In what was hailed as the deepest draft class in the past decade or more, numerous teams still managed to whiff at the podium.
“Reach” can mean a number of things, but it’s a versatile term that applies to several selections in last weekend’s draft spectacle. A team can hit on a need and still reach because the value is bad. The inverse also has a place in the discussion, too.
The good news is rather simple—a reach is not an end all, be all. It doesn’t always cripple a franchise, and if a front office liked a guy enough and he pans out, no one really cares three or four years down the line if the pick was a reach.
But we sure care right now—so let’s take a look.
Detroit Lions, Pick No. 10: Eric Ebron, TE, North Carolina
There’s no question Eric Ebron was the top tight end in this year’s class, but his selection by Detroit in the top 10 is one many will look back on in confusion.
Detroit’s offense already has centerpieces such as Calvin Johnson, Golden Tate and tight end Brandon Pettigrew, who was re-signed this offseason. Don’t forget about last year’s breakout star at No. 2 on the depth chart in Joseph Fauria.
None of this is to suggest Ebron won’t succeed. His speed is a thing of beauty given his size and he’ll force plenty of mismatches thanks to it and the fact defenses have to account for a wealth of weapons. Brian Billick hits the nail on the head:
It’s not totally outrageous to suggest that Eric Ebron can grow into the next Tony Gonzalez. Seriously, he’s that good!
— Brian Billick (@CoachBillick) May 9, 2014
Fine, but a team with so many weapons didn’t exactly need help. Where the Lions did need to hit on was the opposite side of the football. Rotational pieces such as Kyle Van Noy and Caraun Reid nabbed later in the draft are great additions, but do little to solve immediate holes at safety and cornerback.
Washington Redskins, Pick No. 47: Trent Murphy, OLB, Stanford
It’s becoming a popular notion that an NFL team simply cannot have enough pass rushers (or defensive backs). While true, it is quite difficult to process what the front office in Washington was thinking with Trent Murphy in the second round.
Murphy is not a bad player by any means. He collected 15 sacks and 23.5 tackles for loss last season and has experience at both defensive end and linebacker, but it is other factors that make his selection a reach.
For one, No. 47 was Washington’s first pick of the draft. For a team with a new head coach coming off a 3-13 season that mortgaged its future on Robert Griffin III, a linebacker was probably not the best way to start things off on Day 1.
This is especially the case when one takes into account the Redskins already have starters on the outside in Brian Orakpo and Ryan Kerrigan, not to mention intriguing rotational rushers such as Brandon Jenkins.
Murphy is very much a forward-looking pick, but one the Redskins could have made in a later round with a similar prospect. Murphy was a luxury pick, rather than one that fills a key need.
Carolina Panthers, Pick No. 28: Kelvin Benjamin, WR, Florida State
It was painfully obvious the Carolina Panthers were going to grab a wideout in the first round, even if logic says the team probably should have addressed the offensive trenches first in order to keep quarterback Cam Newton off his back.
Regardless, here we are and the Panthers have a young wideout who did not need to have the pressure of expectations on his shoulders. Benjamin’s a monster at 6’5” and 240 pounds. The logic behind his selection, as illustrated by NFL’s Around The League Twitter account, is strong at face value:
Panthers get their wide receiver in Kelvin Benjamin. His 6-foot-5, 240-lb frame will help reel in Newton’s sometimes scattershot passes. — NFL: AroundTheLeague (@NFL_ATL) May 9, 2014
But dig deeper. Benjamin is the definition of a boom-or-bust prospect. He’s has weight issues and should be around 225 pounds. He’ll be 24 by next February, which is old for a rookie. Most important of all, he struggled with drop issues while at Florida State. Now he’s going to be expected to produce like a No. 1 receiver and first-round pick while cleaning up those issues.
Carolina could just have easily grabbed a tackle like Joel Bitonio or a guard like Xavier Su’a-Filo in the first round and nabbed Allen Robinson in the second round to be one of the draft’s biggest winners.
Miami Dolphins, Pick No. 19: Ja’Wuan James, OT, Tennessee
The Miami Dolphins are the big winners of the head-scratcher this year, as Ja’Wuan James was justified by few outside of the organization as being a first-round pick.
James started a school-record 49 games at right tackle during his time at Tennessee, But he’s actually a better pass blocker than force in the run game. Considering Branden Albert will hold down the fort at left tackle, James is a bit of an odd fit at face value.
The reactions to James’ selection tell the whole story. How the crowd in New York reacted, as illustrated by Henry Hodgson of NFL.com, says a lot:
— Henry Hodgson (@nflukhank) May 9, 2014
Even more telling is James’ own reaction, as captured by Armando Salguero of the Miami Herald:
Ja’Wuan James says it was “definitely surprising” being picked but added he had “great interaction” with the Dolphins. — Armando Salguero (@ArmandoSalguero) May 9, 2014
It was no secret Miami was going to focus the majority of its attention on shoring up its offensive line. Ryan Tannehill was the most-sacked quarterback in the league last year, which is something that simply cannot happen again. But it says plenty about James that most concur that Bill Turner out of North Dakota State, No. 67 overall, was a better pick. CBS Sports’ Dane Brugler is one such name:
Good pick here. Billy Turner is better than Ja’Wuan James IMO #Dolphins
— Dane Brugler (@dpbrugler) May 10, 2014
With the offensive line being such a need, it was quite interesting to watch Miami take a gamble in the first round, especially when a more prototypical right tackle such as Alabama’s Cyrus Kouandjio was available in the second round.
Honestly, the Dolphins could have traded down, accrued more valuable resources in a deep draft and still landed James if they liked him so much. The front office better hope he pans out.