Last night in New York City’s Radio City Music Hall, the NFL convened for the first round of the NFL Draft. The culmination of months of scouting and preparation resulted in teams making personnel decisions that could help shape their franchises for the next decade. After a blistering three hours of action that saw half of the first round picks owned by more than one team at one point during the night, teams moved up, teams moved down, and 32 collegiate players have now realized their childhood dreams and found themselves a new home in the NFL.
Our own Sam Monson has been through each pick in turn to give you the PFF-eye view of what that all means for the team and the player concerned.
Who hit their mark and filled a big hole? Who was in the luxurious position of picking up good football players? And who made the head-scratching move? Find out as Sam spins you through the first round.
1. Andrew Luck – QB – Indianapolis Colts
We’ve all known that this would be the first pick for a few days now, the Colts start their re-build just like 1998 all over again. That time it worked pretty well, how will it work out this time?
2. Robert Griffin III – QB – Washington Redskins
As soon as the Redskins made the trade with St Louis, we knew the object of their desires. Washington hopes they have their first franchise quarterback for the better part of a generation.
3. Trent Richardson – RB – Cleveland Browns
The Browns need to compete in a brutal division with three playoff teams from 2011. They were at their best in 2010 when they had a healthy Peyton Hillis through whom everything good in their offense ran. Richardson they hope can be that guy and more.
4. Matt Kalil – OT – Minnesota Vikings
The Vikings moved back a spot and still had the same choice to make, and in the end they went with trying to protect Christian Ponder’s blind side. Last season Ponder flashed talent, but wasn’t helped with sub-par play from his left tackle Charlie Johnson. This time the Vikings want to eliminate that variable and give him some confidence in the pocket.
5. Justin Blackmon – WR – Jacksonville Jaguars
Last season Blaine Gabbert had a terrible situation to start in: no offseason, few receiving weapons, and a rigid and unimaginative scheme. This season the Jags are trying to surround their quarterback with some weapons and remove all possible excuses. They spent in free agency and they made sure they got the best receiver in this draft to help him out. If Gabbert fails again this year, it won’t be for a lack of weapons.
6. Maurice Claiborne – CB – Dallas Cowboys
Say what you like about the Cowboys but they’re prepared to recognize their weaknesses, and do something about them. Last season they struggled badly in the secondary and they’ve spent in free agency and then again in the draft to fix it. Claiborne is the best corner available in the draft and his outstanding ball skills and ability to force turnovers should be an ideal fit for a Rob Ryan defense that will hang corners out on an island and let them fend for themselves.
7. Mark Barron – S – Tampa Bay Buccaneers
The worst secondary in football may have resided in Tampa Bay last season, and Mark Barron is going to go a long way towards fixing that. Last season’s starters Tanard Jackson and Sean Jones combined to miss 40 tackles during the regular, and were a serious problem against run and pass. Mike Mayock believes Barron is one of the safest picks in the draft, and whatever happens at corner for the Bucs, Barron should be a massive upgrade over the missed-tackle machines that he will help to replace.
8. Ryan Tannehill – QB – Miami Dolphins
Miami has been searching for a franchise quarterback since the retirement of Dan Marino. In Ryan Tannehill they hope they have that man, though he is said to be a prospect in need of development. As much as nobody wants to sit their top pick, the Dolphins are in an ideal situation to be able to do exactly that. David Garrard has been a solid starter in the past and Matt Moore was our ninth-graded passer this past season with a +11.4 grade and a QB rating of 87.1. So the Dolphins don’t need to throw Tannehill in there until they’re convinced he’s ready to get the job done. In the shape of Mike Sherman (Tannehill’s collegiate Head Coach at Texas A&M) they can also offer the former Aggie some rare continuity heading into his professional career. This could be the perfect marriage.
