2011 NFC draft grades: Bears flunk test

Unlike the AFC, where most teams fell into an average to above-average pattern in their grading, the NFC teams graded out much more extreme. A total of four teams got at least an A-minus grade for their work. At the same time, three got a D or worse and the Bears became the extremely rare team that got a failing grade for their work. Such is life when you go back on your word and lose your honor. Two other teams with D grades (Carolina and Minnesota) were sunk by bad trades that happened well before the draft.

Here’s an early assessment of how the NFC teams fared during the 2011 NFC draft:

NFC EAST

Tyron Smith(notes), left, with Jerry Jones.
(AP)

Dallas Cowboys
Picks: OT Tyron Smith(notes), LB Bruce Carter(notes), RB DeMarco Murray(notes), OL David Arkin(notes), CB Josh Thomas, WR Dwayne Harris(notes), FB Shaun Chapas(notes), C Bill Nagy(notes).
Grade: C+
Analysis: This had to be a frustrating draft for Dallas owner/GM Jerry Jones, who hadn’t taken an offensive lineman in the first round since the Truman Administration (OK, we kid, it was actually Eisenhower’s). But Jones got a very good offensive tackle in Smith. He may never be great, but he only needs to be adequate to help improve Dallas’ awful O-line. Carter in the second round is a strange pick because he’s not only overcoming an ACL tear in his left knee, but the Cowboys are projecting him as an inside linebacker rather than as an outside guy where he played primarily in college. Murray is a good value pick in the third round, but just exactly how many running backs does a team need?

New York Giants
Picks: CB Prince Amukamara(notes), DT Marvin Austin(notes), WR Jerrel Jernigan(notes), OT James Brewer(notes), LB Greg Jones, S Tyler Sash(notes), LB Jacquian Williams(notes), RB Da’Rel Scott(notes).
Grade: B
Analysis: Giants GM Jerry Reese is one of the best at recognizing strong value on the board because of his extensive background as a scout. Reese did that again this year when he picked Amukamara in the first round and Austin in the second. Amukamara was clearly the second-best defensive back in the draft and the Giants got him at No. 19 overall. Austin is a guy who has first-round talent, but fell because he didn’t play last season due to NCAA violations and because many teams were turned off by his perceived selfishness. A big part of the draft is to get athletic value and the team certainly did that. Throw in the potentially explosive Jernigan in the third round and big-bodied Brewer in the fourth round and you have a solid effort.

Philadelphia Eagles
Picks: OL Danny Watkins(notes), S Jaiquawn Jarrett(notes), CB Curtis Marsh(notes), LB Casey Matthews(notes), K Alex Henery(notes), RB Dion Lewis(notes), OL Julian Vandervelde(notes), C Jason Kelce(notes), LB Brian Rolle(notes), LB Greg Lloyd(notes), FB Stanley Havili(notes).
Grade: C
Analysis: The Eagles have been trying for years to fix their offensive line, but between injury and ineffectiveness, they have never seemed to get it right. That explains the selection of Watkins, who has the ability to play tackle but figures to go to guard, in the first round. That said, Watkins isn’t exactly a mauler and the NFC East is a division loaded with tough defensive linemen. That will make the transition a little tougher. As for the rest of the group, Marsh is a high upside athlete who isn’t very polished, Matthews obviously has a great pedigree and Lewis is pretty tough despite being only 5-foot-8. This is a functional draft, but not exactly exciting.

Washington Redskins
Picks: DE/LB Ryan Kerrigan(notes), DL Jarvis Jenkins(notes), WR Leonard Hankerson(notes), RB Roy Helu(notes), S Dejon Gomes(notes), WR Niles Paul(notes), RB Evan Royster(notes), WR Aldrick Robinson(notes), DB Brandyn Thompson(notes), OL Maurice Hurt(notes), DE Markus White(notes), DT Chris Neild(notes).
Grade: B
Analysis: Many people thought going into this draft that the Redskins would be going after a quarterback in the first round. Instead, they traded out of a chance to get Blaine Gabbert(notes) and instead took Kerrigan with their top pick. Kerrigan figures to be a great complement to Brian Orakpo(notes). Kerrigan is, at worst, a solid pass rusher who should regularly get eight to 10 sacks. Jenkins in the second round can play any of three line positions in Washington’s 3-4 front and Hankerson was considered the third-best receiver in the draft by several analysts. Getting him in the third round is a very good value. He has the size coach Mike Shanahan loves.

