars and Browns? The Chargers would have the first pick of all the AFC West teams? Umm, yes.
A lot can change between now and the end of the season, and even more will change between the end of the season and April’s draft. But there’s no harm in putting together an NFL Mock Draft right now. Who should you watch over the final few weeks of the college season and during bowl time? Here’s my top 32 and the places I could see them ending up.
Note: This Mock assumes that all eligible players will be leaving for the draft, and thus available for selection come April.
1. Indianapolis Colts: Andrew Luck, QB, Stanford: As I addressed in my “Suck for Luck” column last week, the inevitable Andrew Luck media backlash is beginning to pick up steam, and Saturday’s pedestrian performance against Oregon in front of a nationally televised audience didn’t exactly help his cause.
Last week, Washington Huskies coach Steve Sarkisian came out and said if he were an NFL coach, he’d rather have Matt Barkley over Luck and on Monday, Todd McShay had a big “Why Andrew Luck’s Draft Stock is Slipping” column.
The Barkley (and Landry Jones) bandwagons will certainly gain plenty of new passengers right up until draft time, but Luck’s the guy. He’s been the guy since high school. He’s been the guy since he stepped on campus. And he’s been the guy with every throw he’s made this season. I’m not sure if Peyton Manning’s in Indy next year, but if the Colts have the first pick — I know Andrew Luck will.
2. St. Louis Rams: Justin Blackmon, WR, Oklahoma State: It would take a few days to wipe the smile off Sam Bradford’s face if the Rams land Blackmon. Yes, St. Louis spent a few later round picks on receivers Greg Salas and Austin Pettis last year, but neither guy is an elite talent like Blackmon. For Bradford to fully develop, he needs a go-to, game-breaker on the outside. That guy’s Blackmon.
3. Miami Dolphins: Matt Barkley, QB, USC: The Dolphins have looked like a real-life NFL team the past two Sundays and can very well end up with a pick outside of the Top 10 if they continue to play the way have the past few weeks. But if the season were to end today, they’d have the third pick, and they’d have to go quarterback.
Barkley isn’t built like Luck or even Oklahoma gunslinger Landry Jones, but he’s a pro-style quarterback who’s been destined for greatness since he first hit the national scene as an eighth grader way back when.
I’m going with him over Jones at the moment, but as always, that’s subject to change.
4. Carolina Panthers: Quinton Coples, DE, North Carolina: A decade ago, the Panthers took a local UNC star at defensive end, and watched him dominate the NFL for eight seasons in Charlotte. Though Coples isn’t quite the "can’t miss" talent that Julius Peppers was coming out of college, he has big potential to be a force at the next level.
Wearing No. 90 at defensive end, Coples has a nonstop motor and an uncanny ability to get to the quarterback. Carolina’s D was burned by early season injuries to Thomas Davis and Jon Beason. In Coples, they’ll get an elite pass rusher at DE to pair with Charles Johnson in their 4-3 scheme.
5. Minnesota Vikings: Matt Kalil, OT, USC: Kalil, the younger brother of Panthers center Ryan Kalil, has flat-out dominated the competition in the Pac-12 this season. He’s a 6-6, 300-pound pass protector who has surprisingly quick feet.
He’s the top tackle in this draft and that’s not even debatable.
6. Washington Redskins: Landry Jones, QB, Oklahoma: Redskins fans would be awfully happy to see Jones slip to the sixth pick. After passing on selecting Christian Ponder, Blaine Gabbert and Andy Dalton last April, and opting to head into the season with a Rex Grossman/John Beck two-headed creature at quarterback, Mike Shanahan would grab Jones if he’s still on the board come April. A 6-4, 240-pound three-year starter with perhaps the best arm in this year’s draft class, some pundits are higher on Jones than both Luck and Barkley.
7. Seattle Seahawks: Morris Claiborne, CB, LSU: A junior, Claiborne has four interceptions and is the top defensive talent on the best team in college football.
Two years ago, the Seahawks rolled the dice on another defensive back in the Top 15 — do everything safety Earl Thomas and it’s worked out quite well. Seattle could be in the QB hunt if they finish with a Top-5 pick, but the way they played on Sunday vs. the Ravens, that might not be likely.
Claiborne’s a 6-0, 190 pound physical, playmaking corner who would start — and make an impact — right away. Though this may change, I like him more than Dre Kirkpatrick at the moment.
8. Philadelphia Eagles: Jerel Worthy, DT, Michigan State: I seem to be a lot higher on Worthy than other people at the moment, but I think he’s a Top-10 pick come April.
You’ve got to assume Philadelphia turns it around and finishes with a pick in the late teens, early 20s, by the end of the year. But if they don’t, Worthy could be an intriguing prospect to focus on.
He’s a big run stuffer in the middle who’s dominated at the college level and could play right away in the NFL. He’s got a mean streak that’s desperately needed on that Eagles defensive line.
9. Jacksonville Jaguars: Alshon Jeffery, WR, South Carolina: How desperate are the Jaguars for receiver help? They had to bring back Mike Sims-Walker, a player the lowly Rams released after just a few weeks on the team, before he was put on the IR.
