First round: 10 best 'marriages'
Spiller to the Bills, Bryant to the Cowboys, Bulaga to the Packers among great fits
It seems the NFL's decision to make the draft a prime-time experience has paid big dividends so far. Thursday's first round flew by at a faster pace than we've ever seen. The moves became more interesting as it became apparent that some big names would be falling into the second round Friday. And there were plenty of surprising twists that nobody could've seen coming (such as Tim Tebow winding up with Denver after the Broncos made a series of unforeseen trades).
What hasn't changed about the draft, however, is the importance of the right marriages. As I've stated after many a draft, the players who usually become most productive in their rookie years are the ones who end up in the best situations. This season will be no different. In fact, here are the 10 players who should have an immediate impact on the field because of where they landed on Thursday.
1. Ndamukong Suh, DT, Detroit Lions: Sure, the Lions have been lousy for a long, long time. But just think of what Detroit head coach Jim Schwartz can do with an interior force like Suh. Schwartz thrived as a defensive coordinator in Tennessee when Pro Bowl defensive tackle Albert Haynesworth was running wild in the middle of that defense. Suh could have the same impact in Detroit and you can bet Schwartz and Lions coordinator Gunther Cunningham will get the most out of him.2. Gerald McCoy, DT, Tampa Bay Buccaneers: The Bucs have been looking for the successor to Warren Sapp ever since he left town years ago. They just found the man they were looking for on Thursday night. That doesn't mean McCoy's presence will change a weak defense instantly. But if the Bucs return to their dominant ways in a few years, we'll look back and know the selection of McCoy started the ball rolling.3. C.J. Spiller, RB, Buffalo Bills: This move has to excite Bills fans for two reasons. First, Spiller is a legitimate game-breaker who can be a mismatch nightmare on an offense that has been feeble the past few years. Second, he'll be playing for an imaginative head coach (Chan Gailey) who also will be calling the plays. Fred Jackson might be the foundation of the Bills' backfield but Spiller will energize that offense with his speed and versatility. 4. Ryan Mathews RB, San Diego Chargers: The Chargers traded plenty to move up 16 slots for Mathews, but it will be worth it in the end. He now joins an offense stocked with Pro Bowl talent. He also gets to share time with a proven playmaker in Darren Sproles and run the ball for a head coach (Norv Turner) who's at his best with an effective ground game. In other words, Mathews should be the front-runner for NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year. 5. Jason Pierre-Paul, DE, New York Giants: Pierre-Paul might be viewed as a one-year wonder by some skeptics, but he's destined for success with the Giants. How can this guy fail when he'll be rushing the passer opposite two players (Justin Tuck, Osi Umenyiora) with Pro Bowl credentials? In fact, Umenyiora might have been sent a not-so-subtle message with this move. If he wants to keep complaining about his situation, he might find himself expendable with the addition of Pierre-Paul. 6. Bryan Bulaga, OT, Green Bay Packers: The Packers had to be giddy about Bulaga falling to them at the 23rd pick. He was one of the top four players at his position going into the draft and there was plenty of speculation about Kansas City taking him with the fifth overall pick. Now he gets to improve a Packers offensive line that struggled mightily at times last season. In the process, he gets to help one of the youngest teams in the league continue its push into the realm of the elite. 7. Demaryius Thomas, WR, Denver Broncos: If there's one thing you can bet on, it's that Denver coach Josh McDaniels is not going to let the trade of disgruntled wide receiver Brandon Marshall haunt his tenure with the Broncos. McDaniels will do everything possible to turn Thomas into a star. It also doesn't hurt that Thomas can learn from savvy route runners like Eddie Royal and Brandon Stokley. If this kid isn't tearing up the league in two or three years, something will have gone dreadfully wrong.[+] EnlargeJim McIsaac/Getty ImagesFresno State RB Ryan Mathews should give the Chargers reasons to smile.[+] EnlargeDonald Miralle/Getty ImagesAs a new Dallas Cowboy, ex-Oklahoma State Cowboys star Dez Bryant won't have to worry about becoming the No. 1 WR right away.
8. Dez Bryant, WR, Dallas Cowboys: For all the talk about the red flags surrounding Bryant, the bottom line is the guy can flat-out play. Now that he's going to Dallas, the chances of him showcasing that ability consistently are pretty high. For one thing, he won't face great scrutiny because the Cowboys already have a No. 1 receiver (Miles Austin) and a highly paid punching bag (Roy E. Williams). He also has a Pro Bowl quarterback (Tony Romo) and a creative offensive coordinator (Jason Garrett). Look, Cowboys owner Jerry Jones passed on Randy Moss in 1998, when many people thought Moss had too much baggage for a first-round prospect. Bryant simply was too good for Jones to make the same mistake twice.9. Kyle Wilson, CB, New York Jets: The Jets already have a Pro Bowl cornerback in Darrelle Revis and they traded for another talented player, Antonio Cromartie, in the offseason. So what does that mean for Wilson? Basically, Wilson can show up as a third corner and play with as little pressure as a first-round talent could imagine. It helps that he'll also be playing for a coach (Rex Ryan) who knows how to please players and get the most out of them. 10. Jerry Hughes, DE, Indianapolis Colts: Is there any other team in the league that gets more out of undersized defensive linemen than the Colts? Dwight Freeney has turned into a future Hall of Famer. Robert Mathis has become a Pro Bowl talent. This isn't to say that Hughes will become a megastar but given the Colts' history, you have to love his chances.
Senior writer Jeffri Chadiha covers the NFL for ESPN.com.
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