The best quarterback at the Senior Bowl, Derek Carr remains projected as an early first-round pick.
Though there are still more than three months remaining until the 2014 NFL draft, the last opportunity to watch top prospects play in a live, fully padded football game came and went on Saturday at the annual Senior Bowl in Mobile, Ala.
For as much talk as there will be throughout February, March and April going into May about the draft stock of top prospects, none of that will have to do with anything about a football game that has not already been played.
That doesn’t mean the work leading up to the NFL draft, for players or teams, is close to being done. Prospects must prepare to impress teams in predraft workouts and in interviews, while teams will continue to study the tape of as many prospects as possible to determine which players could bring the most value to their teams.
Still, all the events still to come that could cause draft projections to fluctuate should be considered secondary to what the players have already shown in game action. As a result, it is possible to determine a player’s approximate draft value, even though much is sure to change from now until the draft on May 8-10.
Notes: The official order of the No. 16-17 overall selections will be determined by a coin flip at the NFL Scouting Combine. The winner of the Super Bowl will hold the No. 32 overall pick, while the loser will have the No. 31 overall selection.
Compensatory picks have not yet been announced by the league and are not included here.
In a Senior Bowl week where good quarterback play was hard to come by, it only became clearer that the Houston Texans’ No. 1 overall pick should be an underclassman quarterback.
For the most part, media prognosticators have had one of three signal-callers—Louisville’s Teddy Bridgewater, Texas A&M’s Johnny Manziel or UCF’s Blake Bortles—slotted into the top spot.
There is a legitimate case to be made for any of the three quarterbacks, but Bridgewater is the most complete and polished of the trio.
The Louisville product has the mechanics and footwork of a polished veteran. He throws the ball downfield with strong accuracy and velocity, both inside the pocket and on the run. He is also a smart decision-maker with demonstrated leadership qualities and toughness.
Some have expressed concerns about his slight frame and inconsistent deep balls, but there are no major issues in his game that should stop him from being a very good, if not elite, NFL starting quarterback. The Texans could quickly return to playoff contention under new head coach Bill O’Brien if they find the right quarterback, and Bridgewater is the best bet to be that guy.
The St. Louis Rams could put the No. 2 overall pick, part of the king’s ransom they acquired from the Washington Redskins for the No. 2 pick in 2012, on the trade block again. They could entice a team that is looking to move up for one of the draft’s top quarterbacks or for a rare talent in South Carolina defensive end Jadeveon Clowney.
If one prospect persuades them to turn down a strong trade offer, it could be Texas A&M offensive tackle Jake Matthews. Arguably the best prospect in the entire draft class, he would immediately upgrade an offensive line in need of restocking.
The Rams could make multiple positions on their offensive line better by drafting Matthews. Having played on both sides of the line at A&M, he could start right away at right tackle, which would allow Joe Barksdale to shift inside and improve an area of greater need at guard.
Matthews could also fill in at left tackle if Jake Long has any setbacks in his recovery from the torn ACL and MCL in his right knee. Having just undergone surgery earlier this week, according to Jim Thomas of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Long’s status for the beginning of the season could be in jeopardy.
Even if the Rams are confident in Long’s prognosis by May, Matthews would still be the best choice here for both need and value. While there has traditionally been a stigma against right tackles being early first-round picks, that was shattered last year when that position, at least in terms of the positions that the selections played in 2013, made up three of the draft’s top five selections.
Although the Jacksonville Jaguars need a quarterback as badly as any other team, a signal-caller would not be the best selection in this scenario. With Bridgewater off the board, no available quarterback is nearly as enticing of a prospect as South Carolina defensive end Jadeveon Clowney.
The Jaguars tied for dead last in the NFL this season with only 31 sacks. The selection of Clowney could go a long way in changing that.
An explosive athlete with an exceptional combination of size, speed, power and pass-rushing moves, he projects as an immediate-impact pass-rusher in the NFL.
Skeptics might point out that he had only three sacks for the Gamecocks in 2013, but that was largely due to the consistent double- and triple-team blocks he drew. He can bring pressure both off the edge and inside, and he enables the men around him to make more plays by freeing them up.
Clowney has rare upside that will make him tough for any team to pass up, but in need of impact players and with one of the NFL’s most starved-for-talent rosters, the Jaguars won't look anywhere else.
When the Cleveland Browns held the No. 4 overall pick in the 2012 NFL draft, they faced a difficult decision: Draft Texas A&M quarterback Ryan Tannehill or wait to draft a quarterback with their second first-round pick and instead select Alabama running back Trent Richardson or Oklahoma State wide receiver Justin Blackmon?
The Browns chose Richardson and used their second first-round pick at No. 22 to select Oklahoma State quarterback Brandon Weeden. Two years later, with Richardson already gone from the Browns and Weeden seemingly on his way out, per ESPN.com's Pat McManamon, Cleveland is in a remarkably similar situation.
With the No. 26 overall pick also in their possession, the Browns’ choice at No. 4 could once again come down to drafting a Texas A&M quarterback—Johnny Manziel—or adding an impact player at another skill position in Clemson wide receiver Sammy Watkins.
That’s not to say their 2012 failure should dictate their 2014 selection. The Browns have a different coach (Mike Pettine), general manager (Mike Lombardi) and team president (Joe Banner) than they had then (Pat Shurmur, Tom Heckert Jr. and Mike Holmgren, respectively).
That said, Manziel could be the guy for Cleveland. Although he is a high-risk top-five selection who has many flaws in his game as a pocket passer, he is a special playmaking talent whom the Browns could regret passing up.
The Browns might have a new brain trust in place, but their return to winning ways is only going to happen when they find long-sought stability at the quarterback position. Whether they would get that from Manziel is uncertain, but he has the potential to make the Cleveland offense the most dynamic it has been since the franchise’s reincarnation.
The Oakland Raiders defense needs an impact player and specifically a pass-rusher, especially with defensive end Lamarr Houston slated for unrestricted free agency.
With Jadeveon Clowney off the board, there is no true 4-3 defensive end prospect available with top-five value. That said, UCLA’s Anthony Barr is a versatile defensive playmaker who is expected to be a very high selection, and the Raiders might deem him worthy of a shot with this selection.
