Monday Morning Draft – Week 16

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 16 action.

Houston Texans:
The Broncos rolled the Texans to drop Houston to 2-13. Assuming the Texas don’t screw things up next week, Houston will have the No. 1 pick in the 2014 NFL Draft.

The Texans could consider a pass-rusher like Jadeveon Clowney in the first round if there isn’t a quarterback worth taking over Clowney. Teddy Bridgewater may not grade out ahead of Clowney, and Houston general manager Rick Smith may decide to target a quarterback like Clemson’s Tajh Boyd at the top of the second round. Also, the Texans could go the Chiefs’ route and look to acquire a veteran quarterback like Jay Cutler or Kirk Cousins.

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 Dallas in a one-point loss, their second-straight one-point loss. The Redskins are in disarray at 3-12.

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 consider Texas A&M left tackle Jake Matthews. With Chris Long and Robert Quinn, St. Louis doesn’t have a need to draft Clowney.

The four-win teams of Atlanta, Minnesota, Tampa Bay, Cleveland, Oakland and Jacksonville are all out of contention to land the No. 1 pick. However they could be in position to trade up if Houston or St. Louis wants to move down.

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.

Arizona Cardinals: Derek Carr, QB, Fresno State
The Cardinals were able to overcome four Carson Palmer interceptions to beat the Seahawks thanks to an excellent defense. Arizona is 10-5 because of a superb season out of its stop unit. Palmer has been an upgrade by default, but he isn’t a Super Bowl-caliber quarterback. The Cardinals will have to get a future replacement.

Carr would be a natural in Bruce Arians’ offense. The 6-foot-3, 218-pounder has the arm strength, quick release and field vision to distribute the ball to the Cardinals’ weapons. In 2013, Carr had a great senior year as he completed 69 percent of his passes for 5,083 yards with 50 touchdowns and eight interceptions. Arizona has hope that Carr doesn’t skyrocket in the lead up to the 2014 NFL Draft so the organization can get him in the back half of the first round.

New England Patriots: Jace Amaro, TE, Texas Tech
The Patriots’ offense just doesn’t look the same without the tight end threat. Tom Brady has done a superb job of getting what he can out of his supporting cast, but Brady needs some tight end talent for 2014. Aaron Hernandez should be in prison, while Rob Gronkowski could be slowed in the first half of the year coming off his knee injury. Getting a receiving weapon like Amaro would help open things up for New England’s other young receivers and running game.

The junior has 98 receptions for 1,240 yards with seven touchdowns this year. Amaro (6-5, 260) is very quick, has good size and is generally sure-handed. He is too fast for linebackers and most safeties, yet also possesses mismatch size to beat defensive backs. Amaro could use some work as a blocker for the NFL, but he is proving to be a dangerous receiving weapon. Amaro is likely declaring for the 2014 NFL Draft and that makes sense considering his tremendous 2013 season.

Indianapolis Colts: Jordan Matthews, WR, Vanderbilt
The Colts were led by Griff Whalen; they have to devote some picks to upgrade the receiving weapons for Andrew Luck. Indianapolis is without its first-round pick thanks to the Trent Richardson trade, so the team is going to have to hope a good receiver falls the organization on Day 2. If Matthews fell to the Colts’ second-round pick, he would make sense for them.

Matthews has 107 receptions for 1,334 yards with five touchdowns this year. The senior has looked very good with his route running and moving the chains in the intermediate part of the field. He needs to run well at the Combine to get first-round consideration – a lack of speed could easily push him to Day 2.

Dallas Cowboys: Timmy Jernigan, DT, Florida State
The Cowboys had zero sacks of Kirk Cousins, which played a role in Pierre Garcon having a huge game. All season, Dallas has had issues at defensive tackle. The organization clearly needs a three-technique for Monte Kiffin’s Tampa 2 system. Jernigan would be a perfect fit with his ability to generate an interior pass rush.

This year, Jernigan has 54 tackles, 4.5 sacks and 10.5 tackles for a loss. Scouts have told that Jernigan looks like a first-round pick. The 6-foot-2, 292-pound Jernigan is very quick off the snap and has the speed to close the pocket in a hurry. It would make a lot of sense for Dallas to select him in the first round.

Carolina Panthers: Kelvin Benjamin, WR, Florida State
The Panthers got a clutch receiving touchdown from Domenik Hixon, but Cam Newton still lacks a true No. 1 receiver. Carolina has a declining Steve Smith, but with Newton entering his prime, the franchise has to think of getting a receiver who can make big plays for the dynamic signal-caller. The Panthers won’t be drafting high enough to land Sammy Watkins or Mike Evans, so the team could look to snag Benjamin in the first or second round.

Benjamin has 50 receptions for 957 yards with 14 touchdowns this year. At the end of the regular season, he burned Florida cornerback Loucheiz Purifoy for multiple long completions down the field in a massive performance. 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.

Denver Broncos: Jared Abbrederis, WR, Wisconsin
Eric Decker had 131 yards and two touchdowns against Houston on Sunday, and the Broncos are going to be in a tough position to re-sign both him and Demaryius Thomas. Even if Denver gets both re-signed, Wes Welker is no youngster; a receiver on the second day of the 2014 NFL Draft makes sense for the Broncos.

Abbrederis has been excellent in 2013. He has produced despite spotty quarterback play and the Badgers’ inclination to run the ball. There have been a lot of plays that saw Abbrederis wide open for long touchdowns, but passes weren’t delivered. In 2013, Abbrederis has totaled 73 receptions for 1,051 yards with seven touchdowns. The 6-foot-2, 188-pounder has quickness and is a great route-runner. He could be a dangerous slot receiver.

