PITTSBURGH STEELERS: KEVIN JOHNSON, CB, WAKE FOREST
One reason the Steelers have been able to remain consistently competitive for decades is their ability to reload on the fly rather than enter total rebuilding mode. A changing of the guard has been taking place on defense for a few years now, with Pittsburgh gradually fazing out expensive, aging veterans and replacing them with talented youngsters. There is still plenty of work to be done though and the secondary in particular is a major concern. While not particularly flashy Wake Forest CB Kevin Johnson is one of the best all around cover guys in this class. Johnson lacks the ideal bulk that you would prefer but he is long, fast, aggressive and polished with superb intangibles. Don't be shocked if Johnson comes off the board a lot earlier than most expect. There have even been rumblings that he could go ahead of Michigan St. CB Trae Waynes.
Washington CB Marcus Peters and L.S.U. CB Jalen Collins are potential alternatives as well. There are concerns at safety too following the retirement of Troy Polamalu so watch out for Landon Collins of Alabama. If this choice isn't a defensive back it will probably be a pass rusher, where there are more questions than answers following the unexpected retirement of Jason Worilds. Virginia OLB Eli Harold seems like the most logical fit although Nebraska OLB Randy Gregory and Missouri OLB Shane Ray could be in the discussion as well.
DETROIT LIONS: DONOVAN SMITH, OL, PENN ST.
Are you surprised? Most expect the Lions to target a defensive tackle with this choice, namely Malcom Brown of Texas, as a replacement for Ndamukong Suh. However, there is a very good chance they could opt for a blocker to shore up their offensive line. On almost a yearly basis now we see offensive linemen unexpectedly sneak into the back end of round one and Penn St. OT / OG Donovan Smith is one of this year's candidates. A massive physical specimen with outstanding power, Smith doesn't always play up to his talent level but has shown the ability to dominate when motivated. Smith could be a solution at either tackle or guard in the Motor City. Other blockers in the mix include Ereck Flowers of Miami (FL), La'el Collins of L.S.U., D.J. Humphries of Florida, Cedric Ogbuehi of Texas A&M and T.J. Clemmings of Pittsburgh. If they did want to address the interior of the defensive line options other than the aforementioned Brown include Danny Shelton of Washington, Arik Armstead of Oregon, Jordan Phillips of Oklahoma, Carl Davis of Iowa and Eddie Goldman of Florida St. The secondary is another area that could stand to be upgraded and they could target
Wake Forest CB Kevin Johnson, Connecticut CB Byron Jones, Utah CB / S Eric Rowe, Miami (OH) CB / S Quinten Rollins or Arizona St. S Damarious Randall. It wouldn't hurt to add another pass rusher at the defensive end spot opposite Ziggy Ansah either and while the value at this point is suspect following an early run on the position some realistic options could include Eli Harold of Virginia, Owamagbe Odighizuwa of UCLA or perhaps even Mario Edwards, Jr. of Florida St.
ARIZONA CARDINALS: MELVIN GORDON, RB, WISCONSIN
Andre Ellington just wasn't built to shoulder a huge workload and is best suited for a complimentary role. With that being the case adding another top-shelf runner will likely be a priority for the Cardinals. There has been a lot of speculation about Arizona trading for Adrian Peterson but Wisconsin RB Melvin Gordon would be a much younger, cheaper option. Gordon is an explosive big play threat with a superb blend of size and speed who was a Heisman Trophy finalist last season after rushing for 2,587 yards and 29 touchdowns. Arizona could also look to replace nose tackle Dan Williams, who bolted as a free agent, with Danny Shelton of Washington, Malcom Brown of Texas, Carl Davis of Iowa, Jordan Phillips of Oklahoma or Eddie Goldman of Florida St. The addition of a dynamic playmaker at linebacker could really take this already formidable defense to another level so watch out for Eli ' of Virginia, Randy Gregory of Nebraska, Owamagbe Odighizuwa of UCLA, Benardrick McKinney of Mississippi St. and Shane Ray of Missouri as well.
The Cardinals are also said to be interested in a blocker so don't rule out Ereck Flowers of Miami (FL), D.J. Humphries of Florida and Donovan Smith of Penn St. Reinforcements may be needed at cornerback too following the departure of Antonio Cromartie in free agency after only one season in the desert so watch out for Kevin Johnson of Wake Forest, Marcus Peters of Washington and Byron Jones of Connecticut. Florida St. C Cameron Erving could be a darkhorse candidate as a replacement for pivot Lyle Sendlein.
