This year’s crop of running backs in the 2014 NFL Draft isn’t the most impressive group, especially after last year’s class produced some difference makers like Eddie Lacy, Zac Stacy, and Giovani Bernard. But there are some talented players available at that position that should be able to contribute as rookies. Let’s take a look at the top-10 running backs available in this year’s NFL Draft.
10. Terrance West, Towson – Few have heard of West because he went to a small school, but he put up incredible numbers at the FCS level, running for over 2,500 yards and scoring 42 touchdowns in 2013. He doesn’t have a great burst of speed, nor does he get to the edge with ease, but he has good patience, vision, and toughness, and that helps him be productive without having high-end speed or talent, and it gives him a good chance to be an NFL contributor.
9. Devonta Freeman, Florida State – Freeman is a small but durable back that doesn’t shy away from contact. He has some of the quickest feet of any back available, and makes incredibly sharp cuts, which are accentuated by great acceleration, allowing him to run away from defenders. However, he doesn’t project as a starter in the NFL, so he won’t come off the board until the middle rounds.
8. Charles Sims, West Virginia – Sims is one of the most versatile backs in this year’s draft, as he’s an excellent pass catcher and can be utilized on screens just as easily as he’s utilized out of the backfield. Like a lot of West Virginia’s recent skill players, he’s quick, shifty, and has great acceleration. He doesn’t have an ideal body type for a running back, which will keep him from being a team’s primary back, but he’ll be a useful player both on offense and special teams, giving him good value in the middle rounds.
7. Andre Williams, Boston College – Williams had an exceptional senior season, rushing for over 2,000 yards and becoming a Heisman finalist. He’s as big and as physical as they come, which makes him difficult to tackle and allows him to pick up yards after contact. The drawback with Williams is that he’s not that versatile; he doesn’t catch passes out of the backfield and it takes him a while to reach his full speed. There are also questions about his injury history, a player who had five games of over 200 yards last year will be able to contribute to a team in the NFL.
6. Lache Seastrunk, Baylor – Seastrunk was a small but explosive player for a dynamic Baylor offense last season. He’s small, but he’s compact, and he runs low to the ground with great balance, which makes him tough to tackle. Seastrunk doesn’t have the size or durability to be an every-down back, but he’s a phenomenal athlete who will be a threat every time he touches the ball, and whichever team drafts him will find a way to get him a few touches every game.
5. Bishop Sankey, Washington – Sankey is going to be a perfect fit for a team that’s looking to split time evenly between two different running backs. He’s more durable than his size indicates and he’s more than capable of running between the tackles, but he’s better suited to be a changeup back because of his burst of speed, lateral quickness, and jump-cutting ability. Sankey is an all-purpose back that does just about everything well, and while he probably won’t be a feature back in the NFL, he will be a frequent contributor.
4. Jeremy Hill, LSU – Hill had a rather uneven college career because of some off-field issues and a loaded LSU backfield that made it tough to get consistent carries at times. However, he is a potentially dominant runner and one of the best backs in the draft. He is a powerful runner that shows surprising lateral quickness and cutting ability that makes him tough to bring down. He’s also a talented pass catcher for such a big back and looks comfortable catching the ball out of the backfield. He’ll have some questions he’ll have to answer in the NFL, but he has the talent to be a workhorse running back that steamrolls defenses with his power and becomes a feature back.
3. Carlos Hyde, Ohio State – Hyde is a power back with just enough of a burst to get through the line of scrimmage before the gap closes and just enough speed to get to the outside when he needs to. He’s a north-south runner that can take hits and get yards after contact. He won’t fit in with teams that want to spread the field, but there were plenty of power backs playing deep in the playoffs this past season, and Hyde looks like he could quickly join that group of backs.
2. Ka’Deem Carey, Arizona – Carey possesses a lot of the skills frequently seen in feature backs, and he also puts high amounts of energy into each run, fighting for every yard he can get. He’s not afraid to be physical and take on tacklers, but he also has great moves in the open field to blow by defenders. He’s coming off a season in which he had nearly 1,900 yards and 19 touchdowns; he looks like the total package.
1. Tre Mason, Auburn – After helping carry Auburn to the BCS Title Game, Mason’s stock soared all the way to the top spot, albeit in a rather unimpressive collection of running backs. He’s a little small for the position, but he has a strong lower body, which allows him to do everything that bigger backs do. He’s quite reminiscent of Ray Rice when he was coming out of college, and Mason could end up having that kind of impact in the NFL.
As we continue our preview of the NFL draft following the combine this past weekend, we move to the defensive side of the ball, where we’ll look at the top 10 defensive linemen available in this year’s draft.
10. Ra’Shede Hageman, Minnesota – Hageman brings incredible athleticism and size to the interior linemen position. He has an explosive burst that can be tough to stop, as he gets good penetration, especially against the run. However, he remains raw and has a lot to learn about playing football, but his athleticism gives him a high ceiling.
