2008 NFL Draft – Mock Draft v1.0

By Lloyd Vance, BIGPLAY Football Draft “Guru” / Senior NFL Writer

(Philadelphia, Pa) — Unlike many draft prognosticators who seem to just make their picks out of thin air, I like to wait until after attending the Senior Bowl, NFL Combine, talking with key NFL talent evaluators and letting Free Agency play out before making my picks.  In my opinion you cannot do a true “mock” until after these events, because only then you can get a good sense of how NFL talent evaluators are viewing prospects and have accurate team needs. 

1. Miami Dolphins — Jake Long, OT, Michigan

Record: 1-15 | Needs: OL, QB, CB, DT, LB

No matter what anyone wants to sell you on, Parcels and his boys will make this pick — sure they will listen to offers but in the end they won’t get their asking price.  The last time we saw a move with the first overall pick it was four years ago as Eli Manning changed hands on draft day.  Luckily for the ‘Phins they have the solid triumphant of high character Senior leadership players to choose from in QB Matt Ryan, OT Jake Long, and DE Chris Long. I do believe that Dolphins like Ryan and Chris Long, but Parcels likes to have a franchise tackle to build around — in the past with the Giants the Tuna grabbed Jimbo Elliott from Michigan and now it will be Jake Long’s turn.  Long (6’7, 315) was a unanimous All-Big Ten Conference first-team pick while serving as team captain for the second consecutive season, starting all thirteen games at left offensive tackle, and producing 119 knockdowns. The Tuna and the Dolphins have been very active in free agency reshaping their unit, but there is still a big hole at the offensive tackle position.  With John Beck or Josh McCown filling the role of the veteran “Vinny” type quarterback, Jake Long will be their escort.  Remember this road-grader only allow two sacks his whole career at Michigan.

2. St. Louis Rams — Chris Long, DE, Virginia

Record: 3-13 | Needs: DE, OT, CB, OLB, WR

With the Rams trying to rebuild a defense that has had problems stopping other teams this pick makes sense.  Sure Glenn Dorsey, Sedrick Ellis, and Gholston could be tempting here, but the team has made too many mistakes in the past on the front four (See Jimmy Kennedy) not to go with a high-character player like Long. Howie’s son is an almost clone of last year’s pick Adam Carriker (smart, big, leadership ability).  In 2007, ranked 3rd in the nation with fourteen sacks for minus 122 yards in thirteen starts playing as his team’s captain at the right defensive end position.  By adding Chris Long (6’4, 275) to Carriker and speedy DE Leonard Little, the Rams defense will have the energy and versatility needed to help their secondary, especially 2006 first rounder Tye Hill make plays.

3. Atlanta Falcons — Matt Ryan, QB, Boston College

Record: 4-12 | Needs: QB, OT, LB, S, CB

This should be the biggest no-brainer of the first five picks as the Falcons have a glaring need at quarterback and Ryan is the obvious number one signal caller in this year’s class.  Though Ryan (6’5. 224) needs to cut down on his interceptions (19 in 2007), he is the leadership type player that new GM Tom Domitroff — former New England front office guy that saw many BC games — and new head coach Mike Smith need in the post Michael Vick era. The Philadelphia suburbs kid in ’07 at BC averaged 321.93 yards per game finishing with 4,507 yards passing while setting school season-records for completions 388-of-654 (59.3%) and touchdowns (31).  With Ryan’s high character and leadership abilities this is the safest pick for an organization that needs a new beginning.  In his private workout he completed 48 of 50 passes. 

4. Oakland Raiders — Darren McFadden, RB, Arkansas

Record: 4-12 | Needs: OT, DT, TE, RB, WR

The affinity of the Raiders and Cowboys of McFadden (6’2, 210) has been this draft’s biggest non-secret.  Al Davis in looking for game-breaking skills will look to grab the former two-time heisman runner-up.  McFadden has all the makings of last year’s yard-churning Rookie of the Year Minnesota Vikings running back Adrian Peterson.  The former Arkansas star ran a blazing 4.33 seconds in the forty at the combine after leading the SEC in rushing with a 140.77 yards per game average while setting a school season-record with 1,830 yards and sixteen touchdowns.  McFadden is a home run threat and should team with the recently signed Justin Fargas and ’07 pick Michael Bush to form a formidable one-two-three punch.  Look for the Raiders to try and move current backs Dominic Rhodes and LaMont Jordan because they no longer will be in their plans. The only thing to watch for his a blockbuster trade where Cowboys owner and Arkansas alum Jerry Jones makes a move to grab McFadden by dealing his 22nd and 28th picks to his old friend Al Davis. 

5. Kansas City Chiefs — Ryan Clady, OT, Boise State

Record: 4-12 | Needs: LT, G, CB, DE, S

With the retirements of perennial Pro Bowlers Guard Will Shields and Tackle Willie Roaf in recent years, the Chiefs’ number one priority is solidifying their offensive line. Unfortunately for them Jake Long will be long gone by the fifth pick, so Herman Edwards and Carl Peterson will go with the next O-lineman on the board in Clady (6’6, 316).  The former Boise State road-grader is a boom or bust prospect as there have been questions about his attitude and competition.  Was named Boise State’s second All-American while only being charged with six penalties, producing 122 knockdowns, and only allowing 3.5 sacks.  I believe he has the size and smarts to

learn the Chiefs new ground attack.  Look for Larry Johnson to get back on track running behind Clady and Pro Bowl Guard Brian Waters after an injury plagued ’07 season.

6. New York Jets — Vernon Gholston, OLB/DE, Ohio State

Record: 4-12 | Needs: NT, WR, LB, G, RB

With a glaring need for a running back, there is a chance that the Jets try and move up to grab McFadden or reach for any of the other talented junior RB’s.  I believe that Mangini will look to add another pass rusher for their attacking 3-4 system.  They already have new free agent Calvin Pace and Gholston (6’4, 258) should help in not allowing the big plays downfield that plagued the Jets in ’07.  The former Buckeye wowed the scouts at the combine with numbers of 4.67 in the forty and posting the top bench press  (37 reps at 225 pounds).  Obtained the only sack the Jake Long allowed this year while being named to the All-Big Ten Conference first-team finishing with a school season-record of fourteen sacks for minus 111 yards.

