2008 Philadelphia Eagles All Inclusive NFL Draft Preview (Part 2)

By Lloyd Vance, BIGPLAY Football, Senior NFL Writer and Draft Analyst

Offensive Roster Overview

 QB – It was an up and down season for Donovan McNabb much like the overall franchise.  Coming back from his third season ending injury was tough as McNabb attacked his rehab and was able to be on the field from the start of training camp.  But other than the Detroit game he was slow coming out of the gate.  After a justifiable rounding back into form period, McNabb returned from an ankle injury amidst fan calls for Kevin Kolb to finish strong going 3-1 in his last four games.  In those games his numbers (96-147, 995 yards, 65%, 6 TDs, 1 INT, 96.2 QB rating with an additional 101 yards rushing) were definitely close to his usual Pro Bowl form.   With McNabb entering his 10th season, which is hard to believe some may be ready to push him out the door, but I am not ready.  If McNabb gets the weapons he has so cherished, the he has a good chance of ending his career in Philadelphia.  However with the team selecting Kevin Kolb with their first selection in ’07, you know the veteran quarterback will be looking over his shoulder.  Right now I say let’s take it year to year until either the Eagles or McNabb say they don’t want the relationship.  As for the backup quarterback position the Eagles have a situation, which most teams like to have.  Veteran AJ Feely understands his role as the distinct number two guy and he is capable of moving the team as shown in the Patriots game.  I think after Feeley’s performance against the Patriots and Seahawks the legions of “AJ needs to be a starter” backers now understand that the former Oregon quarterback is best served being a backup.  In the 2007 draft the Eagles finally brought in the “quarterback of the future” with the selection Kevin Kolb.  The drafting of the promising quarterback didn’t come without waves as to the surprise of Eagles Nation they traded their first rounder to the rival Cowboys and grabbed the former University of Houston gunslinger with a high second round pick    Grabbing a developmental quarterback was needed, but the question is “Were there more pressing needs?”  As we know from drafting players like Bobbie Williams and Freddie Mitchell, there is no going back so now it is time to just see what the kid can do.  Kolb has a live arm, good mobility, and a swagger about him that I like (reminds me of a young Mark Brunnell).  It will be interesting to see how he takes to watching McNabb at the controls.  But he should come to camp ready to contribute, because you never know when injuries will happen.  Right only have three quarterbacks on the roster, but the team will probably add an undrafted free agent type to help out in mini-camp.

RB – Brian Westbrook showed that when given the opportunity, he is one of the best backs in the NFL.  The mercurial back broke the Eagles record for combine receiving and rushing yards with 2104 yards plus he had over 1,200 yards rushing and 90 catches (those are LT type numbers).  The season was truly one for the books as Westbrook was selected to the Pro Bowl for the time.  Plus let’s not forget B-West’s incredible season highlight play versus the hated Cowboys of laying down right before crossing the goal line thus forgoing a touchdown in order to cement a road win for the Birds.  However there are some questions around the Eagles number one offensive threat that will need to be worked out.  His contract situation is tenuous as Westbrook is not happy with his current contract (In 2007 made 2 Million from the contract extension that he signed in 2005 that included a 12 Million dollar signing bonus.  His ’07 salary ranked him 20th behind players like DeShaun Foster and LaMont Jordan) and there is talk that a holdout maybe in the works – I don’t see the classy back going that route.  With Westbrook at 28 years of age and nearing the magical age of 30, you have to wonder if the Eagles brass will entertain thoughts of paying him after seeing how the play of running backs like Shaun Alexander dropped off after signing extensions close age thirty.  Hopefully B-West, his agent Fletcher Smith and the Eagles can work out an extension to put the talented multi-purpose threat in the neighborhood of at least Houston Texans running back Ahmad Green (four-year, $23 million contract that includes between $6 million-$7 million). Behind Westbrook, veteran Correll Buckhalter has been steady and I think more carries (only had 62 in 2007) are needed for him.  Entering his eighth season with the Eagles, Buckhalter has overcome past knee troubles to provide a good compliment to Westbrook.  He ran for 313 yards and 4 TDs while averaging a hearty 5.0 ypc in ’07.  But same as Westbrook, Buck is close to thirty (will be 30 in October) so a backup plan is needed.  Last April after the draft I thought the Eagles had finally solved their need for a physical running back with the selection of Penn State star Tony Hunt in the 3rd round.  Unfortunately the former Big Ten prospect’s play was spotty leading to several Sundays on the inactive list.  Many have said Hunt landed in the doghouse due to missed blocking assignments, but after only 10 carries I am not ready to give up on him.  Hunt needs to come to camp ready to work and prove he was worth his selection.  Also in the mix is former 3rd round selection in 2005 Ryan Moats, who looked destined to be somewhere else before badly breaking his ankle in preseason.  As stated earlier with the great depth in this year’s draft class look for a running back to be selected by Eagles and hopefully he will have some kick return skills.  The FB starter in 2007 was Thomas Tapeh and he left via free agency leaving an opportunity for someone else.  I think the Eagles thinking in signing Dan Klecko to replace Tapeh was that they wanted a more physical blocker in the backfield.  The interesting thing about the whole situation is that no one knows how the former D-lineman will pick up the intricacies of playing fullback in the NFL.  Jason Davis, who has hung around in training camp and on the practice squad is also on the roster.  Look for another player to be added to push Davis and contribute on special teams.

