Sunday, May 11, 2014

2014 NFL Draft: General Review

So today I'm just going to look at the draft from a broad perspective and give some of my initial thoughts. I'll probably end up doing team by team reviews later as a way to fill out the off season, probably including their free agent pick ups as well. It's a long old off season after all.

1) The fact that the Texans were unable to trade out of their spot speaks volumes. Granted, they wanted a quite ridiculous package of picks for that spot, but keep in mind that all throughout this draft process we've been told how Clowney is a once in a lifetime talent. It's gotten even more ridiculous lately with people like Mike Mayock claiming that Clowney is the best defensive end in the NFL, despite not having played a single snap yet.

If Clowney really was that kind of talent, or at least if teams really valued him that highly, then Houston should have had no problem shopping the pick. Deep draft or not, people would have been lining up to throw picks at Houston. That they didn't suggests that a lot more people have concerns about Clowney than the networks have been making out. At the very least they seem unconvinced by all the expert opinion on Clowney being a once in a lifetime guy.

2) The Jaguars made a splash by taking Blake Bortles number three overall. It was a little surprising, but it makes sense. They clearly felt he was a guy they could develop into the future of their franchise and in the position they're in now they have the luxury of putting him on the bench while Chad Henne keeps his spot warm.

Some people have called it a reach, but fundamentally the Jaguars felt good enough about him (and worried enough that someone else might take him) to make the pick. If he pans out to be their franchise guy then everyone will suddenly acknowledge it as a good move. And look on the bright side, at least he's not Blaine Gabbert.

3) Which brings me to the general trend we've seen in the first round this year of teams taking "their guy" regardless of whether some TV talking head will give them a C- for doing it. The Patriots in particular stand out for taking Dominique Easley. Easley's not a bad player, though I don't think I'd want to part with a first rounder for him, especially not with two bum knees.

But the point is the Patriots did think he was a first rounder and they bet on themselves. It doesn't matter whether Todd McShay, or that perm guy, or Mike Mayock agree with the pick. They saw what they thought was a first round guy and they pulled the trigger.

Sure, if he turns out to be a dud then there will be a bunch of articles written about how stupid it was. But in the grand scheme of things coaches and GMs have to go with what they believe to be right. It's very easy to sit on the sideline and say that Easley was a second round pick, but the second round is a long old thing and the Patriots were sitting at the back end of it. Plenty of opportunities for someone to jump in there ahead of you.

The Dolphins also made a splash (see what I did there? I'm here all week) by taking tackle Ja'Wuan James at number 19. It seems like a massive reach at first glance, but again if he turns out to be as good as they think he is then it really doesn't matter what fans or experts think. People will just look back and remember that they took a good tackle in the first.

These picks emphasise the need to stay true to your own board and make decisions based on your own analysis and what you think is best for your team. Imagine if a team thought the same way about Easley as the Patriots did, but put off drafting him till the second because they thought nobody else wanted him? Well then they just missed out on their guy.

4) The run on first round defensive backs was crazy. Me personally I'm not a huge fan of teams using high picks on corners, but that's down to them. It's clear though that in a copy cat league a lot of people have bought into the idea that they can recreate the Seahawks defense by taking secondary players in the first round. The influence of Earl Thomas and Richard Sherman are all over these picks.

Surprisingly though not many people seem to have looked at the Seahawks and thought "hmm, they have a really good front seven. That probably had a big part to play in their success". I smell a lot of first round busts coming out of that secondary group.

5) And yet while people have been buying into the Seahawks defensive approach, nobody seems to be buying into their offensive approach. Running backs got hammered for value this year until Bishop Sankey finally came off the board at 54. Nobody should be surprised by this though.

Rule changes over the years have made passing easier and more attractive to teams, but that's not even half the problem. The reality is that the bulk of all running backs are essentially interchangeable. They're a bit like kickers in that regard. And while someone like Adrian Peterson may be a phenomenal running back, it's difficult to argue that he's worth ten times the salary of a second round running back.

Personally I think a number of backs have actually fallen out of the draft and been scooped up in free agency who are pretty good and will show their stuff in time. You're always taking a risk when you bet on being able to acquire someone in free agency, but the reality is that running back is such a low value position these days that I think if it were me in the GM seat, I'd be tempted to just refuse to use a pick on a running back from this point on.