St. Louis Rams: Justin Gilbert, CB, Oklahoma State
The Rams’ defense dominated the line of scrimmage against the Bucs. The only Tampa Bay offensive player who challenged St. Louis on Sunday was wide receiver Vincent Jackson. Janoris Jenkins is a quality cornerback, but he isn’t the biggest corner. The Rams could use another corner – a tall one – to match up against big wide outs.

Gilbert (6-0, 194) could be in play for the St. Louis’ second first-round pick. He has six interceptions, 40 tackles, seven passes broken up and one kick returned for a touchdown this year. Gilbert has been one of the best man-cover corners in college football this past year.

The senior has the size to take on big receivers with the speed and agility to keep them from getting separation. He has real ball skills to pick off passes. In 2011, Gilbert had interceptions against the top three quarterbacks in the 2012 NFL Draft; Stanford’s Andrew Luck, Baylor’s Robert Griffin and Texas A&M’s Ryan Tannehill.

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.

New York Jets:
The Jets have a simple game-plan for the 2014 NFL Draft and the next offseason. The offense has to be addressed with play-makers who can give New York an ability to produce some points. The Jets have to make the job easier for young quarterback Geno Smith. They need to give him an arsenal of weapons at his disposal.

First of all, Smith is going to need a true No. 1 receiver. Santonio Holmes has a large salary and could be a cap casualty after the season. New York needs a receiver with speed to stretch the defense and help open up the ground game. The organization needs to consider Clemson’s Sammy Watkins, Texas A&M’s Mike Evans or USC’s Marqise Lee in the first round. Getting Smith a No. 1 receiver is paramount for the Jets. Stephen Hill could be a solid starter, but New York should also look for a speedy slot receiver and talented depth. Watkins could be the best fit for the Jets if he makes it to their first-rounder.

New York could use a long-term starter at tight end. Kellen Winslow was a nice signing, but he shouldn’t be an every-down tight end for the Jets if they bring him back next season. New York will have to hope one of the talented tight ends falls in the draft, but the Jets could also consider trading up to make sure they land Eric Ebron, Jace Amaro or Austin Seferian-Jenkins. If one falls out of the first round, it would make sense for New York to trade up to the top of the second day, similar to Tennessee last year when the Titans moved up for wide receiver Justin Hunter.

Defensively, the Jets have some needs they could address. The biggest weakness on the stop unit could be the safeties. New York could use a difference-maker on the back end. The team also could potentially use an edge-rusher on the other side from Quinton Coples. However, those needs aren’t as glaring as the Jets’ problems on the offensive side of the ball. Washington State safety Deone Buccanon, USC safety Dion Bailey, USC outside linebacker Morgan Breslin and Georgia Tech outside linebacker Jeremiah Attaochu could be good fits to consider in the third round.

New York has two high-third-round picks courtesy of the Darrelle Revis trade. That extra ammo will help John Idzik to fill needs or possibly move up to get some elite talents who fall. At least with a good defense, the Jets could potentially return to playoff competition in the AFC East if they get some game-changers on offense.

Denver Broncos:
It is funny to think about how much the Broncos have changed from five years ago. Back then, Denver was about to embark on the Josh McDaniels era that led to John Elway taking over as general manager, John Fox as head coach; Tebow Mania was replaced by Petyon Manning and three playoff appearances have now been accomplished. Elway has done a good job of building the roster into one of the most talented teams in the AFC. With age of Manning, the Broncos have a narrow championship window to get Manning his second championship ring.

Denver has a few needs to address to help its chances in 2014. The first need is cornerback – one of the most important positions in the NFL. Champ Bailey is aging and may decide to retire, or the Broncos could decide that it is time he retires. Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie was only signed to a 1-year deal, and he might find a bigger contract from another team on the open market.

It would make sense for Denver to select a cornerback in the first round of the 2014 NFL Draft. Late in the first round, the Broncos could land Florida’s Marcus Roberson, Oregon’s Ifo Ekpre-Olomu or Michigan State’s Darqueze Dennard. All three would be good scheme fits for Jack Del Rio and Fox.

Another position that could be drafted early is defensive end. Elvis Dumervil was lost to the fax machine scandal, while Shaun Philips is just a veteran stop-gap and Robert Ayers is entering free agency. Denver could use a true edge-rusher to go on the other side from Von Miller. If a good cornerback isn’t available in the first round, Stanford’s Trent Murphy could make sense for the Broncos.

On the second day of the 2014 NFL Draft, Denver has a few needs other needs it could address. It has been very impressive how the Broncos have overcome the injuries to their offensive line, but it wouldn’t be surprising if they drafted some depth to help keep Manning healthy. Stanford guard/tackle David Yankey or Notre Dame tackle/guard Zack Martin make sense as players who could fill in at a variety of spots.

Denver also could use some depth at wide receiver. Eric Decker and Demaryius Thomas are approaching the end of their contracts, while Wes Welker is no spring chicken. The organization may not have the cap room to extend both Decker and Thomas. The team would go with the latter, so having to replace Decker is a possibility. A great fit would be Wisconsin wide out Jared Abbrederis. He has some size and speed to be an outside or slot receiver. Other receivers the Broncos could consider are Oregon’s Josh Huff, LSU’s Odell Beckham,. Jr or Jarvis Landry.

Denver could also look at an inside linebacker to fortify the middle of the defense. There should be some good fits available on Day 2. Stanford senior Shayne Skov would help lock down the middle. Miami junior linebacker Denzel Perryman should remind Fox of a young Jon Beason.

Manning is still playing at a high level so even if the Broncos lose in the postseason this year, they could bounce back in 2014. It will be on Elway to produce another strong draft class to take advantage of this championship window.

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