9. Scott Crichton, Oregon State – He’s not the most talented pass rusher in this year’s draft, but he gets the most out of his abilities. Crichton gets good jumps off the line of scrimmage, putting himself in good position to put pressure on the quarterback. He’s solid but unspectacular against the run, and has the chance to be versatile and move to different positions along the defensive line. He won’t be a star, but he looks like a good rotational player that could be the second or third best pass rushing threat on a good defense.
8. Dee Ford, Auburn – Ford is a pure pass rusher, regularly beating tackles with his speed off the edge, while occasionally bull rushing and getting to the quarterback using a quick burst and a high motor. He’s a little small for defensive end, but he uses leverage well to make up for it, even though powerful linemen can push him around. He does struggle against the run, and he may have to move to linebacker in a 3-4 scheme, but in a 4-3 scheme he could be a great option at defensive end in passing situations.
7. Dominique Easley, Florida – Easley fought through injuries during his college career, which hurt his stock some, and on top of the fact that he’s a bit undersized for a defensive lineman in the NFL. However, he has plenty of ability and has one of the quickest bursts off the line of scrimmage of any lineman available. He gets great penetration and is a talented pass rusher, although he’s not quite as productive against the run. Part of Easley’s problem is figuring out where to put him on the field, as he moved around to different places in Florida’s defense, so he has experience playing different position, which could turn out to be an asset. If an NFL team can figure out the right place to put him, he’ll be a productive player for them.
6. Stephon Tuitt, Notre Dame – Tuitt certainly has the size and athleticism NFL teams are looking for along the defensive line. He has surprising quickness for someone his size, and he has the versatility to fit in either a 3-4 or 4-3 scheme. However, he didn’t dominate this past season the way many thought he should, so there are questions about his work ethic and his consistency, which could cause his stock to drop some, even though his upside is quite high.
5. Timmy Jernigan, Florida State – Jernigan moves extremely well for a player his size. He’s a little small for an interior lineman, but he’s strong and capable of taking on multiple blockers. Jernigan is still young, so he’s learning how to play the game while also learning how to use his body. However, he’s good against both the run and pass and he’ll fit most schemes, which will make him a useful player for just about any team out there.
4. Aaron Donald, Pittsburgh – Donald has one of the quickest first steps around, giving him an immediate advantage over his blocker, and once he gets a step on his blocker, he has a great swim move that allows him to get into the backfield and cause havoc. He’s a little undersized, especially when he plays on the interior of the line, but he has a great motor to help make up for it, and he’s capable of moving to the outside and using his quick first step to get around the edge. He may not hold up well against the run in the NFL, but among interior linemen, few are better at getting to the quarterback than Donald.
3. Louis Nix, Notre Dame – Nix is the best interior lineman in the draft. He has the size and the motor that NFL teams covet, not to mention the intelligence and character that they like to see as well. He can learn a few things and make improvements to his technique, which he should be able to do, and he has the size and the talent to become one of the best defensive tackles in the NFL.
2. Kony Ealy, Missouri – Ealy has the speed, technique, and moves to be a top-flight pass rusher, in addition to having the athleticism to move around the field and play different positions, which he did at Missouri. He runs well, has good play recognition, and knows how to put his hands in passing lanes if he can’t get to the quarterback, which is a useful and underrated skill. Ealy isn’t great at defending the run right now, but he has a chance to become an elite pass rusher.
1. Jadeveon Clowney, South Carolina – There should be no doubt that Clowney is the most talented player in the draft. He has freakish athleticism that allows him to terrorize quarterbacks for 60 minutes and forces defenses to account for him on every single snap. He’s more than just a pure pass rusher, as he has good recognition against the run and has the speed to track down running backs. Of course, there are questions about his effort and his maturity, but passing on him is passing on a once-in-a-generation talent, and unless a team has an overwhelming need at quarterback, they’d be crazy to not draft Clowney.
All of the NFL teams looking for help at wide receiver this offseason are in luck, because this year’s draft class is loaded at that position. There are well over a dozen receivers available in the 2014 NFL Draft that could end up being impact players in the NFL. Let’s look at the top 10.
10. Davante Adams, Fresno State – Adams was the beneficiary of having Derek Carr at quarterback, as he racked up over 3,000 yards receiving over the past two seasons. He’s not a game-breaker, but he has good size and is well built, which should turn him into a reliable possession receiver in the NFL. He also tracks the ball well and has good leaping ability, making him a threat in the red zone. He may not be as productive as he was in college, but he will be a frequent contributor in the NFL.
9. Jarvis Landry, LSU – Landry doesn’t have the size or speed that’ll stand out, especially in this draft class, but he has strong hands and knows how to use his body to catch the ball in traffic. He also runs well after the catch and can be tough to tackle. Landry is also not afraid to go across the middle and is a willing to blocker, which means he’s a team player. Without great size or speed he won’t be a star in the NFL, but with an impressive set of hands and a well-rounded skill set, he’ll be a good number-two receiver in the NFL.
