Sunday, May 6, 2012

Final Draft Grades: NFC East

Dallas Cowboys You've got to give Jerry Jones credit, the Cowboys circled a guy on their big board at a position of need, cornerback, then went out and got him. Jumping from #14 all the way up to #6, the Cowboys selected top available defensive back, LSU corner, Morris Claiborne. There is no denying the talent of Claiborne, he's phenomenal. He's mentally and physically tough enough to play at the next level, and should anchor the Cowboy secondary for years to come, or at least that's what owner Jerry Jones will hope for. With the departure of corner backs Alan Ball and longtime Cowboy Terence Newman, Dallas has managed to revamp their entire defensive backfield and Claiborne will be the key. The Cowboys other big splash came in the form of 3rd rounder, Boise State defensive end Tyrone Crawford. Dallas has lived off adding depth to the front seven of their defense over recent years, Crawfords big frame and quality motor will do just that. Now addition by subtraction, the Cowboys cut ties with the oft-frustrating tight end Martellus Bennett this offseason, and most likely replaced him through the draft selecting Oklahoma tight end James Hanna in the 6th round, hoping once again and he'll give quarterback Tony Romo that second tight end option who can block. Final Grade: B+

New York Giants Being a fan of the team I just spoke about, it pains me to say this but . . . the Giants are just good at what they do, all things football. The defending Super Bowl Champs seem to just 'get it,' when it comes to the draft. Replacing Mario Manningham didn't seem to take long as the Giants nabbed LSU receiver Rueben Randle at the end of round one. Randle is a good unpolished receiver who has pretty good hands but difficulty making space, luckily he'll be playing with a quarterback who can put the ball in any space made. The Giants also replaced malcontent running back Brandon Jacobs with Virginia Tech rusher David Wilson. The Giants are one of those teams who when it comes to the draft really use their picks to not just fill their roster but enhance it. There is a reason this team has won two Super Bowls in recent years against one of the best franchises in professional sports, because they too are becoming one. Final Grade: A

Washington Redskins So that there is no misconception at a later date, the entire future of the Washington Redskins hinges on the immediate play and continued development of their top selection in the 2012 NFL Draft, quarterback Robert Griffin III. First, the Redskins gave up a ton of picks to acquire Griffin III. They gave up two future first round picks and a second round pick this year, that's the future of their franchise, in case you were wondering. They also blew one of their few selections of the draft on Michigan State signal caller Kirk Cousins, in what an insane person would also call a head scratcher, but ignore that, or try to. If Griffin looks anything like reigning Rookie of the Year, Carolina Panther quarterback Cam Newton, looked like last season then the immediate feedback would be that the Redskins should have given up more! However, if Griffin struggles and looks less than a franchise quarterback should, then just wait for the naysayers. This is the Cam Newton effect, doesn't matter how long you were on center stage, it only matters what you did when you were on it. Final Grade: TBD (I understand that's weak.)

Philadelphia Eagles The Eagles are always an interesting team when it comes to the draft. This year however, they were pretty consistent. Andy Reid picked up his typical defensive lineman in defensive tackle, Fletcher Cox in the first round. Cox is your prototypical pass rusher from the Southeastern Conference, he's angry, he's fast, and can get after the quarterback. When watching tape on Fletcher Cox you get a really good idea at what the Eagles were looking into. Cox has a great ability to get off the ball and work to the quarterback relentlessly. No other outing was more impressive than his performance in the Music City Bowl this past season. Cox terrorized Wake Forest all afternoon long, tirelessly getting after the quarterback and even blocking a kick to the point where he smashes right through the offensive lineman. I also liked that Philadelphia went with Arizona quarterback Nick Foles, whereas I really don't think Foles is ready for the NFL, I think that Philadelphia might finally understand they are on borrowed time with the oft-injured Michael Vick who is only getting older at this point. Final Grade: B+

