NFC/AFC South Draft Grades

*Posted on www.newsportswriters.com on 5/11/2006

NFC South

New Orleans Saints

Best Value Pick: Reggie Bush, RB, USC
Acquiring the best player in the draft with the second pick obvious provides the best value in their draft. The worth that the excitement on and off the field that this versatile back will provide this struggling organization is priceless. He will make an immediate impact in the offense and in special teams and if effective could even add years to franchise back Deuce McAllister’s career.

Worst Value Pick: Roman Harper, S, Alabama
This pick was a monster reach and a huge surprise for me, especially with the players that were available at this point in the draft at other higher need positions on the roster. Harper has little to no upside and is undersized and lacks athletic ability. With six safeties already on the roster, by selecting Harper it’s clear that they have plans to make other moves at the position in the off season which may include the trading of starting free safety Dwight Smith and the releasing of the aging starter at strong safety, Jay Bellamy. My hope is that neither ends up happening.

Sleeper Pick: Mike Hass, WR, Oregon State
Great selection here by the Saints, acquiring this tough, savvy, intelligent receiver who won the Biletnikoff award in his senior season with 90 catches, 1532 yards and 6 touchdowns. He lacks the ideal size of a NFL receiver (6’1″ 208), but has excellent route running skills and could compete for the fourth and even third receiving spot in his rookie season.

Grade: After the Saints selection of Reggie Bush their draft sort of went in to a free fall until their selection of Mike Hass in the sixth round. When selecting Harper, players like Winston Justice, D’Qwell Jackson (before they traded down) and Eric Winston were still available and all filled a need on the roster much greater than safety. The trades for jeff Faine and Hollis Thomas were good moves, adding two solid pros who both fill needs. Overall I was not very impressed with the new regimes first draft and hope they still plan to make some moves in free agency before the start of the 2006 seasonâÂ?¦C-

Carolina Panthers

Best Value Pick: Richard Marshall, CB, Fresno State
It’s hard not to put first round pick Deangelo Williams here, but getting Marshall (who some, including myself, projected as a first round pick) this late in the second is great value for a team that needed help at the position after letting Ricky Manning sign elsewhere. Tight end is still a need and some of the top-flight players at the position were still available (Leonard Pope comes to mind), but to get Marshall, who is has great speed and ball skills here, is great value.

Worst Value Pick: Rashad Butler, OT, Miami
Projected by most as a late round pick or even a rookie free agent, the Panthers selecting him in the third was obviously a huge reach. He’s a bit undersized and needs to add lower and upper body strength before he can be considered a starter in the NFL. They aren’t overly talented at the position, so maybe Carolina sees something in him that most others do not.

Sleeper Pick: Stanley McClover, DE, Auburn
Projected by some as a late second round pick it looks like his “tweener” label and durability question marks led to him falling all the way to the seventh round. He has trouble against the run, but his ability to consistently generate pressure on the quarterback makes him a very nice pick this late for the Panthers.

Grade: Carolina’s first two picks were great and even selecting linebacker James Anderson in the third was a nice pick. Most of the rest of their picks were reaches until they selected McClover, but overall it wasn’t a bad draft at all for a team that had very few needs. They failed to select a top flight tight end, which I felt they needed, but fifth round pick Jeff King should give Delhomme the red zone target he desperately needsâÂ?¦C

Atlanta Falcons

Best Value Pick: Jimmy Williams, CB, Virginia Tech
This was the best possible fit for Williams, who fell in the draft because of character issues and off the field problems (what Virginia Tech prospect doesn’t have that?). His mentor in college, DeAngelo Hall, just happens to start at corner in Atlanta and should continue the role he left in college two years ago. Projected as high as ninth in some mock drafts, for the Falcons to get him at 37 may prove to be an absolute steal. That is of course if Hall can keep him in check.

Worst Value Pick: Adam Jennings, WR, Fresno State
It’s not that I think this was a bad selection at this point (sixth round) for the Falcons, but I felt they needed to add a linebacker in this draft and here was the ideal time for them to do so. Jennings is incredibly undersized (5’9″, 181) and should probably be a little faster for his size (4.48). A linebacker like Northwestern’s Tim McGarigle probably would have made more sense here.

