No teams did bad enough to earn an ‘F,’ and give credit where it’s due to the 49ers(!) and Browns(!!)
If you are reading this, you know I like to pick things apart. Drafts, situational coaching, and players — you name it.
But somehow, as I did the grades for this year’s NFL Draft, I had to stop for a second because I think many teams did a good job handling their board.
I didn’t give out one “F” this year. I handed out five “A” grades.
What is wrong with me? Call me Mr. Softy.
The five teams that earned “A” grades in my mind were the Arizona Cardinals, Cincinnati Bengals, Green Bay Packers, San Francisco 49ers and — surprise, surprise — the Cleveland Browns.
As chic as it has become to rip the Browns, there is no denying they did a great job with their draft. They had a lot of picks and made the most of those picks, with the only knock being a first-round move down to land Michigan safety/hybrid player Jabrill Peppers. That was a reach, but they did a nice job the rest of the way.
They ended up with three first-round picks, landing Texas A&M pass rusher Myles Garrett with the first overall pick, Peppers with the 25th pick and Miami tight end David Njoku with the 29th pick. They moved up to get both Peppers and Njoku thanks to extra draft picks they acquired in recent years.
If second-round quarterback DeShone Kizer is a hit — and he is talented — the Browns will look back on this draft as the one that turned around the franchise. That’s how good their draft was this year.
Now here are the rest of the grades.
They landed a future star in the first-round pick Haason Reddick. He will add speed and versatility to their defense. I love second-round pick Budda Baker, the safety from Washington. He will help offset the loss of Tony Jefferson. Third-round pick Chad Williams, a receiver from Grambling, could be a steal where he was drafted, adding much-needed speed, and I love fourth-round pick, Dorian Johnson. It was a really good draft.
The Falcons wanted to get an edge rusher, and they got a good one in UCLA’s Takk McKinley in the first round, which was an outstanding pick. They came back and added a speed linebacker in LSU’s Duke Riley in the second round and a much-needed guard in Sean Harlow from Oregon State, who should be the starting right guard. They got faster on defense, which is not a good thing for NFC South quarterbacks.
Did they really need a corner in the first round? I know they stuck to their board by taking Alabama corner Marlon Humphrey, but I thought they had bigger needs. They came back to make up for it by taking Houston edge rusher Tyus Bowser in the second round and Michigan defensive tackle Chris Wormley in the third. Fourth-round rusher Tim Williams could be a pass-rush star — if he can stay out of trouble.
I think they made really good picks with their first two, trading down in the first before taking LSU corner Tre’Davious White, then landing East Carolina receiver Zay Jones in the second. Their other second-round pick, Dion Dawkins, will probably be the starting right tackle. Fifth-round quarterback Nathan Peterman could end up being a potential starter down the road.
They were linked to Stanford running back Christian McCaffrey in the first round, and it played out that way. I think it’s too high to take him at No. 8, but he will help in a lot of ways. Second-round pick Curtis Samuel can do a lot of the same things, and will likely be their slot receiver. I love the pick of Texas A&M pass rusher Daeshon Hall in the fourth. He will develop into a quality pass rusher. Fifth-round corner Corn Elder will be a good nickel corner.
They made a strange move to give up so much to move up a spot to No. 2 overall and draft North Carolina quarterback Mitchell Trubisky. They could have stayed in their third spot and landed him, but gave up too much to move up a spot. If he’s a star, they will be laughing at all us. But why give Mike Glennon that contract if this was what you planned to do? Second-round tight end Adam Shaheen from Ashland is a big, physical tight end. But this is all about Trubisky and that trade.
I thought the Bengals had as good draft as any team in the league. Taking receiver John Ross with the ninth pick is a bit of a risk, but you can’t coach speed. They took a different type of risk with Oklahoma running back Joe Mixon in the second round, but the kid is the best runner in the draft. They clearly looked past the assault video to take him. They then landed two good pass rushers in Kansas State Jordan Willis and Auburn’s Carl Lawson, two players who will compete to start at right end. Fourth-round receiver Josh Malone from Tennessee can fly. There are some risks here, but I think they will pay off big.
For all the criticism of the analytics crew in Cleveland, they had a heck of a draft. Aside from trading down to get Michigan’s Jabrill Peppers in the first round, they added a lot of really good players. They had a lot of picks and did some good things. They got the top player in the draft in Myles Garrett with the first pick and then continued to do a nice job. Tight end David Njoku was a nice add with their third first-round pick. This draft, though, will be defined by how well second-round quarterback DeShone Kizer develops. If he is their starter for a long time, this will be a great draft. Right now, it’s a damn good one.
