First impressions of 2014 draft: Ranking team classes 1-32
May 12, 2014 § Leave a comment
Doling out grades in the immediate aftermath of a given NFL draft is essentially an exercise in futility.
The Seattle Seahawks were widely panned in 2012 after reaching for pass rusher Bruce Irvin in the first round, and maybe that’s proven valid criticism. They allotted their next two selections looking for leaders on both sides of the ball: little known Utah State MLB Bobby Wagner (who’s become a Pro Bowl-caliber performer) and diminutive QB Russell Wilson, a nice player but probably too short to succeed as a starter in the NFL, right?
Two years later, Seattle GM John Schneider looks rather brilliant (maybe it’s the sparkle emanating from his Super Bowl ring) while the bulk of draft graders — ranked the Seahawks’ 2012 draft 26th of 32 — failed with their initial assessment.
Yet it’s human nature to have a knee-jerk reaction to each club’s maneuverings and selections after months of preparation and three days of scrutinized decisions. So here are some first impressions for all 32 team drafts, ranked to provide some level of quantification.
First impression: Loved it
1. Cleveland Browns: Say what you will about QB Johnny Manziel. But there’s no arguing he’s a unique talent, and it’s difficult to accuse the Browns of reaching for him at No. 22, especially given their need for ability and flair at the position … not to mention dishing up some hope for a fan base starved of it. But even if Manziel bombs, it’s certainly feasible that OL Joel Bitonio, RB Terrance West and CB Pierre Desir could still salvage this draft. And we haven’t even mentioned top pick Justin Gilbert, arguably the best corner this year and an intriguing sidekick to Pro Bowler Joe Haden, or the 2015 first rounder GM Ray Farmer plucked from the Bills.
2. St. Louis Rams: After obtaining the top offensive tackle (Greg Robinson) and No. 1 defensive tackle (Aaron Donald), they appear perfectly equipped to exchange blows with the other bullies in the NFC West. Scrappy DB Lamarcus Joyner and RB Tre Mason are also shrewd additions in an ever-escalating divisional arms race. Even seventh-round DE Michael Sam could enjoy opportunities to shine as a complementary piece to an already loaded D-line.
3. Houston Texans: Only time will tell, but it sure smacks A+. Based on how this rookie class was forecast, Houston snagged the best player (Jadeveon Clowney), best guard (Xavier Su’a-Filo), best nose tackle (Louis Nix) and maybe even the best developmental pocket passer (Tom Savage), who could blossom under the watch of quarterback whisperer Bill O’Brien. This team is taking shape as a far more physical outfit under O’Brien, especially on offense.
4. Jacksonville Jaguars: Coach Gus Bradley is trying to infuse Seahawks DNA into this roster and wants a nasty defense and spirit of competition throughout. But GM Dave Caldwell knew it was vital to restock the lowest-scoring offense in the league and was probably wise to invest his first four picks on that side of the ball. The potential for an explosive passing game is suddenly far more feasible with QB Blake Bortles (third pick overall) and second-round WRs Marqise Lee and Allen Robinson now at OC Jedd Fisch’s disposal. Round 4 CB Aaron Colvin and Round 7 RB Storm Johnson may be jewels.
5. Tennessee Titans: Their haul suggests close adherence to the “best player available” philosophy, and they got some good ones even if T Taylor Lewan (Round 1) and RB Bishop Sankey (Round 2) don’t address pressing needs. DL Daquan Jones (Round 4) might be a steal, and it’s awfully tough to argue with the selection sixth-round QB Zach Mettenberger even though he comes with a few warning signs. His skill set seems to fit new coach Ken Whisenhunt’s offense far more effectively than incumbent Jake Locker’s.
6. Cincinnati Bengals: They quietly continue to be one of the NFL’s top procurers of talent over the past five years, and their on-field success reflects as much. CB Darqueze Dennard seems like a heist at pick 24 while second-round RB Jeremy Hill could threaten BenJarvus Green-Ellis’ job. Hill was flagged for character issues, but the Bengals have had better luck lately with such reclamation projects (exhibit A: Vontaze Burfict). The wild card is the Round 5 pick-up of QB AJ McCarron given his NFL-ready reputation and Andy Dalton’s murky contract situation and playoff failings.
