I don't grade the draft. It's not for me. I understand that NFL fans want it and there's a market for it, but that's the advantage of being a fan-pundit--I don't have to waste time with nonsense like grading the draft.
Here is my grade: Every team gets an, "A."
There are a few outliers, however. These teams didn't have a standard draft with picks in the first and second rounds. The Draft is only one phase of the off-season, so doing well in the Draft is no guarantee of success during the season, and conversely, neither is doing poorly in the Draft.
The three outlers are Atlanta, Oakland, and New Orleans.
My observations, however, are different. While grading the draft is pointless, you can spot trends and infer what that team is envisioning, or where that team believes that they are as a club.
As in the card game, Egyptian Rat Fuck, I do reserve the right to call "bullshit" when I think a club has been caught on a bluff, because their decisions fly in the face of common sense (at least, common sense according to me).
Green Bay, Chicago, and Detroit all beefed up their rosters with value, while Minnesota could be straggling behind.
This looks like the shoot-out division between the Packers, Lions, and Bears. The Lions are weak at cornerback, the Packers defense makes plays but give up big yards, the Bears defense seems to have a better mix of both.
The Chicago o-line, however, could expose Jay Cutler to hard hits; plus, Cutler throws the most picks between him, Matthew Stafford, and Aaron Rodgers. Yet, the Bears also have some offensive alternatives ("curve balls") in Matt Forte and Michael Bush; an option that Green Bay and Detroit lack (on paper).
The Bears probably would have won the NFC North in 2011, had Jay Cutler not been injured.
Tampa Bay is loaded with potential on defense but have been hampered by injuries. The offense showed promise in 2010, but fell flat in 2011, so the Bucs added running-back Doug Martin.
New Orleans is in disarray but is still potent offensively. They were docked draft picks as a result of the Bountygate scandal and took a project player, Akiem Hicks, with their top pick. Their defensive backs get gashed and don't make enough plays. Anemic pass rush. Drew Brees is a miracle worker, though.
Atlanta seems to be offensively sound and round, but the defense was anemic in the pass rush and is counting on Lofa Tatupu to replace Curtis Lofton. The pass defense should improve with the addition of CB Asante Samuel by trade. Running back Michael Turner's age (30) raises a flag--yet the Falcons did not add a running-back in the draft.
Carolina is intriguing but probably not where they need to be. Three of their defensive linemen are questionable at best, while the Panthers will need another option for Cam Newton to throw to in 2012, because the chances are that defenses will double cover Steve Smith.
The Panthers should be able to run the ball, so that may be their ace in the hole against opponents with questionable run defenses.
Tampa Bay and Carolina will likely be competitive and are good possibilities to win wild card spots, while Atlanta and New Orleans are still fairly even, but I'll take the Falcons, simply because the Saints won't have their head coach.
I'll probably regret this one, but Atlanta seems to have the fewest flags and flaws.
The Giants and Eagles addressed areas of need with value. The difference between each club, right now, appears to be the quarterback. (Dumb question): Who would you take right now--Eli Manning or Michael Vick? Eli Manning is the better QB and he led the Giants over a lot of flaws, but it's hard for me to bank on a QB being to overcome flaws, year in and year out. The Eagles have fewer flaws and flags, right now.
Dallas addressed their biggest need--pass defense--by trading up for Morris Claiborne, and added some depth to the defense. Dallas, however, added nothing to their running-game, which could be a hindrance in a division where the Giants and Eagles have better balance at QB, HB, and WR/TE. Tony Romo is good, but not good enough to take on New York and Philly by himself. Dallas is keeping pace, but appears to be a tad behind.
Washington's negatives: serviceable group of pass catchers, anemic running game, sketchy o-line. Washington's positives: bend but don't break defense. Clearly, Washington is banking on Robert Griffin III being able to elevate what they have, but it's probably not enough this year. RG3 was the only value pick made by Washington, unless you count the fourth round pick on another quarterback, Kirk Cousins.
Wild Cards: 1) Philadelphia and Dallas likely have shut-down* tandems at quarterback and rushers to boot, while the Giants have the rush but not the shut down* corners, which should give Michael Vick and Tony Romo some room to breathe against the two-time Super Bowl winner. 2) Michael Vick could return to MVP level performance in 2012. 3) New York is the two-time Super Bowl winner, but is still sketchy in the regular reason.
*=shut down corners are a bit overrated, because they are more of a luxury these days in the NFL.
The Seahawks clearly believe that they only needed complimentary players to elevate their team to the next level and that a disruptive pass rusher would negate the average to mediocre quarterbacks they face in the NFC West. They could be right, because they do have talented players--some of whom were injured in 2011, though. Bruce Irvin could stand up as a rush linebacker or simply ensure what Pete Carroll has been able to do schematically with the likes of the undersized veteran DE Chris Clemons. I'm perplexed by the pick of QB Russell Wilson in the 3rd round, because Seattle signed QB Matt Flynn as a FA and have a solid backup in Tarvaris Jackson. It seems like an offensive lineman would have been a better pick.
