NFL Draft Analysis
April 17, 2014
By Bruce Marshall
Following are our team updates, revolving around first-round draft projections, and predicted selections. As always, trades can alter draft order, but for the moment this is how we believe things might proceed next month at Radio City Music Hall.
Teams are presented in draft order (as of Thursday, April 17)...
1-HOUSTON TEXANS...The reload in Houston began while the playoffs were in progress, as Bill O'Brien was lured from Penn State to succeed the deposed Gary Kubiak regime. There will be a change at QB after the much-maligned Matt Schaub was traded to Oakland and Ryan Fitzpatrick was signed in free agency, the latter either as a stop-gap or a mentor to a rookie QB. And while this draft class is deep in QBs, there are no sure-fire standouts at the position like Andrew Luck two years ago, so we're not convinced the Texans go QB right out of the chute. If they did, it might be UCF's Blake Bortles, who reminds of a young Roman Gabriel from a half-century ago. But Houston has other needs, especially on the defensive front, and the possibility of adding a dynamic bookend DE opposite J.J. Watt intrigues. The Texans were relatively quiet in free agency (safeties Chris Clemons and Kendrick Lewis the main additions), and most around the league believe this is a much more solid core than what we normally see with a 2-14 team. O'Brien and GM Rick Smith do not appear intent on turning the roster inside-out. Beyond QB and DE, expect OLB and RB spots to be addressed, especially the latter with Arian Foster off of an injury-plagued 2013. Even if the Texans don't go QB at the top, don't expect them to ignore the position in the draft, as some scouts like projected mid-round picks such as San Jose State's David Fales as much as some of the higher-profile names. By the way, owner Bob McNair happens to be a South Carolina grad. Jadeveon Clowney, DE, South Carolina
2-ST. LOUIS RAMS (from Washington)...Talk about the gift that keeps on giving! The Rams get yet one more dividend from the Redskins to complete the draft order switch deal from two years ago that netted RG III for the Skins, giving St. Louis two picks in the top 13 selections. Which might have something to do with the Rams' relatively quiet act in free agency, where their biggest move was re-signing G Rodger Saffold after he failed a physical with the Raiders. The Rams are also a prime trade-down candidate, with no glaring needs anywhere but in need of bolstering depth. After many wondered if HC Jeff Fisher was about to look elsewhere at QB after Sam Bradford went down with yet another injury (knee) last fall, it now looks as if Bradford will have one more shot to keep his job this fall, though Fisher could be looking to add a developmental QB later in the draft. To keep Bradford in one piece, however, don't be surprised if the Rams look OT with one of their first-round picks. A go-to WR on the outside could also be targeted (unless Fisher believes ex-Titan and FA signee Kenny Britt could be an answer) after Tavon Austin emerged a viable target out of the slot last season. Greg Robinson, OT, Auburn
3-JACKSONVILLE JAGUARS...It was unlikely that second-year HC Gus Bradley was going to stick with the Blaine Gabbert/Chad Henne combo at QB for one more autumn, and the Gabbert portion of the experiment was officially ended when the ex-Mizzou QB was traded to San Francisco by GM Dave Caldwell, like Bradley, also in his second season with the 'Ville. Which leaves Henne to keep the seat warm for whatever QB the Jags target in the draft, which we suspect comes early, especially since owner Shad Khan has said as much in the offseason to anyone within shouting distance ("Everybody knows we're going to draft a QB, maybe two," said Khan). The Jags were aggressive in free agency (ex-Bronco G Zane Beadles, and former Seahawks DEs Red Bryant and Chris Clemons, who might come in handy to bolster a pass rush that tied for last in the league in sacks), but still have several areas of need on both sides of the ball, and MJD's free-agent move to the Raiders might create the need to add another RB unless Caldwell and Bradley really believe ex-Viking and FA Toby Gerhart is ready to assume the feature-back role. If the Jags don't go QB with their first pick, they will likely be targeting one soon thereafter. After all, the owner said so. Blake Bortles, QB, UCF
4-CLEVELAND BROWNS...The Browns are now working on their third HC (ex-Bills asst. Mike Pettine) and GM (Ray Farmer) in as many seasons, suggesting that a bigger problem in the organization might be owner Jimmy Haslam, who, like some filthy-rich sorts, apparently doesn't know what he doesn't know. Like the Rams, Cleveland also has an extra pick in the first round, in the Brownies' case at the 26th slot courtesy of the Colts and the Trent Richardson trade last September. After jettisoning Brandon Weeden and Jason Campbell, the Browns all but confirmed their intentions of targeting a QB in the draft, as only stop-gap Brian Hoyer (off of a knee injury) remains at the position from a year ago. But having that extra choice at 26 suggests that Farmer doesn't have to go with a QB with his selection at the four slot, with the option to wait until later (perhaps with the 26th pick) to nab a signal-caller if he wishes. (Johnny Football, however, was said to have a splendid recent workout at the Browns complex). Some of Cleveland's many holes were addressed in free agency; among the additions, the defense should benefit from FA signings of former Auburn LB Karlos Dansby (via Cards) and ex-Ohio State S Donte Whitner (via 49ers and effectively taking the place of T.J. Ward, who moved to Denver). The skill positions on offense figure to get a lot of attention in the draft (especially since of the FA signees, ex-Texans RB Ben Tate, has durability issues), which ought to please new o.c. Kyle Shanahan. Cleveland could even become involved in the expected bidding war for ex-Titans RB Chris Johnson...stay tuned. We're guessing this is where Johnny Football lands. Johnny Manziel, QB, Texas A&M
