2012 NFL Redraft: Colts take Russell Wilson at No. 1 over Andrew Luck

Every year, people love to read redrafts and draft grades for draft class before we have really had time to evaluate them. I have been guilty of this as well, but in recent years, I have waited until we hit the five year mark before dishing out draft grades and looking to do redrafts. It takes at least that long to evaluate a draft class. And, as you can see by the 2012 redraft I did back in 2016, five years isn’t always enough. Still, I can’t stay away and I really enjoy looking back on what could have been. Especially with a draft class like this one!

There are a few things I want to clarify before I jump in. I undid every trade that happened on draft day. With the benefit of hindsight, it is much easier to say every team would have just stayed put and taken the best player available. One other thing I want to point out is that just because a team selected a player at a given position does not mean they have to draft the same position. For example, the Jaguars selected Justin Blackmon back in 2012. They are not bound to taking the best receiver from the class (T.Y. Hilton) just because he plays the same position. Hilton was a good player, but there are plenty of other needs Jacksonville could have filled instead. I tried my best to go with the best player available given the roster composition of that team in 2012.

With all of that in mind, let’s revisit this famous 2012 draft class featuring some future Hall of Famers and a number of notable busts.

1. Indianapolis Colts
Original selection: Andrew Luck, QB, Stanford
Redraft pick: Russell Wilson, QB, Wisconsin

Andrew Luck was widely viewed as the best college quarterback prospect to come out since Peyton Manning. He had his moments during an injury-riddled career, but Russell Wilson’s continued excellence makes him the clear choice in this redraft. Wilson has a Super Bowl ring, seven Pro Bowl appearances and a fantastic touchdown-to-interception ratio is his career. He earned MVP buzz early in 2020 and continues to play like a top-five quarterback every season. Wilson’s mobility and penchant for making off-schedule throws would work well for the Colts, who struggled to protect Luck throughout the early portion of his career.

2. Washington
Original selection: Robert Griffin III, QB, Baylor
Redraft selection: Andrew Luck, QB, Stanford

Luck’s fall is a short one. Even though he only lasted five full seasons as a starting quarterback, he led the Colts to several playoff appearances and showcased elite arm talent in the process. In each of the four seasons that Luck played all 16 games, Indianapolis reached the playoffs. Perhaps Luck would have fared better in Washington with Trent Williams protecting his blindside. Robert Griffin III had a great rookie season and might have been a solid NFL starter if injuries had not derailed his career. Despite Luck’s own injuries, he offers an upgrade over RGIII.

3. Minnesota Vikings
Original selection: Matt Kalil, OT, USC
Redraft selection: Luke Kuechly, LB, Boston College

Minnesota traded down one pick on draft night back in 2012 and took Matt Kalil. Kalil was serviceable as a starter in the NFL, even reaching the Pro Bowl as a rookie in 2012. Unfortunately, he never built on that debut season. Meanwhile, Luke Kuechly went on to have a Hall of Fame career for the Panthers. He was an incredible tackler with impressive athleticism, which resulted in five first-team All-Pro selections and seven Pro Bowl appearances in eight seasons. Injuries cut his career short, but his leadership and production over those eight years make him worth the pick. Minnesota’s defense would have had a star to build around during those Christian Ponder years.

4. Cleveland Browns
Original selection: Trent Richardson, RB, Alabama
Redraft selection: Fletcher Cox, DL, Mississippi State

This was one of the worst draft picks the Browns made during the 2010s, and that’s saying something. Trading up one spot to grab Trent Richardson proved to be a huge mistake, but give Cleveland some credit for cutting ties and recouping a first-round pick for Richardson a year later. With the benefit of hindsight, the Browns would have been much better off selecting Fletcher Cox. Cleveland started sixth-round Billy Wynn at defensive tackle in 2012. Cox would’ve been a massive upgrade. In his career, he has earned six Pro Bowl nods and an All-Pro selection. Cleveland’s defense would have looked very different with Cox and D’Qwell Jackson dominating the middle.

5. Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Original selection: Mark Barron, S, Alabama
Redraft pick: Bobby Wagner, LB, Utah State

Mark Barron went on to have a lengthy career as a box safety and might have been a bit ahead of his time. The NFL in 2021 loves to find those hybrid types, but that movement was still in its earlier stages. At least the Buccaneers slid down two spots before selecting Barron. Instead, the Buccaneers could have grabbed one of the best tackling middle linebackers in NFL history. Bobby Wagner is still at the top of his game nearly 10 years later. He is one of just three players in this draft class to go to seven Pro Bowls. The other two are Russell Wilson and Luke Kuechly. Tampa was in need of a linebacker at this point, too, as they ended up landing Lavonte David in the second round. Filling a huge position of need with a future Hall of Famer feels like a slam dunk.

6. St. Louis Rams
Original selection: Michael Brockers, DL, LSU
Redraft pick: Stephon Gilmore, CB, South Carolina

On draft day, the Rams traded back with the Cowboys and landed an extra second-round pick. It was a pretty good move. Dallas selected Morris Claiborne, who never really figured out how to play corner in the NFL. Meanwhile, St. Louis landed a solid interior lineman in Michael Brockers. Passing up on Stephon Gilmore just does not make sense in this redraft. Keep in mind that the Rams started second-round selection Janoris Jenkins at corner that year, so it was definitely a position of need. Gilmore is one of the best cover corners in football. He became the first corner since Charles Woodson to win Defensive Player of the Year in 2019. He can lock down half the field and is one of just five players in this draft class to be named first-team All-Pro more than once.

7. Jacksonville Jaguars
Original selection: Justin Blackmon, WR, Oklahoma State
Redraft pick: Chandler Jones, EDGE, Syracuse

Justin Blackmon had all the talent in the world, but he only lasted until 2014 in the NFL due to off-the-field issues. To make matters worse, Jacksonville actually traded up two spots to get him. Without a star receiver available in this draft class, the Jaguars tag the best edge rusher in the class to boost their defense. Chandler Jones would be an immediate upgrade over Austen Lane or Jeremy Mincey, Jacksonville’s starting defensive ends at the time. With 97 career sacks, Canton feels well within reach for Jones by the time his career wraps up. His impact probably would not have ended the Jaguars suffering, but it would have given them a talented player at a crucial position to build around.

8. Miami Dolphins
Original selection: Ryan Tannehill, QB, Texas A&M
Redraft pick: Kirk Cousins, QB, Michigan State

I struggled with this pick a lot. Ryan Tannehill has experienced an incredible resurgence with the Titans, but he struggled a lot for the Dolphins. You could argue that simply not hiring Adam Gase would have solved all of Tannehill’s problems, but I can also understand if fans are hesitant about taking Tannehill again. Believe it or not, Kirk Cousins actually has more touchdowns, fewer interceptions and a better career completion percentage than Tannehill. However, Cousins didn’t truly take over the starting job in Washington until 2015. Would he have been as successful in Miami where he would have needed to start sooner? It’s hard to tell, but there is a chance he would’ve offered better stability than Tannehill did.

9. Carolina Panthers
Original selection: Luke Kuechly, LB, Boston College
Redraft pick: Lavonte David, LB, Nebraska

It’s tough to miss out on Luke Kuechly, but Lavonte David is a solid consolation prize. David has a nose for the football and actually leads this draft class in tackles, ahead of both Kuechly and Bobby Wagner. He has been incredibly reliable as well with just seven missed starts in nine seasons. He has not always received the same level of love as his draftmates with one Pro Bowl selection and one first-team All-Pro honor, but he is still paying dividends for the Buccaneers in 2021. He was a major part of the team’s success in the Super Bowl for his ability in pass coverage. As a bonus for the Panthers, he would no longer be suiting up for their division rival.

10. Buffalo Bills
Original selection: Stephon Gilmore, CB, South Carolina
Redraft pick: Josh Norman, CB, Coastal Carolina

While he has had some rocky moments, at his peak, Josh Norman was one of the best corners in football. While he is definitely a step down from Stephon Gilmore, this is not a bad consolation prize for the Bills. Norman proved in 2020, actually playing for the Bills, that he is still a serviceable corner capable of starting in the NFL. Considering that Buffalo eventually let Gilmore walk in free agency anyway, maybe they would’ve done more to keep Norman around.

