The 2014 NFL Draft is finally in the books, and after taking some time to think about it, I wanted to give my perception on how things went. This is my take on how teams did in the first round. We'll get to the last two days of the draft next time.
Quite a few teams made what I consider good moves to improve. Chief among them was the St. Louis Rams. They came away with arguably the best offensive lineman and inarguably the best interior defensive lineman available; it's the kind of coup rarely seen these days. I am not prone to hyperbole, but even with a sometimes fragile Sam Bradford at quarterback, these two moves should put them in the hunt to be top dog in one of the best divisions in football.
As much as I loved the Texans selecting Jadeveon Clowney to pair with J.J. Watt -- to give Colts quarterback Andrew Luck nightmares for the foreseeable future -- pairing former Pitt defensive tackle Aaron Donald up with defensive end Robert Quinn is the kind of stuff great horror films are made of. While Bradford has had injury issues, having former Auburn offensive tackle Greg Robinson blocking in front of him should at least keep him out of harm's way. I'm not sure the Rams could have done any better had they owned the first and second picks in the whole draft. They get a gold star in my book.
Photo credit: Jeff Curry-USA TODAY Sports
Another team with two picks that hit home runs with both of them was the Vikings. Former UCLA linebacker Anthony Barr is still pretty raw, but the kid has all the physical tools you look for in a pass rusher. He fills a need with the departure of longtime standout defensive end Jared Allen. He also fits new head coach Mike Zimmer's defense almost perfectly. Zimmer will get the best out of Barr and know exactly how to maximize his talent.
The trade back up to snatch Teddy Bridgewater with the last pick in the first round may look like a stroke of genius in 10 years. With Adrian Peterson still running over people like a souped-up Humvee, Cordarrelle Patterson ready to break out, and Kyle Rudolph's ability to be one of the top tight ends in the NFC, Bridgewater has some nice weapons around him. Also, it doesn't get much better than Norv Turner when it comes to offensive game planning. Bridgewater is set up for success in a way that the guys who went before him, Blake Bortles and Johnny Manziel, are not.
I mentioned the Texans and Clowney already, but I want to reiterate that it was a slam-dunk pick. Maybe the Texans really wanted to trade down from the No. 1 pick, but I believe the interested teams who decided not to deal might have saved the Texans from themselves. I've said for weeks that the Texans are chasing the Colts right now, and if you want to win the Super Bowl, you usually have to win your division. My question came down to this: Do you think any quarterback available in this draft could possibly outduel Andrew Luck? If not, then taking a quarterback when your defense sucks is not going to make much of a difference. By taking Clowney, they immediately upgrade the pass rush to ferocious levels. Beat Luck by making his life a living hell every time he drops back to pass. That should have been a no-brainer. What almost happened doesn't matter now. At the end of the day, they won't regret picking Clowney, not even for a second.
Not too shabby
The Raiders, for once, took the best player available instead of trying to reach. They got Khalil Mack, one of the most polished pass rushers in the draft. The Falcons made the right choice when it came to Jake Matthews, the second offensive tackle off the board. Some folks had the Buccaneers moving up or down in the draft. Instead, they stayed at seven and drafted Mike Evans, who may end up being the best wide receiver from the class of 2014.
Surprisingly enough, the Cowboys also make this list because I think Zack Martin was the perfect choice for them at No. 16. There were people clamoring for Johnny Manziel and thought Jerry Jones might once again pull the trigger on a questionable draft-day move, but Dallas went with Martin instead. He'll immediately help turn a weak offensive line into a team strength. Imagine that, getting somebody to help protect the quarterback you just paid a buttload of money, rather than selecting a guy who probably wouldn't have taken a snap this year unless disaster struck.
Yeah, I can hardly believe it either!
The Steelers somehow passed on C.J. Mosley. The Ravens scooped him up two picks later in a move that will probably be scrutinized inside that division for many years to come if Mosley plays the way I think he will.
The Jets, after going so far as to sign a clearly declining Ed Reed, finally got their playmaking safety with Calvin Pryor. Jets fans are going to love this kid. He doesn't quite have former safety Bob Sanders' range, but I do see a lot of him in Pryor's game. With Rex Ryan directing the defense again, I wouldn't be surprised if Pryor is in the Defensive Rookie of the Year conversation.
