People love to know what the experts and analysts think of their team. There is no better example of that than the days after the NFL Draft when pundits take a first swipe at judging each team's newest recruits.
Last year's draft class now has a full season under its belt. That gives us a chance to go back and take a look at how the initial impressions of the 2012 draftees stack up with their first year on the field.
How did SB Nation's 2012 draft grades for the AFC match up with reality?
New England bolstered its pass rush with the selections of Dont'a Hightower and Chandler Jones. Both had fine rookie years, combining for 10 sacks. Thorman liked those picks, but questioned the selection of cornerback Tavon Wilson in the second round. Wilson went on to play all 16 games and recorded four interceptions, second most on the team. Thorman gave this draft class a 'B' last spring, but it's looking better and better for New England.
The Dolphins went all in on Ryan Tannehill with the eighth pick, and the rookie showed some flashes while starting all 16 games. It wasn't a perfect season, though, as he threw more interceptions (13) than touchdowns (12). They took tackle Jonathan Martin in the second round, and he'll have the task of moving from the right side to the left next year, taking over for the departed Jake Long. The team also selected a pair of Miami Hurricanes in defensive end Olivier Vernon and running back Lamar Miller. Both showed signs that they can be contributors going forward. Thorman gave the Dolphins a 'B' last year with the potential to become an 'A' if Tannehill and Martin work out.
Although they received a 'B' grade, the jury is out on New York's draft class a year ago. Quinton Coples had a decent rookie season, but he may not be the premier pass rusher they need. Speedy wide receiver Stephen Hill only had 21 catches, but that was partly a function of the team's quarterback woes. Other than those two, the Jets received very little production from rookies last year.
Their draft class may not have been as deep as fans would like, but it looks like Buffalo found long-term starters at cornerback and left tackle in the first two rounds with Stephon Gilmore and Cordy Glenn. Gilmore has the potential to be one of the top corners in the league. Glenn battled injury issues, but he has the ability to be a franchise left tackle at the NFL level. Fourth-round pick Nigel Bradham will have a chance to compete for a starting spot in the linebacking corps. The jury is still out on wide receiver T.J. Graham, whom the team traded up in the third round to select. Thorman awarded them a 'B' last year, but the play of Gilmore makes things look even better for the Bills.
Thorman liked the Ravens' picks at the time. Courtney Upshaw had a solid season at linebacker, while Kelechi Osemele started all 16 games on the O-line. While sharing carries with Ray Rice, Bernard Pierce quietly had a very solid season with 532 rushing yards. If Pierce can continue to develop, this will be another fine class for Baltimore.
Joel Thorman wrote that the Cincinnati Bengals might've had the best draft class last April. Due to injuries and a lack of playing time for some guys, the jury is still out. Their first-round pick, Alabama's Dre Kirkpatrick, appeared in only five games before hitting the IR with a knee injury. Defensive tackles Devon Still and Brandon Thompson didn't really get to play all that much. While it might have been a somewhat disappointing year for their original picks, the front office made up for it with their signing of undrafted free agent Vontaze Burfict, who went on to lead the team in tackles.
Pittsburgh's first-round pick, guard David DeCastro, missed the first 12 games of the year after injuring his right knee in the preseason. They drafted another potential long-term starter in right tackle Mike Adams. The rest of the class didn't produce much as rookies, though. Linebacker Sean Spence missed the season with a knee injury, and defensive tackle Alameda Ta'amu has encountered legal problems. Thorman gave the Steelers an 'A-' and while the health and future of DeCastro and Adams will play a big part in determining if this class lives up that grade, the performance of their lower round picks should result in a downgrade.
Cleveland has a keeper in Trent Richardson. His fellow first-round pick Brandon Weeden may not be the future at quarterback. However, there was some quality depth in the Browns' class. Mitchell Schwartz started all 16 games at right tackle, and wide receiver Travis Benjamin showed flashes of being a long-term contributor. The Browns also got 10 starts out of sixth-round pick Billy Winn at defensive tackle. This next season should go a long way to determining if Weeden and the Browns earn the 'B' that Thorman awarded them last year.
The Texans did not receive a ton of production from their rookie class. Whitney Mercilus was viewed as a bit of a project despite being a first-round pick. He went on to have a solid season, and looks like a viable replacement for Connor Barwin. DeVier Posey struggled to stay healthy and played in just 11 games. Houston's 'B- ' grade from last spring seems justified after one year, if not kind.
The decision to take Andrew Luck with the first pick and load up on offensive playmakers got an 'A' in our grades last year. Luck went on to lead Indianapolis to 11 wins after winning just two games the previous year. Other guys like T.Y. Hilton and Vick Ballard went on to have big years, as well. Winning solves everything, and it was certainly an impressive debut for many of Indy's rookies in 2012.
Kendall Wright pulled in 64 catches for the Titans as a rookie, leading the team by a significant margin. However, the rest of the class is short on potential star power. Linebacker Zach Brown had a productive season, picking up 5.5 sacks, and defensive tackle Mike Martin had three sacks himself while working in the defensive line rotation. Thorman gave the Titans a 'B' last year, which feels about right.
Jacksonville traded up to take wide receiver Justin Blackmon, who managed to pull in 64 receptions despite playing in one of the worst offenses in the NFL. They did get a decent cornerback in Mike Harris, who they plucked in the sixth round, but this draft class didn't look good at the time, earning a 'D', and doesn't look good now. The Jaguars drafted a punter, Bryan Anger, in the third round. You'll be shocked to find out that general manager Gene Smith is no longer with the team.
Most experts thought the Broncos draft was just OK with Thorman giving them a 'C+.'. After trading out of the first round, Derek Wolfe experienced a solid season on the defensive line. Brock Osweiler did a nice job heating up the bench for Peyton Manning. Running back Ronnie Hillman carried the ball 85 times for 330 yards and a touchdown.
San Diego appeared to have one of the best classes in the league right after the draft last year, but the 2012 season has cooled some of the optimism. First-round pick Melvin Ingram only had one sack all season. Second-round defensive tackle Kendall Reyes had a productive season working inside. Safety Brandon Taylor began to work his way into the lineup, but tore his ACL at the end of the season. Thorman was high on the Chargers last year, giving them a 'B+.'
Oakland didn't have a pick in either the first or second round last year, which made it hard for them to add impact rookies. The Raiderrs earned an 'F' from Thorman. However, they did get 15 starts out of linebacker Miles Burris. Wide receiver Juron Criner has the ability to be a productive NFL receiver. Apart from that, this class won't do much to make the Raiders better.
The Chiefs got good production from rookies in the trenches in 2012. Nose tackle Dontari Poe started all 16 games in the middle. Jeff Allen made 13 starts at left guard. The team got little in the way of contributions from skill players, who they combined for only seven rushes and eight receptions all year. They earned a 'B' last spring for the depth they added and that grade holds.
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