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First Round Grades – Ranking the Teams 1-32
image via wikimedia commons
image via wikimedia commons

This is meant mostly as a fun exercise, but I do believe NFL Draft analysis is the No. 1 key to your fantasy title hopes. As I explained last year, I also think drafts should be graded right away. I don’t have all of the information the teams possess, but research suggests more information tends to increase confidence without increasing accuracy.

A+

1. Cleveland Browns – In any draft, you want to try to accomplish three things. First, select the best overall player. Second, generate excess draft pick value by securing extra picks. Third, address the biggest holes on your team.

The best player in this draft was Johnny Manziel. Manziel happens to play the premier position in all of sports. He also happens to fill the Browns’ biggest need. Cleveland was able to select him at No. 22 overall. I don’t exactly know what this says about the rest of the NFL.

The Browns also managed to fleece the Bills of their 1st round pick in 2015, making Cleveland the only team in the Top 5 to judge the tradedown market accurately.

Either of those moves individually would be worth an A. Collectively, they easily swamp the somewhat bizarre decision to trade up one spot with Minnesota to select Justin Gilbert.1

A-

2. Minnesota Vikings – Rick Spielman has developed a reputation as one of the NFL’s weaker GMs, but this was undoubtedly his shining moment. The Vikings secured a 5th round pick for moving back from No. 8 to No. 9, and the Fantasy Douche has shown that acquiring a lot of picks, even that late in the draft, is essentially the entire key to draft success. They then picked Anthony Barr, a high-ceiling pass rusher. Barr’s tape was picked apart over the last several months, but Greg Peshek’s sack study shows him in a very favorable light. Among the high profile rushers, Barr recorded the fastest sack time and received relatively little teammate help.

The Vikings then moved back into the first round to select Teddy Bridgewater, the top-ranked QB on our composite RotoViz board. Bridgewater looked extremely good in my quarterback analysis and was supposedly the top-rated QB in the notorious Cleveland study. By moving into Round 1, they jumped ahead of Houston and also created the flexibility of a contract with a Fifth Year Option.2

3. St. Louis Rams – I don’t necessarily subscribe to the “football is won in the trenches” philosophy, but you certainly don’t want to pass on elite players of that ilk. This might be especially true in the increasingly brutal NFC West. An argument could be made for Greg Robinson and Aaron Donald as two of the four best overall prospects.

4. Philadelphia Eagles – The Eagles did exactly what good teams do – trade back. Marcus Smith didn’t get a lot of publicity leading up to the draft, but he’s a favorite of PFF IDP guru Jeff Ratcliffe.

5. Seattle Seahawks – Despite fielding a young Super Bowl team, the Seahawks face a bevy of roster-building issues going forward. Acquiring pick No. 108 in the trade with Minnesota was a shrewd move.

6. Jacksonville Jaguars – The Fantasy Douche gives Blake Bortles comps that include Matthew Stafford and Andrew Luck. Jon Moore sees some similarities to Cam Newton, Colin Kaepernick, and E.J. Manuel. We had him a distant third in our composite rankings, and, while this appears to be a reach, it’s good risk-reward for the Jaguars.

7. Detroit Lions – The Intersect spent a great deal of time this offseason working on a tight end projection model, and Eric Ebron performed very well by his criteria. Moreover, because Ebron ran wide receiver-style routes in college, his catch rate shouldn’t be a red flag. The North Carolina product also fared extremely well in Jon Moore’s Phenom Index. As a result, Ebron was the clear favorite of the RotoViz staff, despite a strong field that includes Jace Amaro and Austin Seferian-Jenkins. The Lions are gearing up for a scorched earth campaign in 2014. Selecting a tight end to fill the Jimmy Graham role in Joe Lombardi’s offense was a perfect fit.

8. Washington Racial Slurs – It’s trendy3 to bash teams for mortgaging the farm to trade up, but the criticisms are almost always overly simplistic. So here’s my overly simplistic look at the trade that cost Washington their 2014 first round pick. Would you trade Michael Brockers, Janoris Jenkins, Tavon Austin, and Greg Robinson for Robert Griffin III? I would do that again in a heartbeat.

9. Pittsburgh Steelers – The Steelers filled a big need with a player who might be a better athlete than Jadeveon Clowney. Ryan Shazier made 102 solo tackles last year for Ohio State. He then jumped 42 inches and turned in a 6.9-second 3-cone at the Combine before posting a4 4.38 forty at his pro day.

