With AFC teams leading off the first three spots in the NFL draft, most teams did at least a solid job with their selections. The Dolphins get high marks for an aggressive trade up, and their rivals in New England get knocked down for a questionable trade down. Then again, don't expect this draft to change the reality of the AFC East or the AFC as a whole. The Patriots are still right at the top of the heap and aren't going anywhere anytime soon.
Here's how the AFC teams fared:
[Related: NFC draft grades]
Picks: QB E.J. Manuel, WR Robert Woods, LB Kiko Alonso, WR Marquise Goodwin, FS Duke Williams, DB Jonathan Meeks, K Dustin Hopkins, TE Chris Gragg.
Analysis: The Bills played the right strategy game here to get the quarterback they really liked in E.J. Manuel. Buffalo traded back, picking up value in the process and still getting Manuel, who was the first passer off the board and the only one to go in the first round. The only question is whether Manuel is the right guy or not, and it's going to take two or three years to figure that out. Getting Woods in the second round is a bit of a coup. He had a bad season at USC, but many people consider him a much better talent than his numbers reflected. The rest of the group is typical of a Buddy Nix draft – solid value all the way along.
[Related: Secrecy helped the Bills land QB E.J. Manuel]
Picks: DE Dion Jordan, CB Jamar Taylor, OT Dallas Thomas, CB Will Davis, OLB Jelani Jenkins, TE Dion Sims, RB Mike Gillislee, K Caleb Sturgis, SS Don Jones.
Analysis: GM Jeff Ireland takes a lot of heat from Miami fans and some of it is deserved. But his past two drafts have been strong despite being very different. Last year, Ireland was in a much more desperate situation to get a quarterback, but stayed put at No. 8 and still got Ryan Tannehill. This year, Ireland wasn't as desperate, but was aggressive in getting Jordan, the consensus pick as the top pass rusher in the draft. The price to move up was cheap (only a second-rounder) and Ireland still came up with a couple of young cornerbacks to help his depleted secondary. Between this draft and free agency (WR Mike Wallace, CB Brent Grimes), the Dolphins have brought in a serious amount of talent, particularly on defense.
New England Patriots
Picks: OLB Jamie Collins, WR Aaron Dobson, CB Logan Ryan, S Duron Harmon, WR Josh Boyce, DE Michael Buchanan, ILB Steve Beauharnais.
Analysis: There is nothing particularly wrong with any of these players. The problem is their development is likely to take longer than if the Patriots had gone a different direction, such as staying at No. 29 and taking safety Matt Elam, who would have been a significant upgrade right away for the secondary. Instead, the Pats got a series of guys who could take two years to develop. That would be OK normally if you didn't have Tom Brady as your quarterback. Brady is playing on borrowed time, having perhaps three good years left. Taking project players doesn't help the Patriots win now while the window is still open.
New York Jets
Picks: CB Dee Milliner, DT Sheldon Richardson, QB Geno Smith, G Brian Winters, DT Oday Aboushi, G William Campbell, FB Tommy Bohanon.
Analysis: The Jets were hoping to get WR Tavon Austin in the first round at No. 9, but got jumped by St. Louis. That happens, but give the Jets credit for not forcing offense in the first two picks and getting a couple of strong defensive players. Richardson doesn't necessarily fit what the Jets do on defense, but coach Rex Ryan is clever in making it work. The big question from this group is Smith and whether he can handle what New York throws at an athlete. The early signs (such as his desire to leave the draft after not being taken in the first round) don't bode well, but he was still a good value pick at No. 39.
Picks: FS Matt Elam, ILB Arthur Brown, DT Brandon Williams, DE John Simon, FB Kyle Juszczyk, OT Ricky Wagner, DE Kapron Lewis-Moore, OT Ryan Jensen, WR Aaron Mellette, CB Marc Anthony.
Analysis: The Ravens are an unflappable organization built on a consistent approach to the draft. So even after losing Ed Reed, Ray Lewis, Anquan Boldin, Paul Kruger and Bernard Pollard, Baltimore patiently waited to rebuild through the draft rather than pay retail prices in free agency. The result is that the Ravens picked at least two guys (Elam and Brown) who should start right away and three or four other players who could be significant contributors. In particular, Elam has a chance to be an excellent player, as long as fans aren't expecting the second coming of Reed. This is the kind of approach that has kept long term success sustainable in Baltimore.