8. Brandin Cooks, Oregon State – Cooks is a little small, but he’s an explosive athlete who put up incredible numbers at Oregon State in 2013, with over 1,700 receiving yards and 16 touchdowns. He can be elusive and does a lot of damage after the catch. He’ll struggle against press coverage, but he’s versatile enough to play both outside and in the slot. Cooks could also help out in the return game and would make a great asset to any team despite lacking ideal size for the position.
7. Odell Beckham, LSU – Beckham is another receiver that lacks ideal height, but he has lightning quickness that could make him a big-time playmaker in the NFL, as he’s a nightmare to tackle in open space. He’ll struggle against physical corners in press coverage, but if he doesn’t get knocked down at the line of scrimmage he has the quickness to get open. Beckham also has a lot of room for improvement after just three years of college, and he can be dynamic in the return game due to his elusiveness in space, giving him a chance to be a real difference maker.
6. Jordan Matthews, Vanderbilt – Matthews was arguably the best receiver in the SEC over the past two seasons, which shouldn’t be surprising, as he’s the cousin of Jerry Rice. He’s as well rounded as any receiver in this draft, as he can make plays all over the field with a good combination of size and speed, as well as good hands and route-running skills. He may not become a star, but he could become one of the most steady and reliable wide receivers in the league, as he was a productive college player on a mediocre team and has few weaknesses.
5. Allen Robinson, Penn State – Robinson is one of the best receivers in this draft at getting yards after the catch. He doesn’t have blazing speed, and his route-running abilities could use some improvement, but he has a big body and knows how to put himself in position to catch the ball, and afterwards he can be tough to bring down. He has no problem being physical with defenders, both before and after the catch, which allows him to create big plays. He’s not the most polished receiver available, but he has a high ceiling and the chance to be a versatile playmaker a couple years down the line.
4. Kelvin Benjamin, Florida State – Benjamin has the size that NFL teams covet at wide receiver. He complements that size well with big hands, long arms, and great leaping ability, which will make him a nightmare for opposing defenses in the red zone. On top of that he has good acceleration after he catches the ball and can be difficult to tackle in the open field. He’s far from perfect and far from polished, as he needs to improve his route running and he needs to learn how to use his body to get separation. Outside of being a red zone threat, he may not contribute a lot right away, but he has the potential to grow into an outstanding NFL wide receiver.
3. Mike Evans, Texas A&M – Evans is both big and strong, which means he can bully cornerbacks that play press coverage against him in order to create space. He’s also a monster on 50-50 balls because of his physicality, as well as his exceptional body control and great hands. All that size and weight also makes Evans a tough player to tackle. On the downside, he’s not an exceptional athlete, and he doesn’t have a lot of experience running routes, so there could be a learning curve once he gets to the NFL. However, he has the kind of size and physical presence that can’t be taught, which will make him a red-zone target and a quarterback’s safety valve, and if he can develop the other parts of his game, he could be a special player.
2. Marqise Lee, USC – Pay no attention to the diminished stats his final year in college. The thing to focus on with regards to Lee is his incredible speed, as well as his phenomenal athleticism. He has the speed to force cornerbacks off the line of scrimmage, and that space allows him to wreak havoc collecting yards after the catch. His leaping ability allows him to play bigger than he is, making his lack of size almost a non-issue, especially since he’s so hard to press. One of the few questions with him is his durability taking hits in the NFL, but if he stays on the field he will undoubtedly be a dynamic playmaker.
1. Sammy Watkins, Clemson – Without question, the cream of the crop this year at wide receiver is Watkins. He changes speeds as well as any receiver in the game, and when he needs to he can go from 0 to 60 in an instant. Aside from the mind-blowing athleticism, Watkins runs good routes and has great ball skills. He also has the versatility to line up anywhere on the field, even in the backfield, in addition to being a good kick returner. He has average size and isn’t a physical presence, so he can be tackled, but only if teams are able to catch him, which can be extremely difficult, and makes him the most dynamic offensive playmaker outside the quarterback position to come out of the draft in the last several years, and a near guarantee to be a game-changing playmaker in the NFL.
The NFL Draft is still more than two months away, but it’s never too early to take a look at the players available. That’s especially true of the quarterback position, as a lot of teams are in the market for a quarterback this year. This year’s class isn’t as good as once thought, but it’s still a promising group of signal callers. Let’s check out the top-10 quarterbacks available in this year’s draft:
10. Connor Shaw, South Carolina – Shaw doesn’t have ideal size or arm strength, but he has great mobility that helps him make plays outside the pocket. He had a 26-5 record as a starter in college, and as a senior he threw just one interception, and that’s in the SEC, which is an accomplishment that’s hard to ignore. Shaw looks like an NFL backup, but he’s a leader and one of the toughest quarterbacks around, and those intangibles will help him secure a job in the NFL and give him a shot to become a starter one day.
9. Jimmy Garoppolo, Eastern Illinois – Garoppolo had an impressive college, breaking most of Tony Romo’s school records, albeit against a lower level of competition. He’s actually quite similar to Romo in that he has good but not elite physical abilities, but he has great instincts and timing, which allows him to have success throwing the ball. He’ll have to work on his pocket presence and decision-making, but he has enough arm strength to become an NFL quarterback if he keeps showing good intangibles.
