TIME: US | UK
WEATHER: US | UK
THE AMERICAN MAGAZINE ONLINE
Features & Blogs
"Life in the UK"
THE 2013 NFL DRAFT
Richard L Gale offers up his annual opinions and curmudgeonly grades
The Draft isn't just about matching needs, but matching specific and desperate needs; not about finding talent in a world of potential, but finding talent to suit the system; isn't about the Combine sheen, but how brightly it can be polished. Before then, there's contracts, holdouts, distractions, hangers-on, team politics, and a hundred different life adjustments. But in the end, it'll be about football, passion for the game, commitment to a shared goal, doing your job. It's a process of progress, teams making players better, players making teams better until someone looks back at a list of rookies who had never played a professional down and says that was the draft that made the difference.
The following grades are based on how well teams worked the whole draft process - trades on the eve of the draft and during the draft, talent accumulated and needs answered all the way from round one through the flurry of undrafted free agents (UDFAs) added in the wake of the draft itself.
NFC East | NFC North | NFC South | NFC West | AFC East | AFC North | AFC South | AFC West
PHILADELPHIA EAGLES (Grade: B)
The Eagles got lucky. When the Dolphins traded up to the 3rd pick, it seemed all over for Lane Johnson, but the Fins went in a different direction and the Eagles landed a freakishly athletic 6-6 303 lb tackle who has played enough roles (QB, DE, TE) to understand every nuance of the game. He suits Chip Kelly's offense to a T. Early in the second round, the Eagles ignored a burning need at corner to take a TE begging to be selected - love his separation and hands, and he can block even if he doesn't excel at it. He'll contribute as an Eagle for years. I'm not thrilled by Logan's selection, which wasn't a desperate need unless we're counting him as an end, although if we are, why did they then go after two more in slightly developmental Joe Kruger (brother of ex-Raven and new Brown Paul), and David King, who may just fit the Eagles' system, run-soaking while OLBs rush?
However, the Eagles took their destiny into their own hands at the top of Day 3, trading ahead of the Chiefs and Raiders to grab ex-Trojans QB Matt Barkley, who could have been a first rounder in last season's QB frenzy. However, scouts went sour on him his senior year. Maybe the 6-2 227 lb flinger is a whole bunch of average, NFL-wise, but his accuracy is better than most in this class, he puts teams on his shoulder, and he understands a pro-style offense. Considering the Eagles' depth – Michael Vick almost never makes it through a whole season, and even Nick Foles finished the season on IR – it wouldn't be a shock to see Barkley start a game or two this year. I'd bet on Barkley being ready. All of the day two selections have a shot, but note too free agents such as strong-tackling OLB Jake Knott (Iowa State), a mid-draft talent were it not for repeated shoulder injuries, LSU receiver Russell Shepard and Ozzie punter Brad Wing, also of LSU, who will give veteran Donnie Jones all the competition he can handle with a combination of power and direction. The Eagles will get mileage out of this draft class, even if a higher selection at corner was desirable.
NEW YORK GIANTS (Grade: B-)
Okay, I'm not looking, I swear I'm not looking, but the Giants took (1) a bunch of guys from known colleges, (2) at least one DE early, and (3) nobody who actually excites. Am I allowed the peek? Well, Richmond, Ohio and UMass aren't exactly the University of the Incarnate Word, but the Giants are at least looking beyond the usual Big East, Big Ten and Big 12... eventually. Justin Pugh might be the dullest first round pick of the year, but he'll do the job as a starter; 6-3 320lb Johnathan Hankins won't bother the sack chart much, though he'll give opposing interior linemen headaches in patches, but DT wasn't really a need. Damontre Moore, who looks a lot better on tape than he tests, will factor into the Giants rotation well.
Ryan Nassib defines their thinking here. As we pundits so wisely observed (after the fact), the reason Nassib was a Day 3 election instead of Day 1 was, arguably, that the most ready-to-go passer in the class hasn't great upside. The Giants don't really mind. With the 110th pick of the draft, they grabbed a decent, solid (6-2, 227) QB whose greatest asset is being calm enough to step into a game some day and not lose it. A couple of off-the-plot analysts who hadn't readjusted their world view by Day 3 were still floating the idea that the Giants had their eye on an eventual successor to 32-year-old Eli Manning, but more likely Nassib is a sooner-than-later replacement for backup David Carr, who'll be 34 next season.
The Giants didn't draft for the future, they drafted to survive the rigors of the very next NFL season, outlast the rivals, and qualify for the playoffs, regardless of the impressiveness of their regular season record ...in other words, modus operandi for the Giants. So let's congratulate them on that, even if they did whiff at corner, and even if we have to count Moore as an outside linebacker for them not to have missed there too (free agent Etienne Sabino of Ohio State is a more natural OLB). Maybe it's telling that RB Michael Cox was once a depth back for Michigan; the Giants don't get clever with their drafts, but they do win Super Bowls every few years by lining up with sure things.
WASHINGTON REDSKINS (Grade: B-)
Last year, Washington jumped in early to get their hands on RGIII, and paid the price this year without a pick until Day 2. Predictably that meant not ticking everything on the shopping list until after the draft. Anyone viewing Washington through the prism of RGIII may feel deflated by this draft, with jack-of-all-trades TE Jordan Reed, gracefully fast but injury-clad RB Thompson, and fellow ball carrier Jawan Jamison – a gap-finding back you wouldn't bet against in this offense – the only offensive additions in the draft. That said, there's a clutch of free agent OLs in camp who could be tacked on, including Jacolby Ashworth (Houston), Ricky Barnum (Michigan), Xavier Nixon (Florida), and centers Tevita Stevens (Utah) and Trey Wilborn (Troy) – Nixon and Stevens are the ones most likely to stick on the depth chart, but Nixon's time as a left tackle is done.
But this draft was about the defense, ranked among the league's worst for surrendering yards through the air. Amerson will be given every chance to start opposite DeAngelo Hall, but the better of the league's no.2 receivers will school him nonetheless. He's no bust, but I'd expect Washington to go high again at CB in the next couple of drafts. However, safety was the more desperate need, and seems to have been that way ever since the death of Sean Taylor in 2007. Thomas anticipates well and gets to the ball (he also had 8 picks last season), and some background issues probably pushed the pro-sized Rambo down the list; they both have instinct with start potential greater than what Washington already had. They could have done with an inside backer (Steve Greer of Virginia and Jeremy Kimbrough of Appalachian State were undrafted additions) but went outside for pass rusher depth in Brandon Jenkins. Free agency also offers the only new options at receiver. A slightly limited draft, but they probably found as many contributors as any other team, and pass defense certainly improves.
DALLAS COWBOYS (Grade: C)
So are the Cowboys a team confident that a small push will put them over the top, or a team quietly on a rebuild? Because this draft is a little schizophrenic. They settled (there's no other word for it) about a whole round early for center Travis Frederick, an unexceptional but sure solution to howling needs on the interior of the line - he's everything you expect from a Badger lineman, big, able with his feet, directional. They could have stayed exactly where they were (pick 18) for one of the best safeties in the draft, Eric Reid, but traded down, gaining only a 3rd rounder.
Count the Cowboys amongst those teams tempted by the Patriots-style two-TE package with the selection of Escobar. Dallas lacked a decent receiving tight end beyond Jason Witten, and Escobar is more than an eventual successor. Thereafter, the Cowboys picked their projects well, but lacked urgency. Terrance Williams is another receiver for a team that isn't short in that area, Joseph Randle the kind of back that fills out rosters for a 3.7 yard relief pop and the occasional catch, and while Wilcox and Webb are good additions during a year when there seems a glut of mid-quality secondary talent, they're the small school train-ups Jerry Jones has always coveted (and the Giants rarely touch). A need at defensive tackle wasn't even addressed in free agency (which included a host of invitees, but none I feel compelled to mention).
Don't look for deep meaning or time scale in this draft – Dallas simply selected players they liked. Tony Romo certainly won't complain about those first two selections, but there was no genius to the Dallas draft weekend.
