NFL Nation: NFL draft

Perhaps the most promising sign to emerge from the Miami Dolphins' 8-8 season was the progress of third-year quarterback Ryan Tannehill. He set career highs in yards (4,045), touchdowns (27) and passer rating (92.8), as well as learned a new offensive system under first-year coordinator Bill Lazor.

But who will back up Tannehill in 2015? It's an important question the Dolphins must address this offseason.

Miami only carried two quarterbacks on its 53-man roster for most of last season, and respected veteran Matt Moore will be an unrestricted free agent in March. Moore, who made $4 million in 2014, should garner interest from quarterback-needy teams. He's a very good backup and a proven part-time starter over his eight-year career. The Dolphins need cap room and can't afford to pay Moore what he made the past two seasons.

I talked to Moore a couple of weeks ago and he was unsure of his return.

"If the situation is right, that will happen," Moore said. "If there's a situation elsewhere that is intriguing, it might also happen. ...I'm going to kind of feel my way through it."

Translation: If Moore gets an opportunity elsewhere to compete for a starting job and with a higher salary, he's most likely leaving Miami.

The Dolphins will explore cheaper alternatives at backup quarterback, especially now that Tannehill is a proven starter. The easiest route would be to draft an affordable, developmental quarterback in the middle or later rounds. They also could look for a veteran in free agency if they are willing to spend more.

Tannehill's durability has been stellar. He started 48 consecutive games since Miami drafted him No. 8 overall in 2012. But a backup quarterback is always one play away.

The Dolphins must find a decent player behind Tannehill who also fits within their budget.
CLEVELAND -- Selling offseason optimism after a December free fall is difficult even with good quarterback play.

The Cleveland Browns' outlook at the game’s most important position is spiraling down to the bottom of the NFL unless Johnny Manziel can take ownership of the job this offseason.

Manziel was drafted before Minnesota’s Teddy Bridgewater and Oakland’s Derek Carr, yet both franchises have more quarterback security than the Browns do, in part because those rookies were able to play through mistakes. They also got better late in the season.

Manziel didn’t get that luxury but also did little to show he’d be prepared for that rookie evolution.

The Browns aren’t the only team in the league with questions at quarterback. Let’s see whether the Browns -- with Manziel, Connor Shaw and Tyler Thigpen on the roster, the No. 12 and No. 19 picks in the first round and the ability to sign a free agent from a relatively weak quarterback pool -- have a better or worse situation than these teams.

Jets -- Better. Manziel seems to have more upside than Geno Smith, and the Jets’ No. 6 overall pick doesn’t guarantee a high-level quarterback in this draft.

Bills -- Worse. EJ Manuel doesn’t look like a high-level starter, but he’s been serviceable. He’s a good fallback.

Texans -- Worse. Houston coach Bill O’Brien is a factor. He can help turn marginal quarterback play into wins. Ryan Mallett showed potential in his few starts, and there are some evaluators in the Browns' facility who liked Tom Savage.

Titans -- Worse. Questions still surround Zach Mettenberger, but he looks the part. Tennessee could take Jameis Winston or Marcus Mariota with the No. 2 pick.

Rams -- Tie. There’s no guarantee Sam Bradford can remain healthy, and the options behind him are scarce. If Bradford returns to form, clearly the Rams have a better situation.

Redskins -- Better. Washington seems ready to start over after Robert Griffin III's benching, which means they have no solutions at all save a draft gem.

Bucs -- Worse. Manziel is better than the current stable of Bucs quarterbacks, but having the ability to draft Mariota aids Tampa Bay’s cause.

2015 Chicago Bears' draft order

December, 29, 2014
LAKE FOREST, Ill. -- The Chicago Bears own the No. 7 overall pick in the 2015 NFL draft, after falling to 5-11 overall by virtue of Sunday's 13-9 loss to the Minnesota Vikings.

The draft slot represents the club's highest since 2005, when the club used the No. 4 overall pick on running back Cedric Benson, who spent three seasons with the Bears (2005-07) before joining the Cincinnati Bengals in 2008 and later the Green Bay Packers (2012).

The Bears could go a number of directions with the No. 7 pick, given the uncertainty regarding the future of quarterback Jay Cutler, who could be an enticing trade option in the offseason, not to mention the club's subpar personnel on defense. The Bears could use Cutler and picks from later rounds to move up high enough in the order to draft one of the top quarterbacks or trade him to acquire more picks.

It's impossible to know what the club's plans are with ownership firing general manager Phil Emery on Monday along with head coach Marc Trestman.

The new general manager and head coach needs to overhaul the secondary because veteran cornerback Charles Tillman and safety Chris Conte aren't expected back. The Bears also need to address the linebacking corps because it's likely the team won't look to re-sign seven-time Pro Bowler Lance Briggs.
If -- or more likely when -- the NFL takes the draft on the road, Nashville wants in.

