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Final draft grades: Bucs, Giants, Texans earn top marks


Grading a draft the day it's completed is a challenge. It's all just speculative.

Do you rip the Atlanta Falcons for giving up so many picks to get Julio Jones? What if he becomes Larry Fitzgerald? Do you rip teams for over-drafting quarterbacks when we know both the value and the uncertainty of that position?

In the spirit of instant evaluation, I see three teams that earned "A" grades. They are the Houston Texans, New York Giants and Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

For the Bucs, it's their second consecutive year getting one of my top grades. I didn't give out any D's or F's this year, but there were some teams that earned a C-.

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So here goes with the 2011 draft grades.

Arizona Cardinals

Best pick: First-round pick Patrick Peterson is one of those lite cover players who can change the way a defense plays. Love that pick.

Questionable move: Passing on a quarterback. They obviously feel they can get a veteran quarterback when free agency and trades can take place.

Third-day gem: I like pass-rusher Sam Acho, their fourth-round pick, out of Texas. He fits as a 3-4 outside rusher in their defense.

Analysis: I really like what general manager Rod Graves and personnel director Steve Keim did with this draft. They landed some good defensive players. But now comes the big issue: Finding a veteran quarterback or none of it will matter.

Grade: B-

Atlanta Falcons

Best pick: Third-round pick Akeem Dent is a player many scouts talked up big in the weeks leading up to the draft. He is a thumper.

Questionable move: Trading four picks to move up and get receiver Julio Jones. If he isn't Andre Johnson, this pick will be questioned in the worst way.

Third-day gem: I love fifth-round pick Jacquizz Rogers. He brings quickness to a backfield that needs it.

Analysis: It's all about Jones here. Thomas Dimitroff made a risky move to help his passing game. If it pays off, as in a Super Bowl, he wins. If not, the criticism will come.

Grade: B-

Baltimore Ravens

Best pick: Second-round pick Torrey Smith can fly. They need speed outside in their passing game, so he will be an immediate help.

Questionable move: Taking corner Jimmy Smith in the first round. I like him as a player, but he has had some issues off the field. That Ravens locker room needs to keep him in check.

Third-day gem: Sixth-round pick Pernell McPhee is a college defensive end who can move to outside rush player in the Ravens defense.

Analysis: They needed help at corner and receiver and they made picks at both. If Jimmy Smith and Torrey Smith work out, this will be a heck of a draft. Ozzie Newsome knows what he's doing.

Grade: B+

Buffalo Bills

Best pick: It has to be their first. They landed a sure thing in tackle Marcell Dareus. He will be an immediate starter.

Questionable move: Passing up on a quarterback is a major risk. Do they really believe in Ryan Fitzpatrick that much?

Third-day gem: It might not be a position of need, but the Bills landed a good one in North Carolina running back Johnny White. He's a tough runner.

Analysis: I know they had big problems on defense, but they should have addressed the quarterback position. They passed on some good ones. Is Fitzpatrick the answer? I guess he has to be.

Grade: C+

Carolina Panthers

Best pick: Third-round defensive tackle Sione Fua is a power player who will help at a position of dire need.

Questionable move: Taking Cam Newton with the first pick in the draft after taking Jimmy Clausen last year. Newton is a very high risk-reward prospect.

Third-day gem: Sixth-round linebacker Lawrence Wilson was a productive player at Connecticut who will add speed to the linebacker group.

Analysis: Their draft will be defined by Newton. If he becomes a star, this will be a nice draft. If he busts, heads will roll. I like the pick of two defensive tackles after the Newton pick.

Grade: C

Chicago Bears

Best pick: I know second-round pick Stephen Paea has some injury concerns, but he fits the Bears' scheme. He will be a nice replacement for Tommie Harris.

Questionable move: Taking safety Chris Conte in the third round is a risky pick. He only played safety one year in college. He went a little high.

Third-day gem: Fifth-round quarterback Nathan Enderle has a good arm, but he is raw. He can sit behind Jay Cutler and learn.

Analysis: I like the first two picks of Gabe Carimi and Paea, but they didn't do a lot of after that. Those two have to be starters.

Grade: C+

Cincinnati Bengals

Best pick: I like the pick of Andy Dalton in the second round. It gives them nice insurance if Carson Palmer actually retires.

Questionable move: Third-round pick Dontay Moch has a lot of athletic ability, but he is raw. Can he turn that into success on the next level?

Third-day gem: Fifth-round safety Robert Sands is an athletic player who has to improve his cover skills. He will be a special-teams player early.

Analysis: They needed to protect themselves if they don't have Palmer and they did. I also like the pick of A.J. Green at No. 4 in the first round since Chad Ochocinco and Terrell Owens will be gone.

