The 2011 NFL Draft has come and gone. With an opportunity to digest the five picks made by the Atlanta Falcons, I'm ready to deliver my draft grades.
This morning I covered the fact that many major draft pundits, including famous hair champion Mel Kiper Jr., are giving this grade somewhere between a C and a B. That factors in the massive trade that landed the team Julio Jones, an approach that I'm planning to adopt myself.
As many of you have noted, these kinds of grades are essentially useless. I indulge in them only to give you a glimpse of what I think of the draft class of 2011 and to foment further discussion on what you all think of the selections. After all, if we can't talk about these kinds of designations on a blog, what the hell are we doing here?
My grades are based on potential and, in my mind, how the guys will fit with the Falcons and their production in 2011 and beyond.
If you're willing to take the jump with me, I'll take you kids to school. Join me!
WR Julio Jones
If you were going to pick up a wide receiver who was a perfect fit for the Atlanta Falcons, his name would be Julio Jones and the Falcons would have just drafted him with the sixth overall pick.
Jones is a proficient route runner, a physical freak at wide receiver and a guy who is both capable of and willing to block like a box of Legos. By all accounts, he's driven to be great. His only tangible flaw is that he drops the occasional pass, and I'm not particularly worried about his ability to overcome that.
The only reason Jones doesn't get a plus or an even A is what the Falcons gave up for him and the hands issues, but make no mistake: I expect Jones to be the team's best receiver within a couple of years, and an elite option in this offense.
He's going to be a fixture for the Falcons for years to come. If you can't get excited about a receiver as explosive as Jones, you've got nothing going on inside.
LB Akeem Dent
If Jones was close to a home run, Dent is probably a double.
A versatile linebacker who can play inside or outside, Dent is a hard hitter with a knack for stopping running backs. He needs considerable work in pass coverage and lacks ideal lateral agility, but he's going to be a great backup and a potential future starter down the line.
The Falcons desperately needed linebacker depth, especially because Mike Peterson, Stephen Nicholas or both could be in 2011. With only aging Coy Wire and the inexperienced Spencer Adkins and Robert James providing depth outside of those guys, Dent is going to be an immediate upgrade.
I don't expect the guy to ever be an elite talent, but he was great value for the third round, if you ask me.
RB Jacquizz Rodgers
The Falcons did an amazing job getting Rodgers as late as they did. One of the most dynamic players in the entire draft, the 5'6" Rodgers is durable and potent enough to grab an immediate and significant role with the team.
Rodgers is the kind of guy who could change the fortunes of a team, and the Falcons have lacked the big-play dynamic he brings to the table for many years. While he may lack top-end speed, his agility, tackle-breaking ability and fantastic intangibles make him an ideal fit.
Brilliant draft pick. I love it.
K/P Matt Bosher
This pick fills a huge need for the Falcons, because whether you want him to kick or punt, the Falcons are likely to lose Matt Bryant or Michael Koenen. With a strong, accurate leg, Bosher is going to be good at either position.
That said, I am not a huge fan of picking a special teams guy in the sixth round, and I think Bosher could've been had in the seventh round without a major problem. I know I'm nitpicking because it was that late in the draft, but I just don't like that. I also don't think Bosher is an elite option, but hey. Can't win 'em all.
If Bosher does immediately land the job and do well, feel free to retroactively bump him up into the B range.
OG Andrew Jackson
It's not every day you get a long-dead president to play guard for you, so the Falcons won on those merits along.
A guard with superlative footwork and more upside than a seventh round pick should have, Jackson was originally forecast to go in the middle rounds of the draft. Whether he's going to be groomed as a future starter or simply as a versatile backup (he played a little center), Jackson is an excellent fit for the Falcons and fantastic value so late in the draft.
DE Cliff Matthews
If you can get a guy talented enough to crack your defensive end rotation in the first couple years after he's been drafted in the seventh round, you're doing something right.
Matthews may not have all-world upside, but he's got some pass-rushing chops, a good motor and a work ethic that makes him a natural Falcon. I won't say he can start, but he's going to be a valuable piece for a team that sorely needs capable defensive ends that make under $3 million a year. Great pick to cap the draft.
On balance, the Falcons' draft would be an A-/A based on picks alone. I am tremendously excited about almost every player in this draft, and I think it will transform the team's fortunes.
I may take some heat for this, but I can't look at the trade for Julio Jones and not drop a third of a grade off of what the Falcons have done. Unless Julio Jones is one of the best receivers in the NFL for the next decade, the Falcons simply surrendered a lot to get him. More than teams generally give up for wide receivers, and the loss of the team's first round pick could cost the Falcons a valuable player in 2012.
It may be that history vindicates this trade, and I certainly fervently hope it will. But the Falcons took a giant risk, and as such I'm cautious about signing off on this draft with an A+.
Talk to me in a year and we'll see where we stand.