The Daily Briefing Wednesday, May 9, 2018

AROUND THE NFL 

OverTheCap.com theorizes that these are the teams that have “earned” compensatory 3rd round draft picks next year by letting outgoing free agents sign for big money (APY is Average Per Year of the new contract):

 

Team   Round Compensated Free Agent      APY

WAS    3          Kirk Cousins                           $28,000,000

MIN     3          Case Keenum                        $18,000,000

LAR     3          Sammy Watkins                    $15,830,000

NE       3          Nate Solder                            $15,400,000

LAR     3          Trumaine Johnson                 $14,500,000

CAR    3          Andrew Norwell                     $13,000,000

NE       3          Malcolm Butler                       $12,170,000

 

More from Michael David Smith of ProFootballTalk.com:

 

The deadline has passed for any free agent signings that will affect the awarding of compensatory picks in next year’s NFL draft, and the Patriots and Rams are the teams that look to be in the best shape for 2019 compensatory picks.

 

Both the Patriots and the Rams are likely to be awarded two third-round picks next year, according to OverTheCap.com. That’s the best haul of any team.

 

The Patriots are always smart about getting compensatory picks, which are awarded to teams that lose more free agents, and especially more expensive free agents, than they sign. It’s no surprise to see the atop the list of compensatory picks.

 

But the Rams’ presence at the top may surprise a lot of people, because the Rams made offseason headlines by attracting a lot of players. How can the Rams get so many compensatory picks after an offseason dominated by headlines about the Rams bringing in big-name players?

 

Because those big-name players weren’t the unrestricted free agents who count toward the compensatory pick formula. Players who arrive in trades, like Marcus Peters and Aqib Talib, don’t count toward the compensatory pick formula. Nor do players who were cut by their previous teams, like Ndamukong Suh. But players who leave your team as unrestricted free agents and sign big-money contracts with other teams do count toward the formula. The Rams lost two such players, Sammy Watkins and Trumaine Johnson, and that’s why they’re expected to get two third-round picks.

 

Other teams expected to get third-round compensatory picks next year include Washington (for losing Kirk Cousins), Minnesota (Case Keenum) and Carolina (Andrew Norwell).

 

The NFL doesn’t publish the full compensatory pick formula, and part of the formula relates to players’ performance during their first seasons with their new teams, so it’s possible that some of this could change before the compensatory picks are awarded for next year’s draft. But right now, the Patriots and Rams are looking good.

 

 

 

Chris Wesseling of NFL.com has his list of the NFL’s top 10 offenses for 2018:

 

How does one judge the effectiveness of an offense? The Jaguars finished sixth — above the Super Bowl champion Eagles — in total yards last season. On the other hand, Jacksonville placed 19th in Football Outsiders’ weighted offense metric and 14th in drive success rate, which measures the percentage of possessions that resulted in a first down or touchdown.

 

When the Jags jumped out to an early lead, hammered Leonard Fournette at the opposing defense and bolstered Blake Bortles with a dangerous play-action attack, they were a force to be reckoned with. Bortles averaged a sterling 8.0 yards per attempt with a 107.3 passer rating and a 12:1 TD-to-INT ratio when asked to nurse a lead last season.

 

When the Jaguars were tied or losing last year, conversely, Bortles’ numbers plummeted to 6.5 yards per attempt, with a passer rating below 75.0 and nine touchdowns versus 12 interceptions.

 

Conventional team stats suggest Jacksonville’s offense was on par with those in Kansas City, Atlanta and Philadelphia. The game film and advanced metrics refute that notion, poking holes in a limited attack.

 

If the quarterback is running a truly dominant offense, he moves the chains with consistency in all situations, rather than requiring a strict formula for success. It’s no surprise that the list below reads like a who’s who of superstar quarterbacks, many enjoying a symbiotic relationship with a top-notch offensive mind dialing up the plays.

 

Now that free agency and the draft are giving way to OTAs and minicamps, let’s examine the hierarchy of NFL offenses.

 

THE TOP FIVE

 

1) New Orleans Saints

Quarterback: A- | Drew Brees, Tom Savage, Taysom Hill, J.T. Barrett

 

The scouting report suggests Brees’ declining arm strength is an issue downfield, yet he continues to be one of the most effective deep passers in the league. Buoyed by an explosive ground attack, he’s a perennial MVP candidate until we see evidence to the contrary.

 

If there’s a weakness on Sean Payton’s offense, it’s the depth chart at quarterback.

 

Backfield: A+ | Mark Ingram, Alvin Kamara, Trey Edmunds, Jonathan Williams, Boston Scott, Zach Line

 

EDITOR’S NOTE: This piece was published before Mark Ingram was suspended for the first four games of the 2018 season for violating the league’s policy on performance-enhancing drugs.

 

Receiving corps: B+ | Michael Thomas, Ted Ginn Jr., Cameron Meredith, Brandon Coleman, Tommylee Lewis, Tre’Quan Smith, Austin Carr, Ben Watson (TE), Josh Hill (TE)

 

Thomas is a prototypical No. 1 “X” receiver, capable of drawing and beating double teams. He does his best work on third downs as Brees’ go-to target. Even at age 33, Ginn has the rare speed to take the top off a defense as a deep threat. Signed away from the Bears, Meredith is a wild card returning from ACL surgery. If he regains 2016 form, this could be one of the best wide-receiver groups of the Payton-Brees era.

 

Kamara and the wideouts are strong enough to compensate for a lackluster cast of characters at tight end.

 

Offensive line: A-

 

More ink is spilled on the Cowboys’ celebrated offensive line than all other blocking units combined. When this unit is healthy, though, it takes a back seat to no one.

 

2) New England Patriots

Quarterback: A | Tom Brady, Brian Hoyer, Danny Etling

 

The 2017 Patriots finished No. 1 across the board in weighted DVOA, drive success rate, yards per drive, points per drive and total offense. After placing second in the 2016 MVP race, Brady won the award last year, capping off an age-defying campaign with an incredible postseason run that featured the most passing yards in Super Bowl history.

 

Backfield: B+ | Sony Michel, James White, Rex Burkhead, Jeremy Hill, Mike Gillislee, James Develin

 

Michel replaces Dion Lewis, who was the offensive focal point in 2017 as one of the league’s most efficient backs down the stretch. After falling out of favor late last season, White is a good bet to resurface as Brady’s security blanket on passing downs. Burkhead is a handy backup, capable of handling any running or receiving role in addition to special teams duty. Is Hill the latest Bengals castoff to find new life in New England’s backfield?

 

Receiving corps: A- | Julian Edelman, Chris Hogan, Jordan Matthews, Cordarrelle Patterson, Malcolm Mitchell, Kenny Britt, Phillip Dorsett, Braxton Berrios, Rob Gronkowski (TE), Dwayne Allen (TE), Troy Niklas (TE), Jacob Hollister (TE)

 

Gone are deep threat Brandin Cooks and playoff hero Danny Amendola, replaced by physical slot receiver Matthews and gadget weapon Patterson. Expect a greater impact from Edelman and Mitchell, a pair of Super Bowl LI stars who lost the 2017 season to knee injuries.

