The prevailing wisdom says itís unwise to make a significant investment in the running back position. That is why there hasnít been a runner chosen in the first round the past two years, snapping an incredible half century long streak. However, Adrian Peterson is a perfect example of why it may be okay to stray from that philosophy from time to time. Petersonís days in Minnesota may be coming to a premature end following an ugly off the field incident but the Vikings could replace an aging stud runner with a young one. Wisconsin RB Melvin Gordon is an explosive big play threat with a superb blend of size and speed but also a natural runner with nice vision and patience. Gordon would have been among the top running backs in last yearís class too but he opted to return to the Badgers and finally be the primary ball carrier after previously splitting time in the backfield with Montee Ball and James White. Gordon certainly took advantage of that opportunity, rushing for 2,336 yards and 26 touchdowns while emerging as one of three Heisman Trophy finalists. The selection of Gordon, who starred in college just one state away, would also help excite a fanbase that is losing one of the leagues biggest superstars. It will be very interesting to see where Gordon and to a lesser extent the injured
Todd Gurley of Georgia ultimately come off the board because in many ways it will serve as a litmus test to gauge the current value of elite running back prospects in the NFL Draft. Minnesota also has major issues along their offensive line and could look to upgrade with Iowa OT / OG Brandon Scherff or Texas A&M OT Cedric Ogbuehi. The Vikings could also take a look at Alabama S Landon Collins to team with Harrison Smith or perhaps even a linebacker such as Shaq Thompson of Washington or Vic Beasley of Clemson.
That Rams have had an absolute embarrassment of riches when it comes to premium draft picks in recent years courtesy of their trade with Washington for Robert Griffin III. However, instead of using one of those choices on a quarterback they steadfastly stuck by Sam Bradford even though he was plagued by injuries and wasnít particularly effective even when healthy. What exactly Bradford has done to earn that type of unwavering loyalty is unclear but St. Louis is now essentially in quarterback purgatory. They wonít be a true contender until they find a legitimate stud signal caller but they now have so much talent elsewhere itís unlikely they will bottom out and be in position to get a franchise quarterback at the top of the draft again anytime soon. Talk about a missed opportunity. Of course the Rams could reach for Connor Cook of Michigan St. or even Brett Hundley of UCLA but barring a major shakeup in the coaching staff or front office they will probably just give Bradford yet another shot. With that being the case the best course of action might be to continue shoring up the offensive line in an attempt to keep Bradford upright. Texas A&M OT Cedric Ogbuehi should be the third consecutive Aggies blocker to come off the board in the first round, following in the footsteps of Luke Joeckel and Jake Matthews. Ogbuehi made the transition from right tackle to the blindside as a senior like his former teammate Matthews but the results were mixed and he was eventually moved back to the right side.
Ogbuehi may not be the elite prospect that many envisioned at one time but he is a good athlete with a large frame and long arms who is effective as both a pass protector and run blocker. Unfortunately Jake Long is recovering from another major injury but the long-term future of the offensive tackle position would be secure with a set of bookends like Ogbuehi and Greg Robinson. Don't rule out Washington's Shaq Thompson, Clemson's Vic Beasley or Georgia's Leonard Floyd to unseat Jo-Lonn Dunbar at outside linebacker either.
Even though poor quarterback play was directly responsible for the absolute disaster that was the 2013 season for the Texans they took a very interesting approach with the position. Instead of making a genuine investment in a signal caller they opted to sign a journeyman stop-gap (Ryan Fitzpatrick), trade for a talented but unproven pending free agent (Ryan Mallett) and wait until the middle rounds to draft a developmental guy (Tom Savage). Houston will have to bring in a long-term solution at the games most important position sooner rather than later though and since they have enough talent that they probably wonít be selecting in the Top 5 again anytime soon this is probably as good of an opportunity as any. Most have Brett Hundley of UCLA pegged as the odds-on favorite to be the third quarterback off the board after Marcus Mariota of Oregon and Jameis Winston of Florida St. but donít be surprised if that honor ultimately goes to Connor Cook of Michigan St. Cook may not be a household name nationally like Mariota, Winston or even Hundley but rest assured the scouting community is well aware of this strong armed pocket passer with top-notch intangibles. Especially in light of the varying degrees of success former Spartans triggermen
Drew Stanton, Brian Hoyer, Kirk Cousins and Nick Foles have found in the NFL. This may be a reach at this point in time but there will undoubtedly be more than just one or two teams searching for a quarterback in round one and someone usually tends to get pushed up the board. Cook has been generating a lot of positive momentum and buzz and is as good of a bet as anyone. Houston obviously has other areas that they could stand to address as well but at the end of the day they all pale in comparison to the gargantuan, glaring hole under center.
