The 2014 NFL Draft is in the books as teams start to look towards Rookie Mini camp, OTAs and eventually Training Camp.
The first two selections of the draft went relatively as predicted, but after the Jaguars selected UCF quarterback Blake Bortles, the draft was shaken up, and NFL mock drafts and projections went down the drain (In my NFL Mock Draft 7.0: The Final Mock, I got 5 of 32 picks right).
Five trades, three of which included the Cleveland Browns, shook up the draft.
Johnny Manziel fell to No. 22, most analysts didn’t have him falling out of the Top 10, Teddy Bridgewater was taken at No. 32, some analysts had him falling out of the first round, and a few relatively unknown selections, Marcus Smith and Dominique Easley, were taken.
Every team thinks they drafted well, and while winning the draft doesn’t translate to the regular season, drafting well is an important step in improving one’s team.
Immediately after the draft, and sometimes after each pick, the selections are graded and scrutinized to see which team is the most improved, ready for the fall.
Here’s how I grade the first round picks of the 2014 NFL Draft.
- Houston Texans: Jadeveon Clowney, DE, South Carolina. The Texans played it safe with the No. 1 pick and took the best player available in Clowney. Unable to trade down, it made sense for the Texans to take Clowney and give themselves one of the most intimidating defensive lines with J.J. Watt and Clowney. A QB would have been a reach here, and the other player that should have been considered was Mack, but the Texans made the right selection. Grade: A
- St. Louis Rams: Greg Robinson, OT, Auburn. The Rams also went in a safe direction, taking one of the top-tier players in this year’s draft class and filling a need at offensive tackle. Robinson should anchor the Rams offensive line with Jake Long for years to come. The Rams could have also taken a wide receiver here and paired him with Tavon Austin, but Clemson’s Sammy Watkins is a bit too similar to Austin. Grade: A
- Jacksonville Jaguars: Blake Bortles, QB, UCF. The Jaguars surprised everyone with this pick and made Bortles the first quarterback taken off the board. While the Jaguars do need a QB, there were better players on the board at the time, namely Sammy Watkins and Khalil Mack, and Bortles will need at least one year of seasoning, but will have to step in and start right away if the Jaguars want to win. If the Jaguars do plan to sit him behind Chad Henne for a year, as they reportedly do, the No. 3 pick is too high of a selection to take a QB that’s going to sit on the bench for a year. Grade: C+
- Buffalo Bills (from Cleveland): Sammy Watkins, WR, Clemson. The Bills traded up from the No. 9 pick with the Cleveland Browns to take the best wide receiver in the draft in Watkins. While Watkins is a great receiver and will give E.J. Manuel and the Bills a No. 1 target, the Bills gave up too much to get Watkins. Trading up from the No. 9 to the No. 4 selection is worth about a second round pick according to the NFL Draft Value Chart, the Bills gave up a first and fouth rounder next year to move up, too much to move up only five spots, albeit for a great player. The Bills could have stayed at No. 9 and gotten Odell Beckham Jr. or Eric Ebron. Grade: B-
- Oakland Raiders: Khalil Mack, LB, Buffalo. The Raiders stood pat at No. 5 and arguably the second best player in the draft fell to them in Khalil Mack. Mack was both the top rated player available, and filled a need for the Raiders. Mack will be a force off the edge for the Raiders for years to come. Grade: A
- Atlanta Falcons: Jake Matthews, OT, Texas A&M. The Falcons tried to trade up and get either Clowney or Mack, but after fruitless efforts, the Texas reportedly had a huge asking price, the Falcons stood pat and filled a need at offensive tackle with Matthews. An excellent tackle, from a football family, Matthews will start on the Falcons offensive line from day one. Grade: A-
- Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Mike Evans, WR, Texas A&M. The Buccaneers drafted a NFL-ready wideout whose huge size will make him a playmaker at the next level. Lining Evans up alongside Vincent Jackson will give the Buccaneers two wideouts that will give opposing secondaries fits trying to cover. The Buccaneers filled a need with the best available player at WR. Grade: A
- Cleveland Browns (from Minnesota): Justin Gilbert, CB, Oklahoma State. The Browns traded down with the Bills to No. 9, acquiring a 2015 first and fourth round pick, and then traded up one spot with the Minnesota Vikings, giving up a fifth rounder. The move down was an excellent trade by Farmer, getting way over value for moving down five spots, and getting a possible Top 15 pick next year. Here the Browns selected a prototypical NFL-corner in Gilbert, following the Super Bowl champion Seattle Seahawks defensive model. Gilbert gives the Browns two premiere corners, along with Joe Haden, making the Browns secondary one of the best in the NFL. But with the possible suspension of WR Josh Gordon, questions arise as to why the Browns didn’t take Sammy Watkins. Grade: A-
