17. Pittsburgh Steelers: Kenny Vaccaro FS (Texas)
Ryan Clark and Troy Polamalu are not getting any younger, and Pittsburgh needs to begin with a legitimate “transition strategy” at both Safety positions. If the Steelers do look for a Safety early, they might be wise to target the talented Kenny Vaccaro (6’1″ 218 lbs.) to begin the re-building process in their Secondary. Vaccaro was the Longhorns’ leading Tackler last year (104) and added 4.0 TFL’s, 2 Forced Fumbles, and 2 Interceptions 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 Steelers.
18. Dallas Cowboys: Mike Glennon QB (North Carolina State)
A bit shocking I know, but I have to think that Tony Romo is running out of chances with the Cowboys. Romo is only signed through this season, and another year without postseason success could make the soon-to-be 33 year-old expendable in the eyes of the Cowboys’ brass. If Dallas is smart, they had better prepare an “exit strategy” not named Kyle Orton, and could gamble on Mike Glennon of North Carolina State. The tall yet surprisingly athletic North Carolina State prospect did a fine job during his two years as a starter (4,031 Yards Passing and 31 TD’s in 2012). Although Glennon’s Completion Percentage from last season (58.4%) might be a cause for concern, his rifle arm, and surprising athleticism could drive him up draft boards around the League.
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 Ezekiel Ansah is not available at #19 or the Giants are unwilling to wait for the raw prospect to develop, 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: Ezekiel Ansah DE (Brigham Young)
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 Brigham Young University’s Ezekiel Ansah. 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, and is projected by some to be a “Jason Pierre-Paul” type of “high-risk, high-reward” prospect.
22. St. Louis Rams: Cordarrelle Patterson WR (Tennessee)
The Rams have the luxury of possessing two 1st Round picks, and could be willing to go B.P.A. with one, and fill an enormous need with the other. 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 TD’s. The Junior possesses not only incredible speed but a large frame (6’3″ 205 lbs.) to boot, and could be just the #1 option Sam Bradford is in need of at this point in his career.
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: Johnthan Banks CB (Mississippi State)
The Colts’ Secondary only registered 12 Interceptions during the 2012 season. In addition to that, Indianapolis could use either another starter at the Cornerback position, or an eventual replacement for Antoine Bethea at Free Safety if he leaves via Free Agency after the 2013 season ends. If Johnthan Banks, the 2012 Jim Thorpe Award Winner, falls to Indianapolis they should really consider taking him. Banks 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 Interceptions), 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).
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: Kevin Minter ILB (Louisiana State)
Houston’s Defense was never quite the same after Brian Cushing went down with an injury. Now with Bradie James set to hit the Free Agent market, the Texans would be wise to consider an Inside Linebacker early in the 2013 Draft. 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 next to Cushing in Houston’s Defense.
28. Denver Broncos: Jesse Williams DT (Alabama)
While their Secondary was absolutely atrocious against the Ravens, Denver’s Defense could stand to use a space-eating Defensive Tackle who can occupy blockers, eat space, and make the occasional play. If the Broncos can give 2nd year man Derek Wolfe more chances to rush the passer from the interior, less attention can be paid to Elvis Dumervil and Von Miller on the outside. Jesse Williams of Alabama at 6’3″ 320 lbs. (37 Tackles, 2.5 TFL’s, and 1.0 Sack in 2012) could be just the space-eater the Broncos need to create these aforementioned macthup issues, and the Broncos will likely go Defensive Tackle on Day 1 or Day 2 of the Darft.
29. 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.
30. Atlanta Falcons: Kawann Short DT (Purdue)
No player on Atlanta’s Defense should be proud of their two meldowns during postseason play. With a need for a pass-rushing and gap-shooting Defensive Tackle, the Falcons might put aside taking a replacement for Tony Gonzalez early on and instead select Kawann Short. The 6’3″ 315 lb. Short had a terrific year on an otherwise mediocre Boilermaker Defense as he registered 42 Tacles, 14.5 TFL’s, and 6.0 Sacks from the interior of the Defensive Line.
31. Baltimore Ravens: Matt Elam SS (Florida)
The Ravens could afford to get younger at the Safety position, and if Matt Elam is available he could be their 1st Round selection. 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 Interceptions), and racked up 76 Tackles, 11.0 TFL’s, 2.0 Sacks, 1 Forced Fumble, and 4 Interceptions as he helped lead the Gators’ Defense to a Sugar Bowl berth.
32. San Francisco 49ers: Dion Jordan DE/OLB (Oregon)
The 49ers have a relatively young roster, and they can afford to take a “luxury pick” or two in this year’s Draft. No team can ever have enough pass-rushers, and San Francisco could be just the place that the raw yet incredibly athletic Dion Jordan could blossom and develop. 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 who San Francisco targets in the middle of Round 1 if he recovers well from his recent shoulder surgery.