The 2009 NFL Free Agency period has been an eventful one. The first nine figure contract given to a defensive player and an unusual amount of trades are just some of the notable developments since February 27th. Other issues such as the Jay Cutler situation are ongoing and are sure to continue to draw attention from NFL enthusiasts for weeks to come. Although the Free Agency season is technically not over, most of the key signings have taken place. Teams have tried to fill the majority of their needs already, and will attempt to address the rest of their requirements through the Draft. Whatever needs are not address in Draft will likely be filled by last second free agency signings as a one year stop gap.
Since teams are finished with the majority of their attempts to supplement their rosters in Free Agency, draft strategies are becoming clearer. The list of possible choices for respective teams is shrinking by the day; down from about 10 apiece to roughly half that number now. While it is still too early to narrow that list to one or two players, it is a lot easier than it was this time last month.
As opposed to the last mock draft I attempted, I didn’t allow myself the ability to include trades between teams, even though several are likely. Instead, I outlined scenarios that I thought were both plausible and probable, but didn’t incorporate those trades because it’s difficult to decipher which swaps are more likely than others. Draft day trades are often the result of one team making a sweeter offer than another, and it is impossible to know who will attempt to do so until it has been done. As I did last time, I not only included the explanation of my pick but other foreseeable courses of action a team might take.
1. Detroit Lions: Jason Smith/OT/Baylor (Previous Pick: Aaron Curry) – There are initial reports that Detroit has already settled on Smith as their first overall selection and have begun negotiations, but I don’t buy that, at least not completely. Detroit will negotiate with Stafford, Smith and Curry, but eventually I believe that they’ll decide on Smith. Curry is likely out of the question because of the acquisition of LB Julian Peterson and the expensive contract that comes with him. With QB and OT as the remaining options, I believe that Detroit will take into account that the floor for an OT like Smith is a starting caliber RT or possibly G, but with a QB like Stafford it’s a result akin to Alex Smith or Vince Young. The prudent thing to do is take Smith.
2. St. Louis Rams: Eugene Monroe/OT/Virginia (Previous Pick: Jason Smith) – St Louis can say with certainty that they’ll get an OT like they wanted last year since Monroe and Smith are so closely rated on most draft boards. This is what likely prompted the release of perennial All-Pro Orlando Pace this month. In fact, if Detroit only negotiates with Smith, St. Louis will have the rare opportunity to negotiate with their first round pick, which is usually reserved for only the team that picks first. Some speculate that Spagnuolo will be tempted by Aaron Curry because he has a defensive background, but it’s important to remember that newly appointed G.M. Billy Devaney was hired to help with last year’s draft and wanted to take an OT.
3. Kansas City Chiefs: Aaron Curry/OLB/Wake Forrest (Previous Pick: Everette Brown) – Curry is a rare commodity in that analysts unanimously describe him as a “lock”. The only criticism of Curry is a slight deficiency in pass coverage and lack of experience in rushing the passer, but overall he’s got both game film and Combine measurables to help his case as the best defensive player in the Draft. Some have speculated that the Chiefs could try to trade down with Cleveland in an effort to acquire Crabtree instead, but I don’t buy this. The reasoning for the proposed trade is that Scott Pioli is a New England guy, and New England has always had great WR duos specifically citing Randy Moss and Wes Welker. Welker was an undrafted FA, and before Moss New England featured the likes of Troy Brown, Jabar Gaffney, Chad Jackson, Deion Branch and David Patten. The highest drafted WR was Jackson in the second round, and look how that turned out for them, and before you throw Branch in my face, you have to remember that he was a relatively unknown player before his SuperBowl MVP performance. The Chiefs will take a defensive player, and there’s no one in this year’s Draft class safer than Curry.
4. Seattle Seahawks: Michael Crabtree/WR/Texas Tech (Previous Pick: B.J. Raji) – Let me caveat this pick by saying that if I was making decision for the Seahawks, I would take Stafford in a heartbeat here and groom him while Hasselbeck still has a year or two left. The Seahawks, however, seem to really think they can win now, as evidenced by the signing of 32 year old T.J. Houshmandzadeh. Crabtree is a west coast offense type of receiver in that he’s not a burner but can get open and is dangerous after the catch. I think Seattle would probably rather have an OT here, but with the top two off the board they’ll realize it’s too early to take a head case like Andre Smith. I previously thought that Raji made a lot of sense here, but apparently the Seahawks believe that DT Cory Redding will suffice.
