More NFL draft: AFC teams' grades
Give Atlanta general manager Rich McKay credit – he didn't waste any time providing pieces to work with for new coach Bobby Petrino. The Falcons and the Packers led the NFC with the most overall picks in this weekend's NFL draft with 11 apiece, but that's where the draft class similarities ended. While the Falcons went for dependable, experienced and historically healthy players, the Packers went in the other direction. In fact, Atlanta appeared to cull as many as three starters from this draft. The Packers? Well, this judge and jury aren't optimistic. As you might expect, the post-draft grades for the two teams were in vastly different neighborhoods.
Here's how the NFC broke down after this weekend's action.
Dallas Cowboys: They did some top-notch wheeling and dealing with Cleveland and Philadelphia. When the first day was all said and done, Dallas basically slid back four spots in the first round, from 22 to 26, and gave up a third- and fifth-round pick for Cleveland's first-rounder next year. That was an "A+" maneuver. Too bad the rest of the draft class didn't live up to that move. Two seventh-rounders at cornerback? They had to do better than that. And some scouts think plodding offensive tackle James Marten could be a big bust. On the positive side? Anthony Spencer could be Wade Phillips' next Shaun Phillips; offensive tackle Doug Free could be a sleeper in the fourth, and kicker Nick Folk could finally shore up that weakness.
New York Giants: Cornerback Aaron Ross and wide receiver Steve Smith should both develop into good starting players and give the Giants some much-needed depth at their respective positions. Defensive tackle Jay Alford might have been a reach in the third round. He needs a lot of scheming to get production. The real puzzlement of this draft was waiting four rounds to go after a linebacker, and then using that pick on Zak DeOssie, who could take several years to develop into starting material. The Giants need help at that position now, if not sooner. The Giants also needed to get some depth on the offensive line, and then took tackle Adam Koets, who has been criticized for not working hard enough to take advantage of his skill set.
Philadelphia Eagles: Quarterback was a need, but No. 36 overall? And Kevin Kolb? It seemed like a bit of a stretch. Most teams seemed to like him in the third round, and taking him this high is only going to create more questions about Donovan McNabb. When the Eagles finally did address the defensive end need, they tabbed a guy without great speed in Victor Abiamiri. Third-rounder Stewart Bradley is slow and seems more suited to a 3-4 defense in the NFL. Running back Tony Hunt is a big back that offers good value in the third. It's hard to believe the Eagles didn't take a single wide receiver in this draft or take a stab at Seattle's Darrell Jackson or Oakland's Randy Moss – both of which moved for only fourth-rounders.
Washington Redskins: One pick in the first five rounds is a major disappointment. Granted, the pick – LSU safety LaRon Landry – is an amazing player who likely will give the Redskins the best safety tandem in the NFL. With Sean Taylor and Landry, going over the middle will be nothing less than medieval torture for Washington opponents. But as good as that pick is, going another 136 selections before your next choice is rough. And the Redskins got little more than backup depth and special teams guys in linebackers Dallas Sartz and H.B. Blades and tight end Tyler Ecker. Quarterback Jordan Palmer, brother of Cincinnati's Carson Palmer, might be nothing more than a camp novelty.
Chicago Bears: There were quite a few question marks after a good first choice in Miami tight end Greg Olsen. No offensive linemen on the first day? Only a seventh-round offensive tackle? Defensive end Dan Bazuin is undersized and didn't seem to be the most pressing need in the second round. Running back Garrett Wolfe is going to be more of a situational player than the next coming of Maurice Jones-Drew. Taking him in the third round might have been a slight reach. Linebacker Michael Okwo isn't an adequate future replacement for Lance Briggs, not at his size (6-foot, 220). Josh Beekman was an odd choice since many teams liked him as a center.
Detroit Lions: Maneuvering to get four picks in the first 61 selections was impressive. Wide receiver Calvin Johnson wasn't the easy pick because of the franchise's recent history, but it was the right one. He'll be a star in offensive coordinator Mike Martz's offense. Drew Stanton was a good second-round choice with lots of tools for Martz to mold into a future starter. Big, long defensive end Ikaika Alama-Francis possesses a lot of raw talent and athleticism. Coach Rod Marinelli could shape him into a star or he could be a big bust. Safety Gerald Alexander was a bit of a reach at the end of the second round, but he's got the perfect versatility for a Cover 2 defense. The Lions could have used an offensive tackle prospect somewhere in the middle rounds, too.
Green Bay Packers: They spent their first-round pick on Justin Harrell, a defensive tackle with an ample injury history and only three games of senior film. That's a tremendous risk for the 16th overall pick. At the very least, the Packers could have moved back to Denver's slot at 21 and picked up the extra third- and sixth-round picks that went to Jacksonville (the Broncos traded up to the Jaguars' spot at 17). Wideout James Jones sounds like another possession guy. Running back Brandon Jackson is a scary pick, too, considering his two surgically repaired shoulders. Strong safety Aaron Rouse was a good value pick in the third, and offensive tackle Allen Barbre could move to guard and end up a steal in the fourth. They cast a nice, wide net with 11 picks, but there were too many risks and question marks on the first day.
