Five mock drafts and seven weeks later, 10 of the top 11 picks have come full circle.
Despite free agency, the scouting combine and a nationwide orgy of personal workouts, all but one of the first 11 players from the first mock draft in February have been reunited with their original projected employers.
Vince Young has rejoined Matt Leinart in the top five, while Jay Cutler is once again hanging on the cusp of the top 10. Only the Bills have a different selection seven weeks later, with Winston Justice replacing Haloti Ngata.
Justice is one of the big movers since the initial first-round forecast, steadily ascending to take his place in the top 10 – a ranking that we took some heat for almost two weeks ago but now seems correct after his outstanding pro day.
Projections haven't been nearly as kind to Justice's USC teammate LenDale White, who started at No. 13 in February. Since then, the running back has trickled down the draft board and now hangs at No. 29 after a disastrous pro day on April 2.
Here is the way the first-round picks stack up, with teams now pulling together their final reports and hunkering down in draft meetings over the next two weeks.
1. Houston Texans – Reggie Bush, RB, USC. Bush put up a very strong performance on his pro day, running well and wowing in the bench press (24 repetitions of 225 pounds). The Texans were very happy to see his good upper-body strength. Bush said he's 99.9-percent positive he's going No. 1 overall. The Texans had a good visit with him after his workout, and the team is expected to start negotiating a contract in the coming days. Houston coach Gary Kubiak told Bush he envisions using the multi-talented star in the same manner the Trojans did – 30-plus touches split between running back, wide receiver and special teams.
2. New Orleans Saints – Matt Leinart, QB, USC. This is a trade pick. Every indication is that the Saints are going to deal down a few spots to take a defensive player. If they get stuck, linebacker A.J. Hawk is the likeliest pick. They are already set with their starting defensive ends, so that dims the possibility of Mario Williams, and permanently moving Jammal Brown to left tackle doesn't bode well for the selection of D'Brickashaw Ferguson. Look for the Saints to trade – but stay in the top-five picks and draft Leinart.
3. Tennessee Titans – Vince Young, QB, Texas. Up, down, up, down. Every week, the needle on the Vince-o-meter swings a different way. Reliable sources indicated last week the Titans like both Matt Leinart and Young – in that order. If they can't get Leinart, they like Young enough to take him in this spot. But believe it or not, the Steve McNair situation might trigger a trade-up to No. 2 or even No. 1 to take Leinart, depending on how the Titans feel about the possibility of Billy Volek running the team for a year while Young learns the ropes. If the Titans don't like that idea, they could move up to take offensive coordinator Norm Chow's top choice in Leinart and go with him as a starter from Day 1.
4. New York Jets – D'Brickashaw Ferguson, OT, Virginia. The Jets have scheduled workouts with all of the first-round quarterbacks, as well as A.J. Hawk. Word is that their pecking order is Matt Leinart, Jay Cutler, and then Vince Young, but they view Cutler and Young as projects who aren't worthy of the fourth overall selection. The Jets have excess picks to move up, but they are said to be reluctant to mortgage what could be a deep draft class just for Leinart. With that in mind, the signing of Kimo von Oelhoffen shores up the void left by John Abraham, so Ferguson is the selection here. He should step in and immediately start at left tackle.
5. Green Bay Packers – Mario Williams, DE, North Carolina State. The team hasn't scheduled a visit yet with A.J. Hawk, but he would be tough to pass up in this spot. The Packers already have serviceable defensive ends, but neither has the total package of size, speed and skill that Williams offers. Plus, inconsistent end Kabeer Gbaja-Biamila is in the first of several big hikes in his base salary ($3.85 million in 2006, then $5 million, $6.15 million and $7.3 million through 2009). Williams is a good insurance policy and would give the Packers a very strong defensive end rotation.
6. San Francisco 49ers – Vernon Davis, TE, Maryland. Scheduled visits have included A.J. Hawk, Vernon Davis, Mario Williams and Jimmy Williams. Hawk is tempting, but the 49ers are making a push to upgrade the offense around Alex Smith. Yes, they have Eric Johnson at tight end, but Davis has the tools to have an Antonio Gates type of impact. It was thought Hawk might be able to fit in the 3-4 scheme on the outside, but now that's looking less and less likely.
7. Oakland Raiders – A.J. Hawk, OLB, Ohio State. Hawk would inject a playmaking presence into the linebackers. The offense has the weapons to get the job done, but the defense lacks game-changing players. From a need standpoint, Haloti Ngata could get a look, but if Hawk isn't on the board, Vernon Davis and Michael Huff have gotten plenty of interest. And if something catastrophic happens at the top of the board and Vince Young slides, he likely won't get beyond this point.
