Fake it until you make it.
by Keith Beebe
To some people, the NFL Draft is a spectacle where teams get together to play Russian roulette in front of millions watching live on television; throwing unnecessary amounts of money at their draft selections and sending die-hard, dedicated fans into angry fits that warrant the need for a good strait jacket.
To others though, the NFL Draft represents that magical moment where a bad team can become a good team and a good team can become a dynasty. The Pittsburgh Steelers selected four future Hall of Famers in the 1974 draft and then went on to win Super Bowl IX, X, XIII and XIIII, cementing them as the official dynasty team of the 1970s. The late-â€˜80s Dallas Cowboys used the draft to transform their team from a 1-15 laughing stock to a three-time Super Bowl champion in the mid-â€˜90s. And everyone knows about the New England Patriots selecting Tom Brady with the 199th pick of the 2000 draft.
Whether you tune in with the hopes of watching your team improve or witness another team completely go down in flames, everyone can agree on one thing: the NFL Draft and high drama go hand-in-hand.
So without further delay, letâ€™s get to this yearâ€™s first round draft projection:
1.Detroit â€“ Matthew Stafford, QB Georgia
The assembly line isnâ€™t the only thing in Detroit that needs rebuilding. Practically an NFL version of the Washington Generals, the Lions need help at, well, every position, so drafting a franchise quarterback is probably a good place to start.
2.St. Louis â€“ Jason Smith, OT Baylor
The release of Orlando Pace, who was once left tackle royalty in the NFL, almost guarantees the Rams will use this pick on the aggressive, bullish Baylor lineman. Though a bit undersized at 309 lbs, Smithâ€™s gritty disposition â€“ not to mention his ruthless, almost hilarious dominance of Big 12 defensive ends â€“ has scouts viewing him as the most solid left tackle in this draft. Somewhere, Steven Jackson is smiling
3.Kansas City â€“ Aaron Curry, LB Wake Forest
While the Chiefs continue to float interest in other players â€“ probably with the hope that a team coveting Mark Sanchez (Denver, come on down!) will trade up in order to get him â€“ the reality is that new general manager Scott Pioli wouldnâ€™t ever pass up a linebacker with Aaron Curryâ€™s ability. Projected as the slam-dunk pick of this draft, Curry will immediately provide the Chiefs with impressive athleticism and leadership at the outside linebacker position.
4.Seattle â€“ Mark Sanchez, QB USC
This is the part of the draft where things could get interesting. Seattleâ€™s abominable 2008 season suggests they might be headed for rebuilding mode, but the acquisition of T.J. Houshmanzadeh in March and key additions on the defensive line have the Seahawksâ€™ fortunes looking up in 2009. Sanchez has the talent to become a pro bowl-caliber passer, and learning under Matt Hasselback certainly wonâ€™t hurt his cause. Left tackle is also an issue, so donâ€™t be too surprised if the Seahawks play it safe and pull the trigger on Eugene Monroe.
5.Cleveland â€“ Michael Crabtree, WR Texas Tech
Possibly the most gruesome, dysfunctional defense in the AFC, the Browns would be wise to get a game changing defender like Brian Orakpo at this spot. However, Braylon Edwardsâ€™ pending departure to another team and Donteâ€™ Stallworthâ€™s pending departure to a correctional facility have the Browns thinking wide receiver all the way with this pick. Luckily for the dawg pound, Michael Crabtree is the best wideout prospect in this yearâ€™s draft. Now if they could only figure out whoâ€™s throwing to himâ€¦
6.Cincinnati â€“ Eugene Monroe, OT Virginia
No team could be happier about Eugene Monroeâ€™s minor draft slide than the Cincinnati Bengals. Itâ€™s unrealistic to expect quarterback Carson Palmer to stay healthy when he has the Steelers and Ravens mauling him to death a combined four games a year, and a huge prospect like Monroe can help keep those AFC North edge rushing linebackers where they belong: off of the quarterback.
7.Oakland â€“ Jeremy Maclin, WR Missouri
While the Raiders have serious issues on their offensive line, itâ€™s highly unlikely Al Davis (who in his current senile state probably shouldnâ€™t even be making draft picks for the Raiders) will resist the temptation to take a burner of Maclinâ€™s caliber. The Mizzou speedster should immediately bolster a young offense featuring the likes of Darren McFadden and Zach Miller. This season will also be JaMarcus Russellâ€™s last opportunity to prove he wasnâ€™t a colossal waste of a number one pick, a fact foretold by the signing of journeyman Jeff Garcia.
8.Jacksonville â€“ Andre Smith, OT Alabama
Smith neglected the end of his senior season (suspension), the NFL combine (personal meltdown) and his own pro day (running shirtless!) with the nonchalance of a seasoned sociopath. And yet, Jacksonville is about as far as heâ€™ll fall in this draft. Unbelievable. And while they have been constantly reiterating their interest in pursuing only â€œcharacterâ€ players, the thought of playing in the defensive end-stacked AFC South without a quality left tackle will have the Jags quickly singing a different tune if Smith falls to them. Ah, football: a game of compromise.
