2012 NFL Draft Grades: Assessing Biggest First-Round Impact Picks

Gary Davenport@@IDPSharksNFL AnalystApril 27, 2012

NEW YORK, NY - APRIL 26:  Morris Claiborne from LSU walks on stage after he was selected #6 overall by the Dallas Cowboys in the first round of during the 2012 NFL Draft at Radio City Music Hall on April 26, 2012 in New York City.  (Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images)
Al Bello/Getty Images

The 2012 NFL draft got underway yesterday with two picks that everyone knew was coming, followed by approximately 37 trades, a couple head-scratching choices, and one very interesting handshake by league commissioner Roger Goodell.

Every team selecting in Thursday's first round hopes that the player they took will make a big impact for their new teams. However, for clubs with postseason aspirations the sense of urgency regarding that impact becomes amplified, so here's a look at the first round picks who have the best chance to make a big dent for playoff contenders in 2012.

Chandler Jones, DE, Syracuse (New England Patriots - 21st overall)

The New England Patriots made it all the way to Super Bowl XLVI last season before finally being done in by a leaky defense that ranked 31st in the National Football League. With defensive ends Mark Anderson and Andre Carter both now gone upgrading the front seven was a priority that the team took steps to address, trading up in the first round to secure the services of Syracuse defensive end Chandler Jones.

The 6'5" 266-pound Jones didn't exactly light up the stat sheet as a senior, amassing only 38 tackles and 4.5 sacks in 2011. However, Jones had been steadily rising up draft boards of late, with NFL Network draft analyst Mike Mayock going so far as to say that Jones will be "the best defensive player to come out of this draft."

Jones will reportedly step into the hybrid "elephant" role made famous by Willie McGinest with the Patriots, and with plenty of early playing time sure to be in his future Jones will have a big say in whether or not the team makes it back to the Big Game this season.

Morris Claiborne, CB, LSU (Dallas Cowboys - 6th overall)

The Dallas Cowboys missed the playoffs altogether in 2011 after being shredded by Eli Manning and the New York Giants in the regular season finale. Apparently that unpleasant memory is still fresh in the mind of team owner Jerry Jones, who not only acquired the top cornerback available in free agency in Brandon Carr, but followed that up by trading up to select the draft's top player at the position in Morris Claiborne.

Claiborne won the Thorpe Award as college football's top defensive back last season after logging 51 tackles and six interceptions for the Tigers. While the 5'11" 188-pounder is glad to be joining such a storied franchise, Claiborne told the Chicago Sun-Times that he was as surprised as anyone when the Cowboys came calling.

“I didn’t see it coming in a million years. I had no idea,” Claiborne said. “We didn’t talk none, none at all. That’s why it was shocking to me when I got the phone call.”

The Cowboys are undoubtedly just as glad to have Claiborne in the fold as he is to be there. One of the team's most glaring weaknesses in 2011 has now become a strength after a complete overhaul at the cornerback position.

David DeCastro, OG, Stanford (Pittsburgh Steelers - 24th overall))

The only team on this list that didn't trade up, the Pittsburgh Steelers simply sat back and watched the draft's top offensive guard prospect fall into their laps. After allowing 42 sacks last year, the offensive front was a huge area of need that Pittsburgh was able to address in a big way, adding a player who will all but certainly slide into the starting lineup from day one in the 316-pound Cardinal standout.

This isn't to say that the Steelers didn't consider getting in on the wheeling and dealing, as with each successive pick that saw the two-time consensus All-American slide closer to Pittsburgh's grasp the temptation to make a move to snatch him up grew according to The Washington Post.

“We really we didn’t think David would be there at 24 quite honestly,” Colbert said. “We valued him that high. We said there were a few special players in this draft, and he was one of them.”

However, as is usually the case with one of the National Football League's best-run franchises the Pittsburgh Steelers were patient and let the draft come to them, and as has happened so often in the past that patience by the Steelers was handsomely rewarded.