NFL Nation: Kyle Fuller

Part of the reason the Detroit Lions essentially ignored addressing the secondary in the 2014 draft was because of the faith general manager Martin Mayhew had in the potential of his young cornerbacks.

That trust is sure to be tested now.

The Lions have released their top cornerback, Chris Houston, after an inconsistent 2013 and offseason surgery for a toe that just wouldn't heal. Darius Slay and Rashean Mathis would now likely be the team's opening day starters at cornerback and the move increases the pressure on an untested group of players.

Houston
Houston
Bill Bentley has experience in the slot and is probably best suited there instead of on the outside. Jonte Green started games the past two seasons when players went down to injury, but has not been consistent. Chris Greenwood can't stay healthy and has minimal experience. Cassius Vaughn had a good spring, but was used to primarily used to provide depth at cornerback in Indianapolis.

The one pick the Lions did use on the secondary, corner Nevin Lawson in the fourth round, should have been more of a developmental selection.

At least one of those players will need to be counted on this fall. The early guess would be Vaughn, who has some experience and had moments where he looked extremely sharp in the spring. He likely won't be a starter, but he at least feels like part of the reason the team could have felt comfortable releasing Houston without even seeing him in training camp.

Now, unless the Lions sign a cornerback before camp, they will have to use this group to forge a cornerback corps. It is a unit with some talent, but short on experience. In a division with receivers like Randall Cobb, Jordy Nelson, Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffery, that is not the type of situation you want to have.

Yet this is where Detroit is in the middle of June.

Something like this -- and Detroit had to have an inkling of concern here considering Houston did not play well in 2013 and had surgery -- was part of why it was so confusing how the Lions handled the secondary in the draft. Yes, Justin Gilbert was off the board when Detroit picked, but the team wasted little time before drafting tight end Eric Ebron, who the team opened up money to sign by cutting Houston.

They didn't seem to consider either selecting or trying to trade down to nab cornerbacks Kyle Fuller, Darqueze Dennard or even Jason Verrett from TCU or Bradley Roby from Ohio State. Or the team could have drafted Ha Ha Clinton-Dix from Alabama or Calvin Pryor from Louisville at safety and moved Don Carey, the team's third safety, to cornerback -- a position he previously played.

After Ebron, the team went with an interior lineman, Travis Swanson, in the third round and traded their fourth round pick to move up for Kyle Van Noy. The move possibly cost them one of the litany of defensive backs who went off the board before the team took Lawson with a supplemental pick in the fourth round.

Any of those first three picks could have been used on a secondary player that could have helped.

Of course all of this is hindsight now. Yet the Lions knew this possibility existed because of Houston's past few months. And that possibility became reality Friday -- even if it was somewhat predictable after Houston was excused from mandatory minicamp.

It leaves Detroit either hunting on the free agent wire or sticking with what they have – a group of young cornerbacks that could end up deciding Mayhew's future.

This is a sequence -- between the draft strategy, how's Houston's injury and eventual release was handled -- that should be used to judge Mayhew if Detroit struggles this season.

Mayhew put his faith with a group of young cornerbacks early. With Houston gone, Mayhew will now need them to prove he was right all along.
The Chicago Bears moved another step closer to signing their entire 2014 draft class when the club announced Wednesday it has agreed to terms with first-round pick Kyle Fuller on a four-year contract with a fifth-year option.

Fuller
Financial terms were not immediately disclosed.

A cornerback out of Virginia Tech, Fuller started in 42 of 50 games in his college career, contributing 173 tackles, six interceptions, 21 pass breakups, four forced fumbles and one recovery. Fuller blocked three kicks at Virginia Tech and recovered one for a touchdown.

As a senior, Fuller was a captain, earned second-team All-America honors from the Walter Camp Football Foundation, and was named first-team All-Atlantic Coast Conference. In nine games, he had 24 tackles, two interceptions, 10 pass breakups and a blocked kick.

The Bears have reached agreement with seven of their eight draft picks from the 2014 class. The club agreed to terms with safety Brock Vereen and quarterback David Fales on Monday. On Tuesday, the Bears signed defensive tackle Ego Ferguson, running back Ka'Deem Carey, punter Patrick O'Donnell and offensive tackle Charles Leno.

Third-round pick Will Sutton, a defensive tackle out of Arizona State, is the only player the Bears haven’t come to terms with on a new contract.

On Wednesday, the Bears became the first team in the NFL to reach agreement with their first-round pick.
PITTSBURGH -- Would the Steelers have taken a cornerback in the first round of the NFL draft had either Justin Gilbert or Kyle Fuller -- or both -- been available at No. 15?

Steelers general manager Kevin Colbert isn’t saying.

“Sure, there were guys that went ahead of Ryan that were really good players,” Colbert said Monday on TribLive radio. “We were extremely excited [Shazier] was there but there were other players that we would have entertained and maybe didn’t have an opportunity to pick them. But that doesn’t diminish our excitement for Shazier.”

The Steelers really liked tight end Eric Ebron, and the North Carolina product certainly would have been prominent in the discussion that preceded the Steelers' first-round pick had he still been available.

But the Steelers were more than happy to select Shazier, who provides speed, athleticism and versatility to their defense.

The Steelers only took one cornerback in the draft but Colbert echoed comments made by defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau that the position is not as lacking as has been widely perceived.

"Cortez Allen we think has a real bright future and he should only get better," Colbert said. "When you’ve got a guy like William Gay and Brice McCain and Antwon Blake and we feel nice about what they’re going to be able to contribute. Blake did a great job coming in [last season] and playing mainly on special teams because he was a late addition for us but he’s going to have a whole offseason to grow as a corner.”

