Re-Grading the 2012 NFL Draft
Now into the final weekend of the NFL preseason, a stronger evaluation of this year's rookies can be assessed.
After the 2012 NFL draft, any kind of breakdown could only be taken from a player's collegiate film and how each fit with his professional team.
Now, though, we finally have some pro experience to analyze and a greater sense of what to anticipate when the regular season kicks off. It's certainly been an exciting preseason because of the development of top selections like Andrew Luck and Robert Griffin III.
Fortunately enough, the real games begin in less than two weeks. Before the road to Super Bowl XLVII commences, here's a complete regrade of the 2012 NFL draft.
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Michael Floyd hasn't received too many opportunities to make plays, but he's made an impact elsewhere.
For one, he's a reliable run-blocker downfield, so the more that effort keeps up, the better. Jamell Fleming looks to be a good nickel/dime back in strict passing situations, and he's a solid tackler. He'll be effective against the run as well.
Justin Bethel, however, has stolen the show and will be huge on special teams at the very least.
The new offensive linemen haven't impressed, though, and winning the line of scrimmage is key to winning any game. If the lack of protection continues, it wouldn't be surprising to see Ryan Lindley get a shot under center.
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Defensive end Jonathan Massaquoi provided a glimmer of hope from the Atlanta Falcons' rookies.
The Dirty Birds' front wall of defense needs another stud rusher with John Abraham, Jonathan Babineaux and Ray Edwards. Massaquoi has been impressive thus far.
Offensive lineman Peter Konz, unfortunately, has not been, and the Falcons didn't have a first-round selection to draft a top prospect either.
If Travian Robertson can develop, Atlanta's front seven will be impenetrable, so the defense has promise.
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The Baltimore Ravens had a strong draft despite not selecting in Round 1.
Courtney Upshaw was a great add to the front seven, and Bernard Pierce gives the offense a nice two-back tandem. Play-action, in short, becomes a much more viable threat.
Kelechi Osemele has the size to contribute at either guard or tackle spot along the offensive line, so the Ravens have much to be satisfied with heading into Week 1.
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The Buffalo Bills had one of the best all-around drafts.
Stephon Gilmore has looked like the best defensive player from this class, and Cordy Glenn certainly was a nice get for the offensive line.
Elsewhere, contributors like Ron Brooks, Tank Carder and Nigel Bradham only add reliable depth to the already stacked defense.
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Linebacker Luke Kuechly filled a great need for the Carolina Panthers on defense, and he'll be a great impact player next to Jon Beason.
Frank Alexander also provides talented depth on the defensive line for stopping the run and creating additional quarterback pressure, as Charles Johnson will surely see more double-teams.
With the offense remaining explosive, you can anticipate opponents throwing the ball more against the Cats.
Enter defensive back Josh Norman, who makes for a sound nickel/dime back and potential starter as the season progresses.
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There's a lot of hype surrounding receiver Alshon Jeffery, and rightfully so; the guy is an athletic freak of nature.
First-round pick Shea McClellin out of Boise State has also made a strong impact. The guy has to get stronger and more instinctive when defending the run, but his explosive quickness and all-out effort have paid dividends thus far.
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Selecting standout rookies like Dre Kirkpatrick and Devon Still from the draft, the Cincinnati Bengals only enhanced their top-10 defense.
Still and Kirkpatrick are excellent depth players, and you can't go wrong with that kind of talent in the AFC North. Also, don't discount George Iloka, who's an ideal roll-down safety for run support with his size alone.
Offensively, Kevin Zeitler was one of the best selections in Round 1.
He's proven to be a complete lineman, and with other guys like Mohamed Sanu and Marvin Jones impacting the passing game, the Bengals have explosive potential.
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Everything for the Cleveland Browns' rookies in 2012 revolves around Trent Richardson and Brandon Weeden.
Weeden wasn't nearly as impressive as his rookie quarterback counterparts in the preseason, but he has shown the strong arm and accuracy quite well at times. Weeden has gotten better as the preseason has progressed, so let's hope that continues in the real games.
As for Richardson, he simply has to be healthy.
The Browns can't afford for him to have an inconsistent rookie campaign; otherwise it'll just be another long year.
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The Dallas Cowboys made somewhat of a risky move by moving up to select cornerback Morris Claiborne.