5-OAKLAND RAIDERS...With GM Reggie McKenzie and HC Dennis Allen both entering their third years and under considerable pressure to show improvement from last season's 4-12 debacle, don't expect the Raiders to move early in the draft for a QB. Especially after trading in the offseason with Houston for Matt Schaub, a former Pro Bowler and still considered a serviceable alternative who appears a much better option at this stage for an under-fire staff than a rookie or the Terrelle Pryor/Matt McGloin combo that struggled a year ago. A further sign of the desperate times in Oakland came in the first wave of free agency when the Raiders seemed inclined to add anyone who could walk and chew gum at the same time (perhaps a knee-jerk reaction to finally having a few dollars to spend after living in salary-cap hell last season), loading up on a collection of well-traveled, or perhaps past-their-prime, vets that include RB Maurice Jones-Drew, defensive linemen Justin Tuck & Antonio Smith, LB LaMarr Woodley, CBs Carlos Rogers and Terrell Brown, WR James Jones and OT Donald Penn (all with at least seven seasons in the league). Those sorts might be decent adds for a contending team, but as a nucleus of team on the rebound, we're not so sure. Oakland could still use a legit No. 1 WR and more help on the OL. Teaming a wideout such as Clemson's Sammy Watkins alongside the recently-signed James Jones could change a position of weakness to one of strength. Watkins' ability to double as a kick return threat is an added plus. Sammy Watkins, WR, Clemson
6-ATLANTA FALCONS...Whereas a lot of the teams at the top end of the draft board are looking for upgrades at QB, the Falcons don't have any worries at the position with the well-entrenched Matt Ryan still in the fold. But after falling apart to 4-12 last season, the Falcons badly needed upgrades on both lines and focused their attention in those directions during free agency, adding ex-Chiefs DE Tyson Jackson and ex-Dolphins DT Paul Soliai, plus ex-Chiefs OG Jon Asamoah, but they remain in dire need of a dynamic edge rusher. GM Tom Dimitroff is still likely looking at more bolstering on the OL, where an OT like Texas A&M's Jake Matthews would also make a lot of sense with the team's top pick, or perhaps some extra pop defensively at a LB spot with someone like Buffalo's Khalil Mack or UCLA's Anthony Barr. Jake Matthews, OT, Texas A&M
7-TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS...Lots of "new" in Tampa Bay, from a new coach (Lovie Smith) and GM (Jason Licht) to a brash new set of uniforms and helmet design, all after falling to 4-12 last season. One of Lovie's FA moves was adding ex-Bears QB Josh McCown, who filled in well for a hurting Jay Cutler last season and familiar to Lovie from their days in Chicago. Lovie has already announced that McCown will enter training camp as the starter, which has caused a few NFC observers to scratch their heads regarding the future in Tampa Bay of Mike Glennon (19 TDP and 9 picks in 2013), who showed some promise as a rookie in the second half of the 2013 campaign. Another major FA development was the release of CB Darrelle Revis, but new GM Licht was an active buyer, too, adding ex-Bengals OT Anthony Collins & DE Michael Johnson, ex-Titans CB Alterraun Verner (to take Revis' place), and ex-Packer C Evan Dietrich-Smith, among others. Even after adding Collins and Johnson from Cincy, the Bucs are still probably looking at OL and CB in the draft, and could also shop for another QB, though not likely until the later rounds. There is also a crying need for an upgrade at tight end, where North Carolina's Eric Ebron is considered the best on the board. Eric Ebron, TE, North Carolina
8-MINNESOTA VIKINGS...The Vikings are approaching a couple of transition years, as they will be forced outside to the University of Minnesota's TCF Bank Stadium for the next two seasons while their new stadium is being built on the site of the old Metrodome, and ex-Bengals d.c. Mike Zimmer takes over HC duties from Leslie Frazier, dismissed after last year's 5-10-1 mark. By re-signing QB Matt Cassel (3-3 as a starter last season), the Vikes don't necessarily have to go for a QB with their top pick, and re-signing DE Everson Griffen in hopes that he can spearhead the pass rush after Jared Allen's FA departure to the Bears also alleviated some concerns at that position. Minnesota also brought back LB Jasper Brinkley after one disappointing season spent with the Cardinals. The Vikings are a possible candidate to trade down with this pick for more volume in the draft, especially if they don't think they have to take a QB (perhaps such as Louisville's Teddy Bridgewater) at the eight slot. The defense-minded Zimmer signed FA DT Linval Joseph from the Giants and might want to add more pieces to his stop unit after the Vikes allowed the most points in the league last season, with the secondary particularly in need of an upgrade. Ha-Ha Clinton Dix, FS, Alabama