Per John Glennon of The Tennessean, the Tennessee Titans and Music City have told the league for some time that Nashville would like to host a draft if the NFL starts holding the spring event outside of New York.

"For at least four or five years, we've had occasional communication with the special events folks at the league, and (Titans executive) Don (MacLachlan) and I have gone up there and met with them," Nashville Convention and Visitors Corporation president Butch Spyridon said on Friday. "We expressed very serious interest that if they ever wanted to talk about (moving the draft), we wanted to be at the table. And even if they hadn't thought about it, we wanted to plant the seed.”

The league has said it is currently focused on New York, Chicago and Los Angeles for the 2015 draft.

ESPN’s Adam Schefter said the list in consideration is longer than that and also includes Dallas, Houston, Pittsburgh, Philadelphia and Boston.

Nashville wouldn’t likely be near the head of the list for an NFL draft road show. Bigger markets and markets with teams with more history probably get the nod.

But once the league starts taking the draft to other cities, Nashville is more than equipped to host and is always a big hit when big events come to town.

Downtown is compact and a giant new modern convention center would be a centerpiece for an NFL draft.

"You look at the CMA Festival (that just finished) -- 47,000 people a night for four straight nights is great," MacLachlan said. "You look at what we have to offer with the Music City Center, LP Field, downtown and all the hotel rooms. I would emphasize that Nashville has become a great destination city for conventions, for big events."
There was a lot of talking going on last weekend from the defensive side of the ball regarding the Dallas Cowboys.

It started with defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli talking about Bruce Carter needing to toughen up and play with more confidence.

Then we had secondary coach Jerome Henderson saying everybody on the defense has to improve.

Matt Eberflus, the linebackers coach, said the strongside and weakside linebacker spots, presently held by Justin Durant and Carter, are open.

[+] EnlargeRod Marinelli
AP Photo/Tim SharpAfter not reaching the postseason for a third straight year, it could be playoffs or bust for Rod Marinelli and the Cowboys' coaching staff.
But the weekend wouldn’t be complete without cornerback Brandon Carr, he of the five-year, $50.1 million free-agent contract, saying he must take over the league.

The statements from these men are fine, of course, because people need to be called out and challenged.

Yet, many of the people doing the talking were part of a defense that gave up a franchise-worst 6,645 yards last season.

The Cowboys also gave up 2,056 rushing yards, ninth-most in franchise history.

You could say the coaches can only do so much from the sidelines and you might also comment about the players working within the scheme.

In reality, if the Cowboys' defense doesn't improve in 2014, several of the people doing all the talking won’t be around to collect Jerry Jones’ checks any longer.

You see, the head coach, Jason Garrett, is in a contract year. And while Jones doesn’t believe in lame-duck statuses -- calling it a politician's word -- if the Cowboys fail to reach the postseason for a fifth consecutive season, it’s very difficult to believe the same staff and defensive pieces will return.

Marinelli is a respected coach in this league but after last season’s debacle you begin to wonder if he’s lost his fastball.

Players love playing for him.

Listen to him talk and you want to play for him.

In a bottom-line business, Marinelli convinced the front office to sign free agent Henry Melton as the new three-technique defensive tackle while coming off a torn ACL.

Defensive end Jeremy Mincey, a free-agent signing who underachieved in Jacksonville, is another Marinelli confirmation.

Marinelli loves second-round pick DeMarcus Lawrence's passion and measureables and has the hopes of inserting him as DeMarcus Ware's replacement at right defensive end.

And because of that there is an expectation for Lawrence to produce in his rookie year considering what the Cowboys gave up to get him, swapping second-round picks with the Washington Redskins and giving up a third to get him.

Of course, you expect Marinellis’ magic to continue with George Selvie (seven sacks from left defensive end) and Nick Hayden (16 quarterback pressures from defensive tackle) in 2014.

Selvie was signed in training camp when injuries began to pile up along the defensive line. Hayden was already here looking at a backup role until injuries forced him into the starting lineup.

Are Selvie and Hayden going to finally be productive players or just below average?

There’s the tricky situation at linebacker where Carter hasn’t been consistent while making the adjustment from a 3-4 scheme to a 4-3 scheme.

Marinelli called Carter out the other day at Valley Ranch, but are you really calling somebody out who got benched for poor play during the 2013 season?

This whole thing isn’t mainly on Marinelli -- it’s on a lot of other people at Valley Ranch.

When the draft ended last week, the Cowboys were praised in many circles for how well they performed. It was about defense and seven of the nine picks were for Marinelli’s unit.

The Cowboys made football decisions for a change, bypassing the flash of Johnny Manziel at quarterback, and getting the substance of tackle Zack Martin.

