Thursday, April 27, 2006
The NFL draft sneaks up again
By DJ Gallo
Special to Page 2
If there's one event on the sports calendar that doesn't get enough attention, it's the NFL draft.
So I approached my editors here at Page 2 with the novel idea of previewing the league's draft, which -- as you probably have not heard -- is being held this weekend. My editors agreed to this idea, and you will find the fruits of my efforts below. It is my hope that this NFL draft preview thing will catch on elsewhere. (Next year I'm thinking of doing a "mock draft." I won't spoil the surprise now, but trust me -- it's something that's never been done before.)
I'll begin by looking at the first round of the draft and finish with a quick look at some of the players who could have a big effect on how the whole thing plays out.
No. 1 -- Houston Texans -- The Texans like Reggie Bush more than Mario Williams, but it will all come down to who is easier to sign. There is a growing school of thought that Bush was compensated so well at USC last season that the Texans can't afford to give him the same level of pay. If that's the case, the pick will be Williams.
No. 2 -- New Orleans Saints -- There are four or five attractive players for the Saints to choose from at this spot, including the possibility of trading down. If their draft history is any indication, the choice they make likely will prove to be the worst possible decision of those available to them.
No. 3 -- Tennessee Titans -- Tennessee's front office is split between picking Vince Young or Matt Leinart. Those who advocate picking Young say he is a once-in-a-generation talent who could revolutionize the quarterback position. Whereas those who want Leinart point to the fact that he is, like, totally super hot and everything.
No. 4 -- New York Jets -- The Jets have a bit of a draft dilemma -- select a quarterback and suffer through a few losing seasons while he adjusts to the NFL game, or draft a different position and continue to stink for reasons other than having a young quarterback. Tough call.
No. 5 -- Green Bay Packers -- Injuries hit the Packers hard last year and they were unable to recover, so the team will look to add depth through the draft. That way, Brett Favre will have to come up with another excuse when he throws 30-plus interceptions this season.
No. 6 -- San Francisco 49ers -- San Francisco originally had 11 picks in the draft but now has only 10 after sending second- and third-round picks to Denver for an additional first-round pick (No. 22). They are now said to be willing to give up their remaining 10 picks to anyone who can erase from existence their drafting of Alex Smith No. 1 overall last year.
No. 7 -- Oakland Raiders -- The Raiders will be overjoyed if Vince Young falls to them here, because -- wow! -- just think how much he would benefit from being tutored by Aaron Brooks for a year or two. It's every young quarterback's dream to learn at the feet of such a legend. But if Young is no longer available, look for the Raiders to take Jay Cutler -- an overrated, premade bust who therefore would be a perfect fit with Oakland.
No. 8 -- Buffalo Bills -- Former Bills head coach Marv Levy will be running the team's draft for the first time in his new role as general manager. It is the hope of the organization that Levy again will stock the team with talent almost good enough to win a few Super Bowls.
No. 9 -- Detroit Lions -- Safety is a pressing need for the Lions, and Michael Huff of Texas would be the perfect pick for Detroit here. So with Matt Millen in charge, there's probably no way that happens. And even if Millen does select Huff, he'll probably try to make him into a wide receiver.
No. 10 -- Arizona Cardinals -- If Vanderbilt quarterback Jay Cutler is still available, the Cardinals could take him here, thus dashing Cutler's hopes of ever playing for a winning team during his college or pro career. But if Cutler is gone, the Cardinals likely will select Maryland tight end Vernon Davis, an exciting talent who could sell tickets and maybe even help draw 1,000 fans to the opener at Arizona's new stadium.
No. 11 -- St. Louis Rams -- St. Louis would love to see tight end Davis fall to here. Teaming Davis with Torry Holt, Isaac Bruce and Kevin Curtis could enable the Rams to achieve former coach Mike Martz's longtime goal of not calling a single running play for an entire season.
No. 12 -- Cleveland Browns -- The Browns have numerous need areas but might target the defensive line with their first pick. If so, the Broncos will be interested to see whom they pick because he inevitably will end up in Denver in four or five years. No matter the position, Cleveland will look to take a player with a track record of recovering quickly from injuries, as getting injured is more than a mere formality for all Cleveland first-round picks.
