(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. Detroit Lions – QB Matt Stafford, Georgia (Jr)
Record: 0-16 | Needs: QB, OT, CB, S, DE
All through the early part of the pre-draft season I thought that the Lions led by new head coach Jim Schwartz would be content with going for an offensive tackle with their first pick. There have been rumors that veteran Jeff Backus would move to guard leaving the Lions to pick either Virginia’s Eugene Monroe or Baylor’s Jason Smith first overall. But lately I have been hearing inklings that the winless Lions want to make a big splash on April 25th and that means, “quarterback”. With the front office figuring out that Daunte Culpepper is only a caretaker at this stage in his career, the Lions will draft big-armed quarterback Matthew Stafford (6-3, 236) from Georgia. Stafford has shown natural ability since his high school days, but he never was able to totally put it together at Georgia. He put up good numbers of 235-383 passes for 3,459 yards and 25 touchdowns with 10 interceptions in 2009, but his team was inconsistent. Stafford looked terrible against eventual National Champion Florida in ’09, losing 49-10 while throwing for pedestrian numbers of 18-33, 265 yards, 0 TDs, and 3 INTs (one returned for a touchdown). The former Texas high school gunslinger has all the quarterback measurables of instincts, vision, footwork, arm and a tough attitude, but you have to wonder if he is the next Jeff George – disappointing first overall selection in 1990. Stafford finished his career with numbers 564-for-987 for 7,731 yards, 51 touchdowns, and 33 interceptions.
2. St. Louis Rams – OT Eugene Monroe, Virginia (Sr)
Record: 2-14 | Needs: OT, QB, CB, OLB, WR
With new coach Steve Spagnuolo coming to town, the Rams are in the process of turning over an aging underachieving roster. Veterans Orlando Pace, Trent Green, Torry Holt, and Drew Bennett have all been sent packing with an eye on rebuilding one of the NFL’s lower franchises. With needs all over the place, the Rams start building upfront on the offensive line as there is a glaring need to replace former first rounder left tackle Orlando Pace. With Spagnuolo and new offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur looking to build around marquee running back Steven Jackson, expect the selection of a road grader to plow the way. The Rams select big athletic Virginia offensive tackle Eugene Monroe (6-5, 315). Monroe battled back from a 2007 knee injury and showed impressive durability, footwork, strength, and “punch” in 2008. The former All-ACC pick, who many say is better than ’08 first rounder Branden Albert, is a prototypical left tackle with good height, long arms and a strong anchor. Look for the surprisingly nimble big man to lead the way on running plays and get after linebackers and defensive backs downfield.
3. Kansas City Chiefs – OT Jason Smith, Baylor (Sr)
Record: 2-14 | Needs: OT, G, CB, LB, NT
New coach Todd Haley and new general manager Scott Pioli will be looking to instill the “Belichick” way to a franchise that is trying to rebuild from a terrible 2008 season. All along going into the draft process everyone thought quarterback, but the Chiefs took care of that thanks to an assist by the Patriots acquiring franchised quarterback Matt Cassell for a bargain 2nd round pick. With Cassell in place and thoughts of keeping malcontent running back Larry Johnson happy in Kansas City, the Chiefs will select Baylor cat-quick offensive tackle Jason Smith (6-5, 305). After converting from tight end to tackle in 2006, Smith showed that he was a natural tackle. Though he missed 2007 with a knee injury, Smith finished his college career with 39 starts including twenty-four at left tackle and seven at right tackle. J-Smooth, as Smith is nicknamed, had a great combine doing well in interviews running 5.22 seconds in the forty, banging out a tackle-high 33 reps on the bench, and showing the best agility of all O-linemen in bag drills. Smith only gave up 4 ½ sacks in his career as a left tackle and the Chiefs will love his attitude. Smith said of competition, “I take a lot of pride in physically assaulting somebody when I’m on the field.”
4. Seattle Seahawks – DE Michael Johnson, Georgia Tech (Sr)
Record: 4-12 | Needs: OT, DT, RB, TE, G
Options will be plentiful for the rebuilding Seahawks as they will try to start the Jim Mora era in Seattle on the right foot. Offensively the Seahawks have looked to free agency with the signing of TJ Houshmanzadeh from the Bengals and the return of often-injured receiver Deion Branch and quarterback Matt Hassellback to bolster their ranks. So the defensive-minded Mora will look to improve a defense that is getting old on the defensive line by selecting two-way defensive end Johnson (6’7, 266). The first team All-ACC selection will definitely compliment veteran holdover Patrick Kerney with his height, long arms and burst off the edge. As a senior, Johnson had 17½ tackles for loss and nine sacks. Even though he has all of the measurables including recently clocking an incredible 4.59 seconds in his Pro Day forty, Johnson has been known to be inconsistent and undisciplined at times so Mora will need to stay on him.
