By Jeff Risdon
I know, college football season hasn’t even started yet. So why put out a mock draft now?
There are a couple of reasons. First, consider this a sort of “watch list” for players who I believe could wind up as first-round picks next May. I haven’t really perused other mock drafts to this point, so the players populating this list are talents I believe are either already highly regarded or will emerge to that level in the ’14 season.
Second, it’s always fun to look ahead and try to project where NFL teams will be nine months from now. What might they be looking for in the ’15 draft? Obviously that’s quite difficult to predict, as several teams will have coaching and front office changes.
The order here is based on current (as of 8/18/14) season win total over/under lines in ascending order. In cases of ties, I broke those ties with my own forecast for which team will win more games. The draft order here is technically impossible, as it does not account for division winners and playoff seeding. Get past that, folks…
1. Oakland Raiders: Marcus Mariota, QB, Oregon. Sure they just drafted Derek Carr in the second round. They cannot afford to look past a superior overall prospect and dual-threat weapon like Mariota. He needs some passing polish, but the physical tools are all there for Mariota to be Colin Kaepernick’s equal, if not superior. He’s just a junior, so it’s far from a given that he declares.
2. Jacksonville Jaguars: Ifo Ekpre-Olomu, CB, Oregon. Ducks go 1-2 in this premature edition. IEO, as he’s known in scouting shorthand, enters the season as my personal No. 1 overall player. He’s got size, speed, vision, instincts and playmaking flair. He has a chance to be the best CB in the NFL at some point, something that cannot be said of any first-rounders in the last 2-3 drafts.
3. Cleveland Browns: Sammie Coates, WR, Auburn. He’s a downfield demon with legit 4.3 speed, impressive for a rocked-up 6’2”, 200+ pounder. Coates is dripping with potential. If he shows he can improve his footwork on routes and concentration over the middle, he’s going to be the first wideout taken. The Browns need every weapon they can get for Johnny Football, and character concerns are going to matter. Coates
4. Cleveland (from Buffalo Bills): Vic Beasley, Edge, Clemson. The booty for dealing the pick that became Sammy Watkins to Buffalo is the top pass-rushing prospect heading into the season. Beasley has a lightning first step and great closing burst to the ball. He fits better as a 3-4 OLB as he appears fairly maxed out at about 245 pounds.
5. Minnesota Vikings: Andrus Peat, OT, Stanford. The Vikings already have a solid pair of tackles in Matt Kalil and Phil Loadholt, but Peat could be too skilled to pass on here. He’s got outstanding length and quick feet, a natural left tackle. The Vikings do like to trade picks, too…
6. Tennessee Titans: Leonard Williams, DT, USC. He’s the closest thing I’ve seen to Ndamukong Suh since the Lions stud was dominating at Nebraska. A violently strong interior presence with the athleticism to play anywhere along the line, the rising junior has everything NFL teams want. The Titans have a sturdy young line with Jurrell Casey, Mike Martin and Sammie Lee Hill, but Williams gives them real star potential up front. Have to think that if they’re picking this high they’ll look strongly at a QB, however.
7. Houston Texans: Jameis Winston, QB, Florida State. It might seem inconceivable for the reigning Heisman winner and field general of the national champs is not a top 5 pick, let alone No. 1 overall. I think he’s a victim of hyper-scrutiny about his character, but also his surprisingly spotty mechanics and accuracy. He can--and I suspect he will--iron the on-field issues out, and that should be enough to convince the Texans to trust him with the keys to the franchise.
8. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Brandon Scherff, OT, Iowa. The Bucs offensive line is in the process of a major turnover, and Scherff has the potential to be the centerpiece of a rebuilt front. Physical and relentless, he’s likely a right tackle at the next level, but could be an awesome one. When I graded him for the ’14 draft he came out ahead of No. 11 overall pick Taylor Lewan, a similar style of player. Scherff isn’t as athletic, however.
9. New York Jets: Jaelen Strong, WR, Arizona State. If you liked Mike Evans in the ’14 draft, Strong is your kind of receiver. Big and strong (no pun intended) with a huge catch radius, the 6’4” junior is a better route runner than Evans already. He’s a viable potential No. 1 receiver, something the Jets could pair nicely with a talented No. 2 in Eric Decker.
10. St. Louis Rams: Brett Hundley, QB, UCLA. If the Rams miss out on the playoffs once again, it’s likely Sam Bradford’s fault. That means it’s time for a change, and that change is the rangy Bruins junior. He’s a divisive prospect already, as some (I raise my hand high) worry about his accuracy as much as they are tantalized by his huge arm and great size.
11. Washington Ethnic Slurs: Landon Collins, S, Alabama. Washington drafted a pair of safeties in 2013, but Philip Thomas and Bacarri Rambo have yet to emerge past decidedly average journeymen Ryan Clark and Brandon Meriweather. Collins is a do-it-all safety with strong tackling skills and solid instincts vs. the pass, giving them a long-term solution at a position of growing importance. Collins is just a junior.
