1.06 Cowboys – CB Morris Claiborne, Louisiana State
The first defender selected in the 2012 draft will quickly push Mike Jenkins for a starting job and likely kicks the quicker, faster Jenkins in on the slot when their top three corners are all on the field. Playing opposite an exceptional Brandon Carr and a sporadic playmaker in Jenkins should mean Claiborne is tested early and help his numbers. He has great ball skills, but eventually should see less his way as he develops in to a shutdown corner. Not a fundamentally strong tackler, but not afraid to stick his helmet in there. One of the top returners in the draft, but the Cowboys are loaded with outstanding returners and after getting burned with a broken ankle by Dez Bryant on a return two years ago, have been more reticent to use their stars in the role, so don’t expect him to add much more value in leagues that count return stats.
1.07 Buccaneers – S Mark Barron, Alabama
Barron should step right in as the starting SS and his primary responsibility will be to improve a run defense that was last in the league. He isn’t great in coverage, but makes great reads and has an outstanding great nose for the ball, contributing to his 12 career interceptions. He has the talent and opportunity to be a top fantasy producer at DB.
1.09 Panthers – LB Luke Kuechly, Boston College
Despite their need at DT, the selection of Kuechly by the Panthers isn’t a surprise. The team has their top two linebackers coming off major surgery after significant injuries last season in Jon Beason (Achilles) and Thomas Davis (ACL). Assuming all are healthy, Kuechly will have a challenge early for playing time, as James Anderson has really emerged the last two years after injuries gave him opportunity. However, that seems unlikely. It would be surprising if Davis, a converted safety, remains the outstanding athlete he was after three ACL surgeries in less than two years. The Achilles is also a scary injury, there is no guarantee Beason will remain the beast he was before the injury. If I had to bet now how the Panthers field their linebackers for most of the season, it would be Beason in the middle, Anderson at SLB and Kuechly at WLB, with Davis in a swing role. For dynasty purposes, the sky is the limit for Kuechly, a tackle machine who displayed Urlacheresque athleticism at the Combine. Sooner than later he will be one of the top Mike’s in the league.
1.10 Bills – CB Stephon Gilmore, South Carolina
Similar to Morris, he immediately becomes one of the top 3 corners and should push for a starting job in camp. Nice size/speed guy with loads of potential who could also contribute as a returner with the departure of Roscoe Parrish.
1.11 Chiefs – DT Dontari Poe, Memphis
One of the picks I nailed in my final mock, while everyone else had him dropping. GM Scott Pioli and HC Romeo Crennel envisioning him as the next coming of Vince Wilfork. Not a fantasy factor himself, but the attention he draws should help the numbers of those around him.
1.12 Eagles – DL Fletcher Cox, Mississippi State
The reported pre-draft love the team had for him was accurate as the Eagles joined the trade parade last night to move up to secure him. The versatile Cox is a great fit for the active rotation in Philly’s front four. An ideal penetrating three-technique, he should be the rare DT (in leagues that don’t segregate between DL positions) who offers consistent fantasy value, because of his ability to get to the QB.
1.14 Rams – DT Michael Brockers, Louisiana State
I think he would have been better off as a five-technique in a 3-4 defense, but 21 year-old is a just tapping his potential as he learns the tricks of the trade, coming out as a redshirt sophomore. New HC Jeff Fisher is hoping he landed another Albert Haynesworth in the equally super-sized Brockers to anchor his defense.
1.15 Seahawks – DE/OLB Bruce Irvin, West Virginia
GM John Schneider and HC Pete Carroll now rival Bill Belichick when it comes to taking the (pundit) path less traveled in their evaluations and decisions. Looking for help for their pass rush was no surprise, but tapping the undersized Irvin to do it with this pick was the biggest shock of the night. There is no doubt Irvin can get to the QB, with 22.5 sacks in 26 college games, but I don’t know if he’ll be able to do it against pro linemen. Irvin bulked up to 245 for the Combine and still ran a 4.45, but he has a very narrow and angular frame, I don’t think he can carry much more weight well. His ceiling is a situational pass rusher and was definitely better suited to do it as a 3-4 edge rusher where linemen can’t immediately get their hands on him.
1.16 Jets – OLB/DL Quinton Coples, North Carolina
Landing in a 3-4 as an OLB would not have been a great fantasy situation for the player who has the most potential as a 4-3 DE in this class, but it’s even worse for his fantasy value if he’s going to see work as a five-technique DE too. Expect Rex Ryan to move him around and the challenges of learning multiple positions in a new defense are even more of a concern for a player whose dedication and work ethic are already questioned.
