Draft Grades – 2011

2011 Draft Grades: Atlanta Falcons

It wasn’t exactly a Ricky Williams-like trade, but what the Falcons gave up for Julio Jones comes about as close we’ve seen since that blockbuster in 1999. GM Thomas Dmitroff took a major risk – and in my opinion a bad one – by giving up two 1st-round picks (2011, 2012), a 2nd-round pick (2011) and two 4th-round picks (2011, 2012). That’s an awful lot to give up for a rookie receiver, especially when you consider it would have taken a lot less to land a proven receiver like Vincent Jackson.

While I disagree with the trade, there’s no denying the fact that Jones is a great fit for the Falcons. He gives Matt Ryan another weapon to work with, teaming with Roddy White and Michael Jenkins to give the Falcons three capable receivers over 6″ tall. Few teams have the depth in the secondary to compete with that.

Akeem Dent was a slight reach in the 3rd round. He is coming off a breakout senior year and really excelled in Georgia’s 3-4 defense, but in Atlanta he’ll transition back to the 4-3 where he failed to make an impact early in his career. He is likely nothing more than a backup at the next level.

I absolutely love Jacquizz Rodgers in the 5th round. He may not have the measurables of an elite running back, but all he did was produce at Oregon State. He’ll likely never rush for a 1,000 yards, but his versatility as a runner and receiver gives offensive coordinator Mike Mularkey a dangerous weapon to incorporate into the game plan. He could be one of the real surprise rookie performers in 2011.

I’m not a huge fan of taking kickers in the draft and I’m especially not a fan of reaching for one. Matt Bosher is just an ordinary kicker. He’s fairly accurate on field goals, but doesn’t have a particularly strong leg. There are probably 5-10 players out there with similar skills who are readily available every offseason.

I like the selection of Andrew Jackson. While the offensive line has been good the past few years, depth is lacking. They’re an injury away from having some serious issues and hopefully Jackson eases that concern.

Cliff Matthews could be a steal in the 7th round. His skill set compares favorably to John Abraham, and the Falcons undoubtedly hope he can reach his full potential by learning from the veteran.

This draft could push the Falcons over the top if Jones and Rodgers elevate their offense to a truly elite level. However, the success of the draft really rides on Jones. Considering what they gave up, anything short of a perennial Pro Bowl career would have to be considered a disappointment.

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

2011 Draft Grades: Pittsburgh Steelers

This wasn’t the sexiest draft by the Steelers, but when you’re this close to the Super Bowl your primary goal is to simply fill your needs. The Steelers did exactly that, and with some solid contributions from their rookies they’ll be back on top in 2011.

The selection of Cameron Heyward wasn’t as much about need as it was about value, and about planning for the future. No team is better an filling holes before they open up than the Steelers. Heyward will play a backup role in 2011 but will step in to a starting role for the aging Aaron Smith or Brett Keisel sooner rather than later.

I’m not a huge fan of Marcus Gilbert, but I do think he’s a great fit for the Steelers. He could play right tackle or right guard in the pros, and will likely be starting at one of those two positions by 2012 at the latest.

Curtis Brown is another player that didn’t necessarily have great value, but fills an immediate need for the Steelers. Both he and Cortez Allen will compete for playing time immediately and one of them could end up winning a starting job opposite Bryant McFadden.

The Steelers got back to the value picks with Chris Carter in the 5th round. He was one of the most underrated players in the draft in my opinion and should be able to make a smooth transition from end to linebacker in Pittsburgh’s 3-4 defense.

It’s rare that a 6th round pick comes to camp with a legitimate shot at winning a starting job, but Keith Williams is definitely in the mix for the right guard position. The Steelers definitely need an upgrade there and, while Williams may be the dark horse, it would be foolish to rule him out.

The only confusing pick of the draft for the Steelers was Baron Batch in the 7th round. His experience as a receiver out of the backfield could be valuable, but if that was a priority for the Steelers they should have filled that need earlier. There were much better players on the board, even in the 7th round.

Overall this was another great draft for a franchise that continues to reload ever year. They may not have added any immediate starters, but the depth they added will be crucial to making another deep run in the playoffs. And in two or three years we should see at least three players from this class in the starting lineup.

