After some big signings and trades this offseason, it is time to start looking ahead to the NFL Draft in April.
Team needs have changed, and some prospects have seen their stock rise, while some have seen their stock fall.
Here’s a complete first-round mock draft with analysis of every pick.
If the Lions are able to trade for the upset Jay Cutler, then this pick might change.
Stafford will still be the No. 1 pick; he will be picked by another team.
If the trade went through, then Denver would own this pick and would most likely select Stafford. If Cutler stays put or goes somewhere other than Detroit, the Lions will most likely take a quarterback or an offensive tackle.
With a 2009 class that has an extraordinarily deep pool of talent at the tackle position, it becomes almost no-brainer since a good tackle can be had at No. 20, while a franchise QB will not be available.
With a new coach, new GM, and coming off an 0-16 season, Detroit lands its franchise QB in Matt Stafford to start the rebuilding process.
It is widely known that if the Dolphins had passed on Jake Long last year, St. Louis would have pounced on him. This year they get the chance to land the offensive tackle of their choosing at the No. 2 spot.
Jason Smith’s stock had been skyrocketing since the end of the season, and his outstanding performance at the NFL Combine just helped him. Smith tied for the most bench press reps put up by an offensive tackle at the Combine with 33 and had the fifth fastest 40 time among offensive tackles at 5.14 seconds.
With Orlando Pace being cut, left tackle becomes an even more prominent need. Smith will be able to lock down the blind side for whoever plays quarterback at St. Louis in the next decade.
Even as a Matt Cassel hater, I realize that after the Cassel trade, the Chiefs will definitely not be looking at Mark Sanchez with the No. 3 pick.
So, with their quarterback situation set, Kansas City can turn to the defensive side of the ball, where they need some help getting personnel for their new 3-4 scheme.
The only assured starters right now at the four linebacker spots are Derrick Johnson and Mike Vrabel. Now, KC fans can add Aaron Curry to that list.
Regarded by many,including yours truly, as the top overall prospect in the 2009 Draft, Curry will instantly upgrade the inside linebacker position for the Chiefs and be an impact player as a rookie.
I had Michael Crabtree as a lock here for a long time until the events of the NFL Combine and the T.J. Houshmandzadeh signing.
For those of you that don’t know what happened, Crabtree measured in three inches shorter than he had been listed at Texas Tech, standing 6'1''. It was then revealed that Crabtree will be out eight to 10 weeks with a stress fracture in his foot.
While I do not think this will push him out of the top 10 picks, I certainly think it pushes him out of the top five. Couple that with the Houshmandzadeh signing, and Crabtree to the Seahawks looks very unlikely.
While wide receiver is certainly still a need in Seattle, it has become less of a need than offensive tackle.
The Seahawks are free to draft their replacement to the aging and injury-prone Walter Jones. Eugene Monroe is battling with Jason Smith to be the No. 1 left tackle in the draft, so it will most likely be whichever one St. Louis does not pick at this juncture.
The Browns would be best served trading out of this spot to try and land Knowshon Moreno or Chris Wells at a more reasonable pick, but should they stay at No. 5, I think they go with Brian Orakpo.
Is he a reach? Maybe, but I do not know that Cleveland could go in any other direction unless they choose to draft Moreno or Wells high.
Curry will likely be gone by this spot, and with the Eric Barton signing, it looks as though the inside linebacker position will not be addressed early in this draft.
Malcolm Jenkins or Vontae Davis could also be considered here, but with Brandon McDonald playing surprisingly well this past year (75 tackles, 17 passes defended, 5 INTs, TD), corner has become less of a need.
With an aging Willie McGinest and an underachieving Kamerion Wimbley as their edge rushers, the Browns could certainly use an upgrade at the outside linebacker slot, where Orakpo would could help out.
Cincinnati’s offensive line gave up 51 sacks this year. Do I need to say anything more?
Michael Oher was at one point regarded as the top offensive tackle in this year’s class, but Monroe and Smith have done enough to push their stock ahead of Oher’s.
Still, being the third-best offensive tackle in this class is no small feat, and landing an elite talent like Oher at the No. 6 spot is a great consolation prize for the Bengals. He could instantly lock down the left side as a rookie and stay there for a long, long time.
