Over the years the NFL Draft has become more of a television spectacle and less of an opportunity for clubs to restock and upgrade player personnel. But that’s fine, we’re all missing football and so fans are to be forgiven if we get a little too riled up about the names that wind up (or don’t) on our favorite team’s draft cards.
It takes several years to properly assess a draft class and even clubs that hit the jackpot generally only score with 30-40% of their picks, max. Draft strategy, savvy trading, and selecting the right combination of players to plug roster holes all play a big role in determining which GMs are the top dogs, but at the end of the day they’re all pretty much swingin’ dicks out there and there’s a lot of luck involved (good, bad, or otherwise).
All that being said, let’s look at some of the top stories from this year’s smorgasbord of selections.
If you pay any credence to draft grades.
In 2012 most NFL beat writers handed the Seattle Seahawks an overall draft grade of D or D-. Several prominent pundits went on record as saying it was one of the worst drafts of all time.
Bruce Irvin went on to record 8 sacks as a rookie. Bobby Wagner tallied 120 tackles, five sacks, two INTs, and one fumble recovery in 2013, all before leading one of the Super Bowl’s all-time best defensive performances from the middle linebacker position … Russell Wilson? Enough said.
And I haven’t even talked about the potential of defensive back Jeremy Lane and running back Robert Turbin.
In short, draft grades are about as useless as phone fingers. Nevertheless, here’s my take on what the experts are saying.
The consensus “winners” are the Bucs, Raiders, and Falcons.
Tampa Bay: Lovie Smith is so confident that he has inherited a playoff ready defense that he didn’t bother drafting a single defensive player. Instead he went after playmakers early at the skill positions and snagged WR Mike Evans, TE Austin Seferian-Jenkins, and RB Charles Sims. With luck these pick-ups will pan out and improve the Buccaneers’ terrible red-zone efficiency.
Oakland: Now that Al Davis is drafting up in Heaven with the angels, the Raiders didn’t blow their opening pick on an unknown track star receiver or even worse, JaMarcus Russell. The addition of Khalil Mack should provide the Silver & Black a premiere talent to center their defense around. Additionally Oakland signed a couple prominent has-beens in free agency. They look to be a team on the rise, but with the Broncos, Chiefs, and Chargers already at the playoff level it’s hard to say how many wins a successful off-season will translate into.
One more thing to mention about the Raiders. Finding Derek Carr in the second round was huge. Several teams ranked Carr as the top QB prospect full stop and so now Oakland’s got a great back-up plan should the Matt Schaub experiment go awry.
Atlanta: Mike Smith’s team would rather just forget about the 2013 season and focus on the fact that they were one touchdown away from the Super Bowl the year before. They’ve already got a franchise QB and the core pieces in place to compete again in 2014. They were in an excellent position to upgrade their line play up front on both sides of the ball, and they nailed it. They went with offensive tackle Jake Matthews in the first round and defensive tackle Ra’Shede Hageman in the second.
And now on to the stinkers. The Bengals and Chiefs hope their 2014 draft classes prove current critics to be just as incompetent as those who bashed the 2012 Seahawks’ draft haul.
Cincinnati: Most like the selection of cornerback Darqueze Dennard. He’s a good match of talent and need and has a kick-ass name. Beyond Darqueze there’s not much to shout about in Cincy and the decision to wait until the fifth round to take a QB (AJ McCarron) is a bit iffy. Andy Dalton has taken his team to the playoffs on multiple occasions, only to throw up duds when it really counts. The Bengals’ roster is deep enough that they could have used a higher pick to take another QB as insurance against Dalton’s inconsistency.
Johnny Football lands in Cleveland.
If you haven’t seen this Cleveland Browns fan go absolutely ape-shit bananas after watching his team select Johnny Manziel, set down your drink and enjoy the next minute and 55 seconds:
I’m just as excited as the next guy to see what Mr. Manziel can do in the NFL, but the list of collegiate superstar QBs who fell flat on their faces on the big stage is long enough to clog up your internet bandwidth.
The Dog Pound’s got something to look forward to next season and beyond, but with a one-year suspension looming for top WR Josh Gordon it will be an uphill battle for Johnny Football to make his mark in the NFL.
