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By Jeff Saukaitis, TSN Contributor - Archive - Email
2012 NFL Draft winners and losers
Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - The 2012 NFL Draft is over, but it will probably take a few years before we truly know which front offices made the best decisions this past week.

Still, those seven rounds of selections have prematurely left some teams' fans up in arms and others dreaming of a potential Super Bowl run.

Here's an early look at the weekend's biggest winners and losers, as well as a few other fun facts from the draft:

BIGGEST DRAFT WINNERS

PITTSBURGH STEELERS: As always, this team demonstrated that it just flat out understands how to draft players. Many other teams debate what they want to do, spending the last of their allotted seconds on the clock trying to uncover the next hidden gem.

Not the Steelers. When they're on the clock, it seems like they do the same thing every time: Check who's at the top of their draft board, write that player's name on the card and immediately hand it to NFL commissioner Roger Goodell.

Think about their past and how they feel about draft myths. Hey, you don't spend a first-rounder on a safety, right? How many teams wish now that they had Troy Polamalu? You don't take a guard in the first round either, do you? Alan Faneca worked out OK.

It's simple. Pittsburgh takes the best player available. You can't go wrong stockpiling good players, and that's exactly what happened again in this draft. At No. 24 in the first round, the Steelers took Wisconsin guard David DeCastro, who was rated as a top-10 overall prospect by some. Would you bet against him eventually being picked to multiple Pro Bowls?

Ohio State tackle Mike Adams was thought to be a mid-to-late first-round talent, but he surprisingly fell to the late second round. The Steelers took him at No. 56, thank you very much.

Pittsburgh's third-, fourth- and fifth-round selections -- Sean Spence, Alameda Ta'amu and Chris Rainey, respectively -- were all value picks, too. The Steelers just got younger, faster and better. And they're always good. It's largely because they've mastered the art of drafting.

PHILADELPHIA EAGLES: Backup quarterback Vince Young called the Eagles the "Dream Team" last summer, but the first two months of their season played out more like a nightmare. When the games began, some of the Eagles' weaknesses were exposed. Only a fantastic finish salvaged an 8-8 season.

A Super Bowl appearance could still be on the horizon soon, with this year's draft potentially turning a pretty good Eagles team into an elite one. The key addition was defensive end Fletcher Cox. Philadelphia moved up three spots in the first round to pick him, and he was the draft's ideal fit for the Eagles' wide-nine defensive scheme.

Second-round picks Mychal Kendricks and Vinny Curry will be immediate contributors, with Curry joining Trent Cole and Jason Babin to give the team arguably the best pass-rushing trio in the league.

The Eagles went with the best player available approach this year, and some of their later-round picks like Brandon Boykin and Marvin McNutt also brought them great value.

Their final pick, No. 229, is intriguing: Bryce Brown was once considered the top high school running back recruit in the country (just ahead of Trent Richardson), but he bounced from college to college, quitting the team at Kansas State three games into the 2011 season. The talent is there. Maybe he'll fail to make the team, but maybe -- just maybe -- he'll be the next hidden gem like Arian Foster. In the seventh round, it was worth taking a chance.

TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS: The Bucs completely collapsed last season, slipping from contender status to 4-12. It'd be a shock if Tampa Bay doesn't become a playoff contender again after the brilliant offseason moves the team has made.

In the draft, the Bucs traded down two spots in the first round and still landed Alabama safety Mark Barron, considered one of the top prospects available. Then, in a deal with the Denver Broncos, the Bucs moved up five spots to No. 31 and took Boise State's Doug Martin, who should immediately step in as their featured back.

Tampa Bay then surrendered a fourth-rounder to move up 10 spots into the second round. The Bucs took Nebraska linebacker Lavonte David, who is frequently compared to future Hall of Famer Derrick Brooks, the best linebacker in Bucs history.

None of the remaining picks are likely to have a major impact, but the way the Bucs moved up and down the board to secure three top prospects who fill significant needs was impressive.

CINCINNATI BENGALS: The Bengals drafted 10 players. They probably didn't add a perennial Pro Bowler among them, but all 10 have a chance to be solid NFL players.

It looks like Cincinnati took the best player available for most of its selections. The Bengals got cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick and guard Kevin Zeitler in the first round, and both project as instant starters. Second-round defensive tackle Devon Still could have easily gone in the first round and third-round receiver Mohamed Sanu could have gone in the second. You get the idea.

There's not a pick here that I don't like, but the third-day players who could become starters as early as this year include California wide receiver Marvin Jones and Boise State safety George Iloka.

