With the first weekend since July without pro football on the horizon and all but two teams eliminated from the fray, it’s understandable that minds will wander. And what better place to wander towards than the NFL’s player dispersal meeting in April?
Plenty will change between now and Roger Goodell reading the name of the player the Lions tab to turn their franchise around: free agency, the Combine, Mel Kiper Jr.’s hair emerging from hibernation while throngs gather to await word whether it sees its shadow and projects six more underclassmen going in the first round. So consider this a first stab at what might go down in Round One of the 2009 NFL Draft.
1. Detroit Lions — Matt Stafford, QB, Georgia
With this class only two-deep at quarterback the smart move would be to take Stafford here and then go with defense or o-line help with the Cowboys’ pick later on. This changes to Andre Smith only if the Lions fall in love with one of the next-tier quarterbacks they could get at 20 or 33.
2. St. Louis Rams — Andre Smith, OT, Alabama
There doesn’t figure to be much suspense here, either, unless the Lions throw St. Louis a curveball and take Smith ahead of them. Then things will get interesting.
3. Kansas City Chiefs — Everette Brown, DE/OLB, Florida State
With so many holes to fill the Chiefs would love to sell this pick for multiple Day One selections, but that’s not all that likely. Unless Scott Pioli is really sold on Matt Sanchez, expect him to address the defense with a pass rusher who can help a Chiefs defense that set an NFL record for fewest sacks last season. Brown, Brian Orakpo, and Aaron Maybin are all options here.
4. Seattle Seahawks — Michael Crabtree, WR, Texas Tech
The Seahawks were dragging guys in off the street to play wideout for them last year, so it will be impossible for them to ignore a playmaker like Crabtree if he’s still on the board here. If they do opt to let the receiver position slide they could opt for Eugene Monroe to begin the process of replacing future Hall of Fame left tackle Walter Jones.
5. Cleveland Browns — Aaron Curry, LB, Wake Forest
Two distinct routes the Browns could go here: Curry to satisfy Eric Mangini’s defensive jones and add talent to an undermanned unit; or a replacement for Jamal Lewis, with Ohio State’s Beanie Wells the hometown pick. The Browns cross their fingers and home Shonn Green or Donald Brown are still on the board when they pick in Round 2, then pull the trigger on Curry.
6. Cincinnati Bengals — Michael Oher, OT, Mississippi
This pick might have been Monroe had he opted to play in the Senior Bowl under the tutelage of the Bengals coaching staff. Instead, they may get a closer look at Oher (playing for the opposing South team) and go that direction. Of course, the Jaguars staff is coaching the South and they pick two slots after Cincy, so maybe Jack Del Rio will be telling Oher to take a dive when the Cincy coaches wander over. And if the Bengals are okay with giving up 50 sacks and think elsewhere, defensive tackle B.J. Raji has been the terror of Senior Bowl practices thus far.
7. Oakland Raiders — Eugene Monroe, OT, Virginia
Unless one of the corners runs a sub-4.4 40 at the Combine—you know how Al Davis feels about speed—odds are they address their offensive line here. That, of course, is the logical move and the Raiders oftentimes defy logic, so something off the board like Percy Harvin or Jeremy Maclin here wouldn’t surprise in the least.
8. Jacksonville Jaguars — Jason Smith, OT, Baylor
The Jags are in essentially the same boat as the Raiders (that’s a scary thought for Jacksonville fans) in that they could use a downfield playmaker and someone to keep their quarterback upright long enough to look downfield. Smith is the last of the top-tier tackles, but it depends on how confident new management is at their ability to find o-line help in rounds two and three. If they think they can, Maclin or Harvin could be in teal and black in 2009.
9. Green Bay Packers — B.J. Raji, DT, Boston College
A cornerback would make tremendous sense here and the Pack would have their pick of the litter. However, the move to a 3-4 requires a nose tackle and Raji has been dominating Senior Bowl practices, offering the potential of an Albert Haynesworth or Shaun Rogers-type disrupter in the middle. That may trump Green Bay’s needs for a corner or offensive tackle, as those positions both run a bit deeper this year.
10. San Francisco 49ers — Mark Sanchez, QB, USC
My guess is that someone will have traded up for Sanchez by this point, or maybe he becomes this year’s Brady Quinn and slides to the 17-22 neighborhood where the Jets, Bears, Bucs, and Vikings would all love a shot at him. But if he’s on the board at 10, and with the Niners almost adamant about not giving the starting job to Shaun Hill, Sanchez is the logical choice. If he’s gone the Niners could eyeball Eben Britton, who’s either the last of the top-tier tackles or the best of the next tier.
