2014 NFL Draft: Reacting to Each Pick in the First Round
1. Houston Texans – Jadeveon Clowney, Edge.
Adding Clowney to a defensive front that already features J.J. Watt and could feature a more effective Whitney Mercilus with fully healthy Brian Cushing makes for a very intriguing defense in Houston. Clowney and Watt together could prove to be one of the best pass-rushing partnerships in the history of the NFL….that isn’t even hyperbole.
Watt is already that good and Clowney has been billed as that kind of talent since he went to South Carolina.
The problem for the Texans here is that they still don’t know who will be their quarterback and that remains the most important piece of any team. Any trade for Ryan Mallett would be il-advised, while Tom Savage seems like a mirage of a starting quarterback. Ryan Fitzpatrick isn’t a viable starter, so it’s unclear what route the Texans can take at the position to be competitive in 2014.
2. St. Louis Rams – Greg Robinson, G/T.
13. St. Louis Rams – Aaron Donald, DT.
The Rams will feel like they won the first round and it’s hard to argue against them. The only concern over Robinson as a prospect was whether he could be a full-time starter at left tackle from the first week of his rookie season. In St. Louis, that concern is less relevant because Jake Long is already entrenched at that spot.
Robinson is a monster in the running game. In a division that features three outstanding defensive fronts, adding him to the interior to play left guard across from Rodger Saffold gives the Rams an identity on offense. No longer will teams be able to rush four defenders and drop the rest into coverage because they will be terrified by the Rams running game.
That should open up the offense for Sam Bradford.
On the other side of the ball, Aaron Donald was truly the value pick of the first 16 selections. He likely fell because of his size, but again his size becomes less of an issue because of his landing spot. The Rams have the deepest rotation of defensive linemen in the NFL and Donald can move around to different spots to be the exceptionally effective pass rusher he projects as.
If the Rams line up Donald and Robert Quinn together on one side of the field, the opposing team’s quarterback will be hesitant before he even gets the ball.
While they still need to add pieces to the secondary, the added pressure upfront from Donald should elevate every level of the Rams defense. Chris Long, Kendall Langford, Michael Brockers, Robert Quinn, William Hayes, Alex Carrington, Donald and Eugene Sims give the Rams a rotation that comfortable goes eight players deep.
3. Jacksonville Jaguars – Blake Bortles, QB.
It’s hard to kill a team for taking a quarterback early in the draft, but this seems like a terrible selection from the Jaguars. Bortles is a developmental quarterback who needs time to grow into a starting role. Even if he corrects all of his mechanical issues, his ceiling doesn’t appear to be exceptionally high and maybe not even higher than the other quarterbacks taken in the first round.
Furthermore, if the Jaguars really wanted to take a quarterback, Johnny Manziel and Teddy Bridgewater were both seemingly better fits in their offense.
4. Buffalo Bills – Sammy Watkins, WR.
Trade: 2014 1st, 2015 1st, 2014 4th.
Adding Sammy Watkins is always going to notably upgrade your offense and the Bills will be delighted to get him, but I believe this trade was bad for both sides involved. Watkins is a special player, but the Bills definitely aren’t a receiver away from being relevant and they gave up a huge haul in a deep receiver draft.
The positive side for the Bills is that they are now set at the most important positions on their offense for the long-term. EJ Manuel is their quarterback. Cordy Glenn is their left tackle. Sammy Watkins is their first receiver. CJ Spiller is their franchise running back, presuming they re-sign him after the upcoming season.
On the other side, the Browns passed on Watkins who would have been a perfect complement to Josh Gordon. Watkins wouldn’t simply have been a number two receiver, it would have been more like the Falcons combination of Roddy White and Julio Jones in Atlanta, but potentially better once you add Johnny Manziel and Kyle Shanahan to the group.
5. Oakland Raiders – Khalil Mack, Edge.
The Raiders got one of the best, most versatile players in this draft. Mack can be an immediate impact player at different positions for that front seven and he does have the talent to be a 10 sack edge rusher. The only pause that comes with this pick is the Raiders’ situation at quarterback, they appear committed to Matt Schaub as a starter, and if there were any opportunities to trade down that were passed up.
Obviously we’ll never know if the Raiders turned down any trade down options so fans should be happy with Mack.
6. Atlanta Falcons – Jake Matthews, OT.
After an offseason of discussing if the Falcons would trade up and whether that would be a good or bad idea, the Falcons were able to land the best possible player for their offense without moving. Matthews is an immediate starter at any position on the Falcons line, but he should be expected to start at left tackle.
