2014 NFL Draft: Top 10
Time will tell the winners of the 2014 NFL Draft, which saw 256 players drafted over more than 15 hours spanning three days. The storylines – and the drama – were plentiful, and below are my Top 10 takeaways following the end of Day 3.
1. Texans coach Bill O’Brien gets his quarterback to develop
Many thought the Texans would target a quarterback in the first few rounds, but O’Brien and the Houston Texans passed on the passers and drafted players that fit other need areas on the roster. But in the fourth round at pick No. 135, the Texans and O’Brien took their quarterback to groom: Pittsburgh’s Tom Savage.
Most know his story, transferring twice and starting only one full season at Pittsburgh with mixed results. He’s built well with a big-time arm and has the prototypical measureables that fits what O’Brien wants for the position. Savage also reportedly was a star when at the white board, impressing teams with his knowledge of X’s and O’s. While the tape is underwhelming, he will get a first class education in quarterbacking in Houston and the player we see in the NFL could be very different than what we saw last fall for the Panthers.
2. Michael Sam finds landing spot in St. Louis
With only eight picks remaining in the draft, the St. Louis Rams selected Sam at No. 249 overall, adding to a defensive line that was already a hot topic from the addition of first rounder Aaron Donald on Thursday.
Whether or not he will be a distraction is something that will play out over the next few months, but based on his football ability, Sam goes to a defensive line that might suit him. Clearly viewed as a sub-package performer, he joins a St. Louis roster that doesn’t have a ton of depth at defensive end behind starters Chris Long and Robert Quinn.
3. Browns continue to add size to secondary, but no WR
With the Josh Gordon situation ongoing, many thought the Cleveland Browns would address the wide receiver position early on day three. But the Browns opted for Lindenwood cornerback Pierre Desir in the fourth round, a player most thought would be a Day 2 pick. And that turned out to be the only pick for the Browns on day three as Cleveland traded its seventh rounder to Baltimore in exchange for a 2015 sixth rounder.
General manager Ray Farmer has known about the Gordon situation and possible suspension for some time, but that didn’t stop him for sticking to the draft board and addressing other needs based on value. The Browns did explore some trade opportunities, targeting Brandin Cooks at one point in the first round, but at the end of the day, a deal didn’t happen and Cleveland didn’t make any wide receiver additions via the draft. Look for Cleveland to make a move, whether sign or trade, for a veteran pass-catcher.
4. San Francisco continues to build depth
With double-digit draft picks entering this weekend, San Francisco was expected to wheel and deal and be active with trades because they didn’t have room on the roster for that many additions. Well, the 49ers had a different strategy, ADDING draft picks and coming away with 12 total players the past three days, including seven on day three: South Carolina wide receiver Bruce Ellington (106 overall), NC State cornerback Dontae Johnson (129), South Florida defensive end Aaron Lynch (150), Florida Atlantic cornerback Keith Reaser (170), SMU cornerback Kenneth Acker (180), Boston College defensive end Kaleb Ramsey (243) an Oklahoma fullback Trey Millard (245)
Lynch is an interesting pick because he arrives in the NFL with character concerns that left many wondering what’s going on upstairs. But his head coach in college, Willie Taggart, has a long relationship with San Francisco head coach Jim Harbaugh, dating back to their Western Kentucky days. So if anyone has an idea of what’s going on with Lynch, who looked like a future top 10 pick at Notre Dame in 2011 before transferring, Taggart filled him in, I’m sure.
5. Deep WR class flexes its muscles, but not a record
An average of 31 wide receivers are drafted each year, but to no surprise, the 2014 class produced 33 draft picks at the position, surpassing the average. After a NFL-record 12 wideouts were selected in the first two rounds, the third day of the draft saw 18 receivers drafted, but not enough to set a new overall record with as many as 34 receivers being drafted as lately as 2007.
Several well-known wide receivers came off the board on the third day, but also some surprise names like Murray State’s Walt Powell (Cardinals, 196) and LSU’s James Wright (Bengals, 239).
6. Raiders quietly have strong draft
On the first two days, the Raiders quietly had a strong haul with Buffalo linebacker Khalil Mack in the first round, Fresno State quarterback Derek Carr in the second and Mississippi State guard Gabe Jackson in the third. And that underrated streak of quality draft picks continued on day three with Oakland’s five picks.
