NFL Drafts are Rubik's Cubes, with many twists, turns, possibilities, and variables to consider.
The first round is a Rubik's Cube about to explode.
You may think this team will want to take a certain position, but that team might think they have a bigger need elsewhere. Maybe they do want to fill that need, but not with this pick or on that player.
The result? Trades.
Or the team could reach and take a player nobody thought should go that high. What if a player was supposed to go 10 or 20 picks ago and he just fell in your lap? More trades.
Then there's quarterback roulette. A guy projected to go early could slip, and even though you have Brett Favre, can you really pass on Aaron Rodgers with the 24th pick? How about Jimmy Clausen with the 48th pick, or Philip Rivers with the fourth pick, or Drew Brees at 32, or Ryan Leaf at No. 2? Who will and who should pull the trigger on the quarterbacks this year?
The best we can do is look at players' stock and team needs and guess.
Obviously, a 2-14 team like Carolina is going to have plenty of holes and thus could go in plenty of directions. Cam Newton, A.J. Green, or Patrick Peterson would all be good selections, but their most pressing need is at defensive tackle; the sensationally average combination of Nick Hayden and Derek Landri were the starting defensive tackles in Carolina at the end of last season.
They need their own Suh; their own pillar in the middle of their defense to control the inside and free up Charles Johnson on the outside. And when there is a pretty sure thing coming from the SEC and a Nick Saban-coached team, such as defensive tackle Marcell Dareus, you take him.
Historical Doppelgänger: Jacqueline Kennedy marrying Aristotle Onassis.
The Broncos are switching from the 3-4 to the 4-3 defense this season, but they’re going to need to change more than that. The return of Elvis Dumervil should help them improve their league-worst 23 sacks from last season, but then there is their rush defense, which was second-worst in the league.
They only have 3-4 nose tackles on the roster as of now and need a three-technique defensive tackle who can make plays behind the line of scrimmage, like Auburn’s Nick Fairley, who was basically living in opponent's backfield last season.
They might opt to not take a chance on someone who has shown maturity problems in the pre-draft process, but on paper, Fairley is the perfect selection.
Historical Doppelgänger: Robert Johnson making a deal with the devil at the Crossroads.
Opposing quarters had a 62.2 completion percentage, 28 touchdowns to 11 interceptions, and a 92.6 quarterback rating against Buffalo last season. That was in addition to the Bills having the league’s worst rush defense, which gave up 169.6 yards/game. I might be out on a limb here, but I think they could use some defensive playmakers.
There are concerns in the secondary, so this would also be a good spot for Peterson to land, but with only 27 sacks last season (tied for third-worst in the NFL) the front seven and pass rush are more worrisome.
Von Miller, he of the 27.5 sacks and 39 tackles for loss the past two seasons, would certainly help. Miller can play outside linebacker in either the 4-3 or 3-4 defense, though he is best-suited for the 3-4.
Granted, they're in the same boat as several teams in the top five—considering a quarterback. The top quarterbacks of this draft aren't close to being sure things, however, and Ryan Fitzpatrick has proved to be an adequate stop-gap. Buffalo could take a quarterback and sit him for a year, but Miller would make the more immediate impact.
Historical Doppelgänger: In 1984, the Bills were 2-14 and had plenty of problems, with poor quarterback play and no pass rush (only 26 sacks that season) at the top of the list. There weren't any quarterbacks worth taking though, so with the first overall pick they took a pass rushing defensive end, Bruce Smith. And now you know the rest of the story.
With Terrell Owens on his way out, and possibly Chad Johnson/Ochocinco next, the Bengals will be looking to replenish their receiving corps. Placating an upset Carson Palmer is another reason to pick a receiver; though the way Palmer played last year, the Bengals might want to look at quarterback. This would be another good place for Peterson to land because of his sheer talent.
But in the end, AJ Green is the slightly better match for Cincinnati. Green is 6'3'' with superb ball skills and athleticism. He is the prototypical receiver, arguably the best receiver to come out since Calvin Johnson, and a near-unanimous top five player in this draft. While this might not have been a catch in the pros, it illustrates what Green can do on the field, which is everything you want from a receiver.