9-BUFFALO BILLS...The Bills lost one of the top free agents on the market (S Jarius Byrd), but did add a couple of potentially-useful LBs in Brandon Spikes & Keith Rivers. Some observers were also confused when Buffalo shelled out over $13 million for G Chris Williams from the Rams. Even with the addition of Williams, HC Doug Marrone is said to be looking for more upgrades along the OL. Depending upon how much Marrone would like to bolster his tackle spots, he could be looking to trade up for a shot at either Auburn's Greg Robbinson or Texas A&M's Jake Matthews. The Bills are also still in the market for ILB help, which would enable them to move Kiko Alonso to the outside. Taylor Lewan, OT, Michigan
10-DETROIT LIONS...Considered perhaps the best of the offseason job openings, more than a few NFL observers believe the Lions might have made the shakiest head coaching hire in Jim Caldwell, who received plenty of undue credit for the Ravens' run to the Super Bowl two years ago when he was a late-season promotion to o.c.; remember, Caldwell had been the HC at Indy when the Colts collapsed minus an injured Peyton Manning in 2011. If GM Martin Mayhew didn't get this hire right, he's going to be in trouble, too. Mayhew sought upgrades at WR opposite Calvin Johnson in free agency by adding ex-Seahawk Golden Tate, and inked ex-Ravens S James Ihedigbo to a 2-year deal. The secondary still figures to get plenty of attention in the draft, and the Lions might even have their pick of the top CB on the board at the 10 spot. Most rate Ok State's Justin Gilbert, Michigan State's Darqueze Dennard, and Virginia Tech's Kyle Fuller as the best of the CB group. Justin Gilbert, CB, Oklahoma State
11-TENNESSEE TITANS...It has been an active offseason in Nashville, with the Titans winning an auction with the Lions for the services of new HC Ken Whisenhunt (whose wife probably had something to say about the choice, as did his accountant, noting the absence of state income tax in Tennessee), who spent last season as the Chargers' o.c. after six seasons (and a Super Bowl visit) as coach of the Cardinals. As many expected, high-profile and expensive RB Chris Johnson was released. But there was more going on in free agency, with the Titans raiding Denver for DE Shaun Phillips & LB Wesley Woodyard, the Ravens for OT Michael Oher, and the Chiefs for RB-KR Dexter McCluster. But the loss of CB Alterraun Verner to the Bucs has created an opening that will likely be addressed early in the draft. The Titans are also in the market for a kicker after vet Rob Bironas was released, while ex-Charger and Seahawk Charlie Whitehurst is the new backup QB behind Jake Locker after Ryan Fitzpatrick moved to the Texans. With the "D" shifting to 3-4 looks for new coordinator Ray Horton, expect the stop unit to get extra attention in the draft. The Titans are also without a third-round pick after a draft-day trade with the 49ers last year. Anthony Barr, OLB, UCLA
12-NEW YORK GIANTS...The Giants appear to be fast-approaching a crossroads campaign, with rumors that vet HC Tom Coughlin is likely to hang 'em up after this season and with the roster having a much different look than the Super Bowl winners from just three seasons ago. There is also some question about QB Eli Manning, now entering his 11th season and off arguably his worst campaign when leading the NFL with 26 picks and now facing ankle surgery that could hamper his offseason work. The G-Men used free agency to completely revamp their secondary, as GM Jerry Reese added CBs Walter Thurmond (via Seahawks) and Dominique Rodgers-Cromatie (via Broncos) as well as another ex-Bronco, DE Robert Ayers, ostensibly to take the place of the departed Justin Tuck. New o.c. Ben McAdoo would also like an upgrade at RB (is Raiders FA Rashad Jennings that guy?) and the G-Men could address that need as early as the second round, especially since many don't believe a RB gets picked in the first round. With another departure along the defensive line, DT Linval Joseph (to the Vikings), Reese could also be looking up front in the early rounds of the draft. Aaron Donald, DT, Pittsburgh
13-ST. LOUIS RAMS...The Rams get their second kick at the can in the first round. Look for offense to continue to be addressed, and if St. Louis doesn't go for a wideout with its first pick, the Rams likely address that need here. The best "big" targets on the board are 6-5 skyscrapers Mike Evans (Texas A&M) and Kelvin Benjamin (Florida State). Mike Evans, WR, Texas A&M