Sleeper Pick: D.J. Shockley, QB, Georgia
I thought if the Falcons would select a quarterback here it would Michael Vick’s little brother Marcus, but drafting Shockley here is not a bad move at all. He’ll likely never play quarterback in the NFL, but due to his above average athletic ability and running skills is very intriguing as a receiver or even scat back at the professional level. And in the seventh round of the draft players like these make great additions and projects.

Grade: You have to figure in their trade that landed them John Abraham and simply for that and their selection of Jimmy Williams it’s hard to grade them any lower than a C. I still think they should have added a linebacker, possibly with their fifth or sixth round picks but in the end they really didn’t reach for any player they selectedâÂ?¦B-

Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Best Value Pick: Maurice Stovall, WR, Notre Dame
For the Bucs to get Stovall this late in the third round it almost made up for their first two pitiful picks. Not quite. Stovall at times was projected as a late first rounder, but for some reason managed to stay around until the latter part of the third. He was inconsistent as a pass catcher in his first two seasons as a starter, but finally in his senior year showed great consistency. Has great size and speed for that size, but will need to get over his fear of going over the middle and drastically improve his blocking skills. Practicing and playing with Michael Clayton should benefit him greatly in both those areas.

Worst Value Pick: Davin Joseph, OG, Oklahoma
Probably the worst pick of the first round other than possibly Buffalo’s two picks, and was truly baffling coming from an organization that has drafted very well in the past. For the Bucs to have selected a guard that was a late second round pick at best, instead of the several more talented offensive tackles that were available was very perplexing.

Sleeper Pick: Bruce Gradkowski, QB, Toledo
He certainly lacks ideal size (6’1″ 217) for a NFL quarterback, but is a tough competitor and a good leader. Any quarterback coached by John Gruden has a chance in this league, and the Bucs selection of him in the sixth is one to two rounds later than he was projected to be picked. With only Luke McCown and Tim Rattay behind starter Chris Simms, his chances of making the team are above average and he should definitely have a spot on the practice squad worse case.

Grade: Both their first and second round picks were monster reaches as there were several more talented players available. Their fourth round selection of cornerback Alan Zemaitis was a great value pick and likely becomes the third best cornerback on their roster behind Ronde Barber and Brian Kelley. They probably should have added a couple more offensive and defensive linemen, but overall did a decent job in the later rounds�C-

AFC South

Houston Texans

Best Value Pick: Eric Winston, OT, Miami
It’s very hard for me not to put DeMeco Ryans here, who I think is the second best linebacker in the draft, but selecting Winston in the third is a huge steal and more importantly fills a bigger need. Winston, who was projected to be selected as early as the late first round, has great size (6’7″ 310) and athleticism (he played tight end his freshman year), and his falling on draft day was one of the biggest mysteries for me. If he’s not starting at the beginning of the season for the Texans it won’t be long before he does, along side other rookie tackle, Charles Spencer.

Worst Value Pick: Charles Spencer, OG, Pittsburgh
It was actually hard to find a player to put here and honestly Mario Williams could also be slotted here as well. It’s not that Spencer isn’t a good football player and doesn’t fill a need; it’s just likely the Texans could have selected him later in the draft with their fourth round pick.

Sleeper Pick: Mario Williams, DE, NC State
I know it’s rare to see the first overall pick as a sleeper, but given the circumstances I had to put him here. At times over the past three weeks he’s been compared to the likes of Reggie White and Lawrence Taylor, and then at times he’s said to have taken plays off in college almost to the point of invisibility. There is one thing that can’t be questioned when it comes to Williams, the pressure doesn’t get much higher than it already is for this young man and we can only hope instead of succumbing to it he finds a way to strive through it.

Grade: This may very well be the Texans best draft ever and given Charlie Casserly’s reported lack of input that makes a lot of sense to me. No matter how great the other players in this draft become, the only thing people will remember about it is the fact that they selected Mario Williams ahead of Reggie Bush. As fans of both the Texans and the Saints, I’m truly rooting for both players to have long and productive Hall of Fame careersâÂ?¦B

Indianapolis Colts

Best Value Pick: Joseph Addai, RB, LSU
Although this was right about the place that Addai should have gone I had to put him here because really no one else in their draft would suffice. Addai is a perfect fit in this offense and in no way will be expected to fully fill the shoes of the departed Edgerrin James. A combination of he and Dominic Rhodes, however, is a more than adequate replacement.