Matthews is technically sound and the best pass-blocking tackle in the draft. Because of where he is landing, he should immediately have a big impact on the offense. Some question if Matthews simply benefited from Manziel in college, but Matt Ryan gets rid of the ball very quickly also, so any concerns there shouldn’t prove to be major.
7. Tampa Bay Buccaneers – Mike Evans, WR.
This fit makes as much sense as any. While I don’t believe Evans is the second best wide receiver in this draft, I do believe he was the right fit for this offense. Evans is a big receiver who offers Josh McCown a greater margin for error with his accuracy. That is something that was an issue for McCown in Chicago, but an issue that was also masked by Alshon Jeffery, Martellus Bennett and Brandon Marshall.
With Vincent Jackson and Evans together now, the Buccaneers are trying to build a similar offense.
Evans is a well-rounded player. Don’t be fooled into thinking he is just a big body. He won’t be a great screen receiver or route runner underneath, but he should be effective enough at both aspects of the game to be used that way. That is important to avoid making the passing game too predictable.
8. Cleveland Browns – Justin Gilbert, CB.
Trade: 2014 1st, 2014 5th.
22. Cleveland Browns – Johnny Manziel, QB.
It appears that the Browns are the first team to overreact to the success of Richard Sherman. Gilbert is a big bodied cornerback who can run. His athleticism is incredible, but his coverage and technique is not. I don’t believe he was the best cornerback in this draft and I definitely don’t think he was worth a top 10 pick. Kyle Fuller and Jason Verrett should have better careers than him.
Mike Pettine likely sees some Antonio Cromartie traits in Gilbert to complement Joe Haden who fits into his Darrelle Revis role. Haden is nowhere near as effective as Revis and Gilbert will be doing well to develop into what Antonio Cromartie was at his peak.
It seemed like an inevitable pairing, so it was somewhat of a surprise that the Browns passed on Manziel twice before eventually taking him.
That’s not important now because they do have their quarterback for the future. He is not guaranteed a starting spot over Brian Hoyer, but his fit in Kyle Shanahan’s offense should give him the edge. Manziel could immediately become an effective starter because Shanahan will allow him to work out of the pocket and create easier throws/reads for him.
9. Minnesota Vikings – Anthony Barr, OLB.
32. Minnesota Vikings – Teddy Bridgewater, QB.
Trade: 2014 2nd, 2014 4th.
What I’ve learned this year about draft analysis is that you can’t always be definitive about a player. In this case, I definitely can’t be definitive about Anthony Barr. Barr is a late round player at this stage of his career, but the Vikings are taking him for his potential to develop into an all-pro. With Mike Zimmer as the head coach, it’s hard to bet against that development.
Barr is a great athlete who will likely move around the Vikings front seven somewhat. If his development goes as well as it possibly can, he should be able to play like a Von Miller in Denver. That’s very optimistic though.
The best pick of the first round was the last pick of the first round: Teddy Bridgewater.
Bridgewater is a potential star quarterback who was my top ranked player in this class. He is landing in a great spot because of the supporting cast the Vikings already have on offense for him and because of the coaching staff that will aid his development in different ways.
Adrian Peterson in the backfield, Kyle Rudolph at tight end, Cordarrelle Patterson, Greg Jennings and Jairus Wright at receiver, John Sullivan at center and Matt Kalil at left tackle is a rare level of talent for a rookie quarterback to inherit.
Norv Turner will directly aid Bridgewater’s development by coaching him, while Zimmer will help by not putting him in desperate situations by coaching up a defense that is devout of talent. Importantly, Turner banged the table for Bridgewater. That is notable because Turner generally likes big armed, taller and thicker quarterbacks.
10. Detroit Lions – Eric Ebron, TE/WR.
I’ve listed Ebron as a TE/WR because I doubt he lines up as an inline tight end very often. Ebron is an incredible athlete and a decent receiver who fits what the Lions were looking for. His wide catch radius and overall size(6’4) should help mask some of Matthew Stafford’s more erratic throws, while that size could also make him a focal point of the screen game as a blocker for Golden Tate and Reggie Bush.
While Ebron has a wide catch radius and the natural athleticism to be a very difficult matchup for defenses, he isn’t a natural receiver like Jimmy Graham or Rob Gronkowski. Ebron fights the football too often at this stage. He could develop into a reliable receiver, but it’s unlikely that he is the immediate impact player that Lions fans are undoubtedly hoping for.
11. Tennessee Titans – Taylor Lewan, OT.
This selection made no real sense to me once it was made. The Titans invested in Michael Oher to be their right tackle in free agency and Michael Roos is already entrenched as a quality starter at the left tackle position. Lewan won’t move to guard, because he’s not really that type of tackle and the Titans have two very talented guards in place.