Historical Doppelgänger: Discovering plutonium by accident.
Kurt Warner left a crater at the quarterback position when he retired and Larry Fitzgerald hasn't been happy since. Projects John Skelton and Max Hall are just that—projects. It is possible coach Ken Whisenhunt will want to keep working with them and Arizona will go another way (hey, how about that Patrick Peterson guy?), but it is also possible the Cardinals look at their quarterbacks and an unhappy Fitz and realize they need that big-name, big-talent, franchise quarterback.
Enter Cam Newton.
Someone in the top five is going to roll the dice on Cam, with his prodigious talents and his sizable risk. It's looking more likely that he won't make it to the fifth pick, actually. But to me, this is the first team whose greatest need is at quarterback, and the team that would be the best fit for Newton.
Historical Doppelgänger: Happened just last year with Tim Tebow. But this is more like Tebow if he was exposed to gamma radiation and without the messiah undertones.
Cleveland is another team making the switch from the 3-4 to the 4-3 defense and in need of new personnel. At the top of their shopping list should be a quarterback-hunting, havoc-making defensive end. Da'Quan Bowers is an option, but his injury concerns are hurting his draft stock, while helping North Carolina's Robert Quinn.
Cleveland might want to look at Julio Jones to help Colt McCoy and the offense, or that Peterson guy to pair with Joe Haden. But they are in desperate need of a disruptor on defense (only 29 sacks last season) and Quinn is that guy.
Discussed as a potential number one pick before the college football season, Quinn had to sit out all year due to an entanglement with an agent. Despite missing the entire season, he is still almost assuredly going in the top ten because of his elite size and speed.
Historical Doppelgänger: The Manhattan Project.
No, wait, it's just Jim Harbaugh that needs Andrew Luck. Possibly. Probably.
More than likely.
As for the Niners though, they'll probably just take the leftovers of the top six picks, be it Quinn, or for the purposes of this exercise, Patrick Peterson. Peterson should go before this pick based on his talent, but funny/stupid things happen in the draft. If the Niners are sitting there at seven and Peterson is available, even if the secondary isn't the team's biggest need, they have to take him. They have to.
And hey, why get someone to groom now when you are going to do everything in your power to get Andrew Luck next season?
Historical Doppelgänger: The Houston Rockets tanking the 1983 season to draft hometown hero Hakeem Olajuwon.
With Kerry Collins' decaying arm as option B and Vince Young run out of town on a rail, Tennessee finds themselves with Rusty Smith. Now, a Rusty Smith is the name for a blood disorder found mostly in...it's a quarterback? No foolin'? Huh.
Seems obvious what their need is.
Even if the idea of Blaine Gabbert as a top ten pick frightens and confuses me, he's the guy here. By all accounts Gabbert is raw and needs to be coached up, but he should be able to learn. Gabbert only had 16 touchdowns in 13 games last season, but he has the size (6'4''), athleticism (4.62 in the 40-yard dash), and intangibles the NFL looks for in franchise quarterbacks. If he works out with the young team around him, the Titans could grow into something special soon.
Or it could blow up in their face like with Vince Young. Did you hear about this?
Historical Doppelgänger: When Davy Crockett bought his coonskin cap for two bits.
The Cowboys offensive line was not the reason Tony Romo was injured last season, as the fullback missed his assignment, allowing the blitzer to get to Romo.
But the line didn't help matters and is need of youth and talent, and others agree.
Tyron Smith has flown up draft boards as much as anyone during the pre-draft process. Smith possesses the size and athleticism to play either tackle position, and at only 20 years of age, still has a world of growth ahead of him. Adding his blocking in the run and pass game would be a boon to the Cowboys' line.
While they have secondary issues and Prince Amukamara would be a great fit, the Cowboys should hope that Mike Jenkins regains his form, and realize that keeping Romo healthy and productive is job one.
Historical Doppelgänger: Troy building their wall.
Washington's offense was decidedly mediocre last season, placing 18th in yards per game and 25th in points per game. They relied on the valiant but aging Santana Moss, the undrafted 28-year-old Anthony Armstrong, and injury-prone Ryan Torain.
