Fans had to know the first round of the 2014 NFL draft would be both unpredictable and wildly entertaining.
Top quarterbacks tumbled, teams made grievous errors and only a few franchises were able to come away with top grades by the end of Thursday night. So yes, the longer-than-normal wait was well worth it.
Draft grades can't be properly dished out until three years after the fact, but we can assign initial scores based on what is known about prospects, team needs and more. Let's do just that while also highlighting some of the biggest steals the first round had to offer.
Round 1 Results
|1.||Texans||Jadeveon Clowney||DE/OLB||South Carolina|
|2.||Rams (from WSH)||Greg Robinson||OT||Auburn|
|6.||Falcons||Jake Matthews||OT||Texas A&M|
|7.||Buccaneers||Mike Evans||WR||Texas A&M|
|8.||Browns*||Justin Gilbert||CB||Oklahoma State|
|10.||Lions||Eric Ebron||TE||North Carolina|
|12.||Giants||Odell Beckham Jr.||WR||LSU|
|14.||Bears||Kyle Fuller||CB||Virginia Tech|
|15.||Steelers||Ryan Shazier||OLB||Ohio State|
|16.||Cowboys||Zack Martin||OG/OT||Notre Dame|
|20.||Saints*||Brandin Cooks||WR||Oregon State|
|22.||Browns*||Johnny Manziel||QB||Texas A&M|
|24.||Bengals||Darqueze Dennard||CB||Michigan State|
|26.||Eagles* (from IND)||Marcus Smith||DE/OLB||Louisville|
|27.||Cardinals*||Deone Bucannon||SS||Washington State|
|28.||Panthers||Kelvin Benjamin||WR||Florida State|
|30.||49ers||Jimmie Ward||SS||Northern Illinois|
|31.||Broncos||Bradley Roby||CB||Ohio State|
Note: An asterisk (*) indicates that a trade was made for the pick
Round 1 Grades
|Texans||A||Pretty easy call, although moving back into the first for a QB would have been smart.|
|Rams (from WSH)||A+||Amazing class. Robinson is an elite prospect and Donald gives St. Louis the best defensive line in football.|
|Jaguars||C||Bortles looks like Ben Roethlisberger and plays like Blaine Gabbert. Let's see how he develops.|
|Bills*||A||Nice job of getting more talent around EJ Manuel.|
|Raiders||A||Mack paired with Sio Moore is downright scary.|
|Falcons||A+||Atlanta sits around at No. 6 and gets the safest pick of all.|
|Buccaneers||B||Vincent Jackson 2.0 plays across from Jackson. Very good help for a question mark under center.|
|Browns*||A||Gilbert seems like a bit of a reach, but all is forgiven with Manziel.|
|Vikings*||A||Barr is a very, very risky prospect. Bridgewater? Not so much.|
|Lions||C||Ebron will line up all over the field, but one has to think Detroit could have traded down and still got him.|
|Titans||B||Supreme upside with Lewan, but he needs groomed. Good value.|
|Giants||C||It seems silly to not get turnover-happy Eli Manning better protection, but Beckham Jr. is a great prospect.|
|Bears||B||Smart pick with Fuller to help replace the aging corners on the roster. Donald would have been better, but thus is the life of those who stand pat.|
|Steelers||C||Another OLB? Shazier is a great prospect, but CB and WR were bigger needs.|
|Cowboys||B||Sorry, no bashing the Cowboys for passing on Johnny. Martin is an elite talent who can play any spot on the line.|
|Ravens||B||Nothing to shout about here. Mosley may never live up to Ray Lewis hype, but he's a great insider 'backer.|
|Jets||B||It was defensive back or wideout for New York, with Rex Ryan getting his way. That's not a bad thing.|
|Dolphins||D||Who? James isn't a bad player, but Morgan Moses would have looked good in Miami.|
|Saints*||B||Drew Brees has to be happy to have an elite slot wideout. That's a win.|
|Packers||B||With Mosley gone, Clinton-Dix was the obvious choice.|
|Chiefs||C||Ford's fit is a tad strange in Kansas City, but he'll contribute down the line, if not right away.|
|Bengals||B||Another year, another time the Bengals catch a tumbling prospect at a great value. Dennard fills a major need to boot.|
|Chargers||B||San Diego hit a need hard with Verrett and will be better for it as the Chargers look to make the postseason again.|
|Eagles* (from IND)||C||Smith is not a bad player by any means, but the trade down really hurt Philadelphia in the CB department.|
|Cardinals*||B||Bucannon is far from a household name—for now.|
|Panthers||C||Love the upside with Benjamin, but he really didn't need to be hailed as Carolina's savior via a first-round pick.|
|Patriots||B||Easley is one of the best players in the draft when healthy. That's the gamble for NE, a team scrambling for help with Vince Wilfork recovering from injury.|
|49ers||B||Well, San Francisco won't have any issues in the defensive backfield for the next few years.|
|Broncos||C||Roby has plenty of question marks, especially after getting beat deep consistently the collegiate level.|
6. Atlanta Falcons: Jake Matthews, OT, Texas A&M
How in the world does Atlanta sit still at No. 6 overall and land the safest pick of the draft?
