Updated April 26, 2010 @ 6:08 p.m. ET
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 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.
GM Rod Graves addressed three pressing areas of need and bolstered the middle of the Cardinals' defense with his first two picks. He found great value in securing NT Dan Williams at the bottom of the first round and ILB Daryl Washington midway through the second, where they traded up to get him. WR Andre Roberts, who was selected with the pick received from Baltimore for Anquan Boldin, has the skill set to replace much of his production. Ken Whisenhunt and Graves made some moves on the third day, dealing Bryant McFadden back to the Steelers in order to trade up for QB John Skelton, and dropping down in the fourth round to land injured OLB O'Brien Schofield, who will be allowed to redshirt, and CB Jorrick Calvin, who was out of football for a season but has an intriguing skill set. TE Jim Dray could battle for a job as a blocker. Their fourth-round pick was sent to the Jets), along with a seventh-rounder in 2011, for FS Kerry Rhodes, who will replace the departed Antrel Rolle. The Cardinals cleared the fences with their first three picks, landed some solid developmental prospects in later rounds and could come away with four starters, counting Rhodes.
GM Thomas Dimitroff added much-needed youth at key positions. LB Sean Weatherspoon and DT Corey Peters have the burst desired in Mike Smith's fast-flowing front. The Falcons have already benefited a full season from the presence of TE Tony Gonzalez, for whom they shipped their second-round pick to Kansas City last year. OG Mike Johnson and C Joe Hawley could eventually step into the starting lineup. Kerry Meier can contribute as a possession receiver. FS Shann Schillinger can have a special teams-impact. The Falcons acquired Tye Hill for a late pick in this draft and it didn't work out, but they also were able to ship out Chris Houston for picks. In all, factoring an aging Gonzalez, it is safe to say the Falcons will come away with three starters and some solid contributors.
GM Marty Hurney did not have a first-round pick for the second consecutive year after dealing it to San Francisco last season to move up for Everette Brown, but they still managed to fill their greatest need, finding good value in the middle of the second round, where Jimmy Clausen was still available. With strong needs at quarterback and receiver, Hurney played the odds, drafting not only Clausen but QB Tony Pike in the sixth round. WRs Brandon LaFell (3), Armanti Edwards (3), for whom they sacrificed a 2011 second-round pick to New England to nab, and David Gettis (6) all provide good value where they were taken, even though they may have been better-served not mortgaging future picks. OLB Eric Norwood and DE Greg Hardy also could prove to be terrific value picks in the fourth and sixth rounds, respectively. The Panthers could wind up having a very solid draft, but they did take more chances than usual on players sliding as a result of character concerns, and the crop has a bit of a boom-or-bust feel. Three late-round DB prospects (Jordan Pugh, R.J. Stanford and Robert McClain) could fight for roster spots. Also part of this crop were RB Mike Goodson, the fourth-round pick last year who came as part of the deal with the Niners, DT Louis Leonard (acquired from the Browns) and DT Tank Tyler (acquired from the Chiefs). The Panthers' 10 picks could easily unveil three starters, although it may require some time.
The Bears did not have picks in the first two rounds, as the first was dealt to Denver as part of the Jay Cutler package and the second to Tampa Bay in exchange for the late Gaines Adams. GM Jerry Angelo sought to improve the defense, adding S Major Wright in the third round and injury-stricken Corey Wootton in the fourth before selecting another unheralded junior, CB Josh Moore, in the fifth. Wright has a chance to start readily, but Wootton and Moore could be relegated to backup roles. QB Dan LeFevour and OT J'Marcus Webb have developmental potential for offensive coordinator Mike Martz and O-line coach Mike Tice, respectively. Given how little return the Bears received from their first two dealt picks to date, with Cutler (credited more heavily toward last year's draft) struggling mightily in his first year and Adams unfortunately passing away before Rod Marinelli had a chance to harness his potential, and the likelihood that they drafted only one starter this year, the net result of the Bears' draft is not favorable.
