With the 2014 NFL draft's first round in the books, it's time to bring back that annual tradition of judging how each team did. We won't know about the players for a few years, but we can look at the value teams got and how well it fills a need.
Don't get caught up in the name of a player, because that means nothing at this point. Cleveland isn't getting a great grade simply because it drafted Johnny Manziel, but based on where he went and other moves made, it was a fantastic night.
The 32 players drafted aren't going to play a professional down for another three months. The best way to evaluate a draft is on value and plugging holes. Here are our first-round grades and analysis of the notable teams.
|Team||Round 1 Pick||Overall Grade|
|Houston Texans||Jadeveon Clowney, DE||A|
|St. Louis Rams||Greg Robinson, OT||A-|
|Jacksonville Jaguars||Blake Bortles, QB||B-|
|Buffalo Bills||Sammy Watkins, WR||C+|
|Oakland Raiders||Khalil Mack, OLB||A-|
|Atlanta Falcons||Jake Matthews, OT||A-|
|Tampa Bay Buccaneers||Mike Evans||A|
|Cleveland Browns||Justin Gilbert, CB||A+|
|Minnesota Vikings||Anthony Barr, OLB||B|
|Detroit Lions||Eric Ebron, TE||C+|
|Tennessee TItans||Taylor Lewan, OT||C|
|New York Giants||Odell Beckham Jr., WR||B+|
|Chicago Bears||Kyle Fuller, CB||B+|
|Pittsburgh Steelers||Ryan Shazier, OLB||B-|
|Dallas Cowboys||Zack Martin, OT||B|
|Baltimore Ravens||C.J. Mosley, ILB||B-|
|New York Jets||Calvin Pryor, S||B+|
|Miami Dolphins||Ja'Wuan James, OT||C|
|New Orleans Saints||Brandin Cooks, WR||B+|
|Green Bay Packers||Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, S||A-|
|Kansas City Chiefs||Dee Ford, DE||C|
|Cincinnati Bengals||Darqueze Dennard, CB||A-|
|San Diego Chargers||Jason Verrett, CB||B+|
|Philadelphia Eagles||Marcus Smith, DE||C|
|Arizona Cardinals||Deone Bucannon, S||B-|
|Carolina Panthers||Kelvin Benjamin, WR||B|
|New England Patriots||Dominique Easley, DT||D+|
|San Francisco 49ers||Jimmie Ward, S||B-|
|Denver Broncos||Bradley Roby, CB||B+|
Biggest Winner: Cleveland Browns
Even if the Browns hadn't selected Manziel with the No. 22 pick, they would have been the biggest winner in this draft because they fleeced Buffalo in a deal that got them a first-round pick next year.
Sammy Watkins might turn out to be a superstar wide receiver for the Bills, but that's a steep price to pay for a wide receiver when they could have saved a first-round pick and moved up three spots to take a bigger, more physical player in Mike Evans.
As Chris Rose of MLB Network, an avid Cleveland sports fan, noted on Twitter, this was a great night for general manager Ray Farmer:
OK, so @browns got maybe best CB & QB in draft. Gave up a 3rd & 5th, but got 1st & 4th. Well done Ray Farmer, well done.— Chris Rose (@ChrisRose) May 9, 2014
Moving down to No. 8, the Browns were able to get arguably the best cover cornerback in this draft, Justin Gilbert, to play on one side of the field with Joe Haden on the other.
A lot is going to be said and written about Manziel, even more than there already has been in the last 12 hours. We won't know if he's Cleveland's savior at quarterback for some time, but to get a player who ranked as a mid-first-round pick in the back half of the round is excellent value.
Biggest Loser: New England Patriots
Every year the Patriots make an early move at which everyone raises an eyebrow, yet no one really questions it because Bill Belichick plays in AFC Championship games and Super Bowls all the time.
There's nothing wrong with Dominique Easley's talent on the field, as Albert Breer of the NFL Network noted when recalling a discussion he had with an NFL scout last year:
Recall a talk I had on Sharrif Floyd w/a scout last April. He loved SF, and said, "Wait til u see the next kid." That was Dominique Easley.— Albert Breer (@AlbertBreer) May 9, 2014
Which team had the best first round?
As impressive as his talent is, there's a lot more to Easley than what happens between the lines. This is a 22-year-old who has torn the ACL in both of his knees at college and started three games last season.
There were other defensive-line options available who may not have had Easley's ceiling but have much higher—and safer—floors. Minnesota's Ra'Shede Hageman and Notre Dame's Stephon Tuitt immediately come to mind as fits in Belichick's defense.
Defensive line was a need area for the Patriots, especially when they got picked apart by Denver last year in the AFC title game, but it was a need precisely because of the season-ending injury to Vince Wilfork.
Now the Patriots are putting faith in a player who is susceptible to injuries. If Easley hits this is a brilliant pick, because he's got great burst off the line and can get after the quarterback. But that's a big "if" at this point.
Team to Watch on Friday: San Francisco 49ers
Even though the 49ers didn't wow anyone with their selection of safety Jimmie Ward at No. 30, Friday is going to be their day to shine. They have five picks remaining in the top 100, including two in the second round.
San Francisco is going to dictate what happens in these two rounds. General manager Trent Baalke told Scott Kegley of 49ers.com prior to the first round that the team wasn't afraid to make a move under the right circumstance.
That obviously never materialized in the first round, but with the 49ers still needing to find a receiver and possibly add some insurance on the defensive line if Aldon Smith ends up being suspended, today will be a day to strike while the iron is hot.
Of course, the 49ers have quality depth at a lot of positions on the field, so they can just stay put and keep adding players to reload a roster that should have no problem competing for a playoff spot in 2014.
If you want to talk sports, hit me up on Twitter: @adamwells1985.