2014 NFL Mock Draft: Matt Miller's Latest Offseason Projections
The 2014 NFL draft class is loaded up with talent at key positions, like quarterback, offensive tackle and defensive end. After a class that many felt was below average in 2013, draft fans and NFL teams will get a breath of fresh air when they see the talent assembled next May.
Looking ahead 10 months to the 2014 NFL draft, which players are at the top of my rankings heading into the season, and which areas will each team likely need to address after another season of play? Where will Heisman favorites Teddy Bridgewater, Jadeveon Clowney, Tajh Boyd and Marqise Lee find themselves once they enter the NFL?
Taking a way too early look at next year's class, and thanks to Super Bowl odds from "The Linemakers", here is a first-look at next year's first round.
*Please note: The draft order is based on Super Bowl odds and not any prediction on team records.
1. Jacksonville Jaguars
The Pick: QB Teddy Bridgewater, Louisville
Surprised to not see Jadeveon Clowney here? While the Jaguars could pull the trigger on the draft's best player, a team with a greater need at quarterback could look to Mr. Teddy Bridgewater.
If the Jacksonville Jaguars are picking first overall, as Las Vegas odds currently predict, it will be time to replace the Blaine Gabbert-Chad Henne duo at quarterback. General manager Dave Caldwell will need to do that with the first overall pick.
Bridgewater is a special player heading into his junior season at Louisville. He has the size, arm strength, accuracy, vision and athletic ability of an elite quarterback prospect.
Unlike most college quarterbacks, Bridgewater truly runs his offense and does so without the aide of coaches on the sideline giving him pre-snap reads. Watching Bridgewater play, you see a more athletic Aaron Rodgers in a Cardinals uniform.
2. Arizona Cardinals
The Pick: DE Jadeveon Clowney, South Carolina
The top player in the 2014 NFL draft class finds himself going No. 2 overall thanks to the team needs of the Jacksonville Jaguars.
The Arizona Cardinals won't complain.
The Cardinals have a good defense with talented young players like Daryl Washington and Patrick Peterson, but they aren't so good on defense that they can ignore a once-in-a-decade talent like Jadeveon Clowney.
The big man from South Carolina has the body type to play defensive end in a 4-3 scheme and the speed to play standing up in a 3-4 defense. He'll be a perfect fit in Arizona, where the team has become well known for its hybrid defenses.
Clowney is as close to a can't-miss prospect as you'll find in this year's crop of players, and head coach Bruce Arians will find ways to get his new weapon in one-on-one situations to rush the quarterback.
3. Oakland Raiders
The Pick: WR Marqise Lee, USC
USC wide receiver Marqise Lee may see a drop-off in production this year with a new quarterback at the helm, but don't let that fool you, Lee is the best wide receiver prospect since A.J. Green and Julio Jones entered the NFL in 2011.
The Oakland Raiders are weak on talent overall but still boast good young players spread throughout the roster who could develop into big-time players in 2013. The weakest spot on the roster—assuming Matt Flynn or Tyler Wilson are the answer at quarterback—is at wide receiver.
The team missed on Darrius Heyward-Bey, now in Indianapolis, and must keep searching for an elite No. 1 wide receiver.
Lee is an exceptional player at the receiver position. He has the athletic ability to stretch the field vertically, but like A.J. Green, he's a good enough tactician to sit down on routes and beat a defense with his feet and not just his size or speed. That's what's missing in Oakland's offensive game plan after a decade of Al Davis drafting purely for speed.
4. Buffalo Bills
The Pick: OT Taylor Lewan, Michigan
The top-rated left tackle in college football, Taylor Lewan could have challenged Eric Fisher and Luke Joeckel for the top tackle spots in the 2013 draft had he declared. Now he's back at Michigan for one more season and will have the chance to move his draft stock up even higher.
The Buffalo Bills have a talented young player at one tackle spot in Cordy Glenn, but the word on Glenn has always been that he would be better served on the right side of the line. If the former Georgia product dominates at left tackle in 2013, there is evidence to make an argument for Lewan as the best player available here and as a need pick.
The first two picks in the 2013 NFL draft were spent on players who will start their careers at right tackle. Lewan may have that same career path early on.
It's tough to not overrate Lewan at this point, but he has been a rock-solid left tackle in the Michigan system for the last three seasons. His play against Jadeveon Clowney in the Outback Bowl has become the stuff of legend among offensive-line watchers.
The Bills are still in a position to add as much talent as possible—especially if they are drafting No. 4 overall—and there's no better player in the country on the board than Lewan.
5. Tennessee Titans
The Pick: OT Jake Matthews, Texas A&M
Jake Matthews will make the move to left tackle after protecting Johnny Manziel from the right side in 2012, and with that move he could solidify his stock as one of the elite players in this year's class.
