Kiper's 'Grade: A' draft
Three full rounds of picks -- 100 in total -- but this time Mel is the GM
Updated: April 3, 2014, 9:11 PM ET
By Mel Kiper Jr. | ESPN Insider
For this, I'm the GM -- for every team. Typically I'm asked to project picks. But for the "Grade A" draft, I make them. Each pick I select what I might for that team, in that spot, based on who is gone and who is available. Best outcome for each team at each spot.
The ground rules
1. At each slot, I make a pick in the best interest of only the team with the pick. I won't pass on a player at No. 5 just because I like how he fits better at No. 7.
2. There are no trades. I note team needs, but not all picks are specifically to hit a need -- same as the draft.
3. This is NOT A PROJECTION. It's more a look at how I currently value players at each slot.
You'll find the roundup for each team's draft haul below, but I've also included a pick-by-pick version so you can see how the order of the picks progressed and get an idea of who was off the board when each team selected.
Pick-by-pick Rounds 1 through 3.
Top needs: QB, RT, OLB/DE
Round 1 (Pick No. 1) DE Jadeveon Clowney, South Carolina
Round 2 (33) QB Jimmy Garoppolo, Eastern Illinois
Round 3 (65) CB Bashaud Breeland, Clemson
Analysis: Quarterback is obviously a big need, but I'm simply not willing to forgo the high likelihood of stardom for Clowney -- at a critical position no less -- for the risk associated with taking one of the available quarterbacks so high. It's simply too big a leap in terms of value on my draft board. I'm not going to worry about system fit. Romeo Crennel and Bill O'Brien are smart enough to find a way for Clowney to be effective -- and he will be special. I consider Garoppolo a potential NFL starter, possibly a good one with O'Brien's guidance, and with one star in hand I'll take him ahead of Derek Carr early in Round 2. It's a little ahead of where I have him rated overall, but again, the value associated with the position is factored in against scarcity, and I take my shot. Cornerback isn't a huge need, but I like value for Breeland there, and it's impossible to have too many effective corners in the NFL of 2014. I think the pick at No. 1 represents not just how special Clowney is, but that this team is too good on paper to be waiting on a rookie to develop on the job. Take one at No. 1, and that's what you get.
St. Louis Rams
Top needs: WR, S, RT, LB
Round 1 (2) WR Sammy Watkins, Clemson (from WAS)
Round 1 (13) S Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, Alabama
Round 2 (44) OT Morgan Moses, Virginia
Round 3 (75) LB Christian Jones, Florida St.
Analysis: I actually have a few players rated slightly higher than Watkins on my Big Board, but I'm looking at this roster as the GM. I think I have one season to find out if Sam Bradford is my quarterback for the long haul, so I need to give my coach the best chance to score more points and win football games. Ultimately, I decide to draft the guy I think can make plays and upgrade my offense immediately. And really, Watkins isn't much of a leap in terms of value. The extra first-round pick gives me the courage to take the high-upside offensive talent at No. 2. Clinton-Dix is a no-brainer given the need at safety with the top three OTs gone at No. 13, and then I get the tackle I need in Round 2. Moses isn't a left tackle, but he can play as a rookie if needed, and I need help on the right side. I'm pretty happy with two of my linebackers -- James Laurinaitis and the raw but talented Alec Ogletree -- but add some versatility and potentially a rookie starter in Jones. You hope Bradford is good, because this roster sure is.
Top needs: QB, DE, RT, WR
Round 1 (3) LB Khalil Mack, Buffalo
Round 2 (39) QB Derek Carr, Fresno St.
Round 3 (70) WR Allen Robinson, Penn St.
