The NFC East had just one team in the playoffs this season, the first time that’s happened since 2004. The Giants were close and the Cowboys lost their quarterback, so a return to multiple teams in the playoffs isn’t out of the question. Draft reviews have been mixed for this division and, while no team combined drafted value with filling needs, there will be a solid influx of talent to this division this season.
Dallas has had issues protecting Tony Romo in recent seasons and it hurt them last year, when Romo missed a good portion of the season due to injury. Enter USC’s Tyron Smith, the draft’s highest-rated tackle. Smith played right tackle in college but has the size (6-5, 307) and athleticism to man the blind side in the NFL. His instincts need some work but he can be a starter this season, possibly by Week 1. Second-round pick Bruce Carter has the sideline-to-sideline speed teams like in a middle linebacker and, if it wasn’t for a season-ending knee injury, could have gone closer to round one. He’ll fit well in Dallas’ 3-4 scheme. DeMarco Murray has the size (6-0, 213) and speed (4.4) of a featured NFL runner, but he enters a crowded backfield and has had injury issues in the past. David Arkin played tackle at Missouri State but will move to guard to take advantage of his interior blocking ability. He won’t start right away but he offers potential as a fourth-round pick. Josh Thomas has the physical skills and aggressive nature to develop into a solid second or third corner in the NFL, but must improve his awareness and instincts to stick.
Dallas did well filling needs will their early and mid-round selections and also grabbed some talented players in the process. Murray is a player Dallas may view as their featured back of the future considering Marion Barber’s expected departure and the inconsistencies of Felix Jones and Tashard Choice. Overall, it was a solid draft for the Cowboys. Grade: B
The Redskins had the chance to take Blaine Gabbert to be their quarterback of the future, but opted to trade out of the 10th pick. Instead, they took Ryan Kerrigan after moving down six spots. Kerrigan may not have the highest ceiling but he’s a high-character guy with a non-stop motor and excellent instincts. He’s a good fit at outside linebacker in Washington’s 3-4 and should make plays up the field. Jarvis Jenkins may settle in as a defensive end rather than a defensive tackle unless he improves his strength but his athleticism will allow Jim Haslett to use him in multiple looks along the Washington line. Leonard Hankerson is a smooth, reliable receiver that has number-two potential in the NFL, but lacks the physical tools to be a top target. Roy Helu is a great fit in the Redskins’ zone-blocking offense, where his lack of lateral quickness will be masked in a one-cut scheme. Niles Paul became the third straight Nebraska player taken by the Redskins and, while he was inconsistent as a senior, still can contribute as a third wideout. Aldrick Robinson could help stretch the field out of the slot with his 4.35 speed. Brandyn Thompson lacks the size or speed to be a starting NFL corner, but finding a potential nickel back in round seven is good value. Markus White could be a pass-rush specialist to spell Kerrigan and Brian Orakpo on occasion.
Washington didn’t solve their quarterback issues, but many felt that this wasn’t the draft to grab a future leader anyway. The Redskins agreed and kudos to them for passing on Gabbert if they didn’t like him. Kerrigan and Jenkins should improve a front seven that needed a lot of help and Washington also added depth to what was a terrible receiving core outside of Santana Moss. Washington also had eight picks in the final three rounds and if a few of those players prove roster-worthy, this will be a good draft. Grade: B-
New York Giants
The Giants got possibly the steal of the draft when Prince Amukamara fell into their laps with the 19th pick. He was a top-ten player on our board and gives the Giants great depth and talent at corner. Marvin Austin has first-round talent but was maddeningly inconsistent at North Carolina. If he can show the desire to be elite, he just might be one of the steals of this draft. Jerrel Jernigan has the burst and elusiveness to make up for his lack of size (5-9, 185) and should be fun to watch out of the slot and in the return game. James Brewer is a project with the size (6-6, 323) to be used on the right side and the pass-blocking ability to be used on the left side. Once he improves his consistency and flexibility, he could start in New York. Greg Jones is undersized at linebacker but is a tackling machine with good intelligence and sideline-to-sideline ability. He could start on a team with a strong line, which the Giants have. Da’Rel Scott has the ability to be a solid third-down back if he stays healthy.
