2012 NFL Draft: 30 Draft-Day Mistakes to Watch For

Adam LazarusSenior Analyst IApril 18, 2012

2012 NFL Draft: 30 Draft-Day Mistakes to Watch For

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    For all the praise that teams get for wise and successful draft choices—the Pats landing Tom Brady, the Panthers selecting Steve Smith, the Chiefs finding Jared Allen in the fourth round—the annual bust factor makes for far more compelling stories. 

    People tend to remember disasters like JaMarcus Russell and Ryan Leaf more than they do Calvin Johnson or Charles Woodson. 

    Clearly Russell, Leaf, Tony Mandarich, Aundray Bruce and many more were colossal mistakes that GMs made on draft day.

    And no doubt this year there will be a handful more that become etched in their team's history. 

    Mistakes on draft day come in all forms: reaching on a player, passing up a player, trading out of a specific slot, falling for the trap of combine numbers, etc. 

    Here are 30 potential moves that will land a team's GM in hot water with the media, their fanbase and ownership.

No. 30: Steelers Panicking About Offensive Line

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    It's become an annual discussion in Pittsburgh: When are the Steelers going to shore up that shaky O-line?

    The team that once prided itself on great play in the trenches—and as a result, a great running game—has seen their offensive line get thinner and thinner each year. 

    They may have a stud center in Maurkice Pouncey, but the past two seasons they've had a patchwork unit almost every week.

    That suggests to many of the mockers out there that Pittsburgh should spend their top choice (24th overall) on a guard or tackle. 

    But with Willie Colon expected to be healthy in 2012 (after missing virtually two full seasons) and Ramon Foster and Marcus Gilbert stepping up at times last year they are most likely set at tackle. And because they have Doug Legursky and Trai Essex to play the interior spots, they aren't quite as troubled along the O-line as it may seem.

    They can and probably should go after a second-tier prospect on Day 2, but with all the other holes (namely inside linebacker, defensive tackle) that's where they should turn their Day 1 attention. 

No. 29: Forgetting About Arizona State's Vontaze Burfict

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    A linebacker who runs a 4.4 40-yard dash at the combine is probably destined to be a first-round choice.

    By contrast, a linebacker who fails to run even a sub-5.0-second 40-yard dash at the combine is probably doomed. 

    That's what happened to Burfict, the Arizona State star who ran a 5.09 40-yard dash and recorded the worst broad jump of any backer in Indianapolis. 

    Now that—plus his reported poor, blame-happy attitude in interviews—certainly knocked him way out of the first round. But a great football player is always going to intrigue some GMs. 

    Burfict had three excellent seasons at ASU, playing against some powerhouse offenses, and has incredible size: 6'3", 250 pounds. 

    The team that takes him completely off their board because of a poor 40 time (which he did reduce at his pro day) and the robust rumor mill would be a mistake. He's worth a third-round pick. 

No. 28: Drafting "An Athlete" Too High

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    If the NFL continues to reduce the value of kickoffs and eventually eliminates that aspect of the game altogether, it will make great kick returners extinct.

    That will have a serious impact on the game, but also the NFL draft.

    Teams often justify taking a corner or wide receiver with holes in their game because they can stick them back to return kicks. If that element of the game is gone, teams won't be as willing to take "an athlete" high in the draft, like a Ted Ginn or even a Devin Hester.

    Take for example Miami's Travis Benjamin, a wide receiver who isn't even projected to be drafted. 

    He ran the fastest 40 at the combine (4.36), so in years past teams might have been willing to spend a late-round choice on him as a kick returner, which he was for the Hurricanes.

    This year?

    A team that does that might find he's less valuable to the overall team than he would have been just two years back when kickers weren't recording touchbacks every other boot. 

No. 27: Bills Spending Their Top Pick on Offense

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    Both Mel Kiper and Peter King's latest mock draft has Buffalo spending the 10th overall selection on Notre Dame's Michael Floyd. 

    Similar projections have seen the Bills show interest in David DeCastro, Cordy Glenn or Riley Reiff. 

    But offense was not really the issue in Buffalo last year; defense was and has been for quite some time.

    They made a huge upgrade last year with Marcell Dareus, but he still wasn't able to improve the Bills run defense enough to climb higher than 28th in the rankings—and he was in the lineup that day when the Dolphins racked up over 200 yards on the ground. 

