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2014 NFL Draft Grades: Full Round 1 Report Card

Michael SchotteyNFL National Lead WriterMay 8, 2014

2014 NFL Draft Grades: Full Round 1 Report Card

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    Seth Wenig/Associated Press

    In today's NFL, the draft is the premier way to build a team. 

    The economics of the salary cap-based league, the crapshoot that is free agency and the lack of serious trading that we see in other leagues equates to a league built around drafting players and then finding ways to keep the draft picks around. 

    Yet, the draft is an inexact science. 

    At best, picks at the top of the draft are a 50/50 proposition. Even the safest-looking picks could turn out to be busts (thinking about you, Aaron Curry), and the prospects that dazzle us can be out of the league almost as fast as they entered it (sorry, JaMarcus Russell). Teams, fans, media—all of us can put in our best efforts and still be completely wrong. 

    Grading drafts, too, is an inexact science. I have my draft board. Other draft followers will have theirs. Yet, none of those is going to be anything like one of the teams' in the league—in terms of both accuracy and man-hours put in. More importantly, 32 teams across the league might have 32 different top-15 players, let alone when we get to the later rounds. 

    A reach for some teams might be value for others based on what they value in players or what sort of scheme they run. Maybe they have more information than another team and almost certainly have more than those of us without the same time and resources. 

    So, these grades are my opinion on the value or fit a team got in the player they just selected. History says I'll be right some of the time and that I'll be laughably wrong other times (make sure you bookmark!). 

    Disagree with my grades? Or, agree and think you know who your team should've taken instead? Leave your picks in the comments below.

1. Houston Texans—Jadeveon Clowney (DE South Carolina)

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    Grade: A

     

    How This Pick Goes Right: 

    Figure it out, Romeo Crennel!

    Clowney was the best player in this draft, and though he may not be a great fit in the Houston Texans base defense, he'll be a great pairing with J.J. Watt. AFC South quarterbacks are currently wetting themselves because of this. 

    Run a hybrid defense and put Clowney next to Watt in a base 4-3 look. Stack Clowney as a linebacker behind Watt. Put him across from Watt in passing downs as a rush-first 3-4 DE. 

    Wherever you put Clowney, he's got a chance to make a big splash. 

     

    How This Pick Could Go Terribly Wrong: 

    The Texans still don't have a quarterback, and they need one. Though Clowney may be an impact player and the best player in the draft, the Texans will need to win a bunch of games next year not to hear naysayers if Johnny Manziel ends up a superstar. 

2. St. Louis Rams—Greg Robinson (OT Auburn)

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    Grade: A

     

    How This Pick Goes Right: 

    Greg Robinson was the top lineman on most boards and for very good reason. 

    A physical mauler out of Auburn, Robinson is an athletic freak in the run game and will become immediate best friends with the running backs in St. Louis. Once he gets his hands on someone, he's done. In a division with Arizona, San Francisco and Seattle, this pick makes a lot of sense. 

     

    How This Pick Could Go Terribly Wrong: 

    Robinson is raw as a pass-protector. 

    Though he is, yes, a physical specimen. There is plenty of work to be done on that facet of his game. If he is going to keep quarterback Sam Bradford happy, upright and healthy, he'll need to work. 

3. Jacksonville Jaguars—Blake Bortles (QB Central Florida)

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    Grade: C

     

    How This Pick Goes Right: 

    The Jaguars needed a quarterback, badly, and I'm glad they got one of the top prospects rather than waiting. No team gets very far for very long with Chad Henne-types at quarterback, and I would hate for all of the good things the Jaguars are doing to be deep-sixed by bad QB play. 

     

    How This Pick Could Go Terribly Wrong: 

    Bortles is raw—really raw. 

    Teams are hoping that he's the guy he was at his pro day, but the NFL isn't played in shorts and shirts without a pass rush. If he's the guy that he was at Central Florida, instead, he might need a year (or two) before he's ready for the speed, tenacity and complexity of Sunday afternoons. 

4. Buffalo Bills (via Cleveland)—Sammy Watkins (WR Clemson)

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    Grade: A

     

    How This Pick Goes Right: 

    This is a fantastic pick—not only for the Buffalo Bills, but also for the maturation of quarterback EJ Manuel. Watkins is the second coming of Reggie Wayne. He's not the tallest, strongest or fastest guy on the field, but he's always elevating for the ball and he knows what to do before and after its in his hands. 

