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Reason for hope: Struggling teams could fill holes in 2012 draft

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Gary A. Vasquez / US Presswire
Andrew Luck* is the best prospect in college football and could make some team very happy if he goes pro early.


 

The season is only at the halfway point, but some teams are already looking at the college game for potential answers to their biggest concerns. While the 2012 draft order certainly will impact possible targets, let's examine which college players could be the most attractive to the 12 NFL teams currently sporting losing records:

An asterisk (*) denotes players who aren't seniors.

Indianapolis Colts (0-9)
Potential needs: QB, CB

Andrew Luck*, Stanford, QB: The Colts would be fortunate to have Luck in line to succeed Peyton Manning. The redshirt junior would be the best quarterback prospect since Manning to enter the draft, if he elects to come out. Luck's presence would immediately rejuvenate the franchise. With a game that doesn't have any noticeable flaws, Luck is unquestionably the best prospect in college football.

Morris Claiborne*, LSU, CB: The consensus No. 1 corner in college football would fill the Colts' biggest defensive need, if he opts to bypass his senior season. Claiborne's combination of size, athleticism and ball skills make him an intriguing shutdown corner prospect, something currently lacking in Indy.

Miami Dolphins (1-7)
Potential needs: QB, WR

Landry Jones*, Oklahoma, QB: Luck would be an option for the Dolphins but if he's not available, Jones has been ultra-productive in college. The Oklahoma product has the big arm that would allow the Dolphins to implement a vertical passing game. If he decides to forego his final season, Jones could be the right guy to turn things around in Miami.

Michael Floyd, Notre Dame, WR: Brandon Marshall has been a relative non-factor in Miami due to the lack of a threat on the opposite side. Floyd is a big, physical receiver with exceptional ball skills and a knack for putting the ball in the paint. He would team with Marshall to give the Dolphins their best receiving tandem since Mark Duper and Mark Clayton reigned supreme during Dan Marino's heyday.

St. Louis Rams (1-7)
Potential needs: WR, DT

Justin Blackmon*, WR, Oklahoma State: Sam Bradford's sophomore slump can be attributed to the lack of playmakers in St. Louis. Blackmon is a big-play receiver with a game that is reminiscent of Terrell Owens in his prime. If he enters the draft early, Blackmon could team with Bradford to give the Rams a dynamic passing combination for years to come.

Brandon Thompson, DT, Clemson: The defense has regressed a little this season due to its inability to stop the run. Thompson is a big, physical run stopper with the size and strength to control the middle of the line. His presence would command double teams, which would allow the Rams' linebackers to flow freely to the ball against the run.

Seattle Seahawks (2-6)
Potential needs: QB, DE

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Matt Barkley*, USC, QB: After realizing Tarvaris Jackson and Charlie Whitehurst aren't the answer, Pete Carroll would love to build an offense around the talents of one of his former players. If he elects to forgo his senior year, Barkley could be the accurate passer needed to make the West Coast offense flourish in Seattle.

Quinton Coples, North Carolina, DE: The Seahawks need a disruptive edge rusher to complement Chris Clemons. Coples is not only a quality pass rusher, but also solid against the run. He should be the first defensive lineman to come off the board.

Minnesota Vikings (2-6)
Potential needs: LT, DT

Matt Kalil*, USC, LT: The Vikings' decision to jettison Bryant McKinnie makes filling their left tackle spot a priority. Kalil, a redshirt junior, is a rare prospect with the athleticism and technical skills to be a perennial Pro Bowler. If he comes out early, the Vikings could address a need.

Alameda Ta'amu, Washington, DT: The dismantling of the Williams Wall has left the Vikings soft in the middle. Ta'amu would give the defense a massive playmaker at the point, which would help the unit control the run in their base package without using the blitz.

Jacksonville Jaguars (2-6)
Potential needs: WR, DE

Alshon Jeffery*, South Carolina, WR: If Blaine Gabbert is going to reach his potential, the Jaguars must surround him with playmakers. Jeffrey is an outstanding pass catcher with exceptional athleticism and ball skills. Although he lacks the speed to excel as a vertical threat, he would give Jacksonville its first legitimate No. 1 receiver since Jimmy Smith retired. If Jeffery elects to come out, he could be the right fit for the team's biggest hole.

