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Grading Every NFL GM's 2011 Draft

Adam LazarusSenior Analyst IDecember 17, 2016

Grading Every NFL GM's 2011 Draft

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    Less than two weeks from now the NFL will for one day once again return to the spotlight of the sports world.

    But for NFL general managers the draft has been a long, grueling process: the scouting, the film reviews, the interviews, the skull sessions, etc. 

    Almost always they put all that effort into the draft to improve their team for long-term gain, so it can take up to three or four years to truly measure the quality of a GM's grade. But fans and the media (and especially owners) are impatient and want to see instant results and sometimes the draft provides them.

    After just one season, which of the 32 general managers are leading the pack and which are lagging behind? 

Arizona Cardinals: Rod Graves

2 of 33

    First Round: Patrick Peterson, CB, LSU

    Other Key Picks: Sam Acho, OLB, Texas

    Overall Grade: A-

    Graves and the Cardinals hit a home run with Peterson. In addition to being a great corner (at least for a rookie) last season, he was an incredible returner, taking back four punts for scores. 

    And Sam Acho may turn out to be a real steal as a fourth-round pick: He had a fine first season recording 40 tackles and forcing four fumbles. He seems be the answer to their gaping hole at outside linebacker.

    But since Ryan Williams missed all of 2011 with a torn-up knee it will probably take another two years to know if he was worth being the draft's second running back selected. 

Atlanta Falcons: Thomas Dimitroff

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    First Round: (via trade) Julio Jones, WR, Alabama

    Other Key Picks: Jacquizz Rodgers, RB, Oregon State

    Overall Grade: A-

    Perhaps the biggest story of last year's draft—other than the tumble that Da'Quan Bowers and Ryan Mallett took—was the trade Thomas Dimitroff made with Cleveland. 

    Some Cleveland fans hated it, some Cleveland fans loved it, some Atlanta fans hated it, some Atlanta fans loved it. Even though—from a record and playoff-positioning standpoint—the Falcons took a step back in 2011, I think it was the right move.

    The Falcons needed a speedy deep threat to pair with Roddy White and Jones was the perfect fit. Credit Dimitroff for having the guts to make that move, which paid off with Jones catching 54 passes for 959 yards and eight touchdowns.

    The deal, however, did sap the Falcons options in later rounds, but Dimitroff did make another wise move in Jacquizz Rodgers, who was a great third-down and change-of-pace back. 

Baltimore Ravens: Ozzie Newsome

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    First Round: Jimmy Smith, CB, Colorado

    Other Key Picks: Torrey Smith, WR, Maryland; Tyrod Taylor, QB, Virginia Tech

    Overall Grade: A+

    Jimmy Smith's pre-draft baggage may have been over-blown; maybe it wasn't, nevertheless, the Ravens and Ozzie Newsome rolled the dice and won by drafting the big, physical corner. Late in the season and into the playoffs he was excellent in coverage and really aided the Ravens in key spots.

    But it was two later choices that earn Newsome top marks.

    Torrey Smith emerged as a tremendous deep threat for Baltimore and (despite dropping the game-winner seconds earlier) helped Baltimore clinch the division by catching that touchdown pass over Pittsburgh. With Lee Evans turning out to be a real disappointment, Smith stepped up huge.

    And don't undersell how important the pickup of Tyrod Taylor was. Spending a sixth-round pick on a player who developed enough to become the second-string quarterback is a real bonus. 

Buffalo Bills: Buddy Nix

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    First Round: Marcell Dareus, DT, Alabama

    Other Key Picks: Kelvin Sheppard, LB, LSU; Aaron Williams, CB, Texas; Da'Norris Searcy, S, UNC

    Overall Grade: A-

    Buffalo had plenty of great options when they drafted third overall last April, but they opted for Dareus and it was well worth it. He proved to be a tremendous overall defensive tackle and capable of rushing the passer. Now the greater challenge begins, however: he has to switch to Dave Wannstedt's 4-3. 

    Fortunately for Nix, Wannstedt and Chan Gailey, several of the Bills other defensive selections showed similar quick development.

    Sheppard became a starter at linebacker, as did Aaron Williams, and Da'Norris Searcy contributed as well. 

Carolina Panthers: Marty Hurney

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    First Round: Cam Newton, QB, Auburn

    Other Key Picks: Terrell McClain, DT, USF

    Overall Grade: B-

    The above "B-" is no reflection of Newton's talent or performance in 2011. What he did last year was incredible and very well might have been the greatest season a rookie quarterback ever had. 