14-CHICAGO BEARS...Bears GM Phil Emery understood his team's deficiencies on defense, where Chicago failed to hold a team under 20 points for the first time in franchise history a year ago. Thus, most of the FA activity has taken place on the stop end, where the "D" has been revamped with additions such as DEs Jared Allen (via Vikings), Willie Young (via Lions) and Lamarr Houston (via Raiders), plus three safeties including ex-Giant Ryan Mundy. It wasn't all one-way traffic into Halas Hall in free agency, however, as outbound lanes included DT Henry Melton, DE Julius Peppers, WR-KR Devin Hester, and valuable backup QB Josh McCown, who was more than a serviceable alternative when Jay Cutler went down last November. Expect more draft focus on the defense, although second-year HC Marc Trestman might want a little more cushion at QB, where little-used Jordan Palmer now sits as the main backup to Cutler, who has found it difficult to stay healthy for entire seasons in recent years. Kyle Fuller, CB, Virginia Tech
15-PITTSBURGH STEELERS...Besides Big Ben, Troy Polamalu, and a few others, the Steeler roster is looking quite unfamiliar these days, especially after more vet cap casualties in the offseason. But the back-and-forth in free agency didn't necessarily leave the Steelers with a net loss, as additions such as RB LeGarrette Blount (via Patriots), WR Lance Moore (via Saints), and S Mike Mitchell (via Panthers) are hardly downgrades at their respective positions. Three of the Steelers' top four UFAs were defensive linemen, however, so expect GM Kevin Colbert to act quickly to find help up front in the draft before deciding whether to bring vet DE Brett Keisel back for one more year. The Steelers also must get younger and more physical in the secondary. Still, if Florida State DT Timmy Jernigan is still on the board, he's too good to bypass. Just wondering, but does HC Mike Tomlin start to feel some heat if the Steel misses the playoffs for a third year running? Timmy Jernigan, DT, Florida State
16-DALLAS COWBOYS...Jerry Jones lost more than he added in free agency, forced to shed, among others, the salaries of DE DeMarcus Ware (signed with Broncos) and DT Justin Hatcher (signed with Redskins). While Jones has been in worse shape with the salary cap in past offseasons, he still didn't have a lot of wiggle room, focusing a handful of signings on the DL, where the big names enlisted are ex-Bear DT Henry Milton and ex-Bronco DE Jeremy Mincey. Those additions lessen the need to address DL at the top of the draft, or else Jones might have considered trading up to get someone like Pitt's Aaron Donald or Florida State's Timmy Jerningan. Which, obviously, could still happen. Jones also signed former Browns QB Brandon Weeden as a bit of extra insurance (along with Kyle Orton) just in case Tony Romo's recovery from offseason back surgery goes slower than expected, and a potential future successor to Romo at QB might be identified in the draft. Note that Jones did retain last year's beleaguered coordinators (o.c. Bill Callahan and d.c. Monte Kiffin) on staff, but demoted each, with ex-Rams HC and recent Lions o.c. Scott Linehan the new offensive coordinator and ex-Lions HC (and promoted from DL coach) Rod Marinelli the new defensive coordinator. Marinelli's platoon probably gets more emphasis in the draft, with Jones still looking along the line and secondary for help (an impact safety is definitely on the radar). Jones is also probably shopping for WRs at some point, with Miles Austin released and Dez Bryant headed into the final year of his contract. Calvin Pryor, FS, Louisville
Following are forecasts for the final half of the first round, beginning with Baltimore's pick in the 17th slot...
17-BALTIMORE RAVENS...Ravens fans are now beginning to realize that the enthralling run to the Super Bowl at the conclusion to the 2012 campaign was the culmination of a great five-year excursion, and not the beginning of a dynasty. Among others, the emotional leaders of the defense (Ray Lewis and Ed Reed) left immediately after the Super Bowl, and the subsequent overreach on QB Joe Flacco's contract has further hamstrung the organization, as last season's playoff miss suggests. This offseason has also been bumpy, with RB Ray Rice's off-field issues. The Ravens haven't lost as many pieces as they did a year ago, but the departures of CB Corey Graham (Bills), DE Arthur Jones (Colts), and OT Michael Oher (Titans) were not all filled adequately in free-agency, where the biggest splash was the addition of ex-Panthers WR Steve Smith, who hopefully addresses the slot receiver hole that Anquan Boldin had filled before his departure last season. Tight ends Ed Dickson and Dennis Pitta have also moved on, though ex-Texan Owen Daniels has been enlisted to attempt to fill that gap. If GM Ozzie Newsome drafts for need, he looks along the offensive line in hopes of shoring up a league-worst 3.1 yards per carry; someone like Notre Dame's versatile Zack Martin might be capable of playing either tackle position and partially address Oher's departure, or perhaps even move to a guard spot, as some scouts suggest. Baltimore might also be looking for a natural center-fielder on defense, as it plans to move last year's top pick, Matt Elam, to strong safety. Zack Martin, OT, Notre Dame
