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2013 NFL Draft: Grading Not As Easy As A, B, C

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Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images.
Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images.

In the immediate aftermath of the NFL Draft, there’s only one thing fans want to know. How’d we do?

Dutifully, every year, we tell them. We assess every team’s performance picking players over a three-day span and assign a grade to their haul of prospects as if we were marking answers on an exam. Hmmm, Johnny didn’t get the answer to his second pick right; that will be reflected in his final grade.

In truth, every one of the 32 teams should receive the same grade coming out of the draft: incomplete. Until a player has studied the playbook and suited up for practice, there is no way of knowing just how right a pick he was.

But it’s unsatisfying to have to wait until training camp to determine whether a pick is going to work out this year. Really, that’s the criteria that all drafts should be graded upon. Will this player help this team this year?

Yes, players will develop over time. Yes, some players were picked with an eye toward the future. But most teams don’t have the luxury of drafting players who won’t start contributing for several seasons. Not every team has Brett Favre at quarterback and can stash away Aaron Rodgers until they need him.

Most teams need their picks to play now. And draft grades should be given based on whether a player is going to make his team better now. Not three years from now, when the current coach and GM may not even be with the organization. Now. This year. Will he be on the field contributing or not?

In fact, the grading system itself should be pared down to two choices: Pass or Fail. A team either got better through the draft or it didn’t.

It's like handicapping the Kentucky Derby. You can spend days figuring out how the pace scenario is going to play out, analyzing whether a certain horse’s pedigree suggests how he’ll do at this distance and whether his racing style suits his post position and the track conditions. Ultimately you pick your horse. And  then either he wins or he doesn’t.

You get it right or you get it wrong. You don’t get a subjective B- for a horse that came close to winning but sure gave it a good try. You cash your ticket (pass) or you tear it up (fail).

Obviously, there are nuances to horse racing (show bets and exotics can make you a winner, even if your horse isn’t). And, of course, there are nuances to a team’s draft class. Maybe they landed one superstar, but the other six picks flopped . . . what kind of grade does that warrant?

Which brings me back to the original point. It is impossible to know on Sunday, Draft Day plus one, who are the winners and who are the losers and who are the middle-of-the-road C students.

Still, fans have their one burning question. And we dutifully answer it. But at Football.com, we are assigning only one-third of a team’s 2013 Draft Grade right now. We are awarding a partial grade based on whether a team appears to have addressed its needs with its draft picks. We will reassess our grades before the start of the season, once we see how many draftees have made the roster, how many look like they’ll contributors (whether it’s as the starting quarterback or on special teams). And then we’ll give the rest of the grade at the end of the season, when the work can finally speak for itself. That's when we can begin to know how well a team did in its drafting.

For now, here are the in-progress grades for all 32 teams, based exclusively on the degree to which they have either helped or hampered themselves.

GRADE A: Teams that did an exceptional job filling their needs

Cincinnati: The Bengals needed to address three primary areas: safety, running back and adding a target for Andy Dalton to complement A.J. Green. Signing James Harrison removed linebacker from its list of immediate needs. All they did was pick up Football.com’s top-ranked RB (Giovani Bernard) in Round 2, the far-and-away best TE in the draft (Tyler Eifert) and a safety as capable in coverage as in run support. Shawn Williams may not be the immediate upgrade over Taylor Mays they were looking for, but he should contend for the starting SS job.

Jacksonville: OK, this amounts to grading on a curve. The Jaguars almost couldn’t help but get better. They got Day 1 starters with their first three picks: LT Luke Joeckel, S John Cyprien and CB Dwayne Gratz. They needed offensive playmakers, and they spent their next two picks on two explosive players; either Ace Sanders or Denard Robinson could wind up starting over Jordan Shipley at slot receiver, and both could be weapons in the return game.

Minnesota: What the Vikings did in the first round of the 2013 draft could become legendary. At No. 23, they landed the No. 1 player on the Football.com Big Board, DT Sharrif Floyd (next up in Minnesota’s proud lineage of defensive tackles). At No. 25, they landed the second-best man corner in the draft (Xavier Rhodes). At No. 29, they picked up one of the draft’s truly unique talents in raw receiver Cordarrelle Patterson. The fact that they managed two great value picks with Penn State LBs Gerald Hodges and Michael Mauti is gravy. If Patterson develops into the multi-purpose factor he has the potential to become, this will be the definitive draft class of 2013.

