The NFL Draft is officially underway, and as always, day one was full of surprises, shocks, steals, and head-scratchers. Who were the winners and losers of the first round? Let’s take a look
Houston Texans: Jadeveon Clowney (1st Overall).
Clowney is a home run hit, without a doubt. Though there were options available, including trading back for Khalil Mack, Clowney is a franchise guy right out of the gate. He is both huge, and quick, a rare combination in defensive ends.
He was, in my opinion the best player in the draft, and went right where he should. However, as great as he is, it’s hard to consider this a huge draft win.
When you have the first overall pick, you’re going to leave with the best player available, unless you’re completely inept. And Clowney comes with just enough off field concerns—especially with regards to his durability and work ethic, as well as rumours of a prima-donna personality—to keep Clowney and the Texans outside of the top rankings.
And it’s hard not to at least consider what they could have done had they traded down even a few picks, and received a boat load of other options in exchange.
Atlanta Falcons: Jake Mathews (6th overall)
Coming into the draft there was a lot of talk about the Falcons as a potential trading partner with the Texans to jump up and grab Clowney.
In the end, they made the sensible move and stood firm, taking offensive tackle Jake Matthews, and shoring up their offensive line, arguably their biggest need.
All that prevents this from being a good pick really, is that constant “What if”.
Mathews is a solid pick, with good pedigree, and a ton of potential, but Clowney is a superstar, he has that wow factor so many other players lack. Sure, grabbing him would have meant mortgaging their future, but still, what if.
St. Louis Rams: Greg Robinson (2nd overall), Aaron Donald (13th overall)
The Rams had two early picks in this draft, and used them to great effect. Their second overall pick—their final pick from a 2012 trade with the Washington Redskins—was used to select highly rated offence tackle Greg Robinson, and their own pick, 13th overall, was used on defensive lineman Aaron Donald, a top-ten ranked player on many lists.
While some Rams fans had hoped that, perhaps, they could parlay the Redskins pick into another cache of early picks in future years, few would argue with these two additions.
These two men are both plug-and-play starters in the Rams regular rotation, and greatly strengthen what already looks like a solid team. Definitely a great start to their draft.
Minnesota Vikings: Anthony Barr (9th overall), Teddy Bridgewater (32nd overall)
Another team with multiple first day pickups, the Vikings shored up both sides of the ball, adding talented linebacker Anthony Barr and potential future franchise QB Teddy Bridgewater.
Barr is a day-one starter and improves their linebacking corps significantly, bringing much-needed speed and aggression to their at times lacklustre pass rush. He is almost a plug-and-play replacement for Jared Allen, who departed Minnesota for Chicago during free agency.
Bridgewater will join the team’s quarterback corps, and will compete for the starting job. The team traded up into the end of the first day to select Bridgewater, making him the presumed starter. Bridgewater is a solid passer who fits Norv Turners mould well, and sets the standard for what will be expected in Minnesota going forward.
Arizona Cardinals: Deone Bucannon (27th overall)
This is a pick many have overlooked, or brushed over, but it is one that I think should really be counted as a win for the team.
The Cardinals made a shrewd move moving back a few spots from 20 to 27, and selected Bucannon, a big, hard-hitting strong safety to round out their already potent secondary.
Although the Cardinals had multiple options at 20, including the second ranked safety Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, the team considered Bucannon a day one starter, and a better overall fit, moved back in the draft to grab him, adding an extra third round pick (91) as well.
Some will call Bucannon a reach, but many recent mocks had seen him climb up as high the Cardinals at 20, or Packers at 21, making his eventual selection at 27 actually good value. He joins Patrick Peterson, Tyrann Mathieu and Antonio Cromartie to round out what many are now calling the best secondary in the NFL. Bucannon is very much in the mould of Adrian Wilson, who had great success in the Cardinals hard-hitting secondary, and his big, physical nature will help the team deal with the larger TE’s which routinely burned the Cardinals in 2013.
The addition of another third round pick is what really makes this a win for the team however. General manager Steve Keim has already proven more than adept at finding value later in the draft, and both he and head coach Bruce Arians have gone on record saying that this draft is unusually deep. They will have his chance to prove this with three more picks inside the top 100.
Seattle Seahawks: No Picks (Traded out of the first round)
It’s odd to call a team who didn’t make a pick a real winner, but the simple fact of the matter is, there was no single player they liked so much who was available at 32 who wouldn’t still be available early on day two, when they will now be picking. One issue with being the reigning champion is you are always picking at the end of each round. By trading out of the first, they now have early picks in both the second and fourth rounds.
By 32, all the players they were seriously considering weren’t automatic starters, and paying first round money for second round talent isn’t a smart way to build a franchise.
A good pick for an already good team, who only need incremental improvements and rotation guys anyway.
Jacksonville Jaguars: Blake Bortles (3rd overall)
Yes, the Jaguars need a quarterback, and yes, Bortles is the best fit of all the available QB’s for the Jaguars. But with the third overall pick, Bortles is the very definition of a desparation reach.
Numerous players would have graded out higher than Bortles if looking at a pure best-player-available strategy, and even when weighted against need, it’s hard to consider Bortles the obvious choice.
My big issue with the pick, however, is that they made it at all.
The Jaguars have a lot of needs, and could have easily traded away this early pick for some additional valuable mid round picks. Moving back into the mid-to-late part of the first round would have still seen one or two potential franchise QBs on the table, including Manziel and Bridgewater, while also giving the team extra scope to address additional needs later in the draft.
Bortles will certainly be an immediate improvement at the QB position for the team, but with so many other holes, it is hard to consider it a win for them.
Washington Redskins: No Picks in First Round.
The jury is still out on whether RGIII will develop into a true franchise guy, but one thing is already abundantly clear—he isn’t worth what they gave up to get him.
Obviously, when you trade away future picks, you do so in the hope that the immediate improvements you make will decrease the value of these picks in future years. However, it’s not paid off yet, and with the second overall pick this year, the Redskins could have certainly made some much-needed improvements.
Perhaps it’s not one that they would automatically take back—officially at least, the team are still behind Griffin III—but certainly, if they had have known they would own the second overall pick in 2014 when they made the trade, perhaps it’s one they would have thought twice about.
Kansas City Chiefs: Dee Ford (23rd overall)
I’m a firm believer in a Best Player Available draft strategy, and Dee Ford was probably the one of the best players still available at the time. Prior to the draft, I had seen Ford mocked inside the top 15 by a few experts, so would even go as far as to say that at that point, he could be considered good value… for almost anyone but the Chiefs.
The problem with the pick is however much you believe in a BPA strategy, sometimes you have to admit that need also comes into play. Put simply, this isn’t a need for the Chiefs.
The team is already stacked at the position with two Pro Bowl linebackers in Tamba Hali and Justin Houston.
Some have suggested that the team are concerned about Tamba Hali showing up 20+ LBs overweight, but the 23rd pick is not the place to make a point and motivate a player to get back in shape.
Others have wondered aloud if they may intend to play ford as a DE, where he played in college, not an OLB where he projects in the NFL, but he is not built to play DE in the NFL, and there were enough true DEs available than to risk trying a guy out of position with a first round pick.
Still more have wondered if, perhaps the Chiefs are preparing for the worst, in case they are forced to part ways with one of their current OLB’s—both Hali and Houston’s contracts expiate in the next two seasons and both will want large contract extensions—but the issue with this is that it wastes the talent of a promising young player if they can arrange to keep both players, which should clearly be their priority.
All around, it is a confused and confusing pick, with too many what-if’s and perhaps’ for a pick this early.