NFL Draft: A Last-Minute First-Round Preview
With the 2009 NFL Draft less than two hours away, the St. Louis Rams are on the clock. Everyone's gaining more information by the minute.
The Patriots, Eagles, Giants and others have a plethora of picks—not to mention inordinate number of players on the trading block—so there should be much to talk about by day's end.
With that in mind, here are the likely selections for today's first round:
No. 1 Detroit Lions: Matthew Stafford, QB, Georgia
Just hours ago, Matthew Stafford officially became a Lion. With more than $41 million invested, the Lions can only hope he's this year's Matt Ryan, as well the new face of their franchise.
The consensus No. 1 pick on most draft boards, Stafford should develop into a very good quarterback in the mold of Packers QB Aaron Rodgers.
No. 2 St. Louis Rams: Jason Smith, OT, Baylor
Although the Rams may be attempting to trade down from the second pick, it seems like will make a decision between the top left tackles in the draft. With both Eugene Monroe and Smith on the board, the Rams decide to go with the better pass protector.
Coming over from the Giants, new head coach Steve Spagnuolo knows what a dominant offensive line can do. With Jason Brown, Jacob Bell and Alex Barron in the fold, the Rams have the means to keep Marc Bulger off the ground and help Steven Jackson to improve upon last season's numbers.
No. 3 Kansas City Chiefs: Mark Sanchez, QB, USC
After trading for Matt Cassel, the Chiefs select Sanchez? It can't be. Well, that's exactly what they do. Scott Pioli knows how wheeling and dealing can improve a team in the long term.
As a result, unless Daniel Snyder changes his personality over the next 12 hours, the Redskins will trade up to this spot, offering their 2009 first-, second-, and third-rounders, and a 2010 second-rounder. Following this deal, Jason Campbell will be on his way out of Washington for a 2009 third-round pick (from the Vikings). If they stay here, the Chiefs select Tyson Jackson for their new 3-4 defense and that sends Sanchez to the #8 pick where the Redskins trade up.
No. 4 Seattle Seahawks: Aaron Curry, LB, Wake Forest
Arguably the most "NFL-ready" player in the draft goes at No. 4 to a team in need of some playmakers. With a very unproven linebacker corps outside of Lofa Tatupu and Leroy Hill, the Seahawks must build their defense for any chance at the playoffs.
Although Michael Crabtree and Eugene Monroe are viable options, Curry is the better choice for next year. With T.J. "Hooz your momma" Houshmandzadeh signed in the offseason and Sean Locklear most likely staying at tackle opposite Walter Jones, Seattle decides to wait to find Jones' replacement and selects a bonafide future 13-year player with its first pick.
No. 5 Cleveland Browns: Michael Crabtree, WR, Texas Tech
With Kellen Winslow traded to Tampa Bay, Donte' Stallworth counting the days until his lockup, Braylon Edwards popping up in every New York Giants rumor, and Joe Jurevicius not making a comeback anytime soon, Cleveland makes the decision to acquire a weapon for its struggling offense.
Whether next year's quarterback is Brady Quinn or Derek Anderson, Crabtree will give the Browns a receiver head and shoulders above any of his peers in this year's draft.
No. 6 Cincinnati Bengals: Andre Smith, OT, Alabama
What better place for a player who has been grabbing the wrong sort of headlines? There is no denying that Smith has top talent and likely will be a solid tackle, if not guard, at the next level. Yet with a very shoddy last few months and a new locker room full of teammates who will likely spend more time in handcuffs than on the field, Smith is going to have to work hard both on and off the field to rebuild his image.
With a new start ahead, I can only hope Smith can let his talent do the talking and make the Bengals look a little sharper next season.
No. 7 Oakland Raiders: Darrius Heyward-Bey, WR, Maryland
Although I toyed with Jeremy Maclin at this spot, Al Davis never fails to take speed and size over talent. Heyward-Bey has the potential to be a top receiver in the NFL, but also the potential to be nothing but a track star getting paid to play football.
Although the better pick for the Raiders would be Eugene Monroe or B.J. Raji, Oakland continues to try to provide weapons for former No. 1 pick JaMarcus Russell.
