- Jeffri Chadiha, NFL
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The NFL draft once again has given us plenty of prospects to watch as the season approaches. As usual, some have landed with teams that desperately needed their services. Meanwhile, others have landed in places where it's hard to really know what the decision-makers were thinking (and here is where you can insert that annual Al Davis joke). Now all we have to do is figure out which players fell into the best situations.
That's the important thing to remember about the draft -- talent and opportunity are usually the best predictors of a player's potential impact on his new team. It's why certain rookies -- like Tennessee running back Chris Johnson, New England linebacker Jerod Mayo and Atlanta quarterback Matt Ryan -- thrived last season while other first-year players struggled. These young men went to teams that put them in the best positions to maximize their skills. Here are 10 more who might be that fortunate this season:
1. Aaron Curry, LB, Seattle: The Seahawks could've selected quarterback Mark Sanchez with this pick, but they saw the value in taking the safest choice in this draft. As a result, they now get to add Curry to a linebacker corps that already includes young talent Lofa Tatupu. Curry's versatility alone made him an attractive choice for several teams looking to improve their defenses. Now that ability to thrive in various roles will make him a valuable weapon for a team that traded Julian Peterson to Detroit in March.
2. Knowshon Moreno, RB, Denver: All you have to know about the Broncos is they had seven running backs land on injured reserve last season. They needed a reliable runner with game-breaking skills and they got exactly that in Moreno. This doesn't absolve the team for trading Pro Bowl quarterback Jay Cutler earlier this offseason. But Moreno's presence -- along with strong receivers and a standout left tackle in Ryan Clady -- will make life much easier on new quarterback Kyle Orton.
3. Brian Orakpo, DE, Washington: The Redskins were so eager to make this selection, they needed about 30 seconds to pull the trigger. It's easy to see why. Orakpo is one of the most talented pass-rushers in this year's draft, and the Redskins needed somebody to energize a unit that produced just 24 sacks last season (tying them for 28th in the NFL in that category). The 6-foot-4, 260-pound Orakpo will be used as a strongside linebacker on running downs, but it's his rushing skills in passing situations that will be most critical. With Pro Bowl defensive tackle Albert Haynesworth commanding constant double-teams next to him, Orakpo could post a double-digit number of sacks as a rookie.
4. Jeremy Maclin, WR, Philadelphia: Maclin should live up to the hype that comes with being just the second receiver drafted in the first round by head coach Andy Reid. Like second-year Eagles receiver DeSean Jackson, Maclin has the quickness and elusiveness to have an immediate impact on the Philadelphia offense. He's also a gifted return man, which means Jackson might not have to handle punt-return responsibilities any longer. On top of all that, Maclin shouldn't face much pressure in this system. The recent trade for Pro Bowl left tackle Jason Peters and the presence of Jackson, running back Brian Westbrook and quarterback Donovan McNabb means the Eagles already have plenty of talent on that side of the football.
5. Donald Brown, RB, Indianapolis: Brown should get plenty of chances to help the Colts' run game. Indianapolis averaged a meager 79.6 yards a game on the ground last season -- which ranked them 31st in the NFL -- and former Pro Bowl running back Joseph Addai has suddenly become a fragile, pedestrian performer. The 5-10, 210-pound Brown knows what it's like to be a workhorse after gaining 2,083 yards on 367 carries for Connecticut last fall. Now he'll see what life is like as one-half of a backfield combination that should better assist quarterback Peyton Manning.
6. Chris "Beanie" Wells, RB, Arizona: It's no secret that the Cardinals had plenty of problems running the football in 2008; they ranked last in the league in that category. They also don't need Wells to be a savior for that rushing attack. Tim Hightower should remain as the short-yardage specialist, while Wells provides Arizona with an equally bruising runner with deceptive breakaway speed. Yeah, the Cardinals certainly liked the idea of drafting a more explosive runner like Donald Brown (who was gone by the time they drafted 31st overall). But Wells should make life easier on their vaunted passing game as well.
7. Evander "Ziggy" Hood, DE, Pittsburgh: Though many analysts had Hood pegged as an attractive prospect for teams coveting a 4-3 defensive tackle, he'll fit nicely with the defending Super Bowl champions. For one thing, he'll be joining a defensive line that already includes talented veterans like nose tackle Casey Hampton and defensive end Aaron Smith. Another plus is that the 33-year-old Smith is on the downside of his career, which means Hood can transition smoothly into a starting job after a brief apprenticeship. It also doesn't hurt that the Steelers had the NFL's top defense last season. The bottom line here: Defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau should get the most out of his new first-round pick.
8. Everette Brown, DE, Carolina: Brown could end up being a huge steal. Most analysts projected him as a first-rounder, but the Panthers eventually got him after trading up in the second round (and giving San Francisco their first-round pick next season). What the Panthers saw was a speedy, slightly undersized pass-rusher who led the ACC with 13.5 sacks last season. Since Pro Bowl defensive end Julius Peppers is expected to be back with the team this fall, the Panthers now have two players who can make life tough on quarterbacks.
9. Pat White, QB, Miami: White went to the one team that shouldn't have any problems determining the best way to use him. The Dolphins generated plenty of buzz when they unveiled their Wildcat formation last season and now they have the perfect player to run it. Who cares if the 6-foot, 190-pound White is too small to be a full-time quarterback? He's apparently willing to do anything to get on the field -- even if it means playing special teams or wide receiver -- and his open-field running skills should drive defenses crazy during the 15 to 20 plays he'll likely get each week.
10. Phil Loadholt, OT, Minnesota: Wide receiver Percy Harvin was the sexier pick for the Vikings in the first round, but Loadholt, Minnesota's second-round pick, makes them even scarier up front. The Vikings now will have the 6-8, 343-pound Loadholt at right tackle and 6-8, 335-pound Bryant McKinnie at left tackle. Throw in Pro Bowl guard Steve Hutchinson and that's a lot of beef for Pro Bowl running back Adrian Peterson to run behind. In fact, Peterson just became the front-runner for league MVP honors with this move.
Senior writer Jeffri Chadiha covers the NFL for ESPN.com.
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