The NFL playoffs are coming to a peak, but another huge story line going along in the NFL is the draft. Thursday was the deadline to declare, and now that we have all the players in the pool, I'll take a rather early look at the draft coming up in April. (I have the Super Bowl as Arizona-Pittsburgh with Pittsburgh winning only because they are the higher seed.)
1. Detroit Lions: Andre Smith, OT, Alabama
The Lions need everything. And I mean EVERYTHING. But on offense, it all starts with the big uglies up front, and Andre Smith is one of the bigger, more powerful left tackles in this draft, and his showing against SEC defenses have blown scouts away. Smith would be a nice building point for the offensive line in Motown.
2. St. Louis Rams: Eugene Monroe, OT, Virginia
Though this pick is very high for Eugene Monroe, he is still a strong player, and St. Louis is really that sad up front. Orlando Pace is toast, so Monroe is really going to have to play minutes early and often for the Rams, although I think that he is up to the task with his combination of strength and speed.
Again, another surprising pick, but if you think about it, can you name a Kansas City receiver besides Dwayne Bowe and Tony Gonzalez? Michael Crabtree could line up across Bowe and perform well. If it were up to me, Kansas City would trade down and take a defensive end, but there are no ends worth taking here.
4. Seattle Seahawks: Malcolm Jenkins, CB, Ohio State
With Crabtree off the board, Seattle could trade down and wait for a halfback or wide receiver, but in this situation, Malcolm Jenkins is the best bet for this dwindling secondary. Jenkins is a good shut down corner, and could switch to safety. Jenkins could play well alongside Marcus Trufant.
5. Cleveland Browns: Aaron Curry, LB, Wake Forest
This is low for such a strong linebacker. Aaron Curry is incredibly quick and can replace the old Willie McGinest. He can really fill in anywhere in a 3-4 defense that adds another linebacker. Curry should be a top three pick, but this is a pretty good situation for Curry.
6. Cincinnati Bengals: Michael Oher, OT, Ole Miss
Michael Oher is another SEC offensive tackle who is smart and strong, just not to the extent of Smith. The Bengals need somebody who can give Carson Palmer even the extra second of time to throw. Chris Perry and Cedric Benson, as bad as they are, could be slightly more productive if given better holes.
7. Oakland Raiders: Jeremy Maclin, WR, Missouri
JaMarcus Russell faces a big season next year, and with his only receiver being really the tight end Zach Miller, he needs a wideout to run intermediate to long range routes so he can really show off his cannon for an arm. Jeremy Maclin is the best receiver on the board, and really will spice up the Oakland offense.
8. Jacksonville Jaguars: Jason Smith, OT, Baylor
Jacksonville got a wake-up call that offensive line depth is important. Jason Smith fits the bill well. He's a little bit of a project, but his strength and speed he showed off at Baylor will keep him in a top 10 range. The Jaguars need a cornerback, and may trade down for Vontae Davis or up for Jenkins.
9. Green Bay Packers: Brian Orakpo, DE, Texas
The third consecutive Big 12 pick, Brian Orakpo will bring some youth and power to the Green Bay Packers aging defensive line. They had trouble getting by offensive lines and picking up sacks, and there only sack-master is Aaron Kampman. Expect Orakpo to play well in Wisconsin.
10. San Francisco 49ers: Rey Maualuga, LB, USC
Imagine this: Patrick Willis and Rey Maualuga both at linebacker in 3-4 defense. You love it, right? Its a real possibility, since Mike Singletary will obviously want to boost his defense before his offense. Percy Harvin isn't really worth taking this high anyway, so they'll have to deal with having a young, scary linebacker corps...
11. Buffalo Bills: Brandon Pettigrew, TE, Oklahoma State
Buffalo really needs someone at the tight end who can catch the football, and Brandon Pettigrew fits the bill perfectly. Pettigrew should take some attention off of Lee Evans, by far the best receiver on this team, and should get the tall James Hardy some more looks at the football.
12. Denver Broncos: Aaron Maybin, DE, Penn State
This would be somewhat of a steal, and since there is a bit of a drop off in linebackers, they may trade down to the 18-23 area to nab one. However, you can't not like a defensive end like Aaron Maybin, who is at Orakpo's level. Besides, Wesley Woodyard is a good middle linebacker to start to build around.
13. Washington Redskins: B.J. Raji, DT, Boston College
With the "Big Four" offensive tackles off the board, it seems that Washington will have to go a new route. B.J. Raji isn't a bad consolation; he has a quick first step and is really a good run stuffer, a combination anyone would like. Raji should help the Redskins emerge in the NFC East.
14. New Orleans Saints: Shonn Greene, HB, Iowa
A surprising pick, but an intelligent one at that. Deuce McAllister is as old as they come in the backfield, and Reggie Bush is injury-prone. However, when Bush is present, he shows unbelievable speed. Shonn Greene shows the most power of all halfbacks in this draft. The two could be good together.
15. Houston Texans: Vontae Davis, CB, Illinois
It is now okay to take Davis, who is the second best cornerback in this draft. Jacques Reeves isn't great, and is really only a back-up. Davis adds more youth to this already fiery defense including DeMeco Ryans, Mario Williams, Amobi Okeye, and Xavier Adibi. He fits the bill perfectly.
16. San Diego Chargers: Brian Cushing, LB, USC
The linebackers basically fell apart without Shawn Merriman, something that the Chargers couldn't afford to happen. The offense is still explosive, and the defense was the real anchor preventing this team from taking off. Brian Cushing should add much needed depth at the outside linebacker.
