Fletcher Cox, DT, Mississippi State
Over the past few weeks, Cox has moved up to be the top-ranked defensive tackle in the 2012 NFL Draft. The reason for that is pass rush. Cox is considered to be the top pass-rushing defensive tackle available. In the passing driven NFL, teams are looking for an interior presence like him who can push the pocket and generate an interior pass rush. Hee totaled 56 tackles with 14.5 tackles for a loss, five sacks and one forced fumble this season.
There are no projections of Cox going in the top 10 of the draft, but he could be a fit in with the Carolina Panthers at No. 9. Cox has a unique combination of speed and playmaking ability. He has the power to push linemen back and get them off balance, along with the speed to shoot by them and get to the quarterback. There has been a lot of shuffling among the top defensive tackles, but right now Cox looks like he is in position to be the first tackle selected on draft day.
Lavonte David, OLB, South Carolina
There is a lot to like about David. As NFL coaches have gotten more immersed in the game tape rather than the Combine measureables, the linebacker's stock has been on the rise. David is a pure football player who was massively productive for the Cornhuskers. He totaled 133 tackles with two interceptions, 12 tackles for a loss, 5.5 sacks and three forced fumbles as a senior. David sparked Nebraska's comeback win over Ohio State, and he did a one-man defensive stand to stop a comeback attempt by Penn State. David has great speed, instincts and is physical. He has everything a 4-3 defense could want in an outside linebacker, aside from the fact that he is undersized.
In the passing-driven NFL, David gets a boost from his man-cover skills. He can stay on the field for all three downs and still be a good weapon for the defense in man coverage, the blitz or zone. David (6-1, 233) has added eight pounds since the end of the season, so he has made progress in adding mass for the NFL. Throughout the draft process, David has been projected as a mid- to late second-round pick, but he now looks like an early pick in the second round. Some forecast him as a first-rounder, but it is more probable that David gets selected early on Friday night.
Derek Wolfe, DT, Cincinnati
It was surprising to see ESPN's Mel Kiper project Wolfe as a late first-round pick. The consensus rankings have him as a mid-rounder, although he has been a second-day pick for a long time in my 2012 mock draft . Wolfe had an excellent senior season with 70 tackles, 21.5 tackles for a loss, two forced fumbles and 9.5 sacks. He followed that up with strong showings at the Senior Bowl and the Combine.
Many defensive tackles will be picked before Wolfe, but he is a sleeper prospect who could surprise at the next level. Wolfe could be an ideal 3-4 defensive end, and it is no surprise that he is taking a pre-draft visit to Pittsburgh. Wolfe has good length, strength to set the edge and a nice set of pass-rushing moves. He also has a powerful rip move and bull rush while playing with leverage. Wolfe is flying under the radar, but don't be surprised if he goes earlier than expected on draft day.
Adrien Robinson, TE, Cincinnati
The Bearcats tight end didn't get invited to the Combine, but he is generating a lot of interest from NFL teams. In the weeks leading up to the draft, Robinson will take visits to Atlanta, Chicago, Green Bay, Indianapolis, Jacksonville, Miami, New Orleans and Seattle. He is one of the most active prospects in the middle of the 2012 draft class. Part of the reason for him visiting so many teams is them not getting a chance to interview him at the Combine, Senior Bowl or East-West Shrine. They will use the visit to work him out and go through the standard interview process.
Robinson projects as a blocking tight end for the NFL. The 6-foot-4, 267-pounder has the strength to win at the point of attack. He caught 12 passes for 183 yards and three touchdowns as a senior. Robinson totaled a combinded 16 receptions for 239 yards in 2010 and 2009. While he is not a well-known prospect, he may fare well enough on his pre-draft visits to go from the undrafted ranks to a third-day pick.
Gino Gradkowski, C, Delaware
Like Robinson, Gradkowski is another sleeper prospect who is going on a lot of team visits. Gradkowski will travel to Atlanta, Baltimore, Green Bay, Indianapolis, Jacksonville, Philadelphia and Tennessee. He is the younger brother of Bengals quarterback Bruce Gradkowski. The 6-foot-2, 300-pound center did not work out at the Combine or a major college All-Star game. Gradkowski ended up at Delaware after leaving West Virginia. In the 2012 NFL Draft he could make it into the late rounds.
Tavon Wilson, S, Illinois
Wilson had a strong senior season, so it isn't surprising that his stock is on the rise considering the weakness of this class of safeties. He had 81 tackles with 6.5 tackles for a loss, one sack, six passes broken up and one forced fumble in 2011. Wilson is a good athlete with instincts. He doesn't pick off a lot of passes, but he is a good tackler.
Prior to the draft, Wilson is scheduled to go on more pre-draft visits than most prospects. He will travel to Arizona, Atlanta, Houston, Indianapolis, San Diego and Tampa Bay. Wilson benefits from a weak safety class, and he could go in the mid-rounds on the third day of the draft.
2012 NFL Draft Stock Down
Janoris Jenkins, CB, North Alabama
Jenkins is perhaps the most controversial prospect in the 2012 NFL Draft. He is a tremendous cover corner and many believe that he is best man corner, over LSU's Morris Claiborne. Jenkins projects to being a potential shutdown man corner in the NFL. He had a tremendous three-year run at the University of Florida. In his last two games against former Alabama star wide out Julio Jones, Jenkins limited him to four catches for 19 yards and two catches for 28 yards. He also had success going against Alshon Jeffery and A.J. Green. In Jenkins' last seven games against Jones, Green and Jeffery, none of the receivers recorded a 100-yard game.
Jenkins was kicked out of Florida after a few arrests for drug possession and a bar fight. He is criticized for his family situation, having four kids from three different women, and is reportedly being dropped by his agent. The off-the-field issues are killing Jenkins' draft stock, and he could fall into the second round because of those concerns. If Jenkins had stayed out of trouble, he could have been a top-16 pick.
Dontari Poe, DT, Memphis
Poe makes this list for the second week in a row as his stock has been sliding. The lack of production at Memphis and underwhelming game tape are sending him down. He was being projected as a top-10 pick, but now many are placing him in the teens and potentially lower.
Critics say that with his special skill set, Poe should have produced more and put together a bigger stat line, especially at his lower level of competition. He totaled 33 tackles with eight tackles for a loss, one sack and one forced fumble this season. As a sophomore, Poe had 41 tackles with 6.5 tackles for a loss and two sacks. He played as a freshman in 2009 and recorded 27 tackles with seven tackles for a loss, two sacks and three forced fumbles.
One reason why Poe may have fallen short of his capacity to produce could be tied in with the fact that he earned a reputation for taking plays off. Poe is sure to get grilled about that in team interviews, and he will need to have some good answers. Right now, Poe projects to the middle of the first round, but it isn't out of the question for his slide to continue and send him back into the 20s, exactly where he was before his massive Combine performance.