Guest Joe Sparshatt reflects on the AFC North 2012 Draft

Guest Joe Sparshatt reflects on the AFC North 2012 Draft

The 2016 NFL Draft has been and gone, and it wasn’t without its fair share of stories. Certain things were unpredictable to say the least, Tunsil falling all the way to the Dolphins due to the now infamous video leak. Potential top 5 pick Myles Jack falling all the way to the 2nd round to pair up with actual top 5 pick Jalen Ramsey (How about ‘dem Jags?!). Certain things were a bit more predictable, such as the Jets taking a QB in the 2nd round to much controversy. The Rams and Eagles pinned their hopes to Jared Goff and Carson Wentz respectively, and other teams followed the simple tactic of taking the best player available, regardless of the strength or needs their roster may have.

Certain teams rely heavily on the draft and are rarely seen splashing out on free agents, the Packers being a prime example of having a particularly patient ownership when it comes to drafting and developing players, rather than spending big on an established name. Similarly, the Seahawks built a dominant defense largely in the draft, with players like Richard Sherman far outperforming his 5th round draft selection.

2016 is also the year in which the class of 2012 reached the end of their rookie contracts, where they can (and have in some cases) test the waters of free agency. A review at this point can be a useful exercise to decide to how successful a team has been in building for the future. How many of their drafted players outperformed their draft stock, and conversely how many even remain on the team and are considered busts? Let’s take a look.

Pittsburgh Steelers

Players drafted: 9

Players remaining on the roster: 4

The 2012 draft will be looked upon fondly by the Steelers management, a solid if unspectacular draft class for the men in black and yellow. Steelers’ first round pick at 1.24 was David DeCastro, offensive guard from Stanford. DeCastro, whose rookie year was disrupted by injury, has gone on to start 40 consecutive games, which is the sixth-longest active consecutive starts streak among NFL guards. This year, DeCastro was elected to his first Pro-Bowl, a solid cog in the Steelers O-line for years to come. Steelers next pick was again to address their O-line as they brought in Mike Adams, who initially was off the Steelers draft board after testing positive for drug use at the 2012 Scouting Combine. Adams was reconsidered by the historically strict franchise and was selected with the overall 56th pick. Adams began his third season as a backup after being benched the previous year for ineffective play, he missed the entirety of the 2015 season due to injury. Sean Spence, ILB from Miami was drafted in the third round at pick 86. Spence unfortunately didn’t play in his first two years as a Steeler through injury, but has since gone on to play 31 games for the Steelers, totalling 90 tackles and 2 sacks. The remaining 2012 rookie currently on the Steelers roster is offensive tackle Kelvin Beachum, who was the last selection of the Steelers 7th round picks, at 248th overall. Beachum has started 39 games for the Steelers and played in 44, which considering his season has been cut short twice in 2012 and again in 2015, is no mean feat from a 7th round pick. As mentioned, 4 of the 9 Steelers picks came from the 7th round, so given that 4 players from this draft still remain on the roster (including a Pro-Bowler), 2012 will be looked back on positively.

Baltimore Ravens

Players drafted: 8

Players remaining on the roster: 0

Due to recent free agency moves, the Ravens join the ranks of teams who no longer have any of their 2012 draft class on their roster. After losing in the AFC Championship to the New England Patriots in 2011, the Ravens actually traded out of their first round pick with the Vikings for the 3rd pick in the 2nd round. They used it on Courtney Upshaw, linebacker from Alabama. The Vikings used their additional 1st round pick on Harrison Smith, now considered one of the best safeties in the league and recently named to the Pro-Bowl. So what did Upshaw give the Ravens? Nothing too noteworthy, only a forced fumble on 49ers running back LaMichael James in the Super Bowl, which the Ravens recovered and in the ensuing possession scored (the Super Bowl which they of course won, 34-31). He played all 16 games in the 4 seasons he spent at the Ravens, providing a steady run stuffing presence with 183 tackles, four forced fumbles and five recoveries. Upshaw signed a one year deal with the Atlanta Falcons in free agency, worth $1.25million. The other big recent beneficiary of free agency from the Ravens 2012 draft class was Kelechi Osemele. Selected in the 2nd round (60th overall). Osemele started 14 games for the Ravens at right tackle in 2012, and given his year ended with a Super Bowl ring, it can be considered a successful rookie campaign. He missed 2013 due to back surgery, but recovered to start 14 games in 2014 and 2015. Osemele was a big financial winner in free agency, moving west to sign with the Oakland Raiders in a 5 year deal worth $58.5million.

