It’s been over a decade since the 2001 draft – a pretty decent crop of players. Outside of controversial (both in terms of off-field activity and on-field value) QB and 1st overall pick Michael Vick, the 2001 first round also netted some soon-to-be Hall of Famers and some guys who have an outside chance of making the HOF: LaDanian Tomlinson, Justin Smith, Richard Seymour, Steve Hutchinson and Reggie Wayne. Other notable 2001 first rounders include Andre Carter, Casey Hampton, Jeff Backus, Leonard Davis, Todd Heap, Deuce McAllister, Marcus Stroud and Santana Moss. In 2011, an impressive 16 of the 31 1st rounders were still active 11 seasons after being drafted (Vick, Tomlinson, Smith, Seymour, Hutchinson, Wayne, Hampton, Carter, Backus, Davis, Moss, Heap, Gerard Warren, Nate Clements, Ryan Pickett and Will Allen). The last 4 might not have lived up to their 1st round hype (and might have been considered busts by their original drafting team’s fans) but all 4 have survived and played well at times (and struggled at others).
Still, as with any 1st round, there were big time busts – David Terrell and Jamal Reynolds atop that list. 9th overall pick Koren Robinson never lived up to his (inexplicable) pre-draft hype though he contributed enough (barely) to escape true bust status. But between the long-lasting stars and journeymen and the epic flops, there are always the forgotten. Here are a few of the guys who – like this year’s crop of 1st rounders – fans were anxious to see suit up in their first training camps in the summer of 2001 but failed to make much of an impression:
Damione Lewis – DT- 12th Overall – St. Louis Rams:
Somehow, Lewis stuck around for a decade (last active in 2010 for Houston) as a backup and rotational DT. He didn’t make it past his rookie contract in St. Louis, starting just 29 of 69 games with the Rams. Only 3 times in his career did he start more than 8 games (2004,2008,2009). The Rams took 2 DT’s in the first (Lewis and Pickett) and missed the mark both times. Between their 2 picks, the Jaguars took Stroud. The next 2 DT’s after Pickett (29th overall): Kris Jenkins and Shaun Rogers. One has to wonder if the Greatest Show On Turf could have pulled off another Super Bowl win with one of those other DT’s anchoring their interior DL
Rod Gardner – WR – 15th Overall – Washington Redskins
Gardner is a great example of a guy who looked better on paper than he did on the field. His first season with Washington, he racked up 741 yards on 46 catches – an impressive 16.1 YPC. His 2nd season, he hauled in 71 receptions for 1006 yards. After that though, things went downhill. He caught 59 passes in his 3rd year and 51 in his 4th. If this were 2004 and we only had his stats to go by, we’d probably think he was a fairly useful NFL WR with a solid career ahead of him. However, after his 4 years in Washington (61 games started, 227 catches, 2997 yards, 22 TD’s), Gardner went on to play in just 26 more games and caught only 15 more passes. Watching Gardner in his first (best) two seasons, it was apparent he wasn’t the player that his somewhat impressive stats made him out to be. He just happened to be the best WR on two teams with terrible receiving corps (former 1st round mediocrity Michael Westrbook started opposite Gardner in 2001 and undrafted Derrius Thompson in 2002).
Adam Arcuhleta – S – 20th Overall – St. Louis Rams
Speaking of what could have been with the Greatest Show on Turf – Rams fans are probably apathetic over their recollection of Archuleta. The once promising DB was taken by St. Louis between their two underwhelming DT’s. As with Pickett and Lewis, Archuleta didn’t stick past his rookie contract and, while he outperformed the pair of DT’s, he didn’t last long enough with the team to be a true cornerstone player. He had a good start to his career, including piling up 102 tackles in 2002. However, after signing what was at the time the largest free agent contract ever for a safety with the (who else) Washington Redskins, Archuleta’s career tanked and he was out of the league 2 years later. A fairly traditional strong safety, and former college linebacker, Archuleta couldn’t adapt to the new pass-friendly NFL and back injuries didn’t help his coverage abilities.
