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Saturday, April 28, 2007

 
Mock Draft 2007

He was called Robo QB. Trained since birth by his father, a former NFL player, to be a genetically perfect specimen. He was not allowed to eat fast food. As a child, his right arm was tied behind his back in order to guarantee he would be left-handed. His protein in-take was monitored going all the way back to when he was a fetus in his mother's womb. No, this is not the plotline for a bad sci-fi movie. This is an accurate description of the formative years in the life of Todd Marinovich.

In 1991, the USC QB was arrested and charged with sexual assault. Hot upon the heels of rumored marijuana usage, the player now nicknamed Marijuanavich decided too turn pro. After a series of high profile on and off-field incidents highlighted by his flipping the bird to Touchdown Jesus during a game at Notre Dame, Robo QB decided he needed a change. Over the course of the next few months, he attempted to perform damage control on his irreparably damaged persona. One team was willing to bite, taking a chance on the 21-year-old pothead who had been raised to be an NFL quarterback.

That team was Oakland, and they regretted their decision to select Marinovich with their first round pick almost immediately. Marinovich was not an unlucky young man with an unfair reputation. He was a bad seed, and the millions of dollars the team gave him simply allowed Robo QB further opportunities to destroy himself. The head case played himself out of football at a stunning pace. By the end of 2002, the 2001 draft pick had already thrown his final NFL pass. Over the past few years, the man who was trained since before his birth to be a legendary QB has been busted at a meth lab and accused of further sexual assaults.

In an era where Pac-Man Jones and Chris Henry have been demonized for off-the-field incidents, it's only fitting to look back at their 1991 precursor. Truly, Todd Marinovich was the first example of a new breed of trouble-making athletes who should never be given enough money to make it rain.

Folks, if the point is not clear enough about how much Al Davis was burnt out on drafting 1st round QBs after the Robo QB mistake, simply consider this. In the post-Marinovich era, Oakland has drafted more kickers in the first round than QBs. That's why he has passed on QBs such as Jay Cutler, Ben Roethlisberger, Philip Rivers and Matt Leinart in recent years. The sting of the last QB he gave first round money has not gone away. While Al Davis' mind is no longer in mint condition, the oldest living NFL maverick owner has not lost it enough to forget that disaster.

This is why I am so surprised to say that with the first pick of the 2007 NFL draft, the Oakland Raiders will select JaMarcus Russell, QB from LSU. Before last season, I speculated in this blog that the Raiders would wind up picking first in the draft. For this reason, I spent a good deal of the early college football season determining who would be the right fit for the system. In early October, I had an epiphany that Russell's arm was the prototype for Davis' beloved vertical passing game. Ever since then, I have awaited this moment. I do not consider Russell to be the best quarterback in this draft. In point of fact, I don't expect Russell to succeed in the NFL any more than Byron Leftwich did. He is the current NFL player at the position of whom Russell reminds me. Even so, passing on Matt Leinart last year has stuck with Davis, as has seeing his sworn enemy, Mike Shanahan, bring in a future star at the position in Jay Cutler. The time has come to retire the memory of Robo QB and select the player who best fits the system Davis has implemented for several decades now.

The second selection in the draft is where things get interesting. The posturing between the Lions and the various teams trying to trade up to acquire the draft's best player, Calvin Johnson, are well documented by now. Denver in particular has all but called up Detroit
and screamed, "WHAT DO YOU WANT? PLEASE TELL US! WE'LL DO IT!" Tampa Bay, Atlanta, New England, Cleveland and San Francisco have all expressed in making a deal to acquire the player. The reason why is obvious. Calvin Johnson has the highest composite grade on NFL boards of any player over the past 20 years. He is the proverbial once in a generation player. Now, I realize that it's human nature to say, "Someone has that type of hype each year." This is true to some degree, but Johnson has exceeded even that ordinary amount of buzz.
For the first time since Orlando Pace in 1997, this player is number one on every team in the league's board.

