Every NFL Team's Top Draft Target After the Peak of Free Agency
Now that things have calmed down a little in free agency, we can take a look at how some of the moves teams made—or didn't make—might impact their needs.
Much like a mock draft, this piece only assigns a player once. To keep things simple (and myself sane), I worked from the basic first-round draft order, though the slides aren't ordered in that manner.
But it makes no sense to say a team at the end of the round should be aiming at a player like Blake Bortles or Jadeveon Clowney, both of whom could be gone in the first three picks.
So again, this isn't ordered like a mock draft, though the order of the first round informed the outcome for each team.
There are also two teams who don't even have first-round picks (Indianapolis and Washington), and we included them, so putting everything in first-round order would have just muddied the waters.
Buffalo Bills: Greg Robinson, OT, Auburn
The Bills have a very good left tackle in Cordy Glenn, but right tackle Erik Pears leaves a little to be desired. With EJ Manuel entering his second year as quarterback, the Bills need to keep him healthy, which means upright and not hit.
Arguably the top tackle in this year’s draft, Auburn’s Greg Robinson would be able to step in and lock the right side down. These days, defenses can shift and come at you from both sides, so having two good tackles is no longer a luxury—it’s a necessity.
Miami Dolphins: Zack Martin, OT, Notre Dame
By the time Miami picks at No. 19, several of the top tackles will be off the board, but that shouldn’t stop it anymore than signing Branden Albert when it comes to upgrading the offensive line.
The Dolphins still need to protect quarterback Ryan Tannehill, and Zack Martin is an immediate upgrade over Michael Ola and Jason Weaver. As a bonus, Martin has the versatility to kick to guard and solidify the interior of the line or stay at right tackle.
New England Patriots: RaShede Hageman, DT, Minnesota
New England had the third-worst run defense in the league last year, in part because it lost Vince Wilfork and Tommy Kelly to injury.
Earlier this month, NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport reported that Wilfork is asking for a release. Whether he and the Patriots can come to terms for him to stay is hard to say, but a 31-year-old who suffered an Achilles injury isn’t a safe bet to perform like an elite tackle. On top of that, while Kelly has had moments, he’s an average player, and that’s about it.
I watched RaShede Hageman trash offensive linemen and eat up the middle of the offensive line constantly during practice at the Senior Bowl. He can be a tad inconsistent but has huge upside and is the sort of player Bill Belichick excels with.
New York Jets: Hasean Clinton-Dix, S, Alabama
The Jets have long had issues at safety. Now that they’ve cut Antonio Cromartie without replacing him, the secondary as a whole has some question marks.
While they might feel comfortable with Dee Milliner (who got better by year's end) and Darrin Walls (who was a nice surprise last season) at cornerback, they cannot continue to have marginal play at safety. Antonio Allen and Dawan Landry just don’t get the job done.
So for the second year in a row, the Jets should be looking to improve the secondary, and nobody will do that more than Ha Ha Clinton-Dix. Clinton-Dix has great agility, speed and ball-skills and would step in and instantly help upgrade this defense.
Baltimore Ravens: Marqise Lee, WR, USC
While the Ravens did sign Steve Smith, that’s a short-term solution to a long-term problem.
Marqise Lee had a lot of injury issues this past year, but he won the Biletnikoff Award as the top receiver in the nation after his sophomore season. So we know what he can do when healthy. He needs to get better about drops, but a year next to Steve Smith should help that.
Lee has the look of the No. 1 receiver and would complement Torrey Smith very well as long as he can stay on the field.
Cincinnati Bengals: Kony Ealy, DE, Missouri
The Bengals are going to miss Mike Zimmer a ton—probably even more with Michael Johnson gone. They have to reload in several places on defense, especially at defensive end.
Mizzou’s Kony Ealy excelled at defensive end and is a perfect fit for a 4-3 like Cincinnati’s. He has the versatility to slide to outside linebacker as well if the Bengals were to switch to 3-4.
In today’s NFL you need to get after the quarterback, and Ealy can do that from several different spots in the defensive front.
Cleveland Browns: Johnny Manziel, QB, Texas A&M
The Browns, of course, have the luxury of two picks in the first round, so they have a bunch of ways to go.
Ultimately, cutting Brandon Weeden and Jason Campbell leads me to believe a quarterback is on their agenda in the draft. What’s more, they won’t wait and risk their guy not being there when they pick again at No. 26.
Johnny Manziel has the tools to be great. Is there perceived risk off the field? Yes, but he impressed plenty of people at the combine and is working hard to change the perception of him.