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2011 Draft Grades: Cleveland Browns

The Cleveland Browns made some nice picks and dramatically improved their depleted roster, but the best move of the entire draft was their trade with the Falcons. The Browns acquired two 1st-round picks (2011, 2012) a 2nd-round pick (2011), and two 4th-round picks (2011, 2012)… all for a 22-year-old receiver who has yet to set foot on an NFL field. It was truly the steal of the draft.

Phil Taylor, whom the Browns selected after trading back up again in the 1st round, fills a gaping hole on their defensive line. Some have criticized the pick because Taylor was expected to play nose tackle in a 3-4 scheme – but since when can big men only play in the 3-4? Taylor is a similar talent to Shaun Rogers, who excelled in a 4-3 defense while in Detroit (when motivated). The only downside to the selection of Taylor is that, like Rogers, he comes with some baggage. However, if the Browns can keep him motivated and out of trouble, he will be a star.

Jabaal Sheard is another perfect fit for the Browns defense, especially considering they didn’t have a single true 4-3 defensive end on the roster prior to the draft. Sheard will start immediately, even if it’s only by default.

Greg Little is a risky 2nd round pick and I’m a little confused by the decision. He clearly has upside, but the Browns needed a receiver to contribute immediately. In three years Little could be Colt McCoy’s No. 1 target, but it’s unlikely that he’ll jump Brian Robiskie and Mohamed Massaquoi on the depth chart in year one.

I love the selection of Jordan Cameron in the 4th round. He’s a tight end/wide receiver hybrid and will only continue to get better as he gains experience. There are few tight ends in the league with his size and athleticism. His impact may be minimal early, but he’s in a great position to learn behind Ben Watson and Evan Moore.

The selection of Owen Marecic is a little confusing since they could have simply re-signed Lawrence Vickers, one of the most well-respected run blocking fullbacks in the game. This pick, however, likely signals the end of the Vickers era and Marecic should immediately step into a starting role. You can forget about him playing both ways though – it’s not going to happen in the NFL.

Buster Skrine is a great 5th-round pick. His lack of size limits his upside, but he has the elite speed to stay with any receiver. The Browns likely had division rival Mike Wallace in mind when making this selection; Skrine should be a perfect matchup for those smaller deep threats.

Jason Pinkston was the top rated player on my board when the Browns grabbed him in the 5th round. I gave him an early 3rd-round grade and I believe he has the skills necessary to compete for a starting job at right tackle in Cleveland. He’s not much of an athlete and his upside may be limited, but there’s no reason he can’t beat out Tony Pashos for the job.

Eric Hagg isn’t anything special, but he should be able to find a spot on the roster due to the Browns lack of depth at safety. He could be an upgrade over Sabby Piscitelli as the backup strong safety.

As a whole, this was a great draft for the Browns – the second straight class that has them pointed in the right direction. They landed at least three starters (Taylor, Sheard, Marecic) and possibly two others (Little and Pinkston). And on top of all that, they now own two 1st-round picks in 2012. You can’t do much better than that.

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2011 Draft Grades: Cincinnati Bengals

If the Bengals had a GM I’d say this was a make-or-break draft for him. Instead, it’s just another risky draft by Mike Brown and if it fails, well, what else is new. The Bengals took a lot of risks, but I give them credit for finally admitting the Palmer/Ochocinco era needs to end and moving on without them.

I like A.J. Green, but bringing in a highly touted rookie receiver without a proven quarterback is always risky. There’s no denying his raw talent, but this is a boom-or-bust situation for the Bengals. In their situation, I probably would have played it safe and selected Patrick Peterson.

I like Andy Dalton, and gave him a late 2nd-round grade, but I’m not sure I would want to bank on him as my franchise quarterback. He definitely has the ability to start in this league, but I think his ceiling is as a Trent Dilfer/Jeff Hostetler type quarterback. He’s the type of guy you won’t be embarrassed to start, but not someone you want to build around either. That said, he isn’t necessarily a bad option here. Palmer isn’t coming back and it’s not going to be easy to convince a quality free agent to come to Cincinnati. In the short term, he may be their best option and fortunately he comes at a relatively cheap price in the 2nd round.

