Bradford sizzles at Oklahoma’s Pro Day

Oklahoma QB Sam Bradford appears to have solidified his first overall pick status with an awesome display at his school’s Pro Day

Last night on my weekly radio showLloyd Vance’s Insider Football, NFL.com writer Gil Brandt spoke strongly of Oklahoma QB Sam Bradford.  He said, “In a quarterback-driven league, Bradford should be the first pick”. 

And the former Heisman Trophy winner sent Brandt and everyone else in the NFL even further into orbit by putting on an awesome display at Oklahoma’s Pro Day — see Gil’s report here.  With over 200 on-lookers including a contingent of six St. Louis Rams evaluators in attendance, Bradford made every throw imaginable in a 50-pass scripted workout showing great footwork and arm strength.

Clearly the former Oklahoma star has put his shoulder injuries (ACL joint surgery) from 2009 behind him.  Bradford’s quick recovery can be attributed to the great work – once again – of Dr. James Andrews and some solid preparation work by this year’s top quarterback at a Florida based facility including working with former NFL quarterback coach Terry Shea.  Bradford who measured-in at 6’5, 236 looked strong physically and appeared ready to answer any NFL “durability” questions.

I would be shocked if the St. Louis Rams, who are trying to reinvent themselves, did not take Bradford – 50 TDs in ’08 and incredible 9.41 yards-per-attempt with a TD-to-INT ratio of 88-16 in his career —  with the first overall pick in the 2010 NFL Draft.  Remember the Rams passed on Matt Ryan in 2008 and Mark Sanchez in 2009, but don’t expect them to make the same mistake. 

So it appears Bradford will be another piece in the Rams’ young nucleus that includes DE Chris Long, OT Jason Smith, RB Steven Jackson, WR Donnie Avery and others.  It would take a blockbuster offer from another team for the Rams to not hold onto the No. 1 overall selection and use it on Bradford. 

I wonder when the negotiations will start – remember last year first overall pick, Detroit Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford,  received a 6 year, $72 Million w/ 41 Million guaranteed deal.

Lloyd Vance is a Sr. NFL Writer for Taking It to the House and Sports Journey Network , who is also an award-winning member of the Pro Football Writers of America (PFWA)

Eagles Quarterback Poker and McNabb is rumored to be in play

At the NFL Meetings this past week, rumors around trades for Philadelphia Eagles QB Donovan McNabb were rampant

Around the NovaCare Complex whispers are pointing to one of their three quarterbacks under contract for one more season (Donovan McNabb, Kevin Kolb, and Michael Vick) to be leaving via a trade before the 2010 NFL Draft on April 22nd.  In an offseason that has been like none other in Philadelphia, the Eagles organization is faced with some tough decisions around the quarterbacks on their roster, especially McNabb – career regular season starting record of 82-45-1.

For over a decade in Philadelphia, the name “Donovan McNabb” has been both a lightning rod for both passion and scorn.  During this period McNabb has risen to the heights of a respectable 9-7 playoff record, 5 Pro Bowl selections, and a Super Bowl appearance in the 2004 season.  While also facing the depths of boos at the 1999 NFL Draft, coming back from an ACL injury in 2006 and defending his play in four NFC Championship Game losses.  McNabb holds almost every Eagles’ passing record, but more than ever there is a canyon between the two sides of the “Donovan Debate”.

 Some fans and media firmly in McNabb’s camp want to bring him back in 2010.  These Stepford fans have continually covered the 11-year veteran’s back by saying things like “Big 5 is the best quarterback the Eagles have ever had”; “Other than Manning or Brady, name me a quarterback who is better” and “McNabb has done more with less talent around him than any quarterback in the NFL”.

While others have seen enough of the 33-year old passer and would gladly drive him to the airport, so Kolb can take over the reins of the Birds.  Common comments from this faction are “McNabb throws worm balls”, “McNabb is inaccurate causing him to not hit receivers in stride”; “McNabb lost 3 NFC Championship Game that the Eagles were favored in”; “McNabb should pack up his air guitar and leave” and “McNabb cannot win big games”.

For most of this offseason things have been surprisingly quiet on the Eagles quarterback front.  But yesterday at the NFL Meetings in Orlando, this pot started to simmer when Eagles head coach Andy Reid made some interesting comments regarding the Birds’ quarterback situation.  Reid confirmed that indeed the Eagles are entertaining offers for all three quarterbacks with a lot the talk appearing to be centered on McNabb – career passing numbers: 2801-4746, 59.0% completion rate, 32,873 yards, 216 TDs, and 100 INTs. 

As of yesterday there were rampant rumors of a McNabb to the Rams trade for the 33rd overall pick in the 2010 draft (first pick in 2nd round) and safety OJ Atogwe, though the St. Louis Rams are denying it.  Of course Reid later was coy about any trade talk by saying, “We’ll go back and look through (rumored trades) and think through them a little bit, away from this situation here. There’s nothing right now that I’d jump up and down about. But there has been some interest.”

All along it seemed like the no-brainer Eagles’ quarterback out the door this offseason was Vick.  His signing last summer caused a firestorm of activity and the fact still remains that many fans will never embrace him after his much-publicized dogfighting saga.  There also is no denying that the former Falcons star is basically a spare part on the Eagles roster – passing numbers: 6-13, 46.2%, 86 yards, 1 TD, and 0 INTs plus 24 rushes for 95 yards, and 2 TDs. 

But the Eagles being the Eagles, threw a monkey wrench into the situation by surprisingly picking up Vick’s $1.5 Million dollar roster bonus earlier in March, which has raised questions that he could very well be coming back in 2010.  To make matters tougher for any Vick trade talk, the market for him has all but dried up as teams know he may soon be released or retained as a high-priced backup by the Eagles – will make over 6 million if on the team in 2010.

That leaves Kolb, a former 2nd round draft pick in 2007 and perceived “quarterback of the future”, and McNabb left in the equation for quarterback needy teams like the Cleveland Browns, Buffalo Bills, St. Louis Rams, Oakland Raiders, Arizona Cardinals (assuming Leinart is not the answer) and Minnesota Vikings (assuming Favre retires).  Though no one has come right out and said it within the Eagles organization, the feeling of a lot of people around the NFL is that Kolb is as close to an “untouchable” as possible.  The young quarterback, who set an NFL record in 2009 by throwing for over 300 yards in his first two starts, is rumored to be available for the kingly ransom of two first-round draft picks. 

Though it is a known secret that former Eagles GM and current Browns GM Tom Heckert has an affinity for Kolb. I don’t think that Cleveland, or any other team for that matter, is ready to mortgage its future on a quarterback that has thrown 130 passes in the NFL with a touchdown-to-interception ratio of 4 to 7.  So unless the Eagles really want to trade Kolb, by lowering their asking price, you can expect him back in 2010.

So that leads us right back to the most talked about player in Philadelphia since Allen Iverson left the first time.  Going into the 2009 offseason, all along I thought that even though McNabb was entering the last year of his contract, that surely he would be back in Midnight Green come training camp in July.  Eagles head coach Andy Reid also seemed to be in the McNabb camp as he said at his end-of-year press conference and anywhere else he had access to the media before yesterday that “McNabb was his quarterback”. 

Even after a “shaky” performance by McNabb against the Cowboys in the Wildcard Round — 19/37, 230 YDS, 1 TD, 1 INT and 1 lost fumble — that cemented a three-game Dallas’ sweep in ‘09, Reid still was standing by his guy.  Asked after the awful playoff loss if he expected McNabb to be the Eagles quarterback in 2010, Reid gave the curt response, “Yeah, I do.”   Later asked if he envisioned a scenario in which he wouldn’t be with the Eagles in 2010, McNabb said after the embarrassing Dallas’ loss, “I don’t see that happening.”

However something is afoot around McNabb and there are rumors of two factions of the “Donovan Debate” not only in the fan base, but also within the team’s front office.  The rift may have come from 11 years worth of frustration of not winning a Super Bowl or the fact that McNabb did not pursue an extension a couple years ago, instead renegotiating for more money.  The former 1999 3rd overall selection is due to receive a $6.2 million roster bonus May 5, so decisions need to made very soon about his future. 

In reaction to all the trade talk, McNabb said via his blog, “My position hasn’t changed. I’ve said all along that I would like to win a Super Bowl and finish my career in Philadelphia.”  He added, “I understand the situation well and just hope whichever direction the Eagles decide to go in, they do it quickly. I think that would be best for me, Kevin, Michael, the Eagles, and any other teams involved. No matter what happens, I’ve already begun preparing to have an outstanding season in 2010.”

