Despite not replacing DeMarco Murray in a deep running back class, the Dallas Cowboys had one of the best draft hauls in the league thanks to the UDFA signing of projected first-rounder La’El Collins. The Giants, Redskins and Eagles also did well for themselves. Chris Tripodi has our NFC East draft grades.
In need of depth in the secondary, the Cowboys drafted cornerback Byron Jones with 27th overall pick. A freak athlete who blew up the combine, Jones has good size (6-0, 199) and ball skills and understands the game. He’s an immediate upgrade over 2012 first-round bust Morris Claiborne behind Brandon Carr and Orlando Scandrick. With pick No. 60, Dallas stopped the fall of Nebraska’s Randy Gregory towards the end of the second round. His failed marijuana test at the combine hurt his stock significantly, along with teams’ concerns over his mental capacity as well as other issues we’ve alluded to which have not hit the mainstream press. On the field, Gregory is a great athlete that plays with good leverage and uses his hands well. If the Cowboys can develop him and keep him on the right path, he has Pro Bowl potential. The Cowboys added to a strength in the third round, drafting Florida tackle Chaz Green. An athletic player who finishes blocks, Green won’t move defenders against the run and has an injury history. We had him rated as a sixth-rounder but if he stays healthy the Cowboys could have the surprise of the draft. Shifting their focus back to defense in the fourth, the Cowboys grabbed Minnesota linebacker Damien Wilson. Wilson is extremely effective defending the run, making plays in the backfield and showing good range to the sideline. A good fit in the Cowboys’ 4-3 defense, Wilson will need to improve his block shedding to see significant snaps. Purdue defensive Ryan Russell was the choice in round five, offering length and athleticism as a potential five-technique. He lacks the bulk to take on blocks and hold up consistently, but has upside if he can add strength as a pro. The Cowboys capped their draft with a trio of seventh-rounders; Wyoming outside linebacker Mark Nzeocha, Virginia Tech tackle Laurence Gibson and Texas tight end Geoff Swaim. A knee injury ended Nzeocha’s senior season, but the 232-pounder makes up for a lack of size with 4.5 speed. He has potential on the weak side and on special teams. Sticking with the measurable theme of Dallas’ draft, Gibson is an athletic 305-pounder with upside who took a step forward as a senior. Continued improvement could make him a nice value here. Swaim is a blocking tight end who lacks great measurables and doesn’t stand out in any aspect of the game, but could be a solid third tight end behind Jason Witten and Gavin Escobar. Post-draft, the Cowboys reeled in the big fish of the UDFA market, signing LSU tackle La’El Collins. A player who was in the top-10 discussion at times and ranked 18th on our board, Collins fell out of the draft due to a murder investigation and an ultimatum to teams not to take him on Day 3. Receivers Deontay Greenberry and Antwan Goodley were also quality post draft adds for depth purposes.
Grade: A- The Cowboys added a great deal of athleticism with this year’s draft class, despite numerous reaches in the middle rounds. Signing Collins after the draft made up for that and more, as Dallas came away with three of our top 24 players. The only caveat is that they didn’t draft a running back to replace DeMarco Murray, but improving their offensive line was just another way to build their run game.
New York Giants
With Collins’ legal issues and the Redskins pick of Brandon Scherff at No. 5, New York drafted Miami’s Ereck Flowers to bolster their offensive line. An excellent athlete for a 330-pounder, Flowers has violent hands and shows the ability to anchor in pass protection and block in motion. He’s also a waist bender who struggles protecting the edge, but flashed dominance at times and has great upside. The Giants traded up in the second round to begin Day 2, drafting Alabama safety Landon Collins. A strong run defender with good speed, Collins will slide immediately into the starting lineup and just needs work on his instincts in coverage. If the Giants keep him in the box, it should minimize his center field responsibilities and accentuate his strengths. Concern over a 2013 hip injury dropped Owamagbe Odighizuwa to the 74th overall pick, but the Giants let him slide no further. An explosive edge rusher who turns speed to power extremely well, Odighizuwa shows great functional athleticism and is a first-round talent if his health cooperates, although he’ll struggle with larger tackles until he adds strength. New York stayed on the defensive side of the ball in the fifth round, drafting Texas safety Mykkele Thompson. A solid center fielder in college, Thompson’s lack of speed makes him a liability covering downfield in the pros and he lacks the size to match up with tight ends. He’ll have to make his living on special teams. In the sixth round, the Giants added depth to their passing game with receiver Geremy Davis from Connecticut. At 6-2, 215 pounds with 4.49 speed, Davis shows the ability to make difficult catches but lacks separation speed to get open at the NFL level. He disappointed as a senior in part due to poor quarterback play at UConn, but has the physical profile to stick on the roster. Seventh-rounder Bobby Hart played tackle at Florida State, but should move inside to guard in the NFL. A strong run blocker, Hart isn’t the most fluid athlete but represents nice depth and value for the Giants.
Grade: B Many viewed Flowers as a big reach, but as our No. 13 prospect the pick makes some sense from a value and need standpoint. Stealing Odighizuwa in the third round could make this draft for New York, and Collins can be the run-stopping safety the Giants needed.