Picks: TE Tyler Eifert, RB Giovani Bernard, DE Margus Hunt, SS Shawn Williams, OLB Sean Porter, OT Tanner Hawkinson, RB Rex Burkhead, WR Cobi Hamilton, OT Reid Fragel, C T.J. Johnson.
Analysis: The Bengals generally followed their usual protocol of sticking directly to their board and picking the best athletic talent at that point in the draft. What makes this an interesting draft is that taking Eifert is a bit of a departure for them. The Bengals already have standout tight end Jermaine Gresham. Eifert would appear to be a luxury, but he could allow Cincy to play two-tight end packages almost exclusively. If that's the case, Bernard was a really good choice because of his quick, slashing running style. In Hunt, the Bengals got another talented athlete to pair with Geno Atkins in the middle. If Hunt pans out, the Bengals could be downright nasty on defense.
Picks: DE Barkevious Mingo, CB Leon McFadden, SS Jamoris Slaughter, DE Armonty Bryant, OT Garrett Gilkey.
Analysis: When you don't have a full complement of draft picks and there's not a lot of trade-up interest in your first-round selection, it's hard to really do much. The Browns deserve credit for getting WR Josh Gordon in the supplemental draft a year ago, even if it was previous management that did it. As for this draft, pretty much the whole thing rides on whether Mingo turns out to be the pass rusher that so many see or the skinny, not-very-tough guy that other people are concerned about. Mingo could be the second coming of Jevon Kearse, and the Browns would gladly take that. McFadden is a very nice choice, although his upside is as a No. 2 cornerback. That's fine considering the Browns already have Joe Haden.
Picks: OLB Jarvis Jones, RB Le'Veon Bell, WR Markus Wheaton, SS Shamarko Thomas, QB Landry Jones, CB Terry Hawthorne, WR Justin Brown, LB Vince Williams, DT Nick Williams.
Analysis: Just like Baltimore, the Steelers never panic, even if their fans sometimes go off the deep end. There was a story out of Steeltown recently decrying the fall of the team this offseason. Oh please. In this draft, the Steelers came up with a proven pass rusher in Jones and two nice parts for the offense in Bell and Wheaton. That should make quarterback Ben Roethlisberger calm down after he pitched a fit over the possibility of the team losing Emmanuel Sanders on the heels of losing Mike Wallace. Roethlisberger doesn't have complete control of the organization by any stretch of the imagination, but keeping a great quarterback happy isn't a bad thing.
Picks: WR DeAndre Hopkins, SS D.J. Swearinger, OT Brennan Williams, DE Sam Montgomery, DE Trevardo Williams, OT David Quessenberry, WR Alan Bonner, DT Chris Jones, TE Ryan Griffin.
Analysis: The Texans finally heeded the call of help on the other side for WR Andre Johnson by getting Hopkins. Sure, he's not a blazing runner and he's inexperienced (he played basketball for two years at Clemson), but the upside is a lot like Roddy White of Atlanta. He's a strong route runner who can overpower just about any defensive back he faces. Swearinger will package nicely with Ed Reed to give the Texans an upgrade in the secondary. The rest of the draft wasn't anything too splashy, but GM Rick Smith is very good about drafting valuable players who can contribute even if they're not stars. Solid work.
Picks: DE Bjoern Werner, G Hugh Thornton, C Khaled Holmes, DT Montori Hughes, SS John Boyett, RB Kerwynn Williams, TE Justice Cunningham.
Analysis: If you've watched GM Ryan Grigson over the span of his two drafts and two rounds of free agency, you see the pattern of a guy who understands the big picture. The Colts picked up really good value players who have strong work ethics and understated egos. Werner is a great example of a guy who could be a 10-plus sack per year outside linebacker in the Colts' 3-4 defense. More importantly, Werner has the drive to play every down hard. Same goes for Thornton and Holmes, who will continue to upgrade an offensive line that, at best, was mediocre last season. Grigson has spent the entire offseason focused on making the line better in an effort to protect Andrew Luck in the pocket and creating a better running game.
Picks: OT Luke Joeckel, FS John Cyprien, CB Dwayne Gratz, WR Ace Sanders, WR Denard Robinson, FS Josh Evans, CB Jeremy Harris, CB Demetrius McCray.
