NFL Draft Grades 2012: Which Teams Came out on Top?

Elyssa GutbrodContributor IMay 4, 2012

NFL Draft Grades 2012: Which Teams Came out on Top?

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    Everyone who follows the NFL spent months waiting for and anticipating the 2012 draft. Now that the big event has come and gone, we’re left with…well, more waiting until training camps and the preseason start to draw closer.

    The upside of that is it gives us more time to reflect on the draft.

    In the months leading up to the draft, pundits publicly analyzed the needs of every team, while each NFL team privately did the same. When it came time to select players to join each team, it became clear that those two analyses did not always add up—take, for example, the head-scratching case of Seattle’s draft picks.

    Of course, on the other end of the spectrum there were many teams that most will agree came out head and shoulders above the rest of the pack when it comes to getting the most out of their NFL pack.

    Keep reading to find out which teams (in alphabetical order) came away from the 2012 draft as clear winners, earning an “A” for their efforts.

Arizona Cardinals

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    The Arizona Cardinals somehow came away from the 2011 season only a few games removed from a Wild Card berth despite the team’s struggle at finding consistency at quarterback. With a smart free-agency period and some clever movement in the draft, the team had the opportunity to put itself in a much better position for 2012.

    One of the team’s biggest needs was to find a true No. 2 wide receiver option to line up opposite Larry Fitzgerald. They filled that need with their first draft choice by picking up Michael Floyd.

    Although building depth at wide receiver won’t exactly fix the problems the team faces at quarterback, there’s a lot to be said for having two big, fast wide receivers with good hands. Teams that had previously focused most of their defensive efforts on Fitzgerald will have to account for the second threat.  

    After the Cardinals took care of that need, they really buckled down and went to work to do some building in their supporting positions. Cornerback was a position of need, and the Cardinals brought in two with Jamell Fleming and Justin Bethel. They also made several pickups to buttress their league-worst offensive line, particularly with OT Bobby Massie.

    Picking up Ryan Lindley as a new quarterback to develop behind Kevin Kolb and John Skelton will also be a potential boon for the team, particularly if Kolb faces injury issues similar to the ones he had last year.

Cincinnati Bengals

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    After a surprise resurgence in 2012 behind rookies Andy Dalton and A.J. Green, it became clear that the pieces have started to fall into place for the Bengals franchise—and that much of it is happening through the draft.

    They may have repeated their success from the 2011 draft again this year. Extra picks gave the team the opportunity to make a few reaches and gambles, many of which will likely pay off. DT Devon Still was a great pickup who will fill immediate needs that the team faces.

    Grabbing OG Kevin Zeitler with Cordy Glenn still available may have been a bit confusing, but it’s entirely possible that the coaching staff saw something in Zeitler that they preferred over Glenn. Perhaps his run blocking was what gave him the nod over Glenn.

    On the other side of that, the organization showed a lot of patience in allowing some players with high-round talent to fall to them. Take, for example, Mohamed Sanu, a wide receiver who was projected to go as high as the first round in some mock drafts and who fell to the Bengals in the third round. He has the potential to add a lot of potency to a wide receiver group that is young and very talented.

    All things considered, the Cincinnati Bengals had one of the better drafts across the NFL. Every pick that they made had value in areas where the team either needed to add immediate starters or to build depth.

Cleveland Browns

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    The Cleveland Browns offense in 2011 was anemic, scoring just 20 touchdowns over the entire season—clearly, something needed to change.

    The team addressed that need in the draft, making sure that their offense went through a complete overhaul. Trading up to secure running back Trent Richardson in the first round and using their other first-round draft pick to take quarterback Brandon Weeden gave the Browns two immediate starters who can be difference-makers in their first year.

    Move aside, Colt McCoy, and let someone a little bit more mature take over for a while.

    Adding depth to their young offensive line was also a must, which the Browns took care of through Mitchell Schwartz and later pickup Ryan Miller.

    The rest of the draft was mostly devoted to adding defensive depth to help support a squad that will hopefully see less time on the field in 2012 than they did in 2011.

    All things considered, the Browns had a lot of work to do coming into the draft, and they managed to get through a big part of their wish list.

Minnesota Vikings

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    Coming into the draft, the Minnesota Vikings seemed to have more areas of need than they could ever possibly hope to fill, even after a fairly aggressive free-agent period.

    The Vikings, more than most teams, spent weeks playing up their high draft pick in order to make an advantageous trade down. On the day of the draft they finally got a nibble, allowing them to move down just one spot in exchange for an extra later pick from the Cleveland Browns.

