Uncertainty over the top picks fuels this year’s unusual and exciting kickoff to draft weekend. PFF’s Steve Palazzolo will take you along for the ride as he comments throughout tonight’s first round of the 2014 NFL Draft.
Tune in and stay with us for immediate reaction to each of the picks and the PFF perspective on player fits and how teams can use the big-name talent they acquire.
TRADE! The Minnesota Vikings trade back into the first round to select QB Teddy Bridgewater, Louisville.
One of the draft’s major storylines came to a head on the final pick of the first round as the Vikings make the move for Bridgewater. His projected draft status ranged from No. 1 overall to 3rd round, but the Vikings felt it was time to find their quarterback. They’ve essentially moved on from 2011 first round pick Christian Ponder, while Matt Cassel appears headed for a backup role after grading at -5.2 last season.
At No. 31 overall, the Denver Broncos select CB Bradley Roby, Ohio State.
The Broncos add yet another cornerback into the mix after adding CB Aqib Talib this offseason. Talib replaces Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, but there is still depth needed with Chris Harris coming off a late-season injury. Roby will likely battle second-year CB Kayvon Webster (-3.9) for playing time.
With the No. 30 pick, the San Francisco 49ers select FS Jimmie Ward, Northern Illinios.
It may have been a curious pick to see a safety selected after taking FS Eric Reid in the first round a year ago and adding FS Antoine Bethea in free agency, but Ward brings some slot versatility to the mix, and that’s likely where he’ll start his career. Last year’s slot corner, Carlos Rogers, is now in Oakland, so the position should be up for grabs. Rogers graded at -6.8 in coverage a year ago.
At No. 29 overall, the New England Patriots select DT Dominique Easley, Florida.
Many analysts pegged this pick before the draft as Easley has a chance to fill a interior pass rushing need on the Patriots’ defense. He has a lightning-fast first step and he’s not always great at finding and making plays on the football, but the raw talent is very good. The one big concern is his injury history that consists of two ACL tears in the last three years. He should see the field early in subpackages as an interior rusher.
With the No. 28 overall pick, the Carolina Panthers select WR Kelvin Benjamin, Florida State.
With major needs at wide receiver, it’s no surprise that the Panthers went this route in round 1. Benjamin is a massive target that can line up either outside or possibly in the slot as a vertical seam option. He’ll join a completely overhauled wide receiver corps that includes veteran free agents Jerricho Cotchery and Jason Avant, as well as returnees Marvin McNutt and Tavarres King.
At No. 27 overall, the Arizona Cardinals select FS Deone Bucannon, Washington State.
The Cardinals project to have Rashad Johnson and Tony Jefferson as starters so Bucannon has a chance to compete for playing time right away. He’ll add even more versatility to a secondary that used CB Tyrann Mathieu as a free safety at times while using CB Patrick Peterson to shadow opposing wide receivers. Last year’s starting safeties, Yeremiah Bell and Johnson, graded at -1.3 and +3.0 respectively.
With the No. 26 overall pick, the Philadelphia Eagles select OLB Marcus Smith, Louisville.
A bit of a surprise to see Smith go in the first round, but the Eagles went wtih the edge rusher to add to their mix of Trent Cole, Connor Barwin, and Brandon Graham. Cole was the best of the bunch as a pass rusher, grading at +10.9, so the Eagles may look to pair Smith with him on passing downs.
With the No. 25 overall pick, the San Diego Chargers select CB Jason Verrett, TCU.
Unlike the Bengals, the Chargers have very little depth at cornerback, so it’s no surprise that they took one early. Everyone cites his lack of size, but he should find a home in the slot, a position that becomes more valuable on a yearly basis. The Chargers did not have a cornerback grade positively last season.
At No. 24 overall, the Cincinnati Bengals select CB Darqueze Dennard, Michigan State.
Even with three solid cornerbacks returning in Leon Hall, Terrence Newman, and Adam Jones, the Bengals add even more depth with Dennard. It’s a move similar to their selection of Dre Kirkpatrick a couple years ago, but they’re hoping that Dennard’s development goes a little smoother as Kirkpatrick graded at -8.5 on his 309 snaps a year ago. The Bengals continue to stack up cornerbacks in a league where you can never have too many.