Analysis: There's nothing at all wrong with this draft, even if a lot of fans in Jacksonville really wanted to see the Jaguars take DE/OLB Dion Jordan at No. 2. Joeckel is going to be a great player for a long time and it's a fair bet that he turns out better than No. 1 pick Eric Fisher. Joeckel allows the Jaguars to move Eugene Monroe to right tackle if he's willing and provides bookend protection for QB Blaine Gabbert. While some people would have liked to see first-year GM David Caldwell take a quarterback, Caldwell is going to let Gabbert get a full chance of regaining the starting job. Fact is, that's probably smart considering the depth at quarterback in next year's draft. It also allowed the Jags to get Cyprien, who should be a significant upgrade.
Picks: G Chance Warmack, WR Justin Hunter, CB Blidi Wreh-Wilson, OLB Zaviar Gooden, C Brian Schwenke, DE Lavar Edwards, CB Khalid Wooten, SS Dainion Stafford.
Analysis: There are more than a few people who believe that Warmack is better than Jonathan Cooper, another guard who went four picks higher. Maybe, but the point is that both of them are great, which is why they were the rare combo of guards to go top 10 in the draft. Alongside Schwenke and free-agent acquisition Andy Levitre, the Titans may have built the kind of offensive line that will allow RB Chris Johnson to return to form and give QB Jake Locker time. Hunter is another nice piece who should provide insurance in case Kenny Britt doesn't return to health right away. Many scouts considered Hunter better than former college teammate Cordarrelle Patterson, who went in the first round.
Picks: DT Sylvester Williams, RB Montee Ball, CB Kayvon Webster, DE Quanterus Smith, WR Tavarres King, OT Vinston Painter, QB Zac Dysert.
Analysis: Under vice preseident of football operations John Elway, the Broncos are starting to get the hang of value drafting and how that can sustain a team long-term. Williams isn't going to change the game at defensive tackle, but he provides size and strength at a position where the Broncos were lacking the past two years. Likewise, Ball was a very good value in the second round and should contribute, perhaps becoming a starter by the middle of this season. You can pretty much echo those remarks with Webster. The intriguing question is whether Smith can turn into a complementary pass rusher opposite the great Von Miller. It will probably take two years, but that's fine, especially if the Broncos sign Dwight Freeney in the meantime.
Kansas City Chiefs
Picks: OT Eric Fisher, TE Travis Kelce, RB Knile Davis, ILB Nico Johnson, CB Sanders Commings, C Eric Kush, FB Braden Wilson, DE Mike Catapano.
Analysis: Fisher is a terrific player and if you factor in the acquisition of quarterback Alex Smith with a second-round pick, this is a very strong draft. The problem with what the Chiefs did is that they still have Branden Albert at left tackle for at least a year and have been unable to trade him, even though Miami was very interested. In the long run, GM John Dorsey might have played it smart not to give away Albert yet because the market for left tackles may open up again after teams get to camp and realize what they have at that spot. Kelce was a good value pick, but the concern of this group is the long-term health of Davis, who has home-run ability but a laundry list of past injuries.
Picks: CB D.J. Hayden, OT Menelik Watson, OLB Sio Moore, QB Tyler Wilson, TE Nick Kasa, RB Latavius Murray, TE Mychal Rivera, DT Stacy McGee, WR Brice Butler, DE David Bass.
Analysis: Some people will criticize GM Reggie McKenzie for not getting enough in the trade down with Miami as the Raiders only received a second-round pick to go from No. 3 to No. 12. But to McKenzie's credit, he got something for moving down and still got the player (Hayden) he would have taken at No. 3 overall. Hayden came on late in the draft process, but even a cursory look at his tape showed what an explosive athlete he is in coverage. Plus, that second-round pick helps replenish so many lost picks from previous years under Al Davis. As for the rest, Watson should start right away and McKenzie did a nice job of starting a foundation for the continued rebuilding.
San Diego Chargers
Picks: OT D.J. Fluker, ILB Manti Te'o, WR Keenan Allen, CB Steve Williams, DE Tourek Williams, QB Brad Sorensen.
Analysis: The biggest criticism you could make of the Chargers' draft is that they didn't do enough to get more picks with some trades. This is a roster that needs serious replenishment. At the same time, getting Fluker to man the right tackle spot is a pretty sturdy move. Fluker is a pillar built out of human tissue and he has a mean streak as well. Too bad he's not athletic enough for the left side. Te'o will be a three-down linebacker for a couple of years until the Chargers get to the point that they're good and can take him off the field in passing situations. The steal of this group might be Allen, who plenty of draftniks projected as a first-round pick early in the process.
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