We all love the brackets that come with college basketball in March, so I’ve decided to carry it over to a different sport. The madness started this past weekend with the 2012 NFL Draft and was shortly followed by a wild array of phone calls to undrafted NFL prospects. After all the dust had settled, fans were left asking, “Who had the best draft”? I’ve decided to not label every team with a letter grade, but to instead give you my take on their picks, needs, and value of where they selected prospects. I’ll then put them head to head with a team in their division and let them fight it out. The better draft advances for a shot as the divisional championship. Let the NFL madness begin…
NFC West - Round 1 - Arizona Cardinals vs. San Francisco 49ers
Arizona – They had a debate in the first round, should they go with the chicken or the egg? They needed offensive line help to protect the quarterback and allow time for the receivers to get open, but they also needed a receiver to compliment Larry Fitzgerald and give the quarterback two viable options. Arizona decided on Michael Floyd, the big sure-handed receiver. It’s a great pick, as Floyd will be mentored by one of the game’s best receivers, who just so happens to be one of the most willing players to help develop young talent. Amazingly, the Cards still found great offensive line help on day three of the draft.
The Cardinals added Bobby Massie, Nate Potter, and Senio Kelemete at a time where each added great value. I was a lot higher on Potter than most draft analysts and couldn’t believe he was available in the seventh round. Many people felt that Massie would be long gone before the middle of the fourth round. Both of those players can compete for the team’s two tackle spots. Kelemete had bad tape in college when he was playing out of position at tackle. The Cardinals used a low risk, fifth round pick and will find a spot for him on the interior of the offense. Jamell Fleming is an aggressive cornerback that can contribute immediately. A player of his talent is usually gone by the mid third round but Arizona benefits from a deep cornerback draft and now have another young and talented corner to place in the secondary with last year’s pick of Patrick Peterson.
Justin Bethel was a sixth round selection that reminds me of the Buster Skrine pick from last year. Both guys lit up the combine and teams found a spot to select each that didn’t involve a lot of risk but could come back to pay tenfold. Bethel is a raw talent but he’s fast, explosive, and could develop into a nickle corner or at least a solid special teams player. Ryan Lindley is one of those quarterbacks that have a bi-polar feel to his quarterbacking style. One minute he’s looking impressive and the next he’s all over the place. I didn’t view him as a solid prospect but in the sixth round Arizona decided that they felt he was worth taking a chance on. They may feel they can develop him with NFL coaching, much in the same manner they’ve been working with Kevin Kolb and John Skelton. All in all, Arizona found value in each of their picks, all the way through the draft. I also liked the undrafted, free agent pickup of offensive lineman, Blake DeChristopher out of Virginia Tech.
San Francisco – Jim Harbaugh seems to be using the right thought process and attempting to make Alex Smith’s job easier but he’s going about it in the wrong way. Wide receiver was the deepest position in this draft but he decided to select one in the first round. Harbaugh took AJ Jenkins, who I wouldn’t have selected before the third round. Jenkins will be a reliable piece of the offense and has talent but I could say the same for about 40 other wide receivers in this class and many of them are more talented than Jenkins, and the 49ers could have selected any of them later.
Harbaugh knows Coby Fleener. Adding this 6’6 target and the #1 tight end prospect opposite of Vernon Davis would have been a far better value pick and provided a better security blanket for Alex Smith. LaMichael James pick initially surprised but wasn’t a bad pick. I view this pick as if the 49ers have decided to copy the blueprint of the Saints’ backfield. They have a certain running back for every situation and they all will be fresh. San Francisco plans on being a run first and often offense and depend on the defense. After these first two selections, the rest of their draft was underwhelming until they hit a home run at the bottom of the seventh round.
Cam Johnson must have received a positive test result for swine flu and bird flu mixed with the plague or something. I have no idea how he was still on the board when they selected in the seventh. Johnson will be a beast in this defense. He doesn’t have great change of direction but they’ll find value out of him. He’s a strong player that attacks with leverage. As great of a pick this is, it’s sad that their best value came at the end of the draft and into their undrafted guys. Speaking of which, they had a nice haul that consisted of players like, RB, Jewel Hampton, WR, Chris Owusu, OLB, Kourtnei Brown, and DE, Tony Jerod-Eddie.