It’s his upside that will attract the Browns, and it is pretty high. With a guy like Josh Gordon to throw to, Ben Tate running the ball, a Norv Turner-structured offense and a solid defense, Manziel could be successful very quickly.
Pittsburgh Steelers: Darqueze Dennard, CB Michigan State
The Steelers got some safety help in free agency but still have to upgrade more in the secondary—specifically at corner where their starters are so-so.
Darqueze Dennard is potentially the most well-rounded corner in the draft, a hard worker who can fit into any type of scheme. He should be able to walk right into Pittsburgh and find a role, perhaps rotating in for either William Gay or Ike Taylor and then taking over for him permanently at some point.
There’s a chance Dennard could be gone by No. 15, but I suspect the teams ahead will lean toward other priorities, and the Steelers will benefit by it.
Houston Texans: Blake Bortles, QB, UCF
While I wouldn’t fault them with Jadeveon Clowney as a selection and prefer Teddy Bridgewater, I’ve felt since the combine that the Texans have had their sights set on Blake Bortles. That seemed even more likely (or at least grabbing any quarterback) when they traded Matt Schaub to the Oakland Raiders, as reported by Adam Schefter of ESPN.com.
At the combine, Bill O’Brien talked a lot about finding the right fit (both with players and coaches) and building a system around the players. While O’Brien says he’s willing to form a system around a player, with the first pick, he can get a player who is a top prospect and fits his own system.
Indianapolis Colts: Lamarcus Joyner, CB, Florida State
The Colts have to deal with the fact that they already traded their first-round pick to the Cleveland Browns for Trent Richardson and that they’ll miss out on a lot of talent before they see their first pick at the 60th pick overall.
While they have Vontae Davis, they need some help across from him, and while there are a ton of different ways this could break down, a guy like Lamarcus Joyner can play either corner or safety.
That versatility would give this pick good value for the Colts.
Jacksonville Jaguars: Teddy Bridgewater, QB, Louisville
The Jaguars did a nice job adding some defensive pieces to their rebuilding project and got rid of Blaine Gabbert—leaving them able to get a fresh start at quarterback.
A lot of people have mocked Johnny Manziel here, and I won’t dismiss it completely, but I’ve heard that Jacksonville is very interested in two players above all else: Jadeveon Clowney (who I doubt will be there) and Teddy Bridgewater.
Despite an “average” pro day, Bridgewater is still the safest and smartest quarterback pick, having shown ability in a pro-style offense, good mobility, sharp accuracy and leadership in the huddle. He’s the most pro-ready of the prospects, and the Jaguars are looking to turn around quickly.
Tennessee Titans: C.J. Mosley, ILB, Alabama
The Tennessee Titans were not very good at linebacker last season, specifically at middle linebacker, where C.J. Mosely would be an immediate upgrade over Moise Fokou.
Mosely is good at using his length and overall agility to get through a crowd cleanly and deliver a big hit and does a great job wrapping up after contact. Mosely doesn’t make many mental mistakes and is able to adjust on the fly, instinctively.
The Titans should have their pick of several very good players at No. 11, but Mosely might be the best fit.
Denver Broncos: Dee Ford, DE/OLB, Auburn
The Broncos would probably love to have C.J. Mosely drop to them at No. 31, but that’s a bit unlikely. If not, they’ll “settle” for an edge-rusher who can bend the edge and close quickly on a quarterback. Dee Ford might fit best in a 4-3 where he can rush the quarterback from the edge, so this could be his best fit as well as Denver’s.
With all the weapons they have in the defensive front, Ford could have a huge impact his rookie season.
Kansas City Chiefs: Kelvin Benjamin, WR, Florida State
By the time Kansas City checks in at No. 23, it’ll still have multiple directions it can go, but I think the Chiefs are best served attacking the wide receiver position.
Dwayne Bowe can be very good but inconsistent, and while Donnie Avery had moments this past season, I don’t trust him off one season, which means the offense is sorely lacking in receiving threats.
Kelvin Benjamin is fast but also has a big frame and the strength to play physical on shorter routes. He can simply overpower defenders and would be a huge help for Andy Reid’s offense.
Oakland Raiders: Sammy Watkins, WR, Clemson
I’d imagine that with Matt Schaub in town, quarterback is settled—or settled enough to not grab a quarterback with the Raiders' top-five pick. They have plenty of holes but have shored up some with guys who may be old but still have something in the tank.
If they’re looking to help out their new quarterback, what better way can they do it than by getting Sammy Watkins, the best receiver in the draft? They’re picking early enough to where there is a chance he’ll be there, and if he is, they shouldn’t waste any time in getting his name to the podium.
