Grading Every First-Round Pick Heading Into 2013 NFL Regular Season

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Grading Every First Round Draft Pick

Jerry Lai-USA TODAY Sports

The 2013 NFL Draft became one based off need more than talent for many teams in the first round. Usually you see skill position players such as quarterbacks and wide receivers jump up the board on draft day as teams reach for the home run pick.

This year’s draft, however, was a bit of the opposite as the top two picks were the safest of the draft as the Kansas City Chiefs and Jacksonville Jaguars drafted back-to-back offensive tackles. The first real risk of the draft didn’t come until pick 12 when the Oakland Raiders selected cornerback D.J. Hayden.

Hayden underwent heart surgery after suffering a near death IVC tear while practicing at the University of Houston. Hayden then missed the rest of the college football season while recovering from surgery and was expected to fall down draft boards.

The Raiders, however, took a chance on the talented corner early on in the draft despite the risks associated with his previous injury. Hayden has since undergone surgery to remove scar tissue from his abdomen which forced him to sit out the team’s first two preseason games.

Heads were again being scratched when the Buffalo Bills selected quarterback E.J. Manuel 16th overall and passed up on the presumptive number one quarterback Geno Smith.

The rest of the first round finished without many surprises besides the Minnesota Vikings trading back into the first round to select Cordarrelle Patterson with their third first round pick. While the jury will be out on this draft for the next few years to see how each player develops, it is still beneficial to grade these players heading into the regular season so you can identify which ones may have a breakout rookie campaign.

Nick Baker is a contributing writer for Rant Sports and you can follow him on Twitter, Facebook, and add him to your network on Google.

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No. 32 Matt Elam, S Baltimore Ravens

Evan Habeeb-USA TODAY Sports

Matt Elam wasn’t selected until the last pick of the first round by the Baltimore Ravens and was the third safety drafted. On draft night it was assumed he was the heir to the vacated safety spot left by Ed Reed, and through his first preseason Elam has shown to be a steal at the bottom of the first round.

Elam led the Ravens with 15 tackles through four preseason games and showed his big hitting and play making abilities have transferred to the NFL from the University of Florida indicating he will likely make an impact as a starter on the Ravens defense at some point this season.

Grade A-

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No. 31 Travis Frederick, C Dallas Cowboys

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Travis Frederick was believed to be a reach on draft night when he snuck into the end of the first round. Frederick is a smart offensive lineman out of the University of Wisconsin, and the early impressions of him have been good. Quarterback Tony Romo even praised Frederick after the team’s first preseason game saying this about the rookie:

"They picked a good one there. He's going to be a guy who's going to help us a lot for a long time. I don't know whether people are talking about whether or not we reached for him and stuff like that I guess at the time, but he's (a) good football player and we got a good first-round draft pick there."

TheDallas Cowboys desperately needed to improve their rushing up the middle heading into this season, and through just a few preseason games it appears they have found their answer with Frederick as he has shown he belongs as the first-string center.

Grade: B

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No. 30 Alec Ogletree, LB St. Louis Rams

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Alec Ogletree had his preseason breakout performance against the Denver Broncos in just his third game of the year. Ogletree’s signature play from that game was when he stripped running back Ronnie Hillman of the ball and then returned it 13 yards for the touchdown. Ogletree wasn’t done for the night after that, however, as he totaled six tackles on the night and broke up two passes as well.

While the third preseason game he played in was his most impressive, he has made an impact in all four he has played in by totaling 14 tackles and intercepting one pass on his way to making a bid to start at the linebacker position alongside five year veteran James Laurinaitis.

Grade: A+

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No. 29 Cordarrelle Patterson, WR Minnesota Vikings

Cary Edmondson-USA TODAY Sports

Cordarrelle Patterson entered the perfect situation when he was drafted by the Minnesota Vikings 29th overall. He may be of a bigger physical stature, but Patterson has been expected to replace the departed Percy Harvin. Through just a few preseason games he has made an impact in more ways than one, which is exactly what Harvin did as a Viking.