12. Arizona Cardinals: Dante Fowler, DE/OLB, Florida. Fowler is a rising junior with freak closing speed and lateral quickness for a 275ish-pound edge player. He’s not afraid to get physical. If he can clean up his positional discipline and continue to wreak havoc in backfields, he could go a lot higher than 12th. I think the Cardinals are better than this slot, so for them to add another impact piece to their solid defense would be quite fortunate. Fowler and Calais Campbell would be a devastating DE/OLB duo to try and block.
13. New York Giants: Cedric Ogbuehi, OT, Texas A&M. Ogbuehi continues the strong line of premium tackles in College Station. He’s not quite as high-end as Luke Joeckel or Jake Matthews, but he’s a high-floor talent who is ready to start right out of the box at either tackle spot. The rebuild of the Giants offense continues by building up the front and adding skill position weapons in the next few rounds.
14. Miami Dolphins: Devante Parker, WR, Louisville. Long and strong, Parker proved he could make the tough catch from Teddy Bridgewater. Now he gets to break in a new QB at Louisville. His projected 4.55 speed waters down his draft stock a bit, but there might not be a better catcher of the football in the next draft. He’d make a great complement for Mike Wallace to help Ryan Tannehill’s progression in Miami.
15. Kansas City Chiefs: Ty Montgomery, WR, Stanford. A blazing speedster with reliable hands, Montgomery would immediately upgrade a Kansas City receiving corps that scares Chiefs fans more than it does opponents. In his junior season, he can elevate his stock by improving his footwork and selling his moves better.
16. Carolina Panthers: P.J. Williams, CB, Florida State. A fluid athlete with a very high football IQ, Williams will get a lot of exposure playing for the Seminoles. He can elevate himself higher than this if he makes more impact plays as a junior. He would immediately step into Carolina and be their No. 1 corner.
17. San Diego Chargers: Shilique Calhoun, Edge, Michigan State. He’s a fierce pass rusher with explosive athletic metrics, a perfect fit along a Chargers front that needs more sizzle off the edge. His ability to play both end and 3-4 outside backer gives the defense more options. The junior reminds me of Mario Williams.
18. Dallas Cowboys: Randy Gregory, Edge, Nebraska. Another player who is going to divide the draft community, Gregory has potential to be a dynamic edge rusher with a great first step. If he can even out some truly ugly ’13 game tape (Michigan, among others), the rising junior would bring speed and length to what appears to be a brutal Dallas defense.
19. Pittsburgh Steelers: Devin Funchess, TE/WR, Michigan. He’s a hybrid receiver along the lines of Eric Ebron or Tyler Eifert, a wideout in a tight end frame. The junior offers great potential as a seam-stretcher and giant slot presence. He could blossom with more consistent QB play, something he would get in Pittsburgh with Big Ben.
20. Atlanta Falcons: Todd Gurley, RB, Georgia. The two-year drought of first round running backs ends with the eminently talented Bulldogs junior. He will remind some of Steven Jackson, others of Marshawn Lynch. With Jackson nearing the end, the Falcons could add the local product to bolster and balance the Matt Ryan-centric offense.
21. Detroit Lions: La’el Collins, OT, LSU. A massive and punishing line presence, Collins offers the Lions options up front. LaAdrian Waddle and Riley Reiff are both versatile, which would allow Detroit to find the best combination to help fuel their high-powered offense. Yes, once again the Lions do not take a first-round corner…that’s what free agency is for.
22. Baltimore Ravens: Trae Waynes, CB, Michigan State. With Darqueze Dennard now a Bengal, the Ravens tap his Spartans mate to be their own shutdown corner. The rising junior has size and attitude, two attributes in high demand in the NFL today. Of all the picks I’ve made here, this is the one that is the most likely to actually come to fruition.
23. Chicago Bears: Derron Smith, S, Fresno State. Smith is a playmaking cover safety, something the Bears desperately need. He lacks size but doesn’t lack punch when he’s flying all over the field. He’d make a great fit for Chicago in the pass-happy NFC North, a division I think they win in 2014 despite a still-leaky defense.
24. Philadelphia Eagles: Noah Spence, Edge, Ohio State. The rising junior performed at his best against top competition, and he’s an impact player against both the run and pass. His game is similar to Kyle Van Noy from the ’14 draft, and Spence has the similar lack of power and strength that he can build up to improve his stock.
25. Cincinnati Bengals: Corey Robinson, OT, South Carolina. Bengals fans are used to a former SEC behemoth anchoring the offensive line. As Andrew Whitworth approaches his mid-30s, Cincinnati reloads with the 6’7”, 330ish Robinson. He’s still fairly raw with his technique, but you can’t coach his length and brute power.
26. Indianapolis Colts: Ellis McCarthy, DT, UCLA. The junior’s upside is similar to the good Nick Fairley, a disruptive gap penetrator with both power and quickness. McCarthy has to be reminded he’s big at times, but guys his size (6’4”, 325) with his movement skills from a major program typically don’t last long on draft boards.
