Draft Grades – 2011

2011 Draft Grades: Green Bay Packers

The Super Bowl champion Green Bay Packers added very little immediate help, but did a nice job adding depth in the form of players who could develop into starters down the road.

The first such pick was Derek Sherrod, who will likely ride the bench for much of 2011 before stepping in for soon-t0-be 35-year-old Chad Clifton at left tackle. By no means is Sherrod the next Orlando Pace or Jonathan Ogden, but he could be a quality starter for the next 10 years – much like the man he will replace. With Sherrod on the left and Bryan Bulaga on the right, the Packers should have Aaron Rodgers adequately protected for the duration of his career.

Randall Cobb may be the only player in this class to make an immediate impact. Rodgers made the Packers receivers look adequate in 2010, but aside from Greg Jennings they lack any true playmakers. The addition of Cobb should allow offensive coordinator Joe Philbin to get a little more creative with the offense.

Alex Green was a definite reach in the 3rd round. He has about six games of meaningful experience under his belt – and that’s assuming you call playing in the WAC meaningful. He’s a good athlete for his size, but there’s no guarantee that he even makes the 53-man roster with Ryan Grant, James Starks and Brandon Jackson possibly ahead of him on the depth chart.

Davon House fits into the Sherrod category of a player who may see minimal playing time in 2011 but could develop into a starter down the road. At least three corners – Charles Woodson, Tramon Williams and Sam Shields – are solidly ahead of him on the depth chart, but a spot will open up in the very near future once Woodson hangs up the cleats.

D.J. Williams was a productive receiver at Arkansas, but I’m not sure how he fits into the NFL. Is he a fullback or is he a tight end? It may take some time before he finds a niche, and it may not be in Green Bay.

Caleb Schauderaff was a four-year starter who can play multiple positions on the line. His upside is very limited, but he could potentially carve out a long career for himself as a versatile backup.

D.J. Smith is tiny for a NFL linebacker, and will be forced to play inside in Green Bay’s 3-4 scheme. Depth really isn’t an issue there, so he may struggle to find a spot on the roster.

I love the selection of Ricky Elmore in the 6th round. I gave him a late 3rd-round grade as a defensive end, but he definitely has the athleticism to shift to linebacker in Green Bay. I wouldn’t rule him out as a potential starter opposite Clay Matthews.

Ryan Taylor is another tight end/fullback ‘tweener. He’s probably best suited to play fullback and could be given an opportunity to win a starting job if John Kuhn isn’t re-signed.

Lawrence Guy is a 3rd-round talent who slipped due to character concerns. He’s a decent athlete for his size and should be a great fit at end in the 3-4 defense. If he stays motivated and plays to his full potential he could be one of the better steals of this draft.

As a whole, the Packers did a nice job mixing value with filling needs. The only glaring omission from this class was an outside linebacker capable of starting opposite Matthews. Elmore could fill that role, but it would have been wise to grab someone before the 6th round. This class may not make a significant impact in 2011, but three years from now it could feature three starters.

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2011 Draft Grades: Detroit Lions

It’s hard not to like the players the Lions added in this class, but I do have some concerns about their strategy. You can add flashy players in the draft, and it appeases fans the media critics, but you still need to remember you’re the Detroit Lions. They weren’t in a position to make these luxury picks and expect immediate results, as many in the media are already predicting. Down the road, this could develop into an elite draft class, but only if they support these players with solid drafts in the years to come.

Nick Fairley certainly falls into the flashy category, and I would have no problem with the selection if he were their only flashy pick of the draft. While many have been quick to anoint Fairley and Suh the elite interior pass rush until in the league, they’re forgetting the fact that both players are liabilities against the run. Yes, they will make some bone-crunching hits on quarterbacks but if your interior line is incapable of stopping the run, you won’t be playing deep into January. Suh and Fairley are each at their best when supported by a nose tackle playing next to them to eat up space and multiple blockers.

Titus Young is an elite playmaker, and without character concerns would have been a 1st-round pick. However, I have the same mixed feelings about the selection as I did with Fairley. Were they really in a position to take a slot receiver over a less-sexy position such as an offensive lineman or cornerback?

