Best Team Draft

For the first time in years, Jacksonville had a weekend where just about everything went their way.

First, the Kansas City Chiefs decided that Eric Fisher was a better offensive tackle than Luke Joeckel, allowing the player many felt was the best overall prospect in the draft to fall right into the Jaguars’ laps with the 2nd overall pick.

The Jags then wisely resisted the temptation to draft Geno Smith with the first overall selection in the second round, instead opting for FIU’s Johnathan Cyprien, who many feel will be the best safety of this year’s draft. 

From there, Jacksonville concentrated on adding speed and sizzle to their roster, highlighted by receivers Ace Sanders (also a star return man) and Denard Robinson in the fourth and fifth rounds.  The Jags did not land a quarterback (Robinson notwithstanding), but the front office took major steps to improve the team in all three facets of the game.

Most Surprising Pick

Everybody knew that Buffalo was looking for a solution at quarterback.  After all, the Bills have lacked a long-term solution at the position since Jim Kelly retired following the 1996 season. 

However, the Bills’ brass decided that none of the top QB prospects in this draft were worth taking with the 8th overall selection.  Rather than overreach, the Bills smartly decided to trade down, picking up extra picks in the second and seventh round in exchange for moving down eight spots in the first.  This trade was widely-hailed by experts, who believed that Buffalo would have no problem landing either Geno Smith or Ryan Nassib – the consensus top-rated quarterbacks in the draft – with the 16th pick.

So when it came time to pick, the Bills decided to select… E.J. Manuel?

Don’t get me wrong:  I have long been a fan of Manuel.  In fact, I have been saying for several years that he was a better quarterback than Christian Ponder, who preceded Manuel at Florida State and was the 12th pick of the 2011 NFL draft.  Manuel is a terrific leader and has the dual-threat combination that everybody nowadays is looking for in a quarterback.

But while a few mock drafts had Manuel sneaking into the bottom of the first round, nobody had him being the first signal-caller taken, and nobody had him going to the Bills.  The fact that he was the only quarterback to go in the first round makes it all the more stunning.  Either Buffalo pulled an incredible smoke screen on the NFL, or the Bills massively overreached for a player who likely would have been available later on.

A side note:  In 34 years under legendary coach Bobby Bowden, Florida State never produced a quarterback that was drafted in the first round of the NFL Draft.  In three years under Jimbo Fisher, the Seminoles already have two.

Biggest Steal (first round)    

Why in the world was Sharrif Floyd still available to Minnesota with the 23rd pick?

Floyd, a versatile defensive lineman who played both end and tackle during his time at Florida, was a consensus top-five talent whom many had pegged to go to Oakland with the 3rd overall pick.  Some thought he would be a target by Miami after they traded into the spot, but the Dolphins instead went for Oregon defensive end Dion Jordan.

No big deal, according to draft experts, as virtually every team in the top ten could use an elite-caliber defensive tackle.  But team after team – including Oakland again with the 12th pick – let him go by and led to the most inexplicable draft drop in recent memory.

The Vikings, who have a history of picking up top talents that drop in the draft, were oh so happy to snap up Floyd with the 23rd pick.  Floyd, along with fellow first rounders Xavier Rhodes and Cordarrelle Patterson, should help make Minnesota a contender in the NFC North for years to come.

Biggest Steal (late round)

I’ve already hashed out why I believe that Alabama center Barrett Jones will be one of the best picks of this year’s draft.  St. Louis landed him at 113, and I fully expect him to be the Russell Wilson of offensive linemen.

Best Trade

Truth be told, there were not that many great trades in this year’s draft.  Because of this, I have to cheat a little bit and give this award to Seattle for landing Percy Harvin from Minnesota for a late-first round pick. 

It would have been easy for the Seahawks to simply keep the 25th pick and draft the best available receiver to fill their only real weak spot.  But Harvin is already one of the NFL’s most explosive players, and at 24 he is not much older than the receivers Seattle would have chosen from in this year’s draft. 

While Harvin is something of a health risk, he is far more proven as an NFL talent.  This makes him exactly the type of player for a team that feels they are only one piece away from a run to the Super Bowl.

Worst Trade

It was not a particularly good year for teams wanting to trade down, as the combination of little high-level talent and terrific depth made teams leery of paying a ransom to move up.  But the Dallas Cowboys – a team known for draft-day trades – did an unusually poor job of moving out of the 18th spot in the first round, dropping 13 spots in the draft and picking up only an extra third round pick for their troubles.

Letsee… Oakland landed a second rounder to move down nine spots.  Buffalo landed a second and seventh rounder to move down eight.  Dallas, on the other hand, moved down further than either of those other two teams… and could not even land a second round pick.

That the Cowboys reached for Wisconsin center Travis Frederick with the 31st pick only seemed to make matters worse.

Biggest Draft Story   

Why was Manuel’s selection by the Bills such a surprise?  Mainly because every other top quarterback prospect actually came in much later than everybody was expected heading into the draft.  Geno Smith’s fall out of the first round was the most infamous case, but Mike Glennon, Matt Barkley, and Ryan Nassib also took serious tumbles after being hyped as potential first-round picks earlier in the offseason.

But quarterback was not the only skill position that got lost in the sea of linemen in this year’s draft.  No running back went in the first round for the first time since 1963, while Tavon Austin – whose selection by the Rams with the 8th pick was almost as surprising as Manuel – was the only receiver taken among the draft’s top 26 selections.

Because of this, some people believe that this year’s draft will wind up as one of the weakest in NFL history.  While that probably will not be the case, the lack of skill players will almost certainly make harder to measure the performance of this year’s crop than most other recent drafts.

Most Inspirational Pick

Few players in college football history have ever been as universally-respected as South Carolina running back Marcus Lattimore, whose season-ending knee injury against Tennessee at the end of October was mourned by fans and players across the country. 

But Lattimore has no intention of giving up on his NFL dream, putting in as much effort as anyone has ever seen in order to reach his goal of being ready to play during the first week of the season.  San Francisco coach Jim Harbaugh was sure convinced, snapping up Lattimore with the 131st pick and making him arguably the most celebrated fourth round pick in NFL history.

Do not be surprised when Lattimore winds up leading all rookie running backs in rushing yards next season.