2011 NFL Offseason Grades – NFC West

ST. LOUIS RAMS

2011 Draft Class:  Robert Quinn, DE (1-14); Lance Kendricks, TE (2-47); Austin Pettis, WR (3-78); Gregory Salas, WR (4-112); Jermale Hines, S (5-158);  Jabara Williams, OLB (7-228); Jonathan Nelson, CB (7-229)

 

 

Lance Kendricks is a big, strong, athletic tight end who should make an immediate impact for the Rams.

The Rams had a lot of impact rookies in 2010 and they have some guys in this year’s class who could also make an immediate impact.  I love the pick of Robert Quinn for the Rams.  Had he not been injured this past season he would have probably been a top 5 draft pick so for the Rams to get him at number 14 (with both top wide receivers off the board) was a great value.  Lance Kendricks, also looks to be a tight end who could have an immediate impact for the Rams.   He is a strong athletic tight end and in that offense, I really believe he could have a huge year.   Pettis and Salas could help bolster an ailing receiving corps and so overall I really like what St. Louis accomplished with their draft.  The only major problem is that the Rams failed to address issues on their offensive and defensive lines.

KEY ADDITIONS: Quintin Mikell, S (Eagles); Harvey Dahl, G (Falcons); Jacob Bell, G (Rams); Mike Sims-Walker, WR (Jaguars); Mark Clayton, WR (Rams); Ben Leber, LB (Vikings); Daniel Muir, DT (Colts); Justin Bannan, DT (Broncos);  Al Harris, CB (Dolphins);  Cadillac Williams, RB (Buccaneers);  Jerious Norwood, RB (Falcons); Mark Clayton, WR (Rams)

KEY LOSSES: John Greco, G;  Daniel Fells, TE; Laurent Robinson, WR

Quintin Mikell is not a name that gets a lot of attention BUT he is without a doubt one of the best safeties in the league.  It is going to be really interesting to see how the great defensive mind of Steve Spagnuolo utilizes him in this Rams defense.  Dahl was a great move that the Rams had to make to help improve their offensive line.  I really do like the addition of Al Harris, Cadillac Williams, and Jerious Norwood to this team but the pick-up Rams fans should be excited about is Mike Sims-Walker.  Sims-Walker is a good wide receiver and now with Josh McDaniels at the helm of the offense and a better quarterback than he had in Denver – don’t be shocked if Sims-Walker has a big year.  It’s a contract year for Sims-Walker so he is going to be motivated to perform.  I think that he should become the number one wideout in that offense. Bradford’s favorite target was Mark Clayton at the beginning of last season and so bringing him back is a definite credit for this receiving corps.   Of course the loss of John Greco is a major blow to that line but that was really the one downer in the Rams free agency period.

ARIZONA CARDINALS

2011 Draft Class: Patrick Peterson, CB (1-5); Ryan Williams, RB (2-38); Robert Housler, TE (3-69); Sam Acho, DE (4-103); Anthony Sherman, FB (5-136); Quan Sturdivant, ILB (6-171); David Carter,  DT (6-184); Demarco Sampson, WR (7-249)

The Cardinals drafted who I believe to be the best overall player in the draft in Patrick Peterson

With the 5th overall pick, the Cardinals may have very well selected the best overall player in the draft (although Von Miller is on that same level).  Peterson was a force to be reckoned with while he was at LSU and provided the Cardinals with potentially the best young cornerback tandem in the NFL (until the Kolb trade).   They followed that up by getting the 2nd best running back in the draft in Ryan Williams.  Ryan Williams is a physical runner who can also catch balls out of the backfield.   The Cardinals draft was not so much about addressing needs but in most cases, they took the best possible player on the board regardless of position and in my opinion that’s how championship teams are built.

KEY ADDITIONS: Kevin Kolb, QB (Eagles); Vonnie Holliday, DE (Redskins);  Richard Marshall, CB (Panthers);  Jeff King, TE (Panthers);  Daryn Colledge, G (Packers);  Lyle Sendlein, C (Cardinals); Deuce Lutui, G (Cardinals); Nick Eason, DT (Steelers); Chester Taylor, RB (Bears)

KEY LOSSES: Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, CB; Derek Anderson, QB; Tim Hightower, RB; Steve Breaston, WR;  Ben Patrick, TE; Gerald Hayes, LB

If Kolb becomes the quarterback the Cardinals clearly believe he can be, then he was a bargain.

Arizona’s offseason is about Kevin Kolb.  On paper it does appear that the Arizona Cardinals overspent for Kevin Kolb by giving up a 2nd round pick and former 1st round pick Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie.  However if Kolb can develop into the franchise quarterback that the Cardinals believe he can be than it is well worth it.  The trade already gave Larry Fitzgerald the confidence in Arizona he needed to sign a long term contract with the team so that trade has already began to pay dividends.  Re-signing Lutui was key for the Cardinals and I like the signing of Todd Heap with the assumption that Arizona plans to incorporate the tight end even more into the passing game.  Chester Taylor had a terrible year in Chicago last year but if he can return to Minnesota form, this is going to be a great bargain signing for the Cardinals.

