Finally, the draft is approaching. After an agonizingly long wait, the speculation will finally end…sort of. That is to say the speculation of who each team will pick will end. Then the speculation of who had “the best draft” and how those players will perform in the NFL for their respective teams will begin.
Alright so now it’s my turn. I won the contest last year (patting myself on the back and pulling a tricep) with six correct choices so let’s see if I can get lucky again. By comparision, Mel Kiper got 4 correct and Todd McShay got 8 picks correct (the best I saw anywhere). All I need is my lucky darts, a bogus reason for each pick, and a lot of hair gel and we are on our way. ESPN contract here I come.
1. Detroit Lions– QB Matthew Stafford, Georgia
Detroit has been trying their damndest to keep everyone guessing as to what they will draft. They have been inviting everyone of the top players in the draft for workout and “leaking” information about how much they love them. They even had a player come out recently and say great Dante Culpepper is looking these days. I originally thought they would go with a tackle as well. But in the end you have to take all the info and go with what your gut tells you. And my feeling is that they will take Stafford. Besides, a good tackle will be available when they have their next first rounder, a top qb won’t be.
2. St Louis Rams– OT Jason Smith, Baylor
Even before Orlando Pace was released, he was getting long in the tooth and was injury riddled. The Rams will be getting the best tackle in the draft and not bat an eye.
3. Kansas City Chiefs– LB Aaron Curry, Wake Forest
The Chiefs need a linebacker and they can get the consensus number one overall player in this draft. This may be the easiest prediction in this draft especially with the Chiefs going with the 3-4 in which Curry is the ideal 3-4 rush outside linebacker.
4. Seattle Seahawks– OT Eugene Monroe, Virginia
There are those that think that Monroe is a better prospect than Jason Smith. But even if he isn’t, the fact that there are two tackles this good, a team can’t go wrong with drafting either. For the Seahawks, Walter Jones is said to be completely healthy but he is reaching the end of his career. Monroe can either play right tackle while Jones mentors and grooms his replacement or he can simply help Jones out the door. Either way, the Seahawks won’t miss a beat in their blind side pass protection. And they would be silly to pass that up.
5. Cleveland Browns– DE Brian Orakpo, Texas
With a premium being put on defensive ends ever since the Giants won the superbowl, Orakpo’s stock is that much higher. He is the best rush end in the draft and the Browns can draft need and value by selecting him. The Browns really can’t afford not to take Orakpo here. With the trouble that Donte Stallworth is in right now with his DUI manslaughter case, there is some that think they may go for Michael Crabtree. However, the Browns have shown that they have their hearts set on Brian Robiskie in the second round and haven’t really showed any desperation in the receiver corp after releasing Joe Jerevicius and shopping Braylon Edwards for a trade. On the other hand, their defense is terrible. By all accounts Aaron Maybin would be a perfect fit but would the Browns reach for Maybin over Orakpo? I don’t think so.
6. Cincinnati Bengals– DT BJ Raji, Boston College
In nearly every instance I have seen, the predictions are that the Bengals will take an offensive tackle here. Andre Smith would be the next off the board. But despite Levi Jones being injury prone, when healthy he is still a good left tackle. Which means that if the Bengals were to draft a tackle here, he would play right tackle with a healthy Jones. Right tackles are not top ten picks. Even with the acquisition of Tank Johnson, the Bengals still have a need at DT. And with Johnson and Raji side by side, the middle of their line would be formidable. Another possibility would be a trade down if a team wants to grab Raji or Crabtree because both with be gone with this pick and the Raiders at #7.
7. Oakland Raiders– WR Michael Crabtree, Texas Tech
I think there is probably a great player to be had here regardless. In this scenario though, Crabtree is the best player on the board and at a position of need. Saying Crabtree is the best player available is an understatement. I heard Jerry McDonald say the other day that Crabtree is “a poor man’s Larry Fitzgerald”. I wanted to correct him by saying that Crabtree is “The NEXT Larry Fitzgerald”. They are clones of each other by most accounts. While other receivers supposedly are faster, you cannot subsitute Crabtree’s combination of intellect, instinct, grit and balance. He has unparalleled balance which is a characteristic that is hard to measure but easy to see when watching game tapes. He is near impossible to defend, a bear to tackle, makes catches in traffic and tip toes the sidelines with a natural ease. This Red Raider needs to be a Raider of the Silver and Black variety. If the draft plays itself out the way I have just predicted, anyone else at this selection would be a mistake. And it would haunt the Raiders for years. Just like when they didn’t take the original Larry Fitzgerald when they had the chance.
8. Jacksonville Jaguars– WR Jeremy Maclin, Missouri
The Jags are in desperate need of a receiver after failed attempts at building a good group by picking up Troy Williamson and Jerry Porter last offseason and Matt Jones getting in trouble again. Maclin is the consensus, next best receiver in this draft (not completely sure I agree but it is not up to me really) so he is the logical choice. I have no doubt though that the Jags will be praying that Crabtree somehow drops to them and if he doesn’t, they will have some deals lined up in an attempt to trade down.