Still, it was the right decision, and the former Bayou Bengal remains a proven playmaker. With Brandon Carr also in the secondary, Claiborne will see plenty of opportunities despite the preseason injury limitations.
The other rookie to watch for is Tyrone Crawford.
He's a true sack master and reliable against the run. In Big D's dominant front seven, the "doomsday defense" is almost back.
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Unless the worst-case scenario happens to Peyton Manning, Brock Osweiler will never see the field this season.
That said, Osweiler didn't have an overly dominant preseason, but it wasn't great either. There have also been rather high expectations around Ronnie Hillman. Unfortunately, he didn't impress against the San Francisco 49ers, so anticipate a limited role early in the season.
Derek Wolfe and Omar Bolden, however, have been great for the defense. Wolfe's versatility fits a 4-3 or 3-4 front, and Bolden is a good find at the nickel/dime back spot.
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Offensive lineman Riley Reiff is the main rookie to watch in the Motor City.
He's arguably the best lineman in the class, and his run-blocking skill set from Iowa transitions well for the Detroit Lions. Reiff is also a wall as a pass-blocker, so Matthew Stafford has even more time to find Calvin Johnson.
Receiver Ryan Broyles has been good for depth, and his reliability is unquestioned. It's his durability that's up in the air after his final college season was cut short.
Defensively, a lot of pressure is riding on Dwight Bentley and Ronnell Lewis
Bentley has displayed impressive upside, and Lewis significantly helps the defensive front.
Green Bay Packers
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The Green Bay Packers desperately needed defensive help, and Dom Capers' unit has indeed improved this preseason.
Nick Perry and Jerel Worthy were fitting additions to the defensive front, and the Packers need top-tier talent in the trenches. Both can make plays in the backfield and are better at applying quarterback pressure than given credit.
Casey Hayward helps bring depth to the secondary and is a ball-hawking machine. With his eye for the ball and zone coverage skills, it wouldn't be surprising to see Hayward get minimal time at safety as well as the nickel corner.
No, none have been ridiculously dominant in the preseason. However, after last season Green Bay can use any boost to the defense.
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Whitney Mercilus was a huge pick for the Houston Texans in the draft.
Already boasting a stellar front seven, Mercilus is just another sack master who can shut down the run as well. In passing situations is where he'll contribute most, because Mercilus has the tenacity to apply pressure from all over.
Ben Jones and DeVier Posey help add depth to the offense. After the injuries from 2011, addressing that need was a must. Jones is primarily a center, but his physical play and relentless attitude bode well for either guard spot.
Posey and Keshawn Martin won't see much playing time early but are reliable enough to contribute in spread situations.
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Andrew Luck is the sole rookie that matters for the Indianapolis Colts.
After him, guys like Vick Ballard, Coby Fleener, LaVon Brazill and T.Y. Hilton can then make a stronger impact.
Fleener is obviously expected to be Luck's favorite target because the two were Stanford teammates. Ballard's a good No. 2 back behind Donald Brown, Brazill has No. 2 receiver potential and Hilton's versatility plays a big factor offensively and on special teams.
Also anticipate Josh Chapman impacting the defensive line; slowing the interior running game is key for Indy's front seven.
Evan Habeeb-US PRESSWIRE
Two guys, Justin Blackmon and Andre Branch, are vital to the Jacksonville Jaguars in 2012.
Blackmon is supposed to be the No. 1 receiver, and his preseason has only improved with time. As long as the offensive line protection holds up, Blackmon will produce.
Branch hasn't been too bad either. However, he does need to apply more quarterback pressure because that's what the Jags lacked in 2011. The rest of the defense is fine, so disrupting that timing on a more consistent basis is needed for Jacksonville to compete this season.
Kansas City Chiefs
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Dontari Poe may have been selected a little too high by the Kansas City Chiefs, but he's done well despite the minimal action.
It's going to take a lot for him to bust as well, because K.C. simply has far too much talent around him on defense. Given a restricted set of assignment responsibilities, Poe will control the trenches.
Offensively, running back Cyrus Gray and receiver Devon Wylie need to keep working.
Wylie's part of a deep receiving corps, though. He provides depth there and on special teams as well. Gray is a dynamic back capable of contributing on third down, and he too can help on kickoffs and punts.
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Just like Andrew Luck in Indianapolis, everything revolves around Ryan Tannehill for the Miami Dolphins.
Through limited experience at quarterback as well as taking snaps from under center in college, Tannehill has defied those odds playing again for Mike Sherman.