7. N.E. Patriots (from 5-11 San Francisco) — Glenn Dorsey, DT, LSU

Record: 18-1 | Needs: LB, CB, DS, OL, RB

The Patriots probably would go for Gholston if he is on the board to rebuild their aging linebacking core, but they will have to settle for Dorsey (6’2, 316).  Much like Warren Sapp during his draft process, Dorsey has experienced going from being the consensus number one pick to move down boards due to red flags (injuries and didn’t workout at the combine).  However I believe that if the cat-quick DT is there, the Patriots will jump all over him.  He may not be the classic 3-4 defensive tackle, but look for Belichick to use him as an end and to move him around.  Despite double teams and illegal blocks that caused some leg problems, Dorsey managed to record 69 tackles (39 solos) with a career-high seven sacks for minus 45 yards and 12.5 stops for losses of 53 yards.  He should team with Rich Seymour and Vince Wilfork to form a great rotation upfront allowing for more plays from their linebackers and secondary. 

8. Baltimore Ravens — Chris Williams, OT, Vanderbilt

Record: 5-11 | Needs: QB, CB, LOT, ILB, DE/OLB

The ideal pick would be Matt Ryan, but they will need to move up to grab him.  Look for the Ravens to wait to find the quarterback of the future until later in the draft as they address the big hole left by the impending retirement of future Hall of Famer Jonathan Ogden at left tackle.  Williams (6’6, 320) is known as a finesse much like Ravens ’06 pick Chris Chester and he will need to tap into his nasty streak plus get stronger at the point of attack.  But the All SEC lineman had impressive senior numbers of 12 starts at left tackle, 102 knockdowns, and allowing only one quarterback sack.

9. Cincinnati Bengals — Keith Rivers, LB, USC

Record: 7-9 | Needs: DT, TE, LB, OT, DE

With their choice between USC teammates Rivers and DT Sedrick Ellis, head coach Marvin Lewis will choose “the shark”.  Ever since troubled linebacker Odell Thurman has not been able to stay out of trouble, the Bengals linebacking crew has been in disarray.  Rivers — nicknamed “Shark” from the character played by Lawrence Taylor in the film “Any Given Sunday” — is the most athletic and playmaking linebacker in this draft and should provide a boost along with free agent signee DE Antwaan Odom to a defense that has lacked teeth recently. Rivers (6’2, 236) finished his All-American 2007 campaign with 13 games played, 78 tackles (44 solos), five stops for losses, three fumbles recoveries, and one forced fumble.

10. New Orleans Saints — Sedrick Ellis, DT, USC

Record: 6-9 | Needs: CB, LB, TE, DT, C

With the Saints putting a lot of dollars into the cornerback (Randall Gay), defensive end (Bobby McCray), and linebacker (traded for Jonathan Vilma) positions look for them to grab the best front seven defensive guy on the board.  With Hollis Thomas slowing down and DE Will Smith underachieving the D-Line needs an infusion of talent.  Ellis (6’1, 308) has risen up draft boards recently after solid showings at the Senior Bowl.  He has excellent strength and quickness, which should help in Sean Payton’s off-season overall of his defensive unit.  As a senior in 2007, started thirteen games at DT helping the Trojans rank fourth in the nation against the run (84.15 ypg).  Recorded a career-high 58 tackles, 8.5 sacks, 12.5 tackles for losses, and had two fumble recoveries.

11. Buffalo Bills — Leodis McKelvin, CB, Troy

Record: 7-9 | Needs: CB, DT, LB, WR, TE

With Nate Clements leaving in ’07 for big free agency dollars there has been a strong need for a top flight cover corner in Buffalo.  With a choice between McKelvin, Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, and Aquib Talib, I believe that McKelvin (5’11, 190) will be the pick.  The silky smooth cover corner will provide an immediate lift to the Bills back four helping in the nickel and dime.  The All-Sun Belt Conference first-team choice started twelve games at left cornerback producing 60 tackles w/ 2.5 stops for loss, causing three fumbles, and 2 interceptions.  Also his high marks as kick returner will not hurt (Ranked fourth in the nation with 436 yards and three touch-downs on 25 punt returns (17.44 avg) and had a 23 yard average on kick returns). 

12. Denver Broncos — Kentwan Balmer, DT, North Carolina

Record: 7-9 | Needs: DT, OT, MLB, S, WR

With Long and Ellis long gone, the Broncos reach a little to bring in a much needed defensive tackle.  The former Tar Heel is a fast-rising prospect with very good size, power, and quickness. Balmer (6’5, 310) in 2007, started twelve games, had 59 tackles including 3.5 sacks and 9.5 tackles for loss.  He should help in taking heat off of sack man Elvis Dumervil and push troubled ’07 draftee Marcus Thomas.  I heard many evaluators at the combine comparing the All-ACC second teamer to Patriots versatile D-lineman Richard Seymour.

13. Carolina Panthers — Derrick Harvey, DE, Florida

Record: 7-9 | Needs: OT, DE, WR, DS, DT

With the Panthers’ career of Julius Peppers looking like it will end soon, look for an upgrade on the D-Line.  Harvey (6’5, 252) will provide some of the versatility and disruptive skills that Peppers brought early in his career.  The stout Florida Gators defensive end is a more complete player than Broncos ’07 first round selection Jarvis Moss and should quickly emerge as an impact every-down two-way end.  The junior eligible started thirteen games at left defensive end position recording 49 tackles (31 solos), 8.5 sacks (fifth in SEC), 17 tackles for loss, causing one fumble, and deflecting five passes.

14. Chicago Bears — Rashard Mendenhall, RB, Illinois

Record: 7-9 | Needs: QB, RB, OL, DT, S

Don’t be surprised if GM Jerry Angelo takes advantage of this year’s talented crop of running backs by selecting Mendenhal (5’11, 210) with this pick. Mendenhall is a natural fit, because he plays in the Bears backyard and he can provide more explosiveness and versatility than current starter Cedric Benson.  The All-Big Ten Conference first-teamer ranked eighth in the nation in rushing (129.31 ypg).  Had amazing final numbers of 13 games started with 1,681 yards (6.4 avg) and 17 touchdowns rushing and 34 receptions for 318 yards (9.4 avg) and two touchdowns.

