The NFL Draft, arguably one of the most exciting days of the entire year, has finally arrived. With no clear consensus as to the top talent in this year’s class, there should be a great deal of activity starting tomorrow at noon, when the Raiders finally go on the clock. However, given the current draft order, here is how I expect the first round to unfold.
1. QB JaMarcus Russell, LSU
After drafting Todd Marinovich in 1991, owner Al Davis said he would never draft a quarterback in the first round ever again. And while he has backed up his word for the past 15 years, new head coach Lane Kiffin will be able to convince him to select the LSU junior. Russell’s physical tools are nothing short of extraordinary, and if he can improve his decision-making, he has the potential to become a franchise quarterback. But remember, nobody knows what Al is thinking besides Al. That means anything can happen. Maybe even CJ heading to Oakland, with the Raiders drafting Michigan State QB Drew Stanton or Stanford QB Trent Edwards with the first pick in round two.
2. DE Gaines Adams, Clemson
There is a strong likelihood that the Lions will swap picks with Tampa Bay at four and take the Clemson defensive end. While I think Adams can develop into a very dangerous pass rusher, he may struggle at first to adjust to the size of NFL offensive linemen. Don’t get me wrong, Adams has excellent speed and the frame to add weight without sacrificing his elite quickness. But for a season or two, he will struggle somewhat against the run. There were also rumors several weeks ago of Atlanta moving up (using the extra picks it acquired in the Matt Schaub deal), looking to give Michael Vick the potent weapon he has never had on the outside. Regardless, I think Matt Millen is making a big mistake. Just because he has made errors in the past at the quarterback and wide receiver positions, that doesn’t mean he should shy away from the top talent in this draft. Quinn or Johnson would be the right pick, but Millen never makes the sensible decision, so I’m going with Adams. Paired with the wildly underrated DT Shaun Rogers, the Lions could have the makings of a formidable defensive front. Don’t be surprised if Detroit drafts Johnson to buy more time to make a trade.
3. RB Adrian Peterson, Oklahoma
This is the wild card pick of the first round and will subsequently affect every team picking behind it. Again, I think Quinn is the best choice. Charlie Frye is not the answer at quarterback, and Browns ownership wants to upgrade the position. But GM Phil Savage and head coach Romeo Crennel need to produce results now to save their jobs. Peterson provides just that. I don’t buy into the durability issues. Peterson is going to be a stud. He runs mad and at times, it seems as if he seeks out contact, with 71 percent of his yards in college coming after being hit. Injury aside, he will become one of the top-5 backs in the league.
4. WR Calvin Johnson, Georgia Tech
TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS
Head coach Jon Gruden is absolutely enamored with Johnson, and Tampa Bay will do just about anything to trade up and get him. There are even reports that they have made a Ricky Williams-type offer (all four of its first day picks — 4, 35, 64, 68) to the Raiders to get up to No. 1. If that’s the case, Oakland should consider it, with a strong likelihood of Quinn falling to them. Either way, the Bucs are the odds on favorite to land Johnson. They will not regret it, no matter what they give up. Johnson is ridiculous. He is far and away the best prospect in this draft and will be the best receiver in the league within a couple of years. His combination of size and speed is frightening.
5. OT Joe Thomas, Wisconsin
The Cardinals desperately need help on the offensive line and Thomas is the type of player to build around. He is a massive left tackle prospect and will do wonders to the development of Matt Leinart and the re-emergence of Edgerrin James. However, there have been trade rumors circulating around this pick in the past few days, with many teams interested in moving up, including possibly the Steelers from No. 15.
6. DT Amobi Okoye, Louisville
There has been rampant speculation that the Redskins are looking to move back and acquire extra picks, after previously surrendering selections in the second, third and fourth rounds in trades. Miami has rumored interest in trading up to nab Brady Quinn, as Daunte Culpepper may never return to full strength. If Washington stays in this slot, look for it to upgrade the defensive line, after ranking 27th against the run a year ago. At only 19-years old, Okoye has enormous upside and could fill a huge need along the Redskins’ front four.
7. QB Brady Quinn, Notre Dame
Widely regarded as the sure-fire first overall pick prior to his senior season, Quinn will slip on draft day. The Browns will certainly consider him at No. 3, and the Dolphins may look at moving up, but as the order stands now, the Vikings will select him at seven. Minnesota did take Alabama State quarterback Tarvaris Jackson with the last pick in the second round a year ago, but he is extremely raw coming out of Division I-AA. In comparison, after playing under Charlie Weis, Quinn is the most polished quarterback in the draft and has the physical attributes teams look for in a franchise quarterback. Personally, I like Quinn even better than Russell because I think he is much farther along in his understanding of the mental aspect of the position.
