The Player Each Team Will Most Regret Passing On in the 2014 NFL Draft
Despite the months of preparation that go into determining who the best prospects in each year’s NFL draft are, many draft selections—including some of those who were graded as early-round picks throughout the league—will fail to live up to their potential at the next level.
Figuring out which players will be busts is as much of a crapshoot as the draft itself. Nonetheless, there are some players who slipped down the board that stand out as having the potential to make teams regret not drafting them when they had the chance.
There’s been some obvious examples of players a multitude of teams shouldn’t have passed up in recent drafts, such as 2010 fourth-round pick Geno Atkins and 2012 No. 75 overall pick Russell Wilson.
A player doesn’t need to emerge as a superstar, however, for a team to end up regretting passing him up. A prospect the team let fall just might end up being better, or could have addressed a greater need left unfilled, than the player the team drafted instead.
Arizona Cardinals: Zach Mettenberger, QB, LSU (Round 4-5)
With just one year remaining on starting quarterback Carson Palmer’s contract, the Arizona Cardinals, as expected, drafted a developmental player at the position on the third day of the 2014 NFL draft.
In Virginia Tech’s Logan Thomas, the Cardinals added a quarterback who fits the mold of the big, strong-armed flamethrower with whom Cardinals head coach Bruce Arians has typically worked.
But although Thomas arguably has the best physical tools of any quarterback prospect from this year’s draft class, he might also be the most inconsistent passer selected. Plagued by accuracy and turnover issues throughout his Virginia Tech career, Thomas must improve significantly upon his ball placement and decision-making to attain success as an NFL signal-caller.
The Cardinals could have used the same pick they used to select Thomas, or even waited until Round 5, to draft another big, strong-armed but significantly more accurate downfield passer: LSU’s Zach Mettenberger.
Mettenberger has issues of his own, many of which have come off the field and caused him to drop to the Tennessee Titans in Round 6 (No. 178 overall). Still, if Mettenberger can make necessary improvements to his behavior and maturity, he has the most franchise quarterback potential of any passer selected outside the top 36 in this year’s draft.
Arizona, who met with Mettenberger at the NFL Scouting Combine, according to Fox Sports 910’s Mike Jurecki, might have decided that Mettenberger’s character concerns—including a 2010 arrest for sexual battery—were too risky to take a chance on him. If he emerges as the next starting quarterback of the Titans, however, the Cardinals might wish they had taken that gamble.
Atlanta Falcons: Terrence Brooks, S, Florida State (Round 3)
One of the draft’s more surprising examples of “Player X selected before Player Y” came with the No. 68 overall pick, when the Atlanta Falcons drafted Wisconsin safety Dezmen Southward before the most complete safety available on the board, Florida State’s Terrence Brooks.
It would seem the Falcons fell in love with Southward’s physical potential after he posted some exceptional numbers at Wisconsin’s pro day, including a 4.38-second 40-yard dash and 42-inch vertical jump. That said, Southward was inconsistent in coverage at Wisconsin and wasn’t an impact playmaker.
Brooks, on the other hand, demonstrated impressive ball skills while he is also a fluid deep coverage safety and an aggressive playmaker versus the run.
And while his measurables aren’t quite as eye-popping as those of the 6’0”, 211-pound Southward, they’re not far off. Brooks is slightly smaller at 5’11” and 198 pounds, but he posted a 4.42-second 40 and 38-inch vertical jump at this year’s NFL Scouting Combine.
In need of an immediate replacement at free safety for the departed Thomas DeCoud, the Falcons will be reliant upon Southward’s ability to develop quickly and correct his biggest flaws. He has the potential to do so, but Brooks is a player much better equipped to take on an important role in the lineup in year one.
Baltimore Ravens: Morgan Moses, OT, Virginia (Round 2)
Known to emphasize value over meeting needs in their annual selections, the Baltimore Ravens didn’t make any selections in this year’s draft that look immediately regrettable.
The one concerning outcome of that strategy, however, is that Baltimore did not draft anyone to play right tackle, which was arguably the team’s greatest position of need going into the draft. One of the most value-conscious ways the Ravens could have addressed that need would have been to select Virginia’s Morgan Moses with their second-round pick.
Baltimore used the No. 48 overall selection to draft Florida State defensive lineman Timmy Jernigan. He was considered to be a good value as a mid-second round pick, but Jernigan's lack of length might make him a poor fit to play 5-technique defensive end in Baltimore’s 3-4 defensive scheme.
Moses, on the other hand, could have provided immediate competition for Ricky Wagner, an unproven player probably best suited to be a backup, at right tackle. While he isn’t an ideally nimble athlete for an offensive tackle, he has the size and strength to dominate one-on-one matchups and drive defenders out of plays.
Moses was selected by the Washington Redskins as the No. 66 overall pick in this year’s draft.
Buffalo Bills: Chris Borland, ILB, Wisconsin (Round 3)
One 2013 NFL draft pick who teams might already regret passing up is Buffalo Bills second-round pick Kiko Alonso, who totaled 159 tackles as the team's middle linebacker in a fantastic rookie season.
As the Bills move Alonso to weak-side linebacker in his second season, they decided to use another Day 2 selection on a middle linebacker, this time the No. 73 overall pick to draft Louisville’s Preston Brown. They could have added a more well-rounded player at the same position, however, by selecting Wisconsin’s Chris Borland.
