Commentary

Best and worst draft marriages

Floyd set up to flourish; history -- and other factors -- working against Richardson

Originally Published: April 29, 2012
By Jeffri Chadiha | ESPN.com

Three days of hype and hoopla surrounding the NFL draft now have left us with the same basic question we face every year: What are these players going to do next?

Some will go on to enjoy successful careers. Others may disappoint greatly. The only thing certain is that the scrutiny on most of them will only increase from this point forward. That's how it works once you start collecting sizable paychecks to play a game you love.

This is why it's worth taking another annual look at the best and worst draft marriages. And remember, this isn't an assessment based solely on individual talent. It's about which players in this class are likely to have the most and least impact next season based on two factors: (1) their respective skill sets, and (2) the situation they landed in on draft day. What Mel Kiper thought of a kid two weeks ago has little to do with what happens in this space.

So here are the five best and worst draft marriages of the 2012 class:

The best

[+] EnlargeMichael Floyd
Jonathan Daniel/Getty ImagesMichael Floyd gives the Cardinals another wide receiver who is a matchup problem for defenses.

1. Michael Floyd, WR, Arizona: Justin Blackmon may have been the best receiver prospect in this class, but Floyd is bigger, faster and now fortunate enough to be lining up in the same offense that features six-time Pro Bowl receiver Larry Fitzgerald. Even better, the two players already have forged a strong relationship. They both grew up in Minnesota and Fitzgerald has mentored Floyd, an All-American from Notre Dame, since Floyd was a high school star in St. Paul.

Because they're both about the same size -- Floyd is 6-foot-3 and 220 pounds while Fitzgerald is 6-foot-3 and 218 -- it's also hard to imagine many defenses with two cornerbacks who can match up with this physical WR duo. At this point, the Cardinals need not worry so much about whether Kevin Kolb or John Skelton is their starter next season. Whoever goes under center will have a much easier time throwing the football from now on.

2. Dontari Poe, NT, Kansas City: Critics have knocked Poe as a combine workout wonder, but a player who didn't dominate in college and routinely took plays off. Here's what they need to recognize: Poe stands 6-foot-3, weighs 346 pounds and has freakish athletic ability. That's exactly the kind of presence the Chiefs need in the middle of their defensive line, especially because they've been looking for such a player ever since installing the 3-4 scheme three seasons ago.

Skeptics also should understand that Chiefs head coach Romeo Crennel is as good as it gets when it comes to coaching up defensive players -- Tamba Hali and Derrick Johnson have become Pro Bowlers since his arrival as a defensive coordinator in 2010. Also, massive interior line prospects routinely face criticism for their work ethic (Baltimore's Haloti Ngata, the game's best defensive tackle, heard similar complaints about his game coming into the league).

Look, the Chiefs don't need Poe to be a miracle worker. If he commands double-teams and makes life easier on everybody around him, the Chiefs could have one of the league's best defenses this fall.

3. Whitney Mercilus, OLB, Houston: Mercilus may have been a one-dimensional defensive end at Illinois, but that one dimension -- pass-rushing -- is exactly what the Texans needed. They already have a coach (defensive coordinator Wade Phillips) who knows how to turn undersized college defensive ends into dominant pass-rushing outside linebackers.

Mercilus also has exactly the kind of résumé that should make Phillips' job much easier. Mercilus made his name in college by leading the country in sacks (16) and forced fumbles (nine) as a junior last fall. He wasn't much of a threat against the run, but the Texans won't be as concerned about that early in his career.

At 6-foot-3 and 260 pounds, he compares favorably to 49ers outside linebacker Aldon Smith, another former college defensive end who became a 3-4 pass-rusher as a rookie last fall. Smith wound up with 14 sacks in his first season. Mercilus could come close to similar production in Houston's defense.

4. Dont'a Hightower, ILB, New England: Patriots head coach Bill Belichick had plenty of good reasons to trade up to select Hightower. Belichick always has loved versatility, and that's exactly what Hightower brings to this team. Not only does Hightower have great size (6-foot-2, 265 pounds) and instincts but he also can take on various roles whenever the Patriots switch between 3-4 and 4-3 looks.

Oh yeah, he'll also be playing alongside a Pro Bowl linebacker in Jerod Mayo. The only other time Belichick drafted a linebacker in the first round, Mayo was the player he took. Hightower could be just as good in the long run.

5. Ryan Broyles, WR, Detroit: Broyles was once the saddest story in the draft, a talented, ultra-productive prospect who saw his senior season end with a torn ACL. Now he should be thrilled about where he'll be playing this fall. Detroit needed a slot receiver who could create mismatches in the middle of the field and ease the pressure on Pro Bowl receiver Calvin Johnson. Broyles needed an opportunity with a team that is committed to utilizing multiple options in the pass game.