No. 8 Jacksonville Jaguars: Eugene Monroe, OT, Virginia
With Jacksonville losing much of its offensive line to injury last year, Monroe has to be the choice. The Jags need some protection for David Garrard, and Tra Thomas isn't the long-term solution.
But if the Jags are comfortable with Thomas at left tackle, they will either trade down or turn to B.J. Raji to replace the big body on the defensive line they lost last year in Marcus Stroud.
With Monroe falling to the eighth spot, Jacksonville gets a steal to help Maurice Jones-Drew begin his campaign for the most combined rushing and receiving yardage in the NFL next year. Despite all the Jaguars' needs, don't be surprised to see this pick traded away.
No. 9 Green Bay Packers: B.J. Raji, DT, Boston College
Although the Packers seem to have monumental confidence in Ryan Pickett as their defensive tackle next year, a true nose tackle in their new 3-4 defense would be ideal.
Tyson Jackson or Aaron Maybin could be options to help their pass rush, but grabbing Raji before the Broncos can will allow the Packers to keep their defensive lineman fresh and give their linebackers more room to get to the quarterback.
No. 10 San Francisco 49ers: Aaron Maybin, OLB, Penn State
Needing help next to Pro-Bowler Patrick Willis, San Francisco improves its front seven with the addition of Maybin's pass rushing ability. Although Brian Orakpo will be considered, the debate on whether he will be a defensive end or outside linebacker will likely cause him to drop out of the top 10.
No. 11 Buffalo Bills: Michael Oher, OT, Ole Miss
Trading Jason Peters to the Eagles forces the Bills to search for a new left tackle to protect Trent Edwards' blind side. With Oher left as the last of the top four tackles on the board, Buffalo makes the smart choice and grabs their left tackle of the future.
Somewhere in Buffalo, Edwards will be hoping that Oher is an improvement over Peters and the 11.5 sacks he surrenderd during the 2008 season.
No. 12 Denver Broncos: Tyson Jackson, DE/DT, LSU
With Jackson being the ideal 3-4 defensive end, the Broncos likely will snatch him up after B.J. Raji goes to the Packers. Like Green Bay, Denver will be on the hunt for players to fit their new defensive scheme. Jackson has the ability to be a stalwart end over the next 10-12 years.
He might not be outstanding, but his hustle and grit usually enable him to make plays in the backfield and stop the run—somewhat like Chris Canty of the Giants.
No. 13 Washington Redskins (traded to KC): Brian Cushing, LB, USC
By moving down, the Chiefs are able to land a quality player who will help their new 3-4 defense tremendously. Everette Brown and Clay Matthews also are options, but Cushing has "Patriots way" written all over him.
With Mike Vrabel, Zach Thomas, Derrick Johnson, and Cushing, Kansas City coach Pioli finds a way to mix the veterans in with younger players as he did in New England. Cushing covers better than most linebackers in the draft this year; he can make an impact immediately for the Chiefs.
No. 14 New Orleans Saints: Brian Orakpo, DE, Texas
Charles Grant and Paul Spicer aren't getting any younger, so the Saints get an impact DE to play with Will Smith or replace him if he departs for free agency next year. Orakpo, seen as a possible outside linebacker by some teams, gets to play his more natural position for New Orleans and likely will split time next year with Grant still on the roster.
Malcolm Jenkins would be the ideal pick, but cornerback has been a need for New Orleans in past years, and they didn't draft for need in those first rounds, either.
No. 15 Houston Texans: Rey Maualuga, LB, USC
With the Texans' linebacking corps full of question marks, Houston has no choice but to grab one here. Although Clay Matthews or Robert Ayers could be the choice, Maualuga will join DeMeco Ryans in bringing the pressure that Houston has been searching for as they try to build around Mario Williams.
No. 16 San Diego Chargers: Josh Freeman, QB, Kansas State
Once again. Some may be shocked, but Freeman is selected with the No. 16 pick of the draft. With Philip Rivers already in San Diego, Freeman will be selected by Tampa Bay.
In an effort to keep Freeman from dropping to the New York Jets at No. 19, Tampa stops head coach Rex Ryan from trying to groom Freeman into next year's Joe Flacco and gives up their first-rounder and a third-rounder this year to do it.