NFC East | NFC North | NFC South | NFC West | AFC East | AFC North | AFC South | AFC West
GREEN BAY PACKERS (Grade: B-)
Last year's top two Packers picks, LB Nick Perry and DE Jerel Worthy, contributed 4.5 sacks between them last season, in part because Perry went on injured reserve with a wrist injury after week 6. We have yet to see the best of Perry. The Packers may not be hanging around for Worthy, and Datone Jones fits the flexibility they are seeking as a DE/OLB. Josh Boyd, not measurably elite, is a rotation addition at nose tackle, and Micah Hyde's selection in the 5th round instead of earlier is a testament to tape measures and stopwatches taking precedent over actual football film. He's a natural and I think he's a fit here.
Bakhtiari and Tretter are depth that doesn't enthuse me, and I'll take Dorsey over Johnson for a chance to make the final roster, but really what matters here is the running game because empires have risen and fallen since the last time the Packers actually threatened anybody by punching the ball between the tackles. Eddie Lacy was a slam dunk late in round 2. After sharing the 'Bama backfield with Trent Richardson in 2011, he posted 1,322 yards and 17 scores last season, and he shows potential as an outlet receiver. His career of shared duties suggested durability questions, but the Packers insured against that by also selecting Johnathan Franklin, who has skills as yet unproven with Lacy – an accomplished pass protector, almost as many receptions last year as Lacy managed his whole college career, and top end speed. In this age of committee backfields, drafting a running back means drafting two, and the Packers hit on both. Not that it guarantees them a tasty grade - there's too little of note from eleven picks - but the Packers answered the call to give defenses something else to think about than decking Aaron Rodgers.
DETROIT LIONS (Grade: B-)
Only 2-3 years ago, the Lions seemed to be building a defensive front for the ages. Somehow it never got there. Cliff Avril is now a Seahawk, Kyle Vanden Bosch, the veteran head, is floating in free agency, and capologists are closely studying the contract of Ndamukong Suh, who has 22 career sacks in three years, but is perhaps more notorious for putting the ‘foot' back into 'football' the past two Thanksgivings and appearing on TV's Splash. So while choosing ‘Ziggy' Ansah is eye-swivellingly perfect as an edge rusher to sit beside inside terrors Suh and Nick Fairley, a one year wonder who never saw a football game before leaving Ghana isn't now falling into a perfect situation from a mentoring perspective. With Devin Taylor a good bet for the other DE spot – at 6-7 he can ruin passing lanes, and was a consistent sack threat for three years – that's a potential starting lineup without much maturity.
Again, with Slay there is obvious upside, speed (4.34 40-yard time), and hip swivel to stay with receivers one-on-one, but he started only one season at the top echelon of college ball. He's a fine pick for a team that's rebuilding, but how did the Lions get back into that mode? It may be the truth for their offensive line, however, which is why they added 6-3 330lb Larry Warford, an interior run-blocker from central casting with 47 college starts to his name. While we're on the subject of the run game, it would be good to see the Lions figure out how best to use newly acquired Reggie Bush as both a runner and receiver – if they do, they may find the same formula works for late selection Theo Riddick. TE Michael Williams is more blocker than receiver, and WR Fuller was a selection based on 4.43 speed and 6-2 height, but still plays a little like a track guy – both he and UDFA Travis Tarpley (Delaware State) look like long shots given the logjam at receiver.
MINNESOTA VIKINGS (Grade: B)
What was admirable about the Vikings draft was the aggressive way that, given two first round picks already, they traded back into the first round for a third. That doesn't necessarily mean that I'm in love with the players they took, but let's judge this on draft day technique. I never had Sharrif Floyd as high on my board as many others, and after some hype, he not only landed half a round late, but in a system that his gap-jumping inside-outside skills suit, but with a team that needs a new era at defensive tackle. Their other two first round picks were measurable-friendly, Xavier Rhodes at 4.43 in the 40 yard dash with 6-1 210lb size justifying a round one selection for a player who can still be a little wooden, but Patterson (4.42, 6-2, 216) is the selection I have difficulty with, not because they didn't need a receiver, but because I'm concerned about whether he has the smarts to deliver on routes consistently. If he can't, then forgoing ILB (= Manti Te'o) looks a lot less clever when a number of notable receivers were still to be found later on. So, as much as Floyd was undervalued, the trade up for Patterson doesn't grab me by the bonuses when it comes to grading.
That said, once the Vikings had a full day to overcome the headrush of day one, they rejoined the process in need of a linebacker and took one, a safe one, from Linebacker U, Gerald Hodges. He's no starter, no defining Mike, but he has rare cover skills and again fits the scheme for specific downs. The greater need was inside linebacker, and they later added Hodges' team mate, Michael Mauti, a true inside guy. However, Mauti has had multiple knee ops. I'd have liked to have seen more, or at least more high-end talent for the offensive line too, so for all the splash on day one, the Vikings didn't package or shuffle the later picks to finish what they started.
CHICAGO BEARS (Grade: C+)
Sometimes, especially with a short draft, and when you are only a step or so away from serious contention, you have to look closely at need. When Chicago parted company with definitive middle linebacker Brian Urlacher, it could have been reason for Bears fans to hit the panic button, but after signing DJ Williams from the Broncos, it took the pressure off that selection in the draft and allowed them to address line needs first. Whether Kyle Long was really the tackle they needed or an overpriced guard is open to debate, but I certainly question making another selection at tackle when the need for corner went untouched.
It leaves this as a draft largely defined by those linebackers, but at least the Bears got them right: Greene is a nice mid-round weakside option, a sized-up DB with pass awareness though not always instinctive, long proven as a tackler, opportune in stripping the ball; Bostic is also a known commodity, two year starter, three year contributor, nice lateral coverage, and with DJ Williams and Lance Briggs already in the mix, there's a lot of options here, formation-wise. If Cornelius Washington may be regarded as an OLB, and someone can keep him revved, one area of doubt could become an area of renewed strength. Still, the lack of corner and the nagging lack of an intense physical specimen doesn't set my world on fire. The Bears papered over the cracks for now.
NFC East | NFC North | NFC South | NFC West | AFC East | AFC North | AFC South | AFC West
ST. LOUIS RAMS (Grade: A-)
I could write a book on the hues, textures and depths of the NFC West drafts. There's so much drama, style and character about each of them. But for simply getting the job done in seven picks and outta here, it's hard not to like the Rams.
Top of their slate of needs were safety, wide receiver and outside linebacker. You know how that Geno Smith guy put up 369 completions last year? 224 of those were evenly spread between small (5-8 175) but superfast (4.3) almost uncoverable Tavon Austin and slightly bigger (5-10 193) but slower (4.5) route runner Stedman Bailey who really plays game-smart and works hard. At safety, TJ McDonald has nice size at 6-2, 219, decent speed, his father was a 13-year NFL player, he's a tackling king, and he could be an early starter. But he's no steal and I think they'll be back for more at safety; UDFA Cody Davis of Texas Tech also has a shot. For their linebacker they took an inside for out, trading down the 1st round to take Alec Ogletree. He was suspended during 2010 and 2011 for off-field issues, and was arrested for DUI earlier this year, and some felt he didn't give his all on the field. Still, he is a factor and with maturity may be Pro Bowl caliber. For now he'll be used at WLB. I have to admit, I'm a little wary of a defense that has Cortland Finnegan, Janoris Jenkins and Alec Ogletree penciled in as starters – the Rams are on a path to playoff contention but there's potential for an unravelling.
Later on they added fast (4.39) developmental corner Brandon McGee, interior offensive lineman Barrett Jones, who matches need because he can step in at any position on the line and has played against the best college talent, and Zac Stacy, another need matched . Stacy is intriguing because the Rams actually lack a franchise back after the departure of Steven Jackson, and the backs they have don't quite ring that bell. Stacy ran for over 1000 yards in both 2011 and 2012 with 44 TDs on the ground those two years combined, and though he is no bellcow (career high 207 carries, 5-8 216 lb build) he could be a stop-gap lead back and has a focused ‘team' mentality (hoorah!). I think UDFA OT Braden Brown (BYU) is also an outsider to watch. Although they didn't draft a franchise back in a year of cut-price running backs, that value trend should continue for future drafts, and although I don't like a starting linebacker with red flags, they did match need. They matched all needs... you won't find many other teams that did that.
