NFL Nation: 2013 Draft Analysis

AFC North draft analysis

April, 27, 2013
NFC draft analysis: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

It was quite apparent that every team in the AFC North had a specific plan in this year's draft, and each one differed greatly.

The defending Super Bowl champion Baltimore Ravens wanted to rebuild the defense, using their first four picks for that side of the ball. It started with Florida safety Matt Elam at the bottom of the first round.

The Cincinnati Bengals believed the key to taking the next step in the playoffs was adding more weapons on offense. There's no more excuses for quarterback Andy Dalton after the Bengals took the first tight end (Notre Dame's Tyler Eifert) and running back (North Carolina's Giovani Bernard) in this year's draft.

The Pittsburgh Steelers believe bouncing back from an 8-8 season requires upgrading two of the team's weakest areas, the pass rush (Georgia linebacker Jarvis Jones) and running game (Michigan State back Le'Veon Bell). The Steelers didn't take a tight end, which will be a trouble spot if Heath Miller hasn't fully recovered from knee surgery by the start of the season.

And, in the first draft under their new regime, the Cleveland Browns obviously didn't like the depth of this draft, trading twice in the middle rounds to stockpile more picks in the 2014 draft. The Browns picked only two players (LSU linebacker Barkevious Mingo and San Diego State cornerback Leon McFadden) in the first five rounds.

Here are some more thoughts on how the draft unfolded for the division ...


The Steelers had a top-five talent -- Jones -- fall into their laps at No. 17. So, how is that the "best move?" Pittsburgh invested a first-round pick in Jones when other teams were scared off by medical concerns and a poor pro-day workout. His fall is reminiscent of how Terrell Suggs fell in the 2003 draft, and you remember how that turned out.

Jones has the potential to be the best defensive player in this draft. He led the nation in sacks (14.5), tackles for loss (24.5) and forced fumbles (seven) despite missing two games last season. His burst, strength and athleticism coming off the edge make him a perfect fit for the Steelers defense and the heir apparent to James Harrison.

There is a risk involved because he's previously been diagnosed as having stenosis, the narrowing of the spinal column that has shortened NFL careers. But the Steelers couldn't pass on a disruptive rusher like Jones. Since leading the NFL in sacks in 2010, the Steelers ranked 17th in 2011 and 15th in 2012. Taking Jones is the first step to turning the NFL's top-ranked defense into more of a playmaking one.

Making the best move doesn't mean the Steelers had the best draft in the AFC North. That honor goes to the Bengals. The Steelers reached in the second round by taking Bell, a finesse back who will remind many of Rashard Mendenhall. Pittsburgh chose Bell over more explosive backs like Alabama's Eddie Lacy and UCLA's Johnathan Franklin.

Outside of drafting Jones, the Steelers' other great move was trading up in the fourth round to select Syracuse safety Shamarko Thomas, a high-energy and hard-hitting defensive back. Pittsburgh had to give up a 2014 third-round pick for him, but the Steelers could get a third-round compensatory pick next year for losing wide receiver Mike Wallace.


[+] EnlargeBarkevious Mingo
David Richard/USA TODAY SportsCleveland potentially boosted its pass rush by drafting Barkevious Mingo early in the first round.
The AFC North team that needs the most infusion of talent in this draft decided to play spectator. The Browns added two players in the first 174 picks of this week's draft. New general manager Mike Lombardi channeled Bill Belichick in trading picks in the fourth and fifth rounds of this draft for selections in the third and fourth rounds in 2014.

These moves make sense because next year's draft should be deeper than this one, but this offers little immediate help to a franchise that has lost 57 games in the past five seasons. Plus, there are no guarantees that Lombardi or chief executive officer Joe Banner will be making those picks next year. The federal investigation into owner Jimmy Haslam's family-run truck stop business has put a cloud of uncertainty over the franchise.

Some can argue the Browns' first pick was a risky move as well. Instead of filling the team's biggest need with Alabama cornerback Dee Milliner, the Browns went with the highest-rated player on their board, Mingo, a pass-rush menace with tremendous upside, at No. 6 overall. The decision was the right one, although I would feel better about it if the Browns addressed cornerback in free agency.

Sitting with a league-high $33 million in salary-cap room entering the draft, the Browns refused to spend money on a veteran starter, whether it was Brent Grimes, Sean Smith, Aqib Talib, Keenan Lewis or Cary Williams. Instead, it looks like the Browns will start either Buster Skrine or the 68th player taken in this draft (McFadden). According to ESPN Stats & Information, Cleveland allowed 22 touchdowns to opposing wide receivers last season, tied for second most in the NFL.

It was a quiet final day for the Browns. Cleveland used a sixth-round pick on Notre Dame free safety Jamoris Slaughter, who hasn't fully recovered from a ruptured Achilles tendon, and a seventh-rounder on defensive end Armonty Bryant, a character risk from East Central Oklahoma.


The Bengals were full of surprises, and I mean that in a good way. Everyone knew the Bengals were going to take a safety, linebacker or running back in the first round. Wrong. Cincinnati went with the draft's best tight end, Eifert, with the No. 21 overall pick even though they drafted Jermaine Gresham with the No. 21 overall pick three years ago. Eifert is a matchup nightmare for defenses, from the red zone to deep downfield. The Bengals took advantage of a draft that featured a run of offensive linemen and pass-rushers in the top 20. That allowed Eifert, the best offensive playmaker in the draft behind Tavon Austin, to fall unexpectedly to Cincinnati.