Adding backups for middle linebacker Sean Lee (Anthony Hitchens in the fourth round), depth for the defensive line (Ben Gardner and Ken Bishop in the seventh) and strong side (Will Smith in the seventh) along with a safety (Ahmad Dixon in the seventh) appear solid decisions.

None of it means anything if the main people on the defensive roster and men like Marinelli don’t make it work.

And while Jerry Jones is supporting the ideas of adding more playoff teams, the decisions made for his defense need to have substance in 2014.
CINCINNATI -- Cocky? Rambunctious? Bad teammate? Locker-room cancer?

The player who stood before media for nearly 15 minutes Wednesday afternoon appeared anything but all of the descriptors listed above.

[+] EnlargeAJ McCarron
Derick E. Hingle/USA TODAY SportsThe Bengals will find out sooner rather than later what kind of leader rookie QB AJ McCarron is on the field.
As new Cincinnati Bengals quarterback AJ McCarron held an unofficial introductory news conference Wednesday with reporters as he stood in the shadow of Paul Brown Stadium's South end zone, he didn't offer any overly brash proclamations or guarantees. He didn't threaten to chuck a cameraman into the stands. No teammates, either old or new, were tossed underneath any physical or metaphorical buses.

Instead, he was calm, mostly patient and polite as he answered questions. He even added, in his slight southern Alabama twang, a "no ma'am" as he prefaced one of his responses.

He showed his vulnerability, too, admitting that he was hurt by recent reports that questioned his character.

So who was this guy? Was he the same person who was chided all day Saturday and supposedly blasted all offseason behind the closed doors of several team front offices? On Wednesday, he didn't appear that way.

But remember, looks can sometimes be deceiving.

To hear McCarron and one of his former college teammates tell it, Saturday's reports were a case of mistaken persona. Two of them in particular, one from ESPN insider Adam Schefter and another from NFL Network said officials from multiple teams weren't impressed with McCarron during pre-draft meetings. Some team officials apparently felt he was too cocky and had an ego large enough to fill their entire stadiums.

McCarron, a starter on two national championship teams at Alabama, believes his confidence may have been misinterpreted as cockiness.

"Through my college years I've never been cocky," McCarron said. "I've always given respect to my teammates before myself."

Before we go too much further, let me point out I've done some homework on McCarron since Saturday. I've heard some of the same things Schefter and others did from a few people who were around Alabama's football program on a regular basis. An argument could be made that the claims I heard may have been buffered by the timing of the other remarks about McCarron that had been made earlier in the weekend, but they do come from intelligent people whom I trust.

But perhaps they misread his confidence as cockiness, too? Maybe, maybe not. I can't know for certain until I've spent more time around McCarron myself. One day isn't much of a sample size.

Bengals cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick has his share of experiences involving McCarron to rely on though. He's known the quarterback since 2009, the same year they both enrolled at Alabama. The two played three seasons together before Kirkpatrick was drafted by Cincinnati in 2012.

"He's a competitor," Kirkpatrick said. "I watched him our freshman year try to compete for the job. Obviously he didn't get the job. But he always had a great attitude about it."

Kirkpatrick added he felt McCarron outplayed the starting quarterback, recently retired and former Bengal Greg McElroy. The top job was won by the elder McElory, though, because "he had more wisdom," Kirkpatrick said.

"I've seen him get fiery," Kirkpatrick added of McCarron. "I've seen him get mad. Maybe his receivers aren't getting the ball because we're picking the balls off. He gets mad -- he gets onto them. He lets them know by saying like, 'Let's pick it up.' He doesn't like slacking players because he's not going to go out there and be a slacking player."

So the question is: Is it confidence or cockiness that really fuels McCarron? Was it confidence or cockiness that the Bengals saw?

Does it really matter which, though?

Regardless the distinction between the traits, it's clear the Bengals saw something in McCarron that they didn't see in their starting quarterback. Time will ultimately judge whether McCarron is simply confident in his abilities or just overly cocky. There is a hope around the Bengals, though, that with McCarron around, Andy Dalton will eventually develop either of the two characteristics; ones offensive coordinator Hue Jackson believes a signal-caller ought to have.

"A lot of people call me cocky," Jackson said. "I have a lot of confidence, too, and I kind of like that in a guy.

"I kind of like that in a quarterback."

NFC wrap-ups: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

CINCINNATI -- A wrap-up of the Cincinnati Bengals' draft. Click here for a full list of Bengals draftees.

