Biggest Draft Buzz for Every Team from the NFL Combine
Draft season has kicked into high gear in the National Football League, as college football's top prospects have descended on Indianapolis for the 2013 NFL Scouting Combine.
That means the media has descended on Indy as well, and any time you get together this many players, agents and reporters, you're also going to get one other thing.
Rumors and speculation.
There's plenty of that floating around as well, and here's a look at some of the latest draft buzz surrounding each NFL team.
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The Arizona Cardinals have two glaring needs heading into the 2013 NFL draft.
Acquiring a quarterback and offensive linemen to protect him.
At least one reporter believes that the Cardinals will try to do both in the first round of April's draft.
In the latest mock draft from Will Brinson of CBS Sports, Brinson has the Cardinals selecting Central Michigan offensive tackle Eric Fisher with the seventh overall pick.
Brinson then has the Cardinals double-dipping, trading back into the first round to choose North Carolina State quarterback Mike Glennon.
It would be a bold gambit, but one that could pay off big down the line.
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It appears that running back will be something of a priority for the Atlanta Falcons in 2013.
ESPN's Adam Schefter reports that the Falcons will release running back Michael Turner, who is scheduled to make nearly $7 million next season.
This move isn't unexpected, but it increases the likelihood that Atlanta will look for a back to complement Jacquizz Rodgers fairly early in April's draft.
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Scouting rookies isn't the only thing that happens at the combine.
There's also plenty of wheeling and dealing, and for the Super Bowl champions, that might be the most important aspect of this weekend.
As Ryan Mink of the Ravens' website reports, the team is expected to meet with representatives of quarterback Joe Flacco and linebacker Dannell Ellerbe in Indianapolis.
Getting that pair under contract will have a huge impact on Baltimore's draft strategy, from the cap space they'll be working with to the holes they may potentially have to fill.
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The Buffalo Bills are one of a number of NFL teams looking to upgrade at the quarterback position this season.
Unfortunately, even the Buffalo front office admits that this isn't really the best year to do that.
Assistant general manager Doug Whaley told Tim Graham of The Buffalo News that there isn't a "total package" passer available in this year's draft, and that "there will be guys that develop."
That makes the Bills' decision with the eighth overall pick both more difficult and interesting, and leaves their scouting department with a lot of work to do in Indianapolis this week.
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The Carolina Panthers have a number of needs on both sides of the ball, and with an uncertain cap situation, it's not yet known how those needs will be addressed in the days and weeks ahead.
However, as the Panthers gather in Indianapolis Joseph Person of The Charlotte Observer (via The Herald) believes that the draft's top safety should top their wish list.
Person has Texas safety Kenny Vaccaro atop his players to watch list for the Panthers at the combine, stating that "after Haruki Nakamura’s inconsistent play in 2012, the Panthers still have a need. Vaccaro is big (6-1, 215), physical and makes plays (92 tackles, 2 Ints as a senior)."
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The Chicago Bears are nearing the end of an era, as middle linebacker Brian Urlacher is close to the end of the line and set to hit free agency.
However, where the Bears should go from here is apparently a matter of debate.
Says Warja of Te'o: "Te'o is a local kid who played at a high level in what was an outstanding year for the Irish this past season. But like his girlfriend, any dreams of him donning the blue and orange is just a hoax."
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This tidbit comes courtesy of Bleacher Report's own Andrea Hangst, and it concerns a player we've already mentioned.
According to Hangst, who heads up Bleacher Report's AFC North coverage, the Bengals would be well served to take a long look at safety Kenny Vaccaro of Texas, this year's top prospect at the position.
NFL Network draft analyst Mike Mayock agrees, telling Joe Reedy of The Cincinnati Enquirer that "I would love to see Kenny Vaccaro in Cincinnati. He really fits what Mike Zimmer does."
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With the Cleveland Browns selecting sixth in April's draft and making the switch to the 3-4 defense, there's one player that's been mentioned in many mock drafts that makes a lot of sense for the Browns.
That is, assuming he checks out medically at the combine.
The NFL Network's Mike Mayock told Mary Kay Cabot of The Cleveland Plain Dealer that, assuming his spinal stenosis doesn't raise red flags, Georgia linebacker Jarvis Jones would be a good fit for the Browns in the first round:
I think Jarvis Jones is the guy, as long as he checks out medically, whose value is commensurate with the sixth pick. I'm not as big on (Florida State's) Bjoern Werner at six, or (Texas A&M's) Damontre Moore at six. Other people will be, but I'm not.