It will be a major upset if the Browns donít use one of their two first round picks on a playmaker for their passing attack. In fact, they could probably justify going wide receiver with both selections. The situation is that dire. Especially since the unreliable Josh Gordon is always one bad night away from a lengthy absence. West Virginia WR Kevin White may have improved his stock as much as any prospect in the entire country with a breakout senior campaign. A former junior college transfer, White not only emerged as one of the nations most productive pass catchers but he moved all the way from middle rounds into the first round mix. A big, physical wideout who knows how to use that size and strength to his advantage, White has great hands along with terrific ball skills and body control plus enough speed to make plays down the field.
White has drawn comparisons to none other than Larry Fitzgerald and would be a perfect compliment to the vertical threat Gordon. Louisville WR DeVante Parker is also right in there battling White to be the second wideout off the board after Amari Cooper of Alabama. Reinforcements may be needed along the defensive line, offensive line and at outside linebacker as well with Ahtyba Rubin, Jabaal Sheard, Phil Taylor and Mitchell Schwartz all approaching free agency in the next year or two.
The Phins appear to be back on track following the disastrous final year of former General Manager Jeff Irelandís tenure. The new regime cleaned up the mess along the offensive line and now it is time to fix the mistakes that were made at linebacker. Shaq Thompson of Washington is a linebacker / safety hybrid who also saw extensive action at running back for the Huskies. Now that is a versatile athlete! Thompson may need just the right set of circumstances in terms of scheme and role to maximize his potential at the next level but his best fit will likely come as a weakside Ďbacker in a 4-3 front. Think Thomas Davis without the durability concerns. Regardless of where he lines up, Thompson has proven to be a big-time playmaker with a nose for the ball. It will be interesting to see where a true Ďtweener like Thompson ultimately
comes off the board but the tape is extremely impressive and absolutely screams first round talent. Clemson OLB Vic Beasley is a possible alternative, especially if Miami wanted to enhance their pass rush. There is room for upgrades in the secondary at both cornerback and safety as well. Finally, even though Lamar Miller enjoyed somewhat of a breakout season it still remains to be seen whether he can stay healthy over the long haul so you canít help but wonder if the Dolphins would at least consider a stud runner like Wisconsin's Melvin Gordon.
KANSAS CITY CHIEFS: DEVANTE PARKER, WR, LOUISVILLE
Even though there was little or nothing to speak of beyond Dwayne Bowe the Chiefs failed to upgrade the wide receiver position last offseason. As a result they once again had one of the least productive passing attacks in the league. In hindsight they probably wish they had taken advantage of that bumper crop of pass catchers from the 2014 NFL Draft. Especially since Kansas City went more than a full calander year without a wideout catching a touchdown pass. Unbelievable. Last year when just about every top underclassmen receiver bolted for the pros DeVante Parker of Louisville was one of the few who actually opted to return for his senior season. Things got off to a rough start as Parker missed the first seven games with a foot injury but he came back with a vengeance and finished the year with a flourish. Parker is a big, strong pass catcher with
excellent hands, terrific body control and ball skills as well as sneaky vertical speed. It goes without saying that Parker, West Virginia WR Kevin White, Michigan WR Devin Funchess, Derrick Alexander, Sylvester Morris, Tamarick Vanover or basically anyone with a pulse would be an upgrade over what they currently have opposite Bowe. The Chiefs could also be in the market for some help at inside linebacker, safety, cornerback and offensive guard but a wide receiver simply must take precedence. Right... ? Right... ? ! ?
As hard as it may be to believe the Browns really donít have many glaring holes other than wide receiver, which they already addressed with their earlier choice. With that being the case Cleveland could use this pick to start preparing for the future since they have a handful of key contributors scheduled to hit the open market soon. Jabaal Sheard is one of those pending free agents and since Barkevious Mingo has yet to emerge as an impact pass rusher the best fit in terms of need and value might be Florida DE / OLB Dante Fowler, Jr. When it comes to physical tools Fowler is adequate across the board but there are certainly others with more impressive blends of length, speed and athleticism. Even though Fowler may not test quite as well as some of his peers in workouts he arguably offers the most well-rounded skill set. An intense player with a great motor, Fowler has the quickness to come off the edge as well as the strength to hold his ground against the run. Fowler is also very versatile with the potential to
project to either defensive end or outside linebacker as well as some experience on the interior. Fowler may never lead the league in sacks but he should be a dependable, consistent performer along the lines of a Derrick Morgan or Bjoern Werner. After flirting with the notion of selecting Greg Robinson a year ago the Browns could also opt for a blocker like Laíel Collins of L.S.U. or T.J. Clemmings of Pittsburgh. Keep an eye on the tight end situation too because if free agent Jordan Cameron were to bolt they could turn to Devin Funchess of Michigan.