Wide receivers almost never go first in the NFL draft with Keyshawn Johnson being the last one to accomplish the feat. Calvin Johnson will not match that, but there will be a fight to get him. Given that Detroit knows that they control his fate, he will go at #2 overall. The only question is which team actually gets him. Despite recent posturing, I cannot bring myself to believe that Detroit will bring in another wide receiver given that they already have Roy Williams and
Mike Furrey. Nobody realizes it but the latter player led the NFC in receptions last year. There simply would not be enough footballs to go around for those three players. As such, my expectation is for the pick to be dealt to the team closest to Detroit in terms of both selection order as well as interpersonal relationships, Tampa Bay. Former Gruden assistant Rob Marinelli will find a way to work out a deal with his old team. The only question is whether the trade occurs before or after Detroit's pick. So, the #2 pick in the draft will be Calvin Johnson and he will wind up at Tampa Bay. The #4 pick in the draft will be Gaines Adams, the DE from Clemson, and he will wind up in Detroit…God help him. Adams is a relentless hunter whose pursuit of the quarterback has left me deeply impressed whenever I watch him play. He's a combination of John Abraham and Leonard Little, and that's the type of guy upon whom you build a defense.

The middle player between Johnson and Adams will be Brady Quinn. I personally feel that the Browns are making a huge mistake here. Adrian Peterson should be the guy, even with their off-season acquisition of Jamal Lewis. The NFL is moving into an era where teams need two strong running backs in order to excel. I know that they also need a solid quarterback to carry the load, but I do not believe that Quinn is that type of player. He bristles at comparisons to Rick Mirer, the #2 overall pick in 1993, but he should be flattered. Miirer was better coming out of college than Quinn, a player I consider to be pyrite. By the way, in case you are wondering who I consider to be the best quarterback in this draft since you know it's not Quinn or Russell,
the guy I like is John Beck. He won't be included in this first round mock, but some team is going to be very happy to get him in the middle of day one. He can make all the throws, and he's a natural born leader. Even though he is slightly older than most prospects due to his Mormon missionary trip, he is still a long term answer at quarterback for some lucky team. Yes, if you are looking for a reason to discredit my opinions about the draft, I have just given you plenty of ammo. Feel free to throw it back in my face in a couple of years, but I feel quite confident in my opinion here. I am mollified to see a lot of NFL teams coming to the same conclusion in recent days.

The number five pick in the draft should be the safest one to forecast. Unless they totally screw up, Arizona is going to select the player that is a wonderful combination of best available player as well as their most pressing need. That prospect is Joe Thomas, the OT from Wisconsin. Less a blocker and more a precision instrument, Thomas is as fundamentally sound a tackle prospect as the draft has produced in recent memory. What he lacks in raw power, he more than overcomes with unrivaled technical proficiency. I am an Atlanta Falcons fan and there is nothing that would make me happier than if my team winds up with Joe Thomas on Draft Day. Okay, that's not quite true, but it's the next best thing to getting Calvin Johnson. If Arizona is on the clock with Joe Thomas on the board, they should not walk but run to the podium to select him.

The recent news that Adrian Peterson re-injured his collarbone in the Oklahoma/Boise State classic hurts Washington. With both QBs off the boards, the team was banking on being able to leverage the availability of Peterson into a means of trading down in order to acquire more picks. As is oftentimes the case with the franchise in the Dan Snyder era, the team has foolishly thrown away multiple draft picks, leaving them without a selection for 137 spots. They know this needs to be addressed and have started sending out hints that they will draft LaRon Landry if neither Minnesota nor Atlanta trades up to get him. Both teams allegedly covet the player, but I just can't see Minnesota pulling the trigger given how much safety depth they have on the roster at the moment. I would expect the Falcons to draw the same conclusion, leaving the Redskins with something of a dilemma here. With no other recourse, I expect the team to fill its biggest need, defensive line help. The selection of Amobi Okoye would accomplish this although I do feel this is a bit early for him. I very much like him as a player, though. They can probably get him later in the draft, so this is an action spot for trades if anybody throws the Redskins a bone. That puts Adrian Peterson in play here if teams are not concerned about his collarbone.

Since I have assumed Peterson did not go at #6, a possibility I cannot discount, I have to believe he should go at #7. Having said that, Vikings beat writer Kevin Seifert has indicated that despite the team's depth at safety, they are in fact leaning toward LaRon Landry. I simply cannot imagine spending the #7 pick in the draft on a player who will not start this year. So, I am completely torn here. I guess I am going to trust the Minnesota locals that Landry is the guy. Passing on Peterson would be foolish, though.

