Deone Bucannon, Trai Turner, Carlos Hyde could have biggest draft impacts for NFC teams
Teams always tell you that they don't draft for need in a general sense, but after draft picks are made, it's always easy enough to circle back and get coaches and general managers to admit that they did indeed go in certain positional directions. And there's nothing wrong with that. While the 'Best Player Available' idea is great in theory, it's often far more practical to address what needs addressing. Here's one rookie for each NFL team who should pay immediate dividends based on talent and need.
Arizona Cardinals -- Safety Deone Bucannon
Bucannon, the Cardinals' first-round pick from Washington State, may still be raw in coverage, but the Cards have nowhere to go but up when it comes to safety play opposite 2013 rookie superstar Tyrann Mathieu. Last season, safety Yeremiah Bell was targeted 58 times (third-most among safeties in the NFL), and he allowed 36 receptions for 441 yards, seven touchdowns and just two interceptions. And with 629 passing snaps at both free and strong safety last year, Bell was the best Arizona had. While the 36-year-old Bell is considering retirement, Bucannon comes in with demon speed, the ability to cover all areas of the field, and a fierce mentality.
"In our division, you'd better like to hit," head coach Bruce Arians said of Bucannon, who grabbed six interceptions last season and made 78 solo tackles. "He plays with a lot of passion. He's going to be a great fit in our locker room. We've got some good guys here to help him and teach and give him opportunities to knock the crap out of people in our division."
Pairing Bucannon and Mathieu in the same secondary should prove painful for many opposing receivers.
Atlanta Falcons -- Offensive tackle Jake Matthews
When the Falcons' offense is humming, quarterback Matt Ryan has protection. Ryan needs a clean pocket and sense of structure to excel -- he doesn't throw well under pressure. In 2013, he threw 16 touchdowns and 11 interceptions when not under pressure, and eight touchdowns to eight picks when he was hit or hurried. And in 2013, per Pro Football Focus, Atlanta's tackles gave up 40 sacks, 45 hits and 206 hurries. Ryan was under pressure on 41.3 percent of his dropbacks, fifth-highest in the NFL. Matthews comes from a system in which he had to protect Johnny Manziel, whose scrambling style forced him to maintain his blocks longer than average. Matthews should make an immediate difference, and Ryan will benefit more than anyone else.
Carolina Panthers -- Offensive guard Trai Turner
The Panthers didn't take Turner until the third round -- they'd already selected Florida State receiver Kelvin Benjamin and Missouri defensive end Kony Ealy in the first two rounds -- but it's entirely possible that Turner, who mauled opposing defenders at the right guard position for LSU, could have the most immediate impact. In 2013, Carolina gained just 3.57 rushing yards per carry up the middle (29th in the NFL) and 3.67 yards per carry inside right tackle (24th). A patchwork combination of Nate Chandler and Chris Scott provided less than optimal results at the position, while Turner was blocking for a school-record 37 rushing touchdowns, amassing 64 knockdown blocks in 857 offensive snaps. Turner still needs work on a few fine points, but he's a perfect fit for the power-running offense the Panthers prefer and desperately missed last season.
Chicago Bears -- Defensive tackles Ego Ferguson and Will Sutton
Remember the Monsters of the Midway? Well, the Bears weren't that in 2013, especially up the middle. In 2013, Chicago ranked last in Football Outsiders' Defensive Adjusted Line Yards metric, and the Bears' formerly impenetrable defensive front allowed an astonishing 5.34 running back yards per carry. Oh ... they also tied with the Jaguars for the fewest sacks in the league with 31. Ouch. General manager Phil Emery set to fixing that with a quickness in the draft, taking LSU's Ferguson in the second round and Arizona State's Sutton in the third.
"I went back to his game against Alabama, his game against Mississippi State, Ole Miss and Georgia and nobody could run the ball against him inside at all," Emery said of Ferguson.
Of Sutton and the team's overall strategy, Emery said that "the front determines the game, in terms of controlling the run and putting pressure on the passer, and that's why we went defensive tackle back-to-back."
