HOUSTON TEXANS: JADEVEON CLOWNEY, OLB, SOUTH CAROLINA
Jadeveon Clowney | South Carolina Gamecocks
It was nothing short of a nightmare year for the Texans, who went into last season with legitimate Super Bowl aspirations but instead wound up as the worst team in the NFL. The good news is that there are still plenty of pieces in place and a quick turnaround is well within the realm of possibility, a la the Colts and Chiefs the past couple of years. Houston also has the opportunity to select a truly rare and elite pass rush prospect who has the sheer talent to be an all-time great. Jadeveon Clowney of South Carolina is a freakish physical specimen with an eye-popping blend of size, speed and athleticism who most feel is the best pass rusher to come along since Julius Peppers in 2002. Some even go as far back as Bruce Smith in 1985! Clowney struggled to live up to unrealistic expectations this past season but he was much more disruptive than the box scores might otherwise indicate. It’s important to remember that Peppers and Mario Williams were criticized for being inconsistent underachievers during their final years in college too. There are clearly some minor character concerns associated with Clowney but the potential rewards far outweigh the risks which is why when push comes to shove he is probably going to be the #1 overall pick in the 2014 NFL Draft. The Texans are willing to move down but are asking for a king’s ransom and it’s highly unlikely any team will step up to the plate and pay such an astronomical price. Especially for anything other than a blue-chip quarterback. There have also been reports that Houston covets Buffalo OLB Khalil Mack, although that would probably be in a trade down scenario. It would be BOLD to pass on both Clowney and a local hero like Texas A&M QB Johnny Manziel because if either of those guys become the players they are capable of the organization and its key decision makers would never, ever live it down. Central Florida QB Blake Bortles could be in the mix if they trade out as well. If Houston does pass on all of the quarterbacks with their first choice other teams will most likely be trying to leapfrog their next pick at #33 to get a signal caller. In other words they better be sure there are Jadeveon Clowney | South Carolina Gamecocks multiple quarterbacks that they are comfortable with later on because there are absolutely no guarantees they’ll be able to land one specific guy considering all the competition for singal callers. As special as Clowney is the Texans could add eleven defenders just like him but if they are unable to find a good quarterback it simply won’t matter. After all they actually had the seventh best defense in the league in 2013 statistically plus arguably the most impactful defender in the game in JJ Watt and look at where it got them.
2 ST. LOUIS RAMS (f/WAS): JAKE MATTHEWS, OT, TEXAS A&M
Jake Matthews | Texas A&M Aggies
It’s no secret that the Rams are very interested in moving down and it isn’t too difficult to understand why since they could conceivably land a blue-chip prospect that they were considering at #2 overall outside of the Top 5 while continuing to stockpile those extremely valuable early round picks. Regardless of whether it is at #2 or a little later I have a hunch Texas A&M OT Jake Matthews may be the blocker they wind up with. Matthews is the son of Hall of Famer Bruce Matthews and his family tree is chock full of outstanding football players. Quite possibly the safest prospect in this entire draft, Matthews is a well-rounded, versatile blocker with all of the physical tools and intangibles required to be a rock-solid starter for the next decade or more. In fact, most feel Matthews is a better pro prospect than former teammate Luke Joeckel, who went #2 overall a year ago. Also keep in mind that Rams Head Coach Jeff Fisher has a connection to the Matthews clan, having played with Jake’s father Bruce in college then later coaching him with the Oilers / Titans. That has to count for something, right? It’s hard to make an argument against Auburn OT Greg Robinson though... If they do move down and both Matthews and Robinson are gone they could audible to Michigan OT Taylor Lewan or Notre Dame OT / OG Zack Martin. St. Louis is also reportedly high on Buffalo OLB Khalil Mack and he would be a legitimate option if they do stay put. Technically they could probably justify going with Clemson WR Sammy Watkins too but that might be a tough pill to swallow considering they have used a first, a second, two thirds and three fourth round picks on pass catchers over the past four years. Jake Matthews | Texas A&M Aggies And that doesn’t even include the booty they surrendered to trade into the Top 10 overall for Tavon Austin. Going back to that well yet again would be tantamount to admitting defeat on all of those other guys. One final option that needs to at least be mentioned is Texas A&M QB Johnny Manziel, who they began showing interest in late in the process. The rumors have all the hallmarks of a classic pre-draft smokescreen and I don’t see them going in that direction with this choice. Perhaps ”Johnny Football” could be in play a bit later though.
3 JACKSONVILLE JAGUARS: SAMMY WATKINS, WR, CLEMSON
Sammy Watkins | Clemson Tigers
Everyone knows that the Jaguars desperately need a quarterback to build around but don’t be surprised if they go in another direction with this choice. After all this Jacksonville brain trust proved last year they are willing to wait patiently for the right signal caller rather than reach out of necessity. Plus they may have become smitten with one of the second-tier quarterbacks they coached at the Senior Bowl who can be had later such as Derek Carr of Fresno St. or Jimmy Garoppolo of Eastern Illinois. Now that the Jags have essentially conceded that Justin Blackmon isn’t in the organizations long-term plans the need for a dynamic playmaker at wideout is more glaring than ever. Clemson WR Sammy Watkins is an explosive athlete with top speed, excellent hands, terrific ball skills and body control and the ability to create in space. While Watkins isn’t a truly elite prospect along the lines of Calvin Johnson he is the best pass catcher to come along since A.J. Green and Julio Jones in 2011 and profiles as a true go-to target at the next level. To say that the Jaguars pass rush hasn’t been getting the job done would be an understatement as they have finished dead-last in the league in sacks two years running. That has to be disconcerting for Head Coach Gus Bradley, a defensive guru who clearly understands the importance of generating pressure. With that being the case don’t rule out South Carolina DE Jadeveon Clowney or Buffalo OLB Khalil Mack. If Jacksonville does go with a quarterback at this point it would probably be Blake Bortles of Central Florida. What about Johnny Manziel of Texas A&M? There have been strong indications that General Manager David Caldwell Sammy Watkins | Clemson Tigers would ideally prefer to go the “safe” route with this selection and say what you want about ”Johnny Football” but he is anything but safe. Plus if they wanted to make a splashy move for the sake of public relations and jersey sales they could've just signed Tim Tebow. In fact, if Jacksonville truly wants to go with a sure-thing they might also consider reuniting Texas A&M OT Jake Matthews with former Aggies teammate Luke Joeckel to give themselves a rock-solid set of young bookends for at least the next decade.