The 49ers appeared to have had the same idea as Seattle in picking up AJ Jenkins and LaMichael James--both complimentary players. Jenkins is essentially a replacement for Kyle Williams as a special teams wedge, while James adds a play-maker to change the pace with Frank Gore and Brandon Jacobs. Now that every team will be circling the 49ers on their schedule, the question is whether the 49ers can live up to new expectations. San Francisco, unlike the rest of the division, won't be heavily dependent on the return of injured players, rookies, and free agent acquisitions as needs (Randy Moss is another complimentary piece).
St. Louis dealt with injuries in 2011 along the offensive line, but addressed that in free agency. Michael Brockers, Janoris Jenkins, and Trumaine Johnson are all projects, but I can believe in Jeff Fisher. The Rams finished 7-9 in 2010 with Sam Bradford and no name receivers. Relative to that, the Rams improved. The question of whether it's enough to win the division is a different question, but the Rams likely added "bull" talent--to use a stock market analogy.
Arizona has not addressed their problem at quarterback. Kevin Kolb and John Skelton probably won't be magically better with Michael Floyd. They should have considered taking Brandon Weeden.
The NFC West seems like a tossup, because there are a lot of wild card scenarios in which one team could rise to the top, but I'll stick with San Francisco, simply because I think their defense and special teams are disprotionately better than the offenses in the division.
Wild cards: 1) Alex Smith could regress. 2) Sam Bradford could return to his 2010 form. 3) Matt Flynn could be great for Seattle. 4) Kevin Kolb could revive his career or the Cardinals could acquire Colt McCoy.
Buy: San Francisco
Miami traded, arguably, their best offensive player in Brandon Marshall. I think Marshall made QB Matt Moore look better than he is. The addition of tight end Michael Egnew, running back Lamar Miller, and right tackle Jonathan Martin, likely means that Miami will be playing it safe with dink-and-dunk passes, and running plays--until quarterback Ryan Tannehill is ready. Good pass rush, but the d-backs get burned--which is not good in a division with Tom Brady.
Buffalo could be a dark horse in 2012. Their defense caused fits for some of the best quarterbacks in the NFL in 2011 and added to it with CB Stephon Gilmore. The Bills appear to have shored up the offensive line with OT Cordy Glenn and Zebrie Sanders. QB Ryan Fitzpatrick has limited options at wideout.
The Jets clearly like a challenge. Rex Ryan seems like the type of guy that would go all-in on a bluff. The Jets have twice appeared in the AFC Championship game with QB Mark Sanchez, and yet, they added either a Prophet of Hope or a Prophet of Doom in quarterback Tim Tebow. Rookie wideout Stephen Hill could be the answer they've needed at the position, though, and yet, Rex Ryan said that he wants to be a power running team, and yet, the Jets passed on guard David DeCastro for a guy who doesn't fit their system, Quentin Coples, and yet the Jets waited until the 6th round to take a running back. So, I will put myself on the line and say that the pick of Coples for the Jets is bullshit.
Buy: New England
Houston added to a defense that didn't need much help. The offensive line needs to protect QB Matt Schaub, HB Arian Foster, and WR Andre Johnson. The Texans added guard Brandon Brooks in the 3rd round, but frankly, I think Houston should have traded up when guard David DeCastro was sliding in the first round or for QB Brandon Weeden, because the Texans also did not add a quarterback as insurance behind Schaub. The Texans will make life miserable for opposing quarterbacks (i.e. Peyton Manning, when Houston and Denver face each other), but it appears to be some sort of schadenfreude, because opponents should be able to make Matt Schaub's life equally miserable.
I don't expect Indianapolis to compete in 2012.
The Titans finished strong with QB Matt Hasselbeck. They added WR Kendall Wright to pair with Kenny Britt. The pass defense is currently adequate, while the run defense could be gashed by Arian Foster (if healthy) and Maurice Jones-Drew.
The Jaguars had the sixth overall defense in in 2011 and the league's leading rusher in Maurice Jones-Drew. The passing game, however, was disproportionally worse and likely skewed the truth about this team. Jacksonville added wideout Justin Blackmon for quarterback Blaine Gabbert. The defense seems less than ideal but gets the job done, which should negate or control RB Chris Johnson of Tennessee.
None of these teams have an edge in terms of quarterback. The Titans, Jags, and Colts each have first or second year quarterbacks, while Houston has a quarterback that can't stay healthy.
Wild cards: 1) Houston can still acquire Colt McCoy.
The AFC West--like the NFC West--seems like a tossup to me and for good reason. The Broncos, Chargers, and Raiders finished the 2011 season with 8 wins each, while the Chiefs finished with 7. The division will likely be decided once again by tiebreakers and close games.
