Two of the AFC’s long-time powerhouses got better Thursday night, potentially solidifying their chances of chasing yet another Lombardi Trophy in 2012.

New England, in my eyes, retained its standing as the favorites for a repeat shot at the Super Bowl with their maneuverings. Normally more of a threat to trade down, New England got aggressive and jumped up in trying to fill the defensive deficiencies that dogged the team last season.
In landing defensive end Chandler Jones and linebacker Dont’a Hightower, the Patriots are much better on defense than they were when the day started.

Pittsburgh didn’t have to do any wheeling-and-dealing to win the night. As other teams traded up and down before the Steelers’ pick came up, Stanford guard David DeCastro inexplicably dropped into their laps.

Mike Tomlin’s crew needed to solidify the offensive line and they managed to do so with the draft’s best guard at pick 24.

Though they’re a ways away from challenging Pittsburgh and New England, I also like what the Browns did. Our team blogger mock had them going running back-wide receiver in the first. I had a feeling if that happened they were a strong bet to try and get quarterback Brandon Weeden in the second. They instead went Richardson-Weeden and there are definitely enough wide receivers on the board for them to go that way in the second.

My brother is a huge fan of what our hometown Vikings did as well. I loved the trade with Cleveland. Moving back one pick, adding three late-rounders and still getting Matt Kalil was a great, no-brainer move.

I like the Vikings’ aggressiveness in trading into the back end of round one, as well, though there are guys I would have rather seen them take with the second pick like Cordy Glenn, one of the wide receivers or even Courtney Upshaw or Janoris Jenkins.

Harrison Smith might have been the best safety available, but I don’t think his upside is high enough to warrant a trade up for a team that still has lots of holes. Nonetheless, Minnesota’s additions on Thursday night are a step in the right direction for a team desperately in need of an injection of youth in several spots.

Dallas and Arizona are two more teams who grabbed potential studs to fill problem spots. The Cowboys, in particular, have improved what had been a terrible secondary in 2011. Morris Claiborne will be a great addition in the Big-D.

There were some questionable moves Thursday night as well.  I initially thought the Seattle Seahawks reached tremendously in selecting West Virginia defensive end Bruce Irvin. Even the Seahawk blogger community seems to have at least mixed feelings about the pick.

On the upside, the team was able to trade down and grab a couple mid-round picks. On the downside, Irvin had received hardly a mention as a possible first-round pick. But after doing a little reading, it’s clear Irvin has top-notch potential as a pass rusher.

I’ve read reports indicating that there were at least a handful of other teams looking at him in the first half of day one. He’s got a tough background and many character questions to answer. But if he keeps his head on straight, Seattle may get the last laugh on this pick.

Other teams that reached in the first include Miami, who grabbed the talented-but-raw Ryan Tannehill at number eight, and San Francisco, who thought more highly of Illinois wide receiver A.J. Jenkins than many more highly-touted prospects left on the board. No doubt the team needs a quarterback. It has for a long time. But while Bruce Ireland says experience is the only thing separating Tannehill from Andrew Luck or Robert Griffin III, that seems like a bit of a stretch to me.

We’re also not crazy about the picks of Kansas City (Dontari Poe, defensive tackle) and the New York Jets (Quinton Coples, defensive end). Poe and Coples both have the potential to prove us wrong, but both also measured better during the draft combine and workouts than they played on Saturdays while in college.