08 May 2014

2014 NFL Draft: 1st Round Grades

This is what we have been waiting months (and two weeks longer) for, the 2014 NFL Draft. As it gets underway tonight at Radio City Music Hall, I will be posting live grades for every pick from 1 to 32 and everywhere in between. Let's take a look.

Final Mock Draft

1. Houston Texans - Jadeveon Clowney, DE, South Carolina
The Texans had to make this pick, the Khalil Mack talk was just complete jive, you do not pass up Clowney because of the scheme fit. Clowney was the best player in this draft and you do not pass up a kid with the prodigious gifts that this kid has, even if he is not a great fit for a 3-4. Even if he hits the floor of his talent and only that, he is a Pro Bowler. He will form an awesome pass rush with J.J. Watt that will greatly improve the Houston defense, and the sky is the limit.
Grade: A

2. St. Louis Rams (from Washington) - Greg Robinson, T, Auburn
The Rams were not in a terrible position whether it was Robinson, Sammy Watkins or Khalil Mack but I think they made a good selection in the massive tackle from Auburn. Robinson is a mauler and remarkably athletic for a guy of his size. You have heard the name Walter Jones when talking about him. He should be sensational right away in the running game and has all the skills to be a franchise left tackle. Yes the Rams have Jake Long, but he has injury issues as does Rodger Saffold. Robinson should plug right in at right tackle or if the team likes what they see out of Joseph Barkdale, they could put Robinson for a year or two inside.
Grade: A-

3. Jacksonville Jaguars - Blake Bortles, QB, UCF
Well I was not expecting this, this is a legitimate surprise even with the team's major need at quarterback. But I thought they were going to wait until the second day to take their quarterback and go with Khalil Mack or maybe Sammy Watkins, especially after bringing back Chad Henne. I like Bortles, he has a very good arm, is accurate and is mobile, but I also had him as the third best quarterback on my board. If they wanted Bortles, they could have moved down for him but I don't like him at three.
Grade: C+

4. Buffalo Bills (from Cleveland) - Sammy Watkins, WR, Clemson
This is a late breaking move for Buffalo but I had said in a couple prior mocks that they loved Watkins and were willing to move up for him. However, I do think they overpaid as they also traded not just their top pick this year, but their top pick next year too. That's a big risk for a wideout, especially in a deep receiver draft.
But this is still an really good pick as the Bills wanted to grab more weapons for second year quarterback E.J. Manuel, and Watkins is a hell of a player. I think he is the best wideout to come out of the draft since A.J. Green and he will make a strong receiver combo with Steve Johnson (Update: Johnson has been traded to San Francisco).
Grade: B

5. Oakland Raiders - Khalil Mack, OLB, Buffalo
I am surprised in the end that Mack fell to the fifth selection but I love the pick for the Raiders, even after they brought in a pair of aging pass rushers in Justin Tuck and Lamarr Woodley. Their team needed talented and particularly on the defensive side of the ball where they needed an impact player that can bring some juice. That guy is Mack. Mack is the kind of linebacker that can get you double-digit sacks and make plays against the run and pass coverage as well. He is an all-around talent, and this is a great move.
Grade: A

6. Atlanta Falcons - Jake Matthews, T, Texas A&M
Matthews got overshadowed during the draft process by Greg Robinson but this is still a franchise left tackle prospect. Sure, he is not the athlete Robinson is but he is an excellent pass rusher already, can maul in the running game and is a sound technician. There is no question that the Falcons need to improve their pass protection and even with Mike Tice in town, Sam Baker is probably never going to be the kind of player Matthews can be. Whether you play Matthews on the left or right side, he will make an impact immediately. Oh, and his bloodlines are amazing considering his father is only the Hall of Famer Bruce Matthews
Grade: A

7. Tampa Bay Buccaneers - Mike Evans, WR, Texas A&M
In the wake of Mike Williams's off the field issues and his eventual trade to Buffalo, the Buccaneers needed another wideout for Josh McCown and they got the best available guy at the position in Evans. Evans was a little under the radar when compared to the hype surrounding Sammy Watkins, but he is still an excellent receiving prospect. He is an athletic freak for his size and utilizes his size to make plays all over the field. He is also excellent near the sideline and has good hands. He may not be a burner, but he can be a number one and with Vincent Jackson, he will form one nasty receiving duo.
Grade: A-

