Monthly Archives: April 2009

FR: 2009 NFL Draft review

After putting out first (and second) thoughts on the draft, and sharing some local knowledge, we now want to take time to compare each team’s draft class to each other. Because draft grades are just as useless as power rankings, we’re going to do this the Football Relativity way. We’ll compare each team’s haul to the others, with the best hauls at 10 on the scale and the worst haul at 1.

10 – Patriots – The Patriots traded down (as usual), but they got a load of talent. Second-rounders DT Ron Brace and CB Darius Butler were great picks, and I expect S Patrick Chung and OT Sebastian Vollmer to become starters as well. Then there’s third-rounder Brandon Tate, who was a first-round talent before a knee injury and a reported positive drug test dropped his stock. There are at least three and maybe five hits there, not even considering the guys they picked later. Plus, New England amassed two extra second-round picks next year. This was exactly the kind of draft a veteran contender needs to restock and continue moving forward.

9 – Jets – This was a completely opposite draft from New England’s, but just as effective. The price to move up to get QB Mark Sanchez was right, and the Jets showed enough gumption to pay it. (I actually think the Jets might have ended up paying less in the trade to move to 5 than they would have to move to 8.) Sanchez sets the Jets up long term, which is the best thing you can do in a draft. Shonn Greene is a good running back, and given Leon Washington’s impending free agency and Thomas Jones’ contract squabble, that could quickly become a position of need for Gang Green.

8 – Giants – Jerry Reese has quickly established himself as a good drafter, and he did a good job again. First-rounder  WR Hakeem Nicks has a world of talent and produced at a high level in college, and he’s at a need position. The question is whether the pressure to replace Plaxico Burress overwhelms Nicks and hinders his development. Getting OT William Beatty and OLB Clint Sintim in the second round was really good value and fortifies the Giants’ biggest strengths. Both should be starter-caliber down the line. Ramses Barden is a huge receiver who is an intriguing prospect, and fourth-round Andre Brown could end up replacing Derrick Ward as fire in the RB troika. The Giants will continue as one of the league’s deepest teams with this draft class.

8 (con’t) – Eagles – For a team that didn’t have third- or fourth-round picks, the Eagles had a surprisingly deep draft. First-rounder Jeremy Maclin is a really good WR prospect and could combine with DeSean Jackson to finally give the Eagles a good (if smallish) receiving corps. Second-rounder LeSean McCoy provides depth at running back that is essential because of Correll Buckhalter’s departure and Brian Westbrook’s tendency to get dinged. Fifth-round TE Cornelius Ingram is an intersting prospect if he can overcome a knee injury, and CB Macho Harris was a productive college player. There’s not a lot of line help here, but because the Eagles usually focus there, it’s OK to go away from that for a year.

8 (con’t) – Rams – The Rams didn’t do anything fancy, but they got a massive talent infusion that was sorely needed. OT Jason Smith could end up being the best player in the draft, and second-round LB James Laurinaitis will become the cornerstone of the defense. That’s a great start. On the second day, the Rams got a developmental corner in Bradley Fletcher and a defensive tackle, Dorrell Scott, who should be in a rotation right away and could eventually anchor the defense. All in all, it was a great weekend for St. Louis.

7 – Ravens – While some have questions about Michael Oher, the worst-case scenario for him is that he’s an above-average right tackle. That’s a good find at 23. OLB Paul Kruger (second round) and ILB Jason Phillips (fifth round) will fit into this defense as well. All in all, another solid haul from a team that’s annually one of the best on draft day.

7 (con’t) – Texans – I liked the pick of OLB Brian Cushing in the first round. He’s the kind of player who can help take the Texans’ defense to the next level. (Remember, the Texans already have front-line playmakers like DEs Mario Williams and Antonio Smith and DT Amobi Okoye, plus LB DeMeco Ryans.) Connor Barwin seems to be a fit too, and as a pass-rush specialist, he’ll provide immediate value. Antoine Caldwell is a solid offensive lineman as well. And people raved about TE James Casey’s athleticism, so he’s an interesting fifth-round pick to watch.

7 (con’t) – Bengals – Cincinnati took a lot of home-run swings in this class – OT Andre Smith, ILB Rey Maualuga, DE Michael Johnson among them. If all three hit, this is a franchise-making class. But there’s a chance (not huge, but not miniscule either) that all three could miss. So I can’t put this class at the top of the list. Still, this is a needed talent infusion. I liked the pick of TE Chase Coffman at the end of the third round; he could start right away. P Kevin Huber will also step right in, because the Bengals cleared out their other punters right after the draft.

7 (con’t) – Packers – Green Bay is switching to a 3-4 defense, and unlike some other switching teams (this means you, Denver), they tried to actually fill the holes in their D that this switch creates. B.J. Raji is the nose tackle that makes this kind of defense stout against the run, so he made sense at No. 9 overall. I don’t love Clay Matthews as a prospect, but he can play outside ‘backer and rush the passer while also dropping into coverage, so it made sense for Green Bay to deal back into the end of the first round to get him. They still need the DeMarcus Ware type of pass rush phenom to really make the D click, but you can’t get everything at once. Green Bay also got some interior OL help in the form of second-day picks T.J. Lang and Jamon Meredith. This is a solid, need-driven draft that doesn’t have elite talent but that does have good players who will help in ’09 and beyond.

7 (con’t) – 49ers – I’ve documented my love for Michael Crabtree, and so of course I’m going to rave about the fact that the Niners got him at No. 10 overall. San Fran also got an extra first-round pick next year, which is great value but prevented this class from being truly stocked. Third-round RB Glen Coffee will help relieve Frank Gore, while fifth-round LB Scott McKillop will be a solid two-down player. And seventh-round DT Ricky Jean-Francois is a talent who underperformed this year but who could emerge once again.

6 – Bills – I think that Brian Orakpo was a better player than Aaron Maybin, so I didn’t love the fact that the Bills opted for Maybin. But most people think that Eric Wood (28th overall) and Andy Levitre (2nd round) will become offensive line starters inside. I would have preferred a tackle at 28 instead of Wood, but if he becomes a solid starter, that’s OK. All in all, this was a solid draft, but it didn’t have the pop that would have helped after the Jason Peters trade.

6 (con’t) – Jaguars – OTs Eugene Monroe and Eben Britton provide help at a huge need area right off the bat, and I like the fact that Jacksonville overloaded there. Free-agent acquisition Tra Thomas signed a one-year deal, so by 2010 both Monroe and Britton could be starting. The Jags also needed wideouts, and they drafted three, including Mike Thomas, who is probably the best prospect. He was a good fourth-round value. This looks to be a solid draft class.

6 (con’t) – Lions – The Lions did what they had to do in opting for QB Matthew Stafford with the No. 1 overall pick and signing him before the draft. He’s the best QB talent in this class; now it’s on him to develop and the Lions to coach him up. TE Brandon Pettigrew should help that development as a safety-valve receiver and blocker. Louis Delmas should be a starting safety, and Derrick Williams should be an eventual starter at wide receiver. I would have preferred the Lions to get some more OL help, but they had so many needs that every pick makes sense. This is an infusion of talent that will help, although the Lions need several more booster shots before they’re healthy again.

6 (con’t) – Cardinals – The Cards have secretly been a team that has drafted well over the past several years, and they followed that trend again this year. First-round RB Beanie Wells should be a starter complementing Tim Hightower right away. Arizona was lucky that he fell to them. Third-round S Rashad Johnson is the real deal as well. DE Cody Brown helps to replace the departed Antonio Smith and Travis LaBoy, and I’m intrigued to see how OT Herman Johnson’s massive size translates to the NFL. Lots of hits once again in Arizona.

6 (con’t) – Steelers – This was a typical Steelers draft – not flashy but full of solid players. Ziggy Hood is a good value as a defensive lineman, and OL Kraig Urbik steps into the team’s biggest need area. Seventh-round C A.Q. Shipley could end up as a starter, and pretty soon. Add two corners (Keenan Lewis and Joe Burnett) to another need area, and you have a draft class that allows Pittsburgh to continue moving forward.