ARIZONA CARDINALS (Grade: A-)
The Cardinals could do pretty much what they liked with their draft, because with the Rams in the ascent, Seahawks the breakout team of 2012 and the 49ers Super Bowl runners-up, their role as doormats is assured. It would take a miracle to turn the franchise around with one draft. Needs include OT, OG, OLB, S, TE, RB, DE, QB, DL, WR, ILB, CB...
Drafting at no.7, the Cardinals never had a shot at the big name tackles, but with their incumbent OTs young and improving, and Levi Brown back from IR, they opted to start the run at guard instead. Cooper is too stocky (6-2 311) for an NFL tackle, but has the speed (5.07) and quick feet (there they go) to bring to the Cardinals what they lacked under the previous regime – an actual line that allows quarterbacks to look like passers instead of tackling dummies. Later pick Earl Watford will have to adjust to a much higher level of play, so for now, it's just one stunning addition to the line.
My article in May's issue of The American alluded to my differing belief to many over the quality at linebacker in this draft. I think there's a whole lotta ‘good' this year, even if there aren't many greats. For the Cardinals, this worked out with fine selections inside and out in rounds 2 and 4. Minter is a busy underheight (6-0, 246) tackler, the kind NFL teams used to get sniffy about but are getting wiser to, who can cover the field left to right, line to midfield. Not enough of his present weight is muscle, more like an old school rugby player than modern linebacker, but with a middle-of-the-scrum mentality to go with it. Okafor is an unpolished pass rusher who will need to do more than fire himself at tackles to get to the quarterback consistently at this level, but has the tools (hands, athleticism, leverage) to become a top-flight pass rusher. I'm looking forward to seeing him swoop in from outside of Calais Campbell.
And from swoop to Swope and the other late round offensive selections. Swope is a great, not-so-little (6-0 205 lb) slot target who loves the middle of field but may have concussion issues, Jefferson is one of the modern army of QB-TE conversions with nice frame (6-6, 255) and blocking skills, but much yet to show as a receiver. Stepfan Taylor and Andre Ellington are two backs that have no business being available in rounds 5 and 6 respectively. Taylor, in a pro offense suddenly without Andrew Luck, carried 322 times for 1,530 yards last year, plus caught 41 balls. The Cardinals must be overjoyed he isn't a Ram, 49er or Seahawks right now. Ellington is a legit return threat, a decent catcher and has great burst. As a duo of backfield picks, they're impressive. Amongst the undrafted free agents were two safeties, Javon Harris and Tony Jefferson, both from Oklahoma that deserve a look. The Cardinals did a lot, and the grade excludes one player. who I will now get to...
I think Tyrann Mathieu, the defensive back originally from LSU, before being dismissed for multiple substance-abuse incidents, is a high-round roll of the dice, and the Cardinals know it. I suspect he doesn't have a disciplined bone in his body, I see no evidence that he's changed his ways, and I'm 90% sure he's a bust. BUT I still think he's a good kid, he's done no harm to anybody but himself, if he can turn things around it'll be in the company of Tigers-turned-Cardinals Kevin Minter and Patrick Peterson, and I'll be rooting for him. He not an elite corner, he doesn't have special speed (4.5), is small (5-9, 186), with lots of unimpressive measurables, BUT he plays like a force of nature, aggressive, relentless, quick-blitzing, always around the ball, stripping it or falling on it, breaking a key return on a punt or fumble recovery, changing a game's destiny with a near-scripted sense of timing. The XFL had He Hate Me, but what they really needed was the ‘Honey Badger'. In Mathieu, the Cardinals may have themselves the best ticket-selling corner since ‘Neon' Deion Sanders.
SEATTLE SEAHAWKS (Grade: C-)
I'll concede that I'm wrong about Pete Carroll's latest stint in the NFL - I am now fully aboard (well, perched precariously on the edge of) the bandwagon. Despite Bobby Wagner the consumate tackler, Bruce Irvin the situational sackmaster, and Russell Wilson (in fairness I did say ‘Wilson could be a starter if Matt Flynn's mercurial Week 17 turns out to be a mirage'), my point stands: Carroll has a disregard for market value. So let's disregard the market for a team on the brink of greatness and judge purely on the talent and how many upgrades stick...
Fast (4.47), well-built (5-10, 220lb) back Christine Michael might have been a first round were it not for an ACL tear in 2011, being in his coach's doghouse in 2012, some fumbleitis... he was taken just after Montee Ball and Eddie Lacy. The Seahawks also took the slower (4.6) but similarly built Spencer Ware. Both Ware and Tharold Simon were suspended during 2011 after testing positive for synthetic marijuana, a problem widespread enough that it isn't seen universally as a red flag so much as a cautionary note. However, Tharold was arrested on the cusp of the draft after an altercation with a police officer over an alleged traffic violation – not a great start, but Tharold's build (6-2, 202) and 4-5 speed make him an adequate depth add. Elsewhere in this clusterbomb of picks is Jared Smith, a defensive tackle they will convert into an offensive tackle. Don't doubt line coach Tom Cable doing this – he did it last year with J R Sweezy. And therein lies my problem, my new problem (or it the same problem?) with the Seahawks draft. To what extent do these players cover the same ground as last year's draft? Last year they took Robert Turbin as their new no.2 back, a downhill style runner to back up their downhill style runner, and now they take a new no.2 back who's best as a downhill style runner. Followed by another who's probably best between the tackles. I haven't forgotten they now have Golden Tate and, thanks to a trade-away of their first round pick, Percy Harvin to play in space, and at least they didn't spend another high pick at receiver, but... oh wait... Chris Harper, their third pick. Okay, he's the kind of chain-mover you like to have on the roster, I won't quibble at that, but so far we're looking at a player to compete for no.2 back, a no.4 back, a no.5 receiver, a back-up convert project, a no.4 corner. Any meat?
The Seahawks took two DTs. Jesse Williams and Jordan Hill will compete with last year's Jaye Howard to get into the rotation. I like Williams the best, and the Seahawks needed depth there. Joining the rush for multiple TE sets, Seattle wanted a depth guy with receiver traits - enter Luke Willson. And they needed an outside linebacker, for which we'll count Ty Powell – he played defensive back in school but bulked up to become a defensive end (now that's my kind of eating regime!). Played at a very minor level. But he looked great in shorts, so that's okay (skeptical? Me?). They needed a lineman, and their new choices are the aforementioned DT convert, undersized Ryan Seymour (maybe Powell can be his personal trainer), and big-bodied but raw Michael Bowie from another lower-tier school.
Projects, converts, feeder-uppers and discipline concerns. The Seahawks are giving themselves a lot of work for a team making that final push. I can't believe you can stock the three-deep with this sort of stuff and not pay the price. Maybe I just can't shake the feeling that Pete Carroll is the kid who, when asked to tidy his room, bulldozes it all under the bed and opens up some new toys. But do I now think he can win in the NFL? He won at USC.
SAN FRANCISCO 49ERS (Grade: B)
As with the Seahawks, it's a case of ‘what do you get the team that has everything?' - well, not everything, but they're in a pretty healthy situation despite parting with the daunting list of WRs Ted Ginn and Randy Moss, QB Alex Smith, TE Delanie Walker, massive OG Leonard Davis, FS Dashon Goldson, OLB Clark Haggans, ILBs Larry Grant and Tavares Gooden, NT Isaac Sopoaga, and kicker David Akers. Being the 49ers, they'd answered with WR Anquan Boldin, QB Colt McCoy, DL Glenn Dorsey, FS Craig Dahl, CB Nnamdi Asomugha and K Phil Dawson. I rattle off these names because it has to be remembered that a championship contender in as nice a location as San Francisco sometimes has the free agency appeal to approach the draft with less urgency than other teams.