They needed help up front, so taking Michigan defensive end Taco Charlton makes sense, but I think there were better options at that point. I think they bounced back and got two good corners in the next two rounds in Colorado’s Chidobe Awuzie and Michigan’s Jourdan Lewis, which help a position of need. Taking Ryan Switzer in the fourth round could mean Cole Beasley may be out next year when his contract is up.
They needed help up front on the offensive line and landed a solid left tackle in Utah’s Garett Bolles. He is older at 25, and he is raw, but he plays with a nasty streak. Second-round defensive lineman Demarcus Walker will be a nice addition up front. It’s clear they want receiver help, taking two in the first five rounds, and I like the third-round receiver, Carlos Henderson.
First-round pick Jarrad Davis is a nice three-down linebacker who will fill a major need, so that pick is solid. But this is a team that had major pass-rush issues last season, and they waited until the sixth round to take a defensive lineman. That’s not wise in a division with Aaron Rodgers. Second-round corner Teez Tabor was a reach at that spot. I just didn’t think it was a good haul for the Lions.
Green Bay Packers
Some general managers seem to always do it right in the draft, and Green Bay’s Ted Thompson is one of those guys. He had another good draft, trading out of the first round and still landing a lot of good players. He took Washington corner Kevin King in the second round, and he will be a big-time player. Second-round safety Josh Jones is a nice player who helps offset the loss of Micah Hyde. I love third-round defensive tackle Montravius Adams. Fourth-round running back Jamaal Williams will be a 1,200-yard rusher in a season at some point in his career.
They made the bold move to go up in the first round to No. 12 to get quarterback Deshaun Watson from Clemson, which is a smart move — but a risky one. How will he fit in Bill O’Brien’s offense? It’s smart to take the shot. Second-round linebacker Zach Cunningham was a nice hit after being a big-time player in the SEC. They added some line help later on both sides of the ball. This draft will be all about Watson. If he is what they think he can be, it’s a major hit. If not, it will be a big whiff.
They needed to get defensive help, and they used their first three picks on that side of the ball. First-round safety Malik Hooker is a rangy player in the Ed Reed mold, which they needed. Second-round corner Quincy Wilson is a nice cover player who will start right away, and third-round defensive end Tarrell Basham should help the pass rush. I like fourth-round running back Marlon Mack a lot. He has big-play ability.
Leonard Fournette, their first-round pick, is a nice player, but I just don’t think you take backs as high as No. 4. After that, they did a nice job trading up for tackle Cam Robinson in the second, and third-round pick Dawuane Smoot will be a steal. Fourth-round receiver Dede Westbrook will add speed to a pass-catching group that needs it, but he does have baggage.
Kansas City Chiefs
I think Texas Tech quarterback Patrick Mahomes will be the best quarterback in this class, so from a talent standpoint making the move up in the first round to get him makes sense. Second-round defensive end Tanoh Kpassagnon from Villanova is a raw player, but they need down help. I really like third-round running back Kareem Hunt from Toledo. Fourth-round receiver Jehu Chesson will help the passing game. This is a draft that will be all about Mahomes, but we won’t know that answer until years in the future.
Los Angeles Chargers
I didn’t love taking receiver Mike Williams that high in the first round, but I think they had a really good draft in the next four rounds. Williams doesn’t separate enough for my liking. They upgraded their offensive line with Forrest Lamp and Dan Feeney and added two other weapons for Philip Rivers and two quality safeties. Nice job. Taking Williams too high drops it down from an A for me.
Los Angeles Rams
They traded their first-round pick last year to get quarterback Jared Goff, so they had to wait until the second round to pick. When they did pick, they seemed to focus on helping Goff. Their second-round pick was tight end Gerald Everett, and they followed that up with Eastern Washington receiver Copper Kupp in the third and Texas A&M receiver Josh Reynolds in the fourth. They didn’t take an offensive lineman, which was strange.
The Dolphins did a nice job with their draft, landing pass rusher Charles Harris in the first round. He fills a need, and he’s a productive player. Linebacker Raekwon McMillan brings some speed to a group that needs it. Adding corner Cordrea Tankersley in the third round and guard Isaac Asiata are also good picks and fill needs. It was a good draft.
They didn’t have a first-round pick after trading it last year to get quarterback Sam Bradford, but they got a first-round talent in the second round in running back Dalvin Cook. If he can stay away from the issues that had many dropping him down, he will be a steal. Upgrading their offensive line with Ohio State center Pat Elflein in the third round was a good pick. They added some weapons with a chance to help the passing game in the later rounds, including fifth-round receiver Rodney Adams from South Florida.
New England Patriots
They didn’t have a pick in the first or second round since they traded them away to get receiver Brandin Cooks and pass rusher Kony Ealy. They are part of this class, which will bring up the grade. They got a solid pass rusher in Youngstown State’s Derek Rivers in the third and tackle Antonio Garcia will be the guy who takes over for Nate Solder next year when his contract is up. They also gave up a fifth-round pick to sign Bills running back Mike Gillisleeas restricted free agent. If Ealy can get them 8-10 sacks, this will be a good haul with their picks. If not, it will be just solid.