NFC NORTH

Chicago Bears
Picks: OT Gabe Carimi(notes), DT Stephen Paea(notes), S Chris Conte(notes), QB Nathan Enderle(notes), LB J.T. Thomas(notes).
Grade: F
Analysis: This is a grade on principle. If you agree to a trade, you should follow through on it. GM Jerry Angelo’s wimpy way of backing out of his deal with Baltimore is just unmanly. This is the same guy who once complained about San Francisco tampering with Lance Briggs(notes). No GM in the league should ever trust Angelo again and to do that to a person as classy as Ozzie Newsome is just ridiculous. The Bears should have sent the pick to the Ravens simply as an apology. Beyond that, Angelo guessed wrong about who Kansas City was going to take and ended up getting Carimi anyway. Here’s even more bad news: Carimi isn’t that good and doesn’t fit what the Bears want to do. Paea in the second round was a solid pick, even if he cost a lot to get, but Conte was a stretch in the third round.

Detroit Lions
Picks: DT Nick Fairley(notes), WR Titus Young(notes), RB Mikel Leshoure(notes), LB Doug Hogue(notes), OT Johnny Culbreath(notes).
Grade: A-
Analysis: So, you’re probably asking, why am I praising Detroit for taking a boom-or-bust player like Fairley while chastising Carolina (more on that later) for taking Cam Newton(notes)? Fair question, but the difference is that Fairley is 12 picks later in the process, far less costly and has less downside. Fairley may not play hard all the time, but if he does just enough while lining up next to Ndamukong Suh(notes), that will be enough. If Fairley ends up being great, the Lions could have one of the best defenses in the league very quickly. Given that Detroit coach Jim Schwartz was able to motivate Albert Haynesworth(notes), he should be able to do with the same with Fairley. As for the rest, Schwartz continued to build the Lions offense by nabbing the explosive Young and a possible bell-cow runner in Leshoure. Give Schwartz credit for understanding both value in the draft and the need to be great on offense in this era.

Green Bay Packers
Picks: OT Derek Sherrod(notes), WR Randall Cobb(notes), RB Alex Green(notes), CB Davon House(notes), TE D.J. Williams, OL Caleb Schlauderaff(notes), LB D.J. Smith(notes), LB Ricky Elmore(notes), TE Ryan Taylor(notes), DT Lawrence Guy(notes).
Grade: B-
Analysis: The Packers didn’t do anything terribly exciting with this draft, but that’s OK when you’re coming off a Super Bowl title. This draft was more about replacing parts and shoring up depth. Sherrod, Cobb and Green are all going to compete to replace players who are either aging or expected to leave. For example, Cobb will probably get some time if WR James Jones(notes) leaves and could compete for time when 36-year-old Donald Driver(notes) eventually moves on. The same applies for Green, who may get time depending on the health of Ryan Grant(notes) and the future of Brandon Jackson(notes). The bottom line is that the Packers weren’t desperate to build up their roster in this draft to stay competitive.

Minnesota Vikings
Picks: QB Christian Ponder(notes), TE Kyle Rudolph(notes), DL Christian Ballard(notes), CB Brandon Burton(notes), OT DeMarcus Love(notes), DB Mistral Raymond(notes), C Brandon Fusco(notes), LB Ross Homan(notes), DL D’Aundre Reed(notes), WR Stephen Burton(notes).
Grade: D
Analysis: Let’s start off by noting that the Vikings didn’t have a third-round draft pick because of the ill-fated trade they made last season with the New England Patriots to get Randy Moss(notes). When you start off from that position, it’s hard to move up quickly. The Vikings compounded that by reaching for Ponder. People can talk all they want about how impressive Ponder was in the bowl games and in the Senior Bowl (a glorified 7-on-7 contest). He was projected as a second-round pick and Minnesota took him No. 12 overall out of desperation. Ponder may end up being great, but that’s just not how to handle the draft. Teams like Cincinnati and San Francisco waited until the second round and got passers with just about as much upside as Ponder. Worse, New England got Ryan Mallett(notes) in the third round. As risky as Mallett might be, he’s as good a gamble to succeed as Ponder. In fairness, it should be noted that second-rounder Rudolph is a very good player.

