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 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.
There are few things more amusing in football than the seemingly obsessive need draft followers and football fans have to assign draft classes a grade right after the draft. Between now and the time these guys’ rookie contracts expire (2015 and 2016), things will change significantly from the way they appear now. Most such grades come from this thought process:
1. What did I feel was the team’s biggest need or 2
2. Did they fill those needs via the early or mid parts of the draft? If no, the team gets a bad grade. If yes, see #3
3. Did they fill those needs with players I like based on scouting reports (either personal, or taken from websites/”experts”)
4. If yes, team gets an A or B. If not, team gets a B- or C
5. Did team take a guy I personally liked or had as a “sleeper”. If yes, increase grade one half-grade.
6. Did team take a guy I personally disliked, viewed as a likely bust or considered overrated? If yes, decrease grade one half-grade
How many websites and analysts gave the Cardinals a good grade after snagging Matt Leinart in 2006? Or the Browns an “A” after maneuvering to get not only Joe Thomas, but Brady Quinn in 2007? In 2004, Mel Kiper had this to say about the Minnesota Vikings draft, which he graded as an “A”:
Kenechi Udeze, Dontarrious Thomas and Darrion Scott will help immensely for a team that needed speed on defense, particularly speed outside off the edge. Nat Dorsey and Mewelde Moore were my top two players available on Day 2 and the Vikings got them both. Rod Davis will also help the front seven and Deandre Iland is a versatile defensive back, while Jeff Dugan is a strong blocker at the tight end spot.
Needless to say, not even the biggest Vikings fan could give their 2004 class a grade better than a C- in retrospect.
So while I don’t partake in grading drafts, I do have plenty of thoughts on what transpired over the last few days. Starting in the AFC East:
New York Jets – I’m surprised that the Jets passed on the edge rushers who slid down the board, especially Chandler Jones and Melvin Ingram. Mike Tannenbaum and Rex Ryan swung for the proverbial fences with their draft strategy this year, using their first two picks on big upside/big risk players. If Quinton Coples and Stephen Hill can realize their potential, the Jets will look brilliant. The problem is, they’re not in an environment conducive to doing so. Coples is a guy with a questionable motor and attitude, coming into a locker room which was toxic by a lot of reports.As for Hill, I’m not a fan of receivers with iffy hands and an inability to run routes and it will be interesting to see how he fits in with Mark Sanchez and Tim Tebow lobbing him the ball on 9-routes. The Jets needed a RB badly to back up (or supplant) Shonn Greene but waited until snagging Terrance Ganaway in the 6th. However, Ganaway fits the Jets scheme pretty well, and he could be starting by year’s end. Demario Davis, Antonio Allen and Jordan White are a trio of later picks wh0 could really help. It wouldn’t surprise me if the best players from the Jets’ draft end up being from their assortment of day 3 picks. Undrafted players Donnie Fletcher, Ryan Steed and Brian Linthicum were prospects I felt could have been drafted. The Jets failure to add a RT was almost as surprising as passing on an edge rusher. That’s a decision that could come back and haunt them.
Buffalo Bills – I’m not a big fan of Stephon Gilmore, at least not at #10 overall. He’s got the talent to be a star, but will need a lot of work and coaching to realize his upside. Cordy Glenn was a surprising draft-day slider, but he could really struggle at LT if that’s where the Bills try him. On the right side of the line, he could be an excellent player though so we’ll have to see how that plays out. T.J. Graham was a bit of a wacky pick in a draft full of them, his speed is impressive but he might not be able to get off the line against physical DB’s. The Bills Day 3 haul netted them some bigger name players in Ron Brooks, Nigel Bradham, Tank Carder. At the very least, they upgraded their special teams units with those guys though I think one or two could help out on defense (Brooks especially). Zebrie Sanders slid into their laps, but I’m not sure he has a place in the NFL. Undrafted Aaron Corp could turn into something, though he’s probably a practice squadder in 2012.
Miami Dolphins – I’ve bashed the Dolphins in the past for failing to get a franchise QB, so I can’t fault them for taking Ryan Tannehill. The rest of their draft underwhelmed me. Jonathan Martin, overrated to begin with, was drafted to play RT, a position he might not have the strength for. Lamar Miller was a surprising slider on draft day (due to rumored medical concerns) but where does he fit? I wasn’t a fan of Daniel Thomas last year and he didn’t do much to ally my doubts about him, but taking Miller (on top of having Reggie Bush) was a bit odd. I’m a big believer in taking the best guy on your board, but this is a team that traded away their #1 WR and failed to replace him. That they waited until the 6th round (B.J. Cunningham) in a WR-deep class to address the position was one of the most baffling decisions of the weekend. Perhaps they envision 3rd rounder Michael Egnew as guy who they can split out a lot of the time. I like Olivier Vernon, though he has big question marks. J0sh Kaddu is probably a special teams guy at best in the NFL. Like any draft class with a 1st round QB, the 2012 Dolphins draft will ultimately be judged on Tannehill’s success. If he flops, it will be difficult for this class to look good 3-4 years from now. If he realizes his (significant) upside, the rest of these picks don’t really matter. Myron Johnson, Kelcie McCray, Jeff Fuller, Jacquies Smith and Jonas Gray are undrafted guys who could stick.