The Tennessee Titans don't have a massive need at tackle right now, but they will in future years as David Stewart and Michael Roos both turn 31 during the 2013 season. With Stewart's injury history, the team would be wise to look to the future at the position instead of waiting to see what could happen as their two cornerstones age.
It also helps that Bruce Matthews, father of Jake, is the team's offensive line coach.
Matthews was one of the best offensive linemen in the nation during the 2012 season. Now that he's expected to play left tackle in the vaunted SEC, he'll have a great stage on which to verify his status as an elite pass protector and tough run-blocker.
Matthews qualifies as a best player available pick for the Titans while also filling a future need. That's the type of smart pick former offensive lineman Mike Munchak needs to endorse as head coach.
6. New York Jets
The Pick: WR Sammy Watkins, Clemson
With rookie Geno Smith brought in to compete with Mark Sanchez, the New York Jets won't be looking at quarterbacks in the 2014 draft, but instead will look for weapons to complement the quarterbacks on the roster.
The Jets have youngster Stephen Hill, a talented, athletic but unproven wide receiver, as well as the aging Santonio Holmes and underrated Jeremy Kerley, but this isn't a wide receiver corps that couldn't be upgraded. Far from it.
With Holmes' play declining and Kerley being a better option on the inside, the team has a viable need for an outside receiver who can challenge a defense with deep speed and by working the route tree to find openings in the defense.
Geno Smith was at his best at West Virginia with speedy wide receivers who could make plays in space after the catch, and that's exactly who Sammy Watkins can be for the Jets.
Watkins is a do-it-all wide receiver with the size, speed and hands to threaten the defense deep down the field or on short routes with the ball in his hands. He's a matchup nightmare for cornerbacks due to his triple-threat ability on the outside.
7. Kansas City Chiefs
The Pick: DE Aaron Lynch, South Florida
The Kansas City Chiefs have quickly been remade in the image of general manager John Dorsey and head coach Andy Reid in their first offseason together. When they move into their second year together, the duo must focus on retaining key players and continuing to add talented prospects through the draft.
Alex Smith will be under the microscope at quarterback, and what is essentially a one-year deal on his contract could lead the Chiefs to look at quarterback prospects like Tajh Boyd or Brett Hundley in the first round.
Assuming that Smith plays well in an offense tailor-made to his abilities, the front office will be able to focus instead on building up the defensive line.
Tyson Jackson may have restructured his contract for one more year in Kansas City, but counting on him as a cornerstone of the defensive line would be foolish. The defensive end position is by far the weakest on the Kansas City defense.
Aaron Lynch may be flying under the radar for the casual football fan, but those who follow the recruiting trail and keep an eye on future draft prospects know him well.
The former Notre Dame player transferred to South Florida after one season in South Bend due to homesickness, but in his lone year of college football, Lynch proved to be a stud in the making. He has the size to play down on the defensive line no matter the alignment, and with added strength and conditioning he would be an ideal fit in the Chiefs' 3-4 Under scheme.
8. Cleveland Browns
The Pick: QB Tajh Boyd, Clemson
If the Cleveland Browns are selecting in the top 10 again, it will be time for a major shakeup (again) at the quarterback position. Mike Lombardi and Co. know this, and Brandon Weeden will play the 2013 season looking over his shoulder at potential first-round college prospects.
A young defense will help the Browns fight for legitimacy this season while a young offense will look to gel and find their strengths. They'll do that without a proven franchise quarterback, despite spending a first-round pick on Weeden in the 2012 draft.
Weeden could emerge as the perfect player in offensive coordinator Norv Turner's scheme, but until he does prove himself as a player, the scouts in Cleveland must focus first and foremost on the quarterback position.
Should the Browns look to address the quarterback position, they will hope to find an athletic passer with the arm strength to push the ball downfield.
That's Tajh Boyd.
Boyd excelled in a vertical passing attack in 2012, showing the touch and strength to put the ball in the hands of his playmakers while also showing a toughness to excel as a mover in the pocket and potential runner outside of it.
The 2013 season will be interesting for Boyd. He will look to add consistency to his game and show that he's not the product of an offense loaded with skill-position players but, rather, the perfect manager of an offense and a legitimate threat to exploit whatever the defense throws at him.
9. Carolina Panthers
The Pick: CB Bradley Roby, Ohio State
The Carolina Panthers are a talented young team, but there are pieces missing on both sides of the ball that will keep them from taking the next step in 2013. Those pieces can be filled as general manager Dave Gettleman looks to build up his defense and add weapons for quarterback Cam Newton.
A wide receiver would be a welcome addition to Carolina early in the draft, but with Sammy Watkins and Marqise Lee off the board, that need doesn't have a match in terms of player value.
