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 NFL Draft Grade: San Diego Chargers

By all accounts, Tom Telesco has infused the Chargers with renewed enthusiasm.  Look no further than Eric Weddle’s Super Bowl prediction – pronounced with the enthusiasm you would usually associate with a player and a team that has achieved the pinnacle of pro football at some point in the past.  It’s as if a thick cloud over the organization has been lifted.  (“Cloud” being one of the few names AJ Smith has not been called over the years…)

The Chargers don't have to choose between Navy and Columbia Blue confetti just yet...

The Chargers don’t have to choose between Navy and Columbia Blue confetti just yet…

But I worry Chargers’ General Manager is a bit too optimistic.

Listening to Telesco and Head Coach Mike McCoy over the weekend, the Bolts’ 2013 draft class took on a pinkish hue.  DJ Fluker projects to lock down the right tackle spot.  The front office duo struggled to find a single critical word to say about Manti Te’o.  The team was thrilled to grab Keenan Allen in the third.  Later round picks sounded like potential studs, to hear Telesco tell it.

Better the Chargers trade in the rose-colored glasses for the Google brand.

I like the Chargers’ draft haul, but there’s warning signs galore, and it doesn’t take a very lengthy internet search to find them.  DJ Fluker is a great example.  While I was surprised to hear the local rag characterize the pick as a “reach” – ironic choice of words, what with Fluker’s 37-inch pythons – there’s signs that the Chargers may be returning to the well for help at the tackle position before long.  Look up clips of the Crimson Tide steamrolling opponents circa 2010, and it’s clear Fluker’s one-time teammate, James Carpenter, looks the more athletic of the two – and Carpenter is now reportedly moving to guard.  Fluker will almost assuredly end up there, too.

I also think the Chargers’ faith in Manti Te’o is a little misplaced.*  In some ways, the pick stands as a true testament to a more discerning Chargers’ front office in 2013.  Te’o is masterful at making the run/pass call and plays the underneath zone like a violin.  The Chargers certainly acquired more than a mindless thumper at pick 38.  But Telesco described Te’o as a three-down player, and I’m not sure he has the speed or lateral agility to even play the first two in the NFL.  All too often in his Notre Dame career, Te’o put himself in the perfect position to make a play, only to have a back turn the corner or the receiver jet into a hole in the zone, simply because Te’o didn’t have the burst to capitalize on his excellent preparation.  If the Chargers’ had nabbed Te’o in the third, I could not have quarreled with the roll of the dice.  There was just too much talent on the board in the second to take him where they did.

Speaking of draft position, the Te’o pick looks all the more risky when you consider what the Chargers gave up to get him.  The Chargers sacrificed a fourth-round pick to move up seven spots at the top of the second round.  By comparison, the 49ers leap-frogged half of the NFL in the first round at the expense of a third-round pick.  Simply by reference to the historical value of the picks traded, the Chargers’ trade stands as one of the worst in the entire draft.

I like Keenan Allen, and I commend the Chargers for refusing to pass on him, even if the team has areas of greater perceived “need.”  Remember, this was a team without a 1,000-yard receiver last year, and had Danario Alexander not shown up on the scene midseason, Malcolm Floyd would have led all wideouts in touchdown catches with five.  So there’s not a particularly deep talent pool already in place.

The one thing I’ll say about Allen, and the Chargers’ first three picks as a group, is that they certainly didn’t add a ton of speed to the roster.  Even Allen ran a 4.71 at his pro day, and may enter the year with a lingering knee injury.  Contrast this with the additions the Rams made early in the draft, adding a receiver with unparalleled burst and short-area quickness in Tavon Austin and the most athletic inside linebacker in quite some time in Alec Ogletree.  Add those two to a roster brimming with athletic talent at tailback (Daryl Richardson and Isaiah Pead), tight end (Jared Cook), cornerback (Janoris Jenkins), and along the defensive front (Chris Long and Robert Quinn, to name two), and they start to present problems that the Chargers roster just doesn’t at the moment.

The later round picks suggest potential, if not guaranteed production.  Steve Williams can run with anyone, although he seemed to lack a natural feel for man coverage too often in his college career.  Tourek Williams – who evaded my radar completely, despite playing alongside heralded safety Jonathan Cyprien – consistently gets good leverage on linemen and possesses a surprisingly polished array of pass-rush moves, including a good inside counter.  He plays well in space, too – although he should, at only 260 pounds, he is not primed for a position on an NFL defensive line just yet.

