Monday, April 29, 2013
2013 NFL Draft Winners and Losers
Over the next several paragraphs, I'll explain why I rated teams where I did. If you don't care about the methodology, by all means skip ahead.
I'm an NFL writer, and I don't follow college football closely enough to make insightful judgments about which players are and are not likely to succeed at the pro level. Instead, for each team, I'm looking at two fundamental goals:  Did the team get good value for its picks, and  Did those picks fill needs?
The two goals are often at odds with one another. Team A may look at the holes on its roster and address all those needs in the draft, but reach for players simply because of what positions they play. Team B might employ a "best player available" strategy and end up with a lot of talent, but at the end of the day they've got two good quarterbacks and five startable corners, but no one who can play left tackle or middle linebacker.
In my mind, those are both pretty average drafts, not winners or losers. I'm looking for teams that addressed their needs without reaching for lesser talent, made profitable trades, and selected highly-rated players long after we thought they'd be off the board. Conversely, even if you got good players, taking someone who probably would have been available a round later — I don't see that as a good pick. Most drafts are close to average, so not every team is listed.
2013 Draft Winners
* San Diego Chargers — One of my favorite drafts this year. D.J. Fluker was probably the last can't-miss offensive lineman in this draft, and he should provide a crucial boost in an area where the Chargers desperately need help. The team traded up to select Manti Te'o, and if he can avoid distractions, he's worth the same pick a round earlier. Third-round WR Keenan Allen fills a critical need in the watered-down receiving corps.
* St. Louis Rams — Still reaping the benefits of last year's trade with Washington, they moved up to get wide receiver Tavon Austin. Between the additions of Austin and Pro Bowl tackle Jake Long, the Rams expect to field a strong offense this season, and Sam Bradford has no excuses not to take the next step forward.
* Offensive linemen — Dominated the first round. Three of the first four players selected were offensive linemen, and that trend continued to include five of the top 10 and eight of the top 20.
* Minnesota Vikings — First team in over a decade to make three first-round selections in a single draft. Sharrif Floyd is a potential impact player who unexpectedly dropped and could rejuvenate Minnesota's scary defensive line. CB Xavier Rhodes was an important addition in the pass-happy NFC North, and a trade with the Patriots yielded Cordarrelle Patterson, whom the team hopes will replace Percy Harvin. That's a big hole, but Harvin's potential was tempered by his health and his unhappiness in Minnesota. Replacing Harvin with Patterson is not an obvious downgrade.
* Carolina Panthers — New GM Dave Gettleman drew praise from around the league for his first two draft picks, interior defensive linemen Star Lotulelei and Kawann Short. Paired with productive defensive ends Charles Johnson and Greg Hardy, Lotulelei and Short should give Carolina one of the stronger defensive lines in the league, turning a weakness into a strength. (I don't mean to parrot other analysts, because almost everyone said that about these picks, but this is consensus founded in probable reality.)
Third-day draft picks seldom yield impact players, but even rolling the dice, I like the positions the Panthers targeted in the later rounds. Promising start for Gettleman.
* San Francisco 49ers — If you count Anquan Boldin as part of their draft — and you should, since that's where their 6th-round draft pick went — then it's a success almost immediately. Meanwhile, the team turned backup QB Alex Smith into a second-rounder this year (Cornellius Carradine) and a third-rounder in 2014. Replacing Smith, the team sacrificed a couple of low draft picks to acquire Colt McCoy. This was a rich-get-richer draft for San Francisco, adding quality players but not necessarily addressing needs.
* Cincinnati Bengals — I actually like this draft less than their last two, but they made 10 picks, including four in the first three rounds. Tyler Eifert was the top tight end in the draft, Giovani Bernard provides an alternative to BenJarvus Green-Ellis at RB, and Margus Hunt is a huge (6'8") defensive lineman with upside.
* Alabama Crimson Tide — 'Bama and Florida State were the only schools to boast three first-round selections, but all three Alabama players were chosen before anyone from FSU was off the board.
* Jacksonville Jaguars — I would have preferred them to spend two of their first three picks on offense, not defense, but this is a bad team with a lot of needs, and it drafted highly regarded players in value positions. There's a long way to go, but this draft was probably a step in the right direction.
* Green Bay Packers — Some mock drafts had them taking Alabama running back Eddie Lacy in the first round, 26th overall. They got a pass rusher (UCLA's Datone Jones) at 26th and took Lacy at the end of the second round. That's what I'm talking about with value. But I dropped them from the Winners list, because they traded up to choose another RB, Johnathan Franklin, in the fourth round. The appeal of taking an RB was to get away from Running Back By Committee, and now it looks like they're just changing the committee members.
