2012 NFL Draft: 10 Bold Predictions for This Year's Draft Class
Four more teams bit the dust this weekend, leaving more fans with nothing to look forward to but the 2012 NFL Draft.
Andrew Luck has already been named the Indianapolis Colts' choice as the top pick, and Robert Griffin III will be picked shortly thereafter. Here are ten bold predictions for Griffin, Luck and eight other top prospects.
1. Indianapolis Colts
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Pick: Andrew Luck
Bold Prediction: Luck breaks Cam Newton's record for most passing yards in a season by a rookie.
As far as terrible teams go, it has been a luxury to be an Indianapolis Colts' fan. After enjoying 13 seasons with Peyton Manning at the helm, they get the greatest quarterback prospect since Manning himself, Andrew Luck.
Luck is ready to run a pro offense, and there is no way the Colts are going to sit him behind Peyton Manning for a year. Strategically, it could make some sense (remember how long Aaron Rodgers kept the bench warm behind Brett Favre), but the financial aspect makes it implausible.
Manning stands to make $35 million next season. Last year's top overall pick, Cam Newton, makes over five million a year. That is over $40 million the Colts would have invested in one position.
By trading or releasing Manning, the Colts could rebuild via free agency around Luck on the fly. Indianapolis would still have a game plan built around the pass (we saw how they did this year without an early lead), and the Colts' last-place finish means Luck will have some bottom-feeders to pad his stats against.
Expect Luck to clear 4,100 yards in 2012.
2. St. Louis Rams
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Pick: Matt Kalil
Bold Prediction: The St. Louis Rams trade out of the No. 2 spot.
A lot of mock drafts have the St. Louis Rams selecting Justin Blackmon with this pick. There are two strategies around protecting a quarterback: surround him with weapons, or get him a great offensive line. I say the Rams go with the latter and select the top lineman in the draft.
Taking Kalil with the second overall pick would be a stretch. He is good, but not Joe Thomas or Jake Long good. Taking him in the five to ten range would be perfect, and plenty of teams in that range will be drooling over Robert Griffin III with this pick.
The receiving corps is a weakness for the Rams, but not as much as their offensive line. They need to get Bradford some protection or risk hindering his development for the future. Look what happened to David Carr, who appeared to have the skills to be a very good quarterback. He was knocked around his first few years (and set a record for sacks) and never developed into a consistent QB.
The Rams would be wise not to let the same thing happen to Bradford.
3. Minnesota Vikings
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Pick: Justin Blackmon
Bold Prediction: Blackmon makes Minnesota Vikings fans forget about Randy Moss
He is more Terrell Owens than Randy Moss, but the stats will be the same for the Minnesota Vikings. Blackmon proved he is ready for the next level by posting 232 catches and 38 touchdowns in his final two seasons.
Blackmon will step on the field as one of the most dangerous yards-after-catch receivers in the NFL. Christian Ponder showed signs of promise in a trying season for the Vikings. Expected to hold the clipboard behind McNabb in a developmental season, Ponder was thrown in the fire. He struggled, for sure, but the skills were evident.
Ponder's quick release will combine with Blackmon's game-breaking ability to give the Vikings their most dangerous duo since Daunte Culpepper to Moss.
4. Cleveland Browns
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Pick: Trent Richardson
Bold prediction: Richardson will be better as a rookie than Adrian Peterson was.
Six games against the Cincinnati Bengals, Baltimore Ravens and Pittsburgh Steelers (all top 10 against the rush) will make it a challenge, but I still believe Richardson can get there.
The Cleveland Browns will say goodbye to Peyton Hillis and commit their offense to Richardson's exceptional abilities as a runner. Richardson rushed for over six yards per carry in the SEC, which is loaded with NFL talent on defense. He is 225 pounds, a workout demon and runs a 4.4 40.
Expect him to break the 1,400-yard mark, with many huge performances along the way.
6. Washington Redskins
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Pick: Robert Griffin III
Bold prediction: Washington Redskins trade up and select RG3.
Many anticipate the Washington Redskins to trade for Peyton Manning. In recent years, they have built through the draft and finally gave up on trying to import big-name veteran talent.
I expect the trend to continue. If they are going to trade for a quarterback, it will be the Heisman Trophy winner. Mike Shanahan loves big-armed quarterbacks who can make plays outside of the pocket. He won two Super Bowls with John Elway and selected Jay Cutler to be the heir apparent before the Denver Broncos went in another direction.
Griffin may not have quite the cannon of Elway and Cutler but more than makes up for it with his athleticism. Lost in his ridiculous stats and highlight plays is how smart Griffin is. He graduated from high school and college in just three years each and is already in a graduate program. His talent and smarts should have him starting as a rookie, posting nearly Cam Newton-like numbers.