     

    How This Pick Could Go Terribly Wrong: 

    EJ Manuel has to take a step forward or this is essentially a cruise control move for the Bills. It's not going to make Watkins any less of a player, but it might stymie his statistics.  

5. Oakland Raiders—Khalil Mack (DE/OLB Buffalo)

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    Grade: A

     

    How This Pick Goes Right: 

    General manager Reggie McKenzie strikes gold here getting a top-flight pass-rusher that no one thought was going to be available. This is the kind of good, young talent that the Raiders lack. If there are more picks like this during this weekend, McKenzie could be on less of a hot seat and negotiating an extension instead. 

     

    How This Pick Could Go Terribly Wrong: 

    Mack has level-of-competition concerns, and there's something to be said about what might happen when he's not the biggest, strongest or fastest guy on the field every week. Yet, if he continues to play with a chip on his shoulder (as he has), the floor should be relatively high here. 

6. Atlanta Falcons—Jake Matthews (OT Texas A&M)

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    Grade: A

     

    How This Pick Goes Right: 

    Jake Matthews is better than Greg Robinson right now, and that's perfect for quarterback Matt Ryan who is entering the prime of his career and desperately needs more protection. He also doesn't have the low ceiling that some might imply. 

    He's got a chance to be absolutely great. 

     

    How This Pick Could Go Terribly Wrong: 

    A pass-rusher was needed, but honestly, this is a fantastic pick, and Matthews would need to completely fall flat on his face for this pick to go south. 

7. Tampa Bay Buccaneers—Mike Evans (WR Texas A&M)

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    Grade: A

     

    How This Pick Goes Right: 

    Teams going chalk means another A for the Buccaneers. 

    This is a team that's going to be, intrinsically, built around a tough Lovie Smith defense. However, this is still a passing NFL, and points are still needed on that offensive side of the ball. Because of that, the Buccaneers bring in not only the best offensive skill position playmaker not named Watkins, but they also get a perfect red-zone target. 

     

    How This Pick Could Go Terribly Wrong: 

    Some have a lingering suspicion that Johnny Manziel made Evans more than the other way around and Josh McCown isn't exactly Johnny Football. How will Evans' game adapt without consistent downfield lobs? 

8. Cleveland Browns (via Minnesota)—Justin Gilbert (CB Oklahoma State)

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    Grade: A-

     

    How This Pick Goes Right: 

    Maybe I'm being little too positive with some of these grades, but the Cleveland Browns just got their man and added a first-round pick next year in the process (giving up only a fifth-rounder to move back up ahead of the Minnesota Vikings). 

    Gilbert is a playmaker on defense like Josh Gordon is a playmaker on offense. He and Joe Haden will form a formidable tandem, but the presence of Haden will mask some of the raw play of Gilbert. 

     

    How This Pick Could Go Terribly Wrong: 

    Like Robinson at tackle, Gilbert is raw in terms of technique. He's got all the tools, though, and should be a fine player. 

    The Browns better hope a quarterback falls to them later on...

9. Minnesota Vikings (via Browns, Bills)—Anthony Barr (LB/DE UCLA)

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    Grade: B

     

    How This Pick Goes Right: 

    Mike Zimmer is a defensive coach at heart and the Minnesota Vikings have done a lot of work to get him a formidable defense for 2014 and beyond. Barr is extremely raw, but very athletic. He has an outside chance to be one of the top players in this class.

    Good thing the Vikings have the perfect staff to make that happen.  

     

    How This Pick Could Go Terribly Wrong: 

    Barr is a little scary as a "workout warrior" type as a pass-rusher and has plenty of bust potential. I like his game, but the Vikings needed a lot of help at corner, quarterback and elsewhere where I feel there were better players available. 

10. Detroit Lions—Eric Ebron (TE North Carolina)

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    Grade: A

     

    How This Pick Goes Right: 

    Eric Ebron, Calvin Johnson, Golden Tate, Reggie Bush...no more excuses for Matthew Stafford

    Ebron is not a tight end in the usual sense. He can coexist with Brandon Pettigrew and Joseph Fauria, as they all play vastly different roles. In the red zone, all three will see the field (along with Johnson) and drive defenses crazy. 