The Bills didn’t necessarily need to draft a middle linebacker after signing Brandon Spikes this offseason, but in drafting their future at the position in Round 3, Borland would have been the best choice.
Borland fell to the No. 77 overall pick, where the San Francisco 49ers selected him. Borland dropped as far as he did primarily because of concerns about his size (5’11”, 248 pounds and 29.25” arms), and he is also coming off a shoulder injury that knocked him off at least one team’s board, according to Bob McGinn of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.
Despite those concerns, Borland has the instincts, strength and tackling ability to potentially be the best inside linebacker in this year’s draft class. While Brown gives the Bills another thumper at the position to backup Spikes, Borland could provide the same qualities and is more capable of dropping back into coverage.
Carolina Panthers: Marqise Lee, WR, USC (Round 1)
After losing all four of the wide receivers who recorded receptions for them in 2013, the Carolina Panthers needed to look for talent at the position early in this year’s draft. They did so with their first-round pick, the No. 28 overall selection, by drafting Florida State’s Kelvin Benjamin.
At 6’5” and 240 pounds with 34 7/8” arms, Benjamin has exceptional size for a wide receiver and is a great jump-ball and red-zone threat as a result. Outside of his imposing presence, however, there isn’t much that Benjamin does better than USC’s Marqise Lee, who did not end up being selected until Round 2.
For a team that lacks a go-to receiving option, Lee would have been the best candidate to fill that role of any receiver not selected within the first 27 picks. He is a smooth route-runner who accelerates effortlessly and glides with the ball in the open field.
He dropped out of Round 1 due to a knee concern, according to DraftInsider.net’s Tony Pauline, but a healthy Lee has all the skills to be an outstanding NFL receiver. It could be said that Benjamin has a higher upside than Lee, but he might have more trouble separating from coverages and needs to become more consistent in catching the ball with his hands instead of his body.
There could be many teams who regret passing upon the USC receiver if Lee ends up fully recovering from his knee problems, but the Panthers stand out as a team that might have benefited the most from adding him.
Chicago Bears: Louis Nix III, DT, Notre Dame (Round 3)
The Chicago Bears addressed a major need at defensive tackle by selecting two of them with their Day 2 selections in this year’s draft, but they might not have made the best picks they could have at the position. In fact, a player they passed upon twice might end up being a better player than either of the defensive tackles they drafted.
LSU’s Ego Ferguson was not expected to be a second-round selection, bringing his value into question when the Bears selected him at No. 51 overall. A more expected move would have been to take Notre Dame’s Louis Nix III, a massive, powerful nose tackle whom some projected to be a first-round choice.
As Ferguson projects best as a 3-technique, penetrating tackle in Chicago’s 4-3 defense, it would have made perfect sense for the Bears to draft Nix when he was still on the board at the No. 82 overall pick. Instead, however, the Bears decided to draft Arizona State’s Will Sutton.
Sutton could turn out to be a steal, as he played like a first-rounder in his junior season, but he never looked the same after adding weight before his senior season. But if returns to his junior-season weight, then he'll be viewed as a smallish tackle who projects only as an under tackle in a 4-3 defense.
As the Bears’ best returning tackle, Jay Ratliff is also a 3-technique tackle, the Bears will likely insert Ego Ferguson at the nose tackle spot.
They might have been better off, however, if they just had just taken a chance on Nix. He apparently fell due to concerns about “injury and social media use,” according to Bleacher Report’s Matt Miller, but he was selected one pick after the Bears in Round 3 by the Houston Texans.
Cincinnati Bengals: Kyle Van Noy, OLB, BYU (Round 1)
The Cincinnati Bengals made a smart first-round selection when they selected Michigan State cornerback Darqueze Dennard with the No. 24 overall pick. An instinctive, physical cornerback with good ball skills, Dennard should be able to immediately contribute and compete for a starting job in the Bengals secondary.
That said, BYU linebacker Kyle Van Noy is a player many teams could regret passing on, and he would have especially made sense for the Bengals.
After releasing James Harrison earlier this offseason, the Bengals opened up a strong-side linebacker depth chart that they did little to address in this year’s draft. In Van Noy, they could have made an immediate upgrade at that position with arguably the draft’s most versatile defensive player.
Van Noy is a fluid athlete who can be an explosive edge-rusher or fluidly drop back into coverage in passing situations, while he is also a sound tackler in space. He has the skill set to be an immediate three-down difference-maker, and he could prove to be one of the draft’s biggest steals as the Detroit Lions’ No. 40 overall selection.
Dennard should prove to be a solid pick, and might be an upgrade right away over Terence Newman or Adam Jones on the cornerback depth chart, but Van Noy could end up being a bigger impact player and would have a clear role in the lineup from the beginning.
Cleveland Browns: Odell Beckham Jr., WR, LSU (Round 1)
Few teams put together a more impressive draft this year than the Cleveland Browns, who turned two first-round picks into the draft’s top cornerback (Oklahoma State’s Justin Gilbert), its most dynamic playmaker at quarterback (Texas A&M’s Johnny Manziel) and a 2015 first-round draft pick.
One thing the Browns never came away with in this year’s draft, however, was a much-needed influx of talent at wide receiver.
Even after news broke on Day 2 of the draft that Josh Gordon could be facing a season-long suspension, according to ESPN’s T.J. Quinn and Don Van Natta Jr., and that Nate Burleson fractured his arm in minicamp, per ESPN’s Chris Mortensen, the Browns did not use any of their draft choices to pick up a wideout.