Some folks around the league are saying McNabb would be willing to be traded to the Rams, if he were to be given a contract extension – has an established relationship with Rams offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur.  But those same sources are saying he wants no parts of playing for Buffalo or Oakland. 

Of course Reid couched any McNabb trade talk by saying in an Inquirer article, “I think it’s a great situation (having 3 ‘quality’ QBs in demand) to be in, from a coach’s standpoint. There are coaches who dream to be in this situation.”  Reid added in the Ashley Fox piece, “I’m not in any hurry to get rid of any of them. Have people talked? Yeah, people have talked. Have we listened? Yeah, we’re in the process of listening. The bottom line is if I have all three of them, that’s great.”

Right now nothing is imminent and this thing could continue to fester throughout the offseason. But at the same time, don’t rule out the odd scenario of McNabb returning as the starter, Kolb as his backup, and Vick the third-stringer. 

This is high stakes poker and the Eagles have to decide whether to keep playing or fold. 

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)

NFL Overtime Rule Changes pass by a comfortable margin

Kickers, like the Redskins’ Justin Medlock, will no longer be able to win postseason overtime games via coin-toss winning first-possession field goals after the NFL owners recent vote 

At the 2010 NFL Annual Meeting in Orlando, NFL owners approved changes to the existing overtime rules by a vote of 28-4 — the Buffalo Bills, Minnesota Vikings, Baltimore Ravens and Cincinnati Bengals voted negatively.  Under the new rules, the team that loses the coin toss at the start of overtime will now get a chance to also score if the coin-toss winning team scores a field goal with their first possession. 

Right now the new overtime rules will only apply to the postseason. But everyone is expecting NFL owners at their next set of meetings (May 24-26, in Dallas) to discuss and possibly adopt the overtime changes for the upcoming 2010 regular season.

Here is a detailed look at the new postseason overtime rules

 • Both teams must have the opportunity to possess the ball once during the extra period, unless the team that receives the opening kickoff scores a touchdown on its initial possession, in which case it is the winner.

• If the team that possesses the ball first scores a field goal on its initial possession, the other team shall have the opportunity to possess the ball. If [that team] scores a touchdown on its possession, it is the winner. If the score is tied after [both teams have a] possession, the team next scoring by any method shall be the winner.

• If the score is tied at the end of a 15-minute overtime period, or if [the overtime period’s] initial possession has not ended, another overtime period will begin, and play will continue until a score is made, regardless of how many 15-minute periods are necessary.

The current “Sudden Death” overtime rules, which have been around since 1974, have recently come under fire and you knew the owners were poised for change. In support of their proposal, the NFL had painted a statistical picture where the main reason for overtime rule changes was the increased accuracy of field goal kickers – made 81.3% of overall field goal attempts in ’09. 

After the NFL made the change in 1994 to move kickoffs from the 35-yard line to the 30-yard line, coin-toss winning teams tended to get better field position off kickoffs.  The better field position equated to shorter distances for kickers to get opportunities to end overtime games via kicking 50-yard or longer field goals.  Since 1994, kickers have better than a 50 percent accuracy level on field goals longer than 50 yards.

“We’ve had this discussion for a number of years,” NFL Competition co-chairman Rich McKay recently said on a pre-Annual Meeting conference call. “We feel this year’s proposal gave us the opportunity to a pretty good rule. Statistically we felt it needed to be changed. It wasn’t creating the fairest result as far as field goal accuracy field goal distance and drive starts.”  McKay also said one of the bigger selling points of the new overtime rule that they maintained the sudden death aspect of overtime.

But I believe the NFL is being “reactionary” – as usual — after two high-profile playoff games recently ended on the coin-toss-winning team’s first-possession.  And you know the “sticking” point in those two highly watched playoff games was that two future Hall of Fame quarterbacks never got an opportunity to step on the field for a comeback in overtime. 

In the 2008 postseason – Wildcard Round, the Indianapolis Colts lost 23-17 to the San Diego Chargers (won the coin toss) in overtime with the game-winning points coming on a Darren Sproles’ 22-yard touchdown as Colts QB Peyton Manning could do nothing but watch. 

An even brighter spotlight was shined on the subject in the 2009 playoffs when the New Orleans Saints earned a trip to Super Bowl XLIV by beating the Minnesota Vikings 31-28 in overtime via a 40-yard game-winning-field by little known kicker Garrett Hartley.  However as soon as the Saints started celebrating their first-ever NFC Championship – Thanks to Hartley — a lot of people only wanted to discuss was “Sudden Death” and giving both teams a chance.  One NFL fan emailed me saying “Honestly… How could the NFL not give Brett Favre an opportunity to answer a measly field goal, when a Super Bowl berth was on the line?”

My whole take on the past “Sudden Death” overtime system, is “If ain’t broke, don’t fix it”.  I grew-up loving the white-knuckle nature of one score and done in NFL overtime games.  Quite frankly overtime game always kept me glued to the edge of my seat.  

One of my all-time favorites came in a 1988 game between the Philadelphia Eagles and New York Giants at the Meadowlands.  When the Eagles were attempting an overtime game-winning field goal, it was blocked by Lawrence Taylor, only to have Eagles defensive end Clyde Simmons scoop-up the ball and run 15 yards for the winning touchdown in a 23-17 thriller.

 No one around the league (players and coaches) was really “crying” over the “Sudden Death” rules and I believe it was mainly a minority group of fans and media who made the most noise.  Most players and coaches, that I talk to, do not mind the old overtime format and liked  the opportunity to fight it out in “One and Done” fashion.  “Old-Schoolers” believe in the motto, “Just have your defense stop the other team” and I totally agree with them.

However the NFL owners in their infinite wisdom – and their love for tinkering with the game — have decided that both teams deserve a chance.  So now we are stuck with new overtime rules for the 2010 postseason and possibly regular season.  And I can assure you that there is over a 60% chance that some kind of controversy will happen in 2010, after this new set of overtime rules affects a Big Game.  Just ask the Baltimore Ravens, who were “jobbed” by the “Brady Rule” — passed at the 2009 NFL Owner’s Meetings — in a 27-21 loss to the New England Patriots during Week 4 of the 2009 regular season. 

 

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)

2010 NFL Draft Compensatory Picks Announced

Cincinnati Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis has to definitely be happy about the two compensatory picks for the 2010 NFL Draft that his team received including 3rd and 4th rounders

At this week’s 2010 NFL Annual Meeting, 19 teams were awarded compensatory picks in the upcoming 2010 NFL Draft. The Big Winner for losing players via free agency in 2009 is the New England Patriots who were awarded four picks. 

The Tennessee Titans, Cincinnati Bengals, and Atlanta Falcons received the highest level of picks with 3rd rounders coming their way. For you Eagles fans out there, they got two 7th Rd Picks (243 and 244).

Since the NFL began awarding compensatory picks in 1994, the Baltimore Ravens have received the most compensatory picks, with 29.

Here is a complete list of the 2010 NFL Draft compensatory picks

Round 3

96. Cincinnati
97. Tennessee
98. Atlanta

Round 4

131. Cincinnati

Round 5

164. Pittsburgh
165. Atlanta
166. Pittsburgh
167. Minnesota
168. San Diego
169. Green Bay

Round 6

202. Carolina
203. Jacksonville
204. Carolina
205. New England
206. San Francisco
207. Tennessee

Round 7

240. Indianapolis
241. Tennessee
242. Pittsburgh
243. Philadelphia
244. Philadelphia
245. Seattle
246. Indianapolis
247. New England
248. New England
249. Carolina
250. New England
251. Oakland
252. Miami
253. Tampa Bay
254. St. Louis
255. Detroit

The 2010 NFL Annual Meeting Begins

Commissioner Roger Goodell will be a “busy” man during the 2010 NFL Annual Meeting this week

I still cannot fathom how anyone can think that nothing goes on in the National Football League after the Super Bowl and before the regular season begins in September.  Sure there is not any on-field game action after the Super Bowl, but everyone always needs to remember, “The NFL Never Sleeps”.  To accentuate that point, every fan should have their eyes focused on Orlando, Florida – of all places — this week.  No there will not be more Super Bowl champion New Orleans Saints players celebrating at Disney World.  The event that will take center stage is the 2010 NFL Annual Meeting from March 21st to March 24th.

