Commentary

Final thoughts about 2014 draft

Adding another day, why Bortles went so early, compensatory picks and more

Originally Published: May 12, 2014
By John Clayton | ESPN.com

Here are a few closing thoughts about the 2014 draft.

1. Four-step program for future drafts. If Roger Goodell has his way and expands the draft from three days to four, it would be better to split the first round than to spread Rounds 2-7 over three days. If they went through 16 picks each of the first two nights, it would provide the opportunity for plenty of pre-draft hype and an hour or two of post-draft analysis and forecasting. Rounds 2-4 could go Saturday, with the remaining three rounds Sunday. I don't like it, but you sense the NFL is leaning in the direction of draft expansion.

2. From the shuffle to the scuffle in Buffalo. The Bills are making their future now with bold draft moves. They've put all of their stock in EJ Manuel. They added Sammy Watkins to the young receivers from last year's draft and Bryce Brown to the existing two-back rotation. Right tackle Cyrus Kouandjio should upgrade Manuel's protection, although his knees might not hold up long enough for him to get a second contract with the team. Imagine the criticism if Manuel can't get the Bills out of their 6-10 rut and the Cleveland Browns end up with top-six picks in Rounds 1 and 4 in 2015 from the Watkins trade? That won't be pretty.

3. Yet another "wait until next year" theme for Cleveland. Browns general manager Ray Farmer won the first day of the draft by adding cornerback Justin Gilbert, quarterback Johnny Manziel and first- and fourth-round picks next year. Aside from not getting a receiver to replace Josh Gordon if he gets suspended for the season, my biggest problem was that they ended up with only six picks in one of the best drafts in more than a decade. The previous administration favored the future over the present by trading 2013 draft choices for 2014 picks. In 2013, the Browns traded away fourth- and fifth-round picks and wound up with a draft class of five picks.

4. Moneyball in Jacksonville. The decision to draft Blake Bortles No. 3 is the first major test for NFL analytics. The Jags used detailed stats from college that pointed to Bortles being a top-three quarterback in 2015 if he would have stayed in school. The Jags don't plan to play Bortles this year. Their plan is to let Chad Henne get receivers Marqise Lee and Allen Robinson through the first tough season so the young receivers are seasoned for Bortles next year.

5. The "best athlete available" theory isn't realistic for everyone. It's true that good general managers stick to their draft ratings, but the "BAA" theory is applicable only for teams that don't have glaring needs or upcoming contract concerns. GMs have to study their roster over a three-year period, noting when groups of core players are headed to free agency or their salaries are too big. That's why the Kansas City Chiefs drafted outside linebacker Dee Ford. Highly paid Tamba Hali came to the offseason program weighing 285 pounds, and outside linebacker Justin Houston is unsigned after this year. The Philadelphia Eagles drafted outside linebacker Marcus Smith because they probably can't keep Connor Barwin and Trent Cole together beyond this year with their high salaries.

[+] EnlargeTom Savage
Andrew Weber/USA TODAY SportsQuarterback Tom Savage will be a key in determining whether the Texans' were smart to keep the No. 1 overall pick.

6. Still wondering if the Houston Texans should have traded down. If the Texans could have swapped the No. 1 overall pick for Atlanta's first- and second-round picks this year and first- and third-rounders next year, they could have had Manziel at quarterback and still taken guard Xavier Su'a-Filo. They also could have drafted Ra'Shede Hageman or Stephon Tuitt as departed defensive end Antonio Smith's replacement and later traded up to get nose tackle Louis Nix III. The final judgment will depend on who how much of a difference there ends up being between Manziel in Cleveland and Tom Savage in Houston.

7. Doing the right thing deserves its reward. The St. Louis Rams' selection of Michael Sam in the seventh round was brilliant. First, it showed forward thinking in drafting the first opening gay player in NFL history. Applause to the Rams. The only downside is the he's going to the deepest defensive line in football and faces a long shot of making the team. Here's the brilliance: If he's cut and not claimed on waivers, Sam would jump at the chance to be on the Rams' practice squad, respecting the loyalty they showed him and giving himself a year to develop and improve his chance of eventually making the active roster.

From the inbox

Q: Most analysts lumped Blake Bortles, Johnny Manziel and Teddy Bridgewater into the top tier, none of whom really solidified their place as the top QB in the class. Many even had Bortles as the third best of the bunch, but he was a top-five pick while the other two fell to the bottom of the first round. Could part of Jacksonville's comparative reach been ticket-driven considering that Bortles went to the local school, UCF? And for that matter, can the same be said of Derek Carr and Oakland/Fresno State?

Colin in San Diego

A: Jacksonville took Bortles for football reasons, but if the decision works, it could grow the ticket base. The reason I say he was taken for football reasons is that Jaguars fans will be skeptical of any first-round quarterback after the Blaine Gabbert experience. The Jags passed on Sammy Watkins to take Bortles. Many thought the Jags could do what Cleveland did and pick up Manziel later in the first round with some kind of a trade up. I don't see any way a Fresno State quarterback would draw ticket interest for Raiders fans. With that one, the Raiders drafted value, a strong-armed quarterback at a need position. Sure, they have Matt Schaub as the starter for this year, but Carr can develop behind him to be the Raiders' quarterback of the future. The Jags took a gamble. The Raiders made a solid choice, but there is no guarantee either move will work.