    But Marty Hurney had his choice of literally any player he wanted so it's tough to shower him with unending praise for making the right pick at the top overall selection. 

    Furthermore, what else did the Panthers get out of last year's draft, despite having the top pick in almost every round? USF's Terrell McClain played some but didn't have much of an impact and none of the other later-round picks made much of a contribution either. 

    Like every one of these classes, they'll need more time to fully gauge value, but as of right now—if you take away Newton—Hurney's class is lagging behind. 

Chicago Bears: Jerry Angelo (Since Fired)

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    First Round: Gabe Carimi, OT, Wisconsin

    Other Key Picks: Chris Conte, S, Cal; Stephen Paea, DT, Oregon State

    Overall Grade: D

    Clearly Jerry Angelo was fired for reasons other than last year's draft class, but the moves he made didn't exactly help his cause.

    Gabe Carimi—who the Bears were hoping would slip to them late in the first round—couldn't stay healthy to resolve that needy offensive line's issues. 

    And while Stephen Paea and Chris Conte made contributions, I still can't believe they didn't go for a wide receiver, one they sorely could have used: They passed on a handful of pass catchers (Leonard Hankerson, Vincent Brown, Austin Pettis, Greg Little, Randall Cobb and Torrey Smith) who could have bolstered a poor crop. 

Cincinnati Bengals: Mike Brown

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    First Round: A.J. Green, WR, Georgia

    Other Key Picks: Andy Dalton, QB, TCU

    Overall Grade: A

    Not since the Chargers landed LaDainian Tomlinson and Drew Brees back in 2001 has a general manager nabbed two such vital offensive pieces in back-to-back rounds.

    A.J. Green, the top wideout available, easily filled the void (and then some) left by Chad Ochocinco and Terrell Owens. He was an instant hit and a huge reason why the Bengals earned a spot in the postseason. 

    But Brown's greatest move was picking Dalton in the second round. Dalton's selection essentially allowed him to call Carson Palmer's bluff and it resulted in the trade to Oakland which earned Cincy a second pick in this year's draft.

    Oh, and Dalton can play: He started all 16 games, threw for nearly 3,400 yards and showed very few signs of being a rookie. 

Cleveland Browns: Tom Heckert

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    First Round: Phil Taylor, DT, Baylor

    Other Key Picks: Jabaal Sheard, DE, Pitt; Greg Little, WR, UNC; Jason Pinkston, G, Pitt

    Overall Grade: A+

    As stated earlier, the trade between Cleveland and Atlanta was perhaps the highlight and most polarizing move of the entire NFL draft last April. 

    I tend to think the deal was win-win for both clubs; still I think Cleveland came out on top...even if they passed on a wide receiver (Julio Jones) they desperately could have used.

    Taylor is a beast and showed as much last year so he was a fine move. 

    And look what they were able to nab later on.

    Little is a decent pass catcher and could develop into a more-than-capable second option for the Browns. 

    But Sheard (eight sacks) emerged as an outstanding 4-3 pass-rusher, something the Browns must have to compete in the AFC's deepest division. And his former Pitt Panther teammate, Jason Pinkston, was a remarkable find, filling in for the injured Eric Steinbach and starting all 16 games. 

Dallas Cowboys: Jerry Jones

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    First Round: Tyron Smith, OT, USC

    Other Key Picks: DeMarco Murray, RB, Oklahoma

    Overall Grade: B+

    Tyron Smith had a fine rookie season, starting all 16 games for the Cowboys. Give Jerry Jones credit for making that move and not "reaching" on a corner like Prince Amukamara. 

    But his best addition wasn't Smith at all, it was Murray who at times looked like the second coming of Emmitt Smith. 

    The seventh-rounder set the NFL rookie rushing mark, led the team in rushing and proved even more valuable after coming out of the lineup with a broken ankle. Dallas really missed him in the stretch run and if he hadn't been injured maybe the Cowboys win the NFC East and the rival Giants don't even make the playoffs let alone win a Super Bowl. 

    Those two additions totally negate the fact that second-rounder Bruce Carter did next to nothing. 

