Grading a draft immediately after it concludes is akin to giving your compliments to the chef before the meal has been served. Sure, the food might sound good (or bad) based on the ingredients listed 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 over the weekend. But what is readily apparent is the different approaches that were taken, from going for the best available talent to focusing on team needs to gambling on character concerns and long-term potential.
Much of the pre-draft focus nationally was on Arizona's tackles, but the interior was the scarier spot, assuming left tackle Levi Brown returns to health. Jonathan Cooper's athleticism and versatility makes him a safe, solid pick, as was fellow guard Earl Watford three rounds later. Easy to fall in love with the Cardinals' guts to gamble on Tyrann Mathieu, who'll be moved to free safety. Mathieu is reunited with fellow LSU playmaker Patrick Peterson, giving Arizona two of the best playmakers in all of the NFL in their secondary, as well as the Tigers' MVP, inside linebacker Kevin Minter, a physical, instinctive run-stuffer. The impressive haul continued through the third day. Alex Okafor has the talent to emerge as a standout pass rusher. Running backs Stepfan Taylor and Andre Ellington could prove a strong thunder-and-lightning combination behind free-agent signee Rashard Mendenhall. The Cardinals remain the weak link in the toughest division in the NFL but made strides in this, the first class for Steve Keim and head coach Bruce Arians. Grade: A-
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San Francisco 49ers
Boasting one of the league's most talented rosters and an arsenal of draft picks, they bounced throughout the draft (each of their first four picks was acquired via trade) to land a starting free safety, two exciting pass rushers and one of the more intriguing tight ends in a very strong class. Tampa Bay paid big money to ex-49ers safety Dashon Goldson, but Eric Reid's speed, explosiveness and ball skills might make him an upgrade. Cornellius Carradine plays with the physicality and motor to warrant his nickname of "Tank" and only slipped to No. 40 overall due to a late knee injury. Corey Lemonier is a bit straight-linish, but he has a quick first step, an improving spin move and both the length and build to contribute immediately. At 6-foot-4, 267 pounds, Vance McDonald looks the part of an in-line blocker, but his primary contribution will be as a pass catcher, a similar role to what he played while often being split out wide at Rice. Of the 49ers' Day Three picks, wideout Quinton Patton and Marcus Lattimore are the easy highlights. Don't be surprised when Patton overtakes 2012 first-round selection A.J. Jenkins. Lattimore is a terrific talent and, with San Francisco already possessing a strong stable of backs, he doesn't have to be rushed back onto the field. Grade: A
The Seahawks traded away their first-round selection to the Vikings for Percy Harvin, so that addition must be mentioned in this analysis. The mult-purpose Harvin is among the NFL's most dynamic weapons and certainly would have earned a higher pick in this draft than the No. 25 overall selection. Once on the clock, however, the Seahawks surprised, nabbing running back Christine Michael with the last selection of the second round. They were criticized a year ago for taking a pass-rushing specialist in Bruce Irvin with the No. 15 overall pick. This year, they traded down before nabbing another surprise in Michael. The former Aggie offers more natural talent than Seahawks star Marshawn Lynch. But to warrant this selection, he'll need to show improved dedication and durability. Defensive tackle Jordan Hill is a high-motor plugger who'll provide some pass rush from the interior on passing downs. Of their nine selections on Day Three, expect the most noise to be heard from wide receiver Chris Harper, defensive tackle Jesse Williams and cornerback Tharold Simon. Harper is a big-bodied wideout who shields defenders from the ball and possesses sneaky overall athleticism. Williams' short arms and medical questions pushed him down the board, but he is a stout run defender with experience on the nose and as a five-technique defensive end. Simon has the length and physicality that Seattle likes at cornerback. The Seahawks made several intriguing picks late with athletic tight end Luke Willson perhaps the most likely to stick as a threat down the seam. Grade: B
St. Louis Rams
With extra picks due to the trade a year ago that landed the Redskins star quarterback Robert Griffin III, the Rams entered this draft ready to pounce ... and they did so early, trading up to land multi-purpose star Tavon Austin. With the loss of slot receiver Danny Amendola and running back Steven Jackson, the Rams needed to add a playmaker, and Austin certainly will provide that. The Rams supplemented that pick with Stedman Bailey, who actually out-produced Austin at West Virginia. Head coach Jeff Fisher has consistently won with character question marks, and his club once again took a gamble with a talented athlete in Alec Ogletree, who could prove a star in the NFL. I'm higher on the selection of T.J. McDonald than most. While he's a bit stiff in the hips and therefore wouldn't translate to all teams, I believe he can be an effective eraser in the middle for St. Louis due to the Rams' stellar cornerback play. The Rams nabbed one of my favorite players in this draft in the tough and versatile Barrett Jones in the fourth round. Only the fact that St. Louis waited until the seventh round to address a concern at running back lessens my grade. While I like Zac Stacy, Fisher must be planning on using a much more aggressive offense rather than the traditional power attack that he has favored in the past. Considering the defenses in the NFC West, perhaps that's the right recipe for success. Grade: B+