15. Detroit Lions — Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, CB, Tenn. St.

Record: 7-9 | Needs: OT, G, CB, S, DE

The Lions’ secondary was a major reason why the Lions limped home at the end of the ’07 season and Rodgers-Cromartie (6’2, 183) will be welcomed with open arms. The former TSU star is one of the fastest-rising prospects in the 2008 class. After an amazing week at the Senior Bowl where he displayed his speed, versatility, and athleticism, he went from a small-school product to a top 15 pick.  Started eleven games at left cornerback as a senior recording 37 tackles with two tackles for loss, recovering two fumbles, deflecting 11 passes, and 2 interceptions.  Also set the school season-record by blocking four kicks, ran back 33 kickoff for 806 yards, and played some offense. He experience at free safety and cornerback, which should definitely help one of the NFL’s weakest secondaries — remember the 56 points the Eagles hung on them in week 3.

16. Arizona Cardinals — Aqib Talib, CB, Kansas

Record: 8-8 | Needs: CB, OLB, TE, RB, DE

With making moves to retain all of their offensive fire power including receiver Larry Fitzgerald, the Cardinals should concentrate on defense especially cornerback.  With some thought out there that Antrelle Rolle might be a better safety, the Cards will need a physical young corner like Talib (6’2, 202).  The junior eligible played in 10 games in 2007 finishing with numbers of 42 tackles with two tackles for a loss, six interceptions, and 22 passes defensed. The former Kansas Jayhawk is a big and fast (ran 4.4 at the combine) corner that should help provide better coverage in the Cardinals back four that allowed too many big plays in 2007.  A red flag to watch is that Talib was suspended 2 games for violating team rules in ’07.

17. Minnesota Vikings — Quentin Groves, DE, Auburn

Record: 8-8 | Needs: DE, S, WR, QB, TE

Believe it or not, Minnesota still is in the market for help at defensive end, despite investing first picks in the past on DE’s Kenechi Udeze (2004) and Erasmus James (2005).  After coming back to school after an All SEC junior season, Groves (6’3, 250) had some difficulty as a senior.   In ’07, he finished with 38 tackles, three sacks, seven tackles for a loss, and a SEC best 23 quarterback pressures.  After a good showing at his March 10th Pro Day, Groves seems to be back on track weighing in 10 pounds less than at the combine producing a 35-inch vertical jump, which was 5½-inches better than he did at the combine.

18. Houston Texans — Mike Jenkins, CB, South Florida

Record: 8-8 | Needs: CB, RB, S, LOT, DE

The Texans have been looking for a partner for former first round selection Dunta Robinson for some time and Jenkins (6’0, 200) looks like a good fit.  The South Florida star is a man to man corner with size, speed, and athleticism.  Started thirteen games at right cornerback producing a career-high 41 tackles with four tackles for loss, twelve passes break-ups, and three interceptions.  Jenkins can also help wideout Andre Davis on kickoffs as he averaged an amazing 30.4 yards per kickoff with one touchdown.

19. Philadelphia Eagles — Jeff Otah, OT, Pittsburgh

Record: 8-8 | Needs: WR, S, OT, G

I know you want a receiver here Birds fans, but given the Eagles track record and their need to get younger at Offensive Tackle, you will have to wait until the second round for a pass catcher.  Stalwart bookend tackles Jon Runyan and William Thomas have been stellar for years, but they aren’t getting any younger.  Otah (6’6, 340) reminds me a lot of Eagles Pro Bowl Guard Shawn Andrews and Colts ’07 rookie sensation Tony Ugoh coming out of college.  The New Castle, Delaware native was an All-Big East Conference first-team selection starting twelve games at left offensive tackle while helping the offense average 141.4 yards rushing. Produced 101 knockdowns and committed only two penalties.  He needs to work on his conditioning, but there is no doubt that he has the ability to be a solid pro.  With O-line guru Juan Castille pushing him look for this big athletic player to push disappointing ’06 pick Winston Justice and add depth to an area that Andy Reid always loves to build up.

20. Tampa Bay Buccaneers — Malcolm Kelly, WR, Oklahoma

Record: 9-7 | Needs: WR, CB, RB, QB, LB

With his stable of quarterbacks (Simms, Garcia, McCown, Griese, and Gradkowski) a difference making receiver is needed.  Kelly (6’4, 218) should fit in well in the Bucs west coast offense.  He is a true big play receiver with the size of T.O, but possessing better speed (4.35 in the forty at the Combine) and less attitude.  The All-Big Twelve second-teamer started fourteen games at split end producing numbers of 49 receptions for 821 yards (16.8 avg) and nine touchdowns.  Amazingly the junior eligible receiver on thirty-six of his catches produced first downs. With Joey Galloway getting older and Michael Clayton underachieving this is a natural pick. Kelly should thrive in Gruden’s system, which needs a  young receiver to emerge.

21. Washington Redskins — Kenny Phillips, S, Miami

Record: 9-7 | Needs: S, DE, OT, CB, WR

In 2007, the Redskins suffered a tragic blow with the death of Sean Taylor.  After making an improbable run into the playoffs, a replacement is needed in their back two and I think they go back to the “U” for the guy.  In Phillips (6’2, 208) the ‘Skins can select a player who may not be as physical as Taylor,  but does possess some of the same playmaking ball skills of past Hurricane safeties Ed Reed, Brandon Merriweather, and Taylor.  The junior eligible was an All-ACC first-teamer was a semi-finalist for the Jim Thorpe Award while starting twelve games at free safety, producing a career-high 82 tackles with six stops for loss, causing three fumbles, and intercepting two passes.

22. Dallas Cowboys (from 10-6 Cleveland) — Limas Sweed, WR, Texas

Record: 13-3 | Needs: CB, WR, OT, RB, FS

Assuming owner Jerry Jones doesn’t package picks to trade up, expect Dallas to use its two picks to address needs at corner and receiver in the first round. With Jones’ favorite Darren McFadden long gone off the board look for the Cowboys to settle for Texas product Sweed (6’4, 212).  Much like former Cowboys great Michael Irvin, Sweed is a big physical receiver that should help ease the transition from older players T.O and Terry Glenn.  After being picked on everyone’s preseason All-American team, Sweed struggled with a nagging wrist injury.  He played in the team’s first six games of the season before a October 16th surgery finishing with a career-low nineteen catches for 306 yards (16.1 avg) and three touchdowns.  Teams will try and lean on his ’06 numbers of 46 receptions for 801 yards and 12 touchdowns.  But is he this year’s Bobby Meachem — Saints ’07 first round draftee that never made it on the field due to injury.

