The most overused phrase around draft time is “Best Player Available” but this is actually an instance where it was accurate. The offensive line might be the Titans greatest strength and they’ve spent considerable resources in both free agency and the draft on blockers in recent years. Sure Michael Roos is getting up there in years and may not be one of the top handful of left tackles in the game anymore but the o-line seemed like the least of their concerns. This choice likely means Roos’ days in Tennessee are numbered because you don’t take Lewan at #11 overall to be a backup. Lewan was a bit of an afterthought while all of the focus centered on Greg Robinson of Auburn and Jake Matthews of Texas A&M but he deserves to be mentioned in the same breath as those two. Lewan being available this late really puts the strength of the 2014 NFL Draft and the shortcomings of the 2013 NFL Draft in perspective because he is just as good if not a better prospect than Eric Fisher, who was the top overall pick a year ago. Lewan is an excellent player and the Titans got younger and much cheaper on the blindside in the long run. However, I’m not sure if this makes them a significantly better team next season which is why I classify the selection as good but won’t go so far as great.
While working on my final mock draft I was debating between Beckham and Notre Dame OL Zack Martin for the Giants. In the end I went with Martin, but I definitely wasn’t surprised by this decision. New York lost Hakeem Nicks this offseason and while Beckham is a different type of player he is going to make the offense much more explosive with his vertical ability. After being underutilized for most of his time with the Bayou Bengals don’t be surprised if Beckham turns out to be a better pro than college player. With Victor Cruz, Reuben Randle and Beckham the G-Men now have a dangerous trifecta at wideout, which will hopefully help Eli Manning bounce back from a pretty miserable season. I would have leaned toward North Carolina TE Eric Ebron but he was already off the board and ultimately it is hard to criticize a move aimed at getting Manning back on track.
With Donald joining Chris Long, Robert Quinn and Michael Blockers the Rams now have four former first round picks on their defensive line. I think it’s safe to say that is an area they prioritize! Eventually something is going to have to give though because Long is already making big money, Quinn is on the verge of breaking the bank coming off a 19.0 sack season as a 23-year-old and Brockers only has two seasons left on his contact as well. With that said Donald absolutely provides a dimension the others don’t with his ability to penetrate and wreak havoc up the middle. Everyone talks about edge rushers but quarterbacks absolutely hate interior pressure and that is what Donald does best. The lack of ideal length and bulk is a concern but Donald has proven himself in high school, college and the all-star circuit and at a certain point you have to give a guy the benefit of the doubt. Still I’m not sure it wouldn’t have been wiser to address the secondary, where they could use upgrades at both safety and cornerback and had a choice of any defensive back in this draft other than Justin Gilbert of Oklahoma St.
Most seemed to have either Justin Gilbert of Oklahoma St. or Darqueze Dennard of Michigan St. as the top rated cornerback prospect in the 2014 NFL Draft but Fuller was considered to be a legitimate Top 15-20 overall pick as well. There were probably greater needs at defensive tackle and safety but they definitely had issues at corner as well, where Charles "Peanut" Tillman is approaching his mid-30’s and the overall depth leaves much to be desired. I’m not so sure I wouldn’t have gone with either Ha Ha Clinton-Dix of Alabama or Calvin Pryor of Louisville simply because there is far better depth at corner than safety this year. After all their safety play wasn’t merely bad last season, it was historically bad. Da Bears really couldn't go wrong with this big, fast, athletic, physical cover guy with pro football bloodlines either though. I also have to believe they would've gone with Pittsburgh DT Aaron Donald, who could have been an absolutely perfect fit as the three-technique in their scheme, if he hadn’t come off the board just one pick earlier.
It seems like even just a few years ago a guy like Shazier would have slid in the draft because he doesn’t have the prototypical size that you look for. Perhaps teams have taken notice of the success Lavonte David is enjoying in the NFL and aren’t as quick to write off or downgrade good football players with great tape simply because they are an inch too short or ten pounds too light. Shazier played outside linebacker for the Buckeyes but will move inside and pair up with Lawrence Timmons in the Steelers trademark 3-4 scheme. After the draft Head Coach Mike Tomlin said they were looking for a defensive playmaker and they absolutely got one in Shazier, who uses his incredible speed, athleticism and range to fly around the field and make plays sideline to sideline on all three downs. It was a bit surprising to see Pittsburgh pass on Michigan St. CB Darqueze Dennard, who appeared to be a logical fit, but the Steelers are going to love Shazier.