NFC SOUTH

Atlanta Falcons
Picks: WR Julio Jones, LB Akeem Dent(notes), RB Jacquizz Rodgers(notes), K/P Matt Bosher(notes), OL Andrew Jackson(notes), DL Cliff Matthews(notes).
Grade: B
Analysis: The decision to trade five draft picks, including their first pick next year, to move up for Jones was one of the most hotly debated subjects during the draft. Give GM Thomas Dimitroff credit for recognizing that while the Falcons had the best record in the NFC last season, there were obvious holes in his team. Specifically, Atlanta was just not very explosive on offense, averaging near the bottom of the league in yards per play and yards per play differential. This draft didn’t feature a lot of sure-fire game changers, but the Falcons got one at a key time because TE Tony Gonzalez(notes) and RB Michael Turner(notes) aren’t going to last forever. LB Akeem Dent helps the front seven, even if he’s not a dynamic player. The selection of Rodgers in the fifth round could be one of the steals of the draft.

Carolina Panthers
Picks: QB Cam Newton, DL Terrell McClain(notes), DT Sione Fua(notes), CB Brandon Hogan(notes), WR Kealoha Pilares(notes), LB Lawrence Wilson, OL Zach Williams, OT Lee Ziemba(notes).
Grade: D
Analysis: This is a prime example of why it’s not wise to grade drafts right after they end. If Newton becomes a franchise player, this is a great draft. If not, it could be a disaster. As it is, the Panthers didn’t have their second-round pick after the ill-conceived trade in 2010 to give up that selection for a third-rounder last year that was used to get Armanti Edwards(notes). Edwards ended up playing in three games and contributing nothing. As for Newton, he may have more tools than a hardware store, but it may take him a long time to learn to use them. He’s not quite as risky a selection as JaMarcus Russell(notes), but there certainly are concerns. The selection of McClain and Fua were good value picks in the third round, but this team is hurting for offensive help around Newton.

New Orleans Saints
Picks: DE Cameron Jordan(notes), RB Mark Ingram(notes), LB Martez Wilson(notes), CB Johnny Patrick(notes), DE Greg Romeus(notes), LB Nate Bussey(notes).
Grade: B+
Analysis: If you had a checklist of needs for the Saints, they filled each of them, almost in order. The team needed to get younger at defensive end, so they got Jordan in the first round. They needed a complete running back to complement the explosive passing game and restore some overall balance, so they took Ingram. They needed to get more athletic at linebacker, so they got Wilson. They needed to get some depth at cornerback, so they selected Patrick. Check, check, check and check. Jordan and Ingram are extremely high-character, hard-working players who will be significant contributors even if they never become great stars. Most important, the Saints were aggressive, trading away a first-round pick next year to get players who can help them take advantage of the window of opportunity they have right now. The Saints are in a spot where they need a few good players, not a bunch of mediocre ones.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Picks: DE Adrian Clayborn(notes), DE Da’Quan Bowers(notes), LB Mason Foster(notes), TE Luke Stocker(notes), S Ahmad Black(notes), RB Allen Bradford(notes), DB Anthony Gaitor(notes), TE Daniel Hardy(notes).
Grade:
A
Analysis: After taking defensive tackles with the first two picks of the 2010 draft (Gerald McCoy(notes) and Brian Price(notes)), the Buccaneers did the same thing at defensive end this year by taking Clayborn and Bowers, respectively. In both cases, the Bucs got great sliding value. Clayborn is a big, strong end who will hold up effectively against the run. Bowers might be the steal of the draft if he’s able to overcome medical concerns about his knee. Some people thought Bowers could be the No. 1 overall pick until the medical exams. He then dropped to No. 51 overall despite being considered the best pass rusher in the draft. Put the 2010 and 2011 drafts together and you could have a great defense for years, particularly if CB Aqib Talib(notes) is able to get his act together and convince the Bucs to keep him (that could be a long shot).

