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SPORTS

Matt Kalil of USC ©John Pyle
Matt Kalil of USC, and now of the Minnesota Vikings. Photo ©John Pyle.
NFL DRAFT 2012
Richard L Gale offers up the draftees, post-draftees, opinions, and curmudgeonly grades following the world's biggest off-season sports event

Welcome to The American's wrap of the NFL Draft week. Never mind TV grades handed out with the draft still underway, or online grades dashed out within moments of Mr Irrelevant, there's no such rush to judgement here. Our grades include analysis of the players selected, the tactics used to select them, and the players added as undrafted free agents (UDFAs) 48 hours after the Draft. Instant draft reactions are fine if you believe players such as Ryan Grant, Adam Vinatieri, Jeff Saturday, Wes Welker, James Harrison, Antonio Gates, John Randle, and Kurt Warner never mattered. We believe in waiting until the dust settles. You know where Andrew Luck, Trent Richardson and Dont'a Hightower landed. To know who ended up with NCAA all-time winningest QB Kellen Moore, who stole away with hard-running Chris Polk, and who'll give Vontaze Burfict locker space (go on, guess), read on…


NFC East | NFC North | NFC South | NFC West | AFC East | AFC North | AFC South | AFC West

NFC EAST

DALLAS COWBOYS (Grade: B-)

Round (Pick)NamePositionHeight / WeightCollege
R1 (6)Morris ClaiborneCB5'11" / 188LSU
R3 (81)Tyrone CrawfordDE6'4" / 275Boise State
R4 (113)Kyle WilberOLB6'4" / 249Wake Forest
R4 (135)Matt JohnsonSS6'1" / 212Eastern Washington
R5 (152)Danny CoaleWR6'0" / 201Virginia Tech
R6 (186)James HannaTE6'4" / 252Oklahoma
R7 (222)Caleb McSurdyLB6'1" / 245Montana

Do you get the feeling that owner Jerry Jones has been spending a lot of time in the company of defensive coordinator Rob Ryan recently? The Cowboys' first four picks went to the defensive side (this team also added CB Brandon Carr, LB Dan Connor, and S Brodney Poole in free agency) and Claiborne and Crawford fit Ryan's scheme. Dallas traded up from pick 14 to 6 to secure the standout corner of the draft. Claiborne may not be an elite corner, but he can play on an island, stills brings his 188lb frame to battle elsewhere when called upon, and may be the key to unlocking the Dallas defense. Round 3 selection Crawford looks to be a contributor rather than a starter to begin with, but has plenty of upside, and together with Wilber, Johnson and McSurdy, points towards immediate improvement to special teams.

Among offensive additions, Hanna and Coale may be bottom-of-the-depth chart selections, but are the kind of players new backup QB Kyle Orton could make attractive to keep around. Post-draft players of note include solid, surprisingly nimble, but to date underachieving RB Darrell Scott (6'0" 231) and three offensive linemen – Memphis OG Ronald Leary, Oklahoma OG Levy Adcock and Columbia OT Jeff Adams – who have the tenacity, experience and size (respectively) to be worth some development. However, Claiborne aside, the total investment required here means the Cowboys' offseason is still more about the veteran free agents than the rookie additions.


NEW YORK GIANTS (Grade C+)

Round (Pick)NamePositionHeight / WeightCollege
R1 (32)David WilsonRB5'10" / 206Virginia Tech
R2 (63)Rueben RandleWR6'4" / 210LSU
R3 (94)Jayron HosleyCB5'10" / 178Virginia Tech
R4 (127)Adrien RobinsonTE6'4" / 264Cincinnati
R4 (131)Brandon MosleyOL6'5" / 314Auburn
R6 (201)Matt McCantsOL6'5" / 308UAB
R7 (239)Markus KuhnDT6'4" / 299North Carolina State

Tiki Barber-style downhill runner with the quicks to deflect the big hits? Check. Tall receiver from a major program to replace Mario Manningham? Check. Tight end to alleviate both Travis Beckum and Jake Ballard finishing the Super Bowl with ACL tears? Check. Plus a corner and yet another defensive lineman. Despite the signing of TE Martellus Bennett from the Cowboys, they could have changed up the position significantly by opting for Stanford TE Coby Fleener at pick 32 (having just seen RB Doug Martin go off the board), but I've softened on their way of thinking: Had they taken Fleener in Round 1, the like of, say, RB Isaiah Pead wouldn't have been there for them at pick 63, even if they had been comfortable with the receivers there in Rounds 3 or 4 (though I'm not convinced that a receiver of Randle's quality was a must, given the mitts already on the depth chart: Cruz, Nicks, Hixon).

Still, the draft lacked guile, with the Giants resigned to their turn in the process while everybody else traded up and down around them. They'd better pray one of Bennett or Robinson has a break-out season. Rhyming couplet Hosley and Mosley are backup material, and while one-time tuba player McCants is seen by some as having the highest ceiling, the Giants have tended towards more immediate starters on the line (10-year veteran Dave Diehl being a Round 5 exception), so I'm not convinced he'll go the distance. Undrafted free agent of interest: WR Julian Talley, from the same FCS school (UMass) as Victor Cruz, but I'm clutching at straws. In the midst of one of the NFL's zestiest drafts, the Giants nodded meakly like a Super Bowl party survivor clutching an alka-seltzer.


PHILADELPHIA EAGLES (Grade A-)

Round (Pick)NamePositionHeight / WeightCollege
R1 (12) Fletcher CoxDT6'4" / 298Mississippi State
R2 (46)Mychal KendricksLB5'11" / 239California
R2 (59)Vinny CurryDE6'3" / 266Marshall
R3 (88)Nick FolesQB6'5" / 243Arizona
R4 (123)Brandon BoykinCB5'9" / 182Georgia
R5 (153)Dennis KellyOT6'8" / 321Purdue
R6 (194)Marvin McNuttWR6'3" / 216Iowa
R6 (200)Brandon WashingtonOG6'3" / 320Miami
R7 (229)Bryce BrownRB6'0" / 223Kansas State

There's so much to like here, that it's easier to start with the one player I didn't like, and even that's subjective: Nick Foles sometimes seems more like an NFL body than an NFL starting quarterback, with all the open field agility of Medusa's optometrist. He's certainly no backup to Michael Vick, but the Eagles are regarding him for a different era, for a time when they've worked on his decision making. If you squint real hard, he might be Dan Marino. Or maybe just Dan Orlovsky. The reason I forgive the Eagles spending a third here, but don't forgive Washington spending a fourth on Kirk Cousins (below), is the quality of the rest of the picks.

Defensive tackle was a big need, and the Eagles did right to move up three spots and take Cox before the Rams might have; just 21 years old, he can be a disruptive player early, and has the potential to be a frightener eventually. He fits the Eagles, and so does Mychal Kendricks, a short inside tackling machine who may have to spend time at strongside linebacker with DeMeco Ryans in town; in fact Kendricks fits the role of Ryans' eventual replacement so well, it's worth pausing to ask if Philly settled for talent over position when they found themselves the wrong side of a run of OLs in the second round. If they did, they recovered superbly, netting Washington and Kelly, two linemen who could mean a lot for the Eagles eventually, if they can shift some food from Washington's plate to Kelly's.

Philadelphia's problems in 2012 had little to do with the cumulative talent on the roster, so their task in this draft was to land depth and developmental players. Throughout, they did exactly that. Curry will have his moments to help collapse pockets (especially when playing anywhere near Cox), Boykin is a nickel back who could switch to receiver in a pinch, and McNutt brings height to a team that's not overburdened with tall targets. RB Bryce Brown has potential as an inside runner, but was unsettled in college, and I like UDFA Chris Polk of Washington a lot better to make it with the Eagles; he has the same upright style, is a proven receiving option, and has a chance to turn into a Ryan Grant-style surprise. Amongst several free agents who have an uphill struggle to make the final cut: slot WR Aaron Pflugrad, squirty but baggage-strewn CB/PR Cliff Harris, and underpowered ballhawking FS Phillip Thomas. At press time, rumors had linked ex-Dolphin veteran Yeremiah Bell with the Eagles; the Eagles exit the draft needing to firm that up – strong safety was their one miss.