WR – We have heard it time and time again, “We are okay with our receivers”.  Everyone please relax, because you and I both know this coach speak.  This is why this unit fills more sports talk radio show hours in Philadelphia than anything.  This is due to a need for a playmaking target that can come through in the clutch. I know the last few Super Bowl champions other than Marvin Harrison and Colts have not had that all-world receiver that everyone is clamoring to obtain, but this unit needs more playmakers as Donovan McNabb said earlier this off-season.  I am not saying that the Eagles have to have a prima donna player like the guy whose initials we dare not say — T.O.  But when you look at this group’s difficulty in scoring especially in the redzone, changes need to made.   A good building block is already in place with ’07 addition Kevin Curtis.  The former Rams receiver came to the Eagles ready to work and he produced (77 catches for 1110 yards, 14.4 yards per catch, and 6 TDs plus 2 fumble recovery touchdowns). But evaluators I have talked to seem to have come to a consensus that with his size (5’11, 190) that maybe his best work could be done in the slot.  Entering his fourth year receiver Reggie Brown had a “career year” in 2007 according to Andy Reid.  But I believe that many people don’t agree with that assessment.  Sure Brown’s number of catches rose to career high of sixty-one, but his yards fell from 816 to 780, his touchdowns also fell (8 to 4) and did you see the whopping almost five yard drop-off (17.7 to 12.8 ) in the former second rounder’s yards per catch.  In order for the Eagles to compete with scoring teams like the Cowboys more is needed.  After Curtis and Brown there is an array of players that are in the league, but could they make the Colts roster?  Baskett (Big target entering 3rd year with the team, but looks like specials player), Avant (former ’06 fourth round pick is strong in the slot, but does he have the speed), and Greg Lewis (Been on the team since 2003 and always shows up versus the Patriots, but where is he the rest of the time). The aforementioned Bam Childress and special teams ace Mike Gasperson will compete in camp to see who can make a contribution like the Giants Super Bowl hero David Tyree.  Other WR’s Jamal Jones, Bill Sampy are just guys on the team for training camp.  Look for two players in the draft to add depth to this group.  The biggest need is to find a receiver who can start out on special teams and returning kicks.  There is also talk that five-time Pro Bowl receiver Cincinnati Bengals receiver Chad Johnson is trying to talk his way out of Cincy and possibly into an Eagles uniform.  As for the legions of receiver starved Philadelphia Eagles fans that think Johnson is the answer, I can only say don’t let history repeat itself and this guy is not for Philly or Head Coach Andy Reid.

TE – The winds of change are definitely blowing around this group going into the ’08 draft.  Starter LJ Smith is back for possibly his last go around after receiving the franchise tag from the team and cashing it in to the tune of a 1-year, $4.5 Million dollar contract (average of Top 5 tight ends salaries in ‘07).  You can’t blame the Eagles for retaining the services of their former second-round pick in 2003, but many fans and media are asking is the often injured player worth it. The fact that Smith struggled through an injury-plagued 2007 campaign where he had 22 receptions for 236 yards and one touchdown in only 10 games (sports hernia) plus the signing of Kris Wilson and the emergence of Brent Celek definitely have put “make or break” expectations on the former Rutgers product.  With an emphasis on a field stretching tight end throughout the NFL especially in the NFC East division — Cowboys perennial Pro Bowl tight end Jason Witten, Redskins emerging tight end Chris Cooley, and the Giants combo of Jeremy Shockey and Kevin Boss – all eyes will be on Smith.   A good barometer for Smith could be his 2005 numbers where he had a career-best 61 catches for 682 yards with three touchdowns.  No matter his catch total or yards, Smith needs to be McNabb’s man in the redzone catching touchdowns as the Eagles finished ranked 24th in redzone percentage with a mark of 45% (23 TDs in 51 chances).  Wilson will be a much-welcomed addition as the  twenty-six year-old H-Back type tight end has solid receiving skills and is a willing blocker.  The former University of Pittsburgh player has a second round draft pedigree and is coming off a career high of 24 catches in ’07.  Here’s hoping he learned a lot while working behind Tony Gonzalez (one the best pass catching tight ends ever) and former Eagle Jason Dunn (a devastating blocker).  When I attended training camp at Lehigh last July, everyone was buzzing about #87.  During camp and in preseason Brent Celek a 5th round find in ’07 out of Cincinnati not only looked the part of an NFL veteran, but excelled everyday in practice making one-handed and diving grabs.  In limited time (16 games played with 2 starts), Celek put up modest numbers of 16 catches for 178 yards and one touchdown.  But a pair of 29-yard bullish catch and runs versus the Cowboys and Saints at the end of the season were definitely encouraging.  People around the team expect him to come back stronger and ready to compete for the reps. The tight end that appears to be the odd man out is Matt Schobel.  Since coming over from the Bengals in ’06, Schobel has been solid (11 rec, 108 yards w/ 1 TD in ’07), but he needs to do more to take away reps from the other tight ends. I think the Birds should bring in a TE on Day 2 of the draft.  As shown by last year’s selection of Celek, you can always find a good tight end late in the draft to develop.  I particularly would love for them to bring in a former college basketball player.

