Consensus is a very difficult thing to find among 32 NFL clubs when it comes to stacking a draft board. One thing that all the NFL personnel executives can agree upon however, is that the defensive end class is possibly the deepest and most talented it has ever been. Ends will be coming off the board early and often, which means for teams with positional needs elsewhere some outstanding values could be available in round two or later with the ends pushing other top flight talent down the board.
“I think the first round is going to be dominated by defensive players particularly defensive linemen,” said NFL Network draft analyst Mike Mayock. “Then in the next couple of rounds I think you’re going to see more offensive players taken.”
Mayock projects that eight or nine defensive ends will come off the board in round one, which is double the average of the past five years (3.8). That’s a quarter of the picks in the first round. Add in three defensive tackles and three outside linebackers with first-round grades like Marcell Dareus, Nick Fairley, Corey Liuget, Akeem Ayers, Justin Houston and Von Miller and very quickly half the first round is already occupied by defensive players.
So what positions will be pushed down the board and offer outstanding value in rounds two and three?
Cornerback, guard, offensive tackle, tight end and wide receiver could all see borderline first-round talent easily slip to round two.
“This year I’ve got three corners with legitimate first round grades,” said ESPN draft analyst Todd McShay. “Patrick Peterson from LSU, Nebraska’s Prince Amukamara and Colorado’s Jimmy Smith. There are a couple of other guys that are on the fringe.”
Players like Aaron Williams and Curtis Brown from Texas and Brandon Harris from Miami. If the defensive end class wasn’t so deep one of those three might find their way into the bottom of the first round, but the end depth will more than likely have them waiting for a team in round two to scoop them up.
Offensive tackle could see a top five talent at the position slip to round two. Mississippi State’s Derek Sherrod has a first-round grade by most accounts, but with all the premium defensive talent ready to come off the board in round one, he could be pushed to the top of round two.
The past few years some high-quality guards have gone in round one. Baylor’s Danny Watkins might normally get some consideration at the bottom of the first, but the defensive talent will probably push him to round two.
“It’s a pretty good year for interior offensive linemen, and I don’t think you need to get them in the first round,” said Mayock. “You can go down in the third or fourth round and find some pretty solid guys.”
The best tight end in the draft might not even be taken in round one with the defensive prospects ahead of him on the board. Though Kyle Rudolph’s hamstring surgery has something to do with his overall grade as well, the Notre Dame product by most accounts would be a fantastic value in round two.
The position that could present the deepest pool of talent in the second round is wide receiver. Granted there is a widely held contention that there is a drop off in talent from the top two prospects in A.J. Green and Julio Jones, but there will be a handful of players to choose from.
“It depends on what happens, but early in the second round Jon Baldwin from Pitt is probably sitting there,” said Mayock. “He’s an athletic freak and with his height, weight and speed I don’t see him getting past the middle of the second round. If you’re looking for vertical guys Torrey Smith from Maryland should still be there. Titus Young from Boise State will still be there. I thought he was the best senior receiver at the Senior Bowl this year coming in and out of his breaks, catches everything. Those are the logical guys.”
“I do think when you start talking about that second day and a potential number two wide receiver that Leonard Hankerson has a chance to become a good value for a team,” said McShay. “That’s where the quality depth in this wide receiver class is, in that second round.”
Even defensive end where the talent runs so deep there figures to still be good value in round two knowing the teams that took one in round one won’t swing a second time on an end. Nix looks at it a different way believing some teams might address a more pressing positional need in round one knowing a quality defensive end could still be had in the second round.
“There might be a little drop off the way we see it now, but I really think people can take something else early maybe and then still get a good defensive player in the second round,” he said.
“Defensive linemen I have in the second round Brooks Reed the defensive end, outside linebacker from Arizona, I have him going in the late first, early second,” said ESPN draft analyst Mel Kiper. “Cameron Heyward is a borderline first, but more an early second. Allen Bailey from Miami probably a second or a third (round pick). Drake Nevis from LSU probably a third. Marvin Austin from North Carolina second or third (round). Stephen Paea the nose tackle from Oregon State a second. Christian Ballard an end or tackle from Iowa, second, maybe late first. Jarvis Jenkins from Clemson, a second round defensive tackle.”
In the end the depth at defensive end and defensive tackle might just end up providing the most help to the teams with pressing needs at those specific positions, but with such a bounty of talent on the defensive line there’s bound to be a trickle down effect.
“It’s about whether your needs meet up with the strength of this year’s draft,” said Mayock. “And it’s about what you’re looking for within your scheme.”
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