WASHINGTON REDSKINS (Grade C)

Round (Pick)NamePositionHeight / WeightCollege
R1 (2)Robert Griffin IIIQB6'2" / 223Baylor
R3 (71)Josh LeRibeusOG6'3" / 312SMU
R4 (102)Kirk CousinsQB6'3" / 214Michigan State
R4 (119))Keenan RobinsonOLB6'3" / 242Texas
R5 (141)Adam GettisOG6'2" / 293Iowa
R6 (173)Alfred MorrisRB5'9" / 219Florida Atlantic
R6 (193)Tom ComptonOT6'5" / 314South Dakota
R7 (213)Richard CrawfordDB-PR5'10" / 189SMU
R7 (217)Jordan BernstineSS-CB5'10" / 212Iowa

Robert Griffin III will do better earlier, and have more success in the mid-term than Andrew Luck. He's also far more likely than Luck to be an NFL bust, and that's no reflection on his talent. Griffin has a good arm, nice athleticism, and massive box-office appeal (as evidenced by the folks holding up the Shepard Fairey-style 'Hope' posters of RGIII). But he doesn't have a spotless health record, and is not well-built. His athleticism and rushing stats are reflective of WR-like deep speed through gaping holes rather than quick-twitch escapology. Seeing him in Baylor green reminds some of Eagles QB Michael Vick, but ex-Steeler Kordell Stewart may be closer to the mark. Griffin accomplished the impossible by turning Baylor into a contender, but it took awhile. Last year, Cam Newton showed how a rookie quarterback can make a mighty splash without causing a ripple in the playoff picture, so Washington's draft effort shouldn't have down-shifted after Griffin.

Washington already had added receiving tools in free agency with Pierre Garcon and Josh Morgan, so they looked for offensive linemen on Days 2-3. How much better might this had been accomplished had they used their fourth rounder to select or trade up for a lineman with tackle potential, rather than overdrafting on guard Josh LeRibeus in Round 3 and then taking another QB, Kirk Cousins, in Round 4? Now, I'm a fan of Cousins as a back-up (and even borderline starting) quarterback, and this might be the moment to recall how Round 7 selection Gus Frerotte once beat out Round 1 pick Heath Shuler at this same franchise a couple of decades ago. However, this wasn't Round 7, this was Round 4, and his selection smacks of taking a player who can step in when RGIII gets hurt rather than enhancing the talent that protects Griffin in the first place. Of the offensive linemen selected here, only LeRibeus feels like somebody to make the final two-deep. The other offensive selection, RB Alfred Morris, is a justifiable pick based on style.

The three defensive players drafted are backup options, but I give UDFA corner Chase Minnifield (son of four-time Pro Bowler Frank) as much chance of making the team as probable-safety Bernstine, though that's no grand endorsement. Considering how much Washington surrendered in this year and future years to get to Griffin, they didn't play the last 251 picks of the draft nearly well enough, and even when they went after valuable undrafted free agent RB Chris Polk, he opted to be an Eagle instead.

NFC East | NFC North | NFC South | NFC West | AFC East | AFC North | AFC South | AFC West


NFC NORTH

CHICAGO BEARS (Grade C)

Round (Pick)NamePositionHeight / WeightCollege
R1 (19)Shea McClellinDE6'3" / 260Boise State
R2 (45)Alshon JefferyWR6'4" / 230South Carolina
R3 (79)Brandon HardinFS6'3" / 217Oregon State
R4 (111)Evan RodriguezTE6'1" / 242Temple
R6 (184)Isaiah FreyCB5'11" / 188Nevada
R7 (220)Greg McCoyCB5'10" / 181TCU

McClellin is more OLB than DE, but in the Bears 4-3 and opposite Julius Peppers, he's intriguing, and he's all-effort. I'm still a little surprised he went this high to this team. They had a D-line need, but I'm wary to say he solves it. Corner was also a need, but the Bears went there late in the process, and I'm not sure their picks change anything. WR is a worry: The Bears paid a fire-sale price for annual 100-catch ex-Dolphin Brandon Marshall, but he has off-the-field issues to resolve. Alshon Jeffery's productivity – sky-high as a junior – halved as his weight increased as a senior, and looked a little like a wallowy big-body. With Johnnie Knox still battling back from injury, Rueben Randle might have been a safer choice in Round 2, or they could have addressed the offensive line instead (though UDFA James Brown of Troy could come through for them).

Back to the iffy selections: You have to like Hardin's size-speed combination, but he only had 13 career starts before missing his senior season with a shoulder injury. I'd mark him as a great investment were it a deeper, broader draft class for the Bears; Rodriguez is a TE-FB tweener and there's potential for the Bears to reap surprisingly little from their 2012 draft. A silver lining is their UDFA acquisitions, which include run-ruining DT Ronnie Cameron of Old Dominion. Stand him next to McClellin, and they may just have something.


DETROIT LIONS (Grade C+)

Round (Pick)NamePositionHeight / WeightCollege
R1 (23)Riley ReiffOT6'6" / 313Iowa
R2 (54)Ryan BroylesWR5'10" / 192Oklahoma
R3 (85)Dwight BentleyCB5'10" / 182Louisiana-Lafayette
R4 (125)Ronnell LewisOLB6'1" / 253Oklahoma
R5 (138)Tahir WhiteheadLB6'1" / 233Temple
R5 (148)Chris GreenwoodCB6'1" / 193Albion
R6 (196)Jonte GreenDB6'0" / 184New Mexico State
R7 (223)Travis LewisLB6'1" / 246Oklahoma

We are now talking about the draft class of a playoff Lions team, and that hasn't happened in a while. Splashy players are a little harder to come by, and Lions fans probably aren't going to get too excited by either an offensive tackle or a small receiver coming off injury, though protecting QB Matthew Stafford is clearly one of the keys to making the playoffs – and Reiff will do precisely that – and adding receiver depth was wise. This draft wasn't about splash for the Lions, though, it was about completing the rebuild on the defense beyond that nasty line. Two of the defensive backs and two of the linebackers require the investment of time, though Bentley could transition to a starting role soon, and LB Tahir Whitehead will slide in as a backup quickly. As little impact as there is here, the Lions were more interested in preventing their defense from wearing thin in the second half of the season (they surrendered 24+ points twice in the first half of the season, but 8 times in their final 9 games).

As a footnote, and back on offense, I'm amused by the Boise State reunion of WRs Titus Young, Tyler Shoemaker (UDFA) and QB Kellen Moore. Moore signed after going undrafted, and while it's understandable that he got shuffled out by the swarm of pro-friendly passers available, I believe that Moore is a clipboard-carrying dream of a backup who, if called upon, could step right in and distribute a win. That sounds like faint praise, but just ask Colts fans the difference between Jim Sorgi and Curtis Painter.


GREEN BAY PACKERS (Grade A-)

Round (Pick)NamePositionHeight / WeightCollege
R1 (28)Nick PerryDE/OLB6'3" / 271USC
R2 (51)Jerel WorthyDE6'2" / 308Michigan State
R2 (62)Casey HaywardDB5'11" / 185Vanderbilt
R4 (132) Mike DanielsDT6'0" / 291Iowa
R4 (133)Jerron McMillianSS5'11" / 203Maine
R5 (163)Terrell ManningOLB6'2" / 237North Carolina State
R7 (241)Andrew DatkoOT6'6" / 315Florida State
R7 (243)B.J. ColemanQB6'3" / 233Tennessee-Chattanooga

The Packers were another team preoccupied with defense during the draft, spending their first six picks in that direction. This stems from a crash in the sack count from 2010 to 2011. OLB Clay Matthews' tally fell from 14.0 to 6.0, and the addition of Perry at the other outside position should both unleash Matthews and bring its own threat from time to time, though he's unlikely to be a dominant player. Worthy will likely rotate in as a DE in the Packers' 3-4, and given that Ryan Pickett has logged just one sack in three seasons, Worthy could step up as pass-worrier. Mike Daniels is another situational pass-rusher, though small. Even Manning should factor into the obsession, though he's more likely to benefit from getting in the lane than reaching the passer, with a penchant for interceptions and breakups.

With CB Charles Woodson entering his 15th season, the Packers made a move to give him an understudy in Casey Hayward, again a ball-hawk, a sure-fire starter for the future, and probably all-pro. Elsewhere, McMillian is a hitter who's a gift to special teams, and UDFA Sean Richardson, another safety and like Hayward a Vanderbilt product, is more of the same. The Packers had an itch and they sure scratched it.

On offense, Datko could have gone high were it not for a senior injury, and Coleman transferred from Tennessee to gain playing time. A depth need at receiver went unaddressed until South Dakota State's WR Dale Moss signed as a UDFA – he's a big-framed basketball convert who's uncle was Heisman-winner Johnny Rodgers. A different Rodgers may well take to him. Over all, this draft was a team saying 'we have a problem' and dealing with it.