11. Buffalo Bills — Brian Orakpo, DE, Texas
The Bills need help pressuring the passer, so they’ll decide between Orakpo and Michael Johnson. Most of their other needs—a tight end, maybe a wideout, some line help—can all be addressed in later rounds.
12. Denver Broncos — Rey Maualuga, ILB, USC
With Mike Nolan taking the reins in Denver this is a no-brainer. Maualuga would fill the banger role inside in Nolan’s 3-4 and help the Broncos take a big first step in turning around their defense. If Maualuga is off the board, James Laurinaitis is hardly a consolation prize.
13. Washington Redskins — Aaron Maybin, DE/OLB, Penn State
The Skins would like to upgrade both lines, so Eben Britton is an option. But Maybin could give them what they thought they were getting in Jason Taylor, and do so for the next five years. If Jim Zorn is thinking more of a pure outside linebacker the Skins could go back-to-back on Trojans with Brian Cushing here.
14. New Orleans Saints — Malcolm Jenkins, CB, Ohio State
This pick will come on the defensive side of the ball, and with all the top corners still available (unlikely, given the NFL’s desire for cover guys, but that’s how this mock has played out so far) the Saints will eschew linebacking help like Laurinaitis and upgrade their secondary.
15. Houston Texans — D.J. Moore, CB, Vanderbilt
Houston’s biggest needs are a pass rusher to complement Mario Williams and some help in the secondary. Michael Johnson could be the former, but with most of the elite corners still available expect Houston to choose between Moore and Vontae Davis—ultimately opting for Moore’s playmaking, versatility, and contributions in the return game.
16. San Diego Chargers — Eben Britton, OT, Arizona
The Bolts were ready to reach for Duane Brown last year before the Texans beat them to the punch. Britton should help San Diego rebuild an offensive line that struggled last season. Of course, if LaDainian Tomlinson’s run as a Charger is over, the Bolts could replace him with Knowshon Moreno or Beanie Wells, but it’s more likely they wait and pair Darren Sproles with a bigger back like Donald Brown or Rashard Jennings early on Day Two.
17. New York Jets — Vontae Davis, CB, Illinois
The last of the elite corners is just what the doctor ordered for the Jets, who desperately need to upgrade their secondary. Depending on what their aging quarterback decides, and when he decides it, they could also be in the running for a signal caller early on draft day as well, though once Stafford and Sanchez are gone there’s no first-round talent left at the position.
18. Chicago Bears — Jeremy Maclin, WR, Missouri
Here’s the conundrum: do the Bears do what they usually do on draft day and address their lines—in this case, likely a pass rusher such as Michael Johnson—or do they pair Devin Hester with a similarly versatile receiver on the other side? Adding Maclin to the mix might make even Kyle Orton look like a good quarterback.
19. Tampa Bay Buccaneers —Knowshon Moreno, RB, Georgia
There’s a need for help on the defensive line, so Michael Johnson or Peria Jerry warrant consideration. But with Warrick Dunn on the wrong side of 30 and both Earnest Graham and Carnell Williams coming off of injury—and Moreno absolutely falling into their laps here—the Bucs will capitalize on the opportunity to upgrade their ground game.
20. Detroit Lions (from Dallas Cowboys) —James Laurinaitis, MLB, Ohio State
The Lions would be downright giddy if they left the first round with new team leaders on both sides of the ball, and if Laurinaitis is still on the board here even Matt Millen could make the right move. Well, okay, maybe not Matt Millen. But the Lions couldn’t possibly screw this one up… could they?
21. Philadelphia Eagles — Chris “Beanie” Wells, RB, Ohio State
There’s a need along the offensive line, but with another selection six picks later it makes sense for Philly to grab Correll Buckhalter’s replacement (and Brian Westbrook’s heir). Given Wells’ injury history, however, it wouldn’t be at all surprising if the Eagles stayed a little closer to home and skipped over Beanie to select Pitt’s LeSean McCoy.
22. Minnesota Vikings —William Beatty, OT, Connecticut
Oklahoma’s Phil Loadholt would have been my initial choice—actually, he would have been a great fit one pick earlier to the Eagles, who like their lineman big—but Loadholt’s footwork has been so bad during Senior Bowl practices he’ll likely have to move inside to guard and may even fall off the Day One radar. Beatty, conversely, has great footwork but needs to bulk up. He’ll be an upgrade on the right side for the Vikings and could eventually transition to the left side if Bryant McKinnie’s off-the-field woes continue. The Vikings desperately need a quarterback, but I’m not sure reaching for Josh Freeman is the way they’ll go.
