Entering the NFL draft, few people knew what to expect. Not even the first pick was set in stone, as the Kansas City Chiefs audibled at the last second to take Central Michigan offensive tackle Eric Fisher. Trades were rampant, with the Miami Dolphins, St. Louis Rams, San Francisco 49ers, Atlanta Falcons and Minnesota Vikings all moving up to acquire players of need.
Just one quarterback was taken, and no running backs were grabbed. It was the first time since 2001 that only one QB went in the first round and the first time since 1963 that no running backs went in the first round. The picks were high on offensive and defensive linemen, which is the fundamentally sound way teams win football games.
Grades for the first-round picks factor in how much the position was a need and whether the team overdrafted its player.
Most people expected the Kansas City Chiefs to go with offensive tackle Luke Joeckel, but Andy Reid surprised with his selection of Central Michigan tackle Eric Fisher.
Fisher has shot up draft boards since his tremendous performance at the Senior Bowl, and he offers the versatility to play multiple positions on the offensive line. The Chiefs will likely stick Fisher at left tackle, as Branden Albert should be traded to the Miami Dolphins soon.
Fisher has the athleticism to succeed in the NFL, and he’s going to be responsible for holding down Alex Smith’s blind side. Andy Reid knows the value of a true left tackle, having coaxed six Pro Bowls out of Tra Thomas and Jason Peters during his Philadelphia days. His first move as the Chiefs’ head coach gives the offensive line a major boost.
The Jacksonville Jaguars got a tremendous pick with Luke Joeckel still on the board. Most people viewed Joeckel as the better all-around player than Eric Fisher, and he gives the Jaguars a pair of bookend offensive tackles.
Eugene Monroe has had his moments at left tackle, although he’s been inconsistent. But with Joeckel now on the right side, the Jaguars have two talented linemen that can try to keep Blaine Gabbert standing tall. Joeckel can move to left tackle in 2014 if the Jaguars decide not to renew Monroe’s contract.
It was wise of defensive-minded coach Gus Bradley to build up the unit that has been costing the Jaguars over the last several years. Joeckel’s value will improve Gabbert, Justin Blackmon, Cecil Shorts and Maurice Jones-Drew.
Many people expected the Miami Dolphins to trade up to acquire an offensive tackle, but the team surprised by selecting pass-rushing specialist Dion Jordan.
Jordan is a huge risk, especially given that he had limited production in his college career. Jordan finished with just 14.5 sacks at the University of Oregon. But he’s a physical freak made in the mold of ex-San Francisco 49ers linebacker Julian Peterson, who lined up at many different spots on the football field.
Jordan is 6’6”, almost 250 pounds and he can line up anywhere on the field. The Dolphins will play him in a traditional 4-3 defense as the end opposite Cameron Wake. Good luck to opposing offensive coordinators trying to stop Jordan and Wake. Jordan also has experience lining up at 3-4 outside linebacker, 4-3 defensive end and even 3-4 nose tackle.
The Dolphins appear to be going all in for 2013, bringing aboard Dannell Ellerbe, Brent Grimes, Mike Wallace, Dustin Keller and, reportedly, Branden Albert. Jordan now gives them an opportunity to get to Tom Brady frequently.
The reason the Dolphins’ grade is knocked down is because they did trade up to acquire Jordan, giving up a first- and second-rounder for a player that is a big risk. Offensive tackle was also a more pressing need for the Dolphins, and they will have to address that via the Albert trade or in Day 2 of the draft.
If any other team had picked Lane Johnson fourth overall, it would seem to be too much of a reach. But Johnson was born to play in Chip Kelly’s offense.
Johnson becomes arguably the most athletic offensive tackle in the NFL. Assuming Jason Peters can return from his offseason Achilles injury, the Philadelphia Eagles have two cornerstone tackles. In fact, the Eagles now have one of the more talented lines in the league, with Jason Kelce and Todd Herremans returning from season-ending injuries a year ago.
Johnson is a former collegiate quarterback, tight end, and defensive end who is still learning the tackle position. When he reaches his full potential, he’ll be a tremendous player. He also allows the Eagles to move on from former first-round bust Danny Watkins, who has been a disappointment in two seasons in the league.
With the three offensive tackles off the board and Dee Milliner having slipped due to durability questions, Ezekiel Ansah was a no-brainer.
With the read-option offense revolutionizing the league, Ansah will be essential to stopping the new breed of quarterbacks.
He’s an incredibly risky pick, as he barely played in 2010 or 2011 and started just nine games as a senior in 2012. And four-and-a-half sacks isn’t anything to brag about for a defensive end. But the Detroit Lions are taking Ansah more on his upside than his production thus far.