8. Buffalo Bills – Winston Justice, OT, USC. Justice had a huge pro day, notching a 39-inch vertical, knocking out 38 reps in the bench press and running a 40-yard dash that would have been in the 4.9-second range if he hadn't suffered a pulled hamstring. Justice has put up better workout numbers than D'Brickashaw Ferguson and looks athletic enough to make the switch to left tackle.
9. Detroit Lions – Michael Huff, CB/S, Texas. A.J. Hawk and Jay Cutler have been scheduled for visits, and the Lions could go several ways with this pick. With Jeff Backus unsigned and Dan Wilkinson pondering retirement, Winston Justice and Haloti Ngata should factor. But Huff is an impact starting-quality player that gives the Lions flexibility at safety and cornerback. He is also a tough player, and that's one of the qualities that coach Rod Marinelli has been harping on over and over since taking over.
10. Arizona Cardinals – Jay Cutler, QB, Vanderbilt. Cutler is making the rounds, visiting with the Vikings, Titans, Rams, Lions and Jets. The Cardinals have a pressing need at cornerback, and if Michael Huff falls to this spot, he would be an ideal choice. Jimmy Williams is also a possibility. Don't rule out a possible trade at this point, with a lower team moving up to grab Cutler. If not, he gives Arizona a player to groom behind Kurt Warner.
11. St. Louis Rams – Jimmy Williams, CB, Virginia Tech. Brodrick Bunkley and Jay Cutler have been in for visits. Head coach Scott Linehan is believed to be very interested in Cutler, but there are more pressing defensive needs. With the linebackers improved through free agency, the cornerbacks still need to have more starting-quality talent added to the mix. There are varying opinions of Williams, who is best in man-to-man coverage. Some think he's at the top of the cornerback board, while others put him in the middle of the class.
12. Cleveland Browns – Brodrick Bunkley, DT, Florida State. The Browns have visited with Bunkley, Haloti Ngata and Chad Greenway. There are rumors flying about them warming up to Kamerion Wimbley at this pick, too. But the Browns need to improve their starting lineup with this pick, and Bunkley represents the biggest upgrade. He can step in and be a big impact player at defensive end immediately.
13. Baltimore Ravens – Haloti Ngata, DT, Oregon. The Ravens scheduled visits with Vince Young, Brodrick Bunkley and Ngata. Don't be surprised if they try to engineer a trade to move up if Young falls to the bottom of the top 10. If not, Ngata would be the replacement for Maake Kemoeatu. The Ravens need both depth and talent on the defensive line, and Ngata gives them both. If Bunkley is here, he would be another target.
14. Philadelphia Eagles – Ernie Sims, OLB, Florida State. Winston Justice and Haloti Ngata have been scheduled for visits, and there is talk the Eagles could try to deal up for one of those two. If the Eagles can't make that move, the weak-side linebacker spot is still shaky. Even with the stopgap signing of Shawn Barber and the development of Matt McCoy, Sims offers a fast, playmaking upgrade.
15. Denver Broncos (from Atlanta) – Chad Jackson, WR, Florida. Visits have been scheduled for wide receivers Chad Jackson and Santonio Holmes and running backs LenDale White and DeAngelo Williams, but rumors are burning that the Broncos are trying to move into the draft's top six selections by packaging both of their first-round picks, or the 15th overall pick and wideout Ashley Lelie. It's more likely that Denver stays put and takes Jackson with this pick. A running back is possible, but there will definitely be one available at No. 22 when both Jackson and Holmes could be gone.
16. Miami Dolphins – Johnathan Joseph, CB, South Carolina. The Dolphins are visiting with seemingly everyone – Chad Jackson, Santonio Holmes, Kelly Jennings, Sinorice Moss, Vince Young, Davin Joseph, Michael Huff and Manny Lawson. Free agency has filled out the secondary's depth, but Joseph would give Miami another young talent to groom for a starting spot. Don't rule out Jackson or Holmes, or going with a versatile outside linebacker like Kamerion Wimbley.
17. Minnesota Vikings – Jason Allen, S, Tennessee. The Vikings have scheduled or had visits with Allen, Jay Cutler, Laurence Maroney and DeAngelo Williams. Trade talk continues to swirl around this pick – either in a package to move up for one of the Big Three, or possibly shipped to Atlanta for Matt Schaub. Allen's skill package (some think he could be a corner or safety) makes him the most attractive safety at this point. Also, don't rule out the Vikings going off the board and taking yet another running back.
18. Dallas Cowboys – Donte Whitner, S, Ohio State. Whitner can be an immediate starter at safety and has some skills to fill in at cornerback if a team needs him there in a pinch. Many teams actually think Whitner is the safer pick than Jason Allen because of Allen's hip problems. Tackle could be addressed here if the Cowboys want to reach on Auburn's Marcus McNeill.