8. David Fales, San Jose State – Fales doesn’t have elite arm strength, but he has great mechanics, good poise, good accuracy, and he’s a coachable player, so he’s a player that’s going to max out on his potential. The things he can improve upon in the NFL, he will, but he doesn’t have the arm strength to throw the ball down field, and he doesn’t always drive the ball on intermediate throws, so he’s going to need to play in an offense that revolves around short throws and quick decisions, but with the right team he can become a viable NFL starter.
7. A.J. McCarron, Alabama – McCarron was plagued with the “game manager” label throughout his college career, but he shouldn’t be blamed for having a lot of good players around him and not needing to play outside himself. He’s not a great athlete, so he’s a pure pocket passer, and he does have some trouble with the deep ball, which isn’t a great combination. However, he has sound mechanics, a high football IQ, and not only does he make good throws, he makes smart throws. McCarron is fringy as a starter in the NFL, but he profiles as an excellent backup, and that can be a useful thing to have.
6. Aaron Murray, Georgia – An ACL injury late in his senior season hurt his stock, and that’s on top of concerns about his height. But he was a four-year starter in the SEC and has excellent passing skills. He has a quick release, good footwork, the ability to drive the ball, and enough mobility to make plays outside the pocket. Some people will see the next Drew Brees when they look at Murray, while others will overlook him based on his height. There’s no guarantee he’ll be a successful NFL quarterback, but there’s no doubt that he deserves a chance to be a starter; he’s earned it with his resume and his impressive skill set.
5. Zach Mettenberger, LSU – Mettenberger has the size and arm strength that NFL teams covet. He didn’t come on until late in his college career, but he showed a lot of improvement during his senior season and could continue that in the NFL. He does have some drawbacks like a lack of mobility and a perceived lack of leadership by the fact that he’s not a vocal player. However, the size and the skills are too much to ignore, especially after a strong senior season, and that should make him a first round pick, possibly a top-15 pick.
4. Johnny Manziel, Texas A&M – It’s going to take a lot of guts to draft Manziel, because he’s such a polarizing player and person. He has a ton of ability and is capable of doing some amazing things, but too much of his game is based on his ability to improvise, which may not translate to the NFL. There are also questions about his size and his ability to stay healthy when he starts taking hits from NFL linemen and linebackers on a regular basis, but his talent is too much to ignore, and should make him a top-10 pick.
3. Derek Carr, Fresno State – Carr is probably more talented than his older brother David, who was once the first overall pick in the draft. He has the arm strength to make all the throws to go along with great accuracy and the ability to read defenses at the line of scrimmage. But despite his great numbers in college, there are concerns about the level of competition he faced. He also struggled when put under pressure, which is a question he’ll have to answer at the next level, especially since he doesn’t have great athleticism, but his arm talent is elite and that makes him one of the top quarterbacks in this class.
2. Blake Bortles, Central Florida – Bortles emerged late in his college career as a viable NFL quarterback and he jumped close to the top. He has an NFL arm and an NFL, as well as the athleticism to pick up yards with his legs that has become increasingly common among quarterbacks in the league. He is still rough around the edges, and a lot of his mechanics could use refinement, but he’s coachable, works hard, and has a high football IQ, so having that combined with an NFL body and arm makes Bortles a good bet in the NFL, even if he isn’t set up for immediate success.
1. Teddy Bridgewater, Louisville – He’s not a slam-dunk for the first overall pick, but he is the best quarterback available. His arm strength isn’t high-end, but he does everything else well. He has good mechanics, he’s good with his fakes, can manipulate defenses with his eyes, makes good reads, and has good accuracy, even when he’s on the run. He’s not a running quarterback, but he’s mobile and isn’t too quick to pull the ball down and run, which can lead to big plays. One of the few concerns about him is his durability, so he’ll need to put on weight in the NFL to hold up for a full season, but he’s the safest bet in this draft to become a quality NFL quarterback capable of leading his team deep into the playoffs.
Today, we wrap our series on undrafted players that have a chance to make an impact in the NFL. Last, but not least, are the defensive backs that didn’t have their names called in New York, but could be playing on Sunday’s this fall and for years to come:
Adrian Bushell – It was a long and strange journey for Bushell during his college years, starting out at Florida, and then going to junior college, before finishing up at Louisville, and it must have been disappointing for him not to get drafted, but that won’t stop him from playing in the NFL. The main knock on him is that he’s a little undersized, but he has good length to help make up for it, as well as fluid hip movements that allow him to keep up with receivers, even on double moves. He also has good ball skills and a knack for swatting balls away. He can play outside, he can cover slot receivers, and he also does well on blitzes, and plays special teams. All that makes him far too valuable not to be a key contributor for many years in the NFL. He signed with the Raiders, which is a good fit, as they need all they help they can get.
