Justin Ellis among underrated draft prospects who could fill holes in AFC
Many general managers will tell you that while the first and second rounds of any draft are where the flashy names flourish, it's getting the third-day picks right where personnel executives either earn their paychecks ... or not. Here's one name for each AFC team looking to fill roster holes with players projected by many to go in the third-round or below.
Baltimore Ravens -- Dontae Johnson, FS, North Carolina State
The Ravens have said that they want to move Matt Elam to strong safety, leaving them in the lurch for a free safety who can cover a lot of ground -- and in truth, that's a hole this team has been trying to fill since Ed Reed left the building. Johnson is an underrated ballhawk who has played both cornerback and safety in college, and he's also spent time as the team's slot defender. Such versatility is more prized than ever in the NFL, and Johnson has a compelling size-speed ratio that should override any concerns about a specific position.
Buffalo Bills -- Lamin Barrow, ILB, LSU
The Bills would love nothing better than to bring a quick inside linebacker to allow Kiko Alonso to do even more with his unreal range, and though Barrow isn't much of a force tackler, but he racks up the tackles as most of the better interior linebackers do, and he's done it against fine competition.
Cincinnati Bengals -- Pierre Desir, CB, Lindenwood
Desir has been getting a lot of buzz since the postseason all-star games, and his game tape shows that he can be the type of bigger press defender so many teams are looking for these days. The Bengals could use such a player with their secondary in flux, and though Desir needs some technique work (not to mention that the drastic upgrade in competition could be a shock), there are many who believe he's one optimal situation away from displaying early starting potential.
Cleveland Browns -- Dakota Dozier, OG, Furman
Cleveland had all kinds of questions at the guard position even before losing Shawn Lauvao to the Redskins in free agency. Dozier, a FCS First Team All-American in 2013, has rare athleticism and impressive root strength. Yes, he's got the usual small-school dings, but he's worth a third-round risk pick, especially for a team that has loaded up on talent in the last two years and needs a lot of help at Dozier's position.
Denver Broncos -- Jordan Zumwalt, OLB, UCLA
With Wesley Woodyard gone to Tennessee, Broncos defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio needs another defender who can do everything from run-stuffing to quarterback pressure to pass defense in the short and intermediate areas. Zumwalt is overly aggressive at times, and he's a straight-line player who needs work on his angles, but he's amassed nice tackle totals, and proven that he can sack signal-callers and pick off passes.
Houston Texans -- Justin Ellis, DT, Louisiana Tech
Ellis would be a neat fit for new Texans defensive coordinator Romeo Crennel, whose preference in his own 3-4 defenses is for heavier nose tackles than the kind Wade Phillips used. At 6-foot-2 and 334 pounds, he reminds me of former Detroit Lions and Cleveland Browns lineman Shaun Rodgers with his ability to slip off center blocks and pursue. Conditioning and technique are issues, but I feel that someone's going to get a third-day steal here if they use him correctly. Strong performances at the Shrine Game and Senior Bowl helped Ellis a lot.
Indianapolis Colts -- Marqueston Huff, FS, Wyoming
The Colts benefitted from Antoine Bethea's production from 2006 through 2013 enough to know that safeties needn't be huge to make an impact in the NFL, and that they need a replacement in a big hurry now that Bethea signed with the 49ers, and. That makes Huff an interesting option for Chuck Pagano's defense. At 5-11 and 196, Huff averaged 10.6 tackles per game in 2013, good for 11th in the nation, and he's got the kind of field speed you'd expect from some cornerbacks.
Jacksonville Jaguars -- Aaron Murray, QB, Georgia
While the Jags could take a quarterback with their first early pick, it's also possible that one of the most stat-happy teams in the NFL could take a good, hard look at the guy who set SEC records for completions (921), passing yards (13,166), TD passes (121) and total offense (13,562 yards). Murray became the first SEC quarterback to throw for more than 3,000 yards in four straight seasons, and though his size (6-1, 207) will give some teams pause, that's less a concern than it's been in previous years. Murray has a nice command of the "little things" important to his position, and he could be a valuable spot starter in the league over time.
