The typical argument against draft grades is, "Mel, you can't grade a draft for at least a few years." And while that's absolutely fair for some obvious reasons, you can hand out grades based on how much value teams got during the draft based on where they picked. It's not called "Pick Your Favorite Player" -- it's called the NFL draft. There's a process to maximizing value based on where a team selects, and initial grades are all about that and the degree to which a team attacked needs, as well as other factors such as scheme fits, building depth and adding value from trades.
But with a year of results, we can add some weight to the performance aspect people really think makes more sense. And I don't disagree. So let's see how the grades look after close to a year.
Summary: I loved the Seattle draft, not just because of the safe talent it acquired, but because it didn't trade away picks to maneuver within the first round and still got its guys. Russell Okung didn't have a dynamic season, but a lot of that is health-related. The guy should be an anchor for years to come. Earl Thomas racked up five INTs, and his development is extremely promising. Golden Tate struggled, particularly early. He showed some maturity issues, but the feeling is he can bounce back as his work habits get better and skills develop. There is not a lot after that, so the overall grade drops, but the top-two picks still look great.
Draft grade: A | Current Grade: B-plus
Summary: As much as the Ravens got great value, this is one that backfired a bit. Sergio Kindle got hurt off the field, and it seems as though his career is in jeopardy at this point. Terrence Cody is blocked by the great Haloti Ngata, and even good value pick Ramon Harewood was on the injured reserve. I still think the tight ends the Ravens got in Ed Dickson and Dennis Pitta can help out, but this class is off to a tough start overall.
Draft grade: A | Current Grade: C-minus
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Summary: Maybe my grade was too low. Tampa locked down a pair of long-term starters in wide receivers Mike Williams and Arrelious Benn, and Gerald McCoy -- who will be unfairly compared to the dominant Ndamukong Suh -- had some growing pains but played pretty well overall. Even waiver claim Ted Larsen worked out. The cherry, of course, is the magnificent year turned in by LeGarrette Blount, a guy initially signed by the Titans.
Draft grade: B-plus | Current Grade: A
Summary: The Eagles drafted guys they felt could help right away, and it showed, because it seems like nearly every guy they picked started in some capacity. Highlighting that is the good season turned in by safety Nate Allen, a guy picked with the pick that Philly nabbed in the Donovan McNabb deal. (Allen got hurt, but he'll be back.) Riley Cooper was a surprise, Mike Kafka looks like a good bet to be a second-stringer soon and Brandon Graham will keep getting better when he's healthy. Another late steal was Kurt Coleman, who saw a lot of time at safety.
Draft grade: B-plus | Current Grade: A-minus
Summary: Dan Williams was a pick I really liked, but he didn't add much to the equation in 2010. Unfortunately, the Cardinals were forced to rely on the undrafted Max Hall and fifth-rounder John Skelton far too much. Daryl Washington provided some starts, and I still think Andre Roberts can be a player, but the grade drops.
Draft grade: B-plus | Current Grade: C-plus
Summary: Like Seattle, Detroit had two first-round picks (after a trade-up with Minnesota) and has scored with both. What else can be said about Suh, who flat-out dominated in a manner not at all befitting a rookie. Barring health, he looks like a penciled-in Pro Bowl D-tackle for as long as he wants to play. Jahvid Best didn't have a lot of running lanes, but he showed big-time toughness, playing hurt just about all year. The conversion of Amari Spievey from corner to safety looks like a smart move.
Draft grade: B-plus | Current Grade: A-minus
Summary:The Steelers weren't loaded with holes, and they definitely made some depth and developmental picks in the middle rounds, but they also hit some home runs. Maurkice Pouncey is, to borrow a phrase, pretty much who we thought he'd be -- but he just got there faster. Already a Pro Bowl player, he'll be an anchor for years to come. His injury before the Super Bowl is the only downer. Emmanuel Sanders looks primed to develop, and how about the contributions of Antonio Brown, who looks like a total steal as the 195th pick? A solid draft gets better.
Draft grade: B | Current Grade: A-minus
Summary: Kareem Jackson was the first-round pick, an obvious-need choice after the departure of Dunta Robinson. While Jackson started, he did so for a secondary that was gashed pretty much all season. His development is key. Darryl Sharpton also got some work as a nice-value pick in Round 4, but it's was pretty quiet draft after that. Ben Tate, a second-round pick, hurt his knee early and paved the way for Arian Foster.
