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
Oakland Raiders, Philadelphia Eagles, Pittsburgh Steelers, San Diego Chargers, San Francisco 49ers, Seattle Seahawks, St. Louis Rams, Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Tennessee Titans, Washington Redskins, Arizona Cardinals, Atlanta Falcons, Baltimore Ravens, Buffalo Bills, Carolina Panthers, Chicago Bears, Cincinnati Bengals, Cleveland Browns, Dallas Cowboys, Denver Broncos, Detroit Lions, Green Bay Packers, Houston Texans, Indianapolis Colts, Jacksonville Jaguars, Kansas City Chiefs, Miami Dolphins, Minnesota Vikings, New England Patriots, New Orleans Saints, New York Giants, New York Jets, Draft, Draft Misc
By Jeff Risdon
2013: 4-12, last in NFC South
2014 Over/Under: +/- 7 wins
Why the over
One of the things that really stands out is how well this team addressed its weaknesses. They got a lot better at some key positions.
Foremost is head coach, where Lovie Smith takes over for Greg Schiano. It’s a prudent move, one that the players should immediately respond to positively. Smith is everything that Schiano was not: poised, experienced, NFL savvy, adaptable and patient.
Those qualities didn’t always play well in Lovie’s tenure in Chicago, but in the short term it promises to do wonders for Tampa Bay. His professional approach and the way he treats people with respect will go a long way towards erasing the stain on the franchise that was the tempestuous, arrogant Schiano.
Offensively, the biggest upgrade comes at receiver. For too long the Bucs have been just the Vincent Jackson show, with only sporadic contirubtions from the likes of now-departed Tiquan Underwood and Mike Williams. An aggressive approach by new GM Jason Licht should help quite a bit here.
The team drafted three pass-catchers, all of whom should be immediate contributors. The most prominent is first-round pick Mike Evans, who, like Jackson, is a sheer physical nightmare at 6’5” and 230+ pounds. They’re similarly skilled, which means they should be able to be used interchangeably. Both can attack the football in the air along the sidelines and in traffic, though Evans’ ability in that regard was badly overrated in the draft process.
Trotting out two 6’5” perimeter receivers commands a lot of attention, which means the underbelly could prove to be fertile ground for new QB Josh McCown. Tampa Bay got better here too, with 2nd round pick Austin Seferian-Jenkins and 6th rounder Robert Herron. The burly tight end from Washington excels at chipping and releasing into the intermediate range, and his soft hands and wide frame make him a valuable target. Herron is a shifty speedster in the slot who was largely uncoverable during Senior Bowl practices. His hands aren’t the most reliable but he consistently got open quickly in his Wyoming days, and he’s also a big-time threat to run after the catch.
With expected improvement from 2013 undrafted hybrid TE/WR Tim Wright, who was a revelation with 54 catches and 5 TDs, Tampa Bay finally has some legit weaponry beyond just chucking the ball up for Pro Bowler Jackson to work some magic. The team also signed Brandon Myers, who caught 79 passes in 2012, yet he might not make the team. That’s real progress.
Getting star RB Doug Martin back will help a lot, too. Martin can do everything as a back--run inside, bounce outside, catch and block--and does them all pretty well. He’s compactly built and naturally elusive, always dipping a shoulder here or flipping a hip there to keep defenders from getting a clean shot at him. He missed 10 games last year with a torn labrum in his shoulder, and the offense largely grinded to a halt in his absence.
The Bucs added depth here as well, as third-rounder Charles Sims is a better fit for new OC Jeff Tedford’s West Coast system than departed Brain Leonard. Sims has great hands out of the backfield and proved he could assimilate quickly when he transferred from Houston to West Virginia. He’s the explosive home-run hitter they sought, the one thing Martin is not. I like Mike James as a short-yardage guy and Lonnie Pryor at fullback is perfectly fine.
The offense can only get better. The defense added some pieces that should help, too.
