The Buffalo Bills earn a solid B-plus grade in our annual review of the NFL Draft.
As usual, we resist giving the entire league a definitive grade, because, frankly, we don't know. Instead we single out five teams this year that look like they drafted exceptionally well and seven that look questionable to poor.
*Indianapolis: QB Andrew Luck eventually will make everyone in Indy look like geniuses. The Colts got good tight ends in Coby Fleener and Dwayne Allen in the second and third rounds so they can replicate the New England two-TE model. Allen was good value. WR T.Y. Hilton filled a need. NT Josh Chapman of Alabama is recovering from knee surgery, but he eventually could be a load in the new 3-4 defense. Indy is thinking long-term.
*Cincinnati: What is going on in Cincy? This is the third straight good-looking draft for a team formerly known for its sparse scouting. The Bengals had two first-rounders and six picks in the top 120, and they all looked good: CB Dre Kirkpatrick, G Kevin Zeitler, DT Devon Still, possession WR Mohamed Sanu, DT Brandon Thompson and TE Orson Charles (who could form a dynamic duo with TE Jermaine Gresham). Fifth-round WR Marvin Jones was a great value. (Slight caution: Cincy still takes guys with character questions.) The Bengals added to a good, young roster.
*Minnesota: The Vikes had two first-rounders and six picks in the first four rounds. Good call by taking LT Matt Kalil instead of Morris Claiborne at No. 4. Elite left tackles are simply harder to find than good cornerbacks. Their next five picks were solid: SS Harrison Smith, CB Josh Robinson, WR Jairus Wright, RB Rhett Ellison and big WR Greg Childs (a steal at the end of the fourth).
*Philadelphia: The Eagles' defense gave up 29 points or more in six of eight losses last year. They moved up from 15 to 12 to get big DT Fletcher Cox. LB Mychal Kendricks is an athlete, and we love third-round DE Vinny Curry. Fourth-rounder Brandon Boykin could have gone 50 picks higher. Watch out for the Eagles.
*Pittsburgh: The beat goes on in Pittsburgh, where the machine churns out good drafts. They got lucky when G David DeCastro fell to 24. He teams with stud C Maurkice Pouncey. Wow. Mike Adams, the Ohio State OT drafted at No. 52, had marijuana issues. A Steeler fan, he begged Mike Tomlin to take him and vowed to change his ways. He's a talent. With those two additions, maybe Ben Roethlisberger's career will stop shortening before our eyes. Love the third-rounder (Miami true-grit LB Sean Spence), the fourth-rounder (DT Alameda Ta'Amu) and the fifth-rounder (Florida speed back Chris Rainey).
*Oakland: Did not have a pick until the last one in Round Three, No. 95.
*New Orleans: Did not have a pick until No. 89, late in Round Three.
*Seattle: The Seahawks started with a risky pick, West Virginia's Bruce Irvin, a talented edge rusher who is one-dimensional and didn't have a great 2011 season. He's a boom-or-bust guy. Chandler Jones would have been better. Second-round LB Bobby Wagner is good, but was taken a tad high at 47. QB Russell Wilson was a reach at 75. They just signed QB Matt Flynn. Make up your minds. Seattle needed a receiver, but the run had passed them by. The draft put them farther behind the 49ers.
*Atlanta: No first-round pick and only two picks in the top 150. Atlanta got a good center in Wisconsin's Peter Konz, but not much else.
*Tennessee: Determined to give shaky Jake Locker every chance to succeed, the Titans took WR Kendall Wright at No. 20. OK. Wasn't a huge need, but he's good. Don't like hit-or-miss LB Zach Brown in the second round, a reach at 52. He tests better than he plays. Third-round DT Mike Martin is good. But CB Coty Sensabaugh was a reach in the fourth. The Titans needed better to replace Cortland Finnegan. The Titans are starting to miss Floyd Reese and Jeff Fisher.
