Draft Grades – 2012

Draft Grades: Tennessee Titans

The Tennessee Titans are stuck in limbo. They’re not in full rebuilding mode, but they aren’t legitimate contenders. As a result, they had a tough decision to make in this draft: address immediate holes, or draft for the future. Based on their early selections it seems as though they chose the latter, which was probably the right decision.

The Titans shocked a lot of people with the selection of Kendall Wright. Receiver was not viewed as an immediate need, but the Titans apparently viewed him as one of the best values on the board. Wright is a perfect compliment to Kenny Britt, and the Titans now have two legitimate weapons in place which will ease Jake Locker’s transition whenever he takes over for Matt Hasselbeck.

Zach Brown is an elite athlete who fell down draft boards due to a lack of production in 2011 at North Carolina. He’s undersized and not very physical, but the Titans defense is one of the few units that tends to favor athleticism over size and Brown should fit right in.

Mike Martin could be a steal in the 3rd round. He’s limited athletically, but is a tough, physical player who can anchor a defensive line. He’ll have to fight for playing time on the Titans crowded defensive line, but he’ll force the coaching staff to find a role for him as part of the rotation.

If the Titans were drafting purely for need, cornerback is an area that should have been addressed earlier. Coty Sensabaugh adds depth, but he doesn’t even begin to replace Courtland Finnegan.

I love the selection of Taylor Thompson in the 5th round. He played defensive end at SMU, so we have no idea what lies ahead for him as a tight end, but he has all the physical attributes necessary to play the position at an elite level. He’s obviously a project, but his upside makes him well worth a 5th round selection.

Markelle Martin should provide some much needed depth in the secondary. He’ll likely backup Michael Griffin at free safety and play on special teams.

Scott Solomon will compete for a backup job at defensive end. While the starters are locked in, there’s very little depth at the position which should allow him to earn a spot on the roster.

This was a solid draft haul for the Titans, but don’t expect it to allow much improvement on their 9-7 record in 2011. This class was about putting the pieces in place to ensure a smooth transition from Hasselbeck to Locker. With the added weapons and offense and the depth added on the defensive side of the ball, the Titans should be able to avoid the typical dip in production when ushering in a new franchise quarterback.

Posted on by Ryan McCrystal in Draft Grades - 2012, Titans Comments Off

Draft Grades: Jacksonville Jaguars

I feel like I should apologize to Jacksonville Jaguars fans for GM Gene Smith. He continues to make a mockery of the NFL Draft. In his first few years at the helm Smith showed an inexplicable obsession with small school prospects. And while that phase seems to have passed, he’s moved on to 3rd-round punters and 28-year-old D-II players.

The Jags draft got off to a solid start with the selection of Justin Blackmon. They needed to upgrade the talent around Blaine Gabbert, and Blackmon will immediately jump to the top of their depth chart at receiver. If he lives up to expectations, Gabbert’s numbers should improve dramatically.

I also like the selection of Andre Branch, who fills their need for a pass rusher. Branch is still developing, but he’s in a good situation in Jacksonville where he can be a part of the rotation without having to stay on the field for every play. If they bring him along slowly as a rookie, he should be ready to be an impact player in 2013.

After two solid picks to start the draft, it went downhill in a hurry. Bryan Anger was far and away the best punter in this year’s draft class, but the 3rd round? It was a reach that could potentially be justified by a contending team with few holes to fill, but the Jaguars are in the midst of a full-fledged rebuilding process. There is no possible way for Gene Smith to justify this selection.

Brandon Marshall adds some depth at linebacker, but there were much better players on the board, such as Terrell Manning, who would have filled that same need.

Mike Harris was an odd pick in the 6th round. The Jaguars would have been well served to add a legitimate starting cornerback in the 1st or 2nd round, but depth at the position is actually a strength. Harris is undersized and, even at Florida State, was limited to primarily playing the nickel corner role.