NEW YORK GIANTS: The defending Super Bowl champions, who didn't pick until No. 32, did about all they could have been expected to do: They filled a couple of their biggest needs and added seven players who all have a great chance to make the final roster.

Looking for a running back in the first round to replace the departed Brandon Jacobs and share the load with Ahmad Bradshaw, the Giants took Virginia Tech's productive David Wilson. Their second-round pick, wide receiver Rueben Randle, was projected to go in the first round by many. He is a nice replacement for free-agent loss Mario Manningham.

Of the rest of the picks, the one with the best chance to shine is third- rounder Jayron Hosley. The ex-Virginia Tech cornerback dropped because he failed a drug test at the NFL Scouting Combine. If his off-field problems are in the past, he could be a steal. When you have a championship roster, though, you are afforded the luxury of taking a risk or two.

BIGGEST DRAFT LOSERS

DENVER BRONCOS: With the addition of Peyton Manning, the Broncos probably can't help but improve in 2012. Still, it would have been nice to add an impact player or two in the draft. It doesn't appear that the Broncos did.

Denver traded out of the first round in exchange for moving up 25 spots in the fourth round. The Broncos took defensive tackle Derek Wolfe in the second and cornerback Omar Bolden in the fourth. Wolfe would have been a nice pick in the fourth, but he was a gamble in the second. Bolden, if he's completely healthy after an injury-plague collegiate career, could be a decent sleeper.

Third-round running back Ronnie Hillman could help down the road, but the Broncos' 2012 draft class is not likely to ever make a huge impact.

SEATTLE SEAHAWKS: Seattle added two pretty good Utah State players in this draft -- inside linebacker Bobby Wagner in the second round and running back Robert Turbin in the fourth. The rest of the draft was kind of hit-or-miss.

Taking hit-or-miss players on the third day of the draft is one thing, but Seattle gets a low grade because of its first- and third-round selections.

Bruce Irvin is considered by some to be the best pure pass rusher in this draft, but at 245 pounds, the former West Virginia defensive end projects only as a pass rush specialist at linebacker, a la Aaron Maybin. A player like that is useful, but taking him at No. 15 in the draft is probably a reach -- and that doesn't even take into account Irvin's many off-the-field red flags.

Also, Wisconsin quarterback Russell Wilson was a dynamic college player, but he's 5-foot-11. His size limitations made him a reach in the third round, and with 26-year-old free agent Matt Flynn expected to take over as the starting QB, Wilson was a reach the Seahawks didn't have to make.

JACKSONVILLE JAGUARS: The Jaguars' first two picks are pretty good ones. They traded up for wide receiver Justin Blackmon, finally giving them their first real go-to receiver since Jimmy Smith retired. Clemson's Andre Branch, the second-round pick, is a solid outside linebacker prospect who could rush the passer.

It's the rest of the draft that doesn't make sense. Jacksonville lost a fourth- rounder in the trade with Tampa Bay to move up for Blackmon. That meant the Jags really had to nail their third-round selection, because they weren't going to pick again until the fifth round. Their third-round pick? California punter Bryan Anger.

Now, this is no knock on Anger; he's likely to be really good. It's just that the Jaguars went 5-11 last year and have plenty of needs to fill. Defensive line was a much greater need than punter. Oh wait, that's right; they addressed defensive tackle in the seventh round when they picked Jeris Pendleton, a 28- year-old from Division II Ashland (Ohio). Gotcha.

CLEVELAND BROWNS: It hurts a little to criticize the Browns' weekend, because they landed perhaps the best player in the entire draft when they traded up one spot for running back Trent Richardson. The Browns' defense is pretty good, and Richardson will instantly be one of the NFL's top running backs. So this will be an improved team.

Even though Cleveland did some nice things in the draft, the feeling is that it could have done so much more. The Browns reportedly targeted Baylor wide receiver Kendall Wright with the No. 22 pick. When he went to Tennessee two picks earlier, the Browns instead opted for Oklahoma State quarterback Brandon Weeden.

Weeden is a fine prospect, even though he'll turn 29 in October. Drafting him was not the problem. The bigger problem was that in a draft that was particularly deep at wide receiver, the Browns waited until pick No. 100 to take their only receiver - Miami's Travis Benjamin, who projects as a slot guy.

Colt McCoy's struggles at quarterback were largely the result of having Greg Little and Mohamed Massaquoi as his top two targets. Weeden's aerial weapons will be the virtually the same, and that's not close to good enough in a rugged AFC North.

KANSAS CITY CHIEFS: The Chiefs addressed their biggest need with boom-or-bust nose tackle Dontari Poe in the first round. Then, Kansas City concentrated on picking developmental players like offensive tackles Jeff Allen and Donald Stephenson, who have potential but are unlikely to contribute in a big way this season.

