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The Notebook: New players, new directions

The dust has settled on the NFL Draft, and a few teams are all set to turn things around this year. Retired NFL defensive end Stephen White looks at the direction teams took with their new players and also identifies a few sleepers from the late rounds.

Bob Levey

SB Nation 2014 NFL Draft Scouting Reports

Last week's Notebook focused on the first round of the 2014 NFL Draft. Picking up where we left off, this week I want to talk about the direction some teams are going with the picks they made through the whole thing. I also included some players picked on the last day of the draft that I pegged as real sleepers who could surprise teams in the near future.

St. Louis Rams

The St. Louis Rams put together one of their best drafts in recent memory. After a strong first round grabbing arguably the top offensive tackle and the top interior defensive lineman, they drafted one hell of a secondary player in Lamarcus Joyner and Tre Mason, one of the most gifted running backs in the draft. Since head coach Jeff Fisher's arrival in St. Louis, the secondary has not been a strong point. I can see Joyner being a bigger, stronger Ronde Barber type who should help them get better from day one.

Mason is a tough inside runner with good feet and vision as well as a great burst. He should provide a great change of pace to the backs already on the roster. Clearly the Rams are looking to take a jump to the top of the NFC West, and the four players they selected in the first three rounds are going to go a long way in helping them accomplish that goal.

Houston Texans

For as much as the Texans supposedly considered trading out of the top pick, their selection of Jadeveon Clowney put them on a track to remodel the front of their defense. They couldn't have believed in their wildest dreams that they would be able to add both Clowney and Louis Nix III, the best pure 3-4 nose tackle in the draft, on the first two days of the draft. They also nabbed the best guard in the draft, UCLA's Xavier Su'a-Filo, in the second round and C.J. Fiedorowicz, a damn good tight end, in the third round along with Nix. That's one hell of a haul in the first two days for a team that obviously needed it after a debacle of a season in 2013.

Oakland Raiders

For the first time in a long time I can't find a reason to complain about any of the Raiders' picks in the first three rounds. They grabbed Derek Carr in the second round to be their quarterback of the future. Then, they took Gabe Jackson, one of the best guards in the draft. They have a lot of work to do to become a competitive team in the AFC West with the Broncos and Chiefs at the top of the division, but the Raiders are off to a great start.

Atlanta Falcons

After the Falcons went into the shitter last season, it's apparent that they are looking for a quick turnaround. Their second-round selection of defensive lineman Ra'Shede Hageman could pay big dividends, helping improve a defense that couldn't stop anybody last year. He has the potential to be a monster if he puts it all together.

Safety Dezmen Southward may end up being a force on the backend, and they are going to need the defense to carry its share of the weight for once to return to the top of the NFC South. It's no secret that the Falcons' defense was piss-poor last season. These two guys can be cornerstones of a major turnaround on that side of the ball going forward.

Jacksonville Jaguars

The Jaguars gave Blake Bortles some help on the second day of the draft. I'm much more of an Allen Robinson fan than I am Marqise Lee, but both second-rounders should give Bortles pretty good targets down the field. Offensive guard Brandon Linder may be able to start right away, giving Bortles the kind of time he will need to get through all of his progressions. I'm still dubious about the Bortles selection, but at least the Jags recognized that he is going to need a lot of help if he is going to be successful. Their second-day moves are a step in the right direction.

Not only do I expect Storm Johnson to make the roster, but I also think he'll be the starting running back soon. I'm not sold on Toby Gerhart as a lead back. I have no idea how Johnson fell all the way to the seventh round. Johnson's a strong runner with good vision who can make people miss. I know he didn't run a fast 40 time, but he's a solid all-around back, the kind teams tend to lean on over the long haul. Getting him in the seventh round could turn out to be a stroke of genius.

Bigger and faster

The Bucs are trying to replicate the Bears' offense. First, they took Mike Evans in the first round to pair him with Vincent Jackson, giving them two tall receivers out wide who can go up and get the ball. Austin Seferian-Jenkins gives them that tall, big-bodied tight end to block and work the middle of the field on passing downs. In the third round, they took what appeared to be the best player available on their board, Charles Sims. He's a Matt Forte clone, a dual-threat weapon running and catching the ball. These moves should go a long way in helping Josh McCown recreate the success he had at the end of last season in Chicago while subbing for an injured Jay Cutler, using weapons very similar to the ones he had with the Bears.

The Steelers seem to be making a concerted effort to become a faster football team. They've no doubt heard the complaints that they look "old" when they play. I don't necessarily agree with the fit of all three of their selections in the first two days of the draft, but there is no doubt that first-round selection linebacker Ryan Shazier and running back Dri Archer have some major league wheels. The one guy who seems to fit perfectly for what they usually want to do on defense is second-round pick defensive lineman Stephon Tuitt. He's not a speed demon but does provide a much-needed injection of athletic ability to their defensive line.

Rich getting richer

As usual, the Ravens and general manager Ozzie Newsome just know how to play the draft game almost better than everybody else. It's amazing how they manage to accumulate players who fit their schemes perfectly without ever seeming to reach or deviate from their board. For them to have inside linebacker C.J. Mosley fall to them in the first round might be considered lucky. When defensive lineman Timmy Jernigan and safety Terrence Brooks fell into their laps in the second and third rounds, you start to wonder if they have some kind of crystal ball. All three players fill a need and all they had to do was wait around for their pick. Simply amazing.

