One could make an argument that the Steelers have more needs to address this offseason than they have in years. With that said this organization has a proven track record of being able to reload quickly which is how they’ve been able to stay consistently competitive for decades. Pittsburgh could go in a number of different directions with this choice but Georgia OLB Jarvis Jones would likely be too good to pass up as a replacement for James Harrison. A terror off the edge, Jones racked up an eye-popping 44.0 tackles for a loss and 28.0 sacks against elite SEC competition the past two seasons. Despite that impressive resume there are many who are down on Jones due to a disappointing pre-draft workout. However, this is one of those instances where evaluators must simply trust the tape because it never lies. In fact, smart organizations like Pittsburgh are hoping other teams overreact and allow Jones to fall into their laps on Draft Day. There are actually some parallels to be drawn between Jones’ situation and that of Terrell Suggs, another productive college pass rusher who slid on Draft Day due to a poor forty time.
That obviously worked out well for the Ravens. It’s time for the Steelers to start thinking about the safety position as well but it’s unlikely Kenny Vaccaro of Texas will still be on the board. Pittsburgh has also shown interest in Alabama RB Eddie Lacy but this may be a bit early and they should be able to land a talented runner in either the second or third round. Keep an eye on wide receiver too because Cordarrelle Patterson of Tennessee could be in the mix since Emmanuel Sanders might bolt as a free agent next offseason.
Jerry Jones recently admitted that the ultimate fate of Doug Free still hangs in the balance depending on what the Cowboys do in the draft. If the opportunity to select Alabama OT D.J. Fluker presents itself the struggling veteran could soon be in search of a new home. A massive human being with outstanding strength and power, Fluker doesn’t have the feet to play left tackle but profiles as a potentially elite right tackle due to his ability to anchor at the point of attack and maul in the run game. Tyron Smith is already one of the leagues top blindside protectors and the addition of Fluker would give Dallas a fantastic set of young bookends. Fluker could even kick inside to guard early in his career if they wanted to keep Free around a while longer. There is a good chance Fluker will be long gone by this point, perhaps in the Top 10 overall, but Florida St. OT Menelik Watson could be an alternative. With Monte Kiffin coming aboard as defensive coordinator the
Cowboys are transitioning to a 4-3 scheme and could use another top talent on the interior of their defensive line alongside Jay Ratliff so watch out for Missouri DT Sheldon Richardson or more realistically North Carolina DT Sylvester Williams. Safety continues to be a major problem area for the Cowboys as well but Kenny Vaccaro of Texas will most likely be off the board and this is probably too early for the second tier of Matt Elam of Florida, Eric Reid of L.S.U. or Johnathan Cyprien of Florida International.
NEW YORK GIANTS: CORNELLIUS CARRADINE, DE, FLORIDA ST.
The G-Men place a major emphasis on the defensive line and have a tendency to select pass rushers early in the draft even when it appears they are set at the position. With Osi Umenyiora no longer in the picture don’t be surprised if New York goes that route once again. Cornellius “Tank” Carradine is a former junior college standout who was enjoying a breakout senior campaign before a late season knee injury complicated matters. Prior to getting hurt it appeared as though Carradine might be ticketed for the Top 10 overall. The good news is Tank’s ahead of schedule in his rehab and was even able to work out for scouts shortly before the draft, alleviating concerns about his health and putting him back into the first round mix. The Giants are said to be quite high on Carradine and could afford to be patient, working him in slowly behind Jason Pierre-Paul and Justin Tuck. While not a dynamic edge rusher Carradine is big and powerful with a great motor.
Carradine’s former teammate Bjoern Werner could be an alternative as well. If Alabama OT D.J. Fluker were to somehow fall this far the Giants would most likely sprint to the podium because David Diehl is getting old and he is exactly the type of big, mauling blocker that they seem to prefer. This organization doesn’t seem to feel linebacker is a position worth expending major resources on but there are exceptions to every rule so Alec Ogletree of Georgia and Manti Te’o of Notre Dame could at least be in the discussion.
