Now that we know who will be and won't be entering the 2009 NFL Draft, we can start to piece together the puzzle of who fits in where and at what spot. Here's my first projection of what April's draft will look like.
1) Detroit Lions - Matthew Stafford, QB, Georgia
The Lions obviously have a lot of needs, 0-16 doesn't just happen, and this choice will likely come down to Stafford, Andre Smith, and Mark Sanchez. In the end, I think the Lions lean toward the flashy choice and draft the big-armed passer out of Georgia.
Stafford needs to work on not forcing passes, but his arm and his proficiency in a pro style offense give him the edge over Sanchez in this spot.
2) St. Louis Rams - Andre Smith, OT, Alabama
With the Lions passing on him, the Rams would be more than happy to take Smith in the No. 2 spot. Smith is a monster at 6'4" and over 325 lbs., and the Outland Trophy winner could sure up the offensive line for the upcoming decade like Orlando Pace did for the last 10 years.
3) Kansas City Chiefs - Brian Orakpo, DE, Texas
The Chiefs will be tempted to take Sanchez here, but Tyler Thigpen's impressive play at the end of last year likely bought him the starting job for 2009. The Chiefs need to add playmakers on the defensive side of the ball and Orakpo (nicknamed O-sack-po) could certainly be that.
His size (6'4", 250) is even more impressive when you consider his speed. He should wow at the Combine, and will probably play some outside backer as well as D-line next year.
4) Seattle Seahawks - Michael Crabtree, WR, Texas Tech
The Seahawks were cursed at WR last year, it seemed that no matter who was plugged in, that player was quickly befallen by nothing short of the plague. Crabtree is the best receiver in the draft and would provide an instant spark to a Seahawk offense that was often stuck in neutral last season.
5) Cleveland Browns - Malcom Jenkins, CB, Ohio State
The Browns may feel pressure to take Jenkins' Buckeye teammate Chris Wells here, but the Browns are unlikely to invest such a high pick in such a injury prone back. Jenkins lacks elite speed, but he makes up for it in his size and ball skills.
Combined with Eric Wright, Cleveland could have one of the better corner combos in the AFC.
6) Cincinnatti Bengals - Aaron Curry, LB, Wake Forest
The Bengals will also feel a pull to draft in-state RB Wells, but strange as it may sound, they might feel comfortable entering the season with Cedric Benson, who performed well in the last half of the year.
Cincy has nobody right now that is a reliable defensive player, and Curry could be that from day one. The Butkus Award winner is an explosive and strong-hitting linebacker that will improve the Bengals defense from the moment he steps on the field.
7) Oakland Raiders - Aaron Maybin, DE, Penn State
The Raiders need a pass rusher and they would be happy to take Maybin in this spot. Leaving as a redshirt sophomore and All-American, Maybin is one of the hottest prospects in this year's draft.
He has good size (6'4", 230lbs) and is one of the fastest players off the ball in the country. He would be a welcome addition to a Raiders defense that already contains some talented players.
8) Jacksonville Jaguars - Jason Smith, OT, Baylor
Smith isn't as powerful as fellow OT Andre Smith, but he makes up for it with great feet and athletic ability. The Baylor prospect has been one of the steadiest movers up draft boards recently, and a few good workouts could propel him into the top five.
The Jags would be excited to take him here and start to sure up an offensive line that had a lot of problems last year.
9) Green Bay Packers - Everette Brown, DE, Florida State
The Packers have one star DE in Aaron Kampman, but they lacked a presence at the other end of the line, and it showed late in the season. Brown can be streaky, but when he is on, he can be a force.
Brown recorded 12.5 sacks for the 'noles last season, and he would provide the Pack with a dangerous two-pronged pass rush.
10) San Francisco 49ers - Mark Sanchez, QB, Southern Cal
Four years ago, the 'Niners missed their chance at a Trojans quarterback when Matt Leinart decided to stay in LA for his senior year; they won't pass up the opportunity to land Sanchez here.
Sanchez is considered by some to be the top signal caller in this year's class and he could very well find himself at the top of the draft board when all is said and through.
Sanchez only started one full season under center for USC, but he was very impressive at times, most notably the Rose Bowl. With the 'Niners needing a QB, they'll pull the trigger on the in-state prospect.
11) Buffalo Bills - Brandon Pettigrew, TE, Oklahoma State
The Bills got off to a hot start in 2008, but weren't able to maintain the momentum. Still, Trent Edwards looks to be the franchise quarterback and the front office would help him greatly by selecting the best tight end on the board.
