2012 AFC draft grades: Risky Dolphins, O-line needy Steelers earn high marks

Jason Cole
Yahoo Sports

More: 2012 NFC draft grades

The theme of the 2012 NFL draft for AFC teams was offense. Whether it was in the first round with skill-position players (five of the first seven skill-position players were selected by AFC teams) or with offensive linemen (Pittsburgh used its first two picks to improve its line), the general theme in the AFC was to improve on the scoring side. That makes sense since defending conference champion New England continues to be one of the top scoring teams in the league.

Some of the selections came out of necessity. Indianapolis, for instance, is starting over and building around quarterback Andrew Luck.

That makes plenty of sense. As for grading any draft in the hours after it's just completed, well, that remains a questionable activity. But since fans love snap judgments, here goes:

AFC EAST

Buffalo Bills
Picks: CB Stephon Gilmore, G Cordy Glenn, WR T.J. Graham, ILB Nigel Bradham, DB Ron Brooks, T Zebrie Sanders, ILB Tank Carder, G Mark Asper, K John Potter.
Grade: B

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Stephon Gilmore (US Presswire)

Analysis: The rebuilding of the Bills' defense continued with the selection of Gilmore, who was considered the safest cornerback in the draft after LSU's Morris Claiborne. Gilmore is a high-character athlete with a big, rangy frame. He goes with free-agent acquisitions Mario Williams and Mark Anderson to upgrade a defense that sometime couldn't cover anybody last season. Gilmore is a big step in the right direction, but his value increased in days leading up to the draft. Good player, maybe not quite as good as the perception. Glenn is the opposite as many expected him to go in the first round. He's a big, athletic mauler. Graham was productive in college, but he's a skinny guy and they tend to get tossed around. Bradham and Brooks have potential to help, but their ceiling is that of average players.

Miami Dolphins
Picks: QB Ryan Tannehill, OT Jonathan Martin, DE Olivier Vernon, TE Michael Egnew, RB Lamar Miller, Josh Kaddu, WR B.J. Cunningham, DT Kheeston Randall, WR Rishard Matthews.
Grade: B+
Analysis: There is no questioning that Tannehill is a reach, but he's an extremely talented reach. If you're going to take that risk, you do it with a quarterback. General manager Jeff Ireland had to get a strong candidate for the position. Tannehill may have to sit for half a season or so, but that's fine if he ends up being good. As for Martin, he's a little soft, but should be a solid candidate for the right side with enough ability to swing left if the Dolphins eventually let Jake Long go in free agency. The Dolphins need wide receivers and explosive offensive players after trading Brandon Marshall in the offseason and the selections of Vernon and Egnew in the third round were lost opportunities.

[ Jason Cole: NFL draft winners/losers: Washington Redskins qualify as both ]

New England Patriots
Picks: DE Chandler Jones, ILB Dont'a Hightower, SS Tavon Wilson, DE Jake Bequette, DB Nate Ebner, CB Alfonzo Dennard, WR Jeremy Ebert.
Grade: A
Analysis: Anybody who watched the Patriots' defense last season knows they were extraordinarily lucky to reach the Super Bowl. It might have been the second-worst overall defensive unit to get to the Super Bowl. To that end, Patriots coach Bill Belichick went defense, defense, defense and more defense in this draft. He also traded up twice in the first round to nab two terrific athletes to plug into the front seven. Jones is a great pass rusher and Hightower is versatile enough to play inside linebacker and defensive end (a rarity).

New York Jets
Picks: DE Quinton Coples, WR Stephen Hill, OLB Demario Davis, DB Josh Bush, RB Terrance Ganaway, OT Robert T. Griffin, SS Antonio Allen, WR Jordan White.
Grade: C-
Analysis: If you rearrange the letters in "Quinton Coples," you can easily come up with "Vernon Gholston" (OK, not really, but you get the point). Coples can do just about anything athletically on a football field. The question is whether he loves football. As an athlete, he should have been a top-eight pick, but fell to the Jets at No. 16 because of unimpressive effort. At least the Jets didn't take him as high as Gholston (the No. 6 overall pick in 2008). But you'd think that GM Mike Tannenbaum would have known better. On the flipside, the Jets got nice value with Hill in the second round. He was a guy some people projected in the first round. Davis is an explosive tackler but isn't great in coverage.

AFC NORTH

Baltimore Ravens
Picks: OLB Courtney Upshaw, G Kelechi Osemele, RB Bernard Pierce, G Gino Gradkowski, FS Christian Thompson, CB Asa Jackson, WR Tommy Streeter, DE DeAngelo Tyson.
Grade: C+

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Courtney Upshaw (AP)

Analysis: This is an acceptable average draft from a team that handles the draft as well as any. Ravens general manager Ozzie Newsome traded out of the first round and still picked up a tough football player in Upshaw. Osemele and Gradkowski are road-graders who should help rebuild the offensive line after recent losses in free agency, such as Ben Grubbs. The Ravens still need to find a center of the future to replace Matt Birk, but that will have to wait another year.

