That time of the year is upon us once again...
NFL Draft weekend.
It may start a couple days earlier and in a new, money-driven format.
But the more things change, the more they stay the same.
Themes like renewed hope for the future and a first look at some team's potential cornerstones continue to make this one of the most intriguing and most watched events in all of sports.
Speculation for respective teams' picks begins even before their seasons end as many see this last weekend in April as the continuation of their rebuilding. Or as another stepping stone in their rise to the summit of a championship run.
Either way, it is always fun to watch as our respective teams, in the midst of basketball and hockey playoffs, send cards up to podiums and break the bank on players who have never lined up across from the very best their sport has to offer.
But, we digress, into one of the biggest sports weekends of the years, with nothing but our remotes and our love of football to guide us...
Despite a worst case scenario coming to fruition, Sam Bradford will be the first pick in the 2010 Draft.
After a record-setting career at Oklahoma, Bradford could have been one of the top picks in the 2009 Draft, but elected to return to Norman for his senior season.
This proved disastrous following a season-ending shoulder injury against BYU in the first game of 2009.
But Bradford committed himself to rehabilitating and has proven his shoulder to be fully healed. He should have no loss of the impressive arm strength and accuracy that made him the driving force of the Sooners' potent offense since earning the job as a freshman.
The Oklahoma City native will be expected to lead a St. Louis team that won just one game in 2009. But Steve Spagnuolo is an offensive mastermind and if he can continue to build around Steven Jackson and develop young talent like Bradford, the Rams could get back on the road to respectability in 2010.
Draft Needs: Everything
Coming off just the second winless season in NFL history, the Detroit Lions were not much better in 2009, but still managed to scrape together a couple wins, while losing by 10 or fewer points in five of their losses.
The offense shined in a couple games, headlined by rising star wideout Calvin Johnson, steady running back Kevin Smith, and impressive rookies: quarterback Matt Stafford and tight end Brandon Pettigrew.
But head coach Jim Schwartz is a defensive coach who will want to improve on the team's league-worst defense.
Enter defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh, tabbed by many as the "can't-miss" player of the draft. Suh has certainly lived up to this billing, winning nearly every major defensive award in college football and being named a Heisman Trophy finalist.
Blessed with a rare combination of strength and quickness, Suh, along with free agent defensive end and fellow Husker Kyle Vanden Bosch, should make the Lions much more formidable in the trenches this season.
Draft Needs: DL, OL, OLB, Secondary
To call this a time of upheaval for the Pewter Pirates is like calling the Grand Canyon a hole in the ground.
New head coach Raheem Morris lead the Bucs to an 0-7 start on the way to a 3-13 finish; Tampa's worst since 1991.
But rookie quarterback Josh Freeman cemented himself as the starter, leading the Bucs in all three wins, throwing for 10 touchdowns and nearly 2,000 yards in just eight starts.
While Freeman could use a receiver to help with his improvement, Tampa's defense needs playmakers after giving up 365 yards/game in 2009. Oklahoma's Gerald McCoy will look to fill that role.
While overshadowed by fellow defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh, McCoy has been touted by many scouts to be of equal talent, a dynamic force who gathered 14.5 sacks and 33 tackles for loss in three seasons for the Sooners.
Tampa Bay went much younger in 2009 and they will need to continue to develop their young talent to go anywhere in 2010.
Draft Needs: DL, OT, WR, ILB
With the acquisitions of Donovan McNabb, Willie Parker, and Larry Johnson, new coach Mike Shanahan has his offense headed in the right direction, with only one hole to fill: offensive line.
Shanahan should look to bolster a line that gave up 46 sacks and 97 quarterback hits in 2009. But was a big reason for his success in Denver.
As Hollywood taught us, a good quarterback is only as good as the man protecting his blind side. Russell Okung fits that elite tackle status, a two-time All-American and Big 12 Offensive Lineman of the Year. The Fort Bend, Texas native made 47 consecutive starts for the Cowboys, while containing some of the nation's elite defensive studs.
While the Skins are not helped by playing in arguably the NFL's toughest division, Shanahan brings a degree of credibility and success to a franchise starving for a winner.
A new coach, three proven running backs, and a quality zone-blocking scheme may give Landover something fun to watch in the coming seasons.
Draft Needs: OL, ILB, DE, WR/KR
After going 4-12 in their first season, General Manager Scott Pioli and head coach Todd Haley revamped the coaching staff, bringing in former New England coordinators Charlie Weis and Romeo Crennel.