There isn’t one pick among the Browns’ six in this draft that can be labeled a mistake—all of their selections make the team better at positions of need and were good values—but their best bet, after trading down from No. 4 overall to No. 9, might have been to select LSU wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. rather than trading back up to No. 8 to select Gilbert.
While Gilbert should be an immediate starter opposite Joe Haden and could give Cleveland one of the league’s best cornerback tandems for years to come, the Browns had enough talent to get by at that position and drafted another potential starting CB in Round 4 with Lindenwood’s Pierre Desir.
Beckham is an explosive athlete who runs great routes, has terrific hands and can make defenders miss in the open field. A player opposing defenses will have to account for at all times, he could have immediately become a key playmaker at a position where the Browns still face major question marks, even with their recent signings of veterans Miles Austin and Earl Bennett.
Beckham was selected by the New York Giants with the No. 12 overall pick.
Dallas Cowboys: Ra’Shede Hageman, DT, Minnesota (Round 2)
No strangers to making aggressive trades up the draft board, the Dallas Cowboys did so again in the second round of this year’s draft when they gave up both of their Day 2 draft picks to move up to the No. 34 overall pick and select Boise State defensive end Demarcus Lawrence.
Lawrence has the explosive burst and pass-rushing skill to be a dynamic playmaker off the edge of Dallas’ defensive line, but at this point he’s an incomplete player whose game must develop for him to be more than a situational pass-rusher.
If the Cowboys were going to trade up for a defensive lineman, the player more worth moving up for would have been Minnesota defensive tackle Ra’Shede Hageman. While Hageman, like Lawrence, is also an incomplete, boom-or-bust player, his upside is among the highest in this year’s draft. He also would have addressed a greater need: the interior of Dallas’ defensive line.
The Cowboys did not select a single defensive tackle in the first six rounds of this year’s draft, which leaves them with one of the NFL’s worst starting nose tackles in Nick Hayden, and a dearth of depth behind him. Lawrence, meanwhile, enters a defensive end rotation that already had decent talent in Anthony Spencer, George Selvie, Tyrone Crawford and Jeremy Mincey.
That’s not to say the Cowboys didn’t need and won’t benefit from a pass-rushing upgrade, but if Lawrence does not blossom into a starter and impact player, they might regret not taking a chance on Hageman, who has the size and power to play nose tackle but also boasts a tremendous burst and pass-rushing ability from the inside.
Hageman was selected by the Atlanta Falcons with the No. 37 overall pick.
Denver Broncos: Jerick McKinnon, RB, Georgia Southern (Round 3)
The Denver Broncos have drafted running backs with top-100 selections in each of the past two drafts. But even addressing a position that is declining in value shouldn’t have discouraged them from drafting yet another.
That’s not to say the Broncos made a mistake by drafting with the 95th overall pick Michigan offensive lineman Michael Schofield, who could provide immediate competition, depth and strength at both guard and tackle. But Georgia Southern running back Jerick McKinnon, one of the most dynamic athletes in this year’s draft and selected just one pick later by the Minnesota Vikings, is a player whom many teams could regret passing upon.
As a small-school player who occupied a variety of positions at GSU, McKinnon is a tough prospect to evaluate, but his physical tools give him the potential to be special. He has an outstanding combination of speed, agility and strength and is a big-play threat any time he has the ball in open space.
Montee Ball is a strong between-the-tackles runner who should be primed for a strong sophomore season, while Ronnie Hillman is a good receiver out of the backfield, but neither of them has the explosiveness or dynamic playmaking ability that McKinnon does.
For a team that clearly has its sights on another Super Bowl run, and whose success lies largely upon the strength of its offense, the Broncos could have added another element of explosiveness to its offense by opting for McKinnon. His selection would have gone a long way toward the Broncos overcoming the free-agency departure of Knowshon Moreno. Schofield could prove to be an asset up front, but McKinnon could end up being one of the draft’s biggest steals as a late third-round pick.
Detroit Lions: Terrence Brooks (Round 3)
I tried not to use any of the same players twice in this slideshow, but the Detroit Lions didn’t make it easy to choose a non-selection they might regret. By consistently making value selections at positions of need throughout the draft, the Lions didn’t make any picks that look regrettable at first glance.
The one major concern that seemed to linger for some Lions fans after this year’s draft, however, was that the team might not have done enough to improve its subpar secondary. Detroit’s pick of Utah State cornerback Nevin Lawson in the compensatory portion of the fourth round was the team’s only selection of a defensive back.
Although safety was arguably the team’s most pressing need going into the draft, the Lions did not draft any players at the position. They could have done so, and still satisfied the team’s emphasis on value, by selecting the aforementioned Terrence Brooks with their third-round draft choice.
The Lions probably won’t regret using the No. 76 overall pick on Arkansas center Travis Swanson, who was the best player available at his position outside the top 75 and should be an heir apparent to 35-year-old starter Dominic Raiola.
However, Swanson’s likely to be a backup for 2014. Meanwhile, at strong safety the Lions could have a coverage liability in starter James Ihedigbo, and their depth behind him and starting free safety Glover Quin is very shaky.
In Brooks, who was selected just three picks later at No. 79 overall, the Lions could have landed an athletic, playmaking safety who could be used interchangeably with Quin at the two safety spots.
