The intrigue in the NFC West moving towards the draft centered on the St Louis Rams, who held a top ten pick. Would they move up? Move down? Or stay pat? With Seattle no longer in round one it was front and center for the other teams in the division.
The feeling was the Cardinals would address needs on the defensive side of the ball early in the draft but they surprised some by selecting offensive tackle D.J.Humphries. The athletic junior was on the of better pure left tackles in this draft, which made the pick even more intriguing as the Cardinals have pricey free agent Jared Veldheer protecting the blind side. Humphries is not yet NFL ready but comes with an upside which makes this an interesting one to watch. Hoping to improve their pass rush the team went with Markus Golden in round two. Golden will move from defensive end to outside linebacker but should due well as a situational pass rusher this season. David Johnson swiftly charged up boards in the weeks leading to the draft and the Cardinals snagged him in round three. He’s a versatile back with the power to grind it out on the inside while also displaying competent hands as a pass catcher. Rodney Gunter was a head scratcher in round four. We were one of the few who completed a report on the defensive lineman and though witnessing flashes of skill on film the past two years there was also a lot of inconsistency and I saw a player who disappeared for stretches. Those who played against Gunter have labeled him soft. Conversely I love the pick of Shaq Riddick in round five. One of the most overlooked pass rushers in the draft, Riddick was snubbed from the combine but has the underlying skill to start at the next level. Small but explosive, JJ Nelson brings great speed to the Cardinals offense and could make it as a fifth receiver if he shows well returning kicks this summer. Gerald Christian is a consistent pass catcher with size/speed limitations. Receiver Jaxon Shipley, cornerback CJ Roberts and outside linebacker Zack Wagenmann could be great free agent signings.
Grade B: The top three picks should see action as rookies while both fifth round choices can also contribute this season. I’m really looking forward to see if the UDFA’s mentioned make an active roster or are stashed on the practice squad. Gunter in round four is the only thing holding this draft back half a grade.
St Louis Rams
The Rams were one of the biggest mysteries even before the first round got underway. Rumors were rampant they would try and move up for Marcus Mariota. I reported several times the team would add a linebacker in the early rounds to improve their interior run defense. There was also word they would look towards Andrus Peat in round one. In the end they did none of the above rather selected Todd Gurley. Once Gurley received positive medical reports on his surgically repaired knee his draft stock understandably soared. I thought there were other areas of need but the Rams claim Gurley was the second best player on their board and this is a franchise that had a lot of success with Steven Jackson, a former first round back. While I understand the Gurley pick I can’t say the same for the rest of the draft. I thought Rob Havenstein was selected at least a round and a half early and available blockers such as Ty Sambrailo as well as Ali Marpet were much higher rated. Havenstein is a big bodied lineman who plays smart football but must develop a nasty streak. I was one of the few who thought Jamon Brown would be drafted, albeit in the sixth round. Brown has the skill and an NFL body but needs to properly condition himself and pick up the intensity. In the end he’s best at offensive guard. There are a variety of opinions on third round selection Sean Mannion and mine is not complimentary. As a sophomore I thought Mannion had the tools to be a big time prospect but on film his game never took off the past two years. Hopefully the Rams coaching staff maximize his talents. Fourth round choice Andrew Donnal is a versatile lineman with upside but was no better than a 7th round pick. Larry Sasser in round six was another head scratcher as was the other choice in the frame, Cody Wichmann. Sasser offers nice size, good hands but poor speed and quickness. Wichmann is a size prospect with very limited athleticism and upside. Bryce Hager was a solid last round pick who could help solve their run defense woes on the interior. He lacks great size but is instinctive and tough as hell. I don’t see how final pick Martin Ifedi fits the Rams defense. He’s small for the interior and lacks pass rushing skill for end.
Grade C- : The Rams received my lowest grade to date as I see a collection of players that represent need over value. They best hit on a few of these offensive linemen for the sake of this draft and the performance of Todd Gurley.