11. Kansas City Chiefs
Original selection: Dontari Poe, DL, Memphis
Redraft pick: Ryan Tannehill, QB, Texas A&M

Dontari Poe has had himself a solid NFL career, but Kansas City cannot pass up on a chance to find a long-term solution at quarterback. Matt Cassell would be gone after the 2012 season and had not done much in 2011 to indicate he deserved to be the unquestioned starter. As we discussed before when debating Tannehill vs. Cousins, Tannehill has really taken off over the past two seasons. Perhaps a chance to work with Andy Reid, who arrived in 2013, would have jumpstarted the version of Tannehill we have seen in Tennessee a few years earlier. Either way, he would’ve given the Chiefs a much better plan going forward at quarterback.

12. Seattle Seahawks
Original selection: Bruce Irvin, EDGE, West Virginia
Redraft pick: Mitchell Schwartz, OT, California

Seattle really loses out big time in this redraft. Russell Wilson and Bobby Wagner are both off the board. The team is also set to go forward with Matt Flynn at quarterback with the next best option available in this draft being Nick Foles. The Seahawks traded down a couple spots on draft day and took Bruce Irvin. Irvin has actually had some bright spots, but he has never quite lived up to this draft slot. Mitchell Schwartz would give Seattle a pair of talented young tackles to bookend their offensive line. Schwartz has spent nine seasons as a quality starting right tackle for the Browns and Chiefs including an All-Pro nod in 2018. He did not miss a game prior to the 2020 season. There are few players as reliable and unheralded as Schwartz has been.

13. Arizona Cardinals
Original selection: Michael Floyd, WR, Notre Dame
Redraft pick: T.Y. Hilton, WR, Florida International

Pretty much Arizona’s entire offense needed an upgrade outside of Larry Fitzgerald heading into the 2012 season. Michael Floyd had his moments, but he only managed 25 touchdowns in his career. Arizona needed a receiver, and T.Y. Hilton would have been a great addition across from Fitzgerald. Hilton has struggled with some injuries in recent years, but he has five 1,000-yard seasons, including 2016, when he led the league in receiving yards.

14. Dallas Cowboys
Original selection: Morris Claiborne, CB, LSU
Redraft pick: Harrison Smith, S, Notre Dame

Back in 2012, Dallas traded up to select Morris Claiborne. While the Cowboys were right to focus on rebuilding their defense, Claiborne turned out to be a terrible fit. Meanwhile, Harrison Smith is a five-time Pro Bowler with the most interceptions of any player in this draft class. You could make the argument that he was one of, if not the best safety in the league over a solid stretch. He would be a much-needed playmaker in that Cowboys secondary and provide a clear succession plan to Gerald Sensabaugh, whom Dallas cut following the 2012 season before he ultimately retired.

15. Philadelphia Eagles
Original selection: Fletcher Cox, DL, Mississippi State
Redraft pick: Brandon Brooks, G, Miami (Ohio)

Philly misses out on Fletcher Cox this time around, but they land a player who has been integral to their success in recent years. Brandon Brooks was selected in the third round back in 2012, but there is no way he lasts that long this time around. He was a decent player in Houston from 2012 to 2015, but really found his footing with the Eagles. He made three straight Pro Bowls and played a huge part in Philadelphia’s Super Bowl run in 2017.

16. New York Jets
Original selection: Quinton Coples, EDGE, UNC
Redraft pick: David DeCastro, G, Stanford

There are only a handful of players from this draft class who have been named first-team All-Pro more than once. David DeCastro has been a staple of the Steelers offensive line for close to a decade. New York made back-to-back AFC Championship Games in 2009 and 2010 behind an incredible offensive line. DeCastro would be an upgrade over Matt Slauson, or a potential successor to Brandon Moore. This would be a great value, especially instead of Quinton Coples, who was out of the league by 2015.

17. Cincinnati Bengals via Oakland Raiders
Original selection: Dre Kirkpatrick, CB, Alabama
Redraft pick: Janoris Jenkins, CB, North Alabama

It turns out the Bengals drafted a player at the right position from the right state, just the wrong school. Dre Kirkpatrick took three years to win the starting job and once he did, he never really lived up to his draft spot. Meanwhile, Janoris Jenkins turned out to be a steal for the Rams in the second round. He started his career with a bang in 2012, leading the league with three defensive touchdowns. He reached his peak in 2016 with a Pro Bowl appearance for the Giants. Jenkins has a good track record for making plays with 26 career interceptions. He has had some rough moments for sure, but he turned out to be a much more valuable player than Kirkpatrick.

