17. Pittsburgh Steelers: Matt Elam SS (Florida)
As I have stated on numerous occasions, the Steelers must find a way to plan for the future at both Safety positions this offseason. One player in particular I can see them targeting with the 17th overall pick is Matt Elam of Florida. Like I pointed out in a post from a month ago, Elam has the tools and skill-set to be a nice replacement for Troy Polamalu once he hangs up his cleats. Elam is a big-hitter who is not only speedy, but can line up in a number of different areas on the Defensive side of the ball. The Strong Safety (5’10” 202 lbs.) improved off of his solid Sophomore season (78 Tackles, 11.0 TFL’s, 2.0 Sacks, 2 INT’s), and racked up 76 Tackles, 11.0 TFL’s, 2.0 Sacks, 1 Forced Fumble, and 4 Interceptions as Elam helped lead the Gators’ Defense to a Sugar Bowl berth. A year or two stint behind Polamalu and under the tutelage of Defensive Backs Coach Carnell Lake could serve Elam well, and also give the Safety time to develop into a quality Safety.
18. Dallas Cowboys: Ezekiel Ansah DE/OLB (Brigham Young)
Dallas could certainly use a pass-rushing threat opposite of Demarcus Ware, especially with Anthony Spencer set to become a UFA in a couple of months. One player Jerry Jones and the Cowboys could have their eyes’ set on is the raw yet talented Defensive End/Outside Linebacker prospect Ezekiel Ansah out of Brigham Young. Although he is newer to the game of football, Ansah had a fine 2012 season as he made 62 Tackles, 13.0 TFL’s, 4.5 Sacks during his first year as a starter. “Ziggy” also has a scheme-versatile frame (6’5″ 270 lbs.) that could help lead to him being developed into either a 5-Technique Defensive End, an Outside Linebacker, or some sort of hybrid between the two positions.
19. New York Giants: Sam Montgomery DE (Louisiana State)
It was a down year for Giants pass-rushers as the team only accumulated 33.0 Sacks. Adding a pass-rushing threat off the edge like Montgomery would allow the Giants to develop him as Justin Tuck and Osi Umenyiora play out the final years of their current deals’ (both UFA’s after 2014). Montgomery (6’5″ 260 lbs.) established himself as one of the S.E.C.’s better pass-rushers over his career, and put up 13.0 TFL’s and 8.5 Sacks during the 2012 season. If Ansah is not available at #19, I could definitely see New York taking Montgomery to shore up their depth at Defensive End.
20. Chicago Bears: Jonathan Cooper OG/C (North Carolina)
The Bears need upgrades all along their Offensive Line and would be smart to consider shoring up the interior with a versatile prospect like Jonathan Cooper. The combination of James Brown, Lance Louis, Gabe Carimi, and Chilo Rachal did not cut the mustard this year, plus Center Roberto Garza will be a Free Agent in 2014. Chicago’s pass-protectors gave up 44.0 Sacks last year, and it would be wise to protect their Franchise Quarterback in the form of Jay Cutler. The 6’3″ 310 lb. Cooper could instantly step in and challenge any of the Guards who suited up for the Bears last year for a starting spot. Cooper was a 4-year starter with the Tar Heels (48 Games), and his presence would be a welcome sight to Cutler I am sure.
21. Cincinnati Bengals: Kenny Vaccaro FS (Texas)
With Michael Johnson and Robert Geathers set to become UFA’s, the Bengals might be wise to add a Defensive End or two this April. If there are no Defensive Ends worth taking at #21 like in this Mock, Cincinnati could attempt to address another soon to be pressing need with their 1st Round pick: the Safety position. Although Reggie Nelson is signed long term, Chris Crocker (2013), Nate Clements (2013), and Taylor Mays (2014) will all be reaching UFA status soon. The Bengals might be wise to target the talented Kenny Vaccaro (6’1″ 218 lbs.) to bolster their Secondary. Vaccaro was the Longhorns’ leading Tackler last year (104) and added 4.0 TFL’s, 2 Forced Fumbles, and 2 INT’s to his 2012 stat line. A two-and-a-half year starter at Texas (31 Starts, 50 Games), the physical Vaccaro played both Free and Strong Safety during his collegiate career and would be a welcome addition to any Safety-needy team.
