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2012 NFL draft

Pick-by-pick analysis: Round One

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Recent posts by Nolan Nawrocki

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By Nolan Nawrocki

1 (1)  Indianapolis Colts: QB Andrew Luck, Stanford
Luck possesses the accuracy, football intelligence, work ethic and decision making of a savvy NFL veteran and should hit the ground running in Indianapolis as the successor to Peyton Manning. The Colts' offense was grounded last season without its sheriff, and Luck enters a rebuilding situation with a young, makeshift offensive line and an unproven supporting cast. Colts GM Ryan Grigson will need to continue focusing on adding playmaking talent to the offense, especially at the TE position, with Dallas Clark and Jacob Tamme moving on. Luck lacks the arm talent to consistently strike vertically the way new offensive coordinator Bruce Arians desires to run his offense, but he can dissect defenses like a seasoned pro and should be a perennial Pro Bowl talent.

2 (2)  Washington Redskins (from St. Louis): QB Robert Griffin, Baylor
After suffering through two years of marginal quarterback play under Mike Shanahan, the Redskins mortgaged their future on one of the best deep-ball throwers to enter the draft in the last decade. Griffin immediately becomes the NFL’s fastest quarterback and has the mobility to thrive in an bootleg offense featuring moving pockets. However, he must learn to do a better job securing the ball and learning where and when to go with it, a key element of success in Shanahan’s offense and an area where he clearly has room to improve. If he can stay healthy moving outside the pocket, which could prove difficult with limited elusiveness in the open field, he can quickly ignite the Redskins' offense and put Washington back in contention in one of the most competitive divisions in football.

3 (3)  Cleveland Browns (from Minnesota): RB Trent Richardson, Alabama
Not since the days of Jim Brown have the Cleveland Browns seen the likes of a runner possessing the type of strength, power, vision, balance and competitiveness that Trent Richardson possesses. He is a strong, physical, hammering inside force with the toughness needed to pound the ball in the rough-and-tumble AFC North. With Peyton Hillis slowed by injury last season, the ground game really stagnated and finished the season among the worst five in the NFL. Richardson will key one of the best ground games in the NFL for the next 10 years. The Browns gave up a lot to move up one slot, but with Tampa Bay and St. Louis coveting Richardson, the Browns took the steps necessary to guarantee Richardson's arrival and reestablish a smashmouth identity.

4 (4)  Minnesota Vikings (from Cleveland): OLT Matt Kalil, USC
After Christian Ponder struggled to stay healthy as a rookie behind a very marginal offensive line, the Vikings needed to bolster their protection and did so by landing the only surefire premium protector in this year's draft. Kalil possesses the size, length, foot quickness and pedigree to plug in at left tackle for a long time and should allow Ponder a much better chance to stay healthy.

5 (5)  Jacksonville Jaguars (from Tampa Bay): WR Justin Blackmon, Oklahoma State
With Trent Richardson off the board and the Buccaneers' most glaring need at safety, they dealt down two spots to position themselves to secure the services of the draft's only safety and allow the Jaguars to add a playmaker who can support the development of sophomore QB Blaine Gabbert. Blackmon possesses outstanding hands, body control, ball skills and competitiveness and will be thrust into action immediately for a roster that has lacked a true No. 1 receiver for far too long. 

6 (6)  Dallas Cowboys (from St. Louis via Washington): CB Morris Claiborne, LSU
The Cowboys possess one of the best front sevens in football, but their pass defense has been a sore spot and finished last season among the bottom 10 in the league. After adding Brandon Carr via free agency, the Cowboys now feature a drastically improved look from last season and should allow Rob Ryan to be more aggressive with pressure packages on the front end. Claiborne possesses superb cover skills and is perfectly suited for the press-cover style of Ryan's defense.

