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NEW COVER STORY...TGS NFL DRAFT PREVIEW--PART II
by Bruce Marshall, Goldsheet.com Editor


In our last issue, we projected the first half of the first round in the upcoming NFL Draft. We complete our first-round preview with our forecast for the final half of the first round, beginning with San Diego's pick in the 17th slot...

17-SAN DIEGO CHARGERS...There are plenty of moving parts in San Diego, which might include the team, now upping the ante on local municipalities to either make significant upgrades to Qualcomm Stadium or, preferably, build a new facility, where locales from Oceanside all of the way down to National City, by the border, have been discussed. The Bolts believe they have a new bargaining chip with a proposed shared facility with the Raiders in the L.A. area (Carson), although the Spanos' have not indicated they are willing carry the bulk of the financial burden on any new stadium venture. We mention all of this because it has apparently caused franchise QB Philip Rivers (who supposedly has no desire to relocate to L.A.) to balk at signing a contract extension, which in turn has started trade rumors, including one doozy that has Rivers headed to Tennessee in exchange for the Titans' pick at the second spot in Round One. The reported workout Oregon QB Marcus Mariota had for the Bolts has further fueled speculation. Stay tuned. Otherwise, the Chargers are a good bet to address the RB situation in the early rounds after Ryan Mathews left for the Eagles in free agency. GM Tom Telesco also might look at shoring up the defensive interior, since San Diego remains without a true prototype NT for its 3-4 alignments. Melvin Gordon, RB, Wisconsin

18-KANSAS CITY CHIEFS...After no Chief wideout caught a TD pass last season when KC finished one game out of the AFC playoff mix, it went without saying that HC Andy Reid (who has significant sway in personnel matters) and GM John Dorsey were going to look at upgrading the wide receiver spots in the offseason. No surprise, then, that the Chiefs inked Eagles FA (and former Mizzou Tiger) WR Jeremy Maclin, very familiar to "Dang it Andy" from their time together in Philadelphia. Reid, who opted to release underachieving vet WR Dwayne Bowe, is probably looking to add at least one more wideout in the draft, but having already added a homerun threat such as Maclin in free agency means that KC might instead focus on OL upgrades with its earliest pick after QB Alex Smith was sacked nearly fifty times a year ago. Reid might also want to add some depth at ILB as 32-year-old Derrick Johnson will be attempting a comeback after a serious Achilles tendon injury ended his 2014 season in Week One vs. the Titans. Cameron Erving, OT-C, Florida State

19-CLEVELAND BROWNS (from Buffalo)...The Brownies get their second pick in the first round thanks to last year's draft day trade with Buffalo that allowed the Bills to move up to the fourth spot in Round One to take WR Sammy Watkins. After projecting an upgrade along the OL (Stanford OT Andrus Peat) with its own earlier pick in the 12th slot, Cleveland could very well be looking hard at its QB position at this stage of the first round if owner Jimmy Haslam is as fed up with Johnny Manziel's immaturity as sources suggest. (Manziel last week completed a stint at a rehab facility, which ESPN earlier reported dealt with drug and/or alcohol abuse). Given Haslam's past impatience with coaches and GMs who don't deliver, we'd say Johnny Football is on a very short leash, and the Browns might be almost exactly where they were a year ago at this time at QB, only with recently-signed Josh McCown in place of the departed Brian Hoyer. McCown, however, is a stop-gap alternative at best, and GM Ray Farmer might want to take a swing at another top-tier QB late in the first round as he did a year ago with Manziel...before Johnny Football started burning bridges. Brett Hundley, QB, UCLA

20-PHILADELPHIA EAGLES...Any first-round projection for the Eagles is more provisional than perhaps any other team as rumors persist that HC Chip Kelly (who now apparently has final say in personnel matters with Howie Roseman's GM title having changed since last season) wants to go after his former college QB from Oregon, 2014 Heisman winner Marcus Mariota. The Birds have already been shifting QBs in the offseason, with Nick Foles shipped to the Rams in exchange for Sam Bradford, and backup Mark Sanchez re-signed to a two-year deal. But many NFC East observers believe Kelly has another move up his sleeve and will not go into camp with the injury-prone Bradford (recovering from his second ACL injury) and the inconsistent Sanchez as his only alternatives. Philly has also been active in free agency, remodeling its RB corps with LeSean McCoy dealt to the Bills and DeMarco Murray (from the Cowboys) and Ryan Mathews (from the Chargers) added in free agency, while the 31st-ranked pass defense sought to shore up the CB spots with FAs Byron Maxwell (via Seahawks) and Walter Thurmond (via Giants). Assuming the Birds stay in the 20th spot, however, they might be looking for immediate help at FS after Nate Allen moved to Oakland in the offseason, or at OLB after the release of vet Trent Cole and the struggles of last year's number one pick, Marcus Smith. Eli Harold, OLB, Virginia