Worst Value Pick: Michael Toudouze, OT, TCU
You really could have put any of their selections following Addai here, but I selected Toudouze because of the many question marks a player of his ability brings to the table. He is inexperienced, unathletic and it is uncertain as to what position his abilities translate to in the NFL. Overall it was a reach of about two rounds and possibly a receiver or maybe even a quarterback would have made more sense.

Sleeper Pick: Antoine Bethea, S, Howard
Projected as a rookie free agent, the Colts decided to select Bethea in the sixth round of this year’s draft. A sleeper simply because he is a bit of an unknown having played at Howard, but seems to have adequate size (5’11” 203) and great speed (4.42) for a safety. He is reported to have a mean streak as well, which isn’t bad on a team that is known for its softness rather than its toughness.

Grade: Most of the Colts’ picks were reaches in what was an uncharacteristically bad draft by GM Bill Polian and head coach Tony Dungy. Most of their second day picks were projected as rookie free agents and when they selected Tim Jennings in the second round there were several better cornerbacks still available. In this draft they only netted one starter for next season, and perhaps everâÂ?¦C – (translation: D+)

Jacksonville Jaguars

Best Value Pick: Maurice Drew, RB, UCLA
This probably should go to seventh round pick Dee Webb, but getting Drew in the latter part of the second round was a great move for the Jaguars. The pick made a little less sense after the Jags decided to resign LaBrandon Toefield, but Drew gives
Jacksonville the speed at running back they lacked behind starter Fred Taylor. He will also come in and make an instant impact on special teams in the return game.

Worst Value Pick: Brent Hawkins, DE, Illinois State
It was very hard to find a player to put here, but I selected Hawkins because he was a D2 player and sometimes those players just never are able to adjust to the huge increase in level and speed of the game. His ability to rush the passer may result in a roster spot, but selecting him in the fifth round over other more capable players just seemed like the only mistake Jacksonville made draft weekend.

Sleeper Pick: Dee Webb, CB, Florida
Another great pick for the Jaguars in the seventh round and a hell of a value pick as Webb graded out by most as a possible second or third round selection. He was an early entry who obviously would have benefited had he returned for his senior year, but he was a three year starter at Florida and will likely get a very solid opportunity to be Jacksonville’s nickel back in his rookie season.

Grade: One of the best overall drafts in my opinion, Jacksonville managed to draft players at every position of need and very well may have selected up to five future starters with their picks�A

Tennessee Titans

Best Value Pick: LenDale White, RB, USC
No surprise here as the Titans were able to get a player at times projected to go as early as fifth overall in the middle of the second round. Not to mention the need that he fills as a big, between the tackles runner that also possesses great speed for his size. He’ll need to work on his receiving skills to become an every down back, but will not be asked to do so early in his career with the Titans. Reuniting with Norm Chow is also a huge plus that should help accelerate his development.

Worst Value Pick: Stephen Tulloch, OLB, North Carolina State
Was a slight reach in the fourth round as better players at the position were available when the Titans selected him. He has very below average size for a linebacker (5’10” 214) and is probably a career back up and special teams contributor at best in the NFL.

Sleeper Pick: Jesse Mahelona, DT, Tennessee
As a huge SEC fan I’ve seen a lot of Mahelona and feel that with the last pick in the fifth round he was an absolute steal for the Titans. His production dropped off in his senior year due to double teams and added attention, but with the Titans along side fellow Volunteer Albert Haynesworth, teams won’t have the luxury of doubling him. In his junior year in my opinion he was the second best defensive lineman in the conference (behind Marcus Spears of course) and I think with the right coaching can regain his form as a dominant run stuffing tackle.

Grade: Another great draft that started with the great selections of Vince Young and LenDale White, and ended with the selections of Jesse Mahelona and Jonathan Orr. They got great value with most of their picks and filled most of their needs going in to draft day. My only complaint is that they should have used at least one pick on an offensive lineman, but in their defense they have signed four in free agency�B

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