17. Pittsburgh Steelers – Kenny Vaccaro S Texas
Ryan Clark is a free agent after the 2013 season and Troy Polamalu hasn’t been healthy for a full season in several years. Vaccaro is a versatile, aggressive safety who is a solid tackler in space and has great speed to range over the middle. Pittsburgh has been looking to upgrade its secondary and with no corner worth taking here, they get a safety who is athletic enough to cover like a nickel corner in the slot. With all of the talented tight ends on the elite AFC teams, it’d be nice for Pittsburgh to have an answer.
18. Dallas Cowboys – Ezekiel Ansah DE BYU
As Dallas shifts to a 4-3 defense under Monte Kiffin, filling out of the defensive line with a pass-rusher like Ansah would be critical in the development of this Dallas squad. Ansah is a high-motor player with burst and power around the corner. He’s strong enough to hold the edge, but also quick and skilled enough to turn the corner and create pressure. An excellent Senior Bowl has Ansah’s stock on the rise and could land him inside the top 15.
19. New York Giants – Shariff Floyd DT Florida
Tom Coughlin made it known last season he was dissatisfied with the way his defensive line played, particularly up the middle. Floyd is a big-bodied tackle with long arms and outstanding quickness. To me, Floyd is overrated as a top-tier talent and struggles to defeat blockers if his burst off the snap is late, but with some coaching, he has the talent and physical tools to be an impact player on an aging Giants defense.
20. Chicago Bears – Lane Johnson OT Oklahoma
Word after the Senior Bowl was that Johnson wouldn’t make it past San Diego at 11, but with the talent on the board ahead of Johnson, I think it’s more than likely he falls into the teens at least. Johnson came to Norman as a quarterback and has steadily grown into a smart, athletic, NFL-caliber left tackle. With pass blocking being the biggest concern for the Bears, Johnson is an ideal fit, despite concerns about his ability to anchor in the run game.
21. Cincinnati Bengals – Cordarrelle Patterson WR Tennessee
Cincinnati already has one of the best receivers in football; the problem is they don’t have much else. Patterson could change that in a big way, given his unique blend of size, speed, and explosiveness. Receivers who are 6-4 205 don’t usually run reverses or return punts, but that is the kind of special athlete Patterson is. If he falls to the Bengals here, Cinci will have no choice but to snatch up the talented former Vol.
22. St. Louis Rams F/ Washington – Jonathan Cooper G North Carolina
Getting better upfront has been a priority for St. Louis ever since Orlando Pace retired it seems, yet they’ve struggled to get the right pieces. Cooper is a massive, powerful guard who plays with great balance and can be an asset pulling, as well as on screens. With Stephen Jackson heading for free agency, it will be even more important to have stellar offensive line play to open up holes for whoever is in the backfield.
23. Minnesota Vikings – Manti Te’o LB Notre Dame
Minnesota certainly has bigger needs, but I think it’s likely to assume the Vikes make a major move this offseason with a wide receiver, leaving the door open to take a flyer on Te’o. Minnesota needs some speed on the interior of the defense and Te’o has the quickness and playmaking skills to be an upgrade on the inside. Catfish scandal aside, Te’o is a first round talent and an elite-level leader, plus he already has a playing relationship with Harrison Smith, Minnesota’s promising young safety, as the two played together at Notre Dame.
24. Indianapolis Colts – Sam Montgomery DE/OLB LSU
Montgomery played end at LSU, but considering he played end at less than 250 pounds for most of his career in Baton Rouge, the talented pass rusher would be a perfect fit at outside linebacker for the Colts. Montgomery did stand up at times for LSU and is extremely quick off the edge. He plays with intensity and passion, always keen to deliver a big blow. With the careers of Robert Mathis and Dwight Freeney in decline, Montgomery would be the future at outside linebacker.
