As the April Draft moves closer, fans get antsy to see who their team will take to try and bolster their team's roster. Fans in Detroit have been counting down the days since about August, while the Cardinals and Dolphins are happy to be outside the top 20 for the first time in a while.
Over the next month plenty can still happen, but this is a preliminary look at what could happen come the end of April.
1.) Detroit Lions (0-16) Needs: QB, OL, DB, DE, TE, LB
Mathew Stafford QB Georgia
It is pretty temping to write “all” under the Needs category for a team who failed to win a single game in 2008. Detroit has filled some holes through free agency and trades, but hasn’t landed what one would consider an impact player.
No position can have a bigger impact on a game than the quarterback. There has been some wavering lately about how sold the Lions are on Stafford, and rightfully so with the track record of junior quarterbacks in the draft.
Stafford has a cannon arm and an underrated set of legs to escape from traffic, but never really reached his potential in college.
It is for this reason we are hearing about Baylor OT Jason Smith in this spot, as well as a potential trade for the Broncos QB Jay Cutler, which would allow the Lions to pass on Stafford. This pick remains very much in doubt.
2.) St. Louis Rams (2-14) Needs: OL, CB, QB, LB, WR
Jason Smith OT Baylor
With Orlando Pace gone, this pick is all but set. Even if Smith does go to the Lions with the first pick, the Rams won’t hesitate to grab Virginia tackle Eugene Monroe with the second pick. The Rams' offense was nowhere near as effective as in years past and the poor play upfront is an enormous reason why.
Monroe is a tremendously talented player and has a chance to be a better pro that his former Virginia teammate D’Brickashaw Ferguson who has had a brief but so far underwhelming career in New York.
With Torry Holt now gone, Michael Crabtree might have been an option here if not for the injury although my guess is even a healthy Crabtree would not have precluded the Rams from taking Jason Smith who looks like the odds on favorite to land in St. Louis.
3.) Kansas City Chiefs (4-12) Needs: OL, WR, DB, DL, LB
Aaron Curry OLB Wake Forest
The Chiefs face the first tough decision of this draft because Curry is the best player in this draft and would still be available at this point. However, the Chiefs have capable linebackers and could really use the help upfront and at receiver.
Eugene Monroe or Michael Crabtree would likely be new head coach Todd Hayley’s pick, but Scott Pioli is a master of the draft and appreciates value.
Curry is still better than any linebacker the Chiefs have on a defense that struggled to create pressure or dictate any style on opposing offenses last season.
With new defensive coordinator Clancy Pendergraft potentially switching the Chiefs to the 3-4, KC will need the help at linebacker, but Curry is significantly better suited to play the SAM in a 4-3.
About two weeks ago I speculated that Michael Crabtree was the pick here as a darkhorse and people said I was crazy because it wasn’t Scott Pioli’s style. Curry is the best player available, but doesn’t really make sense here.
Hayley knows the value of a go-to wide receiver, and I will not be at all surprised if Crabtree’s name gets called here.
It may be Pioli’s call, but he hired the coach and that coach has to deal with players. My guess is Hayley would LOVE to get a guy like Crabtree, but Curry has become the consensus pick among prognosticators.
4.) Seattle Seahawks (4-12) Needs: DB, OL, RB, LB, WR
Eugene Monroe OT Virginia
Michael Crabtree was the favorite here early, then the signing of T.J. Houshmandzadeh and Crabtree’s injury all but assured the ‘Hawks would go elsewhere. Then, as B.J. Raji rocketed up draft boards, many penciled the Boston College behemoth in at this spot. After signing Colin Cole and trading for Corey Redding, Raji looks out of the picture.
Now, it appears the Seahawks will likely nab Walter Jones understudy and eventual replacement. As mentioned earlier, Monroe is a long, talented tackle who is probably the most polished tackle in this class.
He can be a legitimate left tackle on the next level and should help bolster the protection around Matt Hasselbeck who struggled to stay upright and thus struggled to stay healthy last season.
With a healthy roster and a weak division, the Seahawks look poised to get back into the playoff mix, but that doesn’t mean they can’t shake up the draft by drafting Mark Sanchez.
He would be a solid fit in their system and with Hasselbeck getting older and dealing with injuries, it might not be a bad time to steal a top-notch signal caller. They have bigger needs to fill here...I’m just saying.
5.) Cleveland Browns (4-12) Needs: CB, OL, DE, LB, S
Brian Orakpo DE Texas
A disappointing 2008 campaign has brought a whole new set of challenges for a franchise mired in mediocrity for so long. While we know who the new coach is, the quarterback position is far from settled and with new coaching staff brings new schemes.