Despite taking only one cornerback -- and waiting until the fifth round to select Arizona’s Shaquille Richardson -- the Steelers have generally gotten good reviews for their draft.

ESPN analyst Mel Kiper Jr. gave the Steelers an A-minus for their draft. ESPN analyst Todd McShay also liked what the Steelers accomplished during the three-day draft.

"I was really impressed. I thought they had one of the better drafts of all the teams in the league," McShay said Monday during a post-draft conference call. "I really thought beginning to end that Pittsburgh did a really good job of finding players that fit their system and do multiple things.”
LAKE FOREST, Ill. -- The arrival of cornerback Kyle Fuller will not force 33 year old veteran Charles Tillman to move to safety.

Tillman
Chicago Bears general manager Phil Emery confirmed Friday that Tillman is not a candidate to switch positions.

"You can rule that out 100 percent -- you don't even have to finish your question," Emery said. Charles Tillman is our starting corner and that's where he's going to be."

Emery's endorsement of Tillman nonwithstanding, Fuller is expected to contribute on defense next season and projects to be a future starter at cornerback, perhaps as early as 2015.

That much is certain.

However, the great unknown is how Fuller meshes with Tillman and fellow two-time Pro Bowler Tim Jennings, who has the security of a new four-year, $22.4 million contract extension he signed at the end of the regular season. Tillman signed a one-year deal with the Bears in March after he explored his options in free agency.

How will Tillman react to having his potential replacement looking over his shoulder?

We don't know the answer. But Emery isn't worried.

"I have to be honest with you -- it's rare that you do that [consult a veteran before making a draft choice at the same position], as we're so focused on getting the best player available and I completely trust the input of our scouts and coaches during that process," Emery said. "And we come to a conclusion and work through who is the best player at that pick, who represents the most value and who can help the Bears win. That's where the focus is, we don't bring players in and ask their advice on that, we know they'll be excited and are excited that we pick a good player that they see can contribute to wins. That's when they get excited.

"But I definitely had players text me last night and congratulate us on the pick and it was good to hear from them. And like Coach mentioned, we're a family, we're here for each other and we're going to help Kyle through this process. He'll probably have more than one mentor to help him through the process, and what's exciting about that is Kyle's the type of person who can accept mentoring. It takes a certain level of maturity to let others reach out and help along the way and Kyle is certainly that type of person."
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SANTA CLARA, Calif. -- The San Francisco 49ers were supposed to be powerbrokers of the first round.

Everyone was expecting them to go make the big move for a top-end receiver in an effort to compete with Super Bowl champion -- and heated NFC West rival -- Seattle.

Instead, the 49ers ended up addressing their one true need -- albeit in an unexpected way.

Instead of trading up for stud LSU receiver Odell Beckham or taking one of the glamour cornerbacks, the 49ers grabbed Northern Illinois safety Jimmie Ward with the 30th pick.

At first glance, it smacked of a curious reach. Yes, Ward was a scout's favorite, but he was considered more of a second-round pick. And he played a position the 49ers made their biggest offseason investment at -- by signing veteran Antoine Bethea to a four-year, $23 million deal.

With receivers Cody Latimer and Marqise Lee still on the board, picking Ward did not initially appear to make much sense. But after digesting the pick, I could see why the 49ers made this pick.

The 49ers' benchmark is defense. With star inside linebacker NaVorro Bowman out until about midseason with a torn ACL and star linebacker Aldon Smith's future clouded by a potential NFL suspension, the 49ers need to keep their edge in the early season.

This move should ensure they stay stout in the secondary. In addition to safety Donte Whitner (who Bethea replaces), the 49ers parted ways with their second and third cornerbacks -- Tarell Brown and Carlos Rogers -- this offseason. Tramaine Brock and Chris Culliver are expected to start.

The 49ers want to see Ward become the nickel. He played there often at Northern Illinois. Some teams are using safeties as a nickel and it seems the 49ers are going that route.

There were rumblings the 49ers didn't like any of the four cornerbacks that went in the first round -- Justin Gilbert, Kyle Fuller, Darqueze Dennard and Jason Verrett. They had the means to trade up and pick any of them and didn't.

Instead, they eyed the hard-hitting, competitive and smart Ward.

This may be out of the box, but it seems like a 49ers move. Having Reid, who made the Pro Bowl as a rookie last season, the steady Bethea and Ward on the field together makes this a strong secondary.

49ers general manager Trent Baalke raved about Ward's competitive nature. Coach Jim Harbaugh simply said: "He loves football."

Baalke, who saw Ward play live once, said it was telling that when he asked scouts which games of Ward's he should watch, multiple scouts said, "Pick one." It was Ward's consistency that stood out to the 49ers.

Ward, who had the second most interceptions in the country last season with seven, led his team in tackles and interceptions the past two seasons. Baalke doesn't think coming from a smaller conference will be too much for Ward.

"The stage isn't too big for him," Baalke said.

Ward showed he had the mental toughness for the NFL when he ran for scouts with a broken foot, which is expected to be completely healed by training camp. Ward posted a 4.48 40-time on a bad wheel. That made Baalke smile.

The 49ers may not have stolen headlines with this pick, but they did add a key component to what makes them the 49ers -- an ornery defense.
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LAKE FOREST, Ill. -- As Chicago Bears general manager Phil Emery finished up a 17-minute news conference Thursday night at Halas Hall, the muted TV to his right showed the Green Bay Packers taking Alabama safety Ha Ha Clinton-Dix with the 21st pick in the draft.

