BASN’s Early Mock Draft (Part One)

By Lloyd Vance
Updated: March 17, 2009

PHILADELPHIA — Unlike many draft prognosticators who seem to just make their picks out of thin air, I like to wait until after attending the Senior Bowl, NFL Combine, talking with key NFL talent evaluators and letting Free Agency play out before making my picks.

In my opinion you cannot do a true “mock” until after these events, because only then you can get a good sense of how NFL talent evaluators are viewing prospects and have accurate team needs.

Today, we take a look at the first 16 picks of opening round.

1. Detroit Lions — QB Matt Stafford, Georgia (Jr.)

Record: 0-16 | Needs: QB, OT, CB, S, DE

All through the early part of the pre-draft season I thought that the Lions led by new head coach Jim Schwartz would be content with going for an offensive tackle with their first pick. There have been rumors that veteran Jeff Backus would move to guard leaving the Lions to pick either Virginia’s Eugene Monroe or Baylor’s Jason Smith first overall. But lately I have been hearing inklings that the winless Lions want to make a big splash on April 25th and that means, “quarterback”. With the front office figuring out that Daunte Culpepper is only a caretaker at this stage in his career, the Lions will draft big-armed quarterback Matthew Stafford (6-3, 236) from Georgia. Stafford has shown the natural ability since his high school, but he never was able to totally put it together at Georgia. He put up good numbers of 235-383 passes for 3,459 yards and 25 touchdowns with 10 interceptions in 2009, but his team was inconsistent. Stafford looked terrible against eventual National Champion Florida in ’09, losing 49-10 while throwing for pedestrian numbers of 18-33, 265 yards, 0 TDs, and 3 INTs (one returned for a touchdown). The former Texas high school gunslinger has all the quarterback measurables of instincts, vision, footwork, arm and tough attitude, but you have to wonder if he is the next Jeff George – disappointing first overall selection in 1990. Finished his career with numbers 564-for-987 for 7,731 yards, 51 touchdowns, and 33 interceptions.

2. St. Louis Rams — OT Eugene Monroe, Virginia (Sr.)

Record: 2-14 | Needs: OT, QB, CB, OLB, WR

With new coach Steve Spagnuolo coming to town, the Rams are in the process of turning over an aging underachieving roster. Veterans Orlando Pace, Trent Green, Torry Holt, and Drew Bennett have all been sent packing with an eye on rebuilding one of the NFL’s lower franchises. With needs all over the place, the Rams start building upfront on the offensive line as there is a glaring need to replace former first rounder left tackle Orlando Pace. With Spagnuolo and new offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur looking to build around marquee running back Steven Jackson, expect the selection of a road grader to plow the way. The Rams select big athletic Virginia offensive tackle Eugene Monroe (6-foot-5, 315). Monroe battled back from a 2007 knee injury and showed impressive durability, footwork, strength, and “punch” in 2008. The former All-ACC pick, who many say is better than ’08 first rounder Branden Albert, is a prototypical left tackle with good height, long arms and a strong anchor. Look for the surprisingly nimble big man to lead the way on running plays and get after linebackers and defensive backs downfield.

3. Kansas City Chiefs — OT Jason Smith, Baylor (Sr.)

Record: 2-14 | Needs: OT, G, CB, LB, NT

New coach Todd Haley and new general manager Scott Pioli will be looking to instill the “Belichick” way to a franchise that is trying to rebuild from a terrible 2008 season. All along going into the draft process everyone thought quarterback, but the Chiefs took care of that thanks to an assist by the Patriots acquiring franchised quarterback Matt Cassell for a bargain second round pick. With Cassell in place and thoughts of keeping malcontent running back Larry Johnson happy in Kansas City, the Chiefs will select Baylor cat-quick offensive tackle Jason Smith (6-foot-5, 305). After converting from tight end to tackle in 2006, Smith showed that he was a natural tackle. Though he missed 2007 with a knee injury, Smith finished his college career with 39 starts including twenty-four at left tackle and seven at right tackle. J-Smooth, as Smith is nicknamed, had a great combine doing well in interviews running 5.22 seconds in the forty, banging out a tackle-high 33 reps on the bench, and showing the best agility of all O-linemen in bag drills. Smith only gave up 4 ½ sacks in his career as a left tackle and the Chiefs will love his attitude. Smith said of competition, “I take a lot of pride in physically assaulting somebody when I’m on the field.”

