Welcome all to the NFL draft portion of The Other Side Sports. This is the time of year where teams decide to take risks and address crucial positions to help their team out both in the short and long term. Within the draft, different strategies and positioning present themselves for those trying to acquire the rights of certain players they value more so than others. If you need a #1 receiver then draft the best one available or make some moves to move up to get him. Some teams elect to stay put and draft the best player available. Through all the jockeying, scouting, and luck some teams come out better than their opponents. The draft signifies potential growth for teams and because no players have played in the NFL yet my rankings are based purely on potential for impact and change. These are the moves and teams I value the most.
1.) Jacksonville Jaguars
I’ll argue no team in this draft had more potential for growth than the Jacksonville Jaguars. Since hiring a new GM (David Caldwell) and head coach (Gus Bradley) in 2013, the jaguars have posted 4-12 and 3-13 seasons. Prior to 2013, their franchise QB didn’t pan out, their franchise RB signed with Oakland and essentially ended his career, the defense ranked 32nd in sacks, 3rd most in Yards given up per game, and 7th in total Touchdowns given up. The Jaguars were not in a good place to say the least. However, they managed to finish out the 2014 season ranked 6th in sacks on defense and while they were really good at sacking QB’s they were really bad at keeping theirs from being sacked ranking #1 with 71 Sacks given up. Even though they ranked high in sacks they also ranked low in run support giving up 127.1 yards per game on the ground. The Jaguars knew this and did something about it. Fowler Jr is a beast, he’ll add more sacks while helping the run defense. T.J. Yeldon is a wonderful back. He adds a different look when Denard Robinson isn’t on the field. He fumbles a little too much but hopefully that is fixable. A.J. Cann will push open holes and protect for Bortles. Louisville safeties usually come bringing some kind of oomph so James Sample fits right into the physical defense they want to run. Rashad Greene in the 5th is a steal to go along with Robinson, Hurns, Lee, and newly acquired Julius Thomas. Michael Bennett in the 6th is probably the most valued pick in their draft, and their 7th rd picks can be solid role players. Based on pure potential for growth the Jaguars get my pick for best draft.
I won’t talk about the Jaguars too much as other teams had brilliant drafts as well.
2.) Washington Redskins
The Washington Redskins had the best first round pick of anybody in Brandon Scherff. I give this pick a higher grade than any other 1st rd pick because RGIII is the face of that franchise and part of his inefficiency comes from not having a solid pocket to throw from. He has also been fighting to stay 100 percent healthy and this pick should help both. The rest of their draft consists of players that give all around solid depth in areas of need. The Redskins’ draft wasn’t sexy but it turned out to be just what they needed. If Scherff and maybe Kouandjio and/or Reider can contribute as OL next year, I would look for the Redskins to be a completely different team from a year ago.
3.) Atlanta Falcons
I can’t go any further without talking about my Atlanta Falcons. Vic Beasley is the only player other than Fowler Jr I wanted the Falcons to grab as our elite pass rusher. When the Bears went Kevin White I was ecstatic to know Beasley would be a Falcon. I don’t expect 20 sacks next year but I do expect him to be a force on the edge. Tevin Coleman is a bigger bodied back to accompany the smaller Freeman and Smith in our backfield. He is also capable of carrying the load when we need him to. Jalen Collins was an out of the blue great value pick in the 2nd who fits the Seattle mold of a big corner and with speed. It also never hurts to add Justin Hardy to the party. The best picks for value may have to go to the 7th rounders in Akeem King and Jake Rodgers if we can get any play out of them, but Grady Jarrett at the top of the 5th capped it off for me. When I hear of a guy who’s motor is relentless and he’s called a “bowling ball” I’m in. He’s got heart and tenacity and to top it all off he’s got leverage.
The rest of the teams in the South divisions had quality drafts as well. The New Orleans Saints, Carolina Panthers, and Indianapolis Colts drafted for quality and added some nice pieces. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Tennessee Titans only had good drafts if you believe in their franchise quarterbacks who were drafted 1 and 2. Which brings me to how I really like what the Houston Texans did with their picks.
4.) Houston Texans
They needed a CB so they got the best on their board in Kevin Johnson. Hey I got an idea, how about add the biggest baddest middle linebacker in Benardrick McKinney to accompany the already talented defensive front. Need a WR? Grab 2, Jaelen Strong and Keith Mumphery. Strong is my favorite WR in the draft not named Cooper or White. His hands are tops of the class along with his body control. If the Texans had a consistent QB I’d pencil this team to make the Wild Card based on this draft alone, they also have Clowney coming back so I expect the defense to be brutal.
Of course the teams with the most picks had solid drafts as well. The Baltimore Ravens, New England Patriots, or Seattle Seahawks did what they always do and drafted to their niche. Also, the Arizona Cardinals and Kansas City Chiefs had solid drafts. I would’ve loved to see the Chiefs get a big time receiver along with Chris Conley and Jeremy Maclin and the Cardinals pick of Northern Iowa RB David Johnson in the 3rd should help Andre Ellington stay healthy and keep defenses on their toes.