21-CINCINNATI BENGALS...A fourth straight flame-out in the wild card round apparently will not cost QB Andy Dalton, who still seems to have the support of HC Marvin Lewis and both Mike and Pete Brown...at least for one more year (Dalton's big six-year, $96 million deal, inked after the 2013 campaign, can reduce to a 2-year, $25 mill deal and terminate after this season without causing much of a cap hit in 2016). But the Bengals might be looking for a new backup QB with Jason Campbell out of contract and ex-Bama star A.J. McCarron not having taken a snap last season due to a shoulder injury. (McCarron's now-wife, the former Miss Alabama Katherine Webb, has the legs but not the arm for the assignment.) Still, any additions at QB probably come in the later rounds, as a more pressing need seems to be along the defensive line after Cincy sagged to a league-low 20 sacks last season. Upgrades are still needed across the front even after signing ex-Buc DE Michael Johnson in free agency. The Bengals might also want to invest a choice at OT with both current starters Andrew Whitworth and Andre Smith due to hit free agency after the season. Owamagbe Odighizuwa, DE, UCLA

22-PITTSBURGH STEELERS...Former All-Pro S Troy Polamalu's recent retirement did not catch the Steelers by surprise, as they were already thinking about upgrades in the secondary after last year's big FA signee from the Panthers, S Mike Mitchell, struggled in his first season at Heinz Field, and with CBs Ike Taylor (out of contract) and Brice McCain (inked with Dolphins) not returning. Those aren't the only familiar faces gone from the defense, with LB Jason Worilds having retired after the Steelers decided not to franchise-tag him, and bearded vet DE Brett Keisel released, not to mention longtime d.c. Dick LeBeau leaving to join Ken Whisenhunt's staff in Tennessee. The most urgent of those needs appears at CB, where the Steelers presently only have William Gay and Cortez Allen under contract, but the entire stop unit figures to get plenty of attention in the draft. The only recognizable FA addition to date is ex-Panther RB DeAngelo Williams, whose presence could come in handy in September with All-Pro Le'Veon Bell reportedly facing at least a 3-game suspension due to violating the league's substance-abuse policy. Jalen Collins, CB, LSU

23-DETROIT LIONS...Most NFC North observers believe that GM Martin Mayhew has fared decently in the offseason despite losing the biggest name on the FA market, DT Ndamukong Suh, who signed with the Dolphins, as well as fellow DT Nick Fairley, who signed with the Rams. Re-signing Suh would have hamstrung Mayhew and limited the GM's flexibility to address other areas. But most believe that Detroit should not suffer much drop-off this fall on the DL after trading for former All-Pro Ravens DT Haloti Ngata and adding ex-Saints DT Tyunn Walker in free agency. For the offense, at some point in the draft Mayhew and HC Jim Caldwell probably add at least one more RB after Reggie Bush left in free agency for the 49ers. But with plenty of runners likely available in the middle rounds, Mayhew is likely to spend an earlier pick on the offensive line, where the Lions are looking for upgrades at both the tackle and guard spots, and DT is likely to be further addressed in later rounds with the newly-added Ngata approaching the final year of his contract. Ereck Flowers, OT, Miami-Florida

24-ARIZONA CARDINALS...We'll never know what might have happened last season had the Big Red been able to keep either of its top two QBs, Carson Palmer or Drew Stanton, healthy into the playoffs rather than being forced to re-sign the previously discarded Ryan Lindley, who took over the offense in emergency mode late in the regular season and in the ill-fated wild card game at Carolina. Short of that QB misfortune late last fall, however, the combination of GM Steve Keim and HC Bruce Arians has mostly been pushing the right personnel buttons the past two years in the desert. The Cards have been an active participant in free agency, losing some key pieces (CB Antonio Cromartie plus Darnell Dockett and Dan Williams from the DL) but adding some potentially useful parts in ex-49er G Mike Iupati and several defensive components, including LBs Sean Weatherspoon (ex-Falcons) and LaMarr Woodley (recently Raiders), plus DE Cory Reading (ex-Colts) and DT Corey Peters (like Weatherspoon, from the Falcons). Some of the new defensive additions might be able to add a consistent pass rush threat from the edge, which has been an offseason priority for Keim and new d.c. James Bettcher, promoted from OLB coach after Todd Bowles left to become HC of the Jets. Arians, however, would probably love to add a top-flight RB with an early pick, especially since starter Andre Ellington is not built to touch the ball 20-25 times per game. Todd Gurley, RB, Georgia