Mike Thomas is a fine undersized slot guy, but Blaine Gabbert needs a No. 1 guy to grow old with.
Jeffery, a player I might like even more than Blackmon as an NFL prospect, would be a mighty nice get for Jacksonville at ninth overall.
10. Cleveland Browns: Trent Richardson, RB, Alabama: Oh man, that Browns offense is atrocious. If you look at Cleveland’s depth chart, you can make the argument that no team has a worse group of running backs and receivers than these guys.
Though he’s been anything but dazzling, you can’t blame Colt McCoy for everything when he has absolutely no one to work with.
In Richardson, he’d have an every-down back that could help move the chains and make the big play. There’s no one on the roster that can do that now.
11. Arizona Cardinals: Jonathan Martin, OT, Stanford: I’ve been awfully hard on Kevin Kolb this year, even suggesting the Cardinals should just cut bait and draft a quarterback. But several Cards fans have emailed me, defending the guy, saying he’s had absolutely no pass protection.
Martin’s an athletic tackle who’s kept Andrew Luck out of harm’s way. He’d be a nice fit in ‘Zona. As for Kolb, this team looks awfully better with John Skelton under center, doesn’t it?
12. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Dre Kirkpatrick, CB, Alabama: Kirkpatrick’s another elite cornerback in the SEC. Tampa Bay likes what they have now, but Ronde Barber can’t play forever.
Physical, tall and speedy — Kirkpatrick would be another young defensive stud to add to that already youthful Baby Bucs D.
13. San Diego Chargers: Brandon Thompson, DT, Clemson: The Chargers don’t have much depth at defensive tackle and Antonio Garay could leave in the offseason.
Thompson’s emerged as one of the many stars on the 2011 Tigers, a 6-2, 315 pound run-stuffer. Cam Thomas has had a nice rookie year, but adding Thompson to the mix would only give the Chargers D some much-needed bite.
14. Kansas City Chiefs: Robert Griffin III, QB, Baylor: Really?! Really. After two straight awful outings out of Matt Cassel, it’s becoming more and more apparent that he might not be the guy who’ll take the Chiefs to their first Super Bowl since the 1960’s. RGIII has the goods to be an elite pro quarterback. Top 15?
Maybe that’s a stretch, but then again, who saw Christian Ponder going in the Top-15 at this time last year? Griffin’s going to wow in workouts and he’ll be the star of the combine.
This is a bit of a wild-card selection, but with the new rookie wage scale in place, it’s not the costly roll of the dice it would have been pre-2011.
15. Denver Broncos: Devon Still, DT, Penn State: The Broncos struck gold with Von Miller in the first round last year. Look for John Fox to scoop up some interior defensive-line talent in 2012. A 6-4, 310 pound run-stuffer out of Wilmington, Delaware, Still is a four-year starter in Happy Valley. The Denver defense has played extremely well of late. Adding a big presence like Still would only make the young Denver D more dangerous.
16. Tennessee Titans: Dont’a Hightower, LB, Alabama: This is oh, 20-30 spots higher than where most pundits likely peg Hightower going in April, but I’m fine with that. They’ll come around. Having watched every Alabama game this season, I can assure you he’s the type of player where you’ll turn your head for a few plays, and just hear Verne Lundquist’s voice say “Hightower with the tackle” seven times in a row. Hightower’s in on every play, he’s all over the field, and he could be a beast at the next level. I like him in Mike Munchak’s front seven.
17. New York Jets: Riley Reiff, OT, Iowa: Jets fans may be clamoring for a defensive lineman here, but I think New York could go offensive tackle if Reiff is still on the board. A 6-6, 300 pound pass blocking beast, he’d be an incredible complement to D’Brickashaw Ferguson on the right side. Wayne Hunter’s just not the long-term answer.
18. Dallas Cowboys: David DeCastro, OG, Stanford: The Cowboys love what they got in the first round last year with tackle Tyron Smith. If they can get DeCastro to bolster the inside of that offensive line in April, Tony Romo would be awfully pleased.
DeCastro’s a former All-State high school shotput champion with good footwork and a mauling style. Watching him (he wears No. 52) maul opposing defensive tackles at the line of scrimmage on a Stanford running play is a sight worth checking out. He’s a physically gifted athlete with great smarts.
Top-20 is not out of the question for my top guard prospect in 2012.
19. Buffalo Bills: Vontaze Burfict, LB, Arizona State: The Bills defense leads the league in takeaways and features some great young talent up front and in the defensive backfield. Those linebackers could use an injection of youth.
Burfict’s an enigmatic talent, a guy who has shown flashes of brilliance and shown flashes of stupidity in his time in Tempe.
He’s having a far less dominant season than the experts expected, but he’s a ferocious hitter and a playmaker. There’s a spot on an NFL roster for that. Check out this hit from his freshman year.