Arizona demolishes San Francisco and advances to face the winner of Seattle vs. St Louis
Seattle Seahawks vs. St Louis Rams
Seattle - The Seahawks dropped the first big bomb of the 2012 NFL Draft when they announced Bruce Irvin as their first selection. I liked Irvin on film and believed that he had the best change of direction in the draft but I didn’t see mid first round pass rushing talent. He used space and speed to avoid contact with the slower collegiate tackles. If they use him in the same manner as the Broncos with Von Miller last year, he will definitely contribute but he won’t be that productive. Bobby Wagner is an NFL player and his level of competition didn’t bother me like it did others. When he played the bigger schools and even in the all star games, he stood out. His down field pursuit is second to none. The Russell Wilson pick seemed like a Pete Carroll selection. The Seahawks love to collect mediocre or developmental quarterbacks. They just got their second project of 2012 with Wilson joining Matt Flynn.
Robert Turbin looks dynamic at times and he’s a guy that you can’t help but to pull for but it’s a business and this wasn’t a safe business decision. The NFL game is tough on running backs. I don’t understand drafting a guy that has several injury issues and asking him to perform at the next level. Jaye Howard is a perfect fit on the Seahawks defensive line. He was still available because he didn’t always play to his max potential. Seattle will get that value out of him and he will easily be their best pick after the second round. The Seahawks have one of the best, young secondaries in the NFL and they add two intriguing guys to it, with Jeremy Lane and Winston Guy. The last few years, I don’t think anyone has gotten more talent out of their young, late round secondary selections than the Seahawks. I wouldn’t bet against either of these sixth round selections. The Seahawks didn’t fare that well in the undrafted market. The only one that intrigues me is WR, Jermaine Kearse. I was never a big Rishaw Johnson fan.
St Louis - Jeff Fisher put on a clinic for the way he manipulated the draft. It all started a few months ago with the Redskins trade and continued with the trade with Dallas. Michael Brockers was the best defensive tackle prospect in this class. I really loved Fletcher Cox’s athleticism but you have to project a little with Brockers. He’s a massive run stopper with violent arms. He’s young and hasn’t reached 50% of his potential as a pass rusher. The Rams defensive line will be fun to watch over the next few years. The Brian Quick selection was the first flaw in their draft strategy. They obviously really loved his height, weight, speed, and game film. He struggled with the more elite talent and is too much of a project for a team to select with the 33rd overall pick. If he does develop they will look like geniuses but they should have just taken the double, instead of swinging for the fences.
Janoris Jenkins in the second round may be the steal of the draft. Instead of drafting Morris Claiborne with the 6th pick overall, they trade the pick to Dallas and add an extra selection. They end up getting the best cornerback of the draft a whole round later. The combination of Cortland Finnegan and Janoris Jenkins in St Louis is insane. Especially when you consider that they will only have to cover until Brockers, Chris Long, and Robert Quinn pressure the quarterback. Isaiah Pead was my third favorite running back and the Rams add him to the roster with their fourth pick. He runs with the same effortless, fluid style as Arian Foster. He will keep Stephen Jackson fresh and make a name for himself along the way. In case Janoris Jenkins wasn’t enough, the Rams added Trumaine Johnson to the defensive back group. Johnson is a big cornerback, that I feel will transition nicely to an NFL free safety. This is a scary good secondary now.
Chris Givens just proves my point on the Brian Quick pick. It wouldn’t surprise me at all if Givens puts up better numbers than Quick. St Louis added Givens two rounds after Quick. Givens doesn’t have the ceiling that many hope to see out of Quick but he is by far a more sure thing. Daryl Richardson has the NFL bloodlines and provides depth behind Jackson and Pead. Richardson is the brother of Cincinnati running back, Bernard Scott. The two have similar styles and could come off the bench late in games and provide a fresh legged, home run threat. After the draft, the Rams continued to put on a clinic by adding some prospects that will compete for roster spots. A few that stood out were, S, Matt Daniels, TE, Cory Harkey, DT, Matt Conrath, TE, DeAngelo Peterson, QB, Austin Davis, OG, Joe Long, DE, Jamaar Jarrett, C, T-Bob Hebert, and RB, Calvin Middleton.
St Louis got an early start out of the gate and never looked back as they easily defeat Seattle to advance.
In the finals for the NFC West crown, the St Louis Rams met the Arizona Cardinals. Arizona came out putting up a fight. There biggest problems on offense last year were definitely addressed in the draft. They got a premier #2 option at receiver and got quality protection for their quarterback and the ability to open holes for Ryan Williams and Beanie Wells. They also added some talent to their cornerback group. The Rams just came on too strong and after letting the Cardinals gain ground in the late rounds, St Louis put the game away with the moments following the draft and their undrafted prospects.