27. New Orleans Saints: Ramik Wilson, ILB, Georgia. A tightly-wound tackling machine with decent range, Wilson would make a great fit in Rob Ryan’s aggressive, oft-unconventional defense. He could lead the nation in tackles in 2014, but his best NFL attribute might be his cover skills in the short and intermediate range.
28. San Francisco 49ers: Deontay Greenberry, WR, Houston. Every year there are a couple of surprise first round picks, and it’s often the 49ers who make one. Greenberry is a long, speedy monster along the lines of Dez Bryant or Demaryius Thomas. He needs to show his strength more frequently, and then the junior can take the NFL draft process by storm.
29. Green Bay Packers: Alvin Dupree, Edge, Kentucky. Dupree is a player I think will blossom going forward as he gets stronger and learns how to better use his hands. He’s already physical and has nifty feet for a 260-something pound edge rusher, and he’s also shown he is fluid in space. Great fit for a zone blitzing team like Dom Capers’ Packers, who can use him opposite Clay Matthews.
30. New England Patriots: Amari Cooper, WR, Alabama. This is probably lower than you’ll see the talented Cooper in most mock drafts, but his lack of any elite trait will water down his stock. That doesn’t mean the Patriots won’t be getting a potentially great receiver, as his sticky hands, route savvy and professional polish are all already evident.
31. Seattle Seahawks: Rashad Greene, WR, Florida State. The player Greene most reminds me of is former Seahawk Golden Tate, who took the money and ran to Detroit. He’s comfortable lining up in the slot or outside, has superb hands and body control and he can make tacklers miss. He’s not as fast at Tate, but the reigning Super Bowl champs can use his NFL-ready game.
32. Denver Broncos: Josh Shaw, CB, USC. The onetime Florida star recruit has the traits of a hybrid corner/safety a la Kenny Vaccaro or Calvin Pryor, two recent first round picks. His high football IQ and great burst out of breaks should translate well to the NFL. Denver needs to keep reloading secondary talent.
Next 10 players picked: Shawn Oakman, DE, Baylor; Marcus Peters, CB, Washington; Cameron Erving, OT, Florida State; Denzel Perryman, LB, Miami; Ty Smabrailo, OT, Colorado State; Stefon Diggs, WR, Maryland; Jordan Jenkins, Edge, Georgia; Reese Dismukes, C, Auburn; Shaq Thompson, LB, Washington; Christian Covington, DT, Rice
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By Jeff Risdon
I’m not a big fan of issuing draft grades right after the fact. And with so much negativity floating around, I opted to stay on the positive side of the coin.
Here are my favorite draft selections for each team.
Logan Thomas, QB, Virginia Tech--the fourth round pick (#120 overall) wound up in the best possible situation for his NFL potential. He’s got better athletic potential and a better arm than #3 overall pick Blake Bortles, and there are times (the Miami game comes to mind) where Thomas looks like a legit NFL star. Not starter, star.
He was often really, really bad too, and that’s why many groaned when the Cardinals took Thomas in the fourth round. But Bruce Arians uses an offensive system that plays to his downfield strengths, and there’s no pressure to rush his progress. Give him two years of advanced coaching and encouragement, and the Cardinals just might have themselves a franchise quarterback. The reward is worth the risk here.
Jake Matthews, T, Texas A&M--This was a toughie, as they made some very good value picks and fits. Yet Matthews was my No. 1 player in the entire draft, and the Falcons landed him with the sixth overall selection. He’s instantly the best starter on what has been a problematic line for the last couple of years. He’ll be protecting Matt Ryan and clearing holes for another pick I really liked, 4th round RB Devonta Freeman. Matthews is a can’t-miss prospect for a team that desperately needed one.
Crockett Gillmore, TE, Colorado State--Gillmore is a player I really grew to like after seeing him in person at Shrine Game week and Senior Bowl week. He didn’t have a lot to do at CSU, but in those two weeks I saw a sure-handed receiver who could use his big frame to get separation and reach out to pluck the ball from the air. He’s a solid in-line blocker and he can chip and release nicely. Gillmore projects as a very good second tight end, something the team needed. They could have done a lot worse with the 99th pick.
Preston Brown, LB, Louisville--I do really like adding Sammy Watkins to the mix, but I’m not sure they had to give up as much as they did to get him. Brown, on the other hand, is a strong value in the third round. He should be able to line up inside or outside. When I watched Louisville film to break down Eagles 1st round pick Marcus Smith, all I saw was Brown making plays all over the field. He and Kiko Alonso make a very nice young LB tandem for a team that should be on the rise.
Kelvin Benjamin, WR, Florida State--The giant wideout was the epicenter of some very divisive opinions in the scouting community. I happen to value his athletic gifts, and think his detractors ignored a lot of very strong plays he made under pressure for a championship team. He landed in the perfect spot; Cam Newton has the same style as Jameis Winston and Benjamin will get every chance to shine, and he wasn’t a reach in the late first round. Benjamin is my too-early projection for Offensive Rookie of the Year. Having said that, it also wouldn’t be a surprise if he washed out a la James Hardy either.
