The 2014 NFL Draft is going to go down as one of the most hyped events on this year’s sports calendar. NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell, in his infinite wisdom, delayed the draft by about three weeks from its usual time in April, allowing his personal public relations machine, otherwise known as ESPN, to have an extra few weeks to explain just how brilliantly wrong about everything Mel Kiper and Todd McShay can be about a given subject. I only say this because they both do nothing to help anticipate what will happen, and only tell you what they think should happen. This usually makes their predictions laughably erroneous, and their mock drafts useless. As a result, personal interest stories began to trump the thing itself and all kinds of maudlin theme music playing over slow motion clips of athletes eating spaghetti with their families, while laughing and smiling, dominated the coverage. Don’t get me wrong, I love family. I love spaghetti. I even love lot’s maudlin music…but this was way, way over the top. By the end, the only thing everyone wanted to talk about was Johnny Manziel buying shots for an entire bar the night he was drafted, and Michael Sam, a 7th round pick, smooching his male partner. It was an NFL Draft for people who watch “The Bachelor”…not that there’s anything wrong with that. For purists like me, though, the football is what matters. What teams got better? What teams made mistakes that will haunt them? What teams found that player in the late rounds who might push them over the top or into contention? Who are the booms and the busts? And to the only thing that matters in the NFL…who are the winners and the losers?
A winners and losers column is a tough thing, not so much because of the content, but rather, the format. A fluid article that glides through content with airy verbiage and witty cultural references isn’t usually given to listings. Yet, we must forge on. So, let’s just start with the teams that killed it. In fact, the first winner in this entire draft isn’t a team, but an entire division. The NFC West has become the Beast of the Block, so to speak…the “Deebo” of the NFL. The Seattle Seahawks are the defending Super Bowl Champs, the San Francisco 49ers have made it to the last three NFC Championship games, while St. Louis and Arizona have improved each year under new coaches. In short, St. Louis had the best draft of any of these teams, and probably of any team in the NFL. Their first 4 picks, Greg Robinson, Aaron Donald, Lamarcus Joyner, and Tre Mason could all start on just about any team on day 1. It was a ridiculously good draft. San Francisco also did well. Their first 5 picks of…Ward, Hyde, Martin, Borland, and Thomas…pretty much ensures that they will be a team you don’t want on your schedule for the near future. This division is nasty…and induces a nauseating jealousy for all fans of other football teams. They’ve done well, and they probably will continue to do well….and I hate it. Every team in the NFC West got better in this draft.
There are two teams that, in my opinion, did well and are flying under the radar, as it were. If it is possible for a team to have the number 1 overall pick, choose well, and still have folks seem blasé about it, the Houston Texans have managed to do just that. However, don’t sleep on them. Getting Jadeveon Clowney is enough to make a draft class decent, but the Texans also picked up Su’a-Filo, Fiedorowitz, Nix, Pagan, and Alfred Blue from LSU. That is a varied wealth of talent at multiple positions. They still don’t have a QB, which is a huge problem, but this QB class wasn’t that great, anyway. Oakland is the other team I think is surprisingly left out of conversations. They picked the guys in Mack, Carr, and Gabe Jackson who will help make the team better. Notice…that’s only three players. So, why are they here? Because Oakland stinks, and getting three good players in a draft is 3 times better than what they usually do. It’s like that kid in school who always eats his boogers…and when he finally doesn’t, you have to clap him up. That’s Oakland…and this is me clapping.
There were other teams, in addition, that were winners, as tons of talent came out of the college ranks this year. The Minnesota Vikings had an A plus draft. Anthony Barr and Scott Chrichton should thrive under Mike Zimmer, and the group of Teddy Bridgewater, A.P., Cordarrelle Patterson, and Greg Jennings all on one offense is must see football television. The Baltimore Ravens cleaned up with their first 3 picks of Mosely, Jernigan, and Terrance Brooks. All starters on day 1….on a defense that is already pretty darn good. And my Atlanta Falcons acquitted themselves well, I thought. Jake Matthews will be a pro bowl Left Tackle someday, and if Ra’Shede Hageman, Dez Southward, and Devonta Freeman reach their potential, this draft could be special for my beloved Falcons. I truly believe that a ten win season isn’t out of the question.
In spite of what some might believe today, if there are winners, then by definition, there are losers. The 2014 NFL draft was no different, and the first team that comes to mind is the Dallas Cowboys. This isn’t because they necessarily did anything wrong or stupid…like taking Johnny Manziel to sit behind 100 million dollar QB Tony Romo, instantly creating a quarterback controversy…they didn’t do that…which was wise. But the Cowboys have so many holes to fill on their team, and I’m not sure their fans understand this. The Front Office does, and that’s why they went heavy on lines and secondary. Prudent moves, all…I just don’t know that the personnel they picked will give needed value later. The Buffalo Bills is another franchise that may have let an opportunity go, and I feel there pain. They gave the farm to move up and get the electric Wide Receiver, Sammy Watkins, from Clemson, and need him to be good immediately. Watkins is a special player, but just like my falcons getting Julio Jones a few years ago, it is big risk, big reward. My gut says they gave up too much. Finally, the biggest loser of this draft was the Indianapolis Colts. Last year they traded away their 1st round pick in this year’s draft to the Cleveland Browns for Running Back Trent Richardson…he has been awful, and the Colts only had five picks. That was an Oakland move.
I love the National Football League, and I love the draft. It’s exciting to watch these kids get the call that makes their dreams come true…with all of the memories of the hard work as a backdrop for all of the tears of joy shed and shared that weekend with their friends and family. It’s a fun thing to watch. As a fan, it is the catalyst for that undying belief that your team can get better, and just might have a chance to do something special in the fall. It is real life drama unfolding in real time. I’d just prefer less Ryan Seacrest kind of stuff and more Dick Butkus kind of stuff. But maybe that’s just me.
W. Michael Lawson is an alumnus of Lee University and University of Richmond. Mr. Lawson currently hosts a weekly radio show “The Strong Sauce Hour” and Co-hosts a daily sports show “The Sports Drive” on 101.3 FM/1570 AM. You can follow him on twitter @thestrongsauce.