By Brian Spencer
With the 2011 NFL Draft in the mirror and team-by-team grades cat-littering the internets, now’s a good time for this friendly reminder: those draft grades are meaningless. Nobody knows for sure how well any of these drafts turned out because all we have is speculation and projection of prospects. History tells us that most of these gentlemen won’t amount to much, whether they were taken in the 1st or 7th round, so while as fans it’s fun to evaluate the picks on paper, the reality is that we need a few years before making any real judgements.
In that spirit, we’re revisiting the 2008 NFL Draft and handing out grades based on what’s transpired on the field these past three seasons. First up, the NFC North.
Chicago Bears: It’s all about the offensive players for the Bears. First-round pick Chris Williams (14th overall) hasn’t yet found a permanent home on the team’s offensive line after less-than-stellar results as a tackle on either side and as left guard; he’s running out of chances. RB Matt Forte (44th) has combined for nearly 5,000 yards rushing and receiving and scored 25 touchdowns during his first three seasons. We’re all still waiting for WR Earl Bennett (70th) to be more than mediocre, and are starting to wonder if it’ll ever happen: in what many predicted would be a breakout season last year, Bennett caught just 46 passes for 561 yards and 3 TDs. DT Marcus Harrison and CB Zackary Bowman both provide solid depth on defense. Grade: B
Detroit Lions: OT Gosder Cherilus, taken 17th overall, has been inconsistent as the team’s starting right tackle. He’s coming off his best season, but he’s also coming off microfracture surgery, which is not a good thing for 325-pound men. LB Jordon Dizon (45th) has been a major bust: if the team wasn’t so short on quality linebackers, he may not have made the roster out of last year’s training camp. RB Kevin Smith (64th) was drafted to be “the guy”, but after a promising rookie season he fizzled in 2009-10 and only played in six games last year due to injury; he won’t be back and is looking for a job. DE Cliff Avril (92nd) is developing into an elite sackmaster–he finished with 9 last year and has 19.5 in his first three seasons. FB Jerome Felton (146th) is a bulldozer with a mean streak who claimed the starting job last season. Grade: B
Green Bay Packers: Armed with no first-round picks but three in the second, the Pack swung and missed on two of ’em: QB Brian Brohm (56th) is no longer with the team and basically on his way out of the league, while CB Patrick Lee (60th) looks like a career dime back at best. This draft did produce three starters for their Super Bowl-winning team, though TE JerMichael Finley (91st) watched from the sidelines on IR after playing in just 5 games. This kid has Pro Bowl potential, however, if he can stay healthy next year. WR Jordy Nelson is a tough kid and could be poised for big things in 2011-12 with Donald Driver just about done (and possibly retiring), and following a strong postseason that was capped with with 9 catches for 140 yards and 1 TD in the Super Bowl. G Josh Sitton (135th) is starting at right guard; QB Matt Flynn (209th) is backing up for Aaron Rodgers. Grade: A-
Minnesota Vikings: The Vikings had just five picks: a 2nd, two in the 5th, and two in the 6th. While their top three picks haven’t panned out–S Tyrell Johnson (43rd) is a special teamer, QB John David Booty is on his way to the UFL or CFL, and DT Letroy Guion is roster-bubble depth–they landed a quality starting center in John Sullivan (187th). That counts for something. Grade: C