CAROLINA PANTHERS: D.J. HUMPHRIES, OT, FLORIDA
It was relatively shocking to see Carolina completely ignore the offensive tackle position last offseason, especially in light of the retirement of long-time stalwart Jordan Gross. In hindsight that was an enormous error as they were plagued by blocking issues for most of the year. Look for the Panthers to rectify that mistake this time around. Florida OT D.J. Humphries isn't always among the first names that people bring up when discussing the top blockers in this class. However, not only is Humphries probably going to be a first round pick but a case can be made that he's the top true left prospect in this class. Humphries could even be gone by this point. A terrific athlete with a long, projectable frame, excellent feet and a feisty mindset, Humphries is still developing physically but has all the tools to be a high-end blindside protector at the next level. Other alternatives at the position include Ereck Flowers of Miami (FL), La'el Collins of L.S.U., Cedric Ogbuehi of Texas A&M, Jake Fisher of Oregon or T.J. Clemmings of Pittsburgh. When it comes to offensive playmakers the cupboard is essentially bare beyond
Kelvin Benjamin and Greg Olsen so watch out for a wide receiver as well, with the top options being Breshad Perriman of Central Florida, Nelson Agholor of USC, Jaelen Strong of Arizona St., Phillip Dorsett of Miami (FL) and Devin Smith of Ohio St. Don't completely rule out a running back either. The Panthers could also use an infusion of talent in their secondary, be it a safety like Damarious Randall of Arizona St. or Landon Collins of Alabama or cornerback such as Kevin Johnson of Wake Forest or Byron Jones of UConn.
BALTIMORE RAVENS: MARCUS PETERS, CB, WASHINGTON
Ozzie Newsome has made a living out of pouncing when talented prospects unexpectedly fell into his lap on Draft Day and this would be another classic example. Marcus Peters is arguably the most talented corner in this class but his situation is clouded by character concerns after being dismissed from the Washington program in early-November. Because of that uncertainty Peters could come off the board as early as the middle of round one or slide out of the first round all together. A smooth, athletic playmaker with a nice blend of size and speed, Peters can not only match up in coverage but is also very physical and not afraid to throw his body around. Adding Peters to play opposite Jimmy Smith would give
Baltimore one of the best sets of young cover guys in the league and turn a question mark into a team strength. Wake Forest CB Kevin Johnson is a possible alternative if available. The Ravens could also target a replacement for Torrey Smith in the form of Central Florida WR Breshad Perriman, Arizona St. WR Jaelen Strong, USC WR Nelson Agholor or Miami (FL) WR Phillip Dorsett. Don't count out Minnesota TE Maxx Williams either since the long-term status of Dennis Pitts appears very much in doubt.
DALLAS COWBOYS: MALCOM BROWN, DT, TEXAS
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. It's one of those cases where the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. In fact, there probably aren't more than a handful of current defenders that can truly be counted on long-term. The most pressing concern is along the defensive line, particularly on the interior, so Dallas would have to be overjoyed to find Texas DT Malcom Brown still on the board at this point. Brown put together a superb junior campaign for the Longhorns, finishing with 15.0 tackles for a loss and 6.0 sacks while also using his 320 pounds to get the job done against the run. Brown is battling Danny Shelton of Washington to be the second player off the board at the position and would address a need while also representing terrific value. Iowa DT Carl Davis, Florida St. DE / DT Mario Edwards, Jr. and Ohio St. DT Michael Bennett could be alternatives.
Dallas has also been linked to cornerbacks and while Kevin Johnson of Wake Forest will likely be gone Byron Jones of Connecticut could be available. The Cowboys could move up for Georgia RB Todd Gurley, Wisconsin RB Melvin Gordon or even reach for a third runner like Tevin Coleman of Indiana or Jay Ajayi of Boise St. as a replacement for DeMarco Murray too. It may be a slight reach but Washington OLB Shaq Thompson would be a great fit in Rod Marinelli's scheme as well. Nebraska DE / OLB Randy Gregory could also prove to be awfully tempting.
DENVER BRONCOS: CEDRIC OGBUEHI, OT, TEXAS A&M
The Broncos window to win a Super Bowl is closing fast and it would be slammed shut if something were to happen to Peyton Manning. Needless to say keeping their franchise quarterback upright and healthy is likely the organizations top priority, especially after losing Orlando Franklin in free agency. Texas A&M OT Cedric Ogbuehi entered last season regarded as one of the top senior prospects in the country but struggled transitioning to the blindside then suffered a major knee injury in the Aggies bowl game. There is a chance Ogbuehi could fall to Day 2 but a patient team could be rewarded by for taking a chance on early first round talent in late round one. Other alternatives at the position include D.J. Humphies of Florida, La'el Collins of L.S.U.,
T.J. Clemmings of Pittsburgh, Jake Fisher of Oregon and Donovan Smith of Penn St. Denver could also use a big body in the middle of the defensive line to replace Terrence Knighton so Oklahoma DT Jordan Phillips, Iowa DT Carl Davis and Florida St. DT Eddie Goldman could be in the mix too. A replacement for free agent defector Rahim Moore is needed at free safety as well so keep a eye on Damarious Randall of Arizona St. It appears the Broncos intend to replace Julius Thomas with veterans but Minnesota TE Maxx Williams may be in the conversation.
INDIANAPOLIS COLTS: DAMARIOUS RANDALL, S, ARIZONA ST.
