Draft Grades: Tampa Bay Buccaneers

This was a potential franchise changing draft for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. They made the wise decision to move back in the 1st round, which allowed them to acquire the picks necessary to move back up in the late 1st and come away with a huge haul on day one of the draft.

The Bucs passed up the opportunity to land Morris Claiborne, but still upgraded their secondary with the addition of Mark Barron. The Bucs should still be worried about their cornerbacks, but Barron will be a fun weapon for defensive coordinator Bill Sheridan to use. He’s a versatile player who can be effective when lining up all over the field.

Doug Martin was arguably the most underrated player in this draft class and the Bucs got an absolute steal in the late 1st round. He’s the next star undersized running back, following in the footsteps of Ray Rice and Maurice Jones-Drew.

I wasn’t as high on Lavonte David as most, but he’s a perfect fit in Tampa. They’re one of the few teams that doesn’t mind using smaller, more athletic linebackers and David fits the mold perfectly. He’ll start at weak-side linebacker from day one.

Najee Goode will add some depth, and can play strong-side or inside linebacker, but he real value may be on special teams.

Keith Tandy adds some depth at cornerback, but I’m a little surprised they waited this long to address the position. They’re putting a lot of faith in Ronde Barber and Aqib Talib, and that’s a risky decision.

Michael Smith could prove to be a steal in the 7th round. I wouldn’t be surprised if Smith takes over the backup job from LeGarrette Blount before the season is over.

Drake Dunsmore can play tight end or fullback. He’ll have to battle for a job in training camp with a number of players at both positions.

The Bucs didn’t get much help on the third day of the draft and failed to upgrade their situation at cornerback, but that’s the only think holding them back from an A+. This was a phenomenal haul for a franchise that was in need of a boost. Considering the fact that the Falcons and Saints did very little to help themselves this offseason, the Bucs closed the gap in the NFC South in a big way.

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

Draft Grades: New Orleans Saints

The New Orleans Saints had nothing to work with, but I’ll grade them strictly based on the picks which they did have to use. Unfortunately, the Saints took a bad situation and made it worse by consistently reaching and not coming away with any immediate help.

Akiem Hicks has the size to play the nose tackle role, which the Saints hoped Shaun Rogers could fill last year. However, Hicks is extremely raw and will likely only play a minor role in 2012.

Nick Toon had some value in the 4th round, but I don’t think he’s a great fit for the Saints. His lack of athleticism limits his upside and he’ll have to fight just to earn a spot as the 4th or 5th receiver in New Orleans.

Corey White is another developmental prospect who can play corner or safety. He’ll provide some much needed depth in the secondary.

Andrew Tiller and Marcel Jones may be handed backup jobs by default. The Saints are severely lacking depth on the offensive line, which should allow both prospects to make the final roster. However, neither has much upside and are unlikely to ever develop beyond the backup role.

Even taking the lack of picks into account, it’s tough to give the Saints high marks for this class. It’s unlikely that any of these selections will be playing a meaningful role in New Orleans three years from now and they offer almost no immediate value.

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

Draft Grades: Carolina Panthers

The Carolina Panthers needed to upgrade the talent around Cam Newton, and while they didn’t immediately address their offensive needs, they ended up with a solid group which should help Newton develop in his sophomore season.

The selection of Luke Kuechly came as a surprised, but it was a welcomed one. Kuechly was the best player on the board and will immediately step into a starting role. He is expected to move into the middle linebacker position, with Jon Beason shifting to weak-side linebacker.

I was surprised by the selection of Amini Silatolu, and thought it was a reach, but I do understand their desire to address the interior offensive line. The main issue I have with the selection, however, is the fact that Cordy Glenn was still on the board.

Frank Alexander was a reach in the 4th round. He fits the mold of the type of well-rounded end the Panthers were looking for, but he has an uphill to earn playing time in Carolina. He’ll battle Thomas Keiser and Eric Norwood for playing time.

I love the selection of Joe Adams. At this stage of his career he’s nothing more than a vertical threat, but he’ll have the opportunity to work with Steve Smith in Carolina, one of the game’s elite undersized receivers.