I thought Dontay Moch would end up in Oakland, but Cincinnati was definitely the next most likely landing spot for him. Like Al Davis, Mike Brown loves taking chances on elite athletes without a true position (see: Michael Johnson). It will be interesting to see how they use him – either as an end or strong-side linebacker. He isn’t a great fit for either in a 4-3 defense.

Clint Boling is a great 4th-round pick. He probably won’t be able to crack the starting lineup as a rookie, but he has the ability to be Bobbie Williams’ eventual replacement at right guard.

Robert Sands fits into the same category as Moch – a freak athlete who may not have a position in the NFL. At 6’4″ he has rare size for a safety, but it’s a position where height can be a disadvantage. He does fill a need in Cincinnati, however, and may be given an opportunity to win the starting free safety job over Chris Crocker.

I love the selection of Ryan Whalen in the 6th round. His upside is limited because of his lack of speed and athleticism, but he’s a reliable receiver who could become a favorite target of Dalton’s if he’s given playing time early in his career.

Korey Lindsey had good value in the 7th round, but he’s going to have a hard time finding playing time in Cincinnati. They are extremely deep at cornerback and Lindsey may struggle to make the final cut.

Jay Finley‘s tenure in Cincinnati may be short as well. He’ll have an opportunity to earn a backup role, but if Cedric Benson re-signs the backfield will be crowded.

As a whole, this really was a boom-or-bust draft for the Bengals. As a result I can’t give them extremely high or low marks at this time. Three years from now we could look at this draft as a turning point for the franchise. Or it could be just another draft filled with high-profile busts.

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2011 Draft Grades: Baltimore Ravens

Few GMs have ever mastered the draft like Ozzie Newsome, and he put on a clinic once again this year. The Ravens 2011 draft class is a near perfect blend of value and need and puts them in position to make another run deep into the playoffs.

Nearly everyone steered clear of Jimmy Smith in the 1st round and some likely removed him from their draft board altogether. His long list of positive drug tests and run-ins with the law raise serious concerns about his ability to stay out of trouble, but it was a necessary risk for the Ravens. Realistically, he won’t stay clean in the NFL – handing millions of dollars to a 20-something with a history of drug abuse just isn’t a recipe for success. But in the short term the Ravens strong leadership group, featuring Ed Reed and Ray Lewis, should be able to keep him focused. Even if he strays later in his career, this pick was about the immediate future – anything Smith gives beyond that is an added bonus.

I love the selection of Torrey Smith in the 2nd round. The concern surrounding Smith was that he is a one-dimensional deep threat at this point in his career. In Balitmore, however, that’s all they need. He can be used to stretch the field as a third or fourth option while he develops into a more well-rounded receiver.

Jah Reid was a slight reach in the 3rd round in my opinion, but due to his size and athleticism he realistically wasn’t going to fall much further. Ideally Jared Gaither re-signs and Reid can develop while playing a backup role. If Gaither bolts, however, Reid will be given an opportunity to win the starting job at right tackle.

Tandon Doss is a 2nd round talent who fell due to concerns about his health, but in the 4th round he is well worth the risk. In the long run, it’s possible that he develops into a more polished receiver than Torrey Smith. I wouldn’t expect much from him in 2011, but he’ll be groomed to step into a starting role once Mason and Boldin are gone.

Chykie Brown (pronounced: shockey) had value in the 5th round, but he’ll struggle to find a spot in a crowded Ravens secondary. As of right now he looks like their fifth or sixth option at cornerback.

Pernel McPhee is a potential steal in the 5th round. He doesn’t have a ton of upside, but he has the size and athleticism to play both end and tackle in the Ravens hybrid 3-4/4-3 defense. They needed to add a versatile lineman who could contribute immediately and to get one this late is phenomenal.

I’m not a fan of the Tyrod Taylor selection. He clearly doesn’t have a future as a starter in Baltimore, and he isn’t nearly polished enough to provide value as a backup. Their goal here is clearly to develop him and trade him down the road. They obviously didn’t pass up on much in the 6th round to take him, but I just don’t like that strategy – especially when the Ravens still need to bring in a veteran backup for Flacco (unless they’re satisfied with Hunter Cantwell).