Denver Broncos: Brian Xanders

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    First Round: Von Miller, DE, Texas A&M

    Other Key Picks: Orlando Franklin, OT, Miami (FL); Rahim Moore, S, UCLA

    Overall Grade: A-

    Von Miller was a stud, perhaps the best defensive selection in last year's draft: He's every bit the pass-rusher Denver was hoping for so Xanders crushed that selection.

    And while Rahim Moore didn't quite contribute as much as they'd like to have seen, he did get on the field enough for there to be high hopes entering 2012.

    Yet the pick that really completed this class and helped Denver earn a stunning playoff spot as much as Miller's did was Orlando Franklin, who they essentially received in exchange for Brandon Marshall

    Franklin started all 16 games for Denver—one of the best running games in the NFL—and during the second half of the season did a masterful job as the all-important blindside protector for Tim Tebow

Detroit Lions: Martin Mayhew

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    First Round: Nick Fairley, DT, Auburn

    Other Key Picks: Titus Young, WR, Boise State

    Overall Grade: B

    Injuries hampered Fairley and he got off to a slow early on in his NFL career but by season's end he proved to validate the slightly strange choice. After all, Detroit spent their previous first-round choice on a defensive tackle, Ndamukong Suh. 

    Young also had a fine rookie season for Detroit, catching 48 passes for 607 yards and eight touchdowns. 

    The other key selection that Mayhew and the Lions made was Mikel Leshoure, the running back from Illinois who missed all of 2011 with a torn Achilles. Like the Cardinals and Ryan Williams it's going to take at least two more years to really know whether or not that was a wise selection for Detroit, but no blame should fall on Mayhew and his staff for that misfortune. 

Green Bay Packers: Ted Thompson

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    First Round: Derek Sherrod, OT, Mississippi State

    Other Key Picks: Randall Cobb, WR, Kentucky

    Overall Grade: C

    Green Bay caught a bad break with Derek Sherrod, who didn't see much action until the end of the season then broke his leg and was shelved. Worse yet, there is even some concern about whether he'll be able to play at all in 2012. 

    And while Randall Cobb made an instant impact for the Packers (returning a kickoff in Week 1 for a score and being a nice fourth or fifth option for Aaron Rodgers) Green Bay really didn't get much out of the rest of this class either.

    Hawaii running back Alex Green only touched the ball four times, twice as many as Arkansas tight end D.J. Williams totaled. 

Houston Texans: Rick Smith

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    First Round: J.J. Watt, DE, Wisconsin

    Other Key Picks: Brooks Reed, OLB, Arizona; Brandon Harris, CB, Miami (FL), T.J. Yates, QB, UNC

    Overall Grade: A

    J.J. Watt was almost unblockable late in the season and into the playoffs last year so Smith made the right choice. He seems to be tailor-made to play end in a 3-4 scheme. 

    But top 10 choices aren't where GMs earn their pay and make their reputation. Remember, too many top 10 picks mean your team hasn't shown much improvement over the years.

    Instead, Rick Smith gets high marks for grabbing Brooks Reed, who became a starter late in the season and was a fine outside backer, recording six sacks. 

    And then there was the selection of T.J. Yates in the fifth round. 

    Sure, the UNC product didn't put up numbers like Cam Newton or Andy Dalton, but after Matt Schaub and Matt Leinart went down he held down the fort for the Texans, keeping them on the path to a division title and deep playoff run. 

Indianapolis Colts: Chris Polian (Since Fired)

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    First Round: Anthony Castonzo, OT, Boston College

    Other Key Picks: Delone Carter, RB, Syracuse

    Overall Grade: C-

    Pretty much everything went wrong for the Colts in 2011, and Peyton Manning's neck was only a part of it.

    Anthony Castonzo had an OK rookie season—not nearly enough to suggest he was "the wrong" choice, but not exactly enough to make that sentiment seem ludicrous. 

    The real head-scratcher, however, was the choice after Castonzo: Did they really need another lineman in Ben Ijalana? So aggressively shoring up that offensive line after Manning's injury made it seem like they were shutting the barn door after the horses had ran out.

    The one real bright spot in the Colts 2011 draft, however, had to be the emergence of Delone Carter as a solid runner if not "the future" of the Indy ground attack. His 101 carries and 377 yards might prove to be the last great contribution of the Polian era in Indianapolis. 

