“Pass and stop the pass” was the battle cry in the 2014 NFL Draft. ¶ There were a record nine defensive backs drafted in the first round on Thursday. There were 12 receivers drafted in the first two rounds – also a record. For the first time ever, no running backs were taken in the top 50 picks. ¶ The NFL set a record in 2013 for points per game (46.8) and net passing yards per game (471). Look for all those totals to be threatened again with the receiving talent pouring into the NFL from the college game. ¶ Here’s a capsule review of the draft, including the teams that looked like they did the best and teams that made moves most open to second-guessing. ¶ Reality check: Nobody knows who did the best in the draft, which is why we do not offer grades for each team.
We’re not sold on the QB class of 2014. Here’s our odds of big-time success for the top QB’s taken:
Jacksonville’s Blake Bortles: 45 percent. He needs a full year to improve his footwork. A project.
Cleveland’s Johnny Manziel: 55 percent. A thrilling playmaker. But he’s most comfortable outside the pocket, and his body is thin.
Minnesota’s Teddy Bridgewater: 50 percent. Great college career but not big guy, has small hands and looks iffy handling pressure.
Oakland’s Derek Carr: 45 percent. Like the arm talent. Hopefully he gets hit a lot less than his brother, David.
San Francisco: The rich get richer. The Niners had five picks in the top 100 and seven in the top 130. Safety Jimmy Ward of Northern Illinois has coverage skill and is a versatile DB like Tyrann Mathieu, who starred as a rookie for Arizona last year. The Niners got the top RB in the draft in Ohio State stud Carlos Hyde. The third round brought an immediate starter at center in Southern Cal’s Marcus Martin, Wisconsin linebacker Chris Borland (a Zach Thomas-type) and injured Clemson tackle Brandon Thomas. He may sit out this year, but he schooled the No. 1 overall pick and could be a Pro Bowl guard when he gets healthy. Fourth-round WR Bruce Ellington has time to develop. Meanwhile the WR corps added Stevie Johnson from Buffalo.
St. Louis: The NFC West keeps getting tougher, as the Niners and Rams up the arms race with Super Bowl champion Seattle. The Rams got a future All-Pro tackle in Auburn mauler Greg Robinson at No. 4 and the ideal, penetrating defensive tackle in Pitt’s Aaron Donald at No. 13. Lamarcus Joyner, a good slot corner from Florida State, was the 41st pick. Third-rounder Tre Mason, who broke Bo Jackson’s Auburn rushing record, will be comfortable running behind the big butt of Robinson.
Oakland: The Raiders got a hell-on-wheels edge player in Buffalo’s Khalil Mack at No. 5. They let QB Carr fall to them at No. 36. He has all the tools. Is he tough enough? There’s no way to know at this point, but his arm is excellent. They got road-grader Gabe Jackson, a top-50 player, at No. 81. Like the two fourth-rounders, massive DT Justin Ellis and big long-armed corner Keith McGill, drafted at 115 but who could have gone at 60.
Houston: It’s easy to pick the team with the No. 1 pick on the “good” list. South Carolina defensive end Jadeveon Clowney was the right pick at No. 1. The impressive thing is Houston has a glaring need at quarterback yet did not force the issue. We think the 2014 QB class is going to go down with the 2011 QB class as a disappointment. Houston coach Bill O’Brien apparently agrees. He didn’t take a QB until the fourth round, getting Pitt’s big-armed, one-year wonder, Tom Savage. Before that, Houston took a great guard, a competent tight end and Notre Dame nose tackle Louis Nix, who went 83rd but was worthy of 50th.
Cleveland: The bottom line is the Browns got five players in the top 94, more than any other team. They needed help. In getting Justin Gilbert 10th, coach Mike Pettine now has two outstanding corners (with Joe Haden). Pettine must work hard to build an offense that suits Manziel, but Johnny Football has instincts coming out of his earholes. Tackle Joel Bitonio was a solid second-rounder. We love third-round RB Terrence West of Towson. They didn’t get a receiver, with star Josh Gordon facing a reported suspension.