Jeris Pendleton is a 28-year-old from a Division-II school. The Jaguars will use him at nose tackle, and he could potentially be forced into a starting role early if Terrance Knighton isn’t ready for the start of the season. It’s an experiment that could go horribly wrong, and they don’t appear to have a backup plan in place.

Gene Smith has officially taken over the Al Davis role as most unpredictable general manager on draft day. And while most of his picks leave much to be desired, this should still prove to be an average draft class for the Jaguars. Blackmon and Branch are two quality additions, but the lack of help from the late rounds means there’s no margin for error with those two.

Posted on by Ryan McCrystal in Draft Grades - 2012, Jaguars Comments Off

Draft Grades: Indianapolis Colts

The Colts clinched a solid grade from this draft class the minute the regular season ended. But new GM Ryan Grigson took their development to a new level with a strong draft class which should allow this team to emerge as contenders again in the not-so-distant future.

Obviously the addition of Andrew Luck was franchise-changing move. He’ll step into a starting role from day one, and should be the face of this franchise for the next 10 years and beyond. He won’t right the ship in one season, but he has all the tools necessary to make this team a Super Bowl contender again within the next three to five seasons.

I’m not as high on Coby Fleener as most, but this was a no-brainer for the Colts. Every young quarterback needs a go-to receiver, and who better to play that role for Luck than his college teammate and close friend?

Some have criticized the Colts for drafting two tight ends, but Fleener and Dwayne Allen are very different and both should play significant roles. Fleener is really more of an oversized receiver, while Allen is more of a traditional tight end. The Colts offense will likely feature sets with Fleener lined up in the slot and Allen on the line.

T.Y. Hilton is an explosive deep threat and should also contribute on special teams. He’s not a No. 1 or No. 2 receiver, but he’ll be a weapon that opposing defenses need to account for at all times.

Josh Chapman is a prototypical nose tackle. As with most 320-pounders, stamina is an issue, but he should see the field for 20-25 snaps per game even if he doesn’t win a starting job as a rookie.

Vick Ballard will likely fight with Deji Karim for the third-string running back job. His upside is limited due to a lack of explosiveness, but he could be an effective short-yardage back.

LaVon Brazill is an intriguing developmental prospect. Don’t expect to see much of him early in his career, but the Colts could keep him around as a 5th receiver and develop him for the future.

Justin Anderson is a physical lineman who could provide depth at guard and right tackle. And if he impresses early, he could push Joe Reitz for playing time.

Tim Fugger played defensive end at Vanderbilt and should be a nice fit in the Colts new hybrid defense. He has the athleticism to play both end and linebacker depending on the defensive set.

Chandler Harnish, Mr. Irrelevant, will compete with Trevor Vittatoe for the third-string quarterback job.

The Colts left a lot of holes unfilled, mainly on the defensive side of the football, but I love the fact that they surrounded Luck with a ton of talent. Too many teams address their need for a quarterback and only halfheartedly fill the holes around him. The Colts are clearly making sure that Luck is given every opportunity to succeed.

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Draft Grades: Houston Texans

This draft was an opportunity for the Houston Texans to solidify a few holes in an effort to make a deep playoff run in 2012. And despite spending just one pick in the first two rounds, the Texans did a decent job addressing needs without reaching to fill those holes.

Whitney Mercilus will help ease the pain of losing Mario Williams, and should excel in Wade Phillips’ defense. At this stage in his career, Mercilus is a pure pass rusher, but that’s all the Texans need from him in 2012. He’ll share time with Brooks Reed and Connor Barwin and may only be used in pass rush situations early in his career.

DeVier Posey was a forgotten man in the draft process, mainly due to the fact he missed much of the 2011 season due his suspensions at Ohio State. But Posey is a fairly polished product and has the potential to step into the third receiver role in Houston.

Brandon Brooks is a massive interior lineman who has the potential to be a dominant run blocker. However, he’s still very raw and has limited experience against top competition. Additionally, his weight has always been an issue, so the Texans will have to monitor his development closely.

