Draft Grades – 2012

Draft Grades: Jacksonville Jaguars

I feel like I should apologize to Jacksonville Jaguars fans for GM Gene Smith. He continues to make a mockery of the NFL Draft. In his first few years at the helm Smith showed an inexplicable obsession with small school prospects. And while that phase seems to have passed, he’s moved on to 3rd-round punters and 28-year-old D-II players.

The Jags draft got off to a solid start with the selection of Justin Blackmon. They needed to upgrade the talent around Blaine Gabbert, and Blackmon will immediately jump to the top of their depth chart at receiver. If he lives up to expectations, Gabbert’s numbers should improve dramatically.

I also like the selection of Andre Branch, who fills their need for a pass rusher. Branch is still developing, but he’s in a good situation in Jacksonville where he can be a part of the rotation without having to stay on the field for every play. If they bring him along slowly as a rookie, he should be ready to be an impact player in 2013.

After two solid picks to start the draft, it went downhill in a hurry. Bryan Anger was far and away the best punter in this year’s draft class, but the 3rd round? It was a reach that could potentially be justified by a contending team with few holes to fill, but the Jaguars are in the midst of a full-fledged rebuilding process. There is no possible way for Gene Smith to justify this selection.

Brandon Marshall adds some depth at linebacker, but there were much better players on the board, such as Terrell Manning, who would have filled that same need.

Mike Harris was an odd pick in the 6th round. The Jaguars would have been well served to add a legitimate starting cornerback in the 1st or 2nd round, but depth at the position is actually a strength. Harris is undersized and, even at Florida State, was limited to primarily playing the nickel corner role.

Jeris Pendleton is a 28-year-old from a Division-II school. The Jaguars will use him at nose tackle, and he could potentially be forced into a starting role early if Terrance Knighton isn’t ready for the start of the season. It’s an experiment that could go horribly wrong, and they don’t appear to have a backup plan in place.

Gene Smith has officially taken over the Al Davis role as most unpredictable general manager on draft day. And while most of his picks leave much to be desired, this should still prove to be an average draft class for the Jaguars. Blackmon and Branch are two quality additions, but the lack of help from the late rounds means there’s no margin for error with those two.

Posted on by Ryan McCrystal in Draft Grades - 2012, Jaguars Leave a comment

Draft Grades: Indianapolis Colts

The Colts clinched a solid grade from this draft class the minute the regular season ended. But new GM Ryan Grigson took their development to a new level with a strong draft class which should allow this team to emerge as contenders again in the not-so-distant future.

Obviously the addition of Andrew Luck was franchise-changing move. He’ll step into a starting role from day one, and should be the face of this franchise for the next 10 years and beyond. He won’t right the ship in one season, but he has all the tools necessary to make this team a Super Bowl contender again within the next three to five seasons.

I’m not as high on Coby Fleener as most, but this was a no-brainer for the Colts. Every young quarterback needs a go-to receiver, and who better to play that role for Luck than his college teammate and close friend?

Some have criticized the Colts for drafting two tight ends, but Fleener and Dwayne Allen are very different and both should play significant roles. Fleener is really more of an oversized receiver, while Allen is more of a traditional tight end. The Colts offense will likely feature sets with Fleener lined up in the slot and Allen on the line.

T.Y. Hilton is an explosive deep threat and should also contribute on special teams. He’s not a No. 1 or No. 2 receiver, but he’ll be a weapon that opposing defenses need to account for at all times.

Josh Chapman is a prototypical nose tackle. As with most 320-pounders, stamina is an issue, but he should see the field for 20-25 snaps per game even if he doesn’t win a starting job as a rookie.

Vick Ballard will likely fight with Deji Karim for the third-string running back job. His upside is limited due to a lack of explosiveness, but he could be an effective short-yardage back.

LaVon Brazill is an intriguing developmental prospect. Don’t expect to see much of him early in his career, but the Colts could keep him around as a 5th receiver and develop him for the future.

Justin Anderson is a physical lineman who could provide depth at guard and right tackle. And if he impresses early, he could push Joe Reitz for playing time.

Tim Fugger played defensive end at Vanderbilt and should be a nice fit in the Colts new hybrid defense. He has the athleticism to play both end and linebacker depending on the defensive set.