[+] EnlargeDarqueze Dennard
AP Photo/Ben LiebenbergDarqueze Dennard was rated near the top of the Bengals' board, and the team ended up pouncing in the first round.
Best move: When the Bengals finalized their big board in the days leading up to the draft, they put cornerback Darqueze Dennard near the top of the list. Offensive coordinator Hue Jackson said Dennard was ranked among the team's top 10 overall players. Defensive coordinator Paul Guenther felt that rating was accurate and had few reasons to believe the man-press corner would actually fall to No. 24 where the Bengals were waiting for a defensive back. Once Justin Gilbert was scooped up by the Browns at No. 8 and Kyle Fuller came off the board to the Bears at No. 14, it started looking like a real possibility that Dennard -- rated the No. 2 cornerback on most draft boards -- would be available. That was especially the case when the Browns traded with the Eagles to move up to No. 22, taking a team with a cornerback need (Philadelphia) off the board before the Bengals' selection. As arguably the best player available when his pick was made, Dennard's selection was a wise one and deserved to be classified as the best of the Bengals' draft.

Riskiest move: It's never easy for teams to evaluate draft hopefuls who come into the draft process with arrest records, let alone convictions. That was what the Bengals had to do with running back Jeremy Hill, though, as they tried to figure out whether two separate events -- one from when Hill was in high school and another from when he was at LSU -- ought to be enough to deter them from selecting him. After consultations with Hill's coaches and others around him, the Bengals felt Hill had experienced enough of a life transformation the past several months to warrant grabbing him in the second round. Hill's conviction was for a misdemeanor sexual assault charge from his senior year of high school. He didn't play his entire first season at LSU because school officials wanted to wait until the legal process ran its course. Last year, he was arrested after punching a man in a bar fight. The incident was caught on tape. Taking him in the first place was a risky move. Doing so in the second round might have been even riskier. Time will be the judge of that.

Most surprising move: The biggest move of the Bengals draft was also its most surprising one. After four rounds went by without them selecting a quarterback, it started looking like the Bengals might end up not even entertain taking one. After all, based on their pre-draft chatter about having a firm belief in Andy Dalton, it seemed they might end up feeling so comfortable with their starter and the rest of their quarterback room that they might move beyond thinking about signing one. When quarterbacks started going off the board in the fourth and fifth rounds, though, it was time for the Bengals to act if they were going to act at all. What makes AJ McCarron's selection most surprising, though, was the fact that he was the one picked and not another quarterback. Target Aaron Murray could have been a possibility in earlier rounds. Tom Savage, too. It wasn't long after Murray's pick at 163rd overall that the Bengals did end up grabbing McCarron. They took him with the next pick.

File it away: In case you haven't already, something you might want to remember for future drafts under coach Marvin Lewis is this: He likes drafting SEC players. Entering the draft, the Bengals had claimed 26 players from the conference since Lewis' arrival in 2003. The conference that had the next-highest draft representation was the Big Ten, which had 15 selections. This year, the Bengals took three players from the SEC, including two from LSU. Their first-round pick, Dennard, is the lone Big Ten representative in this class.

CINCINNATI -- In the next few days, you'll probably read reports comparing AJ McCarron to Andy Dalton, calling the two Cincinnati Bengals quarterbacks carbon copies of each other.

Don't believe that hype.

It is true that McCarron, the Bengals' 2014 fifth-round draft pick, and Dalton, their starting quarterback, have tangible on-field similarities, but it's their difference in demeanor -- and ability to produce in big-game scenarios -- that ultimately draws a finite distinction between them.

[+] EnlargeMcCarron
John David Mercer/USA TODAY SportsThe confidence of A.J. McCarron, right, can border on cockiness, but he has the hardware to back it up.
McCarron has a confidence that borders on cockiness. Dalton is arguably the most selfless dude on a team full of compassionate personalities. McCarron has diamond-encrusted rings on his fingers, earned from helping the Alabama Crimson Tide win back-to-back national championships. Dalton has a black plastic band he wears on game days to recognize his marriage.

There's nothing wrong with either of those traits; all four are endearing qualities for different types of players to have. But the thing about each of them is that they help confirm the following: AJ McCarron is the anti-Andy.

For most Bengals fans starved for a playoff win, that is cause for celebration. Offensive coordinator Hue Jackson has to be at least a little happy to have another guy in the meeting rooms who is more similar to him than Dalton.

"A lot of people call me cocky. A lot of people say I have a lot of confidence, too," Jackson said. "I kind of like that in a guy. I kind of like that in a quarterback. You have to have a little bit of that so that you can raise above sometimes in tough times."

Now for the real question: What happens to Dalton with McCarron on the roster?

There is no easy answer, but it's clear that the rookie's presence makes the outlook on Dalton's contract extension cloudier than ever. Even if the Bengals contend Dalton is and will be their starter for the foreseeable future.

"This is not about Andy Dalton," Jackson said of the draft pick. "Andy Dalton is our quarterback. And we stand behind him 100 percent."

It is true that Dalton has been somewhat successful in the NFL. He won 30 games in his first three seasons as an NFL quarterback, and he has led the Bengals to three straight playoff berths for the first time in their history. But he still hasn't helped them earn a playoff victory and continues to struggle on the big stage.