Emery passed on Clinton-Dix, a mock draft favorite, when he took Virginia Tech cornerback Kyle Fuller with the 14th pick in the first round of Thursday’s made-for-TV draft.

[+] EnlargeKyle Fuller
Lee Coleman/Icon SMIBears first-round draft pick Kyle Fuller was a four-year starter at Virginia Tech.
If Fuller struggles and we see Clinton-Dix picking off Jay Cutler next year, we’ll have a good laugh (ha ha) about it, right, Bears fans?

Don't answer that.

You'll be surprised to know Fuller was the player the Bears wanted all along. Emery played coy about Pitt defensive lineman Aaron Donald, who ended up going a pick before the Bears’ turn, but he couldn’t help but effuse over Fuller, a tough, versatile cornerback who should excel playing Chicago Bears defense in Chicago Bears weather on Chicago Bears chewed-up turf.

He can hit and he can cover. Basically, he's the perfect football player, according to Emery's news conference.

"He's even a great person," Emery said.

No kidding.

Emery's a wild card around draft time, but we all figured he would go defense, given the glaring needs up front and, well, all over. But you shouldn't be surprised he wasn’t monomaniacally focused on safety. It’s a long draft. I think it’s over in July. So there will be more chances to draft a young safety this season.

This wasn’t a best-player-available situation, either. The Bears have a need, a hybrid defensive back, and Fuller filled it. ESPN guru Mel Kiper Jr. even picked this one.

“We decided on Kyle Fuller, the player,” Emery said. “That’s the important thing. He’s a good player with a lot of versatility in his coverage.”

Versatility is a word thrown around a lot around this time, and Fuller said, as draft picks are wont to do on draft night, that he’s open to playing anywhere.

“I feel like they know I can play corner, nickel and possibly safety,” Fuller said in a conference call with reporters. “I’m a versatile player.”

Versatility is nice. The Bears just need more bodies. Let’s go back to how last season ended, with safety Chris Conte blowing coverage, however it happened, and Packers receiver Randall Cobb going 48 yards for a division-clinching touchdown. At that time, the call was for a complete demolition of the defense, starting at safety.

Conte’s still around, but his partner, Major Wright, is gone. The Bears re-signed Charles “Peanut” Tillman and corner Tim Jennings, and brought in a handful of free agents at safety.

This isn't a leap. Fuller makes perfect sense. Emery just wants someone to cover the wide variety of receivers and tight ends in the modern NFL offense. The Bears need to match up with Green Bay and Detroit, not to mention the various offenses they see around the league.

Emery mentioned how Fuller covered tight ends like Eric Ebron, who was taken 10th by Detroit.

“His versatility of coverage was a big attraction,” Emery said.

We already know the Bears are going to go more “hybrid” this season under coordinator Mel Tucker. That’s the new rage, and of course, the old one. Disguising coverages is nothing new.

Fuller, who will line up inside and eventually supplant Tillman or Jennings on the outside, is expected to play right away, wherever.

“We see him as a corner with a lot of versatility in terms of coverage, in terms of covering different sorts of athletes,” Emery said. “That’s where his length comes in.”

Ah, length, another favorite buzzword come draft time. Fuller’s no giant, he’s a shade under 6-foot and 190 pounds, but Emery fell in love with him when he live-scouted Virginia Tech-Georgia Tech. Fuller forced a fumble and made two tackles for loss in that game.

“I knew that day that’s the type of player that I wanted to represent the Chicago Bears,” Emery said.

Let Emery explain.

“He was playing Georgia Tech, and they lined him up at inverted safety and ran him through the A gap against an option team to crash the mesh point between the quarterback and the fullback,” Emery said in plain English. “And he repetitively did that. This is one tough football player.”

On Thursday, Emery marveled at Fuller’s physicality, including 129 solo tackles as a four-year starter (with some injury history, that is of course, no concern whatsoever). In 2011, as a hybrid “whip linebacker/nickelback,” he led all college defensive backs with 14 1/2 tackles for loss. He’s also a highly-regarded special-teams player, blocking two punts in his career with the Hokies’ always dangerous unit. He's got a good pedigree, with two older brothers who have played in the NFL. His brother Corey is a practice squad receiver with Detroit.

Emery, of course, raved about Shea McClellin when he drafted him as a versatile pass-rusher. Two failed years later, McClellin is being moved to linebacker this year as a last-ditch effort to save his Bears career.

The Bears GM has made bold moves to renovate this defense for 2014, most notably signing defensive end Jared Allen. But Chicago will need Fuller to be more like Kyle Long, an instant starter.

A confident Emery left the press room Thursday sure the Bears have hit on this pick. Fuller was the best player on their board and is the start of a new defensive generation.

After all, he was the guy they wanted all along, and maybe the guy you wanted all along, too. Even if you didn't know it.
LAKE FOREST, Ill. -- Despite veterans Charles Tillman and Tim Jennings being firmly locked into the starting cornerback spots for the Chicago Bears, don’t assume the team wasted a pick Thursday when it selected Virginia Tech’s Kyle Fuller at No. 14.

In drafting Fuller, the Bears addressed the future at the position while also adding a versatile Day 1 starter.

Fuller
“Obviously a player picked that high, we expect him to contribute his first year,” general manager Phil Emery said. “With the number of multiple wideout sets you face, we expect him to come in and contribute right away, and as time permits and our roster change[s] over time like they all do, to be a starter on the outside.”