22. St. Louis Rams: Lane Johnson OT (Oklahoma)
Lane Johnson of Oklahoma could be the Left Tackle prospect the Rams are looking for to protect Bradford’s blind-side. Plus, Johnson’s selection would allow the Rams’ current Left Tackle, Roger Saffold, to take the place of soon-to-be UFA Right Tackle Barry Richardson, or kick in to Left Guard to replace the soon-to-be UFA Robert Turner. Johnson (6’6″ 303 lbs.) is an athletic prospect who played Quarterback in High School and at Junior College, and spent time at Tight End and Defensive End during his first year with the Sooners. For the last two years though Johnson has manned both the Right (12 Starts) and Left (11 Starts) for Oklahoma and could be a fantastic player and pass-protector down the road.
23. Minnesota Vikings: DeAndre Hopkins WR (Clemson)
The Vikings could definitely use a field-stretching Wide Receiver to take the pressure off of Adrian Peterson and Percy Harvin, and DeAndre Hopkins (6’1″ 200 lbs.) might be just the player who Minnesota targets. Although he shared the WR spotlight with his teammate Sammy Watkins, all Hopkins did at Clemson was produce during his three-year stint there. After an incredibly productive Sophomore season which saw him catch 72 passes for 978 Yards and 5 TD’s, Hopkins improved to the tune of 82 Catches for 1,405 Yards and 9 TD’s this past year. Equipped with blazing speed, Hopkins could make Minnesota easily forget about impending UFA’s Michael Jenkins (2014) and/or Jerome Simpson (2013), and help form a lethal duo with Harvin in space in the passing game.
24. Indianapolis Colts: Alex Okafor DE/OLB (Texas)
Dwight Freeney will be a UFA this March, and the Colts could definitely use an infusion of youth at Outside Linebacker in their 3-4 scheme. One player the Colts could target is Alex Okafor of Texas. Okafor had a fantastic career with the Longhorns which was capped off by an extremely productive Senior campaign. Overall, Alex racked up 68 Tackles, 18.0 TFL’s, and 12.5 Sacks over 13 Games, and did so with his talented pass-rushing mate Jackson Jeffcoat sidelined for most of the year with a pectoral injury. Equipped with a nice burst upfield for a bigger guy (6’5″ 265 lbs.), Okafor could shine in the Colts’ 3-4 scheme.
25. Baltimore Ravens: Alec Ogletree ILB (Georgia)
“Obstruction of Justice” Lewis has finally called it quits and the Ravens will likely be in the market for his replacement at Middle Linebacker this offseason. Baltimore tried unsuccessfully to acquire Dont’a Hightower last April, but lucky for them, a more athletic prospect like Alec Ogletree could be available to them in Round 1 this year. Ogletree, a former Safety, has an incredible mix of size and speed (6’3″ 232 lbs.), and led the Bulldogs this past year in Tackles with 111, and registered 11.5 TFL’s and 3.0 Sacks to go along with 6 PD’s and 1 Interception to boot. Ogletree’s off-field issues might slide him down in Round 1, but his talent is undeniable, and he could be a perfect fit in Baltimore.
26. Seattle Seahawks: Johnathan Jenkins DT (Georgia)
With Alan Branch and Jason Jones set to become UFA’s during the upcoming offseason, the Seahawks might try to add some depth along the interior of their Defensive Line. Johnathan Jenkins is an enormous (6’3″ 358 lbs.) space-eating Nose Tackle who had himself a fine Senior season in Athens (50 Tackles, 2.0 TFL’s, 1.0 Sack, 14 QB Hurries). Like Hankins in Tennessee, the addition of Jenkins in Seattle would provide Seahawks pass-rushers like Bruce Irvin, Chris Clemons, and Red Bryant with favorable matchups on the outside, and more chances to attack the opposing signal-callers.
27. San Francisco 49ers: Eric Reid FS (Louisiana State)
Dashon Goldson is set to become an Unrestricted Free Agent this March and Donte Whiter is set to reach UFA status in 2014. If the 49ers want to hedge their bets at Safety, they could look into drafting one early this year like Eric Reid. A two-year starter with the Bayou Bengals, Reid established himself as yet another solid L.S.U. Defensive Back over the 2011 and 2012 seasons. A big-hitting and larger Safety (6’2″ 212 lbs.), Reid proved willing to mix things up in the run-game and finished 3rd on the team in Tackles last year with 91 to go along with his 2 Interceptions. If San Francisco cannot hold on to Goldson and/or Whitner, they could find a physical replacement for at least one of them with a player like Reid.
