Denver Broncos: The Denver Broncos rode Peyton Manning to a divisional title and a Conference Championship despite playing in the AFC’s toughest division in 2013. While Denver did not use all of their picks (they traded out of the fourth round and picked up an additional fifth next year) they made solid value choices near the top of the draft to replace their free agency losses. First round cornerback Bradley Roby has all of the tools required to be a starter as a rookie. If not for an unfortunate arrest weeks before the draft he might have been the first cornerback chosen, despite a poor season in 2013. Cody Latimer was a late climber up draft boards and could be an upgrade over Eric Decker once he learns the system. Offensive Tackle Michael Schofield offers the team a developmental player that can compete for playing time sooner rather than later. Linebackers Lamin Barrow and Corey Nelson are developmental prospects that should find a home on special teams coverage units for their first season. Michael Paradis, a sixth round pick, is a perfect fit for Denver’s blocking scheme and provides youth and depth to the offensive line, along with Schofield.
Grade B+ Roby and Latimer come with great upside though neither are sure things. The real value lay in the offensive lineman as both Schofield and Paradis could be starters by year two.
Kansas City Chiefs: The Chiefs surprised a lot of people by making the playoffs in Andy Reid’s first season due in large part to the play of Alex Smith, whom the team acquired from San Francisco for a package of draft choices, including this year’s second rounder. Despite having needs at other positions the Chiefs selected Auburn defensive end Dee Ford in the first round. The Chiefs could have used another receiver to pair with DeWayne Bowe but instead chose to add the hard working Ford to their outside linebacker rotation, presumably as a pass rush specialist. With their next pick Kansas City selected Rice cornerback Phillip Gaines. Gains is both tall and long and has the ability to make plays on the ball, as evidenced by his 31 passes defended over the past two seasons. He has rather smallish frame and is not a force in the running game and it might take a season or two as a dime back before he is able to compete for a starting position. Fourth round pick DeAnthony Thomas should be an immediate replacement for Dexter McCluster and Aaron Murray is a good fit as a developmental quarterback that should, at worst, have a long career as a dependable back up. Zach Fulton and Laurent Duvarney-Tardif are both impressive physical specimens that will need to develop their game in order to have a long term future in the NFL.
Grade B- This draft is the classic boom or bust draft. Can Dee Ford stand up over tackle at the next level (something he did not do at the Senior Bowl) and is he more than a one trick pony? Can Phillip Gaines learn to play to his forty time? Will DeAnthony Thomas stay healthy? A lot will be gained if the answers are positive.
Oakland Raiders: The Raiders, as always, entered the draft with a roster short on talent and short on picks. Unlike previous years, however, this year the team managed to get both great value and impact players in their draft day haul. Kahlil Mack was regarded by many scouts to be the safest pick in the draft (with some calling him the best.) He will immediately give the Raiders a defensive cornerstone around which to build their team over the next decade. He should also harass the opposing quarterbacks in the division with consistent pressure. Amazingly the Raiders followed up a home run first round pick with another home run in the second round. The team was unable to hide its love for Derek Carr despite the fact we reported on May 7th the Raiders were considering him in round one. That they were patient enough to wait until the second round to take the local star quarterback, for a change, is evidence that the team is starting to take a different approach to the draft. Guard Gabe Jackson is a physical player that should be a future starter for the team. Oakland added Justin Ellis and Keith McGill in the fourth round. Both were solid value picks that have high upsides. Ellis is ready to step into a defensive tackle rotation immediately while McGill offers better than prototype size and speed and could pay huge dividends should he develop. The Raiders used their three seventh round selections on developmental defensive players. Shelby Harris was highly rated by TFY before his career hit a wall. Jonathan Dowling and Travis Carrie, like McGill, have the size, speed, and athleticism to play in the NFL but need further refinement. All three will likely find a home on special teams at the outset of their careers.