His game is technically raw, largely due to him only playing two years at linebacker after switching from running back. He is an explosive athlete who can make plays all over the field, however, and he has demonstrated pass-rushing ability.
The biggest concern would be whether he is a true fit in a 4-3 defense. He needs to become stronger at the line of scrimmage to play defensive end or improve in tackling and coverage to be a linebacker.
Nonetheless, Barr has significant playmaking ability and upside, with a likely role as a strong-side linebacker who can kick down to defensive end in pass-rushing situations.
The Atlanta Falcons need to reinforce their personnel on both the offensive and defensive lines. The team could go either way with its first-round pick, but the best talent available on either side of the ball in this scenario would be Auburn offensive tackle Greg Robinson.
Atlanta’s recently hired offensive line coach Mike Tice is, as Bleacher Report’s Scott Carasik described him, a “smash the opponent in the face, punch him in the gut, and ask questions later type” of offensive line coach. Robinson, a terrific power run-blocker, embodies that style.
He can drive his opponents off the line of scrimmage and knock them into the dirt. Standing at 6'5" and 320 pounds, Robinson has terrific size and length for the position.
He is also a fantastic athlete, as Falcons general manager Thomas Dimitroff described to ESPN’s Vaughn McClure last week:
He’s got such natural ability. He’s a little younger. As the season went on, he really started to dominate at that level. It’s always a very important thing to see a guy who still has a little bit of development to show how much upside he has. It’s about his athleticism. It’s about his upside. It’s about his ability and his range on the football field.
Robinson could be an immediate upgrade for the Falcons at right tackle over projected starter Lamar Holmes, but could also provide insurance at left tackle for Sam Baker, who is recovering from a season-ending knee injury. Either way, he would be a great selection as arguably the best player available in this scenario.
As the most dynamic playmaker in the 2014 NFL draft class, Clemson wide receiver Sammy Watkins is expected to be a very high draft pick. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers could use another weapon on their offense and could do no better than landing him.
The Buccaneers have a solid set of starting wideouts in Vincent Jackson and Mike Williams, but have little else at the position. Watkins projects as an immediate impact player either on the outside or from the slot while also contributing as a return specialist and gadget-play runner.
A wide receiver with the potential to turn any play into a big one, he would bring a new dimension to the Tampa Bay offense. He has the speed to leave defensive backs in the dust, the open-field quickness to make defenders miss and the strength to run through contact.
It is uncertain whether the Buccaneers plan to proceed with Mike Glennon as their quarterback under a new head coach and general manager, but regardless of their long-term plans under center, they should give their signal-caller more weapons to work with.
Watkins can make the Tampa Bay offense instantaneously more dangerous, regardless of who is throwing him the ball. He is also arguably the best player available in this scenario.
While it was a rough week overall for quarterbacks at the Senior Bowl, Fresno State’s Derek Carr was the clear standout of the group. Displaying as much pocket-passing potential as any quarterback in this draft class, he just might have performed well enough to sell the Minnesota Vikings on drafting him if he is available with the No. 8 overall pick.
The Vikings went from a playoff team to far from it in 2013, and one of the biggest reasons why was the revolving door of Christian Ponder, Matt Cassel and, for one game, Josh Freeman at quarterback.
Minnesota’s new offensive coordinator Norv Turner has traditionally centered his offenses around strong-armed pocket passers who can deliver the ball quickly and efficiently at all levels.
Carr fits the bill. While he has some issues with footwork and decision-making under pressure, he is a usually accurate passer who can zip the ball through tight windows and had outstanding productivity at Fresno State.
UCF’s Blake Bortles could also be the pick here, but for a team that needs a quarterback who can step in and play right away, Carr is the more NFL-ready option. After a solid showing in Mobile, it would be a surprise if he is not an early draft selection.
Under new defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz, the Buffalo Bills will likely be based in a 4-3 defensive scheme next season, which only increases their need for another middle or weak-side linebacker who can play alongside Kiko Alonso.
Considering that he should be able to play immediately at either of those positions, Alabama’s C.J. Mosley would be a great fit in Buffalo.
The Bills need another linebacker who can make plays against the run, and they can get that from Mosley. Though he does not have great size for the position—he's listed at 6’2” and 238 pounds on Alabama’s official athletics website—he is a physical run-stopper who has little trouble getting off blocks.
He is a very good athlete with sideline-to-sideline range. Both an exceptional blitzer and fluid in coverage, he can be an every-down player. By having the ability to play in the middle, he can free up Alonso to make more plays outside and in coverage.
The Bills could stay local and draft Buffalo’s Khalil Mack, who could fit as a hybrid defensive end/outside linebacker for the Wide 9 scheme that Schwartz ran in Detroit. That said, Mosley is a more natural fit for the 4-3 defense and is the run-stopper that the team needs.
Kyle Van Noy has not gotten the buzz as a top-10 draft selection that Anthony Barr and Khalil Mack have, but a strong week at the Senior Bowl only made it more evident that the BYU outside linebacker has the all-around game to be a star.
He has the versatility to do it all. He is a strong tackler who can make plays from sideline to sideline as a run defender. Against the pass, he is both a skilled edge rusher and very good at dropping back into coverage.
A playmaker everywhere he lines up on the field, he can be a great fit for the aggressive, multi-front defense that new Detroit Lions defensive coordinator Teryl Austin told Justin Rogers of MLive.com he plans to run. To run a 4-3 defense with 3-4 elements, the Lions need to add a hybrid strong-side linebacker, which is where Van Noy can be a great fit.
Khalil Mack would also be a strong choice at No. 10 overall, but Van Noy shouldn’t be overlooked. While he might not be quite as strong or explosive as Mack, he has the most polished, well-rounded game of any outside linebacker in this year’s draft class.
The Lions received promising results from another BYU product, Ezekiel Ansah, in his rookie season in 2013. Reuniting Ansah and Van Noy, who formed a dynamic duo for the Cougars in 2012, could make one of the league’s best defensive front sevens even better.
