The New England Patriots are still playing in the AFC Championship Game Sunday. But it’s not too early to start thinking about the NFL draft.
ESPN draft expert Mel Kiper Jr. provided his first mock draft of 2012. Here is what Kiper projects so far for the AFC East.
Miami Dolphins (6-10)
Pick: No. 9
Kiper’s selection: Riley Reiff, OT, Iowa
Walker's analysis: Reiff is a good player and the Dolphins need an upgrade at right tackle. I see where Kiper is going here. But I’m not sure drafting that position in the top 10 is the best way to energize Miami’s fan base. The Dolphins have already fiddled around with their coaching search. They won’t hire a big name after losing out on Jeff Fisher. The best way to make up for it is to make a splash in the draft. I expect Miami to try to move up to get Baylor quarterback Robert Griffin III. But it’s also hard to predict Miami without a head coach in place.
Buffalo Bills (6-10)
Pick: No. 10
Kiper’s selection: Courtney Upshaw, LB, Alabama
Walker's analysis: With Quinton Coples likely off the board, Upshaw would be a solid pick for the Bills. This was reunite Upshaw with former college teammate Marcell Dareus, Buffalo’s 2011 first-round pick. Upshaw has the ability to rush the passer, which is needed. He's also a productive talent. Buffalo could also look at other positions like the secondary and wide receiver, depending on what happens with free agent Steve Johnson.
New York Jets (8-8)
Pick: No. 16
Kiper’s selection: Mark Barron, S, Alabama
Walker's analysis: Barron is another impact player from Alabama’s great defense. The Jets have several needs, and a big one is at safety. New York may need two starting safeties. Jim Leonhard is a free agent coming off a season-ending knee injury, and Eric Smith had a brutal season. Top reserve Brodney Pool also is a free agent. Opponents took advantage of the Jets by avoiding their corners and exposing their safeties this season. Barron could step in right away and start in New York.
New England Patriots (13-3)
Pick: No. 27 and No. 32
Walker's analysis: We know for sure the Patriots will pick No. 27, because it's from the New Orleans Saints, who are out of the playoffs. But I thought it was interesting that Kiper also has New England picking No. 32. Did Kiper predict the Patriots will win the Super Bowl over the San Francisco 49ers (pick No. 31)? Anyway, I like that Kiper went defense and defense in the first round. But I think the positions could be different. The Patriots have some depth on the defensive line. They can address that in the later rounds. But New England has to address the secondary. It doesn't matter if it is at safety, corner or both. The Patriots need depth to improve their 31st-ranking pass defense. But a lot of it depends on who is available at the end of the first round.