Friday, April 07, 2006



The 2006 NFL draft is nearly upon us and frankly, it would seem as if a huge divide exists between the top-tier talent and the mid-level athletes. The top 10 picks, let's say, are without doubt the cream of this draft's crop. Then, from everything I'm hearing and reading, picks 11-20 are virtually interchangeable; seperated by nothing more tangible than scouts' opinions.. Which of course explains why so many teams are looking to trade up and out of these pricey slots. Now that's NOT to say that the level of talent in the '06 draft is poor, because the situation is actually quite the opposite. There's great value to be had throughout the entire first day, and indeed day-2 will undoubtedly yield several diamonds in the raw.

As we did last season, let's peruse the 1st round of the draft. We'll discuss the most likely pick, team needs, and "alternative selections." Keep in mind, though, that there may be a great deal of movement this season. This year a troika of talented, future franchise collegiate signal callers will have their names called by the conclusion of the 1st round; USC's Matt Leinart, Texas's Vince Young and rapidly-rising Vanderbilt product Jay Cutler. Given the number of veteran Quarterbacks that swapped Unis', coupled with the number of teams that still need franchise field generals, clubs possessing low number picks may opt to jockey those valuable selections into additional draft picks and experienced players.

As is the case every year, surprises will no doubt abound!

1. Houston Texans; RB Reggie Bush: No shocker here. Even with proven 1,000 yard runner Domanick "Double-D" Davis in the fold (Doub' D' was awarded with a $21.1 Milly' contract extension) and '05 draft pick Vernand Morency backing Davis up, the most explosive offensive talent in the draft will go to the team that can least afford to take him. It wouldn't matter if the 2006 Texans could somehow manage to trot-out a backfield consisting of Walter Payton, Red Grange, and Barry Sanders. WR Andre' Johnson is a 1-man pass catching band, and with no complementary receiver or receiving corps to help keep the pressure off of the run game the offense is waaay too predictable. Then, you must take the gossamer-thin Houston O-Line into consideration. Carr is... and always has, been forced to run for his very life, and as a consequence the young man's development may have been permanently affected. The Texans can't draft Matt Leinart since they recently resigned David Carr to a big dollar deal. But realistically, if the Texan brain-trust was really smart, they'd grab Virgina OT D'Brickashaw Ferguson. Someone's got to keep Carr upright and grass-stain free, and seeing as how the guy's been a human pinata... another 50+ Sack season could cost the Houston QB his health, ala Daunte' Culpepper.
If the Texan front office could tear their collective eyes away from the offense for a moment they'd be forced to address a horrifying defense. Said defense ranked second-to-last in "total yards allowed" (yielding 364 per game) and was far and away the worst in the league at defending the run; opposing ball carriers gashed the Texans for nearly 145 ground yards per game. With a veritable feast of talent laid out before them, Houston will still take Reggie Bush with the 1st overall pick in the 1st round of the 2006 draft.
Count on the Texans lining Bush up in the Slot where his 4.3 speed and liquid-quick open-field moves can be put to lethal use. Likewise, there has been talk of using Bush on Punt and Kickoff returns. Given his rather slight build (5-10/200), though, there are legitimate questions as to whether or not Reggie Bush can endure 20 touches per game in addition to the beating a return-man is subjected to.
Bottom line? This Heisman Trophy winner is the most exciting talent to enter the league since Falcon QB Michael Vick, and looks to be a more gifted version of Ram RB Marshall Faulk... when the scat-back was in his prime. All niceties aside, Houston will continue to flounder and lose until such time as they can stop opposing offenses, line a credible receiving threat up opposite Andre' Johnson, and provide QB David Carr with real protection.
OTHER POSSIBILITIES: Although I wouldn't count on it, OT D'Brickashaw Ferguson is a VERY remote possibility... DE Mario Williams even more unlikely.

2. New Orleans Saints: DE Mario Williams: The winds of Quarterback change are a-blowin', and former San Diego slinger Drew Brees is a breath of fresh air for this stagnating team. Once Brees was wooed and signed the need for a franchise Quarterback vanished, and now the smack around the league has the defensively deficient 'Aints snatchin' N.C State stud Mario Williams, the hands-down best Defensive End in the draft, off the 'board. Ohio State LB A.J Hawk also remains a possibility, but Williams is a 6-7/295 freak of nature. The elite prospect pairs Running Back speed with lineman strength, and boasting absurd athleticism has been likened to Panther great Julius Peppers.
Bottom line? Defensive Ends with Williams' ability are rare commodities.
Keep in mind, though, that the team already fields both DEs Charles Grant and Will Smith. Realistically, the Saints are riddled with needs, face a HUGE rebuilding project, and it's not inconceivable that they trade out of this spot in order to maximize their picks.
OTHER POSSIBILITIES: LB A.J Hawk, OT D'Brickashaw Ferguson