San Diego Chargers: Kyle Fuller, CB, Virginia Tech
While I am a big Eric Weddle fan, the Chargers can’t keep relying on him and pretty much nobody else. They need help at cornerback—especially in the AFC West.
They’re facing quarterbacks Peyton Manning, a surprisingly effective Alex Smith and now Matt Schaub, who collapsed last year but had some very good seasons in Houston. They could use someone to help shut down or at least help contain those quarterbacks' offenses.
Kyle Fuller is a second-tier corner but still very good. He is effective against both the pass and run, possesses good ball skills and shows very good field awareness.
When the Chargers pick at No. 25, he’ll be a very good way to solidify the secondary.
Dallas Cowboys: Aaron Donald, DT, Pittsburgh
Pittsburgh’s Aaron Donald has seen a lot of interest since the combine. While he’s a bit under-sized, he is very athletic and was incredibly productive in college.
The Cowboys have a lot of work to do, so there are actually several ways this could go on the defensive side of the ball, but Donald’s tremendous explosion off the snap and toolbox full of pass-rush moves—along with an always Jerry Jones-attracting measure of “heat”—will make him attractive to the Cowboys and worth the No. 16 pick.
New York Giants: Taylor Lewan, OT, Michigan
While I love the signing of Geoff Schwartz, the Giants still have work to do on the offensive line.
If the Giants want to bounce back from an awful 2013, they need to keep Eli Manning upright in 2104.
While Taylor Lewan has some off-field issues, as I said in a recent article, these are things teams already knew about. On top of that, Lewan is an incredibly talented tackle who can step right in and bring a nasty streak to the offensive line.
Philadelphia Eagles: Louis Nix, DT, Notre Dame
The Eagles have a lot of needs on the defensive side of the ball. Despite some nice additions in free agency, it’s hard to argue with a pick like this.
Bennie Logan, their current nose tackle, isn’t terribly effective while Louis Nix is a two-gap player who can fit into any scheme. Nix can hold up at the point of attack and also get off blocks to occasionally get into the backfield.
He's the perfect fit when they come up for their first pick at No. 22.
Washington Redskins: Pierre Desir, CB Lindenwood
Washington is another team that traded away its first-round pick, so by the time it gets to choose, it may find pickings very slim.
That said, as bad as the Washington secondary was last year, small-school prospect Pierre Desir could be an intriguing pick early in the second round.
It may seem a little soon, but Desir’s long reach and ball-hawking ability could be just the thing to help the secondary take advantage of a solid front seven.
Chicago Bears: Timmy Jernigan, DT, Florida State
The Chicago Bears got dominated by opposing running backs, so first and foremost the attention should be to the interior during their defensive rebuild.
Timmy Jernigan has excellent burst and agility as well as top-shelf strength and power, so he will be able to step in and clog the running lanes. As a bonus, he can collapse the pocket and will help contain the powerful NFC passing offenses they have to overcome to make the Super Bowl.
Detroit Lions: Justin Gilbert, CB Oklahoma State
Assuming they don’t trade up for Clemson’s Sammy Watkins (and with Golden Tate signed, it’s less likely), the Lions have to fix the secondary. While they played better this year, they still have no playmakers aside from Chris Houston.
Oklahoma State’s Justin Gilbert has all the tools you want in a corner: the size to avoid getting pushed around, the speed to keep up with elite receivers and the agility to go up and deflect passes.
Green Bay Packers: Calvin Pryor, S, Louisville
I like Ha Ha Clinton-Dix better at this point, but assuming he’s gone by pick No. 21, Calvin Pryor is a more than adequate alternative for Green Bay.
A physical, instinctive safety, Pryor had a great career at Louisville under Mack Strong. Pryor has tremendous ball skills, his vision and field awareness giving him a head start against both the pass and the run.
The Packers safeties need some help, and Pryor would be able to bring it in spades.
Minnesota Vikings: Anthony Barr, OLB, UCLA
The Vikings could see one of the “big three” quarterbacks drop to No. 8, but it’s just as likely they don’t, and I would really prefer to see them not grab Derek Carr or Jimmy Garoppolo here as it’s just too early.
We’ve got a defensive minded coach in Mike Zimmer, so don’t be shocked when they add more talent to that side of the ball.
Anthony Barr has quick feet, can change direction to avoid blockers and pursues the ball well. He’d be a great addition to a defense I think is going to open eyes in short order.
