2011 NFL Offseason Grades – AFC East

Sorry for the delay, without further ado, here are my offseason grades for the AFC East.

NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS

NFL DRAFT

2011 DRAFT PICKS: Nate Solder, OT (1-17); Ras-I Dowling, CB (2-33); Shane Vereen, RB (2-56); Stevan Ridley, RB (3-73); Ryan Mallett, QB (3-74); Marcus Cannon, OT (5-138); Lee Smith, TE (5-159); Markell Carter, DE (6-194); Malcolm Williams, CB (7-219)

Solder is a big, athletic tackle who can bolster the Patriot's line starting Week 1

I think the New England Patriots had a stronger draft than most people give them credit for.  The glaring hole that I see in their draft is that they failed to address the wide receiver position and waited until the 3rd round to address their running back need.  Nate Solder is a perfect fit for this line as he is a large athletic tackle that can be plugged in immediately.  I really like what the Patriots did in the 3rd and 4th round as much as anyone.   Stevan Ridley was a highly underrated running back in college who could be a strong addition to the backfield in another year or two.  I also think Ryan Mallett can be a starting quarterback in this league and I feel like the Patriots will soon pull a “Cassell” or “Kolb” and be able to turn this 4th round draft pick into more draft picks.  The best thing the Patriots did in this draft is set themselves up nicely seeing as they now have 2 first round and 2 second round picks in 2012.

 

 

 

FREE AGENCY

KEY ADDITIONS: Logan Mankins, G (Patriots); Matt Light, OT (Patriots); BenJarvus Green-Ellis, RB (Patriots); Albert Haynesworth, DT (Redskins), Chad Ochocinco, WR (Bengals), Shaun Ellis, DE (Jets)

KEY LOSSES: Marcus Stroud, DT; Tully Banta-Cain, LB; Ty Warren, DE; Nick Kaczur, OT; Alge Crumpler, TE

It's not unreasonable to think that Chad Ochocinco could hit double digits for receiving touchdowns in 2011.

The New England Patriots did not make the big splashes that other teams did but what’s important is they made the necessary one.  They were able to re-sign Mankins and Light so with the addition of Solder this is a solid offensive line going into next season.  They were able to bring back BenJarvus Green-Ellis who was able to provide a ground attack for the Patriots last season.  Most importantly, if Albert Haynesworth can return to Tennessee form the Patriots got him for a ridiculously good value and by pairing him with Vince Wilfork, the Patriots might have the tools necessary to shut down that dangerous running game of the New York Jets.  In addition they were able to go and get Shaun Ellis from the Jets to give the Patriots a great defensive line.  Chad Ochocinco was another great value trade who I think will have a great year in New England.  Not a ridiculous year but his presence should also open up the field for Wes Welker and those young tight ends.  I project a 9 – 10 touchdown, 1100 yard season for Ochocinco in this offense which makes this an excellent pick-up.

 

 

NEW YORK JETS

NFL DRAFT

2011 DRAFT PICKS: Muhammad Wilkerson, DE (1-30); Kenrick Ellis, DT (3-94); Bilal Powell, RB (4-126); Jeremy Kerley, WR (5-153); Greg McElroy, QB (7-208); Scotty McKnight, WR (7-227)

 

Greg McElroy has won everywhere he's been and provides an interesting developmental project for the Jets

Going into the draft, the New York Jets biggest concern had to be their defensive line – getting younger and more athletic at the position.  They finally gave up on bust Vernon Gholston and the aging Jason Taylor will not be back.  Additionally, they also lost Shaun Ellis to the rival Patriots.  I feel like Wilkerson will be giving quarterbacks in the East nightmares for years.  He is a tall, athletic, fast defensive end with great strength and instincts.  Kenrick Ellis could be a great force upfront for the Jets.  I do like the Greg McElroy pick in the 7th round.  A lot of times, draft experts talk about intangibles which really means “we don’t know what else to call it but we like it” or someone being a winner.  The difference between Super Bowl contenders like the Jets and teams like the Broncos – is the Jets took a quarterback who is a winner, but they grabbed him in the 7th round as opposed to trading up in the first.  Overall this was a really good draft for the Jets without a lot of picks.  The only downside is I feel like their linebacker corps could also use some help.