8. S LaRon Landry, LSU
ATLANTA FALCONS (from Houston)
There have been reports that Falcons owner Arthur Blank has ordered general manager Rich McKay to do everything in his power to trade up to get Johnson. However, given the number of teams interested in doing just that, it’s more likely that Atlanta ends up stuck at eight looking to upgrade its secondary around DeAngelo Hall. Landry can step in and start from day one, providing immediate help as an in-the-box safety. While he needs to improve his technique in coverage, Landry has all the physical tools, including a 4.35 40 time, to develop into a versatile defensive asset.
9. DT Alan Branch, Michigan
While Miami has interest in Quinn, it is more likely that it finalizes a deal with Kansas City for Trent Green, subsequently cutting ties with Daunte Culpepper. With needs along the offensive and defensive lines, the Dolphins have shown interest in Levi Brown and will have to consider Okoye if he slips, but under this scenario, Branch provides Miami with the best value at No. 9. While his work ethic and conditioning have been questioned, Branch has the physical attributes of a top-5 pick and given an improvement in technique, he could become a dominant run-stopper in the middle of the Dolphin defensive front.
10. OT Levi Brown, Penn State
HOUSTON TEXANS (from Atlanta)
After Joe Thomas, Brown is the best tackle prospect in the draft. At 6-6, 323 pounds, Brown has a strong frame and plays with very good power in the running game. Houston’s struggles along the offensive line have been well documented and it absolutely must surround newly-acquired Matt Schaub with some protection if he has any opportunity to succeed. It will be interesting to see if teams view Brown as a left tackle prospect, as his average athleticism may make him better suited to line up on the right side.
11. DE Adam Carriker, Nebraska
SAN FRANCISCO 49ERS
Carriker is a perfect fit as a defensive end in the 49ers 3-4 front, possessing a rare blend of size and athleticism. At 6-6, 296 pounds, Carriker’s shuttle time of 4.18 at the combine is nothing short of amazing. Teams employing a 3-4 front will be most interested, as he may lack the explosive pass-rush ability off the edge needed as a 4-3 end.
12. LB Patrick Willis, Ole Miss
After losing London Fletcher-Baker in free agency and trading Takeo Spikes, the Bills have a gaping hole at linebacker. Willis is a great value at 12, with teams all over the first round interested in his services. The reigning Butkus Award winner and SEC Defensive Player of the Year, Willis racked up 137 tackles as a senior, following it up with an even more impressive postseason in which he ran an astounding 4.37 40 at his pro day.
13. DE Jamaal Anderson, Arkansas
ST. LOUIS RAMS
The Rams are desperate along the defensive line and the Arkansas underclassman could fill a huge need. A former wide receiver in high school, Anderson is still relatively raw, despite posting huge numbers during his junior season. At 6-5, 288 pounds, Anderson ran a 4.75 40 at the combine, drawing physical comparisons to Mario Williams. Due to his somewhat untapped potential, draft experts disagree greatly as to his draft status, with the possibility he will slip to the Jaguars or Bengals later in round one.
14. LB Lawrence Timmons, Florida State
Much has been made of Carolina’s interest in Miami TE Greg Olsen, however its needs at linebacker make Timmons hard to pass up. The Florida State product may be a bit of a reach at 14, but his ability to rush the passer and stop the run provides the Panthers with much needed versatility as a weakside linebacker in their 4-3 system.
15. CB Leon Hall, Michigan
Hall could very easily be off the board at this point and would be a great value for the Steelers at 15. Pittsburgh has been rumored to have interest in moving up in round one to grab a defensive lineman suited for Mike Tomlin’s Cover-2 defense, however at this spot, Hall fills a position of need. In addition to running a 4.39 at the combine, the Michigan corner shows quality coverage skills and the toughness to be a factor in the running game.
16. RB Marshawn Lynch, Cal
GREEN BAY PACKERS
With the departure of Ahman Green, the Packers are in dire need of an every-down back. Lynch fits the mold as a tough inside runner, with the ability to contribute as a receiver out of the backfield. Conventional wisdom says that the Packers will look to provide Brett Favre with a playmaker on offense in round one, making Lynch an obvious consideration.
17. DE Jarvis Moss, Florida
The Jaguars have a glaring need at safety, but it may be too soon to select either Florida’s Reggie Nelson or Texas’ Michael Griffin. Therefore, look for Jacksonville to take the best available defensive end, with Moss proving enormous upside as an edge rusher.
18. CB Darelle Revis, Pittsburgh
The Bengals will most likely use this pick on the best available defensive player, with Revis fitting that description in this scenario. Revis has been shooting up draft charts over the past month after running a 4.39 at Pittsburgh’s pro day, and there is a possibility he will be off the board at this point. If available, the Bengals are getting an excellent all-around corner and return specialist to pair with 2006 first rounder Jonathan Joseph. Personally, I think Revis is the best corner in this draft.
