Dec 22, 2011; Las Vegas, NV, USA; Boise State Broncos running back Doug Martin (22) is pursued by Arizona State Sun Devils defensive back Keelan Johnson (10) and linebacker Anthony Jones (31) in the 2011 Las Vegas Bowl at Sam Boyd Stadium. Boise State defeated Arizona State 56-24. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee/Image of Sport-US PRESSWIRE

Draft Grades: NFC South

Nov 27, 2010; Madison, WI, USA; Wisconsin Badgers offensive lineman Peter Konz (66) blocks during the game against the Northwestern Wildcats at Camp Randall Stadium. Wisconsin defeated Northwestern 70-23. Mandatory Credit: Jeff Hanisch-US PRESSWIRE


Yeah, yeah, everyone and their brother’s doing draft grades. I’ve actually found doing them useful because it forces you to try and take a dispassionate view of how all 32 NFL teams drafted relative to their needs and to each other.

Buffalo, for example, has been drafting to beat New England recently. Last year, they did it once.
It’s very difficult to “grade” a draft when none of the players have taken the field. We’ll have a better idea in 2-3 YEARS…but right now all we can do is look at needs vs. quality of kids drafted and their positions.

Keep in mind, hardly any team will get all its’ “needs” in a single draft for a myriad of reasons. The biggest one is getting value for the pick.

Big team needs are in bold, needs but not pressing ones are in normal type.

“Impact” players refers to impact on their team, meaning either a projected starter or someone who most likely should start by the end of the season.

Okay, here we go:

Atlanta Falcons

Needs: LB, OL, TE, CB, WR

(2-55) Peter Konz, C, Wisconsin
(3-91) Lamar Holmes, T, Southern Miss
(5-157) Bradie Ewing, FB, Wisconsin
(5-164) Jonathan Massaquoi, DE, Troy
(6-192) Charles Mitchell, SS, Mississippi St
(7-249) Travian Robertson, DT, South Carolina

Who they took:
Konz has the talent to be a good starting Center or guard and has shown ability to pull, but stayed dinged up in college. Holmes has good size but poor technique and won’t be displacing LT Sam Baker anytime soon. They could be trying to develop him into a RT, but has very poor footwork. Ewing is a top Fullback to help open holes for Michael Turner. Massaquoi has talent but is a developmental prospect. Mitchell shows great instincts at times but can be very inconsistent. Robertson is a typical average DT with little upside, but is stout against the run.

What it means:

The Falcons have been destroyed each of the last 2 seasons in the playoffs and they drafted as if they wanted to improve their running game. The 2 defenders as the last 2 picks will be special teams/sub-package players at best.

Needs: D+ – They got some help for the O-line, if they can stay healthy. They didn’t help their defense much at all outside of Massaquoi, who needs coaching.

Value: C- – Konz was a late first-round projection that fell with pretty much all the other O-linemen. Bradie Ewing looks to be a starter and Michael Turner’s new lead-blocker. Massaquoi won’t be a factor in 2012. Holmes is a raw waist-bender with long arms who went too high.

Impact players: Konz, Ewing

Overall Grade: C-

Jan 6, 2012; Dallas, TX, USA; Arkansas Razorbacks receiver Joe Adams (3) returns a punt for a touchdown during the second quarter against the Kansas State Wildcats at the Cowboys Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Matthew Emmons-US PRESSWIRE


Carolina Panthers

Needs: DL, CB, WR, OL, LB, TE

(1-9) Luke Kuechly, LB, Boston College
(2-40) Amini Sitatolu, OT, Midwestern State
(4-103) Frank Alexander, DE, Oklahoma
(4-104) Joe Adams, WR, Arkansas
(5-143) Josh Norman, CB, Coastal Carolina
(6-207) Brad Nortman, P, Wisconsin
(7-216) DJ Campbell, FS, California

Who they took
Kuechly is a day-one starter as he should be at #9 overall. He can play any LB position but he wasn’t asked to be a pass-rusher in college from his MLB spot. He can play SAM also. Sitatolu is a NASTY NASTY NASTY MAULING run blocker that will probably be inserted at guard. I haven’t seen too much tape of this guy since he’s from a small school, but the little bit I have seen has blown me away. Alexander may have been taken a bit high, but the Panthers liked him enough that they traded up for him. Joe Adams reminds me of a Dexter McCluster type – shifty and elusive without great top-end speed who will cost Armati Edwards his job as a returner. Josh Norman is the intriguing pick of the group and could wind up starting by the season’s end and should make for a good nickel corner to begin his NFL career. Nortman’s a punter and the Panthers had zero on the roster. Campbell is an athletic guy who needs coaching and experience, but should contribute on special teams.

