Monday Morning Draft – Week 15

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 15 action.

Houston Texans:
The Texans’ funk continued with a new head coach in a loss to the Colts. Houston is now 2-12.

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.

St. Louis Rams:
This is the Rams’ pick that they are getting from the Redskins. Washington was dropped by Atlanta in a one-point loss. The Redskins are in disarray at 3-11, and it wouldn’t be surprising if this pick continues to climb.

In the top four, St. Louis would probably look to trade down. Les Snead has done that in each of his drafts for the franchise. 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.

Atlanta Falcons:
The Falcons improved to 4-10 after a one-point win against the Redskins. Atlanta head coach Mike Smith and general manager Thomas Dimitroff earned the right to correct the team, and two wins in their last three games should ensure that.

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.

Minnesota Vikings:
The Vikings had a shocking win over the Eagles. Minnesota is now 4-9-1 on the season. A few weeks 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.

Last month, 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.

San Diego Chargers: Khalil Mack, OLB, Buffalo
The Chargers could use a pass-rusher to come off the edge. They had a sack against Denver courtesy of Marcus Gilchrist, but the front seven was unable to get Peyton Manning down. A lack of pass rush has been an issue for San Diego all season. The Chargers could use an outside linebacker to go on the other side from Melvin Ingram – assuming he pans out.

Mack has 10.5 sacks, 94 tackles, five forced fumbles, six passes batted, three interceptions and 19 tackles for a loss thus far in 2013. The 6-foot-3, 245-pound senior is strong for his size and fast off the edge. He is a downhill play-maker who looks like a perfect fit in a 3-4 defense. Mack would be a nice weapon in the Chargers’ defense.

Buffalo Bills: Chris Borland, ILB, Wisconsin
The Bills have allowed a lot of yards on the ground this season, and the past two weeks they’ve made Bobby Rainey and Jordan Todman look good. Buffalo could use a thumper middle linebacker to play next to Kiko Alonso. The Bills could address their offensive line and cornerback early while targeting Borland on the third day of the 2014 NFL Draft. As a situational defender, he could make a difference for Buffalo.

In 2013, Borland has 102 tackles with 8.5 tackles for a loss, two passes broken up, one forced fumble and four sacks. He is a thumper middle linebacker who is a tough-as-nails run-defender. Borland totaled 104 tackles, 4.5 sacks, 10 tackles for a loss and six passes broken up in 2012. The 5-foot-11, 248-pounder doesn’t have the speed and athleticism for pass coverage in the NFL, but he could be a good role player.

Chicago Bears: Stephon Tuitt, DE, Notre Dame
The Bears were able to overcome some early turnovers to pull out a win over the Browns. Chicago’s defense kept Josh Gordon under 100 yards, but Cleveland still had 31 points. The Bears had zero sacks against the Browns. Chicago needs to get some young talent for its defensive line. Tuitt has the ability to play defensive end on rushing downs and move inside in passing situations. Drafting Tuitt could help the Bears if they lose Henry Melton in free agency.

While playing at a heavier weight this year – around 320 pounds, Tuitt has 44 tackles with 7.5 tackles for a loss, six sacks, one forced fumbles and a pick-six. He was about 20 pounds lighter last season and had more burst. Tuitt recorded 12 sacks with 47 tackles, three forced fumbles, one pass break up and a 77-yard fumble return for a touchdown (against Navy). He would makes sense to the Bears in the back half of Round 1 of the 2014 NFL Draft.

Miami Dolphins: Greg Robinson, OT, Auburn
Ryan Tannehill led the Dolphins to a much-needed victory over the Patriots in Miami. The clutch win keeps the Dolphins’ playoff hopes alive, and once again, Tannehill had to play with a leaky offensive line. The Patriots had four sacks, and Tannehill has taken far too many hits this year. Miami is going to need to bring in two offensive tackles and a guard over the offseason.