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4 CLEVELAND BROWNS: JOHNNY MANZIEL, QB, TEXAS A&M
Johnny Manziel | Texas A&M Aggies
This is undoubtedly one of the most difficult selections to peg in large part because the Browns new General Manager Ray Farmer does not yet have a track record to reflect back upon. There is little or no doubt that the Browns top priority is finding a young quarterback to build around, but it doesn’t necessarily have to be with this pick. There have been a ton of conflicting reports out of Cleveland as to which signal caller they prefer and that shouldn’t come as a surprise considering the organization just went through yet another major upheaval with both their front office and coaching staff. If they do target a quarterback with this selection Johnny Manziel of Texas A&M could be their guy. Granted there have been reports that the Browns “won't be drafting Manziel at #4,” but even if that’s accurate there is a very important qualifier in there. ”At #4”. So does that mean they would take “Johnny Football” at #6? #7? #9? #10? How about at #26? Cleveland may or may not be interested in Manziel but there is no other move the Browns could make that would have a greater potential impact. Not only could Manziel be the solution to their long-standing issues under center but his star power and exciting style of play would reinvigorate a loyal fan base that deserves something to finally cheer about. On the other hand Manziel could also turn out to be a monumental bust considering all of the concerns there are both on as well as off the field. Will his unorthodox skill set translate to the next level when all of the defenders are bigger, faster and stronger? Will his free-wheeling approach be nearly as effective in the pros or will it leave him susceptible to turnovers and injuries? Is his primary ambition to be a great football player or will he constantly be pulled away from the game by the trappings of celebrity? Simply put Manziel isn’t for everyone and there might not be a better example of a Boom or Bust prospect. If drafting a quarterback in the first round is akin to betting on red or black in roulette, i.e. a 50/50 proposition, then taking a chance on Manziel is like putting all of your chips on a single number. Sure it could hit and produce a big payoff but the odds are probably against it. If Cleveland doesn’t grab a signal caller with their first choice they will most likely be targeting either Derek Carr of Fresno St. or Teddy Bridgewater of Louisville later on. I suppose they could go with Blake Bortles of Central Florida too. See what I mean about this one beging tough to nail down? Regardless of who is playing quarterback the Browns will have to add another playmaker to the passing attack at some point. Josh Gordon has emerged as one of the top young wideouts in the league but he is just one more failed drug test away from a lengthy suspension and there isn’t another starting-caliber pass catcher on the roster. As a result Clemson WR Sammy Watkins is very much in the mix for this pick, as is Texas A&M WR Mike Evans. Auburn OT Greg Robinson and Texas A&M OT Jake Matthews are possibilities as well and but that seems like a bit of a Johnny Manziel | Texas A&M Aggies luxury since the offensive line is a ways down on their list of problem areas. Buffalo OLB Khalil Mack would have to at least be in the discussion from a talent perspective but once again another pass rusher probably wouldn’t move the needle much for this downtrodden franchise. After taking all that into account and nearly breaking my brain I am reluctantly going with Manziel, although I'm obviously not overly confident in the projection as you can probably surmise. Then again I’m not sure there is any spot I'd feel comfortable placing Manziel.
5 OAKLAND RAIDERS: KHALIL MACK, OLB, BUFFALO
Khalil Mack | Buffalo Bulls
This will likely be one of the key turning points at the top of the draft because the Raiders could use help just about everywhere. Granted they plugged quite a few holes in free agency but most of those moves qualify as short-term, stop-gap solutions at best. Plus any gains were likely offset by inexplicably allowing Jared Veldheer and Lamarr Houston, arguably their two most talented players just entering the prime of their careers, to get away while receiving absolutely nothing in return even though they had more salary cap room than any team in the league. Of course the most important position to address is quarterback, where they are currently hitching their wagon to a 33-year-old Matt Schaub who almost single-handedly transformed the Houston Texans from a Super Bowl contender to the worst team in the league. Good luck with that! It doesn’t appear as though Oakland is inclined to use this choice on a signal caller though and they may target Derek Carr of Fresno St. later on. With so many areas that require attention the Raiders can’t go wrong by simply taking the best player available. Buffalo OLB Khalil Mack flew under the radar because he didn’t play for a big-time program in a power conference but a standout performance against Ohio St. as a senior served as proof that he could hang with the big boys. An explosive athlete with a terrific blend of size and speed, Mack is a dynamic playmaker who excels at wreaking havoc behind the line of scrimmage as evidenced by his NCAA career records for forced fumbles and tackles for a loss. Mack isn’t just a one-trick pony though and is a true three down player who never has to leave the field, which is a quality that shouldn’t be underestimated. The Raiders could utilize Mack standing up and / or with his hand in the dirt and he would immediately become the most talented player on their entire roster. The Raiders could also use a dynamic playmaker on offense so Clemson WR Sammy Watkins and Texas A&M WR Mike Evans are in the picture as well. Many have speculated that Oakland could grab an offensive lineman but I’m not sure I buy that. After all they just signed Donald Penn, Austin Howard and Kevin Boothe plus last year’s second round pick Menelik Watson is one of the few young guys on the team that you can get excited about. Now I certainly wouldn’t rule out Khalil Mack | Buffalo Bulls Auburn OT Greg Robinson, Texas A&M OT Jake Matthews or Michigan OT Taylor Lewan but it seems as though there are other more pressing issues to deal with. GM Reggie McKenzie has pulled a surprise or two out of his hat on Draft Day as well and you always have to expect the unexpected when it comes to this organization. Is Pittsburgh DT / DE Aaron Donald a potential, albeit unlikely, darkhorse? Finally don’t rule out a trade down because the Raiders need all the draft picks they can get their hands on and there would be robust market for this choice.
6 ATLANTA FALCONS: GREG ROBINSON, OT, AUBURN
Greg Robinson | Auburn Tigers
I don’t necessarily believe Auburn OT Greg Robinson is going to fall this far but I do have a feeling he may end with the Atlanta Falcons when all is said and done. After all Atlanta has proven on multiple occasions that they will be aggressive on Draft Day and aren’t afraid to move up for a prospect they covet. The most notable example was the blockbuster deal for Julio Jones but just last year they traded up for Desmond Trufant in round one as well. At one point it appeared as though their target might be #1 overall and South Carolina DE Jadeveon Clowney since they desperately need a pass rusher. However, the Texans asking price for the top pick is reportedly exorbitant so perhaps they will turn their attention to the Rams at #2 and Mr. Robinson. It's extremely rare for a redshirt sophomore offensive linemen to enter the NFL Draft let alone come off the board this early but that puts into perspective just how good Robinson is. What makes Robinson so special is a rare blend of strength and athleticism that enables him to get the job done at a high level in both the run game and as a pass protector. Robinson is battling Jake Matthews of Texas A&M to be the first blocker off the board and it’s basically a 1A and 1B situation. While Matthews may be a better, more polished player right now Robinson probably offers more long-term potential. Of course the Falcons could also just stay put and probably still land either Matthews or Michigan OT Taylor Lewan without having to surrender any premium draft picks. Don’t rule out General Manager Thomas Dimitroff ultimately finding a way to land Clowney either though. Greg Robinson | Auburn Tigers If they are dead-set on nabbing a pass rusher Buffalo OLB Khalil Mack could be a target if they trade up and UCLA OLB Anthony Barr could be a fallback option at #6. North Carolina TE Eric Ebron may be a darkhorse since Tony Gonzalez has retired for real this time. In the end look for the Falcons to come away with either a left tackle or pass rusher and the newest member of their team will likely come from a core group comprised of Clowney, Robinson, Mack, Matthews, Lewan or Barr. That could even be their order of preference.
7 TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS: MIKE EVANS, WR, TEXAS A&M
Mike Evans | Texas A&M Aggies
On paper the Bucs have enough talent to compete with anyone in the league but for one reason or another the team grossly underachieved last season. The good news is it shouldn’t take too long to turn things around. Tampa Bay could go in a handful of different directions with this choice but their most pressing need is at wide receiver, where they have Vincent Jackson and nothing else of consequence. Texas A&M WR Mike Evans was Johnny Manziel’s favorite target during their time together in College Station and was downright dominant at times as a redshirt sophomore, including 279 YDS and 1 TD against Alabama and 287 YDS and 4 TD’s against Auburn. Now that is what you call rising to the occasion against top competition! A big-bodied playmaker and matchup nightmare, Evans is the consensus second wideout in this class and secured a spot in the Top 10 overall by quieting concerns about his timed speed at the Scouting Combine. The Bucs have also been linked to Clemson WR Sammy Watkins but a trade up into the Top 3-5 would be required to make that happen. If Watkins and Evans are both gone could they opt for L.S.U. WR Odell Beckham? The new front office and coaching staff brought in 35-year-old journeyman Josh McCown and immediately named him the starter so Mike Glennon obviously isn’t in the organizations long-term plans. McCown is just a stop-gap solution at best so as a result the Bucs have been doing their homework on most of the top quarterback prospects. Texas A&M QB Johnny Manziel has been rumored to be a strong possibility for this choice but Teddy Bridgewater of Louisville, Blake Bortles of Central Florida and Derek Carr of Fresno St. could all be in the conversation as well. Mike Evans | Texas A&M Aggies Whenever a new coach is brought in it is always important to look at what they specialize in. After all they probably have more influence in the very beginning than at any other time and might want to start their tenure off by focusing on the area they know best. In this case Lovie Smith is a defensive guru and Pittsburgh DT Aaron Donald would be a fantastic fit in the penetrating scheme that he prefers to utilize. Don’t completely rule out a stud blocker such as Texas A&M OT Jake Matthews or Michigan OT Taylor Lewan either.
