During these upcoming weeks, the latest wave of young NFL pups will work out with their newest comrades-in-pads, hoping to provide a glimpse that they will make a difference. But in this league, such judgments are difficult to make in the initial year or two of play. In fact, the NFL has a long-standing credo that draft classes cannot be truly and completely graded until three years after the fact.
Michael Vick has made some dazzling plays, but was injury hindered last season. (Getty Images)
We can now hand out proper grades to teams with the magic of three years of hindsight. It is, after all, 20/20. So let's see if we can clear up the winners and losers now that we have enough to judge.
The story of the draft
Atlanta and San Diego worked a swap that rocked the draft before Saturday even rolled around. Who got the better of the deal is still an argument that has yet to produce a clear-cut winner.
The Falcons got their hands on the most impressive and physically gifted man to perhaps ever play the position, but injuries have limited his ascent. While Michael Vick has dazzled and amazed in the games he has played, the Chargers ended up with an ultimate week-upon-week workhorse. Running back LaDainian Tomlinson has become one of the NFL's most powerful offensive weapons. He led the league in combined yards last year but has been unable to carry the Chargers himself. (Then again, who could?)
The Chargers failed with their eventual QB selection in Drew Brees. Just three years into his career, San Diego knew it was time to drop back into the first-round to grab their QB of the future (ya see, that's why we're doing this now).
Atlanta, on the other hand, struck gold in the second round with the drafting of Alge Crumpler, one of the league's top tight ends. San Diego failed again in Round 3 when it took cornerback Tay Cody, who never reached the success level he had in college. Atlanta also had much better value throughout the rounds than the Chargers with the additions of guys like Matt Stewart, Kynan Forney and Roberto Garza. The Chargers got WR Tim Dwight in the deal.
Others who came up big in Round 1: San Francisco (Andre Carter), New England (Richard Seymour), Arizona (Leonard Davis), Jacksonville (Marcus Stroud), Seattle (Koren Robinson and Steve Hutchinson), New York Jets (Santana Moss), Pittsburgh (Casey Hampton), St. Louis (Adam Archuleta), Buffalo (Nate Clements), N.Y. Giants (Will Allen), New Orleans (Deuce McAllister), Minnesota (Michael Bennett), Baltimore (Todd Heap).
Who wishes they could do it all over again in that first round: Green Bay (Jamal Reynolds), Cleveland (Gerard Warren), Cincinnati (Justin Smith), Chicago (David Terrell), Tampa Bay (Kenyatta Walker), Denver (Willie Middlebrooks), Oakland (Derrick Gibson), St. Louis (Damione Lewis and Ryan Pickett), Miami (Jamar Fletcher).
Solid-but-not-spectacular firsts: Carolina (Dan Morgan), Washington (Rod Gardner), Detroit (Jeff Backus), Philadelphia (Freddie Mitchell), Indianapolis (Reggie Wayne).
Best second-round picks: Bengals WR Chad Johnson (offense) and Carolina DT Kris Jenkins (defense). Runner-ups were Steelers LB Kendrell Bell (defense) and Bills RB Travis Henry (offense).
Third-round gold: The 49ers struck it rich with RB Kevan Barlow. The Giants hit with Will Peterson and the Jets got a big, strong, consistent starting tackle in Kareem McKenzie.
The fourth round was quite weak, even though it produced The Bachelor, Jesse Palmer, with the 125th selection of the draft (which would actually make it even weaker). But the Ravens hit yet again with Ed Hartwell and the Titans nabbed Justin McCareins (who they recently got a second-rounder for). The best offensive pick was the Bengals tabbing of sudden star on the rise RB Rudi Johnson. The Eagles got potential that has yet to be fully tapped in Correll Buckhalter.
The Dolphins got a potential new starting quarterback in the fifth round, although they got him through the long route. The Eagles nabbed A.J. Feely that year and traded him to Miami this year.
Top overall drafts
The Seattle Seahawks had the best first round for who they drafted and who they didn't. What am I talking about, you ask? The room was split between Koren Robinson and David Terrell. The Niners swapped first-rounders with the Seahawks to take Andre Carter. The Bears then took Terrell at No. 8, which allowed the Seahawks to come to agreement on Robinson, a Pro Bowl-caliber talent. Later in the round, they got an immediate starter in Steve Hutchinson, who played in the Pro Bowl this past season. DB Ken Lucas came in Round 2 and has started every year since. LB Orlando Huff came in Round 4 and he has started nine games the past two seasons. They got another starter in big ol' Pork Chop Womack with a compensatory pick all the way down at No. 128, then at 140 picked up a Pro Bowl special teams ace in WR Alex Bannister.
Hold your applause, kids, because there's more. This was also the year Seattle traded their third-round pick and swapped No. 10 for No. 17 with Green Bay for Matt Hasselbeck, a Pro Bowl player this past year. Great job by the Seahawks' personnel department; they had the best draft from start to finish.
Carolina got Dan Morgan in Round 1, then followed up with two Pro Bowl players in the next two rounds. Maryland's Kris Jenkins has turned into one of the conference's premier DTs after getting picked up in Round 2 and WR Steve Smith reached stardom by last season's end. At pick No. 143, the Panthers picked up special teams ace Jarrod Cooper. Their only failure, although it was worth the gamble in the fourth round, was QB Chris Weinke. Syracuse RB Dee Brown was tabbed at No. 175 and had one decent start two years ago with 27 carries for 122 yards. Not much since.