So, look, there’s value in this draft class.  But Telesco’s work is not done, by a long shot.  Phillip Rivers should not be a whole lot more confident in the group assigned to protect him this year than he was at the end of last.  No one on the roster had more than seven sacks in 2012.  The defensive secondary remains a work in progress.

Room for optimism?  Yes.  Calling the engraver for the Lombardi trophy?  Not so fast.

* …to say nothing of Te’o’s faith in Lennay Kukua. Ba-dum-cha.

This post marks the first in a series of reviews of team drafts.  I will discuss methodology in future posts, and probably issue a set of grades as the reviews conclude.  For now, hope the content is helpful, and of course, spurs a little conversation.

Pete Carroll: “Up with Replacement Refs!”

The Falcons and Cardinals are the class of the League?

The Seahawks and 49ers have the restored the luster to downtrodden franchises?

The Pats and Packers are under .500?

Bill Bellichick nearly decapitated a zebra, and Pete Carroll (see below) looked like he wanted to high five one as if he had just completed a minute-long keg stand, all within 24 hours?

We have had more controversy in three weeks than Rex Ryan, Tim Tebow, and the New York media could generate in an entire offseason of backhanded compliments and ridiculous gaffes?

 

And people want to do away with these replacement refs?!  (See ESPN; Rick Reilly; whatever; don’t get me started; and Mike Lombardi, of all people)

 

I, for one, love the new NFL.

 

(Thoughts on the last few weeks of Chargers football, and recent game action more generally, forthcoming…)

 

The only thing standing between Phillip Rivers and some playing time is his left tackle. Solution doesn’t seem that complicated.

I don’t often trust sports journalists’ assessments of players.  Their expertise is limited to writing (and even then, inconsistently) and sports fandome, until proven otherwise.  Let me know when Bill Cowher takes up a weekly column.

 

But I trust them slightly more when they include actual claims based on actual observations of a player’s on-field performance.  Enter Dave Boling of the Tacoma News Tribune’s message-in-a-bottle to AJ Smith.

 

Boling reviewed the now-unemployed Alex Barron a few weeks ago when Barron was still a candidate to make the Seahawks’ roster.  Boling gives Barron a thumbs up.  The Chargers could use an offensive tackle that gets a thumbs up from a fairly objective onlooker.  The same can’t be said for Mike Harris’s performance against Jared Allen last week.

 

Boling doesn’t make bold claims. Barron was a highly-drafted bust. His penchant for penalties has cost him a spot on two NFL rosters. But Boling saw flashes of greatness against a younger, more agile player.

 

At this point, the Chargers are in damage control mode. They need to protect their franchise quarterback, even if it comes at the price of untimely penalties. Get someone of Barron’s skill level into camp and get him reps at left tackle, because the season is fast approaching.

 

On another note, Deuce Lutui was cut the same day as Barron. He has had weight problems and played inconsistently, but again, may be a better stopgap at guard than anyone currently on the Chargers’ roster.  Worth a flyer, especially in the final preseason game?

 

 

Jaguars stink. Go ‘Hawks!

Jacksonville looked terrible tonight, with the first team getting extended reps against Baltimore’s starters.  They could go into their bye 0-5 — and their schedule is not necessarily the toughest in the League.

MJD will not solve all this team’s problems (just the running game).  But it is worth noting that this potential League-worst franchise refuses to pay the NFL’s rushing leader a little extra, while considerably more successful franchises like Baltimore and Chicago are paying their backs twice what MJD makes.

(I recognize that (a) running backs don’t play forever, and (b) MJD has already played out three more lucrative years under this deal. But I think MJD would accept three years at $24 million to play until he’s thirty, and that really wouldn’t be such a poor investment for this putrid team.)

On another note, the Seahawks will contend for the playoffs this year. I don’t buy the Russell Wilson hype: at best, he will show himself to be a 2nd-round kind of talent — and how many teams want a 2nd-rounder starting as their QB?  (All deference to Drew Brees…)  I do buy a team with a good defense against run and pass, a dependable running game, and a quarterback that makes his share of smart plays.  I bet Flynn goes on the road and commits three turnovers at least once this year; I also bet he makes enough accurate throws, including some down the field, to keep the defense honest and let Marshawn do his thing. They could go 3-1 out of the box; surprise some teams on the road during their tough stretch (think SF, Det); and they have a cushy set of games down the stretch.