This is not a sexy draft. As far as I’m concerned, it’s not even a very good one. But there is some depth to be added in the next two days and all this will be interesting to follow. In the meantime, here are, off the top of my head, the five best and worst picks in the first round of this year’s draft. Keep in mind that the context in which the pick was made (reach, bargain) counts for a lot, as well as system fits. I’ll have a lengthier recap coming up.
5. Eric Reid, S, LSU. Picked by the 49ers at 18th overall
I like this pick for three reasons. First, he was THE player the 49ers needed after losing DaShon Gholston to the Bucs in free agency. Secondly, they were aggressive in moving up to the 18th spot to get him. Finally, they were absolutely right to do so because the Bengals were absolutely going to take Reid one pick later had he still been there. The Tyler Eifert pick tells us this. The Bengals just took the best guy on their board because the one they really wanted was snatched right from under their nose (funny how that happens often to the Bengals… my dad, a Bengals fan, was freaking out…)
Reid is an all-around player who should work great for a 49ers secondary that started getting decimated after Justin Smith got injured, which caused Aldon Smith to disappear which caused the 49ers pass rush to go M.I.A. in the playoffs. He’s a more balanced player, like Gholston was, and should allow the Niners’ secondary to avoid missing a beat.
Get used to the 49ers, people, because they aren’t going away. Jim Harbaugh and co. really, really know what they’re doing.
4. Luke Joeckel, OT, Texas A&M. Picked by the Jaguars at 2nd overall
I see a few geniuses on Twitter saying the Jags didn’t need him. Who are they kidding? This is the team that hasn’t had decent pass protection since Tony Boselli was playing left tackle for them. People are talking about Blaine Gabbert as a bust. Well, where has the protection been? Playing quarterback for this team has been like being sentenced to death by firing squad: the bullets are coming at you from everywhere.
Besides, are we sure he’s playing right tackle? I’m not. Eugene Monroe is OK, but he’s not an upper echelon tackle (good thing he too was a Top 10 pick) and could be better on the right side. Sad that Eben Britton struggles so badly with injuries. I liked that guy. But I digress. As I said on Facebook and Twitter when the Chiefs chose Eric Fisher over Joeckel (bad start, Coach Reid…), 2 + 2 = Jags have to take Luke Joeckel.
Sure, the pass rush needs some work, but I don’t care what anybody says, there wasn’t a pass rusher worth taking at 2. And don’t give me Dion “No-Technique-All-Athleticism” Jordan. So he would have been an ideal candidate for the Bandit position the Jags will probably feature if Gus Bradley brings the Pete Carroll schemes over from Seattle. You need a guy who can cover and rush the passer playing that spot. I get that. However, he would have been a massive reach by my standards and isn’t the kind of sure thing you NEED to take when you’re drafting second overall. Hint: You might actually see Jordan’s name pop up a little later in this post.
But even beyond all that, I’ve been watching this league for too damn long. Here are two things I know:
- When you’re as bad as the Jags, you ALWAYS take the best player available (unless you have a franchise QB; don’t take another one) because odds are every position on the team can be improved. You especially want to do so when you are (a) drafting second overall and (b) in a position to take a bona-fide Top 5 pick in a draft so short on them.
- Take care of your big men. What is it with these teams acting like you can build an offensive line with dudes you pluck off the streets? The offensive line is the foundation of your team. Without them, Maurice Jones-Drew gets far too familiar with the physiotherapists, and whoever plays quarterback winds up eating grass, staring at the sky too often and using lots of those back patches Shaq advertises for.
Last thought for this pick: Don’t look now, but with MoJo Drew’s last year or two of high level football, nice bookend tackles and the duo of Cecil Shorts and Justin Blackmon at receiver, the Jags are gathering some pieces offensively. Lots will be decided by whether they give Blaine Gabbert another year (which I would) or take Geno Smith when drafting resumes tomorrow. Regardless, I LOOOOOVE the Joeckel pick for the Jags. Go ahead! Call me a homer! I WILL NOT BREAK! In fact, I thought long and hard about ranking this pick higher.
3. Dee Milliner, Cornerback, Alabama. Picked by the Jets at 9th overall
After the Darelle Revis trade (about which the Bucs are still howling with laughter, by the way), the Jets had two first rounders and managed to place one on each division of this column. This is the good one. It was also a complete no-brainer from a drafting standpoint. Milliner was the best player left on the board at a position where the Jets had just traded the best player in the league.
Milliner might not be Revis, nor should anyone expect him to be, but he should be a building block for years to come on the Jets’ defence. Moreover, he comes with the added benefit of allowing the Jets to avoid having to start Kyle Wilson, whom I liked coming out of Boise State, but whom I’ve also seen get burnt like a set of picture-less books at a Sarah Palin family gathering far too often. Nonetheless, I love this pick for the player, the position of need, as well as for the fact that the Jets just sat there and let the perfect fit fall right into their lap.
