Draft grades (cont.)
What I liked: Doubling down on defensive hogs and grabbing proven winner QB Greg McElroy with a late pick. Shaun Ellis may not be back in green in 2011, and Rex Ryan loves his defensive lineman. So he picked up two potential key contributors with his first two picks, first rounder Muhammad Wilkerson and third-rounder Kenrick Ellis. The Jets need the help, too: despite the team's improved record from 9-7 in 2009 to 11-5 in 2010, the performance of the defense had declined in key areas. McElroy, meanwhile, was a great leader, winner and clutch passer with Alabama who could prove a highly competent back-up QB.
What I didn't like: The Jets waited too long to grab a wide receiver (Jeremy Kerley in the fifth round) and Ellis has a long history of off-field issues. The team is committed to Mark Sanchez at quarterback, but he's still yet to prove an ability to get the ball downfield. With the team's veteran WR situation iffy, the Jets could have used help higher in the draft. Ellis, meanwhile, was kicked off the South Carolina football team in 2008 and now could be looking at a 20-year prison sentence after allegedly assaulting a man last year, while playing for Hampton University.
The Jets look like a better team today than they were Thursday morning. And, not to be glib or insensitive, enhance their reputation as tough guys in the old Raiders mold not afraid to take chances on bad eggs. Grade: B+
Click here to view the Jets' 2011 draft page
What I liked: The heavy investment in offensive line. The Raiders devoted their first pick (second rounder Stefen Wisniewski) and third pick (third-rounder Joseph Barksdale) to beefy blockers. They were good needs-based picks. Sure, the Raiders averaged a tremendous 4.96 YPA on the ground last year, second only to the Eagles. But they finished No. 19 on our Offensive Hog Index because they struggled in both pass protection and on third downs.
What I didn't like: The Raiders still don't have a franchise quarterback. The offense scored plenty of points in 2010 (25.6 PPG). But Jason Campbell still isn't a Super Bowl-caliber quarterback (59.0%, 13 TD, 8 INT, 84.5 rating in 2010). With a guy like Ryan Mallett, a first-round talent who tumbled to the third (New England), the Raiders could have created some competition at the position on the cheap.
First four picks went to OL and DB, addressing the team's two biggest statistical needs. Grade: B+
Click here to view the Raiders' 2011 draft page
What I liked: The tag-team combo of Jaiquawn Jarrett (second round) and Curtis Marsh (third round) in the secondary. Philly struggled badly at time in the defensive backfield, as evidenced by the 31 touchdown passes allowed. Only Houston and Dallas, two of the league's most incompetent defenses, surrendered more TD passes (33 each). So the Eagles needed help in the secondary and got it in Jarrett, a run-stopping safety, and Marsh, an athletic cover corner.
What I didn't like: Expending a fourth-round pick on a kicker. Nebraska's Alex Henery was probably college football's best kicker in 2010 (first team All America). But it's an awfully high pick to use on a guy who may do nothing more than put pressure on the aging David Akers. Only one other kicker was drafted this year, the University of Miami's Matt Bosher, and Atlanta didn't grab him until late in the sixth round. Even worse: The Eagles still had seven more draft picks after grabbing Henery in the fourth round.
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A kicker? In the fourth round? Grade: B-
Click here to view the Eagles' 2011 draft page
What I liked: The obsession with linemen. The Steelers always seem to build in the trenches rather than chase flashy skill-position players. No coincidence the Steelers are the most successful organization of the Super Bowl Era. The 2011 draft was classic Steelers: DL No. 1 (first rounder Cam Heyward) then OL No. 2 (second rounder Marcus Gilbert). Four of seven picks were devoted to linemen -- before tossing their last pick at RB Baron Batch of Texas Tech in the seventh round. Remember, this a team that won two Super Bowls with undrafted free agent Willie Parker as its lead back.
What I didn't like: Nitpicking here: The Steelers should have invested in OL first, before DL. The team is a Defensive Hog juggernaut (No. 1 again last year on our Defensive Hog Index), but has struggled in recent years to field a decent offensive line. Pittsburgh finished the 2010 season No. 14 on our Offensive Hog Index, easily its lowest ranking in any of our Quality Stats.
Slow and steady draft class. Grade: B+
Click here to view the Steelers' 2011 draft page
What I liked: San Diego was a statistical juggernaut in 2010 that simply failed to make it count on the field. One problem? A lack of performers to make those critical game-changing plays on defense in big moments. So I like the fact they went heavy on potential defensive playmakers at all three levels with their first three picks: DT Corey Liuget, DB Marcus Gilchrist and LB Jonas Mouton. Will it pay off? History tell us no, the talented Chargers always play small when the moment is big.
What I didn't like: Norv Turner is still the guy the Chargers expect to turn these new draft picks into winners. San Diego has a long, inglorious history of underachievement, but it's reached new heights (or depths, as the case may be) under Turner, with each year a step back from the next. He reached the AFC title game his first year; got bounced in the divisional round in 2008; failed to win a single playoff game in 2009; then just missed the playoffs altogether in 2010, despite one of the NFL's most talented and statistically dominant teams. It was an incredible underachievement.
Not sure what direction San Diego will take with these picks. Grade: C
Click here to view the Chargers' 2011 draft page
What I liked: Picking up QB Colin Kaepernick in the second round. He has incredible athletic talents and put up great numbers on the ground and in the air at Nevada. New head coach Jim Harbaugh, meanwhile, played quarterback in the NFL and has a proven track record now with Stanford's Andrew Luck of developing pro-style QB talent. More importantly, quarterback was the team's greatest statistical need in 2010. The Smiths, Alex and Troy, are clearly not the long-term answer at quarterback. Kaepernick could be a great value in the second round.