The Panthers addressed their biggest need in the 2013 draft by adding two defensive tackle prospects, which leaves only the cornerback position as a need.
Captain Munnerlyn, Josh Norman and Josh Thomas all have potential, but each would be better suited as a No. 2 cornerback. What's missing from the Panthers defense is a star at the position who can take away the offense's best receiving weapon.
The top cornerback in the nation, Ohio State's Bradley Roby has the star factor mentioned above. He has shown the coverage ability to effectively erase top wide receivers from the offensive equation and has enough ball skills to be a threat to create turnovers on the fly.
Roby may not last this long when the 2014 draft rolls around, but on paper he's an ideal fit for the Panthers if available.
10. Detroit Lions
The Pick: OLB Anthony Barr, UCLA
The Detroit Lions aren't making any fans in Las Vegas, at least not according to their odds (60-1) of winning the Super Bowl after the 2013 season. If the team nets a top-10 pick, it will be used on the defense once again.
The Lions have talent on the defensive line with Ndamukong Suh, Nick Fairley and rookie Ezekiel Ansah in place, but the backend of the defense needs work from linebacker to cornerback to safety.
With Ashlee Palmer and DeAndre Levy lining up at outside linebacker, the Lions could use an infusion of athleticism and playmaking ability in a division loaded with quarterbacks (Aaron Rodgers, Jay Cutler) and elite running backs (Adrian Peterson, Matt Forte).
When you look at elite defensive prospects, it's rare to find a college athlete who does multiple things well. For instance, Von Miller was great as a pass-rusher, but limited as a run defender and coverage linebacker.
Anthony Barr may not be the explosive threat that Miller was, but he might end up being a better overall prospect.
Barr has the burst to to attack the edge as a pass-rusher, but he's also shown the ability to play well against the run, and he has the hips to drop into coverage. Barr is the type of athlete the Lions are missing at linebacker.
11. San Diego Chargers
The Pick: OT Cyrus Kouandjio, Alabama
The San Diego Chargers have made sweeping changes to the front office and coaching staff, but work remains to be done on the depth chart.
The oddsmakers in Las Vegas don't feel good about the Chargers chances of bouncing back in 2013—at least not completely back—and that means there are still enough holes on the offensive line to keep Philip Rivers from taking this team to a winning season.
The remade front office did a good job in the 2013 draft by adding right tackle D.J. Fluker, wide receiver Keenan Allen and linebacker Manti Te'o. But that's not enough. A left tackle is needed to protect Rivers in the backfield and to fuel a running game that's not been the same since LaDainian Tomlinson left town.
If a premier left tackle prospect is on the board, general manager Tom Telesco can't afford to pass on him.
The Alabama offensive line was a thing of beauty in 2012, but the departures of Fluker, Barrett Jones and Chance Warmack will put more pressure than ever on left tackle Cyrus Kouandjio.
That could allow the big man his proving ground.
Kouandjio has the metrics of franchise left tackle, but he hasn't yet shown the elite footwork of a left tackle prospect. He'll have plenty of chances to do that in 2013 as SEC teams load up to stop the Crimson Tide passing attack.
If the All-American candidate can perform up to expectations, he'll cement his stock as a top-15 player.
12. Philadelphia Eagles
The Pick: DE Stephon Tuitt, Notre Dame
A transition to a more athletic roster has left the Philadelphia Eagles filling round holes with square pegs. That will change as the front office has more time to adapt the roster to the needs of head coach Chip Kelly.
A season in transition could lead to the Eagles having a higher draft pick than they would like in 2014, but they can use that pick to increase the talent level on either side of the ball.
It's telling that the Eagles roster doesn't have many clear-cut needs. Instead it displays a group of young players who could breakout and become stars. That's the case with defensive end Fletcher Cox on one side of the team's 3-4 defensive line, but the other side could use an upgrade.
Cedric Thornton is a solid player, but has yet to prove himself as an irreplaceable part in the Philadelphia defense. If the board stacks up this way in May of 2014, general manager Howie Roseman and Kelly will be looking to improve the defensive line.
Stephon Tuitt was lost in the shadow of Manti Te'o during the 2012 season, but in watching the Notre Dame defense on film, you see Tuitt making as many plays as his more famous teammate—if not more.
The athletic defensive end has the size to play in a 4-3 or 3-4 scheme in the NFL, making him an ideal fit in the Eagles defense that's expected to be very versatile up front.
Tuitt is athletic enough to bring versatility while not sacrificing strength on the edge.
13. Tampa Bay Buccaneers
The Pick: OT Antonio Richardson, Tennessee
The SEC will be loaded—again—with offensive tackle prospects after seeing two drafted in the top 11 picks this past April. That bodes well for teams like the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, who could use help on the edge of their offensive line.
