2015 NFL DRAFT

Judgements: While it's still a QB league, draft proves defense matters

by | CBSSports.com Senior NFL Columnist
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The Dallas Cowboys trade up in the first round of the 2012 NFL Draft to take a cornerback. The Philadelphia Eagles trade up to take a defensive tackle. The New England Patriots -- yes, the New England Patriots -- trade up twice in the first round to take defenders.

My point? While it may be a quarterback's league, defense still matters. In fact, it not only determined last year's playoffs, it heavily influenced decisions of the league's power brokers in this draft.

Look what happened with Green Bay and New England. The Packers ranked last in overall defense. The Patriots were 31st. So where did they go this weekend? Defense, that's where, with neither drafting an offensive player until the seventh round.

Together, they spent their first 12 draft choices on defensive players, and it makes sense. The Patriots lost their past two Super Bowls not only because they couldn't keep the Giants' pass rush off Tom Brady but because their defense couldn't stop Eli Manning on his last two series.

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Now look at the Packers. They failed to make a second straight Super Bowl appearance not only because they couldn't keep the Giants' pass rush off Aaron Rodgers but because their defense couldn't stop Manning, either. Anyway, I think you get the idea.

And if you don't? Well, the Ravens do. They were one play from the Super Bowl last season but traded out of the first round and moved back to the top of the second where they were expected to take an offensive lineman. Only they didn't. They chose pass rusher Courtney Upshaw of Alabama, a guy with first-round ability who unexpectedly fell to them at 35.

"I'm ready," said Upshaw. "I'm very motivated now."

That's the spirit.

Then there's Philadelphia, a club intent on returning to the playoffs. It made four of its first five choices defenders -- with the Eagles jumping up to take defensive tackle Fletcher Cox with the first pick. That's the urgency you should have when you blow five fourth-period leads, something the Eagles and Dallas had in common last season.

If either had just held on in one or two of those contests, it would have won the NFC East. But they didn't. And they learned a lesson.

1. I'm sorry, but the Rams' choice of Brian Quick at the top of the second round reminds me of another wide receiver they took there four years earlier -- Donnie Avery -- and we know what happened there. OK, so they're different, but I don't see Quick becoming the impact player St. Louis needs for its quarterback to succeed.

2. The new collective bargaining agreement had an immediate effect on the draft, and you saw it Thursday night. With a rookie wage scale that pays incoming players less -- and I mean considerably less -- than they gained in the past clubs aren't afraid to trade up to choose them. Reason: It's cheaper to do business. There were three trades involving the first six choices and 19 teams overall that moved (including deals made before Thursday), and consider that a good thing. Unpredictability moves the needle for the league's audience.

3. Indianapolis spent seven of its first eight draft picks on offense and eight of its 10 overall, which makes sense when you make your rookie quarterback the foundation of the franchise. But what about the league's 25th-ranked defense? The Colts are going to a 3-4 after playing the Tampa-2 for years, they're moving Dwight Freeney to a position (outside linebacker) he's never played and they made no appreciable moves to help themselves on that side of the ball. Somebody call a plumber.

4. With the first of two draft picks Cincinnati gained for Carson Palmer, the Bengals chose Wisconsin guard Kevin Zeitler, a guy who had an astonishing 142 knockdown blocks last season and solidifies an offensive line that could use inside help. Then, with the fifth-rounder they picked up from New England for Chad Ochocinco they picked up another wideout, Cal's Marvin Jones. It's moves like that that have Cincinnati squeezing Baltimore and Pittsburgh at the top of the AFC North.

5. This is how far the University of Miami, the University of Florida and Florida State have fallen: There were players from Midwestern State, North Alabama, Appalachian State and a punter from Cal taken before anyone from Miami, Florida or FSU came off the board -- and that was with the 72nd pick.

6. There's a reason Michigan center David Mohl, the Rimington Trophy-winner, lasted until the seventh round. Some people consider him too small (6-foot-1, 298 pounds) to play the position. Nevertheless, choosing him was a no-brainer for San Diego, which got value out of that pick, as well as someone they can groom behind Nick Hardwick.

7. Best line of the weekend goes to the NFL Network's Mike Mayock on Tennessee linebacker Zach Brown: "This is one of the most gifted linebackers in this class. He's the fastest linebacker. He flies all over. The bad news is that he's somewhat allergic to contact."

8. Andrew Luck may not strike it big immediately, but he will soon -- and not because I say so but because the odds do. There have been four quarterbacks from Stanford taken with No. 1 picks, and the last two -- Jim Plunkett and John Elway -- each won two Super Bowls.

9. When Green Bay finally got around to drafting for offense, the Packers made it count. With one of their two seventh-round choices they took Chattanooga quarterback B.J. Coleman, and tell me that isn't perfect. The guy is ideal to sit and develop behind Aaron Rodgers.

