The second round of the 2012 NFL Draft is underway, but here’s some grades for each of the team’s that picked in yesterday’s first round. You may notice there aren’t many poor grades, which makes sense — it’s hard to screw up in the first round, where (with a couple exceptions) every player taken is an excellent prospect. I decided not to hand out grades for those teams that did not pick in the first round because they either traded the pick away during the 2011 draft or traded out of the first round yesterday. So without further adieu…
Washington Redskins: A+++++++
Might as well start with the best, eh? This might be a bit of a homer grade. Ok, this is definitely a homer grade. It’s not like the Redskins had any tough decisions to make or trade offers to consider. They knew they were going to take Robert Griffin III, and they did. Nothing special in the selection itself, but the player is special. Really, a fair grade would be an ‘A’ for the trade Washington swung to get the No. 2 pick. Yes, they paid a king’s ransom, and I doubt the price would have increased much as the draft drew closer. But the Skins made the trade well ahead of time, before more and more teams desperate for a franchise signal-caller decided to pony up and meet the Rams’ demands. Rather than wait around to see if against all logic the price for RG3 would somehow fall or quibble over a pick or two and risk allowing another team to leap ahead of them in the RG3 sweepstakes, the Redskins did what they needed to do to ensure they would end up with either Griffin or Luck. For that, they deserve a tremendous amount of credit.
Indianapolis Colts: A+
It’s hard to heap praise on a team for making the easiest pick of the draft (and pretty much any draft in recent memory), but the Colts came away with a quarterback that everyone grades as the position’s best prospect since Peyton Manning and many think is the best since John Elway, both of whom the Colts also drafted (they later traded Elway to Denver). Talk about lightning striking thrice. The Colts have a lot work left to do to rebuild their team, but with Andrew Luck they have the most important piece in place for the next decade-plus.
San Diego: A+
This was my favorite pick of the first round. Not only was Melvin Ingram the best player available, he had been the best player left for some time. The Chargers got incredible value picking him at No. 18, plus they filled a major need. I don’t know why so many teams passed him up. There may not be a more natural “football player” in this draft. Technically, Ingram is a pass-rusher, but he’s so much more than that. Ingram is the kind of guy that in high school plays every position on the field. He doesn’t have great size, but the kid just plays, and he plays hard 100 percent of the time. Ingram will be an instant fan favorite in San Diego and before long will be one of the most fun players to watch in the entire league. The Chargers hit this one out of the park.
Pittsburgh Steelers: A+
If Ingram was my favorite pick of the first round, this pick was the best value. Probably the best guard to come out of college since Steve Hutchinson, David DeCastro could have snuck into the top 10 and no one would have batted an eye. He’s that good, and yet the Steelers got him at No. 24. Amazing. A tough, nasty run blocker, he also fills a major need for Pittsburgh, a perennial playoff contender that seems to never have a decent offensive line. Next to All-Pro center Maurkice Pouncey, DeCastro will give the Steelers one heck of an interior line combo for a long, long time.
Minnesota Vikings: A+
Minnesota gets kudos for picking up three extra picks by trading back one spot to No. 4 and still getting the guy they wanted all along, a franchise left tackle to protect the blindside Christian Ponder, who was a reach as the 12 overall pick in last year’s draft. Matt Kalil might not have been an elite tackle prospect ala Jonathan Ogden or Orlando Pace, but he’s only a hair beneath them and will be a plug-and-forget player for the next decade. Later, In a move I normally would frown upon, Minnesota gave up their second-round choice and the 98th pick to move back into the first round and take Notre Dame safety Harrison Smith. But the Viking secondary was dreadful last season and Smith was the last decent safety left in the draft. Not a star, Smith is a solid all-around player with the field awareness to play centerfield and the grit and toughness needed to play in the box. Also a great guy to have in the locker room, Smith will be a solid pro for a long time and a fan favorite in Minnesota (or wherever the Vikings end up playing).
New England: A
Do the Patriots ever have a bad draft? It doesn’t matter if they’re trading back (usually the case) or up (the case this year), it always seems like Bill Belichick makes the right decisions. The Patriots traded up twice yesterday, using their No. 27 and 93 picks to get the No. 21 selection and their No. 31 and 126 choices to get the No. 25 pick. They took Syracuse defense end Chandler Jones at No. 21 and Alabama linebacker Dont’a Hightower at No. 25. I really like both picks. Jones is an athletic freak that reminds me a bit of Jason Pierre-Paul, while Hightoweris a perfect match for Belichick — he was the leader of Nick Saban’s defense in college and is a versatile player that can move all over the field. The Patriots’ pass rush was dreadful last season, so I envision both players wreaking havoc in opposing backfields next season. The rich get richer.
