The uncommon depth that characterizes the 2014 NFL draft saw several teams wind up with underrated picks in Round 1, garnering strong Thursday grades with plenty of selections still in hand.
While Jadeveon Clowney made headlines as the top pick to the Houston Texans and the Cleveland Browns swung multiple trades and landed Johnny Manziel, other less heralded prospects landed in ideal situations to thrive as rookies.
Those fortunate franchises got instant upgrades at marquee positions, and all of them should have chips on their shoulder to prove themselves based on how the order shook out. Whether it was others at their positions going before them or pre-draft criticism, these draftees figure to use it as fuel going forward.
Here is a look at complete letter grades and brief analysis for all 32 picks in Round 1, along with a more detailed breakdown of those that were most underrated.
|2014 NFL Draft Grades - Round 1|
|1.||Texans||Jadeveon Clowney, DE/OLB, South Carolina||A||The no-brainer pick to pair opposite J.J. Watt. Should become a terrifying combination off the edge.|
|2.||Rams (from WSH)||Greg Robinson, OT, Auburn||A||Mauler who is especially good in the running game. A dream for offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer, who will pound the rock with RB Zac Stacy.|
|3.||Jaguars||Blake Bortles, QB, UCF||F||General manager Dave Caldwell will be relieved of his duties in no more than two years. One of the worst picks in recent draft history.|
|4.||Bills*||Sammy Watkins, WR, Clemson||B||With such a deep receiver class, was the cost of a 2015 first-round pick really worth it?|
|5.||Raiders||Khalil Mack, OLB, Buffalo||A+||Tempting to choose Mike Evans here, but GM Reggie McKenzie makes the right call to shore up the defense.|
|6.||Falcons||Jake Matthews, OT, Texas A&M||A||Safe pick. Matthews can play anywhere on the line, helping both dimensions of the offense.|
|7.||Buccaneers||Mike Evans, WR, Texas A&M||A||Big, strong and fast—similar complement to Bucs WR Vincent Jackson.|
|8.||Browns*||Justin Gilbert, CB, Oklahoma State||A-||Unpolished prospect, yet most physically gifted corner came at minimal cost.|
|9.||Vikings*||Anthony Barr, OLB, UCLA||B+||Time will tell if Barr lives up to his potential. Having Mike Zimmer as coach helps.|
|10.||Lions||Eric Ebron, TE, North Carolina||A-||What a talent Ebron is. Defense should be the big priority moving forward.|
|11.||Titans||Taylor Lewan, OT, Michigan||B-||Second straight first-rounder on the offensive line. No excuses for Jake Locker.|
|12.||Giants||Odell Beckham Jr., WR, LSU||A+||Experience in Cam Cameron's offense at LSU will ease his transition to the NFL.|
|13.||Rams||Aaron Donald, DT, Pittsburgh||A||Luxury pick—bolsters Rams front seven even more.|
|14.||Bears||Kyle Fuller, CB, Virginia Tech||B+||Strong corner prospect who can provide spark in return game.|
|15.||Steelers||Ryan Shazier, OLB, Ohio State||C||Pittsburgh hasn't drafted all that well lately. Shazier has upside…a bit of a reach here.|
|16.||Cowboys||Zack Martin, OG/OT, Notre Dame||B-||Gives offensive line versatility. But what about that defense?|
|17.||Ravens||C.J. Mosley, ILB, Alabama||A-||Not an overwhelming need. A smart pick nevertheless.|
|18.||Jets||Calvin Pryor, FS, Louisville||A||Jets get a boomer on the back end. Coach Rex Ryan has to be thrilled.|
|19.||Dolphins||Ja'Wuan James, OT, Tennessee||C-||Total needs-based choice. A bit of a reach.|
|20.||Saints*||Brandin Cooks, WR, Oklahoma State||A+||Drew Brees must be ecstatic to have his best slot weapon ever.|
|21.||Packers||Ha'Sean Clinton-Dix, FS, Alabama||A||Brings attitude and a high football IQ to bolster a suddenly strong secondary.|
|22.||Browns*||Johnny Manziel, QB, Texas A&M||A+||Ray Farmer delivers the dream scenario for Cleveland fans.|
|23.||Chiefs||Dee Ford, DE/OLB, Auburn||D+||Brings a ton of speed to pressure the QB. Chiefs have plenty of that already. What else?|
|24.||Bengals||Darqueze Dennard, CB, Michigan State||B+||Great value pick; Could be the best cover corner in the class.|
|25.||Chargers||Jason Verrett, CB, TCU||A-||Can play outside or in the slot. Verrett helps the league's 29th-ranked pass defense.|