18-NEW YORK JETS...One of the more intriguing recent FA moves was the Jets signing QB Michael Vick, who many observers believe was a worthwhile risk for the Jets, if for no other reason than to keep the flame lit under 2nd-year QB Geno Smith. Rex Ryan maintains that the QB competition will be open entering training camp, though several are of the opinion that Vick (whose durability remains an issue) is of more value in a reserve role. We'll see. How ex-Bronco WR Eric Decker (a potential significant upgrade at the receiver position) performs is more likely to be the barometer of the Jets' FA moves; elsewhere, the Jets swapped out several players in what seems like a succession of lateral moves (ex-Seahawk Breno Giacomini for Austin Howard at OT, ex-Dolphin Dimitri Patterson replaces Antonio Cromartie at CB). Ryan could still be looking for some help at the CB spots that have weakened since the departure of Darrelle Revis, and a sore spot for the low-ranked Jet pass defense that saw Alabama rookie Dee Milliner picked upon often last season. Michigan State's Darqueze Dennard is a bit undersized and might sometimes be too aggressive for his own good, but that sort of player has never bothered Ryan, and there isn't a better, in-your-face CB available in this draft. Darqueze Dennard, CB, Michigan State
19-MIAMI DOLPHINS...Joe Philbin barely survived the front office and coaching staff purge following last season, and no head coach enters 2014 on a hotter seat. The Dolphins could also do with some internal calm this fall after last season's Jonathan Martin/Richie Incognito controversy (neither will return in 2014). Miami was understandably active in free agency, addressing needs along what will be a restructured OL by signing T Branden Albert (via Chiefs) and G Shelley Smith (via Rams), while also hoping that ex-Bronco Knowshon Moreno provides a needed upgrade for a running game that labored following Reggie Bush's departure and will be a bit more of a focus under new o.c. Bill Lazor. The defense ought to benefit from other FAs such as CB Cortland Finnegan (via Titans), S Louis Delmas (via Lions), and DT Earl Mitchell (via Texans), and new GM Dennis Hickey was able to keep potential FAs such as CB Brent Grimes & DT Randy Starks in the fold. All good. But if the Dolphins are drafting for need in the first round, they are still probably going to target the OL; even after the addition of Albert, Miami has lost tackles Jake Long and Martin over the past two season. The problem for Philbin is that he might not have the longer-term time frame to succeed as does new GM Hickey. Cyrus Kouandjio, OT, Alabama
20-ARIZONA CARDINALS...The Big Red has the Valley excited again after a late-season surge that saw it fall just short of the playoffs while also winning on the road in late December at eventual Super Bowl champ Seattle. In his first year on the job, GM Steve Kelm was busy trying to upgrade the roster throughout the entirety of 2013, and adding a competent LT in free agency (ex-Raider Jared Veldheer) addressed one of the most pressing offseason needs. The Cards also added CB Antonio Cromartie (via the Jets) to pair opposite Patrick Peterson, but there are questions elsewhere in the secondary, including a safety spot where the Honey Badger (Tyrann Mathieu) is trying to recover from a serious knee injury suffered last December, and whose ability to bounce back quickly is to be determined. The personnel theme as stated by 2nd-year HC Bruce Arians is to get tougher along both lines of scrimmage, yet there are other concerns, one of those at WR where FA Ted Ginn, Jr. adds an explosive presence, and where Larry Fitzgerald's pending contract renewal (due in 2015) looms worryingly on the horizon. With RB Rashard Mendenhall retiring in the offseason, the Big Red added another ex-Steeler (Jonathan Dwyer) to hopefully bolster the infantry, though a RB will likely be added at sometime during the draft. There will also be a temptation to find a long-term successor at QB to Carson Palmer. That's the sort of pick a contending team can risk in the early rounds, and Kelm will be tempted if Louisville's Teddy Bridgewater is still on the board. Teddy Bridgewater, QB, Louisville
21-GREEN BAY PACKERS...Pack GM Ted Thompson has always been a reluctant participant in the annual free-agent circus, and, while a bit busier than usual this offseason, has still not signed an unrestricted FA other than one of his own for the second straight year. Green Bay did add a couple of defensive linemen, but both Julius Peppers (Bears) and Letroy Guion (Vikings) were signed after being released by their respective teams, which could mean more compensatory draft picks down the road in 2015 for Thompson if he doesn't sign a player with an expiring contract off another team. As for Peppers, he is likely to be part of an experiment at a pass-rushing LB spot in d.c. Dom Capers' 3-4 looks. Thompson could still be looking for help along the DL as well as in the secondary, where the Pack was often torched a season ago and recorded only 11 interceptions. Thompson is also likely to be seeking reinforcements at the TE position with the status of Jermichael Finley still a bit up in the air following his frightening spinal cord injury a year ago, and Thompson is still unsure in mid-April if it is worth the risk to bring Finley back for another try. Louis Nix, DT, Notre Dame
