It is never fair to evaluate drafts before talent is even given a chance to prove itself in the NFL, as the intangibles such as toughness, competitiveness and determination often exceed even the greatest talent. With that being said, there is an art to understanding where players will be drafted, how to manipulate the draft board and build through the draft. And those who understand the value of talent generally come away from the draft in the best shape now and in the future.
Based on PFW's research documented in a five-year study, the average team produces two starters through the draft in any given year. Ideally, those starters will come from the first two rounds, where the financial commitments are greatest.
It is realistic to expect all teams to produce starters in the first two rounds and find a player who could contribute minimally in sub-packages in the third round. PFW used a sliding scale included below to grade each draft, with two starters being the standard benchmark all teams should strive for. Picks that were traded for veteran acquisitions are factored into our analysis as potential starters.
4 projected starters: A (Outstanding)
3 projected starters: B (Good)
2 projected starters: C (Average)
1 projected starter: D (Questionable)
0 projected starters: F (Poor)
An additional half-point was awarded to teams who wisely manipulated the draft board and acquired future picks; for teams who drafted very soundly in the first two rounds; and for those who likely filled five roster spots, with sixth- and seventh-round picks not expected to make solid rosters.
While the draft is important for filling needs, teams typically sign two to three times the number of players they need via free agency, and it is our belief that drafting the best available player is the best approach. Yet, whether a team filled needs was considered in our analysis.
The risk of picks, considering medical and character questions, was also considered and weighed into grades, as was the drafting of projections who might have a steeper learning curve and include more overall risk to make it in the NFL. A half-point was subtracted for teams who drafted too daringly.
Also considered is the overall number of players expected to make the 53-man roster, although that was given less weight given that it is easier to make the roster of a bad team than it is a team that has been well-stocked. Lastly, the ability to match talent to schemes and coaching staffs also was weighed.
Ravens GM Ozzie Newsome has a reputation for taking a chance on talent with durability concerns early in the draft that others tend to pass by, and he did it again this year with the selection of Sergio Kindle, who had a number of red flags. However, if Kindle stays healthy, he could be the draft's biggest steal midway through the second round, and is perfectly suited for the Ravens' defense. The selections of Terrence Cody and Ed Dickson also involved some risk, with Cody's work habits in question and Dickson requiring time to absorb a playbook, but Newsome has a strong coaching staff to handle them. Dennis Pitta was another steal in the fourth round, and David Reed, Arthur Jones and Ramon Harewood all potentially could earn roster spots. Despite trading out of the first round, the Ravens could land three starters from this draft. They continually recognized value, but it was offset by the risk involved. When factoring in the acquisition of Anquan Boldin, the Ravens, as they have often done, had a strong showing, with four starters likely acquired.
In Buddy Nix's first year as general manager, the Bills could be criticized from outsiders for reaching. But C.J. Spiller was not expected to last another pick and NT Torell Troup had increased value with a run on strong pluggers in the second round. Both can be expected to make immediate impacts at critical positions on each side of the ball, not to mention the impact Spiller could have on special teams. Like Troup, Alex Carrington also could provide a key piece to the Bills' new "30" front. In the last three rounds, the Bills added solid depth with the selection five developmental-type prospects. Marcus Easley has upside. Ed Wang is a functional backup. Arthur Moats and Danny Batten are developmental, small-school hybrid rushers. Levi Brown may turn out to be a steal in the seventh. And Kyle Calloway could turn out to be a solid pickup. All nine picks stand a chance to make the roster, and the first three picks should start readily. Landing a difference maker and Pro Bowl-caliber talent like Spiller was a plus.
The Bengals were one of the few teams that stood pat and did not make a single trade. In typical Mike Brown fashion, there were some risky selections, most noticeably enigmatic DE Carlos Dunlap in the second round and Kansas WR Dezmon Briscoe in the sixth, although the risk was much more minimal late. Jermaine Gresham was a very sound selection in the first round, with Pro Bowl-type potential. Jordan Shipley can factor into the slot but has been injury-prone. Brandon Ghee has first-round athletic talent, but free-agent level confidence and instincts, which could delay his development. Geno Atkins could help immediately as an inside nickel rusher. Roddrick Muckelroy could help on special teams. Otis Hudson and Reggie Stephens could both add depth to the o-line. Six draftees could easily make the roster, and collectively, the Bengals' loaded up with great physical talent, but they may have overlooked some critical qualities that could lead to higher bust potential for Dunlap and Ghee. Overall, the Bengals' draft was cleaner than usual, landing a potential Pro Bowl tight end in the first round, but it's difficult to confidently project that they will come away with more than two starters.