Grade A For the most part the Raiders got value through much of the seven rounds. Mack and Jackson will start as rookies, Carr gives them long term potential and their day three picks are all legitimate roster players.
San Diego Chargers: The Chargers surprised no one by taking cornerback Jason Verrett in the first round. Verrett might be the cornerback with the best coverage skills in this draft. He is so skilled that teams were willing to overlook his 5‘9” stature and at worst will be a solid nickel back for the team. Georgia Tech linebacker Jeremiah Attachou is a solid pass rushing outside linebacker that can also play defensive end in a four down-lineman set. Chris Watt was a nasty power run blocking guard in college and will add toughness to the Chargers interior offensive line. Ryan Carrethers is a small time college player with the potential to develop into a starting defensive/nose tackle once he irons out some of the details in his game. Marion Grice could find a home as a situational running back behind Ryan Matthews while Tevin Reese offers some big play ability in a smaller than average body.
Grade C+ The Chargers didn’t wow anyone on paper rather they got solid prospects who fit their system. In the end this was a solid six player draft.
The 2015 NFL Draft is more than eleven months away but scouting for the event has begun in earnest. The leagues major scouting organizations are scheduled to disperse rankings to member teams in the next few weeks and we’ll learn the hot names from the senior class in the scouting community.
One name making the rounds in scouting circles is Stanford Cardinal senior linebacker James Vaughters.
Starting 14 games on the outside of Stanford’s 3-4 alignment, Vaughters posted 36 tackles, 6 tackles for loss and 4 sacks last season. As a sophomore in 2012 he started four games at inside linebacker, posting 26 tackles.
Average production numbers would not lend one to believe Vaughters a reasonably high pick in 2015, but scouts disagree and here’s why.
One film Vaughters possesses the underlying ability to be a big time prospect. He’s an athletic defender who shows terrific agility and little stiffness in his game. Standing up over tackle as well as occasionally coming out of a three point stance, he’s quick off the edge, possesses a fluid change of direction and Vaughters is almost never off his feet. He’s a leverage defender who consistently gets underneath blockers and holds the point of attack, working his hands to come free.
The few times on film he dropped off the line to play in space Vaughters easily flipped his hips and quickly moved in reverse. While he doesn’t show blinding speed, Vaughters swiftly moves to every direction of the field and wastes little motion.
His true measurements from junior timing day (he’s listed at 6-feet/2-inches, 254-pounds on the Stanford roster) will be sought out and Vaughters must elevate his game this fall, making more plays on the ball.
Yet area scouts stamp him as a third rounder based on athleticism alone. And with Trent Murphy now playing on Sunday’s, expect ever expanding opportunities for Vaughters in 2014.
When talking of the top defensive prospects out of the PAC 12 from the senior class Ifo Ekpre-Olomu (CB/Oregon), Danny Shelton (DT/Washington), Eric Kendricks (LB/UCLA), Jordan Richards (S/Stanford) are the first to be mentioned. Vaughters could enter the conversation as we move through the ’14 campaign.
While the Redskins finished a dismal 3-13 last season, no NFC East team drafted in the top 10 thanks to Washington’s 2012 trade for Robert Griffin III. Instead, Dan Snyder’s second overall pick went to the Rams and became Auburn tackle Greg Robinson, while the Giants were in position to draft the division’s newest playmaker.