Analysis: The new leadership group in Jacksonville has done a good job working to retool the roster in terms of overall talent and depth, and if I'm making the pick, I'm not ready yet to go against that philosophy and risk a slow learning curve for one of the quarterbacks just because so many believe I need "identity" at the position. I see the strides made in the second half of last season, and I think my first goal is: "Take a great football player." That's Mack, a high-impact pass-rusher and a great player in space. With Mack on board, I like the value proposition of Carr in Round 2. I don't consider him an immediate starter, but he will compete for it soon, and I feel good about the pick because I didn't put so much franchise stock into the position in Round 1. I considered a couple of tackles at No. 70, but instead add the talented Robinson, who is closer to a first-rounder in most years, and a player who gives me a reliable size element and some field-stretching ability in my passing attack. Don't forget, the Jags have a trio of fourth-round picks, too.
Top needs: QB, CB, WR, OL
Round 1 (4) QB Johnny Manziel, Texas A&M
Round 1 (26) CB Jason Verrett, TCU (from IND)
Round 2 (35) G Gabe Jackson, Mississippi St.
Round 3 (71) S Ed Reynolds, Stanford
Round 3 (83) RB De'Anthony Thomas, Oregon (from PIT)
Analysis: Here's where I take the plunge at quarterback. For one, while Manziel is a boom-or-bust proposition, he's exactly the type of QB who doesn't give a, um, darn about the bad QB history in Cleveland. In fact, it will just push him. Secondly, I have a bunch of picks in this draft, and I know the entire draft isn't defined by what I do at No. 4. Three, I actually think a guy like Brian Hoyer can start early and win football games. Lastly, my team is going to pass block pretty well, and I have some major weapons on Josh Gordon and Jordan Cameron -- the kind of guys who make a QB look good. I get the corner I need in Verrett because I think, unlike most corners, he's pretty capable of helping me right away. Then I get the best guard in the draft with Jackson, solidifying depth on the interior of the line. Reynolds is the range safety I need to pair with Donte Whitner, and Thomas gives me a return element and a low-touches but valuable decoy element in the offense.
Top needs: OT, WR, CB, DE, G
Round 1 (5) OT Greg Robinson, Auburn
Round 2 (36) WR Jordan Matthews, Vanderbilt
Round 3 (67) DE Kony Ealy, Missouri
Analysis: Robinson is going to be a very good NFL left tackle, and I think the addition here -- and he's basically a steal at this point -- isn't just a great value, it's also good for the survival of Matt Schaub. Donald Penn and Menelik Watson are currently left tackle options, and Robinson is an upgrade on either, even as a rookie. Again, when the roster needs work, "take great football players" is a mantra that can't go wrong. In Round 2, I go for a reliable wide receiver who offers more in athleticism and big-play ability than many realize. Matthews adds certainty to the depth chart at wide receiver. The additions of Justin Tuck and LaMarr Woodley make Ealy an easier pick, because I can utilize him more in a rotation and more often as a pass-rusher. He's a pretty good value early in Round 3, though I have him rated lower than some other analysts.
Top needs: OLB/DE, OT, TE, S
Round 1 (6) OT Jake Matthews, Texas A&M
Round 2 (37) LB Ryan Shazier, Ohio St.
Round 3 (68) DE Scott Crichton, Oregon St.
Analysis: With Mack and Clowney off the board at No. 6, it's simply too much of a leap in value to take a chance on another pass-rusher, so I go with Matthews, the top tackle available. He's been a dominant right tackle and an equally impressive left tackle at the highest levels of college football, and has a ton of experience. I'm getting high probability at a big need area, and not betting too much on upside. Joplo Bartu was OK at weakside linebacker last year, but Shazier is a playmaker at the position, and a player you don't need to take off the field. I just can't pass up the value there, though I considered Austin Seferian-Jenkins, a tight end who could help. I need a defensive end who can come in and give me reps and some disruption, and Crichton qualifies as a value early in Round 3. Kareem Martin was also in consideration at that spot, but I like Crichton's fit in this system, which will be a hybrid 3-4, 4-3 look.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Top needs: RG, WR, OLB, DE
Round 1 (7) WR Mike Evans, Texas A&M
Round 2 (38) G David Yankey, Stanford
Round 3 (69) DE Kareem Martin, North Carolina
Analysis: Pass rush is no longer a first priority with the addition of Michael Johnson, and there's no way I'd spend a top-10 pick on a guard, so I'm going with a difference-maker in the passing game to help my new starting quarterback. He's also the best player on the board at this spot. Evans can be a major weapon, a constant mismatch and a perfect go-get-it target in the passing game. Yes, Vincent Jackson is here, but he is 31 years old and is no guarantee to be around in 2015 based on his deal. The drop-off from Jackson makes this a position of need. I get Yankey to fill the need at guard in Round 2, and then go with Martin in Round 3. I like his frame as a defensive end in Lovie Smith's system, and he has the athleticism that can make him a potent extra pass-rusher over the course of a long season.
