TIME: US | UK
WEATHER: US | UK
THE AMERICAN MAGAZINE ONLINE
Features & Blogs
"Life in the UK"
NFL DRAFT 2011
The American's Sports Editor Richard L Gale takes you through an analysis of the draft.
Are you ready for some football?
Commissioner Roger Goodell stepped up to the mic and was loudly booed before addressing the balconies of Radio City Music Hall with the question "Are you ready for some football?". He promptly didn't deliver any, was booed again, and the lockout, temporarily lifted, was back midway through the second round. That interval was at least long enough for no.1 overall pick Cam Newton to get over to the Carolina Panthers and exit the building with a play book before his potential employers could give him the cold shoulder again.
Newton was the first of four QBs taken in the opening 12 picks of the 2011 NFL Draft — each passer with some degree of controversy. By consensus, it wasn’t a great year for QBs, yet it was good enough for six of them to go in the first 36 selections, a faster rate of adoption over the same span than either the legendary Class of '83 or the less stellar Class of '99.
It certainly wasn’t a great year for QB safety: beyond the headline signal–callers, the draft resembled a three–day long highlight reel of college passers getting sacked, with a record 12 defensive linemen taken in the first round alone (though many of those will play from a two–point stance in the NFL). Counterbalancing that, six offensive tackles were also chosen in round 1.
Draft second–guessing occurred most often when teams traded up …or conversely, when they didn't trade down. Atlanta paid a high price — a 1st, 2nd, 4th, plus a 1st and 4th in 2012 — to climb from 27th to 6th for WR Julio Jones, while the Vikings were roundly criticised for taking Florida State QB Christian Ponder at pick no.12.
However, with no free agency between the end of last season and the start of the draft, and no opportunity to sign undrafted free agents immediately after the draft, grades remain strangely detached from the rest of the offseason process. We won't really know how well the teams did in terms of satisfying positional needs until after the mad scramble once the NFL gets back to regular business.
DALLAS COWBOYS (Grade: B+)
A strange thing happened in the 2011 Draft: the Cowboys spent a first round pick on an offensive lineman. The last time that happened, Ronald Reagan had just become president. Since then, the Cowboys have spent no less than eleven first round picks on defensive linemen. Perhaps Jerry Jones never felt he had to pay that kind of money before — Doug Free in the 4th, Flozell Adams and Andre Gurode in the 2nd — but the philosophy changed this year. Newly arrived is not just 6'5" 307lb Tyron Smith, but similarly–sized David Arkin (more likely a guard prospect) and even 7th Rounder Bill Nagy is a fine pick that late. It speaks of a team looking for some ground surge, and new RB DeMarco Murray could thrive here; you'd think with Marion Barber, Felix Jones and Tashard Choice already on the roster, Murray would be surplus to requirements, but don't be surprised if he slowly ascends the depth chart over the next couple of seasons.
And 'the next couple of seasons' is the phrase I hold against the Cowboys when it comes to the grade. Bruce Carter could be a big steal if his ACL injury clears up, Josh Thomas could be a fine cover guy down the road, and Dwayne Harris could be an ace slot receiver, BUT this team was considered a contender at the start of last season, and somehow vanished without trace. If all they need is new leadership to get them pointed in the right direction, where's the impact pick? This is talent, but it's work–in talent. Are they rebuilding? Still the talent was good.
NEW YORK GIANTS (Grade: B+)
Looking back at last year's Giants draft, New York went heavy on defense, following Coach Tom Coughlin's desire to toughen up on that side of the ball, and drafted only one offensive player, a mid–round linemen. After a season in which Eli Manning threw more interceptions than he had the previous two years combined it would be tempting to assume they'd find Manning help. In some small ways, they did, adding OT James Brewer, who has first–round size, but needs time, and Jerrel Jernigan, a dangerous slot guy who has the moves and burst to turn short passes into massive gains. However, Manning' sacks and fumbles were halved last season, so the offensive line may not have been the problem so much as Eli forcing the ball might have been.
