NFL

Grading Every 2014 First-Round NFL Draft Pick After the Preseason

Preseason Grades for All 2014 First-Round Picks

Arizona Cardinals v Minnesota Vikings
Getty Images

The 2014 NFL Preseason is officially in the books as the regular season lies just around the corner. While many were focused on players riding the roster bubble, I’ve put together a look at how the first-round picks from May fared in their first taste of NFL action.

With that in mind, here are my grades for all 32 first-round picks, based on their preseason performances.

1. Jadeveon Clowney, DE, Houston Texans

Jadeveon Clowney
Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

1. Jadeveon Clowney, DE, Houston Texans

Jadeveon Clowney
Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Grade: A

While he played limited snaps (29) and only saw action in two games, Clowney was as advertised. Not only did he make a couple of explosive tackles in the backfield, but he also notched a sack after overpowering an offensive lineman. The 2014 top pick is off to a good start.

2. Greg Robinson, OT, St. Louis Rams

Greg Robinson
Jeff Curry-USA TODAY Sports

2. Greg Robinson, OT, St. Louis Rams

Greg Robinson
Jeff Curry-USA TODAY Sports

Grade: D

Not a lot to be impressed by with Robinson so far. Despite a huge chunk of playing time, the second overall pick failed to live up to the hype during the preseason. While he wasn’t terrible as a pass protector, he got dominated as a run blocker and also committed a few costly penalties.

3. Blake Bortles, QB, Jacksonville Jaguars

Blake Bortles
Tim Fuller-USA TODAY Sports

3. Blake Bortles, QB, Jacksonville Jaguars

Blake Bortles
Tim Fuller-USA TODAY Sports

Grade: A-

Although he slowly digressed throughout the preseason, Bortles is definitely looking like the franchise quarterback the Jaguars were hoping for. He completed 62 percent of his passes for 521 yards, four touchdowns and zero interceptions while showing marked improvement with his decision making.

4. Sammy Watkins, WR, Buffalo Bills

Sammy Watkins
Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

4. Sammy Watkins, WR, Buffalo Bills

Sammy Watkins
Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

Grade: C

It was a less-than-steller preseason for Watkins, who battled through a nagging rib injury and only saw the field for 44 snaps. During those limited snaps, he hauled in three of his seven targets for 21 yards. The talent and athleticism are obviously there, but the Bills better hope he can stay healthy this season.

5. Khalil Mack, OLB, Oakland Raiders

Khalil Mack
Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

5. Khalil Mack, OLB, Oakland Raiders

Khalil Mack
Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Grade: B-

While Mack didn’t get off to the hot start I expected, there’s still plenty for the Raiders to be excited about. He picked up a (gimme) sack and showed good instincts in coverage, and should continue to improve as he adjusts to the speed of the NFL game, which he admitted was an issue.

6. Jake Matthews, OT, Atlanta Falcons

Jake Matthews
Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

6. Jake Matthews, OT, Atlanta Falcons

Jake Matthews
Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

Grade: C-

These offensive linemen seem to be having a tough time adjusting to the NFL. Matthews wasn’t as bad as Robinson during the preseason, but it still wasn’t pretty. He also performed decently as a pass protector, but got mauled in the running game. There’s plenty of work left to be done with Matthews.

7. Mike Evans, WR, Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Mike Evans
Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

7. Mike Evans, WR, Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Mike Evans
Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Grade: B

We didn’t see as many fireworks as we would have liked from Evans early on, but there were glimpses of greatness. He hauled in five passes for 96 yards and one touchdown during the preseason, and should continue to increase his production as he gets more comfortable within the Buccaneers’ offense.

