2014 NFL Draft: Breaking Down Positional Value Round by Round
The common belief is that NFL teams don’t want to draft strictly for need, if at all possible. However, teams enter draft day with specific positions they need filled, whether they’re short-term needs or long-term roster-building additions.
A key to drafting for need without compromising value is to understand which key positions feature the most talent in a given draft and focus efforts on “best player available” with selections in later rounds.
In an effort to find those points in the draft, I’ve located which positions have the most value at each round of the draft. While it takes some projecting as to which prospects will be available, I’ve used a combination of my draft grades along with national media projections to determine which positions teams should target during each round of the draft.
First Round: Offensive Linemen
It’s rare to find a position in any draft that’s “deep” in the first round. But the 2014 class of blockers is rare in its NFL-readiness and upside.
The 2013 NFL draft, one of the weakest talent pools in recent memory, saw 11 offensive linemen go in the first round. However, according to Pro Football Focus, only three (D.J. Fluker, Justin Pugh and Travis Fredrick) finished with positive season grades.
While the 2014 class of offensive linemen isn’t expected to produce 11 first-rounders, it’s success rate of immediate and long-term starters should be far higher than last year’s, and likely many drafts before it.
Based on their scouting reports, it’s reasonable to think that the top three offensive tackles in the 2014 class (Greg Robinson, Jake Matthews and Taylor Lewan) are all better prospects than last year’s top two overall picks, Eric Fisher and Luke Joeckel.
And after those top three, other first-round linemen like Zach Martin, Xavier Su’a-Filo, David Yankey and Morgan Moses could be instant starters for whichever teams draft them.
Second Round: Wide Receivers
The secret is out: This receiver class is special. It’s been a wildly discussed in the NFL media and even by NFL front office executives, such as Eagles general manager Howie Roseman.
While Sammy Watkins is the top receiver, the 2014 receiver class has plus-level talents in all sizes and skill sets.
Mike Evans of Texas A&M, Kelvin Benjamin of Florida State and Rutgers' Brandon Coleman can fill the role of big-bodied, possession-type receiver. LSU's Odell Beckham Jr., Marqise Lee of USC and Penn State's Allen Robinson can be targets in the middle of the field and on short to intermediate range routes. And Brandin Cooks of Oregon State and Bruce Ellington of South Carolina can be a team’s vertical threat.
With so many talented pass-catchers in this class, teams will lower the value of the class as a whole, adjusting their boards to take other positions and opt to add receivers in the second round or later. Despite this class boasting as many as eight first-round-worthy receivers, we could see only half number taken in the top 32 selections, leaving plenty of quality options for teams in the second round.
Third Round: Defensive Ends
Jadeveon Clowney is the star of the defensive end class, but after him the options for 4-3 defensive teams looking for starters dwindles quickly. However, by the time the third round comes, there should be plenty of intriguing pass-rushers and edge-setters for teams to consider.
Trent Murphy of Stanford has a chance to drop a bit, due to concerns of whether he’s an ideal fit for a 3-4 or a 4-3 scheme. Aaron Lynch of South Florida has ample character concerns since his time at Notre Dame, but his length and athletic upside could intrigue teams late on Day 3 of the draft.
After those two, Chris Smith of Arkansas, Ed Stinson of Alabama, Kareem Martin of North Carolina and Will Clarke of West Virginia all provide teams with versatile options when looking for defensive end help in the third round.
Fourth Round: Running Backs
Unlike the receiver class, there isn’t a running back in this draft worth a first-round pick, and only a handful boast legitimate top-two round talent. However, what this group lacks in top-end talent, it makes up for in quality depth, especially by the time Round 4 comes around.
After West Virginia’s Charles Sims, Ohio State’s Carlos Hyde and Auburn’s Tre Mason, it’s possible we won’t see another top-100 pick who's a running back. But when Day 3 kicks off, we could see a heavy run at the position.
Ka'Deem Carey of Arizona may have run a slow 40-yard-dash at the 2014 NFL Scouting Combine, but his on-field production and body-type speaks for itself when it comes to his upside. Storm Johnson of Central Florida runs angry and showcases flashes of Marshawn Lynch, but inconsistent vision will push him to Day 3. Isaiah Crowell of Alabama State could have the most talent of any runner in this draft, but his off-field issues may ensure that he's not taken until the fourth round or later.
And Bishop Sankey of Washington, Terrance West of Towson, Lache Seastrunk of Baylor, Antonio Andrews of Western Kentucky could each hear his name called during Round 4. Each has NFL-starter potential in the right system.
Fifth Round: Defensive Tackle
This class’ receiver depth gets the most attention, but one could make an argument that interior defensive line is the 2014 NFL draft’s deepest position. Teams are always looking for defensive tackle depth, and the middle of Day 3 is a great place to find it.
By the fifth round, teams are looking for linemen who can stick on a roster, especially when it comes to providing situational value. Jay Bromley of Syracuse is one of the draft’s better interior pass-rushing threats, but his trouble against the run pushes him to the fifth round.
Shamar Stephen of UConn and Bruce Gaston of Purdue can fill multiple roles, whether it’s as a 4-3 run-stuffer or a 5-technique in a 3-4 defense. And talents like Taylor Hart of Oregon and Anthony Johnson of LSU could slip due to the position’s early-round prospects.
Sixth Round: Cornerbacks
As they do with the defensive line, teams value depth at the cornerback position. With every NFL team carrying at least five CBs, filling a roster spot or, at the very least, providing quality competition in training camp is a necessity.
Based on the past four drafts, four cornerbacks are drafted in the sixth round on average, and with this class being relatively deep in late-round prospects, it wouldn't surprise me to see that average rise in the sixth (and seventh) round.
And there could be a handful of intriguing options. Injuries have kept Aaron Colvin of Oklahoma and Dexter McDougle of Maryland limited throughout the draft process, but their upside will have NFL teams interested and will make them fantastic values late in the draft.
Loucheiz Purifoy of Florida didn’t boast a great junior season or a stellar pro day, but the former top-rated recruit still has the tools that NFL defenses covet. And Chris Davis of Auburn and Nevin Lawson of Utah State could provide value on special teams but still come with the potential to play slot cornerback.
Seventh Round: Tight Ends
NFL teams’ desire for versatile tight ends isn't going anywhere, and using a late-round pick in the hope that they can add quality depth and a unique piece to their offense shouldn't come as a surprise.
In each of the last five years, at least three tight ends have been selected in the seventh round. And while it’s difficult to discern which players may be available at this juncture, the Day 3 depth in this class likely pushes more than a few quality rotational players into the later part of the draft.
The seventh round could feature offline options like Gator Hoskins of Marshall, Chris Coyle of Arizona State or Jacob Pedersen of Wisconsin. Also, there’s a chance small-school prospects like Joe Don Duncan of Dixie State or Rob Blanchflower of UMass could intrigue teams in the seventh round as well.