Friday, May 31, 2013

Grading the Draft: Arizona Cardinals

(Originally posted at

Cooper_draftHeld back by pathetic quarterback play last season, the Cardinals decided to trade for Carson Palmer rather than take a chance on any of this year’s QB prospects in the first two rounds. For a team with plenty of holes on both sides of the ball and a star receiver going to waste this was probably a wise move, especially after Arizona used their first pick to provide some protection for Palmer and whoever winds up succeeding him. Chris Tripodi breaks down the Arizona draft class.

Jonathan Cooper/G/North Carolina (Round 1/Pick #7): One of the two elite guards who bucked typical draft trends this season, Cooper started the offseason as the #2 guard prospect. He gained steam over Chance Warmack late in the process thanks to his elite athleticism and ended up being drafted higher than the Alabama stud. Cooper is a quick, explosive and fundamentally sound lineman who is great blocking in motion. If there is one area to nitpick about Cooper’s game it’s a lack of lower body strength but he shouldn’t have a problem adding muscle in an NFL weight training program and once he does, Cooper has the ability to quickly develop into a Pro Bowl-caliber guard.

Kevin Minter/LB/LSU (Round 2/Round #45): With a hole at middle linebacker and Manti Te’o still on the board at 38th overall, the Cardinals decided to pass on the Notre Dame linebacker and trade down, picking up an extra fourth-round pick in the process. This was a shrewd move for Arizona as they still got the linebacker they wanted in Minter. With Daryl Washington’s season now in doubt thanks to a recent assault arrest on top of a four-game substance abuse suspension, Minter is assured a spot as a starter and should be a great fit in Arizona. His lack of sideline-to-sideline range will be masked in Arizona’ 3-4 defense, where his instincts and ability to quickly penetrate gaps in the offensive line will help him make an immediate impact.

Tyrann Mathieu/CB/LSU (Round 3/Pick #69): This pick was somewhat surprising and while we had Mathieu rated as a fifth-round prospect, Arizona may be a perfect fit for the troubled former Heisman candidate. On talent alone, Mathieu was worthy of a second-round pick but his dismissal from the LSU program prior to last season has been well-documented, as have his issues with marijuana which have reportedly led to more than 10 failed drug tests. On the field, Mathieu is a big play waiting to happen on defense and in the return game. At his best playing in a zone due to his lack of size (5-8, 186), Mathieu’s great read-and-react ability and break to the ball leads to turnovers and he has good enough speed to recover when he makes a mistake. The presence of former college teammate and good friend Patrick Peterson may have played a part in this pick and if Peterson and the Cardinals can keep Mathieu in line off the field, he has the talent to be the league’s best nickel cornerback.

Alex Okafor/DE/Texas (Round 4/Pick #103): A second-round prospect on our board, Okafor was very productive with the Longhorns and is a max-effort player. He doesn’t have the size (6-4, 264) to play as a 5-technique end or the speed (4.85) to be a stud edge rusher and struggled in Texas’ 3-4 last season, the same defense he’ll be joining in Arizona. On the surface this seems like a questionable fit as Okafor is better suited as a 4-3 defensive end, but the Cardinals are hoping his instincts and intelligence will help him improve with more time playing in the 3-4.

Earl Watford/G/James Madison (Round 4/Pick #116): The Cardinals traded back here for the second time in the draft, moving down six spots from 110th overall and picking up an extra sixth-round pick. Watford was a solid choice here for a team looking to rebuild their offensive line and while he needs time to develop, he could eventually earn a starting role on the other side of fellow rookie Jonathan Cooper. Watford received multiple All-American honors during his senior season, impressive for a small-school lineman, and his athleticism makes him great blocking in motion and quick to the second level. Starting left guard Daryn Colledge is under contract for another three seasons, so Watford will have time to physically mature before he’ll need to step into a key role.

Stepfan Taylor/RB/Stanford (Round 5/Pick #140): We reported on Taylor’s impressive Senior Bowl performance and had him rated as a potential third-round pick, but his fall isn’t too surprising considering his poor combine and the fact that many running backs in this year’s class seemed to go later than expected. Even still, this was a good pick for Arizona considering the uncertainty of their backfield this year and beyond. A 5-8, 216-pound bruiser, Taylor is a north-south runner who rarely gets tackled by the first defender. He has quick feet in small spaces along with good vision and may be the best blocker in this draft class, which could help him see playing time as a rookie. His upside is somewhat limited, but he could be a very good committee back.

Ryan Swope/WR/Texas A&M (Round 6/Pick #174): The Cardinals stopped Swope’s freefall in the sixth round, as he was no worse than a third-rounder on most boards. His concussion history with the Aggies apparently scared teams off and he has already missed time in OTA’s due to concussion symptoms. If Swope can get past those issues and get on the playing field, he has the talent to make an impact. He shocked many by running a 4.34 40-yard dash at the combine but he doesn’t show that speed on tape. If Swope can play closer to that time, his intelligence, route-running ability and solid hands will make him a favorite of any quarterback. With Andre Roberts entering free agency next season, Swope has upside as a very good slot receiver behind Larry Fitzgerald and Michael Floyd if he can get on the field.

Andre Ellington/RB/Clemson (Round 6/Pick #187): Using the extra pick Arizona got from the Giants for their fourth-rounder, the Cardinals got great value on Ellington. If Rashard Mendenhall doesn’t impress on a one-year deal and Ryan Williams continues to struggle with injuries, the Clemson product may team up with Stepfan Taylor as a thunder-and-lightning combination in the Arizona backfield. Despite his size (5-9, 199), Ellington runs with good power and is quicker than he is fast, making him effective as an interior runner and also a receiver out of the backfield. He probably won’t hold up as a feature back but he is a playmaker who should provide a great return on investment late in the sixth round with a running style that complements Taylor’s nicely.

D.C. Jefferson/TE/Rutgers (Round 7/Pick #219): Jefferson is a late lottery ticket for the Cardinals, who have struggled to get much production out of the tight end position in recent seasons. His talent level is matched by his inconsistency but at 6-5, 255 pounds, he has the skills to be a mismatch down the field. Jefferson’s hands and blocking remain inconsistent but if Arizona can develop him, he has starting-caliber talent and could be in line to take over in a few years if starter Rob Housler doesn’t fulfill his own untapped potential.

Grade: B+. The Cardinals did a great job maximizing value in the later rounds, picking up multiple players that can help their offense in the future. Jonathan Cooper and Kevin Minter will be immediate starters who can make a big impact in their rookie seasons but this draft grade could go even higher if Tyrann Mathieu can fly straight and reach his potential. Every pick Arizona made has legitimate upside and their draft should build a nice foundation for the team in the future. It’s hard to see Arizona competing for a playoff spot in the NFC West and with another high pick likely on tap next season, the Cardinals may be able to find a quarterback that can take them to the next level in the years to come.

Thursday, May 30, 2013

Grading the Draft: Atlanta Falcons

(Originally posted at

Trufant_draftWith a secondary that struggled in 2013 and Pro Bowl quarterbacks on two of the other three rosters in the NFC South, Atlanta decided to focus on upgrading their defensive backfield with their first two picks. They did just that with two cornerbacks who could be their starting tandem within a year or two but as Chris Tripodi reports below, the rest of their draft left something to be desired.

Desmond Trufant/CB/Washington (Round 1/Pick #22): It was no secret that the Falcons were looking to move up from the 30th overall pick to draft a cornerback and the Rams were interested in trading down to regain picks after trading up for Tavon Austin. Atlanta traded their third and sixth-round picks along with the 30th pick to move up and take Trufant, who should step into the starting lineup immediately opposite Asante Samuel. A good athlete with ideal size (5-11, 190) and speed (4.41), Trufant defends both the run and pass well and his production earned him All-American honors his senior year. He should help the Falcons pass defense, especially against Drew Brees and Cam Newton.