23. Pittsburgh Steelers — Branden Albert, T/G, Virginia

Record: 10-6 | Needs: OT, G, DE, WR, RB

With Alan Faneca leaving for the Jets and other glaring needs along their front group, look for the Steelers to select at least three offensive linemen in the draft. Albert (6’7, 315) is a massive player that could play either guard or tackle in the Steelers power running system.  The junior eligible has good feet, rare quickness, and a good initial punch with a play to the whistle mentality. An All-ACC pick for the past three seasons, Albert started straight 36 games since his freshman year. 

24. Tennessee Titans — DeSean Jackson, WR/KR, California

Record: 10-6 | Needs: WR, DE, DT, CB, C

Though they made the playoffs, it was evident that the Titans need a weapon on offense.  Brandon Jones was their number one by default without much behind him.  A young receiver needs to be added to help in Vince Young’s development.  Jackson is not big (5’10, 180) however he is a big play guy who will open the field up for the Titans other receivers.  Also Jackson can help out in the return game, which has suffered since the suspension of the CB Adam Pacman Jones.  In 2007, the junior eligible was a semi-finalist for the Biletnikoff Award even though a sprained left thumb suffered in the season opener against Tennessee nagged him.  Catch a career-high 65 passes for 762 yards (11.7 avg) and six touchdowns plus in the return game had 132 yards with a touchdown on kickoffs and a 10.8 yard average on punts with one touchdown.

25. Seattle Seahawks — Sam Baker, OT, USC

Record: 10-6 | Needs: OT, DT, RB, TE, G

Mike Holmgren believes in having the horses upfront so that his runners have many holes to choose from.  Baker (6’5, 308) is a versatile player  that should be able to fit in at any of the positions on the O-line.  I can see him finally filling the void left by the ’06 departure of Guard Steve Hutchinson and he can also provide valuable insurance to Pro Bowl tackle Walter Jones slowing down.  The stout USC product helped his offense average 434.9 yards per game in 2007 while producing 88 knockdowns and allowing only two sacks on 460 pass plays.

26. Jacksonville Jaguars — Gosder Cherilus, ROT, Boston College

Record: 11-5 | Needs: S, CB, OT, LB

Finally after years of being picked to make some noise in the AFC, the Jags finally put a good “run”.  Behind upstart quarterback David Garrard and a power running game led by a rejuvenated Fred Taylor and Mighty Might Maurice Jones-Drew the Jags were a tough wild card team beating the Steelers on the road.  With several moves already made in free agency (Jerry Porter, Troy Williamson, trading Marcus Stroud, and other moves) they will now look to the draft to continue building. For years the Jags have tried to fill a void at the tackle position with players like Bills retread Mike Williams and Cherilus (6’6, 314) should be an upgrade.  The huge Boston College O-lineman should help in continuing the Jags ball control prowess.  At his recent Pro Day he ran the forty in just over 5.00 seconds and reportedly looked very good in position drills.

27. San Diego Chargers — Felix Jones, RB, Arkansas

Record: 11-5 | Needs: ROT, RB, S, CB, DT

After a year where everyone thought they would take a step back after the firing of Marty Schottenheimer along with the hiring of Norv Turner, the Chargers may have not lived up to their 14-2 in ’06 record.  But they did make it to the AFC Championship game and won the AFC West after a slow start. With Michael Turner taking his speed to Atlanta as a free agent, the Chargers should find their new homerun threat with Jones (6’0, 200).  Despite only starting three games in 2007, he ranked fifth in the SEC in 89.38 yards per game rushing.  Had an amazing 1,990 all purpose yards on only 171 touches while ranking 22nd in the nation in the category. Finished second to Darren McFadden on the team with 1,162 yards on only 133 carries (8.7 avg) and eleven touchdowns. The mercurial speedster should have an immediate impact in the kick return game and provide a complement to LT.

28. Dallas Cowboys — Reggie Smith, CB, Oklahoma

Record: 13-3 | Needs: CB, WR, OT, RB, FS

With a receiver in hand at #22 look for Jerry Jones to help out his beleaguered secondary with his second first rounder – barring of course the usual Dallas wheeling and dealing.  Sure the ‘Boys are hoping to land Pacman Jones, but that is not a done deal and Smith can definitely help situation immediately.  Smith (6’1, 198) is a smooth cover corner that will help Terrence Newman and the slower safety combination of Hamlin and Williams.  In 2007, the junior eligible had 78 tackles, one sack, seven tackles for loss, a fumble recovery, and three interceptions.  He also did not allow a touchdown against in ’07.

29. S.F. 49ers (from Indianapolis) — James Hardy, WR, Indiana

Record: 5-11 | Needs: WR, OT, OLB, DE, QB

Think they want to rethink their trade up to grab Offensive tackle Joe Staley last year??  Anyway armed with the Colts pick, the 49ers grab a much needed playmaker at the wide receiver position.  The junior eligible Hardy (6’6, 220) is a Plaxico Burress clone, who will provide size and speed to take attention away from TE Vernon Davis.  The All-Big Ten Conference first-teamer set school season-records with 79 catches for 1,125 yards (14.2 avg) and sixteen touchdowns.  Quickly look for Hardy to become QB Alex Smith’s security blanket.

30. Green Bay Packers — Antoine Cason, CB, Arizona

Record: 13-3 | Needs: CB, OT, S, TE, QB

With the retirement of Brett Favre looking at the offensive side is tempting, but aging corners Charles Woodson and Al Harris need a future replacement.  Cason (6’0, 190) is not a burner running in the 4.5 range in the forty, but he is a smart tough corner.  In 2007, he started twelve games producing a career-high 71 tackles (56 solos), one sack,  four tackles for a loss, causing two fumbles, intercepted five passes and a team-high fourteen deflected passes.