8. Justin Gilbert, CB, Cleveland Browns

Justin Gilbert
Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

8. Justin Gilbert, CB, Cleveland Browns

Justin Gilbert
Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

Grade: D

The adjustment from college to the NFL for cornerbacks is among the hardest, and it showed with Gilbert. The rookie cover man got torched on two separate occasions, including an outing against the Rams during which he yielded five catches for 141 yards and two touchdowns. Not a good start…

9. Anthony Barr, OLB, Minnesota Vikings

Anthony Barr
Brace Hemmelgarn-USA TODAY Sports

9. Anthony Barr, OLB, Minnesota Vikings

Anthony Barr
Brace Hemmelgarn-USA TODAY Sports

Grade: B-

The Vikings got a glimpse of what they received when they spent the No. 9 overall pick on Barr, but they wished they would have seen more. The raw pass rusher racked up two sacks and showed well against the run, but was picked on in coverage and clearly still has a lot to learn before reaching his potential.

10. Eric Ebron, TE, Detroit Lions

Eric Ebron
Andrew Weber-USA TODAY Sports

10. Eric Ebron, TE, Detroit Lions

Eric Ebron
Andrew Weber-USA TODAY Sports

Grade: B

There weren’t many explosive plays out of Ebron during the preseason, but there also weren’t many red flags either. He’s clearly still a work in progress in terms of his blocking abilities, but displayed the tremendous athleticism as a receiver (seven catches, 88 yards) that got him drafted this high.

11. Taylor Lewan, OT, Tennessee Titans

Taylor Lewan
Jason Getz-USA TODAY Sports

11. Taylor Lewan, OT, Tennessee Titans

Taylor Lewan
Jason Getz-USA TODAY Sports

Grade: B+

While the top two offensive linemen were struggling, Lewan showed promising early ability for the Titans. As long as he can control his temper and keep the penalties to a minimum, the former Wolverine should have no trouble living up to his draft status.

12. Odell Beckham Jr., WR, New York Giants

Odell Beckham Jr
Noah K. Murray-USA TODAY Sports

12. Odell Beckham Jr., WR, New York Giants

Odell Beckham Jr
Noah K. Murray-USA TODAY Sports

Grade: F

Beckham did not see a single snap during the preseason as he continues to work his way back from a lingering hamstring injury. It’s believed he’ll still be out of the lineup in Week 1.

13. Aaron Donald, DT, St. Louis Rams

New Orleans Saints v St. Louis Rams
Getty Images

13. Aaron Donald, DT, St. Louis Rams

New Orleans Saints v St. Louis Rams
Getty Images

Grade: A-

The media was focused on Michael Sam while Donald was quietly having an excellent preseason. The “undersized” defensive tackle showed immense ability as a pass rusher (one sack, five hurries) while also holding his own as a run defender. There’s room for improvement, but the early signs are promising.

14. Kyle Fuller, CB, Chicago Bears

Philadelphia Eagles v Chicago Bears
Getty Images

14. Kyle Fuller, CB, Chicago Bears

Philadelphia Eagles v Chicago Bears
Getty Images

Grade: C+

In his only appearance of the preseason, Fuller looked like a rookie ready to take over a starting role. Unfortunately, an ankle injury on the opening kickoff of Week 2 sidelined him for the remainder of the month, which left us with little to go off of. He’s expected to be ready for the regular season opener.

15. Ryan Shazier, OLB, Pittsburgh Steelers

Ryan Shazier
Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

15. Ryan Shazier, OLB, Pittsburgh Steelers

Ryan Shazier
Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

Grade: C+

As productive as Shazier was, there’s still a lot for the rookie to learn before he’s ready to be a true playmaker for the Steelers. Despite racking up 18 tackles in three games, the athletic linebacker looked lost in coverage and struggled to consistently defend the run. He’s a work in progress.

16. Zack Martin, G, Dallas Cowboys

Zack Martin
Jake Roth-USA TODAY Sports

16. Zack Martin, G, Dallas Cowboys

Zack Martin
Jake Roth-USA TODAY Sports

Grade: C

Nothing too exciting with Martin so far. Playing in 78 snaps, the Cowboys’ starting right guard played solid football, excelling as a pass blocker while struggling to get his footing in the run game. Experience will certainly help as the lack of playing time didn’t paint a very clear picture of Martin.