8. Cleveland Browns (from Minnesota) - Justin Gilbert, CB, Oklahoma State
I am very surprised that Cleveland did not move up ahead of Minnesota and not take a quarterback, whether it would have been Johnny Manziel or Derek Carr. Now I like Justin Gilbert a lot. I think he can be what they call a "shutdown corner" thanks to his size and his cover ability, which is excellent. He also gives the Browns a strong return threat and a Joe Haden-Gilbert cover combo is pretty nice. But another corner was not a big need and Buster Skrine was solid last year. I like the player but they had bigger needs to address.
Grade: C

9. Minnesota Vikings (from Buffalo via Cleveland) - Anthony Barr, DE/OLB, UCLA
The Vikings really needed to improve their defense, which was the worst in the NFL last year statistically. Mike Zimmer will need to do some work but he has himself a talented pass rusher here. Barr has only played defense for a few years after starting at UCLA as a fullback and he is raw but he has tremendous talent as a pass rusher. The Vikings needed to upgrade their pass rush and could use help at end and outside linebacker, and they got a talent here.
Grade: B+

10. Detroit Lions - Eric Ebron, TE, North Carolina
Even as they have a guy named Calvin Johnson, the Lions needed more weapons for Matthew Stafford. They made a decent signing of Golden Tate to pair him at wideout with Megatron, but they could have used an upgrade at tight end from Brandon Pettigrew. That upgrade they got here in Ebron, the top tight end in the draft. Ebron is the kind of player teams are loving to play at tight, the athletic beast. Ebron really is just a bigger wideout and he is a matchup nightmare for linebackers and safeties. Now, there are no excuses for Stafford.
Grade: B

11. Tennessee Titans - Taylor Lewan, T, Michigan
Was Tennessee simply going with the best available on their board here? That is what I think is their justification here because tackle is not that big of a need here. Michael Roos is still a solid left tackle but he is 32 years old. They signed Michael Oher, who is overrated, to replace David Stewart at right tackle, but now they add in Lewan. I like Lewan a whole lot and I think he can be an excellent left tackle thanks to his tremendous pass protection skills, but I don't see the immediate need for Tennessee unless somebody slides to guard.
Grade: B-

12. New York Giants - Odell Beckham, Jr., WR, LSU
I would have thought that Zack Martin would have been the guy here to bring a much needed upgrade to the offensive line. Now even after losing Hakeem Nicks to the Colts, the Giants did have a solid receiving corps but they have made it strong in selecting the talented Beckham. Beckham is a tremendous route runner and he is the kind of downfield threat that Eli Manning will love to take advantage of. He has the excellent speed to get separation too. This is a good pick.
Grade: B

13. St. Louis Rams - Aaron Donald, DT, Pittsburgh
The top offensive tackles are off the board so St. Louis instead took the talented tackle from Pitt. Yes, they really did not have a big need at defensive tackle next to Michael Brockers, but they also did not think Donald would be on the board here, even as he is not a great scheme fit. Donald would have been a high pick had he been bigger but beyond his smallish size, the kid is a beast at rushing the passer and was dominant in 2013. He was one of my favorite players in the draft and St. Louis got a really nice value pick here.
Grade: B+

14. Chicago Bears - Kyle Fuller, CB, Virginia Tech
I must say, I am surprised that they did not go with Ha Ha Clinton-Dix and I thought before the draft that he would be gone by now. That said, they got a talented defensive back in Fuller. Chicago really needed some reinforcements in the secondary and they needed to get younger at cornerback. Fuller is ready to step right in at either cornerback or even safety. He is not all that fast, but his coverage skills are very good and very technically sound. He also can contribute in run support as well. This is a rock solid defensive back and Chicago made a good pick here.
Grade: A-

15. Pittsburgh Steelers - Ryan Shazier, LB, Ohio State
Shazier is the kind of player that looks like the ideal linebacker in today's NFL. He is very speedy and athletic and has superb instincts as well. He is a tremendous tackle and can blitz off the edge as well. And Pittsburgh needed to add more youth and talent to their linebacking unit, particularly at the inside linebacker position. My one concern here is if Shazier is a little undersized to play the inside of the 3-4 but even then, this is a really good selection. I like Shazier a whole lot.
Grade: B+

