Night Winners: Vikings, Dolphins, Giants, Cardinals, Rams

A madcap series of trades, shockers, and new GMs and coaches getting their first shots at decision-making were the stories of night 1 of the 2012 NFL Draft. There were 19 trades, the most ever (way more than the previous most of 15 for 1995).

Who had the best night?

Teams with two picks are going to have an obvious advantage, but I was not judging solely on quantity, but also on best player available and need.

1. Cleveland Browns. Browns QB Brandon Weeden – oldest player ever taken in the 1st round of the NFL Draft – left baseball with shoulder issues in 2007. He then spearheaded the Oklahoma State offense into record-breaking territory, making every throw, and is probably the only QB in the draft who could end up being better than Luck or RGIII (he played on teams that beat them, Tannehill, Foles, etc.). He has the accuracy, smarts, and leadership you crave with a maturity at 28 that I view as a blessing, not a curse. He will likely get a 5-year deal. If you’re looking for what any player can do six years down the road, you are in the wrong sport. The Browns’ offense now has the best QB they’ve had since Testeverde, and the most talented weapons they’ve had since the late 80’s by adding RB Trent Richardson.

2. Minnesota Vikings. The Vikings ignored a glaring need at WR, which troubles me, but they intend on running mostly 2-TE sets. They hit on two needs, with two players (T Matt Kalil and S Harrison Smith) who are known more for their prototypical bodies and smarts than for game-changing ability. If I just looked at the two picks, I’d rank them closer to fourth, but to fill two big needs and pick up a 4th and 5th (along with a 7th) in a draft this deep for absolutely nothing helped them have the 2nd-best day.

3. Arizona Cardinals. The 49ers will try really hard, but – especially with underrated Early Doucet -, Big Red now has the best receiving corps in the NFC West. They will find out about Kevin Kolb fast now that he has no excuses, and they shall also be debuting RB Ryan Williams, who missed 2011 with a ruptured patellar tendon. The Cardinals are the definition of an up-and-coming young team. I think they have the worst head coach in the NFL, but talent trumps coaching and their defensive coordinator is phenomenal. Michael Floyd was my sixth-ranked prospect on the Big Board.

4. New England Patriots. Belichick’s defense got considerably better and more dynamic with ILB Don’ta Hightower and DE Chandler Jones.

5. St. Louis Rams. The Rams wound up with Michael Brockers, the high-motor, in-demand defensive tackle they wanted. If they get Stephen Hill now that they moved into the 33 spot, they will move up to #3 on my list. Fisher admitted they wanted Justin Blackmon at #6, but they picked up the most valuable pick that was thrown in on any trade to change spots – the Cowboys’ 2nd-rounder -, and still got a player they considered at #6.

7. Miami Dolphins. A phenomenal mentor in Philbin will have Ryan Tannehill ready to start soon. Tannehill reminds me of Jake Locker. Now, the Dolphins just need to pick a “go-up-there-and-get-it” WR in the 2nd, and they will be the surprise (is it that surprising?) team in the AFC East.

8. New York Giants. New RB David Wilson had 2,253 total yards last season, breaking the old ACC record for juniors set by Tiki Barber in 1995. The Giants did the smart thing: Even with bigger needs at WR and TE, they got a play-making running back who has great upside as a pass-catcher.

9. New York Jets. DE Quinton Coples plummeted because scouts picked apart his game. He has indisputably freakish pass-rushing skills. Rex Ryan and other coaches got Aaron Maybin to become a pass-rushing force, he’ll do even better with Coples.

10. Tampa Bay Buccaneers. They got two players at two positions that are highly coveted in this draft: safety (Mark Barron) and receiving back (Doug Martin). They may have been able to trade Talib for a 4th, get my #1-ranked corner Janoris Jenkins in the 2nd, and take either Justin Blackmon or Luke Kuechly in the first. The Panthers got the player the Bucs needed most. It’s hard to give them a higher grade, because I still think Wilson is a better RB and that the position isn’t important enough for them to use an early pick on it.

For the record, I wasn’t thinking about teams that already knew who their picks were. I had Andrew Luck and Robert Griffin III as the highest-ranked prospects in this draft and QB is the most important position. So, if you want to include them, their teams are possessors of the 1 and 2 best nights (Colts ahead of the Redskins).

Hit “Like” or the Facebook share button if your team was listed on here, or if you just agree with any of the rankings!

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