Dallas Cowboys: Zack Martin was a draft riser as the offseason went on and checked in 12th on our board, proving to be good value at 16 for Dallas. His shorter-than-average arms made many scouts deem Martin a guard and he very well could have a Pro Bowl future at the position, but the Notre Dame product has a strong anchor, quick feet and strong hands and should be a very good tackle as well, which is the more important position in the NFL. The Cowboys traded their second and third-round picks to Washington for the 34th overall pick, where they took Boise State defensive end Demarcus Lawrence. It was a steep price to pay, but Dallas views Lawrence as their replacement for DeMarcus Ware and he was the last high-upside edge rusher available in a shallow class. Lawrence likes to rush upfield and eschew his responsibilities against the run, but Ware parlayed a similar style into multiple Pro Bowls in Dallas. Lawrence’s relentless motor, fluidity and bend around the edge could lead to double-digit sack totals. Fourth-round pick Anthony Hitchens was a reach who we had graded in the sixth round, but his speed and pursuit skills will make him an effective weak-side backup and special teamer. Sean Lee’s season-ending ACL tear may open up an opportunity for him on the inside as well. While Dallas had a third-round grade on fifth-rounder Devin Street, we had a sixth-round grade on him which seems to be the majority opinion. A poor route-runner whose lean 6-3, 198-pound frame leads to struggles releasing off the line, Street is little more than a straight-line, jump ball receiver who is sometimes passive when attacking passes in the air. Unless he refines his route running, separation will be an issue for him at the NFL level. Dallas had five picks in the seventh round, taking Ben Gardner, Will Smith, Ahmad Dixon, Ken Bishop and Terrance Mitchell. A pectoral injury ended Gardner’s senior season in October, but he’s a good athlete at defensive end with growth potential from his current 6-4, 262-pound frame. Smith is another weak-side linebacker prospect with a “run and chase” mentality that can contribute on special teams, while Dixon is a hard-hitting safety with man coverage limitations and off-the-field question marks, but one whose talent surpasses his draft slot. Bishop was an explosive three-technique at Northern Illinois and plays with good pad level and leverage. Mitchell is a cornerback with 4.6 speed and iffy ball skills, but was productive at Oregon when teams went away from Ifo Ekpre-Olomu and could be effective in nickel or dime packages. The Cowboys snagged a few potential impact undrafted free agents as well. Fullback JC Copeland is a throwback lead blocker who could make the roster, while tight end Jordan Najvar was underused at Baylor but releases well off the line and gets up the seam. Wide receivers L’Damian Washington and Chris Boyd both have great size and intriguing upside. Washington is 6-4 with 4.4 speed but has struggled with drops and consistency, while Boyd was dismissed from Vanderbilt for covering up a rape but has similar size at 6-3 and adjusts well to passes in the air and displays good body control.
Grade B- While some have questioned the price it took to move up for Lawrence, I see a player drafted at appropriate value who fills a big need. He and Martin should be immediate impact players for Dallas, but the rest of their draft had its up and downs. The Cowboys picked up a few intriguing projects in the seventh round and free agency but unless a few of them hit, the quality of this draft long-term relies on Martin and Lawrence, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing.
New York Giants: With the 12th overall pick, the Giants looked to replace the departed Hakeem Nicks by drafting LSU wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. While standing just 5-11, Beckham’s 38.5-inch vertical was one of the best in this year’s class and he attacks the ball well in the air. He ran a 4.43 at the combine and makes plays with the ball in his hands. Beckham has a great chance to be the Giants’ second option this year ahead of Rueben Randle. New York needed to address their shaky offensive line as well and did that by drafting Colorado State center Weston Richburg in the second. Smart and tough, Richburg isn’t a powerful blocker or a great athlete but his technique is excellent and he has a great chance to overtake J.D. Walton at some point this year. Third-round pick Jay Bromley had a sixth-round grade from us, but is powerful enough to beat double teams and collapse the pocket. Despite 10 sacks last season, he isn’t a great interior rusher but should settle in nicely as a rotational piece. Running back Andre Williams went to the Giants in Round 4 and with the uncertain future of David Wilson and Rashad Jennings lacking a multi-year track record, Williams could step into 10-15 carries per game. A powerful downhill runner with good patience and vision, Williams lacks receiving chops but could be key to a power running game. Two fifth-round picks turned into San Diego State safety Nat Berhe and USC linebacker Devon Kennard. Berhe can cover ground in the secondary but lacks classic size (5-10, 193) and needs work as a tackler. He should settle in on special teams early. Kennard is average in pursuit and doesn’t stack well against the run due to a lack of bulk, but changes direction well and knows how to use his hands to get free. He has potential as a situational pass-rusher in a backup role. Sixth-round cornerback Bennett Jackson is a former wide receiver who struggles in press coverage and getting his head around down the field. He has good ball skills and can be an effective sub-package corner and kick returner in the NFL. New York picked up three intriguing UDFA’s in defensive tackles Kelcy Quarles and Eathyn Manumaleuna and linebacker Dan Fox. Quarles’ pad level is an issue but he’s powerful, athletic and has flashes of dominance mixed with inconsistency. Manumaleuna isn’t stout against the run or great rushing the passer, but has versatility along the line and was very consistent at BYU. Fox is a limited athlete, but plays aggressive, hard-hitting football and could provide special teams value.
