The 2014 NFL draft was the most hyped draft in recent memory, but it didn't disappoint. The drama in Radio City Music Hall was palpable as the first 32 selections unfolded.
So who came out on top?
It's impossible to know for sure until at least two to thee years down the road. However, with 32 picks in the books, it's a lot easier to evaluate each team's class than it was just 24 hours ago.
Here's a complete look at the results last night followed by a grade for each team:
|1.||Texans||Jadeveon Clowney||DE/OLB||South Carolina||A: Clowney was clearly the best player available and the Texans didn't overthink it.|
|2.||Rams (from WSH)||Greg Robinson||OT||Auburn||A: The Rams got themselves one of the few offensive lineman that can truly impact a game by himself.|
|3.||Jaguars||Blake Bortles||QB||UCF||C-: Bortles has some impressive tools and the size scouts covet. But given the quarterback climate a trade down may have been better.|
|4.||Bills*||Sammy Watkins||WR||Clemson||B+: There were four blue-chip prospects in this year's draft class. The Bills did what they had to do to ensure they got one.|
|5.||Raiders||Khalil Mack||OLB||Buffalo||A: The Raiders had plenty of holes to fill and made sure they scooped up the last blue-chipper.|
|6.||Falcons||Jake Matthews||OT||Texas A&M||A: Sometimes the best player available also happens to meet a need. Perfect match.|
|7.||Buccaneers||Mike Evans||WR||Texas A&M||A: Mike Glennon and/or Luke McCown will have no excuse not to flourish in Tampa now.|
|8.||Browns*||Justin Gilbert||CB||Oklahoma State||B+: The best part about this pick was the 2015 first rounder that comes with it. Gilbert should be a quality starter.|
|9.||Vikings*||Anthony Barr||OLB||UCLA||B: Never hurts to add an explosive pass-rusher, but fans will need to wait for him to develop.|
|10.||Lions||Eric Ebron||TE||North Carolina||B+: Matt Stafford may have the best weapons cache in the league for the foreseeable future if Ebron plays to potential.|
|11.||Titans||Taylor Lewan||OT||Michigan||B-: Off-field concerns must not mean much to Titans. Jake Locker should appreciate the protection though.|
|12.||Giants||Odell Beckham Jr.||WR||LSU||A-: Eli needs help. Beckham certainly qualifies.|
|13.||Rams||Aaron Donald||DT||Pittsburgh||A: St. Louis: Where common sense happens.|
|14.||Bears||Kyle Fuller||CB||Virginia Tech||A-: If Fuller can stay healthy, he may wind up as the best corner in the class.|
|15.||Steelers||Ryan Shazier||OLB||Ohio State||B-: Not entirely sure where Shazier will play in Steelers 3-4. He'll make plays wherever it is though.|
|16.||Cowboys||Zack Martin||OG/OT||Notre Dame||B+: Is this flashy? No. Effective? Yes.|
|17.||Ravens||C.J. Mosley||ILB||Alabama||A: Once again the Ravens prove why they have a claim as the NFL's best drafting team. Perfect combination of best player available and need.|
|18.||Jets||Calvin Pryor||FS||Louisville||B+: The Jets could use a safety. They got the first pick of the litter.|
|19.||Dolphins||Ja'Wuan James||OT||Tennessee||B-: Wasn't a player many speculated would be in the first. But he certainly fills a need.|
|20.||Saints*||Brandin Cooks||WR||Oregon State||A: Cooks will be a prime candidate for offensive rookie of the year with Drew Brees throwing him passes.|
|21.||Packers||Ha Ha Clinton-Dix||FS||Alabama||A: The Packers got zero interceptions from safeties last season. That will change.|
|22.||Browns*||Johnny Manziel||QB||Texas A&M||D+: Ray Farmer guaranteed his team more time on SportsCenter and that's about it with this pick.|
|23.||Chiefs||Dee Ford||DE/OLB||Auburn||B-: Chiefs had needs on offense. Can't fault them for stock-piling pass-rushers, though.|
|24.||Bengals||Darqueze Dennard||CB||Michigan State||A: Team in need of a corner got one that could be the best in his class at 24? That's value.|
|25.||Chargers||Jason Verrett||CB||TCU||A: The Chargers had a need and filled it with the best player available. That's a winning combination every time.|
|26.||Eagles* (from IND)||Marcus Smith||DE/OLB||Louisville||C: Every year there's a pick that elicits a "Who?!" from the crowd. Here's your 2014 "Who?!" pick.|
|27.||Cardinals*||Deone Bucannon||SS||Washington State||B: Getting one of the hardest-hitters in the entire draft isn't a bad thing. Reaching for him is troublesome, though.|
|28.||Panthers||Kelvin Benjamin||WR||Florida State||C+: Classic case of right position, wrong player. Benjamin's hands and route running are concerns. Looks great on paper, though.|
|29.||Patriots||Dominique Easley||DT||Florida||B+: The Patriots take a calculated risk that could pay big dividends.|
|30.||49ers||Jimmie Ward||SS||Northern Illinois||B: Again, it looks like a reach for a safety. Then again, the Niners track record is hard to doubt.|
|31.||Broncos||Bradley Roby||CB||Ohio State||B: The Broncos know the secondary must improve to take the next step. Can Roby return to the form that made him an All-American two seasons ago?|
|32.||Vikings||Teddy Bridgewater||QB||Louisville||A: May very well be best pick of the entire draft. Not often best quarterback goes 32 overall.|
Best in Class
St. Louis Rams
The headlines probably won't show it, but the St. Louis Rams walked away as the biggest winners of Day 1. They use the second selection to secure one of the most athletic tackle prospects in draft history. They then followed that up by taking the best interior defensive lineman in the draft.
