As NFL scouts tour America's colleges this month, their calendars littered with pro days, the 2010 NFL Draft's top prospects seem to have already sorted themselves out through the moving and shaking of the pre-draft process.
Some of the biggest names—Nebraska's Ndamukong Suh, Oklahoma's Gerald McCoy and Tennessee's Eric Berry— have been atop draft boards from the get-go. Two quarterbacks—Oklahoma's Sam Bradford and Notre Dame's Jimmy Clausen—crept their way steadily up mock drafts by virtue of positional value.
And Maryland tackle Bruce Campbell led a swarm of players who ran, jumped and lifted their way into teams' hearts at the scouting combine in Indianapolis last month.
With the draft's 10th overall pick, the Jacksonville Jaguars are well-placed to add one of this year's top prospects to their roster. For general manager Gene Smith, a firm believer in drafting for skill without being shackled by team needs, it's a menu of talent for his up-and-coming franchise.
What's on that menu, of course, depends on who's taken before the Jaguars go on the clock.
1. St. Louis Rams — QB Sam Bradford (Oklahoma)
As though the predominance of top quarterbacks on playoff teams could be overlooked, there's nothing quite like a quarterback situation involving Marc Bulger, Keith Null, Kyle Boller and the scrap heap of free agency to underscore the Rams' need for a franchise signal-caller.
2. Detroit Lions — OT Russell Okung (Oklahoma State)
Having traded for defensive lineman Corey Williams—and his $38.6 million contract—from the Cleveland Browns, the Lions are free to pursue some security up front for banged-up quarterback Matthew Stafford. Oft-maligned left tackle Jeff Backus could slide in to guard, where he'd be less exposed.
3. Tampa Bay Buccaneers — DT Gerald McCoy (Oklahoma)
One key ingredient in head coach Raheem Morris' favored "Tampa-2" defense is pressure from the four down linemen. Tampa Bay's defensive tackles, though, managed only 3.5 sacks last season. Either McCoy or Suh could give this position a boost, but McCoy's role in college makes him a better fit.
4. Washington Redskins — QB Jimmy Clausen (Notre Dame)
After falling short last year in their pursuits of Jay Cutler and USC's Mark Sanchez, the Redskins aren't in the mood to pass on a top quarterback prospect this April. New head coach Mike Shanahan will likely prefer a fresh start with Clausen to sorting through what ails Jason Campbell.
5. Kansas City Chiefs — DT Ndamukong Suh (Nebraska)
First-rounders Tyson Jackson ('09) and Glenn Dorsey ('08) represent the Chiefs' heavy investment in their defensive front. General manager Scott Pioli's Patriots' defenses, though, featured three first-rounders in the trenches. Suh has ample strength and good technique to be a standout nose tackle.
6. Seattle Seahawks — WR Dez Bryant (Oklahoma State)
Restricted free agent Brandon Marshall left Seattle without receiving a contract offer this past weekend, leaving the Seahawks open to shore up their receiving corps with Bryant—who, surprisingly, is the less-troubled talent of the two. Barring a disastrous showing at his March 25 workout, Bryant remains a top prospect.
7. Cleveland Browns — S Eric Berry (Tennessee)
Perhaps this year's pre-draft favorite for Defensive Rookie of the Year, Berry's combination of physical presence and instinctive ball skills has been likened to that of All-Pro safety Ed Reed. Playing a non-premium position will cause him to drop a bit come April, but not past the Browns.
8. Oakland Raiders, OT Bruce Campbell (Maryland)
Team owner Al Davis' selection of speedster Darrius Heyward-Bey in last year's first round eliminated all doubt that the Raiders draft for pure athleticism. Standing 6'6", weighing 314 pounds, with 36-inch arms, Campbell's 4.8-second time in the combine's 40-yard dash was the cherry on top for Oakland.
9. Buffalo Bills, OT Bryan Bulaga (Iowa)
Asked about his team's quarterback situation, new Bills general manager Buddy Nix quipped, "It's hard to throw when you're lying on your back." In their first season after trading away Pro Bowl left tackle Jason Peters, Buffalo's line allowed 46 sacks. Bulaga might not fix this inexperienced unit himself, but he'd help.
Picking 10th in this scenario, Jacksonville should hardly feel short on options. Clemson running back (and track star) C.J. Spiller, for instance, could add explosiveness to the Jaguars' offense. Hard-hitting Alabama linebacker Rolando McClain could bring some "pop" back into their once-vaunted defense.
In the main, though, three prospects stand out whose talent and positional value merit the financial investment involved in a top-10 pick: defensive ends Derrick Morgan (Georgia Tech) and Jason Pierre-Paul (USF) and Florida cornerback Joe Haden.
Despite leaving college a year early for the NFL Draft, Morgan has three years of experience, two of them as a starter. Technically sound and ultra-productive (12.5 sacks and 18.5 tackles for loss last season), Morgan's 6'3", 266-pound frame and pass-rushing repertoire are ideal for Jacksonville's 4-3 scheme.
Pierre-Paul, by contrast, has just one year as a college starter to recommend him. More than his 6.5 sacks and 16.5 tackles for loss in 2009, NFL teams like the idea of 6'5" and 270 pounds of untapped potential. The Jaguars' signing of Aaron Kampman would buy them time for a developmental prospect.
Lastly, Haden's surprising 4.6-second time in the 40-yard dash last month has temporarily dropped his stock within range of Jacksonville's pick. Touted as a "shutdown" cover corner, he'd be a nice pick-up for the Jaguars, whose 27th-ranked pass defense faces Peyton Manning and Matt Schaub twice every year.
10. Jacksonville Jaguars — CB Joe Haden (Florida)
Even as NFL Network analyst and Hall of Fame cornerback Deion Sanders cringed at Haden's stance for the combine's 40-yard dash, Jacksonville might have been grinning.
The 4.6-second performance that followed disappointed scouts and analysts, some of whom had likened Haden to All-Pro Darrelle Revis ('07) of the New York Jets. Where Haden had been projected as high as Seattle's sixth overall pick, he now seemed headed for a fall.
After all, Ohio State's Malcolm Jenkins took a dive from top-five status to the New Orleans Saints' 14th overall pick last April by running a 4.53, despite similar pre-combine hype.
The Jaguars, happily, went to Indianapolis this February with most of their draft preparations finished, according to general manager Gene Smith. Even as lightning-fast times from several defensive backs (and a few linemen) were unlikely to erase bad game tape, two tenths of a second could hardly put them off Haden's college production.
Recruited by Florida as the nation's third-ranked positionless "athlete," Haden became the Gators' first ever opening-day freshman starter at corner, beginning a three-year career that ended with first-team All-America honors this past season.
Thin on talent in the secondary and faced with a tough divisional schedule of prolific offenses, Jacksonville would be well-served by an upgrade in pass defense. Past Pro Bowler Rashean Mathis, who's missed 12 games in the past three seasons, the Jaguars lack a proven cover corner.
Between Mathis, second-year starter Derek Cox and Haden, their defensive backfield might grow some teeth.