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After predictable start, first round of 2012 draft becomes wild ride

by | The Sports Xchange/CBSSports.com

After the 2012 NFL Draft began as advertised, with the Indianapolis Colts selecting Stanford quarterback Andrew Luck first overall and the Washington Redskins naming Baylor's Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback Robert Griffin III second, the intrigue finally began.

And, in the first draft after a collective bargaining agreement that limits the cost of rookie contracts, teams quickly turned the event into a tradeathon. After Luck, the next six selections were made with the help of a trade. In all, there were eight trades in the first round.

The first draft-day statement was made by the Cleveland Browns, who gave up four draft picks to the Minnesota Vikings to move up one spot, to No. 3 overall. The Browns then selected Alabama running back Trent Richardson. Adding local drama to that decision for Cleveland fans is the fact that former Browns Hall of Fame back Jim Brown recently called Richardson "ordinary."

Browns president Mike Holmgren obviously doesn't agree, based on what he paid for Richardson. The Browns gave their No. 4 overall spot plus picks in the fourth round (118 overall), fifth round (139 overall) and seventh round (211 overall).

"I didn't expect to go this high, but I work hard at what I do," Richardson said.

The Browns weren't done, pulling the stunner of the second half of the first round with Oklahoma State quarterback Brandon Weeden at No. 22 overall. It's the competition for Colt McCoy the Browns at one point tried to generate with Griffin III before the Redskins beat them to the punch in trading with St. Louis for the second pick.

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Instead, Cleveland used its second first-round pick, acquired in a draft-day deal that saw the Falcons land wide receiver Julio Jones, on Weeden, a 28-year-old former minor-league baseball player.

Minnesota used its No. 4 pick to select Southern California offensive tackle Ryan Kalil and provide a blind-side protector for 2011 first-round pick quarterback Christian Ponder.

The Tampa Bay Bucs then accepted the Nos. 7 and 101 overall picks to give up their fifth spot to Jacksonville, which selected dynamic Oklahoma wide receiver Justin Blackmon.

Jerry Jones and the Cowboys quickly seized the opportunity to get the best defensive back in the draft to fill their biggest need. They moved up from No. 14 to get the No. 6 slot from the St. Louis Rams, thereby leapfrogging the Bucs to get LSU cornerback Morris Claiborne.

With the top cornerback gone, the Bucs countered by using their No. 7 pick to take the best safety in the draft, Alabama's Mark Barron.

The Miami Dolphins finally stopped the trading streak by using their No. 8 position to take Texas A&M quarterback Ryan Tannehill, who was coached in college by Miami's offensive coordinator, Mike Sherman. Tannehill was the draft's fastest-rising player in the past month. He'll probably need time to move in as an NFL quarterback after starting only 19 games there in college following two seasons at wide receiver.

Carolina, which selected the offensive rookie of the year in quarterback Cam Newton last year, made a strong bid for the next defensive rookie of the year by taking prolific Boston College inside linebacker Luke Kuechly at No. 9.

With the 10th pick, the Buffalo Bills grabbed South Carolina's Stephon Gilmore, rated by NFLDraftScout.com as the second best cornerback in the draft.

Defensive linemen were the next two selections with Kansas City grabbing Memphis workout wonder Dontari Poe and the Philadelphia Eagles, moving up from No. 15 to No. 12 in a trade with Seattle, taking Mississippi State's Fletcher Cox.

Meanwhile, back at the top, the formality of naming Luck and Griffin is expected to be the first official chapter in what will likely be a career-long drama in which these two great athletes will continue to be joined at the hip, as it were.

And it is expected to be a far better ongoing story than the one began in 1998, when Indianapolis took Payton Manning out of Tennessee and the San Diego Chargers followed by selecting Ryan Leaf out of Washington State. Their comparisons ended quickly as Manning flourished and Leaf floundered.

In fact, on the day Luck was named the successor to Manning -- who is reconvening his career in Denver -- Leaf, beset by drug and burglary problems, was issued two warrants in Texas and could be facing 20 years in prison.

But faith in the futures of Luck and "RG3" is so strong that Redskins general manager Bruce Allen told The Sports Xchange when he traded up to the No. 2 spot, he was in love with both of them and would be happy to take either one. The Redskins gave the St. Louis Rams their No. 6 overall pick plus a second-rounder this year and firsts in the next two years to move into the No. 2 position.

Luck has been considered the best pro prospect quarterback in college for at least the past two seasons. He has been called the most NFL-ready quarterback in the draft since Manning. He is the son of Oliver Luck, former Detroit Lions and Houston Oilers quarterback and current athletic director at West Virginia.

On the field, Luck masterfully manipulated a pro-style offense coached until last year by former NFL quarterback Jim Harbaugh, now with the 49ers.