 

 

FREE AGENCY

KEY ADDITIONS: Santonio Holmes, WR (Jets); Antonio Cromartie, CB (Jets); Mark Brunell, QB (Jets); Plaxico Burress, WR (Inactive); Nick Folk, K (Jets); Wayne Hunter, OT (Jets);  David Harris, LB (Jets); Derrick Mason, WR (Ravens)

KEY LOSSES: Braylon Edwards, WR; Shaun Ellis, DE; Jason Taylor, DE; Brad Smith, KR/WR/QB

Re-signing Santonio Holmes was a priority for the Jets heading into the 2011 season.

The New York Jets did some excellent things in the free agency period.  Braylon Edwards was a big loss but with his pending suspension, the Jets felt like Plaxico Burress was a better risk to take.  Re-signing Santonio Holmes was a must and then the addition of the ageless wonder Derrick Mason gives the Jets a strong receiving corps.  Bringing back Cromartie was necessary once they lost out on the Asomugha sweepstakes and since the kicker market was relatively weak, it was so important for the Jets to re-sign Nick Folk.  The big losses for the Jets are Shaun Ellis who left for the rival Patriots but the Jets anticipated this loss in their draft.  One really big loss for the Jets, that most don’t realize, was do-it-all Brad Smith.  His long kick returns, and ability as a wild cat QB was a big part of the Jets success the last two seasons and he will be missed more than most Jets fans realize.  Overall, the Jets did a great job in the offseason.

 

 

MIAMI DOLPHINS

NFL DRAFT

2011 DRAFT CLASS: Mike Pouncey, C (1-15); Daniel Thomas, RB (2-62); Edmund Gates, WR (4-11); Charles Clay, FB (6-174); Frank Kearse, DT (7-231); Jimmy Wilson (7-235)

 

Even though he played at Division II Abilene Christian, Gates has the speed, hands, and athleticism to be a successful slot receiver in the NFL.

For me, the Miami Dolphins draft was kind of a mixed bag.  But overall there were a few things I really liked about the draft for the Dolphins.  First off, I love the Mike Pouncey pick for him in the first round.  While it has been a slow process, the Dolphins have been doing a good job of building their offensive line.  They got their tackle in Jake Long a few years back and now they have the second most position in the line in a strong, athletic center in Pouncey.  I really am a fan of Daniel Thomas and think he could be a great addition to that backfield.  The fact that the first running back went off the board late in the first round makes almost any running back with starter potential, such as Thomas a good value.  The player I love in this draft for the Miami Dolphins is Edmund Gates.  Having watched several Abilene Christian games, I can tell you this about Gates – he’s got great awareness, excellent hands, and amazing athleticism.  He is a raw talent but when he gets in space, watch out – he was one of the fastest players in this year’s draft.  He is going to be compared to the Chicago Bears’ Johnny Knox (also from ACU) but I expect, with some development, that Gates will be better than Knox.  Great value pick in the 4th round. I’m intrigued to watch him develop.

 

 

 

FREE AGENCY

KEY ADDITIONS: Reggie Bush, RB (Saints); Kevin Burnett, LB (Chargers); Matt Moore, QB (Panthers); Tony McDaniel, DE (Dolphins); Marc Colombo, OT (Cowboys); Ronald Fields, DT (Broncos); Jason Taylor, DE (Jets)

KEY LOSSES: Ronnie Brown, RB; Tyler Thigpen, QB; Channing Crowder, LB

The Reggie Bush trade should work out to be one of those rare trades that was a great move for both teams

I have not been big on Reggie Bush these past few years but I think this is a trade that makes sense.  He is a pass catching running back and a great athlete and may be the heir apparent to the now departed original Wildcat, Ronnie Brown.  He also gives the Dolphins a threat as an excellent punt returner.  The addition of Marc Colombo gives the Dolphins a pretty good offensive line and I like the additions they made on defense with Fields and Burnett.  Crowder will definitely be missed.  Of course the biggest question for the Dolphins in my mind is who is going to play quarterback?  I am not going to go as far as to say Chad Henne and Matt Moore are never going to be more than a number 2 but for a team that improved overall in the offseason, they actually took a step back at the quarterback position.  It’s a sad state of affairs when losing Tyler Thigpen actually weakens your QB position.  There were a number of serviceable starters available via trade and draft and I think the Dolphins should be calling Cincy around the clock to see what it would take to get Carson Palmer there.  While I believe he is retired for good, this is one of a small handful of teams that should be calling Favre and it might not hurt them to give Randy Moss a call either.

