NFL Stock Watch: Which Teams Are Rising and Falling Post Draft

Andrew GardaFeatured ColumnistMay 13, 2014

NFL Stock Watch: Which Teams Are Rising and Falling Post Draft

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    Jamie Herrmann/Associated Press

    While we know that we can't really judge a draft—or an offseason—before anyone steps on the field, we can take a look at how things look on paper.

    On paper, teams improved or fell apart. On paper, we can judge whether a team addressed its needs or went in a different direction. On paper, we can discuss whether any of the decisions made in the last week were right or wrong.

    Based on what happened in the draft, which teams are rising and which are falling?

    Let's take a look.

Rising: New York Jets

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    With the exception of the somewhat befuddling Dexter McDougle pick in the third (CBSSports.com had him projected as going in Round 6), the Jets did a great job filling holes and improving.

    They have long needed an answer for free safety, and got one with the hard-hitting Calvin Pryor. In his review of the pick, NFL Network’s Mike Mayock called him “maybe the most fearless defensive back I saw on tape this year.”

    He’ll help firm up the middle of the field where receivers tend to make plays that the Jets, normally, can’t stop.

    Jace Amaro is going to be more of a receiver than a classic tight end, lining up most often in the slot at Texas Tech, and can line up wide as well. He’s an athletic weapon for Geno Smith or Mike Vick and a big help to the offense.

    McDougle was a surprise pick, but he’s fast and a great tackler who dropped because of injury and size issues. He could be a nice fit for Rex Ryan’s defense even if they grabbed him early.

    The Jets didn’t stop with Amaro for weapons either, adding three receivers in a class so deep teams got talent two rounds past where one normally might. Jalen Saunders is a very physical receiver who can work out of the slot, Shaq Evans has good height and can extend to pluck the ball from the air, as can Quincy Enunwa, who also shows tremendous field awareness.

    The Jets also added depth on both offensive and defensive line as well as at linebacker.

    The receiving targets immediately upgrade a group which the team hadn’t done much with aside from signing Eric Decker. Smith/Vick have a much better set of weapons this year and a better chance of success.

    Both defensive backs will also have an impact pretty quickly, especially Pryor. The safeties have been an issue for the Jets and he changes that instantly.

    The Jets have a long road ahead to catch the better teams in the AFC, but this past weekend was a great start.

Falling: Carolina Panthers

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    While the Carolina Panthers were a surprise contender in 2013, they look very shaky to me this season.

    This offseason has seen them lose most of their wide receivers, but it was a position they did almost nothing with despite the deep class. Reaction to the selection of Kelvin Benjamin seems to have been both bad and good, though it was surprising with Marqise Lee still on the board.

    Still, even if you like Benjamin, you have to wonder why they never dipped their toes in again.

    Overall, it was a fine draft—Kony Ealy is a great pick (though where will he fit?), Trai Turner is a great run-blocking guard and Tre Boston will be a nice addition to the safety position.

    Still, it doesn’t feel like they did enough to help quarterback Cam Newton.

    Maybe the plan is to run the ball a ton and rely on their defense. That could work.

    But they may be missing Steve Smith a lot in key moments, and they didn’t replace him from a class of very good receivers.

Rising: Jacksonville Jaguars

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    Sure, we were all a little surprised that their pick was Blake Bortles.

    Given that he was a first overall pick choice in some mock drafts throughout the process, it really shouldn’t have been a surprise though, and it certainly wasn’t a reach.

    It was interesting how the Browns and Jaguars—both in similar situations where they were going to be without their top wideout for 2014—approached things very differently.

    We’ll talk about Cleveland more in a bit, but the Jaguars are definitely looking long-term when it comes to Blackmon. And by that I mean it’s clear they are not going to rely on him.

    After Bortles, the next two picks were both wide receivers—Marqise Lee and Allen Robinson both bring different things to the offense and will be just hitting their stride when Bortles takes over (assuming the plan to sit Bortles for a year happens).

    They also added some nice value on the defensive side of the ball, including Aaron Colvin, a cornerback who might have gone in the second or third round had he not injured his knee in Mobile at the Senior Bowl.

    Are the Jaguars going to dominate the AFC South this year? Probably not, but if this draft pans out the way it might, they will be contenders soon enough.

Falling: Kansas City Chiefs

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    The team lost Branden Albert and Jon Asamoah, and while I love Eric Fisher, they’re going to have a hard time on the offensive line.

    That didn’t change post-draft, as they didn’t address the line until Round 6, where they selected guard Zach Fulton and tackle Laurent Duvernay-Tardif. One imagines they won’t expect either to start this year.

    Like the Panthers, the Chiefs needed some wide receiver help and didn’t dip into the deep receiver class, nor did they attempt to get any tight end help.

    They did grab Oregon running back De’Anthony Thomas, who can fill the departed Dexter McCluster’s role, but was this a great need?