The 49ers were playing with house money this year having accumulated a ton of draft picks and used them for maximum effect. They got another big, bruising running back in Carlos Hyde. They also parlayed one of their three third-round picks into Chris Borland, probably the second-best 3-4 inside linebacker in the draft. With the way the 49ers have drafted the last few years, some of their second-team guys would be starting in other places ... talk about a team built to withstand injuries and potential suspensions. I think we better get used to the 49ers being one of the top teams in the league for the foreseeable future if they continue to draft this way.

Third-day steals

I'm not going to try to bullshit you like I know most of the players who were selected on the third day of the draft. That's just too many players, some of whom played at colleges I haven't even ever heard of. What I can tell you is which picks I am familiar with that were also steals in my estimation. And by steal I mean the players were taken lower than where they should have been, they impress me as being a good player, and they fit their new team's scheme.

QB Logan Thomas, Cardinals, fourth round, No. 120

This was the perfect marriage. If Thomas is going to succeed in the NFL, there aren't many places where it would be more likely to happen than with Bruce Arians in Arizona. Arians' offensive scheme is made for big, athletic quarterbacks who possess big arms. The Cardinals have Carson Palmer, so they won't have to rush Thomas onto the field which should help in his development.


Photo credit: Norm Hall

Think about Carson Palmer's play last year. Every time I have that picture in my mind, even a Logan Thomas skeptic like me says, "Thomas should be able to do all of that, only better." Yeah, it's true that Thomas is a major project, but he definitely has franchise player potential in that offense.

OT Seantrel Henderson, Bills, seventh round, No. 237

I have to begrudgingly acknowledge that the Bills getting Henderson's fat, outta shape, quitting ass in the seventh round is a major league steal. Even though he has done a top-notch job of pissing away his opportunity to play in the NFL, you simply can't ignore a man who is 6'7, 331 pounds with almost 35-inch long arms who can cover 40 yards in 5.04 seconds. Most of us have seen this kid play well, hell, maybe even outstanding at times during his career. If the light would ever come on for him and he actually committed himself to being the best he could be, this wouldn't be a steal, it'd be highway robbery! But with reports that Henderson quit during a workout for teams this spring, I just wouldn't hold my breath on that.

Sad thing about it is even if he only commits 50 percent, the worst he would be is probably an NFL starter for years, especially since offensive tackle is a position the Bills needed to upgrade anyway.

RB Tyler Gaffney, Panthers, sixth round, No. 204

Well hell, if they aren't going to get more than one offensive lineman, then at least they got another running back which will help after the other two are banged up from taking too many hits.

Jokes aside, Gaffney is perfect for the Panthers' one-cut, downhill running game. Jonathan Stewart looked to be the perfect complement to DeAngelo Williams a couple years ago, but a potent one-two punch hasn't materialized as of yet. Gaffney may well assume that role not long into his first training camp this summer.

DE Ben Gardner, Cowboys, seventh round, No. 231

I wonder if it was his short arms (just under 31 inches) that dropped Gardner down boards. It won't matter because Cowboys defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli will likely fall in love with his effort and intensity. That Gardner is a hell of an athlete with pretty good hands technique makes me believe that he will, at the very least, be a part of the Cowboys' pass-rush packages at some point during the upcoming season. I would also be willing to bet that he will be very productive in that role.

DT Caraun Reid, Lions, fifth round, No. 158

I noticed Reid right away during the Senior Bowl practices because he was not fucking around in one-on-one pass-rush drills. As a matter of fact, he was kinda putting on a show, but it was hard for people to notice because Aaron Donald was putting on an even better show. Reid didn't look that good, but let me tell you, I think he is going to be a pretty productive pass rusher this year in Detroit after going back and watching some film. Detroit has to make a decision on Nick Fairley next year, so Reid is likely going to get every opportunity to show the front office that he can hold it down if Fairley were to leave. Perfect situation for him and the team.

WR Jeremy Gallon, Patriots, seventh round, No. 244

He's only 5'7, but the Michigan product recorded an almost 40-inch vertical leap. I can see Gallon becoming a quality slot receiver for the Patriots, running a lot of those short crossing routes to great effect. He isn't scared of going across the middle and he is a decent runner after the catch for his size. Perfect kind of underneath receiver for that offense.


Photo credit: Matt Kartozian-USA TODAY Sports

WR Tevin Reese, Chargers, seventh round, No. 240

Yeah, Reese is skinny as hell, but the kid makes big plays down the field when he's healthy. The Chargers aren't afraid to throw the ball vertically. Reese gives Philip Rivers another target who can get deep in a hurry. He will have to gain weight to contribute on offense this season.

WR Kevin Norwood, Seahawks, fourth round, No. 123

I don't know what the knock was on Norwood, but I loved him in college and thought he was one of the top receivers in this draft. He was consistent  and always got open downfield, though his quarterback didn't always get the ball to him on target. Norwood also has good size for the position at 6'2, 198 pounds. I could definitely see Norwood taking over Golden Tate's spot from day one.

QB Zach Mettenberger, Titans, sixth round, No. 178

It's obvious that Mettenberger would have gone much higher than this without the knee injury. If he is healthy by the time training camp opens, I would fully expect for him to compete and win the No. 2 job behind Jake Locker, perhaps even start at some point this season.

RB Lache Seastrunk, Washington, sixth round, No. 186

I loved Seastrunk at Baylor. He will definitely make the team and be Alfred Morris' primary backup. He's faster on the field than his 40 time and has the uncanny ability to break arm tackles like Morris. I envision Seastrunk as a very nice weapon for that Washington offense.