DT Marcell Dareus
If he's still available at No. 3 overall in Round 1, then the Bills have to take Marcell Dareus.
Despite the fact that Buffalo has been relatively weak up front in its 3-4 for quite some time, Kyle Williams has transformed from an unheralded fifth-round pick in the 2006 draft into a Pro Bowl nose tackle. Yes, this team needs pass rushers at outside linebacker in the worst way since 2009 first rounder Aaron Maybin is already a complete bust, but better play flanking Williams at the two D-end spots would go a long way toward fixing a rush defense that was dead last in the league this past year by a wide margin (169.6 yards allowed per game). End is even more of a question mark because Marcus Stroud departed for rival New England before the lockout.
Dareus, a 6-3, 319-pounder out of Alabama, is still in contention to go No. 1 if the Panthers pass on Auburn quarterback Cam Newton, plus he lined up at five-technique defensive end for the Crimson Tide in coach Nick Saban's system.
OT Tyron Smith
If he's still available at No. 15 overall in Round 1, then the Dolphins have to take Tyron Smith.
Miami has to be totally rebuilt on the offensive side of the football, as management appears to have lost faith in quarterback Chad Henne, running backs Ronnie Brown and Ricky Williams are both free agents not expected to return and wide receiver Brandon Marshall is desperate for a partner in crime on the other side of the formation. But instead of harping on the skill positions, perhaps the front office needs to focus on a once-proud O-line that was a complete disappointment last season. Aside from Pro Bowl left tackle Jake Long and re-signed left guard Richie Incognito, the rest of the blocking up front could be fortified, which should make it easier for the throwers, runners and catchers.
Smith, a 6-5, 307-pounder out of USC, is more upside at this point than finished product, but if he's allowed to develop at right tackle and leaves the blind-side protecting to Long, the Fish might end up having the best bookends in the NFL one day.
New England Patriots
DE Cameron Jordan
If he's still available at No. 17 overall in Round 1, then the Patriots have to take Cameron Jordan.
Like Williams in Buffalo, New England has a difference maker in the middle of its 3-4 thanks to the presence of Vince Wilfork at nose tackle, but he isn't getting a lot of help in the trenches lately. The defensive-end quartet of Brandon Deaderick, Gerard Warren, Myron Pryor and Landon Cohen combined for a grand total of seven sacks in 2010, and even if Mike Wright contributed six in 10 games before being placed on injured reserve, he's never been anything more than a fringe starter at best. The Pats benefit greatly from having six selections in the first three rounds, so they can plug a lot of holes -- D-end is a big one.
Jordan, a 6-4, 287-pounder out of California, is maybe the most versatile defensive lineman in this draft because he could prove to be effective at end in the 3-4 or the 4-3, and some scouts even think he can play three-technique tackle in the 4-3, so he'd be a steal for coach Bill Belichick at 17th.
As for Belichick's other choice in Round 1, No. 28 overall, Florida's Mike Pouncey can help strengthen an aging offensive line, no matter if he ends up at center or guard.
New York Jets
LB Justin Houston
Kevin C. Cox/Getty
If he's still available at No. 30 overall in Round 1, then the Jets have to take Justin Houston.
It's remarkable New York was as good a defense as it was in 2010, finishing third in the league in total yards allowed (291.5 per game) and sixth in points allowed (19.0). The defensive line really didn't scare anybody once Kris Jenkins was lost for good at nose tackle, and although the combination of Bart Scott and David Harris was tremendous at inside linebacker, nobody stepped up at outside linebacker from a pass-rushing perspective. The 5.5 sacks Calvin Pace posted were the least of his three-year run in the Big Apple, former Defensive Player of the Year Jason Taylor was released in February and one-time first rounder Vernon Gholston is arguably the biggest waste of a pick in franchise history.
Houston, a 6-3, 270-pounder out of Georgia, is the rarest of finds at the collegiate level because he has already made the transition from three-point-stance defensive end to two-point-stance outside linebacker, so he is a perfect fit for the 3-4 and possibly an impact player as a rookie.
|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.|