Now it’s time to turn our attention to the conference which has won three straight Super Bowls: The NFC. How did each team fare in this year’s draft?
Chicago Bears – Grade: B-
After selecting a potential star in the making in defensive end Shea McClellin in the first round, the Bears focused on two primary areas in the draft: defensive back and receiver. Alshon Jeffery is a boom or bust proposition at wide receiver, but when he’s on, he flies. And Brandon Hardin will add some nice depth for the Bears at safety. One glaring issue: the Bears didn’t acquire any offensive line help whatsoever.
Detroit Lions – Grade: B
Riley Reiff could prove a major addition to the Lions’ offensive line, falling to them at number twenty-three in round one. Detroit took a small risk in grabbing wide receiver Ryan Broyles in round two, with Broyles having torn his ACL near the end of last season. Three linebackers and three defensive backs comprised the rest of the Lions’ acquisitions.
Green Bay Packers – Grade: B+
The Packers had the luxury of concentrating almost exclusively on defense in this year’s draft and that they did, picking up defensive end Nick Perry and defensive tackle Jerel Worthy in rounds one and two respectively. Many analysts had projected Worthy to be a first round choice, so it was a mild surprise that he fell to the Packers at the 51st overall slot. Outside linebacker Terrell Manning out of North Carolina State has the potential to be a major sleeper for Green Bay.
Minnesota Vikings – Grade: A-
Any team that can get extra draft picks just for moving down one slot deserves a good grade, no? And what good things the Vikings did with all those picks, addressing needs at offensive line (by way of Matt Kalil), defensive back, and wide receiver. Heck, they even threw in a kicker for good measure.
Dallas Cowboys – Grade: B
The Cowboys had been linked with the likes of Mark Barron and Michael Brockers, but it’s Morris Claiborne they traded up for with the sixth overall pick. Any draft that winds up securing the top corner available can’t be all bad, and the Cowboys added to their big prize with some smart and savvy choices at defensive back and receiver.
New York Giants – Grade: B+
The Super Bowl champions wanted running back Doug Martin from Boise State, but the Buccaneers swooped in and got him just ahead of the Giants with the 31st overall pick. So the Giants were only too happy to acquire David Wilson out of Virginia Tech. Wilson is smaller than Martin (5’10″ 206 as opposed to 5’9″ 223) but he had more yards after contact last year than any other running back in the draft. Finding quality wideout Rueben Randle late in the second round was just what the doctor ordered given the departure of Mario Manningham.
Philadelphia Eagles – Grade: A-
When you have three slots in the first two rounds, you’re going to pick up quality players and Fletcher Cox, Mychal Kendricks, and Vinny Curry should serve the Eagles very well. It’s what the Eagles did in later rounds that impressed: wide receiver Marvin McNutt and offensive lineman Brandon Washington could eventually become very productive starters in Philly.
Washington Redskins – Grade: B-
Sure, the Redskins got RG3, but it struck many NFL pundits as bizarre that Washington would turn around and get another quarterback, Kirk Cousins, in round four. Still, Mike Shanahan got plenty of protection for Griffin in the form of offensive linemen Josh LeRibeus, Adam Gettis, and Tom Compton
Atlanta Falcons – Grade: B-
The Falcons didn’t address any of their defensive wants until round five, but early on they did get a busload of protection for Matt Ryan in the form of center Peter Konz, offensive lineman Lamar Holmes, and fullback Brady Ewing.
Carolina Panthers – Grade: B
Linebacker Luke Kuechly should help stabilize a defense that was horrible against the run last season, giving up 131 yards per game on the ground. Offensive tackle Amini Silatolu has the athletic ability to give Cam Newton more time to throw and wide receiver Joe Adams could blossom into a starting role. However, it would have been nice to see the Panthers fight for a wideout with elite skills to play opposite Steve Smith.
New Orleans Saints – Grade: B-
Like the Raiders, the Saints were limited to just five picks in this year’s draft and they didn’t get a crack at anyone until round three. But these grades aren’t about the players you get, they’re about what you do with the choices that you have. Mickey Loomis made the best of a tough situation, finding raw but potential-laden defensive tackle Akiem Hicks in round three and promising wide receiver Nick Toon (who, incidentally is the son of former Jets great Al Toon) in round four.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers – Grade: A
On defense, highly coveted safety Mark Barron and superlative linebacker Lavonte David are to be feared. And trading back into the first round to steal running back Doug Martin out of Boise State was exactly what Tampa needed to do.
Arizona Cardinals – Grade: A
In Michael Floyd, the Cardinals may have finally found a wide receiver good enough to take pressure off of Larry Fitzgerald. Cornerback Jamell Fleming’s versatility and quickness could make him a standout on special teams. And a pair of solid offensive linemen, Bobby Massie and Senio Kelemete, should provide more pass protection for a team that has given up a ton of sacks over the past couple seasons.
St. Louis Rams – Grade: B+
With ten overall picks in this draft, the Rams were able to focus on a number of different areas, including wide receiver, defensive back, and defensive line. Defensive tackle Michael Brockers should be able to plug up opposing teams’ running games on the inside and wide receiver Brian Quick has been touted as the next Terrell Owens by the Rams management. Corners Janoris Jenkins (off-field issues aside) and Trumaine Johnson could excel at the next level.
San Francisco 49ers – Grade: C
The 49ers really like wide receiver A.J. Jenkins as their first-round choice, but after having signed Mario Manningham and Randy Moss in the off-season, was this an area of need for them? And second-rounder LaMichael James seems like an odd choice, given the 49ers’ already solid backfield. Still, the 49ers uncovered some mid-to-late round gems, such as free safety Trent Robinson and guard Joe Looney.
Seattle Seahawks – Grade: C
What a glorious shock it was to behold the Seahawks plucking pass-rush specialist Bruce Irvin at number 15. No one saw it coming. And now, to add intrigue, it has been discovered that the Jets wanted Irvin as well. Sadly, the rest of the Seahawks’ draft wasn’t as compelling as they inexplicably grabbed yet another quarterback, in round three, as well as some lackluster players in the later rounds.