1. ***Trade*** Atlanta: Jadeveon Clowney, DE, South Carolina
The Falcons are desperate for a pass rusher and Thomas Dimitroff doesn’t anticipate being this close to landing a top-flight talent like Clowney ever again. After successfully trading up for Julio Jones in 2011, Dimitroff rolls the dice again, sending the 6th pick in the draft along with number 68 (Atlanta’s 3rd rounder), and the team’s 2015 first round and third round picks to Houston.
It’s a heavy price to pay, but the best way for the Falcons to cure their pass-rushing woes. On the first day of free agency, Atlanta signed three run-stuffing, interior defensive linemen; with Clowney, the Falcons now have a legitimate pass rusher to help them close out games against Drew Brees and Cam Newton. Atlanta is switching to a 3-4/hybrid defense this year, but that won’t deter Dimitroff from making this move. The Texans like but don’t love Clowney, and just hours before the draft, finally get the ransom they’re demanding.
Jeff Fisher was the Titans coach for 16 drafts and has been with the Rams for two more. In that time, he’s never spent a first round pick on an offensive lineman, and has only twice used a top-80 pick on the position (Michael Roos in 2005 and Jason Layman in 1996). St. Louis really wants to trade down here, but simply can’t find a partner.
Instead, Fisher harkens back to his days with the Bears, and decides one can never have enough pass rushers. Having Robert Quinn, Chris Long, and Michael Brockers is nice, but having them and Mack is even nicer. The Rams drafted Alec Ogletree last year, which leaves Jo-Lonn Dunbar as the odd man out at right outside linebacker. It also means Mack will get to line up behind Quinn, a terrifying prospect for every team that plays the Rams.
While some may view Watkins as the pick, Fisher has only spent three first round picks on wide receivers: Kevin Dyson, Kenny Britt, and Tavon Austin last year. St. Louis is already extremely young at receiver, and the draft is deep enough that valuable contributors can be acquired with later picks. The Rams have an insatiable desire to give Sam Bradford additional chances, so a quarterback is out. And frankly, giving Brian Schottenheimer a rookie quarterback is only a recipe for frustration. Mack is a safe pick with high upside, and could help the Rams have a defense on par with the heavyweights of their division.
3. Jacksonville: Teddy Bridgewater, QB, Louisville
The forest can get lost when we looking so closely at the trees, and that’s especially true when we have three full months between the Super Bowl and the NFL Draft. The Jaguars ranked in the bottom three in most passing categories last season. Bridgewater was the consensus top quarterback in this draft for most of the last year. It’s that simple, and a poor pro day doesn’t change that.
The Jaguars passed on a quarterback in last year’s draft, but I think second-year GM David Caldwell decides it’s time to fix the biggest hole on the team’s roster. Bridgewater, a Florida native, does just that. The Jaguars are happy to be in a post-Blaine Gabbert environment, but the only quarterbacks on the roster are Chad Henne, Ricky Stanzi, and Matt Scott. While Jacksonville would love to trade down to accumulate more picks, they can’t risk not getting the top player on their board.
4. Cleveland: Sammy Watkins, WR, Clemson
The Browns need a quarterback, sure, but have enough ammunition to grab a top-tier quarterback later in the draft. Cleveland could use some Josh Gordon insurance, as the temperamental star failed three marijuana tests in college (and missed a full season) and already has two strikes against him in the pros.
But wide receiver is also a glaring hole for the Browns. It’s easy to “Josh Gordon” and assume the team is set at the position, but that’s no more accurate than thinking the presence of an elite left tackle means a team doesn’t need a right tackle. While the addition of Andrew Hawkins means Cleveland now has a slot receiver, the Browns’ current number two wideout is Greg Little. By adding Watkins to the mix with Gordon, Hawkins, Jordan Cameron, and Ben Tate, the Browns are just one piece away from having an explosive offense. Stay tuned.
5. Oakland: Johnny Manziel, QB, Texas A&M
The second biggest surprise of draft day. The Raiders traded for Matt Schaub, but that move won’t stop Reggie McKenzie from taking his quarterback. McKenzie couldn’t guarantee that Manziel would fall to him, and had no desire to enter a make-or-break season with Matt McGloin and Trent Edwards as his quarterbacks. That was the reasoning behind the Schaub trade, and history doesn’t suggest a quarterback of his age and declining quality has much left in the tank.
