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Houston Texans 2014 Season Preview

By Jeff Risdon

2013: 2-14, last in AFC South

2014 Over/Under:  +/- 7.5 wins

Why the over

So much went wrong in the abysmal 2013 season. It’s hard to envision one franchise suffering so many negative twists of fate befalling one team once again.

The biggest positive is the removal of Gary Kubiak as coach. The players had grown stale and complacent under his tenure, tired of hearing the same old things and running the same old plays. Kubiak lacked adaptability, and the rest of the league figured out his Texans. New coach Bill O’Brien brings more outward enthusiasm and a more demanding nature. Veterans will be challenged and the entitlement is gone. That can only be considered a positive for Houston.

Getting star RB Arian Foster back to full speed will do a lot to help fix the offense. Foster averaged over 90 yards per game and hit double figures in TDs every year from 2010-12, remarkably consistent and productive. He also averaged over 50 catches per year in that span, providing a viable threat out of the backfield that further stressed defenses. He was the central focus of the opponent’s entire linebacking corps every week.

Yet last year he struggled with nagging injuries before going on the shelf halfway through the season. While he’ll always be nursing one minor bruise or muscle soreness--he’s perennially limited in practice--he should get back to his customary 1,800 yards from scrimmage and 12-15 TDs. Fantasy owners, trust in Foster.

The Texans finally found a worthy second banana to Andre Johnson at wideout in DeAndre Hopkins. “Nuke” was impressive as a first-round rookie, pulling down 52 catches with just one drop. What impressed me is that he appeared to his a rookie wall midway through the year but then emerged from it as a more complete receiver; his blocking and intermediate route running both improved at the end of the year. Playing across from Johnson afforded him lots of isolated coverage, and he gradually figured out how to take advantage of that.

The Texans have the core of a strong offensive line. A return to 100% by Pro Bowl left tackle Duane Brown would help a lot. He’s one of the best blindside protectors in the league, and he’s also quite adept at getting out in front of Foster on edge runs and screens. A toe injury really limited Brown last year, but he is reportedly in prime shape as camp opens.

Center Chris Myers and right guard Brandon Brooks are both good starters. Myers is the consummate savvy veteran. He’s also a great run blocker on the move and is pretty consistent in picking up DL twists and interior blitzes. Brooks is more of a sledgehammer, but a devastatingly effective run blocker in tight quarters. He’s one of the most functionally strong players in the entire league. Pass protection is not his strength, but he surrendered just one or two sacks, depending on which stat service you believe.

Rookie Xavier Su’a-Filo should solidify the left guard spot, though he’s probably the best right tackle on the roster too. He and Brooks should quickly form one of the best run-blocking guard tandems in the NFL.

In Garrett Graham and rookie C.J. Fiedorowicz, the Texans have talent at tight end to replace Owen Daniels. OD was a beloved icon but the wear and tear was clearly getting to him, and his pass protection as an inline blocker was often scary. Graham isn’t as lithe, but his hands are reliable and he runs strong routes. He should top last year’s 49 receptions and 5 TDs. Fieodorowicz is a big target with soft hands and sneaky quickness in the open field, and he’s ready-made as a replacement for Daniels. Second-year talent Ryan Griffin finished his rookie campaign with a big outing and is the most athletic TE on the roster. Expect to see lots of multiple TE sets, and the Texans have the talent to make it very effective.

Defensively, J.J. Watt. Does any more really need to be said about the best defensive player in the NFL today? He’s the face of the franchise and remained wildly effective even as the team crumbled around him.

Adding #1 overall pick Jadeveon Clowney puts a real fire-breathing rusher outside Watt. With Whitney Mercilus also showing some pass rushing sizzle last year, the Texans should have no trouble getting pressure on opposing QBs. Try and help too much on Watt, and now the Texans have the help at outside linebacker to make him pay. The only other time they’ve really had that was Connor Barwin’s one good year (out of four).

A healthy return by Brian Cushing inside would help matters. When he’s patrolling the middle of the field, the Texans defense raises to another level. Not only is he an intimidating presence between the tackles against the run, he’s also surprisingly lithe in coverage. Cushing can also bring the heat on the blitz too. He was sorely missed last year.

