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NFC grades: Redskins, Panthers earn high marks

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With only five (six before Kansas City acquired Detroit's pick) of the first 15 picks, it was bound to be an uphill climb in the draft for NFC teams this year. But the two best classes featured different strategies: one team that moved up for two first-round picks (Carolina), and another that traded out of the first round altogether (Washington).

But with the AFC collecting much of the best talent and making some of the shrewdest moves, it was not a kind draft to the NFC. Overall, the conference drew two A's, seven B's, six C's and one D. Here is how it broke down by division.

NFC EAST

Dallas Cowboys
Picks: RB Felix Jones, DB Mike Jenkins, TE Martellus Bennett, RB Tashard Choice, DB Orlando Scandrick, DL Erik Walden
Positives: Jones, Jenkins, Choice
Negative: No young wide receiver to develop.
Bottom line: B+. Only six picks, but Jones and Jenkins are solid picks. However, taking Jones over Rashard Mendenhall because he was used to playing a backup role makes no sense. That doesn't make Felix a bad pick, it just links him forever to Mendenhall. Jenkins can return kicks and gives great insurance at cornerback for Pacman Jones. The addition of Pacman also counts, and Dallas doesn't have a lot invested for the talent level. Bennett is intriguing and Choice could be a steal in the fourth round. New York Giants
Picks: DB Kenny Phillips, DB Terrell Thomas, WR Mario Manningham, LB Bryan Kehl, LB Jonathan Goff, QB André Woodson, DE Robert Henderson
Positives: Phillips, Manningham, Woodson
Negative: No picks for tackle depth.
Bottom line:B. A solid class from top to bottom. Phillips, Kehl and Woodson have a boatload of upside. Manningham could be a tremendous value pick in the third round. Whatever you want to say about his lack of speed or smarts (reportedly scored very low on the Wonderlic test administered at the NFL scouting combine), he consistently produced on the biggest of stages at the college level. But keeping him from becoming a character issue might be tough in New York. Woodson's mechanics and decision-making translate into a major project over the next several years, but he's got a lot of tools to keep the Giants invested. Philadelphia Eagles
Picks: DL Trevor Laws, WR DeSean Jackson, DL Bryan Smith, OL Mike McGlynn, DB Quintin Demps, DB Jack Ikegwuonu, OL Mike Gibson, LB Joe Mays, DL Andrew Studebaker, OL King Dunlap
Positives: Jackson, Ikegwuonu
Negative: No tackle until the seventh round.
Bottom line: C+. The 10 picks touched on all the major needs, but the class doesn't have the "wow" factor. It's a little reminiscent of the 2004 draft that went 10 deep but didn't produce much. However, Philadelphia's fleecing of Carolina for the 19th pick will produce future dividends. Jackson is explosive and a potential steal in the second round. Ikegwuonu has a lot of talent and could move over to safety when he recovers from his knee injury. McGlynn could move to tackle and Dunlap could make the team because of his size. Washington Redskins
Picks: WR Devin Thomas, TE Fred Davis, WR Malcolm Kelly, OL Chad Rinehart, DB Justin Tryon, P Durant Brooks, DB Kareem Moore, QB Colt Brennan, DL Rob Jackson, DB Chris Horton
Positives: Thomas, Davis, Kelly, Brooks
Negative: Defensive end not addressed until the seventh round.
Bottom line:A. Ten overall picks with lots of potential from top to bottom. The two wideouts slipped a little and could all end up providing great value. Thomas and Kelly could develop into quality big targets, and an AFC scout told Yahoo! Sports in February that Davis was the best overall talent at tight end in this draft. The punter need was addressed with the best one the college game had to offer in Brooks. Brennan is an intriguing pick late in the sixth round. A lot of potential starters in this draft.

