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2014 NFL Draft Grades

June 9, 2014

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Every year countless publications give draft grades of the A-F variety and it always annoys me as one publication might give a team a B+ and have it mean that it was a very good draft since they gave plenty of Cs, Ds and Fs while another publication might give a B+ and have it mean that it was below average as they gave plenty of A’s. Grading a draft immediately after the draft is borderline pointless in itself as you really need a good 3 years to get the full view of how a draft has played out yet I think that at least in my ranking the drafts from #1-32 you will get a general idea of how your team did. I also did an in depth discussion of the Top 5 drafts, the Bottom 5 drafts as well as 3 other teams which I thought deserved highlighting. I apologize for how late this article is in coming out but, I think due to its unique grading scale, that it still proves relevant. 

  1. Browns: Where did you expect the Browns to be ranked considering they took my #1 player in the draft at #22. I’m not backing down one iota on Manziel as I think he will be offensive rookie of the year in 2014 and he will be a Pro Bowler within the first 3 years of his career. Yet the Browns are #1 not just due to one pick as I’m intrigued by the Justin Gilbert pick at #8, I think it’s a little bit of a reach but he had far and away the highest upside of any cornerback in the draft and if they hit on that pick they suddenly have the best cornerback duo in the league with Joe Haden already on board, and think the Joel Bitonio and Terrance West picks make a lot of sense. The cherry on top though was that they got three Day 1 starters (Manziel, Gilbert, Bitonio) AND somehow set themselves up with two first rounders in 2015. The trade down from #4 to #10 was what really cemented them at #1 in the 2014 draft rankings as I don’t buy the hype on the Buffalo Bills being a playoff team in 2014 so I expect the Browns to have a Top 12 pick next year as well as their own. The Browns have had a terrible offseason with the strange firings of their GM and head coach after only 1 season, their confusing and ultimately unsuccessful courtship of Jim Harbaugh and the year long suspension of their best player (Josh Gordon) but at least the Browns aced the 2014 draft.
  2. 49ers: Another year where the 49ers ended with one of my favorite drafts. I’ve said it the past two years in my draft blogs and I’ll say it again here: When will the media stop talking up the Ravens’ drafts so much and re-focus on the 49ers as the pre-eminent drafting team in the league. This draft had it all as the 49ers had few holes but largely addressed them as they drafted their #5 DB in Jimmie Ward (I had him clearly as a FS but some are saying the 49ers want him in that nickel DB role and will then later sort out whether he is a full time safety or cornerback), added a top notch center (Marcus Smith-the #1 C on my draft board and somehow available to them in the 3rd round!) to replace aging Jonathan Goodwin who recently signed with the New Orleans Saints, and then traded for veteran Steve Johnson after the wideouts they had targeted didn’t fall to them. The 49ers didn’t just address their holes though but used “luxury picks” to the maximum effect as RB Carlos Hyde in the late 2nd round, Pass Rusher Aaron Lynch in the 5th round and FB Trey Millard in the 7th were all steals. All three players will have a battle on their hands to even see the field as quality veterans are ahead of them on the depth chart but adding them to the roster makes the 49ers even more dangerous in 2014 and beyond. The 49ers are clearly the best drafting front office in all of football and it’s time the major media strip the title from Ozzie Newsome who hasn’t had a great draft since 2008 and hasn’t even had an above average draft since 2011.
  3. Packers: I wasn’t a huge fan of S Ha Ha Clinton-Dix in the 1st as I had a 2nd round grade on him but I was in the minority on that and I do still consider him a Day 1 starter at a position of need for them so it makes sense. The middle and late rounds though were what the Packers draft was all about as I loved the LB Carl Bradford pick in the 4th round and thought the WR Jared Abbrederis pick in the 5th round was one of the 10 best picks in the entire draft. Add in a good pick in the 2nd round with WR Davante Adams, an okay pick in the 3rd round with DT Khryi Thornton and an intriguing pick in the 7th round with WR Jeff Janis and you have an impressive draft from top to bottom. The Packers were an offensively dominant team that made the playoffs despite a lot of injuries so they didn’t need a lot of help yet they somehow were able to add three talented pass catchers (Adams, Abbrederis, Janis) for their star QB while not neglecting the defense as their 1st, 3rd and 4th round picks went to that side of the ball. It’s a perfect example of how to juggle needs while keeping your strengths in working order and it’s the opposite of how the Lions (spent too many high round picks on offense despite the defense being the weakness) and Colts (didn’t give their franchise QB any help) handled a similar situation.
