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Round One thoughts

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Posted April 27, 2012 @ 3:01 p.m. ET
By Matt Feminis

PFW associate editor Matt Feminis offers up his thoughts from the first round of the 2012 NFL draft.

1. Colts (QB Andrew Luck)
It’s a fascinating dynamic to see two young quarterbacks (Robert Griffin III and Luck) both viewed as “can’t miss” prospects despite their contrasting playing styles, skill sets and offensive schemes. Both will be tested mentally early and often. For Luck in particular, despite the seeming inevitable slew of losses in his immediate future, replacing a legend might be a blessing in disguise, as Peyton Manning’s 3-13, 28-interception rookie season should buy him a couple years worth of patience in Indianapolis.  

2. Redskins (QB Robert Griffin III)
Going back to the 1993 draft (Drew Bledsoe, Rick Mirer were selected 1-2), few quarterbacks shorter than 6-foot-3 have been selected in the top five picks:

  • Hits: Matthew Stafford, Lions (’09), Mike Vick (Falcons ’01), Donovan McNabb (Eagles, ’99), Steve McNair (Oilers, ’95)
  • Misses: Akili Smith (Bengals, ’99), Heath Shuler (Redskins, ’94)
  • Jury still out: Mark Sanchez (Jets, ’09)

So what is the common denominator for overcoming less-than-ideal height? At least one elite trait to compensate. For Stafford, it’s rare arm strength and toughness (the presence of “Megatron” Calvin Johnson helps, too.). For Vick, it’s rare athleticism, escapability and arm strength, and even at that, he has never become a consistently accurate passer. For McNabb, it was athleticism and mobility. For McNair, it was a rare combination of physical ability and intangibles, including remarkable toughness.

Further, Aaron Rodgers, Drew Brees and Stafford are the only current passers shorter than 6-foot-3 who are considered to be unquestioned “franchise” quarterbacks. Rodgers is the total package. Brees has terrific vision, release quickness and accuracy and comes off like a born passer and leader. (With respect to Tony Romo and Vick, neither falls into the “miss” category, but the expectation is for Griffin to outplay the type of inconsistency that has dogged both veterans.)

Griffin has rare track speed, but that won’t be enough for him to meet expectations. Neither will his unbridled confidence. So how will he compensate? If he’s a hit, he’s a game changer — a sprinter and a passer rolled into one and from a spread offense to boot. If he’s a miss, he’s a cautionary tale.

3. Browns (RB Trent Richardson)
Credit the Browns for being aggressive with an eye toward an elite talent worth trading up for. Yes, the RB position is discounted these days, but Richardson is one of the best football players in this draft and immediately infuses a blah Browns offense with a dimension that demands respect. Richardson will face loaded boxes no matter who is under center, but he will endear himself to the Dawg Pound with his physical running style. Interesting to note that offensive coordinator Brad Childress goes from coaching Adrian Peterson in Minnesota to Richardson in Cleveland.

4. Vikings (OLT Ryan Kalil)
Finagled a couple later picks and got their man at No. 4, an easy decision to build up Christian Ponder’s infrastructure, which now consists of Kalil, Adrian Peterson, Percy Harvin and Kyle Rudolph. Ponder remains a questionable selection until he proves otherwise, but the Vikings are giving him a chance to succeed. Kalil’s presence provides some comfort, as Ponder isn’t built for durability, though the rookie tackle will be tested in a division featuring Julius Peppers, Clay Matthews and Cliff Avril.

5. Jaguars (WR Justin Blackmon)
Gave up a fourth to jump from No. 7, but the trade smells of desperation. Is Blackmon truly elite? How does he compare to recent first-rounders such as  A.J. Green, Julio Jones, Dez Bryant, Hakeem Nicks, Calvin Johnson, Dwayne Bowe, etc.? Heck, how does he compare to Michael Floyd? Are Gabbert and Blackmon talented, mature or tough enough to build around? Who shows them the way?

6. Cowboys (CB Morris Claiborne)
Jerry Jones made a splash. There’s a shocker. However, giving up a second-rounder to move from No. 14 was a worthwhile plunge for the Cowboys. It was bold, it was swift, it was opportunistic and it was an investment that's bound to pay off. Dallas hit a home run, nabbing an elite talent at a position of need six picks into the round. The Cowboys’ lackluster pass defense now takes the field with DeMarcus Ware rushing the passer and Claiborne and Brandon Carr locking down the outside. Also worth noting is the team continuing the trend of adding highly athletic players early (Tyron Smith, Bruce Carter, Dez Bryant, Felix Jones, Anthony Spencer, etc.). Somewhere, Al Davis is jealous.

7. Buccaneers (SS Mark Barron)
The Bucs missed out on Trent Richardson, but maneuvered to land a pair of good, balanced football players who fit the Greg Schiano mold in Barron and later, at No. 31, Boise State RB Doug Martin. Both players come from strong programs, were highly productive and possess desirable football character. Both figure to make an immediate impact and should go a long way in terms of establishing the prototype Schiano player. Barron has potential to develop into a secondary leader, and while you'd ideally like to get Martin in the second round, his ability as a runner and receiver will add a diverse element to the Bucs' offense. Continued sound drafting by GM Mark Dominik and Schiano will help alleviate concerns over the first-year head coach's transition from college to the NFL.