19. San Diego Chargers – Santonio Holmes, WR, Ohio State. Holmes has made the rounds with plenty of visits, so it wouldn't be a shock if he was off the board at this point. If Chad Jackson falls, he would meet the Chargers' needs, too. If neither wideout is available, general manager A.J. Smith has said he wants to increase the competition in the secondary. In that case, one of the hybrid safety/cornerbacks like Jason Allen or Donte Whitner would be chosen here.
20. Kansas City Chiefs – Tye Hill, CB, Clemson. Either a cornerback or wide receiver will be left at this pick. An impact receiver seems to be the bigger preference, but it's beginning to look like both options may be gone at this spot. Hill would give the Chiefs a player they can immediately plug into their nickel back and eventually push for starting time opposite cornerback Patrick Surtain. Defensive end Tamba Hali could be a candidate for this pick, too.
21. New England Patriots – Manny Lawson, DE/OLB, North Carolina State. The signing of Eric Warfield doesn't necessarily take the Patriots out of the cornerback market in the first round, but it softens the need. That said, they still visited with Tye Hill after signing Warfield. The big need is still outside linebacker, and Lawson has the skills to be a freak. Mike Vrabel can only play one position (either inside or outside), and Monty Beisel doesn't seem to be a realistic long-term option.
22. Denver Broncos (from Washington) – Kamerion Wimbley, OLB/DE, Florida State. Having two first-round picks allows the Broncos a luxury choice, and Wimbley gives them a talented player they can eventually plug in opposite Courtney Brown. If Wimbley is off the board, the Broncos could go with a running back – DeAngelo Williams or LenDale White – but that position will have some talented players available later on Day 1 of the draft.
23. Tampa Bay Buccaneers – Tamba Hali, DE, Penn State. Winston Justice visited with Tampa Bay, but he's not likely to be on the board at this pick. The Bucs could take a linebacker at this spot, but Jamie Winborn's signing gives that position a one year stopgap. Hali would be the best non-flagged player on the board at this point, providing youth and play-making depth to defensive end beyond Simeon Rice.
24. Cincinnati Bengals – Leonard Pope, TE, Georgia. Free agency solved plenty of major needs. Pope is a little bit of a reach here, but there's no guarantee a quality tight end will still be available when Cincinnati picks again. Pope's size and speed will make him a tough matchup, and he's shown decent hands in workouts. There are a handful of tight ends with similar grades, so it's basically going to boil down to who impresses the Begnals the most in interviews. One player who might sneak into this spot is Antonio Cromartie, who would give Cincinnati a player to groom for Tory James' eventual departure.
25. New York Giants – Chad Greenway, OLB, Iowa. The Giants have been taking the slow approach with the last few free-agent linebackers, and part of that is probably because they know there will be at least a few quality ones available at this spot. Greenway's stock seems to be recovering a bit since his poor workouts, but it likely won't be enough to boost him back into the middle of the first round.
26. Chicago Bears – Sinorice Moss, WR, Miami. Moss will be making a personal visit before the draft. Mark Bradley's rehab is coming along nicely, but his return isn't going to solve the problems at wideout. And the Bears have to start preparing for life after Muhsin Muhammad, who turns 33 in May. Moss adds a big-play dimension, gives more speed and has shown that he can factor into the return game. That – and the fact that general manager Jerry Angelo has taken a liking to him – takes Moss off the board with this pick.
27. Carolina Panthers – DeAngelo Williams, RB, Memphis. The Panthers have had visits with Williams, LenDale White and Darnell Bing, and they have also shown some interest in Davin Joseph. Coach John Fox was on hand for White's meltdown at USC's pro day, and that had to hurt. 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 – will 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 by running as slow as 4.7 seconds in his 40-yard dash at his pro day. But Ryans' stellar college production in a tough conference should be enough to keep him in the first round, no matter what his workout numbers are.
29. New York Jets (from Denver) – LenDale White, RB, USC. This is another luxury pick. Nick Mangold would be more of a need at this spot, but White is hard to pass up this late in the draft, even with the debacle of his weight and workout problems over 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, but Maroney seems to fit the scheme better than White. So even if they are both available, Maroney seems to be the likelier pick. If the Colts go a different way, linebacker Bobby Carpenter could be the pick.
31. Seattle Seahawks – Antonio Cromartie, CB, Florida State. Safety is a pressing need, but this may end up being a "best player available" spot. If Ty Law signs, it would affect this pick. If Law isn't signed, Cromartie could end up being a steal. Considering the Seahawks could bury him on the depth chart for the first half of next season, Cromartie is worth the gamble, even with his recent knee injury.
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 here for the Steelers' needs, but offensive line and the running game are always high priorities. And 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 use.