NFL Draft Center

2012 NFL Draft Cheat Sheet: Defense

Written By: Mark Scott

The crop of defensive talent in the 2012 NFL Draft is a pretty good one with the defensive tackle and pass-rusher classes leading the way despite only LSU cornerback Morris Claiborne being rated among the top five or six players in the draft, although defensive players will likely make up the majority of the first round. The defensive tackles are incredibly versatile from top to bottom with a majority of the top fifteen or so players having the ability to play multiple positions along the defensive front in various different schemes, whether as 4-3 tackles, 3-4 five-technique ends or as nose tackles. As for the pass-rushers, there might be as many as eight or nine taken in the first round. From Melvin Ingram and Quinton Coples to Courtney Upshaw, Chandler Jones and Vinny Curry there is a great selection to choose from over the first two rounds of the draft. The cornerbacks are solid, but aside from Claiborne, there are questions about every one of them including likely first round talents Stephon Gilmore, Dre Kirkpatrick and Janoris Jenkins. While the linebackers and safeties have a few notable elite prospects like Luke Kuechly, Dont’a Hightower and Mark Barron, there isn’t a whole lot behind them. As a whole, the defensive class is very good with a number of potential early and long-time starters available and more than a few possible future Pro Bowlers.


The cornerback class of this year’s draft is solid but lacking in elite talent at the top. Morris Claiborne is an elite prospect and one of the top five players in the entire draft. He is the top cover-corner available and possesses terrific instincts and ball skills with big play ability. Despite a poor Wonderlic score, he has a high football I.Q., great fundamentals and the skills to play and excel in any system. He has zero issues, which is a major factor among this group of corners. He is far and away the top cornerback in the draft. It is zero issues which has propelled Stephon Gilmore up draft boards and past troubled, but highly talented players like Dre Kirkpatrick and Janoris Jenkins. That’s not to overlook his talents as he is one of the better all-around corners with the abilities to contribute in all areas whether in coverage or against the run. He has great size, speed and strength with the upside to develop into an excellent player, but in terms of overall talent and potential he is still probably behind Kirkpatrick and Jenkins. Those two though come with major off the field concerns. Kirkpatrick was busted for marijuana possession in January and even though he got off, the fact that he was hanging out with that type of crowd and putting himself into a position where something like that could happen has raised more than a few eyebrows. And during the start of draft season no less. He is still a first-round talent. He’s big, physical and well-coached by Nick Saban and comes with a National Championship pedigree from Alabama. Janoris Jenkins will be one of the more discussed prospects in the draft as he possesses supreme talent, especially as an elite cover corner and is worthy of a place in the top 15 on talent alone, but numerous run-ins with the law throughout his collegiate career, most of which had to do with smoking marijuana and excessive partying led to his dismissal from Florida before his Senior year. Fathering four children with three different women hasn’t helped his case either. Questions have also arisen throughout the draft process that his excessive partying continued at North Alabama and his stock continues to fall as the draft nears. After the top four have been selected, it really becomes a matter of what type of corner and skill set each team prefers as the rest of the class is made up of players with very clear pros and cons. Josh Robinson is an outstanding athlete that blew up the Combine, but his game film might say mid-round pick. Jayron Hosley is extremely well-coached and does all the little things that most corners don’t do or even know how to do, but he is small and very thin and might not have the strength or build to hold up against NFL receivers. Dwight Bentley has good all-around ability, but lacks experience versus high level competition and could have the skills to be better suited to play safety. Another possible convert to safety, Trumaine Johnson is a fantastic athlete that plays very physical, but may be too big and heavy to play corner at the pro level.  There is also the free-falling Alfonzo Dennard, who has seen his draft stock plummet over the past year from a solid spot in the first around among the top corners to as far as Day 3 of the draft after being arrested last week for allegedly assaulting a police officer. Injuries and inconsistent play, along with his recent arrest have killed his stock. Nonetheless he does have a lot of talent and plays a very tough, physical game. He’s able to match and mix it up against big receivers and uses his great leaping ability to make up for his lack of height. Some even consider him to be more talented than his former teammate and 2011 first-round pick Prince Amukamara of the Giants. It is a talented, but flawed group of corners with Morris Claiborne the lone exception as a truly elite talent.