With the No. 23 pick, the Kansas City Chiefs select OLB Dee Ford, Auburn.
Ford was outstanding in the National Championship Game, and he’ll look to bring his edge rushing ability to Kansas City where they’re already loaded with Tamba Hali and Justin Houston. Their presence should allow Ford to ease in as a situational rusher in his first year.
TRADE! The Cleveland Browns continue their active first round and make the move to get their quarterback, Johnny Manziel.
The most highly publicized player in the draft will head to Cleveland to try to reverse the poor play the Browns have had at the quarterback position. When put in perspective, this pick was only made possible because of the Trent Richardson trade from last fall, as the Colts’ first round pick was used to move up to get Manziel. If this plays out well for the Browns, it could go down as one of the greatest trades in NFL history. Either way, for Browns fans, it’s yet another “new era” at quarterback, and this time with one of the most exciting players in college football history.
At No. 21 overall, the Green Bay Packers select FS Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, Alabama.
Perhaps the most pure free safety in the draft, the Packers look to shore up a position of need by adding Clinton-Dix to the back end. Last year’s starters Morgan Burnett and M.D. Jennings graded at -4.9 and -6.5 respectively, leading most Packers fans to be hoping for a safety in the draft. They get their man in Clinton-Dix who was expected to go closer to the Top-15.
With the No. 20 pick, the New Orleans Saints take WR Brandin Cooks, Oregon State.
The Saints add yet another vertical threat in the explosive Cooks. WR Kenny Stills ran the highest percentage of go routes in the league a year ago (43%), and it’s possible that Cooks could do the same. He’s also very good after the catch and he adds yet another threat for QB Drew Brees.
With the No. 19 pick, the Miami Dolphins select OT Ju’Wuan James, Tennessee.
The Dolphins clearly fill a need hear as they take James to play right tackle, the same position he played in college. Last year, starting RT Tyson Clabo had a disastrous start but finished at -0.8 on the season, but he’s still unsigned in free agency and the Dolphins set out to fill the hole in the draft.
With the No. 18 overall pick, the New York Jets select S Calvin Pryor, Louisville.
Even with HaHa Clinton-Dix on the board, the Jets go with Pryor whose game is more conducive to playing closer to the line of scrimmage. Pryor projects as a run-stoppping box safety and it’s likely the Jets have it in their mind that he’ll help out when asked to cover TE Rob Gronkowski in New England. No matter the role, the Jets need on the back end where only Ed Reed graded positively on his limited 375 snaps a year ago. He’ll compete with Dawan Landry (-3.3) and Antonio Allen (-3.5) for playing time.
The Baltimore Ravens select ILB C.J. Mosley, Alabama.
Baltimore has ILB Daryl Smith returning and they spend a second-round pick on ILB Arthur Brown a year ago, but they add Mosley to the mix. He carries on the tradition of Alabama inside linebackers hearing their names called in the first round after Rolando McClain and Dont’a Hightower did so in recent years. While McClain and Hightower are more in the run-stopping mold, Mosley should be more well-rounded than his predecessors, and that could make him a better overall prospect. He has plenty of experience dropping into coverage and blitzing, but if there’s a concern, it’s that it took him a couple years to see the field in Alabama’s base 3-4 sets. Either way, he’s been a productive player since his freshman season.
The Dallas Cowboys select OT/OG Zack Martin, Notre Dame.
Despite the media hype linking Johnny Manziel to this pick, the Cowboys go with offensive line. With Doug Free and Tyron Smith entrenched on the outside at tackle, it looks like Martin will play guard for the Cowboys. He’ll line up next to Travis Frederick, last year’s first round pick who emerged as one of the league’s best run-blocking centers as a rookie.
At No. 15 overall, the Pittsburgh Steelers select LB Ryan Shazier, Ohio State.
Shazier will slot in at inside linebacker in Pittsburgh where they already have Lawrence Timmons and last year’s sixth round pick Vince Williams. Timmons took a step back last year, while Williams struggled early before showing some improvement down the stretch. Shazier is extremely athletic so he should at least see some time early on in subpackages where he can play coverage or blitz. He’s not a pure pass rusher, so don’t look for him to line up outside, but his speed could be a weapon running the inside linebacker blitzes that Pittsburgh always loves.