The Bucs have a talented left tackle in Donald Penn, but it's not a position that couldn't be upgraded if the opportunity presented itself. Penn, with his size and strength, may also be a better fit on the right side if the team were able to add a more athletic player through the draft.
The remainder of the offensive line is solid, as is much of this young roster, but the front office in Tampa could look to improve the protection for quarterback Josh Freeman as the talent around him at the skill positions steps up.
Antonio Richardson has as much potential as any offensive tackle in the 2014 draft class, but unlike the players ahead of him, he hasn't yet proven his value as an elite pass protector.
That should come this season.
Projecting Richardson inside the top 15 picks is as much about his upside as it is his talent, but a strong 2013 season will show that Richardson is athletic enough to handle pass-rushers in space and is tough enough to get dirty against the run. If he does that, a team like Tampa would be in a great position to add a long-term fix at left tackle.
14. St. Louis Rams
The Pick: LB CJ Mosley, Alabama
The St. Louis Rams continue to be major players in the NFL draft thanks to their 2012 trade of that year's No. 2 overall pick to the Washington Redskins.
With their own pick in the first round, the Rams have options.
The St. Louis Rams are once again in good position to continue adding high-level prospects.
After a haul in 2013 that included Tavon Austin and Alec Ogletree, general manager Les Snead should be looking to address the team's opening at strong-side linebacker while keeping open the possibility of moving James Laurinaitis off the field on third downs.
One of my top players in this year's class, C.J. Mosley is the total package at linebacker, but he falls down the board here because he's not a pass-rusher, and there isn't a huge need for the position on other teams.
What is Mosley? He's a versatile, attacking linebacker who can play inside or outside in a 4-3 scheme. He's a run defender with the speed to track the ball outside the hashes and the strength to lock down lanes in the middle.
In short, he's a Jeff Fisher type of defender.
15. Miami Dolphins
The Pick: DT Timmy Jernigan, FSU
Jeff Ireland and Joe Philbin have worked wonders—and spent a load of cash—in remaking the Miami Dolphins roster. They'll need that investment to pay off in wins in order to feel comfortable with their jobs heading into the 2014 offseason.
The Dolphins have invested heavily in turning this team into a winner, but looking at the depth chart, you see a weakness at defensive tackle.
Randy Starks was designated the team's franchise player, and while he's solid on the inside, none of the players on the interior of the DL offer the Dolphins much in terms of a consistent pass rush. After adding Dion Jordan in this year's first round to book end with Cameron Wake, Ireland should keep with the trend and address the middle of the team's line.
A rotational player on the Florida State defense in 2012, Timmy Jernigan may not be a well-known commodity outside of the die-hard draft community, but once he gets on the field full-time in 2013, fans from all over the country will take notice.
Jernigan has the quickness and agility to be an impact as a pass-rusher in a 4-3 scheme. Much like Geno Atkins in Cincinnati, Jernigan wins with burst, follow through and good hand use to beat blockers to the hole. That pass-rushing ability will make him a fan favorite in Miami.
16. Minnesota Vikings
The Pick: QB Brett Hundley, UCLA
If the Minnesota Vikings are out of the playoffs in 2013, as Vegas odds would suggest, it means that quarterback Christian Ponder didn't improve upon his up-and-down 2012 season.
What does that mean for the offseason?
The Vikings are rolling into 2013 with Ponder as the starting quarterback and with Matt Cassel backing him up. It's safe to say after watching Cassel for three years in Kansas City that he cannot be considered an option should Ponder falter.
Quarterback is a need in Minnesota if Ponder's third year doesn't produce a better result. The front office added Greg Jennings and Cordarrelle Patterson this offseason with the intention of making life as easy for Ponder as possible, but anything short of a playoff berth is a major disappointment following the team's 2012 run.
An underclassmen in 2013, Brett Hundley is considered a likely entrant into the 2014 NFL draft class if he builds on his strong play from the 2012 campaign.
Hundley has the all-around game that NFL scouts have become enamored with since Colin Kaepernick and Robert Griffin III reminded folks that a strong running quarterback who can pass will beat up an NFL defense. With his size, legs and strong arm, Hundley is a favorite to shoot up draft boards this season if he can continue to develop his accuracy and field vision.
Just a redshirt sophomore in 2013, Hundley still has two more years worth of eligibility should he want to stick around Los Angeles to work on his passing game.
17. Indianapolis Colts
The Pick: OLB Kyle Van Noy, BYU
The Indianapolis Colts opened up the pocketbook in the 2013 offseason to build up the talent on the young roster that shocked the world last season. Now that they have a playoff berth in their pocket, the Colts can start focusing on adding talent to both sides of the ball.
