2012 NFL Draft Grades: The Biggest Winners and Losers of the NFL Draft

Dan HopeContributor IIIApril 28, 2012

2012 NFL Draft Grades: The Biggest Winners and Losers of the NFL Draft

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    The 2012 NFL draft is now complete, with some teams having made the most of their draft selections and others wasting their selections by reaching on players of poor value and failing to fill their needs.

    Which teams emerged from the draft as winners while others grade out as losers? Read through the following slides to find out.

WINNER: Pittsburgh Steelers

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    For years now, the Pittsburgh Steelers have had one of the worst offensive lines in the National Football League. After a tremendous draft, the Steelers may finally be in position to have a good offensive line once again.

    The Steelers got two great steals in the first round.

    They managed to get Stanford guard David DeCastro, a top-10 overall prospect in the draft class, at No. 24 overall, then got a much-needed offensive tackle in Ohio State’s Mike Adams at No. 56 overall. Finally, the Steelers may have an offensive line with five solid starters.

    The Steelers addressed defense in Round 3 and 4 and got two more good values.

    They added much-needed depth at inside linebacker by selecting Miami’s Sean Spence at No. 86, then traded their sixth-round pick to move up to No. 109 to select Washington’s Alameda Ta’amu, who can play nose tackle.

    The Steelers also got very good value late in Round 5 on an very athletic wide receiver/running back in Florida’s Chris Rainey, another player who could be a big steal for them.


LOSER: San Francisco 49ers

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    The 49ers have had a completely puzzling draft.

    They started out by drafting Illinois wide receiver A.J. Jenkins, only the 20th-best receiver in the class, at No. 30 overall. With many of the top wide receivers in the draft class still available, including South Carolina’s Alshon Jeffery and Georgia Tech’s Stephen Hill, selecting a mid-round talent in Jenkins made no sense at all.

    The 49ers needed to draft a guard, but passed them up in the first three rounds, then after trading down twice, made a peculiar decision to trade back up in Round 4 and select Wake Forest’s Joe Looney, who was not among my top 400 prospects.

    While the 49ers did good work in picking up three picks for 2013 by trading down, trading back up to select Looney did not make sense at all.

    The 49ers got a good value on Oregon running back LaMichael James at No. 61, but he did not fit any need whatsoever. The Dolphins selected a similar player in last year’s draft in Kendall Hunter and did not need another small, quick running back.

WINNER: Minnesota Vikings

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    Had the Minnesota Vikings not drafted Matt Kalil, they probably would not have had a “WINNER” slide. Instead however, the Vikings made one of the best moves of the entire draft.

    They traded down one spot with the Cleveland Browns, who were afraid of a team moving up for Trent Richardson, and picked up three Day 3 draft picks in the process. Then they drafted Kalil, an elite left tackle prospect from USC who fills the team’s biggest need.

    The Vikings later traded up, giving up their fourth-round pick to move back into Round 1 from Round 2, then filled a need at safety by drafting one of the two best safeties in the draft class in Notre Dame’s Harrison Smith.

    Smith may not quite be a first-round talent, but in a weak safety class, he was going to go in the late first round, so the Vikings did a good job to move up and get a quality player at a position of need.

    The Vikings continued to bulk up the secondary with good value with the selection of UCF cornerback Josh Robinson in the third round. The Vikings also needed to address the wide receiver position, and got good value with two from Arkansas in Round 4: Jarius Wright is a tremendously fast playmaker, while Greg Childs is a big, skilled possession receiver.

    The Vikings did a great job of getting value and filling needs in this draft.

LOSER: New England Patriots

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    The New England Patriots employed a different strategy than usual this year. Known for trading down and stockpiling future selections, the Patriots traded up twice in the first round, leaving them without any picks after the second round. The strategy did not work well.

    First, the Patriots traded their third-round pick to move up from No. 27 to No. 21 to select Syracuse hybrid pass-rusher Chandler Jones.

    While Jones is a long, athletic pass-rusher with big upside, he was not particularly productive in college and was not worth trading up for. If the Patriots were going to trade up, they should have selected Alabama’s Courtney Upshaw or USC’s Nick Perry.

