Pro Football Notebook-Rating the NFL Draft

Posted by on May 2nd, 2016  •  0 Comments  • 

All the wheeling and dealing is done. And now, your favorite NFL team is almost completely out of chances to make serious upgrades to its roster.

The 2016 NFL draft is finally in the books, after three wild days and plenty of surprises. The Eagles and Rams have the quarterbacks of their futures (in theory), and the Giants and Jets have some intriguing new pieces.

You never know for sure how any of these pieces will fit together until the regular season, of course, but some draft hauls certainly do seem better than others. Here’s a look at our right-after-the-draft grades for each club:
NFC EAST

DALLAS COWBOYS

Despite the hype around Ohio State running back Ezekiel Elliott, it’s hard to justify Dallas taking him fourth overall ahead of Florida State corner Jalen Ramsey, who filled a bigger defensive need and played a far more valuable position.

You let that go, though, because the Cowboys filled their defensive needs later, scoring defensive line help in DE Charles Tapper and DT Maliek Collins. And if Notre Dame linebacker Jaylon Smith recovers from the torn left ACL and MCL that led him to fall into the second round, he’ll be the steal of the draft. Add in seventh-round sleeper Rico Gathers, an ex-Baylor basketball player (and we know how those hoops stars often turn out in the NFL), and Jerry Jones had a solid haul that should keep the Cowboys in division contention.

GRADE: B-plus

GIANTS

Jerry Reese and Co. missed the two guys they seemingly wanted most (Georgia LB Leonard Floyd and Michigan State OL Jack Conklin), but getting Ohio State CB Eli Apple at No. 10 is a solid recovery that should help a thin secondary. Oklahoma receiver Sterling Shepard is a terrific second-round value who fits nicely into Ben McAdoo’s offense.

You like that the Giants showcased a new approach to the draft, ditching the small-school gambles that have peppered their previous draft classes in favor of six players from major college programs. It remains to be seen whether the approach yields better players, but it does show a GM willing to make adjustments.

Still, this wasn’t a perfect draft. The Giants may regret taking S Darian Thompson in the third round instead of adding offensive line depth, especially since Miles Killebrew, a quality safety, was available a round later. And while UCLA’s Paul Perkins has plenty of potential, the club needed help in the trenches, not a sixth running back. Perkins’ fifth-round selection wiill be worthwhile only if he’s a true No. 1 RB.

GRADE: B

GIANTS FIRST-ROUNDER ELI APPLE ‘JUST LOVES FOOTBALL’

Ohio State’s Ezekiel Elliott, left, poses for photos upon arriving for the first round of the 2016 NFL football draft at the Auditorium Theater of Roosevelt University, Thursday, April 28, 2016, in Chicago. (AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh)Apr 28, 2016; Chicago, IL, USA; Ezekiel Elliott (Ohio State) arrives on the red carpet before the 2016 NFL Draft at Auditorium Theatre. Mandatory Credit: Kamil Krzaczynski-USA TODAY SportsOhio State’s Joey Bosa poses for photos upon arriving for the first round of the 2016 NFL football draft at the Auditorium Theater of Roosevelt University, Thursday, April 28, 2016, in Chicago. (AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh)Someone please tell Carson Wentz that the tie and pocket square are supposed to match. At least mom looks great!VIEW GALLERY2016 NFL Draft: Ezekiel Elliott and the wildest fashion statements

PHILADELPHIA EAGLES

Philly’s first draft haul in the post-Chip Kelly Era is as messy as draft hauls come. Months after signing Sam Bradford long-term, they surrendered a massive draft haul to move up to second overall and draft North Dakota State’s Carson Wentz?

There are few difference-making picks after Wentz, largely because of the price the Eagles paid to leap from 13th overall to second. So this draft will come down to the third quarterback that Philly has secured this offseason. Wentz certainly has potential, but he’ll need time to develop, and he’s hardly the near-sure thing that Baylor’s Robert Griffin III was for Washington back in 2012.

GRADE: C

WASHINGTON

Grabbing TCU receiver Josh Doctson at 22nd overall gives Kirk Cousins the big receiver that he didn’t have last season, a third weapon to go with Jordan Reed and DeSean Jackson, and solid defensive reinforcements arrived later. USC S/LB Su’a Cravens is the hybrid defender and Virginia Tech CB Kendal Fuller should both contribute this season, and seventh-round pick Keith Marshall, an electric running back out of Georgia, could prove to be a steal.

There’s nothing flashy about this class, but it’s a nice haul that should help keep Washington in contention in the NFC East. Bonus points for adding extra picks for next season as well.