9. Green Bay Packers– LB Aaron Maybin, Penn State
Maybin is a hibrid OLB/DE which is exactly what the Packers need. Other than Aaron Kampman, the Packers have no one worth mentioning at outside linebacker. Maybin is a guy who is a freak of nature that plays like his hair is on fire. But what else would you expect from an outside linebacker from linebacker U (aka Penn State)?
10. San Francisco 49ers– OT Andre Smith, Alabama
I keep hearing how teams are warming back up to Andre Smith despite his terrible handling of the combine and his pro day workouts. I suppose some time and game tapes will do that for a guy who won the Outland Trophy. I have been preaching the gospel of “stay the hell away from this guy” since he was suspended for the Sugar Bowl game for improper dealings with an agent. That screams that he is not a team guy and has character issues. Then I saw him at the awards ceremony and he looks broken down and walks with a hunch constantly. That screams that he will be injury prone. Then he mishandled the combine and pro day and that screams lack of work ethic as well as character concerns. But then again, there is only so far he can fall when he plays the most coveted position in the NFL. The Niners need a tackle and they get their guy and feel lucky that he fell. We’ll see if they are still looking for a tackle with their top ten pick in a couple of years.
11. Buffalo Bills– OT Michael Oher, Mississippi
I originally had Michael Oher sliding a bit more in this draft but with the Bills recent trade of Jason Peters for the Eagles pick, the team is now in desperate need of a replacement. Oher is said to be the last of the big four OT in this draft so he will be a nice prize for the Bills at this pick. Plug and play.
12. Denver Broncos– QB Mark Sanchez, USC
They traded disgruntled QB Jay Cutler to the Bears for their first rounder and Kyle Orton. It is unlikely that Orton is seen as the answer at QB for the Broncos and since Josh McDaniels couldn’t get former USC QB Matt Cassel, he will take another former USC QB instead. Either way, there is some rebuilding to do in Denver and that usually starts with the man under center.
13. Washington Redskins– DE Everette Brown, Florida State
They made headlines with the big contracts again this offseason with the acquisition of Albert Haynesworth to play DT. But the team also cut ties with veteran DE Jason Taylor after just one year of service. They need to try and actually draft a replacement this time. Everette Brown is considered the second best defensive end in this draft so to get him here would be a great selection for the ‘Skins.
14. New Orleans Saints– CB Malcolm Jenkins, Ohio State
The Saints have been a great offensive team the last couple of seasons. But their defense has been horrendous. Especially their secondary. Jenkins is the highest rated DB in the draft and is very polished with great instincts and technique. Some say that he is not fast enough to play corner in the NFL but even if that were true, he would be a fine safety which the Saints also have a desperate need.
15. Houston Texans– LB Brian Cushing, USC
DeMeco Ryans has the middle locked down and the team brought in Cato June to play the outside. But other than that, they have a gaggle of mediocrity at outside linebacker. Even with the addition of June, they are thin and June is not the long term answer. This team needs an attacker at the position and that is exactly what Cushing is. He is a high motor guy who explodes into the ball carrier whether it be at the line or in coverage.
16. San Diego Chargers– LB Rey Maualuga, USC
The Chargers would be tickled to get the consensus best college middle linebacker in the country this far down. Maualuga will not be asked to rush the edge which is perfect because those are his weaknesses. He would most likely step right into being an inside linebacker which is where he thrives. This pick just makes too much sense not to happen.
17. New York Jets– WR Darius Heyward-Bey, Maryland
The Jets cut ties with Laveranues Coles after the season which leaves Jericho Cotchery as the lone proven commodity among the receivers on this team. Since the end of the college season, Percy Harvin has seen his stock go down as character issues continue to crop up while Darius Heyward-Bey has seen his stock rise with a great combine that saw him run the fastest 40 time among receivers. He is also much bigger than Harvin and is more of a pure receiver.
18. Denver Broncos– DE Tyson Jackson, LSU
The Broncos get this pick from the Bears for Jay Cutler and end up getting Tyson Jackson of whom they had their eye on anyway and may have taken with the 11th pick. They decide to wait and hope that in a deep DE class, they get their guy anyway and the decision pays off. They get their QB and their DE/LB.
19. Tampa Bay Buccaneers– DT Peria Jerry, Mississippi
Originally there was some thinking that the Bucs would take Kansas State QB Josh Freeman here but when the team grabbed Byron Leftwich, that took some of the confusion out. Simply because choosing Josh Freeman here would have been a desperation move anyway and the signing of Leftwich means that the team is no longer desperate. Now they can either hope Freeman is available in the second or wait until next year to get a QB. As it stands though, the Bucs are extremely weak along the line. They can get the second highest rated DT in the draft in Jerry and will feel like they scored quite a coup in doing so.