With Justin Smith and Aldon Smith bringing the heat, the 49ers were just looking for DEs to add to the rotation and disrupt the run, but selected three times for players listed as DEs. In reality, both Cornellius ‘Tank' Carradine and Corey Lemonier may be regarded as OLB/DE edge rushers. It's interesting that Carradine, a sack menace at JuCo, took one year of adjustment (5.5 sacks) before unleashing himself fully against the big boys in 2012 (11 sacks). He could find another level again. Quinton Dial probably becomes depth as an inside botherer.
The 49ers still considered themselves a receiver short after the departure of Ted Ginn, and while Quinton Patton lacks that kind of speed, but has subtle moves, body awareness, some kick return experience, and could overproduce as he did in college. I'm less sure Moody and Daniels make it here – not everybody can on a good roster, and Cooper is barely more than a priority free agent anyway. At tight end, I'm not a fan of Vance McDonald's selection - he's not a player who gets separation easily,. They also added UDFA project MarQueis Gray of Minnesota, a 6-3 240lb former QB with long arms and experience at WR.
The difference between this and the equally overstocked Seahawks draft is how many starters I think will eventually come out of it. Eric Reid is a starter, a 6-1, 213lb 4.53s blend who is ready to play right now, though his upside isn't special. Carradine will be a significant-time player, Marcus Lattimore would have been the top running back selected without his penchant for getting his kness spectacularly out of shape, and there is every indication that he can become a starter as he returns to fitness. Though the 49ers didn't spend big on the offensive line, UDFA Luke Marquardt (Azusa Pacific) is an interesting find, and tackle Carter Bykowski could be a starter inside at guard in 2-3 years. And yes, I do believe in both British Olympian Lawrence Okoye's capacity to learn this game (he's a free agent discus stand-out with off-the-chart athleticism for a big man) and the 49ers long-term interest in training him as another DE – “He's just an Adonis. Just a great physical specimen of a man” said coach Jim Harbaugh. The 49ers aren't looking for many starters for right now, but they are looking for starters.
NFC East | NFC North | NFC South | NFC West | AFC East | AFC North | AFC South | AFC West
TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS (Grade: B-)
As the trade was completed within the week of the draft, let us count Darrelle Revis as the first pick of Tampa's draft and congratulate them on selecting the best cover corner available if the injury issues subside. History suggests second tenures are hit and miss affairs for defensive backs, however, so I really like that they took 2012 Jim Thorpe award winner Johnathan Banks as well. He doesn't have exceptional speed and eyes the ball for himself maybe a little too much, but if he and Revis both show up, its a nice position of improvement in a division with the Saints and Falcons. So far so good ...and then Mike Glennon. Some people are looking at the height (6-7) and the quiet leadership and intoning the name of Flacco, but I see an inconsistent passer, awkward measurables, limited maneuverability, a shade too scholarly rather than gutsy, and I'm not sure he's one to rally the troops. Joe Flacco? I'm not even sure he's Brock Osweiler. Yes, he only cost a third round pick, but if the idea here was to light a fire under Josh Freeman, bear in mind Matt Barkley, Ryan Nassib, and Tyler Wilson were all still on the board.
As to the rest of this set, I like Akeem Spence as a dumpier Sharrif Floyd, while DE William Gholston has to carry the burden of being Jets ‘bust' Vernon Gholston's cousin. At 6-6 with 34” arms, has even greater reach, and again if he played as well as he looked... However, he'd better apply himself, as small schooler Steven Means will reward patience down the road with quarterback pressure. Mike James has the receiving skills and work ethic that will make it hard to cut him early, even if he's unexceptional in any one area. A selection at tight end rather than QB would have improved the grade.
ATLANTA FALCONS (Grade: B-)
This offseason the Falcons parted with CBs Brent Grimes, Dunta Robinson, Chris Owens, SS Chris Hope and DE John Abraham. Ex-Giant Osi Umenyiora arrived for Abraham. The secondary was the obvious need and it was given all the attention on days one and two, a third round pick surrendered to move up and take Desmond Trufant. In round two, another corner was added, and at the end of the draft, two safeties, with the next generation of defensive ends in the middle to add pressure at the other end. Desmond is the third Trufant playing CB in the draft, his brothers with the Jets and Jaguars, and is four-years-proven in his own right. He's probably not a shut-down corner and doesn't make game-changing plays, but he's 4.43-fast, athletic and for the Falcons, necessary. I'm not sure I like that they drafted up, value-wise. In other years he wouldn't have been regarded as a first rounder. Alford is even faster, and is a greater threat to intercept. There may not be great upside to either of them, but there's no bust potential either. Of the two safeties, Ishmael is a box tackler, and Motta too is a tackler to storm into action, his draft status took a knock after timing horribly in the 40 (4.7 to 4.8+) and he tested badly elsewhere.
Of the defensive ends. Goodman has long arms and carries 276 lbs swiftly, and deals with the running game heartily enough, but isn't necessarily an upgrade over other borderline edge rush options the Falcons have; Maponga is small for a DE, but may be the better pass rusher. Another need ticked was at tight end. Toilolo takes advantage of his basketball height (6-8, 260) to snag high balls, but won't make anyone forget Tony Gonzalez in the open field. Of course, Gonzalez is still here, but the day is coming when the Falcons will have to find a true successor.
The Falcons attacked the need at corner, grabbed some safeties that likely figure into special teams for now, made some okay additions at DE, took a tight end, though not an exceptional one in any area except height, but missed on needs at linebacker, and at offensive line except for some minor undrafted free agents. The most relevant UDFA was kicker Casey Barth (North Carolina, brother of Tampa Bay's Connor) who will give Matt Bryant a little competition. They patched a hole for now, but it's no generational haul.
NEW ORLEANS SAINTS (Grade: B+)
The Saints still didn't have a full complement of picks following ‘bountygate', but they're trying to weather the storm. Last season's stinging punishments from the league manifested in a 0-4 start and the worst surrendering of yards in league history. The Saints spent three of their five picks on defense, but added three more noteworthy defensive UDFAs. Vaccaro (6-0, 214) will be thrown straight in, against the run and in coverage on tight ends and receivers, and shouldn't look out of place. John Jenkins is a massive 6-4 346lb dancing mammoth who will soak the run and suits their 3-4, while Rufus Johnson is a small school bunch of measurables (6-5, 266 lbs, 4.85s) who has a lot to learn. More immediate may be UDFA ILB Kevin Reddick (North Carolina), who racked the tackles for loss in the senior of many seasons during which he became a leader – he maybe shapes up as limited in the pass-happy NFL, but he's the sort you'd want to keep at the back of the roster for team cohesion. OLB Chase Thomas (Stanford) was a consistently productive ‘Sam', an All-American in 2011, who, like Reddick, maybe was considered as good as he'll get. But for the Saints, it'll do for now. Another UDFA in camp is CB Rod Sweeting (Georgia Tech), a two-year starter with great speed (4.4), who was last seen winning the MVP of the Sun Bowl; he's never excelled but good enough to count as depth need – the Saints are stop-gapping with veteran free agents for now.
The offensive notes are brief. Armstead looked like a boy amongst men at the East-West Shrine Game, and fitted right in at the Senior Bowl. He could be an adequate starter at left tackle with Jermon Bushrod gone, but his 6-5 306 size isn't ideal and his future may lie elsewhere on the line. Kenny Stills got separation by squirting out of cuts, and with 4.38 speed, he could factor into the action pretty soon for New Orleans, who leak WRs in annual free agency. They probably come out of the draft weekend with three eventual starters, a couple of linebackers that make the roster, a receiver for the two-deep, maybe a corner, and also a look-see UDFA QB in Ryan Griffin of local college Tulane - a full sized draft from limited options. Maybe they could have taken DE Jarvis Jones in the first round and then gone after a safety in the third (JJ Wilcox, Shawn Williams), but their secondary was just hurting too much to take a risk on not getting a plug-in guy deep.
CAROLINA PANTHERS (Grade: B)
It wasn't a large draft, and the Panthers didn't worry too much about covering all bases because they had just one objective: stop the run. Luke Kuechly in his rookie season as Panthers MLB was in on 164 tackles, which not only illustrates what a phenomenal pick he was, but how undefensive and tackle-free Carolina's defensive tackles were in front of him.