    You can’t argue with the selection of Dee Ford, as he could take over for the overweight Tamba Hali, but it was a long way to go before their next pick in the third round, so grabbing an offensive lineman or top receiver instead might have served them better.

    The Chiefs had to get better to keep up with the Denver Broncos and stay ahead of the Oakland Raiders and San Diego Chargers.

    It’s hard to see where they did that during this offseason or draft.

Rising: Houston Texans

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    There’s so much to like about the Houston Texans’ draft and how it helped improve the team, I am willing to overlook the fact that I believe they waited too long to address the quarterback position.

    We all know I’m not Tom Savage’s biggest fan, but that was chiefly because people insisted he could go in the first two rounds.

    In the fourth round, I am much more comfortable with him. His big arm fits with Bill O’Brien’s scheme, and while it will take time for him to really show he can take over, the risk (to me) is low given where they grabbed him.

    Plus, how can you dislike any quarterback who has Andre Johnson and DeAndre Hopkins, behind that offensive line and with Arian Foster running the ball?

    I’d feel better if the starter wasn’t Ryan Fitzpatrick though.

    The defense was already insanely good (last year notwithstanding), but you can’t help but salivate when you think about first pick Jadeveon Clowney lining up opposite J.J. Watt (albeit potentially at outside linebacker). If Brian Cushing is healthy and Whitney Mercilus improves, this is a scary group.

    Adding defensive tackle Louis Nix in the third was a great bit of luck as well, and while they might want him to trim down a bit, he can be a physical presence in the middle of the field.

    Xavier Su’a-Filo was one of the top guards in the draft and makes an already good line better, a necessity with the quarterbacks they have. C.J. Fiedorowicz is a guy who is a great blocker but is also athletic enough to get down the field and make plays after the catch.

    The Texans also added depth to the secondary and backfield.

    Overall, the Texans’ 2013 season was a bit of an aberration, but there were flaws. While quarterback is still a question mark, I believe they addressed enough of everything else for it to be overcome.

Falling: San Diego Chargers

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    I love the first pick of Jason Verrett, as the team has left Eric Weddle all by his lonesome in the secondary for too long.

    After that though?

    I like Jeremiah Attaochu, but I’m not sure I like the trade up. Plus, he tends to get knocked around too much at the point of attack and moved when a tackle gets his hands on him. He can get stronger, but his impact might be a while in coming.

    They waited quite awhile to address the middle of their defense, and it felt like they “settled” for Ryan Carrethers because of it.

    It wasn’t a horrible draft by any means, but this is a tough division and, like the Kansas City Chiefs, I’m not sure they did enough to stay in the hunt for the division title.

Rising: Atlanta Falcons

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    While you might say the Falcons just had an off year in 2013—and you’d be right—it’s also true that their problems would have been there even if the season didn’t go off the rails.

    While they paid Sam Baker like a left tackle, he hasn’t played like one and was hurt last year. Adding Jake Matthews with their first pick gives them two options.

    First they can see if Baker finally lives up the contract, leave him at left and slide Matthews in at right, with the understanding that he could end up at left tackle if Baker doesn’t.

    Or they can move Baker to right (where I think he fits better) and slide Matthews in at left.

    Either way, they drafted a guy I felt was the best tackle in the class and the line is much better for it.

    They also went hard after defensive players, both in early picks (with Ra’Shede Hageman) and later with quality picks in Yawin Smallwood and Tyler Starr in the final round.

    The Falcons didn’t address tight end in any meaningful way, but overall, this is a team which improved, filling holes they had with quality players.

    Hageman will be a disruptive force in place of Paul Soliai when the veteran needs a breather and be able to take advantage of Tyson Jackson on the left side. A lot of the pass-rushers they got late will have to compete, but each of them has the upside to contribute early.

    Atlanta was probably going to bounce back anyway, but after this past weekend, they got way better and assured that they will be contending for the NFC South crown again.

Falling: Washington

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    Not having that first-round pick really hurt this draft.

    The team was desperate for help in the secondary after the way it folded last season, but they missed out on the talent in the first round.

    That was compounded by the decision to trade all the way back from the No. 34 pick to the No. 47 pick, costing them cornerback Lamarcus Joyner and then, with multiple solid corners on the board, they took Trent Murphy, who was a good college player but is more of a tweener who neither has the speed to pressure the edge or the muscle to clog the inside.

    It’s not a bad pick, it just wasn’t all that good and the value wasn’t there.

    Morgan Moses was a great pick in the third, and Lache Seastrunk is a nice depth pick, but ultimately, I don’t see where this team got better than they were on Wednesday.

    We shall see.