Ansah will step in at defensive end, taking over for free-agent departure Cliff Avril. He wil team with tackles Ndamukong Suh and Nick Fairley to give the Lions a devastating front four. That could spell trouble for perennial MVP candidate Aaron Rodgers.
It was surprising to see the Cleveland Browns pass on top corner prospect Dee Milliner, but the intrigue of a pass-rusher drew them in. Barkevious Mingo is a weapon the Browns can use to get to Joe Flacco, Andy Dalton and Ben Roethlisberger.
Mingo will play outside linebacker in the Browns’ 3-4 defense, and he’s a natural fit given his long, lean frame. Mingo may start as a two-down player, a la Aldon Smith or Bruce Irvin, but he will get enough sacks that he will see a lot of time for an underrated Browns team.
This must also serve as a boost of confidence for Brandon Weeden‚—who turns 30 in 2013, during just his second NFL season—seeing as the Brown didn’t opt for Geno Smith to replace him.
New head coach Bruce Arians loves offensive tackles Levi Brown and Bobby Massie, which is good, because Alabama’s D.J. Fluker would have been way too much of a stretch at the seventh pick.
Jonathan Cooper though was a stellar addition to the offensive line. The Arizona Cardinals ranked 32nd in the NFL in pass-blocking efficiency, per Pro Football Focus. Cooper can step in from day one and provide a huge impact as either a guard or a center. He has the versatility to play either position, although he'd probably be best utilized at guard.
Cooper is extremely athletic and actually played most of his college career at under 300 pounds. The Cardinals may want Cooper to bulk up, but they’re getting a tremendous pass-blocker. Cooper allowed no sacks and just one quarterback hurry all season. That’s good news for the veteran Carson Palmer.
The St. Louis Rams had some flexibility thanks to the first-round picks from the Robert Griffin III trade. GM Les Snead gave Sam Bradford a major playmaker in Tavon Austin, the most dynamic receiver in the draft.
Austin is a threat to score every time he touches the ball. He can line up as receiver, running back and returner. He’s by far the best option Bradford has ever had, and he'll be trouble for the NFC West secondaries of the Seattle Seahawks and San Francisco 49ers.
There’s certainly some risk involved in taking a 5’9” receiver with the eighth pick. But if Austin can live up to his potential, the Rams will love their offense with him.
It may have been a surprise to see the New York Jets pass on both Sharrif Floyd and Star Lotulelei, but they get their Darrelle Revis replacement in Dee Milliner.
Milliner fills the shoes left by future Hall of Famer Revis. Actually, it may seem logical to play last year’s nickelback, Kyle Wilson, as the starter opposite Antonio Cromartie, giving Milliner time to get accustomed in the slot position.
Milliner will likely begin the season on the PUP list while he recovers from his offseason surgeries. But he has the physical skills to be a tremendous addition to the defense. He is a natural cover corner and was a First-Team All-American for a national champion Alabama team in 2012.
If those skills translate to the NFL, the Jets are getting a truly spectacular player.
The Tennessee Titans picked the best player available at this point, grabbing Alabama standout guard Chance Warmack. Warmack is the finest interior offensive lineman in years, and he completed a standout career for a three-time national champion.
Warmack is NFL-ready, and he’s the kind of player the Titans can plug right in and see an immediate improvement in their offensive line. He is a ferocious run-blocker, which should be good for Chris Johnson, and he will bring out the best in young quarterback Jake Locker.
The only concern is that the Titans failed to improve last year’s 32nd-rated scoring defense. But Warmack was the kind of player that they couldn’t pass up on.
With the top three offensive tackles and both guards off the board, the San Diego Chargers were fortunate D.J. Fluker was still available. Fluker isn’t in the class of Eric Fisher, Luke Joeckel or Lane Johnson, but he’s a clear first-round talent at offensive tackle.
Fluker is a right tackle only, as he never played blindside protector at the University of Alabama. But that’s fine for the Chargers, as they need an upgrade at every single position on the offensive line.
Fluker has extremely long arms and would start immediately; he would help Philip Rivers and Ryan Mathews with his blocking.
Fluker will also be tasked with keeping Denver linebacker Von Miller away from Rivers, which is no easy task.
The Oakland Raiders were able to coax a trade out of their third overall pick, which makes them surprising winners from the first day of the draft. The Raiders used the 12th selection on Houston cornerback D.J. Hayden, who has seen his stock rise rapidly over the last several days.
