The 2012 NFL draft has come and gone, so it's time to give decide which teams made the most of their picks. Here are my draft winners from each division.
NFC East: Philadelphia Eagles
The Philadelphia Eagles suffered through a horrendous beginning of the season, mainly due to defensive troubles. They recovered from a 1-4 start to finish 8-8 and certainly closed the gap between them and the New York Giants after this draft class.
Mel Kiper Jr. graded them as having the best draft in the league. Their top four picks really stood out in terms of value. With their first selection they traded up to select Fletcher Cox, who was ranked as the No. 1 defensive lineman in the draft and should be a starter immediately.
With their next selection, they picked Mychal Kendricks, who was ranked as the No. 3 inside linebacker in the draft. Despite being a relatively short 5'11", Kendricks is a high-motor guy who makes plays—88 tackles and two interceptions last season.
Kendricks is a very intense and versatile player who will help immediately.
With their next selection, they selected pass-rusher Vinny Curry out of Marshall. Curry is an average-sized defensive end, but he ran a 4.60 40-yard dash on pro day.
In the third round, the Eagles selected QB Nick Foles, who was ranked as the sixth-best QB in the draft. Foles stands at 6'5", possesses solid arm strength and is a terrific leader on the field. He could be an underrated QB from this draft class.
NFC North: Minnesota Vikings
The Minnesota Vikings finished last in the NFC North in 2011, but they significantly improved the team with this draft class.
The Vikings had two first-round selections. They traded from the third spot to fourth and selected the best OT in the draft, Matt Kalil, acquiring multiple picks in the process. Kalil will immediately help protect Christian Ponder's blind side and mitigate some of the terrific pass-rushers in the division, such as Julius Peppers.
With the 29th overall pick, they selected safety Harrison Smith. He has good size for a safety, and he possesses solid intellect and playmaking ability.
The Vikings had eight more picks, and they acquired help all over the field. They selected cornerback Josh Robinson in the third round and wide receiver Julius Wright in the fourth round. Both possess terrific speed, which will help them as they are in the midst of a serious rebuilding mode.
NFC South: Tampa Bay Buccaneers
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers are coming off a disastrous 4-12 season, but they certainly improved their chances for 2012 with a solid draft. Although they only had seven picks, they were efficient and addressed needs.
They addressed two weakness in the first round by selecting safety Mark Barron and running back David Martin. The Bucs ranked 30th in rushing yards last season and 21st in defending the pass. The addition of both these players will add depth and improve upon those deficiencies immediately.
Barron was certainly the best safety in the draft, and he will not only help against the pass, but is a physical run-stopper as well.
With their second-round pick, the Bucs selected outside linebacker LaVonte David out of Nebraska. He has been lauded for his versatility. The 6'1", 233-pound linebacker has the ability to drop back in coverage or stop the run, which will aid the Buccaneers defense tremendously.
NFC West: San Francisco 49ers
The 2011 San Francisco 49ers were easily one of the most feared defenses in the league, dominating with statistics and vindicating the hype by inflicting injuries on several running backs.
That part of their team needed minimal help, so they made an effort to improve the offense, which was exposed during the NFC Championship game.
With their first three selections (30th, 60th, 117th overall), the 49ers chose offensive players.
A.J. Jenkins, a wide receiver out of Illinois, fills a pressing need for the 49ers. He recorded eight touchdowns and 90 receptions for 1,276 yards last season. He has tremendous speed, which will help the offense to stretch the field.
LaMichael James was their next selection. The diminutive RB out of Oregon had a fantastic collegiate career, recording 18 touchdowns on the ground last season.
While Frank Gore will be the starting RB next season, it helps to have a back that is a change-of-pace guy such as James, who is lightning-quick and agile in the open field.
AFC East: New England Patriots
The rich get richer. Despite making it to the Super Bowl last season, the New England Patriots had the 31st-ranked defense, which was very uncharacteristic of a Bill Belichick-coached team.
Their first six selections were all defensive players, which will immediately help improve their production. In the first round, they traded up twice to acquire defensive end Chandler Jones out of Syracuse and linebacker Dont'a Hightower out of Alabama.
The Patriots defensive line was a revolving door all season, but that may be solidified by the 6'5" Jones. He is a bull-rusher who will give Belichick a bona fide defensive end for the first time since Richard Seymour.
Hightower, a national champion with Alabama, is a versatile linebacker who stands at 6'2" and can really fit well with the Patriots' scheme. He possesses great instincts and is a sideline-to-sideline tackler.
The Patriots also added depth at safety, outside linebacker and cornerback, because they had holes everywhere, which forced them to use wide receiver Julian Edelman as a defensive back in the Super Bowl.
AFC North: Cincinnati Bengals
The AFC North collectively had the best draft. Every team filled needs and received great value with their picks. The Pittsburgh Steelers acquired offensive line help, the Baltimore Ravens may have found a new Terrell Suggs and the Cleveland Browns potentially drafted their next Jim Brown.
But it was the Bengals who had the most complete draft. Mel Kiper gave them a grade of 'A' for their haul. The Bengals had 11 picks total, including two in the first round.
They selected CB Dre Kirkpatrick to help their secondary. Their defensive backs are not necessarily a position of weakness, but they will receive a boost and injection of youth with the third-ranked cornerback in the draft.
With their second first-round pick, the Bengals selected G Kevin Zeitler to help protect QB Andy Dalton.
I really like their selection of TE Orson Charles in the fourth round. The former Georgia tight end slipped because of character concerns after a DUI, but the Bengals could afford to take that risk with their bevy of selections so that Charles will help the offense in two tight-end sets with Jermaine Gresham.
AFC South: Indianapolis Colts
The Colts had 11 picks in the 2012 draft, but it was their first two that will improve their team the most. As we saw during Peyton Manning's 13-year tenure with the Colts, one player can alter a team's fortune.
Despite a 2-14 season, the Colts will have a chance to compete in the AFC South because Andrew Luck will be a terrific QB, and he now has his former teammate at Stanford, Coby Fleener, to throw to.
Everyone knows Luck's credentials, so we'll focus on Fleener. He was the No. 1-ranked tight end in the class and is a massive target at 6'6". He has terrific playmaking ability and reliable hands, which will give Luck another weapon along with Reggie Wayne.
The Colts probably will have another dreadful defense, but the New York Giants, Patriots and Green Bay Packers have shown that defense does not win championships anymore.
AFC West: San Diego Chargers
The San Diego Chargers' front office must have been doing back-flips when they found out OLB Melvin Ingram was falling to them. Ingram was ranked as the top OLB in the draft and is a human specimen at 6'2" and 264 pounds.
He will certainly benefit them as a versatile linebacker with the speed to rush and the lateral movement to drop back in coverage.
Their second-round pick was considered a steal with the selection of 6'5" Connecticut defensive tackle Kendall Reyes, who can plug some holes with his massive size or rush from the end.
They also made a trade to move up and acquire LSU safety Brandon Taylor. He is a 5'11" 209-pound safety that is a real physical hitter and has adequate covering skills. Taylor was a team-captain who was lauded for his hard work and leadership qualities.
The Chargers had a terrific draft on the defensive side of the ball.
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