Indy has already addressed most of their pressing needs this offseason but there are still issues in the secondary. Safety is of particular concern because Mike Adams and Dwight Lowery are just stop-gap solutions. Arizona St. S Damarious Randall is a rangy, athletic playmaker who shot up draft boards on the heels of a terrific senior campaign. It may surprise some to see Randall coming off the board ahead of Alabama's Landon Collins but it's a passing league and guys who can be a factor in coverage are just more valuable than in-the-box types. Collins could be an option too though, especially if Randall is already off the board. It wouldn't hurt to add some reinforcements at cornerback either so Miami (OH) CB / S Quinten Rollins and Florida St. CB Ronald Darby
could be darkhorse options. If available the Colts could also target Florida St. C Cameron Erving after starting three different players in the pivot last season. Even though it's not a glaring weakness there is still room to upgrade in the front seven as well, whether it's a defensive lineman such as Arik Armstead of Oregon, Carl Davis of Iowa or Eddie Goldman of Florida St. or a linebacker like Eli Harold of Virginia or even Shaq Thompson of Washington. With that said a defensive back is likely the heavy favorite, it may just be a matter of which one.
GREEN BAY PACKERS: ELI HAROLD, OLB, VIRGINIA
The Packers are always one of the more difficult teams to get a read on because general manager Ted Thompson is very good at masking his true intentions. Even the great Bob McGinn of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel has struggled to correctly project Green Bay's pick. So what hope do we have?!? In an effort to expect the unexpected I am going off the beaten path slightly. It appears as though the Cheeseheads are set on offense for the time being but there are multiple areas on defense that could be addressed. A team can never have enough pass rushers and while outside linebacker may not appear to be a pressing need right now that could change in a hurry. After all Julius Peppers is 35-years-old, Nick Perry has just 9.0 sacks in three seasons and Mike Neal is only signed for one more year. Eli Harold of Virginia was quietly one of the most productive pass rushers in the country, registering 29.5 tackles for a loss and 15.5 sacks the past two seasons. A terrific athlete with a rangy frame,
Harold is an active playmaker who moves extremely well and could project to either defensive end or outside linebacker at the next level. Green Bay could also look for help inside after parting ways with A.J. Hawk, Brad Jones and DeDe Lattimore and options include Denzel Perryman of Miami (FL), Stephone Anthony of Clemson and Eric Kendricks of UCLA. It might be time to bring in reinforcements at cornerback as well after losing Tramon Williams and Davon House in free agency, so watch out for Wake Forest's Kevin Johnson & UConn's Byron Jones.
NEW ORLEANS SAINTS (f/SEA): RANDY GREGORY, OLB, NEBRASKA
The Saints defense was an abomination in 2012, ranking dead-last in the NFL and struggling mightily against both the run and pass. They were much better in 2013 and it appeared as though defensive coordinator Rob Ryan had turned things around but they reverted to their old ways and that side of the ball is once again a major problem. One sure-fire way to upgrade a defense is to improve the pass rush and New Orleans could stand to do much better opposite Junior Galette. Nebraska OLB Randy Gregory possesses a rare blend of length, speed and athleticism and may be the best natural pass rusher in this class. Gregory is only available this late because of character concerns after testing positive for marijuana at the Scouting Combine and admitting abstention was a "struggle" in the past.
Gregory is rough around the edges, will require some patience and development and could very well bust but at this point the potential rewards far outweighs the risk. Alternatives include Owamagbe Odighizuwa of UCLA, Eli ' of Virginia and Shane Ray of Missouri. Depending on what they do with their pick earlier in the round the Saints could also target Clemson ILB Stephone Anthony, UCLA ILB Eric Kendricks, Mississippi St. LB Benardrick McKinney, Miami (FL) WR Phillip Dorsett or Washington CB Marcus Peters.
NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS: BYRON JONES, CB, CONNECTICUT
After being outbid for both Darrelle Revis and Brandon Browner in free agency the Patriots now have a glaring need at cornerback. Byron Jones of Connecticut famously made headlines with an incredible workout but was always considered to be a legitimate early round talent. Jones was merely flying under the radar after having his senior season ended prematurely by a shoulder injury. When healthy Jones is a well- rounded cover guy with a freakish mix of size, speed and athleticism, not to mention some positional versatility and top intangibles. Other alternatives include Washington CB Marcus Peters and Eric Rowe of Utah. New England could also use some additional beef on the interior of the defensive line after parting ways with longtime cornerstone Vince Wilfork so Carl Davis of Iowa,
Eddie Goldman of Florida St. and Jordan Phillips of Oklahoma could be options. Keep an eye on the interior of the offensive line and someone like Duke OG Laken Tomlinson or South Carolina OG A.J. Cann too. The Pats could also target a wide receiver relatively early and have notably been linked to Dorial Green-Beckham of Oklahoma. The mercurial LeGarrette Blount probably can't be counted on so there is also a hole at running back following the departures of Stevan Ridley and Shane Vereen in free agency.
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