The Giants did a great job drafting for value in the early rounds, but eschewed what many viewed as their biggest need until taking Brewer in the fourth round. Their offensive line will continue to be an issue next season unless they make moves in free agency, but it’s difficult to argue with the talent they acquired. Amukamara and Austin could both be among the best players at their position from this particular draft. Grade: B
Many, including myself, thought cornerback Jimmy Smith was a great fit for the Eagles. But with Smith still on the board, they went with Baylor guard Danny Watkins, who should start from the outset on the right side. He’s a hard-worker with good fundamentals and the versatility to play multiple positions and should be an asset for Philadelphia. The Eagles addressed their secondary in round two with safety Jaiquawn Jarrett, who had a fifth-round grade from Draft Insider. Jarrett has nice upside and is solid against both the run and the pass, but will have to reach his full potential to justify this pick, as he’s not a game-changer. Curtis Marsh has good upside as a press corner in the Eagles’ system, but played just two seasons at Utah State after moving from running back and will need time to develop. Casey Matthews was a reach in round four with average athleticism and a seventh-round grade. While he’s a hard worker, he’s no Clay. Alex Henery has the leg strength and accuracy to replace the aging David Akers. I’ve always liked Dion Lewis, but his size will limit him to third-down duty and the Eagles already have a great receiving back in LeSean McCoy. Fullback Stanley Havili could make an impact catching passes out of the Philadelphia backfield, while his limitations blocking in the running game will be masked in the Eagles’ West Coast system.
While the other three NFC East teams added serious talent or filled holes on their team, the Eagles seemingly did neither. Every pick they made could be considered a reach in some sense and they didn’t make any particularly great value picks in the middle or late rounds. Watkins will help them right away, but other than that they drafted a bunch of prospects that are unlikely to outperform their draft slot. Grade: C-
The AFC East was one of the league’s more competitive divisions last season and only the Bills landed in the top 14 of the 2011 draft. Even still, it’s hard to argue with the job any of these teams did and the division has the chance to be just as good as it was last season, if not better. Chris Tripodi grades out the teams from the East.
With the third pick, Buffalo was lucky enough to have the player ranked at the top of many draft boards fall to them in Marcell Dareus. The former Alabama tackle should immediately help the Bills’ league-worst run defense with the size (6-3, 319) to play inside and enough athleticism to be effective in pursuit. Buffalo continued to focus on defense with their next three picks, the first being Texas cornerback Aaron Williams. Williams should help a secondary that allowed 28 touchdown passes last season and, while not a ballhawk, is good in coverage and against the run and also has the skill set to play safety. LSU’s Kelvin Sheppard was a steal in round four as a great run defender with the upside to eventually start in the middle of the Buffalo defense. The Bills went back to the secondary to take Da’Norris Searcy in round four, giving them insurance if Donte Whitner leaves via free agency. Chris Hairston is a prospect that could develop into a starter on the right side of Buffalo’s offensive line, but they still have issues on the blind side. Johnny White, another Tar Hell drafted by the Bills, adds depth to the backfield and could contribute on third downs and in the return game.
Buffalo made it a point to address their defensive issues, particularly against the run, and got very good value from their early picks. The Bills have been an enigma in recent drafts, but not this season. Grade: A-
Many thought Miami might take Mark Ingram with their first-round pick to bolster their running game, but adding Mike Pouncey will also have a positive impact on their 30th-ranked rushing attack. Much like his brother Maurkice, Pouncey should start immediately at guard or even center and his interior blocking ability will be an asset as long as the Dolphins don’t ask him to pull out into space. Second-round pick Daniel Thomas out of Kansas State is looking like the starter this season with the uncertain futures of Ronnie Brown and Ricky Williams. He has the size (6-0, 230) and all-around talent to be a featured back but runs too high at times and needs to stay healthy to reach his potential. Fourth-round pick Edmond Gates should help Miami stretch the field on offense with his 4.31 speed and if he can polish his route-running, he has starting upside. For now, he should be a good slot option that will help Brandon Marshall and Davone Bess find space underneath.