That logic in hand, the Giants concentrated on defense again, adding at least a rotational starter in DL Marvin Austin, and a solid cover corner with Amukamara, one of two marquee CBs in this year's draft class. They also found excellent value with LB Greg Jones who, while undersized, racked up over 460 tackles in his college career. At the very least he'll be an assassin on special teams. Also in the 6th round, they landed Tyler Sash, who fits the 'toughness' brief and again will show up quickly on special teams. There'll be little waste from this draft.
A 26–year old rookie is rarely a desirable commodity on draft day, but Danny Watkins, a former fire fighter seemed to represent a blue–collar theme to the Eagles' draft. Also signing up (well signing sometime this year perhaps), were hard–nosed secondary tackler Jaiquawn Jarrett from cross–town Temple, and Casey Matthews, brother of Clay, and the first of three linebackers (though Rolle could project to safety). For those wondering, yes, Greg Lloyd is the son of former Pittsburgh Steelers' LB Greg Sr, though he'll have a job fighting through the crowd here. A more significant cross–state connection was the drafting of Dion Lewis, who continues to follow in the footsteps of fellow Pitt alum LeSean McCoy; like McCoy he brings rush and catch talents and pro–style experience.
Given 12 picks, it’s fair to expect Washington would exit with a QB, some OL help, a noteworthy WR and a starting OLB. Ryan Kerrigan certainly brings the pass rush, averaging over 10 sacks the last three years. he and Brian Orakpo make an exciting pairing. Washington continued to build that line with Jarvin Jenkins, though a second round pick may have been an overspend. Hankerson was one of the better receivers in the draft, at least when it came to measurables, though he may not be the best friend of a new quarterback trying to settle in when it comes to separating and making solid catches. Then again, the Redskins landed neither a quarterback nor a big–name lineman. RB Roy Helu is a runner in the classic Broncos mould, and Evan Royster was productive at Penn State, but does Mike Shanahan have anything like the offensive line or threat–of–pass for them to mean anything right now? Washington came away with more picks than anybody else, but they didn't tick all the boxes.
The Lions made headlines, the Packers were solid, and the Vikes' and Bears' weren't quite as stinky as reported, writes Richard L Gale.
CHICAGO BEARS (Grade: C–)
Having verbally agreed a deal with the Ravens (at least that's what the Ravens believed), they failed to complete the trade–up, then took cold–weather tackle Gabe Carimi, who at least matched a line need, and was likely the player they were after anyway. But that trade faux–pas won’t serve them well when they try to find trade partners in future years.
Tongan tackler Stephen Paea was a solid pick in round 2, but Chris Conte was a flat–footed pick for round 3 — a safety with good size, but special teams only, and with only five picks, taking distant project Nathan Enderle was a luxury. LB James Thomas fits the scheme, but WR was ignored, and more picks on the line would have been nice. It seemed an inept draft, but it wasn’t quite terrible.
DETROIT LIONS (Grade: B+)
The drafting of Ndamukong Suh coincided with a substantial increase in the sack tally of the Lions’ defensive ends, and now they add disruptive Nick Fairley, who, while not as generational a player as Suh, would still have been a star elsewhere. If anybody else had taken him at no.13, that would have been a good pick, but to stand him next to Suh is scary.
Offensively, speedy Titus Young adds a deep target to enhance the threat of Calvin Johnson and Nate Burleson, while Mikel Leshoure brings a big back mentality to pair with the more skittery Jahvid Best. All three improve the situation around them; strange then that the Lions only looked for better pass protection for repeatedly injured QB Matthew Stafford in round 7. This was half of a very fine draft.
GREEN BAY PACKERS (Grade: B+)
The Buccaneers’ Mark Dominik may be closing in on Packers GM Ted Thompson in the ‘draft genius’ stakes, but even from the back of the grid, Thompson again scores high. Derrek Sherrod is a sure thing for a future spot at one of the tackle positions. Randall Cobb has spent time as a QB, RB, returner and holder, but blossomed into a 1000–yard receiver his senior year.
That banged–up running game welcomes Alex Green, a powerful inside runner and proven receiver should mix in from year one, if he can avoid some fumble issues. CB Davon House suits the Packers, and Jermichael Finley’s injury exposed weakness in the depth at TE to which D.J. Williams is a partial answer.
