They say grading a draft only days after its completion is fruitless and absurd. But we do it anyway, mainly because there’s a demand for the analysis, but also because I believe there’s a way to evaluate a draft based on needs addressed and related circumstances that have little to do with the unpredictable futures of the players selected. These grades will likely change based on injuries, overachievement and underachievement. But there were still myriad situations on Thursday, Friday and Saturday where teams clearly either just missed on players they were targeting or hit on a pick they were praying would land in their lap.
That’s how you grade a draft immediately. Let’s attempt to do so with the four teams that reside in the NFC East, keeping our focus on needs addressed, rather than on the perceived quality of the players chosen.
Because let’s face it: When it comes to the latter, we’re all pretty much clueless.
Dallas Cowboys: A
Realistically, if Morris Claiborne turns into a star, this draft will be a success. If not, it’ll likely be a failure. Dallas gave up a second-round pick in order to move up eight spots and select arguably the best defensive player in this year’s class. Considering how often players selected at or around the 45 spot never pan out, that’s a smart gamble in my books. With Claiborne, Brandon Carr and (for now) Mike Jenkins at corner, the Cowboys have turned a weakness into a strength this offseason.
And while they might have reached a tad for safety Matt Johnson in the fourth round, there’s a belief that Johnson could have a huge upside in the NFL, making that secondary even stronger. Dallas didn’t want to risk waiting for Johnson, a four-year starter at Eastern Washington with 17 picks, and so they used a compensatory pick on him. It’s a small gamble, but another admirable one.
Dallas took some heat for not aggressively addressing the pass rush, but with DeMarcus Ware and Anthony Spencer on board, they only need complementary pieces in the front seven. Tyrone Crawford and Kyle Wilber might not be stars-in-the-making, but as third- and fourth-round picks, they could become important parts up front.
While I’m a bit disappointed that they spent no picks on the interior of the offensive line to help DeMarco Murray and Felix Jones, the defense had to be the focus in this draft. Tony Romo is coming off his best season as a pro, and he should have Miles Austin in better shape, along with a healthy Murray, from the get-go. I love that the Cowboys spent their first four picks sprucing up a defense that was ranked bottom-10 across the board against the pass in 2011.
New York Giants: B
Some will say that the world champion’s main job is to simply address any holes left in free agency and bolster any potential weaknesses. That’s what the Giants did, drafting running back David Wilson to replace Brandon Jacobs, wide receiver Rueben Randle to replace Mario Manningham, cornerback Jayron Hosley to replace Aaron Ross and tight end Adrien Robinson to help replace the injured Jake Ballard.
Fine, but maybe that was too defensive. After all, the rest of the division was trading up to get better, while the Giants sat back and accepted something close to the status quo.
Luck wasn’t on their side, either, as the Wilson pick might have been born out of panic after the team missed out on Doug Martin at the bottom of the first round. The key to fixing that running game might be the offensive line, but the G-Men didn’t address that unit until they took tackles in Rounds 4 and 6, and neither Brandon Mosley nor Matt McCants are expected to see the field much in 2012.
But Hosley could contribute quickly, and if Terrell Thomas can stay healthy, those two will bolster a secondary that struggled for much of 2011. And the athletic Robinson has the potential to become a stud, which is convenient since he also helps add depth at a position of need.
Philadelphia Eagles: A-
Everything seemed to fall nicely into place for the Eagles, who I’d argue have the most talented roster, top to bottom, in the NFL.
Moving up from 15 to 12 to select Fletcher Cox, who will likely provide an immediate upgrade to the front seven, was absolutely worth giving up a fourth-rounder and a sixth-rounder. But I think their strongest pick might’ve been in Round 2, when Cal linebacker Mychal Kendricks fell into their lap. Kendricks is exactly the type of player the Eagles need to team up with DeMeco Ryans at the second level of the defense. He’s a sure tackler — remember all of those tackling problems the Eagles had last year? — and can rush the passer as well excel in coverage.
Then Philly got even more value 13 picks later when it brought the Vinny Curry slide to an end, giving the Eagles three highly-touted front-seven cogs in the first two rounds. That’s exactly what the doctor ordered for a team that might’ve only required a few tweaks. Throw in fourth-round corner Brandon Boykin, who could have the ability to replace Asante Samuel on the cheap, and Philadelphia clinches an A- grade.
The reason it’s not an A+ or an A? The third-round pick on Nick Foles was weird. Does anyone see him replacing Michael Vick down the road? If not, it wasn’t worth a weeknight pick. I’m also a bit surprised they didn’t take a safety after not improving the position in free agency. That and the offensive line are the two biggest areas of concern now, but it should be noted that the line got better as the season progressed last year. There’ll be a lot of pressure on Demetress Bell this year, but fifth-round Purdue product Dennis Kelly at least adds some depth.
Washington Redskins: C-
I admire their aggressiveness, but I’m not in love with the decision to mortgage the future for Robert Griffin III. There’s just too much uncertainty when it comes to quarterbacks at the top of the draft. Consider that in the last 40 years, all three times in which quarterbacks were selected 1-2, one of those signal callers turned into a bust. Because of that trade, the Redskins didn’t have their 39th overall pick, which would have been useful to address their offensive line issues.
Instead, they spent the remainder of the draft simply adding depth. Guards who aren’t ready to start in Rounds 3 and 5, a quarterback who is supposed to become a career backup and an outside linebacker who’ll be buried on the depth chart in Round 4.
This is a team that needed starters, but instead added insurance for unspectacular players with more unspectacularity (my word, don’t steal it). A team coming off of three consecutive losing seasons doesn’t have the luxury to draft backup quarterbacks and other security blankets in the early rounds.
Of course, if Griffin becomes a superstar, none of this will really matter.