5. Cleveland Browns – RB Chris “Beanie” Wells, Ohio State (Jr)
Record: 4-12 | Needs: RB, CB, LB, S
The magic ran out for former coach Romeo Crennel in 2008 and now the Browns will rebuild behind former Jets head coach Eric Mangini. The Browns currently are rebuilding their defense around their playmaking linebackers, but their offense needs a move-the-chains running back. Veteran Jamal Lewis is close to finishing out his solid career, so the Browns will get younger at the position by selecting bruising Ohio State running back Chris “Beanie” Wells. Don’t think of this pick as a hometown selection as Wells (6-1, 237, 4.53) is just the type of runner that Mangini needs to compliment quarterbacks Brady Quinn and Derek Anderson. He is a north-south runner who hits the hole quickly and can either run passed or through a defender. The junior eligible likes the to use the stiff-arm, but he will need to watch injuries after three injury-filled seasons at OSU – injured ankle nagged him in 2008 and forced him to miss the Buckeyes huge game against USC. Even with injuries, Wells is a franchise back and should make an immediate impact as a rookie. In his college career, the former Buckeye put up numbers 585 rushes for 3,496 yards and 30 touchdowns.
6. Cincinnati Bengals – OT Andre Smith, Alabama (Jr)
Record: 4-11-1 | Needs: OL, DE, RB, S
A rollercoaster season filled with injuries and internal strife landed embattled head coach Marvin Lewis in the Top 10 of the draft again. The Bengals need help in a variety of areas including a defense that was ranked near the bottom of the NFL in sacks and an offensive line that had the huge defection of offensive tackle Stacy Andrews in free agency to the Eagles. With the objective of keeping quarterback Carson Palmer healthy for the entire season, the Bengals will select huge offensive tackle Andre Smith from Alabama. Though red flags have been plentiful with Smith (6-4, 340) including recently having an average Pro Day, leaving the combine early, his weight fluctuating, and being suspended for the 2009 Sugar Bowl there is no doubt he is a talented player. The Bengals, who are known to take chances on question mark players will give Smith a shot to live up to his huge potential. The 2008 Outland Trophy as the country’s top lineman, Smith played since his freshman year and was dominant. The first-team All-SEC pick should easily replace Andrews as he is a dominant run blocker who has surprising agility as a pass blocker.
7. Oakland Raiders – WR Michael Crabtree, Texas Tech (Redshirt Soph)
Record: 5-11 | Needs: WR, OT, DE, S
The affinity of Raiders owner Al Davis in looking for game-breaking skills and a homerun threat will lead him directly to receiver Michael Crabtree (6-3, 214, 4.54). Raiders new head coach Tom Cable needs a complimentary receiver to go with his talented backfield trio (McFadden, Fargas, and Bush) and strong-armed quarterback JaMarcus Russell. Plus the Raiders just cut veteran receiver Ronald Curry and Javon Walker appears to be on his last legs, so the two-time Biletnikoff award-winner makes sense. Though he is recovering from a foot injury, Crabtree is considered to be the next Larry Fitzgerald. In his two years at Texas Tech, Crabtree was a man amongst boys producing 231 receptions for 3,127 yards, and 41 touchdowns. To me the former Texas Tech quarterback recruit is already a high-level professional receiver and he could possibly have an impactful rookie year on the level of 2007 receiver Marques Colston. Crabtree has great ability to start-and-stop in routes, superior hand-eye coordination, good body control and is an aggressive run-after-catch guy.
8. Jacksonville Jaguars – OLB Aaron Curry, Wake Forest (Sr)
Record: 5-11 | Needs: WR, OT, CB, RB
Jags head coach Jack Del Rio is a former NFL linebacker, so he knows the value of grabbing a difference-maker at the position. With the Jaguars parting ways with volatile linebacker Mike Peterson this off-season, Curry seems like an ideal fit to breath life into a defense that was pushed around in ’08. Curry (6-3, 247) is a four-year standout who is an aggressive enforcer on the field. Probably the most NFL ready player in the 2009 Draft, Curry is the 2008 Butkus award-winner, which is a award given annually to college football’s most outstanding linebacker. He is prepared for the NFL both mentally and physically, with an exceptional knack for diagnosing plays. A very fluid player with great change of direction, Curry had a great combine and has the stats (105 tackles, including 16 for lost yardage and 2½ sacks, and three fumble recoveries in 2008) to back-up comparisons to Titans LB Keith Bullock.