|26.||Eagles* (from IND)||Marcus Smith, DE/OLB, Louisville||B+||Wise choice on a smart player. Invested on the proper side of the ball.|
|27.||Cardinals*||Deone Bucannon, SS, Washington State||B-||Helps the Cardinals stay physical in the NFC West. Was it too rich at No. 27?|
|28.||Panthers||Kelvin Benjamin, WR, Florida State||A-||Some don't like this pick. Back shoulder throws for days.|
|29.||Patriots||Dominique Easley, DL, Florida||C-||Injury red flags abound. Tom Brady didn't get a receiver upgrade.|
|30.||49ers||Jimmie Ward, SS, Northern Illinois||C||Time will tell if Ward can become anywhere near the player Donte Whitner was.|
|31.||Broncos||Bradley Roby, CB, Ohio State||B||Coming off a bad season. Aqib Talib not the greatest mentor, but athleticism and potential are undeniable.|
|32.||Vikings*||Teddy Bridgewater, QB, Louisville||A||Putting a cerebral QB in a great situation to thrive.|
|Asterisk indicates traded picks|
Highlighting Most Underrated Round 1 Picks
New York Giants (No. 12): Odell Beckham Jr., WR, LSU
Two-time Super Bowl MVP quarterback Eli Manning threw a whopping 27 interceptions in 2013, often unable to get on the same page with his receivers. A poor rushing attack and pressed decision-making also contributed to the poor performance, but some may argue bringing in a rookie wideout isn't the answer to solve those woes.
However, Beckham is not only a deep threat who can get behind any secondary, but he can also provide a spark on special teams. ESPN's Chris Mortensen pointed out a unique connection between Manning and his new weapon:
The best thing about Beckham is that he can run just about any route New York will ask him to. That's thanks to being in an extremely intricate, complex offense at LSU under offensive coordinator Cam Cameron.
Ed Werder of ESPN reported before the draft that Beckham could even go before Texas A&M star receiver Mike Evans, who eventually went seventh to Tampa Bay:
Beckham should be driven to prove his football acumen in the Big Apple—and that the gap between him, Evans and new Buffalo Bills wideout Sammy Watkins isn't as big as it was perceived to be leading up to the draft.
Few, if any, receivers are as pro-ready as Beckham from a schematic standpoint to come in and contribute as a rookie. Although Watkins and Evans have various attributes that are superior to what Beckham brings to the table, the ex-LSU star has all the ability to be the most productive rookie receiver.
Between Victor Cruz and Rueben Randle, Manning already has two stellar options to throw to, and should have plenty of opportunities to get Beckham into favorable matchups he can capitalize on.
Cincinnati Bengals (No. 24): Darqueze Dennard, CB, Michigan State
An aging secondary and the departure of defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer to Minnesota creates some uncertainty on that side of the ball for the Bengals. This roster is well-built to win now, but Cincinnati invested in both the short-term success and a player for the long haul in Dennard.
As part of an elite Spartans defense, the scrappy corner won the Jim Thorpe Award as the nation's top defensive back. That he fell all the way to No. 24 was a bit of a surprise.
Michigan State Radio host Adam Ruff noted how Dennard wasn't recruited too heavily, and how this instance of slipping in the draft seemed an appropriate parallel:
Dennard plays a physical, bump-and-run style that the Seattle Seahawks used to great effectiveness in winning the most recent Super Bowl. The Bengals don't have the personnel at safety to bail out Dennard if he gets too aggressive in that regard, but he is also among the best technicians at his position in this 2014 class.
It's possible that drawing flags could be a problem for Dennard at the NFL level, so he must refine the way he attacks receivers and be mindful of the dangers of illegal contact and pass interference penalties. Youth was necessary on the last line of defense in Cincinnati, though, and the Bengals couldn't do much better than to secure Dennard late in the first round.
