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May 2, 2011 – With the 2011 NFL Draft officially in the books, it’s time to hand out those ultra-important grades that almost always look foolish years down the line, but serve as a reminder of the general feeling of a draft class exiting draft weekend. In the AFC, the Indianapolis Colts were the clear winners, but several other AFC powers – Baltimore chief among them – had great weekends, as well.
(Read the for the NFC.)
Baltimore Ravens: A-
Adding Jimmy Smith to the defensive backfield addresses the team’s biggest need, and possibly gives them a lock-down corner if Smith can keep his head on straight. As Ozzie Newsome tends to do, he found terrific value everywhere else, including a speed receiver (Torrey Smith), a possible starting right tackle (Jah Reid), and another quality corner in the fifth round (Chykie Brown). Top to bottom, this was an excellent draft class for the Ravens.
Buffalo Bills: B
The Bills did not find a franchise-caliber quarterback (there weren’t many to be had, anyway), nor did they do enough to shore up their offensive tackle and rush linebacker positions. That puts a damper on an otherwise stellar draft, in which GM Buddy Nix and company greatly improved its overall defensive depth, and did a lot to address its league-worst run defense (DE Marcell Dareus, ILB Kelvin Sheppard, SS Da’Norris Searcy, ILB Chris White). At minimum, the Bills should make a significant move up the defensive rankings next year.
Cincinnati Bengals: B+
The Bengals hit it well with their first four picks. A.J. Green was the best prospect available this year, and looks like he’ll be a special player at the NFL level. The team got the quarterback it wanted in Andy Dalton (though it’d be to the team’s benefit if, like they did with Carson Palmer, they found a way to let Dalton sit for a year). Dontay Moch was a great pick in the third round, and Clint Boling was a better pick in the fourth. This was a great draft for Cincinnati, who really needed it.
Cleveland Browns: B
Dick Jauron’s philosophy in Chicago was to build his defense around the massive interior triangle of Ted Washington and Keith Traylor at defensive tackle, and Brian Urlacher at middle linebacker. First-round pick Phil Taylor, in teaming with Ahtyba Rubin, gives Jauron similar size at defensive tackle; now he just needs his middle linebacker. Greg Little and Jordan Cameron are perfect system fits offensively, and they’ll get years out of seventh-round pick Eric Hagg, as well.
Denver Broncos: B-
Von Miller is perhaps the most uniquely athletic rush linebacker to come along in years, and it will be very interesting to see how he assimilates to John Fox and his 4-3 defense. The team also found valuable adds to Fox’s defense in Rahim Moore, Nate Irving and perhaps even seventh-round pick Jeremy Beal. The two tight ends, Julius Thomas and Virgil Green, are intriguing selections. It’s tough to get overly excited, however, knowing that the Broncos have a dearth of talent at defensive tackle, one of the deepest positions of this draft class.
Houston Texans: B+
Gary Kubiak needs a quick fix defensively to save his bacon, and the Texans did a great job getting new coordinator Wade Phillips talent at all three levels of the unit (DE J.J. Watt, OLB Brooks Reed, and cornerbacks Brandon Harris and Rashad Carmichael). T.J. Yates is an intriguing mid-round add at quarterback that gives them more depth there, where Matt Schaub is prone to bumps and bruises. Even Mr. Irrelevant, Cheta Ozougwu, looks like a find. Top to bottom, this was solid work by Houston.
Indianapolis Colts: A
In my opinion, Bill Polian was able to get his team the best combination of value and need on draft weekend. Anthony Castonzo is a plug-and-play starter, and Ben Ijalana is a down-the-line starter inside, as well. Drake Nevis was an absolute steal in the third round, and could finally be a Colts DT that actually pans out. Delone Carter, too, was a steal, and provides the same hard-nosed running as Joseph Addai. Chris Rucker was a calculated risk, and a good talent add. They only ended up with five picks, and made every one of them count.
