CFB 24/7: Path to the Draft  

 

2014 draft projections: New York Giants in line for No. 1 pick

We're only a quarter of a way through the NFL's regular season, but slowly we can begin to take an early look at the draft picture for next season.

Obviously, nothing is set in stone now, but a couple of broader points can be made. First, I believe we will see an even larger run of offensive linemen being drafted this year. More and more teams are considering it an important position. Also, there is an extraordinarily deep group of quarterbacks in this draft class. This means that teams will be able to find quality arms in the second or third round that might turn out to be very good. (Remember also that we're only considering players that are seniors.)

Below, a look at the draft order through the first four weeks of the season (without Thursday night's Bills-Browns game), along with each of the teams' most pressing needs. The order of the teams is determined by record (using strength of schedule as a tie breaker) and does not include projections about playoff outcomes.

1. NY Giants

Record: 0-4
Needs: DB, LB
Comment: For the Giants, the question is whether the offensive line is a priority over defensive help. If so, the No. 1 and No. 2 players in my Hot 100 senior prospects are left tackles -- Jake Matthews of Texas A&M and Taylor Lewan of Michigan.

2. Pittsburgh

Record: 0-4
Needs: DL, OL
Comment: The Steelers need to get younger on defense, and, like almost everybody else in the draft, they need to get stronger on their offensive line.

3. Tampa Bay

Record: 0-4
Needs: QB, DE
Comment: For the Bucs, the key question is, "Are we happy with our QB situation? Or do we need more help on the defensive front?"

4. Jacksonville

Record: 0-4
Team needs: QB, DE
Analysis: This is a great spot to be in for the Jaguars. In a typical draft there are 8-10 really good players at the top. If they don't want to keep this pick, they can trade down without any problem. This is a team that needs both quantity and quality.

5. Philadelphia

Record: 1-3
Team needs: DL, DB
Analysis: They need players that will help them get stops. Their offense should take care of itself. Another major question the Eagles need to ask themselves is whether they're happy with their present QBs.

6. St. Louis (from Washington)

Record: 1-3
Team needs: RB, OL
Analysis: The Rams could score big with the first-round pick they acquired from Washington before the 2012 draft. Their running game needs help after they lost Steven Jackson to free agency, and their offensive line is merely average. But in a draft class with several strong quarterbacks, the pressing question may be, "Are they happy with Sam Bradford?"

7. Minnesota

Record: 1-3
Team needs: DB, LB
Analysis: They need help on defense, particularly on the defensive line, where their two best players, Kevin Williams and Jared Allen, are in their 30s. They also need help at linebacker.

Hot 100 seniors
The son of a Pro Football Hall of Famer tops Gil Brandt's initial look at the Hot 100 college football seniors. Check out the other prospects to follow this fall. More ...

8. Atlanta

Record: 1-3
Team needs: DL, OL
Analysis: The Falcons are another team that knows what it's doing, and it isn't afraid to make a trade. One thing that could affect their draft strategy is whether Tony Gonzalez retires. They need to keep him around another year, because they have no one else at tight end. Gonzalez might be the most youthful old player that we've ever seen in the NFL.

9. Oakland

Record: 1-3
Team needs: DE, OL
Analysis: The Raiders need pass rushers and more depth all around. They moved down in the draft last year, and I expect them to make the same attempt this year if they end up with a higher pick in the first round.

10. St. Louis

Record: 1-3
Team needs: RB, OL
Analysis: Combined with the first-round pick they received from Washington before the 2012 draft, the Rams could end up with two picks in the top 10

11. Green Bay

Record: 1-2
Team needs: OL, LB
Analysis: Packers GM Ted Thompson invented modern-day drafting and always seems to get a player in the mid-to-late rounds who turns out to be a very good starter, such as David Bakhtiari, an offensive tackle from Colorado they selected in the fourth round this year.

12. Carolina

Record: 1-2
Team needs: WR, OL
Analysis: If the Panthers are going to get out of the middle of the pack, they need to draft a big-play wide receiver and get some offensive line help. The top receiving prospects this season are underclassmen: Sammy Watkins of Clemson, Marqise Lee of USC, and Mike Evans of Texas A&M.

13. Dallas

Record: 2-2
Needs: OL, DL
Analysis: Tony Romo will be 34 by the time of the draft -- will the Cowboys think about grabbing a young quarterback here? Most likely, no. They do, however, need to get stronger on the offensive and defensive line.

14. San Francisco

Record: 2-2
Team needs: WR, DL
Analysis: They have drafted as well as any team in the NFL and often do a great job of getting extra picks. They could use help at WR. A pair of defensive linemen to watch are Daquan Jones of Penn State as well as Damon McCallister of Florida State. Donald Ford of Auburn, a 3-4 backer, is also interesting.

15. Cleveland

Record: 2-2
Team needs: QB, OL
Analysis: They have two first-round picks thanks to the trade that sent RB Trent Richardson to Indianapolis, and they will need to wheel and deal to move up to get a QB if that's what they want.

16. Arizona

Record: 2-2
Team needs: OL, TE
Analysis: The Cardinals already needed help on the offensive line before they traded starting tackle Levi Brown this week for more draft picks. They also need to strengthen their running game. They're solid on defense, and their quarterback, Carson Palmer, is a veteran, but a younger veteran.

17. Cincinnati

Record: 2-2
Team needs: OL, DB
Analysis: The Bengals' offense has lots of good young players, but they need help in their back seven if they want to go anywhere in the playoffs, especially at defensive back.

18. Baltimore

Record: 2-2
Team needs: OL, TE
Analysis: The Ravens made a big move this week to address their need at offensive line, trading with Jacksonville to get left tackle Eugene Monroe. Ozzie Newsome is one of the best at making draft picks. This year will be no exception.