The first cornerback off the board was Oklahoma State's Justin Gilbert, who went No. 8 to the Cleveland Browns. Now that Dennard will be in the same AFC North division, he should have a big chip on his shoulder to prove he could've been worth gaudier draft status.
Minnesota Vikings (No. 32): Teddy Bridgewater, QB, Louisville
Speaking of players who took a tumble, once upon a time there was talk of Bridgewater being chosen near the top of the order—perhaps with the No. 1 overall pick. It took a trade by the Vikings to prevent Bridgewater from falling out of Round 1 entirely.
But the bold move should pay massive dividends in the Twin Cities. Bridgewater is easily the most pro-ready QB, and his cerebral nature is an excellent fit for an offense run by play-caller Norv Turner.
Adrian Peterson is in the backfield to take pressure off, while Zimmer is a defensive-minded head coach who will try to instill that identity into the team. That was evident by Minnesota's first Round 1 choice in athletic outside linebacker Anthony Barr.
The numbers in college were strong for Bridgewater, as he completed 71 percent of his passes with 31 touchdowns to just four interceptions this past season. Zimmer is a bottom-line type of man, and he digs the results Bridgewater has managed, per NFL Network's Albert Breer:
Bridgewater also has a loaded supporting cast of targets to throw to. Cordarrelle Patterson is ready to break out into a premier playmaker in his second year, and Greg Jennings is a legitimate No. 1 receiver. There's also Pro Bowl tight end Kyle Rudolph, speedy receiver Jerome Simpson and even Jarius Wright.
With the proper signal-caller to distribute the ball to those many capable skills players, there's reason to believe the Vikings could return to the playoffs as early as 2014. Matt Cassel isn't going to be a long-term answer—he's had the chance to be the face of the franchise and ultimately fallen short.
Christian Ponder can be safely characterized as a 2011 first-round bust, paving the way for Bridgewater to be the Vikings' franchise savior.
Pro Football Focus brings up this good point about how the incumbent QBs on Minnesota's roster have fared:
To see the likes of Blake Bortles go to Jacksonville in the top three and Johnny Manziel outshine Bridgewater for his magnetic personality, the former Cardinal has to be livid on the inside with what's happened to his draft stock. The Vikings are getting a true champion and the face of Louisville's program who is accustomed to being viewed as the great hope for a football team.
Bortles is not in an ideal situation to succeed with the Jaguars, and the quarterback curse that seems to hex Cleveland could lead Bridgewater to hit the field first. Bridgewater is the best prepared, and is now even more ready to handle the scrutiny that comes with being an NFL quarterback for the grilling he's endured amid a fall to the 32nd overall pick.
It's going to be a number of years before it can be determined who the best of these "big three" QBs are, but Bridgewater has all the faculties to get it done with his loaded complementary pieces in Minnesota and sharp football IQ.
|Round 2 Draft Order|
|38||Tampa Bay Buccaneers|
|40||Seattle Seahawks (from Minnesota Vikings)|
|43||New York Giants|
|44||St. Louis Rams|
|49||New York Jets|
|53||Green Bay Packers|
|56||San Francisco 49ers (from Kansas City Chiefs)|
|57||San Diego Chargers|
|58||New Orleans Saints|
|61||San Francisco 49ers|
|62||New England Patriots|
|Round 3 Draft Order|
|69||Tampa Bay Buccaneers|
|74||New York Giants|
|75||St. Louis Rams|
|77||San Francisco 49ers (from Tennessee Titans)|
|80||New York Jets|
|83||Philadelphia Eagles (from Cleveland Browns through Pittsburgh Steelers)|
|85||Green Bay Packers|
|87||Kansas City Chiefs|
