Every NFL team has to prepare for the best-case and worst-case scenarios when it comes to their picks in the draft. We asked Bucky Brooks, one of our NFL Media resident scouts, to walk us through the first round of the 2014 NFL Draft, drawing up real scenarios each team could face on May 8, based on their needs and what the teams picking around them might be thinking.
9. Buffalo Bills
Top needs: TE, LB, OT
Best-case scenario: If the Bills are truly committed to building around EJ Manuel, the team must surround its franchise quarterback with enough weapons to thrive in the AFC East. The team acquired a solid No. 2 WR by trading for Mike Williams during the offseason, but the unit still has a void in the middle of the field. Ebron certainly fits the bill as a dynamic playmaker with a unique size-speed combination that makes him a nightmare to defend between the hashes. He creates mismatches all over the field, while giving Manuel a big-bodied pass catcher to target in the red zone.
Worst-case scenario: The Bills would love to add an offensive weapon to the arsenal, but a team could snatch Ebron earlier than expected due to the impact potential of the position. Thus, the Bills could be left to settle for a defender or offensive tackle at the pick. While both positions are significant needs, it would be hard to convince the fan base or franchise quarterback that the club made upgrading the offense its priority without adding an explosive weapon on the perimeter.
Bucky's pick: Ebron is the sensible pick. He is a borderline blue-chip talent who fills one of the Bills' biggest offensive needs. Although he will need some time to develop as a route runner, there is no doubt that Ebron would give the offense some sizzle as a deep-middle threat in the Bills' spread offense.
10. Detroit Lions
Top needs: CB, WR, safety, DT
Best-case scenario: The Lions would love to add a playmaker at wide receiver and cornerback at the top of the draft. The team has reportedly entertained the possibility of moving up to snatch Watkins, but it will take a hefty sum to move into range to grab the Clemson standout. If Watkins is unavailable, the Lions will likely take one of the top defensive backs (Gilbert or Clinton-Dix) to fill a void in a secondary that has struggled for years.
Worst-case scenario: If the Lions are unable to land an offensive playmaker or quality defensive back, the team could settle on taking a defensive tackle to provide insurance in case of a contract dispute with Ndamukong Suh or Nick Fairley following the 2014 season. Although this would be a sensible move by the front office, the thought of bypassing more pressing needs would certainly draw the ire of a fan base that desperately wants a winner.
Bucky's pick: Gilbert. The Lions must address their cornerback situation after struggling on the perimeter for the past few seasons. The team hasn't started a Pro Bowl-caliber cornerback since Dre Bly stepped on the field in the mid-2000s, so it's time for the team to invest a top pick at the position. Gilbert is a natural ball hawk with impact potential as a defender/returner. He possesses the length to challenge the big-bodied receivers in the division, while also displaying a diverse game capable of fitting into any scheme. Thus, a move to nab the top corner in the draft could help the Lions get back on track in 2014.
Other analyst picks: Daniel Jeremiah (Gilbert), Charles Davis (Gilbert)
11. Tennessee Titans
Top needs: CB, pass rusher and RB
Best-case scenario: The loss of Pro Bowl CB Alterraun Verner in free agency makes cornerback a top priority in the draft for a team in desperate need of a lockdown player at the position. Gilbert and Dennard are the top options, with each prospect displaying the athleticism, ball skills and toughness to play in defensive coordinator Ray Horton's ultra-aggressive scheme. On the other hand, the Titans need a dynamic rusher off the edge to wreak havoc on opponents' blocking schemes. Barr is an ideal fit as a 3-4 outside linebacker with the speed, quickness and length to win consistently on exotic blitzes.
Worst-case scenario: Despite Ken Whisenhunt's offensive expertise, the Titans must upgrade their defensive personnel to compete with the elite teams in the AFC. Thus, the Titans must land a blue-chip cornerback or pass rusher at No. 11 to come away with a successful haul on draft day. If the Titans miss out on one of the cover corners or a pass rusher, the team would likely settle on a safety like Ha Ha Clinton-Dix or Calvin Pryor. Both are good players, but the team has more pressing needs.
Bucky's pick: Barr. The UCLA standout is a dynamic pass rusher with exceptional physical tools. Although he has spent just two seasons on defense, he has already displayed a knack for disruption that suggests he could become a special player down the road. Barr would give the Titans the dominant edge playmaker that they have been missing in the lineup since Jevon Kearse departed years ago.
Other analyst picks: Daniel Jeremiah (Kyle Fuller), Charles Davis (Kyle Fuller)
12. New York Giants
Top needs: Safety, WR, TE and OT
Best-case scenario: The Giants would love to add a blue-chip talent on the perimeter to help Eli Manning get back on track. But the defense is in desperate need of a dependable safety after Will Hill's latest suspension created a huge void in the middle of the field. Given the depth in this class at wide receiver and tight end, the move to land Clinton-Dix or Pryor would give the defense a chance to return to the ranks of the elite in 2014.
