It was less than six months ago that Dallas owner Jerry Jones put himself on notice as GM of the Cowboys, saying he would have fired himself. Well, based on the early returns from this year's NFL draft, Jones once again has cause for self-dismissal.
The Cowboys were the only team to earn a failing grade for their performance in the draft, an effort that included a trade down and the subsequent selection of a player they could have gotten rounds later.
For the most part, the NFC performed well, led by teams such as San Francisco, Minnesota, Atlanta and, yes, Tampa Bay.
Here's an early assessment of how the NFC teams fared:
[Related: AFC draft grades]
Picks: C Travis Frederick, TE Gavin Escobar, WR Terrance Williams, FS J.J. Wilcox, CB B.W. Webb, RB Joseph Randle, OLB DeVonte Holloman.
Last year, the Cowboys received a B after an aggressive move up the board to get cornerback Morris Claiborne. This year they traded down, and the grade bottomed out with it. Three of their first four picks are guys who might not play significantly this year. The consensus around the league is that Frederick was a reach. Escobar was a fine pick, but then Williams and Wilcox are two guys who might not play for two years. Considering the Cowboys have Miles Austin, Dez Bryant and Jason Witten, Williams was an unnecessary luxury (particularly after the Escobar pick). Wilcox can be an in-the-box safety, but he’s so woefully inexperienced that it’s going to take awhile.
New York Giants
Picks: OT Justin Pugh, DT Johnathan Hankins, DE Damontre Moore, QB Ryan Nassib, S Cooper Taylor, G Eric Herman, RB Michael Cox.
Analysis: Syracuse fans who love Pugh and Nassib are probably going to be up-in-arms with me, but don’t take this grade the wrong way. It’s a perfectly acceptable draft by a team that understands where it is. The Giants addressed some important needs, but didn’t exactly get anyone spectacular with this draft. Pugh is a really nice offensive tackle, but clearly a step down from some of the top guys in this draft. Same goes for Hankins and Moore, who figure to be good rotation players, if not starters some day (the Giants are very good at picking defensive linemen). Nassib is the interesting pick because so many people thought he was worthy of a second-round selection. Like so many quarterbacks, the Giants could develop him for a year or two and then flip him for a higher pick.
Picks: OT Lane Johnson, TE Zach Ertz, DT Bennie Logan, QB Matt Barkley, SS Earl Wolff, DE Joe Kruger, CB Jordan Poyer, DE David King.
Analysis: The start of this draft was much stronger than the end of it. Johnson comes in as a starter to immediately help an offensive line that was a mess last season because of injury and inexperience. Ertz is a great weapon in the mold of Jason Witten who will pair with Brent Celek to provide the Eagles with ample opportunity for an explosive two-tight end set. The combo of Ertz, Celek, DeSean Jackson, Jeremy Maclin, LeSean McCoy and Michael Vick could be really fun in Chip Kelly’s offense. Where things went sideways was in the middle of the draft with Logan, who is an underachiever, and Barkley, who was overrated and not altogether necessary. The fact that Philly traded up to get Barkley when it already had second-year passer Nick Foles is perplexing.
Picks: CB David Amerson, TE Jordan Reed, SS Phillip Thomas, RB Chris Thompson, DE Brandon Jenkins, SS Bacarri Rambo, RB Jawan Jamison.
Analysis: This grade gets a pretty good boost from the fact that the Redskins used their first-round pick as part of the deal to get Robert Griffin III. That’s the excellent, but sort of unseen, part to this draft. As for the picks the Redskins made this year, they are pretty questionable. Amerson is a guy who suffers from DeAngelo Hall Disease, which is the inordinate tendency to get beat deep despite having good speed. Reed is very athletic, but is a bit of reach in the third round (most people projected him in the fourth or even the fifth). The one nugget pick in this group might be Thomas, who is a pretty good hitter and might provide some presence on defense.
Picks: OT Kyle Long, ILB Jon Bostic, OLB Khaseem Greene, OT Jordan Mills, OLB Cornelius Washington, WR Marquess Wilson.
There are vastly different opinions on Long, who is far more athletic than he plays. The problem is that Long took awhile to get back to football after a dalliance with baseball. Where some people see a guy who is stiff, others see a guy who is learning to react and project that once he gets it, he could even become a left tackle. Likewise, some people don’t see Bostic as very athletic, while others see him as way more explosive and talented than more highly regarded players such as Manti Te’o. The bottom line is the Bears got a couple of guys who figure to start right away and could be, at the least, steady players for a long time.
