When the NFL draft ends, everyone is quick to put out their draft grades of how they think all 32 teams fared with their haul of prospects.
While that's always fun and a good way to help fill the offseason void, the grades ultimately mean very little, and the Cincinnati Bengals are the poster child as to why that is. While these are some of the world's most talented football players being drafted into the great sports league there is, it often takes multiple years for these players to begin to show what their ultimate potential is and how good, or bad in some cases, their pro careers will be.
ESPN's Mel Kiper went through and re-graded all of his draft grades from the 2015 NFL Draft. The Bengals' group of rookies rarely saw the field for a 12-4 team that was already loaded and was crafted on draft weekend more to lay a down a foundation to ensure the team's future would remain bright than in the hopes of seeing the players hit the field this season.
That's why Kiper dropped the Bengals from originally having a B+ grade to just a B after the season's end.
If you ask where the rookie production is, the reality is no team went into the draft needing less from the rookie class. There just weren't clear voids the draft would help fill. It was all about the future, and Cedric Ogbuehi at No. 21 overall illustrated that, as he was coming off a knee injury and wouldn't be available until late in the season. They could still have both of their future tackles in Ogbuehi and Jake Fisher, whom they took in Round 2. In a weird way, this is just what you want from a rookie class -- some pretty impressive talent that you didn't need to call on because the roster was in good shape.
Draft grades really are just beginning to be meaningful after a full season where we saw what some of the drafted players could do. Again, take the Bengals for example. Guys like Andre Smith, Andrew Whitworth, Michael Johnson, and Tyler Eifert needed several years before we began to see how good they would become. They went from being backups and role players their first 2-3 years to becoming impact starters once they played out most of, if not the entirety of their rookie contracts.
In other words, every team might as well start with no grade until the players have had at least one year to play and be evaluated. Looking around the NFL, you could definitely justify Kiper giving a team like the Kansas City Chiefs an A grade. Their top three picks (Marcus Peters, Mitch Morse, Chris Conley) all played key roles in the Chiefs' 11-5 record this season in addition to Peters' emergence as a star cornerback. We know that was a good class after one season.
But for the Bengals, they should still have that N/A grade after we rarely saw any of their rookies see action. While guys like Jake Fisher, Tyler Kroft and Josh Shaw saw meaningful snaps, we just didn't see enough to know how good these players and this class in general will ultimately become.
As for the rest of the AFC North, many so-called experts thought each of the division's four teams had the best showing of any division in last year's draft, so much so that several gave the Bengals the worst grade in the division. Kiper originally had the Bengals with the second-worst grade ahead of only the Cleveland Browns, and while his new grades did downgrade Cincinnati, he also lowered his grades for the rest of the North to the point that the Bengals now have the division's best grade.
The Pittsburgh Steelers and Baltimore Ravens went from an A- to a B-, while the Browns went from a B to a C-. No rookie from any of the four teams really showed much this past season, but that doesn't mean they won't emerge in the coming years.