2014 NFL Draft: First round grades

2014 NFL Draft: First round grades
May 9, 2014, 11:15 am
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Jadeveon Clowney (South Carolina) was selected as the number one overall pick in the first round of the 2014 NFL Draft to the Houston Texans at Radio City Music Hall.

(USA Today Sports Images)

1. Houston Texans select: Jadeveon Clowney, DE/LB, South Carolina*

Grade: A

Sometimes... staying still and doing what everyone thinks you're going to do is the best route to go. Houston ends up with the most physically gifted player in the draft, and potentially the most dynamic defensive prospect of the last decade. Pairing him with Brian Cushing and J.J. Watt should give the Texans a foundation for a dominant front-seven. There are still concerns in their secondary, and they still need to find a quarterback for the future. However, they made the smart move with the first pick and in the end, that's what you ask for.


2. St. Louis Rams (f/ WSH) select: Greg Robinson, OT, Auburn*

Grade: A

For months and months, I had the Rams taking an offensive tackle with the second pick. They must've thought hard about taking Sammy Watkins here, but they did take a gamble with Tavon Austin last season. It might be asking too much for them to commit two first round picks in back-to-back years to wide receivers. Robinson has the ability to be a dominant left tackle, and he'll get to anchor the offensive line with Jake Long. Sam Bradford, your time is now, this is your chance to prove you are an NFL starter.


3. Jacksonville Jaguars select: Blake Bortles, QB, Central Florida*

Grade: A-

I didn't think the Jaguars would take Blake Bortles, but I really thought they should. Then draft day comes and they make the move to draft him. This pick makes way too much sense, which is one reason I didn't think the Jaguars would make it. Bortles is a homegrown kid, he's spent his entire life in Florida. He was raised near Orlando, went to college at Central Florida... then consider that physically, he's the most prototypical NFL quarterback prospect in the draft.


4. Buffalo Bills (f/ CLE) select: Sammy Watkins, WR, Clemson*

Grade: A-

Didn't see this one coming... but I've got to commend the Bills, they knew who they wanted to draft and they did what they had to do to get him. Sammy Watkins is easily the most talented receiving option in this year's class. He's fast, he's dynamic and he has great hands. Giving E.J. Manuel a target like Watkins, will only make Manuel better and help the players around them get free to be even more productive.


5. Oakland Raiders select: Khalil Mack, LB, Buffalo

Grade: A-

Making smart picks was the trend at the top of the draft this year. No team really gambled and it showed how many teams were very well prepared. Khalil Mack to the Raiders is a pick that makes all too much sense. I think fans are probably still very worried about their offense, an opportunity to bolster the offensive line or add someone for newly acquired Matt Schaub were priorities atop most fans wish lists. However, how can you argue with the value in taking Mack here? Simply put, he's a tackling machine. Oakland has done a lot to rebuild their defense and this was the icing on the cake.


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

Grade: A

With this pick, Matt Ryan became the happiest man on Earth. Not only does he still have Julio Jones and Roddy White, but now he has a legitimate top talent to block for him. Sam Baker hasn't been terrible, but every team needs two tackles and they lacked a good option at the other end. This move will ultimately allow Baker to move to the right side and Matthews, in time, will take over on the left side. More time for Ryan to work with the talent he has around him will only help turn the Falcons back into the juggernaut they were a few seasons ago.


7. Tampa Bay Buccaneers select: Mike Evans, WR, Texas A&M**

Grade: A

I thought this was one of the easier ones to see coming. After trading away Mike Williams, the Buc's needed to pair someone with Vincent Jackson. Mike Evans is a very different receiver from Jackson, but together they could be one of the more dynamic groups. Jackson, the fast, efficient route runner and Evans, the big, physical, possession receiver. Mike Glennon will get a chance to show he's their man at quarterback. I don't think many people are convinced yet, but with legitimate receivers, he'll have a chance to prove it.


8. Cleveland Browns (f/ MIN) select: Justin Gilbert, CB, Oklahoma State

Grade: B-

Low and behold, the Browns traded down, to trade up one spot and grab a corner. I like Justin Gilbert, even think he was the top corner in this draft... but I'm not sure he was worthy of a top ten selection. Nor do I think cornerback was the top need for the Browns. They made up for this pick a lot later on, but I still think they could've improved their team a lot more with this pick then they ended up doing. Credit to them though, I didn't grade them too harshly, because they obviously targeted Gilbert from the get-go, and they did what they needed to get their guy, AND pick up a future first round pick.


