RealGM Football

Dallas Cowboys Articles

$.05 On OTAs

By Jeff Risdon

The first session of Official Team Activities, or OTAs, are now in the books for every team. There will be many, many more significant things going on as the offseason progresses, but there are some things that stood out around the league.

$.01--The Dallas Cowboys lost the best player on its historically inept defense when middle linebacker Sean Lee tore his ACL on the very first day of OTAs. This is a devastating loss for a unit that is trying to overcome already losing Pro Bowl pass rusher DeMarcus Ware to free agency.

This is not Lee’s first rodeo with major injury. He’s missed significant time throughout his career with neck, knee, wrist and toe issues. He fell in the 2010 draft because of his propensity for getting hurt at Penn State, too.

The Cowboys gambled that he could get healthy, and now it’s blown up in their face. Rod Marinelli’s vanilla 4-3 defense desperately relies on talented players making plays within the scheme, and Lee was the playmaker in the middle. Now they’ve lost him for the year. They don’t have anyone who can replace him at all. I like second-year backer Devonte Holloman a lot, but he’s an outside cover backer, not an inside thumping presence.

Here’s how desperate things are: rumors of Brian Urlacher coming out of retirement are generally viewed as the best option to replace Lee. That’s the same Brian Urlacher who had visibly lost at least a full step in his last season in Chicago back in 2012. Dallas does have some time to find a replacement, be it a trade or a preseason cut (Kelvin Sheppard?), but there’s no denying they are going to sorely miss Lee in the middle of the defense.

$.02--The New York Giants released bad boy safety Will Hill after his latest drug-related suspension. It’s his third since entering the league in 2012 after a career at Florida that might have taken years off then-coach Urban Meyer’s life. For a great look at his dubious history as a human being, check out this fine timeline from Jordan Raanan of NJ.com.

It’s always a shame to see talent wasted; it’s one of the biggest frustrations of covering sports. But when a guy cannot stop smoking pot after at least three failed tests, there is zero sympathy.

One of the bigger arguments I hear from marijuana advocates is that “it’s not addictive” like cocaine or even caffeine. Okay. Try going one single month without smoking it and see what it does to your body, your brain, your attitude. Will Hill apparently cannot, or will not, accept that challenge.

It’s too bad, because his former Gator pothead teammate Janoris Jenkins was able to overcome his chronic abuse of the chronic. One person with knowledge of a failed drug test at Florida told me before Jenkins was drafted that the levels of pot measurable (THC) in his system was that of someone “who is habitually stoned beyond any sense of general sobriety”. Jenkins has kept himself clean in his two seasons with the St. Louis Rams. Maybe St. Louis should take a flier on Hill and hope that Jenkins can lead him into the world of the clear-headed. Of course, the opposite could happen too, so perhaps it’s better that Hill’s NFL dreams go up in smoke.

$03--In previous years, one of the bigger issues at this time on the calendar was getting all the first-round draft picks signed. It wasn’t uncommon to have no more than a handful signed in the first month following the draft, and there were typically at least that many who remained unsigned into training camp.

That has changed with the latest CBA, as the rookie contracts are no longer the mega-deals that crippled many a salary cap. Sam Bradford, the first pick in the 2011 draft, made $50M guaranteed in his rookie deal. Last year’s top pick, Eric Fisher of the Chiefs (remember him?) got a smidge over $22M guaranteed.

For many years, the last team to sign its first-round pick was a lock to miss the playoffs. This year’s candidates for that distinction are few: San Diego, Detroit and Kansas City all have cap issues that could cause a delay in signing their picks. Detroit’s situation is the most acute; the Lions have just $1.1M in cap room but will have to count a little more than double that when they sign top pick Eric Ebron. Yet even that is expected to be wrapped up before training camp begins in July.

The new CBA has its significant detractions, but getting rookies signed and into camp is one of the more underpublicized positives.

$.04--Longtime readers know my disdain for Dan Marino, who I find one of the most overrated athletes of my lifetime. Marino put more fodder in my cannon this week by apparently joining the concussion lawsuit against the NFL by accident.

Much fanfare celebrated such a prominent name joining the long list of plaintiffs suing the NFL for head trauma suffered while playing in the league. Marino never had a documented concussion even though he played for almost two decades, which raised some eyebrows. He has later said he believes he suffered two concussions.