The second consecutive Trojan taken is a real treat for the New York Jets. The Jets didn't take too kindly to Brett Favre, especially after his late season meltdown. Even if he doesn't retire, it will give them a solid back-up, as well as someone who will eventually take over the reigns.
18. Chicago Bears: Everette Brown, DE, Florida State
Surprisingly, Chicago's main need isn't offense. Their pass rush was not good this season, especially considering its strength the previous seasons. Everette Brown, who had a nice career at Florida State, has his stock rising. He should fill the position nicely for the Bears.
19. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Percy Harvin, WR, Florida
Jeff Garcia to Antonio Bryant. That was the only passing play of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers offense this year, and though it worked effectively, defenses started cracking down on it, which cost Tampa Bay the playoffs. Percy Harvin could really excel in this system with Bryant.
20. Detroit Lions: Matt Stafford, QB, Georgia
Though it is unrealistic that Matt Stafford falls this far, it could really happen. Knowing William Ford and the gang, Stafford is going to get taken here. Behind Smith, Stafford may be able to succeed since Detroit has a very good receiving team, consisting of Calvin Johnson, Mike Furrey, and Shaun McDonald.
21. Philadelphia Eagles: Tyson Jackson, DE, LSU
The third straight SEC pick is going to help the Eagles' pass rush a great deal. Though they need a tight end, there isn't really one worth taking outside of Pettigrew, who was 10 spots up. Its not really worth trading up for, as Jackson would be a nice fit in Jim Johnson's defense.
22. Minnesota Vikings: William Moore, S, Missouri
The Vikings' secondary was average this season, and needs to beef up to meet the standards that the defensive line has created. William Moore from Missouri could be the bulk up they need to help Darren Sharper and the guys out back in the Minnesota secondary.
23. New England Patriots: James Laurinitus, LB, Ohio State
New England took a step in the right direction last season by taking Jerod Mayo, but the linebackers are still old. Junior Seau and Rosie Colvin were added back to the roster, and are both ancient. James Laurinitus, though undersized, has the speed and big play ability to help New England's defense out.
24. Atlanta Falcons: Ciron Black, OT, LSU
Though Atlanta made great strides this year, their offensive line still needs depth. Sam Baker isn't always an every down player, and Ciron Black can pick it up when Baker needs a break. Black would really add some depth to the offensive line in Atlanta, which will ultimately only improve Matt Ryan.
25. Miami Dolphins: D.J. Moore, CB, Vanderbilt
Miami's secondary wasn't really all that great, and the whole defense in Miami is pretty old. D.J. Moore will give them some talent, youth, and speed back in the pass defense. Moore's ability is no fluke; facing receivers like Harvin, A.J. Green, and Mohamed Mossaquoi isn't easy.
26. Baltimore Ravens: Peria Jerry, DT, Ole Miss
Peria Jerry's ability to stuff the run is not in question, and fits the Baltimore need perfectly. The offense is still young and growing, while the defensive line is growing old. Trevor Pryce and crew are aging quickly, and Jerry will be around to take their place when they leave.
27. Indianapolis Colts: Darrius Heyward-Bay, WR, Maryland
Marvin Harrison could be done, which means teams will crack down on Reggie Wayne, the other superstar wide receiver. Darrius Heyward-Bay, though in need of some work, could really help draw some attention from Wayne, as well as tight end Dallas Clark, who is more of a catching tight end.
28. Philadelphia Eagles: Knowshon Moreno, HB, Georgia
Go ahead and put Brian Westbrook in the slot. Westbrook and his back-up Correll Buckhalter are both rather injury-prone, and with Knowshon Moreno, Westbrook won't have to take as many carries and can make more catches to avoid injury. It also adds a little power, since the whole Eagle's offense is finesse.
29. New York Giants: Kenny Britt, WR, Rutgers
Kenny Britt is a pretty nice wide receiver, though a bit of a reach. But New York can take it. Amani Toomer is aging, Plaxico Burress is gone, and Domenik Hixon is not capable of being a No. 1 by himself. Britt steps into a dying group of wide receivers, and could make things better for Eli Manning.
30. Tennessee Titans: Alexander Mack, C, California
Kevin Mawae is dealing with some severe elbow issues, and a replacement is going to be needed eventually anyway. Alexander Mack leads one of the strongest classes of centers we've seen in a while, and is definitely first-round worthy. Mack will start if Mawae is out, or in two-four seasons when he retires.
31. Arizona Cardinals: Chris Wells, HB, Ohio State
Though they have had some playoff success, Tim Hightower-Edgerrin James is not the answer. James is in his 30's, the killer age for halfbacks. Hightower is a physical runner, but not an every down back. Chris Wells is. Wells could help Kurt Warner and crew march down the field, while Hightower punches in touchdowns.
32. Pittsburgh Steelers: Eben Britton, OT, Arizona
Pittsburgh could really have a dominating offense if it just had some blockers. Eben Britton should remedy these problems. They may even trade up for a chance at Oher or Monroe. Just think of the possibilities of this offense with some blockers up front...
Notable second round players picked:
Michael Johnson, DE, Georgia Tech
Max Unger, C, Oregon
Jonathan Luigs, C, Arkansas
Sean Smith, CB, Utah
LeSean McCoy, HB, Pittsburgh