The Biggest Surprises from Day 1 of the 2014 NFL Draft
The NFL draft is one of the wildest and most unpredictable events on the entire sports calendar. There are generally more than a few stunners in each and every first round, and 2014's iteration was no different. It's time to examine the biggest surprises from Day 1 of the 2014 NFL draft.
The first shocker came early, as the Jacksonville Jaguars rocked the NFL landscape by selecting Central Florida quarterback Blake Bortles, and the surprises came fast and furious right up until the final selection, when the Minnesota Vikings traded for the right to take Louisville quarterback Teddy Bridgewater.
What constitutes a surprise? Several factors go into it.
Some teams made surprising picks because they completely eschewed obvious areas of need and instead fortified positions of strength. Others reached for players whom many assumed wouldn't be selected until Day 2 and passed over more heralded prospects to do so. And one team didn't make the incredibly boneheaded move that we all expected it to, which was a stunner in its own right (looking at you, Jerry Jones!).
Here are the biggest surprises from Day 1 of the 2014 NFL draft.
Jaguars Take UCF QB Blake Bortles at No. 3 Overall
This past weekend, I wrote that the smartest move the Jacksonville Jaguars could make in the 2014 NFL draft would be not selecting a quarterback in the first round.
Well, not only did they choose a signal-caller with the third overall pick, but they shocked the world by tabbing Central Florida’s Blake Bortles over Texas A&M’s Johnny Manziel.
This is a stunner on many levels.
First, there’s the fact that wide receiver Justin Blackmon isn’t expected to play in 2014. That would have made Clemson receiver Sammy Watkins a logical selection.
Then there’s the fact that the Jaguars defense managed only 31 sacks in 2013, tied for last in the NFL. That would have made Buffalo linebacker Khalil Mack a logical selection.
Instead, coach Gus Bradley and general manager David Caldwell opted to select Bortles, who possesses tremendous upside but is also very raw.
Bortles was the fourth-ranked quarterback in the draft by Bleacher Report's Matt Miller, and Miller wrote this in his scouting report:
Bortles has as much raw potential as any quarterback in the draft. The downside is that betting on quarterbacks to develop is risky. If Bortles were to never improve his mechanics and decision-making, he wouldn't be an acceptable NFL starter. Some team will bet on their ability to develop prospects and discern true upside, though, and that's where the most exciting part of his game comes from.
I have praised Bradley and Caldwell for the job they've done rebuilding the Jaguars, but this was an atrocious selection. They would have been better served drafting Watkins or Mack and grabbing a quarterback in the second or third round. Bortles was a reach at third overall.
Bills Trade Up for Clemson WR Sammy Watkins at No. 4 Overall
The Buffalo Bills pulled off the first major trade of the 2014 draft, acquiring the fourth overall pick from the Cleveland Browns in order to select Clemson receiver Sammy Watkins.
In doing so, they traded the ninth overall selection in this draft and their first- and fourth-round selections in next year’s draft.
This past weekend, I wrote that the Bills needed to add an offensive lineman to protect quarterback EJ Manuel. Last season, Buffalo surrendered 48 sacks, tied for fourth-most in the NFL, and Manuel didn't exactly conjure up images of a young Brett Favre in missing six games due to various maladies.
Instead, coach Doug Marrone and general manager Doug Whaley opted to add another weapon at receiver, despite spending their second- (Robert Woods) and third-round (Marquise Goodwin) selections at the position last year. Plus, receiver Stevie Johnson is still on the roster, although it's hard to imagine him sticking around with the addition of Watkins.
This isn't meant to knock Watkins, whom I believe is the best offensive player in the draft. But if the Bills can't protect Manuel, it doesn't matter if they trot out Watkins, Calvin Johnson and Dez Bryant at receiver. And the fact that they traded their first-round pick next year should leave an especially sour taste in the mouths of long-suffering Bills fans.