Jacksonville Jaguars: B
Moving up six slots to take Blaine Gabbert and stash him behind David Garrard for a year or two was a low-risk, high-reward decision. Their next two picks – both from small schools – look smart, as well, as guard Will Rackley and receiver Cecil Shorts are serious talents that should develop into starters. The only problem here is that the Jaguars still don’t have that stud pass rusher that they need to harass the likes of Peyton Manning and Matt Schaub. Otherwise, job well done.
Kansas City Chiefs: B-
Scott Pioli took some risks this year, to be certain. If he’s right about these players, the Chiefs will have added a lot of elite-level talent. WR Jon Baldwin and OLB Justin Houston, in particular, were high-upside gambles. Rodney Hudson was the team’s best pick, as he’ll start at center there for a long time, and is simply a very good football player. CB Jalil Brown and NT Jerrell Powe were terrific day three value adds. The risk makes it tough to grade highly, but the potential here is immense.
Miami Dolphins: B-
The Dolphins still do not have a franchise quarterback, but it’s tough to ding them too hard for it, as there weren’t many – if any – to be had this year. Mike Pouncey, the first true interior lineman to be drafted in the Top 16 since 1997 (Chris Naeole), may have been a slight reach, but Dolphins fans won’t care too much when he starts for the next decade. Daniel Thomas helps the run game immediately, and Edmond Gates adds speed to a rather slow receiving corps. Solid, if unspectacular work by Miami.
New England Patriots: B
There was not a lot of need-filling to be had here, but the Patriots again won draft weekend simply by securing additional first- and second-round picks in 2012. Nate Solder has more upside than any tackle in this draft class, and won’t need to play right away. Ras-I Dowling was a slight reach, but could complement Devin McCourty for years. Ryan Mallett was the big story, but Marcus Cannon may have been the better calculated risk between the two. The two running backs, Shane Vereen in particular, could contribute immediately.
New York Jets: B+
In Muhammad Wilkerson and Kenrick Ellis, the Jets have added outstanding talent and potential to what was an aging defensive line. Receiver and return man Jeremy Kerley was a sensible mid-round pick that hedges their bets against the loss of Brad Smith, and Greg McElroy was a nice decision, as he looks like a long-term backup to groom behind Mark Sanchez. It wasn’t perfect – a pass rusher would’ve been nice – but these were all smart picks.
Oakland Raiders: B-
Despite not having a first-round pick, the Raiders were able to add contributors to their team, including Stefen Wisniewski and Chimdi Chekwa. The team also added the top-level speed it annually covets in cornerback DeMarcus Van Dyke and running back Taiwan Jones, who could both turn out to be steals (though DVD was probably over-drafted by a round). Keep an eye on receiver Denarius Moore, as well, as he was creating serious buzz in scouting circles pre-draft.
Pittsburgh Steelers: B+
As the Steelers typically do, they picked a bunch of guys that fit their culture, and were able to address some needs along the way. Their best pick was Marcus Gilbert, a college teammate of Maurkice Pouncey’s that could start at right tackle right away. Chris Carter, a rush linebacker out of Fresno State, was a close second, and a pick that typifies why the Steelers are perpetually awesome defensively. Cameron Heyward, Curtis Brown and Cortez Allen all add much-needed depth defensively, as well.
San Diego Chargers: B-
It will be very interesting to see how the Chargers use first-round pick Corey Liuget, a classic three-technique, at defensive end in their 3-4 defense. It could create some problems for opponents, but could also leave the defense vulnerable to a few things. Time will tell. Jordan Todman was a quality add in the sixth round as a long-term backup to Ryan Mathews, and Vincent Brown should help address expected upheaval at receiver. The rest of the picks seem rather average.
Tennessee Titans: B-
This is a strong draft class, even if it’s tough to give them a high grade because it was headlined by Jake Locker. As boom-or-bust as any quarterback available this year, if Locker is forced to play immediately for the Titans, the team will bomb, and Locker will struggle to ever pan out as a Top 10 pick. He needs a vet in front of him for a year, at minimum, to have a chance. The rest of the team’s picks, however, were excellent, headlined by Akeem Ayers, Jurrell Casey, Jamie Harper, Karl Klug and Zach Clayton.
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