Archive for Monday, May 1, 2006

Grading the draft, team by team

May 1, 2006

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NFC NORTH

Packers

Unlike Brian Urlacher, who had to transition from safety, Hawk is an experienced and instinctive linebacker who will improve the defense immediately. Hodge also was productive and underscores the need at linebacker. After trading Javon Walker to Denver, the Packers added three wide receivers in the first four rounds in a desperate attempt to uncover at least one who can help right away. Colledge also could start at guard as a rookie.

Grade: B

Lions

Sims will play same role as Derrick Brooks in Rod Marinelli's defense. Bullocks plays the Mike Brown role. Bears hope it takes Marinelli a year before his system takes hold the way it did for Lovie Smith. Calhoun has excellent hands and good quickness as a backup for Kevin Jones. Scott is a big talent but a project as a possible left tackle. Passed up quarterbacks Leinart and Cutler after failing with former third overall pick Joey Harrington.

Grade: C

Vikings

Coach Brad Childress deferred to defensive coordinator Mike Tomlin in building defense first. Like the Lions, it will be the same as Bears' system, so Greenway and Griffin are key. Blue also is a run-stopping safety. The selection of Jackson could be an inspired answer to the loss of Daunte Culpepper. He has a big arm and Childress has the expertise to develop him behind Brad Johnson. Adding guard-tackle Artis Hicks in a trade from the Eagles to join free agent guard Steve Hutchinson further solidifies the line.

Grade: B

Bears

Counting on last year's "redshirt freshman" draft class of Cedric Benson, Mark Bradley and Airese Currie to be healthy, the Bears got immediate help only in their return game with Manning and Hester. For a team that ranked No. 2 on defense yet scored only 16 points a game, the lean toward defense is puzzling. None of the picks is expected to compete for a starting job anytime soon. Acquiring Carolina defensive backs Ricky Manning Jr and Dante Wesley increases depth, as does quarterback Brian Griese.

Grade: D

NFC SOUTH

Saints

They can't believe their good fortune in landing the consensus top player in the draft. Now owner Tom Benson must pay a fortune to get Reggie Bush in on time. The problem is the Saints didn't get much more help from this draft and still need to protect rehabilitating new quarterback Drew Brees. Harper is an instinctive player who could start immediately. New coach Sean Payton thinks he can design ways to get enough opportunities for both Bush and top running back Deuce McAllister.

Grade: B

Buccaneers

A pedestrian draft. They need to revamp their offensive line, but neither Joseph nor Trueblood are can't-miss prospects. Joseph was the only first-round guard. They shied away from USC tackle Winston Justice in the first round. Stovall has size and Zemaitus is the typical cover-2 corner. Neither has speed. After losing Brian Griese to the Bears, they need a developmental quarterback and got one in another Mid-American prospect, Gradkowski.

Grade: D

Falcons

Trading for Jets' defensive end John Abraham before the draft was the main accomplishment of the offseason. They also traded for Saints' left tackle Wayne Gandy. Cornerback Williams has great skill but was labeled hard to handle. Playing opposite former Virginia Tech star corner DeAngelo Hall should help. Norwood adds speed. Shockley will be popular local pick but won't get to play.

Grade: C

Panthers

Williams and Marshall are solid picks capable to starting right away. Williams might be needed first because DeShaun Foster is coming off injury. Some scouts had Williams rated as the top running back after Reggie Bush, not a bad endorsement in this season. The other picks are backups. Their biggest offseason addition was Keyshawn Johnson to complement Steve Smith.

Grade: B

NFC EAST

Giants

Kiwanuka was rated higher before so-so senior season and ordinary Senior Bowl, but Giants don't need him right away. Moss can provide more spark to what was already the third-highest scoring offense in the league. He'll fit in the slot between Plaxico Burress and Amani Toomer. Wilkinson and Cofield fill needs on the 24th defense as did big-name free agent pickup linebacker LaVar Arrington.

Grade: C

Redskins

They spent their No. 1 pick last year by trading for quarterback Jason Campbell, who is still being groomed behind aging Mark Brunell. They also gave up third and fourth-round picks to San Francisco for receiver Brandon Lloyd. Then they traded up for McIntosh, who could help make up for the loss of Arrington. He can play all three linebacker positions.

Grade: D

Cowboys

Coach Bill Parcells coached Carpenter's father, Rob, a running back with the New York Giants. Bobby fits into the 3-4 scheme because he can play inside or outside. Fasano makes up for the loss of second tight end Dan Campbell, although the Cowboys already added Ryan Hannam from Seattle behind starter and excellent receiver Jason Witten. All will help open things up for Terrell Owens. Hatcher is another big line addition to the 3-4.