Cincinnati Bengals
Picks: CB Dre Kilpatrick, G Kevin Zeitler, DT Devon Still, WR Mohamed Sanu, DT Brandon Thompson, TE Orson Charles, CB Shaun Prater, WR Marvin Jones, SS George Iloka, RB Dan Herron.
Grade: A
Analysis:For the first time in a long time, the Bengals seemed to put a little emphasis on high character as the first four picks on this board all came with high grades in that respect. Kirkpatrick is tough and plays hard all the time. He genuinely loves the game. Same goes for Zeitler, Still and Sanu, who could be the best value of the first three rounds. Sanu is still developing as a receiver, but he could become an overwhelming talent. If there is one thing the Bengals do well in the second, third and later rounds, it's find good wide receivers.

Cleveland Browns
Picks: RB Trent Richardson, QB Brandon Weeden, OT Mitchell Schwartz, DT John Hughes, WR Travis Benjamin, ILB James-Michael Johnson, T Ryan Miller, ILB Emmanuel Acho, DT Billy Winn, CB Trevin Wade, RB Brad Smelley.
Grade: C+
Analysis: There's nothing wrong with giving up extra picks to get a player you really love. The Browns had plenty of picks to trade and made sure they got the guy (Richardson) they wanted rather than getting jumped by Tampa Bay at the last moment. That doesn't make up for missing on a chance to get Robert Griffin III in early March. As for Weeden, 28-year-old prospects are problematic. He comes out of spread offenses and doesn't have a lot of experience calling plays, a bad combination. The Browns needed wide receivers and Stephen Hill was on the board when they took Schwartz.

[ Michael Silver's rankings: Gus Frerotte gives advice in Redskins quarterback race ]

Pittsburgh Steelers
Picks: G David DeCastro, OT Mike Adams, OLB Sean Spence, DT Alameda Ta'amu, RB Chris Rainey, WR Toney Clemons, TE David Paulson, CB Terrence Frederick, G Kelvin Beachum.
Grade: B+
Analysis: The Steelers didn't do anything sexy in this draft, but they may have come away with the two best offensive line values. There are some people who compare DeCastro to the likes of Steve Hutchinson, who may be the second-best guard in the history of the game behind only John Hannah. Yeah, that's lofty, but DeCastro is a beast, a guy who loves everything about the game. As for Adams, he would have been a first-round pick if not for a failed test for marijuana. While OT Matt Kalil was considered a more complete left tackle, Adams has all the size and ability to be as good as Kalil. Getting that kind of talent at No. 56 is terrific.

AFC SOUTH

Houston Texans
Picks: DE Whitney Mercilus, WR DeVier Posey, G Brandon Brooks, C Ben Jones, WR Keshawn Martin, DE Jared Crick, K Randy Bullock, T Nick Mondek.
Grade: C

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Whitney Mercilus (US Presswire)

Analysis: There's nothing wrong with the Mercilus pick, but I keep coming back to the idea that if the Texans needed a pass rusher, why didn't they just spend the money and keep Mario Williams? That would have freed the team to use its first-round pick on another need or do something more creative. Williams was expensive, but there are times in the building of a team that you spend big to get big results. The Texans are finally at the point of making a big run and they made a move that screamed of remaining middle of the pack. Posey is an intriguing athlete with return ability and Brooks and Jones could be starters in fairly short order if the team wants to push them.

Indianapolis Colts
Picks: QB Andrew Luck, TE Coby Fleener, TE Dwayne Allen, WR T.Y. Hilton, DT Josh Chapman, RB Vick Ballard, WR LaVon Brazill, G Justin Anderson, LB Tim Fugger, QB Chandler Harnish.
Grade: B
Analysis: The Colts took the safer of the two quarterbacks at the top of the draft in Luck, getting a guy who has more understanding of the pro game. That said, it's a fair bet that Griffin will be the better player over the length of their respective careers. Luck will probably never be a bad player and will likely be a 10-year starter in the league. Fleener and Allen were strong picks in the second and third rounds, particularly in a year when top tight ends weren't that available (there were only 14 tight ends at the NFL scouting combine in February). Hilton is a great speed guy, but he's really skinny and could get hammered by average cornerbacks until he learns how to get away from press coverage.