     

    How This Pick Could Go Terribly Wrong: 

    Matthew Stafford still needs to solidify his play, and Ebron is just another shiny toy if that doesn't happen. There are some slight underpinnings of concern about Ebron's character (which is a sore spot in Detroit), but those are overblown and shouldn't be much of a worry. 

11. Tennessee Titans—Taylor Lewan (OT Michigan)

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    Grade: B-

     

    How This Pick Goes Right: 

    Lewan is going to be one of the best players on the Titans offensive line by year two or three (only Chance Warmack could be better), and that keeps one of the strengths of the Titans strong. He has some slight character red flags (well, major ones if they prove true, but they are currently only alleged), but Tennessee obviously wasn't concerned about them. 

     

    How This Pick Could Go Terribly Wrong: 

    The grade is so low because Lewan is a luxury pick after the team just signed Michael Oher for a bunch of money. Now, Lewan is already a better prospect than Oher is a player, but it's still a curious pick when there are so many other needs on a really bad Titans team.

12. New York Giants—Odell Beckham Jr. (WR LSU)

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    Grade: B

     

    How This Pick Goes Right: 

    Eli Manning took a ton of hits last season but also lost Hakeem Nicks as a wideout. So, a weapon was needed just as much as another lineman. 

    Beckham has a lot of fans out there and many project him to be an extremely solid Z receiver in the NFL with great route running, decent hands and good body control to set up defensive backs. 

     

    How This Pick Could Go Terribly Wrong: 

    Beckham also seemed to defer too much to other players throughout his college career. Though he's the top player drafted out of that offense, he wasn't always the featured player. Though he has a lot of fans, I wasn't among them (at least not this high in the draft), as I feel he has a low ceiling and will struggle to be much more than a complementary player to Victor Cruz

    That isn't a bad thing, by any means, but in a deep receiver class, other needs could've been (should've been) addressed here. 

13. St. Louis Rams—Aaron Donald (DT Pittsburgh)

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    Grade: A

     

    How This Pick Goes Right: 

    This is just a crazy-good pick for the Rams who make another strength, stronger. 

    Aaron Donald slots into three-tech in a defensive line that suddenly looks like one of the best in the league. Next to Chris Long, Michael Brockers and Robert Quinn, I'm not sure how other teams are going to block that front. 

     

    How This Pick Could Go Terribly Wrong: 

    Donald is small for the position, but he shouldn't be taking up multiple blockers very often. One of the best picks of the draft so far.

14. Chicago Bears—Kyle Fuller (CB Virginia Tech)

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    Grade: B+

     

    How This Pick Goes Right: 

    The Chicago Bears needed another press-man corner and Kyle Fuller is a good halfway-mark between the athleticism of Justin Gilbert and the polish/toughness of Darqueze Dennard. This isn't a sexy pick and many Bears fans wanted either a safety or Aaron Donald, but Fuller will play and should play well. 

     

    How This Pick Could Go Terribly Wrong: 

    Fuller is coming off of an injury, and the defensive backs aren't going to matter if Bears opponents have all day to throw. 

15. Pittsburgh Steelers—Ryan Shazier (LB Ohio State)

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    Grade: C+

     

    How This Pick Goes Right: 

    Ryan Shazier is known for two things—speed and making plays. 

    The Steelers are hoping that some of the game-changing ability he had at Ohio State is going to translate to the NFL level and that he's going to add some much-needed punch to the interior of their defense. Next to Jarvis Jones, they're hoping their defense will start to look like it did a decade ago. 

     

    How This Pick Could Go Terribly Wrong: 

    Shazier has trouble in space and isn't the best tackler in the draft. He's a pass-rusher first and may not be able to engage blockers in run defense at the NFL level—especially on the perimeter. 

    Also, that awesome speed of his was run on a notoriously fast Ohio State track. Don't be surprised if he gets to Pittsburgh and immediately adds a tenth of a second to that 40 time. 

16. Dallas Cowboys—Zack Martin (OT/OG Notre Dame)

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    Grade: A-

     

    How This Pick Goes Right: 

    I'm not going to say the quarterback's name...

    Zack Martin was the football-person pick here, and while I'm rarely "nice" to decisions made with Jerry Jones' stamp-of-approval on them, this looks like a great one. 

