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Analyzing and Grading Each 1st-Round Pick in the 2014 NFL Draft

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Analyzing and Grading Each 1st-Round Pick in the 2014 NFL Draft
Frank Franklin II/Associated Press

The first round of the 2014 NFL draft proved to be one of the most fascinating first rounds in recent memory. Jadeveon Clowney going first, Johnny Manziel's fall, Jerry Jones passing on the polarizing prospect...it all made for terrific entertainment in the NFL's offseason Super Bowl.

The first and most exciting round is complete, as each team took a player that it hopes will turn into a star or the next great franchise player. But Rounds 2 through 7 are where teams fill holes in the starting lineup and add necessary depth. 

With 32 picks in the books, it's time to analyze each pick. I assign a letter grade below and add my thoughts on the selection. For the record, an average grade is a B. 

 

1) Houston Texans: Jadeveon Clowney, DE, South Carolina: A

The Texans picked the slam-dunk best player with the top overall pick. The image of Clowney rushing from one side of the field and J.J. Watt rushing from the other is enough to keep offensive coordinators up all night. It's a dream come true for Houston, which can use the first pick in the second round to select a quarterback. 

 

2) St. Louis Rams: Greg Robinson, OT/OG, Auburn: A-

The consensus top offensive line prospect, Greg Robinson can play anywhere the Rams need him on the line, other than center. He can fill in at left tackle if Jake Long doesn't recover from his ACL injury but projects to start his career at left guard. He's an absolute monster in the run game, which bodes well for Zac Stacy. 

 

3) Jacksonville Jaguars: Blake Bortles, QB, Central Florida: B

I'm not going to knock this pick. Sure, Blake Bortles is a bit of a reach with the third overall pick, but Jacksonville desperately needed a quarterback and had the guts to take one early. If he turns into a bust, general manager Dave Caldwell will be fired. But you have to take a chance, and it makes more sense to do it early and get your top guy than to wait until Round 2. 

 

4) Buffalo Bills (trade): Sammy Watkins, WR, Clemson: D-

The Bills made the single worst move of the draft, surrendering a first- and a fourth-round pick in 2015 to move up five spots to select the best receiver in the draft. That's a terrible decision by a team that has had a losing record for nine straight years. Elite teams should trade up because they think they're one player away. A perennial losing team like Buffalo needs to fill its holes instead of selling the farm for an elite talent.

Think about this. Let's say EJ Manuel turns in a disastrous 2014 season, and the Bills post their typical 6-10 or 7-9 season. They can't move on from him in 2015 because they won't have a top-10 pick. They've given up the future for a receiver. Terrible decision. 

 

5) Oakland Raiders: Khalil Mack, OLB, Buffalo: A+

Against all odds, general manager Reggie McKenzie made the best (or second-best) pick in the first round of the draft. After pass-rushing outside linebacker Khalil Mack fell to the fifth pick, Oakland grabbed the best player available on the board. Props to Oakland for not screwing this one up like I thought it would. 

 

6) Atlanta Falcons: Jake Matthews, OT, Texas A&M: A

Arguably the safest prospect in the draft, Jake Matthews will protect Matt Ryan's blind side for the next decade or more. This was an easy and safe pick by the Atlanta Falcons. 

 

7) Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Mike Evans, WR, Texas A&M: B+

Passing on Johnny Manziel was the right decision. The Buccaneers had strong play from rookie quarterback Mike Glennon in 2013. Mike Evans will make life a lot easier for Glennon in 2014. 

 

8) Cleveland Browns (trade): Justin Gilbert, CB, Oklahoma State: D

I have no idea why the Browns felt they had to trade up for Justin Gilbert, who would have been a reach even at No. 9. This was a questionable, baffling decision. They should have kept their fifth-round pick, stayed at No. 9 and taken Gilbert there. This looked like the old Browns. 

