2012 NFL Draft Grades: Evaluating Each Team's First Round Pick
Heading into tonight’s NFL draft, the only thing anyone really knew for certain was that the Indianapolis Colts would pick Andrew Luck with the first overall selection and the Washington Redskins would pick Robert Griffin III second overall.
After that, it was anyone’s guess. This takes a detailed look at each team’s first round pick, seeing how well the player fits that team’s needs.
1. Indianapolis Colts: Andrew Luck, QB, Stanford
This was a no-brainer. The Indianapolis Colts couldn’t possibly pass up Andrew Luck, the Stanford great that would have gone first overall had he come out in last year’s draft. Luck is the complete package—he can throw, he can run, and he’s incredibly intelligent. The Colts should be able to count on Luck as their man for the next 15 years.
2. Washington Redskins (TRADE): Robert Griffin III, QB, Baylor
The Washington Redskins traded three first round picks and a second round pick to the St. Louis Rams for the rights to acquire Robert Griffin III, the playmaking quarterback from Baylor University. Griffin won the Heisman Trophy last year and he will electrify the NFL. It’s about time for Redskins fans, who have seen a washed-up Donovan McNabb along with Rex Grossman, John Beck, Patrick Ramsey, and Jason Campbell among others take snaps in recent years.
The three first rounders (along with the second round pick) was a lot to give up for Griffin, but the Redskins are confident he will be as good as advertised.
3. Cleveland Browns (TRADE): Trent Richardson, RB, Alabama
The Cleveland Browns traded up one spot to acquire the rights to Trent Richardson, the most explosive running back to come out of the draft in many years. Richardson will step in and fill the void left by Peyton Hillis, who departed for the Kansas City Chiefs.
Richardson is a power and speed back with a good stiff arm. He should be a tremendous addition to the Browns that are putting a lot of pressure on young Colt McCoy. The only problem is that running back has such a short shelf life in the NFL that the Browns probably can’t count on much more than seven years from Richardson.
Matt Kalil is a bonafide stud at left tackle, and he should be able to protect Christian Ponder’s blind side for the next 12-15 years at least. I just don’t understand why teams pick running backs when the position is so undervalued and so underused in today’s NFL.
4. Minnesota Vikings (TRADE): Matt Kalil, OT, USC
This is a tremendous pick by the Minnesota Vikings. They got the best non-quarterback in the draft, and they did so by trading down and picking up three more low draft picks. The Vikings can pencil in the left tackle position as a strong suit for the next decade or more.
Charlie Johnson was a colossal bust as a free agent signee to protect Ponder’s blind side, and the team can likely slide him inside now. Kalil will start from day one. Morris Claiborne is a tremendous cornerback and he would have been a great addition to the Vikings but Kalil was the guy they needed to get.
5. Jacksonville Jaguars (TRADE): Justin Blackmon, WR, Oklahoma State
Blackmon had a stellar collegiate career but he may be a bit of a stretch at this spot. The Jacksonville Jaguars absolutely have to get Blaine Gabbert some help at receiver or he won’t last another season but the Jaguars probably could have gotten a player like Michael Floyd a lot lower in the draft without having to trade up.
6. Dallas Cowboys (TRADE): Morris Claiborne, CB, LSU
The Dallas Cowboys did what they absolutely had to do, especially with DeSean Jackson re-signed to a five-year contract and the New York Giants possessing two stellar receivers in Hakeem Nicks and Victor Cruz.
Morris Claiborne is an absolute shutdown cornerback, and he was graded higher than Patrick Peterson coming out of college last year. Claiborne has long arms, good ball skills, excellent coverage abilities, and the talent to lock onto the opposing team’s number one receiver and blanket that side of the field.
7. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (TRADE): Mark Barron, S, Alabama
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers traded down two spots with the Jacksonville Jaguars but still were able to lock up Alabama safety Mark Barron, by far the top safety coming out of college football.
Barron may be a bit of a reach at pick seven, but the Buccaneers were able to trade down and still select him, and he will be an upgrade over last year’s starting safeties in Tanard Jackson and Sean Jones, two players who were awful.
