NFL DRAFT: Here’s who the experts say the Eagles, Steelers and Ravens could pick in 1st round
The NFL Draft kicks off Thursday night in Dallas with the first round. (You can watch a simulcast of the NFL Network’s coverage right here on FOX43.)
While most of the attention will be focused on who the Cleveland Browns will select with their No. 1 and No. 4 picks and whether Penn State superstar Saquon Barkley will wind up with the New York Giants at No. 2, Central Pennsylvania fans of the Philadelphia Eagles, Pittsburgh Steelers and Baltimore Ravens will have to wait quite a while before their teams pick.
Here are some of the players those teams will be considering when their numbers come up, according to the majority of draft experts:
1st-round selection: 32
Projection: The majority of draft analysts and mock drafts have the Eagles selecting one of four players — either running back Darrius Guice (LSU), running back Sony Michel (Georgia), cornerback Jaire Alexander (Louisville) or safety Justin Reid (Stanford).
Guice, a 5-11, 218-pound banger, would be a natural replacement for LeGarrette Blount, who left for Detroit via free agency after helping the Birds win their first Super Bowl. With Jay Ajayi and Corey Clement already established in the backfield and Wendell Smallwood and Darnell Pumphrey hoping to earn playing time after sitting out much of last season with injuries, adding another back might seem like a head-scratching move.
But the four experts who predict that the Eagles will take Guice (Will Brinson and Ryan Wilson of CBS Sports, Tony Pauline of Draft Analyst, NFL Draft Scout Dane Brugler, and Michael Kist of Bleeding Green Nation) point out that you can never have too many bodies in the backfield — and that approach proved to be a winning formula for Philly last year.
Guice rushed for 3,074 yards and 29 touchdowns on 471 carries in three years at LSU, including 1,387 yards and 15 TDs as a sophomore. He entered the draft class as a junior.
ESPN analyst Todd McShay and NFL.com’s Daniel Jeremiah buy into that philosophy, too — but they expect the Birds to go with Michel at No. 32. The former Georgia Bulldog was part of a backfield by committee last season, but still racked up 1,227 yards and 16 touchdowns on 156 carries. His best performance came during Georgia’s 54-48 double-overtime win over Oklahoma in the Rose Bowl, when he racked up 181 yards and three touchdowns on 11 carries and caught four passes for 41 yards and another score.
If the Eagles decide to go with defense, then Reid would be a natural fit in the secondary, according to BleedingGreenNation’s Benjamin Solak and DrafTek. Philly has shown plenty of interest in the versatile defensive back in spite of the fact that they already have a good tandem in starters Malcolm Jenkins and Rodney McLeod.
Alexander is the pick for SBNation’s Dan Kadar and NFL Draft Scouting’s Rob Rang. He would be a viable replacement for Patrick Robinson, who left in free agency, and could fill an immediate need covering the slot receiver when the Eagles go to their nickel package.
Of course, another option for the Eagles could be to trade out of the first round and earn themselves some much-needed draft picks. Right now, Philly only has six picks in this year’s draft, and would prefer to have more. They could find a willing partner looking to jump up into the first round, and the chance to move back a few slots in exchange for extra picks might be too tempting to pass up.
1st-round selection: 28
Projection: The vast majority of draft experts seem to believe the Steelers will go for defense with their first-round selection, and at least five of those experts point to Alabama linebacker Rashaan Evans as the most likely pick. Evans, who played middle linebacker for the NCAA champion Crimson Tide, is a tough, physical player that fits the Steelers’ mold. The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette’s Ray Fittipaldo, NFL.com’s Bucky Brooks and Maurice Jones-Drew, CBS Sports’ Will Brinson, and Walter Football all predict Evans will be wearing Steelers black at the end of the first round.
The bulk of the other draft experts believe the Steelers will either go with a linebacker or bolster their secondary, but none of them can agree on who they’ll pick.
Another interesting possibility is that Pittsburgh defies conventional wisdom and beats the Eagles to Guice, which would mean that disgruntled starter Le’Veon Bell could be on his way out of town. Chris Trapasso of CBS Sports believes that’s how it’ll shake out on Thursday.
Here’s another intriguing possibility, according to Nathan Jahnke of Pro Football Focus: The Steelers look to a future without quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, trade back from No. 28 to earn a few extra draft picks, then move back into the end of the round to select Wyoming quarterback Josh Allen, who would benefit from a year or two of learning from Roethlisberger before taking the reins when Big Ben retires.
1st-round selection: 16
Projection: Even though the Ravens added wideouts Michael Crabtree and John Brown in free agency, the slim majority of NFL draft experts still think they could bolster their receiving corps with the 16th overall pick by selecting Alabama’s Calvin Ridley.
A three-year starter for the Crimson Tide, the 6-1, 190-pound Ridley caught 224 passes for 2,781 yards and 19 touchdowns over his career. One of his five TDs last season came in Alabama’s 26-23 overtime victory over Georgia in the national championship game.
Ridley’s route running and reliable hands make him an ideal fit with the Ravens, according to NFL.com’s Pete Schrager, CBS Sports’ Jared Dubin, and Bleacher Report’s Matt Miller.
If Baltimore decides to add to its defense instead, the pick could be linebacker Marcus Davenport of Texas-San Antonio, according to Pro Football Focus, The Sporting News’ Vinnie Iyer, and the New York Post’s Steve Serby. Baltimore’s 3-4 defense could use someone like Davenport manning the outside, and he could serve as a replacement for aging veteran Terrell Suggs in the future. At 6-foot-6 and 264 pounds, Davenport would add a physical presence to the Ravens’ linebacking unit.
One other interesting possiblity: Penn State tight end Mike Gesicki would fill two needs for the Ravens, according to Cleveland Browns draft expert Jake Burns. Baltimore needs a new tight end and a dynamic receiver, and the athletic Gesicki is both.