Although he will likely sit at the beginning of the year, Freeman, blessed with a gun for an arm, provides the Bucs with a quarterback of the future that Raheem Morris can build around. (If the Jets rather than the Vikings trade for Campbell, this pick goes to Philadelphia or Baltimore. Either team would then trade up to get Jeremy Maclin before the Jets could.)
No. 17 New York Jets: Jeremy Maclin, WR, Missouri
With the Jets needing playmakers at wide receiver, opposite Jerricho Cotchery, they draft Maclin to help them stretch the field. Missing out on Stafford, Sanchez and Freeman, they go after their quarterback via the trade route, either trading for Derek Anderson of the Browns or trying to swing a deal for Jason Campbell, before the Vikings can do the same.
Trading this pick for Brady Quinn is also possible but not likely.
No. 18 Denver Broncos: Larry English, OLB/DE, Northern Illinois
The Broncos likely will trade out of this spot if they get a call from a team looking to draft Knowshon Moreno or Brandon Pettigrew ahead of the Eagles. Yet after picking Tyson Jackson with their first pick, Denver takes English to add more pass rushing ability to a team in dire need of it.
With coach Josh McDaniels preaching defense this past week, he's made it clear that he wants to build a team with a strong front seven, and does just that with his first two picks. This may be a bit of a reach, but there always seems to be a reach or two in the second half of the first round.
No. 19 Tampa Bay Buccaneers (traded to SD): Ziggy Hood, DL, Missouri
With San Diego needing a replacement for Igor Olshansky on the defensive line and a young playmaker next to Jamal Williams and Luis Castillo, the Chargers grab Ziggy to bolster a defense that hopes to return to 2007 form with Shawne Merriman back in the fold.
If the Buccaneers stand pat and don't make the trade for Freeman, Robert Ayers is almost automatically the choice to increase the pass rush opposite Gaines Adams.
No. 20 Detroit Lions: Knowshon Moreno, RB, Georgia
Yes, Kevin Smith played very well as a rookie last year. That is precisely the reason why Detroit will be trading Moreno to the Arizona Cardinals. With Edgerrin James on his way out of Arizona sooner rather than later, the Cards have been searching for running back to compliment Tim Hightower.
With Moreno, the Cardinals will get an all-around back to rely on before Hightower takes charge at the goal line and becomes a fantasy football touchdown vulture.
With the Eagles choosing next, teams will likely line up to stop them from grabbing Moreno or Pettigrew. The Lions can expect many calls during their 10 minutes on the clock. As a result, Detroit gets the Cardinals' second- and fifth-round picks this year.
No. 21 Philadelphia Eagles: Malcolm Jenkins CB/S Ohio State
I know most Eagles fans will be hoping for a wide receiver at this pick, but once they recall who their coach is they will understand the choice. Jenkins is the choice for an Eagles defense that has already proven to be dangerous last year.
Although Pettigrew might be an option with this pick, I have an overwhelming feeling that the Eagles will acquire a tight end by trade—likely Tony Sheffler from the Broncos for a second-round pick.
No. 22 Minnesota Vikings: Eben Britton, OT, Arizona
The Vikings desperately need an upgrade at offensive tackle, and Britton is the perfect choice. With the versatility to play both tackle positions, the Arizona product gives the Vikings a young player to build upon.
With Bryant McKinnie turning 30 and Ryan Cook not the best option at RT, Britton gives Sage Rosenfels or Jason Campbell a chance to stand up for the entire season, while also providing Adrian Peterson a long-term friend if Britton can become a better run blocker in the future.
No. 23 New England Patriots: Connor Barwin, OLB/DE/TE, Cincinnati
Although Barwin could drop to the Patriots' first pick in the second round, they decide not to take that chance and select him to replace the recently departed Mike Vrabel.
With Jason Taylor still on the market, the Pats can still attempt to sign him and draft the versatile offensive lineman Max Unger at this spot, but Barwin is the choice otherwise.
No. 24 Atlanta Falcons: Peria Jerry, DT, Ole Miss
After acquiring Tony Gonzalez and addressing the offensive side of the ball last year, the Falcons focus on defense. Passing on Glen Dorsey last year for Matt Ryan turned out to be pretty beneficial for the Falcons, but they still need a big presence on their defensive line.