Aside from a Monday night win over the Steelers last season -- one that was primarily fueled by running back Giovani Bernard's breakout performance -- Dalton otherwise had difficulty in prime time in 2013. He was sacked for a safety to close out the Bengals' 22-20 overtime loss at Miami on a Thursday night, and like the rest of his teammates, had trouble getting going in a 30-20 Sunday night loss at Pittsburgh near the end of the season.

Big games have been the bane of Dalton's existence. In college, they were the source of McCarron's strength.

Last season alone McCarron helped lead Alabama to a 49-42 win over Texas A&M after continually answering scores from Johnny Manziel's Aggies. It was one of the more emotional wins of Alabama's 11-win season.

Beyond that, McCarron helped rally the Tide to two straight regular-season wins over rival LSU and a pair of national championship victories. One of the title-game wins came over LSU, the other over Notre Dame.

Dalton appeared in two BCS games in college, winning one of them. His TCU Horned Frogs beat Wisconsin in the Rose Bowl his senior season.

Earlier Saturday, hours before the Bengals selected him, McCarron was the talk of social media after Adam Schefter reported during ESPN's televised draft coverage that he "rubbed [teams] the wrong way" during his pre-draft evaluations.

"He's a 'we' guy, and we'll make sure he's a 'we' guy," Bengals quarterbacks coach Ken Zampese said. "There's not going to be a 'me' guy in our room, period. I know I'm not going to stand for it and I know neither is Coach Jackson. I didn't get that impression from him."

What the Bengals believe they got was a hungry quarterback who has a self-described "chip on [his] shoulder." In a since-deleted tweet McCarron told his followers early Saturday after slipping through the first three rounds: "& y'all thought I played with a chip on my shoulder, JUST WAIT.. God has a great plan & I can't wait! #blessed #historyinthemaking."

By Saturday afternoon, after his fifth-round selection, McCarron embraced his underdog leanings.

"When I come to work, I've always kind of went to work with a chip on my shoulder," McCarron said to Cincinnati media on a conference call. "That's the thing that pushes me and has made me the player I am."

If McCarron pushes himself the way he already has, there's a good chance the anti-Andy will soon push the Bengals to places they have yet to reach under the real one.
CINCINNATI -- The pick: Will Clarke, DE, West Virginia.

My take: After going offense with their second-round pick, the Bengals returned to the defensive side of the ball in Round 3. They landed Clarke, a tall, rangy lineman who mirrors former Bengals defensive end Michael Johnson. Clarke is 6-foot-6, weighs 271 pounds and could grow even bigger, the Bengals believe. Defensive coordinator Paul Guenther said in a post-pick news conference that Clarke has a body frame that can get him up to 290 pounds. He'll be paired in the coming seasons with Margus Hunt, a 2013 second-round selection. Like Clarke, Hunt was the third player the Bengals selected in his draft class. Clarke also joins ends Robert Geathers, Wallace Gilberry and Carlos Dunlap at the position.

Bat away: One of the hallmarks of Clarke's play in college was his ability to knock down passes at the line of scrimmage. He had seven deflections his final season at West Virginia, rivaling the eight Johnson had for the Bengals last season. Johnson left Cincinnati in March, signing with Tampa Bay in free agency. Several of Johnson's deflections came at crucial moments. Two of the tips resulted in key interceptions.

What's next? The Bengals have now shored up three key position groups in defensive end, running back and cornerback. Next for Cincinnati will likely be some combination of quarterback, outside linebacker and offensive line additions in the remaining rounds. The final few rounds begin at noon ET Saturday. Expect the Bengals to possibly look for a quarterback with the fourth-round pick and then move on from there. Cincinnati has been quite pleased with where it has been able to select through the first three rounds. In each of those rounds, multiple players that were high on the Bengals' draft board were present when the picks were made. They are hopeful to see that trend continue Saturday.
CINCINNATI -- The pick: Jeremy Hill, RB, LSU.

My take: The Bengals were sitting comfortably when the 55th overall pick went on the clock Friday night. There were a slew of highly talented players whom they could have taken with their various needs. Good running backs were available, offensive linemen were available, defensive ends were available, safeties were available and linebackers were, too. So they could have gone virtually anywhere. With the Bengals moving to a more physical offense under newly promoted offensive coordinator Hue Jackson, the Bengals were smart to take a running back in the second round. In Hill, they get a big, bruising ball-carrier who can push the pile as well as make defenders miss. He is also a solid receiving threat out of the backfield, too.

Hill's addition could soon spell the end for BenJarvus Green-Ellis' time in Cincinnati. Green-Ellis split carries with Giovani Bernard last season but didn't perform as well as the Bengals had hoped. If Green-Ellis does reach chopping-block status -- and Jackson made it clear that "right now" Green-Ellis is still an option in the backfield -- he would provide the Bengals a cap savings of $2.5 million this season.