Jacksonville Jaguars: Gene Smith

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    First Round: Blaine Gabbert, QB, Missouri

    Other Key Picks: Will Rackley, G, Lehigh

    Overall Grade: B-

    Although most people want to pan Smith both for the trading up and the selection of Gabbert I don't think it's a fair criticism. Just because Gabbert didn't have the type of rookie season that Cam Newton or Andy Dalton put up doesn't mean he'll be a bust. 

    Besides, in 2011 the Jaguars had arguably the worst crop of pass catchers in the NFL.

    Lost in the shuffle of all that criticism and the eventual firing of Jack Del Rio was the fact that Will Rackley (a third-rounder) emerged as a real reliable starter and a key reason why Maurice Jones-Drew won the rushing title on a terrible offensive football team.

    Still because fourth-rounder Cecil Shorts could barely crack the lineup amongst names like Mike Thomas, Jarett Dillard, Jason Hill and Chastain West, it was a pretty mediocre draft for the Jags. 

Kansas City Chiefs: Scott Pioli

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    First Round: Jon Baldwin, WR, Pitt

    Other Key Picks: Allen Bailey, DE, Miami (FL); Rodney Hudson, G, FSU, Justin Houston, OLB, Georgia

    Overall Grade: A-

    Pioli rolled the dice on Baldwin, who everyone knows is loaded with talent and size but might lack the burst and discipline to cut it at the NFL level. But since he eventually overcame that locker room incident to get on the field and nab 21 catches, the "reach" was justified.

    Add that choice to the quasi-steals that Pioli grabbed later on and this has the potential for being one of the best drafts in Chiefs history.

    Many considered Hudson to be (after Mike Pouncey) the best interior offensive lineman in the draft and whenever Casey Wiegmann retires he should move in seamlessly. 

    But I was most impressed by the two front-seven players Pioli was able to land in the later rounds. If Glenn Dorsey leaves as a free agent after 2012, Allen Bailey has the skills to replace him and Justin Houston showed much more progress at the outside backer position than anyone could have expected. 

Miami Dolphins: Jeff Ireland

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    First Round: Mike Pouncey, C, Florida

    Other Key Picks: Daniel Thomas, RB, Kansas State; Charles Clay, TE, Tulsa

    Overall Grade: B+

    Although Ireland had a built-in cheat—Maurkice Pouncey—the Dolphins selection of Mike Pouncey was a great move. He anchored the middle of that line and really helped in the rebirth of Reggie Bush's career.

    And even if it doesn't seem that way, the Dolphins next choice, Daniel Thomas, also was a huge boost to Bush's career.

    Thomas took a ton of pressure off of Bush and handled much more of the between-the-tackles carries, allowing Bush to get to the edge more frequently.

    Toss in a decent rookie campaign by Charles Clay (16 catches, 233 yards, three touchdowns) and Ireland had a nice haul. 

Minnesota Vikings: Rick Spielman

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    First Round: Christian Ponder, QB, Florida State

    Other Key Picks: Kyle Rudolph, TE, Notre Dame; Christian Ballard, DT, Iowa

    Overall Grade: C

    Thanks to the (second) failed Donovan McNabb post-Eagles experiment the Vikings clearly were forced to play their rookie quarterback earlier than they had hoped. And even if Ponder looked like a rookie at times, he did have a nice audition during the second half of the season—putting up nearly 400 yards passing against the excellent Denver defense was very impressive. 

    And Kyle Rudolph—who missed most of his final season at Notre Dame—also showed that he can have a strong future in Minnesota. Despite the presence of Visanthe Schiancoe, the second-round choice grabbed 26 passes in an offense that certainly struggled to throw the ball.

    But Brandon Burton, DeMarcus Love and especially Christian Ballard weren't able to contribute to positions that frankly needed much more attention than quarterback and tight end and as a result it's fair to say that for 2011 Spielman put his resources into the wrong places. 

New England Patriots: Bill Belichick

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    First Round: Nate Solder, OT, Colorado

    Other Key Picks: Stevan Ridley, RB, LSU; Shane Vereen, RB, Cal; Ras-I Dowling, CB, Virginia; Ryan Mallett, QB, Arkansas; Marcus Cannon, OT, TCU

    Overall Grade: B

    The Pats essentially traded Richard Seymour; it was a deal to keep the Pats viable Super Bowl contenders for years to come but because Solder stepped in and did an admirable job as Tom Brady's blindside protector, they can claim a victory on that move, even if it meant giving up a perennial All Pro. 