9. Green Bay Packers – CB Malcolm Jenkins, Ohio State (Sr)
Record: 6-10 | Needs: LB, DE, S, CB
The Packers have been quiet in free agency, but you have to believe that they will be looking for the future replacement of aging corners Charles Woodson and Al Harris in the draft. The Packers may take a look at Curry at this spot if he is available, but I believe Jenkins (6-1, 201) is their man. With former Buckeye AJ Hawk already on the roster, the Packers get another solid player from Ohio State. Jenkins is a “lockdown” corner, who has a nose for the ball. As a senior, he won the Thorpe Award as the nation’s top defensive back. He has great quickness and explosion to the ball plus he will provide the versatility that Packers defensive coordinator Dom Capers likes in his secondary. Repeatedly battle tested, Jenkins was the leader of the Buckeye secondary that ranked #1 against the pass in ’07. He was so good that teams tended to thrown away from him. Had 11 career interceptions including returning two for touchdowns versus Penn St in 2007.
10. S.F. 49ers – OLB/DE Aaron Maybin, Penn State (Redshirt Soph)
Record: 7-9 | Needs: QB, OL, OLB, DE
This will be an intriguing pick, because new head coach Mike Singletary is evaluating every player and every position on his roster. The Niners have multiple needs, but I have a feeling that the defensive side of the ball will be where Iron Mike will go with his selection. The Niners maybe tempted to take a quarterback (Mark Sanchez), but their new scheme will be based around a strong running game and an attacking defense. For their new 3-4 scheme, the Niners select outside pass rusher Aaron Maybin to play alongside All-Pro middle linebacker Patrick Willis. Maybin (6-4, 248, 4.67) was a productive defensive end for two seasons in Tom Bradley’s attacking Nittany Lions defensive scheme. He displayed tenacity and great closing speed, which allowed him to lead the Big Ten with 12 sacks plus he had 20 tackles for a loss in ’08. Though Maybin is smallish for a true NFL defensive end, with his knack for rushing the passer he is a natural fit for the Niners’ “Elephant” position (half OLB and half DE). Look for Maybin to get bigger and stronger as he matures into his NFL body.
11. Buffalo Bills – RB Knowshon Moreno, Georgia (Redshirt Soph)
Record: 7-9 | Needs: DT, RB, DE, WR, TE
With multiple questions abounding about troubled running back Marshawn Lynch and not many backup options. Bills head coach Dick Jauron continues to rebuild his offense by selecting Moreno. The former All-SEC running back is an explosive player, who can both move the chains and take it the house on long runs. Moreno (5-11, 208, 4.6) is quick and has great cutback moves similar to Chargers super back LaDainian Tomlinson. With Moreno, Lynch, and new receiver Terrell Owens, quarterback Trent Edwards will have an embarrassment of players around him. Moreno had career numbers of 498 rushes for 2,859 yards and 30 touchdowns plus he also caught 53 passes for 645 yards.
12. Denver Broncos – DT B.J. Raji, Boston College (Sr)
Record: 8-8 | Needs: RB, OT, LB, CB
New Broncos head coach Josh McDaniels is changing the face of this franchise by adding over 12 free agents this off-season. However the young head coach who is trying to install the “Patriot” way of playing football needs a dominant defensive tackle in Vince Wilfork’s mold. With the selection of Raji (6-2, 337) the Broncos will get their two-gap protector who they will funnel their defense through. After sitting out in 2007 for failing to fulfill academic obligations, the big All-ACC fire hydrant performed with a vengeance in 2008 and seemed unblockable at times. Raji was the most dominant interior defensive lineman in the country with 16 tackles for loss and eight sacks. The Senior Bowl practices are where he really shined by dominating in trench drills. The 337-pounder followed up his strong Senior Bowl performance by next standing out at the combine producing 33 reps at 225 and running a solid 5.2 forty time.
13. Washington Redskins – DE Brian Orakpo, Texas (Sr)
Record: 8-8 | Needs: DE, OT, LB, CB
The Redskins have strong needs along both their offensive and defensive lines. But I believe the team’s upper management is targeting the defensive line as their new cornerstone. Already the ‘Skins have invested over $100 Million in free agent Albert Haynesworth and their next move will be to enhance a weak pass rush by drafting Orakpo (6-4, 260, 4.73). The former Longhorns defensive end won the Lombardi, Hendricks and Nagurski awards in 2008 making him the most honored defensive lineman in college. Orakpo is solid against the run and the pass plus demonstrated a tough play in college. Redskins defensive coordinator Greg Blache will need to ensure that Orakpo is properly motivated, as sometimes he does not display the intensity needed. Also there are knee concerns as Orakpo missed some time the last two seasons with injuries in that area.
