Draft grades are difficult assessments to hand down. However, they offer a bench mark, an early reaction to the draft class that you can come back to as the group gets some time on the field. Dumbfounding picks from this weekend could look like inspired picks in two years...or the opposite. My grades for the St. Louis Rams' 2011 draft class.
We'll go round-by-round, before throwing out a final grade.
Round 1, Robert Quinn, DE, North Carolina
It's hard to give this pick anything other than an A. Few expected Quinn to be available when the Rams picked at #14. Had Quinn not been there, the Rams would have been picking between Mark Ingram, Corey Liuget and Prince Amukamara. Those first two definitely would have been "safer" picks, the kind that have marked the Rams' first rounds under Billy Devaney. Quinn possesses a natural ability as a pass rusher, but lost his last year of football due some youthful indiscretion, the kind that arises all too easily because of the NCAA's anachronistic and foolish rules. Remember it was a season and a half before Chris Long really came into his own. Quinn has a better situation in that he doesn't have to deal with a coaching transition (probably) and the luxury of being an understudy to starter James Hall. That's not to say we shouldn't expect to see some things from him in 2011. Spagnuolo et al got a healthy contribution out of a rookie 7th round DE last year with George Selvie; Quinn ought to be a factor in a limited role.
Round 2, Lance Kendricks, TE, Wisconsin
Should the Rams have stuck to their board here? They had DT Terrell McClain and RB Mikel Leshoure on top of their rankings when the second day started. A lobbying effort by Josh McDaniels that would make K Street proud, got Devaney to shift directions and pick Kendricks...a TE who most likely would have been available in the later rounds. They had Arkansas TE D.J. Williams valued similar to Kendricks; Williams went off the board in the fifth round. Lacking a total package-type receiver (did you really want them offer what Atlanta did for Jones?) McDaniels intends to implement a system like his old boss did in New England last year, with a speedy TE (Kendricks) paired with a bigger guy (Hoomanawanui) to create matchup problems, stretching the field across rather than vertically. This was a huge risk. I'm higher on the pick than most, but jumping off the board like that, with so many other players available, makes it tough to love.
Round 3, Austin Pettis, WR, Boise State
The Rams needed receivers, more than that anything they needed receivers that can catch the ball and beat coverage. Pettis is a savvy route runner with good hands...and he's big. Size is something the Rams lacked at receiver heading into this draft, even with the IR guys added to the mix. Pettis should be a big help in the red zone as well as a reliable possession receiver that can make catches in traffic and fight for YAC. He made a big impression at the Senior Bowl in January, displaying these traits. There seem to be two issues with the Pettis pick among those that don't like it. First is the value of the pick versus other players available. I'll come back to what 3k said earlier today, this pick was about getting weapons for the offense, end of story. The team's priorities trumped just grabbing a player in each round to fill a long list of needs. Some think there were better receivers, like Leonard Hankerson who picked right after Pettis, but teams' boards look a lot different in the middle rounds. Given where this team is, they'll get a lot more mileage by improving the offense.
Round 4, Greg Salas, WR, Hawaii
Same logic for the Pettis pick applies here. Salas might be the sleeper of the bunch according to some, and was a higher ranked receiver in the eyes of some scouting services. This was a steal in the fourth round. Salas posted faster workout numbers in the 20-yard shuttle and 3-cone drill than Tandon Doss, who valued higher by some, and doesn't have the injury history.
Round 5, Jermale Hines, S, Ohio State
Trading down here and missing out on Jacquizz Rodgers upset some draft watchers. I understand. However, Rodgers has injury concerns and isn't fast enough to give them a speed complement in their running game. Passing on Rodgers makes more sense with hindsight. Hines looks like the prototypical Spagnuolo safety: versatile and understands the game. I'll be anxious to see if he can contribute right away situationally. Not flashy, but this is the kind of pick that the Rams can make work for their needs.