In the walk-up to the 2015 NFL Draft, we've spent the bulk of our time discussing potential fits for the teams in the top half of Round 1 ...
But what about the franchises that will enter 2015 with the highest hopes -- specifically, the teams that actually made the postseason in 2014? Which high-impact players could help the rich get richer?
Now, obviously, it's impossible to know who will or won't be available when these 12 teams go on the clock for the first time. That's why I wanted to present a bevy of options. Below I assess the top pick for each reigning playoff team. (Seattle is the only one without a first-round selection, so I examine their second-rounder, No. 63 overall.) I've identified a pressing need, a viable option in their current draft slot, a potential trade-up target and a backup plan.
It goes without saying that any one of these teams could decide to take the best player available, but for the purposes of this exercise, I'm assuming each will look to fill an apparent need.
No. 21: Cincinnati Bengals
The Bengals have one of the most talented rosters in the NFL, so "pressing need" is a bit of a misnomer. That said, they could use another pass rusher, even after the return of Michael Johnson. When it comes to edge defenders in this class, most of the chatter revolves around five players: Ray, Dante Fowler Jr., Vic Beasley, Randy Gregory and Bud Dupree. Harold gets lost in the shuffle, but I really like his twitchiness as a pass rusher. He'd be a nice fit for a team that needs to get more pressure from the outside. If Harold's gone when the No. 21 pick comes around, Cincy could look to trade back into the top half of Round 2 and still get a quality pass rusher like UCLA's Owa Odighizuwa or Mississippi State's Preston Smith.
No. 22: Pittsburgh Steelers
The Steelers have gone defense in Round 1 in each of the past two drafts, and they should go right back to that well at the end of this month. Troy Polamalu and Ike Taylor retired this offseason -- and Jason Worilds, who was set to hit free agency, shockingly did the same. Not to mention, Dick LeBeau relocated to Tennessee. Freshly minted defensive coordinator Keith Butler needs more young talent on that side of the ball. Collins would be a nice option for Pittsburgh. If he's not available, the Steelers could snag Jones. No. 22 might be a little early for the UConn corner, but he fits a need and could even play safety if the Steelers wanted him to.
No. 23: Detroit Lions
After a solid season in 2013, the Lions' O-line took a step back last year. Humphries is my top-rated offensive lineman in this class, but I think there's a chance he's available here for the Lions. If Armstead starts to slide, Detroit could look to pounce on the enticing, 6-foot-7 specimen. The Lions lost Ndamukong Suh and Nick Fairley this offseason, but entering the 2015 campaign with Haloti Ngata and Armstead up front would represent a solid recovery. If Martin Mayhew and Co. stay put at No. 23 and don't like the O-linemen still on the board, they could scoop up Gordon. Running back is not as pressing a need as those in the trenches, but the Wisconsin product does fit what the Lions like to do on offense.
No. 24: Arizona Cardinals
The Cardinals lost a Seminole stalwart this offseason -- free agency defection Darnell Dockett -- but they could replace him with one of two enticing prospects out of Florida State. Either Goldman or Edwards could fit very nicely alongside Calais Campbell in Arizona's front. I like Andre Ellington's game, but he just doesn't have the physical prowess to hold up as a bell-cow back. A backfield that features Ellington and Gurley would keep opposing defensive coordinators up at night.
No. 25: Carolina Panthers
Right now, the Panthers' projected starting offensive tackles are Nate Chandler and Michael Oher. That cannot make Cam Newton feel very comfortable. Carolina needs to provide better protection for the face of the franchise. Now, if Parker starts to slide at all, he could be a trade-up target. That's probably a pipe dream, but Cam surely would be pleased with a young receiver duo of Parker and Kelvin Benjamin. Clemmings could be a fallback option at OT -- the former defensive end is still pretty raw at offensive tackle, but he offers plenty of upside.
