NEW YORK – Texas has the championship, USC has the superstar trio and Ohio State owns this year's NFL draft.
After months of evaluations, the draft is shaping up with the nation's talent hotbeds producing the lion's share of first-round picks. As many as 16 of the first 32 picks could come from only four schools: Ohio State, Florida State, USC and Texas. In the final mock draft, the Buckeyes squeak six players into the first round, followed by USC and Florida State with four each, and Texas with a pair of first-rounders.
Among those whose stock fluctuated the most over the last four months:
The running backs suffered the biggest stock plunge. Both USC's LenDale White and Memphis' DeAngelo Williams were both considered top-10 picks in early January, but it now appears that both will be taken in the final 10 selections of the first round.
Draft's falling stars
Despite uneven workout evaluations, the ranking of the quarterbacks is likely to remain unchanged from the scouting combine. Heading into Indianapolis, Matt Leinart, Vince Young and Jay Cutler were ranked 1-2-3 on the quarterback depth chart. – and that's how they'll likely come off the positional board this weekend.
Best fits for QBs
Florida State linebacker Ernie Sims, once considered a late first-round pick, has vaulted himself into the upper half of the draft. Conversely, Boston College defensive end Mathias Kiwanuka went from a projected top-10 pick in January to a likely second-round pick.
Draft's rising stars
Here's how the first round figures to play out on Saturday:
1. Houston Texans – Reggie Bush, RB, USC. North Carolina State defensive end Mario Williams is special, but coach Gary Kubiak loves the versatility of Bush. And picking Bush should help two other hefty investments pay off as well – quarterback David Carr and wide receiver Andre Johnson.
2. New Orleans Saints – Mario Williams, DE, North Carolina State. The Saints would like to drop back a few spots and pick up extra selections, but none of the quarterbacks has been stunning enough to force a team to move up. The Saints have two quality defensive ends, but Williams is a talent that won't be seen again for a while.
3. Tennessee Titans – Matt Leinart, QB, USC. Yes, we've heard all the rumblings lately about the Titans sliding Vince Young to the top of their quarterback board, but we're not buying it. Offensive coordinator Norm Chow knows what he's got in Leinart, and the game film doesn't lie. He's a winner and produces in big games. Young fits the same description, but Tennessee can't revamp its entire offense to fit his style.
4. New York Jets – D'Brickashaw Ferguson, OT, Virginia. There is talk that the Jets could ship this pick and the No. 29 selection to San Francisco for the sixth and 22nd overall choices. If the Jets are forced to stand pat, Ferguson has been the best tackle in college the last two years. He is an immediate upgrade for a line that has seen its talent level take a hit.
5. Green Bay Packers – A.J. Hawk, OLB, Ohio State. The Packers have upgraded the talent level on defense with the acquisitions of Ryan Pickett, Marquand Manuel and Charles Woodson. Hawk gives them one more playmaker at linebacker and adds depth to an injury-plagued unit.
A.J. Hawk highlights
6. San Francisco 49ers – Vernon Davis, TE, Maryland. A versatile defensive back like Michael Huff will be tempting, but Davis has the tools to be dominant. He has the size of Antonio Gates, with superior speed. No tight end in league history has strung together better workouts leading up to the draft. He's still refining parts of his game, but Davis should immediately jump to the top of Alex Smith's list of targets.
7. Oakland Raiders – Vince Young, QB, Texas. Yes, the Raiders signed Aaron Brooks and they like backup Andrew Walter. But word in league circles is that Al Davis favors Young if he's there at this pick. Brooks gives the Raiders time to groom Young for a year, and Walter can eventually fill the role of the future No. 2. Given a year to develop, the combination of athletes – Young, Randy Moss, Jerry Porter and LaMont Jordan – could be the most difficult in the league for defensive coordinators to prepare for.
8. Buffalo Bills – Winston Justice, OT, USC. This could be a trade spot, with Philadelphia looking to potentially move up and grab Justice. If Buffalo doesn't get an attractive offer, the Bills like Justice and Oregon's Haloti Ngata. Justice protected Matt Leinart's blind-side last season, but he's athletic enough to switch to the left side, having put up better workout numbers than D'Brickashaw Ferguson.
