Given that 2012 marked the first season with the combination of a rookie wage scale and the absence of a lockout, speculation was high that teams would be trading around the first round with a frequency rarely seen.
Little did we know.
There were three trades among NFL teams with the first 10 picks alone, starting with the Cleveland Browns, who moved up from the fourth overall pick to the third in order to grab Alabama running back Trent Richardson. That move took the Minnesota Vikings from the third pick to Cleveland's fourth, and added fourth, fifth, and seventh-round picks to an already stacked Vikings pick list -- they now have 13 picks overall in this year's draft, and they got their much-needed elite pass protector in USC's Matt Kalil. The Vikings later made a deal with the Baltimore Ravens to move down again in the first round. The Jacksonville Jaguars then moved up to the fifth pick by trading their seventh overall selection and an extra fourth-round pick for the privilege of taking Oklahoma State receiver Justin Blackmon. The Bucs may have been in the hunt for Richardson, but the move down still netted them Alabama safety Mark Barron, one of the safest and most versatile players in this draft class.
The big traders in that top 10 were the Dallas Cowboys, who took their 14th overall pick and their second-rounder and gave it to the St. Louis Rams to move up to St. Louis' sixth-overall selection. From there, they took LSU cornerback Morris Claiborne and left the Rams with even more chips in the later rounds. You'll be hearing from them a lot on Friday and Saturday.
Later in the first round, the New England Patriots proved once again that they see no fixed positions in any draft by trading up twice for two much-needed additions to their front seven -- linebacker Dont'a Hightower and Syracuse pass rusher Chandler Jones. Not bad for a couple of fourth-round picks. The Bucs and Denver Broncos, who were also part of one of the Patriots' trades finished things off by switching picks in the 30s so that Tampa Bay could grab Boise State running back Doug Martin.
But the most surprising trade, at least when it came to the final result, happened when the Seattle Seahawks took their 12th overall pick and dropped with Philadelphia's 15th. The Eagles selected Mississippi State defensive tackle Fletcher Cox, which seems a great value pick, as many mocks had Cox going as early at No. 6 overall to the Rams. The Seahawks confounded most observers by taking West Virginia's Bruce Irvin while some impressive and much-needed talent -- including Stanford guard David DeCastro, South Carolina end Melvin Ingram and Alabama linebacker Courtney Upshaw -- were still on the board. Irvin is a speed pass rusher who reminds some of an embryonic Von Miller, but few expected him to go in the first round at all.
Seattle knew better, or at least they thought they did. Sources said that the San Francisco 49ers had basically guaranteed Irvin a pick at 30th overall if he fell that far, and the Seahawks already felt they had their man. Brushing the naysayers aside, head coach Pete Carroll and general manager John Schneider seemed thrilled to come out of the first round with Irvin and two more picks.
"We're extremely excited, and we didn't want to get too cute with this," Schneider said. "Obviously, we viewed him as the best pure pass-rusher in the draft. We're trying to add that to our team -- add a team speed. There was a certain area we thought we could get to, and we thought about moving back again, but we thought we'd just lock it down."
"He's a fantastic football player," Carroll added, after mentioning that he tried to recruit Irvin out of high school when Carroll was USC's head coach. "He's a great pass rusher. The speed that he brings is so unique and so rare. When he had his opportunities to show it in college, he came out as the best pass rusher in America. That's something that we're really excited about. The fact that I've known him for so long and have background with the kid — I feel we've got a guy that we had interest in from a lot of areas. This guy's going to be a great asset to the program."
Broncos main man John Elway, one of the people in the room responsible for drafting Miller last year with the second overall pick, seemed a little less sure. When asked if any first-day moves surprised him, Elway knew where to point.
"Probably the only one was maybe Irvin, but he's a very good football player that is explosive. Put in the right situation—and I'm sure Pete Carroll will get him in the right situation—he'll be successful. But other than that, everybody taken in this first round, they're all good football players."
The Irvin pick wasn't the only surprise, though. The Stanford Cardinal was thought to possess four potential first-rounders in this year's class, but only Andrew Luck went where people expected. DeCastro dropped all the way to Pittsburgh at 24, while tight end Coby Fleener and left tackle Jonathan Martin fell out of the first round altogether.
The New York Jets took a shot on another athletic risk for their front seven with the 16th overall pick in North Carolina's Quinton Coples, and the Kansas City Chiefs executed a fairly sizeable reach (at least to some) when they took Dontari Poe, Memphis' mauling defensive lineman, with the 11th overall pick. Not only did the Chiefs take the 350-pound player with a great scouting combine and iffy game tape, but they turned down two offers to trade down in the process.
"We felt that if we moved back a little too far, even though we were getting some extra currency in extra picks, that [Poe] was the right player for us," Chiefs GM Scott Pioli said. "We didn't want to move too far away from him and risk the chance of not being able to get him ... Part of what goes into the draft is strategy in trying to understand what the other teams are going to do. We never know exactly what they are going to do, but we didn't want to take the risk of losing out on this player."
That seemed to be the operating trend for many teams in the first round. We have our guy, we don't want to miss out, and we'll do what it takes to get him. The ultimate value of those choices are best left to the vagaries of time, but it certainly made for an interesting first round.
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