The Colts addressed the outside linebacker position throughout the offseason by signing Erik Walden and drafting Bjoern Werner, but that's not enough to completely quell the need for edge-rushers.
With Werner a likely replacement for Robert Mathis and Walden yet to prove himself as a capable every-down starter, the need for an athletic, energetic outside linebacker is there. General manager Ryan Grigson knows the value of an unstoppable pass-rusher, and that's something the Colts currently lack.
Kyle Van Noy will likely be a top-10 player on my preseason draft board, but like C.J. Mosley, a lack of need and an isolated schematic fit as a 3-4 outside linebacker keeps Van Noy on the board longer than might be realistic in a draft that included trades.
What are the Colts getting in Van Noy?
One of the nation's best pass-rushers, Van Noy has the burst off the snap to beat NFL offensive tackles to the corner. He can assault the backfield at the pro level, but he does need to add strength to his 235-pound frame while learning to better take on blockers to stop the run.
18. Dallas Cowboys
The Pick: DE/OLB Adrian Hubbard, Alabama
The Dallas Cowboys have struggled with the salary cap while trying to get over their playoff hump, but the forecast for 2013 remains the same.
Now they'll be tasked with trying to find the missing piece of a playoff roster.
The Cowboys have used the franchise tag on defensive end Anthony Spencer for two straight offseasons, which has added up to a decent chunk of change for the underrated pass-rusher.
On a roster full of big salaries—hello, Tony Romo—the Cowboys must make tough decisions when it comes to new contracts. Keeping Spencer may be what the fans and coaches want, but the finance department may have to make other plans.
Depending on which game you watch, Alabama's Adrian Hubbard can look like the next Aldon Smith or like a complete project at the position. The redshirt junior has the talent to become an elite pass-rusher, but he tends to play stiff—something that can be coached out in time.
Hubbard is a potential pick, but the Cowboys have a great mentor for him in DeMarcus Ware. With Monte Kiffin coaching the defense and Ware's example on the opposite side, Hubbard could learn to harness his physical gifts into a pass-rushing repertoire that would frighten the NFC East.
19. St. Louis Rams (from Washington Redskins)
The Pick: RB Lache Seastrunk, Baylor
With the draft pick gained from the Washington Redskins in year two of a three-year deal that sends the Rams an extra first-round pick, St. Louis can continue adding playmakers to an offense that's seen a remodeling this past offseason.
Steven Jackson and his eight-straight 1,000 yard seasons have left for Atlanta, leaving a hole in the Rams backfield.
The running back-by-committee approach may work for the Rams in 2013, but there is no compensating for the lack of a go-to back whom you can count on in crunch time. That's something the team doesn't have right now and is unlikely to find in its deep stable of complementary backs.
There wasn't a running back drafted in the first round of the 2013 NFL draft, but that should change in 2014 with the talented Lache Seastrunk expected to be an early entrant.
The former Oregon product hit the ground running at Baylor in 2012, helping to fill the void left when Robert Griffin III left early for the NFL.
Seastrunk has the speed to torch defenses, but he also plays with the vision to find his own openings and not rely on the offensive line.
He may not yet be a complete prospect, but with the Rams looking to replace Steven Jackson and find a go-to runner, Seastrunk would be the perfect fit.
20. Cincinnati Bengals
The Pick: LB Trey Depriest, Alabama
The Cincinnati Bengals have pulled off two straight playoff berths, and experts in Vegas expect them to be close again in 2013.
Marvin Lewis and Co. have the team headed in the right direction, but to keep up in the loaded AFC North the team has to improve on defense.
The linebacker position is one that many felt the Bengals would address early in the 2013 NFL draft, but instead they focused on improving at tight end, running back and safety. That leaves a need for the team at linebacker in their 4-3 scheme.
The Bengals may look for a classic outside linebacker so that they can move Vontaze Burfict to middle linebacker and get Rey Maualuga off the field. Or they could look to simply add a better middle linebacker and keep Burfict on the outside where he excelled in 2013.
No matter how they do it, the end result should be less Maualuga.
Trey Depriest is the next player in a long line of talented Alabama linebackers to enter the NFL. At this pace, the Crimson Tide will take the "Linebacker U" label from Penn State any day now, and Depriest will help do it.
A classic middle linebacker prospect, Depriest has the vision and instincts to be special. He's a thumper on the inside, showing the toughness to step up and take on blockers and free himself to get to the football. While not a rangy athlete like Patrick Willis, Depriest makes up for a lack of foot speed with his eyes and toughness.
If you liked Dont'a Hightower as a prospect, you're going to like Depriest.
21. Chicago Bears
The Pick: CB Aaron Colvin, Oklahoma
The Chicago Bears made an impressive run through the 2013 offseason by adding key players in free agency—Jermon Bushrod, Martellus Bennett—and picking up instant-impact draftees in Kyle Long, Jon Bostic and Khaseem Greene. Looking ahead to the 2014 draft, the team will be in a position to draft replacements for aging veterans.