Starlite Lotulelei (6-2, 311) is exactly the run-absorber they were seeking, but is far more active and frankly terrifying, with good mobility and quickness (5.05 40-yard) for a man of his size, and logged 5 sacks his senior season. He was being spoken of as a possible top 5 pick until a heart defect was discovered at the Combine - there are concerns about ongoing health, naturally, but also about stamina. KK Short, the other new tackle, is just as fast, but lighter at 300 lbs, and was a more consistent quarterback-basher. Neither shows up on every play, but their combined movement up front is going to make DEs Charles Johnson and Greg Hardy look a whole lot better. LB AJ Klein has inside-outside flexibility with tackle and pursuit skills, but also a highlight reel of interception returns. He's probably strongside here, with Chase Blackburn backing up Kuechly in the middle.
Kenjon Barner will compete with Ted Ginn for return duties, but is a speedster (4.43) out the backfield, who put up big numbers his senior year as the main back in the Ducks' spread offense – a combined 2023 yards of offense, including over 320 against USC. He has home-run capabilities, but with the backs Carolina already has, must be viewed as a change-of-pace. A great pickup in the fifth round. Kugbila could be a borderline starter given time, so is an investment/depth selection. For now, CB, FS and possibly WR had to be left to UDFA attention; Robert Lester (Alabama, S) and Melvin White (SB, Louisiana-Lafayette) were the best of them. This was half of a very good draft.
NFC East | NFC North | NFC South | NFC West | AFC East | AFC North | AFC South | AFC West
BUFFALO BILLS (Grade: B)
Okay, so nobody was enamored with the QB Class of '13, and NFL-sized EJ Manuel was just one in a flood of imperfect passers, but given Buffalo's ensconcement in the basement of the AFC East, smacking the reset button right in the kisser is a valid option. After coming to their senses regarding the upside of Ryan Fitzpatrick (none), and signing certainly no worse in Kevin Kolb - a move that screamed ‘stop gap solution - the Bills took the first passer of the draft, then went after two new receivers on day two, with a tight end and a kicker on day three. The Bills have resigned themselves to a rebuild, and they went for it – compare and contrast with the Jets. Buffalo traded down to take a quarterback with more upside than new coach Doug Marrone's old college QB, Ryan Nassib, which many mock drafts had going to the Bills at pick 8, effectively earning a bonus second rounder and a tight end into the bargain. All good work for the opening hours of the draft. That said, while Manuel improved in every college year, his senior game against Florida revealed that, like the Jets, the Bills are going to have to put in some time teaching their rookie quarterbacks how to read defenses.
In the meantime, Kevin Kolb (or Tarvaris Jackson) likely gets first go with the new offensive toys: As much as Manuel is something for the near future, Woods is a route runner for right now, a drive-sustainer (USC's career leader in receptions) with a proven blend of talents. The smallish (5-9) Goodwin may be viewed as a returner, but his lightning fast acceleration and extra gear will bring some occasional big plays to the offense too, and was also productive for three years in college. More productivity: kicker Dustin Hopkins scored more points than any other player in NCAA history, period. Gragg is an undertall ‘H-back' with top-end speed and leaping ability who would have gone higher were it not for a knee injury in 2012. Also, keep an eye on freebies Da'rick Rogers (WR, Tennessee Tech) and Brandon Kaufman (WR, Eastern Washington). Substance abuse issues saw Rogers transfer from Tennessee after leading the SEC in receptions in 2011, and his 6-2 220 size could have made him a day two pick otherwise; his non-selection could be a splash of cold water. Kaufman lacks explosion, but his 6-5 height will get a long training camp look.
There was some defense, but it didn't go far. Alonso brings hustle and hits to an inside position that was a joke last season, and it didn't take long after the draft for incumbent ILB Kelvin Sheppard to be shipped to the Colts in exchange for DE/OLB Jerry Hughes, a former first round pick. The Bills also added some bodies to the nickel mix: 5-11, 200 lb Duke Williams is more of a player than the 6-0 211 lb Meeks, taken somewhat above value in the next round, while free agent CBs Nickell Robey (USC) and Vernon Kearney (Lane) will have to take the special teams route to stick.
NEW YORK JETS (Grade: D)
There were lots of adept drafts this year... and we'll get to them later.
Jets fans, deflated after an offenseless Round 1 and distracted by former WVU passer Geno Smith's arrival in Round 2, probably aren't too worried how things went thereafter. They were either staring disconsolately into their beers at the continuing disfunction of it all, or elated that either Tim Tebow or Mark Sanchez wouldn't be wearing green much longer. And while the early draft grades (now, what have I warned you about them?) became swayed by the sudden mess of quarterbacks, by Monday lunchtime, Tebow was bounced and the situation found focus: Sanchez for now and not for long, Smith as soon as he knows his role, and Greg McElroy on clipboard duty. The more National Championships a guy wins, the less he's the quarterback of the Jets.
But back to day one. The Jets had needs aplenty, their offensive ineptitude their defining feature in 2012. But they did have defensive needs, especially at corner, OLB and to a lesser extent at safety, and two first round picks were duly despatched to the defensive side of the roster. Problem was, defensive tackle wasn't a need - not remotely - and cornerback was only a need because they'd traded away Darrelle Revis to gain the pick they spent on that DT they didn't need. Those clutching for the logic could content themselves with Milliner bringing greater youth to the position than Revis, and being arguably the best corner in the draft, but it all looked a little like the Jets had been quickly outmaneuvered to other players such as WR Tavon Austin (taken one spot ahead of them by the Rams, who traded up) or OLB Barkevious Mingo three spots earlier, or OG Chance Warmack three spots before their second pick. That's just speculation, of course, but if the Jets weren't outgrabbed, then round one is a head-scratcher. I don't dislike the players, but the tactics stink.
It's hard to argue with the acquisition of linemen for a team so offensively awful, and having failed to land the big name guards, paying only a 5th rounder for Aboushi is great value ... though I'm a little confused why they did so having already drafted Brian Winters, a tackle more likely to end up at guard himself. Then they took another DT, leaving the draft with no receivers, safety or linebacker of any kind in their pockets. Trying to find form in the unfathomable, Richardson could push Quinton Coples back to the DE position he played more in college, wide receiver only looked desperate last year because of injuries (maybe)...
But still, no OLB of note (only Troy Davis of Central Florida of distant note in free agency), Ryan Spadola of Lehigh all they had to show amongst receivers. Despite acquiring talented players, not overpaying for a single one of them, and playing into the perception that Rex Ryan's philosophy is something to do with playing D while a quarterback tries not to screw things up (and Geno Smith's accuracy fits?), the elements still look more like a spilled jigsaw than a recognizable picture.
MIAMI DOLPHINS (Grade: B-)
If the Jets' draft-day missteps are representative of their decreasing threat to the Patriots in the AFC East, then the next team to have a crack at New England's divisional dominance is the Dolphins. While QB Ryan Tannehill's season (10 TDs, 7 ints his last 10 games) was merely adequate by comparison to Andrew Luck, RGIII and Russell Wilson last year, his selection allowed Miami to dodge the quarterback lottery this time, instead looking for pieces to take them back to winning ways. However, I can't talk about what they did pick without talking about who they didn't. Securing a trade-up via Oakland to third in the draft, and with Eric Fisher and Luke Joeckel already off the board, they could have gone for athletic third left tackle Lane Johnson. Instead, perhaps with the belief that they could still broker a deal with Kansas City for Branden Albert, they forwent tackle and took the top pass rusher of the draft, Dion Jordan. I'm massively excited to see Jordan hunting down QBs on the other side from Cameron Wake, but at time of writing the loss of blindside protector Jake Long in free agency still looms large (UPDATE: RT Tyson Clabo signed). I have difficulty picturing Dallas Thomas as the new left tackle - he feels more like the future at left guard, where he played his senior season. At 6-5 306, he needs to bulk up a little.