    Four picks later, the Patriots sent a fourth-round pick to the Broncos to move up from No. 31 to No. 25 and select Alabama linebacker Dont’a Hightower. Hightower is a better choice, as he will add another playmaker at linebacker.

    In the second round, the Patriots made one of the worst picks of the entire draft when they selected Illinois defensive back Tavon Wilson, my No. 381 overall prospect, at No. 48 overall. The Patriots really should have been looking to trade down for more picks, but instead drafted a player who should have been selected much later.

    The Patriots did end up trading down from their second-round pick, but got terrible value in return. They only received the No. 90 overall pick and a fifth-round pick in return, and then reached for another hybrid pass-rusher, Arkansas’s Jake Bequette, with that third-round pick.

    The Patriots are usually the masters of draft value, but this year was an exception. The Patriots came far from maximizing their value and made some very questionable selections, especially following the first round.

WINNER: Cincinnati Bengals

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    The Bengals had a plethora of picks in the draft and they certainly took advantage of them, getting very good value with their selections each round.

    The Bengals added a much-needed playmaker to the secondary by selecting Alabama cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick at No. 17 overall. The Bengals got two great values at defensive tackle on Day 2, by selecting two of the top 32 overall prospects in the draft, Penn State’s Devon Still at No. 53 and Clemson’s Brandon Thompson at No. 93.

    The Bengals did make one mistake in the first round, trading down from No. 21 and passing up the chance to select Stanford guard David DeCastro, only to select a guard who is not nearly as talented in Wisconsin’s Kevin Zeitler at No. 27. That said, they did pick up the selection they used to draft Thompson in the process.

    Cincinnati also got good value on adding offensive playmakers in the middle rounds, with Rutgers wide receiver Mohamed Sanu at No. 83 and Georgia tight end Orson Charles at No. 116.

    Even in the fifth round, the Bengals were not done finding value. They found another playmaker at the cornerback position and a great steal at No. 156 with Iowa’s Shaun Prater, 100 picks later than his No. 56 overall prospect rank. They also got two players expected to go rounds earlier in California wide receiver Marvin Jones and Boise State safety George Iloka.

LOSER: New Orleans Saints

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    The Saints became a loser weeks before the draft even started, when their second-round pick was taken away from them as punishment for the bounty scandal in which Saints defensive players were awarded money for injuring opposing players.

    Having already traded their first-round pick during the 2011 draft in order to move up and select Mark Ingram, they did not have a pick until the third round this year.

    With that first pick at No. 89 overall, the Saints made a very questionable selection by drafting defensive tackle Akiem Hicks, who played his college football in Canada. Hicks started out at LSU and has upside, but was still a major reach.

    The Saints did make one great value selection at No. 122 by selecting Wisconsin wide receiver Nick Toon, the No. 40 overall prospect. Toon is a very skilled receiver who could be a steal in Round 4.

    Other than that, the Saints did not have much to work with and failed to truly capitalize with what they had.


WINNER: Baltimore Ravens

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    The Baltimore Ravens got the draft’s biggest steal when they selected Alabama outside linebacker Courtney Upshaw, a top-five overall prospect, at No. 35 overall in the second round.

    The Ravens were in the market for another pass-rushing outside linebacker and got the best player in the position at the draft at tremendous value.

    The Ravens got good value at the end of the second round and filled their need at left guard by selecting Iowa State’s Kelechi Osemele at No. 60 overall. Their third-round pick, Temple running back Bernard Pierce, gives them a good power back to add to their backfield rotation.

    Another intriguing potential steal for Baltimore came in Round 6 with the selection of Miami wide receiver Tommy Streeter, who has an intriguing combination of size and speed.

LOSER: Seattle Seahawks

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    The Seattle Seahawks could have had any hybrid pass-rusher in the draft class, including Alabama’s Courtney Upshaw and South Carolina’s Melvin Ingram, when they selected at No. 15 overall. Instead they drafted West Virginia’s Bruce Irvin, a situational pass-rusher only with character concerns who ranked as my No. 118 overall prospect.

