NFL Draft 2013: Breaking Down Biggest Winners from the Early Rounds
In the next few days, we'll all spend hours dissecting the drafts of our favorite teams, learning as much as we can about obscure selections and finding YouTube videos to scour of the first-round picks.
But here, I'm only interested in breaking down the very best drafts from the first three rounds, picking out four teams who I think absolutely nailed the first two days at Radio City Music Hall.
From a team renowned for its prowess at the draft each and every year to three up-and-coming organizations that perfectly drafted for value and need, these four teams were my early-round winners.
Analysis: I absolutely love what the Steelers did in the first three rounds. What else is new for the team that consistently has the best drafts in the NFL?
In the first round, the team saw Jarvis Jones fall to them with the No. 17 pick, the edge rusher from Georgia that perfectly fits the Steelers' system. Jones dropped because he didn't run well and is somewhat oversized, but I'll take a guy that dominated the SEC (14.5 sacks, 24.5 tackles for loss last year) any day of the week.
The Steelers got excellent value in the second round, adding a bruiser to the running back position in Le'Veon Bell from Michigan State, who rushed for 1,793 yards and 12 touchdowns. While I was a little surprised they passed on Eddie Lacy, I like Bell a lot and the Steelers needed to add an impact runner.
Finally, they got excellent value in the third round with wide receiver Markus Wheaton from Oregon State, a speedy playmaker who fits the Steelers mold of adding small but quick receivers that can stretch defenses both vertically and horizontally.
Wheaton has the potential to make the loss of Mike Wallace in free agency a moot point for this offense.
Grade: I give the Steelers an A- for the first three rounds, only docking the team slightly because I had Lacy graded slightly higher than Bell.
Analysis: The Vikings absolutely owned the first round. The team started the draft by ending Sharrif Floyd's surprising plummet down the board, addressing a big need at defensive tackle with, in my opinion, the best 4-3 tackle in this year's draft with the No. 23 pick.
At No. 25 the Vikings kept the good time's rolling, adding the tall but swift Xavier Rhodes at cornerback. Clearly, the Vikings knew they needed to improve defensively, and they added two players that should start immediately.
And then the Vikings traded up into the first round at the No. 29 pick and—with everyone expecting linebacker Manti Te'o to be the selection—instead nabbed exciting prospect Cordarrelle Patterson, who is raw but has the athletic skillset to be the most dangerous offensive playmaker in this draft.
Grade: I give the Vikings an A+ for this draft. Floyd and Rhodes are instant starters and amazing values, while Patterson is a project but could end up being one of the most dynamic players in this draft. In two years, we could be looking back at this first round as the tipping point for a Vikings run to the Super Bowl.
Analysis: The Bengals had another really smart draft in the early rounds, as they've transformed into one of the league's most consistent teams on draft day.
Jermaine Gresham hasn't lived up to expectations and the team needed another weapon in the passing game to take some attention off of A.J. Green, so they added tight end Tyler Eifert, who is going to be an absolute stud and will be a beast in the red zone.
The Bengals have a solid power runner in BenJarvis Green-Ellis but lacked a solid change-of-pace back or third-down option, so they traded up in the second round and added the shifty Giovani Bernard, who may just be this year's Doug Wilson. Plus, he gives the team an excellent option in the return game.
After that, they added intriguing defensive end prospect Margus Hunt, a 6'8", 277-pound beast that ran a 4.6 40-yard dash, posted a 34.5-inch vertical and benched 225 pounds 38 times. He's raw, but my goodness, he could absolutely blow up opposing tackles at the next level and did show steady progression at SMU.
And for good measure, the Bengals added hard-hitting safety Shawn Williams from Georgia in the third round. Cincy nailed the first three rounds.
Grade: This is an obvious A. The Bengals not only filled needs, but they filled those needs with studs. With the Steelers getting older and the Ravens losing half the defense this offseason, the Bengals are the new bully on the block in the AFC North.
St. Louis Rams
Analysis: Tavon Austin instantly makes this Rams offense a lot more compelling, and as I expect he'll be used as a Percy Harvin clone and will improve the team's passing and running attacks. There isn't a more electrifying player with the ball in his hands in this draft.
Which team had the best early-round draft?
You can talk about him being small all you like, but he's a sturdy and durable receiver that was productive for all four of his seasons at West Virginia.
Then, the team got an amazing value at the No. 30 pick, filling a major need by selecting linebacker Alec Ogletree, a freakish athlete that dropped slightly due to some character concerns. Jeff Fisher will get the best out of Ogletree, and he'll be a serious playmaker for the foreseeable future.
The Rams continued to fill needs in the third round, selecting safety T.J. McDonald of USC and adding Austin's teammate and fellow wide receiver, Stedman Bailey. With Jared Cook already on the roster, Sam Bradford will have some fun new toys to play with next season.
Grade: Definite A. This team filled needs with some freakishly athletic playmakers in the first round, and continued to improve both the defense and passing game in the third. Don't be surprised if the Rams sneak into the playoffs this season.
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