Green Bay Packers: Brandon Thomas, OT/G, Clemson (Round 3)
It made sense for the Green Bay Packers to select a tight end at the No. 98 overall pick, where they drafted California's Richard Rodgers. But while Rodgers is a big pass-catching target who weighed in at 6’4” and 257 pounds at this year’s combine, he is limited both as an athlete and a downfield threat and he doesn’t yet have much blocking ability.
He has the skill set to be a productive player if developed properly, but his game doesn’t quite meet the standards of a top-100 draft choice. The Packers might have been better waiting until Day 3 to add a tight end to the depth chart and while using their third-round compensatory pick to instead select Clemson offensive lineman Brandon Thomas.
Had he not torn his ACL in a predraft workout, Thomas likely would have been a first- or second-round draft choice. An experienced college offensive lineman with an impressive combination of length, power and foot skills, Thomas has high long-term upside as either an offensive tackle or to kick inside to guard.
This would have made him a smart choice for the Packers, who have limited depth along the offensive line but do not necessarily need to a player drafted with the 98th overall pick to contribute immediately. While Thomas’ injury puts his 2014 season in jeopardy, Green Bay might have been able to develop Thomas, who went two spots later to the San Francisco 49ers, into a starter by 2015.
The Packers have a decent set of starting tackles in David Bakhtiari and Bryan Bulaga, but Bakhtiari must show improvement in 2014 to be the long-term answer while Bulaga is an injury-prone player whose contract is set to expire following the 2014 season.
Thomas could have emerged as a starter on either side of the line in 2015 or beyond, while he could have improved the team’s limited depth at guard. It’s likely that his long-term value could be higher than that of Rodgers.
Houston Texans: Derek Carr, QB, Fresno State (Round 2)
It’s hard to blame the Houston Texans for selecting South Carolina defensive end Jadeveon Clowney, who has the potential to be the biggest star from this year’s draft class, with the No. 1 overall pick. What might have really been a mistake for the Texans, however, was passing up the opportunity to still select one of the draft’s top four quarterback prospects in Round 2.
After David Carr never came close to living up to expectations as the Texans’ No. 1 overall pick in the 2002 NFL draft, it’s easy to understand why Houston might have been reluctant to draft his brother Derek Carr with the 33rd pick this year. As with David, the biggest issues Derek Carr has as a passer comes when he has to react to the pressure of a pass rush.
Unlike what they did with David Carr, the Texans would have been able to put Derek into a situation with weapons already around him and a solid offensive line already in place. A player’s draft stock should never be defined by the NFL success or failure of a relative, especially considering the set-up-to-fail situation that David Carr was thrown into as the rookie quarterback of an expansion NFL franchise.
While the Texans added a terrific player by selecting UCLA guard Xavier Su’a-FIlo with the first pick of Round 2, they’re not going to get back into contention until they find a solution to their quarterback woes. It’s unlikely that Case Keenum, Ryan Fitzpatrick or fourth-round pick Tom Savage will be the remedy to that problem.
The younger Carr is far from a sure thing, but he has all the physical tools necessary to develop into a franchise quarterback. The Texans needed to take a chance at the quarterback position this year, and their failure to do so when they had a chance at Carr could be a regrettable decision.
Carr was selected by the Oakland Raiders with the No. 36 overall pick.
Indianapolis Colts: Yawin Smallwood, ILB, Connecticut (Round 7)
The Indianapolis Colts’ draft was met with scathing reviews, including a league-worst D-plus grade from ESPN’s Mel Kiper Jr. (subscription required), but the only clear mistake they made with their draft picks this year was trading their first-round pick to the Cleveland Browns last September for running back Trent Richardson.
The Colts didn’t necessarily come away from the draft with an outstanding haul, but with their first pick not coming until the No. 59 overall pick, they were stuck missing out on most of the draft’s premier talent. That amplifies the importance of the team making good on its late-round draft picks, however, and the Colts might not have found the best possible talent on Day 3.
Indianapolis drafted Western Kentucky inside linebacker Andrew Jackson with the No. 203 overall pick in Round 6, but it might have been better off waiting until Round 7 and drafting Connecticut’s Yawin Smallwood, who could easily become of the best late-round picks from this year’s draft.
A hamstring injury limited Smallwood in predraft workouts and might have led his stock to plummeting in this year’s draft, but he is an instinctive player and sound tackler in space who was highly productive in his three seasons for the Huskies.
Even with the offseason signing of veteran free agent D’Qwell Jackson, the Colts needed to continue to bulk up at inside linebacker. They did so by drafting Andrew Jackson, but he is a less polished player than Smallwood, who went 50 picks later to the Atlanta Falcons.
Jacksonville Jaguars: Johnny Manziel, QB, Texas A&M (Round 1)
A dynamic quarterback who showed exceptional playmaking ability at Texas A&M, there might not be one player with more potential to make teams regret passing him up in the first round of this year’s draft than Johnny Manziel.
If the special skill set Manziel showed for the Aggies translates to NFL excellence, no team will be more on the hook than the Jacksonville Jaguars. The Jaguars selected UCF quarterback Blake Bortles with the No. 3 overall pick, 19 spots before the Cleveland Browns made Manziel the second signal-caller off the board.
Bortles is a more traditional pocket passer with prototypical size and a big arm, but he has just as many flaws in his game, if not more, than Manziel. And while Bortles’ combination of size and athleticism allows him to run the ball and extend plays with his feet, he isn’t going to make defenses account for his athletic ability the way Manziel does.