[ Dan Wetzel: Andrew Luck and Robert Griffin III now face the real pressure ]

Jacksonville Jaguars
Picks: WR Justin Blackmon, DE Andre Branch, P Bryan Anger, OLB Brandon Marshall, CB Mike Harris, DT Jeris Pendleton.
Grade: C-
Analysis: The trade up to get Blackmon was a fine move to back up the selection of QB Blaine Gabbert in the 2011 draft. If you're going to draft a quarterback, make sure you back him up with weapons and Blackmon is terrific. He plays much bigger than his listed height of 6-foot-1 because he has long arms and runs strong. Branch was also a good value pick and Harris is interesting, but the Jaguars made one of the worst moves of the draft in taking Anger in the third round. A great punter is a luxury. Punters, even great ones, rarely do much to win games. In the pass-happy NFL, field position is far less of a concern than it was years ago. The Raiders have had Shane Lechler for a decade and he has meant nothing in the grand scheme. Meanwhile, teams like New England and Pittsburgh go through punters regularly.

Tennessee Titans
Picks: WR Kendall Wright, OLB Zach Brown, DT Mike Martin, CB Coty Sensabaugh, DE Taylor Thompson, FS Markelle Martin, DE Scott Solomon.
Grade: B-
Analysis: Wright was a reasonable value pick at No. 20 overall and gives the Titans more speed with RB Chris Johnson, WR Kenny Britt and TE Jared Cook. The Titans have a great nucleus around young QB Jake Locker going forward. The emphasis of the rest of the draft was obviously on defense, but you get the feeling that the Titans have a long way to go to rebuild that group after a flurry of losses in recent years. Don't be surprised if the Titans have to make some tough choices on how to play in the next couple of years. All-out offense might be the best philosophy.

AFC WEST

Denver Broncos
Picks: DE Derek Wolfe, QB Brock Osweiler, RB Ronnie Hillman, CB Omar Bolden, C Philip Blake, DE Malik Jackson, LB Danny Trevathan.
Grade: C

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Brock Osweiler (US Presswire)

Analysis: This is the definition of an average draft. Wolfe is a try-hard kid who is athletic enough to work on the edge as an end and on the inside. In many ways, he's the type of guy coach John Fox loves to have, but then wonders why his line isn't more explosive. The real value of this draft will be driven completely by what Osweiler becomes. If he is a future star the way some people project and takes over in three years after Peyton Manning is done, then this draft could be a huge hit. If he's the guy who is too tall and too ponderous in the pocket, as some others suggest, then this draft trends more toward failure.

Kansas City Chiefs
Picks: DT Dontari Poe, G Jeff Allen, G Donald Stephenson, WR Devon Wylie, CB DeQuan Menzie, RB Cyrus Gray, DL Jerome Long, WR Junior Hemingway.
Grade: C-
Analysis: There is something about Poe that is scary and makes me wonder what Kansas City general manager Scott Pioli – of all people – was thinking when he took this guy. Poe is a great athlete, an amazingly fast man for 350 pounds. But his tape doesn't show the kind of effort and love for the game that is essential for such a high pick. This is just like the Jets taking Coples. After that, Allen and Stephenson are solid players, but you don't usually see teams take guards on back-to-back picks (although some people think Stephenson could play tackle in a pinch). Wylie and Menzie are interesting.

[ Les Carpenter: NFL 'Die Hards' sit through all three days of the draft ]

Oakland Raiders
Picks: G Tony Bergstrom, OLB Miles Burris, DE Jack Crawford, WR Juron Criner, DT Christo Bilukidi, LB Nathan Stupar.
Grade: D
Analysis: Don't blame new GM Reggie McKenzie for this mess. The Raiders didn't have their first three picks because of previous moves: the trade for QB Carson Palmer, the supplemental draft of QB Terrelle Pryor and the picks that became OT Joey Barksdale and RB Taiwan Jones. So far, none of those picks have been productive, although there is plenty of hope that Palmer will become a latter-day version of Jim Plunkett. If he is, Pryor is never going to play and is, at best, trade bait. Barksdale looked soft last year and Jones is just another sprinter. As for this collection of picks, McKenzie came up with a couple of big-body prospects, which is OK, all things considered.

San Diego Chargers
Picks: OLB Melvin Ingram, DT Kendall Reyes, FS Brandon Taylor, TE Ladarius Green, G Johnnie Troutman, C David Molk, RB Edwin Baker.
Grade: C
Analysis: This is the kind of draft you see when a team is covering up for mistakes. If Larry English had been any good, there would be no reason to take Ingram. If Luis Castillo had been really good (and not gotten hurt), there would be no reason to take Kendall Reyes. You get the point? This is not to say that Ingram and Reyes are bad players, but they are an indication of what didn't happen in the recent past. Right now, you can make a good bet that the Chargers will take a wide receiver in the first or second round next year to make up for the mistake of not signing WR Vincent Jackson to a long-term deal years ago.

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