OL – This group had a good year, but they were not as cohesive as ’06 when all five guys almost played the entire season together.  Of course when you talk about the Birds O-line it all starts with now two-time Pro Bowl right guard Shawn Andrews.  After getting off to a slow start due to a slow healing high ankle sprain, the “big kid” as he likes to call himself, returned to his dominating form.  Andrews was the only Pro Bowl starter on the Eagles and his leadership and talent is invaluable to this unit.   When you know a big short yardage situation is coming always look for the Birds to right behind Andrews and his tag-team partner RT Jon Runyan.  The tandem was definitely was one of the reasons you saw the Birds become more balanced in 2007 running for 1974 yards with a healthy average of 4.7 ypr (2nd in NFL).  RT Jon Runyan again played at a consistent level and continued his amazing consecutive game streak to 176 games.  Runyan, who continues to be a huge proponent of the run is a solid teammate on and off the field, where he is involved in too many community events to list. With Runyan’s stellar career seeming to be coming to the end (will be 35 in November) the Eagles need to start thinking about his replacement.   The interior of the Birds off-season line starts with big center Jamal Jackson.  In his second season, the former undfrafted free agent out of Delaware State was good, but not as dominant as in ’06.  I heard that there were some missed assignments that led to others having to compensate.  It will be interesting to see if the Eagles bring in another center via the draft or free agency to push the 27-year old pivot, but expect Jackson to comeback strong this year. The LG spot should be the main position of competition on the O-line in the ’08 season.  Todd Herremans is the current the starter, but the former small college offensive tackle sometimes struggled with penalties and inside pressure.  An evaluator that I talked to said the third year guard plays “too high” at times.  Ready to battle Herremans for the potentially open guard spot is former second round pick in 2006 Max Jean-Gilles.  The big former Georgia road grader is easily the Eagles nastiest O-lineman.  The day I was at camp, Jean-Gilles got in the best donnybrook of the Lehigh session battling even without his helmet.  The big lineman (6’4, 355) will need to work on his conditioning going into camp.  LT William Thomas had another solid season to follow-up a dominating performance in 2006.  The only question that surrounds the 33-year old veteran (34 in November) is whether he will continue to play after his contract runs out after 2008.  Thomas has battled through blood clots and a bum should to team with Runyan as a great bookend combination.  However the former 1998 first round pick and safety Brian Dawkins are last two player links to the bygone Ray Rhodes era.  The among the backups third-year player Winston Justice, who will be called upon to spell Runyan and Thomas if needed, but some evaluators are starting to question his high draft grade.  Unfortunately for the former USC Trojan, he was the main victim in a nationally televised demolition by Giants defensive end Osi Umenyiora with the Pro Bowl pass-rusher setting a franchise record six sacks.  The personable young offensive tackle has all the skills and size to be a top-flight right tackle, but he will need to step it up in ’08 to silence his critics. The backups that will have fun with the veterans and O-line guru Juan Castille in the Lehigh hot sun include fourth year guard Scott  Young, Nick Cole (Center and sometimes short yardage blocker), and Stefan Rodgers (Developmental Tackle).  Competition and depth will be the key for this unit to cut down on the 49 sacks that they allowed and keeping Brian Westbrook over 1,200 yards rushing in 2008.  Look for the Birds to add at least two O-Linemen through the draft to prepare for a future without their bookend tackles and provide quality depth.

Defensive Roster Overview

DE – This unit definitely had a definitive leader in Pro Bowl player Trent Cole (12.5).  Cole came into his own at a time when the Eagles needed most due to former free agents Jevon Kearse and Darren Howard not showing much for their money (4.5 sacks between the two of  them for a salary cap figure of 12.3 Million).  Though undersized Cole was definitely the best defensive end while playing the run too.  Of the Eagles 37 sacks in 2007 only 22 came from the defensive ends and after Cole that number sinks less than 10 sacks.  The effort of Juqua Parker (formerly Thomas) is good and he produced 5 sacks in a limited role, but I am not sure he is a starter.   This year will be a real test for second-year player Victor Abiamiri as the 2nd round pick from 2007 needs to take a step up.  Abiamiri is expected to be a big two-way end that can play the run and get after the passer.  After watching his former college teammate Justin Tuck terrorize the NFL on the way to a Super Championship with the Giants that should light a fire under Abiamiri.   The team rightfully cutting ties with Kearse after another season where his knee didn’t allow him to perform.  Kearse went back to the Titans after his release leaving everyone to ponder what they thought of his time in Philly.  When you look back on Kearse’s time he never hit double-digits in sacks in his Eagles career and 2004 was definitely the high point for him as the Birds made the Super Bowl.  Training camp will be crucial for underachievers Darren Howard (huge free agent dollars and Jerome McDougle (first rounder that has only 3 sacks in 5 years on the team) as they fight for their spots on the team. I like the addition of Chris Clemons from the Raiders as the light defensive end has a nose for the quarterback and will be a fresh body into the rotation.  Even with the addition of Clemons, this unit will definitely add at least one player in the draft.  Also with the great effort shown by linebacker Chris Gocong while playing defensive end versus the Patriots (1 sack) expect him to be used more rushing the passer as a DE.  Other players that will go to camp are Xzavie Jackson and AJ Schable