    Furthermore, spending a ton of money on Mario Williams and Mark Anderson won't necessarily shore up that run defense any more. 

    A big tackle or inside linebacker—not a pass-catcher or ball-carrier—will make that transition to Dave Wannstedt's 4-3 much smoother. 

No. 26: Waiting to Get Boise State's Kellen Moore as an Undrafted Free Agent

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    Are there huge concerns about Boise State's star quarterback? Sure.

    He's not big, doesn't have a big arm, barely broke five seconds in the 40-yard dash and might fit the dreaded "system quarterback" label.

    But he did have a nice combine, according to some reports

    More importantly, he has played in a handful of huge games over the last few years and does have that "winner" label.

    A Joe Montana/Tom Brady—two other physically unimpressive collegians who were winners at both the college and pro level—comparison is probably taking it too far. But of the 10 or 15 teams that are in the market for a quarterback (franchise leader or backup), one will be willing to take a flier on him in the fifth round.

    Those teams that think they can get him on the cheap will miss out and might really come to regret it someday. 

No. 25: Eagles Drafting Boston College's Luke Kuechly at 15

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    It may have been under another head coach, another GM and while the team was in another stadium, but the Eagles really need to keep the cautionary tale of Mike Mamula in mind while making their first pick. 

    And if that 1995 NFL draft episode isn't enough to convince Andy Reid and Howie Roseman to look elsewhere with their top choice, this should be: They just traded for DeMeco Ryans, who is only 27 and signed through 2015. 

    In that 4-3/Wide Nine defense the Eagles only need one mike linebacker and for the money they're paying him, it should be Ryans.

    Drafting Kuechly, who wowed scouts with his 40-yard dash and vertical leap, just doesn't make sense, especially since they must win now and there are other spots more pressing, like offensive tackle. 

No. 24: Overlooking Nebraska's Jared Crick

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    Crick has textbook 3-4 defensive end size (6'4", 280 pounds) and a fantastic motor, just like J.J. Watt at Wisconsin had last year. 

    But there isn't nearly as much buzz around him coming into the combine, largely because of the injury (torn pectoral) that kept him sidelined for half of his senior year.

    This year's draft isn't nearly as loaded with true defensive end talent as last year's, so with more and more team's switching to the 3-4 in part or in whole, Crick can make a major impact, especially since he is not a typical defensive end: He actually plays the run better than he rushes the passer.

    He's a first-round talent and teams that need a 3-4 end but pass on him early during Day 2 won't see him hang around for long. 

No. 23: Taking LSU's Rueben Randle Before Georgia Tech's Stephen Hill

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    The "they should have taken Player X instead of Player Y" complaint is often times too simplistic and too general to really consider merited. 

    But I think this one is. 

    Randle and the Tigers were on television practically every week last year and it rose his stock considerably. He may have good size and put up good numbers as a senior (53 catches, 917 yards), but he didn't blow the scouts away with his 4.55 40-yard dash at the combine.

    Hill has better size (6'4", 215 pounds), ran a far better 40 at the combine (4.31) and had nearly as many yards (820) as Randle.

    Oh, and if that's not enough of a reason why he's a more intriguing pro prospect than Randle here's another: He played in an offense that almost never threw the ball! 

    Those 820 yards came on just 28 catches, an average of just under 30 yards per catch.

No. 22: Waiting Until Day 3 for Wisconsin's Russell Wilson

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    Russell Wilson has a major strike against him, his height, heading into this draft. But those few inches he lacks shouldn't be the be-all, end-all.

    Much like Kellen Moore, he has a series of intangibles that will intrigue teams out there in the market for a young quarterback to groom.

    (On a side note, you might say "the same was true about Greg McElroy last year, and he wasn't drafted until the seventh round." The difference there is McElroy had practically an NFL-caliber player at every offensive position in the huddle next to him. Wilson and Moore were each far more vital to their team's offensive success).

    With Kirk Cousins, Brandon Weeden and a few other QBs who look the part still on the board at the start of Day 2, Wilson probably won't be a second-round choice. But towards the end of the third round, teams should feel antsy about him still being there the next afternoon. 

No. 21: Reaching on a Wide Receiver in the First Round

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    There's always a domino effect on draft day.