The Bengals delivered a milder surprise in the second round, when they made Bernard the first running back taken. Rated as the fourth-best back in this draft by Mel Kiper Jr., Bernard has the chance to be the next Ray Rice. Later in the second round, Cincinnati added to an already deep defensive line with Southern Methodist's Margus Hunt, a world-class discus thrower. In total, the Bengals brought in three of the best athletes at their positions, which is a strong foundation for any draft.


The Ravens solidified the middle of their defense for years to come with their first three picks: Elam, Kansas State inside linebacker Arthur Brown and Missouri Southern State's Brandon Williams. The problem is the Ravens did nothing of significance to improve their wide receiver group. (They drafted Elon's Aaron Mellette in the seventh round.) Baltimore gave quarterback Joe Flacco a $120.6 million contract and then took away his go-to receiver in Anquan Boldin. The Ravens didn't replace him in free agency and, as of the start of the seventh round, didn't draft a wide receiver. Baltimore's first pick on an offensive player was Harvard fullback Kyle Juszczyk.

The only proven receivers on the roster are Torrey Smith and Jacoby Jones, who is more of a returner than a starting wideout. Of the remaining receivers -- Tandon Doss, David Reed, Tommy Streeter, Deonte Thompson and LaQuan Williams -- none was drafted in the first three rounds and two went undrafted. It's a group that has combined for 21 receptions and one touchdown. That said, please spare me the repeated questions about the Ravens' signing Chad Johnson or Terrell Owens.

NFC North draft analysis

April, 27, 2013
NFC draft analysis: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

How top-heavy was the 2013 draft in the NFC North? We welcomed more players in the first round (six) than in the second and third rounds combined (four), the result of two big trades.

With the 2013 affair basically in the books, let's take a closer look at its highs and lows. So much happened that we might not get to the relatively rare occurrence of two punters being drafted.



The Green Bay Packers have gone 43 games without a 100-yard rusher, the longest active streak in the NFL by more than twice. Their running backs have combined for 12 rushing touchdowns over the past three seasons, the fewest in the NFL, and their average of 3.8 yards per rush over that span is tied for last in the league.

After years of subordinating this segment of their roster, the Packers reacted aggressively in 2013. They drafted not one but two of the top running backs available. Alabama's Eddie Lacy came in the second round (No. 61 overall), and UCLA's Johnathan Franklin came in the fourth round (No. 125 overall).

The relative flurry came at a time when the rest of the league appeared to have devalued the position. It was the first time in the history of the modern draft that zero running backs were selected in the first round. Perhaps the timing was coincidence, but if general manager Ted Thompson intended to capitalize on depressed prices to load up, it was a brilliant thought.

Thompson and the Packers had been trying to patch together the position ever since Ryan Grant broke his ankle in Week 1 of the 2010 season. It was time to find a more permanent solution, and Lacy and Franklin give them the personnel infusion they needed.

Runner-up: Like the Packers, the Chicago Bears finally attacked an area of need. They used two of their first three selections in what was originally a five-pick draft on high-end linebackers who actually project as starters rather than special-teams contributors. Second-rounder Jonathan Bostic could be the Bears' middle linebacker as early as this season, and fourth-rounder Khaseem Greene was one of the best defensive playmakers in college football last season.


The Minnesota Vikings used four draft picks to move back into the first round and select Tennessee receiver Cordarrelle Patterson, taking on risk in two forms.

First, Patterson is a boom-or-bust prospect who spent only one year playing at the Division I level. He has the physical tools to be an exceptional player but has more development ahead of him than most first-round picks. Here's how ESPN analyst Todd McShay put it before the draft: "He scares me coming out of Tennessee, but I see the talent. … Patterson, with the ball in his hands, is just freakish, and even though he disappears for 30-40 plays [per game], he'll show up with one or two big plays a game that just kind of blow your mind and leave you wanting more."

At the very least, Patterson will need to be guided through the early part of his career. The Vikings hope to start him off as a kickoff returner and work him into their offense slowly. Expecting him to jump into the starting lineup alongside Greg Jennings for a full 70 plays per game is probably unrealistic.

Second, the trade left the Vikings unable to fill one of their most pressing needs: middle linebacker. Giving up picks in the second and third rounds left them watching as more than a half-dozen middle linebackers were drafted. The Vikings gave up the opportunity to fill that job on a long-term basis by jumping to draft a receiver who generated plenty of divergent viewpoints during the pre-draft evaluation process.

Runner-up: The Detroit Lions used the No. 5 overall pick on a pass-rusher who had 4.5 sacks in his college career. BYU defensive end Ezekiel Ansah has all the physical tools to be a dominant pass-rusher, but his learning curve is steep and his potential for immediate impact is at least worth questioning.


[+] EnlargeKyle Long
Reid Compton/USA TODAY SportsThe Bears were willing to overlook offensive lineman Kyle Long's inexperience because of his extraordinary athleticism for a man his size.
You would have been hard-pressed to find a mock draft that projected Oregon guard Kyle Long as a first-round pick. In a recent seven-round mock, Scouts Inc. suggested he would go No. 47 overall. And even that was based on Long's overwhelmingly positive athletic attributes rather than evaluation of his limited play at Oregon.

The Bears produced arguably the surprise of the draft by selecting Long at No. 20 overall, a time when even the most polished guards are rarely taken historically. But the Bears were blown away by Long's agility for his 6-foot-6 frame and were willing to overlook a one-season, four-start career at the Division I level.