8. Miami Dolphins: Ryan Tannehill, QB, Texas A&M
After whiffing on both Matt Flynn and Peyton Manning, the Miami Dolphins were strongly linked to Texas A&M quarterback Ryan Tannehill. Tannehill did play under offensive coordinator Mike Sherman at the college level, and he is the first quarterback the Dolphins have picked in the first round since 1983 (Dan Marino).
Quarterback was strongly a need for the Dolphins and the team felt strongly that Tannehill gives them a franchise quarterback. He’s definitely an upgrade over Matt Moore or David Garrard, although he is still a reach at pick eight overall. He will probably have to sit for a few seasons before he is ready to take over as the full-time starter, and he just doesn’t have a lot of experience starting games in college (at least, at quarterback).
9. Carolina Panthers: Luke Kuechly, LB, Boston College
This was a great pick for the Carolina Panthers, especially since Jon Beason is coming off a season-ending Achilles injury and Thomas Davis has torn his ACL three times.
Luke Kuechly was an absolute monster in his three years at Boston College, setting the all-time NCAA record for career tackles. He is fast, has great instincts, and is extremely intelligent. Kuechly should sit atop the single-season leaders in tackles for the next 10 years in the NFL.
10. Buffalo Bills: Stephon Gilmore, CB, South Carolina
The Buffalo Bills were disappointed with Leodis McKelvin, the team’s 11th overall pick at cornerback in the 2008 NFL draft. Stephon Gilmore is a slight reach at pick 10, but he is a solid all-around corner. He can cover well, he is good in the running game, he can return kicks, and he is said to be extremely mature.
Considering Gilmore will get to face Ryan Tannehill/Matt Moore and Mark Sanchez four times each season, the Bills have all of a sudden made themselves much better competitors in the AFC East.
11. Kansas City Chiefs: Dontari Poe, DT, Memphis
The Kansas City Chiefs needed a defensive tackle with Kelly Gregg hitting free agency, and Dontari Poe could bolster up the defensive line.
Poe was a workout warrior, bench pressing 225 pounds 44 times at the NFL Scouting Combine and running a 4.87 40-yard dash. I have a feeling he may be the next Mike Mamula, simply a player that mastered the combine and does nothing at the NFL level.
12. Philadelphia Eagles (TRADE): Fletcher Cox, DT, Mississippi State
Cox is a disruptive player as both a pass rusher and run stopper. He can line up as both an end and a tackle, and he ran a 4.79 40 that makes him one of the quickest defensive linemen in the game.
13. Arizona Cardinals: Michael Floyd, WR, Notre Dame
Michael Floyd is a tremendous addition. He is a big, bruising body who ran a fast 40 and dominated at Notre Dame. Kevin Kolb has to be thrilled with this pick,
14. St. Louis Rams (TRADE): Michael Brockers, DT, LSU
The St. Louis Rams missed out on Fletcher Cox, so Michael Brockers was a pretty good consolation prize for new head coach Jeff Fisher. Brockers is incredibly raw but he’s a redshirt sophomore who is full of potential. He made a name for himself at LSU with his outstanding size and strength, and Fisher will love a player like him.
The Rams really needed depth at the defensive tackle position, and Brockers was a good selection, assuming the Rams address their wide receivers with one of their many round two picks.
15. Seattle Seahawks (TRADE): Bruce Irvin, OLB, West Virginia
Wow. This was a shocker. Most mock drafts had Bruce Irvin going anywhere from the third to the fifth round. The Seattle Seahawks selected him in the top half of the first round.
Irvin is a pass rusher who will be best utilized in a nickel situation as a rookie, much like the San Francisco 49ers used Aldon Smith in 2011. He has a lot of potential but he needs the right coach to get that out of him. With Melvin Ingram, Quinton Coples, and Chandler Jones still on the board, this pick really surprised me.
16. New York Jets: Quinton Coples, DE, North Carolina
The New York Jets need a pass rusher desperately. Last year, former Buffalo Bills castoff Aaron Maybin led the team in sacks, and it’s unlikely the team gets a repeat of his strong performance down the stretch.