8. Dolphins (QB Ryan Tannehill)
I’d like to know if GM Jeff Ireland and owner Stephen Ross were equally sold on Tannehill, wouldn’t you? Four years later, the Dolphins are still paying for the 2008 (Chad Henne) draft. When asked about which of Tannehill’s traits stood out, the first two things head coach Joe Philbin mentioned were “team player” and his contributions as a receiver. Does that sound like the No. 8 overall pick? Granted, Tannehill reunites with his college coach (offensive coordinator Mike Sherman), but does his upside justify the patience required to wait out his learning curve? Is there precedent for a converted receiver with so few career starts developing into a franchise quarterback? Tannehill looked like a third-rounder as a junior and didn’t show drastic improvement as a senior.

9. Panthers (MLB Luke Kuechly)
Kuechly’s combination of athletic ability, instincts and maturity could enable him to make an immediate impact comparable to that of 2011 Rookie of the Year Cam Newton. Kuechly fits between Jon Beason and Thomas Davis, but will the front four be able to keep them clean?

10. Bills (CB Stephon Gilmore)
Immediate reaction is potentially one of the most regrettable first-round selections, which is unfair to Gilmore, a talented prospect who wound up overdrafted. Gilmore wasn’t the best player available, period, and the Bills' roster isn’t deep enough to reach for need. Seems like a reactionary move vis-à-vis the Patriots’ offensive talent as opposed to an aggressive, proactive move. Buffalo had its choice of defensive linemen, any of whom could have been teamed with Mario Williams and Marcell Dareus to form an intimidating defensive front. That scenario would have been a more impactful, effective defensive strategy to combat the pass. The Leodis McKelvin flashback is difficult to ignore.

11. Chiefs (NT Dontari Poe)
A marriage which seemed likely as far back as February when Poe lit up the Combine. Good fit for team and player. While Poe’s tape leaves you wanting more, his upside is worth betting on and he landed in a situation where he can succeed and be the next impactful nose tackle in a Romeo Crennel defense.

12. Eagles (DT Fletcher Cox)
Excellent value selection, which seems silly to say so early, but 12 picks in the Eagles might’ve landed the best defensive lineman in this class. With Jason Babin and Trent Cole screaming off the edges, the potential for Cox to wreak havoc inside, especially under defensive line coach Jim Washburn’s tutelage, is an exciting proposition. Cox has some growing up to do, but he’s an ascending talent and you have to think he’ll benefit from the Eagles’ structure.

13. Cardinals (WR Michael Floyd)
Floyd’s character concerns have been much publicized, but his on-field talent is legitimate and he landed in an ideal spot: under the wing of All-Pro Larry Fitzgerald, whose Minneapolis roots and elite skills will command immediate respect from Floyd. If Floyd walks the line off the field and lives up to his potential on the field, the Cardinals will have a rare combination of big, strong-handed, playmaking receivers. It would not be surprising to see Floyd make a bigger immediate impact than Blackmon.

14. Rams (DT Michael Brockers)
The Rams, by way of two trades, parlayed the second overall pick into Brockers, two additional choices in the second round and additional first-round picks in 2013 and ’14. As it stands, the Rams possess 13 assets in the form of picks in the first three rounds between now and 2014. That’s big-time rebuild currency. Granted, the Rams passed on two chances to grab an elite talent (and reportedly were beaten to the punch for Justin Blackmon), but the subsequent decision to vacate the top of the draft still yielded Brockers as a solid consolation prize — he’s ready to stuff the run right now. Meanwhile, losing out on Blackmon could be a blessing in disguise (especially considering the depth of this year’s receivers class), as new GM Les Snead is primed to infuse the roster with several talented building blocks.

15. Seahawks (PRS Bruce Irvin)
The Seahawks went against the grain for the second year in a row, tabbing Irvin a year after reaching for James Carpenter. A surprise? Perhaps. A reach? No. As PFW’s Nolan Nawrocki reported Thursday, Irvin stock was soaring and he would not have lasted until Day Two. There’s no debating how Irvin will be judged: how many sacks he gets. He’s the definition of a pass-rush specialist and he will have to be truly special to justify taking a one-dimensional player with character concerns. He is a high-risk, high-reward selection personified. That said, from a pure curiosity standpoint, it’s interesting to see how draft strategies continue adapting to the increasingly pass-centric nature of the pro game.