8 MINNESOTA VIKINGS: BLAKE BORTLES, QB, CENTRAL FLORIDA
Blake Bortles | Central Florida Golden Knights
There have been strong indications that the Vikings would prefer to use their first pick on a defender then look for a quarterback later. That might be true but did they expect Central Florida QB Blake Bortles, who I believe to be the top rated signal caller on their board, to fall into their laps? I do think Bortles is the only quarterback that would tempt Minnesota at this point as he would be a perfect fit for the system of new offensive coordinator Norv Turner. Bortles appears to have all of the tools to eventually be a franchise signal caller at the next level, including a large frame, enough arm strength to make all of the throws, above average athleticism and mobility and excellent intangibles. Bortles is still rough around the edges and will require some patience and development, which even his college head coach conceded, but there is no denying the immense upside. If the Vikings do go defense they could realistically use help on all three levels, which would give them a bunch of options and perhaps even lead to a trade down. Some names to keep an eye on are UCLA OLB Anthony Barr, Oklahoma St. CB Justin Gilbert, Pittsburgh DT Aaron Donald, Alabama ILB C.J. Mosley, Alabama S Ha Ha Clinton-Dix and Louisville S Calvin Pryor. Blake Bortles | Central Florida Golden Knights However, when it comes right down to it the Vikes could come out of this draft with seven studs on defense but unless they fix the situation under center it won’t make a lick of difference. One even has to wonder if the Vikings truly don’t like any of the top signal callers or if General Manager Rick Spielman is just gun-shy and worried about saving his job after going out on a limb for Christian Ponder and having it not work out? Because running the organization from a place of fear would be a bad approach.
9 BUFFALO BILLS: TAYLOR LEWAN, OT, MICHIGAN
Taylor Lewan | Michigan Wolverines
There may not be a better indication of just how strong the top of the 2014 NFL Draft is than the realistic possibility of Michigan OT Taylor Lewan falling all the way to the back end of the Top 10. A legitimate case can be made that Lewan is on par with or perhaps an even better prospect than Eric Fisher, who went #1 overall a year ago. The offensive line may not be the Bills most pressing concern but there is certainly room to upgrade and Lewan is simply too good to pass up at this point. Lewan has drawn favorable comparisons to Jake Long and there are indeed a lot of similarities, most notably their large frames, well-rounded games and blue-collar mentalities. There has been some debate as to whether Lewan is capable of protecting the blindside at the next level but an impressive showing against Jadeveon Clowney in the 2013 Outback Bowl along with an outstanding workout at the Scouting Combine should have put those fears to rest. Also keep in mind that similar concerns were raised when Long was coming out of college and they proved to be unfounded. Even in a worst-case scenario Lewan should have no problem excelling on the right side. There are some character concerns that could affect Lewan’s stock and push him down the board a bit but I don’t envision that happening. If Lewan is gone, which is a distinct possibility, they could turn their attention to Notre Dame OT / OG Zack Martin. Taylor Lewan | Michigan Wolverines It’s never a bad idea to surround a young quarterback like E.J. Manuel with weapons and North Carolina TE Eric Ebron would bring an entirely new dimension to the Bills up-and-coming offense. Alabama S Ha Ha Clinton-Dix or Louisville S Calvin Pryor could be darkhorses but this sure appears as though it'll come down to Lewan / Martin or Ebron. One last thing to keep a eye on is a possible trade up, with Auburn OT Greg Robinson or Clemson WR Sammy Watkins rumored to be potential targets.
10 DETROIT LIONS: JUSTIN GILBERT, CB, OKLAHOMA ST.
Justin Gilbert | Oklahoma St. Cowboys
The Lions are rumored to covet Clemson WR Sammy Watkins but they would have to trade all the way up into the Top 3-5 overall and that will most likely prove to be too cost-prohibitive. A more likely scenario would be moving up a handful of spots for Texas A&M WR Mike Evans or standing pat and hoping he falls into their laps, with L.S.U. WR Odell Beckham as a potential alternative. They have also flirted with the idea of going with North Carolina TE Eric Ebron even though they already have Brandon Pettigrew and Joseph Fauria. With all that said is another weapon for the passing attack really that much of a priority for Detroit? After all throwing the ball and scoring points seems to be the least of their concerns. On the other hand their secondary is still a complete mess after all these years and they could have an opportunity to select any defensive back in this entire class. How do you not take advantage of that? In many ways Oklahoma St. CB Justin Gilbert is a poor-man’s Patrick Peterson as they both bring a rare blend of size, speed, athleticism and playmaking ability to the table. Not only is Gilbert capable of locking down opposing wideouts in coverage but he will also make quarterbacks pay dearly for their mistakes. As an added bonus Gilbert is also an outstanding return man with six career touchdowns on special teams. An argument could be made that Gilbert is a Top 100 talent based on that skill alone. If Gilbert is gone the Lions could turn their attention to Michigan St. CB Darqueze Dennard, Virginia Tech CB Kyle Fuller, Alabama S Ha Ha Clinton-Dix or Louisville S Calvin Pryor. Or perhaps they even prefer one of those other guys to Gilbert. Regardless anyone from that group would represent a Justin Gilbert | Oklahoma St. Cowboys huge upgrade in the secondary for a team that has to face Aaron Rodgers and Jay Cutler twice a year. The Lions could also opt to bolster their offensive line with Michigan OT Taylor Lewan or Notre Dame OT / OG Zack Martin and they could use another edge pass rusher like Anthony Barr of UCLA to team with Ziggy Ansah too. As you can see there are a number of scenarios in play but at the end of the day why not address their most glaring need with the prospect they deem to be the best defensive back in this class, whoever it may be ?
11 TENNESSEE TITANS: ANTHONY BARR, OLB, UCLA
Anthony Barr | UCLA Bruins
There aren’t as many holes to plug in Tennessee as you might expect but this choice will most likely come down to either a pass rusher or a cornerback. If available UCLA OLB Anthony Barr makes sense on a number of levels beyond just plain old-fashioned need. For instance, most don’t realize that the Titans just hired a man named Lou Spanos to be their linebackers coach. Why is that significant? Because his previous gig was as the defensive coordinator at UCLA. Needless to say Tennessee probably has a better feel for Barr than any other team in the league. Also, the Titans new defensive coordinator is Ray Horton, who held the same job in Cleveland a year ago when the Browns chose Barkevious Mingo in the Top 10 overall. “KeKe” and Barr are similar types of players in many regards. After beginning his college career on the offensive side of the ball Barr has been nothing short of a revelation since transitioning to defense as a junior. An incredible athlete with an outstanding blend of size and speed as well as top-notch intangibles, Barr terrorizes opponents as a blitzer off the edge and the scary part is he’s just beginning to tap into his immense potential. Barr is still rough around the edges and will require some patience but that is to be expected considering his relative lack of experience and there is no denying he has all the raw tools to develop into an elite pass rusher. This would be an ideal situation for Barr as the Titans could bring him along slowly as a rookie while he soaks up knowledge from veterans like Shaun Phillips and Kamerion Wimbley. Tennessee could be in the market for a cover guy too though after losing Alterraun Verner in free agency so Oklahoma St. CB Justin Gilbert and Anthony Barr | UCLA Bruins Michigan St. CB Darqueze Dennard will be in the mix as well. The nose tackle and running back positions must also be addressed but this is just too early for Florida St. DT Timmy Jernigan, Notre Dame DT Louis Nix and Ohio St. RB Carlos Hyde. There has been some speculation that this could be a landing spot for a top quarterback, particularly Teddy Bridgewater of Louisville or Derek Carr of Fresno St., but the Titans may be inclined to give Jake Locker one last chance to stay healthy and show what he's capable of before moving on.
