Friday, June 09, 2006

NFL ... BREAKING DOWN THE DRAFT'S 1ST ROUND

The NFL Draft is an annual circus... a multi-million dollar circus that has become quite a spectator sport.
Every franchise has its own draft day strategy; some teams draft based upon need, others grab the "best player available," (at least according to their meticulously researched boards) and still others take players for reasons that are impossible for the expert and fan alike to divine. And, every year sees surprise picks, reach picks, "no-brainer" picks, and flat-out bad picks.
Case in point: last year, the Detroit Lions pulled 6-5/230 WR Mike Williams off the board with the 10th overall selection. Williams, who attempted and failed to enter the draft in '04, was widely viewed as a "luxury pick" given Detroit's glaring defensive holes and O-line needs. In addition, his character and ability were both questioned; many league observers feel that Mike Williams is a Tight End masquerading as a Wide Receiver. Already boasting an offense with a pair of 1st round Wideouts and a 1st round runner in Kevin Jones ('04 1st rounder), the team was widely blasted for making this pick. And, in hindsight, the former USC Trojan's 29/350/1 season must be viewed as a disappointment.

As for a "reach" pick? With the 21st pick in the 2005 draft, Jaguar coach Jack Del Rio reportedly pulled a groin muscle when he took Arkansas Razorback Matt Jones. A physical marvel, the 6-6 1/2" 245 Lb collegiate Quarterback faced a daunting challenge; become a starting caliber NFL Wide Receiver. But reach picks can pay great dividends as this pick illustrates! Jones posted a 36/432/5 season (compare his numbers with those of Mike Williams), became a nearly peerless red-zone weapon over the final third of the season, and picked up Jacksonville's scheme in short order.

So, who will be this year's Big Ben Roethlisberger (Steelers' 2004 11th overall pick), Adam "Pacman" Jones (Tennessee's legally-challenged, 2005 6th overall pick) or Matt Jones? Who are this year's reaches, busts, and rookie contributors? Only time can answer that question! We can, however, make some educated guesses!

There was a remarkable amount of movement in the first round of the 2006 draft, and after the first 10 athletes came off the board no less than 9 teams jockeyed their picks around.

1. Texans; DE Mario Williams: Given Houston’s nearly countless needs, and with the understanding that the lack of a credible Left Tackle renders QB David Carr's life expectancy to be on par with that of a Fruit Fly (2 weeks, give or take a day), naturally the team took... a Defensive End? Yup', a Defensive End.
Houston allowed opposing runners to rack-up almost 145 ground yards per game last season, ranking 'em a dead-last 32nd, and after surrendering a staggering 431 total points (an average of 27 per game), the franchise ranked dead-last in that category as well. Ergo, we can all agree that the D required a bit of… "tweaking?”
In Mario Williams the team now has a 6-7/295 nightmare inducing (at least for those QBs and Offensive Coordinators who'll need to prepare for him) freak of nature. An All-American as a Junior last year, his last year as a collegiate athlete, Williams finished the year with 14 1/2 Sacks, 27 1/2 Tackles for loss, and 62 Tackles (32 of them solo). Able to chase down a Running Back in backside pursuit and relentless enough to get in a QB's grill in a flash, he has the ability to take over games and, in general, wreak havoc. Sporting an arsenal of rips and spins yet powerful enough to blow through an Offensive Lineman, "Super Mario" gets off the snap in a hurry and is remarkably quick and agile for a man of his size.
Although he’s been compared to the games’ pre-eminent speed rushing Ends, Dwight Freeney and Julius Peppers, Williams is 15 pounds heavier than Pepp’ and has almost 30 pounds on Freeney. The point being, the bigger man doesn’t explode out of his stance quite as quickly as they do and the comparisons aren’t fair. Still, assuming he plays to his full capability, and that's been one of the few knocks on the newest Texan, Mario Williams has the ability to be a game changing, elite Defensive End.
Although he's a legit’ #1 pick and probably would have been in 8 out of any 10 drafts, it's not at all unreasonable to criticize the pick. The Texans, and their now former GM Charley Casserly, did nothing to drum up mystery and the team made no effort to disguise their interest in Williams. There was no misdirection or attempt to induce trade offers, and Houston actually came to terms with the N.C. State star the evening before the draft. Though franchise and player both vehemently deny it, the chatter around the league is that Houston selected Williams in large part because of his signability. I still contend, as do most analysts and writers, that even if the Texans had no interest in Reggie Bush, perhaps the most exciting player to enter the league in the past 25 years, Casserly could have done much more with his first overall pick.
FANTASY VALUE: Question the wisdom of this pick and knock the front office’s collective short-sightedness all you want, it has no bearing upon Williams' fantasy value. Given the Texans' horrifying defensive play and apparent inability to stop a ball carrier’s forward progress, the physical marvel that is Mario Williams stands to be an impact player… as a rookie. Capable of notching double-diggy' Sacks this year, Williams should also record upwards of 50 tackles and force a couple of fumbles while he's at it. In short, you should have no trepidation about making this dude a mid-round IDP pick.

2. Saints; RB Reggie Bush: After preparing to draft DE Mario Williams, the Saints were delighted to find RB Reggie Bush fall into their laps! The former Heisman Trophy winner, who has been likened to a "young Marshall Faulk but with more speed," is the very definition of versatile. Bush can return kicks, he’s got a Wide Receivers' mitts and is as dangerous after the catch as any NFL pass catcher, and once he finds open field... call out the Kicker! The Saints, amid a small offensive rebuilding project, will field a formidable 1-2 Running Back punch in Bush and veteran Deuce McCallister, though Deuce appears to be aging rapidly.
The one pre-draft issue surrounding Bush that gave some teams pause for thought is Reggie's lack of size. Currently 5’10” and 200 Lbs, Bush won’t be able to endure 20+ touches a game at this level. But, soft hands, electrifying return skills, and the consistent ability to get behind defenders and leave them grasping at a vapor trail afford him the ability to score from anywhere, at anytime. The smart money says that, within a year or 2, the Saint 'back will add 10-15 pounds of muscle without losing an iota of his flash or dash. In addition, Reggie doesn’t shy from contact. Although his coaches will undoubtedly advise him to step out of bounds in order to avoid taking unnecessary punishment, Bush is willing to lower his shoulder and give as good as he gets.
Look for the Saints to devise sets that feature both runners in the same backfield. With Deuce's (on the mend from a torn ACL) ability to catch the ball, bullish running style, and great power paired with Reggie Bush and his blinding speed, preternatural vision, and great flexibility, the Saints will be a very difficult team to scheme for, indeed.
FANTASY VALUE: The last player who had Reggie Bush's "stop and go" ability was “Hall of Famer” Barry Sanders. The most exciting skill player to enter the league in decades, Bush will see action as a rookie but the issue, for this season at least, is the presence of veteran Deuce McCallister. The veteran is too talented, not to mention too highly paid, to sit, and how will New Orleans capitalize upon the skills of both? The team has made clear their eagerness to see the runners take the field in tandem, but questions abound. McCallister is by far the more physical back and can withstand the rigors of a 25+ touch afternoon. But as for young Master Reggie, NFL observers and scouts alike openly question his durability and ability to play 16 or more games at this level. Further, irregardless of his explosiveness is it wise to allow the former USC star to risk a season-ending (or heaven forbid… career) injury returning a punt?
Bottom line? If the Saints are smart, and they limit their explosive rook’ to 8-12 touches per Sunday, Bush should be a viable fantasy weapon from Week 1 on.

3. Titans; QB Vince Young: Although many mock drafts had USC QB Matt Leinart going to Tennessee due to the presence of his former mentor, Offensive Coordinator Norm Chow, the Titan brain trust put little, if any, stock in mock drafts. Instead, the majority of the Titan decision makers were chomping at the bit, eager to grab Texas’ 6-5/228 Signal Caller, Vince Young. Young is very poised, seems to have his head screwed on straight, and possesses a remarkable set of tools; a strong arm, ideal size, a quick release, and excellent accuracy.
The fact of the matter is, Tennessee believes Young to be a faster and more athletic version of the last Quarterback they expended a 1st round draft pick upon, Steve McNair (1995).
All of the above would lead one to believe Vince Young capable of being a 12 year franchise Quarterback and there would be little doubt about such if not for one... perhaps two, eh’, maybe 3, considerable criticisms. Firstly, Young's delivery has been called "awkward" and according to a number of scouts and Quarterback coaches, that’s being generous. Basically, the young Signal Caller "flicks" the ball with a side-arm motion and doesn't stride into his throws. That, however, is a matter of mechanics and mechanics can be re-tooled. Of greater concern is Young’s ability, or inability, to diagnose opposing defenses and absorb the arcane language (not to mention play upon play) of an NFL playbook that is the approximate the size of “War and Peace” (Unabridged). In addition, Young operated out of an “Option” based offensive system while at Texas and how rapidly he’s able to adjust to a pro style system will be a reliable indicator of what kind of NFL slinger’ he’ll be.
After his Wunderlic scores were unfairly made public NFL insiders privately, and openly, questioned the young man’s ability to compete at the pro level. Only time will tell.
FANTASY VALUE: At this point, the only rookie QB possessing an iota of fantasy value is Matt Leinart. While Vince Young has the potential to redefine the position, he's just a baby and it'll be 2-3 seasons before his value can truly be assessed. If you belong to a "Dynasty" league, Young might warrant a 'Wire pick if your roster is stacked.
Few owners, though, can afford to allot a roster space to a player who is 3 years away, at a minimum, from being a fantasy factor.