With Denarius Moore, Rod Streater, and James Jones, Oakland has a nice set of weapons for Manziel (in addition to a backfield of Darren McFadden, Maurice Jones-Drew, and Marcel Reece). The 2012 Heisman Trophy winner is NFL ready, and the McKenzie and Dennis Allen will hope Manziel wins the job in training camp… and then saves McKenzie and Allen’s jobs during the season.
6. ***Trade*** Minnesota: Blake Bortles, QB, Central Florida
The Vikings are desperate for a quarterback and worry that the music will stop without them landing a passer. Fearing that Tampa Bay may select the local star, the Vikings send their 2014 third round pick to Houston to secure their man. The Texans are happy to oblige, as the Texans believe the man they want will still be around at eight. Bortles is far from a finished product, but that’s what new offensive coordinator Norv Turner brings to the table.
This pick, along with the obvious decision not to exercise his fifth year option, confirms that the Christian Ponder pick was a bust. But that’s water under the bridge, and the Vikings don’t want to go into Adrian Peterson’s age 29 season with just Ponder and Matt Cassel at quarterback.
7. Tampa Bay: Mike Evans, WR, Texas A&M
We never find out if the Bucs are interested in Bridgewater, Manziel, or Bortles, as all three are gone before Tampa Bay’s pick. That isn’t terrible news for a Bucs team that has a massive hole at wide receiver behind Vincent Jackson (next on the depth chart: Chris Owusu, Skye Dawson, Eric Page, and Louis Murphy). Evans is a Vincent Jackson clone, which makes this an intriguing pick. Does it make a lot of sense to have two receivers with such similar skill sets? Maybe not, but the Bucs aren’t known for their strict adherence to rational thought.
Remember, Lovie Smith had a pair of giant wide receivers (albeit with different skill sets) in Chicago with Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffery. Defensive head coaches love offensive players with extreme measurables because they know that those players are Xs-and-Os-busters. There’s no play call to stop a 6’5 receiver from going over the top of a 5’11 cornerback. Smith knows how stressful it will be for defensive coordinators to try to match up against Evans and Jackson, and as a result, is happy to endorse this pick.
8. Houston: Jake Matthews, OT, Texas A&M
To recap: the Texans have moved down from 1 to 8 and picked up:
- the Falcons 3rd round pick;
- the Vikings 3rd round pick;
- the Falcons 2015 1st round pick; and
- the Falcons 2015 3rd round pick.
Houston was home to Jake’s dad, Bruce Matthews for fourteen years, and that may be enough to make this a popular pick for the fans. The Texans still have quarterback needs, but Bill O’Brien will address that soon enough. For now, Houston picks up a player it can legitimately claim was number one on their draft board while also improving an area of need. Right tackle Derek Newton is not very good, and Matthews will team with Duane Brown to give Houston a pair of elite bookends. Remember that right tackle is quickly becoming a premium position (and where Matthews played for three years in College Station), as Eric Fisher, Luke Joeckel, and Lane Johnson were all selected in the top four of the 2013 draft with immediate plans to play that side.
9. Buffalo: Greg Robinson, OT, Auburn
The Bills are ecstatic to see Robinson still on board at pick nine. Buffalo doesn’t get much hype because it’s, well, Buffalo, but the Bills have one of the fastest offenses in the league in more ways than one. EJ Manuel, C.J. Spiller, T.J. Graham and Marquise Goodwin are among the fastest players in the NFL at their positions, and Buffalo trailed only the Eagles in offensive pace in 2013. Robinson, who ran the 2nd fastest adjusted 40 (behind Clowney) of any player at the Combine, is a perfect fit after a year in training with Gus Malzahn’s super up-tempo offense.
Cordy Glenn is an underrated player at left tackle, but the Bills can either move Glenn or slide Robinson in on the right side. Either way, Robinson not only fits a need in more ways than one, but he’s also a value pick thanks to three quarterbacks going in the top six.
10. Detroit: Justin Gilbert, CB, Oklahoma State
The Lions have spent three first round picks on defensive linemen in the last four years. The pass rush isn’t a problem, even if the Lions aren’t quite sure about what they have in Ndamukong Suh, Nick Fairley, or Ezekiel Ansah. What Detroit is sure about: a schedule that features Aaron Rodgers and Chicago’s twin towers four times a year. Chris Houston, Rashean Mathis, and Darius Slay (last year’s second round pick) won’t cut it against that group, and the Lions are happy that the draft’s top corner fell to ten.