    When one club reaches or passes on a player, or simply makes an unexpected choice, it can completely shake up the perceived order of things.

    That's what could take place late on Day 1.

    Obviously Justin Blackmon is going to be the first wide receiver taken. And it's a good bet that Michael Floyd will follow him. But after that, there is uncertainty.

    Maybe Kendall Wright is next in line; maybe it's Rueben Randle; maybe it's Stephen Hill.

    All of those names are good candidates for first-round selections. But if each of them goes early and one of those teams choosing late on Day 1 wants a wide receiver (maybe it's New England or San Francisco or Houston), dipping into that third tier of names like Mohamed Sanu, Chris Givens and Alshon Jeffery just screams of panic.

    And panic should never enter a draft war room. 

No. 20: Spending a Second-Round Pick on Arizona State's Brock Osweiler

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    No matter who the top player selected is or how many specific positions are drafted in the first round, quarterbacks are always the overarching story on draft day. 

    Fans of a team without a star under center (or an aging star who doesn't have a viable backup behind him) want their team to pull the trigger on a new name who could be the next Tom Brady or Drew Brees.

    And occasionally, that eagerness even overwhelms the GM making decisions.

    If ASU's Brock Osweiler comes off the board before the start of the third round, that impatience will probably be the reason.

    His size (6'7") is appealing and he does do a good job of protecting the football. But he only has 15 career starts, and this buzz that surrounds him so late in the process—possibly being the heir apparent to Peyton Manning in Denver—comes at a curious time. 

No. 19: Finding Anything Wrong with Quinton Coples

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    Maybe it's just that UNC/pash-rusher charm—Lawrence Taylor, Julius Peppers and most recently Robert Quinn, who had a very promising rookie season—but I just think Quinton Coples is destined for a monstrous NFL career.

    And his performance in Chapel Hill and most recently the combine suggests as much.

    He had 17.5 sacks the past two years, an impressive feat considering how much NFL talent has been on the Tar Heels the last few years. 

    More importantly, he possesses monstrous size (6'6", 285 pounds) and ran a 4.78 40 at the combine. For a 4-3 defensive end of his size that's fantastic. 

    Several mocks (including Peter King's) have him barely inside the first half of the first round. But he should be the first pass-rusher to come off the board, regardless of whether it's a 3-4 or 4-3 team selecting.

    Five years from now, those top 10 selectors that opted for a wide receiver or quarterback will regret having passed on Coples. 

No. 18: Selecting Stanford's David DeCastro Before Georgia's Cordy Glenn

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    This might be comparing apples to oranges if Glenn ends up serving as an offensive tackle, not a guard in the NFL, but it's still worth mentioning. 

    DeCastro has become the favorite to be the top interior lineman in this year's draft. Many people see him going as high as 13 to Arizona.

    But Georgia's Cordy Glenn has better footwork, better size and better speed and although his natural position is tackle, he will be more productive at the next level as a guard where his tackle frame and agility will stand out more.

    Just because DeCastro spent his career playing guard, while Glenn switched between guard and tackle, doesn't mean he's going to be the better pro. 

No. 17: Crimson Tide Overload

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    Comparisons have been made by some that this year's first round will resemble that famous 2004 draft in which six players from one school (Miami) went in the first round. 

    And while it's unlikely that the Tide will produce that many, it's a good bet that at least five members of the reigning National Champions will be called up to the stage on April 26. 

    Forget Trent Richardson for a moment, partly because he's considered a lock for NFL stardom, but also because he's the lone offensive player expected to be a first round pick.

    That leaves Dre Kirkpatrick, Courtney Upshaw, Dont'a Hightower and Mark Barron. 

    Odds are at least one of those defenders' profiles was inflated by playing a) in Nick Saban's scheme and b) playing beside a handful of first-round picks. 

    Which one is it? Well, that's up to the GMs to figure out. 

No. 16: Overvaluing Oregon's LaMichael James’ College Resume

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    The 2010 Heisman Trophy finalist has the potential to start in the NFL. 

    And there have been plenty of undersized runners who baffled defenses: not just Barry Sanders and Emmitt Smith, but players today like Darren Sproles.

    Still, that's not enough of a reason to spend a first-, second- or even a third-round choice on James.