22-PHILADELPHIA EAGLES...The personnel dynamics changed abruptly a few weeks ago in Philly when WR DeSean Jackson was released (and eventually inked by the NFC East-rival Redskins) under somewhat mysterious circumstances, believed to be related to Jackson's supposed connections to gangs from his native L.A. area. Whatever, it has created need at the wideout spots for HC Chip Kelly, who is eager for the Birds to continue their surprising ascent that began a season ago and resulted in a surprise division title under second-year QB Nick Foles, who posted near MVP-like numbers in the aggressive Kelly offense. Backing up Foles will now be Mark Sanchez, healthy again after last year's shoulder injury and who found Philly as his landing spot after his tumultuous run with the Jets. Kelly, who has say over GM Howie Roseman on personnel matters, already added another interesting toy to his offense when trading with the Saints for RB Darren Sproles. The Birds are also probably going to be looking at reinforcements at OLB and for better fits on the edge in its 3-4 looks after Trent Cole had problems adjusting from his old DE duties, forcing Connor Barwin to be used more often in coverage due to Cole's deficiencies in that area, as well as in the secondary after allowing the most passing yards in the league a year ago (S Patrick Chung, in particular, was subpar in 2013 and has returned to the Patriots). But after Jackson's release, if Kelly bypasses a potential impact WR such as LSU's Odell Beckham Jr. in the first round, we'd be surprised. Odell Beckham Jr., WR, LSU
23-KANSAS CITY CHIEFS...After catching the league by surprise under new HC Andy Reid last season and taking advantage of a favorable schedule to stay undefeated into November, the Chiefs looked and played like a .500 team the second half of the campaign as the depth concerns on the roster bubbled to the surface. Reid and GM John Dorsey then watched three OL starters (Gs Jon Asamoah & Geoff Schwartz, plus T Branden Albert) walk in free agency, creating an immediate need in front of QB Alex Smith. Who, by the way, could also use another weapon at the WR spot to add a downfield element and maybe take some pressure off of Dwayne Bowe, who was mostly limited to underneath stuff in Reid's bulletproof offense a year ago. The Chiefs could badly use a deep threat wideout to add an extra dimension to their offense, and if one is available later in the first round such as Southern Cal's 2012 Biletnikoff Award winner Marqise Lee, Reid probably looks in that direction before concentrating on the OL and expected defensive emphasis in subsequent rounds. Marqise Lee, WR, Southern Cal
24-CINCINNATI BENGALS...The Bengals were more concerned in the FA market with keeping some of their own players than looking elsewhere for an immediate quick-fix. And aside from losing OT Anthony Collins and DE Michael Johnson (both to the Bucs), Mike and Pete Brown did a decent job keeping the majority of their potential FAs in the fold. The most useful Cincy FA addition might be QB Jason Campbell, brought in as an experienced backup to Andy Dalton and familiar with o.c. Hue Jackson from their days together in Oakland. Which also suggests the organization is willing (for the time being) to stay the course with Dalton, who has been good enough to steer the Bengals to the playoffs (but no further than the wild card round) in each of his first three seasons. There are no crying needs on the roster, though there will probably be some attention paid to the OL that lost Collins and released C Kyle Cook (T Marshall Newhouse, a college teammate of Dalton's at TCU, was the other notable FA addition), and perhaps at the CB spots, where Pacman Jones and Terence Newman are on the wrong side of 30. But the Bengals appear likely to go the best-available route, in which case Alabama ILB C.J. Mosley could be hard to bypass if still available. C.J. Mosley, LB, Alabama
25-SAN DIEGO CHARGERS...Without a lot of salary cap room, the Chargers were content to mostly lay low during free agency, instead focusing most of their check-writing on keeping players in house. And waiting for the draft, where GM Tom Telesco made quite an impression in his first try last year by providing three starters in his first three picks (OT D.J. Fluker, LB Manti Te'o, and WR Keenan Allen) for a fellow debutante, HC Mike McCoy. The one notable FA addition was backup QB Kellen Clemens, who was serviceable in relief of Sam Bradford last season in St. Louis and fills a need after Philip Rivers' former backup Charlie Whitehurst moved to the Titans. If Telesco gets further involved in free agency, it will likely be during the lower-profile second wave prior to training camp, with an eye on adding some depth. Despite their surprising run to the playoffs last winter, the Bolts still have plenty of holes to fill defensively, starting with a pass defense that ranked 29th in the league. But upgrades will be sought all across the stop unit, also perhaps from the edge in their 3-4 and where Dwight Freeney (whose contract was restructured downward) tries to bounce back after missing most of last season with a torn quad injury. If the role Freeney is trying to fill is to be addressed, Auburn's explosive Dee Ford looks like a very intriguing rush-linebacker for a 3-4, especially after impressing last fall and in the BCS title game for Gus Malzahn's Tigers, and then having opened many more eyes in the Senior Bowl at Mobile. Dee Ford, LB, Auburn
