12. Miami Dolphins – Bjoern Werner, DE, Florida State. Miami General Manager Jeff Ireland recently articulated his “horizontal approach” to the Draft. It’s a cross-sectioned BPA strategy, leveling position, talent and depth remaining on the board. Considering that the ‘Fins first need is an offensive tackle, being the fourth in the first round at number 12 makes it unlikely that any reaches will occur there. The split comes between their needs at cornerback and defensive end. While Xavier Rhodes could go here, it wasn’t his season at FSU that has vaulted him into consideration as a first rounder. Rather, it was a stellar Combine and a lack of ‘elite’ corners in this year’s Draft. Bjoern Werner, on the other hand, is just the opposite and far more likely to be the pick, despite many considering this to be ‘a reach’ in the top half of the first round. The Berlin, Germany product bullied offensive lines all year, notching 18 tackles for a loss, 13 of which were sacks last season. Most compelling of all, Werner has been playing football less than five years! Talk about something on the horizon…
13. New York Jets – Xavier Rhodes, CB, Florida State. The ‘dance macbre’ with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers has concluded and the 13thpick in the 2013 NFL Draft belongs to the Jets. Head Coach Rex Ryan’s team has done a complete 180-degree pivot from the media circus encamped in Cortland, NY just under a year ago, and now that a hybrid-rebuild mode is being undergone (‘full-rebuild’ would imply that the quarterback position can be upgraded) nearly all aspects of the Jets could be evolved in some form or fashion. Meanwhile, the most obvious would be the void left by Darrelle Revis at cornerback. Xavier Rhodes is a rangy corner with good size that can isolate receivers and should be able to adjust to the NFL and Coach Ryan’s defensive schemes quickly. Given the fact that Gang Green will see quite a range of quarterbacks this season, from elite to rookie, and also has a high potential of picking near the top of the 2014 Draft, Rhodes should mature by fire quickly.
14. Carolina Panthers – Matt Elam, SS, Florida. Carolina has a big decision to make with this Draft. Free safety Hakuri Nakamura must be replaced and cornerback Chris Gramble was a cap causality, which makes the Panther’s secondary a mess. Also though, Carolina critically needs to improve at the nose tackle position in order to get rookie sensation Luke Kuechly and the rest of the linebacking unit some breathing room in coverage as well as offer support to defensive ends Charles Johnson and Greg Hardy. While Johnson really came into his own last season, being rated the 3rd most productive pass rusher last year according to PFF, Hardy ranked 52nd by Football Outsiders in run stopping among all NFL defensive ends. While many think that Sheldon Richardson will be the pick, he is a bit light for a nose, making him a liability against rush-generating offensive lines, and further his high-octane motor wasn’t visible on tape until just last year, making him a possible enigma. The Panther’s could look to Jesse Williams in the second round to shore up the run, free up Hardy and push the pocket back in a big way, all without spending their first round selection. Turning their attention toward addressing their need at safety, Kenny Vaccaro may be better over-the-top and possess more prototypical size than Florida product Matt Elam, but he doesn’t possess Elam’s instincts nor ball-hawking abilities. For most Elam is a huge reach at 14, but the chances of him being around at 44 are considerable gamble. The Panthers’ are likely to draft for need, betting on a safety who has the clutch instincts to jump the deep routes common in the NFC South moreso than a power hitter who can step up in the box and cover the slot or hybrid tight ends like Vaccaro. This pick might be the first big surprise of the night.
15. New Orleans Saints – Barkevious Mingo, OLB, LSU. With Rob Ryan now the defensive coordinator for the Saints and the announcement that they will be transitioning to a 3-4 defensive scheme, picking up Louisiana-native Barkevious Mingo makes perfect sense for New Orleans. While the defensive unit as a whole was sub-par last season, the argument that Saints could make a run at Kenny Vaccaro or Sheldon Richardson would certainly be a valid argument at this point, however; Richardson isn’t a true nose tackle and is better suited for a 4-3, and Coach Ryan doesn’t value the safety position as much as he does his outside linebackers. Mingo provides New Orleans with an immediate boost to their pass-rush as well as the versatility to line up in the front three or in shallow coverage. Either way the Saints pick here they will improve, but Mingo is the piece that should be the most coveted.