It was nothing short of a nightmare season for the Texans, who came into the year with legitimate Super Bowl aspirations but instead wound up as the worst team in the NFL. The good news is that there is plenty of talent in place and a quick turnaround is well within the realm of possibility. For a long time Houstonís primary identity was that of an offensive-minded team with a shaky defense. Over the past couple of years those roles have been reversed with the defense now one of the most dominant in the league and the offense sputtering. Poor play from the quarterback position was the main culprit behind the Texans struggles, with Matt Schaub suddenly showing signs of his advanced age and morphing into a turnover machine. Case Keenum was given ample opportunity to prove he could be the long-term solution under center but was unable to get the job done so itís time for Houston to bring in a top young signal caller. Teddy Bridgewater of Louisville isnít quite the once every couple of decades, canít miss prospect that Andrew Luck was coming out of college but he is still a potential franchise quarterback capable of quickly turning around the fortunes of an organization. Not only does Bridgewater possess all of the physical tools that you look for but he is also a relatively polished passer with natural instincts for the position, an innate feel for the game and outstanding intangibles.
The Texans will also consider Blake Bortles of Central Florida, who new Head Coach Bill OíBrien saw up close and personal back in September when he was at Penn St., and you canít rule out hometown hero Johnny Manziel of Texas A&M either. Houston would also be remiss to not at least consider South Carolina DE Jadeveon Clowney, although with the team is sticking with a 3-4 defense so that doesnít appear to be a fit. In the end a quarterback should take precedence above all else.
ST. LOUIS RAMS (f/WAS): JAKE MATTHEWS, OT, TEXAS A&M
St. Louis has been stocking up on young talent the past couple of years with a big assist from the blockbuster trade that landed Robert Griffin III in Washington. This is the final payment on that bill and basically a worst-case scenario for the Redskins, who never could have imagined this pick would be #2 overall when they made the deal. Last offseason it seemed as though St. Louis had finally solved their long-standing problems along the offensive line by spending big money on Jake Long. Unfortunately Long suffered another injury which clouds his long-term future to a degree. Meanwhile Rodger Saffold, who started at both left and right tackle before moving inside to guard this past season, is going to be an unrestricted free agent. Texas A&M OT Jake Matthews is the son of Hall of Famer Bruce Matthews and his family tree is chock full of outstanding football players. Jake is a well-rounded blocker with all of the physical tools and intangibles that you look for. In fact many believe Matthews is a better pro prospect than former teammate Luke Joeckel, who was the #2 overall pick in the 2013 NFL Draft. St. Louis has also come out and let it be known that they are willing to trade this choice, which shouldnít come as a surprise since General Manager Les Snead has moved down every year since heís been at the helm.
In fact a trade might be the most likely scenario for this selection and there should be a market with someone wanting to come up for either a quarterback or South Carolina DE Jadeveon Clowney. Even though the Rams have come out in support of Sam Bradford there is no telling when they might be picking this early again so they should at least consider a signal caller as well. After all Bradford went down with yet another season-ending injury and he hasnít set the world on fire when healthy.
JACKSONVILLE JAGUARS: JADEVEON CLOWNEY, DE, SOUTH CAROLINA
Everyone knows that the Jaguars desperately need a quarterback to build their team around but they may opt to look elsewhere with this choice. After all Jacksonville showed last year that they are willing to simply go with the best player available rather than reach to address a need. To say the Jaguars pass rush hasnít been getting the job done would be a massive understatement. In fact, they were dead-last in the league in sacks for the second year in a row. That has to be extremely disconcerting for Head Coach Gus Bradley, a defensive specialist who understands the importance of generating pressure. Most feel Jadeveon Clowney of South Carolina is the best defensive end prospect to come along since Julius Peppers in 2002 and some even go as far back as Bruce Smith in 1985. A rare talent and freakish physical specimen with an eye-popping blend of size, speed and athleticism, Clowney has the potential to be a true impact player at the next level. Clowney struggled to live up to unrealistic expectations this past season but itís important to remember that Peppers and Mario Williams
were criticized for being inconsistent underachievers during their final years in college too. There are some minor character and durability concerns with Clowney as well but when push comes to shove the potential rewards are worth the risk. UCLA OLB Anthony Barr is also capable of being that dynamic presence off the edge and could be a safer alternative. Clemson WR Sammy Watkins could be a possibility too if the talented but troubled Justin Blackmon isn't in the organizations long - term plans.
