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?

2013 Draft Grade: Cleveland Browns

I want to think the Cleveland Browns have turned the corner. Since the Holmgren-Schurmer regime was shown the door at the end of 2012, the Browns added some high-profile personnel to the front office (Joe Banner, Mike Lombardi) and coaching staff (Rob Chudzinski, Norv Turner). They also lured a handful of pricey — although quality — free agents, headlined by Paul Kruger. It’s tempting to think a new day has dawned in Cleveland.

But Browns fans should (and, being the football-savvy bunch they are, probably will) temper their enthusiasm. Look at that list of names again. Chudzinski and Turner have, of late, guided offenses mostly renowned for their predictability, not innovation. Paul Kruger undeniably adds a pass-rush element to a team sorely lacking the same, but the centerpiece of the defense? This is not the stuff of which champions are built in 2013.

The 2013 Draft, in many ways, mirrored the Browns’ forays into the ranks of unemployed coaches and free agent players. The Browns made some deliberate moves that could improve their fortunes in the long run. But their Draft was also littered with questionable decisions that should make fans wonder whether they will, at any time in the near future, rise above a tough group of AFC North foes.

The Browns apparently couldn’t wait to get their card to the podium with Barkevious Mingo’s name on it. Mingo has talent and, seemingly, a team-first mindset, as sportsthink highlighted in its Top 50. His quick get-off and speed-to-power transition will trouble slow-footed tackles. But Mingo also has limitations. He may struggle to hold a line towards the quarterback, especially facing linemen with a decent punch. And it may be years before Browns fans can bear to face the television when Mingo drops into coverage.

Who would have made a better selection? Let’s put aside the Browns’ problems at quarterback for a moment. Imagine, as you watch Tavon Austin help transform the previously-plodding Rams offense, that he was wearing a Browns uniform instead. Along the defensive line, I would have favored Sheldon Richardson, even if he is an awkward fit for the Browns’ new two-gap front. Both players create more serious match-up problems for the opposition.

Imagine this dude in burnt orange and brown.

Imagine this dude in burnt orange and brown.

Moving on to Day 2, the 2013 team can’t be penalized (if you even want to call drafting their only decent receiver a ‘penalty’) for spending this year’s second rounder in the 2012 Supplemental Draft. Let’s presume that a wash.

The selection of Leon McFadden in the third is a bit of head-scratcher, though. McFadden made a good living contesting every pass his way in the up-and-down Mountain West. But he does not break on the back quickly or flip his hips to run with receivers especially well, and his straight-line speed is limited. He’s also small in stature. Whatever their needs in the defensive backfield, they certainly don’t exceed those at receiver, just for example. The Browns could not afford to take McFadden with players like Keenan Allen and Markus Wheaton on the board. Other players I would have favored over McFadden (at positions of dire need in Cleveland, incidentally), taken later in the third and the fourth, include Corey Lemonier, Alex Okafor, and Ryan Nassib.

The Browns’ best moves came by way of trading out of the Draft, exchanging picks in the fourth and fifth for corresponding selections in next year’s third and fourth rounds, respectively. Banner and Company should get at least a year’s reprieve before their body of work is judged too harshly by ownership, so even the sacrifice in the time value of the picks is probably worth the higher selections. They need players with a chance of competing with other teams’ starting eleven, and you just don’t get many of those from the fourth round on.

(Update: I neglected to address the Davone Bess trade. Good move by the Browns. Although Bess will never take the top off the defense, he will move the sticks on underneath routes. And the Browns acquired his services by essentially swapping late round picks with the Dolphins. You don’t find starters in the fifth round so much more frequently than the seventh. The Browns improved an area of need without rearranging their entire draft strategy.)

I did find the Browns’ late-round picks a bit inspiring, though. Jamoris Slaughter jumps off the tape. He shows really impressive foot-quickness, good play recognition and a lust for hitting. Although he plays much bigger than his size, he lacks the size and developed hand use to play rush linebacker, as Notre Dame sometimes used him. But if he can recover from a torn Achilles, improve his tackling and learn to play zone defense every down, he probably has the talent to play either safety position in today’s NFL. At the least, he will be a nasty special teams player.

Even Armonty Bryant’s highlights leave you wondering if he can make the leap from tossing around 250-pound linemen to repeatedly slamming into the 32 best offensive linemen on the planet. But he has size, some quickness off the snap, and a not-completely-undeveloped set of pass rush moves. The critical factor is that the Browns want him to serve a fairly limited role: occupying two gaps and pressing the pocket from the 3-4 end position. If he can add 25 pounds and retain some of the quickness and hand-use he flashed on tape, he could contribute to their defensive line.

As to Garret Gilkey, he certainly didn’t impress during his cameo at the Senior Bowl. But in the seventh round, he’s worth a flyer.