Anthony Allen was brought aboard in case Jalen Parmele isn’t re-signed as the third-string running back. He’s a similar player to Parmele – a physical downhill runner – and can fill McGahee’s role in the offense if needed.

It’s tough to find any major flaws in this draft class. The only thing missing was the lack of a linebacker, which could become an issue since Tavares Gooden, Jameel McClain and Prescott Burgess could all become free agents depending on how the new CBA plays out. Overall, the Ravens filled most of their needs and managed to do so without reaching in any of the early rounds – a rare accomplishment.

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

2011 Draft Grades: Seattle Seahawks

I gave the Seattle Seahawks an A for their 2010 draft class, and 12 months later I still think it was one of the best from that year. Their 2011 class, however, is all kinds of awful. Nearly every pick was a reach and they failed to address some key areas of concern.

A case could be made that James Carpenter was the biggest reach of the entire draft – a sentiment which his former coach, Nick Saban, seemed to agree with on draft night. He can step in and play right tackle or guard for the Seahawks, but his upside is limited. He isn’t much of an athlete and rarely dominates his assignments. I expect him to be a serviceable starter, but nothing close to the talent you expect to get from the 1st round. To make matters worse, Gabe Carimi, who plays with the mean streak Carpenter lacks and has elite potential as a run blocking right tackle, was still on the board.

In the 3rd round the ‘Hawks landed John Moffitt, who I actually like a lot (and had rated higher than Carpenter). He’s a fundamentally sound interior lineman who should start at right guard immediately.

K.J. Wright had decent value in the 4th round and adds much needed depth at linebacker. His upside is limited, but he should be a serviceable backup.

Kris Durham was another huge reach. I didn’t have him ranked among my top 50 receivers, yet the Seahawks somehow felt he was among the top 107 players in the entire draft. He’s tall and certainly looks the part, but he had just 64 career receptions at Georgia. He has some upside, but you don’t draft longshot developmental prospects in the 4th round.

Richard Sherman is an interesting prospect. He’s a 6’3″ cornerback, who could excel in certain matchups. However, due to his size it’s likely that he’ll eventually be moved to safety. He isn’t a future starter, but depth was needed in the secondary.

Like Sherman, Mark LeGree and Byron Maxwell were selected simply to replenish the depth in Seattle’s secondary. There’s not much to get excited about with either player, but they’ll both contribute on special teams and should be able to earn roster spots as a result.

Lazarius “Pep” Levingston primarily played defensive end at LSU but will likely shift inside to tackle in Seattle’s 4-3 scheme. They needed to add depth at the position due to Brandon Mebane’s uncertain future with the team, but I’m surprised they waited until the 7th round. Perhaps this is an indication that a deal has quietly been worked out with Mebane and he’ll re-sign once the lockout is lifted.

And with their last pick, Pete Carroll predictably grabbed a former USC Trojan. Malcolm Smith was highly recruited out of high school but failed to live up to expectations. Perhaps Carroll can get the most out of him in the NFL.

Looking at this draft as a whole, it’s tough to see how the Seahawks got any better. Carpenter isn’t an upgrade over Sean Locklear at right tackle and Moffitt, if he even starts, is only a minor upgrade over Stacy Andrews at right guard. The rest of the class projects strictly as backups, with very little upside. In addition to the many reaches, the Seahawks failed to address the defensive line. If Brandon Mebane does not re-sign, the unit instantly becomes one of the weakest in the NFL. Additionally, they failed to add a pass rusher. While Chris Clemons was impressive in 2010, it’s unrealistic to expect the journeyman to repeat that performance.

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2011 Draft Grades: San Francisco 49ers

The San Francisco 49ers aren’t exactly knocking on the door of Super Bowl, but they are expected to compete for the playoffs in the weak NFC West. With that in mind, I was surprised at the lack of immediate help added in this draft. It’s possible that one only player from this draft sees anything close to significant playing time in 2011.