B

10. Kansas City Chiefs – This may be mostly just relief that Kansas City didn’t select Derek Carr. Dee Ford notched 10.5 sacks last year in the SEC and then verified that explosion with a 4.59 forty at his pro day.

11. San Diego Chargers – The Chargers needed help at corner and selected one with excellent game-charting grades. Justin Verrett backed that up with an electric Combine performance that saw him run a 4.38 forty and leap 39 inches.

12. Chicago Bears – With Charles Tillman aging, the Bears needed secondary help. Fuller missed four games in 2013 but was still voted first team all-ACC. Phil Emery employs a mixed approach to the draft that includes some advanced metrics, so it shouldn’t be surprising that he landed the best corner.

13. San Francisco 49ers – This rank is equal parts filling a need and avoiding the temptation to trade up for Odell Beckham. They should have plenty of opportunities to land a better receiver later on. Northern Illinois safety Jimmie Ward provides versatility as a safety who can double as a nickel corner.

14. New Orleans Saints – In our WR bracket, Brandin Cooks was an upset finals qualifier and then finished No. 6 in the Composite WR rankings even though quite a few of us would not draft him in the first round. Speed tends to be overrated for receiving prospects but disproportionately important for small receivers. Cooks also put up tremendous numbers in the games dominated department, and I believe he could be 2014’s Keenan Allen because his youth might be the key to understanding his Marvin Harrison-like upside. Add the fact that his Fantasy Footprint suggested a more explosive Percy Harvin, and you can understand why he’s a great fit for New Orleans.

15. Cincinnati Bengals – The Bengals might be a corner away from having the NFL’s best defense. Darqueze Dennard is short on athleticism but long on results, perhaps a little like Joe Haden.

16. Dallas Cowboys – It’s always questionable to select offensive linemen in the first round unless you’re getting an elite left tackle. If Zack Martin is as good as the scouts suggest, it will neutralize some of that concern and smooth their transition to an aggressive, attacking offense.

17. New England Patriots – Rotoworld’s Josh Norris has consistently ranked Dominique Easley as one of his Top 10 players. The Florida Gator sports elite talent and fits a need, but already has dual ACL tears to his credit. For the good and the bad, this seems like a quintessential Patriots pick.

C

18. Tennessee Titans – The Titans have a solid left tackle in Michael Roos and a strong roster that appears to be a quarterback away. They responded by drafting a tackle with character concerns in Taylor Lewan even though both Manziel and Bridgewater were still on the board.

19. Oakland Raiders – Oakland needed to trade down or select a quarterback or draft a more valuable position. I’m kidding.5

20. Green Bay Packers – According to various sources, Ha Ha Clinton Dix “lacks elite athleticism” and “could be a better pro player than collegian.” I’m still basically on board with Ha’sean.

21. New York Jets – Coming on the heels of the Dee Milliner and Kyle Wilson picks, the Jets are starting to develop a Millen-esque infatuation with defensive backs. Perhaps they’ve finally gotten it right and Calvin Pryor will be their defensive Megatron.6

22. Tampa Bay Bucs – Mike Evans won the RotoViz WR bracket and then ranked No. 1 in our Composite receiver rankings. Moreover, he allows Tampa to build an offense in the Marshall/Jeffery mold that every team should be emulating. So I’m probably pretty much alone on the staff in terms of not really liking the pick. But this is why:

Evans HM

Evans just isn’t a good value in the Top 10 of a draft so loaded with large, productive receivers. He dominated so few games in college that his projection based on that algorithm trailed the forecast of guys like Cody Hoffman and Jared Abbrederis.

23. Atlanta Falcons – In a draft filled with so many elite players, it was disappointing to see rock star GM Thomas Dimitroff select a player many believe projects best as a guard or center.

24. Baltimore Ravens – Most will praise this pick as an example of the Ravens again scooping up an elite tackle at a discount  – and “most” are probably right – but there are injury concerns, redundancy concerns,7 failure to fill key offensive need concerns, and general positional value concerns.

D

25. Houston Texans – Anybody who watched the Chiefs during Romeo Crennel’s tenure knows his defensive philosophy is to play 60 minutes of prevent and hope for the best. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing as it turns every offense into a kind of Tavon Austin-Eddie Lacy hybrid.8 It still seems like a bad fit for a team that now has both J.J. Watt and Jadeveon Clowney.

