Commentary

The 2013 draft's winners, losers

The Chargers score big while the Jets guarantee themselves further QB drama

Originally Published: April 27, 2013
By John Clayton | ESPN.com

The 2013 draft was rich in beef and low on skill players.

Three tackles went in the top four picks, and six offensive linemen went in the top 11. Only three receivers, one tight end and one quarterback went in the first round. For the first time in 49 years, no running back was selected in the first round.

The drama involved the quarterbacks. Geno Smith went in the second round to the New York Jets. EJ Manuel went to Buffalo instead of Ryan Nassib. Matt Barkley, Nassib, Landry Jones and Tyler Wilson went in the fourth round.

This draft was dominated by the SEC. In all, 63 SEC players were drafted, eight more than any other conference has had in a single draft.

There were 26 draft day trades. Only four veterans were moved -- wide receiver Davone Bess to Cleveland, running back Chris Ivory to the Jets, running back LeGarrette Blount to New England and running back Jeff Demps to the Bucs. Efforts to trade Kansas City left tackle Branden Albert to Miami failed.

Here are the winners and losers.

Winners

1. San Diego Chargers: It was a nice scene when the San Diego Chargers had their top three choices -- tackle D.J. Fluker, linebacker Manti Te'o and wide receiver Keenan Allen -- standing on a podium holding up their new uniforms. This draft might not be as memorable as the 2005 draft, but it was a good one. That draft produced Shawne Merriman, Luis Castillo, Vincent Jackson and Darren Sproles. Once Philip Rivers took over the starting job in 2006, the 2005 class provided enough of a lift to turn the Chargers into a perennial playoff team and a Super Bowl contender. Merriman and Castillo provided power and explosiveness to the defense. Sproles offered big plays to the offense and special teams. Call the Chargers 2013 draft class serviceable -- and their best class in years. Fluker should immediately become one of the most powerful right tackles as a rookie. Te'o isn't to be confused with Junior Seau, but his play should make him a fan favorite. In the 3-4, Te'o might not be the all-everything like Seau, but he could be more like Zach Thomas, the former great linebacker of the Miami Dolphins. Takeo Spikes is gone, so starting inside linebacker is Te'o's job to lose. Linebackers are usually favorites for defensive rookie of the year, and it's not out of the question for Te'o to end up as a good candidate. Allen could put this class over the top. He's a big receiver, although he doesn't have Vincent Jackson's deep speed. For a third-round choice, though, the Chargers couldn't go wrong.

[+] EnlargeCornellius 'Tank' Carradine
Phil Sears/AP PhotoSome thought the 49ers might trade up to get DE Cornellius "Tank" Carradine, but they didn't have to.

2. San Francisco 49ers: One of the best subplots of the draft was seeing what the San Francisco 49ers could do with all of their draft choices. After the season, they had 14. After trades for Anquan Boldin and Colt McCoy, the 49ers still had 13 picks. Surprisingly, the 49ers finished with 11, but they did well with those picks. When Jim Harbaugh was at Stanford, he might not have recruited the top classes out of high school, but he found the best players to fit his system. The 2013 draft had that Harbaugh feel to it. It won't win awards, but the class fit the 49ers' needs. The first-round pick made sense. Harbaugh tried to recruit safety Eric Reid to Stanford but lost him to LSU. Reid said he kept hearing from Harbaugh that he was coming to get him, and he sure did. The 49ers traded to the 18th pick to add him to a secondary that lost Dashon Goldson to Tampa Bay in free agency. The key to the draft, though, was defensive end Cornellius "Tank" Carradine. There was some thought the 49ers would trade up into the first round to get him. They didn't have to. He fell into the second round, and the 49ers wasted no time drafting him. Most people thought the 49ers wanted to draft a nose tackle after losing their top two to free agency. Turns out they didn't. They wanted a defensive end with some pass-rushing skills, someone they could groom to replace defensive end Justin Smith, who is entering the last year of the contract. The most interesting choice was running back Marcus Lattimore. He's Harbaugh's redshirt running back. Lattimore might have been the best back in the draft, but a knee injury dropped him into the fourth round. It might take him a year, but Lattimore has the talent eventually to replace Frank Gore, who is the heart and soul of the 49ers' running game. Adding Vance McDonald at tight end in the third round was ideal. He replaces Delanie Walker as the backup tight end with some pass-catching skills. The 49ers now have 10 draft choices in 2014, including extra picks in the third, fourth and seventh rounds.

