April 28, 2012; Davie, FL, USA; Lauren Ufer the wife of Miami Dolphins first round draft pick quarterback Ryan Tannehill (Texas A

NFL Draft: What Have We Learned?

Uh-huh…made ya look, didn’t I? That’s Ryan Tannehill’s wife – I didn’t know he was married. That’s one thing I learned. I already knew pretty blondes make guys look. I’m a guy, and I look.

Lucky sod. And I’m not even TALKING about being drafted in the NFL. You know. WOW.

Back to the business at hand.

Now that the 77th Annual National Football League Selection Meeting, popularly known as the NFL Draft, is finished, what HAVE we learned?

With the rookie wage scale, drafting has once again become more about the player a team wants/needs than under the old rules, and NFL franchises aren’t shying away from trading up to nab their man.

Indeed, the top pick wasn’t traded. Andrew Luck was at stake and couldn’t have been pried from Indy even under the old rules.

The next organic (read: non-traded) pick was Miami at #8. The six in-between were ALL traded.

Cleveland unnecessarily traded up from 4 to 3 to ensure they got Trent Richardson…and you can read all about all the trades of the draft when you have a day or two to kill. Suffice it to say that franchises feel completely free to pursue the object of their affections because they know the new CBA saves them from themselves and paying what would now be $60+ million in a rookie contract to an Andrew Luck. Luck is one of the top college pro-ready QBs to come out since Peyton Manning, but he’s still never played an NFL down.

As a result, Mock Drafts have become almost obsolete, because while you can mock the top talent all day long, it’s another matter to correctly identify which team will be the one trading up to get a particular player.

Some, you might be able to guess at just by looking at the pile of picks (Cleveland) teams have OR the lack of a pile (New Orleans) an organization wields.

Indeed, the pre-draft talk regarding the Dallas Cowboys was how much they wanted Mark Barron. They traded up to get…Morris Claiborne.

I don’t think anyone saw that one coming until, very literally, the last minute.

Other than Ryan Tannehill going to the Moe Howard-owned Miami Dolphins, the top twelve or so picks pretty much followed the player talent level. The only reach in the top 14 was Buffalo selecting Stephon Gilmore. I think Gilmore is overrated, but time will tell. He’s not a BAD player, I just don’t think he’s a top-ten talent guy.

A considerably small top-talent pool at the CB spot explains that pick.

Tannehill wasn’t a reach when you consider the existing premium on young arms, particularly in light of the rookie wage scale. Gabbert, Locker, and Ponder all went around the same spot in last season’s draft as Tannehill did this year.

Every draft sees certain players rise and fall for various reasons, and this one was no exception.

For example, Chase Minnefield was thought to be a 2nd or 3rd round talent, but had surgery for a microfracture earlier this season and his health status is too uncertain for any of the 32 NFL teams to even take a 7th-round flyer on. Most of the concern stems from the type of injury he has rather than anything about the kid on a personal level, but it goes to show that not all injured players can be an Antonio Cromartie.

When a player eligible for the draft is injured, it needs looking into. A broken finger, even for a WR or QB, would probably cost a player nothing as far as draft position. An injury like Minnefield’s can keep you from being drafted at all. Let’s all hope he recovers completely and finds a team.

It is, however, the first time I saw a guy projected to be a middle/late first round pick 2 months ago become an undrafted free agent.

That guy would be Vontaze Burfict…and he’s healthy as a horse who’s never had a run-in with the law or substance abuse in his life.

Minnefield went undrafted for medical reasons; Burfict for his intangibles…namely his penchant for drawing personal fouls, being a dirty player, slowing down since his junior year, going from 90 to 69 tackles…or pick one or all of the above.

The point here is that players fall for a myriad of reasons. We knew that, but completely out of the draft? Not even one team with a 7th-round compensatory pick would try either player?

Alfonzo Dennard was drafted a week after punching a cop in the face. Hmmm.

Try and keep that in mind when you scratch your head over your own favorite team’s 7th-round pick. That guy will probably be healthy to play special teams or a situational 4 or 5 downs on opening day, unlike Minnefield. Dennard should. Why not Burfict?

Because most of them aren’t projected to be poison on the field and in the locker room, that’s why. Dennard was lucky.

Going to a small school doesn’t really hurt you as we learned from Brian Quick from App. State and Amini Sitatolu from Midwestern State. If you’ve got “it,” the NFL people will find you. Sometimes they find “it” where “it ain’t” but that happens at the big schools too. We armchair GMs don’t have the resources the NFL franchises do, but the internet helps. It still can’t do everything.

Experience matters – even when NOT seeing the field all the time can be a good thing.

How’s that, you ask?

The knock on 4-year starters if you’re a running back out of college is how much “tread you have left.” Ricky Williams came into the NFL with over a thousand rushing attempts at Texas and questions about that followed him into the NFL. Good thing for Ricky that Mike Ditka was (and still is) nuts – it only takes ONE team to fall in love with you, remember?

This year, we saw a very talented young RB with “only” one year of “wear” on him fall from late-first/early-second pre-draft to early 4th round in David Miller. Part of his slide could be attributed to a nagging shoulder injury that he played through last season and had surgery on in December, but it’s not a particularly troubling injury but an injury nonetheless. He’s only got 335 carries under his belt.

So, it would appear that “wear” for running backs is less problematic than “durability” issues, so don’t be fooled by next year’s pre-draft propaganda that always accelerates 48 hours before the start of the thing. Doesn’t “playing through pain” count for anything?

Since this was my first draft as a semi-professional writer, I had looked a good bit deeper into the players and their abilities, backgrounds, and unique challenges they’ve faced. The more I dug, the more I found out I didn’t know.

I learned that each NFL franchise personality has to be considered, and that is one of the hardest things to know. Sure, the Pittsburgh Steelers always seem to have that blue-collar approach to the game, making their draft rather predictable by position if not by each individual targeted. But what about teams like the Buccaneers that completely changed their approach from one season to the next?

That’s the most unpredictable thing of all and the reason for it is the people behind the scenes change.

Keep in mind that “team needs” are both objective and subjective. While one area may not look to be a glaring weakness, that same area may be one that the people behind the scenes want to make into a strength and go after two players while outside observers may think they have more needs in other spots and not draft anyone there.

Look at the very Wide Receiver-needy teams like Cleveland and Miami. Both teams need two starters. Badly. Each team drafted only one; Cleveland in the 4th round and Miami in the 6th. Well, Miami added one in the 7th…point being, none of them were high picks.

This bears more looking into, but I’d be willing to bet each team signs at least a couple of UFAs at the position to see what they can do in camp and get a good look at, if nothing else.

That IS how Victor Cruz got into the league two years ago, after all, but boy is he the exception.

Any team’s given thought process or approach to the game of football is just something that’s too difficult to foresee without already having intimate knowledge of the organization in question and none of us have that kind of access. We just do the best with what we’ve got. So do the other 31 teams in trying to figure out what any OTHER organization is up to.

THAT is why Cleveland traded up from 4th to 3rd for Trent Richardson!

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Tags: 2012 NFL Draft Alfonzo Dennard Amini Sitatolu Brian Quick Chase Minnefield Cleveland Browns Lamar Miller Lauren Tannehill Miami Dolphins Pittsburgh Steelers Ricky Williams Victor Cruz Vontaze Burfict

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