18. San Diego Chargers
Original selection: Melvin Ingram, EDGE, South Carolina
Redraft pick: Melvin Ingram, EDGE, South Carolina

The then-San Diego Chargers were rewarded for their patience with Melvin Ingram. It took him a few years to get going after injuries derailed the early part of his career, but from 2015 to 2019, Ingram had at least seven sacks each season. He has been a crucial part of the Chargers defense in recent years playing across from Joey Bosa.

19. Chicago Bears
Original selection: Shea McClellin, EDGE, Boise State
Redraft selection: Kevin Zeitler, G, Wisconsin

Shea McClellin turned out to be a colossal bust for the Bears. He managed just 8.5 career sacks and was out of the league after 2016. I don’t think there is an edge player worth taking here, and Chicago’s offensive line could have used a boost. Chilo Rachal started eight games at left guard and the front office signed Matt Slauson to take over before 2013. Adding Kevin Zeitler would have been a much better solution at the position. Keep in mind this is also a year before the Bears drafted Kyle Long. Zeitler has started from Day 1, and his consistency and longevity make him well worth going in the first round again, this time, even earlier.

20. Tennessee Titans
Original selection: Kendall Wright, WR, Baylor
Redraft pick: Demario Davis, LB, Arkansas State

It turned out to be a pretty rough receiver class with Michael Floyd, Kendall Wright and A.J. Jenkins falling well short of expectations. The next best receivers available after T.Y. Hilton would be either Alshon Jeffery or Marvin Jones, and while both have been solid, neither is worth going in the top 20. On the other hand, Demario Davis has turned into one of the best players from this draft class. His career has been a bit odd, with a one-year stint in Cleveland before returning to the Jets, but after years of solid play, he was recognized as a first-team All-Pro in 2019 with the Saints. He has over 900 career tackles and would have fit very nicely in the middle of the Titans defense. If that wasn’t enough, Davis has not missed a game in his nine-year NFL career.

21. Cincinnati Bengals
Original selection: Kevin Zeitler, G, Wisconsin
Redraft pick: Ben Jones, C, Georgia

On draft day, the Patriots traded up to this spot to select Chandler Jones. With Jones long gone and trades not allowed in the redraft, Cincinnati stays put and grabs an interior lineman to protect a young Andy Dalton. With Zeitler gone, Ben Jones is the next best interior lineman available. It took a few years for the Texans to determine where his best spot was, starting at both guard spots before finally moving him to center in 2015. Since then, Jones has started every game and become a huge part of the Titans’ sometimes unstoppable run game.

22. Cleveland Browns via Atlanta Falcons
Original selection: Brandon Weeden, QB, Oklahoma State
Redraft pick: Dont’a Hightower, LB, Alabama

The absurd run on linebackers continues as Dont’a Hightower is now the fifth to come off the board in the first 22 picks. I don’t think I really need to explain why Brandon Weeden is not going here again. I know the Browns desperately needed a quarterback, but reaching for Nick Foles here or either Kirk Cousins or Ryan Tannehill at No. 4 over more talented and impactful defensive players is bad process. Hightower was a fixture for the Patriots defense before opting out in 2020. He has two Pro-Bowl selections to his name as well. Adding him and Fletcher Cox would have made this defense one of the most exciting units in the league alongside 23-year-old Joe Haden.

23. Detroit Lions
Original selection: Riley Reiff, OT, Iowa
Redraft pick: Olivier Vernon, EDGE, Miami

Riley Reiff was a fine player for the Lions. He played out his rookie contract in Detroit and has been a starter for the Vikings in recent years. However, Reiff was not the starter in 2012, so the Lions could have waited another year or gone to free agency to find an eventual replacement to Jeff Bakus. Instead, adding Olivier Vernon to start across from Cliff Avril would have given the Lions an elite pass rushing tandem. He could take the year to learn from Kyle Vanden Bosch before launching a career that has accumulated 63.5 sacks, second only to Chandler Jones in this draft class. The only thing that holds Vernon back from going even earlier is his injury history. He hasn’t played a full season since 2016.

24. Pittsburgh Steelers
Original selection: David DeCastro, G, Stanford
Redraft pick: Damon Harrison, DT, William Penn

Pittsburgh nailed its pick the first time around, but with David DeCastro gone, the Steelers must look elsewhere to build their roster. The defense was full of aging stars at the time, including 35-year-old Casey Hampton. Damon Harrison went undrafted back in 2012, but there is no way he makes it out of the first round in this mock draft. He was one of the best run defenders in the league from 2013 to 2017. He has bounced around in recent years, but he is still a quality rotation piece and short-yardage option. He would help soften the blow of missing out on DeCastro.