Chandler Harnish, Mr. Irrelevant, will compete with Trevor Vittatoe for the third-string quarterback job.

The Colts left a lot of holes unfilled, mainly on the defensive side of the football, but I love the fact that they surrounded Luck with a ton of talent. Too many teams address their need for a quarterback and only halfheartedly fill the holes around him. The Colts are clearly making sure that Luck is given every opportunity to succeed.

Posted on by Ryan McCrystal in Colts, Draft Grades - 2012 Leave a comment

Draft Grades: Houston Texans

This draft was an opportunity for the Houston Texans to solidify a few holes in an effort to make a deep playoff run in 2012. And despite spending just one pick in the first two rounds, the Texans did a decent job addressing needs without reaching to fill those holes.

Whitney Mercilus will help ease the pain of losing Mario Williams, and should excel in Wade Phillips’ defense. At this stage in his career, Mercilus is a pure pass rusher, but that’s all the Texans need from him in 2012. He’ll share time with Brooks Reed and Connor Barwin and may only be used in pass rush situations early in his career.

DeVier Posey was a forgotten man in the draft process, mainly due to the fact he missed much of the 2011 season due his suspensions at Ohio State. But Posey is a fairly polished product and has the potential to step into the third receiver role in Houston.

Brandon Brooks is a massive interior lineman who has the potential to be a dominant run blocker. However, he’s still very raw and has limited experience against top competition. Additionally, his weight has always been an issue, so the Texans will have to monitor his development closely.

Ben Jones played center at Georgia, but I have to wonder if the Texans plan to move him to guard. The Texans recently signed Chris Myers to a four-year contract extension, giving little hope to Jones of stealing away the starting job anytime soon.

Keshawn Martin fits perfectly in Houston as a slot receiver, and should see fairly significant playing time in three and four wide receiver sets.

Jared Crick could be a steal for the Texans. He’s a prototypical 3-4 end and should excel in the Texans defensive scheme. He could steal a starting job from Antonio Smith sooner rather than later.

I don’t have a problem with taking a kicker in the 5th round, but Randy Bullock should not have been the first kicker off the board. Blair Walsh and Greg Zuerlein were ranked ahead of Bullock on every board I saw, including my own. Bullock was my 7th-rated kicker.

Nick Mondek offers little value other than as a backup. The Texans will hope he can demonstrate enough versatility in training camp to win a job, but he’ll have to compete with Derek Newton for a roster spot.

Overall, this was a very solid haul for the Texans. They should get immediate productive from Mercilus and Posey, and have some solid developmental prospects in Brooks, Jones and Crick. This could prove to be one of Rick Smith’s stronger draft classes.

Posted on by Ryan McCrystal in Draft Grades - 2012, Texans Leave a comment

Draft Grades: Minnesota Vikings

When reports surfaced that the Minnesota Vikings were interested in Morris Claiborne with the 3rd pick, I was worried about the future of the franchise. Fortunately for Vikings fans, Rick Spielman got it right, and put together a reasonably solid draft class.

Matt Kalil was absolutely the right choice, and the fact that they picked up some extra draft picks from Cleveland was just icing on the cake. He’ll anchor their offensive line for the next decade, hopefully protecting Christian Ponder’s blind side.

I hate when rebuilding teams trade up in the draft, and the issue is compounded when they then reach for a specific position of need, which is exactly what the Vikings did by moving up to select Harrison Smith. I like Smith, but he’s not a 1st-round talent. He has the ability to start, but he won’t be a difference maker at the next level. I think Smith needs to play strong safety to be effective, but it sounds like the Vikings will be using him at free safety.

Josh Robinson was nice pick in the 3rd round and should compete for a starting job immediatelly. His impressive showing at the combine made him slightly overrated, but his speed should allow him to be a valuable cover corner against some of the league’s faster receivers. He’s a solid second option at cornerback.

I like the selection of Jarius Wright in the 4th round. He was one of the best deep threats still on the board and should be able to contribute in that capacity from day one.

