Even though it’ll be years before we can effectively grade the 2012 NFL Draft, that shouldn’t stop anyone from having an opinion on how each team fared this past weekend.
Based on overall strategy, trades, value based on pre-draft projections, and the ability to improve rosters, here are team-by-team evaluations following the 2012 NFL Draft.
Teams look to draft impact players in the first round and the Cardinals did that by snagging Notre Dame receiver Michael Floyd at No. 13 overall. Thanks to having Larry Fitzgerald on the other side, Floyd will benefit from not having the pressure to perform like a No. 1 receiver. Landing Bobby Massie in the fourth-round presented value, but only if the Cardinals leave him as a right tackle (he won’t succeed on the left side at the next level). Ryan Lindley is raw but he can make all of the throws and might be compete for a starting job in two or three years.
After stealing headlines in the first round last year with their trade for receiver Julio Jones, nothing about the Falcons’ 2012 draft was flashy. They landed a guard/center in Wisconsin’s Peter Konz that should be a starter for the next 10-plus years, as well as an intriguing project in offensive tackle Lamar Holmes. The Bradie Ewing pick in the fifth round was seemingly a reach but Troy defensive end Jonathan Massaquoi may have been a steal seven picks later. If Holmes winds up starting at left tackle in two years and Massaquoi surprises, this will be viewed as a solid draft.
Trading out of the first round and still having the opportunity to land Alabama outside linebacker Courtney Upshaw proved to be an excellent move by GM Ozzie Newsome. Upshaw is a great fit for Baltimore’s defense and he should have plenty of motivation after falling out of the first round. Keep an eye on Cal Poly cornerback Asa Jackson, who could wind up being a sleeper in the fifth and if the Ravens can get Miami receiver Tommy Streeter to realize his untapped potential then Baltimore will have done well in the later rounds.
Gilmore is an excellent prospect and has the ability and talent to be a starter as a rookie. Cordy Glenn was a steal in the second round based on a) he was projected to go in the first and b) he offers plenty of versatility in that he can play guard and tackle. Florida State outside linebacker Nigel Bradham is a speed merchant and FSU offensive tackle Zebrie Sanders offers solid value considering he was projected to go in the third round.
Luke Kuechly will remind observers of Rams’ middle linebacker James Laurinaitis in that he just makes plays and racks up tackles. Considering how much power running is done in the NFC South, the Panthers were wise to strengthen the middle of their defense with the selection of Kuechly at No. 9. When you watch the highlights, it’s hard not to fall in love with Amini Silatolu’s size and potential, although Carolina needs to be patient with his development because he played at a small school. Arkansas receiver Joe Adams was a solid edition in the fourth round because he brings speed, quickness, and toughness to the Panthers’ receiving corps. He’s someone that will go over the middle, make the tough catch, absorb a big hit and get right back up.
It’ll be interesting to see how Boise State’s Shea McClellin fits as a 4-3 defensive end. He’s versatile, tough, and relentless, but he seemingly would have been a better fit as an outside linebacker in a 3-4. Assuming the Bears whip him into shape, Alshon Jeffery may wind up being Chicago’s best selection in this draft and fans will love H-Back Evan Rodriguez. Oregon State free safety Brandon Hardin is the wildcard of this team’s draft class. Thanks to his size and speed he’ll be able to cover tight ends and backs in the middle of the field, but he missed all of last season with a shoulder injury so it’s tough to evaluate him at this point.
The Bengals filled needs in their first five picks and landed two potential first-year starters in Dre Kirkpatrick and Kevin Zeitler. Kirkpatrick will bring toughness to Mike Zimmer’s secondary while Zeitler should anchor one of the Bengals’ guard positions for the next 10-plis years. In the fourth, the Bengals got a steal in tight end Orson Charles, who only slipped that far because of his DUI arrest a couple of months ago. He has second-round talent and played in a pro-style system at Georgia, so he should be able to contribute from Day 1.
Trent Richardson was the best prospect in this year’s draft and there’s no doubt that he was the top player on most team’s draft boards. The Browns had to trade three late-round picks in order to secure him at No. 3, but give them credit for guaranteeing that they would land the player they ultimately wanted. Brandon Weeden played in the spread offense at Oklahoma State, didn’t face elite defenses in the Big 12, shrinks under pressure and is already 28. I wouldn’t have invested a No. 1 pick in him but at least he can make all of the throws and the desire to compete is there. Mike Holmgren passed on a more talented offensive tackle prospect in Mike Adams when he selected the underwhelming Mitchell Schwartz, but the former Cal product should be serviceable on the right side. If you’re looking for a potential sleeper out of the Browns’ draft class, it’s sixth-rounder Billy Winn. His work ethic has come under question and there are concerns about his durability, but he was a great value in the sixth thanks to his ability to rush the passer as an interior defensive lineman.