No Hyde: The Bengals had a chance to take Ohio State running back Carlos Hyde with the 55th pick, but they went with a player whom many fans weren't expecting. The Bengals liked Hyde according to Jackson and running backs coach Kyle Caskey in a post-pick news conference, but Hill's selection was in part the product of his playing in a pro-style offense and a conference as competitive as the SEC.

What's next? Now that the Bengals have addressed one offensive need, they ought to turn their focus in the third round to either defensive line or quarterback. They still need a defensive end to help fill former end Michael Johnson's shoes. Johnson signed with Tampa Bay in free agency back in March. The Bengals are also in need of offensive line help and could take a player at center, guard or tackle.
Now that the Cincinnati Bengals got their cornerback on Day 1 of the 2014 NFL draft, where might they go with their picks on Day 2?

There are a number of good options still available in Rounds 2 and 3, and trades always could occur, too. Below are some names and position groups worth keeping an eye on before the draft resumes Friday night:

Offensive line
OT Morgan Moses, Virginia
OT Cyrus Kouandjio, Alabama
OT Joel Bitonio, Nevada
OT Cameron Fleming, Stanford
OT Antonio Richardson, Tennessee
OG Xavier Su'a-Filo, UCLA
OG Trai Turner, LSU
OG John Urschel, Penn State
OG Cyril Richardson, Baylor
C Marcus Martin, USC
C Weston Richburg, Colorado State
Analysis: Moses, Kouandjio and Su'a-Filo could be the first three linemen taken in the second round. The Bengals are well positioned at No. 55 to perhaps grab whichever of the two tackles falls the furthest, if they want to make this pick an offensive lineman. Even though Su'a-Filo is a guard, he is a truly versatile lineman, having played on both the interior and edges of the line in college. He could be a good fit for the Bengals' front. If those three are gone by No. 55, Martin could be a good choice at center. Urschel and Fleming could be good third-round options if the Bengals wait until then to take linemen.

Defensive line
DE Kony Ealy, Missouri
DE Stephon Tuitt, Notre Dame
DE Scott Crichton, Oregon State
DE Kareem Martin, North Carolina
DE Taylor Hart, Oregon
DE William Clarke, West Virginia
DT Timmy Jernigan, Florida State
Analysis: The Bengals truly have their pick of the litter at defensive end in the second and third rounds. Ealy, Tuitt and Crichton were players who had drawn first-round projections by a lot of early mock drafts, so don't be surprised if they are all taken by the end of the second round. Tuitt doesn't fit the Bengals' scheme as well as Ealy and Crichton would, but he's an option in case the other two are gone before 55. Martin, Hart and Clarke all have the height the Bengals could be considering at end, as they try replacing 6-foot-7 Michael Johnson, who batted eight passes at the line of scrimmage last season. Jernigan is a nose tackle reared in a 4-3 base system who could fit if the Bengals wanted another interior lineman.

OLB Jeremiah Attaochu, Georgia Tech
OLB Kyle Van Noy, BYU
OLB Trent Murphy, Stanford
OLB Telvin Smith, Florida State
Analysis: The linebacker pool weakens significantly after the second and third round, so the Bengals might consider making a move there Friday night. Attaochu is a rangy, hard-hitting "Will" linebacker who played in both 3-4 and 4-3 schemes in college. Van Noy might have the best coverage skills of those listed. Murphy is more of a "Sam" linebacker who could be best used in run support. Smith is a combination linebacker who played inside and outside in college. He reportedly failed the combine drug test, potentially dropping him into the fourth round or later. The Bengals primarily need cover linebackers such as Van Noy, but they will be looking to replace "Sam" backer James Harrison somehow this season, too.

S Terrence Brooks, Florida State
S Brock Vereen, Minnesota
S Craig Loston, LSU
Analysis: Now Danieal Manning's late-free agency signing seems to be coming into focus. It would appear the Bengals were potentially anticipating an early run on safeties and cornerbacks, and they thought it best to add a solid veteran in case they weren't able to land a safety in the draft who could compete right away. If they add another defensive back in this draft, that player might come in the later rounds as an addition strictly for depth. Among this list, Brooks is the most enticing option, but he'll likely be gone before No. 55. A hard-hitter who has ball-hawking tendencies, he has high potential. Vereen is similar, and Loston hails from the SEC, the conference the Bengals have drafted from the most under coach Marvin Lewis.