Kyle Fuller, CB, Virginia Tech--The Bears absolutely had to upgrade the defense. I like all of their first three picks; Ego Ferguson and Will Sutton are both limited role players, but the Bears sorely needed those roles filled. Fuller has a chance to be a very good cornerback, and he fits schematically. I also like that they didn’t reach to fill the gaping hole at safety, sticking to their board with the higher-end player. The Bears had one of the best drafts of 2014.
Darqueze Dennard, CB, Michigan State--Cincinnati landed my 16th-rated player overall and top CB on my board with the 24th pick. Aside from the value they got, Dennard’s aggressive style fits well both within the context of their defense (assuming they keep a similar scheme with the change in coordinator) and in the AFC North. Jeremy Hill could wind up being a very good power RB for them, too, though I think he went too high.
Johnny Manziel, QB, Texas A&M--I wrote earlier about my mixed feelings on their tumultuous first round. The more I look at the reaction to Manziel and how he’s reinvigorated my hometown, the more I support the decision. He’s a unique player that represents a stark contrast to the “same old Browns”. Johnny Football is the face of the franchise and seems quite capable of handling that pressure. I would not bet against him.
Ahmad Dixon, S, Baylor--This one is all about relative value. They badly needed a safety, and Dixon could have gone at least two rounds earlier. He’s stiff in coverage and tested poorly in workouts, but he’s still immediately the second-best safety on the Cowboys roster. They got him with the 248th overall pick deep in the 7th round. I do like Demarcus Lawrence’s potential as an edge rusher, too.
Bradley Roby, CB, Ohio State--Roby is the top choice with a condition: the Broncos have to get the 2012 version and not the 2013 one. He’s got very similar skills and upside to Joe Haden, who just signed a monster contract extension with the Browns. The Broncos filled their top need with the best value on the board at that spot. It’s risky but should pay off.
Kyle Van Noy, LB, BYU--The Lions aggressively pursued the versatile Van Noy, trading up a few spots in the second round to reunite him with his former Cougars roommate, Ezekiel Ansah. He is a perfect fit for the new defensive scheme, which will play more 3-LB sets and blitzes. His biggest weakness--sifting through traffic--is mitigated by the Lions’ strong defensive line in front him. Van Noy could be very, very good right away.
Green Bay Packers
Khyri Thornton, DT, Southern Miss--Third-round pick Thornton is an odd fit on the surface. He’s a one-gap upfield penetrator who doesn’t tie up blockers well despite being a large man, and that tends to fit better in a 4-3 defense than Green Bay’s variable 3-4 front. Yet I love his energy and the reckless edge he brings. He’s a poor man’s Nick Fairley without the baggage, both off-field and in the midsection. Thornton is an agitating instigator of a defensive lineman, something this defense badly needed. I really like Davante Adams in the second round too, though he’s not apt to contribute much as a rookie.
Jadeveon Clowney, Edge, South Carolina--Houston had to be tempted by a quarterback, but they smartly held off and added the defensive prospect with the highest talent ceiling to hit the draft in the last 25 years. He’s not a sure thing, but passing on Clowney could have been as disastrous as passing on Dwayne Wade or Carmelo Anthony for Darko Milicic. Clowney could be the LeBron James of the NFL. Could be. You have to take that gamble with the #1 overall pick.
Donte Moncrief, WR, Ole Miss--I’m not going to lie here: I have major reservations about what GM Ryan Grigson has done in the last 15 months, and this draft did not help his cause. Moncrief is a great value with the 90th overall pick, but he carries some risk. While he’s a dynamic athlete who looked like a first-round talent at times, he also has a lot of disturbingly lethargic and disinterested games too. A team with limited draft resources probably should have opted for a safer route, though if Moncrief is a hit, he’ll be a big hit. I’m optimistic he will.
Allen Robinson, WR, Penn State--The Jaguars took two wideouts in the second round, and I love both picks. Marqise Lee went earlier, and the USC receiver has a chance to be special if his knee gets healthy. Robinson came later in the round (61st overall) and should prove more than worthy of the trade up to nab him. His size and leaping ability nicely compensate for a lack of top-end speed, which Lee brings. I love that they got two receivers who complement one another so well. Now about that massive reach for a quarterback in the first round…
Kansas City Chiefs
Laurent Duvernay-Tardif, T, McGill--The 200th pick of the draft was a complete mystery to many, but for those of us who saw “Larry” in person at the Shrine Game practices, we know how good the giant Canuck can be. He was every bit as dominant in St. Pete as Terron Armstead, the 75th pick in 2013, was a year earlier. He’s light on his feet but very tough and strong. Once he learns the American game (Canada has different rules on the line), he can be an above-average starting left tackle. The Chiefs got him in the 6th round. I also like guard Zach Fulton from Tennessee, their other sixth rounder. KC could very well have landed two starters in that round.