23. New England Patriots — Brian Cushing, OLB, USC
After breaking his maiden regarding first-round linebackers last season, Bill Belichick returns to the well for Cushing as the Patriots turn over their aging linebacking corps. Corner Alphonso Smith is another option, and the Pats have reached a bit for linemen late in round one before so Troy Kropog and fast-rising Jamon Meredith could come into play as well.
24. Atlanta Falcons — Peria Jerry, DT, Mississippi
Who woulda thunk the Falcons would be in “best player available” shape one year after basically starting from scratch? Jerry also fills a need along the defensive line; expect Atlanta to use later picks to address issues at safety and linebacker, as those positions don’t offer as much bang for the pick as Jerry does here. Tight end Brandon Pettigrew could be an option, but OC Mike Mullarkey has never used his tight ends so that pick would come only as a hedge with Mullarkey getting some head coach feelers after his success this season.
25. Miami Dolphins — Derius Heyward-Bey, WR, Maryland
Percy Harvin is a little too much like Ted Ginn, so Miami looks for a bigger receiver to complement Ginn’s gamebreaking skills and doesn’t have to reach too far for Heyward-Bey. Kenny Britt could also be considered if he has an impressive combine, but right now that feels like too much of a reach.
26. Baltimore Ravens —Alphonso Smith, CB, Wake Forest
The Ravens’ needs could change dramatically depending on which free agents they bring back. Clint Sintim has impressed during Senior Bowl workouts and could be a solution if Baltimore needs to replenish its linebackers. But at present their biggest need is at corner, and Smith fits the mold of a Ravens’ defender.
27. Indianapolis Colts — Percy Harvin, WR, Florida
It’s hard to believe Harvin wouldn’t have found a home by this juncture, but if he’s on the board when Indy makes its pick it’s not tough to see them putting plans to upgrade their defense on the backburner. Can you picture Harvin working the slot with Reggie Wayne on the outside and Dallas Clark in the other slot with Anthony Gonzalez flanking him? Now that might be the greatest show on turf.
28. Philadelphia Eagles (from Carolina Panthers) — William Moore, S, Missouri
If the Philly coaches believe they can get playoff-level production from Brent Celek on a regular basis they won’t chase Brandon Pettigrew here. It wouldn’t be at all surprising for the Eagles to deal down from this spot, as the bulkier linemen they tend to prefer can be had a round or two later. With no real go-to receiver to plug in opposite Desean Jackson—unless they view Hakeem Nicks as an upgrade over Kevin Curtis—the Eagles look to the future and hope they’ve found the heir to Brian Dawkins.
29. New York Giants — Brandon Pettigrew, TE, Oklahoma State
Nothing wrong with Kevin Boss, but Pettigrew is the best talent on the board and the Giants can certainly find ways to use him—as both a blocker for whatever portions of Earth, Wind, and Fire return and as an outlet for Eli Manning in the passing game.
30. Tennessee Titans — Fili Moala, DT, USC
If Albert Haynesworth leaves via free agency, Moala fills that gap. Even if Haynesworth returns Moala solidifies the stout Titans interior, but they might be inclined to look at a linebacker like Clay Matthews or Larry English. A receiver would make sense, but Justin Gage didn’t look bad in the playoff loss to Baltimore and in past first rounds the Titans have demonstrated a preference for more speed than Hakeem Nicks, the top wideout on the board, possesses.
31. Arizona Cardinals — LeSean McCoy, RB, Pittsburgh
Edgerrin James, his solid postseason notwithstanding, is running on fumes and Tim Hightower hasn’t indicated he’s the answer. The Cards want to diversify their offense and an elite back like McCoy or Iowa’s Shonn Greene would allow them to do so.
32. Pittsburgh Steelers — Duke Robinson, OG, Oklahoma
Robinson is the top interior lineman on the board, so unless the Steelers are enamored with a next-tier tackle prospect like Tulane’s Troy Kropog or South Carolina’s Jamon Meredith he’s the likely selection. That said, C/G Max Unger of Oregon and Wisconsin guard Kirk Urbik are showing well in Senior Bowl workouts and could play their way into the bottom of round one.