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1. Carolina Panthers: DT Marcell Dareus, Alabama-
With no Andrew Luck in the mix the Panthers, will go to plan B, which is to choose from one of the elite defensive players in the draft or wide receiver A.J. Green. There might be a big push for the Panthers to go for Green, given their need for a play making receiver (especially to help in the development of Jimmy Claussen), but I think that would be a big mistake. The Panthers have spent a number of draft picks on receivers the last few years, and while Green is better than all of them, that is just too many resources to put into one position, especially when they have so many other holes. While there are some people who will point to Cam Newton as the answer, he simply isn’t a franchise quarterback of the ilk of Peyton Manning.
While I considered Bowers for the top spot, and have had Fairley there before I think Dareus makes the most sense. While the Panthers could use star DE to replace Charles Johnson, he also might no longer fit in their system. New HC Ron Rivera has talked about employing both the 4-3 and the 3-4. That would make Dareus the be perfect fit for the the Panthers as he as adept to playing both inside at tackle and outside as a 3-4 end. While it isn’t his primary position, Dareus could even play some NT as well. Wherever he is lining up, Dareus projects to be a force at the next level. He should be an excellent run defender and put more than ample pressure on the quarterback.
2. Denver Broncos: CB Patrick Peterson, LSU-
I had considered Peterson as a potential option in the past, but with the Broncos resigning Champ Bailey, I thought the need was lessened. Now though with Da’Quan Bowers’ recent injury concerns, Peterson is the best value that makes sense for Denver. If Dareus were still on the board Denver could go that route, but instead they will make due with adding an elite corner. Peterson and Bailey should really shutdown opposing passing attacks. The Broncos will still need to address their need at defensive end, but they can look to that later in the draft.
3. Buffalo Bills: OLB Von Miller, Texas A&M-
As the days go by Miller’s stock keeps rising and rising, to the point that I just can’t see the Bills passing on him. I know they could go QB here, or the top corner on their board, but Miller is an elite talent and fills a major need. He’s making it harder and harder for the Bills to pass him up, to the point that I just can’t see it happening.
4. Cincinnati Bengals: QB Cam Newton, Auburn-
While wide receiver could be the pick, or DE with Bowers on the board, I’m thinking the Bengals bite the bullet and grab Newton. Newton’s workout was a start, and if he follows it up with a big combine and pro day he will likely be picked in the top 5. If the Bengals can’t convince Palmer to come back and play, they will look for his replacement. Personally, I think that this is far too high for Newton, but some team will pull the trigger on him. It will be tough to pass up A.J. Green, but it could end up happening with Newton on the board.
5. Arizona Cardinals: OLB Robert Quinn, North Carolina-
While Quarterback remains a major need, I think the Cardinals might try to trade back into the 1st round to land their signal caller. Gabbert is a decent fit for them, but a guy like Ponder or Dalton might make more sense at the end of the 1st or top of the 2nd round. Quinn on the other hand fills a huge need for them and can really impact that defense.
6. Cleveland Browns: WR A.J. Green, Georgia-
The Browns have two major needs (WR and DE) and either one could make sense for this pick. I have previously linked them to both a receiver and defensive end, but now I believe they will look receiver first. Although I don’t normally advocate receivers over more important positions, like the defensive line, it is hard to argue against Green. Green has the skill set and potential to be the next elite receiver in this league. Given the Browns lack of a quality wide receiver, Green makes a lot of sense for them. Although, they could still look at DE with a guy like Robert Quinn or Aldon Smith, I think Green is too good to pass up.
7. San Francisco 49ers: QB Blaine Gabbert, Missouri –
The 49ers luck out here as Blaine Gabbert falls to them and they land their quarterback of the future. I think Gabbert is a good fit for the 49ers and Harbaugh will be able to shape him to a very good starting quarterback. With their biggest need filled the 49ers, could even look to challenge for the NFC West title next year.
8. Tennessee Titans: DT Nick Fairley, Auburn-
The Titans have been searching for an inside pass rusher for a couple years now, and now they finally have one in Nick Fairley. Fairley is a top 5 talent, but one that could slip since he isn’t as good of a fit in the 3-4. Fairley will be a big boost to the Titans pass rush, that could be hurting from the potential loss of Jason Babin. Tennessee needs a disruptor along their defensive line and that fits Fairley perfectly.
9. Dallas Cowboys: CB Prince Amukamara, Nebraska-
The Cowboys have many needs, but I see them going hard after a corner back in this draft. I think Amukamara is the best CB available. Amukamara will fill the Cowboys’ biggest need, but there are some rumors that Dallas isn’t high on him. I’m guessing that is a smokescreen. If he falls this far, Dallas is getting an absolute steal as I really don’t see much that separates Amukamara and Peterson.
