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In the Zone: 2013 NFL Draft grades

The 2013 NFL Draft is over and done with. Fan bases of teams all across the country are abuzz with renewed optimism because of the new pieces that will help their team make a leap to the next level.

1) The Kansas City Chiefs get a draft grade of….C+

T Eric Fisher is a guy who scouts think can be the next Joe Thomas. Thomas was the third overall pick in the 2007 draft out of Wisconsin and has played in the Pro Bowl every year in the league.

Head coach Andy Reid and GM John Dorsey are gambling, slightly, on the upside of Fisher, which is superior to that of their other option at No. 1 overall, Texas A&M left tackle Luke Joeckel, who was picked second overall by the Jacksonville Jaguars.

According to Reid, Fisher is a better fit athletically for his West Coast offense, and has a little nastier demeanor on the field than the technician from College Station.

The Chiefs didn’t have a pick in the second round (because of the Alex Smith trade) and thus missed out on the chance to add a quality player in one of the best spots of value. This draft pool wasn’t top-heavy at all, but there will be a lot of starters found in the middle rounds.

IF Kansas City would have been able to pull off that trade with Miami for LT Branden Albert, they would have – likely – had a better draft grade by simply adding a good pick in round two.

2) Instead, the Chiefs had to wait until round three to pick again, and at No. 63 overall they selected Cincinnati tight end Travis Kelce.

Kelce is a good athlete with prototypical tight end size. He’s not a blazer, but he’s fast enough that the Bearcats used him as the quarterback in their “wildcat” package.

What Kelce does do well is run block, and provides a very large catching radius for his quarterback to look at in the middle of the field.

Chiefs fans should know, however, that he was once suspended for an entire season at Cincinnati for violating an unspecified team rule.

3) With a second pick in round three, the Chiefs rolled the dice big time on Arkansas RB Knile Davis.

Davis is some kind of physical specimen. He’s 6 feet tall and weighs 230 pounds but runs a blazing 4.35 forty yard dash. His combination of size and breakaway speed is somewhat reminiscent of ex-Kansas City RB Larry Johnson.

2010: 1,322 yards (6.5 ypc), 13 TD
2011: Injured for season due to broken ankle
2012: 377 yards (3.4 ypc), 3 TD

Obviously, Davis did not find the same level of success after his 2011 injury, but no one on Arkansas’ dumpster fire of a team in 2012 had much success. To some degree, his 2012 season needs to be taken with a grain of salt.

Davis, however, has legitimate issues surrounding his ability to stay healthy and, more importantly, hang on to the football. He fumbled 12 times in three seasons at Arkansas. That’s wholly unacceptable.

There is no doubting, though, that Davis passes the eyeball and stopwatch test. If the Chiefs get lucky and he rediscovers the ability he displayed as a dynamite sophomore in 2010, Kansas City has a perennial 1,000-yard rusher backing up Jamaal Charles.

4) The Chiefs picks in rounds four and five were perhaps my favorite of their entire draft.

At pick No. 99 in the fourth round, the Chiefs selected ILB Nico Johnson from Alabama.

This young man is more than likely going to be a starter next to Derrick Johnson as a rookie. Anytime you can find that type of value (a starter) in the fourth round, it’s a home run pick.

At pick No. 134 in the fifth round, the Chiefs selected DB Sanders Commings from Georgia.

Commings has fantastic size and very good cover skills. He played cornerback for Mark Richt at Georgia but may have a future in the NFL as a free safety responsible for roaming the back end of the secondary.

At Georgia he picked off eight passes in his career, but was not known as a great tackler or physical player.

He does, however, come from an outstanding program and gives the Chiefs another big body in the secondary to help cover the large targets on the perimeter roaming the AFC West (including former Mizzou great and current San Diego Charger wideout, Danario Alexander).

The Chiefs got good value on Comings in the fifth round because in today’s NFL, defenses almost always have five or more defensive backs on the field. This guy has starter potential long-term and the positional versatility to play corner or safety.

5) Kansas City completed its draft by taking C Eric Kush from California (Penn.), FB Braden Wilson from Kansas State, and DE Mike Catapano from Princeton.

Of that trio, I believe Catapano has the best chance of making a significant impact. He was the Ivy League’s most outstanding defensive player in 2012 after accumulating 12 sacks and 15.5 tackles for a loss.

He’s also got some very good measurables: 6-foot-5, 275 pounds, 4.75 forty, 33 bench press reps.