25-CAROLINA PANTHERS...At Thanksgiving, the Panthers appeared about as likely to make a playoff run as the New York Knicks. But come December, Carolina shifted gears and won its last four games to steal the NFC South with a 7-8-1 record before beating the QB-shy Cardinals in the wild card round and putting up a decent fight at Seattle in the division round. So, are the Panthers a legit contender, or a sub-.500 team as their 2014 record indicated, even after the late surge? We do know that the December rally saved the job of HC Ron Rivera. And we would like to see how QB Cam Newton fares if he can stay healthy, which he wasn't for much of 2014. Rivera and GM Dave Gettleman would like to help Cam with upgrades along the OL, starting at the tackle spots, where Michael "Blind Side" Oher (recently Titans) and Jonathan "Bully-Gate" Martin (ex-Dolphins and most-recently 49ers) were added in free agency, though neither is as well-regarded as earlier in their careers. Gettleman also enlisted vet ex-Bears CB Charles Tillman (known well to Rrivera from his days as Bears d.c.) and has re-acquired WR Ted Ginn, Jr., whose career seemed to revive in 2013 with the Panthers before he disappointed last season in Arizona. But we're still not sure Carolina is a serious contender. The OL, CB, and WR spots all likely get addressed in the draft. Le'El Collins, OT, LSU

26-BALTIMORE RAVENS...The Ravens have missed the playoffs only once in HC John Harbaugh's seven seasons at the helm and have seemed to stabilize after GM Ozzie Newsome's roster overhaul following the 2012 Super Bowl campaign. Baltimore has survived some significant outflow, especially from its usually-robust defense, in recent years, and this offseason was no exception with playmaking LB Pernell McPhee moving to the Bears in free agency and All-Pro NT Haloti Ngata traded to the Lions (netting Baltimore a 4th-round pick in return). Newsome and Harbaugh are thus likely to look more at defense in the draft, but probably instead focus upon the CB spots where lack of depth proved an issue last season following top corner Jimmy Smith's Lisfranc foot injury. Along with fellow CB Lardarius Webb's history of ailments, reinforcements are needed, also to provide another nickel back for d.c. Dean Pees' personnel rotations. The offense and QB Joe Flacco bounced back nicely from an "off" year in 2013, with re-signed RB Justin Forsett emerging as a star. But Newsome might want to throw a bone to new o.c. Marc Trestman, who is hoping to add another WR or two after Torrey Smith left in free agency for the 49ers and now with little depth at the wideout spots behind vet Steve Smith (who turns 36 this year) and Marlon Brown. Marcus Peters, CB, Washington

27-DALLAS COWBOYS...In the end, it was a rather easy call for Jerry Jones, who was not going to have enough salary space to pay market rates for both RB DeMarco Murray and WR Dez Bryant, each out of contract after last season. So Murray, with more wear-and-tear, was allowed to walk (to the division rival Eagles, of all teams!), while Jones used the franchise tag for 2015 on Bryant. Jones was busy elsewhere on the roster in the offseason, too, restructuring QB Tony Romo's contract to free nearly $13 million in cap space, and using some of that to re-sign OT Doug Free and WR Cole Beasley, as well as add FA LBs Jasper Brinkley (ex-Vikings) and Andrew Gachkar (ex-Chargers). Troubled ex-Panther DE Greg Hardy, still on the NFL exempt list after recent off-field legal problems, was also signed. Update: Hardy has been suspended for the first ten games of the regular season (April 22). Also signed was ex-Raider RB Darren McFadden, though most NFC East observers believe Jones makes another move or two at RB to soften the loss to Murray, who led the NFL in rushing and had a whopping 511 touches a year ago. With Romo into his mid 30s and less than two years removed from serious back surgery, Dallas might also think about identifying a possible successor at QB, though that does not seem a priority quite yet. Instead, expect Jones to go defense with his early-round picks, perhaps interested in a run-stuffing DT after Henry Melton left for the Bucs, or maybe a pass-rusher after the Cowboys ranked 28th in sacks. Malcom Brown, DT, Texas