5. Cleveland Browns: Brian Orakpo/OLB/Texas (Previous Pick: Brian Orakpo) – This is the first likely trading opportunity I see, but in my no-trade fantasy world I think they’ll go with Orakpo. Despite being burned by an inconsistent physical freak last year (Vernon Gholston), Eric Mangini loves him some athletic collegiate DE’s to play OLB, and Orakpo has more production in school than Gholston did. My sleeper pick here is BJ Raji, but only if Cleveland is involved in a trade. I think it’s realistic that if the Browns are roped into a three way involving Denver and Jay Cutler, they might throw disgruntled DT Shaun Rogers into the deal and start over with Raji. Getting Rogers makes sense for Denver too, because they need a DT to anchor their new 3-4 system, but Raji will likely not be there at 12 for them to draft.
6. Cincinnati Bengals: BJ Raji/DT/Boston College (Previous Pick: Eugene Monroe) – Some might find reason to argue with this pick because Cincinnati has a couple of young DT’s, but I think it makes sense because Raji can get into the backfield and create havoc which is something the Bengals desperately need. The Bengals might think about WR here because they decided not to do what it took to retain Houshmandzadeh, but I don’t think any tickle their fancy this early except for Crabtree. On a side note, don’t be surprised if Chad “Ocho Cinco” Johnson is involved in a Draft Day trade, but he likely would garner nothing more than a second round selection so it wouldn’t affect this pick.
7. Oakland Raiders: Jeremy Maclin/WR/Missouri (Previous Pick: Michael Crabtree) Al Davis loves speed. If I’m right and Crabtree is off the board, Davis will seem vindicated to take Maclin but I believe he’d take Maclin even if Crabtree was available because of the speed issue. The Raiders need help on both their offensive and defensive lines, but either of those being addressed with this pick would surprise me. If they do, Andre Smith seems like the best candidate because the Raiders employ the philosophy of character-shmaracter.
8. Jacksonville Jaguars: Matthew Stafford/QB/Georgia (Previous Pick: Andre Smith) – I don’t think that the Jaguars are dead set on taking a QB, but if Stafford is there I don’t think they’ll be able to resist. Remember, David Garrard is Jack Del Rio’s guy, but not new G.M. Gene Smith. I think there is an unspoken vibe that Del Rio’s days are numbered, and he likely would have been axed after last year if his buyout wasn’t so high. If I am right, Smith won’t hesitate to take this opportunity and build for the future. Another option for the Jaguars is WR after the release of former first rounder Matt Jones, but with both Maclin and Crabtree off the board there’s no one worth taking this high.
9. Green Bay Packers: Everette Brown/OLB/Florida State (Previous Pick: Malcolm Jenkins) – The more I think about Green Bay’s situation, the more I believe that the Packers will select a rush OLB rather than a DB as I’d previously predicted. Aaron Kampman simply can’t be relied on to consistently apply pressure to the QB from the OLB position until he has proven he can in the new 3-4 system. I don’t think the Jenkins pick makes sense because Green Bay is looking for a fast CB1 type so they can switch the aging Charles Woodson to FS, and it’s too early to take Vontae Davis.
10. San Francisco: Andre Smith/OT/Alabama (Previous Pick: Jeremy Maclin) – This pick makes a lot of sense to me. Even though Mike Singletary is an old school character guy, I think he sees himself as a teacher and a motivator and thusly would view Smith as a project worthy of his time. Frankly though, San Francisco needs to protect the QB and Smith has more talent than Michael Oher. Only time will tell if Smith is a permanent head case or if he was simply a confused 21 year old who made some stupid decisions. A lot of people assume that the 49ers will take Mark Sanchez here, but I think they’ll give Alex Smith one more chance now that he has a reduced contract.
11. Buffalo Bills: Brian Cushing/OLB/Southern California (Previous Pick: Matthew Stafford) – The Bills are one of those teams that befuddle me this year. Everyone seems to think that they’ll take Aaron Maybin. I don’t see it but I could be letting my own personal feelings of Maybin (I wouldn’t touch him in the first round) affect my judgment. Cushing has the athletic ability and if Buffalo isn’t scared by his injury history this pick makes sense. Another route that they might take is Brandon Pettigrew. I previously thought it was too early to take a TE, but the Bills really seem to want to win now, as shown by the signing of controversial WR Terrell Owens. If the Bills are set on Pettigrew, I wouldn’t be surprised if they try to trade down because the next team I foresee tempted to take the top rated TE is Philadelphia at 21.
