Sunday, 04 May 2014 21:50

2011 NFL Draft Revisited - Part Two: The AFC

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In Part One of my article, I explained my reasoning for looking back upon the 2011 draft and gave grades to the NFC. Hopefully, you’ve read it (if not, you can read it here) and are now looking forward to seeing the AFC grades. Without further ado, the grades:

Team

Division

Grade

Buffalo Bills

East

C

Miami Dolphins

East

B+

New England Patriots

East

D+

New York Jets

East

A-

Baltimore Ravens

North

C

Cincinnati Bengals

North

B+

Cleveland Browns

North

A+

Pittsburgh Steelers

North

C+

Houston Texans

South

A

Indianapolis Colts

South

F

Jacksonville Jaguars

South

B-

Tennessee Titans

South

C+

Denver Broncos

West

A+

Kansas City Chiefs

West

C-

Oakland Raiders

West

C-

San Diego Chargers

West

A

Overall the AFC had twice as many A’s at the NFC, but the AFC also had the only F and have lost four of the last five Super Bowls. Don’t get hung up on trying to make any correlations on the information above or you’ll end up like Russell Crowe in A Beautiful Mind. If you’d like to know more details about how the grades were determined, my grading criterion was outlined in my first article (e.g. please read the first article if you haven’t yet). Details on the players selected by each team are available below. All of the teams are broken out by their Division and preceded by a chart that illustrates the following:

  • How many picks the team had in the 2011 draft
  • How many of the draft picks were 6th or 7th round draft picks
  • How many of the players from the draft are currently on that team
  • How many of the players from the draft are currently starters on that team

 

AFC East

AFC East 2014

Buffalo Bills (C)

The Bills focused upon building their defense in this draft and succeeded with somewhat average results. Marcell Dareus (DT – 1st Rd) has been a starter since he was drafted and has improved with experience. In fact, Dareus was recognized in a 2013 with a Pro Bowl selection (it was an injury replacement, but you still got to give him some credit). Aaron Williams (DB – 2nd Rd) was a starting CB in 2012, but moved to SS in 2013 to replace Da'Norris Searcy (DB – 4th Rd) who wasn’t getting the job done. However, now that Jarius Byrd (S) has left for the big payday in New Orleans, Searcy could win his job back. Their other early defensive pick of Kelvin Sheppard (ILB – 3rd Rd) started for the Bills in 2012, but he was traded to the Indianapolis Colts in 2013. Their only other pick of note in this draft was Chris Hairston (T – 4th Rd). Hairston was starting in 2012 until an injury caused him to spend the latter half of 2012 and all of 2013 on IR. In case you were wondering, the four players picked after the fourth round are no longer on the team. The Bills did get two strong additions to the defensive side of the ball, but that’s not an ideal result when balanced against five players from this draft no longer being on the team and Hairston riding the pine for over a year.

 

Miami Dolphins (B+)

The Dolphins concentrated on the offense with their first four picks with mixed results. If you just look at stats, Mike Pouncey (C – 1st Rd) is one of the best at his position. However, Pouncey has also been recognized as one of the bullies in the Jonathan Martin case and was subpoenaed in the Aaron Hernandez case. I guess inflection is key when you refer to Pouncey as an “offensive” lineman. Daniel Thomas (RB – 2nd Rd) is not the lead running back the Dolphins coaches had hoped for and only averages a paltry 400 rushing yards/year. At least he contributes to the running-back-by-committee approach that the Dolphins have adopted. While you’ve probably never heard of Edmond Gates (WR – 4th Rd) who lasted a year before he was dropped by Miami, Charles Clay (TE – 6th) should garner more recognition. Clay started all of 2013 which resulted in career high numbers of 750+ yards & six TD's by serving as a safety valve for their often pressured QB. Miami broke even on their two 7th Rd picks – Frank Kearse (DT) didn’t make the team, but Jimmy Wilson (DB) provides depth for them in nickel and dime packages. The Dolphins claimed two offensive starters and two additional depth player out of six picks, which is better than what many teams have been able to accomplish.

