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NFL Draft: Grading the First Round

Athlon grades every pick and trade by every team in the 2012 first round.

The first round of the 2012 NFL Draft is in the books. The Indianapolis Colts and the Washington Redskins got their franchise quarterbacks as expected. But how did your favorite team do in this year's first round? Athlon grades every pick in the first round and gives some names for each team to target in the coming days:

1. Indianapolis: Andrew Luck, QB, Stanford (6-4, 234)
Team Needs: QB, WR, DT, OL, DE
Montana to Young. Favre to Rodgers. And now Manning to Luck. The long awaited marriage of the Stanford quarterback to the city of Indianapolis finally took place as the Colts wasted no time selecting the best quarterback prospect in two decades. There are no weaknesses in his game whatsoever and Colts fans can rest easy despite the loss of No. 18. First Round Grade: A+

2. Washington (From STL): Robert Griffin III, QB, Baylor (6-2, 231)
Team Needs: QB, ILB, OT, S, CB
While Luck is the most complete prospect at the quarterback position in many years, Griffin III might be the best athlete under center ever. The former track star is a savvy leader who elevated an entire program to levels unforeseen in Waco in more than 15 years. His ability to keep plays alive with raw athleticism while maintain focus down the field is a rare trait. He, too, is the complete package at the game’s most important position. The only dent in the armor could be his durability, especially considering his penchant for running the football. He has missed games due to injuries in each of the last two seasons and Mike Shanahan likely won’t let him run around too much. First Round Grade: A

3. Cleveland (From MIN): Trent Richardson, RB, Alabama (5-9, 228)
Team Needs: RB, QB, OT, OLB, DE
Running backs must be special athletes to be taken in the top 20 overall much less at No. 3. While Cleveland clearly gave up too much to jump one spot – it cost four total draft picks to land the superstar tailback – the Alabama running back will likely be worth it. Richardson’s resume is loaded with personal awards, statistical records and two national championship rings. He is as strong as any running back to ever enter the league and his toughness should match the hard-nosed attitude abundant in the city of Cleveland. First Round Grade: A-

4. Minnesota (From CLE): Matt Kalil, OT, USC (6-6, 306)
Team Needs: OT, CB, S, DT, WR
The Vikings have many needs but protecting their first round investment under center with the clearcut top blocker in the draft was an excellently boring move. Kalil has played in an elite pro-style passing attack that is as close to the modern NFL schemes as there is in college. He has the size, pedigree, experience and athleticism to keep Lions, Packers and Bears off Christian Ponder’s back for years to come. This was an excellent day for Vikings fans as they added Kalil and three extra picks to drop one spot. First Round Grade: B+

5. Jacksonville (From TB): Justin Blackmon, WR, Oklahoma State (6-1, 207)
Team Needs: WR, OT, CB, DE, RB
Wide receiver is the deepest position in this draft and Blackmon certainly topped the list. He has the size and speed to be a dangerous play-maker across the middle and down the field. He played in a pass-heavy system that padded his stat line, but his level of production has dwarfed the rest of college football for two straight seasons. His ability to consistently produce when every coach in the nation is trying to stop him has been remarkable. The idea to support the young Blaine Gabbertt with a talent like Blackmon is an obvious one, but was the price worth it and does this team have other, more pressing needs? First Round Grade: B

