Draft grades (cont.)
What I liked: The team addressed another building-block D-tackle first, landing a potential game-breaker in Nick Fairley, who posted incredible numbers in last year that surpassed those even of most pass-rushing specialists. Paired with 2010 Defensive Rookie of the Year Ndamukong Suh, a defense that was an embarrassment as recently as 2009 could be one of the NFL's most feared units in 2011. The Lions followed the Fairley pick with two potential game-breaking talents in Titus Young and Mikel LeShoure. A potentially great day for the Lions after a great season of statistical progress in 2010.
What I didn't like: The Lions had three of the first 57 picks, but just two more the rest of the way after mismanaging the process in previous years.
For the first time in years, if not decades, the future is bright in Detroit. Grade: A
Click here to view the Lions' 2011 draft page
What I liked: The Packers were a statistical juggernaut in 2010, finishing No. 1 across the board in our Quality Stats. But they did have one relative weakness, the 16th-ranked offensive line, and smartly addressed that need with their No. 1 pick, OT Derek Sherrod of Mississippi State. Green Bay appeared to nail its top 2010 pick in LT Bryan Bulaga. So if Sherrod pans out, the Packers have a pair of bookend tackles for years to come to protect Aaron Rodgers.
What I didn't like: The Packers have some free-agency vulnerabilities on the defensive front, namely in Cullen Jenkins, but did little to address the unit until the late rounds. But with the free agency situation so volatile leaguewide, it's unclear how any of this will ultimately play out.
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The Packers quickly addressed their biggest need while adding 10 young draft picks to compete for spots on an already talented roster. Grade: A
Click here to view the Packers' 2011 draft page
What I liked: First five picks, five defenders. The Texans were a disaster on defense, surrendering 26.7 PPG (29th) and were especially bad on pass defense: Dead-last in Defensive Passer Rating. The average opponent produced a Tom Brady-esque 100.5 rating against Houston. Management attacked this terrible weakness aggressively.
What I didn't like: First five picks, five defenders. It says a lot about the Texans' institutional liabilities on defense that they've devoted so many high picks to defenders in recent years, yet still had to quintuple down on D again here in 2011. The list includes first-rounders Dunta Robinson (2004), Jason Babin (2004), Travis Johnson (2005), Mario Williams (2006), Amobi Okoye (2007), Brian Cushing (2009), Kareem Jackson (2010) and now J.J. Watt (2011). And don't forget second-rounder and 2006 Rookie of the Year DeMeco Ryans. The team is either choosing the wrong players, or failing to develop them properly.
Grade: A, based upon addressing needs ... and an F, based upon faith that they'll pan out.
Click here to view the Texans' 2011 draft page
What I liked: The Colts obviously live and die on the arm of Peyton Manning -- or certainly believe they do (as evidenced by abandoning the ground game last year). So Indy doubled down in its effort to protect him with a pair of potential franchise tackles in Anthony Castonzo and Ben Ijalana with the first two picks. The Colts can also help improve a weak ground attack that averaged just 3.77 YPA last year.
What I didn't like: Indy devoted just one draft pick to shoring up one of the worst defensive lines in the NFL, and waited until the third round to do so (Drake Nevis of LSU). The Colts defense last year was manhandled on the ground, surrendering 4.57 YPA (25th). But they were even worse at pressuring the passer, despite the presence of Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis. The Colts produced a negative pass play on just 7.1 percent of dropbacks. Only Denver was worse.
The Colts will be better on the OL in 2011, but it won't matter when the DL is getting gashed for 200 yards on the ground every other week. Grade: C
Click here to view the Colts' 2011 draft page
What I liked: Blaine Gabbert has the potential to emerge into the true franchise quarterback the team has always lacked. But I'm concerned that his numbers regressed badly in 2010 after a great sophomore year in 2009.
What I didn't like: Jacksonville management must have confused Gabbert with a shutdown corner. Otherwise, the 2011 draft was a complete failure to address the team's stunning statistical deficiencies. Jacksonville was a complete disaster on defense, and especially in pass defense, last year: No. 29 at pressuring the passer (7.3% negative pass plays), No. 30 in run defense (4.68 YPA), No. 31 in Defensive Passer Rating (98.5), and No. 32 in passing yards per attempt allowed (7.53 YPA adjusting for sacks, 8.29 YPA based just on attempts).
They responded to this need by drafting QB-OL-WR with their first three picks and then devoting their final two picks (fourth and fifth rounds) to second-tier DBs. The Jaguars could have drafted Johnny Unitas, John Hannah and Jerry Rice, but even those guys wouldn't win paired with that defense. Grade: F- (epic fail)
Click here to view the Jaguars' 2011 draft page
What I liked: I rarely suggest drafting wide receivers high, for reasons addressed in the Falcons and Bengals reports above. But Kansas City is one of the rare teams for which it was a good move. The Chiefs were statistically stout in most areas last year, save for the downfield passing game -- their weakest link, as we saw in the punchless playoff loss to Baltimore. So nabbing WR Jonathan Baldwin No. 1 was a good needs-based selection by a team that ranked just 23rd last year in average per pass attempt (5.85).