Later selections are longer shots on a team which both won a Super Bowl and was injured enough along the way to give everybody on the roster plenty of game experience. However, every major need was addressed in some form.
MINNESOTA VIKINGS (Grade: C)
It isn’t that Christian Ponder’s a bad QB — I think he will have a long career as an NFL back–up and borderline starter — it’s just that he’s a blatant R3 talent most years, and the Vikings could have traded down to round 2 this year and still taken him. In fact, they tried to trade down, but found themselves stranded at no.12. Ponder has intangibles and smarts, but the price the Vikings paid defies draft sense, plus they’re bringing a warm–weather QB into a cold–weather division.
The Vikings righted the longship by taking top tight end Kyle Rudolph in round 2 (though he suffered a severe enough hamstring injury last year that there’s a risk factor), and actually got plus value with DT Christian Ballard, a quick mover who could and has played DE and fits the 4–3. By the time the Vikings reached the mid–rounds, they were consistently on–value (round 6 tackler Ross Homan could fit like a glove here) and ended the day with ten selections to address their needs to one degree or another. The Ponder pick was rudderless, but they didn’t quite sail off the edge of the world.
Despite the top pick, the Panthers were the only team in the NFC South not to ace the draft, writes Richard L Gale.
ATLANTA FALCONS (Grade A–)
The Falcons paid 2 firsts, a second and 2 fourths to get into position to take Julio Jones. That’s a lot, even for the second of the two marquee receivers in this draft, but what the Falcons are desperate to do (and ‘desperate’ seems the word) is to string two winning seasons together, and their formula reads: Roddy White + Julio Jones + Tony Gonzalez = uncoverable.
The Falcons traded up again to grab RB Jacquizz Rodgers, whose durability should not be doubted despite the 5’6" 196 lb build; 256 carries as a senior was his college career low, and he added as many as 78 catches in a season as a receiver. These may sound like expensive toys, but from LB Akeem Dent’s tackling to Matt Bosher’s punts, to the depth provided by Andrew Jackson, and the work ethic of Cliff Matthews, the Falcons landed keepers. Aside from TE, they matched nee
CAROLINA PANTHERS (Grade B–)
Cam Newton owes at least a thank you call to Stanford QB Andrew Luck for the latter staying in school and allowing Newton to bubble to the top of the 2011 draft. Newton splits opinion too much for a projected value to be meaningful, but he’s a one–year phenom whose raw athletic talent alone will take him a certain distance before he has to learn to be a pro quarterback. How long that will be — and whether he can climb over that hump — is the area of debate. What’s guaranteed is that the Auburn product sells tickets in the Carolinas. Taking his old team mate, Lee Ziemba in Round 7 (undervalue) was canny, though Ziemba’s time at left tackle is probably up. He and Zack Williams matched needs, though they are depth material.
The Panthers matched need again by going after two defensive tackles; neither are great, both can play nose tackle if the Panthers switch to a 3–4, and I actually prefer the work ethic of Fua to McClain — who seems a little chubby — but neither excite. The Panthers matched needs closely, but given discipline/off–the–field issues with CB Brandon Hogan, and the system–inflated stats of WR Kealoha Pilares, there’s a risk that most of this draft could flame out. That’s not great for a first–overall class.
NEW ORLEANS SAINTS (Grade: A–)
If there is a sure–fire running back in this draft, former Heisman–winner Mark Ingram is it. He lacks great speed or shifty moves, but he can be a workhorse, and his selection by this team makes this a good pick, and an even better selection assuming he is a complement to Reggie Bush rather than a replacement.
While Ingram was the sole offensive selection, the Saints began with the slashing pass rush of DE Cameron Jordan, who has the versatility to play anywhere from DT to OLB in his first season. Martez Wilson is more of a project, a 6’4" 250–lb middle linebacker with cornerback speed, but who is still considered a raw football player. Greg Romeus also came to football late, but stormed his first three college seasons before senior injury; ongoing ACL recovery kept him from being a high–round choice. Johnny Patrick put the pieces together as a senior, and is a solid player against run and pass, but lacks any outstanding quality — special teams beckon.