I love the addition of pass rusher Michael Johnson, formerly of the Bengals. He got lost in the shuffle of depth a bit in Cincinnati last year, but the angular Johnson is eminently capable of putting up 10+ sacks and 25+ QB hits as he did in 2012. He’s not very good against the run, but the Bucs aren’t paying him $43M to make tackles four yards from the line. Keep in mind that the last Buccaneer to bag more than 10 sacks in a season was Simeon Rice…in2007. The Bucs only have a sprinkling of players on the entire roster who were even playing college ball at that time.
Johnson joins a defense that already has a legit stud at all three levels, an enviable proliferation of top-shelf talent. It starts up front with Gerald McCoy, the fifth-year tackle who is arguably the league’s best at his position. Some might prefer Ndamukong Suh, the player drafted one spot ahead of him, but McCoy is the more consistent pass rusher and play finisher.
Lavonte David is outstanding at outside linebacker, patrolling the weak side better than anyone else. He could be even better in Smith’s defense, which is tailored to a playmaking WLB. David is a legit threat to lead the league in both tackles and turnovers created. He’s one of the most fun players to watch in the entire league, especially if you view the coach’s tape on NFL Game Rewind. Only then can you get a true appreciation for his awesomeness.
In the secondary, the Bucs have two impact talents. One of those is changed from a year ago, as the team swapped out elite corner Darrelle Revis before adding Alterraun Verner. The former Titan is not an island like Revis, but he’s comfortably in the next tier of top corner talents. He’s a solid #1 corner and a good schematic fit for Smith’s press-heavy coverage. Safety Dashon Goldson is a strong all-around talent with great range and playmaking ability. He struggled trying to do too much at times last year, but his attacking style makes life difficult for opposing passers.
The entire secondary should be pretty good. Johnthan Banks had some positive moments as a rookie, and at 6’2” he’s got disruptive length. Mike Jenkins and Leonard Johnson will fill the third and fourth corner spots in some order, and while neither is an ideal nickel there is some legit, proven NFL talent there with both. The other safety is Mark Barron, a menace to society between the tackles in run support. Just don’t ask him to cover…and the Bucs won’t very often. If you are a Bucs fan and have easy access to some wood, go ahead and knock on it, but this secondary could be very, very good.
The special teams are solid, and Lovie’s almost comedic dedication to those units will only make them stronger. Kicker Connor Barth is a good one, as is punter Michael Koenen. Return specialist Eric Page finished in the top 10 in both punt and kick return averages, something Devin Hester has not done in years. Think about that for a minute.
Why the under
For all the promise with the offense, the Bucs are depending on a career journeyman backup to quarterback them to the promised land. Josh McCown was indeed impressive in Chicago last year, it’s a reach to think he can replicate that performance in a new, more pressured environ. If the purpose here is to use McCown to buy Mike Glennon a much-needed year of development, it’s a great signing. But relying on McCown to elevate the offense with a cast of strangers is extremely optimistic. Remember, this unit finished dead last in passing yards and yards per pass, 31st in total yards per play and third down conversions, and 30th in points scored.
Some of that ineptitude had to deal with the offensive line. While the Bucs have made some changes, it remains to be seen how well the newcomers gel. Anthony Collins has been a swing tackle most of his career, but now he’s suddenly the savior at left tackle. Evan Dietrich-Smith was nothing more than an average center for Green Bay, and now he is expected to lead a line resurgence. Both newcomers do have skill, but expectations seem higher than reality would dictate.
It would be great if stud left guard Carl Nicks could return, but after missing almost all of the last two years with injuries and illness, he simply cannot be relied upon (note: the team reached an injury settlement with Nicks on July 25). The starting guards could very well be Patrick Omameh and either rookie 5th rounder Kevin Pamphile or practice squad refugee Jason Foster. That’s not good enough to handle the rigors of NFL defenses. At least McCown offers more escapability and pocket presence than the lumbering Glennon, who might still be trying to finish his 40 yard dash from the 2013 Combine.