However, four of Miami's top five picks were defense. Rangey (6-6 250) Dion Jordan will fit in either a 3-4 or Miami's preferred 4-3 package, and Jordan going after the quarterback at the edge while pass coverage standout Jelani Jenkins lurks at the other end could result in some abrupt changes of the possession arrow. As the Dolphins have seen fit to part with 2009's excellent double DB selection of Vontae Davis and Sean Smith the past two seasons, they went for the next generation; Will Davis could be a liability in man-to-man to start with, so he'll likely learn beneath Brent Grimes, while the taller and faster Taylor (5-11 192, 4.41) will be thrown in early. Draftee Don Jones will compete with undrafted Jordan Kovacs (Michigan) for a safety spot. Other free agent defenders of note included linebackers Clay Michael (Oregon) and Brandon Ogletree (BYU).
In slapping a grade on the Fins, I still can't quite shake off either the disregard for drafting a true LT, their failure to close out a Branden Albert trade, or Miami's middraft trade away of WR Davone Bess (to Cleveland for an exchange of 4ths, plus the Browns 5th in exchange for the Dolphins' 7th). Miami's making a habit of discarding productive WRs, notoriously trading Wes Welker to the Patriots on the cusp of mega-production, giving up Brandon Marshall after two 1000-yard seasons, and now Bess – who averaged 64 catches the past five years – for essentially chump change. While Bess' production was likely to sag after the acquisition of Mike Wallace, there is a wastefulness there.
NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS (Grade: C)
You can't assess a Patriots draft without addressing the trades, and again the Patriots made themselves approachable to the Vikings, who gave up picks 52, 83 and 229 to take the Patriots first round slot. As the Patriots have never set the world alight with their receiver selections – this may again be the case in 2013 – getting out of the first round maybe suited them. Yet in the intervening picks before taking Aaron Dobson, the Patriots missed out on Cordarrelle Patterson, Justin Hunter, Robert Woods. There were still other receivers I'd have taken ahead of Dobson at that point, but he's no slouch, and with the Patriots' receiver corps in flux following the departure of Wes Welker and the non-acquisition of Emmanuel Sanders, he's a good size (6-3, 210), and has as good a chance as any to start.
There's always the temptation to overpraise New England because all evidence suggests that they're smarter than everybody else, so when they select players, we look at them in an optimistic light. But this draft was humdrum. Jamie Collins brings flexibility to play inside or out and he has some pass rush, but in lieu of a first round pick, he doesn't wow me as a first selection, Dobson has been productive, but not spectacularly so; and while Logan Ryan is a safe man cover who probably displaces Ras-I Dowling on the roster, and Steve Beauharnais is workable depth, I don't know what Duron Harmon is doing here, unless the Patriots were trying to draft the entire Rutgers draft class. DE Michael Buchanan has the skills to be an occasional nuisance in the backfield. Free agents to watch include Missouri receiver TJ Moe, who has the quickness to suit New England's slot role, and South Florida DT Cory Grissom, a stocky (6-1, 306) run-plugger. They both match needs.
NFC East | NFC North | NFC South | NFC West | AFC East | AFC North | AFC South | AFC West
BALTIMORE RAVENS (Grade: A)
It was quite a rush for the doors. Ray Lewis retired and fellow inside linebacker Dannell Ellerbe left for Miami, Ed Reed is now a Texan and fellow safety Bernard Pollard is a Titan. Outside linebacker Paul Kruger hopped across the division to the Browns and receiver Anquan Boldin is now in San Francisco. However being Super Bowl champions has its compensations, such as attracting a high quality of replacement: OLB Elvis Dumervil, FS Michael Huff. Noting a screaming need at inside linebacker and urgency at safety, the Ravens used the draft to fill a lot of sudden gaps.
Matt Elam arrives from SEC play, and while he isn't perfect safety height (a shade under 5-10, 208) he plays bigger, really hits, and has the kind of presence on the field that fits the Ravens. Just like the Steelers, the Ravens have a knack of selecting players who feel like they were always destined for AFC North play. Arthur Brown has the speed and lateral movement to be in on everything, topping 100 tackles the past two years, capable of playing inside or out, and can cover. You won't mistake him for Ray Lewis, but he'll tackle at least as well as Lewis was by the end. Depth was added to the defensive line, Williams a quick 6-1 335-lber who can shuttle on as a rotation NT, Simon a good work-in at end who just got better as a pass rusher through college. He has the whole-game tenacity to play OLB, and could become something a bit special. The names ‘Arthur Brown' and ‘John Simon' don't exactly growl with football ferocity, but just wait... the Ravens defensive reputation isn't vanishing anytime soon.
Rattling through the rest of the selections, Juszczyk may be the most complete fullback to enter the NFL in a long while, with run block, pass protection, tough running ability and an excellent receiver; Wagner the Wisconsin lineman is... well, he's a Wisconsin lineman, although not special by their standards and Jensen has as much of a shot down the road; Mellette was a highly productive receiver (over 4000 yards the past three season) at a small school. Returning to defense, Lewis-Moore had a great senior season – his leadership was one of the reasons Notre Dame was so good – but suffered an ACL injury in the BCS game. If he returns to full health, they have a steal. Marc Anthony too is experienced at a high level.
Know why the good teams stay good? Because they can pick last every round and still load up on talent. The only thing they missed was offensive tackle, and UDFA Roger Gaines (Tennessee State, 6-6, 334lb, 36” arms) may offer something there.
PITTSBURGH STEELERS (Grade: A)
Jarvis Jones is a monster pass rusher, and probably shouldn't have been there for the Steelers. Only Dion Jordan could have fitted them so well. However, no running back fits the Steelers' present style better than Le'Veon Bell, who rushed for 1,793 yards last season, is an okay receiver, but can help in pass protection. That last one is important with Ben Roethlisberger getting dinged as much as he does. Bell isn't an elite back, but he will work here.
That's two massive needs dealt with. The next was receiver, where the Steelers lost speedster Mike Wallace to Miami. Enter Markus Wheaton (4.45s) to stretch the field, and he put up big numbers his senior season. They also took Justin Brown, an unheralded receiver from Penn State and Oklahoma (wasn't everybody from Oklahoma unheralded this year?) with a big body (6-3, 207) to get involved underneath. His college quarterback, Landry Jones was added as depth, and brings experience of big games, but his performances under pressure dropped his stock. As with Bell, if the line is good, he'll be good. Of course, if the line is good, Roethlisberger's still on the field.
The secondary needed help, and Hawthorne brings excellent reactions and speed (4.34), while Thomas, very fast for a safety (4.4), can cover well, cheat up and blitz. Another player with Steeler mentality. The Steelers did an outstanding job here of matching need, getting players that suited their style at the right value, and the word ‘character' chimes through the entire draft; whether you put that down to the Rooney philosophy, or whether it's just a smart way of avoiding busts, it's why the Steelers are rarely out of the frame in playoff talk.
CINCINNATI BENGALS (Grade: B+)
The Bengals don't have a record for getting good and staying good. But they're not letting up on this receiver thing, are they? Andy Dalton's latest target is Tyler Eifert, an outstanding receiver who caught 63 balls for Notre Dame last season. At 6-5, 250, he has deceptive speed and fights for balls. With Jermaine Gresham and Alex Smith also on the roster, Cincinnati is better placed than most to emulate New England's two-TE mismatches. Cobi Hamilton is another receiver for the middle of the field. In the backfield, BenJarvus Green-Ellis is hardly a franchise back (and the Bengals have rarely had luck going after one), so the addition of Bernard in round two surprised me, but I like it; Bernard hasn't been overworked in college as a runner, and he offers another target for Dalton (45+ catches each of the past two years).
While the Bengals added three linemen during the draft – Hawkinson will be early depth along the line, while Fragel is a TE-convert who projects as a possible starter one day at tackle – the signing of Andre Smith to a new contract let the Bengals off the hook on one of their big needs. That pushed safety to the fore, and Shawn Williams was an adequate response. He's fast, he tackles, but he does very little for interceptions. Porter and Burkhead were depth considerations. Amongst the ranks of the undrafted, I note running back Onterio McCalebb, a player you'd want to get on the field somehow, with tearing 4.3 speed, kick return and receiver skills.