Robert Alford/CB/Southeastern Louisiana (Round 2/Round #60): Alford isn’t ready to start right away like Trufant, but the Falcons don’t need him to fill that role with Asante Samuel still under contract for the next two seasons. Atlanta does have a need for a nickel back and while Alford is expected to fill that spot, his experience returning punts could also help the Falcons in 2013. He has the size (5-10, 188) to mix it up with receivers at the line of scrimmage and the speed (4.35) to stay with them down the field. Alford’s run defense and reaction time needs improvement and coming from a small school, it’s likely he’ll need time to adjust to the NFL. Luckily the Falcons can afford to start him in the nickel and reap the rewards of his athleticism and ball skills while grooming him to replace Samuel.

Malliciah Goodman/DE/Clemson (Round 4/Pick #127): An undersized athlete who showed flashes at Clemson, Goodman has a powerful lower body and has the ability to change direction quickly. Despite those skills, he tends to get caught up on blocks at just 6-3, 278 and doesn’t have great burst, which makes him a bit of a tweener. Goodman needs to bulk up to be an effective three-technique and is nothing more than backup at end without top-notch pass rush skills. He’ll need to become more consistent on the field as well if he wants to fully utilize his athletic gifts.

Levine Toilolo/TE/Stanford (Round 4/Pick #133): At 6-8 and 260 pounds, Toilolo is a huge target in the passing game. He has the speed to get downfield, runs good routes and shows solid hands to make the catch. While he has good physical skills, his inconsistent play and lack of improvement made him a fifth-round prospect. An early entrant into the draft, Toilolo will need to take better to coaching in the NFL than he did in college but lands in a good situation with Atlanta. He can learn from one of the all-time greats in Tony Gonzalez who is back for one more season and if he can show the ability to improve at the professional level, has the talent to provide Matt Ryan with another tall target at tight end once Gonzalez retires for good.

Stansly Maponga/DE/TCU (Round 5/Pick #153): The Falcons moved up 10 spots to take Maponga, a free agent on our board, surrendering a seventh-round pick in the process. An athletic end whose size (6-2, 256) will prevent him from ever being an asset against the run, Maponga has shown the ability to line up over tackle and in a three-point stance. He’s quick off the snap, has good pass-rushing moves and a nice burst to the quarterback. While he projects as little more than a specialist at the NFL level, Maponga could help an Atlanta pass rush that registered just 29 sacks last season.

Kemal Ishmael/S/Central Florida (Round 7/Pick #243): Conference USA’s Defensive Player of the Year in 2012, Ishmael wasn’t even rated as a free agent on our board but hails from the same school as starting cornerback Asante Samuel. The two obviously never played together but Atlanta saw enough from the UCF’s all-time leading tackler to take him with one of their three compensatory seventh-round picks. Ishmael has average size and speed and could make the roster if he can prove his worth on special teams.

Zeke Motta/S/Notre Dame (Round 7/Pick #244): Motta is a classic strong safety prospect with great size (6-2, 213) who lacks speed and sideline-to-sideline range. He’s very instinctive and forceful in the box and can be a good situational safety in running situations. Motta can cover short pass routes and can be very effective with limited responsibilities between the numbers. A hard worker whose game has developed well in the past few seasons, Motta will likely need to accept a special teams role at the outset of his career.

Sean Renfree/QB/Duke (Round 7/Pick #249): Renfree was a productive game manager in his three starting seasons at Duke and while he lacks NFL arm strength, he showed good leadership ability, accuracy and timing with his receivers. The Falcons have arguably the league’s worst backup quarterback in Dominique Davis so Renfree may have a legitimate chance to land a backup role as a rookie, although that would be a highly undesirable situation for the Falcons.

Grade: C+. While Atlanta made good moves to improve their secondary early, the lack of value later in the draft hurt their grade. They moved up in the fifth round to draft a player with a free agent grade after using their fourth-round picks on talented but inconsistent players who need to work on their games to make it in the NFL. This draft was very top heavy for Atlanta and while Trufant has a good chance to be a nice player and fills a big hole, one or two picks usually don’t make a draft unless a team drafts one of the top 3-5 players.

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Grading the Draft: Tampa Bay Buccaneers

(Originally posted at
After trading their first-round pick for Darrelle Revis, Tampa Bay was left with just six draft picks in 2013. Still not satisfied with their secondary even after acquiring Revis, the Bucs used their second-round pick on a cornerback before hedging their bets on Josh Freeman by taking a quarterback in round three. Chris Tripodi breaks down how the Bucs fared in April’s draft...

Johnthan Banks/CB/Mississippi State (Round 2/Pick #43): With the league’s worst secondary and three Pro Bowl quarterbacks in the division, upgrading their defensive backfield was the Bucs’ top priority this offseason. An aggressive cornerback who defends the run as well as the pass, Banks will likely slot in as Tampa’s nickel cornerback to start the 2013 season. With Eric Wright’s contract expiring after this season, it’s likely he will step into the starting role opposite Revis in 2014. Banks is a consistent worker with good instincts and while his lack of speed (4.59) makes him vulnerable to the deep ball, he will reap the rewards of playing with Revis and having safety help over the top to mask his deficiencies.

Mike Glennon/QB/N.C. State (Round 3/Round #73): After taking over for Russell Wilson two years ago, Glennon spent his junior and senior years wowing scouts with his arm strength yet frustrating them with his accuracy issues and questionable decision making. His completion percentage dropped as a senior and he threw more interceptions as well, showing the inconsistencies that make him an unfinished product. With Josh Freeman entering the final year of his contract and Tampa Bay not talking extension, Glennon could find himself with a starting role next season if Freeman doesn’t take the next step as a passer. If he works hard on his footwork and grows with NFL coaching, Glennon has as much upside as any quarterback in this year’s class and will benefit from a year on the bench.

Akeem Spence/DT/Illinois (Round 4/Pick #100): Despite having the NFL’s top rush defense in 2013, Tampa Bay has struggled to find a good complement to Gerald McCoy on their interior line since he was drafted in 2010. Spence struggled some in 2012 but the Bucs are hoping that suppressed his value enough to make him good value early in the fourth round after trading up 12 spots at the expense of a sixth-round pick. At his best, Spence is disruptive and explosive up the field and in pursuit. He’s not much of a pass rusher but has the potential to start at some point this season if he can improve his playing strength.

William Gholston/DE/Michigan State (Round 4/Pick #126): The last name Gholston is synonymous with draft bust after William’s cousin Vernon flamed out shortly after being drafted in the first round by the Jets in 2008. Unfortunately for William, he shows many similarities to his cousin which likely led to teams shying away from him as a top-125 pick. Fast, powerful and athletic at 6-6, Gholston has first-round talent but has a tendency to disappear and take plays off. Maybe the lack of first-round money will lead to him being more motivated than his cousin but if not, he will find it difficult to shed the underachiever label currently attached to him.

Steven Means/LB/Buffalo (Round 5/Pick #147): Ranked as a free agent on our draft board, Means is used to flying under the radar after playing on the same defense as All-American Kahlil Mack with the Bulls. A defensive end in college despite weighing just 251 pounds, Means will probably be little more than a situational pass rusher with the Bucs but has the athleticism and ability to be solid in that role as well as on special teams. He will need to improve his consistency and stay low rushing off the edge to avoid getting blocked out of the play by NFL tackles who have at least 50 pounds on him.

Mike James/RB/Miami (Round 6/Pick #189): After trading backup running back LeGarrette Blount for Jeff Demps and a seventh-round pick, Tampa Bay packaged that seventh-round pick with the 196th overall pick to draft Blount’s replacement. A powerful runner at 5-10, 223 pounds, James is a similar runner to Blount without the character issues. James will see limited action behind last year’s standout rookie back Doug Martin and while he lacks speed and agility, James will fight for every yard he can get and is a solid receiver out of the backfield. He should prove to be a nice complement to Martin in limited action.