There is no doubt the Bears needed help on their offensive line, but you could have a spirited philosophical argument over the draft value of a raw, inexperienced guard. Even if the Bears are right about Long -- that his athleticism will make him a long-term starter -- it's fair to question whether they needed to take him in the first round. Did another team covet the draft's third-best guard enough to take him between picks 21 and 50, where the Bears were situated in the second round? One explanation: The Bears, with only five total picks in the draft at that point, thought it would be too difficult to trade up in the second round assuming Long got out of the first. I'm not going to say it was the wrong choice, but it sure was surprising.


The Lions bolstered their pass defense at the expense of some other positions of need. You can't have it all, and the Lions made some clear decisions.

On the plus side, they used three of their first four choices on Ansah, cornerback Darius Slay and defensive end Devin Taylor. Ansah (6-foot-5 with 35 1/8-inch arms) and Taylor (6-7 with 36-inch arms) will provide incredible length and a new look to the Lions' outside pass rush. Slay, meanwhile, has elite speed (4.36 seconds in the 40-yard dash).

That focus left the Lions less able to surround quarterback Matthew Stafford with additional weapons and protection. The Lions didn't draft an offensive tackle after the departure of both 2012 starters, and they didn't get around to selecting a receiver until grabbing Virginia Tech's Corey Fuller with the third pick of the sixth round (No. 171 overall).

(The Lions did draft guard Larry Warford in the third round.)

From a roster-balance perspective, it made sense for the Lions to focus on pass defense -- long a weakness -- rather than their passing offense. But the Lions still finished the draft with less depth at receiver and offensive tackle than they would have liked. Life is a trade-off, after all.

AFC West draft analysis

April, 27, 2013
NFC draft analysis: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

Leave it to Manti Te'o to overshadow the No. 1 pick in the draft.

The 2013 NFL draft began when the Kansas City Chiefs took athletic Central Michigan tackle Eric Fisher with the No. 1 pick. It was a great pick, and Fisher has a chance to be a stalwart for years to come.

However, the selection of Fisher was not the story of the draft weekend in the AFC West. The headline-stealing pick came about 24 hours and 37 picks later when the San Diego Chargers, who had been very quiet this offseason, shook up the draft by taking polarizing Notre Dame inside linebacker Manti Te’o in a trade up.

Te’o was a highly-rated player, but was involved in a bizarre hoax involving a dead girlfriend who, it turned out, did not exist. Te’o will be remembered for the hoax, but now he will try to make a name in the AFC West.

I thought all four teams in the division (the worst division in the NFL last year) made savvy choices. When the draft grades pour in, and they will, I expect solid grades for all four teams.

In the meantime, let’s look closer at the division’s draft:


It’s difficult to beat what new San Diego general manager Tom Telesco pulled off in the second and third rounds. After taking Alabama right tackle D.J. Fluker at No. 11 in the first round, Telesco came back firing Friday with the trade-up for Te’o and the with the third-round selection of California receiver Keenan Allen.

Immediately after the Allen choice, ESPN draft analyst Todd McShay said Telesco drafted three first rounders. That view was later echoed by fellow ESPN draft analyst Mel Kiper.

I expect both Te’o and Allen to contribute immediately. Allen, who has had some manageable knee issues, is a sure receiver who gives the offense-needy Chargers a serious weapon. Philip Rivers has seen several top weapons leave in free agency in recent years. He gets a gift in the form of Allen.


It wasn’t all perfect for the Chargers. They entered the draft, as they entered free agency, with left tackle as their greatest need. It is still a major need.

In some ways the Chargers can’t be blamed for not addressing the position this weekend. Only three left tackles were considered sure instant starters -- Fisher, Luke Joeckel and Lane Johnson -- and they were all off the board in the first four picks. So the Chargers really didn’t have a chance to get any of them. Still, it is risky for the Chargers to come out of this draft without a left tackle. They may have to pursue Baltimore free agent Bryant McKinnie as a short-term rental.

[+] EnlargeOakland's D.J. Hayden
Ed Szczepanski/USA TODAY SportsThe Raiders took cornerback D.J. Hayden in spite of the rare injury he suffered last year.
The Raiders also did well in the draft overall. But they did not get a sure pass-rusher. Oakland had a paltry 25 sacks last season. They need a pass-rush burst somewhere. But the Raiders had so many holes, they simply couldn't fill all of them. Oakland has to figure something out on defense, or progress will be delayed.


In a mild surprise, the Raiders took Houston cornerback D.J. Hayden. He is a fine player, and the Raiders maintain they would have taken him at No. 3 had they been unable to trade down with Miami and take him at No. 12. Now, that would have been a surprise.

Leaguewide, Hayden was expected to be taken in the 15-25 range, but several teams really liked him. The last time he was on a football field was November, when he tore a major vein that pumps blood to the heart. Such injuries are most common in auto accidents and have just a 5 percent survival rate. Still, Hayden has been cleared. I expect him to be a great immediate help for the Raiders, who badly need star power at the position.


Denver first-round pick Sylvester Williams is going to be an instant standout. The North Carolina product was expected to go much higher than No. 28. He is disruptive and athletic. He fits in with a young, talented Denver defense. John Elway scored on defense with his first two top picks in Von Miller and Derek Wolfe and he did it again with Williams.