Overall, the Saints balanced their draft between two players for now (they traded up into the first round for Ingram) and some good raw talent for down the road — about right for a team near the top.
TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS (Grade: A)
The Bucs paired the selection of assured pass rusher Adrian Clayborn (a major upgrade over Tim Crowder) with the riskier choice of Da’Quan Bowers in round two. If Bowers’ knee injury clears up, they’ve drafted a top 5 talent (and the 2010 sack leader) with the 51st pick. If last year’s two high–round DTs find health, Tampa’s D–line could get good in a hurry.
Mason Foster, an inside–outside tackling machine, and Ahmad Black, an undersized but football–savvy nickel back look like valuable additions at the other defensive layers. Luke Stocker’s blocking will make a fine complement to Kellen Winslow’s pass catching at tight end. It’s going to be fascinating to witness the changes in the Bucs since their last visit to London.
In the division with a 7–9 champion, nobody's yet made a definitive offseason move, writes Richard L Gale
ARIZONA CARDINALS (Grade: B–)
Patrick Peterson opposite Dominique Rodgers–Cromartie could be a pick–your–poison scenario for opposing offensive coordinators. Sam Acho, while no starter, can chip in as a pass rusher as Joey Porter’s power at outside linebacker diminishes, but sixth round selection Quan Sturdivant may mean more to the Cardinals early on as a quick inside–outside tackler who should feature immediately as a special teamer.
Ryan Williams is a first round talent at second round cost, with the kind of vision and quick, hole–hitting, cut–back running that will excel in the NFL if the line is half–way decent; he closes the chapter on Beanie Wells, even if Tim Hightower stubbornly refuses to be upgraded. The running game and special teams get further help with the addition of UConn fullback Anthony Sherman. Pass catching TE Robert Housler could do really well here.
However, the Cardinals left themselves some big tasks for free agency, taking no quarterback or offensive linemen. They will have to pounce — and likely overspend — whenever the free agency scramble begins, but given the question marks that peppered this year’s quarterback class, a veteran passer makes more sense than challenging 2010 pick John Skelton with another inexperienced player.
SAN FRANCISCO 49ers (Grade B–)
The 49ers take the first defensive end off the board, a quarterback some felt could sneak into the first round, and multiple depth in the secondary and at guard. Yet, with Jim Harbaugh newly–arrived to a franchise that hasn’t seen the playoffs in a decade, there’s more intent than impact in this draft.
Colin Kaepernick’s height (6’5") and athleticism harkens back to the Steve Young era, but he’ll take time to adjust. It’s assumed that Aldon Smith wiill switch from DE to OLB as a ‘Niner, but at this stage his raw talent is still best suited to DE. Daniel Kilgore is a small–school tackle who will become a guard here. CB Chris Culliver and shifty RB Kendall Hunter will probably factor in quicker than most of these. It’s a ho–hum class hidden beneath the relief that notice has been served on the Alex Smith era.
SEATTLE SEAHAWKS (Grade C+)
Some expected Seattle to join the stampede for quarterbacks, but they wisely held back, preferring to address the line early and the secondary late. The linemen are solid selections rather than studs, and while Pete Carroll may have gone early on Carpenter, they move the run offense forward.
In a draft with many undervalued runners, the Seahawks could have used a later pick on an actual ball–carrier, however, and I question the value of underproductive WR Kris Durham with a 4th round pick. Ball–hawking safety Mark Legree heads a cast of selections who will bolster special teams, but the Seahawks went overvalue too often with their selections to warrant a good grade.
ST LOUIS RAMS (Grade B–)
The Rams found receivers out of thin air last season with Eagles cast–off Brandon Gibson and undrafted Danny Amendola; the two new WR picks have track records of great hands and productivity, but neither is especially fast. Greg Salas is better after the catch and could beat Austin Pettis to a start role. Much as I like both, the double selection seems wasteful. The Rams also upgraded the receiving corps at tight end; incumbent starter Daniel Fells’ 41 catches were commendable, but Lance Kendricks should better those straight out of the box.