Jordan Tripp, LB, Montana--The Dolphins had an interesting draft. I like a lot of their players, but they almost universally went about 15-20 picks higher than I liked. Not so with Tripp, whom I graded a solid 3rd round talent. They got him in the 5th, and he’s got a chance to be a solid starter if he can add some functional strength. Billy Turner in the third could wind up being better than first-rounder Ja’Wuan James, and I say that as someone who liked James too.
Teddy Bridgewater, QB, Louisville--Absolute jackpot pick. GM Rick Spielman was patient in watching Bridgewater fall, and then he pounced on the best quarterback in this draft by trading up into the 32nd pick. The best part is they don’t have to rush him onto the field if he isn’t quite ready, though I suspect he’ll be starting for Minnesota by Halloween and will be for a very long time. I like the Anthony Barr pick at 9, too, especially since they pilfered an extra fifth rounder from Cleveland and still got him. That’s good, because none of their Saturday picks might make the final 53-man roster.
New England Patriots
Jemea Thomas, DB, Georgia Tech--With their third 6th round pick, and I like all three of them, the Patriots scored with the versatile Thomas. He can play the nickel corner over the slot, but he also plays big enough to handle safety duties. He’s small and that limits his upside, but Jemea Thomas is a smart, quick-twitch football player. Guard Jon Halapio from Florida, the first of their 6th rounders, will start sooner than later too.
New Orleans Saints
Brandin Cooks, WR, Oregon State--Not only did the Saints get their replacement for Lance Moore, they just might have gotten their new #1 wideout. Cooks is smallish but freakishly quick, and he catches the ball effortlessly. He answered the speed questions, as silly as they seem in watching lots of Beavers tape, by running a 4.33 at the Combine. He should prove worthy of the move up to the 20th overall pick; he was not going to fall to 27th. The NFC South isn’t exactly crawling with defensive back talent, so he could be very good very soon.
New York Giants
Weston Richburg, C, Colorado State--I freely admit to a major bias here. Richburg was my favorite player in this entire draft, my prospect man crush. I even told him so when talking to him during Senior Bowl week, and he accepted it graciously. He’s a smart tactician who can play guard or center, and he adjusts on the fly to opponents as well as any center in the NFL right now. He helps fill one of the gaping holes along their lines. Side note: he was a high school teammate of Baltimore’s above entry, Crockett Gillmore.
New York Jets
Jace Amaro, TE, Texas Tech--Their second-round pick was rated much higher on my board than their first-rounder, safety Calvin Pryor. Amaro is a monster of a target on crossing and out routes, and he can lay out unsuspecting defenders as a blocker. You can pencil him in for 65-75 catches for 850-950 yards and 5-8 TDs every year. Fourth-round guard Dakota Dozier is a promising project, though he probably won’t contribute much as a rookie. Shaq Evans was a solid pick too.
Khalil Mack, LB, Buffalo--Their first four picks could all realistically emerge as quality starters by the middle of 2015, but only Mack has the potential to be great. No matter what they ask him to do--blitz, cover, play end, stuff the A-gap--Mack can do it all very well. Hopefully they unleash him quickly instead of playing it safe. I am a Derek Carr supporter, too.
Taylor Hart, DE, Oregon--The first pick of the fifth round could very well end up being a much better player than the man they took 26th overall, Marcus Smith. Hart is a smart, aggressive, strong end who disengages and chases very well for a 280-pound guy. Coach Chip Kelly knows what he’s got in him. I really like adding his Duck teammate, WR Josh Huff, in the third round too.
Jordan Zumwalt, LB, UCLA--He’s not a great player, but Zumwalt is a consummate Steeler. His throwback style and almost scary toughness scream Pittsburgh. I expected him to be a 4th round pick, but he slid to the sixth. He is the ying to first-round pick Ryan Shazier’s yang. I happen to like Shazier’s fit here too, as the Steelers are finally acknowledging their egregious lack of range in the back end of their defense. Wesley Johnson was a strong pick, too.
San Diego Chargers
Jason Verrett, CB, TCU--This is another great pick with a condition. Verrett is an outstanding, sticky man-coverage corner, but he’s got serious durability questions between his small frame and balls-out style. His fight/size of dog ratio is off the charts. As long as he stays healthy, the Chargers got themselves a very useful player they desperately lacked with their first round pick.
San Francisco 49ers
Marcus Martin, C, USC--I did an in-depth scouting report on Martin, which you can read here. He was a very fun player to study. Martin has some warts, namely a lack of strength and a bizarre lack of second-level vision, but everything wrong with him can be fixed with experience and good coaching. He could be the best guard from this draft class too, though I think he should stick to center. Good developmental pick in the third round for a team that didn’t have any pressing needs to address. Though I don’t issue draft grades, the Niners still earned no worse than an A-minus.
