I’ve been a little distracted the last couple of months and haven’t kept up with posting about some of the off-season moves around the NFL. But now that we’re through the draft, it feels like a good time to do a quick review and see what teams appear to have improved their situation for 2013.
By now we all know some of the strange stats of this year’s draft – there was only one QB in the first round (and a strange one at that) and no RBs (for the first time since 1963), but 9 of the first 32 picks were offensive linemen, including 3 offensive tackles in first 4 picks. A fourth OT, DJ Fluker, went at pick 11 to the Chargers, the first of several reaches in the first round. Panic over the run on OTs caused San Diego to grab Fluker way ahead of his value (he likely would have been around in the second round), especially considering some of the other players still on the board at that point and the fact that the Chargers have needs at almost every position. Scoring Manti Te’o early in the second round helps make up for this blunder a bit – everyone seems to be down on Te’o because the media circus around his phantom girlfriend, but let’s not forget that this guy was a Heisman runner-up. Te’o has a real chance to be an impact player from day one and to make a run at defensive Rookie of the Year.
Another seemingly huge first round overreach was Buffalo’s strange choice of EJ Manuel. It’s not that he is a bad QB, but considering that he was almost universally ranked lower than guys like Geno Smith, Matt Barkley, and Ryan Nassib, all of whom went much later, it seems likely that the Bills could have gotten Manuel later in the draft and focused their first-round pick on another need of theirs like WR. The Bills ended up trading their #8 spot to the Rams, who used it to scoop up WR Tavon Austin, and then spent one second-round pick and their only third-round pick on two inferior receivers (Robert Woods and Marquise Goodwin). Why Buffalo didn’t draft Austin (who I think will get offensive ROY) for themselves and take Manuel in the second round baffles me, and puts the Bills in position for worst 2013 draft. (Plus Buffalo’s signing of Kevin Kolb a few weeks back creates the least exciting starting QB competition in the NFL.)
Now if we talk about perennial “worst draft” candidates, we have to include the Jets. But – and I know my fellow blogger Chris will shit all over this – the Jets actually didn’t do so bad this year. They didn’t have the best draft of the year either (that honor goes to the Vikings this year, after that incredible first round trifecta), but compared with previous seasons, Gang Green did decently. Cornerback Dee Milliner may never be Darrelle Revis – honestly, who will be? – but he was a strong choice at 9 overall, and pairing him with Antonio Cromartie helps the Jets’ weakened secondary. This brings up two debatable issues, the most obvious of which was the Revis situation. I still contend that the Jets made the most of a no-win situation, while some others (i.e. Chris, again) feel like the Jets blew it. I don’t see how the Jets would have held onto Revis without breaking the bank, and I definitely don’t see him giving New York the same set of conditions that he was willing to accept elsewhere. It may seem like Tampa Bay got him cheap, but Revis and the Jets front office pretty much no longer wanted to be in business together. Better to get some value out of him now rather than watch him walk in 2014 and get nothing.
The other debate is whether the Jets should have taken a CB with their first pick, since they also need safeties after losing both LaRon Landry and Yeremiah Bell (not to mention all the other positions where they need help). I am not a fan of the needs-only draft strategy though, and my thoughts above on the Chargers and Bills should illustrate that. Teams must balance their needs with the best players still available on the board, especially since they can always address their needs later on in the draft with other players of relatively comparable talent. Jonathan Bales of the New York Times said something very similar the other day when discussing the Giants’ second round pick, defensive tackle Johnathan Hankins, who he described as
“someone who wouldn’t necessarily fit in the Giants’ 4-3 scheme.
They obviously believe they can find a way to get the most out of Hankins, emphasizing talent over scheme. I think that’s generally a positive view to take. Too often, we see teams get caught up in searching for players who fit their particular schemes instead of simply drafting really talented players.
What makes more sense: filling an entire roster with very specific prospects who fit one person’s scheme, or adding lots of quality pieces and then figuring out a way to maximize their potential?”
This is the same way I feel about the Jets draft, which is why I like Milliner but I am down on their other first round pick, Sheldon Richardson. I’ve heard many people say he will be a better fit for the 3-4 scheme that the Jets use, but the Jets passed over stronger defensive tackles like Sharrif Floyd and Star Lotulelei. It’s foolish to think that these guys could not be converted over from a 4-3 to 3-4, and in my mind this will be the pick that haunts the Jets more than Milliner. (And for the record, I like grabbing Geno Smith in the second round at pick 39 overall. Now just dump four of those other QBs on the roster.)
Ultimately, I didn’t see too many amazing (or terrible) drafts, which is reflective of the strength of this year’s class. Here are my choices for this year’s winner and loser:
Best Draft: Minnesota Vikings. As mentioned earlier, they had an amazing first round, scoring DT Sharrif Floyd at 23 (!), CB Xavier Rhodes at 25, and WR Cordarrelle Patterson at 29. To score all those guys late in the first is fantastic, and the extra linebackers they grabbed later in the draft add up to a great overall weekend and a big upgrade for 2013.
Runner-up: San Francisco 49ers. Last year’s NFC champions and #3 defense made themselves even stronger by drafting safety Eric Reid and OLB Tank Carradine. Adding TE Vance McDonald to complement Vernon Davis is smart, and even taking a chance on Marcus Lattimore late in the fourth round could pay off if his knees fully recover. Couple these picks with the Niners’ trade for Anquan Boldin, signing Nnamdi Asomugha super cheap, and shipping Alex Smith to KC and adding Colt McCoy as backup to Kaepernick to end all the QB nonsense from last season, and it’s hard not to see the 49ers returning to (and probably winning) the Super Bowl.
Worst Draft: Buffalo Bills. I’ve already spelled out their biggest mistakes, and nothing else they did this weekend made up for it. Just a waste for a team that needed some serious repair.
Runner-up: Oakland Raiders. Because it’s Oakland, and Al Davis still seems to haunt their draft strategy. The Raiders continue to focus on flash, and with a team that has this many holes to fill, even one poor pick is too many.