Tuesday, April 25, 2006

NFL; UPDATED MOCK DRAFT!

UPDATED ON THURSDAY!

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As is always the case during the week leading up to the NFL draft... one of the most highly anticipated events on the sports calendar, the usual pre-draft jockeying, press leaks, and mind games have entered full-swing mode! Teams are talking up players they have no intention of drafting, coaches are working out athletes they have no interest in, and the media dutifully reports every carefully choreographed move.
The Texans are trying to settle upon contract terms with RB Reggie Bush, a guy that given their current Running Back situation and plethora of needs they have little business drafting, the Saints are attempting to arrive upon a consensus... Offensive Line of Defensive line? Possibly one of the 2 highly rated Quarterbacks? And the Jets are giving much thought to moving out of their 4-slot; either up or down. Either way, Saturday... as it always is, will be filled with cheers, jeers, and a surprise pick or 3!
As of Tuesday, 4/25:

1. Texans; RB Reggie Bush: Bush, arguably the best running back to enter the league in over a decade, is just too talented to pass upon. A last minute deal with... the Jets (the most likely of the bunch), Packers, or Patriots is not out of the question. Bush, a more dynamic version of a young Marshall Faulk, can line up as a Wide Receiver and excels as a return man. He is, however, slight of build, and any team that selects him will have to monitor his touches carefully... 20 touches per game will most likely be his limit.

Alternative Pick; D'Brickashaw Ferguson: The team is riddled with needs, but a franchise Left Tackle is paramount. Ferguson has Orlando Pace / Jonathan Ogden type talent, and the team will go only as far as QB David Carr will take them. Trading out of the top slot might allow the team to draft one of the better Wide Receivers as well.

2. Saints; DE Mario Williams: This pick hasn't changed since my first mock draft, though the Saints would like very much to trade down and out of it. Yes, current Saint DEs Charles Grant and Will Smith are immensely talented, but Williams is a force of nature on par with Panther End Julius Peppers and the 'Aint D would take a big step forward with Williams getting in opposing Qubes' grills.

Alternative Pick; QB Vince Young: Some say Matt Leinart, but Young is far more mobile and athletic... and the team might try to draft and trade the Texas star.

3. Titans; QB Matt Leinart: Like the above... and next 5-6 picks, I ain't budging off of my first mock draft. The Titans have a huge problem on their collective hands as "Air McNair" needs to be permanently grounded. As it stands already, in another decade or so, McNair will struggle to put his pants on in the morning. In Leinart, a future star, the Titans will trot-out a brilliant Signal Caller who worked with the team's Offensive Coordinator Norm Chow when both were at USC. With a 25-1 record in his 26 collegiate starts, Leinart tossed 71 TDs (second only to Carson Palmer), demonstrated exemplary touch and better than advertised arm strength, and has the maturity to take command of the huddle as a rookie.

Alternative Pick; Vince Young: More than one league observer and coach has questioned Leinart's durability and feels the record-setting Trojan to be a "product of the system," and in Billy Volek the team has a backup who's capable of starting. Volek has posted some gaudy numbers while filling in for McNair over the past 2 seasons (In 8 starts during the '04 season, Volek hung 2,486/19/10), and if the staff is more enamored of Young and his jaw-dropping athleticism... they'll be able to plug Volek in as a rock-solid stop-gap and give Vince time to absorb the playbook and adjust to the speed of the pro game.
All of that being said, it is more likely that Tennessee will opt for Leinart.

4. Jets; OT D'Brickashaw Ferguson: Yes, much like the Houston Texans the Jets are also riddled with holes and saddled with needs; the secondary needs work, RB Curtis Martin looked awful last season, the receiving corps is weak, and the team's pass rush is anemic... especially in light of the John Abraham trade.
The Jets own the 4th, 29th and 35th selections in this draft, and they could try to package this pick up with one or both of the other top selections in order to move up to 1. Now reports have linked the team to RB Reggie Bush, which would answer multiple needs. The USC star can line-up as a receiver as well as return Kick-Offs and Punts. But, unless Gang Green makes a deal and moves out of this spot which at this point will come only via a draft day machination, the club will miss out on Bush and opt to pull the most talented player off of the board. At this stage that player will be the mammoth Tackle, D'Brickashaw Ferguson. If the numerous personnel and talent assessors are correct and the Virginia O-lineman is the second coming of Tony Boselli, the Jets will have a 10 year perennial All-Star. Needless to say, though, Ferguson isn't a "sexy" pick, and commissioner Paul Tagliabue will be showered with boos as soon as "and with the 4th pick in the 2006 NFL draft, the NY Jets select Virginia..." leaves his mouth. Yeah, yeah, yeah. If the Jets elect to pass on Ferguson they will be left with raw, inexperienced athletes who are likely to get their starting QB killed. D'Brickashaw Ferguson is an excellent choice and will serve as a building block for a powerful O-line.

