The 2015 NFL Draft is now in the books and we look forward to the real action with training camp then the regular season. It’s always tough to judge a draft class for a team until you see how the players fit on the field and with the new team that drafted them. We will look over a few positive drafts on paper from this past weekend. Obviously, how a team’s draft looks on paper does not always correlate to success on the gridiron. I believe these three teams below helped their causes heading into the 2015 campaign with the pieces they added.
The Falcons had many needs on the defensive side of the ball heading into the draft. New head coach Dan Quinn who came over from Seattle was going to address that in some way. He got his pass rusher in round 1 with Clemson’s Vic Beasley at number 8 overall. Some NFL draft pundits considered Beasley to be a reach at 8 with the Falcons drafting based on need rather than best overall player available. Beasley draws comparisons to Bruce Irvin who played with Quinn in Seattle. This led to an interesting Twitter exchange between Irvin, Ross Tucker and draft guru Mel Kiper Jr. I’ll save that story for another time. I like the pick for Atlanta with their lack of pass rush Beasley will bring that to the table right away. In the 2nd round the Falcons selected cornerback Jalen Collins from LSU at 42. Collins was projected as a potential first round pick so Atlanta found good value in this pick. He will take some time to develop, but the upside is there to pair him with Desmond Trufant. The Falcons went running back in round 3 drafting speedy Tevin Coleman out of Indiana. With the loss of Jacquizz Rodgers the team needed a change of pace type back to pair with Devonta Freeman and Antone Smith. Coleman will potentially excel on the turf at the Georgia Dome which will emphasize his speed. This gives Matt Ryan another weapon to work with. Wide receiver Justin Hardy from East Carolina was the pick in the 4thround at number 107 overall. Hardy is very underrated in my opinion and will help fill the void in the slot after Harry Douglas went to the Titans. Hardy does not have blazing speed or any physical attribute, but he does have size and knows how to get open. He will fit in nicely with Julio Jones and Roddy White. I look for Hardy as a third down type receiver to get those extra six yards for a first down. In the 5th round Grady Jarrett was selected from Clemson. Jarrett plays defensive tackle and most scouts had him graded as a third or fourth round prospect so the value is there for Atlanta who needs help up front. The 6 foot 304 pound rookie will provide a nice body inside for Quinn to utilize. He also has ties to the organization as his father Jesse Tuggle played from 1987 through 2000 with the Falcons. Atlanta closed out the draft by selecting Jake Rodgers from Eastern Washington who plays offensive tackle. Safety Akeem King from San Jose State was also selected in the 7th round with Rodgers. Overall, the Falcons did a very nice job of recognizing their weaknesses and attacking them in this draft. Of course this means nothing if the players they selected turn out to be busts, but I like what Atlanta did in this draft especially through the first four rounds.
New York Jets
Another first year head coach Todd Bowles with the Jets had a successful draft as well from my perspective. The first round pick at number 6 overall was a steal in defensive tackle Leonard Williams from USC who is arguably the best player in the draft. If the Jets decide not to trade Mo Wilkerson despite the rumors they will have themselves an absolute beast of a front line. Williams would pair with Wilkerson and Sheldon Richardson to give AFC East offensive lines fits. Nose tackle Damon Harrison is nothing to sneeze at either. Bowles got himself a player that is all business and will fit in great with the type of defense he’s trying to run. The Jets had a chance at snagging West Virginia wideout Kevin White who went right after to the Bears at 7. Instead they added Ohio State speedster Devin Smith in the 2ndround with number 37 overall. Smith brings a vertical threat to a wide receiver corps which already includes Eric Decker, Brandon Marshall and Jeremy Kerley. Smith was a fringe first rounder so grabbing him at 37 was a great pick up by Gang Green. He will not be forced to play a lot of snaps from day one and will also learn from the other vets on the roster. Now whether Geno Smith or Ryan Fitzpatrick can get the ball downfield is another question in itself. The third round selection was outside linebacker Lorenzo Mauldin from Louisville at number 82 overall after New York traded down from pick 70 with Houston. Wide receiver Devier Posey was also a part of the trade from the Texans and is a nice depth acquisition. Mauldin will provide the Jets with an outside pass rush and much needed youth to the position currently held by mostly veterans on the roster. He will get a chance to learn from Calvin Pace and Quinton Coples, I will not include Jason Babin. The Jets traded up to pick 103 in the 4th round and selected quarterback Bryce Petty from Baylor. Petty slipped longer than most draft experts expected him too. This is a pretty good spot for the rookie signal caller as he can sit and learn without being thrown right into action. Most around the league agree that Petty will need time to develop and in time could be a quality NFL quarterback. The value was there with this pick for the Jets in round 4. Offensive guard Jarvis Harrison from Texas A&M was taken with the 152nd pick in the 5th round. Harrison will have a chance to compete for a roster spot to begin with and potentially starting playing time during the season. The interior of the Jets o-line is mostly older except for James Carpenter who was signed from the Seahawks. New York rounded out it’s draft class with defensive tackle Deon Simon from Northwestern State in the 7th round. Simon is in a tough spot as the Jets are loaded up front, but he could stick on the practice squad. A late trade in day three was completed as the Jets traded a seventh round pick for cast off running back Zac Stacy from the Rams. Stacy had a nice rookie campaign two years ago and was bothered by injuries last season which ultimately cost him the starting role. He will compete for snaps with Chris Ivory, Stevan Ridley, and Bilal Powell. Overall, I really like what the Jets did in this draft addressing both the offense and the defense. They obviously still have a glaring hole at the quarterback position, but selecting Petty in the 4th round is a glimmer of hope for Jets fans.