4. Jets; OT D'Brickashaw Ferguson: Not a "sexy" pick but certainly a solid pick. That said, the Jets reportedly made no overtures to either Houston or New Orleans… made no effort to acquire a brilliant playmaker in RB Reggie Bush, and for that they can be faulted.
But, with former Patriot D-coordinator Eric Mangini now stewarding the Jet ship, it’s not surprising that he brings a “Patriot mentality” to New York with him.
After Gang-Green lost Jason Fabini to the Cowboys and released Kevin Mawae, they would have been left with a pair of under-cooked Offensive Tackles in Scott Gragg and Adrian Jones. And, after the team struggled to both run and pass protect last year, the O-Line was made priority #1... and apparently #2, as the team drafted Center Jeff Mangold with their other 1st round pick.
"The Brick" looks a helluva’ lot like a 10-year starting Left Tackle, and he’s already being compared to greats such as Baltimore's Jonathan Ogden and St. Louis's Orlando Pace. Premature? Certainly. But, 6-6/310 Tackles who are as nimble as Ferguson are exceedingly rare. The NFL sees perhaps a dozen quality Tackles enter the draft each year, but of that group perhaps 2 are suited to work on the left side. "Brick" has enough speed to pull, and the athleticism and "quicks" needed to stymie "speed" and "edge" rushers.
As good as he already is, if Ferguson is to reach his full potential than he must pack more size onto his lower half and ratchet up his level of aggression. "Good" Tackles possess a mean streak while "Pro Bowl" Tackles possess a borderline personality disorder… during games. At the very least, elite Tackles are downright nasty.
D'Brickashaw Ferguson demonstrates the required intensity but he must do so consistently. The Jets believe that their future franchise Tackle will learn to leap off the snap, fire into the defender, and finish his blocking assignments with authority (I.E, pancake the defender). Assuming he does all of that, then the team does have a 10-year Pro Bowl Tackle. If “Brick” wants it bad enough, he has the potential to rank amongst the very elite at his position.
FANTASY VALUE: Unless your league awards points for pancake blocks and flattening would-be defenders... and it'd be the first I've ever heard of such a stat being recorded, then the only fantasy impact Ferguson will have is on RB Curtis Martin. But don’t dismiss such as a joke. The big guy can open holes large enough for a Tractor Trailer to roll through and his pass blocking will allow the receivers time to run their routes.

5. Packers; LB A.J Hawk: Talk about a “safe pick,” Hawk was Ohio State's undisputed leader and without doubt the best Linebacker in this year's draft. He is the player the Pack' had their sights set upon from the get-go. Naturally instinctive and always around the action, Hawk is capable of blowing up the run and boasts rare coverage skills. Green Bay allowed opposing teams to roll-up 125+ rushing yards per game last year, largely because LB Nick Barnett was the sole Linebacker of consequence. Now, alongside Barnett and former Brown 'backer Ben Taylor, Hawk and friends will form the backbone of the Green Bay D and teams will find the going to be far tougher.
An athlete with rare closing speed and the ability to accelerate like a NASCAR entry, Hawk explodes into the ball carrier and is a blitz-machine. He possesses exemplary tackling skills and can slip into pass defense and capably shadow a back or Tight End. If you require a measuring stick, Hawk’s been compared to Bucca’ ‘backer Derrick Brooks; high praise indeed given the Tampa defender’s disruptive style and knack for coming up with the game-changing play!
Without a doubt, A.J. Hawk’s tenacity and fire will both inspire teammates and make him a fan favorite in short order!
FANTASY VALUE: Perhaps the most exciting Linebacker to enter the league since Chicago's Brian Urlacher, Hawk will provide his club with an immediate infusion of energy and leadership. Able to slide through traffic with ease and shed blockers like water, Hawk will stalk the ball carrier, close in an instant, and hit like a Sledgehammer. An early “Defensive Rookie of the Year” favorite, the Packer rook’ should be a top-notch IDP play.

6. 49'ers; TE Vernon Davis: Just like G-Bay did with Hawk, the Niners' got the player they coveted; a playmaker of the highest order. In this, the era of the pass catching Tight End, we have studs (both fantasy and real) such as Raven Todd Heap, Charger Antonio Davis, Giant Jeremy Shockey, Cowboy Jason Witten, Dolphin Randy McMichael, and Steeler Heath Miller (although we’ve heard much we've seen little from Cleveland's Winslow Jr., so far). Taking nothing away from the aforementioned, enter Vernon Davis, another member of the 2006 draft class who may well be the best player at his position to enter the league in years.
Davis came out of Maryland as a Junior and had little left to prove as a collegian. A 6-3/255 TE with a sub 4.4 40 (according to several sources, Davis’s 4.38 second 40 yard dash was the fastest ever recorded at the Combine by a Tight End prospect), Davis is a remarkably gifted athlete. Really just an enormous Wide Receiver, the dude can flat-out fly, catch almost anything thrown his way, and block when the assignment calls for it. More significantly, however, Vernon Davis can make the big play and will stretch opposing defenses, thus allowing San Fran's iffy wide receiving corps the opportunity to get open. Able to cut on a dime and out-run most defenders, Vernon Davis is powerful enough to retain his balance after a Safety delivers a shot… and if you’re going to try and tackle him you’d better wrap-up! Smaller D-backs will require help.
The Forty-Niner's needed to get young QB Alex Smith a playmaking pass catcher... and they got him. And, although Davis is not an eager blocker, he can learn. That being said, San Francisco did NOT take a Tight End with the 6th overall pick because they needed an extra blocker. Rather, the team snatched up Davis because they notched a shameful, league low 162 passing YPG last season and Davis has “greatness” written all over him. Also, the prototypical pass catching TE is smooth enough, and polished enough, to make a significant splash as a rookie. Some believe that the 22 year old receiver has the potential to develop into a weapon on par with the Chargers' Antonio Gates… and may even develop into a more dangerous receiver due to his great speed (Gates ran a 4.55 40), crisp route running, and open field elusiveness.
FANTASY VALUE: The Niners' are awful, plain and simple. Running Back Frank Gore, who is recovering from shoulder surgery, has supplanted veteran Kevan Barlow, who's recovering from his own surgery (knee). With WR Brandon Lloyd fleeing for the greener pastures of Washington the team signed Antonio Bryant, a talented receiver who is now with his 3rd club in 5 seasons, largely due to an attitude problem. Left with the unexciting Arnaz Battle as the teams' #2 receiver and TE Eric Johnson as the sole pass catchers of consequence (does the presence of septuagenarian pass catcher Johnnie Morton not speak volumes?), the franchise was understandably concerned that the 2nd year Signal Caller had few weapons at hand.
Towards that end Vernon Davis should go a long, long way towards legitimizing Frisco’s air attack. Again, a gigantic Wide Receiver claiming to be a Tight End, Davis stands to have a very good fantasy season and, quite possibly, a record-breaking season.

7. Raiders; S Michael Huff: In a draft replete with intrigue and surprise, the first shock of the day was when Houston took a Defensive End with their 1st overall pick. The 2nd stunner was USC QB Matt Leinart's plunge. The Raiders, of all teams, completed the trifecta when they bypassed the offense and drafted Texas Safety Michael Huff.
Team owner Al Davis, as a rule, eschews Defense and flies to cannon arms, great speed, and big names like a bee to honey. So, no doubt several aged Raider fans were tossed into cardiac arrhythmia when the team, arguably in need of a Signal Caller (although fans believe former Saint Aaron Brooks will hold down the fort til' Andrew Walter is ready to steer the ship), allowed both Matt Leinart and highly regarded Vanderbilt QB Jay Cutler to slip through their grasp. And yet, in light of S Charles Woodson leaving Oakland to sign a 7 year, $52.7 Milly' dollar deal with Green Bay, this pick was actually remarkably well informed.
Strong Safety Michael Huff is a human Cruise Missile. The Texas product has speed to burn (4.34), is a willing run-stopper, and started his career as a Cornerback and can thus play man-to-man. A 6-0/205 athlete with fluid hips and the body control of a dancer, Huff can stick to a receiver’s hip and is strong enough to beat the jam. A sideline to sideline playmaker, his ability to kick it into 2nd gear almost instantaneously provides Huff with good "make up" speed so he's rarely beaten, and a knack for timing tooth-loosening hits allow him to not only break up plays, but he will make pass catchers think twice before going up for the ball while he's in their Zip Code. Huff has excellent instincts, is a reliable open-field tackler, and is able to play "on an island." Although the new “Black & Silver” Safety can turn virtually any INT into a "quick 6," he must learn to "play under control" and gamble less.
FANTASY VALUE: An unexpectedly good pick for the defensively challenged Oakland Raiders, Huff will replace the dearly departed Charles Woodson and help bolster a lousy Secondary. Able to stuff the run with the power of a Linebacker, even at 6’, Huff also has the skills needed to become an elite Corner'. Alongside Packer 'backer A.J Hawk, Huff is another early "Defensive Rookie of the Year" favorite and he too should post some very solid IDP diggies’.