12. Denver Broncos: Rey Maualuga/ILB/Southern California (Previous Pick: Rey Maualuga) – Denver already has a phenomenal OLB in D.J. Williams, but they need someone to anchor the middle of their D line and LB corps. With Raji off the board, I think that the Broncos will take the best ILB in the Draft, Maualuga. Maualuga has been criticized as not being able to play every down because of his substandard coverage abilities, but I think Mike Nolan will find a way to make it work in his newly established 3-4 system. Of course, Denver very well might be involved in a blockbuster Draft Day trade involving disgruntled QB Jay Cutler which would change things dramatically.
13. Washington Redskins: Michael Johnson/DE/Georgia Tech (Previous Pick: Michael Oher) – Vinny Cerrato is a yes-man to owner Dan Snyder who runs the show in Washington and Snyder loves making a splash. Johnson with all of his physical talent but questionable work ethic would be that splash. I personally don’t think that the Redskins would have cut Jason Taylor over an issue like missing training camp time if they didn’t have a backup plan already in mind. Robert Ayers is another option, but I think that Snyder will take the more physically gifted athlete every time, and that’s Johnson.
14. New Orleans: Michael Jenkins/CB-FS/Ohio State (Previous Pick: Vontae Davis) – New Orleans’ secondary is a mess, and they need help. Jenkins may run slow for a CB, but he has plenty of game film that says he’s an elite talent. I have to admit that I’m secretly hoping that they opt for Vontae Davis because he’s a better true CB and the Saints recently signed Darren Sharper, but I’m afraid of jinxing it, so I kept Jenkins here. Another strong possibility here is that they try to outbid the Texans for a trade down, which would help them immensely since they have no second or third round picks.
15. Houston Texans: Clay Matthews Jr./OLB/Southern California (Previous Pick: Trade to 20 – Clay Matthews Jr.) – Matthews still appears to be the most logical choice. The players I have going one through ten are pretty much guaranteed to not be available when the Texans draft, and the only prospect I would want from the eleven through fourteen range that I think Rick Smith and Gary Kubiak are seriously considering is Malcolm Jenkins, although I know that’s something of a divisive notion amongst Texans fans. As I noted before, there is the possibility to use either a quarterback or offensive tackle Michael Oher as trade bait here. One intriguing notion is the idea of taking CB-FS Sean Smith, but I would personally prefer to take Matthews and then attempt to trade up in the second to target Smith because I think that idea is better than taking Smith here and choosing from the SLB candidates left at the 46th pick. I think that coming away from the first two rounds with Matthews and Smith would be well worth the fourth rounder we received for dealing Rosenfels.
16. San Diego Chargers: Tyson Jackson/DE/Louisiana State (Previous Pick: Brian Cushing) – The Chargers need a replacement for the recent loss of DE Igor Olshansky, who I think they let go because they wanted to get younger at the position. Jackson is the best candidate to play in the 3-4 out of the DE's in this year’s draft class, and while San Diego is the fifth 3-4 team to pick in the draft, they’re probably the first that ranks DE as a bigger need than other positions such as LB. Many people speculate that the Chargers will take a RB here, and while I think they’ll draft one in the expectation that LT won’t play for San Diego in 2010, I don’t think they’ll draft one with the 16th overall pick and ensure that 25 million dollars will be dedicated to one position next year between Sproles, Tomlinson and the rookie.
17. New York Jets: Mark Sanchez/QB/Southern California (Previous Pick: Hakeem Nicks) – There is no way that the Jets are depending on Kellen Clemmons or Brett Ratlif to fulfil the team’s QB needs in 2009, especially with the amount of money that New York has spent on free agents with the expectation of winning now. I think they’ll do everything in their power to get a veteran QB like Jay Cutler, but if that can’t happen they’ll take the best option available in the Draft, which in my vision is Sanchez. The Jets also need a WR, but you need someone to throw the ball before you can look for someone to catch it, and there will be decent receiving threats left in the second round.