The secondary should be better. Johnathan Joseph is a solid top corner. 2013 was not his best year but he is generally reliable in coverage and can get his hands on many balls. Moreover, his veteran savvy plays well and sets the tone for the youngsters around him.

Kareem Jackson has progressed from being a major liability to being an okay corner. He’s learned how to better use his size. At safety, D.J. Swearinger should progress in his second season. The hard-hitting presence still needs some maturity and refinement. Adding veteran Kendrick Lewis from Kansas City represents an upgrade over Shiloh Keo, whose stiffness was a major liability.

I’d be remiss if I failed to mention Shane Lechler, the best punter in NFL history. His first year in Houston was not his best, but it was still among the tops in the league. Even though he’ll be 38 when the season kicks off, there is no reason to expect anything less than greatness from Lechler as he continues to build his case for the Hall of Fame.

Why the under

The most important position on a football team is the quarterback. And while Matt Schaub needed to go, the Texans are kidding themselves if they think Ryan Fitzpatrick is the man to lead them back to the AFC South title.

Fitzpatrick is smart and mobile, and he is coming off his best statistical year. In 11 games, 9 of them starts for the Titans, the Harvard grad completed 62% of his passes at 7.0 yards per attempt. Both represent career highs. Yet he went just 3-6, and no small part of that was his 14/12 TD/INT ratio and 9 fumbles. Plain and simple, he makes too many mistakes and is careless with the football.

The uncertainty surrounding Andre Johnson doesn’t help. Johnson remains a top 10 overall wideout, but he’s aging and understandably doesn’t want to stomach a rebuild. There have been trade rumors and talk that he won’t report for training camp, perhaps even holding out into the season. Remember, he’s given back money on his contract several times and should feel like the franchise owes him.

If Johnson departs, or even if he continues to succumb ever so gradually to Father Time and loses his fighting spirit playing with a subpar quarterback and little hope of a return to the playoffs, the Houston offense is really going to suffer. I like Nuke Hopkins a lot, but he’s not capable of replacing Johnson yet. And then who would replace Hopkins?

The receiving corps is thin, as prospects like Keshawn Martin and DeVier Posey just haven’t progressed into anything other than eminently replaceable parts. The team signed Mike Thomas, who wasn’t good enough to beat out a rotting collection of practice squad wannabes in Detroit last year, yet he’s got a very good chance to be the 4th wideout this fall. 

Running back depth took a hit with Ben Tate’s departure. Primary backup Andre Brown simply cannot stay healthy, making the perennially gimpy Tate seem like Iron Man. Alfred Blue and Dennis Johnson don’t inspire much confidence for the 2-3 cumulative games--at minimum--Foster will miss with his various nicks and bruises. There isn’t much depth along the OL either.

The quarterbacks behind Fitzpatrick are Case Keenum and Tom Savage. Some Houston sycophants will harp on Keenum’s great game against the Colts last year, but that was literally the only time he did anything positive in his eight starts. They all ended in losses. He’s gritty and smart but erratic and weak-armed. Savage has more than enough arm strength, and he flashed starting potential at Pittsburgh. However, he’s a 25-year old rookie who bounced around three colleges and has the mobility and internal clock of a 1982 Pontiac Parisienne. If he doesn’t have time and a clean throwing lane, it’s ugly.

Then there is the up-the-gut defense. It’s less of an issue when Cushing is in the game, but he’s missed 20 games in the last two years and has had a litany of soft tissue injuries going back to his early USC days. Even when he plays, Cushing can only do so much.

Brooks Reed is not an inside backer. He’s not much of an outside backer either, but he’s really not cut out to play solely between the tackles.

The depth all over the back eight is weak. Castoffs like Akeem Dent and Elbert Mack are likely the top reserves at inside backer and outside corner, unless late-round or UDFA rookies like Max Bullough and Andre Hal beat them out. I do hold some optimism for Mr. Irrelevant Lonnie Ballatine, a hard-hitting safety from Memphis, but he needs one year on the practice squad. Then again, if Shiloh Keo makes the team over him and practice squadder Eddie Pleasant, it’s not likely to ever happen for him…or Houston.

