Tuesday, April 10, 2012

2012 NFL Draft Preview

Contributed by Bob Cowper.
Regional Director, USA Sport Group.

#1: Indianapolis Colts, Andrew Luck (QB, Stanford)
With Peyton Manning’s well documented departure from Indy, the Colts are looking for their new franchise quarterback.  Robert Griffin III is a close second, but Luck fits the Colts’ conservative style better.  Luck will be a starter from Day One and could see some early hiccups.  Sure, the Colts are only a season removed from the playoffs, but they are undergoing massive changes in the front office and coaching staff.

#2: Washington Redskins (From St. Louis), Robert Griffin III (QB, Baylor)
The Redskins traded away the family jewels to get a hold of the Rams #2 overall draft pick so they could grab RG3.  Will the steep price be worth it for an undersized, scrambling quarterback?  In the short term, I think RG3 will be a good change of pace for the downtrodden Redskins.  He will bring some energy and excitement to his teammates and fans, but that will fade.  In much the same way that Michael Vick’s athleticism propelled the Falcons to the playoffs in his first year as a starter in 2002, the Redskins will see some initial success (the playoffs may be pushing it, though).  Once the luster wears in 2013 and beyond, RG3 will be a serviceable quarterback at best.

#3: Minnesota Vikings, Matt Kalil (OT, USC)
The Vikings were 27th in the NFL in 2011 in protecting their quarterbacks which led to multiple injuries for rookie QB Christian Ponder.  The Vikings allowed 49 sacks (league average was 37) and had their quarterback sacked on 8.8% of passing attempts (league average was 6.4%).  Enter Matt Kalil.  Kalil will start at LT from the first off-season practice and will immediately improve both the passing and run blocking.

#4: Cleveland Browns, Justin Blackmon (WR, Oklahoma State)
Justin Blackmon is a freak.  He is just 6’1” but plays as if he is 6’5”.  He is so deceptively fast that he tends to blow past defensive backs before they’ve exited their backpedal.  Blackmon’s totals of 121 receptions (NFL Leader: Wes Welker, 122), 1522 yards (Wes Welker, 1569) and 18 TDs (Rob Gronkowski, 17) would have made him the best WR in the NFL.  Don’t forget Blackmon played in just 12 games, compared with 16 for the NFL players. With the unspectacular Greg Little as the leading incumbent in Cleveland, Justin Blackmon will make an immediate impact on the Browns passing game.

#5: Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Trent Richardson (RB, Alabama)
Every coach has “his guys”; Bill Parcells, Bill Belichick and Rex Ryan are some popular examples of coaches who tend to recruit their favorite players to their new coaching locale.  New Buccaneers coach Greg Schiano is new to the NFL and doesn’t quite have a set of “guys” yet, but he certainly does have a prototypical player he favors.  That player is NOT LeGarrette Blount.  I expect Schiano to try to replace Blount with his first opportunity and he could do much worse than Richardson.  Richardson had a breakout 2011 season (1,679 yards and 21 TDs) after Mark Ingram left for the NFL.  Even when Richardson was the backup to Ingram, he totaled more than 875 yards from scrimmage and 8 total TDs each season.  The Crimson Tide feature a rushing attack that will allow Richardson to step-in and steal the starting spot.

#6: St. Louis Rams (From Washington), Morris Claiborne (CB, LSU)
The St. Louis Rams defense is in trouble.  In an interesting game of musical chairs, former coordinator Steve Spagnuolo left for the New Orleans Saints job that was vacated when Gregg Williams left New Orleans to join St. Louis.  Ultimately, the two traded jobs.  One problem, Gregg Williams is now suspended indefinitely after his role in “Bounty Gate.”  The Rams were in the bottom third in most passing defense categories and stand to improve by adding an athlete such as Mo Claiborne.  Claiborne had 51 tackles in 2011 to go along with 6 INTs.  He’s also an explosive runner who added 2 return TDs.

#7: Jacksonville Jaguars, Quinton Coples (DE, UNC)
If I had a nickel for every time the Jaguars drafted a defensive lineman in the first round since 1995 I’d have 25 cents; which, coincidentally, is about as much as those draft picks ended up being worth.  Coples totaled 23 sacks while at UNC and projects to be a solid 4-3 DE who can support the run.  At the NFL Combine, Coples was 4th amongst DEs with a 4.78 second 40-yard dash, but it is important to note that he is 2-3” taller and 15-25lbs heavier than the Top 3 and will be a better all-round player.

#8: Miami Dolphins, Ryan Tannehill (QB, Texas A&M)
I don’t like this pick at all, but I think it’s as near a lock as we will have in the Top 10 picks.  The Dolphins struck out on Peyton Manning and Matt Flynn and ended up with David Garrard instead.  I still believe that Matt Moore should start for Miami, but the Garrard signing signals that they disagree.  Tannehill only started 20 games at quarterback as an Aggie and actually started his college career at WR.  Tannehill is athletic, as evidenced by his successful position change, but he is not experienced enough to warrant a Top 10 draft pick.  Tannehill’s body of work is reminiscent of Jake Locker and Christian Ponder, both of whom were reaches in the Top 12 in 2011.

#9: Carolina Panthers, Fletcher Cox (DT, Mississippi State)
The Panthers need help at DT to solidify the middle of their defensive line.  The Panthers finished in the bottom third of each major rushing defense category in 2011.  The top two DTs in 2012 are Fletcher Cox from Mississippi State and Dontari Poe from Memphis.  Cox is smaller (298lbs vs. 346 lbs), quicker (4.79 seconds vs. 4.98 seconds in the 40-yard dash) and more versatile (Cox also played DE in college).  Poe will be a perfect fit for a team looking for an athletic nose tackle rather than the versatile defensive lineman that the Panthers need.

#10: Buffalo Bills, Riley Reiff (OT, Iowa)
For once in recent history, the Bills don’t stand to fill any immediate needs with their #10 overall draft pick.  The Bills could target WR Michael Floyd, but after signing Brad Smith to a four-year free agent deal in 2011 and re-signing star Stevie Johnson to a five-year deal this offseason, do they want to commit another expensive contract to the position?  Probably not.  The Bills could also use some help in the secondary with Terrence McGee and Jairus Byrd in contract years, but nobody warrants drafting this high with Morris Claiborne off the board.  The Bills could reach for CBs Stephon Gilmore or Dre Kirkpatrick.  If they don’t trade down, they are better off with adding somebody steady like Riley Reiff to the offensive line.  The Bills allowed and NFL least 23 sacks in 2011 and could improve a strength by adding Reiff to their offensive line rotation.

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