14. New Orleans Saints – DE Everette Brown, DE, Florida State (Jr)
Record: 8-8 | Needs: LB, DE, S, OL, WR
The Saints are coming off a very disappointing season where they lacked consistency especially on defense. It seemed every week that head coach Sean Payton’s team was in a pinball machine-type game as they allowed 393 points due mainly to their inability to get after the passer. With intentions on pushing underachieving DE’s Charles Grant and Will Smith, the Saints will select Brown (6-4, 252, 4.65). The explosive former Seminole pass rusher knows how to get after the quarterback, as shown by his 21½ tackles for loss and 13½ sacks in 2008. Brown has speed, uses his hands well and has excellent balance in taking on larger offensive tackles. Look for him to bulk up in the pros.
15. Houston Texans – OLB Brian Cushing, Southern California (Sr)
Record: 8-8 | Needs: OL, RB, TE, LB, S
With the Texans concentrating so many picks on their defensive line over the last couple of drafts and the signing of ex-Cardinals defensive end Antonio Smith in free agency, it seems to make sense that they will finally look for a playmaker at outside linebacker. Cushing (6-3, 243, 4.7) seems the logical choice to play next to Pro Bowl player DeMeco Ryans. The former USC stalwart is an explosive player, who moves forward well especially when blitzing. At this year’s Senior Bowl, Cushing showed that he was the best of USC’s outstanding trio of linebackers at the event. Cushing had only one tackle in the game, but all week everyone was impressed with his size, recognition skills, and downhill playing style. This versatile athlete should fit-in well in the Texans’ attacking defensive scheme, but any team taking Cushing will need to watch against injuries (high ankle, knee and shoulder problems during his career).
16. San Diego Chargers – ILB Rey Maualuga USC (Sr)
Record: 8-8 | Needs: DT, WR, CB, LB
The Chargers vaunted defense was not it’s usual self in ’08 giving up 347 points as superstar LB Shawne Merriman (knee) was on the sidelines. To help get his unit back into shape, defensive coordinator Ron Rivera won’t need to convince head coach Norv Turner much that the Bolts must select the NFL’s next great run stuffing inside linebacker in Maualuga (6-2, 254, 4.7). The big tough inside linebacker can play all three downs and has a nose for the ball plus his “stay at home” mentality will allow Merriman and Shawn Phillips to make plays on the outside. Maualuga plays with a nasty disposition and wants to make every tackle. He had a tremendous week at the Senior Bowl producing 3 tackles, 1 tackle for loss and forcing a fumble in the game. Though he pulled his hamstring at the combine, Maualuga should bounce back to be a great downhill NFL linebacker. The one negative on the USC star is he over-pursues and will need to get better at learning to read play-action.
17. New York Jets – QB Mark Sanchez USC (Jr)
Record: 9-7 | Needs: DE, WR, QB, G, RB
The Jets new head coach Rex Ryan is all about defense, but even he knows that the J-E-T-S need a triggerman to build around. Future Hall of Fame quarterback Brett Favre retired leaving inexperienced throwers Kellen Clemens and Brett Ratliff as Ryan’s only options. The Jets with their fans yelling and screaming at Radio City Music Hall will get their man as they select Sanchez (6’3, 225) as Favre’s replacement. The All-PAC 10 junior eligible only started 16 games for USC, but he did lead his team to a Rose Bowl win as a senior. In his only full season as a starter in 2008, Sanchez led the Trojans to a 12-1 record displaying a good arm, excellent footwork, and mental toughness. The former USC star has great anticipation, accuracy and throws a good ball. In 2008 after coming back from a knee injury, Sanchez completed 214 of 366 passes for 3,207 yards and 41 touchdowns with 16 interceptions.
