The Cowboys have transitioned from a 3-4 to a 4-3 scheme under Monte Kiffin. While a lot of pieces either were or now are in place there are still major question marks along the defensive line. Especially on the interior after Jay Ratliff was unexpectedly released. Needless to say it’s time to add a difference-maker at defensive tackle in Big D. Perhaps Florida St. DT Timmy Jernigan is lacking a bit in the size department but is extremely quick, athletic and
explosive, profiling as a prototypical disruptive three-technique. Jernigan can be for Kiffin in Dallas what Warren Sapp was for him in Tampa Bay. There are some issues at defensive end as well with Anthony Spencer likely to leave as a free agent. There will be a glaring need at offensive tackle too if Doug Free is sent packing as expected. Then of course there has to be the obligatory safety mention for the Cowboys but for one reason or another America’s Team doesn't seem inclined to make a real, significant investment at the position.
Even though the Chargers just spent an early first round pick on D.J. Fluker they still have some questions and concerns along the offensive line. The all-important left tackle position in particular has been problematic since injuries forced onetime stalwart Marcus McNeill into retirement. Jared Gaither was a huge swing and miss for the organization and King Dunlop isn’t the long-term solution either. Protecting the blindside should be of the utmost importance to the franchise too considering they have one of the most immobile quarterbacks in the league. Most don’t view Notre Dame OT Zack Martin as a first rounder but the top second-tier blockers have a tendency to come off the board a little earlier than expected on Draft Day.
Sam Baker, Duane Brown, James Carpenter and Justin Pugh are just a handful of recent examples. Martin isn’t particularly flashy or an incredible physical specimen but he’s 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. San Diego could also look to upgrade at nose tackle or cornerback and may need another pass rushing outside linebacker depending on how guys like Melvin Ingram and Larry English develop.
Ted Thompson is notoriously unpredictable on Draft Day and there aren’t a lot of obvious holes in the Packers starting lineup but tight end will likely have to be addressed. Not only is Jermichael Finley going to be a free agent but he’s also had a tenuous relationship with the organization and there are durability concerns as well. North Carolina TE Eric Ebron is still a relative unknown on the national scene but has a lot of fans in the scouting community. An outstanding athlete with an excellent blend of size and speed, Ebron is exactly the type of dynamic pass catching weapon
that the league is looking for at the position these days. Ebron is currently the favorite to be the first tight end off the board but will most likely face competition from the likes of Austin Seferian-Jenkins of Washington and Jace Amaro of Texas Tech for that honor. Green Bay could also stand to upgrade at inside linebacker alongside A.J. Hawk. Otherwise the Packers don't have many other glaring needs and are one of a select few teams that could realistically opt for the best player available.
SAN FRANCISCO 49ERS: RA'SHEDE HAGEMAN, DL, MINNESOTA
The Niners are basically loaded on both sides of the ball which is why they are one of the best teams in the league. However, one area that could use some attention is the defensive line. After all Justin Smith can’t play forever, Ray McDonald is at the tail end of his prime and there isn’t much depth to speak of. Minnesota DT Ra’Shede Hageman is a converted tight end who was also a standout basketball player in high school. An explosive athlete and one of this year’s most freakish physical specimens,
Hageman could project to either end or tackle depending on the scheme. Hageman is already one of the hottest names in the scouting community and should only continue to climb up draft boards if he works out as well as expected. The Niners could also use an upgrade at nose tackle and it wouldn’t hurt to bring in a top young cornerback or pass rushing outside linebacker either. Otherwise the 49ers will simply be looking to bolster their depth while keeping an eye toward the future.
New England is currently in the process of rebuilding their passing attack, with Tom Brady and Rob Gronkowski being the only two constants. The Pats recently added a number of young wide receivers to the mix but they could still use another tight end to help replace Aaron Hernandez. Only the die-hard draftniks are familiar with Texas Tech TE Jace Amaro at this point but that won’t be the case for much longer. A rangy athlete with excellent speed,
Amaro is a versatile weapon capable of lining up all over the field and is a matchup nightmare for opposing defenses. Needless to say Amaro would be a perfect compliment to “Gronk” and would add another dimension to the Patriots offense. Reinforcements are called for along the defensive line as well and New England could probably use some fresh blood at both defensive tackle and defensive end. Cornerback is still a concern too and would jump all the way to the top of the shopping list if they were to lose free agent Aqib Talib.
CLEVELAND BROWNS (f/IND): JOHNNY MANZIEL, QB, TEXAS A&M
After missing out on the elite quarterbacks earlier in round one the Browns could have a number of intriguing options to choose from at this point. Most teams probably won’t have a first round grade on Texas A&M QB Johnny Manziel for a litany of reasons, both on the field and off the field. However, it only takes one team to fall in love with a player. Just ask Tim Tebow. Manziel is widely expected to enter the 2014 NFL Draft as a redshirt sophomore and is destined to be one of this year’s most polarizing prospects. There is absolutely no denying that Manziel is an incredible college football player but there are major concerns when projecting “Johnny Football” to the next level. Not only does Manziel lack the size and arm strength that you look for but his free-wheeling style of play won’t be nearly as effective in the pros and will leave him susceptible to injuries.