    He isn't really a threat out of the backfield—something teams covet more and more each year—and he does have a ton of mileage on him after three seasons as the Ducks' workhorse.

No. 15: Patriots Trading Down

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    It's almost as commonplace as the podium, Mel Kiper's hair and booing Jets fans: the New England Patriots making a draft-day trade. 

    For whatever reason Bill Belichick seemingly loves to stockpile draft choices and defer until the following April. 

    But to some extent, I think it's cost them depth and the ability to get younger at key spots; right now, I bet they'd rather have Richard Seymour than Nate Solder. 

    New England has four of the first 62 picks this year and considering how bad their pass defense has been (and specifically their pass rush)m it's time to spend some of that capital rather than hoard it.

    The only trade they should be making during the first two rounds is bundling three or all four of those choices to move up near the top 10 and grab a stud pass-rusher like Quinton Coples or Melvin Ingram. 

No. 14: Overvaluing Stanford's Coby Fleener

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    When Stanford tight end Coby Fleener ran a 4.5 at his pro day it set off a firestorm of enthusiasm. 

    And it's well deserved: A tight end with his size (6'6") who can run that fast and comes from a pro-style offense is an appealing selection.

    But let's temper the zeal a bit.

    A handful of teams have been able to make great tight ends, rather than draft them high in the first round—take Jimmy Graham, Aaron Hernandez, Rob Gronkowski, Antonio Gates and Jermichael Finley just to name a few. 

    Fleener has all the physical tools and is a hot commodity right now, but any team that picks him off the board before the Giants pick at 32 is reaching...especially the 49ers, who have a lot invested already in Vernon Davis. 

No. 13: Undervaluing Alabama's Dont’a Hightower

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    Earlier in this slideshow I said that it was a good bet that at least one of the top defensive prospects out of Alabama would ultimately not live up to their first-round status. 

    To say it plainly, I don't expect that to be their inside linebacker.

    Like several in this draft he does have a few strikes against him, including a reconstructed knee and a fairly pedestrian 40-time, 4.68. 

    But he has great technique and instincts, is a very good pass-rusher for an inside linebacker and with more and more teams utilizing the 3-4 (even if it's part-time), he might actually prove to be more valuable and useful than the expected first inside backer taken, Boston College's Luke Kuechly. 

No. 12: Taking Oklahoma State's Brandon Weeden Before Mich. State's Kirk Cousins

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    This is another case that may seem like one for preference, but it's not.

    Weeden's numbers are gaudy but you'd have to say that Justin Blackmon was a huge part of the reason why. And while his advanced age (28 years old) does have some value—physical and emotional maturity, previous experience as professional athlete—the fact that Weeden will be 30 by the middle of his second NFL season should be a major red flag. 

    So for clubs looking to nab a thoroughly experienced and physical passer who comes from a successful program, Cousins is a fine alternative.

    But the best endorsement Cousins has received over the last month or so came from quarterback guru Jon Gruden, who said of the former Spartan

    "What you're getting is a three-time team captain at Michigan State. So that tells you what type of leader he is...He does have I think NFL prototype size (6'3", 214 pounds). He's in a very good offense at Michigan State. They ask him to do a lot of different things. You're getting a winner."

No. 11: Taking North Alabama's Janoris Jenkins in the First Round

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    If Jenkins name isn't called on the evening of April 26, part of the reason will be his "character baggage." But that's not the only reason why GMs shouldn't invest a first-round choice in him.

    Remember, last year Colorado's Jimmy Smith supposedly scared off teams as well because of similar concerns, yet he still landed in the first round.

    No, a more appropriate concern regarding Jenkins is the fact that last year he was playing in Division II rather than the SEC. How much of an opportunity did he really have to hone his skills in 2011?

    And if that's not enough of a reason why he should take a mini-tumble into Day 2, this is.

    His chief rivals for the spot of second or third corner selected in the draft are Stephon Gilmore and Dre Kirkpatrick, both of whom possess better size and strength and are therefore slightly better prospects. 

No. 10: Memphis' Dontari Poe Sliding out of the Top 20

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    What do we make of this enormous, physical freak of nature?

    Not that long ago—after he stole the show in Indianapolis by running a 4.98 40-yard dash (at 346 pounds) and tossing up 225 on the bench a whopping 44 times—Dontari Poe was the talk of the NFL draft world.

