Grading the Draft -- AFC Teams
Grading a draft immediately after it concludes is akin to giving your compliments to the chef before a meal is served. Sure, the food might sound good on the menu, but the true evaluation won't come until after the product has been tested.
It will take at least three years before we can truly assess how the 32 NFL teams fared during the three-day draft. Readily apparent is that teams take different approaches, from going for the best available talent to focusing on team needs -- or some combination therein -- to gambling on character concerns and long-term potential.
Buffalo Bills: B
The Bills attacked free agency, landing defensive ends Mario Williams and Mark Anderson, and remained focused on defense in the draft. South Carolina cornerback Stephon Gilmore was drafted in the first round and talented nickel corner Ron Brooks (LSU) in the fourth, clearly in an attempt to stifle the New England Patriots' vaunted passing attack. The team also added two very productive linebackers in Florida State's athletic Nigel Bradham and may have a steal in TCU's Tank Carder in the fifth. The Bills didn't forget about the offense completely, adding a pair of massive four-year starting offensive linemen in Cordy Glenn and Zebrie Sanders in the second and fourth rounds, respectively, as well as another speedy wideout in T.J. Graham in the third. This draft wasn't as flashy as the rest of the Bills' offseason, but it was a strong effort.
Miami Dolphins: C-
General manager Jeff Ireland has made a career of patiently looking for singles and doubles in the first round while waiting until the second to land quarterbacks, but by investing in Ryan Tannehill at No. 8 overall, the Dolphins swung for the fences. Clearly Tannehill is a gamble; he has limited experience, but his 19 career starts at quarterback came in new Miami offensive coordinator Mike Sherman's offense. Not even Andrew Luck can boast that familiarity with his NFL team's scheme. I do like the pick, but Tannehill had better be good, because the Dolphins didn't help he or incumbent starter Matt Moore much the rest of the way through the draft. Athletic front seven defenders Olivier Vernon and Josh Kaddu have upside but are raw. Stanford offensive tackle Jonathan Martin was a solid value selection in the second, as was Miami running back Lamar Miller in the fourth but for a team that traded away the only game-breaking receiver they had in Brandon Marshall, not enough was done to improve the Dolphins' receiving corps.
New England Patriots: B+
Bill Belichick has traded down so frequently on draft day that it surprised many when he reversed course and took advantage of all the picks he's been accumulating to land defensive end Chandler Jones and inside linebacker Dont'a Hightower in the first. Each is NFL-ready, perhaps an indication that the Patriots realize that Tom Brady's window of opportunity is closing. Of New England's other picks, Arkansas defensive end Jake Bequette stands out for his production and relentlessness as did their final defensive pick -- Nebraska cornerback Alfonzo Dennard, who slipped to No. 224 overall and round seven largely due to an injury-ravaged senior season and off-field concerns after entering the year regarded as a potential first-round prospect. The Patriots are rarely flashy on draft day and after their aggression on day one, they were largely quiet but this draft puts them in position to again defend their AFC crown.
New York Jets: C
The Jets were hoping for a pass rusher at No. 16 and gambled on the most talented senior at the position in the draft with Quinton Coples. A natural 3-4 defensive end with the strength to collapse the pocket, Coples could be used in a similar fashion as how the Houston Texans played J.J. Watt a year ago. Rex Ryan will have his work cut out for him getting Coples' motor to run full bore, but this is a gamble that could pay off in a big way. The Jets took a similar gamble in round two with Georgia Tech wide receiver Stephen Hill at a much more palatable point in the draft. Hill has the size and speed to be a great vertical threat in an offense built on the running game and taking shots down the field. Of the Jets' later picks, third-round linebacker Demario Davis' size and explosiveness make him an intriguing developmental prospect. He could contend for a starting spot a year from now but he'll make his first impressions as a special teams star.
Baltimore Ravens: B-
The Ravens deftly moved out of the first round after realizing one of the players they were targeting was going to slip into the second. Having lost outside linebacker Jarret Johnson to the Chargers though free agency and unable to wait any longer for former second-round pick Sergio Kindle to return to his playmaking ways, the Ravens nabbed one of the safest pass rushing OLBs in the draft in Courtney Upshaw at No. 35 overall. Upshaw will erase any doubts about his ability to transition from Alabama to the NFL when he makes an immediate impact for Baltimore. Four-year starter Kelechi Osemele won't be asked to remain at left tackle in the NFL as he played for Iowa State but move either to the ride or compete with second-year pro Jah Reid to take over for another free agent defection Ben Grubbs (Saints) at left guard. Of the Ravens' later picks, watch out for Temple running back Bernard Pierce and Cal-Poly cornerback Asa Jackson to emerge as strong contributors in backup roles
Cincinnati Bengals: A
The Bengals solved two of their biggest areas of concern by landing cornerback 'Dre Kirkpatrick and offensive guard Kevin Zeitler in the first round. They both play with the consistency and physicality that is required in the division. As it turns out, the Bengals were just getting started with what arguably was the best draft enjoyed by any team in 2012. Cincinnati addressed losses along the defensive line in free agency by adding Devon Still (second round) and Brandon Thompson (third), as well as three reliable pass-catchers in Rutgers' wideout Mohamed Sanu (third), Georgia tight end Orson Charles (fourth) and California's Marvin Jones (fifth) in the middle rounds -- prospects who each could filled areas of concern while also ranking among the top prospects available. If there was anything to knock with the Bengals' effort in 2012 it might be that the team only invested their final pick -- No. 191 overall -- in a running back (Ohio State's Dan Herron) and this was perceived to be an area of concern despite the addition of free agent BenJarvus Green-Ellis. Considering the presence of Bernard Scott and the number of talented runners likely to be available as UDFAs, this might be the ideal position to still need as the draft closed.
