As Super Bowl Weekend is upon us, we all wait to see which team can make the final push to complete a storybook season. In one corner lies a juggernaut: The New England Patriots.
A well-documented saga stretching from "Bill's cameras" to "Brady's Boot." From "Randy's Resurrection," to the infamous grey hoody.
In the other corner stands the New York Giants. The road warriors, riding the coattails of a coach and quarterback who very few thought could lead them to the promised land.
For the remaining 30 franchises, the offseason has already begun as teams plan ahead for a run at the big one in 2009. In this installment I take my first stab at which collegiate stars you might expect to see donning your favorite team's colors come draft day.
This column does not take into account the unpredictability that is the first round of the NFL draft. With rumors circulating every day, the biggest being Darren McFadden to the Dallas Cowboys with the first pick, we will take the current draft order; speculating based on team needs as well as overall talent to see which household names as well as future stars could end up where.
1. Miami Dolphins - Chris Long, DE - Virginia
Rumors are already running rampant about the Tuna trading down, with Bill Parcells at the helm you can trust the Dolphins will be looking to build a strong core for the future. As appealing as a Darren McFadden or Matt Ryan will be, Miami should look to build around what the parts they already have in place. This pick should come down to a toss-up between Long and LSU's Glenn Dorsey. With Jason Taylor's time running short as well as seeing more looks at linebacker, Long figures to fit perfectly as an end in the Dolphins 3-4 scheme.
2. St. Louis Rams - Glenn Dorsey, DT - LSU
As age begins to catch up to the Rams, there are a wide number of holes being left in their personnel. Although the interior line might not be the biggest need for St. Louis, the opportunity to secure the top talent on the defensive side of the ball could be too much of an opportunity to pass up. Paired with Laroi Glover in the middle, this tandem could create fits for opposing fronts. With the aging and oft-injured Orlando Pace a question mark at offensive tackle, the Rams could reach for Michigan standout Jake Long here.
3. Atlanta Falcons - Matt Ryan, QB - Boston College
The state of this franchise could not have turned any quicker, from Mike Vick to Bobby Petrino to the overall discontent in the Atlanta locker room throughout the season. This franchise needs a star to become the face of a recovering franchise. That being said the Falcons should give Jerious Norwood his shot to prove himself as opposed to using this pick on McFadden. Ryan makes sense here as a safe pick as someone without off-the-chart physical talents, but the mind to control games in a cool, collected manner. Despite expected initial struggles in his rookie season, he could develop into the star the Falcons need to turn them around.
4. Oakland Raiders - Darren McFadden, RB - Arkansas
The top talent in this year's draft class comes off the board with the fourth overall pick. Does anyone really think Al Davis will have a problem cutting ties with budding star Justin Fargas to bring in the physical specimen who could dominate games a la Adrian Peterson? Back-to-back runner-up finishes in Heisman voting, while playing in the nation's toughest conference are notable achievements on McFadden's resume. His above average size to go along with 4.4 speed give McFadden the potential to give opposing coordinators headaches for years to come.
5. Kansas City Chiefs - Jake Long, OT - Michigan
Just three years ago the Chiefs offensive front was the envy of the other 31 franchises, while helping spring Priest Holmes to a then-record 27 touchdowns. Retirement and free agency have since decimated this unit. While playing the right side at Michigan, Long continuously dominated opponents with his 6'7 300-plus pound build. Long could immediately step in and shore up one side of the Chiefs line, with the potential to have an impact that could remind many of Joe Thomas' rookie season. If Ryan falls to them here the Chiefs could take a strong look at cutting the cord on the Brodie Croyle experiment.
6. New York Jets - Vernon Gholston, DE - Ohio State
A little-known entity before the season, Gholston improved game-in and game-out before capping an outstanding season by outplaying Jake Long in Ohio State's dominance of Michigan. The Jets have struggled to get to the passer in the past few seasons since the loss of John Abraham. Gholstons tools and raw talent could turn a weakness into a strength for the Jets and help them to field a strong defense in the '08 season.
7. New England Patriots - Aqib Talib, CB - Kansas
And your reward for quite possibly the best season in NFL history and being stripped of your first round pick: Grab on to San Francisco's rights to a top-10 pick. With the possibility of shutdown corner Asante Samuel fleeing the Belichick regime to the highest bidder, a gaping hole could be left in the secondary. Talib starred for the Cinderella Jayhawks, with 66 tackles to go along with six interceptions, none bigger than his highlight reel pick-six on the national stage in the Orange Bowl. Talib possesses 4.5 speed with a 6'2 frame that give him the physical abilities to make an impact in his rookie season.
8. Baltimore Ravens - Brian Brohm, QB - Louisville
Brohm was considered the top QB prospect early this season, he was likely to be the the first QB off the board while Petrino still presided over the Falcons. Although his value has slipped throughout the year, the Ravens (who boast Trent Dilfer as their only successful quarterback since fleeing Cleveland) will probably have to stretch here to bring in another signal-caller. If Talib gets past the Patriots the Ravens could take a serious look at him as well as USF's Mike Jenkins to apprentice under the aging Chris McAllister and Samari Rolle.