Willie Middlebrooks – DB – 24th overall – Denver Broncos
Middlebrooks belongs in the “total bust” category, but he’s a guy who was taken low enough in the 1st round to not be a truly memorable flop. He didn’t have a ton of hype coming out of college. He wasn’t a huge reach or interesting story. He was just a pretty good college prospect who never panned out. 56 games played in 5 seasons and only 2 games started. His first 3 years in Denver, he played in 39 games with 6 tackles, 1 pass defensed and 0 INT’s.
Freddie Mitchell – WR – 25th overall – Philadelphia Eagles
“Fred-Ex” is only remembered for his brash personality and pre-Super Bowl antics. On-field, he was useless. He ended his brief 4 year career with 90 catches for 1263 yards in 63 games. 5 picks later, the Colts drafted Reggie Wayne. Chad Ochocinco went 11 picks later.
Jamar Fletcher – DB – 26th overall – Miami Dolphins
Fletcher is one of those guys who was useful at times, but never really a good player outside of special teams. He bounced around as a kick coverage guy and backup DB – playing for 5 teams in 8 years. He did managed to play in 105 games, though only started 12.
Michael Bennett – 27th overall – Minnesota Vikings
Bennett is a guy who I thought of a few times in the run-up to the 2012 draft. Like some of this year’s fringe 1st round RB’s (or guys who were being graded as late 1st-2nd round prospects), he was a guy with explosiveness and elusiveness but questions about his durability and overall skill set. Foot and knee injuries derailed his career in his 3rd season, but his first 2 years were impressive as a speed back in Minnesota’s Randy Moss/Daunte Culpepper era offense. His 2002 campaign saw him put up 255 carries for 1296 yards – an impressive 5.1 YPC. He stuck around for parts of 10 seasons but only played in 16 games twice (2002 and 2005) and never came close to replicating his early success after his 3rd season.
Derrick Gibson – 28th overall – Oakland Raiders
Just one of many Raiders 1st round picks in the 2000’s who failed to pan out. Gibson was a forgettable safety who started less than half of the games he played in Oakland and was out of the league after 5 marginal seasons.
Just over a month since the 2012 draft and football fans everywhere are chomping at the bit to see their new 1st (or 2nd) round prospects in camp. It’s at this time of year when every 1st round rookie is a future All Pro player and every second-year 1st round pick is on the verge of a huge break out year. Of course, history tells us that more than half of the guys taken in the 1st round of last month’s draft will fail to live up to their (lofty and unrealistic) expectations. Despite the years of hype in college, the hundreds of blog posts and articles, the thousands of hours of discussion both in the paid media and on the internet, many of the 2012 1st round picks will be forgotten just 5-7 years from now – unless your team is unlucky enough to have taken such a player.
While there are a few busts who will end up being remembered for a long time (Ryan Leaf for example), most 1st round flops – even top 10 picks- tend to be forgotten within a decade. Leaf is one of the few rare exceptions, due to his forever being linked to Peyton Manning. Even JaMarcus Russell is probably a guy who will be forgotten in time, outside of Oakland and the yearly pre-draft “Top-10 Bust” type articles.
The 2005 draft wasn’t even a decade ago, and already a number of its first round selections have been either forgotten entirely or, if they’re still around, provoke a “that guy was a 1st rounder?” type reaction. This particular draft class has a number of memorable (for now) 1st round busts and mediocrities: Alex Smith, Cedric Benson, Pacman Jones, Troy Williamson and Mike Williams were all top 10 picks and will probably all be forgotten by the end of the decade (other than Smith, the others might be forgotten much sooner). However, there was a stretch of 8 picks which produced a nearly unparalleled list of forgettable players:
Travis Johnson – DT – 16th overall – Houston Texans
He never really asserted himself as an interior lineman in Houston, and spent just 4 uneventful years in Houston before heading to San Diego for parts of 2 seasons and washing out of the league after 2010. Surprisingly, he was more productive than most of the 2005 DT class which was one of the worst in the last 20 years.