 

9) Minnesota Vikings (trade): Anthony Barr, OLB, UCLA: C

This was a major reach. Anthony Barr is not an elite prospect. He's the third-best pass-rusher, but he wasn't expected to go in the top 10. The Vikings picked Barr over Manziel and Teddy Bridgewater

 

10) Detroit Lions: Eric Ebron, TE, UNC: D-

This was one of the worst picks in the first round of the draft. Detroit is a flawed team with many holes, especially on the defensive side of the ball. The Lions have a quarterback who can only succeed when he is constantly surrounded by weapons, but he has Reggie Bush, Joique Bell, Calvin Johnson, Golden Tate, Brandon Pettigrew and Joseph Fauria.

Pettigrew is a solid tight end who hasn't lived up to expectations as a first-round pick. Fauria burst onto the scene in 2013 with a terrific rookie season. Why the Lions felt they needed to take another tight end is beyond me. This was a foolish move. 

 

11) Tennessee Titans: Taylor Lewan, OT, Michigan: D

The Tennessee Titans might be the worst team in the NFL in 2014. Picks like Taylor Lewan at No. 11 are one of the major reasons why. That's not a knock on him. He'll be a really good player. He might have been the top draft pick in 2013. But after signing Michael Oher to play right tackle in free agency, the Titans don't have an available spot on their offensive line. Michael Roos and Oher play tackle, while Andy Levitre and Chance Warmack play guard.

What's the plan for Taylor Lewan? It would make sense for the Titans to play Lewan over Oher at right tackle, but that would make Oher's free-agent contract completely pointless. The Titans have so many holes on their roster. Picking Lewan was a luxury pick they could not afford. 

 

12) New York Giants: Odell Beckham Jr., WR, LSU: B+

After watching their franchise player lead the NFL in interceptions for the third time in a decade, the Giants really needed to give Eli Manning another weapon. Odell Beckham Jr. is one of the most dangerous receiving threats in the draft. He and Victor Cruz will make life a lot easier for Manning. 

 

13) St. Louis Rams: Aaron Donald, DT, Pittsburgh: A+

The Rams got an absolute steal with Aaron Donald at No. 13. The pass-rushing defensive tackle was a monster during his final year of college and will team with Robert Quinn, Chris Long and Michael Brockers to give the Rams the best defensive line in the league. This was a tremendous pick by St. Louis, which made out like a bandit in the first round of the draft. 

 

14) Chicago Bears: Kyle Fuller, CB, Virginia Tech: A-

The Bears have a major hole in their secondary with aging veterans Tim Jennings and Charles Tillman. They got their choice of one of the next four great cornerbacks. Fuller can play corner or safety. 

 

15) Pittsburgh Steelers: Ryan Shazier, OLB, Ohio State: B-

Although a bit of a reach at No. 15, the Steelers really needed speed on their defense. They haven't had dominant linebackers in a few years. Shazier looks to help return Pittsburgh to being an elite defense. 

 

16) Dallas Cowboys: Zack Martin, OT/OG, Notre Dame: A

Jerry Jones made the right call in passing on Manziel. Thanks to Tony Romo's contract, Jones had no other options. He had the option of improving the league's worst pass rush with Kony Ealy, but Zack Martin is such a safe pick. He can play anywhere on the offensive line. For once, Jones made the right call. 

 

17) Baltimore Ravens: C.J. Mosley, ILB, Alabama: A-

This is such a Baltimore Ravens pick. C.J. Mosley is a fierce, physical player who can become a leader on Baltimore's defense. 

 

18) New York Jets: Calvin Pryor, S, Louisville: B-

I'm not the biggest fan of Calvin Pryor but I believe that he will become a good player under the tutelage of Rex Ryan. The Jets' best chance of returning to playoff form is their defense. 

 

19) Miami Dolphins: Ja'Wuan James, OT, Tennessee: D-

This was a classic pick by the team that I expect to finish with the worst record in the NFL in 2014. Morgan Moses was on the board. So was Xavier Su'a-Filo. Both are significantly better players than James. I have no idea what the Dolphins were thinking here. 