Grade: B

Cleveland Browns

Best pick: I like second-round pick Greg Little. He didn't play last year because of an NCAA suspension, but he has big-play ability. This is a team that needs it.

Questionable move: Trading out of the No. 6 spot. They could have landed a possible star, but instead picked up more picks. Can they be patient?

Third-day gem: I like tight end Jordan Cameron, one of their fourth-round picks. He is a former basketball player like Jimmy Graham of the Saints.

Analysis: If Phil Taylor becomes a dominant inside player, this could be a really good draft. They went for quantity over quality. That's always risky.

Grade: C+

Dallas Cowboys

Best pick: I like the pick of Bruce Carter in the second round. He is coming off an ACL injury, so he might be limited in 2010, but he has star potential if on the field.

Questionable move: Taking DeMarco Murray in the third round was a strange move with all the other needs they have.

Third-day gem: Sixth-round pick Dwayne Harris is a steal. He will make their team and be a good slot receiver.

Analysis: They added a starter in tackle Tyron Smith and then filled in some holes, though I think they could have gone in another direction when they picked Murray.

Grade: B-

Denver Broncos

Best pick: Second-round pick Rahim Moore is a safety with range. That's the kind you need in this modern NFL filled with passing.

Questionable move: Passing on Marcell Dareus to take Von Miller is questionable with their big hole inside on their defense.

Third-day gem: Fourth-round pick Julius Thomas is a tight end who is a former basketball player. That means he has the athletic ability to get down the field.

Analysis: John Elway's first draft was solid. He made moves to fix a defense that needed it badly. If first-round pick Von Miller is an explosive pass rusher, this will be a nice draft.

Grade: B-

Detroit Lions

Best pick: I love first-round pick Nick Fairley. He was the top player on my board. Now he can line up next to Ndamunkong Suh? Scary.

Questionable move: Taking running back Mikel LeShoure in the second round. They have more pressing needs, especially after drafting Jahvid Best last year.

Third-day gem: LB Doug Hogue is an athletic player who likely will be counted on to be a special-teams player. Jim Schwartz loves speed at linebacker.

Analysis: I love what the Lions did. Getting Fairley was a great move. Then they did a good thing taking receiver Titus Young as a companion with Calvin Johnson to liven up the passing game. The LeShoure pick is solid, but why not defensive help?

Grade: B+

Green Bay Packers

Best pick: Second-round pick Randall Cobb is a perfect Green Bay player. He will fit their pass offense perfectly and take over for James Jones, who might leave.

Questionable move: Hard to find any. But -- and this is being nit-picky -- maybe not taking a rush linebacker in the first three rounds could be it.

Third-day gem: Sixth-round pick Ricky Elmore is a nice pass rusher who will play outside linebacker in their 3-4. I really like this pick.

Analysis: The rich get richer. Ted Thompson is one of the best at stocking his roster. First-round pick Derek Sherrod will take over at left tackle in a year or two and Cobb can be eased into the passing game.

Grade: B+

Houston Texans

Best pick: Second-round pick Brooks Reed fits in their 3-4. I think he can be a lot like Clay Matthews of the Packers.

Questionable move: Picking J.J. Watt in the first round instead of Prince Amukumara, but that's being nitpicky, especially since they later landed two corners.

Third-day gem: QB T.J. Yates. Matt Schaub is their quarterback, but this is nice developmental pick.

Analysis: They were dreadful on defense last season, but their top four picks should help change that. The first three all could be starters as rookies. Wade Phillips had to be happy. The Texans had a good draft.

Grade: A

Indianapolis Colts

Best pick: I love third-round pick Drake Nevis. He is perfect for their system, a small, quick defensive tackle.

Questionable move: Trading up to get guard Ben Ijalana. He has skills, but was he worth moving up to get?

Third-day gem: Running back Delone Carter, a fourth-round pick, will add depth to a position that needs it. This is a bit of an indictment of Donald Brown if you ask me.

Analysis: Bill Polian finally did something about the offensive line with his first two picks in Anthony Castonzo and Ijalana. Then he stole Nevis. Good job.

Grade: B

Jacksonville Jaguars

Best pick: Moving up to take Blaine Gabbert in the first round was a move this franchise had to make. They need a premier passer. This kid can be that.

Questionable move: Not taking a defensive player in the first three rounds. They must be prepared to spend big in free agency on that side of the ball.

Third-day gem: WR Cecil Shorts is from small school Mount Union. He is a nice possession receiver who could be their third receiver in 2011.

Analysis: I love the move to go get a big-time quarterback. This is a franchise that had to do it. They really liked third-round pick guard Will Rackley, but you have to question the passing of defensive players until the fourth round.

Grade: B-

Kansas City Chiefs

Best pick: Rodney Hudson, their second-round pick, was a guard in college but likely will move to center in the NFL. He could be a dominant one because of his quickness.