Melvin Ingram, South Carolina, DE: Ingram has been one of the fastest risers in scouting circles due to his senior campaign. His vastly improved rush skills combined with his versatility and athleticism make him a potential difference maker as an edge rusher. Given the Jaguars' woes rushing the passer, Ingram would appear to be a good fit as an early round selection.

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Carolina Panthers (2-6)
Potential needs: CB, LB

Dre Kirkpatrick*, Alabama, CB: The Panthers need a corner capable of excelling in man coverage to allow Ron Rivera to utilize the blitz-heavy scheme he prefers. Kirkpatrick is a big, rangy corner adept at playing in press coverage with little help from the safety. If he decides to enter the draft after a solid junior season, he would certainly be an intriguing prospect.

Zach Brown, North Carolina, OLB: Brown is the most explosive outside linebacker in the 2012 class. His stock should continue to rise, especially when he puts his extraordinary athleticism on display at the NFL Scouting Combine. Brown has the skills to disrupt as a rusher or in coverage and would be an ideal fit for the Panthers.

Arizona Cardinals (2-6)
Potential needs: LT, OLB

Jonathan Martin*, Stanford, OT: Ken Whisenhunt has his franchise quarterback in place, but he needs to find a way to protect Kevin Kolb in the pocket. Martin is an athletic edge blocker with the size, footwork and agility to hold up in isolated battles against elite rushers. He also excels in the run game, which could help Beanie Wells finally realize his potential. That is, if Martin decided to come out early.

Courtney Upshaw, Alabama, OLB: The Cardinals' 3-4 hasn't generated much pressure off the edges due to a lack of athleticism at outside linebacker. Upshaw has the instincts, awareness and rush skills to wreak havoc as a designated blitzer.

Washington Redskins (3-5)
Potential needs: QB, WR

Robert Griffin III*, Baylor, QB: The Rex Grossman/John Beck experiment will end after this season, so the Redskins must identify their quarterback of the future. Griffin has the elite arm and athleticism Mike Shanahan covets and would be a terrific fit in a movement-based passing game if he opts to enter the draft early.

Justin Blackmon*, Oklahoma State, WR: If the Redskins are unable to nab their franchise quarterback, they could opt to address their lack of explosiveness in the passing game with Blackmon. If he comes out early, Blackmon is an exceptional runner after the catch and could take some pressure off Beck or Grossman.

Philadelphia Eagles (3-5)
Potential needs: MLB, DT

Vontaze Burfict*, Arizona State, ILB: The Eagles have fallen short of expectations behind a leaky defense that wilts against the run. Burfict is a violent hitter with great instincts and awareness. He dominates the tackle-to-tackle box and his presence in the middle would upgrade the front seven.

Devon Still, Penn State, DT: The Eagles need to fortify their interior triangle (two defensive tackles and middle linebacker) with a dominant presence at the point of attack. Still has been a disruptive force throughout his career, and he could be the missing ingredient in Philly.

Denver Broncos (3-5)
Potential needs: QB, CB

Andrew Luck*, Stanford, QB: Tim Tebow might be the fan favorite in Denver, but Luck has plenty of fans in the Broncos' front office, including John Elway. With a game that is tailor-made for the pros, Luck could lead a revival in Denver, if he elects to enter the draft this year.

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Janoris Jenkins, North Alabama, CB: Champ Bailey and Andre Goodman are getting a little long in the tooth, so coach John Fox would be wise to get a young cover man to groom. Jenkins has an Asante Samuel-like game with the ball skills and instincts to produce impact plays.

Cleveland Browns (3-5)
Potential needs: RB, LB

Trent Richardson*, Alabama, RB: Running backs have lost some of their value due to the proliferation of committee situations across the league. However, Richardson is a special talent. If he opts to forego his final season, the Browns would certainly consider adding someone with his versatile skill set.

Luke Kuechly*, Boston College, LB: The defense has been surprisingly stout this season, but could still benefit from an infusion of youth at linebacker. If he decides to come out early, Kuechly is a tackling machine with outstanding instincts and could be the ideal point man in the center of the defense.

Follow Bucky Brooks on Twitter @BuckyBrooks.

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