After months of endless speculation and three days of waiting, punctuated with brief moments of excitement and highlight searches on YouTube, the 2012 NFL Draft has come to a close. It's safe to say that most NFL fans find the Draft to be the major source of excitement during the offseason. As such, you can expect even more speculation to stem from this most recent draft.
Some of this speculation has major consequences: how will teams approach the last few free agents on the market, undrafted free agents, and construct rosters. I am sure Baalke and Harbaugh are already speculating the long-term ramifications of their picks these last three days.
For us fans, though, we get to engage in more fun speculation. Undoubtedly, we can speculate about the roster and free agency, as well. And us good folks at NN will do all we can to provide you with the best baseless speculation the internet has to offer! But rosters and free agency aside, some of the most fun speculation to be done post-draft is choosing the winners and losers of a draft.
So, here is my winners and losers article for the last few days. When in doubt, or when I felt that teams were pretty close in terms of how well they drafted, I selected to write about a team we will play next season.
As always, gut-reaction speculation deserves stringent opposition. Tell me what teams I miss in the comments.
To the jumpmobile!
It would be foolish of me to say that the Cincinnati Bengals had the best draft of the year. So, I won't, except that the Bengals had the best draft of the year. I really like both of their first round picks in CB Dre Kirkpatrick from Alabama and G Kevin Zeitler from Wisconsin, though Zeitler may be a tad of a reach. They made up for it with great picks in WRs Mohamed Sanu from Rutgers and Marvin Jones from Cal - two guys who were project to go a couple of round before they actually did. Similarly, they picked S George Iloka from Boise State (one of my draft crushes L) in the fifth round when most projected him as a second to third round guy.
When you draft a guy of QB Andrew Luck's (Stanford) caliber, the draft is almost guaranteed to be a success. When you couple this, moreover, by drafting one of his favorite college targets and the top TE in the draft in Coby Fleener from Stanford (and another draft crush of mine L), then things just keep looking better. While you're at it, though, you might as well just double up on awesome TEs by drafting Dwayne Allen from Clemson to go along with high potential draft pick WR T.Y. Hilton from Florida International. The Colts decided to provide Luck with every weapon he might possibly need for his transition into the NFL. The only major complaint which could be levied against the Colts is that they did not do enough to fix some huge defensive problems in the draft.
Another team which suffered last season but used their subsequent draft position well is the Minnesota Vikings. Shoring up the line for their second year QB Christian Ponder was a must, and this makes the OT Matt Kalil (USC) pick a success. Moreover, the fact that they were able to trade down a spot and still get their guy is altogether impressive. The addition of later round draft picks will do a lot of good for their long term success. It would be remiss of me to not mention their pick of S Harrison Smith from Notre Dame, he represents one of those lucky confluences of draft fate when a guy who is one of the best players available also fulfills a need. The Vikings shored up some major areas of need without reaching.
I actually find choosing draft losers harder to do than winners. With winners, you can look at how some teams find players with great potential who just happened to fall pretty far for some reason. But right now we just have a bunch of talent athletes with potential. It's hard to guess which ones won't be successful. That said, I do think the Seattle Seahawks may have used their first few picks on guys that represent too much potential and not enough readiness for immediate impact. OLD Bruce Irvin from West Virginia is a fairly one-dimensional player. Even though he has great pass rush skills, it seems like there were better athletes on the board who could have filled greater offensive needs. It also strikes me as odd, then, for Seattle to use their second round pick on another OLB in Bobby Wagner from Utah State. And while I am not nearly qualified enough to judge whether or not QB Russell Wilson from Wisconsin will be successful at the next level, it seems an odd pick in light of the Matt Flynn signing.
My other two losers I am going to lump together into one paragraph because they are losers for the same reason: gross mismanagement of draft picks. I'm talking about the New Orleans Saints and Oakland Raiders. Now the reasons for why both teams lost out on the valuable picks of this year's draft are different, but the end results are the same: this league is a draft driven league. Being successful entails drafting successfully, and I think this will be even more true with the new salary caps for rookies. When any one team squanders the unique opportunity that the draft provides every year, you just have to consider them draft losers. With the low success rate of picks made from rounds five through seven, it really is imperative that a team have rounds one through two locked down.