GRADE: B-plus

NFC NORTH

CHICAGO BEARS

The Bears leapfrogged the Giants to get coveted linebacker Leonard Floyd of Georgia, and they may have done Big Blue a favor: Floyd, while athletically gifted, is far from a sure thing, a player who could be the next Simeon Rice or the next Barkevious Mingo.

The rest of Chicago’s draft is filled with steady pieces. Cody Whitehair should be a solid offensive lineman and third-round pick Jonathan Bullard out of Florida is a talented, versatile defensive lineman who could really blossom.

GRADE: B-minus

DETROIT LIONS

The Lions filled needs well, finally getting Matthew Stafford some protection in first-round pick OT Taylor Decker and third-round C Graham Glasgow, both of whom should start from Day One. And you have to love fourth-round selection Miles Killebrew, an ultra-athletic safety who should also emerge as a starter. But this club is still destined to miss retired Calvin Johnson in 2016, and it did nothing to change that last week.

GRADE: B

GREEN BAY PACKERS

A meat-and-potatoes draft for the Packers, but keeping Aaron Rodgers upright needed to be a priority. Second-round pick OL Jason Spriggs of Indiana addresses that. First-round pick Kenny Clark should contribute immediately along a thin defensive line. Green Bay didn’t add any weapons for Rodgers, but with Jordy Nelson healthy, Randall Cobb back and Davante Adams taking another step, it really didn’t need those.

GRADE: B

MINNESOTA VIKINGS

Talk about value. Ole Miss WR Laquon Treadwell isn’t a gamebreaker, but he’s a potential steal at 23rd overall, and a great tag-team partner for smooth receiver Stefon Diggs. He’s instantly the perfect red zone complement to Adrian Peterson’s hard running. Second-round pick Mackensie Alexander was a first-round corner on some boards and could still be a star. And keep an eye on WR Moritz Boehringer, a receiver from Germany who drew plenty of interest and was taken by Minnesota in the sixth round. He’s a project, but he has the tools. And the sixth round isn’t a bad time to take a project.

GRADE: A-minus

F
NFC SOUTH

ATLANTA FALCONS

Atlanta needed to revamp its moribund defense, adding playmaking ability, and it did exactly that by nabbing Florida safety Keanu Neal with its first-round pick and linebackers Deion Jones and De’Vondre Campbell in the second and fourth rounds, respectively. Stanford tight end Austin Hooper, meanwhile, offers nice value for a passing game that was basically Julio Jones a year ago.

GRADE: B-plus

CAROLINA PANTHERS

The NFC champs arrived with few glaring needs, aside from the one created by the departure of cornerback Josh Norman. So it’s hardly a surprise that GM Dave Gettleman focused on getting a corner in the draft, bringing in James Bradbury (second round), Daryl Worley (third) and Zack Sanchez (fifth). If one of those players develops into a starter, this draft is a success. The key piece Carolina gets next season will come in the form of the return of top receiver Kelvin Benjamin, who missed all of last season with a torn ACL.

GRADE: B

NEW ORLEANS SAINTS

It was quality over quantity for the Saints, but that quality was terrific. In second-round pick Michael Thomas, New Orleans scores a big playmaking receiver to team with Brandin Cooks and Willie Snead. And first-round pick Sheldon Rankins, a DT out of Louisville, should emerge quickly as an interior pass-rusher. Ohio State’s Vonn Bell provides solid depth at safety.

GRADE: B-plus

TAMPA BAY BUCS

GM Jason Licht filled critical defensive needs for his Bucs, getting the corner he wanted in Vernon Hargreaves III (while still trading back in the draft and nabbing an extra pick), and a potentially terrific pass-rusher in Noah Spence in the second round. Those moves were offset by the rather odd move to trade back in to the second round to acquire . . . . kicker Robert Aguayo out of Florida State. Then again, Aguayo, a dominant kicker with worlds of potential, didn’t cost much: The Bucs essentially traded away the extra fourth-rounder they nabbed when they traded down for Hargreaves.

GRADE: B-minus
NFC WEST

ARIZONA CARDINALS

You love Ole Miss DL Robert Nkemdiche at No. 29, a playmaking defender joining a dangerous defensive line. The Cards made few other moves of note; then again, they had few holes to fill. It wouldn’t have hurt to draft a long-term project at quarterback, though, because Carson Palmer’s clock is ticking.