Fantasy players will know the name Bernard Pierce, who was drafted in the 3rd round for the Ravens. Initially brought in to be a backup to Ray Rice, he never managed to leap the depth chart to number one running back. He was given a chance after Rice’s league suspension, but found himself cut by the Ravens in 2015 after being pulled over by police at 2am for doing 55mph in a 35mph zone. Pierce failed the subsequent sobriety test and was later released. Elsewhere, Ravens got an amount of production from Gino Gradkowski, who became their starting centre in 2013. He was later traded to the Broncos and now finds himself at the Panthers via the Falcons. A 7th round pick was a highlight in an otherwise barren 2012 Ravens draft class. DeAngelo Tyson, selected 236th overall has recorded 42 tackles, 3 sacks and 1 interception for the ravens but was released by the Ravens in 2015 with an injury settlement. He currently is signed to the Seahawks to a reserves/futures contract.

While none of these players remain on the active Ravens roster, it cannot be denied they at least got some production from their 2012 haul. GM Ozzie Newsome admitted that recent draft classes haven’t met their early high standards – which has left the Ravens with some glaring holes in their depth chart. Though when you end 2012 with a Championship and as a rookie you finish year 1 with a ring, not too many people are complaining. Notable undrafted players from this year include kicker Justin Tucker – who currently holds the all-time NFL field goal percentage, and Bobby Rainey – a 2nd string running back at the Buccaneers.

Cincinnati Bengals

Players drafted 10

Players remaining on the roster 4

Had the Bengals not lost some members of this 2012 draft class to big money free agency moves, their retention would have been even higher. WR duo Mohammed Sanu and Marvin Jones left this off season to Atlanta and Detroit respectively. Sanu, drafted in the 3rd round at pick 83 from Rutgers, spent most of his Bengals career playing second fiddle to AJ Green, and could never quite make the leap to dominating number 1 receiver when Green missed time with injury. Interestingly, he threw a touchdown pass before he caught one, and leaves the Bengals with 4 pass completions out of 4 attempts, and 2 touchdowns. His move to Atlanta was worth $32.5 million over 5 years, where he’ll look to establish himself opposite Julio Jones. Marvin Jones has the not so enviable task of replacing one of the all-time greats, signing with the Detroit Lions shortly after Calvin ‘Megatron’ Johnson retired, with a deal worth $40 million over 5 years. Jones was drafted in the 5th round by the Bengals, 166th overall, and has always threatened to breakout and become that dominating number 1 wide receiver. Unfortunately, injuries have often plagued Marvin’s career, his best career year coming in 2013 where he snagged 51 receptions, 712 yards and 10 touchdowns. Jones will be hoping to become more than a red-zone threat in Detroit opposite Golden Tate.

The Bengals had two first round picks at 17 and 27, and used them on Dre Kirkpatrick (CB, Alabama) and Kevin Zeitler (Guard, Wisconsin). While Kirkpatrick’s rookie year was disrupted by injury, he has since become a solid (if not spectacular) starter for the Bengals. Zeitler is a similar story, completing 56 games over 4 regular seasons and ranked as a top-9 guard in PFF’s 2014 grades. In the 2nd round the Bengals drafted DE Devin Still, with the 53rd overall selection. Still played 2 seasons for the team before being cut in late August 2014 – watchers of Hard Knocks will remember the fact Still was resigned to the practice squad to help pay for his daughter’s cancer treatment. His jersey was also sold which raised $400,000 in four days for children’s cancer research and the Cincinnati children’s hospital. Still is now signed to the Texans, and his daughter was declared cancer free in January 2016. For all the darkness and controversy that can surround professional sports at times, this is one of the stories where you are reminded of the good sport can do.

Elsewhere the Bengals got great value out of 5th round pick George Iloka, Safety from Boise State. At pick 167 overall, Iloka has far outperformed his initial draft stock, starting for the Bengals since 2013, and recently signed a 5-year $30 million contract to stay in Cincinnati. Brandon Thompson in the 3rd round has also been retained, signing a 1 year extension – he’ll unfortunately most likely start the year on the PUP list having torn his ACL last year. Perhaps the best value came from undrafted player Vontaze Burfict. Burfict came from Arizona State, and despite the linebacker being an All-American in 2010, found his draft stock plummeting due to mediocre on-field performance and poor pre-draft workouts. Despite being an overwhelmingly productive player, (in his rookie year, Bengals defence allowed 2.4 yards fewer per play when he was on the field) Burfict hasn’t avoided controversy in his pro career. In 2014 he was fined $25,000 for twisting the ankles of both Greg Olsen and Cam Newton after the play was over. More recently in 2015, he was accused by Ben Roethlisberger of deliberately targeting his ankle in the teams’ regular season game, and of course the critical penalty for an illegal hit to the head of Antonio Brown in the AFC Wildcard game. The penalty which lead to Pittsburgh kicking a go-ahead field goal and winning the game. Burfict misses the first 3 games of 2016 for repeated violations of player safety rules.

Cleveland Browns

Players drafted 11

Players remaining on the roster 1

Unfortunately for the Browns this was another draft class to add to the long list of first round busts in Cleveland. The Browns had the 4th overall pick, and another 1st round choice in the 22nd overall pick. The 2nd first round pick came from a deal with the Falcons a year previous, which was dealt so they could land Julio Jones. 4th and 22nd pick became Trent Richardson and Brandon Weeden (The Browns actually traded pick 4, 118, 139 and 221 to move up for Trent at 3 overall).