    The Seahawks made a solid choice to add a much-needed linebacker at No. 47 overall in Bobby Wagner, although there were better linebackers available.

    Their third-round selection of Wisconsin quarterback Russell Wilson at No. 75 was also very questionable, as the Seahawks signed free-agent quarterback Matt Flynn to be their starter while Wilson is a short quarterback who was a reach as a third-round pick.

    The Seahawks did address needs with two very good value selections in Round 4 by selecting Utah State running back Robert Turbin and Florida defensive lineman Jaye Howard, but those picks did not make up for very questionable selections on the first two days of the draft.

WINNER: Philadelphia Eagles

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    The Philadelphia Eagles did a great job of finding values and filling needs, especially in bulking up their defense.

    Without too many needs, the Eagles had the flexibility to trade up to pursue a difference-maker. That is exactly what they did by trading fourth- and sixth-round selections to move up to No. 12 and select Mississippi State defensive tackle Fletcher Cox. He is a quick, explosive defensive tackle who can be an impact player for the Eagles up front.

    The Eagles added a much-needed playmaker at linebacker at No. 46 in California’s Mychal Kendricks, an undersized but fast linebacker who tackles well. From the No. 51 pick they had acquired in trading Kevin Kolb, the Eagles moved down.

    With the two picks they acquired, they got good value at No. 59 in Marshall defensive end Vinny Curry, then got an absolute steal at No. 123 with Georgia cornerback Brandon Boykin, who is a perfect fit to play nickel cornerback for them.

    The Eagles also found a solid backup quarterback for Michael Vick in Round 3, with their selection of Arizona’s Nick Foles, who was good value, at No. 88 overall. They came up with even more steals in Round 6 with the selections of Iowa wide receiver Marvin McNutt and Miami guard Brandon Washington.


LOSER: Chicago Bears

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    The Chicago Bears came into the draft with many needs and did not do the most effective job of filling those needs.

    The Bears needed to find a pass-rusher and linebacker, but that did not make Boise State’s Shea McClellin the right choice at No. 19 overall. McClellin is a great fit for a 3-4 defense as an outside linebacker, but he will be making an unnatural transition to strong-side linebacker in the 4-3 defense.

    Additionally, McClellin was a big reach to be selected over Alabama’s Courtney Upshaw.

    The Bears got great value by trading up in the middle of the second round to select South Carolina wide receiver Alshon Jeffery, so that was a good move. Their next two selections of Oregon State safety Brandon Hardin at No. 79 overall and Temple H-back Evan Rodriguez at No. 111 overall were major reaches.

    The Bears really needed to maximize value to fill their needs, but they did not do that. They reached for numerous prospects and left needs open on the offensive line and defensive lines.

WINNER: St. Louis Rams

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    The St. Louis Rams turned the No. 2 overall pick into LSU defensive tackle Michael Brockers, North Alabama cornerback Janoris Jenkins, Cincinnati running back Isaiah Pead, South Carolina guard Rokevious Watkins, and the Redskins’ first-round picks in 2013 and 2014. Need I say more?

    By passing up the opportunity to draft an elite prospect at the top of the draft, the Rams were able to fill up on building blocks, and got great talent at positions of need at defensive tackle, cornerback and running back.

    Additionally, the Rams built up at the wide receiver position with the selection of Appalachian State’s Brian Quick at No. 33 and Wake Forest’s Chris Givens at No. 96. The Rams’ addition of Montana defensive back Trumaine Johnson at No. 65 gave them another versatile defensive back in Round 3.

    The Rams did not get the best value with all of their individual selections, but they got value in numbers and addressed their biggest needs, making them big winners in this draft.

LOSER: Denver Broncos

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    The Denver Broncos trade down twice out of the first round, picking up two fourth-round selections in the process. That said, their value in their actual selections was not good.

    The Broncos reached at No. 36 overall on Cincinnati defensive tackle Derek Wolfe. While Wolfe is a skilled player who was productive in college, he is undersized and not as good a run-stopper as players still on the board in Michigan State’s Jerel Worthy and Penn State’s Devon Still.