  4. Jaguars: While the Browns are in the Top 5 because of their two 1st round picks and their ability to get another one in 2015 and the Packers are in the Top 5 due to their great picks in the mid to late rounds it’s the Jaguars 2nd round that has them this high. It was by far the best 2nd round of any team in the league as they got WR Marqise Lee (Top 10 grade on my board and my pick for the steal of the draft) at #39 and didn’t outsmart themselves when WR Allen Robinson was still available at #61. I actually didn’t like the Blake Bortles pick at #3, he was my #4 QB and a late 1st rounder on my board so taking him in the Top 5 and as the #1 QB was a stretch in more ways than one, yet the Jaguars have laid about as good of a foundation as possible for him to be successful. They have a veteran mentor in Chad Henne who is just good enough to allow Bortles a redshirt year if he needs it and just average enough to be beaten if Bortles is up to the challenge. They added a franchise caliber LT last year in Luke Joeckel who should man the LT spot for the next decade in Jacksonville. They added a veteran running back in Toby Gerhart who was rarely used in Minnesota so he should have plenty of tread left on his tires when Bortles eventually does become the starter. Finally they added two of my five highest rated wideouts from the 2014 Draft (Lee/Robinson) to join underrated Cecil Shorts. That is an outstanding supporting cast for any young QB to have and could be enough to tip the scales in favor of Bortles succeeding. Despite all of my high praise for Jacksonville, this draft still comes down to how good of a quarterback Bortles becomes. Everyone compared him to Ben Roethlisberger but Ben had a cannon coming out of Miami of Ohio and Bortles has mediocre velocity at best. To me he reminds me of a smarter, more accurate EJ Manuel than he does Roethlisberger as they have similar bodies as well yet both have inferior arm strength for their size, good but not great running ability and are raw passers. I loved the Jaguars 2nd round as well as the CB Aaron Colvin pick in the 4th round, the LB Telvin Smith pick in the 5th round and the Pass Rusher Chris Smith pick in the 5th round yet this draft will be decided by Bortles development and, with word out that he is likely to redshirt in 2014, this draft will be tough to grade for a few years.
  5. Vikings: For the 3rd straight year the Vikings ended with two or more first round picks. I think Spielman should have been fired as GM of the Vikings years ago (Honestly how do you survive the backlash involved with taking Christian Ponder 12th Overall just 3 drafts ago? He was a HUGE reach at the time and ended up being an obvious bust yet 3 years later management gives him the keys to the car again and says “go find us another QB.” I just don’t get it.) yet I at least like how he has a philosophy (gather 1st round picks in huge abundance) and has stuck with it. Also I’m pretty high on the past 5 first rounders he’s chosen: Matt Kalil (Pro Bowl), Harrison Smith (Pro Bowl), Sharrif Floyd (quiet rookie season but I still believe in him), Xavier Rhodes (average rookie season at the second hardest position in football for rookies to play so it’s very possible he will have a much better 2nd season) and Cordarrelle Patterson (an intriguing talent that excelled as a kickoff returner but was lost as a receiver). Anthony Barr has as much upside as any player in this draft outside of Clowney, Manziel and Robinson so it makes sense he went in the Top 10, though I had him as a mid 1st talent. Teddy Bridgewater was a Top 10 talent, despite his horrendous Pro Day which caused his stock to drop precipitously, so getting him at #32 was a steal. Also I love that Spielman maneuvered around the Texans at #33 for him as, even if the Texans didn’t want him as the first pick on Day 2, there was too much of a risk that someone would try and outbid the Vikings for Bridgewater if given a night to think about it. Moving up into the late 1st was likely cheaper than moving up into the early 2nd so Spielman’s aggressiveness and spontaneity earns him points. Those two 1sts were the reason for the Vikings high score but DE Scott Crichton in Round 3 and OG David Yankey in Round 5 were both steals. I had a mid 2nd round grade on Yankey so getting him for 4 years at $2.43 million will pay dividends for years to come as he’ll likely start next to Matt Kalil on the left side of the line and be a dominant , and cheap, duo.