Oakland is in dire need of a receiver, since the most catches by a Raider wide out last season was a whopping 22 by Johnnie Lee Higgins.
But Mike Lombardi, who has worked in Oakland’s front office, says that Al Davis needs a 40-yard dash time to draft any player, so Michael Crabtree can be counted out.
Jeremy Maclin can also be ruled out, since he ran a 4.45 at the Combine after being expected to run in the mid-to-low 4.3’s. The Raiders will most likely grab Darrius Heyward-Bey as their receiver help, since he ran a 4.30-flat, but he can be had in round two.
So, Oakland will turn to the defensive side of the ball here and draft Everette Brown, who, in addition to racking up 13.5 sacks and 21.5 tackles for loss this season, had a 4.88 40 time at the NFL Combine. That time alone should get him noticed by Al Davis.
The Jaguars really needed to upgrade Khalif Barnes at left tackle, who was cut after giving up 7.5 sacks last season, tied for seventh-worst among NFL starting left tackles.
They did that with signing of Tra Thomas. Thomas can be their left tackle for the next two or three seasons, and they can wait until another year to spend a high pick on an offensive tackle.
With that signing, Jacksonville can turn their attention to another position of need: Wide receiver. Matt Jones, the team’s leading receiver in 2008, was released from jail on Saturday after violating his probation by testing positive for alcohol, and he was subsequently cut.
Due to this incident, receiver becomes just as big of a need as cornerback, which leads me to believe that the Jaguars will take the superior talent available at either position.
Michael Crabtree is clearly the superior talent to Vontae Davis. Crabtree falls this far because of his poor combine and the T.J. Houshmandzadeh signing in Seattle. Jacksonville should be jumping for joy if this situation arises. Crabtree can come in and be a great No. 1 receiver for the Jags for a long time to come.
With Green Bay switching to a 3-4 defensive front in 2009 under new defensive coordinator Dom Capers, the Packers will need a dominant nose tackle to anchor the middle of their front line.
Enter B.J. Raji. A physical specimen at 6’1” and 337 pounds, Raji proved this past season that he can be a very disruptive force in both the run game and the passing game, notching 14.0 tackles for loss and 7.5 sacks for the Eagles. He would be a perfect fit in Capers’ new system.
Prior to the 2008 season, I predicted Manny Lawson would step up his game in his third year in the league and become a consistent pass rusher for the 49ers. I was wrong. Lawson started just 10 games last season and registered only 45 total tackles and 3.0 sacks.
A pass rushing outside linebacker has become a need for San Francisco now, and Aaron Maybin can fill that need. After a shaky 4.89 40 time at the Combine which threatened to push him out of the top-15, Maybin clocked a 4.59 at his Pro Day.
As a redshirt sophomore in 2008, Maybin notched 20 tackles for loss and 12 sacks for the Nittany Lions. He should provide a solid pass rush on the outside.
Mark Sanchez will be considered here, but after Alex Smith, the 49ers will be wary of taking another quarterback this high.
With Orakpo, Brown, Curry, and Maybin all off the board at this spot, it looks like Buffalo will be choosing between Tyson Jackson, Larry English, and Brian Cushing.
I think Jackson gets the nod here because this linebacker class is deep enough to wait until round two or three to grab a player, and Jackson is a very underrated player.
As a senior, Jackson had 10.5 tackles for loss and 4.5 sacks. Those numbers are not great, but I do not think they represent Jackson's potential.
Jackson is a 6'4", 295-pound end who can be disruptive in the run game while still being able to get after the wuarterback.
Jackson is part of a dying breed in the NFL, the all-around defensive end. As opposed to being a strict speed-rusher, Jackson plays every facet of the position well, and he would be a solid starter from day one in Buffalo.
This pick may seem like a bit of a reach, but Denver does not have a choice at this point.
They need players for their new 3-4 scheme, and with the top 3-4 OLB prospects (Orakpo, Brown, and Maybin), the top nose tackle (Raji), and the top 5-technique player (Jackson) already picked, the Broncos have to make a reach.
Maualuga may not be No. 12-overall-pick material, but he sure as hell will not disappoint as a player. One of the nastiest and perhaps the most physical linebacker in this draft, Maualuga is a pure 3-4 inside linebacker who could form a frighteningly good duo with fellow Bronco inside linebacker D.J. Williams.
