Well, the combine has come and gone, and it has brought with it some interesting repercussions.
Namely, the rapid ascent to the top of NFL draft boards by workout warriors such as Tennessee State corner Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, Ohio State DE/LB Vernon Gholston, and 6'6" IU wideout James Hardy.
However, as the great sir Isaac Newton once said, "For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction." For instance, it is safe to say that the much ballyhooed 40-yard dash at the combine cost WRs Mario Manningham and Adarius Bowman millions of dollars at the next level simply because their 40 times were .2 seconds more then they had hoped.
Seriously, when during an NFL game does a wideout line up in a track stance and run 40 yards down field unmolested? Is it just me or is the 40 way too over hyped? Anquan Boldin ran a 4.7 and he turned out great.
But I digress, so without further ado, here are my picks.
1. Miami Dolphins: Chris Long. Although the horrid performance of incumbent starting QB John Beck will cause the Dolphins to take a long, hard look at BC quarterback Matt Ryan, they will eschew the overrated QB in favor of Long, whose overall package of skill, versatility, experience in the 3-4 defense, and hall of fame pedigree make him the odds on favorite to be the number 1 pick. Long also gives Jason Taylor more chances to go against single coverage since Miami’s D-line has revolved solely around Taylor for a long (no pun intended) time. Don't count out the possibility of the Tuna dealing this pick so that they can salvage more talent, god knows they need it.
2. St. Louis Rams: Glenn Dorsey. With Long off the board, the Rams are faced with a difficult decision, whether to draft the heir apparent to the aging Orlando Pace in Jake Long, or to create a formidable young D-line by adding Glenn Dorsey to an already decent front four that includes last year's pick Adam Carriker and the surprisingly good Clifton Ryan. Dorsey is the better value here due to the dominating presence he will bring to the middle of this defense, and the character boots he will bring to the Rams locker room. Dorsey’s durability is an issue but that concern will likely go unheeded here.
3. Atlanta Falcons: Matt Ryan. After signing San Diego RB Michael Turner and releasing QBs Joey Harrington, and Byron Leftwich, all signs point away from Atlanta drafting this class's best prospect, Darren McFadden, and towards the selection of the wildly overrated Matt Ryan. QB seems to be Atlanta's most glaring need and although I don't think that this is the guy to fill that hole many do and Tom Dimitroff is basically forced to take the best QB in a weak draft class after last year's Michael Vick fiasco. Ryan is very interception prone, which is why I dislike him as a prospect, but his intangibles and clutch play may salvage his pro career yet.
4. Oakland Raiders: Jake Long. As much as Al Davis would probably love to take McFadden with this pick, he just invested 12 million dollars in current starter Justin Fargas. So with McFadden out of the picture, the next priority for the Raiders becomes protecting franchise QB JaMarcus Russel and the aforementioned Fargas. Long should prove not only to be a more then capable replacement for the recently cut Barry Sims, but the anchor of the Oakland O-line for years to come. Long’s physical style of play, long arms, and intimidating stature, coupled with a great combine, make this an easy pick.
5. Kansas City Chiefs: Sedrick Ellis. Since KC can no longer pick Long, they will consider taking the next best OT Ryan Clady. But the surplus of skilled O-linemen in this draft will allow the Chiefs to draft the superior value here with Ellis, whose fantastic senior bowl effort and overall tenacity on the front line has made him a top 3 possibility. Ellis, along with DEs Jared Allen and Tamba Hali, will wreak havoc in opposing backfields for years. Although D-line isn't a glaring hole, the addition of "baby Sapp" would give the Chiefs one of the most formidable front fours in the NFL.
6. New York Jets: Darren McFadden. For a while now LB has been a huge need in the Meadowlands, but the signing of Calvin Pace and the emergence of phenom David Harris has given the Jets enough talent at LB to ignore that need for now. However, the backfield is still a large hole since starter Thomas Jones is over the hill and Leon Washington isn't the answer. Not only does this pick give the Jets an offensive nucleus to build around, along with Kellen Clemens and Jerricho Cotchery, it prevents division rival New England from picking up the most dangerous player in the draft.