25. Denver Broncos
Original selection: Derek Wolfe, DT, Cincinnati
Redraft pick: Dontari Poe, DT, Memphis

Denver actually traded back twice on draft night and took Derek Wolfe with the 36th overall pick. Instead, the Broncos will stand pat and take Dontari Poe. Poe would have been an instant starter collapsing the pocket with Von Miller and Elvis Dumervil on the outside. Poe is a space eater at 346 lbs. He made the Pro Bowl in back-to-back seasons in 2013 and 2014. He might not be a future Hall of Famer, but he has been a solid contributor since he stepped foot in the league and is still worthy of a late first-round selection.

26. Houston Texans
Original selection: Whitney Mercilus, EDGE, Illinois
Redraft pick: Whitney Mercilus, EDGE, Illinois

There were only a few teams that not only took a quality player, but took in him in a realistic draft slot. Whitney Mercilus has been a solid contributor throughout his career. He has missed a decent amount of time due to injuries over the years, but his 54 career sacks and 68 tackles for loss speak for themselves. Taking him off this Texans’ defense would definitely be a detriment, even if he was not a perennial Pro Bowler.

27. New England Patriots via New Orleans Saints
Original selection: Chandler Jones, EDGE, Syracuse
Redraft pick: Michael Brockers, DL, LSU

New England worked some magic on draft night back in 2012, trading up twice to land two solid contributors on defense. Both Chandler Jones and Dont’a Hightower are long gone by this stage. Brockers has somewhat quietly put together an impressive NFL career. He has not racked up accolades, but he has been a steady presence on the Rams defense since he was drafted. His career totals are not staggering with 28 sacks and 48 tackles for loss, but Brockers is one of just eight players from this draft class who has been a full-time starter every year of his career. As the saying goes, the best ability is availability.

28. Green Bay Packers
Original selection: Nick Perry, EDGE, USC
Redraft pick: Akiem Hicks, DL, Regina

The run on defensive linemen and edge rushers continues. Green Bay hoped to find someone to play across from Clay Matthews in Nick Perry. He had a really good two-year stretch in 2016 and 2017 with 18 sacks. His career bizarrely ended after 2018 though and those two seasons are not enough to justify another first-round selection. Instead, Green Bay can grab Akiem Hicks to bolster its defensive line. Hicks was a decent player in New Orleans, but his career really took off after landing in Chicago in 2016. He peaked with a Pro Bowl appearance in 2018. His run stopping and disruptive playmaking would be greatly appreciated.

29. Baltimore Ravens
Original selection: Courtney Upshaw, LB, Alabama
Redraft pick: Kelechi Osemele, G, Iowa State

Baltimore traded out of the first round back in 2012. This roster had very few holes as the Ravens would go on to win the Super Bowl that season. If there was a weak spot, it would have been at right tackle. Believe it or not, Kelechie Osemele started at right tackle during that Super Bowl run. He later found his spot as a starter at guard. That type of versatility is worth the investment, this time in the first round. Osemele was solid in Baltimore, but really found his stride in Oakland. He made back-to-back Pro Bowls and was named first-team All-Pro in 2016.

30. San Francisco 49ers
Original selection: A.J. Jenkins, WR, Illinois
Redraft pick: Alshon Jeffery, WR, South Carolina

A.J. Jenkins lasted one season in San Francisco and just three in the NFL. Needless to say, this was a huge bust for the 49ers. Alshon Jeffery might have been the difference in the 49ers’ Super Bowl run. His huge frame and impressive catch radius would have made him a great red zone target. He reached the Pro Bowl in 2013 with 1,421 yards receiving. His career fell off a bit after a strong 2014 season. He has not topped 1,000 yards since then and has struggled to stay healthy, playing all 16 games just once since that point. Even if he eventually fell off, Jeffery’s short-term impact is well worth a late first-round selection.

31. New England Patriots
Original selection: Dont’a Hightower, LB, Alabama
Redraft pick: Vontaze Burfict, LB, Arizona State

If there is a team that found success with players who ran into issues with the NFL or stirred up trouble in the locker room. I think Bill Belichick would be willing to take the talent that Vontaze Burfict brings to the table and deal with the suspensions later. He was a Pro Bowler in 2013 after leading in the league in tackles. There is a good chance he would have become a bit more disciplined playing in New England. Even still, the short-term investment is worth it for the Patriots.