Detroit Lions: A
Just an excellent all-around pick here. As the draft’s second best offensive tackle, Riley Reiff is an excellent value at No. 23 overall. He also fits Detroit’s greatest need — finding someone to replace Jeff Backus as Matthew Stafford’s blindside protector.
Dallas Cowboys: A
This grade pains me greatly. The Cowboys have a talented roster, but a porous secondary was their Achilles’ heal last year. They signed Brandon Carr in the offseason to a big contract, but he is not an elite No. 1 cornerback, let alone a “shutdown” corner, of which there are precious few in the league. But by trading their first- and second-round choices to move up eight spots and draft LSU cornerback Morris Claiborne, the Cowboys transformed their defensive backfield from a liability into a potential strength. Claiborne is a complete player, an excellent cover corner with elite ball skills who will also stick his nose in against the run. He has the potential to be every bit as good as Darrelle Revis. RG3 is not going to like having to face this guy twice a year. It may seem like a lot at first glance that the Cowboys gave up to much, but a second-round pick the correct price to pay in order to move up from the teens into the middle of the top 10.
Carolina Panthers: B+
I love this pick. Some have pointed out that, while the Panthers could use upgrades almost everywhere other than at quarterback and running back, defensive tackle and cornerback might have been their greatest needs. I don’t disagree, but with Claiborne off the board Luke Kuechly was the best player available, one of the few real “impact” players left. Fletcher Cox, Michael Brockers and Dontari Poe would have all fit in well in Ron Rivera’s defense, but Kuechly is the type of field general that lifts the performances of everyone around him, ala Brian Urlacher or Ray Lewis. A tackling machine who also had good instincts in coverage, Kuechly is the best middle linebacker to come out of college since Patrick Willis.
Houston Texans: B+
Texans got good value drafting a player that could have gone a handful of selections earlier. Whitney Mercilus gives Houston a third pass-rusher to use with Brooks Reed and Connor Barwin in a rotation that will keep offensive coordinators up at night, especially in the AFC South and particularly in Indianapolis, where Andrew Luck will have spend two games every year worrying about which of these high-motor, instinctual backers will be breathing down his back next. Only knock against Mercilus is that he was a one-year wonder at Illinois, but he has the tools and will be joining an excellent locker room down in Houston, so I’m not worried about him not producing early on as a rookie.
Jacksonville Jaguars: B+
Jacksonville gave up the 101st pick to move up two spots in the first round to the No. 5 selection, but they needed in order to secure the one player in the draft that will help them more than any other could have. Blaine Gabbert looked terrible last season, but he didn’t have any help either. With his long arms and incredible ability to pluck balls out of the air, Justin Blackmon will turn a lot of Gabbert’s rushed and off-target passes in receptions next season.
Cincinnati Bengals: B+
The Bengals got two solid players in the first round, though I’m not sure either was the best pick. Dre Kirkpatrick starred on one of the best defenses in college football and played against elite competition in the SEC, but he has average speed for a corner and struggles at times in coverage. He has a good attitude and will work hard to improve as a cover man, but will he ever be able to consistently lock down opposing No. 1 receivers? The Bengals also traded down with the Patriots, swapping the No. 21 pick for New England’s No. 27 and a third round pick. At No. 27, the Bengals took Wisconsin guard Kevin Zeitler, a nice player and, like all Badger linemen, a real mauler in the run game. But I wonder if Cincinnati would have been better off going with some more versatile interior lineman like Peter Konz or Cordy Glenn, both of whom many draft “experts” had rated higher than Zeitler.
Miami Dolphins: B
Dolphins did what they needed to do with this pick. You’ve got have a quarterback to be competitive in the NFL, and Ryan Tannehill has all the tools. In Miami he’ll be reunited with Mike Sherman, his former coach at Texas A&M. The Dolphins would not have selected Tannehill had Sherman not vouched for him, so obviously he’s got what it takes to succeed. But he’s incredibly inexperienced, so here’s hoping the Dolphins let him hold a clipboard and learn from the sidelines for at least one year. He is in no way ready to step in a lead an NFL offense from Day One.