3. Miami Dolphins: Jeff Ireland won the offseason by outspending everyone in free agency. A case could be made that he tried to outdraft the other 32 teams. Instead of sitting passively at the No. 12 pick, he moved into the top three to get one of the best pass-rushers in the draft, Dion Jordan of Oregon. Ireland drafted at the key positions -- pass-rusher, cornerback and tackle. Jamar Taylor and Will Davis can play behind veterans as rookies and can be groomed to be potential starters at cornerback. Tackle remains a big question mark after Jake Long's departure, but at least the Dolphins drafted one -- Dallas Thomas -- in the third round. The Dolphins finished with nine draft choices, including multiple picks in rounds three, four and five. They will have a rookie pool estimated to be around $9.15 million. It's been a great offseason for the Dolphins. Now Joe Philbin has to put everything together to try to win.

Losers

1. New York Jets: This has nothing to do with the draft. John Idzik's first draft was solid. You can't go wrong taking cornerback Dee Milliner, defensive lineman Sheldon Richardson and quarterback Geno Smith. That's as solid as it gets. The problem is the circus that follows. The Jets needed to draft a quarterback because Mark Sanchez and Tim Tebow are short-timers. Taking Smith on Friday could mean Sanchez's exit will come soon. Despite his early success in helping the team go to two AFC title games, Sanchez's situation now recalls what happened to Joey Harrington at the end of his career in Detroit. The Lions were annual losers. Harrington was drafted to be the savior, but after a while, players attached the losing to him. Though unfair, that stigma affected his ability to lead. Sanchez now represents the recent decline of this team. The situation isn't much different from Carson Palmer's in Oakland. The Raiders took the cap hit to trade him. Because he has $8.25 million guaranteed, Sanchez is untradeable. Releasing him would give the Jets $16.9 million of dead money this year and $4.8 million next year if they use the June 1 designation. Though it might seem silly to pay Sanchez $8.25 million to not play for the Jets, Smith's selection starts a new era. The Jets need to make a quick decision, though. Sanchez has a $500,000 workout bonus, so each day he works out cost them $12,500 in cash and in cap. Letting Darrelle Revis go to Tampa Bay cost them $13 million in dead money. Adding Sanchez's potential dead cap money would bring this year's total to $37.8 million. The Raiders have $49.5 million. It can be done, but the process is painful.

[+] EnlargeRyan Nassib
Brian Spurlock/USA TODAY SportsQB Ryan Nassib, like New England's Ryan Mallett, might not have much of a chance to play.

2. Quarterbacks Ryan Nassib and Landry Jones: Sure, things were bad for USC quarterback Matt Barkley. He went from being a potential top-three pick in 2012 to a fourth-round pick in 2013. Ouch. But at least the Philadelphia Eagles gave him some hope. They traded up in the fourth round to give him a chance to play at some point. Michael Vick is on a one-year deal. Chip Kelly didn't draft Nick Foles, so he can keep him or let him go depending on how he plays. If Barkley can pick up the offense fast, it's not out of the question for him to be the Eagles' starter in a year or two. Nassib and Jones weren't as lucky. They enter what I call the Ryan Mallet Witness Protection Program. Winning teams are now willing to throw third- or fourth-round picks on quarterbacks once deemed first-rounders who fall. The Patriots did that using a third-round pick for Mallett. Tom Brady is the starter and gives Mallett no hopes of getting a chance to play. Nassib thought he would go in the first round to Buffalo. Now, he's Eli Manning's backup. The Giants traded a sixth-round pick to move up six spots to take Nassib. Although Jones can be groomed as an eventual replacement for Ben Roethlisberger, he enters a situation in which he's third to Roethlisberger and Bruce Gradkowski. It's not out of the question that the next time you think about Nassib and Jones will be when their contracts end in four years.

3. USC Trojans: Lane Kiffin's pitch to Matt Barkley was to stay for his senior year. The Trojans were thinking national championship. They finished 7-6, and the losses continue. Connecticut had a better 2013 draft class than the Trojans. Connecticut had five draftees, including three in the third-round -- cornerbacks Dwayne Gratz and Blidi Wreh-Wilson and linebacker Sio Moore. Everyone knows about Barkley's fall to the fourth round. Wide receiver Robert Woods went in the second round. Free safety T.J. McDonald went in the third round. The only other Trojan drafted was center Khaled Holmes, who went in the fourth round. Even more embarrassing for the Trojans was that Rutgers had seven players drafted, three more than USC.

John Clayton

NFL senior writer