12 NEW YORK GIANTS: ZACK MARTIN, OT / OG, NOTRE DAME
Zack Martin | Notre Dame Fighting Irish
Most will probably have Michigan OT Taylor Lewan, Pittsburgh DT Aaron Donald or North Carolina TE Eric Ebron in this spot but I have a funny feeling the G-Men may go in a different direction. Those are all logical fits and good players that would address needs but there is always a surprise or two on Draft Day. Remember, nobody expected New York to select Justin Pugh in the first round a year ago. The Giants still have some question marks along the offensive line and Zack Martin of Notre Dame could legitimately be plugged in at tackle, guard or even center, which would give Tom Coughlin a lot of options and help them get the five best blockers on the field. Martin isn’t an incredible physical specimen or even particularly dominant but he’s a smart, steady, technically sound, battle-tested, four-year starter and may be one of the safest prospects in this entire draft at any position. That is why he may not even last this long when all is said and done and I wouldn’t be surprised to see teams attempt to trade up to secure his services since he is the last of the top tier of offensive linemen. Ebron could be difficult to pass up though, especially since there isn’t currently a starting caliber tight end on the roster. With that said there should be some intriguing options available at the position in round two, whether it be Troy Niklas of Notre Dame, Austin Seferian-Jenkins of Washington or Jace Amaro of Texas Tech. Zack Martin | Notre Dame Fighting Irish So why not Lewan? I just have a hunch Lewan’s off-the-field issues will scare away the Giants and he probably won’t last this long anyway. Why not Donald? There is no doubt the Giants love to invest in defensive linemen, even when it isn't a major need. However, they also tend to lean toward prospects with size and athleticism in the trenches and Donald only checks one of those boxes. Don't rule out LSU WR Odell Beckham as a darkhorse since they let Hakeem Nick walk as a free agent.
13 ST. LOUIS RAMS: DARQUEZE DENNARD, CB, MICHIGAN ST.
Darqueze Dennard | Michigan St. Spartans
No team has had as many premium draft picks the past few years as the Rams and as a result their roster is absolutely loaded with young talent on both sides of the ball. One area that has yet to be adequately addressed is safety, where the cupboard is still essentially bare, so Ha Ha Clinton-Dix of Alabama or Calvin Pryor of Louisville would seem to make a lot of sense. However, when was the last time they made a significant investment at the safety position? It’s just not an area they value and prioritize. They do step up to the plate when it comes to cornerbacks though, in both free agency and the draft, so that appears to be a more plausible scenario following a parting of ways with Cortland Finnegan. Michigan St. CB Darqueze Dennard is more than adequate when it comes to physical tools such as size, speed and athleticism but it’s the little things such as technique, awareness and toughness that separates him from the competition. Dennard may not be overly flashy but he is one of the most aggressive, consistent, well-rounded cover guys you will find. Darqueze Dennard | Michigan St. Spartans Oklahoma St. CB Justin Gilbert and Virginia Tech CB Kyle Fuller are alternatives at the position as well. If St. Louis doesn’t address the offensive line with their first choice they could target a blocker here, although there is a strong chance both Michigan OT Taylor Lewan and Notre Dame OT / OG Zack Martin will both be gone. Perhaps in the Top 10. Even though the defensive line is one of the strengths of the team they could still use a guy such as Kony Ealy of Missouri, who can be utilized at both end and tackle and provide depth.
14 CHICAGO BEARS: AARON DONALD, DT, PITTSBURGH
Aaron Donald | Pittsburgh Panthers
The Bears boasted one of the most productive offenses in the NFL despite playing their backup quarterback for half the season so there aren’t many glaring needs on that side of the ball. The defense is another matter all together though. Of particular concern is their performance against the run, which was last in the league by a pretty significant margin. Fortunately Chicago could have their pick of any defensive tackle in this class to shore up the interior of that leaky defensive line. Pittsburgh DT Aaron Donald may be undersized but he has proven himself every step of the way, capping off a very productive college career with an outstanding final campaign then blowing everyone away at both the Senior Bowl and Scouting Combine. A fantastic athlete with terrific speed and quickness as well as top-notch instincts, Donald is extremely disruptive and actually plays bigger than you would expect. Considering his physical limitations the fact that Donald is even in the first round conversation is a real testament to his performance on the field. The most pressing concern in The Windy City is arguably safety, where they were historically bad last season. It goes without saying that Ha Ha Clinton-Dix of Alabama and Calvin Pryor of Louisville Aaron Donald | Pittsburgh Panthers would be strong possibilities as well. It’s probably time to start thinking about adding a top young cornerback too because Peanut Tillman isn’t getting any younger. Oklahoma St. CB Justin Gilbert would not only represent a huge upgrade on defense but he is also the premier return man in this class and could replace Devin Hester. Linebacker isn’t the top priority for Da Bears but there are definitely some question marks at the position so Alabama ILB C.J. Mosley would have to at least get a look .
15 PITTSBURGH STEELERS: KYLE FULLER, CB, VIRGINIA TECH
Kyle Fuller | Virginia Tech Hokies
One of the keys to the Steelers remaining consistently competitive for decades has been their ability to reload rather than rebuild. Pittsburgh will be tested again over the next couple of years as they attempt to reconstruct an aging defense. There are actually concerns on all three levels but the secondary and specifically cornerback may stand out above the rest since there isn’t much to get excited about beyond Ike Taylor, who is now 34-years-old. Virginia Tech CB Kyle Fuller comes from an extremely athletic family, with his older brothers Vincent and Corey having played football for the Hokies and in the NFL as well. Meanwhile his younger brother Kendall is still in Blacksburg and is already regarded as one of the nation’s top cover guys. VA Tech certainly knows what it’s doing when it comes to DBs and Fuller will follow in the footsteps of guys like DeAngelo Hall, Eric Green, Jimmy Williams, Aaron Rouse, Brandon Flowers, Macho Harris, Kam Chancellor and Jayron Hosley. An aggressive, physical corner with ideal length and excellent intangibles, Fuller is one of the best all-around defensive backs in this class and it’s hard to envision him escaping the Top 20-25. Michigan St. CB Darqueze Dennard would rank right up there with Fuller as the most plausible possibilities if available and if they are both gone Ohio St. CB Bradley Roby and perhaps even T.C.U. CB Jason Verrett could be darkhorses. The Steelers are also rumored to be extremely interested in L.S.U. WR Odell Beckham, which makes sense considering they have now lost both Mike Wallace and Emmanuel Sanders to free agency in back to back years. Kyle Fuller | Virginia Tech Hokies The inside linebacker spot alongside Lawrence Timmons is an area that probably needs to be addressed as well so watch out for Ryan Shazier of Ohio St. Reinforcements are also needed at defensive end so Aaron Donald of Pittsburgh and Ra’Shede Hageman of Minnesota would be ideal fits as a five technique in their odd front. Pittsburgh is always in the market for edge pass rushers so after parting ways with LaMarr Woodley don’t be shocked if they seriously consider UCLA OLB Anthony Barr if he slides.
