NFL Draft: First Round Review and Grades

Posted: May 9, 2014 in Uncategorized
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1. 34Houston Texans – DE Jadeveon Clowney, South Carolina 

It was the pick that had to be made. In a perfect world, Houston would have had a guaranteed franchise QB like Andrew Luck to pick. With no guarantees at the most important offensive position, the Texans snagged the most sure-thing in Clowney. He and JJ Watt rushing from both sides of the line promises to be a more frightening nightmare than showing up at school in your underwear.

Grade: A

2. 14-1 St. Louis Rams – OT Greg Robinson, Auburn

It became clear by early-afternoon on Thursday that St. Louis was asking for too much to seriously consider trading the #2 pick. In the end, they took the player that most believed they would if they stood pat. Robinson came on strong late in the season and continued that rise in the offseason. With Rodger Saffold and Jake Long still under contract, the Rams now have a logjam of capable tackles. Long’s injury likely had a large part in determining this pick. I would have probably taken Sammy Watkins at this pick. But, it’s tough to argue with a bookend tackle.

Grade: B

3. 30-1 Jacksonville Jaguars – QB Blake Bortles, UCF

The first real surprise of the night came from Jacksonville, who decided that the local kid was the right man for the job. The Jaguars failed to find a franchise QB when they took Blaine Gabbert in the top-10 a few years ago. They’ll now hope that Bortles, who many see reminiscent of Ben Roethlisberger, can finally give central Florida a superstar. He’s a big, strong kid and he’s playing close to home. This one could actually work out pretty well for Jacksonville. Khalil Mack would have made sense. But, passing on a potential franchise signal caller when you don’t have one is never a winning strategy.

Grade: B+

4. buf Buffalo Bills (Trade with Cleveland) – WR Sammy Watkins, Clemson

The Bills were desperate for offensive impact playmakers and Watkins is clearly the best in the draft. Some are comparing him to AJ Green, which seems like lofty expectations. But, Watkins is truly a freak athlete and phenomenal talent. The problem with this pick is that Buffalo had to send Cleveland the #9 pick, a fourth round pick, AND their first rounder next year. For a team that hasn’t made the playoffs since 1999, that’s a serious risk. The pick itself is an A. The trade, on the other hand, brings the final grade down precipitously.

Grade: C+

5. oak Oakland Raiders – OLB/DE Khalil Mack, Buffalo

For the first time in years, the Oakland Raiders actually had a solid first round. The Black Hole has been synonymous with failed first rounders since the team drafted JaMarcus Russell first overall in 2007. Mack should buck the trend. This ferocious freak was considered a better prospect than any player in the draft not named Clowney. Oakland now has a cornerstone defensive player for the first time since Nnamdi Asomugha’s magic potion wore off.

Grade: A+

6. atl Atlanta Falcons – OT Jake Matthews, Texas A&M

Atlanta wanted a pass rusher. But, lost out on their chance when Mack went to Oakland. They settled for a guy many considered the best tackle prospect in the entire draft. Matthews has some serious NFL pedigree in his blood and should be a bookend tackle for over a decade. With protecting Matt Ryan an improvement that Atlanta needed to make, they struck gold by finding Matthews waiting in their lap.

Grade: A

7. tam Tampa Bay Buccaneers – WR Mike Evans, Texas A&M

The Aggies saw 2 players drafted in the top-10 and neither was named Johnny Manziel. Johnny Football’s favorite target, Mike Evans, saw his draft stock soar over the last month. His solid speed combined with freakish size made him an alluring target for teams looking to boost their passing attack. Tampa lost Mike Williams earlier this offseason, so finding a compliment to Vincent Jackson (who is over 30) was critical. They just did that by grabbing a guy in Evans who reminds most of Jackson himself. Tampa, though, could have used an improvement on the offensive line if they don’t want to get Josh McCown killed.

Grade: B

8. cle Cleveland Browns (Trade with Minnesota) – CB Justin Gilbert, Oklahoma State

Justin Gilbert was considered the second best cornerback in the draft when the college football season ended. A brilliant combine coupled with a similarly mediocre one by Darqueze Dennard shot the former Cowboys’ stock through the roof. Cleveland surprised many by trading up a pick with Minnesota to grab this potential shutdown corner. One thing that is concerning is Gilbert’s tackling ability (or rather inability). But, he can cover as well as anyone in the draft. With Joe Haden on one side, the Browns are clearly making stopping the pass a priority. The only concern is that the Browns had serious needs at wide receiver. But, with such a deep draft in that regard, they could still address that later.