DT – For years the Eagles Defensive Tackles have been a point of contention as this unit had problems stopping the run in the past.  However In 2007 this group was nasty as all the teams high draft picks came to play and contribute.  The defensive tackles were stout and were a major reason that the Eagles finished ranked 7th in rushing yards (1533) for the regular season. Mike Patterson a first round selection in 2005 finally showed the quick penetrating style that the Eagles expected from him when they signed him to a huge extension in the 2006 season.  Patterson had a solid season producing 67 tackles and 4 sacks.  The former USC lineman’s effort and value cannot just be shown in his numbers as he teamed with Broderick Bunkley to form one of the young rising defensive tackle tandems in the NFL.  Speaking of Bunkley, after a frustrating rookie year in  green, the muscular stout defensive tackle flashed his first round pedigree.  Bunkley got out of the Birds’ doghouse by coming to work in shape and ready to contribute finishing with 3 sacks plus occupying blockers.  Now that the young guys can be considered veterans, it is time to lead.  Despite a bad penalty against the Dallas Cowboys, Lajuan Ramsey continued to be a solid part of the rotation.  After signing as a free agent, Montae Reagor (2 TKLs, 1 sack) never really seemed to recover from his  health issues.  Reagor was injured from the start of camp in ’07 and the team will definitely be watching him as they have already parted ways with other ’07 free agent defensive tackle Ian Scott.  Jeremy Clark an undrafted free agent in ’07 will also be going to camp looking for a spot.  With veteran Kimo von Oelhoffen leaving, look for the Birds to continue to place an emphasis on stopping the run by bringing in another DT in the draft or as an undrafted free agent.

LB – This unit will have a new coach in Bill Shuhey and there is definitely an expectation for more game changing plays (only 3 sacks and 2 interceptions).  The Eagles believe that they have gotten off to a good by releasing veteran Takeo Spike and moving Omar Gaither to the outside allowing Stewart Bradley to move into the starting lineup at middle linebacker.  I like that the Eagles are getting younger and hopefully the younger legs will make Shuhey and Jim Johnson look good.  Bradley showed his Nebraska pedigree at the end of the season filling in, especially versus the Saints producing 6 TKLS, 1 Sack, and 1 INT.  Now the Eagles expect the tall (6’5) linebacker to use his smarts in leading this unit.  2006 5th round pick Omar Gaither filled in nicely as the Eagles middle linebacker and leading the team in tackles, but the team realized that he is best served playing on the outside.  Gaither will be counted on to fly around the ball and produce more than Spikes (only 1 sack, 0 INTs).  Former 2006 3rd Round pick Chris Gocong made it back to the field after a rookie season lost to injury and seemed to be getting more comfortable as the season went on.  The third year pro, who is still learning, will continue to work on his coverage of tight ends and hopefully the coaching staff will find more chances for the former small college sack leader to get after the passer.  The addition as Rocky Boiman as the extra coverage linebacker and special teams ace should definitely give a shot in the arm to this group.  The former Indianapolis Colt is smart and has a nose for the ball on coverage units. Pago Togafau (Backup MLB, who have to earn his way on special teams.) and Akeem Jordan (Birds like this young former undrafted free agent from 2007) close out this group.  With the NFL being built around hybrid linebackers look for a versatile linebacker to be added in the draft.

CB’s – The defensive secondary will get their old coach back in Sean McDermott after John Harbaugh left for the Ravens and the young coach should have a great time acclimating new free agent Asante Samuel into the Birds system.  Samuel is playmaking cover corner who comes with a winning attitude.  I expect at least 6 interceptions from this year’s number one free agent signing.  The signing of Samuel was welcomed news to everyone, but veteran Lito Sheppard.  The former number one draft choice is being paid much less than Samuel, which has left him unhappy and looking for the Birds to find him a new team.  After missing 14 games over the last two years you cannot blame the Eagles for looking for an upgrade.  Samuel’s new partner Sheldon Brown played in every game, but the Eagles maybe wary of his outspokenness and age (29).  I like Brown’s hard hitting style, but he will never be a high interception guy. The loss of Roderick Hood in 2007 didn’t seem like a big loss but the former Eagle produced 5 interceptions, which was more than any Eagle.  The Eagles tried to replace Hood with Will James, but the former Giant was not up to the task.   James’ struggles opened the door for Joselio Hanson, who after hanging around in the past came in to provide solid nickel coverage.  Nick Graham (training camp surprise), Tanard Davis (very fast player signed from the Panthers practice squad) and Therrian Fontenot round out the group.  The team will definitely be looking to add at least one corner to their Dime, Nickel, and training camp roster.  I would like the Birds to bring in a mid-level player from this year’s talent rich CB group that has return skills.

Safeties – After a season where veteran Brian Dawkins missed a lot of time due to injury (stinger), the Eagles struggled to find consistent play from this group.  Dawkins is predicting a return to his Pro Bowl form, but with the veteran entering his 13th season it maybe tough.  I believe many of Dawkins struggles are due to the fact his partner in the back two Sean Considine also missed time with injuries in ’07.  Considine is an effort player, but he often throws his body in the mix and pays for it.  Quintin Mikelle played well as a fill-in, but he is best a swing player and special teams demon.  Hard-hitting JR Reed was re-signed and hopefully the tough safety will continue playing well on special teams plus adding depth. Marcus Paschal is also on the roster, but he will have to battle any rookie the Birds bring in.  Overall the Eagles safety coverage needs to improve and they need to create more turnovers (only 3 interceptions by safeties).  Unfortunately for the Eagles, they will have to dig for a replacement in the draft as this position is not deep this year.