Lions Take UNC TE Eric Ebron at No. 10 Overall
Last season, the Detroit Lions finished with the third-ranked passing offense in football. Conversely, they ended the campaign ranked 23rd overall in pass defense.
So when the Lions hit the clock with the 10th overall selection, the expectation was a defensive player, particularly a cornerback or safety. In my roundup of expert mock drafts, only one (NFL.com's Daniel Jeremiah) had the Lions selecting an offensive player, and it was a lineman. Every other expert projected a player in the secondary.
Instead, Lions general manager Martin Mayhew channeled his inner Matt Millen and selected North Carolina tight end Eric Ebron, adding yet another pass-catcher to their already formidable stable.
Earlier in the offseason, the Lions re-signed tight end Brandon Pettigrew and brought in former Seahawks receiver Golden Tate to go along with receiver Calvin Johnson, tight end Joseph Fauria, running backs Reggie Bush and Joique Bell and quarterback Matthew Stafford. Not bad, right?
But for whatever reason, Mayhew felt the team needed another weapon in the passing attack and drafted Ebron instead of helping the defense.
You know who probably loved the Lions' selection of Ebron? The Green Bay Packers and the Chicago Bears. While Detroit was foolishly adding a tight end, both the Packers and Bears improved their defenses in the first round. Apparently, the Lions are going to try to outscore both teams. That won't work.
This one was a stunner. Detroit failed to fill its most pressing need.
Giants Select LSU WR Odell Beckham Jr. at No. 12 Overall
During the era of coach Tom Coughlin and quarterback Eli Manning in Gotham, the New York Giants have won when they've been able to protect Manning, run the football and rush the hell out of the opposing passer.
Last year, they did none of those things, and in a related story, they went 7-9 and missed the postseason.
This past weekend, I advocated that Giants general manager Jerry Reese seek help on either the offensive or defensive line with the 12th overall selection. And Reese could have selected either Notre Dame offensive lineman Zack Martin or Pittsburgh defensive tackle Aaron Donald.
Instead, Reese selected LSU wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. and completely blew it in the process.
Yes, the Giants needed to add a receiver, but this is a very deep draft at the position. It won't matter how good Beckham is if Manning is constantly on his back like he was a season ago.
And to those who will trumpet the fact that the Giants signed four offensive linemen in free agency as the reason why they didn't need to select a player at the position: Only one is a viable starter (guard Geoff Schwartz). The line still needs an upgrade.
Plus, Big Blue lost both defensive end Justin Tuck and defensive tackle Linval Joseph in free agency, and Donald would have filled a major need as a disruptive force in the middle of the line.
Reese had a spectacular 2007 haul that helped the team win Super Bowl XLII but hasn't had a complete draft since despite the club also winning Super Bowl XLVI.
He still has time to pull it together and acquire help at both areas of need, but as of now, Reese isn't following his team's blueprint for success.
Cowboys Select Notre Dame OL Zack Martin at No. 16 Overall
Stop the presses! Hold the phone! Drop everything you're doing!
Perhaps the biggest surprise in the entire first round of the 2014 NFL draft was something that didn't happen, as the Dallas Cowboys passed on selecting Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel with the 16th overall pick, opting for Notre Dame offensive lineman Zack Martin instead.
The choice of Martin should put a smile on the faces of Cowboys fans everywhere. Unlike Manziel, he fills an immediate need, and he'll be an instant starter on Dallas' revamped offensive line.
For once, Cowboys owner and general manager Jerry Jones helped himself. He didn't fall for the hype. He wasn't seduced by the prospect of jersey and ticket sales. He didn't make what would have been the single dumbest pick in the history of the NFL draft.
And that is a very pleasant surprise for Cowboys fans.
Dolphins Select Tennessee OT Ja'Wuan James at No. 19 Overall
The Miami Dolphins desperately needed a right tackle, so it's not shocking in the least that new general manager Dennis Hickey drafted one with the 19th overall selection.