31. The NFL stripped the New England Patriots of their own first round pick (#31) for “spygate” activities this past September

32. New York Giants — Dan Connor, LB, Penn State

Record: 10-6 | Needs: LB, CB, S, Backup QB, OT

The Giants may also take a look at Connor’s PSU teammate CB Justin King at this spot.  But after the loss of linebacker Kawika Mitchell to the Bills, the instinctive and athletic Connor is the right pick for the Giants.  He should be able to contribute immediately on the inside or outside. A tough high character Giants type of player (2 time captain at Penn State).  Has good size (6’3, 233), great football instincts, and intelligence.  He always is around the ball as shown by his stats as PSU’s all-time leading tackler.  Has the ability to cover running backs and tight ends one-on-one.  Reminds me of former Lions LB Chris Spielman.

Teams not owning a first round pick

Cleveland Browns

Record: 10-6 | Needs: CB, G, LB, RB, S

Last year was a magical year for the Browns as they just missed the playoffs while posting a 10-6 record thus saving head coach Romeo Crennell’s job.  By not having a first round pick in ’08 — thanks to moving up in ’07 to pick Brady Quinn in the first round — the Dogs thought building through free agency and trades was the best way to go this off-season adding DT Shaun Rogers, DT Corey Williams, WR Donte Stallworth, and others.  They definitely need some help in the secondary with the trading of Leigh Bodden to Detroit.  However they now have painted themselves into a corner due to they will not be picking until the fourth round. 

Indianapolis Colts

Record: 13-3 | Needs: DT, LB, G, RB, CB

After a good season where the defending Super Bowl champs lost at home to the Chargers in playoffs, the Colts head into the draft looking to get back to the big game.  They seemed to have made a good move trading up in ’07 to grab promising offensive tackle Tony Ugoh, but not picking until the second round (#59) will hurt.  With head coach Tony Dungy coming back for one more season and the opening of Lucas Oil Stadium this season look for some key additions especially at defensive tackle where Booger McFarland left for Pittsburgh and Cory Simon was let go.

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Are We Talking About Hair ???

(Philadelphia, Pa) — Apparently the upcoming NFL Owners’ Meetings in West Palm, Florida will resemble many American households from the 1960’s as hair length and style take center stage.  The Kansas City Chiefs have put forth before the owners a proposed rule that would require players to wear their hair in a way (“tuck” it) so that it doesn’t obscure the name plate on the backs of their jerseys.

Sure they are saying that it is a safety issue and that they are not telling players to “cut” their hair due to CBA language that forbids such edicts –The NFL Collective Bargaining Agreement between the NFL and the NFLPA expressly prohibits the imposition of discipline based on facial hair or hair length… ACLU would be on the phone quicker than lightning. 

But you cannot tell me that the “Father Knows Best -esque” bureaucratic NFL does not want to rein players in that look unsightly in their opinion.  The NFL is running a VERY dangerous course by forcing player appearance, they already dictate everything with uniforms down to towel length and socks not being pulled up so apparently “hair” is the next step.  I will be interested to see what will happen if the rule passes and a respected veteran like Steelers safety Troy Troy Polamalu doesn’t want to “tuck” his hair.

I personally really don’t care how many tattoos a player has or if his hair is down to his waist.  The key matter in player evaluation is whether the guy can bring the “wood” on the field or not.  I like that some guys have the unusual “forget image” attitude that they are willing to express themselves in a sport where uniformity has gotten out of control.  Plus as Dolphins running back Ricky Williams learn if you play with long hair, it is okay for an opponent to use it against you.

It will take 24 positive votes from the 32 franchises for the measure to pass and if it does look for some fun “barber” fireworks come training camp time.

Former Olympic Sprinter Justin Gaitlin Works Out at Tennessee’s Pro Day

Former 2004 Olympic 100 meter champion Justin Gaitlin is trying again to impress NFL talent evaluators enough to get a shot at playing on Sundays.  Gaitlin was a participant this week at the University of Tennessee’s Pro Day — reportedly running a best 40-yard dash time of “only” 4.42 seconds, which was less than several players at this year’s combine — in hopes to improve upon his brief mini camp tryout with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in 2007.  In that mini camp he didn’t make the team, but you have to wonder with the NFL’s fascination with “world class” speed that someone will take a flier on him.

Gaitlin, who is considered a long shot by the NFL sources that I have talked to is currently serving a 4-year suspension — reduced from 8 years after an appeal —  for failing a doping test in 2006.  He has only played football sparingly in high school and college so trying to get back into the game at its highest level will be an extremely difficult task. He will most assuredly have to learn how to run differently for route running (football requires short choppy steps and cuts instead of long strides), learn to follow the flight of a ball into his hands while running, and work hours with a juggs gun to help catching the ball.

The league’s fascination with world class speed has always been prevalent and I can still vividly remember my favorite made for television sporting event, “The NFL’s Fastest Man” competition where football road runners Deion Sanders, Darrell Green, Rod Woodson, Willie Gault and others strutted their stuff.  The first attempt to convert “world class speed” goes back to 1952 when former Olympian Ollie Matson signed with the Chicago Cardinals. His conversion ended at the Hall of Fame, but other “speed” prospects have made varying degrees of impact. Matson and former Dallas Cowboys receiver “Bullet” Bob Hayes (fringe hall of fame candidate) are the high water mark and sprinters like John Carlos are at the lower end of spectrum.  Carlos had never played the game before when he signed with the Philadelphia Eagles in the 1970’s.  The game was so “foreign” to him that he even needed the assistance of a couple of reporters just to put on his pads and uniform when he joined the squad during his brief 1-year stint in the NFL. Other Olympic speedsters that have tried to make it on the gridiron have included: Special Teams Pro Bowler Michael Bates (Panthers), James Jett (Raiders), Sam Graddy (Raiders), Ron Brown (Rams), John Capel (Bears/Chiefs) and others.  Also look out for LSU explosive small running back/kick returner Trindon Holliday (2nd in 2007 NCAA 100 Meters, clocked a 10.02 in the Semi-Final Rd) in the next couple of years.

