March 31, 2010
Despite all the folderol about Tim Tebow's recent pro day ("ZOMG! He can actually sort of throw overhand now!"), the most important private workout for NFL scouts in 2010 took place in Norman, Okla., on Monday. In proving that he had fully recovered from the shoulder injuries that ended his 2009 season, Oklahoma quarterback Sam Bradford set the draft boards in motion and gave some certainty to what had been a fluid process. If he hadn't looked as good as he did, Bradford might have set the wheels turning for one of two defensive tackles to hear their names called with the first overall pick.
1. St. Louis Rams -- QB Sam Bradford, Oklahoma: Going 62-of-63 in any endeavor is impressive. Throwing a football for NFL personnel people, and doing so in a public setting for the first time in months, might be nerve-wracking for some. But Bradford looked completely comfortable throwing in his private workout on Monday. He threw to all angles and to all depths, answering many questions about the stability of his throwing shoulder, and only one ball hit the ground all day. There's still the issue of how he'll hold up under pressure in the NFL, but barring a real surprise (or a team like the Redskins trading up to get him), Bradford had best start packing his bags for St. Louis. The Rams desperately need a franchise quarterback, and Bradford has the arm and accuracy to be that guy over time.
2. Detroit Lions -- DT Ndamukong Suh, Nebraska: Bradford may go with the first overall pick, but Suh is the best player in this draft. The Lions scored on many of their 2009 draft picks as they started the long process of recovering from Matt Millen's existence. Head coach Jim Schwartz, formerly Tennessee's defensive coordinator, knows all about what a dominant defensive tackle can do for a team. With his pursuit speed, ridiculous upper-body strength, ability to disrupt, and elite work ethic, Suh could exceed the greatness of Albert Haynesworth(notes) at his peak.
3. Tampa Bay Buccaneers -- DT Gerald McCoy, Oklahoma: One of the many challenges the Bucs face in returning their franchise to prominence is to rebuild a defensive line that allowed almost five yards per carry in 2009. McCoy is the perfect first solution, as he's an outstanding run-stopper in several different ways. He can penetrate initial blocks with frightening speed, shake off double teams and let other defenders fly through the gaps, and recover to make tackles downfield. He's not quite the overall player Suh is, but McCoy will help Tampa Bay immeasurably.
4. Washington Redskins -- OT Russell Okung, Oklahoma State: New Redskins head coach Mike Shanahan may want his own quarterback down the road, but there's wisdom in sticking with Jason Campbell(notes) in the here and now. Reason No. 1 is the necessity of finding Chris Samuels'(notes) replacement at left tackle. Campbell was under siege last year, and no other quarterback would fare better behind Washington's current offensive line. Okung is the most developed tackle in this class, and the best pass protector. He doesn't have elite drive-blocking power, and he's a little stiff at the second level, but he's a persistent blindside blocker with excellent in-line technique.
5. Kansas City Chiefs -- OT Bryan Bulaga, Iowa: The Branden Albert(notes) experiment hasn't worked out for the Chiefs. When they took the former Virginia guard and kicked him outside to left tackle in 2008, initial success was followed by frustration as Albert proved to be far too porous as a pass-blocker. Kansas City GM Scott Pioli has a longtime friendship with Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz, and he knows that teaching offensive linemen the basics and getting them fundamentally sound is Ferentz's specialty. While not a top-level pass-blocker, Bulaga comes prepared for the pros more than most at his position. Where he excels is in creating rushing lanes, and extending plays with downfield blocks.
6. Seattle Seahawks -- S Eric Berry, Tennessee: Everybody knows that the Seahawks have desperate needs along their offensive line, but it's quite possible that their secondary is even weaker. Of last year's safeties, veteran Deon Grant(notes) was released, and Jordan Babineaux(notes) is a utility defensive back filing a hole that Seattle's previous personnel administration found difficult to handle. Berry could be the answer -- he's fast, smart, and tough, and he might just be the best defensive player in this draft not named Ndamukong Suh. His preternatural ability to read quarterbacks and be in the right spot time after time will be a balm for Seattle's undisciplined defense.
7. Cleveland Browns -- CB Joe Haden, Florida: Eric Mangini isn't known as the most patient fellow, but when the same cornerback gets benched three times in one season ... well, that's a problem no matter how short-fused the head coach may be. That's what happened to Brandon McDonald(notes), and that's why the Browns ranked 28th on Football Outsiders' efficiency metrics against the pass. Haden can play press man and is comfortable in zones; his read recognition is exceptional and he has the recovery speed to make up for any mistakes. The Browns have already put Haden through a private workout on the Florida campus and will bring him to Berea for a visit in early April.
