The 77th annual NFL Draft is upon us.
Tonight will be the culmination of decades of hard work for players, months of laborious scouting for NFL front offices and weeks of preparation for talking TV heads who have to fill three hours of dead time with highlights and graphics.
However, the not-quite news, pseudo-entertainment extravaganza tonight is all about the fans. Jets and Eagles fans will finally have something to boo about again after a three-month hiatus. Packers, Giants, Patriots, Steelers and Ravens fans will quietly sit by and watch their teams select under the radar All-Pros with little fanfare. And months of excitement for Colts and Redskins supporters will finally come to fruition.
Andrew Luck will be the first pick and Robert Griffin III will be the second. After that, however, fans should be in for plenty of fireworks.
There were 13 first-round NFL trades in the 2009 NFL Draft. There were 11 first-round trades over the last two drafts. And there has already been one blockbuster in 2012 involving the rights to RG3.
With the new rookie salary wage cap, conditions are much more conducive for first-round trades than ever before.
NFL mastermind Jeff Fisher has already landed a small bounty for his St. Louis Rams in the form of three first-round picks — 2012, 2013, 2014 — and the 39th overall pick this year when he dropped four spots from No. 2 to No. 6. He may not be done yet, either.
If the last two years are any indication, fans can anticipate half-a-dozen more first-round swaps tonight. In fact, the last two drafts have provided some of the most explosive first rounds in recent memory.
The biggest splash, of course, came only six picks into the 2011 NFL Draft when the Atlanta Falcons mortgaged their future on wide receiver Julio Jones. Atlanta sent it’s first round (27th overall), second round (59th) and fourth round (124th) selections in 2011, along with its 2012 first rounder (22nd) and fourth rounder (118th), to Cleveland for the sixth overall pick. The Falcons took the game-changing wide receiver from Alabama in a trade that appears to have worked out for both teams.
In 13 games, Jones caught 54 passes for 959 yads and eight scores. It’s fair to say the 6-3, 220-pound wideout has lived-up to the hype. No NFL franchise is one wide receiver from a Super Bowl, but, with its NFC South foe, the New Orleans Saints, in utter turmoil, Atlanta is poised to win its division in 2012 with Jones opposite All-Pro Roddy White.
The Browns landed defensive tackle Phil Taylor with the 21st pick (after trading up from No. 27), wideout Greg Little with the 59th pick and do-everything back Owen Marecic with the 124th selection. Marecic started four games and played in 13. Little’s 61 receptions trailed only A.J. Green amongst NFL rookies. Taylor started all 16 games, registering 59 total tackles and four sacks. With three of top 37 picks and six of the top 118 thanks to the Jones deal, Cleveland has a chance to totally rebuild with one trade.
While it wasn’t as high-profile as the Atlanta-Cleveland exchange, Washington did its best Browns impersonation, moving back six spots from No. 10 to No. 16, when it flipped picks with Jacksonville. The Redskins got Ryan Kerrigan — who posted 64 total tackles and 7.5 sacks as a rookie — and proceeded to turn the 49th pick it got from Jacksonville into five additional draft picks when all was said and done. Washington ended up with wideouts Leonard Hankerson (79th) and Aldrick Robinson (178th), tailback Roy Helu (105th), defensive back Dejon Gomes (146th) and offensive lineman Maurice Hurt (217th).
Hankerson earned his way into the starting line-up and posted a 100-yard game in only his second career start before his season ended with a hip injury. Helu played in 15 games (five starts) rushing for 640 yards while catching 49 passes for 379 yards and scoring three total touchdowns. Gomes posted 32 tackles in five starts while Hurt started eight games in place of the injured Kory Lictensteiger.
Meanwhile, the Jaguars got Blaine Gabbert, a quarterback who barely completed half of his passes, tossed nearly as many interceptions (11) as touchdowns (12), and averaged less than 150 yards passing per game. This, in a year when Cam Newton broke records and Andy Dalton led the Bengals, of all teams, to the playoffs.
Those weren’t the only moves in the first round however. The Saints traded their 2012 first rounder (27th) and their 2010 second rounder (56th overall) to the Patriots for the right to draft Mark Ingram with the 28th overall pick a year ago. The former Heisman winner missed six games and totaled 520 yards from scrimmage. The Pats selected Cal tailback Shane Vereen in the second round last year and will pick twice in the first round this year. The Pats also landed stud tackle Nate Solder with the first-round pick they acquired from Oakland when they traded Richard Seymour to the West Coast at the start of training camp.
The 2010 first round was no different. Except two years ago, it was all about the Mile High City.
Denver infamously selected Demaryius Thomas with the 22nd pick and Tim Tebow with 25th. Yet, most forget the Bronocs started the 2010 draft with the 11th overall pick and it took four trades to land the tandem that won them a Wild Card game last year.
First, Denver dropped two spots to No. 13 when San Francisco moved up to snag Rutgers offensive tackle Anthony Davis. The Broncos then dropped to 27th when the Eagles moved up to pick Brandon Graham at No. 13. Denver got three additional picks (70th, 87th, 113th) with those two trades.
They weren’t done yet, however, as they shipped the 24th and 113th picks to New England for the right to draft Thomas at 22. New England then flipped the 24th pick to Dallas for the 27th and 90th picks, allowing the Cowboys to take Dez Bryant. Meanwhile, with the very next pick, Denver jumped back into the first round by sending their 43rd, 70th and 114th overall picks to Baltimore for Tim Tebow.
You got all of that?
San Francisco got Davis. The Eagles got Graham. New England dropped twice from No. 22 to No. 27 and netted Devin McCourty (27th), Taylor Price (90th) and Aaron Hernandez (113th). Baltimore got Sergio Kindle (43rd), Ed Dickson (70th) and Dennis Pitta (114th) for the 25th pick. Denver moved back twice, moved up twice and drafted Thomas (22nd), Tebow (25th) and Eric Decker (87th) after all of the dust had settled.
John Elway still wasn't finished.
After all of that, Tebow, the most talked about player in the NFL last fall, was worth a grand total of two late-round picks. Elway shipped him and the Broncos' seventh-round selection to New York for a fourth- and sixth-round draft pick. So in reality, the Broncos got Thomas, Decker, a fourth, a sixth and one playoff win out of the deal (Peyton Manning aside, of course).
It’s amazing how a few slots in the draft can dramatically shift the NFL’s balance of power.
With two extra picks in the first four rounds the Browns have the chance to completely rebuild their franchise in two drafts. The Falcons are the team to beat in the NFC South because they made the move last year to go up and grab Jones. The 49ers have one of the best offensive lines in the league. The Pats have two All-Pros in Hernandez and McCourty. And the Ravens replaced Todd Heap with ease and are expecting big things from Kindle this fall.
The rich get richer.
So far in 2012, we know that the Redskins have their guy in Griffin III. Fisher and the Rams will either take star wideout Justin Blackmon to help Sam Bradford or continue to move back in an effort to stockpile picks. Either way, there figures to be plenty of war room phone calls on draft night.
Who will sell the farm to snatch Texas A&M quarterback Ryan Tannehill at No. 3? Will anyone move up to grab the only game-changing safety in this class in Alabama's Mark Barron? Which team vaults back into the first round to secure one of the few solid offensive tackles left on the board?
And, as usual, there figures to be plenty of Tyson Alualu/Darrius Heyward-Bey/Hank Hill “Do What?” moments tonight.
Sit back and enjoy.
-by Braden Gall
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