Jerry Jones did incredibly well to move up to No. 6 and land a top-5 prospect in Morris Claiborne. Forget his Wonderlic score – Claiborne can play and should start from Day 1. That said, this was a very underwhelming draft for the Cowboys. Outside of Claiborne, the other players they selected all seem to have lower ceilings. That’s not to suggest that guys like Tyrone Crawford and Kyle Wilber aren’t good fits or won’t succeed, but it’s doubtful they’ll make big impacts. (Of course, the Cowboys were pretty set coming into the draft so it’s not like they needed to find starters in the third or fourth rounds.)
Derek Wolfe was highly productive in college and he was a beast at times last season, but he was a reach at No. 36 overall. Brock Osweiler was this year’s Ryan Mallett, minus all of the baggage. He has great size at 6-foot-7 and 242 pounds and a rocket for an arm, but he’s extremely raw. (Good thing he’ll have an opportunity to learn under Peyton Manning for the next couple of seasons.) Overall, the Broncos seemingly didn’t draft any players that can make immediate impacts right away. Considering they made the playoffs last season that might not be a bad thing but this was an underwhelming draft overall.
Riley Reiff represented good value in the first round as he should start right away on the right side before eventually replacing Jeff Backus on the left. Ryan Broyles was projected to be a late first-round pick before he tore his ACL, so some observers love that pick in the second. That said, the ACL is a two-year injury and Broyles is a prototypical slot guy. Thus, there wasn’t much value in taking him in the second, regardless of where he could have gone if he weren’t hurt. Ronnell Lewis is the potential sleeper in Detroit’s 2012 draft class. He’s extremely physical, he’s a solid tackler and he should contribute right away on special teams. That said, he wasn’t overall productive and his durability is a concern.
Green Bay Packers
Once again, Ted Thompson hits a home run. Nick Perry was inconsistent at USC but he’s an explosive playmaker that will look great lined up opposite Clay Matthews in Dom Capers’ 3-4. Jerel Worthy represented decent value in the second round and Casey Hayward was one of my favorite corner prospects coming into the draft. He’s a highly instinctive corner with great technique and ball-hawking ability. The other pick I really liked was Andrew Datko in the seventh round. Had he not had a season-ending injury last year, he would have been taken in the first three rounds. When healthy, he has the potential to be a starting tackle on either the right or left side.
The selection of Whitney Mercilus in the first round was surprising but that doesn’t mean he won’t make an impact down the road. In fact, if Wade Phillips sticks around as Houston’s defensive coordinator than Mercilus could be a stud in two or three years. The Texans did extremely will in the third and fourth round. Brandon Brooks wasn’t invited to the scouting combine this year but he’s a load at 6-foot-5 and 343 pounds. Fourth-round pick Ben Jones, who played in a pro-style system at Georgia, is a solid fit for the Texans’ zone blocking scheme.
It’s hard to argue with the Colts’ first three selections. Andrew Luck gives the team a franchise signal caller to replace Peyton Manning, while Coby Fleener (Dallas Clark, anyone?) and Dwayne Allen will emerge as Lucks’ primary weapons outside of Reggie Wayne. Alabama defensive tackle Josh Chapman was also an excellent pick based on the Colts’ switch to a 3-4 defense next year. Chapman should plug a lot of holes for Indy’s linebackers.
The Jaguars’ first two picks were rock solid. They desperately needed a receiver that can make plays outside the number but they also had to get an edge rusher that could make an impact right away. Thus, leapfrogging the Rams for Justin Blackmon in the first and then coming back in the second to snag Clemson defensive end Andre Branch was excellent decision-making by GM Gene Smith. But then he drafted a punter in Brayn Anger in the third, which is just a joke – I don’t care how good Anger turns out to be.
Kansas City Chiefs
If Dontari Poe turns out to be more than just a workout warrior then the Chiefs would have had a very underrated draft. Jeff Allen was a solid pick up in the second round and fourth-round selection Devon Wylie is a highlight reel waiting to happen. Texas A&M running back Cyrus Gray was a very good value-based selection in the sixth as well.