20. Cleveland Browns (via Atlanta): Michael Floyd, WR, Notre Dame: After opting to trade the sixth pick instead of snagging Julio Jones last April, the Browns will luck into both Richardson and Floyd in 2012. A 6-3, 224-pound presence with tremendous hands and deceptively quick feet, Floyd has 77 catches this season and 248 for his career. He’s excelled in cold weather and is a solid blocker. If he’s on the board, this is a no-brainer.
21. Detroit Lions: Zach Brown, LB, North Carolina: A 6-2, 240 pound tackling machine, Brown’s another guy who’s seemingly in on every play. Against Wake Forest two weeks ago, Brown had 11.5 tackles, an interception, caused a fumble and led the Tar Heels to a big victory in the ACC.
The Lions defensive line gets a lot of pub, but the linebackers have been solid this year, too. Brown would be a rather nice addition to Gunther Cunningham’s D.
22. Chicago Bears: Cordy Glenn, OG, Georgia: Cutler got a big tackle in Gabe Carimi last draft. Glenn is the top offensive guard in the SEC. Adding him to the offensive line would be music to Cutler’s ears. Now, pay Matt Forte, Mr. Angelo. Pay Matt Forte.
23. Cincinnati Bengals: Courtney Upshaw, LB, Alabama: Cincinnati’s D hasn’t revealed many holes this season, but the linebackers have been playing well above expectations. Upshaw, like his Alabama teammates Kirkpatrick and Hightower, is a first-round talent. Mike Brown and Co. would be loading up on two elite defensive playmakers if they snagged Upshaw here and the top corner with Oakland’s first round pick.
24. Baltimore Ravens: D.J. Fluker, OT, Alabama: Fluker’s not as highly touted as some of the other left tackles in this year’s draft class, but the guy sure does road pave. At 6-6, 335, he’s shed a ton of weight over the past two years and has become a fleet-footed pass protector, too.
25 Cincinnati Bengals (via Oakland Raiders): Chase Minnifield, CB, Virginia: Minnifield’s father Frank was a Pro Bowler for the rival Browns in the ’80s and ’90s, but would make for an awfully nice addition to the Bengals defense in 2012.
26. New York Giants: Orson Charles, TE, Georgia: The Giants have gotten a lot more than anyone expected out of Jake Ballard at tight end this year. Orson Charles is a different type of player, though. A 6-3, 240 pound athletic downfield threat, Charles would be a nice fit in the Giants offense. Though he’s not the big, NBA body type that has become the norm for rookie tight ends, he’s a terrific blocker in the run game, too. I’m a big Charles guy.
27. New England Patriots: Melvin Ingram, DE/DT, South Carolina: The Patriots defense has struggled with rushing the passer this year, causing problems for the defensive backfield. Ingram’s another player I’m probably a bit higher on than other draftniks at the moment. For many years, he’s been an elite pass-rushing presence for Steve Spurrier’s Gamecocks and against Auburn earlier this year, he recorded 11 tackles and 3.5 sacks. He’s fast off the edge, but can also stuff the run.
28. New England Patriots (via New Orleans):Billy Winn, DT/DE, Boise State: I profiled Winn in my NFL Draft Stock video last week. A tough as nails, pass rushing defensive end/defensive tackle, Winn singlehandedly dominated the Virginia Tech and Georgia offensive lines in big games over the past two years. He’s 6-0, 300 pounds and could play either end or tackle at the next level. Boise fell to TCU this weekend, likely costing them a BCS bowl bid, but I still have Winn as a first-round prospect.
29. Pittsburgh Steelers: Zebrie Sanders, OT, Florida State: Sanders — another guy you probably haven’t heard all that much about — is 6-5, 310 pounds and an elite pass blocker at FSU. He’s got the size and agility to be a fantastic pro player. The Steelers didn’t take a left tackle in the first round last year, opting to take Cameron Heyward, instead. This year, look for them to go tackle. I like Sanders more than Mike Adams, a guy a lot in draft circles consider one of this year’s top prospects.
30. San Francisco 49ers:Mohamed Sanu, WR, Rutgers: A gamebreaker for the run-first Niners offense, Sanu does it all for Greg Schiano’s Scarlet Knights. A 6-2, 215 pound gamebreaker, the junior has 94 catches on the year, including 13 last week against Army.
31. Houston Texans: Kendall Wright, WR, Baylor: RGIII gets all the media love in Waco, but Wright’s a fine pro prospect in his own right. The Texans finally appear to have a defense, meaning for the first time in quite some time, they can spend a first-round draft selection on an offensive player.
Wright’s a 5-10, 190 pound speedster who’d be a nice second receiver lining up alongside Andre Johnson. He already has 73 receptions and nine touchdowns this year and those numbers are consistent with his work last season. He’s got incredible balance and fantastic hands.
For a highlight, watch him toe the sideline for 20 yards against Kansas State here.
32. Green Bay Packers: Janoris Jenkins, CB, North Alabama: Jenkins was a standout at Florida, before being dismissed and ending up at North Alabama this season. He’s an elite talent whose draft stock is only going to get hotter as more scouts and media watch the game tape. The Packers are loaded everywhere. I can see them loading up at DB.