Grade: B-

9. min Minnesota Vikings (Trade with Cleveland) – OLB Anthony Barr, UCLA

The Vikings were either taking a QB here or going defense. They elected to wait on the signal caller and it was probably a great decision. Barr brings some of the best pass rushing skills of a 4-3 linebacker in this draft. Minnesota is expected to run a scheme that emphasizes a blitzing linebacker and Barr fits the bill. With Jared Allen gone, the Vikes just found their top rusher.

Grade: B+

10. lions8 Detroit Lions – TE Eric Ebron, North Carolina

I don’t hate Ebron as a prospect. In fact, I think that he’s likely going to be a fantastic vertical weapon in this league. The problem is that Detroit had serious issues on defense both in the linebacker corps and in the secondary (where 11 players were selected in round one). Not addressing that and instead getting another vertical weapon won’t win games. Though, Matt Stafford should probably have another outstanding statistical year. Ebron is also not a blocker. But, Brandon Pettigrew, a first round pick in 2009, remains on the roster to play that role.

Grade: C-

11. ten Tennessee Titans – OT Taylor Lewan, Michigan

Tennessee was viewed as a bit of a wildcard. They could have gone defense or even QB. Instead, the Titans further bolster a position of strength by landing Lewan, who was probably the best player available. Taylor has some off the field issues. But, the Titans weren’t afraid, as their veteran leadership on the line should keep the former Wolverine in line.

Grade: A-

12. giants19 New York Giants – WR Odell Beckham Jr, LSU

New York playing chess when everyone else is playing checkers! The Giants were believed to have interest in either an offensive lineman or a pass rusher. Instead, they throw a curveball and land the fastest receiver in the draft. New York lost Hakeem Nicks this offseason (not that he was productive anyway). So, they found a complimentary deep threat to Victor Cruz in the form of Beckham. Some thought that Beckham would go in the late-teens. But, after Evans went in the top-10, it was clear that the run on receivers was only beginning. A brilliant pick.

Grade: A

13. 14-1 St. Louis Rams – DT Aaron Donald, Pittsburgh

Good lord! The Rams’ defensive line resembles the 1985 Bears at this point. With Chris Long and Robert Quinn already in tow, St. Louis adds a ferocious interior presence in Donald. They say football games are won in the trenches, and Jeff Fisher added the best offensive tackle and the best defensive tackle in the draft. That’s some solid drafting in a nutshell.

Grade: A+

14. chi3 Chicago Bears – CB Kyle Fuller, Virginia Tech

Teams like the Bears, who have run a variation of the Tampa-2 zone defense for years, typically draft by scheme fit. For Fuller, a zone corner with phenomenal tackling skills, this was a perfect fit. The former Hokie may have gone a little bit high with regards to value. But, Chicago desperately needed to improve their secondary after injuries exposed their poor depth in 2013.

Grade: B

15. pitt23 Pittsburgh Steelers – OLB Ryan Shazier, Ohio State

The Steelers really could have used a WR here and if Beckham was still available, they might have taken him. But, one thing we know is that Pittsburgh’s legacy is built on defense and more specifically, their ability to rush the passer. With the likes of James Harrison and LaMaar Woodley now gone, the Steelers needed to replenish a barren cupboard. The value is a little off. But, Shazier promises to be a strategically solid pick.

Grade: B+

16. dal6 Dallas Cowboys – OG/OT Zack Martin, Notre Dame

Dallas has now taken offensive linemen with their last two first round picks and it’s hard to argue with their decision based on the importance of that position. Martin was viewed as a guy that could go anywhere from #10 to #20, so landing him at pick 16 is fine value. The problem I have is that Dallas has a lot of holes and not many picks. They could have traded down, still landed a defensive or offensive lineman, and replenished a lot more holes. But, Martin should improve what was a problem position a year ago.

Grade: B-

17. bal33 Baltimore Ravens – ILB CJ Mosley, Alabama

Baltimore needed to find a franchise cornerstone and leader on defense now that Ray Lewis is working for ESPN. Mosley was the consensus #1 inside linebacker in the draft. He doesn’t possess the ferocious demeanor of Lewis. But, there’s little doubting his talent or the pedigree of Alabama linebackers.