Kevin Norwood, WR, Alabama--The second of their three 4th round picks could very well be the only player the Seahawks picked who makes their active roster in 2014. While he lacks second-rounder Paul Richardson’s blazing jets, Norwood does every single other thing a receiver needs to do, including catch the ball, better that the one-dimensional Colorado Buffalo. Fourth-round LB Kevin Pierre-Louis has great athleticism that Pete Carroll can work with, though he’s smaller and weaker than some safeties.
St. Louis Rams
Greg Robinson, T, Auburn--This was not a no-brainer of a #2 overall pick, and I rated Jake Matthews higher, but Robinson was a smart choice and a better fit for the Rams. Coach Jeff Fisher cherishes his combativeness and truly devastating power, even if he will have some pass protection struggles. I really like 6th round corner E.J. Gaines, who completely erased #7 overall pick Mike Evans from the field at Missouri.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Austin Seferian-Jenkins, TE, Washington--The big tight end will make for a fantastic red zone target, and at his pro day he proved his athleticism came back after being asked to bulk up in 2013. ASJ is a great weapon at a position of dire need for the Bucs. First-rounder Mike Evans should wind up being a very good wide receiver, but I worry they’re going to ask him to do too much too soon.
Bishop Sankey, RB, Washington--Sankey is a great fit for the Titans, a very quick, efficient slasher with great hands out of the backfield. He should reliably move the chains. I like the concept of him running behind first-rounder Taylor Lewan, though they took the Michigan tackle a few spots higher than I preferred. Third round DT DaQuan Jones was a nice pick.
Washington Football Team
Zack Hocker, K, Arkansas--This probably comes off as a dis on the earlier picks, but I really do like their 7th round placekicker. He’s got a booming leg and should be a mainstay in Washington for years. Fourth-round corner Bashaud Breeland has major talent but fell because of some off-field concerns and spotty reliability. Third-rounder Morgan Moses has some tools. Did I mention how much I like Hocker?
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By Ron Marmalefsky
First impressions are not always the best impressions. That being said, no NFL draft would be complete without them. Most of us who study the draft have put in hundreds of hours of study over the past several months. We just can’t let this three day extravaganza go without speaking our minds.
Grading drafts before players ever play one down in the NFL is an inexact science. It can also be quite controversial. My own board is bound to be different from others, and players some of us like, others will not like. Some of the things I look for include the following: Did a team address most, if not all of their primary needs? Did a team leave higher rated talent on the board at the time they drafted? Did a team draft lower rated players at the position they drafted? Did a team get value with their pick, both early in the draft as well as on days two and three?
No grades will be presented here. That will be done later on once I have had more time to digest what happened these past three days. What follows is a brief summary for each team. How did each team manage their draft board and take advantage of the opportunities presented to them?
Please feel free to agree or disagree. I am more than happy to answer any and all questions. You can leave comments below or reach me on twitter @ronacesports, or via e-mail at email@example.com. Without further ado, here are my first impressions as I wrap up work on my 36th NFL draft!
Arizona Cardinals: I was worried about how Arizona was going to address needs along the offensive line. Carson Palmer has a quick release, masking some limitations up front. Arizona did not add anyone in this draft. I like the productive Bucannon and had him with a high 2nd round grade. Kareen Martin fills a need and so does John Brown as a #3 WR. I was hoping Arizona would draft a young QB, but Logan Thomas did not make my list of rated QB’s. Overall I was not impressed with how Arizona worked the draft board. Bucannon could be a special talent, but Niklas, Martin and Brown do not look like upper echelon players.
Atlanta Falcons: No team could have used Jadeveon Clowney more than Atlanta but the price to move up was too steep. Drafting OT Matthews is about as good, enabling Sam Baker to move from LT to RT. DE Hageman will help jump start a bottom five pass rush, but why stop with just one pass rusher? In my draft needs article I listed impact LB. Atlanta did not select a LB until pick 139 but finished with four LB’s in this draft! I gave safety Southward a 4th round grade and he was taken at pick 68, about 40-50 choices too high. Safety was a top five need and so was RB, and the Falcons did well do get the (lower) rated Southward and RB Freeman. I’d have gone pass rusher in rounds two and three before coming back to safety and RB. Because Shembo is a risk, and Allen and Sprull are much lower rated I would have added another OL and drafted two different LB’s.
Carolina Panthers: It’s hard to find a double digit win team with more critical roster holes than these Panthers. Every WR who caught a pass for them is gone. Stud OT Jordan Gross retired and two other OL left via free agency. The secondary has no standout talent. Many are knocking the pick for WR Benjamin but I believe my 9th rated WR fits nicely here as Cam Newton is more of a high ball thrower and Benjamin has the height to make a difference. I like DE Ealy’s pass rush potential but I can’t endorse the pick over CB or OL. OG Trai Turner should have stayed in school. In this case I like the focus but not the value. The same can be said for DB’s Boston and Benwikere. Boston was grossly overdrafted and Benwikere was listed as a 6th round nickel CB on my draft board. I’d keep Benjamin (although I’d have preferred Lee or Matthews) and RB Gaffney but would change the rest of their picks. In the end there would be two CB’s, two OL, two WR’s and RB Gaffney.