Pettigrew is huge, and an excellent pass catcher. He would bump the Bills' offense up to the next level.
12) Denver Broncos - Ray Maualuga, LB, Southern Cal
The Broncos need someone to anchor their defense, and get it going back in the right direction. Maualuga would be a steal for them in this spot. Maybe the hardest hitter in college football (if not his teammate Taylor Mays) Maualuga is a terror for opposing offenses when he is roaming the middle.
He is not the most athletic linebacker in this year's class, but he makes up for it with his nose for the ball and ability to lay people out.
13) Washington Redskins - Eugene Monroe, OT, Virginia
The 'Skins already have a great OT in Chris Samuels, but Monroe would be a terrific insurance policy if Samuels gets injured. Plus, Monroe has experience at the guard position as he played next to Branden Albert, who was a first-round pick last year for the Chiefs.
Monroe has ideal size (6'6", 315lbs) and his durability would immediately improve Washington's offensive line.
14) New Orleans Saints - Vontae Davis, CB, Illinois
The Saints seem to always be in need of a corner, and getting Davis here would lock in at least one side of the field for some time. Davis (younger brother of 49ers TE Vernon) is the second best corner in the draft behind Malcom Jenkins, and though he isn't an interception monster, he does have good ball skills and top level speed.
15) Houston Texans - William Moore, S, Missouri
The Texans could use some help at the safety position, and Moore is the best one in the draft. His stock feel somewhat due to a disappointing 2008, but Moore is a very physical safety entering a league that places a premium on very physical safeties.
His selection here would keep a very good, very young Texans defense moving in the right direction.
16) San Diego Chargers - Jeremy Maclin, WR, Missouri
It wouldn't be a shock to see the Chargers go after one of the RBs here as a replacement for LaDainian Tomlinson and a complement to Darren Sproles, but Maclin would be too good to pass up here.
With an aging Chris Chambers on the roster, the Bolts could use an infusion of youth and speed to help Philip Rivers, and there aren't many players as explosive or quick as Maclin.
17) New York Jets - Knowshon Moreno, RB, Georgia
Thomas Jones isn't getting any younger, and I doubt the Jets are willing to bet the farm on Leon Washington as a premiere back. Moreno doesn't have burner speed, but he is one of the most agile and elusive backs in the nation. He also has a great motor, and will work for every yard.
Despite having a ridiculously young offensive line at UGA last year, he still managed to rack up big numbers against the vaunted SEC defenses.
18) Chicago Bears - Patrick Chung, S, Oregon
The Bears already have a solid defense but there is a question mark at safety, especially with one of the spots held by the oft-injured Mike Brown. Chung entered the season neck-and-neck with William Moore for the best senior safety in the country, and put together a solid season. He would only improve an already impressive Bears D.
19) Tampa Bay Buccaneers - Chris Wells, RB, Ohio State
Beanie may be one of the top prospects in the draft, but there are going to be durability concerns. The same kind of concerns that allowed Adrian Peterson to slip to seventh in the draft. When Wells is healthy he is one of the best backs out there, but he is injured a lot.
Still, with him still on the board, it would be hard for the Bucs to pass him up, especially when they've got a razor thin depth chart at RB.
20) Detroit Lions (f/Dal)- Michael Oher, OT, Ole Miss
If Oher started to slip like this it would be likely that a team would jump up and grab him, but the Lions would be doing flips to grab him here and pair him up with the already drafted Matt Stafford.
Oher has been in the spotlight for a long time now, and for the most part has lived up to the hype. He might suffer from some over-analyzing, and it could cost him in the draft, but he's certainly up there with the OTs at the top of this draft.
21) Arizona Cardinals - LeSean McCoy, RB, Pittsburgh
The Cards have enjoyed a resurgence by Edge James in the playoffs, but his age and his previously expressed desire to get out of AZ can't be ignored. Also not to be ignored are TD vulture Tim Hightower's putrid yards-per-carry numbers.
McCoy, who left in a somewhat surprising move, would give the Cards a solid, every down back, and still allow Hightower to do what he does best.
22) Minnesota Vikings - Alex Mack, C, Cal
The Vikes might lean toward grabbing one of the other QBs here, like Ball State's Nate Davis, or Josh Freeman out of Kansas State, but Brad Childress has hitched his wagon to Tarvaris Jackson and hasn't shown any indication of changing his mind.