It might work out in the long term, but the Chiefs might have missed a chance to take hold of the AFC West. Sure, Denver is going to be the preseason favorite after winning the division last season and adding Peyton Manning via free agency.

The Chiefs, however, should not be sold short. They lost the division by only one game last season, despite playing all or a large portion of the season without injured stars Jamaal Charles, Eric Berry, Matt Cassel and Tony Moeaki. They could be a playoff team this season, but they're going to likely have to do it without big contributions from the 2012 draft class.

BEST VALUE PICK IN EACH ROUND

1. David DeCastro, G, Pittsburgh Steelers (Pick No. 24)
2. Rueben Randle, WR, New York Giants (Pick No. 63)
3: Mohamed Sanu, WR, Cincinnati Bengals (Pick No. 83)
4. Jared Crick, DE, Houston Texans (Pick No. 126)
5. Juron Criner, WR, Oakland Raiders (Pick No. 168)
6. Trenton Robinson S, San Francisco 49ers (Pick No. 180)
7. Antonio Allen, S, New York Jets (Pick No. 242)

BEST DRAFT WEEKEND TRADE

Philadelphia Eagles: The Eagles gave up a fourth- and sixth-rounder to the Seahawks to move up three spots and select defensive tackle Fletcher Cox, who was born to play in Philadelphia's wide-nine system. Philadelphia will have a much-improved run defense.

HAPPIEST NFL PLAYERS ON DRAFT WEEKEND

Matt Cassel, QB, Kansas City: There was some talk that Kansas City would make a play for Ryan Tannehill. Incumbent quarterback Cassel didn't seem to have rock- solid job security. After a draft in which K.C. didn't select a signal-caller, he does now.

Jay Cutler, QB, Chicago Bears: OK, let's ignore the fact that Bears second- round draft pick Alshon Jeffery projects as the same kind of big-target, possession guy they had already acquired in Brandon Marshall. If you're Cutler, you're just elated that wide receiver is no longer an afterthought when Chicago builds a team.

Larry Fitzgerald, WR, Arizona Cardinals: The drafting of standout Notre Dame receiver Michael Floyd doesn't mean Fitzgerald will no longer see his share of double-teams. Floyd, though, is going to command a lot more respect from opposing secondaries than Early Doucet or Andre Roberts could, so Fitzgerald probably won't have the defensive focus completely on him anymore.

Shonn Greene, RB, New York Jets: When Tony Sparano was hired as offensive coordinator, the Jets declared their wish to restore the Ground and Pound attack they favored during their 2009 and 2010 runs to the AFC Championship Game. After rumors that the Jets were considering trading up to draft Trent Richardson, they wound up not addressing the running back position until taking Baylor's Terrance Ganaway in the sixth round. With LaDainian Tomlinson gone, it looks like Greene's going to be the clear No. 1 back, and he could be looking at 18-20 carries per game.

BIGGEST BOOM-OR-BUST DRAFT

New York Jets: This only really applies to the first two rounds, since the Jets added some likely contributors in the sixth and seventh rounds who fill big needs, like safeties Josh Bush and Antonio Allen and wide receiver Jordan White, as well as a lightning-quick linebacker in third-rounder Demario Davis, who could split time with aging Bart Scott.

The first two rounds of the Jets' draft, however, featured the kinds of picks that will either result in Mike Tannenbaum being named GM of the year or ending up in the unemployment line. First-rounder Quinton Coples is regarded as a top- flight talent who often gives less than his best effort.

Second-rounder Stephen Hill is a raw wide receiver who played in a triple- option offense at Georgia Tech, but he's 6-foot-4 and was clocked in 4.36 seconds in the 40-yard dash. How those two players fare will go a long way toward determining the Jets' chances to return to the playoffs.

BIGGEST PHILOSOPHICAL CHANGE

New England Patriots: After years of constantly trading down, stockpiling draft picks and having an eye on the future, the Patriots this year traded up twice in the first round to snag a pair of top-rated defensive players -- Syracuse defensive end Chandler Jones and Alabama linebacker Dont'a Hightower.

Yes, the Patriots did trade down twice after the first round and wound up making seven picks, but those two first-round upward moves went against the grain. Perhaps it's a sign that coach Bill Belichick is focusing even more on the present than he has during previous offseasons. Tom Brady will be 35 by opening day, and perhaps Belichick, who recently turned 60, is realizing there are only going to be a couple more chances to win another title together before they both ride off into the sunset.





Jeff Saukaitis is a former Sports Network writer/editor who has been a professional sportswriter since 1985.