It’s not often that I agree with what the Bengals do as an organization. The prime example of that is retaining head coach Marvin Lewis year after year despite any playoff success. However, I am really impressed with the draft class put together by Cincinnati from this past weekend. In the first round at pick 21 overall the Bengals selected Cedric Ogbuehi from Texas A&M. The offensive tackle was first team All-American in his senior year, but unfortunately tore his acl in his final game at College Station. His talent still made him a first round talent. Cincinnati has the luxury of tackles Andrew Whitworth and Andre Smith who will likely be the starters. This will give Ogbuehi time to rehab and then slide into either tackle spot as both those guys seem to be on their way out in the not too distant future. The Bengals doubled up on the o-line picks by selecting Oregon product Jake Fisher in the 2nd round with pick 53 overall. Fisher has the ability to play guard and tackle which he could see time at both for Cincy. He was projected as a possible first round pick which makes this is a terrific selection at 53. Fisher could slide into either tackle spot should Whitworth or Smith need replacing. He could also slide inside to guard for either Kevin Zeitler or Clint Boling who was resigned in the offseason. In the 3rd round with the 85th pick overall the Bengals selected tight end Tyler Kroft from Rutgers. Kroft is a grad of Downingtown High School believe it or not. It was touted by as many as a very weak tight end draft class this year. However, Kroft will provide stability to a position of need for the Bengals who only have Tyler Eifert on the roster after his injury filled 2014 season. Jermaine Gresham was not brought back by the club. The former Scarlet Knight will not wow you with his receiving ability, but he will provide a toughness and blocking capability the Bengals need at the tight end position. The other third round pick by the Bengals is one of my favorites of the draft as they took linebacker Paul Dawson from TCU. In 2014, Dawson was named first team All-American and won Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year. He was knocked during the pre draft process for his forty time, but all he does is make plays around the ball. He will bring a physical style to the Bengals defense from day one. He reminds me a lot of current Bengal linebacker Vontaze Burfict. I could see Dawson playing significant snaps during his rookie year. Josh Shaw was taken with the 120th pick in the 4th round from USC. Shaw is a very versatile player who lined up at corner and safety during his time in southern Cal. He might have a tough time seeing snaps right away at the corner position due to the depth on Cincinnati’s roster, but he should contribute on special teams as well as potentially safety. The Bengals also drafted defensive tackle Marcus Hardison with the 135th pick in the 4thround. Hardison had an impressive 10 sacks during the 2014 season with Arizona State. He will receive a valuable chance to learn behind veterans Geno Atkins and Domata Peko. H-back CJ Uzomah was taken by Cincinnati with the 157th pick in the 5th round. The Auburn product was a solid pick who will provide versatility to both the tight end and fullback position which the Bengals still use in their offense. Uzomah has experience in playing in the spread offense as well which adds to his value. Safety Derron Smith was chosen with the 197thpick in the 6th round from Fresno State. Smith had 14 interceptions during his time in Fresno and that gives him an edge to potentially make the roster as a sixth round selection. More than likely, however, he will start his NFL career on the practice squad to a numbers game. The final pick for the Bengals 2015 draft class was wide receiver Mario Alford from West Virginia. Todd McShay nicknamed Alford “9 Route” meaning he is very good at running the go pattern as a wideout. Alford will certainly need to develop a better route tree to grow as a receiver in the Bengals or anyone’s offense. He does bring a speed element the Bengals really don’t possess outside of AJ Green and his recent injury issues have limited that. This draft helps set up Cincinnati for success once the older players begin to depart and the roster turns over.