Coming in to the draft, Richardson was widely recognised as the best running back available in the NFL Draft, and was the highest selected running back in the draft since Reggie Bush in 2006. Richardson enjoyed a mixed rookie year, he missed the entire pre-season undergoing knee surgery, but managed to return for the season opener. He was the first Browns rookie to rush for over 100 yards and score rushing and receiving touchdowns all in the same game. He finished with 1317 all-purpose yards and 12 touchdowns, the future seemed bright for Richardson. However, he only played 2 games for the Browns in 2013, before being traded to the Colts for a first round draft pick. While the Browns were initially derided for this move, Trent saw his production fall off a cliff for the Colts as he averaged 2.9 YPC and 3.3 YPC in his two seasons with Indianapolis. Hindsight in this case is a double edged sword, where the Browns used their Trent Richardson draft pick from the Colts to draft Johnny Manziel, and we all know how that turned out.

Brandon Weeden took an unconventional route to the NFL, having spent a number of years in Major League Baseball, though recurring injuries and a high earned run average (bad) led to Weeden quitting baseball. Weeden won the starting quarterback role in preseason however the good feeling around him was quickly replaced by despair after he threw 4 interceptions in the season opener against the Eagles. Weeden won the starting job again in 2013, before getting injured and losing his spot to Brian Hoyer. Hoyer later suffered an injury himself, and Weeden was given another chance to shine. He was later benched for Jason Campbell, and can now be found in Dallas as Tony Romo’s backup.

The one remaining member on the Browns roster is 3rd round selection John Hughes, nose tackle from Cincinnati. He was signed to a four year $14.4 million extension in 2015, having been an effective contributor to the Browns run defense. 4th round pick Travis Benjamin had a breakout year in 2015. Having only previously flashed in special teams, 2015 saw him finish with career highs: 68 receptions for 966 yards and 5 touchdowns. Free Agency saw Travis Benjamin swap Cleveland for San Diego, penning a 4-year deal worth $24 million. Another 2016 departure is safety Tashaun Gipson. Gipson became a starter in 2013, and was selected to his first pro bowl in 2014. Another noteworthy stat, since 2012, only Richard Sherman has more interceptions that Tashaun Gipson. Gipson chose to swap the AFC North for the AFC South, moving to Jacksonville in a move worth $35.5 million over 5 years.

The final noteworthy draft pick came via the supplemental draft. Josh Gordon was selected in the 2nd round as the Browns forfeited their 2nd round pick in 2013 to draft the receiver with physical gifts in line with the best receivers in the NFL, but red flag character concerns that had other Franchises passing on him. Gordon had numerous incidents in college involving marijuana, and unfortunately the story has been similar in his pro career. Gordon had quite a successful rookie year, finishing with 50 catches for 805 yards and 5 touchdowns, but it was 2013 where he blew up. Gordon finished the 2013 season as the NFL’s leader in receiving yards, with 1,646 yards. He was named first-team all pro alongside Calvin Johnson, and also became the first NFL receiver to have back-to-back 200-yard receiving games. While his career was at its peak in 2013, it’s been on a nosedive ever since. 2014 saw him only play 5 games due to suspensions involving a DUI incident, and he missed the entire 2015 season due to violating the league’s substance abuse policy. Gordon can apply for reinstatement to the NFL on August 1st, however numerous offseason reports have him in the headlines for all the wrong reasons again. Reports from Cleveland mostly seem to point towards the fact he won’t return to play in the NFL in 2016, a wasted talent if we never see him play again.

The Browns used the 2016 draft to address both sides of the ball, with a 14 player haul. Clearly in rebuild mode, only time will tell whether the players drafted this year will become regular NFL fixtures, players like Corey Coleman looking to become the number 1 WR option in Cleveland, and Emmanuel Ogbah helping the Browns get tough up front. Will 3rd round QB Cody Kessler see the field this year? He’s certainly not ready to start, but when the current options in RG3 and Josh McCown have their own question marks, I think we might see him starting for the Browns at some point during his rookie contract, at the very least through necessity due to injuries elsewhere.

Joe Sparshatt is an avid New York Jets fan who still to this day harbours a man crush for Mark Sanchez. When not watching the NFL, he follows respective Liverpool & Aberdeen football clubs, and keeps an eye out for the Aberdeen Roughnecks results. He’ll happily chat to you about fantasy football all day – even if you don’t care. Find him at @spoejarshatt.

Joe Sparshatt

Joe has been following the NFL since 2009, and after being lucky enough to work in New York twice he gained the affliction of being a Jets fan. Joe enjoys consuming as much NFL content as he can get away with, and is also a fantasy addict. He makes an annual pilgrimage to London for the International Series, and contributes to NFLGirlUK with whatever hot takes or musings he can get away with. Find him on twitter @spoejarshatt.

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