28-DENVER BRONCOS...Not a quiet offseason in Denver, with HC John Fox out less than 24 hours after the division-round loss to the Colts and Peyton Manning taking almost two months to re-commit for another season after John Elway brought back old chum Gary Kubiak as the new HC. Manning also had to sign a restructured contract that gave Elway a bit more cap flexibility, but not enough to retain both WR Demaryius Thomas & TE Julius Thomas, each out of contract after last season; Demaryius would be franchise-tagged at almost $13 mill for 2015, but Julius (and his 24 TD receptions from Manning over the past two seasons) would walk to the Jags in free agency. To fill Julius' role, Elway would enlist vet TE Owen Daniels, who has been with Kubiak both at Houston and last year in Baltimore (where Kubiak was o.c.), so TE might not be a top draft priority, especially since Denver has several other areas (OL, DL, LB) of modest need. Along with Daniels, several of Elway's other offseason additions (C Gino Gradkowski, DT Antonio Smith, and S Darian Stewart) also have connections to Kubiak from either Houston or Baltimore. Elway probably opts for the old "best athlete available" in the first round, but could be tempted to address the RT spot before all others after Orlando Franklin left in free agency for the Chargers. Jake Fisher, OT, Oregon

29-INDIANAPOLIS COLTS...The Colts were among the most-active participants in free agency, with almost $40 million in cap space (some to be eaten up in a soon-to-be-upgraded contract for QB Andrew Luck) used to help ink high-profile sorts such as WR Andre Johnson (via Texans) and RB Frank Gore (via 49ers) on the attack end and LBs Trent Cole (via Eagles) and Nate Irving (via Broncos), plus DE Kendall Langford (via Rams), on the stop end. While those additions help fill several key roles, there still appears to be an area of need along the DL, where DEs Cory Redding and Ricky Jean Francois have departed since last season and where the Colts want to get bigger, younger, and more athletic. After LaRon Landry's release, Indy might also be looking for a strong safety to go along with FS Mike Adams. Meanwhile, Gore figures to move into a starting RB role, and Daniel "Boom" Herron has been re-signed, but GM Ryan Grigson could also be looking for an every-down back who can better fit into the Colts' offensive scheme. Danny Shelton, DT, Washington

30-GREEN BAY PACKERS...As has often been the case in the past decade (though not necessarily a year ago), Pack GM Ted Thompson has been very cautious in free agency, focusing more of his attention on re-signing his own players (such as WR Randall Cobb, OT Bryan Bulaga, T/G Don Barclay, and DTs B.J. Raji, and Letroy Guion in recent months) rather than bringing in new faces from elsewhere. But there still appear to be areas of need on defense, especially at the CB spots where Tramon Williams left in free agency for the Browns and Davon House departed for the Jags, and at ILB, where longtime starter A.J. Hawk was a cap casualty. NFC North sources suggest Thompson believes he has in-house replacements (Casey Hayward and Sam Shields) at CB and is more likely to make a move at LB, where Clay Matthews was forced to switch to the inside (where he fared pretty well) last season. Vet d.c. Dom Capers would still rather have Matthews on the outside, however, and drafting an impact ILB could effectively solve two position issues at once. Even with Raji (who missed all of last season with an arm injury) and Guion re-upped, Thompson might also be looking for help at the NT spot after the Pack had recurring problems stopping the run last season. Bernardrick McKinney, ILB, Mississippi State

31-NEW ORLEANS SAINTS (from Seattle)...Here is the immediate added dividend (beyond C Max Unger) for the Saints after the trade of TE Jimmy Graham to Seattle, with GM Mickey Loomis now in possession of the Seahawks' pick near the bottom of the first round. If the Saints go defense, as we expect, with their pick in the 13th slot (we projected Mizzou OLB Shane Ray in our previous issue), Loomis might decide to address the post-Graham TE situation with the Seattle pick. If that's the case, Minnesota's versatile Maxx Williams, the consensus top-rated TE in the draft, could be a target...if he's still on the board. Maxx Williams, TE, Minnesota