 

 

BUFFALO BILLS

NFL DRAFT

2011 DRAFT CLASS: Marcell Dareus, DT (1-3); Aaron Williams, CB (2-34); Kelvin Sheppard, LB (3-68); Da’Norris Searcy, S (4-100); Chris Hairston, OT (4-122); Johnny White, RB (5-133); Chris White, LB (6-169); Justin Rogers, CB (7-206); Michael Jasper, G (7-245)

 

Marcell Dareus is a strong, fast defensive lineman that could play either the nose tackle or defensive end position in Buffalo's 3-4 D

I don’t know if Buffalo really drafted the positions they needed but they drafted a lot of good players.  A lot of good teams have been built on the basis of B.P.A. (Best Player Available) and when you are as bad as the Bills were last season, the focus really does need to be on getting as many good players as possible.  While I will continue to argue that I believe Patrick Peterson was the best overall player in the draft, I believe Marcell Dareus was a perfect defensive pick for the Bills.  The Bills run a 3-4 defense and as a pass-rusher, Dareus could easily be converted into a defensive end.  I also love the Williams, Sheppard, and Searcy picks.  This defense should be much improved this coming season.  The biggest questions have to be though, why the Bills did not address their offensive line until day 3 or use a single pick on a wide receiver or tight end.

 

 

 

FREE AGENCY

KEY ADDITIONS: Nick Barnett, LB (Packers); Drayton Florence, CB (Bills); Brad Smith, WR/KR/QB (Jets), Tyler Thigpen, QB (Dolphins)

KEY LOSSES: Paul Posluszny, LB; Donte Whitner, S; Lee Evans, WR

Barnett, while not Posluszny, was as good of a replacement as the Bills were going to find.

One of these offseasons, Buffalo is going to have to make a splash if they ever hope to compete with the Jets and Patriots.  Losing Paul Posluszny and Donte Whitner was significant.  But the Bills re-signed the guy they needed to in Drayton Florence.  Nick Barnett is a nice replacement for Posluszny and I could see this being a stout defense that now features the likes of Aaron Williams, Marcell Dareus, Shawne Merriman, Nick Barnett, and Jairus Byrd.   I also like the Tyler Thigpen signing as he is a solid back-up quarterback and it was a good move to take Brad Smith away from the rival Jets.  Gailey did some wildcat looks in Kansas City with Thigpen and in this offense he could find places for Thigpen and Smith.  However, the offensive side of the ball needs plenty of work.  The offensive line is non-existent and they traded away a highly underrated receiver in Lee Evans which I believe they will regret.  But if this defense can hold teams to 10 points a game, the Bills might just have a shot.

Overall the AFC East had a pretty strong offseason.  The New England Patriots definitely improved.  The Bills and Dolphins should field a better team than last season and the New York Jets look about the same to me.   As always this should be a very tough division and I expect great defense across the board from all four teams.

 

 

Questions? Comments? Snide Remarks? Let me hear ‘em!

2011 NFL Offseason Grades – AFC North

PITTSBURGH STEELERS

NFL DRAFT

2011  DRAFT PICKS: Cameron Heyward, DE (1-31); Marcus Gilbert, OT (2-63); Curtis Brown, CB (3-95); Cortez Allen, CB (4-128); Christopher Carter, OLB (5-162); Keith Williams, G (6-196); Baron Batch, RB (7-232)

 

 

Cameron Heyward is big strong defensive end that fits the Steel Curtain's great tradition

The Pittsburgh Steelers did the most important thing you can do in a draft, they covered the majority of their needs.  Sure there weren’t  a lot of big names here but I do like the Cameron Heyward pick a lot for Pittsburgh.   He is a versatile player that can play either the end or tackle position in a four man front.  He is a relentless pass rusher with a quick first step and the ability to stay low and get the advantage on an offensive line.  Gilbert fills a hole on their O-line and should be able to step in and contribute immediately.   I really like the Carter pick-up late.  He is not the most explosive player but he is strong and is a great tackler and could develop into a good OLB against the run.  The biggest flaw that I can find in the Steelers’ draft is they really needed to find a way to bolster their receiving corps and did not do so in this draft.

 

 

 

FREE AGENCY

KEY ADDITIONS: Ike Taylor, CB (Steelers); Willie Colon, OT (Steelers); Jonathan Scott, OT (Steelers);  Mewelde Moore, RB (Steelers); William Gay, CB (Steelers); Jerricho Cotchery, WR (Jets)

KEY LOSSES: Antwaan Randle El, WR; Flozell Adams, OT; Max Starks, OT

Re-signing Ike Taylor was a priority for the Steelers.