 

New England Patriots (D+)

“The Mad Scientist” Bill Belichick has often been praised for his unorthodox thinking, but he won’t receive any acclaim for this draft. He should receive credit for Nate Solder (T – 1st Rd) who has done an admirable job of starting all three years and replacing his predecessor Matt Light (I think Light has been canonized by the Patriot faithful), but that’s to be expected from a first round pick. Ras-I Dowling (DB - 2nd Rd) should change his name to Ras-IR Dowling. Dowling was a wasted pick who spent most of 2011 and 2012 on IR due to leg injuries and was cut in 2013. Shane Vereen  (RB – 2nd Rd) is in an running-back-by-committee situation with Stevan Ridley (RB – 3rd Rd) and while Vereen was the earlier pick,  Ridley has been the more dominant of the two backs (1200+ rushing yards/12 TD's in 2012). The second 3rd Rd of pick Ryan Mallett (QB) may be the their QB of the future, but his pitiful accumulation of 17 passing yards over three years means that Brady is going to have to blow out a knee again before Mallett sees any significant playing time. Marcus Cannon (T – 5th Rd) is the final player that had any impact on the team. Cannon is not a starter and primarily provides depth for the offensive line at tackle and guard. The three remaining players that they chose are no longer on the team. New England had SEVEN picks in the first five rounds, but only gained TWO starters. While that’s not a failure, it’s close.

 

New York Jets (A-)

Like many teams, the Jets were able to get good value out of the first pick Muhammad Wilkerson (DT). Wilkerson started all three seasons and was selected as 2nd team All-Pro in the 2013 season. The Jets went for more defensive depth on their next pick of Kenrick Ellis (DT- 3rd Rd) and while he has been rewarded with a fair amount of playing time, he hasn’t been able to claim the starting spot opposite Wilkerson. Bilal Powell (RB – 4th Rd) took over as the primary starter in 2013 for 11 games, but couldn't accomplish much in their putrid offense. More importantly, he’s unlikely to retain the starting position with the acquisition of Chris Johnson and will probably be relegated to goal line carries. Jeremy Kerley (WR – 5th Rd) was the favored target of Geno Smith in 2013 and was a starter when he was healthy. Similar to Powell, the offseason acquisitions of both Eric Decker and Jacoby Ford may push him from a starting role. Neither of the 7th Rd picks remain on the team. While not all of these players may be starters in the future, they did acquire three starters (one All-Pro) out of six picks in the short term and that is a very good return for any team.

 

AFC North

AFC North 2014

Baltimore Ravens (C)

There’s a saying about “trying to keep up with the Jones”, but the AFC North teams need to keep up with the Smiths. Jimmy Smith (DB – 1st Rd) and Torrey Smith (WR – 2nd Rd) have been making it tough on the Ravens opponents as they’ve matured. Jimmy Smith was the starter for all 16 games in 2013 and had a career high of 49 tackles, 2 forced fumbles and 2 INT’s. That’s the type of maturation you want to see out of a late #1 pick. Torrey Smith has been a force on the opposite side of the ball and also had his best statistical year in 2013 with a career high 65 receptions and 1,128 yards receiving. While the next five Raven picks are still on the team, none of them are starters and or notable if you’re not a Ravens fan. Out of eight picks, only the 7th Rd pick (Anthony Allen – RB) has been cut from this draft class. Overall, the Ravens had an average draft with the addition of two starters (that have not yet displayed All-Pro level talent) and added depth throughout the team.

 

Cincinnati Bengals (B+)

Many teams in the league are green with envy over the Bengals 1st Rd pick. A.J. Green is the first rookie WR to make a Pro Bowl appearance since Anquan Boldin (WR – ARZ) did in 2003 and has caught more passes (260) than any other player in NFL history during their first three seasons. All of those passes have come from the Bengals 2nd Rd selection of QB Andy Dalton, who has also been a starter since he was drafted. Dalton similarly made the Pro Bowl his rookie year (as an alternate) and his steady improvement led to his best statistical year in 2013 (33 TD's and 4,293 passing yards). Unfortunately, while the Bengals are making playoff games with Dalton at the helm, they have not been able to win in the post season. Dalton’s lack of playoff victories is making people question his viability as the Bengals long term leader, so it will be interesting to see what type of long term contract extension he is offered this year, if any. Their 3rd Rd pick Dontay Moch (LB) was plagued by injuries during his first two years in Cincinnati which led to his dismissal in 2013. Moch now is a backup with the Arizona Cardinals. Clint Boling (G – 4th Rd) was a starter for all of 2012 and most of 2013 until he sustained an ACL injury in week 12, but he is expected to return to form in 2014. Of their remaining four picks, only Ryan Whalen (WR – 6th Rd) is still on the team and in the NFL. Whalen has played in 17 games, but only has 11 receptions to show for it in 2 years so he may join the other three picks if things don’t change. Cincinnati started off very strong in this draft by selecting three starters (2 Pro Bowlers) that have greatly improved their offense. However, their failure to add any depth with their late round picks keeps them from getting an “A”.

