Team needs, targets: Picks 21-32 and beyond

NFL scout Dave-Te' Thomas lays out his detailed approach to the draft for the final third of teams drafting in the first round, and the two that don't have first-round picks. He gives his best-fit picks throughout the draft that should fill needs for each of the teams picking later in the first round.

Picks 1-10 | Picks 11-20


Cincinnati Bengals
After years of futility, the Bengals have had a great run through the draft in the last five years, as they unearthed 11 starters and 15 key reserves from the combined 45 selections. Five other draft picks have also found employment with other teams in the league. With nine picks in this draft, Cincinnati is looking forward to getting over their “playoff hump,” and as you see below, they have two fourth-round picks this year. That round has seen Cincinnati find three quality starters in recent years – defensive tackle Geno Atkins (2010) and offensive linemen Clint Boling (2011) and Russell Bodine (2014). Bodine could actually battle Bolling for the left guard spot in camp if the Bengals go for a better center in the early rounds. Oregon’s Hroniss Grasu and guard/center A.J. Cann are two players drawing interest, along with LSU’s La'el Collins, who could be their left tackle for the future, as both Andre Smith and Andrew Whitworth enter 2015 as potential free agents following the season. The defensive line sees prodigal son Michael Johnson return after being cast aside by Tampa. Defensive tackle Pat Sims returns also, but neither are long-term solutions, making Texas swingman Malcom Brown an obvious round one target. Rey Maualuga re-signed with the team and Green Bay reject A.J. Hawk is also coming on board, but the team auditioned nine different players as starters on the outside and Vontaze Burfict is still a medical risk after neck, head and knee woes limited him to five games last season. A big linebacker like Mississippi State’s Berardrick McKinney, Penn State’s Mike Hull and Texas’ Jordan Hicks are all versatile linebackers who can play any position in that unit. Injuries at tight end could see the team look to add depth in the mid rounds, with Miami’s Clive Walford being a great find if he is still there in round three. If they decide to see if Tyler Eifert can finally develop as a pass catcher at the position, a big blocker like Ohio State’s Jeff Heuerman is a nice mid-round target.
RoundsRD1 RD2RD3 RD4RD5 RD6RD7
Selections #21#21 #21, 35#21, 36 #21#21 #21
Primary Needs DEOLB TEOT     
Secondary Needs WROC        
Depth Needs OLBQB        
Key Veteran Additions Signed: WR Denarius Moore, QB Josh Johnson, WR Brandon Tate, DE Michael Johnson, DT Pat Sims, ILB A.J. Hawk
Possible First Pick MALCOM BROWN-Texas-Defensive Tackle/End
 
Pittsburgh Steelers
Everyone can see the area that needs a drastic upgrade – the defensive backfield. With Ike Taylor and Troy Polamalu put out to pasture, at least two cornerbacks and a starting strong safety are needed. Unless the team wants to shift Ryan Shazier outside, replacing retired Jason Worilds at outside linebacker is another prime area of need. You can also include right offensive tackle into the critical need area, as Mike Adams and Marcus Gilbert are nothing more than depth material, not starters. At cornerback, not only is Taylor gone, but Cortez Allen self-destructed before a hand injury was like a “mercy killing” and got him out of the way of venting fans. The team has a potential sleeper in Antwon Blake, but he could be subject to league discipline due to some off-field issues. Off-field problems will cost the team the services of tailback Le’Veon Bell for three games next year. Even before the suspension, the team knew it needed to bring in some fresh legs and DeAngelo Williams is not the answer. A quality runner similar to Bell might be Northern Iowa’s David Johnson, who could come on board as a possible third-rounder. Replacing Ike Taylor, they could use a second-round choice on Florida State’s P.J. Williams. Williams has spent his last few summers training with Taylor in Florida and the former Steeler will be serving as a coaching intern in camp this year, possibly making it much easier for Williams to transition. James Harrison and Arthur Moats were re-signed, but the team expected to lose Jason Worilds to free agency rather than stepping into retirement. If Alvin Dupree is still available, the team might gamble on the depth at cornerback in this draft class and go for the Kentucky rush end. If they opt to stay the course at cornerback as a first-round need, Wake Forest’s Kevin Johnson is the best of what might still be around. However, while most experts say he will slide, if Marcus Peters is still around, it will be the quickest trip to the podium announcing his selection that Pittsburgh will ever make. As for other needs, they have to add some youth at tight end (Oklahoma’s Blake Bell) and at right tackle (Ohio State’s Darryl Baldwin) before the draft concludes. Having let aging Brett Keisel go, more depth on the defensive line is needed and Kentucky’s Za'Darius Smith is ideal for the five-tech assignment. In round one, Oregon’s Arik Armstead and Malcom Brown are blue-chip prospects that might not be available when Pittsburgh selects.
RoundsRD1 RD2RD3 RD4RD5 RD6RD7
Selections #22#24 #23#22 #24#23, 36 #22
Primary Needs CBOLB SSROT     
Secondary Needs RBDE TE      
Depth Needs QBOG        
Key Veteran Additions Signed: TB DeAngelo Williams
Possible First Pick ALVIN “Bud” DUPREE-Kentucky-Defensive Rush End/Linebacker
 