16. Dallas Cowboys - Zack Martin, G/T, Notre Dame
A lot of folks were feeling Johnny Manziel going here, which really was never going to be an option for the Cowboys, but as Tony Romo is still the quarterback in the Big D, they have to protect him. And to improve their pass protection, they could improve from Doug Free at right tackle and particularly at guard. Fortunately for them, Martin is the kind of versatile lineman that can play seemingly everywhere along the offensive line, even as he is a little slight to play guard. He is an excellent technician, a good athlete, and can play right away.
Grade: A-

17. Baltimore Ravens - C.J. Mosley, LB, Alabama
Ozzie Newsome loves his Alabama players and he got himself a pretty good one in Mosley. Mosley is not as athletic as Shazier but he is an excellent football player. He is an excellent pass defender and has some blitzing ability as well. He is an intelligent linebacker and very instinctive. The Ravens didn't fully replace Ray Lewis last year and Jameel McClain was released this offseason. Mosley should step right in and start right away.
Grade: A-

18. New York Jets - Calvin Pryor, S, Louisville
Pryor over Ha Ha Clinton-Dix? I do not love that, but this is still a very good selection. Pryor reminds some of former Colts safety Bob Sanders, except a little bigger. This guy is tremendous in the box as he is a big hitter and is excellent in run support. He is also fast and can cover tight ends as well. Even as the Jets have not gone offense is six years, they did have a big need at safety as Ed Reed and Antonio Allen were awful last year.
Grade: B+

19. Miami Dolphins - Ja' Waun James, T, Tennessee
As the Dolphins missed out on the top offensive tackles, they were going to have to reach as they do for James, so their grade suffers here. However, James is a solid tackle prospect and a solid player for a team that desperately needs line help. James is athletic for a tackle and is both a solid run blocker and pass blocker. He should be able to step right in at right tackle and could potentially contribute at guard as well if needed. But this is still a round too early.
Grade: C+

20. New Orleans Saints (from Arizona) - Brandin Cooks, WR, Oregon State
The Saints clearly coveted Cooks and thus they moved up to 20 to take him. After trading Darren Sproles to Philadelphia, they needed a speedster in their offense and therefore Cooks makes a lot of sense. Cooks is very fast, has really good hands and runs very good routes. He is small but for this New Orleans offense, that does not matter. Drew Brees loves his weapons and loves to spread the ball around, and he should love to utilize Cooks in a variety of ways.
Grade: A-

21. Green Bay Packers - Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, S, Alabama
The Packers were a disappointment on the defensive side of the ball last year, and they came into this draft with needs at virtually all positions there. I am very surprised that Clinton-Dix has lasted this far in the draft but it makes sense that a team that loves to take the best player on the board does just that. Green Bay has virtually nothing to speak of at safety so Clinton-Dix will be a big upgrade. He is a classic center fielder of a free safety and he is tremendous at defending the deep pass. He is also a big safety and athletic enough to cover tight ends. This is a great pick.
Grade: A

22. Cleveland Browns (from Philadelphia) - Johnny Manziel, QB, Texas A&M
There it is! The wait is over for the man they refer to as Johnny Football as the team that I thought just a week ago would take him at four has traded up from their second selection to take him. They had an obvious need for a franchise quarterback for many a season, and they got who I think is the top quarterback in the draft. Yes, Manziel is small. Yes, his mechanics are a mess. Yes, he is probably limited to the shotgun. But you know what? His instincts are amazing, he has a good arm, he can make plays with his legs and he is an accurate thrower. Plus, he's a leader. Color me a Manziel guy and I love this pick.
Grade: A

23. Kansas City Chiefs - Dee Ford, DE/OLB, Auburn
Finally, we get our first awful pick of the evening! This pick is a mess for many reasons. First, there was not a big need here for the Chiefs as Tamba Hali and Justin Houston are still very solid. Second, they had a bigger need for receiver and has Marqise Lee sitting there on the board. And third, Ford is an overrated prospect that is more or less a one-trick pony. This is a speedy pass rush that is just that. He has no moves and is too small to be anything other than an outside linebacker. He has no experience in coverage and is a disaster against the run. This is a terrible pick for Andy Reid.
Grade: F