Auburn’s prolific ground game is led by a formidable front. The best player on the Tigers’ offensive line is the left tackle Robinson. He has had a great redshirt sophomore season. The 6-foot-5, 320-pounder has an impressive skill set. Robinson is very strong to push defensive linemen at the point of attack. He also has quickness and good feet to be a pass-blocker in the NFL. If Miami got Robinson in the first round, he could be huge for Tannehill in the long term.

Minnesota Vikings: Dion Bailey, S, USC
The Vikings’ defense has given up lots of points and yards through the air this season. DeSean Jackson kept that going with almost 200 yards on Sunday. Minnesota could use a safety upgrade to go next to Harrison Smith. Bailey could be a nice complement to Smith as both players have the ability to play free or strong safety.

Bailey has been a play-maker for USC for three straight seasons. The instinctive safety is a weapon in the deep part of the field with the ability to read quarterbacks’ eyes and has a knack for picking off overthrows and tipped passes. Bailey had 81 tackles, two interceptions and two sacks as a freshman in 2011. In 2012, he totaled 80 tackles, eight tackles for a loss, four interceptions and five passes broken up. He has five interceptions with 58 tackles, 4.5 tackles for a loss and six passes broken up in 2013. If Bailey enters the 2014 NFL Draft, he could be a quality second-day selection for the Vikings.

Atlanta Falcons: Anthony Barr, OLB, UCLA
Kirk Cousins had 45 pass attempts for Washington, but Atlanta only had one sack – courtesy of Osi Umenyiora. All season, a lack of edge rush has been a problem for the Falcons. Atlanta is in good position to land an elite rusher to help make up for the loss of John Abrahama. The Falcons would land a great scheme fit with Barr in the first round.

Barr is a tremendous blitzer and is lightning off the edge with a superb first step and incredible agility to weave around offensive linemen. Entering his bowl game, the 6-foot-4, 235-pounder has 62 tackles with 20 tackles for a loss, 10 sacks, five forced fumbles and a pass batted. Barr had a breakout 2012 and was one of the nation’s leader in sacks. The junior collected 13 sacks, 83 tackles, 21.5 tackles for a loss, five passes batted and four forced fumbles. Barr would be an excellent top-10 pick for Atlanta.

San Francisco 49ers: Travis Swanson, C, Arkansas
San Francisco controlled Tampa Bay from start to finish on Sunday, but one area that the 49ers had some problems was on the inside of their offensive line. Gerald McCoy had a sack and got a lot of pressure. Center Jonathan Goodwin is 35 and the team could draft his replacement this May. San Francisco has a lot of extra picks on the second day of the 2014 NFL Draft, so taking a center like Swanson makes a lot of sense.

The 6-foot-5, 315-pound Swanson has been one of the most consistent linemen in the SEC the past few seasons. He is a tough run-blocker with good strength at the point of attack. Swanson also does a nice job in pass protection and is a smart director of the offensive line. He executes double-teams well and would help the 49ers’ guards take on elite talents on the inside. If San Francisco takes Swanson in the second or third round, the franchise could have a long-term center to work with Colin Kaepernick.

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.

Dallas Cowboys:
The Cowboys should have a simple plan for the 2014 NFL Draft and the offseason overall. They need to add some key pieces of talent to their defense to give Monte Kiffin a fighting chance next season. Injuries and disappointing play from some young defenders have handcuffed Kiffin in this first season in Dallas. The Cowboys have to bring in some serious talent to give Kiffin something to work with in order to get a defense that can support Tony Romo on offense. If Dallas adds the right pieces, it wouldn’t be surprising if Kiffin delivers a quick fix for the team.

The Cowboys have to address their defensive front seven. That is the engine for Kiffin’s Tampa 2 defense. Dallas has its pass-rushing edge-rusher in All-Pro DeMarcus Ware, but the two most important positions in Kiffin’s scheme are the three-technique defensive tackle and Will (weakside) linebacker. In Tampa Bay, Kiffin had Hall of Fame talents in Warren Sapp and Derrick Brooks to man those positions. Fortunately for the Cowboys, this draft has good talent and depth at both positions.