 

Cleveland Browns (A+)

Yes, you’ve read that correctly. The Browns did get an A+ for their 2011 draft. How is that possible?  They gained six starters from this draft. Their first two picks (Phillip Taylor, DT – 1st Rd, Jabaal Sheard, DE – 2nd Rd) have started on the defensive line since their rookie year and while both appear to have peaked in their rookie seasons, they are still very effective. The Browns went for offense on their next two picks. Greg Little (WR – 2nd Rd) has been a starter since the draft, but appears to be losing snaps to their more recent acquisition of Josh Gordon. Jordan Cameron (TE – 3rd Rd) took a while to warm up, but broke out in 2013 with 80 receptions for over 900 yards & 7 TD's. Cameron will be an amazing asset to the team if he can continue with that kind of production. Finally, the Browns fared well with their two 5th Rd picks. Buster Skrine (CB) progressed slowly, but his hard work was rewarded in 2013 with 15 starts. Expectations are that it is now his position to lose. Jason Pinkston (G) started his rookie year, but injuries have kept him mostly off the field since. He has the skills to start, but he needs to get healthy. The Browns 4th and 7th Rd picks are no longer on the team or in the NFL. Simply put, six starters (two from the fifth round) is impressive and worth an A+.

 

Pittsburgh Steelers (C+)

The Steelers are known for defense, so they went with what they know in this draft and selected defensive players for four of their first five picks. Cameron Heyward (DE – 1st Rd) played in every game his first two years, but didn’t earn the starting slot until 2013. Heyward is a versatile player and shown that he can be effective in both passing downs and against the run. More importantly, Pittsburgh recently picked up his fifth year rookie option, so a long term contract seems to be in the near future for him. Marcus Gilbert (T – 2nd Rd) was their single offensive pick up in the higher rounds. With the exception of some time on IR in his second year, Gilbert has been a reliable starter for the Steelers. Curtis Brown (DB – 3rd Rd) has served primarily on the special teams during his time with the Steelers, but never started. An ACL tear in 2013 put him on IR, so he may have a tough time staying on the team. Cortez Allen (CB – 4th Rd), unlike Brown, has steadily improved and became the starter for eight games in 2013. Allen is expected to maintain his starting slot in 2014. Chris Carter (LB – 5th Rd) is a backup to James Harrison, so he doesn’t get much playing time other than some special teams play. The remaining two picks by the Steelers (G and RB) never really made an impact on the team and are no longer in the NFL. In summary, the Steelers got three starters and some roster depth on the defense, but nobody stands out as exceptional which leads to their barely above average grade.

 

AFC South

AFC South 2014

Houston Texans (A)

The Texans went almost all in on the defensive side of the ball for this draft and it paid off handsomely. Their first pick was J.J. Watt (DE). You may have heard of Watt since Watt's sophomore season in the NFL turned out to be one of the greatest seasons by a defensive player in NFL history. He finished the regular season with 81 tackles (69 solo), 20.5 sacks, 39 tackles for loss, 4 forced fumbles and 2 fumble recoveries. Let’s not forget about his 16 passes defended which earned him the nickname JJ Swat. The Texans exercised Watt's team option for 2015 ($6.97M) in mid-April and I expect they will retain his services for years to come. Brooks Reed (LB - 2nd Rd) gained his starting position after the Texans decided they didn’t want to pay extravagantly for Mario Williams continued services. While Brooks is not as prolific as Williams, he is a capable starter. The next three picks were DB’s (Brandon Harris – 2nd Rd, Rashad Carmichael – 4th Rd, Shiloh Keo – 5th Rd). Keo has earned a starting spot, Harris plays in nickel and dime packages and Carmichael was waived and now plays for the Eagles. TJ Yates (QB – 5th Rd) only played in three games in 2013 and is unlikely to remain on the team since the coaching regime changed. A gem of the 7th Rd was Derek Newton (T). Newton became a starter in late 2012 and has kept his spot since. The Texans last pick was also the last pick of the draft - Cheta Ozougwu (LB) and while he didn’t make the Houston squad, he caught on with the Bears. The Texans ended up with four starters (Watt could be a Hall of Fame player if he can keep playing at this pace), two more players that are still on the team and the two that were cut are still in the NFL. Clearly, this was an exceptional draft for the Texans.