Detroit Lions
It is clear what the team’s primary needs are – help for both lines and finding a franchise ball carrier. The problem is, the team has just six draft picks and three are in the final two rounds. Compounding the draft decision is that with just one choice in each of the first three rounds and a slew of needs, the Lions will have to go into the “best available athlete” mode. Potential targets for the defensive line are Malcom Brown of Texas and Washington’s Danny Shelton, who idolizes recent Detroit addition Haloti Ngata. The problem might be that the two are likely to be gone before Detroit’s turn comes up in the opening phase and they have little to offer, outside of future draft picks, to entice some team in a quest to move up on draft day. While some teams regard Florida State’s Eddie Goldman as a late first-round prospect, Detroit is concerned about his obvious lack of production, recent injury issues and poor showings for private workouts. That could see Detroit turn their attention to the offensive line with their first pick. A left tackle like Ereck Flowers of Miami or LSU’s La'el Collins would allow the team to move Riley Rieff to right tackle. They will need further upgrades at both guard and center, but there might not be a first-round option at those positions when the Lions select. They have to decide if the injuries by Joique Bell dictate a move for a running back early in the draft. While either Melvin Gordon or Todd Gurley fit those needs, both should be gone before pick No. 23 is used. They could opt for Duke Johnson or Jay Ajayi in round two or gamble that speedster Jeremy Langford of Michigan State will slide into the third round. More and more, it looks like Rashean Mathis is on his last legs and an upgrade at cornerback will be needed before Day 3 draft activities commence. Florida State’s Ronald Darby and Quentin Rollins from Miami, Ohio could be round two targets.
RoundsRD1 RD2RD3 RD4RD5 RD6RD7
Selections #23#22 #24None None#24 #14, 23
Primary Needs TBROT DTLOG CB   
Secondary Needs DEOC WR      
Depth Needs OLBMLB        
Key Veteran Additions Trade: DT Haloti Ngata…Signed: CB Josh Wilson, DT Tyrunn Walker, DE/OLB Phillip Hunt
Possible First Pick ERECK FLOWERS-Miami-Offensive Tackle
 
Arizona Cardinals
Outside of Pro Bowl right guard Mike Iupati, the Cardinals used the veteran free agency period to bring in some depth, with the suspect defense getting the most attention. With Darnell Dockett and Dan Williams gone, getting a physical nose guard in this draft might be the top priority. Malcom Brown and Danny Shelton are the blue-chip prospects there, but both should be off the board when Arizona selects, leaving them with “consolation prize” Eddie Goldman. The Florida State product does not produce impressive numbers, but he’s a strong wide-body type that excels at occupying multiple blockers. The outside linebacker spots are still uncertain, thanks to the off-field troubles by suspended former star Darryl Washington. They brought in former Pittsburgh/Oakland castoff LaMarr Woodley to handle right outside duties with Alex Okafor’s eight sacks on the left side. Still, Woodley is no more than a one-year rental and using that pick on a weak-side guy like Shaq Thompson in round two might be their best avenue. Tailback has been the offense’s Achilles heel and picking 24th the first round won’t see Melvin Gordon or Todd Gurley still available. They could go for an inside runner like Jay Ajayi or a Matt Forte type in Northern Iowa’s David Johnson, but Miami’s Duke Johnson would give the team a speedy back with good power driving through tackles. Having let struggling center Lyle Sendlein go, the team will need an upgrade at center. One mid-round guy to watch is Georgia Tech guard Shaq Mason or South Carolina’s A.J. Cann, as both are highly productive at their current positions, but also project to center at the next level. Sean Weatherspoon will adjust to life as an inside linebacker, but more help at defensive end might warrant a late-round pick to improve depth. West Virginia’s Shaq Riddick is one player that fits the Arizona scheme. Buffalo’s Kristjan Sokoli is another late-rounder with experience at all defensive line positions. Look for the team to seriously consider replacing Rashad Johnson at free safety, with Samford’s Jaquiski Tarrtt a strong possibility in the third round. Louisville’s James Sample is another hard-hitting safety that the Arizona coaches like. There are also rumbles that Portland State’s Kyle Loomis could come on board late in the draft to offer a camp challenge at punter.
RoundsRD1 RD2RD3 RD4RD5 RD6RD7
Selections #24#23 #22#24 #23#22 #24, 39
Primary Needs NGOLB TBFS     
Secondary Needs OCDE QBCB     
Depth Needs PT         
Key Veteran Additions Signed: OC A.Q. Shipley, DT Cory Redding, OG Mike Iupati, OLB LaMarr Woodley, ILB Sean Weatherspoon, NG Corey Peters
Possible First Pick EDDIE GOLDMAN-Florida State-Nose Guard
 