Detroit has made rumblings about wanting to either trade up or down, and that makes some sense. Adding a Watkins or Mack would be outstanding, but the cost of doing business is too pricey. And while the Lions would like to trade down, they can’t find a taker. Gilbert could wind up going later in the draft, so Detroit would love to trade down and still grab him, but it takes two to tango. And persistent concerns about Houston’s foot makes Gilbert the clear choice at ten. The Lions hope he’ll be half as good as the Cowboy they drafted in the first round 25 years ago.
11. ***Trade*** St. Louis: Taylor Lewan, OT, Michigan
What’s that, you say, Jeff Fisher won’t spend a first round pick on an offensive lineman? Nonsense! The Rams were the youngest team in the NFL in 2013, but have question marks at both tackle positions. Jake Long tore his ACL and MCL in December, Joe Barksdale is a free agent after the season, and Rodger Saffold is a better fit at guard. The Rams must protect Sam Bradford, and Lewan has the potential to be an All-Pro tackle. He’ll find a very good mentor in Long, another former Wolverine. After drafting Mack at #2, St. Louis can spend the rest of the draft looking for ways to improve the anemic offense.
The Giants have been rumored to be interested in Lewan, so the Rams send their 4th and 7th round picks to Tennessee to move up two spots. That’s a deal that works out nicely for both teams.
12. NY Giants: Eric Ebron, TE, North Carolina
Once a decade, the Giants dip into the first round to draft a tight end of the future. In 2002, it was Jeremy Shockey, a decade after whiffing with Notre Dame’s Derek Brown. With Hakeem Nicks and Brandon Myers gone, New York could use a play-making tight end, and Ebron is the best of this year’s bunch. Eli Manning remains the clutchest quarterback to ever lead the NFL in interceptions three times, but even he could benefit from an athletic talent like Ebron.
13. Tennessee: Anthony Barr, LB, UCLA
Every year, there are a few picks outside the top ten that seem to be on everyone’s mock draft. This year, Barr to the Titans is one of those picks, and for good reason. Consider:
- Tennessee needs offensive help, but is stacked (in a relative sense – we’re talking about the Titans here) at wide receiver with Kendall Wright, Justin Hunter, Nate Washington, and now Dexter McCluster.
- A quarterback doesn’t make much sense at 13, at least in this mock. Plus, new head coach Ken Whisenhunt probably loves Jake Locker, since ‘Whiz has never met a big, strong, inaccurate QB he hasn’t liked.
- No running back is worth a high first round pick, and tight end is not a significant need with Delanie Walker and some possible 4-WR sets. In any event, Ebron is off our board.
- The Titans are actually pretty set at offensive line, with Michael Roos, Andy Levitre, Michael Oher, and 2013 draft picks Chance Warmack and Brian Schwenke. A tackle is not out of the question, as Roos is a free agent after the season and Oher is well, not very good.
That brings us to the defensive side of the ball. With Ray Horton now in Tennessee, there are more questions than answers regarding how the front seven will look. The two pieces linked in the prior sentences were written by Tom Gower and are really excellent, so give them a read when you have a moment (only 20 more picks to go)!
The Titans have two blue chips in the front seven, with Jurrell Casey being the star of the group. Playing as a three-technique tackle in 2013, Casey recorded 10.5 sacks and received 8 votes from the AP’s All-Pro voters. But will he play as a 3-4 DE (like say, Sheldon Richardson or J.J. Watt) in 2014, will he move to nose tackle, or will Horton come up with a hybrid position for him where he can stay as a 3-technique in the 3-4? Derrick Morgan has looked great at times as a 4-3 defensive end, but could wind up at 3-4 DE as a 5-technique or as an outside linebacker.
Neither Casey nor Morgan strike me as the next Calais Campbell, but Casey isn’t Dan Williams and Morgan isn’t necessarily a great fit as a 3-4 backer (Horton has his linebackers in coverage pretty frequently, although perhaps he’s envisioning a similar role to what Paul Kruger had for Horton in Cleveland last year). Despite the questionable fit, early reports indicate Morgan will play linebacker; he’ll join newly acquired Shaun Phillips (from Denver after time in San Diego), Akeem Ayers and Kamerion Wimbley as outside linebacker/defensive end hybrids.