With Gaitlin running an astonishing 9.77 seconds in the 100 meters, one has to ask “Does pure track speed really have anything to do with the total game of football?” Sure being able to run a fast forty-yard dash makes you a “special player”, but I always want to see how a player performs in pads with someone coming after them with malice in their heart. John Gruden said of Gaitlin at his 2007 tryout “If (his speed) can transfer to football, you have a real threat,” and then he added, “If it can’t, then it won’t work.” Gruden quotes sum up the “world class” speed debate succinctly. Football is a game that requires instincts, quickness, intellect, agility, toughness, awareness, and several other characteristics that can compensate for pure speed. Having blazing speed can get a receiver past someone on a go route, but not being able to stay in bounds, get off a jam, take a hit, or most importantly catching and holding onto a ball can cause a “world class” sprinter to be a non-entity on the football field.

The odds are long against Gaitlin and we will have to wait and see if he can make it. Hopefully he will not hear the same words Capel heard from Dick Vermeil as he was being cut in Chiefs training camp in 2002, the heartful coach said “‘John, you’ve got to go home and do what you’re best at (running)”.

Little Known 2008 NFL Draft Hopefuls: But Don’t Call Them Sleepers

(Philadelphia, Pa) — Every year around draft time I am asked whether it is by friends or on the radio to identify a “sleeper”.  Well everyone I am here to tell you that there are no longer true “sleepers” in the NFL Draft process.  Trust me, if you have talent the NFL will find you with their gaggle of scouts, assistant coaches, GM’s, and others scanning the country for players.  With the emergence of small school guys like Eagles RB Brian Westbrook (Villanova), Ravens DB David Pittman (Northwestern State), Colts DB Antoine Bethea (Howard), and many others the NFL finds players everywhere.  The entire NFL you can say is now taking a page from the old Pittsburgh Steelers scouting department from the ’70s where super scout Bill Nunn found several diamonds in the rough (John Stallworth, Mel Blount, and others) throughout the country that turned into major contributors to their dynasty.Some “if you build it, they will come” prospects to watch include:

  • San Diego QB Josh Johnson – The Oakland, California native is from the University of San Diego and not the bigger San Diego State. But Johnson (6’3, 215) is extremely well known going into the draft after a senior season where he tossed a school record 43 touchdowns (only 1 INT) while ranking first in the nation in total offense (4,040 yards) and broke the NCAA record for passing efficiency (176.7).  His post season has been even more noteworthy as he was the MVP at the East-West Shrine game and ran an eye-popping 4.55 seconds in the forty at the Combine.  At the Combine after his blazing time he was hurt by back spasms that affected his throwing, but at his March Pro Day workout he got redemption.  In front of about 20 NFL team evaluators including head coaches Norv Turner of San Diego and Carolina’s John Fox, Johnson threw the ball much better than he did at the combine hitting almost all of his throws in stride.
  • Delaware RB/KR Omar Cuff  – After a stellar senior season including rushing for an amazing 7 touchdowns versus William & Mary watch for this stick of dynamite in the NFL.  Cuff  (5-9 7/8, 195) amassed 4,363 rushing yards and a school-record 73 total touchdowns as Blue Hen and at his recent Pro Day he ran the forty in 4.55 seconds, had a 34-inch vertical jump, 10-foot, 1-inch long jump, 4.12 short shuttle, 6.86 cone drill, and 16 reps at 225.
  • HBCU’s have notoriously been fertile grounds for the NFL and this year is no different.  Everyone knows about Tennessee State’s Domique Rodgers-Cromartie after the Senior Bowl.  But a new HBCU prospect announced his presence this week at Alabama’s Pro Day.  Little known Stillman College CB/KR Brian Witherspoon (5-10 3/8, 178) stole the show from his SEC counterparts. Witherspoon, who is also an All-American sprinter posted numbers of a 4.33 seconds forty, 40 inch vertical,  4.36 seconds in the short shuttle, and a cone drill of 6.86 seconds. Witherspoon is a fluid athlete with good change of direction and looked very good in corner and return drills.  His times in the forty and cone drill would have placed him with the Troy State potential top 15 pick Leodis McKelvin’s combine numbers. 

Other HBCU players to watch for include: Clark Atlanta University DE/LB Curtis Johnson  (6-3, 255), Bethune Cookman DB Bobbie Williams (6-0, 214), Jackson State WR Jaymar Johnson (5-11, 180, 4.41), Delaware State WR Shaheer McBride (6-1, 199, 4.50), Hampton University DE Kendall Langford (6-5, 294, 5.03), South Carolina State OL James Lee (6-4, 303, 5.30), Bethune Cookman LB Ronnie McCollough (5-11, 225, 4.65), Tennessee State DE Shawn Richardson (6-4, 299, 5.12), and Tuskegee University DB Johnathan Harris (5-10, 185, 4.44)

  • Every year there are former quarterbacks making their mark in the NFL at other positions — Think Cleveland Browns Pro Bowl return man Joshua Cribbs. This year UTEP QB/WR Lorne Sam (6’3, 215) is my number one conversion candidate. The jack-of-all-trades player transferred from Florida State looking to get noticed and he did producing numbers in 2007 of 12-19 for 144 yards w/ 2 TDs passing, 60 rushes for 339 yards w/ 3 TDs, and 42 catches for 589 yards (14.0 ypc) and 1 TD receiving. He followed his season up by shining at the combine catching the ball well in drills, posting 23 reps at 225 pounds (great for a receiver), and running a 4.55 in the forty. Another conversion candidate is the 2007 Walter Payton award winner from Georgia Southern QB/WR/KR Jayson Foster (6′, 170). Despite his smallish size this mighty mite is explosive, elusive, speedy, and went for over 1,000 yards passing and rushing in 2007.
  • TE Antonio Smith, Michigan State: The big tight end prospect (6-7, 260) is one of the most interesting stories this draft season. With the emergence of former basketball player Antonio Gates in the NFL, Smith is the latest former hardwood player trying to make the jump to the NFL at the surprising age of 32. The brother of current Cleveland Browns defensive end Robaire Smith certainly looked the part of an NFL tight end posting good numbers at Michigan State’s Pro Day with times 5.19 and 5.14 in the 40, a 32½-inch vertical jump, 9-foot, 7-inch long jump, and 18 reps in the bench press.