It may not be flashy, but football games are still won on both lines. Adding immediate contributors and eventual stars to both lines is something that will vault a team into contention quicker than anything.
Jeff Fisher obviously agrees:
Fisher: "We definitely needed to address both sides of the ball up front." #RamsDraft— St. Louis Rams (@STLouisRams) May 9, 2014
In Robinson, they'll have a player who can contribute right away. While he will eventually make a fine franchise tackle, his versatility is what will stick out to fans right now, per Fisher:
Donald, who racked up 28.5 tackles for a loss and 11 sacks last season, will join an already fierce pass rush, per ESPN Stats & Info:
Rams adding to an already strong DL by drafting DT Aaron Donald. Rams DL had 47 sacks last season, most in NFL. #STLpick— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) May 9, 2014
The Rams had to get difference-makers with both top-15 picks to compete in the NFC West and they did just that with Robinson and Donald.
The Minnesota Vikings didn't quite have the day that the Rams did, but they ended the night with a bang. First, Mike Zimmer and Co. grabbed a promising pass-rusher in Anthony Barr.
The UCLA product may not have a complete repertoire of pass-rushing moves, but his freakish athleticism is something that general manager Rick Spielman must have loved, per Albert Breer:
Rick Spielman says that Vikings had Anthony Barr at 4.47 at his Pro Day, and his 3-cone drill and shuttle as faster than this draft's CBs.— Albert Breer (@AlbertBreer) May 9, 2014
That athleticism will definitely provide a boost to the Vikings front seven with Zimmer in charge. As Pro Football Focus noted, it provides them with added flexibility to get the most out of the prospects currently on the roster:
Anthony Barr joins Brian Robison who had 83 pressures last year which was 3rd most for all rushers. Allows Griffen to rush from the inside.— Pro Football Focus (@PFF) May 9, 2014
But Barr isn't what made the Vikings the big winner Thursday night. He'll be a strong starter, but he won't change the franchise.
That will be Teddy Bridgewater.
Bridgewater was overshadowed by the more flashy quarterback in Johnny Manziel on draft night. But flashy has never been the secret to success as a signal-caller. The best have been cerebral, methodical and accurate. All traits that don't show up on SportsCenter, but they equate to a well-oiled offensive machine.
The Vikings managed to get a player with all of those qualities with the very last pick in the first round. Which not only means they will save plenty of money compared to, say Jacksonville, who took Blake Bortles at No. 3, but it also gives them a fifth-year option on their guy, as Ian Rapoport tweeted:
It’s a sound business decision for #Vikings. Not only do they grab Teddy Bridgewater before the 2nd rounders, but they get the fifth year.— Ian Rapoport (@RapSheet) May 9, 2014
With an elite front seven and a franchise quarterback in tow, the Vikings appear to be on the right track.
Class Clown: Cleveland Browns
The night started off well enough for the Browns. They began by trading out of No. 4 to No. 9 and netted a 2015 first-round pick from the Buffalo Bills in the process. Anytime you can gain a first-round pick and stay in top 10, that's a good deal.
But then they traded traded back up to No. 8 and things got weird.
First, the Browns selected Justin Gilbert, the cornerback out of Oklahoma State. One one hand, Gilbert fills a need. Cleveland could use a strong corner opposite Joe Haden to solidify their developing secondary.
On the other, when one sees that players such as Darqueze Dennard and Jason Verrett were available in the 20's, the value of taking Gilbert at No. 9 has to be questioned, something that Robert Smith of ESPN did:
I heard that J and thought it would be Johnny! I'm sure there are a lot of angry #Browns fans. I would take Dennard or Fuller b4 Gilbert— robert smith (@ESPNRobertSmith) May 9, 2014
The Gilbert pick could be explained away as a matter of preference, though. What Ray Farmer did next will certainly put his job on the line already.
With Bridgewater and Manziel both on the board at No. 22, he traded up and selected the most risky player in the draft—one Johnathan Football.
Sure, this will guarantee that the Browns are covered more than they have been in all of the years combined since the team returned in 1999. But for all of the reasons listed above that Bridgewater will flourish in the NFL, Manziel is not the right quarterback for the Browns.
With Jordan Cameron, Josh Gordon and Ben Tate all now in the fold, the Browns finally have the weapons to provide a quarterback with the tools to succeed. Instead, they drafted a quarterback who will attempt to carry the team on his back at every opportunity and is more prone to turnovers than any of the first-round prospects available. He threw just as many interceptions as Bortles and Bridgewater combined last season.
Drafting Manziel may ultimately work out. As unorthodox as his college career was, he possesses tremendous arm talent. However, it's not often that a prospect has to completely change his game to succeed and goes in the first round.
That's something that Manziel will have to do.
With everything in place to become a successful team, that's the risk that Farmer took.