    Adding the two young running backs (Ridley and Vereen) was also a wise move to keep New England's potent offense on schedule. Sure they could have went after Mark Ingram with the 28th pick but knowing that the running game is secondary they traded down and still got two high quality ball-carrier to carry the load in case BenJarvus Green-Ellis left...which he did.

    And while adding both Marcus Cannon and Ras-I Dowling should also help the Pats reload rather than have to rebuild, the choice of Ryan Mallett is a curious one.

    Yes, they should start to consider a life after Tom Brady and Mallett might very well be a superstar in the making despite his checkered past. But they reportedly love Brian Hoyer as their second-stringer and potential Brady fill-in. So the Mallett choice will only make sense if they deal one of those two backups. And as of yet, they haven't. 

New Orleans Saints: Micky Loomis

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    First Round: Cameron Jordan, DE, Cal; Mark Ingram Jr., RB, Alabama

    Other Key Picks: Martez Wilson, LB, Illinois

    Overall Grade: D

    Loomis' troubles with the league (Bountygate) notwithstanding, the Saints general manager didn't exactly impress anyone with his choices last April.

    Trading up for Mark Ingram Jr. wasn't necessarily a "mistake" because they didn't have to give up that much to pry away the pick from New England. But because they had already given Pierre Thomas a new deal, signed Darren Sproles and still had Chris Ivory in a backfield that saw far less than 50 percent of the touches it was a strange move, and one that didn't produce much success in 2011. Now of course 2012 could be a completely different story.

    Still couple that pick with the selection of Cameron Jordan—a fine defensive end but not the pure pass-rusher they needed—and I think Loomis didn't do enough on draft day to improve the Saints long or short-term. 

New York Giants: Jerry Reese

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    First Round: Prince Amukamara, CB, Nebraska

    Other Key Picks: Jerrel Jernigan, WR, Troy; Da'Rel Scott, RB, Maryland

    Overall Grade: I...for incomplete

    As stated in the introduction slide, it's really unfair to grade draft classes after one year so in some sense, all 32 GMs should get an "incomplete." But in today's NFL that's just not the way things are: Results are measured in a time frame of nano seconds.

    Still, I can't help but declare the defending Super Bowl champions an exception. Practically half of their draft class from 2011 was crippled by injuries.

    Amukamara broke his foot and wasn't available until the second half of the season. Marvin Austin, the second-round selection from UNC, was also lost for the season before Week 1. 

    Although Da'Rel Scott and Jerrel Jernigan did make some contributions, it wasn't enough to outweigh losing both top selections in the preseason. 

New York Jets: Mike Tannenbaum

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    First Round: Muhammad Wilkerson, DT, Temple

    Other Key Picks: Jeremy Kerley, WR, TCU

    Overall Grade: B-

    When the Jets nabbed Wilkerson a lot of people hailed it as a monumental choice that practically clinched Rex Ryan's team a trip to the Super Bowl. Now someday that might be the case, maybe even in 2012, but after one season, I think those expectations were overblown.

    Wilkerson's addition couldn't save New York defense from several late-season implosions and although the injury to Jim Leonhard was a key reason why they still had a tremendous pair of corners. 

    In fact, there's a case to be made that the Jets fifth-round choice, wide receiver Jeremy Kerley actually made the same size impact as their first-rounder Wilkerson.

    Amongst big names like Santonio Holmes and Plaxico Burress, Kerely made some big plays, grabbing 29 passes and averaging almost 11 yards per reception. 

    That was a pleasant surprise for the Jets especially considering the team's two selections before Kerley (Kenrick Ellis and Bilal Powell) saw very limited playing time. 

Oakland Raiders: Al Davis (Since Passed Away)

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    First Round: None

    Other Key Picks: Denarius Moore, WR, Tennessee; Stefan Wisniewski, C, Penn State

    Overall Grade: B+

    To be perfectly honest, it's hard to know exactly who was making the decisions for this Raiders team on last year's draft day: The late Al Davis had been in declining health for some time.

    But coincidence or not, the Raiders really had a fine draft last April considering they were the only team without a first-round choice, having dealt it to New England in exchange for Richard Seymour. 

    Wisniewski stepped right in and became a starter for the Raiders, just like his uncle. And Taiwan Jones, the running back from Eastern Washington, was a solid returner, and Joseph Barksdale may prove to be a steal as a late third-rounder. 

