4 Questions Left Unanswered after Round 1 of the NFL Draft
The NFL Draft started like most of us thought it would: The Houston Texans selected Jadeveon Clowney, and the St. Louis Rams went with Auburn tackle Greg Robinson. Then the Jacksonville Jaguars shook things up and took a quarterback in the top three, but it was Central Florida's Blake Bortles and not the celebrity-athlete Johnny Manziel.
Pick by pick, the tension grew as Manziel slipped outside the top 10, then the top 15, then the top 20. Sure enough, the Texas A&M product became too enticing to pass up, and the Cleveland Browns traded up to the 22nd pick and selected the enigmatic Aggie, answering the biggest question in the draft entering round one.
It seemed that another quarterback prospect, Louisville's Teddy Bridgewater, was going to slip into the second day of the draft because of poor workouts, but the Minnesota Vikings traded up to the 32nd and final spot in round one to secure the quarterback who some think remains the top quarterback of the class.
While the landing spots of four of the most intriguing prospects (Clowney, Bortles, Manziel, and Bridgewater) have been decided, there are many pressing questions left unanswered after the first 32 selections in the 2014 NFL Draft.
Will the Texans get a new Carr?
Matt Schaub was downright awful last season, and is now an Oakland Raider. Case Keenum wasn't much better. Of the 36 quarterbacks who recorded at least 250 drop backs last season, Schaub ranked 32nd in Passing Net Expected Points (Passing NEP) with a score of -36.00. Keenum was only 27th with his -21.04 total. As a team, the Texans' passing offense ranked 30th in the league.
New head coach Bill O'Brien has been adamant that the Texans will select a quarterback in the draft, but three are already off the board.
The Texans own the first pick of Day 2, and Fresno State quarterback Derek Carr seems like an NFL-ready quarterback. (In)famously, the Texans selected Carr's older brother, David Carr, with the first overall selection in the 2002 draft, the first draft pick in Texans history. To summate David's career with the Texans, he now owns the record for most sacks taken in an NFL season, 76 in 2002, and also ranks third with 68 taken in 2005. He's also one of the worst quarterbacks in terms of Net Expected Points we've ever seen.
If the Texans don't take Carr, who threw for 5,083 yards and 50 touchdowns in his senior season with Fresno State, they could also opt for the Eastern Illinois product Jimmy Garoppolo, but would logically wait until a later round for LSU quarterback Zach Mettenberger or Pitt's Tom Savage. This could allow the Texans to draft Notre Dame defensive tackle Louis Nix and add to the defensive front of Clowney and J.J. Watt in order to improve on their 24th-ranked Defensive NEP.
What about the running backs?
For the second year in a row, no running backs were selected in the first round of the draft. Round 2 might not include a run on rookie runners, but a few backs have a good chance of getting drafted.
Ohio State running back Carlos Hyde is the most likely candidate to be selected in round two. Hyde is a 6'0", 240-pound runner who rushed for 1,521 yards and 15 touchdowns in his final season with the Buckeyes.
Potential landing places for Hyde are the Browns (35th overall pick), the Jaguars (39th), or the Dolphins (50th), as all three teams finished last season outside the top 20 in Rushing NEP - the Jaguars finished 31st, the Texans finished 25th and the Dolphins were 23rd. The Browns just brought in Ben Tate, and Hyde would give the Browns, who have shown interest in Hyde, an effective platoon in the backfield. The Tennessee Titans, who own the 42nd pick, could also be in play for Hyde.
Other potential Day 2 running backs include an eclectic mix: LSU's Jeremy Hill, Auburn's Tre Mason, Arizona's Ka'Deem Carey, Baylor's Lache Seastrunk, and Washington's Bishop Sankey. Of this group, Hill could have the most immediate impact, but whichever team snags Sankey could earn itself a three-down back who can both run and catch the ball out of the backfield.
How far will Marqise Lee fall?
The first round was not at all devoid of wide receiver selections. The Buffalo Bills traded up to fourth overall to draft Sammy Watkins, the versatile wide out from Clemson. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers selected Mike Evans seventh overall to pair up opposite Vincent Jackson. Odell Beckham Jr. went to the New York Giants 12th overall, and the New Orleans Saints traded up to 20th to draft Brandin Cooks. Even Kelvin Benjamin came off the board 28th overall to the Carolina Panthers.
Lee hauled in 118 passes for 1,721 yards and 14 touchdowns during his All-American season in 2012. He followed this campaign with only 57 catches for 718 yards and four touchdowns during his junior season at Southern California and was hampered by a knee sprain. The Biletnikoff Award winning receiver remains the most obvious choice to be the next receiver off the board on Day Two.
Potential landing spots for Lee include the Browns (who ranked 26th in Passing NEP) with the 35th overall pick, the Jaguars (32nd) at 39th overall, the Jets (30th) at 49th overall, or the Dolphins (20th) at 50th overall.
If Lee isn't the next receiver off the board, any one of Davante Adams (Fresno State), Allen Robinson (Penn State), Cody Latimer (Indiana), Donte Moncrief (Ole Miss), or Jordan Matthews (Vanderbilt) could be first, but Day 2 is primed for a heavy dose of wideout selections in Round 3, if not sooner. After all, the Denver Broncos lost Eric Decker, the Eagles lost DeSean Jackson, and the Steelers lost Emmanuel Sanders. Anticipate the wideout selections to be some of the most exciting on Day 2.
What will the Lions, Cowboys, and Steelers do to improve their defenses?
As it stands, the Lions, Steelers, and Cowboys own picks 45, 46, and 47, respectively. All three teams made solid first round selections, but still have glaring needs on defense they need to fill. Expect three consecutive defensive players to be taken with these three selections.
The Lions drafted tight end Eric Ebron 10th overall last night. The athletic tight end will help the Detroit offense, but the Lions still need to improve their pass defense. They boasted the third-best rush defense according to our metrics last season though. The Lions pass defense was not nearly as impressive, finishing 21st in the league against the pass, and must improve if they want to compete with the elite passing offenses in Chicago (fourth in Passing) and Green Bay (ninth). Lamarcus Joyner, defensive back from Florida State, would be a smart pick if he falls to 45th overall.
The Pittsburgh Steelers missed out on cornerback Kyle Fuller, who went to the Chicago Bears one selection before Pittsburgh. The Steelers selected inside linebacker Ryan Shazier from Ohio State, passing on cornerbacks Darqueze Dennard, Jason Verrett, and Bradley Roby. Pittsburgh ranked 14th against the pass last year, but the secondary is getting old. The Steelers will almost assuredly try to bolster their defense today but whether they opt for a defensive back in round two or continue revamping the front seven remains to be seen. The Steelers are, quietly, a very intriguing team to watch throughout the draft.
The Dallas Cowboys are being lauded for passing on Manziel in favor of Notre Dame offensive Tackle Zack Martin. While there's no reason to knock that pick, the Cowboys failed to address their defense in Round 1.
Dallas would most greatly benefit from Nix if he slides to 47th overall, as well as fellow Notre Dame lineman Stephon Tuitt or defensive end from Missouri, Kony Ealy. Expect Dallas to go defense-heavy in the rest of the draft.