One of the most highly anticipated events of the NFL offseason takes place on April 25, as the NFL Draft invades Radio City Music Hall in Manhattan. It’s one of only two times during the year when analysts will be allowed to use the word “upside” when describing a player’s skills set. (The only other acceptable usage is during the NBA Draft in June.)
From now until the first pick is announced, various newspaper writers, bloggers and on-air personalities will try their hand in the tried and true tradition of the mock draft. It’s a little like writing the Farmers Almanac, only with far less accuracy. So with that in mind, Upon Further Review presents its own version of the 2009 Mock NFL Draft:
1. Detroit – Matthew Stafford, QB, Georgia: The Lions are in desperate need of a new quarterback. Dante Culpepper has never recovered from that devastating knee injury he suffered in Minnesota, Jon Kitna’s “prime” has long since passed, and I’m pretty sure there’s never been a great signal-caller named Orlovsky. Stafford’s the top rated QB on the board and has an arm you can build a winner around. That’s comforting news for a team coming off the first 0-16 season in league history.
2. St Louis – Jason Smith, OL, Baylor: New coach Steve Spagnuolo has smartly decided to take his team’s only true asset (RB Steven Jackson) and build around his skills. St Louis has brought in a new fullback (Mike Karney) and a new center (Jason Brown) via free agency to try and open up holes for Jackson. Now they need a strong tackle to do the same, as well as protect aging QB Marc Bulger. Smith should fill that void.
3. Kansas City – Eugene Monroe, OL, Virginia: New Chiefs coach Todd Haley has already upgraded the QB position with the addition of former Patriots’ backup Matt Cassel. With the third pick, K.C. looked like a logical landing spot for Wake Forest LB Aaron Curry. But then Haley signed veteran Monty Beisel in mid-March to shore up the middle of the defense, apparently signaling that the Chiefs are going in another direction. Another tackle seems logical here as the Chiefs had plenty of problems keeping their passers upright in 2008, giving up 37 sacks.
4. Seattle – Aaron Curry, LB, Wake Forest: There’s a case to be made for Mark Sanchez to sneak up to Seattle at No. 4. Matt Hasselbeck’s injury-plagued 2008 campaign was a wake up call to the organization that the 11-year vet may not be around much longer. Nevertheless, look for the Hawks to upgrade on the defensive side of the ball first and hope that a Josh Freeman or a Rhett Bomar is still available in the early second round. Curry is a talented LB who should help shore up one of the poorer defenses in the league from 2008.
5. Cleveland – Michael Crabtree, WR, Texas Tech: WR Braylon Edwards’ hands have turned to stone and Donte Stallworth is facing DUI manslaughter charges after hitting and killing a man on a street in Miami. So Cleveland needs another wideout desperately. The best pure pass catcher on the board is Tech’s Crabtree, who is still a bit of a question mark coming off a leg injury.
6. Cincinnati – Andre Smith, OL, Alabama: What better place for a young man who has shown a recent streak of undisciplined behavior than the real-life adaptation of The Mean Machine? Smith (whose breasts are the envy of pre-teen girls the world over) should help shore up the Bengals rancid offensive line, which gave up a staggering 51 sacks last season. Providing Carson Palmer returns healthy to the team this season, he’ll be comforted to know that his surgically repaired left leg will be under Smith’s able guard.
7. Oakland – Jeremy Maclin, WR, Missouri: It’s a shame to send someone who is, by all accounts, a good kid into the valley of the shadow of Al Davis’ death. But with Crabtree in Cleveland, the Raiders needing a big target for JaMarcus Russell to throw at and Davis’ recent penchant for drafting sexy offensive playmakers, Maclin seems like a natural fit here.
8. Jacksonville – Brian Orakpo, LB, Texas: Jacksonville has several needs to fill in this draft. Many experts have the Jags shopping for a QB, despite the 7-year, $60 million contract David Garrard signed back in 2008, the richest in franchise history. WR Matt Jones was released from the team during the offseason, following multiple arrests relating to his alleged substance abuse, so the team needs an impact wide receiver. Going into the offseason, offensive tackle was the Jags’ most glaring need, but the recent acquisition of Tra Thomas from Philly filled that hole. My best guess is that the Jax will try and fill a talent void at linebacker. Defensive-minded Jack Del Rio won’t want to pass up a talent like Orakpo.
9. Green Bay – B.J. Raji, DT, Boston College: The Packers are set at the skill positions with RB Ryan Grant and WRs Donald Driver and Greg Jennings. Mississippi’s Michael Oher would have been the logical fit here, but Green Bay just signed free agent Duke Preston, who can fill a need at either guard or tackle. Therefore, it’s likely to see the Pack make a move to shore up their defense, the sixth worst run defense in the league last year. Raji, who is a consensus pick for top defensive line prospect, seems like a good fit here. That is, of course, providing his stock doesn’t drop too far on the news that he failed a drug test at the combine.