32. New York Giants
Original selection: David Wilson, RB, Virginia Tech
Redraft pick: Casey Hayward, CB, Vanderbilt

The reigning Super Bowl champs went after a playmaker on offense, but there were no running backs that really deserved to go in the first round of this draft. Instead, New York can tab Casey Hayward to succeed Corey Webster. Even though the Giants drafted Prince Amukamara in the first round the year before, Hayward is too good a talent to pass up and this secondary would have benefited from a top cover corner. He burst out of the gate with six interceptions in his rookie season, but Hayward didn’t really become a full-time starter until 2016. This would be the perfect situation for him to develop into a starting caliber corner.

NFL All-Non-Power 5 team

In honor of the NFL draft, which is all about finding value in the later rounds, I decided it is time to put together the team of non-power 5 players currently in the NFL. So that means any player who played college football outside the ACC, SEC, Big Ten, Big 12 and Pac-12.

More often than not, these are the players that make the differences at the pro level for teams. It is easier to hit on players that went to big schools. The best franchises find those late-round gems to build out the roster and win championships on their contributions. So don’t despair if your favorite team drafted a player form a small school you have never heard of. This team would almost certainly win a Super Bowl if all these players were on the same roster. Here is the NFL All-Non-Power-Five:

Quarterback – Ben Roethlisberger, Pittsburgh Steelers
A proud alum of Miami Ohio, Roethlisberger is Hall of Fame bound. He’s still got it to after leading the league with an absurd 5,129 passing yards. He is a bit interception prone, but with the other notable options being the oft-injured Carson Wentz and inconsistent Joe Flacco, Roethlisberger is an obvious choice.

Aaron Jones
Jones racked up over 4,000 yards in his career at UTEP. (Wikimedia Commons)

Running back – Aaron Jones, Green Bay Packers
He didn’t lead the league in rushing or anything, but the former UTEP running back had a healthy 5.5 yards per carry and is criminally underused in Green Bay. Jones is a bruising runner who picked up just under 1,000 yards from scrimmage and nine touchdowns in only 12 games this season. At only 24, Jones has a ton of upside and will on get better with more touches.

Wide receiver – Adam Thielen, Minnesota Vikings
Forget small school, Thielen didn’t even play Division I college ball at Minnesota State. Yet, he caught 204 passes for 2,649 yards and 13 touchdowns over the past two seasons. Thielen is in the prime of his career at age 28 and as long as he continues to play at a Pro Bowl level, he will be on this list.

Wide receiver – Central Michigan, Oakland Raiders
It was tempting to go with Davante Adams here because Antonio Brown had a down year. However, a down year for Brown was still 100-plus catches, 1,300 yards and 15 touchdowns. He is one of best receivers in NFL history and one of the best draft finds ever as a 6th round pick out of Central Michigan.

Tight end – Travis Kelce, Kansas City Chiefs
It conveniently works out that the best tight end in the league went to Cincinnati. Travis Kelce dominated the league finishing top 10 in receiving yards and to go with 10 double-digit touchdowns. He is a solid blocker and an incredible receiver.

Offensive tackle – Terron Armstead, New Orleans Saints
Over the past few years, Armstead has turned into an elite pass blocker on one of the top offenses in the league. Pro Football Focus rated him the top offensive lineman in 2018. Teams pay a premier to find a true left tackle and Armstead fits the bill.

Offensive guard – Ali Marpet, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Over looked as a college prospect because of the competition he faced at Hobart, Marpet has become a top-tier offensive lineman. He is one of the cleanest blockers there is, committing just two penalties during the 2018 season. Marpet has versatility as well, having played at both guard positions and center in his four-year career.

Carson Wentz
Kelce was the leader of a Super Bowl winning line in 2017. (Wkimedia Commons)

Center – Jason Kelce, Philadelphia Eagles
Turns out that one Kelce brother was not enough. The elder Kelce is arguably the best center in the NFL. He is just a year removed from a Super Bowl title in Philly protecting the former mayor of Philadelphia Nick Foles and a two-time All-Pro. Pro Football Focus rated him the best center in the league in his eighth season out of Cincinnati.