Sleeper Quick Hitters

— Virginia Tech OT Duane Brown – Everyone knows about Jake Long and Boise State’s Clady, but Brown (6’5, 310) should get noticed by the scouts.  He is a big tough and some say mean O-lineman that will fight you to the whistle.   He has a good punch coming off the ball, good footwork, and large wingspan.

— Eastern Kentucky OT Sean Dumford (6’5, 302) was impressive at Kentucky’s Pro Day outshining his SEC brethren by running a respectable 5.15 in the forty and posting 27 reps pressing 225 pounds.

— Washburn tall corner Cary Williams (6-1, 187) made the radar at the University of Kansas Pro Day producing a 4.43 forty, 32½-inch vertical jump, 4.34 short shuttle, 6.94 cone drill, 8 reps in the bench press, and looking smooth in drills.

— Weber State O-lineman David Hale (6-5 5/8, 310) followed up a solid combing by producing a 29-inch vertical jump, 4.63 short shuttle, 7.51 cone drill, and 25 reps at his Pro Day.

— Grand Valley State CB Brandon Carr (6-0, 207) ran the forty in 4.43, had a 35-inch vertical jump, 10-foot, 4-inch long jump, 4.19 short shuttle, 6.80 cone drill, and ran well in drills at his workout.

— Chadron State RB Danny Woodhead (5-7 ½. 197) showed the big boys that he is ready by ripping it up at the Nebraska Pro Day. The record-setting small-school player  ran the forty in 4.38 seconds, had a 38-inch vertical jump, 10-foot, 1-inch long jump, 4.20 short shuttle, 7.03 cone drill, and 20 reps of 225.

Eagles Still Searching for the Answer to Their Receiver Situation

(Philadelphia, Pa) — So you want a receiver Philly fans to finally fill the void or is it a ravine that has existed since the departure of — The initials that we dare not say —  T.O.   Sure we can all hear Andy Reid’s 9-year common retort –uh, uh, [Throat Clear], “We are okay with our receivers”.  Coach we all know you are trying to protect your group of handpicked pass catchers, but 16 receiving touchdowns from your entire receiving corps when players like Randy Moss (23) and Braylon Edwards (16) were in their neighborhood or down the block all by themselves is an indicator that an impact player is needed.

Kevin Curtis was scrappy with numbers of 77 catches for 1110 yards, 14.4 yards per catch, and 6 TDs.  But when you take away his 11 catches, 221 yards,  21 ypc, 3 touchdown performance against the putrid Lions secondary in week three, you are left with some average numbers especially the 3 touchdowns the rest of the way — he did have two additional scores off fumble recoveries which proves he has nose for the ball.  NFL personnel guys that I have talked to have continually said that the Eagles have a good nucleus, but no that scares you other than Westbrook on offense especially their receivers.

I believe that for all of his “We are fine there talk”, Andy Reid understands that an upgrade is needed at the position going into 2008 season.  When free agency beckoned in late February, Birds fans had visions of Donovan McNabb throwing to a variety of too good to be true front line receivers.

— Chad Johnson (Proved to not be as unhappy as everyone thought.  Maybe getting great fantasy football numbers receiving from Carson Palmer and getting all of the attention from his antics in Cincinnati is what he really likes)

— Randy Moss (The Birds’ brass was oh too happy to tell their fan base that they made a “run” at the game’s second most enigmatic receiver offering him more than the Patriots on paper, but even coach Reid knew he was going back to Tom Terrific)

— Bernard Berrian (Thankfully the Eagles decided to let the Vikings (Philly Midwest) sign him to the tune of six-years, $42 million dollars.  Which I thought was too much for a guy that has never had a 1,000 yard season)

— Donte Stallworth (The Patriots 3rd receiver was worth seven-year, $35 million contract, with $10 million guaranteed and $17 million in the first four years to the Browns.  May have been the best fit since “he knows the system” and loves to go deep, but the Birds were not about to give that to a guy who had spent a large amount of his time in Philly in the whirlpool)

— Larry Fitzgerald (Though people were constantly telling me that Fitz was coming here after a conversation that BIGPLAY Football had with him last week in Cleveland at the EAS show, I knew he wanted to stay in Arizona.  Sure enough he signed a crazy fat restructured deal of 4 years, $40 Million with $30 Million in guarantees).

You can also throw in lower level guys Jerry Porter (now with Jaguars), Javon Walker (now with Raiders), Patrick Crayton (Re-signed with the Cowboys), Devrey Henderson (Re-signed by the Saints) and others that were also not part of the Birds plans.

However as of mid March there have been many rumors and attempts with little to show for it other than the Eagles gaining “brownie points” with stepford fans for trying.   But the plan facts are Eagles fans are probably still looking at the same receiver group going into the draft.  Sure there are non-descript free agents like Bryant Johnson (rumored to be on the Bucs radar), Keary Colbert, and DJ Hackett left.  But you can almost book it that other than a blockbuster deal that falls in their lap (i.e. Roy Williams) that the draft is the Birds next move at the wide receiver position.

So with the Birds armed with probably 12 or more selections and Lito Sheppard they will have some options going into April, but if you are expecting the Rams to just hand over perennial Pro Bowl receiver Torry Holt for Sheppard and 5th rounder you have eaten one too many cheesesteaks with “wacky whiz”.   There still maybe a play or two out there.  I am hearing rumblings that Jags WR Matt Jones an intriguing former college quarterback that Eagles were high prior to the 2005 draft maybe available.  The Jags have brought in Troy Williamson and Porter and the 24-year old Jones’ mouth and lack of production (only 24  catches in ’07) have made for a very rocky relationship with head coach Jack Del Rio.  I still believe the Eagles will be looking to the draft first for their guy.

This year’s draft class at the receiver position is nice, but there are too many 2nd round choice types that don’t deserving of the Eagles #19 overall pick – You also don’t have to be a genius to know an offensive or defensive lineman will be their first choice.  So look for a solid player that can maybe contribute on special teams, but if you are looking for a Vikings Randy Moss 1998 rookie season (over 1,300 yards and 17 TDs) wake up.