San Francisco 49ers
“Defense! Defense!” was the cry of Niners fans heading towards the draft as, amongst other reasons, several unexpected retirements made the defensive side of the ball a priority. The team’s desire for Arik Armstead was documented long before the draft and the Niners were able to get their man after moving down a few slots. In Armstead they are getting a physically gifted three down lineman with incredible upside. There will be bumps in the road early on, but if properly coached he’ll cause an impact up front. Considering the team drafted a safety in the first round during each of the previous two draft’s selecting Jaquiski Tartt in round two was a head scratcher. From a physical skills standpoint I understand the selection but Tartt needs a lot of work on his game and may take a while before he’s NFL ready. The team came back with Eli Harold in round three and it was a terrific selection. Considering the tenuous situation surrounding Aldon Smith, Harold is a prospect they can line-up as a pass rusher this season then develop as a fulltime starter should Smith implode. The team had three selections in the fourth frame and all are boom or bust type picks. Blake Bell is a physical beast who showed flashes of dominance at tight end last season but is far from the finished product. Mike Davis is a nice ball carrier but offers no outstanding attribute to his game. DeAndre Smelter is a big bodied receiver with dependable hands and the ability to contribute returning punts but is coming off a serious knee injury which he sustained last December. Fifth round pick Bradley Pinion was one of the best punters on the board. Ian Silberman in round six was another head scratcher. I scouted him at Boston College the past two years and while I like his game, I never rated him as draftable. He’s a nasty mauler with potential as a back-up. Trenton Brown and Rory Anderson were both worth a roll of the dice in the final round. Brown is a massive lineman with a solid game but a prospect who must loosen up and improve his mechanics. Anderson was hampered by a hamstring issue throughout the pre-draft process but is an athletic move tight end that creates mismatches in the secondary. San Francisco signed two free agents of note after the draft. Dres Anderson was highly rated entering the 2014 season but was sent to the sidelines midway through the campaign with a knee issue. Looking at the depth chart he’ll have a real opportunity to make the Niners roster as the number four receiver if he’s healthy. Marcus Rush was a terrific college player who turned in a tremendous pro-day workout. I’ll be surprised if he doesn’t make the active roster as a designated pass rusher/core special teamer.
Grade C: Armstead and Harold aside, there’s a lot of risk in this draft. Better players were available in the second and fourth rounds. Many of the selections are try hard guys, which team’s need on a roster, but it seems San Francisco selected need over best available player.
The Seahawks entered the draft without a first round pick after trading it away for tight end Jimmy Graham. That filled a need for a pass catcher though the team still wanted to add receivers and offensive linemen with the picks at their disposal. Seattle turned to the defensive side of the ball with their initial pick, the 63rd of the draft, and chose pass rusher Frank Clark. I had reported that Clark was rising up draft boards as most teams believed the well documented off the field issues were not as bad as reported. He’s a tremendous edge rusher who could eventually take over for veteran Cliff Avril. There next selection, Tyler Lockett, immediately injects much needed speed at receiver and the return game. Lockett is a game breaker who can score from any point of the field. This selection along with the trade for Graham just makes quarterback Russell Wilson that much stronger. The team addressed offensive line needs with a pair of picks in round four. Terry Poole was a college tackle who can also play guard and a player I believe will start in the future. Mark Glowinski is probably more NFL ready than people believe and a natural guard with underrated athleticism. Seattle took a risk with Tye Smith in round six and why not? Smith shutdown opponents on the IAA level then held his own at the Shrine Game. I could definitely see him lining up in dime packages/special teams this season. Back in September I brought the name of Obum Gwacham to the forefront as the former high jumper turned wide receiver then defensive end displayed a lot of natural pass rush skills. He’s an incredible athlete with great upside but I’d expect to see him on the practice squad this fall. Kristjan Sokoli drew a lot of pre-draft press when people took notice of his measurables. Sokoli is a smart, tough football player and a terrific athlete but needs a lot of work before he’ll be NFL ready. Safety Ryan Murphy does not have great speed but is smart, efficient and can line-up in zone coverage. UDFA Ronald Martin is a prospect I like and someone I expect to compete for the fourth safety spot. Martin was a terrific player at LSU then impressed scouts when he showed up at pro-day just over 202-pounds, down 16lbs from his playing weight.
Grade: B+ You have to factor Jimmy Graham as part of this draft, and that alone is worth half a grade. I expect Clark and Lockett to produce as rookies and they’ll have another future first teamer coming from the fourth round. I would expect the rest of the draft to make a roster or practice squad for Seattle or somewhere else in the league.