Expected to be based out of the 3-4 scheme under new defensive coordinator Ray Horton, the Tennessee Titans are in need of a pass-rushing outside linebacker. They could get that from Buffalo’s Khalil Mack, who could also be considered the best player available in this scenario.
Mack is an explosive athlete who emerged as an excellent pass-rusher in his senior season. He has a great burst off the line of scrimmage, the speed to run around offensive tackles and the pass-rushing moves and strength to beat blockers inside or drive them back.
The Buffalo product is also a strong run defender both at the point of attack and in pursuit. Furthermore, his ability to drop back into coverage and make plays will make him a tough player for opposing offenses to game-plan against.
Mack was one of college football’s best playmakers in 2013, recording 19 tackles for loss (10.5 sacks), 100 total tackles, 10 passes defensed (three interceptions) and five forced fumbles.
He has the measurables and polished skill set to immediately be an impact player in the NFL, especially if he can make the natural transition into a 3-4 defense.
The New York Giants have a massive need at linebacker, so a scenario where Anthony Barr, C.J. Mosley, Kyle Van Noy and Khalil Mack are all off the board by the No. 12 overall pick would not be ideal.
That said, they also have an ongoing need at cornerback, where Corey Webster has a voidable contract and is no longer a legitimate starting option opposite Prince Amukamara. Oklahoma State’s Justin Gilbert is the top playmaker among defensive backs in this year’s draft class and would be a solid addition for New York in the middle of the first round.
A very good athlete who excelled throughout his Oklahoma State career at making plays on the ball, he emerged as a true shutdown cornerback in his senior year. He combines great size (6'0", 200 lbs) and athleticism with terrific instincts and ball skills.
Gilbert can improve the New York defense in coverage and give it another player with big-play potential. He is the most talented cornerback in this year’s draft class, and he might finally give the Giants the player they crave for cornerback to stop being an annual need.
The Oklahoma State product could also make an immediate difference as a kickoff returner if he is used in that capacity. He returned six kickoffs for touchdowns in his collegiate career.
If the St. Louis Rams don’t trade down from the No. 2 overall pick, they could work the phones again at No. 13. If they stay put, targeting a defensive playmaker would make sense after going offensive line with their first pick.
They improved at safety in 2013 with T.J. McDonald and Rodney McLeod, but they still lack a player at the position who can handle center-field responsibilities on his own. They can get that from Alabama’s Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, a rangy athlete who can make big plays on the ball in coverage.
Clinton-Dix still needs to become a more disciplined player, but he has the speed and hip fluidity to cover receivers deep downfield. He can also make an impact in run support and against intermediate passing as a physical hitter and sound tackler on the back end.
He will not be one of the best overall talents available at the No. 13 overall selection, but he has the most upside of any safety, where there is more demand than talent in the draft. The Rams might not be able to get a top safety with a Day 2 draft pick, so they would be smart to take a shot on Clinton-Dix here.
Even if the Chicago Bears are able to re-sign Henry Melton, they should be looking to reinforce an interior defensive line that struggled against the run this season. A gigantic, gap-plugging nose tackle like Notre Dame’s Louis Nix III could fit the bill.
He had a disappointing final season for the Fighting Irish and is recovering from a torn meniscus, but he has the most playmaking potential of any defensive tackle in this year’s draft class.
Listed at 6'2" and 345 pounds by NFLDraftScout.com, Nix’s size and power alone make handling him a task for any opposing offensive line. On top of that, he has very good quickness for his size and can make plays as a penetrator.
If the Bears think the first round of the draft is where they should start rebuilding their interior defensive line, they shouldn’t have to look far from Lake Michigan. Nix has the potential to be the powerful interior presence on their defensive line that Stephen Paea hasn’t quite panned out to be.
The Pittsburgh Steelers have a history of strong defensive lines and addressing that position early in drafts, and that could be a possibility again with this year’s No. 15 overall selection.
Notre Dame’s Stephon Tuitt would be a great fit for the Steelers, who should be in the market for another starting 5-technique defensive end, with 35-year-old Brett Keisel and underperforming Ziggy Hood both slated for unrestricted free agency.
Tuitt has the size of a defensive tackle, listed at 6’6” and 312 pounds by NFLDraftScout.com, with the athleticism of a defensive end. He does not have the explosion off the edge to be a serious pass-rushing threat in a 4-3 defense, but he projects well as an interior pass-rusher and run-stopper in a three-man front.
He does not value as a top-15 draft pick, but there are few prospects like him in this year’s draft class, making it highly unlikely he would be available with the Steelers’ second-round pick.
Should Pittsburgh continue to emphasize its defensive line, Tuitt is the most natural fit at this selection, but trading down or selecting Michigan State cornerback Darqueze Dennard could also be strong possibilities.
If Texas A&M wide receiver Mike Evans falls to the No. 16 or 17 overall selection, the Baltimore Ravens would be hard-pressed to pass him up.
A big, strong and physical wide receiver with great body control, he has many of the same traits that Anquan Boldin brought to the Ravens offense from 2010-12. His speed might prove to be subpar for the position, but he makes up for it with his ability to make contested catches against coverage.
Evans has fantastic size for the position (6’5”, 225 lbs) and is a good open-field runner for his build. He has to develop as a route-runner and catch the ball more consistently, but he has star potential.
The Ravens found one big, productive receiver last season in undrafted rookie Marlon Brown, but the offense lacks dynamic playmakers outside of Torrey Smith. The addition of a tough-to-defend target like Evans could provide a quick spark and help get quarterback Joe Flacco back on the right track.
One of the most outstanding players throughout Senior Bowl week was Minnesota defensive tackle Ra’Shede Hageman, who stood out for his ability to explode off the snap and beat his opponents with not only quickness but power and pass-rushing moves.
He has the potential to be a difference-maker in the middle of an NFL defensive line, and he brings the versatility to play multiple positions to any defensive scheme. With the frame (6’6”, 318 lbs) and strength of a nose tackle but the athleticism of a defensive end, he could play either defensive tackle spot in the middle of the Dallas Cowboys defense.