  6. Bucs
  7. Titans
  8. Chiefs
  9. Raiders
  10. Texans
  11. Rams: The Rams had the 2nd best pick of the 1st round when they selected Aaron Donald at #13. I can’t even explain how much I love this pick as to me Robert Quinn is the best pass rusher in the NFL and is now going to be paired with Donald for the next decade. Throw in Chris Long, an underrated duo of Michael Brockers and Kendall Langford as well as an overrated backup in Michael Sam and you have the makings of the best DL in all of football. They didn’t rank any higher on my list though because I thought Greg Robinson at #2 was too high, especially considering that they are going to start him at OG as a rookie, and I wasn’t extremely high on any of their picks in Rounds 3-7. Many low level draft guys will point to Michael Sam in the 7th and Tre Mason in the 3rd as “steals” yet the reality is that those are just talking heads who have a working knowledge of the SEC. I had a 7th round grade on Sam and a mid 4th round grade on Mason so neither would be considered a steal in my book. I also really didn’t like the Mason pick as the Rams have holes in some areas of their roster but RB was not one of them. With Zach Stacy (6th round pick in 2013) as the clear cut starter and Isaiah Pead (2nd round pick in 2012) and Darryl Richardson (7th round pick in 2012) battling for the #2 and #3 spots I think it was pretty safe to avoid the position altogether this draft. Instead they used a valuable pick on it which immediately made Richardson expendable, he was cut shortly thereafter, and likely just switches one backup RB for another. I would say that’s a pretty dumb drafting strategy unless Mason wins the starting job from Stacy which I consider unlikely.
  12. Steelers
  13. Redskins
  14. Bears
  15. Cowboys: They started out strong with a good, safe pick in the 1st round in OG/OT Zack Martin and then a high upside pick that I liked in DE DeMarcus Lawrence. Those are two Day 1 starters at need areas and I like how the Cowboys have used a 1st round selection on an OL in 3 of the past 4 drafts after going +15 years under Jerry Jones without one. He clearly understood that he’d had one of the best groups of skill position players in the NFL the past half decade yet weren’t utilizing them at their peak efficiency due to the OL problems. With Tyron Smith, Travis Frederick and Zack Martin in the fold the Cowboys have 3 potential Pro Bowlers and could become one of the best offensive lines in the NFL. That should extend the careers of Tony Romo and Jason Witten a few more years as it will make everyone’s job easier on offense. I also love the DeMarcus Lawrence pick as I had him and Stephon Tuitt as the last two “impact” pass rushers in the draft and wasn’t nearly as high on the next tier types of Kony Ealy, Scott Crichton and Trent Murphy. The Cover 2 scheme that Dallas runs under Rod Marinelli is predicated on the front four creating a pass rush and with Lawrence on board there at least appears to be a chance that the scheme could work. Unfortunately to get Lawrence they had to sacrifice their 3rd round pick and that gives me pause as this is the deepest and best draft I’ve ever graded so to lose a valuable pick like that is painful as he very well could have been a top level starter. After the draft Stephen Jones told reporters that if the trade hadn’t been made they would have taken Kony Ealy in the 2nd round and Trai Turner in the 3rd round. Ealy to me projects as an average starting DE at best but Turner was one of my 10 favorite players in this draft as I stated at least 4x on my blog that it’s a question of when not if Turner makes the Pro Bowl as an OG. It’s a topic to discuss another day but Lawrence will need to have a very good career for me to forget that we traded away Trai Turner just to move up for Lawrence. While the trade up was controversial it at least made sense, which is something that cannot be said of the Cowboys 4th round pick in Anthony Hitchens. He’s an experienced, productive player from a Top 5 conference but his average athleticism and limited number of splash plays makes me suspect that he’ll be a mediocre starter at best. Justin Durant is a good comparison due to Durant’s solid tackle totals (443 tackles in 79 games) but very poor splash totals (3.5 sacks, 2 INTs in 79 games). Devin Street is another strange pick as the Cowboys, to that point, hadn’t addressed DT, CB or S and no one would have questioned them if they double dipped at DE or LB as their defense was the worst in the NFL last year. Strangely they