The NFL Draft got underway last night, and whilst grades for picks often don't tell the full story, here is my analysis on each pick of the first round...
17. Baltimore Ravens – CJ Mosley, LB, Alabama
Having gone from Super Bowl champions to missing out on the playoffs altogether, the Ravens could've gone in a number of directions but Ozzie Newsome stayed with his alma mater Alabama and picked up linebacker CJ Mosley. There are some health concerns lingering over Mosley, but with Ray Lewis retired and Daryl Smith now 32, Mosley will be seen as the future inside linebacker alongside 2013 second round pick Arthur Brown. With instinctive play against the run and the pass, Mosley can play all three downs and will be valuable from day one in Baltimore.
18. New York Jets – Calvin Pryor, S, Louisville
Reportedly infatuated with wide receivers Odell Beckham and Brandin Cooks, most people expected the Jets to give quarterback Geno Smith another weapon, but instead the Jets chose to spend their first round pick on defense – again. Recent selections such as Sheldon Richardson, Dee Milliner, Quinton Coples, Muhammad Wilkerson and, to a lesser extent, Kyle Wilson have the Jets playing with a top defense yet they've needed safety help for a while, making the aggressive Pryor a sensible pick – if they can add receiving help later on.
19. Miami Dolphins – Ju'Wuan James, T, Tennessee
One of the shocks of the night came when Miami selected Ju'Wuan James in the first round. Mostly tipped as a mid-round prospect, James had been featuring at right tackle at Tennessee but had played well, showing solid play on a weekly basis. The problem is that he doesn't appear to have much potential to grow into anything more than a right tackle, which may be fine for Miami with Branden Albert in place on the left side, but with better and more versatile players available for the Dolphins, it's no wonder people called this a reach. If he can translate his solid displays in college to the pro's and help protect Ryan Tannehill, nobody will be complaining.
20. New Orleans Saints (from Arizona Cardinals) – Brandin Cooks, WR, Oregon State
The Saints made a shock move up last night, adding another receiving option for Drew Brees in an already potent offense down in New Orleans. Cooks is a dynamic receiver who will primarily work from the slot, and possesses great speed to make plays after the catch. New Orleans traded Darren Sproles to Philadelphia and needed a similar type of playmaker, and whilst Sproles is a running back and Cooks is a receiver, they may be used in the passing game in similar ways as Sean Payton will just seek to get the ball into his hands.
21. Green Bay Packers – Ha'Sean Clinton-Dix, S, Alabama
For a while, many have thought that the Packers should improve their secondary and finally, they've done it. Alabama's Clinton-Dix displayed sure tackling, ability in coverage and against the run as a key part of Nick Saban's defense with the Crimson Tide. A huge safety with ideal size, Clinton-Dix fits the mould for what GM Ted Thompson looks for in prospects, and it was no surprise to see Green Bay pull the trigger on Clinton-Dix, who fell a little further than many would've expected.
22. Cleveland Browns (from Philadelphia Eagles) – Johnny Manziel, QB, Texas A&M
It was the pick we were all hoping for, and whilst it was a little later than expected, it came. Cleveland fans wanted hope and excitement at the quarterback position and the have it as the Browns took Manziel having traded up with Philadelphia to get him. Manziel is the most well-known player in this draft after his Heisman winning freshman season, his off field antics and mind-boggling plays under pressure, but will need to clean up his style – on and off the field – to be a prolonged success in the NFL.
23. Kansas City Chiefs – Dee Ford, LB, Auburn
Chiefs head coach Andy Reid is notorious for building his team in the trenches with early draft picks, and many had expected an offensive lineman to replace guards Geoff Schwartz and Jon Asamoah who left in free agency, but instead he went for a pass rusher in Ford. Long-serving Tamba Hali is a likely cap casualty next season, meaning the Chiefs need a ready-made replacement at outside linebacker in their 3-4 defense, and Auburn's Ford, who possesses outstanding burst, speed and bend around the edge, will have the chance to learn for a year before assuming a great role in 2015.