6. Dallas (From WAS through STL): Morris Claiborne, CB, LSU (5-11, 188)
Team Needs: CB, DT, DE, G, LB
Tyrann Matthieu got all of the headlines but anyone who knows football knew that Claiborne was the real star of the LSU secondary. The Thorpe Award winner is the best pure coverman in the nation and a dangerous return specialist in his own right. He possesses extraordinary feel for the football and will attack it with tremendous ball skills. This was a pricey pick for Dallas but there is little-to-no downside with this Bayou Ballhawk. First Round Grade: A-
7. Tampa Bay (From JAC): Mark Barron, S, Alabama (6-1, 213)
Team Needs: S, CB, OG, LB, RB
It was shocking to see Roy Williams comparisons pop up on twitter heading into the draft for Barron. The Alabama safety is one of the safest picks in the entire draft and is the only elite playmaker at his position in this class. Barron is much more athletic, fluid, agile and versatile than the former Oklahoma Sooner. One thing Barron does have in common with Williams, however, is that they will both decapitate anyone with their hands near the football. Tampa Bay showed excellent patience here and added an immediate plug-and-play contributor along with additional picks with this maneuver. First Round Grade: B+
8. Miami: Ryan Tannehill, QB, Texas A&M (6-4, 221)
Team Needs: QB, S, DE, WR, OT
The first real reach of the draft belongs to a team that has featured 16 different starting quarterbacks since Dan Marino retired. Tannehill is the first Texas A&M passer taken in the first round and is the first quarterback the Dolphins have taken in the first since Marino. The Aggie passer is a long-term project who has loads of development still to go. He threw for 283 yards per game but tossed 21 interceptions in his 19 career starts. He finished 12-7 as a starter and his teams consistently choked in the second half of play. Tannehill is a tremendous athlete who has loads of upside. This is the definition of high-rick, high-reward at this stage in the draft. First Round Grade: C+
9. Carolina: Luke Kuechly, LB, Boston College (6-3, 242)
Team Needs: ILB, DT, CB, OT, DE
From one of the riskier picks in the first round to one of the safest, Carolina added a heartbeat to the middle of its defense with this selection. There have been few linebackers to emerge from the collegiate ranks with as much polish and experience as the Eagles tackling machine. He consistently produced huge numbers for a team that offered little in the way of defensive support. Like Barron, Kuechly is easily the top player at his position in this class and offers little downside of any kind. First Round Grade: B+
10. Buffalo: Stephon Gilmore, CB, South Carolina (6-0, 190)
Team Needs: CB, OT, CB, WR, OLB
Gilmore has played a lot of football in a great conference. Yet, his game needs plenty of refinement for him to justify a top ten pick. He has great size but lacks fundamentals when tackling and in some coverage schemes. He is best when the play is in front of him as his natural instincts aren't are advanced as they should be. His excellent size could provoke a move to safety, where his range and size may be better utilized. First Round Grade: B-
11. Kansas City: Dontari Poe, DT, Memphis (6-3, 346)
Team Needs: DT, LB, DE, G
Glenn Dorsey, Tyson Jackson and now Dontari Poe. Analysis from talking TV heads just about summed it up “his game tape isn’t that impressive” and “not many intangibles.” And that was when Mike Mayock was trying to be positive. The biggest red flag? Poe was not a dominate player at a very mediocre level of play at Memphis in Conference USA. His defenses were atrocious, his teams lost four out of every five games and he failed to produce any significant statistic on the sheet. Poe looked great in shorts and a t-shirt at the combine, and no one can argue with his raw physical upside, but he disappeared from August to January – when they play actual football games. This one could hurt for years. First Round Grade: D
12. Philadelphia (From SEA): Fletcher Cox, DT, Mississippi State (6-4, 298)
Team Needs: DT, OLB, S, OT, DE
The Eagles knew who they wanted, and when the Chiefs reached on big Poe, Philly didn’t hesitate to pull the trigger on Cox. The massive defensive tackle has been facing elite level centers and guards in the SEC. There may not be a better way to prepare for the next level than competing with the William Vlachos and Patrick Lonergans of the world. He can play inside or out and will be be a disruptive interior player. Brockers may end up being the top tackle in this class but Cox isn’t far behind. First Round Grade: B+
13. Arizona: Michael Floyd, WR, Notre Dame (6-2, 220)
Team Needs: WR, OT, DE, QB, OLB
This pick was a bit peculiar considering the many other holes on the Cardinals two-deep, but there are also a lot worse things than lining-up Michael Floyd opposite of Larry Fitzgerald. In fact, they have similar builds, styles and talents, but that isn't the only thing the two stud wideouts share. Floyd and Fitzgerald both hail from the Twin Cities in Minnesota. Arizona now boasts arguably the top two wide receivers to ever come from the talent-rich St. Paul-Minneapolis area. Floyd’s only knocks – off the field focus and nagging injuries – are things that should be helped by day-to-day contact with one of the best models of professionalism in the game today. First Round Grade: B-
14. St. Louis (from WAS): Michael Brockers, DT, LSU (6-5, 322)
Team Needs: DT, WR, OT, CB, LB
A massive run-stuffing, pocket-collapsing defensive tackle is a rare commodity in the college ranks. But Michael Brockers is just that and he did it against the likes of Alabama, Arkansas, Auburn, Florida, Georgia and Mississippi State. Not Tulane, UTEP or Rice. Jeff Fisher and the Rams did an excellent job building a massive draft board loaded with extra picks while still landing their guy in the first round. Brockers is the best tackle prospect in the draft. First Round Grade: A-
