So far scoring points hasnít been an issue under Chip Kelly but the defense is still one of the worst in the league and a real liability. The secondary in particular has been a major problem area, which is somewhat surprising because the organization devoted significant resources in both free agency and the draft toward resolving those issues last offseason. Needless to say it would be wise to address a pass defense that just finished dead-last in the NFL. Despite their best efforts the Eagles just canít seem to get it right at the safety position, which has been a concern for many years now, so it may be time to go back to the well again. Throughout most of the process Ha Ha Clinton-Dix of Alabama was widely considered to be the top safety prospect in this class and while that is still the case Calvin Pryor of Louisville has emerged as a legitimate contender for the honor.
Big, extremely physical and aggressive, hard-hitting and instinctive, Pryor is a force in the box versus the run but has also flashed some playmaking ability in coverage despite just average playing speed. After Clinton-Dix and Pryor there is a significant drop-off at the position, which should make those two hot commodities on Draft Day. Philly could also opt for a cornerback, be it Justin Gilbert of Oklahoma St., Darqueze Dennard of Michigan St. or someone else from the second tier. A linebacker could be in the conversation as well.
In less than a year the Chiefs went from the worst team in the league to one of the best. Itís amazing what the addition of a competent head coach and quarterback can do for a franchise. However, after going undefeated through the first couple months of the season the Chiefs tailed off down the stretch leaving no doubt that there are still some issues to iron out. Perhaps the most significant is at wide receiver, where there isnít much to get excited about beyond Dwayne Bowe. Oregon St. WR Brandin Cooks is coming off an outstanding final college campaign in which he racked up an eye-popping 128 receptions for 1,730 yards and 16 touchdowns for the Beavers. An explosive athlete with elite speed and terrific hands and ball skills who can create after the catch, Cooks would be a perfect compliment to Bowe and give the Chiefs offense a dynamic, big play dimension that they are currently lacking. Marqise Lee of USC, Kelvin Benjamin of Florida St. and Odell Beckham of L.S.U.
are alternate options or they could even choose to wait a round or two and take advantage of the tremendous depth that this class offers at the position. If by some miracle Alabama ILB C.J. Mosley were to fall this far that would be an ideal fit and Kansas City could also consider Louisville S Calvin Pryor to team with Eric Berry. A hallmark of Andy Reidís tenure in Philly was a tendency to address the offensive and defensive lines in the early rounds of the NFL Draft so watch out for a offensive guard or defensive end too.
Even though the Bengals have yet to get the job done come playoff time they are in pretty good shape when it comes to the talent on their roster, with very few glaring holes on either side of the ball. With that said there are a couple of areas that will require some attention. It appears as though Cincy is going to lose Michael Johnson in free agency and while they would still have Carlos Dunlap and Margus Hunt it might be wise to bring in another defensive end. After all nobody ever complained about having too many good pass rushers. Missouri DE Kony Ealy is the next in an impressive string of stud defensive lineman produced by Mizzou, including Justin Smith, Aldon Smith and Sheldon Richardson. The success those guys have found in the pros will almost assuredly work in Ealyís favor on Draft Day. Teammate Michael Sam was slightly more productive and got far more headlines but Ealy is actually a much better pro prospect due to his superior physical tools. A rangy athlete with a large frame who moves very well, Ealy excels at getting after the quarterback by utilizing both speed and power.
While not yet a great run defender Ealy possesses all of the tools to be a terrific two-way player and would be a nice value at this point. As an added bonus Ealy could project to either defensive end (4-3) or outside linebacker (3-4) at the next level. Other options for the Bengals could include a safety (Calvin Pryor of Louisville), a cornerback (Justin Gilbert of Oklahoma St., Darqueze Dennard of Michigan St. or Bradley Roby of Ohio St.) or an outside linebacker (Ryan Shazier of Ohio St.) but they'll clearly have some wiggle room.
SAN DIEGO CHARGERS: DARQUEZE DENNARD, CB, MICHIGAN ST.
Beyond stalwart Eric Weddle the Chargers have nothing but question marks in the secondary. Cornerback is of particular concern, especially since Derek Cox was sent packing after just one season. Michigan St. CB Darqueze Dennard is more than adequate when it comes to physical tools such as size, speed and athleticism but itís the little things such as technique, awareness and toughness that separate him from the competition. Dennard may not be overly flashy but he is one of the most aggressive, consistent, well-rounded cover guys you will find. If Dennard is gone, which is a distinct possibility, Bradley Roby of Ohio St., Jason Verrett of T.C.U. and Kyle Fuller of Virginia Tech could be potential alternatives at the position. San Diego still has some issues along their
offensive line too and could target either a tackle (Cyrus Kouandjio of Alabama or Morgan Moses of Virginia) or guard (David Yankey of Stanford, Xavier Suía-Filo of UCLA or Gabe Jackson of Mississippi St.). It also wouldnít hurt to add another pass rusher at outside linebacker such as Dee Ford of Auburn since Larry English and Melvin Ingram have been slow to develop and the now 34-year-old Dwight Freeney doesnít have much left in the tank. Louis Nix of Notre Dame would represent a significant upgrade at nose tackle as well.