17. C.J. Mosley, ILB, Baltimore Ravens

C.J. Mosley
Evan Habeeb-USA TODAY Sports

17. C.J. Mosley, ILB, Baltimore Ravens

C.J. Mosley
Evan Habeeb-USA TODAY Sports

Grade: B-

Mosley’s preseason was marred by inconsistency. From game to game, his abilities as a cover man were up and down while his run defense wasn’t much more stable. The few good looks we got of Mosley seem to suggest that he’ll be a star, but he obviously needs to develop some reliability.

18. Calvin Pryor, SS, New York Jets

New York Giants v New York Jets
Getty Images

18. Calvin Pryor, SS, New York Jets

New York Giants v New York Jets
Getty Images

Grade: A

There’s a reason why the Jets made Pryor the first safety to come off the board. Despite getting a late start to his preseason, the Louisville product shined when he was on the field. Not only did he display aggressive run defense and a knack for being an enforcer, but Pryor even shine as a pass rusher.

19. Ja’Wuan James, OT, Miami Dolphins

Ja'Wuan James
Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

19. Ja’Wuan James, OT, Miami Dolphins

Ja'Wuan James
Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Grade: C-

It wasn’t all bad for James this preseason, but it certainly brings back the question of what exactly the Dolphins were thinking when they reached for him at No. 19 overall. He failed to consistently keep his man at bay as a pass protector, and was routinely dominated in the run game.

20. Brandin Cooks, WR, New Orleans Saints

Brandin Cooks
Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports

20. Brandin Cooks, WR, New Orleans Saints

Brandin Cooks
Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports

Grade: B

Cooks’ early impact wasn’t as enormous as the Saints would have liked, but there is definitely a strong foundation to build on. He hauled in nine passes for 101 yards in three appearances, showing good burst and quickness out of his cuts. His versatility and big-play abilities make him an exciting player to watch.

21. Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, FS, Green Bay Packers

Ha Ha Clinton-Dix
Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports

21. Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, FS, Green Bay Packers

Ha Ha Clinton-Dix
Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports

Grade: C+

While Clinton-Dix’ play certainly wasn’t bad, he failed to run away with the starting free safety job as he was expected to do. His preseason performance was solid, as he showed good ability to step up against the run and only allowed one catch for five yards. The fact that he didn’t shine, though, is disappointing.

22. Johnny Manziel, QB, Cleveland Browns

Johnny Manziel
Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

22. Johnny Manziel, QB, Cleveland Browns

Johnny Manziel
Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

Grade: D

Call me a Johnny Football hater if you’d like, but this preseason was a major disappointment for Manziel. Instead of coming out and wowing his way into a starting job, he struggled to make plays as a passer. Until he focuses on football instead of making commercials and going to Vegas, he’ll be Johnny Clipboard.

23. Dee Ford, OLB, Kansas City Chiefs

Dee Ford
John Rieger-USA TODAY Sports

23. Dee Ford, OLB, Kansas City Chiefs

Dee Ford
John Rieger-USA TODAY Sports

Grade: C

Ford’s preseason started off strong, but got ugly in a big hurry. After a debut that saw him harassing the opposing quarterback, he failed to consistently put on pressure in the next three outings. To make matters worse, he struggled as a run defender and made too many costly errors.

24. Darqueze Dennard, CB, Cincinnati Bengals

Cincinnati Bengals v Kansas City Chiefs
Getty Images

24. Darqueze Dennard, CB, Cincinnati Bengals

Cincinnati Bengals v Kansas City Chiefs
Getty Images

Grade: D+

The first 23 teams to pick during the 2014 NFL Draft might have been on to something. Dennard was a major disappointment during the preseason, only making one appearance while battling a hip injury. In the one game he did see action in, he looked out of sorts in coverage and even struggled against the run.

