The Biggest Steals from Round 1 of the 2014 NFL Draft
All things considered, the top half of the first round of the 2014 NFL draft went mostly as scripted Thursday night, with relatively few surprises aside from Johnny Manziel's tumble down the board.
And in the late first round, teams went off the board pick after pick, reaching for needs rather than settling for the best value.
As a result, this article proved far more difficult to put together than in years past. While many teams deserve strong grades for their first-round performances, it's difficult to label more than a handful of selections as true steals.
The following five selections are among the few that brought unexpected value to their franchises in the first round.
Aaron Donald, St. Louis Rams
It's tough to call the 13th pick in the draft a steal, but it was a mild surprise that Aaron Donald was still on the board for the Rams.
Not many predicted this pick, but it's a great fit and has the potential to give the Rams one of the most terrifying pass rushes in the league.
Donald is an explosive interior pass-rusher who can collapse the pocket up the middle. He's a classic 3-technique tackle who should work well playing next to the bigger, more physical Michael Brockers in the role of the nose tackle.
With Donald bringing pressure and collapsing the pocket on the inside and Chris Long and Robert Quinn containing the quarterback on the edges, the Rams pass rush has the potential to cause nightmares for opposing quarterbacks.
Brandin Cooks, New Orleans Saints
Wide receiver probably wasn't the top need for the Saints, but with Brandin Cooks on the board, the value was simply too great to pass up.
With their depth at wide receiver, the Saints will be able to plug him into a situational role immediately and move him around the field to create mismatches for the defense.
Despite the fact that he's undersized at 5'10", his explosion out of his cuts and the subtle fakes he's capable of in the stem of his route give him potential to develop as an outside receiver.
In the immediate future Cooks will likely play in the slot, in a role similar to the one occupied by Lance Moore in years past. However, Cooks brings significantly more explosive ability to the table than Moore and Saints fans should expect to see Sean Peyton and Pete Carmichael design come creative ways to get the football in his hands.
In the long term, Cooks likely ends up playing a larger role on the outside, especially once veteran receiver Marques Colston moves on.
Darqueze Dennard, Cincinnati Bengals
The Bengals managed to mesh need with value in the first round this year, which is truly the dream of every NFL front office.
Darqueze Dennard brings a physical style of play to Cincinnati that will fit perfectly into the culture Mike Zimmer established before moving on to Minnesota this past offseason.
It's unclear at this point whether Dennard will crack the starting lineup over Terence Newman, but he is obviously the long-term solution at cornerback.
The Bengals' depth at cornerback, with Newman, Adam Jones, Leon Hall and Dre Kirkpatrick already in the secondary, will be key to Dennard's development. One of the primary concerns with Dennard's jump to the NFL is his sometimes overly-physical style of play.
Bengals fans should expects some bumps in the road early in Dennard's career as he adjusts to the NFL style and rule book, but the team's depth should help ease him into a contributing role.
Jason Verrett, San Diego Chargers
The Chargers desperately needed to address their depleted secondary and did so by selecting one of the few cornerbacks with almost unanimously high grades around the league.
It's no surprise that Jason Verrett fell to the late first round due to his 5'9" height, but there's no denying his athleticism and playmaking ability.
While his size may lead some to view him as strictly a nickel corner, his willingness to play a physical style gives him potential as a legitimate shutdown corner on the outside.
The only downside to this selection is the fact that the Chargers are so thin at cornerback, Verrett may be forced into some overwhelming matchups early in his career. It's not the ideal scenario for his development, but defensive coordinator John Pagano should be able to find a way to make it work.
Teddy Bridgewater, Minnesota Vikings
Teddy Bridgewater was the top quarterback on many draft boards (at least in the media), and the Vikings may have landed the steal of the draft with the final selection in the first round.
He doesn't have elite physical traits and doesn't necessarily look the part, but his football intelligence sets him apart.
On the field, he is a patient, smart decision-maker, which bodes well for his ability to make a smooth transition to life in the NFL. The surrounding talent in Minnesota, namely Adrian Peterson, doesn't hurt either.
This pick is particularly exciting for Minnesota because they have the luxury of bringing Bridgewater along slowly if they feel that approach would be best for his development.
The Vikings aren't Super Bowl contenders in 2014, so starting out the year with Matt Cassel at the helm is certainly a viable option if it's going to make Bridgewater a better quarterback in the long run.