18. Chicago Bears: Michael Oher/OT/Mississippi (Previous Pick: Percy Harvin) – Chicago desperately needs and wants a WR, but they wouldn’t be able to resist Oher if he fell to them, especially after the retirement of veteran OT John Tait. I don’t really think Oher will fall this far, especially because he would provide great trade fodder for the Redskins, Saints, and Texans as previously stated. If Oher was gone, Percy Harvin would be a great fit for the Bears because he would be great for the intermediate pass happy offense lead by Kyle Orton, and his pressence would take a load off of workhorse RB Matt Forte.
19. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Josh Freeman/QB/Kansas State (Previous Pick: Darius Heyward-Bey) – Tampa Bay was another team involved in the Jay Cutler sweepstakes, which proved that the Buccaneers weren’t sold on McCown as the signal caller. Tampa apparently likes Freeman’s athleticism, although I have the sneaking suspicion that he is going to be a bust. There’s also a chance that Freeman could be gone if someone trades ahead of the Jets to snag a QB, in which case DT Peria Jerry might fit nicely or a WR as the teams lacks any legitimate targets besides the resurgent Antonio Bryant.
20. Detroit Lions: Peria Jerry/DT/Mississippi (Previous Pick: Trade to 15 – Mark Sanchez) – Detroit needs a QB, but none are left worth drafting this early so short of trading up to get one, they have to focus on other areas to make the team better. I believe that regardless of the order of the Lions’ selections, they will draft a DT before the end of the second round (they have four picks to accomplish this). Jerry is a great candidate to replace the underachieving Cory Redding as an UT. If Detroit did decide to take Stafford first, I would expect them to draft whatever OT is left that they rate the highest, maybe Ebon Britton, or William Beaty. Another possibility would be to trade up for Oher.
21. Philadelphia Eagles: Brandon Pettigrew/TE/Oklahoma State (Previous Pick: Brandon Pettigrew) – Even though the Eagles need a RB, they have another first round selection 7 picks away and they know that none of the teams that pick before 28 are likely to take a RB. Therefore, they’ll try to get the TE to erase the memory of the LJ Smith experiment, and Pettigrew can do just that. Not only is he good for the Eagles’ west coast offense, he is a great blocker which allows the Eagles to wait until the second round to address their need at OT.
22. Minnesota Vikings: Hakeem Nicks/WR/North Carolina (Previous Pick: James Laurinaitus) – The Vikings already found a one dimensional vertical threat in Bernard Berrian last year, but now they need a good possession WR to move the chains. Nicks would be number two behind RB Adrian Peterson on the “Vikings QB’s best friend” list. ILB is a need that Minnesota will have to address at some point, but with the talent available at that position this year they will probably wait until the second round to do so.
23. New England Patriots: Connor Barwin/OLB-TE/Cincinnati (Previous Pick: Larry English) – Hmm. An extremely athletic collegiate DE who will probably play OLB in a 3-4 scheme that can also play some TE. Sound like anyone you know? *cough*MikeVrabel*cough*. This is earlier than most people assume Barwin will be taken, but Belichick doesn’t necessarily follow the status quo and draft by the typical draft ratings. Larry English is still a possibility, but Barwin has the attitude to fit in with the Patriots. Then again, Bill can be unpredictable to say the least.
24. Atlanta Falcons: Robert Ayers/DE/Tennessee (Previous Pick: Jared Cook) – Jamaal Anderson has all of 2 sacks in as many seasons, so it’s time for Atlanta to start considering other options at DE. With all of the LB losses the Falcons suffered during free agency, they are probably looking to fill that need as well but they can either settle for the 5th or 6th rated LB on their board or Ayers whom some consider as the best true DE in the Draft. Supposedly Atlanta is smitten for Michael Johnson who is a possibility if he’s still on the board, but I would personally think that Atlanta would be leery of a pick like that after getting burnt by Anderson.
25. Miami Dolphins: Clint Sintim/OLB/Virginia (Previous Pick: Clint Sintim) – Parcells ends up with a steal if he can get Sintum for Miami here. Rookie OLB's in the 3-4 usually need at least a full season to acclimate to the system, but Sintum already understands the ins and outs because he played for the only collegiate program that utilizes that scheme. A majority of Miami’s QB pressure came exclusively from Jerry Porter last year, and Sintum could help on the other side. Many draft pundits think the Dolphins will take either a WR or a CB here, but Parcells doesn’t draft either of those positions in the first round. He does, however, love to take offensive lineman and LB’s.