  1. Morris Claiborne, LSU, First Round/Top Five
  2. Stephon Gilmore, South Carolina, First Round
  3. Dre Kirkpatrick, Alabama, First Round
  4. Janoris Jenkins, North Alabama, Late First/Second Round
  5. Josh Robinson, Central Florida, Second Round
  6. Jayron Hosley, Virginia Tech, Second Round
  7. Dwight Bentley, Louisiana-Lafayette, Second/Third Round
  8. Trumaine Johnson, Montana, Second/Early Third Round
  9. Brandon Boykin, Georgia, Third Round
  10. Alfonzo Dennard, Nebraska, Third/Fourth Round/Stock Falling Hard

Worth Mentioning: Chase Minnifield/Virginia, Leonard Johnson/Iowa State, Casey Hayward/Vanderbilt, Ron Brooks/LSU, Josh Norman/Coastal Carolina, Omar Bolden/Arizona State

Defensive Tackles/Nose Tackles/3-4 Defensive Ends

The deepest position in the 2012 NFL Draft, the defensive tackle crop runs deep with very talented, versatile players available throughout the first three rounds, while as many as seven could come off the board in the first round alone and fifteen or more could be selected among the top 100 picks. The class has everything; pass-rushers like Fletcher Cox and Kendall Reyes, run-stoppers like Jerel Worthy and Devon Still, and freaks of nature with a ton of upside like Michael Brockers and Dontari Poe. There are Nose Tackles to be had in each round in Brockers and Poe, along with Alameda Ta’amu, Josh Chapman and Hebron Fangupo. Versatility is what really elevates this group as the number of athletes that can play multiple positions along the defensive front in various schemes is truly amazing. Mississippi State’s Fletcher Cox has emerged throughout the pre-draft process as the top player and the must have guy at the position. He was dominant this past season emerging as the best defensive tackle in the supremely talented SEC. He is excellent at stopping the run, but it is his pass rushing skills that set him apart from the majority of the defensive tackles. He possesses a great burst off the snap, terrific speed and the ability to move laterally which allows him to bypass offensive linemen and put pressure on and attack opposing quarterbacks. He will likely be selected in the top ten. The next two tackles on the board are two of the more intriguing prospects at any position in draft in LSU’s Brockers and Memphis’ Poe. Both guys are mammoth athletes with almost limitless potential, but both players are very raw. Brockers has displayed more skill and production than Poe and at a much higher level with the best possible coaching, but he is very young as just a redshirt sophomore and probably could’ve benefitted from another season at LSU. Poe put on an unbelievable performance for the ages at the Combine and displayed unreal speed and athleticism for a man 6’4”, 346lbs and had scouts envisioning the next Haloti Ngata. While he proved he has the athletic abilities in workouts to be a stud in the NFL, his production and game tape at Memphis playing against a number of inferior opponents in Conference-USA say otherwise and have caused scouts to question his actual football skills and whether or not he is just another workout warrior. After the top three guys, there is a group of four potential late first round picks in Jerel Worthy (MCST), Devon Still (PSU), Kendall Reyes (CONN) and Brandon Thompson (CLEM) that are all extremely solid selections and look to be long-time starters at the next level. Worthy and Still are both elite run-stoppers that are both ready to plug in and play immediately. The talented players continue to come off the board throughout the second round with Nebaska’s Jared Crick, who battled injuries this season, but has first round talent and Washington’s Alameda Ta’amu, who had his struggles at times this year, but like Crick, he has displayed first round ability and may be the best pure Nose Tackle in the draft. The defensive tackle class is truly phenomenal this year and it runs extremely deep throughout the entire draft with teams being able to add quality players in every round.

  1. Fletcher Cox (DT, 3-4 DE), Mississippi State, First Round/Top Ten
  2. Michael Brockers (DT, NT, 3-4 DE), LSU, First Round
  3. Dontari Poe (DT, NT), Memphis, First Round
  4. Jerel Worthy (DT, NT), Michigan State, Late First/Early Second Round
  5. Devon Still (DT, 3-4 DE), Penn State, Late First/Early Second Round
  6. Kendall Reyes (DT, 3-4 DE), Connecticut, Late First/Early Second Round
  7. Brandon Thompson (DT, NT, 3-4 DE), Clemson, Second Round
  8. Jared Crick (DT, 3-4 DE), Nebraska, Second Round
  9. Alameda Ta’amu (DT, NT), Washington, Second/Early Third Round
  10. Billy Winn (DT, 3-4 DE), Boise State, Late Second/Early Third Round

Worth Mentioning: Mike Martin/Michigan, Josh Chapman/Alabama, Marcus Forston/Miami-Florida, Hebron Fangupo/BYU, Kheeston Randall/Texas, Jaye Howard/Florida, Derek Wolfe/Cincinnati, DaJohn Harris/USC, Akiem Hicks/Regina (CA)