- Minnesota Vikings (from Buffalo through Cleveland): Anthony Barr, LB, UCLA. The Vikings traded down one spot, acquiring a fifth round pick, and selected Barr, a ferocious pass rusher out of UCLA to play in Mike Zimmer’s defense. While Barr put up huge statistical numbers the past two years, he had some questions about his ability to be a three down NFL linebacker, making this pick a bit of a reach. Barr was the top OLB on the board, and fills a need for the Vikings, but they could have traded down further and probably still gotten Barr. Grade: B
- Detroit Lions: Eric Ebron, TE, North Carolina. Ebron is a going to be a great tight end, and gives quarterback Matthew Stafford another weapon on offense, but with needs in the secondary, the Lions could have used this pick more wisely. Four of the top five cornerbacks, and both top safeties were still on the board with this pick and picking any of them would have filled a bigger need for the Lions than Ebron. Grade: B-
- Tennessee Titans: Taylor Lewan, OT, Michigan. Even though Lewan was probably the best player available on the Titans board at No. 11, the Titans didn’t have a need at offensive tackle. In fact with the selection of Lewan, they now have surplus offensive lineman, after signing Michael Oher via free agency. Lewan will be a great tackle, but with top cornerbacks still on the board, the Titans could have better utilized this selection. Grade: C+
- New York Giants: Odell Beckham Jr., WR, LSU. While Beckham may develop into a great receiver, with such a deep receiver class, the Giants could have afforded to wait to take a receiver and fill a greater need on the offensive or defensive lines, especially with Aaron Donald still in play. Beckham will make the Giants offense better, but Aaron Donald was huge to pass up. Grade: B-
- St. Louis Rams: Aaron Donald, DT, Pittsburgh. The Rams really didn’t have a need on their defensive line, but Donald will further improve their front seven, which will especially help in the dominant NFC West, against ground and pound teams such as Seattle and San Francisco. A defensive back or a wide receiver would have filled a need here, especially with top players available at both positions, but Donald borders on being an elite prospect, almost too good to pass up. Grade: A-
- Chicago Bears: Kyle Fuller, CB, Virginia Tech. The Bears had needs in both their secondary and defensive line, and chose to draft Fuller here, to bolster their secondary. With the top defensive tackle in Donald off the board already, the Bears were most likely choosing between the top cornerbacks and safeties. He’ll start for the Bears from day one and immediately improve a miserable defense. Grade: A-
- Pittsburgh Steelers: Ryan Shazier, OLB, Ohio State. Shazier is a good outside linebacker and fits the Steelers defensive mentality, but he’s a bit of reach here, many ranked him as a late first round pick. Additionally the Steelers have holes in the secondary that need to be filled, especially in a division with Torrey Smith, A.J. Green and Josh Gordon. Drafting a cornerback might have been a better move here, even for a team that likes to draft based on best available, rather than need. Grade: B+
- Dallas Cowboys: Zack Martin, OT, Notre Dame. Martin should develop into a solid interior offensive lineman, but with both Ha Ha Clinton Dix and Calvin Pryor still on the board, the Cowboys could have drafted for a greater position of need. Martin is a safe pick, he can play every position on the offensive line, and a better pick than taking Johnny Manziel and creating a quarterback controversy, but Jerry Jones could have filled a greater need here. Grade: B-
- Baltimore Ravens: C.J. Mosley, ILB, Alabama. Mosley wasn’t expected to be available here for the Ravens, and while he doesn’t fill an area of need, he’s another prototypical player for the Ravens defense who should step in and fill Ray Lewis’ vacated spot along the front seven. The Ravens could have gone with a safety or a wide receiver, but the best inside linebacker in the draft was too good for them to pass up. Grade: A-
- New York Jets: Calvin Pryor, S, Louisville. With a deep receiver class, the Jets decided to wait on drafting a wideout and selected a new enforcer for their defense in Pryor. Pryor adds to the already loaded Jets defense, giving them another playmaker in their secondary. Brandin Cooks could have been a need-based selection here as well. Grade: B+
- Miami Dolphins: Ja’Wuan James, OT, Tennessee. Miami was in desperate need of offensive lineman, but with the four top prospects off the board, the Dolphins reached for a player who most believe wasn’t even the best offensive lineman available. The Dolphins could have traded down and still gotten James or taken Cyrus Kouandjio or Xavier Su’a-Filo, both of whom were more highly rated. Grade: C-
- New Orleans Saints (from Arizona): Brandin Cooks, WR, Oregon State. The Saints gave up a third round pick to trade up seven spots with the Arizona Cardinals and take the highest receiver still available on the board in Cooks. Cooks will give quarterback Drew Brees another target over the middle and help lessen the blow if a long-term deal with Jimmy Graham isn’t signed. Cooks fills a need, albeit a smaller one than on the defensive side of the ball, and will add another dimension to the Saints offense. Grade: B+