19. NY Jets

Record: 2-2
Team needs: RB, OL
Analysis: They have a solid defense in place. Adding offensive linemen and a running back would help their young quarterback, Geno Smith.

20. Buffalo

Record: 2-2
Team needs: OL, TE
Analysis: In E.J. Manuel, the Bills got the quarterback they needed in last year's draft. It's time to improve other areas, and GM Doug Whaley will do a good job orchestrating the draft.

21. San Diego

Record: 2-2
Team needs: OL, DB
Analysis: QB Philip Rivers has surprised everybody this season, and although the team may look for a QB here, this is a team that has more pressing needs.

22. Houston

Record: 2-2
Team needs: QB, OL
Analysis: The Texans have drafted well in the past and will continue to do so. They have a good young team and may trade down to obtain veteran leadership, a need they began to address in March when they signed Ed Reed.

23. Detroit

Record: 3-1
Team needs: OL, LB
Analysis: The Lions have acquired plenty of talent through the draft on offense and defense in Matthew Stafford, Calvin Johnson, Ndamukong Suh, and Ezekiel Ensah. They need to use this draft to add a little more depth.

24. Chicago

Record: 3-1
Team needs: DB, LB
Analysis: The Bears surprised everybody by drafting Oregon guard Kyle Long with the 20th pick last year. Whoever their picks are this year will be well researched. GM Phil Emery does as good a job as anyone of digging into the back of the draft and finding a good player.

25. Tennessee

Record: 3-1
Team needs: OL, DB
Analysis: This team has made good draft choices, good free-agent pickups, and good additions to the coaching staff over the past several years. Nobody likes to take defensive backs really high, but a few that could be interesting in this range are Jason Verrett of TCU, Aaron Colvin of Oklahoma, and Antone Exum of Virginia Tech, if his physical problems prove not to be an issue.

26. Cleveland (from Indianapolis)

Record: 2-2
Team needs: QB, DB
Analysis: This is around where the Browns can expect to be with the draft pick they acquired in the Trent Richardson trade. CEO Joe Banner and GM Mike Lombardi know how to select players with upside.

27. Miami

Record: 3-1
Needs: OL, TE
Comment: The Dolphins need help on the offensive line to keep their young quarterback, Ryan Tannehill, and their young running backs healthy.

28. New Orleans

Record: 4-0
Needs: OL, DB
Comment: The Saints' objective: Just do everything possible to keep QB Drew Brees and head coach Sean Payton healthy, and they will not have to worry.

29. Seattle

Record: 4-0
Team needs: OL, WR
Analysis: The Seahawks do a very good job of filling needs without reaching. They could use another receiver, but that need could change if Percy Harvin gets healthy.

30. Kansas City

Record: 4-0
Team needs: WR, TE
Analysis: GM John Dorsey did one of the best jobs of drafting and signing college free agents when he was at Green Bay. He should do well for the Chiefs because he's used to picking in the high 20s, as he showed with Clay Matthews, who was the 26th pick in 2009, and Aaron Rodgers, the 24th pick in 2005.

31. Denver

Record: 4-0
Team needs: DL, DB
Analysis: The Broncos have two priorities: Don't let anyone talk to Peyton Manning about retiring, and don't let Jack Del Rio leave for USC.

32. New England

Record: 4-0
Team needs: DL, WR
Analysis: Don't worry about Bill Belichick -- just let him sign college free agents and make them starters. Every draft has a lot of WRs, perhaps because it's the most common position that a normal-sized athlete can play. The Patriots' young receivers have struggled this season, and they might want to address it in the draft.

Three Week 6 games that interest me

Ohio State at Northwestern: These teams have not played since 2008, when Ohio State won, 45-10. Northwestern has won once in 29 tries in this series, and to make matters worse, the Wildcats are 1-8 coming off a bye like they had last week. Coach Pat Fitzgerald has done an amazing job winning 50 games in seven years and starting 4-0 this season. Northwestern likes to run -- this year out of 294 plays they have run 188 times. Ohio State may be down after a big win vs. Wisconsin last week. I like the Buckeyes to come out on top, 31-28, but if Northwestern gets a couple of breaks I could easily see them winning.

Arizona State vs. Notre Dame (in Arlington, Texas): This is a Notre Dame home game that the Irish wanted to play in Texas for recruiting purposes. Notre Dame since 2001 is 11-1 in neutral site games. Nobody seems to know what's happened to the Notre Dame defense, which allowed 10 points or less in six games last year and returned eight starters but has given up 119 points in five games this season. Last year it gave only 124 points in 12 games. Arizona State, which returns 15 starters from last year's eight-win team, averages 38 points per game and just last week scored 62 against USC. ASU coach Todd Graham is from the Dallas area and won't hold anything back. Arizona has too much speed for the Irish and will win, 42-24.

Washington at Stanford: This will be a great game between unbeaten Pac-12 teams. Washington gives up 11 points per game, and defensive coordinator Justin Wilcox is on his way to becoming a head coach in college football. In last year's game played at CenturyLink Field, the Huskies won, 17-13, over Stanford, which was ranked No. 8 at the time. Washington QB Keith Price and Stanford QB Kevin Hogan are both having very good years, and both schools have very good coaches. This is a late game for East Coast fans to watch that will probably go down to the final series. Stanford wins, 21-20.

Upset special

Tulane over North Texas: These are two programs that have been down for some years and are coming back. This game is in the hands of Nick Montana, the son of 49ers legend Joe, and like his father used to do, I think he'll pull it out.

Follow Gil Brandt on Twitter @Gil_Brandt.

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