    Some thought he had worked his way into the top 10. 

    Since then, people leery of another combine/workout warrior like Tony Mandarich or Mike Mamula have almost gone out of their way to say he's not worthy of that high a choice.

    I tend to think both those stances are mistakes; he's not a top-10 choice, but he certainly is a mid-round selection. 

    There are questions about his ability to get off blocks, despite the size and strength in the weight room and on the track. But because those are things that coaching can easily fix, it would be a real mistake to pass on him because he might be a bust...every player in this draft might be a bust. 

No. 9: Rams Passing on Oklahoma State's Justin Blackmon

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    Some rumors and mock drafts have the Rams actually looking to spend their first-round pick on a pick other than Justin Blackmon...assuming he's still on the board. 

    While I can understand that to some extent (Danny Amendola, Greg Salas, Austin Pettis and Danario Alexander are all capable of contributing), the Rams need to get Sam Bradford that star pass-catcher who can make huge plays but also scare opposing defenses from blitzing. 

    Sure there is a need to add to that pretty awful offensive line in order to keep Bradford healthy, but where they are selecting there isn't going to be a rookie ready to instantly step in and start. 

No. 8: Buccaneers Selecting Alabama's Trent Richardson

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    I fully expect Trent Richardson to have a fine NFL career; whether or not he's "bust-proof" like some people seem to think? That's another matter.

    Either way, however, I don't particularly feel it's in the Bucs' best interest to spend such a high draft pick on a running back when LeGarrette Blount has really shown a lot in his two years with the club.

    In somewhat limited duty, Blount rushed for almost 2,000 yards and is averaging more than 4.5 yards per carry. Furthermore, with his size he's definitely capable of being a workhorse.

    The other reason—and the more compelling one—is who else is likely available when Tampa Bay selects fifth overall.

    If Morris Claiborne is anywhere near as productive as a rookie as his former LSU teammate Patrick Peterson was with the Cardinals then he's a better fit, especially if they end up trading Aqib Talib like rumors suggest. 

    In a division with Matt Ryan, Drew Brees and Cam Newton, the Bucs really have to contribute to their secondary and as great as Richardson could be, he won't really help on that front. 

No. 7: Bears Passing on a Wide Receiver

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    Even though the Bears brought in Brandon Marshall there's still a major void at the wide receiver spot. That void will end up getting much bigger if Marshall is hit with a suspension for the off-the-field antics that preceded his trade from Miami, or if he has another blow-up somewhere down the road.

    I'm not suggesting that the Bears have to trade up to get Justin Blackmon or even spend their top pick on a second-tier name like Kendall Wright, Stephen Hill or Rueben Randle.

    But in the second round, where there are still some names available—Alshon Jeffery, Mohamed Sanu, Chris Givens—they need to consider grabbing one.

    Given their unwillingness to do so in the last few years, I think this is a potential mistake that will be actualized. 

No. 6: Falcons Panicking Via Trade into Round 1

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    Last April, the Falcons went all in on draft day, giving up a king's ransom to land Julio Jones. 

    (On a side note, I still think it was the right move).

    But since the Falcons technically took a step backwards in 2011—worse record, not winning the division, first round exit—there are more holes to fill.

    Atlanta hasn't exactly sat on their hands this offseason—they re-signed John Abraham and Kroy Biermann—but they also lost several key names, Curtis Lofton and Eric Weems. So with a major need on the offensive line and at linebacker Thomas Dimitroff does still have some work to do....which he can't do in the first round since they gave that choice to Cleveland in the Jones deal.

    The only way Atlanta will be able to fill one of those two huge voids with a top prospect is via another draft day deal. No one's talking about it now, but sometimes that's when the biggest deals go through. 

    And since the Falcons already mortgaged their future last year (and it hasn't yet paid off) doing so again would be a colossal mistake. 

No. 5: Caring About LSU's Morris Claiborne’s Wonderlic Score

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    While it's a concern and something that should raise an eyebrow, Morris Claiborne's allegedly terrible Wonderlic score should really have no bearing on his draft status. 

    Aside from the fact that he is absurdly athletic and deceptively strong and physical for his size, cornerbacks don't necessarily have to process or retain information at the same level as a quarterback. Comparing his low score with that of Vince Young a few years back is apples to oranges.

