Now that we’re a whole two days removed from the 2011 NFL draft, it’s time to turn our sights to 2012.
Yes, I know. Constructing a 2012 mock draft in May 2011 is beyond absurd. It’s ridiculous. Hell, it’s borderline pathetic.
But as football fans and true NFL diehards, we are all very sick, sick people. Even in the middle of a lockout, even without free agency, and even when the gel is still fresh in Mel Kiper’s hair from this year’s draft, it’s fun to look toward next year’s three-day draft bonanza. And, let’s be honest, it’s far more pleasant thinking about the 2012 NFL draft than “temporary stays” and the intricacies of the United States appellate court system.
Last April, I did a 2011 mock draft one day after the 2010 draft. Looking back on that mock now, there were some definite home runs. I accurately had A.J. Green, Patrick Peterson, Von Miller, Julio Jones and Jake Locker going as top-10 picks.
But I also had some real duds. I had Will Hill, a safety out of Florida, going 16th overall. He went undrafted over the weekend. Greg Romeus, the defensive end out of Pittsburgh, was supposed to go 23rd overall. After suffering a few injuries, he fell to the seventh round of the 2011 draft.
A lot can happen between now and April 2012. Under-the-radar prospects can emerge in their junior and senior seasons, top players can fall victim to injuries and off-the-field issues can rear their ugly heads. But let’s take a stab at this, anyway.
And if even daring to do a mock draft 365 days in advance wasn’t a large enough of an act of hubris, I’ve taken the liberty of telling you just how every team’s going to finish next season, as well.
With that, I present you the first of several 2012 NFL mock drafts. This one has all draft eligible underclassmen entering next year’s draft. Enjoy, sickos.
1. Seattle Seahawks — Andrew Luck, QB, Stanford: The Seahawks suffer early and often at the start of the Charlie Whitehurst era and never fully recover. Pete Carroll keeps his job and gets the ultimate prize next April — Mr. Luck. A 6-foot-4, 230-pound Heisman finalist from a year ago, Luck breaks all of John Elway’s old Stanford passing records and goes first overall.
2. Washington Redskins — Matt Barkley, QB, USC: The John Beck/Rex Grossman era begins and ends with a thud in the nation’s capital. The Redskins fail to ever get things going on offense and opt to address the quarterback position in 2012 with Barkley, the junior gunslinger out of USC. A starter as a freshman in 2009, Barkley showed flashes. He made great strides in 2010. 2011? The sky’s the limit for the 6-2, 220 pound former Gatorade National Player of the Year.
3. Carolina Panthers — Alshon Jeffery, WR, South Carolina: Cam Newton shows a lot of promise in his first year under center in Carolina, and there’s reason for optimism. There’s also a long ways to go before the Panthers are competitive in the loaded NFC South. They get Newton his go-to guy for the future in Jeffery, the 6-4, 230 pound do-everything receiver out of South Carolina. As a sophomore in 2010, Jeffery caught 88 balls for 1,517 yards in Steve Spurrier’s offense. Expect huge numbers and All-America honors in 2011.
4. Cincinnati Bengals — Cliff Harris, CB/KR/PR, Oregon: Even with new personalities, fresh faces and new leaders in the Cincinnati locker room, the Bengals find themselves in the No. 4 draft slot once again in 2012. They go with Harris, the star defensive back out of Oregon. As a sophomore in 2010, Harris led the Ducks with five interceptions and led the nation in punt returns for touchdowns with four. A bit smaller than some of the top corner prospects in 2011, Harris’ dynamic skill set makes him a top-five pick in 2012.
5. Denver Broncos — Jerel Worthy, DT, Michigan State: The Elway/Tebow marriage isn’t exactly William and Kate as the Broncos slog through another inconsistent 2011 campaign. The defense improves with Von Miller and Rahim Moore making immediate impacts as starters, but it gets beaten up at the line of scrimmage. Denver goes D-line with Worthy, the 6-3, 305-pound run stuffer out of Michigan State.
6. Arizona Cardinals — Ryan Lindley, QB, San Diego State: When it’s all said and done, Donovan McNabb ends up in Arizona. Alas, he’s no Kurt Warner, and the Cardinals offense fails to light up the desert with any aerial fireworks. With Larry Fitzgerald leaving town for greener pastures in free agency next March, the Cardinals look to rebuild from the ground up, going with the quarterback in Lindley. Who?! Yes, Ryan Lindley will be a top-10 selection next year. The 6-4, 220-pound Lindley can sling the ball, and is second all-time in school history in career passing yards (9,537), completions (724) and is tied for second in career touchdown passes (67).
7. Oakland Raiders — D’Andre “Dre” Kirkpatrick, CB, Alabama: The Raiders sorely miss Nnamdi Asomugha and get burned in the pass game all season. Like they did in 2010 with first-round pick Rolando McClain, they go to Tuscaloosa to pick up Kirkpatrick, an up-and-coming lockdown corner in the Southeastern Conference.