Grade: C+. This grade is strictly for the picks that Tampa Bay made in 2013 and not the ones they traded, otherwise this grade would be in the B-range. Trading the 13th overall pick for Revis was great value if he comes back at 100 percent and should help the Bucs cover the likes of Julio Jones, Roddy White, Marques Colston and Steve Smith. Johnthan Banks will be a good complement to Revis but Tampa’s next three picks involve a good deal of risk. Mike Glennon is a project, Akeem Spence’s production left something to be desired and William Gholston defines “boom or bust.” They filled out their draft with decent role players but it’s possible that this draft will be remembered for nothing more than the pick they traded for Revis in a few seasons.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Grading the Draft: Oakland Raiders

(Originally posted at

Hayden_draftA last minute trade down in the first round saved the Raiders a lot of value in this year’s draft, as they took the same player they were reported to have interest in with the 3rd overall pick. They picked up only an additional second-round pick for dropping nine spots but all things considered, it was a move that worked out very well for Oakland since they were lacking a 2nd-round pick from the Carson Palmer trade. Chris Tripodi puts the Raiders’ draft under the microscope below.

D.J. Hayden/CB/Houston (Round 1/Pick #12): The Raiders were reportedly ready to take Hayden with their 3rd overall pick before moving the pick to Miami and even still, the pick can be considered a slight reach. Hayden was highly regarded before a freak practice collision in November caused a vein in his heart to tear. This injury was nearly fatal but after being medically cleared shortly before the draft, Hayden’s stock skyrocketed back to where it was before his injury. He has good size (5-11, 192), speed (4.44) and ball skills and is a high-upside cornerback who could justify the Raiders’ making him the second corner off the board. Hayden’s athleticism and physicality should help him start on the outside right away for the Raiders.

Menelik Watson/T/Florida State (Round 2/Pick #42): Oakland was able to parlay their early first-round pick into D.J. Hayden and Watson, who could be the Raiders’ starting right tackle in Week 1 but may be better off with a few games on the sideline. A junior college transfer who came to the United States to play basketball, his football experience is limited but his upside is huge. He has the size (6-5, 310) and strength to push defenders off the ball in the run game and is quick and agile enough to adjust to rushers coming off the edge. Watson’s movement skills are impressive for a big man and he improved consistently during his only season with the Seminoles. If he can continue to develop his fundamentals and learn balance and body positioning, he can be a very good player in the NFL.

Sio Moore/LB/Connecticut (Round 3/Pick #66): Moore was a prospect that we reported was gaining steam in the last few days leading up to the draft, with some talk of him landing in the second round. When that scenario didn’t materialize, Oakland was happy to grab him early in the third. Moore scrapes well and uses his 4.6 speed to cover a lot of ground and make plays in space and in pursuit. He’s slow shedding blocks but usually just runs around them to make plays. While that won’t work quite as well at the NFL level, if Moore can improve his playing strength he should be able to crack the Oakland 3-4 as an outside linebacker.

Tyler Wilson/QB/Arkansas (Round 4/Pick #112): After an outstanding All-SEC junior year, Wilson lost Coach Bobby Petrino and three NFL receivers heading into his senior season. His production suffered as a result and the team struggled to a sub-.500 record, but Wilson was widely lauded for the toughness he showed dealing with the adversity of the season. He’ll try to be the second mid-round rookie quarterback named Wilson to steal a starting job from Matt Flynn in training camp and even if not, he definitely has a shot to overtake Terrelle Pryor as Flynn’s backup. Wilson has surprisingly small hands and doesn’t have the arm to lead a vertical offense but neither does Flynn, and his hand size shouldn’t be an issue with good weather in Oakland. If he can play like he did in 2011 with NFL-caliber talent around him again, Wilson has a good chance to start at some point in 2013, especially if the Raiders struggle.

Nick Kasa/TE/Colorado (Round 6/Pick #172): A former defensive lineman who played his final two years at Colorado as a tight end, Kasa has untapped potential that the Raiders are hoping they can cultivate after losing Brandon Myers this offseason. Kasa is big (6-6, 269) and fast (4.74) but hasn’t learned to stretch the field or catch the ball consistently yet. His route-running is solid for a player with limited experience and he is a strong blocker who can develop a complete game in the NFL. Kasa has more upside than most sixth-round picks and can be a starter in the future if he works hard to improve.

Latavius Murray/RB/Central Florida (Round 6/Pick #181): The first thing most notice about Murray is his size at 6-3, 220 pounds and he plays big, showing the ability to move the pile and break tackles to keep runs alive. He shows good quickness and vision and his receiving skills are an asset, but he’s a straight-line runner who doesn’t accelerate well when changing direction. With the departure of Mike Goodson, Murray will battle fellow big back Rashad Jennings to be the primary backup to injury-prone Darren McFadden. Neither is well suited for a primary offensive role, so the Raiders better hope McFadden can stay healthy for once.

Mychal Rivera/TE/Tennessee (Round 6/Pick #184): Oakland is hoping the sixth round can fill the depth chart at tight end and while Kasa has potential as an inline starter thanks to his blocking ability, Rivera is a move tight end that could be a very nice complement. Rivera can create mismatches in the secondary and shows good body control and the ability to make tough catches. At just 242 pounds, he isn’t much of a blocker but can be a weapon in the passing game if he can translate his college production to the NFL.

Stacy McGee/DT/Oklahoma (Round 6/Pick #205): McGee is the type of player that fits the Raiders’ reputation, and not in a positive way. He started his senior year on suspension for violation of team rules and was arrested for driving under the influence later in the season. On the field, he’s a nasty lineman with a great bull rush who shows flashes of dominance but never really developed in college. Consistency and maturity are McGee’s biggest issues and unless he can get those in line, he will have a very short NFL career.

Brice Butler/WR/San Diego State (Round 7/Pick #209): After transferring from USC, Butler had just 24 catches as a senior but his flashes of ability got him drafted late. He has average size and speed but solid hands, good timing and the ability to go up and get the ball in a crowd. Butler is not NFL ready and will struggle to make the active roster as a rookie, especially with four receivers already ahead of him on the depth chart. If he makes the practice squad and shows improvement throughout the year, he could provide depth at the position by the end of the year.

David Bass/DE/Missouri Western (Round 7/Pick #233): It’s rare to find a two-time All-American in the seventh round, but Bass’ elite production (26.5 sacks as a junior and senior) came on the small-school level and no team was willing to take a flier on his talents until Oakland did. Bass is on the small side for a 4-3 defensive end at 6-4, 262 pounds but is an explosive pass rusher off the edge. He struggles with leverage and staying low but if he can work on his technique, Bass has the potential to be a useful specialist at the NFL level since he can really get after the quarterback.

Grade: B-. This grade would have been a notch or two lower if Oakland hadn’t been able to trade out of the top-3, assuming they were taking Hayden anyway. He has the potential to be a very good player but will need to prove he’s fully healthy again to justify taking him 12th overall, although he definitely has the talent to be the second best corner in this draft. Watson, Moore and Wilson were all solid picks who could be starting for the Raiders at some point this season and have good upside for their draft spots. With their six picks in the final two rounds, the Raiders are hoping they can solidify the tight end position and turn one or two of their other picks into solid rotational players.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Grading the Draft: Tennessee Titans

(Originally posted at

Warmack_draftTennessee struggled on both sides of the ball last season and after a promising 2011 debut, quarterback Jake Locker didn’t take the step forward many expected. The Titans looked to the 2013 NFL Draft to fix some of their issues and overall, they did a nice job filling holes with solid prospects and finding upside in the mid-to-late rounds. Chris Tripodi tells you which rookies to keep an eye on in Tennessee this season.