18. Chicago Bears – WR Percy Harvin, Florida (Jr)
Record: 9-7 | Needs: QB, WR, OL, DT, S
The Bears continued to struggle offensively as they never really found a playmaker to replace departed receiver Bernard Berrian. Looking to score more touchdowns (only scored 42 in ’08) and take some pressure off of quarterback Kyle Orton and returner turned receiver Devin Hester, Bears head coach Lovie Smith grabs college football’s version of Reggie Bush in mercurial Florida speedster Harvin (5-11, 195, 4.36). The junior eligible from this year’s National Champs has dazzling talent where he can be used on the outside, in the slot, in the backfield, in the “Wildcat” and help out on special teams. Most dangerous in the open field, Harvin in three years with the Gators had 133 receptions for 1,929 yards and 13 touchdowns and 194 carries for 1,852 yards and 19 scores. Amazingly Harvin scored at least once in 15 consecutive games, which was the longest streak in the nation. The only question mark about the diminutive receiver/running back is whether he is durable enough to take an NFL pounding.
19. Tampa Bay Buccaneers – DE Tyson Jackson, LSU (Sr)
Record: 9-7 | Needs: CB, RB, QB, LB
The Buccaneers are undergoing a huge makeover under the guidance of young defensive-minded head coach Raheem Morris. With veteran defensive end Kevin Carter leaving in free agency, the Bucs will look for another pass rusher. Jackson is at 6-4, 295 is a stout two-way defensive end who can also slide inside if needed. Jackson has excellent size and strength at the point of attack plus has good enough quickness to shed blocks. However there have been questions regarding Jackson peaking earlier in his career and whether he is an underachiever. After exploding on the scene in 2006, producing a team-high 8.5 sacks for the Tigers, Jackson sack totals fell to 3.5 in ’07 and 4.5 in ’08. It will be interesting to see if Morris and his defensive coordinator Jim Bates can turn Jackson’s size and potential into being a solid pro.
20. Detroit Lions (from Dallas) – OT Michael Oher, Mississippi (Sr)
Record: 0-16 | Needs: QB, OT, CB, S, DE
With the Lions already grabbing marquee quarterback Matthew Stafford with the first overall pick, they will then look to grab a protector for him with their second first rounder. By selecting Oher (6-5, 309) the Lions can move veteran right tackle Jeff Backus and have their bookends for the future with the All-SEC pick and last year’s number one Gosder Cherilus. A reserved guy off the field, Oher (pronounced “Oar”) carries a nasty streak on the field. The Ole’ Miss standout can either out-quick or manhandle opponents as he has a great punch and decent footwork. The former Ole Miss star will need to continue to work hard in the pre-draft period as some scouts have worried about his technique and demeanor. At the Senior Bowl, Oher showed an ability to be a dominant run blocker. However he also showed that work is needed on his pass-blocking skills, not reaching for an opponent and playing with leverage. The big natural right tackle was the subject of a book called the “Blind Side” in high school.
21. Philadelphia Eagles – OT Eben Britton, Arizona (Jr)
Record: 9-6-1 | Needs: OT, TE, RB, S, WR
I know you want a receiver here Birds fans, but given the Eagles track record and their need to replace stalwart bookend tackles Jon Runyan and William Thomas, a tackle will be this pick. Britton (6-6, 310) has the skills to become an excellent NFL tackle, though some thought that he could have used another year in college to hone his skills. The Wildcats junior-eligible road grader uses his size, strength and athleticism to be a force on the edge. Britton started 37 straight games since entering the lineup as a freshman, lining up at right tackle for the first 24 contests before shifting to left tackle in 2008. Britton is a high-character and hard worker type of player who was a team captain. But he was will need watch playing too upright and maintaining an aggressive attitude in the pros. With O-line guru Juan Castille pushing him look for this big athletic O-lineman to push disappointing ’06 pick Winston Justice and add depth to an area that Andy Reid always loves to build up.
22. Minnesota Vikings – WR Jeremy Maclin, Missouri (Jr)
Record: 10-6 | Needs: QB, S, CB, WR
Everyone knows the Vikings and their offensive-minded head coach Brad Childress wanted another offensive weapon this off-season. The Vikes unsuccessfully tried to land T.J. Houshmandzadeh in free agency, so they will look to the draft to grab a play-making receiver to go with Bernard Berrian. Maclin (6-1, 200, 4.38) is a straight burner, who is a homerun threat whenever he touches the ball. Though he has some work to do in terms of route running, the former All Big 12 player will be able to contribute right away in the return game, on trick plays (reverses/Wildcat/receiver passes), in the slot and on the outside. Maclin returned from a serious knee injury in 2006 to become one of the Big 12’s most explosive players over he past two seasons along with Texas Tech’s Michael Crabtree. In a spectacular 2008 campaign, Maclin had 102 catches for 1,260 yards and 13 touchdowns as a receiver and 306 rushing yards with 2 TDs. With an additional 270 yards on punt returns including one touchdown with an 11.7 average plus a 24-yard average and one touchdown on kickoffs.