Charles Tillman has been special for the Bears, but his time is coming to an end and the Bears must prepare for it better than they did the departure of Brian Urlacher. That means addressing the need before it exists.
Tillman turns 33 years old in February of 2014. The Bears should be drafting his eventual replacement three months later.
Aaron Colvin comes in as the No. 2-rated cornerback on my preseason big board. Thanks to his speed, instincts and experience against pro-level route trees, Colvin won't face a tough transition to the NFL. As a natural cover man, Colvin has the on-paper metrics that every scout wants to see in a top-tier prospect.
Now he has to continue backing it up on the field.
If Colvin plays up to his potential, he could be a top-15 pick by the time the 2014 draft is taking place.
22. Baltimore Ravens
The Pick: WR Jordan Matthews, Vanderbilt
The oddsmakers in Las Vegas don't expect a major drop-off from the Baltimore Ravens in 2013, as they're slotted to squeeze into the playoffs. Should the Ravens miss the playoffs or fall short of expectations, it's likely due to the lack of talent and depth at wide receiver.
Baltimore has talented starters in Torrey Smith and Jacoby Jones, but they lack versatility, as both players are best suited as deep threats. Also, there's little depth behind the—or at least proven depth. The trifecta of David Reed, Tandon Doss and Tommy Streeter will have their work cut out for them replacing Anquan Boldin.
Jordan Matthews has what the Baltimore Ravens need. He's a talented route-runner who can get open on his own on the underneath routes that require footwork and timing.
Matthews' production at Vanderbilt will give the Ravens confidence in his ability to step into the lineup as a rookie and become an asset for Joe Flacco, should one of the young receivers mentioned above not pan out as a legitimate option.
At 6'3", he has the size the Ravens need in a No. 3 option for Flacco, and with Matthews' quickness and route-running talent, Ozzie Newsome can't afford to pass on this SEC star.
23. Pittsburgh Steelers
The Pick: WR De'Anthony Thomas, Oregon
One season after missing the playoffs, the Pittsburgh Steelers are expected back in the postseason. On the strength of Ben Roethlisberger and a talented young defense, Pittsburgh looks to be reloading for another run at a title.
What's missing in Pittsburgh?
Losing Mike Wallace didn't just strip the Steelers of some speed on offense, it also took away the one home run hitter the team had in their huddle. Without Wallace, the Pittsburgh offense could struggle to stretch the field and create running room on shorter routes.
The team locked up Antonio Brown long term, but will face Emmanuel Sanders entering free agency after the 2013 season. Losing Sanders and Wallace in back-to-back seasons could set this offense back dramatically.
If you're a fan of college football, you've heard of De'Anthony Thomas. If you're a fan of Sportscenter, you've no doubt seen him racing past PAC-12 defenses and special team units en route to a touchdown.
Thomas is small for an NFL wide receiver at just 5'9" and a listed 173 lbs, but he's not smaller than the top wide receiver in the 2013 draft, Tavon Austin (5'8", 174 lbs), and he has shown throughout his college career that he's able to absorb hits and not suffer injuries.
With his blazing speed and jaw-dropping open-field moves, Thomas has a chance to push his draft stock up like other smallish receivers Austin and Kendall Wright did before being taken in the first round of their respective NFL drafts.
24. New York Giants
The Pick: OLB Ryan Shazier, Ohio State
The New York Giants went from Super Bowl winners two years ago to missing the playoffs in 2012, but the team is expected to rebound in 2013 and get back into the postseason for a chance at a Super Bowl in their own backyard.
The Giants have thrown money and draft picks at the linebacker position with little long-term results. The team has been forced to move Mathias Kiwanuka to defensive end for depth. That leaves draft-busts-in-waiting Keith Rivers and Aaron Curry, along with Jacquian Williams, at outside linebacker.
The Giants didn't address the linebacker position in the 2013 draft, but looking ahead, it will be tough for general manager Jerry Reese to not make moves here.
A smaller-than-average outside linebacker prospect, Shazier will almost certainly need to play weak-side linebacker once he arrives to the NFL, but that's exactly what the New York Giants need.
With a first step that will kill offensive linemen, Shazier brings a versatility not expected from a 225-pound linebacker. He hits like a Mack truck and has a pass rush that will work in the NFL as long as he's put into situations where he can beat the blocker on the outside.
Shazier is an effort player, and someone that head coach Tom Coughlin will undoubtedly fall in love with throughout the draft process.
25. New Orleans Saints
The Pick: DE/OLB Morgan Breslin, USC
A tumultuous season without head coach Sean Payton resulted in the New Orleans Saints missing the playoffs in 2012. But the team looks to be back on track for a postseason run this season.