 

Offensive line: B

 

3) Pittsburgh Steelers

Quarterback: B+ | Ben Roethlisberger, Landry Jones, Mason Rudolph, Josh Dobbs

 

After contemplating retirement last offseason, Roethlisberger questioned his own future on the heels of a five-interception performance in early October. Just when it appeared that his career might be winding down, he turned his season around and played as well as any quarterback in December and January. It’s fair to wonder if that hot streak will continue with Randy Fichtner calling plays for the first time.

 

How does a third-round rookie quarterback help Pittsburgh win now? Roethlisberger ought to know better than anyone, considering he’s played a full 16-game season just three times in his 14-year career. If Rudolph can unseat Jones for the backup job, the Steelers are better prepared to withstand an injury to Roethlisberger.

 

Backfield: A | Le’Veon Bell, James Conner, Jaylen Samuels, Stevan Ridley, Roosevelt Nix

 

Bell carried the offense through Roethlisberger’s early-season slump last fall, but suffered a drop-off in efficiency from the heights of his magical 2016 season. While his Pittsburgh future is in question, he should provide All-Pro production for at least one more year. The Steelers have selected Conner and Samuels in back-to-back drafts, leaving them in better position to survive an injury or suspension.

 

Receiving corps: A- | Antonio Brown, JuJu Smith-Schuster, James Washington, Justin Hunter, Darrius Heyward-Bey, Vance McDonald (TE), Jesse James (TE), Xavier Grimble (TE)

 

Brown is the rare receiver dominant enough to make a legitimate run at MVP honors. The emergence of Smith-Schuster enabled the Steelers to trade malcontent deep threat Martavis Bryant, who has been replaced by second-round rookie James Washington. Don’t sleep on McDonald, who bypassed James in the pecking order and hauled in 10 passes for 112 yards in the playoff loss to Jacksonville.

 

Offensive line: A-

 

Who can boast a more stable offensive line than Pittsburgh?

 

4) Atlanta Falcons

Quarterback: B+ | Matt Ryan, Matt Schaub, Garrett Grayson

 

For all of the consternation over Steve Sarkisian’s play-calling, Ryan’s offense finished second in drive success rate and yards per drive last season.

 

Backfield: A | Devonta Freeman, Tevin Coleman, Ito Smith

 

Ryan wasn’t the only one missing Kyle Shanahan’s mastery last season. Freeman and Coleman were relative afterthoughts in the passing game, as Sarkisian failed to take advantage of mismatches in space.

 

Receiving corps: A | Julio Jones, Mohamed Sanu, Calvin Ridley, Justin Hardy, Russell Gage, Austin Hooper (TE), Logan Paulsen (TE), Eric Saubert (TE)

 

It’s just as well that big-play threat Taylor Gabriel departed for Chicago. Sarkisian never could figure out how to maximize his speed the way Shanahan did in both Cleveland and Atlanta. Billed by many as the best receiver in the draft, rookie Ridley represents the potential for a major upgrade alongside Jones and Sanu. By the end of the 2018 season, this might be the consensus pick as the top receiving corps in football.

 

Offensive line: B

Guard play was an issue last year.

 

5) Los Angeles Chargers

Quarterback: B+ | Philip Rivers, Geno Smith, Cardale Jones

 

Rivers’ MVP campaign was gaining steam until a three-interception performance halted the Bolts’ AFC West hopes in Week 15.

 

Backfield: B | Melvin Gordon, Austin Ekeler, Justin Jackson, Derek Watt

 

Gordon rushed for a career-high 1,105 yards, but managed to reach the century mark just twice behind an offensive line that didn’t gel until late in the season. Although the undrafted Ekeler emerged as a weapon in the passing game, the Chargers don’t have a proven three-down backup behind Gordon.

 

Receiving corps: A- | Keenan Allen, Tyrell Williams, Mike Williams, Travis Benjamin, Dylan Cantrell, Hunter Henry (TE), Virgil Green (TE), Sean McGrath (TE)

 

It’s no coincidence that Rivers’ aerial attack hit its stride once Henry replaced a declining Antonio Gates in the starting lineup.

 

Offensive line: B

 

The Chargers allowed the fewest sacks in the league last season, due in large part to Rivers’ pre-snap wizardry. If the pass protection was solid, the run blocking left a lot to be desired.

 

THE NEXT FIVE

 

6) Green Bay Packers

Quarterback: A | Aaron Rodgers, Brett Hundley, DeShone Kizer

Backfield: B | Aaron Jones, Jamaal Williams, Ty Montgomery, Devante Mays, Aaron Ripkowski

Receiving corps: B+ | Davante Adams, Randall Cobb, Geronimo Allison, Trevor Davis, Michael Clark, J’Mon Moore, Marquez Valdes-Scantling, Equanimeous St. Brown, Jimmy Graham (TE), Lance Kendricks (TE)

Offensive line: B

 

7) Philadelphia Eagles

Quarterback: A- | Carson Wentz, Nick Foles, Nate Sudfeld

Backfield: B | Jay Ajayi, Darren Sproles, Corey Clement, Donnel Pumphrey, Wendell Smallwood

Receiving corps: B+ | Alshon Jeffery, Nelson Agholor, Mike Wallace, Mack Hollins, Markus Wheaton, Zach Ertz (TE), Dallas Goedert (TE), Richard Rodgers (TE)

Offensive line: A-

 

8) Los Angeles Rams

Quarterback: B | Jared Goff, Sean Mannion, Brandon Allen

Backfield: A- | Todd Gurley, Malcolm Brown, Justin Davis, John Kelly, Sam Rogers

Receiving corps: B | Brandin Cooks, Robert Woods, Cooper Kupp, Josh Reynolds, Pharoh Cooper, Mike Thomas, Tyler Higbee (TE), Gerald Everett (TE)

Offensive line: B+

 

9) Minnesota Vikings

Quarterback: B | Kirk Cousins, Trevor Siemian, Kyle Sloter

Backfield: B | Dalvin Cook, Latavius Murray, Mack Brown, C.J. Ham

Receiving corps: A- | Adam Thielen, Stefon Diggs, Kendall Wright, Laquon Treadwell, Tavarres King, Kyle Rudolph (TE), David Morgan (TE), Tyler Conklin (TE)

Offensive line: B-

 

10) Detroit Lions

Quarterback: B+ | Matthew Stafford, Jake Rudock, Matt Cassel

Backfield: B- | LeGarrette Blount, Kerryon Johnson, Theo Riddick, Ameer Abdullah, Dwayne Washington, Zach Zenner, Nick Bawden

Receiving corps: B+ | Marvin Jones, Golden Tate, Kenny Golladay, T.J. Jones, Jace Billingsley, Luke Willson (TE), Michael Roberts (TE), Levine Toilolo (TE)

Offensive line: B

 

* * * * *

 

OFFENSES KNOCKING ON THE DOOR: Houston Texans, Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Kansas City Chiefs, San Francisco 49ers.

 

 

NFC NORTH

 

DETROIT

Dave Birkett of the Detroit Free Press says a pair of former Lions video department employees have responded to their firing with a law suit.

 

Two former Detroit Lions employees who claim they experienced unequal treatment and disparaging comments because of their race have filed suit against the team, alleging they were fired because of racial and age discrimination.