GRADE: B-minus

SAN FRANCISCO 49ERS

Chip Kelly’s new club is so devoid of talent that this draft was less about filling holes and more about getting quality players. At times, San Fran did that, and getting Oregon defensive lineman DeForest Buckner, a physical specimen, in the first round, was an easy decision. Trading back into the first round to get Stanford guard Josh Garrett, however, was bizarre, and none of the three cornerbacks picked later seemed a dominant piece. It was Chip Kelly being Chip Kelly – and we all know how that worked out in Philly.

GRADE: C-plus

SEATTLE SEAHAWKS

With Marshawn Lynch gone and Thomas Rawls coming off injury, John Schneider worked to rebuild the running back corps with three tailback selections, headed by C.J. Procise in the third round. Don’t be surprised if Procise is an instant contributor this year. Second-round defensive tackle Jarran Reed was a great value, and Seattle keeps doing everything it can to protect Russell Wilson. First-round pick Germain Ifedi of Texas A&M was one of three offensive linemen selected; if one or two emerge as contributors this season, this draft will have been a success.

GRADE: B

LOS ANGELES RAMS

This draft will come down to Cal QB Jared Goff, of course, the player the Rams traded up to acquire. But at least they tried to get him some help, drafting a pair of receivers and a pair of tight ends. The Rams remain a work in progress, but Jeff Fisher has taken some steps to get the franchise moving in the right direction offensively. Defensively, we know they can play.

GRADE: B-plus
AFC EAST

BUFFALO BILLS

Rex Ryan made the Bills defense competitive last season, and now he gets some serious weaponry on that side of the ball with pass-rushing lineman Shaq Lawson and Reggie Ragland, who should be an instant leader in the linebacking corps. The Bills already had a good secondary, too. Ohio State’s Cardale Jones is a good project of a QB to work behind Tyrod Taylor and E.J. Manuel. And watch sixth-round pick Kolby Listenbee; he can fly.

GRADE: A-minus

MIAMI DOLPHINS

The Dolphins took a chance on a pair of character risks that could pay off. They stopped Ole Miss offensive tackle Laremy Tunsil’s freefall at No. 13, and they picked up Rutgers receiver Leonte Caroo in the third round. If both players can stay out of trouble, they have the physical ability to help Miami right away. That’s particularly true for Tunsil, once considered this draft’s supreme talent.

GRADE: B-plus

NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS

Bill Belichick and Co. were in a bind, down a first-round pick thanks to the DeflateGate punishments. But they made their bounty of other picks count, especially with the selection of second-round pick Cyrus Jones, a versatile corner from Alabama, and Georgia receiver Malcolm Mitchell, who can absolutely fly. Third-round pick Jacoby Brissett, a QB, has the athletic ability to surprise in the coming years.

GRADE: A-minus

JETS

Mike McCaggnan gambled on Christian Hackenberg’s tools, and while the Penn State product almost certainly won’t be ready anytime soon, he has the skillset to be a franchise signal-caller. When you see a QB you like and can get him at a second-round price, it’s worth the risk.

First-round pick Darron Lee, meanwhile, brings special speed and should be an instant defensive difference-maker. Expect third-round pick OLB Jordan Jenkins to contribute quickly as well, and Clemson WR Charone Peake is a solid seventh-round flier.

GRADE: B

AFC NORTH

BALTIMORE RAVENS

Word is the Ravens really wanted to trade up for Florida State CB Jalen Ramsey but that wasn’t happening. Getting a top left tackle to protect Joe Flacco in Ronnie Stanley of Notre Dame, though, isn’t a bad consolation prize. And third-round pick linebacker Kamalei Correa brings pass-rushing toughness. Baltimore let the board come to them and walked away with solid, if unspectacular talents.

GRADE: B-plus

CINCINNATI BENGALS

A deep Bengals team didn’t need any immediate talent, but it still got plenty of developmental talent. William Jackson III is a solid corner and Baylor offensive lineman Andrew Billings, a late-round pick, brings terrific strength and power. You wonder if the Bengals might have gone for Treadwell if he’d been available at pick No. 24. And while Jackson is a solid first-round pick, you wonder if the club might have been better served reaching for eventual Giants second-rounder Sterling Shepard.

GRADE: B-minus

CLEVELAND BROWNS

The Browns had plenty of holes, and ex-Mets brain Paul DePodesta parlayed the No. 2 overall pick into 14 draft picks over the last three days. That led to plenty of talent coming in the door, at key positions, headed by No. 15 overall pick WR Corey Coleman of Baylor. Coleman has the speed, although many expect he’ll need extra time to learn an NFL offense. Emmanuel Ogbah and Carl Nassib are solid defensive end pickups, and Cody Kessler, the club’s third third-round pick is a solid developmental QB.