Philadelphia Eagles: B
Damnit, another NFC East foe adds another impact defensive player. This pick doesn’t distress me as much as the Cowboys getting Claiborne, but Fletcher Cox is going to be a pain in the ass for awhile. Good motor, great mobility for his size, long arms, strong, yuck. I would have given Philly a B+ had they found a way to get Cox without giving up two draft picks.
Green Bay: B
I’m giving this pick a higher grade than I would have otherwise simply because it’s the Packers, and they get almost everything right come draft day. Nick Perry was probably the best prospect left at Green Bay’s position of greatest need — an edge rusher opposite fellow-USC alum Clay Matthews — but I’m not sure how good of a player he’ll be in the NFL. He has excellent talent but wasn’t a very consistent player at USC. When I watch his highlights he reminds me a bit of Brian Orakpo with a little more speed but less of a motor. But what do I know compared to Ted Thompson?
Arizona Cardinals: B
The Cardinals made the pick that will probably improve their team more than any other selection could have their spot. Michael Floyd is not the 13th best player in the this draft, but he is a big-bodied receiver who can make teams pay for double-teaming Larry Fitzgerald, who will benefit from his team’s first round draft choice as much as any other player in the NFL. It would have been nice if Arizona could have traded back a few spots and still gotten Floyd, but they couldn’t risk that with St. Louis waiting to find Sam Bradford a big-time target right behind them No. 14.
Buffalo Bills: B
Solid pick here. When you play in the same division as Tom Brady, you need guys that can cover, whether at cornerback or safety. Stephon Gilmore has excellent size for a corner and is a terror on the edge against the run, but he can be a bit stiff in coverage. If he’s unable to consistently stick with NFL receivers in one-on-one coverage, he could easily switch to free safety, the position I ultimately see him settling at a few years into his career.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers: B
The Bucs probably traded back two spots to No. 7 with the intention of drafting Morris Claiborne, but they also had to know that St. Louis was going to look to get out of the No. 6 pick once Kalil and Blackmon were off the board. Though No. 7 is a bit high to select a safety that isn’t an elite prospect like Sean Taylor or LaRon Landry, Mark Barron’s stock got a boost because he was far and away the best safety in this draft, one of only two decent prospects at the position. Barron has a well-earned reputation as a hard hitter who’s tough against the run, but he also shines in coverage and has excellent instincts while roaming in the secondary. He will be an enforcer in the Tampa secondary for years to come. If Barron was a bit of a reach at No. 7, the Bucs got good value at No. 31 — acquired from the Broncos in addition to the No. 126 pick after trading their No. 36 and 101 selections — by picking Boise State running back Doug Martin, an excellent complement to incumbent runner LeGarrette Blount, who is always an injury or some on- or off-field incident away from being inactive. Martin is a good all-around back with good speed, vision and breakaway ability. Comparisons to Ray Rice may be a big much, but Martin is a solid player.
Tennessee Titans: B
No one is happier about Tennessee selecting Kendall Wright than Jake Locker, who will now have a receiving threat who can stretch the field opposite Kenny Britt. But I’m not sure Wright was the best option for the Titans, who could have taken DeCastro and helped get Chris Johnson back to being on the league’s elite ball-carriers.
St. Louis Rams: B-
This is an A+++ if you factor in the trade down from No. 2 to No. 6, but I decided not to since the resulting grade would do little to shed light on what the Rams actually did on draft day. Given that Matt Kalil and Justin Blackmon went off the board right in front of them, I liked that they traded back and picked up another second round pick in the process (they now have three selections in the first half of the second round). But I wasn’t as big a fan of the pick. Yes, the Cards snatched up Floyd right in front of them and Reilly Reiff wasn’t worth the No. 14 pick, but I feel like the Rams needed to come out of the first round with either a top pass catcher or blocker for Sam Bradford. Instead, they get a raw defensive tackle with a lot of talent who could anchor Jeff Fisher’s defense, which is nice, but the Rams didn’t get the most out of this pick that they could have. Still, with so many picks left, they have plenty of chances to improve this grade.
