Grading the Draft -- NFC 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.
Dallas Cowboys: C
The Cowboys pulled one of the early surprises of the draft, trading up to select LSU cornerback Morris Claiborne at No. 6 overall. Considering the team signed free agent Brandon Carr and former starter Mike Jenkins and last season's third corner, Orlando Scandrick , Dallas now boasts arguably the league's most talented cornerbacks group. While overshadowed at Boise State, defensive end Tyrone Crawford is an intriguing athlete whose size and athleticism could be maximized in Dallas' scheme. Virginia Tech wideout Danny Coale is the opposite of most of Dallas' wide receivers. He's a good athlete who runs excellent routes and has reliable hands, rather than an extraordinary athlete who isn't quite as consistent between the sidelines as the team might want. Watch out for underrated safety Matt Johnson , who was a consistent playmaker for the 2010 FCS champion Eastern Washington Eagles and could be in position for early playing time considering the Cowboys' struggles recently at safety.
New York Giants: A-
Every year it seems the Giants find a falling star in the first round. They have done the same in 2012. Running back David Wilson wasn't widely projected as a first-round pick, but he registered more yards after contact than any other runner in the 2012 draft, including Trent Richardson . Considering the physicality of the NFC East division, that toughness should serve him well as a compliment to Ahmad Bradshaw . Just as they did a few years ago when Hakeem Nicks was surprisingly around late first round, the Giants may have had a star drop to them with LSU's Rueben Randle slip to No. 63 overall. Cornerback Jayron Hosley is a gamble due to off-field concerns but he's a scrappy defender with proven ball skills. The Giants might wish they'd spent a higher selection on a tight end rather than wait to take unpolished Adrien Robinson out of Cincinnati in the fourth round, but there is no questioning his upside. Finally, as the Giants tend to do, the club found solid developmental value for their offensive and defensive lines with OTs Brandon Mosley and Matt McCants , as well as foreign-born DT Markus Kuhn .
Philadelphia Eagles: A
So much of the focus of the Eagles' wide-9 defense is placed on the outside pass rushers. For this scheme to work effectively, however, the team needs penetrating interior defenders -- just like Fletcher Cox , the best pass-rushing defensive tackle in the draft, who could prove a steal at No. 12 overall. The Eagles landed arguably the draft's most explosive linebacker in Cal's Mychal Kendricks , the reigning Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year and an ideal wide-9 edge rusher in Marshall's Vinny Curry in the third round. I'm not as high on Arizona's Nick Foles as some, he has made quick decisions due to his experience in the spread offense, which could help him in the Eagles' scheme. Philadelphia found excellent value throughout the draft's third day, landing talented cover corner and return specialist Brandon Boykin in the fourth as well as reliable possession receiver Marvin McNutt and versatile offensive lineman Brandon Washington in the sixth. The team could be rewarded for their seventh-round gamble on highly touted prep running back Bryce Brown , who'll get a shot for playing time behind star LeSean McCoy . Considering how few holes the Eagles had entering this draft, they'll once again feature one of the most talented rosters in the NFL.
Washington Redskins: B-
The Redskins paid a handsome price to get him, but Robert Griffin III 's speed, downfield accuracy and charisma could make him a superstar in the nation's capital. Due to the weapons already around him, RG3's rookie season may go smoother than Luck's. Frankly, the reigning Heisman Trophy winner has a higher ceiling. Considering the addition of Griffin at No. 2 overall, as well as yet another flashy offseason of free agency, the rest of the Redskins' draft-day activities were surprisingly lacking in big names -- which isn't to say it wasn't effective. Washington focused on rebuilding a porous offensive line, adding Josh LeRibeus (SMU) in the third, Adam Gettis (Iowa) in the fifth and Tom Compton (South Dakota) in the sixth -- all three earned middle-round grades from some clubs. Mike Shanahan has had too much success finding late-round running backs to ignore the selection of Alfred Morris from Florida Atlantic in the sixth round, a productive, hard-running, one-cut runner well-suited to Shanahan's offense. Give the Redskins credit for summoning the courage (and draft picks) to move up to get RG3, but otherwise this was a solid, rather than spectacular draft.
Chicago Bears: B-
The Bears added several intriguing pieces to the roster throughout the 2012 draft but appear to be relying on the adjustment to new offensive coordinator Mike Tice's ball-control approach to limit the number of hits quarterback Jay Cutler takes as little effort was made to improve the Bears' offensive line. Pass rusher Shea McClellin has the speed, hand use and motor to take advantage of single blocking opposite Julius Peppers and second-round pick Alshon Jeffery 's size, strength and ultra-soft hands make him a quality compliment to the recently added Brandon Marshall . Of the team's later picks, Oregon State defensive back Brandon Hardin , who missed the entire 2011 season with a shoulder injury, and Temple fullback Evan Rodriguez are the most the most intriguing. Hardin flashed as a press corner in 2010 but projects best as a safety in Chicago's defensive alignment.