Saturday, May 5, 2012

Final Draft Grades: NFC South

New Orleans Saints For a team that didn't draft till the third round, what were they supposed to do? Giving up their 2012 1st round pick a season ago to the Patriots in order to get back into the 2011 1st round and take Alabama running back Mark Ingram, and then they lost their 2012 2nd round selection as a result of BountyGate. Enter Akiem Hicks, the underrated defensive tackle who was heavily recruited by LSU coming out of high school, and now the Saints first pick but not till the third round. Hicks is a mammoth with both speed and athleticism, and should give the Saints an added boost on their defensive line. Then the Saints grabbed well-known Wisconsin receiver, Nick Toon. Toon might give the Saints back, what they lost this offseason with the departure of Robert Meachem. However, all moves are put on hold till the Saints find a way to meet in the middle with All-World quarterback holdout, Drew Brees. For a team that had limited picks, and a messy offseason, their draft only added to the mess. Final Grade: D

Tampa Bay Buccaneers The Bucs first two picks Alabama safety Mark Barron (7th Overall), and Boise State running back Doug Martin (31st Overall), were essentially reaches at both points where they were picked. Tampa desperately needed safety help on their very thin secondary and once everyone and their mother got word that this was an equally thin draft on safeties, Mark Barron's stock soared. While Barron is hyped up to be an incredibly intelligent safety and plays extremely well sideline to sideline, he's going to have to be the next Ed Reed to justify the Bucs picking him as high as seventh. As for running back Doug Martin, consensus is that Martin was the second best available running back behind Alabama's Trent Richardson, at a position Tampa Bay really wanted to fill through the NFL Draft. Martin is absolutely a good running back to give the Bucs a different look in the backfield than just the lumbering LeGarette Blount, but 1st round? The Buccaneers are making a great effort adding some pieces on their offense, but the real contest will be seeing how they are able to work things out with a new coach on the sidelines. FInal Grade: B

Atlanta Falcons The Dirty Birds had two goals heading into the draft, protect Matt Ryan, and upgrade their rushing game behind Michael Turner. 2011 Draft selection Jacquizz Rodgers can't carry the the load as the second option to Turner, while he's a solid change of speed runner, the Falcons needed to get more help. Well, they hit on one of two of their major needs. Selecting 1st round talent, Wisconsin offensive lineman Peter Konz, in the second round and following that up with 3rd round selection, offensive tackle Lamar Holmes, the Falcons got deeper up front. Defensive free-agent additions of linebacker Lofa Tatupu, defensive back Asante Samuel, should help replace some of what the Falcons lost this off season. The bottom line when it comes to Atlanta is their plan to move to a mainly passing offense and use Michael Turner when needed, a plan which they started a season ago by selling away their 2011 draft in favor of getting game changing Alabama receiver Julio Jones. Final Grade: B-

Carolina Panthers I have a dog in this fight. Former Boston College linebacker turned NFL prospect Luke Kuechly was picked up in the early going of April's NFL Draft by Carolina. He's a motor linebacker who can play every down and has a particularly good nose for the football and where to be on the field. In a division with so much offense, Kuechly is going to be as important to the Panthers defensive side of the ball as the pick of Cameron Newton was last year to the offensive side of the ball. It's possible, (with bias of course) that in back-to-back years Carolina will have selected the top offensive player and then the top defensive player in each of the last two drafts. With veteran linebacker Jon Beason and the rookie Kuechly, the Panthers have massively upgraded their line backing corps. Then you got to give Carolina smart points for picking mammoth offensive guard Amini Silatolu, any time you can add protection for the face of the franchise Cam Newton, you have to go out and do it. Kudos to Carolina, loved their draft. Final Grade: A

. . . Next up; NFC East

Friday, May 4, 2012

Final Draft Grades: NFC North

Green Bay Packers There are players that you just like. Guys that you ignore what their 40-times are, don't care what they look like during their "shuttle drill," just players you think can make plays. For us, that player is former Michigan State defensive tackle Jerel Worthy. We don't know how well he's going to get along with future Hall of Fame defensive back and former Michigan Wolverine, Charles Woodson, given he's got an arm tattoo of a Spartan crushing a Wolverine, but we'll see. Worthy is a 6'2", 310 lb. monster and despite his admittance that he 'takes plays off,' we still like him. Grabbing Worthy in the second round after getting stud USC defensive end / outside linebacker Nick Perry in the first round, we really like what the Packers did early. If Perry and Worthy can step in and instantly help a porous Packer defensive line from a season ago, general manager Thompson will have landed a very quality pair of pass rushers. While moving up to get an underrated Casey Hayward at pick number sixty-two, a cornerback from Vanderbilt, wasn't exactly what we expected, it still gives the Packers depth in the secondary. Final Grade: A-