8. Bills; S Donte Whitner: This strange pick ranks as the draft's "4th surprise" and is an indicator that;
A. the Bills were expecting to draft Huff, who came off the board immediately before Buffalo picked.
B. the team may have tried to trade out of this spot, and finding no takers or not getting enough in return for the pick, found themselves pressed for time, panicked, and selected the 2nd ranked Safety on their board.
The Ohio State Strong Safety was a 2nd and even 3rd round talent on most teams' boards, and unless he becomes a stud... Marv Levy will take a whole lotta' heat over his the selection.
At 5-10/200 Whitner is under-sized and may have a hard time staying healthy at this level. In addition, a lack of height will hurt him when he’s assigned to cover pass catching TEs, he has a tendency to get taken along for a “Piggy-Back Ride” by opposing runners and bigger pass catchers, and lead backs can blow him out of the ball carrier's way. The upside? Donte' Whitner, who can play any position in the Secondary, has a chance to become a rock solid Safety. He plays "bigger" than he really is and is able to both jam and knock opposing receivers off of their routes. Further, Whitner will attack the play and he relishes run support, even if he does get brushed aside at times. He will assuredly be a stand-out Special Teamer from Week 1 on. Had he been 2" taller and 10 pounds heavier Whitner might have been the draft's top ranked Safety.
If Whitner is to make the transition from “excellent college ball player” to “starting caliber” pro, he’ll need to improve his recognition skills and stop biting on fakes.
FANTASY VALUE: The perception is such that Donte’ Whitner was drafted much too early. That does not mean, however, that he won't become a quality starter. A true “tough guy” and a whistle to whistle playmaker, Whitner's lack of size caused many draftniks to drop him on their draft boards. But, his speed, versatility, and break-neck Special Teams play should make him a standout IDP'er… next season.

9. Lions; LB Ernie Sims: With both Matt Leinart and Jay Cutler still undrafted, Lion GM Matt Millen must have given some thought to taking a new field general. After all, 2002 3rd overall pick Joey Harrington is now wearing Dolphin duds and the club will trot-out a new starter, 35 year old John Kitna (2 mostly inexperienced Signal Callers will back him up; Josh McCown late of Arizona and last season’s 5th round pick, Dan Orlovsky).
But, given Millen's suspect track record when it comes to 1st round selections, the former player turned analyst turned GM's skittishness is understandable. Fielding an offense that already boasts a plethora of high draft picks, a franchise that yielded almost 130 rushing YPG and allowed foes to score an average of 3 TDs and change a week opted to bolster its Linebacking corps… and it’s hard to find fault with that. One-time stud prospect SLB Boss Bailey, taken in the 2nd round of 2003, has proven himself to be over-rated and injury prone, MLB Teddy Lehman, a 2nd rounder out of the 2004 draft who missed 11 games last year has likewise proven himself to be nothing special, and former 5th round (2004) WLB Alex Smith has shown flashes of ability but will never be a game-altering force.
Ernie Sims, a 5-10/230 Outside Linebacker from FSU, may or may not become the kind of 'backer the team needs him to be. With a history of concussions... the kid is already staring down the barrel of post-concussion syndrome, character issues (an altercation with a girlfriend prompted a police response) and suspect durability (recovering from a broken ankle in addition to those concussions we spoke of), the wisdom of the pick could be questioned. Additionally, he lacks ideal size and tends to get swallowed up by larger blockers, he has trouble shedding blocks, and due to his lack of height will struggle when asked to cover most of the leagues’ pass catching TEs.
Sims may not be a Pro Bowl talent, but so long as he's able to stay healthy and avoid knocking himself out he has a chance to do yeoman's work and be a very solid Linebacker. The Lion’s top pick can quickly sniff-out and diagnose a play, and coupled with his natural strength Sims can be very disruptive. The fact of the matter is, the guy plays with fire and can hit like a lead pipe.
The Motown front office has plans to couch the entire D around Sims, and until such time as he proves his worth the pick will be suspect. Indeed, the Lions might have been better off taking either DT Haloti N'Gata or Brodrick Bunkley.
FANTASY VALUE: With coach Rod Marinelli installing the “Tampa 2” defensive scheme, look for Sims to see time immediately. The “M & M Boys” (Marinelli and Millen) are looking to use the under-sized yet powerful defender as the foundation of their re-tooled defensive scheme. Expecting Sims to be Detroit’s answer to Bucc’ ‘Backer Derrick Brooks’ is asking a great deal, however. With his speed, acceleration, and ability to slip back into coverage, Sims could be a difference maker. Observers do, however, wonder whether the 21 year old will produce consistently or on a level that correlates with his draft status. An inability to control his aggressiveness, Sims tends to over-pursue and get tagged with unnecessary penalties, coupled with medical concerns and off-field issues prompt one to wonder if this was the right pick right here.
Bottom line, all Ernie Sims needs to do to prove his worth as a top-10 draft pick and succeed at this level is build strength, reign in his temper, prove himself to be durable, and hone his technique. Now, is that asking too much?

10. Cardinals; QB Matt Leinart: Arizona celebrated Christmas in April this year! The chubby guy in the funny suit saw fit to drop a Heisman Trophy winning, record-setting, chip-on-the-shoulder franchise Quarterback down coach Denny Green’s chimney! Leinart's draft day drop cost him millions of dollars but it also may have taught him a valuable lesson in humility, and there’s a life-lesson that translates well to the gridiron.
There was no way the Cards' were going to let Leinart pass them by once he fell to them, and chances are quite good that with a rickety, rocking chair ready Kurt Warner serving as the starter, and an iffy and inexperienced backup in John Navarre, the team would have taken a Quarterback with their 2nd round pick (41st overall).
Conventional wisdom said that the Titans would take Leinart at #3 since Offensive Coordinator Norm Chow worked with him when both were at USC. That was a smoke-screen, however, and the Titans took the Signal Caller they wanted (most of them, anyway) all along in Vince Young. Once the Titans passed on Leinart... wouldn't the Jets draft him with their 4th pick? Much to the dismay of the Gang Green faithful who were sitting in Radio City Music Hall watching the dream unfold, 'Nope. And, once the Jets allowed Leinart to pass them by, neither Green Bay nor San Fran' were going to take another QB in the 1st round after each did so last year. But the Raiders, who went nowhere with Kerry Collins at the helm last year, would surely take him, right? To everyone's collective surprise, no, and Leinart plummeted all the way to 10. Why the inexplicable plunge? Although he’s been lionized over the past 2 seasons, head coaches and General Managers question his arm strength and are disinclined to gamble their jobs away on a potential "system Quarterback." Those clubs and staffs that took a pass on Leinart because of the system he became accustomed to while at USC are myopic. Widely believed to be the most NFL-ready Signal Caller to enter the league in years, right now, without having had the benefit of any NFL coaching or even so much as a mini-camp, the raw product that is Matt Leinart may be superior to several veteran Field Generals.
'Zona coach Dennis Green can now trot out a "shock and awe" offense comprised of Warner, RBs Edgerrin James and J.J. Arrington (given Arrington’s high draft status (2nd rounder), the team will move to develop him and trade the still valuable 28 year old Marcel Shipp), and WRs Anquan Boldin and Larry Fitzgerald. Green chaperoned a great draft, obviously headlined by his QB of the future, and wouldn’t have been happier had he received a lifetime pass to an "24 Hour-All-You-Can-Eat Seafood Buffet!"
After going 37-2 as a Trojan, Matt Leinart enters the NFL with prototypical size (6-5/225), intangibles rarely seen in a rookie Quarterback, and a veteran's ability to dissect a defense. Unfortunately, Leinart also ascends to the next level with a history of injury (major shoulder injury suffered in High School, underwent a rather serious elbow surgery prior to his senior year at USC), suspect arm strength, and below-average escapability.
On the brighter side, Leinart's ability to read defenses in conjunction with a compact release, should allow him to get rid of the ball quickly, and his muscular build and size should allow him to withstand the big hits he'll invariably be subjected to. Further, a nearly peerless corps of playmakers should be able to get open quickly and pick up blitzing defenders.
Without a doubt the Cardinals landed the steal of the 1st round, and if Leinart develops into the kind of ball player his supporters believe him capable of becoming then Arizona snagged a 12 year starter with All-Star skills.
FANTASY VALUE: QB Kurt Warner, who has already reached out to Leinart, will continue to shepherd the offense. Until, of course, he suffers his inevitable injury, and my “Injury Over/Under” is Week 7!
The inescapable truth is that rookie Quarterbacks make for lousy fantasy gambles, and it’s important to keep in mind that on-field success doesn’t always translate into fantasy success. When Big Ben Roethlisberger was forced into a starting role and reeled off 14 straight, even his fantasy totals were weak. Although I have yet to be invited to an Arizona staff meeting, the smart money says the team will capitalize upon Warner’s arm strength and the pass catching contingent’s ability to get downfield. Newcomer Edgerrin James will keep the chains moving and opposing Ds back on their heels, until Warner is felled by injury. Once Leinart is over Center… and again, figure around mid-season, Edge’s role will be dramatically increased. When, not if Leinart is forced into a starting role, ‘Zona will almost certainly go run heavy.
A worthwhile late-round pick or mid-season Waiver Wire grab due to Arizon'a incomparable corps of playmakers, give Leinart 3 seasons and he'll be a rock solid fantasy weapon.

