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NFL Mock Draft 2015: Franchise-Altering Projections for 1st-Round Prospects

Published by Bleacher Report on Tue, 10 Feb 2015

Sometimes, drafting the right player in the first round can immediately alter the outlook of an NFL franchise.Let's take Carolina Panthers linebacker Luke Kuechly for example. A tackling machine out of Boston College, the Panthers selected him ninth overall in 2012 following a disastrous 2011 campaign in which the team's defense ranked 28th in the league. Well, Kuechly's been in the NFL for three years now, and the Panthers defense has finished each of those seasons with a top-10 ranking, making the playoffs twice in the process.Unfortunately, the wrong player can have an equally adverse affect on a team's future. Not to pick on the Jacksonville Jaguars here, but selecting Blaine Gabbert at No. 10 overall in 2011 and Justin Blackmon at No. 5 overall in 2012 are big reasons why the team has the third overall selection this year.We may not know which players will be this year's studs and duds just yet, but at least we can take a look at what each franchise is likely to do in the first round of the draft based on team needs and available prospects.Analyzing Selections of Wild-Card TeamsEach season, four teams make the playoffs as wild cards. These squads are aptly named, as sometimes they are immediately ousted from Super Bowl contention, but other times they go on to hoist the coveted Lombardi Trophythe 2010 Green Bay Packers were the most recent team to accomplish this feat.This past year, wild-card squads didn't fare so well, as the Cincinnati Bengals, Arizona Cardinals and Detroit Lions left the postseason without a win, and the Baltimore Ravens exited one round later.All four of these teams certainly have what it takes to make it back to the playoffs once again next season; however, roster upgrades will be necessary. Here's a look at how each team could make those improvements in the draft's first round.21. Cincinnati Bengals: Shaq Thompson, OLB, WashingtonCincinnati's once-ferocious defense took a big step backward in 2014. The Bengals finished the regular season ranked 22nd in yards allowed, and much of that was due to a lack of pressure on opposing quarterbacks, as they also finished with just 20 sacksdead last in the league. Not only does this team need a boost along the defensive line, but linebacker Rey Maualuga is set to hit the open market.Selecting the 6'2", 231-pound Thompson here gives Cincinnati the versatility and depth it needs going forward. Thompson is a highly athletic player who is very instinctive and reliable in the open field. He could fill a need within the linebacker corps or help in the defensive line's rotation in passing situations.23. Detroit Lions: Malcom Brown, DT, TexasThis selection is contingent on defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh leaving the Lions via free agencya scenario that appears rather likely to happen. Detroit boasts the NFL's top-ranked run defense from last season; however, the team doesn't have the necessary depth on the interior of its defensive line to keep that trend going.Adding the 6'4", 320-pound Brown at No. 23 overall will help ensure the team's success against the run will continue. He has a very wide frame and a solid base that allows him to anchor himself to the ground and plug up holes against the run. With a quick burst off the line and good upper-body strength, Brown is no stranger to causing problems in passing situations as well.24. Arizona Cardinals: Melvin Gordon, RB, WisconsinThe Cardinals showed practically zero signs of life out of the backfield in 2014, finishing the regular season ranked 31st in rushing offense. Andre Ellington doesn't appear to have what it takes to be a featured running back, and the team is lacking viable options behind him.One quick way to fix that situation is selecting the nation's most prolific ball-carrier from a season ago. At Wisconsin, the 6'1", 207-pound Gordon amassed 2,587 yards and 29 touchdowns in 2014 due to his great combination of size, power, burst and speed. His ability to explode through the line of scrimmage and avoid arm tackles will get Arizona's running game back on track in a hurry.26. Baltimore Ravens: Quinten Rollins, CB, Miami (OH)Baltimore was pretty solid across the board in 2014; however, the team's major Achilles' heel was in the secondary. Due to a lack of depth and a fair amount of injuries, the Ravens struggled to contain the league's better passing offenses, finishing the regular season ranked 23rd against the pass.At No. 26 overall, Baltimore will acquire a prospect with enormous upside in Rollins. The Miami product has good length for his 5'11", 193-pound frame. A great athlete, Rollins has a nice blend of flexibility, acceleration, physicality and fluidity. He's inexperienced at cornerback, but that didn't stop him from receiving MAC Defensive Player of the Year honors in 2014. Simply put, Rollins' upside is tremendous.
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