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2014 NFL Draft Re-Grade: NFC South

by Joshua Doering

Perhaps the only thing more impressive about the NFL draft than the amount of time it takes to complete all seven rounds is the amount of grades produced in the aftermath of each selection. The draft’s winners and losers are decided before any pick plays a down of professional football. 

For all the immediate evaluation that is done, it is impossible to fairly assess a draft class without data and the gift of time. Starting with 2010, 110 Sports is going back and grading every NFL draft of the past decade on a team-by-team basis. 

These grades are based first and foremost on production. Other factors were taken into consideration, but the primary goal is figuring out how successful teams were at identifying talent.  

Two former Texas A&M Aggies headline the 2014 NFL Draft re-grade for the NFC South. 

*All stats courtesy of pro-football-reference.com and accurate through the end of the 2019 season.

Atlanta Falcons

Picks: OT Jake Matthews (6th overall), DT Ra’Shede Hageman (37), DB Dezmen Southward (68), RB Devonta Freeman (103), LB Prince Shembo (139), DB Ricardo Allen (147), LB Marquis Spruill (168), LB Yawin Smallwood (253), LB Tyler Starr (255)

Best pick: Devonta Freeman

Freeman has produced four seasons with over 1,000 yards of total offense in his six-year career, tying for the league lead with 11 rushing touchdowns in 2015. He posted over 1,000 rushing yards and 1,500 yards of total offense in 2015 and 2016, making the Pro Bowl both seasons. Freeman and Tood Gurley are the only players in the NFL with 3,500+ rushing yards and 2,000+ receiving yards in the past six seasons. 

Worst pick: Dezmen Southward

Southward saw the field in all 16 games as a rookie in the only full season he would play in the NFL. He appeared in three games in 2015 before the Falcons released him. Southward joined the Colts’ practice squad for the remainder of the 2015 season and eventually briefly found his way onto the Panthers’ active roster in 2017. He played in one game for Carolina, bringing his career total up to 20. 

Grade: A-

It’s solely because five of the nine players Atlanta drafted have fewer than 20 appearances and three starts that the grade isn’t an A. Matthews missed one game as a rookie and has started every one since, playing every offensive snap for the Falcons the past three seasons. Allen has 64 starts, all for Atlanta. The best three players the Falcons drafted have spent their entire careers with the franchise, which is rather remarkable. 

Carolina Panthers

Picks: WR Kelvin Benjamin (28), DE Kony Ealy (60), OG Trai Turner (92), DB Tre Boston (128), DB Bene Benwikere (148), RB Tyler Gaffney (204)

Best pick: Trai Turner

Turner has started 80 games. The next closest player in the group is Boston with 60. Turner was invited to the Pro Bowl in 2015, 2016, 2017, 2018 and 2019. The rest of the Panthers’ draft class has made zero Pro Bowls. Turner is one of five players drafted in 2014 to make at least five Pro Bowls. Aaron Donald, Zack Martin, Jarvis Landry and Khalil Mack are the others. 

Worst pick: Tyler Gaffney

Everyone else played in at least 54 games, so Gaffney, who never saw the field in an NFL game, winds up here. He tore his meniscus during his first training camp, leading the Panthers to release him. Gaffney was claimed off waivers by the Patriots and went on to win two Super Bowls with the team. Yes, Gaffney is a two-time Super Bowl champion with zero career appearances. After his NFL career was over, he spent a season playing minor league baseball with the Bradenton Marauders. 

Grade: A-

Benjamin’s performance declined every season he was in the league, going from 1,008 yards and eight touchdowns as a rookie to 380 yards and one touchdown in 2018. Ealy played in 62 games from 2014 to 2018, recording 15 sacks. Boston has 14 interceptions and 334 tackles in 88 appearances. Benwikere made 22 starts over five seasons. That’s the whole group except for Gaffney. Benjamin was certainly a disappointment, but he still gave Carolina two good seasons. The Panthers have gotten 352 games and 233 starts out of the six players they drafted. 

New Orleans Saints

Picks: WR Brandin Cooks (20), DB Stanley Jean-Baptiste (58), LB Khairi Fortt (126), DB Vinnie Sunseri (167), LB Ronald Powell (169), OT Tavon Rooks (202)

Best pick: Brandin Cooks

This is the easiest choice in the entire NFL Draft re-grade series so far. Cook has 88 appearances, 76 starts and four 1,000-yard seasons. The rest of the Saints’ draft class has played 37 games, none of which were starts. Sunseri comes in second with 15 appearances and 11 tackles. 

Worst pick: Stanley Jean-Baptiste

Jean-Baptiste played a total of eight snaps on defense in his career, all in 2014. He saw action — mostly on special teams — in four games as a rookie. New Orleans released him after one season and he bounced around until December 2017, when he was promoted to the Ravens’ active roster. He played one game for Baltimore (the fifth of his career) and signed with the Toronto Argonauts of the Canadian Football League on Jan. 21, 2020. 

Grade: D+

Cooks has 5,730 receiving yards and Jean-Baptiste did manage to keep his career going despite never sticking on any team’s roster for an extended period of time. That’s where the good news ends. Cooks, Jean-Baptiste and Sunseri were the only ones to play in a game after 2014. 

Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Picks: WR Mike Evans (7), TE Austin Seferian-Jenkins (38), RB Charles Sims (69), Kadeem Edwards (143), OT Kevin Pamphile (149), WR Robert Herron (185)

Best pick: Mike Evans

It is Evans — not Odell Beckham Jr. or Jarvis Landry — who leads all 2014 draft picks in career receiving yards. The three-time Pro Bowler is one of three players — the other two being DeAndre Hopkins and Antonio Brown — with 7,000+ receiving yards and 45+ receiving touchdowns in the past six seasons. Evans and Julio Jones are the only wideouts to reach the 1,000-yard every year since 2014. Evans’ numbers stack up with any receiver in the NFL since he entered the league.

Worst pick: Kadeem Edwards

Edwards was inactive for the first nine games of his rookie season and then placed on injured reserve. Tampa Bay waived him before the 2015 season, allowing the Jaguars to sign him to their practice squad. Edwards wound up in Dallas and got promoted to the Cowboys’ active roster near the end of 2017. He was released the following September having never appeared in a game. 

Grade: B

Four of the Buccaneers’ six picks went on to play in more than 40 games. Pamphile made 14 starts in 2016 and 15 in 2017. Sefarian-Jenkins and Sims both recorded over 1,100 receiving yards in their careers as well. It’s an unspectacular group outside of Evans, but Tampa Bay got noteworthy contributions from 75% of its selections. 

Click here to see the entire draft grades series. 

Photo by Jh8h / Wikimedia Commons

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