With the NFL making the much debated decision to move the opening round of the NFL draft to prime time on Thursday night to gain exposure, it was only fitting that there were a few plot twists that not even the best television writers could come up with. Here is the listing of the draft picks in order, with my commentary following.
1. St. Louis Rams – Sam Bradford, QB Oklahoma
This pick was a given all month leading up to the draft, and only cemented itself after the Rams passed up on an offer for the pick that included troubled QB Ben Rothlisberger from the Steelers. In Bradford, the Rams picked up an elite talent with a penchant for getting bit by the injury bug. In the NFL, he will see hits much harder than the ones that separated his shoulder in college, and hopefully his extra 15 lbs. of muscle will aid in his durability. The Rams ranked 28th in the league last year in passing yards, however it remains to be seen if Bradford is ready to step in right away and start. Bradford does have the advantage that Matt Stafford had last year, that being the team can’t really get any worse. Stafford, however, had Calvin Johnson to throw to, while Bradford’s leading receiving threat is Donnie Avery, who pulled in a paltry 47 balls last year.
2. Detroit Lions – Ndamukong Suh, DT Nebraska
Another no-brainer. Suh clearly showed during the Big 12 championship game why he was the most feared defender in college football last year, harassing Colt McCoy into uncharacteristic mistakes. He will step in right away as a backfield disruption for the opposition, and that is something the Lions desperately need. Detroit gave up a league-high 268 yards per game through the air due to a weak defensive line giving the opposing quarterback all day to throw. Four of the Lions losses came by a touchdown or less last season, and one would figure that if Suh is as good as advertised, he could swing half of those games in the Lions direction. Detroit has two offensive cornerstones in Johnson and Stafford, and Suh should be a giant building block of the defense.
3. Tampa Bay Buccaneers – Gerald McCoy, DT Oklahoma
McCoy made strides during postseason workouts to close the gap that was perceived between himself and Suh, to the point where most experts called it a coin flip over who they would take. Tampa Bay was thrilled to get a player in McCoy at the third pick, as the Rams need for a QB allowed the second highest rated player in the draft to fall to them. The Bucs know a thing or two about franchise defensive linemen, riding Warren Sapp and company to a Super Bowl birth. Tampa Bay ranked dead last in defensive rushing yards given up per game, and on his own McCoy should be able to bring the Bucs up to the upper half of the league.
4. Washington Redskins – Trent Williams, OT Oklahoma
The Oklahoma Sooners sure are making an impression here in the first round with three of the top four picks. Honestly, I won’t spend too much time in this wrap up going over offensive linemen, number one because they are almost always a crapshoot, and secondly because, well frankly, they are boring. That being said, a smart pick for a number of reasons for the Skins. Washington gave up a dreadful 46 sacks last season, and they now have a pretty big investment to protect in Donovan McNabb. And when you are in a division with the pass rushing likes of Dallas and New York, your line better be on their game. Some would have preferred Russel Okung with this pick due to Williams perceived work ethic, but he has all the physical tools to succeed.
5. Kansas City Chiefs – Eric Berry, S Tennessee
Berry was regarded as the best defensive player not named Suh or McCoy in the draft, and if previous first round safeties have shown anything (Ed Reed, Troy Polamalu), it’s that safeties can come in right away and be game changers on defense. Berry is a hard hitter who will leave an impression on any receiver that comes across the middle or running back that he meets in the hole. A playmaker on the ball that should help improve Kansas City’s 28 takeaways last year.
6. Seattle Seahawks – Russell Okung, OT Oklahoma St.
Okung is a bit of a surprise at this pick. With a lack of playmakers at the skill position on Seattle’s roster, and with there being so many skill position players left of the board, they may be going for the safe pick. Okung, according to scouts, will hold his own in pass protection, and should excel at run blocking. But when your quarterback is the oft-injured Matt Hasselback, your running back is aging Julius Jones, and your receiving corp is so thin you brought in Mike Williams (ever thought you would see “Mike Williams” and “thin” in the same sentence?), a player with franchise potential would have been a better pick.
7. Cleveland Browns – Joe Haden, CB Florida
Again, a bit of a surprise here with Jimmy Clausen on the board and the dire outlook of Cleveland’s QB situation. Still, the Browns ranked 29th in the league last year in passing yards given up, and Haden has the athletic skills to develop into a good cover cornerback, and can do some damage on special teams. Haden has the type of speed that is evident on game days, although his combine workouts left some surprised at his 40 yard dash time.