Even with the inconsistent play of quarterbacks Christian Ponder and Matt Cassel, Patterson was third on the team with eight catches for 84 yards and even spent time returning kicks. In Patterson’s first ever preseason action he returned the opening kickoff for 50 yards, but has since calmed down to hold a return average of 30 yards making him a likely special teams starter.

Grade: B

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No. 28 Sylvester Williams, DT Denver Broncos

Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

Although Sylvester Williams has been given plenty of playing time and opportunities this preseason he failed to record a tackle and has been a disappointment so far. Williams is currently listed as the backup nose tackle on the Denver Broncos’ official site which is a good spot for the big bodied rookie.

One thing Williams has showed us this preseason is that he has the body and muscle to move a pile, meaning getting a few snaps at the nose tackle position this regular season would be best as he can adjust to the game as well as learn to shed blockers to make a play.

Grade: D

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No. 27 DeAndre Hopkins, WR Houston Texans

Brace Hemmelgarn-USA TODAY Sports

DeAndre Hopkins’ preseason wasn’t as complete as the Houston Texans had hoped, but in the limited action he saw he showed other teams they will have to worry about two dynamic wide receivers in Houston now. The Texans drafted Hopkins to play opposite of Andre Johnson, and so far it appears they will have one of the best passing attacks in the league this year if they can stay healthy.

Hopkins missed the team’s third preseason game against the New Orleans Saints because of a concussion he had the previous week against the Miami Dolphins. The concussion kept him out of the most important preseason game of the year for starters which hurt his improvement, but his performance in other games has many believing he will be a top tier wide receiver soon.

Grade: B-

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No. 26 Datone Jones, DE Green Bay Packers

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Datone Jones had a disappointing and limited preseason because of the ankle injury he sustained when he blew by fellow rookie Johnathan Cooper in the first preseason game before tripping to end his first preseason game. Jones showed great quickness on that pass rush, but because he sustained an injury so early in the preseason his grade as of now is an incomplete.

Grade: I

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No. 25 Xavier Rhodes, CB Minnesota Vikings

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The second of three first round picks by the Vikings, Xavier Rhodes had an interesting preseason as he came into camp competing with numerous other players for the two starting cornerback spots. The Vikings have struggled against the pass the past few years, and the big bodied Rhodes gives hope they can contain some of the bigger wide receivers they will face in the NFC North.

Rhodes missed the team’s first preseason game due to a hamstring injury but was effective against former teammate E.J. Manuel in the team’s second game as he totaled three tackles and defensed one pass which ended up as an interception for teammate Jamarca Sanford. The likelihood of Rhodes starting the season opener doesn’t look good as he had a lackluster overall preseason and seemed to disappear at times.

Grade: C+

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No. 24 Bjoern Werner, LB Indianapolis Colts

Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

Bjoern Werner was a defensive end while playing college ball at Florida State but has since transitioned to the outside linebacker role for the Indianapolis Colts meaning there is an expected learning curve to happen for the German born player.

Werner made small impact during his three preseason games, but he showed he still has the ability in the NFL to get into the backfield as he collected a sack against the Cincinnati Bengals and had a near sack in is first game against the New York Giants showing he has the speed to succeed as an outside linebacker.

Grade: B+

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No. 23 Sharrif Floyd, DT Minnesota Vikings

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Sharrif Floyd was the first player selected by the Vikings, yet he had possibly the smallest impact of the team’s three first rounders in the preseason. Floyd was not a starter during the preseason, and he spent time primarily as a second-teamer.

Floyd made just one tackle all preseason, but there is a chance that can be attributed to the knee injury he sustained in the first preseason game against the Houston Texans. Floyd then underwent a minor knee surgery that cut his preseason short giving him an incomplete grade so far.