Carolina Panthers
The draft will be a good one for Carolina to fine tune their roster, as three fifth-round choices could see them take a few risks on players coming off down years from their final college season. While their first order of business is shoring up the offensive tackle position, a player for the left side is a bigger priority, as it will leave Michael Oher and Jonathan Martin taking on Michael Remmers for right tackle duties. Two that immediately come to mind as immediate starting-caliber types are LSU’s La'el Collins and Oregon’s Jake Fisher. Florida’s D.J. Humphries is another first-round candidate, but that would mean shifting Oher to left tackle for a year while the Gators youngster acclimates to NFL life. Collins and Fisher are much more advanced in their stage of the game than Humphries. Since Jordan Gross retired before the 2014 season, protecting Cam Newton’s blind side was a major problem. Kelvin Benjamin proved to be a find in last year’s draft and finding a No. 2 receiver would be nice. Ted Ginn and Jarrett Boykin joining the team adds depth, but neither have shown they have the skill-set to be starters. Dorial Green-Beckham might be the “glass slipper” the team needs in round one, but if they wait until the second or third rounds, speedsters Phil Dorsett, Devin Smith, Tyler Lockett and Rashad Greene might be targeted. Signing Charles Tillman is not the answer at right cornerback, as he’s 34 and coming back from two injury-shortened seasons. Look for Byron Jones, Eric Rowe and Kevin Johnson to get attention from the Panthers in the opening round, but with more pressing needs at receiver and tackle, they might find suitable additions later in the draft, like P.J. Williams (round two), Jalen Collins (second) or Alex Carter (third) to their liking. Carter can also get into the lineup as a challenge for struggling Roman Harper at safety. More than just Kurt Coleman is going to be needed to solve the team’s safety issues. One big change that will come later in the draft is to find a quality punter. Logic says Kyle Loomis in round five, but as good as the Portland State punter is, Louisiana-Monroe’s Justin Manton can punt, kick off and handle field goal/placement duties. Also, look for an outside linebacker, preferably one for the weak-side, to be added later in the draft to present a depth challenge. With DeAngelo Williams and the team parting ways, they signed Jordan Todman to add depth behind over-priced Jonathan Stewart, so don’t be surprised if the team looks at Florida State’s Matthew Jones, Michigan State’s Jeremy Langford or Minnesota’s David Cobb as mid-round upgrades.
RoundsRD1 RD2RD3 RD4RD5 RD6RD7
Selections #25#25 #25#25 #25, 33, 38 #25#25
Primary Needs LOTWR CBFS PT   
Secondary Needs SSWOLB TB      
Depth Needs DLOG        
Key Veteran Additions Signed: OT Michael Oher, CB Charles Tillman, TB Jordan Todman, WR Ted Ginn Jr., WR Jarrett Boykin
Possible First Pick LA’EL COLLINS-Louisiana State-Offensive Tackle (note-team also covets D.J. Humphries-Florida)
 
Baltimore Ravens
In the land of Star Wars, Ozzie Newsome would be the “Yoda” of the draft, as he can see far into the future in making his decisions. Just look at the team’s last two draft classes – seven of the 10 drafted in 2013 and eight of the nine draftees from 2014 are still on the roster. Of the four that did make the squad, two are currently with other NFL teams. The team’s roster features 24 draftees from the last five years. No other team can boast such success. While the team philosophy is to take the best available athlete, I suspect that at least during the early stages of the 2015 draft, they will alter that course to fill two primary needs at wide receiver and cornerback. Their interior of the defensive line is void of leadership after the salary-cap dump/trade of Haloti Ngata to Detroit and they can certainly use an infusion of youth at outside linebacker, with Terrell Suggs getting “long in the tooth” and Pernell McPhee bolting via free agency. Picking 26th, the team will likely find their coveted targets off the board (receivers Amari Cooper, Kevin White, DeVante Parker, Breshad Perriman, Nelson Agholor), but will certainly use that pick on any of the aforementioned if they happen to slip by. As much as cornerback is a priority, understand their previous way of operating if Ozzie decides to go “old school,” in this case, his own old school, and take a player that seems to be slipping down draft boards because he may not fit other teams’ schemes – Alabama strong safety Landon Collins. With Will Hill another infraction away from being suspended by the league, he has been the weak link in a very suspect secondary. Besides, safety is lacking in quality once you get past Collins and Damarious Randall of Arizona State, while up-and-coming corners are in abundance, with the likes of D’Joun Smith, Jalen Collins, P.J. Williams, Quinten Rollins and Ronald Darby to sift through during second- and third-round action. The same holds true at wide receiver, where the Ravens could still see speedsters like Phillip Dorsett, Devin Smith, Tre McBride and Rashad Greene available after round one proceeding. Trying to find a replacement for Ngata is nearly impossible, but the team will consider five-tech types like Henry Anderson in the mid rounds, or could go for Arik Armstead if he happens to be on board when the 26th pick rolls around. Look for upgrades at outside linebacker, more so for NFL-ready 3-4 types like Obum Gwachum, Hau'oli Kikaha and Marcus Golden to also earn second-day draft consideration. The team could look to upgrade their kicking situation late in the draft, with Louisiana-Monroe’s Justin Manton that rare kicker who can punt, kick off and handle field goal/conversion duties with equal flair. With four picks in the last three rounds, look for a small-school blocker like Jacob Rogers or Antoine Everett to be considered for depth purposes. While Justin Forsett was a huge surprise taking over for suspended Ray Rice last year, look for the team to add a running back in the first four rounds, preferably a big back to complement Forsett’s speed. David Cobb of Minnesota and Alabama’s T.J. Yeldon seemed to be two prime targets for the Ravens. With Dennis Pitta continuing to have hip issues, a Clive Walford or Tyler Kroft coming on board before round four will greatly improve the tight end position.
RoundsRD1 RD2RD3 RD4RD5 RD6RD7
Selections #26#24 #23#22 #24#23, 36 #22
Primary Needs WRCB DTOLB     
Secondary Needs DERB TESS FS   
Depth Needs OTQB PKOC     
Key Veteran Additions Signed: QB Matt Schaub, FS Kendrick Lewis
Possible First Pick LANDON COLLINS-Alabama-Strong Safety
 