What it means

Nobody ever gets everything they want and need in one draft, but the Panthers put together a nice group. This is one of the few team drafts where I can see everyone making meaningful contribution with the possible exception of DJ Campbell in their rookie seasons. Norman could push Captain Munnerlyn by midseason. Nortman from Wisconsin is used to punting in bad weather. Campbell is from Rivera’s alma mater and was taken for his outstanding special teams play.

Needs: B+ – Not drafting any DTs or a second TE keeps them from getting an “A”

Value: C+ – Alexander could see early action on passing downs. I have a feeling Sitatolu was known by the other franchises but was not a “value” in the early 2nd round. The Panthers didn’t catch anyone sliding (like, say a Lamar Miller with the 2nd pick in the 4th), but they didn’t do any reaching, either. Adams, who is rumored to run in the 4.3-range at Arkansas but only had a 4.55 at the Combine, could wind up being a steal.

Impact Players: Kuechly, Sitatolu, ALexander, Adams

Overall Grade: B

Nov 19, 2011; Champaign, IL, USA; Illinois Fighting Illini defensive back Justin Green (26) is called for pass interference on a pass intended for Wisconsin Badgers wide receiver Nick Toon during the third quarter at Memorial Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Bradley Leeb-US PRESSWIRE

New Orleans Saints

Needs: CB, DE, DT, WR, OLB

(3-89) Akiem Hicks, DT, Regina
(4-122) Nick Toon, WR, Wisconsin
(5-162) Corey White, SS, Samford
(6-179) Andrew Tiller, G, Syracuse
(7-234) Marcel Jones, T, Nebraska

Who they took
Hicks is yet another pick in this very deep DT class and has the size and strength to plug the middle against the run and has skills to line up anywhere on the D-line, so this pick fits the Saints well. Toon has a pedigree and is a cagey player. White has athletic ability but is a project player. Tiller has limited athletic ability and is a project. Jones couldn’t stay healthy in college and probably was a wasted pick.

What it means
Having traded away their first-rounder previously for Mark Ingram and forfeiting their 2nd-rounder to Bountygate greatly limited what the Saints could do in the draft this year. As a result, they took some chances after the first 2 picks, which were solid picks, but they’re going to have to get lucky for any of the last 3 to contribute. Hicks can at least be in the rotation early as a rookie with Will “Fresh Prince” Smith’s suspension and Toon will probably be a better pro than Robert Meachem if he lives up to expectations and continues to grow as a player. Being a former player’s son helps there. Boom-or-bust draft for the Saints, but maybe they had to gamble a bit this year.

Needs: D – The Saints needed pass rushers, cover guys and depth at WR. Hicks gives them DL depth that will see the field a lot, and Toon was drafted to replace Robert Meachem but the Saints entered the draft without any firepower.

Value: C – The first two picks were good value picks; the last 3…not so much.

Impact Players: Hicks, Toon

Overall Grade: D+

Tamp Bay Buccaneers

Needs: RB, OL, LB, CB, S, TE, WR

(1-7) Mark Barron, SS, Alabama
(1-31) Doug Martin, RB, Boise State
(2-58) Lavonte David, OLB, Nebraska
(5-140) Najee Goode, ILB, West Virginia
(6-174) Keith Tandy, CB, West Virginia
(7-212) Michael Smith, RB, Utah State
(7-233) Drake Dunsmore, TE, Northwestern

Who they took
Mark Barron is the premier SS in the draft. Martin does nothing great but everything well. David is a fast, light linebacker – interestingly enough, there was a question on whether to play him at SS or OLB in the NFL and I think the Bucs answered that question with their Barron pick earlier and he’ll be a WILL backer. Goode is another fast LB that projects to the SAM backer. Tandy is almost a hybrid safety-corner and may have a hard time finding his natural NFL position. Smith is a scatback and Dunsmore is only 6’2″, but an interesting final pick as an athletic FB/H-back type.

What it means
The Bucs made a splash in Free Agency and are making another splash in the draft. Barron’s going to not only start but probably star. Martin and Smith give them a lot more options than the strong-but-slow (and fumble-prone) LeGarrette Blount. David and Goode should really bolster their LB corps. Tandy’s skill set is best for a zone scheme (Tampa-2, anyone?) and Dunsmore will see situational duty in sub-packages and on special teams.

Needs: A- – Every pick they made had a need in mind. This is how you draft, folks.

Value: A+ – The Bucs traded back from 5th to 7th and got the best available that still fit a need at Strong Safety. LaVonte David was a nice grab that slid a bit due to his size, and their 4 later-round picks fit their scheme quite nicely. I’m not sure if they planned it this way or the board just broke in their favor throughout the draft, but the Bucs brass and fans have GOT to be excited about the difference with this year’s roster and last year’s. The only ones I have ANY questions on are Goode and Dunsmore and the concerns are minor considering the spots they were selected.

Impact Players: Barron, Martin, David, Goode

Overall Grade: A

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