In many ways, the Browns go into the 2013 season not so far removed from 2012. They have an offense plagued by poor skill-position play and, most likely, uninspired play-calling. They should improve on the other side of the ball, particularly with the additions along the defensive line. With the Steelers in recession and the Ravens rebuilding, the Browns may notch a few more wins. But they need to collect better talent selecting sixth in the Draft to develop into a real contender.

Five 2013 NFL Draft Busts Waiting to Happen

sportsthink will be issuing its first annual Most Valuable Players in the Draft this coming week.  We will throw in a few honorable mentions or also rans with the list, just to give some insight into why certain players didn’t make the cut.  For now, here’s a handful of players who present the biggest risk in this year’s draft.

First round busts are not just bad, they destroy a franchise.  You cannot just return to Radio City Music Hall a year after spending a high draft choice on an under-performing player and figure you’ll make up for last year.  You need starters year over year to make up for big mistakes.

How do we know?  We have a few pieces of evidence.  First, a team is only likely to find an all-pro caliber player in the first thirteen picks, as a historical matter.  (Thanks, Draftmetrics.)  There are 7-9 teams drafting outside the top thirteen picks this year.  A team can miss the playoffs, year after year, and never get a chance to draft a transcendent football talent.  So you have to make those high picks count.

Can gems like Tom Brady be found on Day 3 of the draft?  Sure.  But relying on the later rounds to add talent is NFL franchise suicide, as a rule.  In fact, the NFL has an actual example of a team that has essentially wasted its first round picks over the last half decade, and it’s not pretty.  It’s the Oakland Raiders.

Oakland’s haul from the first rounds of the last six NFL Drafts looks like this today: four players drafted, one still with the team.  They gave up their 2011 and 2012 first rounders in trades.  Prior to that, they obsessed over combine numbers (Heyward-Bey), athletic feats (Jamarcus Russell), and championship credentials (McClain), to the exclusion of all other considerations.  They were burning through draft picks while the rest of the League sat back and laughed.

Oakland still pays the monetary penalty for such mistakes, as high first round picks used to cost millions more in signing bonuses.  Just as importantly, the team has been unable to replenish an aging talent base.  So they routinely finish under .500, and they will again this year.

So teams need to avoid the siren call of players who present appealing numbers or physical attributes, but who will just not pan out.  Here are the five players with the biggest bust potential in the early rounds of the 2013 Draft.

Jarvis Jones — This one is a softball.  Forget about his combine numbers or 40 time: Jones doesn’t even work hard on the field.  He played on a defense that featured all-conference performers at virtually every single position.  While the secondary locked down the opponent’s receivers and the rest of the defensive front fought like mad to collapse the pocket, Jones frequently sat just outside the action, disengaged from a lineman, waiting for a chance to track down a flustered quarterback like a wounded gazelle.  Rarely are NFL offenses so overmatched that they would fall victim to the techniques Jones practiced at Georgia.  Occasionally Jones showed quick-twitch pass rush moves or the ability to shed a blocker when the play came to his side.  But pity the coach charged with honing the skills Jones flashed in rare moments into an every-down player.  He’s being talked about in the first round, and I wouldn’t touch him in the second.

Terron Armstead — Given the habits he showed on tape against FCS competition, I was surprised he even performed as well as he did at the Senior Bowl — and that wasn’t even very good.  A lot of development stands between Armstead and a starting NFL tackle gig.  Why spend a second-rounder on a player that may never develop at all, and may be wrapping up his rookie contract even when the light does come on?

Justin Pugh — I heard a former scout say he’d “bang the table” for Pugh.  Decisions like that couldn’t have helped him stay employed as a scout.  I don’t know where Pugh fits, but it’s not as the fourth or fifth best tackle in this draft, like some pundits claim.  He drops the anchor effectively enough as a pass blocker, but lacks the athleticism to keep up with upper-echelon college edge-rushers.  His pad level as a run blocker leaves a lot to be desired, too.  Taking him before Day 3 seems like a mistake.

Tyler Wilson — His throws under ten yards look better than anyone in this draft.  You know what NFL coaches call plays that feature a throw under ten yards as a first option?  “Screens.”  Wilson struggles desperately to complete passes outside the hashes and down the field.  Number 1 quarterback in the Draft?  Maybe first quarterback taken on Day 3.

Love the backstory.  Don't love the game so much.

Love the backstory. Don’t love the game so much.

Sharrif Floyd — Discussing him as the highest defensive player chosen in the Draft is basically projecting him to be JJ Watt.  He’s not JJ Watt, and almost assuredly never will be.  He’s a very agile big man that can establish the line of scrimmage, gets off the ball quickly (so do a lot of NFL players), and can rush the passer just well enough to stay on the field on third down.  Saw him compared to Corey Liuget, and that’s probably accurate: a reliable 3-4 defensive end with just a bit of wiggle.  There’s 15 to 30 players more valuable than Floyd in this draft class.