When it comes to defense the cupboard is far from bare in Tennessee but they lack a dynamic, difference-making pass rusher on the outside. That will be an even greater concern under new Defensive Coordinator Ray Horton, who will be implementing more odd looks and likes to apply pressure off the edge. UCLA OLB Anthony Barr would be a tremendous value at this point and is arguably a better pro prospect than Dion Jordan, who went #3 overall a year ago. Barr began his college career as a fullback / tight end hybrid but 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 and the scary part is heís just beginning to tap into his immense potential. There are also indications that David Stewart will be a cap casualty which would open up a hole at right tackle and with Michael Roos getting up there in years as well it may be tough to pass on Taylor Lewan of Michigan. The Titans could be in the market for a cornerback too if free agent Alterraun Verner isnít re-signed so watch out for Justin Gilbert of Oklahoma St. or Darqueze Dennard of Michigan St.
The Giants usually do a very good job of managing their roster but they have more work to do this offseason than usual following an uncharacteristically poor year. One of the main culprits behind their recent struggles was the offensive line, whose subpar performance hindered both the running and passing attacks. Justin Pugh is coming off an impressive rookie campaign and appears to be a keeper but the rest of the unit is a question mark. Michigan OT Taylor Lewan is arguably a better prospect than Eric Fisher, who was the #1 overall pick in the 2013 NFL Draft. That really puts into perspective not only what a tremendous value Lewan represents at this point but also how much stronger this yearís crop of talent is. 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 a very impressive 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.
Lewan could slide into the starting lineup at either left or right tackle in New York with Pugh or Will Beatty kicking inside, essentially upgrading two positions with a single move. As always the G-Men could also use some reinforcements at linebacker (Anthony Barr of UCLA or C.J. Mosley of Alabama) and it might be time to bring in a top young safety (Ha Ha Clinton-Dix of Alabama) too. While not a glaring need you can never completely rule out a defensive lineman when it comes to the Giants either.
No team has had as many premium draft picks the past few years as the Rams and as a result their roster is loaded with talented youngsters on both sides of the ball. However, one area that has yet to be adequately addressed is safety where the cupboard is still essentially bare. The Crimson Tide have been producing first round defensive backs on a yearly basis as of late and the guy they call "Ha Ha" should extend that streak. There is a growing sentiment for Calvin Pryor of Louisville but most still consider Clinton-Dix to be
the top safety prospect in this class. A terrific athlete with a prototypical blend of size and speed, Clinton-Dix covers a lot of ground in coverage but also isnít afraid to come up and support the run. With safeties figuring more and more prominently in game plans around the league these days donít be surprised if Clinton-Dix and Pryor are very hot commodities on Draft Day. Depending on what they do with their earlier pick the Rams could also look at an offensive lineman, outside linebacker, cornerback or another wideout.
The Bears boasted one of the most productive offenses in the NFL despite playing their backup quarterback for half the season so there arenít 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 is undersized but 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 plays bigger than youíd imagine. Considering those physical limitations the fact that Donald is even in the first round conversation is a real testament to the type of player he is on the field. Other alternatives at the position would be Notre Dame DT Louis Nix or Florida St. DT Timmy Jernigan. There are some question marks at defensive end as well but this might be a bit early for either
Kony Ealy of Missouri or Stephon Tuitt of Notre Dame. Itís probably time to start thinking about adding a top young cornerback like Justin Gilbert of Oklahoma St. or Darqueze Dennard of Michigan St. too since Charles Tillman is a free agent and there isnít much in the way of quality depth to speak of. Linebacker isnít Chicagoís most pressing need but they could use some reinforcements at the position and C.J. Mosley of Alabama could fill the shoes of Brian Urlacher / Lance Briggs.
One of the keys to the Steelers remaining consistently competitive for decades has been the ability to reload rather than rebuild. Pittsburgh will be tested again over the next couple of years as they attempt to reconstruct their aging defense. One area that must be addressed is the inside linebacker spot alongside Lawrence Timmons and C.J. Mosley of Alabama would be a steal at this point. Mosley is the next in a long line of great linebacker prospects produced by the Crimson Tide. Although slightly undersized Mosley is a great athlete with 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 this would be a relatively smooth transition as he played in a similar odd front in college. Pittsburgh also has serious issues along the offensive line and while itís unlikely
Taylor Lewan of Michigan will last this long Zack Martin of Notre Dame could be a nice fallback option. Safety is a strong possibility too since Troy Polamalu and Ryan Clark are both well past their primes and will have to be replaced soon so keep an eye on Ha Ha Clinton-Dix of Alabama and Calvin Pryor of Louisville. The Steelers could also be in the market for an upgrade at nose tackle (Louis Nix of Notre Dame) and may need to add a wide receiver too if Emmanuel Sanders bolts as a free agent.
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 big 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 itís absolutely imperative that Dallas bring in some reinforcements up front. Plural. Florida St. DT Timmy Jernigan doesnít have the prototypical size that you look for but he is very athletic with excellent quickness and surprising strength. Not only is Jernigan stout against the run but he is also capable of penetrating and disrupting in the backfield.
Other alternatives include Pittsburgh DT Aaron Donald, Notre Dame DT Louis Nix, Minnesota DT RaíShede Hageman, Missouri DE Kony Ealy or Notre Dame DE Stephon Tuitt but one way or another it will be an upset if this choice isnít used on a defensive lineman. As usual safety is still a problem area too so if by some chance the Cowboys were to go in another direction Ha Ha Clinton-Dix of Alabama or Calvin Pryor of Louisville might be the most likely possibilites. Do not completely rule out Notre Dame OT / OG Zack Martin either.
BALTIMORE RAVENS: JUSTIN GILBERT, CB, OKLAHOMA ST.