ATLANTA FALCONS (f/CHI): DESMOND TRUFANT, CB, WASHINGTON
I usually don’t like to project trades because of the potential ripple effect if they are wrong. However word is the Falcons really like Washington CB Desmond Trufant, who will likely come off the board somewhere in the Top 20, and in the past they have shown a willingness to move up for players they have a conviction on. Cornerback is clearly Atlanta’s most pressing concern after losing Brett Grimes in free agency and releasing Dunta Robinson in an effort to clear some space under the salary cap. Desmond is the younger brother of Marcus Trufant, who was an early first round pick of the Seattle Seahawks in the 2003 NFL Draft. In addition to those NFL bloodlines Trufant is extremely athletic with a prototypical blend of size and speed as well as an aggressive temperament and confident mindset. If the Falcons are unable to move up for Trufant and still want a corner look for them to focus on Jamar Taylor of Boise St. or perhaps Blidi Wreh-Wilson of Connecticut. Atlanta signed Osi Umenyiora to replace John Abraham but another defensive end is still needed so
Tank Carradine of Florida St., Bjoern Werner of Florida St., Datone Jones of UCLA, Margus Hunt of S.M.U. and Damontre Moore of Texas A&M could be possibilities as well. It’s time to start thinking about a replacement for Tony Gonzalez too but Notre Dame TE Tyler Eifert will be long gone and this may be a bit early for Stanford TE Zach Ertz or Gavin Escobar of San Diego St. Don’t completely rule out an offensive lineman either, but it would be a surprise if Atlanta didn’t select either a cornerback or pass rusher in round one.
There has been at least one running back selected in the first round of every NFL Draft since 1963 so history tells us that Alabama’s Eddie Lacy will come off the board at some point in the opening frame. It’s just a matter of where. The Bengals seem like one of the most likely spots because even though BenJarvus Green-Ellis ran for over 1,000 yards last season he only averaged 3.9 yards per carry and their rushing attack ranked right in the middle of the pack. Needless to say there is room for an upgrade. Lacy is a big, physical, aggressive runner with great power who in many ways is a poor-man’s Trent Richardson. If they don’t go running back with this choice watch out for Giovani Bernard of North Carolina in the second round. Cincy could also be in the market for a safety and while Kenny Vaccaro of Texas will almost certainly be off the board they could have their pick of Florida’s Matt Elam, Florida International’s Johnathan Cyprien and LSU’s Eric Reid.
The Bengals could use some speed and athleticism in their linebacker corps too and they are one of the teams that wouldn’t be deterred by the character concerns of Georgia’s Alec Ogletree. If Cincinnati doesn’t feel as though they will be able to re-sign Andre Smith they could target Alabama OT D.J. Fluker or Florida St. OT Menelik Watson as a replacement. Even though cornerback doesn’t appear to be a need the team has shown considerable interest in D.J. Hayden of Houston so keep a close eye on that as well.
There may not be a more glaring hole on the Rams roster than the one at safety, where Quintin Mikell was a cap casualty and Craig Dahl bolted as a free agent. St. Louis just missed out on Kenny Vaccaro of Texas earlier in this round but they could start a run on the positions second tier with their choice of Florida’s Matt Elam, Florida International’s Johnathan Cyprien and LSU’s Eric Reid. Which of those three they prefer really depends on what they’re looking for at the position, with Elam profiling as a strong safety, Reid as a free safety and Cyprien capable of seeing action at either spot. While there doesn’t appear to be a clear consensus on the pecking order Elam gets the nod because he seems to be rated higher on more boards than his counterparts. Elam is a bit shorter than you would prefer but is solidly-built and has drawn favorable comparisons to Donte Whitner. An aggressive, hard-hitting playmaker who is at his best in the box, Elam also possesses the speed and athleticism to hold his own in coverage.
If the Rams are unable to land West Virginia WR Tavon Austin they could shift their focus to the Tennessee duo of Cordarrelle Patterson and Justin Hunter or DeAndre Hopkins of Clemson. Even though St. Louis doesn’t appear to value the outside linebacker position Alec Ogletree of Georgia might be too good to pass up at this point and the Rams showed a willingness to take chances on troubled prospects a year ago with Janoris Jenkins and Trumaine Johnson. Alabama RB Eddie Lacy is a potential replacement for Steven Jackson too.
MINNESOTA VIKINGS: SYLVESTER WILLIAMS, DT, NORTH CAROLINA
Most assume the Vikings will be targeting a wide receiver in round one and that is certainly a distinct possibility, with Cordarrelle Patterson and Justin Hunter of Tennessee and DeAndre Hopkins of Clemson the most likely options at this point. However, don’t be shocked if they wait until round two and target someone like Robert Woods of USC, Keenan Allen of Cal or Quinton Patton of Louisiana Tech. With Kevin Williams about to turn 33-years-old and only signed for one more season the Vikings will likely be in the market for some reinforcements at defensive tackle. Sylvester Williams of North Carolina still doesn’t get the respect he deserves as a legitimate first rounder, which may be due in part to the unconventional path he took to get to this point. After high school Williams actually worked in a factory before enrolling at a junior college and returning to the gridiron.