With Matt Birk likely out the door, the Vikes would be happy to grab what many consider to be the best center prospect out there. Centers aren't a terribly popular pick in the first round of the NFL Draft, but it would be a good selection here for the Vikings.
23) New England Patriots - Brian Cushing, LB, Southern Cal
The Pats would love for one of the top three running backs to fall to them here, but with all three off the board they will address their age at linebacker. With Rookie of the Year Jerod Mayo manning the middle, the Pats could greatly improve their outside backing corps that has been crippled by age and injury.
Cushing is second best outside backer behind Aaron Curry, and he would be an absolute steal in this spot.
24) Miami Dolphins - Michael Johnson, DE, Georgia Tech
The Dolphins had a dream season before running into the Ravens in the playoffs. With their offense pretty much set, they'll look to replace the hole left by Jason Taylor last year.
Johnson is one of the more freakish players in the draft, standing above six-six and possessing incredible athleticism. He's a project and will need polishing, but if he finds his stride the sky is the ceiling for this kid.
25) Atlanta Falcons - Peria Jerry, DT, Ole Miss
Like the 'Fins, the Falcons enjoyed a dream season under new coach Mike Smith and rookie QB Matt Ryan. The Falcons could use some help solidifying their offensive line, something that became obvious in their opening round loss to the Cardinals in the playoffs.
Jerry resembles last year's high pick Glenn Dorsey, and while he will need to put on some muscle and get coached up a little, he is a great athlete, and could contribute from day one.
26) Baltimore Ravens - Darrius Heyward-Bey, WR, Maryland
The Ravens have a revelation at quarterback in rookie Joe Flacco, and would like to surround him with as much talent as possible. While Florida WR Percy Harvin would be a popular pick here, the Ravens stay in state and draft Terps pass catcher Heyward-Bey.
He doesn't have the speed that Harvin does (though he's close), but he makes up for it with size and presence. He's better suited for the Ravens tough-nosed mentality than the speedy Harvin.
27) Indianapolis Colts - B.J. Raji, DT, Boston College
The Colts could use a strong force inside to free up all-everything DE Dwight Freeney. Raji, who many have as the best DT in the draft, doesn't have great size (6'1", 320lbs) but he has great strength and is an absolute monster off the snap.
He'll have to draw focus to the middle and off the outside, opening up Freeney, and improving the Colts defense.
28) Philadelphia Eagles (f/Car) - Tyson Jackson, DE, Louisiana State
Jackson has fallen off ever since his impressive sophomore season, and there are some questions about his drive and consistency. However, he is still one of the most athletically-gifted players in the draft, and his selection would add another dimension to Philly's blitz-happy defense.
29) New York Giants - James Laurinaitis, LB, Ohio State
This would be a huge fall for Laurinaitis who was once considered one of the elite prospects in the 2009 draft, but there are some questions about how he will translate to the NFL game.
Laurinaitis is great sideline-to-sideline and an good tackler, but he has difficulty shaking blocks and taking guys on, something he'll have to do at the next level. He'll be a good NFL player, whether he can be a great player remains to be seen.
The Giants, though, would be very pleased to be able to snatch him up here.
30) Tennessee Titans - Percy Harvin, WR, Florida
Harvin is another player that enters the NFL with questions as to how he translates. He is one of the quickest players in the Draft and was impressive in the Gators national title win over Oklahoma, but he seems to be cut from the Ted Ginn mold, and while Ginn has proved himself to be a good NFL player he certainly hasn't earned the lofty pick where he was taken.
Harvin would be a godsend for a Titans team that has zero playmakers at receiver and is in need of someone to pull attention off their formidable running attack.
31) Philadelphia Eagles - Donald Brown, RB, Connecticut
With the Eagles addressing defense earlier this round, they can look to finding a solid backup/future replacement for the aging and oft-injured Brian Westbrook and Corell Buckhalter.
Brown finished his college career on a high note with a very impressive bowl performance, and looks ready to make an impact on Sundays. If nothing else, he can provide spot-breaks for Westbrook and extend his career.
32) Pittsburgh Steelers - Sen'Derrick Marks, DT, Auburn
The Steelers defense is one of the NFL's elite, but with no top level offensive talent left at this point, they'll add another player to their already impressive D.
Marks might not be able to make a huge mark early on this defense given the talent they already have, but he could definitely see some playing time as a sub, and would welcome the opportunity to contribute to such a good defense.
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