 

Indianapolis Colts (F)

I don’t give out many F’s, but the Colts earned this. They did well with their 1st Rd pick of Anthony Castonzo who won a starting spot in the fifth game of his rookie year and hasn’t surrendered it since. However, none of their remaining picks ever started for more than four games or are on the team three years later. The only good news out of this fiasco is that at least they got a draft pick from Baltimore for Delone Carter (RB – 4th Rd). The other three players were just waived. To reiterate, the only player on their team from their 2011 draft was their first round pick. Between that draft and their 2-14 season, it’s no wonder that the Colts GM was fired. 

 

 Jacksonville Jaguars (B-)

If you ask a GM, selecting a QB is one of the most difficult choices they have to make. The entire offense is built around this selection and if you fail, you’re almost certainly out of a job. As a case in point, Gene Smith picked Blaine Gabbert (QB – 1st Rd), Gabbert didn’t meet expectations and coincidentally Smith was fired in 2012. While you could blame multiple head coaches, the porous offensive line and the multiple injuries Gabbert received for his failure to develop, excuses aren’t accepted by the fans or the owner. Clearly  Gabbert wasn’t the face of the franchise that they’d hoped for, but at least the Jags got a 6th Rd pick in the 2014 draft after trading him to San Francisco. Will Rackley (G – 3rd Rd) is a starter when healthy, but unfortunately he has spent as much time on IR as on the field over the past three years. Cecil Shorts (WR – 4th Rd) showed what a dynamic player he can be in 2012 when he accumulated almost 1,000 yards receiving  and 7 TD's in his second year. However, health issues in 2013 limited his playing time and cut his number of TD’s down to 3. Chris Prosinski  (DB -4th Rd) has gotten a fair amount of playing time (45 games) in the past three years, but hasn't been able to claim the starting spot. I guess the silver lining is that every team needs a quality backup that is good in nickel and dime packages. Their final pick, Rod Issac (DB – 5th Rd) only played for one month before getting hurt and placed on IR for the remainder of 2011. Issac was cut in 2012 and is no longer in the NFL. While injuries in Jacksonville seem to be an ongoing theme, they did get three starting players out of five selections. Considering that it’s the Jaguars, they deserve an above average grade for that type of production.

 

Tennessee Titans (C+)

Similar to Jacksonville, the Titans selected a QB as their first pick. While Jacksonville has given up on their 2011 QB selection, it appears that Tennessee is giving Jake Locker one more year to convince them that he can be the leader they had expected him to be. Locker will need to have a stellar 2014 to keep his job since labels like “injury prone” & “streaky” are often included in any mention of him. The next three picks by the Titans were all on the defensive side of the ball and mostly successful. Akeem Ayers (LB – 2nd Rd) claimed the starting spot his rookie year and hasn’t relinquished the spot since. Jurrell Casey (DT – 3rd Rd) was probably their best pick of the draft. Casey, also a three year starter, had his best performance in 2013 and ended the season with 55 combined tackles and 10.5 sacks. As a result of this monster performance on the line, Pro Football Focus graded Casey as the No. 4 defensive tackle for that season. Four of the six remaining players drafted are still on the team, but seem to be relegated to backup roles. Of these players, Colin McCarthy (LB – 4th Rd) showed the most promise (was a starter and team captain in 2012) and he could regain his spot. A hamstring injury during training camp caused McCarthy to lose his job to Moise Fakou in 2013, but Fakou did not have an impressive season. The Titans have a new defensive coordinator this year which means that everyone will have to prove themselves and that could go a long way in helping McCarthy win the job back. Overall, seven of the ten players Tennessee drafted are still on the team with three as starters (no All-Pro accolades) and four filling out roster depth. This middling performance is reflected in their grade.

