The 2012 NFL Draft will go down in my personal history as one of the most surprising and unpredictable drafts that I’ve witnessed so far. There were trades galore – four in the Top Ten alone – and a number of surprise picks and slipping prospects. Here’s a breakdown of my reaction to each of the selections.
1. Indianapolis Colts: Andrew Luck, QB, Stanford
-We’ve known about this one since the regular season ended, so most of the reaction was simply glad to have it out of the way. The Colts move from the Manning era to the Luck era, which is a great way to pass the torch when it comes to Colts quarterbacks. Luck has all the tools necessary to be an elite signal caller in the NFL.
2. Washington Redskins (f/STL): Robert Griffin III, QB, Baylor
-It was no surprise when the Redskins traded up to the #2 spot that they were targeting Robert Griffin III out of Baylor. He’s a great fit for Mike Shanahan’s scheme and some would argue an equally impressive prospect to Luck. I had Andrew rated higher, but Griffin is nothing to sneeze at and he gives the Redskins their best quarterback in a long time.
3. Cleveland Browns (f/MIN): Trent Richardson, RB, Alabama
-The Browns traded three mid/late round picks to move up and guarantee themselves Richardson. It’s hard to blame them, because there was the threat that Tampa Bay could do the same and leapfrog Cleveland, taking Richardson themselves. Or at least that’s the story that Minnesota likely sold Cleveland during trade talks. Regardless, Richardson will be a great help to a pedestrian Cleveland offense and will be fun to watch in the AFC North.
4. Minnesota Vikings (f/CLE): Matt Kalil, OT, USC
-The Vikings move down, gain some later picks, and still take their guy in Kalil. I really wasn’t buying much of the Claiborne talk; cornerback was definitely a need, but the Vikings’ bigger priority was shoring up the protection for their young quarterback. Kalil does that and should supplant Charlie Johnson at left tackle from Day One.
5. Jacksonville Jaguars (f/TB): Justin Blackmon, WR, Oklahoma State
-As the draft neared, talk of a Jaguars trade started to heat up, and for Rams fans, that meant one thing – Blackmon. With Richardson off the board but Claiborne still available, a Tampa trade was certainly a possibility but not a certainty. In the end, Tampa moved down and Jacksonville moved up in order to take the best receiver in the class. Blackmon ends up going to a team where he’ll start opposite of Laurent Robinson and have Blaine Gabbert throwing to him. I’m sorry, Justin.
6. Dallas Cowboys (f/STL): Morris Claiborne, CB, LSU
-With Blackmon off the board, the Rams likely felt pretty comfortable moving down. Claiborne would have been a nice option here, but there are some comments out there that suggest the Rams weren’t particularly high on him. Regardless of whether or not that’s true, the Cowboys were high on Claiborne, enough to give up a second round pick to move up eight spots and take him. I anticipate him moving quickly into the starting line-up opposite Brandon Carr, with Jenkins and Scandrick as depth.
7. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (f/JAX): Mark Barron, SS, Alabama
-This was a little high for Barron for my taste, and I was actually thinking Luke Kuechly was an option to man the middle. But few prospects were building as much momentum in the days leading up to the draft as he was, and Tampa certainly has a hole to fill at strong safety where their current projected starter is Larry Asante. Barron is a quality player who should step in immediately and help make an impact in the secondary, particularly near the line of scrimmage against the run.
8. Miami Dolphins: Ryan Tannehill, QB, Texas A&M
-This was Miami’s guy for most of the draft process, as the links between Tannehill and Mike Sherman were too large to pass up. The fact that reports in the last 72 hours indicated that the owner of the Dolphins was also pushing for a quarterback made this one of the few actual locks of this draft. Tannehill was actually my 24th ranked prospect this year, but franchise quarterbacks get pushed up the draft board, and if Miami thinks Tannehill can become a good NFL signal caller, then he’s worth pulling the trigger on.
9. Carolina Panthers: Luke Kuehcly, LB, Boston College
-A defensive tackle like Fletcher Cox seemed like a no brainer here for the Panthers, but a linebacker like Luke Kuechly makes a lot of sense as well. The Boston College linebacker gives Carolina some options on defense. If they feel Kuechly can remain effective on the outside, he could replace the injury-prone Thomas Davis. Another option would be to keep Luke in the middle and shift Jon Beason to the weak side. Either way, Carolina strengthened their front seven, just not in the manner many expected.