New England Patriots – Just when you think you’ve figured out Bill Belichick, he goes and trades up (not down) twice in the first round. This after several drafts where he was criticized for trading down and missing on top defensive talent. Chandler Jones and 3rd rounder Jake Bequette are not only guys who should help improve the Pats pass-rush, but also have great upside as run-defenders. That helps a defense which had way too many 1-dimensional and situational type players last year, which ultimately killed them in the Super Bowl. Dont’a Hightower is the type of LB who would have fit well with the Patriots dynasty teams, a hard-hitter with a knack for big plays at big moments. 2nd rounder Tavon Wilson was the first of many strange picks league-wide in the 2nd-4th round. Many (most? all?) draft websites and analysts had Wilson as a late round or undrafted type talent and it was a shock to see him go so early. That it was so bizarre (not merely a 1 round reach by conventional scouting), tells me that Bill Belichick sees something very specific in Wilson that projects well to the Patriots’ scheme. While he’s missed plenty on defensive players in the draft (like any long-time GM), 8 Super Bowl appearances and 5 Super Bowl wins as a coach/coordinator buys you a lot of leeway. Especially when he is known for trading down and getting better value instead of reaching on players. That he stayed put and selected Wilson says a lot about how highly the Illinois CB/S was ranked on the Patriots board. The Pats didn’t have many other picks, but snagging Alfonzo Dennard in the 7th is a brilliant move. Even with his off-field issues, Dennard probably should have gone 100 picks earlier. Not grabbing an interior DL (4-3 DT or 3-4 DE) was a surprise, and could be indicative of the Pats running even more sub-packages than they did last year (about 60% of the time). Undrafted OL Jeremiah Warren was a guy I had as a mid-round sleeper and Markus Zusevics could have been a mid-rounder had he not torn his pectoral at the combine.
Overall, I don’t think we saw a power shift in the AFC East. The Patriots 2012 season will be defined as much by their young DB’s (Pat Chung, Devin McCourty and Ras-I Dowling) as their 2012 draftees. The Dolphins didn’t do much which makes them obviously better for next season, as Tannehill is probably headed for the bench behind David Garrard/Matt Moore. The Bills have had a solid off-season overall, and their rookie class should give them quality depth if not big contributors next year. The Jets haven’t done much this offseason to fix their biggest problems from 2012 and it’s unclear where they expect to get internal upgrades from, though a DL of Coples-Pouha-Wilkerson could be an imposing unit.
Indianapolis Colts – Getting Andrew Luck is a great way to revitalize the franchise, but make no mistake: the Colts need to find a whole lot of talent in this draft. Getting Luck a receiver in round 2 and some defensive help would go a long way to helping his development
Washington Redskins – The Redskins might be closer to contending than people think if RGIII turns out to be a quality NFL QB. They need to find a playmaker on offense somewhere in the draft.
Cleveland Browns – Offense, offense, offense. The Browns cannot afford to come out of this draft without adding quality offensive talent. Their already decent (or better) defense could use another player in the front 7 (DE or LB) if a good value presents itself. Trading up to #3 to get Trent Richardson seems a bit unnecessary, but he will help the Browns offense significantly
Minnesota Vikings – The Vikings have a lot of holes to address, both starting talent and quality depth. Tough to go wrong with either Kalil or Claiborne. Trading to #4 helps by giving them enough picks to fill holes on Day 3
Tampa Bay Buccaneers – What will they do if Claiborne and Richardson are both gone? Finding defensive depth in the mid/late rounds is crucial
St. Louis Rams – Holes everywhere. DT and WR have been perpetual problems and their DB corps is in need of talent. Les Snead and Jeff Fisher have their work cut out for them
Jacksonville Jaguars – An impact WR would go a long way to help Blaine Gabbert develop. A passrusher is also a priority.
Miami Dolphins – Not coming away with one of Tannehill, Floyd or Blackmon would be tough to stomach. The Dolphins won’t be serious AFC East contenders without a better QB than David Garrard/Matt Moore.
Carolina Panthers – A good draft could propel Carolina into a top team. A WR opposite Steve Smith and reinforcements on defense are needs. An impact pass rushing DT would make Ron Rivera happy.
Buffalo Bills – A LT seems to be the obvious need, QB, CB and WR are all possible early needs as well.
Kansas City Chiefs – The Chiefs could go in a number of directions. Matt Cassel isn’t the answer, so finding a possible replacement would make sense. DL and WR help are needed.
Seattle Seahawks – Having hitched their wagon to Matt Flynn, the Seahawks could stand to bolster their WR corps and add some talent in the front 7. LB and DE (LEO) are big holes right now.