I believe Mikel Leshoure was the best running back in this class so I can’t argue with the Lions taking him at No. 57. The combination of Leshoure and Best could be a dangerous weapon if offensive coordinator Scott Linehan uses them correctly.

Doug Hogue will add depth at linebacker, and due to their lack of playmakers at the position could actually compete for serious playing time at the strong-side position. Bobby Carpenter doesn’t exactly have the starting job locked down, so Hogue could make a run at the position at some point this season.

Johnny Culbreath is a left tackle project. He needs to bulk up, but definitely has the athleticism to play the position. He may spend the year on the practice squad before being given a chance to compete for a job in 2012.

As I said in the into, the Lions added three great playmakers but I’m just not convinced that this was the year to use three luxury picks. All the Lions did in this draft was make their strong suit even stronger, but it wasn’t the defensive line or the offense that kept them out of the playoffs in 2010. Until they find some serious upgrades in the secondary and on the offensive line, no amount of offensive weapons can turn them into a legitimate contender.

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2011 Draft Grades: Chicago Bears

With just five picks there’s only so much you can do, but the Chicago Bears did a decent job adding a few players who can make an immediate impact in their quest to make another deep run into the playoffs.

Gabe Carimi falling to them at No. 29 seemed almost too good to be true, however, the Bears could find a way to screw this up if they’re not careful. The Bears coaching staff reportedly views Carimi as a left tackle. In the right system he could potentially play that position, but not in Mike Martz’s pass-happy offense. Carimi is a tough, physical player but lacks the athleticism to hold his ground against the NFL’s elite pass rushers while Jay Cutler stands in the pocket for what sometimes seems like an eternity. I do like Carimi, but I’m just not convinced he can be effective on the left side in Chicago.

Stephen Paea is a great fit for the Bears defense and could be a steal at No. 53. The release of Tommie Harris earlier this offseason opened up a gaping hole on the defensive line and Paea could potentially step in as the starter from day one. The only concern with Paea, and probably what kept him out of the 1st round, was the fact that his on-field play fell well short of his physical capabilities. He needs to find a way to play up to his full potential on a more consistent basis.

Chris Conte was a reach in the 3rd round and doesn’t fill a glaring hole either. The Bears would have been wise to add a receiver with this selection, or perhaps another offensive lineman. Conte will compete for a backup job, but there’s no guarantee that he’ll beat out Major Wright or Craig Steltz.

I’m not a fan of Nathan Enderle. He has a big arm but that’s about the extent of his NFL talent. His accuracy is severely lacking and I simply don’t see him making an impact in the league. He is definitely not an upgrade over Caleb Hanie.

J.T. Thomas isn’t anything special, but was a three-year starter at West Virginia and could win the backup weak-side linebacker job. The key to him making the roster will be his ability to contribute on special teams, which I believe he has the speed and athleticism to do.

The Bears added two potential long-term starters out of their five picks, which qualifies this as a decent class. However, I have to knock their grade down slightly if they’re going to play Carimi at left tackle. On the right side he would be a significant upgrade over J’Marcus Webb, but I don’t think he’s considerably better than Frank Omiyale at this point in his career. It’s a risky move, which could turn out to be a wasted pick if he fails to make an immediate impact.

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2011 Draft Grades: Tennessee Titans

The Tennessee Titans brought in a strong class of rookies, many of whom can contribute immediately. However, when your 1st-round pick is a reach of epic proportions, it really doesn’t matter what you did in the 2nd or 3rd round.

I thought the Titans learned their lesson after whiffing on Vince Young in 2006. You can’t take a raw college quarterback, throw him to the wolves, and expect him to succeed. It’s true that Jake Locker doesn’t come with Young’s character concerns and work ethic issues, but it doesn’t change the fact that he isn’t prepared for the NFL and may never be. His accuracy is well below NFL standards, and that’s one of the most difficult things to change about a quarterback at this stage in his career. No matter how hard he works, he may simply lack the skills to play at an elite level. Now does that sound like a top-10 pick to you?

