Hindsight is always 20/20.
With the emergence of many impact rookies just five weeks into the year, now, though early, is as good a time as ever to evaluate the rookie class while poking fun at the misfortune and ineptitude of many NFL GMs. Young players are the single key to success in the NFL; loads of talent for cheap money (i.e the Seattle Seahawks) can catapult a franchise. Drafting well, as opposed to building through free agency, gives an organization it’s best chance to win on a consistent basis. But for every Seattle Seahawks example, there is an Oakland Raiders. A team that has now fired its 10th coach in just 20 years, the Raiders’ problems stem from poor drafting (First round busts in the past 15 years alone include: Darrius Heyward-Bey, JaMarcus Russell, Sebastian Janikowski, Rolando McClain, Robert Gallery, etc.) – not bad coaching.
Football talent is obvious. Just five weeks into an NFL season and re-drafting the first ten picks already looks drastically different. Here is how the top-ten would play out if each team got a mulligan today:
1. Houston Texans
2014 Draft Choice: Jadeveon Clowney
The New Pick: Teddy Bridgewater
Not to overreact too strongly to one week against a porous pass defense, but Teddy Bridgewater looks like a more mobile Matt Ryan. Before injuring his ankle of Sunday (not too severely), Teddy torched the Falcons to the tune of 317 yards and a rushing touchdown while leading the Vikings to a big home win. Criticized for his “thin knees” and poor pro day, Bridgewater showed the player he truly was coming out of Louisville – a guy fully deserving of being the top quarterback taken. What surprised me most about his first NFL start, however, was his ability to step up in the pocket, avoid pass rushers with timely jukes, and even scramble for major yardage. Despite room for improvement on his deep-ball Bridgewater is everything you (and Houston) could have wanted in a franchise quarterback and, though Clowney could turn out to be a superstar (we have no reason to believe otherwise), something tells me Houston will regret passing on Teddy – weak knees and all.
2. St. Louis Rams
2014 Draft Choice: Greg Robinson
The New Pick: Blake Bortles
What has convinced the Rams to continue to believe in Sam Bradford? It sure hasn’t been his play. Blake Bortles, despite playing with the worst team in football, appears to be an intriguing mix between Ben Roethlisberger and Jay Cutler – a big, strong quarterback with a cannon for an arm and no fear. Not only did the Rams whiff on the decision not to take a quarterback, but the took the wrong tackle, with Jake Matthews looking like a stud. Greg Robinson has yet to contribute in a game for the Rams thus far. Bortles may or may not pan out as a franchise quarterback – the early returns are good – but this is absolutely a risk the Rams should have and could have made. And Sam Bradford was stopping them?
3. Jacksonville Jaguars
2014 Draft Choice: Blake Bortles
The New Pick: Jake Matthews
With Bortles gone, taking Matthews and building from the inside out makes the most sense. Gus Bradley, the former defensive coordinator for the Seahawks, would love Matthews’ nasty run-blocking ability and uncanny technique. Matthews is as clear of a franchise left-tackle as has come out in years, and those are simply too hard to find for the Jags to pass him up. Jacksonville takes the best player available.
4. Buffalo Bills
2014 Draft Choice: Sammy Watkins
The New Pick: Sammy Watkins
Though an argument can be made for Aaron Donald or Kyle Fuller with this pick, Watkins is a stud, plain and simple. With EJ Manuel and Kyle Orton throwing him the football and no other real threat in the offense, Watkins has managed 24 receptions for 284 yards and a pair of touchdowns – hardly numbers to scoff at for a rookie, including a game with 118 yards. With a real quarterback, the sky will be the limit with the best receiver to come out of college since AJ Green. Some may argue they overpaid to be in position to take Watkins (especially now, in desperate need of a new franchise quarterback and no first round pick next year), but I applaud Buffalo for identifying their guy and aggressively pursuing him. Here’s to hoping Watkins has somebody competent throwing him the football soon.
5. Oakland Raiders
2014 Draft Choice: Khalil Mack
The New Pick: Khalil Mack
The single most dysfunctional franchise in sports may have hit a home run with this do-it-all linebacker. In desperate need of any and all semblance of talent, Mack could be a future cornerstone for a defense. Raiders GM Reggie McKenzie (maybe in an attempt to save his job) recently compared Mack to Clay Matthews – high praise. Mack will likely be compared to Clowney and Ryan Shazier throughout his career, but thus far Mack has shone above them as one of the strongest contenders for Defensive Player of the Year.
6. Atlanta Falcons
2014 Draft Choice: Jake Matthews
The New Pick: Jadeveon Clowney
Falcons fans are salivating at the dream of Clowney in red and black. Had Clowney fallen this far and become a Falcon, he might have changed the complexion of the worst defensive line in football. He would have immediately supplanted Kroy Biermann (yikes) at the best edge rusher on the team. Let it be said that the Falcons are thrilled with Jake Matthews – the was the correct pick given the situation – but Clowney would be a fantastic Plan B under this scenario. Despite injury, Clowney could be a Julius Peppers-like monstrous force for Houston for years to come and the Falcons can hardly complain with him at this spot. Clowney is still the same talent he was at South Carolina, and Houston could be scary on the defensive line when he returns.
7. Tampa Bay Buccaneers
2014 Draft Choice: Mike Evans
The New Pick: Kyle Fuller
Sure, the offense could use a boost in the passing game (ranked 30th in the league in pass yards per game), but drafting Kyle Fuller would have justified letting go of Darelle Revis and would have created a bonafide cornerback tandem with Alterraun Verner for years to come. Fuller, as many rookies do, has been consistently tested game-in and game-out, but his three interceptions already are a testament to his ability. Fuller might just be the next great cornerback in the NFL, and Tampa cannot pass that up here.
8. Cleveland Browns
2014 Draft Choice: Justin Gilbert
The New Pick: CJ Mosley
It’s tempting to want to pair Johnny Football with his old college teammate Mike Evans here, but CJ Mosley would best address the needs of Cleveland. A strong offense under the guidance of Brian Hoyer, the Browns are devoid of talent on the defensive side of the football. CJ Mosley would slide right in as the run-stopping linebacker to replace D’Qwell Jackson. Already with 49 tackles on the season, Mosley could be a key cog for a surprisingly pesky, young team.
9. Minnesota Vikings
2014 Draft Choice: Anthony Barr
The New Pick: Anthony Barr
Who could have guessed that one of the best defensive minds in football could hone the immense talent of a standout athlete with raw skills? This pick made sense on every level and looks to be paying big dividends. Mike Zimmer has released Barr in pass rushing situations and Barr has already displayed improvement by leaps and bounds. His two sacks are only a sign of things to come.
10. Detroit Lions
2014 Draft Choice: Eric Ebrons
The New Pick: Brandin Cooks
With the selection of Ebron, the Lions were looking for a weapon to deploy over the middle of the field with Megatron patrolling the sidelines. They had the right idea, only Brandin Cooks is the one to execute it. Cooks, alongside Reggie Bush, Golden Tate and Megatron, would have helped form one of the three or four best passing offenses in the NFL. He is everything the Rams wanted Tavon Austin to be.