At No. 14 overall, the Chicago Bears take CB Kyle Fuller.
Bears fans don’t really care which position is taken, they just want to see defense after Chicago’s disastrous effort in 2013. They get their wish in Fuller who adds some youth to an aging cornerback group. He has the ability to play on the outside or in the slot, adding the versatility that is coveted in today’s NFL secondaries.
At No. 13 overall, the St. Louis Rams take DT Aaron Donald, Pittsburgh.
There were plenty of rumors that Donald would be selected in the Top 10, so the Rams are thrilled to see him available here. He adds an interior pass rushing presence to pair with 2012 first round DT Michael Brockers and last year’s top 4-3 defensive end Robert Quinn. With Chris Long at left end, the Rams now have a front four built of all first round picks. If Donald lives up to his hype, it could be one of the best defensive fronts in the league.
Even the Rams’ backups look good with DT Kendall Langford (+2.6) and DE William Hayes (+11.4) returning and the addition of DE/DT Alex Carrington in free agency.
With No. 12 overall, the New York Giants select WR Odell Beckham, LSU.
With WR Hakeem Nicks moving on to the Colts in free agency, the Giants fill a hole with Beckham. There’s a new offense in New York, relying on shorter passes and more yards after the catch, so it looks like the Giants have targeted Beckham as a worthy fit. He’ll team with Victor Cruz, Rueben Randle, and the emerging Jerrel Jernigan to form a solid wide receiving corps in New York.
With the No. 11 overall pick, the Tennessee Titans pick OT Taylor Lewan, Michigan.
Tennessee goes offensive line for the second year in a row after taking Chance Warmack at No. 10 to play guard. Lewan played left tackle in college, but he should start on the right side to start his career before taking over for LT Michael Roos at some point. Tennessee signed OT Michael Oher to play on the right side, but he’s coming off a difficult season that saw him grade at -12.6 with the Baltimore Ravens. It looks like he’ll get bumped out for Lewan who is very athletic and has some similar qualities as New England left tackle Nate Solder with regard to athleticism and ability to get to the second level.
With the No. 10 overall pick, the Detroit Lions select TE Eric Ebron, North Carolina.
The Lions have been looking for complements for WR Calvin Johnson for a number of years now, and this may be the offseason they’ve finally found them. They already added WR Golden Tate in free agency and Ebron brings another threat that can work the seam. They already have tight ends Brandon Pettigrew and Joseph Fauria, but Pettigrew has largely disappointed grading at -8.0 last year while Fauria looks like more of a complementary red zone threat.
The Minnesota Vikings select OLB/DE Anthony Barr at No. 9 overall.
The Vikings have made a number of moves in their front-7 this offseason, re-signing DE Everson Griffen while adding DT Linval Joseph from the Giants. Griffen does his best work rushing the passer on the inside in subpackages, and with Brian Robison locked in at left end, Barr should have a chance to rush the passer off the edge on the other side. New head coach Mike Zimmer is building his defense in the trenches.
TRADE! The Cleveland Browns move up this time, exchanging picks with the Minnesota Vikings, to take CB Justin Gilbert from Oklahoma State.
With Joe Haden locking down one side of the field, Gilbert fills a big need for the Browns where last year’s starter Buster Skrine graded at -10.9 in coverage.
With the No. 7 overall pick, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers select WR Mike Evans, Texas A&M.
Many analysts pegged Evans as a Vincent Jackson clone, and now they’ll get to see them playing together. Evans emerged as the top target for Texas A&M, showing the ability to be a big-play, downfield receiver. Jackson was the only Tampa Bay receiver with a positive grade a year ago, so look for Evans to step right in on the other side.
The Atlanta Falcons select OT Jake Matthews with the No. 6 overall pick.