But right now, Fuller is pretty much a sure bet to be the club’s Week 1 starter at nickel corner. Sure, it would be easy to try to minimize the value of the nickel corner in Chicago’s defense. But what’s important to realize is that Fuller will play more than the team’s starting strongside linebacker in 2014. Why? Because the Bears play nickel more than they play base personnel.

Historically, during Emery’s tenure in Chicago, the Bears have operated out of nickel between 54 and 60 percent of all defensive snaps, he said. That means Fuller will be on the field quite a bit. What’s more is Fuller’s versatility allows the Bears to be more creative with the scheme and how they deploy him. Emery has already said Fuller can play inside against tight ends or bigger slot receivers, but he also can move outside against speedier pass-catchers.

“We see him as a guy that has a lot of versatility in terms of coverage, in terms of covering different types of athletes. That’s where his length really helps him,” Emery said. “You can see him on tape covering the North Carolina tight end [No. 10 overall pick Eric] Ebron. You see him cover inside slots or bigger receivers. You see him cover outside. This is a corner that had 173 tackles in his career, 123 solos; a corner with 23 tackles for loss. You don’t see that every day; 4 1/2 sacks, six picks, 28 PBUs (pass breakups). [He’s a] versatile, tough, hard-nosed, smart football player and a great person on top of that. He’s got run-support toughness. There wasn’t any reason not to take Kyle Fuller.”

Fuller embodies what Emery and defensive coordinator Mel Tucker covet in the players the club looks to add to the defense moving forward. He’s versatile, athletic, and tough. He’s played nickel/whip linebacker at Virginia Tech as well as corner.

Interestingly Bears special-teams coordinator Joe DeCamillis rated Fuller as the best special-teams player in the draft. So he’ll contribute there, too, this season.

“Coming in, I like feel they know I can play corner or nickel; possibility of safety, whatever it is. I’m a versatile player," Fuller said. "I know they’ll put me in the best situation for myself and the team."video
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LAKE FOREST, Ill. -- Despite veterans Charles Tillman and Tim Jennings being firmly locked into the starting cornerback spots for the Chicago Bears, don’t assume the team wasted a pick Thursday when it selected Virginia Tech’s Kyle Fuller at No. 14.

In drafting Fuller, the Bears addressed the future at the position while also adding a versatile Day 1 starter.

Fuller
“Obviously a player picked that high, we expect him to contribute his first year,” general manager Phil Emery said. “With the number of multiple wideout sets you face, we expect him to come in and contribute right away, and as time permits and our roster change[s] over time like they all do, to be a starter on the outside.”

But right now, Fuller is pretty much a sure bet to be the club’s Week 1 starter at nickel corner. Sure, it would be easy to try to minimize the value of the nickel corner in Chicago’s defense. But what’s important to realize is that Fuller will play more than the team’s starting strongside linebacker in 2014. Why? Because the Bears play nickel more than they play base personnel.

Historically, during Emery’s tenure in Chicago, the Bears have operated out of nickel between 54 and 60 percent of all defensive snaps, he said. That means Fuller will be on the field quite a bit. What’s more is Fuller’s versatility allows the Bears to be more creative with the scheme and how they deploy him. Emery has already said Fuller can play inside against tight ends or bigger slot receivers, but he also can move outside against speedier pass-catchers.

“We see him as a guy that has a lot of versatility in terms of coverage, in terms of covering different types of athletes. That’s where his length really helps him,” Emery said. “You can see him on tape covering the North Carolina tight end [No. 10 overall pick Eric] Ebron. You see him cover inside slots or bigger receivers. You see him cover outside. This is a corner that had 173 tackles in his career, 123 solos; a corner with 23½ tackles for loss. You don’t see that every day; 4½ sacks, six picks, 28 PBUs (pass breakups). [He’s a] versatile, tough, hard-nosed, smart football player and a great person on top of that. He’s got run-support toughness. There wasn’t any reason not to take Kyle Fuller.”

Fuller embodies what Emery and defensive coordinator Mel Tucker covet in the players the club looks to add to the defense moving forward. He’s versatile, athletic and tough. He has played nickel/whip linebacker at Virginia Tech as well as corner.

Interestingly, Bears special-teams coordinator Joe DeCamillis rated Fuller as the best special-teams player in the draft. So he’ll contribute there, too, this season.

“Coming in, I like feel they know I can play corner or nickel; possibility of safety, whatever it is. I’m a versatile player," Fuller said. "I know they’ll put me in the best situation for myself and the team."
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LAKE FOREST -- The pick: Kyle Fuller, CB, Virginia Tech.

My take: After investing heavily in free agency along the offensive line, the Chicago Bears needed to shore up their secondary and took the first steps toward doing so Thursday night by selecting Virginia Tech cornerback Kyle Fuller with the No. 14 overall pick of the draft.

The Bears spent in free agency to add Lamarr Houston, Willie Young and Jared Allen. So it was time to turn their attention to the secondary. Current starters Charles Tillman and Tim Jennings are 33 and 30, respectively. So the addition of Fuller strengthens the position for the future. It also gives the club another Day 1 starter because there’s a good chance Fuller will begin the season as the club’s nickel cornerback. It’s worth noting how often the Bears operate out of nickel packages given the air attacks of divisional foes such as the Detroit Lions and the Green Bay Packers.

