2011 NFL Draft Grades: Grading All 32 NFL General Managers
Front office executives make or break their careers based on their evaluations of players and their choices in the draft.
This season, general managers decided whether to trade picks up, trade picks down or select a certain player they believe could improve their team.
While general managers can not be judged on this year's draft accurately until three to five years down the road when these players prove their NFL ability, this article will determine the logic of certain picks and give a preliminary grade.
Buffalo Bills: Buddy Nix
The Buffalo Bills came into the 2011 NFL Draft needing a quarterback. Instead, they improved their defense—and improved it significantly.
Picking defensive tackle Marcell Dareus in the first round and cornerback Aaron Williams in the second round, the Bills should improve next season. Not meeting their need at quarterback brings their grade down from an A.
Miami Dolphins: Jeff Ireland
Although the Dolphins didn't have as many picks as other teams, they got value at key positions on offense. By getting versatile C/G Mike Pouncey, speedy WR Edmund Gates and second-round running back Daniel Thomas, the Dolphins are in position to improve their offense.
Some pundits said the Dolphins needed a quarterback, but Chad Henne will be much improved with all his new toys.
New England Patriots: Bill Belichick
The New England Patriots are famous for their wheeling and dealing of draft picks. Although they don't technically have a GM, Belichick is very involved in all personnel decisions.
The Patriots fortified next year's draft by trading a first round pick and improved on offense and defense with OL Nate Solder and defensive back Ras-I Dowling.
Ryan Mallett was great value for the Patriots in the third round, but the pick was somewhat puzzling as Tom Brady figures to have a few more seasons to go.
New York Jets: Mike Tannenbaum
The Jets took talented players in the 2011 NFL Draft that will help strengthen their 3-4 defensive line and apply pressure up front so fewer linebackers have to blitz.
Muhammad Wilkerson was great value in the first round; he was mocked as high as No. 12. Kenrick Ellis has the potential to be just as good if he deals with his off-the-field issues.
The Jets also filled their depth chart with QB Greg McElroy and picked up a running back and receiver late.
Baltimore Ravens: Ozzie Newsome
Although the Baltimore Ravens had a snafu in the first round that led to them missing their pick, they got the player they wanted in CB Jimmy Smith.
Smith would have been in discussions with Patrick Peterson as the best cornerback in the draft if not for his off-the-field issues. The Ravens have needed a shutdown corner since Chris McAllister left and Smith has that potential.
On offense, the Ravens were thrilled local product WR Torrey Smith fell to them. Smith will give Flacco a deep threat and has the potential to be a star NFL wide receiver.
Cincinnati Bengals: Mike Brown
The Cincinnati Bengals had a number of holes coming into the draft and did a good job at filling some of them. With aging wide receivers, led by prima donnas Chad Ochocinco and Terrell Owens, the Bengals used the No. 4 overall pick in the draft on A.J. Green.
In the second round, the Bengals put former No. 1 overall pick Carson Palmer's future with the team in doubt by selecting Andy Dalton out of TCU. Palmer has not played to his potential the past few seasons and Dalton will be given the opportunity to win the job out of the spring.
The player that may make the most immediate impact for the Bengals is linebacker Dontay Moch who flies all over the field and was a dominant pass rusher in college.
Cleveland Browns: Tom Heckert
The Cleveland Browns spent the first two rounds of the 2011 NFL Draft bolstering the defense to ease the transition from 4-3 to 3-4. First round pick Phil Taylor will play at nose tackle if he proves himself in the spring. The Browns also selected defensive end Jabaal Sheard.
Receiver Greg Little and tight end Jordan Cameron will give Colt McCoy more weapons on offense next season.
The Browns have a number of needs, the draft plugged some of their holes.
Pittsburgh Steelers: Kevin Colbert
When a team makes the Super Bowl and has most of their key players returning, the draft is an opportunity to solidify the team further. The Steelers took a number of high upside players, but few will be immediate contributors.
Defensive end Cameron Heyward was the Steelers' No. 1 pick. This pass rusher has the potential to start in the NFL, but needs to learn better technique before he can become a starter. OT Marcus Gilbert is also raw, but could develop into a fine NFL player down the road.
Winning affords teams the luxury to wait, and the Steelers draft does not appear to significantly help them for the 2011-2012 season.
