Pittsburgh Steelers- Out of the entire NFL draft, the biggest winner may very well have been Ben Roethlisberger. Since Roethlisberger was drafted by the Steelers in 2005, he has twice fractured his right thumb, tore cartilage in his right knee, separated his right shoulder, broke his nose, fractured a bone in his right foot, sprained his left foot, and suffered from a high ankle sprain. If it wasn’t already obvious to the Steelers management that Roethlisberger needed better protection up front from his offensive line, then Roethlisberger’s lack of mobility to end the season in 2011 had to have been the final straw. If there’s one thing above everything else that the Steelers offensive line has lacked, it’s stability. In 2011, the Steelers used a league-high 25 different offensive line combinations. With the addition of the best guard in the draft David DeCastro and a potential future franchise left tackle Mike Adams, expect far fewer combinations next season. DeCastro is an absolute bargain at 24. The Steelers were just lucky that he fell to them. The selection of Adams, who tested positive for marijuana at the combine, was a calculated risk well worth taking by the Steelers. The other pick I really liked by the Steelers was their fourth round selection of nose tackle Alamed Ta’amu. With Ta’amu, the Steelers fill a need without sacrificing on value.
San Diego Chargers- Most draft analysts had Melvin Ingram as a top-15 pick coming into the draft. The Chargers were lucky to have such a talented player fall to them that also happens to fit well into their scheme. In the second round the Chargers took defensive tackle Kendall Reyes out of Uconn. The Chargers were also considering LSU safety Brandon Taylor at this pick, but Taylor luckily fell to them in the third round. The Chargers defense should be much better in 2012 with the addition of Ingram, Reyes, and Taylor. They would have been lucky to land anyone of these players.
Indianapolis Colts- Although the Colts were already winners when they made the easiest pick of the entire draft with Andre Luck, the rest of their draft was impressive as well. In the second round, the Colts wisely selected Luck’s former and future teammate, tight end Coby Fleener. Fleener caught 10 of Luck’s touchdown passes in 2011, and will be a true vertical threat in the NFL with his great speed for a tight end. The fact that Luck and Fleener already have some chemistry together makes this already solid pick make even that much more sense. The Colts were also able to add tight end Dwayne Allen, and explosive receivers Ty Hilton and Lavon Brazil in the draft. Clearly the Colts set out to surround Luck with young talent to throw to this draft, and they were extremely successful in doing so. Their receiving core wasn’t the same in Manning’s last few seasons as it was when Reggie Wayne and Marvin Harrison were in their prime together. With all these new additions, the Colts should have some real downfield weapons again.
Philadelphia Eagles- I think just about everyone can agree that the Eagles had an extremely successful draft the whole way through. It all started with Fletcher Cox in the first round. Cox is without a doubt the best penetrating interior defensive lineman in this year’s draft and should make an immediate impact. In the second round, the Eagles drafted the reigning Pac 12 Defensive Player of the Year, explosive linebacker Mychal Kendricks. Kendricks can hit, find the ball, and make plays in coverage. There is very little not too like about his game and the Eagles were fortunate that he slipped to them in the second round. The Eagles didn’t necessarily need another defensive end, but they stuck true to their formula in selecting the best player on the board Vinny Curry in the third round.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers- The Bucs had an amazing draft. In moving up to get Mark Barron, they got far and away the best safety in the draft. Barron will instantly improve a Bucs secondary that was absolutely atrocious in 2012. Although I disagree with their selection of Boise State running back Doug Martin with their second pick, the Bucs more than made up for it in landing Lavonte David in the second round. David has all the skills needed to be a prototypical Tampa 2 linebacker. For landing two highly promising and highly needed defensive players, the Bucs are definitely winners.
St. Louis Rams- I liked the Rams draft for its quantity as much as its quality. The Rams acquired more possible future starters than any other team. Unfortunately, if Robert Griffin III goes on to have a great career, it will be tough to view this draft as anything but a failure for the Rams. I understand the logic Griffin trade completely. In dishing away the second pick, the Rams remained faithful to their franchise quarterback. The book is of course still out on Sam Bradford, but they were smart to not give up on him just yet in favor of the equally unproven RGIII. Prior to this draft, the Rams probably had more holes than any other NFL roster; they needed every pick they got from the Redskins, Cowboys, and Bears. Michael Brockers was exactly what the Rams needed with their first pick. Brockers is a player that will toughen up the middle of their defense, which they needed more than anything else last season. They also got a potential huge steal with their 2nd round pick Janoris Jenkins who can immediately improve their pass defense and become a playmaker on defense. In a sense, this Rams draft will be judged more on the careers of Bradford and RGIII than it will on the players they selected, unfair as thus may be.
Cincinnati Bengals- The Bengals may not have had the flashiest draft, but they got a lot better in a number of different areas last weekend. In the first round, they came up with corner Dre Kirkpatrick and guard Kevin Zeitler. Kirkpatrick was the best zone corner available in the draft and will help address an aging position for them. Although the Bengals could have landed DeCastro had they not traded down, there is a lot to like in Zeitler. I also really liked their fourth round selection of tight end Orson Charles out of Georgia. Charles is a very good football player who happened to slip as the result of a recent DUI and a poor showing in the 40 at this year’s combine. With the addition of Charles, expect the Bengals to employ a lot more multiple tight end sets next season. Andy Dalton loved this pick.