The Redskins have a couple glaring needs here.
With Jason Taylor leaving, Washington has an obvious hole in the lineup across from Andre Carter. Despite being paid like he’s two players, Albert Haynesworth cannot actually play two positions at the same time.
And with Jon Jansen being, well, Jon Jansen, right tackle is also a big need. But since the only right tackle available at this spot is Andre “How many times can I possibly screw up?” Smith, I think the team opts to pass on a tackle and address defensive end.
English is an underrated prospect who performed very well in college, posting career numbers of 155 tackles, 46.5 tackles for loss, and 30.0 sacks in three years at Northern Illinois.
English would perfectly fill the void left by the departed Taylor and would bring another good player to Washington’s defensive line.
Malcolm Jenkins seems to be the consensus pick here, but after the free agent signings of Darren Sharper and Jabari Greer, I have to think the Saints will not go with a defensive back in the first round.
So, the Saints can turn to linebacker, where the only locked-in starter on the roster is Jonathan Vilma. If the Saints go with Cushing, Vilma would be allowed to stay at inside with either Scott Fujita or Scott Shanle manning the other outside spot.
Cushing was on the map before last season, but he put himself into top-15 contention with a solid senior year in which he posted 73 tackles, 10.5 tackles for loss, and 3.0 sacks for a Trojan team that boasted three first-round picks at linebacker (Maualuga, Cushing and Clay Matthews).
Cushing is also an excellent value pick here, as he could go as high as No. 11 to Buffalo.
In four picks, we will see three USC linebackers drafted.
Houston has a couple options here because they have multiple needs.
I think safety can be ruled out here because Jenkins would play free safety in the NFL, and the Texans need a strong safety to play next to Eugene Wilson. They will most likely opt to wait on that position and grab someone like William Moore in the second round.
Houston could grab another play-making receiver like Jeremy Maclin here. But I think linebacker is a bigger need than receiver, so they go with a solid linebacker in Clay Matthews to help them shore up their defense.
The Texans made Morlon Greenwood a cap casualty this offseason, and they now have a hole at outside linebacker. Enter Matthews, the lesser known of the three first round Trojan linebackers.
With Matthews in the starting lineup along with DeMeco Ryans and Zac Diles, Houston looks to have a strong and very young (oldest starter is Ryans, 25 at start of the season) linebacking core going into 2009.
How the mighty have fallen.
Andre Smith, once considered to be the favorite to go No. 2 overall to the Rams, really himself with his Combine incident. Showing up overweight, out of shape, and then just bolting because he didn’t think he needed to be there are mistakes that will cost him millions.
He also only put up 19 reps of 225 pounds at Alabama’s Pro Day, which is surprising for a tackle, who is considered to be a “mauler”.
But the Chargers have a huge need at right tackle, where current Starter Jeromey Clary simply does not get the job done, as evidenced by the 6.5 sacks he gave up last season.
Eben Britton may be considered here, but I view him as better suited to play left tackle than right after his switch at Arizona proved extremely successful. And despite Smith’s work ethic questions, his talent is undeniable and he could still be a very good NFL player if he cleans up his act.
This pick likely will happen because Sanchez is without a doubt a top-10 talent, and a team will definitely trade up to get him if he falls past San Francisco. That being said, I am making this mock with no trades, so Sanchez falls all the way down here to No. 17.
If this does happen, Jets fans will be partying in the streets. Sanchez has the arm needed to throw through the gusts in New York and would most likely start from day one. He would compete with Kellen Clemens and Brett Ratliff, but I think he would be able to beat out both in camp.
If Sanchez is gone at this spot, Kansas State’s Josh Freeman becomes the most likely candidate.
The Bears desperately need help at defensive end. Their defense notched only 28 sacks last year, and five of them were from Tommie Harris! The pass rush needs an upgrade.
At this spot, it will be between Michael Johnson and Robert Ayers. Ayers is a hot prospect and Johnson has had his work ethic questioned, but you just cannot deny his production. 17.5 tackles for loss and 9.0 sacks this past year was quite impressive.
Johnson also displayed his heralded athleticism by blocking a field goal against Georgia and by returning an interception 26 yards for a touchdown against Boston College.
