I've never been a big fan of grading NFL Draft classes just days after the draft is complete. It's a totally fruitless exercise, to be honest. At this point, we can't even grade last year's draft class. And we can all probably agree that it takes about 3 years to fairly grade out a team's draft class.
Still, it makes for good discussion and good debate to slap a letter grade to the draft class. And since everybody else seems to post their draft grades, I might as well post mine. The criteria I will use is highly subjective, of course, and will focus on three aspects: talent, value, and need.
Round 1: Mike Pouncey, C, Florida
I've been critical of this pick. As I've said a thousand times, it's not because of his ability. Pouncey, though possibly a tiny bit overrated due to his brother's success, is going to be a very good player. He's technically sound - outside of those snapping issues that he improved upon last year and will likely be an afterthought by the time the '11 season comes around. He's highly athletic and will add an interesting element to this offensive line as a pulling center - which will allow the Dolphins to be more unpredictable with their ground game.
The kid is talented. The Dolphins had an obvious need. The only negative I see with this pick - and I've said it for days now - is that I think that taking an interior offensive lineman in the top 15 isn't the best value.
Round 2: Daniel Thomas, RB, Kansas State
The Dolphins needed to add a tailback or two and they moved up into the second round to nab the guy they coveted. The trade, as Omar Kelly pointed out, was actually a steal for the Dolphins. To move up 17 spots, the Dolphins surrendered their 3rd and 5th round picks. Based on the draft value chart, the Dolphins paid 18% less than they should have. And as Jeff Darlington reported, the Dolphins had accurate information that if they did not trade up to get Thomas, the Bengals would have taken him with the second pick of round three. So kudos to Jeff Ireland and company here. They had a conviction about a guy and they aggressively moved up to ensure they landed him.
Many draft analysts had Thomas rated as a top five back in this class. Bill Parcells had Thomas rated as a 2nd round value and as the third best back in the class. He's a 6'0, 230 pound back with quick feet and a little wiggle to him and is capable of being a feature back - though the Dolphins will probably pair him with a free agent.
Round 4: Edmond Gates, WR, Abilene Christian
The Dolphins had a need for a speed receiver to round out their receiving corps. And for once, they didn't mess around - drafting the fastest receiver in the '11 class. Gates is raw and will need time to develop his route running. But for now, all he has to do is run fly patterns, post patterns, and screen passes. He has very good hands, too. For those worrying about the Ted Ginn comparisons, there's a difference. Gates is not just fast - he's quick. And his speed doesn't take multiple steps to build, meaning he'll be quicker off the line,
Gates will also get some work as a return man, another need the Dolphins had heading into the draft. Two years from now, Gates could be the best player to come out of this class. His upside is that high.
Round 6: Charles Clay, TE/FB, Tulsa
Based on his timed speed, Clay doesn't seem like he has the speed to be the seam-stretching tight end this offense needs. But on tape, it looks like he plays faster. Regardless, what I've seen in the limited film of him is that he possesses very good hands and is very versatile. He'll likely be used in a number of ways by offensive coordinator Brian Daboll. The best comparison I've heard is as a poor man's Chris Cooley - which is fine with me. It's also worth noting that PFW has Clay rated as a 4th to 5th round pick. So the Dolphins got good value here.
Round 7: Frank Kearse, NT, Alabama A&M
Kearse comes in at 6'4, 315 pounds and is a nose tackle project for Mike Nolan and the Dolphins. His scouting report indicates he's not much of a penetrating lineman but will eat up blockers - which is exactly what he'll be asked to do in Miami's defense. But for now, he's likely a practice squad player while he develops in Miami's defense.
Round 7: Jimmy Wilson, CB/S, Montana
Wilson, obviously, is most well known for his off-field saga - having been locked up for two years while on trial for murder. He was acquitted but was out of football for years before getting back on the field at Montana last year for his senior season. Once a promising shut-down corner, Wilson played last year mostly as a safety and admitted it took a lot of time before getting back into football shape. He's a physical player with good speed and burst and will make an impact right away on special teams. He's also got a lot of upside - a day two talent who falls to round seven because of those off-the-field issues.
Overall 2011 Class
As opposed to past classes, the Dolphins went with a quality over quantity philosophy - as exemplified by their trade up to land the running back they coveted. This is a class that could very well turn out to be Jeff Ireland's best draft since coming to Miami as GM. It's ironic that it's also his first without Papa Parcells to lean on. There are some risks, though. What if Pouncey never becomes elite? What if Thomas and his lack of top end speed (and potential hamstring issues) hold this offense back? And what if Gates doesn't ever develop his skills to be a solid all-around receiver?
Still, there's enough upside here to be excited. And the draft touched on a number of the team's needs: interior OL, RB, speed WR, TE, and a long-term NT project.