Pass Rushers: 4-3 Defensive Ends/3-4 Outside Linebackers

This year’s group of pass-rushers available in the draft is good, but not great, although as many as eight or nine players could be selected in the first round despite a lack of elite talent and questions surrounding every prospect. Melvin Ingram emerged as the top pass-rusher throughout the draft process and has displayed the versatility to play outside and inside linebacker in a 3-4 scheme and anywhere from defensive end to outside linebacker to even as a middle linebacker in the 4-3. While his versatility is a plus, it has also slightly hurt his stock as teams are unsure of where exactly to play him. Regardless he is an excellent football player that has the ability to put up gaudy stats on the right team. Effort and dedication are the major questions surrounding North Carolina’s Quinton Coples. His upside and potential are through the roof and without the concerns regarding his every down effort and dedication to playing and working hard, he would be a sure-fire top five pick, but those concerns do exist after a very disappointing Senior season. BCS National Championship MVP, Alabama’s Courtney Upshaw, like Melvin Ingram, is just a pure football player when you really get down to it. He had his struggles at the Combine where scouts began to question whether he was too big and not fast enough to play outside linebacker in the 3-4, but too short and not strong enough to be a 4-3 defensive end. He is the ultimate tweener and it is causing him to drop down the first round. Despite all that, he is a fantastic football player that is going to excel at the next level, especially if he lands on the right team and is used in the right ways. He can be used in a variety of different spots and will put up good numbers. Then there is the next tier of players that consist of potential one-year wonders in Whitney Mercilus and Nick Perry that put up very impressive numbers, but only did it during this past season. Then there is the rising Chandler Jones and Shea McClellin, who are the two hottest names at the moment in the lead up to the draft and are moving up the first round. Those four however, all appear to be in the bottom third of the first round discussions as the majority of pass-rusher needy teams make up that part of the draft order. Talented, but flawed pass-rushers like Vinny Curry, Andre Branch, Ronnell Lewis and Bruce Irvin among others are still to be had through the second and third rounds. There is a ton good depth in this group.

  1. Melvin Ingram, South Carolina, First Round/Top 15
  2. Quinton Coples, North Carolina, First Round
  3. Courtney Upshaw, Alabama, First Round
  4. Whitney Mercilus, Illinois, First Round
  5. Nick Perry, USC, First Round
  6. Chandler Jones, Syracuse, First Round
  7. Shea McClellin, Boise State, Late First Round
  8. Andre Branch, Clemson, Late First/Second Round
  9. Vinny Curry, Marshall, Second Round
  10. Ronnell Lewis, Oklahoma, Second Round

Worth Mentioning: Cam Johnson/Virginia, Bruce Irvin/West Virginia, Tyrone Crawford/Boise State, Malik Jackson/Tennessee, Trevor Guyton/California, Jonathon Massaquoi/Troy

4-3 Outside Linebackers

The crop of 4-3 outside linebackers in this year’s draft is just okay and comes with a lot of question marks. Nebraska’s LaVonte David is the best of the bunch and is rising up draft boards and could even sneak into the first round, but is likely to be selected early in the second. He is a hardworking playmaker that is always around the ball and has the ability to sniff out plays before they happen. His size is a concern as he might not be big enough to play linebacker and could eventually be moved to safety. However, whether he is at outside linebacker or safety, he has the potential to be an every down starter with the ability to be a triple-digit tackler on the right team. Zach Brown of North Carolina is an incredible athlete that may be the best in the entire draft. He has unreal speed for a linebacker with the ability to run the 40 in the 4.4s. While his athleticism is through the roof, he is still very raw and needs more seasoning and coaching, but his upside and potential is something very special.  The next set of outside linebackers are solid mid-round prospects and will find spots in lineups throughout the league, but they all have major questions. Is Sean Spence to small? Is Travis Lewis injury-prone? Does Nigel Bradham take too many penalties? Is Kyle Wilbur overrated? All of the questions and concerns exist among this group of outside linebackers.

  1. LaVonte David, Nebraska, Late First/Early Second Round
  2. Zach Brown, North Carolina, Second Round
  3. Sean Spence, Miami-Florida, Third Round
  4. Nigel Bradham, Florida State, Third/Fourth Round
  5. Travis Lewis, Oklahoma, Late Third/Fourth Round
  6. Demario Davis, Arkansas State, Fourth Round
  7. Kyle Wilbur, Wake Forest, Fourth Round
  8. Josh Kaddu, Oregon, Fourth Round
  9. Terrell Manning, North Carolina State, Fifth Round
  10. Miles Burris, San Diego State, Fifth Round

Worth Mentioning: Emmanuel Acho/Texas, Brandon Lindsay/Pittsburgh, Danny Trevathan/Kentucky, Alex Hoffman-Ellis/Washington State