There is no doubt that the Ravens have more pressing concerns than cornerback. Thatís not to say they couldnít use some additional help in the secondary but there are clearly more glaring needs at other positions. With that said General Manager Ozzie Newsome is known for pouncing when a top prospect unexpectedly fall into his lap on Draft Day and this would qualify. In many ways Oklahoma St. CB Justin Gilbert is a poor-manís 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. One could even make the argument that Gilbert is a Top 100 talent based on that skill alone. Baltimore will also be looking to add a wideout because while Torrey Smith is one of the
most dangerous vertical threats in the game they have struggled to find a reliable compliment since trading away Anquan Boldin. If Mike Evans of Texas A&M were to fall this far that would be a nice fit but Marqise Lee of USC, Kelvin Benjamin of Florida St., Brandin Cooks of Oregon St. and Odell Beckham of LSU could be in the picture as well. There is also a lot of uncertainty at offensive tackle since Eugene Monroe and Michael Oher are free agents so watch out for Zack Martin of Notre Dame as a possibility too.
There isnít a team in the league more desperate for playmakers on offense than the Jets. In fact, there may not be a single skill position player on the roster that would be a sure-fire starter for most teams. The passing attack in particular is absolutely screaming for an infusion of youth, talent and big play ability. Fortunately for New York there should be some intriguing options available in the middle of round one. USC WR Marqise Lee is an explosive athlete with excellent speed who is not only a big play waiting to happen but also relatively well-rounded and polished. Lee didnít develop into the elite prospect that some envisioned early in his college career, in part due to a disappointing junior season and some durability concerns, but would be exactly what the doctor ordered for the J-E-T-S.
Texas A&M WR Mike Evans and North Carolina TE Eric Ebron would be strong possibilities if available as well. Other options could include Florida St. WR Kelvin Benjamin, Oregon St. WR Brandin Cooks and L.S.U. WR Odell Beckham. The Jets could also be in the market for a pass rusher at outside linebacker since free agent Calvin Pace is in his mid-thirties and the depth is lackluster at best. There are major issues at safety too so don't rule out Ha Ha Clinton-Dix of Alabama or Calvin Pryor of Louisville either.
Last offseason the Dolphins had an enormous hole at offensive tackle after losing Jake Long as a free agent. Miami could have traded for Branden Albert or drafted Lane Johnson but they instead chose to move Jonathan Martin to the blindside, where he struggled mightily as a rookie, and sign Tyson Clabo, who was well into his thirties and had just been released by the Falcons. Miami also selected tackle / guard Ďtweener Dallas Thomas in the third round. That plan blew up in their faces with Martin continuing to look overmatched before leaving the team amidst an embarrassing bullying scandal, Clabo resembling something akin to a revolving door and Thomas unable to crack the starting lineup inside or outside. Not only did the Phins completely fail to fix a significant problem despite ample resources and options but they actually made matters worse.
Notre Dame OT Zack Martin isnít an incredible physical specimen or particularly dominant but heís a smart, technically sound, battle-tested, four-year starter with the ability to play left or right tackle or even guard at the next level. At one point Martin was considered to be more of a fringe first rounder but after a standout performance at the Senior Bowl it's unlikely he escapes the Top 20. Alabama OT Cyrus Kouandjio will be a possibility too if cleared medically. The o-line is such a glaring need is it even worth mentioning other alternatives?
This wouldnít be an ideal situation for the Cardinals, who desperately need an upgrade at offensive tackle but may be in no-manís land for the position. The top tier of talent will undoubtedly be long gone by this point and if Notre Dame OT Zack Martin is off the board as well there may not be a blocker worthy of this choice. With that being the case the Cardinals may be forced to look elsewhere and would likely turn their attention to the other side of the ball. 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 about to turn 36-years-old, and youngsters like Sam Acho and Alex Okafor have yet to emerge. Dee Ford of Auburn is a classic Ďtweener who could project to defensive end or outside linebacker depending on the scheme. Regardless of where he lines up Ford is capable of being a dynamic force off the edge, a skill that was on full display during a standout week at the Senior Bowl.
In addition to a lack of ideal size and length there are also some durability concerns that cloud Fordís stock and could push him out of the first round. With that said great athletes who can get after quarterbacks are usually hot commodities and donít last very long on Draft Day. Arizona could also use an upgrade at cornerback opposite Patrick Peterson so Justin Gilbert of Oklahoma St. and Darqueze Dennard of Michigan St. could be in the mix as well. Watch out for a tight end if Eric Ebron of North Carolina is somehow still available too.
The Packers didnít do a very good job of stopping either the run or pass last season and they ranked near the bottom of the league in both categories. Needless to say there are some holes to shore up on that side of the ball. Green Bay may have more questions than answers along the defensive line, where the 34-year-old Ryan Pickett is a free agent, B.J. Raji is only signed to a one-year deal and the depth consists of a bunch of unproven youngsters. Notre Dame DT Louis Nix checks in at 331 pounds and has shown the ability to anchor and occupy multiple blockers in both an even and odd front. "Irish Chocolate" isnít just a one-dimensional run stuffer though and he is actually much quicker, explosive and more disruptive than you would expect for a guy his size. Nix has struggled with conditioning issues at times and must keep his weight in check but he has the potential to be a Vince Wilfork-esque performer at the next level.
As an added bonus Nix is also an extremely charismatic, fun- loving and likeable character who is destined to become a fan favorite. The Packers could use some help in the secondary too, particularly at safety, so watch out for Calvin Pryor of Louisville. North Carolina TE Eric Ebron and Alabama ILB C.J. Mosley would also be possibilities for the Cheeseheads, although itís unlikely either will last this long and there is a drop-off after each at their respective positions. Don't rule out a wild card from unpredictable GM Ted Thompson either.
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