7. New England Patriots: Vernon Gholston. Until recently, I was under the impression that the Pats would go with a corner here, but they have already begun rebuilding their secondary and have left their aging linebacking corps largely unchanged. With a solid combine, Gholston has solidified his spot in the top 10. He also provides the size and versatility that Bill Belichick loves to have at the linebacker position. Ryan Clady is also a possibility on the heels of a dismal Super Bowl effort from Nick Kaczur; then again, if Belichick goes with an O-lineman here, it will be one that nobody has ever heard of.
8. Baltimore Ravens: Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie. The Ravens need a QB more then they need a corner but Brian Brohm is a reach at this pick. That said, I doubt that the Ravens will be able to overlook Aqib Talib's questionable speed and Mike Jenkins' dubious character. That leaves small school standouts Leodis Mckelvin and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie to provide a much-needed jolt of youth to Baltimore's aging secondary. Although Mckelvin has done nothing to hurt his stock, Rodgers-Cromartie's imposing stature (for a corner) and dazzling athleticism are too much to pass up.
9. Cincinnati Bengals: Keith Rivers. The Bengals have huge holes all over their defense with the most noticeable ones being at DT and OLB, where over the hill veterans John Thornton and Dhani Jones hold starting jobs. However, The Bengals acquisition of former Jets DT Dewayne Robertson and the unavailability of Sedrick Ellis make Rivers the obvious pick. He is very similar to '07 ROY Patrick Willis in that he is somewhat undersized but very quick and is a big hitter. If these comparisons are indeed true, this pick could provide a cornerstone for the Bengals to rebuild an ailing defense.
10. New Orleans Saints: Leodis McKelvin. To put it simply, the Saints were atrocious in nearly every way on defense last year and will definitely use this pick on the best guy left on the defensive side of the ball. With Rivers and Ellis gone, that leaves McKelvin, who will not only shore up an awful secondary, but he is also an excellent return man and could add another dimension to the Saints' special teams unit. Talib, Jenkins, and maybe even Derrick Harvey are possibilities here, but Mckelvin fills the biggest need and provides the most value.
11. Buffalo Bills: Malcolm Kelly. The Bills may have Lee Evans, but that's about it as far as receivers go. Roscoe Parrish isn't a number two option in this league and young gunslinger Trent Edwards could use a tall receiver to compliment Evans. At 6'3" Kelly fills that requirement quite nicely. His overall mix of size and talent will help his young QB make the leap from good to great in the coming years. Limas Sweed has more upside here but it remains to be seen whether he can recover from his wrist injury. A corner is a possibility and Aqib Talib is still available, but this draft boasts an incredibly deep CB class.
12. Denver Broncos: Derrick Harvey. Denver's front 7 is in complete disarray with the exception of solid OLB D.J. Williams. Harvey will compete with Clemson DE Phillip Merling for this pick but Harvey's superior versatility and the fact that he has been solid pretty much throughout his collegiate career while Merling emerged from Gaines Adams' shadow just last year will give the former Gator the nod here.
13. Carolina Panthers: Dan Connor. Although Carolina managed to resign Travelle Wharton and franchise Jordan Gross, Gross will likely leave town next year, which will put Carolina in the market for a LT. However, Carolina's tackle situation will not rear its ugly head until next year, while the release of injury prone former MLB Dan Morgan has left a void that may be filled by the hard-working Connor, who holds a plethora of records at Linebacker U and would seem to be a nice fit for the Panther defense.
14. Chicago Bears: Jonathan Stewart. Chicago's offense was awful last year and they just lost Bernard Berrian and Muhsin Muhammed, so any offensive pick would be appropriate here. Cedric Benson has been a complete failure so it is time for the Bears to cut their losses and move on. Rashard Mendenhall is also a possibility here but Stewart has had more productive years in college and he provides the power running game that just might be able to prevent defense from focusing on Rex Grossman just long enough to prevent him from throwing three picks a game next year.
15. Detroit Lions: Limas Sweed. Despite the fact that the fallout from the disastrous Dre Bly trade left the Lions without a shutdown corner or a left tackle, making the presumptive picks Mike Jenkins or Ryan Clady, I fervently believe that Matt Millen will succumb to his old demons and select yet another wide receiver.