23. N.E. Patriots – ILB James Laurinaitis, Ohio State (Sr)
Record: 11-5 | Needs: LB, CB, TE, OL, RB
Patriots head coach Bill Belichick is experiencing the retooling process of his former 3-time Super Bowl winning team. The Patriots are coming off an 11-5 non-playoff season and it is now time to start getting younger at key positions. The Patriots seem to have targeted the linebacker position as one of the areas that needs an upgrade this off-season as they traded veteran LB Mike Vrabel and are not re-signing future Hall of Famer Junior Seau. The continued overhaul of Belichick’s prized unit will continue with the Patriots selecting Ohio State’s big man in the middle, Jim Laurinaitis (6-2, 240). The three-time All-American who has a trophy case full of awards from his intensity inspired play (Bronko Nagurski Award – ’06, Dick Butkus Award – ’07 and the Lott Trophy as best all-around defensive player in ’08) should be a natural fit in the Patriots attacking scheme. Laurinaitis is a smart and instinctive football player, who through film study always seems to be in the right position. Known for being the son of pro wrestling legend Joe “Road Warrior Animal” Laurinaitis, the younger “Animal” is a ferocious tackler and is always looking to deliver a blow. In his historic career college football career this perennial All Big 10 selection collected 366 tackles.
24. Atlanta Falcons – CB Vontae Davis, Illinois (Jr)
Record: 11-5 | Needs: OT, LB, S, WR
The Falcons experienced a re-birth in 2008 as Rookie of the Year Matt Ryan led his team back from a disastrous 2007 season. However the Falcons will need to select more impact players in the 2009 NFL Draft as they will not be sneaking up on anyone this year. A high priority for Falcons head coach Mike Smith and GM Tom Dimitroff should be finding a replacement for CB Domonique Foxworth (Ravens) and a partner for former high draft pick Chris Houston. The selection of Davis (6-0, 204, 4.42) seems like a nice fit for the Falcons as the supremely talented All Big 10 corner is an athletic, aggressive, and sticky cover-corner. Like his older brother, San Francisco 49ers tight end Vernon Davis, Vontae will need to be pushed in the NFL to live-up to his immense talent. Davis is a heavy hitting corner with big play ability, who plays like a shut down corner on the outside yet he is a dangerous weapon in the return game and likes to come up to lay a blow in the running game. A Day 1 starter in college, look for this early entry to have an immediate impact in the NFL.
25. Miami Dolphins – OLB Larry English, Northern Illinois (Sr)
Record: 11-5 | Needs: DE, WR, OL, LB
The Miami Dolphins were the NFL’s biggest turnaround story in ’08, but with the dawning of a new season they will need more weapons in the draft to stay on top of the tough AFC East division led by the Patriots. One thing is for certain, we know Dolphins top executive Bill Parcells likes to have tough aggressive linebackers. With veteran Joey Porter getting along in age, the Dolphins will add the versatile English (6-2, 254, 4.76) to help out their pass rush. The MAC defensive player of the year the past two years is a high-motor player with an explosive first step that should help him make the transition from college football defensive end to NFL 3-4 outside linebacker. English with his superior straight-line speed totaled 23 sacks the past two years and he has been working hard on his agility to help him in pass coverage. At the Senior Bowl amongst bigger names, English overshadowed higher profile guys in practices and in the game. The main areas where the former All-MAC player will need to improve are getting stronger at the point of attack and cutting down on his head faking when rushing the passer.
26. Baltimore Ravens – OLB Clay Matthews, USC (Sr)
Record: 11-5 | Needs: CB, OL, LB, TE
The Ravens rode another stellar season from their defense (the NFL’s leader in takeaways with 34) all the way to the AFC Championship game. But with former Ravens defensive coordinator turned Jets head coach Rex Ryan pilfering their unit, the Ravens will look to replenish their defense in the draft. I see Ravens GM Ozzie Newsome finding OLB Bart Scott’s replacement with the selection of his former Browns’ teammate’s son. Matthews (6-3, 246, 4.76) a high-energy linebacker is an NFL legacy player — father, Clay Jr, was a linebacker with the Cleveland Browns; his uncle Bruce was a Hall of Fame offensive lineman; and his grandfather Clay Sr. was with the 49ers in the 1950s – who went from a walk-on to a top PAC 10 defender after four years of work. A full-time starter for the first time last year, Matthews grew into a top caliber NFL prospect delivering 56 tackles, 9.5 tackles for loss (3rd on team), and 4.5 sacks (2nd on team). NFL Network analyst Mike Mayock said of Matthews, “What I would tell you (about Matthews) is he’s got a healthy chip on his shoulder. His dad, his uncle, his brother — everybody played big-time football and this kid didn’t get a scholarship offer to USC. He will outwork people”.
