Americans love a great deal, getting something worth far more than we are asked to pay for it. Those tendencies are not limited to a coupon for exploding onions dipped in butter at the local eatery; football fans love to see their teams get great value in the NFL Draft too. And there was plenty of value to go around this year, with so few blue chip prospects in the 2012 NFL Draft.
I could put most of the second round on this list. There were some real steals in that group, especially among offensive linemen. Of course, there is a wide gulf between a draft-day value pick and becoming a reliable part of an everyday lineup. The coaches are the ones that have to extract that value, which is why I suspect this list could look a little different in a year or two.
The Stanford guard was, arguably, one of the 10 best players in the draft. The prospect rankings at CBS Sports had him in the No. 10 slot. Mock drafts rarely had him falling past the middle of the first round. It sounds like hyperbole to describe a player as "the best at his position since ..." but it fits DeCastro. He really is the best since Steve Hutchinson. And the Steelers got him with the 24th pick.
Coby Fleener, TE, Colts
Fleener was a 2nd round pick. Matching him up with his old quarterback, Andrew Luck, should do wonders for his professional debut. It's good for both players. Many expected Fleener to go in the first round; I projected him to the Broncos at No. 25 in my last mock draft. Like Luck, Fleener should also benefit from the presence of Reggie Wayne, which will help pull defenders away from him.
Upshaw was one of those players that pundits and most coaches avoided because he was not a precise fit for their system. The Ravens are a successful franchise because they find a way to take good football players and play them. Upshaw should have been a Round 1 pick. Baltimore took him in the second round. The move looks even better in the wake of Terrell Suggs' injury.
Teams always get scared off by players with pot trouble, and some really talented player slides down in the draft as a result. Jenkins got the boot from Florida for his pot troubles; he went to North Alabama to rebuild his image. At the Combine, his proclivity for procreation came to light, scaring away more teams who wondered whether or not he could keep his focus on the field. Their loss. Jenkins was easily the second-best corner in this draft, the best pure cover corner in the eyes of most experts. Jeff Fisher, never one to shy away from wayward youth with talent, drafted him with the 39th pick.
I had the Packers taking Worthy in the first round in my last mock draft. It was a huge steal to find him waiting at pick No. 51, which they did trade up to get. Worthy has the power and quickness the Packers lacked on their defensive line, a weakness the Kansas City Chiefs exposed when they handed Green Bay its only regular season loss. He has technique issues that need to be ironed out, but the real issue pushing him down in the draft were questions about his motor and his intensity from snap to snap.
First round predictions for Sanu never really made sense, but seeing him fall out of Round 2 and into the bottom half of the third was a shocker. Deep speed, that was the knock on Sanu. In Cincinnati, the Rutgers product does not have to be a deep threat. They already have all-world A.J. Green, who defenses will need to commit one or two players to in coverage. Sanu has good hands and should see plenty of targets in the Bengals' offense. Sanu and Green have the makings of another Fitzgerald-Boldin combination. This is why Cincinnati got an A+ from me for their draft.
Injury concerns weighed down Miller's draft stock, but all the way down to the fourth round? He gives the Dolphins' offense some speed, and should make Reggie Bush expendable after this season, when his contract expires. He and a healthy Daniel Thomas give the Dolphins a nice 1-2 punch to look forward to in the future. Miller can contribute right away as a return man.
Alameda Ta'amu, NT, Pittsburgh Steelers
This is how the Steelers are consistently one of the league's best teams; they find good players in the draft, players that get overlooked. Ta'amu has the strength to step into the nose tackle position right away. And he may have to, given Casey Hampton's advancing age and injury issues. I thought the Steelers might draft him in the second or third rounds, and I thought they had given up once Round 4 started. Good find, good fit, great pick.
Childs, please. Childs made a case to be considered one of the best receivers in the country in 2009. A devastating knee injury the next season ended that. He had his moments as a senior last season, but never looked to be completely recovered. Is his career forever limited by that injury or did he just need some time to recover? I applaud the Vikings for taking a chance in the fourth round.
I always think of the Antonioni film "Zabriskie Point," the one with the airplane and a bunch of naked hippies, when I see Zebrie Sanders' name. Like the Italian director's 1970 film, Sanders is underrated. I thought he could be a second round pick. Instead, the Bills got him in the fifth. With Sanders and Cordy Glenn, the Bills' Round 2 selection, Buffalo has talented youngsters that make up the foundation of a very good offensive line.