Atlanta: No. 1 pick Jake Matthews is a 10-year starter. No. 2 pick Ra’Sheed Hageman is an oak tree who will help the soft middle of Atlanta’s defense. Dez Southward is a raw, hybrid safety with a ton of talent. Atlanta got two useful players in the fourth round.
Buffalo: Anybody who watches college football knows Clemson receiver Sammy Watkins is great. Fans will leave the stadium saying, “That guy is why I pay for tickets.” The Bills made good picks in the second, third and fourth. The issue is the cost. Giving up next year’s No. 1 is like pushing all the chips to the middle on EJ Manuel. He showed promise as a rookie. But the 2015 No. 1 was great insurance if Manuel got hurt again or had a sub-par year. Next year’s QB class is going to be good. If Manuel takes a big step forward, then Eric Ebron or Odell Beckham would have helped a lot (granted, not as much as Watkins). It could be a grand-slam home run. But the NFL’s model-drafting teams – Green Bay, Pittsburgh and Baltimore – would not have taken this kind of gamble.
Dallas: Jerry Jones too often trades away picks to move up to get a player he loves. The net result is Dallas’ depth suffers. Dallas was desperate to get a pass rusher and added a good one at No. 34 in DeMarcus Lawrence of Boise. It cost them No. 78. It’s a bad idea to give up picks in a deep draft. Dallas got a good OT in Zack Martin. No problem with them passing on Manziel. But they had only two picks in the top 100.
Indianapolis: The Colts got two fine players in tackle Jack Mewhort and receiver Donte Moncrief. But they had only two picks in the top 165. Last year’s trade of a No. 1 for RB Trent Richardson hurts.
New Orleans: First-round pick Brandin Cooks should put up good numbers in the Saints’ offense, but we’re not sold on big Nebraska corner Stanley Jean-Baptiste. Doesn’t run great. No third-rounder. Fourth-rounder Khairi Fortt can’t seem to stay healthy.
Chicago: First-round pick Kyle Fuller is a quality, physical man cover corner. The next two picks, defensive linemen, are suspect. LSU’s Ego Ferguson is a talent who played inconsistently. Arizona State’s Will Sutton is short and streaky. Don’t love non-elite DTs with an iffy motor. RB Ka’Deem Carey has a lot of miles and question marks on him.
The draft lends itself to the overthinking. Case in point: 40-yard dash times for offensive linemen.
Bills third-round draft pick Cyrus Kouandjio of Alabama ran the slowest 40 time (5.59 seconds) among all offensive linemen at the combine. He had “only” 21 lifts of 225 pounds in the bench press. That tied for the fewest among O-linemen at the combine. WHO CARES?
When does an offensive lineman have to run 40 yards? Does he need to chase down a cornerback who’s returning an interception for a touchdown? It’s one of the most irrelevant stats in sports. Kouandjio’s arms are 35∫ inches long. That’s a stat that matters. As Cordy Glenn has shown, a good athlete with giant arms is a great combination at tackle. Kouandjio had first-round grades from analysts Mike Mayock and Gil Brandt at the NFL.com. As for the bench press, anybody with extra-long arms is going to have a harder time lifting 225 pounds. In fact, some men who do the best in the bench press (remember ex-Bills draftee Leif Larsen?) are short-armed guys who can’t play a lick of football.
Alabama had two more players taken in the first round – linebacker C.J. Mosley and safety Ha Ha Clinton-Dix. That makes 15 first-rounders in the last five years for coach Nick Saban’s program.
The Southeastern Conference still rules. Last year an amazing 32 SEC players went in the first three rounds. This year the number dropped to 23 – out of the top 100. Second best was the Big 10 at 16, followed by the Atlantic Coast at 15.