9. Luke Kuechly – LB – Carolina Panthers
Linebacker has been a strength of the Panthers for a while but two-thirds of their starting stable have major injury problems. Jon Beason is coming off the dreaded Achilles injury and Thomas Davis is now recovering from his third ACL injury. Luke Kuechly should be able to step in and start right away, and take some of the pressure off James Anderson, whose grade dropped from +14.1 in 2010 to -2.3 in 2011. The Panthers still have a gaping hole to plug in front of those linebackers, so look for them to attack that before this draft is too much older.
10. Stephon Gilmore – CB – Buffalo Bills
Over the past twelve months the Buffalo Bills have set about re-tooling their defense–one of the poorest units in the NFL. Kyle Williams was a monster all on his own in 2010, but since then the Bills have surrounded him with talent on the D-line and now they’re looking to the secondary. Last season none of their top three corners allowed fewer than 16 yards per reception over the season and opposing QBs had a rating of 100+ when throwing at any of the three. Buffalo is hoping Gilmore can buck that trend.
11. Dontari Poe – DT -Kansas City Chiefs
Believe it or not the Chiefs were not a team with that many holes in their roster entering this draft. One big hole, however, was at nose tackle and the Chiefs have looked to address that in the form of Poe. The former Memphis Tiger is a 345-pound monster who they will expect to plug the middle of their 3-4 defense and use his strength to occupy blockers and push the pocket. Tyson Jackson and Glenn Dorsey may be seen as underachievers given their lofty draft status, but both players stuff the run as well as any 3-4 DEs in the NFL, and were 1-2 in the NFL in terms of stops vs. the run. The Chiefs’ 3-4 looks for exactly that from their D-linemen, so look for Poe to become a run-stuffing specialist.
12. Fletcher Cox – DT – Philadelphia Eagles
The Eagles actually had some impressive play from their DTs last season, but they lost a lot of depth in free agency, presumably focusing on the draft and believing they could better replace that production with youth. They have done exactly that with Fletcher Cox, who should be able to start in their DT rotation and become a legitimate presence inside. Cullen Jenkins is at his best when he doesn’t have to start and play on early downs, and Cox may allow the Eagles that flexibility. Cox also has the versatility to allow the Eagles to experiment with him at end on early downs, perhaps removing the plays where Jason Babin is picked on against the run and freeing Babin up to simply rush the passer when he is on the field.
13. Michael Floyd – WR – Arizona Cardinals
The Cardinals already have one of the best WRs in football in the shape of Larry Fitzgerald, but there is no arguing that their offense was at its best when Fitzgerald had the foil of Anquan Boldin on the other side. Larry Fitzgerald averaged almost 18 yards per reception last season, but the Cardinals didn’t have another receiver top 13 yards per catch. The Cardinals have had their troubles at quarterback but they’re going to give whoever is under center receivers to throw to and hope they can grow into the role.
14. Michael Brockers – DT – St Louis Rams
If ever a defense was in need of some talent across the board it was the Rams last season. Despite a few impressive players, they were in major need of an influx of talent and Michael Brockers is a big body that should be able to cause problems inside for the opposition. I can’t think of too many players that can carry 320lbs the way Brockers does, and at 6-foot-6 he brings ideal measurable to the position. The Rams had some reasonable performances at DT last year, but nobody that was capable of taking over games. They’re hoping that just changed.
15. Bruce Irvin – DE/OLB – Seattle Seahawks
Irvin’s position might as well just read “pass rusher”, because that’s essentially what he brings to the table. At 245lbs, he’s not exactly built to stuff the run, but he is regarded as one of the most natural pass rushers in the draft, and the Seahawks relied on the pressure of Chris Clemons alone too often last season. Seattle lines up with Red Bryant in their base defense, but Irvin will be a perfect player to bring in when they go to their sub-packages, and will force teams to respect both sides of the line rather than just one.
16. Quentin Coples – DE/DT – New York Jets
Most people see Coples as simply a defensive end, but he was at his best at DT as a junior at North Carolina, and the Jets run enough hybrid fronts that he will end up playing a variety of techniques for the Jets. Rex Ryan loves physical talents in his front, and versatile guys who allow him to mix up the fronts and confuse protection schemes. Coples has massive physical talent even if he hasn’t always shown the production to match it, and the Jets need to find a pass-rush presence among their down linemen. Not one of the Jets’ defensive linemen graded above +0.7 for their pass rush last season, and that high mark came from NT Sione Pouha.