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The 2012 season was a disappointment for the Dallas Cowboys, and the team enters an offseason of change with a number of holes to fill.
Those holes are especially apparent on defense, where the team is making the switch to the 4-3 defense under new coordinator Monte Kiffin.
The NFL Network's Daniel Jeremiah thinks that Dallas might be well served to consider looking at Florida defensive tackle Sharrif Floyd to aid in that transition.
According to Jeremiah "everybody" in the league has Floyd graded as a top-five player in the 2013 draft, with Jeremiah stating that "He's a special pass rusher. You put him in a three-technique, he's capable of getting you double-digit sacks."
The 3-technique was the position manned by Warren Sapp in Kiffin's defenses in Tampa Bay.
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The 2013 NFL draft is fairly top heavy along the offensive front.
That's a very good thing for the Denver Broncos.
Only one of the Broncos starting offensive linemen (Zane Beadles) is on schedule for full participation in the team's offseason program, which begins in April.
However, as Jeff Legwold of The Denver Post reports, head coach John Fox has said the team won't let this apparent need drive their draft plans, stating that it "will all be part of the evaluation process."
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2012 was an absolute nightmare for the Detroit Lions, who followed up their first playoff appearance in over a decade with a 12-loss debacle of a season.
Tim Twentyman of the Lions' website points out that the Lions may look to fill a variety of holes with a single player who isn't lacking for confidence.
West Virginia wideout Tavon Austin, who told reporters at the combine that "I think I am the all-around best player in the draft,” is capable of hurting teams as a runner, receiver and returner.
Those are all areas where the Lions need help, and as Austin himself said “A lot of teams are looking for the type of player who can do multiple things and I think I’m that guy.”
Green Bay Packers
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The Green Bay Packers have assembled one of the NFL's strongest rosters primarily by building through the draft.
As head coach Mike McCarthy told Weston Hodkiewicz of The Green Bay Press-Gazette, "We’re a draft-and-develop football team."
This year, Hodkiewicz believes that with Donald Driver retiring, Greg Jennings a free agent and James Jones in the last year of his contract, it may be time for the Packers to look at the wide receiver position.
Hodkiewicz points out that general manager Ted Thompson has never taken a receiver in the first round, but he lists USC's Robert Woods and Louisiana Tech’s Quinton Patton as potential day two targets.
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This time of year there are a multitude of mock drafts floating around, and over at the Houston Texans' website, Nick Scurfield has been combing through them to get a feel for what direction draftniks see the Texans taking.
The prevailing wisdom appears to be that the Texans will select a wide receiver in the first round, with 10 of 17 mocks going that route.
However, when it comes to an individual player it's defense that won the imaginary day, as LSU's Kevin Minter, an inside linebacker, was the leading choice with four selections.
The Indianapolis Colts get something of an advantage at combine time, even if it's only because they don't have to travel to get to it.
Coming off a surprising playoff run in 2012, Bleacher Report NFL Draft Lead Writer Matt Miller believes that the Colts may look to replace the departed Dwight Freeney in the first round, perhaps with a player such as Alex Okafor of Texas.
Miller also feels that offensive tackle could be a position that the Colts will look at early, especially if Oklahoma's Lane Johnson is still on the board.
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As the Jacksonville Jaguars' new regime attempts to rebuild the team, it appears that they're ready to take things slow and steady.
That's the indication from new general manager David Caldwell, who told reporters at the combine that the team plans to build through the draft rather than free agency, according to John Oehser of the Jaguars' website.
Whether that means the Jaguars will take a "quantity over quality" approach a la the St. Louis Rams in 2012 and trade down from the second overall pick remains to be seen.
Kansas City Chiefs
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The Kansas City Chiefs have the first pick in April's NFL draft, so there's no shortage of speculation about what the Chiefs plan to do with the pick.
However, it's a player already on the roster that could have the biggest impact on what direction Kansas City takes.
Left tackle Branden Albert is an impending free agent, and as ESPN reported from Indianapolis, if Albert were to walk the team would likely take a very long look at Texas A&M tackle Luke Joeckel.
Head coach Andy Reid told ESPN Thursday that he hasn't yet sat down with Joeckel, but that he "looks forward to having that opportunity," and that Joeckel is "a pretty good football player."