Chance Warmack/G/Alabama (Round 1/Pick #10): The last time a guard was drafted in the top 10 was Chris Naeole in 1997, but Warmack wasn’t even the first guard drafted in 2013. A relatively weak draft and two standout prospects at the position led to the Cardinals taking Jonathan Cooper 7th overall and the Titans taking Warmack 10th. Precedent says guards aren’t valued as top-10 picks both Cooper and Warmack transcended that thinking this year. Warmack is a low-risk, high-upside mauler on the inside and while he is very slow and doesn’t pull out into space well, he should have no trouble opening big holes on the inside for Chris Johnson to run through. Warmack is a great fit for the run-heavy offense Tennessee wants to implement in 2013 and should make an immediate impact.

Justin Hunter/WR/Tennessee (Round 2/Pick #34): An obvious indictment of the coaching staff’s trust in Kenny Britt, the Titans used an early second-round pick on Hunter. If NFL teams drafted solely on athletic ability, Hunter would have been the first receiver taken thanks to his 6-4, 196-pound frame, 4.4 speed and 39.5-inch vertical leap. His inconsistent hands, poor route running and lack of focus at times adds some risk to the ultimate reward of a number-one receiver though, which is why he wasn’t a first-round pick. Britt will be an unrestricted free agent after this season and if he can’t regain the dominant form he flashed at the beginning of 2011 before tearing his ACL, it will likely be Hunter starting next to Kendall Wright at receiver next season. Hunter himself tore his ACL in 2011 and Tennessee seems to be betting on either him or Britt to reach their potential. If they both somehow can, Jake Locker will be a very happy quarterback.

Blidi Wreh-Wilson/CB/Connecticut (Round 3/Pick #70): The Titans ranked 26th against the pass last season and with Alterraun Verner’s contract expiring next offseason, Tennessee was wise to draft his potential replacement at a third-round price. Graded out as a second-round pick by Draft Insider and garnering tons of pre-draft buzz, Wreh-Wilson was a steal in round three and has the skills to be the team’s best cornerback in the future. He is a bit raw and struggled with injuries during his junior and senior seasons, but there is no rush for him to start in Tennessee if he doesn’t force his way into the lineup. At 6-0, 195 pounds with 4.45 speed, Wreh-Wilson is athletic and physical and has the potential to shut down an opponent’s top target. The Titans have the luxury of starting him off as a nickel corner, but don’t be surprised to see him as their top corner in 2014.

Zaviar Gooden/OLB/Missouri (Round 3/Pick #97): On the surface, this was a slightly curious pick by Tennessee. Gooden was the fastest linebacker in this draft but the Titans drafted a speedy outside linebacker last season when they took Zach Brown. Brown has had injury issues in the past though and this pick can provide insurance for him as well as injury-prone middle linebacker Colin McCarthy, who could see less of the field in nickel packages to keep him healthy. Gooden is solid in coverage and could push Akeem Ayers to a rush defensive end position in the nickel, as Ayers was not on the field on most passing downs last season. Gooden’s lack of size (6-1, 235) is a limiting factor and while he won’t start over a healthy Brown on the weak side, he’s a good insurance policy who should see the field and help the Titans’ pass defense as a rookie. A slight reach in round three, but one that fits Tennessee’s defense and can contribute immediately.

Brian Schwenke/C/California (Round 4/Pick #107): The Titans’ interior line is undergoing a transformation after the signing of guard Andy Levitre and the drafting of Chance Warmack. Tennessee likely envisions Schwenke as their starting center as early as this season, meaning Chris Johnson will have at least three new offensive lineman to complain about when he continues to dance behind the line of scrimmage. Schwenke played both guard positions in college before switching to center last season and receiving All-Conference honors for his performance. He is explosive off the line, quick to the second level and has the intelligence and leadership qualities an NFL starting center needs. This was a good value pick as well for the Titans, as Schwenke was projected to go about a round earlier.

Lavar Edwards/DE/LSU (Round 5/Pick #142): Edwards flew under the radar as a part-time player at LSU, but his talent and potential warranted a pick earlier than the fifth round. He played a consistent role on a great Tigers defense since his sophomore year and his speed off the edge will be a nice addition to an already solid Tennessee pass rush. Edwards lacks bulk against the run and isn’t great in pursuit, but will add to the Titan’s depth at defensive end and has the upside to ultimately become a starter at the NFL level.

Khalid Wooten/CB/Nevada (Round 6/Pick #202): It’s obvious that the Titans went into this season’s draft focusing on improving their pass defense and while Wooten won’t be a starter in the NFL, he has the athleticism to develop into a nickel or dime corner. He never showed much consistency at the college level but if Wooten can improve his mechanics, his speed, physicality and aggressive mentality against the run could help him stick in the league.

Daimian Stafford/S/Nebraska (Round 7/Pick #247): Stafford was a two-year starter with the Cornhuskers after transferring from junior college before the 2011 season. His size (5-11, 221) and speed (4.58) are what teams look for at the safety position but Stafford struggles in coverage and has some work to do to be a contributor at the NFL level. His athleticism, discipline and toughness against the run leads me to believe he can be a solid special teams player for the Titans this season and he has enough upside to develop into a sub-package safety on defense if he can polish his coverage ability.

Grade: B+. Tennessee did a great job adding talent in this year’s draft, using the first two rounds to solidify their running game and add another big target for Jake Locker. Three of their next four picks netted them players who should have gone at least a round earlier on our board and the Titans added four players who could be starting by the end of this season and 2-3 more who could see the field as a situational players.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Grading the Draft: Indianapolis Colts

(Originally posted at

Werner_draftWithout a 2nd-round pick in the 2013 draft thanks to the Vontae Davis trade, the Colts found themselves with just two of the first 120 overall picks. Even though Indianapolis made the playoffs last season, they still had some holes to fill and the 2013 draft won’t be one for Indianapolis fans to write home about. Chris Tripodi breaks down why below.

Bjoern Werner/DE/Florida State (Round 1/Pick #24): Werner was the 12th-rated prospect on the Draft Insider big board and the Colts were very happy he fell to them in the back half of the first round. A high-upside pass rusher who had 13 sacks during his All-American junior season, Werner should help an Indianapolis pass rush that registered just 32 sacks last season. Quick off the snap and fast off the edge, the former Seminole is a high-motor player whose hard work over the past three seasons has been evident in his development. His doesn’t have great speed or pursuit ability, but those weaknesses should be masked as he steps into an outside linebacker position in the Colts’ 3-4 defense. Werner should be the eventual replacement for Robert Mathis.

Hugh Thornton/G/Illinois (Round 3/Pick #86): Graded as a 6th-round pick by Draft Insider, we feel Thornton was a reach in the third round, which is bad news for a team without a 2nd-round pick. Thornton is a big guard that can block very well in a small area but struggles when asked to move. He is slow to the second level and slow blocking in motion without the footwork to make up for his lack of foot speed. If the Colts plan to keep him in small spaces on the inside, this can be a decent pick. If they are expecting more from Thornton, they are likely to be disappointed in their second pick of the 2013 draft.

Khaled Holmes/C/USC (Round 4/Pick #121): Holmes is a more talented lineman than the player taken a round before him but while Hugh Thornton works hard and gets the most out of his ability, Holmes has had his passion for football questioned by scouts. The common axiom is that you must love the game of football to succeed at the NFL level no matter how much talent you have, and Holmes will need to prove that desire to make it in the league. If he does, Holmes is a complete lineman with upside and the versatility to play multiple positions on the offensive line. He plays with good vision, explosion and leverage and can get to the second level quickly, although he lacks great skills in space. A better fit at center than guard as a result, Holmes is definitely a boom-or-bust pick for Indianapolis.

