21. Green Bay Packers: Calvin Pryor, S Louisville
The Packers were equally inept stopping the run (25) and defending the pass in 2013 (24). So far, this offseason, GM Ted Thompson signed an aging Julius Peppers away from division rival Chicago and re-signed CB Sam Shields, as well as DT BJ Raji. They drafted DE Datone Jones with their first round pick last year and I would not be surprised if GB chose to select another D-lineman with this pick. With that said the Packers need help at safety and having their pick of the safety litter will be too good to pass up. Alabama’s Ha-Ha Clinton Dix and Louisville’s Calvin Pryor are the top two safety prospects in the draft class. Pryor is more physical than Clinton Dix and that could be the deciding factor for his pick over the Tide safety in the very physical NFC North. Both posted identical 4.58 40-yard dash times at the combine while Pryor had a better vertical and put up 7 more reps on the weight bench than did Clinton Dix. The Packers did not record an INT from the safety position for the first time in more than 50 years in 2013. After passing on the safeties in the 2013 draft class, which produced nine safeties that started at least eight games during their rookie season and 10 of the 23 selected snagged at least one interception—- GB won’t make the same mistake twice. Pryor had 69 tackles (5½ for a loss) during his junior year with three interceptions and two forced fumbles.
22. Philadelphia Eagles: Mock Trade With San Francisco 49ers
The 49ers have 11 picks in the 2013 draft and need to draft a top tier WR. This deal to move up eight spots would include the first rounder (30), one of their third round picks, most likely their second one (94) and their fifth rounder (170). The deal is nearly identical to the one that was made between the Falcons and Rams last season for the same two spots. The Eagles will still be able to get a guy that can help their NFL worst pass defense in 2013 at No.30 in a player like Northern Illinois Jimmie Ward plus pick up two extra picks in this year’s draft.
22. San Francisco 49ers: Marquis Lee, WR USC
With the Jets taking Brandin Cooks, the Niners know they must pounce to grab a talent like Marquis Lee. San Francisco was one of only two teams to run the ball more than they passed it last season and while that was good enough for nearly another trip to the Super Bowl, getting Collin Kaepernick more weapons to throw to must be a priority. A nagging left knee injury slowed Lee for much of the 2013 season. The 2012 Biletnikoff Award winner was also hurt by the poor QB play at USC. When finally healthy in the Las Vegas Bowl against Fresno State, Lee showed off his playmaking ability, catching seven passes for 118 yards and two scores. He wasn’t great at the combine, which is why I have Cooks over him. At his Pro-Day, Lee did not try to improve on a rather slow 4.52 40-yard dash time from the combine. Nevertheless, Harbaugh knows what kind of talent Lee is and the Niners cannot hold onto these picks forever. If they do not draft Lee, the Chiefs or Panthers will before them.
23. Kansas City Chiefs: Odell Beckham Jr., WR LSU
The Chiefs lost two good guards in free agency (Jon Asamoah & Geoff Schwartz) and have yet to land an impact wide receiver; Beckham fills the need at Wide out and will be a good compliment to the bigger Dwayne Bowe. Andy Reid has always preferred West Coast concepts as the driving force behind his offenses but he also wants a deep vertical threat to take the top off the coverage. And from start to finish, there is no better and more versatile speed receiver in this class than Beckham. He tore it up at the scouting combine, running a 4.43 40 and nailing it in all the drills. Add in his value as a return man, and Beckham could redefine Reid’s offense sooner than later. He’s considered a poor man’s Sammy Watkins in a very respectable sense and should find success almost immediately in KC with teams looking to stop RB Jamal Charles and Bowe first.
24. Cincinnati Bengals: Dee Ford, DE. Auburn
The Bengals have been draft darlings the past two years and would be well on their way to having another solid draft if Dee Ford ended up in the Queen City. Cincy must replace Michael Collins and Ford could be that guy. As his undersized frame and 40 time (4.67) suggest, Ford relies on his burst off the snap to gain the corner against offensive tackles. He accelerates smoothly and is flexible enough to bend around the corner as a pure speed rusher. He is a perfect fit in N.O as he his respected by coaches and teammates, Ford finally became an obvious force to the rest of football in 2013 as an undersized edge rusher, finishing the regular season with 12.5 tackles for loss, including 8.5 sacks. He earned first-team All-SEC honors from the league’s coaches and the Associated Press and had an outstanding week at the Senior Bowl. Speaking of the Senior Bowl, Ford impressed during the weigh-in and was virtually unstoppable off the edge during the practices, showing burst, bend and closing speed. He was the most dynamic player on the field during the game, recording two sacks and timing a leap to knock down a pass to earn MVP honors.