Rising: Minnesota Vikings

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    It would have been interesting to see what might have happened with Houston’s second-round pick had the Minnesota Vikings not been there to grab Teddy Bridgewater by trading with the Seattle Seahawks for the last pick of the first round. Or how much Bridgewater might have slid.

    For the second year in a row, GM Rick Spielman aggressively went after the guy they wanted late in the first round. Teddy Bridgewater was the most pro-ready quarterback in the class, and while he will compete with Matt Cassel and Christian Ponder in training camp, it’s hard to imagine him anywhere on the bench next season.

    Put him in an offense with the receivers they have, Adrian Peterson in the backfield and a solid offensive line and Bridgewater looks poised to succeed.

    Outside linebacker Anthony Barr is a player who is still a bit raw, and I can understand if you disliked how early he went, but head coach Mike Zimmer has a knack for getting everything out of a defensive player.

    Barr, defensive end Scott Crichton, Brandon Watts and Shamar Stephen were all solid picks who will help improve the defense this season, though Barr is likely to have the biggest, quickest impact.

    The Vikings did an excellent job of filling some holes and getting not just early-impact players, but quality depth too.

    In the tough NFC North, they had to get those to stay relevant, and it sure looks like they did.

Falling: Tennessee Titans

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    Tennessee is another team where it’s tough to see what the game plan was.

    After signing Michael Oher to a four-year, $20 million contract (with $9.5 million guaranteed, according to NFL.com’s Chris Wesseling) and with Michael Roos on the left, why waste the No. 11 overall pick on Taylor Lewan? Where does he fit in the plan?

    Lewan has the ability to be the top tackle in this draft class, but his off-field issues make him a bit of a risk. But selecting him means they either wasted money on Oher or they expect a collapse by Roos.

    They might have gotten a steal in Zach Mettenberger, but that’s if he stays healthy and out of trouble. He’s a guy I believe in and a pick I like, but it might be some time before he’s ready.

    And I like Bishop Sankey, but I wouldn’t have taken him as the first back off the board, though he might be the starter this season, given the alternative is an underwhelming Shonn Greene.

    Overall, this was an OK draft, but given the strength of the division, and the moves other teams made, Tennessee is looking at a down year.

    Though if some of the gambles pay off, the future might be brighter than we think.

Push: Cleveland Browns

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    I added a bonus slide because I don’t know what to make of the draft class Cleveland put together.

    In a vacuum, this is a very good group of players, many of which could have an immediate impact.

    Justin Gilbert is a great scheme fit for the Browns and will be a nice match with Joe Haden. Johnny Manziel is an incredibly talented quarterback who, with a bit of seasoning, could be a fantastic.

    Joel Bitonio will step right in at guard (or perhaps right tackle) and make a great line even better. Christian Kirksey is a versatile linebacker who will probably spend a lot of time clogging the middle and keeping an eye on slot receivers.

    While I won’t go as over the top as NFL Network’s Charlie Casserly and say running back Terrance West “is going to beat out Ben Tate to be the starting running back this year,” I will say he has the talent to contribute early on in his career.

    And some were saying Pierre Desir could go in the second round, so the raw cornerback is a great grab in the fourth.

    What bothers me though, and keeps me from saying this team got tremendously better, is what they didn’t draft—a wide receiver.

    Not one, which is surprising considering ESPN.com’s T.J. Quinn and Don Van Natta Jr. have reported that receiver Josh Gordon is facing a year-long suspension.

    And to rub salt in the wound, ESPN’s Ken Sarnoff reported that Nate Burleson broke his arm again.

    As I discussed in the Jacksonville slide, Cleveland approached this issue much differently than Jacksonville did.

    In the most talent-deep receiver class in forever, Cleveland didn’t draft one. In fact, they traded away a pick they could have selected Sammy Watkins with.

    No, the Browns stuck to their board, which was apparently bereft of wide receivers.

    This seems insane to me. A new quarterback, a new system and a guy who, even when he returns, is a bad decision away from being kicked out of the league—but you draft no receivers.

    It seems like a risky way to do business.

    Of course, there is another way to look at it.

    What if they really are determined to sit Johnny Manziel for the first year and, instead of worrying about a receiver for Brian Hoyer, they built up the rest of the team?

    The Browns will have a quite a bit of cap room next year (allowing for an adjustment of the total due to rookie contracts), according to OverTheCap.com. They look to be hovering, as of now, under $100 million in salary total for next year.

    They could make a huge splash in free agency next year, taking advantage of a returning Josh Gordon as well.

    Clearly they have some sort of plan. It’s just not 100 percent obvious what they are doing.

    The draft itself strengthened the roster. The events around the draft weakened it.

    That’s why at the end of the day, I’d give it a push.

     

    Andrew Garda is a member of the Pro Football Writers Association. He is also a member of the fantasy football staff at FootballGuys.com and the NFL writer at CheeseheadTV.com. You can follow him @andrew_garda on Twitter.