Montori Hughes/DT/Tennessee Martin (Round 5/Pick #139): Rated higher on the Draft Insider board than both of the offensive lineman the Colts chose earlier, Hughes could prove to be a very good value pick in the fifth round. Indianapolis traded up to draft him so it would seem that they have big plans in store. Hughes’ game is still inconsistent but he’s shown the ability to be a dominant force and was impressive at the Senior Bowl. At 6-4, 330 pounds, he has the size and strength to play nose tackle in the Colts’ 3-4 but his production at the small school level after being dismissed from Tennessee was nothing special. He faced constant double teams and was able to control the line of scrimmage, but fatigue was an issue for him as games wore on. Hughes has potential, but may not be ready to help the Colts right away.

John Boyett/S/Oregon (Round 6/Pick #192): After being honored as an All-American after a great sophomore season, Boyett followed up a solid junior season by playing just one game as a senior before having surgery on both patella tendons. He lacks great size (5-10, 205) and speed (4.58) but has drawn Jim Leonhard comparisons as an overachiever who gets the most from his ability. Much like Leonhard, he won’t be effective in man coverage due to his height but his instincts, effort and awareness will serve him well in the right system. If he can come back to play at his pre-injury level and the Colts keep the action in front of him, Boyett has the ability to start in the NFL. If he has a career similar to Leonhard’s, Indianapolis will be very pleased with this pick.

Kerwynn Williams/RB/Utah State (Round 7/Pick #230): At just 5-8 and 195 pounds, Williams is the epitome of a third-down back. He will never be suited for feature duty but his field vision and ability to make people miss in the open field could make him a nice complement to plodding, one-speed starter Vick Ballard. Williams has good hands and can threaten a defense down the field as well as on short passes out of the backfield, giving Andrew Luck another weapon in the passing game and a good safety valve when the Colts blocking breaks down like it did often last season. Williams has experience returning kicks as well, which only adds to his potential value with the Colts.

Justice Cunningham/TE/South Carolina (Round 7/Pick #254): 2013’s “Mr. Irrelevant,” Cunningham’s NFL career will likely be just that. He has good size and run blocking ability though, which could land him third on the Colts’ depth chart behind Dwayne Allen and Coby Fleener. With just 40 receptions in his last two seasons at South Carolina, don’t expect him to be much of a target in the passing game. The Colts don’t need that out of their third tight end anyway, so Cunningham at least has a chance to stick on the roster.

Grade: C+. Werner was a great pickup for the Colts in Round 1 but outside of him, the Colts failed to draft any high-impact players for the 2013 season unless Hugh Thornton or Khaled Holmes hit harder than we expect. Montori Hughes is a good developmental prospect and both John Boyett and Kerwynn Williams could play larger roles than expected but it’s possible that in two years, the Colts may have only added one or two starters from this year’s draft. They drafted for need but lacking a second-round pick hurt, as well as reaching with their next pick.

Friday, May 10, 2013

Grading the Draft: Cincinnati Bengals

(Originally posted at

Eifert_draftThe Bengals struggled offensively in the playoffs last season, particularly second-year quarterback Andy Dalton. Recognizing this, Cincinnati drafted him some help with their first two picks, taking two skill players who should aid in Dalton’s development and give him playmakers not named A.J. Green. The excuses are running out for Dalton heading into year three and he will be expected to take a big step forward this season. His performance this season will determine if the Bengals can challenge the Super Bowl champion Ravens in the AFC North.

Tyler Eifert/TE/Notre Dame (Round 1/Pick #21): Draft Insider’s 21st ranked player in the 2013 draft, Eifert lands in an interesting situation after being taken 21st overall by Cincinnati. The Bengals already have an established tight end in Jermaine Gresham, who was drafted with the 21st pick himself back in 2010 and has made two consecutive Pro Bowls. The team would not have spent a first-round pick on Eifert if they didn’t plan to utilize him in the offense right away, so it seems likely the Bengals will run many double-tight end sets to mask their lack of wide receiver depth behind A.J. Green. Second-year receiver Mohamed Sanu broke out as a red zone threat towards the end of last season before getting hurt and the addition of the 6-5 Eifert will give Andy Dalton another big target to throw to. Eifert is a complete tight end who can open up holes in the running game as well, which will be important to the team’s second-round pick.

Giovani Bernard/RB/North Carolina (Round 2/Pick #37): It was a slight upset to see Bernard come off the board as the first running back taken, but his landing spot shouldn’t be a surprise at all. Bernard had been linked to the Bengals by many experts who felt he would be a great complement to BenJarvus Green-Ellis. I won’t disagree and neither did the Bengals, as the size and durability questions about Bernard should be mitigated by Green-Ellis’ power running game, which will allow Bernard to show off his big-play ability with the ball in his hands and off the edge. Bernard should see 10-15 touches per game on offense and play in situations where he can break a game open, including kick returns. His receiving ability as a safety valve out of the backfield should help keep Andy Dalton from feeling like he has to force passes downfield if receivers aren’t open.

Margus Hunt/DE/SMU (Round 2/Pick #53): As a good team with an extra second-round pick thanks to the Carson Palmer trade back in 2011, Cincinnati had the luxury of drafting for upside with their third pick. Hunt was discussed as a potential late-first round pick before the draft and is the quintessential high-risk, high-reward pick. A former track and field star and 2006 Gold medalist in the shot-put and discus throw, Hunt has only played a few years of football in the United States after coming over from Estonia. At 6-8, 275 pounds, Hunt should be an immediate asset blocking kicks and has good explosive ability on the inside and 4.6 speed around the edge. He needs to develop more moves rushing the passer and his height is viewed as a potential liability in the run game since he plays too upright at times, but if Hunt refines his game he can provide a very nice return on investment in the late second round.

Shawn Williams/S/Georgia (Round 3/Pick #84): The Bengals have struggled to find a complement to free safety Reggie Nelson in recent years and while we had Williams rated as a fourth-round prospect, he’s a hard hitter who fits well next to a center fielder like Nelson. Williams has good recognition skills in coverage and great speed for a safety that allows him to quickly get to the sideline. While competent in pass coverage, his strength is playing up in the box as a run defender and if he can transfer his abilities from the SEC to the NFL, this will turn out to be a good pick for the Bengals even if it looks like a slight reach on paper.

Sean Porter/OLB/Texas A&M (Round 4/Pick #118): A prospect Draft Insider felt was underrated heading into the draft, the Bengals had a similar opinion of Porter and drafted him for depth at outside linebacker behind Vontaze Burfict and James Harrison. A lack of size (6-1, 230) is the major knock on Porter but he’s a complete linebacker who delivers hard hits and shows solid ability in coverage. Porter’s size makes it difficult for him to shed blocks and while he’s smart and instinctive, he could benefit from the extra reps at the professional level to work on his angles of pursuit. The Bengals likely want him to start when Harrison moves on, as the veteran signed a 2-year deal a few weeks ago. Porter will also provide insurance for Burfict, who wouldn’t surprise anybody by finding his way into trouble after good behavior as a rookie.

Tanner Hawkinson/T/Kansas (Round 5/Pick #156): This is the first pick Cincinnati made that can really be considered a reach but once you get this deep in the draft, it’s tough to judge any pick too harshly. Draft Insider gave Hawkinson a 7th-round grade after two All-Conference seasons at Kansas, but he lacks the athletic ability to become a starter at left tackle. Hawkinson is a smart player who gets the most out of his talent and could have a nice career as an NFL backup while providing the Bengals with offensive line depth at multiple positions.

