NFL Draft Round 1 – NFC Grades

NFC East
Dallas Cowboys: CB Byron Jones (No. 27)
Grade: B-
I didn’t see the quick hips and closing speed I would have liked from Jones. I can’t write him off without seeing more tape, though.

New York Giants: Ereck Flowers (No. 9)
Grade: B-
Flowers is a beast in the run game, but he might lack the agility to ever defend against good edge rushers effectively. #9 felt too high for a player who might end up at guard.

Philadelphia Eagles: WR Nelson Agholor (No. 20)
Grade: A
Agholor is quick in and out of breaks, sets up defenders, and has breakaway speed. He also sports very reliable hands and won contests for the ball. I’ll take that over Kevin White’s acrobatics any day.

Washington Redskins: OL Brandon Scherff (No. 5)
Grade: B+
I saw one media outlet describe Sherff as a “reach” while in the same breath touting Leonard Williams as the obvious pick here. Williams showed inconsistent effort for most of 2014; I’d venture Sherff has never played a down at anything less than top effort and commitment to technique. Who’s the “reach,” again? (By the way, with their talent at the skill positions and improvement up front, the Washington offense could make a little noise this year.)

NFC North
Chicago Bears: WR Kevin White (No. 7)
Grade: B
He’s good, I just liked other players better.

Detroit Lions: OG Laken Tomlinson (No. 28)
Grade: B
Most linemen I viewed as vastly superior to Tomlinson had come off the board by now, so I can’t hate the pick. But Detroit has a serious opportunity in this draft to restock its defensive line — where talent is a rarer commodity — with players like Jordan Philliips and Eddie Goldman available. They might regret letting that opportunity slip by.

Green Bay Packers: S Damarious Randall (No. 30)
Grade: B+
This team has two young starting safeties that can play the back end and roll up and cover a slot receiver man-to-man. If they want to rush 6 on passing downs, they’re probably free to do it. Sounds a little scary, right?

Minnesota Vikings: CB Trae Waynes (No. 11)
Grade: B+
I liked him, and he went high in the first round. No story here.

NFC South
Atlanta Falcons: LB/DE Vic Beasley (No. 8)
Grade: C+
Beasley struck fear in the hearts of college offensive tackles, okay? He’s lightning fast off the edge, and tackles looking to jump out and defend him often fell victim to agile pass rush moves back inside. I think he has heavy hands for a 225-pound player, too. So there’s potential. But NFL tackles will probably never stay awake at night over Beasley, largely because he doesn’t generate the power into them that makes speed so effective as a complement. The Seahawks apparently want none of Bruce Irvin just four years after drafting him; what makes us applaud Atlanta for taking a similar player in the Top 10?

Carolina Panthers: LB Shaq Thompson (No. 25)
Grade: A
This defense scares the daylights out of me.

New Orleans Saints: OL Andrus Peat (No. 13), LB Stephone Anthony (No. 31)
Grade: B-
Stephone Anthony plays fast and bullies players twice his size. Andrus Peat plays too high and gets bullied by players Anthony’s size. Mixed bag here. (By the way, not sure how many pundits ranked Stephone Anthony the highest inside linebacker in the draft, but yours truly did. Wasn’t the least bit surprised to see him go here.)

Tampa Bay Buccaneers: QB Jameis Winston (No. 1)
Grade: A
Jameis Winston is about as prepared to learn the position of NFL quarterback as almost anyone leaving college: good arm, good touch, toughness in the face of pressure, experience making pro-style reads. And not for nothin’: where else were the Bucs going to turn for a quarterback?

NFC West
Arizona Cardinals: OL D.J. Humphries (No. 24)
Grade: A+
Love this pick. Humphries compares favorably to Tyron Smith. ‘Nuff said.

St. Louis Rams: RB Todd Gurley (No. 10)
Grade: A
Best available player. (And weird to see St. Louis draft only once in the first round, right? Zing, DC!)

San Francisco 49ers: DL Arik Armstead (No. 17)
Grade: B
Just like Leonard Williams, whom I wrote about my AFC Grades, Armstead’s motor runs hot and cold. A gamble like that is much more forgivable at 17, but the 49ers may regret passing on superior talent on the offensive line or a player like Agholor.

Seattle Seahawks: No picks
Grade: Incomplete
They lost this pick as a penalty for that terrible play call at the end of the Super Bowl, right?