Atlanta’s offensive line was one of the worst in the league a year ago, ranking 30th in pass rush productivity at 71.0. Matthews has experience playing both left and right tackle, and he’ll likely start his career on the right side with LT Sam Baker locked up on the left side. Last year’s right tackle Lamar Holmes graded at -32.3 overall to rank among the leauge’s worst offensive tackles, so they’ll expect Matthews to upgrade the position right away.
The Oakland Raiders take OLB Khalil Mack at No. 5.
Their defensive overhaul continues after they spent much of free agency bringing in veteran talent. Mack has the ability to play over the tight end, drop into coverage, and rush the passer, so he’ll add plenty of versatility to Oakland’s defense. All of the new additions in Oakland scream “3-4″ so it looks like Mack will play outside linebacker in the scheme along with newly acquired Lamarr Woodley. New addition Antonio Smith has experience playing defensive end in a 3-4, while Justin Tuck has the ability to play over offensive tackles as well. Mack’s versatility should see the field right away.
TRADE! The Buffalo Bills move up from No. 9 to No. 4, exchanging this year’s first rounder with the Cleveland Browns and giving up next year’s first rounder in the process. It’s an extremely risky move, especially just to move up five spots. They go with WR Sammy Watkins from Clemson who is a potential game-breaker, but the risk of giving up next year’s first rounder may outweigh the reward.
As for Watkins, he made his living on short passes and screens at Clemson, and he’ll join a lightning-fast receiving corps in Buffalo that includes Marquise Goodwin and T.J. Graham. With last year’s second rounder Robert Woods as well as veteran Steve Johnson, Buffalo has a number of weapons to help last year’s first rounder QB E.J. Manuel.
The Jaguars make the first move for a quarterback as they select Blake Bortles out of Central Florida. It’s a bit of a surprise as Bortles’ name seemed to have cooled in recent weeks, but he’s the first quarterback off the board. With Chad Henne (-21.0) returning as starter, it looks like Bortles will be starting in Week 1. The Jaguars have really struggled at the position in recent years after missing on first-round pick Blaine Gabbert in 2011, and they haven’t had a quarterback post a positive grade since David Garrard in 2010.
The Rams select OT Greg Robinson, Auburn.
Robinson is a mauling run blocker, reminding some of Trent Williams. He’ll have a ways to go before reaching Williams’ potential as he lacks experience in pass protection coming out of Auburn’s run-heavy scheme. He showed well in the National Championship Game against Florida State, but there were some ups and downs going up against top 2015 prospect Mario Edwards, Jr. In that game, Robinson showed the ability to collapse defenders in the running game, even leading some to believe that he might be better suited to play guard. He may start his career there, or he may slot in at right tackle. Last year’s right tackle, Joe Barksdale, showed well grading at +12.2, so guard might be the best option in Year 1.
The Houston Texans select Jadeveon Clowney with the first pick of the 2014 draft.
It’s not a huge surprise to see Clowney drafted no. 1 overall, as it seemed to be his destiny from the first day he stepped onto campus at South Carolina after he came in as the nation’s best high school player. However, it wasn’t smooth sailing to the top spot as a perceived disappointing junior season forced all kinds of crazy scenarios for the Texans.
It all comes full circle, as Clowney goes “wire-to-wire” as the draft’s top prospect. He’ll likely slot in at outside linebacker in the Texans’ 3-4 scheme, but there’s potential to move him around the defense to find favorable matchups. Pairing him with J.J. Watt and his unbelievable +111.6 overall grade should make for an exciting defense for years to come.
Whether it’s Clowney or Mack as the target, either player would likely slot in at OLB in the Texans’ 3-4 scheme. Though they’re playing a different style of 3-4 this year as Romeo Crennel takes over as defensive coordinator for the departed Wade Phillips, they still need better production off the edge. OLBs Brooks Reed and Whitney Mercilus graded at -15.5 and -16.9 respectively.
Let the games begin! The Houston Texans are finally on the clock after the longest pre-draft buildup in history. Will they look to bring in Jadeveon Clowney to pair his freakish athletic ability with J.J. Watt? Will they go the safe route with OLB Khalil Mack? Is a QB in play?
There’s also a distinct possibility that the Texans are looking to trade back. We’ll have our answers very soon. Stay tuned!
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