Monday Morning Draft – Week 14

Monday Morning Draft is back! This is a column that delves into the past weekend’s action from an NFL Draft perspective. As the season goes on, the draft picture and slotting will become more clear, but every Sunday will provide a few hints for next April.

By Charlie Campbell.
Send Charlie an e-mail here: [email protected]
Follow Charlie on Twitter @draftcampbell for updates.

Blow For Bridgewater/Lay Down for the Clown:

There will be a lot of turnover as the season progresses in the positioning of which team will land the No. 1-overall pick to have the first shot at Louisville quarterback Teddy Bridgewater or South Carolina defensive end Jadeveon Clowney. Here are the top contenders following the Week 14 action.

Houston Texans:
The Texans’ funk continued with a loss to the Jaguars on the road. That loss caused Gary Kubiak his job as Houston is now 2-11.

The Texans could consider a pass-rusher like Jadeveon Clowney in the first round if there isn’t a quarterback worth taking over Clowney. Bridgewater may not grade out ahead of Clowney and general manager Rick Smith may decide to target a quarterback like Clemson’s Tajh Boyd at the top of the second round.

If Houston is able to land an elite quarterback prospect or Clowney, it wouldn’t be surprising for the franchise to have an immediate turnaround to being a playoff contender again.

Atlanta Falcons:
The Falcons fell to 3-10 after a one-point loss against the Packers. Last week, Atlanta won an overtime game in Toronto against the Bills. If Buffalo hadn’t fumbled the ball repeatedly, the Falcons probably would have lost that game also.

Atlanta had a lot of change in the offseason, and the team has greatly missed John Abraham this year. The injury to Julio Jones was the final straw to send the Falcons into a rebuilding season. The team’s offensive line is horrendous and the pass rush is pathetic. Building up both units will be the offseason priorities.

In the long run, this year could be a positive for the Falcons if they land a franchise defensive player with their first-round pick. Atlanta could use a pass-rusher, and it makes a lot of sense for the organization to go after Clowney or UCLA’s Anthony Barr. Either of those players would be a huge acquisition for the Falcons. Jake Matthews could get consideration as well, but he should be a Plan C. Atlanta needs a defensive game-changer.

St. Louis Rams:
This is the Rams’ pick that they are getting from the Redskins. Washington was blown out by Kansas City and that could be the end for Mike Shanahan in D.C. The Redskins are in disarray at 3-10 and it wouldn’t be surprising if this pick continues to climb.

In the top four, the Rams would probably look to trade down. Les Snead has done that in each of his drafts for St. Louis. If the Rams are stuck here, Snead would have to decide if his organization is ready to move on from Sam Bradford or try to build around him. If it is the former, St. Louis could target Teddy Bridgewater. In the latter route, the Rams could go for Texas A&M left tackle Jake Matthews. With Chris Long and Robert Quinn, St. Louis doesn’t have a need to draft Clowney.

Minnesota Vikings:
The Vikings blew a late lead to Baltimore. Minnesota is now 3-9-1 on the season. A week ago, the Vikings came close to their second-straight tie before pulling out a win over the Bears in overtime. Before that, Minnesota tied Green Bay on the road after the Vikings blew a fourth-quarter lead.

A few weeks ago, the Vikings came back to beat the Redskins by six on Thursday night football for Minnesota’s second win of the season. The Vikings’ season got off to an 0-3 start before beating the Steelers “at home” – in London – in Week 4.

The Vikings will most likely target a quarterback in the first round. If Minnesota is picking third behind Houston and Atlanta, the organization has a shot to land Teddy Bridgewater. Those two teams could take Clowney and Anthony Barr instead of a quarterback. Landing Bridgewater would be ideal for the Vikings.

Let’s Play Matchmaker:

This section will look at some of the top talent in college football and match those prospects up with teams that have a dire need at the position.

Cincinnati Bengals: Ifo Ekpre-Olomu, CB, Oregon
The Colts got a breakout game from Da’Rick Rogers as he caught six passes for 107 yards and two scores against Cincinnati.

The Bengals lost Leon Hall to a major injury in October. Considering the age of veterans Terrance Newman and Adam Jones, one can see that Cincinnati could use some youth at cornerback. Late in the end of the first round, Ekpre-Olomu would be a good fit for Mike Zimmer’s defense.