The Cowboys have retained defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin despite his terrible 2013 season, but if Dallas is going to get its defense back on track, one of its biggest needs is to retool the interior defensive line.
Dallas is at risk of losing its top penetrator at the position, Jason Hatcher, as an unrestricted free agent. Meanwhile, it needs an upgrade at nose tackle over Nick Hayden.
Hageman can be a three-down player as a run-stuffer and pass-rusher who can either shoot gaps or occupy blocks to free up his teammates. If the Cowboys decide to employ more three-man defensive fronts in 2014, he could also kick out to defensive end in those packages.
The New York Jets need to upgrade at tight end and add a downfield playmaker to their offense. They could get the best player available in both of those capacities by selecting North Carolina’s Eric Ebron.
The Jets have no weapons on their offense who can consistently create defensive mismatches. Ebron, who has the athleticism of a wide receiver and the size of a tight end (6’4”, 245 pounds), could change that.
Although he lines up at tight end and does his best work over the middle, he is typically flexed away from the offensive tackle and can also be used outside or in the slot. His size and speed make him a problematic matchup for safeties and linebackers, while he leaps well to high-point catches and can make defenders miss with open-field moves.
He is not particularly strong as an in-line run blocker and might never be, but he could instantly make an uninspiring Jets offense more difficult to defend.
While it is up for debate whether he is best suited to play offensive tackle or guard at the next level, Notre Dame’s Zack Martin’s outstanding performance during Senior Bowl week made it evident that he should be considered the third-best offensive lineman in this year’s draft class behind Jake Matthews and Greg Robinson.
He spent most of Senior Bowl week at left tackle, the position he played at Notre Dame, and he was dominant. While his short arms (32 1/4”) might suggest he should move inside, he displayed great strength, good footwork and consistent hand placement as he handled just about every pass-rusher he faced in Mobile.
The Miami Dolphins have a major need for new starting offensive tackles, and whether he plays at the left or right side of the line, Martin looks like the best available in this scenario.
Even if he was considered a better fit at guard, the Dolphins have issues there as well and could play him at that position. That said, his technically sound game and physical skills should allow him to overcome his measurables and step in as a solid starter on an NFL offensive line.
The Arizona Cardinals should stick with Carson Palmer as their starting quarterback in 2014, but they should also be preparing for the future without him, as he is 34 years old and on an expiring contract.
If UCF’s Blake Bortles is still available when the Cardinals select with the No. 20 overall pick, he could be the perfect fit to develop behind Palmer.
A big quarterback with a strong arm and good mobility, he has drawn comparisons to Ben Roethlisberger, according to Dane Brugler of NFLDraftScout.com. Arizona Cardinals head coach Bruce Arians worked with Big Ben as the Pittsburgh Steelers offensive coordinator from 2007-11.
Bortles still needs to become more consistent with footwork, downfield accuracy, mechanics and reading defenses. His abilities to throw deep from the pocket and make big plays on the run, however, give him the potential to develop into a very good NFL starting quarterback.
Throwing him into the fire could be a recipe for disaster if an NFL team tries to do it in 2014, but the Cardinals could provide a perfect situation for him. With an opportunity to develop for a year rather than start right away, Bortles could polish his skill set within a system that is well-suited for his game.
Considering the Green Bay Packers have a major need at free safety, where M.D. Jennings has not developed into a starting-caliber NFL player, it is unlikely that they would let rising Louisville safety Calvin Pryor fall past the No. 21 overall selection.
With two teams sitting directly behind them that also need free safety help, the Packers will need to hold onto this pick to land a first-round talent at the position. A fluid athlete with great size (6’2”, 208 lbs) and very good ball skills, Pryor has the potential to be the best safety from this year’s draft class.
He might have some growing pains if thrust quickly into a center-field coverage role, but he has the potential to develop into a terrific pass defender at the position. He is also a big hitter who is very strong in run support from the back end.
A tight end such as Washington’s Austin Seferian-Jenkins or offensive tackle such as Michigan’s Taylor Lewan would also make sense in this spot, but there should be more depth available at those positions on Day 2 than at safety.
With Riley Cooper and Jeremy Maclin both set to become unrestricted free agents, the Philadelphia Eagles have a potential need at wide receiver. Even if they bring Cooper and/or Maclin back, USC’s Marqise Lee would still make sense as a very good value selection at the No. 22 overall pick.
Lee doesn’t wow with speed like Sammy Watkins or size like Mike Evans, but he might be the draft class’ most well-rounded receiver. He is a natural hands catcher who glides in the open field and runs terrific routes.
The USC product might not run away from many NFL cornerbacks with his speed alone, but he could excel as an intermediate receiver. He projects well both outside and from the slot, and he has the vision, quickness and downfield acceleration to extend plays into bigger gains.
Considering he caught 20 passes for 344 yards and three touchdowns in just two collegiate games against Chip Kelly-led Oregon teams, the Eagles head coach should know him well. Matt Barkley, an Eagles backup quarterback who passed to Lee for two seasons at USC, could also vouch for his former top target.
Projected Trade: The San Francisco 49ers trade the No. 30 and No. 94 overall selections to the Kansas City Chiefs for the No. 23 overall selection.
In part due to the trade last offseason that sent quarterback Alex Smith to the Kansas City Chiefs, the San Francisco 49ers hold five selections in the first three rounds of the draft, while the Chiefs only have two.
That gives the 49ers, who showed last year their willingness to trade up to add an impact player, the flexibility to move up in the draft should they wish to do so. The Chiefs, on the other hand, have no obvious choice at No. 23 overall with Calvin Pryor and Marqise Lee off the board and could look to trade down to get another selection on Day 2.
Another trade between these teams would make sense for both parties, and in this scenario, it would give the 49ers a chance to draft a player who would be a very good fit for their defense in Michigan State’s Darqueze Dennard.
Potentially set to lose cornerback Tarell Brown to free agency, the 49ers might need a new No. 1 player at the position. Dennard is an instinctive, physical defensive back who excels in press coverage and can match up with top receivers on an island.