If so, they'll do it with a cast of unknowns at outside linebacker.
The transition to a 3-4 defense hasn't been aided greatly by free agency or the draft, as the team missed out on the premier pass-rushers available in the first round and had to focus elsewhere in free agency.
That left them moving veteran Will Smith to a stand-up position and asking unproven players Martez Wilson and Junior Galette to become big-time playmakers.
One of the most productive pass-rushers in college football during the 2012 season, Morgan Breslin is a classic edge-rusher with the size (6'2", 250 lbs) to play standing up in a 3-4 scheme.
That is exactly what the Saints need.
Breslin would step in and help the team finish its transition to a 3-4 defense, and would give Rob Ryan his attacking pass-rusher on the corner to go after the opposing quarterback. Unless Wilson or Galette prove themselves worthy in 2013, this will be the Saints' biggest offseason need.
26. Atlanta Falcons
The Pick: DT Louis Nix, Notre Dame
The runner-up last year in the NFC, the Atlanta Falcons are expected by experts in Las Vegas to make another run deep into the playoffs in 2013. This is a talented roster, but there are holes on defense that could come back to bite them.
There is talent in the middle of the Falcons' defensive line, but they lack a star player who can draw the attention of the offense. Guys like Corey Peters and Jonathan Babineaux will get the job done as tough, gritty defenders in the middle, but they won't create enough pressure to draw a double-team consistently.
The Falcons need their own Geno Atkins or Ndamukong Suh, and that's what they find available on the board.
Arguably the top senior defensive lineman in the country, Louis Nix will realistically not be on the board this late when the 2014 NFL draft rolls around, but on this too early look, Nix falls due to team needs and the fact that he's more of a nose tackle than a pass-rusher.
That's just fine for the Atlanta Falcons, a team that's willing to let Nix unleash his talents and strength on the interior of opposing offensive lines. At Notre Dame he hasn't been asked to rush the passer in the middle of their 3-4 defense, but that doesn't mean he can't, and the Falcons are in a great position to reap the benefits should a talented all-around athlete like Nix slip to them.
Should Nix be off the board, look for general manager Thomas Dimitroff to concentrate on running backs, tight ends or other defensive tackles.
27. Houston Texans
The Pick: QB David Fales, San Jose State
The Houston Texans are at a point which the annual expectation is a playoff berth. To keep that alive, general manager Rick Smith may need to start drafting a year or two ahead of his actual needs.
The Texans' front office did a fantastic job in this year's draft of adding DeAndre Hopkins at wide receiver and D.J. Swearinger to play safety, as both players could be starters in their rookie seasons. To stay on top, though, the team will need to address the future of the most important position in football. The quarterback.
Matt Schaub has been good, sometimes very good, but he's also set to turn 33 on June 25. Add that to the fact that many openly wondered whether Schaub was the guy to lead the team deep into the playoffs and you have a scenario in which drafting the quarterback of the future is a present proposition.
The first round of the 2014 draft will give the Texans an opportunity to draft their quarterback of the future. Adding a player like David Fales—who is an ideal candidate for the Texans' timing-based offense—would give the team time to transition from Schaub to his successor over a season or two.
Fales and his high-accuracy passing on intermediate and short routes would be the right man to lead the team into their next generation, as they move on from Schaub and Andre Johnson and to an era of Fales and Hopkins.
28. Green Bay Packers
The Pick: ILB Skayne Skov, Stanford
The Green Bay Packers can boast one of the more talented rosters in the NFL from top-to-bottom, but can they get back to a Super Bowl with Brad Jones and A.J. Hawk at inside linebacker?
Not in a league where the outside run dominates.
Watch Green Bay's NFC playoff loss to the San Francisco 49ers and you not only saw the Packers get outschemed, but you also saw a general lack of speed on defense. The team will be helped by the return of Nick Perry at outside linebacker, but effectively stopping the run starts at inside linebacker.
Jones and Hawk are both solid players, but neither has superstar potential in the middle of the 3-4. Both players are capable, but the Packers need more than capable from at least one of their inside 'backers.
Drafting one of the many talented linebackers that will be available in 2014 makes sense for general manager Ted Thompson.
Stanford's Shayne Skov is ideally built for a 3-4 defense with his strength and instincts. Skov has the power to shed blocks and get to the football, and he's able to get to the ball quickly thanks to a high football IQ and top-level instincts.
Skov and Jones at inside linebacker may sound like a law firm, but it's a duo that would give Green Bay the speed and toughness to win on the inside.
29. Seattle Seahawks
The Pick: TE Austin Seferian-Jenkins, Washington
Picked to finish second in the NFC, the Seattle Seahawks have a roster loaded with talented superstars and young players ready to burst onto the scene. That doesn't leave much room for improvement.
