First Down, Fourth Down: NFL Draft, Day 2
Teams do not reach the point of Super Bowl contention by accident. And there is nothing accidental about how Baltimore GM Ozzie Newsome and, in a smaller window, San Francisco GM Trent Baalke have worked the system in their favors.
Both Newsome and Baalke have shown a consistent understanding of their teams’ strengths and weaknesses, then done whatever is necessary to address the latter.
That brings us to Day 2 of the NFL draft. After landing hard-hitting safety Matt Elam to close Round 1, Baltimore traded up in Round 2 to nab linebacker Arthur Brown, who could become this year’s Bobby Wagner, the 2012 second-round linebacker who stood out as a rookie in Seattle. Later, at pick No. 94, the Ravens grabbed sleeper DT Brandon Williams of Missouri Southern State.
After opening the offseason by bidding adieu to a huge chunk of their title-winning defense, the Ravens have added as many as six potential starters on that side of the ball, including three so far in the draft to go along with a free-agent haul that included Elvis Dumervil and Michael Huff.
And while San Francisco did not find itself in quite as desperate a spot, Baalke still managed to pick up a pair of terrific value picks for his D — DE Tank Carradine, who dropped out of Round 1 only because he’s rehabbing a knee injury; and DE Corey Lemonier, a Round 3 selection with elite pass-rushing potential. Baalke also moved up to pick 55 for promising tight end Vance McDonald, who should give Colin Kaepernick another reliable option.
Heads up, NFL. The two reigning conference champs got a lot better Friday night.
Here’s a look at more of the good and bad from Day 2:
• First Down: Sam Bradford.
Tavon Austin and Stedman Bailey caught 114 passes each last season for West Virginia and combined for 2,911 yards receiving. Of course, St. Louis’ offense is far from mirroring Dana Holgorsen’s Mountaineers attack. But by picking Bailey in Round 3 and pairing him with Austin, taken No. 8 overall, St. Louis has guaranteed Bradford will have two very productive and well-coordinated receivers at his side.
Put the Austin-Bailey duo on turf, with Brian Quick, Chris Givens and tight end Jared Cook also running patterns, and St. Louis’ passing attack suddenly looks very scary.
• Fourth Down: Matt Barkley/Ryan Nassib
Obvious nominees here. Not only did Barkley and Nassib both drop out of Round 1 on Thursday, but also they kept plummeting throughout Friday. Both Geno Smith and Mike Glennon came off the board on Day 2, as well, driving the knife in deeper.
• First Down: The Jacksonville Jaguars.
This will not be an easy rebuild for new Jaguars coach Gus Bradley and new GM David Caldwell. They helped themselves in a big way early in this draft. The Jaguars followed up Thursday’s selection of standout OT Luke Joeckel by nabbing S Johnathan Cyprien atop Round 2 and CB Dwayne Gratz in Round 3.
Cyprien, especially, could thrive in Bradley’s aggressive defense. The Florida International product plays with a fast, in-the-box style that should aid Jacksonville’s front seven.
A quick pat on the back for the downtrodden Raiders here, too. They scored twice on Day 2 with promising OT Menelik Watson and versatile LB Sio Moore.
• Fourth Down: New England’s Rutgers connection.
Logan Ryan in the third? Sure, that one makes sense. Ryan was projected to go somewhere in that range, and he could slot in at either corner or safety for a Patriots team that needs secondary help.
But Ryan’s Rutgers teammate, Duron Harmon, eight picks later at No. 91 overall, might go down as one of the draft’s ultimate head-scratchers. There’s a pretty decent chance Harmon, a safety, would have been available as an undrafted free agent. He has a grade of 1.0 in our tracker, the lowest mark available, and barely cracked NFL.com’s rankings.
The Patriots have had enough success that you almost have to give them the benefit of the doubt, and Bill Belichick is very familiar with the Rutgers program. But, man …
• First Down: Teams that needed wide receivers.
The lack of skill-position players to go on Day 1 boded well for teams looking for offensive weapons on Day 2. And seven teams landed impact receivers during the second and third rounds.
Buffalo (Robert Woods and Marquise Goodwin), Dallas (Terrance Williams), New England (Aaron Dobson), Pittsburgh (Markus Wheaton), Tennessee (Justin Hunter), San Diego (Keenan Allen) and St. Louis (Stedman Bailey) all drafted receivers that could be in the starting lineup on Week 1.
Buffalo (with Woods), Tennessee and San Diego ought to receive particularly high marks for their pickups. The Titans leapfrogged several teams for Hunter at 34, while the Chargers waited until 76 for the polished Allen.
• Fourth Down: Players with injury concerns.
There are a couple of exceptions here, like D.J. Hayden and Darius Slay — a pair of cornerbacks who still came off the board early, despite medical red flags. But a bunch of talented players absolutely dropped over the draft’s first two days.
Barkley might be atop that list, coming off a shoulder injury in college. He was far from alone. RB Eddie Lacy fell (possibly into a perfect situation with Green Bay) to the bottom of the second round, DT Jesse Williams dropped to Day 3, Keenan Allen stayed on the board into the 70s, Marcus Lattimore remains available and on and on.
With as much as is on the line in these drafts, teams repeatedly confirmed they do not want to take many risks when it comes to a player’s health.