Miami didn’t pick up many impact players in this draft but the ones they drafted came at good value and filled needs. It’s difficult to find an elite grade for a team with just six picks, but Miami’s first three picks could all play important roles for them on offense. Grade: B
New England Patriots
As usual, the Patriots had a stockpile of picks in the 2011 draft, nine to be exact. Nate Solder was a little surprising to many at 17, but New England wants to revamp their offensive line and the 6-8 tight-end-turned-tackle has arguably the most upside of any tackle in this draft. He has the size and ability to play on either side of the line. Ras-I Dowling was a first-round talent that fell to the first pick of round two and if he can stay healthy, has the potential to form a dynamic duo down the line with Devin McCourty. Shane Vereen was a questionable pick with Danny Woodhead filling the third-down back role, while Stevan Ridley in round three fits more in the mold of BenJarvus Green-Ellis as a downhill runner. Ryan Mallett was a surprising pick but he couldn’t have landed in a better spot for his development. Mallett will get to learn from one of the best in Tom Brady and the Patriots have been known for taking on players with character issues and getting the most out of them. Mallett likely won’t be Brady’s successor but his arm strength is unmatched by any prospect in this draft and he could develop into a valuable trade chip, much like Matt Cassel a few seasons ago. Marcus Cannon was a player we had graded out as a second-round prospect who went in the fifth round. He can be a force at either tackle or guard position and finding a potential starter that late in the draft is a huge coup.
New England may not have drafted any players who will make a huge impact for them right away and while they may have reached on a pair of one-dimensional running backs who are copycats of their current backfield, they got solid value in the middle of the draft and filled a few needs as well. It wouldn’t be a New England draft review if we didn’t mention the fact that they added picks once again for next season, where they will have four in the first two rounds. Grade: B-
New York Jets
The Jets lacked picks this season thanks to last season’s acquisitions of Antonio Cromartie and Santonio Holmes, but Muhammad Wilkerson represents great value at the back end of round one. He should step in immediately at defensive end and, as seen by his 9.5 sacks last season at Temple, has the potential to help the Jets’ anemic pass rush as well as stop the run. If Kenrick Ellis can get past his legal, weight and motivational issues, he could be a steal at the end of round three. At 6-5, 346 pounds he is the prototypical 3-4 nose tackle who could develop into the player New York thought they were getting when they signed Kris Jenkins. Bilal Powell adds to an already deep Jets’ backfield while Jeremy Kerley could be the special teams replacement for free agent Brad Smith. Greg McElroy gives the Jets a future backup with good leadership ability and football IQ behind starter Mark Sanchez.
New York may not have had many picks in this draft but as a team that was once again just a step from the Super Bowl, they only needed to add a piece or two. Wilkerson was a huge add to the defense, but their later picks likely won’t have a big impact this season. The Jets did well with the picks they had but beyond Wilkerson they likely only added one potential starter down the line. Grade: C+
In recent years the AFC South has run the gambit in the draft with team such as the Tennessee Titans and Houston Texans drafting during the early part of round one and perennial division winner Indianapolis selecting late in the frame. 2011 would be no different and held a number of surprises.
