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2014 NFL Draft grades: Reviewing every 1st-round pick

It's too early for draft grades, but here are our initial reactions to the first round of the 2014 NFL Draft.

Andy Marlin-USA TODAY Sports

SB Nation 2014 NFL Draft

NFL teams never do what you expect them to.

Even after months of exploring every scenario, the NFL still keeps everyone guessing on draft night with questionable picks. The Browns took a chance on Justin Gilbert, a handful of teams passed on Johnny Manziel to address other needs, and a handful of picks didn't make much sense from a scheme standpoint.

Usually, it's not smart to grade a draft until a few years down the road. But the world demands instant reaction, so here it is. I graded the odd-numbered picks in the first round, and Dan Kadar gave his thoughts on the even-numbered picks. Let us know how you grade your team's selection in the comments below.

1. Houston Texans: Jadeveon Clowney, DE, South Carolina

The grade: A


Photo credit: Cliff Hawkins

The risk: The slight risk with Jadeveon Clowney is the perceived effort concerns he has away from the field. Much has been made about Clowney's motivation level. Now he has a chance to prove people wrong.

The reward: Having Jadeveon Clowney and J.J. Watt is reward enough for the Texans. Clowney is one of the most talented pass-rushing prospects in the last decade.

2. St. Louis Rams: Greg Robinson, OT, Auburn

The grade: B

The risk: While unlikely to happen, the risk is Robinson being the next Jason Smith – a supremely athletic college blocker with some question marks. The grade comes because Robinson is expected to start his career as a left guard, a position of less impact than tackle.

The reward: No player in the draft this year has a higher ceiling than Robinson. If his pass protection can be developed, Robinson will be less Smith and more Orlando Pace.

3. Jacksonville Jaguars: Blake Bortles, QB, Central Florida

The grade: B
Alfie Crow breaks down the Jaguars' selection of Blake Bortles. What does this pick means for the rest of Jacksonville's draft?

The risk: Blake Bortles still has some developing to do. He needs to step into his throws more often and get back to driving the ball down the field. He may not be ready to start right away.

The reward: The Jaguars pulled the trigger on a quarterback, the biggest need on their roster. General manager Dave Caldwell identified his guy and didn't hesitate to take him off the board. Bortles has the most upside of any quarterback in this class, and the Jaguars can sit him at first while Chad Henne starts the season.

4. Buffalo Bills: Sammy Watkins, WR, Clemson

The grade: C+

The risk: The reason this choice is graded this low is the cost. Giving up a first-round pick next year is a big gamble for the Bills to move up five spots in the draft. If the Bills have a bad record next season, this is a crushing amount to give up.

The reward: At the least, Watkins helps improve one of the NFL's worst passing offenses. Watkins should become the No. 1 receiver the Bills don't have. There's little Watkins can't do at wide receiver. At best, Watkins can help push the Buffalo offense over the top and make the choice of E.J. Manuel in the first round last year worth it.

5. Oakland Raiders: Khalil Mack, OLB, Buffalo

The grade: A-

The risk: The only risk here for the Raiders is that Khalil Mack doesn't adjust to a different level of competition. It's a minor risk. At the very least, Mack should be a solid player for the Raiders.

The reward: Mack fits Oakland's defense perfectly and will provide the pass rush the Raiders desperately need. He was also the best player on the board for Oakland.

Reaction to Picks

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

The grade: A

The risk: The biggest risk here is whatever argument some may have about filling other needs on the Falcons' roster.

The reward: Matt Ryan has a bona fide left tackle, one who meets a big need for the team as well as great value at the sixth spot in the draft. Not trading up looks like the smart play here.

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

The grade: A

The risk: The only questionable part of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers taking Mike Evans is that he's such a similar player to Vincent Jackson. Will Evans be able to get separation without elite speed?

The reward: Evans and Jackson will be a tough pair of receivers to cover. Outside of Jackson, the Buccaneers didn't have much in the way of weapons for Josh McCown to work with.

8. Cleveland Browns: Justin Gilbert, CB, Oklahoma State

The grade: B-

The risk: At Oklahoma State, Gilbert was never quite the sum of his impressive parts. He's obviously a highly athletic player with good hands. But he was often inconsistent with his play and doesn't have great technique. In some ways, he's the anti-Joe Haden.

The reward: Maybe it's a good thing that Gilbert is something of an anti-Haden. If speedy receivers give Haden any trouble, Gilbert can pick them up. Even better, adding Gilbert moves Buster Skrine to the slot where he's a much better player. Head coach Mike Pettine's defense requires two good outside corners and that's what Gilbert gives him.

9. Minnesota Vikings: Anthony Barr, OLB, UCLA

The grade: B

The risk: Anthony Barr is an incomplete pass rusher and needs to develop some counter moves. He's an incredible athlete, but he is still learning how to play linebacker.