Greg Reid – It’s not surprising that Reid went undrafted after missing last season with an ACL tear. Also, getting kicked out of Florida State for off-field issues didn’t help either. Reid’s far from a sure thing, but when he’s healthy he’s talented enough to contribute to an NFL roster. He’s probably the best kick returner in this year’s class outside of Tyrann Mathieu, while his coverage skills are far less questionable than the Honey Badger. His size will prevent him from starting at corner, but as a nickel back that can cover the slot and be a dynamic kick returner, there will be a spot waiting for him in the NFL if he can get healthy and get his act together.
Melvin White – White is one of the bigger cornerbacks in this year’s draft class, which will help him to defend some of the bigger wide outs in the league. He’s also a physical corner, who is a strong tackler and a big hitter. He fits in best with teams that play press coverage, or teams that drop back into zone, as he can cover a large area with his big frame and make bit hits on receivers. If he doesn’t make it as a cornerback in the NFL, a move to safety should be easy to make because he’s such a good tackler, so there will be a spot for him somewhere in the league. White signed with Carolina, who failed to address the needs in their secondary during the draft, so he’s in a good spot at the start of his career, which will help him establish himself as a reliable player for many years.
Robert Lester – How in the world does a three-year starter on Alabama’s defense go undrafted? Somehow that happened to Lester, who clearly has an NFL body, with size, strength, and a lot of range. He does well to control the middle of the field and is opportunistic when it comes to intercepting errant throws. Lester also isn’t shy about coming up into the box to help in the running game or even blitz the quarterback. He also signed with Carolina, so he should have an opportunity to make a roster as a rookie, and compete for a starting spot. He’s had some problems with inconsistency, but he’s been well taught in college and has the body and skill set to be a good NFL safety.
Ray Ray Armstrong – No one really expected Armstrong to get drafted, but almost no safety that got drafted has his physical abilities. He has the kind of size that few NFL safeties have and he can run and hit as well as any current NFL safety. With Armstrong, it’s just a matter of getting him to stay out of trouble and focus on playing football, which is a lot easier said than done. The St. Louis Rams are going to give him a chance, which is actually a smart low-risk high-reward move for them. The Rams drafted T.J. McDonald in the third round, so they aren’t relying on Armstrong to give them anything, but in the event they can get through to him, they’ll have one heck of a player on their hands.
We all know the story of Victor Cruz, as well as countless other wide receivers that were ignored on draft day, but went on to become significant contributors. Here are some wide receivers from this year’s class that went undrafted, but have the skills to be impact players in the NFL.
Da’Rick Rogers – The Buffalo Bills hit the jackpot when they signed Rogers as an undrafted free agent. Rogers has a wealth of character issues to be concerned about, which is why he was kicked off the team at Tennessee and forced to transfer last season, but Rogers has as much talent as any wide receiver that was drafted in the first three rounds of the draft. He has the size and physical attributes that NFL teams drool over, and if he can get his head on straight and put forth effort and dedication, he could become a starting wide receiver in the league for a long time.
Emory Blake – Blake has NFL genes and stood out in college football’s best conference early in his career, but his team lacked a proficient quarterback late in his career, and the lack of production hurt his stock, which caused him to go undrafted. He has enough size to play outside and enough speed to push the defense vertically, as well as the quickness to be used on short passing routes. That skill set will make Blake a useful fourth or fifth receiver if he’s able to play well on special in order to hold a roster spot. He signed with St. Louis, who appears to be overhauling their corps of wide receivers with the drafting of Tavon Austin and Stedman Bailey. Blake is a nice complement to those two receivers, as he can help stretch the field vertically and open up the middle of the field for Austin and Bailey to attack with their speed. This gives Blake an opportunity to not only stay on an NFL roster, but also become an integral part of the Ram’s passing attack.
Alec Lemon – Don’t pay attention to his measurables, just look at his production. Just as he did in high school, all Lemon did in college was catch the ball, breaking Rob Moore’s record for career receptions at Syracuse. He has one of the strongest sets of hands of any wide receiver in this year’s class and will catch anything thrown his way, catching all the close-range fastballs Ryan Nassib threw at him for the past three years. Lemon’s not afraid to go across the middle, which makes him perfect to play the slot position in the NFL. He signed after the draft with the Texans, who have plenty of size on the outside, but need someone to play in the slot, which could make Lemon the perfect fit for them.
Brandon Kaufman – An injury his senior year of high school kept the 6’5’’ Kaufman from playing BCS football and drawing more attention. Even 93 catches for 1,850 yards at Eastern Washington wasn’t enough to get him drafted, but it got him a free agent deal with the Bills, a team that’s in dire need of wide receivers. He’s tall and long with an NFL body, and he knows how to use it in order to catch the football. He’s dangerous in both the red zone and on vertical routes. The things Kaufman lacks like route running are all skills that can be taught by NFL coaches, while Kaufman has a lot of natural ability that can’t be taught, and if he can put the two together he’ll be a starter in the NFL.
Ryan Spadola – Spadola comes from Lehigh and signed with the New York Jets, who could have another Wayne Chrebet on their hands, as Chrebet also came from a small school. He has great pass-catching abilities and a surprising amount of vertical speed. Spadola will probably end up playing the slot, but he has the skills to do a lot of damage from that position and become an impact player.