I really like the addition of Akeem Ayers in the 2nd round. He should be able to win a starting job over Will Witherspoon as a rookie. If he doesn’t win the job, he’ll provide depth at both outside linebacker positions.

Jurrell Casey is overrated in my opinion, and I also don’t think he fills a glaring need in Tennessee. Taking a tackle in the 1st round (Nick Fairley?) would have been justifiable because they lack an elite interior lineman, but depth isn’t an issue. Casey just blends in with guys like Sen’Derrick Marks and Jovan Haye.

Colin McCarthy could prove to be a steal in the 4th round. He can play inside or outside linebacker in Tennessee and, at worst, should be a valuable backup due to his versatility.

Jamie Harper will have to win a job over Javon Ringer and Stafon Johnson, but he definitely fits the mold of what the Titans need for Chris Johnson’s backup. He’s a big, physical between-the-tackles runner who can pick up short yardage.

Karl Klug isn’t anything to get excited about but he has the ability to play both end and tackle in the 4-3 defense. That type of versatility is always key for late round picks making the roster.

Byron Stingily can play either guard or tackle and will improve a fairly weak second unit on the offensive line. He was a late riser in the draft process and may have the upside to develop into a starter down the road.

Zach Clayton is going to struggle to make the final roster cut. They simply have too many defensive tackles on the roster and there are at least five guys solidly ahead of Clayton on the depth chart right now.

Tommie Campbell is a developmental prospect at safety, but could make the roster due to the lack of depth at the position. The backup jobs at both free and strong safety should be open for competition this offseason.

The Titans 2nd through 7th round would, at worst, get a solid B, but the 1st round is what carries a draft and the Titans have to get a failing grade for taking a 3rd-round prospect 8th overall. If you take a quarterback that high, anything less than a Hall of Fame career is a disappointment and I can’t envision Locker even approaching that level of success.

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2011 Draft Grades: Jacksonville Jaguars

This was a make-or-break draft for Jaguars GM Gene Smith. Plenty of fans are already growing impatient with his obsession with small school prospects – a theme which continued in this draft – and now that he’s attached his legacy to Blaine Gabbert, Smith will sink or swim based on Gabbert’s performance.

There’s no denying Gabbert’s talent, but taking him 10th overall has to be seen as a risk. He’s more raw than your typical top-10 pick (although significantly less so than the two quarterbacks taken ahead of him). That said, I really like his chances to succeed in Jacksonville. He isn’t ready to start in the NFL, but he does have the intelligence and the work ethic to quickly develop while watching from the sidelines. Hopefully the Jaguars bring him along slowly and allow him to watch and learn from David Garrard for at least a full season.

To no ones surprise, Gene Smith spent each of his next two picks on non-FBS prospects. Will Rackley played left tackle at Lehigh but will likely shift inside to guard or center in Jacksonville. Depending on how quickly he adjusts to the position change, he could compete with Uche Nwaneri for a starting spot.

In the 4th round Smith made Cecil Shorts the highest drafted D-III player in NFL history. He’s an undersized deep threat – essentially a poor mans Mike Thomas – and I just don’t see how he’ll fit into the game plan in Jacksonville. At best, he’s their 4th option this season.

Chris Prosinski was a reach in the 4th round, but he’ll have a chance to earn immediate playing time at free safety. Depth is lacking in the Jaguars secondary, so anyone and everyone will be given an opportunity to win a job.

Rod Issac is an athletic but undersized corner who could compete for the nickel corner job. He isn’t anything special, but neither are Scotty McGee, David Jones or Terrence Wheatley.

The success of this draft hinges on the development of Blaine Gabbert, as does Gene Smith’s career. If Gabbert is a success it will make up for the lack of depth in this draft. If he fails, however, it will set the franchise back at least three years. It’s never easy to recover from a bust at quarterback, and the fact that they added only one other potential long-term starter in this class will make it even more diffiuclt.

