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Football Notes

Grades are in for Class of '06

Draft assessment now can be made

By Mike Reiss
April 19, 2009
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Most in the NFL agree that it takes three years to accurately assess a team's draft, so while all 32 clubs are putting the finishing touches on their preparations for next weekend, the time is now right to assess their work from 2006.

The three-year window is considered the benchmark because it allows prospects the appropriate growth period for making the often-difficult transition from college to the pros.

Teams usually consider a good draft one in which they land three prospects who become solid starters. Undrafted free agents who sign as free agents count in the analysis, as do players acquired in trades for draft picks.

Teams with a new personnel chief are noted with asterisks, as they shouldn't be held accountable for someone else's missteps, or given undue credit for successes.

Excellent
Houston*: Remember the debate over whether the Texans should select running back Reggie Bush first overall? They get extra credit for going against the grain and drafting impressive defensive end Mario Williams. Linebacker DeMeco Ryans (second round) and tight end Owen Daniels (fourth round) were also finds, offensive lineman Eric Winston (third round) is a solid starter, and receiver David Anderson (seventh round) could still develop. In Charley Casserly's final draft, they decisively took advantage of picking atop each round.

Very good
Denver*: They get credit for quarterback Jay Cutler (11th overall) even though he's no longer on the team. Tight end Tony Scheffler (second round) and receiver Brandon Marshall (fourth round) have also produced, although Scheffler could be on the outs and Marshall's off-field behavior remains a concern. Defensive end Elvis Dumervil (fourth round) is a sub rusher with 26 sacks in three seasons, and guard Chris Kuper (fifth round) is a productive starter. This would have looked even better had they shown more patience with receiver Domenik Hixon (fourth round), who could now blossom with the Giants.

Green Bay: Linebacker A.J. Hawk (fifth overall) hasn't lived up to the billing in a starting role, but they struck gold in a trade down with New England to land productive receiver Greg Jennings (second round, 52d overall). Daryn Colledge (second round) and Jason Spitz (third round) appear to be anchors of the offensive line for years to come, and they've received contributions from others, such as Boston College return man Will Blackmon (fourth round), defensive lineman Johnny Jolly (sixth round), and free agent Jason Hunter, a developing special teams standout.

Indianapolis: Picking late in each round, they still came up with starting running back Joseph Addai (30th overall), contributing cornerback Tim Jennings (second round), and starters in offensive lineman Charlie Johnson (sixth round) and safety Antoine Bethea (sixth round). Addai was instrumental in the Colts' Super Bowl victory in his rookie season, averaging 4.8 yards per carry, and Bethea's stock is rising.

New Orleans: Running back Reggie Bush (second overall) hasn't matched the hype, but he's still a player teams must account for in their game plan when healthy, specifically as a dangerous pass-catcher. Safety Roman Harper (second round) and guard Jahri Evans (fourth round) are productive starters, and receiver Marques Colston (seventh round, 252d overall) was the draft's biggest steal based on where he was selected.

NY Jets: Center Nick Mangold (29th overall) was one of the best picks of the first round, and while he doesn't justify the price tag that comes with the fourth overall selection, left tackle D'Brickashaw Ferguson has started and been effective. Running back Leon Washington was a great fourth-round selection, and receiver Brad Smith (fourth round) has also added value. If quarterback Kellen Clemens (second round) emerges this year - a big if - this class will vault even higher.

San Diego: General manager A.J. Smith gambled that cornerback Antonio Cromartie would recover from a serious knee injury, and his risk was rewarded, as Cromartie is a top talent. Landing a left tackle like Marcus McNeill in the second round was another solid stroke, and Jeromey Clary (sixth round) starts at right tackle. Linebacker Tim Dobbins (fifth round), cornerback Cletis Gordon (free agent), and Steven Gregory (free agent) add solid depth.

Good
Baltimore: Defensive tackle Haloti Ngata (12th overall) is a Pro Bowl-caliber talent, but if center Chris Chester (second round) had been ready to step in, they wouldn't have signed Matt Birk in free agency this year. Punter Sam Koch (fifth round) is one of the NFL's best, and safety Dawan Landry (fifth round) has been productive when healthy.

Buffalo: The Bills were criticized for reaching for safety Donte Whitner (eighth overall), but they've been proven correct. While fans might want more turnovers from Whitner, the Ohio State product has filled a variety of roles and been solid. It was Buffalo's trade back into the first round for defensive lineman John McCargo that backfired. Defensive lineman Kyle Williams (fifth round) has been an unexpected find in their system, and offensive lineman Brad Butler (fifth round) is another hard-working starter. Safety Ko Simpson (fourth round) and linebacker Keith Ellison (sixth round) are more backup types.