    In the end, they still got their man in Matt Kalil—certainly the best offensive tackle available in this draft class. Selecting safety Harrison Smith in the first might have been jumping the gun a little bit based on his level of talent, but given the desperate need that the Vikings have at safety, the move makes a lot of sense.

    The rest of the draft was spent building offensive depth to perhaps help replace some of the talent that the team has hemorrhaged over the past several years.

    Some might say that the Vikings needed to focus more on the draft defensively, but a look at their free-agency activity shows that they have shifted those efforts towards bringing in more veteran players. They did select some young talent to help support the new blood from around the league, which might just be good enough.

New England Patriots

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    Moving up twice in the first round of the draft is pretty unusual at the best of times. When the guy orchestrating the moves is Bill Belichick, things seem even stranger.

    And yet, that’s what happened.

    In 2011, the New England Patriots fielded a defensive squad that was just shy of the bottom of the league. Sure, they made it to the Super Bowl, but they lost because their defense couldn’t stop the New York Giants when it mattered the most.

    Belichick was able to address many of the team’s defensive needs through the draft this year. First-round choices of Chandler Jones and Dont’a Hightower will make an immediate impact on the Patriots’ pass rush, making them well worth the trading up that Belichick had to do to secure them.

    Perhaps the most remarkable part of the Pats’ draft, however, is cornerback Alfonzo Dennard, a seventh-round pick from Nebraska. Once projected to be a first-round talent, Dennard fell from grace because of off-the-field issues and a poor Senior Bowl. If he can bounce back from that slump, he will be an absolute steal for Belichick.

Philadelphia Eagles

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    The 2011 Philadelphia Eagles squad will perhaps go down in history as the failed dream team thanks to unfortunate remarks made by backup quarterback Vince Young. After a quiet free-agency period, the 2012 Eagles team made its splash through an excellent draft.

    Trading up for Fletcher Cox in the first round after the Kansas City Chiefs left him on the board was an excellent move that will pay immediate dividends for an already sound defensive line. Other first-rate  defensive-minded picks in Mychal Kendricks and Vinny Curry will help to stabilize a team that seemed too many times in 2011 to be unable to hold onto a lead, no matter how commanding.

    With the wealth of talent now vying for position on the Eagles roster, this squad will have no excuses for failure in the upcoming season.

Pittsburgh Steelers

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    The Pittsburgh Steelers made headlines in the offseason when they parted ways with wide receiver Hines Ward and three other veteran players, but with salary cap issues dogging the team and many free agents to take care of, some difficult decisions had to be made.

    When it came to the 2012 draft, however, the Steelers knew what they needed to do, and they got the job done well.

    Spending the first two rounds on offensive linesmen David DeCastro and Mike Adams was perhaps the best move that the Steelers could have made after the injuries that Ben Roethlisberger suffered during the 2011 season. Bringing in some young blood will invigorate an aging group that has struggled with injury.

    A number of other offensive and defensive pickups, including Alameda Ta’amu, who was a steal in the fourth round, to groom for the future departure of Casey Hampton, will add plenty of depth to a squad that is perennially dangerous.

St. Louis Rams

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    It may take more than one great draft to get the St. Louis Rams back on track to be a true contender in the NFL, but they made steps in the right direction this year.

    Multiple trades in the first round of the draft gave them a number of later picks, which they were able to use to their great advantage. Plenty of talent was added on both offense and defense, including a few gambles that could pay off big time if they work out the way the Rams are hoping.

    Perhaps the biggest gamble of all was on cornerback Janoris Jenkins, an athletic beast on the field who has displayed serious problems in his personal life. If the Rams are able to keep a tight leash on him, he could blossom into one of the best players to come out of this draft.

    Adding some talent at wide receiver and running back should make a big difference to a team that was ravaged by injury in 2011. Cornerback was another position of need that the Rams were able to address well in the draft after an almost unbelievable string of players at that position were placed on injured reserve last season.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers

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    Perhaps more than any other team in the league, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers came into the draft with a specific plan of what they wanted to get done, who they wanted to pick and how they expected to get there.

    All of that planning and effort paid off as time and again the Bucs made trades that turned into hugely advantageous pickups that seem perfect for the team’s needs. Mark Barron will be a star defensive leader on a young squad that only has room to improve. He’ll be joined by hard-hitting Lavonte David and several other defensive pickups.

    Selecting two running backs, including the physical Doug Martin in the first round, was another move that just makes sense for a team whose passing game has finally started to settle into something of a groove. LeGarrette Blount was excellent in 2011, but complementing him with Martin—certainly an eventual starter in his own right—will make a big difference in keeping the Bucs’ offense churning and producing.