Williams is quick with excellent strength, natural instincts for the game, a non-stop motor and terrific intangibles. “Sly” would be an ideal fit at nose tackle alongside Kevin, once again forming a “Williams Wall” in the middle of the Vikings d-line. Minnesota could also use a middle linebacker (Manti Te’o of Notre Dame, Alec Ogletree of Georgia or Arthur Brown of Kansas St.) or a cornerback (Xavier Rhodes of Florida St. or Desmond Trufant of Washington) and have been tied to FSU DE Tank Carradine.
INDIANAPOLIS COLTS: XAVIER RHODES, CB, FLORIDA ST.
It’s amazing how the addition of a truly elite quarterback like Andrew Luck can accelerate the timeline of what was once projected to be a long rebuilding project. Things are obviously on the right track offensively but there is still work to be done on the defensive side of the ball. In fact, the Colts could conceivably go with a defensive lineman, linebacker or defensive back with this pick. The best value still on the board is Florida St. CB Xavier Rhodes, who could potentially go as early as the top dozen picks. Rhodes offers rare size at the position and answered questions about his speed by running a 4.43 forty at the Scouting Combine. With Vontae Davis entering the final year of his contract and little else in the way of starting-caliber cover guys it’s hard to imagine Indy passing on Rhodes if he were still available. Even if Rhodes is gone they could turn their attention to Desmond Trufant of Washington, D.J. Hayden of Houston or Jamar Taylor of Boise St. Another pass rushing outside linebacker could be added as well because Robert Mathis is 32-years-old and the duo of Erik Walden and Jerry Hughes have combined to average just 1.4 sacks per year
over the course of ten NFL seasons. If Indy wanted to go in that direction options would include Jarvis Jones of Georgia, Bjoern Werner of Florida St. and Damontre Moore of Texas A&M. Even though the Colts brought in a couple of defensive linemen in free agency they still lack a difference-maker up front and two of their starters are 32-years-old so guys like Datone Jones of UCLA, Margus Hunt of SMU and Johnathan Hankins of Ohio St. could all be in the conversation as well.
Over time patterns begin to develop when it comes to the type of players certain teams prefer and there is no question that the Vikings have an affinity for Notre Dame prospects. In fact, there are currently five former Golden Domers on Minnesota’s roster including cornerstones such as Harrison Smith, Kyle Rudolph and John Sullivan. The Vikes have a big hole at middle linebacker after losing Jasper Brinkley in free agency and Manti Te’o of Notre Dame seems like a perfect replacement. Big, smart and instinctive with excellent range, Te’o also hits like a ton of bricks and has proven to be a true leader both on as well as off the field. Te’o was recently the victim of a highly-publicized and cruel hoax but that controversy probably won’t affect his draft stock much if at all, although he could slide a bit simply because teams don’t usually place a huge emphasis on inside linebackers in the first round. Te’o may not be a superstar but he is one of the safest prospects in this class and the type of guy you can
plug into the starting lineup immediately and not have to worry about the position again for a decade. Depending on what they do a couple of picks earlier the Vikings could also opt for a wide receiver (Tennessee’s Cordarrelle Patterson or Justin Hunter, USC’s Robert Woods or Clemson’s DeAndre Hopkins), a cornerback (Xavier Rhodes of Florida St. or Desmond Trufant of Washington), or a defensive lineman (North Carolina DT Sylvester Williams or Florida St. DE Tank Carradine). Trading down might be a realistic option as well.
GREEN BAY PACKERS: BJOERN WERNER, OLB, FLORIDA ST.
An embarrassing loss to the 49ers in the playoffs exposed a lack of size on defense so look for Green Bay to bring in some beef on that side of the ball at some point. Bjoern Werner of Florida St. is a native of Germany who came to the United States as an exchange student in high school. Werner has only been playing the game of football for five years so it’s scary to think just how good the guy could eventually be with additional experience. Werner lacks the pure speed and explosion of an elite edge pass rusher but is still able to terrorize opposing backfields thanks to his strength and relentless motor. Some question whether Werner is athletic enough to make the move to outside linebacker after playing defensive end in college but those same concerns were raised with Ryan Kerrigan. Werner would be a nice replacement for Erik Walden in Green Bay, setting the edge against the run with last year’s first rounder Nick Perry coming in on passing downs. There is also room for upgrades on the offensive line and Justin Pugh of Syracuse would be an ideal fit in their zone blocking scheme at tackle, guard or center. Florida St. OT Menelik Watson would be another alternative.
