- It became pretty clear on Draft Day Eve that the Chiefs were indeed leaning toward selecting Fisher over Texas A&M OT Luke Joeckel. In reality they couldn’t go wrong either way. The argument for Joeckel was that he had been consistently tested against top competition in the SEC as opposed to Fisher who played in the MAC. However, Fisher was able to answer those questions with a dominant performance at the Senior Bowl then also tested better athletically than Joeckel at the Scouting Combine. Fisher becomes just the third offensive tackle to ever be selected with the top pick in the NFL Draft and the first player from a Mid-American Conference program to go #1 overall. With a new left tackle in the fold Kansas City is now free to trade Branden Albert and recoup the second round pick they misguidedly spent to acquire Alex Smith. Don’t be surprised if Fisher ranks among the very best blindside protectors in the league in short order.
- The Jags are taking some heat for this decision but in a draft that is lacking in terms of elite prospects at the top there is something to be said for going the safe route. Was offensive tackle Jacksonville’s most glaring need? Probably not. With that said there was a big hole at right tackle and Joeckel was the best player on the board. Don’t forget that Eugene Monroe only has one year left on his contract too so this provides some insurance in case he isn’t in the picture long-term. Joeckel will be plugged into the starting lineup immediately and should be a franchise cornerstone for the next decade. The Jaguars desperately need a pass rusher as well after ranking dead-last in the league in sacks last season and I thought Dion Jordan was a perfect fit in new head coach Gus Bradley’s system. B.Y.U. DE Ezekiel Ansah was in the conversation as well. However, there is very little chance that the Jags will look back five years from now and regret this choice.
- When this trade was first announced everyone assumed the Dolphins were moving up for Oklahoma OT Lane Johnson so when Jordan was the pick it was definitely a shock. However, Miami was able to move up at a bargain basement price and only had to surrender one of their second round picks which was about half of retail. Jordan is exactly the type of explosive edge pass rusher the Phins were looking for, with a long frame and freakish athleticism. It will be interesting to see how Miami utilizes Jordan, whether it be at defensive end, outside linebacker or perhaps both. Odds are Jared Odrick will be in the game on early downs and Jordan will come in for obvious passing situations, at least initially. With Cameron Wake and Jordan screaming off the edge the Dolphins will now have a chance when they have to face the Patriots and Tom Brady twice each season. With all that said, I would have either grabbed Johnson or sent that other second rounder to Kansas City for Branden Albert to shore up that all- important left tackle position and protect their young signal caller. After all, Jordan could be the next Lawrence Taylor but it really won’t matter if Ryan Tannehill busts.
- It was difficult to get a read on which direction the Eagles were leaning because new head coach Chip Kelly has no experience or track record in the NFL. However, as I pointed out leading up to the draft one of Philly’s biggest issues last season was the offensive line and despite making a lot of moves in free agency they had yet to add a blocker. As expected Johnson got pushed up into the Top 5 once Fisher and Joeckel went off the board with the top two picks and in time he could be the best of that trio. It’s crazy to think that just five years ago Johnson was a junior college quarterback. Utah DT Star Lotulelei would have made a lot of sense as well as a five-technique in their new odd front and could even have been a long-term replacement for Issac Sopoaga at nose tackle. It’s tough to argue with the selection of Johnson though, who will be a great fit in Kelly’s new up-tempo offense and also addresses a need at a premium position.
- Once Oklahoma OT Lane Johnson came off the board with the previous pick it became pretty obvious which direction the Lions were going. After parting ways with both Cliff Avril and Kyle Vanden Bosch this offseason Detroit was in desperate need of a pass rusher. The Lions organization got an up close and personal look at “Ziggy” after coaching his squad at the Senior Bowl. More often than not that plays a big role in the draft. Ansah may be inexperienced but Jim Schwartz has pointed out that he has great instincts for the game, which can go a long way. The comparisons to Jason Pierre-Paul might be an exaggeration but there is no denying Ansah’s immense potential and he instantly becomes the best defensive end on the Lions roster by a wide margin. Detroit must still find an offensive tackle because protecting Matthew Stafford is the name of the game in Motown but with the ”Big 3” gone Ansah was a very attractive alternative.
- The Browns signed Paul Kruger as a free agent this offseason but they obviously have doubts about whether or not Jabaal Sheard can make the transition to outside linebacker in an odd front. It was clear that Mingo was one of a small group of prospects that Cleveland was considering with this choice. Mingo is basically the definition of “Boom or Bust”. There are plenty of reasons to be wary when it comes to “KeKe”, ranging from an underdeveloped physique, a pending position change and just average production. It’s also not hard to understand why someone would become infatuated with Mingo, who is a rare athlete that seems to just glide around the field. Personally, I would have gone with Alabama CB Dee Milliner because there is a big hole opposite Joe Haden and there wouldn’t have been nearly as much risk involved. The Browns swung for the fences on this one though. The question is will it be a grand slam or a strikeout? For Browns fans sake hopefully Mingo isn't another product of the “Factory of Sadness”.