5 – Titans – The Titans didn’t need a lot of immediate help, so this draft is about filling in cracks instead of filling chasms. First-rounder Kenny Britt is a good prospect who will probably need a couple of years, but he’s a talent at a spot where the Titans haven’t had enough skill over the years. DT Sen’Derrick Marks is probably the guy out of this class the Titans most need to play immediately. He’s a talent, but his production hasn’t been ideal. But given the Titans’ strong coaching staff and especially DL coach Jim Washburn, he’s worth the risk. TE Jared Cook is a good prospect, and RB Javon Ringer is good insurance in case LenDale White doesn’t keep his weight down.

5 (con’t) – Redskins – The reason you don’t trade future first-round picks is that you never know when a player the caliber of DE Brian Orakpo will fall to you. The Redskins patience was rewarded with the best DE in the draft and a guy who should provide a solid pass rush for years to come. There’s not a wealth of depth in this draft because of pre-draft trades, but getting a premium prospect in Orakpo keeps the Redskins pretty high in the comparison.

5 (con’t) – Bears – The Bears were one of two teams without a first-day pick, but they did much better on the second day than Dallas did. Third-round DT Jarron Gilbert is a talent who needs coaching, and the Bears have one of the league’s best DL coaches in Rod Marinelli. (Bad head coach, great position coach) Wide receiver was Chicago’s biggest need area, and Joaquin Iglesias is a good prospect there, while Johnny Knox is an intriguing sleeper. Fourth-round CB D.J. Moore is undersized, but he was a terrific college player who I believe will contribute as a starter eventually, a la current Bear (and former fourth-round pick) Nathan Vasher. This is a solid class of second-day prospects.

5 (con’t) – Falcons – This is another draft that isn’t sexy but that is very functional. DT Peria Jerry will help inside, and S William Moore is a talent who is a potential starter if he gets good coaching and responds to it. I like fourth-round DE Lawrence Sidbury as a John Abraham-lite pass rusher, especially given Abraham’s tendency to miss time. Even the last two picks, LB Spencer Adkins and DT Vance Walker, could contribute in the Falcons’ system. There isn’t great impact here, but the Falcons continue to fill out their roster.

5 (con’t) – Saints – The Saints didn’t have a lot of picks because of trades for Jonathan Vilma and Jeremy Shockey, but they used the picks they did have on defense. First-rounder Malcolm Jenkins should be the best cornerback out of this class, and he’s big enough to play either corner or safety. New Orleans needs him to emerge as a corner, in part because fourth-round FS Chip Vaughn is a potential starter as well. If the Saints get two secondary starters out of this few picks, that’s good work.

5 (con’t) – Seahawks – Getting Aaron Curry at No. 4 was a boon for Seattle, and second-rounder Max Unger is an immediate starter as well. While these guys don’t play high-impact positions, they will become core players. Third-round receiver Deon Butler steps into a need area as well. Not having fourth- or fifth-round picks limits the depth of this class, but Seattle did well with its first three selections.

4 – Dolphins- Vontae Davis was probably the most talented corner in the draft aside from Malcolm Jenkins, although he didn’t play to his talent last year. Still, at the bottom of the first round, he’s a good pick. I don’t know what to think about the Pat White selection in the second round. What’s White’s upside? The Dolphins already think that Chad Henne is their quarterback of the future, so White is blocked there. Can White really be a starting receiver? The fact that Miami drafted Patrick Turner and Brian Hartline in the middle rounds would indicate that the Dolphins don’t think so. So are we looking at White as a Wildcat-offense specialist? I might be wrong, but I don’t think that niche role is worth a high second-round pick.

4 (con’t) – Vikings – This was another risky draft class. First-rounder Percy Harvin has blinding speed, and could be a game-breaker. But he’s not a true wide receiver, and his off-field concerns make him a question mark. The Vikings will have to tweak their schemes to really maximize Harvin’s talents. Second-round OT Phil Loadholt is a load who can play right tackle, but there are comportment questions about him as well. CB Asher Allen was good but inconsistent in college, while fifth-round LB Jasper Brinkley battled injuries in his college career. It’s hard to tell whether this class will end up being great or disappointing, so we have to leave them in the middle for now.

4 (con’t) – Colts – RB Donald Brown is a good player, and the Colts had some need there because of Joseph Addai’s tendency to get dinged up. But the Colts are trying to alter their defensive system, and they didn’t get enough help there. DT Fili Moala has a reputation as a bit of an underachiever, but he and Terrance Taylor at least provide size inside. The Colts need P Pat McAfee needs to win the job right off the bat after letting Hunter Smith leave. This isn’t an eye-popping draft, but there is some help here.

4 (con’t) – Chiefs – DE Tyson Jackson was a little bit of a reach, but he’s a good prospect at a need area. Still, I don’t see a lot of impact from him. Solid play, yes, but not impact. (Think Ty Warren, not Richard Seymour.) Jackson and second-rounder Alex Magee should fill DE spots in the Chiefs’ new 3-4. Fourth-round CB Donald Washington could be a steal, and he’s certainly the Chiefs’ best second-day prospect. Trading for Matt Cassel was the right move for K.C., but that deal thinned out this draft class significantly. So these players will help, but the Chiefs are so talent-starved that they still need more.

3 – Raiders – Everyone is pounding the Raiders’ draft, but there are a couple of teams I thought did less with more picks. First-rounder Darrius Heyward-Bey is a huge talent, and while he would have been on the board at 17 and didn’t have to be taken seventh overall, he’s at least a legitimate first-rounder. Fourth-round WR Louis Murphy is a sleeper who could team with Heyward-Bey to revitalize the Raiders’ receiving corps – and that’s necessary. Picking three D-linemen should help. Plus, the Raiders get a brownie point from me for drafting defensive linemen named Slade (Norris) and Stryker (Sulak).

3 (con’t) – Chargers – I don’t love first-round pick Larry English, a small DE who will have to move to outside ‘backer, but I can see why the Chargers made that pick given Shawne Merriman’s contract and injury situation. But why not Robert Ayers instead of English? The lack of a second-round pick (which they dealt during last year’s draft) really hurts the depth of this class. Canadian DT Vaughn Martin is an interesting prospect to watch.

3 (con’t) – Panthers – The Panthers have been traditionally one of the league’s best drafting teams, but they’re in a dangerous Boolean thread of trading next year’s first-rounder for a current pick. It worked out OK last year, because Jeff Otah played well and the pick was 28th overall. But Everette Brown, whom they picked in the second round, isn’t a dominant player like Otah is. Brown is a good defensive end, but ideally he would play across from Julius Peppers instead of trying to replace him. Beyond that, DT Corvey Irvin fills a need but was a bit of a reach, and RB Mike Goodson doesn’t seem to fill a huge need. Sixth-round OG Duke Robinson has character questions, but in the sixth round you’re not finding a better talent. Given the losses Carolina had on their line, Robinson will be an important backup right away. The Panthers will get some players out of this draft, but it’s not up to their usual standards.

2 – Broncos – I fundamentally disagree with the Broncos’ approach in this draft. They needed defensive help, especially in the front 7, yet DE/OLB Robert Ayers was the only pick in that area. He’s a good fit, but what about defensive tackle (which was completely overlooked)? RB Knowshon Moreno was a luxury pick for a team with a lot of necessities. He’ll be a good pro, but he’s not taking this team from 8-8 to 10-6, much less any further. Alphonso Smith is a good corner, but he won’t replace Champ Bailey because of his height. The Broncos need Smith, Darnell McBath, and David Bruton to stabilize the secondary, but only Smith is a core player there. I do like fifth-round WR Kenny McKinley as a sleeper. There’s talent in this class, but on the whole this draft just didn’t make sense for a team that should be remaking its post-Jay Cutler identity. (Read the first thoughts post for what I think this class says about Josh McDaniels.)