7 (7)  Tampa Bay Buccaneers (from Jacksonville): S Mark Barron, Alabama
The Buccaneers' most pressing need on the roster was clearly at safety, where neither Larry Asante nor Cody Grimm would start on many teams, and Greg Schiano upgraded the position with the draft's most coveted defender. With a very physical temperament, football intelligence and striking ability, Barron will make his mark immediately and upgrade one of the worst run defenses in the league.

8 (8)  Miami Dolphins: QB Ryan Tannehill, Texas A&M
Tannehill is not ready to step into the starting lineup, but he clearly possesses starter-quality physical traits and could be groomed into the future of the franchise, with Matt Moore holding down the fort after coming on strong late in the season. An owner-driven decision that could potentially buy GM Jeff Ireland more time on the job, Tannehill could answer the Dolphins' most glaring need, but will require patience as a 19-game college starter with raw field vision and passing instincts.

9 (9)  Carolina Panthers: MLB Luke Kuechly, Boston College
The Panthers' top two linebackers, Jon Beason and Thomas Davis, are coming off serious injuries, and depth was needed in the middle of the defense. The safest pick in this year's draft, Kuechly could make a Brian Urlacher-like impact for Ron Rivera's defense and is an excellent fit for a fast-flowing 4-3 front. His instincts, intelligence and ethic are all off the charts and could allow him to have a Hall of Fame-type career.  

10 (10)  Buffalo Bills: CB Stephon Gilmore, South Carolina
With an excellent size-speed combination and clean character to match, Gilmore's stock has steadily climbed during the draft process and in the eyes of many league evaluators, inflated vastly too high. He possesses starter-caliber physical traits, but his eyes, instincts and hands are all still developing and he has not yet proven consistent in coverage. He compares very similarly to Chargers 2003 first-round pick Sammy Davis, whom Bills GM Buddy Nix had a hand in drafting during his days in San Diego. 

11 (11)  Kansas City Chiefs: DT Dontari Poe, Memphis
After Kelly Gregg showed his age last season, the Chiefs had a pressing need in the middle of their defense to fill, and landed an unpolished gem in Dontari Poe. He may not be smart or disciplined enough to thrive in the read-and-react, NT role in Romeo Crennel's defense, and it may take a year or two for him to develop, but he possesses rare athletic talent for a big man and clearly possesses the physical tools to flourish in time.

12 (12)  Philadelphia Eagles (from Seattle): DT Fletcher Cox, Mississippi State
Some concerns about Cox's maturity and intelligence pushed down his draft status, much to the delight of the Eagles, who needed to add another interior rusher with Mike Patterson coming off brain surgery and Cullen Jenkins unable to stay healthy. Strong, quick and athletic, Cox could emerge as a disruptive force for Jim Washburn's fleet-footed front and has instant impact potential if he can avoid the trappings of the game.

13 (13)  Arizona Cardinals: WR Michael Floyd, Notre Dame
Ken Whisenhunt's offense has regressed mightily since Kurt Warner retired and Anquan Boldin was shipped to Baltimore. Floyd will step into Boldin's No. 2 role and should provide Kevin Kolb with an outlet option to comfort his nerves in the pocket. Some teams expressed great concern about Floyd's character in recent weeks after performing their due diligence on his background, but if Floyd can stay focused in Arizona, he could prove to be a very good pro. 

14 (14)  St. Louis Rams (from Dallas): DT Michael Brockers, LSU
Jeff Fisher recognized that he needed two defensive tackles upon his arrival and signed Kendall Langford to fill one post. Brockers gives the Rams another stout inside presence to stuff the run and force offenses to beat the Rams on the perimeter. Although young and still developing as one of the draft's youngest players, Brockers has a huge upside.

15 (15)  Seattle Seahawks (from Philadelphia): DE Bruce Irvin, West Virginia
The first "wow" pick of this year's draft, Irvin gained a lot of momentum late in the draft process because of his rare explosion and burst. Despite having character concerns with a rough upbringing, Irvin interviewed well with teams, who credited his leadership skills. As the draft's most explosive edge rusher, he could make an instant impact for Pete Carroll's fly-at-the-snap scheme and may prove to be worth the selection with passing downs now accounting for nearly 60 percent of snaps in an increasingly pass-first league.