    The Broncos made an interesting choice to draft Arizona State quarterback Brock Osweiler at No. 57 overall, but made a very questionable move in the third round. With better running backs including Miami’s Lamar Miller still available, they traded up 20 spots and gave one of their fourth-round picks to draft San Diego State’s Ronnie Hillman.

    The Broncos have not had a terrible draft, but they have missed out on better values with most of their picks, which ranks them among the losers of the draft.

WINNER: Green Bay Packers

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    The Green Bay Packers did a great job of picking up value and addressing their needs early in this draft.

    The Packers needed to bring in a pass-rushing outside linebacker to start across from Clay Matthews III and got great value at No. 28 overall in USC’s Nick Perry.

    In the second round, the Packers traded up twice, and got great value both times.

    First, the Packers gave up their fourth-round pick to move up in Round 2 and select Michigan State defensive lineman Jerel Worthy, my No. 16 overall prospect, at No. 51 overall. Worthy is not a great fit to play the 5-technique defensive end, but his talent and upside made him worth moving up for.

    Second, the Packers moved back up to No. 62 overall to select Vanderbilt cornerback Casey Hayward.

    Cornerback was not among the Packers’ biggest needs, and they did not necessarily need to trade up that high for Hayward. That said, they got a steal of a deal, trading only a fifth-round pick to the New England Patriots to move up from the late third round, so they got good value once again.

LOSER: Cleveland Browns

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    The Browns’ draft started out well, as they added the premier offensive playmaker they needed in Alabama running back Trent Richardson. However, the rest of their draft was highlighted by missed value.

    While bringing in another quarterback was not a bad idea, drafting Oklahoma State’s Brandon Weeden at No. 22 was not the right move. The Browns should have waited until the second or third round for a quarterback, while keeping the team in Colt McCoy’s hands to give him another chance to step up.

    The Browns addressed a need at right tackle with the selection of California’s Mitchell Schwartz, but they had a better option available in Stanford’s Jonathan Martin. Their biggest mistake, however, came in Round 3 when they selected Cincinnati defensive tackle John Hughes, a player not even ranked among my top 400 prospects.

    The Browns needed to add another weapon at wide receiver, but all they got was Miami’s Travis Benjamin at No. 100 overall. Benjamin has great speed, but is an unpolished receiver who should not have been selected over Wisconsin’s Nick Toon and Arkansas’s Jarius Wright.

WINNER: Buffalo Bills

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    The Buffalo Bills have done a very good job of adding playmakers in this draft and filling their needs.

    The Bills needed to upgrade in the secondary, and did so by adding two talented SEC defensive backs.

    First, they drafted South Carolina’s Stephon Gilmore at No. 10, then LSU’s Ron Brooks at No. 124. While both players were slight reaches where they were selected, both are talented and can be defensive difference-makers.

    The Bills also got a much-needed offensive tackle at great value, when they took advantage of the opportunity to select Georgia’s Cordy Glenn, my No. 17 overall prospect, at No. 41 overall.

    The Bills also needed to add a playmaker at linebacker, and got two great values by selecting Florida State’s Nigel Bradham in Round 4 at No. 105, then TCU’s Tank Carder in Round 5 at No. 147.


LOSER: Carolina Panthers

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    After getting my pick for Defensive Rookie of the Year in Boston College middle linebacker Luke Kuechly at No. 9 overall, it is hard to call them a loser. However, they made some very questionable decisions with the rest of their draft that puts them in that category.

    In the second round, the Panthers reached for Midwestern State guard Amini Silatolu. While there was reason to address the guard position, they could have addressed a bigger need with valuable on the board at defensive tackle in Penn State’s Devon Still or Michigan State’s Jerel Worthy. At guard, a better choice would have been Georgia’s Cordy Glenn.

    After having no third-round pick, the Panthers also made a very questionable decision in Round 4.