10. Enough of this talk that Miami left tackle Jake Long could be in trouble because the Dolphins drafted Stanford's Jonathan Martin. Please. Two completely different players. I look at Martin as a possibility at right tackle; I don't look at him as competition for Long.

11. San Francisco fizzled in the conference championship game not because Alex Smith stunk but because his wide receivers did. They had one catch for three yards. So the 49ers sign Super Bowl hero Mario Manningham, draft A.J. Jenkins and throw so many guys into the mix that it wouldn't surprise me if Randy Moss fails to make the club.

12. Illinois had four of the first 48 draft picks, second only to Alabama (5), yet the team finished 6-6. I guess now you know why Ron Zook got the hook.

13. Say what you want about Indianapolis owner Jim Irsay, but he has it right about the draft: It's an inaccurate science. "Sometimes you're the windshield," Irsay said, "and sometimes you're the bug."

14. Please tell me Cincinnati isn't adding ASU's Vontaze Burfict. After all the Bengals have been through, why in the world would you invite another headache into the locker room?

15. I don't get this, either. The Chicago Bears didn't draft one offensive lineman. Their quarterbacks were sacked 49 times last season, tied for fifth-worst in the league.

16. Nope, I'm one of those not on board with Dallas' move up to choose cornerback Morris Claiborne with the sixth pick. It's not that I don't like Claiborne. I do. He'll probably be a Pro Bowl corner and last a decade. But the trade cost the Cowboys a second-rounder, and that's OK if you think you're one player away from making it big. But Dallas knows it's not. It needs a pass rusher, an interior blocker, another running back, an interior rusher -- too many things to sacrifice a second-round pick. Had the Cowboys stayed where they were they could've had LSU defensive lineman Michael Brockers, who would've made Anthony Spencer and Sean Lee better behind him. I don't know, the move just seems like another attention-getting maneuver by owner Jerry Jones, and the idea isn't to make a splash; it's to make your team better.

17. I'd pay attention to that running back Washington took in the sixth round, not so much because I think FAU's Alfred Morris is a steal but because of Mike Shanahan's track record on sixth-round backs. He found Terrell Davis and Mike Anderson there. Both were 1,000-yard backs, and Davis was a 2,000-yard back.

18. Eagles' coach Andy Reid conceded Philadelphia "took a chance" on former Kansas State running back Bryce Brown, and I'd say that about nails it. The guy went to three schools and never played more than one season at any. But the Eagles took him with the 229th pick in the seventh round, so the feeling was: Why not take a shot? "The thing I keep telling NFL clubs is don't forget Bryce Brown," he told the Kansas City Star before the draft. "If you do you're going to regret it." We'll see.

19. A year ago, Auburn had the first player chosen. This time it had one taken, period -- tackle Brandon Mosley to the Giants at the 131st spot.

FIVE THINGS I LIKE

1. The Giants finding LSU wide receiver Rueben Randle at the bottom of the second round. College scouting director Marc Ross said people compared him to Hakeem Nicks when his name came up in pre-draft talks, one reason the club considered him with its first pick. But it chose running back David Wilson instead. Oh, well. Except Randle dropped like a lead balloon and fell to them anyway with the 63rd pick. Sometimes it's better to be lucky than good, and it's always good to be both.

James may be small, but he makes big plays. (AP)  
James may be small, but he makes big plays. (AP)  
2. LaMichael James to San Francisco. The 49ers need an explosive playmaker on offense, and they just found it in the 5-foot-8 James. Not only is he one of only three players in Pac-12 history to run for 5,000 yards in his career; he produced 257 yards in Jim Harbaugh's last loss at Stanford, a 52-31 defeat, and that included a 76-yard dash. This guy fits the Darren Sproles mold. He is small, but he is quick, explosive and productive. So the 49ers are stocked at the position with Frank Gore, Brandon Jacobs and Kendall Hunter. They had three plays of 50 or more yards last year.

3. Buffalo finding TCU linebacker Tank Carder in the fifth round. Anytime you can get a guy named "Tank" for your defense it can't be bad. Anyway, this is the guy who saved the 2011 Rose Bowl and was named the game's MVP. He's tough. He's relentless. He regularly breaks up passes. And he comes from a winning program. I dunno, but with the moves Buffalo has made on defense, I don't think the Jets are New England's competition in the AFC East. I think these guys are.

4. Trent Richardson's response to Jim Brown. The Hall of Fame running back called the Browns' latest acquisition "ordinary," a feeling not shared by NFL clubs. Richardson could've fired back but wisely took the high road -- and good for him. "I'm an ordinary human," he said, "but as a back I'm going to be that special guy." Let's hope so. Only twice since they returned to the NFL in 1999 have the Browns ranked higher than 20th in rushing.