The annual league meeting, which is basically a three-day conference for NFL powerbrokers, definitely deserves attention.  As “hot” topics from possible competition rule changes to labor relations to overtime rules will be all discussed in great detail.  The headliner at the annual league meeting will be NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell, who will address the owners on Monday morning with the state of the league and most importantly you can expect him to be talking about labor relations between the NFL and its players. 

Even though the owners and players are definitely not seeing eye-to-eye right now on several items, specifically a player payout of 60% of revenues according to the owners.  Hopefully Goodell and DeMaurice Smith, head of the NFL Players’ Association, can hammer out a new deal for “the good of game” before the current CBA expires in March 2011.  Fox Sports analyst Jimmy Johnson was right when he said of a possible lockout in 2011, “I think there’s too much money at stake. Everybody involved, owners, players, everybody understands it’s in everybody’s best interest to get a new CBA done”.

Other topics that are sure to be discussed in hotel board rooms and lobby are listed below.  But remember, any vote needs at least 24 of the 32 NFL owners to be in agreement.

Sudden Death Rules – Ever since the New Orleans Saints defeated the Minnesota Vikings 31-28 in overtime of the 2009 NFC Championship Game.  With the game-winning points coming via a field goal on the Saints’ first possession after winning the coin toss, everyone wants to talk OT.  “In the last four or five years, sometimes we have not proposed anything [to change the overtime format] because we’ve thought, ‘Well, if it’s not going to get enough votes, let’s not propose it,’ ” Atlanta Falcons president McKay said during a conference call with reporters. “This year I think we came back with the idea that we need to go back and look at it because the statistics are so compelling and we need to get the discussion going again.”

According to McKay, between 1974 and 1993 the team that won the overtime coin toss won the game 46.8 percent of the time, and the team that lost the coin toss won the game 46.8 percent of the time. Since 1994, McKay said, the team that won the overtime coin toss won the game 59.8 percent of the time, while the team that lost the coin toss won the game only 38.5 percent of the time. Of course the competition committee is blaming the increase in coin-toss teams winning in OT on my “favorite” players, field goal kickers, saying are more accurate than ever — made 84.5% of overall field goal attempts in ‘08..

Here is the new overtime plan that will need to be discussed:

  • Proposing a rule on the modification of the sudden death procedure in overtime for the playoffs, and Super Bowl, but not the regular season. There will be an opportunity to possess in the event the first team with the ball does not score a touchdown.
  • The club that gets the opening possession of overtime could win the game by scoring a touchdown. If that team gets a field goal, the other club would get a possession and would have a chance to win with a touchdown or tie with a field goal. If that team gets a tying field goal, the game would be sudden death from then on. If neither team scores on its first possession of overtime, the game would proceed on a sudden-death basis.

Player safety rules – The league owners are going to discuss a number of recommendations and rules proposals around “protecting” players.  The main rules that will surely cause the most discussion will probably be around protecting a defenseless player. 

a)       More rules for protecting “defenseless” receivers — Giving additional protection to the receiver even after the receiver has caught the ball. Possible rule change could protect the receiver until he has an opportunity to defend himself from hits to the head by defenders launching upwards towards his head.

b)       Long Snappers protected — Protecting long snappers more on field goal tries and punts.  Proposing that no one can line up within the frame of the body of the snapper to try to give him an opportunity to get his head up and get himself protected.

c)       No Helmet Rule — Proposing a rule that creates the ball being dead if a runner loses or has his helmet come off during a play, which is a college rule they’ve had and used.  The league watched tape where there are instances where players are running in the field of play without their helmet.  In our mind their mind it was not a safe situation. 

d)       Possibly more unnecessary roughness legislation – Not only the defenseless player legislation will be looked at, the league is looking into other in-game unnecessary roughness situations.  I have heard as many as possibly seven other playing rules. Some of them are smaller and others will be based on last year’s play. 

e)       Ball hitting a scoreboard revisited — One bigger rule that will be looked at further is the 2009 “dead” ball rules established last year after the Cowboys Stadium pre-season punting situation.  In case you didn’t know, the Cowboys have a huge scoreboard that is 90 Feet above the playing field that was hit in warm-ups and during a preseason game.  So before the start of the 2009 Regular season “Dead Ball” rules were put in place, but luckily during the regular season no punts hit the score board.

f)        Dead ball fouls to be looked into — On the offense, currently dead ball fouls do not have the ability to carry over to the second half and/or overtime from the fourth quarter – See Flozelle Adams’ incident from 2009 where he was able to play in the 2nd half even after some mischief before halftime.  The league is proposing that those could be carried over on offense and defense too.

g)       Instant replay on last play – The league is proposing a rule a rule change for instant replay with respect to the game clock on the last play.  This was put in for the 2009 playoffs and the NFL wants to review the rule and possibly clean it up.

Windows and Curtains to be discussed – With newer stadiums like the ones in Dallas and Indianapolis having retractable roofs, windows, and curtains, the league wants to talk about how to handle stadium configuration (i.e. Interior Design). The NFL wants to standardize all that language to match up with the retractable roof policy already in place.  So home teams with windows and curtains will need to declare in their game configuration 90 minutes before the start of play.

Possible new numbers for defenders –The league will look at the rule on player uniform numbering systems to possibly expand the opportunity for players to wear different numbers.  The NFL seems to be acknowledging the fact that more teams are playing a 3-4 defense and you can have players who end up being both defensive ends and linebackers (ex. Philadelphia Eagles DE/OLB Trent Cole wears No. 58).  However the NFL better look out as their league may soon look like college football, where defensive players can wear more creative numbers –- Former Miami Hurricanes linebacker Jessie Armstead wearing No. 1 in college for the “U”.  And who could not remember the ill-fated fight by Brian “The Boz” Bosworth trying to wear his fabled Oklahoma No. 44 in the NFL for the Seattle Seahawks. 

More rules to the 10-second rule – The current 10‑second runoff situation via instant replay will be discussed.  Inside the last minute when a call on the field is reviewed and reversed and there should be a running clock, the league wants to standardize a 10‑second runoff.

Fans can also expect at the 2010 league meeting, positions on the Competition Committee to be filled and more discussion around NFL bylaws and resolutions plus announcements of some high-profile early-season games. 

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)

Taking It to the House 2010 NFL Draft – Mock v1.0

USC speedy safety Taylor Mays is one of several prospects featured in Taking it to the House’s 2010 NFL Draft – Mock v1.0

 Unlike many draft prognosticators who seem to just make their picks out of thin air, I like to wait until after the Senior Bowl, NFL Combine, 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)  St. Louis Rams – QB Sam Bradford, Oklahoma

    2009 Record: 1-15 | Needs: QB, CB, OLB, WR

 In head coach Steve Spagnuolo’s first season, the Rams did take some positive steps.  Unfortunately not many of the Rams’ moves in 2009 equated to wins.  With an eye on building from the team’s young nucleus including DE Chris Long, OT Jason Smith, RB Steven Jackson, WR Donnie Avery and others, expect the Rams’ to hold onto and use the first overall pick.   After flirting with the idea of selecting another D-lineman in the first round, Rams GM Bill Devaney will decide a franchise quarterback is needed.  The Rams select Oklahoma’s Sam Bradford, making him the franchise’s first quarterback to be selected in the first round since 1967.  The NCAA’s all-time leader in passing efficiency is an accurate, intelligent, and athletic passer plus he averaged an incredible 9.41 yards-per-attempt and a TD-to-INT ratio of 88-16 in his career.  While there are some shoulder concerns, the former 2008 Heisman winner looks recovered from an October surgery and he weighed in at a solid 6’4, 236 at the NFL Combine.  Look for under-achiever Marc Bulger to be cut and for the recently signed A.J. Feeley to give the rookie some training camp competition. 

2) Detroit Lions – DT Ndamukong Suh, Nebraska

    2009 Record: 2-14 | Needs: OT, DL, CB, S

After securing their franchise quarterback in the 2009 NFL Draft, Lions head coach Jim Schwartz and GM Martin Mayhew should probably be looking for a bodyguard for young quarterback Matthew Stafford.  But the Lions also need to address a defense that allowed an NFL-high 494 points in 2009.  The Lions will pick the best defensive player in the draft by selecting Suh with the second overall pick.  Suh had one of the best years of any college defensive tackle in NCAA history as he produced 85 tackles, a NCAA leading 24 tackles for loss, 12 sacks, and 1 forced fumble. The decorated award-winner (Lombardi, Bednarik, Willis, and first team All American) also had 10 passes defensed, 28 QB hurries, 1 INT and three blocked kicks.  The cat-quick and strong defensive lineman possibly played his best game in Nebraska’s near upset of the Texas in the Big 12 Championship game, finishing with 4.5 sacks.  By adding Suh, the Lions defense will be able to apply the pressure needed to produce more sacks and turnovers.