David Pollack – DE – 17th overall – Cincinnati Bengals
An injury bust, Pollack looked like he was headed for a nice career as a pass-rusher before a neck injury ended his career just 2 weeks into his second season.
Alex Barron – OT – 19th overall – St. Louis Rams
Barron wasn’t an especially bad player, being a near full time starter for 5 of his 6 seasons in the league. However, being a mediocre starter who took too many penalties on a mediocre (at best) line isn’t good enough for a top 20 pick. One has to wonder how long Barron would have survived on a deeper roster or one which had fewer qualms about dumping marginally productive and overpaid players regardless of draft status.
Marcus Spears – DL – 20th overall – Dallas Cowboys
Spears isn’t a bad player by any means, but being a productive run plugging 5-technique isn’t particularly flashy. He’s definitely a successful pick and has been a quality player but once his career is over, he will fade quickly from memory. Still, he will probably end up being in the top third of the 2005 1st rounders when everything is said and done.
Matt Jones – WR – 21st overall – Jacksonville Jaguars
Jones should serve as a cautionary tale and reminder that very raw guys with freaky size/speed and guys with position changes shouldn’t be overdrafted. While it was drugs that doomed his career, Jones’ on-field contributions wouldn’t have kept him around even had he stayed clean.
Mark Clayton – WR – 22nd overall – Baltimore Ravens
Like Spears, Clayton has enjoyed a decent but forgettable career. Other than a decent 2006 season (67 catches, 939 yards, 5 TD’s) he was underwhelming in Baltimore before moving onto St. Louis and tearing up his knee. Clayton is a good example of the “average” successful 1st rounder, especially outside of the top 10. Ravens fans probably consider him a disappointment, but given the very weak overall draft class, Clayton might actually end up in the top third of the 1st round in terms of success.
Fabian Washington – DB – 23rd overall – Oakland Raiders
A classic Al Davis pick, Washington was taken well before many draft prognosticators had him going and his 1st round selection seemed based solely on his 40 yard time. He played just 3 years in Oakland before heading to Baltimore for 3 years and ending up out of football last year after a brief stint on the Saints’ injured reserve.
Johnson, Pollack, Barron, Spears, Jones, Clayton, Washington – more than a fifth of the 1st round and all taken consecutively. Barring something very unexpected from Spears, this string of picks is already on their way to being long forgotten.
Of course, the next player selected, 24th overall, will be remembered for quite awhile – QB Aaron Rodgers.
While the image of Wes Welker dropping what most likely would have been a Super Bowl clinching catch just 3 and half months ago is probably still seared into the minds of Patriots (and Giants) fans, there are plenty of reasons to think that Welker will be in a position this year to atone for his drop (on an admittedly tough, but catchable, pass). After all, the Patriots have only gotten stronger on offense and their secondary has nowhere to go but up. Chances are good that Welker and the Patriots will be once again playing big games in January and, perhaps, February of 2013. However, what happens to the diminutive WR after that is a mystery.
Currently, Welker is franchise tagged and (unlike teammate Logan Mankins) decided that signing his franchise tender and getting into camp on time was a good way to ensure a good season and a potentially lucrative extension. Welker has reportedly turned down a 2 year, $18M contract which was rumored to have been fully guaranteed. Presumably, he is looking for a longer deal. The question is: is Wes Welker really worth re-signing for more than 2 years? If Tom Brady had his way, Welker would probably ride off into the sunset with Brady and Belichick in 3-4 years after winning another Lombardi trophy. While some Pats fans might not want to admit it for fear of sullying their image of Belichick the cold-hearted mastermind, Brady’s desires probably do have a little clout in the minds of Belichick and player personnel man Nick Caserio. After all, Tom Brady is not a QB who finds (or can create) chemistry with the average receiver – despite making plenty of average receivers look pretty good. Part of the Pats’ struggles to develop a young WR have come from Brady not trusting anyone other than Welker, Branch and his young TE’s. Keeping Brady happy is certainly a selling point for Welker and there is no denying that, with the exception of that one (very memorable and significant) pass in February, no one works as well with Brady as Welker does. In fact, were it not for the Brady/Welker chemistry, it is likely – or even probable – that this would be Welker’s swan song in Foxboro. As it is, he’s likely to end up with a contract extension in New England at some point between now and September of 2013.