Grade: B

18. 20 New York Jets – S Calvin Pryor, Louisville

New York wanted to go defense after spending their free agent finances on offense. It’s hard to argue with Pryor, who epitomizes the hard nosed, rough tackling persona that Rex Ryan covets. Safety was a serious need, and the value is perfect.

Grade: A

19. mia15 Miami Dolphins – OT Ja’Wuan James, Tennessee

Miami was stuck between a rock and a hard place here. They needed to draft an offensive lineman after their issues both on and off the field in 2013. But, the rush on tackles early on left them without a real value pick at #19. So, they decided to reach for Ja’Wuan James, a big tackle from Tennessee. James wasn’t considered a top-20 pick by anybody. But, the Dolphins were high on him after a solid offseason workout and interview. We’ll give them the benefit of the doubt because of the predicament they were in. But, it’s far from a perfect pick.

Grade: B-

20. saints18 New Orleans Saints – WR Brandin Cooks, Oregon State

The Saints only dealt a 3rd round pick (91st overall) to move up 7 spots and grab the next toy for Drew Brees to utilize. Cooks is electric, almost as much so as Odell Beckham. His ability to make plays in the screen game should alleviate some of the loss of Darren Sproles, as well. This is a great move by the Saints without much of a cost. New Orleans could still use help in the secondary, though.

Grade: B+

21. pack9 Green Bay Packers – S Haha Clinton-Dix, Alabama

When Nick Collins’ career ended due to injury a few years ago, the Packers lost their playmaking safety. They have now addressed that hole by landing Clinton-Dix, who many believed to be the best safety in this class. When Green Bay won the Super Bowl in 2010, they had one of the best safety duos in the league with Collins and Charles Woodson. Clinton-Dix should continue that pedigree. This might be one of the best picks in the draft when all is said and done.

Grade: A+

22. cle Cleveland Browns (Trade with Philadelphia) – QB Johnny Manziel, Texas A&M

Value wise, it’s difficult to argue with grabbing Manziel at 22. Many believed that he would be gone by pick-10, if not first overall. But, Cleveland, who made three trades over the course of the night, sacrificed the 83rd overall pick to move up only 4 spots and land Johnny Football. From a business standpoint, this is a brilliant move. The Browns have already sold over 2000 season tickets in less than 24-hours since his selection and likely will sell out every game this season. Having said that, there’s still a solid chance that Manziel busts out. He’s undersized and plays with reckless abandon, so injuries also will be a problem. The Browns haven’t had a lot of luck at this pick, as both Brady Quinn and Brandon Weeden were 22nd overall picks of Cleveland’s. Still, grabbing Manziel at 22 is, on the surface, a solid value and a necessary pick.

Grade: B

23. kc12 Kansas City Chiefs – DE Dee Ford, Auburn

What a typical Andy Reid pick. The Chiefs were in desperate need of a playmaking wide receiver to help Alex Smith and Jamaal Charles on offense. So, what does the former Eagles’ coach do? He drafts an undersized, pass rushing defensive end. Reminiscent of his selection of Brandon Graham four years ago, Reid went with his instincts and reached for Ford. Considering the rush on pass rushers that followed, it can’t be considered an F. But, Ford was little more than a mid-2nd round pick until his fantastic Senior Bowl performance. I’m not a fan of workout wonders and I’m even less a fan of All Star game athletes.

Grade: D

24.  ben4 Cincinnati Bengals – CB Darqueze Dennard, Michigan State

If Andy Dalton can figure out his playoff woes, it won’t be long until Cincinnati is contending for a championship. The Bengals made a solid defense even better by landing Dennard, who was considered a top-12 pick at the end of the season. A poor combine saw his stock drop. But, workouts only show so much. Cincinnati is now poised to repeat as AFC North champions behind their young, talented defense.

Grade: A+

25. cha24  San Diego Chargers – CB Jason Verrett, TCU

There wasn’t a person in coherence that didn’t think San Diego would grab a cornerback at this pick. With Verrett available, it became clear that it would be either he or Bradley Roby at #25. The Chargers opted for the former. In a division with Peyton Manning, the Chargers were desperate for a secondary addition. This is a kid who is perfect in the slot or outside, and covering Wes Welker promises to be his first test in 2014.