Rhett Ellison is a fullback/tight end ‘tweener but I’m not sure how he fits in Minnesota. The Vikings already have Kyle Rudolph and John Carlson at tight end and recently signed fullback Jerome Felton. Ellison may have to fight just to stay on the roster.

Greg Childs was a great sleeper pickup in the late 4th round. If healthy, he could have been a 2nd-round selection, but injuries concerns caused him to plummet down draft boards. He has more upside than Wright, but is definitely a bigger risk.

Robert Blanton played cornerback at Notre Dame but is simply too slow to play the position at the next level, and may even be too slow to play safety. But he’ll be given an opportunity to win the starting strong safety job, and may actually be the favorite heading into camp.

Blair Walsh is a talented kicker but is coming off a terrible season. There was no reason his name should have been called before the late 7th round at the earliest. I don’t like his chances of beating out Ryan Longwell for the starting job, but he could catch on elsewhere if he can put his 2011 season behind him.

Audie Cole was a great 7th-round pick. He has the ability to provide some depth at inside or weak-side linebacker and I like his chances of making the final roster cuts.

Trevor Guyton may have been my favorite 7th-round pick of the draft. I had a late 4th-round grade on Guyton and I think he could be a quality backup at right defensive end or as a three-technique tackle. He has a potential to be one of the better steals of the draft.

While I don’t agree with every move the Vikings made, this was still a solid draft class. Rick Spielman did a nice job finding good value at all points of the draft and may have come away with at least three immediate starters (Kalil, Smith, Blanton).

Posted on by Ryan McCrystal in Draft Grades - 2012, Vikings 3 Comments

Draft Grades: Green Bay Packers

As good as the Green Bay Packers looked at times in 2011, they had some significant holes to fill this offeason. Ted Thompson elected to stay quiet through most of free agency, but came up big with another strong draft class which should help in their quest for another Super Bowl title.

I was somewhat surprised to see Nick Perry still on the board at No. 28. While he would have benefited from returning to USC for another year, his raw talent is undeniable. Green Bay is the perfect place for Perry, who won’t feel the pressure to perform immediately. He will likely start from day one, but he won’t be the center of attention on a defense featuring Clay Matthews and A.J. Hawk. It’s a great place for him to learn and develop, while also providing some immediate help.

Jerel Worthy could be a steal in the 2nd round, but we’ll have to see how the Packers use him. The Packers like oversized, space-eating defensive ends in their 3-4 defense, and Worthy is capable of filling that role. But he’ll need to stay in shape, because he’s just a few big meals away from looking more like a nose tackle.

I also like the selection of Casey Hayward, who could step into a starting role at some point this year. The 2nd round may have been early for Hayward, but the Packers needed to add an instant-impact player in the secondary.

Mike Daniels is more of a traditional 3-4 end, at least compared to Worthy. His upside may be somewhat limited, but he has the potential to provide some depth in the front seven.

Jerron McMillian was a reach in the 4th round. There was very little talent at the strong safety position in this draft and it felt like the Packers reached to add depth at a position of need. It’s an acceptable strategy in some situations, but the Packers got carried away with this one. Due to the lack of depth at the position he should make the final roster, but he’s a purely developmental prospect who offers little immediate value.

Terrell Manning could prove to be one of the great steals of this draft. He’s an explosive sideline-to-sideline linebacker who should excel at inside linebacker in Green Bay. The depth chart is crowded, so he may not see the field much early, but he definitely has a future in the league.

Andrew Datko has battled injuries which contributed to his fall the 7th round, but he’s well worth the risk at this point in the draft. The Packers will likely groom him behind Bryan Bulaga at right tackle.

I’m not as high on B.J. Coleman as some, but I can’t argue with the selection in the 7th round. He clearly has the measurables of an NFL quarterback and will have the opportunity to be brought along slowly in Green Bay. It’s a good situation for Coleman, and a nice opportunity for Green Bay to develop a prospect behind Rodgers.

Overall, this was one of the better draft classes in the league, something which is becoming common for Ted Thompson. Few GMs in the league understand the importance of finding value in the late rounds better than Thompson, who consistently plucks future starters from the scrap heap late in the draft.

Posted on by Ryan McCrystal in Draft Grades - 2012, Packers 1 Comment