In the fourth round, Louisiana Tech defensive tackle Justin Ellis is a big-bodied player who can stuff the run, but also has surprising quickness to get upfield and rush the passer. He should start as a rookie and could play multiple positions on the defensive line. With the second pick in the fourth round, the Raiders selected Utah cornerback Keith McGill, who is a little older (24) and has been dinged up. But with his height (6-3), length and speed, he can blanket receivers and match up well. Both Ellis and McGill are players who should make an impact quickly in Oakland.
7. Walt Aikens, Kevin Pamphile first two non-Combine players drafted
Every year there are approximately 20 prospects drafted who were not among the 330-plus players invited to the NFL Scouting Combine in Indianapolis. And the 2014 class had a few dozen draft picks who didn’t receive that invitation, but still showed enough to hear their name called on draft weekend, led by Liberty cornerback Walt Aikens (Dolphins, 125 overall) and Purdue offensive tackle Kevin Pamphile (Buccaneers, 149 overall) on day three.
An Illinois transfer, Aikens also played basketball and track at Liberty and starred on the football field, starting 31 games the past three seasons. He has workable traits and appears to have considerable room before he hits his football ceiling. And Pamphile is interesting because he’s a late bloomer – didn’t play football until his senior year in high school and started off on defense before moving to the offensive line as a sophomore. He needs to continue to develop his strength and technique, but the potential is exciting to see where he is a few years from now.
8. Chip Kelly goes back to the Oregon pipeline
In the third round, the Eagles drafted Oregon wide receiver Josh Huff, a player Chip Kelly was very familiar with from his days in Eugene and it was a great fit with what they want to do on offense. And Philadelphia did it again on day three, selecting former Oregon defensive lineman Taylor Hart with the first pick in the fifth round (No. 141 overall).
Just like Huff on offense, Hart is an ideal fit as a two-gapping five-technique defensive end for Philadelphia’s 3-4 scheme. He has some ‘tweener size and dealt with several injuries, but wins with his smarts and hustle that allow him to be disruptive wherever he lines up on the line. Obviously Kelly’s familiarization with the former Ducks helps and after he was drafted, Hart said Kelly called him and said “We’re putting the family back together.”
9. SEC “M” quarterbacks fall out of the top 162
Former SEC quarterbacks Georgia’s Aaron Murray, Alabama’s A.J. McCarron and LSU’s Zach Mettenberger were all viewed as possible second- or third-round picks through last season and much of the NFL Draft process. But all three fell out of the top 100, and it was pick No. 162 before Murray was drafted by the Kansas City Chiefs, followed by McCarron a pick later at No. 163 to the Cincinnati Bengals. Mettenberger fell a few picks more to No. 178, where he was drafted by the Tennessee Titans.
While each tumbled down draft boards, they fell for different reasons. Murray’s lack of NFL size and ideal arm strength limits his pro ceiling, but the intangibles still made him worthy of a pick in the top four rounds. McCarron, who curiously decided to skip the Senior Bowl, has mechanics issues and very average tools, not to mention reports that his interview process was below average. Mettenberger has NFL size and arm talent, but the concrete cleats and off-field worries caused him to slip further than his talent warranted.
10. Jaguars draft defensive Senior Bowl standouts
After a positive first three rounds where the Jaguars revamped the offense with quarterback Blake Bortles and wide receivers Marqise Lee and Allen Robinson, Jacksonville switched gears to the defensive side of the ball and a trio of players that the coaching staff was very familiar with from the Senior Bowl. One of the main advantages of coaching in Mobile is the opportunity to work up close with the seniors on the Senior Bowl teams, and Jacksonville took advantage. With pick No. 114 in the fourth round, the Jaguars drafted Oklahoma cornerback Aaron Colvin, who had his Senior Bowl week cut short due to an ACL injury that might keep him out part of the 2014 NFL season. And then in the fifth round, Jacksonville selected Florida State linebacker Telvin Smith (No. 144 overall) and Arkansas defensive end Chris Smith (159), two picks that fit Gus Bradley’s scheme and were outstanding Day 3 values.