MINNESOTA VIKINGS (Grade B+)

Round (Pick)NamePositionHeight / WeightCollege
R1 (4)Matt KalilOT6'6" / 306USC
R1 (29)Harrison SmithFS6'2" / 213Notre Dame
R3 (66)Josh RobinsonCB5'10" / 199Central Florida
R4 (118)Jarius WrightWR5'10" / 182Arkansas
R4 (128)Rhett EllisonFB6'5" / 251USC
R4 (134)Greg ChildsWR6'3" / 219Arkansas
R5 (139)Robert BlantonCB6'1" / 208Notre Dame
R6 (175)Blair WalshK5'9" / 187Georgia
R7 (210)Audie ColeLB6'4" / 246North Carolina State
R7 (219)Trevor GuytonDE6'3" / 285California

When you have the opportunity to take the first non-quarterback in the draft, and you take the exact player you want, you don't get style points. When you trade down one place to pick up a 4th, 5th and 7th into the bargain, and still get the exact player you want, you do. The player in point is the top offensive tackle of the draft, brother of an established NFL lineman, and precisely who you need to protect and therefore progress last year's QB selection, Christian Ponder. This was followed with two start-potential defensive backs (they moved up for Smith) and not one but two Arkansas receivers, lightning-quick slot man Wright and big target Greg Childs, whose injury troubles derailed his Razorback development and who may find himself on the outside looking in. None the less, run-blocking FB Rhett Ellison was a nice addition to the backfield of shifty Percy Harvin, bruising Toby Gerhart and injured franchise runner Adrian Peterson (ACL/MCL), giving the Vikings five hits from their first five. Blanton suits their system, but Walsh needs to overcome a deflating senior season. Cole and Guyton are look-sees, and will enter camp fighting for preseason locker space with UDFAs such as TE-covering Iowa LB Tyler Nielsen, and versatile Mississippi State OL Quentin Saulsberry.

NFC East | NFC North | NFC South | NFC West | AFC East | AFC North | AFC South | AFC West


NFC WEST

ATLANTA FALCONS (Grade C)

Round (Pick)NamePositionHeight / WeightCollege
R2 (55)Peter KonzC6'5" / 314Wisconsin
R3 (91)Lamar HolmesOT6'5" / 323Southern Mississippi
R5 (157)Bradie EwingFB6'0" / 239Wisconsin
R5 (164)Jonathan MassaquoiDE6'2" / 264Troy
R6 (192)Charles MitchellSS5'11" / 202Mississippi State
R7 (249)Travian RobertsonDT6'4" / 302South Carolina

The Falcons have put a brave face on Julio Jones' rookie tally of 54 catches for 959 yards – hardly a bust, and certainly part of the reason QB Matt Ryan hit career highs for yards and touchdowns – but not having a Round 1 selection could have derailed their draft. By taking two massive slices of line beef – including arguably the best center available – the Falcons anchored the line and the draft grade, though I'm a little concerned by Konz' history of ailments – my idea of a perfect center is somebody who never ever dares miss a game and run the risk of disturbing his quarterback's calm. They then added run-blocking fullback Ewing, like Konz a former Badger, plus an ace special teamer.

Claiming their first defensive player in Round 5, Liberian Jonathan Massaquoi is a raw pass rushing force, and cousin to both Browns WR Mohamad Massaquoi and Vikings TE Visanthe Shiancoe. Undrafted free agent Lewis Nzegwu from Wisconsin (again!) also has a chance of making the final roster as sackmeister John Abraham enters his 13th season. Though Jerrell Harris of Alabama matches a glaring positional need at linebacker, he's little more than a special teams body, and the Falcons also whiffed on depth needs at TE, corner, and receiver (for the latter, they did sign James Rodgers, brother of Atlanta's Jacquizz, as a look-see post-draft, but he has the injury record you'd expect of sub-5'7" player). Half a draft, then.


CAROLINA PANTHERS (Grade C)

Round (Pick)NamePositionHeight / WeightCollege
R1 (9)Luke KuechlyILB6'3" / 242Boston College
R2 (40)Amini SilatoluOT6'4" / 311Midwestern State
R4 (103)Frank AlexanderDE6'4" / 270Oklahoma
R4 (104)Joe AdamsWR5'11" / 179Arkansas
R5 (143)Josh NormanCB6'0" / 197Coastal Carolina
R6 (207)Brad NortmanP6'2" / 213Wisconsin
R7 (216)D.J. CampbellFS6'0" / 201California

In a year when trading up was in fashion and going after need trumped 'best available', the Panthers skipped a couple of things they needed on defense: depth at OLB, where Thomas Davis has now suffered three ACL tears, and at Defensive Tackle, where 2011 third-rounders Terrell McClain and Sione Fua are starters more by default than on merit. They had better hope Jon Beason returns from IR ready to go, and that an undrafted tryout such as Michigan's Ryan Van Bergen or 2010 freebie Andre Neblett contribute in the tackle rotation (though they still sound more like names generated by a 'Random UDFA' app). However, they at least added a defensive lineman of some sort with Alexander, a technically incomplete edge rusher, and they hit the bullseye with instinctive tackling demon Luke Kuechly to replace departed MLB Dan Conner, while Silatolu's potential had some scouts salivating.

Punter was another need, and the Panthers didn't hang around for the post-draft, taking long-proven boom-booter Nortman, while a hole at receiver might have been filled by Joe Adams, a sudden accelerator who, while a small target with some history of drops, has home-run capabilities as both a receiver and returner. Either as a replacement for Captain Munnerlyn or as an eventual successor to Chris Gamble, Josh Norman shows moves and ball-hawking desire, but good pro receivers may find him hilariously easy to shed to begin with, while Campbell was just a one-year starter in college, so putting either into early action would be a mistake. The Panthers exit the draft with some desperate needs addressed, but some cracks have barely been papered over.


NEW ORLEANS SAINTS (Grade D)

Round (Pick)NamePositionHeight / WeightCollege
R3 (89)Akiem HicksDT6'5" / 318Regina/td>
R4 (122)Nick ToonWR6'2" / 215Wisconsin
R5 (162)Corey WhiteSS5'11" / 206Samford
R6 (179)Andrew TillerOG6'4" / 324Syracuse
R7 (234)Marcel JonesOT6'6" / 320Nebraska

The Saints had already traded away their Round 1 pick to acquire Mark Ingram last year, and lost their Round 2 as part of their multilayered 'Bountygate' punishment. With just five remaining selections, and player suspensions yet to be announced, the Saints just needed people they could use. Both defensive picks come from lower levels of competition, Hicks playing in Canada (ably, though not legendarily) after being declared ineligible to play at LSU, and White as a CB at Samford. With White projected to convert to Strong Safety (a massive need for New Orleans), both could drown a little in the deep end before they adjust to NFL life.

Nick Toon (son of Al) grew up around the league, and while he could have a smoother initiation with Marques Colston, Devery Henderson, and Lance Moore on the roster, his selection was forced by the departure of similarly-sized Robert Meacham and they'd probably like to see a 40-catch debut (in which case, a fourth rounder would be great value). His technical understanding of the game means he's a safe selection, more a worker than special. My gut reaction is that the two late linemen will struggle to make it in New Orleans (anybody's gut reaction might struggle in the land of Creole cooking), though Tiller has some nasty about him. The most relevant of the post-draft free agents may be Georgia Southern DB Laron Scott, who could provide another option for returns if Darren Sproles maintains his starting RB status over thus-far underwhelming Ingram. I'm not sure Scott or White answer New Orleans' burning CB need in the wake of Tracy Porter's departure, so naturally enough for such a short haul, the grade is as dreadful as the Saints' present predicament.


TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS (Grade: A)

Round (Pick)NamePositionHeight / WeightCollege
R1 (7)Mark BarronSS6'1" / 213Alabama
R1 (31) Doug MartinRB5'9" / 223Boise State
R2 (58)Lavonte DavidOLB6'1" / 233Nebraska
R5 (140)Najee GoodeILB6'0" / 244West Virginia
R6 (174)Keith TandyCB5'10" / 200West Virginia
R7 (212)Michael SmithRB5'9" / 205Utah State
R7 (233)Drake DunsmoreTE6'2" / 241Northwestern

In a division that delivered half measures and half drafts, the Buccaneers worked the phones and got results. The Browns jumped the Bucs to nab RB Trent Richardson third overall, and the Cowboys leaped in to steal away CB Morris Claiborne. Tampa recovered by trading down to pick seven and taking the best safety in the draft (another of their needs) and a player who can help them immediately. The trade-down netted pick 101, which they subsequently used to trade back into the first round from the bottom of the second, and snap up runner Doug Martin, a small workhorse who was fortuitously underworked at Boise State, and who has more potential in the passing game than he's shown. Martin has the potential to be a significant year-on-year pro bowler, is a fantasy stud, and was certainly on the Giants' radar for the very next pick.

