Now the 2012 draft is complete it's time to look back and assess the picks teams have made and the strategies adopted for the draft. This week: the AFC South.
Indianapolis Coltshttp://youtu.be/TgpRnDPbeIU The Colts came into the 2012 draft in rebuild mode. They had cleared the decks by releasing their franchise quarterback Payton Manning and a list of older, high profile players leaving them with needs on both sides of the ball. The most glaring need was quarterback and in drafting Stanford quarterback Andrew Luck, the Colts look to have landed a player who can be the face of the franchise for the next decade. Replacing a legend like Manning will be no easy task, but hearing the plethora of positive scouting reports heaping praise on Luck, Colts fans have reason to be excited for the upcoming season. Taking Andrew Luck with the first overall pick told us little of the strategy the Colts were going to employ for the draft. Luck picked himself. The players Indianapolis took in the later rounds spoke loud and clear, ‘Andrew Luck is now our guy and we’re going to give him what he needs to succeed.’ Of their 9 remaining draft picks Indianapolis drafted 7 offensive players including Luck’s favourite target at Stanford, tight end Coby Fleener. Fleener provides Luck with a pure pass catching tight end that runs great routes and has good speed. He should put up respectable numbers this year and will create an interesting tandem with Colts third round selection Dwayne Allen. Allen is a tight end out of Clemson who plays all aspects of the position well. He is not the receiving threat that Fleener is but he is solid in the passing game and is a much better blocker. The combination of Fleener and Allen has given Indianapolis a duel tight end threat similar to the system employed in New England. Indianapolis would be ecstatic if they can match New England’s production from these two players. If Luck was excited with the last two picks, he would’ve been doing backflips when the Colts took Florida International wide receiver T.Y. Hilton off the board. Hilton is a dynamic returner but could also prove to be a dangerous weapon in the passing game with his elusiveness and speed. Alabama defensive tackle Josh Chapman was the first defensive player taken by the Colts. Chapman has the size to fill the position and the Colts will be looking to sharpen his skills to make him a solid player. The defensive tackle area was a massive need and Indianapolis did well to address it here. The Colts took Mississippi State running back Vick Ballard with their next draft pick. Indianapolis released long time starter Joseph Addai this offseason but I’m unsure if Ballard was drafted to be ‘the guy’ or simply to play back up to Delone Carter. Both backs will benefit from the improved aerial threat posed by the Colts but we will likely have to wait till opening day to find out the starter for the franchise. The next four picks made by Indianapolis, Ohio wide receiver LaVon Brazill, Georgia offensive tackle Justin Anderson, Vanderbilt defensive end Tim Fugger and Northern Illinois quarterback Chandler Harnish look likely to play backup roles or may be cut from the final squad.
Every draft there is one pick that leaves you scratching your head asking ‘what were they thinking’. The Jaguars taking Cal punter Bryan Anger in the third round, was baffling to say the least. A punter is a luxury pick at the best of times. Coming off the season Jacksonville had last year, coupled with the fact they only had 6 draft picks to work with, a punter shouldn’t even come into consideration. Anger is obviously a skilful player and I realise the importance of good field position, but I believe the Jaguars could’ve landed a quality player who would’ve made a greater impact with this pick and still have been able to pick up Anger later in the draft.
Anger may have been a strange pick, but Justin Blackmon was exactly what the franchise needed. Quarterback Blaine Gabbert looked shaky at best last year and despite having a premiere running back in Maurice Jones-Drew in the backfield, he was desperately in need of a number one receiver. Blackmon gives Gabbert a big target and shores up a passing game that was terrible last year. There are concerns that Blackmon might not be a pure number one receiver, but there is little doubt he was the best receiving prospect in this draft.
The Jaguars took Clemson defensive end Andre Branch with their second round pick. Branch was the best of the pass rushing defensive ends remaining on the board and was a solid pick for Jacksonville. They realised they didn’t get enough pressure on the passer last year and Branch with his flexibility and closing speed has the makings of a solid pass rusher.
Jacksonville added to their defence in the fifth round by drafting Nevada linebacker Brandon Marshall. Marshall has some positives in terms of technique and positional play but looks like he will provide depth more than an immediate impact at the position and his playing time may be limited this season.
Florida State’s Mike Harris is another player that will have limited game time this season but provides much needed depth at the cornerback position. Harris looks to be a solid player and could be a contributor further down the road.
The Jaguars took Ashland defensive tackle Jeris Pendleton with their last selection in the 2012 draft.
Many pundits were surprised when the Titans opted to draft Baylor wide receiver Kendall Wright in the first round rather than addressing their much more pressing need of defensive end. As much as they did ignore a pressing need, I have to say I like this pick. Wright is a solid receiving prospect with great acceleration. With Kenny Britt returning from a season ending injury and tight end Jared Cook showing flashes of what a dangerous receiving threat he can be, Tennessee now have the makings of a formidable passing attack.