Minnesota Vikings: Adrian Peterson is a risky pick at No. 7 overall, but it could pay off huge. You just wonder if passing on Brady Quinn will come back to haunt the Vikings. Wideout Sidney Rice is another risk. He's big and strong with some speed, but he's also inexperienced (redshirted '04 season; declared for the draft as a sophomore) and has an attitude. Some scouts have compared his mental makeup to that of Brandon Lloyd and Antonio Bryant. Not exactly what you want in Minnesota after the past few years of fiascos. Cornerback Marcus McCauley and defensive end Brian Robison could develop into solid starters from the middle rounds.
Atlanta Falcons: Fantastic overall value for this class with 11 bodies. Atlanta addressed a lot of needs, and might have gotten three immediate starters in defensive end Jamaal Anderson, offensive tackle Justin Blalock and cornerback Chris Houston. The fast and feisty Houston might end up being the steal of this class, and he should pair well with DeAngelo Hall. Linebacker Stephen Nicholas should be a quality special teams player and improve the depth at the linebacker spot with his versatility. Wideout Laurent Robinson has the raw skill to be a playmaker, but he seems more likely to be another frustrating wideout for the Falcons.
Carolina Panthers: Lots of good value in the first four picks, in linebacker Jon Beason, wideout Dwayne Jarrett, center Ryan Kalil and defensive end Charles Johnson. Beason and Kalil should push for starting time immediately. Jarrett can be groomed to take Keyshawn Johnson's spot. Charles Johnson's motor is perfect for that defense, too. Tim Shaw has some great special teams value in the fifth round and should give some depth at the linebacker spot. They could have used some safety help but didn't have a lot of top-notch options on the second day. A good, solid class.
New Orleans Saints: Wideout Robert Meachem was a solid pick in the first round, but Greg Olsen seemed to make more sense and still offered a good offensive weapon. Cornerback Usama Young has a ton of experience and could develop into a solid starter, which is good third-round value. Offensive tackle Jermon Bushrod and cornerback David Jones were solid small-school gambles. The fourth-round pick of Antonio Pittman is fantastic value and might foreshadow the departure of Deuce McAllister after the 2007 season. Basically, a good, solid draft for depth.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Ten total picks is a good haul, particularly with seven choices devoted to rebuilding an aging defense. Defensive end Gaines Adams is one of the most explosive playmakers out there and should be the prospect Tampa Bay can build around. Although he's a tad small, he could end up being a speed-and-moves guy like Dwight Freeney. Second-round guard Arron Sears could team with Davin Joseph and really shore up the interior of the offensive line. Like Joseph, Sears has some bruising nastiness to him. Safety Sabby Piscitelli was an interesting choice in Round 2 because many scouting reports didn't have him as a fit for a Cover 2. Meanwhile, fourth-round defensive back Tanard Jackson seems like a perfect fit for the scheme.
Arizona Cardinals: Offensive tackle Levi Brown seemed like a slight reach at the fifth overall pick, but he's exactly what coach Russ Grimm wanted and you have to trust one of the best in the business. The move up to get defensive tackle Alan Branch at the top of the second round was a shrewd gamble. The interior of that defensive line is talent-rich but is going to need plenty of motivation. Linebacker Buster Davis might be a poor man's London Fletcher. Wideout Steve Breaston could add some pop to special teams, and tight end Ben Patrick was a nice value pick in the seventh round. But it was very disappointing that only five players were added with this class and that only one offensive lineman was tabbed. They didn't get any defensive end depth, either.
St. Louis Rams: Defensive end Adam Carriker gives depth and flexibility to the defensive line and adds a hefty player to go along with Jimmy Kennedy to play against the run. They may regret passing on Leon Hall at this spot, though. Running back Brian Leonard is a quality pick in the second round and should provide them a good inside runner, but once again, adding depth at cornerback seemed like a better move. Cornerback Jonathan Wade in the third finally addressed that need, but he's a risky player who could take a while to develop fully – if ever – in the NFL. Defensive tackle Clifton Ryan and offensive tackle Justin Fry have the potential to be fifth-round sleepers.
San Francisco 49ers: Nine picks and Darrell Jackson make for a very good draft haul. Nabbing Jackson was a major score, giving the 49ers a player with the ability to be a No. 1 wideout. Piling that on top of linebacker Patrick Willis and offensive tackle Joe Staley, and the 49ers added talent fast. Willis could be the next great middle linebacker in the NFL. And Staley has the athleticism to be a top tackle if he's developed properly. Both wideout Jason Hill and defensive end Ray McDonald could turn out to be sleepers in the third round. Defensive tackle Joe Cohen offers good value in the fourth round and should add quality depth to the defensive line.
Seattle Seahawks: Deion Branch has to be considered part of this draft class since he was dealt to New England for Seattle's first-round pick. Frankly, Branch's lukewarm production last season and hefty contract don't make him a big plus at this point. Second-round cornerback Josh Wilson adds speed to the secondary and could contend for a nickel role next season, but a lot of teams had him pegged in the third round. Defensive tackle Brandon Mebane filled a need in the third round, but he struggled quite a bit against good blockers at the Senior Bowl and slid down some draft boards. Guard Mansfield Wrotto, taken with the pick acquired for wide receiver Darrell Jackson, has a lot of room to improve and could become a good starter. But I'm still not sure how many starters Seattle pulled with this draft class.