The lack of depth took its toll last year, and this group appears even thinner across the board. It’s an ugly truth when a new coaching staff comes in and gets rid of many veterans that are not perceived as worthy fits anymore. There will be a heavy reliance on unproven talents with limited ceilings to handle important reserve roles. Veteran defenders like Antonio “Ninja” Smith, Earl Mitchell and Brice McCain are replaced with greenhorns like Jason Ankrah, Marcus Williams and Ricardo Mathews.

Bill O’Brien is a rookie, and that will make for some growing pains. Even though he has some NFL experience with the Patriots, he’s been working with college kids recently and there is a difference. What worked in State College is not guaranteed to work at the beautiful Reliant complex. The change of culture was absolutely necessary, but getting all the veterans in line with the starkly new regime will not happen overnight.

Forecast

Houston will be better. The 14-game losing streak will be snapped rather quickly. If Foster and Cushing stay healthy and Clowney makes the immediate impact expected of the #1 overall pick, these Texans have a chance to bounce right back into playoff contention. Watt and Clowney together offers amazing defensive potential.

Yet there are deep issues here that will hold back the Texans from rebounding into playoff contender. The overall depth has taken a hit over the past couple of seasons, particularly on defense. There’s just not a lot of NFL middle class on this roster, and that’s where strong organizations thrive.

The bottom line here is that when the division rival Colts bottomed out from Super Bowl contender to 2-14, they picked up Andrew Luck and got right back on the higher horse. Houston is trying to do that with Ryan Fitzpatrick or Tom Savage. To quote the late, great game show host Jim Perry, “Oooh, no sale!”

Houston finishes 6-10, but I wouldn’t advise putting much on the under in a division with so many unknowns. The potential is there for Fitzpatrick to hit a hot streak and the defense to carry the way to 8 or 9 wins. That’s an even longer bet than the under, however.


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 (AFC 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!

Baltimore Ravens: GM Ozzie Newsome is the best in the business at letting the draft come to him.  He got value in each of the first three rounds with LB Mosley, DT Jernigan and safety Brooks. I like Urban for this team, and the late pick of WR Campanaro gives them a savvy route running slot receiver.  I was hoping they would address their offensive line earlier than in the fifth round and I thought they could have added another option for their secondary.  I don’t see any wasted picks however.  

Buffalo Bills: I’d call this draft confusing and risky.  I am curious as to whether GM Whaley had a game plan for this draft.  In the short run, he has a talented rookie WR in Watkins taking over for an established veteran in Johnson.  Based on typical rookie WR metrics, production will be at best flat for ’14 and not improved.  While the long run prognosis is for Watkins to outperform Johnson, the Bills will be without a 1st round pick next year, likely slowing down team growth.  Buffalo addressed their offensive line three times but failed to address a critical need for a run stopper and failed to adequately replace free safety Byrd or add much needed depth in the secondary.  Buffalo could and should have accomplished much more. 

Cincinnati Bengals: Grabbing talented CB Dennard in the first round and finding the eventual replacement for RB Green-Ellis in the second round (Jeremy Hill) were the highlights of Cincinnati’s draft.  The rest of the draft lacked value and impact.  I thought they could have done better than draft a lower rated center (Bodine) to fill one of my primary need areas.  I also felt they should have addressed depth at LB earlier.  Marquis Flowers won’t move the needle much.  WR James Wright was a reach in a draft full of WR talent.  QB McCarron found a landing spot but I’m not ready to dish QB Dalton who has helped this team get better and far more consistent.  Overall this draft did bog down, although DB Westbrooks (7-252) was not a bad late choice.

Cleveland Browns: Try this on for size.  Cleveland opened the draft with ten picks and traded down at pick #4, yet still ended the draft with just six selections!  That’s not easy.  Of course they do own extra picks in the 2015 draft, including Buffalo’s first round pick.  Many key needs were met, including QB (Manziel), OL (Bitonio), CB (Gilbert and Desir) and RB (West).  I like every one of these players.  LB Kirksey was overdrafted, and I would have chosen Borland or a few other players before him.  The only area not addressed was WR, which is quite puzzling considering this amazingly talented WR class. I would have hit this area twice.  Cleveland was finished drafting after pick 127.  I’d have sacrificed a pick in the 2015 draft to make certain WR needs were addressed.  