For the Steelers, free agency was largely about making sure they continue to have a great offensive line.  Their line has been a big part of their three Super Bowl appearances in the last 7 years and with the Steelers, they seem to believe that Scott and Colon are preferrable to Adams and Starks.   The Steelers did the most important thing that a team can in free agency which is re-sign your key guys.  Additionally, the Steelers were in desperate need of a wide receiver if they plan to repeat as AFC Champions and were able to pick up Jerricho Cotchery this week who should fit into their offensive scheme perfectly.

BALTIMORE RAVENS

NFL DRAFT

2011 DRAFT PICKS: Jimmy Smith, CB (1-27); Torrey Smith, WR (2-58); Jah Reid, OT (3-85); Tandon Doss, WR (4-123), Chykie Brown, CB (5-164); Pernell McPhee, DE (6-165); Tyrod Taylor, WR (6-180); Anthony Allen, RB (7-225)

 

Like Percy Harvin & Randy Moss, Jimmy Smith looks to make other teams regret letting him slide

I feel like Ozzie Newsome and the Baltimore Ravens find good value late in a draft better than anyone else.  In the first round they got the shutdown corner they needed in Jimmy Smith.  I feel that Jimmy Smith should not have fallen past the 15th pick but character issues (much like Percy Harvin a few years ago) caused him to slide and Baltimore gets a great value here.  Torrey Smith is a wideout who has blazing speed and will be popular with the fans being a Maryland Terrapin and all.  I am really curious to see the path that Tyrod Taylor’s career take as I am always intrigued by college quarterbacks who are drafted as wide receivers (Brad Smith, Joe Webb, Antwaan Randle El, Julian Edelman, etc.).  Overall I really like this draft because the Ravens got the most bang for their buck and did feel some immediate needs.  However they ignored their gaping need in the safety position which I see as this draft’s biggest failure.

 

 

 

FREE AGENCY

KEY ADDITIONS: Lee Evans, WR (Bills); Bernard Pollard, S/OLB (Texans); Vonta Leach, FB (Texans); Marshall Yanda, G (Ravens); Chris Carr, CB (Ravens)

KEY LOSSES: Derrick Mason, WR; Willis McGahee, RB; Le’Ron McClain, FB; Todd Heap, TE; Kelly Gregg, DT; Fabian Washington, DB; Josh Wilson, DB; Dawan Landry, S

In Lee Evans, the Ravens get a guy who can stretch the field for Joe Flacco

Before yesterday, I would’ve graded Baltimore’s free agency period and trades in the C+ range because while I do like their additions – I feel like the team lost a lot.  However, I have them sitting higher because the 4th round pick for Lee Evans may be a better value trade than McNabb for a 6th round pick to Minnesota.  Now I am not promising 23 touchdowns for Evans, I am just saying ask Bill Bellichick what happens when you give up a 4th round draft pick to get a talented receiver out of an unfavorable situation.  I think that Evans is an upgrade over Derrick Mason and will pair nicely with Boldin and Smith.  The upgrade of the receiving corps over the last two seasons should make this a career year for Joe Flacco.   Leach is a bruiser of a fullback and an upgrade over McClain and re-signing Carr was necessary.  I still feel they lost a lot though with the departure of Dawan Landry, Todd Heap, and Josh Wilson.

CINCINNATI BENGALS

NFL DRAFT

2011 DRAFT PICKS: A.J. Green, WR (1-4); Andy Dalton, QB (2-35); Dontay Moch, OLB (3-66); Clint Boling, G (4-101); Robert Sands, S (5-134); Ryan Whalen, WR (6-167); Korey Lindsey, CB (7-207); Jay Finley, RB (7-246)

 

A.J. Green has the tools to be an elite receiver in the NFL

I really liked Cincinnati’s approach to this draft.  They had a lot of needs going in and as opposed to panicking – they simply adopted a B.P.A. (Best Player Available) approach and in doing so were able to fill many of their holes.  They used the 4th overall pick to take the best wide receiver prospect I believe we have seen since Calvin Johnson.  A.J. Green will be a star in this league.  The Bengals foresaw the departure of Ochocinco and Palmer and used their first two picks to address that.  Considering that 4 quarterbacks were drafted in the first 12 picks, I consider the Bengals finding someone as good as Andy Dalton in the 2nd round an absolute steal.   If I had to declare a draft winner right now, it would be a toss up between Detroit, Cincinnati, and the next team I’m going to discuss.  I love the Robert Sands pick in the 5th round – he is an intelligent player who plays aggressively.  He has a great awareness about him and his long arms and great hands have me believing he could develop into quite the ballhawk.  He reminds me of a larger Darren Sharper.   I also think that Jay Finley was a great 7th round pick, he’s a running back who could be a solid number 2 in this league.