Chicago Bears: B-
I like Shea McClellin, but this was but high for him, especially with natural 4-3 defensive ends like Jones and Mercilus still on the board. McClellin was natural fit as a 3-4 outside linebacker, but will have to play with his hand in the dirt in Chicago’s 4-3 scheme. Still McClellin was a player on the rise, one with good athleticism and an excellent motor. He will work hard to maximize his physical tools, which Chicago fans will appreciate.
New York Giants: C
As a Skins fan, I love this pick. Nothing scares me about David Wilson, a local Virginia Tech product. I think Jerry Reese would have loved to have seen Martin fall to them, but Tampa scooped him up one pick earlier. New York did need someone to replace Brandon Jacobs, but this was a bit of a reach for Wilson, who has excellent speed but isn’t going to move any piles or punish tacklers at the line of scrimmage. Redskins defenders may not like chasing Wilson from sideline-to-sideline, but he’ll go down pretty easy once they get some mitts on him. Curious pick, but again, what do I know?
San Francisco: C
This was another pick that raised some eyebrows. Not too many of the “experts” had Illinois receiver A.J. Jenkins going in the first round, but apparently Jim Harbaugh fell in love with the string bean’s speed. Francis has good height and produced in college but was a major reach at No. 30 overall. There were plenty of better receivers still available.
Cleveland Browns: C+
There’s a lot that went into this grade. First of all, I really like the players Cleveland came away with. Trent Richardson is a complete running back and the best prospect at the position since Adrian Peterson. Even during Mark Ingram’s Heisman trophy season, it was clear he wasn’t the most talented back on Bama’s roster. I also like Brandon Weeden, who had a great season at Oklahoma State and an even better week at the Senior Bowl. I’ve seen lots of draft “analysts” blasting the Weeden pick, mostly because he’s already 28. Weeden’s age is the principle reason he was not drafted sooner, but it’s also why he should be able to step in almost immediately and supplant Colt McCoy as the Browns starting quarterback. He’s not going to lead the Browns to any Superbowls, or even the playoffs given their division, but I think he’ll play well enough for five seasons that he won’t hold back the development of other young players on Cleveland’s roster. All that said, the Browns traded up one spot from No. 4 to get Richardson — also giving up picks No. 118, 129 and 211 in the process — when they most likely could have stayed pat and gotten their man anyway. The fact that Tampa Bay traded back once Cleveland picked is a sign the Bucs were waiting to see if Richardson would fall to them, but I doubt they would have entertained trading up with Minnesota. Add in the fact the Browns missed out on the chance to secure RG3 by making the trade with the Rams that the Skins ultimately completed, and you’ve got a missed opportunity plus a questionable decision weighing down the positives of drafting two good players at impact offensive positions.
NY Jets: C+
I didn’t like this pick because of who was left on the board (read: Melvin Ingram). Sure, Quinton Coples has better measurables and great talent, but he was incredibly inconsistent at North Carolina and far too often gave minimal effort on the field. This grade would have been lower if I didn’t think that Rex Ryan has about as good a chance as anybody of getting the most out of Coples.
Kansas City Chiefs: C-
Not a fan of this pick, mostly because of who was still on the board. With productive defensive tackles like Fletcher Cox and Michael Brockers still available, I don’t know why the Chiefs would take such a gamble on Dontari Poe, who has elite ability but never played up to in college, even though he played against lesser competition at Memphis. He has the talent to be one of the most feared defensive players in the league, but even if Cox and Brockers had been off the board I probably would have still only given this pick a C+. Poe has as much bust potential as any player taken in the first round.
Seattle Seahawks: D-
Ah, at long last we finally come to the first “Huh?” pick of the 2012 draft. If you’re trying to find someone, anyone outside of the Seattle war room who likes or even understands this pick, you can quit looking. Bruce Irvin is an athlete playing football, or the exact opposite of Melvin Ingram, who went four spots later than Irvin. The Seahawks could have gotten Irvin in the second round had they liked him so much, but even then it would have been a poor pick. Irvin has serious character concerns (he’s been arrested for robbery and defacing public property) and is a one-dimensional player who’s dangerous as a pass-rusher but a liability against the run. Irvin is either going to end up being one of the worst first-round picks in recent memory or make Pete Carroll look very smart (and a lot of detractors like me look stupid). This would have been an F, but Seattle gets a little credit for trading back with Philly and picking up the No. 114 and 172 picks.