The 21 Biggest Surprises of the NFL Draft
It’s always an interesting experience when someone I meet in my day-to-day life finds out that I’m an NFL analyst and fantasy football writer. Without fail, as I explain, they always get a look of dawning realization on their faces, and they then ask me, “Well, since you do this already, would you mind helping me draft my fantasy team this year? Can I get your advice on some picks?” I love helping people draft and giving them my thoughts on players -- that is why I do this -- but I’ve never thought of myself as a soothsayer, or some wizard with a crystal (foot)ball.
All of us in this field, especially the whole numberFire gang, are more prognosticators than prophets. We take data and look at the patterns they show us so that we can offer the most likely outcomes from those indicators. That’s why last weekend, some of the moments of the NFL Draft even caught the best of us fantasy weathermen off-guard. We can make all the guesses we want at what will happen on Draft Day, but NFL teams always leave us with a few surprises. What 21 draft decisions were most shocking last weekend?
21. La’el Collins Goes Undrafted
It wasn’t unexpected that LSU standout offensive tackle Collins would fall out of the top 10, or even the first round, after he became part of a police investigation into the murder of an ex-girlfriend of his. Collins, however, was never named as a suspect or even a person-of-interest in the case. Still, he fell out of the draft due to these concerns. The Dallas Cowboys got a steal by signing him to an undrafted free agent deal. He should be an instant starter at left guard.
20. Tennessee Titans Stay at Second Overall
Rumors about the Titans swapping out of the second pick swirled in the weeks leading up to the Draft. As many as six teams were reportedly interested in moving up to this spot, offering deals varying from the Chargers giving up quarterback Philip Rivers, to the Eagles sending a package of picks, plus players like defensive lineman Fletcher Cox and linebacker Mychal Kendricks. Ultimately, the Titans declined all suitors and selected Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota.
19. Tennessee Titans Select Marcus Mariota
These two go hand-in-hand, but it’s important to note that many teams had concerns about Mariota’s pro-readiness, and the Titans themselves had made claims about second-year quarterback Zach Mettenberger’s similarity to Tom Brady. Leonard Williams -- defensive lineman out of USC -- was thought to be an option, but ultimately they took the chalk pick and put Mariota in powder blue.
18. Ifo Ekpre-Olomu Slips to the Seventh
The Oregon cornerback had such an unfortunate senior season, after his junior season saw him become a consensus All-American and return to school to hone his skill and improve his draft stock more. Late in the 2014 season, Ekpre-Olomu -- once considered among the top defensive backs in this class -- suffered an ACL tear that saw his draft stock plummet to the third round. On Draft Day, this free-fall continued and the Cleveland Browns took a flier on him in the seventh round.
17. Jets Trade for Yet Another Runner
I wrote about this earlier this week, but the move doesn’t seem to make a lot of logical sense. The New York Jets traded one of their seventh round selections (224th Overall) to the St. Louis Rams for running back Zac Stacy. Stacy has a similar skill set to, and less talent than, both Chris Ivory and Stevan Ridley, already on the Jets’ depth chart.
16. Jay Ajayi Falls to the Fifth
One of the more dynamic running backs in this class, Jay Ajayi was thought to be a second- or third-round talent at absolute worst. This former Boise State bulldozer had pre-Combine knee injury concerns, however, and information was leaked that that there was so little cartilage left that it was “bone-on-bone.” The Dolphins took a flier on his talent in the fifth round, however. He’ll be a power-running change-of-pace for Lamar Miller.
15. Green Bay Drafts a Quarterback
Wait, what? What’s wrong with Aaron Rodgers?! This was such a surprising development that many folks might have wanted to be sure the Packers’ MVP passer was alright. General manager Ted Thompson has given head coach Mike McCarthy a developmental quarterback before the seventh round once in the last decade, so that must mean they like what they see in UCLA signal-caller Brett Hundley.
14. New Orleans Also Drafts a Quarterback
Wait, what? What’s wrong with Drew Brees?! Saints fans must have had a similar reaction when the team selected Colorado State passer Garrett Grayson in the third round. It is about time for Who Dat? Nation to start thinking about the future, though, so it only makes sense to give head coach Sean Payton and his staff a player to mold earlier on. Brees is already 36; his career’s end isn’t that far off.
13. Eagles Draft Another Inside Linebacker
Chip Kelly is crazy like a fox. Chip Kelly does what he wants. Chip Kelly is the official Chip of my heart. But none of this means I don’t question where all six veteran Eagles inside ‘backers will play, and now University of Texas linebacker Jordan Hicks joins them. That’s a bulky unit, even in a 3-4, but Chip might just have been following his board.