St. Louis took defensive tackle Aaron Donald with the No. 13 pick, and it’s very likely he was among Chicago’s targeted players for the 14th pick. So it appears the Bears took the best player available on their board at a need position.

Fuller started 42 of 50 games at Virginia Tech and is the just the third Hokies defensive player selected in the first round of the NFL draft. Fuller produced 173 tackles, 4.5 sacks and picked off six passes in addition to breaking up 21 others at Virginia Tech. At nearly 6 feet tall, Fuller possesses the size to match up against bigger receivers in the slot, and has proven to be effective as a blitzer throughout his college career, which might serve him well in a nickel role with the Bears.

After all, in giving up a franchise-record 29.9 points per game, the Bears surrendered a league-worst 55.3 percent completion rate on throws of at least 15 yards down the field last season, and defended the second-fewest passes on throws at least 15 yards downfield.

Family ties: Fuller’s brother, Corey, was drafted by the Detroit Lions in the sixth round of 2013. Another brother, Vincent, was selected in 2005 by the Tennessee Titans in the fourth round. Kyle Fuller said he spoke to Corey just after he was drafted Thursday, and they’re already excited about the opportunity to play against one another.

What’s next: The Bears are expected to continue adding to the defense. Having addressed cornerback, the Bears will likely use their second- and third-round picks on Friday to pick up a safety and a linebacker.
PITTSBURGH – It's hard to imagine a scenario in which the Pittsburgh Steelers don't use their first-round pick on a cornerback.

But it's not impossible.

One of the left tackles could slip to No. 15 and tempt the Steelers. Anthony Barr fell to the Steelers in the ESPN NFL Nation mock draft held earlier this week, and I grabbed the UCLA outside linebacker after also considering Virginia Tech cornerback Kyle Fuller and LSU wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr.

Barr had 23 sacks in two season while learning to play outside linebacker on the fly. He is a playmaker who has a tremendous upside, and the Steelers need to bolster their pass rush.

The problem is I don't think Barr will be available at No. 15. I think Beckham is gone before then too with a team likely trading up to draft him.

That leads me back to cornerback and I think the Steelers will be thrilled if they have their choice of Fuller and Michigan State's Darqueze Dennard.

Both are good fits for the Steelers and I think they would be happy with either one. If they have a choice I think the Steelers take Fuller. He is a little bigger and probably has better ball skills than Dennard.

But really it could be a coin flip between the two and the Steelers would love nothing more than if they have to choose between Dennard and Fuller.

I say they do and that they opt for Fuller.
PITTSBURGH -- Following up on a post about the 14 players I don’t think will be available when the Pittsburgh Steelers select, here are five targets who might be available to them in the first round. I do expect the Steelers to look into moving down in the first round and collecting an extra pick or two.

I ranked these five in descending order based on the likelihood that the Steelers draft them.

5. LB C.J. Mosley, Alabama: Three-down linebacker would make for a nice pairing with Lawrence Timmons, and he could be an immediate starter, as loathe as the Steelers are to play rookies extensively. Mosley had some injury issues in college, so the Steelers would have to be comfortable with him medically to take the 2013 consensus All-American this high. I think the Steelers wait to address this position later in the draft, but Mosley would shore up an area where they could use help if he has checked out medically.

Ebron
4. TE Eric Ebron, North Carolina: The best tight end in the draft has drawn comparisons to the 49ers’ Vernon Davis because of his size and athleticism and ability to stretch the field. Ebron would give Ben Roethlisberger a tall, athletic target as well as a complement -- and future successor -- to Heath Miller. The biggest question with Ebron is how much of a blocker he will develop into at the next level. The Steelers will be tempted if he is still on the board at No. 15, and they could try to trade down if Ebron is there and another team wants to move up to take him.

3. CB Justin Gilbert, Oklahoma State: There is a ton to like about Gilbert, who has decent size and ran a sub 4.4 in the 40-yard dash at the NFL scouting combine. He intercepted seven passes last season, returning one for a touchdown, and he also excelled as a kick returner. The knock on Gilbert is that he is not the best tackler nor is he particularly strong in run support. Tackling the catch, as the Steelers call it, is essential in Dick LeBeau’s defense, which is why they might shy away from Gilbert.

Dennard
2. CB Darqueze Dennard, Michigan State: The 2013 Jim Thorpe Award winner has Steelers written all over him. He is tough, physical and is exactly the kind of player the Steelers need to start building around at cornerback. The biggest question about Dennard is whether he will still be available when the Steelers make their first pick tonight. A handful of teams picking ahead of the Steelers, including the Lions and Titans, could take a cornerback. If Dennard is on the board when the Steelers pick at No. 15, it might be a coin flip between him and…

1. CB Kyle Fuller, Virginia Tech: He is similar to Dennard in that he is physical and is good in run support as well as in coverage. Fuller is a little bigger and might have better ball skills than Dennard, something that might appeal to a team that has intercepted just 20 passes in the past two seasons combined. Fuller doesn’t have any flaws in his game, is a high-character guy and would be a really good fit with the Steelers.
Kelvin BenjaminAP Photo/Bob LeveroneFlorida State receiver Kelvin Benjamin could be an option for the Panthers in the first round.
It's no secret the Carolina Panthers have big needs at left tackle and wide receiver entering tonight's first round of the NFL draft.

But general manager Dave Gettleman won't reach for a player at either position when the Panthers pick at No. 28 if there are players on the team's board who rank higher.

There is also a slim chance, though he covets having picks, that he will trade up for a player at one of those positions.