It’s hard to evaluate this class since Cleveland had so many needs, but DePodesta at least created plenty of opportunity to fill those needs.

GRADE: B

PITTSBURGH STEELERS

First-round pick CB Artie Burns out of Miami may have been a reach, but he fills a need for a club that struggled to defend the pass and keep Ben Roethlisberger out of shootouts last season. So too does Maryland safety Sean Davis, a second-rounder who had been flying up draft boards. Those are the lone two instant contributors in the class, although they should serve in key roles.

GRADE: B-minus

AFC SOUTH

HOUSTON TEXANS

Well now, Brock Osweiler has some weapons. The Texans grabbed their new QB a speedy receiver in Will Fuller and another dangerous weapon in Braxton Miller, instantly remaking their receiving corps behind star DeAndre Hopkins. Don’t underestimate the addition of C Nick Martin from Notre Dame, either, clearing ways for a revamped rushing attack.

GRADE: B-plus

INDIANAPOLIS COLTS

This was another team that needed to focus on keeping its QB upright, and the Colts were more aggressive than anyone in their efforts to protect Andrew Luck. Indy took four offensive lineman, headed by C Ryan Kelly from Alabama and offensive tackle Le’Raven Clark from Texas Tech. If Luck stays healthy next season, it was all worthwhile.

GRADE: B

JACKSONVILLE JAGUARS

The draft’s top cornerback, Jalen Ramsey, fell right into Jags GM Dave Caldwell’s hands, but give him credit for not screwing up and making the pick. A round later, the Jaguars grabbed UCLA linebacker Myles Jack. His knee is no sure thing, but if it is healthy, he’s a steal in the second round. The Jags already had a solid offense led by QB Blake Bortles, and the defense was improved in free agency. Don’t be surprised if Jacksonville is a surprise contender next season.

GRADE: A-minus

TENNESSEE TITANS

First-round pick Jack Conklin was one of the top offensive tackles available, and second-round pick Derrick Henry may not have a long shelf life as an NFL running back, but he should be an effective bowling ball for as long as he plays. Conklin fills a key need as Tennessee looks to protect Marcus Mariota, although neither he nor 2014 first-round pick Taylor Lewan seems to be a true left tackle. Still, Tennessee added plenty of talent, and while they won’t contend this season, they should be much-improved.

GRADE: B-plus
AFC WEST

Paxton Lynch joins a Super Bowl-defending Broncos team that lacks a big-time quarterback.WESLEY HITT/GETTY IMAGES
Paxton Lynch joins a Super Bowl-defending Broncos team that lacks a big-time quarterback.

DENVER BRONCOS

John Elway traded up in the first round to nab a potential quarterback of the future in Memphis’ Paxton Lynch, and while Lynch is raw, he steps into a perfect situation, learning on a team with a stellar defense, a dominant running game and potent receiving weapons. Fourth-round pick Devontae Booker is a potential steal of a running back, and Connor McGovern, a fifth-round selection, is a solid offensive lineman. Nice job by Denver to fill needs after its Super Bowl victory.

GRADE: A-minus

KANSAS CITY CHIEFS

Andy Reid spent most of this draft stockpiling draft picks for the future, although he did make several interesting selections. The most intriguing of those may be fifth-round pick Kevin Hogan out of Stanford, a talented and heady quarterback who could develop into the successor to Alex Smith.

GRADE: B

OAKLAND RAIDERS

On the surface it was an odd draft for the Raiders, who burned a fourth-round pick on Michigan State QB Connor Cook despite already having Derek Carr. They also drafted defensive ends Jihad Ward and Shilique Calhoun in the second and third rounds, respectively. The pieces don’t necessarily fit together well, although Oakland did seem intent on taking the best player available, regardless of their needs. That’s not always a bad approach, although this is what it looks like, despite how Jerry Reese makes the philosophy sound. First-round pick Karl Joseph, a safety, should produce immediately.

GRADE: B-plus

SAN DIEGO CHARGERS

Once Laremy Tunsil’s situation caused his freefall, Charger GM Tom Telesco made a conservative decision to steer away. He had plenty of other talent to go grab at No. 3, anyway, and Ohio State DE Joey Bosa is a solid, if unspectacular, choice. Florida State corner Jalen Ramsey would have been far more intriguing, although Bosa is safe. So too was second-round pick Hunter Henry, an tight end out of Arkansas and the other key player for the Chargers in this draft. A solid, if unspectacular class.

GRADE: B

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