25. Jason Verrett, CB, San Diego Chargers

Jason Verrett
Jake Roth-USA TODAY Sports

25. Jason Verrett, CB, San Diego Chargers

Jason Verrett
Jake Roth-USA TODAY Sports

Grade: C

Verrett was slated to start for the Chargers, but was forced to spend most of the preseason watching from the sideline while nursing a shoulder injury. He played during a handful (15) of snaps and looked good, but needs to get healthy before he becomes a factor in San Diego.

26. Marcus Smith, OLB, Philadelphia Eagles

Philadelphia Eagles v Chicago Bears
Getty Images

26. Marcus Smith, OLB, Philadelphia Eagles

Philadelphia Eagles v Chicago Bears
Getty Images

Grade: C-

His preseason debut was strong, but nothing much went right for Smith after that. He was brutally beaten time and time again against the Patriots, and barely managed to bounce back in the next two weeks. It was definitely a reach for the Eagles to grab him at No. 26, and it’s showing right away.

27. Deone Bucannon, SS, Arizona Cardinals

Cincinnati Bengals v Arizona Cardinals
Getty Images

27. Deone Bucannon, SS, Arizona Cardinals

Cincinnati Bengals v Arizona Cardinals
Getty Images

Grade: A-

I’ll admit I was concerned about this pick when the Cardinals made it, but it appears to be paying off so far. Bucannon shined throughout the preseason, making several big plays both against the run and pass. His coverage could still use some work, but the rookie should be starting before long.

28. Kelvin Benjamin, WR, Carolina Panthers

Kelvin Benjamin
Jeremy Brevard-USA TODAY Sports

28. Kelvin Benjamin, WR, Carolina Panthers

Kelvin Benjamin
Jeremy Brevard-USA TODAY Sports

Grade: B

Not a highlight-filled preseason for Benjamin, but not a bad one either. He had one tremendous touchdown catch for the Panthers during his debut, and produced plenty throughout the month (12 catches, 173 yards). Unfortunately, his raw route running still needs some fine tuning.

29. Dominique Easley, DT, New England Patriots

New England Patriot Rookies Spread Cheer at Boston Children's Hospital
Getty Images

29. Dominique Easley, DT, New England Patriots

New England Patriot Rookies Spread Cheer at Boston Children's Hospital
Getty Images

Grade: F

Still working his way back from a torn ACL, Easley (far left) didn’t see the field at all during the Patriots’ preseason action. The team is hoping he’ll be available for the regular season opener, but I wouldn’t hold my breath.

30. Jimmie Ward, SS, San Francisco 49ers

San Francisco 49ers v Baltimore Ravens
Getty Images

30. Jimmie Ward, SS, San Francisco 49ers

San Francisco 49ers v Baltimore Ravens
Getty Images

Grade: B+

Originally drafted as a safety, Ward’s versatility has seen him playing significant snaps out of the slot. During that time, he’s played very well, showing good physicality against the run while holding his own in coverage (including an interception). The future looks bright for the No. 30 overall pick.

31. Bradley Roby, CB, Denver Broncos

Houston Texans v Denver Broncos
Getty Images

31. Bradley Roby, CB, Denver Broncos

Houston Texans v Denver Broncos
Getty Images

Grade: B

Again, another solid preseason from this rookie defensive back. The Broncos needed an upgrade at cornerback, and all signs are pointing towards Roby being exactly that. He’s held his own in coverage while also showing the confidence to step up and get dirty against the run.

32. Teddy Bridgewater, QB, Minnesota Vikings

Teddy Bridgewater
Brace Hemmelgarn-USA TODAY Sports

32. Teddy Bridgewater, QB, Minnesota Vikings

Teddy Bridgewater
Brace Hemmelgarn-USA TODAY Sports

Grade: A-

The Vikings may have found their quarterback of the future, and at a discounted price. After a sluggish debut, Bridgewater displayed excellent poise and instincts in his second outing, leading Minnesota to a come-from-behind win. He might not start right away, but he’ll supplant Matt Cassel before long.

Gil Alcaraz IV is the Director of Content for RantSports.com. Follow him on Twitter @GilAlcarazIV, like him on Facebook or add him to your network on Google.