    Protection has been a huge problem for the Cowboys for a long time. This pick (and that of Travis Frederick last year) should help that. 

     

    How This Pick Could Go Terribly Wrong: 

    To me, Zack Martin is a guard. 

    I know he has played tackle and that he can play tackle, but he's a natural guard who can be very good there. The only slight concern is that the Cowboys have spent high picks on interior linemen in two straight drafts—hardly conventional. But, honestly, if you're getting great players, who cares? 

17. Baltimore Ravens—C.J. Mosley (LB Alabama)

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    Grade: A

     

    How This Pick Goes Right: 

    This is an Ozzie Newsome pick in a nutshell.

    C.J. Mosley is the best interior linebacker in the draft, and the Baltimore Ravens had a need there in their hybrid defense. Right now, he probably plays next to Daryl Smith, who was a revelatory pick up last season. Eventually, though, Mosley should look awfully nice next to Arthur Brown who was a high pick last year. 

     

    How This Pick Could Go Terribly Wrong: 

    Mosley had some injury red flags pop up around the combine, but teams cleared him and it was a lot of smoke otherwise. Mosley can play; this is a great pick. 

18. New York Jets—Calvin Pryor (S Louisville)

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    Grade: A-

     

    How This Pick Goes Right: 

    Calvin Pryor was my top-rated safety in the draft—over Ha Ha Clinton-Dix of Alabama. 

    Pryor is a classic two-way safety who can play in the box but also can cover as well. He's a hard hitter but not a true elite run defender and has far more ability covering the deep third than a lot of people seem to give him credit for. 

    This is John Idzik's Seattle Seahawks blueprint right where it meets Rex Ryan's love of big, hard-hitting defensive backs.  

     

    How This Pick Could Go Terribly Wrong: 

    Pryor hits hard but will miss a tackle or be caught out of position here and there. He'll need to catch up to the speed of the NFL game, and if he doesn't, his mistakes will be highlighted on New York's big stage. 

19. Miami Dolphins—Ja'Wuan James (OT Tennessee)

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    Grade: B-

     

    How This Pick Goes Right: 

    The Miami Dolphins needed an offensive tackle—badly. 

    Ja'Wuan James is an athletic guy who can play either tackle or guard, and he should be a better natural pass-protector than anyone left on the board for the Dolphins. Although there were other needs, the offense wasn't going anywhere with the personnel they had. 

     

    How This Pick Could Go Terribly Wrong: 

    This pick reeks of reach for the Dolphins, and it could go south if he struggles against NFL-caliber speed rushers. He's raw and may end up at guard, and then the reach stings a little more. 

    Also, they still need more linemen, so this doesn't solve a problem...it's just a start. 

20. New Orleans Saints (via Arizona)—Brandin Cooks (WR Oregon State)

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    Grade: A

     

    How This Pick Goes Right: 

    Brandin Cooks is a great fit for the New Orleans Saints offense where his incredible speed in and out of cuts will open up a lot of cushion for quarterback Drew Brees to find him in the middle of the field.

    He essentially replaces Lance Moore who had fallen off the map a little bit athletically. 

     

    How This Pick Could Go Terribly Wrong: 

    Cooks is small, and the Saints could use some size as well. He might have some problems holding up from a health standpoint in the NFL—especially in an NFC South with the Carolina Panthers and an increasingly good Tampa Bay Buccaneers defense. 

21. Green Bay Packers—Ha Ha Clinton-Dix (S Alabama)

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    Grade: A-

     

    How This Pick Goes Right: 

    Ted Thompson does it again. 

    The Green Bay Packers needed help in the secondary this offseason and overpaid to keep Sam Shields around. Now, they get the most natural cover safety in the draft and a player that a lot of people had at the tops at the position. 

    He has great range, and in a division with Jay Cutler and Matthew Stafford, he'll need it. 

     

    How This Pick Could Go Terribly Wrong: 

    I don't love Clinton-Dix's size, and that's a big reason I had Pryor first. While Clinton-Dix has the range, he doesn't make as many plays as one might like, too. There's a sneaking suspicion he might be only "good-enough" in the pros. 

22. Cleveland Browns (via Philadelphia)—Johnny Manziel (QB Texas A&M)

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    Grade: A+

     

    How This Pick Goes Right: 

    I hate "playing around" with the QB position, but the Cleveland Browns got the man they wanted all along even through multiple trades. Manziel is going to bring game-changing ability, innovation at the position—even when things break down around him—and he'll mesh well with Josh Gordon on those long broken-play throws he loves so much. 