11. Broncos (from Rams); QB Jay Cutler: The first trade of the day saw the Broncos hurdle several teams that may have been inclined to draft Jay Cutler, the 3rd ranked QB on virtually every teams' draft board. Cutler, a 6-3/225 Signal Caller hailing from Vanderbilt, saw his stock rise dramatically in the days and weeks leading up to the NFL's "Dog and Pony Show." Initially believed to be a low 2nd to mid-3rd round pick, Cutler's impressive showing/practices during Senior Week coupled with his willingness to let it all hang out during the Combine led directly to his meteoric rise. But, did the Broncos really need to take a project QB and give up so much (the 15th overall pick and their 3rd round pick) to get him? A Quarterback, incidentally, whose seat-of-the-pants style closely parallels Jake Plummer’s. Denver believed that the Jets were trying to make a deal that would’ve netted them the Vandy’ dandy, and even if New York was unable to move up… well, a QB-strapped Baltimore team probably would have taken the promising prospect with their 12th pick.
So what does Denver have in their '05 All-SEC Signal Caller who threw for 3000+/21 and completed 59% of his passes as a Senior and graduated from one of the most academically challenging universities in the United States? A successor to, and near clone of, Jake Plummer.
A big kid at 6-3/225, Cutler has a plus arm and can make every throw in the book. He can put a ball through an opening not much larger than a postage stamp, and his tight spiral makes for an easy catch. Able to sense pressure (although this is not his strong suit), buy time, and bull his way for the first or into the End-Zone, Cutler is an above-average athlete who boasts all the intangibles a club looks for in a franchise Quarterback. Obviously intelligent, he should be able to pick up the team's playbook and terminology in no time, and experience and tutoring will teach him how to interpret the various defensive looks opponents will show. It will take time, however, for Offensive Coordinator and former NFL QB Gary Kubiak to teach Cutler proper form and consistent mechanics. The young Bronc' doesn't always sense pressure and has subsequently taken some big hits, and Kubiak will need to break Cutler's habit of forcing ill-advised passes. A habit, incidentally, Plummer still struggles with.
In sum, Cutler may have been a luxury pick at #11, but with Bradlee van Pelt as the sole backup, Denver now has a capable fill-in should Plummer fall to injury and a future franchise in the fold. Further, with former Packer Javon Walker now in the Bronco pass catching stable, Cutler will have a top-notch deep threat at his disposal.
This was certainly a bold and unexpected stroke from the usually quite conservative coach, Mike Shanahan!
FANTASY VALUE: Short of motivating Jake Plummer to play to the level of his capability and make better decisions (both on and off the field), Cutler's fantasy value is currently nil. Even if Plummer suffers an injury, Cutler’s mechanics are questionable, his decision making needs work, and he will need time to sharpen all of his skills. Although he is the Quarterback of the future… that future remains at least 2 seasons away.

12. Ravens (from Browns); DT Haloti N'Gata: Baltimore Head coach Brian Billick and Offensive Coordinator Jim Fassell could not have been pleased to see Jay Cutler drafted mere seconds before their team picked. No longer convinced of incumbent QB Kyle Boller's leadership or ability to take the team to the post-season Promised Land, the Ravens likely had planned to draft the Vanderbilt graduate with their 12th overall pick. Instead, the team will have to make due with former Steeler backup Brian St. Pierre as their #2, for now at least.
Known for making their living off of an absolutely carnivorous defense, Billick drafted Oregon’s massive 6-4/338 DT, Haloti N'Gata. An immovable object, N'Gata could become a special player and an Offensive Lineman's worst nightmare. Checking in at almost 1/5 of a ton, the dude is downright huge and is frighteningly powerful. Capable of bull rushing an opposing lineman and strong enough to send him crashing into the Quarterback, N'Gata’s a space-eater whose game revolves around power. Given his enormous frame (rumor has it N’Gata’s ass has seating for 2), one would thing Haloti N’Gata slow-footed but nothing could be further from the truth. Able to run the 40 in 5.1 seconds, the big DT is also able to play at that speed and that's a rare distinction. He must, however, attack his opponent on every play and that’s something Haloti doesn’t always do.
N'Gata has enough speed to beat a runner to the edge, he can blow through the line and drop a runner for negative yards, and is brutish enough to toss blockers aside with stupefying ease. Such a player will demand double-teams on virtually every snap, and that’s precisely what the Ravens are looking for from N’Gata. By occupying multiple blockers he will allow LBs Ray Lewis and Adalius Thomas more freedom to roam, flow to the ball, and make plays. Lewis, in particular, has struggled to shed blocks for a couple of years now and his production has suffered accordingly.
Currently a bit soft around the mid-section and wide around the hindquarters, N'Gata must get himself into better shape and learn how to become a "Baltimore ball player." And, instead of relying upon strength alone, he must learn how to use his hands and develop a move or 2.
Under the careful tutelage of Brian Billick and the baleful glare of Raw Lewis, N’Gata will learn to become a whistle to whistle, man-eating defender.
FANTASY VALUE: Using spring training and the pre-season as a springboard, Haloti N'Gata will whip himself into Football shape (LB Ray Lewis will be happy to do it for him) and could be a monster by mid-season. He won't, however, be an IDP monster... at least not next season. N'Gata's main responsibilities will entail collapsing the pocket and occupying blockers so that Lewis, Thomas, and Reed can fly to the ball unmolested.

13. Browns (from Ravens); DE Kamerion Wimbley: If the Ravens were aggrieved to see the Quarterback they had targeted come off the board right before they picked, then the Browns were positively appalled to see the Ravens snatch DT Haloti N'Gata, a player Cleveland GM Phil Savage projected to be the centerpiece of his 3-4 defensive alignment, off the board immediately before they drafted!
Virtually everyone taken to this point in the draft is a "special" athlete, but here we have another team being forced to draft a "consolation prize.” In DE Kamerion Wimbley the Browns get a classic "Tweener," but unlike the majority of the leagues' speed rushing Ends; guys like Carolina's Julius Peppers, Oakland's Derrick Burgess and Indy's Dwight Freeney, Wimbley lacks their instincts, ability to time the snap, and he tends to break down at the point of attack due to a lack of size. Off the edge, Wimbley can blow in with all the speed and violence of a Nor’Easter, and he’s demonstrated the ability to drop back into coverage. But, due to a lack of size and a limited pass rush repetoire, Wimbley will become frustrated by large and skilled Offensive Linemen. Kamerion Wimbley’s probable future is as at Outside Linebacker.
FANTASY VALUE: Wimbley will serve as Cleveland's 'Tweener, the current NFL rage. “Tweeners are just oversized Linebackers who couch themselves as Defensive Ends, but they’ve been the NFL's flavor of the month for several seasons now, and really, they're just speed rushing Linebackers. Wimbley doesn't figure to supplant either tackling machine Andra Davis (139 tackles last season, 89 solo) or highly productive Chaun Thompson (63 solo stops, 2 FF, 5 Sacks, but off-season pick-up Willie McGinest may take his job away) at either Inside Linebacker spot, but under the capable tutelage of newcomer Willie McGinest he could replace Matt Stewart as the ROLB.

14. Eagles; DT Brodrick Bunkley: There was some speculation that the Eags' would draft OT Winston Justice with this pick, while other mock drafts gauged Philly's interest in DT Haloti N'Gata to be high. With N'Gata going to Baltimore, the team drafted the quietly consistent FSU Tackle, Brodrick Bunkley. A squat, boulder of a man at 6-3/310, Bunkley was actually a top-10 pick on most teams' boards. A typical "Andy Reid Eagle," the big fella’ turned heads at the Combine when he bench-pressed 255 pounds 44 times and ran the 40 yard dash in just over 5 seconds. His measureables, obviously, are quite good.
As for his on-field ability Bunkley comes off the snap in a hurry, which allows him to get good penetration, and his great strength and solid technique affords him the ability to collapse a pocket single-handedly. A tremendous competitor who's eager to learn and succeed, Brodrick Bunkley plays whistle to whistle Football, which is rare for a Defensive Tackle, and is willing to do whatever it takes to win a game. His flexibility also appeals to Reid; “Heavy-B” can play almost every position on the line.
FANTASY VALUE: Second on the depth chart, behind last year's pick, Mike Patterson, Bunkley will have time to learn the system. He will, however, provide his club with nice depth and is likely to see a handful of snaps a game. Although he can be as disruptive as Nicole Ritchie in a Nursing Home, Bunkley's value as a rookie will be marginal.