The Bucs traded up again from the start of the third to the bottom of the second, catching OLB Lavonte David as he slid below value. He's a little undersized, but makes up for it by being a relentless tackler on the field and a relentless student off it. Goode looks like a perfect backup for anywhere in the LB corps, and Tandy combines former-QB smarts and special teams toughness to bring read-and-react results to the secondary. Every one of these five is a sure-fire hit, and together with Dunsmore (who is a longer shot), matched need. Amongst undrafted free agents, a need at CB means Iowa State's Leonard Johnson has a shot, though only as depth, while 6'5" 303 Rutgers OG Desmond Wynn shows hints of a pro career if he can shake the injury bug … plus, of course, he rejoins his college coach Greg Schiano, who's landed himself rather a nice first draft.

NFC East | NFC North | NFC South | NFC West | AFC East | AFC North | AFC South | AFC West


NFC SOUTH

ARIZONA CARDINALS (Grade: B-)

Round (Pick)NamePositionHeight / WeightCollege
R1 (13)Michael FloydWR6'3" / 220Notre Dame
R3 (80)Jamell FlemingCB5'11" / 206Oklahoma
R4 (112)Bobby MassieOT6'6" / 316Mississippi
R5 (151)Senio KelemeteOG6'3" / 307Washington
R6 (177)Justin BethelCB6'0" / 200Presbyterian
R6 (185)Ryan LindleyQB6'3" / 229San Diego State
R7 (221)Nate PotterOT6'6" / 303Boise State

The Arizona offense is still taking shape. However, all being well, Round 1 pick Floyd will prove a major upgrade over Early Doucet, and Round 4 steal Bobby Massie will muscle into the starting lineup to help Kevin Kolb stay healthy through the season (the addition of another QB is hardly a sign of unshakeable confidence in that scenario, however). Starting with the tackles, Massie's day four selection is hard to explain: he's proven, well-built, played in the SEC, looks able to play on the right or left, stayed away from trouble in college, and was evaluator-friendly. He just didn't growl to be picked. Kelemete played 26 games at left tackle in college, 11 more at right guard, and could also find himself inserted early. Potter had 38 games as a left tackle, and will be valuable depth. Notice I said 'will be'. With Floyd being mentored by Larry Fitzgerald and hopefully focusing on football as he did last fall (100 catches) rather than off-field events that marred his college career, the Cards may have aced the offensive side of this draft.
On defense, both CB picks look like special teamers for now, but have the upside to be backups and relief guys. However, the Cards also needed to land a safety and a linebacker, and while a couple of locally-educated UDFA LBs are in the mix (Paul Vassallo, Arizona, and Colin Parker, ASU), they shrugged at defense to max out the offensive grade.


SAN FRANCISCO 49ERS (Grade C+)

Round (Pick)NamePositionHeight / WeightCollege
R1 (30)A.J. JenkinsWR6'0" / 192Illinois
R2 (61)LaMichael JamesRB5'8" / 194Oregon
R4 (117)Joe LooneyOG6'3" / 309Wake Forest
R5 (165)Darius FlemingOLB6'2" / 245Notre Dame
R6 (180)Trent RobinsonFS5'10" / 195Michigan State
R6 (199)Jason SloweyC6'3" / 303Western Oregon
R7 (237)Cam JohnsonDE6'3" / 268Virginia

Come August, herds of preseason pundits will be moving in the 49ers' direction charmed by the heady combo of Alex Smith throwing to Mario Manningham (…and they say Americans don't 'do' irony!). Well, Jim Harbaugh isn't reading his press just yet, and opened San Francisco's draft with more offensive tools, including Jenkins, a fast-accelerating target who didn't deserve a first round pick (and was of questionable need after signing FAs Manningham and Randy Moss), James, a diddy option out of the backfield who is slick as a sidewinder in open space, and Looney, who could be called upon as an interior stop-gap in case of 2012 emergency, with a good shot of becoming a starter later. There are longer odds on Slowey. Fleming, Robinson and Johnson all project as depth, though they may well try Robinson at corner, for which his sub-200 lb frame is better suited.

Undrafted notables include pure blocking TE Garrett Celek (brother of Philly's Brent), and fast, predictably-intelligent Stanford WR Chris Owusu, reunited with the coach who recruited him out of high school. This was a draft to ensure injury sidetrack a Super Bowl run. It did so without being spectacular, and they're still a little thin for DTs.


SEATTLE SEAHAWKS (Grade D)

Round (Pick)NamePositionHeight / WeightCollege
R1 (15)Bruce IrvinDE6'3" / 245West Virginia
R2 (47)Bobby WagnerILB6'0" / 233Utah State
R3 (75)Russell WilsonQB5'11" / 204Wisconsin
R4 (106)Robert TurbinRB5'10" / 222Utah State
R4 (114)Jaye HowardDT6'3" / 301Florida
R5 (154)Korey ToomerLB6'2" / 234Idaho
R6 (172)Jeremy LaneCB6'0" / 184Northwestern State
R6 (181)Winston GuyDB6'1" / 218Kentucky
R7 (225)J R SweezyDE6'5" / 298North Carolina State
R7 (232)Greg ScruggsDE6'3" / 284Louisville

Pete Carroll apologists will tell you that Carroll goes after the players he likes and that Bruce Irvin was the best pass rusher in the draft. Which is fair enough, except that I haven't hurled anything at anybody for a while, and Carroll's disregard for market value gives me excellent reason to limber up the ol' pitching arm. We hear that San Francisco may have been interested in Irvin at pick 30, and Carroll assures everyone that he's tracked Irvin since high school and knows what he is getting. But… a one-dimensional pass rusher is rarely worth the no.15 pick in the draft, and one that dropped out of high school, was arrested, went to two colleges before joining a major program, and even then wasn't a full time starter … is definitely not worth the no.15 pick. This isn't about whether Irvin is a good person, it's about worth. LB Bobby Wagner may fit Carroll, but he might well have been there a round later. Toomer… Sweezy… Guy… Scruggs… these defensive selections have as much chance to make the roster as a host of offensive UDFAs now in with the Seahawks: WRs Phil Bates of Ohio and Jermaine Kearse of Washington, TE Sean McGrath of Henderson State, OT Jon Opperud of Montana. At least the latter group bear some relation to Seahawks needs. Seattle's drafting strategy (there was a strategy?) was at time so perplexing that it's actually hard to review. If I say that Wagner has an opportunity if anything happens to Barrett Ruud, Turbin makes for a nice downhill runner behind Lynch, Howard can be developed, and Wilson could be a starter if Matt Flynn's mercurial Week 17 turns out to be a mirage, that flatters this draft with an air of coherence. Pete Carroll may get the last laugh, but I'll take my chances on a withering grade.


ST LOUIS RAMS (Grade B-)

Round (Pick)NamePositionHeight / WeightCollege
R1 (14)Michael BrockersDT6'5" / 322LSU
R2 (33)Brian QuickWR6'3" / 220Appalachian State
R2(39)Janoris JenkinsCB5'10" / 193North Alabama
R2 (50)Isaiah PeadRB5'10" / 197Cincinnati
R3 (65)Trumaine JohnsonCB6'1" / 204Montana
R4 (96)Chris GivensWR5'11" / 198Wake Forest
R5 (150)Rokevious WatkinsOL6'4" / 338South Carolina
R6 (171)Greg ZuerleinK6'0" / 187Missouri Western
R7 (209)Aaron BrownLB6'0" / 237Hawaii
R7 (252)Daryl RichardsonRB5'10" / 192Abilene Christian

So here are your Rams, London. I don't want to dwell on the negative (so I'll get it out of the way first), but as both of their Day 2 cornerbacks have actually been tasered by police, I might not be upping the grade on 'character'. Jenkins, who I truly doubt will stay on-track here, is, however, one of the draft's top talents, a genuine cover corner who went man-to-man against the SEC's best until he was dismissed from Florida. Johnson only had one major incident to worry about, and despite playing at a small school, has a big-league frame.