25. San Diego Chargers: Jason Verrett, CB TCU
Ranked 29th in the NFL last season, San Diego’s pass defense was one of the worst in the league in 2013.This forced the Chargers to get rid of free-agent bust Derek Cox and Johnny Patrick after just one season with the team. Of the four corners remaining on the active roster, Shareece Wright is the only one with starting experience. In free agency, the Chargers added former Cincinnati Bengal Brandon Ghee on a two-year deal. While Ghee has spent four years in the NFL, he lacks starting experience and is injury prone. Verrett isn’t very big at just 5-9 and 190 pounds but he’s physical for his size and tied for the third best vertical at the NFL combine amongst cornerbacks. Scouts label him as scrappy and tenacious, making him an ideal nickel corner with the tackling ability to threaten on an occasional blitz. He also impressed with his speed in Indy, running a 4.38 40-yard dash. But he also scared a few teams announcing that he will undergo surgery after his pro day to repair a torn labrum. It won’t be enough to scare the Chargers who desperately need help in the defensive backfield and when you consider that Peyton Manning and the Broncos are reloading for another run, Verrett may not be the only DB the Chargers select in May.
26. St. Louis Rams (from Cleveland from Indy) Teddy Bridgewater, QB Louisville
The Rams have made it clear that Sam Bradford is their guy—–but they haven’t ponied up an extension for him as of yet either. Back in February, CBS Sports’ Jason LaCanfora reported that the Rams “have no intention of extending” Bradford’s current contract, the $76 million deal he signed as the first overall pick in the 2010 NFL Draft. A source form the Rams would later say they are open to an extension for Bradford, who is due $27M over the next two years. A longer deal would still be a surprise to many, because adding guaranteed money beyond the current deal would make it very difficult for the team to part with Bradford. Enter Bridgewater, who for much of the 2013 season was the No.1 consensus to be the first QB selected. His impressive production, passing accuracy and leadership seemed to standout despite weaker competition and even over the playmaking skills of Johnny Football in the SEC. Weaker competition or not Bridgewater’s QB skills cannot be denied but there are a few concerns. His frame seems slight and even if he bulks up, durability might be an issue as he lacks that innate feel and smooth athleticism to move in and out of pocket. Although he’s quick, Bridgewater has a lower than ideal release point with the ball shooting passed his ear. Some durability concerns after all the hits he has taken over his career, specifically to his wrist and ankle. He’s mobile enough to extend plays, but isn’t a true dual-threat quarterback.
27. New Orleans Saints: Kony Ealy, DE Missouri
The Saints significantly improved their defense with new defensive coordinator Rob Ryan at the helm. In fact, no team in the history of the league had a better turnaround in terms of yards allowed and not allowed from one season to the next. The addition of players like Jairus Byrd means the defense stands to get even better next year. The Saints still need an outside edge rusher, who can wreak havoc in the backfield and create turnovers. Ealy is a perfect fit for a DC like Ryan, who loves versatility. He led all defensive linemen at the combine with a 6.83-second time in the 3-cone drill, a test designed to show change-of-direction ability, and shaved over a fifth of a second off of his combine 40-yard dash time (4.92) at his pro day (4.70). He is a bit raw but has drawn comparisons to Robert Quinn of the Rams. All Quinn did was finish second in the NFL with 19 sacks in 2013. According to Rob Rong of CBS Sports, “there is no denying Ealy’s upside. He boasts the length, burst and developing technique that every scout is looking for off the edge. If he continues to develop his game, Pro Bowls are in his future.” Ealy is a highly versatile defender who projects well to the 4-3 and 3-4 alike.