The problem the Patriots have, and it’s a certainty that their front office knows it, is that Welker is small, takes a lot of vicious hits over the course of the year and is at the point of his career where small WR’s break down rapidly. Take a look at the yearly reception totals of the top 15 non-Welker WR’s 5’10 or shorter since 1990:
How many of those guys were worth big money after the age of 32 (which Welker will reach in 2013)? Mason, certainly. Steve Smith likely. The rest? Not so much. While Mason lasted forever and Smith looks to still be highly productive consider this:
Touches (receptions, rushes, punt returns, kick returns) through age 30:
Derrick Mason – 737
Steve Smith – 891
Wes Welker – 1063
Welker has 326 more touches than Mason did by the time each receiver got through their age 30 season. Even the 172 touch differential between Welker and Smith is nearly 2 full seasons worth.
None of this is to say that Welker cannot be productive beyond the next two years. However, most Patriots fans can attest to the fact that he gets knocked around pretty badly through the course of the season. As did Wayne Chrebet, whose style was more similar to Welker’s than Mason or Smith (the latter two being more frequently used on the perimeter than Welker). He disappeared into oblivion quickly due to injuries and concussion problems. Like running backs, small WR’s tend to age very poorly and the Patriots’ (well deserved) reputation for preferring to get rid of guys a year too early rather than a year too late seems to indicate that they will hesitate to keep Tom Brady’s security blanket in town for too many years.
The 2012 rookie class has yet to play a snap of even exhibition football and already the 2013 draft process is underway. While things will change significantly between now and next April (it wasn’t that long ago that Vontaze Burfict was considered a possible 1st rounder and Dontari Poe was a mid-round sleeper). However, college football and NFL draft junkies are always on the lookout for the next big riser, sleeper prospect or possibly the 2013 equivalent of Burfict. Here are a few guys who should be monitored closely over the next 11 months:
Joseph Fauria, TE, UCLA – Nephew of former NFL (Patriots, Seahawks) TE Christian Fauria, he has the size and athleticism that scouts drool over. While 2012 seemed to be a year where a lot of teams reached in the draft in the hopes of having their own Rob Gronkowski/Aaron Hernandez type tandem, Fauria could be the real deal. For a guy in excess of 6’7 250+ lbs, he can out-jump many DB’s and has deceptive playing speed – even if he doesn’t time particularly well in the 40 yard dash. The big knock on Fauria, and what could affect his stock more than anything, is that he is very raw as both a blocker and a route runner. He’s probably somewhere between where Graham (very raw) and Gronkowski (more polished) were when they came out. If he can develop these skills or if a coach falls in love with his physical attributes, he could go in the late 1st round.
Mark Jackson, OT, Glenville State – He’s huge and has the type of footwork and surprising nimbleness which tends to get O-Linemen drafted very early in the NFL. For a guy at such a tiny school (though he is a transfer from Illinois), his technique is better than expected. In fact, Jackson’s fundamentals might be better than all but a few of the elite bigger school guys. He projects to be a punishing run blocker who can fire out of his stance and take on edge rushers at the NFL level. He’s a mid-rounder on a lot of boards already, and with a good year and offseason could work his way into top 50 contention.
Michael Buchanan, DE, Illinios – As of now, Buchanan is probably an early 2nd round prospect who I’ve seen listed in the 1st round of some mock drafts. Like his former teammate Whitney Mercilus, I don’t see what the fuss is about. He has a nice frame (listed 6’6 240 and the type of frame which could easily bulk up 20 lbs) and has been productive but on tape he looks fairly pedestrian. The Illinois defensive scheme and the amount of attention offenses paid Mercilus gave Buchanan a lot of opportunities to make plays. However, he looks more like a guy who will take what is there rather than being able to create plays on his own. While he has a nice frame, he doesn’t play with violence or power and doesn’t have the athleticism to consistently beat quality OL. He doesn’t look to be an impact player and could be in for a fall if offenses are able to contain him more easily with Mercilus now playing on Sundays. That said, a productive year in the attacking Illini defense could get him drafted in the same range as his former teammate.
