The NFL Draft is just days away and the buzz has reached a fevered pitch. Everyone wants to trade down. Everyone has had dinner with Tim Tebow and thinks he's a swell guy and gritty competitor. And Cleveland GM Mike Holmgren was just kidding about not liking Jimmy Clausen...he now loves him.
Sometimes it is better to look where there is no buzz this time of year, rather than where there is chatter. With that in mind we take a look at the rumors, buzz and "sure things" that have been making the rounds before the 2010 NFL Draft, starting in the AFC.
Rumor has it the Pittsburgh Steelers are willing to part with Ben Roethlisberger on draft day for the right price. The Rooney family is apparently disgusted with his antics, and the brooming of Santonio Holmes after his recent troubles with the law and subsequent positive drug test has set a precedent in the Steel City that the Rooneys are intent on following.
The Steelers are looking heavily at corners, wide receivers and linemen. Some of the names that they've reportedly brought in for workouts include: cornerbacks Kyle Wilson (Boise State) and Kareem Jackson (Alabama), wide receivers Arrelious Benn (Illinois), Emmanuel Sanders (SMU) and Joe Webb (Alabama-Birmingham), offensive tackles Rodger Saffold (Indiana) and Bryan Bulaga (Iowa), offensive guards Mike Iupati (Idaho), Jacques McClendon (Tennessee) and Chris DeGeare (Wake Forest), center Maurkice Pouncey (Florida), defensive tackles Michael Neal (Purdue), nose tackle Linval Joseph (East Carolina), Jared Odrick (Penn St.) and Clifton Geathers (South Carolina). And they at least had conversations with receivers Golden Tate (Notre Dame) and Carlton Mitchell (South Florida). While they could go receiver, Pouncey or Iupati seem like Steelers' pick.
The Baltimore Ravens are undergoing a tough transition right now from their recent history as a tough defensive squad to a team that must rely on offense first. With Ed Reed and Ray Lewis aging fast, Baltimore just doesn't have the firepower any longer to rely on their D to keep games close. They will still continue to play aggressively on defense and the hot name in Baltimore right now is DL Jared Odrick (Penn State). He could fill the void at defensive end. Also look for the Ravens to continue to add weapons for Joe Flacco in this draft, as well as bolstering their defensive secondary. One way to help Flacco would be take either TE Jermaine Gresham (Oklahoma) or TE Rob Gronkowski (Arizona) Both have been linked to the team as of late.
Mike Holmgren is in the process of rebuilding the Cleveland Browns in his mold. Unfortunately for Browns fans, this process will take time, especially with this talent-barren roster. Holmgren LOVES his QBs, and loves developing them, even beyond that. And despite his recent backpedal, however, there is little to no chance the Browns will take QB Jimmy Clausen (Notre Dame) if they stay at #7. The better bet is that Holmgren targets someone at the top of Round 2, or even puts a package together to move back into the bottom of the First Round to find his QB of the future. Think Colt McCoy (Texas)....or dare we say....even Tim Tebow (Florida) - the ultimate project for a QB/ West Coast guru like Holmgren? Both have held workouts for the Browns, and we don't think Seneca Wallace is his long term guy.
That's all fine and dandy for later in the draft but where do the Browns go with the #7 pick? Strong indications are that they will look to bolster their secondary. Corners Joe Haden (Florida) and Devin McCourty (Rutgers) along with S Eric Berry (Tennessee) have all been in to visit with the Browns. And speculation is that McCourty could be their target. The Browns also spent a lot of time with WR Jacoby Ford at Clemson's Pro Day. Something to watch later in the draft.
And of course the other option making rounds is the Browns and the St. Louis Rams play Let's Make a Deal and swap picks, which would put QB Sam Bradford (Oklahoma) in a Browns uniform.
Tight end appears to be high on the Cincinnati Bengals list as they've done their due diligence on Jermaine Gresham (Oklahoma), Aaron Hernandez (Florida) and Dorin Dickerson (Pittsburgh). We can only assume they've also sent their doctors to poke and prod Rob Gronkowski (Arizona) as well. There has also been interest in WR Dez Bryant (Oklahoma St.), DE Jason Pierre-Paul (South Florida), S Taylor Mays (USC) and CB Kyle Wilson (Boise St.).
