Here’s the final installment of my 2012 NFL Mock Draft. You can find the first ten picks here, and the second ten picks here. Feel free to comment on the draft below, and be sure and follow me on Twitter @rjwhite1 for live draft coverage of the first round, including a live mock, trade predictions and more.
21. CIN Bengals: WR Rueben Randle, LSU
The Bengals re-made their offense in the 2011 draft, bringing in quarterback Andy Dalton and receiver A.J. Green, a combination that proved lethal early on and prompted a surprise playoff appearance by Cincinnati. The Bengals are still desperate for a quality No. 2 receiver, especially with Jerome Simpson facing a suspension. Jordan Shipley is a prototypical slot receiver. Randle has been compared favorably to Hakeem Nicks, and if he develops into a quality threat in Cincinnati, defenses will have severe trouble trying to defend Green, Shipley, Randle and Jermaine Gresham on every snap. The Bengals aren’t a team with many pressing needs at this point of the offseason, putting them in the enviable position of drafting best-player-available.
22. CLE Browns: RB Doug Martin, Boise St
The Brows are desperate for receiving help, but with Kendall Wright and Rueben Randle off the board, it wouldn’t be wise to tackle that position with this pick. Many expect the Browns to grab Trent Richardson with their first pick, but the Browns have spent time and effort scouting Martin, leading me to believe they’re leaning toward going in a different direction at No. 4. If they do, Martin gives them a “three-down” running back, one that can play in a featured role if need be. Initially bunched with several other running backs for the title of “best-RB-after-Richardson,” Martin has now risen to the top and should be the only other running back selected in the first round.
23. DET Lions: DE Whitney Mercilus, Illinois
The Lions would surely love to pick up a quality cornerback with this pick, but with Dre Kirkpatrick and Stephon Gilmore off the board, they’ll have to switch gears. The Lions have chosen to make their defensive line the strength of the unit, but they may have to re-stock at the end position. Elite rusher Cliff Avril is a holdout risk after being franchised, and the Lions may decide he’s not worth the oodles of money he’ll command with a long-term contract. Kyle Vanden Bosch turns 34 this year. Lawrence Jackson has shown flashes of talent but can’t be counted on as a full-time starter. Mercilus could potentially be off the board in the top 20, in which case the Lions could consider Quinton Coples, whose stock appears to be slipping.
24. PIT Steelers: ILB Luke Kuechly, Boston College
The Steelers have a tough but nice dilemma fall in their laps, as two presumed top-15 picks are available to Pittsburgh at No. 24, and either would fit a need. Rather than find a long-term replacement for nose tackle Casey Hampton, who’s nearing the end of a great career, the Steelers pick up Kuechly, one of the better ILB prospects in recent memory and the best player available here. I have him falling because inside linebackers generally are undervalued on Draft Day. Patrick Willis, the best prospect at the position in recent history who was viewed a can’t-miss talent, was drafted 11th overall. Kuechly isn’t quite in his rarefied air, but he’s certainly going to be a productive player and an asset to a Steelers team that lost James Farrior this offseason.
25. DEN Broncos: DT Devon Still, Penn St
The Broncos landed the highest-profile free agent perhaps ever this offseason when Peyton Manning signed on to quarterback the team over the next few years. The team could look to upgrade the offense around Manning with this first pick, or they could spend it on a replacement for the departed Brodrick Bunkley. The latter option seems the most likely, even after the signing of Justin Bannan this week, with several quality defensive tackles expected to be available late in the first round. Still was very productive in college and hasn’t drawn a lot of buzz this offseason despite his great game film. His pass-rushing skills make him a better fit for the Broncos than nose tackle Dontari Poe, who’s slipping down our mock draft.
26. HOU Texans: WR Stephen Hill, Georgia Tech
The Texans are virtually locked in to drafting a receiver in the first round, which is bad news if Kendall Wright and Rueben Randle are unavailable. In fact, the team may explore a trade up in anticipation of that likely scenario, especially if it falls in love with one of those two prospects. In our mock, they’re left with Hill, a good receiver prospect but one that needs considerable work after playing in the Yellow Jackets’ triple-option offense. The good news for Hill is that he’ll face nothing but single coverage in Houston with teams geared up to stop Arian Foster and Andre Johnson, two of the better weapons in the NFL. Any receiver the Texans select allows them to put the Kevin Walter-as-starter era behind them.