Denver Broncos: Bradley Roby may not be a finished product at CB but the speedy ex-Buckeye has the talent to succeed and getting him at the back end of the 1st round represents value.  Fast rising WR Latimer did not make my top ten list but he’ll thrive playing in this system and with this QB, so his post draft grade will move up a bit (still can’t crack the top ten of this deep class).  I mostly see a bunch of role players after that, with each of the remaining draft picks having limitations.  Other than perhaps LB Barrow I felt better Denver could have very easily selected better players.  Denver could have done a better job finding players who could stop the run and should have added another RB to compliment Ball and replace Moreno. 

Houston Texans: Houston is not your typical 2-14 team.  As a result, they might be back near the top of the AFC sooner rather than later.  Clowney was the draft’s best player.  Su’a-Filo was my top rated guard.  TE Fidorowicz was highly rated and fills a need.  Nix represents solid value where he was drafted.  Prosch is interesting as fullbacks are often forgotten in the NFL but he was my only rated player at that position.  I also like Hal.  Only DE Pagan and RB Blue were overdrafted.  There are two concerns.  1st, LB was not addressed.  2nd, none of us really know if Tom Savage is the answer at QB.  He fits the mold for Bill O’Brien, but he has to work on his reads and must continue to work on his accuracy, which until last year was well below NFL standards. 

Indianapolis Colts: The Colts were at a disadvantage right from the start, having lost their first round pick in the trade last year for RB Trent Richardson and having but five overall picks.  As I said in pre-draft reports, the Colts needed to mortgage 2015 picks to make certain would be able to fully participate in this deep draft.  That did not happen, and Colts fans cannot be too excited about their haul.  I like Jack Mewhort if he fills one of the voids on the interior of their line.  Moncrief has talent and speed, but the Colts get dinged since WR was hardly a critical need.  CB, safety and run stopping DL needs were completely ignored.  

Jacksonville Jaguars: There’s plenty to like about this draft.  Bortles was the right choice and Lee and Robinson are top tier rookie WR’s.  Maybe there will be growing pains early but I like the potential of this group.  I don’t like the trade up to get OG Linder.  I feel he’s a marginal player and it’s a double whammy giving up an extra draft pick.  Colvin and the pair of front seven defensive players Telvin and Chris Smith were properly drafted and add depth to a team who could certainly use it.  I’m not as high on RB Storm Johnson as others might be but taking him at pick 222 is fine.  I would have selected two different players for the offensive line without wasting a draft pick, and then I would add a pass rusher, and maybe one more RB to give Jacksonville some competition but there is no question the team is on the right track.

Kansas City Chiefs: Kansas City was without a second round pick and should have tried to trade back from 23 and get at least an extra third out of the deal.  Dee Ford has upside but trading down and adding WR Lee was the right move.  CB Gaines carries some talent but again, I want the more critical needs (WR, offensive tackle) addressed first.  KC took two offensive linemen late, but as usual for this team the players selected are developmental types.  Ultimately, this draft could be a bust; however I am one of the few that gave QB Murray a top five grade.  I love the fit here and he will have a chance to unseat Alex Smith as early as 2015. 

Miami Dolphins: If I’m a Miami Dolphin fan, I’m celebrating the fact that Jeff Ireland is no longer the GM.  Miami was strapped early when the top four OL were off the board but I felt they rebounded well by selecting two potential starters in James and Turner.  WR Landry fell due to poor timed speed but he has maybe the best hands of the class and is a great fit here as a #2 next to the speedy Wallace.  CB Aikens has talent but picking him in the 4th round may have been a tad high.  I see no wasted picks in this group and I believe the focus of their picks were spot on.  Maybe they could have done a little better at LB but overall I’d call this a solid draft. 

