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Mock draft choices getting tougher

By Bruce Johnson, Thomas Knisley
On April 4, 2012

This issue marks the halfway point in our first-round mock draft. It's incredible to think that the NFL Draft looms closer as the semester draws to an end. Remember, the NFL Draft starts on Apr. 26 at 8 p.m. so we are just over three weeks away. Here are the next four teams.

20. Tennessee Titans

B - Andre Branch/DE/Clemson: Tennessee needs to add another pass rusher, simple as that. There are a few different directions that new Titans general manager Ruston Webster can go, and Branch can be the answer that Tennessee needs at defensive end. It is possible that Tennessee could draft Southern Cal defensive end Nick Perry instead, but Branch offers the Titans more of a complete package.

T - Courtney Upshaw/OLB/Alabama: The Titans felt the pain at linebacker last season after losing Stephen Tulloch. Courtney Upshaw is somewhat large for a linebacker, but he would fill a crucial need for the Titans.

He will be a proven winner on a defense that will be looking for some leadership after the departure of Cortland Finnegan.

19. Chicago Bears

B - Jonathan Martin/OT/Stanford: Chicago added Gabe Carimi in last year's NFL Draft but did little else to protect Jay Cutler. Once Chicago placed Carimi on injured reserve late in the year, Cutler did not have much of anyone to help him. Martin gives Chicago more protection, thus giving Cutler more time to find open receivers.

Should Marshall somehow avoid being suspended by the NFL (unlikely), this quarterback-wide receiver reunion will pay huge dividends for the Bears. That is, of course, if Chicago can protect Cutler.

T - Mark Barron/S/Alabama: When taking a look at the Bears' needs, I look no further than the opponents in their division. Aaron Rodgers and Matthew Stafford both command elite offenses. To keep pace, the Bears need to keep the secondary strong. Barron comes from an elite defense, and would do well to balance the Bears rush and pass defenses.

18. San Diego Chargers

B - Dre Kirkpatrick/CB/Alabama: This could be the spot where South Carolina cornerback Stephon Gilmore goes, and it would still be a great value pick even at 18. Still, Kirkpatrick offers the Chargers a great cover guy who has been well coached by Nick Saban at Alabama. Kirkpatrick does need to do a better job of locating the football on jump-ball situations and of shutting down the shorter routes. Other than that, Kirkpatrick, even though he was one of the smallest players on the field, can lay out huge hits on wide receivers and tight ends, which resulted in a lot of fumbles during his senior year. If San Diego can get this guy's character issues under control, the Chargers have a huge steal here.

T - Dre Kirkpatrick/CB/Alabama: The Chargers need to take Kirkpatrick with this pick. The secondary suffered last season with their safties often getting stuck in bad man-to-man matchups. Kirkpatrick is a hard-hitting corner who bears many resemblances to Antonio Cromartie. With Jammer, Weddle, and Kirkpatrick anchoring the secondary, the Chargers should once again have one of the elite defenses in the league.

17. Cincinnati Bengals

B - Michael Floyd/WR/Notre Dame: The Bengals drafted A.J. Green with their first pick in last year's draft, but that should not discourage them from getting another wide receiver in the first round this year. Floyd played in a spread offense at Notre Dame under Brian Kelly, but he still showed flashes that he could successfully make the transition into the NFL. Getting Floyd in Cincinnati makes sense because the AFC North is continuing to grow more pass-oriented, which leads me to believe that the Bengals will follow suit. Andy Dalton played extremely well last year, and giving him yet another weapon on offense catapults the Bengals towards becoming Super Bowl contenders.

T - Trent Richardson/HB/Alabama: Despite the fact that the Bengals signed Benjarvus Green-Ellis in the offseason, it will be very hard for the Bengals to resist bringing in Richardson. Bringing in Richardson will create a very young core within Cincinnati when he is combined with Andy Dalton and A.J. Green. Richardson wouldn't be such a bad replacement for Cedric Benson either.


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