Underrated 2014 draft prospects for every NFC team
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 NFC team looking to fill roster holes with players projected by many to go in the third round or below.
Arizona Cardinals -- Marcus Smith, DE, Louisville
First-year defensive coordinator Todd Bowles did an amazing job putting together one of the NFL's best defenses in 2013, and the pass rush was part of that. 35-year-old John Abraham registered 11.5 sacks, and 32-year-old Darnell Dockett added 4.5 of his own. But it's clear that the Cards need new blood to go after quarterbacks and add to Calais Campbell's excellence.
Smith is an under-the-radar pass rusher who amassed 14.5 sacks and 18.5 tackles for loss in 2013, and he's an interesting combination of outside linebacker and defensive end at 6-foot-3 and 251 pounds. In Bowles' defense, Smith could stand up in different pressure packages and cover tight ends on short and intermediate routes while moving inside in nickel and dime sets. Some see Smith as a tweener, but it only takes one team to find the right space for him.
Atlanta Falcons -- Colt Lyerla, TE, Oregon
The Falcons re-jiggered their defense with several key signings, but one clear hole remains, and that's at the position vacated by Tony Gonzalez's retirement. Lyerla would be an extreme risk from a consistency and production standpoint, but as all NFL teams are well aware of his off-field issues, he's going to be a third-day draft pick, and he has more potential upside than just about anyone at his position in this draft class.
Lyerla said at the scouting combine that he's been through a lot, including quitting the Ducks team unexpectedly last season and experiencing several run-ins with police. He has tantalizing potential as everything from an inline blocker to a target outside the numbers. The Falcons could take a low-risk shot, assess Lyerla's maturity, make him a camp cut if it doesn't work out and benefit immensely if he's turned it around.
Carolina Panthers -- Bruce Ellington, WR, South Carolina
When the Panthers took Steve Smith in the third round of the 2001 draft out of Utah, Smith was a tough, quick receiver who was debited by many pro scouts because of his size. Ellington has those same characteristics -- he measured 5-9 and 197 pounds at the scouting combine, but he managed 89 catches for 1,375 yards and 15 touchdowns in his last two years against SEC defenses. He was Connor Shaw's main target in Shaw's amazing 24-touchdown, one-pick season in 2013.
Like the young Smith, Ellington comes off the line with a quick release, can excel from the slot or outside and is unafraid of catching passes in traffic. With Smith gone and the team's receiver corps in a total tizzy, getting Ellington as a near-hometown catch would seem to make a lot of sense. He'll need to expand his knowledge of the route tree at the next level, which is another reason he could be a third-day bargain.
Chicago Bears -- Rashaad Reynolds, CB, Oregon State
The Bears' run defense was the obvious disaster in 2013, but the pass defense was no great shakes, either. And with Charles Tillman moving on, Chicago needs players who can compete for a legitimate No. 1 cornerback role over time. Reynolds might not be that guy -- his 5-9 frame will be a liability when covering bigger receivers -- but there are few defensive backs in this class who are able and willing to to as many different things as he has been. He can cover in the slot and outside, provides a pop in run support and is familiar with different coverage schemes. Perhaps the Bears could move to a new phase of defense with Reynolds as their do-it-all slot guy.
Dallas Cowboys -- James Gayle, DE, Virginia Tech
The Cowboys lost DeMarcus Ware and Jason Hatcher in free agency, and though defensive tackle Henry Melton was a high-quality short signing, pass rush will still be a major issue -- especially if Anthony Spencer either can't recover fully from last year's microfracture surgery or moves on to greener pastures. Jeremy Mincey is a short-term option at best.
Gayle would be an excellent choice in the third or fourth round -- he was more of a tackles-for-loss player than a sack specialist in college, but with a better-developed inside counter and a stronger array of hand moves, he could surprise in that department. He plays the run well and changes directions with agility, and that's a positive start.
Detroit Lions -- Deone Bucannon, SS, Washington State
After losing Louis Delmas to the Dolphins and talking with former Ravens safety James Ihedigbo about a possible contract, the Lions still need younger reinforcements to shore up a secondary that's been problematic for years.
Bucannon is more a strong safety type than a free-safety style range guy. He hits with authority and covers a lot of ground in the short and intermediate areas. Bucannon can cover center field at times, but his reactions are iffy, and he still spends too much time running around trying to recover from his mistakes. Defensive coordinator Teryl Austin would have his hands full teaching technique, but Bucannon has the physical potential to make that project worthwhile.
Green Bay Packers -- Ryan Carrethers, DT, Arkansas State
Tight end is a need with Jermichael Finley out of the picture, but the Pack can probably get by with the re-signed Andrew Quarless for now. Where they really need help is on the defensive line, with B.J. Raji re-signed on a short deal and Ryan Pickett and Johnny Jolly not due to return. Defensive coordinator Dom Capers requires big, agile men in the middle to make things go for his outside linebackers in five- and four-man fronts.
