As expected, the first round of the 2014 NFL draft featured no shortage of drama. It was highlighted by Johnny Manziel's slide outside the top 20 to the Cleveland Browns but also included several key trades and some surprising selections.
While the overall performances ranged from outstanding to average, it's very difficult for a team to get a failing grade for the opening round. Even the prospects who didn't have consensus first-round grades are good enough to make an instant impact at this stage of the draft.
With that in mind, let's check out how each franchise grades out after Round 1. The list is followed by a review of the most questionable choices, which led to the lowest marks of a highly entertaining round.
Round 1 Grades
|Arizona Cardinals||(27) Deone Bucannon, SS||C+|
|Atlanta Falcons||(6) Jake Matthews, OT||A-|
|Baltimore Ravens||(17) C.J. Mosley, ILB||B+|
|Buffalo Bills||(4) Sammy Watkins, WR||B|
|Carolina Panthers||(28) Kelvin Benjamin, WR||B-|
|Chicago Bears||(14) Kyle Fuller, CB||B|
|Cincinnati Bengals||(24) Darqueze Dennard, CB||B+|
|Cleveland Browns||(8) Justin Gilbert, CB; (22) Johnny Manziel, QB||A+|
|Dallas Cowboys||(16) Zack Martin, OT||B+|
|Denver Broncos||(31) Bradley Roby, CB||A-|
|Detroit Lions||(10) Eric Ebron, TE||B|
|Green Bay Packers||(21) Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, FS||A|
|Houston Texans||(1) Jadeveon Clowney, DE||A+|
|Indianapolis Colts||No selections||n/a|
|Jacksonville Jaguars||(3) Blake Bortles, QB||B-|
|Kansas City Chiefs||(23) Dee Ford, DE||C+|
|Miami Dolphins||(19) Ja'Wuan James, OT||C-|
|Minnesota Vikings||(9) Anthony Barr, OLB; (32) Teddy Bridgewater, QB||B+|
|New England Patriots||(29) Dominique Easley, DT||C|
|New Orleans Saints||(20) Brandin Cooks, WR||A|
|New York Giants||(12) Odell Beckham, WR||B|
|New York Jets||(18) Calvin Pryor, FS||B+|
|Oakland Raiders||(5) Khalil Mack, OLB||A|
|Philadelphia Eagles||(26) Marcus Smith, DE||C-|
|Pittsburgh Steelers||(15) Ryan Shazier, OLB||B-|
|San Diego Chargers||(25) Jason Verrett, CB||A-|
|San Francisco 49ers||(30) Jimmie Ward, SS||B|
|Seattle Seahawks||No selections||n/a|
|St. Louis Rams||(2) Greg Robinson, OT; (13) Aaron Donald, DT||A+|
|Tampa Bay Buccaneers||(7) Mike Evans, WR||B+|
|Tennessee Titans||(11) Taylor Lewan, OT||B|
|Washington Redskins||No selections||n/a|
Picks via NFL.com
Most Questionable Choices
Ja'Wuan James to Miami Dolphins
Offensive line was certainly among the Dolphins' top needs heading into the draft. Ryan Tannehill was sacked 58 times last season, which were 10 more than any other quarterback. Football Outsiders ranked the group 28th in run blocking and 30th in pass protection.
Unfortunately for Miami, the top four offensive line prospects were all off the board by the time the No. 19 overall pick came up. It forced the front office to decide between reaching for James early to fill the need or going in another direction and hoping that a serviceable lineman would be available in Round 2.
The Dolphins decided to take a chance on James. Though he's a solid overall prospect, his college career didn't suggest he was a major building block up front. Omar Kelly of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel remarked that the Tennessee product lacked the mean streak he likes to see:
I spent all morning watching Ja'Wuan James. I would have never fallen in love. He's not nasty enough for me. But I can see why Miami did— Omar Kelly (@OmarKelly) May 9, 2014
James seems like a player who should have come off the board in the second or third round: somebody who could serve reliably in a reserve role before potentially earning a starting spot down the line. The Dolphins clearly have higher expectations, and that creates a risky pick.
Marcus Smith to Philadelphia Eagles
Adding a pass-rusher at some point during the first few rounds was definitely on the to-do list for the Eagles. Doing it right away was a surprise, however. They have bigger needs in the secondary, and Smith seemed like a prospect who might have been available in Round 2.
The Louisville star enjoyed a breakout senior season. He tallied 42 total tackles and 14.5 sacks, which was more than his production over the previous two seasons combined. Apparently, the Eagles saw enough to believe the major uptick is sustainable.
Joseph Santoliquito of CBS Philly passed along comments from Smith shortly after the surprising pick was announced. The defensive end admitted he has things to improve in order to shine in the NFL but was optimistic about the future:
I really think I haven't reached my full potential yet. I know I have a lot of stuff to work on, and once I get around the right people, especially the ones that can teach me the things that I need to know, I think I can be the player that I want to be.
If Smith can pick up where he left off during his strong final season at Louisville, the Eagles will fill a void. That said, they probably could have received greater value by addressing the defensive backfield first and then grabbing a pass-rusher in the second round.
Dominique Easley to New England Patriots
Easley is an interesting case because if a team had drafted him in the late second round or some point in the third, it would have been praised. That's because he's a prototypical boom-or-bust prospect after serious injuries to both knees.
Which team deserves the lowest grade for Round 1?
There's no doubting his talent—or at least the talent he displayed before the second injury. He's a defensive lineman who is capable of wreaking havoc on the interior or shifting out to the edge, depending on the scheme. It always comes back to the caveat "if he's healthy," though.
If he arrives in New England, enters his rookie season at 100 percent and avoids any further major injuries, the criticism surrounding the pick will quickly fade. But early judgment must be based on the full picture, and his is murky.
Given the Patriots' sustained success over the past decade, they usually deserve the benefit of a doubt when it comes to questionable picks. In this case, using a first-round pick on a player who carries so much risk could turn into a key swing and a miss.