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May 1, 2012

Stanford NFL Draft Review (Part 1)

From the obvious (Andrew Luck) to the more uncertain, we examine the chances of Stanford's 2012 rookie class to stick with an NFL squad, and how the former Cardinal players fit into their new teams.

Andrew Luck: Indianapolis Colts

What the public suspected for months finally became official Thursday night when Indianapolis tabbed Luck as the first pick in the draft. With no real competition at quarterback (Drew Stanton, Trevor Vittatoe, and 2012 Mr. Irrelevant Chandler Harnish are the only other signal callers on the roster), Luck will be expected to start from day one in Indy. And while the Colts' offense is still lacking in top-end talent, the Indianapolis brain trust did help the cause by drafting tight ends Coby Fleener and Dwayne Allen, as well as explosive Florida International wide receiver T.Y. Hilton in the early rounds of the draft. With receivers Austin Collie and Reggie Wayne already on the roster, Luck will have some weapons at his disposal. Whether he has enough time to find his receivers will depend on the performance of the offensive line, namely second-year pros Anthony Castonzo and Ben Ijalana, who will likely be the bookend tackles on the Colts' revamped 2012 line. Left guard Joe Reitz is also expected back, leaving vacancies at center (after Jeff Saturday signed with Green Bay) and right guard. Suffice it to say, Luck and the Colts' offense might endure a few growing pains along the path back to NFL respectability.

Chance of making roster: 100%

David DeCastro: Pittsburgh Steelers.

Although he somehow fell to No. 24 in the first round, (really, Kansas City, Dontari Poe?) DeCastro winds up in an enviable position in Pittsburgh, with a franchise and community that fits the road-grater's on-field personality perfectly. Whether it be at right or left guard, DeCastro will likely start right away for the Steelers, and will team with former Florida offensive lineman Maurkice Pouncey to form one of the most powerful and talented interior lines in the league. In fact, with the second round selection of troubled but talented Ohio State tackle Mike Adams (and the second round 2011 tackle Marcus Gilbert), the Steelers line could go from being one of the most porous in the NFL to one of the league's best. It's safe to say that DeCastro, easily one of the best guards in Pac-10/12 history, will play a big role in that transition.

Chance of making roster: 100%

Coby Fleener: Indianapolis Colts

Prior to the 2012 draft, former Colts president and current ESPN football analyst Bill Polian frequently lamented the lack of a pass-catching tight end on the Colts' roster. Apparently, current personnel director Ryan Grigson got the message. The Colts selected Fleener with the second pick in the second round (and later added Clemson tight end Dwayne Allen in the third round). Like Luck, Fleener should expect to receive major playing time early in his professional career. Indianapolis does currently have three tight ends on its roster (35-year-old veteran Justin Snow, 24-year-old Mount Union graduate Kyle Miller, and little-used reserve Brody Elrdidge), but none is of starting, let alone quality backup, caliber. It will be fascinating to watch how Colts offensive coordinator Bruce Arians incorporates the versatile Fleener into the Indianapolis offense.

Chance of making roster: 100%

Jonathan Martin: Miami Dolphins

Like his former linemate DeCastro, Martin dropped further in the draft than many anticipated, but the 42nd overall selection finds himself in a good position in South Beach. With the retirement of right tackle Marc Colombo, there's a gaping hole at the right tackle spot opposite Jake Long. Although there are several candidates on the Dolphin roster to replace Colombo, Martin has to be considered the frontrunner, particularly in light of Dolphin general manager Jeff Ireland's comment that the Dolphins are moving away from a power scheme, which should favor Martin's athletic abilities. There's also a school of thought that Martin is actually being groomed by Miami to eventually take over the left tackle position. Long has only one year left on his rookie contract, and if he (or Miami) decides to go in another direction after this season, Martin could be an inexpensive heir apparent.

Chance of making roster: 100 %

Michael Thomas: San Francisco 49ers

Stanford's charismatic free safety will reunite with Vic Fangio and Jim Harbaugh in San Francisco, and could have a shot at sticking around for a while. Although Thomas is somewhat of a "tweener" in the secondary (not big enough for safety, not fast enough to be a cover corner), he did run in the low 4.5's at Stanford's pro day and, like the Niners' coaching staff knows, has all the intangibles you'd ever want. Moreover, despite placing the franchise tag on strong safety Dashon Goldson, San Francisco is still somewhat lacking at safety depth with the departure of Madieu Williams. Currently only three safeties seem like locks to make the 2012 roster - Goldson, Donte Whitner, and CJ Spillman. Several other safeties - including Thomas, 2012 sixth round pick Trent Robinson, 2011 sixth round pick Colin Jones, and Mark Legree, who was on the Niners' practice squad for part of last season, are also candidates to earn jobs. So while it's uncertain how man safeties San Francisco will carry on the active roster, it seems likely Thomas will have to beat out at least a few of the aforementioned candidates to earn a spot on the active roster. Although it may be a longshot, Thomas' playmaking ability, intangibles, and familiarity with the 49ers' defensive scheme give him more than a puncher's chance of making the team. If not, Thomas will be a practice squad candidate.

Chance of making roster: 25%

Chris Owusu: San Francisco 49ers

At first blush, Owusu doesn't seem like a great fit with the Niners. San Francisco added Mario Manningham and Randy Moss and resigned Ted Ginn last offseason to complement Kyle Williams and Michael Crabtree. After drafting Illinois wide receiver A.J. Jenkins in the first round, San Francisco has six wide receivers that are strong candidates to make the team, and several other practice squad players and undrafted free agents (Kyle Nelson, Joe Hastings, Brett Swain, Brian Tymes, Nathan Palmer), could also be in the mix. As such, Owusu, whose concussion issues have been well-documented, will be a long shot to make the team, but could stick around as a practice squad developmental player (or be plucked off waivers by another, more receiver hungry team). (You can't teach 4.3 speed.) Perhaps his clereast path to making the active roster is if he can somehow beat out Ginn (or Jenkins) as the primary kickoff return man, or if Moss turns out to be a bust. Either way, the most important development for Owusu will be his health.

Chance of making roster: 25%



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