Once Dez Bryant slipped into the 20s, Jerry Jones did not want to risk losing him to New England and traded up three spots to land the draft's most talented receiver. He traded up four spots again in the second to land a falling Sean Lee. They acquired an additional pick moving back seven spots in the fourth round and drafted a supremely gifted, small-school S Akwasi Owusu-Ansah. All three have starter-type traits and could turn out to be bargains where they were drafted, provided they stay healthy and Bryant stays motivated. OT Sam Young fits the Cowboys' O-line well. CB Jamar Wall and DL Sean Lissemore could battle for roster spots. There was some risk involved, but if Jones connects swinging for the fences, he could hit big.
GM Martin Mayhew and head coach Jim Schwartz sought to land difference makers on each side of the ball, and with the addition of Ndamukong Suh and Jahvid Best, whom they traded into the first to secure, that is exactly what they did. Amari Spievey fits Schwartz's zone-coverage scheme. Jason Fox has the versatility to help anywhere along the offensive line. They dealt DE Robert Henderson and a fifth-rounder to Seattle for OG Rob Sims and a seventh, which they used on DE Willie Young, a developmental rusher. The Lions also dealt their seventh-rounder for S Ko Simpson last year and, last month, a sixth-rounder and a conditional seventh in 2011 for CB Chris Houston. Tim Toone could challenge for a role as a slot receiver and punt returner. Landing two impact players in any draft is difficult to do, and Mayhew accomplished it, while landing solid depth at other positions of need and dealing some late-round picks for more established veterans who could start, such as Sims and Simpson and the embattled Houston. For the second consecutive year, the Lions greatly improved via the draft.
Green Bay Packers
GM Ted Thompson was not as active trading this year as the Packers generally are, letting the board fall to them at the back of the first round and landing a potential long-term blind-side protector to replace Chad Clifton in Bryan Bulaga. The brute-strong Mike Neal was tabbed to stack the edges of the Packers' "30" front, and Thompson packaged his third- and fourth-round picks to Philadelphia to nab S Morgan Burnett early in the third round. All three players could see action readily. Fifth-round TE Andrew Quarless could develop into a solid role player. OT Marshall Newhouse fits the Packers' zone-blocking scheme, as does one-cut runner James Starks. DE C.J. Wilson could also provide depth as a five-technique. The Packers could come away with three starters and recognized value throughout the draft.
Personnel chief Rick Spielman and Brad Childress dealt down four spots out of the first round and filled a primary position of need with the selection of CB Chris Cook, who fits Leslie Frazier's press-cover zone defense. With Chester Taylor moving on, the Vikings also had a need for a complementary runner to Adrian Peterson and packaged their second- and third-round picks to Houston to move up 11 spots and land Toby Gerhart, fortifying the backfield. DE Everson Griffen was a solid value pick in the fourth round. Rounds 5-7 brought some potential ILB help in the form of Nate Triplett (5) and Ryan D'Imperio (7), both of whom could fight for roster spots on special teams. OG Chris DeGeare has the size coveted in their line. Converted QB Joe Webb could be groomed as a wide receiver. Collectively, the Vikings got bigger but may have reached a bit on Cook and took some risk adding Griffen to the locker room, although he should fit in well with their cast of characters. They will come away with a few starters if they are very lucky but filled mostly role positions.
New Orleans Saints
With Malcolm Jenkins appearing set to move to free safety, GM Mickey Loomis and Sean Payton added another big, athletic cornerback to the roster in Patrick Robinson. OT Charles Brown enters the league with a back injury that makes the pick risky. TE Jimmy Graham and DT Al Woods (for whom they packaged a fourth-round pick and a sixth to land) are loaded with upside but will require patience. Fifth-round C Matt Tennant and seventh-round QB Sean Canfield have intriguing developmental potential. The Super Bowl winners, picking at the back of the round where the board was dry, built for the future with a crop of picks who may not provide many immediate dividends but could blossom in time and potentially bring three starters.