3. Tennessee Titans: QB Matt Leinart: Matt will go no further. Although Billy Volek resigned with the team and believed the starting job would be his once "Air" hung 'em up, Leinart's much too talented... and marketable, to pass up. After crafting a 37-2 record, including a string of 34 consecutive W's, Leinart will go down as one of the College game's greatest and most prolific passers. Possessing poise and intangibles that only "the great ones" can boast, the USC field general is clearly the most polished and NFL-ready QB in this draft. Further, league observers believe that had Leinart opted to skip "Ball-Room Dancing," "Great American Beers," and "Competitive Basket-Weaving," (dude took a single class and stayed in college last year, living "the life." To me, this just further underscores his genius!)... okay, Leinart took only Ball Room Dancing, he would've been the first overall selection in last years' draft. It's widely believed that Leinart is head and shoulders above both of 2005's top Quarterback selections, San Francisco's Alex Smith and Green Bay's Aaron Rodgers.
All of that is well and good, but it does not mean that he'll turn out to be the best NFL Quarterback in this year's draft. Leinart's critics' claims range from the always-popular "he's a system Quarterback" to "anyone would thrive with the talent that surrounded him at USC" to "I question his arm strength and durability."
Bottom line? Matt Leinart can make all the throws, including an especially pretty deep ball, and can take command of an NFL huddle immediately. And, with maturity that belies his age, above-average pocket presence, and the ability to operate under pressure, the guy has the potential to be the "next Tom Brady." Although rookie Quarterbacks rarely make an impact, even Pittsburgh's Ben Roethlisberger enjoyed limited success, Leinart could be thrown to the dogs in short order. Incumbent Steve McNair should be applauded for his grit and courage, but at this point in his career he's about as durable as a Grade-A egg. Without doubt, Leinart will be starting at some point this season.
OTHER POSSIBILITIES? QB Vince Young Young's far too raw and his mechanics need a lot of work. The Titans seem to be committed to Leinart; a kid they believe will render their offense relevant immediately.

4. NY Jets: OT D'Brickashaw Ferguson: After trading John Abraham to the Falcons for the 29th overall pick in this year's draft, NY has a vaccuum to fill; pass rush specialist. Abraham may not have been the toughest 'backer in the league nor was he the guttiest, but he could get after the Quarterback in a heartbeat, was able to shed blockers effectively, and when motivated... few offensive linemen are able to restrain him. However, as glaring a need as that may be the loss of OT Jason Fabini renders the O-Line a 1st round "must address." The team will likely grab a pass rusher or formidable Defensive End with their other 1st round selection.
D'Brickashaw Ferguson has yet to take a pro snap, but his name is already being uttered alongside Raven Jonathan Ogden's and Ram Orlando Pace's. At 6-5/295, and with a wingspan akin to a Boeing 747's...

5. Green Bay Packers:LB A.J Hawk:

6. San Francisco 49'ers: TE Vernon Davis:

7. Oakland Raiders: Vince Young:

8. Buffalo Bills: OT Winston Justice:

9. Detroit Lions: S Michael Huff:

10. Arizona Cardinals: QB Jay Cutler:

11. St. Louis Rams: CB Jimmy Williams:

12. Cleveland Browns: DT Haloti Ngata:

13. Baltimore Ravens: DT Broderick Bunkley:

14. Philadelphia Eagles: RB LenDale White:

15. Denver Broncos: DeAngelo Williams:

16. Miami Dolphins: CB Tye Hill:

17. Minnesota Vikings: OLB Ernie Sims:

18. Dallas Cowboys: WR Santonio Holmes:

19. San Diego Chargers: WR Chad Jackson:

20. Kansas City Chiefs: CB Ashton Youboty:

21. New England Patriots: RB Laurence Maroney:

22. Denver Broncos (From Washington): DE Tamba Hall:

23. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: OT Marcus McNeill:

24. Cincinnati Bengals: DT Gabe Watson:

25. New York Giants: LB Ernie Sims:

26. Chicago Bears: TE Leonard Pope:

27. Carolina Panthers: OLB DeMeco Ryans:

28. Jacksonville Jaguars: OLB Thomas Howard:

29. New York Jets (From Denver/Atlanta): C Nick Mangold:

30. Indianapolis Colts: RB Joseph Addai:

31. Seattle Seahawks: OG Max-Jean Giles:

32. Pittsburgh Steelers: WR Sinorice Rice:



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