     

    How This Pick Could Go Terribly Wrong: 

    There's lots to love about Manziel's game, but there's some concern (from myself included) that his game might result in just as many interceptions as big plays in the pros. 

23. Kansas City Chiefs—Dee Ford (OLB Auburn)

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    Grade: B+

     

    How This Pick Goes Right: 

    Pair Tamba Hali and Justin Houston with another guy to rotate into the pass-rushing corps, and teams in the AFC West (like Peyton Manning and the Denver Broncos) should worry. Ford has elite pass-rushing speed and can get to quarterbacks—sometimes before the linemen even get out of their stance. 

     

    How This Pick Could Go Terribly Wrong: 

    Ford has a lot of work to do before he's an all-around player. He may stay as a pass-rushing specialist, even after Hali moves on. 

24. Cincinnati Bengals—Darqueze Dennard (CB Michigan State)

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    Grade: C

     

    How This Pick Goes Right: 

    The Cincinnati Bengals like tough players and clearly placed a premium on adding help in the defensive backfield. If Dennard plays anything like he did in college, they've just gotten a stud. It's important to note the Bengals have done this plenty of times before with players who were studs in college—even if they'd fallen out of favor with draftniks. 

     

    How This Pick Could Go Terribly Wrong: 

    Dennard did not have a first-round grade on my board and there were numerous corners rated above him. 

    It's important to look at what a guy can be, just as much (if not more) than who he was at college. The draft—at its core—is about projection, not production. Dennard was a great corner. I'm not sure he can continue to be one. 

    He's not fluid and he's not as much of an athlete as teams usually like in their first-round defensive backs.

25. San Diego Chargers—Jason Verrett (CB TCU)

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    Grade: B+

     

    How This Pick Goes Right: 

    I had Jason Verrett as a higher-ranked corner on my board than Darqueze Dennard who went right before him. Verrett might be small, but he plays bigger than a lot of taller/lengthy guys in this draft. He's a natural athlete with a ton of balance and lateral agility. 

    Verrett can potentially play outside, but he's the best nickel corner in this draft. 

     

    How This Pick Could Go Terribly Wrong: 

    If Verrett is just a nickel corner, will this be too high?

    Overall, I think Verrett will improve the Chargers defense, so it's a moot point, but on a defense that needed a ton of help, there will be people who complain if this pick was a role player instead of a "starter." 

    Also, Verrett is coming off of an injury, so that's a minor red flag as well. 

26. Philadelphia Eagles (via Cleveland)—Marcus Smith (DE/OLB Louisville)

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    Grade: B-

     

    How This Pick Goes Right: 

    A lot of people are going to call this pick a massive reach, but the Philadelphia Eagles needed a pass-rusher and Marcus Smith knows how to rush the passer with the best of them. 

    Bleacher Report columnist (and former NFL defensive end) Ryan Riddle likes Smith better than some other rushers ranked highly by other analysts. 

    He's an athlete, bends well and knows how to use his hands. 

     

    How This Pick Could Go Terribly Wrong: 

    Overall, Smith doesn't look like an ideal pass-rusher, and he needs some polish to his game. He likely won't start right away, but that doesn't matter in Philadelphia. With such a high-paced offense to play alongside, the defense will have plenty of pass-rushing snaps to rotate him into. 

     

27. Arizona Cardinals (via New Orleans)—Deone Bucannon (S Washington State)

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    Grade: C-

     

    How This Pick Goes Right: 

    Bucannon can play. 

    He passes the look test and brings plenty of hits to the highlight reel. Almost missile-like in how he attacks both ball-carriers and pass-catchers, he will be the "footsteps" that offensive skill players hear whenever the Cardinals defense is on the field. 

     

    How This Pick Could Go Terribly Wrong: 

    In coverage, he's lost—often. He's not as smooth an athlete as you like in the deep middle-third, nor does he have the elite straight-line speed to catch up to a receiver who's gotten behind him. Worst of all, I question whether he'll be able to cover the pass-catching tight ends (like Vernon Davis) that are catching on in the league. 

    This is an old-school strong safety in a new-school league. There's a place for that, but maybe not in the first round. 

