The strength at the top of this year's draft is very clearly at defensive tackle in a draft that is expected to mark the first time that two defensive tackles are selected first and second overall. The $64 million question is: Who will be the first defender drafted?
Underclassmen are expected to dominate the first round as usual, with PFW projecting 18 underclassmen to be drafted in the first round in all, including 10 of the top 15.
With needs not clearly defined prior to free agency, PFW placed a higher premium on matching the value of talent to the approximate range. As new information is gleaned from the college all-star season to the NFL Scouting Combine to pro-day workouts and extensive team interviews, player grades inevitably will change and could have a significant effect on where players eventually are drafted in April.
Editor's note: Underclassmen are denoted by the pound sign (#).
1. St. Louis Rams
DT Gerald McCoy, Oklahoma#
Despite Ndamukong Suh's sensational late momentum surge when he finished fourth in Heisman Trophy voting, McCoy is the safest pick in the draft. He fits Steve Spagnuolo's defense better than Suh, is a better pass rusher and will make the more immediate impact.
2. Detroit Lions
DT Ndamukong Suh, Nebraska
Having worked with Albert Haynesworth in Tennessee, Jim Schwartz knows what a dominating defensive tackle can do for a defense. Suh can become a force inside.
3. Tampa Bay Buccaneers
DE Jason Pierre-Paul, South Florida#
After trading away the late Gaines Adams during the season, GM Mark Dominik needs to upgrade a pass rush that ranked near the bottom of the league, and Pierre-Paul has unique rush ability.
4. Washington Redskins
QB Sam Bradford, Oklahoma#
Mike Shanahan loves quarterbacks, but he could choose to upgrade the offensive line and give Jason Campbell a chance to learn his offense. However, if he wants to build a new foundation, a more quick-rhythm passer is needed.
5. Kansas City Chiefs
OLT Bryan Bulaga, Iowa#
GM Scott Pioli needs to protect the investment he made in Matt Cassel and provide more time in the pocket for him to deliver. Pioli will have greater respect for a lineman well schooled by Kirk Ferentz, whom Pioli worked with in Cleveland.
6. Seattle Seahawks
OLT Russell Okung, Oklahoma State
The first order of business for new GM John Schneider will be finding replacements for Walter Jones and Matt Hasselbeck, and Okung could be tabbed earlier than his talent warrants to replace Jones.
7. Cleveland Browns
WR Dez Bryant, Oklahoma State#
Eric Mangini strongly considered selecting Michael Crabtree, and the Browns are now even more devoid of playmakers after shipping Braylon Edwards to the Jets. Bryant is in a class of his own as a playmaker, and new football czar Mike Holmgren has shown he will roll the dice on immense talent, as he did with Koren Robinson in Seattle.
8. Oakland Raiders
OLT Trent Williams, Oklahoma
Al Davis gave JaMarcus Russell a runner and receiver after mistakenly selecting the lazy quarterback with the first overall pick in 2007. The last effort to resurrect a sagging investment is a franchise left tackle who can give Russell more clearly needed time in the pocket to make reads.
9. Buffalo Bills
OLT Anthony Davis, Rutgers#
More important than a quarterback is a blind-side protector who can keep the Bills' quarterbacks healthy. Trading Jason Peters last offseason proved to be costly.
10. Denver Broncos* (from Chicago)
FS Eric Berry, Tennessee#
Tough, instinctive and hard-hitting, Berry brings emotion to the field and is the type of competitor Josh McDaniels sought in his first year on the job. Berry can pair with Brian Dawkins to give the Broncos two hammers in the middle.
11. Jacksonville Jaguars*
OLB Sean Weatherspoon, Missouri
In the same magical draft slot that produced Patrick Willis and DeMarcus Ware could come another potential great pro for GM Gene Smith.
12. Miami Dolphins
OLB Sergio Kindle, Texas
Kindle may not be quite as big as Bill Parcells desires his linebackers to be, but he is explosive and can make plays with his hand on the ground the same way a younger Joey Porter used to be able to do.
13. San Francisco 49ers
QB Jimmy Clausen, Notre Dame#
Alex Smith made strides with a better supporting cast, but if the offense is to take another step, Jimmy Raye will need more efficiency at the QB position. The Irish brought the Niners good luck in 1979.
14. Seattle Seahawks (from Denver)
DE Derrick Morgan, Georgia Tech#
Patrick Kerney is on his last legs, and Lawrence Jackson and Darryl Tapp have struggled to get the job done. Morgan's energy could attract Pete Carroll's interest.