10. Buffalo Bills: Stephon Gilmore, CB, South Carolina
-Would the Bills go offensive tackle or wide receiver? How about neither! Stephon Gilmore spent the last week or so really getting some nice Top Ten buzz, with expectations being that the Jaguars may be interested. Lo and behold, it was the Bills that coveted the South Carolina prospect instead. Gilmore should step into a starting role immediately, likely across from Terrence McGee, and be a young leader in their secondary.
11. Kansas City Chiefs: Dontari Poe, NT, Memphis
-Poe to the Chiefs was not a surprise pick at all; after the NFL Combine, he was viewed as one of the candidates that the Chiefs may opt for here in April. While Kansas City has some former first round picks manning the two five-technique positions on their defensive line, they’ve been missing the mammoth nose tackle in the middle. Poe solves that problem, though my concern is whether or not he’s too tall to properly leverage in that role.
12. Philadelphia Eagles (f/SEA): Fletcher Cox, DT, Mississippi State
-Seeing Cox slip (hey, watch it now) out of the Top Ten forced the Eagles into action. They were a team that was heavily rumored to be interested in him, so much so that there was talk of a trade between Jacksonville and Philadelphia. Instead, the Eagles wait as long as they can and, feeling they had to leapfrog St. Louis to get him, trade with Seattle. He’ll be a welcome addition in Philadelphia’s defensive line rotation.
13. Arizona Cardinals: Michael Floyd, WR, Notre Dame
-Well, it’s going to be fun defending both Fitzgerald and Floyd. If the Notre Dame receiver made it to the Cardinals here, he was definitely among their top considerations. Interestingly enough, all three of the prospects that I had Arizona looking at – Floyd, DeCastro, and Reiff – made it to this pick. But the Cardinals opted to go with the receiver and give both Larry Fitzgerald and Kevin Kolb some help in the passing game. With Fitz demanding double coverage on one side, Floyd should have it made on the other.
14. St. Louis Rams (f/DAL): Michael Brockers, DT, LSU
-Some Rams fans are livid that St. Louis didn’t escape the first round with Blackmon or Floyd, and while that’s disappointing, moving down eight spots, adding another second round pick, and grabbing an interior talent like Brockers makes it a bit easier to swallow. If you watched the Dallas Cowboys run rampant over the Rams last season, you’d know that improving the run defense was an offseason priority. Brockers will help in that area while Fisher molds him into a quality final piece of a young and talented line.
15. Seattle Seahawks (f/PHI): Bruce Irvin, DE, West Virginia
-The first true surprise pick of the draft in terms of a prospect no one really expected to be selected this high. As a WVU alum, I love me some Irvin. But even I had him in the mid-second round, so I have to question the value here. Still, a league source tells Pro Football Talk that at least seven teams had Irvin rated as one of the Top 15 players available in the draft, and he certainly fits the mold of a versatile pass rusher that Seattle likes to use in their hybrid defense.
16. New York Jets: Quinton Coples, DE, North Carolina
-I had Coples mocked to the Jets in my final mock of the offseason, and I think it’s a nice fit for them. He’s a defensive end/tackle ‘tweener, which means he should fit nicely as a five-technique end in their 3-4 base alignment. A pass rusher like Ingram, who was slipping further than I thought he would, could have made sense as well, but the Jets seemed to have a craving for Coples and should be able to get some quality pass rush help from him as well.
17. Cincinnati Bengals (f/OAK): Dre Kirkpatrick, CB, Alabama
-Another pick that I pegged in my last mock, Kirkpatrick to the Bengals at the 17-spot just made too much sense. One, they’ve been looking for a corner to replace Jonathan Joseph after he left for Houston, and two, I don’t think they believed they’d be able to get him with the 21st pick as Tennessee was standing in the way with a need at the position as well. So in the end, they pull the trigger here and hopefully get an immediate starter at the position.
18. San Diego Chargers: Melvin Ingram, LB, South Carolina
-If you’re a Chargers fan and you wanted a pass rusher, you sure got one. Ingram was viewed as a potential Top Ten pick and possibly the first defensive end/linebacker off the board to the Jags at pick number seven. For San Diego to grab him here is great value for them, though you have to wonder why Ingram fell in the first place. Still, the Chargers aren’t complaining.
19. Chicago Bears: Shea McClellin, LB, Boise State
-Another bit of a surprise, not so much because of the prospect but because of the fit. Anyone who has followed the draft for the past month should know McClellin’s name; he’s been connected with most of the 3-4 teams picking in the bottom half of the first round. But Chicago is a 4-3 base team under Lovie Smith, so how are they going to use Shea? Perhaps they’ll make him their Mathias Kiwanuka and line him up at SAM linebacker while also giving him some options to rush off the edge. McClellin’s versatility made him intriguing for a lot of organizations.