CLEVELAND BROWNS (f/IND): DEREK CARR, QB, FRESNO ST.
If the Browns donít take a quarterback earlier in the round they will most likely be targeting a signal caller with this choice. Fresno St. QB Derek Carr has emerged as a legitimate first round possibility after a standout performance at the Senior Bowl. In fact, there are even scenarios in which Carr could come off the board in the Top 5-10 overall. If Carr is still available at this point a number of teams might attempt to maneuver to land the younger brother of David Carr, who was the #1 overall pick in the 2002 NFL Draft. While not a canít miss prospect there is plenty to like about Carr, who is one of the top arm talents in this class and appears to possess all of the physical tools that you look for to go along with elite intangibles and pro bloodlines. There have been rumblings that Eastern Illinois QB Jimmy Garoppolo could be a potential late first or early second round option as well. Cleveland could also be in the market for help at wide receiver (Marqise Lee of USC, Kelvin Benjamin of Florida St., Brandin Cooks of Oregon St. or Odell Beckham of L.S.U.),
safety (Calvin Pryor of Louisville), offensive guard (David Yankey of Stanford, Xavier Suía-Filo of UCLA or Gabe Jackson of Mississippi St.), cornerback (Bradley Roby of Ohio St., Jason Verrett of T.C.U., Kyle Fuller of Virginia Tech) or running back (Carlos Hyde of Ohio St.). After releasing DíQwell Jackson the Browns have a big question mark at inside linebacker too but there is a significant drop-off at the position after Alabama's C.J. Mosley. This pick could be packaged in order to trade up too.
The Saints defense successfully made the transition to a 3-4 scheme under the direction of Rob Ryan and the improvement was dramatic. There is still work to be done on that side of the ball though, especially at cornerback where itís basically Kennan Lewis and a bunch of question marks. After bypassing the chance to potentially be a first round pick a year ago Ohio St. CB Bradley Roby struggled at times this past season and saw his draft stock take a hit. With that said Roby did play better as the season progressed and itís difficult to imagine such a talented player falling out of the first round as some have speculated. A super smooth athlete with good size and outstanding speed as well as excellent feet and hips, Roby looks every bit the part of a top corner prospect and few programs have a better track record of producing pro cover guys than the Buckeyes. T.C.U. CB Jason Verrett and Virginia Tech CB Kyle Fuller could be alternatives at the position. Junior Galette is one of the most dangerous young edge pass rushers in the league but
New Orleans could use some more help at outside linebacker (Kony Ealy of Missouri or Dee Ford of Auburn?) since Victor Butler is still an unknown commodity and the depth is almost non-existent. Donít rule out a wide receiver such as Marqise Lee of USC, Kelvin Benjamin of Florida St., Brandin Cooks of Oregon St. or Odell Beckham of L.S.U. either because Sean Payton never has enough weapons for that high-powered passing attack. An offensive tackle could be in the discussion too if free agent Zach Strief leaves.
CAROLINA PANTHERS: KELVIN BENJAMIN, WR, FLORIDA ST.
Itís time for the Panthers to start thinking about the future of their passing attack, which was one of the least productive in the league. And that was with Steve Smith, who is about to turn 35-years-old and may be a cap casualty, and Brandon LaFell, who is a free agent. A case can be made that it would have been wise for Florida St. WR Kelvin Benjamin to return to school for one more year. Benjamin surely would have benefited from another year of development while catching balls from Jameis Winston and instead of battling to be the fourth or fifth guy off the board at his position and a late first round pick in the 2014 NFL Draft he might have been the top pass catcher and a Top 10 pick in the 2015 NFL Draft. Still itís hard to fault Benjamin for opting to play for pay, especially since he is still going to come off the board relatively early and is already 23-years-old. An impressive physical specimen who understands how to use that big frame and terrific athleticism to his advantage, Benjamin is still rough around the edges and will require some patience but he may have as much potential as any wideout in this class not named Sammy Watkins. Other potential targets could include USC WR Marqise Lee, Oregon St. WR Brandin Cooks and L.S.U. WR Odell Beckham. The Panthers must also replace Jordan Gross at left tackle so Cyrus Kouandjio of Alabama and Morgan Moses of Virginia could be in the mix as well.
Despite boasting one of the leagues top pass defenses, at least statistically, the Panthers may not have a single defensive back on their roster that would be a sure-fire starter for most teams. Talk about doing more with less! An infusion of talent is definitely needed in the secondary and while there doesn't appear to be a safety available worthy of this choice, at least not at this juncture, there should be plenty of intriguing options still on the board at cornerback, most notably Bradley Roby of Ohio St., Jason Verrett of T.C.U. and Kyle Fuller of Virginia Tech.