15. Seattle (From PHI): Bruce Irvin, DE, West Virginia (6-3, 245)
Team Needs: DE, LB, WR, OL, TE
Yes, Irvin might be the best pure pass rusher in the draft. Yes, he might have the most explosive first step in the class. And yes, he was a huge reach at No. 15 for Pete Carroll. Adding some picks and dropping down was a smart move, but Irvin has major question marks. His off the field issues aside, Irvin is a one-trick pony. He was barely good enough to play on first and second down in the Big East much less against the 49ers. Irvin feels like a much better fit on a team that is one pass rusher from the Super Bowl, and that is not the Seahawks. First Round Grade: C
16. NY Jets: Quinton Coples, DL, North Carolina (6-5, 284)
Team Needs: DE, OLB, WR, OT, ILB
This is an interesting pick. The Jets may never have expected him to be still on the board and he likely caused a slight audible. His versatility along the defensive line has to be an intriguing quality for Rex Ryan’s multiple front defense. His ability to slide inside and play tackle could be invaluable on passing downs. He is a massive prospect who appeared to, at times, let the troubling situation around him last fall affect his output. If he stays committed, his rare physical talents should help him succeed in the defense-friendly Jets locker room. First Round Grade: B-
17. Cincinnati (from OAK): Dre Kirkpatrick, CB, Alabama (6-1, 185)
Team Needs: CB, G, SS, DE, DT
The third Crimson Tider to go in the first round has been long considered a first round pick. Kirkpatrick was the No. 1 defensive back prospect in the nation coming out of high school and went on to win two national championships under Nick Saban. He has incredible height and length for a cornerback and exhibits elite speed. His size might precipitate a quick move to safety where he could bulk up slightly and play with rare speed and athleticism. His fluidity and play-making skills in man-up open field situations will be the determining factor as to which position he plays. First Round Grade: B-
18. San Diego: Melvin Ingram, DE/OLB, South Carolina (6-1, 264)
Team Needs: DE, OT, DT, G, S
If Ingram were two inches taller and his arms two inches longer, he might have been the No. 3 overall pick in the draft. He is a bit undersized for a pure defensive end but his raw athleticism for a man his size is simply remarkable. He moves incredibly well in space and can be used all over the defense in a variety of roles and positions. He is active, strong, quick and savvy and at his best when rushing the passer. First Round Grade: B+
19. Chicago: Shea McClellin, OLB/DE, Boise State (6-3, 260)
Team Needs: DE, OT, G, DT, CB
“Assassin” was the word Chris Peterson used to describe the Boise State Bronco hybrid. As part of a senior class that won 50 of 53 games played, McClellin proved game-in and game-out that he belonged playing against elite competition. He is tough, strong and fluid enough in space to drop into the open field when needed. Opposite of Julius Peppers, the hard-nosed lineman should have plenty of chances to make plays against the law firm of Rodgers, Stafford and Ponder. First Round Grade: B+
20. Tennessee: Kendall Wright, WR, Baylor (5-10, 196)
Team Needs: WR, S, CB, DE, OL, LB
The Titans feel comfortable with Jake Locker as the future under center, and, with Chris Johnson signed for the near future, wide receiver was one of the key missing pieces on offense. Kenny Britt or no Kenny Britt, Wright will fill a giant void in the slot that has been empty ever since Derrick Mason left. His overall production was likely inflated by his offensive system and quarterback, but this speedster is a dynamic play-maker in all phases of the game. He can stretch the seam, work underneath, take hand-offs, return kicks and maybe even throw a pass or two if needed. Wideout might not have been the most pressing need, but Wright fills a position that’s been missing for years. First Round Grade: B
21. New England (From CIN): Chandler Jones, DE, Syracuse (6-5, 266)
Team Needs: DE, DT, LB, DB, C
On a rare night where Belichick moved up twice in the first round, the Patriots dramatically upgraded their front seven. It started with giving up a third rounder to move up to snag a complete package at defensive end. Jones has the size and raw athletic ability to play all three downs for the Patriots complicated defensive system. The Pats had to find someone to get pressure on the opposing quarterback after ranking near the bottom in pass defense a year ago. Jones certainly does that. First Round Grade: B
22. Cleveland (from ATL): Brandon Weeden, QB, Oklahoma State (6-3, 221)
Team Needs: RB, QB, OT, OLB, DE
If this gunslinger was six years younger, he would be the guy heading to South Beach, not Tannehill. Oklahoma State’s all-time leading passer will turn 29 in October, and other than his age, has virtually no weaknesses. He could use some vocal leadership classes, but he has huge statistical production, the Pokes only Big 12 championship, the big frame, strong NFL arm and modest off the field lifestyle conducive to NFL success. The only worry in Cleveland should be how will a Longhorn and a Cowboy co-exist in the same locker room? First Round Grade: B+
23. Detroit: Riley Reiff, OT, Iowa (6-5, 313)
Team Needs: OT, CB, OT, G, LB, RB
This was not a great year for offensive tackles. It makes evaluating the Reiff pick all that much more difficult. On one hand, Detroit has to be happy with landing the consensus No. 2 tackle prospect in the draft at No. 23 overall. But the Iowa Hawkeyes struggled to protect the quarterback or open up any running lanes a year ago. Were the Lions simply a victim of position scarcity or did they get a star dropped in their lap? Only time will tell. He is likely more of a right tackle than left for the time being. First Round Grade: B