This is about taking the best player available, not filling a need. If Gettleman can do both as he did last year with defensive tackle Star Lotulelei at No. 14, that is a bonus.

But as Gettleman showed last season in picking defensive tackle Kawann Short in the second round, he will stick with value over potential even if it means going with the same position in consecutive rounds.

"I've said this before, when you reach, when you have made up your mind, you're locked in and you're going to take a position because you feel a need to fill that spot, more often than not you're going to make a mistake," Gettleman said.

Gettleman says there are a combined nine to 10 tackles and wide receivers he considers worthy of a first-round pick. That there is enough depth at both positions to get value in the second and possibly third rounds opens the possibility that Carolina takes what Gettleman calls a "blue goose" pass-rusher in the first.

He "wouldn't be mad if a corner was there."

In other words, don't be surprised by whom the Panthers take sometime around 11 p.m.

With that, here are 10 players (alphabetical order) who could be there for Carolina at No. 28:

  • Davante Adams, WR, Fresno State: Adams says he's the best wide receiver in the draft, so he's not lacking confidence. A playmaker with decent size at 6-foot-2, 216 pounds. Led the nation in receptions (131) and touchdown catches (24) this past season. Caught a touchdown pass in 22 of his 26 games and had 38 career touchdowns. Can be dynamic at times and has some of that Steve Smith flair for the dramatics. Not nearly as strong physically as Smith, though. Definitely a player the Panthers have talked to and worked out.
  • Kelvin Benjamin, WR, Florida State: One of the more imposing receivers in the draft at 6-5, 240 pounds. A physical player who has the ability to use his size to create space. Doesn't have elite speed, and doesn't always finish plays. Still, he had 15 touchdowns last season, including the game-winner in the national championship game. Has the raw talent teams are looking for, but gets a lot of second-round grades because he is still developing.
  • Ealy
    Kony Ealy, DE, Missouri: With Greg Hardy unsigned long term and Charles Johnson showing some age with a late-season knee injury, the Panthers might be tempted to go for this athletic pass-rushing specimen. He had 14.5 tackles for loss and 9.5 sacks last season. He might be what Gettleman meant when he referred to a "blue goose" pass-rusher.
  • Dee Ford, DE, Auburn: Another potential "blue goose." Had 10.5 sacks this past season and doesn't lack for confidence. He called South Carolina defensive end Jadeveon Clowney, expected to be the top player taken in the draft, a "blind dog in a meat shop" during the NFL combine. At 6-2 and 252, Ford might be a bit undersized for a 4-3 end, but still a good value at 28.
  • Kyle Fuller, CB, Virginia Tech: At 6-0, 190 he's a strong, physical player who can be an every-down cornerback or play in the slot, both needs for Carolina. Played linebacker, safety and cornerback at Virginia Tech, where he was a three-time All-ACC player. Considered by many to be the most ready NFL corner in the draft.
  • Ra'Shede Hageman, DT, Minnesota: Gettleman said he wouldn't pass on a "blue goose" defensive tackle even though Carolina drafted Lotulelei and Short in the first two rounds a year ago. At 6-6, 310, Hageman might be too good to pass up if the top wide receivers and offensive tackles are gone.
  • Kouandjio
    Cyrus Kouandjio, OT, Alabama: Before his knees became a medical issue, many had this 6-6, 322-pound left tackle as a top 10 pick. A bad workout at the NFL combine didn't help. But if the Panthers cleared him medically, Kouandjio could be a steal at 28 the way Lotulelei was with his with medical concerns (heart).
  • Morgan Moses, OT, Virginia: This is a popular pick for Carolina by many because he is expected to be around at 28 and because he fills a big need. But not everyone has the 6-6, 314-pounder rated as a first-round pick. He definitely has the size and wingspan (35 3/8-inch arms) to make NFL defensive ends run a long way to get around him. It's just a matter of whether the Panthers have him listed as a first-rounder. Not so sure they do.
  • Ryan Shazier, OLB, Ohio State: You might be surprised to see an outside linebacker here, but Gettleman said he would take the best player available -- particularly if he was a pass-rusher. Shazier has blazing speed and reacts well to the ball. He had 23.5 tackles for loss last season, but sometimes has issues with his tackling technique. The consideration here is that Carolina outside linebackers Chase Blackburn and Thomas Davis are in their 30s, so this could be a pick for depth and the future.
  • Jason Verrett, CB, Texas Christian: If he was 6-1 instead of 5-9 he might be a top-five pick. Considered by many to be the best pure cover corner in the draft. That the Panthers were comfortable with Captain Munnerlyn at 5-8 last season means they likely wouldn't hold the size against Verrett. He had six interceptions in 2012 and nine in three seasons. With Carolina's front seven in front of him, he would make the league's second-ranked defense in 2013 better.
The board has been put together and in a little over 24 hours, the Detroit Lions will be able to see exactly how the NFL draft they have planned for over the past five-plus months will actually shake out.

In explaining his team’s draft process Monday, general manager Martin Mayhew said because the Lions are at the No. 10 spot, they have their initial draft board, will remove the quarterbacks and then have their essential Top 10 to work with Thursday evening.

Other than the obvious that Clemson wide receiver Sammy Watkins is somewhere on their board, here is one man’s guess of what their Top 10 board could look like come Thursday -- pulling quarterbacks off, of course, since the Lions are not searching for one. Remember, this is just a guess. Detroit has not tipped much of anything off as to what their board would look like.