The Titans second pick, line backer Zach Brown out of North Carolina, looms as a boom-or-bust prospect. There is no doubting Brown’s pure athletic ability. He has great speed and movement for a line backer and will be valuable in zone coverage. There are however questions regarding Brown’s football instincts and his ability to hold up against the run. This coupled with the fact Tennessee once again ignored their needs and went for a player they think has upside with this pick made this an interesting choice.
Tennessee added to their defensive line with their third pick of the draft by taking Michigan defensive tackle Mike Martin. Martin has great strength, a relentless motor and is a high character guy. He was a defensive leader in Michigan and he can be a solid player for the Titans for many seasons to come.
Losing Cortland Finnegan in free agency this offseason was a blow for the Titans. Finnegan’s play was sometimes inconsistent but he was a solid contributor to the defence nonetheless. Clemson corner back Coty Sensabaugh could be the long term answer for Finnegan if he makes the most of his physical gifts. He has exceptional recovery speed and with some experience under his belt could prove to be an exceptional man coverage corner, but he must be viewed as a project player for now.
It took until the fifth round for the Titans to address their most pressing need… sort of. Tennessee drafted SMU defensive end Taylor Thompson, but are expected to convert him into a tight end. Thompson has reportedly looked good in tight end workouts and has promise. This should be tempered with the fact that he has had little playing time at the position so will likely need time and coaching to become a contributor to the side. It will be interesting to see how this pick plays out for the Titans and his development will be interesting to watch.
The second last pick the Titans made could prove to be one of their best. Oklahoma State safety Markelle Martin is a solid tackler and shows good speed for his position. Look for Martin to make his presence felt this season.
Tennessee traded a 2013 sixth round pick to enter into the seventh round to draft Rice’s Scott Solomon. Yes he is a defensive end but the pick was a little late to provide the help they needed at the position.
Houston lost their biggest defensive weapon Mario Williams in free agency this offseason. Though the Texans showed they could live without Williams last year when they lost him early in the season and still managed to make the playoffs, they were still in need of a defensive end that can rush the passer. They believe they have their man now after taking Illinois defensive end Whitney Mercilus with the 26th overall pick. Whitney’s speed combined with his size will make him an imposing figure on the line and bolsters an already impressive Texans defensive unit.
Wide Receiver was a position of concern for the Texans coming into the draft. Injuries sidelined star receiver Andre Johnson for the majority of the season and exposed the lack of depth the franchise had at the position. Receivers Jacoby Jones and Kevin Walter were inconsistent and failed to impress when given their opportunity. Ohio State wide out DeVier Posey was drafted in the third round and has the skill set to be a solid receiving option. I’m unsure if Posey will be the receiving weapon Houston was looking for as he does lack the intangibles of an elite number one receiver, but he should be able to contribute immediately to the team.
Taking two offensive linemen with their next two picks gave some much needed depth to the Houston front. Miami’s Brandon Brooks and Georgia’s Ben Jones are both solid linemen with good size that should become future starters.
Michigan State’s Keyshawn Martin added more depth to the wide receiver position. An added bonus for the Texans is that Martin is also useful in the return game. Houston hasn’t exactly set the world on fire in that department in recent seasons so Martin will provide an upgrade in that area.
Nebraska’s Jason Crick was added in the fourth round and will join the impressive list of Houston defensive linemen. What Crick lacks in skill he makes up for in work ethic. The Texans landed themselves a solid player with this pick.
With the departure of Neil Rackers in the offseason, the Texans needed a kicker. In Randy Bullock (Texas A & M) they drafted one of the most accurate collegiate kickers from last year.
Houston finalised their draft by taking offensive tackle Nick Mondek out of Purdue.
It's close but I’m going to have to say my pick of the drafts was the Houston Texans. They addressed their major needs, didn’t reach for players and spread the additions across all areas of the team. If all their players return fit and healthy for this season look for them to have another impressive year.
The Colts had so many needs they were never going to be able to address them all but I feel they did a good job. Franchise quarterback Luck now has a plethora of weapons to work with which will make the transition to the NFL much easier. Indianapolis will need to address the defence in next years draft but they have taken the first step toward rebuilding.
This is definitely a ‘wait and see’ draft by the Titans. If Tennessee’s draft picks work out the way they hope, we could look back and view it as one of their best. If they don’t, their roster could be littered with busts. There are just too many unknowns in their selections to allow me to give a better review.
The Jaguars are the low mark for mine. They did well early on to get their number one receiver and improve their pass rush. I just can’t overlook taking a punter in the third round when you have limited picks to work with.