28. Houston Texans: Cordarrelle Patterson WR (Tennessee)
The Texans could definitely use another play-making threat opposite Andre Johnson, and the speedy Cordarrelle Patterson might be just the player Houston needs to make their Offense and even more formidable force. Patterson was a phenomenal Kick Returner and Wide Receiver at the Junior College level before he came to Knoxville this past year, and boy did he make a splash in 2012. Over 11 Games, Patterson caught 42 passes for 690 Yards and 4 TD’s, he rushed for 270 Yards and 3 TD’s, and returned 1 Kickoff and 1 Punt for Touchdowns. The Junior possesses not only incredible speed but a large frame (6’3″ 205 lbs.) to boot, and could be just the #2 option Matt Schaub needs at Wide Receiver for the time being.
29. Green Bay Packers: Zach Ertz TE (Stanford)
Jermichael Finley is set to become a UFA in 2014, and has apparently had a stormy relationship with his All-Pro signal-caller Aaron Rodgers. The Packers could be in the market for a new Tight End soon, and what better way to please Rodgers than to replace his sometimes butter-fingered target in Finely, with one of college football’s best players at the position like Zach Ertz. After he played second-fiddle to Coby Fleener, Ertz stepped up huge in 2012 as he racked up 69 Catches for 898 Yards and 6 TD’s for the Cardinal. Ertz (6’6″ 252 lbs.) is a versatile prospect who has the potential to line up along the line of scrimmage, in the slot, or even in an H-Back role, and these options could make a Quarterback like Rodgers and a play-caller like Mike McCarthy intrigued by the possibilities and skill-set which Ertz could bring to their Offense.
30. Denver Broncos: Xavier Rhodes CB (Florida State)
Denver could use some depth and a future starter at Cornerback with Tracy Porter reaching UFA status this offseason. In addition, soon to be 35 year old Champ Bailey will be a UFA in 2015. If Xavier Rhodes falls this far in Round 1, and the Broncos are more intrigued by Defensive Tackle prospects on Days 2 & 3, they should take a serious look at selecting the former Seminole Cornerback. Standing at 6’1″ and 217 lbs., the imposing Rhodes was a 1st Team All-ACC Cornerback as he racked up 39 Tackles and 3 Interceptions this year. A team can never have too many Corners in today’s N.F.L., and a player who has the tools and size to stack up against N.F.L.-caliber pass-catchers like Rhodes could interest the Broncos in Round 1.
31. Atlanta Falcons: Tyler Eifert TE (Notre Dame)
Tony Gonzalez will be calling it quits soon enough, and the Falcons had better prepare for life without him. Luckily for them, they should be able to draft either Zach Ertz or Tyler Eifert late in Round 1. Although Eifert’s 2012 stats were not particularly mind-blowing (50 Catches, 685 Yards, 4 TD’s), anyone who watched him could see that his Quarterback situation was less-than helpful, and that his athleticism was terrific for such a big-bodied pass-catcher (6’5″ 252 lbs.). I will honestly be shocked if Eifert and/or Ertz is available to the Falcons and they decide to pass on either of them.
32. New England Patriots: Tavon Austin WR (West Virginia)
If Wes Welker is indeed allowed to walk this offseason, the Patriots will be in the market for a speedy play-maker to put in the Slot like Tavon Austin. Not only did Austin top the 100 Catch mark during his Junior season, he had an even more productive Senior campaign as he recorded 114 grabs for 1,289 Yards and 12 TD’s. But Austin not only shined in the passing game for the Mountaineers, he also was effective in the run-game as he rushed for an incredible 643 Yards and 3 TD’s on only 72 Carries. If there were ever a player who could flourish as a “Swiss Army Knife” Slot guy in New England it would be Tavon Austin, and I would have a hard time believing that New England would pass on him late in Round 1.
Readers: Who would you like to see the Steelers take? Which picks were surprises? Share your thoughts below.
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