Detroit Lions The Lions are super interesting to me. They're right there ready to make the jump to scary good slash Super Bowl contender, no I'm not speaking out of turn. 10-6 A season ago, with a quarterback who just posted a 5,000-yard passing season, a class in 2011 which includes the likes of Super Bowl winning quarterbacks Tom Brady, and Drew Brees. With that being said, you better believe the Lions greatest area of opportunity was to protect quarterback Matthew Stafford for the long haul. By drafting Iowa standout tackle Riley Reiff with the twenty-third pick in the first round, the Lions did just that. Reiff will bolster the backside of the Lions offensive line and seriously give Stafford plenty of time to pick apart NFC secondaries, including defending NFC North Champion Green Bay. Reiff automatically made me like the Lions draft, no matter what happened there after. The Lions took a stab and picked up injured Oklahoma receiver Ryan Broyles, a player that if it works, could give the Lions a very lethal 1-2 option for Stafford to throw the ball to. From then on out, the Lions went defense in a very 'Jim Schwartz' way, adding three cornerbacks and three outside linebackers. Final Grade: A

Minnesota Vikings I think the Vikings need to be taken seriously, this years draft was somewhat brilliant. Give 'Vikes general manager Rick Spielman some credit where it is due. Not only did they draft the player which was presumably the top play on their draft board, USC's mammoth offensive tackle Matt Kalil, but they were able to pick up more picks and still to do just that. Kalil will be the blind side protector of 2011 1st round selection, quarterback Christian Ponder, a major long term investment here. Why do I like the Vikings draft so much though? Not only did they pick the player they wanted too, but after that they filled a bunch of holes, what smart teams do in the draft! The Vikes reached for Notre Dame safety Harrison Smith, but he was their guy. They stacked up their secondary with Smith in the late 1st round, Josh Robinson from Central Florida who fell right in the Vikes lap in the 3rd round, and then added another Notre Dame defensive back in Robert Blanton later in the draft. Headed into the weekend the two biggest areas of need for Minnesota were the secondary and protecting Christian Ponder, they nailed both of those right on the money. Final Grade: A+

Chicago Bears The first thing I'll point out about the Bears draft is that I don't hate it, I just like how each of the other the three teams in their division drafted much more. At #19 you could argue the Bears had one of the biggest reaches of the first round, Shea McClellin, DE, Boise State. McClellin is a phenomenal (took me two spell checks to spell that word correctly) player, but it should alarm the Bears that he wasn't a secret and the interest for his talents that high really wasn't there. Then there was the clear move the Bears were making in the second round buying the sliding stock of the overweight South Carolina pass catcher, Alshon Jeffery. Look, Alshon Jeffery is a very good player, but he's slow and extremely overweight for his position, there is a reason everyone calls him a gamble. Adding the problematic Brandon Marshall in the off season, a former teammate of quarterback Jay Cutler's in Denver, and bringing in Jeffery, the Bears are attempting to move the dynamic Devin Hester out of the offense, it's a smart move. Back to their draft, with three of their final four picks, the Bears went secondary and playing in a division with Aaron Rodgers and Matthew Stafford, I don't blame them. Final Grade: B-

. . . Next up; NFC South

FInal Draft Grades: NFC West

San Francisco 49ers When it comes to 'the draft,' teams need to determine if any need is pressing and go out and find the player that does just that; see Dallas Cowboys selecting Morris Claiborne. Adversely, if your team has no pressing needs, use the leverage you have and dump your picks to teams looking to fill a need. San Francisco thoguht otherwise. We thought San Francisco was no way letting Stanford tight-end Coby Fleener (with his former coach on the sideline, Jim Harbaugh) go by them, and they did. Fleener would have taken pressure of Vernon Davis immediately, but the 'Niners feel the better person do that was Illinois receiver A.J. Jenkins who I had literally never even thought of in the first or second round, and he went #30 - first round. Scratching-my-head in anticipation of their next selection, Oregon running back LaMichael James. While 90% of NFL teams are busy down-grading the run game and making it irrelevant, the 49ers are busy adding LaMichael James an undersized rookie back and free-agent veteran, overweight back Brandon Jacobs, to a backfield that already includes Frank Gore and Kendall Hunter. So I ask again, was there any reason you didn't want to just trade these picks? But, we won't go any further with San Francisco, they did just have a very good season and we'll wait to evaluate further. Final Grade: C-

