The 2014 NFL Draft is upon us and although things are likely to play out like a drama with plenty of twists and turns, here is a best guess at how the second half of the first round, picks 17-32, will take shape.
17. Baltimore Ravens—Offensive Tackle – Zack Martin, Notre Dame Fighting Irish. Losing Ray Lewis and Ed Reed is likely the biggest reason the Ravens missed the playoffs last year. However, Ozzie Newsome is known to go for the best available NFL draft picks, and the O-Line needs to be addressed, so that makes Martin the strongest candidate for this slot.
18. New York Jets—Wide Receiver Brandin Cooks, Oregon State Ducks. With the additions of Michael Vick and Eric Decker, Rex Ryan seems determined to give his offense a face-lift. And they could sure use one. The 6-3, 214 pound Decker covers the big part of the receiving corps, now speed should be sought and Cooks’ 4.33 40 time would fit in nicely. Plus, he doubles as a return guy.
19. Miami Dolphins—Offensive Lineman Cyrus Kouandijio, Alabama Crimson Tide. The Dolphins are thin on the O-Line and the top tier guys like Martin, Matthews, and Robinson are likely to be gone at this point, but at 6-6, 322 Kouandijio is a god consolation prize. He is said to be a little rough around the edges and needs polishing, but he has a brawler mentality and hates to lose.
20. Arizona Cardinals—Defensive Tackle Ra’Shede Hageman, Minnesota Gophers. The Cards need a QB with Carson Palmer turning 35 this season and Zach Mettenberger looks good in this spot, but he has some durability issues with an ACL tear and does not look to be a first rounder. Arizona has met with Hageman more than once, so the interest is clearly there.
21. Green Bay Packers—Linebacker Ryan Shazier, Ohio State Buckeyes. The Packers reportedly loved C.J. Mosley, but so does everyone else. They could trade down here to grab a linebacker in the later rounds or grab the best available, which is likely to be Shazier. At 6-1, 237 and an unofficial 4.37 40 time, Shazier’s stock is understandably on the rise.
22. Philadelphia Eagles—Wide Receiver Marquis Lee, USC Trojans. The Birds need to address their secondary, but DeSean Jackson’s stunning departure means there are no home-run threats among the wideouts. Even a healthy Jeremy Maclin does not come close to the danger Jackson posed. At 4.52 in the 40, Lee does not seem to either, but he does. And not only is he every bit the game-changer, he is also a better receiver.
23. Kansas City Chiefs—Wide Receiver Cody Latimer, Indiana Hoosiers. The Colts’ painful 4th quarter collapse against Indianapolis in the playoffs last season points to a lot of different things, but a lack of playmaking ability (they managed just two field goals in the second half) might be the biggest. There will be a ton of wideouts with similar measurables at this point in the draft, but Latimner’s 4.38 speed at 6-2, 215 pounds should separate him from the pack.
24. Cincinnati Bengals—Cornerback Darqueze Denard, Michigan State Spartans. The Bengals are fairly young on the offensive side of the ball, but the defensive side is kind of ancient by comparison. They could really use some youth in the secondary. The two best corners in Vincent and Verrett are likely to be gone here, which leaves Denard and he could end up being just as good.
25. San Diego Chargers—Defensive Tackle Louis Nix, Notre Dame Fighting Irish. San Diego suffered some key injuries defensively last season and struggled as a result, so addressing that side of the ball should take priority. That said, Nix is a massive run-stopper at 6-2 232, although his pass-rushing skills need some work.
26. Cleveland Browns—Quarterback Teddy Bridgewater, Louisville Cardinals. The Browns would love it if Manziel were still around at this point, but that is about the unlikeliest of scenarios. That leaves Bridgewater the best QB likely to be available and forget all the talk about his slight frame. Bulk can be acquired, natural accuracy cannot. And Bridgewater is the most accurate QB in the draft.
27. New Orleans Saints—Defensive Tackle DeMarcus Lawrence, Boise State Broncos. Rob Ryan pressing for a top-flight pass rusher with the number one pick is probably a safe bet. Lawrence left Boise State with 20 sacks in his two years there and gives every appearance of a guy whose skills will translate to the next level.
28. Carolina Panthers—Wide Receiver Kelvin Benjamin, Florida State Seminoles. Steve Smith will be virtually impossible to replace, but if a team can get a guy 6-5, 240 that runs a 4.53, Smith will be forgotten soon enough. Cam Newton must be salivating at the prospect of having a guy that big and fast that can also jump through the roof.
29. New England Patriots—Defensive End Stephon Tuitt, Notre Dame Fighting Irish. The Pats always seem to get the best value out of their usual late first round pick and Tuitt should be no different. With prototype size for a pass rusher at 6-5, 304 pounds, he comes ready-made with all the tools to make an instant impact.
30. San Francisco—Defensive End Dee Ford, Auburn Tigers. With Aldon’s Smith’s future in San Francisco completely up in the air, the need for a pass rusher seems pretty apparent. Ford has all the athleticism and explosiveness to excel at either defensive end or outside linebacker, but no matter where he lines up, he is sure to be a nightmare to keep out of the backfield.
31. Denver Broncos—Linebacker Kyle Van Noy, BYU Cougars. The Broncos look pretty good on the defensive side with the addition of DeMarcus Ware and even though Von Miller is one of the league’s best pass rushers, he needs to actually be healthy to make an impact so the ACL is a concern for teams at the NFL draft. That said, Van Noy is versatile enough to slip into coverage, but excels at rushing the passer and could really bolster this defense.
32. Seattle Seahawks—Wide Receiver Martavius Bryant, Clemson Tigers. Seattle had the most dominant defense in football last season, so drafting another offensive weapon to go alongside Percy Harvin would be a likely play here. At 6-4, 211 pounds, Bryant ran 4.42 at the NFL draft Combine and would be hands-down the most talented receiver still on the board this late.
Commentary by Rick Sarlat