Lewan appears to be a long-term replacement for Roos at left tackle. Roos is entering a contract year, but it does seem odd to invest in a player who won’t start for another year when picking 11th overall. If Lewan is to immediately become a starter, he will either fight Michael Oher’s starting spot away from him at right tackle or the Titans could move Roos to center and start Lewan at left tackle.
Roos at center would give the Titans one of the most talented offensive lines in the NFL.
12. New York Giants – Odell Beckham Jr, WR.
This was a luxury pick for the Giants. A strong free agency period that addressed the majority of their needs allowed them to be aggressive in pursuit of talent in the first round of the draft. Beckham is an exceptionally refined receiver who plays like Antonio Brown and his new teammate Victor Cruz.
Sometimes having two similar receivers can be a major problem, but Cruz and Beckham should complement each other well because they are both so well-rounded. Reuben Randle will be their only taller target though.
The Beckham pick suggests that the Giants offense will feature fewer vertical routes next season. Beckham can win the ball down the field and beat defensive backs in tight coverage, but using him and Cruz like that all the time wouldn’t be playing to their strengths.
14. Chicago Bears – Kyle Fuller, CB.
The Bears understood that they needed help in the secondary after investing so much in their defensive line during free agency. Each of the top safeties in the draft were available, but surprisingly Phil Emery was attracted by cornerback Kyle Fuller. Well, it’s only mildly surprising really.
Fuller is the best cornerback prospect in this draft. His footwork is overwhelmingly impressive and his awareness allows him to play the football aggressively. He could supplant the declining Charles Tillman as a starter from the first week of his rookie season. If that does happen, Tillman could potentially move to safety.
15. Pittsburgh Steelers – Ryan Shazier, LB.
It was somewhat of a surprise that Ryan Shazier went ahead of CJ Mosley in a scenario when Mosley didn’t fall out of the first round because of medical reasons. Shazier will be expected to immediately start alongside Lawrence Timmons as an inside linebacker, but he really needs to improve as a tackler in space if he wants to keep that job for the regular season.
The Steelers are generally thought of as a traditional team, but nobody can accuse their ancient coach of being stubborn in his ways. In recent times, the Steelers have altered their approach to put more athleticism on the field at all levels of the defense. That hasn’t always worked out well, but with the Shazier addition they at least project to have an awful lot of speed over the middle of the field.
Shazier, Timmons, Troy Polamalu, Mike Mitchell and Shamarko Thomas are all very versatile, fast players who will allow the Steelers to ease the pressure on their outside cornerbacks.
16. Dallas Cowboys – Zack Martin, OL.
For the second year in a row, the Cowboys make a very astute selection to improve their supporting cast around Tony Romo. Martin should immediately take Ronald Leary’s starting spot at left guard to fit between Tyron Smith and Travis Frederick. That trio will protect Tony Romo’s blindside as well as any trio of LT-LG-C in the NFL.
Martin is very versatile and he plays with great balance. Much like Frederick last season, he’s not an overwhelming athlete and he wasn’t considered as a top prospect at his position(offensive tackle). He was deservedly the first guard taken though.
17. Baltimore Ravens – C.J. Mosley, LB.
Just like the Pittsburgh Steelers did by bringing in Ryan Shazier, the Ravens set themselves up with a pair of fast linebackers for their defense moving forward. Mosley may immediately start, but he could also follow the Arthur Brown route and sit down for a season. He should start because he is a better player than Brown was coming out.
Brown likely won’t be his starting partner next season, as Daryl Smith remains on the roster, but for the long term this pick sets the Ravens defense up very well. The only concern with Mosley is his potential health issue that was speculated on at the combine.
18. New York Jets – Calvin Pryor, S.
Pryor is a very interesting player. He has great physical tools and exceptional range in coverage. He needs to be refined and coached up to potentially play an Earl Thomas type of role for the Jets, but with Rex Ryan’s coaching staff in place it’s tough to bet against him.
Pryor could also be more of a strong safety, but considering what the Jets currently have at that spot, he’s more likely to play deeper.
19. Miami Dolphins – JaWuan James, OT.
The Dolphins desperately needed offensive line help. I thought taking left guard Xavier Sua-Filo would have been better than another tackle, but the value of that spot likely pushed them towards James. James is one of a number of tackles who could have been taken at this spot. What likely separated him from others was his ability to immediately start at right tackle.
For Ryan Tannehill, this should be a massively important selection.
20. New Orleans Saints – Brandin Cooks, WR.
Trade: 2014 1st, 2014 3rd.
The Saints needed a receiver who could be a difference maker against the better defensive backs in the NFL. Marques Colston was simply too easy to cover for top defensive backs last season, while the rest of the pieces at receiver were primarily specialised in certain roles. Cooks doesn’t give them that receiver, but he does give them a lot of explosiveness to replace what was lost in Darren Sproles decline.