ARIZONA CARDINALS: JONATHAN COOPER, OG, NORTH CAROLINA
- As expected all of the top left tackles were gone so the Cardinals shifted their attention inside. There was no question that Arizona needed to upgrade their offensive line, which along with awful play from the quarterback position has been a big reason why the team has fallen on such hard times in recent years. It had been fifteen years since a true offensive guard was taken in the Top 10 of the NFL Draft but that streak has now been broken. Whether or not Cooper would normally come off the board this early is debatable but that doesn’t change the fact that he is an awfully special prospect at the position. I thought Chance Warmack of Alabama might get the edge in this instance since the Cardinals utilize more of a power blocking approach but even though Cooper is best known for his impressive athleticism he is scheme diverse. The addition of Cooper along with the return of Levi Brown from an injury should go a long way toward resolving the issues Arizona had up front last season. Too bad they still don't have a quarterback.
ST. LOUIS RAMS (f/BUF): TAVON AUSTIN, WR, WEST VIRGINIA
- I have been relatively vocal about my concerns regarding Austin. I realize that’s a minority opinion and it’s not that I don’t like the guy. In fact, I’d be the first to admit he is probably the most exciting player in this draft to watch. My argument was that it’s difficult to rationalize selecting someone who profiles as a slot receiver and return man in the Top 10 overall. Also, Austin will have to be an outlier because the list of guys in the league who are difference makers at 5-8 and 175 pounds or less is awfully short. It’s basically DeSean Jackson and…? With that said there were a couple of teams that could legitimately justify pulling the trigger this early and the Rams were one of them. Austin will be a fantastic replacement for free agent defection Danny Amendola and give their offense a dimension they are currently lacking. The Rams have an awfully intriguing group of young wideouts in Brian Quick, Chris Givens, Austin Pettis and now Austin.
- It appears as though the Rams may have saved the Jets from themselves by taking West Virginia WR Tavon Austin before New York had a chance to. I know that isn’t a popular opinion amongst Jets fans but the bottom line is Austin would have been a luxury this organization simply couldn’t afford at this point. With major questions marks at quarterback, running back, tight end, right tackle, guard, outside linebacker, cornerback and safety a slot receiver and return man should have been way, way down on their list of priorities. Austin might have gotten the Jets on SportsCenter but he wouldn’t have helped them win football games with all those other holes. I actually love the pick of Milliner, which I correctly predicted in my final mock draft. Milliner will certainly be a downgrade from Darrelle Revis but he is going to be a very good starter and will make right around $13 million for the next four seasons combined whereas Revis was going to cost $16 million per year. They won’t have to worry about the constant distractions and contract issues with Revis anymore either. I understand the Jets fan base preferred Austin's flash but he was the high-calorie desert while Dee Milliner was the vegetables that are better for you in the long run.
- With two Hall of Fame offensive linemen on their coaching staff in Mike Munchak and Bruce Matthews it’s no surprise that the Titans were zeroing in on blockers with this choice. Word was they preferred North Carolina OG Jonathan Cooper but Warmack is far from just a consolation prize. There was even some sentiment that Warmack might be the best player in this entire draft! With the addition of Andy Levitre in free agency and now Warmack the Titans have quickly turned a weakness into a strength and there are no more excuses for Chris Johnson. Look for the rushing attack in the Music City to improve dramatically after finishing near the bottom of the league the past two seasons. I have to imagine Tennessee was at least tempted by Utah DT Star Lotulelei and Florida DT Sharrif Floyd, who weren’t necessarily expected to be available. However, Warmack was a rock-solid choice who should step into the starting lineup at right guard immediately and be a true stalwart on the interior for the next decade.
- There was absolutely no way Oklahoma OT Lane Johnson was going to be available at this point and with North Carolina OG Jonathan Cooper and Alabama OG Chance Warmack also off the board this wasn’t exactly an ideal situation for San Diego. After all it’s no coincidence that the start of Philip Rivers’ struggles coincided with the exit of Marcus McNeill. Ideally the Chargers would probably have preferred to add a left tackle but in the end they should be very happy with Fluker. Everyone focuses on the blindside protectors but Fluker has a chance to be one of the leagues elite right tackles. This wasn’t a sexy choice but it’s a safe move and a big step in the right direction. There is going to be a lot of pressure on King Dunlap though, who was never able to cut it on the left side in Philadelphia. If I were the Chargers I would call the Chiefs about Branden Albert.
- Where to begin… This probably doesn’t qualify as a bombshell because there were plenty of indications that Hayden was not only going to be a first round pick but quite possibly come off the board in the top half of round one. That still doesn’t make it right though. One could make an argument that Hayden belonged in the first round on talent alone but it’s much more difficult to make the case that he was the twelfth best player in this entire draft. It’s also important to remember that there were some health issues with Hayden and word is a number of teams didn’t clear him medically. Even if the doctors gave a thumbs up it’s hard to get over the fact that this guy had his chest cracked open less than six months ago. What makes matters worse is that Oakland basically held a fire sale and only got .50 cents on the dollar for moving down from #3 to #12. People like to argue that the trade value chart is obsolete but every other deal made during the first round strictly adhered to it. Except of course the Raiders. Al Davis is no longer in charge but you wouldn’t know it by the way this played out for Oakland.