Ekpre-Olomu has the movement skills, speed and agility to prevent a small, speedy receiver from gaining separation. He also has fared well against bigger receivers. Not only has Ekpre-Olomu shown man-coverage ability, he has ball skills and is physical in run defense. In 2013, Ekpre-Olomu has 78 tackles, six passes broken up, three interceptions and one forced fumble.

San Francisco 49ers: Brandon Coleman, WR, Rutgers
The 49ers could have put the Seahawks away a lot earlier if they were able to get touchdowns instead of field goals. San Francisco could use some red-zone weapons for Colin Kaepernick, especially considering the age of wide receiver Anquan Boldin.

Injuries held Coleman back in 2013, but the 6-foot-6, 220-pounder could provide a nice impact as a second-day pick. He has the size to make catches over defensive backs and before the injury, showed some nice quickness. Coleman had 32 receptions for 473 yards with three touchdowns this season. Last year, he had 43 catches for 718 yards and 10 scores. The 49ers have a ton of picks on the second day of the 2014 NFL Draft and getting a red-zone weapon like Coleman makes a lot of sense.

New England Patriots: Austin Seferian-Jenkins, TE, Washington
Unfortunately for New England, Rob Gronkowksi is hurt again; this time with an ACL. The timing of this injury could impact him at the start of the 2014 season. Adding in the loss of Aaron Hernandez, and it is obvious that the Patriots could use some help at tight end.

New England may not get a shot at Eric Ebron or Jace Amaro in the first round, but the team could potentially land Austin Seferian-Jenkins. The 6-foot-6, 276-pounder is a good player to fill the role that Gronkowski occupies because like him, Seferian-Jenkins has blocking ability. He also is a rare athlete at his size with his quickness, agility and mismatch potential. This season, Seferian-Jenkins has 33 receptions for 413 yards and seven touchdowns. In 2012, he had 69 catches for 852 yards and seven scores.

It would make sense for New England to go after Seferian-Jenkins.

Arizona Cardinals: Trent Murphy, OLB, Stanford
The Cardinals got three sacks out of John Abraham on Sunday, and Arizona has featured a tough defense this season. In order to maintain this high level of play, the Cardinals could use a young understudy to Abraham. The Arizona native Murphy would be a good choice in the early rounds.

Entering the bowl season, Murphy leads college football in sacks with 14. He is a skilled pass-rusher who has the ability to beat tackles with speed or strength. Murphy (6-6, 260) also can rush from a variety of places. He has experience standing up and dropping in coverage as well. Murphy has already played 3-4 outside linebacker techniques. The Cardinals would get a nice piece for the future of their defense with Murphy.

Denver Broncos: Darqueze Dennard, CB, Michigan State
The Broncos could use some talented youth at cornerback. Champ Bailey is old, while Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie only signed a 1-year contract. Denver’s scheme requires corners with man-coverage ability and Dennard would be a good fit. He has the size to play on the outside with the movement skills to prevent separation.

This season, Dennard has 59 tackles with four interceptions and 10 passes broken up. He has come up with a number of big games to lead the Spartans’ tough defense. Dennard capped the regular season with a huge night against Ohio State in the Big Ten Championship. Denver taking him in the first round would make a lot of sense.

Green Bay Packers: JuWaun James, OT, Tennessee
The Packers snapped their losing streak, but there were also some flaws in their victory. Atlanta has struggled to rush the passer this season, but recorded five sacks on Green Bay. The Packers could use more offensive line depth and James would be a nice fit on the edge.

James is a tough run-blocker and a reliable pass-protector. He is surprisingly athletic for his size. The 6-foot-6, 332-pounder could be a quick contributor in the NFL. With James’ size and athleticism, he also is a candidate to move inside to guard. Green Bay taking James on the second day of the 2014 NFL Draft could help fortify the team’s offensive line.

Kansas City Chiefs: Kelvin Benjamin, WR, Florida State
The Chiefs rolled the Redskins on Sunday, but the lack of production from the wide receiver position continues to stand out for Kansas City. If the Chiefs land Benjamin late in the first round, he could provide a nice impact for Alex Smith.

Benjamin has 50 receptions for 957 yards with 14 touchdowns on 2013. A week after burning Florida cornerback Loucheiz Purifoy, Benjamin kept it going by rolling over Duke with five catches for 119 yards and two scores in the ACC Championship. Benjamin (6-5, 234) has a rare combination of size and speed. He has the potential to be an impact play-maker in the NFL.

