If you ask any current or former NFL scout how long it takes to determine the quality of a draft class, they will quickly suggest waiting at least three years.
However, in the age of instant gratification/analysis, we are effusive in praise and criticism of draft classes before the players even step on the field for minicamps or organized team activities. This approach certainly draws the ire of NFL executives, but this is the world we live in.
We will continue to revisit the 2013 NFL Draft over the next few years, but here are my initial thoughts on who nailed it:
Schein: Round 1 winners, losers
Minnesota Vikings: Credit general manager Rick Spielman for putting together one of the most impressive first-round hauls in NFL draft history. The Vikings hit it out of the park by adding Sharrif Floyd and Xavier Rhodes to a defense that is on the verge of becoming elite. Floyd is the ideal 3-technique to eventually replace Kevin Williams, while Rhodes gives the secondary a big, physical presence on the corner to match up with the big-bodied receivers who reign supreme in the NFC North. Cordarrelle Patterson isn't an ideal No. 1 receiver with his unrefined route-running skills, but his speed and explosiveness will enhance a passing game that faces a lot of single coverage on the perimeter, due to the presence of Adrian Peterson in the backfield. If Patterson masters the go-route, post and comeback, he can average 18-plus yards per catch as a legitimate vertical threat. Gerald Hodges is a physical linebacker with starting potential, which makes him a great value pick in the fourth round.
Cincinnati Bengals:Marvin Lewis quietly has built Cincy into an imposing squad by stringing together solid drafts over the past few years. Adding this year's draft haul, the Bengals are in position to be legitimate contenders in the AFC for the next few seasons. Tyler Eifert gives the offense a 6-foot-6 pass catcher with exceptional hands and ball skills to pair with Pro Bowler Jermaine Gresham in "12" personnel packages. Gio Bernard is the explosive change-of-pace back who will alleviate some of the workload on BenJarvus Green-Ellis. Most importantly, Bernard will help the offense score more points with his big-play ability as a runner/receiver/returner. Defensively, Margus Hunt adds another big body to an already imposing front seven.
Detroit Lions: The pressure is on GM Martin Mayhew and coach Jim Schwartz to produce a winner in Motown after a disappointing 2012 season. The Lions' brain trust responded by grabbing several intriguing prospects with tremendous upside and potential. Ziggy Ansah is a raw, unpolished defensive end in the mold of Jason Pierre-Paul. He has the potential to become a sack artist with his combination of speed, quickness and athleticism. Most importantly, he gives Schwartz an explosive edge player to place alongside Ndamukong Suh and Nick Fairley on the front line. Darius Slay was the fastest defensive back at the NFL Scouting Combine, and his sticky man-to-man skills could make him a star at the next level. Larry Warford is the rugged interior blocker the team needs to establish an effective running game with Reggie Bush and Mikel Leshoure.
Pittsburgh Steelers: There isn't a better team at drafting players who ideally fit the system than Pittsburgh. GM Kevin Colbert and coach Mike Tomlin deserve kudos for identifying top talents with the skills to excel in the scheme. Jarvis Jones is a James Harrison clone with the first-step quickness and burst to pummel opponents off the edge. He was the best pass rusher in college football over the past couple seasons and should continue that dominance in the NFL. Le'Veon Bell is a big, bruising back with nifty feet and outstanding hands. He is a rare three-down back capable of staying on the field in every situation, which will make him a star in Todd Haley's offense. Markus Wheaton should fill the void created by Mike Wallace's departure in free agency. The Oregon State product is a legitimate speedster on the perimeter, with better route-running skills and a more polished game than his predecessor.
San Diego Chargers: It's hard to land three first-round talents in one draft class, but the Chargers accomplished that feat over the first three rounds. D.J. Fluker was regarded as the top right tackle in the draft; he becomes an instant starter in San Diego. Keenan Allen gives Philip Rivers the big-bodied receiver he has missed since Vincent Jackson departed via free agency. While Allen is not nearly as explosive as Jackson, he is a gifted pass catcher built in the mold of Anquan Boldin. Manti Te'o has been derided for his poor performance in the BCS National Championship Game and questionable decisions in the girlfriend hoax, but critics are overlooking his rock-solid game and playmaking skills. Playing alongside Donald Butler in the middle, he could be one of the most productive tacklers in the NFL as the focal point of the Chargers' 3-4 defense.
