It is impossible to properly grade an NFL draft until you get a chance to see how each team’s picks ultimately helped or hurt their team, but that could take a couple of seasons to play itself out. What you can do in the short term is look back to see how well each of the NFL’s 32 teams did at matching their current needs with the picks that they made. While this tends to be a subjective process depending on each person’s own particular evaluation of talent, there are still some common threads that come together to paint a pretty clear picture of which teams did the best job improving their overall roster.
The team at the top of my list is the San Francisco 49ers for two main reasons. The first is that this is a team that has been to the NFC Championship Game two straight years and the Super Bowl last season, so the current holes on this team are far and few between. The second is that through some front office maneuvers well before this year’s draft ever took place, the 49ers came in with a huge amount of leverage by holding 14 overall picks heading into the first round.
They addressed an immediate need in their secondary by selecting safety Eric Reid in the first round and added even more firepower on offense by picking-up tight end Vance McDonald towards the end of the second. With nine other picks as a result of a few trades along the way, the best thing that San Francisco did is add some much needed depth to make a very talented team all that much better.
The next team on my list that is currently at the opposite end of the spectrum with more holes than a block of Swiss cheese is the Jacksonville Jaguars. The reason they placed so high is the discipline of new GM David Caldwell to resist the temptation to jump all over the board in an effort to make a big splash by instead concentrating his efforts on addressing the team’s biggest needs.
Selecting offensive tackle Luke Joeckel with second overall pick in the draft was a no-brainer, but you could probably find at least 10 other teams that would have blown that call if they were in the same situation. The Jaguars then used their next two picks to focus on the defensive secondary with safety John Cyprien and cornerback Dwayne Gratz, who can both make an immediate impact on a defense that finished the 2012 season ranked 22nd in the league against the pass and 30th overall. The ended the draft taking three more defensive backs to put an exclamation point on addressing this particular need.
The Green Bay Packers are perennial favorites to not only win the NFC North but to go all the way to the Super Bowl almost each and every year. While it is painfully obvious that quarterback and former league MVP Aaron Rodgers has a lot to do with this, but one glaring hole on this offense for awhile now has been the ability to consistently run the ball. When the Packers made their last Super Bowl run in 2010 it was behind the emergence of running back James Starks in the playoffs that made all the difference in the world.
Green Bay has to feel pretty good about its efforts to address this problem with the addition running backs’ Eddie Lacy, who slipped into the second round, and Johnathan Franklin, who was added in the fourth round. With the rest of their picks, the Packers enjoyed the same luxury as San Francisco by adding depth to an already talented roster. They earned even more points for focusing their efforts in key areas such as the offensive line and at wide receiver.
While there are quite a few other teams that did an really good job filling needs through the draft a few of my honorable mentions go out to the Philadelphia Eagles for addressing the gaping holes in its offensive line with Lane Johnson, to the Cincinnati Bengals for adding pieces like tight end Tyler Eifert and running back Giovani Bernard to the duo of quarterback Andy Dalton and wide receiver AJ Green and to the Baltimore Ravens for taking steps to bring in some young blood on defense with safety Matt Elam and linebackers’ Arthur Brown and John Simon.