15. Rams (from Broncos via Falcons); CB Tye Hill: With the understanding that St. Louis gave up points the way “Krispy Kreme” sells donuts (errr’, by the dozen, The team ranked 31st in points allowed) and was frequently victimized through the air, coach Mike Martz made bolstering the Secondary a top priority. Enter CB Tye Hill. Although the kid is not even 5-10 and he weighs less than 190, he’s fast enough to leave a vapor trail (his 4.30 40 made him the fastest player at the Combine), and fluid hips, excellent ball skills, and the ability to stay on a receiver in either man-to-man or bump and run coverage could make him a shutdown Corner. Despite his smallish stature Tye Hill doesn't shy away from run support, and with long arms and a vertical leap comparable to that of a Dingo, he’s able to break-up passes intended for taller targets.
Hill's footwork, though, is shoddy, and his tackling technique, while reliable, still needs work. Further, at 185 pounds soaking wet… a blocking back will be able to blast Hill out of the hole AND clean the small DB’s sinuses out all in one shot.
As for his coverage skills? Maybe this is nitpicky, but Tye Hill doesn't drop into a traditional back-pedal, instead he slips into a side-pedal which leads to him getting turned around on fakes. Nevertheless, he can track and high-point the ball, tremendous "ups" will allow him to defend his fair share of passes, and once he gets his somewhat iffy mitts' on a pick he can take it to the house in a nano-second. If a receiver happens to beat him he can close quickly due to his blazing speed, and few receivers will be able to outrun him.
The real question will be whether or not he'll be able to stay healthy at this level.
FANTASY VALUE: The St. Loo’ Secondary proved to be an Achilles heel, and opponents targeted the iffy group of Cornerbacks with regularity last year. Although his willingness to support the run is certainly commendable, and his ability to stick to a Wideout's hip uncanny, Hill's footwork and technique needs honing and his IDP value should be minimal this year. Most likely, the Ram 1st rounder will see action as the team’s Nickle Back. If, by chance, Hill should make huge strides during training camp and veteran Travis Fisher remains in the coaching staff’s doghouse… it’s not inconceivable that Hill will start. It is, however, highly unlikely.

16. Dolphins; CB/S Jason Allen: Allen dislocated his hip in October and although he performed well at the Combine and is expected to make a full recovery, such an injury can impede an athlete for life. But in addition to Allen’s wayward hip, a creaky shoulder prompts questions about his health, durability, and ability to play in the NFL.
Assuming Allen surmounts his assorted physical issues, at 6-1/210 the former Tennessee Volunteer has excellent size, good speed (4.39 40), and he's unafraid to fill the box and deliver a pop in run support. Adding to his appeal Allen projects at either Safety or Cornerback, and can play Zone, bump and run, or man to man.
Quite frankly, his high Football IQ and leadership skills are sorely needed in Miami. Following the departure of ball hawks Sam Madison, Patrick Surtain, and Sammy Knight, and left with inconsequential starters such as Will Allen, Deke Cooper, and Travares Tillman, the 'Phin Secondary is desperate for an infusion of talent.
There's no question, Jason Allen can become an impact player. He must, however, rehab' his injured hip and sharpen his technique. Allen sometimes allows the receiver to catch a pass he could’ve broken up, he must learn how to properly back-pedal, and he must become more aggressive.
FANTASY VALUE: If his hip and shoulder are at or near 100% come Opening Day, Allen's rare size, closing ability, and long arms will make him a standout Nickel as he learns. In conjunction, his willingness to stick his nose into a Running Back's belly and attack the run add to his IDP value. Still, I'd look elsewhere for my IDP play... at least until such time as the 'Phin proves himself healthy.

17. Vikings; LB Chad Greenway: Minnesota has a new owner in Zygi Wilf, a new head coach in Brad Childress, a new Defensive Coordinator in Mike Tomlin (late of Tampa Bay), a new feature back in Chester Taylor (backup to Jamal Lewis in Balty) a new starting Quarterback in Brad Johnson (ok, this is a reach since he's been on the roster and started the 2nd half of last season... but the team did part ways with Culpepper), and is making a determined effort to usher in a new era with an emphasis on character and defense. The whole concept of “defense” might also be considered “new” given Minny’s inability to stop either the run or pass the past few years.
The team’s had a spotty history when it comes to drafting and judging young Linebackers. Under the Tice regime the Vike's drafted E.J Henderson, Raonall Smith, Rod Davis, and saw fit to trade star Wide Receiver Randy Moss to Oakland for a package that included Napolean Harris. Nonetheless, the position remains a weak spot and the team allowed opposing Running Backs to roll for 115+ YPG last year, in large part because the 'backers were not instinctive and they practiced poor tackling technique.
While A.J Hawk (Packers) headlined this year's Linebacker crop and Ernie Sims went to the Lions at #9, Greenway is a fine blend of size (6-3/245), speed (4.58 but plays faster) and athleticism. A sideline to sideline and whistle to whistle Football player, Chad Greenway can blitz the Quarterback, sniff-out the play fake, and drop into coverage with confidence. Greenway does need to execute better tackling form, though. He must square-up and stop “lunging” at the runner.
FANTASY VALUE: A sneaky-good IDP draft pick, Greenway stands to make an immediate impact due to Minnesota's threadbare Linebacker corps. An elite Special Teams player who excelled at blocking punts as a collegian, Greenway's 4-Quarter mentality, great attitude and innate leadership skills should make him a Week 1 starter and stud IDP play and above-average coverage skills are an added bonus.
If there is any concern about Greenway’s ability to be a top caliber pro, a serious knee injury suffered in 2002 would be it.

18. Cowboys; LB Bobby Carpenter: The drafting of Bobby Carpenter continues a tradition for Parcells, he coached the Linebacker’s Running Back daddy waaaay back in the day when both were Giants.
Last year, "The Tuna" took impact players DE DeMarcus Ware, LB/'Tweener Marcus Spears, and DE Chris Canty. This year, the drafting of Carpenter just about completes Dallas’s transition to the 3-4 Defense.
With Outside Linebackers flying off the board, Parcells secured the last... maybe 2nd to last, Linebacker with 1st round value. The Chiefs, who took DE/LB Manny Lawson with their 21st pick, got the last top-tier Linebacker. The loss of versatile MLB Dat Nguyen to a neck injury that, unless I'm misinformed is a career-ender, forced the team to draft a 'backer when Al Singleton proved to be nothing more than a fill-in.
A typical "Parcells tough guy” Carpenter has the ability to make plays all over the field, can drop quickly into coverage, and does a nice job defending the run. The nice thing about Carpenter, from the ‘Poke perspective, is his flexibility; Carpenter can backup most of the line positions while he rounds into starting form.
The Ohio Statey' does have a tendency to get ensnared by opposing blockers, and he doesn’t leap off the snap with the explosiveness of a Hawk, Sims or Greenway. In addition, Carpenter doesn’t use his hands well and his instinctiveness has been questioned. Some scouts say that the kid is very instinctive while others believe he's merely a good player whose package of skills make him look like he could become a great player. If there’s any consensus, it’s that Carpenter, who IS fast and who IS talented, has a great attitude but just doesn’t play the game he’s capable of playing. These NFL peeps’ suspect that Carpenter will make a lot of plays... but not a lot of game changing plays.
Better against the pass (ranked 11th, Dallas allowed 192.7 PYPG) than the rush (at 15, they allowed runners 108.2 RYPG) Bill Parcells doesn’t need the rook' to be the second coming of legendary Giant Carl Banks. Instead, if Carpenter, who is expected to be a Week 1 starter at this point, can hinder opposing backs and bolster the pass rush Bill Parcells... and Bobby's dad, Rob, will both be thrilled. The ‘Boys and their fans can expect that much at least and, if "The Tuna" is correct, far more at some point.
FANTASY VALUE: Former Parcells favorite Dat N'guyen was a highly productive real and fantasy defender given his solid tackling skills and knack for being around the ball. The hope is that Carpenter will fill Dat’s shoes and be a similar, if not superior, defensive force. At the very least, Carpenter should notch a ton of tackles. On the mend from a broken ankle, he stands to be a solid defender but I would not, however, look for him to be an elite IDP play. Not this year or next, anyway.

19. Chargers; CB Antonio Cromartie: The breathtakingly talented athlete was one of the biggest gambles of the 1st round and could pay handsome dividends if he can bounce-back from torn knee liggies' (ACL). A 6-2/205 Corner with jump-jet (4.40) speed, the Bolts' are banking on Cromartie’s excellent ball skills and awesome upside. Because the hobbled DB split most of the '04 season with 2 other Cornerbacks and missed all of the 2005 season with his injury, he remains raw, immature, and is almost an unknown quanity .
Cromartie's technique needs a whole lotta' work; due to his upright style he struggles to slip out of his backpedal, and while in coverage Cro' gets turned around far too often.
Cromartie would have been well-served by spending another year, his Senior year, in college. Had the former Seminole done so he probably would have been the 1st Corner’ taken in ’07 and been a top 7 pick overall.
Even so, the San D’ staff believes that they are capable of turning this rough, unpolished block of marble into a slick-as-ice masterpiece. Sporting an arsenal of skills, Antonio Cromartie has everything it takes to become a sticky, physical, cover corner. The sole knock on Cromartie, aside from inexperience and his knee injury, is the distaste he holds for run support duty. Much like the legendary FSU Cornerback he’s been compared to, “Neon Deion” Sanders, Cro’ eschews contact and would much rather blanket a receiver than wrap-up a Running Back. The counterpoint? At his size and with his ability to accelerate within 2 or 3 steps, Cro’ can bring the wood and explode into an opponent.
FANTASY VALUE: Cromartie has what it takes to become a brilliant, and possibly spectacular, real and fantasy play, and his stupefying Combine workout assuaged the Chargers of any doubts they made have had regarding his health. This year, though, Cromartie will continue to recover from his injury and subsequent surgery, and will therefore lack the ability to make crisp cuts. He will likely see action in Nickle and Dime packages and if the Chargers are really lucky, Cro’ will become a full-timer next year. And, after expending 1st round picks on suspect Cornerbacks in recent seasons (Quentin Jammer and Sammy Davis), the ‘Bolts had better be on-target with this pick!