The Cleveland Browns and Cincinnati Bengals had similar drafts that centered mainly around defense, drafting 2 TE’s, and completely neglecting any impact WR’s to help their QB’s. I do love the Ifo Expre-Olomu pick in the 7th round by Cleveland. He’s a red-shirt rookie because of the estimated time of recovery, but when he’s healthy in 2016 he’ll be the epitome of a value pick.
The Miami Dolphins did themselves some favors on defense and now it’s all about Ryan Tannehill and whether or not he’s the guy. Devante Parker and Jay Ajayi should help.
5.) New York Giants/Jets
I have to tie both New York teams right here because they both improved where they needed to improve. The New York Jets drafted 2 stud defensive players (what’s new), traded for Zac Stacy, and added a fast receiver in, Devin Smith, so now Geno Smith has some weapons, adding Brandon Marshall to that mix also. The New York Giants drafted who they needed. They got the best OL available in Ereck Flowers to help a Giants team who finished 23rd in rushing yards per game last year. They needed safeties and they got 2 quality guys in Landon Collins and Mykkele Thompson. Also, it wouldn’t be a complete Giants draft without drafting a promising defensive end prospect with UCLA’s Owamagbe Odighizuwa who could play a key rotational role this coming season. Overall, both New York teams seem loaded and poised to do some damage next year.
Side note, the New York Giants won Super Bowls in the 2007 and 2011 seasons. Can they keep their track record in the Eli Manning years to win every 4 years? If their draft produces in 2015 and they can stay healthy, we all know what Eli is capable of when everyone has written him off.
The San Diego Chargers ended with 5 picks but the most important one was Melvin Gordon of course. He can come in and take the load off of Rivers. The Chargers were 9-7 and made the playoffs the previous season. Gordon could be just what they need to get over the hump. I also really love Denzel Perryman at MLB with Te’o.
6.) Minnesota Vikings
If they keep Adrian Peterson (and they should), had the 6th best draft. Defensively they loaded up and they got 2 quality O-lineman to help the run game and Stefon Diggs in the 5th round, for me, is a steal. He’s got incredible speed to work with and Teddy Bridgewater should thrive in the offense with AP back and some weapons to throw the rock to. This roster can make the playoffs next year if some of their pieces can work into a starting role.
I want to give credit to the Green Bay Packers, they needed defense and they picked up some quality picks.
The St. Louis Rams did themselves a huge favor in adding Todd Gurley and 3 offensive lineman. When Gurley is healthy, the rams will be an incredible team and maybe Sean Mannion can grow into a quality starter for them, if Nick Foles doesn’t work out.
The Pittsburgh Steelers may have had the steal of the draft with Gerod Holliman in the 7th rd!
4th rd pick Jeremy Langford to the Chicago Bears gives them a back that is fast and dynamic and capable of taking some of the load off of Matt Forte along with the addition of Kevin White.
7.) Oakland Raiders
Finally, I’d like to give some love to the Oakland Raiders. I’m ranking them 7th here because I like the direction the Raiders are going and I am happy to see the potential for the Raiders to one day be a force in the league again. They just helped their franchise quarterback out immensely with Amari Cooper, Clive Walford, and 2 solid Offensive Linemen. I also like the additions of Mario Edwards Jr. and 3 linebackers to add depth around last year’s 1st round pick Khalil Mack. I don’t see them going too far next year but they added some key pieces to build on for the future and that is really what the NFL draft is all about.
Side note: When Peyton Manning retires, the AFC West will open up and the Raiders look like a team that will compete when that time comes. They are a few years away but this draft is a step in the right direction.
8.) Fullbacks! I can’t end without giving love to the fullbacks. 4 were drafted in consecutive rounds 4th to 7th. I’m glad teams have smartened up and realized the importance of a fullback in the run game, therefore my hats off to the teams that drafted fullbacks.
Tennessee Titans – Jalston Fowler 4th
Detroit Lions – Michael Burton 5th
Green Bay Packers – Aaron Ripkowski 6th
Tampa Bay Buccaneers – Joey Iosefa 7th
The Buffalo Bills could have done more but they sort of took a safe route and didn’t really go after any big name guys. Buffalo had a solid year last year and already has a talented roster. Their success will ultimately come down to QB play.
The Dallas Cowboys addressed a lot of needs and filled a lot of holes but they didn’t touch a running back in a draft which had quality backs fall to the 5th and 6th rounds. That could come back to haunt their season if McFadden can’t stay healthy and the supporting cast doesn’t show up. I guess there’s always next year to get a running back.
Denver didn’t wow me with any moves but drafting Shane Ray to play in a state that legalized marijuana is definitely an intriguing move and something to keep an eye on.
The Philadelphia Eagles drafted 3 cornerbacks, a speedy receiver (who I wasn’t very high on), Jordan Hicks was a good pick, but I can’t help but feel letdown after they didn’t end up with Mariota. It seems the hype that surrounded the Eagles landing him has left me underwhelmed by Chip Kelly’s draft no matter how much I liked Eric Rowe.
The draft isn’t a sporting event but a game within a sport, and some teams play it better than others. Overall, every team got better this weekend. No matter how good a team did in the draft, someone else got better also. The NFL draft brings imagination, creativity, and optimism for the fans to rally behind for one weekend. I guess that’s half the fun. See you in 5 months.