26-CLEVELAND BROWNS (from Indianapolis)...Here is the payoff for the Trent Richardson trade to the Colts last September, which also gives the Brownies some extra flexibility with potential trade partners. If Cleveland holds onto this pick, we would be stunned if it didn't spend this one or its earlier selection at four on a QB. We forecast the Browns addressing that need previously in the round (and we tagged tagged Johnny Football as Cleveland's pick at four), and if that did happen, they can look elsewhere with this pick. The Browns recently matched the Jags' offer to C Alex Mack, keeping him in the fold, and additions of WRs Nate Burleson and Brendan Hawkins, plus RB Ben Tate, in free agency means that new GM Ray Farmer might look at a best-available defender with his second first-round pick. The LB positions, partially addressed by Karlos Dansby's addition, could be a focus. Khalil Mack, LB, Buffalo
27-NEW ORLEANS SAINTS...The Saints had to make numerous changes to get under the salary cap, moving RB Darren Sproles (to the Eagles) while others such as WR Lance Moore, DE Will Smith, and safeties Malcolm Jenkins and Roman Harper are now gone as well. What GM Mickey Loomis might have lost in quantity he did perhaps make up in quality by inking ex-Bills S Jairus Byrd, one of the top-shelf FAs on the market, then signing former Pro Bowl CB Champ Bailey, not kept by the Broncos after an injury-plagued 2013. Whether Loomis and HC Sean Payton can count upon a full season from Bailey remains to be seen. Defensive coordinator Rob Ryan might also appreciate another quality pass rusher to put in the rotation for his 3-4 looks along with DEs Cameron Jordan and Akiem Hicks, and Ryan would endorse the early selection of someone like Mizzou DE Kony Ealy before Loomis looks for more reinforcements along the OL, secondary, and at RB in later rounds. The Saints also get an additional fifth-round pick from the Eagles as part of the Sproles trade. Kony Ealy, DE, Missouri
28-CAROLINA PANTHERS...The Panthers had some limitations in free agency due to salary cap concerns, and were not able to significantly improve their targeted WR area, unless you consider modest FA additions such as Jerricho Cotchery (via Steelers) and Tiquan Underwood (via Bucs) as upgrades. The biggest offseason move by GM Dave Gettleman might have been slapping the franchise tag on DE Greg Hardy, but a robust stop unit is hardly a concern of Gettleman or HC Ron Rivera, whose job was saved by last season's unexpected, defense-fueled run to the NFC South title. Gettleman is likely to extend the option on QB Cam Newton (who recently underwent ankle surgery), keeping him solidly in the fold for at least two more seasons, but with the WR slots depleted by departures of Steve Smith, Brandon LaFell, Domenik Hixon, and Ted Ginn, Jr., it would surprise if the Panthers don't address those concerns early. With plenty of WR depth in the draft, a suitable addition like Oregon State's Brandin Cooks should be available late in the first round, and his selection would be applauded by Newton. Brandin Cooks, WR, Oregon State
29-NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS...We can never be sure what Bill Belichick might be thinking; all we know is that we're way beyond ever second-guessing him, especially after he rebuilt much of his defense through the draft the past couple of years. In the offseason, Belichick moved immediately in free agency to fill the gap created by CB Aqib Talib's move to Denver, adding ex-Jet and Buc Darrelle Revis and ex-Seahawk Brandon Browner as an expensive new combination on the corners. Belichick also re-signed NT Vince Wilfork, perhaps a bit of a risk after Wilfork missed almost the entirety of 2013 with an Achilles tendon tear (not an easy recovery for a big lineman). If Belichick drafts for need, he addresses the TE spot that became mostly barren a year ago after the Aaron Hernandez fiasco and Rob Gronkowski's injuries; with Gronk's full recovery from an ACL tear no sure thing, this position likely gets addressed early. We've wondered the past few years, too, if Belichick begins to look into the future at QB, where Tom Brady enters his 15th season this fall, and where backup Ryan Mallett has not overly impressed in previous auditions. Will this be the draft in which Belichick identifies Brady's eventual successor, who will have a few years to work under Brady's wing as did Aaron Rodgers at Green Bay with Brett Favre? Austin Seferian-Jenkins, TE, Washington
30-SAN FRANCISCO 49ers...Not exactly an uneventful offseason for the 49ers, although it wasn't the sort of developments the team was anticipating. Instead, a couple of potentially-troubling off-field incidents involving DE/LB Aldon Smith and QB Colin Kaepernick. Otherwise, let's face it, the 49ers are not in need of any major overhaul and didn't have any crying needs in free agency, instead doing the usual minor shuffling of the deck, swapping one outgoing FA safety (Donte Whitner to the Browns) for an incoming safety (ex-Colt Antoine Bethea) and replacing FA Colt McCoy (who signed with the Redskins) as the primary backup QB, with Blaine Gabbert, acquired in a trade with the Jags. Offensive tackle Jonathan Martin, involved in controversies at Miami last season, was also added and reunites with college coach Jim Harbaugh from their days at Stanford. The re-signing of WR Anquan Boldin was probably the most significant offseason move made by GM Trent Baalke, who might be looking for more secondary depth, but otherwise likely goes best-available in most rounds. Bradley Roby, CB, Ohio State