St. Louis: The Rams followed up a strong free agent haul by adding four potential starters at positions of need. Think they were looking to get Sam Bradford some targets? The Rams landed the record-setting West Virginia receiver who had 114 catches, 1,622 yards and 25 touchdowns and Tavon Austin (the first being Stedman Bailey). LB Alec Ogletree is an elite athlete who will start right away but clearly needs some polishing. Same could be said about S T.J. McDonald. And G/C Barrett Jones is the most underrated and most versatile of the Alabama O-linemen to come out this year.

San Diego: The Chargers’ draft is awkward to evaluate. They did not fill their No. 1 need – left tackle. But they came away with three of the top 25 players on the Football.com Big Board, including the No. 2 receiver (Keenan Allen, who projects as the best of the wideouts, if you consider Austin a slot receiver), the top ILB (Manti Te’o) and the top RT (D.J. Fluker). If you ascribe to the philosophy of drafting for value over need, which we do, then you have to give the Chargers their due for doing just that. It can be argued they took the Best Player Available with their top three picks.

Tennessee: Again, you can only grade at this point on whether a team appears to have added players who will contribute. The Titans may have landed five guys who could wind up starting this season. Some draft rankings had G Chance Warmack as the best player in the field, period. They landed WR Justin Hunter, CB Blidi Wreh-Wilson and C Brian Schwenke each a round later than they were projected to go. And LB Zavier Gooden at the very least provides depth at a position where the Titans had none. Every pick will get a chance to play. How can you ask for more out of a draft?

GRADE B: Teams that did an above-average job

Baltimore: It’s not often you see a Super Bowl champion enter the following draft with so many needs: someone to replace Ray Lewis, someone to replace Bernard Pollard, someone to replace Anquan Boldin, and some help on the offensive line. Those were some big shoes to fill. Getting LB Arthur Brown at No. 56 was a bonafide steal. S Matt Elam is a hitter who needs to become a more consistent tackler. The interior offensive linemen taken late won’t help immediately. They did add some interesting depth to their defensive line, and DT Brandon Williams may turn out to be a better offseason addition than Chris Canty.

Carolina: The Panthers were already building a beastly front seven. Adding DTs Star Lotulelei and Kawann Short with their first two picks added the final pieces to that puzzle. That alone earns them high marks. Adding instinctive but unspectacular LB A.J. Klein only strengths that grade. But they were unable to get any help in the secondary, which offsets a potential Grade-A draft class.

Green Bay: Talk about value . . . we projected the Pack to pick Eddie Lacy at No. 26, when they took DE Datone Jones. They got Lacy 35 picks later. Plus, they drafted Lacy’s backup two rounds after that (Johnathan Franklin), netting two of Football.com’s top-four backs. Of course, their full value will be minimized if the team doesn’t intend to use them. If Green Bay becomes more willing to run the ball to take pressure off Aaron Rodgers, this might be the most significant positional upgrade in the league. And a commitment to the run might be enough to offset some of the problems the Packers had in pass protection; they didn’t help the O-line in the draft the way they might have liked.

Miami: The Dolphins didn’t surprise anyone by trading up to No. 3, but they shocked everyone when they didn’t take T Lane Johnson. But how can you argue with DE/OLB Dion Jordan, an elite pass-rush prospect, to bookend Cameron Wake? They added depth in the secondary, with the draft’s most scheme-adaptable corner in Jamar Taylor (a steal at No. 54) and CB Will Davis in the third. And in Dallas Thomas, they found a versatile offensive lineman who could start at either tackle spot or at guard.

New Orleans: The Saints are converting to a 3-4 defensive scheme under new coordinator Rob Ryan, and so it would have been nice to see them add a few more pieces than they were able to with just five draft picks. Still, most of their picks yielded immediate-impact types. Kenny Vaccaro was both the best free safety and strong safety available in the draft. And 346-pound DT John Jenkins gives the Saints the double team-demanding big body in the middle every 3-4 front needs as a cornerstone. This draft lacked the sheer numbers needed to turn around completely a lousy defense. But they have taken steps in that direction. Plus, they got the left tackle they needed in Terron Armstead, a small-college player who has athletic abilities rarely seen at that position.