New England Patriots: Coming into the draft I listed New England’s primary needs as TE, safety, depth at LB, DL, speed at WR and depth at RB.  I feel the Patriots did not meet most of these needs.  Easley has a huge upside but is a medical risk.  If all goes well Garoppolo, like Mallet before him will never see the field, at least for the foreseeable future.  The three OL have some talent, but not “wow” talent.  RB White fills a need, but is he the right guy?  The good news is that there are far fewer off the wall picks in this New England draft.  Still, I would have addressed TE and safety with picks 29 and 62 and go from there.

New York Jets: This was quite a polarizing draft for me.  I love the picks for safety Pryor, TE Amaro, OG Dozier and the value late with LB Reilly.  I am puzzled by what GM John Idzik and Rex Ryan saw in CB McDougle that caused him to be selected so high.  WR was the top need for the Jets and to their credit they addressed this area three times.  Unfortunately, the Jets made mistakes with all three choices.  My pre-draft ratings show Saunders at 31, Evans in the 35-44 range and Enunwa completely unrated (not in my top 44).  They were drafted at spots 104, 115 and 209 respectively.  Compare that to what Green Bay did.  The Packers drafted WR’s at picks 53, 176 and 236.  This trio received ratings of 10 (Adams), 16 (Abbrederis) and 14 (Janis).  If you trade WR’s with the Packers, draft one more OL and select better CB’s then this draft works for me in a big way. 

Oakland Riaders: WR and DB were my top needs, but certainly the Raiders had multiple holes, including DL, OL and finding a long term solution at QB.  Every year it seems Oakland is trading for a QB, adding one in free agency, and drafting a QB.  When does the madness stop?  Mack is obviously a great choice, while CB McGill and OG Jackson have talent.  Still, just because Sammy Watkins is gone it should not mean that WR needs go completely unfilled.  Oakland needed to double up at WR as well as find a quality offensive tackle.   

Pittsburgh Steelers: Is Pittsburgh any better of a team as a result of this draft?  If all goes well LB Shazier and DL Tuitt start by 2015, while RB and slash player Archer adds situational value even though he was drafted a full round too high.  WR Bryant has some growing up to do but may well represent the big target Big Ben has been crying for.  I don’t see any unrated players on their board but I fear all they got was some role and/or situational players after Bryant.  Pittsburgh gets dinged because they ignored CB needs and could have drafted better for their offensive line.  I’d have taken CB Dennard at pick 15 and taken a higher rated offensive lineman at 97, waiting on Archer. 

San Diego Chargers: San Diego made six selections in this draft, trading up in the 2nd round to get pass rush help with the athletic but not necessarily instinctive Attaochu.  I would not have made this move.  I could get a quality WR or OL at 57 plus save a pick.  The other option was to hope Attaochu is there at 57 but if he’s not I don’t see any difference if I select Kony Ealy or the very smart Scott Crichton instead.  CB Verrett was a solid choice and OG Watt was an acceptable choice.  The final three picks were as good as any team could have.  Ryan Carrethers is my top DL sleeper.  Grice has tremendous 3rd down value.  Tevin Reese is tiny, but adds much needed speed to the roster and is well-versed in finding holes in zones.  

Tennessee Titans: I do not have OT as a Titan need.  Certainly Taylor Lewan has top ten talent but I would have addressed a far more glaring need (LB or cover CB) with the pick at 11.  For me it seemed like a no-brainer that they could have found a trading partner to either move up to get Donald (Chicago, Dallas) or to get Lewan (Miami).  I suspect that would have given Tennessee two extra picks and they still could have had LB Mosley or a top tier CB early, using the extra picks to double up at LB and maybe take Nix before Houston did at 83.  Sankey is a great fit in a clear need area.  Tennessee misfired at CB however as well as at LB.  Taking Zach Mettenberger in the 6th round is an extremely low risk proposition.  He’s come to the right place and right coaching staff, so if he matures off the field and gets time to learn on the field this could turn out to be better than advertised.



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: Houston Texans

Gary Kubiak and Wade Phillips are gone, replaced by Bill O'Brian and Romeo Crennel. There's often a thin line between winning and losing in the NFL. Houston does not have to do that much to become a major player in the weaker AFC, so this draft is much anticipated.