16. Arizona Cardinals: Mike Jenkins. The Cardinals’ secondary has been in serious need of repairs for some time now and Jenkins is the kind of consistent cover man that Rod Graves needs to jumpstart the process. Jenkins may never be described as a shutdown type, but he does have the uncanny combination of size, speed, and cover skills that NFL teams covet in a corner. However, there are some lingering character concerns with Jenkins. Rashard Mendenhall is also a possible choice here since the Edge isn’t getting any younger.
17. Minnesota Vikings: Quentin Groves. Another defensive end going to Minnesota; the more things change the more they stay the same. Although Kenechi Udeze is a fine starter, he will miss the season fighting his leukemia and Erasmus James is a complete bust. Groves greatly improved his stock at the combine by running a 4.5 in the 40 and has shown the versatility to play OLB in a 3-4 set. Phillip Merling is also available but Groves seems to be the better fit for this defense because of his superior speed and explosiveness.
18. Houston Texans: Ryan Clady. Wow, talk about luck, the Texans haven’t had a good left tackle since Tony Boselli and the second best tackle in the draft, who had been projected to go as high as pick five, falls into their laps at 18. At 6’6”, 317 pounds, Clady has the size, strength, athleticism, and quickness of a Pro Bowl left tackle. The Texans are also in need of some serious help in the secondary with starter Dunta Robinson injured, and Aqib Talib is still available.
19. Philadelphia Eagles: James Hardy. Going into this off-season, the Eagles needed a weapon for Donovan Mcnabb, a quality O-linemen to replace the aging Jon Runyan, and a shutdown corner to take some pressure off of an injury prone secondary. With the signing of New England pro bowl corner Asante Samuel, the need for a corner has been met, and Ryan Clady has been taken off the board with the previous pick so the birds will wait to take a lineman. Hardy may not be the most highly ranked wide receiver available, but his size will create serious matchup problems for opposing defenses and provide a great red zone weapon for the Eagles. Hardy is also faster then most people would think so he brings the total package.
20. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Brian Brohm. When the Bucs report to training camp next year, they will have six quarterbacks on their roster. Unfortunately for them, none of them are a long term solution for Tampa’s QB quandary. Its about time Gruden addressed this problem and Brohm is the best QB available. Although BC’s Matt Ryan has better intangibles and UK’s Andre Woodson or Delaware’s Joe Flacco have better physical tools, Brohm has the best combination of these qualities and translates best to the NFL out of this QB class. A wide receiver could also go here; after all Joey Galloway isn’t getting any younger.
21. Washington Redskins: Phillip Merling. The Redskins have one good defensive end in Andre Carter, but Phillip Daniels is aging quickly and may get his AARP card by Week 6 next year. Merling can not only fill in for Daniels at end, he also has experience playing DT in a 4-3 defense and the Redskins need a DT as well. Merling may not have the explosiveness of a Derrick Harvey or Quentin Groves, or the size of Calais Campbell, but he gets the job done day in and day out and has drawn some comparisons to Trevor Pryce.
22. Dallas Cowboys: Aqib Talib. Last season, Jacques Reeves was more dangerous then a Chinese-made toy car; unfortunately, he was dangerous to his own team. Also, Anthony Henry seems ready to move to safety, opening a hole opposite Terrance Newman. Although Talib’s in-game speed concerns may limit his ability to become a true number 1 corner in the NFL, Talib is very tall for a corner (6’2”) and has a real nose for the ball, an asset that went on display for all to see during the Orange Bowl. However, he also got burnt for 3 TDs by the average Maurice Purify, but that was likely a fluke.
23. Pittsburgh Steelers: Jeff Otah. The Steelers’ O-line has been dominant for a decade, but after the loss of Alan Faneca and the injury to Marvel Smith, the Steelers find themselves in need of an anchor to their line and Otah has the potential to be just that. Otah is a beast at 6’6” 340 pounds and has shown the ability to move the pile in the running game due to his eye-popping strength. He is still very raw, despite a great senior campaign at Pitt, and could stand to improve his technique. That said, once Otah works out the kinks in his game, he will be a force in this league.
24. Tennessee Titans: Lawrence Jackson. Antwan Odom and Travis Laboy are both free agents and the Titans really need an end to replace them. Unfortunately for the Titans, most of the better end prospects have already been taken, but Lawrence Jackson is not a bad consolation prize. Jackson is streaky and will disappear at times, however, his physical gifts make him worth the risk. His stats may also have been affected by the quality of the defense on which he played. Despite his inconsistencies, Jackson had 25.5 sacks in his career at USC, which shows that he has the ability to dominate given the right situation.