Oakland: The Raiders helped themselves, which is not something we’re used to writing at the end of a draft. Yes, D.J. Hayden may have been a bit of a reach at No. 12, but they traded down and were able to grab a starting cornerback. And with the pick they received from Miami in exchange for No. 3 overall, they landed their starting right tackle in Menelik Watson. In the third round, they added one of the draft’s sleepers in Sio Moore, who may be the best offseason addition to a completely overhauled linebacking corps. Davis Bass, who they took 233rd, is another deep sleeper at DE. They needed to take a QB in case Matt Flynn turns out to be more in the Kevin Kolb, Matt Cassel mold than, say, Matt Schaub. In Tyler Wilson, they got a tough, talented quarterback who might just get himself ready by the time his chance comes.

Philadelphia: You have to like the value the Eagles found in virtually every pick. T Lane Johnson is an immediate starter and may wind up being the most talented offensive player in this draft class. TE Zach Ertz gives Chip Kelly a terrific weapon to use in traffic and the red zone, and Ertz can also stretch the field. CB Jordan Poyer has the skill set to play slot corner or out on the boundary and was a huge value pick in the seventh round. And then there’s Matt Barkley, our top-rated QB who went with the first pick of the fourth round. Of all the quarterbacks in the draft, Barkley is uniquely capable of learning whatever Kelly’s offense turns out to be, and he will go into the season No. 2 on the depth chart, ready and waiting for Michael Vick’s inevitable next injury to give him the job.

San Francisco: The 49ers, it seemed, had one thing on their mind: draft the one player they felt could help them. That was LSU FS Eric Reid, whom they traded up to get at No. 18 and a player I think probably would have still been around at the Niners’ original pick (No. 31). Still, they got their man and can’t be faulted. After that, they added a potential quality pass rusher in Cornellius Carradine (who likely will have to play OLB), added depth on the defensive line (Corey Lemonier, Quinton Dial), picked up a quality second TE (Vance McDonald). And they took a flier on RB Marcus Lattimore. The 49ers don’t need to rush Lattimore back; if his rehab is successful, he can contribute to the running back rotation now and perhaps gain a larger role in the future. The luxury of having so many draft picks is being able to afford a risk like Lattimore.

GRADE C: Teams that did an average job

Arizona: Exhibit A in the argument against handing out next-day grades. With the exception of Jonathan Cooper, our top-rated guard in the class, virtually every other pick was a wait-and-see prospect. ILB Kevin Minter will start right away, but only because of Daryl Washington’s four-game suspension. What will they get from DE Alex Okafor? From the draft’s biggest question mark, Tyrann Mathieu? Will either RB (Stepfan Taylor, Andre Ellington) have much to contribute at an area of significant need? WR Ryan Swope has great (if smallish) hands, but can he play his game in the middle of the field and remain healthy? Quite possibly, the Cards landed a pair of starting guards (Cooper and Earl Watford) and after that, who knows?

Atlanta: The Falcons are built to win now, so they didn’t need much from this draft. And that’s pretty much what they got. They needed to replace cornerbacks Brent Grimes and Dunta Robinson, so they added Desmond Trufant and Robert Alford, who are both talented athletes and versatile corners. Neither projects as an elite player. Still, they addressed the one position where there was an immediate need. Beyond that, Atlanta added depth on the defensive line, though not much upside, and didn’t grab either a young running back or a deserving heir to TE Tony Gonzalez.

Chicago: For months, every mock draft you could find shared one universal pick: Tyler Eifert to the Bears at No. 20. With the draft’s best TE still there, how a team that seemed such a perfect fit could pass on taking him is still perplexing. And it didn’t take another seemingly natural fit in LB Manti Te’o, instead opting for Kyle Long, a tackle who likely will move to guard. The Bears did address their linebacking corps in a big way, adding Jon Bostic and Khaseem Greene, which gives them depth now and replacements down the road for all the veteran LBs one one-year deals. DE Cornelius Washington is all potential; if he can give consistent effort – even if it’s as a pass rush specialist – the Bears could wind up with three defensive starters, all taken after the first round.