The Dolphins also surrounded Tannehill with good talent in Jonathan Martin, B.J. Cunningham, Lamar Miller and Rishard Matthews. Miami remains a work in progress, and we can't expect such a young team to wow us in 2012.
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If Christian Ponder is to develop as the Minnesota Vikings' franchise quarterback, Matt Kalil has no other choice but to seal off the blind side.
He's proven to be that guy for Ponder, and this only helps the Vikings present a more balanced attack.
Jarius Wright still has much more proving to do than anticipated, and unfortunately Greg Childs suffered a severe injury early in August.
Childs' fledgling NFL career took a devastating hit when he tried to jump to catch a pass in an intra-squad scrimmage on Saturday night and ruptured his patellar tendon—in both knees. Childs went for surgery on Monday. There's no timetable for his return.
The defense has some nice talent in defensive backs Harrison Smith and Josh Robinson.
New England Patriots
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Chandler Jones and Dont'a Hightower were two solid picks by the New England Patriots.
Both have a knack for finding the ball and making plays near the line, while Jones can cause havoc in the backfield, and Hightower is better than advertised in coverage.
Tavon Wilson was a surprise pick in Round 2, and Alfonzo Dennard had risk despite being a late-rounder. Nevertheless, each has proven to read and react well to the ball once in flight and display a good amount of dependability.
New Orleans Saints
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Bountygate aside, the New Orleans Saints made some effective draft picks.
Receiver Nick Toon is the best guy to count on, as his size, dependability and route-running skills translate well to the Saints offense. Drew Brees will find him and force Toon to produce.
On the defense, Akiem Hicks was a needed add to the defensive line since New Orleans allowed five yards per carry in 2011. He'll be expected to make an impact early, but there's no added pressure because the Saints' overall defense has much proving to do.
New York Giants
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Running back David Wilson is the future of Eli Manning's backfield, and Rueben Randle is just another target in the extensive passing attack.
Wilson is a complete, every-down back, so anticipate him getting relied on early and often.
With Victor Cruz and Hakeem Nicks at receiver, Randle will face lots of single coverage to make plays. Big Blue's defense doesn't need much help after the strong postseason run, but Jayron Hosley is just the playmaker it could use.
After all, the Giants did allow quite a few passing yards in the regular season, and fixing that area only makes the defending champs tougher to beat.
New York Jets
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At least with the New York Jets we can expect another sound defense.
Quinton Coples and Demario Davis didn't appear to be the most impressive of selections back in April. However, both have fared nicely this preseason.
Coples has easily been the more consistent of the two, which can be expected given the Jets secondary and Davis being a less-touted prospect. Nevertheless, Gang Green's defense is the polar opposite of the offense.
Stephen Hill hasn't done anything too outstanding, although that's due in large part to the offensive line. If Mark Sanchez can get some protection, Hill's playmaking potential is there.
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The Oakland Raiders didn't have a draft pick until Round 3, but it's been a satisfying preseason.
Juron Criner only got better with time, and although he wasn't drafted, Rod Streater has done quite well. In addition, Tony Bergstrom has only made the offensive line stronger.
Miles Burris simply adds talent to an already better-than-given-credit-for front seven, and now it's just a matter of winning consistently. Ranking No. 27 against the pass and run in 2011, if Oakland doesn't slow anyone down, 2012 will be a long season.
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If there's a Super Bowl or bust year for the Philadelphia Eagles, 2012 is that year.
Entering the offseason on a four-game winning streak and going 5-1 in the NFC East, Philly made some excellent defensive selections in Fletcher Cox, Mychal Kendricks, Vinny Curry and Brandon Boykin.
Cox and Curry add capable starting talent to the defensive line, and Kendricks is a fast linebacker who covers great distance in little time. Boykin is a dynamic corner who has at least solidified a nickel corner contributing role.
The Eagles also made two impressive selections on offense with Nick Foles and Marvin McNutt.
Foles is your prototypical pocket passer with a strong arm, and McNutt can go deep at any time. He may not possess blazing speed, but his strength and ability to get yards after plays are key factors.
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Outside of Chris Rainey, the Pittsburgh Steelers aren't getting much from their 2012 rookie class.
"Fortunately, he’s not done for the year," Steelers offensive line coach Sean Kugler told Trib Total Media. “It is going to be a long comeback for him, but just the fact that it wasn’t something devastating that ended his year (is positive.)”