Atlanta Falcons: Jake Matthews, OT Texas A&M
After addressing the defensive side of the ball in free agency, I don’t expect the Atlanta Falcons to kill themselves to trade up and grab Jadeveon Clowney. Besides, they can stand pat at No. 6 and have their choice of many great prospects.
Sam Baker is a decent left tackle but has underplayed his contract and would be a better fit on the right side.
Jake Matthews is a tremendous talent, quick off the snap and a great pass-blocker. He could step in immediately on the left side, allowing Baker to slide to the right. Or Matthews could start his career at right tackle with the intent to move him next year.
You need two solid tackles these days anyway. Matthews is one of the best out there, so Atlanta should grab him.
Carolina Panthers: Odell Beckham Jr., WR, LSU
Like the Jets, the Panthers backed themselves into a corner by cutting a veteran and not replacing him. Yes, they signed Jerricho Cotchery, but that still leaves them undermanned.
Odell Beckham Jr. would change that. The LSU receiver has excellent acceleration, which will quickly make defensive backs give him space or risk him whipping by. When a defensive back forces press coverage, Beckham does a good job of getting off the line with minimal disruption to his route.
New Orleans Saints: Ryan Shazier, OLB, Ohio State
There are a few ways the Saints could lean with their first pick at No. 27, but ultimately I think they should continue feeding Rob Ryan’s defense.
Ohio State’s Ryan Shazier has an explosive first step and can rapidly close on the quarterback. He’s relentless in pursuit and can drop into coverage as well as blitz.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Khalil Mack, OLB, Buffalo
Sure, the Buccaneers have gone nuts in free agency, addressing defensive concern after defensive concern, but new head coach Lovie Smith is a defensive guy, and he’ll continue to build a strong defense to mask issues on the offensive side.
Besides, they have their quarterback, and it’s unlikely Sammy Watkins will still be available at No. 7 or that they grab Texas A&M’s Mike Evans so early.
Khalil Mack has a high motor and is a very explosive hitter. Picturing him across from Lavonte David just gave me chills. Add in Michael Johnson at defensive end and Gerald McCoy at tackle, and this becomes a very Lovie Smith defense.
Arizona Cardinals: Jason Verrett, CB, TCU
While there are several directions to go when Arizona first picks, I believe that in its conference, cornerback is vital. It has one exceptional guy and Antonio Cromartie. The Cardinals should add a young player who can take over when Cromartie is done, if not sooner.
TCU’s Jason Verrett is a ball-hawking defender who is great at suckering quarterbacks into throws he can pick off, whether it’s by jumping a route or laying off a receiver to bait a throw. He’s tough in run support as well. He and Patrick Peterson would be a great tandem at cornerback.
San Francisco 49ers: Davante Adams, WR, Fresno State
While San Francisco has Anquan Boldin, he's not a long-term solution across from Michael Crabtree, so the Niners should look to add another receiver.
Adams is a bit raw but has great leaping ability and great hands, which allow him to go over defenders for tough catches. He could also learn a lot from Boldin, who has a similar game in many respects.
The Niners can ill afford another year when they are killed by injuries, so they need to make sure they have receiver depth, and Adams is a guy who can do that and much more.
Seattle Seahawks: Eric Ebron, TE, North Carolina
When you win a Super Bowl, you can add talent pretty much where you’d like.
While it may seem crazy that a guy like Eric Ebron would fall to the end of the first round, there’s so much value in this draft that I actually think it could play out exactly like this.
That’s not to say Ebron isn’t talented—just that there is a lot of talent for teams who need different positions more.
Ebron can line up at wide receiver, which could be important, since the team lost Golden Tate to the Detroit Lions. He’s most comfortable in the slot, but Ebron can set up almost anywhere.
Seattle loves versatility, so it’s a perfect fit.
St. Louis Rams: Jadeveon Clowney, DE, South Carolina
If you read this whole thing trying to figure out where Clowney would go, here you are.
I seriously think if Houston doesn’t grab him, St. Louis should and will. Easily the best player in the draft from a physical standpoint, Clowney does have questions about his work ethic, but having him in the same defensive front as James Laurinaitis, Alec Ogletree and Robert Quinn would be pretty exceptional.
You could rotate him with Chris Long or move him along the defensive line (something South Carolina tried a few times).
Clowney has to be considered closely by the Rams coaching staff.
Andrew Garda is a member of the Pro Football Writers Association. He is also a member of the fantasy football staff at FootballGuys.com and the NFL writer at CheeseheadTV.com. You can follow him @andrew_garda on Twitter.
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