NFL Nation: 2012 NFL draft first impressions

First impressions: 2012 49ers draft

April, 29, 2012
First impressions on the San Francisco 49ers' performance in the 2012 NFL draft:

What I liked: The 49ers, having already kept together one of the NFL's most dominant defenses in free agency, made a concerted effort to improve on offense. Their first three picks went for a receiver (A.J. Jenkins), a running back (LaMichael James) and a guard (Joe Looney). The team is now in better position to succeed with quarterback Alex Smith and running back Frank Gore. Likewise, if Smith struggles and age catches up to Gore, the 49ers are in better position to succeed offensively with younger players at their positions. The team also fared well in trading back to acquire additional picks, including for next year.

Question marks: It's quite possible none of the 49ers' draft choices will win a starting job this year. A roster without many holes is partly responsible. The 49ers' low standing in the draft order was another factor. Whether Looney bounces back from a foot injury well enough to challenge for the starting job at right guard could be a key variable. Mostly, I'm interested in seeing what the 49ers saw in Jenkins, a relatively low-profile player who has nonetheless received high marks from personnel evaluators I've polled on other teams.

Trending: The 49ers have drafted only one defensive lineman over the past three years if we count 2011 first-rounder Aldon Smith as an outside linebacker. That is understandable given how well Justin Smith and Ray McDonald are playing. But with Smith turning 33 this season, McDonald having overcome serious knee injuries and 2008 first-rounder Kentwan Balmer long gone, the time is coming for San Francisco to address the position. The 49ers did find promising prospects in 2011 undrafted free agents Ian Williams and Demarcus Dobbs, taking off some of the pressure.

Veteran put on alert: Gore would be the logical choice here. He turns 29 in May, past the age when teams start looking for replacements. The 49ers have now drafted four running backs over the past three seasons, including 2012 second-rounder LaMichael James and 2011 fourth-rounder Kendall Hunter. San Francisco also signed veteran Brandon Jacobs in free agency. Gore started 15 games last season and topped 1,200 yards, but he peaked in November. This position has gotten more competitive.

First impressions on the Seattle Seahawks' performance in the 2012 NFL draft:

What I liked: The Seahawks, after getting much bigger in their first two seasons under Pete Carroll, added welcome speed to their roster in this draft. Pass-rusher Bruce Irvin, chosen 15th overall, had the fastest 3-cone time for any player at the NFL scouting combine. "If you look at it, our slowest guy was an offensive lineman at 4.85 (seconds in the 40-yard dash)," Carroll said. "There's great speed in this draft for us, and that's really exciting across the board, and it's going to help our special teams enormously."

Question marks: What about the offense? Seattle used a league-high seven choices for defense. One of the three offensive players selected, seventh-round guard J.R. Sweezy, was a defensive lineman in college. Another offensive pick, quarterback Russell Wilson, projects as a backup for at least this season. Fourth-round running back Robert Turbin has a chance to help as the backup to Marshawn Lynch. But it's unrealistic to think this draft will provide immediate help where the Seahawks needed it the most, on offense. This team is banking on improved quarterback play, a healthy Sidney Rice and better luck with injuries on the offensive line.

Trending: Carroll, hired in 2010, entered this draft having drafted offensive players with four of the five picks he possessed in the first three rounds. The precentage of defensive players chosen with those picks was the lowest in the NFL over the two-year period in question. The trend changed in this draft when the Seahawks used their first-round pick for Irvin and their second-rounder for Utah State linebacker Bobby Wagner. Seattle's defense already ranked among the NFL leaders in yards and points allowed. This unit should be even better in 2012.

Veteran put on alert: Quarterback Tarvaris Jackson comes to mind immediately. We know the Seahawks will save a roster spot for the newly acquired Matt Flynn. We know NFL teams do not release rookie quarterbacks chosen in the third round, assuring a spot for Wilson. We do not know what the future holds for Jackson or Josh Portis. It's too early to draw conclusions. Jackson is in the running for the starting job, after all. The position just got more competitive, however.

First impressions: 2012 Rams draft

April, 29, 2012
First impressions on the St. Louis Rams' performance in the 2012 NFL draft:

What I liked: The Rams added 10 players, including a league-high six among the first 96 selections. More than any team, they were in position to get quantity and quality, a luxury won when the team traded the second overall choice to Washington before the draft. And with four first-round selections waiting over the next two drafts, the Rams should continue getting younger and more talented under coach Jeff Fisher and general manager Les Snead.

Question marks: The Rams twice possessed a selection within the top six overall picks, but they emerged without any of the roughly 10 highest-rated non-quarterbacks in the draft. That was the price of moving down to acquire additional selections. It's not a knock on the Rams' strategy. I think they did the right thing. But if Justin Blackmon or Michael Floyd becomes a superstar while Brian Quick struggles, the price could be high for quarterback Sam Bradford and the organization.

Trending: No team with Fisher as a head coach had ever used a first-round pick for an offensive lineman. The trend continued in Fisher's first draft with the Rams. The strategy will be for new line coach Paul Boudreau to coach up the existing tackles, notably Jason Smith on the right side. If that does not work, expect the Rams to consider using one of their two first-round choices in 2013 for an offensive tackle, putting Fisher's streak to the test.

Veteran put on alert: Josh Brown. The Rams told the veteran kicker he'd be released after the team used a fifth-round pick for Greg Zuerlein of Missouri Western. "We felt like this was going to be a need," Fisher told reporters after the draft. "We need to upgrade the position, so we couldn’t pass on this opportunity." Brown was generally good for the Rams, but there were some deflating misses from inside 50 yards when every point was precious last season.

First impressions on the Arizona Cardinals' performance in the 2012 NFL draft:

What I liked: The Cardinals appeared to resist reaching to fill needs. The approach left Arizona with a huge need for an offensive tackle heading into the third day, but with no second-round choice entering this draft, the Cardinals lacked flexibility. They stayed patient amid criticism and drew high marks for landing Mississippi tackle Bobby Massie in the fourth round. We don't know whether Massie will become a good player, but we do know some had him rated as a potential second-round choice, and Arizona got him in the fourth.

Question marks: The team's decision to acquire Kevin Kolb last offseason hung over this draft. The Kolb trade gave the Cardinals' second-round choice to Philadelphia, preventing Arizona from seriously considering any of the four offensive tackles teams drafted in the round. Mitchell Schwartz (Cleveland Browns), Jonathan Martin (Miami Dolphins) and Jeff Allen were gone before Arizona would have chosen, but Mike Adams (Pittsburgh Steelers) was still there. Martin and Allen went within four choices of Arizona's slot in the round, close enough for the Cardinals to have considered trading up, had they still possessed the pick.

Trending: Arizona and Tennessee are the only teams to have drafted zero offensive linemen in the first three rounds over the past five drafts. Both teams lean on Hall of Fame guards to coach up the position, but the Cardinals in particular haven't had enough young linemen to develop. That changed in this draft. The Cardinals selected three offensive linemen after drafting zero in any round over the previous two drafts. That's a start, even if the team didn't take one early.

Veteran put on alert: Kolb. The Cardinals used their first-round pick for receiver Michael Floyd. Running back Ryan Williams, a second-round choice last year, will be returning from injury. Arizona drafted Massie to stabilize the line. With five of seven picks going for offense, including one to select a developmental quarterback, it's time for Kolb to produce.


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