Julio Jones wouldn't fix everything, but he would be a start. Believed by some to be the best receiver in the draft, Jones is another disciple of the Saban system at Alabama. At the combine, he posted a 4.39 40-yard dash, 11'3'' inch broad jump, and a vertical leap of 38.5 inches—all with a broken bone in his foot. He's an adept run blocker as well.
They could opt for a pass rusher to put opposite Brian Orakpo, because their defense did have the occasional off day. But Mike Shanahan is an offensive guy who sees that his team struggled to score points last season (scoring 17 points or less nine times) and will want to change that.
Historical Doppelgänger: Richard Pryor in the "The Toy".
Be it a pass rusher or someone in the secondary, Houston needs to address what was the worst pass defense in football last season. Opposing quarterbacks lit up Houston with a 64.7 completion percentage, 33 touchdowns to 13 interceptions, 268 yards/game, and a 100.5 quarterback rating. On top of that, Houston could only muster 30 sacks.
It wouldn't take long for Houston to select Prince Amukamara if he fell to the eleventh pick. Amukamara has the size (6'0'', 205 lbs.), speed (4.38 forty time) and resume (Big 12 defensive player of the year last year) wanted from a cornerback.
Historical Doppelgänger: Ringo Starr replacing Pete Best.
Where do you start: Secondary, linebackers, defensive line, offensive line...oh, and quarterback.
But who, Jake Locker? Ryan Mallett? Mallett could be available with their second round pick, so why take him now when the team has so many aging or vacant positions to address?
The Vikings most glaring hole right now—outside of the one in the Metrodome—isn't a quarterback to lead them, because where is he going to lead them to, third-place in the NFC North at best? This isn't like the Cardinals filling their biggest hole (and the added benefit of placating their best player) or the Titans needing a young quarterback to go with their young team.
Minnesota is an aging relic that needs a complete overhaul. Take a chance on a quarterback in another round and take the best player available in the first, which in this exercise would still be taking a chance.
The best player available here is Da'Quan Bowers, who started this draft process as a potential number one pick, but might have to have his leg amputated or something now. Injury concerns have Bowers red-flagged by several teams, but other people's concerns rarely bug the Vikings (see Adrian Peterson, Percy Harvin, Tinucci's catering service, etc).
Bowers has the size and athleticism to excel at defensive end if he can stay healthy, which is apparently a big if.
Historical Doppelgänger: The end of the Russian Revolution.
If Prince Amukamara fell to this pick, the Detroit war room would be ecstatic. The Lions' castoff secondary is what they want to address first, but that's not going to happen. So they turn to their 1A need: keeping Matthew Stafford upright.
The best offensive linemen available is Mike Pouncey from Florida. Pouncey could replace the aging Dominic Raiola at center or either of the Lions' replacement-level guards, though he can't play tackle—which might be the Lions' biggest problem along the line.
Detroit could reach for one of the available offensive tackles or cross their fingers and hope Tyron Smith falls to them. Either way, to continually improve as a team the Lions have to keep Stafford healthy and Pouncey is the best available guy to do that.
Historical Doppelgänger: The invention of the secret service.
The most memorable play of the Rams/Seahawks de facto playoff game was Danario Alexander getting open deep, Sam Bradford dropping a perfectly thrown football in his basket 50 yards downfield, and Alexander letting the ball go through his arms.
The Rams need a receiver.
But after Green and Jones, the next best receiver in this draft is Torrey Smith of Maryland, a fringe first-round pick. Like some other teams, St. Louis is going to have to either trade up or wait to address their biggest need.
So in this first round projection, coach Steve Spagnuolo will look to add depth to his defensive line and find an eventual replacement for 34-year-old James Hall. Hall had 10.5 sacks last season, but that was only the second time in his 12-year career he's had more than 6.5 sacks in a season.
J.J. Watt is a potential top 10 pick who can play either inside or outside in the 4-3 and would be a good addition to Spagnuolo's stable of pass-rushers.