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2011 Draft Grades: Indianapolis Colts

It’s hard to get too excited about a five-man draft class, but the Indianapolis Colts did a nice job adding some instant-impact players to help allow Peyton Manning to make another run at a Super Bowl title.

I don’t think Anthony Castonzo is a 1st-round talent, but I certainly understand why the Colts took him. Charlie Johnson is not a left tackle, and while Castonzo isn’t the next Tarik Glenn, he is definitely an upgrade. Down the road he may end up on the right side, but for the immediate future the Colts didn’t have many other options.

The selection of Ben Ijalana shows how desperate the Colts were to upgrade the offensive line. He has a chance to win a starting job at left guard, but he’ll have to beat out Charlie Johnson (assuming Johnson is re-signed).

Drake Nevis is a perfect fit for the Colts defensive line. They like undersized, athletic tackles and Nevis fits the bill perfectly. He has an excellent chance to win a starting job, and at worst should see significant time in a backup role.

Delone Carter has starting potential, but only if he can stay healthy. Indy is a good fit for him because there’s no pressure to perform immediately. They can use him as part of the rotation and hopefully keep him fresh and healthy.

Chris Rucker is rare character risk by the Colts. He’s talented, and could see significant playing time, but only if he stays out of trouble.

As a whole, this class should give the Colts the boost they need to make another run at a Super Bowl title. However, this isn’t the type of class that will continue to make an impact five years down the road. The Colts had good reasons to make this a short-sighted draft class, but it doesn’t change the fact that it will contribute to their hard fall once Manning retires.

Posted on by Ryan McCrystal in Colts, Draft Grades - 2011 1 Comment

2011 Draft Grades: Houston Texans

This draft was all about defense for the Houston Texans – and it needed to be. However, they failed to address their biggest need (the secondary) early in the draft and instead opted to wait until the mid rounds of the draft to fill those holes. They added some instant-impact players early, but if their young secondary doesn’t improve it won’t matter in the short run.

I like J.J. Watt, and I can’t argue with the value he presented at No. 11. However, I had Prince Amukamara rated higher and he filled a much bigger hole in Houston. Watt will start immediately, but at what cost? Mario Williams will be moved to linebacker where he may or may not be as dominant as he was in recent seasons. He isn’t a prototypical 3-4 rush linebacker so there’s no guarantee that he’ll return to his Pro Bowl form. So while I like Watt, it’s hard to get excited about him in Houston. The selection forces them to move their best player and they passed on a more talented prospect who could have filled their biggest hole – not a wise move.

Brooks Reed is a steal in the 2nd round and should immediately excel in Wade Phillips’ 3-4 defense. He’ll need to be part of a rotation because he isn’t experienced in coverage and may lack the athleticism to ever excel in that area of the game, but he can get after the quarterback. He is definitely a candidate for Defensive Rookie of the Year.

Brandon Harris was a solid late 2nd-round pick. He was vastly overrated by many in the media who considered him a possible 1st round pick – so I don’t think they got a steal – but he was worth the 60th overall selection. He could win a starting job this year, but down the road is probably best suited to play nickel corner.

Rashad “Roc” Carmichael was a slight reach in the 4th round but should see immediate playing time in Houston. And due to their inept returning starters he could have an outside shot at winning a starting job.

Shiloh Keo is vastly overrated. He was a playmaker at Idaho, but many safeties are on a bad defense. He’s a hard hitter and could develop into a reliable special teams player, but has little upside as a safety in my opinion. He simply lacks the athleticism.

I was surprised the Texans took a quarterback as early as the 5th round. T.J. Yates has some upside as a developmental prospect, but it was too early for a team like the Texans to roll the dice.

I like Derek Newton in the 7th round. He can play tackle or guard and his versatility will make him a valuable backup. The Texans don’t have a ton of depth on the line, so he should be able to win a roster spot.

Mr. Irrelevant Cheta Ozougwu will be converted to outside linebacker. He’s raw, but has the athleticism to develop into a quality pass rusher. However, the Texans are fairly deep at the position due to the move of Mario Williams and the selection of Brooks Reed, which may make it difficult for Ozougwu to earn a spot on the roster.