Grade B I really like what the Giants did in the first two rounds with Beckham and Richburg, who have the potential to be NFL starters for a long time. Williams was a nice pick in the fourth round but Bromley was a reach in the third, as was Berhe in the fifth. New York did add nice value after the draft, as we had Quarles rated as a fourth or fifth-round prospect. Overall, it was a solid showing for the Giants who added a few potential starters and some nice depth.
After ranking in the bottom half of the league in sacks last season, the Eagles spent the 26th overall pick on Louisville outside linebacker Marcus Smith. A good athlete with a quick first step, Smith has speed off the edge and should be a very good situational rusher right away. At 250 pounds, he needs to improve his ability to take on blocks and is somewhat one-dimensional as an upfield rusher, but continually improved at Louisville. Vanderbilt wide receiver Jordan Matthews was the pick in the second round and while we had him graded as a third-round pick, he fits nicely in Chip Kelly’s offense. While he lacks the deep speed of departed playmaker DeSean Jackson, Matthews is effective on screens and short passes thanks to excellent patience and vision as a ballcarrier. He has good size at 6-3, 212 and soft hands, but struggled with his release off the line, especially at the Senior Bowl. The Eagles plan to use him in the slot, however, which should maximize his effectiveness. Two of the Eagles’ next three picks were former Oregon Ducks under Kelly. Third-round receiver Josh Huff is a tough possession receiver who runs good routes and uses every bit of his 5-11, 206-pound frame. Drafting two receivers in the top 90 picks signals Jeremy Maclin’s future in Philadelphia is uncertain, which would move Huff into a slot role next season with Matthews on the outside. Fifth-round defensive end Taylor Hart outperforms his measurables on the field. While his game has minimal flash, Hart should fit nicely as a two-gap end in Philadelphia, as he’s tough to move off his spot and understands multiple scheme responsibilities. Fourth-round pick Jaylen Watkins didn’t go to Oregon, but was a consistent player at Florida with a thin frame (5-11, 194) and 4.44 speed that he plays to on the field. He had a second/third-round grade on our board and could be a nice value just outside the top 100 if he develops into an effective man-coverage corner in the slot, plus he brings experience at safety to the table. The Eagles grabbed Stanford safety Ed Reynolds with their second fifth-round pick, a player we had as a fourth-rounder who will help the league’s worst run defense. Reynolds lacks range in the passing game but plays fast downhill and is a solid wrap-up tackler. Seventh-round pick Beau Allen from Wisconsin is another underrated prospect with great size (6-3, 334) and surprising movement skills. Allen sucks up blocks well and creates opportunities for his teammates. Undrafted running backs Henry Josey (5-8, 194) and David Fluellen (5-11, 224) have different body types, but both have had past knee injuries and are effective receivers out of the backfield. Josey adds speed and return ability and if either can remain healthy, they have an outside shot at a roster spot. Former Cincinnati tight end Blake Annen replaced Travis Kelce with the Bearcats and is a great athlete with a fluid release and decent blocking ability, while former Florida offensive weapon Trey Burton has H-back potential as well, but lacks deep speed, strength and natural hands.
