The AFC Draft Grades are in the bag and now we’re on to the NFC. We don’t have a crystal ball any more than the teams making the picks, but it’s still possible to grade them based on the way they allocate their draft capital. Some teams (like the Packers) make prudent trades year after year to maximize value, while others resemble a lost drunk stumbling in the night (the Bears). Let’s get into it:
Dallas Cowboys: C+
The highlight was grabbing Michigan CB Jourdan Lewis at #92. He may be the best corner in this draft in terms of pure cover ability. They also needed him (along with cornerbacks Chidobe Awuzie at #60 and Marquez White at #216) because half of their defensive backfield left in free agency. Less inspiring was the choice of Taco Charlton in the first round. He will make the all-name team, but that’s about it. Taco is a run-stopping defensive end, the type of position you can fill later down in the draft.
New York Giants: C
They didn’t have many picks, so spending one of them (#87 overall) on Cal QB Davis Webb feels especially egregious. Value is one thing, but it doesn’t matter if the kid can’t play, and this kid can’t. Take your pick on the comp: he’s either a less polished version of Jared Goff or Pat Mahomes without the all-world arm talent. Either way, it isn’t pretty. They would have been better off taking #87 and using it to move in front of the Bucs to take OJ Howard – the closest thing you can find to Rob Gronkowski – rather than Evan Engram, the big wideout masquerading as a tight end they took at #23.
Philadelphia Eagles: B
The best part about the Eagles draft was the way they drafted for need without leaving too much talent on the table. Their defense was the biggest issue, so with their first three picks they tried to fill the two most important positions on that side of the ball: defensive end and cornerback. #14 overall may have been a little bit high for DE Derek Barnett from Tennessee, but he consistently got the QB in college, so the pick made sense. Sidney Jones (CB, Washington) was a steal at #43 and Rasul Douglas (CB, West Virginia) was good value despite his slow 40 time.
Washington Racial Epithets: B-
Just imagine how well they could have done if they hadn’t fired their best scout right before the draft. They still managed to do pretty well, mostly because stud defensive end Jonathan Allen (#2 on Mel Kiper’s Big Board) fell into their lap at #17. Still, give them credit for pulling the trigger. Washington then took his former ‘Bama teammate Ryan Anderson at #49 and intelligently waited until the third day to snag running back Samaje Perine from Oklahoma and center Chase Roullier from Wyoming. Knowing what positions to target in the early rounds and which ones to wait for is half the battle when it comes to the NFL Draft.
Chicago Bears: D
They gave up a lot of picks (a third and fourth this year and a third next year, plus #3 overall) to move up to #2 overall and grab their QB of the future. The only problem? That QB was Mitchell Trubisky, and they didn’t need to move up to get him. Obviously this draft is an A+ if he turns out to be a Pro Bowl QB for the next decade, but we aren’t even convinced he’ll be better than Mike Glennon. After the unnecessary Trubisky pick, Chicago then proceeded to take offensive players from non-FBS schools with three of their next four picks, despite their Swiss cheese-like defense.
Detroit Lions: C
Everything about the Lions’ draft screams average. They took an inside linebacker in the first round (Jarrad Davis from Florida) despite their desperate need for a pass rusher and added his teammate Teez Tabor (cornerback) in the second. Neither pick will electrify and neither should be a bust. The rest of their picks are similarly ho-hum. Sort of like the franchise.
Green Bay Packers: A-
There’s a lot to like here. First, they traded back out of the first round and still ended up with the player they wanted in 6’3 cornerback Kevin King from Washington and then they got good value on Josh Jones (safety, NC State) to team up with him in the secondary. They also needed a running back or two, but we love the way they went about it, waiting until the third day and then taking three of them, with the hope that one or two will work out. There’s a reason the Packers put a decent team around Aaron Rodgers almost every year despite signing almost no free agents, and this draft was just another example of why.
Minnesota Vikings: B
The Vikings sent their first-round pick to Philly in the Sam Bradford deal, so their first selection was #41 overall. We’re no fans of Sam Bradford and hated the deal at the time, but with Teddy Bridgewater more or less done forever, at least they have a professional stopgap behind center. Getting first-round talent Dalvin Cook also helped to lessen the blow. The main issues with him are fumbles, injuries, and his friends off the field. You will notice that talent isn’t one of those things. Injuries are a concern with any player, fumbles can be corrected, and if his friends from Miami weren’t enough of a distraction to keep him from showing up for practice at Florida State, why would the case be any different 1,700 miles to the north? It was also a good call to reinforce their shitty O-line with center Pat Elflein from Ohio State and guard Danny Isidora from Miami.