For whatever reason, Matthews has had little hype throughout the process. Maybe he's just boring. After all, a player who has no weaknesses to be relentlessly detailed by the media makes for boring television and content, right?
As Numbers Never Lie points out, the NFL is in Matthews' blood:
The Matthews Family has played 753 games in the NFL. Jake Matthews will add to that.— Numbers Never Lie (@ESPN_Numbers) May 9, 2014
Some, such as Chris Steuber of CSN Philly, graded out Matthews as high as Jadeveon Clowney:
I love Jake Matthews. Everything he does is nearly perfect. I gave him & Clowney the same grade during my evaluations. Great pick, #Falcons!— Chris Steuber (@ChrisSteuber) May 9, 2014
Bottom line—Matthews is an elite prospect who should have come off the board higher, but Matt Ryan and the front office in Atlanta won't dare complain.
22. Cleveland Browns: Johnny Manziel, QB, Texas A&M
Obvious, sure. But there's something to be said for Cleveland having the wherewithal to move up and get the guy the front office covets.
Johnny Manziel is a risk, which would explain why he fell so far. His freestyle play can lead to major mistakes, but he's right when he says he has won wherever he goes, as captured by USA Today:
"I've been a winner everywhere I've been. I'm going to put myself in the position to continue that trend" - Manziel http://t.co/rqfZ68t8GE— USA TODAY Sports (@USATODAYsports) May 9, 2014
Manziel makes the Browns contenders. That sounds ridiculous, but the defense is on the rise, and Manziel can hit names like Josh Gordon and Jordan Cameron to great success early.
The upside given the slot means the Browns get a highlight of the draft after an apparent early reach on Justin Gilbert.
24. Cincinnati Bengals: Darqueze Dennard, CB, Michigan State
Rinse and repeat for the Cincinnati Bengals, an organization that continues to find itself on similar lists each year, thanks to an uncanny ability to find value by picking off tumbling players.
Darqueze Dennard was hailed by many as the top corner in the class before the event, so his fall only strengthens one of the NFL's best defenses. Bleacher Report's Andrea Hangst summed it up well:
Sweet steal for the Bengals with Darqueze Dennard.— Andrea Hangst (@FBALL_Andrea) May 9, 2014
Dennard does not have to start right away, but he most certainly can. Regardless, the first three corners on the depth chart are over the age of 30 and have recent injury woes, so Dennard figures to eventually take over in tandem with Dre Kirkpatrick.
This far down the board, a starting corner who can be considered the best in his class and also happens to be a strong schematic fit is perhaps the biggest steal of all in the first round. Well, let's call it second place for Cincinnati.
No. 32: Minnesota Vikings: Teddy Bridgewater, QB, Louisville
Cincinnati's former defensive coordinator, Mike Zimmer, stole the show late on Thursday night.
Zimmer was not content to sit around and watch Houston potentially take his franchise quarterback with the first pick on Friday. Instead, he maneuvered his franchise back into the bottom of the first round via a trade with Seattle and grabbed Teddy Bridgewater, a quarterback who many graded out as the best in the class.
For Zimmer? One basic trait overrode everything in post-draft interviews, per NFL Network's Albert Breer:
Vikings coach Mike Zimmer on Teddy Bridgewater: "You know the thing I like most about him? He wins. He wins. Everywhere he goes, he wins."— Albert Breer (@AlbertBreer) May 9, 2014
But it's so much more than that. The fit with Norv Turner is fantastic. Bridgewater is the best in the class when it comes to progressions and the somewhat rare trait of moving defenders with his eyes.
Now add in the fact that he'll hand the ball off to Adrian Peterson and throw to wideout Cordarrelle Patterson and tight end Kyle Rudolph.
Kudos to Zimmer and Co. for not pulling the trigger early in the proceedings, but doing so late while catching the rest of the quarterback-needy teams napping.