    Besides, remember Claiborne's former LSU teammate, Patrick Peterson? He was a top-five cornerback pick just a year ago and his Wonderlic wasn't exactly off the charts either, but the Cardinals still took him fifth overall despite scoring a nine. 

    And how'd he do last season? Oh yea, pretty great. 

No. 4: Anyone Selecting Ohio State's Mike Adams in the First Round

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    Combine numbers good or bad shouldn't make or break a player's draft stock. And usually they don't: take my previous entry on Morris Claiborne and the Wonderlic test.

    But I can't help but see Mike Adams as an exception.

    An offensive tackle who can only record 19 reps at the bench at the combine? That's a major issue. So too is a 5.40 40-yard dash.

    And then there are those clichéd character issues: He was part of that tattoo scandal that resulted in a lengthy 2011 suspension. Although that transgression wouldn't be not enough to ruin first-round draft stock, when it's factored into the other concerns about Adams' game, it should be enough to knock him out of Day 1 contention.

    Unless of course there's a team in search of a tackle who didn't expect to see Matt Kalil, Riley Reiff, Jonathan Martin and Cordy Glenn all off the board when they select. That's the scenario that would lead to this major mistake. 

No. 3: Waiting on South Carolina's Alshon Jeffery

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    Sometimes you get smitten with a player no matter what all the experts are saying. 

    That's how I am with Gamecock Alshon Jeffery.

    I know he didn't even attend the combine, but he did have a pretty strong pro day: 4.38 at the 40 according to one timer, 36-inch vertical, 10'2" broad jump. And his size (6'3", 212 pounds) is ideal for a wide receiver at the NFL level.

    I think in this modern era of the passing game almost any team could use Jeffery's talent, and sooner rather than later someone in need of a second receiving option is going to grab him, perhaps even before some of the first-round front-runners like Kendall Wright, Stephen Hill or Rueben Randle.

    At this time last year few people thought another big, supremely gifted wideout with some concerns attached (Pitt's Jon Baldwin) wasn't a Day 1 choice. Yet the Chiefs plucked him off the board with the 26th overall choice. 

No. 2: Vikings Being Greedy with Third Overall Pick

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    For weeks, maybe even months, it was a foregone conclusion that the Minnesota Vikings would take USC tackle Matt Kalil at the third overall spot.

    If you've read the blogs or listened to talk radio in the last week you know that's no longer the case: there's a lengthy discussion suggesting that the Vikings would trade that third choice so some other club would have the chance to take Ryan Tannehill. (I'll get to that issue in a minute). 

    As much of an impact as Kalil could have (and it is a position of need for the Vikings) if they can get someone to give up nearly the same type of ransom that the Redskins gave up to move into the second spot, they should. 

    Not only will they likely be able to get another quality tackle later on (Riley Reiff, Jonathan Martin or even Cordy Glenn), they can also stockpile picks and fill some of those other huge holes, most notably at cornerback and wide receiver. 

    But right now they seem to be playing hard to get, not showing much interest in dealing the pick. Should that coy approach continue for another week, they'll lose a spot to rake some naive and clueless team over the coals.

No. 1: Anyone Drafting Ryan Tannehill Third Overall

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    If the Vikings heed my warning in the previous slide and do ultimately deal away the third pick, I think their trade partner will be making a big mistake. No matter which team it is.

    I don't mean to hate on Tannehill. In fact, he very well could have a fine NFL career.

    But history and the odds aren't exactly in his or his potential new team's favor. 

    Look at the recent instances where the media helped to pit two quarterbacks against one another, each as viable top choices: Drew Bledsoe/Rick Mirer, Peyton Manning/Ryan Leaf, David Carr/Joey Harrington, JaMarcus Russell/Brady Quinn.

    One (if not both) always turns out to be a bust. 

    Add in a third name and the odds go down even further: Take Tim Couch/Donovan McNabb/Akili Smith, for example.

    Tannehill has tremendous athleticism and size and a good arm, but he's only started 19 games as a quarterback at the college level. 

    It may seem like it's splitting hairs to say that Tannehill is an acceptable eighth overall choice (which he is, to the Dolphins) but not an acceptable third overall choice. But it's not, especially if it involves giving up extra picks in the process.