 

AFC West

AFC West 2014

Denver Broncos (A+)

The Broncos really could not have done better in this draft. Von Miller (LB – 1st) displayed that he was worth a first round pick in the 2011 season with 11 sacks as a rookie. While 2011 was impressive, Miller took his play to an elite level in 2012 with the ridiculous stats of 18.5 sacks, 6 forced fumbles and 68 combined tackles. His 2012 performance earned him numerous accolades, but the spotlight on him quickly went from positive to negative after he began the 2013 season with a six-game suspension for violating the NFL’s substance-abuse policy. Already off to a late start, Miller then finished the 2013 season prematurely after an ACL tear in week 16. Fortunately for the Broncos, they also drafted Nate Irving (LB – 3rd Rd) and Irving was an adequate replacement while Miller was out. Miller needs to reproduce his 2012 numbers if he expects a big contract from the Broncos or he may end up with just a franchise tag in 2015. Like Von Miller, Rahim Moore (S – 2nd Rd) was unable to stay healthy for all of 2013, but he has started 32 games for the Broncos over his three years with them and was named a top 10 cover safety by ProFootball Focus prior to his injury. Orlando Franklin (T – 2nd Rd) is another three year starter for the Broncos, but it was announced early this year (to Franklins dismay) that he will be moving from right tackle to left guard to bolster the interior protection. Calling Julius Thomas (TE - 4th Rd) a late bloomer is an understatement. Thomas played in nine games with only one catch in his first two years before blowing up in 2013 with 65 receptions for 788 yards and 12 TD's. If that weren’t enough for him, Thomas also got his name in the NFL record books by catching Manning’s 51st TD of the season which broke the single-season passing touchdown record.  Quinton Carter (S – 4th Rd) started most of his rookie year, but leg injuries have kept him on IR for the past two years. Of the remaining three picks, only Virgil Green (TE – 7th Rd) is still on the team. Green is used primarily in two TE sets and/or as an additional blocker. In summary, the Broncos reaped a wealth of talent from this draft with five starters for the team (two All-Pro) and two more players adding that add quality depth.

 

Kansas City Chiefs (C-)

The Chiefs had some good picks in this draft, but their first wasn’t one of them. Jonathan Baldwin (WR) started his rookie season in the doghouse after a locker room fight with a teammate. That inauspicious start was just a hint of things to come. While Baldwin is a big target (6’4”), he only averaged less than 300 yards receiving and one TD per season in his first two years. Since Baldwin clearly was not the compliment to D. Bowe that the team had hoped for, they traded him to San Francisco in 2013 for A.J. Jenkins (who has even worst statistics than Baldwin). Rodney Hudson (C – 2nd Rd) also got off to a rough start in Kansas City, but due to injury (broken leg in 2012) instead of attitude. Unlike Baldwin, Hudson overcame adversity, played every down in 2013 and is thriving in Andy Reid’s offense. The prize of the 2011 draft for KC was with their 3rd Rd pick, Justin Houston (LB). A starter from day one, Houston has averaged 10+ sacks and 50+ combined tackles over the past two years along with a 2013 Pro-Bowl appearance. Unfortunately for KC, Houston’s rookie contract will end this year and they will have to pay at least ten times his projected 2014 salary of $645K if they want to keep him after that. Only two of the six remaining players that the Chiefs drafted were still on the team at the end of the 2013 season,  Allen Bailey (DE – 3rd Rd) and Jerrell Powe (NT – 7th Rd). Bailey has played in 41 games, but only has 45 combined tackles over three years to show for it. Powe was dropped as a free agent after the end of the 2013 season and was signed by the Houston Texans in March. The Chiefs got one great player, one good player and very little depth out of this draft, so they get a C-.