If Bortles is going to achieve success as an NFL starter, he has to improve his footwork in the pocket and throw the ball with more touch downfield. Manziel also has to become more mechanically sound within the pocket, but he has a skill set and improvisational talent that will pose an immediate threat to opposing defenses, even as he develops.
The Jaguars seemingly believed in Bortles more than any team believed in Manziel or any of the other quarterbacks in the class, as they were the only team to select a quarterback with their first draft choice this year. But if Bortles fails to live up to his potential, Jacksonville could quickly regret passing up Manziel (or Louisville’s Teddy Bridgewater, who was selected 29 picks after Bortles by the Minnesota Vikings).
Kansas City Chiefs: Jimmie Ward, FS, Northern Illinois (Round 1)
Already possessing one of the league’s elite edge-defender tandems in Justin Houston and Tamba Hali, the Kansas City Chiefs made a questionable decision in selecting Auburn’s Dee Ford with the No. 23 overall selection.
While Ford is an explosive athlete well suited to transition to outside linebacker in Kansas City’s 3-4 defense, he wasn’t the best choice on the board for a team who really need to utilize its first-round pick well. A better pick would have been Northern Illinois safety Jimmie Ward, who would have addressed the team’s biggest need at free safety while also being strong value at the 23rd pick.
Ward is a fluid athlete who is excellent in deep coverage and has great ball skills, while he is also adept at playing closer to the line and supporting against the run. Although overlooked by same after playing his college ball in the Mid-American Conference, he could be one of the best defensive backs in this year’s draft class.
The Chiefs can benefit from the addition of Ford as a rotational pass-rusher, especially in the long term, but Ward is a more polished player who could have given Kansas City an interchangeable pair of safeties in tandem with Eric Berry.
With no second-round pick, the Chiefs never ended up addressing their safety problems in this year’s draft, which will likely force the team to turn to Sanders Commings or Husain Abdullah at free safety. If Ward quickly emerges as an impact player for the San Francisco 49ers, who drafted him No. 30 overall, Kansas City might wish it had him playing on its back end.
Miami Dolphins: Xavier Su’a-Filo, G, UCLA (Round 1)
The Miami Dolphins had a major need at right tackle, and addressed it right away by selecting Tennessee’s Ja’Wuan James with the No. 19 overall pick. Although James was viewed by most prognosticators as a Day 2 draft selection, it’s hard to blame the Dolphins, who are replacing four offensive linemen from last season, from selecting their top-rated player at their position of greatest need.
However, with need for talent both outside and inside on the offensive line, a better move for the Dolphins might have been to select the best available offensive lineman, UCLA guard Xavier Su’a-Filo, with their first-round draft choice.
James has the size, length and strength that NFL teams look for in a right tackle, but while he should be a solid starter, he might never be a major difference-maker up front. He lacks the power and athleticism to consistently dominate opponents.
Tackles have traditionally held more value than interior offensive linemen, which proved to be the case this year as Su’a-Filo fell to the second round, but the UCLA product has star potential as a guard. The top player at his position in this year’s class, Su’a-Filo has a tremendous combination of size, agility, strength and technical skill.
If Su’a-Filo turns out to be the perennial Pro Bowler he has the upside to be, the Dolphins won’t be the only team regretting passing him up.
Minnesota Vikings: Ryan Shazier, LB, Ohio State (Round 1)
The Minnesota Vikings hit the jackpot when they were able to select the player they were most likely to regret passing up—Louisville quarterback Teddy Bridgewater—by trading back into the end of the first round. But there might be other players that the Vikings ultimately wish they had drafted over UCLA linebacker Anthony Barr and the No. 9 overall pick.
One of those players could be Ohio State linebacker Ryan Shazier. Although Shazier wasn’t projected to be a top-10 pick before the draft, the same reasons he ended up going No. 15 overall, to the Pittsburgh Steelers, might have made him the perfect first-round defensive selection for Minnesota.
While Barr has intriguing, high upside as a hybrid outside linebacker/pass-rushing defensive end, what the Vikings really needed was a difference-maker at the second level. A highly athletic, hard hitting playmaker who excels at making plays in space and dropping back into coverage, Shazier would have given Minnesota a linebacker with the ability to play all three spots in their 4-3 defense.
Barr is best suited to play strongside linebacker, but that’s where Minnesota already has its most experienced player at the position (Chad Greenway). Meanwhile, the Vikings minimized their need for another defensive end in the rotation by selecting Oregon State’s Scott Crichton in Round 3.
With more obvious openings at middle and weakside linebacker, Shazier would give the Vikings a player with more clear and immediate application, while he is also a more NFL-ready and well-rounded player. Taking a chance on Barr’s potential could pay off, but it shouldn’t be a surprise if Shazier ends up being one of the best defensive players from this year’s draft class.
New England Patriots: Telvin Smith, LB, Florida State (Round 4)
The New England Patriots aren’t a team to panic and adjust their strategy to fill needs, but in not drafting any linebackers this year, they have a serious lack of depth talent behind their three starters.
After going in different directions with all seven of their Day 3 picks, including using three on offensive linemen, they might regret passing up three opportunities in Round 4 to select Florida State linebacker Telvin Smith.
While the Patriots have a strong starting trio of linebackers in Jerod Mayo, Dont’a Hightower and Jamie Collins, they really could have benefited from adding a coverage linebacker who could come off the bench to play in subpackages.
Smith is a talented player who could fill that role well and would have been great value as a fourth-round pick. Although he likely fell due to his lack of size (6’3”, 218 lbs)—and perhaps due to a failed drug test at the combine, according to Fox Sports’ Jay Glazer—he is a fluid athlete who has great instincts and plays bigger than he stands.