New Orleans Saints
They probably thought they had no chance to get Ohio State corner Marshon Lattimore when the draft started, but they end up getting him in the 11th spot. That was a nice pick of the top corner. I didn’t love the pick of Wisconsin tackle Ryan Ramczyk with the 32nd pick — he has some medical issues and is that really a major need? — but they added some nice players later in Utah safety Marcus Williams in the second and pass rusher Troy Hendrickson in third. I also think third-round linebacker Alex Anzalone from Florida has a chance to a long-time starter if he stays healthy. That’s a big if, based on his career.
New York Giants
They used their first-round pick on tight end Evan Engram, a nice weapon for Eli Manning, but they needed help up front. I would have gone with an offensive lineman. I love second-round pick Dalvin Tomlinson, a defensive tackle from Alabama. I also like Davis Webb as a potential starter, but I think this team is built to win now with Manning’s years coming to an end. Why not take another player who can help now? Fifth-round pass rusher Avery Moss is intriguing and has a lot of ability.
New York Jets
They landed a gem in first-round LSU safety Jamal Adams, but why come back and take safety Marcus Maye in the second? There were other needs. They did get two receivers with their next two picks, and I really like Cal’s Chad Hansen in the fourth. Sixth-round runner Elijah McGuire could be a steal in that spot. I expected more out of this class.
There was some risk in them taking Ohio State corner Gareon Conley in the first round with his legal situation pending, but he is a top talent and could pay off big. The next three picks could also be big-time steals. Second-round safety Obi Melifonwu had first-round talent, and if UCLA defensive tackle Eddie Vanderdoes can keep his weight in check he will be a good player. They needed some help up front, so he made sense.
I really like the choice of pass rusher Derek Barnett in the first round. He might be the best pass rusher in this class. They took a risk with Washington corner Sidney Jones in the second, but it could be a big-time payoff if he comes off a torn Achilles tendon healthy. They added some young weapons for Carson Wentz in the later rounds. Fifth-round receiver Shelton Gibson can fly.
First-round pick T.J. Watt is a player who is a perfect fit for the Steelers’ scheme. His best football is in front of him. I thought second-round pick JuJu Smith-Schuster went a little high, but third-round corner/safety Cam Sutton was a really nice pick. The best story of the draft is the pick of third-round runner James Conner out of Pittsburgh. This is a kid who overcame cancer. Love that.
San Francisco 49ers
First-year general manager John Lynch killed it in his first draft, trading down one spot with the Bears in the first round and picking up a bounty of picks. That was a fleecing. Then they took Solomon Thomas with the third overall pick, and he is a future star. They next traded back into the first to get linebacker Reuben Foster with the 31st pick, and he will be a steal. I thought taking quarterback C.J. Beathard in the third was too high, but it was a good first draft for the 49ers. Watch out for sixth-round defensive tackle D.J. Jones from Mississippi. He could be a steal.
They traded out of the first round and added picks, then general manager John Schneider did a really god job with the extra ones. They had a nice couple of days. Second-round pick Malik McDowell has first-round talent and will be a nice addition. Second-round offensive lineman Ethan Pocic can play a bunch of spots, which they like up front. They then sent messages to the Legion of Boom by drafting a corner and three safeties. Schneider knows how to keep a handle on his roster by making moves like that. One knock: Maybe one more offensive lineman would have helped.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
They landed perhaps the cleanest player in the draft with their first pick in tight end O.J. Howard, giving Jameis Winston another top weapon. Second-round safety Justin Evans will push to start right away, and third-round receiver Chris Godwin can fly. Fifth-round running back Jeremy McNicholsfrom Boise State is a good runner who could be a nice surprise.
The Titans wanted to get a receiver and corner with their first two picks, and they did that. They got the best receiver in the draft in Western Michigan’s Corey Davis with the fifth overall pick. They then came back and got USCcorner Adoree Jackson with their second first-round pick. It was a nice one-two hit. They added another receiver (Taywan Taylor) and a tight end (Jonnu Smith) to give Marcus Mariota some more weapons.
Although they don’t have a true general manager, the Redskins had a nice draft haul. With their first two picks, they picked two good Alabama players. They got lineman Jonathan Allen in the first and pass rusher Ryan Anderson in the second. Those were two need spots. Allen was really a steal at No. 17. They also got the first-round talent in UCLA corner Fabian Moreau, who dropped because of a torn pectoral muscle. Fifth-round tight end Jeremy Sprinkle is an in-line tight end to go with Vernon Davis and Jordan Reed.