1.17 Bengals – CB Dre Kirkpatrick, Alabama
The position choice was no surprise after an aging Nate Clements was a downgrade last season after being brought in to fill the hole left by the departure of Johnathan Joseph and having Leon Hall is coming off a torn Achilles’ tendon. Not surprisingly, the dismissed marijuana charge that might have been a red flag for some teams didn’t faze the Bengals, which I agree with. I’m more concerned that he lacks the foot speed to be the shutdown corner he was in college at this level on deep threats. He will have opportunity and be tested frequently, both translated well for his fantasy value.
1.18 Chargers – OLB Melvin Ingram, South Carolina
Plenty of discussion on where the versatile Ingram, who started as a DT, was best suited to play, but this is a great fit in a good place. I think his fantasy production will surprise some people.
1.19 Bears – DE/LB Shea McClellin, Boise State
Are we sure Jerry Angelo was fired? This pick by new GM Phil Emery reeks of Angelo’s very own self-deluded “smartest guy in the room” aura. Commenting to the Chicago media that he was happy McClellin was used as an OLB in the Senior Bowl so other teams wouldn’t see him as a pass rusher ranges from insulting his own intelligence to that of his counterparts – someone needs to let Emery know other teams employ scouts and watch film too. McClellin was a late riser, rumored to be of interest to such teams with recently better track records like the Packers and Patriots, but that was as a 3-4 OLB. It remains to be seen if he can carry the weight to be effective with his hand on the ground full time. DC Rod Martinelli moves his linemen all around the front four, but doesn’t employ exotic schemes that could have the McClellin bouncing around from side-to-side with his hand off the ground, so I’m not sure his versatility is more valuable than if they had gone with a full-fledged edge rusher.
1.21 Patriots – DE/OLB Chandler Jones, Syracuse
Yesterday’s sign of the apocalypse – Bill Belichick trading UP in the first round, not once, but twice. Great athletic genes in the Jones’ family, his brother Arthur is a DT on Baltimore and brother Jon is a UFC fighter. Jones was off the first-round radar early in the process after a knee injury cost him almost half of last season, but was a late riser who some, including such respectable evaluators as NFL Network’s Mike Mayock, believe he may be the best pure pass rusher in this class. The pass rush has lost Mark Anderson and Andre Carter hasn’t been resigned, so there is opportunity in the Elephant role for him, but Jones needs to bulk up and add some strength. I expect them to resign Carter or bring in another vet and look at Jones as more of a long-term solution who will see spot duty and get after the QB next year.
1.25 Patriots – LB Don’ta Hightower
Love the player, love the fit. Fantasy gold, I don’t care if he and Jerod Mayo will cannibalize some of each other’s tackle numbers, he will also get to the QB a few times and make other big plays.
1.26 Texans – OLB Whitney Mercilus, Illinois
After the loss of Mario Williams, despite the emergence of Brooks Reed and Connor Barwin last year, I was pretty confident DC Wade Phillips would want another elite pass rusher for his rotation – I had Nick Perry going here in my final mock. Instead Phillips got, statistically, the best pass rusher in college last year. Mercilus led FCS with 16 sacks and 9 forced fumble, also totaling 22.5 TFL. There’s concern Mercilus is a one-year wonder, but a solid Combine affirmed the athleticism is there, and elite collegiate sack production tends to translate well. His ceiling is Terrell Suggs to me.
1.28 Packers – OLB Nick Perry, Southern California
I was higher on Perry that most, consistently mocking him in the first, and like him even more landing in a great situation in Green Bay. The team has struggled to find a partner opposite Clay Matthews at OLB and Perry should have no problem winning the starting job as a rookie. He should be used as the primary for pass rusher, freeing Matthews up to freelance more. With DC Dom Capers and OLB coach Kevin Greene, as well as former collegiate teammate Matthews as a role model, Green Bay is right up there with Pittsburgh as the best environment to learn to how to play the edges in a 3-4.
1.29 Vikings – S Harrison Smith, Notre Dame
While most have Smith as the second-best safety in this class, most also had him after the first round. I snuck him in with the Patriots’ last pick in the first in my final mock because of need and he seems like a Belichick guy. The Vikings have even more need at the position, which is clearly the primary motivator with this pick. Smith succeeds with smarts and size over talent and speed. Great fantasy potential for next year, but I don’t believe he’s the next John Lynch.