The Seahawks' depth chart has few holes, but there are two obvious areas where an improvement could be made—right tackle and tight end.
The right tackle position is the weakest on the team with Breno Giacomini holding down the strong side. With no right tackles on the board worth drafting in the first round, the Seahawks would be foolish to waste a first-round pick on the position. This would be James Carpenter all over again.
Instead, Pete Carroll and general manager John Schneider can stick to their draft philosophy of the last two years and go after an athlete who can make an instant impact.
They won't have to go far from home to find one.
Washington tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins is the nation's most talented tight end, but he comes with off-field issues that few teams will overlook.
The Seahawks have proven they will look past those issues if a player can produce, and Seferian-Jenkins can produce. Seferian-Jenkins would become an instant safety valve for Russell Wilson, as his big frame would box out safeties and linebackers when Wilson is on the move in the pocket or outside it.
The combination of Wilson's scrambling and Seferian-Jenkins' size and hands will give every team in the NFL nightmares.
30. New England Patriots
The Pick: WR Cody Hoffman, BYU
Until then, where would the Patriots stand to gain most at the end of Round 1?
Bill Belichick does a good job of identifying football players who fit his scheme, and over the long haul it's tough to argue with his success at finding starting-quality players through the draft. If there is one position Belichick hasn't proven his genius at, it's wide receiver.
The biggest area of need on the current roster is undoubtedly at wide receiver after the team lost Wes Welker in free agency and failed to produce a solid No. 2 receiver over the last several drafts.
With the depth chart already thin, Belichick will once again be forced to add a receiver early in the 2014 draft.
BYU's Cody Hoffman has the size to be an outside threat in any NFL offense. And on top of that, he moves exceptionally well for a 6'4", 215-pound wide out. Hoffman's strength is in his pass-catching radius, thanks to long arms and great vision, but he's a high-level route-runner and someone who would find a quick chemistry with Tom Brady thanks to his work ethic.
Hoffman's size and natural ability will make him the edge threat the Patriots need to spread the field with slot receiver Danny Amendola and the tight ends receiving the most looks from No. 12.
The only thing wrong with this pick is that Hoffman isn't from Rutgers.
31. Denver Broncos
The Pick: CB Jason Verrett, TCU
The popular pick to win the AFC at this time, the Denver Broncos have a lot going for them. But is this a roster built for a one- or two-year run only? John Elway will have his work cut out for him to keep the Broncos in contention for the long haul.
Elway and the Broncos' front office have done a solid job adding talent around Peyton Manning and Champ Bailey, and with a young quarterback already in place (Brock Osweiler), the team can look to add young players at other key positions.
The biggest area of need looking ahead one year is at cornerback. With Bailey set to retire any time now and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie on a one-year deal, the team will be relying heavily on slot cornerback Chris Harris—who is an underrated star—and Tony Carter at the position.
That screams for an early draft pick in 2014.
Jason Verrett has everything you want from a cornerback at the next level. A first-team All-American in 2012, Verrett has the playmaking ability to step in as a No. 1 cover man and face the best of the best early in his career.
Verrett could stand to add bulk to his slight 5'10", 176-pound frame, but that's a minor detail. Looking at his coverage skills and the way his feet transition throughout a route makes you see that he's ready to be a big deal in the NFL.
32. San Francisco 49ers
The Pick: CB Loucheiz Purifoy, Florida
The Super Bowl losers in 2012, the San Francisco 49ers are picked to make a playoff run that results in the team's sixth Lombardi Trophy. The talent is there to win a title, but the team does have needs moving forward.
The front office gambled at the cornerback position for the 2013 season, betting on veteran Carlos Rogers and Nnamdi Asomugha coming off two miserable seasons in Philadelphia. They do have mainstays Tarell Brown—who is quickly becoming a top 10 cornerback—and slot corner Chris Culliver, but the No. 1 cornerback spot manned by Rogers is on shaky ground in 2013 and beyond.
The reality in San Francisco is that Rogers won't be around after the 2013 season. With Asomugha on a one-year deal, there's a strong chance he could either play his way to a bigger contract outside of San Francisco or perform poorly and not be asked back.
Both scenarios leave the 49ers looking to add a cornerback.
Loucheiz Purifoy has been a hot name on the pre-season draft circuit. He has the speed to keep up with the best of the NFL, and he brings the instincts of a top-tier cover man along with it. Purifoy has the size at 6'0" and 190 lbs, and with his sub-4.4 speed he reminds a lot of Desmond Trufant from the 2013 class.
Purifoy has the all-around ability to shoot up draft boards, but if available, he's the type of physical, athletic cornerback the 49ers need.