Dallas Cowboys
If my predictions do hold true, the Ravens broke the hearts of the “Jones Boys,” as Dallas was hoping that Landon Collins would drop down to pick #27 on draft day. They have two in-the-box type of safeties in Barry Church and Justin Wilcox, but both have minimal coverage skills and Dallas’ weak link on defense has been vs. the long ball. They also need an upgrade at cornerback and could find Wake Forest’s Kevin Johnson or Connecticut’s Byron Jones still around to pick from. My bet would be on Jones, as he’s bigger, stronger and, based on his Combine performance, no corner in this draft is more athletic than the injured Husky. Recent surgery, poor route-recognition skills and the revelation that he failed several drug tests puts LSU’s Jalen Collins out of the first round picture, but if other teams shy away from him in the second/third round, it would not be surprising to see the Pokes “double down” and take the enigmatic Tiger. Greg Hardy signed, but was slapped with a 10-game suspension, making a great locker room impression by almost getting into an altercation with a new teammate during Dallas workouts. This volatile situation almost screams “big problem,” but Jerry Jones loves to stir the pot. Getting help for the front wall, both on the outside and the interior will be needed early in the draft. It is doubtful that local kid Malcom Brown lasts until the end of round one, so the team might take a flyer on UCLA’s Owamagbe Odighizuwa to add a pass-rush infusion or they could go with a five-tech type and reach a round early for Florida State’s Mario Edwards Jr. Some on the defensive staff are also pushing for Miami’s Anthony Chickillo before the end of round three, feeling he was greatly misused in the Hurricane scheme and the “real” player stood out in practices prior to the East-West Shrine Game. They also have strong interest in former basketball player Kentucky’s Za’Darius Smith. If Eddie Goldman continues to drop on draft boards, the Florida State product could be playing in Texas as the replacement for discarded Henry Melton at defensive tackle. The team will need to address depth issues at linebacker in the mid rounds, but seem to like area kids from Baylor (Bryce Hager) and Texas (Jordan Hicks) as instant upgrades from their mid-round choices. They could bring in a speedster like Tyler Lockett or Jamison Crowder for the slot receiver/return duties in the second day of the draft and with Doug Free probably in his last year in Dallas, they could use better depth at right offensive tackle. The big elephant in the room is in the backfield. Certainly, the team will not consider Darren McFadden the answer at tailback. They were hoping that Todd Gurley would slide, but his recent positive medical report has some top-10 teams placing him in the priority list. Melvin Gordon won’t make it past Detroit or Miami and there are no other first-round backs available. By the end of round two, Alabama’s T.J. Yeldon, Indiana’s Tevin Coleman and maybe even Miami’s Duke Johnson could still be around to add to the tailback competition.
RoundsRD1 RD2RD3 RD4RD5 RD6RD7
Selections #27#28 #27#28 #27None #19, 26
Primary Needs RBDE DTFS CB   
Secondary Needs DEOLB WRROT     
Depth Needs QBLOT ILB      
Key Veteran Additions Signed: DE Greg Hardy, ILB Andrew Gachkar, TB Darren McFadden, FB Jed Collins
Possible First Pick BYRON JONES-Connecticut-Cornerback
 