Dallas: There was some much-deserved Cowboys bashing after they traded down in the first round and still took C Travis Frederick about a full round too early. But when you look at the overall haul, Dallas came away with some sneaky-good picks. Frederick, while far from a value pick at No. 31, will start right away on a Dallas offensive line that desperately needed to be upgraded. TE Gavin Escobar has fantastic hands; he and WR Terrance Williams add depth to Tony Romo’s pool of potential targets. Dallas also deepened its defensive backfield. Both S J.J. Wilcox and CB B.W. Webb are from FCS programs (Georgia Southern and William & Mary, respectively), and both are likely to develop into starters. They didn’t get the help they needed at OT or along the defensive front. Still, what they did get should help.

Detroit: The Lions addressed many of their immediate needs (which is good) by drafting players with terrific upside (which is promising but not immediately gratifying). Ezekiel Ansah can become an elite pass rusher, and there’s nothing to quibble over here, but the Lions need to be patient with him, as the Giants were with Jason Pierre-Paul. Devin Taylor is even more of a developmental DE prospect on the other end. Darius Slay might not have even been the best CB from Mississippi State still on the board at No. 36, but he’s a developing talent who will help . . . someday. The one need Detroit did not resolve was offensive tackle, which remains a question mark (if not a concern). But they picked up G Larry Warford in the third round; Warford’s an immediate starter and provides at least a small upgrade in the protection for Matthew Stafford.

New England: That the Pats would move out of the first round to stockpile picks was perhaps the safest bet in the draft. For a team that entered Day One with five picks, coming out with four likely contributors is pretty impressive. That said, it’s tough to see more than mere contributors in this group. WR Aaron Dobson has some upside, but he’s hardly a step up from Michael Jenkins and Donald Jones at this point. Jamie Collins and Steve Beauharnais add depth at linebacker, and adding half of Rutgers' starting secondary gives a little boost to the Pats defensive backfield. All seem destined for rotation play in their first seasons, but there’s no big splash to be made.

Seattle: Like San Francisco and other talent-laden teams, the Seahawks didn’t need much from this draft. And they didn’t do much. With their first pick (which turned out to be the last pick of the second round), they took RB Christine Michael, a bit of a luxury pick to back up Marshawn Lynch. They also added depth to the defensive front seven (DTs Jordan Hill and Jesse Williams, plus Ty Powell, a former safety who moved to defensive end and projects as a LB in the NFL).

GRADE D: Teams that did a below-average job

Buffalo: It sure seems the rest of the league agreed with Doug Marrone after all. Everyone else passed on Ryan Nassib a bunch of times, so going in a different direction at QB doesn’t seem like a mistake. But that doesn’t make E.J. Manuel the right pick at No. 16. There were better players available there, dozens of guys who will have a more immediate impact than Manuel. Kevin Kolb shouldn’t feel the least bit threatened by a prospect who does a lot well but nothing worthy of a pick in the first half of the first round. LB Kiko Alonso, WR Marquise Goodwin and S Duke Williams were all taken slightly before their grades might have suggested. The lone bright spot is WR Robert Woods, a solid if unspectacular receiver who will immediately help by taking some of the attention of Stevie Johnson.

Cleveland: If nothing else, the Browns' defense sure sounds a lot more menacing, having added Barkevious Mingo (who sounds like a Syth) and Jamoris Slaughter (is there a better name for a safety?). Still, Mingo has to learn to play OLB – where we project he will flourish, eventually. And the other pieces Cleveland added, including CB Leon McFadden, are not the impact pieces a team on the come would have liked to come away with.

Denver: There were better players available than Sylvester Williams when the Broncos made their first pick at No. 28, particularly defensive backs who might have filled a greater need than defensive tackle. Denver did little to add to the secondary depth (Kayvon Webster is help for down the road, if then). Nor did they add anyone to help the pass rush, a significant need after the muddled departure of Elvis Dumervil. RB Montee Ball was an interesting pick at No. 58, and he could wind up being the Broncos' best back, in which case this grade would go up dramatically.

Houston: If the draft ended after Round 1, the Texans would have earned an A. They got the complementary receiver they needed in DeAndre Hopkins, who provides the big-play threat that Andre Johnson may no longer be. After that, they didn’t land anyone who seems a lock to be part of a regular rotation. Part of that is because Houston is loaded everywhere. But beyond D.J. Swearinger, who will have more value after he’s had a chance to back up and learn from Ed Reed, it doesn’t appear Houston added much help through the draft.