I wish the Browns the best of luck. They haven’t had a consistent quarterback since Bernie Kosar. But let’s not cream in our shorts long before Manziel completes his first pass.
Even owner Jimmy Haslam went out of his way to tell his team’s number one pick that he’d be arriving to camp as the back-up. “We were frank with him on Friday that’s the expectation, you’re the backup quarterback,” Haslam said while speaking at a Pro Football Hall of Fame luncheon. “This is a hard-working, blue-collar town, this isn’t Hollywood. We want you to come in and go to work.”
With the first pick in the 2014 NFL Draft, the Houston Texans take …
He’s 6-foot-5 and 266 pounds with 34-inch arms. Plus he’s ridiculously fast (4.53 40-yard dash at the Combine) for his size. He’s explosive. And he’s got the talent and potential to be the best defensive lineman in the game.
Will he put in the work to see to it that he reaches that potential? This is the big question. But at the very least Clowney’s skill set should see to it that he ends up being no worse than a mid-level starter.
In the draft, any time your player winds up good enough to suit up with the first team, you’ve won.
Washington and Jacksonville find great value in the second round.
Offensive tackle Morgan Moses was drafted 66th overall by the Washington Redskins. Many draft gurus had him going to the Seahawks at 32 in mock-ups. Seattle traded away their first round pick so that Minnesota could take Teddy Bridgewater, but nobody expected Moses to slide another 34 slots.
The Jacksonville Jaguars thought that they had their “new” Jimmy Smith in WR Justin Blackmon, but while Blackmon’s got the skillz to pay the billz, he’s got a substance abuse problem that’s kept him off the field. At 39th overall the Jags found first round talent in Marquise Lee out of USC. There’s no such thing as a plug-and-play wide receiver, but Lee is a solid pick and a player that can do it all. He’ll make the big red-zone catch and also stretch defenses or break big yards after the catch.
From Bortles to Bridgewater.
The Jaguars made it be known that Chad Henne is not the long-term solution under center. Will Blake Bortles be the guy to add stability to the position that Jags haven’t seen since David Garrard was still consistent? The brass claim that Bortles will spend a year with the clipboard … we’ll see how long coaches keep the #3 overall pick on the sidelines.
The Vikings opted to trade back into the first round when Teddy Bridgewater was still on the board. In essence they gave up a fourth round pick to bring in one of the top three QB prospects to compete with Matt Cassel. Minnesota is confident that Teddy’s sub-par pro day is hardly indicative of what he can do on the field.
All in for Sammy!
The Buffalo Bills really wanted WR Sammy Watkins out of Clemson. They gave up a first and fourth round pick in 2015 to move up just a few slots. It seems like a risky move for a team that’s still building and will have more holes to fill come next season, but if EJ Manuel can get Watkins the ball, he has the potential to be a difference maker.
Bow Down to Washington! A shout-out for my alma mater.
Bishop Sankey made history by being the latest “first RB off the board” in the history of the NFL. The Tennessee Titans found their CJ2K replacement at #54 and regardless of the so-called devaluation of the running back in professional football, you’ve got to have at least one good one to compete.
Sankey is electric. And he knows how to find the end zone. The only stat you need to know is that he broke Napoleon Kaufman’s TD record at Washington.
Next up … strap on the pads and get to camp.
Michael Sam made history as being the first openly gay prospect to be drafted by an NFL franchise. The “tweener” defensive end/linebacker was taken in the seventh round by the St. Louis Rams.
But while NFL.com has taken thousands of orders for Sam jerseys, he’s still a long ways from making the team and truly realizing his dream. It’s not uncommon for teams to cut draft picks before players have the chance to suit up for a single game.
Statistically the odds aren’t awful. Over the past decade approximately 70% of sixth and seventh round picks play in at least one game for the team that selected them, but this still means that three out of ten are shown the door or sent to the practice squad just a few months after experiencing the joy of being drafted.
Michael Sam’s got quite the battle ahead of him, and it has nothing to do with his sexuality. He’ll be thrown into the mix with hundreds of other draft picks and non-drafted free agents who are hoping to one day run out of the tunnel to the elation of a chock-full NFL stadium.
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