Specialists – For years this area was manned by John Harbaugh, but the young coach wanted to fulfill a dream of coaching a position and it led to his current position as the Ravens head coach.  Inexperienced Rory Segrest took over and this unit was definitely not as cohesive.  The Eagles struggled with field position, covering kicks, and making field goals.  The usually reliable David Akers was 24 for 32 overall, but you could see at times beyond the forty-yard line his confidence was not great (2 for 10 from beyond 40 including an alarming 1 for 6 between 40 to 49 yards).  With the former Pro Bowl at 34 years of age, it maybe time to look for his eventual replacement.   One of the best stories of the 2007 season was the improving play of former Australian Rules player Saverio Rocca.  The big Aussie produced a 42 yard average and the team seems to have confidence in his ability to improve in 2008.  With the Eagles valuing “ball security” over playmaking ability they have been at the lower end of the return game.  Finding a return specialist is paramount in the draft as continually the Eagles had one of the longest field in the NFL (29.08 yard line for a ranking of 25th) and they have not had a kickoff return (since 2001) or punt return (since 2003) for a touchdown in some time.  The Eagles can longer afford to throw just any player into this position as evidence by the Green Bay loss.  The long snapping is now in the hands of Jon “the Magician” Dorenbos, who filled in well for departed veteran Mike Bartrum.  Look for JR Reed, Sean Considine, Rocky Boiman, Kris Wilson, Dan Klecko, and Quintin Mikelle to be leaders on coverage units.

2008 Draft Notes

The teams that seem to always do well in the draft and in season — Giants, Colts, Steelers, and Patriots usually follow a blueprint that the Eagles should try to follow.

  • Go for Larger School Players (BCS Championship Level Players) in the 1st Two Rounds. In the first three rounds of the 2006 draft, 85% of the players selected were from the six BCS Conferences.
  • Judge the total player (Interview, Practice Habits, All Star Game, Combine, Pro Day, “Character”, and most importantly Game Film)
  • “Football Players” on Day 2 (Look for players that may not have all the measurables or the proverbial “pedigree”, but who have a high football IQ and can provide quality depth while helping on special teams and/or fill needs at multiple positions.
  • Always consider your team’s needs with picks (Use the draft to replenish and build to establish the cornerstone of your team). 

 I have broken down where the Eagles are picking and how I would use their draft picks considering the needs I listed earlier.  However I do not believe that they will not use all 11 of their picks on prospects so be shocked if they trade around especially with the aforementioned Lito Sheppard ready to be moved – hopefully for Birds fans the team’s trades will not be with the hated Cowboys again.  .

 (1st – 19, 2nd – 49, 3rd – 80, 4th – 115, 4th – 131, 5th – 152, 6th – 184, 6th – 191, 6th – 200, 6th – 203, 7th – 230)

1st Round (19) – Jeff Otah, Pittsburgh, OT, 6-6, 340, 5.1

At a spot where all of the top receivers should be on the board, I expect a frenzy like none ever seen in my hometown.  Unfortunately as I have been telling Birds fans on the radio for some time with Head Coach Andy Reid pulling the trigger expect a lineman.  As someone, who may have been a “tad” bit tough on former Eagles draft classes, I can honestly say that I would be okay with the selection of an offensive tackle.  Stalwart bookend tackles Jon Runyan and William Thomas have been stellar for years, but they aren’t getting any younger.  No it will not be popular, but the best value for the Eagles is to wait until the second round to grab a receiver – I also believe that there are very few receivers this year worth a number one pick.  Otah (6’6, 340) reminds me a lot of Colts ’07 rookie sensation Tony Ugoh coming out of college.  The New Castle, Delaware native was an All-Big East Conference first-team selection starting twelve games at left offensive tackle while helping the offense average 141.4 yards rushing. Produced 101 knockdowns and committed only two penalties.  He needs to work on his conditioning, but there is no doubt that he has the ability to be a solid pro.  With O-line guru Juan Castille pushing him look for this big athletic player to push disappointing ’06 pick Winston Justice and add depth to an area that Andy Reid always loves to build up.

2nd Round (49) – Early Doucet, LSU, WR, 6-0, 211, 4.54

By waiting until the second round or later to draft a wide receiver, the Eagles will get the expected value from this year’s receiver group.  The receiver that I like for the Eagles system is Doucet.  Whenever the National Champion LSU Tigers needed a big play this senior answered the call. Much like Cardinals receiver Anquan Boldin, Doucet makes plays that move the chains as shown by his 29 first-down catches and 21 receptions for 10 yards or longer including seven for more than 20 yards.  Doucet has the size and strength while also having enough speed to get deep.  At this year’s Senior Bowl, Doucet was by far the best receiver in practices attacking passes with his hands.  Some teams may shy off Doucet due to an injury history including missing games in ’07 due to a groin injury.  But despite the groin injury the former high school quarterback was a second team All-Southeastern Conference pick producing a team-high 57 receptions for 525 yards (9.2 avg) and five touchdowns.  Another important characteristic that Doucet has is his ability to return kicks. We will have to wait and see if he can top his former teammate and last year’s Chiefs sensation Dwayne Bowe (15 starts, 70 receptions for 995 yards and 5 TDs as a rookie in ’06) in terms of production, but he is definite upgrade to the Birds receiving corps. 

