Posted: Sunday May 1, 2011 8:25PM ; Updated: Monday May 2, 2011 4:15PM
Kerry J. Byrne

Draft grades: Broncos, Lions, Bucs take honors; 'Boys, Jags fall flat

Story Highlights

Denver addressed many of its glaring holes with a top-shelf draft -- unlike Dallas

Cam Newton can be an elite-level QB for Carolina, but there's still plenty of risk

The Lions and Bucs could invade the NFC playoffs this season after stellar drafts

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The Bengals took a gamble on A.J. Green at No. 4 overall ... but at least they didn't yield five draft picks for an elite wideout (Atlanta).
The Bengals took a gamble on A.J. Green at No. 4 overall ... but at least they didn't yield five draft picks for an elite wideout (Atlanta).
Todd Kirkland/Icon SMI

The Cold, Hard Football Facts view draft grades a bit differently than most. You know how most analysts do it: They pretend they watched every college football game of the past three seasons, toss out clichés about various schemes, or which players "set the edge" and have "good motors" and then try to guess which will succeed or fail at the next level.

Good luck with that.

The truth is that nobody knows who's going to succeed or fail -- not us, not the draft "experts" on TV and certainly not the GMs making the decisions on draft day.

So here's what we do: We take a very detailed look at each team's statistical deficiencies before the draft. And then we determine which teams did the best job of addressing those needs. Some teams attack these deficiencies quite aggressively. Those teams usually improve the next year. Other teams stick their heads in the statistical sands, apparently trying to wish away the problems that plagued them last season (yes, we're talking about you, Jacksonville). These teams typically suffer the same fate the following year. It's all quite predictable, actually.

We can tell fairly accurately which teams did a good job of addressing their statistical needs in a given draft. As for which players are going to fail or succeed? Well, that's anyone's guess.


What I liked: The team's biggest statistical need was at quarterback. But it's obvious they intend to address that position, for better or worse, in free agency. With that said, the defense was no great shakes, either -- 30th in scoring defense last year. Top pick Patrick Peterson gives the team a potential shutdown corner, and that's always a positive move. LB Sam Acho could prove to be a key contributor as a pass rusher and a potential value with a fourth-round pick.

What I didn't like: The Cardinals fielded one of the worst offensive lines in football last year -- No. 28 on our Offensive Hog Index; No. 28 protecting the passer and No. 32 converting third downs. A good chunk of those problems were due to poor play at QB. But, in a draft in which offensive and defensive linemen ruled the boards, Arizona did not make a single play to shore up the OL.

The defense looks improved; but not sure RB Ryan Williams and TE Robert Housler aid the offense if QB is a weakness again in 2011. Grade: C+

Click here to view the Cardinals' 2011 draft page


What I liked: Jacquizz Rodgers was one of college football's most exciting players, undersized in the mold of Darren Sproles, but sturdier in his frame. He could prove more integral to the offense than No. 1 pick Julio Jones -- but they didn't trade a slew of picks to get Rodgers.

What I didn't like: Thomas Dimitroff took an incredible risk by trading away an incredible five picks simply to land Jones. History proves that first-round wideouts have a huge rate of failure in the NFL and that the position is incredibly overvalued by teams, fans and analysts. Sure, the Atlanta passing game struggled at times (19th in Passing Yards Per Attempt). But the biggest statistical needs were on defense: The Falcons were 27th against the run last year, surrendering a porous 4.63 YPA. They drafted only two defenders, neither of whom project to be NFL starters.

Quality Stats
The's Quality Stats are simple, easy-to-understand pieces of data that go beyond the traditional numbers. Below are links to explanations of each of the terms:
Quality Standings

Scoreability Index

Passing Yards Per Attempt

Offensive Hog Index

Passer Rating Differential

Bendability Index

Defensive Passer Rating

Defensive Hog Index

A lot of bold but high-risk moves mortgaged on the back of seven draft picks. Big needs on defense generally unaddressed. Grade: D-

Click here to view the Falcons' 2011 draft page


What I liked: Just a good, solid draft for a team with only a few glaring holes. Baltimore is institutionally defined by its defense, and top-pick CB Jimmy Smith can only help a unit that, though it ranked No. 5 in Defensive Passer Rating last year and has never been quite as stout as it was when Pro Bowler Chris McAlister was on the roster (No. 1 in DPR in 2008, his last year). The offensive line was the team's weak spot in 2010 (No. 22 on our Offensive Hog Index). They addressed that need with huge OT Jah Reid in the third round.

What I didn't like: The Ravens tried desperately to give Joe Flacco receiving help last year by bringing in veterans Anquan Boldin and T.J. Houshmandzadeh. The effort blew up in their face when both had disastrous outings against Pittsburgh in the playoffs. They doubled down on the position again in this draft, with two wideouts among their first four picks. I would have rather seen another high-profile offensive lineman.

If it all pans out, the Ravens have taken a good team and made it a better one. Grade: B+

Click here to view the Ravens' 2011 draft page


What I liked: A very good, aggressive draft aimed at fixing huge problems on defense. The Bills had the worst D-line last year and ranked 28th in scoring defense. Their first four picks all went to defense. Beefy offensive tackle Chris Hairston (fourth round) has the size and potential to develop into a legit NFL starter.