3) Tampa Bay Buccaneers – Safety Eric Berry, Tennessee

2009 Record: 3-13 | Needs: S, WR, CB, DE

Bucs young head coach Raheem Morris’ defensive unit was plagued by big plays and coverage lapses throughout the 2009 season.  With an eye on replacing aging veteran Rhonde Barber and getting a John Lynch type safety for his Cover-2 scheme, look for Morris to select Tennessee “complete” safety Eric Berry. Though his numbers were a bit down in ’09, Berry took his game to a new level working with former Volunteers defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin, a veteran NFL teacher of the Cover-2 defense.  The 2009 Jim Thorpe award winner as the nation’s best defensive back, Berry will definitely help in over the top coverage as well as in box.  Expect the centerfielder to help in the nickel, dime, and on special teams as he has a “Can Do” attitude that will help the Bucs’ defense – ranked 32nd in the NFL against the run.

4) Washington Redskins – OT Russell Okung, Oklahoma State

    2009 Record: 4-12 | Needs: OT, OG, S, QB

The Redskins have strong needs along on their offensive line as OT Chris Samuels retired and OG Randy Thomas was released.  Redskins’ new braintrust of head coach Mike Shanahan and GM Bruce Allen will grab the 2010 NFL Draft’s first O-lineman by selecting big bookend tackle Russell Okung to protect returning quarterback Jason Campbell.  The 2009 Big 12 Offensive Lineman of the Year and first-team All-American allowed just one sack and two QB pressures last year.  Running behind Okung, Oklahoma State led the Big 12 in rushing in all four of his seasons as a starter.  The former Oklahoma State star has good “pop” at the snap, good feet, and long arms.  By selecting Okung and starting him Day 1, the Redskins will finally be able to fix an offensive line that was in shambles in 2009.

5) Kansas City Chiefs – OT Bryan Bulaga, Iowa

     2009 Record: 4-12 | Needs: S, WR, LB, DL

After a slow season where the “Belichick” way took some time to work, head coach Todd Haley and general manager Scott Pioli will go into the 2010 NFL Draft looking to continue remolding the Chiefs.  Much of the 2009 season was spent by Haley and Pioli sorting out who wanted to stay in KC and now they seem to have a solid nucleus with players like quarterback Matt Cassell, LB Mike Vrabel, and running back Jamaal Charles.  Even so, Kansas City has many spots still to fill and one of them lies on the offensive line.  With former first round pick Brandon Albert struggling on the outside, the Chiefs will select 2nd rated offensive tackle Bryan Bulaga from Iowa and move Albert back to his natural guard position.  Though there is some concern over Bulaga (6’6/315) missing three games in 2009 due to a thyroid condition, he was the most dominant blocker in the Big Ten — named conference’s 2009 Offensive Lineman of the Year. This converted tight end has drawn comparisons to Browns former first rounder and Pro Bowl left tackle Joe Thomas for his good feet and pass-blocking technique.

6) Seattle Seahawks – DT Gerald McCoy, Oklahoma

     2009 Record: 5-11 | Needs: OT, DE, OG, WR

The Jim Mora Jr era lasted one measly season and now the Seahawks are trying to rebuild under former USC college guru Pete Carroll.  Already Carroll and new GM John Schneider have begun making changes as DE Darryl Tapp, WR Nate Burelson, QB Seneca Wallace and others have been moved off the roster.  Options will be plentiful for the rebuilding Seahawks as they will try to start Carroll’s first season in Seattle on the right foot. Carroll will need to figure out if a quarterback of the future, a stud receiver, or a penetrating defensive lineman should go in this spot.  Luckily the Seahawks have a second first round selection at No. 14, so expect Carroll to take the best player available.  After a surprising wait, the Seahawks select Oklahoma DT Gerald McCoy (6’4/297) to build their new defense around.  The 2008 Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year, will play the role of “Warren Sapp” in the Seahawks new Tampa-2 scheme.  McCoy produced 16.5 tackles for loss and six sacks, despite constant double teams.  Look for the a fourth-year junior to collapse the pocket with his cat-quick moves, helping former 2009 first rounder LB Aaron Curry to make more game-changing plays.

7) Cleveland Browns – QB Jimmy Clausen, Notre Dame

     2009 Record: 5-11 | Needs: QB, OT, DE, S

At the end of the 2009 season, you knew the winds of change were blowing around the Browns.  New football czar Mike Holmgren quickly came into the picture to bring some consistency and change to an organization that has not been in the playoffs since 2002.  Already there have been people coming in (GM Tom Heckertt, LB Scott Fujita, QB Jake Delhomme, and others) plus some house cleaning (DT Corey Williams, QB Brady Quinn, and others).  So I believe the Browns will want to rebuild around the most important position on the field, the quarterback.  In a bit of irony, Cleveland will hitch their franchise to their second quarterback from Notre Dame in the last 3 years when they select Jimmy Clausen.  Playing in a “pro style” offense – a huge plus for any college QB — Clausen from 2007 to 2009 improved greatly under the tutelage of Charlie Weis.  The junior-eligible is tough (played through a toe injury in 2009), accurate (68% completion percentage last year), and is a leader.  However even though Clausen sported an outstanding 28 to 4 touchdown-to-interception ratio last year, some evaluators  wonder about him not producing a lot of signature “big” wins during his starting tenure at ND, his arm strength, and rumored cocky attitude.  The Browns will have Delhomme to keep the seat warm, then look for Clausen to begin working with young receivers Brian Robiskie and Mohamed Massaquoi.

8) Oakland Raiders – WR Dez Bryant, Oklahoma State

     2009 Record: 5-11 | Needs: WR, OT, DE, S

Another year and there are even more question marks with the Raiders.  The top of the past couple of drafts have not yielded much, so expect Raiders owner Al Davis to be looking to make a splash.  With Davis always looking for game-breaking skills, don’t expect a “boring” and somewhat logical pick of an offensive lineman.  Raiders head coach Tom Cable needs a No. 1 receiver to push disappointing 2009 first rounder Darius Heyward-Bey and to help strong-armed quarterback JaMarcus Russell.  After passing on Michael Crabtree and Jeremy Maclin last year, the Raiders select the best receiver in this year’s draft, Oklahoma State’s Dez Bryant.  The former Oklahoma State star should immediately help lift an offense that only scored 197 points (31st in NFL) and 17 touchdowns (tied for 32nd) last year.  Bryant missed all but three games in 2009 after being suspended by the NCAA for inappropriate interaction with former NFL great Deion Sanders, but there is no denying his ability.  Drawing comparisons to Houston Texan Pro Bowl receiver Andre Johnson, Bryant also combines size and speed.  All anyone needs to do is look at his outstanding 2008 numbers of 87 catches for 1,480 yards and 19 touchdowns, plus an average of 17.9 yards per punt return with 2 TDs to see his game-changing ability.  In 2008, Bryant was the Big 12’s Special Teams Player of the Year and a first team All-American.   With a line-up that includes Bryant, RB Darren McFadden, Heyward-Bey, WR Louis Murphy and TE Zach Miller, Russell should not have any more excuses why he is not succeeding.

9) Buffalo Bills – NT Terrence Cody, Alabama

     2009 Record: 6-10 | Needs: OT, QB, WR, DE

It seems in the Top 10 of the 2010 NFL Draft, there are several teams that are rebuilding with a new regime and the Buffalo Bills are no different.  The braintrust of new head coach Chan Gailey and GM Buddy Nix have been brought in to light a spark under Ralph Wilson’s team.  After selecting some quality rookies in 2009 like OG Eric Wood and safety Jairus Byrd, the Bills will be looking for more Day 1 starters in the 2010 NFL Draft.  With both “franchise” quarterbacks and the draft’s top receiver already off the board, look for the Bills to get stronger on either their offensive or defensive line.  With the Bills implementing a 3-4 scheme on defense, a big physical two-gap nose tackle is needed to keep O-linemen off past draft picks Aaron Maybin and Paul Posluzny.  The Bills select Alabama NT Terrence “Mount” Cody.  The cornerstone and fire hydrant of the national champion Alabama Crimson Tide defense is a rare behemoth athlete.  The two-time consensus All-American usually plays at 6’4/340 — weighed 370 at Senior Bowl and 354 at NFL Combine – and can move like a much smaller man.  Though his senior stats of six tackles for loss and no sacks will not “wow” anyone, Cody much like former mammoth nose tackle Ted Washington has value a the important gap controller in a 3-4 scheme.