He does not have great size and speed for the position, but his technical skill set and ball skills have made him a projected first-round pick. He could make an immediate impact for the 49ers, who need to continue rebuilding their secondary but have more early-round picks than pressing needs.
With no major roster needs, the Cincinnati Bengals should be looking for a high-upside player with their first-round draft pick. In this scenario, there might not be a player on the board with more value and potential than Missouri defensive end Kony Ealy.
With Michael Johnson likely on his way out of Cincinnati as an unrestricted free agent, adding another pass-rusher could be a smart early move for the Bengals in this year’s draft.
Ealy is an explosive edge defender with a terrific combination of length, strength and burst for the defensive end position. He is far from a finished product, especially as a run defender, but he has the ability to both beat blockers around the edge and penetrate inside.
The Bengals could utilize him both outside and inside as a rotational pass-rusher, while his development could turn him into an excellent starter in time. Given the chance to select Ealy at the No. 24 overall pick, Cincinnati could end up with a steal in time.
It’s unusual for a collegiate right tackle to be a top-15 draft pick, but the San Diego Chargers’ No. 11 overall pick in last year’s draft, D.J. Fluker, played on the right side at Alabama in part due to the presence of Cyrus Kouandjio at left tackle. Should Kouandjio be available when the Chargers take the clock for the No. 25 overall pick, San Diego would be smart to reunite the duo.
That doesn’t necessarily mean he should be San Diego’s left tackle. Though he has been one of the top offensive linemen in the country while playing that position at Alabama, his NFL future looks brighter as a guard, where he could be an immediate upgrade for the Chargers on either side of the offensive line.
The junior had some issues with speed rushers outside as an offensive tackle, but his combination of power, length and athleticism give him huge upside as a guard. He is able to drive defenders off the line of scrimmage, while he is a good pull blocker who can pick up defenders at the second level.
Bringing in Kouandjio would put pressure on King Dunlap to continue to exceed expectations at left tackle, but it could also provide immediate dividends inside on an offensive line that needs to continue its rebuilding effort in 2014. He would be good value as the last pick in the top 25.
After adding a new quarterback with the fourth pick in the draft, the Cleveland Browns should look to build the offense around him with the No. 26 pick. The two best options in this scenario would be a contested-catch receiver in Florida State’s Kelvin Benjamin or an athletic, powerful guard in Stanford’s David Yankey.
A strong case could be made for Benjamin, considering how crucial the vertical receiving ability of Mike Evans was for Johnny Manziel at Texas A&M. A more critical piece of Manziel’s success at A&M, however, was playing behind an athletic offensive line that could keep up with his extended plays.
What this decision could could come down to is a determination of which position provides a stronger fall-back option at the No. 35 overall pick. While Benjamin would be the best fit for what the Browns need opposite Josh Gordon, there is plenty of receiving talent that should still be available in Round 2.
The guard position has solid depth too, but outside of Yankey and UCLA’s Xavier Su’a-Filo, it might not have a player with the foot skills and pass-protecting ability that the Browns should be looking for in a much-needed upgrade at right guard.
The most agile and well-rounded guard in the draft class, Yankey also has experience playing offensive tackle and could provide insurance at that position. He has very good footwork and quickness for the position, but he is also a gritty, strong lineman who uses his hands well and has good size (6’5”, 313 lbs).
Dee Ford had already made a name for himself as the defensive star of this year’s national championship runner-up Auburn Tigers, but his stock is projected to skyrocket after he backed up his strong senior season with an outstanding performance at the Senior Bowl.
Ford is an undersized edge defender at only 6’2” and 243 pounds and lacks great strength for the position, but he is an explosive pass-rushing threat.
He has an outstanding burst off the line of scrimmage and is a natural bender around the edge. While speed rushing is his forte, he also has good pass-rushing moves while tracking down plays well in pursuit as a run defender in space.
Players like him tend to be overdrafted, and he projects very well to a 3-4 defense, which is what New Orleans Saints defensive coordinator Rob Ryan runs. Junior Galette emerged as the pass-rushing threat the Saints needed in Ryan’s defense last season, but New Orleans should still look for an impact player opposite him.
That player could be Ford. With a need to bulk up in order to develop into a three-down player, he might only be a situational player in pass-rushing packages, but he has immediate-impact potential on a blossoming defense.
Both of the Carolina Panthers’ starting offensive tackles are unrestricted free agents. Bringing back Jordan Gross would be a good short-term option, but Carolina should be in the market for an upgrade over Byron Bell at right tackle and a long-term heir apparent to Gross at left tackle.
Michigan’s Taylor Lewan has the potential to fill both roles. A great value selection if available late in the first round, he combines a great frame (6’8”, 315 lbs) with very good movement skills and the ability to overpower defenders.
Lewan is at his best as a run blocker. He can pick up devastating open-field blocks with his quickness and strength or plow defenders away from the line of scrimmage to extend running lanes.
Even with some vulnerabilities in pass protection, Lewan is polished enough to be a solid starter as a rookie. His length and lateral agility give him as much potential as any of the class’ offensive tackles outside of Jake Matthews and Greg Robinson, while his power game makes him well-suited for a shift to the right side.
The New England Patriots offense was the gold standard for a two-tight end passing offense for years, but it lost that dimension in 2013 when Rob Gronkowski went down with multiple injuries and Aaron Hernandez was cut after being charged with murder.
If the Patriots passing offense is going to return to form in 2014, New England needs to add another receiving playmaker to the mix this offseason. Fortunately for the Patriots, a number of talented options in this year’s draft have the potential to stretch the field as downfield playmakers at the position.
Among available tight ends in this scenario, Texas Tech’s Jace Amaro would be the best fit to pair with a hopefully healthy Gronkowski.
Amaro has comparable measurables to Gronk (6'5", 260 pounds), and while he is not nearly as good of an in-line blocker, he has the athleticism to be flexed out as a receiver. The Texas Tech junior has the speed, height and leaping ability to be a great vertical threat over the middle, and he also possesses enough lateral agility to extend plays in the open field.