 

Robert Yanagi, the Lions’ long-time director of video operations, and assistant video director Michael Richardson filed a lawsuit in Wayne County Circuit Court last month seeking damages in excess of $25,000 for being terminated in January “without justification.”

 

The Lions released a statement on Tuesday afternoon, saying, “we are aware of the report. Because the report involves ongoing litigation, it would be inappropriate for us to comment at this time.”

 

Yanagi, a 58-year-old man of Japanese descent, responded to requests for comment Tuesday. Richardson, a 52-year-old African-American, could not be reached for comment.

 

The Lions fired both Yanagi and Richardson in January, while retaining two video assistants, and replaced them in February with former Syracuse and Indianapolis Colts video director Erik Kunttu.

 

New Lions coach Matt Patricia was a graduate assistant at Syracuse in 2001-03, during Kunttu’s time as the school’s director of video operations.

 

According to the suit, which also names the NFL as a defendant, Richardson complained to the Lions’ human resources department last December that he was subjected to “racist comments by an employee in the Detroit Lions scouting department and disparate treatment by an employee” of the team’s operations department.

 

In the same meeting, Richardson said that Yanagi previously asked the same employee to “stop making jokes about his race,” the filing says.

 

Days after Richardson’s complaint, Lions general manager Bob Quinn met with Richardson and acknowledged his complaint of race discrimination, the suit says, while also raising “concerns about Richardson’s work performance.”

 

The suit states that Quinn solicited feedback from Lions coaches about Richardson’s work after his complaint, and that Richardson scored a 2.8 out of 5, with “one of the coaches that Richardson had complained” about giving him a score of 1 in every category.

 

Yanagi also reported to human resources that Quinn “treated him differently because of his race and therefore he was concerned about losing his job,” according to the lawsuit.

 

The suit does not provide any specific examples of how Yanagi was treated differently.

 

“There were comments made about both of my clients in regards to their race,” said Angela Mannarino, the attorney for both men. “It was commonplace for comments to be made of that nature and that’s why Michael went to HR and made the complaint about what was going on because it made him very uncomfortable. And then Robert supported his complaint, supported what he was saying, and then shortly thereafter they’re both out the door.”

 

Mannarino said the employee who Yanagi and Richardson claim made the racially insensitive comments was “a newer employee,” but declined to name the employee or to specify what was said.

 

“We’ve filed a complaint, we’ve served it on both the Lions and the NFL so right now we’re just kind of waiting for them to respond, whether that would be an answer to the complaint or some other response,” Mannarino said. “I don’t know how they’re going to go about that. And then after that, our hope is to start litigating the case, get some discovery, take some depositions of some of the folks that were involved in this situation.”

 

NFC SOUTH

 

NEW ORLEANS

The Saints will be without RB MARK INGRAM of the first four games of 2018 as he has been suspended for the use of performance-enhancing drugs.  This, as he demands a raise.  Michael David Smith of ProFootballTalk.com:

 

Saints running back Mark Ingram has been suspended for four games for violating the league’s PED policy, which is a curious time to ask for a pay raise. But that’s apparently what Ingram is doing.

 

Ian Rapoport of NFL Network reports that Ingram wants a new contract and will not participate in any of the Saints’ voluntary offseason work. Rapoport also suggested the Saints may have talked about trading Ingram.

 

Realistically, there’s no way the Saints are going to give Ingram a raise after he just got suspended. Ingram has one more year on his contract, with a base salary of $4 million, which will now be a little over $3 million because he’ll lose four weeks’ pay with the suspension.

 

The emergence of Alvin Kamara makes Ingram less important to the Saints’ offense. Ingram will turn 29 this year, and the Saints are likely to let him play out his contract and test free agency next year. That’s when he’ll find out if he’s worth more money than the Saints are paying him.

 

NFC WEST

 

SEATTLE

LB CLIFF AVRIL may be pursuing a radio career since being cast aside by the Seahawks, but he also has remained open to continuing on the field.  Charean Williams of ProFootballTalk.com:

 

Cliff Avril found another job but is he retired? When 950 KJR-AM announced it hired Avril earlier Tuesday, the station referred to Avril’s “next chapter.”

 

So why did Avril later go on SiriusXM NFL Radio and crack open the door?

 

The former Seahawks defensive end said “a few” NFL teams have contacted him to inquire about his availability. But he will have to get clearance from a doctor to continue playing after his neck injury last season.

 

“But for me it’s all about just seeing what the doc says,” Avril said. “I’m not really too concerned about where I might end up or anything like that. I actually just told everybody that I’m going to be working at a radio station, KJR 950 in Seattle. We’ll see how it shakes out, though.

 

“I’m definitely ready [to move on if the doctor recommends as much]. I’ve had about eight months now to kind of wrap my brain around it. My wife and I, we’ve been talking about it. We talk about it pretty much every other week, just understanding, ‘Hey, if you’re not going to play anymore, what’s next? Start preparing yourself for that.’ And that’s kind of where I’m at right now. I’m OK if I’m not able to play ball. If the doctor tells me, ‘Hey, you should definitely reconsider not playing,’ I’m OK with that at this point of my career.”

 

 

THIS AND THAT

 

 

FORMER PLAYERS

A setback in Johnny Manziel’s comeback, whether actual or perceived.  ESPN.com:

 

Former NFL quarterback Johnny Manziel was hospitalized Monday for a “reaction” to a prescription.

 

On Instagram, Manziel posted: “Thank you for your concern and kind messages. Unfortunately I had a reaction to an increased dosage in Lithium which I take for my Bipolar disorder. It was a scary moment and I’m especially grateful for the staff at the hospital and all that they’ve done in the last 24 hours.”

 

Denise Michaels, a Manziel spokesperson, told ESPN’s Kevin Seifert on Tuesday that her client was “fine.”

 

According to TMZ Sports, Manziel was hospitalized in Humble, Texas, on Monday night.

 

After being released by the Cleveland Browns in March 2016, Manziel plunged into a spiral of substance abuse that he often chronicled on social media. He was diagnosed with bipolar disorder and has been treated for depression.

 

Manziel, 25, won the Heisman Trophy at Texas A&M in 2012. He is attempting a comeback in professional football. He played in the developmental Spring League in April and has a standing offer from the CFL’s Hamilton Tiger-Cats.

 

 

UPCOMING QB PAYDAYS

Dan Graziano of ESPN.com calculates some future QB paydays:

 

When records are set, our attention immediately turns to the breaking of those records. Ryan’s deal sets new benchmarks for quarterback contracts to come, and with Aaron Rodgers, Russell Wilson and a slew of exciting young quarterbacks up for new deals in the next couple of years, Ryan’s deal is the new target for those players (and their agents) to beat.

 

As of now, there’s no reason not to expect the ceiling for quarterback salaries to continue rising. No one knows for sure what sorts of salary-cap growth and rules await the NFL beyond the 2020 expiration of the current collective bargaining agreement, but the fact that Ryan’s deal runs three years into that uncharted future indicates that the league isn’t overly concerned.

 

So with that in mind, here’s a year-by-year look at significant expiring QB contracts, sorted by when they expire (assuming all fifth-year options on rookie quarterback contracts get picked up). Hopefully, it gives you a roadmap to use as you follow the record-breaking deals to come.

