LB Von Miller
Aaron M. Sprecher/Getty
If he's still available at No. 5 overall in Round 1, then the Cardinals have to take Von Miller.
If a team running the 3-4 on defense can't put consistent pressure on the quarterback from the outside linebacker position, then the scheme simply won't be as effective as it was for, say, the Packers and Steelers this past season -- they met in Super Bowl XLV, in case you've forgotten. Clark Haggans and Joey Porter combined for just 10 sacks in 2010 for Arizona, while the Packers got 13.5 from Clay Matthews and the Steelers got 10.5 from James Harrison by themselves. Optimists within the organization hold out hope that 2010 fourth-round pick O'Brien Schofield, who tore his ACL during practice at the Senior Bowl before the 2010 draft, can still develop into a difference maker one day, but those odds are long and he'll likely never be the same player.
Miller, a 6-3, 246-pounder out of Texas A&M, is a tough block for any offensive lineman in a one-on-one situation, and even if his coverage skills are lacking right now, he's capable of double-digit sacks -- and Defensive Rookie of the Year -- immediately.
San Francisco 49ers
CB Patrick Peterson
If he's still available at No. 7 overall in Round 1, then the 49ers have to take Patrick Peterson.
San Francisco is paying the price -- literally -- for making Nate Clements the highest-paid defensive player in NFL history back in 2007, signing the free-agent cornerback to an eight-year, $80 million contract. Interceptions can be overrated for a corner, as Clements has 10 INTs the last four seasons compared to Nnamdi Asomugha's three, but that's because teams know they can take advantage of Clements in the passing game and target him quite often -- Asomugha, on the other hand, doesn't get many balls thrown his way in Oakland anymore because, well, they're not likely to be completed anyway. The 49ers can make an attempt to salvage their investment in Clements by sliding him inside to nickel back.
Peterson, a 6-0, 219-pounder out of LSU, appears to be a once-in-a-decade talent and a future All-Pro whether he lines up at corner or safety, plus he has Pro Bowl ability as a return man on special teams.
QB Jake Locker
Otto Greule Jr./Getty
If he's still available at No. 25 overall in Round 1, then the Seahawks have to take Jake Locker.
One of the franchises hurt immensely by the lockout, the Seahawks have to prepare for the future at quarterback even if they're able to bring back Matt Hasselbeck in free agency -- when that opportunity will present itself, nobody knows. While Hasselbeck's passer rating of 73.2 was his lowest since first coming to the Emerald City back in 2001, he did throw the football very well in the playoffs and knocked off the defending-champion Saints 41-36 in the wild-card round by going 22-of-35 for 272 yards with four touchdowns and one interception. Both Hasselbeck and coach Pete Carroll said all the right things before the CBA expired, but the fact remains that the two parties never agreed on a new contract.
Locker, a 6-3, 231-pounder out of Washington, wouldn't have to start right away since Hasselbeck should return, and although this draft is incredibly difficult to predict at QB because so many teams are in need but none of the prospects are can't-miss, the Ferndale native could very well be there in the later stages of the first round.
St. Louis Rams
WR Julio Jones
Kevin C. Cox/Getty
If he's still available at No. 14 overall in Round 1, then the Rams have to take Julio Jones.
St. Louis looks to have hit a home run at No. 1 overall last April with quarterback Sam Bradford, who was good on 60 percent of his throws, put together a touchdown-to-interception ratio of 18-to-15 and finished with a passer rating of 76.5 -- he was the league's Offensive Rookie of the Year. His performance was all the more impressive since his No. 1 target, Danny Amendola, who caught 85 passes, only managed to record 689 yards and averaged a fullback-like 8.1 yards per catch. Danario Alexander has a lot of upside coming off knee surgery, which cost him his chance to get drafted in 2010, but he's unlikely to be a primary target.
Jones, a 6-3, 220-pounder out of Alabama, looked better during Senior Bowl workouts than the consensus top wideout on the board, Georgia's A.J. Green, so the long strider could be exactly what Bradford needs to stretch defenses vertically.
|John Crist is an NFL analyst for Scout.com, a voter for the Heisman Trophy and a member of the Professional Football Writers of America.|