With the NFL regular season over and the playoffs on the way, the only thing teams like the 0-16 Lions have to hope for is the NFL Draft.
This year's draft class has an underwhelming senior class lead by Wake Forest OLB Aaron Curry. In fact, seven of my top-10 rated players are underclassman.
The deadline to declare for the draft is not for several weeks so we are still in wait-and-see mode to finalize draft boards and wish lists for teams.
The talent in this year's class lies mostly upfront. There are four or five tackles who will be first-round picks and there are probably 10 defensive lineman who will go in the first round. In fact, this is one of the deepest defensive tackle classes in recent memory.
Unfortunately for the Lions, there is no proven quarterback in the Matt Ryan mold, or can't miss offensive lineman prospect like Jake long, OR a guaranteed offensive game changer like Darren McFadden.
In fact, the Lions will have an extremely difficult decision to make when they pay someone tens of millions of dollars to be the new face of their franchise. I hope for his sake the fans take the bags off their heads by the time whoever that player is sees the field.
Like every year, there are a few teams who, for whatever reason, underperformed and wound up with high draft picks. Teams like Seattle, Green Bay, and San Diego will end up will quality players to go on already solid teams.
Interestingly, all three of those teams became successful by building through the draft (See Aaron Rodgers, LaDanian Tomlinson, and Marcus Trufant)
My Top 32 looks as follows (Not the Draft Order)
1.) Andre Smith OT Alabama **
2.) Sam Bradford QB Oklahoma **
3.) Mathew Stafford QB Georgia **
4.) Michael Crabtree WR Texas Tech **
5.) Aaron Curry OLB Wake Forest
6.) Malcolm Jenkins CB Ohio State
7.) Vontae Davis CB Illinois **
8.) Jeremy Maclin WR Missouri **
9.) Eugene Monroe OT Virginia
10.) Aaron Maybin DE Penn State **
11.) Brian Orakpo DE Texas
12.) Rey Maualuga ILB USC
13.) Terrance Cody DT Alabama **
14.) Everette Brown DE Florida State **
15.) Peria Jerry DT Mississippi
16.) Knowshon Moreno RB Georgia **
17.) Jermaine Gresham TE Oklahoma **
18.) B.J. Raji DT Boston College
19.) Michael Oher OT Mississippi
20.) Chris "Beanie" Wells RB Ohio State **
21.) Gerald McCoy DT Oklahoma **
22.) James Laurinaitis ILB Ohio State
23.) Michael Johnson DE Georgia Tech
24.) Brian Cushing OLB USC
25.) Brandon Pettigrew TE Oklahoma State
26.) Tyson Jackson DE LSU
27.) Mark Sanchez QB USC **
28.) Sen'Derrick Marks DT Auburn**
29.) LeSean McCoy RB Pittsburgh **
30.) Percy Harvin WR/RB Florida **
31.) Jason Smith OT Baylor
32.) Brandon Spikes ILB Florida **
- * denote underclassman
Needs: QB, OL, DB, DE, TE, LB
An 0-16 team has plenty of holes to fill. With a new GM and coach on the way, no one yet knows what the schemes will look like in Detroit come 2009. This pick comes down to three players: Alabama OT Andre Smith, Georgia QB Mathew Stafford, and Oklahoma QB Sam Bradford.
If Bradford declares (he's a third-year sophomore), he is immediately the best quarterback in the Draft and a top-three player overall. His accuracy, poise, and leadership make him an NFL-ready today, and he will wow scouts in workouts with his mechanics and fluidity as a quarterback.
Andre Smith is a big-time offensive lineman, but the Lions haven't had consistent play at quarterback since Scott Mitchell took the Lions to the playoffs in the mid-'90s.
Needs: OL, QB, LB, CB, WR
The "Greatest Show on Turf" days are gone in St. Louis. Long gone. The Rams have not gotten consistent play from their quarterback Marc Bulger and were on pace to be historically atrocious offensively early in the year.
The Rams need help along their offensive front to give their best player—Stephen Jackson—a chance to make plays.
Andre Smith is the best player in this draft if he declares (he's a junior), and although he has some character concerns, he is a must-draft for the St. Louis Rams.
Orlando Pace does not seem long for this world, and Smith is an absolute plow on the edge in the run game. He struggles a bit with speed rushers, but his massive frame and long arms mean he has the physical tools to improve.
Needs: OL, WR, DB, DL, QB
After being a big winner in the 2008 draft, the Chiefs have nothing to show for it in terms of wins and losses. The Chiefs have some pieces, but no identity.
With a stable of capable running backs and no offensive lineman worthy of this choice with Smith off the board, the Chiefs can take the best defensive player in the draft in Wake Forest OLB Aaron Curry, or take the best quarterback according to some scouts in Georgia QB Mathew Stafford.
The latter seems more likely. Stafford has a huge arm and limitless physical tools, with a sharp, compact delivery to go with underrated mobility in and out of the pocket.
Some wonder if he can carry an NFL team, which he will be asked to do at the next level, but his potential is too great to pass here. I am not sold on the Chiefs season-ending starter Tyler Thigpen, and my guess is whomever is in charge next year will be equally skeptical.