So, we come to the pick that matters most to me. As a Falcons fan, I have historically dreaded the draft almost as much as income taxes. In the Rich McKay era, that has not been the case. The last time we had the #8 overall pick, we brought in a true difference maker in DeAngelo
Hall and now, the stars appear to be aligning to draft another one. Falcons beat writers have indicated that if Adrian Peterson is on the board, the team would draft him. It's not a need at all, but the composite board of NFL teams has Peterson as the #2 pick in the draft. If he is there at #8, that's a gift and we should take it. The only intrigue would come in the form of Atlanta's stated desire to trade down in order to acquire more picks. Given Peterson's injury woes, however, I am not certain the demand will be there like it should be. This pick would also be interesting if LaRon Landry were also on the board. The team's obsession with him does not seem to be a smokescreen. I get the feeling that this is the player Rich McKay covets, so his availability would create some tension.

The player Miami wants at #9 is Brady Quinn. Barring a trade up or a surprise on the part of Cleveland, that is not going to happen. This leaves the Dolphins in a quandary. The other players they appear to like are Jamaal Anderson, Ted Ginn Jr. and Levi Brown. Out of these
three, the only one I like a great deal is Anderson. Ginn Jr. is going to be a killer return man in the NFL, but his route running is atrocious. He reminds me of Desmond Howard 2007. Brown is a smart, accomplished young man with two degrees, but whenever I see him play, I am not impressed. His draft stock has soared due to the college return of Jake Long and Sam Baker. Brown played injured in 2006, and it clearly affected his on-field performance, but most Miami insiders believe the team will draft him at #9 if Quinn is not in play. Neither choice would be as useful to the team as selecting a defensive lineman given that all of their starters are on the grim side of 30. Brown looks to be the pick, though.

Some picks are easier to predict than others. With Houston's #10 selection, the only question is whether a deal with Denver is executed. The Broncos would love to move up to acquire Patrick Willis but with Leon Hall on the board, I think the Texans stay right where they are. A corner tandem of Dunta Robinson and Hall would go a long way in (finally) securing Houston's secondary. Of course, at #21, they still going to get a corner who probably has almost the same grade as Hall, so a trade down in order to re-acquire the second round pick they sacrificed for Matt Schaub makes some sense. There is some debate about who the best corner in the draft is with most insiders divided between Hall and Darrelle Revis. Personally, I think it's Daymeion Hughes, but that is a minority opinion.

Reviewing my picks, here is my expected top 10:

1) Oakland - JaMarcus Russell
2) Tampa Bay through Detroit - Calvin Johnson
3) Cleveland - Brady Quinn
4) Detroit through Tampa Bay - Gaines Adams
5) Arizona - Joe Thomas
6) Washington - Amobi Okoye
7) Minnesota - LaRon Landry
8) Atlanta - Adrian Peterson
9) Miami - Levi Brown
10) Houston - Leon Hall

And here is the rest of my first round mock:

11) San Francisco - Patrick Willis, MLB

Denver will make every attempt to jump them in order to prevent this, because Willis is good enough for both teams to covet him. He was the SEC defensive player of the year over more hyped NFL prospects LaRon Landry and Jamaal Anderson. He's also the best story of this draft after Okoye as well as the easiest person to root for, just edging out Anderson.

12) Buffalo - Marshawn Lynch, RB

There are significant character concerns about Lynch after he was recently charged with sexual assault. The allegations were dismissed, but some teams hold out suspicion that he has bought off his accuser. The bigger concern from my perspective is that California's last hyped running back, J.J. Arrington, was a more productive back in that system yet he has not done a damn thing in the NFL. I'm not crazy about Lynch.

13) St. Louis Rams - Adam Carriker, DE

Oh man, I looove this kid. He's got Kyle Vanden Bosch written all over him except he's bigger and faster. He also offers the benefit of being able to move inside to play DT on passing downs if teams want to give a different look on defense. Quality kid with a ton of talent.