Top needs: QB, CB, WR, S
Round 1 (
QB Blake Bortles, Central Florida
Round 2 (40) CB Keith McGill, Utah
Round 3 (72) CB Marcus Roberson, Florida
Round 3 (96) RB Tre Mason, Auburn (from SEA)
Analysis: What Bortles lacks in refinement at this stage in his development, he makes up for with his great skills as a pocket mover and a runner when he's outside containment. If I've knocked him in one area, it's in his ball placement, but he's going to work hard for you and I agree with assessments that he has a high ceiling. I think the QBs they have now can work as a bridge if they don't want to start him right away. I take McGill here actually slightly above where I have him rated, but I like the matchup potential he brings as the best "big" corner in the draft. Think about lining up against Calvin Johnson or Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffery. The Vikings could use some length in matchups outside of Xavier Rhodes. I double down at corner in Round 3 with Roberson, who offers a high floor given his raw coverage skills. I like Mason in Round 3 because the drop-off from Adrian Peterson to the current backups is way too big for my liking. Mason can provide impact.
Top needs: RT, WR, S, TE
Round 1 (9) OT Taylor Lewan, Michigan
Round 2 (41) TE Austin Seferian-Jenkins, Washington
Round 3 (73) WR Brandon Coleman, Rutgers
Analysis: I'd like to find a good matchup threat in the passing game for my young quarterback. But keeping him healthy is the first concern, and getting Lewan -- who easily could have been a top-two pick last season in a thinner draft -- at No. 9 is a good value at a position of need. The draft is deep with pass-catchers, and I take advantage of that in Round 2, taking Seferian-Jenkins even ahead of Jace Amaro. Scott Chandler is a pretty good player, but "ASJ" is at another level athletically, and his presence could also allow Buffalo to involve some two-tight end looks. I'm taking a shot on a big target in Round 3. At 6-foot-6, 225 pounds, Coleman provides great length and the ability to make plays over defenders. I also see safety as a need, but building around EJ Manuel wins out here based on how the board played out.
Top needs: CB, S, DE, WR, OLB
Round 1 (10) CB Justin Gilbert, Oklahoma St.
Round 2 (45) LB Kyle Van Noy, BYU
Round 3 (76) CB Phillip Gaines, Rice
Analysis: On the "First Draft" podcast a couple weeks ago, I said I thought Detroit should draft up to four players in the secondary among their eight total picks, even as the Lions should expect some development from a young CB like Darius Slay. At No. 10 I grab Gilbert, who is a slight reach in terms of value but is the best corner in the draft at a huge position of need even after free agency, so even though I know rookie cornerbacks typically struggle, I feel like he improves my team. In Van Noy, I get a versatile linebacker who can play right away and also work as a situational pass-rusher. I love his instincts and expect early impact. Gaines was a star at the combine and provides further depth. I also looked hard at safety, with Deone Bucannon an option, but I ultimately go with the upside at corner, a major need.
Top needs: CB, QB, DE, RB
Round 1 (11) QB Teddy Bridgewater, Louisville
Round 2 (42) RB Carlos Hyde, Ohio St.