That being said, the two best players on the board at this point are both defensive lineman. Raji does not fit a need for the Browns as they already have a nose tackle. Brian Orakpo would give the Browns the kind of game changing pass-rusher they haven’t had in quite some time.
Orakpo can play end in the 4-3 or stand up in a 3-4 scheme because what he does best is get after the quarterback.
Malcolm Jenkins was an early favorite here because of his talent level and the home state connection would have helped. However, his stock has drop faster than...well real stocks, and the Browns really don’t need the headache of a player like Andre Smith.
Orakpo makes by far the most sense here and is the likely pick assuming the Browns stay at five.
6.) Cincinnati Bengals (5-10-1) Needs: OL, RB, DL, LB, WR
B.J. Raji DT Boston College
Just a few seasons ago, the Bengals were a knee tendon away from a Super Bowl. Now, they’re back to being the Bungles of the pre-Marvin Lewis era. Losing their most consistent offensive weapon certainly doesn’t help moving forward, nor one of your starting offensive lineman from a team already thin up front.
Ideally, the Bengals would probably like to have Eugene Monroe fall to them here, but that isn’t likely to happen. Cinci really needs help protecting Carson Palmer because they just can’t win without him.
The Bengals are the last team that needs to add a top pick with attitude and personal issues, so they ought to just take Andre Smith right off their draft board.
Raji is an outstanding defensive tackle prospect and is the kind of player you have to have in order to stop the run in the AFC North. He can also rush the passer from the interior and could really help this defensive line.
Ole Miss OT Michael Oher would be a stretch here, as would Ohio State RB Chris “Beanie” Wells, although neither would surprise me. A receiver like Crabtree or Missouri’s Jeremy Maclin would make sense, but there are just too many other options, plus Raji is the best player available here.
7.) Oakland Raiders (5-11) Needs: OL, WR, DL, DB, TE
Michael Crabtree WR Texas Tech
With all the media attention around Al Davis and Lane Kiffin’s departure, fans in Oakland may have forgotten there is a draft coming up. However, with some big-time talent at the wide receiver position on a team that is desperate for one, Al Davis and his staff are certainly aware.
JaMarcus Russell has shown some promise as a quarterback and that running attack will be potent if the backs can stay healthy. However, the passing game has been inefficient due in large part to a lack of quality receivers.
The Raiders have their pick of the top two receivers in this year’s draft in Crabtree and Maclin and should take whoever they have rated higher.
Crabtree is the more talented natural receiver, but Maclin could have really made this interesting by posting a sub 4.4 time as many expected he would. Even so, Crabtree’s injury has some concerned, although I doubt it will effect Al Davis too much.
This pick will almost certainly be a wide receiver, but Andre Smith from Alabama would make some sense for a team that wants to rush the ball. No one else really seems like a possibility.
8.) Jacksonville (5-11) Needs: LB, WR, OL, CB, S
Jeremy Maclin WR Missouri
My pick to win the Super Bowl, the 2008 Jaguars were nothing short of an epic disappointment. (If they were a stock, they’d be Lehman Brothers…two stock market references too many? We’re only in the top 10.)
The punishing ground game was dormant, and the offensive line was killed by injuries. With no receivers to speak of, or at least that Jags fans would like to speak of, the offense let the defense down and the Jags just didn’t play well enough offensively to win games.
Jeremy Maclin is an instant solution to their problems. A return specialist and speedster on the outside, Maclin is a difference-maker offensively and would join a team desperately needing one.
The former Mizzou Tiger would allow the Jaguars to take shots deep down the field and loosen defenses for their running game which is now short a player having lost Fred Taylor.
Andre Smith might be a possibility here, but he is certainly not a Jack Del Rio guy, and the Jags did sign Tra Thomas in the offseason to play tackle. Maclin makes the most sense and would really breath new life into this offense which hasn’t had a receiver opposing defenses had to worry about since Jimmy Smith in the late '90s.
9.) Green Bay Packers (6-10) Needs: OLB, OL, DB, DL
Aaron Maybin DE/OLB Penn State
To say losing Brett Favre hurt would be an understatement. However, for a team with this much talent, the Packers had to deal with another “under” issue: underachieving. They were a team who couldn’t finish games, and simply played too inconsistently even from series to series to win regularly.
Dom Capers comes in with his 3-4 defense to help generate some push-rush and make the lives of Green Bay’s outstanding corners much easier. In order to do that, they need the personnel and Aaron Maybin would be a solid addition to this defense.