Denver Broncos
If one wonders why Peyton Manning wore down late in the year, it could have been from all the running he had to do in order to avoid the defensive onslaught after his offensive line broke down. Right tackle had an “open door” policy where opponents were concerned, recording 10 sacks over the trio of players to audition there. Their best blocker, Orlando Franklin, bolted for San Diego, leaving a gaping hole at left guard. They traded for Baltimore’s Gino Gradkowski, but it was sort of a Henny Youngman-type of deal (take my center, please), as Baltimore had intended to cut the struggling snapper loose, but wrangled a fourth-round pick in 2016 out of the transaction. Most expect Pittsburgh’s T.J. Clemmings to wear a Broncos uniform as their first-round solution at right tackle, but the recent discovery of a foot problem could give the team pause on draft day. Andrus Peat is a possibility, but he played mostly on the left side in college and he is coming off a season that have many wondering if his head is in the game. One possibility is Florida’s D.J. Humphries, or the team could wait until the second round and return injured and struggling Texas A&M left tackle Cedric Ogbuehi to his more comfortable spot at right tackle. The Aggie also has starting experience at left guard, making him a further strong second-round candidate for Denver. At center, they could vie for Kansas State’s B.J. Finney in the third round, but their coaches have been pouring over Florida tape and seem to think that Max Garcia is a late-round find for either the pivot or to provide depth at the tackle spots. They could also jump on Florida State’s Cameron Erving in round one, figuring that his starting experience at left tackle, guard and center will eventually see him claim one spot for the next decade. If the team feels there is enough offensive line talent to wait a round or two, they could try to address their nose guard position in round one. Oklahoma’s Jordan Phillips has been exposed as a boom or bust type, but John Elway is too smart to take that type of a risk with his first pick. The two top nose guards, Malcom Brown and Danny Shelton, will be long gone by pick No. 28, but Eddie Goldman might still be there, even though his production level and poor campus workouts have some teams backing off. The wild card at that position could be injured Rice star Christian Covington, who could still be had in the third-/fourth-round picture. Look for upgrades to both the kicking and punting units – more so with their punter – taking place. The best punter is Portland’s Kyle Loomis, and at kicker, even though Connor Barth came in and steadied the spot, Gary Kubiak is very aware of a former pro soccer player with a first-round type leg at Texas A&M – Josh Lambo. The team will also upgrade their safety situation, even after signing Darian Stewart, but with such a poor crop of talent available through the draft there, they will look for depth rather than starting material. The defensive end position will also bring in a fresh face or two for depth reasons, with West Virginia’s Shaq Riddick and Buffalo’s Kristjan Sokoli the type of blue-collar guys that can make a general manager look smart closing out his draft selections.
RoundsRD1 RD2RD3 RD4RD5 RD6RD7
Selections #28#27 #28#34 #7, 28#27 #33, 34, 35
Primary Needs NGROT LOGOLB     
Secondary Needs OCPT DEILB     
Depth Needs QBPK FSWR     
Key Veteran Additions Trade: OC Gino Gradkowski…Signed: TE James Casey, DE/T Antonio Smith, FS Darian Stewart, OG Shelley Smith, DE Vance Walker, TE Owen Daniels
Possible First Pick CAMERON ERVING-Florida State-Offensive Center/Tackle
 
Indianapolis Colts
Picking this late in the draft, the Colts will sift through what is left among blockers, as they first need to address right tackle issues, where 2013 free-agent signee Gosder Cherilus battled through an assortment of injuries that leaves his health status for 2015 in question. T.J. Clemmings might still be there, as Denver, once penciled in as his future employer, seems to be backing off the Pittsburgh product due to a discovery of a bone break in his foot. That could leave Oregon’s Jake Fisher as the “next man up” at the right tackle slot. He played left tackle for the Ducks last season, but started the previous three years on the right side and might be the most aggressive pass blocker in this draft class. Still, there could be that strong Stanford connection coming into play here, with left tackle Andrus Peat probably putting on the horse-show helmet if he slides down this far. The Colts have tapped into the school with great success recently (Andrew Luck, Coby Fleener) and think the high intelligence and big body could make Peat adjust better while covered at right tackle than out on an island on the left side. They also need to address problems inside. The coaches seem to think that Khalif Holmes will slide into the center vacancy and they signed Philadelphia castoff Todd Herremans to rent out right guard for at least one season, but with South Carolina’s A.J. Cann and Duke’s Laken Tomlinson possibly being available in round two, it might be time to look at the future at that position. The other line is also in need of new blood. They brought in five-tech type Kendall Langford to man one end spot, but the other end, Arthur Jones, and nose guard Josh Chapman have bigger medical files than production charts attached to their names and the Colts lost valuable veterans when Cory Redding bolted to Arizona, while Ricky Jean Francois left for Washington. Robert Mathis is still having Achilles tendon problems and the team could look to Virginia’s Eli Harold as his eventual replacement in round one. LSU’s Danielle Hunter and UCLA’s Owamagbe Odighizuwa are two others to consider for that role, but both might not be around when the Colts pick again in round two. Florida State’s Mario Edwards Jr. and Nate Orchard from Utah are more likely to be available during second-day draft proceeding. Frank Gore is nothing more than a one-year “plug the hole” fill-in at tailback, so look for Jeremy Langford, Northern Iowa’s David Johnson and USC’s Javorius Allen, along with Alabama’s T.J. Yeldon, to all have their names bandied about by the coaching staff before the third round concludes. Finding a suitable free safety to play next to Mike Adams could come in the third-/fourth-round area, as Samford’s Jaquiski Tartt, Penn State’s Adrian Amos and Mississippi’s Cody Prewitt all high on the Colts’ draft board as second-day imports. They might also jump early and take Arizona State’s Damarious Randall, who seems to have surpassed Landon Collins as the best overall safety prospect in this draft. The second-level defensive unit is also expected to suit up a youngster or two, as inside guy D'Qwell Jackson and left outside ’backer Trent Cole are packing on the years.
RoundsRD1 RD2RD3 RD4RD5 RD6RD7
Selections #29#29 #29#29 #29#29, 31 #27, 38
Primary Needs ROTFS DTDE     
Secondary Needs CBOC ILBROLB TB   
Depth Needs WRQB SSOG     
Key Veteran Additions Signed: FS Dwight Lowery, WR Vincent Brown, ILB Nate Irving, WR Andre Johnson, OLB Trent Cole, DT/E Kendall Langford, OG Todd Herremans, WR Duron Carter
Possible First Pick ANDRUS PEAT-Stanford-Offensive Tackle
 