16 (16)  New York Jets: DE Quinton Coples, North Carolina
Despite being criticized heavily for his lack of competitiveness and backside effort, Coples possesses top-10 rush talent. If anyone could feel comfortable taking a chance on a pass rusher with underachiever tendencies, it is the vocal, demanding Rex Ryan, who could creatively find ways to slant, stunt and scheme Coples to pressurize quarterbacks.

17 (17)  Cincinnati Bengals (from Oakland): CB Dre Kirkpatrick, Alabama
The Bengals' secondary is littered with question marks, with Leon Hall coming off injury and Nate Clements and Terence Newman showing their age. Many teams removed Kirkpatrick from their draft boards after an on-campus incident the week before the draft, yet the Bengals have been more lenient of high-risk talent in the selection process and could benefit if Kirkpatrick can find a way to stay out of trouble and mature. Mike Brown has a history of selecting high-risk-high-reward talent and rolled the dice again.  

18 (18)  San Diego Chargers: OLB Melvin Ingram, South Carolina
The Chargers signed Jarret Johnson to add a spark to their edges, but he's 30 years old, as is Shaun Phillips on the other side, and former first-rounder Larry English has failed to pan out, creating demand for another pass-rushing talent. Ingram drew concerns from many 3-4 teams who were concerned about his short arms that measured 29 7/8 inches at his pro day. He is one of the most athletic pass rushers in the draft, but he is not instinctive enough reading and reacting to play on his feet and could struggle to pan out if the Chargers overload the one-year starter. 

19 (19)  Chicago Bears: DE Shea McClellin, Chicago Bears
After beginning his tenure with a risky trade for Brandon Marshall, GM Phil Emery sought an ultra-safe route with the selection of McClellin, who continued to gain a lot of momentum late in the draft process because of his instincts, toughness and versatility. He weighed 248 pounds at the Senior Bowl and appeared underpowered and short-armed on tape. He is not a flashy pick, but he could bring the discipline desired in Rod Marinelli's defense and excel alongside a strong group of talent.

20 (20)  Tennessee Titans: WR Kendall Wright, Baylor
To support the growth of Jake Locker, the Titans needed to add a playmaking talent. Wright really emerged as a senior and has the quickness and agility to function as an "F" and enough vertical speed to thrive as a vertical threat, but many evaluators expressed concern about his work ethic after he ran poorly at the Combine and showed very fleshy-bodied at the his pro day workout. The presence of disciplinarian head coach Mike Munchak should help keep Wright in check.

21 (21)  New England Patriots (from Cincinnati): DE Chandler Jones, Syracuse
The Patriots sorely needed to add some pressure players, and Bill Belichick shrewdly dealt up to land a raw condor with rare length and explosive body power. Jones is very tough, humble and hardworking and once he develops his core strength and learns how to harness his raw power, he could emerge as a special talent at any position along the defensive line.

22 (22)  Cleveland Browns (from Atlanta): QB Brandon Weeden, Oklahoma State
Exercising a first-round pick on a quarterback was a clear indictment on Colt McCoy, who does not possess the arm talent desired to thrive in the Cleveland cold or the durability to withstand a 16-game season. Some teams expressed concerns about the wear and tear placed on Weeden's arm from an extended minor-league pitching career, but Weeden cemented his status as a senior by beating Robert Griffin, Ryan Tannehill and Andrew Luck.

23 (23)  Detroit Lions: OT Riley Reiff, Iowa
With Jeff Backus showing signs of declining in recent years and protection needed to keep Matthew Stafford in the lineup, Jim Schwartz sought a blind-side protector similar to Michael Roos, the Pro Bowl left tackle he watched overcome his short arms with great angles and efficiency in Tennessee. Many teams stacked Reiff as a guard and were not enamored with his agility or explosion, but he could eventually help on the edges.