 

2020

Expiring contracts: Aaron Rodgers, Russell Wilson, Dak Prescott, Jameis Winston, Marcus Mariota, Case Keenum, Tom Brady, Ben Roethlisberger, Eli Manning, Philip Rivers, Drew Brees

 

Most likely to pass Ryan: Rodgers, obviously, but what’s interesting here is that Rodgers and the Packers seem to want to do the extension this offseason, with two years left on his current deal, as opposed to waiting until the 2019 offseason, as most of these other guys likely will. If Wilson has another MVP-caliber year in Seattle, he could be in a position next year to break whatever records Rodgers sets with his deal this summer.

 

2018 is a big year for: Prescott. Because Prescott wasn’t a first-round pick, the Cowboys don’t have the fifth-year option that the Eagles hold on Carson Wentz and the Rams on Jared Goff, Prescott’s fellow 2016 draft picks. That means Dallas’ decision on Prescott comes sooner than those will, and he likely will be looking for an extension next summer in advance of the final year of his deal. It’s hard to believe he has anything to worry about, but if he declines at all this season, he might cost himself a chance to join the top tier of QB salaries.

 

Keep an eye on: Brady. The old guys on this list — Brady, Roethlisberger, Manning, Rivers and Brees — all could be in position to retire at (or before) the ends of their current deals. If any of them gets an extension in the next couple of years, it likely would be a short-term deal similar to the past two that Brees signed. But Brady is the only one who has played in the past two Super Bowls, and he just won the MVP award. It wouldn’t be shocking to see Brady get something significant added to his contract this offseason or next as a reward for continuing to perform at his historically high levels.

 

2021

Expiring contracts: Carson Wentz, Jared Goff, Cam Newton, Andy Dalton, Kirk Cousins, Blake Bortles, Ryan Tannehill

 

Most likely to pass Ryan: Cousins will be working off the highest number, as his current deal averages $28 million a year, while Wentz’s and Goff’s average more like $13 million, assuming fifth-year options in the $25 million range. But the pick here is Wentz, assuming a return to full health following his knee injury. He was in line to contend for and possibly win the league’s MVP award in his second season before he got hurt, and a return to that form would position Wentz as the most likely quarterback to set the standard when these extensions come due in two years.

 

2018 is a big year for: The Florida guys. The Dolphins didn’t draft a first-round quarterback, as many thought they might, but they can escape Tannehill’s deal at year’s end if they want. He is coming off a torn ACL and needs to produce at a high level to prove he’s worth his current salary, let alone another big deal. Bortles’ new contract keeps him safe for 2018 and probably 2019, as well, but he needs to show greater consistency to avoid a situation in which the Jaguars start thinking about better options.

 

Keep an eye on: Newton. If he’s to score another big-money extension two offseasons from now, when he turns 31, he’s going to have to continue to prove he can hold up. So far, so good, but as long as Newton keeps running as much as he does and taking more hits than any other quarterback does, there will be long-range concerns about his ability to last. Another two years of surviving the pounding will cement Newton’s case for a big late-career deal.

 

2022

Expiring contracts: Andrew Luck, Joe Flacco, Deshaun Watson, Patrick Mahomes, Mitchell Trubisky

 

Most likely to pass Ryan: It’s based on a small sample size, but we’ll say Watson, who before his injury last year looked positively electrifying as the Texans’ starting quarterback. Of the young guys on this list, he has shown the most so far. And the two veterans — Luck and Flacco — have major question marks at this point in their careers.

 

2018 is a big year for: Flacco. The Ravens’ drafting of Lamar Jackson in the first round sped up the clock on Flacco’s time in Baltimore. They can get out of his deal with some cap relief after this year or with a ton of cap relief after next year. Flacco is scheduled to make an average of $21 million per year in the three years that follow 2018, and it’s hard to see the Ravens paying that unless his performance drastically improves and/or Jackson’s development is slow.

 

Keep an eye on: Luck. After missing the entire 2017 season with a shoulder injury, Luck is still working his way back. The Colts are saying all the right things (even though Luck still has yet to throw a football, which feels like a key step), but until Luck is on the field and looking like his old self, there’s no way to trust it. Luck has half of his $12 million 2019 roster bonus fully guaranteed and the other half guaranteed against injury, but his $9.125 million salary in 2019 is not guaranteed, nor are his 2020 or 2021 salaries. This guy has to come back healthy this year or else he might not get to finish his current contract, let alone get a big new one.

 

2023

Expiring contracts: Jimmy Garoppolo, Alex Smith, Derek Carr, Matthew Stafford, Baker Mayfield, Sam Darnold, Josh Allen, Josh Rosen, Lamar Jackson

 

Most likely to pass Ryan: Garoppolo! He has never lost a game! Keep that up and his current deal is going to look like the greatest bargain in sports history by the time he’s looking for a new one four years from now. Seriously, though, Jimmy G is only 26, which means he’ll be 30 when it’s time to do his extension. And there’s obviously no way to forecast the five rookies who have yet to play.

 

 

2018 is a big year for: Carr. He is a year older than Garoppolo, and he signed his first extension last summer. But Carr struggled a bit in 2017, and the Raiders signal-caller could use a bounce-back season if he’s to start justifying the faith the team put in him. New coaching staff, a franchise move in the works … lots going on around Carr right now.

 

Keep an eye on: Jackson. Will the Ravens find ways to get him on the field as a rookie, even while Flacco is still there? Are they redesigning their offense in a way that will fit Jackson’s skills? And if so, how long will that take? Jackson offers breathtaking upside unlike any of his fellow 2018 first-rounders. But he also offers greater mystery about what he can become at the NFL level, which is why he didn’t go until the end of the round.

 

2024

Expiring contract: Matt Ryan.

 

 

2014 DRAFT

Andy Benoit of TheMMQB.com looks at how the 2014 draft has shaken out.  The whole things is here.  Edited version below (list of players usually limited to first three rounds, whole thing at link).

 

Draft grades are inherently flawed, but we like them anyway. (I’m guilty, too. I did SI’s draft grades this year and found the process surprisingly fun.) The biggest gripe about draft grades is that nobody really knows how draft picks will develop, and so how can we grade them before we know what they’ve become?

 

That’s immensely fair, but it’s also just part of the issue. The 2014 draft—where we now do know what has become of the players—still has loads of unknowns that should factor into the team’s “grade.” For example:

 

• Do we grade a team down if a player has battled injuries?

 

• Do we grade a team up if, say, a sixth-round pick becomes a star? If the team knew that player would be a star, it would have picked him before the sixth.

 

• What if the player’s team lost guys at supporting positions? How do we grade the pick of a running back whose offensive line gets hurt or decimated by cap-saving moves in his second season?

 

If a player busts, how do we know it’s because he was a bad pick? What if he had bad coaching? What if someone else at his position overachieved and stole his practice reps? What if the coaching staff changed and the new staff’s scheme didn’t fit the player? What if the player all the sudden stopped working hard once he got rich—how much responsibility does the GM hold for that? Some, sure (the GM should have done his homework, right?). But certainly not all the responsibility. When a good player becomes a bad player, nine times out of 10 it’s the player’s fault, not the GM’s or head coach’s.