19. WR Ted Ginn Jr, Ohio State
The Titans will be looking for a playmaker on the outside to complement Vince Young, and will be ecstatic if Ginn slips to them at 19. There isn’t a more explosive player in the country than Ginn. Anytime he touches the ball, he is threat to take it to the end zone. He will need to develop into a more polished route runner in the NFL, however his big play ability on the outside and in the return game makes him a worthwhile gamble.
20. LB Paul Posluzny, Penn State
NEW YORK GIANTS
The Giants will certainly consider tackle Joe Staley at this spot; however, their need for an upgrade at outside linebacker leads them to the Penn State product. Posluzny has excellent instincts and has a nose for the ball, making him a valuable asset in run support, evidenced by his combined 224 tackles over his junior and senior seasons.
21. DE Anthony Spencer, Purdue
Despite being somewhat undersized for a full-time defensive lineman (6-3, 261 pounds), Spencer has been soaring up draft boards as a tweener with big-time pass-rushing ability off the edge. Denver struggled at getting after the quarterback in 2006, and will be looking to upgrade in that area.
22. WR Dwayne Jarrett, USC
At 6-4, 214 pounds, Jarrett has ideal size for an NFL wide receiver, however many teams have questioned his ability to get separation at the next level after recording a 4.62 40-time at USC’s pro day. Despite the widespread criticism, Dallas is not getting younger at wide receiver with Terrell Owens and Terry Glenn on their last legs, and Jarrett’s production with the Trojans speaks for itself.
23. WR Robert Meachem, Tennessee
KANSAS CITY CHIEFS
Meachem’s combination of size (6-2, 214 pounds) and speed (4.42 40-time) makes him an intriguing option for a Chiefs team with a glaring hole on the outside. Tight end Tony Gonzalez has been their best passing target for years, and Kansas City must add a complement at wideout.
24. CB Aaron Ross, Texas
NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS (from Seattle)
Head coach Bill Belichick has traditionally avoided cornerbacks in round one, however the combination of a pressing need and Ross’ value could change his mind. With the status of franchise player Asante Samuel in flux, the Texas product could provide needed insurance for a team built to contend.
25. TE Greg Olsen, Miami
NEW YORK JETS
Olsen is far and away the best tight end in this year’s class, and will very likely be gone at this point, possibly to Carolina at 14. However, given a slide, the Jets would be extremely fortunate to provide Chad Pennington with another offensive weapon alongside Laveraneus Coles and Jerricho Cotchery. At 6-6, 254 pounds, Olsen is blessed with outstanding speed (4.51 40-time) and has all the physical tools to develop into a dangerous receiving threat.
26. S Reggie Nelson, Florida
With the loss of Michael Lewis to San Francisco, the Eagles are in need of an upgrade at safety and would do extremely well in selecting Nelson. The Florida product has tremendous range for a free safety and has shown big-time playmaking ability at the college level.
27. DT Justin Harrell, Tennessee
NEW ORLEANS SAINTS
Loaded with offensive weapons, the Saints will more than likely select the best defensive player available at this spot. Harrell, who suffered a torn biceps in 2006, projects as a standout run stuffer at the next level and would likely be off the board much earlier if not for an injury-plagued senior season.
28. S Michael Griffin, Texas
NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS
The Patriots have very few needs entering the draft, however safety would have to be at the top of the list. Griffin is extremely aggressive and could provide immediate help in run support, having posted 250 tackles over his last two seasons at Texas.
29. OT Joe Staley, Central Michigan
Staley is arguably the fastest-rising prospect in this year’s draft class and could very well be gone at this point. At 6-6, 304 pounds, Staley, a former tight end, is a fantastic athlete with the frame to add considerable muscle at the next level. With Jonathan Ogden getting up there in age, the Ravens would do well in selecting their left tackle of the future.
30. Dwayne Bowe, LSU
SAN DIEGO CHARGERS
After posting a 14-2 record in the regular season, it may come as no surprise that the Chargers have very few holes to fill. However, San Diego is thin at the wide receiver position and Bowe could develop into a playmaker on the outside.
31. WR Steve Smith, USC
With one of the best defenses in the NFL, the Bears will look to add an offensive weapon to augment the development of Rex Grossman. Smith would be a nice complement to Muhsin Muhammad on the outside, providing the Bears with a much-needed possession receiver.
32. LB Jon Beason, Miami
The Colts have been hit hard in free agency and must add playmakers to their porous defensive unit. Beason is an aggressive linebacker prospect with the speed to run plays down from sideline to sideline.