Handicapping the 2012 NFL Draft

Ahh, it’s that time of the year again, the time when every fan of an NFL franchise has a feeling of optimism (yes Browns fans are allowed to join!). By now you’re probably sick of looking at the 3428520983 version of a mock draft, or listening to Mel Kiper and Todd Mcshay bicker about Ryan Tannehill, Robert Griffin the 3rd, or Andrew Luck (I thought 2011 was the year of the quarterback?)

The week leading up to the draft is one of the best times to let your fandom reign supreme. If your team is in a great situation (Rams) or a bad situation (Vikings) it doesn’t matter because no one really knows how any of these guys are going to perform on a NFL field. For months analysts and scouts give their best educated guess as to how a player will pan out, but again no one really knows what will happen to the 254 kids who are selected over three days at Radio City Music Hall.

The players that are drafted break down into three categories: bust, sleeper, best player in draft. Here are my top five candidates for each of those categories in reverse order (with odds). You’ll also notice that I’ve thrown in some of my favorite random draft day moments to look out for.

Best Player In 2012 Draft

5.) RB Trent Richardson; 70-1

The gap between Richardson and Doug Martin (Boise State) is about the size of a super Wal-Mart, but Arian Foster has proven that it doesn’t matter where you get drafted or in his case not drafted. In ten years we’ll look back at the draft and say the former Heisman trophy winner was a good player, but nowhere near the best in the draft. Playing in Cleveland will do that to you.

Two years ago Peyton Hillis had one of the best seasons in recent Browns history (1,654 total yards, 13 TDs) and the Browns record? 5-11. Richardson will not be able to turn that offense around by himself.

4.) CB Morris Claiborne; 55-1

Far and away the best defensive player in the draft. He has the size (6’1”) to cover taller receivers along with the ability to change directions on a dime. So why do I have him at four?

His likely landing spot is either the Vikings at three or the Bucs at five. If he’s selected by Minnesota he would have to play the combination of: Aaron Rodgers, Matt Stafford, and Jay Cutler six times a season. If he’s selected by Tampa he gets Drew Brees, Matt Ryan, and Cam Newton six times a year. Either way he will have to face three of the top ten quarterbacks in the league for years to come.

3.) WR Justin Blackmon; 30-1

His stock seems to be quietly taking a hit because people are realizing that Michael Floyd might possess the same skill set as Blackmon and is two inches taller than the Oklahoma St. standout. They’re forgetting just how impactful Blackmon can be on the field.

During the 2012 Fiesta Bowl against Stanford, Blackmon wasn’t involved during the first quarter and subsequently his team was down 14-0. In the huddle before the second quarter started he was spotted yelling at his teammates, presumably getting the rest of the team fired up, but I think he was probably yelling at QB Brandon Weeden to get him the damn ball. Sure enough Weeden found Blackmon for two touchdowns in the quarter (he ended up with a ridiculous 8/186/3 line in the game).

His size isn’t transcending like Calvin Johnson (6’5”), but Blackmon is just as good as Dez Bryant and has a better work ethic. Plus he has the ability to catch everything.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8Vf6e1Lz3PwIf he does indeed to the Rams at six it will be an all Oklahoma offense leading the way. Seriously is there any way that St.Louis can pass up on the opportunity to give Sam Bradford the true number one threat that he desperately needs. Bradford will be a shoe in for comeback player of the year with Blackmon at his disposal.

2). QB Andrew Luck; 9-2

He might be the second coming of Peyton Manning, but he is about to enter a world of despair similar to what the guards faced in the elevator scene of Cabin in the Woods. The Colts are about to enter a dark place for the next couple of seasons even with the best college prospect since, well ever.

Luck has all of the tools to be a successful NFL quarterback: the arm, the smarts (after Jim Harbaugh left to coach San Francisco, it was widely known that Luck basically coached the offense for a year), the ability to make changes on the fly, however he won’t be the best player selected in this draft due to the numerous problems that are going to plague the Indianapolis franchise for years to come. Last year was a revelation for the Colts that they need to make some major changes, many that will take longer than just a year.

1.) QB Robert Griffin III; 3-1

This guy is Michael Vick combined with Andy in Toy Story. Andy from Toy Story? What the hell are you talking about? In a Sports Illustrated feature on him he talked about the bag of toys that he had in his room and how he admittedly still plays with them. Think about how awesome that is, here is the best college football player in the country admitting that he is still a kid at heart.