Alternative Pick; DE Mario Williams or Reggie Bush: If the Saints opt to select a Quarterback and Williams drops into the Jets' lap, they'll have a hard time choosing between he and Ferguson. If, by chance, the Texans elect to trade out of the 1-spot and multiply their number of draft picks, the Jets won't even blink; they'll pull the Heisman Trophy winning runner right off the board and groom him behind C-Mart' for a year.

5. Packers; LB A.J Hawk: The Pack' are in a world of hurt. Though their Canton-bound QB has decided to return for the 2006 season, RB Ahman Green looked cooked to me before last season, WR Javon Walker claims he'll retire before donning a 'Bay uni' again, and the D is in ghastly shape. But after using a first-rounder on QB Aaron Rogers last year, the team will likely pass on the remaining QB-Musketeer, Vanderbilt product Jay Cutler, and the team will look to bolster the run defense. In OLB A.J Hawk they will get a hard-nosed player who has a cool Football name. In addition to his nifty name , Hawk is as strong as a bull, can make sideline to sideline plays, has been compared to Bear great Brian Urlacher, and is capable of covering both backs and Tight Ends. Expect the team to grab Hawk, the most coveted outside 'backer in this draft, with their 5th pick and to use their 2nd round pick on a Wideout.

Alternative Pick: LB Ernie Sims or WR Santonio Holmes: Many mock drafts have Iowa OLB Chad Greenway ranked after Hawk, the consensus #1 at this position. But Sims, while undersized at 5-11, has quick-as-a-blink speed (4.5 40) and hits like a truck. A proven playmaker, Green Bay wouldn't be adverse to lining veteran LB Nick Barnett up with either Hawk or Sims. And, given the state of pass catching affairs, a vertical threat such as Holmes would bolster a receiving unit that thinned-out as rapidly as Mary-Kate Olson due to injuries last season. I don't believe the Packers will expend such a high pick on a mid-round talent such as Holmes, and I firmly believe LB A.J Hawk is G-Bay's quarry.

6. 49'ers; TE Vernon Davis: The Niners' must give young QB Alex Smith some playmaking targets. In this age of pass catching TEs, a 6-4/265 target who runs a sub 4.4 40 and can make things happen after the catch is a commodity indeed. Think of Charger TE Antonio Gates... but with more speed. Davis could start from Week 1.

Alternative Pick; S Michael Huff or DT Broderick Bunkley: The offense is a huge issue, especially seeing as how the new franchise Quaterback is essentially a 1-man band. However, the Defense has been stripped to the bone and the versatile, hard-hitting Michael Huff might be a good building block. Likewise, Bunkley is a 6-3/310 defensive centerpiece. Enormously powerful and as disruptive as a bull in a china shop, the Niners can't go wrong with either player. But, in the interest of QB Alex Smith's well being and to render the run game marginally effective, chances are that the team will take Vernon Davis, the hands-down best pass catching Tight End in the draft.

7. Raiders; QB Vince Young: Without doubt a team owner Al Davis covets athleticism, a quality Vince Young has in triplicate form.
A big man at 6-5/230, Young possesses a strong arm and runs with both speed and power. His great strength allows him to make throws with defenders draped all over him, and his vision permits him to scramble and find the open man downfield. As everyone is aware, however, concerns abound. After scoring a 10 on the Wunderlic test Young's intellect has been likened to that of a chipmunk, and nothing could be further from the truth. Young is a leader of men, has great character, and can take command of an NFL huddle. Of that, there is no question. There IS some concern as to whether or not the former Texas star will be able to identify, dissect, and conquer the countless defensive looks opponents will show him. In addition, some NFL scouts remain adamant that his throwing motion is so raw that his entire motion will have to be broken down and rebuilt. This could, in turn, diminish his effectiveness. In the end the final draft decision belongs to Gradndpa Al, and with veteran Signal Caller Kerry Collins looking a great deal like a deer caught in the headlights of a speeding pick-up truck last season... so long as he's available, Vince Young is as close to a slam dunk as you'll find in any draft.

