Truth be told, it takes a good three years before you can make a definitive judgment on an NFL draft. So we’ll admit that declaring winners and losers before the players even step onto the field can be risky business. But here’s how we see things shaking out:
Oakland: Can’t remember the last time we put the Raiders into the win column after a draft, given Al Davis’ spotty record in recent years. But give the man credit: He had what appeared to be a splendid draft by acquiring solid prospects like Alabama linebacker Rolando McClain in the first round, defensive tackle Lamarr Houston in the second, and tackle Jared Veldheer in the third. Heck, he even got Maryland tackle Bruce Campbell, projected as a potential first-round pick, in the fourth. Not only that, but he pulled off a trade to get Redskins quarterback Jason Campbell, who might unseat JaMarcus Russell, one of the biggest draft-day busts in NFL history.
Cleveland: New football czar Mike Holmgren did a masterful job at staying patient throughout the draft. Even when it seemed he needed to spend a high pick on a quarterback, Holmgren kept selecting into the strength of the draft with cornerback Joe Haden in the first round, and safety T.J. Ward and running back Montarrio Hardesty in the second. Even then, quarterback Colt McCoy was there in the third, and Holmgren got the Texas quarterback. Well done, sir.
New England: Bill Belichick had a host of needs coming into the draft, and he addressed them all, with first-round corner Devin McCourty, and second-rounders Rob Gronkowski, defensive end Jermaine Cunningham and linebacker Brandon Spikes. All should see playing time this year. There’s a slight risk in taking McCourty over defensive end Jared Odrick of Penn State, who went a slot lower to Miami, but Belichick trusted his instincts on that one.
Carolina: It isn’t often you assign a winning grade to a team that doesn’t have a first-round pick. But the Panthers, who dealt this year’s first-round pick in a bid to move up for Florida State defensive end Everette Brown last year, get the nod. Badly in need of quarterback help after sending Jake Delhomme packing, the Panthers got lucky with Jimmy Clausen falling to them in the second round. And they added even more depth at the position with wildcat quarterback Armanti Edwards of Appalachian State and Cincinnati’s Tony Pike.
St. Louis: Hard not to like a draft when you get a franchise quarterback like Sam Bradford (pictured) at No. 1 overall, a rising tackle like Rodger Saffold in the second and a solid cover corner in Jerome Murphy in the third. And how about fourth-round receiver Mardy Gilyard, an underrated receiver out of Cincinnati. Give the Rams credit for not getting greedy and trading out of their top spots. They stood pat, and they won.
Denver: Like a lot of NFL scouts, we happen to be skeptical about Florida quarterback Tim Tebow’s upside. We’re especially skeptical when a team like the Broncos trades up in the first round to get Tebow, when there was a strong likelihood he would drop to the second round. So Josh McDaniels brings in yet another quarterback — his third in less than two years. And first-round receiver Demaryius Thomas? A good player, but not as good as Dez Bryant.
San Diego: Ok, we understand the need to replace LaDainian Tomlinson at running back. But with only one sure-fire back in this year’s draft — C.J. Spiller — already gone, it seemed like a long way to go — and a lot to give up — for the Chargers to move up from 28 to 12 to get Ryan Matthews of Fresno State. He figures to be a good back, but he’ll have to be great to justify that bold move up the board.
Buffalo: No quibbling with Spiller in the first round. Terrific player. But with a glaring need at quarterback, the Bills bypassed Colt McCoy and Jimmy Clausen. Not only that, but they essentially ignored the other glaring weakness — the offensive line — until the fifth round, settling for Ed Wang of Virginia Tech.
Jacksonville: They pulled off the surprise of the first round, bypassing the big-name defensive linemen for end Tyson Alualu of California. We’re not saying Alualu can’t be a good player. But with prominent linemen like Derrick Morgan, Jason Pierre-Paul, Dan Williams and Brandon Graham still on the board, it was a head scratcher nonetheless. Especially because Jacksonville didn’t have a second-round pick.
Philadelphia: We’re normally in favor of the Eagles’ draft-day moves, especially when they wheel and deal to acquire more picks. Not this time. The Eagles came into the draft with 10 picks, including five in the first 87 selections. But they only wound up with three picks in the first three rounds. Curious strategy, especially when they opted to take four players in the fourth round. At least they did get blue chip defensive end Brandon Graham in the first.
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