There’s a chance that this draft could turn out to be a total disaster for the Dolphins – it just depends on whether or not Ryan Tannehill and Jonathan Martin produce. Tannehill was arguably a second-round prospect that was drafted at No. 8 overall and Martin has some big question marks as well (most specifically whether or not he’s just a finesse blocker that lacks that killer instinct). Tight end Michael Egnew was also a risky proposition in the third because he can’t block. That said, Lamar Miller was a value pick in the fourth and might wind up being one of the steals of this year’s draft.
The Vikings had a solid draft. Not only did GM Rick Speilman entertain draft followers with a plethora of pre-draft rumors to chew on, but he was also able to acquire three extra picks and still land the player he wanted in Matt Kalil at No. 4. Kalil should start right away and protect Christian Ponder’s blindside for years to come. I wasn’t big on the Harrison Smith pick at No. 29 but I really liked the Josh Robinson selection at No. 66. He has average size but he has outstanding speed and playmaking ability. Jarius Wright is also the perfect seam-buster out of the slot and Greg Childs is a potential sleeper in the fourth round. All in all, I really liked this draft.
New England Patriots
Much like Ted Thompson and the Packers, it’s not surprising to see Bill Belichick and the Patriots succeed on draft day. Belichick will probably turn Jones into a star and Hightower is a perfect fit as an inside linebacker in a 3-4. Illinois safety Tavon Wilson could make an impact right away and Arkansas’ defensive end Jake Bequette reminds me of an undersized version of Justin Smith. Leave it to Belichick to also find value in Nebraska cornerback Alfonzo Dennard, who was a third-round prospect before he was arrested in the days leading up to the draft. If he pans out, the Patriots get a steal in the seventh. If he doesn’t, then all they lose is a seventh.
New Orleans Saints
The Saints lessened their chances to find impact players in this year’s draft because they didn’t have picks in the first two rounds. Akiem Hicks is the ultimate wildcard because at 6-foot-5 and 318 pounds, he has tremendous size for the position. But the book on him is that he couldn’t play at LSU so he went to Canada and dominated at Regina. He could be a find or the ultimate flop – who knows? Nick Toon doesn’t have a lot of speed but he has good size and fills the void left by Robert Meachem in the Saints’ offense.
New York Giants
David Wilson is a boom or bust pick in my eyes. He has the explosion and quickness to be a dynamic playmaker at the next level but he also dances too much and he doesn’t have great size. That said, he should succeed in the Giants’ two-back system and give New York’s offense yet another playmaker. Rueben Randle waited a long time to hear his name called but he’s a perfect fit for the Giants’ offense. He’s a true vertical threat and a seam buster, which is what the now-departed Mario Manningham did for New York the past couple of seasons.
New York Jets
Rex Ryan could turn Quinton Coples into a star and it’s hard not to root for Stephen Hill. His route tree was limited at Georgia Tech but he has size, speed and hands – he’ll be fine. Demario Davis is a massive sleeper in the third round. He didn’t draw a lot of attention at Arkansas State but he flies to the football and sifts through traffic extremely well. The rest of the Jets’ draft was so-so in my eyes but the first three picks were all potential home runs.
Just like the Saints, the Raiders didn’t have selections in the first two rounds so they limited their opportunities to find impact players. Tony Bergstrom is a massive tackle that will play guard in Oakland and if healthy, Arizona receiver Juron Criner could be a sleeper in the fifth. But overall, this wasn’t a very inspiring draft and that’s hardly the blame of new GM Reggie McKenzie. He wasn’t left with much.
Andy Reid admittedly made mistakes in free agency last year but he’s doing a hell of a job to make up for it this offseason. Fletcher Cox will have an opportunity to make an impact from Day 1 and California linebacker Mychal Kendricks fits perfectly with Philadelphia’s aggressive scheme. He’s a playmaker in every sense of the word and so is the raw but talented Vinny Curry, who was a Mike Mayock favorite in the second round. Had Brandon Boykin not broken his leg at the Senior Bowl he would have been drafted in the second round and thus, he was a steal in the fourth. And speaking of steals, Marvin McNutt and Brandon Washington were outstanding values in the sixth round. A receiver as productive as McNutt shouldn’t have fallen all the way to the sixth round while the big-bodied Washington has second-round talent. This was an “A” draft.