Josh Norman could prove to be a steal in the 5th round, but does come with some character concerns. Having Norman and Brandon Hogan in the same secondary is scary thought. Clearly the Panthers are becoming one of the teams that isn’t concerned with character.

Selecting Brad Nortman in the 6th round was almost as bad as the Jaguars selection of Bryan Anger in the 3rd round. While Anger was a reach, at least he was the elite punter in this year’s class. Nortman was barely on the radar screen. There’s just no reason to waste a pick on a guy like Nortman. A handful of punters of his caliber can be found in the free agency process after each draft.

D.J. Campbell was a solid 7th-round pick. He’s best suited to play free safety, but will enhance his chances of making the final roster if he can demonstrate some versatility in training camp.

Overall, this wasn’t the most exciting draft class, but I like the Panthers approach – especially in the 1st round. Kuechly may not change the direction of this franchise on his own, when rebuilding teams can’t afford to pass up sure things in the draft.

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

Vikings cut Ryan Longwell; Blair Walsh era begins

The Minnesota Vikings cut veteran Ryan Longwell today, paving the way for 6th-round pick Blair Walsh to take over as the starting kicker.

It shouldn’t come as much of a surprise based on the fact that you don’t typically draft kickers without a plan to immediately make them the starter. But given Longwell’s track record and Walsh’s lack of one, it’s a questionable move.

Walsh immediately steps in as the starter

Entering his senior year, Walsh looked like an elite prospect and was potentially on track to become the first kicker selected within the first three rounds since Mike Nugent in 2005. But Walsh crumbled under pressure as a senior, connecting on just 21 of 35 field goal attempts.

Walsh stood out for his impressive accuracy and range, connecting on 17 of 20 kicks from beyond 40 yards in his sophomore and junior years. But in 2011, Walsh made just 7 of 17 kicks beyond 40. Walsh also missed four kicks from under 40 yards, twice as many as he had missed during the previous two years combined.

Clearly he has the talent, but how will he handle the pressure of the NFL? That’s something the Vikings probably should have figured out before cutting ties with Longwell.

Posted on by Ryan McCrystal in Vikings Comments Off

Draft Grades: Atlanta Falcons

The Atlanta Falcons had very little to work with as a result of their trade for Julio Jones in last year’s draft. As a result, I’ll evaluate this class based solely on the picks with which they had to work. That said, the Falcons did absolutely nothing to help them in 2012 and added very little by the way of developmental prospects.

Peter Konz was the best center in this year’s class by a wide margin, and he will eventually start for the Falcons. However, I was surprised that they failed to add an instant impact player. The Falcons made last year’s draft all about the present, so what changed about their draft philosophy in one year?

Lamar Holmes was a reach in the 3rd round. He’s a developmental prospect at right tackle and may eventually be shifted inside to guard. He may eventually compete for a starting job, but he likely won’t see the field much in 2012.

Bradie Ewing was the top fullback on my board and I gave him a 5th-round grade. But how does he fit in Atlanta? Ovie Mughelli is the starter and no one keeps two fullbacks these days. He may end up getting cut in training camp.

Jonathan Massaquoi was overrated by the media, likely due to the perception that Troy churns out sleeper prospects. He’s limited athletically, but does have some value in the 5th round. He’ll compete for a backup job at defensive end, but it’s a crowded position on the Falcons depth chart.

Charles Mitchell will compete for the backup strong safety job and should contribute on special teams. He has a good chance to survive the final roster cuts due the lack of depth at safety in Atlanta.

Travian Robertson is a physical lineman who could prove to be a steal if he can stay on the field. He’s suffered a long list of injuries, including two torn ACLs, which may limit his ability to every play a meaningful role in the NFL.

Even taking into account the Falcons limited picks, this was a disappointing draft class. None of their picks will play a significant role in 2012 unless forced into action due to injuries. And in terms of long-term value, only Peter Konz projects as a future starter.

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

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.

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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.

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

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