Analysis: This is one I struggled with a little bit. One the one hand, I feel like the Titans are really just a QB away from competing for a playoff spot, and I have not been in the camp that says Jake Locker is the answer. I don't see it. I think he's simply too inconsistent with his accuracy even before the health issues. On the other hand, is a rookie the guy who can improve the team in the short term? I'm going to make the bet, because I think Bridgewater becomes a decent value at this spot, and he has the smarts, accuracy and anticipation to play early on. I always say not to draft a running back in Round 1, but at No. 42, getting the best back in the draft becomes a decent pick. Hyde can succeed behind an improved offensive line. I know cornerback is a need, but the first-round run really gutted the position by No. 42 overall, and the next CB taken isn't until No. 64. The value just isn't there.
New York Giants
Top needs: TE, G/C, WR, DL, LB
Round 1 (12) TE Eric Ebron, North Carolina
Round 2 (43) DT Stephon Tuitt, Notre Dame
Round 3 (74) G Trai Turner, LSU
Analysis: A really dynamic pass-catcher at tight end would be a great weapon for Eli Manning. He likes to take his shots, and Ebron has the kind of size and catch radius to reward risky throws. He has enough speed to stretch the field and will also do enough as a blocker to stay on the field in most packages. Tuitt's stock has dipped some during the evaluation process, but he's a pretty good get at No. 43, and is the kind of versatile player worth adding to a depleted defensive line. I see guard as a need now that Justin Pugh has established he'll be able to stay at tackle, and I'm pretty high on Turner. I'd like to add a wideout, but Ebron's versatility makes up for some of that.
Top needs: DT, S, CB, WR
Round 1 (14) CB Darqueze Dennard, Michigan St.
Round 2 (51) DT Brent Urban, Virginia
Round 3 (82) DT Caraun Reid, Princeton
Analysis: The big debate for me at No. 14 is whether to take Aaron Donald, the defensive tackle out of Pitt, or Dennard. But as I evaluate my cornerback situation, I know it's really tenuous. Both Tim Jennings and Charles Tillman are north of 30, and there's really no place in the secondary where we don't need to add talent. Clinton-Dix would have been in play, but he came off the board at No. 13. Dennard provides immediate help as an experienced, versatile corner who covers well and will bring a necessary physical side against the run and against underneath throws. After that, I turn the attention to the defensive line. While the additions of Jared Allen, Willie Young and Lamarr Houston help, I'm looking for help up the middle. Urban is a player I'm really high on; a potential Round 1 talent if he hadn't gotten hurt after the season. Reid is a sleeper with impressive athleticism. Add players either to the front end of the defense or the back, and you can't go wrong.
Top needs: CB, WR, DL, OL
Round 1 (15) WR Odell Beckham Jr., LSU
Round 2 (46) DT Louis Nix III, Notre Dame
Round 3 (97) CB/S Antone Exum, Virginia Tech (Comp)
Analysis: Sorry, but the addition of Darrius Heyward-Bey doesn't fix the depth chart at wide receiver, so I grab Beckham here. With Gilbert and Dennard off the board, I can't take a corner in a reasonable value range at No. 15. Beckham is an explosive talent, a pass-catcher who creates problems for defenses after the catch because he's such a special accelerator. I add needed talent on the interior of the defensive line in Round 2. **** LeBeau can do some things with Nix, who doesn't always play to the level he should given his ability to move at that size, but has a chance to be good. Jimmie Ward is a tough guy to pass on at No. 46, given a depth need at safety, but in getting Exum in Round 3 I add a corner with the size to transition to safety if that's a better fit.
Top needs: DE, DT, S, G, WR
Round 1 (16) DT Aaron Donald, Pittsburgh
Round 2 (47) G Xavier Su'a-Filo, UCLA
Round 3 (78) DT Will Sutton, Arizona St.