The Rams also began their draft with defense, selecting inside disruptor Michael Brockers. They might have liked to start it on offense, but having traded down from pick 2 to pick 6 long before the draft in exchange for a raft of present or future picks, they traded down again when the Jaguars traded ahead of them to steal away WR Justin Blackmon. Then it happened again, Michael Floyd off the board one pick before their no.14 selection. Thus Brockers, and thus the addition of Brian Quick at the start of Round 2. Quick is a 6'3" 220lb big-play target who helps Bradford, but stepping up from Appalachian State, there could be a period of adjustment, so he's no quick fix (pun unintentional). Givens was also a playmaker in college, and like Quick put up big numbers, and Pead is a small open-field exploder who answers San Fran's addition of LaMichael James. OL Watkins is primarily here for the running game, however.

The team has put its kicking future on the boot of Zuerlein, cutting Josh Brown in the wake of the draft, but aside from that, this draft represents a few steps on a journey; Brockers is still growing into his body, Quick is unlikely to be an instant superstar, and veteran free agent Cortland Finnegan is on hand to mentor Jenkins and Johnson in the ways of controlled behaviour (ah...). There is plenty of talent here for the long-haul, and it'll be fun watching it develop. If the grade seems a little reserved, consider it punishment for being flatfooted twice in the same round, plus I grade largely on what you bring home, not future picks in the back pocket – those will take care of themselves another time.

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AFC EAST

BUFFALO BILLS (Grade C+)

Round (Pick)NamePositionHeight / WeightCollege
R1 (10)Stephon GilmoreCB6'0" / 190South Carolina
R2 (41)Cordy GlennOT6'5" / 345Georgia
R3 (69)T.J. GrahamWR5'11" / 188North Carolina State
R4 (105)Nigel BradhamOLB6'2" / 241Florida State
R4 (124)Ron BrooksCB5'10" / 190LSU
R5 (144)Zebrie SandersOT6'5" / 320Florida State
R5 (147) Tank CarderILB6'2" / 236TCU
R6 (178)Mark AsperOL6'6" / 319Oregon
R7 (251) John PotterK5'1" / 219Western Michigan

Like Buffalo's 2011 season, it all started so well. Morris Claiborne stole all the headlines at cornerback, but Gilmore was a good second option for the Bills – more a zone player than cover corner at this point, he has the smooth moves and deep speed to get by against all but the best, and is a physical tackler. Glenn is a massive SEC-tested lineman with unlikely lightness of step and some experience at left tackle; at worst he's a starting guard, and both of these picks are sound early producers. However, despite signing Mario Willams and Mark Anderson to upgrade (understatement) the defensive line, the Bills still had an urgent need for back-seven contributors, and lost the plot in Round 3, taking Graham, a one-dimensional deep threat who could well have been there much later.

Both Bradham and Carder feel like fits here, though Bradham is more physically suited to a starting shot, and Carder – two-time Mountain West Defensive Player of the Year – has an around-the-ball opportunism about him that will endear him to special teams and give him a longer-term shot. Brooks is a high-leaping fast-returning corner who will be given a chance in a short-handed secondary, but he caught my eye on tape as being more short-armed, and a step out of position or off the play. Brooks, along with Sanders and Asper, feel like players unlikely to find another level in the pros, and with only one undrafted free agent of special note (QB Aaron Corp of Richmond – via USC – played in a pro-style offense and might stick as the no.3), a draft that started more than adequately mumbled to a ho-hum conclusion.


MIAMI DOLPHINS (Grade B)

Round (Pick)NamePositionHeight / WeightCollege
R1 (8)Ryan TannehillQB6'4" / 221Texas A&M
R2 (42)Jonathan MartinOT6'5" / 312Stanford
R3 (72)Olivier VernonDE6'2" / 261Miami
R3 (78)Michael EgnewTE6'5" / 252Missouri
R4 (97)Lamar MillerRB5'11" / 212Miami
R5 (155)Josh KadduLB6'3" / 239Oregon
R6 (183)B.J. CunninghamWR6'1" / 211Michigan State
R7 (215)Kheeston RandallDT6'4" / 293Texas
R7 (227)Rishard MatthewsWR6'0" / 212Nevada

Miami make me glad to be a draft critic – there's so often something to pelt with cabbage. Their track record with first round picks is pretty abysmal, with LT Jake Long an exception, Ted Ginn Jr their lowlight, and even the great Dan Marino dropped into their laps – I can't shake the suspicion that had they picked in the top ten in '83, they'd have picked Todd Blackledge instead. But despite my belief that Tannehill swept into the top ten purely on the coat tails of Luck and RGIII's early adoption as the 1-2 locks, I'm actually going to give GM Jeff Ireland a pass here. Sort of. Having failed to land veteran QB help better than David Garrard, missing out on OT Eric Winston in free agency, and having to face Jef-FIRE-land protests, the Dolphins GM could do little other than take Tannehill. He sure isn't a bust. He's intelligent, personable, marketable (he and his new wife Lauren could steal some of the Brady-Bunchen thunder), and while not a blue chip quarterback, he played the last two years in offensive coordinator Mike Sherman's system, and can make every throw required of him. For the Dolphins, and only the Dolphins, this was the right selection at pick 8.

With Marc Colombo gone at right tackle and rumour that Jake Long might be too expensive to keep at left tackle beyond 2012, Andrew Luck's former minder Jonathan Martin was a fine choice in Round 2. And with the retirement of Jason Taylor, they selected a natural 4-3 end in Round 3, albeit a raw one. However, the Dolphins parted with their top tackler (safety Yeremiah Bell), receiver (Brandon Marshall), and leading sackman Cameron Wake isn't contract-happy, leaving needs for a No.1 receiver, a run-punishing strong safety, and a pass-rushing outside linebacker to work in. Rishard Matthews is a 'Z' receiver, and was a productive one at pass-heavy Nevada (91 catches his senior year), but post-draft signee safety Kelcie McCray and mid-round tackler Josh Kaddu are a stretch to resolve other issues.

Others here are depth selections, though I like the security-blanket selection of a young pass-catching TE and the free agent signing of Tannehill's former A&M target WR Jeff Fuller. Given that Dolphins management were already picking flecks of ripe tomato off their suits coming into the draft, I'll reserve the veg for someone else. The Dolphins simply weren't masters of their own destiny when the weekend began.


NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS (Grade B+)

Round (Pick)NamePositionHeight / WeightCollege
R1 (21)Chandler JonesDE6'5" / 247Syracuse
R1 (25)Dont’a HightowerLB6'2" / 265Alabama
R2 (48)Tavon WilsonFS6'0" / 205Illinois
R3 (90)Jake BequetteDE6'5" / 274Arkansas
R6 (197)Nate EbnerDB6'0" / 202Ohio State
R7 (224)Alfonzo DennardCB5'10" / 204Nebraska
R7 (235)Jeremy EbertWR5'11" / 200Northwestern

A short draft, as a team that usually stockpiles picks splurged on some trade-ups and addressed day-glo defensive needs. Needing to replace Mark Anderson's 10 sacks, Chandler Jones is as much the pass rusher as Seattle's Bruce Irvin, taken six spots earlier, and is a more complete player. LB Dont'a Hightower is a great complement, a tackler and a leader who can play inside or out. Defensive backs Wilson, Ebner and Dennard are the kind of players who look like much better selections once Bill Belichick is the guy pointing the finger at them. Wilson was overdrafted in Round 2, rugby standout Ebner is raw as sushi, and Dennard's senior year wasn't all it could have been, with an ejection in his final game, and he allegedly punched a police officer a few days before the draft. On the plus side, the Patriots got him at a bargain-basement price because of it.

Offensively, New England took a depth receiver and added two interesting linemen, South Florida's Jeremiah Warren and Iowa's Markus Zusevics, after the draft. There's a tendency to overpraise Belichick's draft mastery, to reverently regard him as the NFL's Steve Jobs and praise every upgrade as a revolutionary breakthrough. The early trade-ups netted two standout players, and a resolute focus on defense was timely, but it's hardly a draft for the ages.