San Francisco 49ers- The 49ers draft surprised me. I expected the 49ers to be relatively satisfied at the receiver position with the offseason additions of Randy Moss and Mario Manningham. The 49ers appear to be still focusing on improving at the skill positions however. They picked up wideout A.J. Jenkins in the first round and running back LaMichael James in the second. I love these two picks. The 49ers defense is already dominant, and they would have been foolish to take defensive players high in this draft. I expect James to be a great spell for Frank Gore, and Jenkins to bolster an already much improved receiving corps. James is the type of running back that isn’t drafted high due to a perceived critical shortcoming, (lack of size) but is a great player on film. He’s a dynamic player in space who makes their running game, which is already excellent, far more explosive. They drafted guard Cam Looney out of Wake Forest in the 4th round, who will get a shot to fill a vacant guard position. The 49ers continued a great offseason this draft. The quality of their offense in 2012 remains to be seen, but they have all the tools required to be a highly effective unit now.
Cleveland Browns- Let me preface this critique by saying that I actually do in fact like the Browns pick of Trent Richardson in the first round. They got the best player on the board at a position that they desperately needed to upgrade. My problem is with the rest of the Browns draft. With the 22nd pick, they selected 28 year-old quarterback Brandon Weeden. This was a horrible pick. First of all, the Browns could have easily traded back into maybe even the second round and still picked up Weeden. Weeden could turn out to be better than Colt McCoy, but McCoy was just as good of a prospect coming out of college as Weeden is. Odds are he will get every chance to start next season, so let’s see if he proves me wrong. My criticism of the Browns really stems from the fact that I disagree with the way in which they’re choosing to build their team. With as many holes as the Browns have on their roster, it would have been smarter for them to wait on drafting a quarterback until a better prospect is available a few years down the road. The Browns will have a terrible run defense yet again in 2012 because they didn’t adequately address this deficiency in the draft.
Seattle Seahawks- The Seahawks reached in the first round more than any other team in the draft. Bruce Irvin was projected as a second round pick at best. According to Mel Kiper, even the teams he spoke with that were actually considering taking Irvin were not considering him until the second round. The Seahawks consider Irvin to be a future situational pass rusher that will eventually be able to replace Chris Clemons. Does that sound like a first round pick to you? What the Seahawks did for the rest of the draft really isn’t even relevant in this assessment. That’s just how bad their first round pick of Irvin.
Jacksonville Jaguars- The Jaguars took a punter in the third round of the draft. Do I really need to go on?
Oakland Raiders- Given that the Raiders didn’t have a pick until the third round, they didn’t have too bad of a draft. But was Carson Palmer really worth losing the potential players the Raiders could have drafted in the first two rounds this year? Hell no.
Carolina Panthers- I really don’t like the Panthers first round pick of Luke Kuechly. Kuechly will be a good NFL linebacker, but not a star in my opinion. While I am aware that last season both Jon Beason and Thomas Davis were placed on injured reserve, this still doesn’t justify the Kuechly pick in my eyes. The Panthers needed a defensive tackle in the first round, and at 9 they could have landed their choice of Dontari Poe, Fletcher Cox, or Michael Brockers. All three players would have more of an immediate impact than Kuechly will. If Davis can return from his torn ACL in 2012, it’s unlikely that Kuechly will even start next season. The Kuechly pick is one thing, but the fact that the Panthers failed to take a single defensive tackle in the entire draft is completely inexcusable. Expect their run defense, which was ranked 25th in 2011, to continue to suffer as a result.
New Orleans Saints- Like the Raiders, the Saints didn’t have a draft pick until the third round. Their first round pick was traded away last year to move up to get Mark Ingram, and the second round pick was forfeited as a result of the bounty scandal. Given the situation, the Saints did not have a chance to greatly improve their roster. I liked their third round pick of defensive tackle Akiem Hicks out of Regina (Former LSU recruit). Hicks left school early as a Junior, he could have gone to the UFL but stuck it out. I don’t like the pick of Nick Toon in the fourth round, as the Saints are already loaded at receiver and Toon has suffered from injury problems in the past. Overall, the Saints did a decent job drafting given the picks they had. Regardless, they were losers last weekend.
Atlanta Falcons- The Falcons traded away their first and fourth round picks this year in order to move up to get Julio Jones last year. I felt the Falcons could have done better than taking center Peter Konz in the second round. They already have a decent offensive line, and I think they would have been better suited to take a difference maker in the secondary instead. With players like Trumaine Johnson and Josh Robinson still available on the board, the Falcons made a questionable move in drafting the injury-plagued Konz. The Falcons did no better in the third round with their pick of tackle Lamar Holmes out of Southern Mississippi. Taking a tackle here was not a bad idea, but Holmes was rated lower than tackles Bobby Massie and Brandon Mosley who were drafted after Holmes.