NFC WEST

Arizona Cardinals
Picks: CB Patrick Peterson(notes), RB Ryan Williams(notes), TE Rob Housler(notes), LB Sam Acho(notes), FB Anthony Sherman(notes), LB Quan Sturdivant(notes), DT David Carter(notes), WR DeMarco Sampson(notes).
Grade: A
Analysis: The Cardinals wisely avoided taking a quarterback (2010 draft pick John Skelton(notes) has come a long way) and picked the best player on the board in Peterson. While Peterson might one day end up at safety the way Ronnie Lott and Rod Woodson switched during their careers, the bottom line is that he’s a safe bet to achieve greatness. In the second and third rounds, the Cardinals addressed obvious needs by taking Williams and Housler. Sadly, Williams is an admission that Beanie Wells(notes) isn’t getting it done and Housler needs to beef up, but at least the Cards didn’t try to avoid the problem.

St. Louis Rams
Picks: DE Robert Quinn(notes), TE Lance Kendricks(notes), WR Austin Pettis(notes), WR Greg Salas(notes), DB Jermale Hines(notes), DB Mikail Baker(notes), LB Jabara Williams(notes), DB Jonathan Nelson(notes).
Grade: A
Analysis: While there are medical concerns about Quinn, he was a great value at No. 14 overall and gives the Rams another speed rusher who should also help DE Chris Long(notes). The really sound moves came in the second, third and fourth rounds when the Rams got Kendricks, Pettis and Salas. This is what a team should do when it drafts a quarterback at No. 1 overall; get him support right away. All three of those players should help QB Sam Bradford(notes), who did a great job of making the most out of very little around him last season. In fact, the Rams were so mediocre last season that Kendricks, Pettis and Salas could easily end up on the field at least 60 percent of the time this season if they’re just OK.

San Francisco 49ers
Picks: DE Aldon Smith, QB Colin Kaepernick(notes), CB Chris Culliver(notes), RB Kendall Hunter(notes), OL Daniel Kilgore(notes), WR Ronald Johnson(notes), S Colin Jones(notes)), DL Bruce Miller(notes), OL Michael Person, DB Curtis Holcomb(notes).
Grade: B+
Analysis: The 49ers were caught in a bad spot in this draft because there was a huge dropoff from the No. 6 to the No. 7 spot, where the draft transitioned from more sure-fire selections to higher-risk players. The 49ers did the best job they could of balancing potential and personality by taking Smith, who figures to be a solid worker and a good pass rusher in the worst-case scenario. The 49ers passed on the likes of Nick Fairley and Robert Quinn, who have much larger personality concerns. But the most impressive thing the 49ers did was not reach on a quarterback at that spot and instead waited until the second round to get Colin Kaepernick, who has just as much chance of being great as first-round quarterbacks Jake Locker(notes), Blaine Gabbert and Christian Ponder. The 49ers had to make a slight trade up to get Kaepernick, but that was perfectly acceptable. The rest of the draft is filled with some intriguing prospects, such as CB Chris Culliver, but the 49ers really aren’t that far away from being a good team, particularly if Kaepernick pans out.

Seattle Seahawks
Picks: OT James Carpenter(notes), G John Moffitt(notes), LB K.J. Wright(notes), WR Kris Durham(notes), CB Richard Sherman(notes), FS Mark LeGree(notes), DB Byron Maxwell(notes), DL Pep Levingston, LB Malcolm Smith(notes).
Grade: C
Analysis: The Seahawks went into this without their original third-round pick, which was dealt last year in the Charlie Whitehurst(notes) trade (a deal that isn’t looking so good right now). Considering that and the fact that the first three picks were spent on guys who don’t touch the ball and you have the makings of one really boring draft. Now, don’t confuse boring with bad. If Carpenter and Moffitt end up being good offensive linemen, they will team with 2010 first-rounder Russell Okung(notes) to create a great foundation for the future and should keep QB Matt Hasselbeck(notes) upright for at least another year or two if he comes back to the team. That said, the Seahawks better get some better skill-position players very soon.