The Niners are one of the deepest teams in the league and are one of a select few that could legitimately justify going the best player available route. One reason San Franciscoís roster is in such good shape is because they always have an eye on the future. It may be time to start thinking ahead along the defensive line, where stalwart Justin Smith is 35-years-old and Ray McDonald is on the wrong side of thirty as well. Baylor DE Shawn Oakman is a freakish physical specimen, checking in at 6-9 and 280 pounds with good athleticism, brute strength, a non-stop motor and the ability to fit in either an even or odd front. Oakman is still rough around the edges and leverage is always a concern with someone that tall but there is no denying the rare, God-given gifts and incredible potential. There are off-the-field concerns with Oakman that must be investigated but the 49ers have shown a
willingness to roll the dice on prospects with issues. This would actually be a perfect fit for Oakman, who not only would be an ideal five-technique in a 3-4 scheme but could also be brought along slowly and groomed behind a couple of cagey veterans. Washington NT Danny Shelton might be an option to anchor the middle of the defensive line too. San Francisco could also stand to upgrade at cornerback and reinforcements may be needed at wide receiver where there are more questions than answers.
Ozzie Newsome is one of the best general managers in the history of the NFL so it should come as no surprise that the Ravens donít have a ton of glaring needs. Cornerback may be an exception though because Jimmy Smith is coming off a season-ending injury and is going to be a free agent while the depth leaves much to be desired. Michigan St. CB Trae Waynes is a fast, rangy, aggressive cover guy with impressive physicality, a short memory and some playmaking ability. While not quite as polished as former teammate Darqueze Dennard many feel Waynes might have more upside in the long run. Baltimore could also be in the market for a playmaker on offense since Steve Smith wonít continue to play at such a high level much longer and Justin Forsett is a 30-year-old journeyman.
If they wanted a wide receiver possibilities include Kevin White of West Virginia, DeVante Parker of Louisville, Devin Funchess of Michigan, Sammie Coates of Auburn and Jaelen Strong of Arizona St. At running back the options would be Melvin Gordon of Wisconsin or perhaps more intriguingly Todd Gurley of Georgia. In fact, this might be a perfect fit for Gurley! Newsome has made his reputation by pouncing when highly rated prospects unexpectedly fall into his lap so that is always something to watch out for too.
DALLAS COWBOYS: SHILIQUE CALHOUN, DE, MICHIGAN ST.
Even though the Cowboys played much, much better on defense after finishing dead-last in the league the year prior there are still more questions than answers on that side of the ball. Itís one of those cases where the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. In fact, there probably arenít more than a handful of current defensive starters that can truly be counted on long-term. The defensive line in particular must be emphasized in the offseason because multiple bodies are needed. Of particular concern is the pass rush, which was almost non-existent. Michigan St. DE Shilique Calhoun is among the best in this class when it comes to making plays behind the line of scrimmage and has the potential to be a very good two-way player at the next level. Calhoun still has some work to do in the weight room but is a rangy athlete with good speed and quickness who does a nice job in pursuit. Calhoun will face plenty of competition for this slot though, with a half dozen or more edge prospects expected to come off the board in the middle to latter part of round one.
If Dallas wanted to shore up the interior Florida St. DT Eddie Goldman could be a fit. Then of course there are the seemingly constant issues in the secondary and they could conceivably use upgrades at both cornerback and safety. One final situation to keep an eye on is at running back, where DeMarco Murray is going to be a free agent. Could Jerry Jones opt to let Murray walk and replace him with someone younger and way cheaper like Melvin Gordon of Wisconsin or even Todd Gurley of Georgia?
In 2013 the Falcons ranked near the very bottom of the league in sack production but for some inexplicable reason they ignored that glaring need for a pass rusher last offseason. Well lo and behold Atlanta is once again among the worst in the league when it comes to pressuring opposing quarterbacks. Needless to say itís time to address the situation. Georgia DE / OLB Leonard Floyd brings a unique, multi-faceted skill set to the table. Floyd is just a true sophomore in terms of college eligibility but he spent a year at a prep school before enrolling and thus could enter the 2015 NFL Draft. Floyd is a rangy but physically underdeveloped hybrid who could project to either defensive end or outside linebacker at the next level depending on the scheme. An incredible athlete with terrific speed, quickness and burst, Floyd moves like a gazelle and just seems to glide around the field. Not only is Floyd a dynamic pass rusher off the edge but he is also fluid enough in space to make plays sideline-to-sideline and get the job done in coverage.
Floyd is raw and will undoubtedly require some patience and development but his body type, skill set, sheer talent and immense potential are eerily similar to Barkevious Mingo. Atlanta could also be in the market for an offensive tackle such as Laíel Collins of L.S.U. or T.J. Clemmings of Pittsburgh to serve as a bookend to last years first rounder Jake Matthews. While Levine Toilolo has been solid he is nowhere near the impact pass catching threat Tony Gonzalez was so keep a close eye on Michigan TE Devin Funchess too.
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