NFC NORTH

Chicago Bears
Picks: OL Chris Williams, RB Matt Forte, WR Earl Bennett, DL Marcus Harrison, DB Craig Steltz, DB Zack Bowman, TE Kellen Davis, DL Ervin Baldwin, OL Chester Adams, LB Joey LaRocque, OL Kirk Barton, WR Marcus Monk
Positives: Williams, Forte
Negative: No quarterback to groom.
Bottom line: C. There are lots of bodies to look at with 12 total picks, but five of them were seventh-rounders. Williams is a decent offensive line prospect, but Jeff Otah or Branden Albert might have been better choices. Forte could be a solid second-round pick, but he has something to prove. The Bears passed on two marquee quarterbacks (Brian Brohm and Chad Henne) to pick Forte, which could come back to haunt them. Davis and Baldwin have a lot of raw potential and could be late-round steals. Detroit Lions
Picks: OL Gosder Cherilus, LB Jordon Dizon, RB Kevin Smith, DL Andre Fluellen, DL Cliff Avril, WR Kenneth Moore, FB Jerome Felton, DL Landon Cohen, DB Caleb Campbell
Positives: Dizon, Smith
Negatives: Missing on first-round targets and reaching for Cherilus.
Bottom line: D. Detroit addressed most needs but missed out on its three targeted players in the first round – Derrick Harvey, Jonathan Stewart and Jerod Mayo – then traded back to No. 17 and still reached for Cherilus. Dizon is smallish but consistent. Moving up for Smith in the third round was intriguing. He could be a good value there, but it's a concern that he rarely had a dominating yards-per-carry average against quality competition. Other than Cherilus, it's hard to see a lot of room to grow in this class. Green Bay Packers
Picks: WR Jordy Nelson, QB Brian Brohm, DB Pat Lee, TE Jermichael Finley, DL Jeremy Thompson, OL Josh Sitton, OL Breno Giacomini, QB Matt Flynn, WR Brett Swain
Positives: Nelson, Brohm, Lee, Flynn
Negatives: No tackles drafted until the fourth and fifth round.
Bottom line: B. GM Ted Thompson was active as usual and produced a robust class size of nine picks. He once again used his first pick on a position that didn't seem to be a huge need (wideout), but it's hard to rip him for a methodology that has worked in the bigger picture. Getting Brohm so late in the second round is a coup. He'll create competition with Aaron Rodgers, and if they both develop well, the Packers have some capital at the position for future trades. Flynn likely won't make the team but is good value late. Overall, it was a good class for depth. Minnesota Vikings
Picks: DB Tyrell Johnson, QB John David Booty, DL Letroy Guion, OL John Sullivan, WR Jaymar Johnson
Positive: Booty
Negatives: Only five picks and no immediate impact players.
Bottom line: B. Jared Allen factors into this draft, but his talent is balanced against his risk of further suspension. Johnson gives some good depth at safety. Guion and Sullivan are solid picks to groom for the future at defensive tackle and center. Johnson will get pushed around by cornerbacks at the next level. Booty is the really intriguing pick. He's got the arm to fit Minnesota's scheme and is likely to get time to play because of Tarvaris Jackson's injury issues.

NFC SOUTH

Atlanta Falcons
Picks: QB Matt Ryan, OL Sam Baker, LB Curtis Lofton, DB Chevis Jackson, WR Harry Douglas, DB Thomas DeCoud, LB Robert James, LB Kroy Biermann, RB Thomas Brown, DB Wilrey Fontenot, TE Keith Zinger
Positives: Ryan, Baker, DeCoud
Negative: No defensive line help.
Bottom line: B. The class size is great with 11 picks, and it's a strong defensive group with six picks on that side of the ball. The first four picks come from big-time programs. Ryan could reshape the franchise if he lives up to his billing. Baker was a necessary reach, and if he's healthy, he could someday prove worthy of the 21st overall pick. Still, trading two second-rounders is an awful lot to pay for a guy whose performance last year dictated him worthy of one second-round pick. DeCoud has the speed to cover and the mentality to play the run tough. Hard to believe that out of 11 selections, Baker was the only pick invested between the offensive and defensive lines. That's troubling. Carolina Panthers
Picks: RB Jonathan Stewart, OL Jeff Otah, DB Charles Godfrey, LB Dan Connor, TE Gary Barnidge, DL Nick Hayden, LB Hilee Taylor, OL Geoff Schwartz, OL Mackenzy Bernadeau
Positives: Stewart, Otah, Godfrey, Connor
Negative: No young quarterback to groom.
Bottom line: A. Nine picks with several potential starters on offense and defense. The Panthers gave up too much for Otah, but he could start immediately. Godfrey is a playmaker and Connor is a solid, consistent linebacker. Stewart has got loads of talent and should be OK after toe surgery. Hayden can be a solid platoon player at defensive tackle. New Orleans Saints
Picks: DL Sedrick Ellis, DB Tracy Porter, DL DeMario Pressley, OL Carl Nicks, K Taylor Mehlhaff, WR Adrian Arrington
Positives: Ellis, Porter, Arrington
Negative: No tight end help.
Bottom line: B-. Only two picks in the first 143 selections. The Saints tried to get Jeremy Shockey, but the Giants were asking too much. Ellis and Porter should be solid additions to the defense, and Pressley could be a steal in the fifth round if he stays healthy and improves his lower body strength. Nicks is a project at tackle. Arrington was great value in the seventh round, even if he is unlikely to make the roster at a deep wideout spot. Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Picks: DB Aqib Talib, WR Dexter Jackson, OL Jeremy Zuttah, DL Dre Moore, QB Josh Johnson, LB Geno Hayes, RB Cory Boyd
Positive: Jackson
Negative: Character risk with Talib.
Bottom line: C. All the major needs were hit with seven picks, including wideout and cornerback with the first two picks. Talib has some red flags for character and he takes chances on the field. But he's also got size and can be a playmaker. Jackson hasn't played in a pro-style offense, but he's got a ton of quickness and athleticism. Despite his lack of elite size, it wouldn't be a shocker to see him develop into the best wideout from this draft. Zuttah is a good guard/tackle combo project. Johnson has an enticing skill set but a lot to learn.