It's difficult to say who deserves more criticism in the first year of the Mike Holmgren and Tom Heckert regime — the team's medical staff or the personnel department. Throwing aside strong medical reservations that other teams had about T.J. Ward, Montario Hardesty, Colt McCoy and Larry Asante, the Browns' draft would appear favorable, as they continually landed solid talent throughout the draft and rebuilt a suspect secondary. What also must be factored is the dealing of former first-rounders Braylon Edwards, Kamerion Wimbley and Brady Quinn (not to mention last year's deal for Kellen Winslow that involved compensation this year) and in addition to Alex Hall and Corey Williams. Acquired were Jason Trusnik, Chansi Stuckey, Seneca Wallace, Chris Gocong, Sheldon Brown and additional picks. The Browns may have accomplished their goal of improving team leadership by trading out a bevy of first-rounders, but there was a net loss in talent. Still, they may have landed three starters in the draft with the selections of Joe Haden, Ward and Hardesty. Plus, Shawn Lauvao, McCoy, Asante, Carlton Mitchell and Clifton Geathers have developmental potential. Overall, the Browns have been as active as anyone in the league re-sculpting their roster and building a "team." All eight picks could make the roster, but it appears much more brittle following this draft.
When it comes to manipulating a draft board, Josh McDaniels and Brian Xanders deserve kudos. They traded back twice in the first round and came back up to land Demaryius Thomas and also were able to use the ammunition they acquired trading back to fit back into the first round to land their quarterback of the future. The end result was the dealing of Jay Cutler and Brandon Marshall for Tim Tebow and Demaryius Thomas. Acquiring an additional second-rounder next year in the Marshall trade along with Brady Quinn was also a plus. Also shuttled for picks were Peyton Hillis and Tony Scheffler. The Broncos had a glaring need on the interior of their line and they reached in the second and third rounds to fill it with the selections of Zane Beadles and J.D. Walton, respectively. Syd'quan Thompson and Jammie Kirlew are both extremely tough overachievers and could fight for roster spots out of the seventh round. Selecting two receivers, Thomas and Eric Decker, in the first three rounds who are coming off injuries and had not run was a bold move that might pay dividends and provide good value in return. Perrish Cox was worth a gamble in the fifth round despite considerable character concerns. Also needing to be factored in is the addition of last year's second-rounder Alphonso Smith. Collectively, given the veteran talent shipped out, all the development involved with Tebow, and the injury risks taken at the receiver position, this draft could be the defining one for McDaniels' career, and it involved a lot of risk. Given what they lost, it's difficult to say the net result will return more than two starters, but they did accomplish the goal of re-shaping the locker room.
GM Rick Smith filled some pressing needs with the first three picks, landing two potential starters in Kareem Jackson and Ben Tate with his first two picks, both of whom fit the Texans' schemes perfectly. The team might have reached slightly in the next two rounds, but Earl Mitchell can have an impact as a nickel rusher and Darryl Sharpton value on special teams. Rounds 4-7 brought great upside, as TE Garrett Graham should benefit learning from fellow Wisconsin grad Owen Daniels. Sherrick McManis could provide versatility as a corner/safety. Shelley Smith fits the Texans' run game very well and has swing backup potential. Trindon Holliday could provide a spark in the return game, and Dorin Dickerson, drafted as a receiver, has upside to be groomed. Smith moved down the board several times, acquiring additional picks and landed nine rookies who could fend for roster spots, including three potential starters in the first three rounds. It may not appear flashy, but it was a productive draft, valuing intelligence and character, as he drafted very safely.
The Colts were not very active on the trade front, but true to his scheme, GM Bill Polian clearly valued speed before size in the first three rounds. Jerry Hughes could develop into a terrorizing pass rusher in a similar mold as Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis and could provide immediate returns on third downs. Polian might have reached on many of his other picks, with Pat Angerer coming off earlier than expected in the second round, and injury concerns being overlooked on Kevin Thomas (third round) and Brody Eldridge (fifth round). Jacques McClendon could compete for time, and Ricardo Mathews, Kavell Conner and Ray Fisher all fit the Colts' defense. Collectively, the Colts could land two starters with their first two picks, maybe three, but the injury risk involved could set it back in years to come.