Watkins
1.Sammy Watkins, WR, Clemson: The Lions have made no secret about their love for the player who caught 101 passes last season and is considered the top receiver in the draft. The Lions brought him in for a visit, brought his teammate, Martavis Bryant, in for a visit and also brought in his brother, Jaylen Watkins, a defensive back from Florida. They ate with Sammy at his pro day, and Mayhew believes he is a good fit for the organization. The question is whether Detroit could really go and get him as he will be long gone by No. 10.

2.Jadeveon Clowney, DE, South Carolina: There’s no way Clowney is lower than third on any team’s draft board, and if he is, that team is likely kidding itself. Clowney is a transcendent talent who is the most physically gifted player in this draft and perhaps in the past four or five drafts. For Detroit to get him, it would likely have to trade all the way up to No. 1, but if he somehow fell to No. 3, then it might be worth it to pursue.

3.Khalil Mack, LB, Buffalo: The second-best defensive player in the draft also fits a position of need for the Lions. While Watkins is often the talk of most trade-up scenarios, it is Mack who could be the player Detroit could end up targeting in that type of scenario. He is an instant playmaker who is a three-down linebacker and would give the linebacking corps an immediate upgrade in talent and depth.

Evans
4.Mike Evans, WR, Texas A&M: Many of the other rumors surrounding Detroit involve a lesser trade-up scenario for Evans, who was Johnny Manziel’s main target with the Aggies. The Lions would likely only have to go up to No. 7 to grab him, so it would cost less in return than Watkins. Lining him up with Calvin Johnson and Golden Tate would give the Lions one of the scarier passing games in the NFC.

5.Greg Robinson, OT, Auburn: He is the top tackle in the draft and almost certainly not going to be available for Detroit. If he somehow slipped to the Lions, they would find a way to make it work on the line, most likely moving 2013 left tackle Riley Reiff inside to guard.

6.Jake Matthews, OT, Texas A&M: Matthews could be available, in theory, depending on how the top of the draft goes, what trades are made and the number of quarterbacks selected. He or Taylor Lewan are often considered the highest rated tackles in the draft behind Robinson.

Dennard
7.Darqueze Dennard, CB, Michigan State: After the top six is where it gets tricky -- and this is likely where the Lions’ pick will come from. Dennard lacks the ideal size defensive coordinator Teryl Austin would like in a cornerback, but he could be the best cover corner in the draft and likely will be the first cornerback off the board Thursday night. Part of why I didn’t consider him in the NFL Nation mock is he wasn’t available as Minnesota took him at No. 9.

8.Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, S, Alabama: Some will think this is high for Clinton-Dix, who I took in the NFL Nation mock draft Tuesday. Former general manager and ESPN analyst Bill Polian panned the pick and said cornerback was the more glaring need. That is a fair assessment, but safety is also a position of need for the Lions and Clinton-Dix is the best safety at a somewhat thin position compared to the rest of the groups in the draft. As I mentioned Tuesday and Wednesday, I believe the Lions will try to trade down.

Donald
9.Aaron Donald, DT, Pittsburgh: Not necessarily a position of need for Detroit, but he could very well be the best player available for the Lions at No. 10, and as I mentioned Wednesday, the player I believe the Lions should take at No. 10 if he’s available. Drafting Donald would offer Detroit flexibility on the defensive line, and he has experience in both a 3-4 and 4-3 scheme, which can help in Austin’s defense as he tries to turn it multiple. Plus, he can learn from Ndamukong Suh for a season before potentially stepping into a starting role if Suh or Nick Fairley departs Detroit in 2015.

10.Kyle Fuller, CB, Virginia Tech: There are a lot of interesting connections for Fuller with Detroit. Both of his brothers have played for the Lions at some point in their careers. Vincent Fuller was a cornerback for Detroit in 2011 and Corey Fuller was drafted by the Lions last season and is on the roster for 2014. Kyle Fuller has outstanding ball skills, but isn’t as strong in coverage as Dennard.

Next six: Taylor Lewan, OT, Michigan; Odell Beckham Jr., WR, LSU; Zack Martin, OT, Notre Dame; Anthony Barr, DE/LB, UCLA; Justin Gilbert, CB, Oklahoma State; Eric Ebron, TE, North Carolina.
CINCINNATI -- You might have seen this week when we caught up with Cincinnati Bengals Hall of Fame offensive tackle Anthony Munoz at the Pro Football Hall of Fame's Fan Fest in Cleveland.

Though quarterback Andy Dalton's play was among the Bengals-related concerns Munoz touched on, he also spoke for a moment about the direction he felt the franchise was going, and what he anticipated seeing it do when the NFL draft arrives Thursday night.

When it comes to building up the Bengals' roster this weekend, expect them to do so by focusing on defense, not offense, Munoz said.

[+] EnlargeRyan Shazier
AP Photo/Jay LaPreteOhio State linebacker Ryan Shazier could be a good fit for the Bengals in the first round.
"I don't know names, but I think we need a linebacker," Munoz said. "We can go out and get a pretty good linebacker, maybe a defensive back. I don't think you can ever have too many cornerbacks and defensive backs."

So there you have it.

Munoz, a former Bengal who attends every home game and called preseason games for a local television station last year, is not looking for the Bengals to draft Teddy Bridgewater or any other quarterbacks or offensive players in the first round.

"The linebacker position is a good position to go with our D-line," Munoz continued. "Even though we lost one or two [on the defensive line], it's an area that's still strong. As far as linebacker or defensive back, that's what I would look at."