Even though I am a believer in the upgraded receiving corps, there are legit questions there. For all the hubbub over Evans’ size and strength, 40% of his production came in just two games. Evans was visibly invisible in several games. His route running is nothing more than rudimentary and needs a lot of polish. Seferian-Jenkins was much better in 2012 than ’13, and it’s no given he rebounds at the higher level. If those guys don’t immediately contribute, Jackson will once again be burdened with carrying the load with marginal talents like Louis Murphy and Skye Dawson. A lot is riding on the rookies.
There are no rookies, or rather rookie draft picks, to help the defense. The Bucs did not use a single pick on a defensive player. If you consider the Revis/Verner swap as a wash, the only real reinforcements are Johnson at end and Clint McDonald as the fourth defensive tackle, along with Jenkins as the fourth corner. That’s putting a great deal of faith in a unit that finished in the bottom third.
Defensively, there still isn’t much functional depth. The reserve safeties are Keith Tandy and Major Wright, neither of whom belong on an active roster. Wright just might have been the worst NFL regular in the league last year with Chicago, an absolute train wreck. One tweaked knee to Goldson or concussion to head-hunting Barron and he’s the last line of defense.
At corner, Johnson and Danny Gorer are the options at slot. That’s not Johnson’s strong suit, as he lacks lateral quickness and the wide vision needed to play inside. Gorer will have his moments but he’s a reserve through and through. One to keep an eye on: Quinton Poynter, though he’s proven nothing yet.
Smith must also figure out what to do with his linebackers that aren’t named Lavonte David. Mason Foster is a quick, twitchy and instinctive backer, but he is ideally a Will just like David. They’ve tried him in the middle, but he’s not rangy enough and lacks the speed to chase the deeper middle in coverage in the manner that Lovie’s defenses have had in Brian Urlacher in Chicago and London Fletcher in St. Louis. He’s not stout enough to play on the strong side, but neither is Jonathan Casillas, who currently sits atop the depth chart there. Former Patriot Dane Fletcher factors in the mix, but when is the last time an ex-Patriot defender came close to living up to the expectations?
Then there is Lovie himself. His Chicago teams became predictable on defense, surviving almost exclusively on forcing turnovers and winning field position battles with outstanding special teams. He went through offensive coordinators like Derek Jeter does hotties, with considerably less payoff. He’s never worked with Jeff Tedford before, so how they blend together is a big unknown. Lovie’s in-game management and strategic adjustments were often puzzling, to be kind; Bears fans were stunned at how much that team improved in that regard in transitioning from Lovie to Marc Trestman, a rookie NFL coach.
Tampa Bay is a team on the rise in a division with a notorious history for extreme volatility. It’s not unusual for the NFC South dregs one year to rule the roost the next. They were close to being good a year ago, but held back by inept coaching, losing Doug Martin and spotty QB play from a rookie who shouldn’t have been playing.
Though I am no Lovie Smith fan, he’s a huge upgrade over Greg Schiano and the players will absolutely respond to his user-friendly, respectful style. In Josh McCown, they have a professional QB who proved a year ago he can carry a team for a year. McCown won’t make the rookie mistakes that Mike Glennon did. With upgraded weaponry and a healthy return by Martin, the offense should finally be able to outscore some opponents.
The schedule is very favorable for a quick turnaround. They open with two winnable home games against Carolina and St. Louis. If they survive a three-game roadie (ATL, PIT and NO), they have a chance to go a big run afterwards; Tampa should be favored in every game from weeks 6-12, a trip to Chicago. The final four games are not easy--at Detroit, at Carolina, then home for Green Bay and New Orleans. Two wins there likely puts them in the playoffs.
Barring major injury, Tampa Bay should be a strong “over” bet at seven wins. I like them to finish at 10-6, with the winner of the Week 16 tilt against Green Bay getting the 6th seed in the NFC playoffs.
Special thanks to Sander Philipse of Bucs Nation for helping to color in the grey areas in some spots here.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
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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The 2014 NFL Draft was most critical in the NFC for the Rams, Falcons, Buccaneers and Vikings.
This was indeed a deep draft, with more prospects than ever evaluated as worthy of being drafted, but it was still filled with surprises.
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.
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.
Breaking down the draft needs, tendencies, draft history, round 1/entire draft priorities for all 32 teams.
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.