32-NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS...Bill Belichick has deftly handled personnel adjustments for the past decade-plus and will be forced to do so again after his defense lost key contributors CBs Darrelle Revis (to the Jets) and Brandon Browner (to the Saints), LBs Akeem Ayers (to the Rams) and Jonathan Casillas (to the Giants), and NT Vince Wilfork (to the Texans) in free agency from the Super Bowl winners. While there are some in-house replacements (including Super Bowl hero CB Malcolm Butler) on hand in the secondary, it would be no surprise if Belichick looks for a high-end prospect on the corner, with mid-level FA additions Bradley Fletcher (via Eagles) and Robert McClain (via Falcons) not to be confused with Revis or Browner, and could also seek immediate help at NT after Wilfork's departure. Belichick's hybrid defensive scheme is also always on the lookout for "five-technique" DEs with versatility. Most AFC East observers believe Belichick addressed his QB-of-the-future plans last season when drafting Jimmy Garappolo to apprentice under Tom Brady for the next couple of years. The Pats could also be seeking a RB in the later rounds after Shane Vereen (to the Giants) and Stevan Ridley (to the Jets) departed in free agency, and with LeGarrette Blount looking at a short-term suspension in September. Eddie Goldman, DT, Florida State

Two teams (Buffalo and Seattle) are currently minus first-round picks as of April 13 due to trades. Following is a look at what the Bills and Seahawks might be trying to accomplish at the historic Auditorium Theatre in Chicago.

BUFFALO BILLS...Bills fans believe the draft-day deal with the Browns to move up and nab Clemson WR Sammy Watkins last year was well worth the 19th pick in the first round that Buffalo had to surrender this year. But a lot has happened since the end of the regular season in which the Bills surprised with a 9-7 mark, as HC Doug Marrone would unexpectedly resign (perhaps hoping to land another HC job, which didn't materialize) and the blustery Rex Ryan would be hired as his replacement. Ryan, however, burned brightly in his first couple of seasons as HC with the Jets, and has plenty of experience within the AFC East dealing with Bill Belichick and New England. And considering Rexy's stop-unit expertise, and with one of the NFL's top defensive lines now at his disposal, the Ryan hire certainly intrigues. After well-traveled Kyle Orton stabilized the QB position down the stretch last season, then retired, the Bills made a couple of moves behind center, trading for the Vikings' Matt Cassel and signing FA Tyrod Taylor from the Ravens to compete with holdover EJ Manuel, who has endured a bumpy first two seasons. There were more skill-position additions with RB Shady McCoy acquired from Philadelphia (ostensibly taking the place of C.J. Spiller, who moved to the Saints in free agency) and WR Percy Harvin signed as a FA away from Ryan's old employer, the Jets. Ryan and GM Doug Whaley (retained by the Pegula family, who enter their first full season of franchise ownership) now likely look to add some reinforcements along the OL and perhaps consider a pass rusher from the edge, considering how Ryan usually runs a base 3-4 defense.

SEATTLE SEAHAWKS...Much as Bills fans probably consider WR Sammy Watkins worth the 19th pick in this draft, Seahawks backers likely believe adding a unique weapon such as ex-Saints TE Jimmy Graham will prove a worthwhile trade-off for their pick near the bottom of the first round, which now belongs to New Orleans. For the moment, HC Pete Carroll and GM John Schneider retain some cap flexibility with QB Russell Wilson still working on his rookie contract; Wilson will soon be due a big-money deal, but that might wait until the next offseason. After a bit of uncertainty regarding his future after the Super Bowl loss, RB Marshawn Lynch re-upped for two years for $24 mill, so the offensive focus on the draft likely involves the line and perhaps the WR spot, which stabilized last season after the Percy Harvin trade but might require some reinforcements, especially with the promising Paul Richardson having problems staying healthy (as was his case in college at Colorado) and trying to recover from a knee injury. There was some significant outflow on defense with CB Byron Maxwell (to the Eagles), former Super Bowl MVP LB Malcolm Smith (to the Raiders), and LB rotation piece O'Brien Schofield (to the Falcons, where he reunites with former Seattle d.c., Dan Quinn, now the Atlanta HC) all leaving in free agency, though Carroll believes he added some alternatives at the corner by inking ex-Eagle Cary Williams and ex-Jag Will Blackmon. But for priorities at the draft, Carroll and Schneider almost certainly address the aforementioned OL with early picks, especially after the trade of key C Max Unger to the Saints in the Graham deal and G James Carpenter's departure for the Jets in free agency.


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