chose a WR in Street in the 5th round, I had a late 5th grade on him but strongly preferred Robert Herron or Jared Abbrederis, and will be curious to see if he even beats out undrafted signee L’damian Washington who I had an early 4th round grade on. They are eerily similar prospects in size and style yet Washington has a much better burst as well as superior body control, he’s great at back shoulder catches, so I expect this to be similar to the Danny Coale/Cole Beasley situation of 2 years ago when they drafted Coale but I had a higher ranking on Beasley and Beasley ended up with the job. The 7th round provided some respite for Cowboys fans as they had 5 picks and one of them was great (S Ahmad Dixon), two of them were good (LB Will Smith, DB Terrance Smith) and the other two were solid and by no means reaches (DE Ben Gardner, DT Ken Bishop). Overall the Cowboys made two impressive additions to their starting lineup in Zack Martin and DeMarcus Lawrence and then added 7 other players with similar grades who will have a chance to compete for spots on the 53 man roster. It was hardly a resounding success but the early rounds are more important than the later ones so it’s nice to see the Cowboys again be successful with their Day 1 and Day 2 picks.
  16. Bengals
  17. Panthers
  18. Eagles
  19. Broncos
  20. Patriots
  21. Cardinals
  22. Jets
  23. Bills
  24. Chargers: The Chargers are a good example of how a few “roll of the dice” types in the late rounds can change a draft grade in years to come. I really liked their 1st round pick (CB Jason Verrett) but thought their 2nd round pick was a reach (3-4 OLB Jeremiah Attouchu) and their 3rd round pick was terrible (OG Chris Watt). In the 6th round though they intrigued me with the selection of Marion Grice and followed it up with another intriguing selection in the 7th in Tevin Reese. These are two speedy playmakers that an innovative coach could get some production out of as they both have been dynamic playmakers in big conferences (Pac-12 and Big 12 respectively) that fell due to their slight frames and injury history. Either of them could become Dexter McCluster types and become steals as late round picks which would turn an otherwise poor draft into a good one.
  25. Falcons
  26. Giants
  27. Saints
  28. Lions: Sometimes a draft is less about the players chosen and more about the strategy behind the players chosen. I said that in 2011 when they chose Nick Fairley, Titus Young and Mikel LeShoure with a 1st round pick and two 2nd round picks as I wasn’t against Fairley or LeShoure (I was openly against Young as I had a 6th round grade on him due to his long list of off the field issues and knew he’d be trouble) but was very against them taking all three of them in one draft as you just don’t add that many character issues to a locker room at once. It ended poorly for them as Young went AWOL, is out of the league and currently in jail while awaiting numerous criminal charges, LeShoure has been a rarely used running back that is currently 4th on the team’s depth chart and Fairley just had his 5th year option not picked up due to questions about his work ethic and maturity. This year is more of the same as I don’t dislike TE Eric Ebron at #10 or C Travis Swanson at #76 but dislike the strategy behind the picks. The Lions the past five seasons have had an average defensive ranking of 23.2 among the 32 NFL teams. That means they’ve been, on average, in the bottom quarter of defenses the past half decade. The past five seasons they’ve had an offensive ranking of 15.4 among the 32 NFL teams, with an even better ranking of 12.6 the past 4 seasons, which means that they’ve been in the top half to top third of NFL teams in offense. Yet this offseason their big money free agent acquisition was WR Golden Tate, their valuable 10th Overall Pick was TE Eric Ebron and even their 3rd round pick was C Travis Swanson. The Lions aren’t asking the right questions if their answer is to add more offensive talent. Their biggest issue is a secondary that is one of the weaker in the NFL, and has been for almost a decade now, yet they once again didn’t address it with a big name free agent or early round draft pick. They did sign S James Ihedigbo but he’s more of an average starting safety than a real impact player which is what the Lions really could use. I expect the Lions to once again have a vaunted passing attack and once again have a below average defense which should, once again, have them miss the playoffs. Please remind me of the meaning of insanity?