4. Seattle Seahawks — DE Michael Johnson, Georgia Tech (Sr.)

Record: 4-12 | Needs: OT, DT, RB, TE, G

Options will be plentiful for the rebuilding Seahawks as they will try to start the Jim Mora era in Seattle on the right foot. Offensively the Seahawks have looked to free agency with signing of TJ Houshmanzadeh from the Bengals and the return of often-injured receiver Deion Branch and quarterback Matt Hassellback to bolster their ranks. So the defensive-minded Mora will look to improve a defense that is getting old on the defensive line by selecting two-way defensive end Johnson (6-foot-7, 266). The first team All-ACC selection will definitely compliment veteran holdover Patrick Kerney with his height, long arms and burst off the edge. As a senior, Johnson had 17½ tackles for loss and nine sacks. Even though he has all of the measurables including recently clocking an incredible 4.59 seconds in his Pro Day forty, Johnson has been known to be a inconsistent and undisciplined at times so Mora will need to stay on him.

5. Cleveland Browns — RB Chris “Beanie” Wells, Ohio State (Jr.)

Record: 4-12 | Needs: RB, CB, LB, S

The magic ran out for former coach Romeo Crennel in 2008 and now the Browns will rebuild behind former Jets head coach Eric Mangini. The Browns currently are rebuilding their defense around their playmaking linebackers, but their offense needs a move-the-chains running back. Veteran Jamal Lewis is close to finishing out his solid career, so the Browns will get younger at the position by selecting bruising Ohio State running back Chris “Beanie” Wells. Don’t think of this pick as a hometown selection as Wells (6-feet-1, 237, 4.53) is just the type of runner that Mangini needs to compliment quarterbacks Brady Quinn and Derek Anderson. He is a north-south runner who hits the hole quickly and can either run passed or through a defender. The junior eligible likes the to use the stiff-arm, but he will need to watch injuries after three injury-filled seasons at OSU – injured ankle nagged him in 2008 and forced him to miss the Buckeyes huge game against USC. Even with injuries, Wells is a franchise back and should make an immediate impact as a rookie. In his college carried, he put up numbers 585 rushes for 3,496 yards and 30 touchdowns.

6. Cincinnati Bengals — OT Andre Smith, Alabama (Jr.)

Record: 4-11-1 | Needs: OL, DE, RB, S

A rollercoaster season filled with injuries and internal strife landed embattled head coach Marvin Lewis in the Top 10 of the draft again. The Bengals need help in a variety of areas including a defense that was ranked near the bottom of the NFL in sacks and an offensive line that had the huge defection of offensive tackle Stacy Andrews in free agency to the Eagles. With the objective of keeping quarterback Carson Palmer healthy for the entire season, the Bengals will select huge offensive tackle Andre Smith from Alabama. Though red flags have been plentiful with Smith (6-feet-4, 340) recently including leaving the combine early, his weight, and being suspended for the 2009 Sugar Bowl there is no doubt he is a talented player. The Bengals, who are known to take chances on question mark players will give Smith a shot to live up to his huge potential. The 2008 Outland Trophy as the country’s top lineman, Smith played since his freshman year and was dominant. The first-team All-SEC pick should easily replace Andrews as he is a dominant run blocker who has surprising agility as a pass blocker.

7. Oakland Raiders — WR Michael Crabtree, Texas Tech (Redshirt Soph)

Record: 5-11 | Needs: WR, OT, DE, S

The affinity of the Raiders owner Al Davis in looking for game-breaking skills and a homerun threat will lead him directly to receiver Michael Crabtree (6-feet-3, 214, 4.54). Raiders new head coach Tom Cable needs a complimentary receiver to go with his talented backfield trio (McFadden, Fargas, and Bush) and strong-armed quarterback JaMarcus Russell. Plus the Raiders just cut veteran receiver Ronald Curry and Javon Walker appears to be on his last legs, so the two-time Biletnikoff award-winner makes sense. Though he is recovering from a foot injury, Crabtree is considered to be the next Larry Fitzgerald. In his two years at Texas Tech, Crabtree was a man amongst boys producing 231 receptions for 3,127 yards, and 41 touchdowns. To me the former Texas Tech quarterback recruit is already a high-level professional receiver and he could possibly have an impactful rookie on the level of 2007 receiver Marques Colston. Crabtree has great ability to start-and-stop in routes, superior hand-eye coordination, good body control and is an aggressive run-after-catch guy.

