I'm really torn on this choice, but of the top value-picks in the first round, I think Reiff could be the player who has the biggest impact on his team making the postseason and potentially winning championships. For a long time, he was viewed as a top-16 pick. Entering the NFL Scouting Combine, NFL Network analyst Mike Mayock had Reiff ranked ahead of Matt Kalil as the top offensive tackle prospect. Reiff had a draft stock fall that seemed more to do with nitpicking and over-analysis rather than legitimate criticisms.
Reiff walks into a good situation. More than people realize, the right team with veterans and quality coaches have a massive impact on whether a player pans out. The Lions have a good coaching staff and Reiff can learn from a veteran like Jeff Backus for a year before taking up the duties of protecting the blind side of franchise quarterback Matthew Stafford. Reiff also will be prepared well by practicing against Detroit's talented defensive linemen.
If Reiff plays well, the Lions should be a playoff and Super Bowl contender for the next 5-10 years. Finding a franchise left tackle was a critical need for Detroit, and to land that at pick No. 23 without trading up is tremendous value. An offensive lineman like Reiff could have a long career that has him playing well into his 30s while others in this draft class will long since be out of the league.
Honorable mentions: David DeCastro, G, Steelers (No. 24); Melvin Ingram, DE/OLB, Chargers (No. 18); Nick Perry, DE/OLB, Packers (No. 28).
This is a really tough call. My other two finalists were Courtney Upshaw to the Ravens and Lavonte David to Tampa Bay. I think both players have pro bowls in their future for their respective teams if they are coached well. However, staying true to my board, I had Jenkins as the highest-rated player who was selected on the second day of the draft.
Jenkins is an elite cover corner who shut down Julio Jones and A.J. Green in multiple games. As a football player, Jenkins had the ranking of a high first-round pick on a par with the sixth-overall pick, LSU cornerback Morris Claiborne. If Jenkins stays out of trouble, he should give the Rams the value of landing an elite talent in the second round of the draft. You really can't do any better than that in terms of value in the NFL draft.
Honorable mentions: Coby Fleener, TE, Colts (Rd. 2); Courtney Upshaw, DE/OLB, Ravens (Rd. 2); Amini Silatolu, G, Panthers (Rd. 2); Cordy Glenn, OT/G, Bills (Rd. 2); Jerel Worthy, DT, Packers (Rd. 2); Lavonte David, OLB, Buccaneers (Rd. 2); Devon Still, DT, Bengals (Rd. 2); Mohamed Sanu, WR, Bengals (Rd. 3); Brandon Thompson, DT, Bengals (Rd. 3).
The Cardinals landed a steal in Massie. He could be an instant starter at right tackle. Arizona badly needed help at the position, and to land a quality prospect like Massie in the fourth round is a steal. If the Cardinals had their second-round pick that was traded to the Eagles for Kevin Kolb and had used it on Massie, that still would have been a quality selection. Arizon is still going to need to acquire a left tackle in the years to come, but the team was able to upgrade its line in the fourth round last Saturday.
Honorable mentions: Alameda Ta'amu, DT, Steelers (Rd. 4); Ronnell Lewis, DE/OLB, Lions (Rd. 4); Brandon Boykin, CB, Eagles (Rd. 4); Jared Crick, DE/DT, Texans (Rd. 4); Josh Norman, CB, Panthers (Rd. 5); Marvin McNutt, WR, Eagles (Rd. 6); Alfonzo Dennard, CB, Patriots (Rd. 7); Andrew Datko, OT, Packers (Rd. 7).
General manager Gene Smith is rolling with Blaine Gabbert as his quarterback in 2012. If he plays well, Smith will probably stay as Jacksonville's general manager. If Gabbert plays like he did in 2011, then Smith will probably be a contributor for a TV network next draft season. He was able to swing a deal to get in front of the St. Louis Rams, so the Jaguars could land the top receiver available in Blackmon. He is a legitimate No.1 receiver who will do more to help Gabbert in 2012 than any other prospect in the draft.
Tampa Bay was desperate to move down and recoup the fourth-rounder it traded away for Luke Stocker in the 2011 draft. General manager Mark Dominik dropped the two spots for less than what the trade chart said the Buccaneers should get. Other deals in the top five to move down that were made by the Rams and Vikings saw those teams get more than what the trade chart advised. Smith was able to get his quarterback the best player possible, and Smith landed Blackmon at a discount. Thus, the best trade belongs to Jacksonville.
Honorable mentions: Tampa Bay moving up to No. 31; Minnesota moving down to No. 4; Baltimore moving down to No. 35.
This one is a no-brainer with the Seahawks taking Bruce Irvin. It definitely looks like the Seahawks have really been working the media hard, off the record, trying to get out there that other teams had Irvin as a first-rounder. However, Seattle's recent history with reaching for James Carpenter in 2011 is working against it. Irvin had a lot of character issues, aside from his shortcomings on the field. He was a one-trick-pony speed rusher for West Virginia.
It is hard to achieve sustained success in the NFL with a one-dimensional player. Irvin really was a fit for a 3-4 outside linebacker. Seattle runs a 4-3, so that adds to the project of fitting him into his NFL defense. It is hard to believe the claims that another team would have taken Irvin in the first round.
Honorable mentions: A.J. Jenkins, WR, 49ers (No. 30); Kevin Zeitler, G, Bengals (No. 27).