14) Carolina Panthers - Reggie Nelson, FS

Nelson is not very smart, failing to get enrolled in college on multiple occasions. He is athletically gifted to the point that he was a consensus first team All-American at his position last year. Nicknamed The Eraser, he was the glue of a national championship-winning defense. Some teams worry about his intelligence since safeties are oftentimes placed in charge of lining up the coverages. Others are locked in on the way that Nelson takes the ball away on defense. He's a fun player, and he makes the most sense for a team whose current starting safeties are both over 30.

15) Pittsburgh Steelers - Lawrence Timmons, OLB

A new head coach is calling the shots in Pittsburgh for the first time since the Macarena was in vogue. What's important about this is that he is a defensive guru who helped turned Minnesota into a solid defensive team for the first time in...well, I can't recall the last time that happened. He will want to put his stamp on the team, and Timmons is a perfect tweener as the team moves from a 3-4 to a 4-3. He can play either system and still be disruptive.

16) Green Bay Packers - Darrelle Revis, CB

I was planning to make this pick Robert Meachem, but with rumors of a Moss deal heating up, the logical contender for his services is the team most frequently linked with him. With WR largely secured, the team could focus on other needs. They have quietly been building a strong defense anchored by Aaron Kampman, Nick Barnett and AJ Hawk. Given that their younger starting cornerback is 30, this position needs a transfusion of new blood. Hopefully, this guy turns out better than Batman Carroll did.

17) Jacksonville Jaguars - Jarvis Moss, DE

No, you aren't missing anything. Jamaal Anderson hasn't been selected yet, but through no fault of his own, the picks don't seem to be lining up for him. The Jaguars are likely to select a defensive end, but they appear to have tunnel vision for one guy. Moss was the apocalypse walking during the national championship game, and his presence on a line featuring Marcus Stroud and John Henderson would accentuate a team strength. Many times in the draft, this strategy is as important as addressing a need.

18) Cincinnati - Ben Grubbs, OG

With Chris Henry away on an unplanned sabbatical, wide receiver might seem like a consideration but for this team, it would be a luxury they cannot afford. The team's best offensive guard, Eric Steinbach, signed a rich deal with the Cleveland Browns and while the Bengals do have some depth at the position, Grubbs makes too much sense not to be the pick. He's the best guard in this draft, and has dominated top tier SEC competition.

19) Tennessee Titans - Ted Ginn Jr., WR

With Pac-Man Jones out for 2007 due to...unpleasantness, the Titans have a hole at cornerback. But they have an equally big hole in the return game, a place where The Rain Man showed remarkable skill. Ginn is perfect fit for the Titans since they need a young WR, and Ginn also happens to be easily the best return man in this draft.

20) New York Giants - Jon Beason, OLB

The New York Post's draft coverage for the week included only one oversized picture. It was of this man. Methinks they know something.

21) Denver - Jamaal Anderson, DE

Assuming they have not made a move for Willis, Denver would be ecstatic if the draft broke like this. Most people consider Anderson to be the 1A defensive end and in fact he had a better year in 2006 than #1, Gaines Adams. Since Adams has done it for several years while Anderson was a one year wonder, the Clemson star is considered the safer pick. Denver is a team that has been struggling for years to come up with a consistent pass rush. Anderson fits that need perfectly.

22) Dallas - Aaron Ross, CB

Local kid stars at Texas and is picked by the NFL team in the area. This should have been the story last year with Houston and Vince Young. Dallas will get it right when they take the San Antonio native, the guy they have been carefully monitoring for months now.

23)Kansas City - Alan Branch, DT

If you had told Chiefs GM Carl Peterson a month ago that he could have a shot at drafting Alan Branch, he would have laughed in your face. Branch was considered a surefire top 8 pick in this draft until about two weeks ago. Now, he's falling all the way out of the top 20, which is bad news for him but kismet for KC. This team needs linemen on both sides of the ball, and they don't come with any better pedigrees than Branch.

24) New England - David Harris, ILB

Harris was a player who was vastly underrated throughout his college career. In recent weeks, personnel folks have suddenly begun to appreciate just how impressive he was in anchoring the number one rushing defense in the country. This projection is actually a bit dicey since Bill Belichick has historically shunned first day linebackers. The team hasn't taken one prior to round 5 since the Andy Katzenmoyer mistake in 1999...and Belichick wasn't there yet. Even so, word out of New England is that Pioli and him finally realize that their aging unit was simply too slow to match up against New England. Harris brings them just that element.