QB AJ McCarron, Alabama
QB Zach Mettenberger, LSU
QB Derek Carr, Fresno State
QB Aaron Murray, Georgia
QB Tom Savage, Pittsburgh
QB Jimmy Garoppolo, Eastern Illinois
Analysis: Don't expect the Bengals to act on a quarterback until the third round, and even then that could be a reach. The player on this list who seems to make the most sense is Murray. He's a possible third-round talent who played one year with Bengals receiver A.J. Green and spent high school and most of college passing to then-tight end Orson Charles. Don't be surprised if Murray actually slips, much like the other quarterbacks, to the fourth round. After the first half of the second round, few teams have major quarterback needs.

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.
Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel told Pro Football Talk Live on Thursday that it would be cool to play for the Dallas Cowboys.

There are several mock drafts, ESPN's Todd McShay's and NFL Network's Mike Mayock, that have the Cowboys selecting Manziel in the first round.

The Cowboys, with the No. 16 overall pick, have needs along the defense and general manager Jerry Jones said this week that he doesn't want to draft a quarterback to sit behind Tony Romo for one or two seasons.

Still, the possibility of drafting Manziel has raised speculation about the Cowboys' thought process.

"I mean anything is possible," Manziel said on Pro Football Talk Live. "I think all 32 teams are in play, you never know. Some of these teams, they’ve done way wackier things than that. For me it would really, really cool to go there, but not something I have stuck in my head. Jerry Jones has been extremely nice to me. He’s treated me very, very well and we’ve developed a little bit of a friendship over the past year and a half, just going to games or whatever it be."

Manziel has attended sporting events at AT&T Stadium, where he's met Jones. Manziel has also hung out with Cowboys wide receiver Dez Bryant recently, so there is a mutual respect from members in the organization, whether's its somebody in the front office to one of the players.

But it doesn't guarantee the Cowboys will draft Manziel.

"I went to A&M, redshirted, and sat behind [Ryan] Tannehill and learned a lot," Manziel said. "There’s guys that [have] been in the league and know a lot more than I know going in. If I need to sit and learn from them for a year or whatever the case may be, then I’m openly willing to do that if that’s what’s best for the team. That’s all I care about."
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."
Jadeveon ClowneyJoe Robbins/Getty ImagesAmong NFL Hall of Famers, there is no consensus on whether Jadeveon Clowney will be a success.

CLEVELAND -- Potential No. 1 pick Jadeveon Clowney exhibits the physical gifts necessary for him to ascend to the level of the men sporting the gold blazers and strolling the floors here at the IX Center for the Pro Football Hall of Fame Fan Fest.

That’s the only consensus you’ll find among Hall of Famers regarding Clowney, who is widely considered the most physically talented prospect of the 2014 draft class. Yet he's also someone who could turn out to be an NFL also-ran type of player -- or worse, a bust.

“I wouldn’t take Clowney [with the No. 1 pick],” Vikings Hall of Famer Chris Doleman said. “And if you have a young team, it’s going to be hard to control someone who doesn’t want to work. He needs to be on a veteran team that says, ‘Look, rook, this is what you’re going to do, not what you got to do, we would like you to do, but what you’re going to do.’

"Clowney has great measurables. But the thing you can’t measure is his will. If you give a lazy man, and I chose that word, $30, $40, $50 million, whatever [the first pick] gets, you think he’s going to work harder? He’ll be like, ‘This is great, I’ll get through this first contract and I’m good.’ Great player, but you can’t turn it on when you want to. Every one of these guys from the Pro Football Hall of Fame, there was no quit in him.”

Hall of Fame receiver Cris Carter called Clowney a “once-every-20-years type of athlete.” Yet with every glowing word comes the cautionary “but” as a preface for the other side of the equation.

“His game tape doesn’t necessarily match up with his overall athletic ability,” Carter said. “Anytime a guy can run 4.4, 4.48, 4.45 at the combine electronically, he’s very, very explosive. With those types of dimensions, you wonder whether he is gonna have the work ethic or desire to one day be like a Reggie White, like a Bruce Smith. Or is he going to be someone like Jevon Kearse, who had a good career, not a great career; or someone considered a disappointment like Aundray Bruce? [Bruce had] tremendous athletic ability but not necessarily the technique or the careers of a Reggie or a [Smith].”

The concerns are warranted. After Clowney generated 13 sacks and 23.5 tackles for loss as a junior in 2012, his production as a senior slipped to three sacks and 11.5 tackles for loss.

Nagging injuries likely played a role. But there was also speculation of a lackadaisical approach to the game, while some even questioned whether Clowney was merely preserving his health as a senior at South Carolina for the eventual move to the NFL.

“I think Clowney is [worthy of being taken No. 1 overall], yeah,” Hall of Fame quarterback Warren Moon said. “There are questions about him as far as how hard he plays all the time. But I’ll tell you what: When he does play, there’s not too many better.”

So while Hall of Fame defensive linemen such as Dan Hampton and Fred Dean say they’d draft Clowney with the No. 1 pick, some draft analysts use phrases such as “lazy in techniques” or that Clowney “disappears for stretches” of games.

