17. Pittsburgh Steelers: Johnthan Banks CB/FS (Mississippi State)
Pittsburgh’s Defense needs a massive face-lift over the next couple of offseasons, and outside of maybe the Nose Tackle position, significant depth and future starters are needed at almost every position. Johnthan Banks would be a nice fit with Steelers as he possesses a big frame (6’1″ 185 lbs.), has shown the ability to make plays on the football even as a Zone-scheme guy (16 career INT’s), can mix it up in the run-game (125 Tackles the last two seasons), and even has the skill-set to play Free Safety (he started at the position as a Freshman in college).
The 2012 Jim Thorpe Award winner would be a solid insurance policy in the event that Keenan Lewis does not return and signs a Free Agent contract elsewhere this Spring. But not only is Lewis in danger of leaving, veteran Cornerback Ike Taylor will be turning 35 around the time his current contract expires in 2015, and veteran Free Safety Ryan Clark will be 35 as well when his current contract expires after this upcoming year.
18. Dallas Cowboys: Kenny Vaccaro FS (Texas)
Shifting to a new Defense under Monte Kiffin, the Cowboys could definitely use an additional play-maker at Safety. If so, Dallas 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 like the Cowboys.
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: Alec Ogletree ILB (Georgia)
The Bears will need an athletic replacement for Brian Urlacher at Middle Linebacker in their “Tampa 2″ style Defense, and Alec Ogletree could be just the player to take the future Hall of Famer’s place. A former Safety, Ogletree possesses 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. I should also add that he did all of this in 10 games, as he spent the first four on the bench as he served a suspension. Ogletree’s off-field issues might slide him down in Round 1, but his talent is undeniable, and he could be a perfect fit with the Bears.
21. Cincinnati Bengals: Dion Jordan DE/OLB (Oregon)
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. The Bengals could use some athleticism off of the edge and might be intrigued by Oregon’s Dion Jordan. Overall, Jordan put up 44 Tackles, 10.5 TFL’s, 5.0 Sacks, and Forced 3 Fumbles in 2012, has a unique frame (6’6″ 243 lbs.), and an athletic skill-set (surprisingly in pass-coverage) which could make him a player the Bengals might target in the middle of Round 1 if he recovers well from his recent shoulder surgery.
22. St. Louis Rams: Chance Warmack OG (Alabama)
Sam Bradford possesses all of the tools to be a good starting Quarterback for the Rams. Unfortunately, Bradford has been protected by some porous Offensive Lines’ throughout his career and been Sacked a total of 105 times over his first three seasons (42 Games). If St. Louis wants Bradford to flourish, they would be wise to go Offensive Line early and often in this year’s Draft. Thankfully for them, they should have a chance to instantly upgrade their O-Line’s interior if they select Chance Warmack (6’2″ 322 lbs.) out of Alabama. Warmack started 40 games during his collegiate career with the Crimson Tide and is a fantastic road-grading mauler with some nice pass-protection skills to boot.
23. Minnesota Vikings: Xavier Rhodes CB (Florida State)
The Vikings might try to find a Wide Receiver in Round 1 this year, and I cannot blame them if they decide to find more weapons to surround Christian Ponder with and take added pressure off of Adrian Peterson. But the Vikings also could stand to use an upgrade at the Cornerback position. Last year, the team’s Corners only registered a paltry 6 Interceptions, and Minnesota’s Defense recorded 10 in 16 total games. 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 Vikings in Round 1.
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. 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). The addition of Jenkins by 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.
26. 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.
27. Houston Texans: DeAndre Hopkins WR (Clemson)
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. 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 be just the #2 option Matt Schaub needs at Wide Receiver for the time being.
28. Denver Broncos: Tyler Eifert TE (Notre Dame)
From 2003 on, Peyton Manning could always rely on his steady safety valve in the form of Dallas Clark. Jacob Tamme is a nice option to have as a #2 Tight End in “12 Personnel” packages, but the Broncos could use a better athlete at the position. With Eric Decker and Demaryius Thomas eating people alive on the outside, acres of space could be available for Manning to find an athlete like Eifert in the seams and on underneath routes. While 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, and most of all hands, were terrific for such a big-bodied pass-catcher (6’5″ 252 lbs.).
29. Baltimore Ravens: Kevin Minter ILB (Louisiana State)
“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 Kevin Minter could be available to take in Round 1 this year. Minter was a force in the middle for the Tigers over the last two seasons, and established himself as a “Tackling Machine” this past year as he registered 130 Tackles, 15.0 TFL’s, and 4.0 Sacks over 13 games. The squat-framed, yet athletic Minter (6’1″ 245 lbs.) packs a wallop as a Tackler and would fit in quite well on Baltimore’s Defense.
30. San Francisco 49ers: Matt Elam SS (Florida)
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 Matt Elam. The former Gator 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.
31. Atlanta Falcons: Eddie Lacy RB (Alabama)
Atlanta’s ground-attack was downright pathetic in terms of their productivity during the 2012 regular season. On the season, the Falcons averaged a measly 3.7 Yards Per Carry (29th overall), and only 87.3 Rushing Yards Per Game (29th overall). With Michael Turner aging and slowing down, and Jacquizz Rodgers and Jason Snelling being a complimentary Backs, Matt Ryan could sure use a 20+ Carries per game Running Back to help with the 4 Minute Offense and in the Red Zone. Eddie Lacy would be a perfect replacement for Turner down the road. The 5’10” 220 lb. bruiser stepped into the starring role in the Tide’s Backfield last season and logged 204 Carries, 1,322 Yards, 17 TD’s and even put up 22 Catches, 189 Yards, 2 TD’s to his stat line as Alabama won the National Championship.
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: Share your thoughts below on who the Steelers should select in Round 1. Which positions should they target? Who would you like to see them Draft and why?
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