This is the year to have a pick outside of the top 10 in the NFL Draft. The talent pool this year is possibly the deepest in recent memory. Offensive tackles and linebackers are in abundance. In fact, there are so many OT’s and LB’s to go around that players who may have been first round picks last year will certainly not be taken until the middle of round two and possibly not until the third round. The tight end position is as deep as any draft has ever yielded. There are 4-5 marquee running backs to choose from. The safety and defensive tackle positions are also noticeably deep. Denver has two first round draft picks. Although they don’t come until 22nd and 29th respectively, the Broncos will be pleasantly surprised with the value those two picks yield.
This years draft is akin to being extremely low on food in the old Oregon Trail computer game and then coming across 15 buffaloes and 15 bears. Everybody is fat and happy until the next winter. That should be the case this year. One thing that I noticed after compiling my list of top 100 players and conducting the mock draft is that despite their being depth at almost every position, defense will rule in 2006. The depth on offense will disappear after the first two rounds. Defense will be available through day two of the draft.
The NFL Draft is notoriously hard to predict with such variables as trades, personal draft boards, injured players, and small-school players playing a factor in who goes where. Players like Antonio Cromartie could go anywhere from the first round on “potential” alone or as late as the third round due to “injury concerns”. Having said that, I did the best I could in addressing each team’s needs as well as the “best player available”.
1 Houston Texans Reggie Bush RB USC
Unless a trade goes down, the Texans will take Reggie Bush. The only other pick that makes sense here is D’Brickashaw Ferguson. Although that might not be a bad pick, pressure from fans and the desire to make the “right” pick will force the Texans to take Bush. Also, the last time a situation like this presented itself, the Green Bay Packers opted for Tony Mandarich over Barry Sanders. Houston might not have a need at the running back position but it would be hard to pass on Bush if a trade doesn’t occur.
2 New Orleans Saints Matt Leinart QB USC
The Saints finally sent Aaron Brooks packing which allows them to go after a quarterback with the second overall pick. I won’t claim to have any idea how various teams are differentiating between Leinart and Vince Young. For all I know, Jay Cutler could be on top of some draft boards. Leinart seems to be the most NFL-ready and fits the bill as a prototypical drop back NFL quarterback.
3 Tennessee Titans Vince Young QB Texas
The Titans are in dire straights. They will likely face the unenviable situation of having to take the best player available when there are so many other positions that are lacking. Still, with Steve McNair playing on fumes and Tennessee’s obvious reluctance in naming Billy Volek the future of the franchise, Young will provide excitement for the hometown fans and give the franchise a face to rebuild around.
4 New York Jets Jay Cutler QB Vanderbilt
I don’t get the fascination with Jay Cutler. At the end of the college football season, Cutler was considered a borderline first round draft pick well behind Leinart and Young. He then participated in the Senior Bowl where he posted underwhelming numbers. Strangely, that same Senior Bowl proved to be the launch for Cutler-Mania among NFL scouts and Draft Gurus. One thing I do know is that the Jets seem to be in the market for a quarterback to replace the injury-prone one they have now in Chad Pennington.
5 Green Bay Packers D'Brickashaw Ferguson OT Virginia
Ferguson might be the best player in the draft. Unfortunately for him, he comes in the same draft class as some of the most hyped college football players in recent memory. I doubt he’ll make it to the 5th spot but assuming Bush, Leinart, Young and Cutler keep stealing the show, the Packers could end up as the luckiest team in the draft.
6 San Francisco 49ers A.J. Hawk LB Ohio St.
Hawk is an Urlacher-type linebacker with toughness and speed. The 49ers are soft on defense. Mario Williams and Haloti Ngata are both possibilities for the 49ers but Hawk rates out as one of the best linebacker prospects of the last ten years.
7 Oakland Raiders Mario Williams DE NC State
In the right year, Williams would be considered a top three draft pick. During the college football season, Mathias Kiwanuka from Boston College was generally considered the best defensive end in the draft. Williams has since surpassed him. The Raiders need a pass rusher among many other things. Ngata could work here but Williams seems to be the better prospect.
8 Buffalo Bills Haloti Ngata DT Oregon
At this point, the Bills will likely take the best player available. That will obviously depend on Buffalo’s draft board but Ngata is the best defensive tackle in an extremely deep draft class. I would not be surprised to see Michael Huff or Jimmy Williams go to Buffalo.
9 Detroit Lions Michael Huff S Texas
The Lions have many needs. GM Matt Millen has publicly stated the team’s need for help on the offensive line. There is also a glaring deficiency in the secondary which seems to be a consistent of any Lions team. Huff’s blazing 40-time (4.3) at the NFL combine could be enough to put him over Jimmy Williams as the top safety prospect. If the Lions take Huff, Lions fans will be holding their breaths as they wonder aloud if Millen just drafted the next Roy Williams or the next Bryant Westbrook. If Millen opts for a lineman, look for Auburn’s Marcus McNeil or USC’s Winston Justice to go here.