10) Jacksonville Jaguars – DE Derrick Morgan, Georgia Tech

       2009 Record: 7-9 | Needs: DE, S, QB, OG

There is no doubt that the Jags need help rushing the passer as they produced an NFL-low 14 sacks in 2009.  With head coach Jack Del Rio being given probably his last chance calling the shots, Jacksonville cannot afford a selection of another under-achieving pass rusher.  So the Jags will select Georgia Tech 4-3 end Derrick Morgan (6’4, 272), who is a solid every down player.  Morgan was the ACC ‘s Defensive Player of the Year after leading the conference with 12.5 sacks plus he added 18.5 tackles for loss.  The junior eligible should be helped by the presence of veterans DT John Henderson and free agent signee Aaron Kampman while pushing former first rounder Derrick Harvey, who has been a disappointment to say the least.  Also if Jags owner Wayne Weaver still wants to grab Florida superman and Jacksonville “homeboy” QB Tim Tebow, he should be available in the second or third round.

11) Denver Broncos (from Chicago) – ILB Rolando McClain, Alabama

       2009 Record: 8-8 | Needs: DT, DE, LB, S

After a fast start, the Broncos in head coach Josh McDaniels’ first season sputtered down the stretch to miss the playoffs — 4-game losing streak to end the season.  However having the Bears’ high draft selection, will allow Denver to explore their options in the first round.  The Broncos also may choose to add a second first round selection by trading disgruntled receiver Brandon Marshall.  Already McDaniels and GM Brian Xanders have been busy this offseason acquiring former Browns QB Brady Quinn and a gaggle of defensive linemen (NT Jammal Williams, DE Jarvis Green, and DT Justin Bannan).  With an eye on improving a defense that allowed 324 points in 2009, the Broncos select Alabama LB Rolando McClain (6’3, 258).  The Butkus Award winner is a classic instinctive inside linebacker, who is a tackling machine – 2009 stats: 105 TKLs, 14.5 tackles for loss, 4 sacks, and 2 INTs.  Look for the 2009 consensus All-American and the other Broncos  linebackers (DJ Williams and Elvis Dumervil) to be all over the field playing behind a D-line led by Jamal Williams and 2nd-year pro Ronnie Fields.   Some red-flags that have come up about McClain are an eye-gouging incident (against Georgia running back Washaun Ealey) and a hamstring pull (didn’t work out at the NFL Combine), but those should not affect his draft status.

12) Miami Dolphins – DE/OLB Jason Paul-Pierre, South Florida

       2009 Record: 7-9 | Needs: LB, WR, OL, TE

One thing is for certain, we know Dolphins top executive Bill Parcells likes to have tough aggressive linebackers.  With veteran Joey Porter being cut and the uncertainty surrounding Jason Taylor, the Dolphins will add the best pass rushing outside linebacker in the 2010 NFL Draft by selecting South Florida’s Jason Pierre-Paul (6’5, 270).  Though a bit raw (only one year in D-1), Paul-Pierre is an awesome athlete that reminds many of a young Jevon Kearse down to an 81-inch wingspan and 10-3/8 hands.  The much-traveled JUCO transfer started at College of the Canyons then transferred to Fort Scott Community College before settling-in at South Florida. The first-team All-Big East performer led his team in tackles for loss (16.5) and sacks (6.5) plus Pierre-Paul blocked a kick and returned an interception for a touchdown.  At the NFL Combine, Pierre-Paul looked fast (4.67 in the forty), explosive, and fluid in drills.

13) S.F. 49ers – OT Trent Williams, Oklahoma

       2009 Record: 8-8 | Needs: OLB, S, OL, QB

Armed with two first round picks, expect the resurgent Niners to build-up their offensive and defensive lines.  On offense, San Francisco head coach Mike Singletary thinks that he is already set at running back (Frank Gore), quarterback (Alex Smith), tight end (Vernon Davis), and receiver (Michael Crabtree).  But the Niners still need to sure up their pass protection and find a replacement for OT Tony Pashos, who departed for the Cleveland Browns.  With several options on the O-line available, expect the Niners to grab the best blocker on the board.  The Niners select athletic Oklahoma offensive tackle Trent Williams (6’4 ½, 314).  A 40-game starter at OU with experience at both left and right tackle, Williams earned first-team All-Big 12 honors the last two years. Look for Williams to take his place as a solid right tackle (34 ¼-inch arms) in offensive coordinator Jimmy Raye’s unit.  Adapt at pass and run blocking, Williams showed great athleticism at the NFL Combine, where he ran the second fastest forty (4.88) and fifth best short-shuttle time (4.63) of any offensive lineman. 

14) Seattle Seahawks (from Denver) – OT Bruce Campbell, Maryland

       2009 Record: 4-12 | Needs: OT, DE, OG, WR

Unless this pick is traded for Denver Broncos receiver Brandon Marshall or one of the Philadelphia Eagles quarterbacks, expect Seattle to build up front.  After having taken a D-lineman earlier, expect the Seahawks to find an athletic protector for injury-prone 35-year quarterback Matt Hasselbeck.  The Seahawks will attempt to replace future Hall of Famer Walter Jones, who retired, by selecting Maryland offensive tackle Bruce Campbell (6’6, 314).  An incredibly athletic left tackle prospect with extremely long arms (36 ¼-inches), Campbell was the talk of the NFL Combine after running an offensive lineman best 4.85 forty, pounded out 34 reps on the 225 lb bench, jumped 32 inches vertically and displayed awesome feet in drills.  Though there are concerns with Campbell only having 17 college starts, he should be able to help out right away on runs and screen passes.  Having already retained emerging center Chris Spencer this offseason, he and Campbell should form a great cornerstone for Carroll’s balanced offense.

15) New York Giants – CB Joe Haden, Florida

       2009 Record: 8-8 | Needs: CB, S, DT, LB

Giants head coach Tom Coughlin was “redder” than ever after the Giants started 5-0 only to limp home losing 8 of their last 11 games.  For the second straight year, the G-Men routinely had problems containing big plays down the field — allowed more than 40 points five times in 2009.  Already in hopes of improving their back four, the Giants have added versatile former Cardinals safety Antrel Rolle during free agency.  But more help other than safety Kenny Phillips returning from a foot injury is needed.  The Giants grab a partner for former first rounder Aaron Ross by selecting Florida cover corner Joe Haden (5’11, 190).  Even though some people are wondering about Haden’s speed – ran a 4.57 at the NFL Combine, but recently was timed at high 4.3/low 4.4 range Florida’s Pro Day – there is no doubt that he is the best cover corner in this draft and can easily replace free agent Kevin Dockery for the Giants.  Some are comparing him to Darrelle Revis as Haden led Florida in solo tackles, interceptions, and pass breakups. Showed his pro ability in the Gators’ 51-24 rout of Cincinnati in the Sugar Bowl as Haden shutdown top receiver prospect Mardy Gilyard yardage wise (only 41 receiving yards on 7 catches).

16) Tennessee Titans – DE Carlos Dunlap, Florida

       2009 Record: 8-8 | Needs: DE, OT, CB, C

Season one without DT Albert Haynesworth produced an 8-8 record and a defense that allowed a whopping 402 points.  To make matters worse for Titans’ head coach Jeff Fisher, veteran defensive end Kyle Vanden Bosch signed with the Lions plus all indications are that Tennessee and DE Jevon Kearse will also be parting ways.  In order to rebuild the Titans once feared defense, look for them to select Florida pass rusher Carlos Dunlap.  Though some are saying Dunlap, a top-ten talent, is falling on some team’s draft boards due to some off the field issues and an off-and-on motor, I still believe Fisher will give him another shot.  The former All-SEC defensive end is compared to 2010 free agent big fish Julius Peppers in that he is big (6’6, 290) and explosive when motivated.  Last season, Dunlap had nine sacks and 10.5 tackles for loss, which were down from his 2008 numbers.  But there is no denying the upside of this former Gators sack man as shown by his 2 sacks in the Sugar Bowl against Cincinnati.