24. Pittsburgh: David DeCastro, G, Stanford (6-5, 316)
Team Needs: G, OT, DT, LB, DB
It seems like the Steelers have been trying to stabilize their offense line for the better part of a decade. Landing this nasty, snarling interior lineman is a major step in the right direction. He has played in power pro-style attack and excelled at an elite level. Stanford’s best two year run in history was directly tied to this offensive senior class. And this savvy road-grader was a huge piece of the puzzle. Any help Big Ben gets up front will be welcome. First Round Grade: B+
25. New England (From DEN): Dont'a Hightower, LB, Alabama (6-2, 265)
Team Needs: DE, LB, DT, DB, C 
If Belichick wanted a battering ram to place next to Jerod Mayo on defense, he could not have asked for a better first round pick than Hightower. The massive linebacker dealt with some health issues over the course of his career at Alabama, but the heavy hitter helped lead what was possibly the best defense in college football history. He won two national championships and fits the 3-4 scheme perfectly. Moving up to grab this burly backer was a sly move from the Draft Master. Packaged with Jones, New England’s defense just took a major step forward. First Round Grade: A-
26. Houston: Whitney Mercilus, DE/OLB, Illinois (6-3, 261)
Team Needs: DE, OT, G, WR, CB
This talented edge rusher was arguably the top sack artist in the nation last fall. The Big Ten is loaded with stud offensive tackles and Mercilus was still able to wreak havoc in opponent’s backfields. The Texans have plenty of talent at the outside linebacker/defensive end positions and likely had bigger needs. To that end, this pick is a bit surprising. He will have to gain strength and bulk to see the field in obvious running downs - and justify this selection. First Round Grade: C+
27. Cincinnati (From NO through NE): Kevin Zeitler, G, Wisconsin (6-4, 314)
Team Needs: CB, G, SS, DE, DT 
Kuechly, Barron and Zeitler were the three safest picks in this year’s first round not named Luck. The big burly Badger blocker has excellent size, polish and experience against elite level competition – see Jerel Worthy, Devon Still, Johnathan Hankins, K-Short, Jordan Hill and John Simon. He is a nasty finisher who has played in a complicated pro-style attack for years. Zeitler adds exemplary protection for franchise quarterback Andy Dalton and will help improve the ground game. Along with a few extra draft picks and Kirkpatrick, the Bengals had one of the best nights in the league on Thursday. First Round Grade: B+
28. Green Bay: Nick Perry, DE/OLB, USC (6-2, 271)
Team Needs: OLB, S, DE, RB, CB
Consistency is the name of the game for Perry. He has all the talent in the world but the motor tends to throttle back at times. When he decides to press the gas pedal, he can produce exactly what Green Bay is looking for – an edge pass rusher to pair with Clay Matthews who doesn’t have to come off the field on first and second downs. When he backs off, he can disappear from action for more than a few plays. If he stays focused, he will be a nice addition to the Dom Capers 3-4. If not, fans are going to be pointing at what Courtney Upshaw will be doing in for years to come. First Round Grade: C
29. Minnesota (From BAL): Harrison Smith, S, Notre Dame (6-2, 213)
Team Needs: OT, S, CB, DT, WR 
This is a heady player who has loads of career starts under his belt in South Bend. But he likely landed in the first round based more on positional scarcity and team need than any other player taken last night. After Barron, there was little left at the safety position with first round talent. The question about Smith will remain his overall speed, agility and explosiveness at the back end of an NFL defense against the likes of Calvin Johnson, Greg Jennings, Jordy Nelson and Brandon Marshall. First Round Grade: C+
30. San Francisco: A.J. Jenkins, WR, Illinois (6-0, 190)
Team Needs: WR, G, DE, CB, OLB
The 49ers might need a wide receiver at some point in this draft, but this felt early. And since it’s the deepest position in the draft, Jenkins going here was a bit of a surprise. Jenkins was incredibly productive in his final season on campus but offers no one special talent. He is an average sized player with above average speed and solid quickness. He is a solid overall player, but how much better is he than the 10-12 wideouts that will be taken in the next two rounds? First Round Grade: C+
31. Tampa Bay (From NE): Doug Martin, RB, Boise State (5-9, 223)
Team Needs: S, RB, CB, OG, LB
Boise State’s talent is finally starting to pop into the first round. Martin, after McClellin, became only the fourth Bronco ever selected in the first frame of the draft. While Martin doesn’t possess one elite trait – breakaway speed, massive size, etc – there is nothing that this tailback can’t do. He can play all three downs, has the strength and power to move the pile, the quickness to get to the edge, the ability to catch the ball out of the backfield and pick up the blitz. The Bucs would have jumped at Pensacola native Richardson had he been there at five, but moving back once to land Barron and then back up to snag Martin was a savvy move by Greg Schiano and company. First Round Grade: B
32. NY Giants: David Wilson, RB, Virginia Tech (5-9, 206)
Team Needs: RB, OT, LB, DT, S
Super Bowl champions rarely have massive holes to fill and so this pick was used to reach just a bit on a high quality talent. Wilson is a game-changing back with explosive big-play ability and slashing running style. He is low to the ground and incredibly powerful in his lower body – think Ray Rice with more burst. He posted big numbers in two years as the starter at a high level of play in the ACC. This was a bit early for Wilson, but there is absolutely nothing wrong with this pick. First Round Grade: B+
-by Braden Gall