At tackle, Dallas could land a good first-rounder in Florida State’s Timmy Jernigan. Scouts have agreed with me that Jernigan is a perfect fit as three-technique. Aside from Jernigan, the Cowboys could consider Minnesota’s RaShede Hageman. On the second day of the 2014 NFL Draft, Pittsburgh’s Aaron Donald is an undersized option; he is a great pass-rusher on the inside. Donald enters the bowl season with 10 sacks, and this is his second double-digit-sack season in the past three years. Other players who fit as three-techniques on Day 2 include LSU’s Anthony Johnson, Arizona State’s Will Sutton and South Carolina’s Kelcy Quarles.

For a Will linebacker, Dallas has a few players to consider. In the first round, the organization could target Alabama star C.J. Mosley. He is an excellent pass-defender who could remind Kiffin of Brooks. The Cowboys could also think of BYU’s Kyle Van Noy or Ohio State’s Ryan Shazier in the early rounds. Both of them are extremely fast and instinctive. They could all fit well as Will linebackers for the Cowboys.

On the second day of the 2014 NFL Draft, Dallas should also address the guard position. The signed Brian Waters out of retirement before he suffered a season-ending knee injury. Players the the Cowboys could consider include Alabama’s Anthony Steen or Notre Dame’s Zack Martin.

Aside from those top needs, Dallas could add more defensive line talent in the mid-rounds. The Cowboys could win the NFC East or fall short, but if they add some impact players, Dallas could get enough out of its defense to be a more dangerous team in January 2015.

Carolina Panthers:
The Panthers have had a breakout 2014 season, and with young talent on both sides of the ball, Carolina looks poised to be a playoff contender for many years to come. The organization has an elite quarterback in Cam Newton and one of the top young front sevens in the NFL. Between Carolina’s defense and Newton’s big play ability, the Panthers will be a tough team to beat for years to come. Carolina has a few areas to improve in order to make a run at a Lombardi Trophy.

First of all, the Panthers need to build around Newton on offense. They need a long-term left tackle. Jordan Gross is playing well in his 30s, but that won’t last forever. The franchise could target a left tackle in the first round with Tennessee’s Antonio Richardson, Florida State’s Cameron Erving, Alabama’s Cyrus Kouandjio or Auburn’s Greg Robinson. Richardson has declared for the 2014 NFL Draft, but the other three could choose to return to college. There also is the possibility that Michigan’s Taylor Lewan could fall, so perhaps Carolina could land him. After the first round, a potential fit could be North Carolina left tackle James Hurst.

Along with a long-term franchise left tackle, the Panthers need a No. 1 receiver for Newton. Steve Smith is aging, and they need a future top target for Newton. Late in the first round, a good fit could be Florida State’s Kelvin Benjamin. The big, fast wide receiver would bring a Vincent Jackson-like element to Carolina’s offense. Another option could be USC’s Marqise Lee, who would bring some continuity as a successor to Smith with deep speed to stretch the field. On the second day of the 2014 NFL Draft, the Panthers could land some play-making receivers. LSU’s Odell Beckham, Jr or Jarvis Landry could be worth considering.

If there isn’t a good wide receiver or left tackle available in the first round, Carolina could address the defense with a cornerback. The team has gotten improved safety play this season, but the cornerbacks are the weakness of the defense. In the first round, it looks like Oklahoma State’s Justin Gilbert probably won’t get to the Panthers’ pick. Other players worth considering are Michigan State’s Darqueze Dennard, Oregon’s Ifo Ekpre-Olomu and Florida’s Marcus Roberson. On Day 2, Carolina could consider Virginia Tech’s Kyler Fuller or Ohio State’s Bradley Roby.

Assuming that left tackle, wide receiver and cornerback are the Panthers’ first three selections, other needs to address on the third day could include a potential developmental right tackle and depth at tight end.

With the drafting of former general manager Marty Hurney and current GM Dave Gettleman, Carolina is set up to have an extended run as a playoff contender. If Gettleman makes a few astute picks and free agent acquisitions, the Panthers could be playing for a championship in the near future.

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