Another player who had a fantastic Senior Bowl week, Northern Illinois safety Jimmie Ward made a strong statement in favor of being the third-best safety in this year’s draft class. That could allow him to make a late first-round push, and if they can trade down to get better value, he would be a great fit for the Kansas City Chiefs.
Though the Chiefs defense was one of the NFL’s best in 2013, it faded down the stretch and especially in their playoff loss to the Indianapolis Colts. One of the major reasons for that collapse was the poor play of free safety Kendrick Lewis, who is an unrestricted free agent.
Coming out of Northern Illinois, Ward doesn’t have as much name recognition as most projected first-round picks, and he is undersized for the position at 5’10” and 191 pounds. Even so, he displayed in Mobile that the skills that made him an AP first-team All-American in 2013 should translate to next-level success.
Ward is an excellent coverage safety who can cover significant ground and even line up at cornerback in a pinch. He also plays much bigger than he stands, as he is a physical hitter and tackler who can throw his body into breaking up passes. In addition, he is a solid run-support tackler.
He might not be generating much first-round buzz yet, but once Ha Ha Clinton-Dix and Calvin Pryor are off the board, Ward should quickly become a hot commodity. With no second-round pick, the Chiefs’ best bet would be to draft Ward in Round 1, given that he should be an immediate coverage upgrade while improving the team’s secondary tackling.
Champ Bailey and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie played well enough against the New England Patriots to get the Denver Broncos into the Super Bowl, but it is uncertain how either of them will factor into the team’s future plans. Rodgers-Cromartie is an unrestricted free agent, while Bailey is on the decline at 35 years old.
Denver’s best cornerback, Chris Harris, could also be questionable for the start of the 2014 season after suffering a torn ACL in Denver’s first playoff game. All of this means that the Broncos should be looking for a reinforcement at the position early in this year’s draft, and Ohio State’s Bradley Roby could be a steal late in the first round.
Roby didn’t play like a first-round pick in a wildly inconsistent junior season, but he has arguably the most potential of any cornerback in this year’s draft. His outstanding speed is unteachable; his ability to make plays on the ball is proven.
He has no shortage of big-play ability but is overaggressive and gives up more big plays than he should as a result. Though capable of being a shutdown cornerback in both coverage and run support, his affinity for pass breakups and big hits leads to blown coverages and missed tackles.
If the Broncos decide to go with a safer route, Oregon State defensive end Scott Crichton would be a great addition to their defensive line as a late first-round pick. Taking a chance on Roby, however, could give them a potential star and at least a player who could play in nickel and dime packages as a rookie at a position of need.
Even if the Seattle Seahawks end up rolling with promising young gun Michael Bowie as one of their starting guards in 2014, they should still be in the market for another upgrade at a position where neither James Carpenter nor J.R. Sweezy has emerged as a valid long-term starting option.
UCLA’s Xavier Su’a-Filo would be a good choice to end the first round or with the second-to-last pick of Round 1, should the Denver Broncos win the Super Bowl. He brings a combination of athletic ability and power to the position that makes him a potential star guard, while he also has the versatility to kick out to tackle if needed.
Su'a-Filo is a better athlete than any of the guards on Seattle's roster, and he is also very physical and strong. He opens holes well as a run defender and should not be overwhelmed by either quickness or power as a pass protector.
The Seahawks could also benefit from adding a playmaking wide receiver in LSU’s Odell Beckham Jr. or Florida State’s Kelvin Benjamin at this selection, but drafting Su’a-Filo would address their biggest position of need going into 2014.
Jordan Matthews could add another playmaker to the New York Jets offense.
33. Houston Texans: Chris Borland, ILB, Wisconsin
34. Washington Redskins: Odell Beckham Jr., WR, LSU
35. Cleveland Browns: Kelvin Benjamin, WR, Florida State
36. Oakland Raiders: Aaron Donald, DT, Pittsburgh
37. Atlanta Falcons: Scott Crichton, DE, Oregon State
38. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Trent Murphy, DE, Stanford
39. Jacksonville Jaguars: Morgan Moses, OT, Virginia
40. Minnesota Vikings: Jackson Jeffcoat, DE, Texas
41. Buffalo Bills: Austin Seferian-Jenkins, TE, Washington
42. Tennessee Titans: Carlos Hyde, RB, Ohio State
43. New York Giants: Ryan Shazier, OLB, Ohio State
44. St. Louis Rams: Timmy Jernigan, DT, Florida State
45. Detroit Lions: Jason Verrett, CB, TCU
46. Pittsburgh Steelers: Lamarcus Joyner, CB/FS, Florida State
47. Dallas Cowboys: Dion Bailey, FS, USC
48. Baltimore Ravens: Antonio Richardson, OT, Tennessee
49. New York Jets: Jordan Matthews, WR, Vanderbilt
50. Miami Dolphins: Billy Turner, OT/G, North Dakota State
51. Chicago Bears: Loucheiz Purifoy, CB, Florida
52. Arizona Cardinals: Ahmad Dixon, SS, Baylor
53. Green Bay Packers: Marcus Smith, OLB, Louisville
54. Philadelphia Eagles: Shayne Skov, ILB, Stanford
55. Cincinnati Bengals: Zach Mettenberger, QB, LSU
56. San Francisco 49ers (from Kansas City Chiefs): Allen Robinson, WR, Penn State
57. San Diego Chargers: Marcus Roberson, CB, Florida
58. New Orleans Saints: Jarvis Landry, WR, LSU
59. Indianapolis Colts: Weston Richburg, C, Colorado State
60. Carolina Panthers: Davante Adams, WR, Fresno State
61. San Francisco 49ers: Deone Bucannon, SS, Washington State
62. New England Patriots: Dominique Easley, DT, Florida
63. Denver Broncos: Chris Smith, DE, Arkansas
64. Seattle Seahawks: Brandin Cooks, WR, Oregon State
DaQuan Jones (91) could follow Bill O'Brien (left) from Penn State to Houston.