So while the position isn’t a black hole for the Titans, adding a pass-rushing monster like Barr (23.5 sacks, 41.5 tackles for losses the last two years) seems like a pick that would go a long way towards making Horton’s defense come alive. At that point, Phillips, Ayers, and Barr could rotate at outside linebacker, Morgan would be able to play the 5-technique on pass-rushing downs, and well, I’ll let Horton figure out what to do with Casey.
14. ***Trade*** Dallas: Aaron Donald, DT, Pittsburgh
The Bears could benefit from several defensive players still available, and could use additional picks to rebuild the defense. The Cowboys are in love with Donald, who many feel will be the next Warren Sapp or Geno Atkins. Considering former Tampa Bay defensive minds Monte Kiffin and Rod Marinelli are still in Dallas (albeit in different roles, with Marinelli now the defensive coordinator), you can be sure that the Cowboys place a high value on a player like Donald.
Lest you forget, Donald was my combine MVP, so Dallas can’t take the risk that the Bears grab him. In return for moving down two spots, the Bears receive the Cowboys’ fourth-round selection.
15. Pittsburgh: Darqueze Dennard, CB, Michigan State
The Steelers defense continues to border on ancient, although not by relative standards. In 2013, Pittsburgh’s AV-adjusted age was 28.2 years, the 3rd oldest in the league. That’s downright young for the Steelers, though: their defense had an average AV-adjusted age of 29.7 in 2012 and 29.5 in 2011. Jokes aside, Ike Taylor has been a starter in Pittsburgh since 2005, but he turns 34 years old today. The other starter, William Gay, is 29 years old, and Pittsburgh could use an upgrade in both talent and youth at corner.
The last time the Steelers used a first round pick on a cornerback was in 1997 (Chad Scott). In fact, the team hasn’t even used a second round pick on a corner since selecting Bryant McFadden in 2005. Pittsburgh was rumored to be ready to take Darrelle Revis in 2007 before the Jets traded up to draft him, so I don’t think the failure to draft a cornerback in the first round in recent years reflects an organizational directive. That should change in 2014.
16. ***Trade*** Miami: Zack Martin, OT, Notre Dame
The Bears again decided to trade down a few spots: with holes on every level of the defense and several capable defenders available, Chicago trades down from 16 to 19 and picks up Miami’s 4th and 7th round picks. The Dolphins have Branden Albert at left tackle, Mike Pouncey at center, and little else on the line. Trading up to secure Martin, who projects best at guard but could easily fit in at right tackle, is a worthwhile move. He’s unlikely to slide to 19, so the Dolphins are happy to trade up to to get another blue chip for Ryan Tannehill’s rebuilt offensive line.
17. *** Trade *** Kansas City: Odell Beckham Jr., WR, Louisiana State
Beckham is a perfect fit for a Kansas City offense that, Jamaal Charles aside, is one of the most boring and vanilla in the NFL. Dwayne Bowe is a big receiver who works well in the red zone, but the team desperately needs to improve the offense’s speed. Alex Smith may not throw a great deep ball, but Beckham’s athleticism will help regardless of the quarterback. He’s a threat to score on every play who averaged 19.6 yards per catch last year; at a minimum he’ll help open up the underneath zones for Smith and provide a replacement for Dexter McCluster in the return game.
Baltimore holds the 17th pick, but Ozzie Newsome is willing to trade down to 23. San Francisco holds the Chiefs 2nd round pick as deferred compensation for the Smith trade, and now KC will be without their third round pick. It’s a steep price to pay, but the Chiefs will send their 23rd pick and 3rd rounder to Baltimore in exchange for the 17th overall pick and the Ravens 6th round selection. Newsome loves collective extra picks, while the Chiefs are afraid that Beckham won’t make it past the Jets.
18. NY Jets: C.J. Mosley, ILB, Alabama
A bit of a surprise pick from the Jets, who could use help at just about every position. Despite an 8-8 record, New York has below-average starters at quarterback, wide receiver, tight end, guard, inside linebacker, outside linebacker, cornerback, and safety. Most draftniks are projecting a wide receiver (because of the number of talented players available) or cornerback (because of the desperate need), but John Idzik doesn’t draft for need. Remember, nobody had the Jets taking Sheldon Richardson last year, but he was the highest player on the team’s board when the team was on the clock.