NFC East draft analysis

April, 27, 2013
NFC draft analysis: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

The draft started off heavy in the NFC East, as the three teams with first-round picks this year used them on offensive linemen. And while there were a few little surprises and treats along the way, it never really got hot. All four of the division's teams had workmanlike drafts that balanced need and value and didn't stray into any of the juicy storylines. No Manti Te'o, Geno Smith or Tyrann Mathieu for us.

There was a trade-down in the first round, as the Dallas Cowboys moved out of a No. 18 spot they didn't like and still managed to get their first-round offensive lineman, while adding a third-rounder to the mix. There were two trade-ups in the fourth round, as the Philadelphia Eagles and the New York Giants maneuvered to add quarterbacks in surprising moves. And there were the Washington Redskins, without a first-rounder but fine with it because they have Robert Griffin III, who waited it out and got two talented safeties in the late rounds for a secondary that needs rebuilding.

We'll be breaking this all down for days and weeks and months, but here's a quick early look at the way the 2013 draft went in the NFC East.


In the absence of any earth-shaking moves in the early rounds by NFC East teams, I'm going to have to go with the Eagles taking tackle Lane Johnson at No. 4. They probably could have traded down out of the pick, but this was a draft in which six offensive linemen went in the first 11 picks, and the value of the third-best tackle with the fourth pick was worth hanging in there. After what happened to their offensive line with injuries in 2012, the Eagles were wise to load up there, taking an athletic player who can start at right tackle right away and maybe move to left tackle down the road once Jason Peters is done. It also helps that Johnson is the kind of lineman who can move. If Chip Kelly plans to run a lot of read-option, or even a lot of bubble screens, Johnson's ability to get out and block at the second level is going to be a big help.

Also considered: The Eagles' trade-up for quarterback Matt Barkley at the top of the fourth round. ... The Redskins' getting two quality safeties in the fourth and sixth rounds in Phillip Thomas and Bacarri Rambo. ... The Cowboys trading down in the first round and getting wide receiver Terrance Williams with the third-round pick they added in that deal.


[+] Enlarge
Thomas Campbell/US PresswireDamontre Moore put up impressive numbers at Texas A&M, but he has to disspell concerns over his work ethic and attitude at the next level.
There weren't any real big risks taken by NFC East teams with their most valuable picks in the first and second rounds, I didn't think. So I'm going with defensive end Damontre Moore, who went to the Giants in the third round. Moore is a big-time talent with big-time production numbers in college -- 12.5 sacks last year, 26.5 over the past three. But there are good reasons a player as good as he is was still there at pick No. 81, and in Moore's case those reasons include a marijuana bust and a reputation as a young man who struggles with attitude and work ethic.

Now, Moore is just 20 years old, and it's wrong to assume anyone that age will always be what he has been so far. But Moore is the player from this draft whose job it is to bolster the future of the Giants' pass rush with Osi Umenyiora gone and Justin Tuck aging. If he's a solid citizen and produces the way he did at Texas A&M, he's going to be a steal. If he's an attitude case who doesn't take to coaching and causes problems, the Giants are going to have to keep looking for long-term solutions at defensive end in the next several drafts. A third-round pick isn't too much to risk on a player with Moore's potential, but it's a pick with which the Giants could have found help elsewhere. So if he does flop, they will regret it.


The Eagles pulled the surprise of Day 3, moving up three spots to the top of the fourth round, where they selected USC quarterback Matt Barkley. Most analysts were convinced Kelly would seek a fast, athletic, running quarterback when he finally pulled the trigger on that position, but Barkley was a pro-style pocket passer at USC and doesn't fit the "system" everyone seems to be assuming Kelly is determined to run now that he's in the pros. As you know if you read this blog regularly, I think that's hogwash and that Kelly is smart enough to know that the best way to coach is to find talented players and figure out the best way to coach them -- not come wading in with your own "system" and only look for players who fit it.

Kelly knows Barkley from coaching against him in college, and Barkley is a guy who a year ago was thought of as a possible No. 1 overall pick. If 2012 was just a bad year for him and he ends up being a good NFL quarterback, nobody's going to care that he can't run the read-option. For a fourth-round pick and a seventh-round pick, which is what it cost the Eagles to move up and take him, it's a worthwhile risk. And it leaves Kelly with a lot of options at the most important position on his team as he begins his first offseason as an NFL coach.

The Giants pulled a surprise of their own later in the round, trading up six picks to select Syracuse quarterback Ryan Nassib to develop behind Eli Manning. The 32-year-old Manning hasn't missed a game since 2004, so it's unlikely Nassib sees the field anytime soon. But the Giants decided it was time to start thinking down the road at the position.


I liked the Cowboys' first round more than most people did, because I thought they absolutely needed to come out of that round with an offensive lineman, and they did. And while Travis Frederick may have been a reach at 31, reaching for an offensive lineman wasn't a bad move for this particular team in a draft in which eight offensive linemen went in the top 20 picks. They traded down from 18 and got the pick that netted Frederick and the third-round pick that netted wide receiver Terrance Williams, and they like that pair better than they liked what was available to them at 18.

But they won't have to look far to remember what might have been. The Giants took Syracuse offensive lineman Justin Pugh at 19, which means the Cowboys could have stayed put and picked up a better-regarded lineman than Frederick (though, obviously, not also get Williams in the third). If Pugh turns out to be a great player for the Giants and Frederick flops in Dallas, the Cowboys could end up regretting the Day 1 trade-down in the long run.