8. Oakland Raiders – Rolando McClain, LB Alabama
Not the “Crazy Al Davis” pick we have come to know and love from the Raiders in recent drafts, but still maybe a bit of a reach for an inside linebacker who isn’t considered an elite prospect. Oakland is looking to improve their run defense, which ranked near the bottom of the league last year. McClain plays well against the run, and can be decent in pass coverage, however he is not considered much of a pass rusher. You have to ask, do the Raiders still buy into JaMarcus Russell, and is that why they passed on taking Clausen here?
9. Buffalo Bills – CJ Spiller, RB Clemson
Widely considered the best running back in this year’s draft, Spiller has homerun abilities, whether it be in the running, passing, or kick return game. I was a bit surprised to see him go to the Bills, considering they have Marshawn Lynch coming back and a capable reserve in Fred Jackson, however Spiller was too enticing for them to pass. I could see Buffalo trading Lynch or Jackson later in the draft to a run-hungry team in exchange for a mid round pick.
10. Jacksonville Jaguars – Tyson Alualu, DT California
The first pick that made me leap from my chair, and not in a good way. When you are watching the draft with fairly knowledgeable college football fans, and the majority of the rooms says “Who!?” it’s a good sign Jacksonville reached for this pick. I understand that the Jags were dead last in the NFL in sacks last year, but with Brandon Graham, Jason Pierre Paul and Derrick Morgan on the board, there were probably safer bets on improving Jacksonville’s pass rush. When the commish, who I’m sure rehearses EVERYTHING, can’t pronounce your name, and Mel Kiper and Todd McShay agree on something, it’s probably a bad omen.
11. San Fransico 49ers – Anthony Davis, OT Rutgers
And Jimmy Clausen just threw up a little in his mouth. The 49ers biggest area of need was probably offensive line, and they did address it with this pick. Davis is another tackle who has off field and work ethic concerns that the draft experts chirp about, but he does have great physical tools needed to be a good pass protector. By the way, why is everyone so surprised with offensive linemen having character flaws? You mean a guy that ballooned to 300 lbs by the time he turned 20 years old doesn’t have self discipline? Could have fooled me…
12. San Diego Chargers – Ryan Mathews, RB Fresno St.
The Chargers jumped up 17 spots in a trade with Miami to select Mathews to give Darren Sproles some help in the running game. Mathews will make a good change of pace back, as he brings the powerful, downhill running style that can really wear out a defense and make Sproles’ explosiveness that much more dangerous against tired defenders. With his strength, he should develop into a solid pass blocker for San Diego.
13. Philadelphia Eagles – Brandon Graham, LB Michigan
In a defense short on pass rushers, the Eagles filled a need here. Graham played most of the time with his hand on the ground as a defensive end at Michigan, however his skill set translates into an outside linebacker in the NFL, and this was only reinforced at his combine and pro day workouts. He won’t wow you with moves, but he is strong enough to be a power pass rusher and run stopper.
14. Seattle Seahawks – Earl Thomas, S Texas
A quick glance at the Seahawks roster only shows two safeties under contract headed in to next season, and don’t bother, you haven’t heard of either of them. So this was a good pick, as Seattle traded up with Denver to this spot with Thomas in mind. Although I was surprised with Seattle’s sixth pick not being spent on an offensive playmaker, a defensive difference maker is suitable at this stage. Although he’s a bit short, he’s a big hitter and above average in coverage.
15. New York Giants – Jason Pierre-Paul, DE South Florida
A freak of an athlete, Pierre-Paul joins an already strong defensive line unit in New York. This pick means all signs point to the Giants trading Osi Umenyiora, who has been not so quietly voicing his displeasure at playing time last year. Pierre-Paul would look nice across the line from Justin Tuck, and would serve well working under great defensive coaching to harness his athletic ability (he was the guy doing 18 backflips in a row at the combine, and although that doesn’t translate to football skills, it was still pretty cool.)
16. Tennessee Titans – Derrick Morgan, DE Georgia Tech
The Titans lost Kyle Vanden Bosch to the Lions in free agency, and felt this pick would best replace his production. Some experts had Morgan as the highest rated pass rusher in the draft class due to his repertoire of moves in route to a quarterback, and the Titans were narrowly missed being the worst pass rush team sack-wise last year. Nice pick, and my pick for defensive rookie of the year.