Picks: DE Ezekiel Ansah, CB Darius Slay, G Larry Warford, DE Devin Taylor, P Sam Martin, WR Corey Fuller, RB Theo Riddick, TE Michael Williams, LB Brandon Hepburn.
Analysis: Three years from now, this grade has the best chance to look completely foolish because of Ansah. He is likely to either be an amazing pro or a complete bust because of his limited background in the game. He has basically played only one year and didn’t grow up with the game in Africa. Aside from Ansah, the Lions came into this draft with a lot of serious needs, including both defensive end spots and left tackle. With little ability to work a trade, the Lions at least got Ansah and picked up solid values in Slay and Warford. The other guy to pay close attention to is Taylor, who has extraordinary size.
Green Bay Packers
Picks: DE Datone Jones, RB Eddie Lacy, OT David Bakhtiari, C J.C. Tretter, RB Johnathan Franklin, CB Micah Hyde, DE Josh Boyd, LB Nate Palmer, WR C.J. Johnson, WR Kevin Dorsey, LB Sam Barrington.
Analysis: Packers fans are going to rave about the steal the team got in Lacy at the end of the second round. OK, maybe. But there’s some pretty good money to be bet on Lacy being a guy with little or no long-term future because he’s so beaten up. In fact, Franklin could end up being the better player in a couple of year. Jones is an interesting player who some people feel is going to be a great pass rusher. Maybe, but he also could get stuck playing inside too much as a 3-4 end. One GM said he thought Jones would struggle to get more than four sacks a year, which seemed really odd to say. The real key to this draft could be the two offensive linemen Green Bay picked up in round 4 (Bakhtiari and Tretter). Both are classic Ted Thompson picks.
Picks: DT Sharrif Floyd, CB Xavier Rhodes, WR Cordarrelle Patterson, OLB Gerald Hodges, P Jeff Locke, G Jeff Baca, OLB Michael Mauti, G Travis Bond, DT Everett Dawkins.
Analysis: If you like aggressive drafting, this is it at it’s finest. Through the process of two trades (giving up Percy Harvin in March and then giving up four picks on Thursday), the Vikings ended up with three first-round picks. They used them on three great examples of the "falling value" concept. Starting with Floyd, who was projected as a possible top-four pick, all three were guys who have star ability to go with some factor that drags them down the draft board. If the Vikings hit on two of the three, they could have two superstars. If they hit on all three, they have the makings of a title team. If they hit on only one, somebody is probably going to get fired. Also, picking a punter in the fifth round when you have Chris Kluwe around is a bit odd.
Picks: CB Desmond Trufant, CB Robert Alford, DE Malliciah Goodman, TE Levine Toilolo, DE Stansly Maponga, DB Kemal Ishmael, SS Zeke Motta, QB Sean Renfree.
Analysis: If GM Thomas Dimitroff is one thing above all else, it’s realistic. He saw how the Falcons' defense got torched in the playoffs and dumped his aging cornerbacks and defensive end. He then used four of his top five picks on critical positions. He traded up to get Trufant, followed that with another corner and then picked up two defensive ends with projectable pass-rush ability. He also made a nice move to get Toilolo, who probably would have been a second-round pick next year if he had returned to Stanford. Instead, Toilolo, who has excellent athletic ability but not a lot of experience, will get to watch Tony Gonzalez. Hopefully, Toilolo will be inspired.
DT Star Lotulelei, DT Kawann Short, G Edmund Kugbila, ILB A.J. Klein, RB Kenjon Barner.
Analysis: Given my own size and shape, I should probably like this draft a whole lot more than I do. If you like big men and trench warfare, this is your prototype draft. Really, if you know new Panthers GM Dave Gettleman and his background from with the Giants, this makes perfect sense. It’s not sexy, but it’s functional and necessary. There are still concerns long-term about health maintenance for Lotulelei, but he’s a big-time space-eater. Combine him with Short, and the Panthers will have no problems getting MLB Luke Kuechly free to run all over the field and make tackles. The Panthers' run defense, which has been awful the last two seasons, is now at least respectable. Finally, Barner could be really interesting in open offensive sets.
New Orleans Saints
Picks: SS Kenny Vaccaro, OT Terron Armstead, DT John Jenkins, WR Kenny Stills, DE Rufus Johnson.