20. Chiefs; DE Tamba Hali: The Herman Edwards era dawns anew, this time in Kansas City, and the former Jet coach ushered it in with a definite reach pick. While Hali fits the "Herm Edwards mold" to a tee, the Chiefs almost certainly would've found him waiting for them in the 2nd round.
Herm may be a "player's coach," but following his iffy stint with the Jets... why did Kansas City pursue him as if he were the 2nd coming of Vince Lombardi? Frankly, nothing on Edwards’ resume' demonstrates the ability to run a franchise and his first pick as a Chief underscores this very point.
A very compact (6-3/275) but powerful End, Tamba Hali is a "character" guy. With a fiery personality, an all-out motor, and the ability to hold up at the point of attack, the former Penn Statey’ looks like a solid but unspectacular defender. His Football IQ may be adequate and his willingness to chase the ball all over the field laudable, but height, instincts and explosiveness are qualities Hali lacks. While his ability to recognize and identify the play may improve over time, the ability to hurl himself with extreme violence into another player a fraction of a second after the ball has been snapped just can’t be taught, and therein may lie the difference between an elite starter and a potential journeyman, though it’s far too premature to even consider such a future.
FANTASY VALUE: Hali is clever, quick and intense. He understands how to play with leverage and he uses his strong hands to jolt and redirect an Offensive Lineman. Look for a solid career from Tamba Hali, but Herm's first pick as Chief suit was very uninspired.

21. Patriots; RB Laurence Maroney: A great value pick, the Patriots stuck doggedly to their draft board and are now well positioned to replace an aging Corey Dillon. Dillon, who may be slowing down a bit, missed a handful of games last season and his 733 rushing yards marked the 2nd lowest total of his decade long career. Even still, the rugged runner likely has another solid season or 2 left in his powerful legs and with scat-backs Kevin Faulk and Patrick Pass in the Pat' fold, the team enjoys excellent depth and doesn’t need to toss Maroney into the fire as a rookie.
New England has always placed great emphasis upon what their draft picks do off the field, and with LenDale White dealing with an injury and a number of character issues, coach Bill Belichik opted to pass on the USC back, an athlete who was originally expected to be taken before commisioner Paul Tagliabue announced the 15th pick.
The Patriots love the 6-0/218 Maroney, a strong runner who should be able to pack another 10 or so pounds of muscle onto his frame. A 1 cut runner whose North/South style is similar to that of incumbent Corey Dillon, with nifty feet and above-average vision the former Minnesota Golden Gopher can plant, burst through the crease, and use his speed to rip off big gains. Indeed, Maroney is also powerful enough to carry would-be tacklers, resilient enough to retain his balance when a defender tries to deliver a knock-out shot, and able to give as good as he gets; Maroney can lay an unprepared Safety or 'Backer out.
A tendency to dance when no hole opens leads to an unacceptable number of negative yards, and an occasional lack of aggressiveness render Laurence Maroney a tease. Like the girl with the curl when he’s good he's very good, and when he's bad... he can look very bad. Keep in mind that Maroney played in the same backfield as Dallas’s Marion Barber (the 3rd, of course), and the Gopher staff believed Barber to be the superior talent.
There is a silver-lining, however. A lack of work at Minnesota means the back’s body has been subjected to minimal wear and tear, and if any coaching staff is capable of wringing every last drop of Maroney’s considerable talent from his body, it’s Bill Belichik and Co.
FANTASY VALUE: With Dillon and Faulk already comfortably ensconced as New England’s 1-2 Running Back punch, Maroney's ’06 value will be minimal. Excluding injury, of course. Other rook' runners such as Indianapolis's Joseph Addai, Tennessee's LenDale White, and 'Lina's DeAngelo Williams stand to be more productive. Should they be unavailable, though, keep an eye on Maroney and if you find your roster to be ‘back bare, pick him up off the 'Wire and stash him on your bench.
A very smart and “toolsy” runner who has excellent (but not breakaway) speed, toughness, and rarely puts the ball on the ground, Laurence Maroney has a chance to be special. A number of coaches gnashed their teeth in frustration when the Patriots grabbed the Minny’ runner; the thinking being, he had a chance to drop to the 2nd round.

22. 49'ers (from Broncos via Redskins); DE Manny Lawson: In order to offset the defections of Outside ‘Backers and Sack specialists Andre Carter and Julian Peterson, the team snatched-up Mario Williams’s N.C. State teammate, Manny Lawson. The fact that Lawson fell this far was surprising, especially in light of his off-the-hook pre-draft workouts. The Niners', however, are in no position to kick a gift horse in the mouth.
Although he has yet to play an NFL down, Lawson is already considered San Francisco's top pass rusher and his effect upon the team's D and pass rush, a rush that yielded just 28 Sacks in ‘06, can’t be underestimated. Last year Frisco' allowed foes to go downfield early and often, ranking 32nd (they allowed 276+ passing yards per) against the pass. If Lawson can put pressure upon opposing QBs with any consistency he'll make CBs Mike Rumph and Shawntae Spencer look that much better as they won't be forced to stay with opposing receivers for minutes on end.
A freakish athlete (6-5/240) who should be a Special Teams standout from Opening Day, Manny Lawson’s value lies in his versatility which is simply eye-popping. The newest Niner’ can play with his hand on the ground and come off the edge in obvious passing situations… then slip back to his Outside Linebacker position. Although he’s smallish Lawson has a number of rush moves at his disposal, uses his hands well, and has the quickness and burst needed to roar past slower linemen.
FANTASY VALUE: Manny’s fantasy value as a 1st year player is questionable. Although he’s as strong as a bull, Lawson can get engulfed up by gargantuan O-Linemen who outweigh him by 100 or more pounds. Thus, he sometimes struggles to defend the run and is unable to take a down off because he’ll get taken out of the play unless he leaps off the snap.
Bottom line? Certainly it will take him time to learn the nuances of his new position, but as we discussed his skills and versatility should make him a very valuable every down defender. Just… probably not this year. This season, Manny Lawson will probably be a mid-pack IDP start.

23. Buccaneers; G/T Davin Joseph: The 2nd Offensive Lineman of the day came off the draft board and went to Tampa Bay with this pick.
Davin Joseph is a lineman who can expect to see starting action immediately. A 6-3/312 long-armed lineman who is better suited to become an NFL Guard than Tackle, Joseph is extraordinarily powerful, incredibly mobile, and is a "Gruden kinda’ guy."
Nasty as a Pitbull with a bad case of Jock-Itch and tougher than dirt, one of the few knocks on the former Okalahoma player is that he took plays off and wasn't always aggressive. More than 1 scout felt that Davin Joseph relied upon his natural gifts too much, allowing him to play a notch or 2 below "urgent." But in the NFL every player is a standout, and Joseph will need to ratchet up his intensity if he is to reach his considerable potential. Using consistently solid technique, Joseph can pass or run block with equal comfort and is able to keep defenders off of his body with a strong punch, great leverage, and excellent form. He stands to become a “bodyguard” pass blocker for a developing Chris Simms and an exemplary run blocker for a young Carnell Williams. Swift enough to get out in front of a Running Back on sweeps and nimble enough to shuffle down the line, Davin Joseph is also strong enough to put an exclamation point on his blocks and bowl larger men aside in order to get to the 2nd level of defenders when run blocking.
John Gruden has a way of getting the best out of his players, and if the kid plays every snap as if it will be his last his ceiling is virtually limitless.
The fact of the matter is, Davin Joseph will be as good as he wishes to be.
FANTASY VALUE: He'll help blow open holes for Carnell Williams, something that was in short supply towards the end of last season, and keep Chris Simms grass-stain free. In addition, Joseph can play Right Tackle should the need arise.

24. Bengals; CB/S Jonathan Joseph: A big Cornerback at 5-11/195, Joseph's 4.3 speed, long arms, and raw skills lead coach Marvin Lewis and his staff to believe that they snared a future Pro Bowler. Indeed, with a penchant for coming up with the game changing play the Cin' City coaches think Joseph compares favorably to fellow Beng’ DB, Deltha O'Neal.
When watching Jonathan Joseph play and practice, his ability to change direction and recover lost ground in a heartbeat leap out at you. Fluid hips and blazing speed combine to afford him the ability to shadow almost any pass catcher, and “Big Play J’s” size and acceleration allow him to deliver bone-crushing hits while above-average hands help him make the circus pick. In addition, Joseph is more than willing to come up in run support, fill the hole, and drill a runner between the numbers.
While Joseph numbered amongst the top 3 Cornerbacks on most teams’ draft boards, his resume consists of just 14 college starts and a year of Division 1A competition.
FANTASY VALUE: So raw that he's pink in the middle, Jonathan Joseph requires a great deal of instruction and won't have any real IDP value for 2-3 seasons. Once he has a year or 2 of experience under his belt, though, his confidence (JJ can play “on an Island”), scorching speed, and great hands should make him a silky-smooth cover Corner’ and an “INT to TD” machine.