Incredibly quick, and relentless off the edge, Maybin is an ideal fit for a 3-4 defense and could pair with Aaron Kampman bullish style on the opposite corner to give Green Bay the kind of pass-rush they haven’t had in recent years.
Andre Smith and Florida State’s DE Everette Brown also seem like options, but neither are really Ted Thompson guys. Maybin is the logical choice here, but as we’ve seen, the man known as TT will draft whoever he thinks if the best player available regardless of what others believe.
10.) San Francisco 49ers (7-9) Needs: OL, DE, WR, S, DL
Andre Smith OT Alabama
Mike Singletary deserves a tremendous amount of credit for the work he did with the 49ers last season, turning that team around and seemingly igniting some dormant desire in his team.
That being said, the talent level on this team just is not where it needs to be for the 'Niners to return to the playoffs.
The quarterback position is a mess, and they don’t have a consistent pass-rusher. However, they have one of the elite running back stables in the NFL with Frank Gore, DeShaun Foster, and Michael Robinson, they just need room to run.
Andre Smith would be a revelation at RT and give those running backs a road-grader to run behind.
Smith is the best run-blocker in the draft and was considered in the running for the No. 1 pick until off-the-field issues derailed him. He is still a tremendous talent and would be a great fit in San Fran.
Mark Sanchez is a popular pick as well, but I don’t see them drafting a QB so high given the history with Alex Smith. A pass-rusher like Maybin if he falls or Everette Brown would also make sense, but ultimately if Smith is on the board he would be the right pick.
11.) Buffalo Bills (7-9) Needs: TE, DE, OL, LB, CB
Tyson Jackson DE LSU
When I predicted the Bills would go 8-8 and finish out of the playoffs, fans in Buffalo were none too pleased. The Bills have a glut of talent and just haven’t had enough success as a team to understand how to win every week.
With no player at the position worth drafting here, the best defensive player on the board looks like the best choice in this spot. Tyson Jackson is a complete defensive end and can effect both the running and passing games from the defensive end position.
He won’t jump off the field athletically, but he is a cerebral player who understands how to get the ball carrier.
Michael Oher might be a solid choice here as well, but the Bills offensive line continues to get better and the Bills have bigger needs elsewhere. Everette Brown is a better pure pass-rusher, but may be too slight to play 4-3 end in the NFL.
Jackson is the kind of player Dick Jauron would love to coach, and would be an excellent addition to this young and talented team.
12.) Denver Broncos (8-8) Needs: DL, LB, RB, CB, QB
Everette Brown DE Florida State
Depending on what happens with a certain quarterback on this roster, that “QB” under Needs might move to the front of that list. Jay Cutler’s acrimonious relationship with new head coach Josh McDaniels does not bode well for a team looking to build on the success of some its young players like Cutler, Brandon Marshall, and Eddie Royal.
This will be a crucial draft for the franchise after saying goodbye to the most successful coach in the team’s history. If Cutler is moved before the draft, that would open up the possibility of Mark Sanchez in this spot and essentially be a do-over with the 2006 draft.
Broncos fans won’t like to see another 3-4 type defensive end from a Florida school in the first round, but the Broncos desperately need help rushing the passer and Brown is the best player on the board who can do that.
This is still too high for a linebacker like USC’s Clay Mathews or Brian Cushing, but I could certainly see a running back in this spot, particularly with the way Beanie Wells has been climbing draft boards after his much improved 40 times at THE Ohio State pro day.
Even with a crowded stable of backs, there is no true No. 1 option. Plus, you can never have too many horses in Bronco country (Had to).
13.) Washington Redskins (8-8) Needs: DE, G/C, CB, S, RB
Michael Oher OT Mississippi
Redskin fans would certainly prefer Denver take Wells than Everette Brown. The Redskins, despite solid numbers defensively, don't have a feared pass-rusher off the edge to make teams worry. Jason Taylor was supposed to be that guy, but he was major disappointment.
In fact, no one on the ‘Skins’ current roster tallied more than four sacks last season.
However, the Redskins offense is predicated on running the football effectively and were a top 10 team in rushing last year. The offensive line is getting older and has struggled with injuries.
Michael Oher was considered one of the top, if not the top offensive tackle coming into the season, and remains a top 15 talent. He could start right away at right tackle, but has the versatility to play inside of necessary.
Given the level of talent already on this team, it would not surprise me to see a trade from this position, particularly with Dan Snyder still writing paychecks in D.C. Moving up to get the defensive end they want is certainly not out of the question, nor is trading down to pick a linebacker like Clay Mathews.
