NFL Nation: 2013 Draft Analysis AFC

AFC North draft analysis

April, 27, 2013
4/27/13
7:05
PM ET
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 ...

BEST MOVE

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.

RISKIEST MOVE

[+] 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.

MOST SURPRISING MOVE

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.

FILE IT AWAY

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.

AFC West draft analysis

April, 27, 2013
4/27/13
6:38
PM ET
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:

BEST MOVES:

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.

RISKIEST MOVES

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.

MOST SURPRISING MOVE

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.

FILE IT AWAY

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.

AFC East draft analysis

April, 27, 2013
4/27/13
6:30
PM ET
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:

BEST MOVE

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.

RISKIEST MOVE

[+] 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.

MOST SURPRISING MOVE

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.

FILE IT AWAY

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.

AFC South draft analysis

April, 27, 2013
4/27/13
6:07
PM ET
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.

BEST MOVE

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.

RISKIEST MOVE

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.”

MOST SURPRISING MOVE

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.

FILE IT AWAY

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.

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