Questionable move: Taking two character players in first-round pick Jonathan Baldwin and Justin Houston. Better hope they can stay clear of trouble.

Third-day gem: I love the pick of Ricky Stanzi in the fifth round. He is a nice backup now and could be more down the road.

Analysis: This could be a great draft if the two troubled players stay clear of it. If not, then it will be a bad one.

Grade: C-

Miami Dolphins

Best pick: Taking Mike Pouncey at No. 15 in the first round is a good move. He will be an immediate starter at a position that needs it.

Questionable move: Not taking a developmental quarterback. It looks like Chad Henne is the guy for another year.

Third-day gem: I like fourth-round receiver Edmund Gates. He has the speed to help open up the offense, even if he's from a small school (Abilene Christian).

Analysis: Pouncey is a nice pick, but the rest of the draft is questionable. They need to hope Thomas can come in and be a 20-carries-a-game guy in his first year.

Grade: C+

Minnesota Vikings

Best pick: So many people think they reached for quarterback Christian Ponder, but I think they got the best quarterback in the draft. He fits what they do.

Questionable move: Fourth-round pick Christian Ballard failed a drug test at the combine, which says something about his head.

Third-day gem: Fifth-round pick Brandon Burton was a player who some thought could go in the third round. He's a bigger corner who fills a need in Minnesota.

Analysis: I love Ponder, and I think getting tight end Kyle Rudolph in the second round also was a good move. The rest of the draft could be good, particularly if Ballard stays out of trouble.

Grade: B-

New England Patriots

Best pick: Second-round corner Ras-I Dowling will be a quality cover corner to go with Devin McCourty.

Questionable move: Taking running back Shane Vereen in the second round. He has big-play ability, but there were better backs on the board.

Third-day gem: Fifth-round pick Marcus Cannon was considered a second-round pick, but he has some illness issues that concerned teams. If he can stay healthy, he's a heck of pick.

Analysis: Bill Belichick had a lot of picks and moved around the board to use many of them. He also added a 2011 first-round pick in a deal. First-round pick Nate Solder will be a starter right away. The pick to watch for in the future is Ryan Mallett, the quarterback the Patriots took in the third round.

Grade: B

New Orleans Saints

Best pick: I like third-round pick Martez Wilson. The Saints lack speed at linebacker, and Wilson should help remedy that.

Questionable move: Trading back into the first round to draft Mark Ingram. They are not a run-centric team and they had enough to get by at running back.

Third-day gem: I love the chance they took on seventh-round defensive end Greg Romeus. He had first-round talent, but injuries dropped him down. He might be a steal.

Analysis: I didn't like the trade of a 2012 first-round pick for the right to pick Ingram. I just think they had other needs. They did fill some holes the rest of the draft. I like Cameron Jordan, their other first-round pick.

Grade: B-

New York Giants

Best pick: I love the first-round pick of corner Prince Amukamara. He is a talented cover corner who will push for time as a rookie.

Questionable move: Not addressing the offensive line until the fourth round. Age is starting to become an issue up front.

Third-day gem: Sixth-round linebacker Greg Jones is a playmaker who was considered a potential high pick before the season.

Analysis: I love that they got a premier cover player in Amukamara. Second-round pick Marvin Austin has first-round talent and could be a steal. Jerry Reese had a nice draft.

Grade: A

New York Jets

Best pick: I like first-round pick Muhammad Wilkerson. He fits their scheme as a 3-4 end.

Questionable move: Not taking an outside rusher for their 3-4. They lack playmakers there and it's a vital spot on their defense.

Third-day gem: Alabama quarterback Greg McElroy is a smart, heady player who will make a nice backup for years to come.

Analysis: They went big with their first two picks, which is hard to criticize, but why not address the outside rush spot? Did they really need to use a fourth-round pick on a running back?

Grade: C

Oakland Raiders

Best pick: I love third-round pick Joseph Barksdale. He played left tackle at LSU, but will play the right side or guard for the Raiders.

Questionable move: Taking DeMarcus Van Dyke in the third round is a risk. He has great speed, but he is thin. But then again, Al Davis loves speed.

Third-day gem: Fourth-round corner Chimdi Chekwa is a real steal. He will be a better player than Van Dyke.

Analysis: They traded their first-round pick to get Richard Seymour, so they had to wait until the second round. In typical Davis fashion, they took a lot of speed and tough guys.

Grade: C

Philadelphia Eagles

Best pick: I like the pick of Danny Watkins in the first round. He is a nasty player who will fit in on their offensive line, which needs help.

Questionable move: Using a fourth-round pick on kicker Alex Henery. Anytime you pick a kicker that high, it's a questionable move.

Third-day gem: Fourth-round pick Casey Matthews, Clay's little brother, will help at a position of need. Should be a good special-teams player, as well.

