10 Most Shocking Developments of the 2012 NFL Draft

Marc FreshmanContributor IApril 29, 2012

10 Most Shocking Developments of the 2012 NFL Draft

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    If you love football, then you know how empty the offseason can be. Come Sunday, you can barbecue all you want, but it won't really be Sunday without football. You'll be able to taste the lack of football in the meat. And don't even get me started on Monday nights without Monday Night Football.

    The offseason can be very rough.

    Fortunately for us, the NFL draft was here to help smooth the gap between seasons, and this one was a doozy. Aside from the foregone conclusions of Andrew Luck and Robert Griffin III, the 2012 draft was extremely tense and exciting. There were also more than a few surprises to go around.

    Here are the 10 most shocking developments of the 2012 NFL draft.

Bruce Irvin Somehow Leapfrogged into the First Round

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    The Seahawks are lucky to have Bruce Irvin. But at pick No. 15? Really?

    Projected to go in the second or third round, Irvin leapfrogged over Quinton Coples and Melvin Ingram and set fire to more than a few mock drafts around the country. 

    Irvin is a valuable addition for any team, but he's also a wild card from a character standpoint. They say personality goes a long way, but so does a questionable one. Suffice to say that character issues are usually enough to bump certain prospects to lowers spots (see: Janoris Jenkins, Cliff Harris, Chris Rainey, Vontaze Burfict). But somehow, Irvin's off-the-field issues didn't seem to hurt him in the 2012 draft.

    There's nothing particularly strange about a team selecting Irvin, but a team taking such an aggressive gamble on him so early in the draft is a bit of a head scratcher.

    Irvin is a leader on the field and in the locker room, he was a fan favorite at West Virginia, he's a passionate football player and he's a terrific asset to have. But when you consider how many prospects were cast aside by Seattle in favor of Irvin, it's definitely an odd choice.

    How will it play out? Only time will tell. But in the meantime, the shockwaves will continue to linger in the minds of analysts everywhere.

The Patriots Trade Up to Get Chandler Jones

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    You may not be a Patriots fan, but you most likely know one. And if you had a chance to speak with them prior to the draft, you know they were bracing themselves for Bill Belichick to trade down. Their logic is simple: When you see the sun come up morning after morning, it's natural to start expecting the daylight to be there at a certain time, without fail.

    Well, the sun didn't come up on Thursday. It plummeted to earth and shattered into a billion pieces, leaving every Patriots fan in the world totally shocked and giddy beyond belief.

    For Patriots fans, moving up from No. 27 to No. 21 was a shocking act of defiance and purposeful intent. It was a total revolt against history. 

    Simply put, Belichick wasn't playing around this time. There were no games, no tricks, no chess moves, no overly-intellectual wheels spinning a thousand miles a minute, just simple logic: The Patriots needed Chandler Jones, and they would have Chandler Jones at any cost.

    And have him, they do.

Small Schools Came Up Big

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    I've been spreading the word about Justin Bethel for months now, and I'll continue to do so. This kid is special. He's athletically gifted beyond belief, incredibly intelligent and highly coachable. He's a team's dream.

    Bethel comes out of Presbyterian, a school which is clearly not a hot zone for media-frenzied prospects. Bethel might not have been a hot prospect, but he was always a sleeper hit who got by on his talent, not by the name of his school. Now he's about to contribute to the Cardinals in a big way.

    Bethel wasn't alone in his modest background. The Rams made a killing on the small school front, picking up Trumaine Johnson out of Montana and Brian Quick out of Appalachian State.

    The List goes on and on. The Panthers grabbed Amini Silatolu from Midwestern State, the Redskins plucked Tom Compton out of South Dakota, Chris Greenwood went from Albion to the Lions, Akiem Hicks went from Regina to the Saints and Jerron McMillian went from Maine to the Packers.

    All in all, the 2012 draft was a shocking yet profound victory for small schools and small football programs everywhere.

The Eagles Quietly Struck Gold

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    The Colts got Andrew Luck and the Redskins got Robert Griffin III. Great for them. A few other teams picked up some nice selections, too. Good for them.

    But did anyone happen to notice that the Eagles quietly grabbed some of the most dynamic prospects in the draft? Not just one or two guys, either, but a bunch of them.

    Philadelphia drafted Fletcher Cox, Mychal Kendricks, Vinny Curry and Nick Foles. They also selected Brandon Boykin, who was one of the most important cornerbacks up for the draft.

    What's shocking here is how quietly the Eagles performed this feat. During the draft, not much was made of the fact that Philadelphia was collecting such an impressive array of young athletes. It was only after the draft, when you stood back and looked at the bigger picture, when Philadelphia's incredible accomplishment really began to sink in.

    If Andy Reid can't get this team deep into the playoffs next season, then he's in some serious trouble. 

The Jets Grew Up (Sort Of)

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    When the Jets acquired Tim Tebow over the offseason, it seemed like the franchise's self-destructive ways were still roaring at full speed.

    But despite being on a collision course with themselves, the Jets 2012 draft selections spoke to an oddly intimate truth; aside from all the choking, trash talking and self-inflicted implosions, they're a team that still believes they can win the Super Bowl. Misguided? Perhaps. Admirable? Absolutely.

    You really can't fault a team for chasing the Lombardi Trophy. In his handful of years with the Jets, Rex Ryan has chased the trophy in just about every wrong way possible, and yet, his team keeps coming back for more.

    They're still a dysfunctional team, but they're a dysfunctional team that you can't fall asleep on. You take them lightly at your own peril.

    In drafting Quinton Coples and Stephen Hill, the Jets landed two spectacular athletes that any football fan on the planet would be happy to have on their team. 