New York Giants: They took versatile G/T Justin Pugh a bit too early. Same with DT Johnathan Hankins, who doesn’t come with the pass rush skills the Giants seem to prefer, even in their interior linemen. Then they took on enigmatic DE Damontre Moore, who could turn out to be a legitimate steal. Talent is not the question for this natural pass rusher; rather, it’s his temperament. The good news for Moore is that he’s going to an organization where players tend to mature – they either grow up or they’re gone. So, he’ll have his chance to prove that this was one of the best value picks of Day Two. As for Ryan Nassib, the best thing you can hope for is that the Giants don’t need him to play. Backing up a Manning is the easiest job in football. This pick doesn’t hurt the Giants, unless he actually has to play this year.

New York Jets: How is it that you can add two top-20 players on defense and the quarterback so many pundits pegged as Best in Class and still not seem like you’ve helped your team? CB Dee Milliner is in the unenviable position of being compared directly to the guy he replaced, Darrelle Revis; he can live up to even the loftiest of expectations and not be the premier cover corner that Revis is. Sheldon Richardson can be a dominant defensive tackle, but seems far better suited for a 4-3 than the 3-4 the Jets play. And Geno Smith has all the physical skills, but needs to learn to play a system different from the one he was so comfortable in at West Virginia. This is not to say all of these prospects can’t become solid pros. But none of them are in the position to help right away. And while G Brian Winters will start right away, the Jets didn’t get a single skill position playmaker for an offensive starved for one.

Pittsburgh: I fear Pittsburgh wound up with several players who appear to be classic Steelers prototypes in theory only. Jarvis Jones is a dynamic and disruptive pass rusher, but he may be more one-dimensional (blitz-only) than they would like him to be. Le’Veon Bell is a physical, between-the-tackles banger of a running back, but he looks ordinary too often and the physical style took its toll in college. WR Markus Wheaton has straight-line speed comparable to Mike Wallace, but he doesn’t have the same receiving skills. We projected they would take a quarterback to develop behind Ben Roethlisberger, who hasn’t played a full season since 2008. But they could have done better than Landry Jones, rated 10th in a class lacking a difference-making quarterback.

Tampa Bay: The Bucs helped themselves so much through free agency, acquiring Dashon Goldson and Darrelle Revis to turn the league’s worst secondary into one of its best, that they didn’t need much out of the draft. Getting CB Johnthan Banks was a great value pick, and further strengthens that overhauled defensive backfield. But none of their three picks along the D-line is a lock to be part of the rotation. And while they obviously wanted to bring in a quarterback to nudge Josh Freeman to the next level, Mike Glennon is still too much a project to pose a real threat for the foreseeable future.

Washington:  Virtually every time they picked, it seemed there was someone better on the board for them to take. CB David Amerson, TE Jordan Reed, S Phillip Thomas and RB Chris Thompson were all at least slight reaches. Only S Baccari Rambo, who they nabbed at No. 191, was a value. The Redskins needed help in the secondary, and brought in prospects at both corner and safety. It remains to be seen if they were the right players.

GRADE F: Teams that flat-out failed to make themselves better

Indianapolis: We expected the Colts would take a receiver to add to Andrew Luck’s arsenal, and they may come to regret passing on Keenan Allen, DeAndre Hopkins, Cordarrelle Patterson, Justin Hunter and Robert Woods. Bjoern Werner was the most natural 4-3 DE in the draft, more accomplished against the run than rushing the passer. They’re going to ask Werner to stand up and play OLB in a 3-4. That will be quite an adjustment for Werner and it doesn’t give them the playmaker on defense they were hoping to find. DT Montori Hughes has some upside, but he’s a rotational player for now. And while they added G Hugh Thornton and C Khaled Holmes, neither should contribute much this year barring injury to a starting interior lineman. The Colts improved a bunch through free agency, but this grade reflects the draft alone, and it’s tough to see where they helped themselves at all.

Kansas City: When you’re a two-win team, you need to come away with more from the draft than the Chiefs appeared to. This is not an indictment of LT Eric Fisher, who appears to be a very deserving No. 1 overall pick. But the Chiefs came away with a project linebacker in Nico Johnson and didn’t add any impact players along the defensive line, at safety or wide receiver. And they spent two third-round picks on Travis Kelce, who may not beat out Anthony Fasano as the team’s No. 2 tight end, and RB Knile Davis, whose once-promising career has been hampered by injury and fumble troubles.