Offensive guard – Joel Bitonio, Cleveland Browns
Bitonio is one of the best guards in the league in his fifth year out of Nevada. He is an excellent blocker coming off a Pro Bowl season. Bitonio has started all 32 games over the past two seasons and committed just three penalties in that span.

Offensive tackle – Eric Fisher, Kansas City Chiefs
The former No. 1 overall pick has not lived up to the expectations that come with being the top pick. Fisher struggled as a left tackle when he first arrived out of Central Michigan. Six years into his career, he is finally hitting his stride as a quality right tackle. Fisher was a Pro Bowl selection in 2018 and finally seems to fulfilling his potential.

Defensive end – Khalil Mack, Chicago Bears
Mack is the poster child for small school players working out in the NFL. He has dominated the league since arriving from Buffalo in 2014. He has racked up double-digit sacks each of the last four seasons. Mack is a three-time All-Pro and possibly the best defensive player in the league.

Defensive tackle – Akiem Hicks, Chicago Bears
We have our first member of this team from Canada. Hicks went to school at Regina College north of the border and has turned into one of the most versatile defensive tackles in the league. He is a talented pass rusher, with 16 sacks over the past two seasons, rushing from the interior. Hicks has also proven himself as a run stopper as well.

Defensive end – Demarcus Lawrence, Dallas Cowboys
You’ve probably been hearing about Demarcus Lawrence over the past few months. He finally landed himself a big-time contract extension. Rightfully so as the Boise State product has racked up 25 sacks and 29 tackles of loss over the past two season. Assuming Lawrence continues to produce even after being paid, he is capable of being one of the best defensive linemen in the league.

Outside linebacker – Marcus Davenport, New Orleans Saints
While Davenport is not technically an outside linebacker, he is an edge rusher. After just one season in the league as a raw defensive talent, the former UTSA standout should have a bright future. With 4.5 sacks and 12 quarterback hits as just a situational rusher in 2018. While far from proven, it is difficult to find a ton of defensive talent coming from smaller schools.

Inside linebacker – Darius Leonard, Indianapolis Colts
The reigning Defensive Rookie of the Year and 1st team All-Pro is a no-brainer on this list. Hailing from South Carolina State, Leonard took the league by storm in 2018, finishing as the NFL’s leading tackler. He is still improving in coverage, but his nose for finding the football makes him invaluable.

bobby_wagner_2015
Wagner accounted for nearly 450 tackles at Utah State. (Wikimedia Commons)

Inside linebacker – Bobby Wagner, Seattle Seahawks
Wagner is the best all-around linebacker in the NFL (except for maybe Luke Keuchley). The former Utah State standout racked up the fourth most tackles in 2018 while also adding 11 pass breakups, second most by a linebacker. He is reliable and possesses a lot of the intangibles teams look for in a middle linebacker.

Outside linebacker – Matt Judon, Baltimore Ravens
This might not be a name casual fans are overly familiar with. Judon is a product of Grand Valley State and a situational rusher for the Ravens. He has piled up 15 sacks and 39 quarterback hits over the past two seasons and could be in line for increased playing time with some of Baltimore’s offseason departures.

Cornerback – Byron Jones, Dallas Cowboys
Jones took some time to figure out his best role in the NFL, but after putting up insane combine numbers, it was just a matter of time before technique caught up to athleticism. The former UConn star is a lockdown corner in Dallas. He length and speed make him a great cover corner.

Safety – Damontae Kazee, Atlanta Falcons
Kazee came out of nowhere to lead the league in interceptions this year with 7. Thrown into the fray because of injuries, the former San Diego State standout thrived with more playing time. He has shown some versatility as well at nickle corner.

Safety – Kevin Byard, Tennessee Titans
Byard often flies under the radar, but he a stud in Tennessee. One of the better tackling safeties in the league, he has transformed himself into a top safety in the NFL. At just 25 years old, the Middle Tennessee State product has a lot of football left in him.

Cornerback – Bryce Callahan, Denver Broncos
Yet another Bears defensive player joins this team. Bryce Callahan was in a contract year and played like a true shutdown corner in the process. He turned that into a nice contract with the Broncos. Coming from Rice, Callahan had to forge his path into the league and seems to be entering the prime of his career.