However, end remains the most glaring weakness on this team, and outside of trading up or down, if there isn’t an end worth taking here, the best offensive lineman left would be a solid consolation prize.
14.) New Orleans Saints (8-8) Needs: CB, LB, RB, S, DL
Chris “Beanie” Wells RB Ohio State
Another one of my disappointments of 2008, Drew Brees did play as well as I expected him to, and had the Saint made the playoffs (which they nearly did), Brees would have likely won the MVP (which I predicted).
Unfortunately, neither of those things happened and the fans in New Orleans had to deal with another postseasonless year.
Without Deuce McAllister, Reggie Bush looked human and Sean Peyton tried to get a little too cute using him. Chris Wells is a younger and potentially better version of Deuce with his powerful style coupled with his deceptive speed and vision.
Wells and Bush would be a potent backfield combo and lighten the incredible burden placed on Drew Brees.
The only reason Malcolm Jenkins is not the pick is his precipitous drop on draft boards based on poor 40 times. Jenkins could probably be in the rotation are corner and maybe even start at safety for the Saints, but Wells is simply a better fit for what they like to do.
Also, rookie Tracey Porter was playing pretty well for the Saints before losing his season to injury.
15.) Houston Texans (8-8) Needs: DB, LB, WR, OL
Malcolm Jenkins DB Ohio State
Steve Slaton was among my sleepers in last year’s draft, and now fans in Houston are wondering why he hadn’t been playing all season long. This team is actually incredibly dangerous in the AFC with a solid core of offensive talent.
However, the defense is just a step below where it needs to be to challenge the Colts and Titans in the South.
Mario Williams is quickly becoming one of the most feared defensive players in football, the Texans just need some help in the secondary behind him to make him even more dangerous. Houston needs help at both safety and corner, making Malcolm Jenkins an ideal fit for this team.
What’s more, the South is not filled with speed burners at wide receiver and Jenkins could certainly handle the receivers in Jacksonville and Tennessee. Jenkins is a physical and aggressive corner who was a lock-down talent in Ohio State.
His speed remains an issue, but he is an upgrade over just about everyone in the Houston secondary, regardless of position.
This could also be an interesting landing spot for Mark Sanchez. The Texans failed to hit with David Carr, and so far Matt Schaub hasn’t exactly set the world on fire. As a young team in a tough division, it might be worth it to draft a guy like Sanchez and give him some time.
Pairing him with Slaton, Andre Johnson and Owen Daniels could make that Texans offense scary good.
16.) San Diego Chargers (8-8) Needs: LB, S, OL, RB, DL
Rey Maualuga ILB USC
Over the past couple months I have gone back and forth between a running back and Maualuga in this spot. The Chargers seemed content to let LaDanian Tomlinson move on, but the Chargers extended and reworked his contract and looks to be in the fold offensively.
That leaves the San Diego offense in excellent shape.
Defensively however, the depth at the linebacker position is a major issue. It took the Bolts D almost all season to deal with the loss of their leader Shawne Merriman and could use some help at that position.
In the 3-4 system, you can never have too many linebackers and Maualuga is among the best in the country. He is a physical, aggressive player who may not always make the best reads, but he just seems to be in the right spot anyway.
There isn’t a player here who can help along either the offensive or defensive lines, nor is there a safety worth selecting here. This could be a spot where, if Mark Sanchez falls or a team is particular high on Kansas State QB Josh Freeman, that the Chargers stockpile picks and trade down so a team can take their preferred QB.
17.) New York Jets (9-7) Needs: DL, WR, LB, QB, OL
Mark Sanchez QB USC
The play of Brett Favre early on masked some of the weaknesses lingering from the 2007 season. By the time December came around however, Favre’s play fell off and the true identity of this team was exposed. This is a team that lacks difference makers on both sides of the ball and now without No. 4 under center, really has no identity.
If Mark Sanchez falls this far, expect the Jets to catch him. They are reportedly interested in Josh Freeman, but that is likely because they expect Sanchez to be gone. Sanchez can make every throw needed of an NFL quarterback and played in a pro style system at SC.
The Jets still need a pass-rusher, but after the Vernon Gholston disappointment, that seems unlikely in the first round.
Unfortunately, the Sanchez doesn’t have anyone to catch his passes, which is why if the Jets feel good about any of the QB’s already on the roster a receiver like Percy Harvin or Darrius Heyward-Bey would make sense here as well.