The Chiefs appear to have two immediate starters from this group. I wish the front office would have done something else at wide receiver, because I don’t think anyone is sold on Jonathan Baldwin yet. Maybe Kelce will be used more as a tight end off the line, we’ll see.

Kansas City didn’t have many glaring holes to fill, and perhaps that’s why they took on so many players with significant question marks but very high ceilings. I will say this, though, if Fisher works out as the team hopes, a franchise left tackle makes any draft a successful one.

6) The St. Louis Rams get a draft grade of…A-

GM Les Snead and head coach Jeff Fisher provide such a competent juxtaposition to what Rams fans had grown used to seeing in leadership roles for the better part of a decade.

Last year’s draft produced five immediate starters (which includes undrafted rookie free agent punter Johnny Hekker). This year’s class may be even better than that.

Snead wanted to add athleticism, speed, and playmaking ability to his roster and, boy, did he ever.

St. Louis started round one with picks No. 16 and No. 22. Snead made a splash by trading up with Buffalo to No. 8 in first round to take the top wide receiver on the board, West Virginia’s Tavon Austin.

Due to his 4.3 speed and Madden-like moves in the open field, Austin gets comparisons to players like Percy Harvin and Devin Hester. See for yourself.

Not only is this a valuable pick for QB Sam Bradford and the Ram offense, but almost as importantly, it immediately give the Rams one of the most dangerous returnmen in the entire league. St. Louis has not had a legitimate kick return threat in a decade.

Even with the trade up eight spots, Austin gave the Rams tremendous value and an obvious boost to what was a plodding offensive unit one year ago.

7) St. Louis still had another first round pick to use, and instead of staying put at No. 22, Snead maneuvered back eight spots to No. 30 with the Atlanta Falcons. This was a perfect move for two reasons: 1) The Rams recouped some valuable mid-round picks that were lost in the move up with Buffalo to get Austin. 2) The player the Rams wanted all along at No. 22, they got at No 30.

With the 30 th pick in the first round, the Rams added more speed and playmaking ability, this time to the defense, with the selection of Georgia LB Alec Ogletree.

Ogletree is a top-15 talent like Tavon Austin, but he comes with some baggage.

He was arrested for DUI one week prior to the NFL Combine, and Missouri Tiger fans will remember he didn’t play in the Septemeber 8 matchup with Georgia in Columbia because he was serving a suspension for failing a drug test.

One thing Jeff Fisher is not afraid of is a character risk. The choice to select CB Janoris Jenkins in the second round, who fell for the exact same reasons as Ogletree, certainly has paid off to this point. Fisher is hoping his fatherly demeanor can pay off once again and provide MLB James Laurinaitis with the athletic, run and strike compliment he so desperately needs on the weak side.

Playing in the NFC West against Colin Kaepernick and Russell Wilson, you better have some linebackers and safeties that can run sideline-to-sideline and deliver hits. No one in this draft pool does that better than Ogletree.

8) Without a second round pick due to the Austin trade, the Rams didn’t pick again until the third round, but once they made the pick at No. 71, they selected a third consecutive immediate starter in S T.J. McDonald.

Now, the bar was set so low last season with Craig Dahl that anyone who the Rams selected at the position would be an immediate upgrade. So McDonald has that going for him.

Like Ogletree, this former USC Trojan is a defensive player known for his ability to seek and destroy. He’s rangy and has good size, but is not considered to be great in coverage. That’s fine. The Rams have some of the best cover corners in the league, and what Fisher needs from his safeties are a) be better than Craig Dahl (easily done) b) violently strike your opposition.

McDonald, by the way, has outstanding pedigree. His father, Tim, was a six-time Pro Bowl safety in the NFL while playing for the St. Louis/Phoenix Cardinals and, more notably, the San Francisco 49ers.

9) The Rams may not have gotten a starter with the second pick in round three (or maybe they did), but they once again filled a desperate need with tremendous value.

At pick No. 92, St. Louis doubled up on West Virginia wide receivers and selected Stedman Bailey.

For all the love that Tavon Austin got in Morgantown, and rightfully so, Bailey was actually the more productive receiver of the two.

He’s not nearly as small as the diminutive Austin, but Bailey only stands 5 feet 10 inches tall and weighs 193 pounds. His NFL comparison due to size and style is Minnesota Vikings WR Greg Jennings.

If the Rams were able to find a Greg Jennings-caliber player in the third round, I’d say that’s pretty successful. Not only did they add the explosion and playmaking of Austin, but they added the consistency and production of Bailey. Check out these ridiculous numbers his final two years in Morgantown.