Arizona Cardinals – OL seems to be the obvious pick, but a WR or pass rusher would make sense as well. Michael Floyd would look pretty good opposite Larry Fitzgerald. QB is a need, though they might not feel they need to address it this year.
Dallas Cowboys – This draft needs to be defense oriented, with help in the secondary and a playmaker up front must-haves
Philadelphia Eagles – The Eagles love to draft from the inside out and their first rounder will most likely be on a lineman of some sort. LB help and DB depth are needed. Possibly a QB if Michael Vick isn’t the long term answer.
New York Jets – Mike Tannenbaum is aggressive and usually gets the guy he wants. A RB and impact pass rusher are obvious needs. Safety is a big hole, and they could even go WR. The Jets have a lot of holes to fill, and this is an important draft for the team of Tannenbaum and Rex Ryan.
Cincinnati Bengals – If the Bengals want to become perennial playoff contenders, they need to bolster their secondary and give Andy Dalton more weapons on offense
San Diego Chargers – The perpetually underachieving Chargers need to find a game-changing talent on either side of the ball. They brought in veteran WR’s but a 2nd round receiver with big-play ability would make sense.
Chicago Bears – The Bears did a good job addressing the offensive side of the ball in free agency. Their defense is getting old in key spots and young replacements are needed. Depth on defense is also a must
Tennessee Titans – They added Kam Wimbley to bolster their pass rush but could still look for a DE. A disruptive DT and a center are key holes to fill
Detroit Lions – Secondary help has to be priority 1. A DE to play opposite Cliff Avril is needed as well.
Pittsburgh Steelers – The Steelers have to protect Ben Roethlisberger better. O-Line has to be addressed early and often or the Steelers won’t get back to the Super Bowl
Denver Broncos – Interior DL help is the obvious need but Denver doesn’t always go the obvious route. Secondary help or even more offensive playmakers for Peyton Manning could be brought in early.
Houston Texans – A #2 WR opposite Andre Johnson would make the Texans offense downright scary. Their already stout defense could benefit from a LB to replace the traded Demeco Ryans
New England Patriots – Who knows what Bill Belichick will do? Front 7 and safety are huge issues for the Pats but Belichick often strays from the obvious needs. Interior OL and WR depth are possibilities early. Don’t be surprised by another RB.
Green Bay Packers – Front 7 help is crucial. A DE and pass-rusher have to be brought in if the Packers want to avoid having to win shootouts in 2012
Baltimore Ravens – Finding replacements for Ed Reed and Ray Lewis is a top priority. WR and OL could be other spots to fill early on.
San Francisco 49ers – A red zone target has to be found, Coby Fleener would be a good fit. A dynamic playmaker at WR or a “home-run” RB could work as well. The offense has to get the bulk of attention early on.
New York Giants – The Giants could use another RB and love to add defensive talent. They have a ton of flexibility and recent history suggests they will walk out of this draft with several good players to help them try to repeat as champions
Atlanta Falcons – No first round pick, but no real huge holes to fill. Pass rusher and front 7 talent has to be addressed as the Falcons failed to get enough pressure on opposing QB’s at key spots last season
New Orleans Saints – The Saints are lacking picks, so they can go BPA and hope to find some talented backups and rotational players. Should be a fairly quiet few days in New Orleans
Oakland Raiders – Like the Saints, things will be quiet for Oakland though unlike New Orleans, the Raiders have a lot of holes to fill. Depth on defense and along the OL should be coming when Oakland finally comes on the clock.
You can download my draft tracker and final big board by clicking on this link: Download
All you have to do is type in the player’s name as he is drafted into column E in the Draft Tracker sheet and it will do the rest.
My final draft rankings can be found here: Final 2012 Draft Rankings
By the numbers:
Tier 1 prospects: 6
Tier 2 prospects: 14
Tier 3 prospects: 33
Tier 4 prospects: 43
Tier 5 prospects: 78
Tier 6 prospects: 87
Tier 7 prospects: 115
Total prospects: 376
376 prospects might seem like a lot, given there are only 253 picks in this draft but consider:
– Last year there were over 450 rookies who appeared on NFL rosters in some form for at least one week: active roster, IR or practice squad.
– My board does not eliminate draftable prospects based on criteria such as: character, medical, scheme fit, etc. Many NFL teams will have their own wishlist pared down significantly based on those factors.
– This draft is deeper than average in the mid/late rounds. While I don’t think this draft will churn out a lot of stars, and it’s a weak crop in many ways, there is a larger-than-average pool of guys who project as backups and rotational players. Furthermore, there is a glut of quality WR’s and RB’s and a number of CB’s (though I’m less sold on the overall quality of corners than receivers and running backs).
Check back tomorrow before the draft for my final downloadable big board and last second draft thoughts.
A bunch of positions updated in my final rankings which you can see here: 2012 Rankings
I’ll be posting the remaining positions tomorrow, and a downloadable draft tracker and Big Board on Thursday afternoon a few hours before the draft, so check back as we get closer to the big day.