    These are serious draft selections that displayed an impressive show of poise from a team that has lacked poise since, well, forever. These are pinpointed choices, totally purposeful with meaningful intent; this team wants to win a championship.

    Will they win a championship? Of course not. But you have to admire their shocking tenacity.

The Bears Put the Finishing Touches on a Spectacular Roster

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    Is there a reason why the Bears are getting so little media attention? I realize that Peyton Manning, Bountygate and Andrew Luck have been gobbling the headlines in recent months, but has anybody else realized that this Bears team is starting to become ridiculous?

    Jay Cutler is arguably the most underrated slinger in the league. I'd take him over Tony Romo any day of the week. And now he has a starting-caliber backup in Jason Campbell. Michael Bush and Brandon Marshall were incredible offseason additions that will have an immediate impact of the highest degree.

    And now, Shea McClellin and Alshon Jeffery? Are you kidding me? You're adding these guys to a roster that already has Julius Peppers, Brian Urlacher and Matt Forte?

    Why is nobody else shocked by this?

The Buccaneers Came to Play

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    It's been a while since the Buccaneers struck any real fear in anybody. But over the offseason, Tampa Bay has very quietly assembled a team of movers and shakers and assassins. Carl Nicks came over from the Saints, they held on to Michael Bennett and lured Vincent Jackson away from an array of other teams who were salivating over him.

    Good stuff.

    Then, the good stuff got great. The opening night of the 2012 draft propelled the Buccaneers into a whole new level of seriousness. They slid into the No. 7 spot and grabbed Mark Barron, a prized safety with unlimited potential in the NFL and a guaranteed immediate-impact guy.

    Then, they moved into first-round position to snatch Doug Martin, a highly underrated running back who ups the ante in every way. Martin wasn't a prized prospect from the get-go, but this choice makes an enormous amount of sense. Martin is a highly efficient three-down back and a tremendous leader on and off the field.

    These draft choices weren't particularly shocking, but the overall picture is. This Tampa Bay team is quickly becoming a wicked threat in their division. If New Orleans implodes next season without Sean Payton and possibly a handful of suspended players, an otherwise weak NFC South would be left wide open for the Bucs.

    If Josh Freeman can take the next step in his development, we could be witnessing a changing of the guard in this division. As the Saints collapse, the Buccaneers rise. It's a shocking swing of the pendulum. A hypothetical swing, of course, but shockingly close to really happening. 

George Iloka Didn't Get Selected Until the 5th Round

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    George Iloka was one of the most spectacular safeties up for the 2012 draft. Granted, it was a weak year for safeties, so his competition was limited, but the kid is still pretty special.

    Iloka was underrated throughout the entire build-up to the draft. He was constantly overshadowed by the marquee prospects who kept reappearing at the top of everyone's mock drafts. For that reason, I expected him to get bumped to the second round, possibly the third round.

    But the fifth round? Really? Bruce Irvin went in the middle of the first round and George Iloka went late in the fifth round? 

    Picking up Iloka is like adding a tall and lean tornado of violence to your backfield. He's raw, but his ceiling is incredibly high. He's extremely intelligent and his football IQ is off the charts. From a purely athletic standpoint, Iloka is leaps and bounds above most of the other prospects in the entire draft.

    There's really no downside with this kid, so why was he so neglected? It's shocking.

The Rams Made the Biggest (and Most Misleading) Splash

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    The Rams hit a home run with this draft. Michael Brockers, Brian Quick, Janoris Jenkins, Isaiah Pead, Trumaine Johnson and Chris Givens were all tremendous picks.

    This team just transformed itself into a beast. Or at least, that's how it appears on the surface.

    When you take a step back and look at the bigger picture, doesn't this team look a lot like last season's 49ers? Not from a position-to-position standpoint or a scheme standpoint, but from a house-of-cards standpoint. The basic fact is that the Rams upgraded themselves at almost every position in this draft except the one position they're most questionable at, which is quarterback.

    Last season, Alex Smith was the weak link in an otherwise unbreakable San Francisco chain. You can load up your arsenal with as many weapons as you want, but the basic truth is that you need a great quarterback when you're competing in a passing league.

    Is it too soon to judge Sam Bradford? Possibly. He's only been in the league for two seasons. Plus, he was the overall first pick in his draft, so clearly there's something special about him. He could blossom.

    But as of now, Bradford is still the weak link in St. Louis' chain. The franchise just surrounded him with a handful of rookie studs to break him out of his shell, so we'll see what happens. But until Bradford takes that next step, this home run will only be an illusion.  

The Patriots Trade Up to Get Dont'a Hightower

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    When the board showed that the Patriots had traded up from No. 31 to No. 25, Patriots fans were extremely confused. Surely, this could not be happening again in the same night. Certainly not. Once, maybe, but probably not. Twice, out of the question.

    And then it happened.

    The Patriots pounced on Dont'a Hightower with the same aggression with which they grabbed Chandler Jones only a few minutes prior. Patriot Nation was knee-deep in a dizzying tailspin. This sort of thing just isn't done in New England.

    In the Belichick era, there have only been a few occasions when the Patriots traded up in the first round. It hasn't happened since 2003. By that statistical rationale, expecting a double trade-up in one night would be like betting your money on the Patriots taking a safety to open the Super Bowl; yeah, it's possible, but would that really happen?

    Sometimes, life just works out that way.

    Of course, the Patriots eventually fell back into line by trading down to get guys who their fans had never heard of. Quite a way to throw a wet blanket on a raging fire of surprise.

    But still, trading up twice on opening night was still incredible to witness for Patriots fans everywhere. It was, in the words of James Bond from the classic film Goldfinger, after electrocuting a dude in the bath tub, "Shocking, positively shocking."