Dallas Cowboys -- Defensive end DeMarcus Lawrence
Selecting Notre Dame offensive tackle Zack Martin in the first round and (probably) moving him to guard was the safe pick; moving up and giving up a third-round pick to take Lawrence in the second round was a bit more dubious. The question is, how will the Cowboys use him? They're not using the old variable 3-4 in which the 6-3, 251-pound Lawrence would play outside linebacker as DeMarcus Ware used to, and he's too light to be a traditional 4-3 defensive end. They could use him as a LEO, or in the strongside pass-rusher position the Broncos utilize with Von Miller. Dallas' league-worst defense found its line picked apart in free agency, and Lawrence will be relied upon to make up the difference as soon as possible. He amassed 20 sacks and 34 tackles for loss in two seasons at Boise State, but the extent to which he fits his new scheme will make him a high-impact player -- for better or worse.
Detroit Lions -- Tight end Eric Ebron
The Lions are making some interesting moves at the tight end position. They re-signed Brandon Pettigrew to a four-year, $16 million extension in March, despite Pettigrew being one of the least efficient players at his position. Undrafted rookie Joseph Fauria proved to be a far more enticing red zone target last season. Still, Detroit took Ebron out of North Carolina with the 10th overall pick. Offensive coordinator Joe Lombardi, who spent seven seasons in New Orleans, thinks that Ebron could be used similarly to how the Saints deploy Jimmy Graham -- as a move guy, all over the formation.
"What it does is force the defense to make a determination on how you want to play him," Lombardi said of Ebron's athletic ability. "Brandon is on one side and he is on the other; how are you going to treat him? Are you going to treat him like a tight end and leave a linebacker in the game, which creates a mismatch in terms of the passing game? Or are you going to put in a smaller defender, which also creates some problems in terms of him being able to leverage that particular player from a blocking standpoint? Running in that direction would give us some advantages."
Green Bay Packers -- Receiver Davante Adams
Adding first-rounder Ha Ha Clinton-Dix to a safety unit that struggled in 2013 was a no-brainer; what may be more interesting as the 2014 season goes along is how Adams, who caught a nation-leading 131 passes for 1,719 yards and 24 touchdowns for Fresno state last season, fits into a Green Bay passing game that is now without James Jones, and could very well be without Jermichael Finley. Per ESPN, only Sammy Watkins had more yards after catch than Adams' 888 in 2013, and the Packers ranked third in the NFL in YAC -- it's a stat this team respects more than some others. Receivers coach Edger Bennett was certainly impressed.
"He competes," Bennett said of Adams. "Tremendous as far as his catching ability, he has good hands, he makes the tough catch, goes up and attacks the football, extremely productive. From that standpoint, there was a lot of positive. You look at yards after the catch, he's a strong runner, gets the ball north and south quickly, breaks tackles, but also shows the ability to make people miss."
Minnesota Vikings -- Quarterback Teddy Bridgewater
The Vikings were wise to trade into the last pick of the first round and pick up Bridgewater, who put together an impressive statistical combination last season. Bridgewater's 71.0 completion rate was the second-highest in the nation, and his 10.3 yards per attempt was ninth. That's no fluke -- in 2012, Bridgewater ranked sixth in completion percentage (68.5) and seventh in yards per attempt (8.9). In 2013, Minnesota's quarterbacks completed 59 percent of their passes (the league average was 61.2) and averaged 6.7 yards per attempt (the league average was 6.8). Bridgewater is already a well-developed passer; pairing him with offensive coordinator Norv Turner will only help matters along.
New York Giants -- Receiver Odell Beckham, Jr.
During his time at LSU, Beckham showed a rare route awareness for a speed receiver, and in 2013 he did that in a very NFL-prepared offense. Eli Manning will certainly appreciate Beckham's speed, particularly on deep passes. Last season, Manning completed just 21 of 70 passes thrown 20 yards in the air or more, and threw six touchdown passes to seven interceptions. General manager Jerry Reese classifies Beckham as a "weapon on the outside," and that's where he'll get a shot right away.