Team Draft Report:

In this section, we take a deeper look at specific teams and where they stand in regards to the 2014 NFL Draft.

Buffalo Bills:
The Bills put on a pathetic display of football as they were beat soundly on the road by the Bucs. Buffalo has some pieces on defense, so addressing the team’s offense has to be the organization’s priority in the 2014 NFL Draft.

Last April, the Bills drafted E.J. Manuel to be their franchise quarterback; that was a questionable choice, and right now Manuel seems to have some serious bust potential. He has to drastically improve his accuracy and decision-making. In order to help Manuel’s development, Buffalo should concentrate on improving its offensive line.

The Bills have a few weaknesses up front. Left guard became one after the team declined to re-sign Andy Levitre, while right tackle Erik Pears has been a liability in 2013. Left tackle Cordy Glenn is a solid player, but Buffalo could improve its line by drafting a franchise left tackle in the first round with Texas A&M’s Jake Matthews or Michigan’s Taylor Lewan. Moving Glenn to right tackle could give the Bills two good bookend tackles to protect Manuel from edge-rushers.

On the second day of the 2014 NFL Draft, Buffalo could land a guard like Mississippi State’s Gabe Jackson, Notre Dame’s Zack Martin or Stanford’s David Yankey.

Another route for the Bills to consider that would help Manuel is to draft a receiving tight end. If Eric Ebron, Jace Amaro or Austin Seferian-Jenkins falls to the second round, it would make sense for Buffalo to make move to get one of them and target a guard in the third round.

Defensively, the Bills don’t have a lot of needs with some good pass-rushers and a secondary. Buffalo could use help at nickel cornerback and a run-stuffing linebacker to go with Kiko Alonso. It would make sense for the Bills to fill those needs in free agency.

It would be wise if new Buffalo general manager Doug Whaley adds some depth in free agency. The Bills have to make helping Manuel the priority of their offseason, and nothing will help him more than revamping their offensive line so they can run the ball and give him time to throw. How Manuel pans out will determine the future of Whaley and head coach Doug Marrone.

Houston Texans:
The Texans could easily be one of those teams that picks in the top five and immediately the next season is back in the playoffs. Houston has some good talent on the both sides of the ball with some play-makers like J.J. Watt, Duane Brown, Brian Cushing, Arian Foster and Andre Johnson. The Texans also have some other young talent at wide receiver, on the offensive line and in the secondary that could be much improved in 2014. Houston has a few glaring needs that the organization will have to address.

The Texans could consider a quarterback in the first round of the 2014 NFL Draft, but if they land the No. 1 pick, there may not be a signal-caller who grades out higher than Jadeveon Clowney. Houston could use an edge-rusher as well, so team could take Clowney and come back to grab a quarterback at the top of the second round. Clowney on the other side from Watt could form a lethal duo for the Texans.

Clowney is fast, agile and athletic, so he could play as a standup linebacker in a 3-4 defense. Houston could vary its fronts and also line him up at defensive end.

On the second day of the 2014 NFL Draft, the Texans could target a quarterback like Clemson’s Tajh Boyd. He could be a competitor or replacement for Case Keenum. Plus, the 2015 NFL Draft looks loaded with quarterbacks, so if Boyd and Keenum don’t prove to be starters, Houston could target a quarterback a year later.

If the Texans don’t have a quarterback they like in the second round, they could go with a right tackle. Derek Newton has struggled and last year’s third-rounder Brennan Williams is on injured reserve. With Brown, Newton, Williams and a draft pick, Houston would have some talent and depth on the edge. Some prospects to consider include North Carolina’s James Hurst and Tennessee’s JuWaun James.

The Texans also have to get an upgrade over nickel cornerback Bryce McCain. He has been abused this year, and targeting nickel corners has been a trend across the league. Houston could consider some prospects like North Carolina’s Tre Boston, Georgia’s Damien Swann, Virginia Tech’s Kyle Fuller or Antone Exum.

If the Texans can make some signings in free agency, it could take pressure off the franchise’s rookie class; re-signing Antonio Smith is a priority. Houston has a strong front office and scouting staff. The organization also has a head start on other teams in its search for a head coach. It wouldn’t be a surprise if the Texans are the latest team to be picking in the top five and making the postseason a year later. A strong draft class could set Houston up with some elite talent for sustained success in the AFC South.

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