AFC East draft analysis

April, 27, 2013
NFC draft analysis: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

The AFC East was full of surprises, twists and turns during the 2013 NFL draft. The first round had three trades involving division teams, and half of the AFC East drafted potential franchise quarterbacks amid controversy.

For the second year in a row, the New England Patriots were the only AFC East team to finish with a winning record in 2012. A significant gap between New England and everyone else remains, which is why this draft was so important.

Here is what stood out most in the AFC East:


Earlier in the week I correctly predicted the Dolphins would trade up to the No. 3 overall pick with the Oakland Raiders. But Miami made the move to select former Oregon defensive end and pass-rushing specialist Dion Jordan. It was a pleasant surprise for the Dolphins to get arguably the most dynamic defensive player in the draft, and it cost only an extra second-round pick. Most projected Miami to target a left tackle.

But Dolphins general manager Jeff Ireland showed his aggressive nature this offseason. Ireland, first and foremost, wants to add playmakers. That explains Miami’s big free-agent acquisitions such as wide receiver Mike Wallace, linebacker Dannell Ellerbe and now the first-round pick of Jordan. These are difference-makers who can win games for Miami.

Jordan is arguably the best defensive player in this draft and has the potential to be a consistent double-digit sack performer. He will pair with Miami Pro Bowl defensive end Cameron Wake, who had a career-high 15 sacks in 2012, to make a dangerous tandem of defensive ends. I also like the addition of second-round cornerback Jamar Taylor, who could win the starting job and or play the nickel.

Miami’s goal this year is to close the gap with the Patriots, who have dominated the AFC East for most of the past dozen years. With the additions of Jordan and Taylor on defense, the Dolphins drafted players who can potentially make life a little tougher for New England quarterback Tom Brady.


[+] EnlargeEJ Manuel
AP Photo/David DupreyThe Bills know that they will have to develop the consistency of quarterback EJ Manuel.
The Bills made perhaps the most risky move of the entire NFL draft. Buffalo was the only team to take a quarterback in the first round, drafting EJ Manuel at No. 16 overall.

Buffalo will face plenty of criticism in the coming weeks and months for taking Manuel in the first round. ESPN draft expert Todd McShay, for example, called the move “a big mistake” and “a waste” of a first-round pick.

Manuel has a lot of physical tools but wasn’t able to put it together consistently at Florida State. Many view Manuel as a project, but the Bills believe he has the potential to become their long-term, franchise quarterback.

As the first quarterback off the board, Manuel will have a lot of pressure to become the best quarterback from the 2013 class. Manuel will compete with veteran Kevin Kolb and Tarvaris Jackson for Buffalo’s starting job in training camp. The Bills also took some character risks with second-round linebacker Kiko Alonso, who had multiple arrests at Oregon, and fourth-round safety Duke Williams, who was suspended three times at Nevada.


It wasn’t surprising that the New York Jets drafted a quarterback. But it was shocking that Geno Smith, who was regarded by many as the top quarterback in the draft, fell into New York’s lap with the 39th overall pick in the second round.

The Jets reportedly liked Smith enough to consider him for the No. 13 overall pick. New York ended up taking former Missouri defensive tackle Sheldon Richardson, who was higher on its board. As luck would have it, New York’s top quarterback was still available on Day 2. The Jets made calls to try to move up, but that was unnecessary. Smith continued his surprising free-fall until the Jets turned in their card at No. 39.

Not only is Smith New York’s quarterback of the future, he could be its quarterback of the present. The Jets could consider releasing incumbent starting quarterback Mark Sanchez, but I would be surprised given his guaranteed salary of $8.25 million and the potential cap hit of $17.15 million over the next two years.

The Jets now have six quarterbacks on the roster: Sanchez, Smith, David Garrard, Tim Tebow, Greg McElroy and Matt Simms. Smith is the only quarterback of this group who is guaranteed a roster spot.


The Patriots and head coach Bill Belichick continued their trend of under-the-radar selections. New England filled its needs but with players you didn’t expect. After trading out of the first round, the Patriots too outside linebacker Jamie Collins in the second round. The Patriots passed over more well-known pass-rushers such as Margus Hunt and Arthur Brown.

New England also made its most surprising pick in the third round in Rutgers safety Duron Harmon, who was projected to be a late-round pick. This move is reminiscent of the second-round pick Tavon Wilson in 2012. Wilson also was a projected late-round pick and played well as a rookie with four interceptions. Keep an eye on how Belichick’s under-the-radar picks like Harmon and Collins develop in 2013.

NFC South draft analysis

April, 27, 2013
NFC draft analysis: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

The NFC South might be the only division in the NFL with four franchise quarterbacks, assuming Tampa Bay’s Josh Freeman can be just a little more consistent.

When Freeman is on his game, he joins Atlanta’s Matt Ryan, New Orleans’ Drew Brees and Carolina’s Cam Newton to give the division four high-octane offenses. In recent years, defense has become something of a lost art in the NFC South. But that may be about to change.

The division-wide theme to the 2013 NFL draft was to load up on defense, even to a point where it looked like teams were overcompensating at what had been problem spots.

Carolina used its first two picks on defensive tackles (Star Lotulelei and Kawann Short). Atlanta used its first two picks on cornerbacks (Desmond Trufant and Robert Alford). Even after trading for cornerback Darrelle Revis, Tampa Bay used its first pick on cornerback Johnthan Banks. And New Orleans, the league’s worst defense last season, used its first pick on safety Kenny Vaccaro.