 

Oakland Raiders (C-)

I know that this is going to be a shock to many, but the Raiders didn’t have a great draft. With 7 coaches in 11 years, this team seems like they’re always rebuilding. Regardless, there are really only two players to highlight from 2011. Stefen Wisniewski (G – 2nd Rd) is a capable offensive lineman who has started at both guard and center for the team. Wisniewski ‘s tolerance for pain must be off the charts as he played with a torn labrum (note - that’s in his shoulder, not below the waist) for all of 2011 and has only missed three games over three years . Their other notable pick was Denarius Moore (WR – 5th Rd) who has been Oakland’s top receiver for the past two years. Moors is averaging 700+ receiving yards and 6 TD's per year which is commendable, but is not amazing compared to some of the gaudy stats other WR’s are amassing in this pass-happy league. The rest of the Raiders draft was unimpressive. The Raiders had two 3rd Rd picks (DeMarcus Van Dyke – DB; Joe Barksdale – T) and neither player is still on the team. Oakland also had two 4th Rd picks and while they both are still on the team, they are not very notable. Chimdi Chekwa (DB) has only started in 2 games and gained playing time in 22. Taiwan Jones (RB) was converted to a “gunner” on special teams and actually the only player from this draft to have already been resigned. Their 6th round pick (Richard Gordon – TE) is no longer in the NFL. Their last pick of David Ausberry (WR – 7th Rd) had a paltry 9 receptions over two years before getting hurt and spending all of 2013 on IR. I believe the Raiders will turn it around at some point, but this draft class isn’t going to be the catalyst for it.

 

San Diego Chargers (A)

Corey Liuget (DE – 1st Rd) was the first of many starters that the Chargers selected in 2011. Liuget is not only been a starter, but a leader for the team in both the locker room and on the field. More importantly, it looks like the Chargers are planning on keeping Liuget past his rookie contract as they’ve exercised his fifth year option which will pay Liuget almost $7M. Marcus Gilchrist (SS – 2nd Rd) is another starter on the team, but he took more time to develop and didn’t win the job outright until 2013. Gilchrist shouldn’t rest on his laurels though. The Chargers secondary is considered to be quite weak by many accounts, so it will be interesting to see who the Chargers draft in 2014 and how that affects his position. Jonas Mouton (LB – 2nd Rd) can probably relate to Mr. Glass from the movie Unbreakable (2000). Mouton has spent almost all of his three years with the Chargers on IR and will probably be released unless he has an unbelievable training camp. Another previously injured player (missed 2012 due to a broken ankle) who needs to show improvement in the 2014 camp is Vincent Brown (WR – 3rd Rd). Brown looks like he has all of the tools to be a powerful NFL receiver, but failed to prove that in 2013 and eventually lost his starting spot to Eddie Royal by the end of the year. Brown needs become more humble, take up the UPS motto of “what can Brown do for you,” and deliver. The final starter from this draft is Shareece Wright (CB – 3rd Rd). As mentioned above, the Chargers secondary does need to be improved, but by all accounts Wright is not the weak link. He’ll see someone new working across from him in 2014 and should take that as a sign that he needs to keep improving as well. The remaining two players on the team, Stephen Schilling (T – 6th Rd) and Andrew Gachkar (LB – 7th Rd), are depth players. While Schilling bounces back & forth between the active roster and practice squad, Gachkar is considered by many to be one of the team's most valuable special teams players (in addition to backing up Donald Butler). The Chargers didn’t hit the jackpot like the Broncos with All Pro players for starters, but they did get four starters and seven of the eight players they selected are still on the team. The Chargers get an A for making almost every pick count.

 

 

Now that the team grades have been completed, I will conclude Part Three by comparing the grades of the experts to my grades from Parts One and Two. What did the experts get right and where did they go wrong? Read next week to find out.

 

Sources:
www.BleacherReport.com
www.ESPN.com
www.NFL.com
www.rotoworld.com
www.wikipedia.com

 

Read 4098 times Last modified on Tuesday, 06 May 2014 22:47

Stephen Schulist has lived in many places (ten states) and held many jobs over the past 44 years: bookseller, dock worker, stand-up comedian, infantry soldier, software consultant and freelance writer. One thing that has remained constant over all of those years is his love of football and the Green Bay Packers. While the Packers are his favorite NFL team, he has seen games at 13 NFL stadiums and visiting the remaining stadiums is at the top of his bucket of list. He may be reached via email at TheSportsThinkTank@gmail.com or you may follow him on twitter @SoupSandwich97.

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