Defensive-end Roulette

NFL general managers struggle to sort out the good pass rushers from the bad. Don’t believe me? Here’s all the evidence you need: Tyson Jackson, Aaron Maybin, Larry English, Brandon Graham, Derrick Morgan, Shea McClellin, Nick Perry, Dion Jordan, Jarvis Jones.

And that’s just the past few years.

Anyone with access to the internet can distinguish the college players who rack up sacks from those who don’t. The challenge is filtering out those who will struggle at the next level despite college production (see list above), and occasionally projecting success for a player who didn’t put up huge college numbers for one reason or another (think, Ziggy Ansah). The NFL executives charged with separating the wheat from the chaff consistently struggle to do so.

sportsthink doesn’t pretend to have a magic formula. Like most, I simply consider the demands of the NFL game and college players’ game film to decide who can meet those demands.

Where many draft analysts – not to mention scouts and GMs – seem to fail is in considering college-level film that is simply irrelevant to an NFL projection. An easy example is the coverage sack. In the NFL, the quarterback has thrown the ball before 2.5 seconds elapse. Almost without fail. So the college player who registers a sack four or five seconds after the snap may have shown none of the skills necessary to succeed in the League. While he should be congratulated for his effort, that player has to find a way to apply that effort to get to the quarterback faster. If he hasn’t accomplished that yet in college, signs don’t look good that he’ll do so in the pros.

What follows are three players in this year’s draft who will struggle with the college-to-pro transition more than most think, followed by three others who may make the transition much more adeptly than they’re being given credit for.

I have my doubts

Dee Ford – It’s tantalizing to project double-digit sacks in the NFL based on Ford’s quick first step. Suppress that urge. Ford has a limited power element to his game. He is also too small to play defensive end in the League, so he’ll have to take on the responsibilities of an outside backer. Ford had three sacks against SEC competition in four seasons coming into 2013; that doesn’t erase his performance this year, but it certainly makes you question which is the exception and which is the rule. At his best, hopefully he’s a valuable situational rusher in the mold of Bruce Irvin two years ago.

Khalil Mack – Khalil Mack deserves a lot of credit for forging a top spot in this year’s draft. He consistently performed at Buffalo, stepping up on the biggest stages, and certainly presents none of the character concerns swirling around Jadeveon Clowney. He just isn’t the athletic equal of a player like Clowney – or several pass rushers rumored to go much lower in the Draft.

Anthony Barr – Barr reminds me so much of Dion Jordan, it’s scary. He dominated in college on athleticism. But his pass rush game is undeveloped, meaning he may have to play off the line. And he will encounter a different class of athlete in the pros. Think about it: Luke Kuechly is almost Barr’s dimensions, but blankets underneath routes and fights through blocks to crush ballcarriers. That’s the standard; Barr is nowhere close.

Like Their Chances

Jeremaiah Attaochu — Attaochu overflows with athletic talent — the kind that translates to success around the line of scrimmage in football. He has quick-twitch movement and plays extremely violently. He also has lateral agility, meaning he can combine on stunts effectively and drop into coverage. He looked adept in every phase of the outside linebacker position at Georgia Tech, and will find a way to be productive in the NFL. If he wasn’t just a bit undersized, he would be in contention for first-round pick.

Josh Mauro — Sneaking in an interior lineman here. I think Mauro’s ceiling is as good as almost any 3-4 end in this draft. He is thickly built with a quick first step. On his best days, he disrupted the run by pressing hard to the play and shedding blockers with good timing, and pressured the quarterback with deceptively quick stunts and an impressive spin move. He won’t put up huge sack numbers, but picture a raw version of Justin Smith to pair with a quicker edge rusher. Mauro is inconsistent, and needs to improve on fundamentals. But the upside is there. He should get a look in the third round or so.

Lokombo has the speed and quickness to track down skill players on Sundays, too.

Lokombo has the speed and quickness to track down skill players on Sundays, too.

Boseko Lokombo – He’s 225 pounds. So he’s a few years away from significant playing time. But Lokombo may be the best quick-twitch athlete coming off the edge in this year’s draft. He embarrassed college offensive tackles with lightning fast spin moves at times. He also looked awfully comfortable dropping into coverage. I have seen him projected as undrafted; from the fourth round on, his name should be in play.