Chicago Bears: Chicago probably coveted DL Donald but he went to the Rams right before their pick. I like what they did in taking CB Fuller at 14. Four of their 1st five picks were for their defense. I like the focus with DL at 51 even though I had LSU’s Ferguson in the 3rd round range. DL Will Sutton had a down year in ’13 but his ceiling is far above his drafted position of 82. Chicago needed a short yardage RB and Carey could fit that role. Adding another DB works as well. This is the 2nd straight year the Bears have got it right on draft day, breaking a run of bottom five drafts. Even the move for my #2 punter was solid.
Dallas Cowboys: Dallas played it safe in this draft, going OL early and for the most part sticking to filling holes at the less glamorous positions on the field. OG/OT Martin made sense but trading up for Lawrence represented poor value. I keep picks 47/78 and use them to fill holes with a DL and a CB. DL Murphy, Crichton or Jernigan could have been the pick at 47 and safety Brooks at 78. As for trade value, many teams, including Dallas should have considered a small trade up in the 4th round for CB Desir. My top two areas of need for the Cowboys were DL and DB, which they did address a total of five times. I like the picks for Martin and WR Street, who made my top 15 list but I’d have liked to see Dallas be more aggressive in filling their primary needs.
Detroit Lions: The good news is that these Lions chose all rated players in the draft. Ebron can be a force down the seam. Van Noy is a playmaker. Lawson, rated in my top 15 CB list, immediately challenges for playing time in a secondary crying for help. Reid and Webster were drafted at appropriate spots. Freese was a need, and a correct scoop on my part to this team. The problem with this draft is that CB, OL and safety are my top three needs, and once again GM Mayhew has failed to understand the correlation between impact secondary play and making the playoffs. Mayhew has been at a high level with the Lions for over 14 years. During this time the Lions have drafted just 15 DB’s (yes, CB’s and safeties), most of them below the second round. According to one source, the best of the bunch was Louis Delmas, and he just left the team. The Lions have had one winning season since 2000. I compiled a full article one this subject a short time ago. I can’t completely dish this draft since at least three starters should come from it, but until Mayhew and the Lions draft impact players for their secondary they will be vulnerable to losing late leads, as has happened way too often just in the past two seasons.
Green Bay Packers: Safety, TE and a pair of WR’s represented my top three needs and the Packers didn’t disappoint. Dix represented value and need in the 1st round. Adams rated 10th on my WR board but remember this position was loaded. He carried a grade in the 35-40 range and was drafted at 53. Last year I blasted GB on its WR selections. This year they got great value, with Abbrederis and Janis in my top 16. Remember, Cobb and Nelson are in their contract years. I thought DE Thornton was overdrafted and better choices could have been made at OL and late for DB but overall I like what the Packers did in this draft.
Minnesoat Vikings: I have to admit that upon first inspection the Minnesota draft might be the most difficult to evaluate. Was LB Barr the right choice over DL Donald or even OT Lewan? Will Teddy Bridgewater overcome his historic Pro Day faux pas? Why draft the talented Jerick McKinnon at RB when that position is occupied by AP? In the end I’m going to trust the highly respected Mike Zimmer on Barr, and there’s no question about his upside. In addition to Bridgewater, Minnesota also got solid draft value with DE Crichton at 72, OG Yankey at 145 and if healthy, the versatile Exum at 182. I’d have doubled up at OL and changed pick 96 to OL Brandon Thomas or Dozier, or to CB Desir. Even if Bridgewater let’s some of us down there’s enough value in this draft to get excited about, and that includes NT Stephen in the 7th round.
New Orleans Saints: It turns out the Saints were serious about drafting well-spoken WR Cooks, trading ahead of Philly and KC to get him. He reportedly wowed the Saints in their interview, and the WR who loses no speed at all when he makes his cuts was considered the top interview by as many as ten NFL teams. Payton will find ways to get him in space. Unfortunately, the rest of the draft does nothing for me. I gave CB Baptiste a 4th round grade and am not as high on him as many analysts. He lacks physicality and the learning curve is steep. Fortt and Powell match a need, but I see them as rotational players at best. OT Rooks was not one of the 550 players I even studied! Safety Sunseri is coming off a serious injury but he’s the only drafted player outside of Cooks that holds some value. I’m comfortable keeping the focus of the Saints but I’d change four of six picks.
New York Giants: The NYG made an unusually high number of moves during free agency, determined to erase memories of an 0-6 start in 2013 in a season where they committed too many mistakes (turnovers and otherwise). Likely coveting OT Lewan, the NYG decided against drafting OL Martin or DL Donald and instead went for versatile WR Beckham. Clearly Beckham has 1st round talent but in this deep WR draft I’d have gone in a completely different direction, fixing longstanding LB needs with Mosley. I like OC Richburg but 43 is too rich for me. I get a WR or sack specialist here and easily double up on WR’s later. I like the pick of RB Andre Williams who fits this team and scheme perfectly. DL Bromley was overdrafted at pick 74 even though his blue collar approach is typical NYG. The later picks for LB and DB are “acceptable” but where is the TE in this draft?