The AFC West looks to be one of the more intriguing divisions to follow in 2012. The reigning champs, Denver, made the biggest move of the offseason adding Peyton Madding and unloading Tim Tebow. Right on their heels are the perpetually underperforming Chargers and Raiders as well as 2010’s division champ Kansas City who might have repeated their title had they not suffered a litany of serious injuries to key players. In such a tight race, getting a big impact from your rookie class can go a long way.
Denver Broncos – Obviously getting Manning was the centerpiece of Denver’s offseason but they managed to add some nice pieces in the draft as well. After trading down, they grabbed DT Derek Wolfe far earlier than I thought he would go but he adds an interior rusher to a team badly missing that element on defense. Grabbing QB Brock Osweiler late in the 2nd seemed to be a nice gamble. He’s very raw but his upside is significant and you could do worse than learning behind Peyton Manning for 2 years. Ronnie Hillman is a nice sparkplug who could give the Broncos big-play ability from their RB position – something they haven’t had in awhile. Their pair of fourth rounders, C Philip Blake and DB Omar Bolden project to stop gap starters or quality backups and add depth at two positions of need. DT Malik Jackson might have been better off going to a 3-4 scheme, but like Wolfe could help the interior pass rush. Eric Page, Gerell Robinson and Duke Ihenacho could make the roster as undrafted players. The Broncos biggest need was adding talent to their interior line, I’m not sure they found an impact starter though both Wolfe and Jackson could fit the bill if they get better in the run game.
Kansas City Chiefs – It’s another high risk, high upside draft for Scott Pioli and company. The Chiefs ignored what could be their biggest need – QB – and came away with a collection of pieces which are tough to figure out. Obviously, Dontari Poe is an impressive physical specimen. It’s surprising that Pioli and Romeo Crennel would select a guy with questionable instincts though both – having learned under Belichick and Parcells – are disciples of the so called “Planet Theory” which could explain their attraction to Poe. Needing help at RT, the Chiefs added two potential replacements for incumbent Barry Richardson in 2nd rounder Jeff Allen and 3rd rounder Donald Stephenson. Devon Wylie in the 4th was a headscrathcer, though there were a lot of those league wide. Wylie certainly has potential as a slot receiver, but his route-running and hands aren’t particularly great and he looks to be more of an athlete than a football player. DeQuan Menzie was a nice find in the 5th round, as a possible slot CB/S tweener, though he will be badly exposed as a starter at either spot. Late rounders Junior Hemingway and Cyrus Gray could contribute but are more likely headed to the practice squad. None of the Chiefs’ undrafted additions seem like obvious candidates to make a strong run at the final 53 man roster.
San Diego Chargers – One has to wonder whether or not it matters how well the Chargers draft, if they remain committed to Norv Turner at head coach. For years, the team has underperformed in the regular season and come up small in big moments in the post season. That said, the Chargers managed to add a number of nice prospects to bolster the chances of the team winning in spite of their coach. 1st round pass rusher Melvin Ingram is a tough projection for a 3-4 scheme, even a 1-gapping aggressive scheme like the Chargers’. His lack of arm length could make it tough to succeed if he is asked to do much more than attack the QB at all times but he certainly has impressive potential as a pass-rusher. Getting Kendall Reyes in the 2nd round was a coup for GM A.J. Smith, he might have been the best overall 5-technique prospect in the draft with an excellent combination of strength and agility. Brandon Taylor should fill the departed Steve Gregory’s role, potentially starting at safety for the team though probably headed for a #3 spot on the depth chart. Ladarius Green fits the Chargers scheme well and could be a top TE in the league a few years down the road if he puts on weight and works on his blocking. Johnnie Troutman and David Molk were nice values as interior linemen late in the draft. Undrafted Logan Harrell and Christian Tupou could compete for spots along the Chargers’ DL.