Right tackle is also a need, where John St. Clair signed with the Browns. But it looks more and more like the Browns and Bears are simply going to make a swap, since recently released Browns right tackle Kevin Shaffer said he “would definitely like to” play for Chicago.
Tampa Bay needs a QB? Impossible!
Well it looks as though that may be true, since the Bucs have probably just about given up on luring Jake Plummer out of retirement.
Josh Freeman is one of the most intriguing prospects in this draft. He is quarterback with great size (6'6'', 238 lbs.), terrific athleticism, and a cannon strapped to his shoulder that he calls an arm. Freeman seems to have all the tools to make it in the league.
He is still very raw and will need some time to develop, but Tampa Bay can land its franchise signal caller right here at No. 19.
Regardless of whether Detroit uses the No. 1 pick to take Matthew Stafford or trade for Jay Cutler, they will need a franchise left tackle to protect their new signal caller’s blind side.
Eben Britton seems like the perfect candidate for the job. At 6'3'' and 309 pounds, Britton has prototypical left tackle size.
While he may have the second-shortest arm length of offensive tackles at the NFL combine (32 ¾ inches), Britton’s tremendous play after his switch from right to left tackle at Arizona should certainly be enough to put him in the top-20, if not the top-15.
Britton can protect the blind side for Cutler, Stafford, or whoever Detroit puts under center for a long time to come.
Last season, Philadelphia realized that they are in dire need of a big back to complement Brian Westbrook and pick up short-yardage first downs and touchdowns.
Chris Wells certainly fits the bill as that type of back. Wells is 6'1'' and 235 pounds, and he uses all of his size to simply run over defenders. Wells isn’t suited to be a three-down back, but with the Eagles, he won’t have to be. He would complement Westbrook perfectly and help form a dynamic tandem.
Knowshon Moreno is also in consideration at this spot, but because Philadelphia is looking for a big bruiser, Wells’ 18-pound advantage over Moreno and his physical style gives him the nod.
Minnesota recently signed Karl Paymah, but they are kidding themselves if they think he can be anything more than a package player. He is not even an upgrade over Charles Gordon or Benny Sapp.
Vontae Davis, on the other hand, has emerged as the top cornerback prospect in this draft and has a bright future ahead of him.
Davis can compete with Cedric Griffin immediately for a starting job and could take over for the aging Antoine Winfield (32 at start of season) once he retires.
This pick will most likely be between Clint Sintim and James Laurinaitis because New England needs to get better and younger at their linebacker spots. The Jerod Mayo pick paid dividends last season, and I don’t think the Pats will hesitate to draft another linebacker or two this year.
Plus, with Mike Vrabel bolting to the Chiefs, there is a glaring need opposite Adalius Thomas.
The team may opt to sign Jason Taylor or trade for Julius Peppers. If either of these moves happens, then this pick should be Laurinaitis. But if not, the Pats can fill that need for an edge rusher with Virginia’s Clint Sintim.
Atlanta was in the running for L.J. Smith recently, but Smith signed with the Ravens. Falcons fans can let out a collective sigh of relief. If they had signed Smith, it would have been a season of false starts and dropped balls from the tight end position.
They can address their tight end need through the draft and take this year’s top prospect—Oklahoma State’s Brandon Pettigrew. A great tight end who excels in both blocking and pass-catching, Pettigrew can add another weapon to an already explosive offense in Atlanta.
Miami let Andre Goodman walk in free agency, and now they have to fill the gap he left. They signed former Cardinal Eric Green, but he is no more than a nickel back.
D.J. Moore will have to fend off Connecticut’s Darius Butler to be the second corner drafted.
I think Moore wins because he is simply too good of a playmaker to pass up.
Baltimore is in a great position here. Because there are so few teams with wide receiver as their top need, the Ravens see a great talent like Jeremy Maclin fall right into their laps.
Originally, Baltimore might have gone for a corner after cutting both Samari Rolle and Chris McAlister, but with Fabian Washington and the newly-signed Dominique Foxworth ready to take over as the starters, that position is set.
So, now Baltimore turns to their top need at wideout, and grabs one of the top talents available in this year’s draft. Maclin offers great speed and play-making ability with his versatility as both a dynamic receiver and return man.