16 DALLAS COWBOYS: KONY EALY, DE, MISSOURI
Kony Ealy | Missouri Tigers
The Cowboys made the transition from a 3-4 to a 4-3 scheme last season and the early returns were disappointing to say the least. Not only did the defense take a huge step backwards but they actually finished dead-last in the league statistically. Granted injuries played a role in that steep decline but a lack of overall talent and quality depth was just as much to blame. That was especially true along the defensive line and it’s absolutely imperative that Dallas bring in some reinforcements up front. Plural. Missouri DE Kony Ealy is the next in an impressive string of top defensive linemen produced by Mizzou, including Justin Smith, Aldon Smith and Sheldon Richardson. The success those guys have found in the pros could work in Ealy’s favor on Draft Day. Teammate Michael Sam was slightly more productive and got far more headlines but Ealy is actually a much better pro prospect due to his superior physical tools. A rangy athlete with a large frame who moves very well, Ealy excels at getting after the quarterback by utilizing both speed and power. While not yet a great run defender Ealy possesses all of the tools to eventually be a terrific two-way player and offers plenty of upside. Boise St. DE Demarcus Lawrence could be a darkhorse and if they want to add some help on the interior Pittsburgh DT Aaron Donald and Florida St. DT Timmy Jernigan would be the most likely options. Dallas has also shown some interest in Anthony Barr of UCLA if he were to fall this far. This may wind up being no-man’s land for the defensive linemen value-wise though so Dallas could probably Kony Ealy | Missouri Tigers trade down five to ten spots and still be looking at a lot of the same options. Notre Dame OT / OG Zack Martin and Ohio St. OLB Ryan Shazier are in the mix too, although Martin will almost certainly be gone. There are still major issues at safety as well, which has been the case for many years. However, even though Ha Ha Clinton-Dix of Alabama or Calvin Pryor of Louisville would represent a major upgrade they just don’t seem to prioritize that position. Finally, what would happen if Texas A&M QB Johnny Manziel unexpectedly falls into Jerry Jones’ lap ? ! ?
17 BALTIMORE RAVENS: ERIC EBRON, TE, NORTH CAROLINA
Eric Ebron | North Carolina Tar Heels
Ravens General Manager Ozzie Newsome is always ready to pounce if a top talent unexpectedly falls into his lap on Draft Day, which is why he is universally regarded as one of the best in the business. This would be another classic example. On the surface this might appear to be a luxury since the Ravens re-signed Dennis Pitta to a lucrative long-term contract and also added veteran Owen Daniels. However, looks can be deceiving. New offensive coordinator Gary Kubiak employs as many two tight end sets as anyone in the league and Daniels probably won’t be in the picture for very long. An outstanding athlete with excellent speed who can stretch the field vertically, North Carolina TE Eric Ebron is an extremely difficult matchup for opposing defenses and exactly the type of dynamic pass catching threat that teams are looking for these days. An argument can be made that Ebron is the only tight end in this class with a realistic shot at eventually becoming a true standout at the position and it might be a full round before another one comes off the board. Of course the most glaring hole on the roster is the one left at right tackle by Michael Oher when he bolted in free agency. It’s unlikely Zack Martin of Notre Dame will still be available at this point though and it’s not like Newsome to reach for a Cyrus Kouandjio of Alabama or Morgan Moses of Virginia so barring a trade up they may have to be patient and look for a blocker later on. Eric Ebron | North Carolina Tar Heels Baltimore could consider a wide receiver too since Steve Smith is merely a stop-gap solution and the options there would be Odell Beckham of L.S.U., Marqise Lee of USC, Brandin Cooks of Oregon St. and Kelvin Benjamin of Florida St. The Ravens could also be tempted to team either Alabama S Ha Ha Clinton-Dix or Louisville S Calvin Pryor with last years first rounder Matt Elam and while it's not a pressing concern Alabama ILB CJ Mosley would at least have to be discussed from a pure value perspective if still available.
18 NEW YORK JETS: ODELL BECKHAM, WR, L.S.U.
Odell Beckham | L.S.U. Tigers
The Jets have parted ways with both Darrelle Revis and Antonio Cromarite in the span of a little more than a year so cornerback might be their top priority. If either Michigan St. CB Darqueze Dennard or Virginia Tech CB Kyle Fuller are available they would probably get the nod since they are the type of physical cover guys that Rex Ryan prefers. Ohio St. CB Bradley Roby could even be a possibility. If the top corners are gone New York could turn their attention to wide receiver because even though they signed Eric Decker in free agency another pass catcher is needed to further upgrade that feeble passing attack. L.S.U. WR Odell Beckham is an explosive playmaker and one of the hottest names in this class heading into Draft Day so there is a very good chance he’ll be off the board by this point. Perhaps even in the Top 10 overall. Beckham would make a ton of sense for the Jets though and while you shouldn’t read too much into it the fact that they recently added the L.S.U. special teams coach to their staff probably doesn’t hurt Beckham’s cause with the organization. A dynamic athlete with good size, great speed, superb hands and nice body control, Beckham can stretch the field vertically but is also capable of Odell Beckham | L.S.U. Tigers creating after the catch and turning a short throw into a long gain. As an added bonus Beckham is also an excellent return man. If Beckham isn’t available USC WR Marqise Lee and Oregon St. WR Brandin Cooks could be alternatives. North Carolina TE Eric Ebron will likely be off the board but would also qualify as the type of offensive weapon they are searching for. There are issues at safety too so Ha Ha Clinton-Dix of Alabama and Calvin Pryor of Louisville may be in the conversation as well.
19 MIAMI DOLPHINS: C.J. MOSLEY, ILB, ALABAMA
C.J. Mosley | Alabama Crimson Tide
The Dolphins failure to adequately address their offensive line last offseason despite ample resources and opportunities led to a myriad of headaches and may ultimately have cost former general manager Jeff Ireland his job. Even though they signed Branden Albert to a big deal in free agency there are still major issues up front and Miami is probably in the market for at least two, if not three, more blockers. The situation was / is that dire. Unfortunately it appears highly unlikely Notre Dame OT / OG Zack Martin will last this long and while they have also been linked to Alabama OT Cyrus Kouandjio, Virginia OT Morgan Moses and Tennessee OT Ja’Wuan James all might be reaches at this point. While being unable to address the offensive line with this choice would surely be disappointing having Alabama LB C.J. Mosley as a Plan B would make it a whole lot more palatable. Especially when you consider that they are so concerned about the middle linebacker position that the idea of moving Koa Misi inside has been kicked around. That is a role he is ill-equipped to play and a transition he is reportedly reluctant to make. This pick would make all of that a moot point. Although slightly undersized Mosley is a great athlete with top intangibles and the ability to make an impact in every facet of the game, whether it be against the run, in coverage or as a blitzer. Mosley could project either inside or outside depending on the scheme but in Miami he would man the middle and finally solve the issues there once and for all. C.J. Mosley | Alabama Crimson Tide Mosley probably checks in higher than this on a majority of draft boards around the league and he could conceivably be selected as early as the Top 10 overall. However, linebackers that aren’t dynamic pass rushers do have a tendency to get undervalued on Draft Day and that combined with size and some health / durability concerns could lead to Mosley sliding just a bit further than expected. Ohio St. LB Ryan Shazier could be a potential alternative if Mosley is gone and do not rule out Alabama S Ha Ha Clinton-Dix as a darkhorse.