20. Tennessee Titans: Kendall Wright, WR, Baylor
-The Tennessee Titans found out just what they had at receiver after Kenny Britt went down with injury last year, and they felt like they needed more help. It’s to their credit that they seemed to keep this quiet, as most expected them to take a pass rusher or an interior offensive lineman, especially with David DeCastro still on the board. There was talk that Kendall Wright could slip a bit on draft day, but he’ll be a quality weapon across from Britt for either Matt Hasselbeck or Jake Locker.
21. New England Patriots (f/CIN): Chandler Jones, DE, Syracuse
-And here we go. Word over the last 72 hours or so was that the Patriots really coveted Chandler Jones. Given the poor defense New England fielded last season, you knew they’d want to go defense with a number of their picks. But would they be able to move up and get Jones, who was beginning to get Top 20 consideration? In the end, the Patriots were very Patriot-like. They were mobile on draft day, this time moving up to get their guy.
22. Cleveland Browns (f/ ATL): Brandon Weeden, QB, Oklahoma State
-Weeden at pick 22. Well, I would be lying if I said this was completely out of nowhere. I had Weeden pegged as a Brown but with the 37th pick. For him to go in the first round was a bit of a surprise, but it’s clear the Browns have seen enough of Colt McCoy and want to bring in someone who they feel more confident with. Weeden should feel good knowing that he’ll be handing the ball off to Trent Richardson, but his weapons in the passing game are a bit limited as it stands.
23. Detroit Lions: Riley Reiff, OT, Iowa
-Reiff experienced a bit of a Brian Bulaga slide that ended here with Detroit and the twenty-third pick. The Lions may have preferred a cornerback, but they weren’t trading up to get one. Offensive line was the best value in this spot, and as the Lions were looking for someone with some left tackle potential in the long haul, they elected to go with Reiff over DeCastro and Glenn. At this point in the draft, I think Reiff is pretty good value, and as he definitely addresses a need in Detroit, the Lions get a thumbs up from me.
24. Pittsburgh Steelers: David DeCastro, OG, Stanford
-I’ve lived in Morgantown nearly all my life. As a Mountaineer, I’ve grown up hating the Pittsburgh Panthers. That hatred extended to the Steelers, as they shared a town. It doesn’t help that I’m surrounded by Steeler fans here in West Virginia due to the proximity. So it pissed me off to some degree to see Pittsburgh make such a great move by adding DeCastro to their line. He should step in immediately at either guard spot and be a force for the next decade.
25. New England Patriots (f/DEN): Don’t’a Hightower, LB, Alabama
-Ah ha ha, the Patriots move up again! Oh, you crafty Patriots. No one knows what you’re going to do year in and year out! They’ve traded up for the second time, this time to grab Hightower. While it’s unclear whether or not Hightower has the physical ability to stay on the field for all three downs, there are some in the league that believe he’s a quality pass rusher (notice he went over teammate Courtney Upshaw), and he should push Rob Ninkovich for time on the field right away.
26. Houston Texans: Whitney Mercilus, LB, Illinois
-The Texans had their pick of wide receivers here between Rueben Randle (my mocked choice for them) and Georgia Tech’s Stephen Hill. They could have also gone with an offensive lineman in Cordy Glenn who could start for them on the right side of their line, where they lost two players. But instead, they bolstered their pass rush and gave both Connor Barwin and Brooks Reed another helping hand in Mercilus.
27. Cincinnati Bengals (f/ NE): Kevin Zeitler, OG, Wisconsin
-This one was a bit of a surprise, but when it comes to the late first and early second round range, a lot of these grades begin to get close and it just comes down to a team’s personal preference. I would have thought that a team in need of interior line help would have looked at Cordy Glenn first, but Zeitler was definitely worthy of some late first round consideration, and should compete right off the bat for playing time. Still, best value on the board here? I’m not so sure.
28. Green Bay Packers: Nick Perry, LB, USC
-Green Bay has had some success in the past with USC Trojans playing outside linebacker in their 3-4 scheme. You may have heard of a gentlemen scholar who goes by the name Clay Matthews. Fellow Trojan Perry joins Matthews as the bookend outside linebackers in Green Bay’s defensive scheme, which was an area of need that many felt during the pre-draft process would be addressed with this pick.