Analysis: I don't think Dallas can do enough to upgrade along the defensive line. Donald getting past the Bears at No. 14 is a surprise, and I draft him here with the belief that he can come in and start right away. He was the most disruptive defensive player in college football last year. Brent Urban is a tempting player at No. 47, but Su'a-Filo, who can start as a rookie at guard, a position of need, is the pick. In Round 3, I'm going back to the defensive line. Before his senior season, I wouldn't have thought Sutton could fall this far, but he didn't look as explosive in 2013 and lost some ground. Given that the anchor of the interior defensive line is Henry Melton, who's coming off knee injury rehab, adding depth and upside has to be a priority.
Top needs: FS, TE, LB, RT, WR
Round 1 (17) OT Zack Martin, Notre Dame
Round 2 (48) S Jimmie Ward, Northern Illinois
Round 3 (79) RB Dri Archer, Kent St.
Round 3 (99) TE Troy Niklas, Notre Dame (Comp)
Analysis: The addition of Steve Smith shifts my priority a little here. Initially, Brandin Cooks would have seemed like an ideal fit, but it's a deep draft at the skill positions on offense, and I'm going to address a pretty significant need at tackle, where Ricky Wagner would be starting on the right side if the season started tomorrow. Martin, who was solid at left tackle for the Irish, can play early. I get the free safety I need in Round 2, where Ward is a steal. I look for an explosive playmaker in Round 3. Archer adds another dimension to the offense -- he's a Darren Sproles-type. In Round 3, I'm adding a tight end in Niklas after Jordan Tripp comes off the board with Denver a few picks earlier.
New York Jets
Top needs: WR, CB, TE, LB
Round 1 (18) WR Brandin Cooks, Oregon St.
Round 2 (49) TE Jace Amaro, Texas Tech
Round 3 (80) CB Loucheiz Purifoy, Florida
Analysis: The addition of Eric Decker doesn't diminish the need for playmakers on the offensive side of the ball. Rex Ryan could use a corner (or two), but I'm looking first for a play-right-away option at wide receiver. Cooks can be that guy. He's explosive as a route-runner, reliable as a hands-catcher and a dangerous playmaker with the ball in his hands. I'm going to double down in Round 2, with a pretty good value at tight end in Amaro. He's going to spend most of his time lined up in the slot, but he's an upside upgrade over Jeff Cumberland and gives them the opportunity to create some different looks. In Round 3 I grab Purifoy, who has the natural cover instincts of a player who should be taken far higher, but poor workouts have him available later.
Top needs: RT, G, S, CB
Round 1 (19) S Calvin Pryor, Louisville
Round 2 (50) OT Joel Bitonio, Nevada
Round 3 (81) OT Jack Mewhort, Ohio St.
Analysis: Needs along the offensive line get skipped in Round 1 mainly because the board doesn't offer enough value at those positions in this slot. When Zack Martin went off the board at No. 17, it limited any possibility to go O-line here. Pryor is an impact player coming off a dominant season and can fill a need at safety. In Round 2 I go with Bitonio, a versatile offensive line prospect who can play either guard or tackle. Same with Mewhort in Round 3. I'd like to consider a cornerback in Round 3, but the issues on the line are more pressing. It's both a protection issue and about creating some running lanes. As it's currently constructed, I don't know if the line will be able to do either consistently, but this draft should help.
Top needs: S, OLB, TE, WR
Round 1 (20) OLB Anthony Barr, UCLA
Round 2 (52) QB AJ McCarron, Alabama
Round 3 (84) WR Robert Herron, Wyoming
Analysis: Left tackle was addressed in free agency, so the focus turns to the pass rush, and at this spot on the draft board I think Barr's upside is hard to pass on, even if his senior tape was underwhelming. At one time I thought he'd be a top-10 pick, but if Barr is more consistent and improves on his awareness (he converted from running back) he could become a steal at this slot. It's a close mix between need and "best player available" at this point. McCarron might seem like a bit of a luxury pick in Round 2, but tell me what the long-term solution is at QB in Arizona. The drop-off from Carson Palmer on the depth chart is scary-looking, Palmer isn't young, and the roster is good enough to take a shot on a developmental backup a little early. Herron can be electrifying after the catch, and there's a need for an added target at receiver after Larry Fitzgerald and Michael Floyd.