Looking to replace Jeremy Maclin, Chip Kelly and the Eagles took USC receiver Nelson Agholor at No. 20 overall. A solid route-runner with consistent hands and the ability to play outside as well as in the slot, Agholor isn’t a dominator in the big receiver game at just 6-0, 198 but should be a reliable playmaker for Kelly on offense. He compares favorably to Maclin from a skills standpoint. Philadelphia drafted another versatile player in the second round, taking Utah defensive back Eric Rowe 47th overall. Rowe played both cornerback and safety with the Utes, but is expected to start across from Byron Maxwell on the outside. A solid tackler with terrific range and closing speed, Rowe excels facing the action and has big upside now that he’ll be focusing on one position. In the third round, the Eagles took linebacker Jordan Hicks. With Mychal Kendricks on the trading block and entering a contract year, Hicks will provide depth on the inside. Injuries over the past two seasons have sapped the former Texas star of some speed and quickness and he struggles getting off blocks, but Hicks can be a useful player if kept clean thanks to good instincts. Philadelphia didn’t pick again until the sixth round after dealing two fifth round selection in order to move up for Rowe, and finally drafted Kansas cornerback JaCorey Shepherd. A former wide receiver who lacks a standout trait, Shepherd shows enough coverage and ball skills to be useful in nickel and dime packages. The Eagles drafted another cornerback later in the round, taking Kansas State’s Randall Evans. A quality zone cover corner who plays the ball well, Evans is fundamentally sound and strong against the run, but his struggles in downfield coverage will limit him to sub-package duties. Seventh-round pick Brian Mihalik stands 6-9, 288 and played multiple positions on the Boston College defensive line. He will likely settle in as a five-technique in Philadelphia’s 3-4 defense, as he flashes strength and explosiveness but is in need of added bulk to his lean frame.
Grade: B- The Eagles picked up two Week 1 starters in the first two rounds, and addressed a need for secondary depth later on. Only having six picks limits the potential contributions from this class, but if Agholor and Rowe turn out to be plus starters, it will prove to be just fine in the long run.
The Redskins surprised many by passing on Leonard Williams to draft Iowa offensive lineman Brandon Scherff with the fifth overall pick. Expected to play right tackle in Washington, Scherff has the versatility to slide inside to guard as well. Explosive and athletic, Scherff is a tough player who blocks until the whistle and can dominate his opponents. He will immediately help the Redskins’ offensive line. Mississippi State defensive end Preston Smith was the pick at No. 38, giving Washington a pass rusher to replace the departed Brian Orakpo. A solid athlete with good hand moves and a terrific closing burst, Smith is a natural rusher who will help take pressure off Ryan Kerrigan on the other side. With Alfred Morris entering the final year of his contract, the Redskins drafted Florida’s Matt Jones in the third round as insurance. Jones consistently beats first contact with good size (6-2, 231) and shows enough speed to turn the corner along with good vision and agility. His good hands out of the backfield should give him an early role in the offense on passing downs. The Redskins had two picks in the fourth round, taking Duke receiver Jamison Crowder and Alabama guard Arie Kouandijo. Crowder is small (5-8, 185) but slippery with the ball in his hands, showing the ability to separate from defenders and play bigger than his size on balls in the air. He should make an immediate impact as a returner and can make plays on offense despite his size. Kouandijo has good explosiveness and terrific hand punch, but lacks great skills in space or blocking in motion and must improve his balance to be a legitimate NFL backup. The Redskins added Arkansas outside linebacker Martrell Spaight in the fifth round. More of a run stopper than pass rusher, Spaight is limited by his size (6-0, 236) and speed (4.81), but shows good instincts and efficiency as a defender. He should settle in as a backup with some special teams value. Washington had three sixth-round picks, taking Virginia Tech safety Kyshoen Jarrett, Arkansas cornerback Tevin Mitchel and Ohio State receiver Evan Spencer. Jarrett is another player with limited size and athleticism who shows ability against the run, and he could find a sub-package role in addition to special teams work. Mitchel struggled with injuries and inconsistencies with the Razorbacks and has a tendency to get beat down the field, but is quick enough and shows the timing to be effective backed off the line in dime situations. Spencer is 6-2, 212 pounds with 4.5 speed, but never caught more than 22 passes in a season with the Buckeyes. He shows soft hands and an ability to make tough catches, but struggles to separate and doesn’t attack the ball while on the ground. The measurables are there for Spencer, but they haven’t yet translated to the field. For their final pick, Washington grabbed South Florida center Austin Reiter at No. 222 overall. A consistent blocker in the AAC, Reiter brings good athleticism to the table and could find his way into a backup role down the line.
Grade: B Washington had 10 draft picks this year and came away with some potential year-one contributors. Scherff and Smith should start immediately, while Jones could wind up with a starting job in 2016. Crowder will be an upgrade on Andre Roberts as a returner, and the Redskins added good depth on both sides of the ball on the third day. It wasn’t a flashy draft for the Redskins, but that’s a good thing under new general manager Scot McCloughan, considering the history of owner Dan Snyder.
Chris Tripodi has been writing draft reviews and rookie reports for Draft Insider since 2008. He is also an ACC and C-USA scout for Optimum Scouting and writes about the New York Jets for Pro Football Spot. Follow him on Twitter @christripodi to talk NFL Draft and Jets football.