17. Dre Kirkpatrick – DB – Cincinnati Bengals
When Cincinnati was able to line up with Leon Hall and Jonathan Joseph at corner they had one of the best tandems in the NFL. They elected to let Joseph walk in free agency last offseason, and they have been trying to patch the hole since. They brought back Adam Jones, added Terence Newman, but could easily stand to upgrade on either with Kirkpatrick offering a more long term solution to at least one of the Bengals’ corner spots.
18. Melvin Ingram – OLB – San Diego Chargers
You can never have too many pass rushers, and San Diego needs to add talent to a defense that wasn’t getting the job done last season. Shaun Phillips is the big name from that defense, but Antwan Barnes was the best pass rusher in San Diego last season. In truth, I think their problems start on the defensive line, and that’s where I would have been focusing with this pick. However, Ingram does give them more pass-rushing skill outside which will allow the Chargers to deploy new signing Jarret Johnson as an early round run defender and not worry about his lack of pass rush in obvious pass situations.
19. Shea McClellin – DE – Chicago Bears
The play of Israel Idonije, especially as a pass-rusher, fell off a cliff last season. His sack total halved from 10 to five, and his pass-rush grade plummeted to a -9.0 on the season. Despite re-signing Idonije on a one-year deal, the Bears decided they needed to upgrade as soon as they could. McClellin is a solid all-around football player who gives them the versatility to continue to move Julius Peppers around and should provide enough of an impact to keep the attention off the All-Pro.
20. Kendall Wright – WR – Tennessee Titans
The first thing to note about Wright is that he has extensive experience from the slot, which in today’s NFL is becoming more crucial than ever. Many believe he can be just as dominant on the outside, and that gives the Titans the kind of flexibility on offense that will be tough to match up with. It also gives them some legitimate cover for Kenny Britt, who is dominant when he is on the field, but was only on it for a meager 145 snaps last season.
21. Chandler Jones – DE – New England Patriots
For too many years the Patriots have been in need of a reliable pass rush from their base defense. Last season they found some in the shape of Andre Carter, and then Mark Anderson after Carter went down injured, but neither player could be relied upon long-term (Anderson because this was his first season of serious production since he was a rookie, and the Patriots weren’t paying big money for that gamble). They’re looking to Jones to give them that consistent pass-rush presence from their base defense, and also provide the kind of versatility that will enable them to continue to switch between fronts when they see fit.
22. Brandon Weeden – QB – Cleveland Browns
One day the Browns are saying how much confidence they have in Colt McCoy and how much of a leap they expect him to take this season, and the next they’re drafting a 28-year old QB in the first round. The bottom line is that Weeden will be expected to compete to start this season and if McCoy doesn’t take that huge leap forward that the Cleveland top brass was talking about, his job will already be in the hands of the Oklahoma State product.
23. Riley Reiff – OT – Detroit Lions
This is a pick that seems like a perfect fit for both sides. The Lions got impressive play out of Jeff Backus after he got healthy last season, but at 35-years-old they know he doesn’t have too much left in the tank. Reiff could start immediately at RT where Gosder Cherilus has perennially underperformed and never really lived up to his own lofty draft status. Reiff should be able to contribute right away and eventually replace Backus, who has always been an underrated part of the Lions offense.
24. David DeCastro – OG – Pittsburgh Steelers
It will be interesting to see if DeCastro–one of the most hyped guards to be drafted in years–will maintain the kind of hype machine that followed Maurkice Pouncey to Pittsburgh when he was drafted. It will be even more interesting to see if DeCastro justifies that hype in the way that Pouncey hasn’t yet. If he is as good as advertised, he will certainly help Pouncey, and allow the young center to take a step forward from average towards the All-Pro he’s billed as. The Steelers needed guard help in a major way, and the Stanford product was the best available, and the best prospect since Steve Hutchinson according to many.