2 (con’t) – Cowboys – Like the Bears, Dallas didn’t have any first-day picks, but in Dallas’ case my eyes didn’t pop at the picks they did have. It didn’t help that their first pick, OLB Jason Williams, felt like a reach. I’d be surprised if there’s more than one or two starters in this group. They did draft the most interesting kicker in David Buehler, who absolutely tore it up at the combine.

2 (con’t) – Buccaneers – I’m not a Josh Freeman believer, but the Bucs are. I won’t pound them for dealing  a sixth-round pick to move up two spots to get him. But given the massive overhaul the Bucs are doing on defense, they could have used more help on that side. We’ll see if Roy Miller or Kyle Moore contribute on the defensive line. Watch seventh-round WR Sammie Stroughter as a potential sleeper. The bottom line is that this draft class will rise and fall with Freeman, and because I think he’ll fall, the Bucs fall to the bottom of this comparison.

1 – Browns – Simply put, the Browns didn’t get enough value for the fifth overall pick, and it seemed like they were scared to pick in the first round. The guy they ended up with, C Alex Mack, should start, but how much of an impact can he have at that position? For a team that needs a lot of help, Mack doesn’t provide it. The Browns gave up on top-5 talent too easily because they didn’t want to pay financially, and that will end up costing them in the long run. Then to make things worse, I thought WR Brian Robeskie was a reach at the top of the second round. Only the picks of WR Mohammed Massaquoi and LB Kaluka Maiava keep this class from being a total failure.

Advertisements

3 Comments

Filed under Football Relativity, NFL draft

Post-draft cutbacks

We’ve done two cutbacks posts thus far this offseason, one detailing cuts before free agency opened and one between the beginning of the new league year and the draft. But after the draft, there were some pretty significant cuts, and so we decided to begin a new post to compare those. This is once again a relativity poll with 10 being the most significant cuts and 1 being cuts that are merely worth mentioning. We’ll continue updating this post, so check back.

10 – Cardinals (cut RB Edgerrin James, DE Travis LaBoy, and CB Rod Hood) – James was a high-dollar free-agent acquisition three seasons ago, and he had two good seasons before beginning to decline last season. With the emergence of Tim Hightower last year and the selection of Beanie Wells in the first round, James became extraneous. The question is whether he has enough left to still contribute somewhere or if he’s just having the end-of-career dropoff that all running backs seem to have. Regardless, he’s had a great career with more than 12,000 rushing yards. LaBoy was one of Arizona’s big-money signings last year (5 years, $22 million), but injuries limited his effectiveness, and he only had four sacks last year. His price tag was just too high. Hood started 14 games last year, but he wasn’t good enough, and the Cards replaced him with Bryant McFadden in free agency.

9 – Bengals (cut OT Levi Jones, RBs Chris Perry and Gary Russell, S Mike Doss and Ps Kyle Larson and Ryan Plackemeier) – Jones was once a top-10 pick, and he started for a long time for Cincinnati. But injuries sapped his effectiveness over the past few years, and the Bengals finally replaced him by drafting Andre Smith at No. 6 overall this year. Jones would have been cut earlier, but Cincinnati waited to get his replacement in house before pulling the plug. Jones could still land somewhere as a backup tackle who’s good enough to play in a pinch but probably can’t play 16 games without getting dinged up. For his sake, we’ll hope he lands with a contender in that kind of role after years of meaningless games in Cincy.  Perry was a former first-round pick who fought injuries so often that he never really lived up to his potential. He was talked about as a starter going into the ’08 season after the Bengals released Rudi Johnson, but injuries derailed him again. Still, Perry is a good enough pass catcher to at least get a look as a third-down back elsewhere if he can stay healthy. Russell was a waiver claim from Pittsburgh just before the draft, but after the Bengals picked two backs, he became expendable. Doss was a former Colts prospect who disappointed for a second team. Larson and Plackemeier were cut after the Bengals drafted Kevin Huber, who looks to take over the punting job.

8 – Cowboys (cut DE/OLB Greg Ellis) – Ellis came to Dallas in 1998 in the midst of a firestorm, because the Cowboys picked him in the top 10 instead of selecting Randy Moss. While Ellis was never the difference maker that Moss was and is. He had 77 sacks in his career and was also a solid run-stopper. When Bill Parcells came to Dallas and switched the defense to a 3-4, Ellis was unhappy with his role. Still, as an outside linebacker, he tallied 12 sacks and won comeback player of the year honors in ’07 coming off an injury. That would suggest the Ellis still has something to contribute in a limited pass rushing role somewhere like Carolina or Washington. The Cowboys, meanwhile, will rely on former first-round pick Anthony Spencer to finally emerge as an impact guy. But Spencer has a long way to go to fill Ellis’ shoes.

7 – Steelers (cut ILB Larry Foote and P Dirk Johnson) – Foote has started every game for five years in a row, but ’07 first-rounder Lawrence Timmons is ready to take that spot.  Foote is a solid run-stuffer who has to come off the field in obvious passing situations. Those limitations made his $2.8 million salary-cap number too rich for the Steelers.

7 (con’t) – Redskins (cut OT Jon Jansen and WR James Thrash) –  Jansen was a stalwart of the Redskins’ offensive line for 10 seasons after joining the team as a second-round pick. He started 123 games in that time, almost all at right tackle. He was a physical run blocker who held his own in the passing game as well. He missed most of the 2007 season with an injury, though, and last year he only started 11 games. Although he was never a Pro Bowler, he was generally an asset as a starter until the last couple of years. But declining performance, coupled with a contract that lasts until 2011, made him expendable. The Skins don’t really have a replacement lined up, unless they want to depend on Jeremy Bridges or recent fill-in Stephon Heyer. So they may have to invest in a veteran – someone like a Jon Runyan – to fill in until they get a replacement ready to go. Thrash, a 12-year vet, failed his physical due to a bulging disc in his neck. He’s never been a top receiver, but he’s always found a role as a backup and special-teams dynamo. He carved out a pretty good career, and Washington seems open to bringing him back if he gets healthy. But if this is it, he should be proud.

6 – Lions (cut CB Travis Fisher, OT George Foster, QB Drew Henson, and LB Alex Lewis) – Fisher was brought over last year from St. Louis to be a starter, but Detroit spent most of this offseason signing corners to replace him. He still considered himself a starter, which might have been why the new regime cut the cord so quickly. Still, Fisher will latch on somewhere. Foster, a former first-round pick in Denver, was part of the package the Lions got in exchange for CB Dre Bly a couple of years ago. But Foster never lived up to his potential, and after Detroit added Jon Jansen and Ephriam Salaam this offseason, someone had to go, and Foster was that someone. Henson, a former top prospect both in baseball and football, was Detroit’s No. 3 quarterback last year, but he was released as the Lions put in a claim on John Beck (see above). Henson’s chances to make it in the NFL are just about gone. Lewis was a five-year Lion who played most on special teams, but he became replacable as Detroit worked to improve its talent at linebacker this offseason.

6 (con’t) – Falcons (cut QB Michael Vick, C Alex Stepanovich and OT Renardo Foster) – It’s hard to know how to compare Vick, who hasn’t played in two years, to other cuts because at this point, the Falcons have moved on. They have a new franchise quarterback in Matt Ryan and a new playing style. Plus, they were basically forced to release Vick so that they didn’t end up having to pay him when he is eventually reinstated. So Vick is now free to try to find a team. His talents fit the new Wildcat fad across the league, but it’s going to be hard for a team to stomach the firestorm of publicity (or even criticism) that would come with signing Vick. This release is just the next step in a drama that still has miles to go. Stepanovich and Foster were once both prospects, but they fell in line as mere backups in Atlanta. Maybe a change of scenery will help, or maybe they’re just not all that good.