"Anxious to get started. You want to get started, you want to get going," Luck said. "I can't wait. I can't wait to get out there and represent the city to the best of my ability."

Colts offensive coordinator Bruce Arians did not hesitate a second when asked if Luck is expected to step in as the No. 1 quarterback right away.

"Ain't no doubt," he said.

At Stanford, Luck prepped for the NFL by completing 713 of 1,064 passes for 9,430 yards, 82 touchdowns, 22 interceptions and a passer rating of 162.8.

"Andrew has been preparing for this for a long, long time," Arians said. "He has an advanced grasp of the game. He is very unusual in that regard."

The Redskins seems equally happy with RG3.

"He is a marvelous person, tremendous athlete and it is exciting just to think about what he can do as a quarterback," Allen said.

Griffin is a dynamic athlete who jumped over intermediate hurdles in world class time as prep. His speed was verified at the Scouting Combine, where they announced his 40-yard time as 4.41 seconds, but Griffin himself was told he was actually timed as fast as 4.33 seconds.

"I'm going to expect more out of myself and my teammates than the fans ever can," Griffin III said.

Some scouts said Griffin had the best combination of quick release and velocity of any quarterback in the draft. His accurate, long-range passes helped destroy defenses as he set or tied 54 school records and several NCAA marks. He is only one of three players in college history to throw for 10,000 yards (10,071) and rush for more than 2,000 yards (2,199).

Despite what Jim Brown said, many scouts believe Richardson is similar to, but faster than, the great Emmitt Smith. Last season, Richardson became Alabama's full-time starter for the first time, carried 283 times for 1,679 yards and 21 touchdowns to break Ingram's single-season school record. Richardson is an efficient blocker and excellent pass catcher who had another 338 yards and three touchdowns receiving last season.

After seven trades were involved in the first dozen picks, the draft became a little more formal for a while.

The Arizona Cardinals spent No. 13 on Notre Dame wide receiver Michael Floyd, who should pair up well with fellow Minnesota native, All-Pro receiver Larry Fitzgerald, to cause coverage problems for defenses.

The Rams, who set the stage for the NFL's trade show when they gave up their No. 2 spot to Washington last month, finally made a pick at the No. 14 position they received from Dallas. The Rams took LSU defensive tackle Michael Brockers, who has exceptional ability but might need time to reach his ample potential.

The Seattle Seahawks used the No. 15 pick they got from Philadelphia to make what might be considered the first big surprise selection of the draft in West Virginia defensive end Bruce Irvin. He has explosive pass-rush ability but is considered a raw talent with some off field concerns.

North Carolina defensive end Quentin Coples was taken No. 16 by the New York Jets. Like the Jets, Coples is criticized for not playing up to potential, but he has the ability to add even more punch to their defensive front.

Three more defenders followed with the Cincinnati Bengals taking Alabama cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick No. 17, the San Diego Chargers naming South Carolina athletic outside linebacker Melvin Ingram No. 18 and the Chicago Bears selecting Boise State edge player Shea McClellin No. 19.

Baylor wide receiver Kendall Wright, the favorite weapon for RG3, interrupted the run on defenders when the Tennessee Titans took him at No. 20. Wright is a constant vertical threat despite mediocre 40-yard times at the scouting combine. He should become a preferred target for whoever wins the quarterback battle between Matt Hasselbeck and Jake Locker.

The New England Patriots then identified somebody they wanted at No. 21 and grabbed Syracuse defensive end Chandler Jones, brother of UFC sensation Jon "Bones" Jones. Chandler has explosive pass rush ability that should help the Patriots' generous defense.

After the Browns made their second dramatic statement by taking Weeden, offensive linemen were the next two picks as the Detroit Lions took Iowa offensive tackle Riley Reiff No. 23 and the Pittsburgh Steelers welcomed Stanford offensive guard David DeCastro No. 24.

The Patriots then used Denver's No. 25 spot to grab Alabama inside linebacker Dont'a Hightower, whose versatility fits New England's ever-changing defensive schemes.

At No. 26, the Houston Texans took Illinois defensive end Whitney Mercilus to help ease the loss of pass rusher Mario Williams, who left for Buffalo in free agency.

Wisconsin guard Kevin Zeitler was taken by Cincinnati at No. 27; Green Bay took Southern Cal linebacker Nick Perry at No. 28 and Notre Dame free safety Harrison Smith went to Minnesota at No. 29.

The San Francisco 49ers, who signed free-agent receivers Randy Moss and Mario Manningham, found yet another target for quarterback Alex Smith in Illinois wide receiver A.J. Jenkins.

The first round ended with a bit of a surprise with the selection of two more running backs -- Boise State's hard-charging Doug Martin No. 31 to Tampa Bay and Virginia Tech's athletic David Wilson to the New York Giants at No. 32.


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