Ben Jones played center at Georgia, but I have to wonder if the Texans plan to move him to guard. The Texans recently signed Chris Myers to a four-year contract extension, giving little hope to Jones of stealing away the starting job anytime soon.

Keshawn Martin fits perfectly in Houston as a slot receiver, and should see fairly significant playing time in three and four wide receiver sets.

Jared Crick could be a steal for the Texans. He’s a prototypical 3-4 end and should excel in the Texans defensive scheme. He could steal a starting job from Antonio Smith sooner rather than later.

I don’t have a problem with taking a kicker in the 5th round, but Randy Bullock should not have been the first kicker off the board. Blair Walsh and Greg Zuerlein were ranked ahead of Bullock on every board I saw, including my own. Bullock was my 7th-rated kicker.

Nick Mondek offers little value other than as a backup. The Texans will hope he can demonstrate enough versatility in training camp to win a job, but he’ll have to compete with Derek Newton for a roster spot.

Overall, this was a very solid haul for the Texans. They should get immediate productive from Mercilus and Posey, and have some solid developmental prospects in Brooks, Jones and Crick. This could prove to be one of Rick Smith’s stronger draft classes.

Posted on by Ryan McCrystal in Draft Grades - 2012, Texans Comments Off

Draft Grades: Minnesota Vikings

When reports surfaced that the Minnesota Vikings were interested in Morris Claiborne with the 3rd pick, I was worried about the future of the franchise. Fortunately for Vikings fans, Rick Spielman got it right, and put together a reasonably solid draft class.

Matt Kalil was absolutely the right choice, and the fact that they picked up some extra draft picks from Cleveland was just icing on the cake. He’ll anchor their offensive line for the next decade, hopefully protecting Christian Ponder’s blind side.

I hate when rebuilding teams trade up in the draft, and the issue is compounded when they then reach for a specific position of need, which is exactly what the Vikings did by moving up to select Harrison Smith. I like Smith, but he’s not a 1st-round talent. He has the ability to start, but he won’t be a difference maker at the next level. I think Smith needs to play strong safety to be effective, but it sounds like the Vikings will be using him at free safety.

Josh Robinson was nice pick in the 3rd round and should compete for a starting job immediatelly. His impressive showing at the combine made him slightly overrated, but his speed should allow him to be a valuable cover corner against some of the league’s faster receivers. He’s a solid second option at cornerback.

I like the selection of Jarius Wright in the 4th round. He was one of the best deep threats still on the board and should be able to contribute in that capacity from day one.

Rhett Ellison is a fullback/tight end ‘tweener but I’m not sure how he fits in Minnesota. The Vikings already have Kyle Rudolph and John Carlson at tight end and recently signed fullback Jerome Felton. Ellison may have to fight just to stay on the roster.

Greg Childs was a great sleeper pickup in the late 4th round. If healthy, he could have been a 2nd-round selection, but injuries concerns caused him to plummet down draft boards. He has more upside than Wright, but is definitely a bigger risk.

Robert Blanton played cornerback at Notre Dame but is simply too slow to play the position at the next level, and may even be too slow to play safety. But he’ll be given an opportunity to win the starting strong safety job, and may actually be the favorite heading into camp.

Blair Walsh is a talented kicker but is coming off a terrible season. There was no reason his name should have been called before the late 7th round at the earliest. I don’t like his chances of beating out Ryan Longwell for the starting job, but he could catch on elsewhere if he can put his 2011 season behind him.

Audie Cole was a great 7th-round pick. He has the ability to provide some depth at inside or weak-side linebacker and I like his chances of making the final roster cuts.

Trevor Guyton may have been my favorite 7th-round pick of the draft. I had a late 4th-round grade on Guyton and I think he could be a quality backup at right defensive end or as a three-technique tackle. He has a potential to be one of the better steals of the draft.