8. Minnesota Vikings — Quinton Coples, DE/DT, North Carolina: Though Christian Ponder is better than expected and Adrian Peterson has another big year, Leslie Frazier’s defense — once the pride of the purple — fails to deliver. The Vikings address the defensive line with Coples, a 6-6, 272 pound defensive end out of North Carolina. As a junior in 2010, Coples recorded 10 sacks while filling in for suspended defensive end Robert Quinn.
9. Jacksonville Jaguars — Michael Floyd, WR, Notre Dame: By Week 4, there’s a quarterback controversy in Jacksonville. Blaine Gabbert shows some potential when given an opportunity down the stretch but needs some help at receiver. Insert Floyd, the, 6-3, 230-pound target out of Notre Dame. Floyd is already Notre Dame’s career leader in touchdown catches (28) and ranks second in school history in catches (171) and third in receiving yards (2,539).
10. Buffalo Bills — Matt Kalil, OT, USC: With five rookies contributing on defense, the Bills improve from their 2010 defensive funk and show some real promise in 2011. Ryan Fitzpatrick remains the man at quarterback, and in 2012, they go offensive line, snagging Kalil, the 6-6, 298-pound tackle out of USC. Kalil’s brother, Ryan, plays center for the Panthers.
11. Cleveland Browns — Justin Blackmon, WR, Oklahoma State: Colt McCoy has a promising year in Pat Shurmur’s offense, and the defense greatly improves from last season’s mediocre effort. After trading out of the “Julio Jones” spot in the 2011 draft, Cleveland addresses the wideout position in 2012’s first round with the electrifying Blackmon. In 2010, the redshirt sophomore led the nation with an average of 148.5 receiving yards per game. He also led the country with 20 TD catches, was second with 9.3 catches per game and finished third nationally in scoring (11 points per game).
12. Tennessee Titans — Jared Crick, DT, Nebraska: Though Crick didn’t have the elite year many hoped he would in 2010, he steps his game up in 2011 and becomes a top-15 pick in the 2012 draft. The 6-6, 290-pound defensive tackle puts on some more weight and gives Tracy Rocker’s defensive line down in Tennessee an elite and athletic run stuffer in the middle.
13. San Francisco 49ers — Billy Winn, DT, Boise State: Aldon Smith, the 2011 first-round pick, has a breakout year in San Francisco. In Winn, a 6-4, 290-pound interior line star out of Boise State, Smith gets a defensive linemate to grow old with in San Francisco. Go pop in the tape of last year’s Boise State-Virginia Tech game — one in which Winn dominated the line of scrimmage — and you’ll see why so many NFL scouts are giddy about the former high school wrestling star from Las Vegas.
14. Kansas City Chiefs — Matt Reynolds, OT, BYU: A year after qualifying for their first postseason since 2006, the Chiefs fall to second place in the division in 2011. They address their aging offensive line with the selection of Reynolds, the 6-7, 330-pound offensive tackle out of BYU. At 24 years old, Reynolds is one of the older prospects in next year’s draft class.
15. Miami Dolphins — Landry Jones, QB, Oklahoma: After ignoring the quarterback position in the 2011 draft and finishing in third place in the AFC East for the third straight season, the Dolphins finally look to replace Chad Henne in 2012. Jones, already a two-year starter in Norman, rewrites the Oklahoma record books with a monster 2011. The 6-4, 220-pound New Mexico native joins 2011 second-round pick Daniel Thomas (Kansas State) to form Miami’s QB-RB duo of the future.
16. New York Jets — Zach Brown, OLB, North Carolina: The Jets miss the playoffs for the first time in three seasons in 2011, despite solid production on the defensive line from 2011 first- and third-rounders Muhammad Wilkerson and Kenrick Ellis. New York addresses the pass rushing OLB position in 2012, grabbing Brown, the athletic indoor track champion out of UNC.
17. Chicago Bears — Courtney Upshaw, ILB, Alabama: The Bears don’t match the excellent season they had in 2010 this fall, failing to make the postseason. The linebacker corps, once the strength of the Chicago defense, needs some youth. Lovie Smith and Jerry Angelo turn to Upshaw, who recorded 14.5 tackles for a loss in 2010.
18. Philadelphia Eagles — Chase Minnifield, CB, Virginia: The Eagles miss the playoffs and look to their defensive backfield in the 2012 draft. Minnifield, whose father, Frank, played nine seasons with the Browns in the 1980s-90s, is a 6-foot, 200-pound four-year starter out of Virginia. Look for him to have a big 2011.
19. New York Giants — Nate Potter, OT, Boise State: The Giants failed to address the offensive line in the 2011 draft, and the once-dominant unit shows signs of age this season. After failing to make the playoffs for the third straight year, Big Blue grabs Potter, a 6-6, 300-pound pass protector out of Boise State. Nothing flashy, Potter was a third-team All-American during his junior campaign in 2010.
20. Detroit Lions — Stephon Gilmore, CB, South Carolina: Welcome back from NFL oblivion, Detroit Lions. After years of disgraceful football, the Lions break the .500 mark for the first time since 2000 and just miss the playoffs in 2011. With rookies Nick Fairley, Titus Young and Mikel LeShoure all playing major roles in ’11, the Lions focus on defensive back in 2012, scooping up Gilmore, the physical 6-2, 195-pound cover corner out of South Carolina. As a freshman, Gilmore started every game in 2009, and he got better in 2010. Look for an All-America campaign in 2011.
