|Andrew Weber / US Presswire|
|Getting Ryan Mallett in the third round was among the picks that helped the Pats earn praise for their draft.|
NFL.com analyst Bucky Brooks is handing out grades for each team following the 2011 NFL Draft. Check back daily as he breaks down each team, division by division.
Buffalo Bills: C+
The Bills' draft class won't elicit a lot of fanfare, but their initial picks satisfied their biggest needs. Marcell Dareus gives the defense an anchor to build around on the interior, while Aaron Williams and Da'Norris Searcy add athleticism to their secondary. The Bills also added a sleeper selection in North Carolina running back Johnny White. He could pay significant dividends down the road with his talent and toughness. Although some would question the decision to bypass a quarterback in the second round, the commitment to fortify the defense could result in more wins this season.
Round 1 (third overall): Marcell Dareus, DT, Alabama
Dareus is the ideal fit as a zero- or five-technique in a "30" scheme. His combination of size, strength and power will immediately upgrade the Bills' rush defense, while also giving them a forceful interior rusher to collapse the pocket on passing downs.
Round 2 (34th overall): Aaron Williams, DB, Texas
Williams has the size and strength that defensive coordinators covet on the outside. He is also smart and tenacious enough to potentially move to safety in their scheme. Regardless of where he lines up, Williams adds another talented defender to their young secondary.
Round 3 (68th overall): Kelvin Sheppard, LB, LSU
Sheppard is a tough, physical linebacker with instincts and awareness. He will push for playing time immediately at one of the inside linebacker spots and could be among the hidden gems of the draft.
Miami Dolphins: B
The Dolphins entered the draft with serious questions about their offense, but they seemingly addressed those concerns with their picks. Mike Pouncey adds athleticism and toughness to the interior of the line. Daniel Thomas gives Tony Sparano a workhorse to use in the running game, with Ronnie Brown and Ricky Williams potentially gone as free agents. Edmond Gates was a valuable find in the fourth round. His explosiveness could take the Dolphins' passing game to another level. GM Jeff Ireland and coach Tony Sparano entered the draft with a solid plan to improve their offense, and their haul should lead to better play on that side of the ball.
Round 1 (15th overall): Mike Pouncey, OL, Florida
Pouncey gives them an athletic player with power and the skills to work effectively on the second level. Although the Dolphins could've opted to add a running back or quarterback here, Pouncey provides a bigger impact.
Round 2 (62nd overall): Daniel Thomas, RB, Kansas State
Thomas gives the Dolphins a big, physical runner to pound the ball between the tackles. Though he lacks speed to go the distance, his grind-it-out style suits the hard-nosed mentality of Miami's offense.
Round 4 (111th overall): Edmond Gates, WR, Abilene Christian
Gates is an explosive athlete (former basketball player) with the speed to stretch the defense and produce big plays. He will open up the field for the rest of the Dolphins' playmakers.
New England Patriots: A
Bill Belichick is masterful at manipulating the draft to address needs, while also adding picks for the future. This year, he continued to follow that strategy as he moved up and down to land three first-round talents: Nate Solder, Ryan Mallett and Marcus Cannon. The Mallett pick, in particular, could pay off handsomely down the road considering his potential as a pure pocket passer. Cornerback Ras-I Dowling is another intriguing prospect with the skills to outplay his draft status. After producing another stellar draft class, it appears that the rich continue to get richer in New England.
Round 1 (17th overall): Nate Solder, OL, Colorado
Solder has all of the tools to develop into a premier tackle, and his development could help the Patriots solidify Tom Brady's protection for the foreseeable future. Although the team must address its defensive issues along the front, the opportunity to pick a franchise-caliber tackle at this point is an outstanding value selection.
Round 2 (33th overall): Ras-I Dowling, CB, Virginia
Dowling was viewed as one of the top cornerbacks in the country prior to last season, before injuries derailed him. However, he was impressive in workouts leading up to the draft and has the combination of size, speed and skill to be an outstanding cover man in Belichick's aggressive scheme.
Round 3 (74th overall): Ryan Mallett, QB, Arkansas
Mallett is a legitimate first-round talent with the skills to be a star in the league. He has the unique opportunity to develop behind Brady without the pressure of getting on the field immediately. This is an outstanding pick for the Patriots because it gives them long-term depth and flexibility at quarterback.
New York Jets: B
The Jets needed to replenish their depth and talent along the defensive line, and did so with the addition of Muhammad Wilkerson and Kenrick Ellis. Both are capable of making immediate contributions. Bilal Powell adds size and toughness to the backfield. While the Jets failed to address their pass-rushing woes by adding an outside linebacker, the overall depth of their class makes it hard to dispute their direction.
Round 1 (30th overall): Muhammad Wilkerson, DT, Temple
The addition of Wilkerson gives the Jets a versatile defender with the size, strength and athleticism to bring a pass-rush presence as a three- or five-technique. He has yet to reach his potential, but has the skills to be a Pro Bowler in their scheme.
Round 3 (94th overall): Kenrick Ellis, DL, Hampton
Ellis is a big, physical presence at the point with the ability to hold his own against single or double teams. He provides Rex Ryan with an integral piece for the middle of his defense.
Round 5 (153rd overall): Jeremy Kerley, WR, TCU
With uncertainty among the Jets' receiving corps, Rex Ryan and Mike Tannenbaum picked up a quality pass catcher. He will compete for playing time as third or fourth option and provide some athleticism to their kicking units.
Follow Bucky Brooks on Twitter @BuckyBrooks.