GM Gene Smith is the easiest target to criticize in this draft after he pulled Tyson Alualu's name off the board at least 20 picks sooner than anticipated. He could have added value to his draft had he moved back, and now will live with close scrutiny as he boldly banked his draft on an explosive, high-character inside rusher who has potential to be very good. Without a pick in the second round, traded to New England last year to nab Derek Cox in the third round, the only other pick in the first three rounds was DT D'Anthony Smith in the third, and like Alualu, he has untapped upside. All four of the Jaguars' first four picks were spent on the D-line. Larry Hart could help as a situational rusher and Austen Lane has developmental potential as a base end. RB Deji Karim and CB-KR Scotty McGee are small-school standouts that the Jaguars have done well projecting to the pro level in past years. The Jaguars sent Quentin Groves to Oakland in one deal and received Kirk Morrison in another, which could be a wash. Overall, because Smith is so bold in his decision making and aggressive targeting talent, he might not have received as much value as he could have otherwise by manipulating the draft board, and might not come away with more than two starters, even if Alualu turns out to be special. Cox did play very well as a rookie and should be factored into this class, however.
Kansas City Chiefs
GM Scott Pioli, a conservative decision maker, landed a player many evaluators regarded to be the safest in the draft with his first pick. Eric Berry has the potential to be special. Pioli might have reached a bit on Dexter McCluster and Javier Arenas (who was essentially acquired in exchange for Tony Gonzalez), but both have return capabilities that pad their value. Jon Asamoah and Tony Moeaki could compete for starting jobs, although injuries were legitimate causes for concern, especially for Moeaki, who has never been able to stay healthy. OLB Cameron Sheffield and FS Kendrick Lewis are developmental prospects. The Chiefs might come away with four starters and improved special teams through the draft, but having been without Gonzalez for a year did hinder the offense in 2009.
Landing Brandon Marshall robbed the Dolphins of their second-round pick this year and next but they were able to gain it back by shrewdly dealing down in the first round. Seven of the Dolphins' eight picks came on a defense in need of being overhauled. Jared Odrick projects outside in the Dolphins' "30" front. Koa Misi could provide a much-needed pass rush at the OLB position, and A.J. Edds (fourth round) and Chris McCoy (sixth round) have developmental potential as 'backers as well. John Jerry perfectly fits the Dolphins' power running game and could be plugged in to play readily, although mental mistakes and missed assignment may not disappear. CB Nolan Carroll and SS Reshad Jones have upside but will require considerable coaching and may never figure it out. Ohio State LB Austin Spitler has special-teams potential. Odrick, Misi and Jerry all fit the Dolphins very well and could contend for starting jobs. As risky as trading for Marshall and awarding him with a big contract might have been, Bill Parcells and Jeff Ireland get a plus for maneuvering around the draft board to regain picks, filling needs, matching scheme-fits and coming out of the draft with three potential starters and a big-play receiver.
New England Patriots
When it comes to moving up and down a draft board and understanding the economics of draft value, no one may be more shrewd than Bill Belichick, who dropped down twice in the first round to land Devin McCourty, moved up for a falling Rob Gronkowski in the second round, only to trade down twice more in the second round to land Brandon Spikes. In the third round, the Patriots acquired an additional second-round pick next year from Carolina on top of the additional first they already own from Oakland in the Richard Seymour trade. In the end, they came away with two tight ends, with Gronkowski having all-around tools to start and Aaron Hernandez factoring as a move player. Jermaine Cunningham was a reach in the second round, as a number of their picks appeared to be, although a run on rush LB prospects precipitated the pick. Spikes might be a two-down player but he has starter potential from Day One. Taylor Price could provide a vertical threat. Placing a premium on special teams, as Belichick did with the selection of McCourty in the first, P Zoltan Mesko was the first punter selected and figures to start. The sixth and seventh rounds brought developmental linemen that fit their scheme — with two on each side of the ball. All four could battle to keep jobs, but may have to fit on the practice squad. With 12 picks, only seven may make the 53, and most fit specific niche roles and do not project as starters on a deep roster. However, added up, the Patriots could have at least four solid Year One contributors with starter potential — McCourty, Gronkowski, Spikes and Mesko — and deserve credit for gaining picks next year and manipulating the board.
New York Jets
GM Mike Tannenbaum made only four picks in this draft, the fewest of any team, having already dealt many of their selections to acquire veterans such as Braylon Edwards, Santonio Holmes, Lito Sheppard and Antonio Cromartie, significantly bolstering their skill talent and supporting a rookie quarterback. In the wash was Kerry Rhodes, Jason Trusnik, Chansi Stuckey and Leon Washington — all of whom had become expendable with the new coaching regime. With others on the trading block, such as Alan Faneca, and unable to be dealt, the Jets filled a big need with Vladimir Ducasse in the second round and landed a solid value at the end of the first with Kyle Wilson, who could factor in nickel packages readily. Joe McKnight helps replace Washington and John Conner provides youth at a position where Tony Richardson is getting old. All four picks could prove to be contributors on a strong roster. The Jets took some chances on some very talented veterans with character concerns. If he they can manage them properly, Tannenbaum could easily come away with three proven starters and four rookies with upside.
