Now that the 2012 NFL draft is enshrined in history and every team has had its pick of the undrafted free agents, we in the sports media get to do our favorite thing: make predictions for the future based on the limited knowledge we have in the present.
While a lot of people like to give grades to NFL teams about their draft, I’m going to switch the script a little bit. Instead, I’m going to give some grades to the matches between the (former) Cardinal players and their new NFL teams, taking into account just how well the dozen guys who are joining the league fit with their newfound employers.
Indianapolis Colts: Andrew Luck, Coby Fleener and Griff Whalen — A
All three of these players are in a great situation in Indianapolis. While the team is in need of a lot of help, Luck and Fleener will start every game right away, and I have to believe that Whalen also has an excellent chance to make the team, which is really the ultimate goal for any undrafted free agent. The Colts went out of their way to draft and sign Luck’s two favorite targets from last season, so they’re definitely going to do everything they can to accommodate their new franchise quarterback, and that means that Whalen will likely end up with a horseshoe on his helmet come fall.
Pittsburgh Steelers: David DeCastro — A+
If I could, I would put about a million plusses on this pick for the Steelers. Just imagine the scene from “A Christmas Story” where Ralphie gets an A-plus-plus-plus-plus-plus-ad infinitum for his essay on the Red Rider BB Gun. While it always make me throw up in my mouth a little bit when I hear the cliché that Pittsburgh is a tough, blue-collar, hard-working town, something about the brutish personality of the Steelers and DeCastro seems to fit perfectly. I can say from firsthand experience that talking to DeCastro is about as intimidating as trying to talk to a displeased rhinoceros. Altogether, I can’t wait to see him in black and gold, and I think he and center Maurkice Pouncey could immediately give the Steelers the best interior offensive line in the NFL — an absolute necessity when you play against teams like the Ravens twice a year.
Miami Dolphins: Jonathan Martin — B+
While I like this pick for the Dolphins, I do think there will be some growing pains for Martin, as he’s likely going to have to switch to the other side of the line if he wants to play right away. Asking a player to switch positions, in addition to playing against the freakish defensive ends that populate the NFL nowadays, is a tall task to ask, especially when that player is a rookie. Martin is in a great situation to learn how to play in the NFL from Pro Bowl left tackle Jake Long, but don’t be surprised to see Martin struggle from time to time in his first season, especially with a rookie quarterback (Dolphins first-round pick Ryan Tannehill) taking the snaps.
San Francisco 49ers: Chris Owusu, Matt Masifilo and Michael Thomas — C
I do like the fact that the 49ers picked up all three of these guys, as Owusu, Masifilo and Thomas are all excellent players — but I don’t necessarily like these players electing to sign with the 49ers. Let me explain: the Niners are a talented, veteran team, as evidenced by the fact that they made it all the way to the NFC Championship Game last year. Therefore, it’s going to be difficult for all three guys to make the team, much less contribute in their rookie years. The Niners have an excellent defense and a surprisingly deep receiving corps due to the additions of Randy Moss, Mario Manningham and first-round pick A.J. Jenkins this winter, so it’s possible that none of these three players could make the team come this fall unless former coach Jim Harbaugh goes out of his way to protect his guys.
Buffalo Bills: Delano Howell — C
Howell’s choice of Buffalo was a bit curious to me because the Bills actually have a pretty talented group of cornerbacks and safeties already, as they signed four other undrafted cornerbacks and took South Carolina corner Stephon Gilmore with the 10th overall pick. Howell is certainly talented enough to beat out the other undrafted guys, but the numbers don’t really appear to be in his favor.
Cleveland Browns: Johnson Bademosi — A
I think Cleveland is an excellent spot for Bademosi, because he’ll have a great shot to make the team right away. The Browns defensive backfield was (surprisingly) the second-best in the league last season, but they were 30th in the league in run defense, so if Bademosi shows in training camp that he make a few sure tackles against running backs on the second level and play some special teams, he’ll probably see a fair amount of playing time. That said, Bademosi will be switching from cornerback to safety, so that might hamper his chances a bit.
Philadelphia Eagles: Jeremy Stewart — A
Word on the street is that Stewart will switch to fullback to try and make the Eagles, and I think that he’s got a good chance to do it because he’s a strong blocker and short-yardage guy. He’s also been a reliable special teamer in his time at Stanford, and that is always a huge boost to any player trying to make a team.
Oakland Raiders: Corey Gatewood — B+
I rate Gatewood so highly because he’s switched back and forth between offense and defense three times in his Stanford career, so it’s nice to see him get an opportunity at the next level. While he doesn’t necessarily have a natural position, he did play well at cornerback near the end of last season. That said, I’d be surprised to see him make the Raiders’ roster, even with former Stanford defensive coordinator Jason Tarver now running the Raider defense.
Altogether, the NFL now has a massive influx of talented Cardinal players that, one way or another, will be making their mark on the league for years to come. Someday, when these guys are starters for playoff teams, it’ll be fun to watch them clash against their former teammates — and remember just how much fun they were to watch on the Farm.
Jack Blanchat triple-dog-dares you to challenge his draft grades. Find out why he skipped the double-dog-dare at blanchat “at” stanford.edu or follow him on Twitter @jmblanchat.