 

It’s impossible to consider all these factors and then assign a grade. So, what you see below is more an examination of how a draft turned out, as opposed to how it was conducted. With big moves in Rounds 1 and 2, we can play the woulda/coulda/shoulda game (demeriting the Bills for trading up to get Sammy Watkins in a draft that also had Mike Evans, Odell Beckham Jr. and Brandin Cooks, for example), but most of the woulda/coulda/shouldas will be left on the table, where they belong.

 

So, with those (many) caveats, here are grades on the 2014 NFL draft, thanks to some substantial help from hindsight.

 

ARIZONA CARDINALS

Round 1 (27 overall). Deone Bucannon, SS, Washington State

2 (52). Troy Niklas, TE, Notre Dame

3 (91). John Brown, WR, Pittsburg State

 

Deone Bucannon has been somewhat of a revolution, moving from safety to linebacker. “Smaller-but-faster” at that position can work in today’s NFL, where so many runs take place out of three-receiver sets, and where so many teams throw the ball on first and second down. Bucannon has not set the world on fire, but he’s had enough success to inspire the Rams to trade for Mark Barron, the Falcons to draft Deion Jones early in the second round and, most recently, the Steelers to take a big flyer on Virginia Tech safety Terrell Edmunds late in the first round.

Grade: C

 

ATLANTA FALCONS

Round 1 (6 overall). Jake Matthews, T, Texas A&M

2 (37). Ra’Shede Hageman, DT, Minnesota

3 (68). Dezmen Southward, FS, Wisconsin

4 (103). Devonta Freeman, RB, Florida State

 

Three quality starters were found in this draft, though only one at the spot you’d expect: first-round pick Jake Matthews. His long-term contract after playing out this year’s fifth-year option will be an interesting one. Matthews is not consistent enough to be deemed elite, but he’s certainly reliable at what’s still a premium position. In many respects, he is a younger Nate Solder, who just signed with the Giants for $34.8 million guaranteed. The Falcons just spent $100 million guaranteed on Matt Ryan. Would they pay one-third of that on an insurance policy to protect him?

 

Devonta Freeman—one of the two surprising starters—recently had his own interesting contract situation, but it was solved with a five-year, $41.25 million deal, with $22 million guaranteed. Some would deem that a lot for a 26-year-old back, especially when some in the organization believe that his 25-year-old backup, Tevin Coleman, who has one year left on his cheap deal, is better. Freeman doesn’t quite have the size to be a true bellcow… would the Falcons invest another $20-plus million guaranteed to retain Coleman? Both bring valuable flexibility to the passing game, and, stylistically, they fit Atlanta’s outside zone scheme.

 

The third starter is Ricardo Allen, who was drafted as a cornerback and has become one of the league’s top dozen free safeties.

Grade: B

 

BALTIMORE RAVENS

Round 1 (17 overall). C.J. Mosley, ILB, Alabama

2 (48). Timmy Jernigan, DT, Florida State

3 (79). Terrence Brooks, FS, Florida State

 

Ozzie Newsome’s love for Alabama players paid off with C.J. Mosley. He’s not flawless, but he brings range and playmaking as a run defender and, perhaps more importantly, as a zone pass defender. He should be signed to a healthy second contract. Timmy Jernigan has also panned out, though more in Philly than Baltimore.

Grade: B-

 

BUFFALO BILLS

Round 1 (4 overall). Sammy Watkins, WR, Clemson

2 (44). Cyrus Kouandjio, T, Alabama

3 (73). Preston Brown, ILB, Louisville

 

Sammy Watkins, at the time, was nearly the consensus best wideout in this draft, and Bills GM Doug Whaley, with a callow E.J. Manuel at QB, needed to buttress his 2013 second- and third-round picks—possession guy Robert Woods and speedster Marquise Goodwin—with a true No. 1. All three receivers have become quality starters… unfortunately, for other teams.

 

Whaley traded his 2015 first-and fourth-round picks to move up from No. 9 to draft Watkins at 4. That expensive package hurts even more considering that first-rounders taken after slot 9 include Odell Beckham Jr., Brandin Cooks and Kelvin Benjamin (whom Buffalo acquired from Carolina last year for third- and seventh-round picks).

 

Cyrus Kouandjio was a gamble that didn’t pan out.

 

Preston Brown became a starter, though a wildly average one

Grade: D-

 

CAROLINA PANTHERS

Round 1 (28 overall). Kelvin Benjamin, WR, Florida State

2 (60). Kony Ealy, DE, Missouri

3 (92). Trai Turner, G, LSU

 

The logic behind the Kelvin Benjamin pick was excellent: Cam Newton is not a precision passer, and when he misses, it tends to be high. So they got him a long-armed, 6′ 5″, 245-pound target. Benjamin’s career wound up being up and down, and he was traded to Buffalo by interim GM Marty Hurney three months after GM Dave Gettleman was fired. In exchange, the Panthers received third- and seventh-round picks in 2018.

 

Kony Ealy had both his coming out and going away party in Super Bowl 50, where he recorded three sacks and an interception. Instead of turning into Carolina’s newest D-line star, he was off the roster after 2016. He’s now a rotational player in Dallas after spending last year with the Jets.

 

Bene Benwikere was a rising slot corner but then broke his leg in 2015 and in 2016

 

So what you have: five players who were good for a minute (and longer, in Turner’s case), but not at the same time. Just another example of how the draft is a crapshoot.

Grade: C

 

CHICAGO BEARS

Round 1 (14 overall). Kyle Fuller, CB, Virginia Tech

2 (51). Ego Ferguson, DT, LSU

3 (82). Will Sutton, DT, Arizona State

 

This turned out to be the last draft in GM Phil Emery’s three-year tenure. It was a sandwich with great bread and bad meat. The first and last picks have become long-term starters at key positions. Everyone else spoiled, some quickly, others gradually. The Bears learned how much they value Kyle Fuller when their division rival Packers tried to sign him in free agency.

 

Charles Leno is just one of four current starting left tackles who was acquired in the seventh round or later

Grade: C

 

CINCINNATI BENGALS

Round 1 (24 overall). Darqueze Dennard, CB, Michigan State

2 (55). Jeremy Hill, RB, LSU

3 (88). Will Clarke, DE, West Virginia

 

Few zone-oriented defensive teams draft corners in the first round, let alone develop them from the bench their first two years. That’s precisely what the Bengals did with Darqueze Dennard. And, notably, with Dre Kirkpatrick two years before him and William Jackson two years after him. All three men remain on the roster, with Dennard the nickel slot. That’s an ancillary cornerback role, but by only a slim margin. Dennard is an important player in Marvin Lewis’s defense.

– – –

Overall, this wasn’t an awful draft, but for a team with a stable coaching staff and, consequently, a well-defined scheme and identity, you’d like to see more value in the high-middle rounds.