25. Seattle Seahawks – DeAndre Hopkins WR Clemson
Sydney Rice really stepped his game up at the end of last season as this offense kicked into high gear, but no one on this roster is as naturally talented as Hopkins who lit up the ACC this past season. He reminds scouts of Roddy White with his deceptive speed and ability to find the zones underneath. Hopkins was unstoppable at times, even as teams knew Clemson wanted to go to him. Hopkins would give Russell Wilson that consistent top receiver and would make this Seattle team a nightmare to defend.
26. Green Bay Packers – Jesse Williams DT Alabama
Williams isn’t built like your typical 3-4 defensive end, but Williams makes up for his squatty build with unreal power and leverage. He actually played better as the end in Alabama’s 3-4 defense than he did at nose tackle and although he’s not as speedy as some of the other defensive tackles in this draft, he’s one of the most physically imposing. Even without elite quickness, Williams does a good job with his bull rush and can really collapse the pocket. It would be awfully tough to run on a defense with Ryan Pickett, B.J. Raji and Jesse Williams anchoring that unit.
27. Houston Texans – Kevin Minter ILB LSU
It’s startling how much the Texans defense fell off when Brian Cushing was lost for the year. Houston could use another inside linebacker with a nasty demeanor like Cushing and Minter is that player. A downhill linebacker, Minter is a thumper who can fill in the run game and does an excellent job timing-up his blitzes. The LSU linebacker is a tackling machine and with the quality of Houston’s defensive linemen, would have plenty of room to work.
28. Denver Broncos – Eric Reid S LSU
No, this pick is not because of Rahim’s Moore pathetic attempt at Joe Flacco’s last gasp pass against the Broncos in the playoffs, but there is a need at safety for Denver. Reid is a hard-hitting safety with range to cover sideline-to-sideline. If anything, Reid’s aggressive can be his biggest weakness, but his athletic tools and physical play can’t be taught, while discipline can be learned. Reid could be a steal this late for Denver.
29. New England Patriots – Johnthan Banks CB Mississippi State
If this pick isn’t a pass-rusher or a defensive back, I’ll be flabbergasted. New England’s two most obvious needs involve stopping opposing passing offenses and with Banks being the best corner on the board before a major drop-off in talent in the next few rounds, the Patriots would be smart to snatch him up here. Banks is an instinctive corner who has a big, strong body made for pressing zone coverage – he was often asked to play off in man coverage at Mississippi State, and he’s not really quick enough to play that scheme effectively. Banks, though, can absolutely cover and is actually similar in his playing style to current Patriot Alfonzo Dennard.
30. Atlanta Falcons – Zach Ertz TE Stanford
It’s the end of an era in Atlanta with Tony Gonzalez set to retire this offseason, but Zach Ertz could step in and immediately be that same kind of safety net for Matt Ryan. Much like Gonzalez – though let’s not quite call Ertz a future Hall of Famer – Ertz doesn’t have explosive speed, but is adept at finding holes and has great hands. Ertz is more comfortable split out like many NFL offenses do with their tight ends, including Atlanta, but he is a willing blocker, particularly down the field for teammates.
31. San Francisco 49ers – Xavier Rhodes CB Florida State
Pegging this pick is so difficult because the 49ers are the most complete team in the NFL. If there is a weakness, it’s at corner, where San Francisco’s deficiencies are mostly covered by the outstanding front seven they have. Rhodes’ lack of elite deep speed would also be mitigated by the outstanding pass rush San Francisco gets. The former Seminole is a little stiff, but he has the size the 49ers like in their corners. When his biggest criticism from scouts is that he plays too physically, you know he’s a perfect for the 49ers defense.
32. Baltimore Ravens – Tyler Eifert TE Notre Dame
Dennis Pitta has emerged as one of Joe Flacco’s go-to targets, but if Eifert is available, he would be awfully tempting for the Ravens offense. Eifert is a dual-purpose tight end who can block on the end of the line of scrimmage, but also has excellent receiving skills. He could be used in dual tight end sets with Pitta. Watching Eifert this season as Pitta was emerging, it was easy to see the similarities in their game. Given the proliferation of two tight end sets in the NFL, particularly with two guys who are receiving threats, there is value in picking up Eifert at this spot.