    But clearly their best selection, and easily one of the draft's true diamonds in the rough, was Tennessee's Denarius Moore, a fifth-rounder from Tennessee. Moore caught 33 passes for 618 yards and five scores last year, and it's not like the Raiders were totally depleted at the position. 

Philadelphia Eagles: Howie Roseman

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    First Round: Danny Watkins, G, Baylor

    Other Key Picks: Casey Matthews, LB, Oregon; Dion Lewis, RB, Pitt; Alex Henery, K, Nebraska

    Overall Grade: D

    Maybe Roseman and the Eagles front office were too busy assembling the "Dream Team" to do a credible job on draft day.

    Watkins, who few people projected as a first-round talent, struggled early on and was even benched at one point. And Casey Matthews clearly couldn't handle the role of mike linebacker in that wide nine scheme—and he probably won't have an opportunity to redeem himself any time soon now that the Eagles have DeMeco Ryans and could draft Luke Kuechly. 

    In fact, since the two defensive backs they selected in the second and third rounds played very little, the only real saving grace for this class was the two later choices. Alex Henery was extremely accurate for a rookie (missing only three field goals) while Dion Lewis provided a nice change-of-pace to his former Pitt teammate LeSean McCoy. 

Pittsburgh Steelers: Kevin Colbert

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    First Round: Cameron Heyward, DE, Ohio State

    Other Key Picks: Marcus Gilbert, OT, Florida 

    Overall Grade: C

    The Steelers first two draft choices really helped out in a pinch: Marcus Gilbert started 13 games as Pittsburgh suffered another series of injuries to the offensive line while Heyward saw a great deal of playing time due to the injuries to Brett Keisel and Aaron Smith.

    But neither was particular overwhelming, just placeholders.

    And since neither corner they selected in the third round, Cortez Allen and Curtis Brown, could supplant shaky pseudo-starters William Gay or Bryant McFadden, Colbert's class wasn't nearly as potent as his AFC North contemporaries in Cleveland, Cincinnati or Baltimore. 

San Diego Chargers: A.J. Smith

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    First Round: Corey Liuget, DE, Illinois

    Other Key Picks: Marcus Gilchrist, CB, Clemson; Vincent Brown, WR, San Diego State

    Overall Grade: D

    In this era of limited patience by the fans, media and ownership every general manager needs to have a great draft to maintain job security. But perhaps none more so than the Chargers GM A.J. Smith, who fired a successful Marty Schottenheimer, has repeatedly stuck with Norv Turner despite mediocre results and failed to deliver a Super Bowl despite Super Bowl talent on the roster. 

    And in the 2011 draft, Smith really didn't do much to inspire confidence in work. Liuget produced very little as a member of the 3-4. And since their second-round choice, Jonas Mouton, ended up missing the entire season, they really didn't get much from those high selections. 

    Marcus Gilchrist, their second-round choice, came on strong in the second half of the season as did wide receiver Vincent Brown, but that wasn't nearly enough to overshadow a disappointing season from their top choice. 

St. Louis Rams: Billy Devaney (Since Fired)

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    First Round: Robert Quinn, DE, UNC

    Other Key Picks: Austin Pettis, WR, Boise State; Greg Salas, WR, Hawaii; Lance Kendricks, TE, Wisconsin

    Overall Grade: B+

    Although there were several questions regarding his health, character and the rust in his game, Robert Quinn turned out to be a fantastic selection for the troubled Rams. In limited time he grabbed five sacks and showed versatility in the run game. So although Devaney made a series of mistakes elsewhere, Quinn wasn't one of them.

    Furthermore, the three pass catchers Devaney nabbed for Sam Bradford (Kendricks, Salas and Pettis) combined for roughly 90 catches and 900 yards) were a major upgrade to what they had previously. 

    Still, it wasn't enough to save his job. 

San Francisco 49ers: Trent Baalke

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    First Round: Aldon Smith, OLB, Missouri

    Other Key Picks: Kendall Hunter, RB, Oklahoma State; Colin Kaepernick, QB, Nevada

    Overall Grade: B+

    The 49ers surpassed all expectations in 2011.

    Now clearly the crop of rookies that Baalke brought in weren't solely responsible for that instant turnaround: The veterans on that roster (Vernon Davis, Patrick Willis, Frank Gore, even Alex Smith) were the key to that near-Super Bowl berth.