Philadelphia Eagles: Chip Kelly’s initial draft was passive as he learned the ropes of wheeling and dealing. His second draft was typical Chip! I gave out information leaking Marcus Smith to the Eagles, but in round two or three, and not in the 1st round. Like a record number of teams in this deep draft class the Eagles drafted mostly rated players from my draft board, with only DT Allen (224) unrated. Philly targeted six players early and all were off the board including WR Cooks and at least one of the top two safeties. WR and DB were my top areas of need. I thought former Oregon WR Huff was drafted a bit too early but DB Watkins and safety Reynolds were strong choices. DE Hart adds rotational value. LB was need area #4 and obviously Smith fits. In the end, WR Matthews might be my favorite player in the entire draft. I fixated on him in 2013 and his opening game vs. Ole Miss solidified what would ultimately become a top five WR grade. Philly’s roster improved as a result of this draft class.
St. Louis Rams: The Rams did well early but I differ with the way they targeted secondary needs and I felt they reached with most of their final six selections. Donald is a stud but for me this was the time to fix the secondary with Dix or Pryor. They did draft three DB’s and to be honest I do have a high grade on Joyner but he is on the small side. I’m also disappointed that they did not address OLB, finding a better ‘cover” LB than current starter Dunbar. I like the pick of RB Mason. Four of their final five selections were unrated by me, including QB Gilbert. I’d have drafted two OL better DB’s and two LB’s. I have a (lower) rated grade on Michael Sam, but the situational sacker will find it hard to crack this loaded sack happy roster. The top four selections continue Fisher’s attempt to rebrand the Rams but I wish they would have done more with the rest of their picks.
San Francisco 49ers: In the past I criticized the 49ers for wasting picks on unrated players but this year I felt better about what they did. I’m surprised SF did not try to trade up for a CB, especially when Dennard was dropping, but I’m told that Fuller was their initial target and after he went the price to trade up was too high. CB was my #1 need and SF failed in this regard, drafting a pair of late, unrated CB’s. Of course Ward is versatile and may be tried at CB. All other needs were more than adequately filled. RB Hyde will eventually take over for Gore and fits this scheme. OC Martin is a direct hit on a need. ILB Borland is a smart two-down LB. OG Thomas will redshirt off his unfortunate Pro Day injury but carried a late 2nd round grade if 100% and the 49ers can easily afford to wait on him to recover. I know DE Lynch disappointed at USF but he flashes talent and is worth the risk at 150. WR needs were more than fully addressed with the trade for Stevie Johnson and the pickup of route savvy Ellington. I’d have doubled up on pass rushing talent and found a pure CB in this draft but clearly SF added talent.
Seattle Seahawks: Seattle does things their own way. They like drafting in quantity which is a good thing because I count about 13 unrated selections from the past three drafts. They have found late round gems, but those players were not surprises to me. I list only two contributors from the 13 unrated players, a converted DL and the unheralded DB star of the Super Bowl. So with that backdrop, I really dislike this draft! Players 1-5 are rated, but Richardson (45) Britt (64) and Marsh (108) all carried 4th round grades, and Pierre-Lewis (132) a late 6th round grade. Only WR Norwood (123) was properly drafted. Their final four picks did not receive draft worthy grades from me, although I will revisit OG Scott before finalizing his grade. I see 5-6 players making the team and the two WR’s playing and contributing to some extent but once again much more could have been done.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Lovie Smith is known as having a defensive slant but the Bucs were all about offense in this draft with all six selections for this side of the ball. WR Mike Evans has flaws but might thrive in this system, especially with a pair of high ball throwers on the roster. TE Seferian-Jenkins might also carry immediate impact. RB Sims is the premier 3rd down back of the draft. I like the focus on drafting two OL but I’m not high on the players selected. Don’t sleep on fast, but inconsistent WR Herron, whose rating is solidly in my top 20. I’d have taken higher rated OL and found a way to draft an OLB and a late safety but Tampa, through the draft and free agency has an improving roster.
Washington Redskins: Mike Shanahan knew how to spot RB talent but the rest of his drafts yielded some far below average talent. That is why most analysts felt OL and DB were areas of need despite Washington using a plethora of recent draft picks for these areas. I don’t feel Washington got value with any pick in this draft other than when they drafted yet another RB (Seastrunk), but LB Murphy, OT Moses and CB Breeland were all slotted about right. I have OG Long as a 6th round (at best) talent and he was overdrafted at 78. WR Grant was rated but not needed for this team. I would have drafted a higher rated OL along with at least one DL and ILB. Washington did not draft at either position. This was an average draft class.
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