While I don’t agree with every move the Vikings made, this was still a solid draft class. Rick Spielman did a nice job finding good value at all points of the draft and may have come away with at least three immediate starters (Kalil, Smith, Blanton).

Posted on by Ryan McCrystal in Draft Grades - 2012, Vikings 3 Comments

Draft Grades: Green Bay Packers

As good as the Green Bay Packers looked at times in 2011, they had some significant holes to fill this offeason. Ted Thompson elected to stay quiet through most of free agency, but came up big with another strong draft class which should help in their quest for another Super Bowl title.

I was somewhat surprised to see Nick Perry still on the board at No. 28. While he would have benefited from returning to USC for another year, his raw talent is undeniable. Green Bay is the perfect place for Perry, who won’t feel the pressure to perform immediately. He will likely start from day one, but he won’t be the center of attention on a defense featuring Clay Matthews and A.J. Hawk. It’s a great place for him to learn and develop, while also providing some immediate help.

Jerel Worthy could be a steal in the 2nd round, but we’ll have to see how the Packers use him. The Packers like oversized, space-eating defensive ends in their 3-4 defense, and Worthy is capable of filling that role. But he’ll need to stay in shape, because he’s just a few big meals away from looking more like a nose tackle.

I also like the selection of Casey Hayward, who could step into a starting role at some point this year. The 2nd round may have been early for Hayward, but the Packers needed to add an instant-impact player in the secondary.

Mike Daniels is more of a traditional 3-4 end, at least compared to Worthy. His upside may be somewhat limited, but he has the potential to provide some depth in the front seven.

Jerron McMillian was a reach in the 4th round. There was very little talent at the strong safety position in this draft and it felt like the Packers reached to add depth at a position of need. It’s an acceptable strategy in some situations, but the Packers got carried away with this one. Due to the lack of depth at the position he should make the final roster, but he’s a purely developmental prospect who offers little immediate value.

Terrell Manning could prove to be one of the great steals of this draft. He’s an explosive sideline-to-sideline linebacker who should excel at inside linebacker in Green Bay. The depth chart is crowded, so he may not see the field much early, but he definitely has a future in the league.

Andrew Datko has battled injuries which contributed to his fall the 7th round, but he’s well worth the risk at this point in the draft. The Packers will likely groom him behind Bryan Bulaga at right tackle.

I’m not as high on B.J. Coleman as some, but I can’t argue with the selection in the 7th round. He clearly has the measurables of an NFL quarterback and will have the opportunity to be brought along slowly in Green Bay. It’s a good situation for Coleman, and a nice opportunity for Green Bay to develop a prospect behind Rodgers.

Overall, this was one of the better draft classes in the league, something which is becoming common for Ted Thompson. Few GMs in the league understand the importance of finding value in the late rounds better than Thompson, who consistently plucks future starters from the scrap heap late in the draft.

Posted on by Ryan McCrystal in Draft Grades - 2012, Packers 1 Comment

Draft Grades: Detroit Lions

The Detroit Lions made significant strides in 2011, but have failed to make the necessary steps to build upon their playoff run. This draft class was an opportunity fill some holes, especially on defense, but GM Martin Mayhew failed to land any impact players on the defensive side of the ball.

Riley Reiff could have been a justifiable 1st-round pick if he filled an immediate need, but Lions don’t  have an immediate hole to fill on the offensive line. Jeff Backus may not have much time left in Detroit, however, so they could view Reiff as the future at left tackle. Unfortunately, Reiff does not project as an impact player on the left side, and would be better suited as a right tackle, where Gosder Cherilus appears to be entrenched.

Ryan Broyles is an intriguing prospect, but the 2nd round was far too early for an undersized receiver coming off a significant injury. This was the type of selection Lions fans thought they were free of when Matt Millen left the organization.

