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With the 2012 NFL Draft all wrapped up, heated initial reactions have given way to more methodical and calculated analysis of who will look back on this draft as the pivotal moment that sent their franchise soaring towards Superbowl contention and those, who will have to endure further seasons of obscurity after setting their franchise back years.
Hit a Home Run: Patriots and Steelers.
- New England Patriots
The Patriots surprised a lot of people at the draft, trading up twice in the first round to snag both Chandler Jones and Dont’a Hightower, with Bill Belichick usually much more in favour of trading down and stockpiling picks. Both Jones and Hightower are elite prospects and combined with their second-round selection, safety Tavon Wilson, Belichick has upgraded his defense significantly.
Providing they can work through his off-field issues, they will have also gained great value with cornerback Alfonzo Dennard, who slipped all the way to the seventh round despite being a potential second-round selection. New England already have a Superbowl caliber offense which needed very little strengthening after the free agency additions of Brandon Lloyd and Robert Gallery, and this draft will potentially go a long way to shoring up a defense which had become a bit of a liability for Tom Brady and Co.
- Pittsburgh Steelers
If the Steelers were asked prior to the draft where their biggest weakness lay, they would have replied ‘Offensive Line’ – cue the arrivals of David DeCastro and Mike Adams. Despite the lack of excitement generated by using your top two picks on offensive linesman, the Steelers added potentially the best guard and tackle (some had Adams rated higher than Riley Reiff) respectively in the draft.
Although Adams comes to Pittsburgh after testing positive for marijuana, both he and DeCastro will shore up an offensive line which was often out-muscled and outsmarted last season. The additions of both Shaun Spence and Alameda Ta’amu in the third and fourth rounds will also help invigorate an aging defense and could be the long term starters in place of both James Farrior and Casey Hampton.
Plenty of Potential: Eagles and Ravens.
- Philadelphia Eagles
The addition of Fletcher Cox in the first round will be huge for Andy Reid’s defense this season as they have lacked a good nose tackle for sometime now. Cox was arguably the best in this years’ draft class despite being picked after Dontari Poe. Despite Cox’s lauded ability and potential, it was in the second round that the Eagles really found success, drafting both Mychal Kendricks and Vinny Curry to bolster their defense. Both guys were predicted by many to possibly make it into the first round and should be able to make an instant impact for Philadelphia in the tough NFC East division.
- Baltimore Ravens
General Manager Ozzie Newsome continued the tradition of making great draft moves when he traded out of the first round, picked up an extra fourth-round selection, and still managed to draft a first-round talent in the form of Courtney Upshaw. Fellow second-round pick Kelechi Osemele will likely start on a Ravens’ offensive line bereft of guard Ben Grubbs, whilst running back Bernard Pierce, a third-round selection, could be used on short-yardage situations to help out Ray Rice in a way similar to Ricky Williams last season.
Fourth-round picks Gino Gradkowski and Christian Thompson both have the chance of being the long-term replacements for Matt Birk and Ed Reed respectively, whilst sixth-round pick Tommy Streeter has the physicality to be able to offer something in the receiving corps immediately for Joe Flacco.
Must Do Better: Browns and Broncos.
- Cleveland Browns
It is hard to admonish a team which picked up a player of Trent Richardson’s caliber, but the price they paid was big, perhaps too big. He will dramatically improve their running game, which is admirable, but the Browns have the misfortune of playing in a division with three of the best run defenses in the entire league.
They have also fallen for criticism with their other first-round pick, Brandon Weeden. The 28-year old is a good quarterback and should serve the Browns well, but there is no denying that he is a stopgap until they can found their franchise quarterback of the future. As such, Cleveland has been criticized for picking Weeden with the 22nd overall pick, with most experts suggesting he would have still been available later in the round and the Browns could have traded down and picked up a pick which they lost in the trade to ensure they got Richardson.
They also failed to draft a wide receiver until Travis Benjamin, who they took with the 100th overall pick, and look somewhat undermanned at the position.
- Denver Broncos
New arrival Peyton Manning may be happy to be a Bronco, but it is very doubtful he will be pleased with his new team’s performance in the draft. Similar to the Ravens, Denver traded out of the first round but picked up Derek Wolfe in the second. Wolfe, although a talented nose tackle, was tipped as a third, or even fourth, round pick by many experts, and was not deemed to be good value.
Running back Ronnie Hillman and corner Omar Bolden may eventually become starters, but in reality there is little for the Broncos fans to be excited about immediately, with quarterback Brock Osweiler, who will learn from Manning, as perhaps their most exciting pick.
Image Courtesy of Philadelphia Eagles