9. Minnesota Vikings (f/ CLE, BUF) select: Anthony Barr, LB, UCLA

Grade: B+

I can see how this pick stumped a lot of Minnesota fans. Our resident Vikings fan, the talented Cory Hepola, was a little perplexed by their selection. I get it, most fans are hoping for the sexy pick, you want the big-name quarterback. Anthony Barr though, is a player that a lot of people will get to know very early in his career. His knack for getting to opposing quarterbacks is truly unique. He's the most physically gifted linebacker in this class, he may not have the numbers of Khalil Mack, but watch his tape, and see how smooth and fast he penetrates through offensive lines. Barr will wreak havoc... and the NFC North needs to begin preparing for him.


10. Detroit Lions select: Eric Ebron, TE, North Carolina*

Grade: C+

Leave it to the Lions to make the first pick I didn't really like. I understand it, I like the idea of pairing Eric Ebron with Calvin Johnson and Golden Tate... I just don't think it's a move that makes Detroit a particularly better football team. They needed to help out their secondary, they've made moves recently to attempt improving the unit, but they weren't successful. Ebron should be a very productive player for the Lions, I just think there were players available that would've helped them a little more.


11. Tennessee Titans select: Taylor Lewan, OT, Michigan*

Grade: A-

Tennessee could've gone a lot of ways with this pick. Jake Locker seemingly on the way out, quarterback would've made sense here. That said, I really like Taylor Lewan, and I really like him going to the Titans. He fits the mold of what Ken Whisenhunt looks for in his offensive linemen and he's got the extra nasty that can set top tier linemen apart. Whether the quarterback is Locker or "TBD", at least he'll have protection now.


12. New York Giants select: Odell Beckham, Jr., LSU, WR*

Grade: C

Another case where I liked the player, but not the pick. The Giants definitely needed to bolster their offense, but I'm not sure a player like Beckham is really who they needed. He's lightning fast, and he'll stretch the field for Eli Manning, but with Rueben Randle and Victor Cruz already on the roster, this pick may have been better spent somewhere else. 


13. St. Louis Rams select: Aaron Donald, DT, Pittsburgh

Grade: B

What a great day for Aaron Donald. He's had one of the best offseasons I've seen a defensive tackle have. A fringe second-third round guy before the Senior bowl, he improved his stock so much that he ended getting selected thirteenth overall. I think the Rams could have taken one of the safeties or wide receivers here, but I don't mind them taking Donald here. On the defensive line, between Robert Quinn and Chris Long... he'll be a force in St. Louis.


14. Chicago Bears select: Kyle Fuller, CB, Virginia Tech

Grade: C+

Apparently some teams had Kyle Fuller much higher than others. That happens, but I didn't think Chicago would take a corner this early. It makes a lot of sense, they used to rely heavily on their secondary, and through age/injury that unit has become somewhat depleted. All that aside, I'm surprised they didn't pick up a defensive lineman here. Aaron Donald was long targetted here, and he went one pick before. Trading down to grab one of the other tackles would have been a smarter move. Fuller will contribute, I'm just not sure he was worthy of a top-15 pick.


15. Pittsburgh Steelers select: Ryan Shazier, LB, Ohio State*

Grade: D+

This was the first pick I simply didn't like. Pittsburgh takes linebackers early and often, we've seen it before, we'll see it again. Ryan Shazier is really fast, and probably graded very high for the Steelers... but this pick should've addressed more of a need. Cornerbacks, defensive linemen, wide receivers were on the board here that would've made a lot of sense. I had Shazier as a fringe first round grade, the 15th overall pick was just too high for him.


16. Dallas Cowboys select: Zack Martin, OT, Notre Dame

Grade: A-

Seven months ago, I had the Cowboys taking Cyrus Kouandjio and a lot of Dallas fans killed me. They had Tyron Smith and apparently, he's the only tackle they'd ever need. With this pick, everyone hoped Dallas would go defense, either a linemen or a linebacker. Both positions would have made sense, but I really like Zack Martin and think this was a fantastic value for Jerry Jones and his Cowboys. Martin's tough, a leader and very consistent. He'll fit into any role that's thrown his way, and now three of the last four years... Dallas has invested into improving it's offensive line.