If I were a Panthers fan, I would have jumped for joy after they selected Kelvin Benjamin. Cam Newton finally has that big-bodied receiver who can go up and get the ball, and he doesn't have to throw a perfect pass every time. Benjamin is also a monster as a run blocker, which is going to help the Panthers' running game. I said earlier this offseason that this was exactly the kind of wide receiver Newton needed, especially with Steve Smith gone to Baltimore. As you can imagine, the former Buccaneer in me is not all that happy that the Panthers were thinking the same way.
Some of the first-round selections were good players who went to teams where there was a need at that position. I expect them to play well, but I don't necessarily see them ever being a Pro Bowl type. Brandin Cooks, drafted by the Saints with the 20th pick, is a perfect example.
Cooks fits Sean Payton's offense perfectly. He's a good route runner who is quick in and out of his breaks and pretty good at making people miss after the catch. The Saints were in the market for some young wide receivers for quarterback Drew Brees. At the same time, I wouldn't ever expect to see Cooks on an All-Pro team. He will put up decent numbers, but he won't ever be their No. 1 wide receiver. However, because he fits the scheme and they had a need, I don't mind that selection.
The same goes for wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr., a player I liked a lot. The Giants took him with the 12th pick, and he should help that offense a lot. It was apparent last season that the Giants needed more weapons on offense. He adds that, even if he's not going to be a Pro Bowler.
Crazy, in love?
Safety Ha Ha Clinton-Dix brings stability to a Packers secondary that appeared to implode at times last year. He might have been a reach with the 21st pick because he doesn't really jump off the tape for me. If he can be a solid, consistent player in coverage and in run support, Green Bay fans will love the guy.
I'm not exactly sold on the next few picks. In this case, hindsight is going to be 50/50 because I think there is as much a chance that the teams strike out as hit a home run with these guys. When I say strike out, I'm not necessarily talking about the player being a bust. I'm saying the player does not make enough of a difference going forward to justify taking him over another player who was available at the time. Some of it has to do with fit, some of it has to do with need, but I think these picks could end up going either way.
Let's start with the Toronto, errrrrrr, Buffalo Bills and their selection of wide receiver Sammy Watkins with the fourth pick in the draft. The Bills didn't start the night off picking fourth; they traded up just to get him which means they mortgaged a bit of their future with this selection.
I'm sure regular readers of mine might be confused because I LOVE Watkins as a player, going as far as to call him "bust-proof." What makes this move curious to me is that just last year the Bills drafted two wide receivers in the first three rounds including Robert Woods. Their third-round pick from last year was Marquise Goodwin, a speed demon who can also be a game-breaker as a return man. The Bills also traded a late-round pick to the Buccaneers for wide receiver Mike Williams this offseason.
Did the NFL change the rules where teams can have more than five eligible receivers on any given play? At least Watkins will be the clear No. 1 receiver after the Bills traded Stevie Johnson to the 49ers.
If Watkins had simply fallen to the Bills, then I could probably understand them pulling the trigger on him. He didn't. They made the decision to jump up and get him. I don't get that. Had they not traded up, they could have gotten a guy like Eric Ebron, a tight end who would have given second-year quarterback EJ Manuel a great option up the seam or as a safety blanket for when everything else breaks down. Hell, if they were just intent on trading up, maybe they could've done something crazy like upgrade their offensive line with Jake Matthews, again helping their second-year quarterback. Sammy Watkins is awesome, but with other areas on the Bills needing an upgrade, this came across like getting marble floors installed while you still have a hole in your roof.
Photo credit: Leon Halip
Then there are the Lions. They probably coveted Anthony Barr, but couldn't get him after the Vikings selected him one pick ahead of them. So they took ... Ebron, a tight end. They re-signed tight end Brandon Pettigrew this offseason. And they have tight end Joseph Fauria, an undrafted free agent last year who managed to haul in seven touchdowns. Hell, Matthew Stafford threw for over 4,600 yards last year, so I'm pretty sure offense wasn't the primary reason they missed the playoffs.