Buffalo had a solid draft, although the Bills didn't parlay it into the same success Carolina has been able to attain. But the Bills struck early and often by hitting on CB Nate Clements before they got RB Travis Henry and DE Aaron Schoeble in Round 2. Solid. Getting massive tackle Jonas Jennings in the third round was huge, literally and figuratively. They failed to hit big with latter gambles, but their top four picks provided terrific value.
The New York Jets had a very unassuming yet very solid showing in the first draft under Terry Bradway. It took a while, but first-rounder Santana Moss blossomed into a star wideout last year. LaMont Jordan might be the best backup running back in the game after getting tabbed in Round 2. Kareem McKenzie is a solid starting right tackle and great value in the third round. They also got solid nickel back Jamie Henderson later at No. 101.
The Ravens got Pro Bowl TE Todd Heap with the last pick of Round 1, starting CB Gary Baxter in Round 2 and Ed Hartwell at No. 126. Solid early draft.
Pittsburgh had a terrific top half of the draft when it snagged Pro Bowl DT Casey Hampton in Round 1, then star linebacker Kendrell Bell in Round 2. Neither of the next two picks have yet to blossom into stud starting offensive linemen, but at No. 181, they got Rodney Bailey, a coveted 3-4 DE who could start for the Patriots this year after signing an offer sheet in the offseason.
The Colts picked up starters from Round 1 to Round 7. None have become stars, but they plucked many kids who started on last year's AFC Championship contender. Starting wideout Reggie Wayne was their first-rounder. He has been a decent starter but not the star they were hoping to pair with Marvin Harrison. Good value at No. 30. Seven picks later they got safety Idrees Bashir. Another safety, Cory Bird, came next at No. 91. At No. 118, they got starting lineman Ryan Diem. Then 102 picks later, they picked up another starting lineman in Rick DeMulling in the last round.
The 49ers got strong value from start to finish. Andre Carter has been solid and has the potential and build to become another "Freak." In the second round, they got Jamie Winborn, a player with decent potential but has yet to become a solid starter. But they made up for that pick with the addition of Kevan Barlow in Round 3, starting WR Cedric Wilson at pick No. 169 and oft-injured yet very talented starting TE Eric Johnson all the way down at pick No. 224.
Swung and missed
The Denver Broncos gave it yet another go in the first round at the cornerback position by grabbing Willie Middlebrooks, not exactly a household name. In Round 2, they followed up with the ever-popular Paul Toviessi. We think he's a defensive end from Marshall. Denver was desperate to land him in the second round, enough so that they traded second- and fourth-rounders to move up to get him. He never played a down in the NFL after having three knee surgeries in less than a year. They picked a few decent values later in the draft but hardly enough to make up for the first two debacles.
Green Bay grabbed the bust of the first round with Jamal Reynolds at No. 10. Its only very solid choice came in Round 2 with the addition of WR Robert Ferguson. But he was followed by CB Bhawoh Jue (no starts in the past two years), LB Torrance Marshall (two starts in three years), C Bill Ferrario and WR David Martin.
The Dolphins missed with Jamar Fletcher, who they've since traded in the David Boston deal, in Round 1. They responded in Round 2 with a tremendous value pick by selecting Chris Chambers. Travis Minor in Round 3 hasn't done much. TE Shawn Draper, OT Brandon Winey, QB Josh Heupel, DE Otis Leverette, LB Rick Crowell all missed for the Fins. Fletcher actually wasn't a bad pick at the time, but he has not done enough to step up with the big boys. Chambers saved them.
The Chiefs traded their first-rounder for Trent Green, which turned out to be a terrific move for Carl Peterson, and a second-rounder for coach Dick Vermeil, which turned out even better. But the team's picks didn't turn out as well. DT Eric Downing at No. 75 hasn't done much. Two picks later, Marvin "Snoop" Minnis was a solid choice, but injuries have stripped him of his promise. Monty Beisel hooked up with a beauty pageant queen but didn't do much on defense. George Layne got tabbed one pick later at No. 108 but also failed to rise. Billy Baber, Derrick Blaylock and OT Alex Sulfsted also failed to make much of a dent in the offense. Of the three, Blaylock has shown the most promise with a 100-yard receiving game last year. But he's stuck behind Priest Holmes. They got good value all the way down at No. 212 with safety Shaunard Harts, but that's about it. A-plus for overall moves but a C-minus for draft picks.
Split down the middle
The Rams missed on two of their three first-round picks with Damione Lewis and Ryan Pickett; they missed badly on Lewis. But then came Adam Archuleta and Tommy Polley, their second-rounder. Third-rounder Brian Allen was cut and since signed with Carolina. They missed with their next pick, Milton Wynn, but swung and hit at No. 129 with highly regarded TE Brandon Manumaleuna. They also got great value with their next pick at 145 with CB Jerametrius Butler. Three prime picks were duds, but the addition of Archuleta, Polley and the late-rounders make this a complete enigma draft.
The Giants got two solid starting cornerbacks with Will Allen in Round 1 and Will Peterson in Round 3. The rest of the class has done very little. They picked a kicker who never stuck, a quarterback who has fared better on reality TV, a pair of defensive ends who have made no dent and a receiver who fared better for the Jets than he did the Giants. Their first two picks saved them from putting them in the bust category.