Margus Hunt's 6-8 275lb size has some salivating about how much he can ruin a quarterback's day (and kickers too - 17 blocked kicks in his career); he's an Estonian former shot putter with 4.5 speed, another of this year's international beasts, but has played football at SMU for four years, so isn't exactly raw. The Bengals may have needed LB rather than DE, but we'll forgive them that one for Hunt. Aside from that, they got what they came for.
CLEVELAND BROWNS (Grade: C)
The best name in the draft, Barkevious Mingo, was the first linebacker taken and knows how to use exceptional athleticism. Can play end, though he is more of a threat standing up, and seems totally focused on football. A solid pick with upside. CB Leon McFadden will compete with Buster Skrine for a start role, and I'm not sure I like the idea of McFadden in man coverage. McFadden proved himself in the Mountain West, but I think he's got a tough learning curve here. Safety Jamoris Slaughter is used to a higher standard of opposition, but is a depth selection (who will stick).
You have to like Armonty Bryant's record for getting to the quarterback, but he was arrested for marijuana distribution last year, said he wouldn't let anyone down after being drafted and news now arrives that he has been arrested for DUI a week after the draft. He's a third-round talent who'd better smell the coffee soon. 6-6 318lb Garrett Gilkey will have to fight off a host of UDFA OLs including LSU's Chris Faulk, but don't bet against the Division II product beating out the SEC guy.
The Browns don't get any bonuses for a small draft and taking a top 10 talent in the top 10, but I was impressed they stayed clear of this year's quarterback crop.
NFC East | NFC North | NFC South | NFC West | AFC East | AFC North | AFC South | AFC West
JACKSONVILLE JAGUARS (Grade: B)
New ownership, new GM and new coach added up to a more than competent haul for the Jaguars, taking the tackle many felt might be the first overall pick, Luke Joeckel, to play the right side initially, although Eugene Monroe has far from cemented the left side so Joeckel may be his eventual replacement. As a right tackle, Joeckel will be no slouch either, a forceful run-blocker, and an aware pass protector who was a major reason Texas A&M enjoyed a stunning debut in SEC play. If Blaine Gabbert is to be an effective NFL passer, he needs more time (he was sacked 50 times last season), and without giving him a shade more protection it's hard to conclude that he's a bust (even if I did shake my head at his selection two years ago). So while the Jaguars don't get bonus marks for selecting one of three great tackles available with the second overall pick, they at least didn't compound matters by drafting a quarterback controversy. Of course, they did invite both Arizona passer Matt Scott and Vanderbilt's Jordan ‘brother-of-Aaron' Rodgers to camp as undrafted free agents, so Gabbert's already on the clock.
Another accomplished quarterback, Denard Robinson of Michigan arrived during the draft in the guise of wide receiver or, according to the Jags, running back, and although he will be most dangerous in space from either position, at sub-200 lbs, he's no between-the-tackles pounder. He runs a 4.4 40, while Ace Sanders, drafted a round earlier is even faster at 4.38, a tiny (5-7 173) return specialist who will make it onto the field as an occasional WR.
The secondary was addressed five times in eight picks, which is borderline obsessional, maybe even a little scattergun, but safety Johnathan Cyprien is a player I love, that they needed, and who will be a presence in the centerfield for years to come. Dwayne Gratz has good speed, but can get a step off when receivers make cuts. In the Jags cover-2, he probably works. As the secondary has effectively cleaned house, all these secondary selections have their shot, Evans most likely via special teams, Harris due to deep speed, though McCray may find himself battling for a roster spot with Vanderbilt UDFA Trey Wilson.
Thanks to having a sub-par roster to begin with (the last of the scouts associated with the Blaine Gabbert-era drafts were dismissed following this draft), the Jaguars selected plenty they can use, restocking the secondary, and protecting Gabbert that little bit better. However, needs on the defensive line were set aside save for some undrafted defensive tackles including enormous (6-6 369 lb) TJ Barnes of Georgia Tech, while outside linebacker was wholly ignored.
TENNESSEE TITANS (Grade: B-)
The offseason story of the Tennessee Titans has become their line. The long-standing veteran tackles David Stewart and Michael Roos are now joined by Buffalo Bills escapee Andy Levitre at one guard position, ex-Ram Rob Turner, and now run-dominating Chance Warmack from Alabama, a ready-to-go talent who will certainly appear early in 2013. Then they added Brian Schwenke in round 4, a gritty, mean center who looks all the better given the talent at guard, though he's more likely to be a general interior back in the short-term. Put it all together and it's a hell of a line-build.
Willowy (6-4 196lb) receiver Justin Hunter has deep speed (4.44) to stretch the field, and his selection seems necessary considering Kenny Britt's frequent involvement with the police and his slow 2012 recovery from a 2011 ACL injury. Britt seemed back on top of his best in last week's minicamp, but Hunter provides insurance as well as stretching the field for the rest of the crop to excel. As with Blaine Gabbert, Tennessee's Jake Locker is seeking another level, and this helps.
Tape shows Blidi Wreh-Wilson to be an instinctive corner with a modicum of everything necessary to become a starter – the more I saw of him, the more I liked – while Zavier Gooden has upside, and Lavar Edwards matched need at a bargain price; both should find the step-up from SEC to NFL within their powers, even if they may be bit-part players. Both Gooden and UDFA Tom Wort of Oklahoma (originally of the United Kingdom) have nice closing speed. It isn't a great grade for the draft alone, but the offseason is the bigger picture.
HOUSTON TEXANS (Grade: B+)
The Texans have now reached the plateau of championship contender and expected division-winner after a glacially slow build since the franchise's inception. The offense is a fantasy football stalwart, the defense forever reloading, never regressing. So this again was a draft all about maintaining stock levels. For example, the team that has Andre Johnson at receiver selects DeAndre Hopkins as both a second option and next generation; the team that acquired Ed Reed adds the football-savvy and punishing hitter DJ Swearinger as a rival to Danieal Manning at the other safety spot. After the departure of Conner Barwin, they added to their always-strong roster of pass rushers with DEs (likely OLBs here) Montgomery and Trevardo Williams. Of the two tackles, Quessenberry projects to left guard where he could emerge as a starter with patience, while Brennan Williams is an inline blocker for the right side.
Houston found no steals in later rounds, but they conducted a master class in working the phones straight after the draft, easily the destination of choice among the undrafted. It's a veritable who's who of not-quite: running backs Ray Graham (Pittsburgh), George Winn (Cincinnati), Cierre Wood (Notre Dame), Dennis Johnson (Arkansas) and Ohio State's Zach Boren, one of the best fullbacks in the class. K-State's erstwhile QB Collin Klein checks in, though maybe as a receiver (he's 6-5, 227 lbs), though 6-1 speedster Alec Lemon (Syracuse) is also in camp after his 1,070-yard 2012 campaign. And those are just the offensive look-sees. If going the distance means being the best you can be at every roster spot, the Texans are certainly being thorough.
INDIANAPOLIS COLTS (Grade: C)
This column isn't about instagrades, but even allowing for an extra week, grading Indie's draft is difficult because of projection. Hugh Thornton is a nice enough specimen at left guard – hardly worse than Dallas' first round splurge Travis Frederick, but tempered by off-field incidents and medical concerns. Bjoern Werner played DE in college, may be viewed as an OLB here; unlike many overseas players (Werner is German), he exhibits a great understanding of the nuances of the game. Run-soaking Montori Hughes was dismissed from Tennessee, completing his education at Tenn-Martin. John Boyett had double knee surgery in 2012. Holmes may be depth at best, though Kerwynn Williams could be a big-play surprise late in the draft. Lesser needs at corner and receiver were matched only by UDFAs Lanear Sampson of Baylor and Daxton Swanson of San Jose State respectively. Perhaps the Colts decided that after last year's draft they could take a few risks, but there's a chance this draft could evaporate into irrelevance if reservations and red flags turn into realities.