Jerry allows coach Mike Smith to begin building a defensive powerhouse the way he did in Jacksonville. With the ability to play in the 4-3 or 3-4 alike, Jerry gives Atlanta the option of continuing the hybrid scheme they began last year.
No. 25 Miami Dolphins: Vontae Davis, CB, Illinois
With excellent physical traits and the talent to match, Davis will provide Miami with a replacement for Andre Goodman, who signed with the Broncos during the offseason. With only Will Allen entrenched as a starter at corner, Davis can be an impact player if he stays disciplined.
No. 26 Baltimore Ravens: Clay Matthews, LB, USC
The last of the three USC linebackers, Matthews is chosen at the 26th spot. He follows in his father's footsteps—the elder Matthews was selected in the first round more than 30 years ago. Yet Matthews will not be on his way to Baltimore.
Instead, he will be on his way to Arizona for Anquan Boldin. The closer it has gotten to draft day, the more Boldin has appeared in trade rumors. With Derrick Mason getting older by the minute, Boldin steps in and provides Joe Flacco with the offensive help he needs.
As Boldin heads to Baltimore, Arizona acquires Matthews along with a third- and sixth-round pick this year.
No. 27 Indianapolis Colts: Jarron Gilbert, DL, San Jose St.
Although Gilbert is somewhat undersized for a defensive tackle, the Colts are completely happy with their selection. Known for quicker but lighter defensive linemen, the Colts plug Gilbert into a line that has been desperately seeking stability at their defensive tackle position since the team's Super Bowl run a few years ago.
No. 28 Buffalo Bills: Robert Ayers, DE, Tennessee
Although Ayers could easily be selected by the Bills at No. 11, Buffalo realizes that few teams need a 4-3 defensive end and capitalize upon their situation. Ayers provides the Bills with someone they hope can wreak havoc opposite Aaron Schobel and take away more double-teams from Marcus Stroud.
If Ayers is selected at No. 11, either Brandon Pettigrew or William Beatty could be the selection here.
No. 29 New York Giants: Brandon Pettigrew, TE, Oklahoma State
After toying with the option of drafting a wide receiver at this spot, the Giants realize that Hakeem Nicks, Kenny Britt and Brian Robiskie are still on the board. With the possible options of trading for Braylon Edwards either for a first-rounder or for second- and fifth-round picks, the Giants realize that Pettigrew would be a great addition no matter what they do.
An offense focused on the running game allows Pettigrew and Kevin Boss to form a dynamic duo at the tight end position that will help the Giants offense no matter what wide receiver they acquire throughout the rest of the draft.
The Giants' draft history also adds to the possibility of a defensive player being selected, such as Ohio State linebacker James Laurinaitis. The Giants also could decide to trade up in the second round to acquire the receiver they desire, if they don't swing a deal for Edwards.
No. 30 Tennessee Titans: Kenny Britt, WR, Rutgers
Despite needing someone to replace Nick Harper eventually at cornerback across from Cortland Finnegan, the Titans select Britt. By pursuing Anquan Boldin this past week, the Titans have shown that they are still looking for another threat to help their passing game.
With great size, Britt is selected to give Kerry Collins another threat in the red zone.
No. 31 Arizona Cardinals (traded to Detroit): William Beatty OT, Connecticut
With Detroit drafting Matt Stafford with their first pick, the Lions need someone to keep him off the ground. While still moving down and acquiring more picks, the Lions draft an offensive tackle, similar to Falcons offensive tackle Sam Baker.
Pulling a page out of the Falcons 2008 draft book, the Lions are hopeful that Beatty and Stafford can be the beginning of a rejuvenation in Detroit.
No. 32 Pittsburgh Steelers: Alex Mack, OL, Cal
The returning Super Bowl champs are likely looking for offensive line help and consequently they decide to chose Alex Mack over Max Unger. Although Unger offers greater versatility, Mack has proven to have a mean streak.
With the Steelers always looking to find tough players both on offense and defense, Mack is ultimately the choice. Although trading down is still a possibility, Mack is the plausible choice.
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