6) Johnny Football is coming to Cleveland. While I don't think Manziel is the amazing quarterback everyone seems to think he is, I can understand why the Browns made that pick. Their franchise has been locked in a cycle of gloom for years now and if nothing else then Manziel should create some buzz with the fans and put a few more butts in the seats.

In the long run he's not the answer, but they've kept the fan protests at bay for a while and have time to find and develop a decent young quarterback for the future. Undrafted free agent Connor Shaw could potentially be that guy.

7) The Vikings also went quarterback in the first round, trading back in to take Teddy Bridgewater. Again I'm not a huge fan of the move, but at least the Vikings don't need to throw him in at the deep end on day one. Cassel and Ponder are not the long term answers for this staff, but they can hold the fort for at least one more year until the coaches are a little more confident in Bridgewater.

8) An interesting pick was the Patriots taking Jimmy Garoppolo in the second round. Personally I think Garoppolo is a horrible pick and that Tom Savage would have been a better fit for what the Patriots do (and was still on the board) but it's interesting because it gives us an insight into the Patriots thinking.

Clearly Brady is on the home stretch of his career and the Patriots need to plan ahead. Ryan Mallett now seems to be out of favour (though a rumoured trade to Houston hasn't materialised yet), but this could be the Patriots eyeing up the possibility of trading Brady.

As stupid as that sounds, Bill Belichick was a big fan of Bill Walsh and supposedly makes all his staff read Bill's now rare and out of print book (of which I have a copy!) "Finding the Winning Edge". One of Walsh's mantras was that it's better to get rid of someone a year too early than a year too late. With the Patriots shaping up for a big push for the Super Bowl this year, don't be surprised if next year Brady is traded for value and Belichick goes with Mallett and Garoppolo. I'm not saying that's hugely likely, just don't be shocked if it does happen.

9) One of the big stories of the draft has been whether Michael Sam would get drafted or not, and if so where would he end up. Well now we know, a seventh round compensatory selection to the Rams. People keep trying to play this down as if he's a mid-rounder that doesn't really matter, but I think that's a smoke screen.

I had Sam fourth overall on my board and I think he's one of the top pass rushers in this draft. To pretend that he was just an average player in college is absolutely ridiculous. Average college players do not win the SEC Defensive Player of the Year award. But now the time for talk and speculation is over. Now is the time for Sam to step up and show people he can play. I wish him luck.

10) I think both the Seahawks and 49ers did a good job of working the draft to their benefit, trading either for more picks this year, more picks next year, or jumping back up to grab key targets later on. You can see why both franchises are in good shape right now, trusting their boards, trusting their coaches, and not being afraid to collect talent that may not start now but could be starting in a few years time when veteran players (with expensive demands) hit free agency.

11) Everyone has their doubts about drafting. Everyone is human and naturally humans worry that they're going to miss out on something special unless they have it right away. But this draft reaffirmed what previous drafts have already shown; that talented players will fall even to the later rounds. 

It may not always be exactly the people you desperately want, but trading down and acquiring multiple picks in the later rounds will never stop being a smart move. I was surprised to see Jared Abbrederis fall as low as he did, having him as a first round quality player in my books, but I've since found out he has a sketchy concussion history and a lot of teams medical staff warned their teams off drafting him.

I'm not sure though if pushing him down that low was really deserved. Every receiver is - to an extent - one concussion away from missing several games, even those with no concussion history. The greater protection offered to receivers from helmet to helmet hits these days should also have mitigated teams fears. 

Personally the more I see of Abbrederis play the more I'm convinced he is one of the best route running technicians to come out of college since a certain guy that ran a 4.71 40-yard dash and was ultimately drafted by the 49ers. I wish him the best with the Green Bay Packers.

I was also surprised to see Andrew Norwell, the left guard from Ohio State, go undrafted. I seriously doubt that all 32 teams can genuinely say that Norwell wouldn't be an upgrade to their offensive line group. 

(I've just noticed that he's been picked up by the Panthers in free agency and I think he's going to impress).


Right, that's it for now. I'll probably remember a bunch of stuff in a minute that I wanted to talk about but forgot to, but what the hell. Can I just say on behalf of all football fans... thank f**k that's all over for another year. Next up I'll go through my big board and do a bit of fantasy drafting now that we have the results in.

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