Grade: B

Eagles

They wheeled and dealed as much as anybody in an effort to revamp both lines. Bunkley will join last year's No. 1 pick, Mike Patterson. Justice slipped out of first round because of off-field issues, but the Eagles felt good enough about him and Jean-Gilles to trade starting guard-tackle Artis Hicks to Minnesota. They also traded to get Avant, who couldn't ask for a better opportunity to play. Olympic skier Bloom will help return punts and also could play receiver.

Grade: A

NFC WEST

49ers

Davis is a rare talent who can't help but improve the 32d offense. Is that why he cried? Lawson is the ideal 3-4 pass rushing linebacker-defensive end who can improve the 32d defense. Lawson also helps make up for the loss of Julian Peterson. Haralson is similar. Williams is tough but little. Robinson was Penn State's quarterback who is a project at another position, too much of a luxury for a team with so many obvious needs.

Grade: B

Cardinals

It didn't take coach Dennis Green long to grab Leinart, who goes to a team with great young receivers plus Edgerrin James. Kurt Warner won't be too happy unless Leinart's USC teammate, the 335-pound Latui, can help protect him. The offensive line is bad. Pope and Watson were ranked higher on some boards and have boom-or-bust potential. Who can help immediately? The Cards were 5-11.

Grade: B

Seahawks

With the luxury of plugging in backups, the NFC champions targeted positions where they lost players in the offseason. Jennings replaces Andre Dyson. Tapp comes in for Rodney Bailey. Sims will back up Floyd Womack, who replaces departed all-pro Steve Hutchinson. Kirtman will back up veteran Mack Strong as the blocking back for leading rusher Shaun Alexander.

Grade: B

Rams

Hill, Wroten, Alston and Adeyanju all have opportunity to contribute immediately to the 30th-ranked defense. Wroten had off-field issues that scared other teams. New coach Scott Linehan obviously intends to get a pass-catching tight end involved in his offense, adding both Klopfenstein and Byrd to an arsenal full of wide receiver talent and trading incumbent tight end Brandon Manumaleuna to San Diego.

Grade: C

AFC NORTH

Steelers

After losing Antwaan Randle El, they jumped at the chance to move up when they saw Holmes falling, but had to give up steep price of third and fourth picks. With better credentials than Randle El, Holmes should complement Hines Ward and contribute immediately as a punt returner. After losing free safety Chris Hope, the instinctive and hard-hitting Smith could challenge free agent Ryan Clark. Keep an eye on Reid, who also returns punts, because nobody drafts better than Steelers.

Grade: B

Browns

Collected extra sixth-rounder from Ravens for dropping down one pick because Browns would have liked either Haloti Ngata or Wimbley. Ravens wanted Ngata. Wimbley can learn from free agent acquisition Willie McGinest. Jackson is a good fit inside in the 3-4. Wilson was an underachiever with good size who could learn from free agent Joe Jurevicius. The Browns filled five starting position plus two kickers in free agency, but is Charlie Frye ready at quarterback?

Grade: B

Bengals

Joseph should help immediately, at least as a nickel back. Safeties are a bigger need, but they added Dexter Jackson in free agency. Whitworth is a huge mauler who might help at guard until right tackle Willie Anderson gets old. Protecting quarterback Carson Palmer is an obvious priority. Rucker adds some pass rush. Peko will help bulk up 20th run defense, as will free agent veteran Sam Adams, who helped coach Marvin Lewis win in Baltimore.

Grade: C

Ravens

What Ray Lewis wants Ray Lewis gets. The Ravens even had to pay a sixth-rounder to move up one slot and land the giant Ngata. If Ngata is lazy, Lewis will run up his ample behind. Chester is very athletic for interior offensive lineman. Pittman is tough. Wide receiver Williams could be a steal, but draft won't be a success until Tennessee quarterback Steve McNair gets released and becomes a Raven or free agent Kerry Collins signs.

Grade: B

AFC SOUTH

Texans

The Texans had the 30th ranked offense, so why didn't they take Reggie Bush? Because they had the 31st defense. You can never second-guess a great defensive end. Williams has the size and even sounds like Reggie White. Now he must play better than Reggie Bush. Ryans also will start right away at linebacker and Spencer and Winston will push to start on a porous offensive line that must learn to better protect David Carr without Bush. If Williams gets booed, how might it affect him?