Cooks will be productive because Sean Payton will scheme him open, but I’m unsure how much this really improves the Saints offense when facing the better defenses in the NFL.
21. Green Bay Packers – Ha’Sean Clinton-Dix, S.
Discipline, intelligence and good tackling. That’s not something the Packers have seen at the safety position in recent years. Clinton-Dix is one of the best fits for the Packers at this spot because they were desperate for secondary help. He is not a great physical specimen, but he is the kind of versatile player who is tough to find at the safety spot across the league.
With Casey Hayward hopefully healthy, the Packers could be adding two very important pieces to their starting secondary next season.
23. Kansas City Chiefs – Dee Ford, Edge.
This was a bizarre decision from the Chiefs. They don’t need an immediate upgrade at outside linebacker. They do need someone to take Tamba Hali’s place in the future. Ford isn’t going to impact the team much during the 2014 season and he doesn’t appear to have the kind of upside that will allow him to develop into a star pass rusher.
By passing on offensive line pieces, receivers, safeties and even quarterbacks, the Chiefs didn’t upgrade their Alex Smith window or really establish a plan for the post-Smith era.
24. Cincinnati Bengals – Darqueze Dennard, CB.
I’m not a fan of this pick. I don’t think Dennard will ever be anything more than a decent starter. He is immediately ready to be a starter, so that is a positive here if Terence Newman finally succumbs to his age and Leon Hall is slow to recover from his torn Achilles.
Dennard can play all around the field, but he lacks the ideal athleticism to handle better NFL receivers. He is too quick to hold receivers and pull jerseys. That is an aspect of his game that is going to be exasperated when facing better receivers on the next level. Potentially an immediate starter but a low ceiling player who isn’t as good as Jason Verrett.
25. San Diego Chargers – Jason Verrett, CB.
You play in a division with Wes Welker, you take the best slot cornerback in the draft. This was a simple selection for the Chargers, not solely because Verrett can match up to Welker, but also because Verrett is an exceptional talent.
He has notable concerns with his height and his health, but if healthy his height shouldn’t affect him too much because of his aggressiveness and quality.
26. Philadelphia Eagles – Marcus Smith, Edge.
Marcus Smith reminds me of Cameron Wake. He’s the type of explosive edge rusher that the Eagles don’t have. While Trent Cole is still a very effective pass rusher and Connor Barwin is an all-around edge player, Smith is closer to Brandon Graham, a player who the Eagles appear intent on ignoring.
This is a great landing spot for Smith because he does need to develop a bit before he could be considered in a full-time role. He will likely sit behind Trent Cole, but see time in nickel packages across from Cole in place of Barwin.
27. Arizona Cardinals – Deone Bucannon, S.
This pick definitely addresses a need, but maybe not the most important one for the Cardinals. Bruce Arians was never going to take Teddy Bridgewater, he’s simply not his type of quarterback, but they could also have looked at different edge rushers or even another improvement to the offensive line.
Bucannon is a safety who needs to stay closer to the line of scrimmage. He should perfectly complement Tyrann Mathieu and add to the athleticism of the Cardinals defense as a whole.
28. Carolina Panthers – Kelvin Benjamin, WR.
29. New England Patriots – Dominique Easley, DT.
Boom or bust. If fully healthy and if he can prove his durability over the long term, Dominique Easley could be the best player in this draft class. The explosive defensive tackle tore both ACLs in college, but he has the potential to be a Demarcus Ware-like disruptor for the Patriots on the inside and outside.
This was a very aggressive move from Bill Belichick and it supports the notion that they are trying to maximise their window with Tom Brady at the helm.
30. San Francisco 49ers – Jimmie Ward, S.
Adding a safety in the first round seemed unlikely before the draft, but Ward is a great long-term fit with Eric Reid. He won’t be forced to start as a rookie, because Antoine Bethea is on the roster, but he can learn from Bethea as a backup while contributing in nickel packages.
Ward can line up anywhere on the field and carry out a variety of roles. It wouldn’t be a major shock if he spent a lot of time as the team’s slot cornerback this year. When he and Reid eventually become starters together, the spine of the defense projects to be very, very strong.
31. Denver Broncos – Bradley Roby, CB.
If everyone is healthy, the Broncos will have a big, physical cornerback, a slot specialist and a speedster atop their depth chart. Aqib Talib is that physical corner, Chris Harris in the slot and Roby as the speedster. Roby was very inconsistent from year-to-year in college. He has a lot of physical talent, but that physical talent is worthless if he doesn’t play to it.