Oakland Raiders – Having traded away their picks in the top 2 rounds and used their 3rd rounder in the Supplemental draft, the Raiders were left without much ammo for the draft. What picks they did have were made on questionable players, with the exception of 5th rounders DE Jack Crawford and WR Juron Criner. There is perhaps no greater reminder that Al Davis is gone than the selection of Criner – a WR whose speed is amongst the worst of the 2012 WR prospects, though he has good upside as a potential #2 possession type WR. Their first selection, Tony Bergstrom is going to have to kick inside to guard at the NFL level, as he lacks the arm length or footwork to make it as an OT. As a guard, I’m not sure he has enough upside to warrant a 3rd round pick. Miles Burris in the 4th has some good athleticism and explosiveness, but he looks lost in coverage and I’m not sure that he can translate his collegiate pass rushing success to the pros. Neither 6th rounder Christo Bilukidi nor 7th rounder Nathan Stupar were guys I thought were much more than fringe prospects though Stupar could be a quality special teams coverage guy. With limited picks, it would have been tough for the Raiders to have found impact players this year but even then I’m not sure they did as well as they could have. They did grab a trio of undrafted free agents who I had rated as 4th-5th round talents: WR Thomas Mayo, OG Lucas Nix and S Aaron Henry.
Overall, the AFC West looks much the same as it did before the draft. The Chiefs still might not be able to be a top team with Matt Cassel at the helm. The Chargers still might not be able to overcome their coach’s shortcomings. The Broncos’ fortunes are entirely tied to the health of Peyton Manning. The Raiders seem destined for another long year unless Carson Palmer can find the fountain of youth.
This is the 3rd of 8 divisional recaps.
Cincinnati Bengals – Despite having the smallest scouting department in the NFL, the Bengals have done a pretty good job drafting the last few years. 2012 was an important draft for them if they want to build on a successful 2011 campaign and remain as a contender in a tough division. On paper, the Bengals made out extremely well though their draft strategy seemed to be to just draft the #1 player remaining on Mel Kiper’s big board at each selection. Almost every pick represented great value on paper, though trading down in the 1st and passing on David DeCastro (only to see him go to a divisional rival) was questionable. Dre Kirkpatrick fits perfectly with the Bengals scheme and addresses a position of questionable depth. Kevin Zeitler isn’t an exciting prospect but projects as a quality NFL guard. Mohammed Sanu and Brandon Thompson were both guys I felt were overrated as 1st or early 2nd rounders, but in the 3rd round they were nice pickups. Devon Still, Orson Charles and Marvin Jones were also guys who I thought could have gone a round higher than the Bengals picked them. George Iloka probably won’t amount to much but his size and special teams value are enough to give a long look in camp. It will be very interesting to watch this draft class and see how it plays out. One has to think that some of these “big name” prospects who were pre-draft darlings slid for a reason. Even in undrafted free agency, the Bengals stayed true to their strategy of adding well-known prospects, adding mercurial and controversial Vontaze Burfict. Kashif Moore and Julian Miller were both guys I liked as sleepers and could find their way onto the roster.
Cleveland Browns – The Browns got off to what I feel was a bad start, trading up to pick #3 to guarantee Trent Richardson seemed unnecessary. It’s true that the Vikings could have moved the 3rd pick to a team who would have taken the talented RB, but I’m of the belief that no RB is worth taking that early in the draft – especially for a bad team like Cleveland who figures to be a few years away from being serious contenders. Brandon Weeden later in the 1st has drawn a ton of criticism due to his age, but the Browns desperately need to upgrade from Colt McCoy sooner rather than later. If Weeden is a total failure, the Browns will be in a good position to land a top QB prospect next year. The rest of the Browns draft until the 6th round looks suspect. Mitchell Schwartz is a solid prospect but the Browns passed on a lot of good players at bigger positions of need. John Hughes was a downright bizarre selection, showing almost nothing in college to warrant drafting in the top 200 picks. Travis Benjamin doesn’t have the hands or ability to beat press coverage to ever be more than a #3 or #4 WR and isn’t the high-quality weapon the Browns receiving corps has been missing for many years. James-Michael Johnson and Emmanuel Acho were nice value picks and could add depth to the Browns mediocre LB corps. 6th rounder Billy Winn was a guy I liked as early as the upper 2nd round and his slide down the board was one of the more curious storylines during the draft. He could be a real steal, depending on what led to his fall down the board. Brad Smelley is a nice developmental H-Back/FB who is a natural fit for the Browns scheme.
