2011 NFL Draft Grades: New Orleans Saints Earn NFC's Top Mark

NEW YORK, NY - APRIL 28: Mark Ingram, #28 overall pick by the New Orleans Saints, holds up a jersey on stage during the 2011 NFL Draft at Radio City Music Hall on April 28, 2011 in New York City. (Photo by Chris Trotman/Getty Images)

With the 2011 NFL Draft officially in the books, it's time to hand out those ultra-important grades that almost always look foolish years down the line, but serve as a reminder of the general feeling of a draft class exiting draft weekend. In the NFC, the New Orleans Saints were the clear winners, but fans in Detroit and Tampa Bay should be quite thrilled, as well.

(Read the 2011 NFL Draft grades for the AFC.)

Arizona Cardinals: B-
Patrick Peterson may be the best player in this draft class when it's all said and done. The team added some nice offensive skill talent on day two, particularly running back Ryan Williams, and even found great value on day three in linebackers Sam Acho and Quan Sturdivant. The Cardinals got good players, but the grade is lowered a bit because quarterback remains unaddressed, and Acho wasn't enough for their rush linebacker position.

Atlanta Falcons: B
Tom Dimitroff wins the brass body parts award for the weekend, giving up a huge bounty to move up to select wideout Julio Jones. It was a steep price to pay, without question, but if he's right about Jones, Atlanta's offense will be very difficult to stop. That's especially true considering Atlanta brought in the steal of the fifth round, shifty running back Jacquizz Rodgers, who adds another dimension to the offense. Atlanta, too, got good players, but cramped their ability to get help for the pass rush by moving up so far to get Jones.

Carolina Panthers: C
Cam Newton is a gamble, without question. If he pans out, it'll erase three years' worth of bad draft-day decisions by the Panthers. The additions of Terrell McClain and Sione Fua at defensive tackle help to shore up the team's other glaring weakness. Aside from Newton, however, there is not a ton of impact or value to be found from this draft class, and the elevated risk with Newton at No. 1 overall makes it tough to elevate the Panthers' grade out of "average" territory.

Chicago Bears: B+
For a team that's still pretty close to being Super Bowl caliber, the Bears did a nice job addressing their two biggest needs with first-round talent. Gabe Carimi will start immediately on the Bears' porous offensive line, while Stephen Paea - a guy most thought would be a first-round pick before a pre-draft injury - was terrific value and a perfect fit as a replacement for Tommie Harris in the second round. Getting two starters helps immensely, but it'd have been nice if the Bears could've picked up another lineman or two offensively.

Dallas Cowboys: B+
It went against Jerry Jones' nature to draft an offensive tackle, but he won't regret the decision to take Tyron Smith in two or three years. Bruce Carter was a terrific athletic fit in the second round, and will be a starter at some point. The team also got great value in the fifth and sixth rounds, where they took cornerback Josh Thomas and receiver Dwayne Harris, respectively. This class doesn't have the usual Jerry Jones star power, but it added contributors from top to bottom.

Detroit Lions: A-
The only concern here is that the Lions did not add an offensive tackle, again putting Matthew Stafford at risk. They helped Stafford out a lot, however, by adding Titus Young and Mikel Leshoure to his skill talent, which gives the Lions dimensions they simply didn't have a week ago. Doug Hogue was a quality find in the fifth round. Obviously, the big move was adding Nick Fairley to Ndamukong Suh, giving the Lions by far the best set of young defensive tackles in the league. The Lions found talent and impact, but Stafford needs to stay healthy.

Green Bay Packers: B+
The best current example of what the "build through the draft" mentality can create, the Packers once again dominated draft weekend. They were patient in addressing their two biggest needs, adding Derek Sherrod and Davon House at tackle and cornerback, respectively. They found value and ideal scheme fits everywhere else in Randall Cobb, D.J. Williams and Ricky Elmore. Team depth is improved greatly, and the Pack look ready to defend their title.