NFC WEST

Arizona Cardinals
Picks: DB Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, DL Calais Campbell, WR Early Doucet, DL Kenny Iwebema, RB Tim Hightower, DL Chris Harrington, OL Brandon Keith
Positives: Rodgers-Cromartie, Campbell, Doucet
Negative: No picks for depth at safety.
Bottom line: B. Rodgers-Cromartie had an amazing offseason and has loads of upside. Campbell had a down year in 2007 but could be a steal in Round 2. He'll likely shed some weight to pick up some explosion that he lacked last year. Doucet was a nice value pick in the third round, even if he's likely to be a possession guy rather than a game breaker. Hightower has good size but doesn't have great open-field speed. It's hard to believe he'll be the guy to replace Edgerrin James. St. Louis Rams
Picks: DL Chris Long, WR Donnie Avery, OL John Greco, DB Justin King, WR Keenan Burton, OL Roy Schuening, LB Chris Chamberlain, LB David Vobora
Positive: Long
Negative: Only one immediate starter in the class.
Bottom line: C+. Long should be an impact player right away and boosts the grade, but the rest of the class leaves a lot to be desired. Taking smallish Avery over Devin Thomas or James Hardy was a head-scratcher. Avery put up big yardage numbers as a senior but scored "only" seven touchdowns, and rarely played against the kind of competition Thomas and Hardy faced. Greco could eventually develop into a starter. King has all the skills but can't seem to put it together. San Francisco 49ers
Picks: DL Kentwan Balmer, OL Chilo Rachal, DB Reggie Smith, OL Cody Wallace, WR Josh Morgan, LB Larry Grant
Positives: Balmer, Smith
Negatives: C. Wideout and linebacker not addressed until sixth and seventh rounds.
Bottom line: Having only six picks isn't great, particularly when need areas like receiver and linebacker didn't get prominent attention. Balmer is raw and athletic, but he basically has a one-year résumé. Rachal isn't very athletic. Smith is an underrated pick in the third round. Morgan and Grant look like special teams players. It's a class that doesn't have a lot of spark in it. Seattle Seahawks
Picks: DL Lawrence Jackson, TE John Carlson, DL Red Bryant, FB Owen Schmitt, LS Tyler Schmitt, RB Justin Forsett, K Brandon CoutuPositives: Jackson
Negative: No wide receiver help.
Bottom line: C. Jackson is a solid talent at defensive end, but there have been a lot of underachievers coming off the USC line the past several years. Still, Jackson has good quickness. The pick could have been used on one of the many wideouts still on the board, but that position was entirely ignored. Bryant should be a solid run-plugger for a fourth-rounder. With three of the seven picks devoted to long-snapper, kicker and fullback, it's not the sexiest class ever.