Athletes always talk about “the zone.” Jeff Fisher and Les Snead are there when it comes to the draft and the 2014 NFL Draft was no exception. It helps to always have a pair of first-round picks, sure, but they got those by making a blockbuster deal away from Robert Griffin III back in 2012 and then astutely moving around with their picks since then.
This year was no exception although it didn't involve much moving. The Rams sat at No. 2 and landed Greg Robinson, who's going to pave the way for Zac Stacy in the future. Tre Mason can run behind his old college buddy as well and improves the running back depth. Aaron Donald is a top-five talent they landed at 13 and turns a really rich defensive line into Scrooge McDuck loaded.
The cherry on the top was becoming the team to land Michael Sam, the first openly-gay player in NFL history and the resulting imagery that comes with Sam going to the Rams during the draft. It was a special moment — and, by the way, Sam is a huge winner here as well — and a remarkable television moment.
St. Louis Rams — We still don't know if the Rams can actually WIN though. They have a talented roster but there are questions about Sam Bradford at quarterback. Playing in the NFC West is a total nightmare too; they still might have the worst roster in the division, but that's not a bad thing at all. St. Louis and Arizona will scare Seattle and San Francisco next year. Watch.
Jacksonville Jaguars -- It all comes down to Blake Bortles. I would've gone in a different direction at No. 3 overall but if Dave Caldwell has his guy, he's got to take him. It's insane to think they would've gone Bortles over Clowney but that's why they kept it so quiet — they didn't want the Texans to do the same thing ahead of them. Adding Marqise Lee (a steal in the second round) and Allen Robinson (a nice trade up in the second) gives Bortles a pair of potential future weapons. Storm Johnson's an upside shot later in the draft. Telvin Smith, Chris Smith and Aaron Colvin could impact their young defense pretty early. They kept building depth on the defensive line. Even if you're not sold on Bortles (I don't know if I am) you still have to be impressed with the support system Caldwell and the Jags are giving him.
Zach Mettenberger, QB, Titans — Always surprising to see a guy who tumbled into the sixth round turn out to be a winner. But an ACL injury and off-field issues resulted in him falling to Tennessee where he did and it's hard to find a better spot. Ken Whisenhunt's developed big, strong quarterbacks before and there's not a ton of competition to deal with. Jake Locker is there but the Titans didn't pick up his option so they can't care that much for him in the long haul. He's got a reasonably decent path to a potential starting job.
Green Bay Packers — Few GMs do a better job of preparing for the future and cycling through players on his roster than Ted Thompson. The Packers GM pulled off a nice pairing on offense in the 2014 NFL Draft by landing Fresno State wideout Davante Adams in the second round (where Thompson crushes it with wide receiver picks) and California tight end Richard Rogers in the third. Jared Abbrederis out of Wisconsin could be an absolute steal in the fifth round. And that doesn't even factor in Ha-Ha Clinton Dix, their first-round safety pick out of Alabama, who should improve the secondary quickly.
Minnesota Vikings -- The one real fault of Rick Spielman's always been his inability to draft quarterbacks. With Norv Turner (hopefully) advising him, he landed Teddy Bridgewater this year. I think it pays off and you have to love the way they traded back into the first round to get him while also landing Anthony Barr in the first round. Barr's raw and has some risk, but I trust Mike Zimmer to bring out the best in him. Scott Crichton was a very nice add in Round 3 and Jerick McKinnon will be interesting to watch. If the Vikings hit on Bridgewater this is a huge draft for them.
Pittsburgh Steelers -- Not surprising, but Kevin Colbert wasn't aggressive in moving around. He still picked up some really quality players. Ryan Shazier in the first and Stephon Tuitt in the second could help reinvigorate the aging Pittsburgh defense. Dri Archer and Martavius Bryant are explosive players that should help Ben Roethlisberger create some big plays. All Pittsburgh does is hit on later-round wideouts (Antonio Brown, Mike Wallace, Emmanuel Sanders for example). Bryant could join them despite the size discrepency.
Miami Dolphins — I dig that they addressed the offensive line. They had to do it, and grabbed Juwuan James from Tennessee and Billy Turner from North Dakota State with two of their first three picks. Jarvis Landry from LSU isn't necessarily a burner. There's just a lot to be left desired from the rest of the picks. If their linemen can manage to make an early impact for the Dolphins and keep Ryan Tannehill upright then it's a different story. I'm just not sure they made enough headway to make a difference in the AFC East.
Texas Longhorns — How bad did things get for Mack Brown's college franchise? All of a sudden this draft rolled around and he didn't have a SINGLE PLAYER DRAFTED. This was the first time since 1938 (!) without a Texas player in the draft and they were beat out by both Coastal Carolina and Princeton. Now you understand why Charlie Strong — he of the four players taken in the first 73 picks — was hired by the Longhorns.
Indianapolis Colts — Now, you're going to say “but they didn't have a first-round pick.” And I'm going to say “I know and that's because they traded it to the Browns for Trent Richardson.” So factor in T-Rich when you look at this class. Do you think it's special? Because I don't think it really is. Donte Moncrief was a very nice snag at 90 overall. Dude can haul. But Jack Mewhort as their top pick and Richardson as their No. 1 pick is just uninspiring. Just another reason why you don't give away your future firsts.
Johnny Manziel, QB, Browns — Cleveland might be losing Josh Gordon for an extended period of time, Nate Burleson is dealing with a broken forearm and suddenly Greg Little and Andrew Hawkins could be the top wideouts on the depth chart after the Browns completely ignored the position throughout the draft. Getting an extra first-round pick and then drafting Justin Gilbert is fine, in a vacuum. But knowing that Sammy Watkins or Odell Beckham, Jr., could've been on that roster instead? Insane to ignore the position. Even crazier to keep doing it throughout the entire draft. Add Brian Hoyer to this list.
Andre Johnson/DeAndre Hopkins, WRs, Texans — The Texans have a major need at quarterback. They couldn't address it at the top of the draft, but you can't rip them too hard since they landed Jadeveon Clowney. Still, you feel bad for the Texans duo when the only competition for Ryan Fitzpatrick, Case Keenum and T.J. Yates is now Tom Savage. He's got a “live arm” as they (whoever they is) say, but it's hard to imagine him coming in and making an impact in 2014. Bill O'Brien's done well with less and a Ryan Mallett trade could be in the works. But it's looking like a long season for the Texans wide receiver corps.
Kansas City Chiefs — Dee Ford in the first means they might have more pass rush, but if it's because Tamba Hali porked up they've got bigger problems. Philip Gaines is a nice player and De'Anthony Thomas is the new-age Dexter McCluster. Aaron Murray's a fit in Andy Reid's system, but he's not scaring Alex Smith, who accounts for their second-round pick. Like Cleveland, they didn't address wide receiver at all when they needed to.