18.) Chicago Bears (9-7) Needs: QB, OL, WR, S, CB
Vontae Davis CB Illinois
It must be something about the NFC North, because for the past several drafts the most glaring needs for every team except for the Packers has been at the quarterback position and yet none of them have drafted even a serviceable backup.
The Bears were doomed by inconsistent play from under center all season and really since Erik Kramer left in the mid-'90s.
Unfortunately for Bears fans, Chicago seems content with the guys on their roster and plan to look elsewhere in the first round, probably at corner. Vontae Davis went to in-state Illinois and is one of the most naturally talented defensive players in this year’s draft.
He doesn’t have ideal technique, but Davis is a physical and instinctive corner fitting the style of play of that vaunted Bears defense.
The offensive line remains a concern, but there isn’t much value at this spot. Receiver would still be an option but Percy Harvin is basically just Devin Hester 2.0 so Darrius Heyward-Bey would probably make more sense if the Bears were looking wide receiver.
Don’t completely rule out Josh Freeman, but that just seems so out of character for Chicago.
19.) Tampa Bay Buccaneers (9-7) Needs: QB,WR,OL,DT, LB
Josh Freeman QB Kansas State
With the NFC South as competitive as it’s ever been and a regime change in Tampa, it may be time to bring in the kind of franchise signal caller the Bucs haven’t had...well ever.
The Bucs won a Super Bowl with Brad Johnson at quarterback and although Steve Young played in Tampa early in his career, he was not anywhere near the player he came to be in San Francisco.
Josh Freeman might have the most potential of any quarterback in this draft because of his size, arm strength, and mobility. Freeman was inconsistent at Kansas State, but also lacked top-tier talent around him.
In Tampa, he would have a crew of excellent running backs and now Kellen Winslow at the tight end position to be his safety net. This could be the best situation for any of the potential first round QB’s with a solid defense and running game (That should sound familiar to fans in Baltimore).
The Bucs could certainly use some weapons around whoever their quarterback will be and a guy like Percy Harvin would give them versatility and big play ability to stretch the field, making their running game even more potent. Harvin would be an excellent fit should Tampa pass on Freeman.
20.) Detroit Lions F/ Dallas Cowboys Needs: OL, DB, DE, TE, LB
Clay Mathews OLB USC
The Lions get this pick in the Roy Williams trade and have a number of directions they can go with this pick. They probably would like to see a player like Knowshon Moreno fall here as Kevin Smith doesn’t seem to be a franchise back. They could certainly use some help along the offensive line but there just isn’t a player with value at this spot.
Moreno definitely would be enticing with this pick, but word out of Detroit is they’ve been targeting linebackers with their second of two first round choices and Clay Mathews has been steadily climbing draft boards since his strong showing in Mobile for the senior bowl.
He entered the season with less accolades than his teammates Cushing and Muauluga, but Mathews is every bit as talented.
He can get to the quarterback and has the agility and quickness to play in the passing game as well as fill hard in the run game and he can probably play any of the linebacker positions.
Ernie Sims is the only Lions linebacker who is above average, although the acquisition of Julian Peterson makes Knowshon Moreno look even more enticing to the Lions. It is probably still too high for Alphonso Smith and the Lions did add Phillip Buchanon to a weak secondary.
If Moreno is there, he will be tough to pass on, but the versatility of Mathews should impress new head coach Jim Schwartz enough to make him the pick.
21.) Philadelphia Eagles (9-6-1) Needs: TE, S, RB, LB, OL
Knowshon Moreno RB Georgia
The Eagles are one of the hardest teams to figure out each year at this time. This isn’t a team where you say, “If they don’t get this kind of player, they aren’t a contender.”
With McNabb and Westbrook healthy, this team can contend for the East and the NFC this season. Getting Westbrook some breath and McNabb some help will only make them more dangerous.
Knowshon Moreno can certainly do that with his tough running and versatility in the passing game. Moreno is a big-play threat, although he doesn’t have home-run speed. He is shifty and can play every down if needed.
He can play in the same backfield with Westbrook, or allow the Eagles to flex Westbrook out and keep a back in the backfield.
Certainly if Moreno gets snatched up by Detroit a pick earlier, a player like Oklahoma State TE Brandon Pettigrew would compliment this offense nicely with his combination of receiving and blocking skills. The Eagles also need some depth at linebacker making Mathews or Brian Cushing an option here as well.
Unfortunately, there isn’t a safety worth taking at this spot to bolster their depleted defensive backfield.