Kansas City Chiefs -- Jared Abbrederis, WR, Wisconsin
It's not breaking news that the Chiefs need receivers, and with the team reportedly talking about a contract extension with Alex Smith, it would be wise to give Smith an able possession target whose relative lack of speed wouldn't be a huge issue given Smith's pedestrian arm strength. Abbrederis is a bit of a tweener with slot size (6-1, 195) and ordinary straight-line speed, but he understands route concepts and how to get open in short spaces. He'd be a great complement in Andy Reid's passing offense.
Miami Dolphins -- Billy Turner, OT, North Dakota State
The Dolphins need all kinds of help on the offensive line -- guard John Jerry was the latest defector when he signed with the Giants on Friday, Jonathan Martin is in San Francisco and Richie Incognito is ... well, Richie Incognito. Though there will be higher picks along the line, the 'Fins should take a good look at Turner on the third day, if he even lasts that long. Turner was a rock on a team that took three straight FCS titles, and he's a good bet to excel at right tackle or guard at the next level.
New England Patriots -- C.J. Fiedorowicz, TE, Iowa
Bill Belichick has built his recent offenses around tight ends, and with Aaron Hernandez's off-field disasters and Rob Gronkowski's injury history, reinforcements will be needed in the 2014 draft. Fiedorowicz is an interesting fit because he's shown that he can do all that is required of the new generation at the position -- he's productive in the open field, he's a dynamic blocker, and he's got experience at fullback, which would allow the Pats to put him in multiple spaces as they did with Hernandez.
New York Jets -- Martavis Bryant, WR, Clemson
Usurped as a big name by teammate Sammy Watkins, Bryant nonetheless has a size-speed package that is rare, to say the least. At 6-4 and with timed 40-yard dashes under 4.4, he'd be an outstanding No. 2 receiver on deeper routes. The team that takes him will have to be patient with his route awareness, but the Jets can't be choosers at this point -- they desperately need talent at the position.
Oakland Raiders -- Phillip Gaines, CB, Rice
Raiders general manager Reggie McKenzie has been prolific, if wildly uneven, when filling various holes in Oakland's defense this offseason. If there's one thing that's transferred from the Al Davis era to now, it's the franchise's love for speed cornerbacks -- that's why McKenzie took Houston's D.J. Hayden in the first round of the 2013 draft despite some distinct injury risks. Like Hayden, Gaines was a Conference USA standout with pure burner speed and a lot of interesting traits. He doesn't have Hayden's fluidity in coverage, but he allowed just 13 receptions on 40 targets last season, and he's got a long history of shutting down his better opponents. An unheralded name who shouldn't be.
Pittsburgh Steelers -- Will Clarke, DE, West Virginia
Steelers GM Kevin Colbert has been hit-and-miss (well, mostly miss) as he's tried to re-fortify Pittsburgh's once-imposing defensive line over the last few years. One of the main factors in any Dick LeBeau defense is the defensive end who can play between the guard and tackle in a multiple 3-4 set, and move inside on nickel and dime downs. At 6-6 and 271 pounds with 4.7 speed, Clarke has a massive wingspan and better strength than you might expect for his size. Colbert has said for years that there is a height requirement to be a Steelers defensive end, and he may as well go all the way with that one.
San Diego Chargers -- Keith McGill, CB, Utah
The Chargers somehow made the playoffs despite having the second-worst passing defense in the NFL last season (hello, Atlanta), per Football Outsiders' opponent-adjusted metrics. So getting more than one cornerback in the draft would be a fine idea. McGill would be an interesting addition to San Diego's defense because of his size (6-3, 211) and his ability to play press coverage. There are injury and technique issues to consider, but he's logged some interesting tape when healthy.
Tennessee Titans -- Ronald Powell, OLB, Florida New Titans defensive coordinator Ray Horton prefers to have one outside linebacker who plays in several variable roles -- everything from edge rusher to coverage specialist. Powell missed the entire 2012 season with two ACL tears, but came back strong in 2013, impressing current Seahawks and former Gators defensive coordinator Dan Quinn with his skill and determination. A fully healthy Powell could do great things in Horton's multi-faceted defense.