The Dallas Cowboys get an A. So do New England, the New York Giants and San Diego. For the 2005 draft.
Those four represent the two Super Bowl teams from last season, a team that reached the AFC title game and the one with the NFC's best regular-season record. In the 2007 season and playoffs they were a combined 58-17.
The worst three-year drafts also are reflected in the 2007 standings: Oakland, San Francisco, Detroit and St. Louis, a combined 19-45.
Drafts can't be rated with grades the day after the draft although fans seem to consider them must reading. But NFL personnel consider three years the period needed to determine who can play and who can't. So 2005 grades are the ones given this year.
The three-year results again reflect again that the draft, not free agency, is still the way to win.
Even with huge salaries to first-rounders, draft picks are still cheaper than free agents and put less strain on a salary cap. Even if players don't start right away, good ones can be developed to replace those players who take the money and run to the highest bidder.
In fact, there were fewer instant grades this year, perhaps a tribute to Peter King of Sports Illustrated and NBC, who derided them a few weeks ago by noting that the Giants got a number of ratings of C-plus or below last year. It turned out that seven draft picks played major roles in their Super Bowl season.
Back to 2005.
1. Dallas (13-4). The draft was run by Jerry Jones and two guys who are now the Dolphins' brain trust — Bill Parcells and Mike Ireland (have faith for 2010, Dolphins fans.) They took two Pro Bowlers (running back Marion Barber and linebacker DeMarcus Ware) and the three starters on the 3-4 defensive line (Chris Canty, Marcus Spears and Jay Ratliff, a seventh-rounder who took over at nose tackle when Jason Ferguson was hurt).
Yes, Tony Romo's development at quarterback after being signed as an undrafted free agent in 2003 is probably the main reason the Cowboys had the NFC's best regular-season record at 13-3. But you can't overlook a draft that netted two Pro Bowlers and an entire defensive line.
2. and 2a. San Diego (13-6), New York Giants (14-6). These are related because of the deal during the 2004 draft that landed Eli Manning with the Giants and Philip Rivers with the Chargers.
Ernie Accorsi, then the Giants general manager, included his first pick in 2005 instead of a raw young defensive end name Osi Umenyiora whom the Chargers said they would take instead.
It worked for both teams: Umenyiora developed into a two-time Pro Bowler and is one of those fearsome pass rushers who terrorized Tom Brady in the Giants' Super Bowl upset. The Chargers used the pick obtained from New York on Shawne Merriman, the game's best pass-rushing outside linebacker — Ware is probably the second best.
New York had only four picks in 2005. But its second-rounder was cornerback Corey Webster. Its third was defensive lineman Justin Tuck, and its fourth was starting running back Brandon Jacobs.
Tuck had two sacks of Brady in the Super Bowl. Jacobs was a solid replacement for Tiki Barber with help from one of the 2007 rookies, Ahmad Bradshaw.
Webster is an example of why draft analysis must wait. He was a disappointment until late in his third season, when he had an interception return for a touchdown against Buffalo in the win that clinched a playoff berth. He added two more INTs in the playoffs, including the one in overtime off Brett Favre that set up the winning field goal in the NFC title game.
In addition to Merriman, San Diego added starting defensive tackle Luis Castillo with its second first-round pick; wide receiver Vincent Jackson in the second round; and kick returner extraordinaire Darren Sproles in the fourth.
4. New England (18-1). The Patriots used their first pick on guard Logan Mankins, who went to the Pro Bowl in this third season. They had no second-rounder, but got two starters in the third round: right tackle Nick Kaczur and cornerback Ellis Hobbs, then took safety James Sanders in the fourth. To be picky, Kaczur was knocked around by Umenyiora and Tuck among others in the Super Bowl, and Hobbs was victimized by Manning and Plaxico Burress on the winning TD pass.
But can you argue with two guys who until then were starters on an team that started 18-0?
As for the bottom teams …
The 49ers used the first overall pick on QB Alex Smith who showed promise in 2006, then regressed last season after offensive coordinator Norv Turner left to become the Chargers' coach. He also was hurt, but at best, his chances of being a franchise quarterback are iffy. The 49ers' only prize is running back Frank Gore, taken with the first pick of the third round.
Detroit, which has drafted horribly for a decade, used the 10th overall pick on Mike Williams, one of four first-round wide receivers in five years chosen by the Lions. He's unemployed now.
The Raiders' first-round pick was cornerback Fabian Washington. He was worth a fourth-round pick Sunday, when Oakland traded him to Baltimore. "Quarterback of the future" Andrew Walter was taken in the third round, two years before "quarterback of the future" JaMarcus Russell went first overall to Oakland.
The Rams got Alex Barron, a solid offensive tackle, with their first-rounder. But not much else until picks 250 and 251: Harvard QB Ryan Fitzpatrick and fullback Madison Hedgecock.
Fitzpatrick is now Carson Palmer's backup in Cincinnati. Hedgecock, a fullback from North Carolina, was released early last season and the Giants snapped him up. He was so good as a blocker they gave him a contract extension.
So add one more plus to the Giants and one more minus to the Rams.
And hold this year's grades for three years.
Copyright 2008 The Associated Press.