General managers weigh in with which team had best draft

The idea of labeling drafts with a letter grade, mere hours or days after the last pick always amuses me. This is done without ever seeing how any of these players emerge as people or as on-field products The reality is, no one knows how it will go. If they did, they would make perfect draft picks every year.

And for some team, just one pick -- think Tom Brady at 199 -- will alter a franchise forever and transcend any draft class.

There is simply too much uncertainty to rate one draft over another. But in a competitive business such as the NFL, everyone is watching everyone else. General managers are always sizing up what's going on, and I contacted several of them over the last few days to get a sense of who they thought the standouts were.

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Several of them lauded the Buccaneers for taking Adrian Clayborn and Da'Quan Bowers -- at the spots they fell to them -- despite some health concerns. Both immediately bolster the defense live and Bowers could be a steal going 51st overall. "Added three immediately starters," one GM said. That GM also pointed to Denver's overhaul of its defense, Arizona's very solid top five picks and New Orleans Day 1 exploits as particularly noteworthy.

Two other GMs also pointed to the Saints, Bucs and Cardinals, as well as the Giants, as having standout drafts. "If you're weighing the first three rounds, they all got great value relative to where they were picking," one AFC GM said of those clubs.

The Lions ended up being somewhat divisive in the reactions they solicited. "Detroit took three guys with legit character alerts," one GM said. Another rated them among the three best drafts: "Their first three players are all first-round talents." (Personally, I love what Detroit did, and sticking Nick Fairley into that potent defensive line rotation is going to be sick.).

Virtually every general manager I contacted tipped his hat to Ted Thompson and the reigning Super Bowl champs in Green Bay. "(Derek) Sherrod, (Randall) Cobb, (Alex) Green, great picks early," one NFC GM said. "D.J. Williams and Ryan Taylor are good picks late. Taylor will help on (special) teams and Williams will be productive in their passing game if they need him. They just keep getting better."

The Ravens are generally held up for draft accolades, with GM Ozzie Newsome among the very best. They took a significant character risk on corner Jimmy Smith in the first round -- he was not on some boards and was devalued by a round or more on others due to his issues -- but love his top-10 talent on the field.

"Usual suspects," one GM said when asked to assess the Ravens' draft. "I thought Baltimore had a great draft, especially if Jimmy Smith can mature and stay out of trouble. Torrey Smith can fly. Jah Reid is very underrated and could develop into a starting left tackle. Anthony Allen was hard to scout because of an unorthodox offense at Georgia Tech, but he could be a solid back with development."

I love what the Patriots did in stocking up for the future and adding players with potential value in Marcus Cannon and Ryan Mallett. And the Browns were also big winners to me, adding four right-away starters and getting exceptional return for the sixth overall pick, including an extra first- and fourth-round pick next year.

Other draft nuggets

Lions considered blockbuster trade

While I love the Detroit draft, some are harping on the lack of addressing the defensive backs up high. Well, when you have a defensive line potentially this dominant, those corners and safeties get a whole lot better. And the Lions did explore moving up to get Patrick Peterson in the top five, but the price was too high. Having Fairley fall to them makes the decision not to move up all the more savvy to me.

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49ers contemplated QB options

The 49ers got their quarterback in the second round, via a trade, but the deal with Denver that landed Colin Kaepernick was not the only one they explored. According to league sources, the 49ers also thoroughly investigated trading back into the bottom of the first round, with an eye on Andy Dalton, who went to the Bengals at 35. They spoke to the Patriots and Bills about jumping ahead of Cincy in the second round, before ultimately leaping Washington to make sure they landed Kaepernick.

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Have to wonder if the Dolphins will end up regretting passing on Kaepernick, who they liked, at 15, and passing on Mallett, who they spent a lot of time on, a couple of times.

Dalton could be a bargain for Bengals

The Titans were also high on Dalton, but went with Jake Locker eighth overall. Locker will end up getting a deal worth at least $25 million guaranteed, with a max value approaching $50 million (assuming there is no rookie salary cap). The 35th pick in 2010, meantime, made $3.5 million guaranteed and a max of $5.3 million. You have to wonder if Locker will be better than Dalton, much less that much better than Dalton. The Bengals were thrilled the kid was still there when they made their second pick, that's for sure.

Exploring where veteran QBs might land

If I'm handicapping the quarterback derby, I'd give Kevin Kolb to the Seahawks, Marc Bulger to the Cardinals, Donovan McNabb to the Vikings, Alex Smith to the 49ers and Matt Hasselbeck to the Dolphins. Still wonder if Vince Young makes sense for the Redskins as a developmental guy to go with John Beck, who is a developmental guy himself at this point. Rex Grossman could find himself back in that mix as well once McNabb is traded or released.

Follow Jason La Canfora on Twitter @jasonlacanfora.

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