17. San Fransico 49ers – Mike Iupati, OG Idaho
Hey, our first offensive linemen without character issues! (Seriously, what kind of trouble can you get into in Idaho?) The 49ers traded up again to pick Iupati, and they are building a serious offensive line to protect any potentially decent quarterbacks they may acquire sometime in the future. Scouts say Iupati is sound and athletic enough to be efficient anywhere along the line with some seasoning.
18. Pittsburgh Steelers – Maurkice Pouncey, C Florida
Coming in to the season, who would have thought Tim Tebow’s center would be drafted before him? The Steelers were horrendous in giving up sacks last year, and although much of that had to do with Rothlisberger holding on to the ball too long, he should help out no matter where he ends up along the line, as current center Justin Hartwig still has a few productive years left in him.
19. Atlanta Falcons – Sean Weatherspoon, LB Missouri
Atlanta had an adequate offense last year, however struggled mightily against the pass, giving up 242 yards per game through the air. Weatherspoon should help turn the defense around, as he is a direct pass rusher and strength that placed him at or near the top of the combine drills at his position. Although he will do his part in disrupting an offense through rushing, he has some work to do in pass coverage. Look for him to sub in for obvious pass rushing downs next season, and develop as he goes along.
20. Houston Texans – Kareem Jackson CB Alabama
Some experts say that Jackson is as close to there is to Darrelle Revis in the draft this year as far as being a shut down corner. Houston is an up and coming team with not too many holes, and although their running game is virtually non-existent, the only running back left on the board with first round potential is Jahvid Best, and he may have been too injury prone for the Texans to consider this early. If Jackson translates into a shut down corner, this will give Mario Williams more time to bring down the quarterback.
21. Cincinnati Bengals – Jermaine Gresham, TE Oklahoma
Another Sooner gone in the first round. Gresham lost all of last season to a knee injury, however his workouts proved to teams he was still worthy of a first round pick. Cut from the mold of the big, fast, power-forward style tight end such as Antonio Gates, Gresham will be a useful weapon in a passing game that saw virtually no production from tight ends last year, and should take some pressure off of Chad Ochocinco.
22. Denver Broncos – Demaryius Thomas, WR Georgia Tech
With Brandon Marshall shipped out of town and Eddie Royal coming off of a terrible season, you would assume the Broncos would take a wideout with this pick. Josh McDaniels went with the character guy in Thomas over the receiver most regarded as the most talented in Dez Bryant, but after what he went through with Marshall over the last few seasons, can you blame him? And as we will revisit in a few short picks, the Broncos are mile high on character guys.
23. Green Bay Packers – Brian Bulaga, OT Iowa
The Packers somehow snuck into the playoffs with the worst offensive line in the NFL, giving up 57 sacks last season. This pick should allow Green Bay to shuffle their existing line back to their natural positions and give Aaron Rodgers more time to find his dangerous set of receivers downfield.
24. Dallas Cowboys – Dez Bryant, WR Oklahoma St.
Dallas couldn’t resist leapfrogging Baltimore to snatch the best playmaker left of the board, and maybe the best playmaker to come out of this draft. Once again, those blasted character questions came into play with Bryant, who was suspended for 10 games for lying to NCAA investigators regarding his relationship with Deion Sanders. Bryant is a big, fast receiver with good hands that should compliment breakout star Miles Austin, and the Cowboys hope he can take some pressure off of the drop-prone Roy Williams.
25. Denver Broncos – Tim Tebow, QB Florida
In all my years of obsessing over and studying the NFL draft, I have never seen a player as polarizing as Tim Tebow. You have draft gurus, coaches, and sportswriters saying he will never see the field as an NFL quarterback, and other organizations, such as Denver, who would trade up to spend a first round pick on him while there is so much talent left on the board. The only given is that you will get a character guy who will improve team/fan relations from the moment he puts on the jersey, and that is needed in Denver after McDaniels traded away Jay Cutler and Brandon Marshall in consecutive seasons. Beyond that is anybody’s guess. Will Tebow’s work ethic allow him to perfect an entirely new throwing motion while facing the unfamiliar speed of the NFL? Will he be able to handle taking snaps directly from under center? One thing that is constant, whether it is coming from Tebow supporters or Tebow detractors, is the saying “I wouldn’t bet against him.” Well if I am making a first round pick, that isn’t good enough for me. I would want to take someone that makes me say “I wouldbet on this guy.” I may not bet against Tebow, but I wouldn’t put the mortgage payment on him either.