2. Star Lotuleilei, DT, Utah. Picked by the Panthers at 14th overall
Lotuleilei is not my kind of defensive tackle, but if he’s healthy, he’s a steal for the Panthers. He’s not as big as fellow Samoan Haloti Ngata, but he plays a lot like him and will do great work to help fix a Panthers run defence that could barely have looked worse had you replaced the opposing team’s running backs with actual Hummers.
Lots of people had a 3-technique going there (mostly Sheldon Richardson), but Lotuleilei is a better fix for the Panthers’ problems, and he figures to instantly help Luke Kuechly and Jon Beason face less traffic. Not a big fan of the player, but he could be a serious steal for Carolina here.
1. Jarvis Jones, OLB, Georgia. Picked by the Steelers at 17th overall
One of my Twitter follows said it best: “Jones is the kind of player bad teams pass on, and great teams turn into Pro Bowlers.” And once again, here come the Steelers. Jones had some medical concerns and he tested badly during workouts. I hate workout season; it’s when teams outsmart themselves out of taking a guy like Jones. As for the medical concerns, I trust the Steelers did their homework because those were, of course, legitimate. But once again, the Steelers were smart enough to go back to the film and see a player push SEC competition around as though he were still playing high school ball.
Watch the film. The speed, the burst, the takeoff, the moves, the technique, the intelligence. He has it all. But NFL teams are prone to forgetting that after a bad 40. He’ll make them pay.
5. Dion Jordan, OLB/DE, Oregon. Picked by the Dolphins 3rd overall
So let me get this straight. You let Jake Long go, betting that he’s damaged goods. You’re going into 2013 with a second-year QB in Ryan Tannehill, who didn’t exactly play mistake-free football as a rookie. Eric Fisher and Luke Joeckel just went with the first two selections. And your pick, which you gained after leapfrogging the Eagles, who need a left tackle uber badly, is not Lane Johnson? Are you serious?
And you’re going to take Jordan instead? Don’t get me wrong. Jordan is a sweet-looking athlete, but his technique is limited, and I’m not certain he’ll get away in the NFL with being the one-trick pony he was in college. The technique required to succeed in the NFL just isn’t there. Moreover, last year, you committed some pretty significant money to Cameron Wake to take care of the pass rush. I fail to see the logic in that move, and I still find their pass protection, after losing Long, should have been the priority here. And it’s especially striking to see them go for a guy who remains much more of an athlete than a football player at this point. You need sure things at third overall, and you should have one in mind when you come up to pick at that spot. If I were Ryan Tannehill, I’d be biting my nails.
4. Travis Frederick, C, Wisconsin. Picked by the Cowboys at 31st overall
I think Frederick is better suited for guard than for centre in the NFL. However, whichever position Dallas wants him to play, they still took him a round too early. At least. My biggest laugh of the day came thanks to a pack of Cowboys fans, who after witnessing the pick, brandished a sign that said “Cowboys, can we trade our picks for a new GM?”
You get where they’re coming from. Frederick is the typical cow-squatting Wisconsin lineman, and he’d be a lumbering centre at best in the NFL. Even if he does go to guard, he’ll still struggle with the speed of the NFL’s quicker 3-techniques. Somewhere in New York, Justin Tuck is licking his chops at the idea of playing 3-tech on third down against this guy for two games a year. This is far too high for Frederick. The pick would rank higher on this list had it happened earlier. Jerry Jones is looking asleep at the wheel.
3. Kyle Long, G, Oregon. Picked by the Bears at 20th overall
Long is unusually athletic, and comes from a football family. But while he might be a better athlete than older brother Chris, he also doesn’t seem to have his head quite in the right place. Committed to Florida State, decided to play baseball, then gets busted for DUI and leaves FSU. Goes to JUCO and decides to go to Oregon to return to competitive football.
The result is a guy with significant upside, but with tons of technical flaws and a flagrant general lack of polish. Also, the guy is not physical. Oregon’s offence didn’t really require him to be, but you’d like Long to have much more of a mean streak. In addition to this, he has started a grand total of 5 NCAA games in his ENTIRE CAREER. Sure, there’s upside. Sure, he’s probably athletic enough to play tackle. But Long is simply a ludicrous pick in the first round. None of us know what Marc Trestman plans do on the offensive side of the ball now that he’s back in American football, but I can’t see what would have pushed Long so far up the Bears draft board. I know the Bears offensive line looked like a bad college line against the 49ers…
wait, gotta give time for Bears fans to stop screaming…
couple more seconds…
and we’re back.
So, I was saying that I know the Bears O-Line got beat up worse than a gay kid at a Texas high school by the 49ers (I’m afraid for Gabe Carimi, whom I liked coming out of Wisconsin). By the way, I would not be surprised in the slightest if, given his physical attributes, the plan was to make Long a starting tackle. He does play more like a tackle than a guard. I’m not promising it happens, guys, but don’t rule it out. Still, this was still a massive reach for Long. It’s picks like this that usually have teams looking back with regret down the road.
