Nov 30, 2013; Auburn, AL, USA; Auburn Tigers quarterback Nick Marshall (14) runs against Alabama Crimson Tide linebacker C.J. Mosley (32) during the second half at Jordan Hare Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Shanna Lockwood-USA TODAY Sports
#11 – New York Giants – Stephon Tuitt – DE – Notre Dame
One thing draft pundits have learned about the New York Giants over the past few years is their love for stockpiling pass rushers. Considering how weak they’ve become in that area, they should be expected to have a strong desire to fix it. Defensive end Stephon Tuitt might not seem like an ideal choice, but under the surface of his playing in a 3-4 defense at Notre Dame, there is a player with loads of versatility and explosiveness for the Giants to exploit.
#12 – New York Jets – Marqise Lee – WR – USC
Geno Smith has already worn out his welcome with the New York Jets. It’s unclear if he is their future or not. What is clear is they need better wide receivers. Stephen Hill is has not lived up to his draft billing last year while Santonio Holmes is a shell of the player he once was. The Jets need a game breaker, and Marqise Lee is arguably the best in the 2014 class. Not only does he maintain good size, he is a speedster on the outside but can easily turn inwards and make tough catches over the middle. His strong lower body also allows him to break tackles and turn five-yard passes into 80-yard passes.
#13 – Tennessee Titans – Ha Ha Clinton-Dix – FS – Alabama
Cornerback isn’t a problem but the Tennessee Titans continue to lack playmaking ability from their safeties. Until that changes teams will continue to exploit them down the field and on the ground. So they look to correct it with by far the best safety in the 2014 NFL draft class. Ha Ha Clinton-Dix is a big, randy center fielder for Alabama. He excels at reading the eyes of the quarterback and breaking fast once the football is in the air. Covering tight ends and running backs is also a strong part of his game. Tennesse should benefit greatly from his presence.
#14 – San Diego Chargers – Justin Gilbert – CB – Oklahoma State
It seems like a match made in heaven. The San Diego Chargers desperately need help at cornerback and scouts have begun to see that OklahomaState star Justin Gilbert might be the best in the draft. He boasts everything required of a 3-4 corner: size, speed, athleticism and the physicality to play press coverage. His presence was a key for his team when they shut down and hammered previously unbeaten Baylor. There isn’t a person on a football field he can’t cover when he maintains an edge to his game. If San Diego wants to compete in the AFC West, they will need him.
#15 – Green Bay Packers – Eric Ebron – TE – North Carolina
It’s getting really difficult to figure out where the Green Bay Packers need to pay the most attention. Their suddenly porous pass defense is certainly a problem, but much should be sorted out once Aaron Rodgers returns. An area they need to pay close attention to is tight end. Since Jermichael Finley went down with that scary spinal injury, the Packers have struggled to find an adequate replacement. His loss has really sapped the explosiveness of their entire offense. With his return to the field questionable, they need to think about finding a successor. Eric Ebron of North Carolina is very much the same kind of player: big, fast and physical enough to outmuscle defenders for tough catches. Rodgers would love having him.
#16 – Chicago Bears – C.J. Mosley – OLB – Alabama
Picking in the middle of the first round is when a team needs to get a little lucky though they may not know it, the Chicago Bears get lucky here. The loss to Auburn has impacted the draft stock of every Alabama player. While bowl games and combines can change that, the fact is C.J. Mosley has taken a dip in recent power ranking, which is absurd. The linebacker is the most well rounded in the entire class. He does everything from play the run sideline to sideline to dropping into coverage. On top of that he is a respected leader who elevates his teammates. Chicago may not have an immediate need at linebacker, but the chance to get Mosley’s talent and charisma in the center of their defense is too good to pass up.
#17 – Miami Dolphins – Cameron Erving – OT – Florida State
Another obvious match. The Miami Dolphins have the worst offensive line in football and until they protect Ryan Tannehill, they’ll never know how good he can be. So they set about improving up front and where better to start than a left tackle. Cameron Erving isn’t as heavy on experience or technical savvy but he might be the most athletically gifted of the first round tackles. He has excellent quickness and doesn’t fear playing physical with whomever is across from him. Once he harnesses his hands and aggressiveness he will become a handful for every pass rusher.
#18 – St. Louis Rams – Louis Nix III – DT – Notre Dame
Jeff Fisher loves to build his teams from the trenches out. The St. Louis Rams had a lot of trouble against the run earlier in the season and still struggle from time to time. Improving their size at defensive tackle would certainly help that problem, and getting Louis Nix with the 18th pick is borderline theft. The Notre Dame nose tackle is a load at 340 lbs but has the quickness and speed to beat offensive linemen off the snap. That often allows him to draw double teams, allowing teammates to rush the passer one on one. His greatest strength though is against the run, where he is able to hold the point of attack using his size and is almost impossible to move off the ball.
#19 – Philadelphia Eagles – Ifo Ekpre-Olomu – CB – Oregon
The defense has certainly come around of late for the Philadelphia Eagles but Chip Kelly still could use more playmakers in his secondary. Ifo Ekpre-Olomu is a player he should know all about considering Kelly recruited him to Oregon. The young corner is very athletic, explosive and exhibits the natural instincts of a ballhawk. Teams rarely throw in his direction if they can help it and he also isn’t shy about coming down hard on the run. There are some size concerns but overall Ekpre-Olomu will enjoy a reunion with his former coach.
#20 – Arizona Cardinals – Antonio Richardson – OT – Tennessee
Bruce Arians can’t fully execute his offense until he can ensure his quarterback is adequately protected. The Arizona Cardinals remain depleted along the offensive line despite their improvement, and one area they need to shore up is left tackle. Though the pool has already been dipped into heavily, the 2014 NFL draft seems quite deep with quality prospects. So the team feels confident when they select Antonio Richardson. Indeed he is another impressive specimen. While not as athletically gifted as earlier selections, he maintain enough athleticism and the ideal hands and arms to play on the left tackle. He also boasts excellent power in his lower body and the strength to drive defenders off the ball in the running game.
#21 – Baltimore Ravens – Mike Evans – WR – Texas A&M
Recent outings have shown how much he still has to learn but wide receiver Mike Evans won’t ever stop being a physical specimen. At 6’5″ he is the best big target in the draft, with the explosive leaping ability to go up and get jump balls with regularity. Joe Flacco has been lacking such a player for the Baltimore Ravens in 2013, which may attribute to his continued struggles to generate offense. Evans would be an excellent compliment to Torrey Smith, and become a serious threat in the red zone.