With the first day in the books, thirty-two new players have embarked on their NFL journey. Fortunately, I had the privilege of attending the draft this year. On a side note, it was definitely a worthwhile experience if you can spare two afternoons of waiting on lines. For the rabid NFL fan, I give it a ringing endorsement.
Before we look back at Round 1, it is imperative to note three disclaimers:
DISCLAIMER 1: I will be the first to admit I am no expert on this. I watch more NFL games than college. That being said, when my post Super Bowl hangover sets in (not literally, figuratively!), I turn 90% of my football focus to the draft. I do my best to watch cut-ups of some of the first round prospects my team might want. Furthermore, I religiously follow and read tons of the most respective draft analysts out there (Greg Cosell of NFL Films and Tony Pauline of DraftInsider.net being two of them). Instead of merely mimicking what they say in their evaluations, I try to look at certain traits certain players possess that I believe fits in best with the ever-changing style of pro football.
DISCLAIMER 2: I am not going to talk about "biggest reach" or "best value." Why? Because for the past few months, fans have gotten so accustomed to mock drafts put out there by armchair GMs across the internet in TV. While some analysts are very plugged in with league sources (Cosell and Pauline being two), the vast majority are not. So while some of the picks last night were not popular first rounders in internet mocks, it does not mean these players will not be good. This is certainly the case with very intelligent front offices. For example, while not many predicted Justin Pugh or Eric Reid to be top 20 picks, I am more than willing to sign off on that simply because of their savvy moves in the past.
DISCLAIMER 3: Just because a pick might not make a whole bunch of sense this year, it does not mean it is a bad or silly pick. Remember, you're drafting a player in the hopes that he will be an impact player for a number of years. Rosters change dramatically in a very short period of time, so while a player might not look like an immediate fit, walking away with pure talent is paramount.
Now, on to the reactions from last night:
Best Trade Up
Miami Dolphins -- acquired the #3 overall pick in exchange for the #12 and #42 picks in order to select DE/SLB Dion Jordan.
- While it is quite obvious that Dolphins GM Jeff Ireland has continually made moves this offseason as if he is GM'ing to save his job (spending like a drunken sailor in free agency comes to mind), this bold move was a wise one. Often times when a GM feels he is on the hot seat, he will make moves that help in the immediate but could sabotage the team in the long term, whether it be by overpaying for players or simply disregarding the future.
I do not believe that to be the case here because Jordan is well worth the trade up. To have the movement skills he has at that size (6'6" 240+ lbs.) is just unfathomable. Sure, his sack numbers were not impressive last year, but he was not simply asked to pin his ears back and go get the QB. He was tasked with numerous responsibilities in coverage, even at times lining up against slot receivers. With his type of versatility, size, athleticism, and pass rushing potential, could this be the answer to juggernaut spread or no huddle offenses? Time will only tell, but I like the move. The Dolphins have a talented defense, but they were in need of some youth.
Lastly, this was a great move in terms of what they had to give up which was minimal. While the draft trade value chart is a bit antiquated these days, we can still use it as a reference tool. The #3 overall pick carries a trade value number of 2200, while the #12 and #42 picks combine for a trade value of 1680. The numbers back up exactly what I thought when the trade was made last night -- Oakland had zero leverage. It was well known that they were very eager to trade down last night simply because they possess the least talented team in the NFL and need as many picks as possible. In the bargaining game, you are not going to get full value back if you are the Raiders. Miami ultimately gave up peanuts to what could be the most dynamic defensive player in the whole draft.
Worst Trade Up
St. Louis Rams -- acquired the #8 overall pick in exchange for their #16 overall pick, 2nd rounder, 3rd rounder, and 7th rounder in order to select WR Tavon Austin.
- Three things: 1) I love Tavon Austin as a player, and was one of my favorite players in the draft; 2) St. Louis has a boatload of picks thanks to their trade with Washington this year, so they were able to withstand the loss of lots of picks; and 3) This is in no way an egregious move.
That being said, it certainly cranks up the pressure for St. Louis, and I am critical of this move in a couple of ways. First and foremost, the Rams sorely lost the leverage game here. While there are smokescreens upon smokescreens leading up to the draft, the truth gets leaked more often than not in the 24-48 hours before Round 1. Based on the reports, it was quite obvious that the Rams desperately wanted Tavon Austin and were doing whatever it takes to get him. The draft value chart does not scream lopsided trade (Buffalo's acquired picks adds up to 1642.6 while St. Louis's #8 pick adds up to 1400), but the Rams tipped their hand too early. Then again, if Tavon Austin ends up as the next Percy Harvin, you can beat me over the head with a sledgehammer because the draft value chart will be worth as much as a Bitcoin at that point.