The reward: Barr is a high-upside player with the potential to develop into an impact pass rusher for the Vikings. With what Minnesota will ask him to do, Barr could find success early. He's going to be a handful off the edge. Plus, the Vikings got an extra pick by trading down with the Browns. And they were just getting started.

10. Detroit Lions: Eric Ebron, TE, North Carolina

The grade: B


Photo credit: Adam Hunger-USA TODAY Sports

The risk: Ebron is little more than a glorified big wide receiver. He has questionable hands at times and doesn't have a good history in the red zone. Was offense really the issue for the Lions?

The reward: The smart move was not moving up for a receiver. Ebron also does enough in other areas of the field where his red zone issues shouldn't be as big of a deal. Besides, that's why Detroit has Calvin Johnson and, to a extremely lesser extent, Joseph Fauria.

11. Tennessee Titans: Taylor Lewan, OT, Michigan

The grade: D

The risk: Taylor Lewan has run into a few incidents off the field and was just average as a senior.

The reward: Lewan has an ideal build for the position and could develop into a franchise tackle for the Titans. They needed to upgrade the offensive line, so they took the top player on their board.

12. New York Giants: Odell Beckham Jr., WR, LSU

The grade: B

The risk: Beckham is a good receiver and an even better athlete. But he's really similar in style to Victor Cruz.

The reward: With Beckham and Cruz, the Giants should have one of the NFC's better wide receiver corps. Like Cruz, Beckham can take the top off a defense, which should help improve the run game by keeping safeties honest.

13. St. Louis Rams: Aaron Donald, DT, Pittsburgh

The grade: A

The risk: Is there such thing as having too many great defensive linemen? If so, the Rams are risking doing that.

The reward: The St. Louis Rams now have arguably the NFL's best young defensive line. Aaron Donald is a terror on the inside and will fit perfectly in the Rams' defense. That's a scary unit to go up against.

14. Chicago Bears: Kyle Fuller, CB, Virginia Tech

The grade: B-

The risk: Chicago had its choice of safeties and passed on the position to take Fuller. Chicago's quagmire at safety continues.

The reward: Fuller has a chance to become a No. 1 corner in Chicago and will help improve a middling pass defense.

15. Pittsburgh Steelers: Ryan Shazier, LB, Ohio State

The grade: C

The risk: The Steelers had bigger needs than linebacker, and the fit with Ryan Shazier is a weird one. He'll need to get bigger to play inside, and he's not a strong fit for outside linebacker.

The reward: Shazier is athletically gifted and has a ton of potential. He blew up at the combine and put together a great season at Ohio State. If the Steelers find a way to utilize him effectively, they could have a solid player.

16. Dallas Cowboys: Zack Martin, OT/G, Notre Dame

The grade: B
The Cowboys passed on Johnny Football at No. 16. Will they look for Tony Romo's heir apparent in Round 2? Dave Halperin offers his insight.

The risk: Although offensive line was a big need for the Cowboys, they need to address the defense. There were a few pass rushers available with the 16th pick and Dallas ignored them.

The reward: Remember when Dallas had what many considered to be one of the league's worst offensive lines? A couple draft classes later and it's becoming a strength of the team. Owner Jerry Jones wisely played it safe and chose to protect his franchise quarterback instead of looking for a new one.

17. Baltimore Ravens: C.J. Mosley, LB, Alabama

The grade: B

The risk: The Ravens had much bigger needs than inside linebacker coming into this draft. Who will catch passes from Joe Flacco, and more importantly, who will keep him on his feet?

The reward: Baltimore now has one of the best group of linebackers in the NFL. Mosley is a perfect fit for its defense and should impact the game from day one.

18. New York Jets: Calvin Pryor, S, Louisville

The grade: B

The risk: Pryor's overly physical and aggressive playing style sometimes gets him burned. If a safety gets burned in the NFL, that often leads to a touchdown for the offense.

The reward: Pryor gives head coach Rex Ryan the big-play defensive back currently absent from the roster. Pryor can set the tone in the back half breaking up passes or knocking ball carriers out.

19. Miami Dolphins: Ja'Wuan James, OT, Tennessee

The grade: B

The risk: Ja'Wuan James was a bit of a reach based on our board, but it's tough to fault the Dolphins for addressing a need. James didn't play left tackle in college, but he won't have to in Miami either.

The reward: Offensive line was the biggest need for the Dolphins entering the draft, and James should help fix the problem. He has plenty of length and the skill set to contibute early.

20. New Orleans Saints: Brandin Cooks, WR, Oregon State

The grade: C+


Photo credit: Elsa

The risk: The pick isn't a terrible one and Cooks is a good player. But giving up a third-rounder to move up for him is a gamble, especially if you live by the notion that Drew Brees can make any receiver look good.

The reward: Even at his size, Cooks has the ability to become a No. 1 receiver whenever Marques Colston leaves. He's one of the more dynamic players in the draft and is a threat to score anytime he touches the ball.