21. Houston Texans — Jonathan Martin, OT, Stanford: The Texans, everybody’s hot sleeper pick to make the playoffs (yet again) in 2010, finally make the final 12 as a wild-card team in 2011. With the defense much improved because of a slew of rookies contributing, Houston looks to the offensive line in 2012. A 6-6, 310-pound talent, Martin is the unheralded star of the Stanford offense, protecting Luck’s blindside out in Palo Alto.
22. Pittsburgh Steelers — Michael Egnew, TE, Missouri: The Ravens win the AFC North, but the Steelers qualify as a wild card in 2011. The Chargers knock off the defending AFC champions in a well-played AFC wild-card round game out in San Diego. Heath Miller’s not getting any younger. Egnew, a 6-6, 235-pound receiving target, is plucked as Miller’s eventual replacement.
23. St. Louis Rams — John Jenkins, DT, Georgia: The Rams are the Cinderella story of the 2011 NFL season, going 11-5 and winning the NFC West only two years removed from a 1-15 2009 campaign. Rookie wideouts Austin Pettis and Greg Salas each make immediate impacts in 2011, and Sam Bradford goes to his first Pro Bowl. After the Rams fall to the Falcons in the wild-card round of the playoffs, general manager Billy Devaney focuses on defense in the 2012 draft, grabbing Jenkins, the big junior-college transfer out of Georgia. At 6-4, 340 pounds, big things are expected from the big fella down in Athens in 2011.
24. Tampa Bay Buccaneers — Travis Lewis, OLB, Oklahoma: The Buccaneers struck gold in the 2011 draft, grabbing three immediate contributors in Adrian Clayborn, Da’Quan Bowers, and Mason Foster with their first three picks. After making the playoffs for the first time under Raheem Morris, the Bucs — who lose a tough wild-card round game in Dallas — go defense again with Lewis in 2012. Lewis, a three-year starter already, enters 2011 with 362 career tackles.
25. San Diego Chargers — Ryan Broyles, WR, Oklahoma: After cruising to an AFC West division title, Philip Rivers outdoes Ben Roethlisberger in a classic wild-card round battle in San Diego. Falling just short against the Colts in Indy, San Diego looks to upgrade its receiver corps, plucking the ultra-productive Broyles out of Oklahoma. Just 5-11, Broyles caught 131 passes for 1,622 yards and 14 touchdowns in the 2010 regular season. With Landry Jones tossing passes to him, he matches that production in 2011.
26. Cleveland Browns (via Atlanta Falcons) — Kelechi Osemele, OG, Iowa State: Part of the Julio Jones trade from 2011, Cleveland uses its second first-round pick of the draft on Osemele, the massive 6-5, 345-pound offensive guard out of Iowa State. An All-Big 12 honorable mention in 2010, Osemele could be an All-American in 2011.
27. Baltimore Ravens — Ray-Ray Armstrong, safety, Miami: After beating the Texans in the wild-card round, the Ravens fall to the Patriots in New England next January. The Ravens have gone to the Miami well before, scoring with such stars as Ed Reed, Ray Lewis and Tavares Gooden. In Armstrong, they pick up an exciting young safety with big-time potential — and an awesome name, to boot.
28. New England Patriots (via New Orleans Saints) — Donte Paige-Moss, DE/OLB, North Carolina: Getting the Saints’ first-round pick from the Mark Ingram trade, New England very well could trade this selection, too. If they keep it, look for them to address the pass rush and select Paige-Moss, the 6-4, 250-pound pass rusher out of North Carolina.
29. Dallas Cowboys — Andre Branch, DE, Clemson: Welcome back to the playoffs, Cowboys. With a healthy Tony Romo, Dallas makes it back to the postseason, beating the Saints in a divisional-round shootout, only to fall to the Packers up in Lambeau Field in the NFC championship game. With the defensive line needing a young talent up front, Jerry Jones and company grab Branch, the 6-5, 260-pound talent out of Clemson.
30. New England Patriots — Mohamed Sanu, WR, Rutgers: After the Patriots fall to the Colts in an epic AFC championship game in Indy, they look to give Tom Brady another weapon on the outside. Sanu, a 6-2, 220-pound speedster, has a breakout 2011 for Greg Schiano in Piscataway.
31. Indianapolis Colts — Marcus Forston, DT, Miami: After coming up short in the Super Bowl, the Colts focus on the defensive line in 2011, scooping up Forston, a 6-3, 310-pound defensive tackle out of Miami. Compared to fellow Hurricanes great Warren Sapp since he was in high school, Forston dominates the Atlantic Coast Conference during his junior campaign and is a first-round pick in 2012.
32. Green Bay Packers — Trent Richardson, RB, Alabama: The rich get richer as the Packers strike gold in the 2011 draft. SEC stars Derek Sherrod, Randall Cobb and D.J. Williams all play significant roles in the Green Bay offense as the Packers win their second straight Super Bowl championship. Lush with young talent, the Packers select Richardson, a 2011 preseason Heisman hopeful.