Biggest winner – Cincinnati Bengals : Going into the draft, the biggest area of need for the AFC wildcard Bengals was defensive back.
Thanks in part to the departure of former first round pick, Jonathan Joseph leaving for Houston after the 2010 season, and 2007 first round pick in Leon Hall tearing an Achilles tendon in 2011, Cincinnati had a dire need to address the secondary, in a division that features Baltimore’s Anquan Boldin, Torrey Smith and Pittsburgh’s Mike Wallace.
Cincinnati would select 6’1 185-pound Alabama cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick with the 17th overall pick, which came courtesy of the Oakland Raiders, as part of the deal for former Bengals quarterback Carson Palmer.
Cincinnati would lose starting left guard Nate Livings to the Dallas Cowboys in free agency and right guard Bobbie Williams would break his right ankle in December.
After addressing the defensive line in selecting defensive tackle Devon Still out of Penn State in the second round with the No. 53 overall pick, Cincinnati would land multi-talented wideout Mohamed Sanu out of Rutgers in the third round with the No. 83 pick.
Sanu, who would catch 115 passes for 1,206 yards for seven touchdowns, replaces former Bengals wide receiver Jerome Simpson, who would sign with the Minnesota Vikings, should emerge as Cincinnati’s new No.2 receiver opposite A.J. Green.
Cincinnati would also add some depth on offense in the later rounds in selecting former Georgia tight end Orson Charles at No.116, wide receiver Marvin Jones out of Cal at No.166 and running back Dan Herron out of Ohio State at No. 191.
Conclusion - The Bengals draft provided depth at secondary in Kirkpatrick, added a versatile offensive lineman in Zeitler and added a legitimate No.2 wideout in Sanu.
With Cincinnati expected to contend—with a much tougher schedule—the Bengals may no longer be able to sneak up on teams, but should now be able to go head-to-head with the big boys—such as Pittsburgh, Baltimore, New York Giants and Dallas—in 2012-13.
Grade : A+
Biggest loser – Cleveland Browns : Going into the 2012 NFL Draft, the Browns had multiple needs, the biggest areas of concern for Cleveland was right tackle, running back, quarterback and wide receiver.
Thanks to the free-agent departure of running back Peyton Hillis for Kansas City Chiefs, lackluster play of quarterback Colt McCoy, shaky play on the right side of the offensive line and suspect play from a wide receiver corps that would lead the NFL in drops with 43, the Browns had major holes to fill.
The Browns would send a fourth, fifth and seventh round pick to the Minnesota Vikings to move up one slot from No.4 to No.3.
Cleveland would use the No.3 pick to select Alabama running back Trent Richardson.
In selecting Richardson, the Browns land a legitimate home-run threat who will cause opposing defenses to honor the Browns running game.
Richardson’s presence will also open up the passing game off of play-action and on screen plays out of the backfield.
While it has been the subject of much national debate, the selection of Richardson was the biggest and best pick of the Browns since they returned to the NFL in 1999.
Much like the Browns selection of Richardson, Cleveland would select 28-year old quarterback Brandon Weeden out of Oklahoma State at No.22 would also be the subject of much national media scrutiny.
Weeden, who would pass for 9,004 yards, throw 71 touchdowns, 26 interceptions and go 23-3 as a starter down in Stillwater, may provide a much needed upgrade at the quarterback spot in Cleveland, but the main subject of his selection—besides his age—is where he was selected.
With former Iowa offensive lineman Riley Reiff on the board, Cleveland would choose to pass on Reiff—who would be selected by the Detroit Lions at No.23—for Weeden, who will turn 29 in October.
According to Rotoworld.com, the Browns were actually targeting former Baylor wideout Kendall Wright with the No.22 pick, once Wright went to the Tennessee Titans at No.20, Cleveland, the Browns decided to target Weeden, who would impress them during a recent private workout.
Many Browns fans—including myself—expected a wide receiver to be selected in either the first or second round, and while Justin Blackmon, Michael Floyd and Wright were off the board, the decision by Cleveland to pass on playmakers such as Stephen Hill, Alshon Jeffery and Rueben Randle in the second round for Cal offensive tackle Mitchell Schwartz—who may be a solid right tackle in the NFL—justifies the angst of many die-hards.
The Browns draft would go south when wide receiver Mohamed Sanu would go to the Bengals at No.83, Cleveland would then reach for former Cincinnati Bearcat defensive tackle John Hughes at No.87 in the third round.
While many can see the need to add quality depth behind starters Phil Taylor and Ahtyba Rubin, the 6’2 309-pound run stopper in Hughes was not projected to be selected until the sixth or seventh round.
The Browns would finally address the wide receiver position in selection 5’10, 175-pound speedster, Travis Benjamin out of Miami.
Benjamin, who would catch 41 passes for 609 yards and three touchdowns, would also average 14.9 yards per catch, gives the Browns a much needed vertical threat and a playmaker who can stretch the field with his 4.36 speed.
Benjamin, would be suspended one game at the start of the Miami Hurricanes 2011-12 season for being one of the eight Hurricane players involved in receiving impermissible benefits from former Miami booster Nevin Shapiro, was projected to be a undrafted free agent.
Cleveland may have salvaged a otherwise questionable draft in finding value in linebackers James-Michael Johnson of Nevada (No.120), guard Ryan Miller of Colorado (No.160), linebacker Emmanuel Acho (No. 204) and defensive tackle Billy Winn (No.205) out of Boise State.
With Browns linebacker Scott Fujita suspended the first three games due to his involvement with the New Orleans Saints pay-for-performance “Bountygate” program, the picks of Acho and Johnson begin to make more sense.
Conclusion : While the Browns were able to add a top-tier talent in Richardson, passing over a player at a critical position of need in right tackle such as Reiff in the first round for Weeden at No.22 and selecting Schwartz in the second is a big gamble for the Browns.
Cleveland would pass on wide receivers such as Hill, Jeffery and Randle for Schwartz and reach for Hughes in the third.
In conclusion, the head scratching decision to wait until the fourth round to address the wide receiver position in a player such as Benjamin who maybe too small to play in the rugged and physical AFC North, when other prospects such as Greg Childs, Joe Adams, Jarius Wright of Arkansas and Nick Toon of Wisconsin were still on the board, may come back to haunt Cleveland in the long run.
Grade : C+
Honorable Mention – Pittsburgh Steelers : Always known to have solid and consistent drafts, the Steelers would once again live up to their reputation in addressing the key area of offensive line in drafting former Stanford guard David DeCastro in the first round and offensive tackle Mike Adams in the second round out of Ohio State.
The Steelers would also land a late-round steal in former Florida running back Chris Rainey, who would most likely see a lot of action in place of injured starter Rashard Mendenhall, who will miss the 2012-13 season with a torn ACL.
Conclusion : With a revamped offensive line that features Maurkice Pouncey, Adams and DeCastro, the Steelers were able to rebuild a otherwise shaky offensive line and give franchise quarterback Ben Roethlisberger some much needed protection up front.
Grade : A
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