NEW YORK JETS (f/TB): SHELDON RICHARDSON, DE, MISSOURI
- This was one of the real head-scratchers of the first round. I was actually one of the few people who had Richardson rated ahead of Florida DT Sharrif Floyd and I’m a big fan of the guy. My issue is with the fit. Richardson is an explosive athlete whose best attribute is his ability to get up the field and wreak havoc on the interior. However, it looks like the Jets are going to use him to set the edge against the run. It’s like buying a Ferrari and never taking it out on the open road. And where does this leave Muhammad Wilkerson, who was emerging as one of the best five-techniques in the league? Rex Ryan is clearly a proponent of the 3-4 yet New York just used a premium resource to add a player who almost everyone feels is ideally suited for an even front. It’s almost as if they are already preparing for the transition to a 4-3 when Ryan is inevitably fired in about eight months. In my opinion the Jets would have been much better off with someone like Tyler Eifert of Notre Dame, who not only would have addressed a major weakness but also given them a much-needed playmaker in the passing game. Or how about a pass rushing outside linebacker such as Jarvis Jones of Georgia since Calvin Pace and Antwan Barnes combined for just six sacks last season? Texas S Kenny Vaccaro would have been a huge upgrade at safety too. Value-wise I have no problem with Richardson at this point but this decision does not make much sense.
- This may be one of the steals of the first round and the Panthers must have been overjoyed to see Lotulelei still on the board. Carolina’s new general manager David Gettleman came over from the New York Giants, an organization that has clearly placed a major emphasis on the defensive line in recent years. The fact that Gettleman seems to be carrying that approach over to his new job bodes well for the Panthers. Lotulelei will be a perfect fit alongside Dwan Edwards in the middle and help keep blockers off of last years first rounder Luke Kuechely. Lotulelei has been compared to Haloti Nagata and now they have something else in common in that each fell a lot further than they should have on Draft Day. If Lotulelei becomes half the player Ngata is the Panthers will have hit a home run. Normally at this point I'd write about other alternatives that were out there but this was such a no-brainer I really can’t make a strong case for anyone else.
- Last season the Saints defense ranked last against the run and second to last against the pass so there was never much doubt which side of the ball they were going to address with this pick. A pass rusher like Georgia OLB Jarvis Jones may have been tempting but New Orleans already signed Victor Butler and guys like Junior Galette and Martez Wilson could be on the verge of breaking out because they are ideally suited for the 3-4 scheme that Rob Ryan is implementing. Vacarro was the consensus top rated safety in this class and could easily have come off the board earlier than this. Needless to say Vacaaro will represent a major upgrade over Roman Harper and along with Malcolm Jenkins gives the Saints one of the best sets of young safeties in the league. West Virginia WR Tavon Austin was already gone so it’s a moot point but as much fun as it would have been to see an offense with Brees, Sproles, Colsten, Graham and Austin it’s hard to believe that was ever a valid possibility considering their issues on defense.
BUFFALO BILLS (f/STL): E.J. MANUEL, QB, FLORIDA ST.
- Many were stunned by this choice but I warned everyone that we would likely see some crazy stuff happen with the quarterbacks simply because there just wasn’t any sort of consensus on the signal callers in this class. Manuel is without question the most physically talented quarterback in this draft and I have been saying since early last Fall that Manuel was a first round talent. Now Manuel didn’t always play like a first rounder but all of the tools are there. Even though this was probably a reach I will rarely criticize a team for at least trying when it comes to quarterbacks. I would much rather take a flyer on Manuel and his potential than waste time with also-rans such as Alex Smith and Carson Palmer. Teams like the Chiefs and Cardinals are just treading water and delaying the inevitable. Assuming of course that the ultimate goal is to win a Super Bowl. You have to believe West Virginia QB Geno Smith is regretting his decision to pass on that Senior Bowl invite. Smith could have gone to Mobile and tried to convince quarterback-needy teams at the top of the draft that he was a legitimate early first round pick. Meanwhile Manuel chose to take advantage of the opportunity to perform in front of a thousand scouts, coaches and decision makers, had a good week of practices and was named MVP of the game. Manuel was selected in the top half of round one while Smith was still waiting to hear his name called in round two. There is a lesson to be learned there and hopefully future prospects are paying attention. It’s also interesting that the Bills opted for Manuel over Ryan Nassib of Syracuse, who new head coach Doug Marrone groomed in college. In my opinion that is a bit of an indictment of Nassib and the fact that the guy who knows him best said “No Thanks” should set off alarms. Perhaps that is why Nassib slid to Round 4.
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