Carrethers isn't an explosive player, but at 6-1 and 337 pounds, he could be a good hole-plugger in a rotational package. He's got solid tape against better schools, which should temper the usual small-school ding.
Minnesota Vikings -- Stanley Jean-Baptiste, CB, Nebraska
The Vikings did a really nice job of reinforcing their interior defensive line with Corey Wootton and Linval Joseph. Now, the obvious issue before Minnesota's defense can become great again is a glaring need at the cornerback position -- and when you're facing the Bears, Lions and Packers twice a season each, it would be smart to get a cornerback who can handle bigger receivers.
Jean-Baptiste is a gangly guy at 6-3, 218, and he's not as physical as you might expect of a bigger cornerback, but he showed the ability to stick and stay with some of the larger targets in college football.
New Orleans Saints -- Bashaud Breeland, CB, Clemson
Breeland may not last until the third day, as there are those in and around the league who already see him as one of the more intriguing defensive prospects in this class.
Breeland could add outside help and would be a real mover in the slot in Rob Ryan's multiple schemes. He's not the biggest guy (5-11, 197), and he needs technique work, but Breeland has shown the ability to play off-coverage and stick with receivers in short spaces.
New York Giants -- George Uko, DE/DT, USC
Uko is a pure penetrator who shows well against the pass, but will need work against the run. He'll also encounter stretches where he simply disappears because he tends to wrestle with blockers at times. But when he's on, Uko can shoot past blockers in different gaps in ways that display intriguing potential. Uko played both end and tackle for first-year defensive coordinator Clancy Pendergast, so he has hybrid experience with a coach who has NFL experience.
Philadelphia Eagles -- Prince Shembo, OLB, Notre Dame
In Billy Davis' defense, outside pass rushers must be versatile enough to attack different gaps and do so with their hands on and off the ground.
Though he's not known for racking up huge sack totals, you'll see Shembo rushing outside the tackles, mixing it up inside as a pure end and covering tight ends in the flex-slot positions with some agility. He may be devalued by some as a jack of all trades and master of none, but there are others who will see that value. Shembo led the Fighting Irish with 17 quarterback hurries last season in addition to his 5.5 sacks.
St. Louis Rams -- Cyril Richardson, OG, Baylor
Richardson is not a move blocker; he needs to stay in short spaces, or he'll quickly get undone by his lack of agility. But there are few blockers at any position with as much pure power as Richardson possesses, and Jeff Fisher loves smash-mouth football. Richardson, who did hit heavy reps in Baylor's quick-tempo offense at 6-5 and 330 pounds, should be able to oblige.
San Francisco 49ers -- Ryan Grant, WR, Tulane
The difference between the 49ers offense with Michael Crabtree and without Michael Crabtree over the last two years illustrates San Francisco's need for more talent at the position. It's great that they re-signed Anquan Boldin, and Vernon Davis has become a ridiculously productive tight end, but more is still needed.
At 6-0 and just under 200 pounds, Grant will mostly be a slot guy in most schemes, though he can move outside in other packages. He's a tough and willing blocker with some separation ability and a nebulous route awareness with room for growth. He'd be a good fit in any run-first offense in which multiple slot calls are made.
Seattle Seahawks -- Trai Turner, OG, LSU
There's nothing Seahawks offensive line coach Tom Cable likes more than an athletic project, which is one reason Seattle's guard situation has been so, um, fluid over the last few years.
But in Turner, Cable would have the kind of project who might pay serious dividends down the road. He's a pure butt-kicker with a nasty attitude. Turner likes to lock on and throw people around, and he's got the strength to do that. Where he comes up short is in the agility to pull consistently and get to the second level accurately. But this is a team with a glaring need at the guard position and a desire to teach raw prospects their own way. Turner would be a perfect fit under those conditions.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers -- Donte Moncrief, WR, Ole Miss
Let's say the Bucs -- who probably won the 2014 free agency period -- feel sure enough about their potential position in the NFC South to release receiver Mike Williams, whose off-field issues just keep piling up. Perhaps in that case, they'd look for an unheralded player who's shown up well on tape at times and has interesting potential.
Moncrief is such a player. He's not talked about as a top-five player at his position in this draft class, and that's understandable. There are times when he doesn't fight for the ball as much as you'd like, he struggles to gain separation in relation to his timed speed and he needs to string together better moments more consistently. But in the right offense, and without the demands of being a No. 1 receiver, Moncrief could help out with his route development and tough blocking.
Washington Redskins -- Shayne Skov, ILB, Stanford
With the retirement of London Fletcher, there's a big hole in the middle of Washington's defense. The 16-year veteran wasn't as fluid and agile in his last few years, but there was no denying his leadership and ability to determine angles on the fly.
Skov will be limited in his draft prospects because he's a forward-motion player for the most part. He hits run fits with authority but would be a relative liability in coverage. The addition of Akeem Jordan will help a bit, but Skov already has experience playing inside in a pure 3-4 defense at Stanford, and he'd be a worthwhile addition as a rotational run defender. FARRAR: Teams in need of QB help now turn to 2014 NFL draft for solutions