No. 26: Baltimore Ravens
Ozzie Newsome's never going to be held prisoner to need, so this is kind of a funny exercise to do with Baltimore. But let's give it a whirl anyway! Yes, the Ravens just re-signed Justin Forsett, who enjoyed a breakout season in 2014 with 1,266 yards rushing. But a) Forsett turns 30 in October and b) the Ravens signed him to an affordable deal ($9 million over three years), so it doesn't preclude them from pouring more resources into the position. Gordon would be a nice option at No. 26. Or the Ravens could trade up for Gurley, who has some similarities to former Baltimore back Jamal Lewis (he of the 2000-yard season in 2003). If neither back is available, Newsome could look at Jones or Wake Forest CB Kevin Johnson. Baltimore's just had so many injury problems at corner.
No. 27: Dallas Cowboys
Back in the 2010 NFL Draft, the Cowboys traded one spot ahead of the Ravens to take Dez Bryant and keep him from Baltimore. If Gurley starts to slide a bit, the Cowboys could do the same thing -- leapfrog Baltimore and get their hands on the Georgia running back. But if the Joneses can't get to one of the top two backs in this draft, they could trade out of the pick, use some of the extra draft currency to address defensive needs and look to scoop up Boise State's Jay Ajayi in the second round. One way or another, Dallas needs to add a quality player to the backfield in the wake of DeMarco Murray's departure.
No. 28: Denver Broncos
With the free agency exit of Terrance "Pot Roast" Knighton, the Broncos could use some more beef up front. Goldman might not be around at No. 28, and Denver could take a chance on Phillips, who's a boom-or-bust prospect at the position. The Broncos would also be well-served getting Peyton Manning some more protection up front, so don't be surprised if they go the OL route. It just depends on who's still on the board.
No. 29: Indianapolis Colts
Andrew Luck, quite possibility the most valuable young commodity in the NFL, has taken way too many hits in his young career. Indy needs to upgrade his protection. The Colts added Todd Herremans in free agency, which helps, but he's 32 years old and has had some injury issues of late. Teams are split on whether Collins is a tackle or a guard, but I think the Colts could slot him in at right tackle -- he'd be a nice upgrade there. Peat's gaining a lot of steam around the league. Personally, I'm not as high on him, but Colts offensive coordinator Pep Hamilton is familiar with him from his Stanford days. Indy's going to score a lot of points and routinely play with a lead -- this kind of team can never have too many pass rushers, so Odighizuwa could be of interest if the O-line pool dries up.
No. 30: Green Bay Packers
Pressing need: Inside linebacker.
Viable option at No. 30:Denzel Perryman, ILB, Miami.
Potential trade-up target: N/A.
Backup plan: Trade out.
The Packers are in a weird spot here. Inside linebacker jumps out as a pressing need, and at No. 30, they could have their pick of the litter at that position. But there's no star power at ILB in this draft. Perryman is my highest-rated guy at the position, but taking him in the first round feels a little too aggressive, especially when there isn't a huge gap between the Miami product and the other top ILB prospects. Best player available's obviously an option, but for the purposes of this exercise, let's explore how the Pack could address a need on the second level of the defense. Green Bay's best move could be trading out of the first round and then looking to address the position in Round 2. If Perryman's still there, great -- if not, the Pack can happily scoop up UCLA's Eric Kendricks or TCU's Paul Dawson. I put "not applicable" in the trade-up category because, as I said, Green Bay is likely to have every ILB option available at No. 30. There just isn't much reason to trade up, while trading down would make a ton of sense.
No. 32: New England Patriots
Bill Belichick certainly doesn't have the best track record when it comes to drafting cornerbacks, but Darrelle Revis and Brandon Browner just left the organization, so New England will have to go back to the CB well early in the draft. Jones might still be available at No. 32, or the Pats could look to move up a few spots and snag Collins (if they prefer the LSU product). In the event that all the top-tier corners are gone by the final pick of Round 1, Belichick and Co. could target Tomlinson. Back in 2005, people thought the Patriots reached when they took a guard at No. 32 -- that worked out pretty well with Logan Mankins.
No. 63: Seattle Seahawks
The Seahawks traded stud center Max Unger -- as well as their first-round pick -- in the Jimmy Graham deal, and also lost starting guard James Carpenter to free agency. Thus, they need to address the interior offensive line in the draft. Jackson might be available when Seattle finally goes on the clock. John Schneider could also look to trade up into the middle of the second round to grab Cann. If both those guys are gone, Miller should still be left -- though the second round might be a little early for the Louisville product.