17) S.F. 49ers (from Carolina) – OLB Sergio Kindle, Texas

       2009 Record: 8-8 | Needs: OLB, S, OL, QB

The Niners may be tempted to take a homerun threat like running back CJ Spiller to compliment Frank Gore, but a better pass rush is needed.  After securing their offensive line with their first selection (No. 13), look for the Niners to go back to head coach Mike Singletary’s heart which is an attacking defense.  Former first rounder Manny Lawson has been a huge disappointment so the Niners try to fortify their defense to contend with the explosive Arizona Cardinals by selecting Texas outside linebacker Sergio Kindle (6’4, 255).  The 3rd-team All-American played a variety of roles for the Longhorns including rush linebacker, defensive end, defensive tackle and special teams.  Kindle led Texas with 22 tackles for loss and quarterback hurries. Though Kindle 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). 

18. Pittsburgh Steelers – center Maurkice Pouncey, Florida

       2009 Record: 9-7 | Needs: OL, RB, CB, DL

For a change the Steelers are not picking at the end of the draft after an up-and-down 2009 campaign that saw them lose important games to the Chiefs, Raiders, and Browns.  After an offseason where Pittsburgh has re-signed their own quality players or brought in veteran free agents, they will have options in the draft.  I believe that the Steelers will look to sure up the interior of their offensive line, since the unit has struggled at times since Pro Bowl offensive guard Alan Faneca left in free agency.  The Steelers continue their excellence at the center position by taking Florida emerging O-lineman Maurkice Pouncey.  The junior-eligible  was the 2009 Rimington Award winner as the best pivot in college football and should be able to contribute right away.  Pouncey has started at offensive guard and center at Florida and has very good feet.  Playing with great leverage, the All-SEC pivot will help RB Rashard Mendenhall find holes that were not there in 2009.  The upside with Pouncey is that he is only 20 years old and he should mature while learning from veteran Justin Hartwig.

19) Atlanta Falcons – OT Anthony Davis, Rutgers

       2009 Record: 9-7 | Needs: S, LB, OL, DE

The Falcons in Year 2 of head coach Mike Smith and quarterback Matt Ryan were a little too inconsistent to return to the playoffs.  One of the key factors in the Falcons losing games in 2009 was that Ryan had trouble staying in the line-up.  With an eye on protecting the franchise quarterback better, the Falcons will select Rutgers road grader Anthony Davis – with an impressive 32 starts in college — to be a bookend to former first rounder Sam Baker.  A developing player, Davis didn’t have the best combine (only 21 reps of 225 pounds and ran a 5.2 or 5.3 forty), but he does have a huge upside.  The former All-Big East player is a natural right tackle with good size (6’6, 325) and 34-inch arms.  Davis (21) will be able to open holes for RB Michael Turner while also keeping Ryan upright.

20) Houston Texans – RB CJ Spiller, Clemson

       2009 Record: 9-7 | Needs: OL, RB, TE, S

In 2006, everyone was all over the Texans for not taking home run threat Reggie Bush with the first overall pick.  However in hindsight , the Texans did make a great pick in selecting DE Mario Williams who is the anchor of their developing defense.  With the status of current running back Steve Slaton (neck) in jeopardy, Texans’ head coach Gary Kubiak and GM Rick Smith will look to add another burner to their indoor track by selecting Clemson speedster CJ Spiller (5’11/196).  At the NFL Combine, Spiller looked like the next “Reggie Bush” homerun threat type of player.  He showed breakaway speed with a 4.37-second forty – some unofficially timed him at 4.27 seconds – and great hands catching the ball.  Spiller is an explosive player as shown in 2009 season where he had 31 carries of 10+ yards and eight receptions for 20 yards or more plus contributed an NCAA-leading five TDs on returns. Look for Spiller (5.6 yards per carry average and 36 catches) to help out immediately on kickoffs and he should compete with Slaton and 2nd-year back Arian Foster for carries. As for any concerns regarding Spiller’s durability, he never missed a game in college due to injury.

21) Cincinnati Bengals – safety Earl Thomas, Texas

       2009 Record: 10-6 | Needs: OL, DE, TE, S

The Bengals rebounded to surprisingly win the AFC North division with a 10-6 record — second playoff appearance in the last 19 seasons.  On offense, the Bengals found a running game with a rejuvenated Cedric Benson plus quarterback Carson Palmer and receiver Chad Ochocinco were healthy again.  However even though the Bengals were able to get turnovers from their emerging cornerback tandem of Jonathan Joseph and Leon Hall their defense was pushed around by the NY Jets in their playoff loss.  With an eye on getting tougher on defense, head coach Marvin Lewis will select Texas safety Earl Thomas (5’10, 197).  Though the Bengals re-signed veteran Roy Williams to a one-year deal, Thomas will bring speed and coverage to Lewis’ defense.  He played strong safety at Texas, but he has “centerfielder” in the pros written all over him.  In 2009, Thomas finished second in the nation with eight interceptions, two of which he returned for touchdowns.  The former Longhorns star also is a very physical player too as shown by his five fumbles the last two seasons.

22) N.E. Patriots – OLB Brandon Graham, Michigan

       2009 Record: 11-5 | Needs: LB, CB, TE, RB

In watching the Patriots lopsided playoff loss to the Baltimore Ravens it was obvious that even though the Patriots won the AFC East, they still were a little old at key positions, especially on defense.  With an eye on getting younger, in the 2009 NFL Draft, head coach Bill Belichick grabbed up-and-coming players CB Darius Butler and safety Patrick Chung, but more is needed.  The Patriots seem to have targeted the linebacker position as one of the areas that needs an upgrade this off-season as they will probably cut under-achiever Adalius Thomas and future Hall of Famer Junior Seau finally retired.  The continued overhaul of Belichick’s prized unit will continue with the Patriots selecting Michigan’s Brandon Graham.  A “LaMarr Woodley” clone, Graham is a pure 3-4 rush linebacker.  Though a bit small at 6’1, 263 pounds, the former Wolverine has a knack for getting to the quarterback — second all time in Wolverines history in tackles for loss and sacks.  At this year’s Senior Bowl, Graham was the MVP of the game producing 2 sacks, 1 forced fumble, and five tackles with three of them for loss.  “He’s a football player,” Lions head coach Jim Schwartz said of Graham after the game. “You know, tweener, whatever — he’s a football player.”   With 3 second-round picks expect Belichick to address other areas on his offense and defense then.

23) Green Bay Packers – CB Kyle Wilson, Boise State

       2009 Record: 11-5 | Needs: CB, OL, DE, S,

After a shootout 51-45 overtime playoff loss to the Arizona Cardinals, you have to think that Packers head coach Mike McCarthy and GM Ted Thompson should be thinking defense.  Yes, the Packers finished the regular season right near the top in every defensive category, but there are still areas of need.  One of the key areas on the Packers’ defense that will need to be looked at is cornerback.  Even though veterans Charles Woodson (2009 Defensive MVP) and Al Harris have been one of the best combos for years, the Packers need to get younger in coverage.  The Packers select solid Boise State corner Kyle Wilson (5’10/190).  A 4-year starter, Wilson was one of the stars of this year’s Senior Bowl and NFL Network’s Mike Mayock could not say enough great things about him.  Wilson is great at both press and zone coverage and has great hands as shown by his 8 INTs the last two years – returned two for TDs as a senior.   An academic All-WAC, Wilson is also smart and tough (never missed a game due to injury).  Plus he is an explosive punt returner and is willing to play on special teams.

24) Philadelphia Eagles – OG Mike Iupati, Idaho

       2009 Record: 11-5 | Needs: DE, OL, LB, S

The Eagles in 2009 did make the playoffs and won 10+ regular season games again under head coach Andy Reid.  But the Birds also need to face the cold hard fact that the Dallas Cowboys dominated them by a margin of 58-14 in their last two games (Week 17 and in the Wild Card round).  Though many are saying that the team’s first pick should go to fixing some of the holes on the Eagles’ defense.  I believe that Philadelphia will put in the tape from their playoffs loss and see the Cowboys’ D-line dominating, especially NT Jay Ratliff.  With the thought of getting better upfront, Reid reverts to form and selects one of the draft’s best interior offensive lineman, Mike Iupati.  The big (6’5, 325) All-American from Idaho was one of the most impressive lineman at this year’s Senior Bowl. Some have said that Iupati could play on the outside as he has 35-inch arms, good footwork, and balance.  By adding Iupati, the Eagles should be covered if center Jamal Jackson is slow to heal from his knee injury and 2009 free agency pick-up Stacy Andrews continues to struggle.

