So the draft has had a few days to gestate. Gone is the straight forward evaluation of players and what schemes they might fit into at the NFL level. My draft guide exposes the possibilities of where they might fit and what impact they might have – but now that each player has a home I take a few moments to see who may have found the ideal home and provide Impact. For the purposes of this review I’ve looked at all 7 rounds, which teams they are going to, and how each team, reportedly, intends to use the player. Value counts in this review but that does not mean you won’t see a few notable first rounders and I’ve tried to provide the most detailed view possible.
12. Keenan Allen WR San Diego Chargers (3rd Round CAL)
I had Keenan as the 43rd best overall player in this draft. Allen went in the middle of round 3 (76th overall). He’s not stopwatch fast but he is powerful and an excellent route runner. He also brings ball security and surhandedness to a team that really could use it. After they lost Vincent Jackson last season the Chargers flooded their receiving corps with fast downfield threats to take advantage of Phillip River’s big arm. However, they forgot to add in a steady option who was reliable and that burden was too much for Antonio Gates to bear alone. Right now Allen is penciled in behind Malcom Floyd and oft-injured Denario Alexander, but don’t be shocked if Allen finds his way into the starting lineup before too long. I didn’t and don’t think Allen is ever a true blue #1 dominating WR but I think San Diego will be the perfect spot for him to excel as a starting #2, over the long term expect similar value for the Chargers that Mike Williams brings to the Bucs.
11. Menelik Watson OT Oakland Raiders (2nd Round, 42nd Overall Florida St)
Shame on any team who failed to take an offensive lineman in this draft. The depth was exceptional as was the elite talent. Watson is a late first round pick in any other draft and after years of taking speedy players only the Raiders are finally moving towards fixing an offensive line that has handicapped their speed for years. Watson should start at right tackle but don’t be surprised if he shoves Jared Veldheer to the bench at left tackle. The Raiders got a good value player here on a pick obtained from the Dolphins for moving back and grabbing the player in round 1 they wanted anyway.
10. Matt Elam SS Baltimore Ravens (1st Round 32nd Overall Florida)
It won’t be easy to be compared to Future Hall of Famer Ed Reed for your entire career but I think Elam is one of the few who can bear that burden. Elam has quality straight line speed and handled slot receivers at Florida. He is the kind of player who can contribute big turnover splash plays as well. He is also a very good in the box physical player and will probably be one of the most uniquely utilized players in this draft. He is a huge upgrade to James Ihedigbo and the Ravens were able to wait till the last pick of the first round to snare a unique talent. Even better, rather than their typical trade back they held firm in position knowing many teams at the top of the 2nd round were considering safety. They got a great playmaker at maximum value and now could have two decades with only two long term starters at safety.
9. Steve Means DE Tampa Bay Buccaneers (5th round , Buffalo)
I may have literally jumped up for joy when this pick was made not just because a player I had highly rated went to my hometown Bucs but because this is how you find pro-bowl caliber starters in late rounds. I won’t belabor the point (since I’ve done so many articles on it) but you basically are looking at four reasons late round picks achieve 60 starts or multiple pro bowls; Players from Non-Big 6 conferences, kickers or punters, players who were stuck behind a first round pick in a big 6 school, or players who are changing positions. Means grew up in Buffalo then signed with his hometown college hoping to play DE in what was then a 4-3 scheme.
Buffalo switched coaches and went to a 3-4, as a 5 technique end Means was woefully undersized at the point of attack but still managed to become a team captain and contribute just under 20 sacks during his time at Buffalo. High motor, from a small school, and playing out of position in college that’s a trifecta for being a diamond in the rough. When you add in his athletic ability (4.6 40-yard dash and impressive 10 yard splits) Means could be an effective edge rusher. Given our blitzing schemes I would have hoped to see him train up as an outside linebacker who could also put his hand in the dirt on pass rushing downs but I think he still represents tremendous value in round 5. In fact if you look only at measurables he has the same speed and 20 yard shuttle times as number 3 overall pick Dion Jordan; I’m not saying they have the same ability but going 144 picks later Means represents great value.
8. Lane Johnson OT Philadelphia Eagles (1st Round 4th Overall out of Oklahoma)
I can’t give them many points for value since the best spot Johnson could have gone was third overall, but if your Chip Kelly and you need mobile offensive lineman Johnson is your best bet. He is very quick and moves easily in space which gives Kelly multiple options to use him along the offensive line. No one knows exactly what Chip Kelly plans to do on offense, his exact scheme won’t be the one he ran at Oregon but also will not be your typical pro scheme. One of the problems of being creative on offense is that you need unique talents up front to maximize them Johnson gives Chip Kelly that ability and unshackles his hands.
7. Ryan Jensen C Baltimore Ravens (6th Round out of Colorado St. –Pueblo)
Jensen played LT at Colorado St. – Pueblo and was one of division II’s best tackles. However Jensen played at division II for a reason, not necessarily athletics he has quick fit and was powerful in the upper body but was probably too short to play tackle (a hair under 6’4"). Jensen also moves well enough to play guard, but doesn’t necessarily have the ideal top-line lower body strength of a mauler for a man scheme. On first thought I figured he was a late round gem who would eventually be a starter at guard for a zone blocking team. Jensen is actually going to play center however in a great deep scouting job by the Ravens staff. In addition to being a maneuverable strong upper body player, Jensen is very intelligent. With the retirement of Matt Birk, Jensen will get to compete directly with 2nd year man Geno Gradkowski for the starting center spot. If you want symmetry to Matt Birk though, Birk was a 6th round selection of Harvard of the Minnesota Vikings who went to 6 pro Bowls and was a 2 time All-Pro. If Jensen is half as successful the Ravens have a steal.