Overall, I like the players the Texans added but I just don’t like what they sacrificed. As much as I like Watt, there were too many questions raised by his selection to make it worthwhile. If Prince Amukamara develops into a star in New York, they’re going to regret the decision to pass on him – regardless of what Watt does for their defensive line. Even if Carmichael and Harrs improve the secondary, it will still be a weakness and likely will prevent them from making their first trip to the playoffs once again.

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2011 Draft Grades: Tampa Bay Buccaneers

I’m not exactly sure how to evaluate the Bucs draft. Individually, I like all of their picks. Collectively, however, it is a very risky draft class. While this class could push them into the game’s elite within the next two to three years, it could also prove to be a blown opportunity.

Adrian Clayborn has shown obvious 1st-round talent at various points in his career, and his skill set is a great fit in Tampa, but I still have concerns about the selection. For one, it’s unknown how Erb’s Palsy will impact his career. It hasn’t limited him significantly to this point in his career, but could it prevent him from reaching his full potential? Additionally, his disappointing senior year is a red flag for me. As an elite lineman playing on a deep defensive line there was no excuse for his disappearing act in some games.

I really don’t know what to make of the selection of Da’Quan Bowers. Ignoring the injuries, he was No. 2 on my draft board. However, 31 teams passed on him – including the Bucs – meaning there is obviously something seriously wrong with his knee. I want to applaud them for taking a risk, but coupled with the selection of Clayborn I’m not sure it was worth it. Do you really want each of your top two picks to enter the league with injury concerns? Like I said, it could pay off and propel the Bucs to elite status – or it could be a wasted draft.

I like the selection of Mason Foster in the 3rd round. He has the ability to play all three linebacker positions in the Bucs defense and could compete for the starting job on the inside.

Luke Stocker is an interesting prospect. I’m not as high on him as most, but he was worth a 4th round pick. He definitely has the measurables to be an impact player, but his lack of production at Tennessee is concerning – it’s not like he was buried behind a long list of playmakers during his years in Knoxville.

You can’t ignore Ahmad Black‘s production at Florida, but he may simply be too small and too slow for the NFL. He’ll have a chance to earn a backup job, but I wouldn’t expect much out him in the long run.

Allen Bradford is more of a fullback and I’m not sure he’s a great fit for the Bucs. They needed to add a smaller back to compliment LeGarrette Blount, not add another 240 pound bruiser.

Anthony Gaitor is vastly undersized, but he has the athleticism to develop into a quality nickel corner. I’m surprised the Bucs waited this long to add depth at corner, but he had good value here and could compete for playing time.

Daniel Hardy was a productive pass-catching tight end at Idaho. He’s a developmental prospect who may end up on the practice squad.

Five years from now this class is going to either get an A or an F, because there isn’t much middle ground with Bowers and Clayborn. Both are boom-or-bust prospects who come with a ton of upside but are also huge risks. Due to the upside, I can’t give them a poor grade. But I also can’t give them an A because they didn’t land anyone that projects as a can’t-miss starter.

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2011 Draft Grades: New Orleans Saints

I love when teams like the New Orleans Saints take a value-based approach to the draft. Elite teams can reach to fill needs to improve their immediate Super Bowl hopes, but the franchises that sustain success do so by continually grabbing the best available talent in the draft – regardless of their needs.

Almost anyone you ask will tell you the selection of Cameron Jordan was among the best of the 1st round, but I love it even more than most. Jordan landed at No. 4 on my final big board and I am thrilled to see him land in a 4-3 defense where I believe he’s best suited to make an immediate impact. The Saints didn’t have a glaring hole at defensive end, but Jordan is as NFL ready as they come and could win a starting job over Alex Brown as a rookie.

I’m not a big Mark Ingram fan (I gave him a late 2nd-round grade) but I am willing to admit that New Orleans is a great fit for him. The Saints use a true running-back-by-committee approach, which is exactly the system Ingram needs to succeed. He doesn’t have the tools to be effective when carrying the ball 15-20 per game on a regular basis, but if given the ball 10-12 times in strategic situations he could have an immediate impact.