We spent all last week evaluating the players that were drafted, but there are so many players in the NFL that went undrafted that it’d be foolish not to look at the undrafted players that still have a chance to make it. We’ll start with the quarterbacks, where Tony Romo and Warren Moon are the poster boys for undrafted players. Here’s a look at some of the undrafted quarterbacks that still have a chance to find a home in the NFL.
Tyler Bray – It’s rare that the most talented quarterback in a draft class goes undrafted, but all 32 teams had good reason for passing on Bray, who clearly should have stayed at Tennessee for his senior season, despite a coaching change in Knoxville. Bray has the size and arm strength that NFL teams love, and he’s great at throwing the ball deep, but there are still questions regarding his leadership abilities and his dedication. After going undrafted, Bray signed with Kansas City, which is actually a good situation for him.
Andy Reid has taken far less talented quarterbacks, like A.J. Feely and Kevin Kolb, worked with them and given them a chance to play in the NFL, so he’s definitely a guy that can help to develop Bray. If Bray can improve his work ethic and learn a few things from Reid, then a couple years from now he could be in position to take over for Alex Smith in Kansas City. He has all the talent in the world, but he needs to get it together above the shoulders if he wants to have a career in the NFL.
Matt Scott – Scott going undrafted was a bit of a surprise, as most had him as one of the 10 best quarterbacks available. Nevertheless, he signed with the Jaguars, which may end up being a better outcome for him than getting drafted by someone else. With Blaine Gabbert and Chad Henne as the only other quarterbacks on Jacksonville’s roster heading into the draft, Scott could have a realistic chance to compete to be the starter or backup right away. He has the mobility that NFL teams are beginning to covet and his arm is strong enough to hold up in the league. He has the skills, and in Jacksonville he’ll have the opportunity, and so Scott has as good a chance as any undrafted quarterback in this year’s class to make it in the league.
Jordan Rodgers – Like Scott, Rodgers signed with Jacksonville after the draft, which means he’ll have a fair shot to compete to be the starter or the backup for the 2013 season. He doesn’t have as much talent as his brother, but he has enough arm strength and mobility to draw interest from NFL teams, as will the fact that his brother was a late bloomer, and Jordan could be as well. He was also a key part of Vanderbilt’s miraculous resurrection over the past two years, and that shouldn’t be overlooked. He’s smart, knows how to play the position, and won’t be intimidated by NFL defenses, and that’ll be enough to keep giving him chances in the NFL, even if his first shot with the Jaguars doesn’t work out.
James Vandenberg – The former Iowa quarterback has the skills to hang around the league awhile and carve out a niche for himself as a NFL backup. Vandenberg is a consistent thrower that can make quick decisions and move the ball down field when he gets in a rhythm. He signed with the Vikings, which is a team he might be able to stick with, despite the presence of Matt Cassell and Joe Webb as backups. He won’t impress anybody too much, but he also won’t drive coaches crazy with horrible decision-making and wild inconsistency, and that steadiness could help Vandenberg keep a job in the NFL for several years.
Collin Klein – If Tim Tebow can have success in the NFL, albeit for a brief period of time, why can’t Klein as well? He’s a great athlete and a powerful runner that is also capable of making quality throws in the right situations. If he’s not as stubborn as Tebow, he could consider changing positions and find a team that’s willing to use him as a running back, fullback, and quarterback, and get creative with ways to use him. He was a Heisman finalist, so he can play the game; it’s just a matter of finding the best way to utilize him. He signed with the Raiders, which may not be the best organization for him to go to, but then again, Oakland may be desperate enough to give him a shot at playing quarterback.
Maybe I’m getting a little bit ahead of myself here, but few things are more fun than making predictions for events that are little under a year away in the world of sports. Maybe I’m just ahead of the curve? Whatever the case, I’m going to hypothetically kickstart the newly drafted rookies careers by projecting who will win each of the two annually awarded honours, courtesy of the Associated Press. Not only will I project the winners of the AP Offensive and Defensive Rookie of the Year winners, but I’ll even make up an award of the player I deem most likely to be most valuable to his team on special teams. As a rookie. For a look at these bold predictions take a look down yonder.
Offensive Rookie of the Year: Terrance Williams: Before you get too skeptical of this selection, you have to remember a lot can be said for opportunities. Williams will get no shortage of those in Dallas. Their offense lives, and more frequently, dies by Tony Romo. That means they are bound to throw the football. A lot. Another thing worth mentioning is that Dallas’ receiver depth is a little suspect and all the more shaky when you take into account the fact that Miles Austin is perpetually injured. If Austin does get hurt, and that’s more or less a question of when, Williams becomes the second best option in the passing game. Expect big things from Williams.
Defensive Rookie of the Year: Dion Jordan: Sometimes the obvious pick is the right pick. This one is less obvious than most obvious entities, but by that same token he was the first defensive player taken in the draft. There’s a reason the Dolphins traded up for Jordan. This kid has unreal talent and lining up on the opposite side of Cameron Wake will give him a great chance to show it.