Lastly, this move is the ultimate "put up or shut up" moment for Sam Bradford. Let me be clear: I do not buy this guy as a legitimate long term starting NFL QB. He has no officially run out of excuses. First it was he had no weapons. Then he had no line. He is in year three now. If you want to live up to the #1 pick you were (on top of being touted as the best QB prospect in years), it is do or die time. Austin gives him an explosive movable chess piece on the field that is a threat to score from anywhere. On top of that, he now has six highly athletic skill position players all 26 years old or younger -- Austin, Brian Quick, Chris Givens, Jared Cook, Isaiah Pead, and Daryl Richardson. If Bradford fails to step up this year, they will be back at the drawing board in 2014 looking for a new franchise QB.
Most Shocking Pick
I would not say these are the worst picks tonight -- both are talented players -- but two selections last night made me question the scheme fit.
1) Jets select DT Sheldon Richardson at #13 -- This is the third year in a row where New York has spent a first rounder on a non-edge rushing defensive lineman. While Muhammad Wilkerson and Quinton Coples have turned out to be excellent picks, the Richardson selection, at first glance, screams overkill to me considering he is a similar style player to Wilkerson and Coples in that he does most of his damage against interior offensive linemen.
And this is not a knock on Richardson. Here is what draft guru Tony Pauline has to say about him:
Richardson is a tremendous combination of athleticism, intensity, and power. He offers possibilities as a conventional defensive tackle, 3-technique tackle, or even as a defensive end in the 3-4 alignment. He's a prospect who should only improve as he physically matures and learns the game.
After further thought, the move makes more sense if you consider two things: 1) The Jets are going to be throwing out more 4-3 looks in the past (and using Wilkerson/Coples as 4-3 ends more often than in the past); and 2) The Jets are so talent depleted right now that picking the best player available was essential. According to GM John Idzik, Richardson was a top 4 player on their draft board. As far as the first point goes, it can be corroborated by the fact that Muhammad Wilkerson has shed 20 lbs. from last year and is now at 295 lbs. Either way, the pick came as a surprise to me.
2) Colts select DE/OLB Bjoern Werner at #24 -- Werner was a coveted pick early in the draft process but was likely overrated by internet draftniks. It was clear as the process went along that NFL scouts did not view him as the top 10 pick the amateurs saw him as.
Having said that, I did not expect Werner to go to a 3-4 defense. Many of the people I respect question his ability to play in reverse and out in space.
While I was initially caught off guard, a few things came to mind after last night finished. Firstly, GM Ryan Grigson hit a home run in last year's draft. Sure, it is easy to pick someone like Andrew Luck at #1 overall, but he completely retooled that offense to immediately provide Luck with young weapons to build around. Coby Fleener, Dwayne Allen, Vick Ballard, T.Y. Hilton, and LaVon Brazzil all made an impact last year for Indy. That is absurd.
Secondly, the more and more I thought about how Chuck Pagano runs his defense, Werner will likely still be playing with his hand in the dirt more often than not. Pagano came over from Baltimore where they "ran" a 3-4, but they were not traditional looks. Terrell Suggs is a hybrid DE/OLB, but he sees most of his action with his hand in the dirt. Perhaps Grigson and Pagano envision Werner, who is very similar in size and build to Suggs (Werner is 6'3.5" and 266 lbs. while Suggs is 6'3" 260 lbs.), as their version of T-Suggs.
Lack of Skill (Positions)
We all knew this draft was lacking in those fantasy football type of impact players, but last night was bare on offensive skill position players. Only five skill position players were selected last night -- WR Tavon Austin, QB EJ Manuel, TE Tyler Efiert, WR DeAndre Hopkins, and WR Cordarrelle Patterson. Since 1998, or as I like to call it "The Peyton Manning Era," the lowest number of skill position players drafted in the first round was eight which occurred twice (2010, 2011).
We all knew the QB class was weak this year, but the other offensive skill positions were lacking with talent at the top as well. This was the first time in fifty years where a running back was not selected in the first round. In contrast, a whopping nine offensive linemen were selected last night on top of ten defensive linemen/edge rushers, giving credence to this draft being deemed a "meat and potatoes" one.
The draft is about as fun and unpredictable as Christmas morning for a child. We live in a society that wants an immediate answer, but we really will not know about the prospects of this draft until two or three years down the road.
I am off to see Rounds 2 & 3 tonight. Happy drafting, everyone.