The lights are off and Radio City Music Hall is empty. It was said by most analysts that this year’s draft was one of the best and deepest in the history of the National Football League. The 2014 NFL Draft provided drama and excitement. Fans witnessed Johnny Manziel falling to the 22nd pick in the first round, Minnesota drafting Teddy Bridgewater late in the first round and a bevy of trades throughout the event.
Despite the madness, most teams did address the needs they had going into the draft. Here is a list of teams that excelled in the draft.
St. Louis Rams
Draft Grade: A+
Head Coach: Jeff Fisher
Players Selected: Greg Robinson, Aaron Donald, Lamarcus Joyner, Tre Mason, Mo Alexander, E.J. Gaines, Garrett Gilbert, Mitchell Van Dyk, C.B. Bryant, Michael Sam and Demetrius Rhaney
Summary: St. Louis finished 7-9 (last in the NFC West) in 2013. The future for the Rams looks bright, especially with the pieces they drafted. St. Louis was 19th in the league last season in rushing (109.5 yards per game). With Greg Robinson, those numbers will improve. Robinson is an exceptional run blocker. He needs to work on being a better pass blocker. Sam Bradford was on the ground a lot last season. In order for the Rams to have success, the offensive line must keep him upright. Having Tre Mason provides Zac Stacy with help. Stacy rushed for 973 yards and seven touchdowns in 2013. Mason has the combination of power and speed along with good vision. St. Louis already had a dominant defensive line with Chris Long, Michael Brockers and Robert Quinn, but with the additions of Aaron Donald and Michael Sam, it’s going to be even better. The Rams were ninth in pass defense (242.1 yards per game) last season. Drafting E.J. Gains, C.B. Bryant and Mo Alexander will boost the secondary even further.
Draft Grade: A+
Head Coach: Bill O’Brien
Players Selected: Jadeveon Clowney, Louis Nix III, Jeoffrey Pagan, Tom Savage, Alfred Blue, Jay Prosch, Xavier Su’a-Filo, C.J. Fiedorowicz, Dre Hal and Lonnie Ballentine
Summary: Houston was 2-14 in 2013 and hired Bill O’Brien as its new head coach. J.J. Watt had 10.5 sacks last season, but he will have help in 2014. Jadeveon Clowney, Louis Nix III and Jeoffrey Pagan know how to get to the quarterback. All three guys can stop the run and display leadership qualities in the locker room. With Matt Schaub in Oakland, Tom Savage will compete against Case Keenum, Ryan Fitzpatrick and T.J. Yates for the starting job. Savage has a strong arm and good footwork in the pocket. Arian Foster struggled in 2013, rushing for just 542 yards and one touchdown due to a back injury. Alfred Blue provides the Texans with a good one-two punch at the running back position.
Draft Grade: A+
Head Coach: Gus Bradley
Players Selected: Blake Bortles, Marqise Lee, Allen Robinson, Storm Johnson, Chris Smith, Telvin Smith, Aaron Colvin, Brandon Linder and Luke Bowanko
Summary: Under owner Shahid Khan and general manager David Caldwell, Jacksonville put together one of its finest drafts in years. The Jaguars have their future quarterback in Blake Bortles. Bortles draws a lot of comparisons to Ben Roethlisberger. Bortles is 6’5” 232 pounds. He has a strong arm and is mobile in the pocket. He will compete against Chad Henne for the starting job (although early reports hint at possibly sitting Bortles for a season). Maurice Jones-Drew is in Oakland, which means Storm Johnson will have a chance to get playing time at running back. Johnson rushed for 1,139 yards and 14 touchdowns for Central Florida in 2013. He is elusive in the hole and uses his vision to set up cutback lanes. Jacksonville needed play-making receivers to compete in the AFC South. Marqise Lee and Allen Robinson fit the bill. Both guys have size, speed and hands. Lee and Robinson are good route runners with great leaping abilities. The Jaguars struggled against the run (131.8 yards per game) last season. Chris Smith and Telvin Smith will look to improve that statistic in 2014. Both guys excel at stopping the run and generate pressure on the quarterback as well.