Green Bay Packers
Top needs: S, ILB, TE, DL
Round 1 (21) LB C.J. Mosley, Alabama
Round 2 (53) S Terrence Brooks, Florida St.
Round 3 (85) TE C.J. Fiedorowicz, Iowa
Round 3 (98) DE Kelcy Quarles, South Carolina (Comp)
Analysis: Mosley dips a little on positional value, but for a team that could use an inside linebacker, he becomes a steal at this slot. Slot him next to A.J. Hawk and you get a player who brings great instincts and effectiveness against the run. He is the best coverage linebacker in the draft. If he stays healthy, Mosley is a special player at the position. Brooks is an experienced talent who can start early and fills the free safety slot that's a weakness right now. Fiedorowicz is more athletic than the Iowa offense showed off, and provides depth at tight end. Quarles provides depth along the defensive line and could push last year's first-rounder Datone Jones.
Top needs: WR, OLB, S
Round 1 (22) WR Marqise Lee, USC
Round 2 (54) OLB Jeremiah Attaochu, Georgia Tech
Round 3 (86) CB Aaron Colvin, Oklahoma
Analysis: If Lee seems like an obvious pick for Kelly, a talented player he's faced before at a need position, just remember I'm doing the picking here. But I still like the fit. Lee dealt with a knee injury that slowed him down and concentration issues that caused some drops in an underwhelming junior year, but he's got piles of great tape, is a good route-runner and moves easily and swiftly in and out of his breaks. With the top two safeties off the board, I feel like Lee is a sensible pick in this slot and a player my coach will know how to utilize. Attaochu can be a help at outside linebacker, and I need added depth and talent in the pass rush. Colvin is a value grab in Round 3. He tore his ACL during Senior Bowl practice, but had Colvin been healthy right now, we'd be talking about him as a possible late first-round pick, a good corner with experience at safety, which is a need here. He could help late in the season and be a starter next year.
Kansas City Chiefs
Top needs: WR, S, G
Round 1 (23) WR Kelvin Benjamin, Florida St.
Round 3 (87) S Deone Bucannon, Washington St.
Analysis: I know Andy Reid believes A.J. Jenkins can play a bigger role in this offense in 2014 and provide some depth, but it's hard to pass on the chance to let Reid develop a talent like Benjamin, a huge target. If either Pryor of Clinton-Dix somehow fell to this point, I'd have looked hard at safety, but Bucannon is available in Round 3. If it was Reid and John Dorsey making the pick, I wouldn't put a QB out of the question with that pick in Round 3 -- Reid has taken QBs as commodities before -- but I got to handle this one.
Top needs: CB, LT, C, DE
Round 1 (24) CB Bradley Roby, Ohio St.
Round 2 (55) G/T Brandon Thomas, Clemson
Round 3 (88) QB Tom Savage, Pitt
Analysis: Selecting Roby at No. 24 isn't really a reach on value. If you graded Roby purely on upside at the position, you're talking about a possible top-10 pick. He just needs refinement, and the Bengals are pretty long in the tooth at cornerback aside from Dre Kirkpatrick. I need to add depth along the offensive line, and I'm taking a shot with Thomas, who can provide depth at either tackle or guard. Strong safety would be an option in that second-round slot, but there just isn't much certainty or value available. Round 3 is a place where I can provide my starting QB a push. Savage has starting upside, and he's among the strongest arms in the draft. He was beaten up behind bad blocking at Pitt, but is the kind of upside this roster could use behind Andy Dalton.