    But Aldon Smith—who many people thought was far too raw to make an immediate impact—became an incredible situational pass-rusher, nabbing 14 sacks. And although he was just the backup to Gore, Kendall Hunter stole the backup job from Anthony Dixon and was productive as a receiver and runner, especially on third down.

    On a side note, Colin Kaepernick obviously came into a complicated situation (one that is even more so now) but even if he isn't meant to immediately supplant Smith as the starter, he has the skill set to be a fantastic second-string quarterback, which every team needs. 

Seattle Seahawks: John Schneider

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    First Round: James Carpenter, OT, Alabama

    Other Key Picks: K.J. Wright, LB, Mississippi State; John Moffitt, G, Wisconsin

    Overall Grade: B

    The two linemen selections that Schneider made, James Carpenter and John Moffitt, were not exactly met with great excitement by the local or nation press and with good reason. But at least both were on the field and strong enough to start nine games. Maybe Schneider didn't hit the jackpot with those picks, but they are on the path to becoming capable starters. 

    But clearly the two best moves he made, and the most efficient, were  fourth-rounder K.J. Wright and fifth-rounder Richard Sherman.

    Wright proved to be a quick study and soon was able to move into a starting role. Ultimately he ended up with 65 tackles, two sacks and played the pass very well. His presence allowed the Seahawks to deal away Aaron Curry and land a conditional mid-round pick. 

    As for Sherman, despite slipping well into Day 3, the Stanford product became a starter midway through the season then rewarded his fellow Pac-10 alum, Pete Carroll, with four picks and over four dozen tackles. 

Tennessee Titans: Mike Reinfeldt

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    First Round: Jake Locker, QB, Washington

    Other Key Picks: Akeem Ayers, OLB, UCLA; Jurrell Casey, DT, USC; Karl Klug, DT, Iowa

    Overall Grade: B+

    The Locker pick was obviously one of the most surprising choices of the entire draft. Many people (including Titans fans) thought it was an absurd reach.

    But after watching him fill in occasionally for Matt Hasselbeck, I tend to think it was a wise choice. He's very athletic and seems very comfortable in or out of the pocket. 

    Still, Reinfeldt's best choices were the two defensive tackles, Jurrell Casey and Karl Klug, both of whom rushed the passer with very surprising consistency. And Akeem Ayers—who was a first-round talent in the early going—had the type of rookie season (50 solo tackles, two sacks) that should make a handful of teams regret passing on him through the first 38 choices. 

Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Mark Dominik

32 of 33

    First Round: Adrian Clayborn, DE, Iowa

    Other Key Picks: Da'Quan Bowers, DE, Clemson; Mason Foster, MLB, Washington; Luke Stocker, TE, Tennessee

    Overall Grade: B+

    Prior to the 2011 NFL draft, the Bucs did nothing in free agency aside from giving a punter a six-year, $19.5 million deal. 

    But in some ways, Dominik really made up for that inactivity on draft day. Although both of their top two choices (defensive defensive ends Adrian Clayborn, Da'Quan Bowers) came into the draft with injury concerns they rehabbed enough to play all 16 games and combine for nine sacks. 

    Furthermore, even though Kellen Winslow II was on the roster, the selection of Luke Stocker made sense for Tampa Bay: In addition to being a capable pass catcher he'll contribute a ton in the running game as a blocker.

    Still, the critical selection made by Dominik was Mason Foster, who might turn out to be an upgrade (not just a replacement) for Barrett Ruud, who left via free agency.  

Washington Redskins: Bruce Allen

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    First Round: Ryan Kerrigan, DE, Purdue

    Other Key Picks: Roy Helu, RB, Nebraska; Evan Royster, RB, Penn State; Leonard Hankerson, WR, Miami (FL)

    Overall Grade: B+

    Trading down with Jacksonville was Allen's first genius stroke: Washington needed a defensive end/outside backer but the 2011 draft was stacked with pass-rushers so they could afford to wait six spots. It was just icing on the cake that Kerrigan had a fantastic rookie season, starting all 16 games and collecting 7.5 sacks. 

    The young offensive skill talent help that Allen was able to give to Mike Shanahan was his second brilliant move. 

    Roy Helu led the team in rushing and might be their workhorse for years to come, Evan Royster can be a great short-yardage/power runner and at times Leonard Hankerson showed first-round talent—against Miami he used that big frame to catch eight passes for 106 yards. 

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