NFL Draft Grades: AFC South

Tennessee Titans

Best pick: OLB Akeem Ayers, UCLA (2nd round, 7th pick)

I think people are assuming Ayers is a 3-4 pass rusher because of his size (6’2”, 254 lbs), but that’s not the case.  While he does offer some potential in that area, he’s a much better fit in a 4-3 where he can maximize his talents in coverage.  Ayers is big, fast and can cover a lot of ground.  His performance at the combine (read his 40 time) really drove his stock down, but the tape doesn’t lie.  A guy shouldn’t go from a sure-fire first round pick to the 2nd round because of a few tenths on the stop watch.  Especially a linebacker.  The Titans got a steal here.

Questionable move: QB Jake Locker, Washington (1st round, 8th pick)

I understand the Titans needed a quarterback, but why not Blaine Gabbert?  Locker simply has too many questions for me.  His play was horrendous at times in college and his accuracy comes and goes.  He’s athletic, but he’s not Michael Vick, and he relies on his legs far too often.  I know he played in a pro-style offense (Gabbert didn’t), but that doesn’t trump all the other advantages Gabbert has over him in my opinion.

Third-day gem: OLB Colin McCarthy, Miami (FL) (4th round, 12th pick)

He’s an excellent complement to Ayers.  He’s not the best in coverage, but he’s very good against the run and can take on and shed blockers.  He’s incredibly intense, tough and competitive.  Exactly what you are looking for in a defender.  He’s also a very good special teams player.  He might not be a starter, but minimum he’s a very good backup.

Overall: The Locker pick really drags this grade down as I liked most of their other selections.  Ayers and McCarthy should be starters, and that could occur sooner rather than later depending on what happens with Stephen Tulloch.  They needed some help on the defensive line and DT Jurrell Casey should provide that.  RB Jamie Harper in the fourth was a bit of a reach.  I liked DL Karl Klug in the fifth.  Not sure he has a true position, but he’s a hard worker and has a great motor.  He’ll help somewhere.

Grade: C

Jacksonville Jaguars

Best pick: QB Blaine Gabbert, Missouri (1st round, 10th pick)

Gabbert has some work to do to make himself a good starting quarterback in this league.  He’s going to need time to learn and Jacksonville is the perfect situation as David Garrard can hold down the fort until he’s ready.  Gabbert has the arm strength to make all the throws and good accuracy to go along with it.  He makes questionable decisions at times, but besides that and the fact that he played in a spread, he’s got everything you look for.  A very good pick, he was my top quarterback in this draft.

Questionable move: Trading up for Gabbert

While I like the pick, the question is, did they give up too much to go get him?  A 2nd round pick is a valuable commodity in this day and age.  The Jags could have grabbed another starter at that stage in the draft, and this is not a team without holes.  If Gabbert develops into an upper-echelon quarterback, they got themselves a deal.  If not, it was a lot to give up.

Third-day gem: WR Cecil Shorts, Mount Union (4th round, 17th pick)

He’s not the biggest or the fastest, but he’s also not a slouch in either area (size or speed).  He’s very athletic and is excellent in the open field.  He might not be a starter, but he’s very versatile and can help in a number of areas including reverses, screens, wildcat and the return game.

Overall: B-

Grade: This draft is riding largely on the shoulders of Gabbert.  If he’s a stud, it’s a good draft.  If not, there’s not much to like here.  I liked G Will Rackley in the third.  He’s going to need some time, but could be a starter a year or so down the road.  Not much in the late rounds to get excited about.

Houston Texas

Best pick: DE/OLB Brooks Reed, Arizona (2nd round, 10th pick)

They’re switching to the 3-4 so they need pass rushers.  Reed isn’t the Clay Matthews clone some have made him out to be, but he is a very good football player.  He’s got a good burst, can get after the passer and is absolutely relentless in pursuit.  He’s a little weak against the run and he’s very raw in coverage, but his potential as a pass rusher is exactly what the Texans need.

Questionable move: DL J.J. Watt, Wisconsin (1st round, 11th pick)

Don’t get me wrong, I like Watt a lot.  This was just a little high for him in my opinion.  He should be a solid building block as a 5-technique in their new 3-4, but he’s not an elite athlete and doesn’t really offer a ton in terms of getting into the backfield or getting after the passer.  He’ll be a very solid player, but he’s not a star.  This is really nitpicking to be honest.

Third-day gem: CB Rashad Carmichael, Virginia Tech (4th round, 30th pick)

The Texans needed help for their pass defense and they got two good young corners in Carmichael and Brandon Harris (2nd round).  Carmichael is a good athlete who can play man or zone.  He’s got good speed and excellent ball skills.  He takes a few too many chances and might be more of a nickel than a starter, but he will help this defense.

Overall: The Texans knew they needed help on defense and they got plenty of it.  Their first five picks were on the defensive side of the ball.  I really liked the first three picks (Watt, Reed, Harris).  All of them should be starters very quickly and should help this defense immensely.  A very nice draft, they were able to fill a lot of holes while getting good value.

Grade: B+

Indianapolis Colts

Best pick: OT Anthony Castonzo, Boston College (1st round, 22nd pick)

The Colts #1 need, in my opinion anyway, was to get a standout pass protector to guard Peyton Manning’s blind side.  Mission accomplished.  Castonzo isn’t going to blow anyone away in the run game, but he’ll keep Manning’s jersey clean and his athleticism makes him a good fit for the Colts’ blocking scheme.  A great value and a great fit.

Questionable move: None

The only thing you can really question is the number of picks they had (5).  Outside of that, good luck finding a pick that wasn’t good value at a position of need.

Third-day gem: RB Delone Carter, Syracuse (4th round, 22nd pick)

Joseph Addai and Donald Brown just can’t stay healthy and I’m not sure Mike Hart should be taking carries for a team of this stature.  Carter isn’t a true burner of bruiser, but he’s compact, has good size (5’9”, 225 lbs) and speed (4.5 forty) and is a solid receiver.  He can certainly help this team.

Overall: Talk about making the most out of what you’ve got.  The Colts’ first four picks were all very good values and all filled needs.  I love the Castonzo pick in the 1st and DT Drake Nevis in the 3rd.  He’s a great fit for their defense.  OL Ben Ijalana is a bit of a tweener, but he’ll contribute somewhere once he hones his technique.  A great draft.

Grade: A

Next up: NFC West

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