What I didn't like: Would have liked to have seen a more aggressive play for a pass rusher in the second round, instead of devoting the pick to offensive lineman Rodney Hudson. Kansas City was very good both running the ball and in pass protection last year. But they were below average in the same areas on defense.
Overall, good solid selections that largely addressed most of their needs. Grade: B+
Click here to view the Chiefs' 2011 draft page
What I liked: The first two picks went to versatile players who can address the anemic ground game of 2010 (they averaged just 3.7 yards per rush). No. 1 pick Mike Pouncey can play either guard or center, while No. 2 pick Daniel Thomas, a late second-rounder, is a two-way threat as a runner (19 TD last year for Kansas State) and a pass catcher (52 receptions in two years).
What I didn't like: The Dolphins did not add a single defender until the seventh round, and the two picks there were both small-school players: DT Frank Kearse (Alabama A&M) and DB Jimmy Wilson (Montana). Kearse, though, appears to have plenty of upside. Of course, "upside" is never in short supply this time of year.
Overall, Miami addressed its most pressing needs early. Grade: B+
Click here to view the Dolphins' 2011 draft page
What I liked: Tight end Kyle Rudolph in the second round. He started as freshman at Notre Dame, has great size (6-6, 259), nice hands and good blocking skills. Paired with Visanthe Shiancoe, he gives the Vikings a potentially great tandem in 2011.
What I didn't like: Christian Ponder. The Vikings clearly need a "quarterback of the future" after the tragically failed Brett Favre experiment of the past two years. Just not sure Ponder is the answer. Look at the list of NCAA leaders in any major passing category last year. Call me when you reach Ponder. When the phone doesn't ring, I'll know it's you.
The Vikings struggled badly in pass protection last year, too, but didn't draft O-line until the sixth round. Grade: C-
Click here to view the Vikings' 2011 draft page
What I liked: No. 1 pick Nate Solder is a massive (6-8, 319) highly aggressive potential anchor for years to come at left tackle. The folks at Sport Science made him sound like a combination of Forrest Gregg, Killer Kowalski, Jesse Owens, Michael Jordan and Superman. The Patriots need the OL help, with much of last year's unit -- No. 1 on our Offensive Hog Index wire to wire -- likely on the way out before the 2011 season.
What I didn't like: The Patriots have been haunted by failures on pass defense every year since their last Super Bowl victory, and especially handicapped by the lack of an elite pass rusher. They simply ignored the problem in the draft. New England will not win a Super Bowl again until its mundane Defensive Passer Rating improves by 10 to 15 points. The top two teams in DPR last year? Green Bay No. 1; Pittsburgh No. 2.
Six of seven picks went to shore up an offense that led the NFL in scoring last year, while the struggling defense was largely ignored. Grade: C-
Click here to view the Patriots' 2011 draft page
What I liked: Great first two days. Top pick Cameron Jordan, a pass-rush specialist defensive end, was a perfect needs pick for a team whose pass defense tumbled badly from its Super Bowl-winning form of 2009. Mark Ingram is a great first-round talent, as well.
What I didn't like: The Saints could have moved more aggressively to find a playmaking DB, before selecting Johnny Patrick in the third round. The team's two biggest problems in 2010 were big rise in INTs by Drew Brees (11 in 2009, 22 in 2010) and a big decline in INTs defensively (26 in 2009 to a league-worst nine in 2010). Obviously, they think Brees will return to form and are committed to him for the long term. But not sure Patrick is enough to bring the defense back to form. But perhaps the young DB, under the tutelage of a healthy Darren Sharper, could be a difference. Just don't know at this point.
Very good potential draft class. Grade: B+
Click here to view the Saints' 2011 draft page
What I liked: Top pick, CB Prince Amukamara, is a physical phenom with the chance to be this draft's top shutdown corner.
What I didn't like: The Giants were not particularly effective at getting the ball downfield in 2010, though that's probably always going to be the case as along as Eli Manning is the quarterback. Regardless , I'm concerned the best they did to help him was pint-sized slot receiver Jerrel Jernigan (5-9, 185). In a best-case scenario, Jernigan emerges into a Wes Welker-type possession receiver underneath. But that's an awful lot to expect. And I'm concerned by his very humble average of 9.8 yards per catch in 2010 (84 catches, 822 yards). He's not the player who's going to help a downfield attack.
Amukamara could single-handedly turn it into an A-caliber class. Grade: B-
Click here to view the Giants' 2011 draft page
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