Darlington: Drama-filled Round 1
Buffalo Bills: GM Buddy Nix made the most surprising move of Thursday night, with the Bills dropping from pick No. 8 to 16 and grabbing EJ Manuel as the team's new franchise quarterback. While many analysts believe Manuel is not the top quarterback in the class, his blue-chip physical traits (size, athleticism and arm talent) and an underrated football mind make him an intriguing prospect to build around. Robert Woods and Marquise Goodwin add more explosiveness to the receiving corps. Kiko Alonso is a thumper who brings much-needed toughness and physicality to the middle of Buffalo's defense. Don't sleep on the Duke Williams pick, either; he is an active roamer in the back end with the grit and nastiness to be an enforcer between the hashes.
St. Louis Rams: Second-year coach Jeff Fisher and GM Les Snead are committed to adding talented playmakers on both sides of the ball. That philosophy led the Rams to trade up into the top 10 to land Tavon Austin. The diminutive superstar will give Sam Bradford a dynamic slot receiver to target between the hashes. Additionally, the Rams picked up Austin's college teammate, Stedman Bailey, to serve as a possession receiver. Factor in Barrett Jones solidifying the middle of the offensive line, and the Rams have made major strides in upgrading the talent around Bradford. Defensively, the team picked up a top-10 talent in Alec Ogletree and a hard-hitting safety in T.J. McDonald. Both are primed for big roles as rookies. St. Louis could be back in postseason contention in 2013.
Nothing flashy, but solid
San Francisco 49ers: The 49ers entered the draft with a cornucopia of picks, but GM Trent Baalke wisely traded away some selections to land prospects expected to fill critical holes in the lineup. San Francisco traded up into the middle of the first round to grab standout safety Eric Reid. With size, speed and athleticism comparable to the recently departed Dashon Goldson, Reid might be the perfect replacement. Cornellius "Tank" Carradine gives the team a rugged edge player with big-play potential. If he can recover fully from his torn ACL, Carradine should be a monster in the 3-4. Marcus Lattimore and Quinton Patton are valuable additions, with the capacity to quickly outplay their draft status as Day 3 selections. With a deep and talented haul covering every stage of the draft, the 49ers are a perfect case of the rich getting richer.
Baltimore Ravens: Ozzie Newsome and Co. rarely deviate from a tried-and-true strategy of picking the best available player. The Ravens executed their game plan flawlessly by patiently waiting for safety Matt Elam to fall into their lap at pick No. 32. Newsome switched gears in the second round by moving up to get Arthur Brown, an athletic linebacker with superb instincts. The rest of the draft provided the team with plenty of opportunities to fill minor holes on a championship roster, with the Ravens adding standouts at nose tackle (Brandon Williams) and fullback (Kyle Juszczyk). Overall, Baltimore added another solid class of players who should help the club stay in contention for years to come.
Green Bay Packers: General manager Ted Thompson's drafts typically lack sizzle, but they are always big on substance. This year's draft class is no exception, with DE Datone Jones, RB Eddie Lacy and OL David Bakhtiari displaying the potential to fill key roles as first-year starters. Lacy, in particular, was a big selection for a team that desperately needs a dependable runner to emerge and alleviate the pressure on Aaron Rodgers. If Lacy is unable to completely carry the load, fourth-rounder Johnathan Franklin is capable of adding a spark as a change-of-pace option out of the backfield. Mike McCarthy has vowed to reshape the Packers into a more physical outfit in 2013. Based on Green Bay's additions, the testy coach is destined to accomplish that goal.
Miami Dolphins: The Dolphins accomplished most of their offseason goals through free agency, but Miami still needed to add some critical pieces in the draft to close the gap on division rivals. Dion Jordan is certainly one of those pieces. The former Oregon star is a dynamic athlete with exceptional speed and movement skills. While he isn't a polished or accomplished pass rusher, he is such an explosive player that Jeff Ireland's decision to move up to No. 3 was sensible, despite the expensive cost. Jamar Taylor and Will Davis give the team a young, athletic cornerback tandem to develop. Dion Sims didn't generate much buzz in the run-up to the draft, but several coaches and scouts believe he could be the best run blocker at his position in the 2013 class.