Inside Linebackers

It looks to be a pretty average year for the 2012 inside linebacker draft class. It consists of two top 20 studs in Luke Kuechly of Boston College and Alabama’s Dont’a Hightower, along with a solid group of potential rotational players that could produce a couple of nice finds that might turn out to be something more. The great thing about the top of this class is that Kuechly is the ideal 4-3 middle linebacker, while Hightower is a perfect fit on the inside of a 3-4 defense. To put it plain and simple, Luke Kuechly is a tackling machine. He’s everything that a team would want in a franchise middle linebacker to build a defense around. A leader and extremely hard-worker, he possesses great fundamentals, incredible instincts and is always in the right position to make a play on the ball-carrier and always completes the tackle. He is just as good dropping into coverage as he is when playing against the run, which really sets him apart from others. Dont’a Hightower is a big, physical athlete that plays with a mean streak and was the leader of Alabama’s BCS National Championship Defense. He’s a ferocious hitter with the burst and ability to rush the passer from the inside and on the outside, where he may eventually end up. After Kuechly and Hightower come off the board in the first round there are a couple of very interesting prospects to watch for like California’s Mychal Kendricks, who’s athletic abilities blew scouts away at the Combine, but may ultimately end up as a safety due to his lack of size for a linebacker. Utah State’s Bobby Wagner is another terrific athlete that is an excellent tackler with some solid leadership ability and James-Michael Johnson of Nevada possesses incredible upside and potential. This year’s crop of inside linebackers actually could have been something pretty special had Kuechly and Hightower been joined by Notre Dame’s Manti Te’o, who was being rated among the top ten prospects and ahead of both Kuechly and Hightower before he decided to return to school for his senior season, along with Kevin Reddick, who chose to return to North Carolina for another year to improve his draft stock after a slightly disappointing season, but was still being looked at as a potential late first rounder. Of course, there was also the epic fall from grace of Arizona State’s Vontaze Burfict from elite superstar prospect to an overrated, undisciplined head case that is now a likely Day 3 selection possibly as late as the sixth or seventh round.

  1. Luke Kuechly, Boston College, First Round/Top 20
  2. Dont’a Hightower, Alabama, First Round
  3. Bobby Wagner, Utah State, Second Round
  4. Mychal Kendricks, California, Late Second/Third Round
  5. James-Michael Johnson, Nevada, Late Third/Fourth Round
  6. Keenan Robinson, Texas, Fourth Round
  7. Tank Carder, TCU, Fifth Round
  8. Audie Cole, North Carolina State, Fifth/Sixth Round
  9. Vontaze Burfict, Arizona State, Fifth/Sixth Round
  10. Jerry Franklin, Arkansas, Seventh Round

Worth Mentioning: Najee Good/West Virginia, Chris Galippo/USC, Shawn Loiseau/Merrimack

Free/Strong Safeties

The safety class this year is downright awful. There is one star in Alabama’s Mark Barron, one good prospect in Harrison Smith of Notre Dame and not a whole lot else. Barron is a complete prospect at an elite level. He hits like a truck, is solid in coverage, contributes at a high level versus both the run and the pass and is an outstanding leader that has the ability to quarterback a defense. Much like Barron, Smith is a pretty complete prospect in all aspects, he’s just not as talented and doesn’t have as high a ceiling as the Alabama product. He’s smart, productive and always seems to be in the right place. He possesses excellent leadership and should be a solid starter for someone for a number of years. Both players are immediate starters. After Barron and Smith, there is a steep drop-off but there still are a couple of intriguing mid-round prospects like the underappreciated Brandon Taylor, who comes from the vaunted LSU program where talented, well-coached defensive backs are churned out every year along with the two top rated free safeties; Oklahoma State’s Markelle Martin and the massive George Iloka of Boise State. This safety class won’t provide much, but Barron and Smith will be two names that fans will often hear over the next 10 to 15 years with Barron a possible potential Pro Bowler every year.

  1. Mark Barron (SS), Alabama, First Round/Top 15
  2. Harrison Smith (SS), Notre Dame, Late First/Early Second Round
  3. Brandon Taylor (SS), LSU, Third Round
  4. Markelle Martin (FS), Oklahoma State, Third/Fourth Round
  5. George Iloka (FS), Boise State, Late Third/Fourth Round
  6. Antonio Allen (SS), South Carolina, Late Third/Fourth Round
  7. Trenton Robinson (FS), Michigan State, Fourth Round
  8. Brandon Hardin (FS), Oregon State, Fourth/Fifth Round
  9. Aaron Henry (FS), Wisconsin, Fifth Round
  10. Christian Thompson (FS), South Carolina State, Fifth/Sixth Round

Worth Mentioning: Duke Ihenacho/San Jose State, Justin Bethel/Presbyterian, Eddie Pleasant/Oregon, Sean Richardson/Vanderbilt, D.J. Campbell/California, Janzen Jackson/McNeese State

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