Grade: C

 

CLEVELAND BROWNS

Round 1 (8 overall). Justin Gilbert, CB, Oklahoma State

1 (22). Johnny Manziel, QB, Texas A&M

 

This was the first year of the short-lived Ray Farmer, Mike Pettine Era. Despite finding an upper-tier starting guard in Round 2 (Joel Bitonio), a quality three-down linebacker with speed in Round 3 (Christian Kirksey) and what, for a few years anyway, was a solid running back later in Round 3 (Terrance West), this is one of the worst drafts in recent memory, thanks to is the worst first-round in history.

Grade: D-

 

DALLAS COWBOYS

Round 1 (16 overall) Zack Martin, T, Notre Dame

2 (34). Demarcus Lawrence, LB, Boise State

 

The Zack Martin pick was made by Jerry Jones’ son Stephen—Jerry later lectured him about choosing the guard over Rockstar quarterback Johnny Manziel. The exact quote: “Son, I hope you’re happy. But let me tell you something: You don’t get to own the Cowboys, you don’t get to do special things in life, by making major decisions going right down the middle. And that was right down the middle.”

 

It was right down the middle like a bowling ball on a strike—an analogy that’s extra ripe considering how Manziel’s career wound up in the gutter. Martin has become arguably the game’s best guard, and arguably the best player on what is inarguably football’s best offensive line.

 

The Cowboys knocked down all 10 pins on the Demarcus Lawrence pick, too.

– – –

Getting stars at Picks 1 and 2 is enough to make most drafts an A. But the rest of this draft—which, granted, had five seventh-round picks—amounted to nothing long-term.

Grade: B+

 

DENVER BRONCOS

Round 1 (31 overall). Bradley Roby, CB, Ohio State

2 (56). Cody Latimer, WR, Indiana

 

Bradley Roby became an instant contributor and was integral to Denver’s 2015 Super Bowl run. (And that Super Bowl itself. A huge tactical factor in that game was defensive coordinator Wade Phillips subbing Roby in for a safety. Roby and fellow corners Chris Harris and Aqib Talib all played solo coverage from there, giving Denver enough bodies to eliminate Carolina’s running game out of three-receiver sets.) Presumably, one reason GM John Elway traded Aqib Talib to the Rams this offseason is Elway believes Roby can thrive as an every-down corner.

 

Offensively, this draft was disappointing, save for Matt Paradis, whose mobility and initial quickness off the snap perfectly fits Denver’s zone running game.

Grade: C+

 

DETROIT LIONS

Round 1 (10 overall). Eric Ebron, TE, North Carolina

2 (40). Kyle Van Noy, OLB, Brigham Young

 

Then-GM Martin Mayhew’s second of four drafts had some hits and foul balls. Eric Ebron’s route running mechanics and flexibility improved two years ago, and he finally brought to Detroit’s passing game the dimension that was expected. That never quite offset his shoddy blocking, unfortunately, which cost him playing time last season. The Lions didn’t want to keep him at the fifth-year option price of $8.25 million.

 

Kyle Van Noy, whom the Lions traded up to get, never quite fit in defensive coordinator Teryl Austin’s scheme

Grade: C+

 

GREEN BAY PACKERS

Round 1 (21 overall). Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, FS, Alabama

2 (53). Davante Adams, WR, Fresno State

3 (85). Khyri Thornton, DT, Southern Mississippi

3 (98). Richard Rodgers, TE, California

 

Ha Ha Clinton-Dix’s length, speed and stalking movement jump off on the screen on film. Many believed this would make him one of the game’s premier safeties. He hasn’t been quite that, but he is, without question, a quality starter.

 

Davante Adams was on track to bust until suddenly figuring things out in Year 3 and gradually supplanting a now-departed Jordy Nelson as Option No. 1.

 

The only other man in this draft to become a long-term starter is Corey Linsley, who grabbed the job in August 2014 when J.C. Tretter got hurt and never let go. Richard Rodgers, Jared Abbrederis and Jeff Janis all had their moments… but really, they were Aaron Rodgers’ moments that they happened to be a part of.

Grade: B

 

HOUSTON TEXANS

Round 1 (1 overall). Jadeveon Clowney, DE, South Carolina

2 (33). Xavier Su’a-Filo, G, UCLA

3 (65). C.J. Fiedorowicz, TE, Iowa

3 (83). Louis Nix, DT, Notre Dame

 

For his first two years Clowney looked like an injury-prone bust, but he’s since stayed healthy and will soon be the NFL’s highest-paid defensive player.

 

They did not get a good return on Xavier Su’a-Filo (and) Concussions have truncated C.J. Fiedorowicz’s career, but even when healthy, one thing we always said about this offense is it could sure use a good tight end. Fiedorowicz never quite fulfilled his pass-catching potential.

 

…The only other pick after Fiedorowicz who truly panned out was Andre Hal, who converted from cornerback to safety a few years ago, bringing valuable flexibility to Houston’s foundational matchup zone coverages.

Grade: C-

 

INDIANAPOLIS COLTS

Round 2 (59 overall). Jack Mewhort, T, Ohio State

3 (90). Donte Moncrief, WR, Mississippi

 

Their 2014 first-round pick went to Cleveland in exchange for running back Trent Richardson, who had shown nothing as a pro but everything as a prospect out of Alabama.

– – –

How you grade this draft depends on whether you include the Richardson trade. For the sake of sensationalism, let’s include it.

Grade: D+

 

JACKSONVILLE JAGUARS

Round 1 (3 overall). Blake Bortles, QB, Central Florida

2 (39). Marqise Lee, WR, USC

2 (61). Allen Robinson, WR, Penn State

 

Meet one of the trickiest drafts you’ll ever grade. Let’s start at the top. What to do with Blake Bortles? He clearly hasn’t lived up to the expectations of a No. 3 overall pick. But he certainly hasn’t floundered, either. And his highs and lows feel too extreme to say he’s somewhere near the middle.

 

Something to keep in mind: In 2014 the Jags needed a QB (theirs were Chad Henne and Ricky Stanzi). The next two taken in this draft were Johnny Manziel and Teddy Bridgewater, neither of whom have anything close to Bortles’ arm talent. Yes, Derek Carr was available, but almost the entire NFL passed once on Carr. It’s unrealistic to think he was in serious consideration at No. 3. (Maybe the Jags could have traded down and gotten him later. But that’s the assumptive woulda/coulda/shoulda game that we’ve agreed is too frivolous to play.)

 

Bortles has become an erratic passer, due largely to his slow, elongated throwing motion (which, notably, is capped off with a low release point). The longer it takes you to throw, the greater chance of something glitching mechanically. But the Jaguars know this about Bortles, and they accommodate it with a heavy emphasis on play-action passing (a naturally slower throwing play). Accommodating such an important weakness is not ideal, certainly, but stylistically, a play-action passing game aligns naturally with the smashmouth type of offense they’ve built around Bortles.

– – –

The wide receivers taken in the second round re-complicate the discussion, though. Marqise Lee is a shifty, underneath type of receiver. That works in a quick-strike spread scheme but not quite as well in the deeper-dropback play-action game that Jacksonville should have known it would need with Bortles. Allen Robinson, a perimeter vertical threat, is perfect for a deeper-dropping play-action scheme, which is why he had 1,400 yards and 14 touchdowns in 2015. An underwhelming 2016 campaign, however, plus a torn ACL in Week 2 last year, made him too risky to re-sign. He’s now a Bear.

