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Published: Monday, 4/25/2005

Grading the draft

The Blade's pro football writer, Dave Hackenberg, hands out his NFL Draft grade card:

Browns - B-plus: New senior general manager Phil Savage said he wanted to make solid contact. He said eagles and birdies are rare on draft day, that the key thing was making pars.

He did that - maybe better - by sticking to the system he learned in Baltimore, namely being patient and letting the draft come to him.

The Browns didn't worry about the Dolphins at No. 2 and still got the best receiver, if not the best overall player, in Braylon Edwards with the next pick.

Brodney Pool, a safety, was projected as a first-rounder by some experts and was a nice second-round pick-up. Sure, Cleveland signed free agent safety Brian Russell in the offseason, but that was an immediate-need signing, not a long-term move. Pool can cover the deep field or fill against the run.

Savage got one of the steals of the draft by not rushing to pull the trigger on Akron quarterback Charlie Frye, a third-rounder who figures to be the future along with Edwards and TE Kellen Winslow, last year's top selection. Lower-round defensive picks seem solid.

Lions - C-minus: Detroit has drafted well in recent years, which took some of the heat off team president/CEO Matt Millen. But it's back on with the decision to take a first-round receiver, albeit a talented one in Southern Cal's Mike Williams, for the third straight year.

Williams is a big receiver who slots right into a West Coast offense and he'll certainly be very productive in what could be an explosive unit, presuming QB Joey Harrington delivers, but taking best-available talent is a sound strategy only when a team does not have specific and pressing needs.

The Lions entered the draft with serious needs at right tackle and on the defensive line, and hybrid linebacker/end types Shawne Merriman and Demarcus Ware, defensive tackle Travis Johnson, linebacker Derrick Johnson, and the draft's two best offensive tackles, Jammal Brown and Alex Barron, were all still available when the Lions took Williams.

It was a veritable smorgasbord of players the Lions badly need and, in that regard, Millen wasted the pick.

To save face, perhaps, he traded up in the second round to get defensive tackle Shaun Cody, who could play end. He's a first-round talent who fell and it was a good pick, but the Lions took a quarterback, Connecticut's Dan Orlovsky, who has backup written all over him, in the fifth round without having addressed the O-line needs.

Bengals - B: Linebacker David Pollack is as intense as any player in the draft. Forget the short stature and short arms, he just makes all the plays, and he's a perfect fit for defensive-minded coach Marvin Lewis. Cincinnati then got a tremendous value in LB Odell Thurman, Pollack's teammate at Georgia, in the second round.

Chris Henry, a sleeper wide receiver from West Virginia, was a nice third-round pick, talent-wise, but he has some discipline and character baggage and Lewis is not known to take guff from players. That pairing could be interesting, which is more than can be said of the Bengals' second-day picks.

Vikings - They got a speed receiver (Troy Williamson) to help plug the Randy Moss hole, and a top rush end in Erasmus James who could complete one of the league's top D-lines. Ohio State's Dustin Fox brings a motor to the secondary and running back Ciatrick Fason was a steal in the fourth round.

Cowboys - Bill Parcells' front seven is now one of the best in game with first-round picks Demarcus Ware and Marcus Spears, then second-round LB Kevin Burnett.

Cardinals - They got a top corner in Antrel Rolle, the fastest running back in J.J. Arrington and maybe the steal of the draft when Virginia offensive lineman Elton Brown fell all the way to the 111th overall pick in the fourth round.

Ravens - Oklahoma receiver Mark Clayton with the No. 22 pick of the first round was excellent and completes the arsenal of weapons for QB Kyle Boller. Another Sooner, defensive end Dan Cody, is a troubled talent, but will be reined in by Ray Lewis and hard-edged Brian Billick. Baltimore found a fine backup QB in Oregon State's Derek Anderson with the 213th pick in the sixth round. GM Ozzie Newsome does it again.

49ers - They're frugal, but bit the bullet and took the quarterback they liked and needed in Alex Smith. Later, they nabbed the best center in Michigan's David Baas and an underrated running back in Frank Gore. The rebuilding has begun.

Chargers - Unlike Lions, they knew what to do with DE/LB Merriman of Maryland still on the board. Took a later first-round gamble on Northwestern DT Luis Castillo, who's a fine talent, but his contract will stipulate if he ever again tests positive for a steroid that he'll forfeit his signing bonus. Fourth-round RB Darren Sproles from Kansas State adds depth as an insurance policy behind LaDainian Tomlinson.

Nick Kaczur - Toledo's big offensive lineman went right about where predicted at the end of the third round, and what could be better than going from the MAC champions to the Super Bowl champions?

Maurice Clarett - The third round? Are you kidding? At his news conference yesterday, he said the Broncos "took a gamble on me, and I don't want to make them look stupid." Amen.

Nick Saban - Ex-UT coach takes over the Dolphins and got the draft's best running back in Ronnie Brown, a solid DE in Iowa's Matt Roth (a first-teamer in some mock drafts), and a better-than-average linebacker in Florida's Channing Crowder. Maybe not an A-grade draft, but not far off.

Aaron Rodgers - A possible No. 1 overall pick, he fell all the way to 24th. But he's still a winner because of the class with which he handled it and because he went to Green Bay, where he'll have a year or two to learn from one of the best and most competitive QBs of any era, Brett Favre, then become the face of a legendary franchise.

Matt Jones - A tremendous athlete who will make the transition from quarterback to wide receiver, he went 21st in the first round to Jacksonville ahead of receivers like Mark Clayton, Roddy White, Reggie Brown, and Roscoe Parrish, as well as tight end Heath Miller. Think about that.



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