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After the NFL Draft, people are inclined to give out grades and I think it’s tough to grade a draft when you haven’t even seen anyone play in the NFL yet. The best way to go about it is to crown a few winners and losers, based on which drafts you like the best and who filled needs. It takes a good 3-5 years to amply grade a draft, not 3-5 days. There were a lot of good teams that drafted very well that didn’t quite make the cut; these are the five drafts that I liked the most in alphabetical order:
The Baltimore Ravens had a rough offseason, losing three of the starting four in their secondary, as well as three linebackers. To revamp the defense they signed Michael Huff, Elvis Dumervil and Rolando McClain. McClain was recently arrested and there is a chance his contract with the Ravens will be terminated. In order to fill some of these holes, the Ravens targeted defensive draft picks and a lot of them. The Ravens needed a safety to replace Bernard Pollard and Matt Elam will step into the strong safety role. Like Pollard, Elam is a hard hitter and will make receivers that come across the middle pay, he’s not great in coverage, but he’s a great tackler.
Next up they moved up in the 2nd round to take Arthur Brown a very skilled linebacker that could have gone in the first round. Picking Brandon Williams will give them more depth at nose tackle, just like drafting John Simon and Kapron Lewis-Moore will help on the outside. Simon will probably stand up and play rush outside linebacker in the 3-4. Ricky Wagner was another good pick to help out the offensive line depth, and could be a potential starter down the road. The only improvement they could have made was draft a receiver to replace Anquan Boldin earlier, but they did a fantastic job revamping the defense.
Green Bay Packers
I always hate when a Lions inner-division rival drafts well and this is exactly what the Packers did. They needed big defensive end to play in the 3-4 defense and Datone Jones is going to do just that. Jones will help take pressure off their pass rushers, i.e. Clay Matthews and Nick Perry, and will allow them to make more plays, something that should scare opposing quarterbacks.
Another big need the Packers had was at runningback, so what did they do? Picked up two of the top five running backs in the entire draft class. Eddie Lacy fell to them because of injury concerns and then they added Johnathan Franklin, a highly underrated back, as insurance. Lacy was thought of as the best running back in the draft and discussed as a first round pick during a good portion of the draft process. David Bakhtiari and J.C. Tretter adds depth to their offensive line which has struggled with injuries, and Micah Hyde is another underrated cornerback who will add depth.
An intriguing pick is Charles Johnson, a wide receiver out of Grand Valley. Johnson is a raw physical specimen who ran a 4.35 40-yard-dash at 6’2″ and has a 39 1/2″ vertical leap. Johnson will have plenty of time to develop with the Packers current receiving core and he could turn out to be a steal.
The Minnesota Vikings had a highly successful draft, which again is unfortunate for the Detroit Lions. Yes, they took a huge risk trading a 2nd, 3rd, 4th and 7th for the Patriots 1st rounder to draft Cordarrelle Patterson, but it was worth it. Sharrif Floyd fell down the draft boards into their laps and allows them to get some youth infused into their aging defensive line. Floyd will great on their defensive line next to Jared Allen and he will be a disruptive force in the middle.
Xavier Rhodes is the taller type of cornerback that they like and he will be able to replace Antoine Winfield and will start immediately. Cordarrelle Patterson is going to need some time to develop into a better route runner, but he will have an instant impact in the return game and can stretch the field on the outside. Patterson may not be able to run a lot of routes, but him running in a straight line with his speed will be enough to back the safeties off the line of scrimmage. This will keep the safeties out of the box and give Adrian Peterson more room to run, a very scary thought.
Then they drafted two solid linebackers in Gerald Hodges and Michael Mauti, to help shore up the depth, and Hodges could even start in the middle. Drafting a punter in the 5th round almost made me knock this draft into the honorable mention part of the post, but they at least took the best punter available in the draft and filled their four most important needs with their first four picks. When you’re a playoff team with three first round picks and you fill your four needs with your first four picks, you can afford to waste an earlier pick on the best punter in the draft…I guess.
San Francisco 49ers
When a team like the 49ers had a ton of draft picks, you know they will make moves and make successful ones. The 49ers may have taken Eric Reid earlier than most teams would have, but they had the picks and could afford to trade up and ensure they got the guy they wanted. Reid will be used to replace Dashon Goldson at the free safety spot.
After Reid, the 49ers got a steal by taking Tank Carradine in the second round. Carradine would have been a first round pick if he didn’t tear his ACL up so close to the end of the season. Carradine will stand up as 3-4 outside linebacker and was a great value pick, and the same goes for Corey Lemonier. Both Carradine and Lemonier will be great situational pass rushers and will certainly provide depth to their front seven. Vance McDonald will replace Delanie Walker and will be the second tight end behind Vernon Davis. McDonald is a very good blocker and will be a crucial part of the running game, even if he doesn’t have a huge impact in the passing game to start the season.
The 49ers then stepped up their game even more and continued to get good value with their picks of Quinton Patton, Marcus Lattimore and Quinton Dial. Quinton Patton was thought of as a 2nd round prospect who fell, and his hard work will make him a Harbaugh favorite. Patton isn’t an elite athlete, but he is a great route runner that can get separation. I figured a great team would get Lattimore, because they would have the ammunition to take the risk. The 49ers don’t have a need at running back, but they can let him have a full year to heal and not rush him back. They essentially got the best runningback in the entire draft for a 4th round pick, provided Lattimore can come back from this injury. Dial will add great depth to their defensive line and will help spell Justin Smith, who was a key part of the 49ers defense last season.
The Rams had my favorite draft of the whole weekend. They got the most explosive playmaker in the draft with Tavon Austin and then helped their linebacking core by taking a calculated risk on Alec Ogletree. Should they be worried about Ogletree? Not after they kept Janoris Jenkins in line (mostly) and he was up for defensive rookie of the year. Ogletree is one of the best coverage middle linebackers in the entire draft who can make a lot of plays on the field if he can stay out of trouble off the field. Austin will give Sam Bradford an offensive weapon to work with and he will line up in a ton of different places on the field.
The Rams then added TJ McDonald, an underrated safety out of USC and Austin’s teammate Stedman Bailey in the third round. I love that they got both West Virginia receivers, both are studs and they both know how to pay together. The instant chemistry they will have is going to pay serious dividends for the Rams. The only reason Stedman didn’t get drafted higher is because he doesn’t have elite measurables. Bailey is 5’10” and ran a 4.52 40-yard-dash, so many think he’s not tall enough for his speed or fast enough for his height to be drafted early. They completely ignored his production, route running and his hands, all of which are crucial to evaluating a wide receiver and show Bailey is better than just a 3rd round pick.
Adding Barrett Jones in the 4th was another clutch pick. Jones can play any position on the line and won a National Championship with Alabama at tackle, guard and center. His stock fell because he had surgery on his lisfranc injury, an injury that has ended many players careers. Zac Stacy will give them some more depth at running back, and Stacy was definitely one of the more underrated running backs in the draft. I’m not saying Stacy will be the next Alfred Morris, but don’t be shocked if he contributes next year. After all, Stacy did average 5.5 yards per carry playing for Vanderbilt against the college football elite in the SEC.
Honorable Mention: Arizona Cardinals, Houston Texans, Philadelphia Eagles, Pittsburgh Steelers, Tennessee Titans
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