|89||San Diego Chargers|
|91||Arizona Cardinals (from New Orleans Saints)|
|93||New England Patriots|
|94||San Francisco 49ers|
|96||Minnesota Vikings (from Seattle Seahawks)|
|97||Pittsburgh Steelers (compensatory selection)|
|98||Green Bay Packers (compensatory selection)|
|99||Baltimore Ravens (compensatory selection)|
|100||San Francisco 49ers (compensatory selection)|
|Round 4 Draft Order|
|104||New York Jets (from Tampa Bay Buccaneers)|
|108||Seattle Seahawks (from Minnesota Vikings)|
|110||St. Louis Rams|
|113||New York Giants|
|114||Jacksonville Jaguars (from Baltimore Ravens)|
|115||New York Jets|
|121||Green Bay Packers|
|124||Kansas City Chiefs|
|125||San Diego Chargers|
|126||New Orleans Saints|
|127||Cleveland Browns (from Indianapolis Colts)|
|129||San Francisco 49ers|
|130||New England Patriots|
|133||Detroit Lions (compensatory pick)|
|134||Baltimore Ravens (compensatory pick)|
|135||Houston Texans (compensatory pick)|
|136||Detroit Lions (compensatory pick)|
|137||New York Jets (compensatory pick)|
|138||Baltimore Ravens (compensatory pick)|
|139||Atlanta Falcons (compensatory pick)|
|140||New England Patriots (compensatory pick)|
|Round 5 Draft Order|
|143||Tampa Bay Buccaneers|
|145||Minnesota Vikings (from Cleveland Browns)|
|146||Seattle Seahawks (from Oakland Raiders)|
|150||St. Louis Rams (from Jacksonville Jaguars)|
|152||New York Giants|
|153||St. Louis Rams|
|154||New York Jets|
|159||Jacksonville Jaguars (from Baltimore Ravens)|
|161||Green Bay Packers|
|163||Kansas City Chiefs|
|165||San Diego Chargers|
|167||New Orleans Saints|
|169||New Orleans Saints (from New England Patriots through Philadelphia Eagles)|
|170||San Francisco 49ers|
|173||Pittsburgh Steelers (compensatory selection)|
|174||New York Giants (compensatory selection)|
|175||Baltimore Ravens (compensatory selection)|
|176||Green Bay Packers (compensatory selection)|
|Round 6 Draft Order|
|181||Houston Texans (from Oakland Raiders)|
|183||Chicago Bears (from Tampa Bay Buccaneers)|
|185||Tampa Bay Buccaneers (from Buffalo Bills)|
|187||New York Giants|
|188||St. Louis Rams|
|193||Kansas City Chiefs (from Dallas Cowboys)|
|195||New York Jets|
|197||Green Bay Packers|
|198||New England Patriots (from Philadelphia Eagles)|
|200||Kansas City Chiefs|
|201||San Diego Chargers|
|202||New Orleans Saints|
|205||Jacksonville Jaguars (from San Francisco 49ers)|
|206||New England Patriots|
|209||New York Jets (compensatory selection)|
|210||New York Jets (compensatory selection)|
|211||Houston Texans (compensatory selection)|
|212||Cincinnati Bengals (compensatory selection)|
|213||New York Jets (compensatory selection)|
|214||St. Louis Rams (compensatory selection)|
|215||Pittsburgh Steelers (compensatory selection)|
|Round 7 Draft Order|
|221||Tampa Bay Buccaneers|
|225||Carolina Panthers (from New York Giants)|
|226||St. Louis Rams|
|229||Dallas Cowboys (from Chicago Bears)|
|232||Indianapolis Colts (from Baltimore Ravens)|
|233||New York Jets|
|235||Oakland Raiders (from Arizona Cardinals)|
|236||Green Bay Packers|
|238||Dallas Cowboys (from Kansas City Chiefs)|
|240||San Diego Chargers|
|241||St. Louis Rams (from Indianapolis Colts)|
|242||San Francisco 49ers (from New Orleans Saints)|
|243||San Francisco 49ers (from Carolina Panthers)|
|244||New England Patriots|
|245||San Francisco 49ers|
|247||Oakland Raiders (from Seattle Seahawks)|
|248||Dallas Cowboys (compensatory pick)|
|249||St. Louis Rams (compensatory pick)|
|250||St. Louis Rams (compensatory pick)|
|251||Dallas Cowboys (compensatory pick)|
|252||Cincinnati Bengals (compensatory pick)|
|253||Arlanta Falcons (compensatory pick)|
|254||Dallas Cowboys (compensatory pick)|
|255||Atlanta Falcons (compensatory pick)|
|256||Houston Texans (compensatory pick)|