Grade: I

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No. 22 Desmond Trufant, CB Atlanta Falcons

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Desmond Trufant came into training camp with the ability and expectation to earn a starting spot in the Atlanta Falcons’ secondary. Trufant was given plenty of preseason playing time which he made the most of by totaling 10 tackles, two pass deflections, and one interception.

Those gaudy pass deflections and interception came in the team’s last preseason game which was possibly the most important for Trufant. He impressed the coaching staff in that last game and likely earned his starting spot making him one of the highest graded rookies in the first round.

Grade: A-

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No. 21 Tyler Eifert, TE Cincinnati Bengals

Daniel Shirey-USA TODAY Sports

Tyler Eifert came in as a sexy pick to win the Cincinnati Bengals’ starting tight end job and be a main weapon for Andy Dalton, but after four preseason games the future for Eifert is more unclear than ever.

When running routes Eifert was not targeted that often and his only three receptions all preseason came in the team’s second game when he gained 32 yards. His blocking in limited time was alright for a rooki,e but after injuring his wrist in practice he missed the remaining two preseason games giving coaches very little to evaluate.

Grade: C+

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No. 20 Kyle Long, G Chicago Bears

Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Kyle Long came into the draft not expecting to go inside the top 20. The Chicago Bears, however, saw something not many other teams did as they took a chance on Long and have reaped the benefits of doing so heading into the regular season.

Long started off as the second-string right guard for the Bears, but after just a couple of games earned the starting spot for the remainder of the preseason. Long will be the starting guard for the Bears in Week 1 of the regular season and will likely have a long career if he can stay healthy.

Grade: A

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No. 19 Justin Pugh, T New York Giants

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The offensive linemen are some of the most underrated players on the football field, and it was clear this is true when Justin Pugh was booed by New York Giants fans when he was drafted 19th overall. It is conceivable that Giants fans wanted their team to get an impact player who they knew, but the booing may have been appropriate as Pugh had a so-so preseason.

Pugh rarely saw playing time early on in the preseason, possibly because he was a left tackle in college and is now transitioning to multiple offensive line positions. Against the Colts in the second week of the preseason Pugh got some work in and held his own but did eventually give up a sack. He likely won’t start a game this season, but that is fine for the offensive lineman who was one of the premier left tackles in college and should become a longtime starter in the NFL.

Grade: C+

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No. 18 Eric Reid, S San Francisco 49ers

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Eric Reid will simply become the next LSU product to become a success NFL defensive player. LSU head coach Les Miles runs a defensive factory, and being one of the many talented defensive backs to be drafted in the first round, Reid has set himself up for a successful career with the San Francisco 49ers. They are a team that also values defense and has done a great job drafting in the past.

The free safety spot for the 49ers was up in the air as Reid battled with C.J. Spillman, but considering Reid got the start in the third preseason game and performed well the Niners have named him their starting free safety. Reid was projected as an NFL ready safety, and after making nine tackles and deflecting one pass in the preseason the expectations are there for him to perform this season.

Grade: B+

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No. 17 Jarvis Jones, LB Pittsburgh Steelers

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Jarvis Jones started the 2012 college football season as one of the top ranked prospects in the nation. Then his prior injury concerns from his days at USC popped up again and the uber-talented linebacker slid to the Pittsburgh Steelers at number 17.

Jones’ preseason was cut short by a chest injury in the team’s third preseason game, but the team later found out the injury wasn’t serious and he will likely be ready for the regular season. In two and a half games Jones accumulated seven total tackles and forced a fumble as well. He is physically ready to play in the NFL and he showed in the preseason he has the speed to rush the passer and the strength to light up ball carriers as well.

Grade: B+

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No. 16 E.J. Manuel, QB Buffalo Bills

Thomas J. Russo-USA TODAY Sports

E.J. Manuel was the talk of the draft when the Buffalo Bills made him the first quarterback drafted and passed up on Geno Smith. Manuel came in with all the physical tools and was seen as a project entering the draft, something that has completely changed after the Bills’ preseason.