 

From a wide shot, this draft deserves a high grade. The first six picks became starters. That’s rare. Zoom in, though, and you see this draft’s warts.

Grade: B

 

KANSAS CITY CHIEFS

Round 1 (23 overall). Dee Ford, DE, Auburn

3 (87). Phillip Gaines, CB, Rice

 

This draft looked a lot better last spring, when Dee Ford was coming off a 10-sack season and had dominated offensive tackles in November and December with his incredible quickness. But a 2017 lost to back injuries puts his future in doubt.

Grade: B-

 

LOS ANGELES (THEN SAN DIEGO) CHARGERS

Round 1 (25 overall). Jason Verrett, CB, Texas Christian

2 (50). Jeremiah Attaochu, OLB, Georgia Tech

3 (89). Chris Watt, G, Notre Dame

 

In his second year on the job, GM Tom Telesco drafted two defenders in the first 50 picks who looked like can’t-miss products. Jason Verrett had the shiftiness and poised body control to cover any wide receiver. Jerry Attaochu, whom the Chargers dealt a fourth-rounder to move up seven spots and get, was long, thick and limber. Both fielded man-crushes from film-watchers worldwide.

 

That was after 2015. In 2016, Verrett tore his ACL and Attaochu remained stuck as a No. 3 edge rusher—a role suddenly cemented by the selection of Joey Bosa

 

As for the rest of this draft… nothing much.

Grade: C

 

LOS ANGELES (THEN ST. LOUIS) RAMS

Round 1 (2 overall). Greg Robinson, T, Auburn

1 (13). Aaron Donald, DT, Pittsburgh

2 (41). Lamarcus Joyner, CB, Florida State

3 (75). Tre Mason, RB, Auburn

 

Greg Robinson’s career was like one big heavy plop onto a whoopy cushion. He struggled at multiple positions, for multiple coaches and in multiple schemes. At 25, he’s currently an unsigned free agent.

 

Aaron Donald, the reigning Defensive Player of the Year, is whatever you’d call the opposite of Greg Robinson.

 

Tre Mason had off-field problems that his family attributed to head injuries, ending his career.

 

File this Lamarcus Joyner pick in the back of your mind. Joyner began his career as a nickel slot, but in 2017 he moved to free safety, where he played well enough to warrant a 2018 franchise tag. His 5′ 8″, 184-pound frame wouldn’t suggest it, but Joyner is a ferocious hitter. He’s also very rangy.

 

Joyner starts ahead of Maurice Alexander, who has been an adequate backup but is too limited in coverage to start. Also in that secondary was E.J. Gaines, who turned out to be a steal and went to Buffalo in 2017 as part of the Sammy Watkins trade.

 

The players who were selected after Gaines combined to play 13 NFL games, mainly on special teams. If not for that, and much, much more so for the Robinson pick, this draft would have been a solid A, maybe even an A+ if Joyner keeps ascending. But a giant whiff on the No. 2 overall selection and a disappointing third-round running back can’t be ignored.

Grade: B

 

MIAMI DOLPHINS

Round 1 (19 overall). Ja’Wuan James, T, Tennessee

2 (63). Jarvis Landry, WR, LSU

 

Ja’Wuan James and Jarvis Landry became four-year starters, but neither’s more expensive second contract will be with Miami.

 

Billy Turner had just one weakness. Unfortunately, it was blocking. He was drafted to play guard (the Dolphins were horrendously weak there in 2014, particularly on the left side with Nate Garner). He wound up playing turnstile.

– – –

How you grade this draft is a matter of philosophy: Are early-round picks who started for four years (and mostly played well) deemed a success? Or, to be successful, must an early rounder warrant a second contract? Two things complicate this question. One is that Landry and James would be gladly welcomed long-term, just not at higher-end prices. Two is the fact that the men deciding on their second deals—Football Ops VP Mike Tannenbaum and GM Chris Grier—are not the ones who drafted them. Of course, if these picks were truly great, the man who did make them (Dennis Hickey) might still be here.

Grade: C-

 

MINNESOTA VIKINGS

Round 1 (9 overall). Anthony Barr, OLB, UCLA

1 (32). Teddy Bridgewater, QB, Louisville

3 (72). Scott Crichton, DE, Oregon State

3 (96). Jerick McKinnon, RB, Georgia Southern

 

Some viewed Anthony Barr as a 3-4 outside linebacker who would rush the passer. Mike Zimmer, who had just taken over as head coach, saw him as a stack linebacker and interior blitzer in his double-A-gap scheme. It has worked out well. If the Vikings don’t eventually sign Barr to a lucrative long-term deal, someone else will.

 

We’ll never know what could have become of Teddy Bridgewater in Minnesota, but an educated guess would say “not as much as Vikings fans think.”

– – –

None of Minnesota’s other selections became notable contributors save for Shamar Stephen in a backup role.

Grade: B-

 

NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS

Round 1 (29 overall). Dominique Easley, DT, Florida

2 (62). Jimmy Garoppolo, QB, Eastern Illinois

4 (130). James White, RB, Wisconsin

 

Here’s a great illustration of why grading drafts is futile. Dominique Easley was a bust for the Patriots (an ACL injury factored), but he’s turned out to be a decent (though still somewhat underachieving) player with the Rams. Jimmy Garoppolo appears to be a franchise QB, but not with this franchise. Not because the Patriots didn’t realize what they had, but because, according to reports, their GOAT quarterback didn’t like having an heir apparent over his shoulder and so the owner made Bill Belichick trade him.

– – –

Out of principle and respect for the absurd complexity, we’re copping out and giving the Patriots a C for the Easley bust and Garoppolo saga. Then, we’re adding a reward for finding Super Bowl hero James White (an important cog in New England’s flex scheme) and another for sturdy, steadily-improved right tackle Cameron Fleming, who is now a Cowboy but started 20 games for the club when it was in a bind.

Grade: B-

 

NEW ORLEANS SAINTS

Round 1 (20 overall). Brandin Cooks, WR, Oregon State

2 (58). Stanley Jean-Baptiste, CB, Nebraska

 

How do you grade a draft that yielded a star who you didn’t keep after three years

Grade: C-

 

NEW YORK GIANTS

Round 1 (12 overall). Odell Beckham Jr., WR, LSU

2 (43). Weston Richburg, C, Colorado State

3 (74). Jay Bromley, DT, Syracuse

 

They could have taken Brandin Cooks in the first round and still connected, but Cooks isn’t a generation-defining talent. Odell Beckham Jr. makes the Giants one of the few franchises who can build around a non-quarterback superstar.

 

Weston Richburg developed into a top-third center, but instead of signing him long-term this offseason, the Giants chose to sign a more expensive left tackle in Nate Solder. Richburg got $28.5 million guaranteed from the 49ers, where he’ll bring north/south mobility and an aptitude for angles in the screen game.

Grade: B

 

NEW YORK JETS

Round 1 (18 overall). Calvin Pryor, FS, Louisville

2 (49). Jace Amaro, TE, Texas Tech

 

If you’re a “quantity over quality” believer, feast your eyes on this: twelve picks, one starter (Quincy Enunwa, the eighth pick). And, overall, just two players (the other is Dakota Dozier). That’s right, everyone else is gone.