Top Rams pick Robert Quinn has big potential as a pass rusher, but is raw and missed his senior season after contact with an agent. As the Rams only returned to the defensive side of the ball with some late selections, this still looked like a work–in–progress draft rather than a ‘breakthrough’ type of draft ...although this is the NFC West.
BUFFALO BILLS (Grade: B)
Coach Chan Gailey passed on a franchise thrower at pick 3, and avoided the QB frenzy thereafter, avoiding the boom–or–bust investment in favour of retooling a defense that was the league's worst against the run. The Bills took four defenders in the top 100 picks, and a total of seven over seven rounds. At a time when NFL training camps look like being 2 weeks long, the Bills also went for players who can contribute early — it’s likely their first three selections could be starters by midseason. Marcell Dareus will be given an opportunity from day one, bring his disruptive talents against the run, and his opportunism against opposing quarterbacks. Sheppard has the instincts to be an early contributor as well, though his athleticism would project as no more than a borderline starter on less needy teams. Aaron Williams is 'built' enough as a corner that he could play safety, and understands the game enough to factor into the nickel quickly, before earning a start role. Another solid tackler is Da'Norris Searcy, suggesting that the Bills can expect improvement in special teams as much as rush defense. Other players in this selection were investments and look–sees. One slight concern: does a team with an outdoor stadium and one foot in Canada really have to pick so many players from warm–weather States?
MIAMI DOLPHINS (Grade: B–)
You may already be bored of hearing how Mike Pouncey isn't as good as his Steeler twin Maurkice, and he certainly didn't fair as well as a senior center as Maurkice did as a junior, but Mike did only get one season to prove himself in the middle. Now he's likely to get another chance. If it doesn't work out, he'll move to right guard down the line, but either way, he's safe selection, a sure–fire starter; it's a similar situation to the selection of Jake Long in '08: At worst a guard, Long's been a more–than–tidy tackle. It's one less position to worry about.
The Dolphins also don't need to worry about the age of their running backs with the selection of Dan Thomas. Either or both of Ronnie Brown or Ricky Williams could leave, or get old, this year, but more likely at least one will return, and between–the–tackles runner Thomas will serve notice that he's the next starter, though his style may suit a settled line better than one seeking to install Pouncey. He could be a year–two gem, though. Edmond Gates brings Ted Ginn–like speed to stretch the field at a Brian Hartline–like cost. The Dolphins were keen not to let their offense go into reverse, and some will question the non–selection of a quarterback, but I'm fine with them giving Chad Henne one last look — or at least making sure any challenger is a veteran not another unknown.
NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS (Grade: B)
It's tough to grade the Patriots objectively. For one thing, they work the draft weekend better than anybody when it comes to trading for future picks, and they did so again, though the fruits of this labor should be graded according to the extra players added rather than the mere business of it. For another, we tend to assume that just because Bill Belichick takes players who fit his system, we grade the selections higher. Take Ryan Mallett as a case in point. Through the draft process he was suspected of being immobile, unreliable, rumored to be a drug user, and generally worth less than all those other QBs overtaking the once sure 1st rounder. Then Belichick take him, Mallett's suddenly a steal, and Bill's a genius again. In truth Mallett's a tall prospect with comparative immobility (in a draft featuring Cam Newton and Colin Kaepernick) and beyond that we just don't know anything other than this: barring serious injuries to Tom Brady, Mallett won't mean a whole lot to the 2011 season. On that basis, 3rd round's just fine.
However, onto the selections that will be out on the field: 6'8" 320lb Nate Solder will be tagged as the next left tackle to protect Tom Brady, but the early going could be tough. He might even be a liability, but down the road he's the answer. Ras–I Dowling could well be the cover corner to pair with last year's Devin McCourty, and the Pats also added third–down back Shane Vereen, a decent receiver. Some concerns: Did they really need back–to–back RBs in rounds 2–3 with so many capable ones available later (if they hadn't traded down in round 1, they could have taken Mark Ingram, by the way) did the Patriots ignore red flags on medical grounds on Dowling and Marcus Cannon, and character grounds on Mallett maybe once too often? Then again, if the sizeable Cannon overcomes Lymphoma, the Patriots may have reloaded the line and backfield. But grading–wise it's a cautious 'B'.