9. Detroit Lions – Michael Huff, CB/S, Texas. Coach Rod Marinelli could use a versatile playmaker with range for his Cover 2 defense. Huff could play safety or cornerback in the NFL and has been likened to Ed Reed. If Huff is off the board, the Lions would likely entertain trade offers and move back for another corner.
10. Arizona Cardinals – Jay Cutler, QB, Vanderbilt. Obviously, the goal for Dennis Green and his staff is to win games now. That would tend to push this pick toward an impact defensive player still left on the board. But free agency brought players geared toward winning immediately, and Cutler is an investment for the future. And yes, Green is bold enough to invest in the future even when nobody is sure if he has one in Arizona beyond 2006.
11. St. Louis Rams – Ernie Sims, LB, Florida State. The Rams need an upgrade at weakside linebacker, and Sims has bolted up draft boards while other outside linebackers like Iowa's Chad Greenway have faded. If Jay Cutler is still available, don't count out the QB, who's a favorite of head coach Scott Linehan. The Rams could also address the need at cornerback, but the attitude of Virginia Tech's Jimmy Williams has caused some teams to shy away.
12. Cleveland Browns – Brodrick Bunkley, DT, Florida State. This pick should either be Bunkley or Florida State's Kamerion Wimbley, who would play outside linebacker in the 3-4 scheme. An outside linebacker is easier to find than an athletic player like Bunkley, who could generate a pass rush as a 3-4 defensive end.
13. Baltimore Ravens – Kamerion Wimbley, DE, Florida State. The Ravens could go with defensive tackle Haloti Ngata, but Wimbley is said to be rated in the top 10 on Baltimore's draft board. He would provide a quality pass rusher, but he'll have to gain weight to be more effective against the run as a traditional 4-3 defensive end.
14. Philadelphia Eagles – Haloti Ngata, DT, Oregon. The Eagles could trade up for Winston Justice if he slips beyond the 10th pick. Philadelphia could also break away from its traditional draft pattern and tab Florida wide receiver Chad Jackson. Andy Reid is more likely to stick with his typical first-round routine of bolstering his lines. If he doesn't trade up for Justice, the Eagles will opt for the other player they consider worthy of moving up to get – Ngata.
15. Denver Broncos – Chad Jackson, WR, Florida.Ashley Lelie is unhappy and has likely played his last season for the Broncos. He may be dealt on draft day. With Rod Smith aging and no other developed playmakers in the receiving corps, Jackson is the most sensible option.
16. Miami Dolphins – Jimmy Williams, CB, Virginia Tech. Williams is the biggest corner in the draft and excels in one-on-one coverage. He struggles in zone coverage, but fixing the flaws of cornerbacks is Nick Saban's favorite pet project. Williams has loads of talent and is a hitter, but his cocky attitude rubbed some teams the wrong way. Saban isn't afraid of taking talented players with big mouths – evidenced by last year's selection of linebacker Channing Crowder.
17. Minnesota Vikings – Chad Greenway, OLB, Iowa. Greenway has taken a slight jump up the boards of some teams after impressing in individual workouts. The Vikings' corps of linebackers is a mess. It needs talent and depth, and Greenway would provide both. His stock dropped after a poor combine, but it's hard to argue with the massive production he put up in college.
18. Dallas Cowboys – Donte Whitner, S, Ohio State. Yes, the Cowboys signed Marcus Coleman from Houston, but there isn't a great deal of value at this pick for some of Dallas' other needs. Whitner has speed and range and can be effective against the run. Coleman is a one-year stop-gap; Whitner would add depth and a long-term starter at safety.
19. San Diego Chargers – Johnathan Joseph, CB, South Carolina. The trade of Sammy Davis for Rashaun Woods eliminates the need to go after a receiver in this spot. Conversely, the deal strengthens the need for another talented corner. Joseph is just that. He's still raw after playing only one full season with the Gamecocks, but he has the overall package of tools to develop into an elite corner.
20. Kansas City Chiefs – Tye Hill, CB, Clemson. Santonio Holmes would be tough to pass up and might even be preferred. But cornerback is far more pressing. Hill would give the Chiefs a player they can immediately plug in as their nickel back and eventually push for starting time opposite Patrick Surtain. Defensive end Tamba Hali could be a candidate for this pick.