5 – Rams (cut LB Pisa Tinoisamoa) – Tinoisamoa — known as as The Tower here on FR — was the Rams’ leading tackler in 2008 with 135 stops, so it was somewhat surprising that he was released just after the team’s first minicamp. But the Tower Pisa was leaning too much the previous two years as he missed a bunch of time with injury. Once the Rams invested a second-round pick in James Laurinaitis, the Tower’s starting spot was gone. He’s not special, but he’s an effective inside ‘backer who can clean up tackles if he’s protected. With so many teams moving to 3-4 defenses, there will be someone who can use the Tower at one of those inside spots, at least for two downs. He doesn’t merit a big contract, but he does deserve a starting spot in the league.

4  – Broncos (cut RBs Selvin Young and J.J. Arrington, LBs Boss Bailey and Louis Green) – Young entered last year as a starter, but injuries limited him to just eight games. After drafting Knowshon Moreno and signing three vets, there was no more room for Young in Denver. He should end up as a backup somewhere in the league, though. The Broncos added Arrington as part of their free-agency binge, and even with the glut of running backs Denver brought in – Arrington, Correll Buckhatler, Lamont Jordan, and Moreno – Arrington looked to have a solid role based on underrated his triple threat skills. But Arrington had a knee injury in Arizona, and he never was healthy enough to pass a physical in Denver. The Broncos lost about $100,000 but had protected themselves against a greater loss by the way they structured Arrington’s contract.  His departure won’t be a huge blow at running back, but he would have helped if he had been healthy. Bailey, brother of Broncos star CB Champ Bailey, started six games last year before suffering a knee injury and undergoing microfracture surgery. The former Lion is undersized and hasn’t performed well enough in the pros to really carve out a role. If he can prove he’s healthy, he might find a roster spot for a team that plays a 4-3, but this knee surgery might prove to be the end for him. Green is a special-teams ace who is replacable, especially considering the system change the Broncos are undergoing right now.

3 – Saints (cut DTs Brian Young and Hollis Thomas and LS Kevin Houser) – Young is a solid veteran who has been so battered by injuries that his effectiveness has been severely limited. Unfortunately, this could be the end of the line for him, but if he gets healthy he can fit into someone’s rotation as a backup. Thomas is a huge inside player who missed most of last season with injury. Because of his size, someone will take a look to see if he can still play 15-20 snaps a game. Houser had been the Saints’ long snapper since 2000, but the team decided Jason Kyle was an upgrade there and so they made the switch and cut Houser. He should find work elsewhere, either in camp or because of injury during the season.

3 (con’t) – Buccaneers (cut QB Brian Griese) – Griese’s second tour of duty in Tampa Bay came to an end, and it wasn’t unexpected. After signing Luke McCown to a backup-quality deal in the offseason, then adding Byron Leftwich, and then drafting Josh Freeman in the first round, there was simply no room for Griese. The 11-year veteran still has enough to be a decent backup if he wants to keep playing, but he also has been around long enough that retirement could be an option. If it is, the former third-round pick who succeeded John Elway can rest in the fact that he had a solid if unspectacular career.

2 – Dolphins (cut QB John Beck) – Beck was a second-round pick in ’07, but once his advocate Cam Cameron was fired, he quickly fell out of favor with new decision-maker Bill Parcells. It took just one year for Chad Henne to pass Beck as the Dolphins’ signal-caller of the future. Beck still has talent, so he’ll get another shot (apparently next in Detroit as a backup).

2 (con’t) 49ers (cut S Jimmy Williams) – The former Atlanta second-round pick was out of football last year after flaming out with the Falcons. The 49ers had signed him earlier in the offseason as a flier, but he obviously didn’t leave an impression during minicamps, because he was quickly released. Williams has size, but how many chances does he have left?

2 (con’t) Jaguars (cut CB William James and QB Cleo Lemon) – James, formerly known as Will Peterson, spent eight years in the NFL, the last one with Jacksonville. He’s probably a marginal NFL player at best at this point, which means he’s a roster fill-in but not much more. Lemon was once thought to have potential, and he actually started some games with the Dolphins, but Jacksonville chose to go with Todd Bouman as its backup quarterback instead. Lemon at this point is no better than a No. 3 QB.

2 (con’t) – Jets (cut TE Bubba Franks) – Franks, the long-time Packer, had only six catches in his first season with the Jets in ’08. In fact, his primary role might have been as terminology translator for Brett Favre once Favre joined the Jets in training camp. The Jets resigned Franks in the offseason but released him on the eve of training camp. That seems to indicate that Franks is getting very close to the end of his career.

1 – Chargers (cut TE Scott Chandler and CB DeJuan Tribble) – San Diego gave up on Chandler, a fourth-rounder in ’07, and Tribble, a sixth-rounder last year, after selecting this year’s draft picks.

1 (con’t) – Patriots (cut RB Patrick Pass) – Pass, one of only 7 Patriots who was on all three Super Bowl winners, has been out of football since 2007. He signed with the Patriots in early June but was released one week later, which seems to indicate that he is in fact done with his NFL career.

1 (con’t) – Raiders (cut LB Stryker Sulak) – In an unusual move, the Raiders cut Sulak, a sixth-round pick, before he even signed a contract or reported to training camp. That’s either a failure in scouting – teams should have enough players on their draft board that a sixth-rounder is someone they like – or an organizational cheapness that’s regrettable. Either way, it’s not a good sign. Sulak, who hasn’t gotten a paycheck or any signing bonus yet because he had not yet signed, could land somewhere else, but he would basically be an undrafted free agent there who faces long odds to make a roster.

10 Comments

Filed under Football Relativity, NFL Free Agency

Local knowledge on the 2009 draft

Local knowledge is important in golf, and it can help in understanding the draft. I’ve already shared a lot of my local-knowledge thoughts on Aaron Curry, whom I saw a lot of because he played at Wake Forest. Here are some thoughts on other guys I’ve watched closely over the years and their new teams…

*My buddy Brandon lives in Denver and asked what I thought about the Broncos drafting Wake Forest corner Alphonso Smith in the second round. (The Broncos traded their 2010 first-rounder to Seattle for the 37th pick to select Smith.) Here was my reply:
He’s a really good player who’s good playing the ball and isn’t afraid to hit. He’s just short. That probably makes him more of a nickel back inside than an outside corner like Champ Bailey. I just hate for them that they traded a first-rounder next year for him. But if smith ever gets the ball in his hands, look out, because he’s electric. I hope he has a good career out there but can’t help but wonder if he’s worth a ’10 first.

*The other two Wake Forest guys who got drafted, LB Stanley Arnoux and S Chip Vaughn, both went to New Orleans in the fourth round. I think Vaughn is the better prospect. Vaughn is a big hitter who made a bunch of plays at safety, and he has the physical tools. Consistency is what he needs to take the next step. Arnoux is more of a clean-up tackler than a playmaker, but he’s smart and can probably be a solid backup and special teamer. And as Carl pointed out, Arnoux’s name will fit perfectly in New Orleans. (That was too good of an observation not to, um, appropriate for myself.)

*CB D.J. Moore, one of the Bears’ fourth-round picks, dropped from a second-round grade because of his height and his slow 40 speed. But don’t overlook him. I remember watching him as a do-everything player in high school (quarterback, receiver, corner, returner, and maybe some things I’m forgetting), and he made plays all over the field. Because he played at a small school and didn’t have the right measurables, he didn’t get a top rating from the recruiting gurus, and he ended up at Vanderbilt. He started there within a year and became an all-SEC player. And the Bears have a track record of taking advantage of mid-round corners; their best player at that position, Nathan Vasher, as a fourth-rounder. Moore has the talent to have a similar career path, and he’ll get the opportunity there.

*I also saw Brooks Foster as a high school player. He went to North Carolina to play basketball and was actually on the 2005 national championship team there. But his best play was as a receiver. He doesn’t have the sudden speed that his college teammates Hakeem Nicks and Brandon Tate had, but he’s got good size and can make the catches. It’ll be interesting to see whether he can use that size to advantage and stick with the Rams, who picked him in the fifth round.