Minnesota Vikings: B-
Let's not beat around the bush: of the four quarterbacks taken atop Round 1, Ponder was a risk, but perhaps not as big a risk as Newton or Jake Locker. He's a lower-ceiling, higher-floor add that will likely be productive for Minnesota, and perhaps even immediately. But the value of the pick was not great. Kyle Rudolph, Christian Ballard and Brandon Burton, however, were terrific value. Brandon Fusco and D'Aundre Reed are intriguing sleeper picks late, where the Vikes had picks stockpiled.

New Orleans Saints: A
In terms of instant impact, no one will get as much as New Orleans, who added instant starters in Cameron Jordan and Mark Ingram in the first round. It wouldn't shock many if Ingram immediately becomes a Pro Bowl-caliber runner in that offense. Martez Wilson is the perfect athlete at linebacker for Gregg Williams, Johnny Patrick adds depth to the defensive backfield, and Greg Romeus could reap big rewards as a seventh-round pick. Great weekend for the Saints.

New York Giants: B
Jerry Reese is one of the more underrated drafters in the league, and once again, he found solid value throughout the Giants' eight picks. The only point of concern is the fact that the offensive line still remains an issue, as fourth-round pick James Brewer - while talented - isn't ready to contribute. Prince Amukamara, Marvin Austin, Jerrel Jernigan, Greg Jones and Tyler Sash were all terrific value and scheme fits with the talent and intangibles to succeed in this league. Expect a lot of contributors from this class.

Philadelphia Eagles: B-
This probably strikes most as a rather underwhelming draft class, but it's something the Eagles needed. The team probably could've used a bit more help on the offensive line than just first-round pick Danny Watkins, but mid-rounders Julian Vandervelde and especially Jason Kelce have some upside. Jaiquawn Jarrett and Curtis Marsh were great day two picks, adding talent and potential to the defensive backfield. The big news was the selection of Alex Henery, a kicker who could make fantasy stud David Akers expendable.

St. Louis Rams: B+
Aside from Robert Quinn, who has the potential to become one of the league's most feared sack artists, there is not a lot to be overly excited about here. But the Rams were winners on draft weekend simply because they provided depth to the team's offensive skill positions for Sam Bradford in the form of receivers Austin Pettis and Greg Salas, as well as tight end Lance Kendricks. More defensive help was necessary, but the Rams are still a work in progress.

San Francisco 49ers: B
Aldon Smith managed to fly under the radar a bit pre-draft, but has loads of talent and could be the pass rusher that the 49ers thought they were getting in Manny Lawson. Colin Kaepernick, the team's second-round pick, is perhaps the most intriguing developmental quarterback in this class, but it'll be interesting to see how he adapts to West Coast Offense principles. Kendall Hunter was a terrific value pick on day three at running back, and seventh-round pick Bruce Miller has some upside as a rusher, as well.

Seattle Seahawks: C
It's doubtful that Seahawks fans would argue that their team didn't have the most boring draft class of the year, choosing to spend their top two picks on unheralded offensive line prospects James Carpenter and John Moffitt. Though they were berated all weekend, this wasn't really a bad class, as K.J. Wright, Kris Durham and possibly Mark LeGree all look like players. The problem is lack of high-level talent. Oh, and there's also the fact that their quarterback situation is a hot mess.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers: A-
Knowing that their biggest positional need was defensive end, it's rather remarkable that the up-and-coming Bucs came out of this draft with both Adrian Clayborn and Da'Quan Bowers, even if both players have medical red flags. That is some serious talent on that Bucs defensive line. Mason Foster and Luke Stocker were solid value selections, Ahmad Black has limitations but impeccable instincts, and Anthony Gaitor was an intriguing add in light of the Aqib Talib situation. Great work by the Bucs.

Washington Redskins: B
Among the many prospects selected this year making position and scheme changes, first-round pick Ryan Kerrigan bears watching the closest, as the Redskins will use him as a stand-up rusher and a defensive end to limit his lack of experience dropping into coverage. He is a highly intriguing complement to Brian Orakpo on the edge, and should free up Orakpo much more. Jarvis Jenkins was a great get defensively, and the likes of Roy Helu, Leonard Hankerson and Niles Paul fit Mike Shanahan's offense perfectly. The Redskins did well to pick up a bunch of additional picks so as to address their overall depth, as well.

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