NFL draft Round 1 steals and reaches: Blake Bortles, Teddy Bridgewater and more
Round 1 of the 2014 NFL draft is in the books, and oh, what a show it was.
There was more mystery surrounding this year's draft than any in recent memory, which led to a fascinating and thoroughly entertaining opening night. The unusual setup also led to several picks that flew in the face of what we thought we knew heading into the weekend.
A look back at some of the savviest and a few of the perplexing picks from Round 1:
• Khalil Mack, Oakland (No. 5): At least a few NFL minds argued for Mack over Jadeveon Clowney at No. 1 overall. The Raiders, meanwhile, just sat back and stayed put at five while Mack fell into their laps. This is precisely the type of player that a rebuilding team like the Raiders needs -- one who plays his tail off every down and can help in a number of ways. Oakland improved its stock a great deal with just this selection.
• Aaron Donald, St. Louis (No. 13): Look out for that St. Louis defensive line. Oh, and don't be taken aback in a year or two if we are discussing Donald as the best defender to come out of this draft class. He is that skilled from the defensive tackle spot, which is why he likely was under consideration as far up the board as St. Louis' first pick of the night, at No. 2 overall.
Instead, he slipped all the way to 13, still just ahead of where Pittsburgh, Dallas, Chicago and others would have been happy to see him.
• C.J. Mosley, Baltimore (No. 17): This is contingent on Mosley's health, which deserted him during the 2013 season and into the pre-draft circuit. A 100-percent healthy Mosley is a do-everything linebacker -- and had he been at top form throughout the process, Mosley would have been taken several spots before this one.
The Steelers also scored an immediate contributor at linebacker in Ryan Shazier, two picks earlier. He's not listed on the "Steals" portion here because he leapfrogged Mosley to get there. Baltimore might have landed the better of that duo with the 17th pick. Mosley fits the Ravens' defensive mold to a T.
• Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, Green Bay (No. 21): It was not a colossal surprise that Calvin Pryor was the first safety taken. It was unexpected (at least from my perspective) that Clinton-Dix lasted as long as he did. The Packers will not complain, having scored a safety capable of patrolling center field with conviction. Clinton-Dix plays a coveted position -- hence the mini-run on safeties that took place from here to the end of the round -- making it all the more interesting that he stuck around until the 21st pick.
• Johnny Manziel, Cleveland (No. 22): Quite the roller-coaster ride for Johnny Football, who wound up in the spot he looked destined to land all along. The Browns had to trade back up in Round 1 to get him here, yet still came out of the opening day with Manziel, Justin Gilbert (a bit more on him momentarily) and an extra 2015 first-round pick.
• Darqueze Dennard, Cincinnati (No. 24): Dennard was the highest-rated cornerback in the SI64 rankings, and his in-your-face game falls in line with the aggressive nature teams want from their cornerbacks. So, what gives with his slip into the mid-20s? Hard to say, though perhaps concerns about his speed or penchant for being a bit grabby made a few teams shy away.
Their loss. Cincinnati's gain.
• Teddy Bridgewater, Minnesota (No. 32): Not everyone had Bridgewater tabbed as the No. 1 QB prospect in this class, but most had him at least somewhere close to the top of the board. He landed 29 picks after Blake Bortles and 10 after Manziel, with the Vikings moving up from the 40th pick to secure him on Thursday night. Minnesota has Matt Cassel and Christian Ponder on its roster, so Bridgewater could be eased along. He's a steal because he does not have to be -- Teddy's ready to play.
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• Blake Bortles, Jacksonville (No. 3): The Jaguars had to find a quarterback, and it is of critical importance that a team in such a situation lands the exact guy it wants. Clearly, Jacksonville was keen on Bortles.
The confidence in this pick may be worthwhile in a couple of years, once Bortles inches closer to his full potential. But he does have a lot of work to do before he gets there, and the Jaguars passed on Manziel, Bridgewater, Sammy Watkins, Mack and others to get him. This was a very early gamble for a team that had plenty of choices.
• Justin Gilbert, Cleveland (No. 8): In total, Cleveland GM Ray Farmer smoked Round 1 -- as mentioned above, not only did he land a potential franchise QB and a starting CB, but also he scored the Bills' 2015 Round 1 selection. This move, trading up from No. 9 to No. 8 to take Gilbert, remains a bit of a curious one.
It's possible that Minnesota had other suitors in the mix for its spot, like Detroit or Tennessee at 10 and 11, respectively. Those teams lurking would have pushed the Browns into making a move to nab Gilbert, since he was their top-rated cornerback. Giving up any picks to swap positions with the Vikings seemed odd nonetheless ... and Gilbert has a lot to prove before he can be considered a true top-10 talent.
• Eric Ebron, Detroit (No. 10): The talent fits the draft position, in that Ebron has the explosiveness and athleticism from the TE spot to justify where he was taken. It's who took him that makes this a reach. The Lions reportedly loved both Sammy Watkins and Mike Evans, but the argument against Detroit taking those prospects -- namely, that its defense has multiple, glaring holes -- is even more in the forefront with this selection. Detroit re-signed Brandon Pettigrew and has 2013 surprise breakout player Joseph Fauria at tight end. This was a luxury pick for a team that's more than one player away from a title.
• Ja'Wuan James, Miami (No. 19): There were rumors as far back as last Thursday that Miami would be happy to land James at 19, so the Dolphins appear to have stuck pretty true to their board. However, that does not discount that James would have held much better value in Round 2 or 3. As a top-20 selection, James definitely fits the "Reach" criteria. He certainly will not enter camp as a surefire starter, unless the Dolphins' obvious desperation on the O-line forces the issue.
• Dee Ford, Kansas City (No. 23)/Marcus Smith, Philadelphia (No. 25): A pair of developing pass rushers who rose higher in the draft than expected. The latter, Smith, may have stood as the most unexpected inclusion of all 32 guys in Round 1. On the other hand, Ford was at least a fringe-Round 1 guy, except he landed on a team in Kansas City that already has two OLB starters locked into place.
• Deone Bucannon, Arizona (No. 27): Had the Cardinals not picked a safety here, they would have run the risk of needing to dip back into that position when it was much thinner in Round 2 or later. So, the Bucannon pick is understandable.
Of course, it also brought Bucannon to the draft party a good 20 or so picks before he was projected to go heading into the weekend. This was not a poor pick, by any means. It simply was one that came earlier than it arguably should have.
• Kelvin Benjamin, Carolina (No. 28): The Panthers were wafer-thin at wide receiver as of Thursday afternoon, and the 6-foot-5 Benjamin is a truly intriguing talent with exceptional upside. All that said, Benjamin over Marqise Lee is a move that's really hard to swallow. Allen Robinson, Jordan Matthews, Davante Adams, Martavis Bryant and several other at least comparable options were on the table, as well. Benjamin would have been much less of a gamble a round later.
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