Denver Broncos: The Broncos picked up a pair of solid prospects in Sylvester Williams and Montee Ball. Both could emerge as Day 1 starters and bring more juice to their respective sides of the ball. Quanterus Smith is an intriguing prospect with the potential to wreak havoc off the edges (if he is fully healthy).
Tennessee Titans: General manager Ruston Webster and vice president of player personnel Lake Dawson successfully implemented a draft strategy that allowed the Titans to check off boxes in positions of need. Chance Warmack adds toughness to the middle of the offensive line, while Justin Hunter brings speed and explosiveness to the receiver group. CB Blidi Wreh-Wilson and OLB Zaviar Gooden are intriguing athletes with the capacity to contribute on defense and special teams.
Check out the crazy roller coaster ride Manti Te'o, Matt Barkley and Geno Smith went on during their draft journey. More...
Philadelphia Eagles: Much of the focus on the Eagles' draft revolves around a surprising selection of Matt Barkley to begin Day 3, but Chip Kelly and Co. deserve credit for picking up elite players at every turn. OT Lane Johnson and TE Zach Ertz were among the best at their respective positions in this draft; both players will make immediate contributions as first-year starters or vital backups. Earl Wolff is a hidden gem with starting potential. He definitely could provide a boost to the Eagles' back end as a rookie.
Time will tell
Oakland Raiders: With such a depleted roster in Oakland, this draft was all about securing as many difference-makers as possible. Second-year GM Reggie McKenzie attempted to adhere to that premise by trading down the board to land more choices. While the trade-down from the No. 3 spot gave the Raiders a second-round choice, it fell short of the suggested compensation on the trade chart. Additionally, the selection of CB D.J. Hayden is fraught with risk, based on his medical history. Menelik Watson could turn out to be a terrific selection -- if he reaches his potential as a player, based on remarkable athleticism. Sio Moore is an exceptional hybrid player with standout rush skills and underrated coverage ability.
Chicago Bears: GM Phil Emery called Kyle Long the most athletic guard in the draft, but this selection at No. 20 is still considered risky, based on his limited starting experience and off-field issues. Now, he certainly has the bloodlines (his father, Howie, is an NFL Hall of Famer; his brother, Chris, was the No. 2 overall pick of the 2008 draft) and the physical dimensions to shine, but his game needs polishing at this point. Jon Bostic was a thumper in the middle of Florida's defense, but scouts wonder if he is athletic enough to man the middle as a "run through" player in a Tampa 2 scheme.
Dallas Cowboys: The Cowboys entered the draft with significant needs along the offensive line and at safety. Travis Frederick fills a void as a standout center, but Jerry Jones might've pulled the trigger too soon with a surprising first-round selection. Tight end Gavin Escobar is an exceptional complement to Jason Witten -- boasting great size, hands and general skills -- but the team had a bigger need at safety, eventually settling for a small school standout (J.J. Wilcox) to fill the void. If Escobar turns out to be a solid replacement for Witten, the pick will be a success, but the Cowboys desperately needed a defensive playmaker in the deep middle and missed out on top talents by taking a luxury pick at TE.
New York Jets: Based on his decisions since taking over as Jets general manager, John Idzik is not afraid to make waves. He traded away the team's top player (Darrelle Revis) to secure another pick in the first round. With two selections on Day 1, Idzik landed a starting cornerback (Dee Milliner) and a defensive lineman (Sheldon Richardson). While the Milliner pick makes sense, based on Revis' departure, the selection of Richardson raises concerns about how he'll fit into Rex Ryan's scheme. Richardson starred as a 3-technique at Missouri, but the Jets are primarily a 3-4 team, which places him out of position. Geno Smith gives the team a potential franchise quarterback to replace Mark Sanchez. Although his game needs some refinement, Smith's play could help Idzik earn high marks a few years down the line for his draft-day acumen.