Draft Grade: A
Head Coach: Marc Trestman
Players Selected: Ego Ferguson, Will Sutton, Ka’Deem Carey, Brock Vereen, David Fales, Pat O’Donnell and Charles Leno
Summary: Chicago is known for its toughness on defense. The Bears got back to that mentality in the draft. Chicago finished last in the league in rush defense (161.4 yards per game) in 2013. Drafting Ego Ferguson and Will Sutton fixes that problem. Both guys are strong, interior defensive lineman that can fill gaps and stop the run. Ferguson has a quick first step and is a pure pass rusher. Sutton can generate pressure too; however, he has to be more consistent. The Bears were 16th in rush offense (114.3 yards per game) last season. Matt Forte recorded 1,339 yards and nine touchdowns. Kadeem Carey will spell him some carries next season. Carey is a tough, downhill runner. He isn’t a burner, but he does have deceptive speed and good vision. Chicago finished 15th in pass defense (233.1 yards per game) in 2013, and Kyle Fuller, a physical cornerback, will look to change that next season. He knows how to play the ball and can deliver hits on receivers and running backs.
Draft Grade: A
Head Coach: John Harbaugh
Players Selected: CJ Mosley, Timmy Jernigan, Terrence Brooks, Crockett Gillmore, Brent Urban, Lorenzo Taliaferro, John Urschel, Keith Wenning and Michael Campanaro
Summary: General Manager Ozzie Newsome continues to bring in Alabama players. CJ Mosley is the newest Tide player in Baltimore alongside Courtney Upshaw and Terrence Cody. Mosley isn’t a pass rush specialist, but he’s an instinctive linebacker. Terrell Suggs, Upshaw and Daryl Smith are pass rush linebackers. Mosley’s job will be to help in run support as well as cover running backs and receivers. Timmy Jernigan will join forces with Kapron Lewis-Moore, Haloit Ngata, Chris Canty and Terrence Cody on the defensive line. Jernigan is a superb run stopper who excelled on Florida State’s national championship defense. Crockett Gillmore is a great blocker with soft hands who can provide Joe Flacco a security blanket.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Draft Grade: A
Head Coach: Lovie Smith
Players Selected: Mike Evans, Austin Seferian-Jenkins, Charles Sims, Kadeem Edwards, Kevin Pamphile and Robert Herron
Summary: Tampa Bay has Vincent Jackson, but with Mike Evans and Austin Seferian-Jenkins, Josh McCown has more weapons on the field. Both Evans and Jenkins have size and hands. The Buccaneers have a stable of backs, including Doug Martin and Jeff Demps; Charles Sims will complement them well. Sims rushed for 1,095 yards and 11 touchdowns at West Virginia in 2013.
Draft Grade: A
Head Coach: Dennis Allen
Players Selected: Khalil Mack, Derek Carr, Gabe Jackson, Justin Ellis, Keith McGill, T.J. Carrie, Shelby Harris and Jonathan Dowling
Summary: Like Jacksonville and Cleveland, Oakland is tired of being a floor mat in the AFC. The Raiders were 13th in rush defense (107.9 yards per game) in 2013, and Khalil Mack will help improve the unit, as he does a good job of shooting gaps and stopping the run. Oakland has a talented crop of receivers, including Greg Jennings, James Jones and Greg Little. Derek Carr will battle Matt Schaub for the job. Carr passed for 5,082 yards and 50 touchdowns at Fresno State last season. Gabe Jackson is light on his feet, a superb run and pass blocker, and will surely be an asset for the silver and black.
Draft Grade: B
Head Coach: Mike Pettine
Players Selected: Johnny Manziel, Justin Gilbert, Joel Bitonio, Chris Kirksey, Terrence West and Pierre Desir
Summary: Aside from the Josh Gordon distractions, Cleveland put together a solid draft. The Browns got a quarterback in Johnny Manziel. He’s a nightmare for traditionalists with his style of play; however, he captivates fans and is atop the standings of early jersey sales. Cleveland wants to be relevant again and with Manziel it will. Manziel will battle Brian Hoyer, Connor Shaw, Tyler Thigpen and Alex Tanney for the job. Cleveland was 8th in pass defense (221.1 yards per game) last defense, but with the addition of Justin Gilbert, the Browns will have a tougher secondary. Gilbert will learn under Joe Haden and Donte Whitner. Cleveland has Nate Burleson, Earl Bennett, and Miles Austin, but they didn’t draft a receiver. Gordon’s off the field issues will likely cost him playing time and the Browns needed a vertical threat for Manziel.
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