What I didn't like: The 49ers still need a lot of help on the offensive line. They ended the 2010 season No. 30 on our Offensive Hog Index and struggled especially protecting the passer. It's hard to groom quarterbacks in that kind of environment. Yet San Francisco waited until the fifth round to tab an offensive lineman, and then pulled Daniel Kilgore out of FCS school Appalachian State, most likely a backup at best in the NFL.
Grade: B- ... but it's a winning class if Kaepernick pans out.
Click here to view the 49ers' 2011 draft page
What I liked: With so many problems to fix, the Seahawks focused on one and set about fixing it: The offensive line. Everybody remembers Marshawn Lynch's incredible touchdown run against New Orleans in the playoffs last year. But with the exception of that play, the Seattle ground game, and its OL, were disasters last year: No. 28 on our Offensive Hog Index and 30th running the ball (3.7 YPA). Top two picks James Carpenter (first round) and John Moffitt (third round) could help immediately.
What I didn't like: With so many problems to fix, the Seahawks ignored many of them, especially quarterback. Matt Hasselbeck has had a nice career, and he played incredibly well in the postseason last year (7 TD, 1 INT). But it was a tough year overall (12 TD, 17 INT), while the team ranked 27th in average per pass attempt and 29th in offensive passer rating. It's a statistical miracle the Seahawks reached the playoffs -- let alone won a postseason game -- given those flaws. Seattle still has no long-term solution at the position, and given all the problems last year, and the rise of a team like St. Louis, it's hard to see them bumbling into the playoffs again in 2011 without a first-rate QB.
The Seahawks did the best they could, given the many holes they have to fill. Grade: B
Click here to view the Seahawks' 2011 draft page
What I liked: The potentially devastating future of Steve Spagnuolo's defensive line. Remember, Spags rose to fame as defensive coordinator with the Giants, when the team's top-ranked Defensive Hogs sparked a shocking upset of the unbeaten Patriots in Super Bowl XLI. He's building a similar unit in St. Louis. We chronicled the incredible rise of the Rams' Defensive Hogs under Spagnuolo before the draft: They were dead last on our Defensive Hog Index in 2009; they were No. 7 in 2010. But the coach isn't satisfied: He grabbed talented pass rusher Robert Quinn with the No. 14 overall pick, telling the football world he intends to win again with a dominant D-line.
What I didn't like: The offensive line is going to need some love sooner or later -- and they got none in the 2011 draft. The Rams averaged just 3.68 YPA on the ground last year -- only the Bengals ran less effectively. So St. Louis picked up a stud running back and road grader on the offensive line, right? Wrong. Not one player at either position.
The Rams might be dominant on defense, but Sam Bradford might still struggle to find a groove behind a pretty poor OL. Grade: B-
Click here to view the Rams' 2011 draft page
What I liked: The big needs-based draft, highlighted by potential game-breaker Da'Quan Bowers with a second-round selection. Look out, folks, Tampa is quietly building a very nice little team: Solid offensive line, good running game and a highly efficient rising-star quarterback. The greatest flaw was one of the worst defensive fronts in football: No. 30 on our Defensive Hog Index. GM Mark Dominik and coach Raheem Morris must have been looking at the same numbers we do, because their first three picks went to Defensive Hogs: DE Adrian Clayborn (first round), DE Bowers, a first talent (second round) and LB Mason Foster (third round). Expect an immediate upgrade on defense and expect Tampa to contend for the NFC South title.
What I didn't like: Not much to dislike, but if we're looking for a flaw: What's with drafting two tight ends when you already have Kellen Winslow under wraps as an obvious No. 1? Guess that's the luxury of being solid in so many areas and then addressing your biggest need early.
Bucs fans should be excited about the future. Grade: A
Click here to view the Buccaneers' 2011 draft page
What I liked: The team has put the Vince Young/Kerry Collins Era in the past (sort of). It was ugly at times, the talented but volatile Young trading playing time with the steady but aging Collins. The team needed to go in a new direction, and they did so with No. 1 pick Jake Locker. The big problem? The athletic Locker was terribly inaccurate by modern college football standards, and didn't seem to improve his accuracy during his years at Washington, even as coach Steve Sarkisian made a public effort to do so. Didn't we just see the Titans battle through the talented-but-inaccurate route with a previous quarterback?
What I didn't like: The failure to address the big problems on pass defense. Tennessee's weakest statistical link last year was stopping opposing quarterbacks: No. 21 in Defensive Passer Rating (86.4). Super Bowl champ Green Bay was No. 1 in DPR (67.2); AFC champ Pittsburgh was No. 2 (73.8) -- it's always important to be good in this indicator. The Titans failed to grab a DB until Tommie Campbell with a compensatory pick (No. 251 overall); while LB Akeem Ayers (second round) could be a nice pass rusher, he's not going to give the Titans a Super Bowl-caliber pass defense.
Still plenty of question marks and work to do. Grade: C
Click here to view the Titans' 2011 draft page
What I liked: For once, the Redskins seemed to go for substance over style, starting with DE Ryan Kerrigan (first round), arguably the most talented pass rusher in the 2011 draft. He led the nation with 26 tackles-for-loss and forced five fumbles. It was a great needs pick: The Redskins forced a negative pass play on just 7.1 percent of dropbacks last year (30th). They followed the Kerrigan pick with interior defensive lineman Jarvis Jenkins in the second round.
What I didn't like: The Redskins still have plenty of holes to fill to compete in the tough NFC East. Even if Kerrigan and Jenkins pan out, it's a long road to recovery that's still a couple draft classes away.
Washington, like Seattle, might have done as much as it could with so many needs at hand. But they do have one potential gamebreaker in their pocket. Grade: B+
Click here to view the Redskins' 2011 draft page
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