Needs: WR, DB, OL, LB, DL
The Seahawks succumbed to Murphy's Law in 2008, losing their Pro Bowl QB, All-Pro tackle, and not to mention about 14 wide receivers, and their coach to retirement, all while being a part of the Seattle Sports Curse in 2008 (ask Sonics fans).
Michael Crabtree is the next great receiver to come through a West Coast system. This third-year sophomore blends strength, body control, and speed with his outstanding hands and leaping ability.
He is the one of the few players in this class who can take over a game all by himself. Crabtree may not run a sub 4.4 40-yard dash at the combine like Calvin Johnson, but he can be every bit as good at the next level.
Needs: CB, OL, DE, LB, S
After a 10-6 finish to 2007, the future seemed bright for the Dawg Pound and Co. in Cleveland. Without a head coach or GM, the Browns' brass have to be wondering where to go from here.
The offense has tremendous talent, but the defense lacks game-changing type players despite offseason spending.
Nabbing arguably the best defensive player in the draft would be an excellent start. The Thorpe Award Winner for 2008, Malcolm Jenkins plays corner with a toughness and physicality the Browns defense sorely lacks.
He can play zone coverage or man and has the ball skills to be a supreme difference maker in a secondary without one.
OLB Aaron Curry from Wake might be an option, but the Browns are set inside at linebacker and Curry is not a pass-rusher. Jenkins makes more sense given their deficiencies in the defensive backfield, not to mention he can fit any defensive scheme the next Cleveland coach implements.
Needs: RB, DL, LB, OG, S
A team just knee tendons away from being in the Super Bowl three years ago has returned to the not so lovable Bungles. Marvin Lewis may have brought Cinci into respectability a few years ago, but they're back to mediocrity today.
The Bengals' offense has slowed down and they desperately need a running back, but getting to the quarterback was a serious problem for that defense.
Aaron Maybin is a force off the edge and plays with an unrelenting will to get to the opposing quarterback. His motor is non-stop and with his athleticism, burst, and quick reflexes to break free from blockers, he projects as an outstanding rusher in either a 3-4 or 4-3 defense.
Needs: OL, DL, DB, WR, TE
The Raiders spent a gazillion dollars to try and make this Raider team a playoff team, but only saw marginal gains made. The Raider passing attack was more of a retreat and the defense spent way too much time on the field.
Darren McFadden's limited playing time meant the Silver and Black lacked any dynamic aspect on offense.
Once Jeremy Maclin runs a rub 4.35 40-yard dash, Al Davis will have seen enough. At 6'1" and 200 pounds, this Missouri Tiger is no boney speed receiver either. Maclin will return punts, kicks, and play receiver with the chance to break it every time he touches the ball.
JaMarcus Russell has the kind of cannon arm not even Maclin can outrun. Putting Maclin and McFadden on the field at the same time (they both ran the Wild Cat formation in college) would give any defensive coordinator nightmares.
Needs: LB, S, OL, CB, WR
The 2008 Jags were arguably the biggest disappointment in the NFL. They couldn't run the football with the same assertive force as last season and the defense underperformed. Jacksonville still lacks a true go-to wide receiver and has no defensive player to worry opposing offenses.
Aaron Curry would change that in a heartbeat. An All-American linebacker at Wake, Curry is the best defensive player in the class and probably the best senior as well. He possesses the speed and strength to play either strong or weak-side linebacker.
His instincts are excellent and he reads offenses effectively. Jacksonville desperately needs an impact player at the linebacker position and snagging Curry this late would be a steal.
Needs: DE, OT, LB, DB
Whether or not you agree with Ted Thompson's decision to wave goodbye to Brett Favre, his track record of drafting players speaks for itself. The 2008 Green Bay Packers struggled to put teams away late in games, and Aaron Rodgers unfairly took much of the blame.
The real reason the Packers failed to win half as many games this season and last is simple: pass rush.
The Packers didn't have one. Brian Orakpo would change all of that. Orakpo swept the awards, winning the Bronco Nagurski Trophy for best defensive player, the Lombardi award for best lineman, and the Ted Hendricks Award for best defensive end, not to mention the AP Defensive Player of the Year in the Big 12.
Orakpo's 6'4", 260-pound frame belies just how strong he is, showing the ability to walk opposing tackles right into the lap of quarterback. He also uses an array of pass-rush moves to collapse the pocket, even against the hogs upfront in the Big 12.
Needs: OL, OLB, WR, S, DL
The 49ers looked dead in the water early in the year, but interim (now full-time) head coach Mike Singletary rallied the troops and nearly stole the division from the slumping Arizona Cardinals. The problem is they have no identity on either side of the ball.
With a glut of talent in the backfield, the 49ers ought to be a potent rushing attack, but inconsistencies upfront precluded that from happening in '08.
Eugene Monroe is not a road-grader (a la Andre Smith) but is a more complete tackle. He can match up against the defense's top edge rusher, or pave the way for a running back. In fact, Monroe's talent should have him going higher than 10th overall.
Pairing Monroe and former first-round pick Joe Staley would give the 49ers the nucleus upfront to win games by controlling the line of scrimmage offensively.