Historical Doppelgänger: Buzz Aldrin walking on the moon.
Ronnie Brown and Ricky Williams are both free agents, leaving a team that loves to run the ball without a running back.
Mark Ingram is a running back.
It's meant to be.
Historical Doppelgänger: Steve Jobs returning to Apple.
The Jaguars couldn't stop anyone from passing on them last season. They gave up a 65 percent completion percentage, 28 touchdowns to 13 interceptions, 250 yards/game, and a 98.5 quarterback rating. Much like Houston, they'll take whoever is there to help them stop the pass.
Jacksonville would probably prefer to get a player in the secondary, but considering that there isn't a secondary player worth the 16th pick and that they only managed 26 sacks last season, they'll gladly take defensive end Cameron Jordan.
Jordan doesn't project to be a game-changer like Robert Quinn, but he does project to be a solid starter for years, much like his former California teammate Tyson Alualu, the Jaguars first round selection last year.
Historical Doppelgänger: Grover Cleveland's second inauguration.
"In this world nothing can said to be certain, except death and taxes and the New England Patriots trading away their first round pick." ~ Ben Franklin
Especially if New England has another pick in the first round. Which team will Belichick fleece this year? Will this finally be the time he moves up in the draft?
But if they keep the pick, the Patriots really only need a pass rusher. The past couple years, Belichick has loaded the team with good, young talent at nearly every position, but he still hasn't found his Willie McGinest; his sack machine.
Ryan Kerrigan is one of the pass rusher available and a perfect fit for outside linebacker in a 3-4. With at least seven sacks in all four of his years at Purdue, and 11 and 12.5 in his last two seasons, Kerrigan is the productive, high-motor, high-IQ player coaches, and especially Belichick, love to work with. If Mark Ingram is available here, he would also be an option for the cagey Patriots coach.
Historical Doppelgänger: J.P. Morgan during the Great Depression.
What do the Chargers need?
For the season to start in October?
They were first in the NFL in total offense and total defense. General manager A.J. Smith has been one of the best drafters of the past decade and has the Chargers in a good position going forward. It's hard to get a read on what they need or will do.
Push comes to shove, their biggest need is probably at nose tackle—even though the team finished as the fourth-best run defense last season. Antonio Garay had a good season last season, but he is a 31-year-old journeymen.
334-pound Phil Taylor is by far the best 3-4 nose tackle in the draft and would be only a slight reach at the 18th pick. He would be an impeccable fit in the middle of San Diego's defense, despite some medical concerns.
Historical Doppelgänger: The seconds before Geraldo opened Al Capone's vault.
The Giants probably won't pick a linebacker, as they usually pick a defensive linemen in the first round. But their defensive line really isn't a "need," per se. Many have tabbed New York to pick an offensive linemen as well, but their offensive line only gave up 16 sacks last season, in addition to having a top-six running game.
Keith Bullock sticks out like a sore thumb when looking at their depth chart. The former Titan Bullock didn't have an especially strong season last year for the Giants with only 31 tackles in 13 games.
Akeem Ayers played outside linebacker in UCLA's 4-3 defense last season, though some believe he is better suited to play in a 3-4 defense. However, he is the only outside linebacker who could play in the 4-3 and is worthy of a first-round selection. He would be a slight reach at the 19th pick, but he would be a great fit for the Giants.
Historical Doppelgänger: Al Gore winning the 2000 Presidential Election.
Tampa Bay is young and precocious. Precocious.
They have their quarterback, their interior defensive line, secondary, wide receivers, and linebackers set for a couple years now. They could probably use another offensive linemen, but since they tied for the second-least sacks in the league with 26 last season, it stands to reason they will be looking at a defensive end who can get to the quarterback.
Aldon Smith's stock has been rising for some time now, largely because of his impressive athleticism. With great speed and a large frame, Smith has all the weapons a great defensive end needs to be successful. Now he just needs to learn how to use those weapons.
Historical Doppelgänger: Spider-Man being bit by the spider.