With Mosley falling to 18, Idzik and Rex Ryan can find a player they both love. David Harris is 30 years old, one of the slowest starting linebackers in the NFL, and in the final year of his expensive contract. The other inside linebacker, Demario Davis, underwhelmed in his first season as a starter in 2013. The Jets and the Eagles were the only two teams to have two inside linebackers record 1,000 snaps last season, so this remains a premium position in the Jets defense. Since New York might need to find two new starters at the position in 2015, best player available meets need here with Mosley. As for the fans wondering what the Jets are going to do at wide receiver or cornerback? You can already hear Idzik saying “well we still have 11 more picks.”
There are rumors that Mosley could drop due to injury concerns, but after taking Dee Milliner last year, the Jets are comfortable with the Crimson Tide training staff. Mosley won’t make Jets fans happy (what will?), but Ryan will be thrilled to get a player who has Nick Saban’s full approval and looks to be the next great 3-4 inside linebacker.
19. Chicago: Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, S, Alabama
If the draft unfolds this way, the Bears will be receiving a lot of As in draft recaps on Friday. By trading down from 14 to 19, Chicago picked up two 4th round picks and a 7th… and wound up taking a player at a position of need that some don’t even think will make it to 14! Clinton-Dix is regarded as the top safety in the draft, which makes him an obvious pick for Chicago.
It wouldn’t ruffle many feathers to suggest that Chris Conte and Major Wright were the two worst starting safeties in the NFL in 2013. Wright is now in Tampa Bay while Conte returns, and frankly, I’m not sure which development is worse. Clinton-Dix will slide in as a day 1 starter and provide a big upgrade against both the run and the pass. Enough trading down for the Bears, who take all of 45 seconds to make this pick.
20. Arizona: Ra’Shede Hageman, DT, Minnesota
The Cardinals don’t have a ton of needs, but could use an infusion of youth up front. Hageman fits that bill: he can play multiple positions along the line, a must in the Cardinals defense, but probably projects best as a 5 technique in a 3-4. Darnell Dockett turns 33 at the end of the month and his play notably declined last year. Hageman is somewhat of a developmental pick, but he can help give Dockett a breather this season and be the full-time starter beginning in 2015.
At 6’6 with long arms and a background as a tight end, Hageman has the wingspan and size to play as a 3-4 end. Those players don’t grow on trees, so the Cardinals take a chance on upside. They also hope that Dockett can take him under his wing, although maybe not when it comes to social media.
21. Green Bay: Kony Ealy, DE, Missouri
Ealy is not an obvious fit anywhere for the Packers, but that may be because he’d be a good fit everywhere. He could be the heir apparent to Julius Peppers, and spend time as both a 3-4 end and outside linebacker depending on the package. The Missouri star had an outstanding combine, and in particular posted a ridiculous time in the 3-cone drill. With Peppers, Mike Daniels, Mike Neal, and last year’s first round pick, Datone Jones, Ealy is hardly a need pick for Green Bay. But Dom Capers can never have enough pass rushers, and Ealy’s versatility makes sense for a defense that ranked in the bottom quarter of the league in yards allowed, touchdowns allowed, net yards per pass allowed, and yards per carry allowed.
22. Philadelphia: Brandin Cooks, WR, Oregon State
The Eagles patiently allow the draft to unfold and are rewarded with the answer to their DeSean Jackson replacement prayers. The 5’10 Beaver ran the 2nd fastest 40 at the combine and can work the inside with Riley Cooper and Jeremy Maclin on the outside. Cooks led the NCAA in receiving yards last year and recorded 200+ yard games against California and Utah. Nick Foles may not be particularly fast, but adding Cooks to an offense that already has LeSean McCoy and Darren Sproles will lead to nightmares for defensive coordinators in the NFC East. Of course, that might be what it takes to convince Chip Kelly to draft someone from Oregon State.
23. Baltimore: Timmy Jernigan, DT, Florida State
Arthur Jones is in Indianapolis and Haloti Ngata turned 30 in January, so don’t be surprised if the Ravens address the defensive line in round one. Projections are all over the board for Jernigan, who could wind up going in the top 12 or slip to the second round. Newsome is always tough to predict, but the bet here is he falls in love with the player who was a dominant run-stuffing 4-3 tackle for the Seminoles and could wind up as a five-technique or as a shade nose for the Ravens.
The Ravens like their defenders capable of playing multiple positions, and Jernigan should fit that bill. As a rookie, he’ll likely play both spots, and also help spell Chris Canty. Again, defensive line may not seem like a big need based on the 2013 Ravens (not that Newsome drafts for need, anyway), but age and injury concerns surround Ngata and Jones was a very productive player.