Last year, the Colts started Keyunta Dawson and Eric Foster at the defensive tackle spots, and while neither of them were huge liabilities, they certainly did not perform like starters. Plus, Indy struggled to stop the run as a result of their lack of size. Dawson is only 254 pounds, while Foster weighs in at 265. They are undersized for defensive ends, let alone tackles.
Peria Jerry can help shore up the size issue, measuring in at 6-2, 299 pounds, perfect for a Tampa-2 defensive tackle. He proved this season that he is a true disruptive force on the line, notching 49 tackles, an outstanding 18.0 tackles for loss, and 7.0 sacks.
Wide receiver is also an option here, but the receiver class this year is much deeper than the defensive tackle class, and that position can be addressed later.
With Tra Thomas leaving through free agency and backup Winston Justice already being famous for his disastrous six-sack game against the Giants, left tackle becomes a big need.
The Eagles land a great option here at the bottom of round one in an exceptionally deep offensive-tackle class in William Beatty, whose stock has been on the rise since he helped paved the way for Donald Brown’s 2,000-yard season this past year at Connecticut.
The Giants had needs at linebacker, safety, defensive tackle, and wide receiver going into this offseason. Now, they have a need at wide receiver. That should be evidence enough of the great job that GM Jerry Reese has done in free agency thus far.
New York signed Michael Boley to fill its need at linebacker, C.C. Brown to fill their void at safety, and both Chris Canty and Rocky Bernard to help at defensive tackle.
Now, the Giants are free to take Kenny Britt at the bottom of round one as a potential replacement for Plaxico Burress, whose future is still far from certain.
Britt’s 6'4'', 215-pound frame coupled with his 1,371 yards this past season make him a very intriguing prospect, and New York should not hesitate to pull the trigger and take him at No. 29.
The Titans need desperate help at cornerback, where current starter Nick Harper will be 35 in September and is a free agent after 2009. He will most likely not be back with the club, and there is no suitable replacement for him on the roster.
Darius Butler could easily step in and be a nickel back this year or possibly even take Harper’s job and push him into nickel duties.
Butler had a poor 40 time at the Combine (4.53) but, really, what cornerback didn’t? The fastest time by a corner at this year’s combine was a 4.46.
Something fishy was going on there, as evidenced by Vontae Davis' 4.39 Pro Day time; he ran a 4.49 at the Combine. Butler should improve greatly on his time as well when Connecticut holds its Pro Day on March 25th.
Arizona fans should be ecstatic if this happens. The Cardinals really need a complement to Tim Hightower, and Knowshon Moreno is nothing short of a top-notch talent.
The lack of need for running backs this year lets Moreno slip all the way to No. 31, and Arizona is happy to scoop him up.
In case you missed his stellar season this past year, Moreno recorded 1400 yards and 16 touchdowns on the ground, coupled with 392 receiving yards and two touchdowns through the air.
Moreno could form a terrific duo with Hightower and would give that already frighteningly-good Cardinal offense something it really needs—a running game. Could you imagine the possibilities?
Some might be shocked to see Malcolm Jenkins fall this far, but as Deion Sanders said, Jenkins was “killing himself” during his workouts.
His 40 time was very lacking (4.55 at Combine, 4.53 at Pro Day), which suggests that he will probably make the move to safety from corner in the NFL, and he looked awful in position drills.
That, coupled with the small amount of teams who have a need at safety, could push him this far. The most likely scenario would be some team trading up to get him but, as I said earlier, I am doing this draft with no trades.
Jenkins was a great player for the Buckeyes, but he won’t be drafted as high as he could have been if he had performed well this offseason.
That being said, landing in Pittsburgh is a great fit for him. Ryan Clark, the Steelers’ current starter at free safety, is a free agent after the 2009 season and will also be 30 this October. He is also an average player and can be upgraded. Jenkins would be a great upgrade and would be an outstanding value at No. 32 overall.
Offensive line is also a need, but this class is very deep at both center and guard, so Pittsburgh can address that need in rounds two or three.
And there’s my 2009 first round mock draft. I don’t have a crystal ball here, so take all of these with a grain of salt. This is just how I think the draft could play out.
In a month, we’ll see how it really does.