Despite those knocks, some have wondered whether Clowney could be the second coming of Hall of Fame pass-rusher Lawrence Taylor.

Taylor’s former teammate, Hall of Fame linebacker Harry Carson, says to hold off on showering praise prematurely.

“Lawrence is the best defensive player that I’ve had the opportunity to play with or against. For someone who has not stepped on the pro football field yet ... and believe me, there’s a world of difference between college and pro. When you’re at the pro level, you’re playing more games. You’re playing at a higher rate of speed. It’s more intense,” Carson said. “You’ve got to be able to play every play. Lawrence played every play. I think the comparison between him and Lawrence Taylor is ludicrous. As Carl Banks has already said, there’s only one Lawrence Taylor. I played with him, and he played full speed every play. I’m not quite ready to put Mr. Clowney into that role of being another Lawrence Taylor, not yet.”

Maybe Clowney will turn out to be more like Aundray Bruce. It could happen.

The top pick of the 1988 NFL draft out of Auburn, Bruce played 64 games (34 starts) for the Atlanta Falcons, who signed him to a five-year contract worth $5.1 million. Similar to Clowney, Bruce possessed near off-the-charts physical attributes (6-5, 255 pounds, 4.53-second 40-yard dash). But for whatever reason, things never panned out for Bruce, a linebacker whom the Falcons -- in an effort to salvage their investment -- tried playing at defensive end, defensive tackle, tight end and even receiver.

Bruce lasted four years with the Falcons and spent time the last seven years of his career with the Raiders. He finished his career with 32 sacks over 11 years and never made the Pro Bowl.

Might a similar fate await Clowney?

“That’s all waiting to be seen,” said Hall of Fame running back Franco Harris. “Has [Clowney] reached his potential? Did he have to have to do whatever he did in college, or was he able to get by with what he had? Now going into that next level, who will be able to bring out the best in him? Who will be able to make him reach his potential because we all know he has it.

“People can say what they want about that sort of stuff because that can change. It depends on if he’s with that team where he can have that motivation and hunger that he wants to win the Super Bowl or he wants to be the best. There are a lot of things that play into this.”

Indeed. But there’s no question in a league now driven by quarterbacks, the best way to neutralize their impact is to pressure them often. Hampton believes “the No. 1 thing in the game is a quarterback who can’t be stopped,” and that Clowney truly is “your quarterback stopper.”

“I’ve seen Clowney on tape ...” said Pittsburgh Steelers Hall of Famer Jack Ham. “But you’re not on the level of pro football. Not that he won’t be outstanding. Talentwise, he’s a phenom. I’ve seen the 40-yard dashes and the 275 or whatever he weighs. In pro football, you have to bring it every play. I’m sure there’s going to be question marks about that. I’m sure he was double-teamed a lot at South Carolina, but you can beat double-teams. That’s probably one of the questions [the Houston Texans] have if they don’t take him No. 1.”

There seem to be many. What’s unquestionable is that before Clowney’s arrival at South Carolina, the Gamecocks had never won more than 10 games in a season. In each of Clowney’s three years as a Gamecock, the school posted 11-2 records.

Surely Clowney contributed heavily in many of those victories.

“Every team I’ve ever played with, we’ve never had a losing season. Never,” Clowney said. “Before I got there, I watched them lose. Not just here, back in high school, middle school. I was like, ‘Man, that ain’t going to be my team when I play on that team.'”

Dean, a former 49ers defensive end who was enshrined into the Hall in 2008, sees in Clowney “a lot of me when I played” in terms of quickness and explosive power. “I know he’s stronger than you could imagine,” he added. Harris sees those attributes in Clowney, too. But in terms of comparing the defensive end to players of yesteryear, “everybody has to stand on their own,” which is why he’s “kind of anxious to see how that’s gonna play out [with Clowney] in the NFL.”

Carter, meanwhile, “wouldn’t be surprised if someone tried to move up to draft Clowney.” But in assessing Clowney’s future, Carter made it a point to toss in the former South Carolina star’s name with a mix of Hall of Famers, a bust, and a player in Kearse, who produced a very good but not great NFL career.

“I mentioned all four of those guys for a reason, because he’s comparable to those guys athletically," Carter said. “But there’s something about Bruce and Reggie that set them apart from the rest.”

Will there be something about Clowney that puts him in that class?

“Clowney is just one of those guys who, if everything was in a perfect world, he has the skill set like no other,” Hall of Fame cornerback Rod Woodson said. “But a lot of guys that come through this league have a skill set like no other. If he keeps improving each and every year, he could be wearing a yellow [Hall of Fame] jacket. And those are the guys you’re shooting for. At the end of the day, I think you have to take somebody with that skill set thinking and hoping that your coaching staff can get the best out of him.”