Cleveland Browns: C
Needing an infusion of talent on offense and energy in the fan base, the Browns nabbed arguably the best player in the draft in running back Trent Richardson and may have found their starting quarterback at No. 22 overall, Oklahoma State's Brandon Weeden. I gave Richardson a higher grade than Adrian Peterson coming out of college and love the fit in Cleveland. Weeden, if protected, has the strong arm and accuracy to be a winning quarterback in the NFL. Frankly, his lack of pocket awareness and mobility are a bigger concern -- especially in this offense and against the pass rushes in the AFC North -- than his age. Though he'll be panned as a reach by some, offensive tackle Mitchell Schwartz was one of the draft's safer right tackle prospects and will contribute early. The Browns followed these three solid selections with some questionable mid-round choices before finishing stronger with front seven defenders James-Michael Johnson (fourth), Emmanuel Acho (sixth) and Billy Winn (sixth) late. Frankly, in entering the draft with the most picks of any team (13), the Browns should have come out with more. Should Richardson and Weeden justify their lofty selections, however, Cleveland will ultimately be called a winner for their efforts.
Pittsburgh Steelers: A-
The Steelers might be labeled lucky because All-American guard David DeCastro fell to them at No. 24. More accurately, the Steelers were simply prepared when opportunity presented itself. With Ben Roethlisberger's incredible combination of size and pocket awareness, he's consistently able to keep his eyes downfield by stepping up into the pocket, making the three interior linemen more valuable in the Steelers' scheme and offensive tackles less so, which is why the Steelers didn't have to reach and were able to secure Ohio State's Mike Adams when he, too, slipped to them. Just as Pittsburgh reloaded its offensive line, they found fortification on the defensive front with wide-bodied nose guard Alameda Ta'amu in the third round to serve as an eventual replacement for Casey Hampton. The addition of speedy back Chris Rainey served as the icing on the cake, as the Steelers continue their tradition of understated excellence on draft day.
Houston Texans: C
With a talented group of linebackers already in the fold, it was a surprise to some that the Texans elected to add another pass rusher in Illinois' Whitney Mercilus in the first round but considering his production and upside, he may have been simply too good to ignore at No. 26. Some veteran talent evaluators thought he was limited to remaining as a 4-3 defensive end. Frankly, this wasn't Houston's only head-scratcher. There were better receivers still on the board for the Texans when they instead selected Devier Posey and Keshawn Martin in the second and fourth rounds, respectively. On the other hand, the Texans may wind up with steals in guard Brandon Brooks in the third and versatile, high-effort defensive lineman Jared Crick in the fourth.
Indianapolis Colts: B
The Colts had the easiest pick in the draft with Andrew Luck No. 1 overall. Luck is every bit as good as his hype and while it may take a while for the team to build talent around him, he'll prove a Pro Bowl-caliber passer within his first three years in the league. After Luck, general manager Ryan Grigson set out to build a roster around their new quarterback and did so by adding a dynamic seam threat he's already familiar with -- Coby Fleener, a more traditional tight end in Dwayne Allen a round later and speedy wideouts T.Y Hilton and Lavon Brazill. The Colts didn't do enough to adjust to the changes that will have to be made to a defense switching from the 4-3 to the 3-4. But in adding run-stuffing nose guard Josh Chapman with the first pick of the fifth round, they may have secured the most valuable component to that transition.
Jacksonville Jaguars: C
The Jaguars refused to wait for Oklahoma State wide receiver Justin Blackmon at No. 7 overall, aggressively moving up to secure the big-time target Blaine Gabbert needs. Blackmon wasn't universally viewed as a Pro Bowl-caliber prospect but there is no denying he fills a huge area of concern in an offense and fan base desperate for playmakers. The Jaguars made a similar gamble that could pay off big in the second round with Clemson pass rusher Andre Branch, a talented athlete who just needs to play with more consistency. Investing a third-round pick in a punter will certainly draw the "anger" of some but make no mistake, Cal's Bryan Anger was getting similar grades from a number of teams and fills an area of concern. Linebacker Brandon Marshall and cornerback Mike Harris were overshadowed throughout their respective careers but were also highly regarded in the scouting community.