All of those aspects of childhood go away when he’s on the gridiron. He possesses a very similar skill set to that of Vick. The similarities are there: the sidearm throws get knocked down at the line, they both take too many unnecessary hits which means that they both fumble the ball too much, both leave the pocket when there is no pressure there. It’s almost scary how similar they are when you look at all of the negatives that scouts have written about Griffin and apply them to Vick. Yet they are far from the same player.

The big difference between the two is the way they lead their teams on the field. One thing that struck me about Vick was what he said to the Eagles offense in the huddle right before he threw the game ending interception in the ’10 wild card playoff game against the Packers. He told his receivers to “get open”, I’ve heard that same play on the sandlot.

Griffin strikes me as a player who has the ability to control that situation with ease due to the pressure that his family put on him from an early age. He comes from a family with a strong military background, so he has been pushed to the limit since he was a child. That type of pressure pushes you to be the best person you can be, which is exactly what Griffin was last year at Baylor.

He single handily put Baylor football on the map. I watch in agony as he knocked my beloved Oklahoma Sooners out of national title contention, but I couldn’t even be that pissed off about it because I knew I was watching someone special. Griffin has the football ability to instill hope into the Washington area. Not even Dan Snyder can blow this one.

During the Thursday night broadcast on ESPN, how many times does Chris Berman stop mid sentence say umm or just to breathe, (+/- 7)

This is one of my favorite things to watch for during the now prime time section of the NFL draft. Look I love Berman on The Blitz during the NFL season because no one does a highlight better than Boomer, but there are quite a few that can read the teleprompter better. My favorite is when he starts a sentence and then another thought infiltrates his brain and he is forced to pause and/or make a motion with his hand. WHOOP!

Busts in 2012 NFL Draft

5.) OT Matt Kalil; 80-1

The offensive tackle position just isn’t sexy to the common NFL fan, but for scouts it has been the most reliable position to draft since 1993. According to Walterfootball.com through ’93-’09, 69.2% of offensive tackles taken in the first round have been considered a hit, opposed to a 19.2% bust rate. So why is he in this section?

If he goes third overall to the Minnesota Vikings he’ll forever be known as the player the Vikings took in front of Morris Claiborne. Even if he has a 10+ year run as a starting tackle, he won’t have the type of impact that a team like the Vikings need to give Adrian Peterson another crack at postseason football.

4.) CB Stephon Gilmore; 60-1

I think Gilmore has the ability to be the second best cornerback in the draft, but I have to put him as a potential bust because the Jacksonville Jaguars are rumored to really want him in the seventh spot. Jacksonville is a plague (I think they’re using the tarps on the upper section of EverBank Field to secretly cover all of the dead fans who have passed away due to boredom). The only hope for Gilmore if he is drafted by the Jags is for the franchise to get a fresh start in LA.

3.) DT Dontari Poe; 14-1

Let the comparisons to Haloti Nagata begin. Poe is a beast of a man (6’3”, 346 pounds, who runs a sub five 40). He is projected to go in the middle of the first round which is the classic boom or bust part of the first round and Poe is the classic boom or bust player. I agree with Peter King that if the Jets have a chance to draft him at 16 Rex Ryan will be salivating at the opportunity to grab a mid line force. Ryan will have turned a blind eye to the fact that Poe only had five sacks in three years at Memphis, but he has had success just based off of athletic ability (Jason Pierre-Paul).

2.) QB Ryan Tannehill; 12-1

Andrew Luck and RG3 are the clear top tier quarterbacks of this year’s class, but Ryan Tannehill isn’t that far behind them. At least that’s what I’ve been made to believe by the hype that has dominated the month of April. There was a scouting report on him that said he should be rated higher than Luck and Griffin, I guess beauty is in the eye of the beholder Seattle.

Tannehill strikes me as a Jay Culter type of passer. He’s got a rocket for an arm and can throw the type of deep ball that you need in the NFL, but his accuracy leaves a lot to be desired. Rookie quarterbacks are magnets for interceptions, so expect defenses to feast on Tannehill.

Right now it appears that Miami, Seattle, or Cleveland would be a likely landing spot. Seattle would probably be the best case scenario for him because of the deep threat weapon of Sidney Rice, but he would immediately be put in a training camp battle against Matt Flynn.

If Miami selected him with the eighth overall pick he would assume the starting position right away, but throwing to Brian Hartline, Devon Bess, and Anthony Fasano on a weekly basis won’t exactly help your case for best player in the draft, but it will help a case for biggest bust.