Houston Texans: Rick Smith
Rick Smith the Houston Texans had a defensive strategy in the 2011 NFL Draft. The Texans selected pass rusher J.J. Watt in the first round, linebacker Brooks Reed in the second followed by cornerback Brandon Harris.
The Texans will have a defense that can help their offense next season and might make the first playoff appearence in franchise history.
Indianapolis Colts: Bill Polian
Bill Polian is generally regarded as one of the top GMs in the game. Coming into this draft, he was unhappy with how the offensive line protected Peyton Manning last season. With their first round pick, the Colts chose Anthony Castonzo to help solidify their line and protect their aging quarterback. In the second round, the Colts took another lineman: OG Benjamin Ijalana.
Although the Colts did not have the most exciting draft, Polian had a priority and filled needs. If these players develop, the Colts will be even stronger next season.
Jacksonville Jaguars: Gene Smith
The Jaguars got a guy in Blaine Gabbert who they believe can be their quarterback of the future. If Gabbert becomes the player the Jaguars think he will, their grade will increase.
But in order to move up to get Gabbert, the Jaguars gave up their second round pick, losing a chance to obtain another contributing player.
OG Will Rackley will help solidify the offensive line and WR Cecil Shorts has speed to burn, but both will take time to develop, especially with a rookie calling the signals.
Tennessee Titans: Mike Reinfeldt
The Tennessee Titans emphasized the defensive side of the ball in the 2011 NFL Draft after the defense struggled last season. The Titans used six of their nine picks to fill holes on the defensive side of the ball. Akeem Ayers, a linebacker from UCLA, highlighted the defensive class and figures to play a key role this season.
The Titans also selected Jake Locker early in the draft and hope he can replace mercurial QB Vince Young.
Denver Broncos: Brian Xanders
The Denver Broncos took the top linebacker in the draft with the No. 2 overall pick in Von Miller. He is one of the blue chippers of the class and figures to contribute immediately.
By trading down in the second round, the Broncos also acquired a couple of additional draft picks. Denver met a number of its needs on defense throughout the draft and figure to be much improved from last year's down season.
Kansas City Chiefs: Scott Pioli
The Chiefs were widely criticized for reaching for Joe Baldwin in the first round. It could've just been the Pittsburgh uniform, but his tape looked reminiscent of Calvin Johnson. Loved that pick.
As the draft progressed, however, the Chiefs continued to take risky, unproven players, some with serious character concerns. Pioli has a history of success in NFL Drafts, and Baldwin could be a star, but as a class, the Chiefs did not pick as many players that figure to be immediate contributors as other teams.
Oakland Raiders: Al Davis
The Raiders are another team without an official GM. In this year's draft, they also didn't have a first round pick.
It's tough for a team to compete in the draft without a top pick, and with the Raiders expecting top players, including shutdown corner Nnamdi Asomugha, to leave next season the Raiders needed more out of this draft.
That being said, Stefen Wisniewski has the potential to be solid along the offensive line (although some wonder if owner Al Davis selected him because his father played during the Raiders' glory days).
Demarcus Van Dyke also has the opportunity to be a starting NFL cornerback.
San Diego Chargers: A.J. Smith
The Chargers were thrilled in the first round when defensive lineman Corey Liuget fell past the Rams into their laps.
The Chargers made shrewd moves throughout the draft and may have picked up a sixth-round steal in running back Jordan Todman who was UConn's entire offense last season.
Chicago Bears: Jerry Angelo
The Chicago Bears strengthened both sides of the line with their first two picks. Gabe Carimi was one of the top OL on the board while Stephen Paea broke the bench press record at the combine and figures to be a top defensive tackle in the NFL.
The Bears took a few risks later in the draft, and it is unlikely we will be hearing any of the other names for a few years, but a draft with two quality players is more than most teams.
Detroit Lions: Martin Mayhew
The Lions got very good value in the draft, and abided by the philosophy of taking the best player available.
The Lions used later rounds to fill needs, but players like Nick Fairley, Titus Young and Mikel Leshoure are sure to help the Lions improve regardless of playing time.
Green Bay Packers: Ted Thompson
The Super Bowl Champion Green Bay Packers improved their offensive line with first round pick Derek Sherrod. They also gave QB Aaron Rodgers more weapons in Randall Cobb and tight end D.J. Williams.
Although they didn't fill holes on defense, the Packers became even more dangerous in 2011 and remain a favorite for the Super Bowl.