3rd Round (80) – Duane Brown, Virginia Tech, OT, 6-5, 310, 4.9

The Eagles need more than one offensive lineman in the draft and I believe a nice Day 2 O-lineman will be Brown.  After coming to Virginia Tech as a tight end, this athletic player converted to left tackle and was dominate.  Some scouts I talked to love his long arms, good feet, and his ability to move (ran a very good sub-5.0 40).  Though he is still raw and learning this potential bookend tackle has everything a coach is looking for in a top-flight O-lineman. He has a good punch coming off the ball, good footwork, and large wingspan. Was All-ACC in ’07 as a left tackle and second team All-ACC in ’06 as a RT.

4th Round (115) – Craig Steltz, LSU, SS, 6-1, 210, 4.59                                

The safety position on the Eagles needs a shot in the arm with Brian Dawkins getting older.  Steltz is another leadership player from the National Champion LSU Tigers.  A tough in the box Strong Safety, who has a nose for the ball.  Took over for first round draft pick Laron Landry in 2007.  Not the athlete that Landry is in coverage, but Steltz is a smart tough football player.  As a senior in ’07, started all fourteen games for the Tigers producing a career-high 101 tackles (64 solos), 1 sack, 5 Tackles for loss, 3 forced fumbles, and 1 fumble recovery.  Led the Tigers and finished third in the SEC with a career-high six interceptions.

 

4th Round (131) – Jermichael Finley, Texas, TE, 6-5, 250, 4.62

The Eagles have been active in the off-season at this position bringing Kris Wilson, but Finley is an intriguing player.  The redshirt sophomore is raw, but he may be the best athlete among this year’s Tight Ends. The big athletic player had 45 receptions for 575 yards and two touchdowns in 2007.  At this point in his career the 21-year old maybe a pass catcher only due to his fluid hands, but he is also a willing blocker.  Since Finley probably needed another year, he is still learning the game but in a couple years from now he has the upside to be a field-stretching tight end in this class.  Did have a great combine running in the 4.8 range, but recently ran a 4.62 at Texas’ Pro Day and I have been told he has put on 14 pounds of muscle moving from 236 to 250. Finished his brief college career with 76 catches for 947 yards receiving and 5 TDs.

 

5th Round (152) – Curtis Johnson, Clark Atlanta, DE/OLB, 6-3, 242

With the Eagles looking for another pass rushing “fastball”, Johnson maybe the right player.  The small school phenom reminds me a lot of former Eagles pass rusher Hugh Douglas coming out of college — HBCU Pass Rusher with people wondering if he can bring the same kind of heat into the NFL.  The All – Southern Intercollegiate Athletic Conference (SIAC) defensive player of the year is a disruptive force with great up field closing speed.  An excellent athlete with quickness, strength, and power.  Likes to hit and delivers a blow in a forceful manner.  Though he may be a ‘tweener in some books look for Johnson to contribute first on special teams and in pass rushing situation. In 2007, Johnson in 11 games produced 112 tackles, 27 tackles for loss, and 13.5 sacks.   The Division II player held his own nicely against the big boys in the East-West Shrine game and in the All-Star game’s practices. Had 39.5 sacks in his college career.

 

6th Round (184)  – Jacob Hester, LSU, FB, 5-11, 230, 4.63                                                                                           

Hester is a versatile high character running back that played halfback and fullback for the National Champion LSU Tigers.  He led the Tigers in rushing with 1,103 yards on 225 carries (4.9 avg) with twelve touchdowns.  He is the tough leadership type of player that the Eagles need to bring in.  He can do it all out of the backfield (strong inside runner, go hands catching the ball, and a willing blocker).  At the Senior Bowl he showed off his “can do” attitude and ability to play on special teams. Eagles’ fans will love his ability at the goal line where he will not stop until hitting pay dirt.  During his impressive career at LSU the former captain had an impressive string of 310 consecutive rushing attempts without a fumble.  Reminds me of St. Louis Rams combo back Brian Leonard.

 

6th Round (191) – Brian Witherspoon, CB/KR, Stillman College, 5-10 3/8, 178, 4.33

 Everyone knows about Tennessee State’s Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie after the Senior Bowl, but there is another rising HBCU prospect in Witherspoon.  Would be a much-needed addition as a nickel corner and return man for the Eagles.  One of the fastest players in the ’07 draft is an accomplished sprinter (has run in the 10.3 range in the 100 meters), who was a preseason All-American by d2football.com.  The SIAC player from Stillman — Not Cosby’s Hillman — announced his presence at Alabama’s Pro Day stealing the show from his SEC counterparts. The cover corner is credited with a 4.33 seconds forty, 40-inch vertical, 4.36 seconds in the short shuttle, and a cone drill of 6.86 seconds at Alabama. Witherspoon is a fluid athlete with good change of direction, but it is his speed everyone wants to harness (said to have posted a 4.16 in a workout according to an internet report).  Should contribute right away on special teams and in the return game.

 

6th Round (200) – Joe Fields, FS, Syracuse, 6-0, 205, 4.49                  

Could be a great “find” for the Eagles as a combo safety and special teams contributor.  When Fields entered Syracuse he was supposed to be the next Donovan McNabb at quarterback, but he developed into an NFL worthy free safety playing the position in his final three seasons (25 consecutive starts) for the Orange. The 2007 All-BIG EAST Second Teamer finished the season tied for sixth in The BIG EAST Conference with 97 tackles (53 solo), he also had four interceptions and one fumble recovery.  Fields is a tough senior leadership type player, who will do anything the coach asks of him.  Was the first true freshman quarterback since Todd Norley in 1982 to start the season opener in ’04.  Reminds me of former Houston Texans player and former Nebraska quarterback Jammal Lord. 