Ranking the First Round Picks:

  Name Pos. NFL Team Pick Grade
1. Andrew Luck QB Indianapolis No. 1 A+
2. Robert Griffin III QB Washington No. 2 A
3. Trent Richardson RB Cleveland No. 3 A-
4. Morris Claiborne CB Dallas No. 6 A-
5. Michael Brockers DT St. Louis No. 14 A-
6. Dont'a Hightower LB New England No. 25 A-
7. Matt Kalil OT Minnesota No. 4 B+
8. Mark Barron S Tampa Bay No. 7 B+
9. Luke Kuechly LB Carolina No. 9 B+
10. Fletcher Cox DT Philadelphia No. 12 B+
11. Melvin Ingram LB/DE San Diego No. 18 B+
12. Shea McClellin LB/DE Chicago No. 19 B+
13. Brandon Weeden QB Cleveland No. 22 B+
14. David DeCasrto OG Pittsburgh No. 24 B+
15. Kevin Zeitler OG Wisconsin No. 27 B+
16. David Wilson RB NY Giants No. 32 B+
17. Justin Blackmon WR Jacksonville No. 5 B
18. Kendall Wright WR Tennessee No. 20 B
19. Chandler Jones DE New England No. 21 B
20. Riley Reiff OT Detroit No. 23 B
21. Doug Martin RB Tampa Bay No. 31 B
22. Stephon Gilmore CB Buffalo No. 10 B-
23. Michael Floyd WR Arizona No. 13 B-
24. Quinton Coples DL NY Jets No. 16 B-
25. Dre Kirkpatrick DB Cincinnati No. 17 B-
26. Ryan Tannehill QB Miami No. 8 C+
27. Whiteney Mercilus DE Houston No. 25 C+
28. Harrison Smith S Minnesota No. 29 C+
29. AJ Jenkins WR San Francisco No. 30 C+
30. Bruce Irvin DE Seattle No. 15 C
31. Nick Perry DE Green Bay No. 28 C
32. Dontari Poe DT Kansas City No. 11 D

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