Last offseason the Pats added a number of young wide receivers to their passing attack but they could still use another tight end to help replace Aaron Hernandez. Especially since the injuries continue to mount for Rob Gronkowski. Itís rare to find a tight end in the college game as productive as Jace Amaro of Texas Tech. Not only was Amaro the Red Raiders leading receiver with 98 receptions for 1,240 yards and 7 touchdowns but he ranked amongst the nations leaders as well. A rangy athlete with excellent speed, Amaro is an extremely versatile weapon capable of lining up all over the field and is a true matchup nightmare for defenses. Needless to say Amaro would be a perfect compliment / insurance policy for
ďGronk" and would add another dimension to the Patriots offense. New England made upgrading their front seven a focus in recent years and have done a very good job at both defensive end and linebacker but there is still work to be done at defensive tackle so watch out for Louis Nix of Notre Dame, Timmy Jernigan of Florida St. and RaíShede Hageman of Minnesota. It wouldnít hurt to bring in reinforcements along the offensive line either and cornerback would be a big need if free agent Aqib Talib bolts.
SAN FRANCISCO 49ERS: RA'SHEDE HAGEMAN, DE, MINNESOTA
The Niners are basically loaded on both sides of the ball which puts them in the envious position of not necessarily having to draft for need. Instead they have the flexibility to stay true to their evaluations and grab the best talent on the board with an eye toward the future. One area that could use some attention is the defensive line. After all Justin Smith canít play forever, Ray McDonald is at the tail end of his prime and there isnít much depth to speak of. Minnesota DT RaíShede Hageman is a converted tight end who was also a standout basketball player in high school. A big, explosive athlete and one of this yearís most freakish physical specimens, Hageman could project to end or tackle depending on the scheme but most feel his best fit will come as a five-technique in an odd front.
Hageman is still raw and will require some development but that patience could net a huge payoff a year or two down the line. Notre Dame DE Stephon Tuitt would be a possible alternative. The Niners may also be in the market for a young wide receiver who can stretch the field such as Marqise Lee of USC, Brandin Cooks of Oregon St. or Odell Beckham of L.S.U. It wouldnít hurt to bring in some reinforcements at cornerback either so Bradley Roby of Ohio St., Jason Verrett of TCU and Kyle Fuller of Virginia Tech could be possibilities.
It would be an upset if the Broncos went offense with this choice because they sure donít appear to need any help on that side of the ball. The defense is another matter though and they could arguably use reinforcements on all three levels. Technically the Broncos were a middle of the pack team in terms of sack production last season but that statistic is a little misleading because half of those quarterback takedowns were registered by linebackers Shaun Phillips and Von Miller. Ultimately it doesnít matter where the pressure comes from but Denver will eventually have to add some reinforcements up front, especially at defensive end. Notre Dame DE Stephon Tuitt is a very impressive physical specimen who has shown the ability to excel against the run and pass. Tuitt is also extremely versatile with experience lining up at defensive end and defensive tackle as well as in an even and odd front. Tuitt did not have the type of dominant junior campaign that most were expecting in large part due to conditioning issues exacerbated by offseason surgery. However, as the season went on Tuitt gradually began to round into form and show flashes of that first round talent. Durability is a concern with Tuitt but when healthy he can be a difference-maker and at this point the potential rewards outweigh the risks.
The Broncos also have major question marks in the secondary. At cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie is a free agent again after only signing a one-year deal last offseason while Champ Bailey is about to turn 36-years-old and is expected to be a cap casualty so Ohio St. CB Bradley Roby, T.C.U. CB Jason Verrett and Virginia Tech CB Kyle Fuller could all be options. The situation isnít much better at safety and it probably wouldnít hurt to bring in another linebacker such as Ryan Shazier of Ohio St. either.
The Seahawks have one of the deepest, most talented rosters in the league but every team has needs and Seattle could stand to upgrade along their offensive line. Expectations were running super high for Alabama OT Cyrus Kouandjio heading into his junior season but he struggled with consistency and failed to emerge as an early first rounder like many predicted. There is still plenty to like about Kouandjio though. An impressive physical specimen who has been battle-tested against elite competition, Kouandjio can be effective as both a pass protector and a run blocker due to a nice blend of athleticism and power. Unfortunately Kouandjioís was red-flagged in medical checks at the Scouting Combine after reportedly failing the physical exam for several teams due to an arthritic knee that was surgically repaired early in his college career. That revelation obviously leaves Kouandjioís status up in the air and doctors for each organization will have to evaluate the situation. Kouandjio could still come off the board a dozen picks earlier than his but there is also a chance he could slide on Draft Day. Virginia OT Morgan Moses and Tennessee OT Antonio Richardson are
potential alternatives at the position and if they prefer to add some help on the interior Stanford OG David Yankey, Mississippi St. OG Gabe Jackson and UCLA OG Xavier Suía-Filo are possibilities. The Seahawks could also look to the defensive line since Michael Bennett is a free agent and Red Bryant was a cap casualty so watch out for Notre Dame DE Stephon Tuitt and Minnesota DT RaíShede Hageman. With Sidney Rice no longer in the picture don't rule out Oregon St. WR Brandin Cooks, Florida St. WR Kelvin Benjamin or L.S.U. WR Odell Beckham either.
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