For once, Al Davis seemed to apply some common sense to his draft, and did not consistently reach for raw, unproven height-weight-speed prospects, instead waiting until the fourth round before be pulled the trigger on OT Bruce Campbell and WR Jacoby Ford, two testers without much tape. Rolando McClain and Lamarr Houston are both a little rough around the edges, but McClain could anchor the middle of the Raiders' defense after Kirk Morrison was sent packing, and Houston could provide inside rush ability. Jared Veldheer has developmental potential. Walter McFadden has the man-cover skills desired in Oakland and was a great value pick in the fifth round, with nickel corner capability. Travis Goethel and Jeremy Ware could compete for time on special teams. Stevie Brown was drafted to be cut. Overall, the draft did not involve nearly as many reaches as Davis typically makes, and when considering that Kamerion Wimbley and Quentin Groves were also part of the draft draw, the Raiders could have four starters from this draft and are now better positioned to run multiple fronts on defense. Landing Jason Campbell for a fourth-rounder in 2012 could prove to be well worth it as well and allow the Raiders to cut the cord with JaMarcus Russell.
The Steelers long have been a need-driven drafting team under the direction of Kevin Colbert, and they focused on a great need with their first pick, selecting one of the best centers (Maurkice Pouncey) to exit college football in a long time. Despite seeming to be drafted highly for a center, he was a very safe selection. Jason Worilds and Thaddeus Gibson are both raw, developmental rush LB projects with speed to be groomed. Emmanuel Sanders could compete for a job in the slot. Crezdon Butler has press cover ability. The final two rounds addressed some niche roles, as Stevenson Sylvester could provide help on special-teams coverage, Jonathan Dwyer could help as a short-yardage runner, Antonio Brown could factor into the return game and Doug Worthington could develop as a five-technique. Losing a first-round talent in Santonio Holmes for only a fifth-rounder weakens the class, even if the deal needed to be done for bigger reasons. The Steelers did very well addressing needs, and could come away with three starters if one of their project linebacker hits, but losing Holmes for such a low price lessens the impact.
San Diego Chargers
After the Chargers released LaDainian Tomlinson, GM A.J. Smith had a glaring need in his backfield, and he filled it by aggressively trading up with the Dolphins and securing the power back perhaps sooner than he needed to — with the Dolphins not even choosing to draft a runner although believed to be in the market for a power back. San Diego was able to move up so high in part because of the swap of second-round picks they made with Seattle when they dealt Charlie Whitehurst and also came away with a third-round pick in 2011. The Bolts parted with Tim Dobbins and Antonio Cromartie and added Travis Johnson in exchange for a sixth-round pick, although remaining active on the trade front, they did deal fourth- and fifth-round picks in 2011 to the Niners and Eagles respectively to move up and fill needs on the inside of their defense with ILB Donald Butler and NT Cam Thomas, two strong power players who might help readily. Darrell Stuckey is a banger who could help on special teams. Jonathan Crompton could replace Whitehurst, and TE Dedrick Epps has upside if he stays healthy. In total, the Chargers added three prospects with solid starting potential at big positions of need via the draft. Despite being aggressive landing targets early, they found good value later in the draft.
The Titans filled their greatest needs with the selection of Derrick Morgan, Damian Williams, Rennie Curran and Alterraun Verner, all of whom fit the mold of "effort producers." Another commonality of their top four selections is solid character. They have had some luck drafting undersized linebackers, but the size and physicality of the NFL game could give all of the team's '10 draft picks some trouble given athletic limitations that show up on tape. Morgan is not an elite athlete, Williams struggles vs. the jam, Curran can be swallowed up and Verner lacks top-end speed. Nonetheless, for Jeff Fisher's defense, they could all function. GM Mike Reinfeldt dealt troubled LenDale White and Kevin Vickeron to Seattle for very little in return, simply swapping fourth- and sixth-round picks. He gave away the team's second-round pick to New England last year to draft Jared Cook. FS Robert Johnson could be a solid special teamer, but they might get very little in return from their final four picks — QB Rusty Smith, SS Myron Rolle, WR Marc Mariani and DT David Howard. Morgan can provide the greatest impact, but the Titans may be lucky to find more than two starters from the group.
Related link: NFC draft grades
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