26. Arizona Cardinals – Dan Williams, DT Tennessee
A big, big boy who has the ideal body style to fill the need for Arizona’s nose tackle position. Arizona ranked 20th in the league in overall defense, so there was a need for a player on that side of the ball, however I was a bit surprised they didn’t go for Jahvid Best to supplement their paltry running game (93 yards per game last season). They also showed a bit of confidence in their quarterback situation of Derek Anderson and Matt Leinert by not going after Clausen or another QB at this spot.
27. New England Patriots – Devin McCourty, CB Rutgers
The Patriots have had a revolving door at the cornerback position in the last few years, and will look to McCourty to solidify the position. McCourty will be a special teams standout and has adequate cover skills, and fills what may have been New England’s biggest need at this time.
28. Miami Dolphins – Jared Odrick, DT Penn St.
A real physical, strong defensive lineman, Odrick never gives up on plays, always going until the whistle blows. Odrick can play multiple positions in Miami’s 3-4 defense, and they could use his versatility after giving up over 24 points per game last season. Miami addressed their other pressing need for a playmaker on the offensive side of the ball by acquiring Brandon Marshall in a trade with the Broncos, which will help in the development of young QB Chad Henne.
29. New York Jets – Kyle Wilson, CB Boise St.
For as much as the experts were going crazy over this pick, I guess I just don’t see it. The Jets already have Darrelle Revis and Antonio Cromartie, two lockdown cornerbacks, to match up against the best receivers in the league. Wilson have the physical skills to be in a class with those guys, and he will end up being a fine defensive back. However, I see this pick as a product of Rex Ryan’s ego, because I think he sees it as he can blitz eight (or even nine guys, as Steve Young suggested) and get away with it. But with the Jets already having the number one ranked defense in the league, and add newly acquired Jason Taylor on top of that, is it possible that something could have been done to help the 31st ranked passing game in the league?
30. Detroit Lions – Jahvid Best, RB California
Most experts agree, and for the most part the combine drills backed it up, that Best and CJ Spiller are neck and neck when it comes to athletic ability. Although Best missed significant time with concussion issues last season, his explosiveness is worth the gamble this late in the first round, as starter Kevin Smith still needs to prove he can return to full strength from ACL surgery last season. Best also has potential to help out the Lions kick return game, which has been dreadful in recent seasons.
31. Indianapolis Colts – Jerry Hughes, LB TCU
Your basic Indianapolis Colts pick. Here is an outside linebacker, maybe a little undersized, however he’s quick, he has a nice package of moves, and a non-stop motor (dang, I went almost the entire article without using the word “motor”). Remind you of maybe Dwight Freeney? When Freeney injured his ankle before the Super Bowl, the Colts had a difficult time getting pressure on Drew Brees, even though Freeney admirably played with a painful injury because he was still the best option. Indianapolis isn’t taking that chance this time around.
32. New Orleans Saints – Patrick Robinson, CB Flordia St.
A very fast, athletic player, Robinson needs some time to develop the smarts needed to start in the NFL. He landed in the perfect situation with the Saints, who have four established cornerbacks who made huge plays in the playoffs, especially in the Super Bowl. Robinson can learn at his own pace while occasionally filling in with the nickle package and playing some special teams.
A big winner from day one would have to be the Lions, who took the consensus number one in Suh and traded up to snag a speedy playmaker in Best. I also think that if Dez Bryant turns out to be another Randy Moss, the Cowboys will come out looking like geniuses by taking a chance on damaged, yet talented goods. I would say that the Jaguars pick of Alualu with the tenth overall pick was a huge reach, and he will need an all-rookie type season to justify the pick with so much talent on the board. Big surprises include Jimmy Clausen being left hanging (someone get that kid a sleeping bag) along with Sergio Kindle not being picked up in the first round with so many teams needing pass rushing. With an exciting, and surprising, day one in the books, your favorite team may have made the difference between reaching the playoffs and an extended vacation next season.