24 (24)  Pittsburgh Steelers: OG David DeCastro, Stanford
The board has a way of falling into the hands of the Steelers every year. While DeCastro may have appeared to have slid in the draft, many teams had stacked him as a second-round talent and were not enamored with his physical talent or see enough explosive body power to justify spending a top-20 pick on a guard. Nonetheless, DeCastro is extremely tough, hardworking and plays the game with a nasty temperament. Similar to Alan Faneca, he will plug into the starting lineup readily and bring a steady, workmanlike presence to a shoddy offensive line. 

25 (25)  New England Patriots (from Denver): LB Dont'a Hightower, Alabama
After aggressively dealing up to land Chandler Jones, Belichick jumped up two spots again to leapfrog the Texans and find another versatile, mismatch piece with wrecking-ball power. The two-time team captain can pair with Jerod Mayo to fortify the inside of the Patriots' defense. Having proven capable of rushing off the edge, Hightower can give the Patriots the ability to disguise their front and catch offenses off guard.

26 (26)  Houston Texans: OLB Whitney Mercilus, Illinois
With Mario Williams moving on in free agency, the Texans needed to add a pass rusher to their rotation. Whitney Mercilus has prototype rush linebacker measurables and could develop into a solid pro if defensive coordinator Wade Phillips keeps responsibilities simple and turns him loose. It took him some time to get acclimated upon his arrival in college and may take some time in the pros, but he has clear upside.

27 (27) Cincinnati Bengals (from Denver via New England via New Orleans): OG Kevin Zeitler, Wisconsin
Many teams had graded Zeitler slightly higher than Stanford's David DeCastro, including the Bengals. He is not an elite athlete, but he is smart, strong, tough and can allow Travelle Wharton to kick outside as a swing tackle if Andre Smith proves unreliable again. Zeitler has the makeup to start a long time in the league.

28 (28)  Green Bay Packers: OLB Nick Perry, USC
Despite being tightly wound with limited agility, Perry has explosive up-field rush ability and the power Kevin Greene seeks to set the edge and crash the corner opposite Clay Matthews. Questions about Perry's character and intelligence were concerning, but Dom Capers knows how to keep assignments simple, and the Packers should be comforted by having the demanding Greene providing instruction.

29 (29)  Minnesota Vikings (from Baltimore): FS Harrison Smith, Notre Dame
The Vikings' secondary was especially weak at safety in the back end, with two average starters. With a steep drop-off in talent after Harrison Smith, the Vikings aggressively dealt into the first round to land the heady free safety. He lacks elite qualities, but he is a steady, reliable performer who can help direct the back end. 

30 (30)  San Francisco 49ers: WR A.J. Jenkins, Illinois
Concerns about Jenkins' character pushed him down a round or two on some draft boards, as did late-season evaluations when Illinois' coaching staff knew it was going to be fired and the coaching tailed off. However, Jenkins is football-smart, route savvy and possesses explosive big-play ability. Though he was not widely regarded as a top-round pick, he could prove to be one of the best receivers in this year's draft class if he stays focused and matures.

31 (31)  Tampa Bay (from Denver via New England): RB Doug Martin, Boise State
After Cleveland kept Trent Richardson from sliding to Tampa Bay, the Buccaneers keenly dealt back into the first round to land the draft's other bellcow. Martin is a strong, competitive runner who can help Greg Schiano establish the physical, smashmouth identity he seeks to have on both sides of the ball. With Mark Barron and Martin, the Buccaneers have two building blocks to set the right tone and provide leadership. 

32 (32)  New York Giants: RB David Wilson, Virginia Tech
One of the most underrated players in this year's draft, Wilson is an exceptional athlete with terrific balance, body control and agility and he consistently turned two-yard losses into 10-yard gains. With Brandon Jacobs moving on and Ahmad Bradshaw continually plagued by foot and ankle injuries, the Giants needed to infuse some more youth into the backfield, and in Wilson, they landed a playmaker.

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