17. Baltimore Ravens select: C.J. Mosley, LB, Alabama

Grade: A

The Ravens made my favorite pick of the teens by taking C.J. Mosley. They haven't been the same since Ray Lewis retired, and they needed to make a move to bring the linebackers back to where they need them. By no means do I expect Mosley to become Ray Lewis, that's insane, but he's been one heck of a leader during his time at Alabama. He's fundamentally sound, thoroughly understands how to play multiple roles on defense and will help support the rest of the defense.


18. New York Jets select: Calvin Pryor, S, Louisville*

Grade: C+

Sorry, Jets fans. I know this couldn't have been the pick you saw coming. It makes sense, they needed another safety, and Calvin Pryor may very well be a good one. Still, there were some good receivers on the board, and even on the defense, safety wasn't their biggest need. My biggest problem with this draft though was that Ha Ha Clinton-Dix was on the board. Of the two safeties, Clinton-Dix had a higher value, and simply was more productive against way tougher competition.


19. Miami Dolphins select: Ja'Wuan James, OT, Tennessee

Grade: D-

Joe Philbin... what in the world were you thinking here? This was my least favorite pick of the entire first round. I like Ja'Wuan James, but at 19? He had a fringe first round grade, and was mostly envisioned as a mid-second round selection. The value in taking him here was just poor on the Dolphins organization's part. Obviously, they liked him more than most, but either Arizona forced them to take James here, or they really jumped the gun. And if the Cardinals wanted James, shame on both of them for creating a frenzy over a player that should'nt have gone nearly this high. Cyrus Kouandjio and Morgan Moses were both still on the board.


20.  New Orleans Saints (f/ ARI) select: Brandin Cooks, WR, Oregon State*

Grade: B

I have a sense that Saints fans either love or hate this pick. That's really the kind of player Brandin Cooks is, you either buy into what he brings, or you don't value it as much as others. He's incredibly fast, throughout his college career, he was very productive... but he's not a big target, and on a team like the Saints, he will likely be more of a roleplayer than an every down starter. He has the skills to be a gamebreaker though, and the Saints obviously wanted to bring that to their team, enough to move up seven picks to draft him.


21. Green Bay Packers select: Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, S, Alabama*

Grade: A

Some people will look at the quarterbacks later and call those the best value picks in the draft, but truthfully, I think this may have been the most savvy selection made. I did not see Clinton-Dix falling this far down, and the Packers didn't have to make a single move to get the highest rated safety in the draft. Safety has been a big need for them for a long time and with Clinton-Dix they get leadership, skill and experience. Great pick.


22. Cleveland Browns (f/ PHI) select: Johnny Manziel, QB, Texas A&M**

Grade: A

Welcome to Cleveland, Johnny Football! Or Johnny Brown... or whatever they're going to call you there. The Browns ended the long running drama on draft night by moving up to the 22nd pick and taking Johnny Manziel. The brilliant part about this, is they could've taken him at four and no one would've argued with it. At 22, all it cost them was a third round pick and they have their franchise quarterback for the foreseeable future. The defense is set, the offense has a lot of nice pieces... now the Browns are ready to take the next step forward and Manziel's swagger may be exactly what gets them there.

23. Kansas City Chiefs select: Dee Ford, DE/LB, Auburn

Grade: C+

I expected this pick to be offense. Either one of the tight ends or wide receivers, very surprised to see Dee Ford here. I think Dee Ford is going to be good in the NFL, but not sure if the Chiefs really improve by drafting him here. He's skilled at getting after the quarterback, but so are Justin Houston and Tamba Hali. With the modest season by Dwayne Bowe and the lack of overall talent on offense... there were other moves that would've benefitted Kansas City more than this one.

24. Cincinnati Bengals select: Darqueze Dennard, CB, Michigan State

Grade: A-

Cincinnati needed to add a corner and it's like I said earlier with Houston, sometimes staying still and making the logical pick is the best route to go. Darqueze Dennard was the second highest rated corner on most boards and the Bengals manage to draft him at 24. I think he will be able to start for right out of training camp and in time, could develop into a shutdown corner. Great value, a great player... a very good pick for Cincy.