The Seminoles product also projects to have high special teams value, an area in which the Patriots have consistently sought talent in the draft. He could be a steal for the Jacksonville Jaguars as a fifth-round pick.
New Orleans Saints: Pierre Desir, CB, Lindenwood (Round 4)
The New Orleans Saints were clearly looking to follow the NFL’s trend toward taller, bigger cornerbacks when they selected 6’3”, 218-pound Stanley Jean-Baptiste with their second-round pick (No. 58 overall) in this year’s draft. They might have been able to get a more skilled cornerback with similar size two rounds later.
Pierre Desir (6’1”, 198 lbs) isn’t quite as big as Jean-Baptiste, but he has longer arms. Furthermore, while Jean-Baptiste still looked like a converted wide receiver playing cornerback nearly three years after making the switch, Desir is a more fluid, technically sound defensive back with tremendous ball skills.
That’s not to say Desir should have been selected ahead of Jean-Baptiste, as Jean-Baptiste is younger while Desir has to make a big leap from the Division II level, but he might end up being the better player.
If so, the Saints might wish they had drafted a more technically sound, NFL-ready player in Round 2, such as hybrid pass-rusher Scott Crichton, or doubled up at a position of need by taking Desir when he was still on the board at their fourth-round slot (he went one pick later, to the Cleveland Browns).
New York Giants: Aaron Donald, DT, Pittsburgh (Round 1)
After losing Hakeem Nicks in free agency this offseason, the New York Giants needed to add a playmaker to their receiving corps, and got one with the No. 12 overall pick in LSU’s Odell Beckham Jr. But although Beckham is an explosive offensive weapon who can make New York’s passing offense more dynamic, the Giants might regret passing up the chance to draft Pittsburgh defensive tackle Aaron Donald.
A highly athletic defensive tackle who had exceptional senior-year production, Donald was the first interior defensive lineman selected in this year’s draft class. With an explosive burst, great hand skills and impressive power despite a small frame, Donald has the potential to become one of the NFL’s elite inside penetrators.
With the addition of Donald, the Giants could have reinvigorated a defensive line that was once the keystone of New York’s success. While New York added two decent penetrators in third-round pick Jay Bromley and undrafted free agent signing Kelcy Quarles, neither of them has the dynamic playmaking ability that Donald can immediately bring to the table.
Much like Sheldon Richardson from last year’s draft, Donald—who like Richardson, was selected with the No. 13 overall pick—could prove to be a steal even though he was the first defensive tackle off the board. In a deep class of receiving talent, the Giants might wish they took Donald when they had the chance and found their offensive playmaker later.
New York Jets: Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, S, Alabama (Round 1)
The New York Jets fulfilled their need for a safety with the No. 18 overall pick, but they might not have selected the right one.
Louisville’s Calvin Pryor is a hard hitter and a ballhawk who made more than his fair share of impact plays from the back end of the Cardinals defense in the past three years. But while he should be an immediate difference-maker on the field, he could have some issues if asked to consistently play in deep coverage roles.
Pryor was expected to be among the first three or four safeties selected in this year’s draft, but it came somewhat surprisingly that he was picked ahead of Alabama’s Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, who many considered to be the best all-around player at the position in this year’s draft.
Clinton-Dix didn’t make quite as many flashy plays as Pryor did in college, but he is a more fluid mover who is better suited to handle center-field coverage responsibilities. While he is still a heavy hitter who can make plays in run support, his playmaking range makes him a more interchangeable, multi-faceted safety than Pryor.
If Pryor can develop his coverage technique quickly, he could prove to be the right selections, but Clinton-Dix is more equipped to thrive immediately on the back end of an NFL defense.
Clinton-Dix was selected by the Green Bay Packers with the No. 21 overall pick.
Oakland Raiders: Martavis Bryant, WR, Clemson (Round 4)
Notoriously panned for having bad drafts, the Oakland Raiders seem to have actually come away with one of the strongest hauls from this year’s selection meeting, so there weren’t any selections that look immediately regrettable.
They were smart to emphasize other needs over drafting a wide receiver with their early-round selections, but in the middle rounds, they would have been smart to take a chance on a potential steal in a deep class at the position.
Clemson’s Martavis Bryant is one potential steal they could regret passing up. Bryant fell to the third day because he is an undeveloped route runner who must become a more consistent hands catcher, but he has the prototypical size and speed to potentially develop into a much better deep-threat “X” receiver than anyone the Raiders currently have.
The Raiders made two solid fourth-round selections at positions of need by drafting Louisiana Tech nose tackle Justin Ellis and Utah cornerback Keith McGill, but Bryant could end up emerging as one of the best players from Day 3 of this year’s draft.
He could have added some spark to a largely underwhelming group of wide receivers that is currently highlighted by James Jones, Denarius Moore, Rod Streater and Andre Holmes.
Bryant was selected by the Pittsburgh Steelers with the 118th overall pick.
Philadelphia Eagles: Phillip Gaines, CB, Rice (Round 3)
After releasing DeSean Jackson earlier this offseason, the Philadelphia Eagles had a clear need to add another receiving playmaker to their offense. But after doing so by selecting Vanderbilt wideout Jordan Matthews in Round 2, the Eagles might have been better served in selecting the best available defensive back than in adding another receiver.