 

6th Round (203) – Dennis Dixon, Oregon, QB, 6-2, 185, 4.79                

With the Eagles already having McNabb, Feeley, and Kolb on the roster, I thought this pick would be a good on to use on a developmental quarterback.  There has been talk that Colt Brennan is Andy Reid’s pick to be the developmental candidate, but I like the multi-faceted Dixon better.  Dixon is a tough dual threat leadership type quarterback who reminds me of McNabb coming out of college. Seemed on his way to playing the National Championship game, the Heisman and possibly a high round draft grade when he tore the ACL in his left knee this past December.   The Oregon Senior has attacked his rehab and in talking to his agent, he is ahead of schedule.  Great athlete who also played baseball for the Atlanta Braves organization.  In 2007, the All PAC 10 passer threw for 2,136 yards while completing 67.7% of his passes for 20 touchdowns and just four interceptions. He also ran for 583 yards and nine touchdowns as well. He will need to bulk up his thin frame in the NFL.

 

7th Round (230) – Jayson Foster, Georgia Southern RB/WR/KR, 5-7 1/4, 173, 4.45

Despite his smallish size this mighty mite is explosive, elusive, and speedy.  Foster had a rather eventual college career as three different coaches bounced him around playing quarterback, running back, wide receiver and kick returner.   In 2007, college football’s ultimate utility man stepped under center producing 1,844 yards and passing for 1,203 as a senior, joining the rare 1,000 yards passing and rushing in the same season club. Scored twenty-four total touchdowns plus passed for six more while winning the 2007 Walter Payton award in the FCS Division of college football. The first-team All-Southern Conference player is one of few players in the nation who has run, thrown and caught touchdown passes and taken back both punts and kickoffs for touchdowns. He definitely will get a long look in his rookie season as a “Slash” type return man due to his versatility and the success in 2007 of Joshua Cribbs (Cleveland Browns).  Had 50 catches for 661 yards and two touchdowns during his college career, which should help in his development as a receiver.  Also is the holder on field goals/extra points and is great on trick plays.  People I have talked to say he is a quick learner who should have no trouble digesting an NFL playbook. Was exceptional at his Pro Day lifting 225 pounds an amazing 11 times, running a reported 4.45 seconds in the 40-yard, producing a 37-inch vertical jump, and not dropping a pass or punt despite a tricky wind.

 

Sleepers

Every year around draft time I am asked whether it is by friends or on the radio to identify a “sleeper”.  Well everyone I am here to tell you that there are no longer true “sleepers” in the NFL Draft process.  Trust me, if you have talent the NFL will find you with their gaggle of scouts, assistant coaches, GM’s, and others scanning the country for players.  With the emergence of small school guys like Eagles RB Brian Westbrook (Villanova), Ravens DB David Pittman (Northwestern State), Colts DB Antoine Bethea (Howard), and many others the NFL finds players everywhere.

San Diego QB Josh Johnson – The Oakland, California native is from the University of San Diego and not the bigger San Diego State. But Johnson (6′3, 215) is extremely well known going into the draft after a senior season where he tossed a school record 43 touchdowns (only 1 INT) while ranking first in the nation in total offense (4,040 yards) and broke the NCAA record for passing efficiency (176.7).  His post season has been even more noteworthy as he was the MVP at the East-West Shrine game and ran an eye-popping 4.55 seconds in the forty at the Combine.  At the Combine after his blazing time he was hurt by back spasms that affected his throwing, but at his March Pro Day workout he got redemption.  In front of about 20 NFL team evaluators including head coaches Norv Turner of San Diego and Carolina’s John Fox, Johnson threw the ball much better than he did at the combine hitting almost all of his throws in stride.

Delaware RB/KR Omar Cuff – After a stellar senior season including rushing for an amazing 7 touchdowns versus William & Mary watch for this stick of dynamite in the NFL.  Cuff  (5-9 7/8, 195) amassed 4,363 rushing yards and a school-record 73 total touchdowns as Blue Hen and at his recent Pro Day he ran the forty in 4.55 seconds, had a 34-inch vertical jump, 10-foot, 1-inch long jump, 4.12 short shuttle, 6.86 cone drill, and 16 reps at 225.

HBCU players to watch include: Bethune Cookman DB Bobbie Williams (6-0, 214), Jackson State WR Jaymar Johnson (5-11, 180, 4.41), Delaware State WR Shaheer McBride (6-1, 199, 4.50), Hampton University DE Kendall Langford (6-5, 294, 5.03), South Carolina State OL James Lee (6-4, 303, 5.30), Bethune Cookman LB Ronnie McCollough (5-11, 225, 4.65), Tennessee State DE Shawn Richardson (6-4, 299, 5.12), Hampton OLB/DE Marcus Dixon (6’5, 260, 4.6) and Tuskegee University DB Johnathan Harris (5-10, 185, 4.44)

UTEP QB/WR Lorne Sam – Every year there are former quarterbacks making their mark in the NFL at other positions — Think Cleveland Browns Pro Bowl return man Joshua Cribbs, a former outstanding college quarterback at Kent State.  I always like these players since they have been leaders going back to peewee football. Sam (6′3, 215) is my number one conversion candidate in the ’08 NFL Draft. The jack-of-all-trades player transferred from Florida State looking to get noticed and he did producing numbers in 2007 of 12-19 for 144 yards w/ 2 TDs passing, 60 rushes for 339 yards w/ 3 TDs, and 42 catches for 589 yards (14.0 ypc) and 1 TD receiving. He followed his season up by shining at the combine catching the ball well in drills, posting 23 reps at 225 pounds (great for a receiver), and running a 4.55 in the forty.

