Grading an NFL Draft the day after its conclusion is largely an effort in futility. At the end of the day, it is very difficult to predict what first round picks will become Jamarcus Russells and which fifth rounders emerge as Richard Shermans. However, football season is still months away, and after one of the more entertaining drafts in recent years, we can’t help but prognosticate a bit. Here are our grades for the 2014 draft…check back in a few years and see how we did.
First Pick – (27) Deone Bucannon, S, Washington State
Best Pick – Deone Bucannon
While Bucannon may have been considered a bit of a reach in the first round, the Cardinals seemed determined to finish what looks like one of the league’s better secondaries. With the consensus top safeties—Calvin Pryor and Ha Ha Clinton-Dix—off the board, Bucannon looks better as a 27th pick. Tight end Troy Niklas (2nd round) and wide receiver John Brown (3rd round) will both fight for immediate playing time. The lasting impact of this draft may lay with the long-term potential of Virginia Tech quarterback Logan Thomas, an inconsistent college player with huge upside who went ahead of more polished, and heavily discussed, passers like A.J. McCarron, Zach Mettenberger, and Aaron Murray. Many thought that the Cardinals would be a player for a top quarterback, but instead, they tabbed Thomas, who is very much a project player. If he lives up to his considerable potential and becomes the heir to Carson Palmer’s starting spot in a few years, it would be a steal for Arizona.
First Pick – (6) Jake Matthews, OT, Texas A&M
Best Pick – Jake Matthews
The Falcons got a very solid haul, especially early in the draft, taking two first round type talents on the lines in Jake Matthews and Minnesota defensive tackle Ra’Shede Hageman (2nd round). Matthews, even more so than second overall pick Greg Robinson who was taken by the St. Louis Rams, is considered an extremely polished, pro ready player, who should help keep Matt Ryan upright, something the Falcons struggled to do in 2013. Atlanta was ranked in the bottom third of the league in sacks allowed. The Falcons didn’t fill a glaring hole at edge rusher, but picked up two linebackers—Prince Shembo (4th round) and Marquis Spruill (5th round)—who can provide some help in the pass rush. While they didn’t fill every need, they picked up a number of very solid players, a number of whom should contribute early.
First Pick – (17) C.J. Mosley, LB, Alabama
Best Pick – (48) Timmy Jernigan, DT, Florida State
This was a prototypical solid Ozzie Newsome draft. Mosley is an extremely productive linebacker with an Alabama pedigree, while Florida State’s Timmy Jernigan should do a great job freeing him up to make plays. Clearly, head coach John Harbaugh is fired up about adding the big Seminole to his defensive line. The team definitely got more cerebral as well, with the fifth round addition of Penn State guard and published mathematician John Urschel. Overall, the team added a number of solid pieces, and continues to infuse a roster with a recent championship with youth and athleticism.
First Pick – (4) Sammy Watkins, WR, Clemson
Best Pick – (44) Cyrus Kouandjio, OT, Alabama
Yes, giving up a 2015 first rounder for the chance to draft Sammy Watkins is a big price to pay in a receiver-heavy draft, especially considering the fact that there is no guarantee that the Bills are a good team this year, but Watkins is an immense talent, and should do wonders for second year quarterback E.J. Manuel. Alabama tackle Cyrus Kouandjio and fifth round selection Cyril Richardson out of Baylor should both help bolster a line that ranked 29th in adjusted sack rate last season if they can stay healthy, and seventh round pick Seantrel Henderson has a ton of talent if he can keep his head on straight. The Bills took significant risks in this draft, but if they work out, they are far closer to become a young, talented playoff team than they have been in some time.
First Pick – (28) Kelvin Benjamin, WR, Florida State
Best Pick – (60) Kony Ealy, DE, Missouri
Benjamin fills a glaring hole at receiver, though he is very raw, and the Panthers may have been better off trading down if they wanted him specifically, or going with a more established receiver, as he is going to be thrown into the fire right away. If Benjamin was taken too early, they made up for it a bit with an extremely high value selection of Kony Ealy, who was a fringe first rounder in some mock drafts, in the late second round. Guard Trai Turner (3rd round) out of LSU and safety Tre Boston (4th round) from UNC both look like solid picks. The Panthers class is small, and they still have major needs at receiver and on the offensive line, but it is unlikely that they could have patched all of their holes in this one draft.
