Now that the first week of free agency has come and gone, and the NFL Scouting Combine has passed, we have a little better of an idea to how the 2009 NFL Draft will shape up this April:
1. Detroit Lions: Matthew Stafford, QB from Georgia
As much as the Lions might not want to, they have to make this pick a quarterback. And even though I think Mark Sanchez will be the better pro, the talent and potential of Stafford makes this an appropriate pick.
One of the first things their new GM came out and stated was that the Lions need to get a quarterback. They know no team will want to trade up to the No. 1 overall pick, so there should be no smokescreening about their plans with their first pick.
Some think Detroit might go Aaron Curry or Jason Smith with this pick, but really, they have a gaping hole at a number of positions, including quarterback.
The league's first 0-16 team must go quarterback because, simply put, that's the most important and impactful position on the team, hands down.
2. St. Louis Rams - Jason Smith, LT from Baylor
For the some of the same reasons just mentioned for why Detroit should pick Stafford, this has to be the way to go for the Rams. Left tackle is a position widely agreed to be the second most important position on a football team, behind quarterback.
During the better years in St. Louis, when Orlando Pace was young and dominating, both Kurt Warner and Marc Bulger had all day to pass.
They never had to worry about their backside because they knew Pace was there, handling whomever was rushing from his side.
Having that talent and that presence on the offensive line does much more than simply keeping defenders off the quarterback, it gives the signal-caller peace of mind when he drops back to pass. That can make all the difference.
3. Kansas City Chiefs - Andre Smith, LT from Alabama
This pick could end up being any number of players, though I believe it will be an offensive player. I think Kansas City, with the acquisition of Matt Cassel, would like to surround their new franchise quarterback with as much help as they can and as soon as possible.
Deciding what kind of help Cassel needs most is the challenge, though. Smith would tremendously help out Larry Johnson, in fact, who would in turn lighten the load on Cassel's shoulders, forcing teams to once again give extra attention to the brilliant running talent of Johnson.
Eugene Monroe would certainly help the most as a blindside protector at the left tackle position. That's an area where Smith has been criticized, but no tackle in this draft can give a team the boost in the run game that the Crimson Tide mauler can.
The other option here is Michael Crabtree. Cassel did well for his former team and for himself, but look at who he had to throw to: Randy Moss, Wes Welker, Ben Watson, and a slew of serviceable backs.
The Chiefs do have Gonzo and Bowe, but adding a top talent like Crabtree could really put that offense over the top.
Still, I think Andre Smith is the guy after he rebounds from his combine experience with a satisfying pro day workout and encouraging team interviews.
4. Seattle Seahawks - Eugene Monroe, LT from Virginia
With the signing of former Packer's defensive tackle Colin Cole and former Bengals wide receiver TJ Houshsyomamma, I don't see BJ Raji or Crabtree being taken by the Seahawks here.
Instead, they will follow the decisions of the Rams and the Chiefs by filling a position of need, the second most important position on a team aside from quarterback (which they have in Hasselbeck) which again would be left tackle.
Like Pace, Walter Jones is getting up there in age and down in production, ability, and availability. Seattle had trouble keeping Hasselbeck clean who had trouble staying healthy, and in turn, Seattle had trouble winning games because of the lack of production at the quarterback position.
Jim Mora Jr. could've gotten away with lesser talent at the blindside protector for his quarterback back in Atlanta when he had the elusive Michael Vick playing for him, but that won't fly with a statue like Hasselbeck.
5. Cleveland Browns - Aaron Curry, LB from Wake Forest
The Browns desperately need some help on defense and after the first four picks showcase the offensive side of the ball in this draft class, Cleveland gets the opportunity to take the top defensive prospect.
Not only will he produce tackles and big plays in the NFL, but Curry will lead. His intensity is infectious and he will make the men around him better, play harder, and turn the Browns defense from laughable into intimidating.
6. Cincinnati Bengals - Michael Crabtree, WR from Texas Tech
With the uncertainty that Chad Johnson will be there in Cincinnati, let alone be productive again, and with the loss of Houshsyomamma, Carson Palmer could really use this guy catching his passes.
When you have a talent like Palmer, you have to maximize that treasure your team has by giving him an equally talented gem at wide receiver. A duo of Carson and Crabtree could be historic, much like Peyton Manning and Marvin Harrison were.