This is another no-brainer since the Jaguars took Bryan Anger with the 70th overall-pick. Jacksonville went 5-11 last year and needed to acquire talent throughout its roster. Taking a punter with a top-100 pick in any draft is questionable, but for a team that has a struggling young quarterback, it is incomprehensible. Unless you don't believe that the quarterback is going to be any good.
The Jaguars could have taken another big receiver in Mohamed Sanu, a speed receiver in T.Y. Hilton or a guard like Brandon Brooks to improve Gabbert's blocking. Anger has to have a career the equivalent of Shane Lechler to validate this draft pick and that is a massive expectation.
Honorable mentions: Tavon Wilson, S, Patriots (Rd. 2); Ryan Broyles, WR, Lions (Rd. 2); Isaiah Pead, RB, Rams (Rd. 2); DeVier Posey, WR, Texans (Rd. 3); John Hughes, DT, Browns (Rd. 3); Akiem Hicks, DT, Saints (Rd. 3); Brandon Hardin, S, Bears (Rd. 3).
It was a tough call to go with Brown over the Eagles signing of running back Chris Polk, but Brown could turn into a long-term contributor with starting potential. Polk will only start over LeSean McCoy if the veteran gets injured, and Polk still has to beat out Dion Lewis. Brown was viewed as a potential third-round pick by many.
The Bears have needed tackle help for a while. It isn't out of the question for Brown to be a quality backup at left tackle who eventually pushes out the incumbent J'Marcus Webb (6-7, 333). While Brown (6-3, 307) is shorter and doesn't have Webb's strength, the Troy product Brown is a good athlete who may be better equipped to handle speed rushers. If Brown had been the Bears' third-round pick over Brandon Hardin, many would understand that selection and it wouldn't be getting ripped.
Chicago needs to improve its pass protection for Jay Cutler, and Brown could figure into that. Many undrafted offensive linemen have had good NFL careers, and it wouldn't be surprising if Brown is next in line.
Honorable mentions: Chris Polk, RB, Eagles; Mike Brewster, C, Jaguars; Leonard Johnson, CB, Buccaneers; Cody Johnson, FB, Buccaneers; Matt Reynolds, OT/G, Panthers; Ronald Leary, G, Cowboys; Gerell Robinson, WR, Broncos; Cliff Harris, CB, Eagles; Austin Davis, QB, Rams; Chase Minnfield, CB, Redskins; Vontaze Burfict, LB, Bengals; Dwight Jones, WR, Texans; Donnie Fletcher, CB, Jets; Marcus Forston, DT, Patriots; Jeff Fuller, WR, Dolphins; Coryell Judie, CB, Broncos; Philip Thomas, S, Eagles.
The popular choices for best draft classes have been Philadelphia and Tampa Bay. My choice for the draft class that I like the most belongs to the Steelers. They didn't have extra picks or a high draft slot that made picking easier, yet Pittsburgh put together a class that will provide both immediate and long-term success. First, the Steelers addressed their biggest need with guard David DeCastro. They, somehow, landed the best guard in the draft at pick No. 24, and it was a big surprise he didn't go in the top 15. DeCastro should form one of the best guard-center combos in the NFL with Maurkice Pouncey.
In the second round, Pittsburgh landed a player with a first-round skill set in left tackle Mike Adams. He showed motivation to get back on the Steelers' draft board. If Adams takes to Pittsburgh's good coaching, he could be their long-term starter at left tackle. The offensive line has been a weakness for the Steelers, but these two picks should finish off a young and talented line for years to come.
Pittsburgh got a playmaking linebacker in Sean Spence in round three. Even though he is undersized, Spence could be a replacement for James Farrior. The Steelers really scored in the fourth round when they landed their nose tackle of the future in Alameda Ta'amu. There were only three natural nose tackles in the draft: Ta'amu, Dontari Poe and Josh Chapman. Pittsburgh managed to land one of them at pick No. 109. Thus, the Steelers potentially added two offensive starters and two defensive starters, all at important positions.
I won't belabor the point on Irvin, but the Seahawks had another reach with Russell Wilson in the third round. One team told me they had him as a middle third-day pick, and that seemed appropriate for a quarterback who is fighting the odds. Wilson is likely to be mostly a backup in his career.
Bobby Wagner was a decent second-round pick, but there were higher-rated players at positions of need available: DT Devon Still, DT Jerel Worthy and DE Vinny Curry. I think Seattle's best picks were fourth-rounders Robert Turbin and Jaye Howard, but they are slated for backup duty. The Seahawks' draft class reeks of reaches and situational players who really won't make a big impact in the short term and, possibly, the long term.
It is a tough call, but overall, I would have to go with Ryan Grigson with the Colts. Les Snead with the Rams is worth considering given St Louis' solid draft, but Snead had draft veterans like Kevin Demoff and Jeff Fisher as part of the Rams' decision-makers.
Grigson made some bold picks on the second day. He gave Andrew Luck two good security blankets in tight ends Coby Fleener and Dwayne Allen, and a deep threat slot receiver in T.Y. Hilton. Grigson also landed a nose tackle for his new 3-4 defense with Josh Chapman in the fifth round. The Allen pick especially took guts, but the Colts stayed true to their board and selected a second-round talent to start the third round.
Grigson didn't reach for players at other need positions. Over time that will lead to Indianapolis having a more talented football team. He had the tough task of remaking the worst team in the NFL. Furthermore, the Colts were, as a team, extremely old, too. Grigson is off to a nice start in Indianapolis.
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