The first round of the 2014 draft is now in the books.
It wasn’t hard to figure out that the Houston Texans would draft Jadeveon Clowney with the first overall pick. And there weren’t many other surprises in the top half of the first round, at least in terms of the position where players were drafted. But in the second half of the night, that wasn’t the case.
It will be years before we really know which teams knocked it out of the park in the first round, and which teams swung and missed. But, hey, we’ve spent months trying to project what would happen in four hours Thursday night at Radio City Music Hall. So let’s take a look at the best and worst moves in the first round of the 2014 NFL draft.
The Raiders went with conventional wisdom for a change, and came away with Buffalo OLB Khalil Mack. Few expected Mack to fall out of the top three. It wouldn’t have been completely shocking if he went No. 1 overall.
In 2009, the Raiders were enamored with Darrius Heyward-Bey’s 4.30 speed in the 40-yard dash and took him at No. 7. Heyward-Bey averaged 35 catches a year in four seasons, and now he’s with his third team.
Last year, the Raiders traded from No. 3 to No. 12 and took cornerback D.J. Hayden. All they got in return was the Dolphins’ second-round pick. They could have asked for a first or a second-round pick in this year’s draft in the deal, too. Hayden started just two games with one interception as a rookie and went on injured reserve in November.
For once, the Raiders weren’t the loose cannon of the top 10 in the 2014 draft. Taking Mack at No. 5 was a no-brainer. He set NCAA records with 75 tackles for loss and 16 forced fumbles. Throw in 22 passes defensed in college and two interceptions returned for touchdowns last year. Mack might not have Jadeveon Clowney’s upside, but he can do more than Clowney. And the Raiders can move him around as they see it. He’s extremely versatile.
Sure, the Jaguars needed a quarterback. Chad Henne’s not taking them to a Super Bowl. However, they didn’t need to take Blake Bortles with the No. 3 pick. Sammy Watkins and Khalil Mack, both safer picks, were still on the board.
The Jaguars could have drafted Watkins or Mack, then packaged some of their 11 picks to get back into the first round. And they’d still have had a shot at Bortles, Johnny Manziel or Teddy Bridgewater. They have the seventh pick in the second round tonight with Jimmy Garoppolo, Derek Carr and Tom Savage still on the board.
Bortles isn’t exactly head and shoulders above any of those guys. A reliable, over-the-middle target like Watkins would’ve helped Bortles adjust to the NFL.
St. Louis Rams
The Rams didn’t have to do any wheeling and dealing with the No. 2 and No. 13 picks. They chose Auburn offensive tackle Greg Robinson at No. 2, then sat tight at 13 as Aaron Donald fell into their lap.
Donald, a Pittsburgh defensive tackle, led the nation with 28 tackles for loss and four forced fumbles in 2013. His trophy shelf is filled with the ACC Defensive Player of the Year Award, The Bronko Nagurski Award (Most Outstanding Defensive Player), The Chuck Bednarik Award (Defensive Player of the Year), The John Outland Trophy (Most Outstanding Interior Lineman) and The Vince Lombardi Award (Lineman of the Year).
He should have gone in the top 10, and the Rams got him at 13 to fortify the interior of a defensive line that’s bookended by Robert Quinn (19 sacks last season) and Chris Long (8.5 sacks last season). Their defensive line in a 4-3 look is now one of the league’s best.
The Cowboys’ defense allowed 415 yards per game last season, worst in the NFL. Any defensive player would have been a good pick as long as he had a discernible pulse.
Instead, the Cowboys drafted Zack Martin, an offensive tackle at Notre Dame who might have to move to guard in the NFL. Martin’s a “safe,” good value pick. His rising stock hoisted him into the top half of the first round in a lot of mock drafts.
But how about a defensive end to replace DeMarcus Ware? How about a safety? The Cowboys could have chosen between the two elite safeties of this class, Ha Ha Clinton-Dix and Calvin Pryor.
At least the Cowboys weren’t seduced by Johnny Manziel, who was still sitting there. But they need warm bodies for their defense.
New Orleans Saints
The Saints traded up to No. 20 and took Brandin Cooks, the fastest receiver at the NFL Scouting Combine with a 4.33-second 40-yard dash and the NCAA’s 2013 leader with 1,730 receiving yards.
Marques Colston caught 75 passes last season, but he turns 31 next month. Lance Moore was second on the list among Saints receivers with 37 catches last year, but he’s a Steeler now. The Saints had the second-best passing offense in the NFL last season, but tight end Jimmy Graham and running backs Pierre Thomas and Darren Sproles, who’s also gone, had a lot to do with that.