Alternative Pick: Matt Leinart (if the Titans take Young) or Jay Cutler (if both top-rated QBs are off the Board).

8. Bills; DT Haloti N'Gata: With Sam Adams now suiting up for the Bengals the Bill run Defense is in even worse shape than it was in last season; that is, utterly abhorrent! Ceding 4.5 yards per tote and almost 140 YPG, the Bill run D, ranked 31st in the league, was nearly non-existant and such cannot go on again. N'Gata is a mountain of a man at 6-5/340, and he possesses the skills to be a dominant player. The question is whether or not N'Gata is willing to put his nose to the grindstone, get his largely soft body into Football shape, and become a "take-no-prisoners" Tackle. And that, my Football watching friends, is precisely the type of player the Bills need to draft... and that's precisely the type of player Haloti N'Gata can become.

Alternate Picks; DT Broderick Bunkley: Lacking N'Gata's size and ability to gobble up space, Bunkley might be a bit less attractive to the Bills who need a lane-clogging DT. That being said Bunks' speed, strength at the point of attack, and ability to explode into the backfield render him an excellent consolation prize should N'Gata be gone. In fact, it's distinctly possible the Bills draft Bunkley because of his speed and herculean strength (he benched 255 40 times at the Combine).

9. Lions; LB Ernie Sims: The Lions have a litany of needs, not the least of which is a new GM. Incumbent Matt Millen has made a number of questionable calls and decisions to this point, and in so doing has proven that a 5 day, 8 hour work week is untenable for an franchise manager. After expending 1st round draft choices on a trio of Wideouts, a Running Back and a Quarterback who will more than likely be moved in a draft day deal, the Lion brain trust MUST address a Defense that is truly coming undone. The unit gave up ground yards at an alarming rate (127+) last year and in Teddy Lehman (participated in a scant 6 contests last year), Alex Smith (hasn't played since '04) and Boss Bailey (didn't play at all in '04 and started 11 games last year), the Lions field a Linebacking unit that is prone to injury and struggles to make plays. FSU LB Ernie Sims may be on the short side (6'), but the guy plays at full tilt, from sideline to sideline and from snap to whistle. In addition, Sims is solid enough in coverage and fast enough to get into the backfield. There are serious questions about his ability to play under control and whether or not he's worth using a top-10 pick on.

Alternative Picks; S Michael Huff or QB Jay Cutler: Huff is a 6-1/205 Lb human Cruise Missile. The Texas Safety uses his 4.3 speed to close quickly, hits with tooth-loosening violence, and excels in run support. In addition his coverage skills are excellent, allowing him to slip into man-to-man sets, and he relishes Special Teams play. The opportunity to seperate a return man from the ball... and possibly his head from his body has real appeal to Huff, and all of the above render him an ideal pick for the Lions. So much so they may be more inclined to pass on a questionable Sims and take the Safety with this pick. With the off-season acquisitions of both John Kitna (Bengals) and Josh McCown (Cardinals), coupled with last season's 5th round choice Dan Orlovsky showing flashes, perennial project Joey Harrington is no longer even listed on the depth chart! Although it's a longshot given the club's bevy of needs and current stable of Field Generals, a wildcard selection could be Vandy' QB Jay Cutler.