25. Steelers (from Giants); WR Santonio Holmes: A dynamic return-man and legit' deep threat, Holmes is a more than capable replacement for the departed Antwaan Randel El. Holmes’s ability to stretch the field gives the Pitt’ Offense yet another toy to play, and so smitten by Holmes and his upside were the Steelers that they leapfrogged 7 spaces in order to secure his services.
This draft wasn't particularly rich in pass catchers, and declaring for the draft as a Junior was a very savvy move for Holmes. Quite arguably the best Wide Receiver in this year’s draft (While TE Vernon Davis is probably the most talented and exciting pass catcher), “SanHo's” slight physique (5-10-ish/188) will force coaches to think twice about sending him over the middle.
Size aside, Holmes runs crisp routes, possesses exceptional quickness, and is a threat to go the distance every time he touches the ball because of his “after the catch” ability. Able to "pop the clutch" and get up to full speed inside of 2-3 steps, Santonio is elusive open field quarry and these same qualities make him a stunning return specialist.
Now suiting up for Bill Cowher and the Steelers Holmes couldn’t have asked for a more favorable arrangement; he will study and learn at the knee of one of the league’s premier pass catchers, Hines Ward. Ward is as polished and complete a pass catcher as you’ll find anywhere in the NFL, and the loss of Randle El means he’ll draw extra attention from opposing Secondaries. In turn, Holmes’s technique needs some work, especially learning how to block downfield and secure the ball after the catch, so the two should answer each other’s needs and work well together.
The Steelers are eager to see Holmes assume the team’s return duties, but they will also get him involved in the Offense through multiple receiver sets. Great speed, ability to slip past the jam, and a knack for separating afford SanHo’ the ability to get open in a hurry, and he, Ward, Cedrick Wilson, and stud TE Heath Miller provide QB Ben Roethlisberger with an embarrassment of pass catching riches.
Comparable to Washington’s Santana Moss (though Moss weighs 10 or so pounds more than Holmes), assuming he doesn't lose focus and leave himself open to a decapitating tackle Santonio Holmes is a threat to “rack a 6” any time he touches the ball and should become one of the league’s most dangerous Wideouts.
FANTASY VALUE: The Steelers offensive mentality is to run, run, and then.... then they like to run some more. Still, Bill Cowher didn't move up 7 spots in order to draft bench-meat. Initially slated to be the team's #3 receiver, Holmes’s explosive return skills will get him onto the field by week 1. He'll be eased into the passing game over time, and it's not out of the realm of possibility that Holmes finds the End-Zone 3-4 times in his first year as a pro.

26. Bills (from Bears); DT John McCargo: Another pick for “Grandpa’ Levy” that was such a reach his arthritis may have been aggravated!
It’s no secret that the Bills felt McCargo to be the last of the top-tier DT talents, ergo, the club decided it would be unwise to risk passing up such an intriguing athlete. McCargo’s selection also explains why Levy didn’t take Haloti N’Gata or Brodrick Bunkley.
Given the current state of Buffalo's D; 31st against the run, 19th against the pass, 29th in yards allowed, and 24th in points allowed last season, it's tough to fault the team for trying to strengthen the unit and McCargo appears to fit the Bills’ new defensive scheme perfectly. A disruptive Defensive Tackle who can make things happen off a stunt, the Bills’ 2nd 1st rounder is strong enough to “jolt” an O-lineman and get him moving back on his heels, and fast enough to shoot the gap and interrupt a play before it begins. In addition, McCargo’s is a smart Football player with a non-stop motor.
McCargo does, however, need to improve his conditioning and build strength and size, and after missing the final 1/3 of the 2005 season to a foot injury (stress fracture) that both required surgery and from which he's still recovering, he must also prove his durability.
Assuming McCargo can play at full bore this year, his strengths and Buffalo’s system should make for a perfect marriage.
At the very least the young defender will give the Bills some desperately needed depth this year, and after a year or 3 of seasoning he could develop into a real handful for an O-Lineman.
FANTASY VALUE: Some players have an uncanny knack for timing the snap, some are able to consistently perform at a level that doesn’t match their physical skills, and once in a great while… some can do both. McCargo is one of these rare players. On the shorter side and not as powerful as some of the others at his position, McCargo can still penetrate the backfield before the Quarterback has finished setting-up. He does, however, require a LOT of tutoring and “coaching up,” and McCargo must prove he can remain healthy as a stress fracture can be a nagging injury. Look elsewhere for your IDP play.

27. Panthers; RB DeAngelo Williams: 'Lina's current stable of backs is comprised of feature DeShaun Foster, who has yet to play a full 16 games due to a host of aches, breaks, sprains and serious pains, and backup Nick Goings, who’s been tried at feature but is best suited to a backup’s role.
Here’s a very intriguing pick. At 5-9 Williams may be short, but he’s a 215 pound package of speed, muscle and balance.
With tremendous vision and nifty feet Williams can cut a run back against the grain and explode through the tiniest hole or narrowest crease. The former Memphis Tiger is patient enough to wait for the hole to develop, knows how to work his blockers, and is shifty enough to leave a Linebacker or Safety grasping at air. In conjunction, soft hands (a promising but by no means polished pass catcher) and the ability to pick-up the Blitz (not a strength) contribute to his value.
DeAngelo Williams is the NCAA’s “All Purpose Yardage Leader” and proved capable of putting a team on his back. The dude can rip off chunks of yards, has “make ‘em miss” moves, and is improving his receiving skills. But even with his impressive suite of skills, success is no slam dunk.
Just for starters, college ball and the NFL are 2 entirely different games, and Williams’s ability to play and succeed at this level is a question mark. Subjected to a heavy, heavy workload as a collegian, the powerful but pint-sized ‘back suffered a knee injury in ’02, an MCL tear in ’03, and a broken leg in ’04. And, although his timed speed is 4.44, he doesn’t play at that speed. More quick than fast, Williams seems to lack the top-end speed needed take it to the house. Instead of getting a powerful and elusive runner in the mold of Redskin Clinton Portis (5-10/210), DeAngelo Williams is almost a DeShaun Foster stunt-double. Lacking the strength to break tackles and move the pile, the rook’ seems to be more of a finesse runner.
FANTASY VALUE: DeAngelo Williams, one of the NCAA's most productive runners ever, is something of a mystery… albeit a talented mystery. With sure hands and sweet feet there's no question that he'll be able to gobble up yards like Pacman swallows dashes and dots. Still, iffy durability, a lack of toughness, an inability to move the pile, and modest speed will probably prevent him from being a fantasy stud. This season he'll learn from DeShaun Foster and see time and touches, but his productivity as a rookie will likely be minimal. Unless, of course, injury forces him into a starting role. Considering DeAngelo Williams from a career perspective, he looks like he’ll be a better yardage league candidate and owners belonging to scoring leagues may wish to take a pass.

28. Jaguars; TE Mercedes Lewis: Although a number of teams were in dire need of pass catching TEs, Lewis fell all the way to 28; right into the Jags' eager hands. On the heels of WR Jimmy Smith’s retirement, an announcement that reportedly caught Jacksonville by surprise, the club's receiving corps is wafer-thin and Mercedes Lewis will be even more valuable.
QB Byron Leftwich has coveted a playmaking Tight End for several seasons, and UCLA's most effective pass catcher will afford his new team and Quarterback with a tall, field stretching target. A difficult prospect to assess because his timed speed and playing speed differ, the 6-6/258 pass catcher uses his long arms to fight off the jam and possesses enough burst and cutting ability to get a step on a defender. In addition, although he's rather lanky, Lewis is deceptively strong and can make the tough catch with a defender clinging to him. To his credit, the big Tight End is not averse to going up high over the middle and is willing to take the big hit.
Alongside an equally tall 2nd year Matt Jones, a still developing 6-4 Ernest Wilford, and Reggie Williams (also 6-4, and this year we’ll see whether he’s boom or bust), Mercedes Lewis gives Jacksonville the league's tallest pass catching corps.
If Lewis displays a good attitude and can bring himself to become a more consistent and willing blocker, he has the potential to become a very good pro.
FANTASY VALUE: After Jimmy Smith, a sneaky-solid Hall of Fame candidate, announced his retirement, the drafting of Mercedes Lewis appears to be a particularly canny (not to mention fortuitous) move. While his game is rather raw, Mercedes Lewis is talented enough to take the field as a rookie starter. With enough speed to get downfield and find the seam and split defenders, Lewis, who can make things happen after the catch and carry would-be tacklers around like luggage, should see a fair amount of action as a first year player. His run blocking needs work as does his route running, but with the Wide Receivers QB Byron Leftwich has at hand... Mercedes Lewis could be an interesting mid-season 'Wire grab.