Detroit Lions: B-
Protecting Matt Stafford was the Lions' top priority and by standing pat and waiting for versatile offensive lineman Riley Reiff to slip down to them, Detroit helped in that regard. The team pulled a surprise with Oklahoma wideout Ryan Broyles in the second round but he's a polished route-runner who could prove a bigger long-term help to Stafford and superstar Calvin Johnson than last year's second-round pick, Titus Young . With no cornerbacks signed past the 2012 season, the Lions were fortunate to find Louisiana-Lafayette's Dwight Bentley available to them in the third. His competitiveness and physicality stood out at the Senior Bowl. He's the most likely of the three cornerbacks Detroit selected (joined by Albion's Chris Greenwood and New Mexico State's Jonte Green ) to make an impact as a rookie. Detroit spent just as much attention at outside linebacker with three players -- Oklahoma teammates Ronnell Lewis and Travis Lewis and Temple's Tahir Whitehead --- who could surprise.
Green Bay Packers: B
With Aaron Rodgers and arguably the NFL's elite receiving corps, the Packers knew their offense was in good hands so general manager Ted Thompson focused on defense. Nick Perry has the athleticism to complement another former USC Trojan, Clay Matthews , coming off the edge. Defensive tackle Jerel Worthy could prove a steal in the second round as a run-stuffing presence to replace 2010 free agent defection Cullen Jenkins. The Packers clearly loved Vanderbilt corner Casey Hayward 's size, physicality and ball skills, as they aggressively moved up into the third round to nab him. The Packers added another highly productive, if short, interior defensive lineman in Iowa's Mike Daniels in the fourth round and intriguing developmental prospects in linebacker Terrell Manning and quarterback B.J. Coleman late in the draft. Like most Thompson-led drafts, this group isn't flashy... but the type that keeps a club fortified.
Minnesota Vikings: B
Let's face it, the Minnesota Vikings entered the 2012 draft with holes seemingly everywhere. Few teams did more on draft day to address many weaknesses than the Vikings. General manager Rick Spielman masterfully played the board, getting two picks from the Browns to drop down one spot and still pick up the left tackle they needed in Southern Cal's Matt Kalil , moving up to add an instant starter in safety Harrison Smith at No. 29 and adding ultra-athletic cornerback Josh Robinson (UCF) in the third. The Vikings had seven third-day picks and used them wisely, addressing their lack of playmakers outside of Percy Harvin and star running back Adrian Peterson -- recovering from a torn ACL. The Vikings added two-thirds of a talented senior crop of Arkansas Razorbacks receivers, landing Jarius Wright in the third round and Greg Childs in the fifth. The duo has big-play potential to aid young quarterback Christian Ponder 's development. Watch out for each of the Vikings' seventh-round picks -- linebacker Audie Cole and defensive end Trevor Guyton -- to surprise.
Atlanta Falcons: C
The aggressive trade up to draft first-rounder Julio Jones in 2011 left the Falcons without their first-round pick in this draft. The team went right back to the offensive side of the football once on the clock, taking Wisconsin center Peter Konz in the second and then Southern Miss offensive tackle Lamar Holmes . The hyped Konz is on the ground an awful lot and struggled with injuries. I liked the Falcons' third day of the draft better than their second. Brady Ewing (Wisconsin) is a classic fullback who can blow up linebackers, as well as catch the football. Troy pass rusher Jonathan Massaquoi brings burst off the edge and strong safety Charles Mitchell (Mississippi State) could surprise on defense as well as special teams.
Carolina Panthers: B
General manager Marty Hurney made the flashy pick a year ago with quarterback Cam Newton . A year later, the team focused more on safe, consistent players building a strong nucleus for years to come. Boston college middle linebacker Luke Kuechly was the safest defensive player in the draft, an immediate impact star for a run defense that ranked dead last in the NFL last season. Defensive end Frank Alexander (Oklahoma) wasn't as consistent throughout his career as scouts would have liked but played well as a senior and could be a better NFL than college player. Guard Amini Silatolu has the athleticism and nastiness to develop into a standout inside and fourth-round pick Joe Adams (Arkansas) brings quickness as a slot receiver and return specialist. Of their later picks, Coastal Carolina's Josh Norman could surprise as a developmental cornerback.
New Orleans Saints: D
Having traded their 2012 first-round pick a year ago to move up to select running back Mark Ingram and getting their second-round selection taken away by the NFL due to the bounty scandal, the New Orleans didn't have much to work with on draft weekend. Nabbing the talented but incredibly raw Regina defensive tackle Akiem Hicks was a reach. Hicks, an LSU transfer, has rare athleticism for his size (6-5, 318) but may not be able to contribute as a rookie. That's costly for a team that could need reinforcements should the league levy suspensions on individual players as expected. The Saints also addressed depth along the offensive line in the later rounds with Syracuse's Andrew Tiller and Nebraska's Marcel Jones . Immediate dividends may be felt only with fourth-round receiver Nick Toon (Wisconsin), the son of former Jets great Nick Toon, however. For a fan base eager to have something to be excited about again, this wasn't the type of draft that will help.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers: A-
General manager Mark Dominik wasted little time transforming the Bucs into the type of team Greg Schiano preferred in making Rutgers a Big East power. Schiano coached Ed Reed while at Miami (Fla.) and might see a similar combination of instincts and ball skills with Mark Barron . The team aggressively traded back into the first round to land Doug Martin , a similarly talented all-purpose back to Ray Rice , who starred under Schiano with the Scarlet Knights. Then, the Bucs found outside linebacker Lavonte David , an ultra-productive linebacker from Nebraska in the second whose instincts, athleticism and physicality have drawn comparisons to former Tampa Bay great Derrick Brooks. Of their day three picks -- Najee Goode and Keith Tandy , a pair of former Big East standouts and West Virginia teammates Schiano coached against -- stand out but make no mistake about it, this was a draft built on the strength of their first three selections -- a trio as impressive as any in the 2012 draft.
