How Teams Have Benefited Through Five Days of the 2009 NFL Combine
Aside from the NFL Draft, the Scouting Combine is the most exciting time of the NFL's offseason. It's the stage where the countries most elite amateur athletes compete to solidify their professional status.
Although the combine has its biggest impact on big boards and player rankings, what really matters is how the results resonate in the war rooms of NFL franchises.
Let's take a look at what some of the NFL teams are thinking at this point in the offseason, after all of the offensive prospects have completed the combine.
Detroit Lions, First and 20th Overall Picks
If you thought the Lions had questions regarding who to pick before the NFL Scouting Combine now they are really scratching their heads now.
Top quarterback prospect Matthew Stafford of Georgia was in better shape than expected at 225 pounds, but he opted not to participate in throwing drills.
Drafting junior quarterbacks is very risky but Stafford has had very strong interviews and white board sessions, suggesting he is ready to lead the Lions.
Stafford was the projected No. 1 pick when he entered the draft but his accuracy and inability to excel against elite competition has some thinking the Lions should draft a left tackle that can anchor the franchise for a decade.
The tackle position has also had a lot of shakeup this weekend and there is still no clear number one.
Alabama's Andre Smith mysteriously left Indianapolis without notifying anyone to workout with his trainer. This has raised more concerns about Smith's character and accountability, hurting his chances of being the overall number one pick despite weighing in at a more-athletic 332 pounds.
In Andre Smith's absence, Jason Smith of Baylor and Eugene Monroe of Virginia were left to battle for the top spot and neither could produce a combine that we saw out of Jake Long in 2008.
The two tackles are nearly identical in size but Smith, a former tight end, tested stronger, faster, and quicker by out performing in the bench press, 40 yard dash, and 3 cone drill while Monroe was more explosive in the broad jump.
Monroe is the more experienced of the two and he kept 2008 Kansas City Chiefs first round pick Brandon Albert from playing the coveted left tackle position while they were teammates at Virginia.
As you can see, the Lions new regimen has a lot on their plate as the try to rebuild the NFL's most devastated franchise and that’s only their first pick of the round.
With the 20th pick Detroit must pick the best defensive player on the board, right now which would be James Laurinatis of Ohio State who should be available.
On the flip side the Lions may look to go defense first, drafting Aaron Curry first which would be a much safer pick than any of the offensive options. After that pick they could address O-Line or defense with the 20th pick, or even trade it.
There hasn't been a linebacker drafter first overall since Aundray Bruce by Atlanta in 1988, but it wouldn't be a bad strategy being that linebackers have been some of the safest picks of the past decade.
Seattle Seahawks, Fourth Overall Pick
The Seahawks have plenty of options with the fourth pick in the draft but up to this point all signs have pointed to wide receiver Michael Crabtree of Texas Tech.
Crabtree is considered the best player on the board right now and wide receiver was by far the biggest need for the Seahawks last season. The team incurred so many injures to their receiving corps that they resorted to practice players, free agency, and even a trade.
Ever since Crabtree, listed at 6' 3" 214 pounds, entered the draft Seahawks fans have anointed him the player they want. Unfortunately, Crabtree only measured in at 6'1" but the bigger blow is that Crabtree will undergo a pre-draft surgery on the stress fracture in his left foot.
Crabtree says the injury does not give him any pain and although he did not participate in tests at the combine, he will run a 40 yard dash at Texas Tech's pro day before his surgery.
For the Seahawks the concerns should not lie in his height or speed, the game film will alleviate those worries, the concerns are regarding his health.
The Seahawks are in a great position to bounce back from their 4-12 record in 2008 and get back in the playoffs, possibly regaining their seat as NFC West Champions. Deion Branch, Bobby Engram, Nate Burleson—the Hawks top three receivers in 2007—were all injured in 2008 and adding another potentially injured receiver may not benefit Seattle in the short term, as the team attempts to succeed towards the end of Matt Hasselbeck's career.