 

20) New Orleans Saints (trade): Brandin Cooks, WR, Oregon State: B-

I didn't expect the Saints to trade up for Brandin Cooks, but it makes sense. They lost Darren Sproles and Lance Moore to free agency, and Drew Brees needs another weapon as he approaches the final few seasons of his career. Cooks is an elite talent who will thrive in New Orleans. 

 

21) Green Bay Packers: Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, FS, Alabama: A+

The Packers grabbed the best player on the board and filled one of their biggest needs when they grabbed the draft's best safety with the 21st pick. This is a tremendous pick by the Packers, who really need their defense to return to elite form. 

 

22) Cleveland Browns (trade): Johnny Manziel, QB, Texas A&M: B+

Give the Browns credit for trading up with the Eagles and selecting Johnny Manziel, who is easily the most polarizing draft prospect in years. However, he is the definition of a boom-or-bust prospect. The Cleveland evaluators are likely putting their jobs on the line for Manziel

 

23) Kansas City Chiefs: Dee Ford, OLB, Auburn: D

Despite having a fearsome pass rush in Tamba Hali and Justin Houston, the Chiefs grabbed a pass-rushing linebacker. Count me among those who are not fans of this move. Kansas City could have addressed holes at wide receiver and safety. 

 

24) Cincinnati Bengals: Darqueze Dennard, CB, Michigan State: A

Dennard falling to the 24th pick was a best-case scenario for the Bengals, who filled their biggest position of need by selecting the former superstar from Michigan State. He'll start as a rookie. 

 

25) San Diego Chargers: Jason Verrett, CB, TCU: A-

The Chargers had to improve their secondary, and Verrett was the best available corner. Even though he stands just 5'9'', he's dominant in coverage and should be a starter as a rookie. 

 

26) Philadelphia Eagles (trade): Marcus Smith, OLB, Louisville: D+

There's no question that the Marcus Smith pick is a reach. It's a pick for a position of need rather than the best player available. He dominated as a senior at college, but it's hard to fathom the Eagles passing on a talented prospect like Marqise Lee, who would have been perfect in Chip Kelly's offense. 

 

27) Arizona Cardinals: Deone Bucannon, SS, Washington State: C

Definitely a reach in the first round, Bucannon gives the Cardinals one of the league's best secondaries, with Patrick Peterson, Antonio Cromartie and Tyrann Mathieu. 

 

28) Carolina Panthers: Kelvin Benjamin, WR, Florida State: C

The Panthers had to pick a tackle or a receiver here. Why did they pass on Morgan Moses to choose such a questionable prospect like Kelvin Benjamin? 

 

29) New England Patriots: Dominique Easley, DT, Florida: B-

This was a classic Bill Belichick pick. He could have taken Louis Nix III to succeed veteran Vince Wilfork at nose tackle, but he chose the player with the higher upside coming off a pair of torn ACLs. If Easley recovers from his injuries, he could be the steal of the draft. 

 

30) San Francisco 49ers: Jimmie Ward, FS, Northern Illinois: B

The Jimmie Ward pick is somewhat surprising, especially since the 49ers selected Eric Reid with their first-round pick last season. They also signed veteran safety Antoine Bethea in free agency. Ward can rotate in at safety or compete with Bethea for a starting job. He also has the ability to play nickel corner, which is an area of need for the 49ers. 

 

31) Denver Broncos: Bradley Roby, CB, Ohio State: B

Off-the-field issues may have caused Bradley to fall in the draft, but the Broncos hope he can take over as a starter next to Aqib Talib. His ceiling is one of the highest among the defensive backs in the draft. 

 

32) Minnesota Vikings (trade): Teddy Bridgewater, QB, Louisville: A+

The Vikings made a terrific move by trading back into the first round to grab the most talented quarterback in the draft. Bridgewater and Adrian Peterson could help return the Vikings to playoff contention. 

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