26. Baltimore Ravens: Vontae Davis/CB/Illinois (Previous Pick: Alphonso Smith) – I think this pick would take two seconds if Davis was still on the board. The Ravens desperately need to find a CB to replace Chris McAllister, and Davis would be able to play with the physicality that Baltimore loves. Davis is a head case, but Ray Lewis doesn’t suffer fools lightly and would help keep him in line. Some believe that the Ravens will try to get a WR for Joe Flacco to throw to, but even though Rex Ryan is gone the defense is still the soul of Baltimore’s identity.
27. Indianapolis Colts: Percy Harvin/WR/Florida (Previous Pick: Peria Jerry) – Bill Polian drafts the best player available, period. In this instance, that player is Percy Harvin. Harvin gives Peyton Manning the intermediate, run after the catch WR that has been missing since Marvin Harrison’s knee ailments. There is a good chance that Harvin might be gone by this point, in which case it’s hard to speculate who the Colts would select because they don’t draft specifically for need, they draft for talent.
28. Philadelphia Eagles: Chris “Beanie” Wells/RB/Ohio State (Previous Pick: Phil Loadholt) – Out of Philadelphia’s two first round picks, the only certain thing in my mind is that they will take a RB to help lighten the load of the oft injured Brian Westbrook. Wells has better top end speed than Knowshon Moreno and is bigger as well, which will probably lead the Eagles to favor him over the RB from Georgia. If they used the 21st pick to address the need at RB, Pettigrew wouldn’t be here at 28 so I would expect them to take an OT here instead like Ebon Britton or Phil Loadholt.
29. New York Giants: James Laurinaitus/ILB/Ohio State (Previous Pick: Kenny Britt) – Many, including me, believe there is a strong chance that the Giants will select a WR in the first round, but if Laurinaitus was here I don’t think the Giants could resist. There are a couple of factors that lead me to this conclusion, First of all, Antonio Peirce is getting old and defense will be the focus of New York next year just as it has been in all of Tom Coughlin’s years coaching there. The Defensive line is stout because of Umenyiorya’s return and free agent acquisitions, but the LB corps needs help. Secondly, unless a legal miracle occurs, Plaxico Burress won’t hear a verdict before the beginning of next season and he’s too talented for New York to cut loose until they have to.
30. Tennessee Titans: Ron Brace/DT/Boston College (Previous Pick: Fili Moala) – Jim Washburn is one of the best defensive line coaches in all of football, and after Haynesworth’s exodus he needs a new pupil for the interior of his front. Brace has some question marks surrounding him because he played next to a dominant counterpart in BJ Raji and therefore could have appeared better than he actually is, but Washburn has a track record of getting players who seem mediocre on other teams to play extremely well for Tennessee. Some speculate that the Titans will go for a WR here, but those people obviously haven’t paid attention to Jeff Fisher’s Draft habits.
31. Arizona Cardinals: Knowshon Moreno/RB/Georgia (Previous Pick: Knowshon Moreno) – The Cardinals will eventually let Edgerin James go because he’s old and they’re cheap. Kurt Warner only has a year or two left and Anquan will be gone soon, so Arizona needs the pieces to win now. Moreno will fit Ken Whisenhunt’s rushing attack perfectly because he favors a back with motor that runs between the tackles over a home run hitter. If Moreno is gone I would expect Arizona to take Donald Brown or another RB.
32. Pittsburgh: Darius Butler/CB/Connecticut (Previous Pick: Eben Britton) – Pittsburgh is obviously in good shape as evidenced by an unprecedented sixth SuperBowl victory, but there are holes nonetheless. One of those holes is CB since starter Bryant McFadden left during free agency. Butler helped himself immensely by running a 4.38 at his Pro Day and looking fluid during positional drills. The Steelers could choose someone like Max Unger here, but offensive line was supposed to be their Achilles heel last year and they held up ok.
This is the last mock draft I will do until a week or so before the draft. In the meantime I would appreciate any and all feedback possible as we try to figure this whole Draft thing out together. Don’t pull any punches either, and if you need to know what that looks like peruse the comments section of my pre-Free Agency mock draft for a note left by Marik. If I don’t get anyone to tell me that my picks made them hate football on this one, I won’t consider it as successful at the last.