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2012 Draft Recap: AFC North

This is the 3rd of 8 divisional recaps.

AFC East Recap
AFC South Recap

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.

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2012 Draft Recap: AFC South

This is the 2nd of 8 divisional wrap ups. You can find the AFC East here:

AFC East Recap

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.

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