Grade B While their first three picks were all slight reaches based on our board, the Eagles did a nice job of adding players who fit their offensive and defensive schemes. They also got nice value with their picks in the fourth and fifth rounds, as Watkins, Hart and Reynolds all have the potential to make a nice impact on defense. None of their picks may be immediate starters in the literal sense of the word, but there is a good amount of impact potential and depth in this draft haul.
Washington Redskins: Lacking the second overall pick thanks to the aforementioned Robert Griffin III trade, the Redskins first pick was 47th overall after trading down with Dallas, where they drafted Stanford outside linebacker/defensive end Trent Murphy. With Brian Orakpo playing out the season on the franchise tag, Murphy will play a backup role this season and possibly step into Orakpo’s starting spot in 2015. Quick off the snap and moving laterally with speed off the edge, Murphy is a relentless pass rusher with a strong lower half that often demanded double teams. His lack of size and average pursuit speed should be covered up as a 3-4 rush linebacker and his selection may signal Washington’s lack of confidence in their ability to re-sign Orakpo, or a lack of desire to do so. With two third-round picks, the Redskins looked to the offensive line with Virginia tackle Morgan Moses and Nebraska guard Spencer Long. Moses dominated the competition at times with his size (6-6, 314) and athleticism, but was also viewed as soft by many, lacking the intensity to finish blocks. Widely expected to go in the second round, Moses presents nice upside in the third. Long’s senior season ended early due to a knee injury but he is a nasty lineman who gets movement in the run game, although he struggles on pulls and with footwork in pass protection. Moses and Long have the potential to start next to each other on the right side in the future, which would be a powerful combination for Alfred Morris to run behind. Fourth-round cornerback Bashaud Breeland is a well-sized defensive back (5-11, 197) with some speed limitations, but is physical with receivers, tackles well and has good instincts. He can be very effective with safety help over the top. Fifth-round pick Ryan Grant was a productive receiver at Tulane but likely won’t be more than a fourth receiver in the NFL at 6-0, 199 pounds with 4.6 speed. His experience as a three-year starter helped him refine his route-running and field awareness, and he has a good shot to stick on the roster. In the sixth round, the Redskins added to their backfield with Baylor running back Lache Seastrunk. Seastrunk is elusive, fast and hit holes quickly but is limited as a receiver and has a tendency to dance. He could be a nice complement to Morris’ skill set if Roy Helu moves on once his contract is up after 2014, but the Redskins would need to find another back to play on passing downs. Seventh-round tight end Ted Bolser has nice size (6-5, 250) but a very average game. He runs good routes but can’t threaten the seam, doesn’t have great size and will drop the occasional pass. Kicker Zach Hocker was also taken in the final round after a strong senior season, but was inconsistent in the three years before that at Arkansas. He has enough leg to make 50-plus yarders in the NFL and be an adequate kickoff man, and should battle incumbent Kai Forbath for the starting job. Washington also added wide receiver Cody Hoffman and running back Silas Redd as undrafted free agents. Hoffman stands 6-4 but suffered a serious drop in production as a senior. His hands and route-running are inconsistent but he fits the jump-ball profile the NFL covets in receivers. Redd had his share of knee problems in college but is a patient cutback runner with excellent vision, similar skills to Morris. If he can prove healthy and regain his burst, he is talented enough to make Washington’s roster.
Grade C+ While the Redskins actually did a nice job with the picks they had, their lack of a first-round pick definitely affects this grade. Add a player Greg Robinson to this draft haul and I’d give it at least a B, but credit the Redskins for making solid picks when they had them. Murphy, Moses, Long and Breeland could all be starting by 2015, while their later picks could make the team and contribute. Hoffman and Redd were low-risk, high-reward signings in free agency who have the potential to stick on the depth chart.