As I said on the Mock Draft post, things were wide open. And with no franchise-caliber QB out in the open, the run on offensive tackles kicked things off. Eric Fisher, Luke Joeckel and Lane Johnson went 1, 2 and 4 in quick succession, with the big surprise that Miami traded up to the 3rd spot and passed on Johnson to take Dion Jordan. Eight offensive linemen went in the first round – five of them in the Top 10. Add up the defensive linemen and half of the first round went to beefing up the spots on either side of the line of scrimmage. Meanwhile, the glamour positions went lacking: only 1 QB, 1 TE, 3 WRs and no RBs taken in the first round.
There was a lot of steak, but not a lot of sizzle.
Don’t let that fool you though. Teams need drafts like this as much as they need the QB-heavy drafts of other years. Those unglamorous positions like guard and center and defensive tackle need to be replenished and strengthened in order to be a good team. Teams did that this draft. And while we won’t know who got the steals, who got the busts and who screwed up, we can make a few stray observations about the whole process. This won’t be a grade, but it’ll be commentary of a kind.
Teams were comfortable in passing on the bigger name to take the guy they liked. Buffalo opted for Florida State’s raw but talented E.J. Manuel over the highly-rated Geno Smith, the well-known Matt Barkley or the long-rumored Ryan Nassib. Chicago opted for Oregon’s Kyle Long over Menelik Watson at OT. Dallas took C Travis Frederick when no one had him pegged anywhere near the first two rounds. And this wasn’t just in the first round but throughout all seven rounds. Teams had no qualms about taking the guy they had pegged on their board, even if a bigger name was available.
The cost of trading up went down. I had mocked several teams moving up and using the traditional draft pick valuation. And teams tend to want to trade down, specially those teams with missing picks. But in a draft with no clear-cut valuations and few can’t-miss prospects, the prizes for teams to trade down weren’t anywhere near what they wanted. So they opted to stay where they were and take the guy they wanted. Miami moved from pick #12 to pick #3 for nothing more than a 2nd rounder. St Louis moved up to #8 for Tavon Austin and gave up a 2nd and a 7th rounder to Buffalo while also swapping third-round picks. The biggest movers were the Niners, who went from #31 to #19 – the cost for the swap being a third-round pick. A cost so low that most teams said “No” and stayed where they where – even though everyone wanted more picks.
The NFC West will be a slobberknocker. Coming up just short in the Super Bowl seems to have energized the Niners. They went and got Nnamdi Asomugha in free agency, then traded up to take LSU’s Eric Reid to take over at safety. They’re so loaded that they could take Tank Carradine and Marcus Lattimore and redshirt them for next season. Meanwhile the Seahawks didn’t stand pat either. Taking Jordan Hill and Jesse Williams to beef up their o-line and Christine Michael and Spencer Ware to add more to their running attack. Even the Rams and Cardinals got into the act. The Rams traded up for Tavon Austin and took Alec Ogletree in the 2nd round. Meanwhile the Cards got their pick of the OGs in Jonathan Cooper and nabbed Kevin Minter, Tyrann Mathieu, Alex Okafor and Ryan Swope. They’ll need all that talent to keep pace in the NFC West’s arms race.
Teams weren’t afraid to stock up. Traditionally teams aren’t likely to draft players where they’re considered to have someone able or they have depth. Not so this year. The Giants took QB Ryan Nassib because his value was worth it, even though no one expects him to challenge Eli Manning. His brother’s team, the Broncos took a punt on 7th-round pick Zac Dysert. Green Bay took RB Eddie Lacy in Round 2 and then RB Johnathan Franklin in Round 4. So did Washington, who even though they have Alfred Morris, went and drafted Jawan Jamison and Chris Thompson and Seattle took Michael and Ware and it’s not like anyone expects “Beast Mode” to end anytime soon.
The USC QB mystique is dead. Just as Penn State was “Linebacker U”, so was Southern Cal known for the QBs it produced. But from Carson Palmer to Matt Sanchez, that group has, so far, failed to deliver in the pros. Combine that with the poor process that Matt Barkley went through and he lasted all the way till the top of Round 4. There’s no guarantee that coming out last year would have seen him go in the Top 10 – he would have competed against Luck and Griffin. The senior year he just had, however, didn’t help his draft stock. Did the poor form of the guys who preceded him work against him? I don’t know if that’s true, but it can’t have helped.
Talent over readiness won this time. Depending on where a team is, they may sometimes opt to take the ready-to-plug player over the more talented, but raw, prospect. Not so this case. From Ziggy Ansah at #5 to Detroit to EJ Manuel at #16 to Buffalo, all up and down the draft, the coaches appeared willing to take the player who might need a year or two of seasoning before he’s ready. That’s traditionally the realm of regimes like the Patriots, Steelers and Giants — long-standing and safe — but now it’s like everyone is learning from them. If in doubt, take the guy who might be a star in 2 years over the safe guy who might help now but not be more than average.
As for what the Saints did, let me also give a thought or two here to my Black and Gold.
There were a lot of fans disappointed in the team passing Jarvis Jones for Kenny Vaccaro. And I can understand their position. The Saints have been poor at generating pressure on the QB or getting sacks consistently. And switching to a 3-4 defense would seem to bring Jones’ stock higher. But this was a case of fixing the bad brakes over the alternator. The pass defense for this team is just as bad, if not worse, than the pass rush. So there was no wrong answer here in the “Vaccaro vs Jones” debate. I personally liked it. Any help for this Saints defense is a positive in my book.
That said, the perception of this year’s draft haul will hinge primarily on Vaccaro’s abilities to help the defense. He’s the big name. The rest of the picks — OT Terron Armstead, DT John Jenkins, WR Kenny Stills and DE Rufus Johnson — may contribute in some areas, most likely special teams. But they won’t be expected to be Day 1 contributors like Vaccaro will be. If any of them or any of the undrafted free agents signed hours after the end of the draft do make a significant impact, it’ll be a bonus.
I was glad to see the Saints not trade away any of next year’s draft picks. Set aside that next year’s prospects are considered of a higher caliber than this year. The Saints have not had a full complement of draft picks since 2005 — the year before Sean Payton arrived. They have used them to pick up key cogs to their title run — Jonathan Vilma, Jeremy Shockey — or to move up to nab a guy they liked at the time — Sedrick Ellis, Thomas Morstead. But for a front office whose biggest feather is the work they do on the latter rounds, it is important for the Saints to not get desperate and start giving next year’s picks away. They opted to trade Chris Ivory for a 4th and then pacakaged that pick with another 4th for John Jenkins. That was the bulk of their trading. Oh and the 7th rounder they gave away for 5 minutes of Barrett Ruud last season. (They should have filed a lemon report on Carfax for that trade!)
But if any team has shown a willingness to give the best prospect a shot, regardless of where he came from, it’s the Saints. The careers of players like Pierre Thomas and Lance Moore speak to that. So good luck to Chase Thomas, Ryan Lacy, Kevin Reddick, Ryan Griffin and the rest of the free agents who didn’t hear their names called but find themselves sporting black and gold today. You got your shot.
And that’s all the NFL Draft is: a shot at the dream. Whether #1 overall, Mr. Irrelevant or undrafted FA, it’s about what you do now that matters. So if they deliver, then they’ll be suiting up come Sundays in the fall.