8. Jacksonville Jaguars — LB Aaron Curry, Wake Forest (Sr.)

Record: 5-11 | Needs: WR, OT, CB, RB

Jags head coach Jack Del Rio is a former NFL linebacker, so he knows the value of grabbing a difference-maker at the position. With the Jaguars parting ways with volatile linebacker Mike Peterson this off-season, Curry seems like an ideal fit to breath life into a defense that was pushed around in ’08. Curry (6-feet-3, 247) is a four-year standout who is an aggressive enforcer on the field. Probably the most NFL ready player in the 2009 Draft, Curry is the 2008 Butkus award-winner, which is a award given annually to college football’s most outstanding linebacker. He is prepared for the NFL both mentally and physically, with an exceptional knack for diagnosing plays. A very fluid player with great change of direction, Curry had a great combine and has the stats (105 tackles, including 16 for lost yardage and 2½ sacks, and three fumble recoveries in 2008) to back-up comparisons to Titans LB Keith Bullock.

9. Green Bay Packers — CB Malcolm Jenkins, Ohio State (Sr.)

Record: 6-10 | Needs: LB, DE, S, CB

The Packers have been quiet in free agency, but you have to believe that they will be looking for the future replacement of aging corners Charles Woodson and Al Harris in the draft. The Packers may take a look at Curry at this spot if he is available, but I believe Jenkins (6-feet-1, 201) is their man. With former Buckeye AJ Hawk already on the roster, the Packers get another solid player from Ohio State. Jenkins is a “lockdown” corner, who has a nose for the ball. As a senior, he won the Thorpe Award as the nation’s top defensive back. He has great quickness and explosion to the ball plus he will provide the versatility that Packers defensive coordinator Dom Capers likes in his secondary. Repeatedly battle tested, Jenkins was the leader of the Buckeye secondary that ranked No. 1 against the pass in ’07. He was so good that teams tended to thrown away from him. Had 11 career interceptions including returning two for touchdowns versus Penn St in 2007.

10. S.F. 49ers — OLB/DE Aaron Maybin, Penn State (Redshirt Soph.)

Record: 7-9 | Needs: QB, OL, OLB, DE

This will be an intriguing pick, because new head coach Mike Singletary is evaluating every player and every position on his roster. The Niners have multiple needs, but I have a feeling that the defensive side of the ball will be where Iron Mike will go with his selection. The Niners maybe tempted to take a quarterback (Mark Sanchez), but their new scheme will be based around a strong running game and an attacking defense. For their new 3-4 scheme, the Niners select outside pass rusher Aaron Maybin to play alongside All-Pro middle linebacker Patrick Willis. Maybin (6-feet-4, 248, 4.67) was a productive defensive end for two seasons in Tom Bradle’s attacking Nittany Lions defensive scheme. He displayed tenacity and great closing speed, which allowed him to lead the Big Ten with 12 sacks plus he had 20 tackles for a loss in ’08. Though Maybin is smallish for a true NFL defensive end, with his knack for rushing the passer he is a natural fit for the Niners’ “Elephant” position (half OLB and half DE). Look for Maybin to get bigger and stronger as he matures into his NFL body.

11. Buffalo Bills — RB Knowshon Moreno, Georgia (Redshirt Soph.)

Record: 7-9 | Needs: DT, RB, DE, WR, TE

With multiple questions abounding about troubled running back Marshawn Lynch and not many backup options. Bills head coach Dick Jauron continues to rebuild his offense by selecting Moreno. The former All-SEC running back is an explosive player, who can both move the chains and take it the house on long runs. Moreno (5-feet-11, 208, 4.6) is quick and has great cutback moves similar to Chargers super back LaDainian Tomlinson. With Moreno, Lynch, and new receiver Terrell Owens, quarterback Trent Edwards will have an embarrassment of players around him. Moreno had career numbers of 498 rushes for 2,859 yards and 30 touchdowns plus he also caught 53 passes for 645 yards.