CLEVELAND BROWNS: BLAKE BORTLES, QB, CENTRAL FLORIDA
The Browns top priority this offseason will be finding a young quarterback to build around. Unless General Manager Mike Lombardi is blinded by his affection for Brian Hoyer. Teddy Bridgewater of Louisville has been considered the top quarterback prospect in this class for quite some time but Blake Bortles of Central Florida has emerged as a legitimate contender for that honor. In fact there are some who believe that Bortles could ultimately be the #1 overall pick. A good athlete with a big sturdy frame, a strong arm and above-average mobility, Borltes is still rough around the edges and will require some patience and development but possesses all of the raw tools to be a franchise signal caller at the next level. For comparisons sake think along the lines of Jake Locker.
Johnny Manziel of Texas A&M will be in the conversation as well and with two first round picks the Browns also have the ammunition to trade up if they fall in love with a specific quarterback. If for some reason Clevleand were to look in another direction the other alternative might be Clemson WR Sammy Watkins. After all Josh Gordon is just one more failed drug test away from a lengthy suspension and there isnít another pass catcher on the roster keeping defenses awake at night. It would be a surprise if this isn't a quarterback though.
Oaklandís passing attack ranked among the worst in the league and while the cupboard isnít completely bare at wide receiver there is definitely room for an upgrade. Especially in the form of a potential go-to target like Sammy Watkins of Clemson. After bursting onto the scene as a true freshman Watkins suffered through a major sophomore slump precipitated by injuries and off-the-field issues. Fortunately Watkins was able to bounce back and re-solidify himself as a top pro prospect. An explosive athlete who possesses all the physical traits to be a dynamic playmaker at the next level, Watkins isnít as polished as former teammate DeAndre Hopkins but is arguably more talented with a higher upside.
The Raiders also have a major question mark at quarterback, where both Terrelle Pryor and Matt McGloin showed flashes but neither established themselves as the long-term solution. With that said General Manager Reggie McKenzie and Head Coach Dennis Allen are on thin ice and you wonder if they have the job security to start all over at the games most important position. The defensive front seven also lacks a true impact presence so South Carolina DE Jadeveon Clowney and UCLA OLB Anthony Barr will be options as well .
Not much went right for the Falcons this past season and instead of contending for the Super Bowl they wound up in the race for the #1 overall pick. Atlanta still has a lot of pieces in place but must address a couple of extremely important positions in the offseason. Their most pressing need may be along the offensive line, where Sam Baker continues to battle injuries and Lamar Holmes has been a disappointment. 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 just puts into perspective how good Greg Robinson of Auburn is. What makes Robinson so special is a rare blend of athleticism and strength that enables him to get the job done at a high level as both a run blocker and a pass protector. Robinson may have been the second best player on the field in the BCS National Championship Game behind only
Florida St. QB Jameis Winston, who is the front-runner to be the #1 overall pick in the 2015 NFL Draft. The Falcons must also do something about their pass rush, which was one of the least productive in the league. South Carolina DE Jadeveon Clowney will likely be gone by this point but General Manager Tom Dimitroff is known for being aggressive on Draft Day and could always call up his old pal Les Snead of the Rams about the possisibility of trading up. UCLA OLB Anthony Barr could be in the mix too .
On paper the Bucs would appear to have enough talent to compete with anyone in the league but for one reason or another the team underachieved. The good news is it shouldnít take long to turn things around. The most glaring hole on the depth chart is at defensive end opposite Adrian Clayborn and there were only a handful of teams with fewer sacks this past season than Tampa Bay. Unfortunately there is a big drop-off at the position after Jadeveon Clowney of South Carolina, who will be long gone by this point. UCLA OLB Anthony Barr is a dynamic pass rusher too though and would be a tremendous consolation prize. Barr began his college career as a fullback / tight end hybrid but has been nothing short of a revelation since making the conversion 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 heís just beginning to tap into his immense potential. Clowney gets more headlines but the gap between he and Barr as pro prospects isnít nearly as wide as most assume.