It was well known entering the draft the Colts would look to fortify their offensive line and they started hot out of the gate by quickly grabbing Anthony Castonzo after the Boston College prospect dropped in their laps. Castonzo is tough, smart and talented, as well as a lineman that can play either tackle slot. He comes with a nice degree of upside. We never bought into the hype that Ben Ijalana was a first round choice yet he was good value in the bottom third of the second frame. In a best case scenario Ijalana develops into a right tackle for the Colts yet at the very least we think he offers starting potential at guard. Drake Nevis was a solid choice in the third round and proto-typical of the type of defensive lineman Indianapolis puts on the field; undersized yet explosive and athletic with the ability to make plays in all directions. Fourth round choice Delone Carter will be a solid rotational back for the Colts offense while Chris Rucker was worth a shot in the late rounds and has the talent to be a dime back that could develop into a starter.
The Colts filled needs with quality prospects and could come out of this draft with three starters and two more situational players. s B+
“Defense….Defense”; that was the call for the Texans before the draft and the end result was all but two of their eight selections were used on players from the defensive side of the ball. JJ Watt was a terrific choice with the eleventh pick of round one and he’s a defensive lineman with great upside that will be a great fit for the Texans defense. Houston received solid value with both picks in round two. Brooks Reed, taken with the 10th pick of the frame, will add depth at outside linebacker and should offer a pass rush. Brandon Harris was rated by most as a potential late first round choice and getting him with the 60th pick of the draft was a steal. He still needs to polish his cornerback skills but offers starting potential down the road. Houston took players in the middle rounds that will offer depth then came back with two great picks in the last frame. Derek Newton slipped through the cracks but was great value in round seven. He offers the Texans offensive line a swingman that can play guard or tackle and eventually crack the starting line-up. Cheta Ozougwu was fourth round talent in our opinion. We felt the college defensive end was better suited to play outside linebacker in a 3-4 alignment and should do a bang-up job under Wade Phillips.
The Texans selected talent, drafted value and could end up with three-to-four starters from this draft class as well as a number of productive back-ups. Many of the players may need a bit of time acclimating themselves to new positions but this was a terrific draft from start-to-finish. Grade A
The word was Jacksonville would target a big defensive end with the 16th pick of the draft yet when Blaine Gabbert slid out of the top eight selections the team moved up to grab the player they hope will be their quarterback of the future. Gabbert has the physical tools to succeed and more importantly, a pair of talented and young offensive tackles to protect him. He’s got a great deal of upside yet will need time to develop into an NFL passer. William Rackley was a solid choice in the third frame and can be used at a number of offensive line positions. Fourth round choice Cecil Shorts could develop into a third wide out. Safety Chris Prosinski was a reach in the fourth round as was cornerback Rod Isaac a round later.
Despite any letter grade assigned to this draft now, the ultimate grade will rest on the success of Gabbert. The reaches of Prosinski and Isaac forces us to downgrade this collection. Grade C-
The predictions of what Tennessee would do with the eight pick of the draft centered on the defensive line, but the franchise opted for quarterback Jake Locker which was a surprise to just about everyone, including those in his camp. The pick is a risk and was a major reach for a variety of reasons. Considering the team is trying to recover from the debacle of Vince Young, selecting another signal caller whose passing skills need a lot of work is questionable. As we wrote about prior to the combine, Locker has shown improvement after being coached by former Pro-Bowl quarterback Ken O’Brien, yet he’s a long ways from being NFL ready. Tennessee rebounded well with their next three selections. Despite pedestrian times in the forty Akeem Ayers is a quality three down linebacker with starting potential. Potential is not a problem for Jurrell Casey, taken a round later, but intensity and questions about his motor are. Regardless, getting a possible starter on the defensive line in the third frame is worth the risk. Colin McCarthy was a solid choice in round four and can contribute if properly coached. Sixth round choice Byron Stingily offers great upside at offensive tackle and could be a steal.
Tennessee came away with several good defensive prospects during the draft’s initial four rounds but the focus on this draft will center on Jake Locker. It is a choice that can set the franchise back further if he struggles or fails but also set the organization on the right course should Locker turn into a dependable starter. Grade C+