Draft grade: B | Current Grade: C-plus
San Diego Chargers
Summary: The Chargers aggressively targeted Ryan Mathews, trading up for him and making him the first every-down back taken. But even after a decent year, Mathews didn't really produce the kind of totals most expected. Health was a factor, but San Diego's passing game simply took over, and Mathews never seemed like a big part of the plan. Donald Butler was expected to help at linebacker, but he got hurt in camp. After him, no rookie really contributed very much. This draft grade takes a hit.
Draft grade: B | Current Grade: C-minus
New York Jets
Summary: The need to give a lot of playing time to first-round pick Kyle Wilson was mitigated by the acquisition of Antonio Cromartie, so while Wilson has a future his contributions to the team weren't really felt. I liked the Jets' draft because I thought they got good value with every pick and drafted players I thought they might use reasonably early. Since they really didn't use these guys, there's a question as to whether they simply had plenty of depth at those spots -- a fair question on a successful team -- or whether the guys simply didn't look good. Either way, a disappointing class so far.
Draft grade: B | Current Grade: C
San Francisco 49ers
Summary:I thought the Niners showed a lot of conviction, aggressively targeting their offensive line. Anthony Davis and Mike Iupati got plugged in and started throughout the year, so you can't say the Niners didn't have a plan. Taylor Mays wasn't a big contributor. and NaVorro Bowman was a special-teams stud instead of a regular, but he has a chance to develop. No leaks with the top picks, however.
Draft grade: B | Current Grade: B-plus
New York Giants
Summary: Jason Pierre-Paul was the first-round pick, a raw pass-rusher with immense physical skills. I predicted then that he'd need a lot of work to refine his technique and to work against pro lineman in practice but could help the Giants late. He did manage to get some sacks (4.5), but he never cracked the starting lineup. That's not a failure, though, considering the competition. I think they like his future. Elsewhere, there really wasn't much. Chad Jones was injured off the field in a car accident, and Matt Dodge was the much-talked-about punter -- but not always in a good way.
Draft grade: B | Current Grade: C-plus
Summary: The Panthers actually got some nice pieces out of this draft, but it was hard to see it considering how much the kids got thrown into the fire. Jimmy Clausen struggled, underperforming my expectations for him, but it was a battle as he worked with fellow rookie wideouts Brandon LaFell and David Gettis. Both of those guys look like keepers, and there are intriguing pieces such as Eric Norwood and Greg Hardy that should continue to develop on defense. The results didn't add up, but Ron Rivera has some young talent to build with.
Draft grade: B | Current Grade: B-minus
Summary: The Bears nailed one of the top sleepers in the whole draft, when seventh-round pick J'Marcus Webb was thrown into action and performed pretty well. Suddenly, a draft that didn't see any picks until No. 75 overall (Major Wright) found some decent value. Corey Wootton also looks like a keeper as a defensive end out of Northwestern. The Bears saw value in him as a local guy who wasn't at 100 percent during his final season in Evanston, and it should pan out for them. There wasn't major impact, but given where they were forced to pick, Chicago did well.
Draft grade: B | Current Grade: B
New England Patriots
Summary: It's one thing for so many picks to see the field, it's another when so many are immediate starters. So while there were a few value question marks, the Patriots were brilliant in terms of identifying fits. And it's not like Bill Belichick and the New England brain trust forced guys into action in an attempt to dignify their choices. No, these guys played early and played well, and the team was noticeably better because of it. Devin McCourty landed in the Pro Bowl. Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez were good enough that they seem to have shifted the whole offensive methodology, with more tight end sets than ever. Brandon Spikes and Jermaine Cunningham played a ton. Brandon Deaderick, the 247th pick, was called into duty and showed toughness. Even punter Zoltan Mesko was solid. Good picks all over, and the Patriots will have many more in April.
