NFL Insider Evaluates First Round Draft Winners and Losers
Who killed it in the first round of the NFL Draft? Who killed their team’s future?
We posed these and other questions to NFL insider Dan Leberfeld, who covered last night’s proceedings from Jets headquarters in Florham Park, New Jersey.
“I like what the St. Louis Rams did in the first round,” Leberfeld told Breitbart Sports. “Offensive line was a huge need for the Rams entering this draft, so picking Auburn left tackle Greg Robinson, with the second pick, made a lot of sense.”
“And then they turned around and picked Pitt defensive tackle Aaron Donald at 13, another freakish lineman, with great speed and unbelievable quickness off the ball,” Leberfeld says of the second St. Louis first-round pick. “The Rams defensive line is going to have opposing offensive line coaches losing sleep with ends Chris Long and Robert Quinn, to go along with defensive tackle Michael Brockers and Aaron Donald—all first round picks.”
Interior linemen may not put fans in the seats. But they put wins on the board. So though several teams made a splash by landing flashy skill-position players, their arrival may not translate into wins.
Whereas the Rams improved greatly last night, Leberfeld believes that Buffalo, coming off the death of the only owner in its history and rumors of relocation, may have unnecessarily mortgaged their future. “I don’t love what the Buffalo Bills did—trading a 2015 #1 pick, along with their original selection this year, to move up and pick receiver Sammy Watkins,” says the co-host of Sirius XM NFL Radio’s Saturday Press Coverage show. “Don’t get me wrong, Watkins is a superb prospect. But the Bills don’t even know if they have an answer at quarterback. E.J. Manuel still has a lot to prove, and it’s no slam-dunk he’s going to be their long-term signal-caller.”
The Bills, the only team to fail to make the playoffs this century, don’t figure to improve markedly in the standings in 2014. So trading a likely top-tier pick in next year’s draft to move up five spots in this year’s draft may come back to haunt the way Washington’s go-for-broke RGIII trade seems to have hurt the Redskins (and helped the Rams).
“I’ve always believed it is a flawed concept to think that picking a star receiver will lead to a quantum leap in the development of a quarterback,” Leberfeld explained. “For the most part, quarterbacks make receivers, receivers don’t make quarterbacks. Julian Edelman, an undrafted free agent, had 105 catches in New England last year playing with Tom Brady. The Detroit Lions picked receivers in the first round three years in a row to help quarterback Joey Harrington, and it didn’t work. Star receivers don’t make the quarterbacks read defenses better or improve their pocket presence.”
Breitbart Sports asked Leberfeld what selection surprised him most as far as a reach in terms of talent. “The Dolphins surprised many people in the football world by picking Tennessee offensive tackle Ja’Wuan James with the 19th pick overall,” observes Leberfeld, who has spent the last two decades covering the AFC East as the editor of Jets Confidential. The veteran NFL writer labels James a “great character” guy, so the Dolphins may have from their perspective killed two birds with one stone by selecting a lineman with a solid presence. But Leberfeld and others wonder why they selected a right tackle rather than convert a more talented left tackle to the position. “We all know they need offensive lineman after the departures of Jonathan Martin and Richie Incognito following the bullying scandal. They did sign former Kansas City Chief Branden Albert to play left tackle, so James will start on the right side. Do you pick right tackles at 19?”
The Titans drafting Michigan offensive lineman Taylor Lewan raised eyebrows in that it didn’t necessarily fill one of Tennessee’s key needs. But Leberfeld believes in today’s NFL talent trumps need on draft day. “I’m a strong believer in sticking to your value board,” Leberfeld told Breitbart Sports. “These team spend millions of dollars on scouting every year, and spend an eternity setting their draft board. So if you are going to do that, you should stick to the value board, and pick the highest-rated player when you are on the clock, regardless of need. That is the best way to draft, so I don’t like to criticize teams for picking a position that isn’t a big need, because it’s all about the board.”