9. Green Bay â€“ B. J. Raji, DT Boston College
The Packâ€™s defense isnâ€™t scaring anyone over the age of seven, and while they have major holes in the secondary, thereâ€™s little doubt that adding a defensive tackle like Raji will get Green Bayâ€™s defense on the right track in a hurry. Equally adept at stuffing the run or rushing the passer, Raji is a rare talent and the most complete defensive tackle in this draft.
10. San Francisco â€“ Brian Orakpo, DE/LB Texas
Itâ€™s doubtful a defensive guru like Mike Singletary would even consider passing on a bull rusher like Brian Orakpo at this spot, especially since middle linebacker sensation Patrick Willis has almost no one to help him out on the laughable 49er defense. An edge rusher like Orakpo would create all sorts of problems in an NFC West division filled with sub-par offensive lines.
11. Buffalo â€“ Michael Oher, OT Mississippi
Buffaloâ€™s decision to trade Jason Peters to Philadelphia almost certainly guarantees they will take a left tackle at this spot, and while Oher isnâ€™t as well-known as Jason Smith or a Eugene Monroe, he is a devastating presence on the left side of the offensive line and did an adequate job of blocking against fast, aggressive SEC defenses. Hopefully Buffalo decides to pay their left tackle this time.
12. Denver â€“ Everette Brown, DE/LB Florida State University
The good news for Denver is that Everette Brown is one of the best pass rushers in this draft and shows a great, quick first step in his pursuit to the quarterback. The bad news is that he canâ€™t also play quarterback for the Broncos. You just know the Jay Cutler fiasco is going to haunt this organization, regardless of what owner Pat Bowlen says or how many first round picks they got in the trade with Chicago.
13. Washington â€“ Tyson Jackson, DE Louisiana State University
Considering their defensive line problems, it would almost certainly be in Washingtonâ€™s best interest to draft a solid, technique-oriented defensive end like Jackson, who would provide the Redskins with a player adept at stuffing the run (which is sort of necessary since the Redskins see Marion Barber III, Brian Westbrook and Brandon Jacobs each twice a season). Jackson might not be a pass rushing monster, but at least his presence on the defensive will help Washington forget they were completely fleeced for Jason Taylor.
14. New Orleans â€“ Chris Wells, RB Ohio State
The Saintsâ€™ secondary is depressing to say the least, and Jonathan Vilma could really use reinforcements at the linebacker position, but no one will deny the offense is booming in the French Quarter, and Reggie Bush has no chance for success running out of backfield unless New Orleans can pair him with a big running back who has the speed to take it to the house at will. Enter the Ohio State standout who should provide Drew Brees with yet another offensive weapon (which seems somewhat unfairâ€“ he threw for over 5,000 yards in 2008).
15. Houston â€“ Malcolm Jenkins, CB Ohio State
Yes, the Texans seem almost perversely interested in USC outside linebacker Clay Matthews, but taking him with the 15th selection would be a real reach, and having Malcolm Jenkins fall to them at this spot would be a sign of good fortune for a defense which really needs help in the secondary. Mario Williams looks like he is about to become the NFLâ€™s next dominant defensive end, so drafting a corner/safety who can help shut down opposing passing games might give Williams a little more time to physically assault AFC South quarterbacks.
16. San Diego â€“ Rey Maualuga, LB USC
The Chargers tend to like inside linebackers from USC, and the re-signing of LaDainian Tomlinson and franchising of Darren Sproles means San Diego probably wonâ€™t be in the market for a first round running back anytime soon, which means the Bolts will be looking to add a powerful interior linebacker to play alongside Shawne Merriman. Merriman and Maualuga: it even sounds painful.
17. New York Jets â€“ Josh Freeman, QB Kansas State
No one is buying the Jetsâ€™ claims that they arenâ€™t looking to draft a quarterback. Questions linger over the Kansas State standoutâ€™s decision-making and consistency, but one look at the Jetsâ€™ current qb roster begs the question, â€œCould they really do any worse?â€
18. Denver â€“ Knowshon Moreno, RB Georgia
You know your running game is bad when youâ€™ve used seven different running backs in one season, which is why it makes perfect sense for the Broncos to draft a powerful tailback like Moreno who will surely give Kyle Orton a solid running game to work with. Things are looking up in Denver alreadyâ€¦
19. Tampa Bay â€“ Peria Jerry, DT Mississippi
The Bucs aging defense is in serious need of an overhaul, and what better place to start than with a defensive tackle like Jerry who will help keep opposing interior linemen off of the Bucsâ€™ linebacker corps which, until recently, possessed the age and agility of a senior citizen community. Tampa could also choose to roll the dice and go with Vontae Davis at cornerback. Hey, Aqib Talib worked out, so anything can happen.
20. Detroit â€“ Robert Ayers, DE Tennessee
It would seem cruel, but not unusual, to call this pick a compromise, but Detroit would really like for Michael Oher to land at this spot â€“ a scenario which seems unlikely after the Bills jettisoned their malcontent left tackle Jason Peters to the Eagles. So instead, the Lions get a promising DE in Robert Ayers who can hopefully provide a spark to a listless, uninspired Lions defense.