25. Baltimore Ravens – safety Taylor Mays, USC

       2009 Record: 11-5 | Needs: LB, TE, CB, S

After another successful season, the Ravens knew they had a need at receiver so they made the big move of trading for Anquan Boldin.  By fixing up their receiver position, the Ravens can now concentrate on other areas of need in the draft.  I think one of the Ravens biggest weaknesses in 2009 was their secondary.  Even though John Harbaugh’s unit produced a (+10) in turnover ratio, injuries to veteran safety Ed Reed and rookie CB Lardarius Webb (ACL) were huge down the stretch.  Look for the Ravens to find Reed’s eventual replacement by selecting defensive back Taylor Mays from USC.  This big (6’3, 220) hard-hitting safety can really fly as shown by his forty time at this year’s NFL Combine — some unofficial hand-times had him at 4.24seconds, but “officially” his time was 4.43 seconds, which is still unbelievable for a safety.  Mays should learn on special teams and in nickel coverage as he should have one of the best teachers around in future Hall of Famer Reed.  Also playing behind veterans LB Ray Lewis, NT Haloti Ngata, and OLB Terrell Suggs, will help the former USC standout in coverage and making more game-changing plays — caused just two takeaways as a senior (1 INT and 1 fumble recovery).

26. Arizona Cardinals – DE Jared Odrick, Penn State

2009 Record: 11-5 | Needs: LB, DL, OL, CB

After winning the NFC West for the second year in a row, the Cardinals are definitely in a state of flux.  Already this offseason has seen quarterback Kurt Warner retire, safety Antrel Rolle cut, LB Karlos Dansby leaving in free agency to the Dolphins and receiver Anquan Boldin being traded away.  Offensively, Cardinals head coach Ken Whisenhunt and GM Rod Graves have already started to replenish with signings like QB Derek Anderson.  But a defense that allowed 45 points in the playoffs to the Packers and letting-up an average of 20 points per game in the regular season, needs to get better.  Grabbing a linebacker to replace Dansby is an option, but I believe the Cardinals will select solid Penn State two-way defensive end Jared Odrick (6’5, 305).  This high-motor versatile defensive lineman is perfect for the Cardinals’ 3-4 defense.  The rangy 300-pounder had a great Senior Bowl week and has a quick first step.  Odrick is a pocket collasper, who was the Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year.  Look for the former Penn State star join up-and-coming DE Calais Campbell in making the Cardinals tougher upfront.  Also by selecting Odrick, Arizona could possibly trade disgruntled DE Darnell Dockett.

27) Dallas Cowboys – WR Golden Tate, Notre Dame

       2009 Record: 11-5 | Needs: OL, CB, S, WR

The NFC East champion Dallas Cowboys have talent everywhere on their roster, so they could go a variety of directions (O-line, Secondary??), but I believe owner and GM Jerry Jones will get quarterback Tony Romo another weapon to play with.  Though former special teamer Miles Austin emerged in 2009, the Cowboys still have a big hole at the receiver position.  Holdover Roy Williams has not lived up to expectations – gave up a ton to get him and he is nowhere near former Number #1 receiver Terrell Owens – and the rest of the receivers seem to be “just” guys.    With a mindset of scoring more in the new “pass-first” NFL, look for the Cowboys to grab receiver Golden Tate from Notre Dame.  Tate has been compared to Carolina Panthers WR Steve Smith in that he is a little undersized (5’11,195), but has “Take It to the House”  vertical skills  — his 2009 numbers were 93 catches for 1,496 yards, and 15 TDs.   The junior-eligible has great run-after-catch ability that should help Romo on crossing routes plus also open things up for Austin and TE Jason Witten. The learning curve for Tate should be that high as he already in a pro-style offense under former head coach Charlie Weis.  At this year’s combine, Tate showed his game-breaking speed by running  an official 4.42 in the forty.

28) San Diego Chargers – RB Ryan Matthews, Fresno State

       2009 Record: 13-3 | Needs: DT, RB, CB, LB

The Chargers’ 2009 season had so much promise entering the playoffs –11-game winning streak – but things quickly changed as the NY Jets took care of business by knocking them out of the postseason.  With an eye on improving their team for the future, head coach Norv Turner and GM AJ Smith made the tough decisions of releasing veterans RB LaDainian Tomlinson and NT Jamal Williams.  Look for Turner and Smith to sure-up their ground game — Tomlinson and Michael Bennett gone leaving only Darren Sproles — by selecting physical every down back Ryan Matthews.  The number two rusher in NCAA football (276 carries for 1,808 rushing yards and 19 TDs) is a  big (6’0, 218) runner that also has very good speed.  He recently ran a 4.45 forty at the NFL Combine and is known to not be afraid to run the ball up the middle.  Matthews can also do some things out of the “Wildcat” as he is a former high school quarterback and the Chargers should love his ability to carry the mail – in 2009 had eight games with 20 or more rushing attempts.

29) New York Jets – DT Dan Williams, Tennessee

       2009 Record: 9-7 | Needs: S, WR, LB, OL

After a great year where the J-E-T-S jumped from the NFL’s crowded middle to surprise division winners, the Bengals and Chargers, in the playoffs.  Expect brash new head coach Rex Ryan and GM Mike Tannebaum to stay aggressive in keeping their team in the playoff hunt.  Though I believe the Jets will probably sit back and see what falls in their lap – possibly a safety to replace the recently traded Kerry Rhodes (Cardinals) – I believe Ryan will not pass up the chance to improve his No. 1 ranked defense.  With Pro Bowl defensive tackle Kris Jenkins getting older, the NY Jets look for some help for him in NT Dan Williams (6’3, 327).  The NFL-ready Williams is a big strong defensive lineman that is great at the point of attack.  A four-starter after redshirting in 2005, the former Volunteer is well schooled on pro techniques having played under former veteran NFL defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin.  At the NFL Combine, Williams produced solid numbers 5.17 in the forty and 27 reps of 225 pounds.

30) Minnesota Vikings – CB Devin McCourty, Rutgers

       2009 Record: 12-4 | Needs: S, CB, OL, RB

The Vikings were an overtime field goal away from playing in the Super Bowl, so they will be looking to the draft to put them a step closer to the big game.  With all indications pointing to quarterback Brett Favre coming back in 2010, expect the Vikings to add pieces in the draft that can push them over the top.  My expectation is that head coach Brad Childress and GM Rick Spielman will concentrate on bringing in defensive help as too often in 2009, the Vikes were in higher scoring  games – allowed 321 points to rank 10th in the NFL.  I believe that the Vikings will look to improve their secondary, because when Pro Bowl cornerback Antoine Winfield was injured , defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier’s unit struggled.  Look for the Vikings to grab rising corner Devin McCourty (5’11, 193) from Rutgers.  An All-Big East selection in 2009, McCourty can help a team in a variety of ways.  He can play man-to-man or Cover 2, is a very good tackler (80 Tkls in ’09), and has good hands (6 INTs in career and broke-up 10 passes).  McCourty also is a major special teams guys as he  averaged 25.1 yards per kickoff return with a touchdown in ’09 and blocked seven kicks in his career. In a pre-draft conference call NFL Network’s Mike Mayock said of the 3-year starter, “(McCourty) might be the best special teams value in the draft in addition to being a potential starting corner.  He’s a gunner and a jammer, he’s a return guy. I think he could fit in quickly in the nickel package. He’s a very, very physical defensive back. Most people have him in the second round but he could be a legitimate late one [first-round pick].” Has a twin brother, Jason, who plays for the Tennessee Titans.