Dwight Bentley was also a reach in the 3rd round. He has some developmental value, but the Lions really needed to add an impact cornerback. Jayron Hosley and Brandon Boykin were both still on the board and are far more NFL ready than Bentley.

Ronnell Lewis has a chance to be a steal in the 4th round, but Lions will need to find the right place for him. In the 4-3 defense he could play end or strong-side linebacker.

Tahir Whitehead is a nice developmental prospect and was a solid value pick in the 5th round. He’ll likely compete for the backup role at strong-side linebacker.

Chris Greenwood was one of the Lions better selections. He’s raw and the level of competition is a definite concern, but his upside is undeniable. He may not provide much immediate help, but was well worth a flier in the 5th round.

Jonte Greene will compete with Bentley and Greenwood for playing time, but the Lions secondary is getting crowded. It’s unlikely that all three will be able to make the final roster cuts.

Travis Lewis is a great 7th-round pick. His upside is limited due to marginal athleticism, but he was a productive linebacker at Oklahoma and should be able to contribute as a backup and on special teams. He’ll likely compete with Doug Houge for the backup weak-side linebacker job.

The Lions failed to land any immediate help from this draft class, and the long-term value appears to be minimal as well. Reiff will likely earn a starting role eventually, but he is the only player from this class who realistically should be viewed as a long-term starter. This was a blown opportunity for the Lions.

Posted on by Ryan McCrystal in Draft Grades - 2012, Lions Comments Off

Draft Grades: Chicago Bears

The Chicago Bears addressed their most glaring need by trading for Brandon Marshall earlier this offseason, but continued an aggressive approach during the draft. They made some bold moves in an effort to catch the Packers and keep pace with the Lions. But if they don’t pan out, it could prove to be a rough start to GM Phil Emery’s career.

I jumped aboard the Shea McClellin bandwagon this offseason, but he’s not a top 20 talent and I’m not sure how he fits in Chicago. McClellin excelled in 2011 based on his performance in a hybrid end/linebacker role at Boise State. In Chicago, however, he’ll likely revert back to playing the traditional 4-3 end role. When playing with his hand on the ground, McClellin looked simply ordinary, so I’m not sure what the Bears thought they saw. He would  have been better off landing in a 3-4 defense.

Alshon Jeffery was worth a 2nd-round pick, but I’m not sure he had value here for the Bears. Their receiving corps is suddenly crowded and it’s tough to imagine him playing a significant role as long as Brandon Marshall is ahead of him on the depth chart. He does have some developmental value, but if they’re trying to win now, there were other impact players on the board.

Brandon Hardin was a definite reach in the 3rd round. He’ll compete for playing time at strong safety, but will need to beat out Major Wright and Craig Steltz.

Evan Rodriguez was also a reach. He’ll likely shift to fullback, and it’s tough to justify filling that need as early as the 4th round.

Isaiah Frey and Greg McCoy will compete for a job in the Bears secondary, but it’s fairly crowded back there. The top four corners are essentially set in stone, leaving Frey and McCoy to compete for one roster spot. It’s tough to imagine both players surviving the final cuts in training camp.

The Bears potentially added two starters in this draft class, but both McClellin and Jeffery are big risks. Neither players put together a consistent collegiate career, which raises some concern. Emery’s approach to this draft felt like a desperate attempt to make a splash. It may pay off down the road, but he did very little to help them in the immediate future. Overall, this was a very average haul for the Bears.

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Draft Grades: New York Jets

The New York Jets are making some bold moves this offseason, and it carried over to the draft. The rolled the dice early and often with this draft class, and it could pay of big way… or it could cost Mike Tannenbaum and Rex Ryan their jobs.

Quinton Coples was a bold choice in the 1st round, especially considering some of the impact players still on the board. While Coples has a ton of potential, he’s had trouble staying motivated on the field which raises some big red flags. And when players have effort issues in college, it doesn’t usually improve once they’re collecting an NFL paycheck.