The Packers are still searching for a solution at running back too so Eddie Lacy of Alabama or Montee Ball of Wisconsin could be in the mix. Don’t rule out a wide receiver such as Robert Woods of USC either since Greg Jennings was lost in free agency. It might be time to start thinking about a replacement for Ryan Pickett too so watch out for UCLA DE Datone Jones or S.M.U. DE Margus Hunt. The Packers may also be interested in moving down and there could be a market for the pick if a team early in round two wants to come up for a quarterback.
It’s time for the Texans to begin thinking about the long-term future of their passing attack since Andre Johnson is on the wrong side of thirty and clearly starting to lose a step. Tennessee WR Cordarrelle Patterson is an explosive athlete with excellent size and speed who can not only take the top off a defense vertically but can also create in space. Patterson only spent one season with the Vols after transferring in from a junior college and is raw but he possesses all of the physical tools to be a dynamic playmaker at the next level. Needless to say Patterson would be a great fit as compliment to and eventual replacement for Johnson. Tennessee’s Justin Hunter and Clemson’s DeAndre Hopkins might be options at wideout as well, as could Robert Woods of USC and Terrance Williams of Baylor. Houston will also be looking for some reinforcements at linebacker early on. Possibilities on the inside include Alec Ogletree of Georgia, Manti Te’o of Notre Dame and Kevin Minter of L.S.U. while on the outside someone like Damontre Moore of Texas A&M could be on the radar.
The Texans could use some depth along their defensive line too in which case Margus Hunt of S.M.U. or Datone Jones of UCLA might be in the mix. Houston could do better than Derek Newton at right tackle so Menelik Watson of Florida St. might draw interest as well. If by chance Notre Dame TE Tyler Eifert were to fall this far, which is unlikely, the Texans would have to at least consider him since James Casey left as a free agent and Owen Daniels is on the wrong side of thirty.
The Broncos were active in free agency and plugged a number of holes but there are still some issues on defense for John Elway to address. Don’t be surprised if Denver opts for a cornerback because Champ Bailey is about to turn 35-years-old and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie only signed a one-year deal. Jamar Taylor of Boise St. is hardly a household name but he began generating first round buzz at the Senior Bowl in January. A well-rounded player with ideal size and speed and top intangibles, Taylor could fit in either a man or zone scheme and has so many teams interested that it’s difficult to imagine him escaping the first round. D.J. Hayden of Houston could be in the mix as well. The Broncos desperately need another pass rusher too after parting ways with Elvis Dumervil and possibilities could include Tank Carradine of Florida St.,
Bjoern Werner of Florida St., Datone Jones of UCLA, Margus Hunt of S.M.U. and Von Miller’s former protégé at Texas A&M Damontre Moore. Other options would be a linebacker (Manti Te’o of Notre Dame, Arthur Brown of Kansas St. or Kevin Minter of L.S.U.), safety (Johnathan Cyprien of Florida International, Matt Elam of Florida or Eric Reid of L.S.U.) or even a running back (Eddie Lacy of Alabama). Odds are this will be a defender though, it's just a matter of which one.
NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS: JUSTIN HUNTER, WR, TENNESSEE
Even though the Pats signed Danny Amendola as a replacement for Wes Welker another wideout is still needed because Brandon Lloyd was sent packing. A case can be made for Tennessee WR Justin Hunter being the most physically talented pass catcher in this class. Checking in at 6-4 and 196 pounds with legit 4.4 speed, Hunter profiles as a potential go-to target and impact playmaker at the next level. Not only does Hunter seem to fit the physical profile of what Bill Belichick looks for at the position but he also possesses the type of intangibles that the organization covets. If Hunter is already off the board, which is a distinct possibility, New England could also consider Robert Woods of USC, DeAndre Hopkins of Clemson, Keenan Allen of California, Quinton Patton of Louisiana Tech and Markus Wheaton of Oregon St. The Patriots might also look to add a cornerback since Aqib Talib only signed a one-year deal,
Alfonzo Dennard has some off-the-field issues and Ras-I Dowling just can’t manage to stay healthy. Xavier Rhodes of Florida St. and Desmond Trufant of Washington will almost certainly be long gone by this point but if they want to go with a cover guy the options will include Jamar Taylor of Boise St., D.J. Hayden of Houston, Blidi Wreh-Wilson of Connecticut and Johnthan Banks of Mississippi St.. It wouldn’t hurt to add a defensive tackle like Sylvester Williams of North Carolina either and versatile Syracuse OL Justin Pugh of Syracuse is a darkhorse.
