Top 100 Players of 2013
OK, now that we've gotten that bit of accounting over with, let's get to some more, well, accounting. Here's a quick analysis of -- OK, a collection of thoughts about -- the 78th version of the NFL's annual college marketplace:
Best pick (first round)
Wait for it ... Kenny Vaccaro, safety, drafted 15th overall by the New Orleans Saints. I've watched a lot of Saints football over the past three years, and I can tell you that this team needed help in the deep middle. I've had many a conversation with my colleague -- and former New Orleans standout -- Darren Sharper about the back four on that football team. Ultimately, the linebackers and secondary let this team down through much of last season -- as well as during the loss to the San Francisco 49ers in the 2011 playoffs. Let's not forget the poor tackling from the secondary during the postseason prior; remember "beast mode?" Vaccaro instantly boosts a safety group that features the aging Roman Harper and the wildly inconsistent Malcolm Jenkins, who has placed the bar high but has yet to keep it there in his young career.
How about Marcus Lattimore, who went 131st overall (fourth round) to the San Francisco 49ers? How high would this running back prospect have gone if he hadn't suffered the second serious knee injury of his career last season? It was gruesome, or so I hear (couldn't bear to watch). The Niners, who love to run the football and already have Frank Gore and LaMichael James, can afford to put Lattimore on the PUP list and then see what they have in him later in the season. In 2010, before the injuries came, this kid put up 1,197 yards as the best freshman in the country.
Favorite pick (late-rounder)
Dustin Hopkins, kicker, drafted 177th overall (sixth round) by the Buffalo Bills. When you've missed the playoffs every year since Y2K, people snicker at decisions like these. But tell me kickers don't win games. Hopkins was an All-American in 2012 and earned All-ACC honors in 2011. He's worth a sixth-round flier.
Other picks I liked
Surprise, surprise, surprise: Who knew the Miami Dolphins liked Dion Jordanthat much? I interviewed Jordan after he was selected, and I can tell you that he was as surprised as we all were. Miami gave up the 12th and 42nd overall picks for the chance to nab the Oregon pass rusher, who looks like an 18-year-old small forward, with the third overall pick. Jordan was compared to former Dolphins great Jason Taylor often in the months leading up the draft -- and now he's headed to Miami.
Afterthought: Nice move by Oakland, there, as well -- at least, in theory (see the "worried" section). Considering this is a team that has a ton of "dead" money on the books and needs players, why not pick up the 42nd-best player in the country -- again, in theory -- as an extra? For the record, the Raiders' selection with that pick, tackle Menelik Watson, has played just one year of major college football.
Afterthought to that afterthought: Watson, who grew up in Manchester, England, could be going head-to-head in practice with defensive end Jack Crawford, a fifth-round pick by the Raiders in 2012. What's so special about that? Crawford was born in London, and was even a high-school classmate of Harry Potter -- er, Daniel Radcliffe.
Cincinnati Bengals: This is clearly a football team on the rise. The Bengals, who already had Jermaine Gresham on the roster, can now play two tight ends with a vengeance following the addition of first-round pick Tyler Eifert. Then the Bengals came back in the second round and grabbed a heckuva complement to BenJarvus Green-Ellis in Giovani Bernard, who averaged 6.7 yards per carry on 184 rushes last season at North Carolina. Fellow second-round pick Margus Hunt, meanwhile, will be worked into the rotation on the defensive line with Carlos Dunlap, Geno Atkins and Michael Johnson ... as well as 2012 draftees Brandon Thompson and Devon Still.
One more note on Eifert: Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly told me that Eifert has worked hard to develop his in-line blocking. That should only help a Bengals team that finished 18th in rushing last season.
Philadelphia Eagles: This club did more than just get great value in the fourth round. Matt Barkley aside, first-round selection Lane Johnson should start immediately. Meanwhile, not only will second-round choice Zach Ertz push tight end Brent Celek, he'll make the offense more versatile overall. Third-round selection Bennie Logan provides ample insurance for the club's free-agent investment in nose tackle Isaac Sopoaga.
Seattle Seahawks: Like the Bengals, the Seahawks picked up a complementary back, nabbing Christine Michael in the second round. Defensive tackles Jordan Hill (third round) and Jesse Williams (fifth round), who was originally projected as a second-round pick but slipped for medical reasons, should help this club immensely up the middle.
Dallas Cowboys: A lot of people wanted to see the Cowboys receive more after trading down from No. 18 to No. 31. I don't necessarily mean in terms of the compensation (which was a third-round pick), but rather in terms of the player. Center Travis Frederick, at least on the surface, would seem to be an instant upgrade over incumbent Phil Costa ... unless the Cowboys are planning to try him at guard. Still, Dallas had some people scratching their heads after picking Frederick in the first round.
In fairness to the Cowboys, when a team uses a low first-round pick on a prospect who is widely projected as a second-rounder by analysts, it's often because there are no players with first-round grades left on that team's big board. In other words, Dallas might not have considered Frederick a sure-fire first-round draft choice -- but when the Cowboys were on the clock at 31, they might not have seen anyone whom they'd rated higher. Taking tight end Gavin Escobar, who is more of a pass-catcher than a blocker, in the second round seemed a bit more questionable, considering the presence of Jason Witten -- and Dallas' other pressing needs.
Oakland Raiders: This is about Oakland's first-round selection more than anything else. The move to trade out of the third overall spot in order to land another high pick (42nd overall) was a shrewd one, but the man the Raiders took at No. 12, D.J. Hayden, is coming off of an extremely disconcerting injury involving his heart. Not to mention, nary an analyst I spoke with, listened to, or worked with -- with the exception of Mike Mayock -- felt that Hayden was worth such a high pick, much less thought he was the second-best corner in the draft.
I don't believe in labeling "losers" this soon after a draft -- we need to give it three years before we can truly make an accurate assessment. But after gambling on Hayden's effectiveness in the first round, Oakland didn't exactly go conservative in the second, picking a guy in Watson who's barely played football. As with most things in life, we'll find out together.