I like the selection of Stephen Hill in the 2nd round, but he’s not going to provide much help early on. He’ll serve as a deep threat early in his career, and could develop into a No. 1 receiver down the road, but will Tannenbaum and Ryan be around to reap those benefits?

Demario Davis was a reach in the 3rd round and didn’t fill a position of need. He’ll backup David Harris and Bart Scott at inside linebacker and play on special teams.

Josh Bush will compete for the the right to back up LaRon Landry at strong safety and provide some help in special teams coverage.

Terrance Ganaway will compete for a backup job at running back, but I don’t like his chance of winning a job. Bilal Powell and Joe McKnight should be solidly ahead of him on the depth chart.

Robert Griffin is a massive interior lineman who will compete for a backup job. He needs to stay in better shape, but he has the potential to develop into late-round steal.

I love the selection of Antonio Allen. He may never develop into a starter, but he’ll be an immediate impact player on special teams. I actually like Allen significantly more than Josh Bush.

Jordan White has some injury issues which led to his fall in the draft, but he has the potential to be a steal if he can stay on the field. He was extremely productive at Western Michigan and could develop into a decent slot receiver at the next level.

The Jets clearly gambled early in this class and were thinking about the future more than 2012. It’s a risky strategy, but there’s no denying the fact that they added two of the most talented players in the draft in the 1st and 2nd round. However, they didn’t add anyone who projects as a future starter in the 3rd round or later. The lack of depth from this class, coupled with the early-round risks makes it tough to give them a high grade.

Posted on by Ryan McCrystal in Draft Grades - 2012, Jets 1 Comment

Draft Grades: New England Patriots

The New England Patriots are always a tough team to predict in the draft, and Bill Belichick proved why once again. Belichick builds his own draft board and sticks to it, regardless of how it matches up with the consensus opinion.

I was somewhat surprised by the trade up for Chander Jones, but I like the pick. He’s a perfect fit at end/linebacker in the Patriots hybrid defense. And while he’s still developing, Jones has the potential to be a true three-down lineman.

The selection of Dont’a Hightower felt like a slight reach in my opinion, and it’s tough to figure out how he’ll fit in the Patriots defense. That said, Belichick stacks his draft board with players whom he sees a specific role for in his defense, so I have no doubt that they have a plan for him.

While I’m willing to give Belichick the benefit of the doubt with Hightower, I can’t be so generous with the selection of Tavon Wilson. He’ll provide some much needed depth in the secondary but it’s tough to imagine him ever developing into a starter. Belichick does not have a strong track record drafting defensive backs, and this is just the latest slip up.

Jake Bequette was a great 3rd-round pick. He’ll have a chance to compete for a starting job, and should be used as part of the rotation at defensive end. He’s not an explosive pass rusher, but should be an asset on running downs.

Nate Ebner was the biggest 6th-round reach I’ve ever seen. He’s a former rugby player who was exclusively a special teams contributor at Ohio State. His measurables are impressive, but it’s tough to justify spending a 6th-round pick and a roster spot on a guy with so much development needed.

Alfonzo Dennard was overrated and his recent arrest led to his fall, but he was well worth the risk in the 7th round. However, it’s difficult to understand why the Patriots waited until the 7th round to address their need for a cornerback. Depth at the position was serious issue last year and relying on Dennard to fix the problem is a risk.

Jeremy Ebert will be Belichick’s latest project at receiver. He was productive at Northwestern and has the skill set necessary to contribute in the Welker/Edleman role. However, it’s getting crowded at the receiver position in New England and he’ll have a tough time making the final roster cuts.

Overall, this was just a so-so draft for the Patriots. They made some significant upgrades to their defensive front-seven, but the secondary was essentially ignored. It’s tough to imagine Wilson, Ebner or Dennard providing any meaningful contributions this season, which could mean their passing defense struggles from last season will carry over to 2012.

Posted on by Ryan McCrystal in Draft Grades - 2012, Patriots Comments Off