Carolina: Had this been one year ago, the Panthers would have rated lower, so maybe that's why they say wait three years. Running back DeAngelo Williams (27th overall) finally emerged in 2008 with a breakout performance, while cornerback Richard Marshall (second round) is a solid third option who is set to move into the starting lineup now that Ken Lucas is gone. Tight end Jeff King (fifth round) has helped as well.

Cincinnati: Cornerback Johnathan Joseph (24th overall), offensive lineman Andrew Whitworth (second round), and defensive tackle Domata Peko (fourth round) all start and are productive, although Joseph missed half of last season because of a foot injury. Running back De De Dorsey (free agent) has chipped in when healthy.

Jacksonville*: The signature pick was running back Maurice Jones-Drew (60th overall), who has been better than Bush and last week signed a lucrative contract extension. Tight end Marcedes Lewis (28th overall) and linebacker Clint Ingram (third round) have become solid contributors, and the Jaguars get credit for running back Montell Owens (rookie free agent) of the University of Maine, who has become a top special teams player.

NY Giants: They traded down in the first round and did well with defensive lineman/linebacker Mathias Kiwanuka (32d overall), but didn't do enough with the extra mid-round picks from the deal (Gerris Wilkinson, Guy Whimper). Receiver Sinorice Moss (second round) has been a disappointment, while defensive lineman Barry Cofield (fourth round) was their best pick, a solid presence at a tough-to-fill position. Reserve cornerback Kevin Dockery (free agent) also contributes.

Philadelphia: Defensive lineman Brodrick Bunkley (15th overall) overcame some early struggles to become a key cog, although offensive lineman Winston Justice (second round) has headed in the opposite direction. Linebacker Chris Cocong (third round), offensive lineman Max Jean-Gilles (fourth round), and receiver Jason Avant (fourth round) have started at times and held their own, while linebacker Omar Gaither (fifth round) lost his starting job last year.

Pittsburgh: The Steelers moved up to draft receiver Santonio Holmes (25th overall), sacrificing a few mid-round picks, and that move has paid off. The only other impact player among their nine total selections is starting right tackle Willie Colon, but based on the clutch Super Bowl showing from Holmes, they are elevated a notch.

Fair
Atlanta*: The Falcons traded their first-round pick for defensive end John Abraham, who has been productive and counts as part of their draft class, but missed badly on defensive back Jimmy Williams (second round). Running back Jerious Norwood (third round) is explosive as a complementary part, but they have little to show for the late rounds.

Chicago: It looked like a smashing success in 2006 after safety Danieal Manning (second round) made 14 starts, dynamic returner/receiver Devin Hester (second round, 57th overall) totaled six touchdowns, and defensive end Mark Anderson (fifth round) notched 12 sacks. But since that time, Manning has turned out to be only a fringe starter, Hester is still a project as a pass-catcher, and Anderson has all but disappeared.

Cleveland*: Outside linebacker Kamerion Wimbley (13th overall) emerged as a starter from Day 1, although his production has declined each year. Inside linebacker D'Qwell Jackson (34th overall) is coming off his best season, but otherwise, not much impact for the Browns.

Detroit*: Linebacker Ernie Sims (ninth overall) has the potential to be a playmaker, but like most of the Lions, he's coming off a disappointing season. Safety Daniel Bullocks (second round) starts, and running back Brian Calhoun (third round) is barely hanging on after mostly battling injuries. No other pick is still on the roster.

Kansas City*: Defensive end Tamba Hali (20th overall) didn't look as explosive without Jared Allen on the opposite side last season, and he's run into some injury problems. Safeties Bernard Pollard (second round) and Jarrad Page (seventh round) are starters, although some still question whether they're just good players on a bad team. Ditto for offensive lineman Rudy Niswanger, who was signed as a rookie free agent. If quarterback Brodie Croyle (third round) had panned out, this would look a lot better.

Minnesota: After missing his rookie season because of a knee injury, linebacker Chad Greenway (17th overall) has been a stalwart. Safety Cedric Griffin (second round) starts and just received a contract extension, while offensive lineman Ryan Cook (third round) is probably going to lose his starting job. Defensive end Ray Edwards (fourth round) has helped the pass rush a bit, but quarterback Tarvaris Jackson (second round) remains an enigma.