25. Seattle Seahawks: Rashard Mendenhall. Seattle’s running game took a major step back last year since former MVP Shaun Alexander started aging in dog years. Maurice Morris filled in admirably but does not provide the answer to Seattle’s running back problem and neither is Julius Jones. Mendenhall is extremely versatile and has shown not only speed, power, and good instincts, but the ability to catch the ball out of the backfield as well. These traits would seem to be a perfect fit in Seattle, since he will keep defenses honest in their pursuit of Matt Hasselbeck and provide him another weapon to work with.
26. Jacksonville Jaguars: Devin Thomas. With the loss of Ernest Wilford, the Jags will look to give QB Dave Garrard a weapon. Although Desean Jackson is more highly ranked than Thomas, Thomas ran a 4.4 40 and caught all the balls with ease in the gauntlet (which is a far more important drill then the 40 by the way). Also, Jacksonville tried drafting a burner recently and Matt Jones was a bust. They will not make the same mistake this time. Thomas only started one season at MSU so he may be a one hit wonder. The Jags also need a defensive end but there aren’t any available prospects at that position worth spending a first round pick on.
27. San Diego Chargers: Pat Sims. The Chargers will go into this season without any noticeable holes on their team so they can afford to take the best guy available or take a gamble on a guy with tremendous upside like Sims. Sims seems to have some major character issues but if there is a team in the NFL that can gamble with its first rounder, that team is San Diego. Jamal Williams, the lynchpin of San Diego’s 3-4 set, is getting older, and it is about time for Norv Turner to groom his replacement. Sims has the combination of size, strength, speed, and pass rushing ability that makes him a perfect fit for the Chargers system. It may also be said that this pick nets San Diego a nose tackle and it also helps the productivity of OLBs Shawne Merriman and Shaun Phillips, whose ability to rush the passer would improve with Sims clogging the middle.
28. Dallas Cowboys: Felix Jones. Last season, Marion Barber proved that he was a Pro Bowl running back, however, his future with the team is up in the air and there are questions as to whether or not he can be the only back in the Dallas offense. With the loss of Julius Jones to Seattle, Dallas needs a home run hitter to compliment Marion the Barbarian, and Jones fits that prerequisite perfectly. Backing up Run DMC last year, Jones ran for over a thousand yards with a mind-blowing yards per carry average of 8.7. Jones may not be a primary option, but he has the “wow factor” that Jerry Jones needs.
29. San Francisco 49ers: DeSean Jackson. The Niners are in quite a perplexing situation here: They don’t have many glaring holes but they don’t have many strengths either. For that reason, the Niners have the luxury of being able to pick the best player available, who, in this case, happens to be DeSean Jackson. The addition of Jackson would give starter Alex Smith a chance to prove himself. Jackson, although slight of build, is the kind of explosive playmaker that would add a new dimension to an otherwise mediocre offense. Jackson is also a fantastic return man, and in the case of the squalid San Francisco offense, any improvement in field position is not only welcome, but necessary.
30. Green Bay Packers: Brandon Albert. Well, the Favre era in Green Bay is over, so let the Aaron Rodgers era commence. In order to break in their new starter, he will have to be well-protected. Green Bay has some questions at guard and Brandon Albert is the only guard in the draft worth taking this highly. Albert has shown fantastic athleticism, strength, and the kind of mean streak that is desired in a O-lineman at the next level. Albert has also shown the versatility to play tackle in the NFL, and while Mark Tauscher and Chad Clifton are both great, they are not getting any younger and an insurance policy would be nice for the Pack’s O-line.
31. New York Giants: Reggie Smith. The Super Bowl champions have some major issues in their secondary: R.W. McQuarters and Sam Madison are both on the wrong side of 30 and Gibril Wilson just signed with Oakland for an exorbitant amount of money. Reggie Smith has the versatility to excel at either corner or safety, which makes this choice all the easier for Big Blue to make. Smith has the size of a safety and the speed and instincts of a corner, not to mention his great big play ability. Gibril Wilson was a lot more average then his new salary would indicate and is easily replaceable, so Smith will likely make the transition to corner alongside last year’s number 1 Aaron Ross.