29. Minnesota Vikings (f/BAL): Harrison Smith, SS, Notre Dame
-While I had the Minnesota Vikings taking Harrison Smith in the second round, I’m a bit surprised that they felt the need to move up and take him here. I don’t think he was much of an option for San Francisco, Tampa, or New York. Maybe the Vikings were afraid someone would move up and get him to start the second day of the draft. Regardless, he’s a fit on a Vikings defense in need of help in the secondary.
30. San Francisco *****: A.J. Jenkins, WR, Illinois
-Whoa, hello there A.J. Jenkins! I remember only a few days ago saying that I thought the Rams’ second second-round pick would be too high for Jenkins, and that he’d be more appropriate with the third round selection. I guess San Francisco had different ideas. Jenkins has certainly made the most of a good offseason, catapulting into the first round over receivers like Rueben Randle and Stephen Hill. I’d still take the LSU grad before I’d take Jenkins here, so I’m hoping the ***** executed a reach with their selection.
31. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (f/NE): Doug Martin, RB, Boise State
-It’s unclear whether or not the Bucs were trying to move ahead of Cleveland in the Top Five in order to draft Trent Richardson. However, it seems clear based on the pick that follows this one that Tampa felt Doug Martin was in danger of not making it out of Round One. Therefore, they traded up in the second round to get their workhorse running back, a vital component in the Greg Schiano offense.
32. New York Giants: David Wilson, RB, Virginia Tech
-You have to wonder if the Giants were a bit reeled by Martin going one pick ahead of them. In my opinion, Martin is the superior prospect to Wilson and would have been a nice second punch to Ahmad Bradshaw in New York. The Giants let the clock tick all the way down on this one before taking Miller, who has talent but maybe not the best instincts or hands. Either way, they continue to promote the idea of a committee approach in the backfield.
So now that we’ve reviewed what happened on Thursday, what do I see happening on Friday? Well, here are my Top 20 remaining prospects for the Rams to consider when Friday’s events open up.
Top 20 Available
1. Courtney Upshaw, LB, Alabama
2. Cordy Glenn, OL, Georgia
3. Jonathan Martin, OT, Stanford
4. Coby Fleener, TE, Stanford
5. Jerel Worthy, DT, Michigan State
6. Rueben Randle, WR, LSU
7. Andre Branch, DE, Clemson
8. Peter Konz, C, Wisconsin
9. Stephen Hill, WR, Georgia Tech
10. Mike Adams, OT, Ohio State
11. Brandon Thompson, DT, Clemson
12. Bobbi Massie, OT, Mississippi
13. Amini Silatolu, OG, Midwestern State
14. Kendall Reyes, DL, UConn
15. Vinny Curry, DE, Marshall
16. Lavonte David, LB, Nebraska
17. Alshon Jeffery, WR, South Carolina
18. Devon Still, DT, Penn State
19. Lamar Miller, RB, Miami
20. Janoris Jenkins, CB, North Alabama
I don’t see Upshaw or Worthy being considerations for the Rams. Glenn makes some sense for a team that has a gaping hole at left guard and who might need someone to push Jason Smith at right tackle. Throw Jonathan Martin into that discussion as well.
But the most intriguing name available for me is LSU wide receiver Rueben Randle, whom I was fairly certain was destined for the latter half of the first round. He combines excellent size with great athletic ability. Out of all the things he brings to the table, I think he’s a pro-ready prospect who comes from a top university and can step in right away and contribute.
To me, that gives him an advantage over Georgia Tech’s Stephen Hill, who has very limited experience running a full route tree and will take some time to develop, if he ever does. When I look at Randle, I wonder if he could become Fisher’s Rams version of Kenny Britt. As tempting as Glenn would be to start the day, Randle would be my top target in the second round.
Given that Glenn, Martin, Adams, Massie, Konz, and Silatolu are all still on the board, I’m rather confident that, if the Rams want an offensive guard, they’ll be able to get one with their second 2nd-rounder. With their third pick in the second round, anything’s possible. Running back (Lamar Miller) could be a consideration. The Rams could double-dip on Round Two receivers and look at an Alshon Jeffery or Chris Givens. Linebacker would be a very tempting choice given the need at the position.
Or, the Rams could field some more trade offers. You have to think their phone is ringing off the hook tonight, since they hold the first pick in the second round. Will they move down, or will they stay put and take a player that can help this team – and hopefully this offense specifically – in 2012?
We’ll find out in less than 24 hours.