29. Jets (from Broncos); C Nick Mangold: Again, will Jet fans view this as a sexy pick? (please insert your own emphatic “Uh-uh.”) But, is this a good pick from an organizational standpoint? (please insert your own emphatic affirmative)
Each draft sees perhaps one solid Center emerge; Cleveland's Jeff Faine ('03) and San Diego's Nick Hardwick ('04) come to mind. This year, that player is Ohio State's bright eyed and bushy tailed Nick Mangold; an excellent athlete and another brilliant technician. Mangold plays every down at full-throttle and can pull, get to the corner and seal if off, and boasts abilities not unlike those of his predecessor, the Canton-bound Kevin Mawae. More importantly, the Jets’ new Center is a student of the game and is intelligent enough to make all the necessary line calls.
At 6-4/300, Nick Mangold has a powerful upper body but he must add more bulk and strength to his lower body if he’s going to stand up 350 pound Nose Tackles. At present, he can be overpowered by larger players and speed rushers.
Fortunately, his frame will allow him to put on size without losing speed, and if the Jets are lucky… Mawae’s blocking brilliance and excellent play calling will be replaced with hardly a beat missed.
FANTASY VALUE: RB Curtis Martin could not have been pleased to see C Kevin Mawae depart. The sole upside? Martin will no longer have to buy Mawae Rolexes and Louis Vuitton Luggage at the conclusion of each season as a way of saying “thanks for paving the way!”
A text-book run blocker with above-average speed, Nick Mangold owns a full arsenal of hard skills and boasts great software; that is, a high Football IQ. Although free agent pick-up Trey Teague was signed to be the Opening Day starter, Mangold will give him a run for his money and should supplant him… possibly by Week 1.

30. Colts; RB Joseph Addai: Summer, life without wrinkles, and HBO’s “hit show” “The Sopranos.” What am I driving at? That all good things must come to an end, and sadly, Indy's "Triplets" can now be lumped in with all of the above.
Manning, “Marvelous” Marvin, and Edgerrin James formed the axis around which the entire franchise revolved. In effect, the threesome was the Colts.
But, Petyon Manning was awarded a king’s ransom to remain in Indy’, Marvin Harrison received his richly deserved contract extension, #2 receiver (very quietly, Wayne has become the #1 and Manning’s preferred target) Reggie Wayne was given a 6-year, $40 Milly’ dollar deal to remain a Colt, and the team just couldn't... or wouldn't, cough up the dough needed to retain Edge'. So, it's off to the desert for James and the Joseph Addai era begins.
When you own the 30th selection in the 1st round it's tough to find an athlete capable of making an impact as a rookie. But interestingly enough, Reggie Bush's USC teammate LenDale White was still on the board and ripe for the picking when the Colts were put on the clock. Although White's pounding style would mesh nicely with the Colts' offensive scheme, coach Tony Dungy, much like the other clubs and coaching staffs, elected to pass on the gifted runner whose off-field issues obscured his on-field value. Instead, Indy selected the player most front-office personnel and draftniks thought they would; LSU's Joseph Addai.
The LSU Tiger turned NFL Colt is another collegiate athlete who doesn’t play to his timed speed, and he tends to run with an upright style… a style that could lead to a brief NFL shelf-life. Those sloppy habits can be broken, however, and with his capable hands, burst, and ability to pound the rock between the Tackles or bounce it outside, the Colts feel they drafted a complete back and worthy successor to Edgerrin James. And speaking of whom, the Colts have called Addai “a James clone.” They place great value on Addai’s ability to catch and quickly tuck the ball away, his knack for finding the cutback lane, and his willingness to pick up the blitz.
Depending upon who you talk to and what draft guide you read, Addai is best suited to be a change-of-pace or 3rd down runner, and LenDale White would've been a much better pick. The team, though, is adamant in that Joseph Addai has feature back talent, can handle 25 or so touches a game, and will grow into his role. Only time will tell. The team is quite content to enter the season with proven Dominic Rhodes and the shifty yet bruising James Mungro as their 1-2 Running Back punch, but the rookie will see action as either a Special Teamer, a change of pace runner, or both.
FANTASY VALUE: “D-Rhodes” has a Bloodhound’s nose for the ‘Zone and is a proven 3-down runner, and Mungro has quick feet and great versatility. With both backs comfortably entrenched in the Colt offense, Addai's fantasy value will be slightly greater than.... oh, mine.
After a full season and a pair of Training Camps the Colts will have a much better handle on Addai’s capabilities, and so long as he remains healthy, his value next season could be appreciable.

31. Seahawks; CB/S Kelly Jennings: After making a Superbowl appearance, their first ever such appearance, the Seahawks’ poor draft positioning was second only to that of the Pittsburgh Steelers, winners of Superbowl XL.
When the smoke of the ’06 season settled and the ‘Hawks were able to take stock of things, they clearly felt that after allowing just 5 rushing TDs but 18 passing TDs, their Secondary, ranked 25th (allowed 220+ passing YPG) league-wide, was a weakness.
Seattle had the small (5-10/178) but confident and steady Kelly Jennings listed as the “best player available” on their draft board, they also considered him the draft’s “most consistent Cornerback.” Eager to field a competent and consistent DB opposite 4th year man Marcus Trufant, Jennings' speed and ball skills lent themselves to the club’s defensive mentality. Frankly, it's tough to argue with such logic.
Exemplary cover skills, enough speed (4.39 40) to cover the fastest Wideouts of the NFC West and solid (but by no means outstanding) tackling skills all beg the question... why did Jennings fall to 31? The answer is likely his lack of ideal size. Operating under the assumption that that’s the case, “K-J” will make more than 1 team rue their decision to bypass him. A 40” vertical leap helps him win jump balls, and great confidence and speed allow him to cover just about anyone. Kelly Jennings must, however, get stronger and hone his techniques.
Given the team’s options Kelly Jennings could turn out to be a sneaky-solid pick.
FANTASY VALUE: Jennings will debut in Nickle and Dime packages, but he’ll need to build strength and sharpen his press coverage and run support skills. The latest news from Seahawk camp is that the youngster is learning quickly and could play a more prominent role as a rookie than was initially believed. Keep your ear to the ground before you make a snap decision to pass on, or draft, Jennings.

32. Giants (from Steelers); DE Mathias Kiwanuka: With a top pass catcher in Chad Jackson and a skilled runner in LenDale White both still up on the board, the G-Men naturally took... a Defensive End?
RB Tiki Barber looks fantastic and runs with all the exuberance of a 1st year ‘back. But, as his Jet counterpart Curtis Martin can attest after his terrible season, a runner on the wrong side of 30 can lose his legs over the span of a single off-season. Barber, starting to push AARP age (in Football years), has perhaps a pair of quality years left in him. Unless coach Tom Coughlin intends to give 2nd year runner Brandon Jacobs a heavier workload… the club might have been better served by drafting White.
With Sack-master Michael Strahan on one end, star-in-the-making Osi Umenyiora lining up on the other, and promising Justin Tuck backing up both, this was an odd pick to be sure. It could be that the coaching staff intends to move either Kiwanuka or Tuck to Tackle, but the likelier scenario is that Coughlin will use the rookie as a situational pass rusher and groom him to replace an aging Strahan. Had the former BC star come out last year he likely would've been a top-15 pick. A poor Junior season resulted in a plunge that nearly lasted until the 2nd round... and probably should have. A massive physical specimen at 6-8/253, the new "Big Blue" pass rusher has the wing span of a freakin’ Pterodactyl and is a skilled pass rusher with a limited rush repertoire.
Kiwanuka’s speed, feet, and upside appealed to the G-Men, and those same attributes should combine to make him an impact player. Operating under the assumption that he adds a few more moves and develops the strength needed to ward off double-teams, the Giants have a diamond in the rough. A diamond, though, that they had no immediate need for as this was neither a “best player available” or “need” pick.
FANTASY VALUE: Kiwanuka needs to eat and sleep in the weight room and camp out on the practice field. Although he'll likely see a half-dozen or so plays a game, his impact will be minimal until his arsenal of pass rush moves improves. A very bright and powerful kid (note that power and strength differ), Kiwanuka is a blue-chip prospect with tremendous upside and his future really lies in his hands. If he commits himself to his craft, Kiwanuka can become a game-changing Defensive End.

4 Comments:

At 2:34 PM, Blogger The Analyzer said...

I'm happy to finally see someone else high on the Raider's choice of Michael Huff. He is going to be a star in the league for years.

I disagree with your comment that the Raiders are in dire need of a QB though. Aaron Brooks was signed to be a short term option until the Raiders feel that last year's third round pick, QB Andrew Walter out of ASU, can get the job done.

TheOaklandRaiders.blogspot.com

 
At 3:04 PM, Blogger Jamey said...

Pinning hopes on Aaron Brooks is a risky venture, at best. Brooks had pass catchers of consequence and a rock-solid run game to alleviate the pressure while in New Awlins'. However,he consistently tossed the ball to the guys wearing the other Unis, his decision making ability is suspect and his penchant for the bone-head move infuriating, and he locks onto his receiver of choice. Brooks doesn't... or can't, look off the Safety. As I understand, Andrew Walter shows promise. You would, however, know more about him.

All of that said, the Black & Silver pass catching corps is deep, fast, and youthful, RB LaMont Jordan should be better than he was last year, and the D should take a step forward... really bro, that D has no where to go BUT up.

Huff's a stud with Pro Bowl skills, and his acquisition was a surprisingly astute move for Grandpa Al. The youngster is as versatile as a Swiss Army knife and he nicely off-sets the loss of Charles Woodson.

 
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