But what did come as a surprise was the player they selected: Tennessee's Ja'Wuan James, who was thought to be a second-round pick.
James was the ninth-ranked offensive tackle by Bleacher Report's Matt Miller. Miller wrote this about James in his scouting report:
James has the athleticism to play left or right tackle in the NFL, but he must fix his raw footwork and technique to realize his full potential. James may be slightly over-drafted due to the lack of depth at offensive tackle as well as his athletic upside.
Miller nailed the part about James being over-drafted.
There's no question the Dolphins filled a need with the selection, but time will tell if James was the right choice.
Saints Trade Up to Select Oregon State WR Brandin Cooks at No. 20 Overall
The New Orleans Saints have an issue at cornerback, where there isn't much outside of Keenan Lewis.
Yes, the team signed Champ Bailey in free agency, but he's no longer good enough to be a full-time starter. The Saints absolutely needed to add a blue-chip cornerback prospect in the first round.
But in a major surprise, general manager Mickey Loomis opted to add another weapon on offense for quarterback Drew Brees by trading up to the 20th overall selection and drafting Oregon State receiver Brandin Cooks.
Cooks possesses electrifying speed and should be a monster on the turf of the Superdome, but did the Saints truly need another pass-catcher? They already have tight end Jimmy Graham along with receivers Marques Colston, Kenny Stills, Robert Meachem, Joseph Morgan and Nick Toon.
Loomis missed out on adding a stud cornerback, which remains the club's biggest area of need. It's surprising that he chose to add another receiver when the passing attack already operates at a high level with Brees under center.
Chiefs Take Auburn DE/OLB Dee Ford with No. 23 Overall Pick
The Kansas City Chiefs entered the 2014 NFL draft with two glaring holes: at wide receiver and along the offensive line.
During free agency, the Chiefs lost three starting offensive linemen: left tackle Branden Albert (Miami) and guards Geoff Schwartz (NY Giants) and Jon Asamoah (Atlanta). Kansas City could certainly have used help along the interior of the offensive line.
Given those pressing needs, the team's selection of Auburn pass-rusher Dee Ford with the 23rd overall pick came as a shock.
The methodology behind the pick is somewhat sound. After starting the season strong, Kansas City's pass rush faded into nothingness as injuries sapped the effectiveness of linebackers Tamba Hali and Justin Houston. From that perspective, the selection of Ford makes sense.
But with the receiver position being so barren and the offensive line looking shaky, the prevailing thought was that coach Andy Reid and general manager John Dorsey would go offense with their first selection.
They had better hope Ford rushes the passer with aplomb as a neophyte.
Eagles Select Louisville DE/OLB Marcus Smith at No. 26 Overall
Much like the Miami Dolphins selection of offensive tackle Ja'Wuan James, the Philadelphia Eagles' pick of Louisville defensive end/outside linebacker Marcus Smith makes sense in that it fills a need, but it's surprising because of the player selected.
Smith was rarely mentioned as a potential first-round pick and was the eighth-ranked defensive end in the draft by Bleacher Report's Matt Miller.
Smith went ahead of more heralded players like Boise State's Demarcus Lawrence and Missouri's Kony Ealy, which surely raised eyebrows around the league.
Vikings Trade to Select Louisville QB Teddy Bridgewater at No. 32 Overall
And with the final selection in the first round of the 2014 NFL draft, the great Teddy Bridgewater debate came to an end.
After it looked like they weren't going to select a passer in the first round, the Minnesota Vikings surprised the NFL world by trading up with the Seattle Seahawks to the 32nd overall pick and selecting Bridgewater, the Louisville signal-caller.
Perhaps no prospect in the history of the NFL draft was subject to more scrutiny than Bridgewater, and as the picks dragged on, it appeared as if he was set to fall out of the first round entirely, a precipitous drop for a player whom some felt was the best quarterback available.
Even though it took until the very end of the first round, Bridgewater found a home.
And he could end up starring in the Twin Cities for years to come.