NEW YORK JETS (Grade C+)

Round (Pick)NamePositionHeight / WeightCollege
R1 (16)Quinton CoplesDL6'6" / 284North Carolina
R2 (43)Stephen HillWR6'4" / 215Georgia Tech
R3 (77)Demario DavisOLB6'2" / 235Arkansas State
R6 (187)Josh BushSS5'11" / 208Wake Forest
R6 (202)Terrance GanawayRB6'0" / 239Baylor
R6 (203)Robert T. GriffinOG6'6" / 335Baylor
R7 (242)Antonio AllenSS6'1" / 210South Carolina
R7 (244) Jordan WhiteWR6'0" / 208Western Michigan

When will the ugly duckling that is the Jets transform into a Super Bowl swan? The Jets could have had Chandler Jones (see above) instead of Coples, but seeking a Julius Peppers clone, they took a player that some felt underachieved during his senior season, saving himself for his pro career. On that basis (and in the aftermath of the Tebow acquisition), the pundits rained down some low insta-grades on the Jets. Statistically, Coples' 5 sacks in 2009 turned to 10 sacks in 2010, dipping to 7.5 in 2011, while tackles and tackle-for-loss remained much the same the last two seasons. It's just that so much was expected, and Coples didn't unleash the perceived top-3 talent when he moved from DT to DE his final year. So here he was in the middle of the first round. Given his physical make-up and the skills he's flashed, wasn't this about right, given that he could play anywhere on the defensive line?

I have more issue with the draft positions of Davis and Bush, but at least the defensive picks addressed defensive needs, including a dearth of sacks, for which smallish UDFA Brett Roy may also help… I'm not sure they addressed them well, but they did try. They also needed a receiver or two, and took a couple, Jordan White being a reliable route-runner, and Stephen Hill the high-risk high-reward flyer, fast as a javelin despite 6-4 height. Playing at Georgia Tech, Hill has proven more about his blocking ability than his productivity (career high of 28 catches last year), but his 29.3 yards per catch screams 'weapon' once he's acclimated to a pro offense. The other Robert Griffin from Baylor was worth a late-round look, but may need some strength-development, while fellow Bear Ganaway posted over 1500 yards during a breakout senior season, and could give Shonn Greene a breather.

The valid criticism is that Rex Ryan and company are loading themselves up with things-to-do and potential distractions. Is there time to deal with a self-induced QB controversy, push Coples, teach Hill a full passing tree, get nice late pick Allen ready to step in for LaRon Landry (achilles), make sure Santonio Holmes is happy? It's strange to see a supposed contender trying to do everything against the odds. While the Patriots float serenely ahead, paddling beneath the surface, the Jets just keep quacking and flapping away.

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AFC NORTH

BALTIMORE RAVENS (Grade B)

Round (Pick)NamePositionHeight / WeightCollege
R2 (35)Courtney UpshawOLB6'2" / 272Alabama
R2 (60)Kelechi OsemeleOT/OG6'5" / 333Iowa State
R3 (84)Bernard PierceRB6'0" / 218Temple
R4 (98)Gino GradkowskiOG6'3" / 300Delaware
R4 (130)Christian ThompsonFS6'0" / 211South Carolina State
R5 (169)Asa JacksonCB5'10" / 191Cal Poly
R6 (198)Tommy StreeterWR6'5" / 219Miami
R7 (236)Deangelo TysonDE6'2" / 315Georgia

You have to adjust your expectations for a Ravens draft. They have long stuck to a formula of taking best-player-available-who-feels-like-a-Raven, and slotting them into their winning tradition. It's self-perpetuating. The Ravens traded out of the first round and still caught a draft-day faller who fits in Upshaw, a powerful edge-rusher who will likely start. Other defensive picks included fast safety Thompson, and twitchy nickel back prospect Jackson, who both figure for special teams in the early going. Offensively, they boosted the line depth with Osemele and Gradkowski, though both could end up as guards in the pros, while college-productive slasher Bernard Pierce and rangy but developmental Tommy Streeter fitted both a need and the Ravens. The twist in the tale is that most of what the Ravens selected this year did match need, and if Osemele breaks into the lineup, the Ravens remain ahead of the personnel curve.


CINCINNATI BENGALS (Grade B)

Round (Pick)NamePositionHeight / WeightCollege
R1 (17)Dre KirkpatrickCB6'1" / 186Alabama
R1 (27)Kevin ZeitlerOG6'4" / 314Wisconsin
R2 (53)Devon StillDT6'5" / 303Penn State
R3 (83)Mohamed SanuWR6'2" / 211Rutgers
R3 (93)Brandon ThompsonDT6'2" / 314Clemson
R4 (116)Orson CharlesTE6'2" / 251Georgia
R5 (156)Shaun PraterCB5'10" / 190Iowa
R5 (166)Marvin JonesWR6'1" / 199California
R5 (167)George IlokaFS6'4" / 225Boise State
R6 (191)Dan HerronRB5'10" / 213Ohio State

Cincinnati's playoff season, helmed by rookie QB Andy Dalton, could easily become an aberration unless they find replacements for Andre Caldwell and Jerome Simpson at receiver, and grabbed two decent-sized ones in the productive Sanu (the target of a draft-day jape when somebody pretended he'd been drafted by the Bengals… two rounds later, he was) and Jones, whose shown good agility to get open. TE Orson Charles also must not be underestimated as a target, and was undervalued in Round 3, possibly after being arrested in March for DUI (the Bengals rarely seem to worry about these things). Andy Dalton was also gifted Zeitler, who might not be great value in the first round – he's no blue chipper – but he's a classic Wisconsin lineman: big and ready-to-go.

On the other side of the ball, Devon Still is similarly big but not special. He once missed a team breakfast, which I mention only because, compared to the transgressions of some Bengals players I could mention, that's practically sainthood. Fellow-tackle Thompson is a great run-stuffer and another high-character guy (who are these Bengals?). Prater is a student of the game with decent athleticism, Iloka has superb agility and reactions, with upside, and Herron too could contribute. By comparison to the rest, Kirkpatrick is the riskiest pick, a confident cover man who could be something of a liability as a rookie through overconfidence. The Bengals matched needs and largely avoided discipline concerns. And then they invited Arizona State LB Vontaze Burfict. Endless personal fouls, awful combine… but at least they didn't spend a draft pick on him.


CLEVELAND BROWNS (Grade B+)

Round (Pick)NamePositionHeight / WeightCollege
R1 (3)Trent RichardsonRB5'9" / 228Alabama
R1 (22) Brandon WeedenQB6'4" / 221Oklahoma State
R2 (37)Mitchell SchwartzOT6'5" / 318California
R3 (87)John HughesDT6'2" / 309Cincinnati
R4 (100)Travis BenjaminWR5'10" / 172Miami
R4 (120) James-Michael JohnsonILB6'1" / 241Nevada
R5 (160) Ryan MillerOG6'7" / 321Colorado
R6 (204)Emmanuel AchoOLB6'1" / 238Texas
R6 (205)Billy WinnDT6'4" / 294Boise State
R7 (245) Trevin WadeCB5'10" / 192Arizona
R7 (247)Brad SmelleyTE6'2" / 237Alabama

I'm not going to be mired in the minutiae of the late-rounders – we'll just gather Acho, Winn and Wade together under the tired old 'upside potential' label and declare Wade a criminally overlooked nickel – and revel in their franchise-redefining first round. The Browns completely committed to the scenario of Richardson and Weeden, gifting away three mid-late picks to move up a single spot and secure Richardson, a Doak Walker Award-winner who logged over 1600 yards rushing his senior year, and more importantly for the modern NFL, over 2000 yards combined. He enjoys pass blocking, finishes runs aggressively, and is not afraid to carry an offense on his shoulders. He sometimes seems like a faster Emmett Smith, an impression that explains why, in an era of devalued running backs, teams were jostling to get at him. There's not a division in the league that suits him better.

The Browns had reportedly told incumbent young passer Colt McCoy that they weren't going to draft a quarterback, but when they pulled the trigger on Brandon Weeden later in the first round, the McCoy era effectively ended; even if Weeden doesn't work out, McCoy's unlikely to still be around picking up the pieces. Weeden is bigger and stronger-armed than McCoy, and having bested Luck, RGIII and Tannehill out on the field, one has to wonder how high his value would be, were he age 22 instead of 28. Of course, his maturity is part of the package. If the Browns can find moments for Travis Benjamin to get out on the field and for Mitchell Schwartz to keep the pass rush out of Weeden's face, I like the chances of Benjamin slipping free and getting under a deep Weeden pass… (Browns fans might like to stop reading at this point) …except I'm not sure it's going to work out quite like that, at least not yet.

Weeden isn't used to playing under center or reading NFL defenses, and doesn't have much in the way of mobility. He may be mature, but he's still a rookie, and he's in a division with the Ravens and Steelers defenses. Progress hinges completely on Richardson being all-pro. The difference of McCoy or Weeden might not be that great. Finally, if you don't see the combination of 'Smelley', 'Brown' and 'tight end' amusing in a fundamentally purile way, you clearly don't have a four year old daughter who watches Dick & Dom. Cleveland will find a use for him, though, so that's an excellent late pick.