24. Cincinnati Bengals - Darqueze Dennard, CB, Michigan State
Mike Brown is a clown but the Bengals have really turned into a very solid drafting team. This is an excellent pick on multiple levels. Dennard was, in my opinion, the second best corner in this draft. He is not that fast but he is excellent in press coverage, which Cincinnati utilizes often, he plays physically but clean and he plays the football well. He fills a need for a Bengals team that needs youth and depth at corner and is a great fit all around.
Grade: A

25. San Diego Chargers - Jason Verrett, CB, TCU
The Chargers were truly a mess in pass defense last year and if they wanted to return to the postseason after their surprise 2013 trip, they were going to need an upgrade. Fortunately for them, they drafted a good corner in this TCU product. Sure, he is a small corner but if he were bigger, it is not a stretch to say that he would be the best corner in this draft. He is a very good cover corner and he is both fast and instinctive.
Grade: A-

26. Philadelphia Eagles (from Indianapolis via Cleveland) - Marcus Smith, OLB, Louisville
This is a nice reach here, although I think I may have forgotten him when I tweeted my big board earlier in the evening by accident. The team did have a need for some rush linebackers beyond Trent Cole and Smith is a 3-4 outside linebacker. And Smith is not a terrible player by any stretch as he gets off the line well and has some speed around the edge. But Philadelphia could have traded back further or simply wait to take him in a round as I think he would have been available then.
Grade: C-

27. Arizona Cardinals (from New Orleans) - Dionne Bucannon, S, Washington State
At least the Cardinals moved down to take this pick, although they could have taken Ha Ha Clinton-Dix by staying at the 20th pick. Bucannon does fill a need for a safety out in Glendale and he is a solid prospect (albeit somebody else I forgot on my big board). He is a big safety that has nice ball skills and is a bruising hitter. But Arizona is reaching here as Bucannon could have been had in the second round.
Grade: C

28. Carolina Panthers - Kelvin Benjamin, WR, Florida State
Now the Panthers had a big need for a receiver after Steve Smith, Brandon LaFell and Ted Ginn all left Charlotte. I do not even know what receivers are on Carolina's roster, and I am not ashamed of that. But I am not a big Benjamin fan, and you had a superior player in Marqise Lee available. Yes, Benjamin is a huge receiver and was able to make a ton of plays down the field for the national champs. But his hands are inconsistent, he does run good routes, is still very raw and was a one hit wonder in Tallahassee.
Grade: C+

29. New England Patriots - Dominique Easley, DE, Florida
While I think there were better defensive linemen on the board like Louis Nix, Ra'Shede Hageman and Stephon Tuitt, this is still a solid pick for New England who really need some depth and some youth along their defensive front. Easley probably would have been a higher selection had he not torn his ACL early in the 2013 season. Easley is tremendous off the snap at the line of scrimmage and has an excellent motor with plus strength. He is a pretty talented end and can surprise. provided he is healthy. Not a bad selection.
Grade: B

30. San Francisco 49ers - Jimmie Ward, S, Northern Illinois
San Francisco has a need for corner, so they could have taken Bradley Roby. They have a need for a 3-4 defensive end, so they could have selected Stephon Tuitt. But they also had a need at safety, albeit not as big after signing Antoine Bethea, but they reached for Ward here a round, maybe even two, too early. Ward is small but he has nice coverage skills for a safety. However, he was not a first round caliber of a player in my mind.
Grade: C-

31. Denver Broncos - Bradley Roby, CB, Ohio State
Even after signing Aqib Talib, the Broncos could have used more depth at cornerback considering how many times teams throw against them and they drafted a good one here in Roby. He did struggle in 2013 at times and was killed by Wisconsin's Jared Abbredaris, but the kid is talented. He is a tremendous athlete that can run and cover any kind of receiver. This is a great value pick for the Broncos and the reward should outweigh the risk.
Grade: A-

32. Minnesota Vikings (from Seattle) - Teddy Bridgewater, QB, Louisville
The fall of Bridgewater has been bizarre. Sure, prospects can and do fall from their ranking at the start of the process but I don't understand why Bridgewater did fall. Yes, his Pro Day was a mess. Sure, he may not be an amazing athlete or have a cannon, but he does not have many flaws, does almost everything pretty well, is a very intelligent on the football field, craves the film room and makes good decisions. He is the one quarterback that is best suited to step in and play right away and I do actually believe he can be a fine starting quarterback at the next level. Plus, he is a good situation in the Twin Cities.
Grade: A

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