28. Carolina Panthers—Kelvin Benjamin (WR Florida State)

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    Grade: A-

     

    How This Pick Goes Right: 

    Not to pat myself on the back too strongly, but this is the exact type of pick that I expected the Panthers to make since they jettisoned Steve Smith. I've always believed that they were looking to build a young offense to grow with Cam Newton, rather than bring in established names that wouldn't be around when this team hits full stride. 

     

    How This Pick Could Go Terribly Wrong: 

    Now, as for Benjamin himself—he's not very good, yet. 

    He's big and ridiculously athletic, so that's exactly what you're looking for. He's going to be a beast in the red zone. He's going to make big plays. Yet, he's going to make a bunch of mistakes as well and he might be two or three years away before his positive plays outweigh the head-scratchers. 

29. New England Patriots—Dominique Easley (DT Florida)

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    Grade: A

     

    How This Pick Goes Right: 

    Dominique Easley is of my favorite players in this draft, and someone who deserved to go in the first round. 

    More people would've been talking about Easley—maybe even as a top-15 pick—if he weren't coming off a nasty injury. (Both knees have surgically repaired ACLs.) The upside, though, is that he's a fantastic pass-rusher with NFL-caliber athleticism who has a non-stop motor. 

     

    How This Pick Could Go Terribly Wrong: 

    Undersized+injury history=big red flags. 

    The Patriots will use him in a rotation, so he shouldn't play a ton of snaps early on. That will help. Still, if he's a bust, it will likely be because he's unable to play, not because of his play on the field. 

30. San Francisco 49ers—Jimmie Ward (S Northern Illinois)

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    Grade: A-

     

    How This Pick Goes Right: 

    Jimmie Ward is an almost perfect complement for Eric Reid.

    Let Reid take a pounding in the box or against tight ends and allow Ward to do what he does best—cover the deep part of the field and don't let any receivers behind him. As long as Ward keeps the ball in front of him, he can make big plays, because he has great ball skills.  

     

    How This Pick Could Go Terribly Wrong: 

    Small and not a great athlete—Ward is going to get caught out of position early on in his NFL tenure and that could result in a lot of big plays going the other way. 

    I didn't think Ward was a first-round-caliber player, but this is late enough in the round that even mentioning "reach" seems silly. It's just difficult to see him having the same sort of impact for the 49ers that he had for Northern Illinois. 

31. Denver Broncos—Bradley Roby (CB Ohio State)

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    Grade: A

     

    How This Pick Goes Right: 

    A big athletic corner with ball skills? Yes, please. 

    I'm legitimately surprised Roby wasn't off the board at this point, as he needs work—yes—but he also has all the tools to be one of the best players in this class. 

    In Denver, he'll fit in as an outside corner with Aqib Talib and can rotate into the nickel in a pinch. Don't be surprised if he's not an immediate starter, though. He needs to polish up his game. 

     

    How This Pick Could Go Terribly Wrong: 

    That work Roby needs is because he's a technical mess. 

    Now, almost every corner coming out of college is a mess, so this isn't Roby's problem alone. It's almost expected—even out of first-rounders. The question could be asked, though, that on a Broncos team that needs to win now, Roby might not be ready to make a real impact while Peyton Manning is still under center. 

32. Minnesota Vikings (via Seattle)—Teddy Bridgewater (QB Louisville)

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    Grade: A+

     

    How This Pick Goes Right: 

    My top quarterback goes No. 32. 

    Clearly the NFL didn't agree with my board as I considered Bridgewater a lock for the top 10 just a few months ago, but he lands in a spot that will help his development. 

    Bridgewater runs an offense. He'll be able to master Norv Turner's complicated offense with no issues. He has plenty of help from Adrian Peterson, Kyle Rudolph, Cordarrelle Patterson and Greg Jennings. He also has a better line in Minnesota than he had at Louisville. 

     

    How This Pick Could Go Terribly Wrong: 

    Teams don't like Bridgewater's size and deep-ball accuracy. In Minnesota, he'll have to play at Lambeau and Soldier Field twice every season, and those could be tough games if there's inclement weather. 

     

    Michael Schottey is an NFL National Lead Writer for Bleacher Report and a member of the Pro Football Writers of America. Find more of his stuff on his archive page and follow him on Twitter

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