7. Buffalo Bills: GM Doug Whaley aggressively committed resources to better support QB EJ Manuel in his second pro season. WR Sammy Watkins, who may well be regarded as the top player in this draft a few years down the road, should turbocharge a passing game that scared no one last year. Whaley is banking that Watkins is worth the 2015 first rounder it cost to secure him. New RT Cyrus Kouandjio is a first-round talent, though the Bills are gambling his fifth-round knee holds up. G Cyril Richardson should help Kouandjio keep Manuel safer in the pocket.
8. Baltimore Ravens: It’s been a few years since GM Ozzie Newsome’s last banner draft, but he unquestionably remains among the league’s elite talent evaluators. His first five selections appear to perfectly intersect the team’s needs with available talent on the board. Top pick C.J. Mosley is a far more understated linebacker than retired Ray Lewis, but the former Alabama star brings his own brand of sideline-to-sideline ability to the field and could become the locker room general himself one day.
9. Green Bay Packers: GM Ted Thompson never drafts for need, always prioritizing talent. But his first six selections should all have opportunities to contribute immediately, possibly earning major snaps. First-round S Ha Ha Clinton-Dix will surely start and might finally allow Packers fans to stop pining for the days of Charles Woodson and Nick Collins. Davante Adams could make a nice impact if he proves ready to take the No. 3 wideout job left open by James Jones’ free agent defection.
10. Oakland Raiders: It’s still not quite clear what GM Reggie McKenzie is cooking — some of his free-agent additions remain head scratching — but he definitely added some delicious ingredients to his recipe with this draft. Some have argued LB Khalil Mack will emerge as the best player from this draft. Others have asserted Derek Carr was the best incoming quarterback. Third-round G Gabe Jackson should add horsepower to an O-line that needed extra push. A good bet these rookies make or break the McKenzie era in Oakland.
11. San Francisco 49ers: Second-round RB Carlos Hyde probably has the biggest name among the new Niners, but they reeled in another impressive class with S Jimmie Ward, C Marcus Martin, LB Chris Borland and WR Bruce Ellington. Third-round OL Brandon Thomas will probably be a starter in 2015 after he recovers from the torn knee ligament he suffered in a pre-draft workout. From top to bottom, it’s not hard to argue San Francisco has the best 53-man roster in the league after what seems another masterful manipulation of the board.
12. New Orleans Saints: WR Brandin Cooks promises to be a matchup nightmare now that Sean Payton will be deploying his speed and shiftiness from the slot — you can already hear the collective groan from NFC South defensive coordinators. Uber-sized corner Stanley Jean-Baptiste (6-3, 218) was a key counterstrike given the big-bodied wideout tandems the Falcons and Buccaneers will be rolling with in 2014. The Saints could definitively boast the game’s best safety trio in 2015 when fifth rounder Vinnie Sunseri’s ACL is healed.
First impression: Liked it
13. Atlanta Falcons: GM Thomas Dimitroff never found the blockbuster deal he was purportedly looking for in Round 1, but he did find two studs the team so desperately need in the trenches. Jake Matthews should be a fixture at tackle for a decade, and DT Ra’Shede Hageman will cause a ton of havoc if the coaching staff can help him consistently focus his physical gifts. S Dezmen Southward (Round 3) and RB Devonta Freeman (Round 4) could make early marks.
14. New York Giants: QB Eli Manning tried — and failed — to carry this team in 2013 and took a beating in the process. So what did GM Jerry Reese do? He got Manning a topflight center (Weston Richburg), chain-moving back (Andre Williams) and, best of all, an outlet receiver (Odell Beckham), who’s superior with the ball in his hands.