2. Sheldon Richardson, DT, Missouri. Picked by the Jets at 13th overall
I have to say, I really despise this pick. Richardson was my favourite 3-technique this year (and part of me is proud to say that, watching what happened to Sharrif Floyd, a few teams agreed with me), but here are the reasons he could not possibly have landed in a worse situation:
- He’s a pure 3-technique for a 4-3 scheme and he lands in a 3-4. (To see how well that works out, look up Liuget, Corey, San Diego Chargers. And for good measure, also look for Dorsey, Glenn, who decided being a misfit was so convenient he was going to sign with another 3-4 team, the 49ers, after his rookie contract with the Chiefs expired.) Typically, 3-4 ends (‘cuz Richardson ain’t playing nose!) are asked to occupy blockers, especially on running downs. That completely goes against Richardson’s strengths. He isn’t a point-of-attack guy. He likes to explode upfield and camp out in the opponent’s backfield, killing plays before they get started. It’s unlikely that, when you have one fewer lineman to protect your linebackers, that Rex Ryan will give him that kind of freedom. If the Jets kill Richardson’s career before it gets started, that’ll be one more reason for me to dislike them.
- You’ve drafted 5-technique guys for the 3-4 the past two years. Muhammad Wilkerson and Quinton Coples are already on your roster, they’re very young and they have much upside. Besides, where will the pass rush come from? Coples, Wilkerson, and now Richardson can all help out from the line, but in a 3-4, the biggest pass rush threat must come from outside linebackers. I don’t know who these players are for the the Jets. So why pick Richardson? Because Barkevious Mingo was gone at number nine? Remember when I said Jarvis Jones is the kind of player bad teams pass up on and great teams turn into an All-Pro? Well, I’m looking at you Jets! There was your guy, and you blew it!
- The lame-duck coach situation. Does anyone actually think the new administration is going to give Rex Ryan another rebuilding task when he contributed to screwing up the last one? No team currently sits with a worst mix of lack of talent and bad cap management than the Jets and the faulty personnel decisions by Ryan and former GM Mike Tannenbaum very likely will cause the Jets to be a bottom 10 team for the next few years at least. As for Richardson, it’s rough to go through coaching changes early in your career, especially if you’re being told to pull a 180 from what the previous coach told you to do. Some positions don’t change too much regardless of the identity the coach wants to give his unit, but D-Line isn’t one of them. Whether you play gap control or gap charge makes a huge difference in how you play. In just about every way. Richardson is a pure gap charge guy, and Mizzou allowed him to play like that. How will Richardson be affected by the likely change in coaching styles this year? And how will he adjust when the scheme likely changes again after his first or second year? We should also note that Richardson is no Rhodes Scholar. He failed to qualify academically for Mizzou for two straight years before finally escaping JUCO and enrolling. Does he have the intellect to handle this? The Jets are usually comically bad, but when they make picks like this, they really piss me off.
1. E.J. Manuel, QB, Florida State. Picked by the Bills at 16th overall
Saw this coming, you say?
The outrage machine is already on full throttle in Buffalo as sampled by this clever idea plucked by my dad from the comments section of a story on NFL.com: “With the 17th pick in the 2013 NFL Draft, the NFL trades the Buffalo Bills to the CFL for cash and a case of Labatt Blue.”
I loved that one. But on a (slightly) serious note, any discussion of first round blunders has to start with Buffalo. I’m a Florida State guy, but I had Manuel as a third rounder. To present him as strictly a read option QB is unfair. FSU ran a multiple offence with loads of pro-style plays. But…
Does Doug Marrone realize how much work he has to do on Manuel? I’m no Geno Smith groupie, but he was one of at least 3 QBs who were more pro-ready than Manuel. And it’s not as if he’ll get to pull an Aaron Rodgers, either. The incumbent (or should I say default) starter is Kevin Kolb. You think he might be on a short leash? Let’s not kid ourselves. The betting sites are likely already working on the over/under for when Kevin Kolb loses the job to Manuel. The criticisms of Kolb are perhaps somewhat overstated, but he’s not the kind of talent who can single-handedly uplift a bad roster, which the Bills have. Kind of like Alex Smith, really (who might, if I may take a slight tangent, perform at a standard much closer to that of Kolb than Smith’s defenders expect this year). In other words, he’ll look as mediocre as his supporting staff. Therefore, let’s not play an unnecessary game of What Ifs, Manuel is playing this year. I wouldn’t be surprised to see him run all over one or two awful teams who’ll be picking in the top 5 next year, but as far as being ready as a passer, Manuel is miles away.
So when, not if, Manuel steps in there this year with a fairly talent-deprived roster, it might not be pretty. I also, as a Noles fan, am not enthralled with Manuel’s play in big games. I watched him stink out the joint with key interceptions against Florida, and I won’t get into the not-so-big games he lost the previous year. He is one of the streakiest passers I’ve seen in a long time, and this is not a quality that will win you lots of games in the NFL. Week 1 won’t be against Wake Forest, EJ! Maybe Doug Marrone has outsmarted us all, but with Geno Smith dropping the way he is, I can’t imagine how EJ Manuel isn’t there early second round. Given the pick’s status as a monumental reach, as well as the risk involved, this pick isn’t Brandon-Weeden bad, but it’s undoubtedly the worst pick of the first round.