Quinton Coples is a boom or bust pick, and many have said that he took his senior year off. Coples himself even graded his performance as a C. That’s not good news for a Jets locker room that was already in disarray.
17. Cincinnati Bengals: Dre Kirkpatrick, CB, Alabama
The Cincinnati Bengals really needed a cornerback, having let Johnathan Joseph depart to the Houston Texans in free agency and with Leon Hall fresh off a torn Achilles tendon. Dre Kirkpatrick was the top cornerback available unless the Bengals wanted to risk Janoris Jenkins and his severe character concerns.
This was a great addition to the team, as Kirkpatrick was a big part of a championship football team in college. He is undersized but he is a ballhawk with great natural cover skills.
18. San Diego Chargers: Melvin Ingram, DE, South Carolina
The San Diego Chargers desperately needed two positions—offensive line and a pass rusher. Melvin Ingram gives them the pass rusher they have desperately needed, and he’s probably a safer pick than Chandler Jones or Whitney Mercilus but I think the Chargers absolutely needed to upgrade their offensive line.
Marcus McNeill was released and while Jared Gaither was signed to a long-term deal, he has struggled recently to stay healthy. Kris Dielman retired and Nick Hardwick has been contemplating retirement for quite some time as well. Factor in that Jeromey Clary is awful on the right side and the Chargers should have taken David DeCastro.
19. Chicago Bears: Shea McClellin, DE, Boise State
The Chicago Bears got themselves an excellent pass rusher opposite of Julius Peppers, but they really need to address the offensive line. Both Riley Reiff and David DeCastro were still available, and the Bears have to be kidding themselves if they think J’Marcus Webb and Lance Louis are going to offer Jay Cutler any protection.
20. Tennesee Titans: Kendall Wright, WR, Baylor
This pick surprised me, as I thought the Tennessee Titans had more pressing needs to address than a wide receiver to complement Kenny Britt. Kendall Wright was Robert Griffin III’s playmaking receiver at Baylor University, and he should stretch the field for a team with a young quarterback in Jake Locker and a talented running back in Chris Johnson.
Wright is undersized and he’s best utilized in the slot, but he is an outstanding athlete and he should just make plays for the Titans.
21. New England Patriots (TRADE): Chandler Jones, DE, Syracuse
The New England Patriots fell in love with Chandler Jones prior to the draft, and Bill Belichick traded up to acquire the Syracuse pass-rushing stud. Jones is a phenomenal pass rusher and he is versatile enough to line up at multiple spots on the defensive line.
Jones has drawn comparisons to Arizona Cardinals defensive end/tackle Calais Campbell, and Belichick will definitely get the most out of him on a line that already includes Vince Wilfork.
22. Cleveland Browns: Brandon Weeden, QB, Oklahoma State
This is a great pick for Cleveland. Brandon Weeden is already 28 years old—29 in October—but he is said to be an NFL-ready quarterback and he possesses the physical attributes to succeed at the next level.
The Browns couldn’t possibly be sold on Colt McCoy, and I think they did the right thing by passing on Ryan Tannehill with the fourth overall selection. Weeden can probably still get the Browns six or seven good years, and he has a tremendous back in Trent Richardson to help the offense score some points.
23. Detroit Lions: Riley Reiff, OT, Iowa
The Detroit Lions lucked out when Riley Reiff fell to them with the 23rd overall selection, and they made sure to snatch him up. Reiff is an upgrade over Jeff Backus and Gosder Cherilus, and the Lions need some stability on their offensive line.
Reiff was mocked to go as high as eight overall to the Miami Dolphins, and he’s a steal for the Lions at pick number 23.
24. Pittsburgh Steelers: David DeCastro, G, Stanford
The Pittsburgh Steelers got a player that should have gone at least 10 picks earlier in David DeCastro. He is a future perennial All-Pro guard who will be the next Alan Faneca, a player that will help to keep Ben Roethlisberger standing upright.
DeCastro was rumored to go as high as the St. Louis Rams at the sixth overall pick, and the Steelers seem to have an underachieving group of offensive linemen every single year. This might be the best pick of the draft.