New Orleans Saints -- Cornerback Stanley Jean-Baptiste
The Saints didn't go with a polished cornerback in the second round, choosing instead to roll with the current NFL paradigm of bigger, more physical pass defenders. The 6-3, 218-pound Baptiste, who still needs development in his game., fits the size/speed ideal that Sean Payton and Rob Ryan prefer at this point. This pick makes even more sense given how mightily New Orleans has struggled of late against the Seahawks, whose cornerbacks set the pace for that archetype.
“They have a fantastic secondary, and we’ve had a chance to see it first-hand," Payton said in reflecting on the Jean-Baptiste pick. "I think it was trying to fit what we’re doing. A year-and-a-half ago, starting before last year’s draft, we’ve made an effort to really put a high value on size, and we’ve been able to do that defensively.”
Jean-Baptiste will compete for the open cornerback slot opposite Keenan Lewis, and if he succeeds, he'll bring a different look to a defense in need of it.
Philadelphia Eagles -- Receiver Jordan Matthews
First-round pick Marcus Smith was a surprise as a pass-rusher, but when the Eagles selected Vanderbilt standout Jordan Matthews in the second round, it made all the sense in the world. Chip Kelly wants receivers who can beat man coverage in many ways, and one of those ways is with screen passes . The Eagles led the NFL with 569 screen pass yards in 2013 per ESPN, and 44 of Matthews' 112 catches in 2013 were screens. That tied with Sammy Watkins for the top spot. Kelly will use Matthews in the slot, which bends to another NFL trend of using larger targets (Matthews is 6-3, 212) as inside receivers. With DeSean Jackson out the door, Matthews should get a lot of targets wherever he lines up.
St. Louis Rams -- Offensive tackle Greg Robinson and running back Tre Mason
Rams head coach Jeff Fisher and general manager Les Snead didn't just want to upgrade their own power running game; they apparently wanted to import Auburn's version. So, they took former Tiger Greg Robinson, the best run-blocker in this class with the second overall pick, and reached back to grab Auburn running back Tre Mason, who broke several of Bo Jackson's school records, in the third round. The Rams averaged 4.1 yards per attempt last season, 18th in the NFL. But when running behind Robinson in 2013, Mason averaged 6.5 YPC, up from his 5.7 overall average.
San Francisco 49ers -- Running back Carlos Hyde
In 2013, the 49ers fell from first to 29th in Football Outsiders' Adjusted Line Yards metric, which is based on how well lines and backs work together. Frank Gore had his third straight 1,000-yard season and seventh overall, but he's in his 30s now, and Hyde is an excellent addition in the second round for a team based on power running. The 6-0, 230-pound Hyde ran for 1,521 yards on just 208 carries last season, broke the 200-yard mark in two of his last five games, and averaged 3.1 yards per carry after first contact. In the second half of the season and the playoffs, Gore averaged 3.8 yards overall.
Seattle Seahawks -- Receiver Paul Richardson
No team has thrown fewer passes than Seattle over the last two seasons, but that's about to change. Selling their 2013 first-round pick for Percy Harvin indicated that the Seahawks wanted to be more explosive in the passing game, and that plan was subverted by Harvin's injuries. Taking Richardson in the second round provides reinforcement. Of the speed receiver in this draft class, he was the most unheralded, but he has a similar skillset to Odell Beckham, Jr. and Brandin Cooks. Richardson's 83 catches produced a school-record 51 first downs, and he covered an incredible 470 yards on his 10 touchdowns. If Harvin can stay on the field (and now, maybe even if he can't), it could be a whole new ballgame in Seattle.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers -- Receiver Mike Evans
After drafting the 6-5 Evans in the first round, the 6-6 Austin Seferian-Jenkins in the second round and adding both players to 6-5 receiver Vincent Jackson, Bucs general manager Jason Licht referred to his receiver group as the "Dunk-a-neers." And on the surface, this seems like a group who could post up all day. But it's Evans' skill as a receiver, and not his raw physical attributes, that will make a difference. As he learns to create separation from cornerbacks and use his sub-4.5 speed to its best effect, he'll be very dangerous in this offense.
Washington Redskins -- Offensive tackle Morgan MosesTrent Williams Tyler Polumbus