Jerry Jones actually passed on a flashy local hero in Texas A&M QB Johnny Manziel in favor of an offensive lineman? I am convinced that the reason Jones didn't grab “Johnny Football” was just to be contrarian since everyone thought he wouldn’t be able to resist. Ironically the Cowboys could have legitimately justified going with Manziel because beyond Tony Romo’s struggles in crunch time he is 34-years-old and coming off of multiple back surgeries. Dallas definitely rolled the dice by not taking Manziel because if he becomes a star they will never hear the end of it, which is why they probably wish someone else had pulled the trigger prior to this point. Ideally the Cowboys would have been able to address their defensive line with this choice but the value just wasn't there and it was wise to take advantage of Martin falling into their laps. Choosing Martin wasn’t a flashy move but he is one of the safest prospects in this draft and also addresses a long-standing problem area on the interior of the offensive line. Even though Martin will likely start off at guard he may eventually move outside to replace Doug Free at right tackle. This was also good value for the pick and probably the floor for Martin, who could real easily have gone in the Top 10-12 and nobody would've batted an eye.
Moves like this are why even though Ozzie Newsome is in the Hall of Fame as a tight end he might be an even better general manager. You’d be hard-pressed to find someone who didn’t like Mosley’s tape but he slid through the cracks due to size and medical concerns plus plain old positional value. Even so it’s safe to say Mosley was ranked higher than this on a majority of draft boards around the league and Newsome wasn’t about to let something as inconsequential as need stop him from taking a good football player when he has the opportunity. Mosley will battle last year’s second rounder Arthur Brown for a starting job and, as much as I liked Brown coming out of college, I certainly wouldn’t bet against him in that competition. It wasn’t all that long ago when we were wondering how Baltimore would ever be able to replace Ray Lewis and Ed Reed. The answer is they won’t because those are once in a lifetime, all-time greats who are irreplaceable. Mosley and Matt Elam won't live up to those standards but they're pretty darn good.
The assumption was New York would opt for either a cornerback or wide receiver with this pick but sometimes it’s best to expect the unexpected on Draft Day. In reality safety was just as big of a concern for the Jets so it’s difficult to fault for going in that direction, especially when they had the pick of the litter. Pryor and Ha Ha Clinton-Dix of Alabama were the consensus top prospects at their position in this class and it just came down to whether a team was looking for a free safety or strong safety. In this case Pryor, the strong safety, got the nod. Pryor has limitations in coverage but Rex Ryan is a good coach and will utilize him in a downhill role which will minimize that exposure and where they can take advantage of his aggressiveness, instincts and ability to deliver a big hit. Talent? Check. Need? Check. Value? Check. Everything looks good, move along.
Leading up to Draft Day I kept pointing out that the Dolphins were in no-man’s land at #19 if they hoped to address what was far and away their most glaring need along the offensive line. Sure enough the top-tier of blockers were all off the board but instead of trying to move up a few spots for Notre Dame OT / OG Zack Martin or down to the end of round one where there would be better value they just reached for James. Miami had been linked to James and I projected they would take him in the second round of my final mock draft, but it’s hard to justify pulling the trigger this early. Especially when the team picking right after them was able to move down and pick up an extra third round pick. Why couldn’t the Phins have done that deal? Who was going to take James in the next eight picks or so? Do they not like or want additional premium picks? Now James is a good player who will get plugged directly into the starting lineup at right tackle and is a nice fit for their zone blocking scheme. However, none of that changes the fact that Miami didn’t maximize the value of this mid-first round pick in a very strong draft. Certainly not the best of starts for new general manager Dennis Hickey.
NEW ORLEANS SAINTS (f/ARZ): BRANDIN COOKS, WR, OREGON ST.
Even though the Saints already boast one of the most explosive offenses in the league Sean Payton is always on the lookout for more playmakers. After all if you wait until something becomes a problem it may already be too late. New Orleans needed to replace Lance Moore and with Marques Colston getting up there in years it was wise to start thinking about the future of their passing attack. Most wideouts would love to have the type of numbers Cooks posted last season as career totals and he followed up that incredible production by running a legit 4.3 at the Scouting Combine. Cooks also earns rave reviews for his intangibles and appears to be the total package with size being the lone concern. Payton and Drew Brees are probably already brainstorming ways to get the ball into the hands of this dynamic weapon, who should be among the early front-runners in the Offensive Rookie of the Year race. The Saints had to part with their third round pick to move up seven spots and secure Cooks but I have a hunch it will be worth it.
This worked out perfectly for the Cheeseheads as Clinton-Dix somewhat unexpectedly fell right into their laps and allowed them to address what was arguably their most pressing need. The consensus top free safety prospect in this class, Clinton-Dix will be a huge upgrade for a secondary that has ranked in the bottom third of the league in pass defense the last two seasons. You wonder if the Lions will regret ignoring their issues in the secondary when they have to see this guy in their division twice each season for years to come. Incidentally the two players that most felt were the favorites to wind up in Green Bay – Alabama LB C.J. Mosley and Ohio St. LB Ryan Shazier – coming off the board earlier probably played a major role in Clinton-Dix still being available. I wonder which direction the Packers would have gone if Clinton-Dix wasn’t available either because in that scenario I didn’t see an obvious fit when factoring in both value and need. That is a moot point now though because Green Bay got the last laugh with “Ha Ha”.
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