A week ago, NFL draft scenarios stacked up with the uniformity of 88 piano keys. There was no chaos, no calamity. It was early March, but the top six picks already looked relatively certain.
Then free agency busted open and made like a tornado in a valley of double-wide trailers.
The relocations of Drew Brees and Edgerrin James are expected to drastically alter the draft landscape, with ripples also coming from Baltimore's re-signing of Jamal Lewis and the splurging ways of the Browns, Redskins and Vikings. In fact, the furious foray into the free-agent market likely changed the top needs of as many as 20 teams.
Some of the ensuing draft chaos that has been created:
- The Saints have complicated the top of the draft with the signing of Brees, opening up the possibility of another team trading up to the No. 2 pick to get USC's Matt Leinart. Or the Saints could stand pat and select North Carolina State's Mario Williams. That would cause a trickle-down effect that could leave Virginia offensive tackle D'Brickashaw Ferguson toppling out of the top-five picks.
- Arizona's signing of Edgerrin James – when paired with Baltimore re-upping with Lewis – could create a massive slide for the draft's top-two running backs not named Reggie Bush. Now it looks like USC's LenDale White and Memphis' DeAngelo Williams could fall beyond the 20th pick in the draft.
- Because of the changing needs, some of the teams at the bottom of the first round might bypass tight ends in favor of positions that don't have as much depth in the draft. That could result in guys like USC's Dominique Byrd, Georgia's Leonard Pope and UCLA's Marcedes Lewis sliding into the second round.
- Miami's shoring up of the offensive line in free agency could lead to the Dolphins going after a cornerback at No. 16 – thus creating an earlier-than-expected run on defensive backs.
- Washington doesn't even have a first-round pick, but the signings of Antwaan Randle El may have changed the No. 1 draft priority for the Bears.
- Cleveland and Minnesota have altered their top needs with big signings, and in turn created a chain reaction of holes for several other teams (Seattle, Oakland and Atlanta) that may have to be addressed in the first round.
In the larger picture, that's a continental shift in the draft geography. And with at least one more good week of free agency still in store, there should be another slightly less dramatic shakeup.
But for now, here is how the latest sprawl looks, with the first batch of free-agent signings in mind.
1. Houston Texans – Reggie Bush, RB, USC. The signing of fullback Jameel Cook is the latest indication that the Texans are gearing up to take Bush. A trade is still possible, but it's going to have to be a very lucrative offer.
2. New Orleans Saints – Mario Williams, DE, North Carolina State. Don't buy the talk of drafting a rookie quarterback to groom behind Brees. That's bogus. This is either going to be a trade-down for a team that wants Matt Leinart, or the Saints will tab Williams to replace Darren Howard and give them two top-notch defensive ends.
3. Tennessee Titans – Matt Leinart, QB, USC. The Titans will be at Leinart's pro day and have also set up an individual workout with him afterward. Offensive coordinator Norm Chow's familiarity with Leinart makes him a more natural selection than Vince Young. General manager Floyd Reese has also said that he doesn't think Vanderbilt quarterback Jay Cutler is a top-three pick.
4. New York Jets – Vince Young, QB, Texas. Now that the Wonderlic fiasco has died down, everyone is eagerly awaiting Young's pro day. The Jets will be holding private workouts for both Young and Jay Cutler. There is a growing feeling in league circles that Young is going to dazzle in workouts and inch back to No. 2 on the quarterback board.
5. Green Bay Packers – A.J. Hawk, OLB, Ohio State. General manager Ted Thompson was on hand at Ohio State's pro day, when Hawk blew everyone away with his workout. The Packers would rather have N.C. State's Mario Williams, but Hawk is ready to be an impact player right now and injuries have marred Green Bay's current corps of outside linebackers.
6. San Francisco 49ers – D'Brickashaw Ferguson, OT, Virginia. Cornerback and linebacker is a big need, but Ferguson is a special talent. And tackle is more of a need than it appears. Jonas Jennings suffered a season-ending injury and Kwame Harris hasn't become the player the 49ers expected. Protecting Alex Smith should be San Francisco's No. 1 priority.
7. Oakland Raiders – Jay Cutler, QB, Vanderbilt. The veteran quarterbacks are drying up quickly in free agency. If nothing is done to fill the void before the draft, Jay Cutler becomes the obvious choice – even with Andrew Walter on the roster. With Ted Washington signing with Cleveland and Warren Sapp aging, don't rule out Oregon's Haloti Ngata in this spot.
8. Buffalo Bills – Haloti Ngata, DT, Oregon. Larry Tripplett was a nice pickup in free agency, but he'll need to work next to a rock to be most effective. Ngata fits the bill perfectly as the replacement for Sam Adams. This might be the most absolute lock among the top-10 picks.
9. Detroit Lions – Michael Huff, S/CB, Texas. Andre Goodman and R.W. McQuarters are gone via free agency, and Dre' Bly and Fernando Bryant can't stay healthy. Huff gives the Lions a flexible nickel corner that can play safety, too. If Vanderbilt's Jay Cutler gets to this point and Huff doesn't, the Lions will be forced to take a hard look at him.