The Houston Texans are between a rock and a hard place when it comes to this week's upcoming draft. With the departure of Dunta Robinson, and the unfortunate lack of development seen in RB Steve Slaton - not to mention the pressure from the fanbase after their string of near .500 seasons and continual missing of the playoffs - the Texans need to improve NOW. The quickest way to do so is by taking a RB or a CB. The guess here is they are not going to target RB C.J. Spiller (Clemson) and RB Jahvid Best (Cal) in Round 1 as they resemble Slaton too closely. RB Ryan Mathews (Fresno State) would be a better complimentary back. We have them penciled in for a corner on Thursday night, and the corner they allegedly covet is Kyle Wilson (Boise State).
Will the Jacksonville Jaguars really mortgage their future by taking another project, namely one Timothy Tebow, in Round 1, just to sell tickets? Absolutely not. Even more so than owner Wayne Weaver's fear of having to move the team, the Jags top brass knows they must turn things around quickly in 2010, and Tebow is in no way going to do that. If wideout Dez Bryant (Oklahoma State) is on the board, the Jags could snap him up faster than you can say "Matt Jones". They've also not been shy in their interest in CB Joe Haden (Florida).
The Indianapolis Colts could seemingly use the most help along the front lines on either side of the ball - they are thin and marginally talented at DT, and they are aging and have had some defections on the OL, but this team fortunately has itself in a position where it can afford to target players Team President Bill Polian believes best fit their system regardless of position. Don't be shocked if the Colts select a WR early - perhaps a big target like Arrelious Benn (Illinois) or Demaryius Thomas (Georgia Tech). A couple of other positions to watch would be DE with the departure of Raheem Brock, and CB.
The Tennessee Titans had a remarkable comeback last season after an awful start, and they are looking to build on that momentum and re-enter the AFC Playoff fray. One rumor has them targeting former Titan DT and current Redskin Albert Haynesworth in a draft day trade. We see the Titans concentrating on depth in their secondary and on their OL, where the return of aging Pro Bowl C Kevin Mawae is still a question mark. Another possibility would be continuing to add pass catching weapons for seemingly mentally fragile signal caller Vince Young.
What is Bill Belichick thinking these days? Your guess is as good as ours. One thing that is a fairly sure bet, though, is that the New England Patriots will release disgruntled LB Adalius Thomas, who was continually in Belichick's doghouse in 2009. The rumors that Thomas will end up with former Baltimore DC Rex Ryan and the New York Jets are persistent. And though Thomas denies them, we hear it's a done deal. Ryan has the ingenuity to truly utilize a wide-ranging talent like Adalius.
Of course that means they have a need at outside linebacker. DE/OLB Brandon Graham (Michigan) has been pegged by many as a target of the Pats, including us. But NFL Network's Mike Maycock isn't so sure. "You have to go back and understand that historically they like the long-limbed, 3-4 outside linebackers. Mike Vrabel, those type of guys,'' Mayock said. "People want to get carried away with Brandon Graham, and I love Brandon Graham, but he's 6-1. So he doesn't really fit what the Patriots do. OLB Sergio Kindle (Texas) fits Mayock's mold, but he'll likely be gone. Another "conversion player" the Pats are said to be looking hard at is DE/OLB Jerry Hughes (TCU). And yes, the Pats are another team that have been connected with QB Tim Tebow (Florida)
Speaking of the New York Jets, Ryan is looking to win now. And why not? They were clearly outclassed by the Colts in last year's AFC Championship Game, but this team is young and only getting better. With the addition of Santonio Holmes on offense (at least for 8 games), the Jets think they have surrounded Mark Sanchez with enough talent to counter his inexperience. Given Holmes' suspension, though, and his contract status, do not be surprised if the Jets take a WR early in the draft. But defense seems to be the name of the game in the first round with DT/DE Jared Odrick (Penn St.), DE/LB Jason Worilds (Virginia Tech), CB Kareem Jackson (Alabama), CB Devin McCourty (Rutgers), and DE/OLB Ricky Sapp (Clemson) all connected to the Jets at one point or another.
The Miami Dolphins are apparently moving away from the "Wildcat" and building a real offense. Bill Parcells is reportedly willing to loosen the reigns on young QB Chad Henne this year with the addition of WR Brandon Marshall. All of this means that RB Ronnie Brown is expendable, at least from what we're hearing. Brown could be sent packing on Draft Day, which means that Miami might be targeting a back sooner than you think. But in the first round the Fins seem to be in the market for someone to bolster their defense. The most talked about names have been Georgia Tech DE Derrick Morgan (Georgia Tech), OLB/DE Sergio Kindle (Texas), Tennessee DT Dan Williams (Tennessee) and S Earl Thomas (Texas), with Morgan being the pick if available.