12. Eagles Fail to Trade Mychal Kendricks
Reports had Chip Kelly looking for a second-round pick to swap this inside linebacker, but with how much they sandbagged him in the media it was unlikely they’d reach that price. The Eagles may still trade Kendricks, but they may have to settle for a fourth round pick. The Minnesota Vikings, Cleveland Browns, Green Bay Packers, and others were in on him before; they may be even more interested at a cheaper price.
11. Green Bay Doesn’t Address Front Seven
Despite cutting both veteran inside linebackers on the roster, A.J. Hawk and Brad Jones, the Packers didn’t select a ‘backer until the fourth round. By all accounts, they’re quite satisfied with Michigan middle linebacker Jake Ryan, but the team passed on UCLA standout Eric Kendricks at 30th Overall. Absolutely stunning.
10. Carolina Builds “Twin Towers” Receiving Corps
After selecting huge possession wideout Kelvin Benjamin in the first round of the 2014 Draft, I expected the Panthers to take a speedier receiver in this class, providing a diverse portfolio. Instead, they opted to replicate the type they had by grabbing Michigan receiver/tight end Devin Funchess with the 41st Overall selection. These two will be huge, reliable targets for quarterback Cam Newton.
9. Randy Gregory Only Edge Rusher to Fall From First
Randy Gregory saw his stock plummet from the first round after he tested positive for marijuana use at the NFL Combine and whispers of other off-field concerns surfaced around him. Pass rush-needy Dallas grabbed him in the late second round, though, confirming his talent upside.
8. Colts Select More Small Speed at Wideout
If the Panthers traded their second-round selection for the Colts’ first-rounder, this would make more sense to me. The Colts did the same thing as the Panthers with their receivers, just in the opposite direction, by selecting University of Miami receiver Phillip Dorsett. Dorsett, a T.Y. Hilton clone, gives the Colts more of what they have already, but this is clearly by design.
7. Panthers Don’t Select Offensive Line Early
The other questionable decision the Panthers made was to ignore the offensive line -- they ranked dead last in Pro Football Focus’s pass blocking grades for 2014 -- until the fourth round. They selected only one big man up front, and neglected to protect their franchise passer yet again.
6. Leonard Williams Falls from Top Five
Easily my top talent in this draft -- and many others’ as well -- it was a huge shock to see the versatile USC defensive lineman Leonard Williams fall from a top-five spot. The Jets received a windfall of value at sixth overall, and he will form a deadly rotation with the stacked front seven in North Jersey.
5. Bills Don’t Select a Quarterback
The Buffalo Bills traded their first-round selection in this draft to the Cleveland Browns in the move up to select Sammy Watkins in 2014’s NFL Draft, leaving them without a 2015 selection until 50th Overall. They easily missed out on the top talents at the quarterback position in this class, but most expected them to take one of Grayson, Hundley, or any other developmental quarterback prospect. They appear set to progress with Matt Cassel and EJ Manuel under center for now.
4. Thin Draft on Top Reduces First-Round Trading
Teams just didn’t appear willing to pay normal top-end prices in a class with only 14 or so true first-round grades on players. The first board shift occurred, interestingly, at 15th Overall, when the Chargers moved up to select Wisconsin running back Melvin Gordon. Only one other in-draft trade happened in the first round, with the Denver Broncos moving up to select edge rusher Shane Ray at 23rd Overall.
3. Offensive Linemen and Defensive Backs are the Gold Standard
Seven offensive linemen were selected on Day One of the Draft, including two interior linemen in Florida State center Cameron Irving and Duke offensive guard Laken Tomlinson. Similarly, thirteen defensive backs went in the first two rounds, as teams looked to stock up on big-bodied pass defenders. This is compared to the 2014 class, which saw just five and 11 of each, respectively.
2. Gurley and Gordon Revive the First-Round Running Back
The St. Louis Rams broke the streak of no first-round running backs since David Wilson became a Giant at 32nd Overall in 2012 by selecting Georgia superstar Todd Gurley at 10th Overall. The Chargers added to the fun by taking Wisconsin running back Melvin Gordon at 15th Overall. These two rushers will look to prove to the league why the feature back can still survive in today’s NFL.
1. Dallas Drafts No Running Backs
The Dallas Cowboys are hoping to prove exactly the opposite. After letting star rusher DeMarco Murray walk in free agency, they were expected to be in on Gurley or Gordon, or even Jay Ajayi, but declined to spend a pick on a single running back through seven rounds. They instead continued to strengthen their stalwart offensive line, seemingly confident that any rusher can achieve stardom behind such a talented group of blockers. Only time will tell.