Atlanta Falcons: B-
They only had six picks and they went for need all the way, starting with pass-rushing specialist Takkarist McKinley from UCLA at #26 overall to play opposite last year’s #1 pick Vic Beasley. They also managed to hit linebacker, cornerback, offensive tackle, running back, and tight end, although what ails the Falcons probably can’t be fixed in a single draft. Or any draft, for that matter. The only way to come back from last year is to go back to the Super Bowl and win it.
Carolina Panthers: B-
The Christian McCaffrey pick might seem obvious in retrospect, but it wasn’t during the season, and Carolina gets credit for targeting their player and not wavering. Judging from the constant beating Cam Newton takes, the best thing for him is an escape valve that he can either hand off to, check down to, or hit on quick routes before the defense can get to him. That’s exactly what McCaffrey brings to the table. The Panthers then doubled down on that philosophy by taking Ohio State slot receiver Curtis Samuel in the second round. Some might criticize that as repetitive, but in a pass-first league, you can never have too many quick receivers who can get open in small spaces coming out of the backfield. It was nice to see them target their offensive line issues in the third round with Taylor Morton, but it didn’t feel like enough.
New Orleans Saints: B
Instead of Malcolm Butler on a massive contract, they will have Marshon Lattimore on a rookie deal. Time will tell if that was the wise move. With the #32 pick the Patriots gave them for Brandin Cooks, Sean Payton and Co. took Ryan Ramczyk, who is exactly what you would expect with an offensive tackle from Wisconsin: big, white, tough, but not quite athletic enough to play left tackle in the NFL. Still, it’s nice to see the Saints using first-round picks on important positions like CB and tackle, rather than just trying to build a video game offense around Drew Brees so he can continue throwing for 5,000+ yards while his defense gets shredded.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers: A
It’s hard to know how much credit to give Jason Licht for sitting pat and taking the best player on his board, but the bottom line is that the Bucs ended up with OJ Howard at #19 overall. He, along with third-round wideout Chris Godwin, join Mike Evans and DeSean Jackson to give Jameis Winston a full arsenal of targets going into next year. Considering he’s already the youngest QB ever to throw for 50 TDs, you can bet their passing attack will be on in 2017. Safety Justin Evans might have been a reach at #50, but he fits a need and doesn’t take away from the major step up Tampa took on offense.
Arizona Cardinals: B-
The Cards got good value with their first two picks, grabbing Temple linebacker Haason Reddick at #13 and Tyrann Mathieu imitator Budda Baker at #36. They moved up to get Baker, but if he plays like they expect, they won’t regret it for a second. The rest of their draft was less inspiring, and they didn’t find a potential replacement for the aging Carson Palmer, but it’s hard to fault them for not taking a QB if they didn’t like any on the board.
Los Angeles Rams: D+
Their first rounder was traded for Jared Goff, so if he turns it around, this grade automatically goes up. Starting in the second round, they spent three out of four picks on pass-catchers for Goff, with safety John Johnson from Boston College the only exception. The problem is, all of the pass-catchers were over-drafted, meaning they could have traded down for more (or future) picks and still ended up with the same players. They also declined to address their offensive line, which seems like a pretty big deal if they want to keep Goff alive going forward.
San Francisco 49ers: B+
They got a bunch of assets to sit still and take Solomon Thomas at #3 (the same guy they would have taken at #2) and then moved up a couple of slots to #31 to take linebacker Reuben Foster from Alabama, one of the most talented players in the draft. He fell because of off-the-field concerns, but anything short of a Josh Gordon situation should be manageable for the team. This might shock Roger Goodell, but it’s possible to smoke weed and still be a complete professional when it comes to your job. The Niners seemed to take a flyer on Iowa QB C.J. Beathard in the first round, but with this QB class it’s next to impossible to tell who (if any) will work out, so their guess is as good as ours.
Seattle Seahawks: B-
Not much to say here other than that D-tackle Malik McDowell from Michigan State (above) could turn out to be a steal in the second round if Michael Bennett and the rest of their veteran D-line provide him with the proper motivation. They also drafted a guy named Mike Tyson, which immediately bumped them up half a letter grade in our book.