Michael Johnson was the starting defensive end the Bengals lost this offseason when he signed with Tampa Bay. Linebacker James Harrison was also cut in March, leaving a hole in the regular rotation at "Sam" linebacker. The Bengals also probably wouldn't mind having another linebacker who could play the "Will" position, giving them another option in situations where tight ends, running backs and the occasional slot receiver needs to be covered.

Ohio State product Ryan Shazier is one linebacker who could provide that level of versatility and depth for the Bengals. If he is there when Cincinnati selects at No. 24, he could be an option. Other options for that draft slot include cornerbacks Darqueze Dennard (Michigan State), Justin Gilbert (Oklahoma State), Kyle Fuller (Virginia Tech), Bradley Roby (Ohio State) and Jason Verrett (TCU). At least two of those cornerbacks are expected to be off the board before the No. 24 pick, as should the two highest-rated safeties -- Ha Ha Clinton-Dix (Alabama) and Calvin Pryor (Louisville).

If there are no defensive backs or linebackers the Bengals like at No. 24, don't be surprised if they turn to the defensive line and figure out a way to help add to the depth at end. It all depends upon how that player grades on the Bengals' big board, though.

Munoz is probably on to something. It's something we've been saying for a while, but somehow it makes even more sense when a revered Hall of Famer says it: Cincinnati would be best served focusing early in the draft on defense. After that, go to town beefing up the offensive line with another body that can run block, another physical running back and a quarterback to back up Dalton.

The following is Munoz had to say about the Bengals' direction the past few seasons under head coach Marvin Lewis. It's something to keep in mind this weekend as the Bengals draft players. They don't just want good players, they want leaders, too. And lately, they have been among the best at drafting and developing those types of players:
"You can take the last three or four years and really separate it from the previous 18, 19 years. It is a different mindset and it's a totally different group of guys. One of my former teammates who's been a radio announcer or analyst for close to 30 years I think says it best: when your best players are your best guys and your hardest workers, that's when it starts to come around. I really believe that's what the Bengals have going for them. Their best players are their hardest workers and their best guys. ... This is a totally different makeup of the team. They're going in the right direction."
Hang in there, folks, only one more day to the draft. Here, I rank the top eight options for the New York Jets at 18, based on how I believe they have them rated on their board. Included are quotes from three people outside the organization -- two personnel executives and one scout, all of whom spoke on the condition of anonymity:

Odell Beckham Jr., wide receiver, LSU: "If Sammy Watkins weren't in this draft, Beckham would be the top receiver. I think he's better than [Mike] Evans. ... He's a helluva prospect. He has size, speed, separation ability, route running. He can be an inside-outside guy. He has good to very good potential. He excites me. If I had him, I'd feel very good about the future of the position. You can move him around; he has versatility. He operates like an NFL receiver. He's NFL-ready. ... He's a pretty clean kid. No problems with his work ethic. This kid can play."

Eric Ebron, tight end, North Carolina: "He's talented. He's a legit pass-catching threat. He can defeat man or zone. He's not that big [6-foot-4 1/2, 250], but he's plenty fast. He has a high ceiling. ... For the Jets, he'd be complementary to [Jeff] Cumberland. You'd have your two-tight end sets locked in stone. He'd provide Marty Mornhinweg with flexibility. You'd have Cumberland in the running game [as a blocker], with Ebron giving you another threat in the passing game. ... I know people say he can't block, but he's not devoid of blocking skill. I think you can train him."

Darqueze Dennard, cornerback, Michigan State: "He'd be a good value at 18. ... He has average size [5-11, 199], but he has good strength. He's a physical kid. He can play press, he can play man. He's good in zone. He's instinctive. He's a pretty good tackler. ... I think he's a scheme fit for the Jets. He's consistent, dependable, a good No. 2 corner."

Brandin Cooks, wide receiver, Oregon State: "He's an outstanding athlete. He's sudden. He has quick explosion. He's a ball catcher, not a body catcher. He has good ball skills. He's not big [5-10], but he's a tough kid. He'll be a very good slot player. ... If you put him outside the numbers, you may have to scheme it up for him in terms of formations. He'll be a viable starter on the outside at some point, but he's a Day 1 starter in the slot. ... He's like a midget. To me, he's a luxury, a specialty-type player."

Justin Gilbert, cornerback, Oklahoma State: "He has good height [6-0], good length and good enough speed. His ball skills are terrific. You wish he were a little more physical. ... I think he fits [Rex Ryan's] defense and what he's trying to do. He'd be a good complement to Dee Milliner. I think Rex could teach him to be more physical."

Kyle Fuller, cornerback, Virginia Tech: "He's a good scheme fit for their defense. He can play that press-man that Rex likes. He's a real instinctive player. He's not as disciplined with some of his techniques as you'd like, so I think there would be a developmental stage. But, in their secondary, I think he could come in and compete for a starting job."

Bradley Roby, cornerback, Ohio State: "He's more talented, more of an athlete and more explosive than Dennard, but he's not as polished. ... You have to do your due diligence [with regard to off-the-field incidents]. It's a measured risk. There are some red flags in his background. Enough to omit him from your draft board? No, I don't think it's at that point, but you're measuring risk."

Marqise Lee, wide receiver, USC: "He had a better '12 than '13. I see him as a No. 2 receiver. He has good size [6-0], good speed and good hands -- not great hands. He had some drops last year. He has a lot of good qualities. Does he have a lot of great qualities? Maybe not, but he'll be a solid pro. ... We have him rated ahead of Cooks. He's just a better all-around player, a safer pick."

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