New York Giants
Giants GM Jerry Reese addressed his defense with the first four picks and leaned on the junior class, selecting some young, athletic talent that will require considerable fine-tuning. DE Jason Pierre-Paul is a physical freak, but he has boom-or-bust potential. DT Linval Joseph could prove to be a solid addition in the middle of the defense but has been slowed by a back injury. Chad Jones is very athletic but still very raw, and questions abound about how much he loves the game, which could be tested early by Tom Coughlin. The Giants waited until the fourth round to address one of their more pressing needs, at linebacker, tabbing Phillip Dillard to replace Antonio Pierce inside and then adding Adrian Tracy in the sixth round to help outside. Mitch Petrus could provide depth at guard, and P Matt Dodge could earn a job. Collectively, the Giants may get the most out of later-round picks initially, with Dillard and Dodge having the greatest shot of earning jobs readily. The selections of Pierre-Paul, who cannot be expected to factor as more than a nickel rusher out of the gate, and Jones involved some risk and give the Giants' draft a high-risk, high-reward label.
As one of the league's more active teams dealing during the draft, Andy Reid and GM Howie Roseman began a youth movement this offseason, dealing veteran QB Donovan McNabb for a second-round pick this year and a conditional fourth-rounder next year. They also shipped out a number of older veterans, such as Lito Sheppard, Sheldon Brown and Chris Clemons, and younger players, such as LB Chris Gocong and WR Brandon Gibson, in exchange for picks or players. Veterans who arrived as part of draft trades include OT Jason Peters, LB Will Witherspoon, DE Darryl Tapp and LB Ernie Sims, which collectively would appear to tilt in the Eagles' favor, despite concerns about a number of the additions, the rich contract that was given to Peters and the loss of a franchise quarterback. Beyond all the activity in the trade market, the Eagles had the ammunition to really revamp the roster through the draft, with a league-high 13 picks. And they largely focused on the defensive side of the ball, where they brought in nine fresh faces, including three defensive ends (Brandon Graham, Daniel Te'o-Nesheim and Ricky Sapp) who could all see some type of action early, most notably Graham, for whom they moved up aggressively in the first round to land. FS Nate Allen, who will forever be linked to McNabb, has the cover skills to play corner or safety. CB Trevard Lindley and OLB Keenan Clayton were reaches in the fourth round, although Clayton could factor on special teams. QB Mike Kafka is perfectly suited for the Eagles' West Coast offense. TE Clay Harbor could develop into a solid contributor. Good value was found in Rounds 5-7, as WR Riley Cooper could compete for a roster spot and ILB Jamar Chaney and FS Kurt Coleman could potentially help on special teams. While completely retooling the roster, the Eagles easily landed four starters and found a lot of quality depth, although the jury remains out on the decision to deal McNabb.
San Francisco 49ers
With two first-round picks, the Niners had the potential to make a strong impact, and GM Trent Baalke and Mike Singletary made a big splash with the addition of two powerful offensive linemen — Anthony Davis, for whom they traded a fourth-round pick to move up two spots to secure, and Mike Iupati — establishing a new core in the trenches. S Taylor Mays is a four-year starter with a unique physical skill set, and Penn State ILB Navorro Bowman is a solid football player. All four have starter potential and should stand to mature under the guidance of Singletary. Their fifth-round pick was dealt to Miami for Ted Ginn Jr., who could stretch the defense and bring an element of excitement to the return game. WR Kyle Williams could also factor into the return game and potentially as a slot receiver. RB Anthony Dixon had some character concerns but could add more power to the backfield. TE Nate Byham can help establish a power run game as an in-line blocker. And CB Phillip Adams has developmental potential. Collectively, the Niners addressed a pressing need on the offensive line and could come away with more than four starters, including three who should start from Day One. Although there is some risk involved with the 20-year-old Davis, Mays, Bowman and Dixon, Singletary has shown he can shape up a roster.