Worst-case scenario: If the Giants are unable to add a weapon on offense or a dynamic safety, the team could always settle on the top offensive tackle left on the board. While the team has expressed confidence in the potential of OTs Will Beatty and Justin Pugh, the opportunity to add a rugged edge blocker like Lewan would help Manning stay upright in the pocket. With the team's performance tied closely to Manning's production, it's hard to argue with fortifying the offensive line despite the reshuffling that would need to occur to accommodate Lewan.
Bucky's pick: Clinton-Dix. The safety position has grown in prominence with teams using tight ends to create mismatches in space. Clinton-Dix would allow defensive coordinator Perry Fewell to use a variety of "Big" nickel packages (three safeties) to match up with the elite offenses in the NFC, while also solving the deep-ball woes that plagued the team last season.
Other analyst picks: Daniel Jeremiah (Zack Martin), Charles Davis (Jake Matthews)
13. St. Louis Rams
Top needs: Safety, OT and WR
Best-case scenario: The Rams would love to nab a safety to address their biggest need on defense. Clinton-Dix would be the ideal pick based on his ability to fill the role as a center fielder between the hashes. If Clinton-Dix is off the board, Pryor would be a terrific consolation prize as a Pro Bowl-caliber safety.
Bucky's pick: Pryor. Gregg Williams' defense is designed to feature a playmaking safety in the middle of the field. Pryor is a prototypical box safety with a knack for making plays against the run or pass. He flashes pass-rush skills as a blitzer, which would make him a disruptive force as part of the Rams' exotic package of blitzes.
Other analyst picks: Daniel Jeremiah (Pryor), Charles Davis (Pryor)
14. Chicago Bears
Top needs: DT, safety and LB
Best-case scenario: The Bears struggled to stop the run due to a lack of size, athleticism and talent along the middle of the front line. The team needs an aggressive three-technique to set the table for the Tampa-2 scheme coordinator Mel Tucker is attempting to run. Donald is the perfect fit as an interior penetrator with exceptional first-step quickness and athleticism. He would capably fill the role manned by Henry Melton, who signed with the Cowboys in free agency, for the past few seasons.
Worst-case scenario: If Donald is off the board, the Bears would have a tough time convincing the coaching staff that Jernigan can fill the role as the disruptive penetrator. Although Jernigan is a high-motor player with relentless energy, he is a one-dimensional defender who lacks polish as a pass rusher. Thus, the Bears would secure a two-down player who wouldn't impact the game in multiple ways.
Bucky's pick: Donald. The Pittsburgh standout is a perfect three-technique in the Bears' 4-3 scheme. He is explosive at the point of attack, yet displays the strength and power to play stout against double teams. With the Bears looking to secure a dominant talent in the middle of the line to alleviate the pressure on the linebackers and safeties, Donald is the right pick for the Monsters of the Midway.
Other analyst picks: Daniel Jeremiah (Donald), Charles Davis (Donald)
15. Pittsburgh Steelers
Top needs: CB, safety and WR
Best-case scenario: The depth at wide receiver in the 2014 draft class could prompt the Steelers to target a top cover corner in the first round instead of a pass catcher. Gilbert, Dennard and Roby are the top candidates due to their athleticism, ball skills and toughness. With each prospect fitting the Steelers' scheme and style of the play, Mike Tomlin can simply take the top prospect remaining on the board at No. 15.
Worst-case scenario: It's imperative for the Steelers to land a top cover corner in the draft to replace Ike Taylor in the lineup. While the team would likely settle on any of the candidates, Roby's recent transgression could put the team in a bind if Gilbert and Dennard are selected earlier in the round. If the public backlash is too much for the Steelers, the team could take one of the wide receiver prospects to give Ben Roethlisberger another weapon or trade back and select Kyle Fuller at the bottom of the round.
Bucky's pick: Dennard. The Steelers covet hard-nosed guys with athleticism and skill on their defense. Dennard is a tenacious cover corner with a gritty game that's ideally suited to the Steelers' zone-blitz scheme. While there are some concerns about his style translating to the NFL game, the Jim Thorpe Award winner is a technician who will find a way to get it done as a pro.
Other analyst picks: Daniel Jeremiah (Dennard), Charles Davis (Beckham)
16. Dallas Cowboys
Top needs: DT, DE and safety
Best-case scenario: The Cowboys need to find disruptive defenders at defensive tackle and defensive end in this year's draft. Donald is the quintessential three-technique in the Cowboys' Tampa 2 style. He displays the first-step quickness and athleticism to routinely make plays in the backfield, which is critical to the success of the scheme. Thus, the Cowboys should consider moving up to make sure Donald lands in Dallas as the top pick.
Worst-case scenario: Donald is the obvious choice for the Cowboys, but it's possible that he comes off the board earlier than most observers expect. That would force the Cowboys to consider a raw defensive end prospect (Ealy or Ford) a little sooner than their draft grade merits. Otherwise, Jerry Jones could hope one of the safety prospects drops down the board to fill a need that's haunted the franchise for years.
Bucky's pick: Ealy. This would be considered a bit of a reach pick by some observers, but it's a likely proposition if board holds true to form. Ealy is an intriguing athlete with the size, length and motor to develop into an elite pass rusher, but he would struggle filling Demarcus Ware's shoes as a rookie starter.
Other analyst picks: Daniel Jeremiah (Barr), Charles Davis (Barr)