24. Cincinnati: Louis Nix III, DT, Notre Dame
The spot next to Geno Atkins on the line isn’t very sexy, but Nix could help give Cincinnati the best tackle duo in the league. Domata Peko turns 30 in November and has been declining for years; while Peko’s a veteran leader, Nix would be an instant upgrade and should start immediately. The Fighting Irish star is a monster tackle who will help keep blockers off undersized players like Atkins and middle linebacker Rey Maualuga.2 Don’t forget, Marvin Lewis coached Tony Siragusa on the Ravens great defense in 2000, and knows the value of a monster 330-pound nose tackle even in a 4-3 defense.
25. ***Trade*** Houston: Derek Carr, QB, Fresno State
Houston trades back into the first round to get their quarterback. There are two good reasons for Houston to look to trade to #25. Teams hold a club option for a fifth year on rookie contracts for first round picks; if Carr is a home run, trading up from 33 to 25 is well worth it just to get that extra, cost-controlled year. In addition, there are rumblings that the Browns are interested in Carr at 26, so San Diego should be fielding some trade offers on Thursday night.
The Chargers trade down eight spots and pick up Houston’s 4th and 6th round picks, the 101st and 177th overall selections. That’s receiving 135 cents on the dollar, which makes San Diego happy. The Texans, flush with extra picks from earlier trades, have no qualms about parting with later round picks to secure their man.
Bill O’Brien likes to operate a high-volume, horizontal passing game with a preference for quarterbacks with high grades in accuracy and decision-making. Carr seems to fit that bill pretty well, and he can always ask his brother for real estate tips. Carr won’t have to play right away, as Ryan Fitzpatrick (or Case Keenum) can start while he develops. That’s a luxury his brother never had, and here are two more: Duane Brown and Jake Matthews.
Stunned by the Carr move, the Browns go into the quarterback well to grab Mettenberger. Is this a poor, reactionary move? Not necessarily: the Rams or a mystery team could try to jump into the back end of the first round to jump Cleveland (owner of the 35th pick) for a quarterback. And at this point, Mettenberger, who posted the highest ANY/A average of any passer in the draft, has the potential to make this pick look wise in a few years. After passing on the position at #4, Cleveland can’t afford to take a chance that the music stops with all the quarterback chairs taken.
The new Browns have spent three first round picks on quarterbacks, and come away with Tim Couch, Brady Quinn, and Brandon Weeden. Third round picks on Charlie Frye and Colt McCoy haven’t worked out any better. But with every new coaching staff comes a desire to find their quarterback of the future, and the Browns have certainly had their share of new regimes. For the Ray Farmer/Mike Pettine Browns, finding a quarterback remains a priority. Sure, the team still has Brian Hoyer, but that only means Cleveland doesn’t need to start a rookie quarterback right away. If Hoyer can replicate his strong performance in two games in 2013 for 16 games in 2014, the Browns will be ecstatic. If he can’t, Mettenberger presents a realistic long-term option.
27. New Orleans: Kyle Fuller, CB, Virginia Tech
Fuller is the final piece in fixing one of 2012′s worst pass defenses. That season, Jabari Greer and Patrick Robinson were the starting corners, with Roman Harper and Malcolm Jenkins at safety. Then the Saints signed Keenan Lewis in March 2013 and drafted safety Kenny Vaccaro a month later; this year, New Orleans signed safety Jairus Byrd in March, and rounds out the quartet with Fuller. New Orleans also added Champ Bailey in free agency, who should be the perfect mentor for Fuller.
Even if Bailey winds up starting, Fuller is more than capable of playing nickel in 2014. Some view the Hokie as the most NFL-ready cornerback in the draft. That’s crucial for a win-now team such as New Orleans; the Saints offense is great, but it was also the oldest offense in the NFL last season.
28. Carolina: Calvin Pryor, S, Louisville
Everyone knows that the Panthers are desperate for talent at offensive line and wide receiver. As of right now, the Panthers plan to surround All-Pro center Ryan Kalil with names like Nate Chandler, Amini Silatolu, Garry Williams, and Byron Bell. And at wide receiver, Jerricho Cotchery, Jason Avant, Tavarres King, and Tiquan Underwood top the depth chart, and Carolina will likely experience more turnover in the passing game than any other team in 2014.