NEW YORK JETS (Grade: C+)
The Jets draft was slim, but the first two players weren't, with DT 315lb Wilkerson and 346lb pure nose tackle Ellis. Both may take a while to show their best, and ending the second day of the draft with just those two is questionable. The Jets could have gone for more pass rush to the outside, and they ignored linebacker entirely. An offensive lineman would have been nice too. However, McElroy could be a career backup and relief pitcher (and I mean that in the most positive way) for years, some options at receiver were needed. But this was half a draft.
BALTIMORE RAVENS (Grade B)
Cornerback Jimmy Smith seemed destined for Baltimore, but when their pick came, the Ravens attempted to trade out, saw the deal falter, and then running out of time, slipped a spot …and then ended up with Smith anyway. He isn't as sexy a selection as Prince Akukamara or Patrick Peterson, but he's a shutdown corner with better height than either. There are character concerns, but he matched up well against top WR A.J. Green, taken by the Bengals.
Good character is something WR Torrey Smith does have, together with speed that demands some early action, but don’t overlook fellow receiver Tandon Doss, a drive–making 6’2" target with great hands. The Ravens may have Anquan Boldin and Derrick Mason, but they're clearly not waiting around for them to get old. The Ravens also add a big 6'7" 330lb tackle in Jah Reid, so Joe Flacco certainly can't complain about his supporting cast. The Ravens found value or above in every round of the draft.
CINCINNATI BENGALS (Grade B)
In a division famous for the Ravens and Steelers defenses, the Bengals continued their quest for the next generation on offense. With the chemistry fading, the Bengals are restocking receiver, with WR Jordan Shipley and TE Jermaine Gresham last year, and now top WR A.J. Green, who will either bring out the best in Chad Ochocinco, or simply usher him out. QB Carson Palmer has given every indication that he's done with the Bengals, and the Bengals appear to be moving on. By taking Green in round 1, the Bengals were able to double back for flame–haired thrower Andy Dalton in round 2. Dalton is marketable, game–savvy and an outright winner.
Clint Boling too was a nice selection in round 4 — the Georgia product lacks the perfect measurables, but is technically well–developed and makes a good early backup along the line. The defensive selections impress me less, but the Bengals had a lot of needs, and only linebacker depth went untouched. Given the situation Carson Palmer had them in, and their record for not doing especially well at this process (to put it kindly), the Bengals did a fine job of continuing the offensive retool while avoiding high–risk players.
CLEVELAND BROWNS (Grade B–)
The divisionally–overshadowed Browns didn't deliver a marquee player, but they didn't actually have to – 'good enough' was good enough to upgrade several positions, and they did nicely by trading out o the no.6 pick, gaining a slew of Atlanta picks (their 1st, 2nd, and 4th, plus a 1st and 4th in next year's draft). The Browns then traded back up from no.27 to 21 to take Phil Taylor, a 335lb DT who will soak up interior linemen while round 2 pick Jabaal Sheard attacks to the outside. That's the theory, anyway. I have reservations about both – character questions with Sheard, conditioning with Taylor – so they're not the combo I'd pick for a longer than normal offseason. But if all is well, they're upgrades.
It wouldn't take much to upgrade the receiving corps – TE Ben Watson was the only guy with more than 500 yards, and Chansi Stuckey led the wideouts with 40 catches – so new arrival Greg Little should eclipse those numbers in year one if he's still as good a receiver as he was 16 months ago when he last played football (NCAA suspension). Jordan Cameron should be the no.2 receiving TE behind Watson, and punishing fullback Owen Marecic should be a starter before too long. This draft delivers deep sustained talent to a team that needs it, as long as everybody straightens out.