Tennessee Titans: B-
In his first draft as general manager, Ruston Webster demonstrated his philosophy of drafting players based on tape rather than hype with the selection of Baylor wideout Kendall Wright at No. 20 overall. Wright was as good as any receiver in the country last season but had been slipping in some evaluators' eyes due to a poor Combine showing. Considering the speed already in place at the skill positions in Tennessee, Wright could fit right in as a playmaker with either Matt Hasselbeck or Jake Locker starting at quarterback. The Titans gambled on athletes with OLB Zach Brown (second round), cornerback Coty Sensabaugh (fourth) and tight end Taylor Thompson (fifth) and found another high-effort interior defender to pair up with Karl Klug in Michigan tough-guy Mike Martin in the third. Don't be surprised if either of Tennessee's final two picks -- FS Markelle Martin and DE Scott Solomon -- make this club.
Denver Broncos: C
Replacing both starting defensive tackles from a year ago, it wasn't a surprise that the club looked to this position with their first pick -- only that they traded out of the first and took Cincinnati's Derek Wolfe in the second round. Wolfe has the size and temperament that the coaches will love and could make an immediate impact, as could third-round pick Ronnie Hillman, an ultra-productive back whose speed and vision helped him break some of Marshall Faulk's records at San Diego State. Arizona State quarterback Brock Osweiler is a unique talent who would do well to sit and learn behind Peyton Manning. It could be another former Sun Devil, however, who sees the field first, as cornerback Omar Bolden had demonstrated the coverage and physicality necessary to earn a high selection prior to missing the entire 2011 season due to torn ACL. Watch out for third-day prospects Philip Blake (center) and Malik Jackson (defensive end) to also make impacts early in their career.
Kansas City Chiefs: C
General manager Scott Pioli was known for taking the safe approach on draft day in New England. But for the second year in a row he is gambling on an athletic player with questionable tape in the first round. A year after selecting Pitt wide receiver Jonathan Baldwin, Pioli and Co. selected Memphis defensive tackle Dontari Poe at No. 11 overall. The 6-4, 346-pound Poe has the raw physical ability to be a star at nose tackle but head coach Romeo Crennel's biggest test yet with the Chiefs might be molding the raw Memphis Tiger into a consistent NFL player. The Chiefs addressed concerns along their offensive line with their next two selections of Jeff Allen and Donald Stephenson but it could be fourth- and fifth-rounders Devon Wylie (wide receiver, Fresno State) and versatile defensive back DeQuan Menzie (Alabama) who wind up surprising.
Oakland Raiders: B-
The Raiders didn't get to pick until No. 95 overall but that didn't stop general manager Reggie McKenzie from recognizing the team's "first round" investment in quarterback Carson Palmer, who of course Oakland landed from the Bengals in exchange for picks. Under McKenzie, the Raiders are clearly heading in a different direction than they were with the late Al Davis, as the team didn't draft a single speedster. Their one "skill" position talent, in fact, was Arizona wideout Juron Criner, arguably the top possession receiver of this draft but one who was clocked at a rather pedestrian 4.68 seconds in the 40-yard dash at the Combine. Nonetheless, this was a solid effort for the Raiders, as their first four choices could all make immediate impacts. Utah's Tony Bergstrom can help at right tackle or guard, as he did at the Senior Bowl. San Diego State's Miles Burris is an explosive hitter who would have been drafted at least a round earlier if he'd played in a bigger conference than the Mountain West and Penn State defensive end Jack Crawford is a solid, no-nonsense prospect much in the mold of the Raiders' current starter, Matt Shaughnessy. Considering they had so little to work with, this was solid effort by the Raiders.
San Diego Chargers: A-
The Chargers strongly explored moving up in the draft but ultimately didn't have to when one of the classes' elite pass rushers fell into their lap at No. 18. South Carolina's Melvin Ingram is a terrific all-around athlete and a natural pass rusher, something the Chargers will want considering that Peyton Manning is in the division. San Diego continued to address their defense with high-effort defensive tackle Kendall Reyes (who'll slide outside in the Chargers' 3-4 scheme) and heady safety Brandon Taylor. With star Antonio Gates struggling with durability in recent years, the Chargers may have found their seam-busting threat of the future with Louisiana-Lafayette's Ladarius Green as their most intriguing pick of the third day. Physical, battle-tested offensive linemen David Molk (Michigan) and Johnnie Troutman (Penn State) rounded out a strong draft that served as the icing on the cake for an impressive offseason by general manager A.J. Smith and the San Diego Chargers.
Not every draft pick can be a winner. Here are the 32 guys who could cause the most regret
Our list of late-round gems includes plenty of lesser-known backs and quality linemen
A running back going No. 2 overall? When you're being compared to Hall of Fame runner, yes
Pass rushers and explosive offensive players highlight the best Day 1 contributors
Here's every draft pick heading to the NFC West, including 21 by the Seahawks and 49ers co...
Here's every draft pick heading to the NFC South, home of the NFC's last two Super Bowl te...