By Cory J. Bonini on May 2, 2011
While we can't accurately grade an NFL team's draft until several years down the line, it's always fun to take a stab at it before any of the players step foot on the field.
I have identified which teams should be considered winners, losers and on the fence in terms of their success over the recent event.
It's easy to give Arizona a passing grade for Patrick Peterson falling into their lap. They landed arguably the top overall prospect at the fifth pick but shouldn't be praised for not screwing up.
I was happy with the selection of Ryan Williams, but it means the Cardinals have some decisions to make at the position with Tim Hightower a potential free agent and Beanie Wells failing to live up to his billing.
Sam Acho probably would make for a better 4-3 defensive end than a 3-4 linebacker, but he is very intelligent and worth the fourth-round selection.
The X-factor here could be linebacker Quan Sturdivant. I always thought of him as a better 4-3 strongside 'backer than a 3-4 inside guy, but he is instinctive enough to make the transition. Sturdivant was a late third- or early fourth-round pick in my eyes, so nabbing him in the sixth has to please the organization.
I also liked the seventh-round flier pick on San Diego State wideout DeMarco Sampson based on his size (6-foot-2, 204 pounds) and recent level of production.
The Ravens did what they had to in terms of addressing positions of need (cornerback, wide receiver) while adding quality players in the process.
Second-round pick Torrey Smith has speed to burn and could be as high as the No. 3 receiver on the Week 1 depth chart. He'll need to work on his route tree, but that will come in time. The Ravens didn't stop there at the position, also adding Tandon Doss' possession-style game to their roster.
Aaron Williams is a free safety to some and a cornerback to others. Buffalo seems to believe he's the latter, and I'm willing to give Williams the benefit of the doubt.
Kelvin Sheppard is probably a better 4-3 linebacker, but he'll have to convert to the 3-4 in Buffalo. The Bills offered a contract to strong safety Donte Whitner that he turned down; they appear to have drafted his replacement in Da'Norris Searcy, who should compete for a starting job with George Wilson this offseason.
I am a fan of the Johnny White pick at running back. He could step in as a third-down back if necessary, but the Bills have to get a better look at C.J. Spiller and still have Fred Jackson's all-around talents at their disposal.
Cincy did what they had to do, adding strong pieces as they went along. The most impressive thing to me is that the Bengals tipped their hand by showing their interest in Andy Dalton and still were able to land him without having to trade up for him.
It's hard to go wrong anytime you add a talent like A.J. Green at receiver; he should start immediately and upgrade the receiving, regardless of what happens to No. 85.
Dontay Moch in the third makes for an intriguing pick. He may rush at times with his hand in the dirt, but the Bengals will probably use him primarily as a special teams player and a third-down pass-rushing linebacker.
Cincinnati spent their next four picks on improving their secondary, offensive line and receiving corps. Ryan Whalen has a chance to be groomed into a legitimate contributor at wideout, and Clint Boling should bolster the interior of the offensive line, perhaps as early as this year. Korey Lindsay has upside at cornerback, too. Robert Sands has the versatility to play both safety positions.
Simply by picking up extra picks, including a first-rounder last year, Cleveland should be given credit. Adding defensive tackle Phil Taylor and D-end Jabaal Sheard has to improve their line immediately.
Greg Little in the second round is their best pick. He has upside to be a star; Little reminds me of Brandon Marshall and Terrell Owens mixed into one. As long as he can stay out of trouble, the North Carolina product could be a monster for years to come.
I thought they received good value with the fifth-round pick of offensive guard Jason Pinkston, who should battle for a starting job this summer. Buster Skrine offers a speedy cornerback to groom, and he cost the team only a fifth-round pick, as well.
At any rate, Rahim Moore is the future of their secondary at free safety. Quinton Carter could pair with him to form an outstanding safety duo. Orlando Franklin's contributions on the offensive line could be noticed as soon as this season.
Julius Thomas is an intriguing small-school tight end prospect. Virgil Green, of Nevada, could be a sneaky pick at the position, too. The Broncos improved their linebacker depth with the additions of Nate Irving and Mike Mohamed.
Jeremy Beal is well worth the "risk" of a seventh-round choice to help at defensive end.
Randall Cobb is a do-all slot receiver and figures to be at least the No. 4 this year; this was a smart choice with James Jones a likely free agent defector and Donald Driver nearly the end of his career.
The Pack selected Alex Green at running back in the third, and he could be in the mix this season. More likely, he'll contribute meaningfully in 2012 if Ryan Grant isn't brought back after this season.
Davon House is probably the most intriguing pick, giving Green Bay more depth and a potential starter at cornerback down the road.
The Chiefs drafted pragmatically as they filled needs and acquired talent. Scott Pioli is at it again! Jonathan Baldwin should be a handful for cornerbacks, but he has a bit of a diva quality about him.
KC made a value pick in Justin Houston in the third round, but like Baldwin, the linebacker will need a strong coach (Todd Haley) to keep him in line off the field. Rodney Hudson is an athletic center and fits their zone-blocking scheme quite well.
Defensive end Allen Bailey is a five-technique who fits their system, and Colorado cornerback Jalil Brown in the fourth found could be quite the value pick once all is said and done. Defensive tackle Jerrell Powe has potential to become the starting nose tackle; he was a sixth-round pick.
Few teams drafted as well as New York. They added a top-10 talent at No. 19 overall in Prince Amukamara at cornerback, for starters.