*Joel Bell signed as an undrafted free agent. He’s a former missionary kid who grew up in Croatia and didn’t really get his first taste of football until the 11th grade. He played one year of high school ball, and that got him a scholarship at Furman, a I-AA (or FCS now, I guess) school. He started four years there and was named the top blocker in the Southern Conference this year. He’s 6-foot-8, 310 pounds and had among the best agility and speed numbers of all the offensive line prospects at the combine. He has some ability and is worth a shot as a project. Of course, the Bills were the team that developed Jason Peters from an undrafted tight end into a Pro Bowl tackle, so that team may be a really good fit for him.

1 Comment

Filed under Local Knowledge, NFL draft

Deja vu – Evaluating the FR mock draft

Before we evaluate our mixed bag of a mock draft, a few notes:
*We’ve updated the trades and swaps post with the two player-related trades from this weekend’s draft. (In case you missed it, three players moved from the Jets to the Browns in the Mark Sanchez deal, and the Pats dealt Ellis Hobbs to the Eagles.) That post is now final, and we’ll start a new one for deals between now and the beginning of the season if there are any.
*Check out the first draft thoughts and second draft thoughts on the draft. We’ll do a relativity post comparing all 32 teams to each other later this week, but we want to be thorough with that one.

Now that the preliminaries are out of the way, here are the first-round results, compared to what we predicted. As you can see, we only hit three picks dead on, but we were one or two picks away on a bunch of other guys.

1. QB Matthew Stafford, Lions – as predicted

2. OT Jason Smith, Rams – as predicted

3. DE Tyson Jackson, Chiefs – predicted 9th, off 6 spots

4. OLB Aaron Curry, Seahawks – predicted 3rd, off 1 spot

5. QB Mark Sanchez, Jets – predicted 4th, off 1 spot

6. OT Andre Smith, Bengals – predicted 7th, off 1 spot

7. WR Darrius Heyward-Bey, Raiders – predicted 17th, off 10 spots

8. OT Eugene Monroe, Jaguars – predicted 6th, off 2 spots

9. DT B.J. Raji, Packers – predicted 12th, off 3 spots

10. WR Michael Crabtree, 49ers – predicted 5th, off 5 spots

11. DE Aaron Maybin, Bills – predicted 16th, off 5 spots

12. RB Knowshon Moreno, Broncos – predicted 26th, off 14 spots

13. DE Brian Orakpo, Redskins – predicted 11th, off 2 spots

14. CB Malcolm Jenkins, Saints – predicted 8th, off 6 spots

15. OLB Brian Cushing, Texans – predicted 14th, off 1 spot

16. OLB Larry English, Chargers – predicted 23rd, off 7 spots

17. QB Josh Freeman, Buccaneers – predicted 22nd, off 5 spots

18. DE Robert Ayers, Broncos – predicted 13th, off 5 spots

19. WR Jeremy Maclin, Eagles – predicted 10th, off 9 spots

20. TE Brandon Pettigrew, Lions – predicted 28th, off 8 spots

21. C Alex Mack, Browns – not predicted in first round

22. WR Percy Harvin, Vikings – not predicted in first round

23. OT Michael Oher, Ravens – predicted 15th, off 8 spots

24. DT Peria Jerry, Falcons – predicted 21st, off 3 spots

25. CB Vontae Davis, Dolphins – predicted 29th, off 4 spots

26. OLB Clay Matthews, Packers – predicted 27th, off 1 spot

27. RB Donald Brown, Colts – not predicted in first round

28. C Eric Wood, Bills – not predicted in first round

29. WR Hakeem Nicks, Giants – not predicted in first round

30. WR Kenny Britt, Titans – not predicted in first round

31. RB Chris Wells, Cardinals – as predicted

32. DT Evander Hood, Steelers – predicted 30th, off 2 spots

So there you go. We had direct hits at 1, 2, and 31, while missing five other players by one spot and another two by two spots. Overall, we hit 26 of 32 first-rounders, which is OK but not great. I thought those centers and wide receivers would last until the early second round. Of the 6 guys who I put in the first round who didn’t get drafted there, five went in the first 11 picks of the second round, and the last went at No. 54 overall. So there were no complete embarrassments there.

Leave a comment

Filed under archive, Football Relativity, NFL draft

Second draft thoughts

After sleeping on it, a few more drafts that are shaping up well or curiously:
*The Jaguars bottomed out last year in large part because of widespread injuries on the offensive line. So getting tackles Eugene Monroe and Eben Britton in the first two rounds was a boon. Both were good values too.
*The Eagles needed playmakers and got them in WR Jeremy Maclin (via a small trade up) and RB LeSean McCoy. Given how much Brian Westbrook’s health has determined Philly’s performance over past years, McCoy could be especially valuable right away.
*The Niners came out of the first round with Michael Crabtree and an extra first-rounder in 2010. That’s a good haul, but they still need some defensive help.
*The Texans were looking for defense and got it. LB Brian Cushing is a perfect fit as a starter, and Connor Barwin should contribute immediately too. That’s a nice under-the-radar first day.
*The Bengals got definite ability in OT Andre Smith and LB Rey Maualuga, but both players have at least minor character questions. Third-rounder DE Michael Johnson likewise has a bunch of talent, but he underachieved last year in a big way. These guys echo the kinds of things that have been the problem in Cincy. This is now a classic boom or bust scenario for a team that would have been better served with some safer picks.
*The Falcons and Ravens both preyed on the draft board. (Birds of prey… Get it? That bad pun is in honor of my dad.) Atlanta got good players in DT Peria Jerry and S William Moore, while the Ravens added OT Michael Oher and OLB Paul Kruger. With good coaching like they have in Baltimore, Oher could become an elite player. Ozzie Newsome of Baltimore has long been one of the top draftees in the league, and Thomas Dimitroff of Atlanta is now 2-for-2 on the first days of his initial drafts.
*RB Chris “Beanie” Wells was a nice name to see available for Arizona at 31. It was nice that they took him, because that made my mock draft look a little better after a day full of missing guys by one or two spots. Thank you, Cardinals.
*I’m not sure what to make of Pat White going to Miami. He’ll be just a niche player there, mostly in the Wildcat formation. I would have liked to see him go to a team that wanted him as a quarterback, because I want to believe he can do it.

2 Comments

Filed under NFL draft

First draft thoughts

Here are some first thoughts on the first day of the draft. A more complete wrapup is coming soon…

*The Lions and Rams took advantage of their high drafting position. Detroit rightly picked QB Matthew Stafford and handed him the keys of the franchise. It’s a big challenge, but that’s what Detroit needs to do to move forward. TE Brandon Pettigrew could be a building block as well. In St. Louis they didn’t try to anything fancy, which was smart. Jason Smith will become a franchise keystone at tackle, and James Laurinaitis should do the same at linebacker. That’s exactly the kind of draft start the Rams needed.
*The Browns were the epitome of gutlessness in the first round. They got a small haul to move down from 5 to 17, which makes it look like they just weren’t willing to cut the check for an elite player like Michael Crabtree. Instead, they added only a second-round pick and 5 marginal pieces (two sixth-round picks and 3 players) to move down to 21, where they took a center. The players they got were a decent but not great 30-year-old DE in Kenyon Coleman, a decent but not great safety in Abram Elam, and a third-string QB in Brett Ratliff. None are core players. First-round selection Alex Mack is good but can’t be a franchise player because of his position. Overdrafting WR Brian Robiskie at the top of the second round (in part because he’s a local product) only made things worse. ‘Twas a thud of a draft day for the Dawg Pound.
*I’m not convinced the Chiefs got it right with DE Tyson Jackson. New KC GM Scott Pioli (formerly of New England) had better hope Jackson is an impact player, a la Richard Seymour, and not just a solid starter like Seymour’s Pats teammate Ty Warren, who was a mid first-rounder like Jackson was rated to be. If Jackson is like Warren, then the Chiefs didn’t get the building block they needed.
*The Seahawks and Patriots ended up as the top wheeler-dealers. Seattle first stayed put and took Aaron Curry, then later traded third- and fourth rounders to replace a second-round pick which they dealt for a first-rounder next year. That’s a win. New England, meanwhile, traded out of the first round but ended up with three picks between 34 and 41, and they got three players who should contribute right away. Then on the second day, they traded third-rounders and ended up with two extra 2010 second-round picks(from Jacksonville and Tennessee). That’s how it’s really done, Cleveland. Take note.
*If the Browns were the epitome of gutlessness, the Broncos were the height of arrogance. They took a luxury pick in talented RB Knowshon Moreno at 12 when defense should have been a priority. DE Robert Ayers was good value with the 18th pick (the Jay Cutler pick), but then Denver dealt its 2010 first-rounder for CB Alphonso Smith, a good player who’s probably not more than a nickelback in the NFL. Maybe Josh McDaniels really is that much smarter than the rest of us, but if he’s not, acting like it will ruin the Broncos for the long run.
*The Raiders continue to live in a different world from the rest of us. WR Darrius Heyward-Bey was a fantastic Reed Richards level reach at No. 7. Second-rounder Michael Mitchell appears to be a similar stretch. At least Al Davis didn’t take a kicker in the first round this year.
*The Jets might have paid less to move from 17 up to 5 to get Mark Sanchez than they would have to move to 8 because the Browns were in love with some of their players. But you have to give them credit for being willing to pay the freight for a top-5 pick. They’ll be thankful, because Sanchez sets then up for long-term success.
*I hated the fact that the Panthers dealt next year’s first for the second draft in a row. DE Everette Brown is a good player at a need position, but Carolina is now in a cycle of impatience that’s hard to break (just ask Bobby Beathard). I wonder if the heightened sense of urgency comes out of owner Jerry Richardson’s health problems.