Detroit's secondary, on the other hand, is trash and has been trash for a while. But instead of taking a cornerback, the Lions take a ... tight end. Hey man, good luck with that.
Don't even get me started on the Tennessee Titans and their selection of offensive tackle Taylor Lewan. I'm not as high on Lewan as some, but he definitely has the potential to be a decent player. Thing is, the Titans already have two pretty good tackles in Michael Roos and Michael Oher. Lewan doesn't strike me as a guard. So what are they gonna do, redshirt him this year? The 11th pick in the friggin' draft might not even touch the field this season? I don't get it.
The Chiefs decided to take Dee Ford with the 23rd pick. I think Ford will be a decent player, but they already have two outstanding outside linebackers in Justin Houston and Tamba Hali. Again, if neither one of those guys gets hurt, when is the earliest that Ford might ever see any playing time? Next year? The Chiefs couldn't use another wide receiver to help out on offense or another cornerback on defense way more than another outside linebacker? I have a hard time believing that.
As for the Eagles and their selection of defensive end Marcus Smith, I know a lot of people had him rated well below a first-round pick, but he seems to fit the kind of edge defensive player that Chip Kelly covets. He is tall, has long arms and is very rangy. He might well have been overdrafted, but he should be a solid contributor and eventually improve the pass rush. Still, there is the potential that his ability won't shine through the way his coaches envision it. There is a reason why he wasn't rated that highly, so this will likely either confirm that Kelly is onto something or reveal that maybe he shouldn't have quite as much power over personnel.
Last but not least, count me as one of the people who just aren't sure about the Browns' first-round selections of cornerback Justin Gilbert and quarterback Johnny Manziel. I started off applauding the Browns for trading down and acquiring more picks, but then when they traded up twice to get both players who felt like reaches, all I could do was shake my head.
I enjoyed watching Manziel play in college as much as the next guy, but he is so far from a sure thing. In most years people would criticize him for his decision-making, regardless of the athletic ability or arm strength he has shown. His height also leaves a lot to be desired. Yeah, the Browns sold a bunch of season tickets after the selection, but you know that only increases the pressure on him and for the Browns to WIN. You can talk excitement all you want, but if they aren't making the playoffs soon, those season ticket sales will slump again.
Every year at least one team makes a pick that just leaves you scratching your head in confusion. For me, it was the Jaguars' selection of Blake Bortles at No. 3 that just doesn't make a lot of sense.
I don't hate Bortles as a prospect. In fact, he has good size and athleticism for the position as well as a big-time arm. He's still a guy who is going to need time to develop. He looked great at times last season at UCF, but there were also times when he looked very average. I'm talking within games when you see both sides of the coin. Ideally, you would have him sit for a year or so until he sharpened up his skills and was fully prepared to take over as the franchise quarterback.
But the third pick in the draft ain't sitting. Hell, who would he sit behind anyway, Chad Henne? I thought that the Blaine Gabbert debacle would have taught them a lesson about overdrafting a quarterback. Evidently, I was wrong.
I don't care how much talent a quarterback is blessed with, if a team throws him out there before he is ready, there's a high likelihood it'll ruin him before he ever gets to realize his potential. I just can't see this ending well for him or the Jags.
Further down the draft, the Steelers decided to choose linebacker Ryan Shazier over C.J. Mosley, a move that had me reaching for a bottle of Tylenol. I love Shazier as a 4-3 linebacker because he is fast as hell and plays well in space. However, the Steelers run a 3-4 defense. The one thing you need to be able to do as a 3-4 linebacker is shed blocks, one thing that Shazier consistently struggled with at Ohio State.
That selection has the potential to sting even more because Mosley went to the Ravens, a division rival. For better or worse, those two guys will be compared for the balance of their careers, and I just don't see Shazier being able to measure up within the confines of a 3-4 defense.
So that's my take on how teams did in the first round. Only time will tell how this all plays out, but I hope that the 32 guys who had their dreams come true that night make the most of their opportunity and do everything they can to be the best player they can possibly be. Ultimately I would love to be proven wrong by some of them that I am not so high on, and I would love to see confirmation from the ones that I am high on.