What I didn't like: If there's a nit to be picked, it's the Bills took Alabama's Marcell Dareus at DT ahead of Auburn's Nick Fairley. Dareus is much bigger, so size was the goal here. But Fairley was the more explosive and productive college player.

Nowhere to go but up for the team that ranked dead last across the board last year in our Quality Stats. Grade: B+

Click here to view the Bills' 2011 draft page


What I liked: No. 1 overall pick Cam Newton. It was obvious Carolina's biggest problem last year was one of the most inept passing attacks we've seen in years, as they were dead-last in almost all of our offensive Quality Stats. Enter Newton. He's fresh off arguably the most productive season in the history of college football: No. 2 nationally in passing efficiency, with 1,473 yards on the ground, a mind-blowing 50 touchdowns (30 passing, 20 rushing), Heisman Trophy, national title ... you get the point. The upside is tantalizing.

What I didn't like: The Panthers had only one pick in the first two rounds, and that went to a high-risk player -- one who tells us that the team has already given up on their top pick of last year, Jimmy Clausen. If Newton doesn't work out, we're talking two wasted drafts for the worst team in football last year.

Hard to judge. If Newton works out, it's an A+ draft. But right now it's a high-risk, high-reward venture. Grade: C

Click here to view the Panthers' 2011 draft page


What I liked: The Bears wasted no time attack their biggest need, the worst offensive line in football last year: Dead-last on our Offensive Hog Index and last in protecting the passer, as well. Gabe Carimi was the best offensive lineman on one of the most punishing rushing attacks in college football last year at Wisconsin. Also like Stephen Paea's potential to become a stalwart on the D-line in the wake of the release of Tommie Harris.

What I didn't like: Carimi can't fix the OL all by himself. In a draft dominated by linemen, another O-Hog would have been nice ... even necessary.

Two solid needs-based moves high in the draft. Grade: A-

Click here to view the Bears' 2011 draft page


What I liked: Andy Dalton. A highly productive and proven winner (42-7 at TCU) and his arrival on campus there coincided with the rise of the Horned Frogs -- under Dalton, they fielded their best teams since the days of Sammy Baugh. He has the potential to be the best quarterback from the class of 2011.

What I didn't like: Drafting A.J. Green fourth overall. As noted with Atlanta's aggressive move to grab Julio Jones, wide receivers are high-risk picks high in the draft; and they generally have a minimal impact on team's ability to win and even the best WRs typically take a few years to develop. The Bengals had MUCH bigger needs on the defensive line (No. 23 on our Defensive Hog Index, No. 24 rushing the passer) and the 2011 draft was filled with potential game-changers at the position. Yet Cincy devoted just one of its eight picks to DL, and waited until the third round to grab pint-sized Dontay Moch (6-1, 248) of Nevada. He's at best a situational pass rusher who projects to play OLB in the NFL.

Dalton saves it from being a terrible draft, but only if he lives up to the expectations we have for him. Grade: C

Click here to view the Bengals' 2011 draft page


What I liked: Mike Holmgren and Pat Shurmur added a nice 1-2 punch of run stopper (Phil Taylor) and pass rusher (Jabaal Sheard) with their first two picks.

What I didn't like: Cleveland's worst indicators last year were scoring offense (31st), passer rating (28th), protecting the passer (25th) and Offensive Hog Index (24th). Yet, they waited until their third pick to add an offensive weapon: WR Greg Little, one of a trio of UNC players who were drafted high despite the fact they were suspended all of last season. Risky pick.

Would have liked more resources dedicated to offensive line. Otherwise, potential to be a nice draft class. Grade: B

Click here to view the Browns' 2011 draft page


What I liked: In a big year for offensive lineman, the Cowboys picked up 20-year-old Tyron Smith, the highest-rated offensive tackle on most boards, with the No. 9 pick in Round 1. He's already talking about his Hall of Fame potential. Ah, the intoxicating elixir of the draft.

What I didn't like: The Cowboys fielded the worst defense in franchise history last year, surrendering 436 points. So what did they do? Doubled down on its prolific offense (29.1 PPG over eight weeks under Jason Garrett) while devoting just two of eight picks to defense. Very curious draft that appeared to ignore the team's most obvious needs.

It should have been a big day for defense. Instead, the Cowboys will likely take the field next year with a same old collection of big, but underachieving names on defense. Grade: D-

Click here to view the Cowboys' 2011 draft page


What I liked: The Broncos gave up more points than any team in the NFL last year and capitalized on that in way the Cowboys should have: Aggressively grabbing defenders. It started with No. 2 pick, Von Miller, a pass-rush specialist OLB. It was a perfect needs-based selection: Denver was No. 29 last year on our Defensive Hog Index and dead-last league wide at pressuring the quarterback, forcing a Negative Pass Play on just 6.3 percent of dropbacks -- half the rate of the best pass-rush team in football last year, the Super Bowl champ packers (12.2%). Second-round pick Rahim Moore was the top-rated safety on most boards, and the Broncos landed him with the No. 45 pick. He could start right away.

What I didn't like: Liked it all.

John Elway's first draft has the potential to be a great one that addressed all the team's most glaring needs. Grade: A

Click here to view the Broncos' 2011 draft page
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