San Diego Chargers
Top needs: CB, NT, WR, OLB
Round 1 (25) CB Kyle Fuller, Virginia Tech
Round 2 (57) OLB Trent Murphy, Stanford
Round 3 (89) OT Cameron Fleming, Stanford
Analysis: When the real draft happens, I'd guess Fuller is a likelier bet to go in Round 2, but I think he's worthy of this slot, and I could use more than one new addition at cornerback on this roster. I get an underrated pass-rusher in Round 2. If you went on productivity, Murphy can match up with any of the top pass-rushers in this draft, and he's a steal at this point. If a wide body like Louis Nix III fell this low, he'd be an option too. In Round 3 I'll go with Fleming, who provides immediate depth at either right or left tackle, and as a mauler in the run game could also move inside. In both the second and third rounds, I considered a wide receiver, with Davante Adams an option at No. 57, and Bruce Ellington a possible fit at No. 89.
New Orleans Saints
Top needs: CB, OLB, WR
Round 1 (27) OLB Dee Ford, Auburn
Round 2 (58) WR Davante Adams, Fresno St.
Round 3 (91) CB Kendall James, Maine
Analysis: The growth of Cameron Jordan at defensive end and solid play of rookie Kenny Vaccaro helped the defense take a big step forward last season -- Rob Ryan's presence was obviously a huge aspect to the improvement -- but I want to add an edge-rusher to the mix at outside linebacker, where depth is lacking. In Round 2, Adams is a steal. Kenny Stills was a solid addition to the passing game out of last year's draft, but Marques Colston is now 30 and Adams represents needed depth. Currently, Corey White and Keenan Lewis are the top two corners on the roster, so I'll take a shot on James, one of the top sleepers in the draft.
Top needs: LT, WR, CB. S
Round 1 (28) OT Cyrus Kouandjio, Alabama
Round 2 (60) WR Jarvis Landry, LSU
Round 3 (92) WR Bruce Ellington, South Carolina
Analysis: If it seems like sacrilege to pass on a wide receiver with the first selection, consider the state of the board. Six wide receivers are already drafted at this point, so I'm looking at major upside at a premium position. Kouandjio was a likely top-10 pick going into the season, and with a huge frame, long arms and the ability to maul people in the run game and handle good rushers, he has the potential to be a good NFL left tackle. The issue is health and consistency, but he'll be just 20 years old when he's drafted and still has a chance to be really good. After that, the focus goes back to wide receiver, and I take advantage of a deep class. Landry will make the tough catch in traffic, and Ellington can be explosive. There are pretty big question marks in the secondary as well, but helping Cam Newton is the first priority, and maybe the second and third.
New England Patriots
Top needs: TE, DL, WR, S
Round 1 (29) DT Timmy Jernigan, Florida St.
Round 2 (62) RB Bishop Sankey, Washington
Round 3 (93) C Weston Richburg, Colorado St.
Analysis: Even with Vince Wilfork back, I'm not content with the reality that my top two big bodies along the defensive line are Wilfork coming off an Achilles injury and 33-year-old Tommy Kelly. The Patriots semi-survived last season with the likes of Chris Jones and Joe Vellano piling up reps, but it's a great value to add Jernigan at this point; he's going to help in the short term and provide impact in the near future. Wearing my Patriots draft hat, I'm pulling a surprise in Round 2, taking a very good, versatile runner in Sankey, and then I add what I consider a need in a versatile interior blocker in Round 3. Ryan Wendell is back, but Richburg can also handle guard, where both current starters are at least 31 years old.
San Francisco 49ers
Top needs: CB, WR, C, DL
Round 1 (30) CB Lamarcus Joyner, Florida St.
Round 2 (56) C Marcus Martin, USC (from KC)
Round 2 (61) WR Josh Huff, Oregon
Round 3 (77) DT Dominique Easley, Florida (from TEN)
Round 3 (94) CB Nevin Lawson, Utah St.