Tony Moeaki is a good, young tight end; Dexter McCluster is a good, young slot receiver; and Jamaal Charles is a preternatural, out of this world running back. But the Chiefs offense has a tendency to get stagnant and sluggish, and another receiver would help them tremendously, easing Dwayne Bowe's workload.
Bowe caught a little under a third of the Chiefs passes last season (72 receptions out of 274 completions). He caught over half of their touchdowns (15 out of 27). The Chiefs are mainly a running team, but you can't win being a one-dimensional team. At some point, Kansas City is going to have to open up the offense and they are going to have to lessen the burden on Bowe.
Kansas City might opt to pick an offensive linemen here, as you can really never be wrong picking an offensive linemen (unless, of course, you're wrong). But it would be a better idea to add another playmaker for Matt Cassell and the offense, such as Maryland's Torrey Smith, a blazing deep threat, or Pittsburgh's Jon Baldwin, an athletic, big receiver much like Bowe.
Though, at this position in the draft, a receiver would be a stretch.
Historical Doppelgänger: Doc Holliday joining the Earps before the gunfight at the O.K. Corral.
Indianapolis could use a defensive tackle or linebacker, but you know what they'll do when it comes time to pick: Help Peyton Manning.
The Colts have been searching for a left tackle ever since Tarik Glenn retired almost four years ago, and they've yet to find a replacement. Colorado's Nate Solder, an ex-tight end, is the ideal blend of size and athleticism Indianapolis wants from their linemen. At 6'8'', 315 lbs., Solder is a finesse blocker who is light on his feet and can pull block with ease. He is still learning the position, but he should be a very good left tackle with time.
You could see them selecting a wide receiver too, since that would also help Manning.
Historical Doppelgänger: Subway hiring Jared as a spokesman.
Nearly everyone has the Eagles picking a secondary player here because of Ellis Hobbs' retirement, but I keep thinking of Winston Justice being tortured by Clay Matthews and subsequently benched in their playoff game. Philadelphia needs to protect Michael Vick at all costs because he is so valuable, and fragile, which is why I think they should pick a lineman.
Gabe Carimi is the stereotypical big Wisconsin offensive tackle (6'7'', 315 lbs.) who excels at run blocking. He replaced Joe Thomas as Wisconsin's left tackle, but he could be an able substitute for Justice on the right side of Philly's line.
Historical Doppelgänger: The Atlanta Falcons selecting Sam Baker to protect Matt Ryan, not Michael Vick. Because they had to give up Vick. Because of that whole dogfighting thing. Did you hear about this?
The Saints added Shaun Rogers to pair with Sedrick Ellis on the inside of their defensive line, but they still have to find another defensive end to bookend with Will Smith. Luckily for them, this is the draft to do that. The 2011 draft is loaded with defensive ends worthy of first-round picks. The order in which they're drafted will come down to which teams like which defensive ends, though.
Adrian Clayborn of Iowa might be gone by this pick or New Orleans might pass on him for another defensive end if he is available. But the former potential top 10 pick would be a great addition to New Orleans with his blend of size, speed, instincts, and motor. Clayborn won't have many flashy statistical seasons, but he will always be a solid all-around player.
Historical Doppelgänger: Rocky beating All the Presiden'ts Men, Taxi Driver, and Network for the Oscar in 1976.
Lawyer Milloy played for Seattle last season. Often. That needs to be changed.
Seattle's secondary wasn't good last season, giving up 249.6 yards/game, 27th best in the NFL, with the 37-year-old Milloy playing a big part in that. Unfortunately, there aren't too many safeties graded out as first round picks or even fringe first round picks. The best is probably Aaron Williams, a corner who will probably convert to safety in the NFL. UCLA's Rahim Moore is another possibility. It's a bit of a pickle for Seattle here.
Lawyer Milloy...still playing. Will wonders never cease?
Historical Doppelgänger: The renovation of the Statue of Liberty.
3rd and 19. That can't happen again.
The best cornerback available is Jimmy Smith of Colorado. With some off-field issues, it's been hard to gauge how interested teams are in him, with his stock ranging from top-15 to mid-rounds pick. Nobody doubts his talent though, as Smith runs a mid-4.4 40-yard dash at 6'2'' and 210 pounds.