That player, of course, is 1st-round pick Aldon Smith. I’m still not quite sure how to evaluate Smith. He clearly has the raw talent of a top-10 pick, but it’s just that: raw. While there may not be more than one or two players in this class with more talent, there are at least 10-15 players that are safer bets to develop into Pro Bowlers. Smith is a boom-or-bust prospect and based on his lack of experience and raw athleticism, it’s just too early to say which path he’ll go down. So while I think he’s a great fit for the 49ers 3-4 defense, it’s a risky move.

I was mildly surprised by the selection of Colin Kaepernick in the 2nd round. Entering the draft I expected Jim Harbaugh to pass on this year’s quarterback class to keep open the possibility of adding Andrew Luck in 2012. Although, as the Panthers showed this year, there’s no job security for a 2nd round pick. Due to his arm strength and athleticism, I believe Kaerpernick quickly became one of the most overrated prospects in this year’s class. I have concerns about his throwing motion and his accuracy. Harbaugh has gained a reputation as a quarterback guru, but it could take two to three years to develop Kaepernick and I can’t envision the 49ers organization showing that type of patience coming off the never-ending Alex Smith era.

Chris Culliver was a reach in the 3rd round. They needed to add depth at cornerback, but I’m not convinced Culliver has the athleticism to play the position. He may be better suited to play free safety.

I’m a huge fan of Kendall Hunter and I think he can be a dangerous compliment to Frank Gore. He isn’t an every-down back, but is a threat as a receiver out of the backfield and has home-run hitter potential. Expect Harbaugh will get creative with him this season.

Daniel Kilgore was another reach. He’ll provide depth at both guard and center, but his upside is limited.

I like the addition of Ronald Johnson in the 6th round. He was productive at USC and can be a serviceable 3rd or 4th option for the 49ers. There were better players on the board, but he had decent value in the 6th round so I can’t argue with the selection too much.

Colin Jones isn’t anything special, but he could compete for playing time simply due to the lack of depth in the 49ers secondary. The free safety job should be an open competition in training camp, and I wouldn’t rule out Jones as an option.

Bruce Miller is an interesting selection. He played defensive end at UCF but the 49ers are going to convert him to fullback. I’m not a huge fan of drafting someone who needs to make such a drastic position change, but in the 7th round they didn’t pass up on much to take him.

I like Michael Person. He’ll never be a starter but should provide depth at both tackle and guard.

Curtis Holcomb is a developmental prospect who likely won’t see much playing time early in his career. He’s undersized but had a reputation as a shutdown corner at FAMU.

The 49ers took a lot of risks in this draft, and unfortunately I don’t think many of them will yield high rewards. Smith and Kaepernick could both develop into starters, but their next eight picks produced nothing but career backups. There were simply too many risks and not enough value from this class as a whole. That said, all the whiffs will be forgotten if Kaepernick develops into a Pro Bowler. But if he fails, it’s an early black mark on Harbaugh’s NFL résumé.

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2011 Draft Grades: St. Louis Rams

This was a very strange draft for the Rams. At times it felt like Josh McDaniels, who embarrassed himself on draft day while with the Broncos, had hijacked the war room and was calling the shots. They filled some holes, but there wasn’t a lot of value in this class.

The selection of Robert Quinn seemed like a nice pick at the time, but when looking this draft class as a whole it raises some concern. Considering the reaches they made throughout the later rounds, it would be nice to say their draft class was at least anchored by a can’t-miss prospect in the 1st round. I like Quinn, but he definitely doesn’t fall into that category. He has a ton of upside, but there are obvious concerns when drafting a player who hasn’t set foot on a field in over a year.

Lance Kendricks was one of the biggest reaches of the draft – and I say that even though he was my second-rated tight end. There was a huge dropoff at the position once Kyle Rudolph came off the board, but the Rams waited just four picks to take Kendricks. If they were dead set on taking a tight end, why not trade up a few slots for Rudolph? Kendricks fills a glaring hole, and may start as a rookie, but it won’t change the fact that much better prospects were still on the board. It’s also worth noting that in 2009 McDaniels reached for tight end Richard Quinn. In two seasons in Denver, Quinn caught one pass.

