Pass-rushers moving up the board
Offensive players own the top three; defenders rule the top 10 from there
The deadline for non-seniors to enter the 2012 NFL draft has come and gone and postseason all-star games have wrapped up, so it's time for my second mock draft of the year.
The upcoming NFL combine (Feb. 22-28) and various pro days and individual workouts will certainly cause plenty of shuffling over the next two-plus months, but goings-on of the past few weeks have provided us a good starting point and a solid feel for plenty of big-name prospects.
Just like in my first mock draft, the board splits evenly with 16 players each on offense and defense, but in a shift from the first projection the top 10 is now split evenly between offense and defense. In fact, pass-rushers occupy the final four spots in the top 10.
Among individual schools, Alabama and Stanford lead the way with four prospects each, with Baylor (2), LSU (2) and Clemson being the only other schools with multiple prospects in this projection.
Also keep in mind that the teams picking pick Nos. 8 and 9, and Nos. 11 and 12, will be determined by a coin flip because the teams had identical records and the same strength of schedule in 2011. And of course, the order of the final two picks will depend on which team wins Super Bowl XLVI.
So without further delay, here's how I see things playing out at this point.* = draft-eligible non-seniors
The status of Colts legend Peyton Manning is still up in the air after multiple neck surgeries, and Manning will be 36 years old next season. Meanwhile, Luck is a once-in-a-generation prospect with the physical tools and mental makeup to start from day one. Given the financial considerations involved, the smart decision is to draft Luck and part ways with Manning.
Rams QB Sam Bradford (No 1 overall, 2010) needs better protection to reach his full potential. Current St. Louis LOT Jason Smith has fallen short of expectations after being taken second overall in 2009, and with Kalil's size, athleticism and nasty disposition he is ready to take over at left tackle from the first day of training camp.
The Vikings desperately need offensive weapons to help young QB Christian Ponder, but they also need to better protect their investment in Ponder. Reiff needs to get stronger, but he is an underrated athlete with the potential to become a very good starting left tackle in the NFL.
Current Browns QB Colt McCoy has shown good toughness, mental capacity and short-to-intermediate accuracy, but his lack of size and arm strength to drive the ball downfield put too many limitations on the offense. Assuming no team trades ahead of them to take Griffin, the Browns can add a dynamic weapon who will open things up. He still must improve his consistency as a decision-maker and with his underneath touch/accuracy, but his downfield accuracy was vastly improved in 2011.
Current Buccaneers RB LeGarrette Blount is no Trent Richardson, so dont't rule out Alabama's bell-cow back as an option here. Tampa Bay's cornerback situation is a nightmare, though, with Ronde Barber on the decline and Aqib Talib facing off-field issues. Claiborne would bring to Tampa the best man-to-man cover skills in the 2012 class, along with good speed and instincts.
ESPN Insiders get access to the entire first-round projection. Sign up today!
We see that you are not an ESPN Insider. Upgrade today and gain access to our exclusive coverage.
MORE NFL HEADLINES
- Tomlin fined $100K; Steelers may lose picks
- London game starting at 9:30 a.m. ET in '14
- Rex: Our draft as strong as I've ever seen
- RG III: Redskins staff has 'great future'
MOST SENT STORIES ON ESPN.COM
The NFL on ESPN.com