The NFL draft has concluded, and, though many talent evaluators believe it takes three years to determine the success of a team’s draft picks, let’s hand out premature grades to the AFC East.
The good: The Bills had glaring holes to fill at quarterback, wide receiver and along their offensive line, among other positions, but Clemson’s C.J. Spiller, the most explosive and dynamic running back in the draft, was too talented for them to pass up in the first round. Spiller has the speed and skills to be a difference-maker as a runner, receiver and return man. He and current starter Fred Jackson give new coach Chan Gailey a potent running back tandem, something Buffalo needs to take pressure off whoever is its starting quarterback (Trent Edwards?) this season.
The bad: No team in the AFC East had more issues to address than the Bills, but none was more important than landing a potential franchise-caliber quarterback. Buffalo had opportunities to pick Florida’s Tim Tebow, Notre Dame’s Jimmy Clausen and Texas’ Colt McCoy. They instead settled for Troy’s Levi Brown in the seventh round. Brown is viewed by some as a sleeper — he is big (6-3, 229) and has a strong arm — but he likely will be nothing more than a backup. Somebody needs to tell Gailey that, now perhaps more than ever, the NFL is a quarterback-driven league, and he doesn't have one on his current roster that even remotely resembles a franchise quarterback.
Player to keep an eye on: sixth-round pick Arthur Moats, linebacker, James Madison. A defensive end at James Madison, Moats has the work ethic, intensity and ability to find the ball to make an impact as much-needed pass-rushing outside linebacker.
Final grade: C-
The good: With Randy Starks moving from defensive end to nose tackle to replace Jason Ferguson, who will miss the first eight games of the season due to a suspension for violating the league’s policy for performance-enhancing substances, Miami needed a “five-technique” defensive end. It got one in the first round in Penn State’s Jared Odrick. He has the size, strength and nonstop motor to take over for Starks and be a reliable defensive lineman for new defensive coordinator Mike Nolan. If Odrick becomes the next Aaron Smith, the Steelers’ 3-4 defensive end to whom he has been compared, the Dolphins will be elated.
The bad: The Dolphins didn’t draft anyone who immediately stands out as a difference-maker. Instead of trading down with San Diego in the first round, the Dolphins could have kept the 12th overall pick and drafted an elite pass-rushing outside linebacker. Despite lacking the size Dolphins boss Bill Parcells covets in linebackers, Michigan’s Brandon Graham, a hybrid defensive end/linebacker, would have been an exceptional pick for Miami; Graham has the potential and drive to be an elite pass rusher in the NFL. Parcells is hoping Utah’s Koa Misi, the Dolphins’ second-round pick, can become the young pass-rushing outside linebacker Miami’s 3-4 defense needs.
Player to keep an eye on: fifth-round pick Reshad Jones, safety, Georgia. Jones, a projected third-round pick, was a steal in the fifth round. He has terrific size for a safety (6-2, 215), plus he possesses the athleticism, explosiveness and hitting ability to challenge for a starting spot in Miami’s defensive backfield sooner rather than later.
Final grade: C
New England Patriots
The good: The Patriots filled arguably their biggest hole when they drafted playmaking tight ends Ron Gronkowski (Virginia, second round) and Aaron Hernandez (Florida, fourth round). Gronkowski missed all of his last season at Arizona with a back injury, but many scouts believed he was the most skilled tight end in the draft. As for Hernandez, there are concerns about his troubled past. But Patriots coach Bill Belichick, a good friend of Florida coach Urban Meyer, had perhaps more inside information on Hernandez than any other coach in the NFL. Gronkowski and, especially, Hernandez have the pass-catching ability to thrive in New England’s offense.
The bad: New England failed to add a significant need, a pass-rushing outside linebacker who could considerably enhance its ability to pressure the quarterback; they tied for 23rd in the league in sacks last season. The Patriots did draft Florida hybrid defensive end/outside linebacker Jermaine Cunningham in the second round. Cunningham, though, wasn’t considered one of the draft’s best pass rushers. Finding a pass rusher still is a must for the Patriots.
Player to keep an eye on: second-round pick Brandon Spikes, linebacker, Florida. Some felt Spikes was destined to be a late first-round pick before he ran the 40-yard dash in a dismal 5.01 seconds at his pro day. Spikes’ stock dropped, and he fell into the waiting arms of the Patriots, who plan to play him alongside up-and-coming inside linebacker Jerod Mayo. Spikes is a physical, aggressive linebacker who should overcome his lack of blazing speed to eventually land a starting position. His leadership skills will be a significant plus for New England’s defense, as well.
Final grade: B+
New York Jets
The good: Colts quarterback Peyton Manning cost the Jets a shot at reaching the Super Bowl for the first time since 1969 last season, shredding their overmatched secondary in the AFC Championship Game. First-round pick Kyle Wilson, along with newly acquired Antonio Cromartie and Darrelle Revis, gives the Jets arguably the top trio of cornerbacks in the NFL. Quarterbacks, even those as talented as Manning and New England’s Tom Brady, should now find it more difficult to exploit New York’s secondary and allow Jets coach Rex Ryan to continue to utilize blitz-heavy schemes. Wilson is expected to start the season as the Jets’ nickel cornerback, a position at which he should flourish. He will provide the Jets with a big-play threat as a punt returner, as well.
The bad: The Jets have the oldest defensive line in the division — all three of last season’s starters are 30 or older — and, if as excepted, free-agent defensive end Marques Douglas chooses to sign elsewhere, unproven Mike DeVito is penciled in to replace him. New York should have added at least one defensive lineman to provide much-needed depth and a potential replacement for Shaun Ellis, 32, the oldest starter on New York’s defense. It’s surprising that Ryan, considering his background, didn’t acquire a defensive lineman in the draft; he won a Super Bowl ring in 2000 coaching the Baltimore Ravens’ defensive line, which, of course, was anchored by wide-bodied defensive tackles Sam Adams and Tony Siragusa.
Player to keep an eye on: second-round pick Vladimir Ducasse, guard, Massachusetts. Ducasse is a raw but massive lineman (6-4, 332) with the potential to be a dominant guard in the NFL. He has played football for only seven years, so he will need time to develop. The Jets, though, are already expecting him to compete with Matt Slauson, their sixth-round pick last season, for the left guard spot vacated by Alan Faneca, who was recently released. If the Jets are patient with Ducasse and allow him to progress under the tutelage of Bill Callahan, one of the top offensive line coaches in the business, Ducasse will continue the Jets’ recent trend of churning out standout offensive linemen.
Final grade: B+