21. Green Bay Packers: Ha'Sean Clinton-Dix, S, Alabama

The grade: A

The risk: There isn't much risk taking a player like Ha'Sean Clinton-Dix at No. 21 in the first round.

The reward: The Packers addressed their biggest need with the best safety in the draft. Clinton-Dix also happens to grade out as a top-10 player on our big board. He will change the Packers defense immediately.

22. Cleveland Browns: Johnny Manziel, QB, Texas A&M

The grade: A-

The risk: Manziel looks so much like Brownie the Elf that the team brings back the goofy mascot. Or, Manziel gets broken in half by Haloti Ngata or Geno Atkins.

The reward: Savior! Franchise quarterback! Maybe Manziel can convince LeBron James to come back to Cleveland! Too much? The value for Manziel was good and the Browns didn't give up much to go get him.

23. Kansas City Chiefs: Dee Ford, DE, Auburn

The grade: C+
The selection of Dee Ford was a surprising move by Kansas City. Joel Thorman explains what this pick means for the Chiefs.

The risk: Dee Ford is a bit undersized and tends to be a bit of a one-trick pony as a pass rusher. He relies a lot on snap anticipation and may not be able to do that as often in the NFL.

The reward: The Chiefs continue to add depth to their defensive line and their pass rush. If Ford develops, Kansas City will have a dangerous defense.

24. Cincinnati Bengals: Darqueze Dennard, CB, Michigan State

The grade: B+

The risk: Dennard doesn't really blow you away in any particular area, he's just good across the board. Does that make him a great all-around corner or just a good one?

The reward: Dennard could become the second coming of Leon Hall. He's a physical cornerback who can match up with the likes of Cleveland's Josh Gordon but is quick enough to handle Pittsburgh's Antonio Brown.

25. San Diego Chargers: Jason Verrett, CB, TCU

The grade: A+

The risk: Jason Verrett carries some durability risks and is a bit undersized, but those should be minor concerns.

The reward: The Chargers landed the top-ranked cornerback on our board and addressed a huge hole on their defense. Verrett isn't just a slot cornerback. He can be a shutdown guy on the outside due to his quick feet and incredible ball skills.

26. Philadelphia Eagles: Marcus Smith, DE/OLB, Louisville

The grade: C

The risk: Philadelphia moved down once to get Smith and frankly could have moved down again to get him. What's worse is Smith may not do a lot to improve the Eagles' pass defense, one of the worst in the NFL.

The reward: Smith's presence as a pass rusher makes quarterbacks get rid of the ball faster, which will only help the defensive backs.

27. Arizona Cardinals: Deone Bucannon, S, Washington State

The grade: B+

The risk: The Cardinals decided to pass on Jimmie Ward. That's the riskiest part of this pick.

The reward: Deone Bucannon is a well-rounded safety prospect who most expected to come off the board in the second round. He's worth the pick here, though, and the Cardinals were able to collect picks while moving down to draft him.

28. Carolina Panthers: Kelvin Benjamin, WR, Florida State

The grade: C-

The risk: The hope is Benjamin's hands – particularly on routine throws – are not an issue. The reality is he drops easy throws. Knocking this grade down further is the fact it doesn't address the offensive line.

The reward: Benjamin is a boom-or-bust selection and if he booms his talent is limitless. He's arguably the most physically gifted receiver in the class and could develop into a good target for Cam Newton.

29. New England Patriots: Dominique Easley, DT, Florida

The grade: A

The risk: The obvious risk with Dominique Easley is that he has torn his ACL twice. Can he stay healthy enough to make an impact in the NFL?

The reward: If he hadn't gotten injured this season, Dominique Easley very well could have been a top-10 pick in this draft. He was one of the most dominant players in college football before getting injured and should be an ideal fit in New England's defense.

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

The grade: B+
David Fucillo breaks down how the selection of Ward impacts the rest of the 49ers' draft.

The risk: For the second straight year, the 49ers took a safety in the first round. The only risk there is not being able to address other positions with those high draft choices.

The reward: The 49ers have now solidified the safety position with two players who complement one another well. Jimmie Ward is outstanding in coverage and could even play slot corner in certain packages if the 49ers see fit.

31. Denver Broncos: Bradley Roby, CB, Ohio State

The grade: B

The risk: There are some character things with Roby that will need to be monitored. Much worse, though, is his undisciplined play on the field. Denver also has some holes on the offensive line that could have been addressed.

The reward: If Roby's potential reaches his talent, he's the best cornerback in the draft. He should pair nicely with free agent signing Aqib Talib.

32. Minnesota Vikings: Teddy Bridgewater, QB, Louisville

The grade: A+


Photo credit: Brad Penner, USA Today Sports

The risk: There is a reason Bridgewater fell this far, though the greater NFL Draft coverage community has no idea why.

The reward: The Vikings only had to give up a second- and fourth-round pick to get Bridgewater. For us, Bridgewater is the draft's top quarterback and a true franchise player. To get him at No. 32 is sort of ridiculous.