22.) Minnesota Vikings (10-6) Needs: QB, TE, RT, LB, WR
Percy Harvin WR/RB Florida
Anyone who thinks Sage Rosenfels fixes the Vikings quarterback problem stand up...Ok Brad Childress and Sage Rosenfels please sit down. Good now everyone is sitting. The Vikings were able to survive last season without steady quarterback play basically because Adrian Peterson is inhuman and that defense was stellar.
I’m not sure how much longer it can last.
Adding Bernard Berrian was a big key for them last year because he could just run by people on a play-action fake. Getting someone who can take a bubble screen to the house would additionally lighten the load on this less than stellar group of quarterbacks.
Percy Harvin is a speedy, versatile player who has drawn comparisons to Reggie Bush with the way he can line up in the backfield or the slot and make plays. He would also give the Vikings a potentially dangerous return man on the turf in the Metrodome.
There aren’t very many holes on this team except under center. Since there isn’t a QB here worth taking, the Vikings can take the best player available which in this case is Harvin who happens to fit a need area. Brandon Pettigrew or Brian Cushing could also be possibilities here.
23.) New England Patriots (11-5) Needs: CB, LB, OL, RB, S
Brian Cushing OLB USC
The Patriots missed Asante Samuel and Randall Gay more than they would like to admit last season and the cornerback position must be addressed. The defense continues to age and the linebackers are the longest in the tooth.
Jerod Mayo was an inspired if surprising pick last season for the Pats, but with Mike Vrabel gone to KC in the Matt Cassell deal, the Pats are even thinner at linebacker.
Brian Cushing is the best linebacker available, and one of the two best players still on the board at this point. He is a physical presence and actually compares favorably to the aforementioned Vrabel. Cushing is a physical and aggressive player, used to playing on the corners where he is quick to diagnose and blow up plays.
Cushing is a prototypical Patriots player with versatility, a high mental acuity for the game, and an outstanding pedigree at USC. Snagging Wake Forest corner Alphonso Smith who is an aggressive player despite his size and a ballhawk in the secondary. No. 23 is a little too high for Smith though, and Cushing is a better value at this point.
24.) Atlanta Falcons (11-5) Needs: OL, DT, TE, WR, S
Brandon Pettigrew TE Oklahoma State
After Michael Vick cast a dark shadow over the Georgia Dome, Mike Smith, and Matt Ryan have revitalized an embarrassed franchise. The Falcons weren’t quite ready to be a dangerous playoff team, but a year older and a year wiser Smith and Ryan have a chance to put together one heck of a team.
Roddy White has finally figured it out and is playing up to his potential. Matt Ryan looks like a Pro Bowl quarterback and Michael Turner proved he was worth the big bucks the Falcons spent on him in free agency.
Adding a tight end with the versatility of Brandon Pettigrew would be a big plus for this offense. One of the top senior prospects and the only elite tight end prospect, Pettigrew blends NFL ready strength and blocking ability, with soft hands and a good feel for getting open.
He would elevate the level of the run game with his stellar blocking as well as give Matt Ryan a safety valve over the middle in the passing game.
Having lost Grady Jackson to free agency, Ole Miss DT Peria Jerry would also be an excellent fit here. Atlanta could use some help along the offensive front and it might not be too much of a stretch to see Eben Britton here, but there are better values on the board at this point.
Pettigrew would be a perfect compliment to the parts already in place for the Falcons.
25.) Miami Dolphins (11-5) Needs: CB, DL, WR, S, OL
Alphonso Smith CB Wake Forest
In a season Hollywood would reject as too unrealistic, Tony Sporano and the Dolphins went from a 1-15 team to a division winning 11-5 playoff team. They did it with an emphasis on the running game, smart quarterback play from a veteran leader, and tough defense.
The Dolphins supplemented their team heavily through free agency last year (I can’t imagine it is hard to convince players to play in a city like Miami). Signing Gibril Wilson certainly boosts the Dolphins at the safety position, but the defensive backfields remains a question mark.
Alphonso Smith is an undersized corner with a swagger and confidence, not to mention outstanding closing speed and big-play potential.
He picked off 15 passes in his last two seasons at Wake and holds the ACC record for career interceptions. Smith is quicker than he is fast, but his ability to close the gap on receivers is uncanny and allows him to make up for what is over over-aggressiveness at times.
This is a bit of a reach for Smith at this point in the draft, but a guy like Peria Jerry doesn’t really fit their 3-4 defense as a nose tackle and Phillip Merling and Kendall Langford (Both drafted ‘08) played well for the Dolphins last year making Tennessee’s Robert Ayers unlikely.