PITTSBURGH STEELERS (Grade B–)
The only team in this division not upgrading their defensive line in the early rounds was the Ravens (wjho are just fine, thank you). The Steelers try to maintain the nastiness in their own with the son of Craig ‘Ironhead’ Heyward – Cam won't be pressed into an early start, but with few sacks coming from the Steelers DEs, I'm not convinced Heyward is the solution as a DE, nor has the athleticism to excel inside. He's a versatily body for the line in general, but hardly round one material. On the other side of the trenches, Marcus Gilbert was essential for the line and for helping Ben Roethlisberger’s nose remain vaguely nose–shaped; he is a pass–protection standout who will at least share time with Flozell Adams this season before a move to the left side. A more impactful CB would have been nice, but this year’s vintage meant mid–draft investments; of the two Brown is the best right now, and the only one who could safely cover man–to–man, but Allen may be the more regular starter 3–4 years down the road.
HOUSTON TEXANS (Grade: B–)
The Texans defense has looked scarily talented on paper for two to three seasons, with last season's failure to breakthrough no surprise with two inexperienced corners learning the hard way. The natural conclusion might be that there's nothing wrong with the defense that experience in the secondary or a top CB pick won't solve, but the Texans passed on Prince Amukamara, deciding instead to switch alignments from 4–3 to 3–4, and draft J.J. Watt, a play–making pass rusher who batted as many passes as he made sacks. That allows the Texans to gamble that Mario Williams will be as good an outside linebacker as he was a defensive end, but the starting LB line–up of Williams, Brian Cushing, DeMeco Ryans and Connor Barwin (with Brooks Reed to spare) is certainly exciting. Whether this turns out to be a stroke of genius by new Defensive Coordinator Wade Phillips or reprehensible tinkering may rest with the three DBs selected in the middle of the draft, and most likely with Brandon Harris proving a major upgrade of Brice McCain at LCB. Harris certainly has the talent and football smarts to step into the secondary quickly. I feel I should wow about the defensive talent they've added, but haven't we been this way before?
INDIANAPOLIS COLTS (Grade: B+)
The Colts couldn't do whole lot with only five picks, but the offensive line was a big concern and key to getting a second decade out of Peyton Manning. Anthony Castonzo is smart, proven and ready to step straight in here, just as he did as a freshman at Boston College. Another left tackle with four years of starting experience at the college level, Ben Ijalana will convert inside to left guard. Both of them feel like Colts players right out of the wrapper. Nevis is a hard worker who, even with a locked–out offseason, could figure soon. Delone Carter was an underachiever in college, largely through injuries but not solely, and it would be surprising to see him break out here with the struggles the Colts have had running the ball.
JACKSONVILLE JAGUARS (Grade: D)
I have a confession: I'm not a massive Blaine Gabbert fan. I'm not sure he didn't just suit the system he was in, I didn't think he handled pressure well or proved himself across the full tree in game situations. To be honest, I'm not sure how he ended up in the top 10. That's not to say that with time learning in the wings he can't become a decent starting quarterback. But if Gabbert is not an immediate upgrade to David Garrard, why trade up to take someone who’s going to stand on the sidelines for a year or more? And I have the suspicion that Gabbertis the Todd Blackledge of the Class of '11. The other picks all come from lower–level programs, and a small draft netted little that will make a difference to an 8–8 team.
TENNESSEE TITANS (Grade: B)
If you're still pulling faces at my Gabbert assessment, here's the cherry on the cake: I'd rather have taken Jake Locker than Gabbert too. Locker’s high selection started the ‘madness’ at QB, but his leadership skills are considerable and accuracy problems may be down to his supporting cast in college. If any QB in this draft can be thrown to the wolves in season one and survive the experience with his confidence intact, it's Locker, who displayed a bullet–proof ego at Washington, and a poise and willingness to throw it deep that Gabbert rarely did (…not that Locker didn't pay the price often enough to deserve some of the questions about him). If the Titans are done with Vince Young, and the Jeff Fisher era, now's the time to sign up for a player of Locker's potential.
Thereafter, the Titans started to restock the defense, with three DLs and linebackers for both the middle and the edge. All are usable, but none special – if only Ayers had McCarthy's pursuit or McCarthy had Ayers' athleticism, either would be steals. In time, Klug could be a better pass rusher than Ayers, but like Ayers, he needs a lot of coaching attention to max out the possibilities. That's not impossible under defensive coordinator Jerry Gray, but clearly coach Mike Munchak isn't too concerned with chasing a divisional crown in year one. All draft needs were matched, so 'so far, so good'.