10. Arizona Cardinals – Vernon Davis, TE, Maryland. Edgerrin James takes care of the running back need, and that opens up an array of options at this pick. But the holes the Cardinals need to fill most don't really have a candidate here. The Cardinals could trade back and pick up offensive line help, but Davis provides a major upgrade at tight end.
11. St. Louis Rams – Jimmy Williams, CB/S, Virginia Tech. Another defensive tackle would be nice, but there isn't one worthy of a pick this high. Williams gives the Rams the potential cover corner that they need. Williams won't go through the full workouts until his pro day, but personnel people expect him to showcase a rare combination of speed and athleticism seen in a big corner.
12. Cleveland Browns – Winston Justice, OT, USC. Even with the signing of Kevin Shaffer, the Browns still have a need at the tackle spot. Shaffer can be plugged in on the left side, while Justice plays on the right – the position he has flourished in at USC. The Browns are focusing on Florida State's Kamerion Wimbley in the second round. They would convert him to outside linebacker.
13. Baltimore Ravens – Brodrick Bunkley, DT, Florida State. The running back spot is sewn up, so the Ravens can turn their attention to the defensive line. Bunkley caught the eye of director of college scouting Eric DeCosta at the combine, and he is expected to impress again later this week in positional drills. A fringe first-round pick heading into the Senior Bowl, Bunkley has done nothing but impress scouts ever since.
14. Philadelphia Eagles – Santonio Holmes, WR, Ohio State. The Eagles have already upgraded the defense with Darren Howard and patched up outside linebacker for a year with Shawn Barber. They still lack an impact player to replace Terrell Owens, and all the free-agent wideouts are drying up. Meanwhile, Holmes ran a blistering 40-yard dash at his pro day (mid-4.3 seconds) and was impressive in positional drills.
15. Atlanta Falcons – Tamba Hali, DE, Penn State. The Falcons expressed serious interest in several free-agent defensive ends, including Detroit's Kalimba Edwards and the Jets' John Abraham. If the Falcons can't find a starter by the time the draft rolls around, the position could end up being their top priority. Hali is expected to impress at his upcoming pro day.
16. Miami Dolphins – Johnathan Joseph, CB, South Carolina. This might be a tad high, but the Dolphins have addressed many of their major needs in some way via free agency. A glaring hole still remains at cornerback, where Miami needs a starter. Joseph might have put up the best overall performance by a cornerback at the combine. Scouts view him as a player with a ton of untapped potential. After transferring from junior college, an injury limited him to only one season with the Gamecocks, but he was one of the SEC's best defensive players.
17. Minnesota Vikings – Donte Whitner, SS, Ohio State. The departure of Corey Chavous leaves a hole at safety, and Whitner was superb at the combine and his pro day. His numbers in Indianapolis were almost identical to Texas standout Michael Huff, and some think Whitner could even be a starting cornerback. He can hit in run support and has tremendous range.
18. Dallas Cowboys – Chad Jackson, WR, Florida. There are several ways the Cowboys could go with this pick, and a lot of that will depend on what happens the next few weeks of free agency. Jackson would fill the need for a speedy young wideout now that Keyshawn Johnson is gone, but if Terrell Owens is signed, this pick could be used for an outside linebacker to play opposite DeMarcus Ware. Other options are trading back and selecting N.C. State's Manny Lawson or staying put and going with one of the safeties – Tennessee's Jason Allen or South Carolina's Ko Simpson.
19. San Diego Chargers – Jason Allen, S/CB, Tennessee. This might seem a little high for Allen because of the hip injury that wiped out the latter half of his senior season. But he gives general manager A.J. Smith exactly what he wants – competition all over the secondary. Allen has the skills and speed to be a cornerback, but could also push Bhawoh Jue at free safety. Allen fell off the radar a bit because of last year's injury, but he put in a stellar combine, running 4.39 in the 40 and ranking in the top three of almost every positional drill.
20. Kansas City Chiefs – Tye Hill, CB, Clemson. The Chiefs badly need a young, starting-quality cornerback, particularly with no clear starter opposite Patrick Surtain. There are some size concerns with Hill coming in at 5-foot-9, but he had a very good Senior Bowl and went nuts in the combine drills. Hill was the fastest player this year in the 40 (4.3 seconds), had a vertical jump of 41 inches and placed near the top at every agility drill at his position.
21. New England Patriots – LenDale White, RB, USC. With Corey Dillon on the downward slope of his career, it doesn't look like the Patriots will be picking up his contract option after next season. Memphis' DeAngelo Williams might be sitting here, too, but White is the better fit. He gives the Patriots another power runner to groom in the mold of Dillon. White fits the system and could step in as the starter in 2007.