While Weis has been reunited with former pupil quarterback Matt Cassell and has some young talent in running back Jamaal Charles and wideout Dwayne Bowe, Crennel's cupboard is somewhat bare.
Drafting Eric Berry would give Crennel an elite playmaker on defense some scouts compare to Ed Reed. Berry lived up to this billing, picking off 14 passes in three seasons and was recognized with the Thorpe Award in 2009.
Kansas City could use someone of this caliber after giving up 231 passing yards/game and 25 touchdowns through the air last season.
It is worth noting that no safety has been drafted in the top five since 1991, but with the way many have become focal points of their respective defenses (ex. Troy Polamalu, Adrian Wilson, Darren Sharper, etc.), KC would be remiss to pass on a playmaker of Berry's standing.
Draft Needs: OT, TE, C, NT, DB
Seattle comes into draft weekend with two picks in the top 14 and several holes to fill. New coach Pete Carroll will be looking to improve on a 5-11 record in 2009, which saw the Hawks decimated by injuries.
This pick is tough to predict as Carroll has never been in control of his team's draft decisions, but, with Walter Jones' deteriorating health, expect his replacement to be in the form of Oklahoma tackle Trent Williams.
A starter all four years for the Sooners, Williams earned All-American honors his senior season, leading the nation with 102 knockdown blocks. The Longview, Texas native is also versatile, capable of playing either tackle position, and showed his athleticism, running a 4.88 40-yard dash at the combine.
Draft Needs: QB, RB, OL, ILB, S
Cleveland comes into draft weekend with possibly the most holes out of anyone. But new coach Mike Holmgren needs to set the tone with his first pick as the Browns head coach to put Cleveland's disappointing past couple seasons behind them.
After running their top two signal callers out of town, Holmgren picked up his former Seattle backup, Seneca Wallace, and veteran Jake Delhomme. But neither of these is a long-term answer under center.
While it is not his style to take a quarterback early, Clausen fits his system perfectly. Cleveland needs an accurate passer who is not going to turn the ball over and Clausen should be their man with the seventh pick.
While he probably will not play right away, Clausen should benefit from playing behind seasoned veteran Jake Delhomme and throwing to up-and-coming targets in Joshua Cribbs and Mohamed Massaquoi.
Draft Needs: QB, RB, OG, DE, DB, OLB
Once again, Tom Cable will look to ride the sinking USS Black Hole through the maelstrom that has become Al Davis' legacy in Oakland. 2009 was choppy at best for the silver and black as they completed their seventh consecutive losing season, going 5-11 with many questions going forward.
These questions start under center where JaMarcus Russell has been proven unfit as his value has depleted as fast as a pizza left in front of him. Bruce Gradkowski did a serviceable job, but made too many mistakes under pressure and is not a long-term solution.
With Clausen off the board, Davis and Cable will have to wait at least another round to find the next rider on their quarterback carousel, taking stud tackle Bruce Campbell with their first pick.
Campbell rose up the first round with a stellar combine that saw him run a 4.85 40 and bench 225 pounds 34 times.
Still not sure who he will be protecting, but, like his Hollywood counterpart, Campbell will be looking to survive in the land of the weird and demented.
Draft Needs: QB, RB, OL, CB, LB
The run on offensive linemen continues at pick number nine, where Buffalo and new coach Chan Gailey will look to improve on last year's disappointing 6-10 finish.
Many mock drafts have Bulaga going higher, but he will land in the Bills lap here. Bulaga is a great run blocker for a tackle and the Bills strength lies in its ground attack.
The Bills have gone defense with their first pick in recent years and are in need of an elite nose tackle, but Bulaga's outstanding technique and killer instinct are too good to pass up. But expect Buffalo to get the most out of all seven rounds.
Draft Needs: QB, WR, TE, OL, NT, FS
This is a vital draft for coach Jack Del Rio as it may decide whether his tenure in Jacksonville comes to an end. After consecutive losing seasons, a shot in the arm from a playmaker like Spiller could be just what the Jags need to get back on the winning path.
Spiller put up gaudy numbers for the Tigers, including over 7,000 all-purpose yards and 49 total touchdowns in four years. In 2009, he was named a unanimous All-American and college football's top kick returner.
Spiller has both the speed and versatility to make him an excellent compliment to Maurice Jones-Drew in the Jacksonville backfield. As talented a pass catcher, blocker and kick returner as he is a running back, Spiller, a Florida native, should find his return to the Sunshine State a welcome one.
Draft Needs: QB, OG, LB, DB