10. Cardinals; QB Jay Cutler: Although Card' coach Denny Green has a practice of taking "the best player available" when it's his turn to draft, more often than not that player turns out to be an offensive player. Green tends to ignore the defensive side of the ball come this time of year preferring, instead, to flesh-out the team's offense via the draft... and the defense through free agency. That being said, the veteran coach has softened his stance on expending high picks on defensive players as the drafting of LB Karlos Dansby ('04 2nd rounder) and CB Antrel Rolle (8th overall last year) will attest. Still, the D was very iffy last year, ranking 26th in points allowed. But alas, with young QB Josh McCown being allowed to sign with the Lions as a free agent, Green's team is left with venerable Kurt Warner and steak Tar-Tar raw John Navarre over Center. Yes, the Defense is riven with holes and the Offensive line remains a weak point, but Green will probably cross his fingers and hope that his Secondary, and specifically Rolle, steps it up, his D-line holds, and the team is able to out-point its foes.
And therein lies a problem. QB Kurt Warner is about as sturdy as your average septugenarian, and it's not a matter of if the greybeard Qube' succumbs to injury but when. The team is almost bound to take a Quarterback in this draft... their just not forced to do so in the first round. Other Signal Callers of consequence such as Alabama's Brodie Croyle, Clemson's Charlie Whitehurst, and to a lesser degree Michael Vick's judgement challenged brother, Marcus, will be available in the later rounds. With a peerless pair of pass catchers in Anquan Boldin and Larry Fitzgerald and a world-class runner in former Colt Edgerrin James lining up opposite whomever is jammin' hands under the Centers' butt, the O will score points. Whether or not Denny Green elects to address his anemic O-Line or vulnerable D will be the multi-million dollar question. Chances are, however, Cutler will be too attractive to pass up.

Alternative Picks; DT Winston Justice, TE Vernon Davis or LB Chad Greenway: All 3 athletes would fill positions of need. Currently, the team is trotting-out TE Eric Edwards, an undrafted kid out of LSU. Although the pass catching coffers are full, Green covets a TE capable of giving an opposing D-Coordinator fits and Davis would fit that bill to a tee. Should the polished product fall into the Card' coaches' lap... he'd have an easier time saying no to a slab of chocolate layer cake. Neither Darnell Dockett nor Kendrick Clancy has lived up to his ability and the team desperately needs a difference making Tackle. Lastly, the team gave opposing Quarterbacks far too much time to pick them apart last season, placing added pressure upon the Secondary. Green would like a flexible 'backer; one with enough speed to get into a Quarterback's grill but who can also drop into coverage should the play call demand it. Greenway is a heady, team-first Linebacker who offers those skills.

11. Rams; CB Jimmy Williams: As good as the Rams are offensively is as bad as they are defensively. For a team that fields an embarrassment of offensive riches... their 2005 6-10 record was shameful. For starters, the club has an apparent allergy to tackling as there's no other way to explain a 28th ranked run D that surrendered 136+ rushing YPG. Next, the Cornerback play was atrocious. Although the team has a number of visible CBs such as Jerametrius Butler and DaJuan Groce, only 1 Corner', Mike Furrey, has as many as 4 picks. The next highest INT total was LB Pisa Tinoisamoa's 2. Enter Virginia Tech's Jimmy Williams. A big Corner' at 6-2/215, Williams has the speed to pace virtually any pass catcher, the size to play bump and run, and is confident enough to not get discouraged should he be beaten for a score or big gain. In addition, Williams has a Safety's mentality... and has been called a "tweener." The fact of the matter is, with Ram S Adam Archuletta's questionable back, Williams's ability to play the position would be an asset.

Alternative Picks; S Michael Huff, CB Tye Hill, DT Broderick Bunkley: The others have been covered, but Hill is one of the speediest players in the entire draft. Able to run a 4.3 40 Hill can high-point the ball, is a very physical corner, and is unafraid to support the run. The knock on this physical marvel? At 5-9/185, Hill is more of a "speed bump."

12. Browns; DE Kamerion Wimbley:

13. Ravens; CB Jonathan Joseph:

14. Eagles; LB Chad Greenway:

15. Broncos; WR Chad Jackson:

16. Dolphins; WR Santonio Holmes:

17. Vikings; OLB Bobby Carpenter:

18. Cowboys; S Donte Whitner:

19. Chargers; CB Antonio Cromartie:

20. Chiefs; DE Manny Lawson:

21. Patriots; RB DeAngelo Williams:

22. Forty-Niners; CB Tye Hill:

23. Buccaneers; C Nick Mangold:

24. Bengals; S Jared Allen:

25. Giants; RB Laurence Maroney:

26. Bears; TE Mercedes Lewis:

27. Panthers; RB LenDale White:

28. Jaguars; LB Thomas Howard:

29. Jets; WR Greg Jennings:

30. Colts; RB Joseph Addai:

31. Seahawks; G Davin Joseph:

32. Steelers; S Daniel Bullocks:

REMAINDER OF ROUND 1 MOCK DRAFT TOMORROW!

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