21. New England Patriots – Santonio Holmes, WR, Ohio State. Beyond Deion Branch, the receiving corps lacks dependable options. Reche Caldwell is injury prone, Troy Brown is aging and Bethel Johnson hasn't developed. Holmes can be an impact player, and his biggest liability – his 5-foot-10 size – fits perfectly in the New England system. If the Patriots don't go with Holmes, a cornerback is the next best option.
22. San Francisco 49ers – Manny Lawson, OLB/DE, North Carolina State. Trading into this pick allows San Francisco to go after Vernon Davis at No. 6, and then address outside linebacker here. The 49ers have major needs at the position in their 3-4 scheme. Lawson, who posted elite numbers at the combine, fits perfectly. If Lawson isn't on the board, a cornerback or safety is the next best option.
23. Tampa Bay Buccaneers – Antonio Cromartie, CB, Florida State. This will likely be a best-player-available scenario, with Cromartie representing a gamble with the potential for a huge payoff. Some teams think Cromartie is still tentative making cuts with the knee he injured before last season, but the talent in the Bucs' secondary will allow Tampa to work him into the Cover 2 scheme slowly.
24. Cincinnati Bengals – Leonard Pope, TE, Georgia. The Bengals could reach here for one of the remaining cornerbacks to groom as Tory James' eventual replacement, but with tight end being arguably their top need, taking the top player at that position represents better value than one of the second-tier corners.
25. New York Giants – Bobby Carpenter, OLB, Ohio State. The signing of LaVar Arrington doesn't erase the need for linebackers. The position is still a high priority, and the staff has been very impressed with Carpenter in workouts. Cornerback could also be an option, with Miami's Kelly Jennings and Ohio State's Ashton Youboty getting a look.
26. Chicago Bears – Ashton Youboty, CB, Ohio State. The Bears have been keeping an eye on Sinorice Moss, but the secondary needs depth and a playmaker to push Charles Tillman. The playoff torching by Steve Smith isn't going to change until the secondary gets a talent upgrade, and Youboty has both speed and size. He could fill the nickel spot and eventually develop into a starter opposite Nathan Vasher.
27. Carolina Panthers – DeAngelo Williams, RB, Memphis. Williams has proven his durability with Memphis, and that's a huge plus for the Panthers. There are no guarantees with DeShaun Foster's health, and the team doesn't seem to be sold on Eric Shelton. Circumstance – not talent – is going to push Williams down the draft board. To get him this late would be a steal.
28. Jacksonville Jaguars – DeMeco Ryans, OLB, Alabama. Outside linebacker continues to be a glaring need, and it's looking less and less likely it will be addressed in free agency. Like Chad Greenway, Ryans has seen his stock take a hit over the last few months, and he didn't help himself running as slow as 4.7 seconds in his pro-day 40-yard dash. But his stellar college production in a tough conference should be enough to keep Ryans in the first round, no matter what his workout numbers are.
29. New York Jets – LenDale White, RB, USC. This is a luxury pick. Center Nick Mangold would be more of a need pick here, but White is hard to pass up this late in the draft, even with the debacle over his weight and workout problems the last few months. Cedric Houston and Derrick Blaylock won't cut it when Curtis Martin hangs it up, and addressing the need now would give the Jets a year to get White's physique in order before he has to take over a full load.
30. Indianapolis Colts – Laurence Maroney, RB, Minnesota. Maroney is another guy who has had workout issues when it comes to running, but that has nothing to do with his weight. It will be interesting to see what happens if LenDale White slips to this spot. Maroney, though, seems to fit the scheme better than White. So even if they are both available, Maroney appears to be the likelier pick. If the Colts go a different way, Bobby Carpenter could be the selection.
31. Seattle Seahawks – Jason Allen, CB/S, Tennessee. Some teams think Allen has the tools to play both corner and safety. Seattle lost Andre Dyson in free agency and there could be some long-term depth issues at safety. This may end up being a best-available athlete situation.
32. Pittsburgh Steelers – Nick Mangold, C, Ohio State. The Steelers need someone to groom for the eventual departure of Jeff Hartings. There will be plenty of choices at this pick for the Steelers' needs, but offensive line and the running game are always high priorities. If LenDale White falls to this spot, he would be a natural complement to Willie Parker and the power running game the Steelers like to implement.