After waiting for literally forever for the draft to get here, the first round has suddenly passed us by, and we’re left mulling it over for the better part of a day. Those of us who follow the draft closely have known for a long time that the first round was going to be unique. This class is decidedly horizontal--that is, the majority of the top fifty prospects are more or less interchangeable in terms of value. Very few players distanced themselves from the rest of the pack. So not many players stood out as clear “steals.”
However, there were some definite “reaches,” as teams drafted players whose perceived stock had indicated that they’d last into the second day. And when teams start reaching for players, other players get pushed down the board and turn into steals. Following are the three teams who I think benefitted the most from the talent that was pushed down to them.
Carolina Panthers - Star Lotulelei, DT, Utah
Though Lotulelei was considered a top-five talent by many, I rated him a little bit lower, and expected that he might drop into the mid-teens. Given the speed with which Carolina made their selected as soon as they were on the clock, I think they didn’t necessarily expect him to drop that low. The massive defensive tackle is a hand-in-glove fit for the Panthers’ defense. They’ve lacked a legitimate disruptive force in the interior of their defense since they lost Kris Jenkins in 2008. The attention he’ll demand will present a lot of one-on-one matchups for their talented trio of defensive ends, Greg Hardy, Frank Alexander, and Charles Johnson, and the space he’ll occupy will free Jon Beason and Luke Kuechly to seek and destroy.
Cincinnati Bengals - Tyler Eifert, TE, Notre Dame
Early in the offseason, most people expected Eifert to end up drafted in the mid- to late-20’s, seeing the Bengals snag him at 21 may not seem like a steal. However, in the last few weeks, it became apparent that he’d likely not drop out of the top 15 picks. Some reports indicated that the Tampa Bay Buccaneers would have drafted him at 13 if they hadn’t traded that pick to the Jets.
So to have him slip all the way to the Bengals must have been more than they could stand. They looked past their marginal needs for a linebacker and a safety and jumped at the chance to add one of the best offensive talents in the draft. A receiver corps with A.J. Green, Mohamed Sanu, Andrew Hawkins, and Jermaine Gresham was already fearsome. Teams will not enjoy having to contend with those guys and Eifert up the seam and in the red zone. The Bengals may be the new favorite in the division, pending the rest of the draft.
Minnesota Vikings - Sharrif Floyd, DT, Florida
The Panthers and Bengals had some great value fall in their laps, but the Vikings were bowled over and stunned by incredible value. Floyd is my top overall prospect in the draft. The Vikings needed a defensive tackle. And he slid all the way down to them at 23. After the first round ended, reports came out indicating that his less-than-ideal sub-32” arms were the primary culprit behind his fall down NFL boards. And that’s really too bad, because his arm length doesn’t stand out on tape at all.
Now he has the opportunity to make an impact between the huge Kevin Williams and the actually insane Jared Allen. Floyd has been through a ton in his life, and he’s risen above it all. Now he has a chip on his shoulder and the whole NFL ahead of him. Look out, NFC North, he’s coming for you.