Grade: D-

 

OAKLAND RAIDERS

Round 1 (5 overall). Khalil Mack, OLB, Buffalo

2 (36). Derek Carr, QB, Fresno State

3 (81). Gabe Jackson, G, Mississippi State

4 (107). Justin Ellis, DT, Louisiana Tech

4 (116). Keith McGill, CB, Utah

 

A Defensive Player of the Year, a franchise QB, a Pro Bowl caliber guard, a fan-favorite nose tackle and some decent depth at cornerback. Not too shabby.

 

The Mack pick at No. 5, O.K., that one was easy. With Jadeveon Clowney gone at No. 1, there were no elite edge guys to choose from. The Raiders had major needs at wide receiver, which might explain why the Bills traded up one spot ahead of them for Sammy Watkins. After that Bills trade, chances are McKenzie would have taken Mike Evans or Odell Beckham Jr. at that spot.

 

The Carr pick is what made this draft great.

 

But now we’ve drifted into that fruitless woulda/coulda/shoulda territory—probably because there was nothing to say after this blurb’s first sentence: A Defensive Player of the Year, a franchise QB, a Pro Bowl caliber guard, a fan-favorite nose tackle and some decent depth at cornerback.

Grade: A

 

PHILADELPHIA EAGLES

Round 1 (26 Overall). Marcus Smith, DE, Louisville

2 (42). Jordan Matthews, WR, Vanderbilt

3 (86). Josh Huff, WR, Oregon

 

Well, now we know that a bad draft won’t derail your Super Bowl chances four years down the road. This was Year 2 of 3 in what turned out to be, from a roster-building standpoint, the calamitous Chip Kelly Era.

Grade: D+

 

PITTSBURGH STEELERS

Round 1 (15 overall). Ryan Shazier, OLB, Ohio State

2 (46). Stephon Tuitt, DT, Notre Dame

3 (97). Dri Archer, RB, Kent State

4 (118). Martavis Bryant, WR, Clemson

 

Ryan Shazier was not necessarily the game’s best linebacker at the time of his injury, but he was certainly its most dynamic. With such speed and explosiveness, he was on his way to redefining his position. (Here’s another example, by the way, of draft grading’s futility. Shazier had fulfilled all of his promise and then some, but his career has come to a halt—perhaps permanently—with an injury suffered on the type of reckless tackle that helped get him drafted in the first round. How do you grade a draft that he headlined?)

 

After a slow start, Stephon Tuitt developed into the exact type of multidimensional interior defensive lineman Pittsburgh loves.

 

The only other contributor from this draft is Daniel McCullers, who has become a solid backup nose tackle. A grade on this one is little more than an arbitrary guess.

Grade: B

 

SAN FRANCISCO 49ERS

Round 1 (30 overall). Jimmie Ward, SS, Northern Illinois

2 (57). Carlos Hyde, RB, Ohio State

 

It’s hard to believe Jimmie Ward is entering his fifth season. His first four years have been spent at various positions, flashing various degrees of potential. That convinced the Niners to use the $8.5 million fifth-year option on him… 2018 could make or break Ward’s long-term earning power. He hasn’t fully caught on at his latest position, which is free safety in defensive coordinator Robert Saleh’s Seahawks/Jaguars style Cover 3 zone scheme.

 

Carlos Hyde, one of the league’s most underrated traditional runners, more than lived up to his draft status. But, being average in the passing game, he wasn’t an ideal fit for new head coach Kyle Shanahan’s scheme. Hyde signed with Cleveland in free agency.

– – –

Remarkably, San Francisco’s six picks after Borland turned into notable contributors. However, none ever became difference-makers, and some disappointed after showing early signs of overachievement. Most importantly, none are still on the roster.

Grade: C+

 

SEATTLE SEAHAWKS

Round 2 (45 overall). Paul Richardson, WR, Colorado

2 (64). Justin Britt, T, Missouri

 

GM John Schneider traded their first-rounder (pick 32) to Minnesota (Teddy Bridgewater) and picked up an extra second-rounder in the process. After a second trade (the Lions moving up to get linebacker Kyle Van Noy at 40), that second-rounder eventually became Paul Richardson. If Richardson delivers on the intrigue he has teased as a vertical threat, it will be in Washington, where he just signed for $16.5 million guaranteed as a free agent. (The Seahawks are hoping that recently acquired ex-Cardinal Jaron Brown can fill Richardson’s perimeter deep threat role.)

 

Justin Britt took a few years to get going but found his traction once he moved to center in 2016.

Grade: C

 

TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS

Round 1 (7 overall). Mike Evans, WR, Texas A&M

2 (38). Austin Seferian-Jenkins, TE, Washington

 

How many times has a team invested its entire draft on one side of the ball? From that perspective, the 30,000-foot view of this draft isn’t so hot. The Bucs ranked 29th in scoring in 2014, 20th in 2015 and 18th each of the past two years. Of this group, only Mike Evans panned out. He’s a bona fide No. 1 receiver who influences coverages snap after snap and, lately, can align in multiple positions. (He’s best outside but proficient in the slot.)

 

Such versatility was supposed to describe Austin Seferian-Jenkins, but he was erratic and is now with the Jaguars, who hope his two or three tantalizing outings each year can turn into… four, maybe five?

Grade: C+

 

TENNESSEE TITANS

Round 1 (11 overall). Taylor Lewan, T, Michigan

2 (54). Bishop Sankey, RB, Washington

 

Hit. Miss. Hit. Miss. Hit. Miss. That’s how this draft went. Taylor Lewan is one of the league’s more nimble pass-blockers and also happens to play with a mean streak. Bishop Sankey became nothing of a pass-blocker, which is why coaches stopped caring about his agile running

Grade: B-

 

WASHINGTON

Round 2 (47 overall). Trent Murphy, DE, Stanford

3 (66). Morgan Moses, T, Virginia

3 (78). Spencer Long, G, Nebraska

 

Washington would have had the No. 2 overall pick but it went to St. Louis as part of the Robert Griffin III trade from two years earlier. The Rams wound up taking offensive tackle Greg Robinson here, who was large and a tremendous athlete but, it turns out, a horrendous football player. (As one coach put it years later: “He could do backflips, which was incredible for such a big man, but in this game we don’t do backflips.”) Still, don’t laugh at the Rams. Other players they got in the Griffin mega deal included DT Michael Brockers, LB Aleg Ogltree and CB Janoris Jenkins, who all became high-level starters. If Washington had still owned this pick and gone defensive end with their first choice, like they did on what turned out to be the very average Trent Murphy (now in Buffalo), they would have had Khalil Mack.

 

The next few picks after Murphy were solid. Morgan Moses has evolved into a premier right tackle, particularly in pass protection. Spencer Long’s athleticism was great for Jay Gruden’s zone running game. Long recently joined the Jets in free agency. Bashaud Breeland and Ryan Grant became regular contributors, though never difference-makers. Washington’s first five picks, aside from Moses, bring us back to the philosophical question: How do you grade a draft that yielded decent players who join other teams five years later? Plus, there’s the same question we had with the Colts draft: Do we penalize a team that traded its first round pick prior to the draft?

 

Grade: C+