NFL.com analyst Bucky Brooks recently handed out grades for each team for the 2011 NFL Draft. Here are the teams that were at the top of the class, scoring higher marks than their peers for overall draft hauls.
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.
How others graded the Patriots' draft
ESPN: C+ | CBSsportsline.com: B | Foxsports.com: D | Sports Illustrated: C- | Sporting News: A+ | Yahoo! Sports: C+
New Orleans Saints: A
Sean Payton and Mickey Loomis cleverly manipulated the draft board to land a stellar class that is rich in talent, athleticism and versatility. Cam Jordan and Martez Wilson bring some sizzle to the defense, and the addition of Johnny Patrick in the third round is an underrated steal. Mark Ingram gives the team a rugged workhorse with the ability to anchor their ground game. The trade to get him could pay significant dividends when the Saints take a shot at the division crown this year.
Round 1 (24th overall): Cameron Jordan, DE, California
Jordan gives him a powerful edge player with the strength, quickness and athleticism to win with force or finesse. He could be an integral part of a subtle defensive makeover along the Saints' front line.
Round 1 (28th overall): Mark Ingram, RB, Alabama
Ingram gives them a physical runner with outstanding vision and toughness to direct between the tackles. While Pierre Thomas and Reggie Bush could still be prominent factors in the Saints' ground attack, the addition of Ingram makes them a more physical and dynamic offense.
Round 3 (72nd overall): Martez Wilson, LB, Illinois
Wilson is a hybrid linebacker with experience on the inside and outside, and he brings rush skills to the table, as well. Although he surprisingly fell down the charts, he could outplay his draft status as a key contributor in the Saints' aggressive defense.
How others graded the Saints' draft
ESPN: B | CBSsportsline.com: B- | Foxsports.com: B+ | Sports Illustrated: B+ | Sporting News: B | Yahoo! Sports: B+
New York Giants: A
It is time for Jerry Reese to get credit for stockpiling the Giants' roster with a host of gems at every position. He pulled off a coup by landing Prince Amukamara and Marvin Austin in the early rounds. Both were regarded as top talents and the Giants patiently waited for them to land in their laps. Jerrel Jernigan gives Eli Manning a dynamic slot receiver with the skills to make plays over the middle. Although the team would've loved to address the offensive line early, James Brewer could give them a potential starter down the road. Overall, the Giants added talent and depth without taking significant risk.
Round 1 (19th overall): Prince Amukamara, CB, Nebraska
Amukamara is a legitimate cover corner and upgrades the talent and athleticism in the secondary. With a set of talented veterans in place as starters, he becomes part of a deep rotation in the back end.
Round 2 (52nd overall): Marvin Austin, DT, North Carolina
Austin is a legitimate first-round talent with the potential to be a dominant interior player in their one-gap scheme. His combination of strength, power and athleticism is off the charts. He should be a contributor in a deep defensive line rotation.
Round 3 (83rd overall): Jerrel Jernigan, WR, Troy
Jernigan is a crafty inside receiver with the rare ability to separate from coverage in tight areas. He will contribute as a returner immediately and work his way into the rotation as a consistent performer.
How others graded the Giants' draft
ESPN: B- | CBSsportsline.com: A | Foxsports.com: B | Sports Illustrated: B- | Sporting News: B- | Yahoo! Sports: B
Detroit Lions: A-
Martin Mayhew and Jim Schwartz are restoring the roar in Detroit by stockpiling talent in the draft. The addition of Nick Fairley gives the Lions a formidable tandem at defensive tackle that could rate as the best in the league in a few years. Although the team bypassed the opportunity to address their porous secondary with their picks, the team's ferocious defensive line will make it hard for quarterbacks to attack down the field. The selections of Titus Young and Mikel Leshoure add more explosive weaponry to an offense that has shown signs of promise under Matthew Stafford. Both are home-run hitters with the potential to make an immediate impact in the lineup.
Round 1 (13th overall): Nick Fairley, DT, Auburn
Fairley was the most dominant defensive player in college football, and he will team with Ndamukong Suh to form a dynamic tandem on the interior. His character issues are overblown, and the Lions might have been the biggest beneficiaries of the surprising quarterback run during the early part of the draft.
Round 2 (44th overall): Titus Young, WR, Boise State
Young's speed and athleticism will blow the top off coverage and create big-play opportunities for the Lions in the passing game. He also gives them a dynamic returner with explosive skills in the kicking game, which could lead to shorter fields for their offense.
Round 2 (57th overall): Mikel Leshoure, RB, Illinois
Leshoure is productive between the tackles and allows Jahvid Best to slide into a role as a change-of-pace back. The combination of Leshoure and Best gives the team a formidable tandem to trot out behind Matthew Stafford.
How others graded the Lions' draft
ESPN: A- | CBSsportsline.com: B+ | Foxsports.com: A- | Sports Illustrated: A | Sporting News: A+ | Yahoo! Sports: A-
Follow Bucky Brooks on Twitter @BuckyBrooks.