- James Walker, ESPN Staff Writer
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The regular season is over and the grades are in for the 2011 draft.
ESPN draft guru Mel Kiper Jr. took a look back at the rookie production Wednesday. Here are his grades for the AFC East:
Buffalo Bills (6-10)
Kiper’s grade: B+
Analysis: The Bills had a solid draft. Dareus took over some games for Buffalo and showed he could play defensive end and defensive tackle in a 3-4 defense. Dareus and a healthy defensive tackle Kyle Williams next year will be a tough pair to block. Williams had some injuries but showed enough flashes of potential. Hairston and third-round linebacker Kelvin Sheppard both filled in with mixed results when starters were injured. Those two should provide depth next year. The key is Buffalo didn't miss on many of its picks. But there's really no home runs in this group, with the exception of Dareus.
Miami Dolphins (6-10)
Kiper’s grade: B
Analysis: I liked Miami's draft this year, and it was a key ingredient for general manager Jeff Ireland to save his job. Miami only had six picks but made the most of them by getting five contributors. Pouncey is the present and future at center for the Dolphins and should be the starter there for the next decade. Miami also found its future backfield with Thomas at tailback and Clay at fullback. Both had great moments this season. Clyde Gates is fun to watch returning kicks. Even seventh-round corner Jimmy Wilson played 15 games (one start) and had one interception and a forced fumble.
New England Patriots (13-3)
Kiper’s grade: C+
Analysis: New England head coach Bill Belichick has been criticized for his drafts in recent years. He often trades down and takes a lot of players, and many times that leads to misses. Belichick drafted nine players this year with a few decent gems. Solder looks solid and could be a starting offensive tackle for a long time. He filled in for the injured Sebastian Vollmer and even played the extra blocking tight end position well. Ridley rushed for 441 yards this season. New England has a ton of running backs but it was Ridley who came on strong late in the year. I think New England was really counting on second-round corner Dowling to make a contribution, at least in sub packages. He has promise. But Dowling was hurt all year and the Patriots had no depth remaining in the secondary. New England was 31st in the league against the pass.
New York Jets (8-8)
Kiper’s grade: C+
Analysis: The Jets didn't get much rookie production with the exception of two players. Wilkerson started all 16 games and recorded 49 tackles and three sacks. He has a bright future. Kerley was a nice surprise for the Jets. He was good on special teams and eventually helped at receiver. We only mention McElroy because he recently caused a big stir by calling out the Jets and their toxic locker room in a radio interview. It may hurt his chances to return. But, from the sound of it, McElroy probably wouldn't mind a change of scenery.