The G-men didn't stop there on defense, adding talented but troubled Marvin Austin at defensive tackle in the second, linebacker Greg Jones II as a value pick in the fifth, and promising Iowa strong safety Tyler Sash later in the round.
On offense, James Brewer is an upside pick at tackle, and New York found him at a bargain price in the fourth round. Jerrel Jernigan is insurance for Steve E. Smith (knee) at receiver, and Da'Rel Scott has speed to burn as a seventh-round running back selection.
The up-and-coming Bucs spent their first two picks on defensive ends, and last year they used their top pair on defensive tackles. Adrian Clayborn is a better defender against the run than the pass, and Da'Quan Bowers slid to them in the second because of a knee injury. He led the nation in sacks last season (15.5). That's a nice balance if both players pan out.
Mason Foster was added for depth at middle linebacker, and he could start if Barrett Ruud indeed departs. Ahmad Black fell to the fifth round because concerns over his timed speed; he could be their strong safety of the future.
On the fence
I like the Titus Young pick - he brings another big-play dimension to their offense. I think Detroit found great value in Nick Fairley at No. 13, but he has a large bust factor about him. This could be the steal of the draft, and even if he busts, Detroit hit a home run at the position last year with their No. 1 pick. I was never a big fan of Mikel Leshoure, yet I understand why the Lions chose him. He should be a reasonably solid contributor.
I didn't like that Detroit failed to address their offensive line until the seventh round and neglected to add a cornerback. Those were arguably the team's biggest areas of need, so that leaves me doubting their overall strategy.
I can't say that I have any major gripes with the Texans' draft results; J.J. Watt was a smart, safe pick, and Houston targeted positions of need.
After Watt, though, Houston's next two selections were gambles to a degree. Brooks Reed, while extremely talented as a pass rusher, still has to move from being a defensive end to a standing rush linebacker. Brandon Harris, the Miami (Fla.) cornerback, is a pretty good cover corner but lacks ball skills.
I'm not really sure how I feel about the Pats' draft. I find the Nate Solder pick to be questionable, because he can't play right tackle, and it's tough to envision the Patriots using a rookie to protect Tom Brady's blindside for an entire season by choice.
I felt New England added a quality player in Marcus Cannon, but he has the risk of his cancer coming out of remission down the line. Ryan Mallett is intriguing, but if Brady plays another five years, Mallett may not still be there.
The Stevan Ridley pick seemed like a waste to me; he should have returned to LSU for another season to refine his game. Ras-I Dowling should be a quality player, but even good cornerbacks can look foolish without a pass rush. I think adding a downfield wide receiver would have been smart, too.
I like the Mark Ingram selection, assuming he is used properly. I don't really think Cameron Jordan fits what the Saints do on defense; he isn't much of a pass rusher but holds up against the run well, in his defense.
Linebacker Martez Wilson and cornerback Johnny Patrick were quality picks; both could develop into starters over the next few years. If defensive end Greg Romeus can get over his knee injury and stay healthy, he could prove to be a steal in the seventh round.
For the second year running, Oakland had a good draft. They improved their offensive line, added wide receiver depth, picked a home run threat at running back, strengthened their OL, and drafted two capable cornerbacks that fit their man coverage scheme.
They didn't add a quarterback, which surprised me, but that isn't such a big deal.
I think Corey Liuget is athletic enough to play 3-4 defensive end, but he is a better three-technique prospect. The jury will remain out on him for a few years.
Likes: Marcus Gilchrist's versatility, Vincent Brown's hands, Shareece Wright's potential and Jordan Todman's talent. Dislikes: Jonas Mouton in the second round was mind-boggling. At best, he's a rotational undersized, slow linebacker. Here's to hoping he is a standout special teamer for an ailing unit.
They dropped the ball by going with Cam Newton. Marcell Dareus was the smart choice. Patrick Peterson was the smart choice. A.J. Green was the smart choice. Even Nick Fairley was a reasonably smart choice. I like the two defensive line picks, but cornerback Brandon Hogan could be a handful off the field. Wideout Kealona Pilares is a project and doesn't immediately upgrade a weak wide receiver corps.
I like the Tyron Smith choice in the first, but passing on Rahim Moore in the second for Bruce Carter could prove disastrous. I'm indifferent about the DeMarco Murray pick; I don't think it was bad, but I have reservations about how he translates to the pro game. Not addressing the cornerback position until taking Josh Thomas in the fifth round didn't sit well with me.
I don't understand the purpose of trading up to get a player that is highly unlikely to help your chances for a playoff run in 2011. Essentially, the Jags chopped David Garrard down at the knees and didn't help their team get better immediately in the process. On top of it, they did it for a player that is hardly a lock to become the franchise face.
This really has little to do with the Christian Ponder selection, as I'm actually a fan of the move. If you believe he is your guy, who cares if you draft him 15 picks earlier than what other people consider to be acceptable. Christian Ballard is a better 3-4 defensive end prospect than a 4-3 Cover 2 end, and DeMarcus Love is, at best, no better than Phil Loadholt at right tackle; Love doesn't have the athleticism to play left tackle.
I don't have a big problem with James Carpenter in the first round, but Seattle has miserably botched their quarterback situation. I see K.J. Wright as more of a 3-4 linebacker than a 4-3 guy, and the fourth-round pick of Kris Durham doesn't give the Seahawks anything different than they have in wideout Mike X. Williams. Overall, it was a very uninspiring draft by Seattle.