10. San Francisco – Mark Sanchez, QB, USC: This was Michael Oher’s pick to lose until late last week when the 49ers signed OL Marvel Smith to fill a glaring need at right tackle. Now San Fran is in position to make a move at QB. Despite the team’s re-signing Alex Smith to a new deal, it doesn’t appear the Niners have much confidence that he or anyone else on the roster can power the offense into the postseason. Therefore, moving Sanchez from L.A. to the Bay Area makes sense. He’s a product of the same system that turned out Carson Palmer, Matt Leinart and Matt Cassel. And, although his arm isn’t anywhere on the level of a Matt Stafford, Sanchez’s accuracy will be a welcome addition to a team that tossed 19 interceptions to 21 touchdowns in 2008.
11. Buffalo – Michael Oher, OL, Mississippi: Buffalo’s biggest offseason acquisition to this point has been WR Terrell Owens, another big target for either Trent Edwards or J.P. Losman to throw at. The problem has been keeping Edwards upright, as well as finding running lanes for Marshawn Lynch to scurry through. Oher is the best player left on the board at this point, and he happens to be a heck of a prospect offensive tackle.
12. Denver – Ray Manaluga, LB, USC: After dealing Jay Cutler to Chicago, the Broncos have to be thinking about a QB at some point in the draft. Josh Freeman is the best prospect left on the board at this point, but I’m unconvinced that he’s a top-15 kid. Denver’s other pressing need is finding players to fit the 3-4 defense they’ll run in 2009. Manaluga would be a solid addition to the linebacking corps, teaming up with veterans D.J. Williams and Nate Webster.
13. Washington – Andy Levitre, OL, Oregon State: After the acquisitions of Albert Haynesworth and Renaldo Wynn to the defensive line, the Skins can settle on finding some help for their beleaguered offensive line. Levitre is currently listed as a guard, but has experience playing left tackle, so he could be slotted to eventually succeed veteran Chris Samuels at that position. Of course, knowing Dan Synder, the ‘Skins might make a move on QB Jason Campbell, who might be unhappy after being offered in the team’s play for Jay Cutler.
14. New Orleans – Chris “Beanie” Wells, RB, Ohio State: The Saints need a big back to complement Reggie Bush and it isn’t going to be Pierre Thomas. Although Knowshon Moreno is my pick for No. 1 overall RB prospect, Wells makes for a better tandem: Bush is the lightening, Beanie’s the thunder.
15. Houston – Malcolm Jenkins, CB, Ohio State: It’s a crapshoot trying to ascertain which direction the Texans will take with the 15th pick. They’re a C-plus team at best at any given position, but cornerback seems as logical an avenue as any to begin their draft. Vontae Davis and Malcolm Jenkins are the cream of the corner crop this year, but Jenkins gets the slight edge here because Davis is an underclassman.
16. San Diego – Tyson Jackson, DE, LSU: The Chargers managed a playoff run last season despite injuries to two of their most high-profile players, RB LaDainian Tomlinson and LB Shawne Merriman. Both are expected to be back and healthy for 2009. There aren’t a lot of holes to fill, but San Diego could use some depth on both sides of the line of scrimmage. With his size and quickness, Tyson Jackson should shore up a Chargers defense that could use an effective pass rush to compliment its talented defensive backfield.
17. New York Jets – Josh Freeman, QB, Kansas State: Brett Favre is gone and Kellen Clemons is not the answer at quarterback for the Jets. New head coach Rex Ryan spent last season with a team that successfully developed a small market college QB into a first-year winner (Joe Flacco in Baltimore), and he’ll have the opportunity to do it again with Josh Freeman. Freeman, who played on an underperforming K-State team in 2008, has impressed scouts throughout the offseason with his arm strength.
18. Chicago – Darius Heyward-Bey, WR, Maryland: The addition of Jay Cutler solved the Bears quarterback problem, and Orlando Pace strengthened a ragged offensive line. Now it’s time to get Cutler a big wide receiver, like the ones he left back in the Mile High City. Despite his reputation for drops, Heyward-Bey is the biggest receiver in the draft and a nice compliment to the shifty Devin Hester.
19. Tampa Bay – Peria Jerry, DT, Mississippi: Chances are Tampa was disappointed to miss out on making a big quarterback acquisition this offseason, at least to this point. And with the top three passers already off the board, chances are the Bucs will try to shore up their defensive line. Peria Jerry was an all-SEC performer at Ole Miss and should team up nicely with three-year starter Gaines Adams.