65. Houston Texans: DaQuan Jones, DT, Penn State
66. Washington Redskins: Yawin Smallwood, ILB, Connecticut
67. Oakland Raiders: AJ McCarron, QB, Alabama
68. Atlanta Falcons: Troy Niklas, TE, Notre Dame
69. New York Jets (from Tampa Bay Buccaneers): Jeremiah Attaochu, OLB, Georgia Tech
70. Jacksonville Jaguars: Jimmy Garoppolo, QB, Eastern Illinois
71. Cleveland Browns: Bishop Sankey, RB, Washington
72. Minnesota Vikings: Kyle Fuller, CB, Virginia Tech
73. Buffalo Bills: Jack Mewhort, G/OT, Ohio State
74. New York Giants: Gabe Jackson, G, Mississippi State
75. St. Louis Rams: Cyril Richardson, G, Baylor
76. Detroit Lions: Travis Swanson, C, Arkansas
77. San Francisco 49ers (from Tennessee Titans): Telvin Smith, LB, Florida State
78. Dallas Cowboys: Trai Turner, G, LSU
79. Baltimore Ravens: Pierre Desir, CB, Lindenwood
80. New York Jets: Ed Reynolds, FS, Stanford
81. Miami Dolphins: Stanley Jean-Baptiste, CB, Nebraska
82. Chicago Bears: Demarcus Lawrence, DE, Boise State
83. Cleveland Browns (from Pittsburgh Steelers): Terrance Mitchell, CB, Oregon
84. Arizona Cardinals: Cameron Fleming, OT, Stanford
85. Green Bay Packers: Ja’Wuan James, OT, Tennessee
86. Philadelphia Eagles: Taylor Hart, DE, Oregon
87. Kansas City Chiefs: Paul Richardson, WR, Colorado
88. Cincinnati Bengals: Christian Jones, OLB, Florida State
89. San Diego Chargers: Trevor Reilly, OLB, Utah
90. Indianapolis Colts: Brandon Coleman, WR, Rutgers
91. New Orleans Saints: Victor Hampton, CB, South Carolina
92. Carolina Panthers: Ross Cockrell, CB, Duke
93. New England Patriots: Justin Ellis, DT, Louisiana Tech
94. Kansas City Chiefs (from San Francisco 49ers): Joel Bitonio, OT/G, Nevada
95. Denver Broncos: Caraun Reid, DT, Princeton
96. Minnesota Vikings (from Seattle Seahawks): Carl Bradford, OLB, Arizona State
Despite his many on-field struggles, Logan Thomas has the physical tools of a top-100 pick.
97. Houston Texans: Kareem Martin, DE, North Carolina
98. Washington Redskins: E.J. Gaines, CB, Missouri
99. Atlanta Falcons: Ego Ferguson, DT, LSU
100. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Logan Thomas, QB, Virginia Tech
101. Jacksonville Jaguars: Keith McGill, CB, Utah
102. Cleveland Browns: Terrence Brooks, FS, Florida State
103. Oakland Raiders: Anthony Steen, G, Alabama
104. Minnesota Vikings: Will Sutton, DT, Arizona State
105. Buffalo Bills: Aaron Lynch, DE, South Florida
106. St. Louis Rams: David Fales, QB, San Jose State
107. Detroit Lions: Mike Davis, WR, Texas
108. Tennessee Titans: Aaron Murray, QB, Georgia
109. New York Giants: Ka’Deem Carey, RB, Arizona
110. Jacksonville Jaguars (from Baltimore Ravens): Tre Mason, RB, Auburn
111. New York Jets: Michael Sam, OLB, Missouri
112. Miami Dolphins: Anthony Johnson, DT, LSU
113. Chicago Bears: Sean Parker, SS, Washington
114. Pittsburgh Steelers: James Hurst, OT, North Carolina
115. Dallas Cowboys: Adrian Hubbard, OLB/DE, Alabama
116. Arizona Cardinals: C.J. Fiedorowicz, TE, Iowa
117. Green Bay Packers: Arthur Lynch, TE, Georgia
118. Philadelphia Eagles: Vinnie Sunseri, FS, Alabama
119. Cincinnati Bengals: Jaylen Watkins, CB, Florida
120. Kansas City Chiefs: Deandre Coleman, DE/DT, California
121. San Diego Chargers: Chris Davis, CB, Auburn
122. New Orleans Saints: Seantrel Henderson, OT, Miami
123. Cleveland Browns (from Indianapolis Colts): Lamin Barrow, ILB, LSU
124. Carolina Panthers: Dri Archer, WR/RB, Kent State
125. San Francisco 49ers: Gabe Ikard, C, Oklahoma
126. New England Patriots: Wesley Johnson, OL, Vanderbilt
127. Denver Broncos: Dakota Dozier, G, Furman
128. Seattle Seahawks: Richard Rodgers, TE, California
Tajh Boyd is unlikely to be drafted as a starting quarterback, but he could get a shot to compete in Jacksonville.
129. Houston Texans: Shaquil Barrett, OLB, Colorado
130. Washington Redskins: Will Clarke, DE, West Virginia
131. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Tyler Larsen, C, Utah State
132. Jacksonville Jaguars: Tajh Boyd, QB, Clemson
133. Cleveland Browns: Bryan Stork, C, Florida State
134. Seattle Seahawks (from Oakland Raiders): Jared Abbrederis, WR, Wisconsin
135. Atlanta Falcons: Kelcy Quarles, DT, South Carolina
136. Minnesota Vikings: Craig Loston, SS, LSU
137. Buffalo Bills: Brett Smith, QB, Wyoming
138. Jacksonville Jaguars (from Detroit Lions): Brandon Thomas, G/OT, Clemson
139. Tennessee Titans: Christian Kirksey, ILB, Iowa
140. New York Giants: Crockett Gillmore, TE, Colorado State
141. St. Louis Rams: Nevin Lawson, CB, Utah State
142. New York Jets: Lache Seastrunk, RB, Baylor
143. Miami Dolphins: Jon Halapio, G, Florida
144. Chicago Bears: Kenny Ladler, FS, Vanderbilt
145. Pittsburgh Steelers: Cody Hoffman, WR, BYU
146. Dallas Cowboys: Ryan Carrethers, DT, Arkansas State
147. Jacksonville Jaguars (from Baltimore Ravens): Derrell Johnson, OLB, East Carolina
148. Arizona Cardinals: Robert Herron, WR, Wyoming
149. Green Bay Packers: Donte Moncrief, WR, Mississippi
150. Philadelphia Eagles: Ronald Powell, OLB, Florida
151. Kansas City Chiefs: Rashaad Reynolds, CB, Oregon State
152. Cincinnati Bengals: Marcus Williams, CB, North Dakota State
153. San Diego Chargers: Daniel McCullers, NT, Tennessee
154. Indianapolis Colts: Andre Williams, RB, Boston College
155. New Orleans Saints: Jordan Zumwalt, LB, UCLA
156. Carolina Panthers: Hakeem Smith, SS, Louisville
157. Philadelphia Eagles (from New England Patriots): Andre Hal, CB, Vanderbilt
158. San Francisco 49ers: Josh Mauro, DE, Stanford
159. Denver Broncos: Ryan Grant, WR, Tulane
160. Seattle Seahawks: Morgan Breslin, OLB, USC
Gator Hoskins should be a solid Day 3 draft choice.