Minnesota Vikings: Rick Spielman
Picking Christian Ponder at No. 12 was an enormous reach for the Vikings. There were a number of quarterbacks who project better to the NFL who were still on the board.
Kyle Rudolph was one of the top tight end prospects in the draft and will be an asset to whoever ends up playing quarterback, but with competent tight ends already in place, the Vikings should have picked somebody who could contribute immediately.
Atlanta Falcons: Thomas Dimitroff
If a team is going to trade away tons of future picks, it better be getting a transcendent player at a position of need.
The Falcons mortgaged their future draft picks to reach for the second best receiver in the draft in Julio Jones. The Falcons already have one of the top NFL receivers in Roddy White, and while Jones could make the Falcons passing attack positively scary, the passing game was not the problem for the Falcons. Dimitroff should have focused on other areas of need.
Carolina Panthers: Marty Hurney
The Panthers' draft will be determined primarily by the successes or failures of Cam Newton. Newton is one of the riskiest No. 1 picks in recent memory.
He only has one year of proven success in Division 1 football and has had issues with accuracy. At the same time, he has proven leadership ability, arm strength and speed.
If Newton succeeds, this grade will be an A. If he fails, this draft has to be an F.
New Orleans Saints: Mickey Loomis
The Saints would get an A+ if they didn't have to give up extra draft picks, but their first two picks do more than any other team in the league to improve their team for the 2011-2012 season. The Saints immediately become Super Bowl favorites.
Mark Ingram will become part of an electric three-headed running back machine including Reggie Bush and Pierre Thomas. Cameron Jordan was one of the top pass-rushers in the draft and the Saints couldn't believe he fell all the way to their pick.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Mark Dominik
The Bucs gained a solid pass-rusher in Adrian Clayborn in the first round.
They also ended up being the team that finally bit the bullet and picked Da'Quan Bowers in spite of his knee injury.
Bowers was incredible value if he is healthy, but the fact so many teams passed on him shows the severe questions surrounding his health.
New York Giants: Jerry Reese
Although the Giants did not fill needs along the offensive line in the first round like many experts thought, they got tremendous value in top-10 talent Prince Amukamara, a defensive back.
Another sleeper could be seventh round pick Da'Rell Scott, a runningback out of the University of Maryland. Scott was the fastest running back at the combine. The last time the Giants took a running back in the seventh round, his name was Ahmad Bradshaw.
Dallas Cowboys: Jerry Jones
The Cowboys entered the draft with the intent of improving their offensive line to keep Tony Romo from getting hit too much.
The Cowboys took OT Tyron Smith who should help protect Romo, and whatever quarterback succeeds him.
OLB Bruce Carter and RB Demarco Murray should contribute early in their careers as well.
Philadelphia Eagles: Howie Roseman
Although the Eagles significantly improved their offensive line by taking Danny Watkins in the first round and helped their linebacking crew with Clay Mathew's little brother Casey, the team didn't address its needs in the secondary.
The Eagles will not improve next season based on their draft.
Washington Redskins: Bruce Allen
The Redskins took defensive end Ryan Kerrigan in the first round. Kerrigan will improve the Redskins' pass rush, but he won't be able to solve all the Skins' defensive issues.
The Redskins get bonus points for trading down, still getting their guy and picking up future picks.
Arizona Cardinals: Rod Graves
Even if just for the Patrick Peterson pick, Arizona had one of the best drafts in the NFL. Ryan Williams was also a star running back at Virginia Tech and will add some firepower to the Cardinals' offense.
San Francisco 49ers: Trent Baalke
The 49ers were active throughout the draft making trades. They originally had 12 picks and made 10.
Aldon Smith is a great pass-rusher. This draft will be a success if he can successfully transition to defensive end and use his skills to wreak havoc on the quarterback.
Seattle Seahawks: John Schneider
The Seahawks had a relatively boring draft, characterized by the first round pick of an offensive lineman most people mocked in the second round in James Carpenter.
In the second round, they took OG John Moffitt.
St. Louis Rams: Billy Devaney
The St. Louis Rams improved their pass rush with DE Robert Quinn in the first round. They continued to choose weapons for QB Sam Bradford with tight end Lance Kendricks in the second and wide receivers Austin Pettis and Greg Salas in the third and fourth rounds.
The Rams did a good job improving both sides of the ball and figure to take another step forward in 2011.