Upper Deck’s NFL Draft PreviewBy
Every year in April, the football Gods turn to New York City to determine the fates of countless NFL fans, teams, GMs and team owners. Sighs of relief are countered with exuberant bursts of appreciation, only to be followed by chatterbox debates on why some of the picks were utterly ridiculous while others bordered on sheer genius.
We can recall some of the greatest busts of all: 1989’s Tony Mandarich (OL) and three lame-duck QBs named Rick Mirer (’93), Ryan Leaf (’98) and Tim Couch (’99) quickly come to mind. But what about the diamonds in the gridiron rough who emerged as not only star players, but team leaders who resurrected entire franchises? Guys Like Joe Montana, selected by the 49ers in the third round of the 1979 NFL Draft only after 81 other players were chosen; and Tom Brady, who went to the Patriots in the sixth round of the 2000 NFL Draft – with the 199th pick overall!
This weekend, at the famed Radio City Music Hall, NFL geniuses will be born and stooges revealed with some of their draft strategies. As crucial draft picks are made – some will be booed, others celebrated – the near-future fates of 32 different NFL teams will hang in the balance.
Without further ado, here’s how this football fanatic sees Saturday’s Top 10 Draft Pick list playing out:
No. 1 (LIONS): Matt Stafford (QB, Georgia) – You can’t help but agree with everybody else on this one. Detroit is awful and needs help everywhere, including in the concession stands at Ford Field. After all, with an automaker as your corporate sponsor in 2009, things can’t be good. After an NFL-worst 0-16 campaign, which included five God-awful starts by Daunte “No Fire Left” Culpepper (six INTs and 14 sacks), the franchise has nowhere to go but up. So to select Stafford, the best passer in this year’s Draft after throwing for 25 TDs last season, is no stretch for a team looking to aim high – or at least above sea level.
No. 2 (RAMS): Jason Smith (OT, Baylor) – The 2-14 Rams finished last season by losing 10 straight games. A big problem was discovered on the front line: QB Marc Bulger was sacked 38 times! H-E-L-L-O! Smith should help curtail some of the beatings that could be bestowed upon Bulger (and Kyle Boller) in 2009. At 6-5 and 309 pounds, Smith should prove to be an immovable object…but then again that’s what everybody thought about Mandarich! Regardless, I see the Rams filling a desperate need with Smith on the offensive line.
No. 3 (CHIEFS): Aaron Curry (OLB, Wake Forest) – The Kansas City Chiefs are making plenty of moves, having picked up both Matt Cassel (QB) and Mike Vrabel (LB) from the Patriots this off-season, but also dealing perennial All-Pro TE Tony Gonzalez to the Falcons. They can see Curry coming in to solidify the linebacking corps, much like Derrick Thomas did in the early ‘90s. The 250-pound Curry hits like a Mack truck and has good speed for a big man (4.5 in the 40). The Chiefs will get healthier with Curry on board.
No. 4 (SEAHAWKS): Mark Sanchez (QB, USC) – Whether or not you like Pete Carroll and the USC program, you have to like Sanchez’s fighting spirit. Here’s a kid whose stock keeps rising and who fills a very-soon-to-be-filled need in the Emerald City. Matt Hasselbeck isn’t getting any younger or any more mobile, so Sanchez will help rejuvenate the ‘Hawks passing game. He completed 41 TD passes in just 27 games for the Trojans. Besides, new wideout TJ Houshmandzadeh is going to need someone to lead him.
No. 5 (BROWNS): Tyson Jackson (DE, LSU) – Every year the prognosticators say the Browns are on their way back to competitive-ville. And every year, we see the Browns start to tank and fall into the abyss. I think 2009 will hold more of the same for Cleveland, but it won’t be because of Jackson. Here’s a ferocious pass rusher (6-4, 296 pounds) out of LSU who will strike in opposing lineman as well as QBs.
No. 6 (BENGALS): Michael Crabtree (WR, Texas Tech) – The Bengals are another AFC North team who come out of training camp with big expectations and then promptly nose-dive by Week 4. With Ocho Cinco never happy and TJ “Who’s Your Momma” off to the Seahawks, the Bengals will land Crabtree with sixth overall pick. Carson Palmer needs a sturdy, dependable wideout who will not be afraid to take a hit over the middle. Crabtree will be his main man in 2009.
No. 7 (RAIDERS): Chris Wells (RB, Ohio State) – Nobody sees this coming, and there might very well be a good reason for it. After all, they just picked up RB Darren McFadden a year ago. But McFadden never really established himself as a bruising, punishing rusher and Wells can help solidly the Raiders’ backfield woes. Granted they have plenty of woes, but if last year is any indication, the running back position is by no means locked down in Oaktown.
No. 8 (JAGUARS): Andre Smith (OT, Alabama) – The Jags just locked up wide receiver Tory Holt and now they need to concentrate on a player who can help protect QB David Garrard with enough time to find Holt down the field. Smith is a W-I-D-E guy (6-4, 332 pounds) who should more than hold his own while protecting the flatfooted Garrard. The Jaguars are a team best known for their swarming defense; now it’s time for Garrard and Maurice Jones-Drew to get their just desserts. Smith will help them get the recognition they deserve.
No. 9 (PACKERS): B.J. Raji (DT, Boston College) – Aaron Rogers is still trying to establish himself as Brett Favre’s heir apparent. And my guess is that he’ll get there this year. That’s why the Pack has to go back to finding its identity on the defensive side of the ball. Raji will help shore up an aging defensive line. Last season, his team-high eight sacks and 16 stops behind the line of scrimmage for the Eagles made him a tough guy to miss. In fact, his eight sacks made him the first DT since 1985 to lead BC in that department.
No. 10 (49ers): Robert Ayers (DE, Tennessee) – Ever since Steve Young’s retirement 10 years ago, the 49ers have been a team in transition. Allowing opponents to ring up double-digit victories week after week has only helped to dismantle a once-proud organization. That’s why this weekend San Fran will address an obvious void at defensive end. Ayers is a big boy (6-3, 272 pounds) who should provide the kind of pass rush the Niners desperately need.