Seattle has franchised outside linebacker Leroy Hill, taking Aaron Curry off their board, but elite tackles will be available with the fourth pick that could help Seattle more in the upcoming seasons. This is also a deep receiver draft and the Hawks could address that need with pick 37 in the second round.
No team will be paying closer attention to Crabtree's recovery.
Oakland Raiders, Seventh Overall Pick
Most are in agreement that the Oakland Raiders would be best off taking one of the top three tackles if available.
That being said, even more people are in agreement that Al Davis doesn't care what most people think.
Over the years, Davis has always exercised his need for speed. Combine superstars seem to fly up his draft board, and while nobody was saying his pick of Darren McFadden was a bad one, Fabian Washington, Stanford Routt, and Robert Gallery are some of those workout heroes who never panned out.
Darrius Heyward-Bey of Maryland posted a 4.30 forty time, putting it in question whether he will be available for Oakland in the second round.
Receiver is the second biggest need for the Raiders especially as they look to cut Javon Walker. Superstar Jeremy Maclin was disappointed in his time at the combine (4.46) and he promised he will break the 4.40 mark at Missouri’s pro day.
Percy Harvin, the dangerous slot player out of Flordia ran a 4.41 forty yard dash, which has solidified his first round status.
Al Davis is always looking to move around on draft day and if a downfield receiving threat is what he wants he may trade out of the seventh pick to grab one of these burners later in the first round or he could take Maclin seventh.
San Diego Chargers, 16th Overall Pick
The first running back off the board may go to San Diego in 2009. Darren Sproles was frachised but he will never be a solo back and LaDainian Tomlinson is at the point in his career where he is ready to share carries to keep him healthy.
None of this year’s running back prospects were close to replicating Chris Johnson's 2008 combine, and none of the elite backs were even able to break the 4.50 mark in the forty. This means that it's doubtful a back will climb into the top 10 of the draft.
Of the elite backs Chris "Beenie" Wells had the best performance. His 6'1" frame carries 235 pounds extremely well; massive shoulders and legs are offset by a trim waist. Wells displayed his explosiveness with a RB-best 10'8" broad jump and he ran an acceptable 4.59 forty.
If the Chargers want a back with more receiving ability Knowshon Moreno would be the best option but Tomlinson is one of the best pass catchers in football and the bruising Wells looks to be the best bet.
Other options for SD would be offensive line and outside linebacker but their best paring of talent and need should be in a running back.
New York Jets, 17th Pick Overall
There are a lot of questions circulating about this draft for the Jets and who will be their quarterback in 2009.
The Lions, Chiefs, and 49ers are all looking at Stafford and Mark Sanchez which continues to leave the Jets in limbo.
Stafford will most likely be drafted by one of the three aforementioned teams but there is a chance Sanchez will slip into the second half of the first round. Sanchez is a player who has the mentality to play for a major media market due to his USC priming, and despite being a junior he is a very poised and polished player.
If the Jets can get Sanchez they must or they will be stuck in mediocrity for the next five years.
Philadelphia Eagles, 21st and 28th Overall Picks
The Eagles exceeded expectations in 2008 but they still have plenty of room to get better.
Tackles Jon Runyan and Tra Thomas are both unrestricted free agents and nearing retirement. With one these first round picks expect the Eagles to select a tackle.
If Michael Oher is available at 21 he would be a very solid addition and should be the pick. If Oher is gone, the Eagles could look at Eben Britton, Jamon Meredith, William Beatty, and Phil Loadholt with the 28th pick in the draft although one of them should be around when they pick in the second round.
Eagles' running back Brain Westbrook will be hitting the critical age of 30 this season and he has never played 16 games in a season. Westbrook is still productive but less plays would preserve his production for the playoffs.
The Eagles would be lucky to land Wells at 21 but there is the possibility of drafting Moreno there. Moreno has a great blend of north-south and east-west and he is one of the top receiving backs in the draft.