31-DENVER BRONCOS...The window is closing fast in Denver with Peyton Manning (with the blessings of his doctors after a successful post-season neck exam) now a year-to-year proposition and no guarantee to be in the fold beyond 2014. John Elway acted accordingly in the offseason by aggressively seeking defensive upgrades after the Super Bowl rout inflicted by the Seahawks. Denver had a lot of injury problems with its stop unit a year ago, and Elway was not about to stand pat, enlisting CB Aqib Talib from the Patriots, S T.J. Ward from the Browns, and DE DeMarcus Ware from the Cowboys as three of the higher-profile FA additions in the league. There was plenty of outflow in free agency, too, notably WR Eric Decker and RB Knowshon Moreno from the offense and DEs Robert Ayers, Jerome Mincey, and Shaun Philips, plus CB Champ Bailey, from the defense. Elway and HC John Fox (also inked to a 3-year extension) believe ex-Wisconsin 2nd-year RB Montee Ball is ready to take over the bulk of the infantry chores, hence the decision to let Moreno loose, and WR Emmanuel Sanders was added from the Steelers in hopes of minimizing Decker's departure. The record-setting offense remains in good shape as long as Manning is healthy, so expect the "D" to get extra attention in the draft, especially at the LB spots where Fox has often had to jerry-rig his combinations the past few years. Kyle Van Noy, LB, BYU
32-SEATTLE SEAHAWKS...The other silver lining to the quick emergence of Russell Wilson as a Super Bowl-winning QB was that he has not cost the Seahawks much the past two years, allowing Pete Carroll to spend money elsewhere on his roster (compare the Seahawks to Super Bowl victim Denver, which committed a ton of its available salary to Peyton Manning a year ago). That remains partially true again this fall, although Carroll did suffer a few key losses in free agency, with depth at CB now an issue following the departures of Walter Thurmond to the Giants and Brandon Browner to the Patriots (maybe Richard Sherman can play both CB spots by himself?), as well as at DE, where Chris Clemons and Red Bryant have departed, but Michael Bennett was at least retained with a new big-bucks contract. Offense likely gets added attention in the draft, perhaps along the OL, which allowed 44 sacks despite protecting a mobile QB in Wilson, or at the WR spots, which might need reinforcing after Golden Tate moved to the Lions in free agency. A big receiving target such as Florida State's 6'5 Kelvin Benjamin would not be surprise pick if still available at the end of the first round. Kelvin Benjamin, WR, Florida State
Two teams (Washington and Indianapolis) are minus first-round picks as of April 14 due to trades. Following is a look at what the Redskins and Colts might be trying to accomplish at Radio City Music Hall.
WASHINGTON REDSKINS...The smoldering wreck of last season's 3-13 collapse caused the dismissal of HC Mike Shanahan and the hiring of Bengals o.c. Jay Gruden as the new coach, owner Dan Snyder's eighth in sixteen years. Again without a first-round pick due to the trade with the Rams that netted RG III in the 2012 draft, the Skins have lots of work to do as they re-tool an aging defense that collapsed in 2013 while wondering if Griffin is ever going to stay injury-free and become a force in the league, as he hinted for a while when healthy two years ago as a rookie. RG III did enthusiastically endorse the key FA addition, WR DeSean Jackson, released by the division rival Eagles and immediately providing a needed upgrade at the wideout spots. As of mid-April, Jackson was one of 15 free agents who had been signed, including, among others, DT Jason Hatcher (via Cowboys), S Ryan Clark (via Steelers), LB Akeem Jordan (Chiefs) and CB Tracy Porter (via Raiders). Vet LB Brian Orakpo was retained with the franchise tag. The "D" is still likely to get much attention at Radio City Music Hall, especially at the LB spots where London Fletcher's retirement has created a gap, and the secondary could use more upgrades as well, especially at the safety spots (how much help ex-Steeler Clark, now 35 years old, can provide remains to be seen). Expect the OL to add some reinforcements at the draft as well.
INDIANAPOLIS COLTS...A bit uncomfy this offseason in Indy with owner Jim Irsay arrested on felony charges after being stopped on suspicion of drunk driving March 16. The Colts are also probably wishing they still had their first-round pick instead of dealing it to the Browns for RB Trent Richardson, who gained only 2.9 ypc in 14 games. The Indy defense required some maintenance in the offseason, and GM Ryan Grigson delivered by adding ILB D'Qwell Jackson and DE Arthur Jones from the Raiders, but there is a glaring need at safety next to LaRon Landry after Antoine Bethea departed to San Francisco. Expect that to be addressed in the early rounds of the draft. Also, keep an eye on the WR spots, where vet Reggie Wayne attempts to return from serious knee surgery. Though T.Y. Hilton emerged as Andrew Luck's go-to target in Wayne's absence, and Hakeem Nicks was a FA addition from the Giants, Indy is likely to spend at least one pick on a new wideout, especially with the position expected to be one of the deepest in this draft.
With a VI Gold Membership, you can SAVE 20%
off Daily Pick packages, SAVE 10%
off a Live Odds Pro subscription, and receive access to up to 1,000
Member Plays each month!