The Redskins appear set everywhere but quarterback. They have a solid defense and no fewer than three running backs capable of getting 100 yards per game on the ground. Look for big things from the Redskins no later than 2013.
7. Jacksonville Jaguars
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Pick: Alshon Jeffery
Bold Prediction: Jeffery does not save Blaine Gabbert
Like I mentioned before, there are two theories to helping a quarterback: Surround him with weapons, or get him a great offensive line. Gabbert did not have much of either in his first year with the Jacksonville Jaguars. Regardless, I do not believe Jeffery, or anyone else for that matter, can help Blaine Gabbert be a good quarterback.
From what I have seen of Gabbert, he does not have what it takes to stand tall in the pocket and deliver a pass under pressure. As a quarterback, if you do not have that factor, your success will be limited at best, no matter your other skills.
Gabbert is one of those guys I will never understand why he was a first-round pick. He was a mediocre (at least by first-round pick standards) quarterback at a school—Missouri—that is not exactly synonymous with NFL stardom.
He was by far the worst starting rookie this season. A good measure of a young quarterback's progression is how much he uses his tight end, generally seen as a safety valve. Gabbert had a good one to work with in Marcedes Lewis, but Lewis disappeared with Gabbert at the helm. Fresh off a 10-touchdown season, Lewis posted a goose egg in 2011.
Jeffery will be a great player, but it will take some time before we see his true ability surface on a weekly basis.
14. Dallas Cowboys
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Pick: Dre Kirkpatrick, CB, Alabama
Bold Prediction: Kirkpatrick makes Dallas Cowboys' secondary a top-10 unit
The second-highest rated cornerback in the draft, Kirkpatrick has the best blend of size and speed of the prospects at his position. At 6'3," Kirkpatrick will be able to match up with the most gifted receivers in the NFL.
The secondary was by far the biggest weakness of the Dallas Cowboys, and it did indeed cost them a playoff spot. With a solid defensive line, stout linebackers and a pass-rusher like DeMarcus Ware, the secondary is the only thing stopping this from being an elite defense.
Terence Newman and Mike Jenkins are just better suited to cover second and third receivers, not guys like Calvin Johnson and Greg Jennings. Do not be surprised if the Cowboys take a safety like Kirkpatrick's Alabama teammate Mark Barron in the second round to complete the overhaul of the secondary.
15. Philadelphia Eagles
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Pick: Vontaze Burfict, ILB, Arizona State
Bold Prediction: Burfict makes the "Dream" come true
Fast, strong and angry, Burfict is exactly what the Philadelphia Eagles need. It is time the Eagles learned you cannot win a Super Bowl without some linebackers that love to hit. Enter Burfict.
At Arizona State, Burfict would take a running start and barrel into offensive linemen en route to the ball carrier. At times, he would tackle the lineman and running back all in one. He won't be able to do that to the bulls in the NFL, but you have to love the attitude.
Burfict will man the middle of the Eagles' 4-3 scheme and give them the best run-stuffing linebacker they have had since before I started watching football 16 years ago. Burfict has the best combination of speed and size at his position in the draft. More than his athleticism, Burfict will bring a tenacious attitude this defense desperately needs.
I am not saying Burfict guarantees the Eagles a Super Bowl, but he will have them contending like they were supposed to this season.
16. New York Jets
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Pick: Zach Brown
Bold Prediction: Brown will be the Defensive Rookie of the Year
Sometimes a player's talent suits a team's needs perfectly. This will be the case for Zach Brown and the New York Jets.
The Jets got just eight sacks out of their starting outside linebackers in 2011. Brown was a do-it-all 'backer for North Carolina, registering 5.5 sacks, two forced fumbles and three interceptions. As a Jet, Brown will be asked to do one thing: Use his speed (the only linebacker in the draft to run a 4.4) to get to the quarterback.
Brown will step in for incumbent Jamaal Westerman and start from day one. He, Calvin Pace and pass-rushing specialist Aaron Maybin will team up for at least 20 sacks. The added pressure will allow Antonio Cromartie and Darrelle Revis to do what they do best: make plays on the football.
The new element could have the Jets back in the AFC championship game a year after missing the playoffs for the first time in the Rex Ryan era.
22 Cleveland Browns
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Pick: Kendall Wright
Bold Prediction: The Cleveland Browns have the best draft grade in the league.
If the Browns pull this off, they get an A+ and will compete in the stacked AFC North. They will shed the distraction that became Peyton Hillis, replace him with arguably the most physical specimen in the draft and get Colt McCoy the fastest receiver available.
Wright caught over 100 passes for 1,600 yards as Robert Griffin III's primary target at Baylor. With the Browns, he will take his share of quick slants from Colt McCoy to the house. By passing over a chance to draft RG3, the Browns are showing a lot of faith in McCoy. Finally playing with some weapons, the third-year quarterback will not disappoint.