22. Denver Broncos (from Washington) – DeAngelo Williams, RB, Memphis. With two first-round picks, this would be a luxury Denver could afford. The Broncos have already been talking about adding a running back on the draft's first day. They also offered Jamal Lewis a contract. If Williams is there at the 22nd pick, he would be a huge value pick. Even if Ron Dayne re-signs, Williams would be a good complement, while also allowing Denver to trade Tatum Bell (which the Broncos are open to doing).
23. Tampa Bay Buccaneers – Ernie Sims, OLB, Florida State. The player some scouts say compares to Derrick Brooks would give the Buccaneers an upgrade at the outside linebacker spot. Ryan Nece took over for Jeff Gooch last season on the strong side and did an admirable job, but Sims would give the Bucs a player that could eventually take over when Brooks retires. Sims put up fantastic numbers at the combine, running a legitimate 4.5 seconds in the 40 and rating near the top of his position in every drill. Auburn tackle Marcus McNeill is another possibility, but there will be good tackles available in the second round.
24. Cincinnati Bengals – Gabe Watson, DT, Michigan. This pick would change if the Bengals land massive tackle Sam Adams in free agency. If not, Watson fills the massive part (6-3, 341) of Cincinnati's interior line needs. As for his talent, Watson has some polarized opinions floating around. Some think he could be an All-Pro player if he lands with a coach who is big on discipline and can motivate him. Others think he's destined to be a lazy, overweight draft bust.
25. New York Giants – Chad Greenway, OLB, Iowa. Greenway really struggled at the combine, and his draft stock took a big hit. Despite weighing in at 242 pounds, he put up only 16 reps in the bench press, was clocked as low as 4.8 seconds in the 40-yard dash and posted average times in almost all of his drills. Still, Greenway was a great college player and very productive at Iowa. The linebacker-needy Giants met with him at the combine, and a solid pro day performance should keep Greenway in the first round.
26. Chicago Bears – Sinorice Moss, WR, Miami. The Bears missed out on Antwaan Randle El, but general manager Jerry Angelo is believed to be a big fan of Moss. The Bears met with him on the first day of Senior Bowl week and the combine. Moss helped himself by putting up top-notch numbers for his position at the combine. He followed that up by looking good at his pro day, showcasing soft hands, a 42-inch vertical and the ability to be a punt returner.
27. Carolina Panthers – DeMeco Ryans, OLB, Alabama. A tight end could be had at this pick, but that's a deep position that can be addressed in the second round. The loss of Will Witherspoon creates a more pressing need at outside linebacker, and Ryans would fit the bill. Once regarded as a top-15 pick, Ryans posted good-but-not-great numbers at the combine. It's hard to argue against his production in college, though. He was one of the best defensive players in the SEC.
28. Jacksonville Jaguars – Kelly Jennings, CB, Miami. Outside linebacker could be a huge priority here if the Jaguars can't find one in free agency. If they do, then drafting a good young cornerback becomes a priority. Jacksonville needs a player that can eventually start opposite Rashean Mathis. Jaguars vice president of player personnel James Harris was on hand to see Jennings run another 40-yard dash in the 4.3s at the Hurricanes' pro day. Jennings has had very impressive workouts from the combine right into the pro day, demonstrating top-notch quickness and coverage ability.
29. Denver Broncos – Kamerion Wimbley, DE, Florida State. Wimbley would give the Broncos a good young end to groom and eventually plug into the void created by the departure of Trevor Pryce. A wide receiver and safety are also possibilities here, but those would be better addressed later on the draft's first day. Boston College defensive end Mathias Kiwanuka is another candidate for this pick, but he will have to have a huge pro day to keep himself in the first round.
30. Indianapolis Colts – Laurence Maroney, RB, Minnesota. The Colts are guaranteed to have a shot at either Maroney or LSU's Joseph Addai. Maroney makes the most sense. Like James, he is a very tough runner who can get it done between the tackles and be a grinder when needed. He still hasn't run his 40-yard dash due to a pulled hamstring, and it's conceivable that a poor time could knock him out of the first round.
31. Seattle Seahawks – Davin Joseph, G, Oklahoma. This pick would be predicated on Steve Hutchinson being allowed to leave for Minnesota. The Seahawks already needed an upgrade at right guard, but losing Hutchinson would put the team in a tough spot at the position. Joseph has been a rock since becoming a starter his sophomore season at Oklahoma. He has polished footwork and has consistently put up the best numbers of all the guards available in this draft.
32. Pittsburgh Steelers – Bobby Carpenter, LB, Ohio State. Despite not being totally healthy, Carpenter had a good pro day while under the watchful eye of Steelers head coach Bill Cowher and defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau. There are several teams looking at Carpenter at the end of the first round, including the Patriots, Jaguars and Giants. If he slips to the Steelers, he adds depth and can eventually be groomed as a starter.
- Matt Leinart
- Mario Williams
- DeAngelo Williams
- Edgerrin James
- Jay Cutler
- Jimmy Williams
- Reggie Bush