Cooks, who also was second in the nation with 128 receptions last season, can bring production to the receiving corps.
In return for the No. 20 pick, the Cardinals got the Saints’ first-round pick, No. 27 and their third-rounder, No. 91. That’s a good deal for the Saints, according to the draft pick trade value chart on Drafttek.com.
Kansas City Chiefs
Getting to the quarterback wasn’t the Chiefs’ problem on defense last year. They were tied for sixth in the NFL with 47 sacks. Stopping the run is where they need help. They allowed 4.5 yards per carry in 2013 and were 22nd with 120.2 yards allowed per game.
So who do the Chiefs pick at No. 23? Dee Ford, a pass-rushing specialist who’s weak against the run. If the Chiefs really wanted Ford, they could have waited until the second round or even the third round. The 6’2″, 252-pounder will have to learn to play outside linebacker in the NFL, so the Chiefs shouldn’t expect immediate contributions from him.
The Chiefs could have bolstered their 24th-ranked passing offense with Marqise Lee. They also could have had Cyrus Kouandjio to replenish an offensive line that lost Branden Albert.
The Browns got Johnny Manziel and didn’t have to use their first pick to get him.
First, the Browns traded the No. 4 pick for the Buffalo Bills’ No. 9 pick and Buffalo’s first-rounder next year. Then they moved back up a spot and drafted Oklahoma State cornerback Justin Gilbert, a two-in-one ballhawk cornerback and elite kickoff returner. Gilbert scored eight touchdowns in college, two on interception returns and six on kickoff returns. Now the Browns have another potential shutdown corner to pair with Joe Haden.
With Manziel still in the green room, the Browns moved from No. 26 to No. 22, giving the Eagles their third-round pick (No. 83). And they then drafted the 2012 Heisman Trophy winner. The Browns became the only team in the NFL to draft four quarterbacks in the first round since 1999. The last three all were taken at No. 22, but it’s easier for Browns fans to get more excited about Johnny Football than a 28-year-old like Brandon Weeden.
Even if Manziel struggles as a rookie, help is on the way next season when the Browns have two first-round picks and an extra fourth-rounder.
Not only did the Cardinals get fleeced in giving up their No. 20 pick (they should have received a fifth-rounder in addition to the Saints’ third-rounder), but they used the pick they got to draft a safety. Ha Ha Clinton-Dix and Calvin Pryor were the only safeties worth taking in the first round, and both were gone. The Cardinals reached and chose Washington State safety Deone Bucannon at No. 27.
The Cardinals were in an ideal situation to draft a quarterback. It’s a so-so quarterback class, but they didn’t need an immediate starter. Teddy Bridgewater or Derek Carr could have watched and learned while the Cardinals got another year or two out of Carson Palmer.
Like the Browns, the Vikings acquired both their potential franchise quarterback and strengthened their defense in the first round.
Minnesota swapped positions with the Browns, going from No. 8 to No. 9 and selected UCLA outside linebacker Anthony Barr. The 6’5″, 255-pound senior had 23.5 sacks over the past two seasons and led the nation with six forced fumbles last year.
The Vikings finished the night with a flourish by acquiring the final pick of the first round from the Seattle Seahawks, swooping in front of the quarterback-needy Houston Texans and drafting Teddy Bridgewater. In exchange for the No. 32 pick, the Vikings gave Seattle the No. 40 pick and a fourth-rounder (No. 108).
Christian Ponder, the Vikings’ first-round pick in 2011, can’t beat out journeyman Matt Cassel for the starting job. The Vikings had to do something at quarterback.
The Panthers desperately needed a receiver and they got one. The problem is, they chose Kelvin Benjamin over Marqise Lee.
Benjamin caught only 84 passes at Florida State, including 54 last season. He led the ACC with 15 touchdown catches last year, but doesn’t have an extensive body of work and he doesn’t have the surest hands. He dropped three passes against Florida.
Furthermore, Benjamin skipped a workout with an NFL team because he was “tired,” according to Gil Brandt.
Kelvin Benjamin 30th in my new rankings. Was told KB recently blew off workout w NFL coach who had made special trip, said he was too tired
— Gil Brandt (@Gil_Brandt) April 10, 2014
Meanwhile, Lee’s production might have dropped because of injuries in 2013, but despite being hobbled, he had the heart to make a fourth-down catch on the game-winning drive in USC’s upset of Stanford.
Lee led the nation with 118 catches in 2012. Benjamin hasn’t come close to that kind of productivity in a season. The Panthers WR corps was extremely thin, but they really reached in drafting Benjamin with so many other playmaking WRs available.