Analysis: The Eagles always seem to do a good job in the draft. This year was no different. The key might be second-round safety Jaiquawn Jarrett.

Grade: B Pittsburgh Steelers

Best pick: Does Cameron Heyward fit the Steelers or what? He is a perfect 3-4 end in their defense.

Questionable move: Why did they take Florida's Marcus Gilbert when there were better options at tackle? They reached on that one.

Third-day gem: Fifth-round outside linebacker Chris Carter is perfect for their system, a speed player who can rush the passer.

Analysis: Heyward will be a good player, but I worry they over-drafted Gilbert to help fill a major need. But it's hard to argue with Kevin Colbert's success in recent years.

Grade: B-

St. Louis Rams

Best pick: I love the first-round pick of defensive end Robert Quinn. He will liven up the outside pass rush.

Questionable move: Taking Austin Pettis in the third round. I think they had better receiver options when they took him. He lacks speed.

Third-day gem: I like Hawaii receiver Greg Salas, their fourth-round pick. He will be a better NFL player than Pettis.

Analysis: They addressed a need with Quinn and then spent the next three picks getting Sam Bradford some help. The draft made sense.

Grade: B

San Diego Chargers

Best pick: Second-round pick Marcus Gilchrist can play either corner or safety and he's a smart player. I think he starts by his second year.

Questionable move: They took linebacker Jonas Mouton in the second round, even though he was considered a late-round guy. There were better options on the board.

Third-day gem: I like sixth-round guard Steve Schilling. He is a fighter who fits what the Chargers want from their linemen.

Analysis: The Chargers had a lot of picks and used them wisely. They needed to upgrade the defense and they did that. First-round pick Corey Liuget should be an immediate starter.

Grade: B+

San Francisco 49ers

Best pick: I like fourth-round running back Kendall Hunter. He adds speed and quickness.

Questionable move: Passing on Blaine Gabbert and then trading up to get Colin Kaepernick. They will now be linked together in 49ers draft history.

Third-day gem: Tackle Daniel Kilgore, their sixth-round pick, will move to guard and be a quality backup in their rotation.

Analysis: They better hope Aldon Smith turns into DeMarcus Ware and Kaepernick is better than the QBs taken ahead of him. That was risky passing on a quarterback at No. 7.

Grade: C+

Seattle Seahawks

Best pick: Third-round guard John Moffitt is a brawler who will help improve a line that needs it.

Questionable move: Taking tackle James Carpenter in the first round was a bit high, although I like the player.

Third-day gem: Fifth-round safety Mark Legree is a smart player who will be a willing tackler in the run game. He does need to improve his coverage ability.

Analysis: They needed to improve the offensive line and their first two picks were both used there. Both of them could push for starting jobs as rookies. The rest of the draft was just OK.

Grade: C-

Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Best pick: Getting Da'Quan Bowers in the second round will be a huge steal if the medical holds up. I love the risk. Wow.

Questionable move: Taking Bowers. Because, then again, it could blow up in their faces.

Third-day gem: Safety Ahmad Black, the team's fifth-round pick, is small for his position but he's a heck of a football player. He should be able to excel on special teams as a rookie.

Analysis: For the third straight year, the Bucs hit big in the draft. General manager Mark Dominik is building something special down there. The first two picks of ends Adrian Clayborn and Bowers means Tampa Bay has used four premium picks on the line in the past two years.

Grade: A

Tennessee Titans

Best pick: Third-round pick Jurrell Casey has first-round talent and will be a starter in a year or two.

Questionable move: Taking Jake Locker eighth overall, ahead of Blaine Gabbert. Locker has tools, but he is raw.

Third-day gem: Fourth-round pick Colin McCarthy is one of those players who somehow finds the football, even though he isn't a great athlete.

Analysis: If Locker is as good as they think he is, this will be a heck of a draft. But it all hinges on him. That means this is the Jake Locker draft. He has a long way to go. Grade: B

Washington Redskins

Best pick: I like Ryan Kerrigan in the first round. They traded down, added a top outside rusher, and added extra picks. Nice move.

Questionable move: Passing on a quarterback. Who takes the snaps in 2011?

Third-day gem: I love the pick of running back Evan Royster in the sixth round. He was a productive player in a big-time conference.

Analysis: I'd give them a better grade if they picked a quarterback, but they made some nice moves with all the trades and ended up with some good football players. I like Kerrigan and receiver Leonard Hankerson a lot.

Grade: B.

Pete Prisco has covered the NFL for three decades, including working as a beat reporter in Jacksonville for the Jaguars. He hosted his own radio show for seven years, and is the self-anointed star of CBS Sports' show, Eye on Football. When he's not watching game tape, you can find Pete on Twitter or dreaming of an Arizona State national title in football.

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