Grade: B+

26. eagles21 Philadelphia Eagles (Trade with Cleveland) – OLB Marcus Smith, Louisville

The Eagles robbed the Browns by acquiring the 83rd overall pick to move down only four selections. They then surprised many by landing an under-the-radar target in Marcus Smith. The former Louisville DE is a perfect fit for the Eagles’ 3-4 scheme, as his combination of size and quickness lends itself to a pass rushing outside linebacker role. Could Philadelphia have landed Smith, who was second in the country with 14.5 sacks in 2013, a few picks later? Maybe. The Eagles still need to improve their receiving corps and secondary, and landing the second 3rd rounder should help that goal. But, a team with only Trent Cole as a legitimate 3-4 rusher just improved dramatically with one fell swoop.

Grade: B

27. cards22 New Orleans Saints – S Deone Bucannon, Washington State

Find me someone who had Bucannon going this early and then ask him this week’s PowerBall numbers. The former Cougar is far from a finished product. But, one thing that teams love is his hard-hitting ability. Granted, with all the rules and regulations preventing ferocious hits in the NFL, there aren’t many physical safeties left. But, Bucannon promises to be a stellar compliment to Tyrann Mathieu once the latter returns from knee surgery. I just wonder if it was a bit of a reach coupled with poor value in their trade with New Orleans.

Grade: C+

28. panth29 Carolina Panthers – WR Kelvin Benjamin, Florida State

It was no secret that Carolina was desperate for receiver help after losing Ted Ginn, Brandon LaFell, and Steve Smith this offseason. The acquisition of Benjamin gives Cam Newton the big target that he’s lacked since being selected first overall in 2011. The only downfall to this pick is that Carolina still has to address their offensive line, which lost Jordan Gross to retirement. Benjamin is a raw product, and his hands have been leaky at times. But, there’s little doubt that he’s a fit in Carolina.

Grade: B+

29. new17 New England Patriots – DT Dominique Easley, Florida

New England sports talk radio is drinking the Belichick Kool-Aid this morning, believing that landing a player once considered to go in the top-10 is a monumental steal. I, on the other hand, disagree. The Patriots have Tom Brady for maybe 4 or 5 more years at best. So, they should be trying to do everything they can to win now. Instead, they take a defensive tackle with two knee surgeries in the last three years, including one that will likely keep him out of action until the Pats are already playing in 2014. How is that helping Brady and Co. win now? There were much more logical selection at this point than risking it with Easley. If the Pats had traded out of the first, grabbed some picks, then took the former Gators’ star, I would have understood this. Instead, it just looks like Bill trying to show that he’s smarter than everyone else. That really worked out with Ras-I Dowling, didn’t it, Bill?

Grade: D+

30. sanf25 San Francisco 49ers – S Jimmie Ward, Northern Illinois

Here’s another pick that doesn’t make a whole lot of sense. San Francisco came into this draft with more picks than anyone else, so trading up to land a secondary player was a legitimate possibility. Instead, the 49ers reached on Ward, a hard hitting safety from Northern Illinois. I don’t hate the player. But, I do hate the decision to stand pat at 30 and then select a safety for the second consecutive year in the first round (Eric Reid). San Francisco remedied my concerns a bit by trading a conditional 4th round draft choice to Buffalo for WR Stevie Johnson today. But, it’s still not a good pick for a team that has made a ton of solid ones in recent years.

Grade: C

31. sanf7 Denver Broncos – CB Bradley Roby, Ohio State

Roby was considered to be as talented as Verrett or Fuller. But, his stock took a hit due to character concerns. The good news for Denver is that they don’t care about what might happen with Roby 2 or 3 years down the line. They only care about 2014, when Peyton Manning continues his quest for a second Super Bowl ring. Roby’s talent will certainly be an improvement over the garbage that Denver had playing corner in the Super Bowl. He, along with Aqib Talib, should be a solid duo for a few years.

Grade: B-

32. min Minnesota Vikings (Trade with Seattle) – QB Teddy Bridgewater, Louisville

The Vikings did what they had to do to end the first round with a bang. Minnesota dealt the 40th overall pick as well as a 4th round pick to move up 8 spots and land their future franchise cornerstone. Bridgewater was considered a possible #1 overall pick as recently as March, so landing him with the last pick of the first round is tremendous value. The Vikings needed some fresh blood at QB and Teddy Ballgame might be the most sure thing out of any of the first round signal callers. Kudos to the former Cardinals’ star for keeping his head up and saying only the right things as teams and prognosticators ripped him for such trivialities as his hand size. This guy isn’t George Costanza, he’s not a hand model. He’s a leader and a quarterback. A very, very solid pick to end round one by the Vikings.

Grade: A+

 

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