The 2012 NFL Draft had a major impact in 2017. It gave us the reigning Super Bowl MVP and the league’s highest-paid player — and neither was a first-round pick. It turned the Patriots’ defense from one of the NFL’s worst into a championship unit. It also continued the Browns’ vicious cycle of failure, as Trent Richardson and Brandon Weeden proved not to be the saviors Cleveland had hoped.
That 2012 draft was weird and awesome ... and it might happen all over again in 2018.
A deep crop of quarterbacks could make the seventh or eighth passer selected a tremendously valuable asset. The Patriots, after trading away Brandin Cooks, are looking to fill major holes in their AFC Championship roster with two late first-round picks. And the Browns, with two of the top four selections in this year’s draft, could be looking at adding a quarterback and high-profile running back as they hit “reset” once more.
Here’s how the 2012 NFL Draft could wind up being the blueprint for the 2018 version.
The Browns “Browns up” another draft
Then: It’s not original or especially fun to recount Cleveland’s NFL failures, but it’s a vital part of the 2012 NFL Draft. The Browns had two picks with which to work that spring after shipping the right to select Julio Jones with the No. 6 pick in 2011 for a smattering of selections — the most successful of whom turned out to be Greg Little. In exchange, they earned the chance to select Weeden as their new franchise QB, one year after trading away a pick that would become All-Pro linebacker Justin Houston.
In 2012, the Browns used the No. 3 pick to draft Alabama back Trent Richardson. Then 19 picks later, they drafted 28-year-old Oklahoma State passer Brandon Weeden in hopes of bolstering an offense that started Colt McCoy and Seneca Wallace behind center the previous season. Together, they’d win five total games for Cleveland. Neither would be on the team’s roster for the 2014 season.
The Browns made nine more picks behind them, of which only three played in the NFL in 2017. The best was right tackle Mitchell Schwartz, who has excelled as a blocker the past two seasons — for the Kansas City Chiefs.
And Richardson? The Alabama back’s biggest contribution to the team was the fact he secured a 2014 first-rounder from the Colts in a trade. In true Browns fashion, the club packaged that pick with a third-rounder for the chance to move up and draft ... Johnny Manziel.
Now: SB Nation’s mock draft database shows the Browns will likely go with a quarterback and a running back in the first round again. The consensus among pundits is USC quarterback Sam Darnold with the No. 1 overall pick and Penn State running back Saquon Barkley with the No. 4, a pair of selections that would fill one major need (at quarterback) and add arguably the draft’s top prospect three picks later.
Why do they need a running back and quarterback just six years later? Because Weeden is barely hanging on to his spot in the league as a 34-year-old backup and Richardson’s football future maxes out in whatever non-NFL pro league begins first — the XFL or the Alliance of American Football.
A repeat of 2012 would be, as usual, bad news for the Browns and worse news for Barkley, a tantalizing prospect out of Penn State (yet, like all running backs this year, not a sure thing). If it does, he and whichever passer winds up at No. 1 overall — likely Darnold, Josh Rosen, or Josh Allen — would see their NFL careers top out at “underwhelming.” Among the top five quarterbacks, Allen is the one who carries the biggest risk, so naturally that’s how the Browns have been trending.
Injuries (and Weeden) wrecked an entire class of first-round quarterbacks
Then: Andrew Luck was an easy choice at No. 1 overall, narrowly edging out Heisman Trophy winner Robert Griffin III at the top of the draft. Luck immediately turned the Colts from the league’s worst team into a playoff contender; Griffin became a sensation while earning Offensive Rookie of the Year honors that season. Both looked like slam dunks as 2012 came to a close.
The rest of the first round wasn’t as successful. Ryan Tannehill was thrown into the fire with the Dolphins and finished his first season with a 12:13 TD:INT ratio in 16 starts. Weeden looked every bit a Browns’ quarterback while going 5-10 as a starter and throwing 17 interceptions. It was a mixed bag for 2012’s high-profile quarterbacks, but Luck and Griffin looked like franchise cornerstones worthy of their lofty draft status.
Now: Neither Luck nor Griffin played a snap in 2017. A bum shoulder has prevented the No. 1 pick from returning to form after leading the Colts to the AFC title game in 2014, putting his future in doubt after starting his career with three straight Pro Bowl appearances. The Colts have collapsed without him — though their plunge is inexorably tied to Ryan Grigson’s mismanagement as general manager.
