Pre-Free Agency Mock Draft, picks 17-24

You can read part 1 and part 2 at those links. We kick off the second half of the first round…

17. Pittsburgh Steelers – Jarvis Jones, OLB, Georgia

Jarvis Jones, at one point considered the #1 overall prospect, seems like an easy choice here if he falls this far. The latest reports are that his spinal stenosis is not nearly as serious as initially considered, and as the Steelers are cutting James Harrison, they need a new rush linebacker. Jones’ talent seems like a natural fit here.

The Steelers could certainly go elsewhere– they don’t have any glaring holes, but they don’t have a lot of star talent, either.

18. Dallas Cowboys – Sheldon Richardson, DT, Missouri

The team’s biggest weaknesses are in their interior lines. Chance Warmack and Jonathan Cooper are already gone in this draft, so the defensive line gets a look here. Richardson will be a great fit in the new 4-3 defense, he’s good value here, and since the team has franchised Anthony Spencer, they don’t need to add an outside rusher immediately. (This pick becomes more urgent if the team decides not to retain Jay Ratliff.)

19. New York Giants – Bjoern Werner, DE, Florida St.

Early mocks had Werner as a top-5 pick. He’s slipped somewhat since then, as more athletic specimens have rocketed past Werner, who doesn’t quite have the athletic burst of players like Dion Jordan or Ziggy Ansah. Werner was quite productive at Florida State, though, and he has an ideal build for a 4-3 defensive end. With the Giants almost certainly losing Osi Umenyiora this offseason, Werner gives them an ideal replacement, and if he pans out, could pair with Jason Pierre-Paul as the team’s next set of long-term pass rushers.

20. Chicago Bears – Tavon Austin, WR, West Virginia

One thing’s for sure: Chicago still continues to need improvements to an offense that, outside of Jay Cutler, Matt Forte, and Brandon Marshall, has been woefully unproductive, particularly along the offensive line. Unfortunately, with five offensive linemen having been drafted already, the value at that position isn’t quite there for the Bears to take an offensive lineman with this pick.

I don’t think Tavon Austin is the best wide receiver prospect in this draft, strictly speaking, but his combination of speed and lateral quickness will make a nice complement to the size on the outside of Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffery. Austin is a fairly unique prospect in this draft, and other teams in the first round will be looking at him, so the Bears will need to pull the trigger now on him if they want him. New Bears head coach Marc Trestman is offensive-minded, so it’s not hard to imagine him wanting a player that gives him some flexibility and creativity in offensive schemes. I see him being used in a manner similar to Percy Harvin in Minnesota.

21. Cincinnati Bengals – Kenny Vaccaro, S, Texas

Cincinnati is another team I find somewhat difficult to mock because they have no glaring weaknesses. They have units that are stronger than others, and players who could stand to be upgraded if the opportunity presented himself (I, at least, include Andy Dalton among that number), but no glaring, obvious holes.

I’m taking Vaccaro with this pick because he seems to be the most talented player on the board at this point. Reggie Nelson was adequate filling in this year, but he’s still, on balance, a guy who can’t really cover and made his reputation in college on big hits. Giving them a premium all-around safety like Vaccaro would really patch up the secondary and strengthen the defense as a whole.

22. St. Louis Rams (from Washington) – Johnathan Hankins, DT, Ohio St.

There seems to be a strong sense that the Rams will draft a receiver with one of their first-round picks. I don’t see it– they used two picks last year on a deep threat (Chris Givens) and a guy who ostensibly could be a #1 receiver (Brian Quick), so I don’t expect them to draw from that well again, especially given the amount of time a wide receiver usually takes to adjust to the NFL. I’m taking a guess that Jeff Fisher and Jaime Lannister Les Snead value building from the trenches and will take Hankins here to provide a long-term solution on the interior defensive line next to Michael Brockers.

23. Minnesota Vikings – Keenan Allen, WR, California

Most mocks have the Vikings taking a wide receiver with this pick, which is no surprise given the total lack of weapons the team has outside of Percy Harvin (and especially considering he may be gone before the season starts). I think Christian Ponder is pretty bad and will not be the answer at QB, but the team is likely to at least give him a shot with some capable receiving talent around him before they give up on him for good.

24. Indianapolis Colts – D.J. Fluker, OT, Alabama

It’s remarkable how many holes a team that won 11 games last year can actually have. The defense needs help at every position, especially since Dwight Freeney has been finally let go, and the offensive line is pretty spare outside the competent Anthony Castonzo. Fluker would provide an immediate upgrade at right tackle that should help solidify the whole line.

Xavier Rhodes is also still on the board and would be a fine addition at CB here. Really, the Colts need to be thinking about filling as many holes as possible in this draft, which may even merit trading down if someone has a player they really like and the picks to move up (San Francisco could be this team by sheer volume of draft picks owned).

Last eight picks coming soon.

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