Manuel will likely miss the team’s first regular season game, but with Kevin Kolb done for the season and Manuel showing glimpses of progress he has been named the team’s starting quarterback once he returns. Manuel completed 78 percent of his passes in the preseason and had a seven yards per carry average showing there is potential for him to be a scrambler at the NFL level.

Grade: A-

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No. 15 Kenny Vaccaro, S New Orleans Saints

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The New Orleans Saints desperately needed to improve their defense, and the drafting of top ranked safety Kenny Vaccaro was a step in the right direction. Vaccaro was a ball-hawk all preseason finishing with 18 combined tackles in just three games.

Vaccaro found himself getting more snaps than expected during the games he played in showing the team has big plans for him now. Head coach Sean Payton has stated Vaccaro will not start but will play early and often which is good news for the rookie who impressed in the preseason.

Grade: B+

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No. 14 Star Lotulelei, DT Carolina Panthers

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Star Lotulelei was seen as a possible steal for the Carolina Panthers at number 14. Lotulelei was one of the highest ranked defensive tackles heading into the draft and was seen to be NFL-ready.

Lotulelei, however, hardly made an impact during the preseason and only recorded stats in one game. His play was sporadic, but he did record one sack before sitting out the fourth game. He was challenged by second round pick Kawann Short which hurts his grade a bit.

Grade: C+

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No. 13 Sheldon Richardson, DT New York Jets

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Sheldon Richardson was a questionable pick with Star Lotulelei still on the board, but so far the New York Jets have not been disappointed. Richardson has not only outshone Lotulelei, but he has also made a bid for early regular season snaps.

Playing in just three preseason games, Richardson was a force on the line totaling 12 tackles and getting in the backfield for one sack. Richardson is now listed as the number one defensive tackle on the Jets’ official site, and his impressive preseason is likely a reason why as he stopped the run and also found his way rushing the passer.

Grade: A-

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No. 12 D.J. Hayden, CB Oakland Raiders

Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Drafting D.J. Hayden 12th overall was a bit of a risk by the Oakland Raiders. Just months earlier Hayden had nearly died with a serious chest injury sustained while practicing for the Houston Cougars last college football season, and the future implications of his injury are unknown.

Hayden was forced to undergo surgery prior to the preseason and also sustained a hamstring strain which forced him to miss the first two preseason games. In his very limited preseason action Hayden showed his playmaking abilities by deflecting a Jay Cutler pass but was also beat for a sizable gains as well showing a tad of inconsistency.

Grade: C+

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No. 11 D.J. Fluker, T San Diego Chargers

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The San Diego Chargers have key skill players in place on offense and used their lone first round pick shoring up their offensive line. D.J. Fluker was once a standout for Alabama and is now hoping his run blocking abilities can continue to transition to the NFL.

Fluker has always been known to have troubles pass blocking, and this was evident against the Bears when Corey Wootton beat Fluker early in the game to sack Philip Rivers. Fluker then made up for it by showing his dominance as a run blocker, and considering he is a right tackle, his run blocking is what is most important.

Grade: B

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No. 10 Chance Warmack, G Tennessee Titans

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Chance Warmack had an impressive preseason debut for the Tennessee Titans and was rewarded by the team with multiple chances to show off his skills. The Titans ran behind Warmack on the right side multiple times and he provided key blocks for the running backs multiple times.

Warmack was impressive in the run game but was beaten in pass protection a few times this preseason which raises a few concerns as to how often he will play considering the Titans have a young quarterback who needs to be protected.

Grade: B+

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No. 9 Dee Milliner, CB New York Jets

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Dee Milliner was put in an unfair situation when the Jets drafted him ninth overall after trading away star corner Darrelle Revis to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Milliner was a consensus top ranked corner, but after playing in just two preseason games he appears to have a steep learning curve ahead of him.