25. Dont’a Hightower – LB – New England Patriots
Bill Belicheck is a unique defensive mind and how he makes best use of Hightower will be interesting to see. Much like Chandler Jones who the Patriots took at No. 21, Hightower offers versatility on defense primarily as an inside player though one who can rush the passer as well. With Jerod Mayo and Brandon Spikes already on the roster at inside linebacker the Patriots are now stacked here with top talent so how they make the best use of this trio is one to keep an eye on.
26. Whitney Mercilus – OLB – Houston Texans
Many said at the time that this pick made no sense. Yes they lost Mario Williams to free agency, but they did so only because the Texans had played without him for most of the season and been fine at the position. While that is true, Brooks Reed and Connor Barwin were probably more productive than their play suggested they should be, particularly Reed, who earned a -3.6 grade for his pass rush despite notching seven sacks and 32 more total pressures. Reed is a high-motor guy, but he was rushing a lot, and adding another pass-rushing option is a shrewd move.
27. Kevin Zeitler – OG – Cincinnati Bengals
We said in our Biggest AFC Needs article that the Bengals needed to add a guard early in the draft, and they agreed, settling on Wisconsin’s Zeitler. The former Badger played right guard for Wisconsin and that would see him taking over from long-time Bengal Bobbie Williams, some pretty big shoes to fill if that is the case. Travelle Wharton could fill the other guard spot leaving Jacob Bell sitting on the bench as cover for either player, but this was a move that had to be made in my eyes to ensure Andy Danton remains upright.
28. Nick Perry – OLB – Green Bay Packers
One of our Biggest NFC Needs being filled, the Packers had to get somebody to play opposite Clay Matthews and they find him from his Alma Matter, USC. Matthews on his own last season notched 18 more total pressures than the rest of the Packers’ outside linebackers combined. That allowed teams to focus all their attention on Matthews, and one of the only times I can remember seeing a player genuinely triple-teamed on a play. If Green Bay can bring pressure on the other side as well, Matthews becomes even more dangerous.
29. Harrison Smith – S – Minnesota Vikings
Peter King said recently that the Vikings’ need at CB was so bad they didn’t need one, but two in the draft. I think their need at safety has always been far more pressing and Minnesota evidently agreed, turning down the chance to draft the best corner at No. 4 overall, and now trading back up to get their safety. If the Vikings get Chris Cook and Antoine Winfield back, they are OK at corner, but they didn’t have any legitimate safeties last season, and needed to make a major upgrade at the position in the draft. The Vikings still have some holes to fill, but so far, so good for Minnesota.
30. A.J. Jenkins – WR – San Francisco 49ers
The 49ers are adding weapons to an offense that seemed anemic at times last season. Mario Manningham gives them a legitimate playmaker, and Randy Moss gives them a big name, but they evidently wanted to take a speedy talent in the draft as well to give them as many options as possible. Jenkins should bring something none of their other receivers really do, and could potentially form an impressive trio with Manningham and Crabtree, as well as take some of the pressure off Crabtree to be a No. 1 receiver.
31. Doug Martin – RB – Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Last season the Bucs kept their best running back sitting on the bench for much of the year because he wasn’t a factor in the passing game. LeGarrette Blount figures to see more of the same after Tampa went after Doug Martin from Boise State. Martin is a three-down running back and is said to be one of the best pass protectors in the draft. Between adding big-time offensive linemen in free agency and backs well versed in blitz pickup in the first round of the draft, the Bucs are going all-out to try and protect Josh Freeman.
32. David Wilson – RB – New York Giants
The Giants said goodbye to Brandon Jacobs in the off-season, but their running game is built on being able to deploy two backs to equal effect, and they look to continue that trend with this pick. Ahmad Bradshaw is an excellent running back, our eight-ranked last season, but he is at his best when he can be spelled and the Giants will hope David Wilson can take those carries. With the protection the Giants have in the pass game the more they can run the ball the better for Eli Manning’s health.