20. Detroit Lions– OT Eben Britton, Arizona
The Lions were initially thinking that Michael Oher could be still on the board at this pick but after the Bills traded Jason Peters, that become no longer a possibility. But getting Britton is not exactly scraping the bottom of the barrel. He is a damn fine tackle and was garnering a great deal of interest after the combine as evidenced by his large number of private workout invites since then. If it weren’t for the fact that this is just a fantastic tackle class, Britton might have gone in the top five so he is no chump. If the Lions thought they were not getting a worthy tackle here, they would take on with the #1 pick.
21. Philadelphia Eagles– RB Knowshon Moreno, Georgia
Brian Westbrook is a great back but he can’t carry the load by himself. He has never been known for his durability either. So Moreno can take some of the load off of him and if/when Westbrook goes down with an injury, the Eagles will have a top flight quality every down back to step in an carry the load.
22. Minnesota Vikings– WR Percy Harvin, Florida
There is no denying that Harvin is a game breaker. The Vikings have their deep man in Bernard Berrian and now they get their speedy slot receiver in Harvin. How either of these guys is going to get the ball is another question though.
23. New England Patriots– DE/LB Larry English, Northern Illinois
The Pats love their hibrid rush outside linebackers. Just cycle them through and plug new ones in. English will be the next in line to thrive in their “system” for mysterious reasons.
24. Atlanta Falcons– DE Robert Ayers, Tennessee
Ayers has been making quite an impression on scouts this offseason. His name is being bandied about a lot of late. He is thought by some to be the second best pure defensive end in this draft. He would have gone higher if it weren’t for the fact that he is more suited for the 4-3. This is a great pick here. Of course he could go higher in which case Everette Brown would slip to this spot and they would take him. It works out for them either way as they get a the pass rush they desperately need.
25. Miami Dolphins– LB Clay Matthews, USC
The Dolphins also have a serious need for a corner but it will be hard to pass up Matthews here with the teams need for an OLB. If Vontae Davis didn’t have such character concerns, he could very likely have gone here. There is a good possibility that the Phins will listen to teams that are looking to jump into the bottom of the first. If they were to drop into the top of the second, they could probably still get the corner they want and add some picks in the process.
26. Baltimore Ravens– WR Hakeem Nicks, North Carolina
The Ravens have been without a receiver for quite a while. Derrick Mason is their only reliable receiver and he continues to amaze everyone that he is still playing at a high level. I have been touting the abilities of Nicks for quite a while because he has some of the best hands I have ever seen. His recent weight gain and then weight loss raise some questions about his work ethic but not enough to change his draft position.
27. Indianapolis Colts– LB James Laurinaitis, Ohio State
In my opionion Laurinaitis is the best inside linebacker in this draft. He is extremely smart which is very important when being the “quarterback of the defense” and he has the skill set to match. He has the potential to be a Brian Urlacher type of guy in the NFL. The Colts are extremely lucky to get arguably the best player at a position of need for them.
28. Buffalo Bills– TE Brandon Pettigrew, Oklahoma State
To say the Bills don’t have a stand out at tight end would be an understatement. Their best tight end on the team had 15 catches last season. And with their newfound first round pick, they can fill that need with the number one tightend prospect in this draft. Expect to hear the draft analysts applauding the Bills draft on Monday.
29. New York Giants– WR Kenny Britt, Rutgers
Kenny Britt is the best receiver that no one is talking about. He reminds the Giants of Plaxico Burress minus the handcuffs. Not only that but Britt would not have to move too far to join the team being that he plays right up the road at Rutgers. That would also make him an instant local favorite. Which is hard to do in New York.
30. Tennessee Titans– CB Darius Butler, Connecticut
Skills wise, Vontae Davis is the best corner in this draft. But character wise, he is a risk. And let’s not forget a certain former Titan corner with a few character concerns by the name of Adam “Pac Man” Jones. The Titans will not go down that road again. A physically gifted corner is no good to a team when he is suspended. Enter Darius Butler.
31. Arizona Cardinals– RB Chris Wells, Ohio State
Edgerrin James is at the end of his career and he wants out of Arizona. The Cards last coveted RB pick, JJ Arrington, left in free agency. The only guy left is Tim Hightower of whom the Cards took in the fourth round last year. Some people think Wells is the better back between he and Knowshon Moreno. Wells’ inability to be the every down back says otherwise but outside of that, he is a damn fine back and a great pick at this spot. If for some reason Wells is gone by this point, there is not much of a drop off to the next back Donald Brown out of Connecticut. One of them will go here.
32. Pittsburgh Steelers– CB Alphonso Smith, Wake Forest
Again Vontae Davis is passed up. Unless of course, the Steelers are just arrogant enough to think they can keep him out of trouble. But I am saying they opt to go with Alphonso Smith. They need a corner badly and there is little separation (no pun intended) between the corners at this point. Besides, whatever shortcomings the Steelers may have, the refs will most certainly make up for.
Next time you hear from me will be from the Raider Draft Party at Ricky’s Sports Bar in San Leandro. For those of you who can’t make it to the draft party, Patrick and I will have interviews and news posted to the site as soon as we can put it all together. Combine that with Rob’s stellar live draft updates on TFDS and you will get the kind of draft coverage you can’t get anywhere else. Cheers and I will see you Saturday.