Pittsburgh Steelers – The Steelers, like the Patriots and a few other perennial contenders, managed to improve themselves without having to try very hard. A team in desperate need of OL help got the best guard prospect in a decade – David DeCastro – to fall into their laps in the 1st round and then managed to snag the overrated but intriguing Mike Adams in the 2nd. Chris Rainey later on could be a nice complement to Rashard Mendenhall and it wouldn’t be surprising to see him take Mewelde Moore’s spot on the roster. I’m not high on Alameda Ta’amu, but in the 4th round he offers a lot of value even if he is never anything more than a reliable backup. Sean Spence was an odd pick, given the Steelers scheme but he could fit as a pass-down LB and special teams ace. Grabbing Marquis Maze and Brandon Lindsey as undrafted players was a coup for Pittsburgh, though both face uphill battles to make the fairly stacked Steelers roster.
Baltimore Ravens – The Ravens, reportedly as a result of losing out to the Patriots on Dont’a Hightower, managed to trade down into the 2nd round and get a guy they had been linked to for awhile – Courtney Upshaw. Like 2010 2nd rounder Sergio Kindle, the Ravens are hoping Upshaw can add some youth to an aging edge-rusher position. With Terrell Suggs possibly out for the year – and Achilles tendon injuries tend to be career-altering – Upshaw will be pressed into duty early and often in Baltimore. Whether or not Upshaw can provide much in the way of a pass rush at the NFL level remains to be seen, but I’m doubtful he can be more than a 4 sack per year kind of guy. Kelechi Osemele could pay dividends as a late 2nd rounder, he certainly had the talent to go higher despite questions about his work ethic. 3rd rounder Bernard Pierce and 5th rounder Asa Jackson were guys I thought were undervalued going into the draft and could be nice steals for Baltimore. Tommy Streeter fell to the 6th round for a reason, and likely won’t make it in the NFL. Gino Gradkowski in the 4th was a headscratcher, one has to wonder what Ozzie Newsome and company see in him. QB John Brantley and DT Ishmaa’ily Kitchen are among the more interesting undrafted players that the Ravens signed – both could make it in the NFL but will need time on a practice squad most likely.
This is the 2nd of 8 divisional wrap ups. You can find the AFC East here:
Indianapolis Colts – There was no where to go but up for Indianapolis and obviously their draft hinges on the arm of Andrew Luck. If he flops, it won’t matter how good the rest of the class is – the 2012 draft will forever be remembered as the “Luck draft”. To go along with their brand new signal caller, the Colts added Luck’s college TE Coby Fleener who will remind Indianapolis fans of the recently departed Dallas Clark with his ability to get yards over the middle. The pair of Dwayne Allen and T.Y. Hilton potentially gives Luck other weapons, though I’m not a fan of Hilton’s – frail looking WR’s with ball security problems don’t often turn out well in the pros. Snagging Vick Ballard and Josh Chapman in the 5th seems like good value, with Chapman possibly being the anchor that Chuck Pagano needs if he goes with a 3-4 defense. Not adding more talent on the defensive side was a bit curious, though it makes sense that the Colts would spend their first rebuilding year trying to make Luck as comfortable as possible. Undrafted DB Michah Pellerin could pay off, as the small school sleeper was a guy I thought could have gone as early as the late 4th or early 5th.