9. Cincinnati Bengals - Keith Rivers, LB - USC
Cincinnati's offense regressed this past season. Before hitting the panic button the Bengals will address one of the worst defenses in the league. This pick should come down to a battle between two Trojan defenders. Sedrick Ellis has been climbing up draft boards, but I think the Bengals go for Rivers here. A linebacker with the speed and intensity to play sideline to sideline comparable to recent top-10 pick Ernie Sims.
10. New Orleans Saints - Dan Connor, LB - Penn State
Like Brohm, Connor's stock has fallen recently. The Saints will probably have their cross-hairs locked on Rivers if he is still on the board, but with a weak line backing corps, the Saints may be looking to make this stretch. Penn State is notoriously good for producing players from the position and Connor should be able to fit into any NFL defense. The struggling Saints secondary could have them taking a long look at Mike Jenkins as well.
11. Buffalo Bills - Malcolm Kelly, WR - Oklahoma
With a draft class full of talented wide receivers, there is no clear-cut number one. Buffalo would love to add a strong complement opposite Lee Evans, and Kelly fits that mold. A strong possession receiver who quickly developed into Sam Bradford's favorite target for the Sooners, Kelly utilizes the strong route running of a possession receiver that could take the pressure off deep threat Lee Evans, as well as give the Bills quarterback of choice another target in 2008.
12. Denver Broncos - Sedrick Ellis, DT - USC
The Broncos D took a 180 degree turn this past season, going from a feared unit to a defense often shredded by the opponents' running game. Despite adding Dre Bly to form arguably the league's best corner tandem, the front line of the Broncos needs immediate help. Despite being slightly undersized at 6-1 Ellis has the talent to disrupt offenses as evidenced by his 58 tackles and 8.5 sacks in his senior season under Pete Carroll.
13. Carolina Panthers - Jeff Otah, OT - Pittsburgh
The Panthers, despite a quiet season have an envious dilemma. With tackles Travelle Wharton and Jordan Gross eligible for free agency, it is unlikely they can retain both. Otah is a very raw tackle whose 6-6 335 pound frame give him the strength to overpower opposing defensive ends. A prospect with huge potential and upside could possibly allow Carolina to seamlessly move to a potent offense with the return of Jake Delhomme and emergence of DeAngelo Williams.
14. Chicago Bears - Andre Woodson, QB - Kentucky
Despite their standout defense being exposed in 2007, the biggest hole in the Windy City is the quarterback possession. The Bears have the chance to cut ties with Rex Grossman, and both Brian Griese and Kyle Orton have not proven to be any more of a solution. Chicago's front office may feel the pressure of the fans to take the last of the big three quarterbacks on the board here. Woodson was a Heisman candidate mid-season before the Wildcats collapse. With Cedric Benson struggling the Bears could make a splash by taking Oregon back Jonathon Stewart.
15. Detroit Lions - Mike Jenkins, CB - South Florida
Perennially one of the worst drafting teams in the league, the Lions are left with many holes from top to bottom. The grumblings from the fans are for an improved offensive line and while tackles like Sam Baker and Ryan Clady are available, the Lions would have a hard time turning away top ten talent in Jenkins. Reeling since trading Dre Bly for next to nothing, Jenkins could start immediately for the Lions opposite Fernando Bryant.
16. Arizona Cardinals - Jonathon Stewart, RB - Oregon
With Edgerrin James losing his edge since migrating to the desert, the up-and-coming Cardinals would most likely salivate over Stewart. A shifty back with vision in the open field, built in the mold of the man he would succeed in Arizona, Stewart could be a great fit in an offense with the tools to dominate the NFC.
17. Minnesota Vikings - Kenny Phillips, S - Miami
The Vikings look very strong on paper here aside from Tarvaris Jackson, have strong lines on each side of the ball, solid linebackers, a shutdown corner, and the league's best young weapon in AP (or All-Day). That said, there are multiple possibilities such as a corner opposite Antoine Winfield, or a deep threat such as DeSean Jackson. However, Phillips has great value here to play and learn beside season veteran Darren Sharper in the waning years of his career.
18. Houston Texans - Reggie Smith, CB - Oklahoma
The Texans suffer from playing in a division in which their most promising season goes to waste. Houston suffered injury troubles throughout the year to many of their star players. Smith would provide speed to go opposite Dunta Robinson while also supporting with help against the run.
19. Philadelphia Eagles - DeSean Jackson, WR - California
Next to McFadden and Dorsey, Jackson potentially has the most talent in this draft. Despite their aging players around the depth chart, Philly still has a pressing need for a big-time playmaker to keep Donovan McNabb performing at his best. Despite the line being exposed this season, especially in the early season meeting with the Giants, Jackson's 4.4 speed and ability to beat the defense should be too much for the Eagles to pass up.
20. Tampa Bay Buccaneers - Ryan Clady, OT - Boise State
One of the pleasant surprises in the NFC this year, the Bucs road the coattails of the ageless Jeff Garcia to an NFC South title. Heading into next season, the need gets deeper to replace defensive stalwarts Derrick Brooks and Ronde Barber. However, Clady possesses the size and athleticism here that Tampa Bay could plug in to open holes for Earnest Graham.