*Jacksonville: Moving up to get WR Justin Blackmon is a home run, and we hate to question GM Gene Smith, who does a good job. DE Andre Branch fills a need and is solid, if not spectacular. But a punter in the third? They could have used a tackle, but no one was there. Why not go cornerback? On the other hand, with Blaine Gabbert as your QB, you'd better plan on punting a lot.
*Dallas: Jerry Jones is smarter than you, and he's dead set on proving it. The Cowboys got a great player by moving up from 14th to sixth to get LSU CB Morris Claiborne. He's awesome. The Dallas defense got better overall. The problem is, in the big picture, they should be more patient and keep picks. The rest of their draft was ordinary. The Cowboys should stop operating like they're one player away from the Super Bowl. They gave up the 45th pick. Last year they gave up a third-rounder to move up three spots in the first. The year before they gave up Nos. 20, 82 and 192 for receiver Roy Williams. Jones has been a part of 24 drafts. He has made a move with his first-round pick 18 of 24 years.
>Grading the AFC East
*Buffalo: B . The whole draft hinges on Georgia's Cordy Glenn. If he develops into a better-than-average left tackle, this is an A-plus, because CB Stephon Gilmore is going to be good, and the Bills got quality depth in corner Ron Brooks and linebackers Nigel Bradham and Tank Carder. It would be nice if at least one of those two LBs develops into a good starter. It's up to the coaches to develop WR T.J. Graham into a useful pro, but wideouts take time.
*New England: B . This grade is based solely on the first-round picks of DE Chandler Jones and LB Dont'a Hightower. Great picks. The Pats were lucky to get Jones at 21 because he should have gone to Seattle at 15 or the Jets at 16. When Chicago took DE Shea McClellin (who would have been perfect for the Pats), at No. 19, Belichick pounced, moving up from the 25th spot. Hightower, trained by Belichick homie Nick Saban, is the perfect Pats 'backer. Not thrilled with their moves to support the secondary. But then again, Belichick has gone to the Super Bowl with duct tape and spackle all over his DBs. Bills fans don't call it the Evil Empire for nothing.
*New York Jets: C-. We recommend they play the theme song to "Titanic" when the Jets take the field to open the 2012 season. They hope DE Quinton Coples becomes Richard Seymour as a stud 3-4 left defensive end. Only, nothing on the field says he's Seymour. We like second-round WR Stephen Hill and third-round LB Demario Davis. Those were the only picks in the first five rounds. The Tim Tebow circus opens in four months.
*Miami: C-. Speaking of the Titanic, the Dolphins picked QB Ryan Tannehill No. 8, as expected. He has 19 career starts. It's boom or bust. He is going to need a patient organization. Too bad he's in South Florida, the land of now, now, now. Miami got good value in second-round pick Jonathan Martin at No. 42. But he's a left tackle only. He can't play guard and isn't ideally physical enough for right tackle. No problem, the Dolphins say, because they're running a spread, quick-pass offense. OK. But in the rugged AFC East, with the division on the line in December, we still like a more physical RT. Miami got really good players in the third (DE Olivier Vernon) and fourth (RB Lamar Miller). The Dolphins' current regime will be fired well before Tannehill puts it all together (if he ever does).
National champion Alabama had the most players drafted -- eight. That included five in the first 35 picks. Second most went to Georgia Tech and Oklahoma, with seven each. There were six players picked from Boise State, California, Iowa, Miami, Michigan State, South Carolina and Wisconsin.
The South rises again
Bills General Manager Buddy Nix continues to mine the Southeastern United States. Six of Buffalo's nine picks this year (each of the first six) were from the Southeast. Over three years of Nix-run drafts, 20 of the Bills' 27 picks have been from the Southeast.
Of course, the Bills are mirroring the league-wide trend.
When it comes to defense, especially defensive line, the Southeast rules. The Southeast produced each of the top five-ranked defenses in college football and eight of the top 10 in 2011.
Ten of the 17 defensive players taken in the first round were from the Southeast. Over the first three rounds, 24 of 47 defensive players were from the Southeast.