Milliner had a rough game against the Jacksonville Jaguars in Week 2 and was then openly criticized by head coach Rex Ryan about his performance. It appears Milliner will start the year as the team’s third cornerback which is exactly where the struggling rookie belongs.

Grade: C

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No. 8 Tavon Austin, WR St. Louis Rams

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Tavon Austin will have a big role in the Rams’ offense, and after showing his solid hands off in the preseason Sam Bradford may have found his new favorite target. Austin reeled in eight catches in four games but failed to demonstrate his playmaking ability as a receiver.

Austin averaged just 8.2 yards per catch which is a number that needs to drastically improve once the regular season begins. Austin showed his speed on a punt return against the Broncos when he returned one for 81 yards making him the lead candidate for the duties in the regular season. This will allow him to contend for rookie of the year honors.

Grade: B

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No. 7 Jonathan Cooper, G Arizona Cardinals

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Jonathan Cooper caught a bad break in his third preseason game for the Arizona Cardinals. Cooper broke his leg against the Chargers on August 24 and was subsequently placed on injured reserve thus ending his season.

Cooper would have helped the Cardinals immensely on the offensive line, but because of his injury he will come back as a different player next year.

Grade: N/A

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No. 6 Barkevious Mingo, DE Cleveland Browns

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Barkevious Mingo is another player, like Jonathan Cooper, who caught a bad break early on in the preseason. Mingo suffered a bruised lung and missed the majority of the preseason. He is also expected to miss the first week of the season for the Cleveland Browns.

Grade: I

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No. 5 Ezekiel Ansah, DE Detroit Lions

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Ezekiel “Ziggy” Ansah is a raw football player who has all the physical ability to be one dominant pass rushing defensive end. It didn’t take long for Ansah to make an impact as he intercepted a ball in his first preseason game and returned it for a touchdown.

Ansah also deflected another pass that game as well as accumulating two tackles. While that was the standout game for Ansah, he appeared in two more totaling three more tackles. Ansah suffered an unknown injury prior to the fourth preseason game, but it is said to not be serious and he could possibly be starting for the Detroit Lions Week 1.

Grade: A-

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No. 4 Lane Johnson, T Philadelphia Eagles

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Lane Johnson was expected to help the Philadelphia Eagles’ offensive line early, but after his preseason debut head coach Chip Kelly said Johnson graded out as the best lineman on the team.

This is high praise for a rookie, but after showing he is capable of being the anchor of the Eagles’ offensive line all preseason long, it appears Johnson is the real deal and will be a key contributor in the ever-important run game for the Eagles.

Grade: A

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No. 3 Dion Jordan, DE Miami Dolphins

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The Miami Dolphins loved Dion Jordan so much they traded up to the third pick in the draft just to select him. So far they have been held from seeing his full potential as he had shoulder surgery coming into the preseason and then sat out the remaining three games to protect the recovering shoulder.

Grade: I

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No. 2 Luke Joeckel, T Jacksonville Jaguars

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Luke Joeckel underwent a position change early in training camp, but the new right tackle for the Jacksonville Jaguars made it seem as if he had always been a right instead of left tackle. Joeckel was praised early in training camp and showed us all why in his early preseason performances.

Joeckel did sustain a hip-flexor injury early on and missed the second preseason game for the Jaguars, but he returned for the last two and seemed to hold his own against most defensive ends.

Grade: B

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No. 1 Eric Fisher, T Kansas City Chiefs

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Eric Fisher was the lucky player to be selected first overall in the 2013 NFL Draft. Fisher thus has some high expectations, especially in an offensive line heavy draft. Fisher would have liked to come in early and prove that coming from a small school doesn’t matter when drafting player, but after an up and down preseason, the jury is still out.

Fisher also dealt with a shoulder and thumb injury during the preseason which could have affected his performance, but he was able to stay tough and play in three of the team’s four preseason games while also showing he is ready to be the Kansas City Chiefs’ starting right tackle.

Grade: B