16. N.Y. Jets (DL Quinton Coples)
Interesting pick on a few levels, not the least of which is the pressure-filled New York environment combined with the Jets’ desperate need to hit on a top pick. They just haven’t gotten enough out of their first two picks the last few years, as a jury-still-out theme characterizes the likes of Kenrick Ellis, Kyle Wilson, Vlad Ducasse and Mark Sanchez without mentioning epic bust Vernon Gholston. On the surface, Coples does not seem like an ideal Rex Ryan type from a makeup standpoint, as Coples faces questions regarding his competitiveness, effort and maturity. However, in a post-draft press conference, Ryan compared Coples to Shaun Ellis and Trevor Pryce and believes the team can get the best out of the enigmatic lineman’s 6-6, 285-pound frame. The Jets are selling the idea that Coples’ inconsistent play can, in part, be attributed to his enduring four position coaches at North Carolina as well as the rest of the general tumult that engulfed the program the last few years. Muhammad Wilkerson, last year’s first-rounder, also provided Jets brass with comforting insight derived from his time spent as a teammate with Coples at Hargrave Military Academy. You can certainly build a case for the selection: after Coples endured coaching turnover and position changes at UNC, the Jets will lean on the motivational ability of Ryan and allow Coples to focus solely on putting his hand in the dirt and becoming a disruptive five-technique. In a way, it could serve to temper expectations and muzzle Julius Peppers comparisons. Inside, Coples will not be counted on to pile up double-digit sacks as he would’ve been if drafted as an edge rusher by a 4-3 team. Overall bust factor cannot be ignored and neither can the Patriots’ selection of Chandler Jones a few picks later, but the Jets took a calculated risk.

17. Bengals (CB Dre Kirkpatrick)
Athletic prospects with character concerns aren’t new in Cincinnati, but I question if Kirkpatrick’s upside justifies the 17th overall pick. The best cornerbacks in the NFL excel in man coverage and are capable of locking horns with elite receivers. Kirkpatrick’s strengths are his zone ability and physicality. He also did not show elite playmaking ability and ball skills at Alabama. A No. 2 corner with character concerns at No. 17 isn’t strong value.

19. Bears (DE Shea McClellin)
New GM Phil Emery laid down a drag bunt instead of swinging for the fences, as Stanford OG David DeCastro would have instantly upgraded a porous offensive line. McClellin is a good football player whose stock skyrocketed as the draft process played out — he likely wouldn’t have escaped the first round — but if he maxes out his potential, there stands a chance he will never be as good as other players still on the board at the time. The pick will be labeled “safe” given McClellin’s squeaky clean personal and football character and high-motor playing temperament, but he does not profile as an ideal first-round pick. Despite a strength deficiency, the Bears will start him out at left end opposite Julius Peppers and expect him to take advantage of single blocking. For comparison's sake, keep in mind the two players drafted by division foes later in the round: Riley Reiff (Lions) and Nick Perry (Packers).

22. Browns (QB Brandon Weeden)
Perhaps encouraged by the rookie success of Andy Dalton a year ago, the Browns felt confident pulling the trigger on the overaged Weeden in the first round. Weeden has the arm talent and maturity to be a successful NFL quarterback, but the need-based nature of the selection and Weeden’s limited upside temper enthusiasm. He’ll be asked to adapt quickly from a spread offense and soft Big 12 defenses while navigating ball protection, variable Cleveland weather and pressurizing pass-rushing defenses within the division.

23. Lions (OT Riley Reiff)
Reiff’s short arms caused him to slide, but the Lions will welcome him with open arms as they attempt to get younger along the offensive line. Reiff is not an elite dancing bear, but he’s versatile enough to play inside or outside, is well-coached and should be a solid starter for a long time. Time will tell if he’s the long-term answer at left tackle, a la Michael Roos, another short-armed blocker who excels in pass coverage, but Reiff helps ensure Matthew Stafford’s durability. Solid, low-risk selection.

24. Steelers (OG David DeCastro)
Some teams just get it.

25. Patriots (ILB Dont’a Hightower)
See above.

27. Bengals (OG Kevin Zeitler)
Very well could outplay Kirkpatrick and have more staying power. Was considered by some to be the No. 1 interior blocker available. Low-risk pick who will provide bang for the buck. His selection meant two guards were drafted in the first round two years in a row (Mike Pouncey, Danny Watkins in 2011) after 14 years of one or none going in the first round. 

28. Packers (OLB Nick Perry)
When Ted Thompson and Dom Capers sign off on a pass rusher, that’s an encouraging sign. After ranking last in the league in sack percentage last season, the Packers jumped at the chance to unleash Perry with fellow USC Trojan Clay Matthews off the edges. Perry has speed and explosion to make an impact sooner rather than later.

30. 49ers (WR A.J. Jenkins)
The Niners aren’t strangers to immature receivers and weren’t dissuaded by similar concerns surrounding Jenkins, as GM Trent Baalke showed conviction by identifying Jenkins and taking him. Jim Harbaugh and his staff will be entrusted to nurture and develop Jenkins to a greater extent than Ron Zook and Co. was able to at Illinois. If that happens, Jenkins could add a big-play element to the Niners, complementing Vernon Davis’ seam-stretching ability, Michael Crabtree’s possession receiving and the running game’s ground-and-pound capability.

32. Giants (RB David Wilson)
The Giants have an affinity for back-flipping prospects.

Likely second-rounders who could outperform Thursday night picks: California ILB Mychal Kendricks, Alabama OLB Courtney Upshaw, Midwestern State (Texas) OG Amini Silatolu, Georgia OG Cordy Glenn, Mississippi OT Bobby Massie, Nebraska LB Lavonte David, Clemson DT Brandon Thompson.

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