  29. Dolphins: They began the draft horribly by taking Ja’Wuan James at #19. Now I liked James and had an early 2nd round grade on him but to take him in the mid 1st is just plain dumb and is a great example of how teams shouldn’t get carried away with addressing needs as it too often ends badly. In the 2nd round they actually made a very good pick as Jarvis Landry in the latter parts of the round was good value and fit the team perfectly. He is that physical possession receiver type that will complement the speedy but soft Mike Wallace and is a great addition to their questionable locker room as Landry was my pick for the hardest worker/squeakiest clean prospect in this draft. Yet after making a great selection in the 2nd they turned to small school prospects with 4 of their final 5 picks and I rarely agreed with them. I liked CB Walt Aikens from Liberty as well as WR Matt Hazel from Coastal Carolina but when you add in LB Jordan Tripp from Montana and OG Billy Turner from North Dakota State it began to have the appearance that the Dolphins were overemphasizing the small schools. The Jaguars under Gene Smith from 2009-2012 focused on small school prospects and it ended up costing him his job. He hit on Cecil Shorts from Mount Union but ended up with too many busts from schools like Ashland, LeHigh, Central Arkansas, Murray State and James Madison. Studies have shown that bigger school prospects have a higher success rate than smaller school ones so I’m always hesitant when a team focuses so much on smaller school guys. Overall the Dolphins had a very questionable draft though I did love the Landry pick and think Aikens, Hazel and Tripp have a chance to buck the trend of small school prospects.
  30. Ravens: I mentioned it in the 49ers section but it’s worth mentioning again that the Ravens have become very overrated in their drafting. Their strategy is to take bigger, stronger players for each position at the expense of speed and athleticism. This is evident in recent 1st/2nd round selections LB Courtney Upshaw, OG Keleche Osemele, CB Jimmy Smith and NT Terrence Cody. All of these players are near the top end of the weight range for their positions and all have struggled at times due to medioce athleticism. It’s a strategy that worked well for Bill Parcells in the 80’s and 90’s yet doesn’t work as well today with the NFL being a passing league. GM Ozzie Newsome also loves big conferences as in the past 15 drafts he’s only taken 1 player in the first two rounds that wasn’t in one of the “big five conferences” (SEC, Big 12, Pac-12, Big Ten, ACC) and that was Delaware’s Joe Flacco. He’s also become obsessed with the SEC as 5 of the past 6 drafts have seen him take an SEC player with one of his first two picks. Another common trait of the Ravens is that they almost never trade up as he hasn’t traded up in the 1st round since 2008 (again Joe Flacco, a pick that has broken a number of trends of Newsome) but has traded down in the 1st round quite often. This year’s draft was loved by few but wasn’t panned by too many either as Newsome still is given a free pass on most drafts no matter how mediocre they’ve been in recent years. Whether you look at his 3 most recent 1st rounders (S Matt Elam, CB Jimmy Smith and OT Michael Oher) or his 7 most recent 2nd rounders (LB Arthur Brown, LB Courtney Upshaw, OG Keleche Osemele, WR Torrey Smith, LB Sergio Kindle, NT Terrance Cody, LB Paul Kruger) you’ll notice a trend as most of his high picks become mediocre starters. None of those 10 players have made the Pro Bowl one (Sergio Kindle) is an obvious bust and two others (Terrance Cody and Courtney Upshaw) are on the verge of joining him. It’s not a terrible draft record but can’t be considered anything better than mediocre and I’d argue that Torrey Smith, Paul Kruger and Michael Oher are the only impact players with Kruger being only an impact player for a season (2012 season he had 9 sacks and 42 tackles but in the previous 3 seasons COMBINED he only had 6.5 sacks and 27 tackles). That is not the haul you’d expect from the “best GM in football” yet somehow the title will remain. This year they took CJ Mosley in the 1st (I had a 2nd round grade on him), Timmy Jernigan in the 2nd (I had a 3rd round grade on him), Crocket Gilmore in the 3rd (I had a 6th round grade on him) and Brent Urban in the 4th (I had a priority free agent grade on him). It just appeared to be one reach after the other and I have my doubts that Mosley or Jernigan will break Newsome’s Pro Bowl drought which goes back to the 2008 Draft with Joe Flacco and Ray Rice.