Green Bay Packers
Actually, the Packers could spend multiple picks on drastically upgrading their linebacker unit, especially at both inside positions. With Clay Matthews their only certainty among the second-level starters, what comes on board during the draft will dictate which of the four ’backer spots he will line up at for the 2015 season. Left outside is his best position, with Julius Peppers on the right side, flanking Mike Daniels. Peppers has a huge contract and advanced age, making Nick Perry finally grasping the defense critical. If the coaches feel that Perry will never step up, they might opt to use the 30th pick on UCLA’s Owamagbe Odighizuwa, a perfect fit for their “elephant” spot, coming back from a lost 2013 season (hip surgeries) in spectacular pass-rushing fashion. The problem with Green Bay’s inside linebacker need is the fact thet there is no one true “gotta have” player in this draft class at that position. The party line says UCLA’s Eric Kendricks will be the first one selected, but to me he is nothing more that a weak-side outside guy and might not pack the power needed to play in Don Capers’ 3-4 defensive alignment. That is where Clemson’s Stephone Anthony is the perfect fit. The $64 million question is does GM Thompson go for the Tiger a round too early, but most experts’ might gamble that he is there with the 62nd choice (second round). The late, great Paul Brown once told me on his draft philosophy – better to draft a player a round too early than regret being one pick too late. With Kendricks perhaps lacking “sand in his pants,” Paul Dawson lacking great foot speed and Benardrick McKinney playing with a “ho-hum” attitude, the team might be better off following Paul Brown’s advice. Later, they can hope that they unearth a hidden talent from the likes of Jordan Hicks, Zach Vigil and Jeff Luc to get another starter, or they could see if some excellent small-college defensive ends like Kyle Emmanuel, Dallas Tull or Virginia’s late bloomer Max Valles can turn into that complementary strong-side inside guy. Losing Tramon Williams was bad enough for the depth at cornerback, but they took a further hit when Davon House received a ridiculous contract from Jacksonville to bolt. Casey Hayward is expected to slide out of the slot position to take over boundary corner duties, but with Micah Hyde making a successful transition to safety last year, depth behind Hayward and Sam Shields is marginal, at best. While Utah’s Eric Rowe would be a huge upgrade, along with the likes of Wake Forest’s Kevin Johnson and Connecticut’s Byron Jones, the need for second-level starters might force the Packers to wait and address corner depth issues in the mid rounds. There, they could find one or two from Stanford’s Alex Carter, Oregon State’s Steve Nelson, Texas State’s Craig Mager or Ohio State’s Doran Grant as the annual Ted Thompson find. Sooner or later, the team will need to find a young quarterback to groom as either Aaron Rodger’s eventual replacement or end up being traded by their GM for some high-priced picks down the road. The team showed interest in Bryce Petty, but with needs on defense, giving up a second-rounder for the Baylor product will not bring them the immediate return they need in 2015. Look for Nevada’s Cody Fajardo or Northwestern’s Trevor Simien to get attention from Thompson by round seven. The offensive line could add a swingman like Ohio State’s Darryl Baldwin at tackle and they could also take a flyer on Buffalo’s Kristjan Sokoli or Tusculum’s Caushaud Lyons at the tail end of the draft for the five-tech role on the defensive line. A speedy receiver that can also handle return duties like Jameson Crowder, Tyler Lockett or Ty Montgomery in the mid rounds would solve two issues – depth at receiver and someone that will preserve Randall Cobb for pass-catching chores by returning kicks. Tight end will also get some draft interest, as I suspect the team is seeing a lot of promise in Oklahoma’s Blake Bell to consider him before the fourth/fifth rounds come to an end. With Tim Masthay ranking 20th or worse in punting for each of his last two years, an established bad weather-type punter like Portland State’s Kyle Loomis makes perfect sense with one of the three sixth-round choices that Green Bay owns. Round five could be where Eddie Lacy is reunited with Alabama fullback Jalston Fowler.
RoundsRD1 RD2RD3 RD4RD5 RD6RD7
Selections #30#30 #30#30 #30#30, 34, 37 #30
Primary Needs ILBCB RE      
Secondary Needs QBOLB TEOT PT   
Depth Needs WR         
Key Veteran Additions None
Possible First Pick OWAMAGBE ODIGHIZUWA-UCLA-Defensive Rush (Elephant) End
 