    They traded their fourth-round pick along with their 2013 third-round pick for pick No. 103 in order to draft Oklahoma defensive end Frank Alexander. While Alexander is a good player, this was much too steep of a price to pay, and he was not even a steal in Round 4, just a solid choice.


WINNER: San Diego Chargers

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    The San Diego Chargers did not do much to address their offensive line woes, but they addressed all of their other needs and got great value with their selections.

    The Chargers came into the draft needing a premier pass-rusher, and they got great value at No. 18 overall with the most explosive pass-rusher in the draft class in South Carolina’s Melvin Ingram.

    The Chargers continued to add value to their defense in Round 2 and 3, upgrading on the defensive line with Connecticut’s Kendall Reyes, then added a strong safety in LSU’s Brandon Taylor.

    The Chargers also got a potential steal in sleeper tight end Ladarius Green from Louisiana-Lafayette, my No. 49 overall prospect, in Round 4. Green is tall, a great athlete and has huge potential as a downfield receiver.

    The Chargers finally addressed their offensive line in Round 5 with Penn State guard Johnnie Troutman and in Round 7 with Michigan center David Molk, who should both provide depth. The offensive line will still be a concern, but the Chargers still won with this draft.

LOSER: Kansas City Chiefs

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    The Kansas City Chiefs drafted the best nose tackle in the draft in Memphis’ Dontari Poe, addressing their biggest need. However, after a solid choice to start out their draft, the rest of the Chiefs’ picks were quite suspect.

    The Chiefs did not draft another player ranked inside my top 140 in the rest of the draft. While they addressed another need area in the offensive line, Illinois’ Jeff Allen was a reach at No. 44 overall, as was Oklahoma’s Donald Stephenson at No. 74 overall.

    The Chiefs addressed their need areas, but at the end of the day, they did not make any exceptional picks and may not end up with great production out of this draft class.

WINNER: Arizona Cardinals

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    The Arizona Cardinals did not have a second-round pick, but made the most of the picks they had.

    The Cardinals added a dynamic playmaker to the passing game with the selection of Notre Dame wide receiver Michael Floyd at No. 13, adding a legitimate No. 2 receiver to start across from Larry Fitzgerald.

    In the third round, the Cardinals addressed another need at cornerback, and got good value at No. 80 with Oklahoma’s Jamell Fleming.

    In Round 4, the Cardinals got tremendous value and added a much-needed offensive tackle in Mississippi’s Bobby Massie. He might not be the left tackle the Cardinals need, but should be a solid right tackle and has development potential.

    The Cardinals also made some very good choices for depth in the later rounds. They got good value in Round 5 for Washington offensive lineman Senio Kelemete, and two very intriguing Round 6 picks in Presbyterian defensive back Justin Bethel and San Diego State quarterback Ryan Lindley, both of whom have big upside.

WINNER: Detroit Lions

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    On Day 2, many were quick to knock the Detroit Lions for their picks, but I actually really like what they did with their draft this year.

    The Lions got great value at No. 23 overall with Iowa offensive tackle Riley Reiff. He is a perfect fit for the Lions, as he can come in and start at right tackle or guard while being developed into an heir apparent for the aging Jeff Backus at left tackle.

    At No. 54, they added an underrated wide receiver in Oklahoma’s Ryan Broyles. He is coming off of a torn ACL, but he is a very productive and skilled wideout who should find NFL success. In the third round, the Lions added a much-needed cornerback in Louisiana-Lafayette’s Dwight Bentley.

    The Lions also took a chance on two Oklahoma linebackers.

    Ronnell Lewis was a Round 4 pick who could pay great dividends. Lewis had his issues at Oklahoma, but he is an athletic linebacker who can also line up as a defensive end in pass-rushing situations. He could end up being a great steal and a versatile contributor.

    His teammate, Travis Lewis, once appeared to be a first-round talent, but had his career derailed by injuries. The Lions selected him in Round 7 and could end up with a steal if he regains his old form.

WINNER: Houston Texans

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    The Houston Texans lost a premier pass-rusher to free agency in Mario Williams, but added another pass-rusher in this draft who may be a better fit for their system in Illinois’ Whitney Mercilus at No. 26 overall.