Draft grade: B-minus | Current Grade: A-plus
Summary: People complained that I didn't have Dez Bryant among my Top 10 rookies. But how could I? He missed four games and had three with zero or one catch. While he showed flashes of what should be an electrifying career -- if he's healthy -- he certainly wasn't the cherry on top of a great season. Sean Lee should become a starter, but after that, the draft offered little. Undrafted pickups were a better part of the overall rookie picture for Dallas. That they got no real help for the offensive line is still an issue.
Draft grade: B-minus | Current Grade: C-plus
Green bay Packers
Summary: The Packers' draft is looking better as the playoffs wear on, particularly because James Starks is contributing in the run game. Starks fell because he wasn't healthy in his final season at Buffalo, and Green Bay got great value because of it. Morgan Burnett got hurt, but Bryan Bulaga has become a starter and Andrew Quarless has seen action. Green Bay's attrition has opened up more opportunities than pure talent has forced its way in, but the results speak for themselves.
Draft grade: B-minus | Current Grade: B
Kansas City Chiefs
Summary: Eric Berry was a home run pick at a need position, one of the more predicable outcomes in the whole draft. Dexter McCluster was a bit of a hit-and-miss guy. He wasn't a part of the passing game to the degree I thought he could be, but when a team has a versatile rookie that can affect multiple areas of the playbook, it's not a one-year plan. Tony Moeaki, who dropped after he dealt with some health issues at Iowa, became one of the steals of the draft. Javier Arenas was on the field early and often. Even fifth-rounder Kendrick Lewis became a starter. A big grade jump in a draft I underestimated.
Draft grade: B-minus | Current Grade: A
Summary: Alterraun Verner was still sitting there at No. 104 overall, and he becomes one of the big steals at that spot. He should be a longtime contributor for the Titans. Derrick Morgan was a guy I felt was really ready to contribute early because he's a versatile talent, but when he was lost to injury this draft class really lost points. Tennessee didn't get a lot out of Damian Williams, and I don't think anyone is under the illusion that Rusty Smith is the answer at quarterback.
Draft grade: C-plus | Current Grade: C
St. Louis Rams
Summary: The first two guys the Rams took are among my top rookies of the year. Sam Bradford showed poise and resilience in the face of a dicey receiving corp, and he was healthy all year after his endurance was a big question mark. Home run, period. They also got a left tackle solution out of Rodger Saffold, a player I thought Dallas might take in the spot they landed Bryant. Michael Hoomanawanui is a keeper at tight end, and even 226th overall pick George Selvie showed that he plans to contribute as a pass-rusher.
Draft grade: C-plus | Current Grade: A
Summary: This is another team that gets a big bump up the Board, based on performance. As I wrote about Oakland midway through the season, its ability to get maximum value in "playing the draft" has been questionable, but what isn't in question is the eye for talent. Rolando McClain was a starter at linebacker, and a pretty good one; Lamarr Houston is a solution in the middle of the defensive line; and Jared Veldheer got moved around to start the season but found a home right where he was in college, as an athletic left tackle who should only get better. Then they got a steal out of Jacoby Ford as icing on the cake. His pass-catching skills are far better than his draft profile indicated. Solid work.
Draft grade: C-plus | Current Grade: A-minus
Summary:Considering the holes on the roster, Buffalo had to get players that could step in immediately and help. I like C.J. Spiller, but emphasized that I considered him a bit of a luxury pick, considering there are other options in that backfield. His season can only be considered a disappointment. Torell Troup and Arthur Moats saw some time, but is there one guy from this class who looks like an anchor? I questioned Buffalo's plan, and I'm not sure this draft shows it really had one. If it did, that plan went off course early.
Draft grade: C-plus | Current Grade: D-plus
New Orleans Saints
Summary: I thought Patrick Robinson, the cornerback the Saints drafted in Round 1 out of Florida State, would give them more. He clearly still has some work to do. After that, this is a really lean class. Jimmy Graham is an intriguing talent and should continue to develop. He became a favorite target of Drew Brees later in the year, particularly as a red zone threat, but I don't feel any better about this draft today then I did in April.
Draft grade: C | Current Grade: C-minus
Summary: I wasn't sure what level of production the Bengals would get, and framed against the disappointment of their season, you'd assume this class didn't add much. But that's not the case. Jermaine Gresham shaved off the rust and led rookie tight ends in catches. Carlos Dunlap didn't see much of the field early but exploded late for 9.5 sacks and was among my top rookie choices. Jordan Shipley was dependable, even amidst the sideshow of that group of wideouts. Not a remarkable draft, but they got some real players.