New England: Injuries have mostly derailed running back Laurence Maroney (21st overall), and since-released receiver Chad Jackson (second round, 36th overall) was a major disappointment after the team traded up to acquire him. If they felt tight end David Thomas (third round) could be a No. 1 option, they wouldn't have signed Chris Baker in free agency this year. Kicker Stephen Gostkowski (fourth round) has been the best pick, while defensive end Le Kevin Smith (sixth round) has chipped in as a reserve. They get credit for outside linebacker Pierre Woods (free agent), and offensive lineman Ryan O'Callaghan (fifth round) still has a chance, but overall this was a down year.

San Francisco: Tight end Vernon Davis (sixth overall) has been underwhelming and outside linebacker Manny Lawson (22d overall) hasn't been the pass-rushing presence they hoped. Outside linebacker Parys Haralson (fifth round) has been their best selection - he signed a contract extension last week - while quarterback-turned receiver Michael Robinson (fourth round) and fullback Delanie Walker (sixth round) have stuck around and had marginal contributions.

Seattle: Cornerback Kelly Jennings (31st overall, 1 career interception) hasn't developed into a top-flight option and was demoted from the starting lineup last season. Defensive end Darryl Tapp (second round, 15.5 career sacks) has been their best pick, while offensive lineman Rob Sims (third round) has contributed when healthy. They haven't yet given up on receiver Ben Obomanu (seventh round).

Tampa Bay*: Of 10 selections, only three remain on the roster, with solid starters in guard Davin Joseph (23d overall) and right tackle Jeremy Trueblood (second round). Receiver Maurice Stovall (third round) hasn't developed into a go-to type of option, and they have nothing to show for Rounds 4-7.

Tennessee: When a team's best selection is a seventh-rounder, it's usually not a good sign. But cornerback Cortland Finnegan (215th overall) was named All-Pro this year, salvaging an otherwise so-so draft class. Linebacker Stephen Tulloch (fourth round) and running back LenDale White (second round) are the team's other top picks, although White's careless fumble in the 2008 playoffs epitomizes how unreliable he's been at times. The Titans also get docked for picking quarterback Vince Young (third overall). Fullback Ahmard Hall (free agent) contributes.

Washington: The Skins traded their first-round pick the year before to select Jason Campbell, who hasn't become the top-flight quarterback they hoped but still has value, and they traded a third-round pick for receiver Brandon Lloyd, who was a disaster. Linebacker Rocky McIntosh (second round) was their best pick, the lone draft choice who still projects as a starter entering the 2009 season.

Poor
Arizona: Quarterback Matt Leinart (10th overall) hasn't panned out, but the Cardinals still believe he will be Kurt Warner's heir. Time will tell on that projection. Guard Deuce Lutui (second round) is the only full-time starter, while tight end Leonard Pope (third round) and nose tackle Gabe Watson (fourth round) have been marginal contributors.

Dallas*: Linebacker Bobby Carpenter (18th overall) has started one game, while tight end Anthony Fasano (second round) didn't last long - he followed Bill Parcells to Miami in a trade. The Cowboys get a little credit for Miles Austin (receiver), Sam Hurd (receiver), and Stephen Bowen (defensive end) - depth players signed as rookie free agents - but otherwise have little to show.

Miami*: Cornerback/safety Jason Allen (16th overall) hasn't emerged, and had receiver Derek Hagan (second round) been the answer, the team wouldn't be searching for a No. 2 option opposite Ted Ginn Jr. Of the team's six picks that year, only Allen and defensive lineman Rodrique Wright (seventh round) remain on the roster, and Wright remains a work in progress.

Oakland: Safety Michael Huff (seventh overall) has regressed from top talent to borderline starter. Their best pick was linebacker Thomas Howard (second round), who has been the lone productive starter from that draft. Offensive lineman Kevin Boothe (sixth round) started 14 games as a rookie before being cut by former coach Lane Kiffin as the Raiders received little despite picking high in each round.

St. Louis: Cornerback Tye Hill (15th overall) has seemingly backpedaled - with injuries a factor - and tight end Joe Klopfenstein (second round) has not produced as a pass-catcher as desired. The Rams struck out on three picks in the third round - defensive lineman Claude Wroten wasn't worth the risk because of off-field issues - while defensive end Victor Adeyanju (fourth round) has been a borderline starter.

Mike Reiss can be reached at mreiss@globe.com.

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