21. Philadelphia â€“ Brandon Pettigrew, TE Oklahoma State
The Eagles could really use a running back at this spot, but drafting Donald Brown with the 21st selection might be a reach and there isnâ€™t a safety on the board worth taking in the middle of the first round. Luckily for Philadelphia, their consolation gift is powerhouse tight end Brandon Pettigrew, who will be a total match-up nightmare for NFC East teams and seems like a great fit for a city that once booed Santa Claus.
22. Minnesota â€“ Eben Britton, OT Arizona
The Vikings, for reasons beyond everyoneâ€™s comprehension, are sticking with Tarvaris Jackson at quarterback, and because Minnesotaâ€™s offensive line is close to resembling the Berlin Wall at this point, drafting a lineman like Britton to lock up the right side will provide Adrian Peterson with arguably the best run blocking in the league.
23. New England â€“ Brian Cushing, LB USC
Former general manager Scott Pioli is in Kansas City now, so donâ€™t be surprised if the Patriotsâ€™ draft scheme seems a bitâ€¦ altered. That said, Bill Belichick still likes versatile outside linebackers, which means heâ€™ll just eat up the idea of a multi-faceted player like Brian Cushing falling to New England at this spot. UConn cornerback Darrius Butler is also an option here.
24. Atlanta â€“ Percy Harvin, WR Florida
Linebacker and cornerback are both areas of serious concern in Atlanta, but Matt Ryanâ€™s mind-blowing rookie season has the Falcons looking to add more offense to an already explosive receiver corps. Percy Harvinâ€™s world class speed and versatility will take a lot of pressure off Atlantaâ€™s running game, which could lead to Michael Turner having an even more successful year in 2009.
25. Miami â€“ Hakeem Nicks, WR North Carolina
Itâ€™d be unlike Bill Parcells to go with a wideout in the first round, but the Dolphins really canâ€™t expect raw offensive weapons like Ted Ginn Jr. and Davone Bess to consistently produce unless they are paired with a go-to receiver like Hakeem Nicks. A smooth wideout with sure hands and an ability to create openings and beat double teams, Nicks can be Michael Irvin to Ted Ginnâ€™s Alvin Harper â€“ a concept which will seem much deadlier once Chad Henne takes over as Dolphins quarterback sometime within the next year.
26. Baltimore â€“ Vontae Davis, CB Illinois
While the Ravens would love to provide quarterback Joe Flacco with an armada of offensive weapons, itâ€™s no secret Baltimoreâ€™s aging defense is beginning to slow down, which is an area where a physically gifted player like Vontae Davis can immediately contribute.
27. Indianapolis â€“ Darrius Heyward-Bey, WR Maryland
Indianapolisâ€™ defense was anything but stellar last season, and the strong ground games exhibited by the other three teams in the AFC South means the Colts might want to think about addressing the interior defensive line with this pick. But this is Indy weâ€™re talking about, and theyâ€™ve never been a team to pass over a big, blazing fast receiver like Heyward-Bey. The Coltsâ€™ offense is exponentially faster with the Maryland burner on the field.
28. Buffalo, Darrius Butler, CB UConn
The Billsâ€™ secondary was close to nonexistent last season, which is why itâ€™s a no-brainer to draft an agile, playmaking corner like Butler at this spot. A relentless defender with great footwork, Butler should immediately provide a boost to Buffaloâ€™s defense.
29. New York Giants, Kenny Britt, WR Rutgers
This selection shouldnâ€™t be a surprise since the Giantsâ€™ offense practically went down the toilet after Plaxico Burress accidentally shot himself in the leg last November. Britt is a big, fast, physical receiver who will punish NFC East corners and give Eli Manning the tall, sure-handed receiver he sorely missed during the end of the 2008 season.
30. Tennessee Titans, Larry English, LB Northern Illinois
The Titans defense isnâ€™t nearly as strong as it was last season, thanks mostly to the departure of defensive tackle Albert Haynesworth, so boosting the pass rush with a talented defensive end/outside linebacker like Larry English might be a good idea for the Titans to explore. A receiver like Brian Robiskie could also be an option for Tennessee at this spot.
31. Arizona Cardinals, Donald Brown, RB UConn
Despite Edgerrin Jamesâ€™ inspired effort during the playoffs last season, itâ€™s clear that he just isnâ€™t going to work out as the Cardinalsâ€™ number one running back, which means an intelligent, agile player like Donald Brown could be in Arizonaâ€™s future. What Brown lacks in sheer athleticism, he more than makes up for with his work ethic.
32. Pittsburgh Steelers, Max Unger, C Oregon
The Steelers defied logic and won a Super Bowl with an incredibly lousy offensive line. Now that Pittsburgh expects to have both Willie Parker and Rashard Mendenhall healthy for 2009, they should probably think about upgrading their protection with a versatile player like Unger who can play most of the positions on the offensive line.