PITTSBURGH STEELERS (Grade B)

Round (Pick)NamePositionHeight / WeightCollege
R1 (24)David DeCastroOG6'5" / 316Stanford
R2 (56)Mike AdamsOT6'7" / 323Ohio State
R3 (86)Sean SpenceLB5'11" / 231Miami
R4 (109)Alameda Ta’amuDT6'3" / 348Washington
R5 (159)Chris RaineyRB5'8" / 180Florida
R7 (231)Toney ClemonsWR6'2" / 210Colorado
R7 (240)David PaulsonTE6'3" / 245Oregon
R7 (246)Terrence FrederickCB5'10" / 187Texas A&M
R7 (248)Kelvin BeachumOL6'2" / 303SMU

The Steelers have won games the past 2-3 years despite – rather than because of – their offensive line, the talent level of which has been in slow retreat. Finally, they've done something about that, drafting top guard David DeCastro and potential left tackle Mike Adams, whose big enough to be all-pro in the NFL if he can show football desire. Given that reservation, the Steelers selected both at appropriate moments. With change-of-pace back Rainey, tall receiver Clemons, and UDFA Marquis Maze of Alabama in camp, the Steelers offense is rejuvenating. Pittsburgh also had less desperate needs on defense. Ta'amu is a boulder of a nose tackle to take over from Casey Hampton (ACL) and could be a steal in Round 4. Spence is one of those small but instinctive sideline-to-sideline tacklers who fits this team mentally, but lacks strength. This is a good Steelers draft that dealt with their most pressing needs, though the question of Rashard Mendenhall's ACL recovery remains.

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AFC SOUTH

HOUSTON TEXANS (Grade B-)

Round (Pick)NamePositionHeight / WeightCollege
R1 (26)Whitney MercilusDE6'3" / 261Illinois
R3 (68)DeVier PoseyWR6'1" / 211Ohio State
R3 (76)Brandon BrooksOG6'5" / 343Miami (OH)
R4 (99)Ben JonesC6'2" / 303Georgia
R4 (121)Keshawn MartinWR5'11" / 192Michigan State
R4 (126) Jared CrickDT6'4" / 279Nebraska
R5 (161)Randy BullockK5'9" / 205Texas A&M
R6 (195)Nick MondekOT6'6" / 304Purdue

With a reshaped defense and an unheralded back-up finishing things off for Matt Schaub, the Texans won the AFC South for the first time in 2011. Since then, there have been big-name departures on defense – DE Mario Williams and LB DeMeco Ryans – and star receiver Andre Johnson now enters his 10th season, missing chunks of 3 of the last 5. Replacing Ryans' leadership will be hard, but positionally, Whitney Mercilus could slide in at OLB as a pass-rushing specialist – he logged a nation-topping 16 sacks last season. Later selection Crick will add a mauling body for the line if he can overcome the injury bug.

Shockingly, for such a high-octane offense, no receiver reached 700 yards last season, and of the two they added, I like Martin's after-the-catch gear-shift more than Posey's size and wasted senior season (suspensions). The line got some attention with massive but surprisingly quick-footed Brooks, technically-exact Jones and tall developmental tackle Mondek. Draft assessors are meant to snort dismissively at all kickers and punters, but Bullock's arrival to replace Neil Rackers is the most immediately significant pick here.

There is also a bunch of interesting UDFAs in camp with the Texans, including Oregon strong safety Eddie Pleasant and powerful hitter LB Shawn Loiseau of Merrimack (Mass.), matching positional misses during the draft itself, plus big North Carolina WR Dwight Jones, TCU blocking TE Logan Brock and the FBS' all-time TD-leading QB Case Keenum of Houston who has an opportunity here through depth and good local publicity that will likely be his only NFL chance before inevitable CFL glory. Still, even with the UDFAs factored in, they needed CB depth and something more than Mondek for a tackle position that suddenly loses Eric Winston. There's no knockout blows here.


INDIANAPOLIS COLTS (Grade A-)

Round (Pick)NamePositionHeight / WeightCollege
R1 (1)Andrew LuckQB6'4" / 234Stanford
R2 (34)Coby FleenerTE6'6" / 247Stanford
R3 (64)Dwayne AllenTE6'3" / 255Clemson
R3 (92)T.Y. HiltonWR5'10" / 183Florida International
R5 (136)Josh ChapmanDT6'1" / 316Alabama
R5 (170) Vick BallardRB5'10" / 219Mississippi State
R6 (206)LaVon BrazillWR5'11" / 192Ohio
R7 (208)Justin AndersonOL6'4" / 335Georgia
R7 (214)Tim FuggerOLB6'3" / 248Vanderbilt
R7 (253)Chandler HarnishQB6'2" / 219Northern Illinois

The Colts are starting over. It was evident last season that Peyton Manning's quarterbacking prowess has been hiding a multitude of inadequacies, and that the offense needs a heck of a lot. In the offseason, they parted company with C Jeff Saturday, WRs Pierre Garcon and Anthony Gonzalez, TEs Dallas Clark and Jacob Tamme, RB Joseph Addai, and that guy Manning, plus the coach, general manager, and both coordinators. Even the ticket office clerks started to look nervous.

Drafting Andrew Luck, the most cerebral on-field general since Manning, and the most physically gifted quarterbacking prospect since – well, we'll say 'Elway' because Cam Newton was only last year – was a gimme with the No.1 pick. But let's give the Colts just a little credit for doing due diligence, and rejecting tempting offers, as they did when they took Manning rather than Ryan Leaf. And credit too for what they did in the draft to make sure Luck feels as comfortable as possible. Andrew, meet your starting tight end, Coby Fleener – we believe you know each other. Luck used multiple-TE sets a load at Stanford, so next up was another, Dwayne Allen. Between them, the 6'6" Fleener and more squat Allen caught 18 touchdowns last season, and both have really good hands. Wiry WR T.Y. Hilton isn't an elite receiver, but has the moves to shed cover and escape deep with the ball; whether that leaves much of a role for Brazill is unclear – he's similar – and I wonder if they might have opted for at least one wideout on the roster with height greater than 6'0".

Veteran arrivals will address line needs, though Round 7's Justin Anderson has measurables to play with, and East Carolina's Steve Baker is also in camp. Completing the offensive selections, Ballard is a depth runner who gets good around the goal-line and has the requisite receiving skills for this level, and fleet-footed Chandler Harnish is here because the Colts know only too well that having good, confident backups matter. It's fair to say that defense is something the Colts will come back to later, adding ready DT depth with Chapman and a look-see OLB in Fugger. 'Readiness' is a common theme of this draft, and considering the acquisition of Samson Satele and Winston Justice for the line, its clear that owner Jim Irsay is not resigning himself to a slow rebuild. If that was the intention, I like the draft.


JACKSONVILLE JAGUARS (Grade D)

Round (Pick)NamePositionHeight / WeightCollege
R1 (5)Justin BlackmonWR6'1" / 207Oklahoma State
R2 (38)Andre BranchDE/OLB6'4" / 259Clemson
R3 (70)Bryan AngerP6'3" / 208California
R5 (142)Brandon MarshallOLB6'1" / 242Nevada
R6 (176)Mike HarrisCB5'10" / 188Florida State
R7 (228)Jeris PendletonDT6'2" / 328Ashland

I'm liking people's drafts too much – I need to find someone to kick. Ah, yes: Jacksonville. I'm still not over Blaine Gabbert yet. And neither are the Jaguars, seeking to prove he wasn't a feeble selection last year by getting him the biggest receiving toy in the shop, Justin Blackmon, clearly the best receiver in the draft, and somebody the Jaguars traded up to grab ahead of the Rams. Blackmon will shed blockers, get up to the ball and put up significant yardage. However, in other years he might not have been considered the elite pick, and his deep speed is just okay. The pass rushing market went a little crazy early in this draft, so the Jags had to go a little high for Branch, who has the reach and tenacity to be a nuisance to opposing backfields. So far, so-so.

Then they spent a third round pick on a punter. Three problems here: (1) I'm not against drafting punters if they are absolute game-changers, but Anger is more solid than definitive, and Round 3 he is not; (2) the Jaguars need all kinds of talent, making a 3 on a punter a luxury; and (3) what kind of message are you sending to your quarterback? "Hey, kid, we believe in you so much, we spent a Day 2 pick on the guy who boots it downfield when you flounder". The rest of the draft is a marginal linebacker, a depth corner and the first Ashland player to be selected in the Draft since the '70s. Fizzle… However, with their need for talent, the Jags used undrafted free agency to final grab a lineman of note, Ohio State's Michael Brewster, plus… well, that's about it. Well done, Jacksonville, on taking Blackmon, that defensive guy… and a punter. That's certainly going to sell out the stadium.