Crabtree, at this point, would be a steal anyways, so getting him would be smart in that sense.
7. Oakland Raiders - Jeremy Maclin, WR from Missouri
Al Davis is too predictable. A speedy wide receiver? Duh. Hello, Raider country.
The pick itself, however, would not be too bad considering Maclin's versatility as both a decently polished wide receiver and an electric return man.
I'm sure he can add another dimension in the offense on a few reverses and maybe team with McFadden in some wildcat formations.
8. Jacksonville Jaguars - Mark Sanchez, QB from USC
With many believing Sanchez would have ended up as the first overall pick in the 2010 draft if he had stayed one more year at USC, getting him a year early at the No. 8 overall pick could be worthwhile.
Jacksonville would be a good situation for Sanchez. They already have an established starter in quarterback David Garrard, and they are paying him as such. This would allow Sanchez, a one year starter in college, to sit the bench, learn and absorb the system.
Three years down the line, he'll be more than ready to start and produce, much like Aaron Rodgers did for the Packers last year.
This is how a top quarterback prospect should be handled.
9. Green Bay Packers - BJ Raji, DT from Boston College
This should be a no-brainer if he's still available at No. 9. The Packers have only one player projected to play the all-important nose tackle position in Ryan Pickett, and his knees don't instill a lot of confidence that he'll be able to hold up playing more than half the snaps at that position this upcoming season.
There is absolutely no one behind Pickett. The only player we had that possibly could have assumed that role, though he wasn't see as a good fit for the position, was Colin Cole, whom we allowed to go sign with Seattle for a pretty hefty contract.
Add to that the lack of depth at the defensive tackle position in the draft, especially a tackle with the size and ability to play the nose tackle in a 3-4, the Packers must get Raji.
The only other player Green Bay could try to target to play that position is Ron Brace, Raji's teammate at Boston College. But to pass on Raji and hope to land Brace later on in the draft is too risky.
Besides the obvious skill set Raji brings to the table, he also brings tremendous versatility, playing both defensive tackle and defensive end in not only the 3-4 but the 4-3 as well. The Packers will most certainly be switching between the two defenses during the season as a result of the lack of personnel they will have to man the 3-4 scheme.
Raji also has an incredible personality, and I'm sure he'll impress during the interview process, much like he impressed when he more or less invited himself onto the set of NFL Network during the NFL combine.
Raji would be a great addition and would fill a huge need for the Packers. He has to be the pick if he hasn't been drafted up to that point.
10. San Francisco 49ers - Tyson Jackson, DT from LSU
Jackson came out of the college season with a solid resume, and many believed he was going to be a top-15 pick even before the season started.
He definitely solidified that projection by season's end, but after his combine performance, he might have boosted his stock enough to land him in the top-10 with the 49ers at number 10.
The big guy from LSU projects very well to the 5-technique defensive end in a 3-4 defense, which San Fran plays. They have their pass-rushing outside 'backers in Manny Lawson and last year's addition from the Bengals, Aaron Smith.
Jackson would do well to keep linemen at bay and allow Lawson and Smith an open lane to the quarterback, much like Chris Canty had done for Demarcus Ware in Dallas.
He looked a lot quicker during the combine position drills than people thought he was, so he might have added value as a pass rusher from the 3-4 end spot as well as shifting inside in some 4-3 looks during obvious passing situations.
11. Buffalo Bills - Brandon Pettigrew, TE from Oklahoma State
Though many believe Pettigrew has dropped significantly in draft standings after running disappointing 40 times during the NFL Scouting Combine, I think Buffalo was ready to make him their pick after the end of the college season.
The Bills desperately need a presence like Pettigrew on offense to take some attention away from Lee Evans and increase production in the red zone. Pettigrew is a great talent who can also block with the best of them, so he should never have to come off the field except for a breather.
Any team would tell you they'd love to have that option in a tight end, the option to keep a guy in for any play in any situation during any point of the game.
Pettigrew will prove his worth from Day 1.
12. Denver Broncos - Rey Maualuga, LB from USC
Brian Orakpo could easily be the pick here too, but I think Denver would rather a presence inside, a real thumper to help sew up the year-in year-out defensive woes the team has had against the run.
