Grading the 2014 NFL Draft: Rams, Cardinals gaining in NFC West
NFLDraftScout.com takes a division-by-division look at which teams fared best in the 2014 NFL Draft.
Grading an NFL Draft immediately after it occurs is akin to giving your compliments to the chef based on the menu rather than actually waiting to taste the food. It will take at least three years before we can truly assess how the 32 NFL teams fared over the weekend. But waiting is no fun. As such, let's take a look at which teams appear to have done the best job of filling needs and building for the future via the seven rounds of the 2014 draft.
Perhaps due to the fact that he rarely played on a national stage, Deone Bucannon didn't generate as much pre-draft hype as some of the other safeties in this class but the 6-1, 211 pounder is well-named as he closes on ball-carriers as if he's shot out of a cannon and left Washington State with 15 career interceptions. In a secondary already boasting playmakers Patrick Peterson and Tyrann Mathieu, he'll fit right in. Fitting in won't be a problem for Troy Niklas or big play wideout John Brown either, as each is a terrific fit in Bruce Arians' offense, which asks the tight end to block often and could put the former Pittsburgh State in a similar position to streak downfield as T.Y. Hilton has for the Indianapolis Colts. The Cardinals took calculated risks with defensive lineman Kareem Martin and Ed Stinson, as well as quarterback Logan Thomas at palatable points in the draft. Thomas is a particularly intriguing project for Arians as he boasts the size (6-6, 248) and big arm to fit the offense and could develop better accuracy with some refining of his technique. Grade: B+
San Francisco 49ers
In qualifying for three consecutive NFC Championship games, the 49ers clearly boast one of the league's most talented rosters and entered the draft with 11 selections (tied for second most in the NFL), so you couldn't blame GM Trent Baalke if he gambled a bit in the draft. Early on, however, he filled clear areas of need, adding a versatile defensive back in Jimmie Ward who has the range to handle safety as well the coverage ability to drop down and play nickel corner. The 49ers also drafted the most intriguing center in the draft in Marcus Martin and added a dynamic athlete in slot receiver Bruce Ellington. Just as the club did a year ago with injured stars Tank Carradine and Marcus Lattimore, San Francisco invested a relatively early picks in players likely to need a "redshirt" season, nabbing former Clemson tackle Brandon Thomas (projects to guard in this scheme) and cornerback Keith Reiser. Add to this, San Francisco added the most bullish runner in the draft with Carlos Hyde, a potential steal in pass rusher Aaron Lynch and quite possibly the most instinctive defender at any position in the draft in linebacker Chris Borland, among others. San Francisco's selections were not without risk as Lynch has under-achieved to this point in his career and Borland's short arms make him a better fit in a 4-3 than a 3-4. Otherwise, however, it was another quality haul for a team that was just one tipped pass away from competing in their second consecutive Super Bowl. Grade A
While basking in the glory of the first championship in team history, Seattle watched several key contributors get signed away in free agency. Though still boasting one of the league's deepest rosters, re-stocking the shelves with speed on the flanks and toughness, length and athleticism along the offensive and defensive lines was clearly the focus. Wideout Paul Richardson offers a pure vertical speed element that could keep opponents from crowding the box to slow down Seattle's run-heavy attack. Kevin Norwood doesn't possess Richardson's rare acceleration but is pro-ready with the build and body control to also make the roster. Tackle Justin Britt was a surprise in the second round but his length, functional strength and tenacity could help him vie for playing time as a rookie. Combative edge rusher Cassius Marsh and Jimmy Staten provide depth at the LEO and five-technique positions, respectively. Super Bowl MVP Malcolm Smith had better not rest on his laurels as Kevin Pierre-Louis is a similarly gifted athlete with eye-popping production. No team has enjoyed more recent success on Day Three of the draft than the Seahawks and of their late selections, athletic offensive lineman Garrett Scott and hulking safety Eric Pinkins look especially promising. Grade: B
St. Louis Rams
With two of the first 13 picks, the Rams were in an ideal position to boost their roster. GM Les Snead and head coach Jeff Fisher took full advantage, adding mauling run blocker Greg Robinson to significantly upgrade their physicality on the offensive line and making a very good defensive line the league's best with the addition of defensive tackle Aaron Donald to complement star Robert Quinn, rising talent Michael Brockers and steady veteran Chris Long. Snead filled arguably the team's biggest need with their next selection, nabbing a Honey Badger-like weapon in versatile defensive back Lamarcus Joyner in the second round. The addition of Tre Mason - a back some graded as the best in the class - in the third round gives the team better big play possibilities than incumbent starter Zac Stacy, a quality back in his own right. The Rams added several intriguing prospects to their secondary on Day Three of the draft, as well as Michael Sam, the co-SEC Defensive Player of the Year and the first openly gay player to get drafted into the NFL. Sam (the 249th player selected overall) is no guarantee to make the roster but given the talent on this defensive line, he'll get one-on-one opportunities off the edge and possesses the burst, strength and motor to endear him to coaches and fans, alike. Grade: A
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