Rex Burkhead/RB/Nebraska (Round 6/Pick #190): After a great junior season where he rushed for 1,406 yards and 15 touchdowns, Burkhead missed time with a knee injury as a senior and didn’t come anywhere near his junior totals. Burkhead runs hard and despite average speed, shows good agility and quickness along with receiving skills out of the backfield. Nothing stands out about his game though, which makes him little more than depth behind BenJarvus Green-Ellis and Giovani Bernard. With Bernard Scott and Cedric Peerman also re-signing with the team, Burkhead may start 2013 on the practice squad unless injuries hit in training camp.

Cobi Hamilton/WR/Arkansas (Round 6/Pick #197): Stuck behind NFL-caliber receivers Jairus Wright, Greg Childs and Joe Adams until his senior season, Hamilton never had much of a chance to shine with the Razorbacks. Hamilton turned into Tyler Wilson’s favorite target this season with 90 receptions for 1,335 yards. As nice as that production was, he brings no distinguishing traits to the table at the pro level as a one-speed receiver who runs average routes. Measurables aside, it’s difficult to deny his level of production when SEC defenses were focused on stopping him. Hamilton projects as a solid future third receiver down the line who could be a good value pick this late, as Draft Insider had him rated as a third-round prospect.

Reid Fragel/T/Ohio State (Round 7/Pick #240): Looking at our draft board, Fragel was a 3rd or 4th round prospect who almost fell out of the top 250 picks. He’s a project who moved from tight end to right tackle as a senior, started every game and has impressive size at 6-7, 308 pounds with room to grow. Our projection is based on his footwork and awareness improving as he gains experience playing the tackle position, but this is the type of player teams should be targeting in the seventh round. It’s hard to tell what Fragel’s true upside is at this point but at a no-risk price, the Bengals could be reaping the rewards of this pick in a few seasons.

T.J. Johnson/C/South Carolina (Round 7/Pick #251): Apparently uncomfortable with their depth along the offensive line, the Bengals used three of their final five picks on lineman. While Fragel was an upside play for the future, both Johnson and Tanner Hawkinson were productive senior lineman who lack upside but play smart football and project to back up multiple positions on the line. Johnson began his Gamecocks career as a guard before starting the last three seasons at center and should help solidify the interior of the Bengals’ second unit if he makes the roster.

Grade: B+. The Bengals have risen from the bottom of the AFC North over the past few seasons thanks to solid draft strategy and this year was no different. Cincinnati’s picks struck a great balance between value, need and complementing their current roster. They made a few good value picks late who could become contributors in the future and their 10 picks gave them the opportunity to add depth at a few positions, particularly on the offensive line. While Cincinnati didn’t draft as well as Baltimore did, they certainly improved their team heading into next season and should be in contention again in the AFC North.

Thursday, May 9, 2013

Grading the Draft: Pittsburgh Steelers

(Originally posted at

Jones_draftThe Steelers lost a few big names to free agency in the offseason, namely wide receiver Mike Wallace, linebacker James Harrison and running back Rashard Mendenhall. With the rest of their roster mostly intact, their draft strategy this season was to replace the players they lost and get younger in the process. Not surprisingly, the Steelers used their first three draft picks to replace those veterans and ended up picking players who profile similarly to the ones they lost, as Chris Tripodi reviews their draft.

Jarvis Jones/LB/Georgia (Round 1/Pick #17): Early in the pre-draft process, Jones was considered a candidate to go in the top 3 based on his college film and domination of the SEC. Jones was a disruptive force at Georgia after transferring from USC and took over countless games, totaling 44 tackles for loss and 28 sacks in his final two college seasons. Red flags came out on Jones as the offseason wore on though, as questions regarding the spinal stenosis that ended his USC career and his lack of elite size (6-2, 245) and speed (4.81) hurt his draft stock. Jones’ loss was the Steelers’ gain, as they started the second half of round one with a player who dominated the best conference in college football and plays a similar game to Harrison, the player he is expected to replace. If Jones can prove his injury concerns were overblown, this is a great value pick by a team with a knack for taking solid football players.

Le’Veon Bell/RB/Michigan State (Round 2/Pick #48): Bell was a curious pick for Pittsburgh with Eddie Lacy still on the board, but Pittsburgh was concerned about Lacy’s lingering toe injury and perhaps they even felt Bell was a better prospect, although Draft Insider would disagree. Despite his size (6-1, 230) and reputation as a bruiser, Bell impressed with his quickness and elusiveness at the combine and posted the best time of all running backs in the 3-cone drill. The former Spartans star showed solid receiving skills at Michigan State and is also an effective pass blocker, giving Pittsburgh a well-rounded back with the power to grind out tough yards and the ability to stay on the field in any situation. Bell’s insane workload as a senior (382 carries) is a slight concern but he fits the Steelers offense extremely well and should step into the starting lineup immediately. He’s a power runner in the same mold as Mendenhall and likely backup Jonathan Dwyer, but is far superior on passing downs.

Markus Wheaton/WR/Oregon State (Round 3/Pick #79): One of the few popular mock draft picks that actually hit, Wheaton fits the mold of former Steelers third-round pick Mike Wallace, who signed with Miami in free agency. He isn’t a world-class burner like Wallace but runs a more complete route tree and should make an instant impact as a slot receiver with the potential to eventually overtake Emmanuel Sanders in the starting lineup. Wheaton may be slightly limited by his size (5-11, 189) at the NFL level but his combination of speed, acceleration and run after catch ability should more than make up for his strength deficiencies. Pre-draft comparisons to Wallace were widespread and while Wheaton was probably the most similar receiver to Wallace in this draft class, he should have an opportunity to make his own mark on the Pittsburgh organization.

Shamarko Thomas/S/Syracuse (Round 4/Pick #111): With an aging set of safeties in Troy Polamalu and Ryan Clark, the Steelers drafted another player who looks to be a good fit for their defensive scheme. Like Polamalu, Thomas is small (5-9, 213) but flies around the field and is known as a hard hitter. He has good speed (4.39) but is often late to the sideline and lacks ball skills. Also like Polamalu, Thomas is prone to head injuries as he suffered multiple concussions as a senior at Syracuse. Pittsburgh likes his aggressive, physical style of play and while it could get him in trouble at the NFL level, Thomas should stand out early in his career on special teams and may get a chance to start at some point during his rookie season if the veterans ahead of him can’t stay on the field.

Landry Jones/QB/Oklahoma (Round 4/Pick #115): Jones was a hot prospect early in his Oklahoma career and his physical ability has never been in question, as he was generating top-10 buzz after a strong sophomore season in 2010. When given a clean pocket, Jones can show off his strong arm, good touch and a sense of timing with his receivers. The NFL rarely provides a clean pocket for quarterbacks though, and Jones has shown a tendency to unravel under duress. He has enough mobility to get outside the pocket but his decision making falls off a cliff under anything but ideal circumstances. Jones also struggles reading defenses and is prone to mental lapses, throwing at least 10 interceptions in each of the past three seasons. Ben Roethlisberger isn’t getting any younger and has issues staying healthy, but Jones will need to quickly learn from the veteran’s poise and improvisational ability if he expects to be a suitable backup.

Terry Hawthorne/CB/Illinois (Round 5/Pick #150): A prospect that did himself more harm than good by staying in school, Hawthorne may have gone a few rounds earlier if he left Illinois after his impressive junior season. His instincts seemed to take a step back last season but despite those struggles, his talent kept him in the draft’s top 150 picks. Hawthorne has sub-4.4 speed and explosive quickness, showing an ability to quickly locate the ball in the air and the hands to create turnovers when given the opportunity. He has the size (5-11, 195) and ability to stay physical with receivers but needs to refine his fundamentals and may benefit from consistent practice reps at the professional level. Hawthorne’s natural ability makes him a potential nickel back in the NFL if he can play at the level he did as a junior with the Illini.