27. NE Patriots: DE Quinton Coples, North Carolina
Coples is a guy whose stock is sliding in April, being portrayed as a headcase who may be susceptible to off-field problems in the league. He’ll need to go to a quality organization with a strong support system, which is why Bill Belichik should be willing to bring him into a fold. He has the potential to be the best defensive lineman in this class if he keeps his head on straight. In fact, it wouldn’t be too shocking to see him drafted as early as No. 7 by the Jaguars, and it only takes one team to be unconcerned with Coples’ red flags. New England signed Jonathan Fanene to start at one defensive end spot, and Coples should be able to come in and take the other starting job, solidifying New England’s defensive line and allowing them to focus on a pass rusher with their next first round pick.
28. GB Packers: OLB Shea McClellin, Boise St
The Packers have a huge hole at outside linebacker opposite Clay Matthews, as the team received virtually nothing from Brad Jones and Frank Zombo last season. The Packers are reportedly in love with McClellin, who has drawn favorable comparisons to potential teammate Matthews as a possibly elite pass rusher. His stock has risen to the point the Packers may feel the need to trade up to get ahead of the Texans and Patriots and lock in their guy. If that’s the case, they could target picks 21-23, as the Bengals, Browns and Lions should all be willing to move back if the board falls as expected in this mock. If the Packers go in another direction for some reason, they could consider adding a running back late in the first round.
29. BAL Ravens: OG Amini Silatolu, Midwestern St
You don’t often see Division II players drafted in the first round, but this presents the perfect marriage of talent and need. The Ravens have a big hole on their offensive line after Ben Grubbs signed a big contract with the Saints. Silatolu isn’t a well-known prospect after playing for Midwestern State, but he possesses great measurables and is a very aggressive blocker that could develop into one of the league’s elite with the proper coaching. At this point, it would be surprising if Silatolu wasn’t drafted in the first 50 picks of the draft, and the Ravens should feel he’s the best interior lineman left on the board at this point.
30. SF 49ers: OT Jonathan Martin, Stanford
The 49ers’ two key areas that needed work this offseason were the right side of the line and the wide receiver position. After signing Randy Moss and Mario Manningham, the team is now expected to focus on a lineman in Round 1. Adam Snyder moved on in free agency, which is a blessing in disguise, and Anthony Davis hasn’t quite panned out at right tackle. While adding a guard to replace Snyder is definitely in play, the organization may be better off grabbing someone with the ability to play right tackle and moving Davis inside. Up until last year, Martin was coached by 49ers head honcho Jim Harbaugh in college, and Harbaugh should be well aware of Martin’s strengths and weaknesses.
31. NE Patriots: OLB Andre Branch, Clemson
The Patriots are definitely in the market for multiple pass-rushers, with Andre Carter (who’s still a free agent) recovering from a torn quad and Mark Anderson signing with the division “rival” Buffalo Bills. Branch is a guy who’s shown the ability to play outside linebacker in 3-4 schemes and defensive end in 4-3 schemes, which should improve his stock with a team like the Patriots, who like to employ both. Of course, the most likely scenario has the Patriots trading back into the second round and picking up a future first-rounder for their troubles. In that case, the Chiefs seem like the perfect trade candidate to move up and grab the falling Dontari Poe.
32. NY Giants: OT Mike Adams, Ohio St
The Giants are moving on from Kareem McKenzie, who was a complete liability at right tackle last season. They could move David Diehl from guard to right tackle, but that would just open up another hole on the line. James Brewer is another candidate to replace McKenzie, but I get the sense the Giants want at least one more tackle-capable young player in the mix. That could be Adams, who hasn’t had a great offseason, giving off the appearance of being soft and failing to post good bench press numbers at the Combine or at his Pro Day. Still, his size and potential should keep him from slipping into Round 2, especially with the Giants in the market for a lineman.
R.J. White is the head editor at the Cafe, writes for FanDuel and Razzball and has previously written for FanHouse. Catch up with him in the forums under the name daullaz. Follow him on Twitter; don't follow him in real life.
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