10 Arizona Cardinals LenDale White RB USC
Although the Cardinals drafted J.J. Arrington in the second round last year, they still need consistency from the running back position. D’Angelo Williams or Laurence Maroney could grade out higher on various draft boards but White is a big, punishing running back that is capable of taking NFL punishment. The Cardinals are one reliable running back away from having a potent offensive attack.
11 St. Louis Rams Jimmy Williams CB Va. Tech
There were two constants in St. Louis under Mike Martz; 1). The Rams avoided the running game like the plague and 2). The Rams made terrible draft picks. It remains to be seen whether both will be present next year but picking Williams at 11 would hardly qualify as a bad pick. The Rams have enough firepower on offense. They will likely address the defense and pick the best player available. Williams can play corner or safety which is a valuable commodity in the NFL.
12 Cleveland Browns D'Angelo Williams RB Memphis
Despite having Reuben Droughns at running back, the Browns are looking for a game-breaking back to jumpstart the offense. If White goes to Arizona, chances are the Browns will jump on D’Angelo Williams. I would caution against rating Williams too high because his college competition left a lot to be desired at Memphis. He could very well pan out like LaDanian Tomlinson did coming from TCU but a lot of players look good playing in weak conferences.
13 Baltimore Ravens Winston Justice OT USC
The Ravens struggled mightily running the ball last year which was probably equal parts injuries and Jamal Lewis’ nonchalance. Nevertheless, the Ravens have the defense in place. They could use a quarterback but nobody worth the 13th pick will be available. Vernon Davis would be an excellent value at 13 but the Ravens already have Todd Heap. Justice is the best player available that fits into Baltimore’s needs.
14 Philadelphia Eagles Vernon Davis TE Maryland
With the billboard size void left by T.O. in the passing game, Davis would be a perfect fit in Philadelphia. He would give Donovan McNabb a game breaking tight end in the mold of Tony Gonzalez. The Chiefs have shown that it’s possible to have average receivers if you have the game’s best tight end. The Eagles are a veteran team with many needs but Davis could have an instant impact.
15 Atlanta Falcons Tamba Hali LB Penn St.
With Atlanta’s ball control offense, points will be at a premium. That makes it all the more important for the Falcons to have a dominating defense. Despite having solid players like D’Angelo Hall and Keith Brooking on defense, the Falcons need a reliable pass rushing threat. Hali is a linebacker/defensive end hybrid in the mold of Derrick Thomas. Boston College’s Kiwanuka could be higher on Atlanta’s draft board but Hali has impressed more since the end of the season.
16 Miami Dolphins Chad Jackson WR Florida
The Dolphins need a quarterback but they won’t get one with this pick. Miami’s offense needs an upgrade and Jackson’s 4.3 40 at the NFL combine catapulted him to the top of the wide receiver board. Jackson would combine with Chris Chambers to give Miami a solid 1-2 punch at wide receiver.
17 Minnesota Vikings Laurence Maroney RB Minnesota
I have been surprised by the lack of attention paid to Maroney. In my opinion, he’s the second best running back in the draft. He can do everything a running back is supposed to do. He’s fast. He can catch the ball out of the backfield and he can block. He was impressive in the defensive-oriented Big Ten. This was likely not lost on the Vikings as they would gladly take Maroney and make him their running back of the future.
18 Dallas Cowboys Marcus McNeil OT Auburn
McNeil rates higher than this on most draft boards (including mine). However, he may be victim of not fitting team needs. The Cowboys are in dire straights on the offensive line. Their primary need may be at the offensive guard position but no guard rates this high. The Cowboys would get one of the best value picks of the draft if McNeil is available here.
19 San Diego Chargers Mathias Kiwanuka DE Boston College
The Chargers are just the type of team that will benefit most from the depth of this draft. No team in football (including the Colts) has a better offensive attack than the Chargers. There could be a slight adjustment period with Phillip Rivers taking over for Drew Brees but the Chargers won’t be looking on offense in the first round. Kiwanuka was widely considered a top ten pick as recently as two months ago. If his stock falls, the Chargers could be happy beneficiaries.
20 Kansas City Chiefs Santonio Holmes WR Ohio St.
The Chiefs have been getting by on offensive behind a power running game and smoke and mirrors. Kansas City has not had a legitimate wide receiver corps in a number of years. Although the defense needs addressing, Holmes could give Kansas City the deep threat and consistent route runner the franchise has been lacking.