27. Indianapolis Colts – WR Darrius Heyward-Bey, Maryland (Jr)
Record: 12-4 | Needs: WR, OL, RB, LB, CB
The Colts this off-season have witnessed the transition of future Hall of Famer Marvin Harrison as the team cut ties with the 14-year veteran this March. With a huge hole in their receiving core, Colts GM Bill Polian and new head coach Jim Caldwell will grab one this year’s top pass catchers in Heyward-Bey (6-2, 206, 4.37). The junior-eligible has the rare combination of size, athleticism and speed to make an instant impact in the NFL. Though there were not many defenders in college that could stay with the big receiver, he will now have to learn the nuisances of the receiver position including route running to excel at the next level. Heyward-Bey ended his career ranked second on Maryland’s all-time list in receiving yards (2,089). The former Terrapin wowed everyone at the NFL Combine running the forty in a combine-low 4.30 seconds and looking fluid while showing consistent hands in receiver drills.
28. Philadelphia Eagles (from Panthers) – TE Brandon Pettigrew, Oklahoma State
Record: 9-6-1 | Needs: OT, TE, RB, S, WR
The Eagles need a franchise tight end to build around now that they have moved on from free agent LJ Smith (Ravens). With 3rd year player Brent Celek looking like their next receiving tight end (career-high 10 catches for 83 yards and two touchdowns in the NFC Championship game), the Eagles need a complimentary bigger blocking tight end. Pettigrew (6-5, 257, 4.82) is a great blocker, who is working hard to refine his raw receiving skills. He can handle all phases of in-line tight end play including drive blocking on running plays and sneaking out on pass plays to find the soft spot in zones. As a pass catcher, Pettigrew has great quickness out of his stance, sure hands and can make the big play. Much like former Eagles first rounder Keith Jackson when he came out of college, Pettigrew may not have huge college numbers (in four years, he caught 112 passes for 1,450 yards and nine touchdowns) due to working in a running offense, but he is a talented prospect who is only going to get better in the NFL. Pettigrew had a solid Senior Bowl week where he clearly was the best tight end of a solid group (blocking, catching, and shielding off defenders). The former Oklahoma State Cowboys star is a strong player as shown by his 22 reps of 225 pounds at the NFL Combine.
29. New York Giants – CB D.J. Moore, Vanderbilt (Jr)
Record: 12-4 | Needs: CB, S, WR, OT
The 2007 Super Bowl winners were solid once again on defense (allowed 292 yards per game), but there were too many question marks in their secondary — recently cut safety Sammy Knight and CB Sam Madison. The G-Men routinely had problems containing pass plays down the field, which may have been partly attributed to injuries along their defensive front, but they need better players in their back four. Head coach Tom Coughlin in looking to get former first rounder Aaron Ross some help in the secondary, will select the playmaking Moore (5-10, 184, 4.45) with the Giants’ first rounder. The versatile corner from Vandy has the athleticism and instincts to be a top-tier cornerback in any draft. Moore exploded onto the scene as a playmaker in ’07 with 83 tackles, six interceptions and an average of 25.7 yards on kickoff returns (had 100 yards in kickoff returns three times). In 2008, the tough junior-eligible had 5 INT’s and made plays on the offensive side of the ball too. Moore has great man-to-man coverage skills and will also help out in run support as shown by his 13 tackles versus ‘Bama in ’07. Moore is still a young player who may need to mature as a player in the NFL, but he should help out in nickel/dime coverage and on special teams.
30. Tennessee Titans – DT Peria Jerry, Ole Miss (Sr)
Record: 13-3 | Needs: WR, DT, CB, C
After winning an NFL-high 13 games in ’08, the Titans stumbled in the playoffs against the upstart Ravens. To make matters worse the Titans’ highly ranked defense (293.6 yards allowed – 3rd in the AFC) lost their main cog in free agent mammoth defensive tackle Albert Haynesworth, who signed a $100 Million dollar deal with the Redskins. With Haynesworth fresh in their mind, Titans’ head coach Jeff Fisher and new defensive coordinator Chuck Cecil will use their number one pick on big run-stuffing (6-2 300) defensive tackle Jerry. The All-SEC performer has been a riser in the draft process after a 2008 season that saw him SEC defender of the week four times and having a standout week at the Senior Bowl. The pocket-collapsing big man is very quick off the ball and at times is difficult to handle even by two O-linemen. Jerry can play one or two gap protection, but scouts are definitely watching his game tapes as he was a bit inconsistent at times during his Ole’ Miss career. Look for Jerry, an older age player at 24 years old, to be on the field early in his pro career.