161. Houston Texans: Devonta Freeman, RB, Florida State
162. Washington Redskins: Prince Shembo, OLB, Notre Dame
163. Jacksonville Jaguars: Jay Bromley, DT, Syracuse
164. Cleveland Browns: Trey Millard, FB, Oklahoma
165. Oakland Raiders: Josh Huff, WR, Oregon
166. Atlanta Falcons: Storm Johnson, RB, Central Florida
167. Chicago Bears (from Tampa Bay Buccaneers): Spencer Long, G, Nebraska
168. Minnesota Vikings: Justin Britt, OT/G, Missouri
169. Buffalo Bills: Tre Boston, FS, North Carolina
170. Tennessee Titans: Alden Darby, SS, Arizona State
171. New York Giants: Preston Brown, ILB, Louisville
172. St. Louis Rams: Martavis Bryant, WR, Clemson
173. Detroit Lions: Marcel Jensen, TE, Fresno State
174. Miami Dolphins: Isaiah Crowell, RB, Alabama State
175. Chicago Bears: Calvin Barnett, DT, Oklahoma State
176. Pittsburgh Steelers: Bashaud Breeland, CB, Clemson
177. Dallas Cowboys: Charles Leno, OT, Boise State
178. Baltimore Ravens: Marcus Martin, C, USC
179. New York Jets: Michael Schofield, OT/G, Michigan
180. Arizona Cardinals: Matt Patchan, OT, Boston College
181. Green Bay Packers: Gator Hoskins, TE/FB, Marshall
182. New England Patriots (from Philadelphia Eagles): L’Damian Washington, WR, Missouri
183. Cincinnati Bengals: De’Anthony Thomas, RB/WR, Oregon
184. Kansas City Chiefs: Andrew Jackson, ILB, Western Kentucky
185. San Diego Chargers: Keith Smith, ILB, San Jose State
186. New Orleans Saints: Austin Wentworth, G/OT, Fresno State
187. Indianapolis Colts: Chris Watt, G, Notre Dame
188. Carolina Panthers: IK Enemkpali, DE, Louisiana Tech
189. San Francisco 49ers: Jalen Saunders, WR, Oklahoma
190. New England Patriots: Carrington Byndom, CB, Texas
191. Denver Broncos: Marqueston Huff, FS, Wyoming
192. Seattle Seahawks: Phillip Gaines, CB, Rice
Jonathan Brown (46) and Jerick McKinnon (24) are likely late-round draft selections after solid Senior Bowl weeks.
193. Houston Texans: Cornelius Lucas, OT, Kansas State
194. Washington Redskins: Jemea Thomas, FS, Georgia Tech
195. Cleveland Browns: Charles Sims, RB, West Virginia
196. Oakland Raiders: Bennett Jackson, CB, Notre Dame
197. Atlanta Falcons: Ethan Westbrooks, DE, West Texas A&M
198. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Rob Blanchflower, TE, Massachusetts
199. Jacksonville Jaguars: Jerick McKinnon, RB, Georgia Southern
200. Minnesota Vikings: Stephen Morris, QB, Miami
201. Buffalo Bills: Devin Street, WR, Pittsburgh
202. New York Giants: James Gayle, DE, Virginia Tech
203. St. Louis Rams: Jonathan Brown, OLB, Illinois
204. Detroit Lions: Ricardo Allen, CB, Purdue
205. Tennessee Titans: Elhadji Ndiaye, OLB/DE, Nebraska-Kearney
206. Dallas Cowboys (from Chicago Bears): Bruce Ellington, WR, South Carolina
207. Pittsburgh Steelers: Cody Latimer, WR, Indiana
208. Dallas Cowboys: Cassius Marsh, DE, UCLA
209. Indianapolis Colts (from Baltimore Ravens): Danny Kistler Jr., OT, Montana
210. New York Jets: Jeoffrey Pagan, DE, Alabama
211. Miami Dolphins: Joe Don Duncan, TE, Dixie State
212. Oakland Raiders (from Arizona Cardinals): Jeremy Hill, RB, LSU
213. Green Bay Packers: Zack Kerr, NT, Delaware
214. Philadelphia Eagles: Ed Stinson, DE, Alabama
215. Kansas City Chiefs: Chaz Sutton, DE, South Carolina
216. Cincinnati Bengals: Corey Linsley, C, Ohio State
217. San Diego Chargers: James White, RB, Wisconsin
218. San Francisco 49ers (from Indianapolis Colts): Jonathan Newsome, OLB, Ball State
219. San Francisco 49ers (from New Orleans Saints): Aaron Colvin, CB, Oklahoma
220. San Francisco 49ers (from Carolina Panthers): Bryn Renner, QB, North Carolina
221. New England Patriots: Jeff Janis, WR, Saginaw Valley State
222. San Francisco 49ers: Shaquelle Evans, WR, UCLA
223. Denver Broncos: Marion Grice, RB, Arizona State
224. Seattle Seahawks: Keith Price, QB, Washington
Dan Hope is an NFL/NFL draft Featured Columnist for Bleacher Report.