31)  Indianapolis Colts – OT Charles Brown, USC

       2009 Record: 14-2 | Needs: OL, LB, CB, S

The options will be plentiful for Colts head coach Jim Caldwell and GM Bill Polian as they look to improve last year’s Super Bowl runner-up.  Even though Indy won an NFL leading 14 games, there are still are areas that need improvement.  I believe one of the Colts’ major problems in their Super Bowl loss to the Saints was their offensive line.  Too often QB Peyton Manning was rushed on his attempts and other than Pro Bowl center Jeff Saturday this unit has to play better everywhere.  The Colts grab USC emerging offensive tackle Charles Brown (6’5, 303).  A converted tight end, Brown is a very athletic big man with good feet and long arms (35 1/4-inches) that help him as a pass blocker.   At USC, Brown was the cornerstone of Pete Carroll’s O-line and he should immediately push Colts under-achiever Charles Johnson for playing time.  Even with Manning playing behind a patchwork line in 2009, he still won his record setting 4th NFL MVP award.  So imagine what he will be able to do with Brown taking care of his blindside.

32) New Orleans Saints – DE Everson Griffen, USC

       2009 Record: 13-3 | Needs: LB, DE, S, OL

The Saints shocked the world by winning Super Bowl XLIV against the Colts.  Saints head coach Sean Payton and GM Mickey Loomis proved to be miracle workers as they lifted their team to new heights.  On offense, there is an embarrassment of skill players and a very good offensive line surrounding QB Drew Brees, so you have to think that the Saints will look for defensive help in the draft – allowed 341 points.  With intentions of moving on from  underachieving free agent DE Charles Grant and pushing holdover Will Smith, the Saints will select  USC DE Everson Griffen (6’4, 274).  The All-PAC 10 performer is a solid two-way defensive end, who finished his collegiate career with 18 sacks and 22 tackles for loss.  Griffen really shined at the NFL Combine, where he ran an impressive 4.66 forty and put up 32 reps of 225 pounds.

Teams not owning a first round pick

Carolina Panthers – 2009 Record: 8-8 | Needs: DT, LB, QB, WR

For the second year in a row, the Carolina Panthers will not have a first round draft pick.  This year’s pick went to the San Francisco 49ers in a deal where the Niners traded their second round pick (No. 43 overall) in 2009 to Carolina for their 2010 first rounder.  The Panthers used the pick to take DE Everett Brown, but I am sure after an 8-8 campaign, they wish they had it back.  Carolina this offseason has been getting rid of veterans like QB Jake Delhomme, DT Damione Lewis, DE Julius Peppers, FB Brad Hoover, and others.  So expect them to be active in getting younger players that can contribute right away.  Carolina’s first pick will be at No. 16 of the second round and you can expect them to be looking for D-line and linebacker help.

Chicago Bears – 2009 Record: 7-9 | Needs: WR, OL, DT, S

The Bears traded away their first round pick in the much ballyhooed acquisition of quarterback Jay Cutler.  The Broncos gladly took the pick and after an 7-9 season last year, you know that Chicago probably would like to have the pick back.  Though Cutler performed well at times, he also threw 26 interceptions.  With head coach Lovie Smith on the hot seat,  look for the Bears to add more help for Cutler (WR,O-line) and their retooling defense (CB, S, DL) when they first pick in the 3rd round (11th pick of that round).

 

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)

Not So Sure About L.T in New York, Just Yet

Recently signed New York Jets RB LaDainian Tomlinson has a lot to prove to J-E-T-S fans in order for them to forget former workhorse Thomas Jones

One of the best stories of the 2009 NFL Season was the return of the New York Jets to prominence under brash rookie head coach Rex Ryan.  The J-E-T-S became the darlings of the National Football League by playing the same brand of football that I grew-up loving back during the heyday of the NFC East division in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s. 

Remember the Philadelphia Eagles — led by Rex’s Dad, Buddy Ryan — New York Giants, Washington Redskins, and Dallas Cowboys always being in the playoff hunt due to running the ball and playing tough defense.   In fact, the NFC East division from 1985 to 1995 hoisted the Lombardi Trophy 7 times by sticking to this established philosophy. 

Ryan’s 2009 NY Jets squad also focused on the same basics of running the football and using an attacking defense to cause turnovers (42).  In making the postseason for the first time since 2006, the New York Jets pulled off the pretty rare “double” of leading the NFL in rushing (172.3 yards per game) and yards allowed (252.3 yards per game) — eighth team since 1970 to lead the NFL in both rushing offense and total defense. 

The NY Jets (9-7 in the regular season) further proved that playing old fashioned tough football still worked, when they stormed past the Cincinnati Bengals and San Diego Chargers to surprisingly  face the “mighty” Indianapolis Colts in the AFC Championship game.  Unfortunately after a first half that was very competitive, Ryan’s upstarts fell to the Colts by a score of 30-17.

However even in losing, many people around the NFL believed that the NY Jets still had a bright future.  Young emerging quarterback Mark Sanchez would continue to grow and the J-E-T-S still had their aforementioned strengths of a stout defense and a solid rushing attack that franchise record 2,756 rushing yards.  The big “if” was whether all the pieces from the NY Jets’ 2009 team would be back, which we all know is virtually impossible in the NFL’s era of free agency.

Unfortunately you knew it was going to be tough to keep all of the teams players this offseason.  And the first tough decision came when veteran running back Thomas Jones, who had ran for a career-high 1,402 rush yards in ’09 to join former NY Jets runner Curtis Martin as the franchise’s only backs to reach 1,400 yards in single season, was due a $3 million roster bonus in early March.

NY Jets GM Mike Tannebaum recently said, “(Running the ball) is important to Rex (Ryan).  That’s our offensive philosophy.”  So surely after 3-consecutive 1100-yard plus seasons in New York including a 2008 Pro Bowl selection, the well-liked Jones would be back.  Well…wrong, after Jones didn’t want to take a pay cut on his roster bonus and 2010 salary of $2.8 Million, he was released on March 2nd to the dismay of NY Jets’ fans and many in the team’s lockeroom.

Jones’ release showed once again that he is one of the NFL’s most under-appreciated running backs ever. Despite having produced 9,217 yards and 62 touchdowns over a 10-year NFL career with the Arizona Cardinals, Tampa Bay Bucs, Chicago Bears, and NY Jets.  However Jones and his representative, Drew Rosenhaus, quickly rebounded as the soon to be 32-year old runner signed a two-year, $5 million deal that will pay him $3 million in 2010 and $2 million in 2011, with another $500,000 available for incentives, on March 9th.

In looking for Jones’ replacement and emerging powerback Shonn Greene’s new tag-team partner, the NY Jets had an assortment of free agent veteran runners to choose from including Brian Westbrook, Willie Parker, Jamaal Lewis, LaDainian Tomlinson, and others.  Ultimately the Jets chose to sign Tomlinson — who turns 31 in June – on March 14th, giving him a two-year, $5.2 million contract with another $500,000 available via incentives. 

The signing of Tomlinson to replace Jones instantly fueled a ton of discussion in the New York market.  In breaking up one of the NFL’s best 1-2 punches from the 2009 season (Greene and Jones), the Jets quickly felt the ire of their fans.  And I have to agree with most of the fans who are questioning the move to not stick with Jones while bringing in an aging Tomlinson. 

Jones clearly showed last season that he had fresher legs than Tomlinson and with both backs being around the same age, the former 1-time Pro Bowl player has 600 less carries than L.T.

Over the past two seasons, L.T’s production has continually fallen – rushed for a career-low 730 yards in 2009 with a disappointing 3.3 yards per carry average.  Plus after a 9-year career of being a workhorse for the San Diego Chargers including 2880 carries — produced a Hall of Fame worthy 12,490 yards — you have to wonder what L.T has left. 

Sure, Greene is one of the best young power backs in the NFL (produced 304 rushing yards with a 5.6 per carry average in the playoffs) and naturally he will get  the lion’s share of the NY Jets’ carries (300+) next season.  Plus scatback Leon Washington is coming back (knee) and the Jets have one of the NFL’s most dominant run blocking offensive lines led by young Pro Bowl players, D’Brickshaw Ferguson and Nick Mangold. 

But at some point during the 2010 season, L.T will have to show that he is close to returning to his old dual-threat form in order to push the Jets past the Colts and his old nemesis, the New England Patriots — will now be facing them twice a year in the regular season.   

Upon signing with the NY Jets, Tomlinson said “I will tell you I’ve come here to win a championship, and I believe this team has the ability to do it”.  But not so fast L.T as right now, until you can show more than the measly 24 yards on 12 carries that you put against the NY Jets in the 2009 NFL Playoffs, then you are looking like  to me former NFL great Tony Dorsett playing for the Denver Broncos at the end of his career.   And everyone knows how aging runners like Dorsett, Eric Dickerson, Shaun Alexander and OJ Simpson left the NFL.

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)