Grade: B

Titans

Young will be coached by Norm Chow, former USC offensive coordinator who tutored Matt Leinart. Titans see second coming of Steve McNair, who sat and learned for two years but probably won't stick around to help Young, who by most accounts will require time. In White, coach Jeff Fisher might have landed the steal of the draft. If he's lazy, falling to the second-round may wake him up. He's the prototype pro running back. The question is whether either can help a 4-12 team much as rookies.

Grade: C

Colts

General manager Bill Polian, who found Thurman Thomas in round two in Buffalo and drafted Edgerrin James, knows running backs, so watch out for Addai. He can block, a prerequisite in the Colts' offense. Undersized and competitive Jennings and Keiaho are typical Tony Dungy-style defenders. The team's main offseason acquisition was getting New England placekicker Adam Vinatieri, who might be even better kicking indoors.

Grade: C

Jaguars

Lewis should beat out Kyle Brady at tight end or at least provide immediate receiving help, giving quarterback Byron Leftwich a 6-6, 260-pound target. UCLA teammate Drew is a foot shorter but will help in returns and provide a nice change of pace at running back, where Fred Taylor turned 30. Illinois State's Hawkins is a transfer from Purdue with outstanding production.

Grade: C

AFC EAST

Jets

Ferguson and Mangold fill big needs as the young Jets' front office starts building the old-fashioned way-on the offensive line. After passing on quarterbacks Matt Leinart and Jay Cutler, Clemens becomes a nice addition for a second-rounder who flourished for former Bears' offensive coordinator Gary Crowton. Brad Smith interesting as ex-quarterback who will be tried at receiver. Washington good depth behind Curtis Martin.

Grade: A

Bills

Whitner is good but got picked surprisingly high. With Youboty joining veteran Nate Clements, the Bills have three ex-Buckeye defensive backs. McCargo fits into Dick Jauron's "Cover 2" style and Bears are happy Bills traded up for him. Jauron and general manager Marv Levy know they won't have a chance until they improve their 31st run defense. But passing up both quarterbacks Matt Leinart and Jay Cutler puts additional pressure on J.P. Losman to step up.

Grade: C

Dolphins

Coach Nick Saban loves SEC players he recruited and coached against at LSU. Allen is a risk because of a hip injury that turned off some teams, but he has the talent to start immediately in a secondary that needs rebuilding. Could be a safety or cornerback. Their second-rounder went to Minnesota for quarterback Daunte Culpepper, not a bad second pick. Hagan caught a lot of passes, but won't start.

Grade: C

Patriots

More weapons for Tom Brady are just what the Patriots need. Maroney can spell Corey Dillon if he doesn't beat him out. Jackson was the fastest top receiver in the draft and unlike some teams, coach Bill Belichick loves to collect tight ends. Thomas joins recent No. 1 draft choices at the position, Ben Watson and Daniel Graham. Mills is more of an H-back. Watch for Gostkowski. If the Patriots can find Adam Vinatieri, they know kickers.

Grade: B

AFC WEST

Raiders

Huff fills a need after Charles Woodson went to Packers. He could play either safety or cornerback and the Raiders need help both places. Matt Leinart doesn't have the strong arm Raiders like, so they will live with Saints castoff Aaron Brooks. Howard is more athletic than instinctive but the Raiders are desperate for linebackers. McQuistan and Bing are more of backup types.

Grade: C

Broncos

Traded up to get Cutler, who gets to go to a good team the way Ben Roethlisberger did with Pittsburgh two years ago. Former quarterbacks-turned commentators Ron Jaworski, Steve Young and Phil Simms all liked Cutler most. Broncos also sent second choice to Packers for receiver Javon Walker, a big addition if healthy. They also added three other receivers including tight end Scheffler on an offense already ranked No. 5. The Broncos averaged 25 points a game and want more.

Grade: A

Chiefs

Hali is a good player and better story as he seeks to bring his mother from Liberia after being separated for years. He will help the Chiefs' pass rush, which had only 29 sacks. Pollard is a big-hitting safety who will need discipline from coach Herm Edwards, who knows how to handle defensive backs. Croyle has had injury problems but is a good athlete who can learn under Trent Green and has the luxury of time and an excellent offensive line.

Grade: C

Chargers

A gambler's draft, Cromartie would have been a top 10 pick had he not missed the entire season with injury. McNeill has more size than skill and might be too tall at nearly 6-8. Whitehurst is the son of former Packer quarterback David. He has talent, but his performance was up and down. The Chargers have to hope their 2004 draft decision to acquire quarterback Philip Rivers can produce results this year after losing Drew Brees to New Orleans.

Grade: C

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