No. 13 -- Baltimore Ravens -- Look for the Ravens to select a defensive tackle -- Oregon's Haloti Ngata or Florida State's Brodrick Bunkley -- in hopes of appeasing linebacker Ray Lewis. Lewis made it clear in an interview with ESPN's Rachel Nichols last week that he is none too pleased about being forced to take on blockers from time to time. And he's right -- a linebacker of his stature should not have to deal with people trying to block him. It's disrespectful. He should be allowed to run full speed into the hole and tackle the ball carrier without a single hand being laid on him. (And then jump up, do a dance and take all the credit for the play.) Anything less than that is simply unfair.
No. 14 -- Philadelphia Eagles -- If the Eagles are unable to trade up to take a defensive lineman, they likely will settle for the top-rated wide receiver on their draft board -- Florida's Chad Jackson. And with Philadelphia's track record of evaluating and drafting receivers, he'll no doubt turn out to be a wonderful pro (assuming, of course, that Arena League 2 is considered pro football).
No. 15 -- Denver Broncos -- Denver might select running back DeAngelo Williams from Memphis here, considering Mike Anderson left as a free agent and Tatum Bell is injury-prone. Plus, it's starting to seem as though last year's flier on Maurice Clarett isn't going to pan out.
No. 16 -- Miami Dolphins -- The Dolphins already have addressed most of their needs this offseason with the acquisitions of Daunte Culpepper, Will Allen, Renaldo Hill and L.J. Shelton, and their biggest remaining need -- finding uniforms that aren't that wussy orange-and-teal color -- cannot be solved via the draft. So look for Miami to simply pick the highest-rated player still on its board or trade down for more picks in later rounds.
No. 17 -- Minnesota Vikings -- The goal of the Vikings in the draft is twofold: address their need positions and bring in high-character players to prevent a sequel to the boat-scandal embarrassment of last year. The latter is why, just to be safe, Minnesota will avoid drafting anyone from Virginia Tech, Ohio State or any of the Florida schools. Or anyone who played lacrosse in high school.
No. 18 -- Dallas Cowboys -- Dallas has filled most of its needs this offseason through free agency and trades. So the Cowboys will select the highest-rated player on their board. But don't be surprised if they pick a wide receiver to fill in for Terrell Owens once he is suspended.
No. 19 -- San Diego Chargers -- The Chargers desperately need a wide receiver who can stretch the field. That's why they'll take Ohio State's Santonio Holmes if he's still on the board. Holmes is the tool Drew Brees needs to take the San Diego offense to an even higher level (in an alternate universe where the Chargers weren't stupid enough to let Brees go).
No. 20 -- Kansas City Chiefs -- Kansas City desperately needs help on defense and will focus its efforts there. (Note: I plagiarized the preceding sentence from every Chiefs draft preview written in the last five years.) Wide receiver is also a need for the Chiefs, but not one they'll likely be able to fill this low in the first round. Therefore, they might just have to cut back on the passing game this season and settle for watching Larry Johnson run for 2,500 yards.
No. 21 -- New England Patriots -- The secondary is again an area of concern for the Patriots, although many are beginning to believe getting torched by the pass is part of Bill Belichick's defensive philosophy. Don't be shocked if New England goes off-script here and takes a quarterback, however. Tom Brady had a great season last year and only further cemented his status as a Patriots legend. Therefore, the team probably will release him any day now.
No. 22 -- San Francisco 49ers -- Having already picked at No. 5, the 49ers probably will just select the best player available here. Or, if owner John York gets his way, the cheapest player available.
No. 23 -- Tampa Bay Buccaneers -- Indications are that Tampa Bay will try to trade up to take USC offensive tackle Winston Justice. The Bucs want to provide more protection for Chris Simms, who doesn't deal well with getting hit because of his laissez-faire upbringing. If they can't get Justice, the Bucs might draft a running back to be the eventual replacement for "Cadillac" Williams, whom Jon Gruden is intent on overusing to the point of exhaustion and/or career-ending injury by 2008 as long as everything goes according to plan.
No. 24 -- Cincinnati Bengals -- Unaccustomed to drafting so late in the first round, the Bengals will look to add depth -- primarily on the defensive side of the ball. Expect them to take someone who is a good tackler, then ask him to teach the concept to the rest of the team.
No. 25 -- New York Giants -- Despite signing LaVar Arrington, the Giants are still looking to improve at linebacker. They also would like to pick up a run-stuffing lineman. Both spots are integral to putting up a goal-line stand in those rare occasions when Eli Manning's interceptions are returned only to the 3- or 4-yard line instead of all the way for a touchdown.
