Rams, DBs the big winners in first round of 2014 NFL Draft
With the selections of linemen Greg Robinson and Aaron Donald, the St. Louis Rams took a bold step towards contending in the NFC West. Record-numbers for defensive backs and the biggest reach of the first round highlight five takeaways from the first 32 picks.
The St. Louis Rams entered the first round in position to succeed with two of the first 13 picks.
General manager Les Snead and head coach Jeff Fisher took full advantage, nabbing the best offensive lineman in the draft in Greg Robinson and the top defensive tackle in Pitt's Aaron Donald . Robinson's dimensions and dominance as a run blocker have earned comparisons to former Rams lineman Orlando Pace. Donald has been likened to Hall of Famer John Randle and joins star rusher Robert Quinn , developing tackle Michael Brockers and the steady Chris Long to give St. Louis the league's most imposing defensive line.
Frankly, it is a defensive line that could help the Rams become a surprise contender in the contentious NFC West should quarterback Sam Bradford stay healthy. Adding Robinson will help that.
Here are five other takeaways from the first round of the 2014 NFL Draft.
5. The NFL's evolution into a passing league has never been on better display than with the number of defensive backs and running backs selected in the first round. A total of nine defensive backs went among the top 32 -- more than in any first round in league history. As teams arm themselves to defend the pass, they can increasingly ignore the run (for the second consecutive year no running backs were selected among the top 32). Before last year's draft, at least one back was picked in every first round dating back to 1963.
4. While the Rams stood pat and built along the lines, the Cleveland Browns and Minnesota Vikings aggressively maneuvered through the first round to nab quarterbacks Johnny Manziel and Teddy Bridgewater as well as playmakers on the defensive side of the ball in Justin Gilbert and Anthony Barr .
Gilbert and Barr will be early standouts due to their sheer athleticism and fit in the aggressive schemes of Mike Pettine and Mike Zimmer. The quarterbacks have steady but unspectacular veterans in front of them, but by selecting them in the first round the Browns and Vikings have the five-year option to develop them the right way. Manziel and Bridgewater are talented enough to vie for the starting role early and with talented left tackles and dynamic skill-position players to ease their transition, each could reward the first-year defensive-minded head coaches for their draft-day gamble.
3. Manziel and Bridgewater dominated the QB buzz before the draft but the most intriguing selection was made by Jacksonville, who nabbed local product Blake Bortles third overall. There had been some rumblings that the Jaguars might opt to pass on Bortles early and attempt to trade back into the first round to nab him, but kudos to general manager David Caldwell and head coach Gus Bradley for making the gutsy pick rather than risk losing their guy. Bortles may not make the immediate impact one normally hopes with such a high selection but he has a quality mentor ahead of him in Chad Henne and a young, enthusiastic coaching staff to aid his transition.
2. Some will call the Bortles pick at No. 3 a reach, but in my mind the Carolina Panthers' selection of wideout Kelvin Benjamin at No. 28 was the stretch of the first round. There is no denying the 6-foot-5, 240-pound Benjamin's upside as a featured target for Cam Newton . He offers an incredible catch radius and enough build-up speed to surprise deep. Benjamin isn't very refined as a route-runner, however, and doesn't possess ideal burst to develop in this regard. Don't get me wrong, what Benjamin does, he does well and today's NFL is all about red zone proficiency. But Benjamin may take time to adjust to the NFL and with a massive hole at left tackle due to the retirement of Jordan Gross, time is one thing Newton may not have.
1. While the first round certainly was entertaining, there are several high-profile players still available. Expect Fresno State quarterback Derek Carr and a bevy of receivers -- including Southern Cal's Marqise Lee , Indiana's Cody Latimer and Penn State's Allen Robinson -- to come off the board early. A run on defensive linemen is also coming with popular first-round projections like Minnesota's RaShede Hageman, Florida State's Timmy Jernigan , Missouri's Kony Ealy , Notre Dame's Louis Nix and Boise State's Demarcus Lawrence all still waiting to hear their names called.
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