25) NY Jets - Anthony Spencer, OLB/DE

While the Jets need a cornerback and probably wouldn't mind splurging on TE Greg Olsen, the reality is that this team's move to a 3-4 is still a work in progress. Spencer is a highly productive pass rusher who will get more attention from 3-4 teams than those using a 4-3 scheme. While at New England, Mangini had good luck with Rosevelt Colvin, a Purdue player straight out of the same mold as Spencer. A younger version of that player would be a huge asset in building New England II.

26) Philadelphia - Michael Griffin, SS

The Eagles almost never have significant needs due to a clever drafting strategy of recycling picks through trades and compensatory selections. Andy Reid's focus on the lines is pretty much the gold standard in organization-building in the NFL. This year, the team does have a couple of key needs, though, and strong safety looms largest. Griffin is the perfect guy for that need and offers the right value for this area of the draft.

27) New Orleans - Robert Meachem, WR

The draft is a maddening process, an exercise in chaos and entropy. Jamaal Anderson's fall was an excellent example of this as would be Meachem's fate if he wound up here. Meachem is considered a possibility all the way up in the top 10 of the draft, but as we can see, a perfectly reasonable series of decisions drops him down to #27. Of course, this wouldn't be bad news for him as he would be walking into a potent offensive system. He is the second best WR in this draft. Slotting him with Marques Colston and Reggie Bush with Deuce McAlister lined up at tailback is a scary, scary thought.

28) New England - Brandon Meriweather, FS

New England has chased him across the country in order to make sure they know what they would be getting. Most of you know Meriweather as the Miami football player who repeatedly kicked a prone player. Before that happened, he was widely respected as one of the top 15 prospects in this draft. After that situation, some teams are scared off by his actions. Bill Belichick seems to feel that nobody would have the guts to cross him, so he feels comfortable he can keep this play-making safety in line. As long as Meriweather toes the line, this is a sensational pick. He's an extraordinary athlete and a predator on the football field.

29) Baltimore - Joe Staley, OT

I strongly suspect that if Staley is available this deep in the draft, some enterprising team will jump to New England's #28 pick in order to select him before the Ravens can rush to the podium screaming, "Mine! Mine! Mine!" I consider Staley to be the second best OT prospect in this draft and given that he has only been playing the position for a short time, his upside is ridiculous. Note: that is the first and only time I will say upside in this column. This alone separates me from most draft mock writers.

30) San Diego - Dwayne Bowe, WR

The Chargers probably want a safety more but all of the guys worthy of first round grades are off the board now. This leaves them to address their second biggest need. Bowe is a 220 pound man who runs a 4.4 40 and (even more impressively) a 6.8 in the three cone drill. That's the type of explosive agility teams desperately desire. I believe it's enough for A.J. Smith to drop his "no first round wideouts" rule and make an exception. I've seen Bowe play a lot and he is a special talent.

31) Chicago - Greg Olsen, TE

The prettiest player in the draft is kind of a mixed bag. He posted eye-popping numbers at the NFL Combine, putting up numbers that rivaled the best WRs (not named Calvin). The fact that he is from a college that has turned out several high profile TEs in recent memory is also a huge positive. I just can't help but wonder why Olsen wasn't more productive in college. He scored a whopping 1 TD last year, bringing the grand total in his career up to 6. He never managed as much as 500 receiving yards, either. So, the question becomes whether he was misused while saddled with a weak quarterback or whether he just isn't as good as he should be. Given that a Chicago selection puts him with Grossman, well, you know...

32) Indianapolis - Justin Harrell, DT

What do you get for the team that needs everyone on defense? Well, most mocks try to give them Anthony Gonzalez, a player the team does seem to like. While this organization has thrived upon drafting BPA each year, I think even they would admit that this time, there are needs to be filled. Harrell is the third best DT in this draft and might have been ever higher on the list had he not ruptured his biceps tendon early on last year. Just so we are clear on what a team-first tough guy Harrell is, he played in the next game despite knowing he had surgery scheduled for the following Monday. Even John Wayne would consider him badass.

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