My assessment of the quarterbacks in the AFC West is fairly simple.
Peyton Manning to Denver seemms eerily similar to Johnny Unitas to San Diego and Manning will face the Houston pass rush early in the season. Matt Cassel is a play action quarterback, in that, he depends on a running game: running back Jamaal Charles will return from a torn ACL, while Peyton Hillis must return to form.
Philip Rivers and Carson Palmer are legit pocket passers, while Palmer--potentially--has an edge with the likes of Darren McFadden, Denarius Moore, Darrius Heyward-Bey, Marcel Reece, Jacoby Ford, Louis Murphy, and rookie Juron Crine, as opposed to Ryan Matthews, Malcom Floyd, Robert Meachem, and Antonio Gates for Rivers.
The o-lines in the AFC West seem comparable, but it's worth mentioning that Raiders LT Jared Veldheer is a star on the rise. Veldheer is one of the few tackles, if not the only tackle, that did not allow a sack by Jared Allen in 2011. It's also worth noting that the offensive explosion in 2010 and 2011 by the Raiders has correlated with Veldheer's full-time presence at left tackle.
The Chargers under Norv Turner strike me as a team like the Cowboys under Wade Phillips--stuck in neutral. San Diego, on paper, has the talent, but even so, some teams just can't get it together. Perhaps, the addition of LB Melvin Ingram will address their woes on special teams coverage.
After all the hype that the Raiders had no draft picks, the Raiders had six picks in the 2012 Draft, and got a seasoned quarterback in exchange for their first round pick.
You won't hear this from ESPN or Raider fans (except me), but the reality of the Raiders was that Carson Palmer was not the problem in 2011. Mainly because the same people that equate quarterbacks to gods, think that the Raiders got fleeced by the Bengals in trading a first round for Palmer.
As a passer, Palmer put up solid numbers; generally throwing for more than 250 yards. The problems were the defense, special teams coverage, penalties and injuries to Darren McFadden, Jacoby Ford, and Denarius Moore. Not only that, but then-coach Hue Jackson called quite a few questionable plays that affected the outcome of the game.
I know, I know: the heat should be on the quarterback, but I feel confidently that 2012 will quiet the naysayers, and make a number of them look like fools.
The Oakland defense was stingy in 2010 under John Marshall and regressed in 2011 under Chuck Bresnahan. The new coaching staff is oriented towards addressing the defense.
One of the banes for Oakland's success has been coverage on kick and punt returns, which has been addressed with rookie linebackers Miles Burris and Nathan Stupar.
Wild Cards: 1) Peyton Manning could be great for Denver, 2) the Chargers get it together, 3) The Raiders stay healthy and minimize the penalties. Plus, I'll take Sebastian Janikowski and Shane Lechler over any kicker-punter tandem in the AFC West, 4) the Chiefs rebound with the return of Matt Cassel and Jamaal Charles.
The difference seems intangible, so yes, I have decided err on the side of pimping the Raiders.
The Steelers, Ravens, and Bengals all beefed up their rosters with value, while clearly, the Browns are still on the wrong end of the trends.
The Browns don't seem to have an honest take of where they are as a team. I don't have an argument against a 28 year old rookie for a quarterback, per se--but Brandon Weeden is not a good fit for the Browns, because they don't have a legit wide receiver, so clearly, Mike Holmgren expects that Weeden will make them better--and didn't help Weeden's cause with Trent Richardson. If Weeden does not make the receivers better, the Browns just burned a pick that could have been used to develop a wideout, while the Browns can't expect to develop a wideout over 3 or 4 years with Weeden as the quarterback.
His window of opportunity is limited. That means either a) Weeden is doomed to fail in Cleveland, or b) the Browns will overpay for a wideout in free agency, which they could have done already. Weeden would have been a great fit for Arizona, San Francisco, or Seattle--if those team were not tied up with Kevin Kolb, Alex Smith, and Matt Flynn.
The Browns should have taken Justin Blackmon, rather than Trent Richardson, which could have mirrored what Cincinnati did with AJ Green and Andy Dalton in 2011. There was value at running-back throughout the draft. The Browns had a solid running game with Peyton Hillis. What makes Mike Holmgren think that Richardson will make the difference? Isn't that why a team invests in an offensive line; so they don't need a franchise halfback? Plus, running the ball goes directly against the defensive strengths of Pittsburgh, Baltimore, and Cincinnati--teams that instead can be exposed by the passing game. So, for only the second time, I'll say that the pick of Richardson for the Browns is bullshit.
The NFC, on paper, is more competitive than the AFC.
The NFC North, East, and South could be the NFL's, "Groups of Death." Each of those divisions appear to be three deep, yet, there are only two wild card spots available.
Only the AFC North appears to be three deep.