25. New England Patriots (TRADE): Dont’a Hightower, LB, Alabama
The New England Patriots traded up again for this selection, taking Dont’a Hightower from the University of Alabama with their pick.
Bill Belichick has a keen eye for talent and when he sees a player he thinks will fit well in his system, he takes him. I think Hightower might have been a bit of a stretch though, especially considering the Patriots traded up to get him. He does play best in a defense that has a dominating nose tackle occupying two blockers in front of him, and the Patriots have that with Vince Wilfork.
26. Houston Texans: Whitney Mercilus, DE, Illinois
This is exactly what the Houston Texans needed—a pass-rushing force that gets to the opposing quarterback, especially with Andrew Luck now playing in the division. The Texans lost Mario Williams to free agency in the offseason and Mercilus will probably line up as an outside linebacker in a 3-4.
Mercilus led the NCAA in sacks (16) and forced fumbles (9) last season and while few players can replace a guy like Williams, Mercilus may be the closest thing the Texans can get to that production.
27. Cincinnati Bengals (TRADE): Kevin Zeitler, G, Wisconsin
The Cincinnati Bengals really needed some help on their interior offensive line with Nate Livings having left for the Dallas Cowboys and Bobbie Williams not likely to come back in free agency.
Kevin Zeitler is a solid guard who should be able to step in and be the starting guard on day one, although it surprised me that the Bengals went for Zeitler with Cordy Glenn still on the board. Zeitler is an exceptional run blocker, and he’s a pretty safe pick for the Bengals.
28. Green Bay Packers: Nick Perry, DE, USC
The Green Bay Packers got a steal with Nick Perry, a phenomenal pass-rushing defensive end who will likely play outside linebacker in a 3-4. Perry ran a 4.50 40 yard dash and is extremely strong; he gives the Packers their only legit pass-rushing force outside of Clay Matthews.
Perry is a better workout warrior than he shows on tape, but he could produce under a good system with a coach that knows how to get the most out of him.
29. Minnesota Vikings (TRADE): Harrison Smith, SS, Notre Dame
Harrison Smith is the second best safety in a weak safety class, and he’s a ballhawk that should help solidify the Minnesota Vikings’ secondary in a strong division with opposing quarterbacks Jay Cutler, Matthew Stafford, and Aaron Rodgers.
But it was probably a stretch for the Vikings to pick him in the first round, especially since the team had to trade up to be in line to pick him. Smith very well have been available as late as pick 40 or 50, and it’s surprising the Vikings felt it so pressing to get in line to pick him at number 29.
30. San Francisco 49ers: A.J. Jenkins, WR, Illinois
Wow. This is another stunner here, as I figured A.J. Jenkins wouldn’t be off the board until maybe the third or fourth round. Jenkins has a good skill set, he’s fast, and he could put it all together and be an explosive wide receiver.
That being said, it’s a surprise that the 49ers picked Jenkins with wide receivers like Alshon Jeffery, Rueben Randle, and Stephen Hill still on the board.
31. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (TRADE): Doug Martin, RB, Boise State
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers missed out on Trent Richardson, and they probably felt they needed to get Doug Martin here, which meant trading up to the Denver Broncos’ spot (after the Broncos had traded with New England).
Martin will probably be the Buccaneers’ feature back from day one, and he is a good complement to LeGarrette Blount. Martin is well-built, muscular, and can run inside or outside. He can play on all three downs and he should be durable enough to play 10 years or so in the NFL.
32. New York Giants: David Wilson, RB, Virginia Tech
The New York Giants needed a running back with Brandon Jacobs having left for the San Francisco 49ers in free agency. David Wilson is a fast runner (4.4 40 yard dash), he has a good vertical leap, and he will team well in an offense that already has Eli Manning, Hakeem Nicks, and Victor Cruz.
But I think the Giants had more pressing needs, notably their offensive line. The team is set to enter next season with Will Beatty and James Brewer manning the tackle spots, and David Diehl is awful at either left tackle or left guard. The Giants shouldn’t have passed on either Jonathan Martin of Stanford or Cordy Glenn or Georgia.