Then there is the rather extensive list of character concerns and Manziel’s recent behavior has earned him labels such as immature, undisciplined, selfish, hard-partying and perhaps worst of all a distraction. Those aren’t the types of words generally associated with successful NFL signal callers. Nevertheless there is a chance some team will buy into the hype and pull the trigger earlier than they should. Zach Mettenberger of LSU, Derek Carr of Fresno St., AJ McCarron of Alabama and Tajh Boyd of Clemson are other possibilities.
Cincy has as impressive a collection of young talent as any team in the league but there are still a few areas that require some attention. At first blush cornerback wouldn’t appear to be a need but closer inspection reveals otherwise. After all Leon Hall has now suffered major, season-ending injuries two of the last three years and Terrence Newman doesn’t have much left in the tank. Florida CB Loucheiz Purifoy is an incredible athlete with ideal height and length as well as excellent speed.
Purifoy is rough around the edges so this is a projection based on potential but he clearly possesses all of the physical tools to emerge as one of the top cover guys in this class. There are still more questions than answers at safety so that's a possibility as well. Keep a eye on linebacker too because James Harrison is near the end of his career and the Bengals could use an infusion of speed and athleticism at the position. Don’t rule out another pass rusher if Michael Johnson leaves as a free agent either.
Sean Payton likes weapons to play with on offense which is why they were legitimately interested in Tavon Austin. The Saints may have missed out on one diminutive playmaker but they could get a second bite at the apple with De’Anthony Thomas of Oregon. An explosive athlete with world-class speed, “Black Mamba” is a big play waiting to happen and a threat to score at any time from anywhere on the field whether
it be as a runner, receiver or return man. Of course the main concern with Thomas is size, or lack thereof, but that didn’t scare teams away from Austin. In fact Austin will likely be a test case for similar prospects and how he performs in the league will go a long way toward determining whether a guy like Thomas is a first rounder or a third rounder. New Orleans could also be in the market for a pass rushing outside linebacker since they currently have more questions than answers at that position.
It would be a bit of an upset if the Broncos went offense with this pick because they sure don’t appear to need any help on that side of the ball. The defense is another matter all together though and they could arguably use reinforcements on all three levels. There are many who felt B.Y.U. OLB Kyle Van Noy would have contended for a spot in late round one of the 2013 NFL Draft had he not opted to return for his senior season.
One of the nations most productive linebackers, Van Noy is instinctive and super active with a non-stop motor as well a knack for making splash plays in all facts of the game. Other 'backers will test better in workouts but Van Noy is just a good football player. Denver could also use an impact pass rusher at defensive end to team with Derek Wolfe and there is room for an upgrade at safety as well. In the end this pick could very well come down to simply taking the top defender available.
The quality and depth of talent on the Seahawks roster is the envy of the league and a testament to the incredible job John Schneider and Pete Carroll have done the past few years. With that said every team has needs and Seattle could use an upgrade along their offensive line. Breno Giacomini is a penalty machine and in danger of losing the right tackle job to rookie seventh rounder Michael Bowie while starting right guard J.R. Sweezy is a converted defensive tackle. Over the last five years the Baylor program has had four offensive linemen drafted including a couple of first rounders and Cyril Richardson will help carry on that tradition. A versatile blocker with experience at both tackle and guard, Richardson’s
combination of size, power and athleticism could secure him a spot in round one. It will be interesting to see if Jonathan Cooper and Chance Warmack going in the Top 10 last year was merely a fluke or the start of a trend where offensive guards are going to be more highly valued on Draft Day than in the past. Where Cyril Richardson is selected could provide the answer. Seattle could also be in the market for a defensive end since free agent acquisitions Cliff Avril and Michael Bennett only signed short - term contracts.
Even though the Chiefs just recently surrendered a premium draft pick to acquire Alex Smith it might already be time to start thinking about the long-term future of the quarterback position. After all Smith is nearly 30-years-old and the jury is still out as to whether he is anything more than an average starter. If we don’t know by this point the answer is probably “No”. There could be a number of signal callers competing for a spot in the back end of round one but Zach Mettenberger of L.S.U. is currently generating the most buzz. A classic pocket passer with a large frame and very strong arm, Mettenberger is finally fulfilling his vast potential as a senior under the tutelage of Cam Cameron
and shooting up draft boards. If Mettenberger continues to progress and has a strong showing at an all-star game he could even come off the board much earlier than this. Others jockeying for position with Mettenberger include Johnny Manziel of Texas A&M, Derek Carr of Fresno St., A.J. McCarron of Alabama and Tajh Boyd of Clemson. Kansas City is also in need of a wide receiver to team with Dwayne Bowe so that's a strong possibility too. Other options could include an inside linebacker, a free safety or a defensive end.
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