NOTE-New Orleans Saints information for selection number 31 is listed in the story for picks 11-20.
 
New England Patriots
Losing both Brandown Browner and Darrelle Revis puts the Patriots right into the middle of determing which of the cornerbacks left on the draft board they will take with the 32nd selection. That player will not be the only pass defender that the Patriots take among their cache of nine picks, as one, possibly two, more corners should be selected before the draft process ends. The team is really hoping that his troubles with the Washington coaches will see Marcus Peters slide, but that could be a pipe dream, with other teams ahead of New England in dire need for a press coverage guy of Peters’ caliber. Left by the time the Pats get to choose might be the Florida State tandem of P.J. Williams and Ronald Darby, local kid Byron Jones and Wake Forest’s Kevin Johnson. Jones is a prime target for Dallas and New England, leaving one to think that the extra picks in rounds three and four could come into play if the Pats decide they need to trade up for Jones or Peters. If they stand pat, even though P.J. Williams is the more physical one left on board, some “skeletons in the closet” like his drinking issues will see Williams possibly slip out of his once-first-round perch, leaving the ever steady, yet smallish performer – Kevin Johnson – more suited to be the immediate starter the team needs to draft. Eddie Goldman will get serious consideration if the nose guard is still available, but there is no player in this draft capable of replacing what Vince Wilfork brought to the team. The Pats will soon regret not paying the $8 million to keep the old Pro Bowler around one more season, as whoever they do draft to play nose guard will not be NFL-ready, unless his name is Danny Shelton or Malcom Brown. Chris Jones, Alan Branch and Dominique Easley are what is left for the Pats to sort through while replacing Wilfolk and they combined for 48 tackles last season. Iowa’s Carl Davis or Washington State’s Xavier Cooper could be brought in as a third-round pick, with Davis fitting the New England scheme better. Jordan Devey and Ryan Wendell are names you would find on most other teams’ practice squads, not as starters for a team coming off a Super Bowl victory. With six picks in the first four rounds, look for South Carolina’s A.J. Cann, Hobart’s Ali Marpet, Florida State’s Tre' Jackson and Duke’s Laken Tomlinson as obvious upgrades, but that quartet won’t be around past the third round. Look for the receiving unit to get some draft attention, especially at wide receiver. A big wideout in the Dorial Green-Beckham mold would give Tom Brady the big target he covets and the team thinks he has Randy Moss-like playing ability. Nelson Agholor and Jaelen Strong are two other great route runners that the Pats think very highly of. If the team adds another tight end, a blocker like Ohio State’s Jeff Heuerman is a nice addition. Some fans are pushing for Minnesota’s Maxx Williams in round one, but the team thinks they have a developing talent in Tim Wright and they signed Scott Chandler away from Buffalo, where he caught 47 passes last year, making a need for tight end not a prime area of concern, even with Gronk’s long injury history. Of course, the running back by committee approach could see a pass-catching expert like Northern Iowa’s David Johnson or USC’s Javorius Allen a nice mid-round pickup to push for playing time out of the gate.
RoundsRD1 RD2RD3 RD4RD5 RD6RD7
Selections #32#32 #32, 33#2, 32 None#2 #2, 36
Primary Needs CBNG OGWR     
Secondary Needs TEROT DERB     
Depth Needs ILB         
Key Veteran Additions Signed: CB Bradley Fletcher, CB Robert McClain, TB Travis Cadet, TE Scott Chandler, DE/RE Jabaal Sheard, WR Brandon Gibson
Possible First Pick KEVIN JOHNSON-Wake Forest-Cornerback
 
