The 2012 NFL draft is almost here, but before it gets started, I am going to predict the biggest winners from Day 1.
There are several teams that have the opportunity to make a major impact on their 2012 rosters in the first round. Some teams will have a chance at drafting potential superstars with Top 10 picks, and others have multiple picks in the first round and will be able to use those to fill significant holes in their rosters.
There are five teams that will make the right decisions and have success in the first day of the draft.
St. Louis Rams
The Rams are in a great position. They can take the best player available with the sixth overall pick. After swapping first-round picks with the Washington Redskins, the Rams set themselves up to rebuild by collecting two future first-rounders and an additional second-rounder in this year’s draft.
By staying in the Top 10 the Rams will be able to get an elite talent. QB Sam Bradford will most likely have a new weapon to throw to in either Oklahoma State’s Justin Blackmon or Notre Dame’s Michael Floyd.
No matter what, the Rams offense will be better in 2012. They will have a shot at a winning record for the first time since 2003.
The Browns are in an interesting position. After failing to land the second overall pick, they lost the chance to draft a can’t-miss prospect and potential franchise changer in Robert Griffin III.
However, there are still players available that can make an immediate impact and improve the Browns offense. Colt McCoy needs help, and he will get that in either Alabama running back Trent Richardson, Blackmon, Floyd or an offensive lineman.
Because of a trade they made with the Atlanta Falcons last year, the Browns have both the fourth and 22nd picks in the first round. With two picks in the first round, the Browns will drastically improve their mediocre offense.
The Bengals had one of the best drafts in 2011 and will look to continue their success in 2012. With two picks in the first round, look for the team to shift its focus to upgrading the defense with both picks.
The Bengals will have the opportunity to take the best cornerback available with one of their picks and add a pass-rusher or defensive lineman with the other.
The Bengals seem to have turned the corner when they drafted QB Andy Dalton and WR A.J. Green last year. They are both high-character players that will lead the offense for years to come.
This year Cincinnati will have the chance to make similar changes to its defense. It will try to make the playoffs for the second straight season and only the second time in franchise history.
The Cowboys have suffered through two straight disappointing seasons, yet they still have the core needed to contend for a Super Bowl title. Their defense is very talented, led by All-Pro DeMarcus Ware, and their offense has enough firepower in receivers Miles Austin and Dez Bryant, tight end Jason Witten and running backs Felix Jones and DeMarco Murray.
Their defensive secondary got help in free-agent cornerback Brandon Carr, but they still need to improve. The draft has multiple cornerbacks available in the first round, and a playmaking safety in Alabama’s Mark Barron.
The Cowboys will come out of the first round with the ammunition needed to contend for the NFC East title and a shot at the Super Bowl.
This could be the year that Bill Belichick and the Patriots actually trade up and take an impact player that can step in from Day 1 and make a difference.
In years past, Belichick has traded down or out of the first round largely due to the money rookies demanded and salary cap concerns. Whether you believe his reasoning or not, the value wasn’t there in past drafts.
Now there is a rookie pay scale in place, and there is less risk involved with drafting a Top 15 player than ever before.
Belichick knows that there is a limited window to win with Tom Brady, and he will maximize that opportunity by taking at least one impact defensive player in the first round. There are a few pass-rushers that fill one of the Patriots' biggest needs, and there are also cornerbacks and safeties available that would improve the back end of the Patriots defense.
Either way, expect the Patriots to come away with at least one player who can start for them in 2012.