It is fairly unrealistic to judge a draft class immediately after the event, but it's never too early to speculate about which teams enjoyed successful weekends.
From the New England Patriots retooling a suspect defense with exceptional playmakers in the opening round to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers finding quality starters at every stage of the draft, several teams are poised to make serious runs at division titles based on draft-day hauls.
On the other hand, there are several teams hoping draft-day gambles will put them back on the road to title contention and long-term success. Let's take a look at some of the teams that caught my eye over draft weekend:
(Click team name to see each team's draft picks.)
New England Patriots
Coach Bill Belichick departed from his customary strategy of trading out of the first round to add two critical pieces to his defense. Defensive end Chandler Jones and linebacker Dont'a Hightower are impact players, and their insertion into the starting lineup will immediately reverse the Patriots' defensive fortunes. Belichick continued to address his woeful defense with the additions of safety Tavon Wilson, defensive end Jake Bequette and cornerback Alfonzo Dennard in later rounds. Dennard in particular could be a hidden gem if he regains his focus on and off the field.
Coach Andy Reid entered the draft intent on rebuilding his suspect defense, and his star-studded draft class will return the Eagles to their lofty perch in the NFC East. Defensive tackle Fletcher Cox, linebacker Mychal Kendricks and defensive end Vinny Curry are impressive playmakers with disruptive potential. Their collective energy and toughness will boost an underachieving, veteran-laden unit that needed more blue-chip players along the front seven. Day-3 pick Brandon Boykin is the slot corner the team desperately needed, capable of matching up with the heavyweights in the NFC.
A tip of the cap goes to general manager Rick Spielman for his superb handling of the draft. He baited the Cleveland Browns into giving up a few picks for the right to move up one spot, and the Vikings wisely used those selections to fortify a depleted roster. Matt Kalil is a franchise-caliber left tackle capable of quickly ascending to all-star status. Safety Harrison Smith and cornerback Josh Robinson should blossom into game-changers in the Vikings' secondary. To foster the development of quarterback Christian Ponder, the team added a pair of Arkansas receivers (Jarius Wright and Greg Childs) with speed, athleticism and quickness. If Wright and Childs develop to their potential, they will make the Vikings' receiving corps diverse enough to give opponents fits.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Credit general manager Mark Dominik and coach Greg Schiano for adding a number of talented players primed to fill key roles in Year 1. Mark Barron is a one-of-a-kind safety with the skills to thrive in the box or in space. Running back Doug Martin reminds some of Ray Rice; he should excel as a feature back in a run-first offense. Linebackers Lavonte David and Najee Goode could form a dynamic tandem that terrorizes opponents with speed, athleticism and aggression. Turning around a woeful team requires a serious infusion of talent; the Bucs certainly upgraded the roster over their three-day weekend.
Coach Marvin Lewis doesn't get enough credit for quickly rebuilding the Bengals and making them contenders with his high-risk, high-reward approach. The team routinely sees positive results after taking on immensely talented players with minor character concerns, and that strategy was on full display over the weekend. Lewis nabbed three talented prospects (cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick, defensive tackle Devon Still and tight end Orson Charles) at great value due to other evaluators' concerns about their football or moral character. Although their issues are minor in nature, their collective talent is undeniable on tape and the Bengals' roster will benefit. Throw in receivers Mohamed Sanu and Marvin Jones and offensive guard Kevin Zeitler -- solid selections all -- and the Bengals are poised for long-term success.
Nothing flashy, but solid
General manager Ozzie Newsome is one of the best at identifying blue-chip players throughout the draft, and he certainly snagged a few gems this weekend. Linebacker Courtney Upshaw, tackle Kelechi Osemele and running back Bernard Pierce are proven commodities capable of assimilating well into the Ravens' schemes. Upshaw in particular is an intriguing option as a strongside linebacker in the 3-4, with his combination of rush skills and instincts. The Ravens also scooped up some down-the-road prospects in receiver Tommy Streeter and guard Gino Gradkowski, who are both capable of making immediate contributions in part-time roles.
Since Martin Mayhew took over as general manager, the Lions have put together solid drafts chock full of talent. The team nailed it again with the selections of offensive tackle Riley Reiff, receiver Ryan Broyles and cornerback Dwight Bentley. Reiff is a blue-chip player capable of starting on either side of the line. Broyles and Bentley are primed for roles in nickel situations, and their ability to contribute as first-year players could push the Lions over the top in 2012. Also, don't discount the value of adding a talented defender like linebacker Ronnell Lewis to the mix on the draft's final day. Lewis carried high grades on several boards across the league and could quickly outplay his draft status in Detroit.