The end result is another weapon for quarterback Matthew Stafford -- who had to lean heavily on Johnson late in 2011 -- in an offense that should be more dynamic in 2012. If Broyles doesn't catch between 50-60 balls as a rookie, something went horribly wrong in Motown.

The worst

1. Trent Richardson, RB, Cleveland: There are plenty of reasons to like Richardson, including his college production, intangibles and overall toughness. What's hard to ignore is the recent history of highly drafted running backs in the NFL. Only two runners taken in the first round since 2007 have turned into stars -- Minnesota's Adrian Peterson and Tennessee's Chris Johnson -- and Richardson doesn't possess the explosiveness or speed of those two.

The Browns also have a lousy passing game, which means Richardson will find more defenders focused on him every time he lines up. That doesn't mean he won't be productive at all. It just means he isn't as likely to live up to the status of being the third overall pick in the draft. Keep in mind, Browns Hall of Famer Jim Brown already has called him "ordinary." From this vantage point, it's easy to think other people might have a similar opinion of Richardson this season.

2. Alshon Jeffery, WR, Chicago: Jeffery once had first-round potential until a disappointing junior season and weight issues sent his stock plummeting. The upside here is that he is big (6-foot-3, 230 pounds), physical and joining a team that has sorely needed more weapons for quarterback Jay Cutler. The downside is he has the potential to get heavier (some critics say he looked closer to 240 during his last year at South Carolina) and he starred in an offensive system that has rarely produced top-flight NFL receivers.

Oh yeah, he also gets to learn about professionalism while playing alongside a Pro Bowl receiver, Brandon Marshall, who seems to annually be involved in some sort of chaos off the field. Jeffery clearly has potential and was disciplined enough to get his weight down to 213 for his pro day. The question is what he'll do when he starts getting paid good money to play this game.

[+] EnlargeLaMichael James
Steve Conner/Icon SMIWill LaMichael James get a real opportunity in San Francisco? It's a fair question.

3. LaMichael James, RB, San Francisco: As much as the 49ers love James' quickness and speed, it's hard to know where this 5-foot-8, 194-pound burner fits into their offense this fall. They still have Frank Gore, who went to his third Pro Bowl last season. They also have second-year back Kendall Hunter and newly acquired bruiser Brandon Jacobs.

So how many touches does that leave for James, who will likely be a change-of-pace specialist? The greater likelihood is he helps provide a boost to an already-potent return game and gives the 49ers some Darren Sproles-like moments on offense. But if the 49ers aren't careful, he could easily get lost in the shuffle of an overcrowded backfield.

4. Bryan Anger, P, Jacksonville: Anger is a talented punter, without a doubt. But it's laughable to think he was worth a third-round pick. That selection made Anger the highest-drafted punter since the Chicago Bears selected Todd Sauerbrun with the 54th overall pick in the 1995 draft. It also made him an easy target for critics who knew Jacksonville could've gotten more help on offense or defense with that high of a selection. (Even Jaguars tight end Zach Potter was blasting the pick on Twitter shortly after hearing the news.)

At this point, Anger had better be something close to Shane Lechler, the Oakland Raiders' perennial Pro Bowl punter. If he isn't -- and it's a good chance he won't make nearly enough of a difference to satisfy the locals -- the Jaguars will be hearing constant laughter about this selection for a long time.

5. Kirk Cousins, QB, Washington: Cousins didn't have first-round talent, but he also didn't need the situation he just fell into with the Redskins. Washington mortgaged its future to draft quarterback Robert Griffin III second overall then selected Cousins in the fourth round. That means the Redskins will now do everything possible to turn Griffin into a star while Cousins will receive sparse practice reps in order to develop his own skills (presumably for some sort of trade down the line).

The problem here is that Cousins has enough upside to be on a team willing to give him a greater chance at earning a job. The Redskins also don't need to face the potentially awkward situation of him taking to the offense faster than RG3 and igniting an undesirable quarterback controversy. But this is how the Redskins have operated for years. Even when there's ample reason to feel good about their situation, they can still leave you questioning their overall thought process.

Jeffri Chadiha, formerly of Sports Illustrated, is a senior writer for ESPN.com. Chadiha first attended Wyoming on a full football scholarship before injuries led him to transfer to Michigan after two years. He received a Bachelor of Arts degree in communication from Michigan in 1993 before pursuing a career in journalism. Chadiha is also a frequent contributor to ESPN TV.