1.) DE Quinton Coples; 5-1

If the words “Gifted, sporadic” are used to describe a player then he has potential bust written all over him. Coples is also in that mid round black hole that can be very hazardous to a team’s health, especially when it comes to defensive linemen. He has the perfect skill set to fit in with the Philadelphia Eagles at 15 and as an Eagles fan I can tell you the recipe for bust is being cooked up (Brandon Graham knows what that tastes like).

The biggest case against drafting Coples is that he has the tendency to not finish plays, which is something that will get you quickly benched in the NFL. From there it could be a whirlwind because once a player who has always been a starter is benched for the first time he can respond one of two ways either he works that much harder to get back into the starting lineup, or he becomes disinterested. That’s obviously way down the road, if it ever happens, but it is something to think about.

How many times is the term “athletic ability” said during the first round? (+/- 31.5)

You’ll notice that the over/under I’ve selected is 31.5. That’s due to Todd Mcshay, Mel Kiper, and Mike Mayock’s ability to say this phrase about every single player of the first round. It’s like the token phrase that your friend says at least 1,000 times over the course of your friendship. It gets to a point where you just laugh every time it’s said. It really is too bad that Cris Collinsworth isn’t involved in any draft day broadcasts because I would have to bump the number up to at least 75.

Sleeper of the 2012 NFL Draft

5.) QB Kirk Cousins; 70-1

If the quarterbacks that are currently rated below Tannehill can be hits then we might be looking at one of the deepest class of QBs in recent history. Cousins is viewed as the top guy of the B group of quarterbacks, but he could turn out to be the third best quarterback of the draft. He has the size (6-2 215) and arm to play with the big boys on Sunday and reminds scouts of an Andy Dalton type player. What team can turn away from that in the fourth round?

4.) WR Mohamed Sanu; 55-1

I had the chance to watch Sanu for three seasons at Rutgers and this guy has the chance to be a true “diamond in the rough”. He broke Larry Fitzgerald’s Big East record for receptions in a season (115). Sanu not only has golden hands, but he basically ran the offense in his sophomore season. That year Greg Schiano fell in love with the Wildcat formation and couldn’t stop calling plays that had Sanu or Jabu Lovelace (Jabuuuuuuuu) line up behind center.

Sanu has been knocked for his unimpressive 40 time (4.54 was his best time at Rutgers pro day), but when you possess hands and a concentration level like he does it should override that time. Two little unknown nuggets about Sanu, my friend who worked with the RU football team told me that Mohamed had the best arm on the team and that in late August last season he was slated to be the punter before a walk-on got the job. Whoever drafts him (personally I think it’s either going to be Schiano or Bellichek) is getting a versatile stud.

3.) LB Lavonte David; 40-1

Honestly the only reason I have him above Sanu and Cousins is due to the fact that I still value defense over offense.

2.) WR Ryan Broyles; 15-1

The all time career receptions leader in NCAA history(Broyles is also second in NCAA history with 4,586 yards)  is being vastly overlooked. The onetime first round prospect free fell to the middle rounds because of a torn ACL that occurred against Texas A&M back in November. Just five months after the injury took place Broyles ran a 4.57. He can make cuts on the knee and can run without a limp. While his size (5-10, 192) will keep him from being a team’s number one option, he could end up being the best slot receiver in the league one day.

1.) QB Brandon Weeden; 7-1

There’s only one major blemish that Weeden has is located on his birth certificate. He’s going to be 29 years old this October, so in football years he’s around let’s say 35. It’s totally understandable why teams don’t want to invest in a player that has a nine year life expectancy in the NFL, but if that player gives you the ability to win for seven of those seasons isn’t it worth the risk?

If Weeden was 22 years of age we would be talking about three quarterbacks being taken in the first seven picks (Miami would have flipped two second round picks to move up and snag him if that were the case). Instead here he is a 28 year old prospect who came back to school after spending a few years in the New York Yankees farm system as a pitcher, not too shabby.

Weeden guided Oklahoma State to their first ever Big 12 championship and beat an Andrew Luck led Stanford team in the Fiesta Bowl. He can step in and play right away and the best part is he doesn’t need a couple years to mature, he’s already grounded (the combination of age and the fact that he’s been married since 2009) and ready to lead an NFL offense. Don’t be surprised if he is a serious favorite to win rookie of the year.

So kick back Thursday night and wear your team’s colors proudly because come mid October you might already be burring your Jaguars jersey in the back of the closet for the rest of the year. Actually you might be better off just burning it.

Follow me on twitter @scottdargis.

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