Maualuga is a big, intimidating, downhill defender and will make it known to opposing teams' backs that the middle is no place to run while he's back there defending it.
The USC 'backer almost can't be defined as a defender at times because he is constantly around the line of scrimmage, attacking and laying the lumber on anyone in his way.
He'll make a defense better, that's for sure.
13. Washington Redskins - Brian Orakpo, DE from Texas
The Redskins luck out a bit here in this mock draft, getting a player like Orakpo to drop to them when really, he should go a lot higher.
Orakpo is an intense, versatile, relentless pass rusher and his physical skills are up there with the top football players in this draft. He has tremendous quickness and speed to disrupt plays in the backfield and get to the quarterback. He also will speak up and be a leader.
The Texas pass rusher would replace what Washington let go in Jason Taylor, or really, what they never had to begin with in the former "Dancing With the Stars" participant.
14. New Orleans Saints - Malcolm Jenkins, CB from Ohio State
Based purely upon game film, this is an absolute steal. Jenkins was widely considered a top-5 talent and by far and away the best at his position in the draft, that is, before running his 40 yard dash at the combine where he couldn't even get into the low 4.5's.
The Saints, though, need help at both corner and safety so the versatility Jenkins brings in being able to play either position will warrant picking him up in this spot.
15. Houston Texans - Darrius Heyward-Bey, WR from Maryland
Having an explosive playmaker across from their own explosive playmaker Andre Johnson, along with Steve Slaton running the ball and Owen Daniels hauling in passes over the middle from Matt Schaub, and look at that Houston offense!
DHB was projected near the end of the first round, if that, but with his size and running a 4.3 flat at the combine, he will almost certainly be drafted before the 20th overall pick with teams in the teens looking for wide receivers.
16. San Diego Chargers - Brian Cushing, LB from USC
The versatility and overall great play by this blue-collar football player would be a smart pick for a team with questions remaining on defense, mainly whether Shawn Merriman will be able to play at the level he did before and whether the team plans to pay him for the long haul.
If Merriman ends up not being in the picture, Cushing can fill his role on the outside, and if Merriman does play, Cushing can just as easily man the inside.
A football player's versatility is often overlooked and way undervalued in the NFL, but some team will recognize Cushing's worth and take him with a high-mid first round selection.
17. New York Jets - Hakeem Nicks, WR from North Carolina
After losing Coles in free agency, the Jets really have no true No. 1 wideout, and arguably, lack a solid No. 2 as well. They might have to go wide receiver with this pick and then go back to the position later on in the draft with the position having such great depth this year.
Some might think Percy Harvin is the better talent, but New York already has a similar player in Leon Washington, who made the Pro Bowl this past year. This team needs a legitimate wide receiver who can run all the routes and start from day one. That will be Nicks.
18. Chicago Bears - Clay Matthews, LB from USC
Brian Urlacher isn't what he once was, and he's a bit pricey for what he is now, which is a scapegoat. Upper management and fans alike did not like their long-time linebacker demanding a pay raise during last off-season, a situation that got as far as Urlacher threatening to hold out.
The old Bear might still have a few more good seasons, but Chicago needs to start planning for life after Urlacher and Matthews will be able to pick up where Urlacher leaves off, or left off a couple years ago.
19. Tampa Bay Buccaneers - Peria Jerry, DT from Mississippi
The Bucs really have no one making a name for themselves on the interior of their defensive line. They could really use a disrupting, one-gap penetrater like Jerry.
Their new, young head coach Raheem Morris knows the importance of defense, the importance of disrupting the backfield, and having been promoted from within, he should know they currently lack that on their roster.
20. Detroit Lions - Michael Oher, OT from Mississippi
Back-to-back picks from Mississippi in the first round of the NFL draft. Has that ever happened before? Well, it'll happen now, at least in this mock draft.
The Lions should follow the Atlanta Falcons by getting someone to protect their new investment at quarterback. Unlike the Falcons though, they should not throw Stafford into the fire. He simply is not Matt Ryan, and they shouldn't expect him to be.
Oher, however, should be thrown in right away so that by the time Stafford is ready to go, Oher is too. He's immensely talented, but the big guy is incredibly inconsistent.