Analysis: Vaccaro was clearly the best safety available in a strong group for that position (three went in the first round and another went with the top pick of the second round). Vaccaro has a certain confidence and edginess that coach Sean Payton loves. More importantly, he can play either strong, free or even cornerback in a pinch. Armstead walks in as a likely starter on a team that historically has gotten by with lesser offensive tackles. Likewise, Jenkins is a likely starter in New Orleans’ new 3-4 defense and is a terrific space eater … as long as he doesn't eat his way out of the league.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Picks: CB Johnthan Banks, QB Mike Glennon, DT Akeem Spence, DE William Gholston, DE Steven Means, RB Mike James.
Analysis: Much of this grade depends upon how you view the Darrelle Revis trade. If you think it’s a good risk, you give the Buccaneers high marks. If you think it was a bad risk, you probably give them a C, at best. My opinion is pretty obvious, and I give Tampa Bay a bit more credit for taking Banks to add even more to a secondary that has to deal with some talented offenses in the NFC South. While Glennon is a questionable pick in the third round, Spence and Gholston have an immediate chance to play right away because of the free-agent departures of Roy Miller and Michael Bennett.
Picks: G Jonathan Cooper, ILB Kevin Minter, CB Tyrann Mathieu, DE Alex Okafor, G Earl Watford, RB Stepfan Taylor, WR Ryan Swope, RB Andre Ellington, TE D.C. Jefferson.
No matter what happens with Mathieu – and all outcomes are on the table – this is probably going to end up being a strong draft because of Cooper and Minter. Cooper is an extraordinary guard, the rare type that is worth not only taking in the first round, but in the top 10. You’re talking about a potential all-time great at that position. As for Minter, he’s a very good player who will likely start from Day 1. Moreover, Minter and CB Patrick Peterson are part of the plan to get the most out of Mathieu, an extremely talented and sadly undisciplined player. If that weren’t enough, the beauty of this draft could be in the combination of Okafor, Taylor and Swope, who all have a chance to be serious contributors.
St. Louis Rams
Picks: WR Tavon Austin, ILB Alec Ogletree, FS T.J. McDonald, WR Stedman Bailey, C Barrett Jones, CB Brandon McGee, RB Zac Stacy.
Analysis: It’s very unusual for such a small wide receiver (Austin is all of 5-foot-8) to go in the top 10 of a draft, but the Rams were selecting as much for need as for value. St. Louis jumped eight spots to get the speedy Austin, who has a chance to turn the Rams into the second coming of the Greatest Show on Turf. Yeah, I said it, but that’s what Jeff Fisher and Les Snead are obviously building. That said, it wouldn’t be a Fisher draft if there weren’t a problem child in the group. Ogletree is that guy who fell all the way to No. 30 despite top-10 athletic ability. Then again, if Ogletree gets too far out of line, Fisher can have Jones put him in his place. Jones is one tough dude.
San Francisco 49ers
Picks: FS Eric Reid, DE Cornellius Carradine, TE Vance McDonald, OLB Corey Lemonier, WR Quinton Patton, RB Marcus Lattimore, DE Quinton Dial, OLB Nick Moody, QB B.J. Daniels, OT Carter Bykowski, DB Marcus Cooper.
Analysis: The 49ers came into this draft with four pretty obvious needs: Safety, defensive end/line, second tight end and the eventual replacement for Frank Gore. Check, check, check and check. Sure, Reid, Carradine, McDonald and Lattimore might not all hit in the long run, but the 49ers got four strong candidates. The 49ers showed aggression by trading up for Reid, a guy who coach Jim Harbaugh tried to recruit to Stanford, and still got Carradine, a guy who some people thought San Francisco was going to take in the first round. Lattimore is the truly intriguing prospect as he tries to come back from a horrific knee injury. If he returns to form, the 49ers might have nabbed the best back in the draft.
Picks: RB Christine Michael, DT Jordan Hill, WR Chris Harper, DT Jesse Williams, CB Tharold Simon, TE Luke Wilson, RB Spencer Ware, G Ryan Seymour, LB Ty Powell, DT Jared Smith, OT Michael Bowie.
Analysis: As with Tampa Bay and Darrelle Revis, a lot of this grade depends on how people perceive WR Percy Harvin, who Seattle got in a trade that included its first-round pick. Harvin is a serious talent who can also be a serious malcontent. If the Seahawks get three good years out of Harvin, it will be a great trade. Even two good years might be enough. As for the rest, GM John Schneider did his usual work of finding good value along the way, particularly with guys like Michael, who has a nice blend of speed and power, and Williams, who was predicted to go much higher by some.
NFL.com on the Giants' draft class:
More NFL draft coverage on Yahoo! Sports:
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• Eagles nab Matt Barkley early on Day 3
• Watch: Is Manti Te'o a good fit for the Chargers?