  31. Seahawks: I know I know, the Seahawks just won the Super Bowl. Honestly though that has no relevance as to whether their 2014 Draft was good or bad and it makes me laugh how often people bring that up in defense. The Cowboys won the Super Bowl in 1995 yet that doesn’t mean Kavika Pittman in the 1st round of the 1996 NFL Draft was somehow a good pick. Pittman in 1996 was a bust as was Shante Carver in ’94, LaFleur in ’97 and Ekuban in ’99. Due to this string of 1st round busts the Cowboys went from the best team in the league to an old, mediocre shell of its former self very quickly. I’m not saying that the Seahawks are going to do that too but if they continue to draft like they did this year it COULD happen. Justin Britt, their late 2nd round pick, had a 7th round grade on my board and I honestly thought that I had him higher than most. He’s a solid RT type but his medical dossier is absurd and I would have put it at a 90% chance that he went undrafted. For the Seahawks to take him in the late 2nd is just flat out bad. Cassius Marsh, their early 4th round pick, is a talented player but he isn’t athletic enough to be a pass rusher (he ran a +4.90 40 which is in the realm of offensive line not pass rusher) let alone linebacker. The hope is that his fiery demeanor and impressive agility for his size will translate as a SLB in a 4-3 but it’s simply a roll of the dice type pick and with his off the field issues I thought it was a reach this early in the draft. After that they chose a number of small school (Middle Tennessee State, Marshall, San Diego State) guys I didn’t know much about but overall it seemed like every pick of theirs, except Kevin Pierre-Louis in the 4th which I LOVED, was either a huge reach or an unknown prospect. In 2013 their draft class was panned by me too and it appears valid, albeit after 1 year, as no one except their 7th round pick Michael Bowie contributed for them. The Seahawks are the most talented roster in the NFL today but the 49ers have been one of the best drafting teams the past 3 years while the Seahawks have been one of the worst the past 2 years (the Hawks 2012 draft with Russell Wilson, Bobby Wagner and Bruce Irvin was a Top 5 draft so their streak of bad drafts is only 2) and if that continues it could shift the balance of power in the NFC West.
  32. Colts: I’ll be the first to admit that when news of the Trent Richardson trade came down last fall I was stoked. I thought it was exactly what Andrew Luck needed as he was singlehandedly keeping that team in playoff contention and Richardson was going to help him in 2014 and pair with him for the next half decade. I clearly was wrong as he was a huge bust and it makes this draft look even worse since they traded away their 1st round pick for Richardson and his 2.9 yards per carry average. Unfortunately for Luck the Colts likely would have been #32 in my rankings even without taking into account the Richardson trade as they had just a terrible draft. It began with Jack Mewhort in the 2nd round who I had a late 6th round grade on, continued in the 3rd when they took Donte Moncrief who I expect to be nothing more than a good #3 WR and ended with Ulrick John in the 7th who I had never heard of. In between they chose S Jonathan Newsome and LB Andrew Jackson in the 5th and 6th rounds, two players that I had higher grades on than their 2nd rounder Mewhort. Unfortunately safety and linebacker aren’t two positions that will help make Andrew Luck’s job any easier on offense so once again the Colts didn’t add any elite young talent for Luck to grow up with. I like their free agent signing of Hakeem Nicks as he’s a former 1st rounder who still is only 26 years old and could recapture his old form but the reality is that they’ve surrounded Luck, in my opinion the pre-eminent young quarterback in the NFL today, with a bunch of #2 and #3 wide receivers, tight ends and running backs. They need to get him that Pro Bowl skill position player soon so he doesn’t start wondering why the team is always making his job so difficult. Considering that this was the best wide receiver draft that I’ve ever graded I think it’s damning that Luck again got no help on offense from the Colts upper management.
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