I have similar criticism of the selections of Austin Pettis and Greg Salas. Both add some much needed depth, but both were reaches. And to make matters worse, they’re both very similar players. Pettis and Salas are possession receivers who can excel in the Rams system, but it will be tough to get both players the football on a consistent basis. And it doesn’t help that Brandon Gibson fills a very similar role among the receivers already on the offense. The Rams needed to bring in someone who could stretch the field and potentially be a red-zone threat, and I don’t see either Pettis or Salas filling those voids.

Jermale Hines was a slight reach in the 5th round, but he adds depth to a shallow secondary and should contribute immediately on special teams. Depending on how they address the secondary in free agency, there’s an outside shot that he wins the starting strong safety job.

Mikail Baker was used primarily as a kick returner at Baylor, and will probably be given an opportunity to earn that job in St. Louis. If he doesn’t, however, he’ll have a difficult time keeping a roster spot.

I like Jabara Williams as a sleeper prospect at linebacker. The Rams don’t have a ton of talent at the position aside from James Laurinatis, so he’ll be given a serious look in training camp. It’s tough to predict much playing time for a 7th-round pick, but Williams will at least have an opportunity to prove himself in St. Louis.

Like Hines, Jonathan Lewis has limited upside but adds depth at safety. I expect the Rams to address the position in free agency, but it was wise for them to bring in some rookies as an insurance policy. In the 7th round Lewis had decent value and could contribute as backup at free safety.

Overall, the Rams landed two potential starters – Quinn and Kendricks – and a few others who may contribute. Normally, that constitutes a solid draft. However, you have to consider the talent that Rams passed over early in this draft. The selection of Kendricks is the one that will be heavily scrutinized over the next couple years if he doesn’t work out. They had an opportunity to move up just four slots to land Kyle Rudolph. Additionally, the next two players off the board – Stefen Wisniewski and Ben Ijalana – could have filled a hole at right guard. Only time will tell if the Rams made the smart choice, but it doesn’t look promising.

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

2011 Draft Grades: Arizona Cardinals

GM Rod Graves proved in this draft why he is one of the most under-appreciated draft decision makers in the business. The Cardinals had glaring holes at quarterback and on the offensive line; but without any elite players at those positions in the draft, Graves made the wise decision to simply target the best player on the board.

In the 1st round that player was clearly Patrick Peterson. He was the No. 1 prospect in the draft in my opinion, and getting him at No. 5 is an absolute steal. Peterson and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie have the potential to form one of the league’s most feared cornerback duos.

I was surprised by the selection of Ryan Williams in the 2nd round, but when you consider the struggles of Beanie Wells through his first two seasons it makes sense. They probably aren’t giving up on Wells, but Williams is a smaller, more athletic runner and will be a nice compliment to Wells’ north/south style. Tim Hightower is a free agent and will likely be the odd man out.

In the 3rd round Rob Housler was a reach, but fills a glaring hole at tight end. Stephen Spach and Ben Patrick simply aren’t threats in the passing game and both are free agents. Housler is still very raw, but has the size and athleticism to be a matchup nightmare for opposing linebackers and safeties. He may take some time to develop, but has a very high ceiling.

I love the selection of Sam Acho in the 4th round. He’ll backup Porter and/or Haggans at outside linebacker and will likely be given an opportunity to win a starting job down the road. Additionally, he’s a high character guy that will be a great addition to their locker room. It was an excellent value pick at that point of the draft.

The selection of Anthony Sherman is somewhat confusing, especially because Arizona now has four fullbacks on the roster – and that’s four more than some teams. I’m not particularly high on him, but it’s tough to judge the selection until we see how they use him.

I was shocked to see Quan Sturdivant fall to the 6th round. There are some injury and character concerns (arrested for marijuana possession) but I certainly never expected this free fall. The fact that he tumbled so far makes me wonder if some red flags were raised in interviews – but whatever happened, he’s still well worth the risk in the 6th round.

David Carter only has one year of starting experience and I don’t think he’s a particularly good fit for the Cardinals 3-4 defense. He doesn’t appear to have the athleticism to play end, but isn’t big enough to be a true nose tackle. They also didn’t have a great need for depth at the position, which may make it difficult for him to find a spot on the roster.