Hayden was rated the No. 1 corner in the draft by several draft experts. He has rebounded from a devastating injury in November that nearly threatened his life, and he fills a huge position of need for the Raiders (then again, every position is a position of need in Oakland).
Hayden was an aggressive, physical player who frequently stuck with the opposing team’s No. 1 receiver while at Houston. That will give him experience in the NFL, where he will be tasked with blanketing the top playmakers in the league.
It was puzzling that the New York Jets opted for defensive tackle Sheldon Richardson with both Star Lotulelei and Sharrif Floyd still on the draft board. The Jets also badly need playmakers for Mark Sanchez, an edge-rusher to get to opposing quarterbacks and even an upgrade at quarterback over Sanchez.
Richardson will likely play five-technique defensive end in the team’s 3-4 defense. He’s a talented player and will pair with Quinton Coples to give the Jets a very strong front three players. Richardson can rush the quarterback and stop the run, and he’s a three-down player who makes the defense stronger in all aspects.
It’s unlikely the Carolina Panthers envisioned a scenario in which both Star Lotulelei and Sharrif Floyd were available with the 14th overall pick. Lotulelei is more of a 3-4 nose tackle than a 4-3 defensive tackle, but he will still fit well in the Panthers defense.
Lotulelei will require double-teams, which makes life easier for tackling machine Luke Kuechly at middle linebacker. Lotulelei isn’t an exceptional pass-rusher, but he will take up space and allow ends Charles Johnson and Greg Hardy to get to the opposing quarterback.
Lotulelei’s health concern is also no longer an issue, as he’s been medically cleared to play football.
The New Orleans Saints surrendered over 7,000 total yards in 2012, the all-time single-season record for an NFL team. Their best move was to simply pick the best defensive player available, regardless of the position.
Florida’s Sharrif Floyd may have offered more upside than Kenny Vaccaro, but Vaccaro is still a fine selection. He is the top safety in the draft class, starting 32 games over a stellar career at the University of Texas. Vaccaro is a ball hawk, a sound tackler and a player that should help the Saints try to get their defense back on track.
Still, it’s surprising that the Saints opted for Vaccaro with Florida’s Floyd still on board.
The Buffalo Bills desperately needed to find a quarterback, and reports had heavily linked them to Syracuse signal-caller Ryan Nassib. Then the Bills traded back with the St. Louis Rams, allowing Buffalo a mid-first-round selection in which to pick their franchise quarterback.
The Bills opted for Florida State’s E.J. Manuel, a player with loads of potential and loads of risk. Manuel has all the physical tools to succeed, as he’s 6’5”, 248 pounds, and he has the athleticism to roll out of the pocket and make plays with his legs.
Manuel would be best suited sitting a year or two, although that means the Bills have to start Kevin Kolb, and that’s not an ideal scenario.
He has exhibited signs of poor decision-making in the past, so he will need a good coach and coordinator to bring out the best in him. Considering no other quarterback was taken in the first round, the Bills probably traded up too high to get their guy.
Jarvis Jones was made for the Pittsburgh Steelers. He fills a position of need, as James Harrison was just released and subsequently picked up by the Cincinnati Bengals. He will also start from day one, and he had the production at Georgia to warrant his first-round selection.
Jones registered a ridiculous 14.5 sacks and 24 tackles for loss in 2012. The Steelers had the NFL’s No. 1 total defense last year, but their top sack leader had just six takedowns. Jones has the ability to make a huge impact as a rookie, assuming his medical conditions don’t hinder his performance on the field.
The San Francisco 49ers had plenty of draft picks with which to move up or down at all, and they jumped early in the first round. The Niners swapped with Dallas, moving up to grab LSU safety Eric Reid for their top defense.
Reid seems like a slight stretch as a mid-first-round pick, but Jim Harbaugh knows best, and he sees a player in Reid. The 49ers lost Dashon Goldson to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in free agency, and Donte Whitner led the NFL in touchdowns allowed (9) last season.
Reid is a hard-hitter with plus speed, and his role will be much easier with the incredible front seven playing in front of him.
The New York Giants always choose the best player available, which made it surprising that GM Jerry Reese picked Syracuse offensive tackle Justin Pugh.
Pugh was seen as a second-round prospect and probably the fifth- or sixth-best offensive tackle available in the NFL draft. But he fills a huge position of need, and Reese actually said Pugh was the top player left on his big board at that point.
The Giants signed left tackle Will Beatty to a five-year contract extension this past offseason, but they still have holes at several positions on the offensive line. Pugh will likely step in and start at right tackle. Veterans Sean Locklear and David Diehl manned manned that spot in 2012, and both underwhelmed.