20 ARIZONA CARDINALS: CALVIN PRYOR, S, LOUISVILLE
Calvin Pryor | Louisville Cardinals
After addressing their most glaring need at left tackle by signing free agent Jared Veldheer the Cardinals are now able to look elsewhere with this choice. Arizona will likely focus on the defensive side of the ball and Louisville S Calvin Pryor could be the final piece for what is shaping up to be a very talented secondary. Throughout most of the process Ha Ha Clinton-Dix of Alabama was widely considered to be the top safety prospect in this class but Pryor has emerged as a legitimate contender for that honor. In fact it may just come down to whether a team is looking for a free safety (Clinton-Dix) or a strong safety (Pryor). Big, aggressive, extremely physical, hard-hitting and instinctive, Pryor is a force in the box versus the run but has also flashed some playmaking ability in coverage despite just average playing speed. This would be a perfect fit for both player and team as Pryor would be an ideal compliment to Tyrann Mathieu. After Pryor and Clinton-Dix there is a significant drop-off at the position so don’t be surprised if a number of teams attempt to maneuver to ensure they get one of those top two. Even though Arizona was sixth in the league in terms of sack production last season that statistic is a little misleading. After all their top pass rusher was John Abraham, who is 36-years-old. With that being the case Kony Ealy of Missouri, Dee Ford of Auburn and Demarcus Lawrence of Boise St. could be in the mix as well. There has even been speculation that Ohio St. OLB Ryan Shazier could be a legitimate possibility. Calvin Pryor | Louisville Cardinals It probably wouldn’t hurt to add another blocker either and they could consider Alabama OT Cyrus Kouandjio or Virginia OT Morgan Moses. Notre Dame DE Stephon Tuitt and Minnesota DE Ra’Shede Hageman might be options as an eventual successor to Darnell Dockett too. It’s also high time to start thinking about a long-term solution at quarterback since Carson Palmer is now 34-years-old so they could be tempted by Teddy Bridgewater of Louisville or Derek Carr of Fresno St and have been linked to A.J. McCarron of Alabama.
21 GREEN BAY PACKERS: HA HA CLINTON-DIX, S, ALABAMA
Ha Ha Clinton-Dix | Alabama Crimson Tide
The Packers didn’t do a very good job of stopping either the run or pass last season, finishing near the very bottom of the league in both categories. Needless to say there are some issues to address on that side of the ball. Green Bay could realistically use reinforcements on all three levels of their defense but if Alabama S Ha Ha Clinton-Dix is still available this would probably be an easy decision. The Crimson Tide have been producing first round defensive backs on a yearly basis as of late and the guy they call "Ha Ha" will extend that streak. There has been a growing sentiment for Calvin Pryor of Louisville but for teams in search of a free safety Clinton-Dix is the cream of the crop. A terrific athlete with a prototypical blend of size and speed, Clinton-Dix covers a lot of ground in coverage but also isn’t afraid to come up and support the run. With safeties figuring more and more prominently in game plans around the league these days don’t be surprised if both Clinton-Dix and Pryor are hot commodities on Draft Day. If those safeties are gone the Packers could turn their attention to linebacker, where either C.J. Mosley of Alabama or Ryan Shazier of Ohio St. would represent an upgrade on the inside. Or they could add another big, athletic, versatile defensive linemen to the mix in the form of Ha Ha Clinton-Dix | Alabama Crimson Tide Stephon Tuitt of Notre Dame or Ra’Shede Hageman of Minnesota. A replacement is needed for Jermichael Finley at tight end as well but Eric Ebron of North Carolina will almost certainly be off the board by this point and then there is a pretty significant drop-off at the position. Don’t rule out a receiver such as Marqise Lee of USC, Brandin Cooks of Oregon St. or even Cody Latimer of Indiana either because even though it isn’t their top priority they lost Greg Jennings and James Jones in free agency the past couple of offseasons.
Updated: May 8, 2014 (FINAL)
Round 1 | Round 2 | Round 3
22 PHILADELPHIA EAGLES: MARQISE LEE, WR, USC
Marqise Lee | USC Trojans
Even though Philly has far more pressing concerns on defense don't be surprised if they target a wide receiver to bolster an already potent passing attack following the unexpected release of DeSean Jackson. If that is indeed the direction the Eagles wants to go they could opt for a pass catcher that Chip Kelly is familiar with from his time in the Pac-12, whether it be USC WR Marqise Lee or Oregon St. WR Brandin Cooks. Not only is Lee an explosive athlete with excellent speed who is a big play waiting to happen but he is also relatively well-rounded and polished, drawing favorable comparisons to Marvin Harrison. Lee did not develop into the elite prospect that many envisioned early in his college career, in part due to a disappointing junior season and some reservations about his durability and hands. With that said he is a dynamic weapon who would certainly help make up for the absence of ”D-Jax”. Florida St. WR Kelvin Benjamin could also be in the mix along with Lee and Cooks and there have even been rumblings that Philadelphia could explore moving up for Marqise Lee | USC Trojans Texas A&M WR Mike Evans or L.S.U. WR Odell Beckham. There are plenty of issues to address on the other side of the ball too though and other options could include a pass rushing outside linebacker like Kony Ealy of Missouri, Dee Ford of Auburn or Demarcus Lawrence of Boise St. or a defensive back such as Louisville S Calvin Pryor or Ohio St. CB Bradley Roby. With that said unless they have been doing a really good job of misleading everyone all of the signs seem to be pointing toward wideout .
23 KANSAS CITY CHIEFS: JOEL BITONIO, OG, NEVADA
Joel Bitonio | Nevada Wolfpack
In less than a year the Chiefs went from the worst team in the league to one of the best. It’s amazing what the addition of a competent head coach and quarterback can do for a franchise. However, after going undefeated through the first couple months of the season they tailed off down the stretch leaving no doubt that there are still some issues to iron out. Kansas City lost Branden Albert in free agency but still have an impressive set of young bookends in Eric Fisher and Donald Stephenson. They weren’t as well equipped to withstand the losses of Jon Asamoah and Geoff Schwartz on the interior though. A hallmark of Andy Reid’s tenure in Philly was a tendency to address the offensive and defensive lines in the early rounds of the NFL Draft. So far that has continued in Kansas City, where they used the #1 overall pick on Fisher a year ago. Joel Bitonio of Nevada played tackle in college but will likely kick inside to guard as a pro. An aggressive blocker with good athleticism and top-notch intangibles, Bitonio is capable of seeing action all along the line. Perhaps the most impressive thing about Bitonio is the passion, intensity and mean streak that he consistently displays. Xavier Su’a-Filo of UCLA is also in the running to be the first guard off the board. There isn’t much to get excited about at wide receiver beyond Dwayne Bowe so that is another strong possibility, with Marqise Lee of USC and Brandin Cooks of Oregon St. being the most likely options. Reinforcements are needed in the secondary as well so watch out for a safety like Ha Ha Clinton-Dix of Alabama or Calvin Pryor of Louisville to team Eric Berry or perhaps even a cornerback such as Bradley Roby of Ohio St. or Jason Verrett of T.C.U. since Joel Bitonio | Nevada Wolfpack Brandon Flowers is reportedly on the trading block. With Tyson Jackson moving on in free agency they could look to Notre Dame DE Stephon Tuitt or Minnesota DE Ra’Shede Hageman as a replacement at the five-technique. While not a pressing need it will soon be time to start looking for an edge pass rusher at outside linebacker to eventually replace Tamba Hali, who makes a lot of money and is getting up there in years. Kony Ealy of Missouri, Dee Ford of Auburn and Demarcus Lawrence of Boise St could all be targets there.
24 CINCINNATI BENGALS: BRADLEY ROBY, CB, OHIO ST.
Bradley Roby | Ohio St. Buckeyes
Even though the Bengals have yet to get the job done come playoff time they are in pretty good shape when it comes to the talent on their roster, with very few glaring holes on either side of the ball. One position that Cincy tends to prioritize on Draft Day is cornerback and they could be in the market for another cover guy since Terence Newman is on his last legs, Leon Hall is coming off yet another major injury and Pacman Jones is now on the wrong side of thirty. After bypassing the chance to potentially be a first round pick a year ago Ohio St. CB Bradley Roby struggled at times this past season and saw his stock take a hit. With that said Roby did play better as the season progressed and it’s difficult to imagine such a gifted player falling too far. A smooth athlete with good size and outstanding speed as well as excellent feet and fluid hips, Roby looks every bit the part of a top prospect on the hoof and few programs have a better track record of producing pro defensive backs than the Buckeyes. There are minor off-the-field concerns with Roby, including an incident shortly before Draft Day, but the Bengals have been willing to overlook those issues in the past. Both Darqueze Dennard of Michigan St. and Kyle Fuller of Bradley Roby | Ohio St. Buckeyes Virginia Tech might get the nod over Roby if available and Jason Verrett of T.C.U. is a possible alternative as well. Cincinnati could also be in the market for a pass rusher after losing Michael Johnson in free agency and some possible targets could include Missouri DE Kony Ealy, Boise St. DE Demarcus Lawrence and Auburn DE Dee Ford. Don’t rule out Ohio St. OLB Ryan Shazier either as he'd offer an element of sideline-to-sideline range, speed and athleticism the Bengals linebacking corps is currently lacking.