Once again I have no information that the Bears are likely to trade down or even want to. This projected deal was simply a matter of trying to match Washington CB Desmond Trufant with the Atlanta Falcons somewhere in the Top 20 overall. Cornerback is an area where Chicago could use some reinforcements though, especially with Peanut Tillman getting up there in years. In fact, if they stand pat the Bears could very well grab Trufant or Xavier Rhodes of Florida St. at #20. D.J. Hayden of Houston is one of the most intriguing prospects in this draft. Hayden was always considered to be an early round talent but a medical issue left his situation up in the air. For those who aren’t familiar with the story, Hayden suffered a freak life threatening injury as a senior. In a practice collision Hayden tore the inferior vena cava, which carries blood from the lower body to the heart. That injury is most commonly seen in high-speed vehicle accidents and is fatal 95% of the time so it’s somewhat of a miracle that Hayden is even alive. However, according to doctors there shouldn’t be any long-term ramifications
and if he is cleared medically Hayden will likely find a home somewhere in the first round. As a player Hayden is big, fast and athletic with playmaking ability and a physical nature. Chicago could also be in the market for a linebacker such as Manti Te’o of Notre Dame or Arthur Brown of Kansas St., although Georgia’s Alec Ogletree probably won’t be in the mix due to off-the-field issues. The Bears are also said to be high on Syracuse OT Justin Pugh and Stanford TE Zach Ertz so those are possibilities as well.
The Niners are at that point as an organization where they aren’t necessarily looking for instant starters but rather to build depth and prepare for the future. With that said there is a question mark at free safety after losing Dashon Goldson in free agency. There may be a run on safeties late in the first round and the Niners are one of the teams that could take part in it. Few players have improved their stock more than Florida International S Johnathan Cyprien in recent months. Cyprien, who began shooting up draft boards following a terrific performance at the Senior Bowl, isn’t the most impressive physical specimen but he is capable of playing either free or strong safety and is the type of intense, physical, competitive leader that is sure to endear himself to a guy like Jim Harbaugh. The underrated Eric Reid of L.S.U. is another alternative at the position. San Francisco could also use some reinforcements along their defensive line and possibilities might include
S.M.U. DE Margus Hunt, UCLA DE Datone Jones and Georgia NT John Jenkins. Cornerback has been mentioned as an option too, with D.J. Hayden of Houston and Jamar Taylor of Boise St. being potential candidates. Don’t rule out Stanford TE Zach Ertz, who Harbaugh is very familiar with from their time together in college, as a replacement for free agent defector Delanie Walker either. The 49ers have an eye-popping thirteen picks in this draft and just might be a candidate to move up as well.
It’s been a difficult offseason for the Ravens as the Super Bowl champs have had to cut ties with a number of stalwarts on both sides of the ball. The defense in particular has taken some major hits with the losses of future Hall of Famers Ray Lewis and Ed Reed not to mention Paul Kruger, Dannell Ellerbe, Cary Williams and Bernard Pollard. Needless to say the Ravens could go in a number of different directions with this choice. The task of replacing Lewis is much easier said than done but Georgia ILB Alec Ogletree certainly has the talent to soften the blow of that loss. Ogletree would most likely be a Top 10 overall pick if not for numerous off-the-field issues that now cloud his stock. However, at this point the potential rewards probably outweigh the risk and GM Ozzie Newsome is always prepared to pounce when a top rated prospect unexpectedly falls into his lap on Draft Day. A fantastic athlete with great speed and range, Ogletree is the next in a long line of great Bulldog ‘backers, including the aforementioned Dannell Ellerbe. Manti Te’o of Notre Dame would be a perfect fit in Baltimore as well and the Ravens reportedly like Kevin Minter of L.S.U. too. Baltimore already added Michael Huff to replace Reed at free safety but
Matt Elam of Florida or Johnathan Cyprien of Florida International could step into Pollard’s old spot at strong safety. The other most likely possibility would be a wide receiver to help replace Anquan Boldin and DeAndre Hopkins of Clemson is a pass catcher the team is reportedly high on. Keep an eye on Syracuse OT Justin Pugh and Florida St. OT Menelik Watson too because free agent Bryant McKinnie is still unsigned and whether Michael Oher is a true blindside protector remains to be seen.
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