That suddenly gives Big Blue a solid offensive line with Beatty, Kevin Boothe, David Baas, Chris Snee and Pugh.
Football runs in this family, as Kyle Long is the son of Hall of Fame pass-rusher Howie Long and the brother of current St. Louis Rams standout defensive end Chris Long.
Kyle Long is a mammoth of a man who can play guard or tackle, and the Chicago Bears need an upgrade at virtually every position on the line. They signed Jermon Bushrod from the New Orleans Saints to play Jay Cutler’s blindside protector, and Long has the versatility to play multiple roles, even if he was a reach of a pick with the 20th overall selection.
Long joins a Bears unit that rated fifth-worst in the NFL in pass-blocking efficiency in 2012, per Pro Football Focus. Cutler is in a contract year, which means improving the offense in any way possible was essential.
This was a surprise selection, although not necessarily in a bad way. Tyler Eifert is a top playmaking talent at tight end, and he can make plays all over the field. He’s the ultimate security blanket for any quarterback, and he will give Andy Dalton another weapon to complete passes to.
It’s just surprising to see the Cincinnati Bengals spend a first-round pick on a tight end, considering they just did so three years ago with Jermaine Gresham. The Bengals will be creative and find ways to use both on the field at the same time, and the New England Patriots have proven that two-tight end system is difficult to defend.
Gresham is also a free agent after the 2014 season, so if the Bengals don’t view him as worthy of a new contract, they have his replacement here already. But extending Gresham and using both at the same time seems to be the best move for this offense.
The Atlanta Falcons have traded up before in the first round to select a top playmaker, and they did it again here. They sent their 30th overall pick, plus the 92nd and 198th picks, to the St. Louis Rams to acquire cornerback Desmond Trufant, filling a huge position of need.
The Falcons had almost an overflow of corners just two years ago with Dunta Robinson, Brent Grimes and Asante Samuel. Since then, Robinson has disappointed and been released while Grimes tore his Achilles tendon and signed a one-year deal with the Miami Dolphins. Samuel is the lone starter still on the team, which means Trufant should start from the first game.
Trufant is the brother of former Seattle Seahawks corner Marcus Trufant, and he has the speed (4.38 40) to succeed in the NFL. He was a four-year starter who topped out with 16 passes defensed in his junior season of 2011. His numbers weren’t as good as a senior, but that’s because teams didn’t throw his way too often. He will be a great addition to the Falcons defense.
The Minnesota Vikings got the steal of the draft Thursday night when they grabbed Florida defensive tackle Sharrif Floyd with the 23rd selection—a full 20 picks after many experts assumed he would be taken.
Floyd will play next to Kevin Williams at the interior tackle position. And he joins a 4-3, which brings out his strengths. He also gives the Vikings a strong defensive line in Jared Allen, Brian Robinson and Williams.
Floyd is said to be a similar player to Warren Sapp, and he posted an impressive 4.92 40-yard dash at the NFL Scouting Combine. NFL Films’ Greg Cosell said Floyd was unquestionably the best player in the draft.
Bjoern Werner is an example of a player whose stats are better than his skill set, but the Indianapolis Colts getting him at pick No. 24 was a great move. It fills a position of need, as Werner will play the 3-4 outside pass-rushing linebacker role filled by Dwight Freeney in 2012.
Werner was the 2012 ACC Defensive Player of the Year, registering 13 sacks, 18 tackles for a loss and eight passes defensed. He ran just a 4.83 40-yard dash and didn’t test particularly well in any events at the NFL Scouting Combine, but he was probably the best defensive player available, and the Colts (21st-rated scoring defense, 26th in total defense) needed the addition.
Cornerback Xavier Rhodes was the second consecutive Florida State player picked.
The Minnesota Vikings got a great player in Rhodes. They coaxed several strong seasons out of veteran Antoine Winfield, but he was set to enter his 15th NFL season, and Minnesota needed a long-term answer at the corner position.
Rhodes has terrific size at 6’2” and over 215 pounds. He isn’t the fastest corner, but he is physical and can jam receivers at the line of scrimmage. He is an incredible athlete with outstanding leaping abilities, and that will make him a ball hawk.
The Vikings did some serious upgrading to their defense in the first round, adding Sharrif Floyd and Rhodes, two players that could contend for the Defensive Rookie of the Year award right away.
The Green Bay Packers badly need a running back, but they were not going to reach for Eddie Lacy with the 26th overall pick. Datone Jones filled a huge position of need, as the team has never really found a replacement for Cullen Jenkins, who left two years ago.