- Green Bay Packers: Ha Ha Clinton Dix, S, Alabama. The Packers were in need of a safety and had the best safety in the draft fall to them at No. 21. Clinton Dix will immediately improve a secondary that ranked No. 24 in the NFL, giving up over 245 passing yards per game. Clinton Dix will quickly become a leader on the Packers defense, and a well-known name for Packers fans. Grade: A
- Cleveland Browns (from Philadelphia): Johnny Manziel, QB, Texas A&M. The Cleveland Browns traded up from No. 26 with the Philadelphia Eagles, giving up a third round pick in the process, to take their quarterback of the future in Manziel. Johnny Manziel, or as he’s now termed, Johnny Cleveland, brings swagger and confidence that has never been seen before to the Browns quarterback position. Manziel has questions but to get him at No. 22 is a steal when most people thought he wouldn’t fall out of the top 10. The rumors that owner Jimmy Haslam III forced the Browns to make this selection are troubling though, whether or not they’re actually true. Grade: A-
- Kansas City Chiefs: Dee Ford, DE, Auburn. While the Chiefs do have two defensive ends set to become free agents at the end of next year, defensive end really wasn’t a position of need, and they reached for the Auburn prospect when a better player, Missouri’s Kony Ealy, was still on the board. The Chiefs could have filled needs at cornerback or wide receiver here, but instead reached for a prospect that won’t even start this year. Grade: C
- Cincinnati Bengals: Darqueze Dennard, CB, Michigan State. The Bengals needed a cornerback, and one of the best in the draft fell to them at No. 24. A press cornerback that fits the Bengals system very well, Dennard was not expected to be available with this pick, but fell into the Bengals lap. Dennard was the best available, both need-wise and overall for the Bengals. Grade: A
- San Diego Chargers: Jason Verrett, CB, TCU. San Diego needed an upgrade at cornerback, and the Chargers got their guy in Verrett. The TCU product had been projected to the Chargers by many analysts, and was the best corner available when the Chargers were on the clock. San Diego could have also selected a linebacker or a defensive lineman, but the best player available, based on their needs, was Verrett. Grade: A-
- Philadelphia Eagles (from Cleveland): Marcus Smith, DE, Louisville. The Eagles traded down four spots with the Cleveland Browns, acquiring a third round pick in the process, and selected Smith. While Smith fits the Eagles defensive scheme, he’s a bit of a reach here with Kony Ealy and Demarcus Lawrence still on the board. But with the top defensive backs and wide receivers off the board, the Eagles would have had to reach to fill most of their needs. Grade: C+
- Arizona Cardinals (from New Orleans): Deone Bucannon, S, Washington State. Arizona traded down with the Saints and acquired a third round pick, but by trading down, the Cardinals missed out on some of the top cornerback prospects, as they were taken before the No. 27 pick. Bucannon fills a need for the Cardinals and even though he was a bit of a reach here, will give the Cardinals an excellent, hard-hitting secondary along with Patrick Peterson and Tyrann Mathieu. Grade: B+
- Carolina Panthers: Kelvin Benjamin, WR, Florida State. The Panthers were in desperate need of wide receivers as Jerricho Cotchery and Jason Avant were at the top of the Panthers depth chart before the draft. While Benjamin was a bit of a reach, he’s the best receiver available and will give Cam Newton a huge target. Grade: A-
- New England Patriots: Dominique Easley, DE, Florida. Easley was a first round talent before tearing his ACL in September, and while Kony Ealy was still on the board, this is a typical Bill Belichick pick – taking an undervalued guy and getting the most out of him. The Patriots needed to improve their defensive line and did here. Notre Dame DT Louis Nix could also have been the pick as well to eventually replace Vince Wilfork. Grade: B+
- San Francisco 49ers: Jimmie Ward, S, Northern Illinois. The 49ers needed help in the secondary, but more so at cornerback than safety. Jimmie Ward is a good prospect, but Bradley Roby would have filled a bigger need. Ward will compete with Antonio Bethea for the starting safety spot and give the 49ers another hard-hitting defensive player. Grade: B-
- Denver Broncos: Bradley Roby, CB, Ohio State. The Broncos needed help along the interior of their offensive line and in the secondary, and could have gone in either direction here. UCLA guard Xavier Su’a-Filo would have been the offensive line pick here and may have been a better choice with concerns about Roby’s ability to guard top flight receivers after a subpar junior season at Ohio State. Roby still was deserving of a first round pick and will improve the Broncos defense, but from a value standpoint, Su’a-Filo may have been a better selection. Grade: B+
- Minnesota Vikings (from Seattle): Teddy Bridgewater, QB, Louisville. The Vikings gave up a fourth rounder to move up from their second round selection, back into the first round and take Bridgewater. The Vikings needed a quarterback and got their future QB in Bridgewater, who once was projected as the No. 1 overall pick. Grade: A