Darius Heyward-Bey could be a darkhorse here and would provide the Dolphins with two lightening fast receivers pairing Heyward-Bey with Ted Ginn Jr.
However, Smith fits a need and is a legitimate first round talent, probably a top 20 pick if he were a few inches taller.
26.) Baltimore Ravens (11-5) Needs: CB, OLB, WR, OL, S
Robert Ayers DE Tennessee
The Ravens would probably prefer to Dolphins to take a player like Jerry or Heyward-Bey so they could pick Alphonso Smith. The Ravens corners are getting older, and they released Chris McAllister this offseason.
Losing Bart Scott to free agency has also thinned the linebacker pool on a defense built around creating pressure. If you can’t create pressure and you struggle to cover, you aren’t going to beat many teams.
Robert Ayers could probably play standing, but with his size could add strength and play end in the Ravens 3-4. He is bit of a late-bloomer, but has an excellent frame and can get better. He is fluid and gets a good initial burst, but doesn’t have a vast array of pass-rush moves.
His versatility is a big plus in a defensive scheme like the Ravens play.
On the flip side, if the Ravens believe Ayers lacks a true position and they still want a pass-rusher, Northern Illinois OLB Larry English would be a good fit as a rush linebacker.
I have him as an early second rounder, but at this point in the first round, it wouldn’t be that big of a stretch. Heyward-Bey would also be a good fit in Baltimore. Even with his speed, he’d have trouble out-running Joe Flacco’s monster arm.
27.) Indiapolis Colts (12-4) Needs: DT, OL, WR, S, TE
Peria Jerry DT Mississippi
Another season and another early playoff exit for the Colts. Peyton Manning may be the greatest regular season quarterback in the history of the NFL, but the bottom line is this team has had the talent to win a handful of rings, not just a fingerful.
To be fair though, Manning brought this team back from the brink of mediocrity last season and lead them to yet another playoff, albeit short, appearance.
Losing Marvin Harrison is certainly a blow, but Harrison was a non-factor most of the season anyway and guys like Anthony Gonzalez really stepped up to help out. Defensive is still this team’s biggest weakness, particularly upfront.
Their ends create tremendous pressure, but the interior is soft. In fact, if any non-Colt fan could name either starting defensive tackle for this defense, I would be shocked.
Peria Jerry is not the force that Raji is, but he is a complete defensive tackle flashing to the ability to both rush the passer and stop the run inside. He may not be a natural pass-rusher, but he uses his hands well to fight off blocks and is intuitive getting to the ball carrier while fighting through traffic.
The Colts do not have many pressing needs, but defensive backfield depth could also be addressed here, as well as offensive line depth. A receiver isn’t out of the question, but Jerry is a great value here and would really help solidify the interior of that Colts defense.
28.) Philadelphia Eagles F/ Carolina Panthers Needs: TE,S,LB,OL
Darrius Heyward-Bey WR Maryland
The Eagles will have an interesting decision to make at this point in the draft. Getting this pick from Carolina, Philly will be in a position to take the best player available, particularly if they get the player they want with their first pick.
If Heyward-Bey falls this far, the Eagles would be wise to take him. Donovan McNabb said his return to the Eagles was in part contingent on getting people around him to help the offense.
Pairing Heyward-Bey with DeSean Jackson would give the Eagles one of the fastest receiving duos in the NFL and would allow them to stretch the field, loosening defenses for Westbrook and potentially Moreno (In this scenario).
Heyward-Bey is lightening fast and possesses an NFL ready body. While DeSean Jackson might be faster, Heyward-Bey has the body and strength to win jump-balls and battle defenses to make tough catches in traffic.
He loses focus at times and will make silly mistakes with drops, but veterans on the Eagles like Kevin Curtis should help him develop sound habits.
If the Eagles go a different direction with their first pick, a running back like Pittsburgh’s LeSean McCoy would make sense with this pick as well. They could also use depth along the offensive line.
Also, while I am not as high on Louis Delmas as others, some have him with a first round grade, and he could help this Eagles team who lost Brian Dawkins to the Broncos in free agency.
29.) New York Giants (12-4) Needs: WR, OL, TE, S
Hakeem Nicks WR North Carolina
The run the 2008 Giants made was actually nearly as spectacular as their Super Bowl run in 2007. Without their best defensive and offensive players respectively, the Giants managed the top seed in the NFC and won arguably the NFL’s toughest division.
However, a first-round loss and some late-season struggles put the Giants needs into focus.