 

 

 

FREE AGENCY

KEY ADDITIONS: Nate Clements, CB (49ers); Manny Lawson, LB (49ers); Thomas Howard, LB (Raiders); Cedric Benson, RB (Bengals); Brian Leonard, RB (Bengals)

KEY LOSSES: Johnathan Joseph, CB; Chad Ochocinco, WR; Carson Palmer, QB; Antwan Odom, DE; Evan Mathis, G


Re-signing Benson was necessary if the Bengals were going to have any success this year

The biggest departure of free agency for the Bengals was not Chad Ochocinco or Carson Palmer .  In my mind, it was Johnathan Joseph who many overlooked in free agency in light of the Nnamdi Asomugha sweepstakes.  Nate Clements was a good effort to replace Joseph but he is nowhere near as good.  The Bengals anticipated Palmer’s retirement and the Ochocinco trade and in my opinion, upgraded at the wide receiver position when they drafted Green.  Cedric Benson was necessary to bring back and I really like the Gradkowski pick-up.  Gradkowski is a quarterback who has never gotten his due, similar to Jeff Garcia, but he does find ways to win games for bad teams and provides good competition for Dalton.   I like the Thomas Howard signing as well but to me the retirement of Carson Palmer and departure of Johnathan Joseph severely set the Bengals back for this season.


CLEVELAND BROWNS

NFL DRAFT

2011 DRAFT PICKS: Phil Taylor, DT (1-21); Jabaal Sheard, DE (2-37); Greg Little, WR (2-59); Jordan Cameron, TE (4-102); Owen Marecic, FB (4-124); Buster Skrine, CB (5-137);  Jason Pinkston, OT (5-150); Eric Hagg, S (7-248)

 

Phil Taylor was the best run-stopper available in this year's draft

You know what I have always admired about Mike Holmgren?  He is a realist who knows what he wants.  In my mind, when Cleveland landed the 6th overall pick there were only 3 players worth them taking with that high of a pick – Georgia WR A.J. Green (went 4th overall to Cincy), LSU CB Patrick Peterson (went 5th overall to Cleveland), and Missouri DE Aldon Smith (went with the 7th overall pick to San Fran).  When Cleveland’s turn came up, Holmgren decided Aldon wasn’t the way to go with that pick and so instead of taking a player too high or one he had no interest in – he got Atlanta to pay him a king’s ransom so they could draft Julio Jones.  Later on they were able to get the big run-stopping D Tackle they needed in Phil Taylor and with the Falcons’ 2nd round pick they got a big target who can stretch the field for McCoy in Greg Little.  Overall I like this draft, not just because of who they grabbed this year but because of how it prepares them for future drafts to truly rebuild this team.   Holmgren is very realistic about where the Browns are as a franchise and as someone who has 3 conference championships and one more Super Bowl ring than the entire Browns franchise, knows the personnel he needs to get them there.

 

 

 

 

FREE AGENCY

KEY ADDITIONS: Pat Shurmur, Head Coach (Rams’ Offensive Coordinator); Jon Greco, G (Rams);  Usama Young, S (Saints)

KEY LOSSES: Eric Wright, CB; Abram Elam, S

Pat Shurmur did a great job with Sam Bradford and now has Andy Dalton to develop.

When it came to the free agency period, the Browns did a couple of things right – they hired a great offensive mind as their new head coach in Pat Shurmur; they traded for Jon Greco, a strong offensive lineman who should solidify the right side of the line; and they signed Usama Young from the Saints who I believe upgrades their safety situation over the departed Abram Elam.   When I look at Cleveland’s free agency period though, for me it will always be about what they did not do.  They had the most cap room of any NFL team and did not even make a run at defensive end Ray Edwards, or wide receivers like James Jones, Malcolm Floyd, Michael Jenkins, or Mike Sims-Walker.  There was no upgrade to their pass rush, no addition of difference-makers, and the Browns had more capacity to do that than anyone.  In a short free agency period, the fact they could offer more money with less time to decide worked in their favor.  As a result, I believe they were the biggest losers in free agency.

 

 

 

Questions? Comments? Snide Remarks? Let me hear ‘em!