15. New York Giants
MLB Rolando McClain, Alabama#
Aging Antonio Pierce is coming off a career-threatening type of injury, and the defense slumped in his absence. McClain brings the commanding presence to step in early.
16. San Francisco 49ers* (from Carolina)
OL Mike Iupati, Idaho
Iupati has the physical ability to play guard or either tackle position, but regardless of where he lines up, he can help establish the smashmouth identity Mike Singletary seeks.
17. Tennessee Titans*
DT Jared Odrick, Penn State
The lack of inside pressure following Albert Haynesworth's departure crippled the Titans' defense, and Odrick has the quickness to be disruptive.
18. Pittsburgh Steelers
C Maurkice Pouncey, Florida#
The Steelers' offensive line has slowly deteriorated since Russ Grimm departed, and the need for a new anchor and the lack of quality at the center position could bring Pouncey off the board sooner than expected.
19. Atlanta Falcons*
CB Joe Haden, Florida#
The Falcons gave up too many yards against the pass, and Mike Smith could sorely use more help in the secondary.
20. Houston Texans*
RB C.J. Spiller, Clemson
Passing on Reggie Bush could turn out to bring the Texans even more blessings if they could land a player with more talent at the 20th slot.
21. Cincinnati Bengals
TE Jermaine Gresham, Oklahoma
The Bengals' passing game was shut down by the Jets in the playoffs, and the addition of a playmaking pass catcher such as Gresham would force defenses to play more honestly and not be able to stack the box as much.
22. New England Patriots
WR Golden Tate, Notre Dame#
Losing No. 3 WR Jabar Gaffney affected the Patriots' offense more than expected, and Tate would have an accelerated learning curve, coming from Charlie Weis' offense.
23. Green Bay Packers
OLT Bruce Campbell, Maryland#
GM Ted Thompson has a penchant for physical marvels and a history of overlooking some durability concerns, as he did with Justin Harrell. Campbell fills a prime position of need and well suits the Packers' zone-blocking scheme.
24. Philadelphia Eagles
DE Carlos Dunlap, Florida#
A strong-willed coaching staff has proven it can maximize the talent of an exceptional player with some character flaws.
25. Baltimore Ravens
WR Arrelious Benn, Illinois#
The Ravens sorely need some offensive playmakers around Joe Flacco, and GM Ozzie Newsome will not be deterred by the declining production of an injured Benn in what was a struggling, stale Illinois offense.
26. Arizona Cardinals
FS Taylor Mays, USC
On paper, Mays looks like a top-five pick. On the field, he played like a third-rounder this past season. The Cardinals often open the net for falling big-name talent and could be in the market for a safety with Adrian Wilson getting older and Antrel Rolle's contract needing to be addressed.
27. Dallas Cowboys
FS Earl Thomas, Texas#
The inability to cover the deep middle exposed the Cowboys' defense against the Vikings in the playoffs, and Thomas' range and playmaking ability on the back half could complete the defense.
28. San Diego Chargers
OT Vladimir Ducasse, Massachusetts
The Chargers' struggles running the ball can be tied in part to an injury-prone offensive line, and Ducasse could help open more holes from the right tackle position.
29. New York Jets
WR Demaryius Thomas, Georgia Tech#
Even after acquiring Braylon Edwards, the Jets still need to give Mark Sanchez more weapons, and Thomas would provide another big target.
30. Minnesota Vikings
CB Patrick Robinson, Florida State
Robinson does not have the physicality of an aging Antoine Winfield or Cedric Griffin, but he could upgrade the Vikings' nickel package with his cover skills.
31. New Orleans Saints**
LB Sean Lee, Penn State
The Saints have been exploring upgrades at the linebacker position for years, and Lee has the intelligence defensive coordinator Gregg Williams desires and fits the tough-minded mold of LB coach Joe Vitt.
32. Indianapolis Colts**
DT Dan Williams, Tennessee
The Colts sought to go bigger inside after defensive coordinator Larry Coyer joined the staff, and Williams would give them a strong, active inside presence suitable for their new scheme.
* — Picks will be determined by a coin flip.
** — Super Bowl winner picks 32nd, loser 31st.
PFW has launched its brand-new NFL Draft Newsletter series, with the second issue now ready for mailing and a third issue focusing on underclassmen to be published in the next few weeks. Produced by PFW's player personnel department under the direction of Nolan Nawrocki, the series consists of four information-packed issues. For more info or to subscribe — click here for PDF e-pub or here for print format. You can also find details about other draft-related publications in the PFW store.