2012: 114 rec, 1,622 yards, 25 TD
2011: 72 rec, 1,279 yards, 12 TD

Bailey has tremendously consistent hands and was also one of the most complete route runners in the draft class, but he’s not athletically deficient. He runs a 4.4 forty and as you can see by this highlight tape, has a smooth and athletic style that helps him make plays.

Last year, Sam Bradford had one pass catcher on the roster capable of running a sub 4.5 forty (Givens). After this offseason, he now has four (Givens, Austin, Bailey, and TE Jared Cook).

Austin and Givens can easily clock times in the 4.3 range, and it’s not like the 6-foot-3, 225 pound Brian Quick is dragging with his 4.53 forty speed.

Playmaking ability in the receiving corps is no longer an issue in St. Louis. It’s about time.

10) On the final day of the draft, St. Louis once again poached players from major programs and conferences.

It started in the fourth round with the selection of Alabama OL Barrett Jones.

By no means is Jones the strongest or most athletic lineman you’ll ever see. He’s got pretty good feet, though, and is nimble enough and nasty enough to get to the second level and engage defenders.

Jones, however, has intangibles that are off the charts.

He graduated from Tuscaloosa with a perfect 4.0 GPA and a master’s degree in accounting. Only took him 4.5 years.

He was a team captain for Nick Saban.

He played THREE different positions along the offensive line for THREE different national championship teams. He’s a winner.

He won TWO different college football blocking awards, the 2011 Outland Trophy – given to the top interior lineman in the nation – and the 2012 Rimington Trophy – given to the top center in the nation.

Right now, Jones is recovering from a foot injury he played through while winning his final BCS trophy, but Jeff Fisher likely has a plug and play starter for his offensive line who can enjoy a similarly long and productive career to guys like Matt Birk and Jeff Saturday.

11) With their first pick in the fifth round, St. Louis added CB Brandon McGee from Miami (Fla.).

McGee was an underachiever at The U. He came in as one of the most highly sought after prep players in the country, but never lived up to his 5-star billing.

That being said, the Rams only had three corners on the roster until this pick was made, and McGee can fly. While he insists he can clock in the 4.2 range with his forty, we’ll just have to go by his official time from the combine: 4.37.

If nothing else, McGee can be an immediate special team’s ace as a gunner, and provide needed depth behind Jenkins, Cortland Finnegan and Trumaine Johnson.

12) The Rams started their draft with a trade…and ended their draft with a trade.

Still needing a running back to compliment Isaiah Pead and Daryl Richardson, Les Snead traded both of the team’s sixth round selections to move back up into the fifth and take Vanderbilt RB Zac Stacy.

Built similarly to Ray Rice at 5 feet 9 inches tall and 216 pounds, Stacy is an extremely effective runner between-the-tackles and in close quarters. Two different draft analysts, ESPN’s Todd McShay and NFL Network’s Mike Mayock, said they think Stacy has the best vision of any running back in the draft class.

He’s also very strong. With a bench press that maxes out at more than 400 pounds, Stacy did 27 reps of 225 pounds at the NFL Scouting Combine.

He used that vision and functional strength to become the first running back in Vanderbilt history to record back-to-back 1,000-yard seasons. He left the Commodores as the school’s all-time leading rusher. Playing against brutal SEC defenses – with one of the most talent deficient rosters in the league – Stacy averaged better than five yards per carry the last two seasons and totaled 24 touchdowns.

Though I think Fisher and offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer will employ a running back-by-committee approach, it’s completely plausible that this fifth round rookie ends 2013 with more carries than any other back on the roster.

Stacy will be a consistent chain mover and great option in the red zone.

Here’s some video to get you acquainted with Stacy’s ability.

13) All in all, St. Louis drafted seven players from the following schools: West Virginia x 2, Georgia, USC, Alabama, Miami (Fla.) and Vanderbilt.

They also drafted four players who were team captains in 2012 (McDonald, Jones, McGee, and Stacy).

There are few question marks in this group of players. They all put up number in college at significant programs against top-notch competition. Not only that, they each fill tremendous holes on the roster.

There might be six 2013 starters among these seven selections. That is not a complete stretch of the imagination.

This 2013 draft class, upon initial glance, is perhaps the most substantive of any the Rams have ever had in the franchise’s St. Louis history. And they’ll need more like this to stay long-term contenders in the now brutal NFC West with San Francisco and Seattle.

Best division in football going into the 2013 season.

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