So, if and when DeCastro returns, we'll then get a better evaluation of his pro ability. Had he stayed healthy, the offensive line still had much work ahead. Allowing 47 sacks (including the playoffs) last season was brutal.
Mike Adams hasn't impressed either, but at least Alameda Ta'amu provides depth to the defensive front. For the Steelers in 2012, don't expect a major impact from the rookies.
San Diego Chargers
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Melvin Ingram was the man in college, and he's going to be the man in Southern California.
Arguably the most versatile defensive player in the draft, Ingram has dominated every snap for the Bolts this preseason.
Elsewhere, Kendall Reyes was a gem pick in Round 2 after seeming like a reach, and Brandon Taylor gives more talented depth to the secondary. The San Diego Chargers are a much more complete team in 2012, and the defense has unlimited potential.
San Francisco 49ers
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Other than LaMichael James, no rookies will contribute much for the San Francisco 49ers.
The receiving corps is too stacked for A.J. Jenkins, who was reached for anyway. He hasn't emerged as a consistent downfield playmaker. With guys like Randy Moss, Mario Manningham, Michael Crabtree and Vernon Davis, it would be surprising to see Jenkins take the field.
On the other hand, James has No. 2 ball-carrier potential, as he's a dual threat, possessing all the tangibles. If anything, he'll produce on third downs early in the year.
Defensively, there's no need for a rookie to line up. Cam Johnson was a solid seventh-round pick, but the 49ers already have a stacked front seven.
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Russell Wilson has turned out to be the steal of the draft thus far.
He's only improved through each game, and you can see the confidence Wilson puts on each pass as well.
Robert Turbin may be able to contribute as a short-yardage, third-down back, but don't expect much from him with Marshawn Lynch still around. Bruce Irvin is a great pass-rushing presence, but he won't contribute much in any other situation.
One player to watch for is Winston Guy. He's a surprise safety with starting potential and monster-back capabilities on passing downs.
St. Louis Rams
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Moving down from the No. 2 spot really set the St. Louis Rams up for the future.
In terms of solely their 2012 selections, though, the Rams addressed and filled big needs.
Michael Brockers can draw a double-team on any down, which bodes well for Chris Long's production at defensive end. The secondary got Janoris Jenkins and Trumaine Johnson for at least depth purposes, and both know how to make plays.
Additionally, Johnson also has safety potential with his ball skills and size.
On the flip side, the offense sees a future running back in Isaiah Pead and a No. 1 receiver in Brian Quick. Pead has time to develop with Steven Jackson leading the way, but Quick must continue to improve so St. Louie can field a balanced attack.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
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The Tampa Bay Buccaneers made the most of their three early-round selections last spring.
Mark Barron and Lavonte David provide an immense boost to arguably the NFL's worst defense, and let's not forget about late-rounder Keith Tandy.
Facing some pass-heavy offenses in 2012, Tampa prepared accordingly, and it's paid off thus far.
Offensively, Doug Martin is the franchise's future.
He's a complete ball-carrier and extremely reliable, durable and consistent. Courtesy of the upgraded passing game, namely because of Vincent Jackson, Martin will enjoy a big rookie year.
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Kendall Wright is the obvious future perennial superstar receiver for the Tennessee Titans.
He's enjoyed a really strong preseason and is certainly going to make Jake Locker look a lot better. This also helps the value of Chris Johnson regarding fantasy football as the Titans field a more multidimensional attack.
The defense also made some impressive selections in Zach Brown, Mike Martin and the drastically overlooked Scott Solomon.
Brown is a fast coverage linebacker who'll help improve the run defense, while Martin's specialty is controlling gaps inside. Solomon is a force off the edge and has the potential to contribute in passing situations for additional pressure.
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Despite his minimal playing time, it's a foregone conclusion that the Washington Redskins will rely on the right arm of Robert Griffin III.
His offensive companions to watch for are running back Alfred Morris and offensive lineman Tom Compton. Morris has performed well enough this preseason and deserves a shot at the No. 2 running back spot, while Compton gives reliable depth to the offensive line.
One final player to never lose sight of is Kirk Cousins.
This man has starting quarterback talent, and if RG3 slips up early, Cousins' name won't just be ignored. He's played consistently well in the exhibitions, and you can't ask for much more from a fourth-round selection.
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