Q: Watching the draft, I noticed that Team A's pick is in while ESPN is in commercial and the Team B has already been on the clock for several minutes. Did Team B know who Team A's pick was before it was announced on TV? Do NFL teams have a separate exclusive system from which the teams can be updated on picks and trades?

Fred in Tampa, Florida

A: The NFL does have a separate system. Teams are notified of the selection once it is put in. This is done for television reasons. I do the radio broadcast for ESPN and have been doing it for close to two decades. What has happened is the show of the draft is forcing a delay in some of the picks being announced. The mandate is that no network is allowed to announce the pick until Roger Goodell goes to the podium. Teams function with full knowledge of what happened. With the hugs and family celebrations going on onstage, a natural delay is going to occur. The commissioner also holds back his announcements to allow ESPN and the NFL Network to get in their commercials. In the second round, some of the picks back up two or three deep before being announced. None of this causes any problems for the teams. It's just a way for fans to see the selections. When you get into the third day of the draft, there are no players coming to the podium and the selections come out in real time.

Q: The Seahawks, as expected traded out of the first round to acquire more midround picks. No one can blame them with the home runs they have hit in recent drafts. Since they love those picks, my question looks toward the future as far as compensation picks. The Hawks will not be able to keep everyone in their next few free-agent periods. What kind of compensation picks do you see them getting in the next few years? We're going to lose some talent, but I feel John Schneider and Pete Carroll's eyes light up to the thought of free mid-round picks.

Daniel in Seattle

A: As you know, compensatory picks can't be traded, but they give teams great flexibility. Baltimore Ravens general manager Ozzie Newsome is the king of compensatory picks. He has been getting four picks a year, providing the flexibility to trade regular picks knowing he's backed up with lower picks in the round. To accomplish that, you have to have players good enough to get big contracts from other teams. The Seahawks have reached that level. They should get four choices next year. I think they could get two No. 5s, a No. 6 and either a No. 6 or No. 7, depending on playing time and performance. This will give the Seahawks more chances to make picks during the rounds in which they excel. It also gives them more flexibility to trade up in rounds to get quality players.

Q: Please, please, please help me and the rest of the Detroit Lions fans understand why they drafted Eric Ebron and just ignored the glaring problems in their secondary. I am getting sick and tired of watching opposing QBs target Chris Houston on every play.

Derek in Houston

[+] EnlargeEric Ebron, Antonio Crawford
Bob Donnan/USA TODAY SportsTight end Eric Ebron can't help the Lions' secondary, but he'll cause problems for opposing defenses.

A: You knew going into the draft that the Lions wanted to trade up for either Watkins or Mike Evans. I believe they wanted Justin Gilbert at corner, too, but Cleveland eliminated that option. The Lions weren't going to take a cornerback shorter than 6-foot tall, which ruled out the next four corners on the board. I feel your pain on the cornerback front. Ebron will help the offense, so I have no problem with that pick. He'll be a matchup nightmare in the middle of the field.

Q: With the whole Jimmy Graham situation leading to arbitration due to the "misunderstanding" about what position he truly plays, why doesn't the NFLPA create a hybrid franchise tag for a TE/WR position? It happened with Terrell Suggs for a DE/LB hybrid a few years ago. With Antonio Gates, Jared Cook, Tony Gonzalez and other passing-catching TEs dominating the league, doesn't this seem like a logical step considering the precedent is already there?

Joel in Houston

A: I'm sure that's what the NFLPA and Graham are fighting for. Sure, Graham and the NFLPA would love to have a tight end make wide receiver money. The only way to do that is to file a protest, see how it goes before the arbiter and then make a settlement. This battle is three years in the making. Jermichael Finley was satisfied by getting a deal at franchise numbers. Cook avoided a fight by getting free agency. Unless an arbiter rules in favor of the owners, you'd have to think there will be a settlement like the one you propose.

Q: A friend and I were discussing how many college QBs from spread/shotgun styles of offenses have really made it in the NFL. It seemed to us that most of the most successful NFL QBs came from pro-style college offenses. Robert Griffin III might have been an exception, but he got hurt probably due to all his scrambling around. Is our perception off? That's what makes me worry about someone like Manziel. He was awesome in college, but can he make the transition to the pro game? It doesn't seem like a lot of college QBs who weren't in pro-style offenses make the transition.

Bob in Boise, Idaho

A: Scouts say the transition from shotgun to taking snaps behind center takes time, but the difficulty might be overstated. Drafted quarterbacks have the entire offseason to work with coaches and get the footwork down. It gets harder when the quarterback has to go from five-step drops to seven-step drops, but there is a simple solution to that: Don't use many seven-step drops until the quarterback gets comfortable with the five-step. This is an easier era for quarterbacks to make the transition because they have been throwing the football in passing offenses since high school. It was tougher in the old days when quarterbacks were coming out of running offenses such as the wishbone. It's a passing league, and the good, young quarterbacks seem to find a way to make it work early in their careers.

John Clayton

NFL senior writer

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