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2012 NFL Mock Draft: Picks 1-15

As most expected they would, Alabama stars Trent Richardson, Dre Kirkpatrick and Dont'a Hightower all announced on Thursday that they would enter the upcoming 2012 NFL Draft. The fact that these players are leaving after a championship season isn’t the least bit surprising. What is mildly fascinating, though, is where each will go in the draft.

There are two distinct issues to keep an eye on.

First and foremost, the fact that teams are wary of selecting running backs early is something that many (read: we) think will lead to a lower-than-expected/deserved selection for Richardson.

Even though he was a Heisman candidate and a rock for Alabama all year long, there is a very real chance that nobody will take him with a top five pick. Once/If Richardson falls out of the top five he’ll find himself in a region where nobody really needs him until at the soonest the Kansas City Chiefs at No. 11. And, really, they’d probably be better served shoring up the OT spot or their defense, but they’ll likely settle for bolstering up a rushing attack that ranked No. 15 in yards per if Richardson is still on the board.

Bottom line – Richardson may fall below Kirkpatrick even though he’s the best Alabama player coming out this year.

Kirkpatrick would be a great fit for the Washington Redskins at No. 6, especially since they won’t be able to get the quarterback they need at that spot. Of course, the Redskins could improve their offensive line with their selection too, but I think the prospect of filling out their biggest defensive hole will be too appealing to pass up at that point. The one thing that could cause Kirkpatrick to slip in the draft is the fact that we’re loaded with talented corners this year. Maybe they’re not as talented as he is, but they can be gotten lower and for cheaper – which is always a consideration.

With all that in mind, as we move towards rounding out the first half of our first round mock draft, it’s really important to remember that this is where the most talented players remaining on the board get taken. Whereas needs are admittedly always important, picks Nos. 11-15 and beyond are usually the spots where teams begin scouting and grabbing the best players they can find.

Here is how we project picks Nos. 1-15 to look:

[You can check out picks 1-5 here]

[You can check out picks 6-10 here]

[You can check out picks 16-20 here]

[You can check out picks 21-25 here]

[You can check out picks 26-28 here]

[You can check out picks 29-32 here]

11/12. Kansas City Chiefs – Trent Richardson, RB, Alabama. Most projections have Richardson going higher, but I just don’t see it. For all of the reasons mentioned above and the fact that running backs have had kind of a tough year in the NFL this season, don’t be surprised to see Alabama’s biggest stud fall all the way to Kansas City. And while the Chiefs would be wise to look towards improving their defense a bit, the chance to nab a talent like Richardson at this point will be too alluring an opportunity for the powers that be to pass up.

11/12. Seattle Seahawks – Devon Still, Penn State, DE. The Seahawks have a lot of holes to plug and it’s almost impossible to figure out where to start. Even though the offense is a mess and this squad desperately needs to wipe the deck entirely and start fresh, it looks as if Pete Carroll is trying to make lemonade out of the lemons he has in that department. Defensively, the Seahawks need to shore up the secondary and their pass rush. Alfonzo Dennard out of Nebraska would make a lot of sense here, but something about him feels like he’s not the type of player you take this early if there is a more sturdy talent available. Still would offer a serious boost to the way this defense pressures opposing passers and, really, Seattle can probably pick up a quality corner later on.

13. Arizona Cardinals – David DeCastro, OG, Stanford. Here’s the situation with Arizona – we know they’re going to want to bolster the offensive line here. They need to protect Kevin Kolb next season and the line as it is presently construct simply won’t cut. Problem is, a lot of the pieces that would great here like Riley Reiff and Jonathon Martin will undoubtedly be gone by this point. That means that they could probably get a lot more value out of this pick if they opted to spruce up the defense a bit with someone like Vontaze Burfict; but something tells me they’ll take the best offensive line player available instead.

14. Dallas Cowboys – Alfonzo Dennard, CB, Nebraska. The Cowboys’ secondary is absolutely atrocious and this is probably the easiest pick to forecast out of Nos. 11-15. Dennard is fast and talented and will offer an immediate energy boost at the position. He’s a little rough around the edges – but the talent is an undeniable.

15. Philadelphia Eagles – Vontaze Burfict, LB, Arizona State. Philly spent all the money in the world on big names this past offseason, but somehow not enough of that dough got thrown in the direction of their biggest need – linebacker. Although there are some questions about him, Burfict’s skills will translate perfectly to the next level and he’ll really go a long way in helping the Eagles with their biggest defensive weakness.

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