Chiefs Have Inside Track on No. 1 Pick
Barring an unexpected turnaround, Cincinnati (0-6) and Kansas City (1-4) will be vying for the only good thing that comes with having the NFL's worst record. Detroit (0-6), Oakland (1-4) and St. Louis (1-4) are in contention as well (Houston and Seattle also have one win but I'm more bullish about their long-term prospects).
At this time last year, I pegged the three teams (Miami, St. Louis and Atlanta) that would finish in the NFL basement. My other projected bottom-feeders drafted No. 6 (New York Jets) and No. 9 (Cincinnati) respectively.
Here's my prediction for the bottom five squads in 2008 and which players they will choose in the first round.
NOTE: I've only included senior college prospects. The draft's entire complexion will change once underclassmen declare themselves eligible. Expect a slew of talented juniors and third-year sophomores to turn pro because the NFL will be pushing for a rookie salary cap in the new Collective Bargaining Agreement. Such a system could be implemented by 2010 if the league can reach early agreement on a CBA extension with the NFL Players Association.
1. KANSAS CITY (1-4)
Remaining strength of schedule: 32-29 (.525 winning percentage). None of Kansas City's next six opponents has a losing record.
Reason for optimism: Chiefs coach Herm Edwards is known as a great motivator, which means he should at least get inspired play out of a roster featuring 33 players with three years or less of NFL experience. Quarterback Brodie Croyle (shoulder) is expected to return Sunday against Tennessee after missing the past four games.
Reason for pessimism: Croyle has lost all seven of his NFL starts and will have even less to work with offensively if his top receiving target -- tight end Tony Gonzalez -- is dealt before the NFL's trade deadline. Kansas City's defensive line is a mess. The Chiefs rank last in the league in sacks (3) and run defense (182.2-yard average).
And the Chiefs select: Louisiana State defensive end Tyson Jackson. The Chiefs need more offensive firepower but there may not be a skill-position player worth selecting in the top five. The 6-foot-5, 291-pound Jackson is an outstanding all-around player who can fill the void created by April's trade of Pro Bowl end Jared Allen to Minnesota. Jackson and Chiefs 2008 first-round pick Glenn Dorsey also were teammates on LSU's national championship team last season.
2. CINCINNATI (0-6)
Remaining strength of schedule: 27-26 (.509 winning percentage). The Bengals play six of their final 10 games at home.
Reason for optimism: Quarterback Carson Palmer (elbow) hasn't been ruled out for the season -- yet. The Bengals hope that further rest will correct the problem rather than season-ending "Tommy John" ligament replacement surgery.
Reason for pessimism: An offense that struggled when Palmer was healthy is even worse under backup Ryan Fitzpatrick. "We're pretty much inept," coordinator Bob Bratkowski told the Cincinnati Enquirer after Sunday's 26-14 road loss to the New York Jets. That ineptitude is proving too much for an average defense to overcome.
And the Bengals select: Georgia Tech defensive end Michael Johnson. Consistent pass rush is a long-standing problem in Cincinnati. In the past 15 seasons, Robert Geathers (2006) is the only Bengals defender to notch double-digit sacks. Cincinnati also has the NFL's second-lowest sack total (5) this season. Jackson would be a better fit for the Bengals because of his run-defense skills, but the 6-foot-7, 260-pound Johnson may have more upside. A backup his first three college seasons, Johnson is making impact plays (3 sacks, 8 tackles for losses and 4 passes defensed) halfway through his senior campaign.
3. DETROIT (0-5)
Remaining strength of schedule: 36-27 (.571 winning percentage). As it stands, the only team with a losing record remaining on Detroit's schedule is Houston (1-4). The Lions travel to play the Texans on Sunday.
Reason for optimism: After being outscored 38-0 in the first quarter of their previous four games, the Lions had a more inspired effort in last Sunday's 12-10 loss at Minnesota. The final 11 games should give Detroit the chance to evaluate whether 2007 second-round pick Drew Stanton is a long-term answer at quarterback.
Reason for pessimism: There are plenty from the NFL's 32nd-ranked defense and impotent offense. Rod Marinellli's apparent lame-duck status as head coach hurts as well.
And the Lions select: Mississippi left tackle Michael Oher. Jeff Backus has started all 117 games since being selected in 2001 but isn't a dominating left tackle. The 6-foot-6, 322-pound Oher has that potential. He should draw consideration as the draft's top overall pick no matter which underclassmen are available. Paired with 2008 first-round pick Gosder Cherilus, the Lions would have the promising young bookends that Detroit sorely lacked during the Marinelli era.
4. OAKLAND (1-4)
Remaining strength of schedule: 31-29 (.517 winning percentage). The Raiders have four upcoming games against teams with losing records, including Kansas City (Nov. 30) and Houston (Dec. 21).
Reason for optimism: While currently underachieving, a roster with as much talent as the Raiders have can be dangerous. Despite a horrible outing in last Sunday's 34-3 loss to New Orleans, quarterback JaMarcus Russell should improve as he gains more experience.
Reason for pessimism: Tom Cable's debut as Raiders interim head coach against the Saints was a disaster. The defense is the team's biggest disappointment. Defensive tackle Tommy Kelly and cornerback DeAngelo Hall haven't lived up to the big-money contracts they signed in the offseason.
And the Raiders select: Virginia left tackle Eugene Monroe. Current starter Kwame Harris isn't the long-term answer protecting quarterback JaMarcus Russell's blindside. The athletic Monroe has played brilliantly since replacing D'Brickashaw Ferguson at Virginia. That being said, the Raiders have more pressing needs at wide receiver and along the defensive line. Either spot could be addressed in the first round if the right underclassman enters the draft early.
5. ST. LOUIS (1-4)
Reason for optimism: The Rams pulled off a 19-17 upset of Washington in Jim Haslett's first game as interim head coach. With five more wins, Haslett will be guaranteed a seven-digit salary in 2009 even if he isn't retained as Rams head coach. Expect a tireless effort from Haslett in hopes of keeping the gig.
Reason for pessimism: The Rams have still gotten outscored by a greater margin (102 points) than any other team. After last Sunday's victory, future opponents won't be taking St. Louis lightly like the Redskins did.
And the Rams select: Ohio State linebacker James Laurinaitas. A left tackle or cornerback will be tempting, but the Rams desperately need more big plays from their linebacker corps. Laurinaitas was a likely top 10 selection in last year's draft had he not returned for his senior season. That status hasn't changed for 2009.
This article originally published on FOXSports.com.
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