Want to know why the Steelers continue to challenge for Super Bowls every couple of seasons? Because of drafts like the one they just had. David DeCastro is a top 15 pick that the Steelers got at No. 24. Thanks to his ability to play left tackle at the next level, Mike Adams was a steal in the second round and Sean Spence is a nice fit as an outside linebacker in the third. The massive Alameda Ta’amu is a capable replacement for nose tackle Casey Hampton and fifth-rounder Chris Rainey is the perfect change-of-pace back. Pittsburgh really did extremely well this past weekend.
San Diego Chargers
Considering Melvin Ingram was projected by many to be selected in the first 12 picks, the Chargers did well to land the talented pass rusher at No. 18. He should make people forget about A.J. Smith’s miss on Larry English three years ago. Both Kendall Reyes and Brandon Taylor were solid picks in rounds two and three, while tight end LaDarius Green may surprise. He’s not an in-line blocker but he has the ability to kill defenses down the seam thanks to his size and speed.
San Francisco 49ers
A lot of people viewed A.J. Jenkins as a reach at No. 30 but if the Niners had him atop their draft board then that’s where they had to take him. There was no way he was going to fall to them in the second round, even if they traded up in the middle of the second. LaMichael James was an interesting pick in the second. He has tons of playmaking ability but whatever they call that turf in San Francisco could limit the shifty James, who will serve as Frank Gore’s backup. Talk about value: Cam Johnson in the seventh? Nobody can seem to figure out why he dropped into the seventh round but the Niners did well not to let him hit free agency. Johnson is a third-round talent with a high ceiling.
I think Bruce Irvin could wind up surprising people. He’s too small to play defensive end in a 4-3 and not stout enough to play otuside linebacker in a 3-4, but if the Seahawks can get creative with him he has the skillset to be disruptive. That said, would I have drafted him that high? There’s no way. And with all of the trading that was going on in the first round, it’s jarring that Pete Carroll didn’t try to trade back even more and taken Irvin much later. The Hawks did well by adding Utah State inside linebacker Bobby Wagner because Barrett Ruud can’t be this team’s starter in the middle. Russell Wilson is short but he’s extremely smart and could challenge for the starting quarterback role in a couple of years. Robert Turbin is one of the bigger sleepers in this draft. He’s not overly fast for the position but he’s a hard North-South runner that will make holes when they’re not there.
St. Louis Rams
The Rams missed out on Justin Blackmon but Michael Brockers is the best run-stuffing defensive tackle in the draft and he’s got more pass-rushing tools than given credit for. Mark my words: Brian Quick will be a stud in the NFL. He didn’t hit a growth spurt until late in high school so he wasn’t on the radar of most big-time schools. But he tore it up at Appalachian State and has the combination of size, speed and athletic ability that NFL teams covet. He and fourth-round pick Chris Givens will compliment each other well and should upgrade the Rams’ biggest weakness. Janoris Jenkins is the ultimate wildcard because of his baggage but there’s no denying he can play. In fact, he might wind up being the best cornerback taken in the draft if he can stay focused. Fifth round pick Rokevious Watkins is a road grader and third-rounder Isaiah Pead will finally give the Rams a nice change-of-pace back to complement Steven Jackson in the running game. My only complaint about Jeff Fisher and Les Snead’s first draft in St. Louis is that they missed on several good outside linebackers in the second round.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Given how much teams in the NFC South like to play power football (even the Saints despite their desire to throw the ball), the selection of Mark Barron was a solid one for the Bucs. Tampa also added two speedy backs in Lavonte David and Najee Goode, who could be a steal in the fifth round. Keith Tandy is an underrated prospect that can hit and run, while Doug Martin will be a nice complement to LaGarrette Blount. Greg Schiano added speed and toughness to Tampa Bay’s roster in one draft.
While it came as a surprise, Kendall Wright was a great selection at No. 20. He doesn’t have great height but he’s a playmaker with run-after-the-catch abilities. I really like outside linebacker Zach Brown, who can be engulfed by offensive lineman but he sifts through traffic very well and is a sideline-to-sideline player. The Titans got excellent value with their last two picks, safety Markelle Martin and explosive defensive end Scott Solomon.
The Redskins parted with a ton of picks in order to land Robert Griffin III at No. 2, but at least they finally acquired a franchise signal caller. The Kirk Cousins selection in the fourth was a little surprising, not because he can challenge RGIII obviously but because Mike Shanahan didn’t have picks to waste. Cousins could surprise as a nice backup but he’s ultimately going to be a backup. Unless Shanahan expects to catch lightning in a bottle and can one day parlay Cousins into a first-round pick, I’m not sure why he didn’t look to add another potential impact player in that round.