10. Washington Redskins: OT Tyron Smith, USC-
While I had focused on the defensive side of the ball, I’ve been ignoring the Redskins biggest need. No not quarterback or receiver, but offensive tackle. The Redskins need a bookend to Trent Williams, and Tyron Smith is the best in this draft. I was hoping they would fill this need through free agency, but with those waters murky right now, I don’t think the Redskins can avoid the position during draft weekend. With few picks, they should go ahead and just take Smith, who will give Washington two potential elite tackles that should help impact both the run and the pass.
Trading down is still a very viable option and one I think the Redskins have to consider.
11. Houston Texans: OLB Aldon Smith, Missouri-
Houston will be in the midst of transitioning to a 3-4 defense, and with no corner back to take they should focus this pick on grabbing a front 7 player. This pick should come down to either a rush linebacker or a 3-4 DE. The latest rumors have Smith going to the Texans, and I tend to agree with that statement. I do believe Texans DC Wade Phillips will see Smith as a DeMarcus Ware type of player and that could sell him to make Smith the pick right here.
I think Smith is an excellent pass rusher and is going to be a star at the next level. This is a great first pick for the Texans as they transition to a new defense.
12. Minnesota Vikings: DE Ryan Kerrigan, Purdue-
This is a little high for Kerrigan can help fill the Vikings biggest need, which is replacing DE Ray Edwards. Minnesota won’t be able to address the quarterback position here, so they should focus on drafting something they can fix, and that is their defensive end spot. Kerrigan, should do quite well with his hand in the ground, and be a great compliment to Jared Allen. This is a spot that Bowers could go, but Minnesota might be wise to hesitate given his injury history.
13. Detroit Lions: OT Anthony Castonzo, Boston College-
I know corner and linebacker are need spots, but they aren’t anything compared to Detroit’s need at left tackle. What the Lions have done in terms of protecting (or not protecting) Matt Stafford is flat out insane. You spend $60 million on a guy and you put him in a situation where he can’t succeed and needs to run for his life. The Lions have to fix that this offseason and grabbing Castonzo would be a smart move. In addition to the pain the offensive line has caused their quarterbacks, the Lions running game hasn’t fared much better. Their backs have one of the worst yards per carry in the league, and can never pick up the tough yards. I know defense wins championships, but Castonzo is an instant starter and can protect Stafford for the next decade. The Lions could look to trade back with Smith off the board, but even if they are slightly reaching for him I don’t see how they can afford to not beef up their pass protection.
I get a number of comments/emails talking about why the Lions need to focus on the back 7 of their defense, and it is a valid concern. I just don’t think it is one that needs to be addressed in the first round. There isn’t a single 4-3 linebacker that makes sense to take at this point of the draft, and the only CB’s worth taking in the top 15 picks are off the board here. I know that the Lions line was among the better units in sacks allowed, but it is far from an elite group. As for Jeff Backus, while he had a good year last year, he gave up 44 sacks in the previous 4 years, so I don’t know how sustainable his success will be. By moving him over to the right side, you take advantage of his strengths and you limit his weaknesses, making this a win-win scenario. After locking up their line the Lions should focus on LB’s and CB’s.
14. St. Louis Rams: WR Julio Jones, Alabama-
The Rams need to walk away from this draft with a frontline receiver, which means they need to address this position in the first round. Now I’m not conceding my personal rankings in terms of who should go first between Julio Jones and Jon Baldwin, but I think it is time to concede the fact that Jones will go first. I think teams will fall in love with his incredible combine numbers, and slightly overdraft Jones. It’s not that I am anit-Jones, its just that I worry about how refined he is. That being said, he will be a major upgrade for the Rams and they will be thrilled to land him with this pick. If they feel he could get drafted earlier, don’t be surprised if St. Louis looks to move up a couple of spots to secure his services.
15. Miami Dolphins: QB Jake Locker, Washington-
I don’t think Jake Locker is a top 15 player and in fact I think he is a borderline top 50 player, but it looks like someone is going to overdraft him come Thursday. I have a feeling that team might be the Miami Dolphins, as Chad Henne has drawn the ire of much of that fan base. Miami might hope they can trade back and acquire him, but with some other prospective suitors potentially creeping up, I think they might pull the trigger here. I consider this a big mistake for Miami, but one that they very well could make.
16. Jacksonville Jaguars: DE De’Quan Bowers, Clemson:
This is a pretty far drop for Bowers and frankly I’d be surprised if he fell this far. But will so many teams above them that either don’t need him or run the 3-4, there is a chance he will be there for the Jags. Bowers is a special talent, one that is far better than the 16th player in this draft (even with the injury concerns). The Jaguars will be quite happy to add Bowers to their emerging defensive line.