24. Cincinnati Bengals – Darqueze Dennard, CB, Michigan State
With the ageing Terrance Newman and injury to Leon Hall, the Bengals needed to get stronger at cornerback – even after the 2011 first round selection of Dre Kirkpatrick. They were happy to sit at 24 and let the board fall how they wanted it, and they managed to snag Dennard all the way at 24. An aggressive press-corner with great size and ball skills, Dennard will be another player given time behind experienced bodies before becoming a key part of a developing Cincinnati defense.
25. San Diego Chargers – Jason Verrett, CB, TCU
The Chargers made it all the way to the playoffs last season but were simply terrible against the pass all year, and facing Peyton Manning twice a year made this pick very easy to make for GM Tom Telesco. He may have been disappointed to see Dennard go one pick earlier, but Verrett is an aggressive corner too and shows ideal technique throughout his play. The only knock on him really is his less than ideal size, but with his awareness to play the ball in the air, he should be a solid pick – as long as he isn't matched up against giant wide receivers.
26. Philadelphia Eagles – Marcus Smith, LB, Louisville
This was the pick previously owned by Cleveland, and it was another mild shock as the Eagles took pass rusher Marcus Smith off the board. A speedy player who lined up in a number of position for the Louisville Cardinals, Smith has been rising steadily throughout the progress but was considered more of a second-round player. Philadelphia do have Trent Cole and Connor Barwin entrenched as immediate starters, but with Smith needing some development, he has the opportunity to learn behind more experienced players initially before making a difference on Chip Kellys defense.
27. Arizona Cardinals – Deone Bucannon, S, Washington State
Arizona moved down in that trade with the Saints and could've improved their offensive line or pass rushing options, but decided to mimic the Seattle Seahawks by taking a huge, thumping safety to pair with Tyrann Mathieu in their secondary. Bucannon, primarily a strong safety, is a fearless tackler who packs a punch similar to Kam Chancellor of the Seahawks, and having faced him in the NFC West, the Cardinals went with a similar kind of player to improve their defense immediately.
28. Carolina Panthers – Kelvin Benjamin, WR, Florida State
For some time now, the Panthers have needed to give Cam Newton some new toys to play with at wide receiver. That need was simply exacerbated this offseason with the departures of Brandon LaFell and Steve Smith, and whilst they could also have looked at tackles, it wasn't a shock to see them pick up a wide receiver in Benjamin. A huge receiver with a big catching radius, Benjamin has huge potential if he can run better routes and catch the ball better – but the lack of those attributes could lead to him being a huge bust.
29. New England Patriots – Dominique Easley, DT, Florida
Adding athleticism at defensive tackle was a big need for the Patriots, and that's just what they added with the selection of Easley. Before tearing his ACL last season, Easley demonstrated an elite first step when rushing the passer and fits the mould of what you look for in a three-technique defensive tackle – just like Aaron Donald. Easley may be redshirted for the season as he continues to recover from that knee injury, but if he can get healthy, the Patriots have landed one of the top players in the draft.
30. San Francisco 49ers – Jimmie Ward, S, Northern Illinois
Even after drafting Eric Reid in the first round last year and picking up Antoine Bethea in free agency in March, the 49ers clearly felt that they could still improve at safety by spending their first pick on Ward. Similar to Saints safety Kenny Vaccaro without the intimidation, Ward is an ideal safety who can play the run or excel in coverage too and whilst he wasn't one of the biggest names in the draft, Ward will form an excellent tandem with Reid for years to come.
31. Denver Broncos – Bradley Roby, CB, Ohio State
The Broncos' heavy defeat in the Super Bowl showed them one thing – they needed to get better on defense. They went at it heavy in free agency by signing cornerback Aqib Talib and safety TJ Ward, but they added to their secondary again last night with the pick of Ohio State's Roby. A star in 2012 who struggled in 2013, Roby has all the athletic traits that you look for, but will need to refine his technique and awareness in order to fulfil his potential.
32. Minnesota Vikings (from Seattle Seahawks) – Teddy Bridgewater, QB, Louisville
The final pick of the first round was in fact a trade, as the Vikings moved up in order to grab their quarterback of the future having missed on Christian Ponder in 2011 – and they got one of the best players in the draft. Bridgewater has seen his entire game assassinated throughout the draft season in a bizarre media agenda, but he is, for my money at least, by far the best quarterback available. With outstanding accuracy, vision, pocked awareness and mechanics, Bridgewater will make the Vikings much better going forward.