Rodgers-Cromartie was a huge loss and I am curious to see who steps up into the number 2 receiving spot with the departure of Steve Breaston.

SEATTLE SEAHAWKS

2011 Draft Class: James Carpenter, G (1-25); John Moffitt, G (3-75); K.J. Wright, OLB (4-99);  Kris Durham, WR (4-107); Richard Sherman, CB (5-154); Mark LeGree, S (5-156); Byron Maxwell, CB (6-173); Lazarius Levingston, DE (7-205); Malcolm Smith, OLB (7-242)

James Carpenter can be a good tackle in this league but Andy Dalton would've been less of a reach

Seattle definitely had one of the worse drafts in the NFL.  Their largest need going into the draft (later solidified by the departure of Matt Hasselbeck) was quarterback which they failed to address.  I believe that taking Andy Dalton at this pick would have been less of a reach than James Carpenter was.  In the second round the Seahawks got a good guard in Moffitt but with greater needs in the receiving corps, quarterback position, and along the defensive line this pick did not make much sense either.   While their later picks addressed some key needs in the Seahawk secondary, I have to question whether any of these players will have much of an impact.  Overall, a rather unimpressive draft.

KEY ADDITIONS: Sidney Rice, WR (Vikings), Brandon Mebane, DT (Seahawks); Zach Miller, TE (Raiders); Robert Gallery, G (Raiders); Tarvaris Jackson, QB (Vikings); Alan Branch, DT (Cardinals); Leroy Hill, LB (Seahawks); Michael Robinson, RB (Seahawks)

KEY LOSSES: Stacy Andrews, OT; Chris Spencer, C; Lofa Tatupu, LB; Matt Hasselbeck, QB

If Tarvaris Jackson cannot have success in Seattle, he will never be a successful starter anywhere

I love what the Seahawks did in the offseason.  I have long been a believer that Tarvaris Jackson has the talent to be a starting QB in this league.  I can honestly say that if he doesn’t succeed in his current situation (with his favorite receiving target in Rice and the same offensive coordinator he has had his whole career in Bevell) then he will never succeed.  The Seahawks made a splash by grabbing the 2nd best wide receiver on the free agent market and then by signing a great tight end in Zach Miller and getting Robert Gallery from Oakland to help their offensive line.  The big signing of course for the Seahawks was bringing back Brandon Mebane who may have been the best defensive tackle available in free agency.  The question remains though as to whether Jackson or Whitehurst can emerge as a viable starter for Seattle.

SAN FRANCISCO 49ERS

2011 Draft Class: Aldon Smith, DE (1-7); Colin Kaepernick, QB (2-36); Chris Culliver, CB (3-80); Kendall Hunter, RB (4-115); Daniel Kilgore, G (5-163); Ronald Johnson, WR (6-182); Colin Jones, S (6-190); Bruce Miller, DE (7-211); Michael Person, OT (7-239); Curtis Holcomb, CB (7-250)

Aldon Smith was a good choice and satisfies a need, but another Missouri Tiger may have been the better choice

Unlike many, I don’t believe Aldon Smith was a reach at 7th overall.  He is a fast, physical pass-rusher that satisfies an obvious need for San Francisco and was not going to fall outside of the top 10 picks.  However, I believe that San Francisco drafted the wrong Missouri player.  The obvious need for San Francisco was quarterback and with every quarterback except Cam Newton still on the board,  Gabbert or Locker would have made a lot more sense than Smith.  However, Harbaugh found his developmental project in the second round in Kaepernick.  However, considering that Mallett fell all the way to the 4th round – I though this was not the wisest of picks.  I look at the entire San Francisco draft and pretty much every player they took is a project but the problem is that the 49ers need impact players now.  Maybe Harbaugh is just mailing it in so he can grab Andrew Luck next season.

KEY ADDITIONS: Braylon Edwards, WR (Jets); Alex Smith, QB (49ers); Madieu Williams, S (Vikings); David Akers, K (Eagles); Donte Whitner, S (Bills); Ray McDonald, DT (49ers); Carlos Rogers, CB (Redskins); Jonathan Goodwin, C (Saints)

KEY LOSSES: Aubrayo Franklin, NT; Nate Clements, CB; Manny Lawson, LB; Eric Heitmann, C

49ers fans hope Harbaugh can do for them what he did up the road in Stanford

The first big thing that the 49ers did was go out and get one of the biggest coaching names available in Stanford’s Jim Harbaugh.  His brother Jon has had success in Baltimore and Jim took Stanford from nothing to being a legitimate national football power.  I really like the Braylon Edwards pick-up for the 49ers because, despite his drops, Edwards is a player with “homerun” ability.  Whitner is a player who made giant steps last year and is a risk worth taking in my mind.  Goodwin should come in and solidify that offensive line and I really like the addition of David Akers who I believe was the best kicker available in free agency.  I really did expect the 49ers to make a splash in either the quarterback or cornerback market but unfortunately, they really did not do anything to improve either position.

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

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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!