Justin Brown/WR/Oklahoma (Round 6/Pick #186): Brown enjoyed a very productive senior season after transferring from Penn State to Oklahoma, more than doubling his reception total from his junior season catching balls from Landry Jones in the Sooners’ spread offense. His familiarity with the Steelers’ fourth-round pick may be the best thing going for him though, as his game grades out as average in almost every aspect. Brown has decent size (6-2, 205) and speed (4.55) and while he uses his frame well, his struggles creating separation will likely continue in the NFL. With three established receivers on the roster and the team’s earlier pick of Markus Wheaton, Brown will likely have to stand out on special teams and impress in camp to latch on as Pittsburgh’s fifth receiver.

Vince Williams/LB/Florida State (Round 6/Pick #206): The Steelers used the sixth round to add roster depth at positions that needed it and to handcuff their earlier picks. Brown should help round out the receiver depth chart behind Markus Wheaton and Williams should give the team depth behind Jarvis Jones, who isn’t a sure thing to stay healthy. Williams should also be a solid special teams player and rotational linebacker with the ability to fill in on all downs. He has good athleticism despite below average speed and improved his game in each of his last three years with the Seminoles. Williams has good cover skills and gets depth on his pass drops, making him a useful linebacker in nickel packages. He’s not likely to ever start in the NFL, but could play a key role on a contending team’s roster.

Nick Williams/DT/Samford (Round 7/Pick #223): The second Williams taken by Pittsburgh on the draft’s third day, Nick Williams was probably the Steelers’ best value pick of the day. Rated as a fourth or fifth-round prospect here at Draft Insider, Williams is very athletic for his size (6-4, 309) and gets off the snap quickly. He has plenty of growth potential on his frame as well and if he can improve his playing strength, Williams could turn into a serviceable 3-technique tackle or 5-technique end. A late bloomer who was an All-Conference performer as a junior and senior, the Samford product could prove to be one of the better values of the final rounds with a season or two of development.

Grade: B. It’s not unreasonable to say that the Steelers picked the best player available in two of the first three rounds and both Jarvis Jones and Markus Wheaton will immediately step in to fill needs as well. Le’Veon Bell gives them a complete running back they can play every down while their later picks provide the team with solid depth behind their aging players and departed free agents. This was a good draft for a Pittsburgh team looking to replace some missing pieces and infuse some young talent into a roster that has fallen behind the Ravens and Bengals in the AFC North. If their stars can stay on the field along with the expected return on their early picks, the Steelers have a chance at a bounceback season in 2013.

Grading the Draft: New York Jets

(Originally posted at

Smith_draftAfter months of speculation, the Jets finally unloaded star cornerback Darrelle Revis to Tampa Bay for two draft picks, a 2013 first-round pick (#13 overall) and a conditional 2014 fourth-round pick that becomes a third rounder if Revis is on Tampa Bay’s roster on the third day of the 2014 league year. Adding an extra first rounder this year gave the Jets some extra flexibility to plug some of their many roster holes, but the player they drafted with that pick was a surprise to many. Chris Tripodi grades the Jets’ haul from the 2013 draft.

Dee Milliner/CB/Alabama (Round 1/Pick #9): After trading Darrelle Revis just days before the draft the Jets were happy to draft the top cornerback on their board when he fell to them, despite rumors he could go in the top five. A very physical corner that likes to challenge opposing receivers, Milliner quieted pre-Combine questions about his speed with a blazing 4.37 40-yard dash to cement his top-10 draft status. While the Jets were likely hoping for Tavon Austin here to give their offense a much-needed playmaker, a potential Pro Bowler and immediate starter in the defensive backfield is a nice consolation prize, not to mention a good combination of value and need.

Sheldon Richardson/DT/Missouri (Round 1/Pick #13): The Jets took a lot of heat for this pick considering their need for a pass rusher and while I may be in the minority, I’m on board with Richardson. New York’s linebacker depth has been decimated in recent seasons and a position that was once considered a strength is now loaded with question marks. Richardson is an explosive athlete with the versatility to play as both a 3-technique tackle and a 5-technique end. His presence gives Rex Ryan plenty of flexibility up front with Muhammad Wilkerson and Quinton Coples also having the ability to play multiple spots along the line. The Jets will likely play more 4-man fronts in 2013 to mask their issues at linebacker and as teams like the Giants have shown, depth along the defensive line is an invaluable asset in today’s NFL.

Geno Smith/QB/West Virginia (Round 2/Pick #39): The pick of Geno Smith has been scrutinized heavily in the past week and a half and while it’s difficult to question the value of picking the draft’s top quarterback on Day 2, it’s easy to question the situation he’s been put in. The Jets are a dysfunctional mess and it starts at the quarterback position, where Mark Sanchez is a near-lock to be on the roster thanks to his exorbitant cap figure. Sitting and learning for at least half the season is probably the best route for Smith, especially with little talent at the skill positions, but more ineffective play from Sanchez may not allow that to happen. New York may also have a very high pick next year in what projects to be a strong quarterback class; this pick could block them from taking a player like Johnny Manziel or Teddy Bridgewater or force them to give up on Smith after just one season. This pick was good value and gives the Jets three players from the Draft Insider Top 25, but Smith could have landed in a far better situation for his own development.

Brian Winters/G/Kent State (Round 3/Pick #72): Winters is another example of value meeting need for the Jets, as he was expected to go right around this spot and should immediately step into the starting lineup. After playing both tackle positions with the Golden Flashes, Winters projects as a starting NFL guard with a nasty attitude, good vision and excellent field awareness. He gets good movement in the running game and understands blocking angles in pass protection, which should help limit the pressure up the middle that bothered Sanchez so much last season. It’s not a flashy pick for the Jets, but definitely a solid one.

Oday Aboushi/T/Virginia (Round 5/Pick #141): A left tackle with the Cavaliers, Aboushi will probably switch over to the right side to compete with Austin Howard as D’Brickashaw Ferguson is entrenched on the blind side. He also may move inside to guard but while Aboushi is a terrific pass blocker, he lacks the nastiness of Winters in the running game. Combined with average run-blocking strength, projecting Aboushi to the right side is a tough sell but we had him rated as a third-round prospect, meaning the Jets found value again along the offensive line. If he can improve in the running game, he has starting potential and ideally would settle in at left guard while Winters mans the right side of center Nick Mangold.

William Campbell/G/Michigan (Round 6/Pick #178): A defensive lineman at Michigan, the Jets plan to move Campbell to guard in using their third consecutive pick on an offensive lineman. Campbell was no more than a sixth-round prospect as a defensive tackle but his coaches at Michigan mentioned to Jets personnel that they feel he can be a good guard in the NFL. Campbell is a powerful bull rusher who used his size (6-5, 311) and explosiveness to hold his ground and collapse down the line on the defensive side of the football. If he can transfer those skills to his new offensive position, his combination of size and athleticism presents good upside in the 6th round and will at least provide the team with some depth along the line. The Jets likely aren’t expecting a contribution from Campbell until 2014 at the earliest.

Tommy Bohanon/FB/Wake Forest (Round 7/Pick #215): This pick seems like a great fit for the Jets, who struggled last season to open holes in the running game and were devoid of a safety valve out of the backfield on passing plays. Bohanon has great blocking vision and strength along with the toughness teams look for in their lead-blocking fullback. Bohanon is also an excellent receiver out of the backfield and shows good footwork in pass protection, giving the Jets a solid third-down option in two-back sets. His lack of speed and experience running the football are knocks on his game but with a deep stable of running backs the Jets won’t need him to do much other than block and catch, which happen to be Bohanon’s strengths.