Houston Texans – For a team that has drafted fairly well lately, their draft this year left me scratching my head. Whitney Mercilus is a guy I liked a lot more as a 4-3 LE than an OLB in a 3-4. Wade Phillips certainly can get the most out of his edge rushers, and chances are he will have Mercilus rush early and often to prevent the rookie from having to drop into coverage. Taking an edge rusher when they already have Connor Barwin and Brooks Reed seems like possible overkill. You can certainly never have too many pass rushers, but getting all three of those guys on the field at the same time without leaving the defense vulnerable to big rushing yardage is going to be an interesting challenge for coach Kubiak and Phillips. Not addressing the WR spot until the 3rd round was somewhat defensible, obviously they loved the value of Mercilus in the late 1st and the draft was very deep at the receiver spot. However, taking DeVier Posey as the answer to the big hole opposite Andre Johnson is one of the most questionable moves of the draft. Even were he clean off-field, Posey’s stock as a receiver was in a bit of a free-fall and there appeared to be a number of other options. 4th rounder Keshawn Martin might be a better bet to contribute, but like Posey seems like a potential reach. Jared Crick in the 4th was a good value pick, if there ever was a defensive scheme for him to succeed in (and it could be the only one he can succeed in at the NFL level), it’s Wade Phillips’ attacking 3-4. He could be a nice role player to give J.J. Watt a breather. Adding Dwight Jones (another overrated and questionable character WR) might yield dividends, but their best undrafted finds could be LB Shawn Loiseau and S Eddie Pleasant.
Jacksonville Jaguars – Andre Branch in the 2nd could be a nice value, though I’m not as high on him as some. The rest of the Jaguars picks seem underwhelming. Justin Blackmon has tons of upside, and the Jaguars badly need a top WR, but I’m not convinced he was really worth a top 10 pick. It’s tough to imagine him as being a top 5 WR in the league at any point in his career, and might not ever be a top 10 guy. Drafting a punter in the 3rd was strange insofar as Brian Anger doesn’t strike me as that great of a prospect. Punters are more important than people like to pretend (and let’s face it, most 3rd round picks are marginal starters at best, so landing a potential 10 year player like a punter is good value if he works out). Just look at the impact Steve Weatherford had in the Super Bowl – almost single-handedly keeping the Patriots pinned deep in their own territory and is a true unsung hero of the Giants’ win. 7th rounder Jeris Pendleton is an interesting story but a long-shot. Undrafted Mike Brewster is the biggest name in the bunch, though there’s a reason he dropped from a 1st round consideration to not being selected – he’s just never lived up to his college hype. Still, he has intriguing upside if he can get himself on track.
Tennessee Titans – Individually, I like the prospects the Titans took. Collectively though, and given the team’s needs, it was strange to see it come together in the manner it did. Signing Kam Wimbley before the draft cut down the team’s need for an edge player, but going with a WR in the 1st surprised a lot of people. Maybe the team feels Kenny Britt isn’t a good bet to rebound to pre-injury form or stay out of trouble? The Titans did throw the ball with surprising frequency last year, so it’s possible they plan on airing it out a lot again in 2012 and want more playmakers in their receiving corps. Zach Brown in the 2nd is a boom-or-bust type, but he fits the Titans’ scheme really well. Taylor Thompson was one of the most intriguing prospects to come out, the converted DE has great athleticism and size for the TE position. Mike Martin is a little short but looks to have solid upside as a rotational player. Markelle Martin was vastly overrated in the beginning of the draft process (at one point, he was being mocked in the 2nd round) but as a 6th rounder he could add some value in sub packages or on special teams. DaJohn Harris could stick as an undrafted free agent.
Overall, the Colts’ class has the most obvious potential – even outside of Luck. The other three teams seemed to be a mixed bag of guys I liked and guys I didn’t like. It doesn’t look like Jacksonville or Tennessee did enough to close the gap between themselves and Houston as the top team in the division but it also doesn’t look like the Texans’ draft class put them definitively atop the AFC contenders. If the Texans are healthy, they should win the AFC South comfortably, even if they get nothing from their draft class. For the Jaguars or Titans to supplant Houston as division champs, they will need their 2nd year QB’s (Gabbert and Locker) to play extremely well and get some first year impact from their draft classees.