After a few days of reflection over the NFL Draft, it's time to hand out grades for every team's performance. Teams should be graded based on how they addressed their needs, not just on the quality of players they drafted. In an age of uncertainty, the draft should be the vehicle to address needs because teams have no idea what limitations will exist in free agency going forward. On to the grades...
Arizona Cardinals: B
It’s nice to see a team not fall into the trend of drafting an unworthy quarterback in the first round despite their need for a future franchise signal caller. The Cardinals seem ready to sign Marc Bulger as a stop-gap and will look to find another QB at a later date. They drafted arguably the best player in the draft in Patrick Peterson, who provides the team with two great CBs. Ryan Williams will help them deal with Beanie Wells’s constant injuries and Tim Hightower’s lack of talent. Robert Housler provides the pass-catching tight-end they lack. Sam Acho was a nice find at the beginning of the fourth round for pass-rushing purposes. Quan Sturdivant in the sixth round has tremendous value.
Atlanta Falcons: B-
The Falcons made the biggest splash of the draft by trading numerous picks to move up and select Julio Jones. While that makes the Falcons' offense nice for a game of Madden or fantasy football, it doesn’t help a defense that gave up 48 points to the Packers in the playoffs. The pass rush and secondary weren’t addressed, but the linebacking core sees an improvement with Akeem Dent, who should be a physical force on early downs. Quizz Rodgers should find a purpose with his playmaking ability. Matt Bosher will be a name for fantasy kicking purposes as Matt Bryant’s 36 years old and a free agent.
Baltimore Ravens: B+
Unlike Atlanta, Baltimore actually addressed their needs in this draft. Their secondary was exposed plenty last year and Jimmy Smith, assuming he can stay away from Marlo Stanfield, Avon Barksdale, and the drugged-up streets of West Baltimore, will definitely help that. The Falcons also lacked a home-run presence at WR, so Torrey Smith should fit in nicely with Anquan Boldin, Derrick Mason, and newly drafted Tandon Doss. Jah Reid has great upside at offensive tackle, a position where Baltimore was hit with injury last year. Tyrod Taylor makes for an interesting selection to back up Joe Flacco and might find his way into some special offensive packages.
Buffalo Bills: B+
Like Arizona, Buffalo didn’t reach for a quarterback despite having a high pick. They realize Ryan Fitzpatrick can do enough for the time being and it was their defense that was hammered last year. That defense will be a lot better off with Marcel Dareus providing major talent and position flexibility on the defensive line. Aaron Williams didn’t have the best junior season in college, but he’s got the raw talent to grow into a solid cover corner. Kevin Sheppard should find an immediate home in the starting linebacking group. Defensive picks in three of the last five rounds show that was their focus over the weekend.
Carolina Panthers: C-
When you go 2-14, there’s obviously more issues than at QB. The Panthers had a unique opportunity to draft a high-end player at a need position and return right back to the top of the draft next season. Unfortunately they didn’t take Marcel Dareus, Patrick Peterson, or A.J.Green and instead took Cam Newton. All weekend we listened to people saying Newton has physical tools but needs a lot of work. How do you spend the #1 pick in the draft on someone who requires that much work? While I’m sure Mel Kiper thought Green should’ve been the pick so that his boy Jimmy Clausen could get another chance, Green could’ve looked good with Andrew Luck being a possibility in next year’s draft. The defense was helped with the selections of Terrell McClain, Sione Fua, and Brandon Hogan, but that doesn’t sugarcoat the mistake made with the first pick.
Chicago Bears: B-
The Bears might’ve been protected from themselves when their trade to move up with Baltimore in the first round didn’t pan out. Instead of getting the WR they coveted in Jonathan Baldwin, they ended up with Gabe Carimi to help an offensive line that looked like a sieve last year. Stephen Paea will serve as a nice replacement for Tommy Harris, who fits nicely into the Tampa-2 defense. I’m not sure why they selected Nathan Enderle in the 5th round when their were still needs at WR and S, but I guess they felt they saw enough of their mediocre backup QBs last year to realize they were in need of a possible upgrade.
Cincinnati Bengals: A-
I’ve got a bet going with a friend of mine on who’s going to be better between A.J. Green and Julio Jones, so I can tell you I’ve got something behind my opinion that Green will end up being a great receiver. With Ochocinco and Carson Palmer asking out of town, the Bengals will give Green and Andy Dalton a chance to fill that void. Dalton was drafted appropriately in the second round, so the Bengals won’t feel as much pressure to make sure he’s successful. Dontay Moch could be a dynamic pass-rusher for years to come. Clint Boling was reasonably good value in the fourth round because of his skill set and ability to move across various positions on the offensive line.
Cleveland Browns: C+
I think Greg Little has the chance to be a good receiver, but there’s no doubt in my mind that Julio Jones will be an extremely dynamic one. The Browns needed to give Colt McCoy a major weapon, but instead took a mass of picks to give Jones to Atlanta. Somewhere young Colt is still crying. Don’t get me wrong, Phil Talyor and Jabaal Sheard will provide major assistance to the defensive line, but you only get to draft a top-10 receiver so often (although the Browns may end up having more chances than most). Jordan Cameron has the chance to provide Colt with a nice safety blanket at TE, while Owen Marecic will lead the Hillis mash unit for many years.