I don’t have any worries about Clowney’s work ethic, and he would be my instant choice over Taylor Kitsch to go rescue an alien civilization through sheer athletic brilliance,9  but whispers continue to circulate that his on-field performance may be overrated.

Keep in mind that Houston could ostensibly have done the same trade with Buffalo that Cleveland pulled off and then selected Manziel at No. 9.

26. Denver Broncos – If there was a Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie in this draft, Jared Abbrederis would probably tell you it’s Bradley Roby – and I don’t mean the one who held up pretty well last year in Denver but the one who got lit up like Bradley Roby during his stints with Arizona and Philadelphia.

27. Miami Dolphins – One of the problems with years of poor leadership and poor cap management and poor drafting is that you end up reaching for a right tackle with the No. 19 pick in a loaded draft.

F

28. New York Giants – I actually think Odell Beckham could be a very good and/or useful NFL player. His Fantasy Footprint suggests a poor man’s Golden Tate, and many are excited about Tate in Detroit.  Davis Mattek has penned a comprehensive look at why he’s more of a solid second round pick type player. In a vacuum, this pick is probably more of a C-, but the Giants aren’t drafting in a vacuum.

  • Appearing to sour on Rueben Randle, they need a big receiver to complement Victor Cruz and Jerrel Jernigan.
  • This draft is loaded at receiver, and a better player will be available in the second round.
  • Unless all the rumors surrounding Beckham were false, they could have sold this pick for a real bounty.
  • If they wanted a flashy speed receiver, Keenan Allen 2.0 candidate Paul Richardson sports better athleticism, a better track record of production, and, again, would have been far cheaper.

29. Indianapolis Colts – I think it’s legitimate to ask whether Nick Foles has passed Andrew Luck, but the Trent Richardson trade suggests Luck may be captaining a team with bottom five talent and bottom five coaching that also resides in the bottom five in front office machinations. So it also might be worth asking whether he’s already the greatest of all time.

30. Carolina PanthersKelvin Benjamin’s fantasy footprint suggests Ladarius Green. In a parallel universe in which your team was drafting in the fifth round with Benjamin still on the board, it might be fair to ask whether he might be a good arbitrage play on Brandon Coleman.

31. Arizona Cardinals – Last season the Cardinals finished 10-6. Five of their losses were to the Seahawks, 49ers (2), Saints, and Eagles. In Week 16, they defeated the Seahawks in Seattle. They were without a doubt one of the two or three best teams in NFL history to miss the playoffs. If you remove quarterback from the equation, it is therefore reasonable to believe they might otherwise be better than the two teams who played in the NFC Championship game. In an unparalleled piece of draft night magic, one of the best quarterback prospects in NFL history fell in their laps at No. 20.

And they passed.

Ungradable

Malory Archer: Have I made myself clear?
Sterling Archer: You’re looking for the answer ‘yes’?
Malory Archer: Yes!
Sterling Archer: Then… yes.

32. Buffalo Bills – I feel like people probably aren’t in the mood for any more negativity on Watkins from us here at RotoViz, so let’s look at it from a different perspective. Last year I gave the Bills a Z- for using Ryan Nassib as an unnecessary smokescreen to the E.J. Manuel pick and then selecting Robert Woods with Keenan Allen on the board and Marquise Goodwin with people who’d been spotted making the remotest difference in college football games on the board. I gave them a Z- not because I don’t like the Bills – they’re my favorite AFC East squad – but because it was strategically and tactically indefensible.

And yet all of that pales . . .

I don’t even really need to remind you that Watkins is something of an arbitrary superstar or that Jordan Matthews is just as athletic and was just as productive when they faced identical foes. Pretend that Sammy Watkins is instead a young Calvin Johnson. What would the grade be?

Paying a 2015 1st and 4th in order to move up doesn’t just boggle the mind. It’s stranger than fiction.

  1. who was probably the third or fourth best corner  (back)
  2. a potentially underrated part of the deal  (back)
  3. and usually correct  (back)
  4. perhaps apocryphal  (back)
  5. Jon Gruden was just too convincing with his negative tape breakdown of Khalil Mack.  (back)
  6. Or perhaps he’ll be the walking personal foul he appears to be on film.  (back)
  7. with Daryl Smith and Arthur Brown  (back)
  8. Sound and fury and all that  (back)
  9. or whatever happened in that movie; I don’t know anybody who lasted more than 10 minutes, so there’s probably no one you can ask  (back)

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