5. Carolina landing linebacker Luke Kuechly. Strong move by a club that last year played without a defense. There was some feeling that the Panthers would push for a defensive tackle, but they like what they have in Ron Edwards and like what they could have in Kuechly more. I don't know who plays the middle, Kuechly or Jon Beason, but it doesn't matter. Kuechly is a tackling machine who will help Carolina plug the middle, cover the field and make stops others miss. Smart, smart move.

FIVE THINGS I DON'T

1. NFL commissioner Roger Goodell's on-stage bear hugs. Enough already. Pete Rozelle didn't do it, and Paul Tagliabue didn't do it. There's a decorum appropriate for the occasion, and a handshake will suffice. I don't know that it's unprofessional, but I do know it should stop.

2. St. Louis passing on wide receiver Stephen Hill. I know the guy is raw, but he's also a blur -- running a 4.31 40 at the combine and averaging 29.3 yards per catch. Coach Jeff Fisher has said how much he thinks of quarterback Sam Bradford, and that's great. But give him something more than Brian Quick in the second round. I know, the Rams came back with Cris Giles at the top of the fourth, and I wouldn't be surprised if Giles -- a good YAC guy -- winds up as the better receiver. But that's not the point. Tell me who backs off defensive backs. The Rams had a chance at Justin Blackmon ... but were beaten to him. They had a chance at Michael Floyd ... but were beaten to him. They had a chance at A.J. Jenkins ... but were beaten to him. So Quick is their first wideout off the board? I don't know how that's going to make Bradford a better quarterback.

3. The Giants giving linebacker Mathias Kiwanuka an extension before taking care of business with Osi Umenyiora. Umenyiora is in the last season of a seven-year deal and desperately wants an extension, but read the tea leaves, people: With the commitment to Kiwanuka there's less money to go around. That doesn't bode well for Umenyiora, who lost his starting job to Jason Pierre-Paul, and too bad. The guy is a valuable pass rusher and proved it down the stretch last year.

4. Washington spending two of its first three draft picks on quarterbacks. Choosing Robert Griffin III with its first choice was a no-brainer, but why take Kirk Cousins with the third? Look, I like the guy, too, and don't understand why he lasted until the fourth round. But he wasn't "a steal," as Shanahan described him. He was a luxury the Redskins couldn't afford. He should've been "a steal" for someone else. Not Washington.

5. Let me get this straight: Jacksonville finishes 5-11, ranks dead last in offense and dead last in passing, yet takes a punter with its first pick of the third round? Someone please explain. "I think that's an easy decision for me," said Jags' GM Gene Smith, "to get a starter in the third round." Hmmm, last time I checked a punter wasn't considered a starter. He was considered a punter. Maybe this is a sign that the new offense will look a lot like the old one.

FIVE QUOTES TO REMEMBER

1. "We're going to be hard to handle in terms of size and physicalness and ball skills with the wideouts we have." -- Chicago GM Phil Emery.

2. "I mean, no, because I never shot up no strip club or nothing like that." -- Janoris Jenkins on if he should be compared to Pacman Jones.

3. "Melvin Ingram is the most complete linebacker, we felt, in the early draft." -- San Diego coach Norv Turner.

4. "I see a lot of similarities to Terrell Owens." -- St. Louis receivers coach Ray Sherman on Brian Quick.

5. "I'm just glad it's over and dreams came true this time." -- Cincinnati receiver Mohamed Sanu after the Bengals picked him one day after taking a prank phone call saying he was Cincinnati's first-round choice.

FIVE BIGGEST WINNERS

1. TV coverage -- The league had a combined viewership of 25.3 million for Thursday's opening round of the draft, with a record combined average rating of 5.28 -- an 18 percent increase over last year's first round (4.46).

Reunited: From the Cardinal to the Colts, Fleener and Luck. (AP)  
Reunited: From the Cardinal to the Colts, Fleener and Luck. (AP)  
2. Indianapolis quarterback Andrew Luck/Colts' tight end Coby Fleener -- Take your pick. The two combined for a lot of completions, yards and touchdowns at Stanford, and I presume they do the same at Indy. What Dallas Clark was to Peyton Manning, Fleener should be to Luck. GM Ryan Grigson just did his quarterback an enormous favor by reuniting him with his favorite receiver. "I can't begin to describe how excited I am to be a Colt," said Fleener.

3. Pittsburgh quarterback Ben Roethlisberger. He just gained the best guard and one of the top tackles in the draft, and finally, finally Pittsburgh may have plugged the leaks that had Roethlisberger sacked 40 times last year and 314 times 114 games. David DeCastro could step in and start tomorrow, while Mike Adams can play left or right tackle and serves as a safety net for Willie Colon, who missed all but one start the past two seasons. "I promise that we will get the right guys in the right positions," offensive line coach Sean Kugler said.