As a side note, it's jarring to see that NFL.com lists Lacy at 5-11, 231 (32.2 BMI) and Yahoo lists him as 6 feet, 220 (29.8 BMI). That's the difference between Rashard Mendenhall (5-10, 225, 32.3) and Arian Foster (6-1, 227, 29.9).
* Philadelphia Eagles — New coach Chip Kelly is building a team with a particular vision. Sometimes that works out, especially when a coach has the confidence and support of ownership. Other times (like Josh McDaniels in Denver), it's just a disaster.
Most intriguing, the Eagles traded up to get Kelly's old PAC-12 rival, former USC quarterback Matt Barkley. That could be a terrific value pick in the fourth round, or it could be too many cooks in the kitchen with Michael Vick, Nick Foles, and Barkley all competing for the same position. The guess here is that Barkley spends most of his first season as the third-string QB and competes for a starting job in 2014.
* New York Jets — They had four picks in the first three rounds and they got some good prospects. But Dee Milliner replaces Darrelle Revis, and that's a downgrade. Any other team with a QB need, I would have loved Geno Smith 39th overall. But on the Jets, he joins former first-rounders Mark Sanchez and Tim Tebow, and I worry that it just creates more drama. Smith probably is not ready to produce immediately the way we saw from Russell Wilson and Robert Griffin III last year, but he may be forced into action before he's ready just to prevent Jets fans from revolting if Sanchez struggles again.
* Tampa Bay Buccaneers — I like the Revis trade a lot, but I'm not crazy about the rest of their draft, particularly QB Mike Glennon in the third round. The Bucs have a 25-year-old QB who threw for 4,000 yards last season. Josh Freeman has been up-and-down, but he's still young and he's got tremendous upside. Tampa just spent its second pick of the draft on someone the team hopes it will never put on the field.
* Cleveland Browns — Only five draft picks, and only two in the first five rounds, but they made some nice trades. Two sacrificed draft picks in this weekend's draft (fourth and fifth) will yield two extra picks (third and fourth) in next year's. The Browns moved up and added a draft slot this year in return for a player they didn't want any more (Colt McCoy), and they gave up almost nothing to get WR Davone Bess from Miami. Bess will probably never be a star, but he's caught at least 50 passes in all five of his NFL seasons, and adds some legitimacy to Cleveland's miserable receiving corps
2013 Draft Losers
* The Big Ten — For the second season in a row, no one from this misnamed conference (Big 14?) was drafted in the top 20. In fact, Wisconsin center Travis Frederick was the only Big Ten player taken in the first round, and he went 31st, the second-to-last pick of the round. Eleven SEC players went before anyone from the Big Ten. Six players from the football-weak ACC got drafted before anyone from the Big Ten. This is supposed to be a powerhouse conference, but pro scouts obviously feel otherwise. I don't think adding Maryland and Rutgers is going to help.
* Dallas Cowboys — Everyone likes the Gavin Escobar pick, and he doesn't have to clash with Jason Witten, because in today's NFL it's not unusual to play two tight ends. But I would have liked to see the Cowboys do more to address their defense, and a good trade down in the first round (18th to 31st) may have been squandered in choosing Terrance Williams with their extra draft pick. Many analysts have questions about his game, and wide receiver was not an early-round need compared to other positions. First-rounder Travis Frederick has limited upside.
* Running Backs — The common draft came into being almost 50 years ago, and in that time there had never been a draft in which no running backs were selected during the first round. This year, five RBs went off the board in the second round, but none in the first 32 picks. UNC's Giovani Bernard was the first one chosen, 37th overall by the Bengals.
* Big-name Prospects — This was a brutal draft for football's glory positions. Quarterback Geno Smith, projected as a potential top-10 pick based on need, slid to the second round. Notre Dame's Manti T'eo, projected a few months ago as a probable top-10 selection, fell to the second round as well. USC QB Matt Barkley plummeted to the fourth round.
* Sharrif Floyd — Projected as a top-five selection, he dropped to 23rd. People talk about Geno Smith and Manti T'eo, but Smith was only a potential high pick because this QB class is so limited, and everyone knew T'eo was going to fall somewhat after his bizarre off-field drama. Floyd, as late as Thursday afternoon, had to be confident that he'd go in the top 10, but he didn't get drafted in the top 20.
* Chicago Bears — They mostly targeted the right positions — offensive line, a middle linebacker to replace Brian Urlacher — but many league observers believe they reached on both of their early picks, making questionable selections of players with good qualities but also obvious flaws.