Chadron State RB Danny Woodhead (5-7 ½. 197) – Two time (2006 and 2007) Harlon Hill Trophy winner as the Division II College Football Player of the Year.  Broke the NCAA all-division’s career rushing record with 7,962 yards and his 9,479 career all-purpose yards is second best in college football history. Among his numerous other NCAA all-division’s records are marks for most consecutive games to score in ( 38 ) and most career 200-yard rushing games (19). His 37 career 100-yard rushing games is a Division II record.   In 2007, rushed for 1,876 yards and averaged 6.0 yards per carry while scoring 24 touchdowns. He also caught 53 passes for 562 yards and three TDs. He helped lead Chadron State to a 12-1 record, a Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference championship and a spot in the quarterfinals of the NCAA Division II playoffs. Showed the big boys that he is ready by ripping it up at the Nebraska Pro Day. The record-setting small-school player ran the forty in 4.38 seconds, had a 38-inch vertical jump, 10-foot, 1-inch long jump, 4.20 short shuttle, 7.03 cone drill, and 20 reps of 225.

Michigan State Tight End Antonio Smith – The big tight end prospect (6-7, 260) like former college basketball player and Pro Bowl tight end Antonio Gates is trying to make the leap from the hardwood to the NFL at the surprising age of 32. The brother of current Cleveland Browns defensive end Robaire Smith certainly looked the part of an NFL tight end posting good numbers at Michigan State’s Pro Day with times 5.19 and 5.14 in the 40, a 32½-inch vertical jump, 9-foot, 7-inch long jump, and 18 reps in the bench press.

Grand Valley State CB Brandon Carr (6-0, 207) –  Probably the best small school DB in the draft besides Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie.  A start for the last three years that possess superior man to man skills.  Carr has the size/speed combo to excel in the NFL. Had 5 Ints and 14 Pass break-ups in 2007. At his Pro Day he ran the forty in 4.43, had a 35-inch vertical jump, 10-foot, 4-inch long jump, 4.19 short shuttle, 6.80 cone drill, and ran well in drills at his workout.

Midwestern State QB Daniel Polk – Was the only quarterback in college football to pass for 2,000 yards and rush for 1,000 more in 2007. Polk ( 6’1, 2002, 4.58 ) is a 3-time All-Lone Star selection and is Midwestern State’s all-time leader in rushing yards and total offense (8,276 yards). Maybe looked upon as a developmental type that will need to help on special teams first, but he is a tough athlete.

Bloomsburg RB Jamar Brittingham – I have watched this kid play since high school (Neshaminy in the Philadelphia Suburbs) and he is something special.  Brittingham (6’1, 208, 4.53) has the ideal size/power combo that NFL scouts are looking for in a back. Has a physical running style and likes to use the stiff arm. The tough senior does need to watch injuries, but the Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference (PSAC) Eastern Division Player of the Year is the PSAC’s all-time career leading rusher with 5,689 yards (14th all-time in D2). Played in the Cactus Bowl all-star game.

West Texas A&M TE Kolo Kapanui – The USC transfer Kapanui was a two-time all-Lone Star Conference selection and two-year starter.  Kapanui (6’3, 271, 4.9) catch 65 passes for 767 yards and nine touchdowns. Twice made game-winning catches, including one in a 2007 playoff game against Washburn that led to a 40-39 come-from-behind win. Has good size and is a tough blocker.  Was a participant in the Hula Bowl.

 

Other Sleepers

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

 

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

 

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

2008 NFL Draft – Mock Draft v1.0

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

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

1. Miami Dolphins — Jake Long, OT, Michigan

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

4. Oakland Raiders — Darren McFadden, RB, Arkansas

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

8. Baltimore Ravens — Chris Williams, OT, Vanderbilt

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

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

9. Cincinnati Bengals — Keith Rivers, LB, USC

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

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

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

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

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

11. Buffalo Bills — Leodis McKelvin, CB, Troy

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

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

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

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

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

13. Carolina Panthers — Derrick Harvey, DE, Florida

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

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

14. Chicago Bears — Rashard Mendenhall, RB, Illinois

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

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

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

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

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

16. Arizona Cardinals — Aqib Talib, CB, Kansas

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

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

17. Minnesota Vikings — Quentin Groves, DE, Auburn

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

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

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

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

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

19. Philadelphia Eagles — Jeff Otah, OT, Pittsburgh

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

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

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

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

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

21. Washington Redskins — Kenny Phillips, S, Miami

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

25. Seattle Seahawks — Sam Baker, OT, USC

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

28. Dallas Cowboys — Reggie Smith, CB, Oklahoma

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Teams not owning a first round pick

Cleveland Browns

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

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

Indianapolis Colts

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

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