Kicker – Aldrick Rosas, New York Giants
Named a Pro Bowler and second team All-Pro, Rosas burst onto the scene in 2018. The former Southern Oregon kicker was probably the most reliable player on the Giants this season not named Saquon Barkley. He made all but one extra point attempt and Rosas made 32 of 33 field goals on the season.

Punter – Brett Kern, Tennessee Titans
Kern just missed out on making it on an All-Pro team this season. He has been a consistent punter since arriving in the league in 2012 from Toledo. Kern’s accuracy is a useful tool for Mike Vrabel’s defense.

Kick returner – Andre Roberts, Buffalo Bills
Roberts earned his way to the Pro Bowl and All-Pro team in 2018 with the Jets. He led the league in punt return average and brought back two kicks for scores. The veteran out of The Citadel showed his explosiveness and aided Sam Darnold with improved field position during his rookie year.

NFL Cornerstones: Middle Linebacker

Cornerstone players will be a recurring theme on Second Look Sports where I look at each position in a certain sport and I choose a cornerstone player to build my franchise around. I have a couple of parameters for this selection though. I will factor in age, potential, injury history, experience, reputation and production. I think this should be a fun and interesting topic to discuss on here. I hope you all agree.

The selection: Luke Kuechley, Carolina Panthers Honorable mentions: Paul Worrilow, C.J. Mosley, Chris Borland, Curtis Lofton, Bobby Wagner

Hard to argue with probably the most productive linebacker over the last three years. Luke Kuechley since entering the NFL in 2012 has been a stalwart on a very good Carolina defense. He began his blossoming career with a Defensive Rookie of the Year Award and he continues to impress. Kuechley has set himself apart from his peers by simply dominating the position. The most talented middle linebacker the league has seen since Ray Lewis is rolling through his career. There are a number of young up and coming linebackers in the NFL but Kuechley is the cream of the crop.

For starters, the Panthers defensive mainstay has never missed a game in his three years; he also started every single one of them. He has youth, at the ripe age of 23, potential, as a former first round draft pick, and talent, based on his incredible production. Kuechley is also an all-around stud. He has the ability to play the run or the pass better than just about any linebacker does in the league. It all starts with his tackling. Kuechley has led the league in tackling in two of his three seasons; he finished fourth in 2013. He has registered at least 150 tackles in every season. He also demonstrates an ability to make both open field and gang tackles on the field. He is one of the best tacklers in the league and at middle linebacker, fundamental tackling is the backbone of success.

To his ability as a run stuffer, Kuechley has proven to be an asset over a liability. Kuechley has 29 run stuffs in his career, with some solid consistency in recording them. He has tallied at least eight in each of his three seasons. For a comparison, Seahawks linebacker Bobby Wagner only has 16 in his three-year career. Kuechley’s totals have marginally declined each year, which is mildly concerning but assuming her continues to produces with consistency, he will be a piece of a great rush defense.

Kuechley is even more prolific as a cover man. His numbers in pass coverage are impressive in general. The former Boston College All-American has 26 pass deflections since 2012. Again, Kuechley has never tallied any fewer than 8 in a season. His 26 total disrupted throws is only one less than Curtis Lofton has in his entire 7-year career. Wagner only 14 pass deflections over the same span as Kuechley. The Panthers’ defensive quarterback was only one of three linebackers to record 10 or more pass deflections in 2014, and the only middle linebacker. That coupled with his tackling ability makes him ideal to drag down players down in open space as is usually required of coverage linebackers.

Linebackers often thrive on big plays and Kuechley has also been an elite source of turnovers and impact plays in career. In his 3 years, Kuechley has accounted for four forced fumbles, seven interceptions and a forced fumble as well. He has proven that he can force turnovers in multiple ways. He is a dynamic player that makes plays all over the field. Winning the turnover battle is the most crucial part a football game. Having a game changer like Kuechley makes a huge difference.

Kuechley is playing at a Pro Bowl level already as a 23-year old. If that is indication of how talented he is, he will likely be a Hall of Famer one day. He is the unparalleled best middle linebacker in the NFL, at any age. He is an elite tackler, top pass defender and excellent run defender. No one is capable of putting up the same numbers with any form of consistency. The one thing that would likely put Kuechley into the category as one of the best defensive players of all-time would be if he was a more prolific pass rusher. However, Kuechley is still an iconic player who will dominant the league for the next dozen years. He is easily the best to make as a cornerstone linebacker in the NFL.