Panthers fans were bewildered by Dave Gettleman’s inactivity during free agency, and this pick will only serve to fan the flames. But the Panthers can find a receiver in the second round and reaching on a tackle at the end of the first round isn’t part of the course materials to Roster Construction 101. Carolina’s front seven is outstanding, but the secondary remains a question mark. The safety position is arguably just as ugly as wide receiver or tackle: last year’s safeties are gone, with Michael Mitchell now in Pittsburgh and Quintin Mikell not expected back.3 The Panthers have Robert Lester and signed veterans Thomas DeCoud and Roman Harper, but none of those players prevent Carolina from having one of the worst pairs of safeties in the league.
29. New England: Kelvin Benjamin, WR, Florida State
Another developmental project receiver for New England? If the Kenbrell Thompkins and Aaron Dobson experiments taught the Patriots anything, it’s that you can’t just stick anybody in at wide receiver and expect Tom Brady to turn them into stars. Benjamin is arguably the most physically-gifted wide receiver in this class and would hold that same title in the Patriots locker room.
For the first time since 2002, Tom Brady finished below the league average rates in both yards per attempt and net yards per attempt. For the first time in his career, he finished below average in completion percentage and touchdown rate. Benjamin is not necessarily an ideal Patriots pick because of the complex offense New England runs, but the raw receiver offers the athleticism the team badly needs. Julian Edelman and Danny Amendola are expected to be the top two receivers, but both are better served inside: the addition of the 6’5 Benjamin could help facilitate that switch, and provide a red zone target for when Rob Gronkowski is inevitably unavailable.
30. San Francisco: Marqise Lee, WR, Southern California
The 49ers don’t have many needs, but they fielded the oldest set of pass targets in the NFL last season. This time next May, Anquan Boldin will be 34 and Michael Crabtree could be with another team; San Francisco needs to get younger at receiver, and is still suffering from the A.J. Jenkins whiff with the 30th pick in the 2012 draft. Lee is more quick than fast, and could wind up being better as a slot receiver thanks to his play-making ability in space.
But while the 49ers don’t use many three-receiver sets, San Francisco could get more speed on the field by lining up Vernon Davis on the outside and Lee on the inside when Boldin needs a breather. In the long-term, Lee can be an outside receiver and provide insurance in the event that Crabtree’s contract demands turn unreasonable.
31. Denver: Jason Verrett, CB, Texas Christian
Another team that will be ecstatic if the draft unfolds this way. The Broncos have long-term questions at cornerback: Aqib Talib’s contract could quickly turn into a one-year deal, Chris Harris is recovering from a torn ACL, and Tony Carter has started just three games in five years. By adding DeMarcus Ware to Von Miller, the Broncos have helped the pass defense on the front end; Verrett helps it on the back end, with the goal of preventing long drives that keep Peyton Manning on the sidelines.
32. Seattle: Dee Ford, DE, Auburn
What do you get for the team that has everything? A pass rusher, of course. The Seahawks added an undersized edge rusher in 6’2, 245-pound Bruce Irvin two years ago; after his rookie season, the team moved him to strongside linebacker. The Irvin pick wasn’t a bad one, but it shows both the type of player Seattle looks for and reflects an unfulfilled need. Ford is an undersized edge rusher who checks in at 6’2, 250, and the Seahawks can use someone to get after the quarterback now that Chris Clemons is in Jacksonville.
With Cliff Avril and Michael Bennett still around, defensive end is hardly a position of weakness for Seattle. Then again, those two players arrived in Seattle when the position wasn’t in need of help, either. John Schneider loves competition and athletic defensive players, and Ford can help him check both of those boxes.
Notable prospects entering round two: Bradley Roby, Ryan Shazier, Jimmie Ward, Cyrus Kouandjio, Jace Amaro, Stanley Jean-Baptiste, Kyle Van Noy, and Stephon Tuitt.
- More trivia: seven quarterbacks have led their league in interceptions in three different seasons. As you might suspect, it’s a pretty interesting group: Vinny Testaverde, Norm Snead, Joe Namath, and George Blanda each did it four times, with Manning, Brett Favre, and Sammy Baugh the others. [↩]
- Believe it or not, Vontaze Burfict is not the team’s middle linebacker. [↩]
- He suffered a foot injury in the playoff loss to the 49ers, and is now a free agent; at 34, could end up retiring. [↩]