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2012 NFL Draft Primer

by Photo of Ross Bernhardt

The first round of the NFL Draft takes place tonight. Here’s a quick guide for what to look for.

2012 NFL Draft Primer

The circus that is the NFL Draft kicks off tonight at Radio City Music Hall.  The format has changed over the years, and the scrutiny heading into the draft has only increased, but in the end three things are certain: Andrew Luck will go first overall, Robert Griffin will be picked second, and then all hell will break loose.  As much as Mel Kiper Jr. and Todd McShay and anyone else can mull over every possibility and grade every player, they have just as much of an idea of what's going to happen when the Minnesota Vikings go on the clock.

If they don't know, I certainly don't know either.  Transparency is the name of the game here.  But I will give a quick primer as far as things to look for or what teams might do tonight over the course of 32 picks.

The Top Five

After Luck and Griffin go one and two, I think the Minnesota Vikings have to take Matt Kalil at number three.  This morning, McShay and Kiper both had Minnesota taking LSU cornerback Morris Claiborne, and while the secondary in Minnesota is atrocious, the Vikings could really use a franchise-caliber lineman to protect Adrian Peterson and Christian Ponder.  It makes too much sense to me.

The Browns are lacking in plenty of areas at number four, and most have Trent Richardson going to Cleveland with this pick.  I think in today's pass-first NFL and tandems in the backfield, running backs are devalued as far as the draft goes.  You can find great value in the later rounds.  Richardson is one of the few (or only) elite running backs in the draft, and it's not like picking him is a bad move.  But they could go with someone like Justin Blackmon or Claiborne here.  With two first round picks, the Browns have options.

The Buccaneers would love if Richardson or Kalil fell to them at five, but they could do worse with a guy like Claiborne to eventually succeed Ronde Barber at cornerback.  The Bucs had such a drastic fall after a surprising season in 2010 that there are plenty of issues to address.  

Picks Six Through 16

The rest of the top half could explode because of a couple of players: Boston College linebacker Luke Kuechly and Texas A&M quarterback Ryan Tannehill.  Both are projected to go very high, with the Dolphins almost assuredly picking Tannehill at eight.  Depending on where these guys are picked or if they fall, draft boards in all of the war rooms will blow up.

At six, St. Louis should be able to find good value or pick off someone that fell out of the top five. But after that things get messy.  These are the spots where teams reach for guys.  There might not be true value at number seven for the Jaguars or number 11 in Seattle.  Better prospects fall as a result and the best laid plans of mice and men go astray.

Some big things to look for: the Bills improved their defense instantly by signing Mario Williams, but they still need to protect Ryan Fitzpatrick.  We've seen what he can do when he has time, so I think Buffalo goes offensive lineman here.  The pressure is on for the Jets and Mike Tannenbaum, whose draft record in the first round is pretty spotty recently.  He and the Jets need a pass rusher on defense, and a guy like South Carolina's Melvin Ingram could fill that void at 16 if he's still there.  But if another draft doesn't pan out for Tannehill, who hasn't really struck gold since 2008, his days in New York could be numbered. 

There are plenty of solid players available in this range.  Wideouts Michael Floyd from Notre Dame and Alshon Jeffery from South Carolina, offensive linemen David DeCastro of Stanford and Riley Reiff of Iowa, and linebackers Keuchly and Dont'a Hightower of Alabama will all likely go somewhere in this vicinity.  A lot of prognosticators like South Carolina CB Stephen Gilmore to go to Carolina at 9, so why not.

The Rest of the Round

The Patriots have two selections, as do the Bengals.  Which of those teams is more likely to use both picks?  I would bet money that New England trades out of their 31 slot but uses the 27th pick.  Cincinnati needs help at receiver and in the secondary, so they will likely be able to address both needs with their two picks in the back half of the round.  Pittsburgh lost a lot of defensive players this offseason, and someone like Dontari Poe could be an option or Hightower could even fall this low.  The first round is deep in the front seven I guess, especially at DE.

The Broncos have to make a pick that will make new quarterback Peyton Manning happy.  That could mean another running back to use out of the backfield.  The 49ers seemed to have addressed everyone one of their needs through free agency, and with all their starters back on defense, offensive line depth will be the way to go for them.

Then we get to the last pick of the first round, the New York Giants.  The Giants are almost like the Patriots of the NFC based on their unpredictability.  GM Jerry Reese loves stockpiling pass rushers and just drafting the best player available, so whether someone falls or New York has someone valued highly will determine who the Giants select.  A lot of people see them taking Stanford TE Cody Fleener if he's available.

So as you prepare to watch the NFL Draft tonight, take all the predictions and grading with a large grain of salt.  Players will make it, others won't.  Players will rise, players will fall.  Maybe a team that isn't the Patriots makes a trade.  The NFL Draft is wild an unpredictable, and as soon as we stop trying to make so much sense of it, we can enjoy it a little bit more.

Who do you want your team to take in the first round of tonight's draft?  Chime in below in the comments section.

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