With three rounds complete and 97 players off the board, it seems we've learned exactly one thing at the 2013 NFL draft: Expect the unexpected.
Beginning with the Kansas City Chiefs' selection of Eric Fisher over presumed top pick Luke Joeckel, this draft has been a never-ending string of surprises.
From huge trades like the St. Louis Rams' acquisition of West Virginia receiver Tavon Austin to the surprising reaches early in the first round—hello, EJ Manuel—the only thing predictable about these first few rounds has been the unpredictability.
But as the picks begin trickling in for Saturday's final few rounds, the fervor will start to die down and we'll begin the draft's evaluation process. While it's nearly impossible to judge these draft classes without actually seeing them between the hashes, we can get a good idea about which teams got the most out of their picks.
From mock drafts to reports from trusted names in journalism, the concept of perceived value is critical when judging a draft class. Assigning a grade has to be done with care.
It's not just about whether or not you like a player's pro prospects. It's about whether you like that player for that specific team at the specific place he was drafted. And then you have to juxtapose it against similar players who were still on the board.
So with that caveat out of the way, here is a complete breakdown of the best and worst of what we've seen thus far at Radio City Music Hall.
Best of the Draft
St. Louis Rams: A
1st Round (8): Tavon Austin (WR, West Virginia)
1st Round (30): Alec Ogletree (LB, Georgia)
3rd Round (71): T.J. McDonald (S, USC)
3rd Round (92): Stedman Bailey (WR, West Virginia)
There are still plenty of questions about whether Sam Bradford is a franchise quarterback. His first three NFL seasons have been plagued with injuries, as he's been semi-effective while being surrounded by a receiving corps that topped out as below-average.
Assuming their top picks pan out as expected, the Rams will have their answer about Bradford come the 2014 draft. Trading up to No. 8 with the Buffalo Bills, St. Louis moved up eight spots to nab West Virginia receiver Tavon Austin.
Rams trade up to 8th spot to draft West Virginia wide receiver Tavon Austin— ProFootballTalk (@ProFootballTalk) April 26, 2013
What grade would you give the Rams' draft class?
A lightning-fast slot receiver and special teams savant, Austin ascended during the draft process to become the top skill-position player taken in the 2013 draft. Listed at just 5'8" and 174 pounds, it likely seems absurd to the old-school football fan that Austin went this high. He's a Lilliputian in pads, a Smurf in a helmet.
Austin is also the most electrifying talent in the entire class, a bastion of the evolution of the NFL. On any given play, Austin can line up in the slot, at flanker or in the backfield as a pseudo running back. St. Louis' drafting of Austin has pegged him as a replacement for the departed Danny Amendola, but he's truly the evolutionary Percy Harvin.
It remains firmly up in the air whether Austin can withstand the wear and tear of a 16-game NFL season. But the Rams, equipped with plenty of choices over the next couple years thanks to the Robert Griffin III trade, could afford to take that chance.
And if Austin wasn't enough in the first round, St. Louis bested itself by adding college teammate Stedman Bailey, who was actually the more productive wideout at West Virginia. Essentially, every one of Bradford's major needs to become a star have been met—save for running back, which we've already noted Austin can play.
Sandwiched between the two West Virginia receivers were two defensive players who represented good value for the Rams.
Linebacker Alec Ogletree is a tackling machine with good lateral quickness and a toughness that should make him a Week 1 starter. Ogletree was so fantastic at Georgia last season that he often overshadowed Jarvis Jones, the more highly regarded outside linebacker who went No. 17 to the Steelers.
McDonald is less of a slam dunk at safety, but he's a solid pick with plenty of experience nonetheless.
New York Jets: A
1st Round (9): Dee Milliner (CB, Alabama)
1st Round (13): Sheldon Richardson (DT, Missouri)
2nd Round (39): Geno Smith (QB, West Virginia)
3rd Round (72): Brian Winters (G, Kent State)
Trading Darrelle Revis was never going to win Jets general manager John Idzik friends.
Especially not when New York got a relatively piddly sum—the No. 13 pick in this year's draft along with a conditional pick in 2014—in return for arguably football's best defensive player. And when word came out from Revis that Idzik had not been straight up with him about the trade, New York's new general manager was well on his way to developing a reputation similar to the man who departed.
Idzik started bringing fans back into the fold during the draft.
Though the best the Jets could hope for with No. 9 pick Dee Milliner is a Revis lite, he was the best possible option for the team—especially when Barkevious Mingo went off the board. And while Milliner has his host of injury problems, Bleacher Report's injury expert Will Carroll notes that the possibility of recurrence is low.
After Milliner, the Jets took a bit of a risk on Sheldon Richardson.
The Missouri product was expected to be the third defensive tackle off the board behind Utah's Star Lotulelei and Florida's Sharrif Floyd, both of whom were available for the Jets. But Richardson is a brilliant one-gap player who should make an instant impact in Rex Ryan's defensive schemes.
What grade would you give the Jets' draft class?
And even if Ryan isn't back after the 2013 season, Richardson's versatility is likely what made him the choice.
All the nice Day 1 picks aside, the Jets truly earned their grade on Friday. Pegged as a possibility for them as high as the No. 9 pick, New York all but officially ended the Mark Sanchez era by selecting Geno Smith at No. 39. The West Virginia product endured an unforeseen fall in the first round, watching idly as EJ Manuel became the only quarterback taken on Thursday.