GM John Schneider and Pete Carroll could not have wished for the board to fall much better than it did, being able to fill two of their most pressing needs in the first round with the selections of OT Russell Okung and FS Earl Thomas, two very sound football players. They dropped down 20 spots with a swap of second-round picks and also sent a third-rounder in 2011 for QB Charlie Whitehurst. WR Golden Tate has some playmaking ability. CB Walter Thurmond could prove to be a steal in the fourth round if he can stay healthy. DE E.J. Wilson has the strength to battle for a job. Schneider also added Philadelphia DE Chris Clemons, Detroit DE Robert Henderson, Jets RB Leon Washington and Tennessee RB LenDale White and DT Kevin Vickerson, while not losing many picks but wisely swapping instead. It allowed the Seahawks to still land hard-hitting S Kam Chancellor in the fifth round, former Trojans TE Anthony McCoy in the sixth and two developmental projects — LB Dexter Davis and WR Jameson Konz — in the seventh. Schneider manipulated the draft board to his advantage very well, landing nine prospects with a chance to make the roster and a handful of veterans who could help fill positions of need. They also placed a premium on character and drafted very soundly at the top of the draft, taking risks only on prospects whom Carroll has coached previously.
St. Louis Rams
Landing a potential franchise quarterback filled the Rams' greatest need and was an easy decision for GM Billy Devaney and head coach Steve Spagnuolo. They wisely followed up in the second round by adding more protection with OT Rodger Saffold and supplying some more dependable hands with the selection of WR Mardy Gilyard, TE Michael Hoomanawanui and intriguing developmental TE Fendi Onobun (6). CB Jerome Murphy is rough around the edges and undisciplined but can bring more physicality to the defense. All three defensive ends drafted in Rounds 5-7 — Hall Davis, Eugene Sims and George Selvie — can battle for playing time, with Selvie being a solid value in the seventh round. Marquis Johnson and Josh Hull could vie for special-teams duty. Drafting at the top of the round has its benefits, as the Rams may come out of the wash with five starters from this class while also adding WR Brandon Gibson via a trade with Philadelphia.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
GM Mark Dominik and Raheem Morris benefited greatly from the arrival of the underclassman class, from which four of their first five picks hailed. They vastly improved the interior of the defensive line, with DTs Gerald McCoy and Brian Price adding the upfield energy the unit had lacked. WRs Arrelious Benn and Mike Williams are both raw, and Williams' character is a concern, but both have the physical attributes to ease QB Josh Freeman's transition. CB Myron Lewis fits Morris' zone defense well. The final two rounds brought a number of special-teams contributors who could stick, including P Brent Bowden, S Cody Grimm and LB Dekoda Watson. They also parted with DE Gaines Adams, DE Marques Douglas, TE Alex Smith and QB Luke McCown in exchange for picks, and all trades appeared to swing in their favor. More risk was involved selecting young, immature talent in some cases, but if Morris can keep them in line, the Buccaneers should be more explosive with the new pillar of their defense in place.
Under Mike Shanahan and Bruce Allen, the Redskins have become much more strategic in their personnel operations and have built the team with more precision, securing Donovan McNabb from a division rival for a relatively low price and beginning to build around him. The first piece added in the draft was OT Trent Williams, who fit the Redskins' zone-blocking scheme perfectly. The Redskins' second-rounder was shipped to Philadelphia for McNabb, along with a conditional fourth-rounder next year, and the third-rounder was sacrificed in the 2009 supplemental draft for developmental DE Jeremy Jarmon, who could help outside in Jim Haslett's "30" front. ILB Perry Riley was a solid addition in the fourth round. TE Dennis Morris could bring value as a wham blocker. WR Terrence Austin could help in the return game. Their final two picks — C Erik Cook and OT Selvish Capers — are developmental zone blockers. To find the two most important pieces of Shanahan's offense via the draft — McNabb and Williams — gives the Redskins' draft more credence than it has had in a long time, and Shanahan did a fine job of matching talent to his scheme. Dealing Jason Campbell to the Raiders for a fourth-round pick in 2012 lessened the price tag for McNabb, and the Redskins also came away with another former first-rounder and Jim Haslett recommendation, DT Adam Carriker, by merely swapping fifth-round picks. If he can stay healthy, he could be a solid addition.
Related link: AFC draft grades
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