After months of breaking down film and debating prospects, the draft finally came and went. And there were plenty of surprises along the way.
Some teams reached for prospects throughout the draft, while others were successful in finding value. Now we reflect on 256 draft picks—examining six selections that filled a position of need and also fit schematically on their new teams.
Ha’Sean Clinton-Dix, free safety, Green Bay Packers
Heading into the draft, Ted Thompson had one main position on his mind that he wanted to address—free safety. Green Bay has been in need of a free safety since it lost Nick Collins in 2011 to a career-ending neck injury. After two years of failing to find his replacement in the middle rounds of the draft, the Packers hoped one would fall to them in the first round. That’s exactly what happened, when Clinton-Dix—viewed by many as a top-15 talent—fell to the 21st overall pick.
The Packers have long been praised for their standout offense led by Aaron Rodgers. Unfortunately, their defense always held them back from returning to the Super Bowl. While their defense has some very good pieces like Clay Matthews and Sam Shields, they never had that true center fielder in the secondary to anchor the back end. Clinton-Dix played that exact role at Alabama—providing help for any cornerback that was beat or by utilizing tight coverage deep down field when called upon.
The move is perfect for the Packers not just because of their need at the position, but it also allows them to move other players around. Morgan Burnett can move back to strong safety—the position where he excelled at in 2012 before he was given a new contract. It allows slides Micah Hyde back down to the slot where he impressed as a rookie last season, keeping him away from a move to free safety where he struggled in the past. With Clinton-Dix roaming deep, Morgan Burnett will have more freedom to play closer to the line and make plays. This was a perfect pick for the Packers—a situation where they were able to land the best player available and fill the biggest hole on their roster.
Louis Nix, Nose Tackle, Houston Texans
Favorite #Texans pick: NT Nix (3rd). My No. 11 prospect. Flashes of Wilfork in 2012. Can reset LOS unlike most other big body NTs. Fun front
— Josh Norris (@JoshNorris) May 13, 2014
While the Texans’ selection of Jadeveon Clowney stands out as their best defensive selection, the real impressive pick came late in the third round. Houston moved back into the third round to grab Nix, whose stock was falling down the draft board due to reported concerns over his health. When Nix’s slide finally ended, he landed in the perfect place for both himself and the Texans’ defense.
Houston already had a dominant defensive end in J.J. Watt, and the addition of Clowney gave them an outstanding outside rush. Defensive coordinator Romeo Crennel was still missing that powerful force in the middle—a commanding, mammoth nose tackle who can stuff inside running lanes. That is the definition of Nix—at 6’3″ and 340 pounds, Nix devours up the man in front of him and creates serious interior pressure. When he was healthy, Nix dominated his opponent consistently as a run-stuffer. He doesn’t need to sack the quarterback—with Clowney and Watt outside of him. All Nix has to do is just take away the running game. Crennel loves his 3-4 defense and Nix was unanimously the best nose tackle in this class. A match made in heaven for Houston as they complete their defensive line in the third round of the draft.
Jordan Matthews, wide receiver, Philadelphia Eagles
Plenty of people questioned Chip Kelly when he cut ties with DeSean Jackson, who was the Eagles leading wide receiver last season. And Jeremy Maclin is returning from a torn ACL. Furthermore, many wonder if Riley Cooper’s eight-touchdown season was a fluke. If the Eagles wanted Nick Foles to build on his remarkable breakout performance, they needed to bring in more weapons to work with.
Kelly couldn’t have picked a better time to need a wide receiver. This year’s draft class was loaded at the position, allowing first-round talents to slip into the second or even third round. Matthews dealt with poor quarterback play throughout his time at Vanderbilt. He overcame it all thanks to his size, hands and an incredible work ethic.
Matthews is the type of player who will study his opponent on his own before the game in order to find ways to beat him. He has the ability to line up anywhere as he showed at Vanderbilt. Philadelphia will likely start him immediately in the slot. The slot receiver is a big part of the Eagles’ offense and while defenses focus on Maclin’s speed and ability to get separation, Matthews will be free to come open across the middle. His sure hands and size will help make him a go-to target immediately in the passing game and could help him become an Offensive Rookie of the Year candidate.
Terrence Brooks, free safety, Baltimore Ravens
Ravens fans were disappointed when Ozzie Newsome passed on Clinton-Dix in favor of C.J. Mosley. While Mosley is an outstanding player and will soon form a potent linebacker duo with Arthur Brown, the Ravens were in need of a cover safety. As always, Newsome knew exactly what he was doing by addressing that void shortly later with a safety who perfectly fits into what they needed.
Brooks excels in his ability to find the football and cover open ground quickly. He was a major piece for Florida State’s championship run but not just because of his coverage skills. The Seminoles moved Brooks all around the field. He was brought down to blitz the quarterback and used near the line to attack the running game. This is a blueprint for how Ravens’ defensive coordinator Dean Pees will use Brooks as a rookie.
Brooks’ tenacity, athleticism and versatility is just what Baltimore’s defense needed. It’s a situation similar to the Packers. This move allows Matt Elam to move back to strong safety and let him dominate in the box. Newsome killed it once again with this draft class and Brooks was arguably the best pick of the group.
Marcus Martin, center, San Francisco 49ers
Once again Trent Baalke hit one out of the park—filling short-term needs, long-term voids and finding great value all at the same time. The 49ers are in a dogfight for the NFC West for the foreseeable future, so finding players who can not only start but also fit their style is extremely important.
After treating the draft like a see-saw with constant moves up and down, San Francisco locked in on Martin with the 70th overall pick. San Francisco let its starting center for the past three seasons, Jonathan Goodwin, walk in free agency leaving the job to Daniel Kilgore.
Now Kilgore and Martin will battle in camp for the job—though Kilgore may win out, thanks to experience with the 49ers’ system. Martin definitely possesses the physicality and toughness that the 49ers love in their offensive linemen. Martin is just 20, but his experience playing guard and center for Southern California will give the 49ers more flexibility in case of injuries. It won’t be long before Martin eventually replaces Kilgore as the starter—this will go down as another great pick for Baalke.
Derek Carr, quarterback, Oakland Raiders
Oakland made a strong move in the offseason by acquiring Matt Schaub—a quarterback who was miserable last season but was solid leading up to that point. The Raiders were able to acquire a veteran quarterback who could hold the job down and perform adequately while they mentored a young quarterback. Oakland found its quarterback of the future in the second round. Carr was not only one of the biggest steals of the draft, but a great fit for the Raiders.
Scouts didn’t travel very far to find their rookie quarterback. Carr was just a few miles down the road leading the Fresno State Bulldogs for the past three seasons. Carr was previously rumored to be loved by the Raiders’ coaching staff, but they didn’t want to reach for him with the fifth pick.
Their patience paid off as Carr fell to the 36th overall pick—great value when you consider Blake Bortles was drafted third overall. While Carr is heralded for his arm strength, it’s his athleticism and experience at the position that are underrated. There are plenty of positives you can attach to Carr but he also isn’t ready to be a starting quarterback at the next level.
He needs to improve with how he reacts to pressure and with his accuracy down the field. While Schaub holds the job down, Carr can work with coaches on his mechanics until he is ready to take over the job in 2015.