Griffin has fallen even further. The electric quarterback led Washington to a surprising playoff appearance as a rookie, but his team’s weak offensive line and RGIII’s high-risk, dual-threat game were too dangerous a combination to be sustainable. Knee and ankle injuries, along with a 2015 concussion, spelled the end of his tenure in the nation’s capital, and his star had dimmed so much he was reduced to signing a one-year deal to compete for the Browns’ starting quarterback position. To his credit, he was the starter for the team’s only win in 2016. He sat out last season before signing a one-year contract to back up Joe Flacco with the Ravens in 2018.
Tannehill developed into a league-average passer and led the Dolphins to a surprising playoff appearance in 2016, but his own knee problems appear to have maxed out his career arc at “not bad.” Weeden, as previously mentioned, is not very good at football. Brock Osweiler was the next passer up at the end of the second round, and while he’s still employed in the NFL, his best attribute as a passer appears to be his height.
That’s a cautionary tale for needy teams looking to draft their franchise quarterback in the top five of this year’s draft. In 2012, the quarterbacks in the highest tier were crushed by injuries (and four of the top five picks failed to play a single snap in 2017). The second tier was as well. The third tier was Weeden and Osweiler.
The draft is an unpredictable beast.
But later rounds gave the draft its most successful quarterback — and its most expensive
Then: After Osweiler came a revival from unexpected sources. The Seahawks gambled on a failed minor league second baseman who had led Wisconsin to the Rose Bowl after being shunned by NC State. Russell Wilson was supposed to be a project for Seattle, but he outplayed pricey free agent pickup Matt Flynn to help spark a four-win improvement from the previous season. Next was Nick Foles, who didn’t look special in his six starts as a rookie. The eighth quarterback taken was Kirk Cousins, a fourth-round insurance policy should Griffin fail to come through for Washington.
Now: Wilson is a Super Bowl-winning quarterback who hasn’t missed a start in six seasons for the Seahawks. By virtue of Pro Football Reference’s approximate value metric, he’s been the most valuable player from the 2012 draft by a long shot — and nearly twice as impactful as any other quarterback from his class.
Foles set an NFL record with a 27:2 TD:INT ratio in his second year with the Eagles, flamed out as a starter, came back as a backup, and then won Super Bowl MVP honors by dethroning the Patriots in Super Bowl 52. He’s currently the Eagles’ backup quarterback behind Carson Wentz, but that situation will likely change if someone’s starter gets hurt in the preseason and Philadelphia deals him for a valuable draft pick.
Cousins emerged as a cannon-armed dropback passer who could rack up big numbers even if a limited Washington roster meant languishing in the no-zone between rebuilding and contention the past three seasons. He earned nearly $44 million the past two seasons while playing on his team’s franchise tag, then reset the quarterback market with a fully guaranteed, three-year $84 million deal this offseason with the Minnesota Vikings.
That’s a good omen for 2018’s overlooked college quarterbacks. A repeat of 2012 would mean big things for college standouts like Washington State’s Luke Falk, Western Kentucky’s Mike White, and Richmond’s Kyle Lauletta. All three are potential Day 3 pickups who could have a big impact in the NFL.
The Patriots don’t trade down ... and nail their two first-round picks
Then: The 2011 Pats fell in Super Bowl XLVI to the Giants, but a couple of shrewd trades left them in prime position to reload with fresh young talent. A trade in the previous year’s draft landed New England the Saints’ No. 27 pick to pair with its own No. 31 pick. Instead of trading down for the second-round selections Bill Belichick covets, the future Hall of Famer instead opted to move up and boost a defense that ranked 31st in the league in yardage allowed the year prior.
A deal with the Bengals allowed the Patriots to select Chandler Jones with the 21st selection of the draft. A trade with the Broncos shortly afterward brought Dont’a Hightower to Foxborough with the 25th. Both were starters the following fall.
Now: The plan worked. The duo combined to give New England a dangerous pass rusher and a versatile tackling machine to pace its second level. Together, they helped revive an overworked defense, steadily improving as the Patriots developed into a top 10 unit by 2015 — the last season the Jones and Hightower shared under Belichick.
History repeating itself would be great news for the Patriots, who, like in 2012, are coming off a Super Bowl loss but loaded with draft capital. If it does, they won’t just get two starters with their top picks, but a pair of Pro Bowlers. After getting little production from their four-man class of 2017 — their first two selections, Derek Rivers and Antonio Garcia, both missed their entire rookie seasons due to health issues — 2018 could be the bridge that connects the team’s dynastic run through the Tom Brady era to a successful future.