17. Pittsburgh Steelers: Jesse Williams, NT, Alabama
The time has come for the Pittsburgh Steelers to add more young talent to their defensive line, especially at nose tackle, where Casey Hampton is 35, on the decline and an unrestricted free agent. The Steelers should be in the market for Hampton’s replacement, which makes Alabama’s Jesse Williams a great choice for them in Round 1.
A strong and powerful anchor in the middle of a defensive line, Williams is a very good fit to play as a nose tackle in the Steelers’ 3-4 scheme. Additionally, Williams has unusual quickness and athletic ability for his size, which gives him the upside to be a star and also the versatility to also be used in packages as a 5-technique defensive end.
18. Dallas Cowboys: Kenny Vaccaro, S, Texas
As the Dallas Cowboys switch to the Tampa 2 defense under new coordinator Monte Kiffin, it is imperative that they upgrade on the back end of their defense at safety. They could get that upgrade in Texas’ Kenny Vaccaro, an athletic and hard-hitting safety with the flexibility to play either safety spot and also line up as a slot cornerback.
If Vaccaro can become a more consistent tackler and more disciplined player, he has the potential to develop into the star safety the Cowboys lack. The Cowboys need to add playmakers to their defense to make a playoff run this year, and Vaccaro would be a very good choice for them from this draft class.
19. New York Giants: Kevin Minter, ILB, LSU
LSU’s Kevin Minter is a very good all-around inside linebacker prospect who would be great value in the second half of the first round, and a terrific fit to fill the Giants’ need for a middle linebacker.
The Giants need to find a leader and playmaker for their linebacker corps, and they can get that from Minter. He is a very sound run-stopper in the middle, and makes plays all over the field from blitzing into the backfield to dropping into coverage.
20. Chicago Bears: Jonathan Cooper, G, North Carolina
If guards were valued higher in the draft, North Carolina’s Jonathan Cooper and Alabama’s Chance Warmack would both be sure top-10 draft choices. The two clear-cut best prospects still on the board in this scenario, the Bears should pounce on the chance to draft either one of them if available.
Either guard would be a great choice for the Bears, who need to rebuild across their offensive line. A better athlete who also has the ability to kick into the middle and play center, Cooper could be the best choice for the Bears, who could potentially start him at any position on their interior offensive line.
21. Cincinnati Bengals: Arthur Brown, LB, Kansas State
The Cincinnati Bengals need to add another young linebacker to lead that position group alongside Vontaze Burfict, with unrestricted Rey Maualuga not expected back. Kansas State’s Arthur Brown would be a good choice in the late first round to fill that need.
Like Burfict, Brown can play both middle and weakside linebacker, giving the Bengals two athletic and instinctive players at those positions. He could slide in the draft due to a shoulder injury concern, but if he checks out as healthy, he is a worthy selection in the latter first round.
22. St. Louis Rams (from Washington Redskins): Chance Warmack, G, Alabama
The St. Louis Rams need to rebuild their offensive line, and Alabama guard Chance Warmack is a clear best player available in this situation. Picking him here seems like a no-brainer selection.
Guards aren’t typically top-20 draft picks, which could cause Warmack to slide, but he is among the top overall prospects in the draft class. A massive and powerful guard who is strong against the run but also quick and athletic in pass protection, he would truly be a bargain at the No. 22 overall pick.
23. Minnesota Vikings: DeAndre Hopkins, WR, Clemson
The Minnesota Vikings desperately need to add downfield playmakers at wide receiver for Christian Ponder and their passing offense. By selecting Clemson’s DeAndre Hopkins at No. 23 overall, the Vikings could end up with the best wide receiver in the draft class.
Hopkins can give the Vikings a much-needed vertical threat on the outside of the field. Hopkins does a very good job tracking the ball in air, is a very good route-runner and is an explosive athlete with good speed and quickness. He could quickly emerge as a go-to offensive option for Ponder to pass to.
24. Indianapolis Colts: D.J. Fluker, OT, Alabama
The Indianapolis Colts need to rebuild their offensive line, with one of their biggest needs coming at the right tackle position. Alabama’s D.J. Fluker is a long, powerful and athletic right tackle who has the potential to be a very solid starter on that side of the line.
Fluker could be an immediate upgrade over Winston Justice, or could even kick inside to guard in a pinch. He does not have the footwork to play left tackle, but is a good pass blocker on the right side and can immediately help the Colts in run blocking.
25. Seattle Seahawks: Robert Woods, WR, USC
The Seattle Seahawks’ passing offense made incredible strides with rookie quarterback Russell Wilson this season. The Seahawks can make Wilson even better by adding a go-to option and playmaker at wide receiver.