Will that be enough to shut down Ryan, Brees, Newton and Freeman? Probably not. But all four NFC South defenses suddenly got better over the past few days.


This wasn’t a flashy draft for the division. But that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Teams focused on the basics, and no team did a better job of that than Carolina.

New general manager Dave Gettleman apparently believes that everything starts up front. His selection of Lotulelei was a stroke of intelligence and a little bit of luck. By all rights, Lotulelei shouldn’t have been available at No. 14. Just a few months ago, people were talking about him as perhaps the No. 1 overall pick.

But a pre-draft medical scare caused Lotulelei’s stock to fall. He checked out fine medically, and I’m sure the Panthers did plenty of homework on his health situation. They ended up getting the best defensive tackle in the draft. Put Lotulelei in a rotation with Short and Dwan Edwards, and defensive tackle suddenly becomes a strength for Carolina. With the infusion of talent in the middle of the line, a Carolina front seven that’s good everywhere else could become a real force.


[+] EnlargeKenny Vaccaro
AP Photo/Alix DrawecThe Saints are hoping that safety Kenny Vaccaro can help improve the NFL's worst defense last season.
I’m not knocking the Saints’ selection of Vaccaro. He has a great skill set, and he’s going to make a secondary that needed help much better. But I do have to question the wisdom of taking a safety with their first pick.

New Orleans is in the process of switching from a 4-3 defense to a 3-4 scheme. That means you have to have the right personnel for the 3-4, and I’m not sure the Saints have that. The key to a 3-4 scheme is having an edge pass-rusher. The Saints could have had outside linebacker Jarvis Jones, who was a productive rusher in college, at No. 15, but they passed on him and took Vaccaro. That was New Orleans’ one big chance to get a pass-rusher because the Saints have been limited as to what they were able to do in free agency by the salary cap.

Maybe Victor Butler, Martez Wilson and Junior Galette will provide a strong pass rush. But they’re all unknown commodities. If the pass rush doesn’t make an impact, life isn’t going to be easy for Vaccaro and the secondary.


Immediately after the season ended, Tampa Bay coach Greg Schiano talked about how he wanted to bring in someone to compete with Freeman for the starting job. That caused a bit of a stir in Tampa Bay, but the coach backed away from that statement several times, saying he simply meant he wants to improve the competition at all positions. In other words, Freeman is the starter as he heads into a contract year.

But Schiano, who wasn’t around when Freeman was drafted, opened the way for a quarterback controversy the first time Freeman struggles by drafting NC State quarterback Mike Glennon in the third round. The Bucs had more pressing needs, such as tight end and depth on the defensive line, at that point in the draft.

Yet they took Glennon, who might have stuck around for another round or two. Freeman still is the starter, and maybe everything will work out fine for him. But he suddenly is on a short leash. Schiano now has a quarterback that he drafted and could turn to if Freeman has a few bad games.


Stanford tight end Levine Toilolo, taken by the Atlanta Falcons in the fourth round, can be a better NFL player than his draft position and college numbers would indicate. Toilolo was overshadowed by Coby Fleener and Zach Ertz.

In 2010, Toilolo beat out both of them for the starting job. That lasted for only one game as Toilolo suffered a knee injury in the first game of the season. He came back but took on a secondary role.

He doesn’t stand out as a receiver or a blocker, but he’s decent in both areas and has lots of upside. Toilolo could be coming into an ideal situation in Atlanta. He’ll get to learn from Tony Gonzalez for a year. After that, Toilolo could become the starter.

I’m not saying he’ll turn into the second coming of Gonzalez. But Atlanta has so many other offensive weapons that Toilolo could end up being a productive tight end.

AFC South draft analysis

April, 27, 2013
NFC draft analysis: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

The AFC South’s two 3-4 teams spent first-, third- and fourth-round picks on pass-rushing outside linebackers, trying to amp up the pressure they can put on opposing quarterbacks.

The Colts will be converting first-rounder Bjoern Werner of Florida State from a college defensive end to an outside linebacker, where he probably will compete for time on the strong side with free-agent acquisition Erik Walden. Walden is a solid run player, so if Werner can get into the backfield, they might complement each other well.

Werner has drawn comparisons to Paul Kruger, who left the Ravens after the Super Bowl to join the Cleveland Browns.

In Houston, the pass rush was overly reliant on J.J. Watt last season and lost Connor Barwin to Philadelphia in free agency. Enter third-rounder Sam Montgomery from LSU and fourth-rounder Trevardo Williams from UConn.

The two college ends will move back a unit in Wade Phillips’ defense. If they pan out on the strong side, Brooks Reed probably will move inside and work there with Brian Cushing.


The Jaguars steered clear of a quarterback.

They had the second pick overall and flip-flopped between first and second in each subsequent round. It’s a great landscape to add a lot of talent to a team that needs an influx and chose not to spend a lot in free agency.

Jacksonville added cheaper veterans who it thinks might blossom and be more productive in its systems.

A team that wants to be draft-centric wasn’t tempted by EJ Manuel, Geno Smith, Mike Glennon, Matt Barkley, Ryan Nassib, Tyler Wilson or Landry Jones.