12. Denver Broncos — DT B.J. Raji, Boston College (Sr.)

Record: 8-8 | Needs: RB, OT, LB, CB

New Broncos head coach Josh McDaniels is changing the face of this franchise by adding over 12 free agents this off-season. However the young head coach installing the “Patriot” way needs a dominant defensive tackle in Vince Wilfork’s mold. With the selection of Raji (6-feet-2, 337) the Broncos will get their two-gap protector who they can funnel their defense through. After sitting out in 2007 for failing to fulfill academic obligations, the big All-ACC fire hydrant performed with a vengeance in 2008 and seemed unblockable at times. Raji was the most dominant interior defensive lineman in the country with 16 tackles for loss and eight sacks. The Senior Bowl practices are where he really shined by dominating in trench drills. The 337-pounder followed up his strong Senior Bowl performance by next standing out at the combine producing 33 reps at 225 and running a solid 5.2 forty time.

13. Washington Redskins — DE Brian Orakpo, Texas (Sr.)

Record: 8-8 | Needs: DE, OT, LB, CB

The Redskins have strong needs along both their offensive and defensive lines. But I believe the team’s upper management is targeting the defensive line as their new cornerstone. Already the ‘Skins have invested over $100 Million in free agent Albert Haynesworth and their next move will be to enhance a weak pass rush by drafting Orakpo (6-feet-4, 260, 4.73). The former Longhorns defensive end won the Lombardi, Hendricks and Nagurski awards in 2008 making him the most honored defensive lineman in college. Orakpo is solid against the run and the pass plus demonstrated a tough play in college. Redskins defensive coordinator Greg Blache will need to ensure that Orakpo is properly motivated, as sometimes he does not display the intensity needed. Also there are knee concerns as Orakpo missed some time the last two seasons with injuries in that area.

14. New Orleans Saints — DE Everette Brown, DE, Florida State (Jr.)

Record: 8-8 | Needs: LB, DE, S, OL, WR

The Saints are coming off a very disappointing season where they lacked consistency especially on defense. It seemed every week that head coach Sean Payton’s team was in a pinball machine-type game as they allowed 393 points due mainly to their inability to get after the passer. With intentions on pushing underachieving DE’s Charles Grant and Will Smith, the Saints will select Brown (6-feet-4, 252, 4.65). The explosive former Seminole pass rusher knows how to get after the quarterback, as shown by his 21½ tackles for loss and 13½ sacks in 2008. Brown has speed, uses his hands well and has excellent balance in taking on larger offensive tackles. Look for him to bulk up in the pros.

15. Houston Texans — OLB Brian Cushing, Southern California (Sr.)

Record: 8-8 | Needs: OL, RB, TE, LB, S

With the Texans concentrating so many picks on their defensive line over the last couple of drafts and the signing of ex-Cardinals defensive end Antonio Smith in free agency, it seems to make sense that they will finally look for a playmaker at outside linebacker. Cushing (6-feet-3, 243, 4.7) seems the logical choice to play next to Pro Bowl player DeMeco Ryans. The former USC stalwart is an explosive player, who moves forward well especially when blitzing. At this year’s Senior Bowl, Cushing showed that he was the best of USC’s outstanding trio of linebackers at the event. Cushing had only one tackle in the game, but all week everyone was impressed with his size, recognition skills, and downhill playing style. This versatile athlete should fit-in well in the Texans’ attacking defensive scheme, but any team taking Cushing will need to watch against injuries (high ankle, knee and shoulder problems during his career).

16. San Diego Chargers — LB Rey Maualuga USC (Sr.)

Record: 8-8 | Needs: DT, WR, CB, DE

The Chargers vaunted defense was not it’s usual self in ’08 giving up 347 points as superstar LB Shawne Merriman (knee) was on the sidelines. To help get his unit back into shape, defensive coordinator Ron Rivera won’t need to convince head coach Norv Turner much that the Bolts must select the NFL’s next great run stuffing inside linebacker in Maualuga (6-feet-2, 254, 4.7). The big tough inside linebacker can play all three downs and has a nose for the ball plus his “stay at home” mentality will allow Merriman and Shawn Phillips to make plays on the outside. Maualuga plays with a nasty disposition and wants to make every tackle. Had a tremendous week at the Senior Bowl producing three tackles, a tackle for loss and forcing a fumble in the game. Though he pulled his hamstring at the combine, Maualuga should bounce back to be a great downhill NFL linebacker. The one negative on the USC star is he over-pursues and may learn to read play-action.

NEXT: The rest of the first round and teams without a No. 1 pick.