25. San Diego Chargers select: Jason Verrett, CB, TCU

Grade: B

On the counter side of standing still, sometimes you end up with the fourth or fifth rated player at a certain position when you don't move up. The Chargers desperately need to find a number one corner and they were likely praying Darqueze Dennard would fall to them. Jason Verrett is not a terrible consolation prize. He has good speed and makes plays, but he's a little undersized and won't matchup well with a lot of the bigger receivers in the league. He's better than what they have though, and that allows me to give them a fair grade.

26. Philadelphia Eagles (f/ CLE, IND) select: Marcus Smith, DE/LB, Louisville

Grade: C+

I have to think the Eagles were hoping Dee Ford would still be available at this spot. Marcus Smith had a second round grade, and while that doesn't mean he won't be a productive NFL player, it wasn't a great value pick. To Philadelphia's credit, they traded down and picked up a third round pick, so they made moves to make this pick less harshly graded. Despite the value, Smith gives them character, leadership, and a pretty darn good pass-rusher.


27. Arizona Cardinals (f/ NO) select: Deone Bucannon, S, Washington State

Grade: D+

Was safety really the Cardinals top priority entering the draft? Really? I find that hard to believe, but low and behold, they reached a bit to draft Deone Bucannon. He played well at Washington State, he's very athletic and should be able to have a positive impact in their secondary, but let's not act like the Cardinals aren't a team with multiple needs. Safety seemed like a luxury pick, not a neccessity, and Arizona isn't yet in a position to make that sort of selection.

28.  Carolina Panthers select: Kelvin Benjamin, WR, Florida State*

Grade: B+

And we're back to teams that made picks that just made sense! This pick made too much sense for the Panthers. Cam Newton needs SOMEONE to throw to out there... they let Steve Smith go, and I don't know about you, but I don't think Jerricho Cotchery is going to suddenly light the league on fire. Kelvin Benjamin will likely start day one as a starting receiver for them, and his presence at least gives Newton a chance to make some plays.

29. New England Patriots select: Dominique Easley, DT, Florida

Grade: C+

New England made me think pretty hard about this one. Dominque Easley probably would've been drafted much higher if he hadn't torn his ACL last season. He's big, yet fast, and manages to always pressure opposing offenses. There's a lot of concern however, as Easley has had a pretty injury riddled past. If he's healthy, this will prove to be a steal, but it's a pretty big if. With Louis Nix, Ra'Shede Hageman and Stephon Tuitt on the board, I'm not sure this pick will end up being remebered as the smartest. Only time will tell...


30. San Francisco 49ers select: Jimmie Ward, S, Northern Illinois

Grade: C-

Eric Reid worked out pretty well last season, so why not try with another safety this year? I had Ward more highly rated than Deone Bucannon, who went several picks before this one. The Niners biggest need was in their secondary, but I think Bradley Roby would've made more sense here. I don't doubt San Francisco's front office much because it seems like every move they make turns into gold lately, but I'm not sure who they plan on starting at cornerback next season.

31.  Denver Broncos select: Bradley Roby, CB, Ohio State*

Grade: B+

After a lot of turnover, the Denver secondary is hardly recognizable. They lost Champ Bailey, but signed Aqib Talib. They still needed another young corner to groom, and Roby will likely find himself in the nickel role right from jump street. He's fast and physical, that combination should net results for him in the NFL.

32. Minnesota Vikings (f/SEA) select: Teddy Bridgewater, QB, Louisville*

Grade: A

Just when I think you couldn't possibly be any dumber. you go and do something like this... and TOTALLY REDEEM YOURSELF. I'm imagining that's a similar thought to how many of Vikings fans, our dear friend Cory Hepola included, were feeling after Minnesota pulled off this coup. We all knew Teddy Bridgewater was going to fall, but I honestly didn't think it would be this far. At some point, I was confident a team would either trade up, or just take him much earlier. Bridgewater is a very poised young man with a ton of athletic ability. He was incredibly productive at Louisville, and even more impressive was his efficiency. There are doubts about how he'll perform in the pros, but with the 32nd pick, you take gambles like this. 


*Non-Senior   **Redshirt Sophomore