31. Arizona Cardinals – CB Alphonso Smith, CB, Wake Forest (Sr)
Record: 9-7 | Needs: OL, FS, RB, CB, DT
The NFC Champion Cardinals had a magical ride in ’08 going from a weak division champion to an ascending playoff tough squad who fought eventual Super Bowl champion Steelers till the bitter end. However throughout the 2008 season, the Cardinals had problems on defense finishing with an NFL ranking of 19th in total defense during the regular season. Even with ’08 first rounder Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie already in place, the NFC Champs have to get better in coverage (allowed an average of 292.1 passing yards per game) so Smith (5-9, 193, 4.45) will be their man. Though not the biggest corner in the draft, this All-ACC pick stands out due to his great instincts, quickness and agility. Smith is the NCAA’s all-time leader in interceptions with 21 career picks and he also returned a NCAA record four interceptions for touchdowns. Senior Bowl week was a special one for Smith as he clearly was the best corner in practices providing blanket coverage and fighting for every pass. Also can contribute on special teams by returning and covering kicks plus he even had 3 receptions on offense in the bowl win versus UConn in 2007.
32. Pittsburgh Steelers – William Beatty, OT, Connecticut
Record: 12-4 | Needs: OT, G, CB, LB, DE
The Super Bowl Champs will be in the ideal position of picking last in the draft. Usually the team picking in the 32nd slot just sits and waits to see who is available before picking. But the Steelers have a drastic need to fortify an offensive line as quarterback Ben Roethlisberger was sacked an NFL high 51 times in ’08. With an eye toward keeping Big Ben upright, the world champion Steelers will take Beatty (6-6, 307). The former All-Big East offensive tackle has the feet, agility and strength required to be a very good left or right tackle in the NFL. After making a comeback from a broken leg in 2006, Beatty was the Huskies most consistent O-lineman only allowing 6½ sacks over the past two years. The NFL Combine was Beatty’s finest hour as he joined Jason Smith, Monroe, Oher, and Davis in top tackle conversations. At the combine, Beatty came in at 307 lbs (weighed only 291 pounds at the Senior Bowl due to the flu), ran an exceptional 5.12 forty, had a very good 33.5 vertical jump, and showed good athleticism in the o-lineman drills. The only area where the Steelers will need improvement from Beatty is his strength as he failed to put up 30 reps of 225 pounds at the combine.
Teams not owning a first round pick
Carolina Panthers – Record: 12-4 | Needs: DT, LB, QB, WR
The Panthers traded their 2009 first round pick to the Philadelphia Eagles during the 2008 NFL Draft to select offensive tackle Jeff Otah (19th overall). Even though they do not have a top pick in 2009, you have to say the trade worked for the Panthers. Otah and Jordan Gross have formed one of the NFL’s best young bookend tandems plus the Panthers running game was one of the NFL’s best (152.3 yards per game – Ranking of 3rd overall). However the NFC South Champions should think about finding a young quarterback of the future and improving their play at the defensive tackle position in the 2009 draft. The defensive line was not as stout after the trading of DT Kris Jenkins to the Jets in ’08 and quarterback Jake Delhomme was too inconsistent (5 INTs in playoffs to the Cardinals). Also watch for the Panthers to possibly move disgruntled “franchised” defensive lineman Julius Peppers for a first round pick before or during the draft.
Dallas Cowboys – Record: 9-7 | Needs: CB, WR, OT, S
In an October 2008 trade deadline deal, the Cowboys traded away their 2009 first round pick along with a third and a sixth-round pick to the Detroit Lions in exchange for a seventh-round pick and WR Roy Williams. For their efforts the Cowboys received 19 receptions for 198 yards (10.4 ypc) and 1 TD from Williams and missed the playoffs. By not having a first rounder, The Cowboys and owner Jerry Jones will be counting on Williams to be the man in ’09. The former University of Texas start will not only have to produce because of his high price trade, but also there will be the added pressure of replacing volatile Number #1 receiver Terrell Owens who was cut and now resides in Buffalo. The Cowboys will also probably be looking for secondary help as they have openings for a cornerback and strong safety due to additional off-season cuts.
Lloyd Vance is a Sr. NFL Writer for Taking It to the House and an award-winning member of the Pro Football Writers of America (PFWA)