Meanwhile the Jaguars grabbed a cornerstone lineman in Luke Joeckel, probable starting strong safety Johnathan Cyprien, big corner Dwayne Gratz, receiver/punt returner Ace Sanders, running back/kick returner Denard Robinson and free safety Josh Evans with their first six picks.

They dealt away the first pick of the fourth round and let Philadelphia draft Barkley.

I don’t believe Blaine Gabbert or Chad Henne will prove to be a long-term answer for the franchise. But I don’t believe any of the alternatives available through six rounds of this draft would have either. So I like the focus and determination to add pieces elsewhere.

When the time comes, probably next year, to add the quarterback, he’ll be joining a better roster.


Indianapolis fifth-round defensive tackle Montori Hughes had issues at the University of Tennessee that got him thrown off the team. He told Indianapolis reporters that the Colts were the only team he would be talking to.

There are indications that he matured as he finished up at UT-Martin, but if his previous troubles are a predictor of future troubles, the Colts could be bringing a headache onto themselves.

“I went through some academic troubles and I went through some team issues and then I transferred down to UT-Martin,” Hughes said. “I had a new coach, so I transferred down, and I felt like it was a good fit at the time. Everything from when I first went on the campus at UT-Martin had a good feeling about it.

[+] EnlargeDenard Robinson
Rick Osentoski/US PresswireJacksonville draftee Denard Robinson rushed for 4,495 yards and had 42 rushing TDs in four years at Michigan, but as a quarterback.
“So when I went down there, I just went to work and knew I had to prove to myself and others that I was a better person than what was out there and just go to work every day, go hard, go hard on the field, on and off, and just learn to play football, the passion for the game. I just love being out there, so just taking it one day at a time.”


Outside of the first round, the biggest name to come into the AFC South was Robinson, the former Michigan quarterback. Jacksonville drafted him in the fifth round, 135th overall, as a running back and kick returner.

The Jaguars need playmakers for sure, but it feels like there is a bit of danger connected to a guy drafted to play running back who has never played running back. Robinson is regarded as a high-character guy with great drive. He wants to succeed and is willing to do whatever is asked of him.

If he pans out, it could be a real boom pick, offering hard-to-defend, hard-to-predict chunks of yardage.


Jaguars corner Gratz, Titans cornerback Blidi Wreh-Wilson and two Texans -- outside linebacker Williams and tight end Ryan Griffin -- all played together for the UConn Huskies.

UConn coach Paul Pasqualoni spent six years in the NFL coaching ranks, including terms as defensive coordinator for the Miami Dolphins and Dallas Cowboys.

The Titans said they had Gratz (5-11, 201) and Wreh-Wilson (6-1, 195) rated close to each other on their board. As teams look for corners with more size who can press, hit and hold up, they’ll be an interesting duo to watch grow up in the same division.

NFC West draft analysis

April, 27, 2013
NFC draft analysis: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

The NFC West has been gaining on the two-time defending division champion San Francisco 49ers.

The Seattle Seahawks nearly caught the 49ers in the division race last season before adding Percy Harvin. The St. Louis Rams more than tripled their victory total from 2011 while going 1-0-1 against San Francisco. The Arizona Cardinals will almost certainly get better after acquiring quarterback Carson Palmer.

The 49ers, with arguably the NFL's strongest roster and best coaching staff, had nowhere to go but down. How general manager Trent Baalke used the 49ers' NFL-high 13 draft choices was going to be critical for the 49ers to maintain their standing atop the NFC West.

"Trent Baalke has to be on his 'A' game," coach Jim Harbaugh had said. "This could make you. You could be the next Bill Polian, the next Ozzie Newsome. It all hinges on this draft. So, it's exciting."

So, how did Baalke do? With all those picks and relatively few openings in the lineup, Baalke needed to be aggressive. He needed to move up for specific players when appropriate and parlay picks into 2014 capital.

Baalke did those things. He moved up 13 spots to select LSU safety Eric Reid with the 18th overall pick. There's more than one way to judge whether the 49ers fared well in getting the 18th pick from Dallas for the 31st and 74th selections. A rival executive told me he thought the 49ers got a great deal. In 1995, Jacksonville packaged the 31st, 97th and 134th picks with a future fourth-rounder to acquire No. 19 -- a higher price.

The 49ers had the capital to move around the board and target needs. San Francisco addressed its top three needs with its top three picks, landing a safety (Reid), defensive lineman (Tank Carradine) and tight end (Vance McDonald). Baalke acquired a 2014 third-rounder from Tennessee as well.

So, the 49ers got what they wanted now while planning for the future with that 2014 pick and Marcus Lattimore, the running back they hope can contribute in 2014. Carradine could be needed to take over for Justin Smith in another year. The 49ers added receiver Quinton Patton in the fourth round -- no big deal, perhaps, but with a decision on Michael Crabtree's contract looming, insurance at that position made sense longer term as well.


There were a few worthy candidates. A double move the St. Louis Rams pulled off in the first round stands out. We cannot say with any certainty whether the players St. Louis or any team selected will become outstanding ones, but we can evaluate the process, at least. The Rams had more at stake in the first round than any team in the NFC West. Their thinking and execution through that portion of the draft appeared sound.

Moving up eight spots to select wide receiver Tavon Austin delivered to St. Louis the skill that player evaluators were most excited about in this draft. The cost was high, however, and the Rams had lots of needs. Their move to recoup picks by trading back eight spots to No. 30 with their other first-round selection gave them the best of both worlds.