15. New York Jets: Coach Rex Ryan has been part of six Jets drafts and evidently convinced GM John Idzik to earmark a first-round pick to defense for the sixth time in the Rex era. Ryan values ferocious hitters such as Round 1 S Calvin Pryor, believing they can change the tone of a game with intimidation as effectively as a turnover might. But Idzik was plenty busy getting needed help for QB Geno Smith (or is it Michael Vick?), drafting a pair of wideouts and second rounder Jace Amaro, a record-setting tight end in college who’s essentially a 270-pound slot receiver. Taking Tajh Boyd could make the looming quarterback battle even more tantalizing.
16. Denver Broncos: And the rich add some more coin. First-round CB Bradley Roby and second-round WR Cody Latimer might not receive major minutes in 2014, but they’ll help sustain the talent base as this roster evolves in the future. Latimer’s size and speed could eventually render him a superior version of Eric Decker.
17. Washington Redskins: No first rounder, but they finally paid off the Robert Griffin III tab to the Rams. Still, Washington appears to have landed a solid group in the first post-Shanahan draft and potentially found players who will contribute significantly with their top four selections — OLB Trent Murphy, RT Morgan Moses, G Spencer Long, CB Bashaud Breeland — thanks, in part, to the acquisition of the Cowboys’ third rounder. And you can bet that RG3 will lobby for playing time for fellow Baylor alum and speed back Lache Seastrunk, who ought to be a nice foil to Alfred Morris.
18. Pittsburgh Steelers: QB Ben Roethlisberger and OC Todd Haley were given explosive weapons. RB Dri Archer is the fastest player in the draft and could be hellacious in the screen game. WR Martavis Bryant has Plaxico Burress size and field-stretching speed a tick or two off Mike Wallace time. Stephon Tuitt could be steal if fully healthy and projects as a perfect end for Dick LeBeau’s 3-4 defense. But is first-round LB Ryan Shazier? His ability isn’t an issue, but LeBeau’s best inside backers tend to be heavier thumpers.
19. Miami Dolphins: Maybe they can be accused of reaching just a bit for RT Ja’Wuan James in the first round and G Billy Turner in the third. But who could blame them given the mandate to overhaul 80% of an O-line (T Branden Albert and G Shelley Smith arrived in free agency) that shamed Miami on and off the field in 2013. However this class might be best remembered for the arrival of WR Jarvis Landry, a Hines Ward-type who runs crisp routes and throws nasty blocks.
20. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: QB Josh McCown is going to feel like a point guard making entry passes into the paint after the Bucs picked 6-5 WR Mike Evans and 6-5 TE Austin Seferian-Jenkins to team with 6-5 No. 1 WR Vincent Jackson. WR Robert Herron should get some run, too, given lack of depth at position.
21. Chicago Bears: Last year’s defense may have been the worst in this proud franchise’s 94-year history. Consequently, GM Phil Emery was hard at work with a personnel transplant, taking a corner (Kyle Fuller), two tackles (Ego Ferguson and Will Sutton) and an intriguing safety (Brock Vereen). RB Ka’Deem Carey should enable the offense to keep Matt Forte fresher. QB David Fales is no Jay Cutler clone, but he could be the next McCown in time.
22. Dallas Cowboys: Perhaps owner Jerry Jones’ best move was resisting what must have been a near-irresistible tug to pick Manziel. But putting another blue-chip blocker (Zack Martin) in front of increasingly frail QB Tony Romo was a wise choice. Boise State pass rusher Demarcus Lawrence better work out as DeMarcus Ware’s replacement at defensive end, or Jones will rue the third rounder he gave to the rival Redskins to secure him.
First impression: Hmmm …
23. Minnesota Vikings: A boom-or-bust feel to this draft, which is probably a pivotal one for GM Rick Spielman. With pick No. 9, he tabbed Anthony Barr, a former running back who converted exceptionally well to outside linebacker at UCLA … but can he plug in at defensive end on Mike Zimmer’s defense? Spielman came back into the first round for QB Teddy Bridgewater, a coup of a move if Bridgewater is the advanced passer who shredded college defenses at Louisville and not the guy who bombed at his own pro day. Don’t be shocked if DE Scott Crichton or G David Yankey are the biggest contributors in 2014.