21 New England Patriots Tye Hill CB Clemson
Judging from the play of New England’s defensive backs following Ty Law’s injury in 2004, the future looked bright. However, injuries and inconsistent play were a fixture in 2005. The Patriots are in the enviable position of being able to take the best player available. Hill rates as the best “pure” corner back in the draft. He solidified that claim with a 4.3 40 time at the NFL combine. The Patriots would gladly take a player of this caliber at 21st overall.
22 Denver Broncos Leonard Pope TE Georgia
Leonard Pope might be one of those players that takes off in the NFL after being merely consistent in college (i.e. Tom Brady). Pope has skyrocketed up draft boards recently with is tremendous size and athletic ability. The Broncos would love to give Jake Plummer a big target to bail him out from having to morph into “Mistake Jake”. If the Broncos reel in T.O., the addition of Pope would give the Broncos a scary offense.
23 Tampa Bay Buccaneers Jonathan Scott OT Texas
It became apparent last year that Jon Gruden loves to run the football. Scott is a Texas-sized offensive lineman who would pave the way for 2005 First Round pick Cadillac Williams. There are a number of players that Tampa Bay could pick here but Scott might just be the best player available.
24 Cincinnati Bengals Chad Greenway LB Iowa
Greenway was a victim of the NFL’s intense focus on measurables at the NFL combine. Apparently, Greenway only bench pressed 225 pounds for 16 reps which is strong for the Donald Trumps of the world but not for the linebacker position in the NFL. It has also been rumored that Greenway lacks sufficient leg strength. This could all lead to Greenway plummeting down draft boards. Regardless, Greenway is a first round talent and might just be a steal at pick 24.
25 New York Giants DeMeco Ryans LB Alabama
If the NFL loved DeMeco Ryans as much as Mel Kiper Jr. does, he would go first overall. Ryans is a superb talent who happens to be stuck in the middle of the best linebacker class in a number of years. The Giants had serious depth issues on defense last year especially at linebacker. I would not be surprised to see the Giants look for help in the secondary with this pick but Ryans probably rates higher than any defensive back at this point of the draft.
26 Chicago Bears Mercedes Lewis TE UCLA
The Bears publicly stated their desire to give Rex Grossman a reliable target at tight end. Even though two tight ends have gone off the board already, the third best tight end in this draft will be sufficient for the Bears. Lewis is a game-breaking tight end that could be the second rated tight end on many draft boards. The Bears will get their tight end which should pay dividends on offense next season.
27 Carolina Panthers Darnell Bing S USC
The Panthers are an interesting team to project a draft pick for. They seem to be average to strong in every area with no glaring weaknesses. Every team likes to improve but nothing stands out for Carolina. My guess is that they will take the best player available and bolster their secondary with Bing. Although Carolina is a run-oriented team, I would not be surprised to see them target available tackles (possibly Eric Winston) or the top guard candidate in Max Jean Gilles from Georgia.
28 Jacksonville Jaguars Eric Winston OT Miami (FL)
Jacksonville is a lot like Carolina. The Jags have a strong defense and have invested in offensive skill players in the last few years. At this point, there is only one first round talent left on the offensive line. I would be surprised to see Winston go much lower than 28th to Jacksonville.
29 Denver Broncos Manny Lawson DE NC State
The Broncos complete their double-dip in the first round with a high value pick in Lawson. The Broncos are a solid football team with few weaknesses. Lawson will bolster an already talented defense by providing the Broncos with a formidable pass-rusher to get to the quarterback. If there was one thing missing from the Broncos D last year, it was just that.
30 Indianapolis Colts Broderick Bunkley DT Florida St.
If Winston is available, the Colts would gladly take him. Peyton Manning called out his offensive line in the playoff lost to Pittsburgh which will get management’s attention. However, the first round tackles will all be gone by this point leaving the Colts the option of picking one of the talented defensive tackles. Bunkley would likely be a steal at this point giving the Colts even more firepower on a potent defense.
31 Seattle Seahawks Gabe Watson DT Michigan
Seattle will likely get more out of Watson than Michigan ever did. Ever since Watson’s last game at Michigan, he has been impressive to scouts. His size and athleticism are extremely valuable commodities in the NFL. The Seahawks won’t think twice about adding a presence like Watson to the defensive line.
32 Pittsburgh Steelers Antonio Cromartie CB Florida St.
The Steelers want to address the running back and wide receiver positions in the off-season. However, there are no available receivers worth the 32nd pick. Also, Joseph Addai is the only running back that could garner interest at this spot but the Steelers want a Jerome Bettis-type power runner to pair with Willie Parker. Addai doesn’t fit the bill. So, the Steelers will use their pick to take a player that could become a superstar in Cromartie.