The Rams entered this draft with eight total picks and what seemed to be primary needs at safety, receiver, guard and outside linebacker. They needed depth at corner, too.

Sending the 16th, 46th, 78th and 222nd picks to the Buffalo Bills for the eighth and 71st picks left the Rams with just six selections in the draft. That wasn't going to be enough for coach Jeff Fisher and general manager Les Snead to build sufficient depth. But with Snead having come to the Rams from Atlanta, the second-year GM put to use his relationship with Falcons counterpart Thomas Dimitroff, restoring needed picks to St. Louis.

The Rams then sent the 22nd overall choice and a 2015 seventh-rounder to the Falcons for the 30th, 92nd and 198th choices. That left St. Louis with its original pick count, eight, and the same number of first-rounders. Note that the picks St. Louis wound up using in the first round -- Nos. 8 and 30 -- averaged out to the picks the Rams held originally (16 and 22).

The Rams emerged from the first round with the first skill-position player selected and the first 4-3 outside linebacker selected.


[+] EnlargeTyrann Mathieu
AP Photo/Michael ConroyWith strong locker room leaders, Arizona GM Steve Keim said he feels confident in drafting defensive back Tyrann Mathieu.
Risk can be good sometimes, and I'd say the Arizona Cardinals made a calculated one by using their third-round choice for Tyrann Mathieu, the LSU defensive back Bill Polian had called a "poor teammate and a poor risk" during ESPN's draft coverage. Polian, a six-time NFL executive of the year, made those comments before the Cardinals selected Mathieu (Polian and Cardinals coach Bruce Arians worked together in Indianapolis years ago).

Mathieu, nicknamed "Honey Badger" for his aggressive coverage tactics, had been kicked off the team at LSU for violating substance-abuse rules. He had admitted to having a problem eliminating marijuana use from his life. A strong endorsement from Cardinals cornerback Patrick Peterson helped Arizona feel better about selecting Mathieu. The two starred together at LSU and are looking forward to reuniting.

"We will probably start him at weak safety and then with our defense, with the way it’s structured, he can slide into the slot as a free safety -- basically playing with three corners, but one of them is also a safety," Arians said. "He gives that flexibility where we wouldn’t have to substitute."

Mathieu said he'll submit to regular testing, counseling or anything else the Cardinals might have in mind. He sounded sincere.

Meanwhile, general manager Steve Keim pointed to strong leadership in the Cardinals' locker room as another reason the team might be able to keep Mathieu on the right side of the NFL's policies. Keim singled out Darnell Dockett, Calais Campbell and Daryl Washington as players "you feel can help keep some structure in place."

Those players might indeed serve as fine leaders. However, the Cardinals did reportedly levy a six-figure fine against Dockett for insubordination last season. Washington is scheduled to serve a four-game suspension for violating the NFL's substance-abuse policy.

"We made two selections, our first two selections, with guys that have impeccable character," Keim said of Jonathan Cooper and Kevin Minter. "You don't want to build your locker room of 53 players with risk.

"If you feel like you have a strong core of solid veteran leaders -- guys like Dockett, Calais Campbell, Daryl Washington -- who you feel can help keep some structure in place, I think that you have a chance to occasionally take a risk. That's if you have that instinct or that gut feeling that this player is committed to making a change."


The Seattle Seahawks used the last choice of the second round to select running back Christine Michael even though the depth chart was stacked with Marshawn Lynch and Robert Turbin, both of whom are signed for the long term.

The Seahawks did not have glaring needs entering this draft. They had flexibility to make a move such as this one. They also had an opening at running back after releasing Leon Washington. Unlike Washington, however, Michael doesn't factor as an explosive kickoff returner. He doesn't qualify as a change-of-pace back. He would seem to give the Seahawks more of the power running they already have in abundance.

The most surprising move in the division could still be a good one. As coach Pete Carroll pointed out, the team used a third-round choice for quarterback Russell Wilson last year shortly after signing Matt Flynn to a three-year, $19.5 million deal. The team found a starting quarterback when no one thought it needed one.


The landscape at running back continues to change in the NFC West. Every team in the division selected at least one in this draft.

The clock ticks loudly for older backs in the NFL.

Steven Jackson was one established back to depart the NFC West this offseason, leaving the Rams in free agency after eight consecutive 1,000-yard seasons for the team.

St. Louis traded into the fifth round to select Vanderbilt's Zac Stacy, a power back standing 5-foot-8 and weighing 216 pounds. Stacy will join Isaiah Pead and Daryl Richardson in the committee setup Jackson resisted.

Frank Gore's time with the San Francisco 49ers is not yet up. He remains effective and hasn't shown obvious signs of slowing. He's one of the most productive and respected players on the team. He also turns 30 next month, a bad number for running backs.

The 49ers used a 2011 fourth-round pick for Kendall Hunter and a 2012 second-rounder for LaMichael James before using a 2013 fourth-rounder for South Carolina running back Marcus Lattimore. The team is preparing for life without Gore.

The Cardinals already released 2009 first-round pick Beanie Wells. They signed Rashard Mendenhall before drafting Stanford career rushing leader Stepfan Taylor in the fifth round and another back, Andre Ellington of Clemson, in the sixth.

Michael's addition in Seattle wouldn't appear to change much over the next year or two. I wonder what it says, if anything, about the team's faith in Lynch holding up through the remainder of his contract, which runs through 2015.

Seattle added another running back, Spencer Ware of LSU, late in the sixth round.


Roster Advisor