Because of a lack of production in college (only three interceptions in four years), some have tagged him as a workout warrior. But with Ed Reed and Ray Lewis as leaders of their locker room, one could expect the Ravens to take a chance on Smith's vast talents and fill their—by far—biggest void.
Historical Doppelgänger: The first Thanksgiving.
31/36, 366 yards, 3 touchdowns; Aaron Rodgers' box score in the Falcons playoff game. The stats don't even do the slaying justice.
Atlanta's secondary is young and improving, and injuries did hurt them that game. So while they could look for a secondary player here, their defensive line is probably where they should be looking, as the Falcons could only get five quarterback hits against Rodgers.
Defensive end John Abraham isn't getting younger, so they could look for a defensive end. However, 2009 first round pick Peria Jerry has not panned out as hoped, so Corey Liuget would be a good choice to pair with Jonathan Babineaux. At 6'2'', 300 pounds, Liuget has the size and ability to collapse the pocket and disrupt the backfield. While he could be a one-year wonder, Liuget looks like someone who has only scratched the surface of his potential.
Historical Doppelgänger: John Henry versus the steam hammer.
You know the drill. Let's say Brooks Reed out of Arizona.
Historical Doppelgänger: A ticker-tape parade.
The Bears gave up a league-worst 56 sacks last season and got Jay Cutler knocked out of a couple games, including the NFC championship. Solving that has to be priority number one.
The end of the first round is going to see a handful of offensive tackles come off the board, but Anthony Castonzo, Carimi, and Solder might be interchangeable. Like with the defensive ends, it's going to come down to which team prefers which offensive tackle.
Castonzo was a four-year starter at Boston College and two-time first team all-ACC. He is a solid, polished, big offensive tackle who will compete for a starting job and could very well be the first offensive tackle taken in the draft.
Potential and fit is in the eye of the beholder.
Historical Doppelgänger: Tyson-Berbick TKO.
The Jets 40 sacks last season were tied for eighth in the NFL, but that is a slight misnomer; team leader Bryan Thomas had only six sacks. Coach Rex Ryan has done a magnificent job manufacturing a pass rush, but eventually he is going to need a guy who can get there by himself.
He's going to need his own Terrell Suggs, or what Vernon Gholston was supposed to be.
Justin Houston is a large, explosive athlete who would look good coming off the edge. In the SEC last season, only Nick Fairley had more sacks and tackles for loss than Houston. He is a raw athlete who will need to be coached up, but Ryan and the Jets defense can do that as well as anyone.
Historical Doppelgänger: The song Mambo No. 5.
The same thing it's been for a couple years now: stop letting Ben get killed back there.
While Roethlisberger deserves some criticism for holding onto the ball and not giving up on more plays, the Steelers' line is still a sore spot for the team and something that needs to be addressed. Derek Sherrod and Danny Watkins are both in consideration here, as they both have the flexibility to play multiple positions along the line. Villanova's Ben Ijalana is another option.
In terms of needs, Pittsburgh's secondary is a close second and they could use Miami's Brandon Harris. But, just as they drafted Maurkice Pouncey in the first round last season, the Steelers should address their offensive line and better protect their franchise quarterback.
Historical Doppelgänger: My same line of thinking with Dallas, Detroit, Indianapolis, Philadelphia, and Chicago.
How loaded are these guys? How many starters did they have on IR last season, 38? Jermichael Finley only caught a pass in four games. Nick Barnett played in only four games. Charles Woodson missed the second half of the Super Bowl.
Green Bay still won it all.
And they're young! Everywhere, they're so young.
I dunno...probably some defensive linemen. Potential top 20 picks like Muhammad Wilkerson or Cameron Heyward are still available here. And how many Camerons are in this draft? That's now like...three. Maybe they look for a safety, though they'll probably just move Woodson to safety so he can tack two more years onto his career.
Either way, the rich are just going to get richer.
Historical Doppelgänger: 1992 Dallas Cowboys
Let the old man be.
Historical Doppelgänger: Howard Hughes. Oh and they'll probably take somebody with a good 40 time. Probably.