Jones is a natural fit in the Packers’ 3-4, and he will start from his first game. The Packers rotated players like Ryan Pickett, Jarius Wynn and C.J. Wilson in this role in 2012. None of those options was an ideal starter, which is why Jones was such a great addition.
Jones registered six sacks and 17.5 tackles for loss last year. He’s a perfect fit in the 3-4 defense, and he goes to a team that will get the most out of him.
The Houston Texans desperately needed a wide receiver opposite Andre Johnson, and they made the right decision by selecting one in the first round rather than waiting.
DeAndre Hopkins is arguably the most complete receiver in the draft. He’s much less risky than Tavon Austin or Cordarrelle Patterson, each of whom is more of a playmaker and less of an outside receiver. Hopkins put up tremendous numbers in 2012, catching 82 passes for 1,405 yards and 18 touchdowns, which earned him First-Team All-Conference honors.
He will stretch the field opposite Johnson, giving veteran quarterback Matt Schaub an excellent pass-catching option. Hopkins is fundamentally sound and can make an immediate impact as a rookie.
The Denver Broncos have a team that can contend for a Super Bowl right again in 2013, but they could use some upgrade on the defensive side of the football. That’s why Sylvester Williams was such a great selection at the 28th pick.
He’s a perfect 4-3 tackle for the Broncos, and he can replace Kevin Vickerson or Justin Bannan, neither of whom wowed anyone last year.
Williams is a former junior college player who established himself as a great player as a senior in 2012, picking up 42 tackles and six sacks.
He will make life easier for pass-rushing phenom Von Miller, who is already unblockable after just two NFL seasons. Williams may also ease the loss of Elvis Dumervil, who departed in the now-infamous Faxgate incident.
The Minnesota Vikings were extremely busy on draft day, becoming the first NFL team to take three first-round picks since the 2001 St. Louis Rams. Many expected this trade up to the New England Patriots' spot to be for Notre Dame inside linebacker Manti Te’o, but the Vikings grabbed Tennessee wide receiver Cordarrelle Patterson.
Patterson is a playmaker if there ever was one. He’s an extremely risky pick, though, as he’s as raw of a receiver as this league has seen in years. Patterson struggles to run effective routes, he’s still learning the receiver position and he tends to try to hit the home run too many times.
But he’s a scary weapon on offense. The Vikings got their Percy Harvin replacement here, grabbing a player that can score anywhere on the field. Last year, Patterson scored a touchdown four different ways, and he will be instrumental in helping young quarterback Christian Ponder reach his potential as the franchise’s signal-caller.
After trading up to select Tavon Austin eighth overall, it seemed logical for the St. Louis Rams to take their other first-round pick and move back in the first round. The Rams found a good spot at the 30th selection and picked Georgia linebacker Alec Ogletree, who will be an immediate starter.
Ogletree will play outside linebacker in the Rams’ 4-3, seeing as James Laurinaitis is a top middle linebacker. He fills a huge position of need for the Rams, who otherwise would have had a competition between Rocky McIntosh or Jo-Lonn Dunbar. As it stands, one of those two will likely still start at the other OLB spot, but Ogletree is a vast improvement over either.
The knocks on Ogletree are his off-the-field issues, but the Rams took a chance on Janoris Jenkins last year and got great results. That likely made Jeff Fisher more willing to do the same with Ogletree, who is one of the more complete linebackers in the draft.
This wasn’t a flashy pick by any means; in fact, many people probably had no idea who Wisconsin lineman Travis Frederick was.
But give GM Jerry Jones credit for several reasons. While he did overreach for a player that was a second- or third-round talent, Frederick fills a dire position of need for the Dallas Cowboys. Tony Romo wasn’t going to survive behind the pitiful trio of Mackenzy Bernadeau, Phil Costa and Nate Livings on the interior line.
Frederick offers the versatility to play either guard spot or center. He’s a fundamentally sound football player with a high IQ for the game and the work ethic to succeed.
The Cowboys also were able to trade down from the 18th pick, which gave them a mid-round pick to work with as well.
It probably surprised many people that the Baltimore Ravens passed on Notre Dame inside linebacker Manti Te’o; he seemed to be a logical connection to the team given the retirement of Ray Lewis and the free-agent departures of Paul Kruger and Dannell Ellerbe.
But Matt Elam fills a big void as well. Bernard Pollard was released, while Ed Reed left for the Houston Texans in free agency, which means a safety was an essential addition. Elam is a hard-hitter who will set the tone of the defense. He can be overaggressive, but he’s a playmaker who is a great fit for the defending Super Bowl champions.