6. Robert Woods WR Buffalo Bills (2nd Round 41st Overall)
Already penciled in as a starter opposite of Stevie Johnson, Woods brings everything Johnson lacks as a receiver. Woods has decent but not elite power but comes with solid route running skills and reliable hands. We don’t know how long it will take E.J. Manuel to win the starting job in Buffalo, Kevin Kolb is expected to start the season but either way, Buffalo needs someone who is more down to down reliable than Stevie Johnson. Johnson can stretch the field deep while letting Woods work the underneath routes, this was nearly a perfect fit for Woods in terms of pairing him with another receiver. If you add that to 6’7" TE Scott Chandler, speedy C.J. Spiller out of the backfield and suddenly Buffalo has nice receiving options that an elite QB could turn into something special. They still don’t have an elite QB or an offensive line worth mentioning (Cordy Glenn should either be in the right side or at guard and the rest of their line is horrid) but their skill position players at least have something working.
5. Levine Toilolo TE Atlanta Falcons (4th Round 133rd Overall Stanford)
I’m less worried about Toilolo replacing Gonzalez than what will happen when they place both on the field at the same time this upcoming season. Toilolo is 6’8" and has really soft hands, he’s also a very solid inline blocker who could allow the Falcons to work some double tight end sets into their offense. That is likely to be a problem for the rest of the NFC South as Matt Ryan is able to take advantage of mismatches at the point of attack. Levine also gets to take his natural athletic ability and learn from one of the best players in the past 15 years in Tony Gonzalez; that’s quite scary.
4. Matt Barkley QB Philadelphia Eagles (4th Round 98th Overall USC)
The first pick of the 4th round this is the most dangerous combination of head coach and quarterback paired in the draft. Barkley’s lack of mobility and strong arm have been noted but his mental attributes rival Andrew Luck or Peyton Manning coming out. He’s a student of the game. You pair that with Chip Kelly, perhaps the greatest offensive mind of his generation and you have a pretty dangerous combination. If you doubt Kelly is the greatest offensive mind, consider that nearly every innovative Pro coach over the last few seasons has made a pilgrimage to Eugene Oregon to find out exactly how he does it. As Jon Gruden commented during the draft, he plays so fast that no one understood how he did it. Bill Belichick took time to go out there and copy some no huddle techniques which he combined with Stanford’s two tight end offense. I realize Barkley is about as well liked as Manti Te’o in some circles; but if you really don’t recognize how dangerous this pairing is, it reminds me of 1979. A shorter player with an underpowered arm who was valued mostly for his football IQ slide in the draft and got paired with the greatest offensive mind of his generation, 8 Pro Bowls , 6 All-Pro selections, two MVP’s , and three Super Bowl’s later, Joe Montana and Bill Walsh rewrote how the NFL did business. I’m not making that call, just noticing the comparison and saying NFL beware.
3. Tyler Eifert TE Cincinnati Bengals (1st Round 21st Overall Notre Dame)
Another dangerous pairing to come out of this draft is Eifert, Gresham, A.J. Green, Mohammed Sanu, and Giovani Bernard. More important is the second TE aspect of this, letting Jay Gruden and Dalton dictate how they wanted to attack your defense was always problematic. Now they get to dictate how you line up on defense. If you chose to lineup in nickel against Eifert-Gresham your likely to be run on down the middle, try to counter with your base package and suddenly A.J. Green becomes a challenging deep threat; counter with shading your safety over the top and your choices and you have to play a LB in coverage on either Eifert or Graham with no deep safety help. Thinking about how you handle that defensively; I just pray you have a pass rush and thank goodness Drew Brees is not QBing this team.
2. Shariff Floyd DT Minnesota Vikings (1st Round 23rd Overall Florida)
This is actually the best fit for both Floyd and the Vikings, Floyd is an explosive one gap penetrator who can should provide the up the middle pass rush that the Vikings have been missing for a number of years. Floyd’s epic fall was really due to a lack of pro position versatility, his short arms limited him to a 43 defense; his best skill as a one gap penetrator essentially made Floyd only a 3 technique tackle. However this is exactly the scheme he is going to end up in, in a division that has its share of Quarterbacks whose biggest liability comes when rushed up the middle. All the way around this was really a home run from the Vikings who now stand only one middle linebacker and one strong safety from having a top 5 defense.
1. Tavon Austin WR St. Louis Rams (1st Round, 8th Overall West Virginia)
The Rams FINALLY got some offensive weapons for Sam Bradford. They spent all off-season finally putting together an offense that will make them competitive in the NFC West. They added Jake Long on the left side of their line, signed tight end Jared Cook, and then top it off adding the ultra-elusive Tavon Austin as their number one gadget player. When add Austin’s home run hitting ability to the superlative route running of Brian Quick, the deep speed of Chris Givens, the good hands of Austin Pettis and suddenly an offense that couldn’t find a receiver outside of Danny Amendola suddenly starts to look potent. Thanks to Jet’s owner Woody Johnson telegraphing that the team was planning to take an "explosive dynamic quick" player at nine, the Rams knew exactly how far forward they had to trade up for Austin. If the Rams can find a runningback you have to appreciate the genius of the Rams, who have decided that given the talented corners in the NFC West, multiple weapons maybe better than one single guy. Though as one single guy, Austin should provide them with touchdowns, something they need badly. It's also why I am going out on a limb and picking the Rams to claim the NFC West this season.