Side bar on Marshall...we hear he is finally happy for the first time in his career. He's in a good place both personally and professionally, and that means that the other teams in the AFC East better watch out. The guess here is that Marshall will post career bests in catches and TDs in Miami this year. What the Dolphins really need to complement Marshall is a deep threat, however. Don't think for a second the Dolphins are done adding downfield weapons to their arsenal.
The overwhelming consensus heading into the draft is the Buffalo Bills need a quarterback and and a left tackle. We have QB Jimmy Clausen (Notre Dame) headed to the Bills with the tenth pick in our mock draft. However there is a growing opinion amongst some of the top beat writers that they aren't sold on Clausen. Former Bills quarterback Jim Kelly also seems to be snuggling up to QB Tim Tebow (Florida). The Bills could be positioning themselves to address the tackle spot in the first round and make a run at Tebow later in the draft.
The San Diego Chargers keep coming up short. Their window is closing, and fast. And we think it is already shut. GM A.J. Smith may be looking to do a house cleaning of sorts come Thursday. With Darren Sproles signing his tender, it's quite possible San Diego ships him on Draft Day. Either way, they will target a true "every down back" early. We've pegged RB Ryan Mathews (Fresno St.) to fill that role and according to Fresno State head coach Pat Hill, he spoke with Smith for 45 minutes about Mathews during Fresno's Pro Day.
Similarly, if the Bolts can get RFA Left Tackle Marcus McNeil to sign his tender, rumors persist that he could be headed to Indianapolis for draft picks. The Chargers have too many holes to fill during this draft and not enough picks to fill them.
Josh McDaniels may have gotten off to a sparkling start in the Mile High City, but his status with the Denver Broncos is slowly but surely becoming shaky. He broomed WR Brandon Marshall and TE Tony Scheffler, two talented pass catchers in the past few weeks. WR Dez Bryant (Oklahoma St.) seems to be the most likely target if he should still be on the board when Denver's number is called Thursday night, but character concerns could scare them off. And at least one expert believes the Broncos are simply blowing smoke to ignite a trade when it comes to Bryant. If they pass on Bryant, they'll concentrate on filling a hole at the ILB spot.
We don't have a running back high on the list of team needs for the Broncos, but could they be looking to snag one in Round 2. Downhill runners Toby Gerhart (Stanford) and Montario Hardesty (Tennessee) were in town and would provide the Broncos a power runner they lack. In addition, Knowshon Moreno has admitted that he wore down during his rookie campaign, so McDaniels would be wise to give him some help. Or they could be looking to pick up QB Tim Tebow (Florida).
The Oakland Raiders can't possibly take another QB in the first round, just a few years after the JaMarcus Russell debacle, can they? Rumors abound that should Jimmy Clausen fall to them at 8, The Crypt Keeper might pull the trigger. Quick, anyone know his 40 time? The Silver and Black have have also had discussions with QB Tim Tebow (Florida). So don't rule out the Raiders having a new quarterback in the kitty before heading into the weekend.
Trading up with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers to acquire either defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh (Nebraska) or Gerald McCoy (Oklahoma) has been makings its rounds as well. And if coach Tom Cable had his way, a high-end left tackle will be on the wish list.
One thing to watch for is the connection between new Kansas City Chiefs offensive coordinator Charlie Weis and former Domer WR Golden Tate (Notre Dame). The Chiefs are thin at WR and could definitely use another weapon for QB Matt Cassel. Should Tate fall to the Chiefs at the top of Round 2, this marriage would hardly be a shock. With their top pick, rumors persist that KC will target a safety, and Taylor Mays (USC) and Eric Berry (Tennessee) have been in for visits. Mays seems like too much of a reach here, so look for Berry to be the target - if the Washington Redskins don't grab him first. The Chiefs also reportedly love OT Russell Okung (Oklahoma St.) and covet a "true" left tackle as Scott Pioli and Todd Haley apparently aren't convinced that LT is where Branden Albert belongs, but Okung will likely be gone by then.
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