3 Comments

Filed under NFL draft, NFL trades

Preja Vu – The Football Relativity 2009 Mock Draft

After much ado, we finally present the Football Relativity Mock Draft.

Instead of doing umpteen versions of mock (read: made-up) drafts this offseason, we tried to be different than other sites by focusing on more specific issues. You can look back through the draft coverage to see analysis, opinions, and outlandish predictions on the biggest stories of the draft — Stafford vs. Sanchez, where Michael Crabtree fits, and what Aaron Curry’s upside is (and is not). We also looked at the offensive and defensive positions that are most likely or least likely to produce busts in the first half of the first round.

Now that all that is done, it’s time to make the outlandish prediction and do the mock draft. So here is the first round, as I predict it. Of course this is preja vu, not deja vu, so there will be mistakes. But I’ll let you know what I’m thinking as we go along. As always, feel free to leave comments criticizing, questioning, or confirming what you read below.

1. Lions – QB Matthew Stafford, Georgia
If you’ve been reading the relativity, you know that I think Mark Sanchez will be a better pro than Stafford. In fact, I would probably pick Sanchez at No. 1 this year were I the decision-maker. But that’s a minority view, and so the preja vu projection is that Detroit takes Stafford. Stafford has a big arm and he got better each year he started at Georgia, both of which are huge check marks on his resume. Plus, there’s a pretty significant sample size of data for Stafford even though he left as a junior. So while this pick is a bit of a gamble, it’s not a gamble on the level of San Francisco’s Alex Smith pick a few years back. If this was a quarterback-rich draft, I would recommend the Lions passing on a quarterback at No. 1 and instead taking Jason Smith, but since there is no high-level quarterback option beyond Stafford and Sanchez, the Lions all but have to go quarterback first. There will be a tackle available at 20.

2. Rams – OT Jason Smith, Baylor
Smith projects as a top-level player in the NFL, and he would be a godsend for the Rams. St. Louis has the experience of drafting Orlando Pace and not having to worry about left tackle for a decade, so there will be a comfort level among the fans for investing in a tackle this early. Plus, left tackle is a core building position, which makes this an especially valuable pick. The Rams wanted Jake Long last year but missed out, which again points to a left tackle here. Everything is lining up for Smith to be a Ram.

3. Chiefs – LB Aaron Curry, Wake Forest
The draft will start to be in flux at this pick. Eugene Monroe would make sense at this pick, but because the Chiefs picked Branden Albert and started him at left tackle all season last year, we’re not anticipating that possibility. Still, it is worth noting that Albert played guard in college, and so a Monroe selection isn’t a complete impossibility. Also, if a team is absolutely in love with Sanchez, this is the spot they’ll have to get to in order to absolutely ensure that they get him. Most teams are probably hoping to trade up to 10 or 8 to get Sanchez, but I have a hunch that won’t be high enough. But if the Chiefs stay put, my guess is that they don’t overcomplicate things. Curry will be a 10-year starter inside in the 3-4, and he’ll be a stalwart of the middle level of the defense. While I don’t think he’ll ever be a breakout superstar, he’ll be a good run-stuffer, a good coverage ‘backer, and a solid citizen. That recipe adds up to a core player in K.C.’s still-massive rebuilding project.

4. Seahawks – QB Mark Sanchez, USC
The Sanchez shoe is going to drop early, folks. There’s too much buzz about him right now for him to have a Brady Quinn/Aaron Rodgers type of slide into the 20s of the first round – or even a Ben Roethlisberger slide into the early teens. While there aren’t a ton of QB-needy teams in the top 10, Sanchez’s value is too much to pass up. We’ll slot him to the Seahawks because Matt Hasselbeck is closer to the end than the beginning and coming off an injury-plagued season. But this is also a trade possibility. Regardless, I see Sanchez coming off the board in the top 5 because someone will be desperate to get him. And whoever drafts him – even in the top 5 – will end up being glad that they did.

5. Browns – WR Michael Crabtree, Texas Tech
Crabtree is the other talent who simply can’t stay on the board too long because he’s too good. And if the Browns were to deal Braylon Edwards, which is of course a hot rumor, then they would frankly be stupid to pass on Crabtree. Crabtree might actually end up being better than Edwards, which is saying something. He’s a big possession receiver who can catch the ball in traffic and make things happen after the catch. When you’re being compared to Larry Fitzgerald — and I’ve heard Crabtree in such a comparison on Jeremy Green’s ESPN podcast — you’re in really good company. Cleveland should feel comfortable building an offense around Crabtree and OT Joe Thomas regardless of who the quarterback is. This would be a great value pick.

6. Bengals – OT Eugene Monroe, Virginia
The Bengals have a history of drafting talented players with questionable character, which is why so many mock drafts connect them to Alabama OT Andre Smith and his baggage. But if Sanchez catapults up the draft, someone has to slip, and I think that will be Monroe. If that happens, the Bengals will rejoice. Like Andre and Jason Smith, Monroe is a talented tackle who has the ability to be a bookend for many years. He’s probably not an elite Orlando Pace/Jonathan Ogden/Walter Jones level player, but he’s good enough to be a reliable, above-average starter a la longtime Bengal Willie Anderson. Monroe would be the kind of pick who could help the Bengals move forward, which is exactly what’s needed in Cincinnati.

7. Raiders – OT Andre Smith, Alabama
Most mock drafters have the Raiders taking Jeremy Maclin, and maybe they know something I don’t. But while Raiders maven Al Davis loves speed, this pick may fit his pattern even more. The Raiders have done the best job of accumulating talent when they’ve taken players who were passed over by risk-averse teams who were concerned about character. That’s the situation Andre Smith is in. He was the most dominant offensive lineman in college football last year, but his bowl-game suspension and then his combine/workout follies have dropped the bottom out of his stock. But he’s still a really good player who will be a top-level right tackle in the NFL and could be an elite left tackle. (Addendum: Remember that Tom Cable, the Raiders’ head coach of the moment, is an offensive line guy.) My hunch is that the Raiders overlook the concerns about Smith and go for the best football talent on the board.

