Last night was an absolute roller coaster for NFL fans – one the NFL world probably would have enjoyed ending a little more quickly, but still a great ride. The draft truly is a special event that gives fans across the country immense amount of hope for the upcoming season. Whether you are a team in rebuilding, or a team that may be one player away from hoisting the Lombardy trophy, the draft is always exciting. Last night had some eye-opening picks, some head scratchers, and everything in between. This is not a list of the five best players chosen last night. Rather, this list shows the five biggest picks that best pair an organization with a draftee, not without questions. The factors that go into this list are when the player was drafted, what the team had to do to draft him, and the overall fit of the player with his new team.
5: WR Odell Beckham Jr. – New York Giants
To say that two time Super Bowl MVP Eli Manning struggled in 2013 is an overwhelming understatement. Not only did Eli lead the league in interceptions with 27, five more than second-place Carson Palmer, he posted his lowest completion percentage since 2007. To make matters worse in New York, Hakeem Nicks was lost in free agency to the Indianapolis Colts. It was hard for anyone to be sold on Rueben Randle and Mario Manningham shouldering the workload behind Victor Cruz. Apparently, the Giants were not sold either. In comes Odell Beckham Jr. – with his blazing speed, 4.43 40 time at the combine, and his ability to make unreal cuts in the open field, Beckham Jr. will fill in real nicely with the Giants. What I like most about the LSU alum is his ball skills. Playing with Eli Manning, infamous for the chuck and duck, you must be able to make adjustments while the ball is in the air and be able to make a play for it. Watching tape on Beckham Jr., a handful of his catches were very acrobatic and he almost always manages to meet the ball at its highest point. The way he attacks the ball reminds me a lot of Bears wideout Alshon Jeffery. With his big play ability in both the return game and receiving, Beckham Jr. will make an impact instantly with the Giants, and a 93.6 playmaker rating (Football Outsiders) means similar players have had great success at the professional level.
4: SS Calvin Pryor – New York Jets
Under Rex Ryan, the Jets have stayed relevant in the NFL due to their hard-nosed defense. Their rush defense is still one of the best in the league and ranked 3rd last year, allowing only 88 yards per game. Their defense against the pass did not enjoy such success. With rookie corner Dee Milliner holding down the second corner position most of last season, the Jets were torched for 246 passing yards per game, good for 22nd in the league. The Jets secondary desperately needed an upgrade, especially considering they play Tom Brady twice a year. Strong safety Calvin Pryor is just that upgrade the Jets were looking for. Pryor is an absolute ball magnet who forced nine fumbles and hauled in seven interceptions in his three seasons at Louisville. When I watched tape on Pryor, I had to double check and make sure I didn’t accidentally type in Troy Polomalu. Pryor covers the entire field, and when he delivers a hit, everyone cringes. Coach Ryan will have Pryor playing at many different positions due to his versatility to play both safety positions, his great tackling ability (100 tackles his sophomore year and 75 his senior year) and his great speed, 4.58 40 time at the combine, to stay with slot receivers and tight ends. The Jets have a shiny new toy in Pryor and I’m excited to see how they use him.
3: QB Johnny Manziel – Cleveland Browns
As a huge lover of Johnny Football, watching him slide all the way to the 22nd pick last night was heartbreaking. Bravo to Ray Farmer, who did a great job yesterday running the show for the Browns for the first time. A lot of pressure was on him to deliver in his first year as general manger and boy, did he ever. Not only did the Browns snag one of the best corners in the draft in Justin Gilbert, they traded back into the first round and took the guy they wanted all along. What I love most about this pick is the big plays that will ensue with Manziel calling the shots. Many forget that the NFL’s leading receiver last season was Cleveland’s Josh Gordon who lit up the league for 1646 yards. Gordon did not stop there. He also went on to lead the league in plays of twenty-plus yards with thirty such plays. Quickly, without looking at your phone, who the hell was throwing all these passes to Gordon? Exactly. Now, he has Manziel under center, so the big plays should continue. Not only will Manziel have Gordon to throw to, but he also has an underrated pass-catching tight end in Jordan Cameron, and nothing helps a young quarterback more than a security blanket. Cameron blew on to the scene last year, ranking third in receptions for tight ends with 80, second in yards with 917, and sixth in touchdowns with six. AFC North be warned, Manziel and the Browns are about to air it out!
2: WR Brandin Cooks – New Orleans Saints
Micky Loomis, one of the best GMs in the business, works his magic once again to move up seven spots to twenty, only losing a third round pick in the process, and selecting an offensive weapon that has Sean Payton absolutely drooling. Losing Lance Moore and Darren Sproles this offseason means a total of 108 receptions, and 1,061 yards from last season are wiped away. On top of that, the loss of Sproles took away that “offensive weapon” with no real position that Sean Payton has always had in New Orleans (Reggie Bush before Darren Sproles.) Once again, it appears the Saints have upgraded their “offensive weapon” position. Brandin Cooks ate up yards at Oregon State University, leading the entire country last year with 1,730 yards. Leading the nation in yards was not enough for him- Cooks was second in the nation in touchdowns, finding the end zone 16 times. And according to Football Outsiders’ analytics, he might just be the best receiver in the draft! How does the 5’9 wideout manage to dominate the gridiron? His blazing speed is his most important attribute. Posting the second fastest time at the combine at 4.33, Cooks will be able to blow the top off of any defense. The best part about Cooks is the attention that he will draw in the slot, which means teams wont be able to constantly double team all-pro tight end Jimmy Graham. The ball will always be spread around the Saints offense with Brees running the show, so there wont be any pressure on Cooks to deliver right away, but don’t be surprised if he blows up and earns Offensive Rookie of the Year in 2014.
1: WR Sammy Watkins – Buffalo Bills
Look at the Bills making a serious power move! Most experts agree Sammy Watkins will be an absolute force in the NFL, and the Bills know that if they want EJ Manuel to progress into a serious starter in the league he needs a stud wideout. But was giving up a first and fourth round pick in next years draft worth it? The analytics don’t exactly love him – he ranks way down at ninth out of incoming receivers in playmaker score – but his scouted tangibles are off the charts. Sammy Watkins looked like an absolute man amongst boys in college. Not a believer? Take a look at Watkins’ performance against Ohio State in last year’s Orange Bowl. Watkins destroyed the Buckeyes for 16 receptions, 227 yards and 2 touchdowns on route to a bowl win. Watkins was by no means a one game wonder, though. Last year he ranked eleventh in the nation in receptions with 101, fifth in yards with 1,464 and tenth in touchdowns with twelve. What Buffalo will love most about Watkins his freakish physicality. Watkins plays a lot bigger than he is, being listed at 6’1, 205. When he makes a catch, defenders had better be ready to wrap up, or they are getting trucked and Watkins is jogging to the end zone. And when defenders try to match his physicality and attempt to jam him at the line he will just use his 4.43 speed to blow by the defenders. There is no correct way to guard this animal – you just need to pray and hope a mistake is made. Hats off to the Bills for taking the risk and picking a man who could be an absolute superstar – we’ll have to wait and see how the move turns out.
by Sean Fener, Saint Joseph’s University