20. Detroit – James Laurinaitis, LB, Ohio State: Now that the Lions have their franchise quarterback in Matt Stafford, they can use their remaining picks to address some of their remaining needs. One of those needs – and there are many – is at linebacker. Laurinaitis is a blue-collar player who should be a fan favorite in the city, as well as a pretty effective run stopper.
21. Philadelphia – Knowshon Moreno, RB, Georgia: The Eagles are getting old at a number of positions, some that they’ve already addressed through free agency. They’ve got a new fullback in Leonard Weaver, two new safeties in Rashad Baker and Sean Jones and a new offensive tackle in Stacy Andrews. What the Eagles need now is a new tight end, an impact wide receiver and an insurance policy for Brian Westbrook. With Knowshon Moreno still on the board, they can’t pass up a chance at a franchise runningback.
22. Minnesota – Alex Mack, C, California: The Vikings really need an upgrade at quarterback in order to catapult them to contender status. However, it looks like that will have to come via trades or free agency, unless they want to take a chance on Rhett Bomar or Pat White. But Bomar looks like a second round guy at best, and White’s skills somewhat mirror what the Vikings already have in Tavaris Jackson. All the while, the team will need someone to take Matt Birk’s place at center after he was traded to Baltimore. Mack fills that need.
23. New England – Clay Matthews, LB, USC: Three Patriot linebackers (Junior Seau, Tedy Bruschi and Rosevelt Colvin) have a combined 43 years experience in the league. That’s an astounding stat, and it means New England is in dire need of an infusion of youth talent at the position. There are rumors, of course, that the Pats are involved in the Julius Peppers sweepstakes, which would make them less likely to draft a linebacker in the first round. But, providing the Panthers can hang on the Peppers, look for New England to welcome USC’s Clay Matthews to Foxboro.
24. Atlanta – Louis Delmas, Western Michigan: The Falcons should look to beef up their defensive backfield after making several offseason additions to the offensive and defensive lines. Delmas would be the first safety taken in the draft to this point, and Atlanta hopes he will improve the 21st ranked pass defense in the league from 2008.
25. Miami – Percy Harvin, WR, Florida: The best receiver left in the draft to this point is Florida’s Percy Harvin, who would provide much needed depth for a team that never found a go-to-guy after trading away Chris Chambers. Greg Camarillo and Ted Ginn are effective targets, but neither have the playmaking ability of Harvin, who has 4.3 speed.
26. Baltimore – Hakeem Nicks, WR, North Carolina: Nicks’ big play ability would give Joe Flacco an effective deep threat to compliment Derrick Mason, who’s 35 years old and oft-injured.
27. Indianapolis – Aaron Maybin, DE, Penn State: Indy’s in search of depth and size on the defensive line to pair with eight-year veteran Dwight Freeney. Penn State’s Aaron Maybin got speed (4.64 40-yard dash at the combine) and size (6-4, 249 lbs.), which should help shore up a defense that had a difficult time stuffing the run last year (122.9 yards allowed per game).
28. Philadelphia – Brandon Pettigrew, TE, Oklahoma State: Providing the Eagles get their runningback with 21st pick, they’ll need to address a hole at tight end following the departure of L.J. Smith to Baltimore. McNabb likes to throw at the big guy, so picking up Brandon Pettigrew from Oklahoma State should give the veteran quarterback a reliable target.
29. New York Giants – Brian Robiskie, WR, Ohio State: There’s a lot of consensus amongst experts that the Giants will look to replace exiled receiver Plaxico Burress by way of the draft. The best WR prospect still on the board at this point is Ohio State’s Brian Robiskie, who at 6-3 and 209 lbs., is a little smaller than Burress, but still a big enough target for Eli Manning to find in traffic.
30. Tennessee – Evander Hood, DT, Missouri: The Titans could use this pick to create a little depth at wide receiver, but chances are they’ll look to shore up their defensive line, which is looking somewhat depleted after the loss of Albert Haynesworth to Washington several weeks ago. There’s lots of buzz surrounding Evander Hood, who managed a 4.78 40-yard dash, despite his 300 lb. frame.
31. Arizona – Brian Cushing, LB, USC: Could three USC linebackers all be drafted in the first round? It certainly looks that way. Arizona needs very little help offensively since they managed to convince Kurt Warner to return for another year, so their 2009 draft should focus on improving the defense. USC’s Brian Cushing is one of the highest-rated outside linebackers available, and should contribute early to a unit that underperformed in 2008, despite the Super Bowl appearance.
32. Pittsburgh – Herman Johnson, OL, LSU: The Super Bowl champions don’t have many needs to address, but they’d love another big man up front to help protect Ben Roethlisberger and open up holes for the running game in 2009. Enter LSU’s mammoth guard Herman Johnson, who, at 6-7, 356 lbs., is as big as we can find on the board. With the addition of Johnson and a healthy Rashard Mendenhall, look for the Steelers to continue their winning ways for another year.