Philadelphia turned to selecting Oregon’s Josh Huff, a somewhat similar player to Jackson who will be reunited with current Eagles and former Oregon coach Chip Kelly, with their third-round pick (No. 86 overall). Huff is an underappreciated receiver who has the skill in space to make defenders miss and create big plays.
That said, the Eagles missed out on one of the draft’s most talented cornerbacks—a bigger position of need after they had already selected Matthews—in Rice’s Phillip Gaines, who was selected with the next pick. While Huff projects as Philadelphia’s No. 4 receiver, Gaines could have potentially contended for an immediate starting spot.
A long, fluid and fast cornerback, Gaines was one of the best players still on the board when the Kansas City Chiefs selected him one pick after the Eagles took Huff in Round 3. He has the potential to emerge as a high-quality starter at the position, which Philadelphia does not currently have in their secondary.
The Eagles were able to get great value on another cornerback by selecting Florida’s Jaylen Watkins with the first pick of Day 3, but Watkins is best suited to play slot cornerback, where Philadelphia already has one of the league’s best in Brandon Boykin. Outside cornerbacks with the tools that Gaines possesses are hard to find outside of the first two rounds, and he could prove to be a steal that the Eagles wish they had.
Pittsburgh Steelers: Laurent Duvernay-Tardif, OT, McGill (Round 6)
The Pittsburgh Steelers had more pressing needs than their offensive line in this year’s NFL draft, but that’s not to say their long-running struggle to solidify their front five has come to an end.
While they didn’t need to draft a lineman in the early rounds, they would have smart to select a developmental prospect with the potential to start—especially at left tackle—on Day 3.
Laurent Duvernay-Tardif has that potential. He is a complete project, as he comes from the ranks of Canadian football, but he was a dominant presence north of the border who has the physical traits to potentially develop into an NFL starter on the edge of an offensive line.
Kelvin Beachum has emerged as a more adequate left tackle option than some of the players the Steelers have trotted out there in recent seasons, but he shouldn’t be accepted to be the long-term answer.
Without much developmental depth on their offensive line, the Steelers could have afforded to bring in a player like Duvernay-Tardif and attempt to build him into their left tackle of the future. Instead the Kansas City Chiefs, who selected the McGill product eight picks after the Steelers selected UCLA linebacker Jordan Zumwalt in Round 6, could envision him as a bookend opposite 2013 No. 1 overall pick Eric Fisher.
San Diego Chargers: Trai Turner, G, LSU (Round 3)
Possessing one of the NFL’s weakest starting guard combinations in Chad Rinehart and Jeromey Clary, the San Diego Chargers brought in some much-needed competition to push them by selecting Notre Dame’s Chris Watt with their third-round pick (No. 89 overall).
Watt is a solid all-around interior offensive lineman who has the versatility to play both guard and center, and could push for an immediate starting spot on a weak unit. That said, he didn’t appear to be the best guard on the board when San Diego selected him.
LSU’s Trai Turner isn’t quite as experienced as Watt, having declared for the NFL after his redshirt sophomore season, but while both measured in at the same size (6’3”, 310 lbs) at this year’s combine, Turner has more length, power and athleticism.
While both represent likely improvements for the Chargers in interior pass protection, Turner has more potential to create movement as a run blocker than Watt. He shows more ability to explode off the snap and drive defenders away from the line of scrimmage.
Ultimately, if Watt can emerge as a solid starter at a position of need, San Diego should be satisfied with him as a late third-round pick. But they might wish they took a chance on Turner, who went just four picks later and whose upside is significantly higher, instead.
San Francisco 49ers: Ross Cockrell, CB, Duke (Round 4)
It was clear that the San Francisco 49ers, at least for the first four rounds of this year’s draft, approached their selections with a strict “best player available” strategy.
The 49ers consistently drafted top-ranked players when they were on the clock, even when those players were at positions of non-need, and their selections drew rave reviews from a value standpoint as a result.
But after following that strategy for their first six selections, all of which they made within the first 106 picks, the 49ers seemed to hit the panic button and realize they had yet to address their need at the cornerback position. They subsequently selected cornerbacks with three of their next four picks (North Carolina State’s Dontae Johnson in Round 4, Florida Atlantic’s Keith Reaser in Round 5, Southern Methodist’s Kenneth Acker in Round 6).
Johnson, Reaser and Acker might all turn out to be fine selections, but the 49ers might have been better off shifting their strategy one pick earlier to select Duke’s Ross Cockrell with the No. 106 overall selection.
San Francisco got a great value at that spot by selecting South Carolina wide receiver Bruce Ellington, but it’s unclear where Ellington will fit in as the 49ers had already traded for Stevie Johnson earlier on draft weekend.
If their later picks do not pan out, San Francisco might wish they selected Cockrell, a more fluid, polished cornerback with the technical skills and playmaking ability to immediately contend for playing time (and was selected 109th by the Buffalo Bills).
Seattle Seahawks: Billy Turner, OT/G, North Dakota State (Round 2)
The Seattle Seahawks have been known for turning head-scratching “reach” selections into unforeseen steals, but that doesn’t change the immediate reaction that the Seahawks should have been able to either select Missouri’s Justin Britt later the second round, or draft a more talented offensive lineman with the No. 64 overall pick.
The Seahawks could view Britt as either a tackle or guard, but as a second-round pick, he will need to quickly emerge as an upgrade to the Seattle starting lineup for him to be deemed a successful selection.