DENVER BRONCOS (Grade: C+)
It's easy to get caught up in the productivity and good character of Von Miller – easily the best linebacker in the draft, by the way – and forget that the Broncos have a defensive line screaming for attention. Those screams went unheeded until the final round of the draft, when they took Beal… who's really a linebacker anyway. In all, then they hooked four 'backers, two outside, two inside. You have to be skeptical four from a single draft will stick, so perhaps a little wasteful, although all fit the pro level.
The turned the double trick at tight end as well, taking two basketball converts with the 6'5" frame of Thomas and then Virgil Green as a monstrous steal in round 7. I'm not entirely sure why anyone would take Thomas first and Green as the bonus, mind you. I can't fault the Broncos on their talent evaluation, but really, six picks between LB and TE alone? They also selected two safeties — one of each kind, and each could end up starting sometime. The draft doesn't lack for talent, but the problem going in – a lack of sacks from the defensive line – is still sitting there as we pass the mid–point of the offseason.
KANSAS CITY CHIEFS (Grade: A–)
Receiver Jonathan Baldwin — big hands, tall frame, potentially a great endzone target — is fairly representative of the Pitt team he played on: never quite as good in the flesh as on paper. On the other hand, if the right person shakes him down, he could make a tidy passing game dangerous. Hudson adds to an already good running game. From Justin Houston to Gabe Miller, KC addressed needs on defense too, consolidating their new role as AFC contenders. The selection of Ricky Stanzi could pay dividends a few years down the road: his third year at Iowa evidenced a sharp increase in accuracy and overall efficiency (25 TDs, 6 picks) after unexceptional numbers the previous two years. Could he be a slow burner again?
OAKLAND RAIDERS (Grade: B–)
Some were surprised by the Raiders not taking a quarterback in the draft, but by the time Oakland reached their first selection, six had already left the board. They could still have taken Ryan Mallett – on size alone – but the ever–present measurable in Davisville is speed, making Mallett a distict no–no. Speed arrived at CB, where all–pro Nnamdi Asomugha is departing, and WR, where Darrius Heyward–Bey's outstanding pace has translated into less than 40 catches in two years (gee, who'da guessed?). Demarcus Van Dyke will be given an early shot at corner with his Deion Sanders–like speed. He also has Sanders–like tackling, however. Chekwa, taken a round later, is marginally more adaptable, but both are streaks who look more like track stars than football players. Of the two, I can picture Chekwa making it big before Van Dyke.
Of the receivers, Denarius Moore was a track star in high school, but doesn't bring a physical presence to the position, but doesn't mind traffic and can catch – so he has a chance to figure. Tight End Richard Gordon is not a receiver so much as the third of three blockers selected, after Stefen 'nephew of Steve' Wisniewski, a smart interior lineman who looks to be a sure bet, and Joseph Barksdale, who has the frame to be better than he's shown if some coach can press the 'nasty' button. Barksdale played both right and left tackle in college, but provide safer protection as a guard. On paper, the Raiders matched need, though others were missed, and considering some of the spots available on the roster, there’s a lot here that will stick for a time.
SAN DIEGO CHARGERS (Grade: B+)
The Chargers have been leaking players recently, so multi–positional players help. Liuget can play DT or DE in a variety of sets, and steps up against run or pass, displays football savvy, and while he isn't a headline–grabber, a little more discipline could turn him into a Charger for the next decade. Marcus Gilchrist lacks elite size and may not really be a top 50 player, but he can be used at corner or safety, and has return skills. Brown, Wright and Todman could all overachieve vs. draft positions: Brown, out if San Diego State, will have been well–scouted by the organisation, Wright would have gone earlier were it not for a poorly–timed injury, and Jordan Todman has opportunities for carries here, although comparisons to the small–but–tough Darren Sproles are off the mark. A fine enough draft without fanfare, these players are the kind of glue that keeps a team competitive.