Grade: B-. The Jets went into the 2013 draft with tons of holes to fill and while they picked up an extra first-round draft pick by trading Darrelle Revis, they also traded away their fourth-round pick for the Saints’ Chris Ivory. Picking up Ivory was good value as he seems likely to be the team’s starting running back, although a back like Johnathan Franklin would have also been a nice fit for Marty Mornhinweg’s West Coast offense. They drafted to solidify the interior of their offensive line which was a disaster last season outside of Nick Mangold, hoping to protect Mark Sanchez or Geno Smith up the middle and open up holes for Ivory, Mike Goodson and Bilal Powell to run through. The Jets do still have a need at safety and didn’t pick up an offensive playmaker or bolster their pass rush, however, which were three of their biggest needs. Unfortunately the Jets just didn’t have enough picks to fill all of those needs, but the ones they made came with good value. New York picked up three immediate starters and possibly four pending a quarterback competition. It’s hard to be too disappointed with their draft considering the possibility that they addressed up to six starting positions for 2014, which is when the team should realistically be looking to compete again.

Monday, May 6, 2013

Grading the Draft: Buffalo Bills

(Originally posted at

For months many thought the Bills would take a signal caller in the first round, and they did. They just didn’t select the quarterback many predicted. The team maneuvered throughout the first two days of the draft and came away with a variety of offensive weapons. Chris Tripodi grades the team’s effort.

E.J. Manuel/QB/Florida State (Round 1/Pick #16): After trading out of the 8th spot and picking up an extra second-round pick from the Rams, the Bills were the first team to take the plunge into the 2013 quarterback class and had Manuel rated above the rest, thanks in part to a solid bad-weather workout. The former Seminole quarterback might have the highest upside of any quarterback in this draft, combining impressive size (6-4, 235) with 4.6 speed, a quick release and a powerful arm. Where he struggles is in his decision making, timing and mechanics and while the potential is immense, Manuel is not ready to start at the NFL level. The Bills do have Kevin Kolb set to start in 2013 and will reportedly be implementing some of the read option into their playbook, both of which will be positives for the Manuel’s development. This pick comes with a ton of upside, but also more risk than you’d like in a top-20 pick.

Robert Woods/WR/USC (Round 2/Pick #41): After drafting a quarterback early and having almost nothing behind Stevie Johnson at the wide receiver position, Woods was a no-brainer pick for Buffalo and a solid one at that. After an All-American sophomore season, Woods was seen as a mid-first round pick but struggled with ankle issues and the emergence of Marqise Lee as a junior. His draft stock took a hit but he’s still the same prospect he was after the 2011 season; a smooth, natural receiver with soft hands that runs crisp routes and can make plays with the ball in his hands. Woods is not a vertical threat and lacks above-average leaping ability, but he has all the makings of a very solid second receiver at the NFL level who can excel between the 20s. This pick made sense on a lot of levels for Buffalo.

Kiko Alonso/LB/Oregon (Round 2/Pick #46): Alonso may not have the size (6-3, 240) or speed (4.68) NFL teams covet at linebacker, but he has solid athletic ability, a nonstop motor and NFL-level instincts that could make him an instant starter for the Bills. The former Oregon linebacker is also a versatile player that could play in multiple fronts for Buffalo, who just hired Mike Pettine at defensive coordinator. Pettine prefers to run the 3-4, but Buffalo’s current personnel fits the 4-3 defense better. Alonso might displace Bryan Scott on the outside this season and can move inside if the team uses the 3-4 front at times as well. He plays with a nasty streak and also shows ability in coverage, making this a good fit for a team in transition on the defensive side of the football.

Marquise Goodwin/WR/Texas (Round 3/Pick #78): Even though the Bills are in need of depth at receiver, this was a puzzling pick for Buffalo. Goodwin has insane speed and ran a 4.27 40-yard dash at the combine, so he’s faster than last year’s third-round pick, speedy receiver T.J. Graham. Are the Bills giving up on Graham after just one season, even though he wasn’t seen as an instant impact receiver anyway? With the team looking to use Stevie Johnson in the slot more this season, the Woods pick made sense to give the team an outside receiver, but Goodwin is nothing more than a slot guy thanks to a serious lack of size (5-9, 183). The Bills might plan on using him as a gadget player like Tavon Austin, but Goodwin wasn’t anywhere near as productive at Texas as Austin was at West Virginia and is very raw. Goodwin could help the return game immediately, but a third-round pick is high to use on a kick returner. Until we see what Buffalo may have in store for Goodwin, it’s tough to sign off on this pick.

Duke Williams/S/Nevada (Round 4/Pick #105): Williams is a very good athlete that is extremely aggressive defending the run. He has good speed (4.49), explodes to the action quickly and can range outside the numbers to make plays. Where the former Nevada defensive back struggles is with his fundamentals and ball skills. Williams is more of a big hitter than a wrap-up tackler, which will certainly play well on special teams immediately but he needs to refine his game to turn into a starter. The Buffalo secondary struggled as a whole last year and GM Buddy Nix has said he may use Williams as a slot corner in nickel packages and views him as a potential starter on the outside as well. Off-the-field issues pushed Williams down draft boards, but he has the physical skills to play many positions in the Bills’ secondary.

Jonathan Meeks/S/Clemson (Round 5/Pick #143): Although Draft Insider had Meeks ranked as a free agent, he has the physical skills to stick in the NFL. Meeks is very similar to Williams; both are good athletes who defend the run aggressively and will be immediate contributors on special teams. Williams has good positional versatility while Meeks’ skill set will play in multiple defensive schemes, a plus for a Buffalo defense currently in flux. Unlike Williams, Meeks struggles in coverage but when he does manage to stay with receivers, he can outjump them and shows good ball skills. There is upside in Meeks’ game and continued improvement like he’s shown the past two seasons at Clemson could land him a nice rotational role in the Buffalo secondary.

Dustin Hopkins/K/Florida State (Round 6/Pick #177): The Bills’ second pick from Florida State, Hopkins was our best placekicking prospect in this year’s draft. With a career long of 56 yards, Hopkins has the necessary leg strength to kick in the NFL and can consistently reach the endzone with good hangtime on his kickoffs. He made 83% of his kicks as a senior after making 81% as junior, so his accuracy is good as well. The kicker position is more important in a place like Buffalo where bad weather can be a factor, so Hopkins could be worth this sixth-round pick if he pans out.

Chris Gragg/TE/Arkansas (Round 7/Pick #222): Gragg’s greatest asset is his speed, as he ran a 4.5 40-yard dash at the combine, over one-tenth of a second faster than any other tight end. He lacks strength and balance in the running game and will never be even an average inline blocker, but projects as a move tight end with the ability to get down field and makes plays in the passing game. Rated as a fourth-round prospect at Draft Insider, Gragg fell due to a lingering knee injury and is a decent value pick if he proves healthy. Any time you draft a player in the seventh round who has the potential to see the field and impact your roster it’s a positive, but he’s no guarantee to make the team if he can’t get on the field and beat out Dorin Dickerson.

Grade: C. On the surface, this is nothing more than an average draft for the Bills despite having three picks in the top 50. Trading down from 8th to 16th and picking up St. Louis’ second-round pick allowed Buffalo to take a risk-reward approach to the first round, and how this draft is viewed down the line will hinge directly on the development of E.J. Manuel. If Manuel can hit his ceiling nobody will question using a mid-first round pick on him but if not, Buffalo may struggle to produce even three starters from this draft. It’s difficult to justify using a first-round pick on a project player, as the team will likely feel pressured to play Manuel by the end of 2013 if they’re out of contention. That may not be the best move for his development, but taking him as early as they did accelerates the timetable for him to see the field. Bringing in a second-day talent like wide receiver Da’Rick Rogers as an undrafted free agent was a solid move for the Bills though, as he has the upside to play with Woods on the outside while Johnson mans the slot and he’s an easy cut if his character issues weigh too heavy.