Demarco Sampson has shown some talent, but has very little upside. He missed two consecutive years due to injury while at San Diego State and will turn 26 during his rookie year. He’s going to have a hard time finding a spot on the 53-man roster.

Overall, this was a solid draft for the Cardinals. I really like Rod Graves’ approach in the early rounds. However, at some point you do have to address your needs. If the plan is to bring in a veteran quarterback, that’s fine, but it doesn’t excuse the fact that the offensive line went untouched. No matter who you have under center, you can’t expect him to have Kurt Warner’s lightening-quick release and pocket presence. Until the line is upgraded, the offense is going to struggle to regain their form.

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

2011 Draft Grades: New England Patriots

When you own as many picks as the Patriots it’s tough to get a poor grade in the draft. However, Bill Belichick certainly doesn’t get high marks for this year’s draft class. One or two risky picks can make a draft great, but only if supported by a few safe selections. The Patriots, however, rolled the dice on almost every one of their selections. It’s possible that they’ll all work out and this will become a legendary draft class. But there’s also a chance that very few of these players wind up contributing in New England.

The Patriots selection of Nate Solder was one of the biggest reaches of the entire draft. He was over-hyped based on his size and raw athleticism, but he did very little in college to warrant a 1st-round selection. I gave Solder a 3rd round grade based on the fact that he has the potential to develop into an elite left tackle, but he isn’t there yet. When drafting an offensive linemen in the 1st round I expect him to be able to start immediately. It’s one of the few positions that can provide immediate value, and the Patriots passed up on some safer options such as Gabe Carimi and Anthony Castonzo to land the guy with the higher ceiling, but also a lower floor.

Ras-I Dowling was another reach with the first pick of the 2nd round. Like Solder, his size and athleticism indicate the potential of a future Pro Bowler. However, injuries and inconsistency limit his immediate value. It will be interesting to see where the Patriots end up using Dowling. He has the potential to play cornerback, but may ultimately be a better fit at free safety.

Keeping with the theme, Shane Vereen was another reach in the late 2nd round. He will be productive in New England as a Kevin Faulk-type change-of-pace running back. However, there were better players that fit that mold on the board such as Kendall Hunter.

The selection of Stevan Ridley in the 3rd round would have been a reach for anyone, but looks like a partucularly poor choice for the Patriots following the selection of Vereen. Ridley is more of a downhill runner than Vereen, but wasn’t particularly productive at LSU. In New England he’ll benefit from sharing the load with others, but the Patriots passed up an opportunity to land others capable of playing a larger role at that spot in the draft.

Ryan Mallett was one of the few value-based selections for the Patriots in this draft. He may not see the field for three years, but there is a chance that he may by Tom Brady’s eventual replacement. He certainly has the all the tools to succeed, it’s just a matter of teaching him how to think and act like an NFL quarterback.

The selection of Marcus Cannon was another great value pick. He was diagnosed with lymphoma shortly before the draft and likely will not play in 2011. If he returns to 100%, however, he will be the steal of this draft. He played left tackle at TCU, but I had him rated as the top interior lineman in this year’s class. He has the potential to be a Leonard Davis-like force on the offensive line.

Lee Smith was a solid addition in the 5th round. He may never catch a pass in New England behind Hernandez and Gronkowski, but he’ll be used as a blocking tight end and should have a long career in that role.

Markell Carter is a developmental prospect at outside linebacker. He had 19 tackles for loss and 5.5 sacks as a senior in 2010 and has flashed the athleticism to carry that production over to the NFL.

Malcolm Williams is a typical Belichick late round pick – a player with very little collegiate production that the Patriots will try to develop. Williams is a former JUCO transfer who was primarily used as a backup at both safety and cornerback in his two years at TCU. His experience on special teams will be the key to earning a roster spot.

Overall, this was a decent draft for the Patriots based purely on the volume of talent they brought in. However, almost every pick was a reach, right down to Williams in the 7th round. They could have as many as four starters from this class. And they could just as easily have none. For a team hoping to compete for a Super Bowl title, this draft class is severely lacking instant-impact players.

Posted on by Ryan McCrystal in Draft Grades - 2011, Patriots 2 Comments