With Idzik also making trade winds by acquiring running back Chris Ivory from the Saints for a fourth-round pick , a new era has begun for New York. The Jets now have a running back and quarterback of the future.
The only question that remains is whether they'll be better than the last duo.
Worst of the Draft
Dallas Cowboys: D
1st (31): Travis Frederick (C, Wisconsin)
2nd (47): Gavin Escobar (TE, San Diego State)
3rd (74): Terrance Williams (WR, Baylor)
3rd (80): J.J. Wilcox (S, Georgia Southern)
When the Cowboys made a deal with the 49ers to move back to No. 31, the deal looked sensible. Dallas' tenuous cap situation left it without many options in free agency, and acquiring an extra pick could add some depth at a minuscule cost.
Little did anyone know that the Cowboys were simply preparing to make the most inexplicable pick of the entire first round. It's unfair to completely dog Travis Frederick as a player, as he's a very solid young center who might start Week 1. But he's also a guy who had a late-second-round grade at best who plays a position inhabited by a ton of converted guards.
Frederick might turn out to be a fine player, but his value at No. 31 is miserable. And as one might expect, Twitter was abuzz with the latest maneuverings of Jerry and Steven Jones of the Family Destructo.
Since it only feels appropriate, here are some of the best reactions to the Cowboys' selection:
Mike Mayock has a third-round grade on Travis Frederick. Calls the pick "a reach." Typical Cowboys.— Michael Fabiano (@Michael_Fabiano) April 26, 2013
Based on my random survey of five teams, here is where Cowboys No. 1 Travis Frederick was on draft boards: 4th (1), 5th (2), 6 (1), 6-7 (1)— Ed Werder (@Edwerderespn) April 26, 2013
Uh, Travis Frederick said he was surprised Cowboys picked him because, "I thought I was a 2nd round offensive lineman." That kinda night.— Armen Williams (@ArmenWilliams) April 26, 2013
Dallas wasn't done pulling fast ones on Radio City Music Hall.
Equipped with an early second-round pick, the Cowboys joined the two-tight end bandwagon with San Diego State product Gavin Escobar. While the overarching reaction to Escobar was far more positive, the sure-handed tight end was again a bit of a value reach.
Fox Sports' Twitter feed called Escobar's selection a "surprise":
47 picks in, more TEs selected than RBs. Dallas surprises selecting San Diego State TE Gavin Escobar.— FOX Sports: NFL (@NFLONFOX) April 26, 2013
What grade would you give the Cowboys' draft class?
We wonder if Jason Witten feels the same way. And while the Cowboys made an underrated selection with Terrance Williams, and J.J. Wilcox has a ton of upside, a shadow was cast upon the team with those first two selections.
As much as teams are happy to land potential NFL starters in Round 3, adding replacement-level isn't going to cut it in the early rounds.
Dallas passed on drafting the free-falling Sharrif Floyd, who was considered a top-five pick prior to Thursday night and played a need position. Had the Cowboys decided they wanted Frederick to be their top pick, some team surely would have taken the No. 31 pick and given Dallas another extra selection.
The Cowboys over-drafted when they didn't have to. It's that simple.
New England Patriots: C-
2nd Round (52): Jamie Collins (OLB, Southern Miss)
2nd Round (59): Aaron Dobson (WR, Marshall)
3rd Round (83): Logan Ryan (CB, Rutgers)
3rd Round (91): Duron Harmon (S, Rutgers)
Speaking of teams that traded back to acquire extra depth and then made some questionable choices, the Patriots certainly had their fair share of head-scratchers on Friday. Having moved out of their No. 29 draft choice after locking in a Godfather offer from the Minnesota Vikings, the Patriots positioned themselves again as the overlords of the middle rounds.
Only Bill Belichick's decries from the throne were more than a little eye-opening. Jamie Collins is a hybrid pass-rusher who is tailor-made to be a specialist in his first NFL season and was largely viewed as a solid pick.
After Collins, things got a little rocky—and fast. With the No. 59 pick, the Patriots passed on Cal's Keenan Allen—once considered a potential first-round pick—and selected Marshall's Aaron Dobson. The sure-handed Dobson has potential, but Chris B. Brown's Smart Football Twitter feed probably put it the best:
Aaron Dobson seems like such a Belichick pick. Under the radar guy who could be a breakout star. Also could be a WR bust.— Smart Football (@smartfootball) April 27, 2013
All things considered, this is a relatively typical Belichick draft.
What grade would you give the Patriots' draft?
He sees instant value from players who have straightforward skill sets—we assume the word "potential" is a nine-letter curse in the Belichick household—and hopes they can contribute instantly. And even guys like Logan Ryan and Duran Harmon will at least contribute on special teams.
The problem is that the Patriots' draft record has been spotty at best of late. Though everyone remembers the Aaron Hernandez and Rob Gronkowski gems, Chad Jackson, Shawn Crable and Taylor Price weren't that long ago, folks. There's a reason New England has become synonymous with adding late-career veterans—and it's not because Belichick likes dinner companions around his age.
Calling him a bad drafter is blasphemous. But New England's recent drafts have been spotty enough to make these semi-reaches curious at best and another motley crew of lost causes at worst.