25 SAN DIEGO CHARGERS: JASON VERRETT, CB, T.C.U.
Jason Verrett | T.C.U. Horned Frogs
All of the signs point to San Diego targeting a cornerback with this choice since that is far and away their most glaring need. Whether or not there will be a cover guy available worthy of this choice is another matter though and Bradley Roby of Ohio St. coming off the board just one pick earlier has to sting. T.C.U. CB Jason Verrett is the last of the top tier of cover guys available so he gets the nod, even if it is a slight reach. If Verrett were a bit taller he might have been the first corner off the board because the tape is that impressive. A fantastic athlete with superb speed and quickness who always seems to be around the action making plays, Verrett is extremely aggressive and downright feisty with the attitude, mindset and demeanor of someone much bigger. That is both a blessing and a curse though as it leaves Verrett susceptible to injuries like the shoulder ailment that he recently went under the knife to have repaired. Even though Verrett is considered to be more of a fringe first rounder it appears as though he may come off the board earlier than expected due to the sheer number of teams potentially in the market for a corner in the latter third of round one. If San Diego doesn’t like the value at corner they could audible to either a nose tackle such as Timmy Jernigan of Florida St. or Louis Nix of Notre Dame to replace free agent defection Jason Verrett | T.C.U. Horned Frogs Cam Thomas or perhaps a pass rusher at outside linebacker like Kony Ealy of Missouri, Demarcus Lawrence of Boise St. or Dee Ford of Auburn since former first rounders Larry English and Melvin Ingram have been slow to develop and the now 34-year-old Dwight Freeney doesn’t have much left in the tank. Wideout could be a darkhorse and they've been linked to Cody Latimer of Indiana but it would have to be considered an upset if they didn’t go defense since there are concerns on all three levels.
26 CLEVELAND BROWNS (f/IND): RYAN SHAZIER, ILB, OHIO ST.
Ryan Shazier | Ohio St. Buckeyes
If the Browns don’t take a quarterback earlier in the round they will most likely be targeting a signal caller with this choice, with Derek Carr of Fresno St. and Teddy Bridgewater of Louisville being the most likely options. However, if Cleveland is out of the quarterback derby by this point it may require a team trading up from early round two for Carr and Bridgewater to be first rounders like most expect. In this scenario the Browns have already addressed their issues under center so they are able to turn their attention elsewhere. One area that is problematic is inside linebacker. Granted Karlos Dansby was brought in to replace D’Qwell Jackson but that is only a short-term fix and they could certainly do better than Craig Robertson at the other spot. Ohio St. LB Ryan Shazier may not have the prototypical length or bulk that you’d prefer but he compensates with outstanding speed and athleticism. A true three-down defender with fantastic range, Shazier plays bigger than his dimensions might otherwise lead you to believe and at the end of the day he is just a good, aggressive, hard-hitting football player. For comparisons sake think along the lines of Lavonte David. Prospects like Shazier have had a tendency to slide a bit on Draft Day due to their physical shortcomings but that is often a mistake and eventually they will start realizing the error of their ways. Perhaps it will start with Shazier because the film screams first rounder. Cleveland is looking for another pass catcher to team with Josh Gordon too and options in this range would include USC WR Marqise Lee, Oregon St. WR Brandin Cooks, Florida St. WR Kelvin Benjamin and Indiana WR Cody Latimer. This could also be a spot for an interior blocker, Ryan Shazier | Ohio St. Buckeyes whether it be UCLA OG Xavier Su’a-Filo or Nevada OG Joel Bitonio. This might be too late to land one of the top tier of cover guys but Ohio St. CB Bradley Roby or T.C.U. CB Jason Verrett might be in the mix if still available. Northern Illinois S Jimmie Ward could even be a darkhorse. Don’t dismiss Ohio St. RB Carlos Hyde, the consensus top runner in this class, as a possibility either. After all it’s not like they made a substantial commitment to Ben Tate, who has durability issues and has never been a full - time starter.
27 NEW ORLEANS SAINTS: BRANDIN COOKS, WR, OREGON ST.
Brandin Cooks | Oregon St. Beavers
The Saints got their defense back on track under the guidance of Rob Ryan and while there are still some areas to be addressed on that side of the ball they will have a bit of freedom to go in another direction if they so choose. Head Coach Sean Payton can never have enough weapons to play with so don’t be surprised if they opt to provide Drew Brees with another target. Oregon St. WR Brandin Cooks is coming off an outstanding junior campaign in which he racked up an eye-popping 128 receptions for 1,730 yards and 16 touchdowns for the Beavers. Those are career numbers for a lot of guys! An explosive athlete with elite speed plus terrific hands and ball skills who can create after the catch, Cooks is not only a dynamic playmaker but also garners rave reviews for his high-quality intangibles. USC WR Marqise Lee would be a potential alternative if available. New Orleans could also be in the market for a cornerback since the recently-signed Champ Bailey will soon turn 36-years-old and the depth is shaky. The most likely options would be Bradley Roby of Ohio St. and Jason Verrett of T.C.U. and if they are gone Brandin Cooks | Oregon St. Beavers Stanley Jean-Baptise of Nebraska could get a look. A center such as Marcus Martin of USC might be in play too since their old pivot Brian De La Puente just departed as a free agent. Do not discount the possibility of another pass rusher at outside linebacker either because other than Junior Galette they have more questions than answers at the position. Names to keep an eye on there include Kony Ealy of Missouri, Demarcus Lawrence of Boise St., Dee Ford of Auburn or even Marcus Smith of Louisville.
28 CAROLINA PANTHERS: MORGAN MOSES, OT, VIRGINIA
Morgan Moses | Virginia Cavaliers
The Panthers have such a monumental need at wide receiver that they may have to hit it early and often like they did defensive tackle with their first couple of picks a year ago. They have a huge hole at offensive tackle too though and there is a much better chance of a top pass catcher being available later on than there is a starting-caliber blocker. Morgan Moses of Virginia is the next in a string of talented offensive tackles produced by the Cavaliers in recent years, following in the footsteps of D’Brickashaw Ferguson, Branden Albert, Eugene Monroe and Oday Aboushi. Moses brings a rare combination of sheer size, brute strength and quality intangibles to the table. Some might consider this a reach but there have been a number of instances where blockers have come off the board earlier than expected on Draft Day, from Duane Brown and James Carpenter to Justin Pugh, Kyle Long and Travis Frederick just last year. Don’t be shocked if / when it happens again. In fact, this might actually be the floor for Moses as he could easily come off the board in the Top 20 overall. Joel Bitonio of Nevada, Cyrus Kouandjio of Alabama and Ja'Wuan James of Tennessee are possible alternatives. If Carolina does want to nab a wideout with this choice there should be at least a Morgan Moses | Virginia Cavaliers couple of enticing options available from a group consisting of Marqise Lee of USC, Brandin Cooks of Oregon St., Cody Latimer of Indiana, Kelvin Benjamin of Florida St., Davante Adams of Fresno St. and Donte Moncrief of Ole Miss. The other major concern is the secondary, where reinforcements are needed at cornerback after Captain Munnerlyn bolted as a free agent. An earlier run could deplete the value by this point but T.C.U. CB Jason Verrett could be available while Nebraska CB Stanley Jean-Baptiste is a potential darkhorse.
