2011 NFL Draft: 5 Teams That Maximized Value for the Future
The 2011 NFL draft ended on Saturday, just days after the lockout was seemingly over as well. With the lockout back on it may be a moot point to discuss the draft's impact for the upcoming season, but teams have new players and that's worth talking about.
I tend to grade teams based on the value of their draft picks over needs, particularly bad teams with a lot of holes and a dearth of talent. Good teams get graded a little more based on need, but they can get away with great value picks and focus on filling whatever major needs they may have in free agency as well. The draft is about getting the best players and five years from now, that's all that will matter.
5. Cleveland Browns
Any team that trades down generally gets a great value grade around draft time, but the Browns helped themselves by making solid picks as well. Cleveland acquired five picks from Atlanta for the rights to Julio Jones, including 2011 and 2012 first-rounders as well as a 2011 second-rounder. This gave the Browns maneuverability.
Cleveland may not have needed to trade a third-round pick to Kansas City to move up and draft Phil Taylor, but it was a luxury the Atlanta trade afforded them to get their man. Taylor isn't a perfect fit in Cleveland's base 4-3 but he should help a run defense that was absolutely abysmal last season.
Jabaal Sheard can defend the run and rush the passer well and could be a mainstay next to Taylor along the Cleveland defensive line for years to come. His 2010 arrest seems to be an aberration considering his otherwise clean history.
Greg Little (along with most of the North Carolina draftees) is one of my favorite sleepers of this draft and, if he keeps the character issues on the back burner, could be the third-best receiver in this draft despite being the sixth one taken. The Browns needed a potential number-one receiver to help develop Colt McCoy and they got a very talented receiver who could be this season's Mike Williams.
4. Baltimore Ravens
The Ravens were a good football team with a few holes, notably at receiver and cornerback. They filled both of those spots with their first two draft picks this year and they got excellent value from both.
I knew Baltimore liked Jimmy Smith, but I wasn't sure he would be available by the time they picked. But once the Eagles passed on him it became apparent Smith would be a Raven and while he comes with some baggage, his potential is too much to pass up at the end of round one. In a draft with talented corners at the top in Patrick Peterson and Prince Amukamara, Smith has the ability to be just as good.
Torrey Smith fills the Ravens' biggest offensive need; a wide receiver with the speed to get open downfield. Combine his abilities with Joe Flacco's arm and you have a match made in heaven for the Baltimore offense, particularly Ray Rice and Anquan Boldin who should find holes in the underneath routes easier to come by.
Tandon Doss is a possession receiver who could slide into Derrick Mason's role in time, while Tyrod Taylor is an intriguing late-round flier who comes with minimal risk as the 180th pick. The Ravens helped themselves in both the long and short-term in this year's draft.
3. Tampa Bay Buccaneers
The Bucs were one of the surprise teams of the 2010 season, almost making the playoffs after picking in the top three of the 2010 draft. Even with the 20th pick this season Tampa found a way to make some solid picks and add to an already solid group of young players on their roster.
Many see Adrian Clayborn at 20 and Da'Quan Bowers at 51 as risky picks due to injury concerns, but drafting both of them alleviates some of the risk if one doesn't pan out. I like both players and I think Clayborn's erb's palsy has been overblown; he can still be a very good edge rusher on the right side.
Bowers fell from a potential top-three pick all the way out of the top 50 due to concerns that he will need knee surgery in the next few years. But even if Bowers misses a season sometime soon, he can still be a huge steal late in round two. One lost season does not ruin a career of 10-plus years and many teams will regret passing on the talented end down the line.
Mason Foster, Luke Stocker and Ahmad Black were also excellent selections and you can make an argument that each was one of the five or 10 best players taken in those rounds. Tampa Bay could very well take the next step into the playoffs this season with their draft to thank for it.
2. Cincinnati Bengals
The Bengals did a great job making the most out of their draft picks and with a top-five slot, that leads to a top-notch draft. A.J. Green is an absolute home run and should help second-round pick Andy Dalton's development as a rookie under center.
Speaking of Dalton, the Bengals did a great job of taking value with the fourth pick and not reaching for a player like Blaine Gabbert. Dalton is probably the most NFL-ready quarterback in this draft and while he may not wow you with his arm strength, getting him early in the second round represents greater value than Gabbert, Jake Locker and Christian Ponder in the top 12.
Two picks don't make a draft, however, and while linebacker Dontay Moch isn't a ideal fit for the Bengals' defensive scheme he can still help the Bengals' pass rush which finished 27th in the league last season. Guard Clint Boling could be the steal of the fourth round.
1. Detroit Lions
When you get a player who was the leading candidate to be the top overall pick a few months ago outside the top 10, that's generally good value. Considering the fact that Fairley will be playing next to last year's top overall pick Ndamukong Suh on the inside of Detroit's defensive line, it turns into amazing value.
Like many, I thought it was imperative for Detroit to address the left tackle or cornerback position with their first-round pick, drafting either Tyron Smith, Anthony Costanzo or Prince Amukamara. With that said, it's difficult to knock the Lions taking Fairley.
His bust potential will be minimized playing alongside Suh as he will avoid double teams and be able to use his athleticism to wreak havoc in opposing backfields and if he reaches his full potential, the Lions could have two of the five best defensive tackles in football within a few seasons.
Titus Young and Mikel Leshoure were good picks at 44 and 57, respectively. Young has the speed to stretch the field and should help the diminutive Nate Burleson take pressure off of Calvin Johnson and while I think a player like Brandon Harris may have been a better pick in terms of team need, Young was still a good pick.
Leshoure is what Jahvid Best isn't; big and powerful. This pick likely signals Kevin Smith's departure from the Motor City but both Leshoure and Best should allow the other to maximize their individual skill sets. Harris was also available at this spot but again, I'm not going to argue with Detroit taking arguably my favorite running back in this draft.
There are a few other teams that almost made this list, but you can't include everybody.
Buffalo Bills: Marcell Dareus, Aaron Williams and Kelvin Sheppard represented great value and the Bills needed to address their defensive issues. If they took Dalton instead of Williams they could have cracked the top five, but weak-armed quarterbacks don't always fare well in western New York anyway.
New Orleans Saints: The Saints may have ignored some needs along the offensive and interior defensive lines but they picked up four really good players in the first three rounds. Cameron Jordan and Mark Ingram were both steal towards the end of round one, as were Martez Wilson and Johnny Patrick in round three.
The Giants and Cardinals also made some good value picks, New York drafting sliding cornerback Prince Amukamara and North Carolina sleeper Marvin Austin. The Cardinals smartly passed on Blaine Gabbert in favor of Patrick Peterson, but I'm not sure how Ryan Williams fits the same backfield with Beanie Wells and Tim Hightower.