The Buccaneers could also use an upgrade at tight end and while this may be a little early Eric Ebron of North Carolina would be just what the doctor ordered. Other options could include Clemson WR Sammy Watkins or perhaps even an offensive tackle such as Greg Robinson of Auburn or Taylor Lewan of Michigan. As a darkhorse keep an eye on the quarterback situation too because even though Mike Glennon probably showed enough to keep the job there is always a chance the new coaching staff and front office will want to hand pick their own signal caller.
A lot of pieces are in place for the Vikings, especially on offense, but they continue to fall short at the games most important position. Teddy Bridgewater of Louisville and Blake Bortles of Central Florida will most likely be off the board but Texas A&M QB Johnny Manziel could be available. Manziel figures to be an extremely polarizing prospect for a litany of reasons, both on and off the field. There is absolutely no denying that Manziel is an incredible college football player but there are plenty of reasons to be apprehensive when projecting ďJohnny FootballĒ to the next level. Not only does Manziel lack the prototypical size and arm strength that you look for but his free-wheeling style of play may not be nearly as effective in the pros and could leave him susceptible to turnovers and injuries. Then there is the rather extensive list of character concerns and Manzielís behavior over the last couple of years has earned him labels such as immature, undisciplined, selfish, hard-partying and quite possibly the worst of all a distraction. Those arenít the types of words generally associated with successful NFL signal callers. 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 have a big payoff but the odds are against it. Despite all the warning signs it appears as though some team is going to roll the dice on Manziel in the Top 10 and the Vikings have shown a willingness to go out on a limb for talented but troubled prospects in the past. If Bridgewater, Bortles and Manziel are all gone, which is a distinct possibility, Minnesota would be in a tough spot and would likely either reach for a signal caller or simply grab the best defensive player available.
There arenít many teams in the league with a more exciting core of young talent than the Bills. Thatís not to say there isnít still work to be done but Buffalo finally appears to be on the right track. One area where there is room to upgrade is tight end, where Scott Chandler has been serviceable the past few seasons but is hardly the dynamic pass catching threat that most teams are looking for at the position these days. This may appear to be a reach but North Carolina TE Eric Ebron has a lot of fans around the league and is going to come off the board earlier than most realize. An outstanding athlete with excellent speed, Ebron can get down the seam and stretch the field vertically and is an extremely difficult matchup for opposing defenses.
Adding another weapon like Ebron to the passing attack would also aid the development of young quarterback E.J. Manuel, which is of the utmost importance. The Bills could also use some more help at linebacker, where the cupboard is relatively bare beyond Kiko Alonso, so watch out for Buffalo OLB Khalil Mack and Alabama LB C.J. Mosley. Other possibilities could include Auburn OT Greg Robinson or Michigan OT Taylor Lewan or perhaps a safety in the event they are unable to re-sign Jairus Byrd to a long-term contract.
In recent years the Lions have devoted a lot of premium resources toward bolstering their defensive line and secondary so perhaps now itís time to add an impact performer at linebacker. Buffalo OLB Khalil Mack has flown under the radar because he didnít 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 prototypical 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 isnít 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 can't be underestimated. Mack may not be a household name just yet but that is going to change in the coming months. Despite investing a premium pick on a cornerback in each of the past two drafts the
Lions could still use some more help at the position but this is probably too early for Justin Gilbert of Oklahoma St. or Darqueze Dennard of Michigan St. The Lions never-ending quest to find a wide receiver to compliment Calvin Johnson continues as well and they might be inclined to try again with Mike Evans of Texas A&M or Marqise Lee of USC. Auburn OT Greg Robinson or Michigan OT Taylor Lewan could be in the mix too depending upon how the teams feels about LaAdrian Waddle's long-term prospects.
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