With the first round of the NFL Draft behind us, here are some of the key story lines from the opening night of the NFL’s most important part of the team-building process.
Right Tackles Steal the Show
“Steal the show” may be a bit of an exaggeration, but clearly the NFL has placed some value on finding right tackles in this draft. It potentially started with the first overall pick as the Kansas City Chiefs chose OT Eric Fisher, and depending on incumbent left tackle Branden Albert’s trade situation, Fisher may find himself on the right side to start his career.
The Jacksonville Jaguars made a similar move in taking OT Luke Joeckel second overall but unlike Fisher, there’s no doubt that he’ll be playing on the right side opposite LT Eugene Monroe.
From there, the Philadelphia Eagles (Lane Johnson), San Diego Chargers (D.J. Fluker), New York Giants (Justin Pugh) followed suit by drafting right tackle options despite already having competent left tackles on their respective rosters.
Perhaps the NFL is keeping up with our PFF research on left and right tackles, in fact the Jaguars Senior Vice President of Football Technology and Analytics Tony Khan admitted as much. We constantly hear about the NFL being a “copycat” league and it will be interesting to watch if the right tackle position continues to garner more attention around the league.
Where Does Dion Jordan play?
Throughout the draft process, analysts cited Dion Jordan’s versatility as his greatest asset. It’s rare enough to find an explosive 6-foot-7 edge rusher, but watching him cover slot receivers down the field is as unique as it gets. So how do the Dolphins fit him into their system?
The first option is to use him as a Von Miller clone that plays SAM linebacker on early downs before rushing off the edge in nickel and dime packages. This move would essentially render LB Koa Misi and DE Olivier Vernon irrelevant as Jordan is capable of performing both of their primary jobs. Misi played SAM last season while Vernon was the designated pass rusher after being selected in the third round last year. If Jordan plays SAM/edge rusher, both Misi and Vernon could become expendable.
The other option for Jordan is full-time defensive end and that was certainly a key need for the Dolphins coming into the draft. Left end Cameron Wake graded at +53.8 last season and he provided an amazing 31 percent of Miami’s total pressures. DE Jared Odrick played the bulk of the snaps at right end where he graded at -19.8 on his 566 pass rush attempts. There’s a possibility that Jordan could be eased into a full-time role at defensive end with Odrick remaining the early down option as Jordan bulks up into an every-down player.
Regardless of fit, the Dolphins got one of the most versatile players in the draft in Jordan.
Guards Join the Show
It wasn’t just right tackles who jumped up from “non-premium” position to first round priority as we saw two guards taken in the first 10 picks and four total interior offensive linemen came off the board in the first 32 picks. Jonathan Cooper was the first to go as the Arizona Cardinals snatched him up at No. 7 overall. He’s thought to be one of the most athletic guards to come out in some time and his selection speaks to the importance of preventing inside penetration in today’s NFL.
The Tennessee Titans followed suit by drafting Chance Warmack at No. 10 overall. He fits more of the “road grader” mold and it’s an interesting philosophical move for the Titans who have now invested heavily in the guard position after spending a pretty penny on free agent left guard Andy Levitre.
The final two interior players are Kyle Long to the Chicago Bears at No. 20 overall and Travis Frederick to the Dallas Cowboys at No. 31. Long is another potential right tackle option, but with Jermon Bushrod and J’Marcus Webb expected to man the tackle positions, he may start his career on the interior. Frederick is a center who joins a crowded group of pivot men for the Cowboys as Phil Costa and Ryan Cook are already on the roster.
Bold Moves for Positions of Need
Though there weren’t as many trades as last year’s first round, a few teams made moves in order to secure their targeted players. It started with the Dolphins jumping up to No. 3 to draft Jordan and the Rams soon followed suit by moving up to No. 8 to grab wide receiver Tavon Austin. In a draft dominated by the big guys, the selection of the dynamic 5-foot-8, 174-pound Austin shows the increasing value of the slot receiver in today’s NFL.
The San Francisco 49ers used some of their excess picks to move to No. 18 overall to draft FS Eric Reid out of LSU. This offseason saw last year’s starter Dashon Goldson move on in free agency and while the 49ers signed FS Craig Dahl, they obviously felt the need to add another option at the position.
With CB Dunta Robinson now in Kansas City, the Atlanta Falcons moved on a cornerback by jumping to No. 22 to secure Desmond Trufant. He’ll likely step into Robinson’s spot opposite CB Asante Samuel.
By many accounts, the Minnesota Vikings had the best haul of the day, but having two picks to start certainly helped their cause. Many expected them to target a wide receiver, but when DT Sharrif Floyd and CB Xavier Rhodes fell to them at No. 23 and No.25, respectively, they felt both players were too good to pass up. In order to add their necessary receiver, the Vikings gave up four picks to the New England Patriots to nab WR Cordarrelle Patterson at No. 29. The first two picks seem like no-brainers in the draft community, but the bold move to get Patterson is the one that may define this draft in Minnesota.
All of these moves will go a long way in determining each team’s immediate and long-term future. Draft currency is at a premium and each team deemed it necessary to use some of their allotted, or perhaps excess, picks in order to fill holes on their respective rosters. In the yearly debate of picking “best player available” versus positions of need, these moves clearly fit the latter but time will tell if the value matches up at each slot.
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