28. Carolina Panthers: Kelvin Benjamin, WR Florida State
This is perhaps the biggest layup of the first round when you consider the following. The Panthers have watched their top four receivers from a year ago walk away this offseason. Steve Smith, Brandon LaFell, Ted Ginn and Domenik Hixon all have new teams. That’s a combined 156 receptions, 1,983 yards and 15 touchdowns. That represents 53.4 percent (receptions), 58.7 percent (receiving yards) and 62.5 percent (TD passes) of Cam Newton‘s 2013 production. Those receivers also combined for all but 55 yards and four catches of the receiving production in the playoff loss to the San Francisco 49ers. Benjamin is the best of the remaining first rounder’s and he isn’t a bad option here at 28. I’m not as sold on him as most but he is a big target for Cam Newton. At 6-5 and 240 pounds, Benjamin has rare size and is a physical mismatch vs. defensive backs and linebackers. He will not easily be knocked off course and will enter the middle on crossers and coupled with his outstanding jump ball catching abilities, could give the bigger NFC corners fits. He isn’t as strong as I’d like for his size, but he still has a lot of maturing to do and he isn’t what you would call fast– but speed when it comes to the WR position is overrated when you possess the size of Benjamin.
29. New England Patriots: Louis Nix III, DT Notre Dame
The play of DT’s Aaron Donald and Timmy Jernigan coupled with Nix’s knee injury drops him into the lap of Bill Belichick, who just so happens to have DT, as one his team’s biggest needs. Knee surgery cut short his 2013 season and he prepared for the combine at EXOS (formerly Athletes’ Performance Institute) in Phoenix. Despite less than average times, his conditioning and confirmed recovery made him one of the combine’s “big” winners. When healthy, he has proven to be the best run-stoppers in the draft. At 6-2 and 331 pounds, he is bigger than both Jernigan and Donald and when healthy has as much if not more athleticism. He is a steal for the Patriots at 29.
30: Philadelphia Eagles: Ryan Shazier, OLB Ohio State
The story here is to wait and see what the Eagles do with DeSean Jackson. The Eagles bold and outspoken WR has told anyone that will listen he is not going anywhere but do the Eagles feel the same way. Head coach Chip Kelly acknowledged Wednesday that he spoke with wide receiver DeSean Jackson “a couple days ago” regarding swirling reports that Jackson could be traded or released, but when he was peppered with questions by the media at the NFL owners meetings, Kelly did not quash those reports by ensuring Jackson would be with the club in 2014. “We’ve had a good conversation, and we’re always going to do what’s best for the football team,” Kelly said. “But I think he knows where we are, and I know where he is”. If Jackson is traded, the Eagles will look to replace him but if he’s there, then Shazier could be the pick. At 6-1 and 237 pounds, Shazier does not have ideal size but his instincts, speed and hard hits make him a fearful defender that offenses must account for on every snap. Shazier, whose 143 tackles, including 22.5 tackles for loss, not only led the Big Ten last season, they combine to rank among the best seasons from any Buckeye defender over the past 25 years.
Previous pick: Ha-Ha Clinton Dix
31. Denver Broncos: Bradley Robey, CB Ohio State
The Broncos have made quite a splash in free agency signing players such as DeMarcus Ware, Aqib Talib and Emanuel Sanders. All address major needs for Denver. With that said, it’s safe to say Denver learned something from their loss to the Seahawks in the Super Bowl; you can never have too many good players in your secondary. The Broncos paid top dollar for Talib but with the talented cornerback having never played a full season in his seven-year NFL career, Denver would be wise to add to the position in the draft. Roby was not as consistent in 2013 as scouts would like but he is a terrific athlete whose best football may still lie ahead of him. Some team is going to gamble on his upside in the first round and none better to roll the dice than Denver. With a 4.39 40-yard time at the combine, Roby has world-class speed with the click-and-close ability to play tight coverage and mirror receivers all over the field. He possesses a good fighting attitude to battle for the ball but he lacks consistency and seemed to disappear from big moments in some games but he wasn’t alone on the Buckeyes defense in 2013.
*previous pick: Ryan Shazier
32. Seattle Seahawks: Jace Amaro, TE Texas Tech
Amaro has the potential to be a very special player in the NFL. You know he can catch, as his 106 receptions for 1,356 receiving yards and seven touchdowns will attest to but he can also block. At 6-5, 257 pounds, Amaro has the frame to block and did so more than adequate in his second year in 2012 in the offense of Tommy Tuberville. He was the fourth fastest TE at the combine and showed good strength in finishing second with 28 reps on the weight bench amongst the players at his position. Seattle needs another WR with the loss of Golden Tate but Amaro will do just nicely as the Seahawks look to ramp up their passing attack a tad in 2014.