Round 3 (100) QB/TE Logan Thomas, Virginia Tech (Comp)
Analysis: This draft sequence is something of a bet that the offensive line remains relatively stable if I get the needed help at center (Martin), and that even if NaVorro Bowman takes his time coming back, the linebacking corps will remain solid. The early priority is grabbing a capable corner, and Joyner can provide impact right away as a Tyrann Mathieu-type, a guy who can play corner, particularly in the slot, and provide time at safety. Huff isn't a burner, but he's more of a developmental project than some other receivers who will be taken in this range. Easley is an early-first round talent coming back from yet another knee injury, but at this point in the draft, getting that kind of talent is worth the shot. If he can spell Ray McDonald and Justin Smith effectively, everyone gets better. I like Lawson as a sleeper and possible corner help, and I love the idea of letting Jim Harbaugh work with Thomas as a developmental project at either QB or tight end. (Thomas really could pull off the conversion if he wanted to.)
Top needs: ILB, CB, WR, G
Round 1 (31) LB Chris Borland, Wisconsin
Round 2 (63) WR Martavis Bryant, Clemson
Round 3 (95) LB Jordan Tripp, Montana
Analysis: The Broncos have to get better at inside linebacker, and given the window they are working with, I want to take a player who can come in and upgrade the position immediately. Borland does that, and cornerbacks have been flying off the board in front of me, so I bet on a higher rate of immediate on-field impact. I don't think the wide receiver position is in desperate need, but minus Decker it's at least lacking in upside on the depth chart, and Bryant could be a high-ceiling help coming off the bench or if any of the starters go down. I'm doubling down at linebacker in Round 3, after a sequence where two more cornerbacks come off the board in the preceding few picks.
Top needs: WR, TE, RT, DL, G
Round 1 (32) DT Ra'Shede Hageman, Minnesota
Round 2 (64) CB Stanley Jean-Baptiste, Nebraska
Analysis: If a player like Kelvin Benjamin falls to the end of Round 1, it would make this a tougher call, but I'm not willing to chase wide receiver early in a deep draft at that position, particularly with some high-ceiling talent available. I love the idea of Pete Carroll getting to mold a talent like Hageman, who flashes special ability and is a great athlete at his size but hasn't put it all together. The Seahawks need to add depth along the defensive line. In Round 2, I'd again be looking at wide receiver, but in this scenario five WRs come off the board in the preceding seven picks. So this is where I again fall in love with the idea of matching talent and traits with the developmental ability of my staff. Brandon Browner is now in New England, so I'm itching to see what my staff can do with Baptiste, the 6-3 corner out of Nebraska. Another big body for the Legion of Boom. I'll use one or two of my picks in Rounds 4 and 5 to find some pass-catchers and at least one body for the O-line.
Top needs: S, CB, RT, LB
Round 2 (34) OT Antonio Richardson, Tennessee
Round 3 (66) OLB Demarcus Lawrence, Boise St.
Analysis: With wide receiver now off the board as a need, my focus is on adding high-ceiling talent at need positions. Richardson is a special athlete and has the ceiling of a good left tackle, but he can certainly slot in as an upgrade on the right side, which has been a problem area. In Lawrence I'm adding a pass-rusher to complement Brian Orakpo. There simply isn't any pass-rushing depth on the roster. I'd like to add help for the secondary, but I also have to hope we see some growth in that area from all the youth that saw the field in 2013.
Top needs: S, C/G, WR, OLB
Round 2 (59) WR Donte Moncrief, Ole Miss
Round 3 (90) OLB Carl Bradford, Arizona St.
Analysis: It's depressing that there's no first-rounder to be had in 2014 for the price of Trent Richardson, but in Moncrief I've added a potential weapon in the passing game and in Bradford I get a productive, high-energy talent at outside linebacker. Moncrief has very good size at 6-2, 221 pounds, and offers plenty of explosiveness, too. He ran 4.40 at the combine and also jumped nearly 40 inches with his vertical. Given the recent injury history of Reggie Wayne and Hakeem Nicks, you really can't take the weapons for granted. Moncrief has a shot to be good. Robert Mathis is 33, and Erik Walden won't be confused with a Pro Bowl player anytime soon. Bradford will help. I looked at safety in Round 3, but the value just isn't there with Deone Bucannon off the board at that slot.