24. Arizona Cardinals: First-round S Deone Bucannon and second-round TE Troy Niklas should be solid players, but will they have the same impact as an edge rusher or right tackle? GM Steve Keim made the right moves in his first year, so tough to second-guess him now. The defining member of this draft, though, could be fourth-round QB Logan Thomas, who exudes talent and will be a star if coach and fellow Virginia Tech alum Bruce Arians can harness it by the time Carson Palmer’s run comes to an end.
25. San Diego Chargers: GM Tom Telesco proved his bona fides by restoring this franchise to relevance during his first year heading the front office, so he’s decisively earned benefit of the doubt. This year’s haul seems short on sex appeal, but that’s often a plus. First rounder Jason Verrett is on the small side but seems a prototype slot corner/Wes Welker Kryptonite. Nigerian edge rusher Jeremiah Attaochu may restore Bolts’ pass rush, though it could take a year or two. G Chris Watt may be a starter in 2014.
26. Philadelphia Eagles: Pick 26 might have been a touch early for Louisville pass rusher Marcus Smith, but a hard-working defense needed the depth. Record-breaking SEC WR Jordan Matthews brings nice value at No. 42, though he’s a much different player than departed DeSean Jackson. Coach Chip Kelly also got two Oregon Ducks (WR Josh Huff, DE Taylor Hart), so surely he’s confident they’ll move seamlessly from his college program to his professional one.
27. New England Patriots: This futures draft could take longer to evaluate than most. First-round DT Dominique Easley is six months removed from a torn ACL and likely to redshirt while being groomed to take aging Vince Wilfork’s roster spot in 2015, though it’s worth noting their styles are vastly different. Still, the Patriots clearly liked Easly enough that they wanted to control his rights for five years. With Tom Brady still at the peak of his powers, seems a better chance talented Round 2 QB Jimmy Garoppolo is trade currency for a rainy day rather than Brady’s successor. Expect third-round C Bryan Stork to see the field the most among his rookie peers.
First impression: Maybe the second impression will be better
28. Detroit Lions: They took TE Eric Ebron 10th overall, and maybe he will pan out as Vernon Davis-lite or better. But given the existing talent on offense — which includes TEs Brandon Pettigrew and Joseph Fauria — was waiting to patch a defense with several cracks the best decision? At least second-round LB Kyle Van Noy seems well equipped to plug one leak.
29. Kansas City Chiefs: First-round edge rusher Dee Ford is a nice player but could have a limited role because he’s unlikely to take many snaps from Pro Bowl OLBs Justin Houston and Tamba Hali. Scatback De’Anthony Thomas should step right into departed Dexter McCluster’s job. QB Aaron Murray looks like a bargain in Round 5 and potential insurance if QB Alex Smith walks after the season. But hard to figure why this team didn’t address obvious issues at wide receiver and offensive line.
30. Seattle Seahawks: Rule of thumb — Schneider and the Seahawks know, and the rest of us don’t. Second-round WR Paul Richardson is a deep threat likely to carve an immediate niche offensively. But his 6-0, 175-pound build suggests he better stay away from the hashes, especially in divisional games. Seattle’s subsequent picks presumably mesh into the organizational philosophy that has borne so much fruit. But seeing is believing for the rest of us.
31. Carolina Panthers: They obviously needed receiving help, but should they have taken a more polished product than Kelvin Benjamin — perhaps Lee or Jordan Matthews? DE Kony Ealy seemed a bit of a luxury in Round 2 given the deficiencies at left tackle and corner. GM Dave Gettleman stays true to his board, but we’ll see whether it stays true to him or if he’ll wish he’d done more moving and shaking.
32. Indianapolis Colts: Ultimately, their draft will be judged largely on the performance of RB Trent Richardson, who arrived last September at the expense of this year’s first-round pick. Early returns on Richardson haven’t been good but perhaps he’ll bloom with the benefit of a full offseason. Top pick Jack Mewhort should alleviate the interior blocking problems in front of QB Andrew Luck while WR Donte Moncrief could be a candidate for Reggie Wayne’s role in future years.