No. 26 -- Chicago Bears -- The Bears are basically set at every starting position, but there are some who think they could improve at cornerback. These are mostly people who saw Chicago's cornerbacks "cover" Steve Smith in the playoffs.
No. 27 -- Carolina Panthers -- The Panthers are looking to improve at linebacker, safety, running back and tight end, and they will be able to shore up one of those spots if A.J. Hawk, Huff, Bush or Davis falls to them here at No. 27. Since there's zero chance of that happening, here's your preview of Carolina's 2007 draft needs: "Carolina is looking to improve at linebacker, safety, running back and tight end."
No. 28 -- Jacksonville Jaguars -- The Jaguars are looking to add a pass-rushing outside linebacker because, unfortunately for them, not every quarterback in the league is as immobile as Byron Leftwich and easily brought down by slow, plodding interior linemen.
No. 29 -- New York Jets -- The Jets have their second pick of the first round here and have another pick six spots later at No. 35 in the second round. These picks give the team a great opportunity to make up for whatever mistake it most assuredly will make at No. 4.
No. 30 -- Indianapolis Colts -- It became well-known after the Colts' playoff loss to the Steelers in January that Indianapolis has "protection problems." But those supposed problems would be better addressed by sending Peyton Manning to a sports psychologist than through the draft. A replacement for Edgerrin James is high on Indianapolis' wish list, and the Colts are said to be intrigued by bruising USC running back LenDale White. And he would be a perfect fit for them because there's nothing that says "smashmouth football" like the Indianapolis Colts.
No. 31 -- Seattle Seahawks -- Picking late in the first round and with no glaring weaknesses, the Seahawks say they will stick with their proven draft strategy and select the best player available. How they know for sure exactly who is the best player available is something all 31 other teams would like to know; whereas the Seahawks would like to know how always picking the best players has never resulted in their winning a championship.
No. 32 -- Pittsburgh Steelers -- Although White has been falling down most teams' draft boards, he has been rocketing up Pittsburgh's because with each pound of lard he adds to his midsection, he becomes a more suitable replacement for Jerome Bettis. So if White is still available here, the Steelers will grab him. And when grabbed, he most likely will giggle like the Pillsbury Doughboy.
Atlanta Falcons (no first-round pick) -- Atlanta doesn't pick until No. 47, but it still might be able to address a need at running back there by picking Joseph Addai. The underrated LSU back is said to have the size, speed and toughness of a LaDainian Tomlinson. On the downside for the Falcons, he also is said to have the throwing accuracy of a Michael Vick.
Washington Redskins (no first-round pick) -- The Redskins don't have a pick until No. 53 in the second round, so at that point they probably will just pick the highest-rated player on their draft board, regardless of need. But Dan Snyder won't let having no first-round pick stop him from giving the team's second-round pick first-round money.
Players to Watch
Reggie Bush, Matt Leinart and Vince Young are the big names, but there are several lesser-known players who could have a much greater impact on the draft depending on where they are selected.
Antonio Cromartie, CB, Florida State -- Despite starting just one game in college, Cromartie's stock is rising because of his impressive showing at the NFL combine. And if there's one thing that has been proved over the years, it is that it's not football ability that leads to NFL stardom but eye-popping 40 times and being able to do a bunch of bench presses. Hence all the personal trainers who are in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
Brodie Croyle, QB, Alabama -- Croyle is moving up many draft boards because, although he can't compete with the size and strength of Young and Leinart, he can compete with Cutler in stupidity of haircut.
Vernon Davis, TE, Maryland -- The Terrapins star is expected to be the latest big-play threat at tight end, and his stock has only gone up since a freakish performance at the NFL combine. A 40-yard dash time of 4.38 seconds. Thirty-three reps at 225 pounds on the bench press. A 42-inch vertical leap. The list goes on. In short, Davis is considered to be the best athlete ever of anyone named "Vernon."
Mario Williams, DE, NC State -- The pass-rushing specialist could be a surprise pick by the Texans at No. 1 or could slip all the way to fifth or sixth. Either way, it's a proven fact that no one who lives outside the Southeast ever heard of the guy until two weeks ago. (Except for me and you, of course. We're totally in the know.)
DJ Gallo is a regular contributor to ESPN The Magazine as well as the founder and sole writer of the award-winning sports satire site SportsPickle.com. He also contributes headlines to The Onion.