Special Teams Rookie of the Year: Tavon Austin: If you were a little upset about his not getting the offensive rookie of the year award, consider this his consolation prize. Austin is at his best with the football in his hands, and since he’s most likely to be the punt and kick returner for the Rams, he’ll have it in his hands very often. Expect Austin to show up in highlight reels on a nearly weekly basis.
You can follow J.D. Burke: @JDBurkeOV
Yesterday we did the good, and now it’s time for the bad, as we continue to examine last weekend’s NFL Draft. Here are 10 teams, in no particular order that could have done a better job in making their picks:
Chicago – With just six picks, the Bears chose to focus on just a couple of positions instead of trying to spread out their picks to cover a multitude of positions. The additions of Jon Bostic, Khaseem Greene, and Cornelius Washington should make the Bears feel better about the linebacker position without Brian Urlacher around. Also, Kyle Long and Jordan Mills will definitely bolster their offensive line, but their secondary and defensive line needs weren’t addressed at all. They didn’t have a lot of flexibility or a lot of picks to work with, but they had enough to do better than what they ended up doing.
Arizona – The Cardinals wanted an offensive tackle, but when the top three tackles available were all taken off the board prior to their first round selection, they settled for an offensive guard in Jonathan Cooper, and failed to take a tackle later in the draft. But that was just their first problem. Arizona also needed secondary help, but the only defensive back they added was Tyrann Mathieu, a major character risk and at best a slot corner, not a safety like they needed. Kevin Minter and Alex Okaford were nice additions to their defense, and they did address a need with running backs Stepfan Taylor and Andre Ellington, but the offensive line and secondary remain big areas of concern following the draft.
Carolina – The Panthers had just five picks in the draft, and they did not use them wisely with regards to their needs. Carolina did well to address their defensive front, taking Star Lotulelei and Kawann Short in the first two rounds, but their needs in the secondary and at wide receiver went completely ignored. In the late rounds, Carolina ended up with a situational linebacker in A.J. Klein and a change-of-pace running back in Kenjon Barner. Those are two solid players, but not exactly what they needed.
Buffalo – The first round selection of quarterback E.J. Manuel does carry some risk, but that’s not the biggest problem the Bills had during the draft. The quarterback position aside, their defense had a lot more holes to plug coming into the draft than their offense. It would have been nice to see Buffalo focus more on defense early in the draft rather than take a wide receiver in both the second and third rounds, although both receivers taken should improve their offense considerably, especially Robert Woods. Buffalo added a couple players that can help their secondary later in the draft, but nobody that is expected to make a big impact. The Bills also used a sixth round draft pick on a kicker, which is a pick they could have used elsewhere considering all the holes they have to fill.
New England – It may be surprising to see the Patriots on this list, but they did not have a good weekend. New England traded out of the first round and loaded up on middle round draft picks, but they failed to find any impact players in the five picks they had between the second and fourth rounds. Second round pick Jamie Collins is the closest to an impact player the Patriots drafted, but he may not be an every down player in the NFL. Both of the defensive backs out of Rutgers that New England took in the third round were reaches and neither may be able to give them the kind of help at cornerback that they need. Wide receiver Josh Boyce was a nice pick up in the fourth round, but second round wide receiver Aaron Dobson is awfully raw and may not be ready to play in an offense that’s orchestrated by Tom Brady. The Patriots also ignored their offensive line, which is a position they should have addressed with all those middle round picks.
New York Jets – No one should be surprised to see the Jets on this list. They may have gotten their quarterback for the future, but the Jets failed to get any skill players that can help that quarterback make plays. New York did add a few offensive linemen, which should help, especially Brian Winters, who should start right away. However, both of their first round picks were spent on defensive players, which may have been a mistake considering that their offense was a far bigger problem for them last year. They ended up with some good players, but they didn’t address their weaknesses the way they should have, and so there’s no guarantee this draft has made them a significantly better team.
Cleveland – With just five picks, the Browns fell well short of what they needed to do. Barkevious Mingo was too risky of a player to take sixth overall, despite their need for a pass rusher. Cleveland could have bolstered their defense in the secondary or along the defensive line with that pick, instead of taking Mingo, a player with some questions regarding his work ethic and attitude. Cornerback Leon McFadden was a good pick up for them in the third round because they needed a cornerback, but after Mingo and McFadden they didn’t pick again until the 6th round, where there was little chance of finding impact players. In the end, the Browns finished the draft without making significant improvements to their roster.
Tampa Bay – The Bucs sacrificed their first round pick in order to get Darrelle Revis, and then for some reason they decided that they needed to improve their secondary even more in the second round by taking cornerback Johnthan Banks. Tampa’s third round pick was even more questionable, as they took quarterback Mike Glennon. Not only does taking Glennon show a lack of confidence in Josh Freeman, but also it was surprising to see Glennon picked with both Matt Barkley and Ryan Nassib still on the board. Instead of getting another quarterback, Tampa may have been wise to get a wide receiver or tight end that could be a receiving threat for their current quarterback, and the third round would have been the right time to take someone at that position. Defensive tackle Akeem Spence was a good pick up for them, but defensive end William Gholston has a reputation for being inconsistent, so despite a lot of talent he may pan out for them. Without a first round pick, the Buccaneers needed to be more efficient than they were with the picks that they did have.