Arizona Cardinals: B+
The Arizona Cardinals finished the 2011 season winning seven of their final nine games. That momentum carried into the draft, where Arizona enjoyed the most impressive three days of any of the NFC West clubs. The Cardinals started things off with physical and talented wideout Michael Floyd , who will take pressure off of Larry Fitzgerald in the passing game as well as provide a downfield blocker for the Cardinals' power rushing attack. Adding battle-tested offensive linemen Bobby Massie (fourth round), Senio Kelemete (fifth) and Nate Potter (seventh) will improve this club up front, as will versatile cornerback Jamell Fleming , the club's third-round pick. Like John Skelton , who helped guide the Cardinals to their impressive late season surge, San Diego State quarterback Ryan Lindley has the big arm to warrant development in head coach Ken Whisenhunt's aggressive vertical attack. This draft won't get the buzz of some of the others, but I liked it.
St. Louis Rams: C
The Rams did what a team finishing last in the division four of the past five seasons is supposed to do -- fill as many holes as possible in coach Jeff Fisher's first season. But in moving down repeatedly to add draft choices, the Rams gave up on opportunities to get blue-chip talent from their initial No. 2 overall pick (traded to Washington) and No. 6 overall pick (traded to Dallas) and instead gambled on the upside of LSU DT Michael Brockers at No. 14. The Rams filled holes at receiver ( Brian Quick , Chris Givens ) and cornerback ( Janoris Jenkins , Trumaine Johnson ), in theory. Quick, in particular, is also a developmental prospect and virtually all of St. Louis' choices have character red-flags. It's not unreasonable to argue that kicker Greg Zuerlein might be the team's most impactful rookie, and that's not necessarily a great endorsement. Fisher has made a career out of getting talented but troubled players to perform well and he'll have to do the same with this crew. Jenkins serves as a perfect microcosm of the entire St. Louis draft, a boom-or-bust player that is all risk until proven otherwise.
San Francisco 49ers: C
Considering the immediate success the 49ers enjoyed under general manager Trent Baalke and head coach Jim Harbaugh in 2011, it is difficult to question their strategy in 2012. I'm going to do it anyway. Wide receiver A.J. Jenkins was the Big Ten's best receiver in 2011; given the club's investments in Michael Crabtree as well as free agents Mario Manningham and Randy Moss, it will be interesting to see how early Jenkins gets onto the field. The 49ers seemed to add talent to another relative strength in the second round with the speedy LaMichael James . Like Jenkins, there is no denying James' talent but considering the team added complementary back Kendall Hunter just a year ago to pair with the punishing Frank Gore , adding another third-down option may have been a luxury pick. In terms of players who might be able to contribute immediately, the 49ers might get their best value in fourth-rounder Joe Looney , a physical and reliable interior lineman who could help make up for the loss of Adam Snyder to free agency and sixth rounder Trenton Robinson , heady, athletic free safety.
Seattle Seahawks: C
The Seahawks pulled one of the real shockers of the first round with the selection of passing rushing specialist Bruce Irvin at No. 12 overall. At 6-3, 242 pounds, Irvin is too small to be a traditional 4-3 defensive end but in head coach Pete Carroll's scheme, size isn't as important as speed for the right defensive end (or LEO) position and Irvin certainly has that. Drafting a specialist at No. 15 is a stretch but despite boasting a very good defense on first and second down a year ago, Seattle's lack of pass rush has killed them in recent years. Few will call Irvin's pick a reach a year from now if he ranks among the rookie leaders in sacks. Second round pick Bobby Wagner 's versatility and reliable open-field tackling skills could earn him a spot in the starting lineup as a rookie. General manager John Schneider and offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell loved Russell Wilson 's instincts and ignored concerns about his height to make him another surprising Seahawks' pick in the third round. The more immediate impact will be made by Seattle's pair of fourth round picks -- running back Robert Turbin , whose power, surprising speed and reliable pass-blocking could make him a valuable backup to star Marshawn Lynch and potentially defensive tackle Jaye Howard , who was coached by former Seahawks' defensive line coach Dan Quinn at Florida. Fifth-round project Korey Toomer (Idaho) and former Kentucky standout Winston Guy are also intriguing third-day picks.
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