Draft grade: C | Current Grade: B
Summary: It was a disappointing year, but Cleveland has a better roster because of some of these guys. T.J. Ward proved every question I had about him was wrong; he was fantastic, and did it all over the field. Joe Haden started slow and had to win over the coaching staff, but he'll be a long-term starter and still has Pro Bowl upside in my book. Colt McCoy got thrown into a starter's role and, amidst a lot of the usual rookie mistakes and misreads, showed the kind of toughness that teammates appreciate. I think he projects as the likely Week 1 starter in 2011, to little complaint, and that's impressive considering where the Browns got him.
Draft grade: C | Current Grade: B-plus
Summary: I think everybody who followed prospects closely would be in agreement: We all saw Jerry Hughes as a guy who could really help the Colts and get into the pass-rushing rotation in 2010. And while that didn't happen, at least the Colts got some good value elsewhere. Pat Angerer became a solution at linebacker, Brody Eldridge got into the tight end mix and Blair White showed he has a future in this league after not being drafted out of Michigan State. Injuries led to some battlefield promotions, but on a pretty good team, like Indianapolis that counts for something.
Draft grade: C | Current Grade: B-minus
Summary: Koa Misi was a guy I highlighted early as one I thought would be an impact player early. He didn't come on to the degree I expect, but Miami definitely liked having him on the field. After that, Jared Odrick and A.J. Edds got hurt, leading me to think a more proper grade would be "incomplete."
Draft grade: C-minus | Current Grade: C-minus
Summary: A lot of this grade would seemingly depend on what you think of Tim Tebow. If he's the future, maybe you prop up this grade. If you don't think he's shown enough and is still a work in progress, perhaps, at best, the poor grade remains. But that oversimplifies it because there were some good components to this draft. Zane Beadles and J.D. Walton are keepers on the offensive line, Demaryius Thomas is a starter at wideout and Perrish Cox played like the great value he was as the 137th overall pick. Then there's Tebow. Am I sold? Not yet. But the grade improves based on the overall depth added.
Draft grade: C-minus | Current Grade C-plus
Summary: The Redskins got their current and future left tackle ... and that's about it. The disappointing thing is they lost a valuable second-round pick to Philadelphia for a franchise quarterback that seemed to cause a franchise-wide mess. Now they have to deal with the quarterback position again, and they still lack picks in the upcoming draft. After Trent Williams, only undrafted Brandon Banks is worth a mention. Not a good draft, and there is more work to be done.
Draft grade: C-minus | Current Grade: D-plus
Summary: Chris Cook got some starts, and 199th overall pick ("The Brady Pick") Joe Webb came on late and showed some flashes, but it's a pretty disappointing group overall. Remember that Cook was taken after the Vikings traded away the pick that became Jahvid Best. Of course, they then moved back up to get Toby Gerhart. The problem? Gerhart doesn't help much on third downs, and Best would have. This still has an incomplete grade, but the draft, like the season overall, didn't impress.
Draft grade: C-minus | Current Grade: D-plus
Summary: When I graded this draft initially, I said I didn't believe the Falcons had a lot of holes, and that would limit the grade they could get because it would be hard to get much impact. Corey Peters gave them some good work as the 83rd pick overall, but Sean Weatherspoon got just a handful of starts after going in the first round, and it was pretty quiet after that. Third-rounder Mike Johnson was inactive all year. In general, it was a to-be-expected and quiet class for a very good team.
Draft grade: C-minus | Current Grade: C
Summary: I'll say it again: I think Tyson Alualu is a really good player, but this draft was panned because of the way Jacksonville didn't acknowledge overall value in making picks. But the Jags jump because, once those picks saw the field, some performed very well. Start with Alualu, who started all year. While third-rounder D'Anthony Smith got hurt, the Jags got some mileage from Austen Lane, a defensive end they got in Round 5. Deji Karim was a guy a lot of people didn't know about, and he helped in the return game. Still not a massive haul, but better than it looked last April.
Draft grade: D | Current grade: C
Keep up with Mel Kiper through the year via his home page.