LeSean McCoy is the back that most resembles Westbrook, but he did not participate in combine drills due to the flu. At his pro day he could be the first elite back to dip into the 4.4 range.
A best case first round for the Eagles would be Moreno at 21 and Britton/Meredity/Beatty at 28 which is very possible.
Other possibilities in the first round would be tight end Brandon Pettigrew, who should slip due to his 4.83 forty time, and safety Louis Delmas.
Philadelphia is in a great position to have the league's most productive draft.
Miami Dolphins, 25th Overall Pick
The Dolphins have been very high on center Alex Mack of California who was the top interior offensive lineman at the Senior Bowl. Unfortunately, Mack was injured in workouts preparing for the combine.
This might benefit Miami because if they want Mack they should be assured that he will be available with the 25th pick.
Miami would also benefit by adding another wide receiver for Chad Pennington in the draft.
The Phins already have a downfield threat with Ted Ginn, so Heyward-Bey may not be the best choice and if they want to add a possession threat the top options are Hakeem Nicks, Kenny Britt, and Brian Robiskie.
Nicks and Britt have good value in the late-first to early-second round. Most feel Robiskie is a second or third round pick although he has yet to disappoint in the draft process.
Indianapolis Colts, 27th Overall Pick
Reggie Wayne, Dallas Clark, and Anthony Gonzalez have all been late-first round picks by the Colts in the Peyton Manning era. As the team looks to part ways with Marvin Harrison, the Colt’s 19th overall pick in 1996, it might be time to grab another receiving option in the first round.
Some feel that Indy will draft a defensive tackle in the first round, addressing one of their biggest needs, but they've been able to get by with average defensive tackles as long as Manning has weapons to win games.
Wayne is one of the premier possession receivers in the NFL and in order for the Colts to continue attacking through the air they will need another receiver who can get deep.
Don't be surprised if Indy drafts Heyward-Bey at 27, his hands have been questioned but he's a burner. If not Heyward-Bey, Harvin would be the next best selection although he will have to adjust to being a full-time wide-out.
Arizona Cardinals, 31st Overall Pick
Most everybody thought Arizona would be picking towards the middle of the draft this year, giving them a good shot at one of the top running backs.
Now that the running backs have been worked out it looks like they will still have that opportunity. While Wells and possibly Moreno will be drafted earlier, the Cardinals will still have an opportunity to draft McCoy or Donald Brown.
McCoy would be the best lightning back to tandem with Tim Hightower, who they named as their 2009 starter this offseason.
Brown was an extremely productive runner his senior year at UConn (2083 yards, 18 touchdowns), yet remained unknown like Matt Forte and Kevin Smith up until the draft.
If Arizona loses Karlos Dansby in free agency they could look at drafting a linebacker with the 30th pick depending who’s available. Either way they should be able to add an important piece to their club even with the late pick.
Pittsburgh Steelers, 32nd Overall Pick
The Steelers are in a great position to get back to the Super Bowl, and they will do so by making sure they are stout up front.
Their interior offensive line is still hurting from the loss of Alan Faneca, and Justin Hartwig's penalty that caused a safety in the Super Bowl shows their center position needs help.
While there are good guards in the draft, center prospect Max Unger from Oregon would be the top line prospect for Pittsburgh. Unger had an average Senior Bowl but displayed good athleticism at the combine.
More important than his shuttle time is that Unger can play all five line positions giving the Steelers more flexibility if someone is injured.
The Steelers could also look for a defensive tackle or end to play down along side Casey Hampton. Tyson Jackson and Robert Ayers both have the size to play that end/tackle position in the 3-4 scheme and one or both may be available depending on how hard the position group is hit in the first round.
Although Unger isn't a high profile pick like Rashard Mendenhall was last year, he may be one that has a bigger impact on the Steelers' season as a rookie.
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