Buffalo Bills
With no first- or fourth-round draft picks, the Rex Ryan era starts with the Bills not selecting until No. 50. Fortunately for them, the prime positions of need, offensive guard and linebacker, will have the bulk of their talent level still available. The addition of Richie Incognito has Ryan confident he can first concentrate on the team’s woeful collection of linebackers, as depth there was further depleted after trading away Kiko Alonso (for LeSean McCoy) to fill a prime need with C.J. Spiller bolting. And by cutting Keith Rivers, who was miscast in the new 3-4 defense, linebacker is further depleted. Clemson’s Stephone Anthony should be on the Bills’ radar to fill the strong-side inside linebacker role. Unless Green Bay elects to use their first-round pick on the Tiger, Rex could get what he wants with Anthony still around with the 18th choice in the second round. Cincinnati’s Jeff Luc and Utah State’s Zach Vigil are late-round inside guys, but Ryan sees a player with his “hair on fire” when he watches tapes of defensive end/fullback/outside linebacker/gunner Max Valles, an impressive-looking athlete who bounced from position to position during his Virginia career. Even with Incognito looking to revive his career, interior line issues will force Buffalo to bring in a body or two. Finding someone to challenge left guard Chris Williams could be Alabama’s Arie-Manuel Kouandjio, as it will also reunite him with his brother, right tackle Cyrus Kouandjio, on the front wall. Signing Charles Clay gives Buffalo more than an adequate pass-catching replacement for Scott Chandler at tight end, but with backup Chris Gragg also an H-back type, a big, physical blocker for that position in the later rounds, like Penn State’s Jesse James or Delaware’s Nick Boyle, will fill that requirement. Still, Ryan is in the same situation he was when dumped by the Jets – one of the worst quarterback situations in the league. Matt Cassel is nothing more than stop-gap at best and the team has yet to admit to its first-round blunder when they took E.J. Manuel. The problem is, with no first-round pick and just Bryce Petty as a second-round prospect to choose from, the team might have to find them on the “south side” of the scoreboard next season and hunt for their franchise QB in 2016. Look for the safety position to also get an upgrade, with Louisville’s James Samples the hard hitting type to push the Williams Boys (Aaron and Duke) for a starting job.
RoundsRD1 RD2RD3 RD4RD5 RD6RD7
Selections None#18 #17None #19#12, 18 #17
Primary Needs OLBILB OGQB     
Secondary Needs REROT TE      
Depth Needs WRSS FS      
Key Veteran Additions Trade: TB LeSean McCoy, QB Matt Cassel…Signed: TE Charles Clay, WR Percy Harvin, QB Tyrod Taylor, FB Jerome Felton
Possible First Pick STEPHONE ANTHONY-Clemson-Inside Linebacker
 
Seattle Seahawks
The Seahawks spent wisely when they traded away injured center Max Unger and their first-round pick for a sensational pass-catching target for Russell Wilson – tight end Jimmy Graham. That leaves a gaping hole on the offensive line at center, while both guard positions and right tackle could also be in need for upgrades up front. However, even without that first-rounder the team has 11 other picks, along with a reputation of unearthing mid-round finds. Still, free agency saw such valuable contributors like guard James Carpenter, cornerback Byron Maxwell, linebacker Malcolm Smith, defensive end O'Brien Schofield and safety Jeron Johnson, in addition to losing valuable assistants, defensive coordinator Dan Quinn (Atlanta) and former linebackers coach Ken Norton Jr. (Oakland). My contacts in Seattle say that while the team will address their offensive line needs early, they are also trying to package their cache of multiple fourth-, fifth- and sixth-round picks in order to move up from the 63rd overall pick in the draft. They are hoping to get at least an early second-round choice so they can snatch a receiver they covet – Dorial Green-Beckham. They will then use picks on guards A.J. Cann and Laken Tomlinson early, but have also shown strong attention to Ali Marpet. Cann is the wild card, as he could actually be Unger’s replacement at center, even though the team thinks they can still find injured Oregon star Hroniss Grasu possibly still being available in round three. A rush end is needed to spell starters up front, with Louisville’s Lorenzo Mauldin also offering the team a versatile option to add outside linebacker depth in the mid rounds. Florida State’s corners, P.J. Williams and Ronald Darby, are eyed as possible solutions after losing Byron Maxwell, but both look like they will be gone in the second round. Look for USC’s Josh Shaw to get a call from Pete Carroll by round three and his inclusion on the roster can also aid the depth at safety. Needs early at corner were somewhat eased with the free-agent signing of Cary Williams, but the team was very quiet on the free-agent market this year, outside of losing all that talent mentioned above.
RoundsRD1 RD2RD3 RD4RD5 RD6RD7
Selections None#31 #31#13, 31, 35 #31, 34#5, 33, 38 #31
Primary Needs OGOC WRDE CB   
Secondary Needs DTROT OLB      
Depth Needs QBF/SS        
Key Veteran Additions Trade: TE Jimmy Graham…Signed: NG Ahtyba Rubin, CB Cary Williams
Possible First Pick DORIAL GREEN-BECKHAM-ex Missouri/Oklahoma-Wide Receiver


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