TENNESSEE TITANS (Grade C+)

Round (Pick)NamePositionHeight / WeightCollege
R1 (20)Kendall WrightWR5'10" / 196Baylor
R2 (52)Zach BrownOLB6'1" / 244North Carolina
R3 (82)Mike MartinDT6'1" / 306Michigan
R4 (115)Coty SensabaughCB5'11" / 189Clemson
R5 (145)Taylor ThompsonTE6'6" / 259SMU
R6 (190)Markelle MartinFS6'1" / 207Oklahoma State
R7 (211)Scott SolomonDE6'3" / 262Rice

Starting on the defensive side, I like the upside of both Sensabaugh and Markelle Martin, but neither is about to make up for losing Cortland Finnegan, now a Ram. If anybody comes running inside at Mike Martin, they're going to get punished. However, if they run outside at Zach Brown, they may have better luck – I'm just not sure he has Round 2 instinct for being in the right place. Round 7 selection Solomon seems like the kind of player who finds his ceiling in college.

Offensively, there's as much to like about what Wright (RGIII's main weapon at Baylor) will do for Nate Washington or the returning Kenny Britt on the other side as the damage he will do himself. Wright is an explosive threat, and can stretch the field in any direction. He could be one of the most impactful selections of the draft. But that's the only sure thing for the offense. Thompson is a strange tale, a fairly successful college DE who went without a combine invite and recast himself as a tight end (his high school position), acing the requisite measurables. He hasn't caught a meaningful pass in four years, though, so he's a major project. They also have C William Vlachos (40 career starts at Alabama) in camp.

The Titans weren't looking for a lot to put them over the top and make them a playoff contender… assuming you buy in to both Chris Johnson recapturing his 2009 form and either Matt Hasselbeck or Jake Locker proving to be the guy at QB, both of which are open to debate. They think they landed those needs. I'm not so convinced.

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AFC WEST

DENVER BRONCOS (Grade C)

Round (Pick)NamePositionHeight / WeightCollege
R2 (36)Derek WolfeDT6'5" / 295Cincinnati
R2 (57)Brock OsweilerQB6'7" / 242Arizona State
R3 (67)Ronnie HillmanRB5'9" / 200San Diego State
R4 (101)Omar BoldenCB5'10" / 202Arizona State
R4 (108)Philip BlakeOL6'2" / 311Baylor
R5 (137)Malik JacksonDT6'4" / 284Tennessee
R6 (188)Danny TrevathanOLB6'0" / 237Kentucky

I was a fan of Elway the quarterback, and I've been a fan of Elway the personnel guy in recent free agency. But this draft's testing me. Denver has been weak at DT for what seems like a decade, and Wolfe has logged a good few sacks from the position. Hillman is a useful multi-dimensional tool who put up big numbers as an undersized workhorse at SDSU. The option to take Osweiler opened a few eyes, but it makes sense to have a tall QB backing up a tall QB, understudying Manning, and giving the Broncos an alternative back-up to Caleb Hanie (shudder!). But I don't like the value. They all feel just a little early, and a little jumpy. The phrase 'There is no plan B' keeps haunting me. Though ACL-devalued Bolden and strong interior lineman Blake were about the right value, Jackson and Trevathan could have been bargain basement. I don't dislike their selection – another DT was wise, and Trevathan is a tackler – but after the highs of free agency, Denver's draft was a bit of an anticlimax.


KANSAS CITY CHIEFS (Grade: B+)

Round (Pick)NamePositionHeight / WeightCollege
R1 (11)Dontari PoeDT6'3" / 346Memphis
R2 (44)Jeff AllenOL6'4" / 307Illinois
R3 (74)Donald StephensonOL6'6" / 312Oklahoma
R4 (107)Devon WylieWR5'9" / 187Fresno State
R5 (146)DeQuan MenzieCB5'10" / 195Alabama
R6 (182)Cyrus GrayRB5'10" / 206Texas A&M
R7 (218)Jerome LongDT6'4" / 290San Diego State
R7 (238)Junior HemingwayWR6'1" / 225Michigan

Kung Fu Panda 2 isn't helping. Say 'Po(e)' and either way it's a big round fella with surprising athleticism but a whole lot to learn. Except that Dontari Poe is freakishly strong, and harbors an intense work ethic. His ceiling is out of sight, but right now the Chiefs are locked in a tight, scrappy, weak division that they could be dominating. Fletcher Cox or Michael Brockers were still options, but they chose the long game. That's just splitting hairs, though. Next they landed two linemen, one (Stephenson) a tall developmental tackle, and the other a left guard who could be ready tomorrow. I really like Wylie as a slot receiver in this offense, and even Junior Hemingway might beat out Terrance Copper for a backup role, all of which suggests I rather like K.C.'s draft. But unless UDFAs Dexter Heyman of Louisville and Neiko Thorpe of Auburn pull a surprise in minicamp, needs at ILB and safety remain. Ah, what the heck, this is a good draft: Poe's mere presence upgrades flanking DEs Glenn Dorsey and Tyson Jackson, and Allen completes a line rebuild (ex-Texan Eric Winston arrived as a free agent) that should keep Matt Cassel upright. There's finally no excuse for K.C. not to claim the West.


OAKLAND RAIDERS (Grade D+)

Round (Pick)NamePositionHeight / WeightCollege
R3 (95)Tony BergstromOT6'5" / 313Utah
R4 (129)Miles BurrisOLB6'2" / 246San Diego State
R5 (158)Jack CrawfordDE6'5" / 274Penn State
R5 (168)Juron CrinerWR6'3" / 224Arizona
R6 (189)Christo BilukidiDE6'5" / 290Georgia State
R7 (230) Nathan StuparLB6'2" / 241Penn State

The first Raiders pick since the death of Al Davis was not a speed demon for old times' sake, but a low-risk, mature, former missionary from Utah. Talk about a sea-change! Even their new receiver is a little on the slow side, though a big target. These offensive concessions aside (plus UDFA Lucas Nix, an interior battler who could make it), the Raiders selected four contenders for edge rush duties (and threw UDFA Kaelin Burnett of Nevada into the mix as well). With the Raiders still paying off old trade debts, needs at corner and tight end went untouched. That much didn't change.


SAN DIEGO CHARGERS (Grade A-)

Round (Pick)NamePositionHeight / WeightCollege
R1 (18)Melvin IngramDE/OLB6'1" / 264South Carolina
R2 (49)Kendall ReyesDT6'4" / 299Connecticut
R3 (73)Brandon TaylorSS5'11" / 209LSU
R4 (110)Ladarius GreenTE6'6" / 238Louisiana-Lafayette
R5 (149)Johnnie TroutmanOG6'4" / 325Penn State
R7 (226)David MolkC6'0" / 298Michigan
R7 (250)Edwin 'Rock' BakerRB5'8" / 204Michigan State

It's been a while since Chargers GM A.J. Smith landed an impressive draft performance (the 1-2 of LaDainian Tomlinson and Drew Brees springs to mind) and the Chargers are no longer playoff perennials. So this class comes as something of surprise. Smith admitted good fortune played a part in Ingram dropping to them, but it starts to look inspired when paired with Reyes within the first 50 picks. Both are athletic defensive linemen, Ingram less proven after only one season as a starter, but the passer-burying talent was clear, with a 10-sack year, two TD recoveries, two interceptions and even a long score on a fake punt. Reyes is more experienced, a three-year starter, smart, quick, strong, but perhaps needs to find a playing weight – in all likelihood, he'll play DE in San Diego, while Ingram shifts to linebacker.

A shuffle-up in the draft allowed the Chargers to grab a potential starting safety in Taylor, football-smart, a good team-mate and a winner. Considering Antonio Gates and Randy McMichael both have a decade of tire-wear, the next generation of tight end was worth watching for, and Green posted big numbers in college, though I'm not sure he has the bulk or the burst to excel in the NFL, despite deep speed – he's a little more like a sized-up WR. RB depth was taken care of with Edwin Baker, and Troutman and Molk are viable line candidates for the future. UDFAs most likely to sneak onto the mid-season roster include USC DT Christian Tupou and LSU QB Jarrett Lee, but there's a host of veteran FAs in town – the backfield may look the same, but A.J. Smith is in the mood for a make-over.


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