Regardless of which spot Seattle projects Britt at, they might have been able to draft a better player by selecting North Dakota State’s Billy Turner, who went three picks later after the Miami Dolphins traded up.
While Turner might not be able to dominate NFL competition like he did his opponents in the FCS, he is a powerful, more athletic blocker than Britt. For a team who could really use an upgrade over starting guards James Carpenter and J.R. Sweezy, Turner seemed like an ideal choice at the end of Round 2 as a candidate to kick inside.
Perhaps Britt could be the same, or be Breno Giacomini’s replacement at right tackle if the Seahawks decided to move Michael Bowie inside to guard, but he’s a selection they might regret if Turner reaches his potential, likely as a guard, in Miami.
St. Louis Rams: Jake Matthews, OT, Texas A&M (Round 1)
It’s easy to see why the St. Louis Rams fell in love with Auburn offensive lineman Greg Robinson and selected him with the No. 2 overall pick. A 6’5”, 332-pound tackle with incredbile athleticism for his size, Robinson has the ability to dominate opponents with power and explode to the second level to pick up blocks.
Falling in love with his promise, however, might prove to be an error. While Robinson has shown the potential to be an outstanding run blocker, he isn’t nearly as polished or skilled in pass protection as Texas A&M’s Jake Matthews, who was drafted 6th overall by the Atlanta Falcons.
Considered to be the “safe” pick leading up to the draft, Matthews became overshadowed by Robinson’s freakish physical traits. But while Robinson might have the highest ceiling of any prospect from this year’s draft, Matthews has the highest floor.
Matthews has all the tools needed to be one of the NFL’s best offensive tackles for many years to come. A polished technician with fantastic footwork, the son of Hall of Fame offensive lineman Bruce Matthews could have been an immediate upgrade for the Rams at right tackle while being groomed as Jake Long’s eventual successor at left tackle.
Selecting Robinson could certainly pay off in the long run, but it’s not as though Matthews doesn’t have All-Pro potential in his own right.
If Robinson fails to develop as hoped in pass protection, and Matthews finds the immediate success expected of him, the Rams might regret picking Robinson for what he could become instead of Matthews for what he is already is.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Scott Crichton, DE, Oregon State (Round 3)
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers made a huge upgrade to their defensive line by signing free-agent defensive end Michael Johnson this offseason, but they still would have been smart to select another pass-rusher in this year’s draft, especially when Oregon State’s Scott Crichton was still available at their third-round slot.
Crichton, one of the most skilled and well-rounded defensive players in this year’s draft, was selected by the Minnesota Vikings three picks later. While Crichton might have fallen in the draft due to his limited burst as a pass-rusher, he has the skill to get after quarterbacks while he is also a strong edge-setting run defender.
However, instead of drafting a player who could immediately bolster an improved defensive end rotation, the Buccaneers made a surprising pick in selecting West Virginia running back Charles Sims with the No. 69 overall selection.
Sims is a solid runner who might be the best receiver out of the backfield in this year’s draft class, but he seems like an unnecessary selection for a team that already had Doug Martin, Mike James and Bobby Rainey in its stable of running backs.
That’s not to say Sims won’t be productive or prove valuable as an offensive role player, but Martin has three-down back capability while the running back position in itself has lost value. The Buccaneers might have been better off drafting Crichton, or adding another impact player to their defense, and looking for a running back in the later round of the draft.
Tennessee Titans: Carlos Hyde, RB, Ohio State (Round 2)
There’s nothing wrong with the Tennessee Titans’ decision, with the No. 54 overall pick, to make Washington’s Bishop Sankey the first running back off the board in this year’s draft.
An athletic runner with good vision both inside and outside the tackles, the strength to bounce off contact and good hands out of the backfield, Sankey should become quickly productive in Tennessee’s offense.
That said, the Titans might wish they didn’t pass up Ohio State’s Carlos Hyde if he proves to be the best running back from the draft class. A powerful, bruising runner between the tackles, Hyde also has the burst, athleticism and receiving ability to emerge as one of the NFL’s best tailbacks.
It would be a surprise if Sankey doesn’t at least have moderate success at the next level, and he’ll have immediate opportunities for consistent carries in a thin Tennessee backfield, but the Titans set forth an expectation for the Washington product to be better than Hyde and every other back in this year’s draft.
Hyde was selected with the No. 57 overall pick by the San Francisco 49ers.
Washington Redskins: Gabe Jackson, G, Mississippi State (Round 3)
A similar prospect to 2013 rookie phenom Larry Warford, Mississippi State’s Gabe Jackson fell to the third round of this year’s draft like Warford did last year. Also like Warford, teams might immediately regret passing up Jackson, a massive, powerful guard who is surprisingly nimble for his size.
The Washington Redskins are a team that stands out that might wish it drafted Jackson in the third round. Three picks before the Oakland Raiders drafted Jackson with the 81st overall selection, Washington made a surprising second-day draft choice of Nebraska’s Spencer Long.
Long is a solid, experienced player who could give Washington a much-needed upgrade on its interior offensive line, but he was a projected late-round draft choice. He doesn’t exhibit the power and ability to dominate that Jackson does.
Jackson’s draft stock might have fallen with his slow 40-yard dash time (5.51 seconds), but it might prove to be an incorrect decision by the Redskins, and other teams in need of interior offensive linemen, to pass Jackson up when they had the chance to select him.
All measurables courtesy of NFL.com.
Dan Hope is an NFL/NFL draft featured columnist for Bleacher Report.
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