8. Oakland Raiders -- OT Trent Williams, Oklahoma: While most mock drafters put Maryland's Bruce Campbell here by default, the track-fast Campbell isn't the only guy fit for Oakland's seeming addition to athleticism. Fortunately for Al Davis, Williams also transcends the Raiders' recent habit of picking players who just don't cut it on the field. He moved from right to left tackle in 2009, and impressed more and more as the season went along with his ability to get the hang of the more complicated position. Williams has great feet, short-area-speed, and drive power. He's not a finished product, but the evolutionary version could be a perennial Pro Bowler.
9. Buffalo Bills -- DT Dan Williams, Tennessee: It's all well and good to move to a 3-4 defense when the 4-3 isn't working for your team. The new problems arise when you don't have the personnel to make the switch work. The Bills allowed 4.78 running back yards per attempt in 2009 according to Football Outsiders, and adding an extra linebacker isn't going to solve that problem. The Bills need a nose tackle that can man the point and soak up double teams, while disrupting the middle as well. Williams is quick for his size, plays with great strength, and sets up in a wide base that makes him very difficult to move. If Williams doesn't go here, he won't make it past the Broncos and Dolphins at 11 and 12 -- both 3-4 teams also need a nose tackle of his caliber.
10. Jacksonville Jaguars -- DB Earl Thomas, Texas: The Jags actually have needs at both safety positions, but this isn't about drafting for need -- it's about drafting for desperation. The extent of that desperation can be gauged by watching Reggie Nelson(notes) on the field. Slightly underrated as a corner/safety hybrid projection, Thomas is one of the best defensive playmakers in this draft class at any position. He led the nation with 24 passes defensed, and finished second with eight interceptions. Jacksonville has long been a home for physically talented DBs who couldn't read a quarterback's intentions if their lives depended on it. That changes with the selection of Thomas.
11. Denver Broncos (from Chicago) -- ILB Rolando McClain, Alabama: Denver's defense benefited greatly from the veteran leadership of safety Brian Dawkins(notes), but not even Dawkins could prevent that defense from sliding down the stretch. What the Broncos need now is the kind of young franchise player on the defensive side who will establish a culture of accountability just as much as he brings it on the field. McClain is as tough as they come, both mentally and physically -- he practically lives in the film room and he never missed a game for the Crimson Tide.
12. Miami Dolphins -- DE Brandon Graham, Michigan: With a stacked defensive tackle class, and Dan Williams gone to Buffalo, the Dolphins can take care of their needs on the inside front seven a little later in the draft. They also require reinforcements in the pass rush; Joey Porter's(notes) out of the picture, and GM Jeff Ireland isn't ready to talk to Jason Taylor(notes) about a role going forward. Graham's dominant performance at the Senior Bowl showcased a player who recorded 10.5 sacks and 26 tackles for loss in the 2009 season. Graham and former CFL star Cameron Wake(notes) will give new defensive coordinator Mike Nolan the kind of quarterback pressure he needs to turn that defense around.
13. San Francisco 49ers -- OT Anthony Davis(notes), Rutgers: The 49ers' offensive line was terrible by just about any measure in 2009; it's the one thing that could keep the team from winning the NFC West. Davis has some question marks regarding his technique and work ethic, but he's a very good pass-blocker with a good punch when opening lanes for running backs. Perhaps a supreme motivator like Mike Singletary could keep Davis' head straight, allowing him to live up to his potential.
14. Seattle Seahawks (from Denver) -- RB C.J. Spiller, Clemson: Spiller may be the ultimate weapon for an offense like Seattle's, in which production has lagged at most every position. Not only can he bounce outside from the backfield and speed past defenders, he can also line up in the slot and wide as a receiver -- in fact, he'd be a second-day pick as a receiver alone. Factor in his return abilities, and you're looking at a player who could make the same kind of impact that Percy Harvin(notes) made with the Vikings last season.
15. New York Giants -- RB Ryan Mathews, Fresno State: This seems like an odd pick given the Giants' need at inside linebacker until you realize two things: Rolando McClain's already gone in a shallow class at the position, and New York's rushing attack (especially the power attack) was a real problem in 2009. Brandon Jacobs(notes) frequently ran as if there was a stop sign at the line of scrimmage, and though Ahmad Bradshaw(notes) was more efficient, he's recovering from surgeries to both feet and his ankle. Mathews, who led the nation in rushing last season, has a rare combination of size, speed, and versatility that could help the Giants transition out of the "Earth, Wind, and Fire" era.
16. Tennessee Titans -- DE Derrick Morgan, Georgia Tech: Tennessee's formerly dominant defensive line has dropped off in recent years; losing Kyle Vanden Bosch(notes) to the Lions was just the latest hit. In replacing Vanden Bosch, the Titans need an end that can do double-duty as an edge rusher and run-stopper. At 6-foot-3 and 266 pounds, Morgan has the do-it-all skill set needed -- it's the upside to the occasional concerns that his pass rush alone isn't elite.
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