With any rookie receiver patience is a virtual as it usually take three years for these future prima donnas to develop and we all know the Eagles track record for playing rookies, so break out the redshirt.  Also remember it took until the playoffs for Giants receiver Steve Smith to finally get it and where was San Diego Chargers first round selection Craig “Buster” Davis all of last year (20 rec, 188 yds w/ 1 TD).

Some draft options include:

DeSean Jackson, California –    Junior Eligible speedy return man (4.32), who needs to be more consistent catching the ball.  At 6-0,  178 pounds reminds me a little of Carolina tough guy Steve Smith when he came out of Utah. His return ability would be a huge plus for the field position starved Eagles. 

James Hardy,   Indiana  – Huge junior target at 6-6,  220 pounds that could be a great fit in the redzone.  Has Plaxico Burress size and tenacity with adequate speed (4.59)

Malcolm Kelly, Oklahoma – Another big junior (6-4,  218) with average speed.  Will need to prove that he is tougher than he appeared at the combine where he begged off drills due to a quad tweak.

Early Doucet, LSU – A big play receiver that could fit well in the Eagles system.  He can play inside or outside at 6-0,  211 pounds running in the high 4.4’s.  Shined at the Senior Bowl catching the ball better than any of the other targets in Mobile.  To me he could be better than last year’s Chiefs sensation and former LSU teammate Dwayne Bowe.

Devin Thomas, Michigan State – Was undoubtedly the star receiver at the combine showing that he has the size (6-2,  215), Hands (caught ball with hands in drills and I didn’t see a drop), and speed (4.4) to make an impact.  Great second round value player.

Others to keep an eye on are Florida’s  Andre Caldwell, Kevin Kolb’s former Houston teammate Donnie Avery, Virginia Tech’s Eddie Royal (4.39 returnman speed demon), Kansas State rangy wideout Jordy Nelson (reminds me of Ed McCaffrey at 6-3,  215,  4.5’s) and this year’s Wes Welker — Texas Tech receiver Danny Amendola (5’11, 180 with great hands out of the slot).

Brett Favre Announces his Retirement as the NFL Says Goodbye to an Icon

(Philadelphia, Pa) — Fans always remember where they were and what they were doing when “their guy” did something special.  Well on March 4th 2008 an “American icon” Brett Lorenzo Favre gave his millions of fans one last moment to savor of his Hall of Fame level career as he announced his retirement.  Though he started out as a free bird kid quarterback for the Atlanta Falcons in 1992 – I can still remember loose cannon Falcons head coach Jerry Glanville calling his 3rd string quarterback “Mississippi”, because he couldn’t say ‘Farv’ correctly during his rookie season – the ‘crazy kid’ became a man and then a legend in Green Bay, Wisconsin producing an NFL Films vault worth of treasures in his 17-year career that will surely end in Canton, Ohio at the Pro Football Hall of Fame.His last pass may have been intercepted by the Giants cornerback Corey Webster ending the Packers’ NFC Championship game, but it was fitting that the pass was thrown in the snow of the “frozen tundra” of Lambeau field.  Favre endeared himself to all fans with his genuine kid like enthusiasm for the game.  His giddily waltzed through the storm of seventeen NFL seasons winning a Super Bowl (XXXII, of course winning the MVP) and producing numerous records including most career NFL touchdown passes (442), most career NFL passing yards (61,655), most career pass completions (5,377), most career passing attempts (8,758), most career NFL interceptions thrown (288), his “iron man” most consecutive starts quarterback streak (253 and you can make it 275 if you include the playoffs), and most career victories as a starting quarterback (160).  But it was his enthusiasm along with his everyman humility – Remember Favre’s quote after breaking Dan Marino’s yardage record in week 15, “I’ve said this all along: I’ve never considered myself to be in the same league as Dan Marino”.  He added “What a great passer, maybe the greatest passer ever — that made everyone love him to the point that you had to root for him even if he was on the opposing team’s sideline.  Fans sometimes ask me is it all an act by #4 with all of the smiling, laughing, and his just plain having fun approach to football.  To answer them in a word “No” as his passion for the game stems from a pure love of “street” football that we all remember from our youth. 

Everyone has moments of Favre that they will tell their grandchildren about like the Super Bowl win over the Patriots where he and Reggie White brought the title back to “Title Town”, the magical December 2003 night in Oakland where playing through tears he won one for his Dad throwing four touchdowns in a 41-7 rout as every pass seemed to find a receiver, snowball fighting on the field in the playoff win over the Seahawks this season, taking on Warren Sapp after sacks, blocking on end-around plays downfield, and numerous other stories.  But my Favre memory is a personal one that shows the “character” of the retiring legend.  It happened on December 3rd, 2001 in Jacksonville, Florida.  As the nation was still hurting from September 11th   — I still remember not feeling too safe on the flight —  I went to Florida to do a piece on Packers backup quarterback Henry Burris and to see the Monday Night match-up between the Jags and Packers.  At the Packers’ team hotel it was like a scene out of a rock star’s life as everyone wanted to see Brett as they thought his retirement was near – little did they know he would play until 2007.  Wide-eyed I introduced myself to him by calling him “Mr. Favre” as I stood talking to Burris.  Through all the madness of humanity in the lobby that day, in his “Favre” way he told me to call him “Brett” and proceeded to tell me how well Burris was learning his playbook and praised him.  The moment was only a few minutes, but I appreciated him spending time with us.  Also from talking to Burris, I could sense how he marveled at hanging out with and learning from one of the NFL’s best on a daily basis on the practice field and in meetings.  By the way in one the best games I have seen live, #4 led the Packers to a comeback 28-21 victory throwing for numbers of 24-42, 362 yards, 3 TDs, and no interceptions.

The 2007 NFL season now takes on a significant note as it was the last time that we saw one of the NFL’s All-time greats at his very best.  The rickety 38-year old graybeard’s play was inspiring as he threw for over 4,000 yards and 28 touchdowns leading the Packers to a NFC North division title and back to playoffs culminating in hosting a picturesque NFC Championship game in frigid Lambeau field.  I am glad for Favre that he went out on his own terms, because too often players want one more game and never receive it.  Though football’s John Wayne is through throwing passes, his legend will continue to grow by the day and happily we will all plan to see him in Canton in a few years. 

Good Luck Brett and we will miss you!!