    The Texans failed to address their need at right tackle, but added quality talent throughout the draft. Ohio State wide receiver DeVier Posey was a reach at No. 68, but they got two quality offensive linemen in Miami (Ohio) guard Brandon Brooks at No. 76 and Georgia center Ben Jones at No. 99.

    Nebraska defensive lineman Jared Crick was also a good value choice at No. 126, and the Texans filled their need of a placekicker with the best kicker in the draft class by selecting Texas A&M’s Randy Bullock.

WINNER/LOSER: Indianapolis Colts

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    The Indianapolis Colts can be classified as a winner on the strength of their No. 1 overall pick alone. Stanford quarterback Andrew Luck is a special prospect who could be an elite player in the NFL for many years to come.

    That said, they failed to address their many needs on the defensive side of the ball.

    The selection of Stanford tight end Coby Fleener at No. 34 overall was a great choice to pair him back with his collegiate quarterback. But while Clemson tight end Dwayne Allen was terrific value in Round 3, drafting another tight end with so many needs was overkill.

    The Colts put all of their attention on the offense in this draft, with their only defensive pick being Alabama nose tackle Josh Chapman. While their efforts to upgrade the offense were certainly important, failing to upgrade the defense considerably is to going to keep the Colts set back for at least another year.

WINNER/LOSER: Washington Redskins

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    Like the Colts, the Redskins won big when they traded up to No. 2 overall to select a franchise quarterback in Baylor’s Robert Griffin III. However, given that they traded their second-round pick and their first-round picks for the next two drafts, they really need to maximize the rest of their picks in this draft, and failed to do so.

    The Redskins used their third-round draft pick on SMU guard Josh LeRibeus, who was ranked No. 323 overall. The Redskins only drafted four prospects ranked within my top 300, and two of them were quarterbacks, with the selection of a backup quarterback in Michigan State’s Kirk Cousins at No. 102.

    The Redskins failed to address their needs in the secondary and did not maximize their value in the draft, but at least they have a franchise quarterback.


WINNER: Miami Dolphins

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    Unlike the Colts and Redskins, the Dolphins drafted a quarterback who is not a franchise prospect and should not have been a top-10 pick when they picked Texas A&M’s Ryan Tannehill at No. 8 overall. That said, they drafted very well following the Tannehill selection, making them arguably a winner.

    While the Dolphins drafted a second-round talent in the first round, they got a first-round talent in the second round when they selected Stanford offensive tackle Jonathan Martin at No. 42 overall. Martin, the No. 11 overall prospect in my rankings, will immediately fill their hole at right tackle.

    The Dolphins also got a tremendous steal by trading up to No. 97 overall early in Round 4 to select a fast, explosive running back in Lamar Miller from Miami. The Dolphins also added a much-needed pass-rushing defensive end in Miami’s Olivier Vernon at No. 72 and a playmaker to the passing offense in Missouri’s Michael Egnew at No. 78.

    Tannehill has high potential to end up as a bust, but the Dolphins should end up with many quality players from this draft class.

LOSER: Dallas Cowboys

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    Initially, I loved what the Cowboys had done in the first round of the draft, giving up their second-round pick to move up from No. 14 to No. 6 and get LSU cornerback Morris Claiborne, who can be the star they need in the secondary and is the best defensive player in the draft class.

    That said, the Cowboys’ drafting after that move was very questionable.

    Their next two picks were Boise State hybrid pass-rusher Tyrone Crawford at No. 81 overall and Wake Forest outside linebacker Kyle Wilber at No. 113 overall. Drafting two players at the same position and ignoring their other needs was a mistake, especially after giving up a second-round pick. Both players could be classified as reaches.

    The Cowboys also used their compensatory fourth-round selection on Eastern Washington’s Matt Johnson at No. 135 overall, a questionable choice as he came from completely off the radar. It may be tough to judge them on that pick, but nonetheless, the Cowboys did not maximize their value with the rest of their picks after moving up for Claiborne.