29 NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS: STEPHON TUITT, DE / DT, NOTRE DAME
Stephon Tuitt | Notre Dame Fighting Irish
If another team wants to jump up from early in round two for a quarterback this could be a spot that they target for a deal. It certainly wouldn’t be the first time New England has traded out of the first round. If they do stand pat (no pun intended) it looks like addressing the defensive line may be the most plausible scenario since Vince Wilfork and Tommy Kelly are nearing the end of the line. Stephon Tuitt of Notre Dame is an impressive physical specimen with the ability to line up at end or tackle and in either an even or odd front. In short, he is exactly the type of big, versatile athlete that Bill Belichick covets up front. Tuitt did not have the dominant junior campaign that most were expecting in large part due to conditioning issues exacerbated by offseason surgery. However, as the season went on Tuitt gradually began to round into form and showed flashes of that first round talent. Durability is a huge concern with Tuitt but when healthy and in shape he is capable of being a true difference-maker and at this point the potential rewards outweigh the risks. Minnesota DL Ra’Shede Hageman is a possible alternative and if they wanted more of a true defensive tackle Timmy Jernigan of Florida St. or Louis Nix of Notre Dame could be options. It might be time to start thinking about the future on the interior of the offensive line too since Logan Mankins and Dan Connolly are both on the wrong side of thirty and Connolly is entering the final season of his contract so watch out for Joel Bitonio of Nevada and Xavier Su’a-Filo of UCLA. The Pats could also target a tight end since the injuries and surgeries just Stephon Tuitt | Notre Dame Fighting Irish continue to mount for Rob Gronkowski. Texas Tech TE Jace Amaro is a dynamic pass catcher in the mold of Aaron Hernandez and would be a perfect compliment to “Gronk” while Washington TE Austin Seferian-Jenkins and Notre Dame TE Troy Niklas qualify as all-around threats. A running back such as Carlos Hyde of Ohio St. could be a darkhorse since Stevan Ridley’s fumbling problems have seemingly earned him a permanent spot in the doghouse and LeGarrette Blound recently left as a free agent .
30 SAN FRANCISCO 49ERS: DEMARCUS LAWRENCE, OLB, BOISE ST.
Demarcus Lawrence | Boise St. Broncos
The Niners are basically loaded on both sides of the ball which puts them in the envious position of not necessarily having to draft for an immedite need. Instead they have the flexibility to stay true to their evaluations and grab the best talent on the board with an eye toward the future. Some might look at this projection and think it’s absurd since the 49ers already have a couple of studs at outside linebacker in Aldon Smith and Ahmad Brooks. However, there have been some well-documented off-the-field issues with Smith and his status is very much up in the air and Brooks just hit the wrong side of thirty. That is why there is a good chance San Francisco will be in the market for another edge pass rusher to provide depth and more importantly insurance in case they are forced to part ways with Smith. Demarcus Lawrence of Boise St. has flown under the radar for the most part but is a known commodity in the scouting world with a lot of fans. One of the top pure pass rushers in this class, Lawrence is a smooth athlete with a rangy frame who could play with his hand on the ground or standing up at the next level depending on the scheme. San Francisco could also opt for a wide receiver since Michael Crabtree is entering the final year of his contract and Anquan Boldin isn’t getting any younger. The most likely possibilities would be Kelvin Benjamin of Florida St. and Cody Latimer of Indiana Demarcus Lawrence | Boise St. Broncos and they have also been linked to Odell Beckham of L.S.U., who would require a trade all the way up into the middle of round one to secure. There are issues at cornerback as well and while the position will be pretty picked over by this point they could explore moving up for someone like Kyle Fuller of Virginia Tech or Bradley Roby of Ohio St. The Niners could also be tempted by a defensive linemen like Minnesota DE Ra’Shede Hageman, Notre Dame DE Stephon Tuitt or Notre Dame DT Louis Nix.
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31 DENVER BRONCOS: XAVIER SU'A-FILO, OG, UCLA
Xavier Su'a-Filo | UCLA Bruins
Broncos GM John Elway was able to address the majority of their needs in free agency but there are still a couple of areas that must be attended to. One of them is along the offensive line, where there are some current issues and others that could crop up in the near future. The loss of Zane Beadles opened up a hole at left guard and while there is speculation that Orlando Franklin could be moved inside that would just create a different issue at right tackle. Plus Franklin is entering the final year of his contract. UCLA OG Xavier Su’a-Filo is widely regarded to be one of, if not the, top interior blocker in this class and could very easily come off the board at some point late in the first round. Su’a-Filo spent half of his college career playing out of position at tackle but is clearly better suited for a role on the inside, where his average length and athleticism won’t be nearly as problematic. Despite being a little behind schedule in his development, both physically and mentally, after serving a two-year Mormon mission Su’a-Filo is a well-rounded blocker with the strength to anchor and generate a push plus the mobility to pull and get to the second level. Su’a-Filo also earns high marks for his intangibles such as intelligence, work ethic, leadership and durability. Nevada OT / OG Joel Bitonio could be in the discussion too and if they want more of a true right tackle options include Cyrus Kouandjio of Alabama, Morgan Moses of Virginia and Ja’Wuan James of Tennessee. The other problem spot is at linebacker where Wesley Woodyard must be replaced, Xavier Su'a-Filo | UCLA Bruins although it’s unlikely either C.J. Mosley of Alabama or Ryan Shazier of Ohio St. will still be available in the latter stages of round one. It wouldn’t hurt to bring in some reinforcements at cornerback either but if there is a run on cover guys earlier in the round as expected the pickings could be slim. With that said Ohio St. CB Bradley Roby and T.C.U. CB Jason Verrett could draw interest if available while Nebraska CB Stanley Jean-Baptiste has been mentioned as a potential surprise late first rounder as well.
32 SEATTLE SEAHAWKS: CODY LATIMER, WR, INDIANA
Cody Latimer | Indiana Hoosiers
The Seahawks possess one of the deepest, most talented rosters in the league and while that doesn’t mean they don’t have needs it does give them a certain degree of freedom in the draft. One area where it might be wise to keep an eye on the future is wideout since Golden Tate is gone, Sidney Rice and Doug Baldwin are playing on one-year deals and Percy Harvin has major durability issues. Indiana WR Cody Latimer isn’t exactly a household name outside of draftnik and scouting circles but he had as much buzz as any prospect in this class in the weeks leading up to the draft. The fact that the NFL invited Latimer to New York City for Draft Day is a clear indication that he is expected to come off the board early because the league certainly doesn’t want anyone suffering through a long wait in the green room on national television. Latimer is a terrific natural athlete with an excellent blend of size and speed and a rocked up physique who was also a standout basketball player in high school. While not a dynamic big play threat Latimer is a well-rounded pass catcher with reliable hands who does all of the little things and knows how to use that height and thick frame to his advantage. The offensive line might actually be Seattle’s most pressing concern and they could probably use an upgrade at both tackle and guard so watch out for Nevada OG Joel Bitonio, UCLA OG Xavier Su’a-Filo, Virginia OT Morgan Moses, Alabama OT Cyrus Kouandjio and Tennessee OT Ja’Wuan James. The Seahawks made the defensive line a priority in recent years with great success but reinforcements are needed once again following the losses of Red Bryant, Chris Clemons and Clinton McDonald in free agency. Cody Latimer | Indiana Hoosiers Seattle prefers big, versatile athletes up front on defense so Stephon Tuitt of Notre Dame and Ra’Shede Hageman of Minnesota could be ideal fits. Even though it may not be their top priority don’t rule out a cornerback either. After all while others attempt to replicate the success that the Seahawks have had with jumbo cover guys such as Richard Sherman and Brandon Browner they might actually want to beat the competition to the punch and grab Nebraska CB Stanley Jean-Baptiste or even Utah CB Keith McGill for themselves.