33 Houston Texans Jesse Mahelona DT Tennessee
34 New Orleans Saints Max-Jean Gilles OG Georgia
35 NY Jets Joseph Addai RB LSU
36 Green Bay Packers Ernie Sims LB Florida St.
37 San Francisco 49ers Daryn Colledge OT Boise St.
38 Oakland Raiders Bobby Carpenter LB Ohio St.
39 Tennessee Titans Charles Gordon CB Kansas
40 Detroit Lions Dominique Byrd TE USC
41 Arizona Cardinals Claude Wroten DT LSU
42 Buffalo Bills Ko Simpson S S. Carolina
43 Cleveland Browns Sinorice Moss WR Miami (FL)
44 Baltimore Ravens Greg Eslinger C Minnesota
45 Philadelphia Eagles D'Qwell Jackson LB Maryland
46 St. Louis Rams Ashton Youboty CB Ohio St.
47 Atlanta Falcons Rodrique Wright DT Texas
48 Minnesota Vikings Richard Marshall CB Fresno St.
49 Dallas Cowboys Ryan O'Callaghan OT California
50 San Diego Chargers Orien Harris DT Miami (FL)
51 Miami Dolphins Andrew Whitworth OT LSU
52 New England Patriots Nick Mangold C Ohio St.
53 Washington Redskins Tatusi Lutui OG USC
54 Kansas City Chiefs Thomas Howard LB UTEP
55 Cincinnati Bengals Abdul Hodge LB Iowa
56 New York Giants Kai Parham LB Virginia
57 Chicago Bears Jason Allen S Tennessee
58 Carolina Panthers Maurice Drew RB UCLA
59 Tampa Bay Bucs Davin Joseph OG Oklahoma
60 Jacksonville Jaguars Jeremy Trueblood OT Boston College
61 Denver Broncos Jonathan Joseph CB S. Carolina
62 Indianapolis Colts Charles Spencer OG Pittsburgh
63 Seattle Seahawks Derek Hagan WR Arizona St.
64 Pittsburgh Steelers Martin Nance WR Miami (OH)
65 Houston Texans Bernard Pollard S Purdue
66 Houston Texans Anthony Fasano TE Notre Dame
67 Green Bay Packers Kamerion Wimbley DE Florida St.
68 San Francisco 49ers Greg Blue S Georgia
69 Oakland Raiders Will Blackmon CB Boston College
70 Buffalo Bills Ray Edwards DE Purdue
71 NY Jets Cedric Griffin CB Texas
72 Arizona Cardinals Joe Klopenstein TE Colorado
73 Buffalo Bills Gerris Wilkinson LB Georgia Tech
74 Detroit Lions Omar Jacobs QB Bowling Green
75 New England Patriots Brian Calhoun RB Wisconsin
76 Philadelphia Eagles Demario Minter CB Georgia
77 St. Louis Rams Roman Harper S Alabama
78 Cleveland Browns Kyle Williams DT LSU
79 Atlanta Falcons Devin Hester WR/CB Miami (FL)
80 Dallas Cowboys Dee Webb CB Florida
81 San Diego Chargers Daniel Bullocks S Nebraska
82 Miami Dolphins Darryl Tapp DE Va. Tech
83 Minnesota Vikings Stanley McClover DE Auburn
84 Washington Redskins Hank Baskett WR New Mexico
85 Kansas City Chiefs Jonathan Lewis DT Va. Tech
86 New England Patriots Elvis Dumervil DE Louisville
87 New York Giants Kelly Jennings CB Miami (FL)
88 Chicago Bears Pat Watkins S Florida St.
89 Carolina Panthers Tim Day TE Oregon
90 Tampa Bay Bucs John McCargo DT NC State
91 Cincinnati Bengals Rob Sims OG Ohio St.
92 Jacksonville Jaguars Kevin Simon LB Tennessee
93 Denver Broncos Fred Matua OG USC
94 Indianapolis Colts Anthony Schlegel LB Ohio St.
95 Seattle Seahawks Greg Lee WR Pittsburgh
96 Pittsburgh Steelers Leon Washington RB Florida St.
Players that could end up going in rounds 1-3 that don’t appear in my mock draft: Freddie Roach LB Alabama, Spencer Havner LB UCLA, Donte Whitner S Ohio St., A.J. Nicholson LB Florida St., James Wyche DE Syracuse, Roger McIntosh LB Miami (FL), Dusty Davoracek DT Oklahoma, Derek Martin CB Wyoming, Derek Morris OT NC State, Mike Hass WR Oregon St., Brodie Croyle QB Alabama, Jerome Harrison RB Washington St., Mark Setterstrom OG Minnesota, Anthony Smith S Syracuse, Joe Toledo OT Washington, Victor Adenyaju DE Indiana, Gerald Riggs RB Tennessee, Albert Toeaina OT Tennessee, Maurice Stovall WR Notre Dame, LeKevin Smith DT Nebraska, Troy Reddick OG Auburn, DonTrell Moore RB New Mexico, Andre Hall RB S. Florida, Daniel Manning CB Abiline Christian, Jason Avant WR Michigan