8. Jaguars – CB Malcolm Jenkins, Ohio State
This pick is a real X-factor in the draft, for this reason. Last year, the Jaguars leapt up to the No. 8 spot in the draft to take DE Derrick Harvey, and then they couldn’t get him signed until September. So it seems that this year, the Jags don’t have the stomach to pick (and pay) a player this high again and would like to trade down. But if Sanchez is off the board already, what player on the board has enough value that someone would trade up fro him? So a trade might be difficult. Then consider this: After taking DEs Harvey and Quentin Groves in the first two rounds last year, Jacksonville isn’t really a candidate for any of the ends who fit in this area, and the franchise’s utter failure taking first-round receivers (from R. Jay Soward to Reggie Williams to Matt Jones) makes Maclin seem like a bad projection as well. The needs chart says that Maclin, B.J. Raji, and Malcolm Jenkins are fits here. We’re going with Jenkins, a top-10 prospect pre-combine who slipped after running a slower-than-expected 40 time. He’s a big corner who can play physically and tackle, and that seems to fit Jacksonville’s personality well.

9. Packers – DE Tyson Jackson, LSU
Green Bay is moving to a 3-4 defense this year, and so they must get a player who is friendly to that system. Pass-rushers Brian Orakpo and Aaron Maybin do, as does Raji, who might be big enough to be the Jamal Williams/Vince Wilfork/Casey Hampton nose tackle. But Raji’s character concerns make me put Jackson in this spot. Jackson can play 4-3 defensive end, but he’s big enough to move inside a tick and play end in the 3-4, a la Richard Seymour. Jackson can hold up against the run and provide some pass rush even from that interior position, and it’s harder to find a top guy with those qualities than it is to find the glamorous pass rusher, so Jackson is the fit.

10. 49ers – WR Jeremy Maclin, Missouri
Instead of winding up in Oakland, we see Maclin ending up across the bay. Maclin is a dynamic receiver who has decent size and blazing speed, and he can be the playmaker the Niners have lacked at receiver since T.O. whined his way out of town. With Isaac Bruce coming back for a year, Maclin would have an ideal mentor, as well as a little less pressure in ’09. He would also fill a need, because unless Brandon Jones takes three quantum leaps forward, the 49ers have no game-breaking threat in the passing game. San Francisco would be a great situation for Maclin to move into, and he would be a good value for the 49ers at this point.

11. Bills – DE Brian Orakpo, Texas
Over the past few years, the Bills have drafted more for need than any other team. They have “reached” for players and picked them over their rating because (a) they were at positions of need and (b) they were convinced the players would be good. So we looked closely at the team needs list before predicting this pick. The trade of Jason Peters gave us pause and opened the possibility that OT Michael Oher would be the pick here. But pass rusher is also a need, and none of them are off our board now. While Aaron Maybin may be a bit more highly rated, Orakpo is a little bigger and little more suited to a 4-3 defense, at least in a John Abraham type of role given his size. So he’s the pick here.

12. Broncos – DT B.J. Raji, Boston College
The Broncos are moving to a 3-4 defense, and they need tons of help on that side of the ball. After trading Jay Cutler, it would make sense for the Broncos to take Mark Sanchez if he falls to them, but there’s zero chance of that happening. (You can quote me on that.) And given the proliferation of defensive needs the Broncos have, trading their two first-rounders to get Sanchez just isn’t wise. So we have them staying put and taking 3-4 friendly defensive players. They start with Raji, a true nose tackle who is big enough to play the pivot in the 3-4. His stock has slipped a little because of character questions, but he’s not getting past this spot. Another reason for the downward trend is the difficulty of getting it right at defensive tackle early in the draft, as we discovered in defensive portion of the draft bust research project. If Raji (or Tyson Jackson) is there, the Broncos will spend their first pick on the front line and then look for an OLB pass rusher at No. 18. If Raji stays on the straight and narrow, he would be a great building block for the Broncos to get at this point.

13. Redskins – DE Robert Ayers, Tennessee
The Redskins apparently are lusting after Sanchez, so don’t be surprised if they leap into the top 5 to get him. But if they don’t trade up, they’re in position where they need help on the lines. After Jason Taylor didn’t work out last year, a pass rusher is a special need, and Ayers is the purest 4-3 defensive end available at the top of the draft. He’s sturdy enough to hang in there against the run and has shown flashes of great pass rush ability. He has the ostentatious potential that appeals to owner Daniel Snyder, so the pick makes sense from that perspective too.

14. Saints – OLB Brian Cushing, USC
The Saints simply have to draft defense, which remains the biggest problem on their to-do list. The offense is good enough to win right now, but the defense isn’t. And since the Saints are in a 4-3, the undersized pass rushers left on the board (Maybin and Everette Brown) don’t really work. So we’ll give the Saints Cushing, a legit outside linebacker who can become a stalwart run stopper and coverage guy. Cushing is the best of the three Trojans’ linebackers expected to be first-rounders because he’s the most versatile and most consistent. He could team with Jonathan Vilma to begin to stabilize the middle level of the Saints’ defense.

15. Texans – OT Michael Oher, Ole Miss
Oher probably isn’t a wonderful value at this point, but offensive tackles tend to move up the draft board at the end because it’s such a need position. Oher (subject of the wonderful book The Blind Side) is a physical specimen who played well but not exceedingly well at Ole Miss. While he’s not a sure thing at left tackle, he would be a beast of a right tackle, and that’s a need spot for Houston as well. So we’re projecting a run and taking Oher off the board before most experts are prognosticating.

16. Chargers – DE/OLB Aaron Maybin, Penn State
The Chargers are a strange team in that they don’t have pressing needs because of strong organizational depth. But given Shawne Merriman’s injury and contract concerns, and given the importance of pass rushers in the 3-4 system, Maybin makes sense here. He would be a great value for San Diego and would help immediately, even if he only played a bit role as a rookie. My guess is that GM A.J. Smith might even crack a smile if Maybin fell in his lap.

17. Jets – WR Darrius Heyward-Bey, Maryland
This is another flex spot in the draft. Do the Jets want Josh Freeman? Will they roll the dice on a receiver? Or do they play it safe? It seems like a little bit of risk is warranted, given the Jets’ dearth of offensive playmakers. So we’ll project them taking Heyward-Bey, a big strong receiver who was productive in college even if his performance was spotty at times. It’s a risk, but the Jets need to take such a risk to upgrade their mediocre receiving group.

18. Broncos (from Bears in the QB Jay Cutler trade) – DE/OLB Everette Brown, Florida State
We’ve already given the Broncos a front-line defender for their new 3-4 scheme; now it’s time to upgrade the edge. Brown was a beast on the field for the Seminoles, and he has the kind of speed that projects well to the outside linebacker/pass rusher spot in the 3-4 defense. While a Raji/Brown combo isn’t sexy, it would set the Broncos up to take a leap forward defensively in ’09. Of course, it would also put the onus on Josh McDaniels to keep the offense humming along, but that’s going to happen anyway.

19. Buccaneers – MLB Rey Maualuga, USC
The Buccaneers are another team in flux, especially on defense. Longtime stalwart Derrick Brooks is gone, and the team needs to find a new defensive leader. Maualuga can be that guy. He’s a productive inside ‘backer who takes some chances but delivers on his fair share of them. He also has the personality of a leader, which is needed in Tampa right now. The Bucs have invested in their offense in the offseason market by adding Byron Leftwich, Derrick Ward, and Kellen Winslow, plus new deals for Michael Clayton, Antonio Bryant, and Donald Penn. So it makes sense for the Bucs to invest on defense in the draft, which again points to Maualuga.

20. Lions (from Dallas in the WR Roy Williams trade) – OT Eben Britton, Arizona
If I were putting the Lions together, the approach would be to take the quarterback at the top of the draft and then build the offensive line. (Call if the Falcon plan, after Atlanta drafted Matt Ryan early last year and then traded back into the first round to take Sam Baker.) The plan works best for Detroit if Michael Oher falls to 20, but if he’s not there, it’s probably still wise to take an offensive lineman here. At almost every other position, the value that’s available at 20 is very similar to the value at 33, but not at offensive tackle. That’s why Britton is slotted here.