Eli Manning proved he is closer to the Eli Manning from the 2007 regular season than he is the 2007 playoffs, struggling with his consistency and accuracy. Not having Plaxico Burress was a major part of that and getting the Giants a big-time receiver has to be a top priority for the Giants.
Hakeem Nicks is an early entry into this year’s draft, but he was dominant towards the end of the season last year in the ACC, making spectacular catches and big plays. He is a big, strong receiver who isn’t going to run by people, but is physical with the football and can make plays in traffic.
The Giants could do some shuffling up front with the offensive line and a tackle like Arizona’s Eben Britton would be a good fit here. They also lost Derrick Ward to free agency and Brandon Jacobs has had his problems staying healthy, LeSean McCoy could be a darkhorse here.
30.) Tennessee Titans (13-3) Needs: WR, CB, LB, DL, TE
Darius Butler CB Connecticut
The outstanding play of the Tennessee Titans was one of the biggest story lines in the NFL last season, particularly given that it was on the shoulders of one Kerry Collins. Collins is back, with Vince Young determined to prove he is still a franchise quarterback.
The backfield is loaded with talent, but the wide receiver position remains a major question.
The Titans lost Albert Haynesworth, but they still have some strength upfront.
Additionally, the Titans have bigger needs. Cornerback is a major need as Cortland Finnegan is the only above average player at the position on their current roster and the AFC South is too stacked with receivers for that defense to continue to succeed with sub-par corner play.
Darius Butler is one of a few UConn prospects who have been steadily moving up draft boards. He is a better man-to-man defender than zone defender, but as he grows and learns, his awareness should improve.
He has the physical tools you look for with fluid hips, and a second gear to recover if he gets beat. His footwork can improve, but he is an instinctive player who could really help the Titans in a division full of talented receivers like Reggie Wayne and Andre Johnson.
The Titans could use some help on the edges with a pass-rush as well so a player like Northern Illinois Larry English would allow them to either play him at linebacker or see if he can move to end, which seems unlikely in a 4-3.
This could be a spot where a team takes a chance on Georgia Tech’s DE Michael Johnson who has outstanding physical tools, but underperformed for the Yellow Jackets. Also, the Titans could go to the offensive line and take the best center available in California Alex Mack, who would be excellent in their run-based offense.
31.) Arizona Cardinals (9-7) Needs: DE, LB, RB, OL, CB
LeSean McCoy RB Pittsburgh
Perhaps the only surprise greater than the outstanding play of the Tennessee Titans was the dream run the Cardinals went on, coming up just short of a miraculous Super Bowl victory.
Kurt Warner and Larry Fitzgerald were brilliant all year and the defense played inspired football, particularly in the playoffs. We have seen the struggles of Super Bowl losers and the Cards will have to make some upgrades to avoid such a fate.
The Cards passing attack was among the potent in the league last year, finishing second in passing yards. However, the running game was inconsistent and it appears the Cardinals lack an every-down back to grind out yards on a consistent basis.
LeSean McCoy is an ultra-talented junior out of Pitt who could be that player for the Cardinals. McCoy has outstanding balance and is the most nimble back in the top tier of this running back class. He is not a power rusher, but he has great vision and he won’t shy away from contact.
Arizona would love to get a pass-rusher with this pick and Larry English or Michael Johnson could be possibilities here as well. UConn’s RB Donald Brown has leap-frogged McCoy on a number of draft boards and would also be a great fit here.
The Cards would love to get a pass-rusher or running back with this pick. It will likely come down to which player at those two positions the Cards have rated the highest on their board.
32.) Pittsburgh Steelers (12-4) Needs: OL,CB,WR,LB
Eben Britton OT Arizona
I’m not sure people appreciate what the Pittsburgh Steelers did this season by winning the AFC and ultimately the Super Bowl.
Pittsburgh played one of the toughest schedules in history and still managed to win their division, make it through the playoffs and win a Super Bowl, battling injuries all over the field. This is a physical team with talent at every position and no glaring weaknesses.
The only place the Steelers really could use the help is along the offensive line. Keeping your quarterback upright is always a concern for any offense, and the Steelers offensive struggles at times to make blocks.
Eben Britton is an agile, smart player who has the quickness to take edge rushers. He is extremely smart and is not going to kill you with a dumb mistake. He is not really a mauler, but would improve the Steelers pass-protection.
The Steelers could also take the top center in the draft in Alex Mack. Not having a glaring need allows the Steelers to be flexible here although issues at tackle and corner could be addressed with quality players at this pick.