NFC East | NFC North | NFC South | NFC West | AFC East | AFC North | AFC South | AFC West
SAN DIEGO CHARGERS (Grade: B+)
Before we get to Manti Te'o, let's drop in on DJ Fluker, the tackle who, as part of Alabama's offensive line ‘didn't see that much' of Te'o (clue: look down... see those tire marks in the wake of Eddie Lacy and Chance Warmack...?) Ah, now, we're back to Te'o again. Concentrate, people...
Fluker is a massive lump of mankind, another Andre Smith with less sweet feet for the size, but 36” arms to compensate. As a right tackle, he'll be a frightener. Philip Rivers will be happy, but not as happy as runner Ryan Mathews' cursed clavicles. Speaking of injuries, a knee issue may have dropped Keenan Allen from a second round pick to a mid-third considering the production he showed in 2011 and in 2012 until injury. Allen is better on video tape than measuring tape, his solid but not rangey 6-2 206lb body cutting precisely but not suddenly, with good hands but unexceptional speed. It's hard to say exactly why Allen amassed 98 catches, 1,343 yards his junior season or was on par to do it again the following year, but a combination of big arms and hands, concentration and simply being in the right place add up to a perfect NFL slot man, a drive-maker.
Alright... Te'o. Physically, the NFL is a league of freaks and Te'o isn't freakish. There's nothing exceptional about his build or his speed or his reach (certainly not those last two); all he did was rack tackles like no Notre Damer before him, help lead the Fighting Irish out of the wilderness and win every trophy and award going except, barely, the Heisman. It would be easy to write him off as the kind of player who excels in college then vanishes as a pro, except that (1) he has the versatility to play everywhere in the LB corps, (2) there's nothing technically wrong with his style for the pros, (3) he's ready to go, and (4) see previous paragraph for an example of a player who gets the job down by being where they're supposed to be and doing what they're supposed to do. Now the negative bit: if the timeline is correct, he found out his online girlfriend and her death was all a hoax just before the National Championship game, and subsequently performed forgettably. At the NFL Combine he finally faced the media over the delayed revelation of same, and again performed forgettably. Soft skinned? Easily distracted? Does he have enough ‘football nasty' in him? But enough already. The first 10-tackle game he puts up – and as inside linebacker for the Chargers, it won't take long – it all goes away. The west coast is the right place for him, and probably so is the second round. The Chargers still look smart for claiming veteran DJ Smith off waivers at the start of the draft as a plan B, then trading up to grab Te'o just as other teams were prowling.
With Steve Williams a capable nickel corner and Tourek Williams a long-careered DE/OLB who may be more nuisance than quarterback threat at this level, but none the less will need accounting for, letting others perform. Even Brad Sorensen (an LDS partner for Te'o's mission to South California?) has a chance as long-term project. The Chargers could go six for six here. A need at corner was addressed only with the free agent look-sees of Greg Brown of Kansas and Marcus Cromartie of Wisconsin, and depth at nose tackle may have to come from massive (6-5 342 lb) Kwame Geathers of Georgia, who has two brothers in the NFL and whose uncle James ‘Jumpy' Geathers was a 13-year NFL veteran; Kwame's a nice freebie, if raw.
KANSAS CITY CHIEFS (Grade: C+)
The logic goes: if you picked first, you probably had a garbage roster to begin with, and everything you pick will stick. That's less the case with Kansas City, which has talent that just doesn't knit together, and leadership which didn't lead. Andy Reid arrives with a resume for making the playoffs, and quickly started by getting the offense on track, trading for Alex Smith - the cost of which was a 2nd this year and 3rd next year, unless KC hits .500, in which case it escalates to a second 2nd. It's not unreasonable a supposition if Smith is as accurate or at least steady a passer as he has been the past two years, and it set up KC with a manageable list of needs for the draft, even if the trade is long enough in the rear mirror that we're not factoring it into the grade. So, needs: OT to keep Smith jaunty, free safety, inside linebacker, defensive tackle, a wide receiver...
It started well. It would be hard not to with the overall no.1 pick, although I wouldn't put money on Eric Fisher being better than Luke Joeckel, but he has mad movement skills that suit a zone blocking scheme and he's no bust. But while I like both Travis Kelce for a Patriots-style two-TE attack and Knile Davis for his 4.37 speed, TE was not the most burning need and Davis looked like day three quality at best when so many other running backs were going under market value. The Chiefs did find their ILB in Nico Johnson, a pursuit type, but he'll hardly redefine the role. The rest read like depth, the best of them fullback Braden Wilson, but even there the latest news is that the Chiefs have shipped Javier Arenas to the Cardinals in exchange for Anthony Sherman, pushing Wilson down the depth chart. At least they're not short for blocking backs. A host of free agents provide few additional notes other than the QB tittle-tattle of 6-6 232lb Tyler Bray (Tennessee) joining camp. A lot more could have been accomplished.
DENVER BRONCOS (Grade: C+)
After the travails of the Broncos defensive tackle position this past decade or so, Sylvester Williams comes as something of a relief, like turning the last page of a long, slightly dull storybook. ‘Sly' is a right-now selection, focused on football, physical and resistant, and probably the best NT the Broncos have had since Keith Traylor's bulked-up second stint. After losing DJ Williams (free agency) and Elvis Dumervil (a freak faxing incident), pass rush was a bigger need, but they may not have drafted so solidly there, taking ‘Q' Smith, who caught evaluators' attention with three sacks against Alabama, proving how high he can go. He's a sack artist rather than a complete player, and may be unleashed sparingly only for added chaos, but as a 5th round pick he's a fun addition. The draft weekend addition of ex-Charger Shaun Phillips helped salvage the Dumervil doom, but middle linebacker wasn't dealt with. Completing the defensive selections, Kayvon Webster was straight-out overpriced in round 3 for a team with Champ Bailey and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie starting... and still no middle linebacker (did we mention that already?)
Oh, but how Montee Ball fits. You can call him the latest Knowshon Moreno perhaps, but in case anyone forgets the football in these post-Combine days, he matched Barry Sanders' record NCAA record for most TDs in a season (39) and is the NCAA's all-time touchdown scorer, fumbled just 5 times in 1000 touches, hits the gaps, has a nice blend of squirt and dirt in his play, and is a team-first player. It's hard to think that the Denver line doesn't find a new level with both Manning and Ball in the backfield. Tavarres King and Vinston Painter are just depth additions; I'm not sure Dysert's presence is anything more than John Elway coveting quarterbacks. I'm not yet convinced that when it comes to the devil in the draft detail, Elway's office has divine touch. (Addenda: One week after the draft, former Browns GM Tom Heckert has been hired to replace Keith Kidd as Director of Player Personnel).
OAKLAND RAIDERS (Grade: C+)
Forget that Menelik Watson was the highest-profile Brit in the history of the NFL Draft, and just marvel in the first four selections of the Oakland Raiders. Marvel not least in the fact that they took four players in each of the first four rounds after so many years of barely showing up for the early stages of the draft after daft trade upon daft trade. They darned-near paid attention to need as well, heading first for a corner (albeit one with a serious medical red flag, though they at least resisted taking him third overall), and then for a tackle (albeit it a foreign one who only started 11 games of Div.1 football). I'm still not convinced Hayden is a first round talent, but after watching every tape I could of Watson, I'm convinced he should have been. His pass protection is way ahead of the curve and his run-blocking is sublime. I just hope the Raiders aren't about to shove him at guard, because that would be a monumental waste. The Raiders also drafted underpriced Liberian-born seek-and-tackle OLB Sio Moore, whose game speed shone at both the Shrine and Senior Bowl.
Other than that, it was depth all the way, which sounds dismissive, but TE Nick Kasa was an essential addition to a thin position, though he's a converted DE still honing his routes (Mychal Rivera is further ahead right now) and Tyler Wilson is just a steal – Arkansas' distracted 2012 campaign must be disregarded - he has that certain something. And Butler has potential. These are all players who could be developed in a stable, nurturing organization. Now, does that sound like the Raiders? There's just a few too many incomplete projects here, and some seem doomed to fall beside the wayside, especially with most of the projected defensive starters being veteran free agents. All in all, the surest thing here is a converted basketball player from Manchester.
NFC East | NFC North | NFC South | NFC West | AFC East | AFC North | AFC South | AFC West