A few years in the NFL, playing against supreme talent and being mentored by NFL coaches should be enough to determine what kind of player the Lions got with the 20th overall pick.
21. Philadelphia Eagles - Knowshon Moreno, RB from Georgia
Finally, a popular pick. Westbrook is never healthy for a full season, and he's getting old. Moreno is a very talented back and he would not only take pressure off McNabb on the field, but off the field too because the fans will shift their focus (somewhat) to the excitement Moreno brings to the game.
22. Minnesota Vikings - Percy Harvin, RB/WR from Florida
Harvin gives the Vikings an intriguing complement to Peterson and Berrian. He'll also spark the return game.
It might take a year or two, but he could really blossom in an NFL offense once he settles into a position and gets coached up.
23. New England Patriots - Vonte Davis, CB from Illinois
The Patriots realize now that they can't get by with so-so players at cornerback and let their scheme hide their deficiencies. They'll roll the dice with Davis and see what they get.
24. Atlanta Falcons - William Moore, S from Missouri
I don't really think a safety in this class deserves to go in the first round, but Atlanta might reach as they did last year at offensive tackle with Sam Baker.
They are not afraid to fill needs over taking the best player available, and releasing Milloy leaves a spot open for Moore to come in and fill right away.
To his credit, Moore had an excellent junior year which he followed with a poor senior year, but he was hurt for much the season and has recently shown at the combine and his pro day that he is healthy and is very fluid for his size. He might end up warranting a first round grade after all is said and done.
25. Miami Dolphins - James Laurinaitis, LB from USC
Bill Parcells loves players of Laurinatis' makeup: tough, blue-collar, and play to the whistle. Once thought of as a top-10 pick, he won't slide past 25.
26. Baltimore Ravens - Michael Johnson, DE from Georgia Tech
At this point in the draft, taking a shot on a player like Johnson is worth it. He's blessed with outstanding physical size and ability, but he hasn't played up to his potential...yet. I think a team like Baltimore could get a lot more out of him than the coaches at Georgia Tech could.
27. Indianapolis Colts - LeSean McCoy, RB from Pittsburgh
It would not surprise me one bit to see Indy go with an offensive skill position, and McCoy would be a better fit for them than Chris Wells. With Addai being hurt as much as he is, it would be a good idea to add McCoy to their team.
28. Philadelphia Eagles - Kenny Britt, WR from Rutgers
With McNabb steaming a bit still with Dawkins being essentially let go by the team, getting him Moreno and a big, talented wide receiver like Britt would do wonders to make him reconsider a contract extension with the team.
Britt showed in his combine workout that he has the speed to go deep and with his size he could dominate teams' corners, much the way Plaxico Burress would burn the Eagles' defensive backs.
29. New York Giants - Brian Robiskie, WR from Ohio State
With Britt off the board, Robiskie would be the next best option for New York. They have to know they are not getting Plaxico back anytime soon and need someone to replace the production he brought to the team.
Robiskie is a coach's son and has a work ethic that you would expect from such a player. Coughlin will love this kid for the kind of player he is, basically, the opposite of Burress personality-wise.
He also ran well at the combine, ensuring that he can be more than just a possession wide receiver.
30. Tennessee Titans - Sean Smith, CB from Utah
Smith brings size to a position that is tested regularly in the AFC South. He can push around the smaller wide receivers, disrupting their routes and timing with their quarterbacks, as well as match up nicely with some of the bigger wide receivers, such as Andre Johnson.
31. Arizona Cardinals - Robert Ayers, DE from Tennessee
As far as a pass-rusher from the defensive end position, the Cardinals are lacking. Ayers will be able to get after the quarterback and play the run very well with his 270-pound body. Ayers' stock is on the rise though, so he might not even make it this far down the draft.
32. Pittsburgh Steelers - Alex Mack, C for California
This is pretty easy. Pittsburgh needs offensive linemen. It's that simple. Who they take at this point is anyone's guess, though. They could get Mack, the best center in the draft, or Eben Britton, a left tackle, or Duke Robinson, the best guard in the draft.
Phew. A lot of possibilities exist with each and every one of these picks. I will most likely write up one more mock draft before the commencement of the 2009 draft, once all the pro day workouts are in the books. Can't wait! And GO PACK GO!!!