Green Bay Packers
General manager Ted Thompson is committed to taking the best player available at every stage of the draft, and his steady approach netted a solid prospect haul this year. Defensive end Nick Perry and defensive tackle Jerel Worthy are blue-chip players with the potential to make immediate contributions as part-time starters. Defensive back Casey Hayward fulfills the Packers' desire to add rangy cover corners with superb ball skills, while linebacker Terrell Manning gives the team an underrated edge player with terrific abilities. B.J. Coleman also has immense potential as a developmental quarterback. Considering this class, the Packers can be among the league's elite for years to come.
Kansas City Chiefs
The injury-riddled Chiefs took a small step back on the field in 2011, but all of the pieces are certainly in place for the team to make a deep postseason run this year. General manager Scott Pioli ensured that with a solid draft class featuring several intriguing prospects. Defensive tackle Dontari Poe possesses the size, strength and athleticism to emerge as a Vince Wilfork-like difference-maker in the middle. Tackles Jeff Allen and Donald Stephenson are future starters on the offensive line, while receiver Devon Wylie and running back Cyrus Gray are interesting options as role players.
It is hard to find a team that does a better job securing talented players that fit a specific profile for success. The Steelers landed a pair of blue-chip offensive linemen in David DeCastro and Mike Adams early on, overhauling a frontline that has struggled for years. Sean Spence and Alameda Ta'amu will boost the defense at critical spots (inside linebacker and nose tackle, respectively), helping the aging unit become younger and more athletic.
Linebacker Luke Kuechly and tackle Amini Silatolu are solid selections, but defensive end Frank Alexander and cornerback Josh Norman are worth keeping an eye on. Both are hard-working playmakers with the potential to blossom into difference-makers.
Time will tell...
Coach Pete Carroll and general manager John Schneider are certainly not afraid to go against the grain when making early-round selections. They value talent above everything, and their decision to grab defensive end Bruce Irvin with pick No. 15 is a testament to that philosophy. He is regarded as one of the best pure pass rushers in the draft; there is obviously a plan in place to take advantage of his one-dimensional game until he fully develops. Some scouts deem quarterback Russell Wilson a risk because of his smaller size, but he has a big arm and performed well on the big stage at Wisconsin. If linebacker Bobby Wagner, running back Robert Turbin or defensive tackle Jaye Howard turn out to be quality starters, all of the scuttlebutt about the Seahawks' risky draft will quickly subside.
St. Louis Rams
The Rams were applauded for moving out of the No. 2 spot to fall back and acquire more picks, but general manager Les Snead and coach Jeff Fisher were far from finished, continuing to wheel and deal throughout the draft. Defensive tackle Michael Brockers was grabbed after the team traded out of the sixth spot and bypassed the chance to nab an elite corner in Morris Claiborne. Although the Rams eventually landed cornerbacks Janoris Jenkins and Trumaine Johnson, they essentially decided to forgo a blue-chipper to gamble on a pair of talented prospects with baggage. The team also surprised many evaluators by picking small-school standout receiver Brian Quick over a handful of established playmakers. If he fails to transition quickly to the pro game, quarterback Sam Bradford could continue to struggle without a proven No. 1 receiver on the field.
Entering a critical year in the Mike Holmgren era, the Browns were under pressure to quickly revamp a sagging offense that struggled to move the ball and score points. The team struck quickly to orchestrate a deal that netted running back Trent Richardson, but in doing so surrendered a few picks that could've been used to secure more offensive firepower. Making quarterback Brandon Weeden the 22nd overall pick raised eyebrows due to his advanced age (28) and the presence of Colt McCoy, but the Browns needed to resolve their quarterback situation by draft's end. The team also bypassed an opportunity to land a premier receiver in Round 2, electing instead to shore up the offensive line with tackle Mitchell Schwartz. Overall, the Browns collected several intriguing pieces, but the jury is still out as to whether they improved enough to compete in a division ruled by AFC heavyweights.
New York Jets
Coach Rex Ryan is not afraid to take on reclamation projects, but his first two selections are bona fide enigmas. End Quinton Coples might be the most talented defender in the draft, but questions about his motor and toughness sank his stock leading up to draft day. Stephen Hill is a freakishly talented receiver, but there were concerns about his work ethic and toughness at Georgia Tech. If Coples and Hill play up to their potential, the Jets undoubtedly will surge back to the top of their division. Of course, if the pair underachieves, the Jets' playoff hopes will suffer and several members of Gang Green will land on the hot seat.
Miami's solid draft class will be overshadowed by what happens with quarterback Ryan Tannehill, and that's a shame. Observers will quickly dismiss the efforts of tackle Jonathan Martin, running back Lamar Miller and defensive end Olivier Vernon to focus extensively on how Tannehill, the eighth overall pick, turns out. The quarterback is viewed as the single most important factor in building an elite team, and the decision to gamble on a player with just 19 career starts puts the entire organization under the scope. While there is a support system in place for Tannehill to do well (his former college head coach, Mike Sherman, is the Dolphins' offensive coordinator), he must play like a top-10 talent for the Dolphins to view this draft as a success.
Follow Bucky Brooks on Twitter @BuckyBrooks