Having recruited him while at USC, Seahawks head coach Pete Carroll should know a thing or two about Robert Woods. He should know Woods is as good as any wide receiver in the draft class.
Woods is an outstanding route-runner with great hands and the running ability to make plays happen in the open field. He can line up outside and in the slot, and could quickly become Wilson’s most reliable and dynamic weapon.
26. Green Bay Packers: Tyler Eifert, TE, Notre Dame
Tight end Jermichael Finley may end up being released by the Packers, which would leave an opening at the position. With Greg Jennings also likely out of Green Bay as an unrestricted free agent, the Packers could go with one of the best players available by selecting Notre Dame tight end Tyler Eifert.
Eifert is a big, athletic playmaker who can add yet another spark to the Packers offense and is well worth a first-round draft pick. They have bigger needs than adding a tight end, even if they do release Finley, but he would make sense as a replacement and is great value late in Round 1.
27. Houston Texans: Eric Reid, FS, LSU
The Houston Texans’ late collapse at the end of a promising season centered much around the deep passing plays they gave up in the secondary late in the season. The Texans need to add a playmaker to their secondary, and could use an upgrade at free safety over unrestricted free agent Glover Quin.
Eric Reid’s stock is slipping after a subpar junior season, but he is still the most gifted safety in the draft class. Reid is a very good athlete who can both solidify and add a playmaker for the Texans in the secondary, especially in deep coverage. He is well worth a late first-round pick.
28. Denver Broncos: Manti Te’o, ILB, Notre Dame
The Denver Broncos should be looking to strengthen their interior run defense, and one way they can do that is by upgrading at middle linebacker. Notre Dame inside linebacker Manti Te’o has seen his stock slip in recent weeks, but he is great value late in the first round, and could be a great addition to the Broncos’ linebacker corps.
While he disappointed by coming into the combine smaller than expected at only 241 pounds, he is a sound run-stopper who fills holes well and makes plays in space. With overblown off-field issues aside, Te’o is one of the best players available at this point in the draft and worth a late first-round pick.
29. New England Patriots: Xavier Rhodes, CB, Florida State
With Aqib Talib an unrestricted free agent and Alfonzo Dennard facing legal issues, the Patriots’ greatest need is once again to add cornerbacks. If the Patriots choose to that in Round 1 of the draft, Florida State’s Xavier Rhodes is a likely choice.
Rhodes has the size and length that the Patriots love in their cornerbacks, and he is a very physical cover corner who is also great in run support. His stock is on the rise after running faster than expected at the combine, and he has the potential to be a very good starting cornerback for a team that still needs to reinforce their secondary.
30. Atlanta Falcons: Cornelius “Tank” Carradine, DE, Florida State
The Atlanta Falcons are likely to be in the market for another defensive end in this year’s draft, and need a difference-maker to improve their pass rush. Although coming off of a torn ACL, Florida State’s Cornelius Carradine is a very skilled pass-rusher who could get the call from the Falcons late in Round 1.
Carradine is big and strong but also athletic and explosive, and once healthy, he could become a real impact player in the Falcons’ defensive line rotation. He is a slightly risky selection coming off of injury, but he is a player worth taking a chance on at the No. 30 overall pick.
31. San Francisco 49ers: Jamar Taylor, CB, Boise State
With five selections in the first three rounds of the draft, the 49ers have a lot of flexibility with their picks this year, but one area they must address early and often is their secondary. The 49ers need to upgrade at cornerback, and would make a smart choice by selecting Boise State’s Jamar Taylor with their first pick.
A physical cornerback who excels in press man coverage, Taylor would be a very good fit and upgrade in the 49ers’ defensive scheme. Even with many picks, the 49ers would be smart to address one of their biggest needs early.
32. Baltimore Ravens: Tavon Austin, WR/RB, West Virginia
The Baltimore Ravens already have one of the NFL’s more explosive offenses, including two very fast receiving threats in Torrey Smith and Jacoby Jones. Nonetheless, with Anquan Boldin’s long-term future with the team in question, they have room to add another playmaking receiver to the roster.
If they have a shot to draft Tavon Austin at the end of Round 1, they would be smart to take advantage of that shot. Austin is a dynamic playmaker with both great speed and agility, and he could give the Ravens yet another weapon to work with as a slot receiver and out of the backfield.
As if teams had enough trouble slowing down the Ravens’ passing game in their run to the Super Bowl, the addition of Austin could make them downright scary.