First Pick – (14) Kyle Fuller, CB, Virginia Tech
Best Pick – (117) Ka’Deem Carey, RB, Arizona
This was a good draft for teams looking for corners, and the Bears got a good one in Hokie Kyle Fuller. Third rounder Will Sutton out of Arizona State is a very good value pick, and along with LSU tackle Ego Ferguson, adds good depth to the Bears’ interior defensive line. Arizona back Ka’Deem Carey is a victim of the recent de-emphasis of running backs in the draft, because he has been one of the nation’s top rushers for a few years. He should be a very strong compliment to do-everything back Matt Forte, upgrading the spot previously occupied by Michael Bush, who only managed 3.1 yards per carry in 2013.
First Pick – (24) Darqueze Dennard, CB, Michigan State
Best Pick – Darqueze Dennard
Dennard was an elite college corner, and his skills should translate to the next level. The Bengals don’t have many holes, but teams can really never have too many talented cornerbacks. Bruising LSU back Jeremy Hill (2nd round) should be an upgrade over BenJarvus Green-Ellis as a compliment to the lightning quick Giovani Bernard. A.J. McCarron may not have an immediate shot at a starting job in Cincinnati, but if Andy Dalton continues to struggle in the playoffs, there will be talks about replacing him, and having a guy on the roster with multiple championships is never a bad thing.
First Pick – (8) Justin Gilbert, CB, Oklahoma State
Best Pick – (22) Johnny Manziel, QB, Texas A&M
The Browns’ Thursday night looked eerily like one of Johnny Manziel’s patented “No! No! No! YES!” scrambles. The Browns got a king’s ransom from the Bills for the fourth overall pick, then made a strange move in swapping picks with the Vikings, who went on to take UCLA linebacker Anthony Barr. They took Oklahoma State’s Justin Gilbert, who is extremely talented but seemed like a strange move with the glaring hole at quarterback, but snagging Johnny Manziel after trading into the 22nd spot in the first round pulled the entire night together for the Browns. Gilbert is a great player, and a nice pick in retrospect, but Manziel brings a ton of intrinsic value to the franchise without even stepping on the field. Browns ticket sales are up, hope is about as high as its been in a decade, and the team seems to finally be building an identity. The team’s refusal to take a wide receiver in a draft full of talented ones is very strange in lieu of a possible season-long suspension to Josh Gordon, but that’s one of the only major knocks here. There is always the chance that Manziel busts, but I wouldn’t bet on it. For all of the perceived “character concerns”, he is a winning football player with a pro-caliber arm.
First Pick – (16) Zack Martin, OT, Notre Dame
Best Pick – (146) Devin Street, WR, Pittsburgh
As much fun as Johnny Manziel in Dallas would have been for everyone, Dallas probably did the right thing by taking Martin, one of the late-rising stars in the draft preparation period. Demarcus Lawrence fills the crucial “pass rusher named Demarcus” void left by former Cowboys star Demarcus Ware, who is now a Denver Bronco. The fact that a highly productive, rangy receiver like Devin Street went in the fifth round proves how deep this receiver class is. Street is Pitt’s career leader in receptions, and can do a lot of damage underneath while superstar receiver Dez Bryant draws most of attention of opposing defenses.
First Pick – (31) Bradley Roby, CB, Ohio State
Best Pick – (56) Cody Latimer, WR, Indiana
For all of the pieces that the Broncos added this offseason, losing a receiver like Eric Decker is always going to be impactful. To replace him, the Broncos decided to go with a Decker-clone, Indiana receiver Cody Latimer, in the second round. At 6-foot-3 and 215 pounds, with a sub-4.5 40 yard dash, with Big Ten roots, Latimer possesses many of the same traits as Decker. Bradley Roby is extremely talented, and adding him will definitely help improve a defense that has had a lot of work done this off-season.
First Pick – (10) Eric Ebron, TE, UNC
Best Pick – (40) Kyle Van Noy, OLB, BYU
Eric Ebron will certainly help improve an already top-notch passing game in Detroit, and Matt Stafford probably appreciates the pick, but Detroit really could have used help on defense. Luckily, the Kyle Van Noy selection in the second round was very inspired. Van Noy should develop into a rock-solid contributor early on. As a Lion, he will be reunited with former BYU teammate Ziggy Ansah in a very scary front seven. Detroit went after high upside small school talent to further bolster the defensive line with Bloomsburg’s Larry Webster (4th round) and Princeton tackle Caraun Reid (5th round).