21. Eagles – DT Peria Jerry, Ole Miss
The Jason Peters trade completely changed Philly’s approach to this pick. Instead of taking a luxury like Knowshon Moreno with one of two first-round picks, the Eagles will likely buckle down and play it safe with their single top pick. That points to a defensive lineman, because the Eagles seem to take a DL every year early. This year, there’s one defensive tackle (after B.J. Raji) with a true first-round grade in Jerry, and he actually will fit an attacking 4-3 scheme well. So Jerry’s the guy for Philly.

22. Vikings – QB Josh Freeman, Kansas State
This is the answer to the Josh Freeman question. I don’t believe he’s good enough for a team in the teens – Washington, the Jets, Tampa – to pick as their QB of the future. But I do think Freeman will be a first-rounder after a team trades back into the round to take him. (See Joe Flacco, J.P. Losman, and Jason Campbell as examples.) Minnesota is a logical candidate to trade back, and here’s why: They need a center to replace Matt Birk and receivers. There’s depth at both of those positions through pick 40 or so. So the Vikings could trade back, pick up an extra pick or two, and still get what they need. One more consideration: It wouldn’t shock me for the Vikings to stay put and take Freeman, given the massive questions that remain around Tarvaris Jackson. All those things together make this Freeman’s spot in the draft.

23. Patriots – DE/OLB Larry English, Northern Illinois
The Patriots often seem to overdraft players above their spots because they know who they want and because they believe in their evaluation system. So it will be no surprise to see a surprise here. English isn’t rated this highly on most boards, but he’s a quality pass rusher as an OLB who was productive in college. That’s a need area for the Pats, who have lost Mike Vrabel this offseason. I think the pick will be defense regardless, with a corner like Darius Butler or Alphonso Smith also a possibility.

24. Falcons – MLB James Laurinaitis, Ohio State
This is another pick that might seem like a bit of an overdraft, but remember that Falcons GM Thomas Dimitroff is a Patriots disciple and that his “overdraft” of Sam Baker last year worked out OK. After Keith Brooking left, a middle linebacker who can solidify the defense is a necessity for the Falcons. That’s what Laurainitis is. He’s not a dynamic playmaker, but he’s a solid, Chris Spielman type who will anchor a defense for 8-10 years. As the Falcons continue their rebuilding project, they’ll sign on for that.

25. Dolphins – CB Darius Butler, Connecticut
A lot of the ESPN types have been hyping the fact that UConn’s still-new football program is going to produce three first-round picks this year. That’s a Bristol, Connecticut, stretch, but Butler’s a legit first-rounder. He has good size and speed, which moves him ahead of Wake Forest’s Alphonso Smith and other candidates. The Dolphins had a solid season last year, but they don’t have enough playmakers, and cornerback’s a place where they need that kind of help. So Butler fits in as Bill Parcells’ big grocery purchase this year.

26. Ravens – RB Knowshon Moreno, Georgia
Running backs seem to slip most years in the draft, and often they end up with unlikely teams because the point comes when the value of the player is too good to pass up. (See Steven Jackson to the Rams when they had Marshall Faulk or Larry Johnson to the Chiefs when they had Priest Holmes.) That’s what I see happening to Moreno, a top 15 talent, this year. But there will come a point when a contender like Baltimore that has good but not great running backs will have to go ahead and take him. If Moreno ends up on such a contender, he’s going to be a difference maker, and with enough chances will be a rookie of the year candidate. In other words, he would be great value, even if he’s not at a need position. NOTE: This pick is rumored to be going to Arizona for Anquan Boldin.

27. Colts – OLB Clay Matthews, USC
The Colts are moving away from the Tampa-2 defense, but they don’t have the talent to make that transition smooth at all. So I think defense has to be the pick here, even though Indy has broken conventional wisdom before and loaded up on offense. Matthews is a try-hard guy who’s a good athlete and a good leader – the kind of guy you want to build a new defensive system around. Because this late in the draft there aren’t dominant players left, a guy like Matthews is the best option for a leader to help the Colts recast their defense.

28. Bills (from Panthers in the ’08 draft-day OT Jeff Otah trade via Eagles in the Jason Peters trade) – TE Brandon Pettigrew, Oklahoma State
As we said before, the Bills have been known to reach. If they try to replace Jason Peters here with a tackle, they’ll be reaching for a Phil Loadholt or William Beatty. But since they have a tight end need, getting Pettigrew at this point would be nice value. Pettigrew is a good pass catching tight end with good size – the kind of offensive complement that seems to fit the Buffalo weather. Getting Pettigrew plus a pass rusher would be a nice first-round haul for the Bills.

29. Giants – CB Vontae Davis, Illinois
This pick is still in flux because it’s at the center of the Giants’ trade discussions for a receiver like Anquan Boldin or, more likely, Braylon Edwards. If they keep the pick, they could look receiver at someone like Hakeem Nicks or Kenny Britt. But last year we saw that receivers can slip in the draft because they generally contribute so little as rookies. So we’ll look at another Giants need and give them the most talented cornerback on the board in Davis. Davis’ performance isn’t always up to snuff, but he has worlds of talent, and the Giants’ culture would affect him positively. He’d be a great addition for New York.

30. Titans – DT Ziggy Hood, Missouri
Orginally, I had Percy Harvin slotted in here. It would be very out of character for the Titans to take a wide receiver, because that’s been a long term need for them that hasn’t been addressed in the draft’s opening round. But here’s why I can see Harvin fitting in this year: Chris Johnson. Remember last year that Tennessee picked the fastest guy on the board (Johnson had run a sub-4.3 40) and then figured out how to use him. Harvin is like Johnson, only with more receiving skills. Having both players on the field at the same time would make the Titans offense suddenly frightening. But the closer we get to the draft, the more problems seem to come up with Harvin. So we swapped this pick to Ziggy Hood, a defensive tackle who is rising up the draft board. The Titans haven’t been afraid to take risks on guys like that, and more often than not the organizational professionalism has rubbed off and affected the players for the better. (See Albert Haynesworth as Exhibit A.) But there’s just too much smoke (pun intended) for them to take Harvin. As for Hood, after the loss of Haynesworth via free agency, he would fit it at a position that’s obviously a need area for Tennessee. Plus, it’s hard to pass up a guy named Ziggy. So we’ll say that Ziggy zags to Nashville. (Sorry, couldn’t resist.)

31. Cardinals – RB Chris Wells, Ohio State
The back they call “Beanie” has been projected as a top-15 pick, but a foot injury has raised some questions. Couple that with the fact that running backs usually get drafted a tad later than expected, and I think he’ll be available for the Cards at the end of the first round. He’d be a great fit for Arizona here, especially since Edgerrin James is still a potential salary-cap cut. (James actually wants out to try to find a new home that will come with more playing time.) Wells would be a lead back who could combine with Tim Hightower to provide a stronger running back than the Cardinals have had in recent memory. At this point, the Cardinals need to take the best guy on the board, and Wells is among that list.

32. Steelers – OT Phil Loadholt, Oklahoma
Despite winning the Super Bowl last year, the Steelers have a pretty significant issue on the offensive line. So look for them to spend this pick on a lineman who can plug in and play immediately. While most mock drafts have the Steelers taking a center such as Alex Mack or Max Unger or Eric Wood, center is another of the positions where players tend to last longer than expected. (That’s how the Panthers got Ryan Kalil a few years back.) So we’ll project the Steelers to take another tackle, and since Mel Kiper is guaranteeing that Loadholt will be a first rounder, we’ll opt for him over William Beatty.

So there you have it. More than 4,000 words of preja vu predictions that will likely look foolish by Saturday night. We’ve pushed wide receivers and running backs down the chart and offensive tackles up the chart, so we’ll see if those trends hold on Saturday.

We’ll self-evaluate this mock after the weekend, and we’ll also be posting quick thoughts on the draft and a relativity comparison on how teams did next week. So stay tuned, and if you have mock draft predictions (and if you’re still reading), post them as comments below.

3 Comments

Filed under NFL draft, outlandish prediction, preja vu