Seattle Seahawks I disliked nearly every single pick that Seattle made, no wait, I did dislike every single pick that Seattle made. Defensive end Bruce Irvin from West Virginia is a knucklehead and it is absolutely absurd to have drafted in the 1st round, ahead of anyone. Put it this way, I would have taken 'high-as-a-kite' offensive tackle from Ohio State, Mike Adams, before I took Irvin, and that is only if Adams agreed to play while high. I've laid out what Seattle hopes to do next season in Pete Carroll's words, "The players don't matter, it's the heart that counts, if we play with heart and soul, we can win, again, the players don't matter, who's excited?!? Come on, you're all going to be Hall of Famers because I'm jacked and pumped!" Seattle is a mess, when is Carroll going back to college? He knows it doesn't matter if you pay players right, you'll still get another job; see Urban Meyer. I'd be re missed to not mention my favorite dumb Seattle pick, as if Irvin wasn't enough. The Seahawks took Wisconsin undersized quarterback Russell Wilson, who lets call a spade, a spade, owes current Wisconsin running back Montee Ball, his entire rookie salary for being a 3rd round pick. If Carroll believes that Wilson is going to compete for a starting job, what was the reason they just paid former Green Bay back-up turned Seahawks quarterback Matt Flynn $26-million dollars?!?! Mix in the 17 defensive tackles they added and I need a drink. Final Grade:F

St. Louis Rams By all accounts the Rams main goal was getting the young oft-injured quarterback, Sam Bradford, someone to throw the ball to. Then the Jaguars messed that up and traded ahead of the #6 selection to steal Justin Blackmon from underneath the noses of St. Louis. Rather than reaching for a player they were unsure of at #6, it seems as though St. Louis regrouped for a moment, collected a mid-second round selection from Dallas along with the Cowboys #14 overall pick and went back to the drawing board. Here is where I fault St. Louis; (1) They didn't think as highly of Michael Floyd as we all did. Clearly Fisher has no problem with players with baggage; see 2nd round selection cornerback Janoris Jenkins. That being said, maybe he just didn't evaluate Floyd as highly as we did. (2) The player they selected first, LSU's Michael Brockers has major bust potential, something the Rams cannot afford at this stage in the game, not when a 10-year guard in Stanford's David DeCastro was still available. But I won't bang on the Rams, they had a plan and executed it once things fell the wrong way. Adding Jenkins in the second round is fantastic at #39 if he stays out of trouble, major if. The Rams also added their two receivers in Wake Forest's Chris Givens in the third and Appalachian State's Brian Quick (a project) but none the less did find value weapons for Bradford. It should also be noted that the running back from Cincinnati, Isaiah Pead came off the board prior to LaMichael James and Lamar Miller, but I'll give Fisher the benefit of the doubt, he coached Eddie George and Chris Johnson, I think he gets it. Final Grade: B

Arizona Cardinals I always love to make the Cardinals a personal punching bag of mine, but after The 2012 NFL Draft, I can't do that. . . as often anyway. When the Cards never replaced receivers Steve Breaston and Anquan Boldin, I had a major problem with them adding a quarterback with questions like Kevin Kolb. When they took to this draft, they corrected some things. All-World receiver Larry Fitzgerald started doing cartwheels in his living the moment the Cardinals announced they had selected Notre Dame pass catcher Michael Floyd to be his teammate at #13. It's a solid pick for Floyd who has some damage control to do on his image, but he's in a great spot to do that playing opposite a talent as rare as Fitzgerald's. I also loved that the Cardinals grabbed the falling stock of Mississippi offensive tackle Bobby Massie at pick number #112, tremendous value for a guy who fell as far as Massie did. We anticipated the Cardinals selecting a quarterback somewhere over the four-days of the draft, just turns out it was Ryan Lindley from San Diego in the fifth round and not Kirk Cousins who we would have loved to see end up in Arizona competing for a starting job either next year or even this year. Final Grade: A

. . . .Next up, NFC North.