Commentary

First-round winners, losers

QBs and veteran left tackles took a hit, while things fell the Vikings' way

Originally Published: April 26, 2013
By John Clayton | ESPN.com

Since the end of the college football season, the quarterback class of 2013 has taken a beating.

Geno Smith was criticized for not going to the Senior Bowl. Matt Barkley was coming off a shoulder separation and wasn't considered to have a powerful arm. Mike Glennon was tall but inconsistent. Despite great success at Oklahoma, Landry Jones just couldn't gain much respect from draft gurus and scouts. Ryan Nassib may not have the strongest arm, but he had his college coach, Doug Marrone, to possibly to save him.

Thursday night topped off the disaster for these quarterbacks. None were taken in the first round. The ultimate insult was EJ Manuel of Florida State going in the first round to the Buffalo Bills, who are coached by Marrone, Nassib's coach at Syracuse. So much for home-field advantage.

Give Manuel credit. He worked his way into being the 16th pick in the draft. He kept improving his skills during the offseason. At one point, he said he thought he had risen to a point where he would be the first quarterback taken. He was right.

Here are the biggest losers and the winners in the first day of the NFL draft. First, the losers:

[+] EnlargeGeno Smith
AP Photo/Ben LiebenbergGeno Smith's phone never rang while he waited in the green room on the first day of the draft.

1. Geno Smith was the biggest loser: Many considered him to be the class of this quarterback class. He has a strong arm. He has an accurate arm. But something always seemed to be missing. At the combine, he had some mechanical issues on seven-step drops, which was an improvement from earlier problems with five-step drops. Now it's uncertain how far he'll fall. It's not out of the question that the Jacksonville Jaguars could take Barkley ahead of Smith with the first pick in the second round. The New York Jets have the 40th pick, and there are some coaches on the staff who like Nassib. Smith could be a fit in Cleveland, but the Browns don't have a pick in the second round. Smith has to hope the Oakland Raiders or Philadelphia Eagles take him in the second round, or he could fall into the third round.

2. Veteran left tackles were losers: Eric Fisher of Central Michigan, Luke Joeckel of Texas A&M and Lane Johnson of Oklahoma executed a changing of the guard at the tackle position. These three left tackles were taken among the top four picks, and they went to teams that already had left tackles. Kansas City used the franchise tag on veteran Branden Albert, but he's on borrowed time after the Chiefs made Fisher the first pick in the draft. The Chiefs could trade Albert to Miami for the 54th pick. But if that doesn't happen, Albert would have to anticipate serving out the season as the Chiefs' right tackle and then hitting the free-agent market in 2014. At least he has a $9.8 million salary to comfort his exit. Jaguars left tackle Eugene Monroe is in the last year of his contract. Even though he might play the season at left tackle, it would seem unlikely the Jaguars would pay him big money after taking Joeckel with the second overall pick. Chip Kelly faces an interesting decision in Philadelphia. He made Johnson the fourth pick while Jason Peters is on the roster. Peters is considered one of the most talented left tackles in football, but he missed last season because of injury and is making $12.8 million a year. It's not certain how Peters will fit into Kelly's fast-paced offense, particularly knowing that Johnson, who once was a college quarterback, is on the roster. The class of 2013 put veteran left tackles in job quandaries.

3. Welcome to the empty backfield: For the first time since 1963, no running back went in the first round. Eddie Lacy of Alabama had some hope of going to Denver, but when the Broncos took defensive tackle Sylvester Williams with the 28th pick, the forecast of first-round doom prevailed for backs. These are tough times for running backs. The days of 20-carry-per-game backs are diminishing. More teams are going to passing offenses and feel as though backs don't provide enough value to take high in the first round. Sure, a talent as good as Trent Richardson will be drafted respectably, but others are fitting more into roles than being featured. In 2011, Mark Ingram waited until the 28th pick to be the first back taken. Backs also are entering a league that changed its rules to penalize them for using the crown of their helmets on defenders.

Here are the winners:

[+] EnlargeCordarrelle Patterson
Paul Abell/US PresswireReceiver Cordarrelle Patterson fills a position of need for the Vikings, who traded away Percy Harvin.

1. The Minnesota Vikings: General manager Rick Spielman addressed three key needs in the first round. Two were easy. The Vikings got a break when Florida defensive tackle Sharrif Floyd fell to them at No. 23. Some considered Floyd a top-five talent. Apparently, Oakland didn't. Not only did the Raiders trade down from No. 3 to No. 12, but then they took Houston cornerback D.J. Hayden, leaving Floyd available. The Vikings have four starters on their defensive line in the final year of their contracts. Kevin Williams, who is 32, is on the way out. He was scheduled to make $7 million a year for the next two years, but he accepted a paycut. He now has a one-year deal at $5 million. Floyd is his long-term replacement. The second break was having Florida State cornerback Xavier Rhodes available at the 25th pick. To fill the Vikings' other key need, Spielman gave New England four picks -- a second-rounder, a third-rounder, a fifth-rounder and a seventh-rounder -- for the No. 29 pick and took Tennessee wide receiver Cordarrelle Patterson. The Vikings still have five more picks over the rest of the draft but can take Friday off; they have no picks in Rounds 2 or 3. The only thing Spielman couldn't do was draft Notre Dame's Manti Te'o.

2. St. Louis Rams: General manager Les Snead pulled off one of the slickest moves of the draft by trading up to No. 8 to select West Virginia wide receiver Tavon Austin. Rams coach Jeff Fisher said Monday he didn't have a problem taking a 5-foot-8, 175-pound receiver. With rules in place to protect defenseless receivers, small wideouts can survive in the middle of the field. DeSean Jackson has proved that in Philadelphia. He came out of college weighing less than 170 pounds. Fisher did say that a small receiver needs a tall quarterback or he won't be seen. The Rams have Sam Bradford, who is 6-foot-4. Bradford now has the quickness of Austin along with the deep speed of Chris Givens, plus other young, talented receivers. The other break for the Rams was having linebacker Alec Ogletree fall to them at No. 30. He's a tackling machine.

3. The New Orleans Saints and Pittsburgh Steelers: Both 3-4 defenses caught a break. The Saints could have used a pass-rushing linebacker for their new 3-4 defense, but they also needed a safety who can make plays. Kenny Vaccaro of Texas is a perfect player for their defense. He's versatile enough to cover slot receivers, talented enough to match up against tight ends and tall receivers and smart enough to sit back at free safety and intercept passes. The Saints also had the option of drafting linebacker Jarvis Jones from Georgia, but they let him fall to the Steelers at No. 17. With James Harrison now in Cincinnati, Pittsburgh needed a pass-rushing linebacker. As the round was going, the Steelers worried that neither Vaccaro nor Jones would fall to them. The Rams gave them a break by trading up for Austin. The Steelers thought the Rams could have taken Vaccaro at No. 16, leading to the Saints to taking Jones. Jones has the ability to be an impact rookie for the Steelers, something they desperately need.

John Clayton

NFL senior writer

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