But just as he did when he accepted a front office job with his beloved Dolphins, Marino couldn’t handle any of the negatives that went along with the positives and quickly bailed. His statement on the issue, that he didn’t know his name would be attached to the existing suit, ironically proves that he probably did suffer irreparable brain damage. How could he not understand that? He either needs new advisors around him or to listen to the ones he already has, because the ignorance here is staggering.

There are rumors that Marino quickly withdrew when he realized that his involvement might hinder his ability to work in a front office. Not that there are teams beating down his door after his abortive experience in Miami, where Marino is still revered by fans who like to overlook his lousy playoff record. If he were a politician, opposing candidates would throw flip flops at him.

It’s a shame, really, because if Marino is indeed one of the multitude of former players suffering, he deserves to be part of the massive lawsuit. Adding his name certainly lends more sizzle and credibility to the cause. He’s a prominent figure with a platform, from being a living legend to working for CBS. Casual fans know and respect Dan Marino, and that means something here. If suddenly being thrust out as the face of the lawsuit spooked Marino, that’s simultaneously understandable and unfortunate.

$.05--The first week of June is a tough time to be at the bottom of the roster. This is a very active time for roster churning, and that can make it a very aggravating time for agents whose clients reside in spots 87-90 on the current 90-man roster limits.

The maddening process of trying to secure a tryout with another team is tedious and often humiliating for agents, who are employed in part because they have to believe in the dream too. Often those tryouts consist of one sole practice session in front of a position coach with far more important decisions to make than who is the 7th cornerback on his roster. It’s a longshot of a longshot, but it requires several phone calls and very little chance of financial reward for the agents. Many of these guys don’t have a big “meal ticket” client to lean on.

For folks like me who spend countless hours breaking down draft prospects and fits, it can be very frustrating as well. Lots of these guys are seeing their dreams die. They might not get signed by another team, and unlike the other pro sports, there is no minor league or overseas options to continue playing. Names like Luke Marquadt or Spencer Hadley might not ring a bell for most people, but it’s tough to see their NFL aspirations end when I’ve seen legit glimpses of viable NFL talent in watching their college tape.

The Best Pick For Every Team

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.

Arizona Cardinals

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.

Atlanta Falcons

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.

Baltimore Ravens

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.

Buffalo Bills

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.

Carolina Panthers

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.

Chicago Bears

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.

Cincinnati Bengals

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.

Cleveland Browns

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.

Dallas Cowboys

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.

Denver Broncos

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.

Detroit Lions

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.

Houston Texans

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.

Indianapolis Colts

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.

Jacksonville Jaguars

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.

Miami Dolphins

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.

Minnesota Vikings

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.

Oakland Raiders

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.

Philadelphia Eagles

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.

Pittsburgh Steelers

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.

Seattle Seahawks

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.

Tennessee Titans

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?

Post Draft Report – Way Too Early First Impressions (NFC Edition)

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 ronace2477@aol.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.

Round 1 Thoughts, Looking Ahead At Round 2

This was indeed a deep draft, with more prospects than ever evaluated as worthy of being drafted, but it was still filled with surprises.

Rules Of Thumb Following The First Round

Great first rounds for the Rams, the NFC North as a whole, Bengals and Chargers, while the Eagles and Patriots received thumbs down, while Cleveland had the most intriguing night.

Final 7-Round NFL Mock Draft

The two extra weeks of NFL Draft season have led to way too much smoke and speculation. It's one of the most confusing drafts ever, with beat writers for the same teams often wildly differing in their own projections and information.

2014 NFL Team & Draft Preview

Breaking down the draft needs, tendencies, draft history, round 1/entire draft priorities for all 32 teams.

Looking Team-By-Team At The 2014 NFL Schedule

The schedule of an NFL team is critical in predicting how they will manage the ups and downs of a season. Here is a team-by-team breakdown.

Team Report: Dallas Cowboys

There is plenty of talent at the skill positions but whether it's coaching (yes) or miss-judged talent at other key positions such as OL, DL and in the secondary (also yes), something is preventing these Cowboys from winning a Division that has been there for the taking. What are realistic expectations for '14?