I love the selection of Martez Wilson in the 3rd round. He is a bit of a developmental prospect, which caused his fall despite his obvious raw skills, but I have faith that defensive coordinator Greg Williams will get the most out of him. He could backup Jonathan Vilma on the inside, but I think he may actually be a better fit at strong-side linebacker in New Orleans.

Johnny Patrick is a character risk and doesn’t make a lot of sense for the Saints. They have at least four cornerbacks under contract who will clearly sit ahead of Patrick on the depth chart. There were plenty of good players available in the 3rd round that would have been better fits in New Orleans.

In the 7th round Greg Romeus is well worth the risk. Injuries may prevent him from making an impact at the next level, but if he is able to fully recover he’ll be a steal. A full recovery may be a long shot, but it’s a no-risk/potentially high reward pick for the Saints.

Wilson’s college teammate Nate Bussey is an interesting 7th round pick. He’s vastly undersized and is purely a developmental prospect. Even on a roster lacking depth at linebacker he’ll struggle to make the cut, but could turn into something after spending a year or two on the practice squad.

For the most part, I like what the Saints did in this draft. However, I do think they gave up an awful lot to land Ingram, who will never be a workhorse running back for them. They added enough to fill some holes and get some good value at other spots in the draft, but the lack of picks certainly takes away from what they could have accomplished.

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2011 Draft Grades: Carolina Panthers

Three years from now, when the Carolina Panthers have replaced the Lions as the laughingstock of the NFL, we’ll look back on this draft as the turning point for the franchise. GM Marty Hurney and head coach Ron Rivera have hitched their wagons to Cam Newton and their future with the franchise is now directly tied to Newton’s success.

You can say all you want about Newton’s athleticism and arm strength, the only thing that matters is his sense of entitlement. Has a quarterback with an overinflated ego ever been selected in the top 10 and gone on to great success in the NFL? Handing millions of dollars to a guy like Newton before he sets foot on the field is a recipe for failure. He’ll provide some highlights early in his career, just like Vince Young did in Tennessee, but this story isn’t going to have a happy ending for anyone involved.

As much as I dislike the selection of Newton, I love Terrell McClain and Sione Fua for the Panthers. Their interior defensive line is a mess and both players could wind up starting as rookies. Landing both was a brilliant move because they compliment each other perfectly. McClain is an athletic penetrating tackle, while Fua is a big, physical space eater.

Brandon Hogan is the next Pacman Jones. He’s talented, but causes nothing but trouble off the field. If I were a GM, I wouldn’t touch him with a 10-foot pole. I was shocked to hear his name called as early as the 4th round.

Kealoha Pilares was a reach in the 5th round and it’s unfortunate that the Panthers waited this long to land a receiver. With Steve Smith likely on his way out, they could have used a receiver in the 3rd or 4th round.

Lawrence Wilson had great value in the 6th round. He doesn’t have a ton of upside, but due to the lack of depth in Carolina there’s a decent chance that he could win the starting job at weak-side linebacker.

There were better players on the board when the Panthers selected Zach Williams, but they needed to add depth to the offensive line. He’ll likely backup Ryan Kalil at center and possibly provide depth at guard if needed.

I don’t like Lee Ziemba nearly as much as most (some thought he could be a 2nd or 3rd round pick) but in the 7th round he’s worth the risk. He’s built like a tackle but lacks the athleticism to play the position. Ideally he should shift inside to guard, but most teams hesititate to put a player with his height on the interior line.

As I said in the intro, this draft – and really just the selection of Newton – is going to run the Panthers franchise into the ground. I’m tempted to give them a failing grade, but I like the selections of McClain and Fua enough to bump them up a letter grade. I’m willing to go on record predicting the Panthers will have a new GM, head coach and starting quarterback the next time they make the playoffs.

Posted on by Ryan McCrystal in Draft Grades - 2011, Panthers Comments Off