4. San Diego -- I love what the Chargers did with their first three picks, which was add playmakers to a defense that desperately needs them. This is a critical year for the Bolts, with coach Norv Turner under orders to win-or-else, and general manager A.J. Smith gave him weapons on both sides of the ball this offseason to return to the top of the AFC West.

5. Miami quarterback Ryan Tannehill -- Not only does he go to a team that needs a starting quarterback; he rejoins his coach at Texas A&M, offensive coordinator Mike Sherman. I'd say it's an ideal situation, except it's the Dolphins.

FIVE BIGGEST LOSERS

1. Rams QB Sam Bradford -- No Blackmon. No Floyd. No Kendall Wright. No A.J. Jenkins. No mas.

2. Former 'Skins QB John Beck -- A year ago at this time he was groomed as the team's starter. Now, he's gone. And he should be. The Redskins don't just have one new quarterback. They have two, thanks to that fourth-round selection of Cousins as RG3's clipboard holder. Somebody had to go, and that somebody was Beck.

3. Cleveland QB Colt McCoy -- He said he wants to stay and compete for the starter's job, but one word of advice, Colt: Don't. You have no shot. When the Browns spend a first-round draft pick on a quarterback who turns 29 this season it's not to develop him. Brandon Weeden IS the starter, period.

4. Dallas cornerback Mike Jenkins -- Dallas owner Jerry Jones says he thinks "the world of Mike Jenkins," but he doesn't think enough of him to keep him around long. With the addition of Claiborne, Jenkins' future as a Cowboy is on life support -- one reason there's talk about trading him.

5. Miami quarterback Matt Moore -- He's the Dolphins' starter ... for now, but get ready to move over, Matt. The Dolphins aren't going to wait long on Tannehill after making him the eighth pick of the draft. So he had 19 starts at Texas A&M. Mark Sanchez had 16 at USC and stepped in immediately. Same goes for Cam Newton after he had 14 starts at Auburn. The clock is ticking, Matt.

FIVE GAMBLES TO REMEMBER

1.New England defensive back Tavon Wilson. He wasn't invited to the combine, which means he wasn't considered among somebody's top 300 players in this draft, and there are a lot of people out there who thought he wouldn't be drafted. Nevertheless, the Patriots made the Illinois captain the 48th pick of the draft, and you gotta root for the guy.

2. Seattle linebacker Bruce Irvin. I have no problem with the Seahawks taking him with the 15th pick ... so long as it was the 15th pick of the second or third rounds. Irvin is strictly one-dimensional, a pass rusher who isn't in starting and isn't interested in playing special teams. He has his own set of baggage that has been dissected over and over, so I'm not going there. Let's just put it this way: I don't know anyone other than the Seahawks who had this guy as the 15th player on their board.

3. St. Louis cornerback Janoris Jenkins. Granted, he has first-round ability, but he also has a laundry list of character issues and 911 calls. This guy isn't a risk; he's a trainwreck waiting to happen. People tell me to give Rams coach Jeff Fisher the benefit of the doubt, but he's the guy who made Pacman Jones the sixth pick of the 2005 draft, and you see how well that worked out.

4. Pittsburgh tackle Mike Adams. "I believe I'm the best tackle in the draft," Adams said. That's great. But he wasn't. He wasn't the second best, either. And he was off the Steelers' radar until he called them and asked to see them. Adams tested positive for marijuana at the February scouting combine, which isn't a big deal until you consider this: When you know you're going to be drug tested why would you do such a stupid thing? "What bothered us," said an NFC scout, "is that he lied to us. We asked him if he was still smoking, and he said he wasn't." So they erased him from their board. The Steelers did, too, but relented when he was still there at the 56th pick. "Quite honestly," said GM Kevin Colbert, "I'm not so worried much about the reward as I am about the young man getting his life in order."

5. Chicago WR Alshon Jeffery. Forget last year's lackluster season. His quarterbacks stunk. What bothers me is what happened to his weight. It ballooned to a reported 245. Then he showed up at the combine weighing 216 pounds when he refused to run and at his Pro Day weighing 213. So tell me what happens a year from now. Sorry, but this guy looks like Mike Williams waiting to happen all over again.

JUST ASKING

 Why did Washington draft two quarterbacks in the first four rounds?

 Where next for Colt McCoy?

 Who makes the more immediate impact -- Luck or RG3?

 How soon before New Orleans gets more bad news from the commish?

NUMBERS THAT MAY MEAN SOMETHING

1 -- Players drafted from Auburn

9 -- SEC players taken in the first round, the most of any conference

11 -- Quarterbacks drafted

28 -- Age of Jacksonville's seventh-round pick, defensive tackle Jeris Pendleton

114 -- Spot where the University of Florida's first pick appeared

1992 -- Last time Washington drafted a pair of college teammates

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