16. Saint Louis Rams – Tavon Austin, WR, West Virginia. The loss of Danny Amendola to the Patriots was crushing, but the addition of Jake Long isn’t a bad trade off. And while it’s a very deep draft for good receivers, only two are likely to be great. Tavon Austin is one of them. It’s really hard to see the Rams not taking Austin if he is still available at number 16. After an explosive Combine, the numbers netted by the West Virginia product were 114 receptions, 1,289 yards and 12 touchdowns in 2012. If it wasn’t enough that he is a huge slot threat with great YAC abilities, Austin also had 72 carries for 643 yards (8.9 YPC) and 3 more touchdowns. That kind of burst speed will likely pair nicely with whomever the Rams establish as their running back next year later in this year’s Draft.
Feb 24, 2013; Indianapolis, IN, USA; Tennessee Volunteers wide receiver Cordarrelle Patterson runs with the ball after making a catch during the NFL Combine at Lucas Oil Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports
17. Pittsburgh Steelers – Cordarelle Patterson, WR, Tennessee. The Steelers want so desperately to use this pick on one of the defensive studs still on the board, either in the secondary or at linebacker, but the Patriots recent play for Emmanuel Sanders last week exposed just how thin Pittsburgh is on offense. Imagine losing Sanders to an injury half way through the season? Cordarelle Patterson would add depth by not only moving into Mike Wallace’s starting role, but enhancing it. Patterson is fast and big, but more than a vertical threat, he is likely to evolve into a dynamic receiver, electric route runner, and even as a potential returner. What will make a big impact on this selection, though, is if the Steelers think he has the requisite football IQ to play in black and gold. Reports are that he struggled at Tennessee academically, and some of the interviews at the Combine he had difficulty navigating. Regardless, while the Steelers need a hard-hitting outside linebacker, there aren’t any left at this point without a significant reach. Drafting a safety is an option as well, but with Troy Polamalu still active on the roster, it’s not worth the first round pick to build a back-up when Pittsburgh needs to win now or risk ending up stuck in the cellar of the AFC North.
18. Dallas Cowboys – Johnathan Cooper, G, UNC. America’s Team strikes Draft-day gold with Johnathan Cooper. Last off-season Dallas addressed a failing secondary by drafting Morris Clairborne and adding veteran Brandon Carr as a monster upgrade at cornerback. However, the Cowboys piece-meal interior offensive line that was constructed last offseason took the 18th ranked rushing attack in 2011 down to 31st in 2012. While its’ unlikely that Nate Livings will be supplemented at right guard, left guard Mackenzy Bernadeau has been plagued with injuries, having hip and knee surgery before the start of last season, which forced him to miss training camp. Lately it was released that he had recently undergone shoulder surgery this off-season as well. Cooper comes in with all the athleticism that Owner/GM Jerry Jones was looking for in Bernadeau and more. While a top flight safety would make the Cowboys secondary reasonably iron-clad, passing on a talent like the kid from Chapel Hill is nearly impossible to do at 18.
19. New York Giants – Sheldon Richardson, DT, Mississippi. Head Coach Tom Coughlin believes the game of football is won and lost in the trenches. Last year, his defensive front four did not produce to the degree that was expected, which is one of the reasons that Osi Umymenura is now working on becoming a Falcon. More directly than pass-rush, the G-Men have been unable to mount any sort of run-stuffing element to their defensive in the past two years, even during their Super Bowl run they were relatively vulnerable. The recent signing of Mike Patterson from the Eagles to pair with Cullen Jenkins doesn’t really replace the production of Chris Canty who was released earlier this off season because of the salary cap. Sheldon Richardson’s aggressiveness fits perfect into the Giants and not only will improve their rush-defense but also will be able to attack quarterbacks up of the gut. Big Blue fans won’t be upset with this pick.