21. Washington Redskins - Limas Sweed, WR - Texas
Despite an improbable playoff run this season the Redskins holes are obvious. Help in the secondary is needed to fill the massive void left by the untimely death of All-Pro Sean Taylor. An outside pass-rusher would also suffice for the 'Skins. In the end the talent of Limas Sweed will be too much to pass up. Sweed was a standout in his junior season, seen by many as the top receiver in the country before an untimely wrist injury cut his season short. At 100% the 6-5 Sweed may be viewed as the best receiving prospect in this draft, ahead of Kelly and Jackson, who could provide a strong possession receiver for Jason Campbell.
22. Dallas Cowboys - Domanique Rogers-Cromartie, CB - Tennessee State
When the 'Boys received Cleveland's 1st round pick last year it was expected to be a much higher selection than this. In the 2003 draft Jerry Jones had the final say on taking a corner named Terrance Newman. With the success of that pick the owner would love to put another star across the field from him. Rogers-Cromartie raised his stock exponentially in the senior bowl and has the tools to remind fans of his older cousin, 2007 NFL interception leader Antonio Cromartie.
23. Pittsburgh Steelers - Sam Baker, OT - USC
Perhaps one of the biggest slips of the first round, the 6-5 300 pound Baker would fit great into the Steelers system. With an aging line Baker would be able to learn from proven players within the strong system. With plenty of receivers out there it will be interesting to see if the Steelers fulfill Big Ben's request for another playmaker.
24. Tennessee Titans - Calais Campbell, DE - Miami
Everyone knows players the likes of Early Doucet or Mario Manningham would answer the fans' desire for a receiver to complement Vince Young. But Campbell here would provide the force alongside Albert Haynesworth to strengthen an already outstanding defensive unit.
25. Seattle Seahawks - Rashard Mendenhall, RB - Illinois
A classic case of a team building for the future. With the engine wearing down on workhorse Shaun Alexander, the Seahawks would gladly bring Mendenhall to the Northwest. Seattle is talented across the board and being able to work Mendenhall in with Alexander could progress his talent even more from his 1600 yard 17 touchdown season in his junior year with the Illini
26. Jacksonville Jaguars - Phillip Merling, DE - Clemson
If Campbell begins to slip, the Jaguars could be salivating while waiting for their chance on the clock. Merling is a strong end from Clemson who could fill nicely into the rotation along the D-Line with the aging Paul Spicer. Another interesting suggestion could be the multiple receivers on the board here. With former first rounders Matt Jones and Reggie Williams alongside Ernest Wilford it would be tough for the Jags to make that stretch.
27. San Diego Chargers - Kentwan Balmer, DT - North Carolina
Aside from the New England Patriots, the Chargers possess some of the best talent on both sides of the football. Balmer is an exceptionally strong run stuffer who could fit great into the rotation of the Chargers 3-4 scheme when Jamal Williams needs a breather. Think of an interior lineman such as Vince Wilfork.
28. Dallas Cowboys - Felix Jones, RB - Arkansas
I can't force myself away from my own comparisions of McFadden-Jones to Ronnie Brown-Carnell Williams. This is another situation where you have a two-headed backfield in college in which the teams had a HUGE luxury. Jones is similar to Brown in that his finest skills have not been on display at the college level. With Julius Jones likely to trade in his uniform in the offseason, Felix Jones could fit perfectly as a speed back replacement along side bruiser Marion Barber.
29. San Francisco 49ers - Mario Manningham, WR - Michigan
The view would look a lot better from the seventh overall spot, where the Patriots have a firm grasp on the Niners pick. I think my Michigan roots are showing here as I'm up in the air between Manningham and LSU receiver Early Doucet. Manningham displayed outstanding playmaking abilities in the Maize-and-blue that had fans quickly forgetting Braylon Edwards. When the Niners' best receiver last year was former Notre Dame signal-caller Arnaz Battle, I don't see how they ignore this pressing need.
30. Green Bay Packers - Leodis McKlevin, CB - Troy
If you asked me around Week Eight, you would have seen me ripping out hair for the Packers to go for my Wolverine Mike Hart. Little did I know the Pack would strike gold in the form of Ryan Grant, a back who reminds me a lot of Hart. Now with this pick the Pack would be smart to bolster an already strong secondary with McKlevin a little-known prospect out of a small school. He possesses the speed to fill in for Al Harris or Charles Woodson seamlessly.
31. New York Giants - Chris Williams, OT - Vanderbilt
A month ago anyone could have picked apart the holes in this team. A few improbable weeks later they look like a well-oiled machine. The linebacking corps could an upgrade but with the choices thin I see the Giants closing out the first round by bolstering a solid but aging offensive line with a strong tackle in Williams. Williams held his own in the toughest conference in the country and should be able to do the same at the pro level.
There you have it, just plug thess guys into your team's roster right now! It's set in stone as everyone knows how easily an NFL draft could be predicted three months ahead of time. On a serious note, expect plenty of revisions as draft day nears. Enjoy your Super Sunday.