Dallas – The Cowboys really failed in this draft, starting with first round pick Travis Frederick. Dallas needed help on the offensive line, but they reached too far to get it in the first round when they could have drafted a safety. Instead, they waited until the third round to get a safety, which would have been the place to get an offensive lineman. Tight end Gavin Escobar and wide receiver Terrance Williams will be useful targets for Tony Romo in the passing game, but Dallas could have used those picks in the second and third rounds to address their needs at the line of scrimmage, which is a more pressing need for them than offensive skill players. Not only did the Cowboys fail to address some needs, but they also took the wrong approach when they did attempt to address their needs.
Oakland – There’s a chance the Raiders end up with several quality players from this draft, but they took far too many risks for a team that’s rebuilding and that’s expected to be at the bottom of a bad division this season. D.J. Hayden is a huge medical risk, especially 12th overall; the Raiders needed to make a safer choice in the first round, no matter how much they liked Hayden. Second round pick Menelik Watson has plenty of potential, but he has so little experience playing football that he could have a huge learning curve in the NFL, and there’s a chance he’s never able to catch up. It was also questionable why they drafted quarterback Tyler Wilson, because he’ll need at least a year or two development, the Raiders have Matt Flynn for the time being, and there should be better options in next year’s draft. The safest pick they made was third round linebacker Sio Moore. The Raiders had six picks in the final two rounds, but those players can’t be relied on to be impact players and neither can their early round picks.
So the draft is over and the dust has settled. It was one of the more exciting drafts in recent history, to say the least. A lot of trading up and down and some picks that just came way out of left field made for three days of white knuckle television. For a look at some of the best draft performances in those exciting four days and who in my mind is a winner, take a look below.
Minnesota Vikings: The Vikings found a way to address nearly of all their needs and best of all they did so in the first round. Sharrif Floyd will be an excellent addition to their rotation on the defensive line, Xavier Rhodes will be a week 1 starter and Cordarrelle Patterson could very well become the next Julio Jones. Who needs picks in the second or third round when you have three in the first? Clearly not the Vikings.
Vikings Picks: 23rd Overall DT Sharrif Floyd, 25th Overall CB Xavier Rhodes, 29th Overall WR Cordarrelle Patterson, 120th Overall LB Gerald Hodges, 155th Overall P Jeff Locke, 196th Overall G Jeff Baca, 213th Overall LB Michael Mauti, 214th Overall G Travis Bond, 229th Overall DT Everett Dawkins
St.Louis Rams: The question on everybody’s mind this offseason has been who exactly is Sam Bradford going to throw the ball to after the departure of Brandon Gibson and Danny Amendola in free agency. The trade up and subsequent pick of Tavon Austin with the eighth overall pick was a great start and the addition of Stedman Bailey in the third added even more stability at wide receiver. That they were also able to add Alec Ogletree in the first round makes this draft made their weekend nothing short of amazing. Even in the ultra competitive NFC West I have a hard time not considering the Rams as a threat for a Wild Card spot.
Rams Picks: 8th Overall WR Tavon Austin, 30th Overall LB Alec Ogletree, 71st S T.J. McDonald, 92nd Overall WR Stedman Bailey, 113th C Barrett Jones, 149th Overall CB Brandon McGee, 160th Overall RB Zac Stacy
Green Bay Packers: After losing out on the Stephen Jackson sweepstakes I had to think they were going to target running backs in this year’s draft. That they were able to land the two best ones available in the second and fourth round is just great. The much anticipated addition of Datone Jones will also help the Packers get pressure on the quarterback without relying solely on Clay Mathews.
Packers Picks: 26th Overall DE Datone Jones, 61st Overall RB Eddie Lacy, 109th Overall T David Bakhtiari, 122nd C J.C. Tretter, 125th Overall RB Johnathan Franklin, 159th Overall CB Micah Hyde, 167th Overall DT Josh Boyd, 193rd Overall LB Nate Palmer, 216th Overall WR Charles Johnson, 224th Overall WR Kevin Dorsey, 232nd Overall LB Sam Barrington
San Diego Chargers: With only 6 picks in this year’s draft, the Chargers somehow found a way to address nearly all their needs in a big way. The selection of D.J. Fluker with the 11th pick in the draft is just a little bit of a reach, but he was also the best tackle left on the board. Can’t complain about that pick too much. How Keenan Allen was still available in the third round is beyond me, but good on the Chargers for taking advantage of the situation.
Chargers Picks: 11th Overall T D.J. Fluker, 38th Overall LB Manti Te’o, 76th Overall WR Keenan Allen, 145th Overall CB Steve Williams, 179th Overall LB Tourek Williams, 221st Overall QB Brad Sorensen
You can follow J.D. Burke: @JDBurkeOV