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The Miami Dolphins were a somewhat surprising 7-9 in 2012, but if they want to improve upon that mark in 2013, the Dolphins need to improve the offensive weaponry at quarterback Ryan Tannehill's disposal.
Andy Kent of the Dolphins' website reports that one way that Miami could accomplish that goal is with an upgrade at the tight end position.
Players such as Notre Dame’s Tyler Eifert and Stanford’s Zach Ertz, widely considered the top two prospects at their position this season, are big bodies in the mold of Rob Gronkowski more than capable of doing damage as a receiver over the middle.
One or both of those players should be available when the Dolphins pick twice in the second round, and it's very important that the Dolphins make that extra second-rounder count.
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The Minnesota Vikings were a playoff team in 2012, but as the team readies for the 2013 season, it's easy to see where the biggest hole is on offense.
That would be at wide receiver, and that's before even factoring in the uncertainty surrounding Percy Harvin.
As Ben Goessling of The St. Paul Pioneer-Press reports, it's widely believed that the Vikings will attack the wideout spot early in the draft.
Players such as Tennessee's Cordarelle Patterson, California's Keenan Allen, Louisiana Tech's Quinton Patton and Baylor's Terrance Williams will all draw plenty of attention from Vikings scouts at the combine.
New England Patriots
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Much of what I just said about the Minnesota Vikings also applies to the New England Patriots, although the circumstances are different.
With Wes Welker, Julian Edelman and Deion Branch set to hit free agency, and Brandon Lloyd due a $3 million option next season, the Patriots may be looking at a complete overhaul of the wide receiver position.
That likely means that New England's scouts will be watching the wideout workouts in Indy every bit as intently as Minnesota's, and Nick Underhill of MassLive.com reports that the team has already scheduled meetings with Patterson and Robert Woods of USC.
New Orleans Saints
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In 2012, the New Orleans Saints defense was more offensive than their offense was.
The defense was absolutely horrible last season, and with the team making the switch to a 3-4 front, that half of the roster is in for a significant overhaul.
A big part of making that switch a success is adding edge rushers, and as Larry Holder of The New Orleans Times-Picayune reports, Mike Mayock of the NFL Network sees a number of options available to the Saints with the 15th overall pick.
I think a 3-4 outside linebacker, an edge guy makes a ton of sense for them. And a guy like (Oregon's) Dion Jordan could be there. Your guy, (LSU's Barkevious) Mingo, could be there. Jamie Collins in the second round. I think they need a 3-4 explosive outside linebacker, and there is no doubt about that.
New York Giants
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The New York Giants' Super Bowl defense didn't go exactly as planned in 2012, and the team's attempts to make it back it back to the playoffs in 2013 are complicated by a sticky salary cap situation.
The Giants have already cut several veterans in cost-cutting moves. Paul Tierney of Giants 101 speculates that those moves could continue with the release of cornerback Corey Webster, who counts more than $9 million against the cap in 2013 and was awful last season.
If Webster is indeed let go, Tierney believes that could motivate Big Blue to take a look at Johnthan Banks of Mississippi State, who won the Thorpe Award as college football's top defensive back in 2012.
New York Jets
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This will come as a surprise to absolutely no one, but the New York Jets are in desperate need of a quarterback.
It's not a matter of if the Jets will take a quarterback so much as when, and with wildly varying opinions on a closely packed class of signal-callers, opinions on who the Jets should take are all over the place.
According to Bleacher Report AFC East Lead Writer Erik Frenz, if the Jets are looking for a player that can start sooner as opposed to later, then Matt Barkley of USC is the right call.
Granted, the idea of another USC quarterback taking the reins may freak some Jets fans out, but to Barkley's credit, to the best of my knowledge he has zero career butt-fumbles.
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The Oakland Raiders are a team very much in flux, as they try to crawl out from under years of bad draft picks and even worse contracts.
The Raiders hold the third overall pick this year, and general manager Reggie McKenzie recently told Bill Williamson of ESPN that the Raiders hope to add a "dominant player" with that selection.
However, McKenzie also stated that the Raiders remain open to trading down, although that may not be likely given that the top of this year's class is somewhat lacking in "star power," especially at quarterback.
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A big part of the scouting combine is the interview process, where incoming players answer questions and pitch teams on why they would be a good fit.
At least one youngster has gotten a head start on this process, as Florida State quarterback E.J. Manuel has been lobbying the Philadelphia Eagles to draft him since last month's Senior Bowl.
New Eagles head coach Chip Kelly recruited Manuel while he was at Oregon, and Manuel is the sort of mobile quarterback that Kelly's spread-option offense calls for, so there is something of a fit here.
Whether any fire will come from all this smoke, however, remains to be seen.
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If reports are to be believed, then the Pittsburgh Steelers may already have their eyes on a potential first-round pick.
According to Tony Pauline of Draft Insider, the Steelers are "drooling" over the prospects of selecting BYU defensive end Ezekiel Ansah and shifting him to 3-4 outside linebacker.
The $64 question here is whether the Steelers would even get the chance to fulfill that wish, as many draft pundits believe that Ansah will already be off the board by the 17th pick.
San Diego Chargers
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The San Diego Chargers are one of a number of NFL teams with a new regime in place in 2013, but it probably took the new crew about eight seconds to realize what the biggest issue on the roster was.
The offensive line needs all the help it can get.
The team has yet to decide the future of left tackle Jared Gaither, although it may meet with him at the combine.
Regardless of Gaither's fate, the line needs upgraded.
Luckily for the Chargers the NFL Network's Mike Mayock believes a number of options make sense for San Diego with the 11th pick, according to Ryan Schuler of the Chargers' website.
They include guards Chance Warmack of Alabama and Jonathan Cooper of North Carolina, and tackles Eric Fisher of Central Michigan and Lane Johnson of Oklahoma.
San Francisco 49ers
The San Francisco 49ers came up just short in Super Bowl XLVII, but with 14 draft picks in 2013 the 49ers should have ample opportunity to improve their team this spring.
Bleacher Report NFL Draft Lead Writer Matt Miller expects the 49ers to use that bevy of picks to both move up and down the draft board and address a secondary that was the weak spot of their defense in 2012, mentioning Washington cornerback Desmond Trufant as a potential target late in Round 1.
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The Seattle Seahawks enjoyed a successful 11-win season in 2012, but the team has a large hole to fill this season.
Defensive end Chris Clemons, who led the team in sacks a year ago, tore his ACL in the playoffs, leaving his availability for the 2013 season opener very much in doubt.
Add in that Clemons is well the wrong side of 30, and pass rush help is at the top of Seattle's wish list.
Eric Williams of The Tacoma News-Tribune (via The Kitsap Sun) mentioned Texas defensive end Alex Okafor and UCLA's Datone Jones as potential replacements that the Seahawks will be watching closely in Indianapolis.
St. Louis Rams
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Not only did the St. Louis Rams make significant strides in Jeff Fisher's first year as head coach, but the team has an excellent shot at keeping that momentum going with a pair of first-round picks in April's draft.
The Rams may well look to use one of those picks to bolster the offensive line with a player such as North Carolina guard Jonathan Cooper.
That would mark the first time in Fisher's 17 years as a head coach that one of his teams drafted an offensive lineman in the first round.
Fisher told Nick Wagoner of the Rams' website that that's been more coincidence than plan, stating that “Yeah, I’d draft just about anything in the first round except maybe a kicker or a punter.”
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
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The Tampa Bay Buccaneers have quite a bit of salary cap space in 2013, but they also have two potentially glaring holes on defense.
The defensive front is an issue, especially with the Buccaneers apparently unwilling to use the franchise tag on end Michael Bennett, while the secondary is badly in need of improvement.
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Last year, the Tennessee Titans somewhat puzzlingly chose not to address the interior of the offensive line.
After struggling through another season with inferior guard play, it's unlikely that happens again.
Conventional wisdom dictates that the 10th overall pick is rather high for a guard, but this year's draft has a pair of top-flight prospects at the position in Alabama's Chance Warmack and North Carolina's Jonathan Cooper.
The majority of mock drafts have one of those two players headed to Nashville.
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The Washington Redskins have to maximize the bang they get for their draft buck this season, as the team has no first-round pick.
The Redskins also badly need to bolster a secondary that was among the worst in the NFL last year.
Perhaps Washington can find another small-school gem from the state of Florida similar to running back Alfred Morris, who went from sixth-round pick to second in the NFL in rushing.
Mike Jones of The Washington Post speculates that Florida International safety Jonathan Cyprien, who has been steadily climbing draft boards, might be that player, especially if he has a strong combine.